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An Interesting “Collapse” Hypothetical

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Dr. Paul Craig Roberts, the famous Reagan administration economist and now an embittered and cranky paleoconservative social critic, penned a short but intriguing American “collapse” scenario set in the near future. Some of what Roberts writes fits neatly with the thesis in Joseph Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies:

The Year America Dissolved

….As society broke down, the police became warlords. The state police broke apart, and the officers were subsumed into the local forces of their communities. The newly formed tribes expanded to encompass the relatives and friends of the police.

The dollar had collapsed as world reserve currency in 2012 when the worsening economic depression made it clear to Washington’s creditors that the federal budget deficit was too large to be financed except by the printing of money. With the dollar’s demise, import prices skyrocketed. As Americans were unable to afford foreign-made goods, the transnational corporations that were producing offshore for US markets were bankrupted, further eroding the government’s revenue base.

The government was forced to print money in order to pay its bills, causing domestic prices to rise rapidly. Faced with hyperinflation, Washington took recourse in terminating Social Security and Medicare and followed up by confiscating the remnants of private pensions. This provided a one-year respite, but with no more resources to confiscate, money creation and hyperinflation resumed.

Organized food deliveries broke down when the government fought hyperinflation with fixed prices and the mandate that all purchases and sales had to be in US paper currency. Unwilling to trade appreciating goods for depreciating paper, goods disappeared from stores.

Several interesting things here. First, the demagogic front men who are currently engaging in op-ed tirades against public pensions in order to loot them to ostensibly plug state budget deficits will, if successful, use that precedent to go after private pensions, IRAs, 401(k), mutual funds, Social Security, Medicare, Home mortgage interest deduction – any remaining big pot of money in the hands of the middle-class has a big target on it. Secondly, food shortages historically were the spark that set off the French and Russian Revolutions.

When hubris sent America in pursuit of overseas empire, the venture coincided with the offshoring of American manufacturing, industrial, and professional service jobs and the corresponding erosion of the government’s tax base, with the advent of massive budget and trade deficits, with the erosion of the fiat paper currency’s value, and with America’s dependence on foreign creditors and puppet rulers.

The Roman Empire lasted for centuries. The American one collapsed overnight.

Rome’s corruption became the strength of her enemies, and the Western Empire was overrun.

America’s collapse occurred when government ceased to represent the people and became the instrument of a private oligarchy. Decisions were made in behalf of short-term profits for the few at the expense of unmanageable liabilities for the many.

Overwhelmed by liabilities, the government collapsed.

Connectivity, contra Roberts, is good. Corruption, on the other hand, is not. Free markets are generally efficient, so long as you do not expect them to automatically create public goods of a certain scale or be perfectly self-regulating. They require a scrupulously impartial rule of law in order to not become corrupted by abusive players seeking rents. Unfortunately, a scrupulously impartial rule of law is incompatible with technocracy, where expert administrators are granted arbitrary discretion without democratic accountability, the prevailing ethos in the EU supranational bureaucracy, to cite a real world example. The late, unlamented, Soviet nomenklatura would be another, more sinister, historical one.

The primary problem with the American political economy is that in the last 10-15 years, elite, moderately liberal technocrats have made common cause with the elite, moderately conservative rentiers of the financial and corporate world to form an incipient oligarchy. One sees their fellow Americans paternalistically as children. The other sees us as sheep to be sheared. It’s a common enough ground on which to unite and it is the reason you see a very liberal Democratic Obama administration and a Pelosi-Reid Congressional leadership counterintuitively putting corporate regulation in impenetrable shadows not seen since before the Stock Market Crash of 1929 as if they were the minions of Jay Gould and J.P. Morgan.

Don’t expect mainstream Republicans in Congress to die on any hills fighting for the free market either – they aspire to be the party of no-bid contracts to the Democratic party of government by clout.

Alderman Paddy Bauler would be proud.

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Recommended Reading -Wikileaks Edition….

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

We may as well get this out of the way as it is the overriding story for good reasons as well as bad. After that, a few other interesting things……

First, here is the doc dump site itself Wikileaks

The best round-up post in this section of the blogosphere is by SWJ Blog -The Afghanistan War Logs Update

Now for some bloggers whose Wikileaks posts or op-eds caught my eye:

Josh FoustThe Assange Leaks: What’s new about the WikiLeaks data?

Andrew ExumGetting Lost in the Fog of War

Karaka PendDocument Dumping

Thomas P.M. Barnett -Wikileaks: the transparency standard we inevitably face in the Long War

PunditaAfghan War version of Pentagon Papers released, WikiLeak Afghan War Papers: Pity the White House spin machine, Afghans say, ‘I told you so’ after WikiLeak papers point to Pak military’s support for Taliban, U.S. support for Pakistan’s military aiding conditions for Castro-style revolution in Pakistan, Afghan government questions U.S. silence over Pakistani regime’s support for Taliban, Are you calling Amrullah Saleh a liar, Mr Semple?

At this juncture, allow me to pause and say “Miss Pundita, en fuego!!”

Newshoggers.comWikileaks and ‘material support’Pakistan’s ISI: No “Smoking Gun”?,  Some thoughts on the “War Logs“, “Wikileaks War Logs? Nothing new, move along.” Sure…To November!

BLACKFIVEStrategy Room video

Sic Semper Tyrannis -The Afghan Papers

Wings Over Iraq -“Our Valuable Ally” (Updated) , Wikileaks: The Big Deal

Great Satan’s GirlfriendLegerdemain

For laughs, from SWJ Blog -Taliban Responds to WikiLeaks

Technically, it isn’t the Taliban, but rather the Haqqani Network asshats, but they all have huge beards, opium bundles, AK-47’s and nominally retired ISI colonels as advisers….same difference.

SOME NON-WIKILEAKS ITEMS OF INTEREST…….

S. Anthony IannarinoSelling and the Human Terrain System

This is a neat example of horizontal thinking, where Anthony uses HTS as a foil for applying business strategies. I particularly liked his questions at the conclusion of the post:

Selling is About the Human Terrain

Conceptually, our business as sales professionals is insurgency and counterinsurgency (albeit with very different stakes). We are either focused on taking clients from our competitors by winning hearts and minds, or we are protecting our existing dream clients from the insurgents who would take them from us by keeping their hearts and minds. It is a simplification, but dissatisfaction opens the door to insurgencies; preventing dissatisfaction is our counterinsurgency effort.

Our focus as salespeople is too much about solutions, and not enough about the Human Terrain….

….Questions

  1. When you are in the boardroom presenting, do you know whose hearts and minds have been won? Have you spent your time understanding and working within your dream client’s human terrain to know that you have the votes to win the deal, and then to implement and execute your solution? Review your notes from your last three or four needs analysis sales calls.
  2. What notes do you have about the company’s culture? What are the defining characteristics of their culture that will help enable you to win their hearts, their minds, and their votes? What about their culture will rub against your ideas and your solutions later, after you are chosen? What considerations do you have to make now in order to address these cultural issues?
  3. What notes do you have about their linguistics, the language that they use to talk about their business? Are you certain that you fully understand what the words your dream clients use mean to them? Are there differences in the way they refer to concepts that differ from the language that you use? What language do they use that differs from their industry standard? Do your language choices mean something else to your dream client? [….]

Chicago Boyz (Bruno Behrend) - Swapping a VAT for failing income tax is good policy

Bruno has a great wedge issue here – a wedge against elite GOP officeholders for reformists as much if not moreso than GOP vs. Democrats:

The solution is to make the case for a massive overhaul of the tax system, and transition the system from one that relies on income (corporate and individual and Soc. Sec.) taxation to one that relies on taxing consumption (VAT, National Sales Tax, or FairTax). This is a wonderful opportunity for a party of ideas (Republicans, before they succumbed to corrupt Hastertism) and a vibrant think tank community (before they began to resemble an echo chamber of conservo-libertarian apparatchiks promoting stale doctrine) to lay the ground work for a 3rd and 4th “American Century.”

There are even more new ideas (and political and economic benefits) to go along with this new (and superior) tax policy.

Why aren’t we talking about increasingly popular ideas like constitutional spending caps? Why aren’t we lauding the replacement of the the bureaucratic entitlement state with a yearly stipend for every American (see Fair Tax rebate or Charles Murray)?

Instead of fighting against a welfare state that most Americans still support (Soc. Sec., “health care reform,” and public education), why aren’t we framing our ideas as the “individualization” of government assistance through retirement accounts, health savings accounts, and scholarships and education savings accounts?

The question is whether enterprising politicians will run on these better policies, and whether they can get enough airplay to persuade the voters that they are workable (they are). My greatest fear for our nation is that we are already too far gone down the the road of ruin. We seem to be like that obese person who is just old enough and just heavy enough to avoid the hard work of getting back in shape or forgoing that “satisfying” meal.

RECOMMENDED VIEWING:

Charles Hill on Grand Strategy. Hat tip to Ian.

Hill is dead right on higher education BTW….

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The Wizard of Oz

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

shane2010.jpg

Earlier today, my friend and sometime co-author Shane Deichman, who blogs at Wizards of Oz,  passed through the area as part of his “OldSkool 2010 tour. Mrs. Zenpundit and I were treated to lunch by the Deichmans and it was a pleasure to see them and their children, including their adorable youngest member of the family, who was not yet born the last time we got together.

Food was good, the company was better!

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Guest post: Cameron on Joan Rivers, Terrorists & Inflight Catering

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Charles Cameron, my regular guest blogger, is the former Senior Analyst with The Arlington Instituteand Principal Researcher with the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University. He specializes in forensic theology, with a deep interest in millennial, eschatological and apocalyptic religious sects of all stripes.

Joan Rivers, terrorists and inflight catering

by Charles Cameron

Don’t you love it when the internet provides us with what appears to be reliable (albeit counterintuitive) answers to rhetorical questions? As when Joan Rivers asks about terrorist dietary restrictions on David Letterman:

Joan in the subject of a new documentary, “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work”. Dave calls the film a wonderful, compelling documentary and something she should be very proud of. Joan recently had some trouble at a Costa Rica airport. She uses an alias on her passport, Joan Rosenberg, her married name, when she travels. The airport security was suspicious. Joan was detained at the airport for 24 hours while everyone she was with went on ahead. It was ridiculous. “What terrorist would take the name ‘Rosenberg’?” Joan wonders. She continued, “Do I look like a terrorist? Does a terrorist order a kosher meal?” Late Show with David Letterman, Show #3345, July 22, 2010

…and the answer is just a quick google away in Ha’aretz:

Matiri’s instruction manual for intelligence agents is part of a series of documents he has written. These include pointers on explosives, building an organization and recruiting agents. There are also explanations about Islam’s enemies. In his writings, Matiri comes across as someone who knows what he is talking about. He cites studies and conclusions from the experiences of other intelligence agencies, and he discusses methods used by Al-Qaida. … Matiri covers a variety of topics in the 42 pages of his instruction manual, among them advice on how the religious spy can get out of uncomfortable situations. He suggests that “Jewish meals” be ordered on airline flights – kosher meals that do not contain pork. Al-Qaida’s mother of all spy manuals, Ha’aretz, May 30, 2010

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“Framing” a Meme Crudely: Prelude to Campaign 2010

Monday, July 26th, 2010

 

Former Governor, former Presidential candidate and former Chairman of the Democratic National Committee Howard Dean unveiled the Democratic Party’s trial balloon for the election of 2012. Normally, I bold all the text in an excerpt but I will do so from this POLITICO post only selectively:

….Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” Dean, who’s also a former Democratic national chairman and hero of liberals, asserted Fox News failed to vet video footage of a speech misleadingly excerpted to make it appear that Sherrod was boasting of using her post as an Agriculture Department official to discriminate against a white farmer.

“I don’t think Newt Gingrich is a racist, and I don’t think you’re a racist,” Dean told Fox News host Chris Wallace, “but Fox News did something that was absolutely racist. They took a – they had an obligation to find out what was really in the clip. They had been pushing a theme of black racism with this phony Black Panther crap and this business and this Sotomayor and all this other stuff.”

When Wallace interrupted Dean to point out that Fox did not air the excerpted Sherrod footage until after the Obama administration had fired her based on it , Dean shot back “It was about to go on Glenn Beck, which is what the administration was afraid of.”

And Dean mildly rebuked the Obama administration, as well, saying, “We’ve got to stop being afraid of Glenn Beck (a Fox News host) and the racist fringe of the Republican Party. But Fox News was not blameless during this. You played it up.”

Dean dismissed Wallace’s point about timing, asserting “you didn’t do your job,” and charging that Fox News has helped the Republican Party foster racism by focusing on allegations of reverse racism.

“The tea party called out their racist fringe and I think the Republican Party’s got to stop appealing to its racist fringe. And Fox News is what did that. You put that on,” Dean said. “Continuing to cater to this theme of minority racism and stressing comments like this – some of which are taken out of context – does not help the country knit itself

In just this brief section where Dean is quoted, he used the word “racism” or a variant seven times and is paraphrased saying it twice more. Most likely, the transcript of the show will tally more uses of “racist” than just seven to nine in a few minutes of air time. Now either Howard Dean, a wealthy man born into a elite family, a graduate of St. Georges prep and Yale University, a physician and very successful governor, has only a rudimentary vocabulary or Dean was doing a crude imitation of George Lakoff’s  verbal “framing” and testing the Democratic Party’s none-too-subtle campaign theme:”All Republicans are racists”.

The underlying issue here is not about Shirley Sherrod or even racism, but of political power.

It seems likely at this point in time that the Democratic Party is headed for a reprise of their 1994 electoral disaster, despite the Republican Party being incompetent and bankrupt of both leadership and ideas ( in fact, given the demonstrated ineptitude of Micheal Steele as the GOP spokesman, the bast tactical stance for Republicans might be to just shut-up and only speak from unimpeachable ground that 60 % + of the public agrees with).  The war is not going well and the economy is worse, while taxes and spending are going up. That all of this is not the fault of Democrats is irrelevant because enough of it is and having all the power, the voters see them as accountable.. Having decided to govern from the left of center – maybe not Netroots Left, but left of moderate Democrats and Independents, under the aegis of Pelosi and Reid – the Democrats have irrevocably branded themselves for this election cycle and probably the next.

Not having any appealing points for undecided voters and independents leaves the Democrats the option of the hardball attack with the objective of mitigating the damage. How does trying to build an association between the word “racism” and “Republican” do that as it obviously fires up the Republicans to come out and vote by angering them?

Partisan liberals (note: I am not saying all liberals or all Democrats, just the zealous partisans) tend to believe that the only viable explanation for people not accepting their political agenda and exercise of power is a) Stupidity, or b) Evil motivations – among which, racism is the most evil of all.  In other words, there is no “legitimate” basis of democratic disagreement with them, only error and malice. Which is why many partisan liberals today, like the ranters exposed on Journolist, often come across to non-liberals as humorless authoritarians in a way that past liberals like Hubert Humphrey, William Brennan or Barbara Jordan never did. This campaign theme, while partisan liberals enjoy attacking Republicans immensely, isn’t for them either. They already are sure votes and maxed out political donors.

No, the target audience for Dean’s framing are the younger, basically apolitical, white voters who came out and voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and whom polls suggest won’t do so again. A second group are socially liberal, Democratic-leaning, independent swing voters. A coordinated drumbeat of prominent Democrats relentlessly attacking opponents as “racists” is designed to keep the first group at home on election day so that they do not vote Republican and to motivate the second group to come out and vote against them. In swing districts and states this might keep a few seats in Democratic hands that might otherwise go to the GOP and it could permanently tarnish or destroy some Republican politicians and turn them into damaged goods.

This is not a stupid tactic. It might not matter, if public sentiment is as angrily anti-incumbent and anti-Democrat as some polls suggest but such a framing campaign is based upon reasonable evidence that negative memes work, that charges of racism are an effective form of slander in American society, that Republicans are highly unlikely to mount an effective counterattack and that a majority of voters are only dimly aware of the factual details of political life. The prospect of losing power makes it a worthwhile gamble for Democrats – especially if figures whom voters cannot punish, like Howard Dean, lead the charge ( it also helps that a certain percentage of members of Congress of both parties harbor some degree of racism, anti-semitism, homophobia, religious bigotry, misogyny or other unseemly prejudices more obscure and tend to do and say things that give evidence of such beliefs. Public life is a target rich environment for take-down efforts).

Could Republicans respond effectively? Of course. There’s all sorts of ways to go for the jugular here, but they probably will not. Newt Gingrich, for example, could have demolished Dean on live television but he chose not to do so because Newt himself plays the “framing” game far better than does Dean and explaining to the uninformed what Dean was doing diminishes Gingrich’s own future rhetorical effectiveness with said uninformed public. Most other Republican leaders lack Gingrich’s intellectual firepower and debating skills and would either try to ignore the charge of racism (a loser move) or fall into protesting their lack of racism so as to better make themselves the object of ridicule as well as abuse.

The poor Republican Party, so close to power and so far from strategy.

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