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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Wake Up Call – Memorial Day 2017

The Daily Escape:

NYC’s Grand Central Station – 1943

On Memorial Day we commemorate those who died in the military service of our country. In 1974, a sci-fi novel called “The Forever War” was released. It is military science fiction, telling the story of soldiers fighting an interstellar war. The protagonist, named Mandella, is sent across the galaxy to fight a poorly understood, apparently undefeatable foe.

Sound familiar? Today the forever war is not simply fiction. Our all-volunteer military has been fighting in the Middle East for the past 16 years in the longest war in American history. And there is little reason to hope that we will not be fighting there 16 years from now. Brian Castner, a former explosive ordnance disposal officer who served three tours in Iraq, observes:

Our country has created a self-selected and battle-hardened cohort of frequent fliers, one that is almost entirely separate from mainstream civilian culture, because service in the Forever War, as many of us call it, isn’t so much about going as returning. According to data provided by the Center for a New American Security, of the 2.7 million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, half have done multiple tours. More telling, 223,000 have gone at least four times, and 51,000 have done six or more deployments.

We can’t get our fill of war. In fact, since 1943, the year the picture above was taken in New York City, the US has been at peace for just five years: 1976, 1977, 1978, 1997 and 2000 were the only years with no major war.

So today, we gather to celebrate those who have died in service of our global ambitions. We watch a parade, we shop at the mall, and we attend a cookout. Perhaps we should be required to spend more time thinking about how America can increase the number of years when we are not at war.

Wrongo can’t escape the idea that if we re-instituted a military draft, and required military service of all young Americans, it would soon become impossible for the politicians and generals to justify the forever war.

So, wake up America! Instead of observing Memorial Day with another burger, get involved in a plan to re-institute the draft. It won’t stop our involvement in war, but it will unite American mothers and fathers to bring about the end of this forever war, and any future “forever war”.

To help you wake up, we also remember the death of Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band. Here is “Blue Sky” from their “Eat a Peach” album. Wrongo loves the guitar interplay between the long-gone Duane Allman and Dickey Betts on this tune:

Dickey Betts wrote this about his Native American girlfriend, Sandy “Bluesky” Wabegijig.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Thoughts on Tax Day

The Daily Escape:

Tu Lien Bridge (design, to be built) – Hanoi, Vietnam

Today is officially the day our federal income tax returns are due. That’s because April 15 was a Saturday, while Monday is a holiday in Massachusetts. And as the Bay State goes, so goes America when it comes to filing taxes. Wrongo appreciated the extra time.

Americans shouldn’t mind paying their taxes. We live in a great country, and if you want to fly first class, you gotta pay the fare (unless, of course, you’re flying Air Force One).

The process of filing taxes could (and should) be simplified, but reducing taxes would be a mistake. America has deferred spending for social needs and for infrastructure, and not just on the federal level. Wrongo sits on his town’s Roads Committee. If we were to continue to fix our local roads at the same rate going forward as we have for the past few years, it will take us 40 years to fix just the roads that are rated “poor” quality or worse. Still, many in town think we should spend less, so they could be taxed less. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes noted in a dissenting opinion in a 1927 Supreme Court case:

Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.

Some of us are still learning that.

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Saturday Soother – April 15, 2017

Bombs Away! Another week of American Trumpceptionalism is in the books. Dropping the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used in combat left 36 ISIS fighters dead in a tunnel complex in Afghanistan. The so-called Massive Ordinance Air Blast bomb (MOAB) used 11 tons of explosives in one shot. One MOAB costs about $16 million, and 20 have been produced. $16 million for 36 ISIS fighters.

That’s $444.4k per dead fighter if you are keeping score.

The MOAB looks mostly like another “boys and their toys” deal. It is hard to see this kind of weapon doing much against the Taliban or ISIS in Afghanistan. It seems more likely that our military has run out of better ideas.

We are in the final countdown to Tax Day on April 18th. Tax preparation at the Mansion of Wrong is the reason for the skimpy column production this week. By the way: about 22% of taxpayers wait until the last two weeks before the deadline to file.

So you and Wrongo need a Soother today at least as much as we did last week, and today’s Soother is a feel good story from Croatia, where a pair of Storks have become a national obsession. From the Daily Mail:

A stork has melted hearts in Croatia by flying to the same rooftop every year for 14 years – to be reunited with its crippled partner. The faithful bird, called Klepetan, has returned once again to the village of Slavonski Brod in east Croatia after a 5,000 mile migration. He spends his winters alone in South Africa because his disabled partner Malena cannot fly properly after being shot by a hunter in 1993. Malena had been found lying by the side the road by schoolteacher Stjepan Vokic, who fixed her wing and kept her in his home for years before helping her to build a nest on his roof. After placing her there, she was spotted by Klepetan 14 years ago. And now every year they are reunited in the spring. Klepetan keeps a very strict timetable, usually arriving back at the same time on the same day in March to be welcomed by locals.

Here is Klepetan’s flight plan:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Klepetan didn’t arrive on time this year, but things worked out for the love birds:

But this year he was running six days late, causing panic among local media and fans of the stork couple. Such is the popularity of the pair that there is even a live feed on the main square in the capital Zagreb showing the two storks. There was huge excitement when stork-watchers saw what they thought was Klepetan circling over the nest, and then coming in to land. But the new arrival turned out to be a different stork that was attempting to woo Malena. She quickly attacked him and drove him off and continued to wait for Klepetan. Stjepan Vokic, whose roof the couple nest on, said: ‘She was pretty clear about the message, I doubt he will be back again.’ Vokic has taken care of Malena since she was first injured by hunters and says that she – like her partner – is now part of the family.

But he’s back, and on the case! They are raising this year’s brood of little storks:

And what about Malena in the winter? She goes indoors:

During the winter, Vokic keeps her inside the house, and then lets her go to the roof each spring where she patiently waits for her partner. This year, Malena made a rare flight and the couple were reportedly inseparable for hours. She does have the ability to make very short flights but her wing has not healed well enough for her to make the trip to Africa, or even to properly feed herself. Every summer, the pair bring up chicks, with Klepetan leading their flying lessons in preparation for the trip south in summer. The oldest recorded living stork was 39. Locals are hopeful the couple’s long relationship will continue for years to come.

This is proof that some animals live their lives by a higher moral code than some humans.

Hat tip to Raul Ilargi for posting this.

Here is Fleetwood Mac’s “Wish You Were Here”, a 2016 remastered version of the song from 1982, a song the storks might sing, if they could play guitar:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Takeaway Lyric:

There’s distance between us
And you’re on my mind
As I lay here in the darkness
I can find no peace inside
I wish you were here holding me tight
If I had you near it would make it alright
I wish you were here
‘Cause I feel like a child tonight

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North Korea Poses a Problem for Trump, Bigly

The Daily Escape:

(Key West flower by Denise M. Riggs)

CNN reported that on Monday, North Korea (NK) fired four ballistic missiles into the Japan Sea. CNN was told by a US official that a fifth missile failed to launch. More from CNN:

Later on Monday, two US officials told CNN that US intelligence is closely monitoring the underground nuclear test site via satellite amid signs the regime could be preparing for another underground test…A US official also said that Washington is continuing to see activity including missile engine tests at another North Korean launch site, that signal potential additional launches — which the US widely expects.

This creates a strategic problem for the Trump administration. Trump has already signaled his preference to respond aggressively to NK’s missile program. In a Twitter post after Kim Jong-un issued a warning on New Year’s Day, Trump tweeted “It won’t happen!

Obama used a different approach:

Three years ago, President Barack Obama ordered Pentagon officials to step up their cyber and electronic strikes against North Korea’s missile program in hopes of sabotaging test launches in their opening seconds.

Soon a large number of the North’s military rockets began to explode, veer off course, disintegrate in midair and plunge into the sea. Advocates of such efforts say they believe that targeted attacks have given American antimissile defenses a new edge and delayed by several years the day when North Korea will be able to threaten American cities with nuclear weapons launched atop intercontinental ballistic missiles.

But other experts have grown increasingly skeptical of the new approach…Over the past eight months, they note, the North has managed to successfully launch three medium-range rockets. And…North [Korea] is in “the final stage in preparations” for the inaugural test of its intercontinental missiles — perhaps a bluff, perhaps not.

The US lacks the ability to fully counter the NK nuclear and missile programs. The NYT’s reporting indicates that the NK danger was great enough that as Obama left office, he warned Trump it was likely to be the most urgent problem he [Trump] would confront.

As a presidential candidate, Trump said “we’re obsolete in cyber”. Now, one of the immediate questions he faces is whether to accelerate, or scale back existing cyber efforts. The US is also looking at ways to freeze the Kim family’s assets, some of which are held in Chinese banks. The Chinese have opposed the US deployment of the US high-altitude missile defense system known as THAAD in South Korea; but the Trump team may also deploy THADD systems in Japan.

A Trump administration official told the NYT that they are looking at pre-emptive military strike options, although the challenge is huge, given the country’s mountainous terrain, deep tunnels and bunkers. This is complicated. NK missiles are fired from multiple launch sites and are moved about on mobile launchers in an elaborate shell game meant to deceive adversaries.

Putting American tactical nukes back in South Korea (they were withdrawn 25 years ago) is also under consideration, even though that could accelerate a regional nuclear arms race.

Trump could re-open negotiations with NK to again freeze its nuclear and missile programs, but that would leave the current threat in place. He could prepare for direct missile strikes on the launch sites, but there is little chance of hitting all targets. He could press the Chinese to cut off trade and support for NK, but Beijing has always stopped short of steps that could lead to the regime’s collapse. The NYT said:

In two meetings of Mr. Trump’s national security deputies in the Situation Room, the most recent on Tuesday, all those options were discussed, along with the possibility of reintroducing nuclear weapons to South Korea as a dramatic warning. Administration officials say those issues will soon go to Mr. Trump and his top national security aides.

Dealing with NK requires a steady hand, and an ability to sort through complex relationships. Rash decisions will not work, while well thought-out tactics might.

Sadly, Trump has not convinced us that he has the temperament to deal with a complex situation like NK presents.

Here is the Moranbong Band, an all-female North Korean group whose members were personally selected by Kim Jong-un. Here they are performing “My Country Is The Best!”:

Everyone thinks their country is the best.

This has a decidedly Euro pop flavor. One wag said all that is missing is Robert Palmer standing in the foreground singing “Addicted to Love”. Check out the woman playing lead guitar at 2:34.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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American Exceptionalism Doesn’t Include Your Healthcare

The Republican’s effort to repeal and (maybe) replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) began today. From NPR:

Opening punches were thrown in what one top Democrat today called “the first big fight” of the new congressional year — the promise by President-elect Donald Trump and GOP lawmakers to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

The Obamacare debate is political and ideological, and it obscures a hard truth about healthcare in America. Historically, we spend more money than any other country on healthcare.

In the late 1990s, the US spent roughly 13% of its GDP on healthcare, compared to about a 9.5% average for all high income countries. However, the difference has steadily increased. Last year, as the ACA continued to roll out, healthcare costs hit 17.5% of GDP, the highest ever. That’s $9,695 per person.

We spend over $3 trillion on healthcare annually, and that rate of spending is expected to accelerate over the next decade. With all the debate about Obamacare, and what should replace it if it is repealed, we are ignoring what healthcare costs in the US, relative to other high income countries. It may surprise you that America doesn’t have better care than other high income countries, if we compare life expectancy to per capita health expenditures:

Source: Visual Capitalist

Americans spend more money, but do not receive similar results to other countries using the basic metric of life expectancy. The chart shows that the divergence started before 1980, and it widens all the way to 2014. While the 2015 statistics are not plotted on this chart, but we know that the healthcare expense in 2015 was 17.5% of GDP, so the divergence is likely to continue to widen.

The conclusion is that while our healthcare spending is considerably higher than in other high income countries, it’s also relatively less effective. If America spent more money and got the same results, we might say that our system is unique, but it produces similar outcomes, so let’s keep it the way it is.

But in fact, Americans on average live shorter lives than people in other high income countries. In fact, life expectancy went down in 2015:

The overall death rate for Americans increased because mortality from heart disease and stroke increased after declining for years. Deaths were also up from Alzheimer’s disease, respiratory disease, kidney disease and diabetes. More Americans also died from unintentional injuries and suicide.

We have a broken political system, one that cannot deal with the root cause of our expensive healthcare, or the fact that our healthcare system simply doesn’t produce the results that others can.

Despite the talk by Republicans about Obamacare being socialized medicine, our system is private, with the exception of the health insurance provided by Medicare and Medicaid. Our insurance companies are private, our physicians and providers are private.

By some estimates, the private multi-payer system in the US adds $0.38 for every dollar spent to cover the profits and the discreet management organizations that exist in our multi-payer system. The problem is that there is so much money (over $1 trillion) going to the private players, that they will fight like hell to keep the system as it is.

And they have the lobbying funds available to fight to keep the status quo. Thus, we will continue to deal with excessive costs regardless of no Obamacare, or some jury-rigged GOP Obamacare replacement.

In our Exceptional system, the fact is that even though you pay for health insurance, you are not the actual customer. When you go to the doctor or to the hospital, you are not the actual customer. The Insurance companies are the true customers of the doctors and the hospitals, and for the insurance companies, their shareholders are the true customers.

And before you question the statistics, saying for example, that the US counts infant deaths differently than they do in other countries, the infant death rate in the US is about 0.5% of births, and with about 4 million births in the US that translates into about 20,000 infant deaths. If you remove 20,000 people assigning them a life span of zero, in a country of 320 million people, the overall average life expectancy rises by only 1.81 days (43.4 hours). That is the statistical life span increase assuming we had zero infant deaths. (Please check Wrongo’s math).

Higher infant death rates have virtually no effect on the results shown on the chart.

Remember: Whomever is getting that extra $1 Trillion dollars every year has a trillion reasons why they should keep getting it.

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Winter Reading List

The following are books that Wrongo hopes to finish by spring. They are all supposed to be good for you, like vitamins, or exercise. A few more may be added to the pile, but it is already an ambitious list to get through in the next quarter:

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. Harari asks how Homo sapiens evolved from an unexceptional savannah-dwelling primate to become the dominant force on the planet.

The Sympathizer by Viet Trang Nguyen won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It describes a Viet Cong agent undercover with the Republic of Vietnam forces and the US military. He is bi-racial, with a Vietnamese mother and a French GI father, making him a “man of two minds”. He escapes after the Fall of Saigon, and lives in the Vietnamese refugee community in LA, while secretly reporting back to his communist superiors in Vietnam.

The First Congress by Fergus M. Bordewitch. America’s beginnings have been enjoying new popularity. The play “Hamilton” shows that better than any book. This interest has been sparked by a recognition that the American Revolution was a beginning, not an ending, of the story of our nation. And today, we need big ideas and role models more than ever.

The Populist Explosion by John Judis. Did an unstoppable wave of Populism give us Donald Trump? This is a 184 page book that may tell us.

The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis. Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky changed our assumptions about decision-making. Their work created the field of behavioral economics, for which Kahneman was awarded the Nobel Prize (Tversky had already died). The book is about their work, their incredibly close relationship, and how it went sideways.

The General vs. The President by HW Brands.

Wrongo just finished this highly readable book. In 1950, South Korea was invaded by the North, and our troops were nearly forced to abandon the peninsula.

Harry Truman was president. After WWII, America was not interested, or able to fight another war. We had demobilized our troops, and had limited numbers of planes, ships and equipment that were combat ready, but the thinking was that holding Korea was necessary to protect Japan from invasion by the Soviets and the Chinese.

General MacArthur was the greatest military hero of his time, and was in charge of America’s interests in Asia. In the Korean conflict, he had an early brilliant success, launching a counter-attack against the North Koreans at Inchon that led to the North Koreans being completely routed. MacArthur pursued them into North Korea, all the way to the Chinese border. China saw MacArthur on their border as an existential threat, and joined the conflict in huge numbers, pushing the allied forces back again into the south.

MacArthur had constantly lobbied (and actually took steps) to extend the war into China. He based that on advising Truman that the Chinese would never enter the war. He further insisted that the battle against communism should be fought in Asia, while Truman and the administration felt certain that the real trouble spot was Europe. We had already engaged Russia in the Berlin airlift in 1948. In fact, the CIA had warned that:

The Soviet Union may seize upon the present crisis [Korea] to precipitate general war with the United States.

MacArthur offered an unauthorized ceasefire to the North Koreans while threatening the alternative of nuclear war with China. He wanted to use Taiwan’s military to help defeat China’s troops in Korea, which would have left Taiwan unprotected, and would have re-started the war between the mainland and Taiwan that had just ended in 1949. He also wrote an inflammatory letter to a Republican congressman, contradicting his Commander in Chief’s strategy for Korea.

His actions caused his firing in April, 1951. Afterward, Truman came under withering attack from Republicans. MacArthur was hailed as a hero. He addressed a joint session of Congress, and had ticker tape parades all across the US. But, at Congressional hearings called to justify Truman’s strategy, the tide gradually turned against MacArthur.

The author does a fantastic job sourcing now de-classified portions of the hearings to demonstrate the danger in MacArthur’s ideas. Because of the hearings, all in Congress finally understood what America was facing globally, how ill-prepared we were at the time, and the folly of MacArthur’s plans.

MacArthur flirted with running for president, and Truman was weakened after his 1948 election. So MacArthur moved to kill the king. He called Truman an appeaser, someone who did not understand the global threat of communism. Truman did not run for reelection.

Eisenhower became president in 1952, having pledged to bring peace on the Korean peninsula.

Today, Truman is vindicated, and is considered a near-great president, while MacArthur is viewed as a brilliant military man who let politics ruin him.

Read the book!

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – December 4, 2016

Quite the week. Trump makes Cabinet appointments, he tweets about taking citizenship away from US flag burners exercising freedom of speech, he takes a call from the president of Taiwan, and gets a formal protest from China.

That wasn’t all. You missed it, but Congress passed HR 5732, the “Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act”. The bill sets the stage for the implementation of a no-fly zone (NFZ) over Syria. It requires the administration to submit to the appropriate congressional committees a report:

That assesses the potential effectiveness, risks and operational requirements of the establishment and maintenance of a no-fly zone over part of all of Syria.

These Congressional chicken hawks may not realize that NFZs are a form of limited war. Politicians are usually the first to forget that limited wars only stay limited by mutual agreement. The military will tell you to never declare an NFZ unless you are entirely willing to fight a real air and ground war to enforce it. In the case of Syria, a No-Fly Zone would require the destruction of Syrian aircraft and missile systems from Day 1, probably leading to the death of Russians shortly thereafter. We could have a shooting war with Russia by the end of the first week.

Syria has over 130 air defense systems. A dozen or so are in the Aleppo area. Syria also has over 4,000 air defense artillery pieces and a few thousand portable infrared-guided missile systems. Russia has also located its advanced S-400 anti-aircraft missiles into Syria to protect their bases in Latakia Province. Those missile systems effectively give Russia control over Syria’s airspace, and for the US to impose a no-fly zone would require an air battle with Russia, which would all but guarantee the loss of a large number of US warplanes.

Over the last 25 years, there has been an evolving political infatuation with two pillars of “political airpower”: airstrikes and no-fly zones. Did we get the results our politicians promised?

Onward to cartoons. Trump goes to Indiana, gives Carrier tax breaks:

cow-carrier

It was great political theater, but it is a standard “socialize the losses” GOP play: tax breaks for jobs. The taxes earned from keeping the jobs never pay the cost of the tax credits.

Paul Krugman had a good observation:

cow-krugman-on-carrier

Fidel Castro dies:

cow-fidel-hell

Free speech isn’t well understood by the Orange Overlord:

cow-burn-this

Nancy Pelosi is reelected as Minority Leader. Many are pleased:

cow-pelosi

Mitt wants work, will say anything:

cow-mitt-agrees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trump still has lots of posts to fill. Word is that former vice presidential candidate and Tina Fey impersonator Sarah Palin is on the list of possible Cabinet appointments.

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The Pant Suit’s Scary Foreign Policy

There may be reasons not to vote for Hillary Clinton, but there are no reasons at all to vote for Donald Trump — except for pure nihilism. For the Trumpets, there is little coherence about why he is their choice. Two threads emerge: First, that Trump will shake things up, that DC is its own bubble that must be burst. The current two party system is fraudulent and corrupt. Second, that rage against Hillary is sufficient reason to vote for the Donald. Neither idea, nor are both ideas, sufficient reason to elect the Pant Load.

So, Hillary has to be the choice for this election. She has a track record, and the only things you have to go by with respect to Trump are his mostly appalling business practices, and his appalling character, neither of which should inspire voter confidence.

However, Clinton’s track record and policies are not without concern. In particular, her foreign policy positions are frightening. It is clear that Clinton proposes to pursue a more militaristic version of the policies that have brought us where we are in the world. She would:

  • Enforce a “no-fly” zone inside Syria, with or without Syrian and Russian agreement
  • Issue an even larger blank check to Israel
  • Treat Russia as a military problem rather than a factor in the European balance to be managed
  • Try to tie China down in East Asia

We have little idea about what would she would do differently in Afghanistan or Iraq. What would she do differently about North Korea, Iran, or Turkey? We don’t know, but this should be frightening:

In the rarefied world of the Washington foreign policy establishment, President Obama’s departure from the White House — and the possible return of a more conventional and hawkish Hillary Clinton — is being met with quiet relief. The Republicans and Democrats who make up the foreign policy elite are laying the groundwork for a more assertive American foreign policy…

And there is more: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The studies, which reflect Clinton’s stated views, break most forcefully with Obama on Syria. Virtually all these efforts…call for stepped-up military action to deter President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and Russian forces in Syria.

The proposed military measures include…safe zones to protect moderate rebels from Syrian and Russian forces. Most of the studies propose limited American airstrikes with cruise missiles to punish Assad if he continues to attack civilians with barrel bombs…

Obama has staunchly resisted any military action against the Assad regime.

Apparently, the Iraq war was such a success that these policy experts want to repeat it in Syria. But, we are not as popular as we used to be, what with our drones droning all over the Middle East.

It is important to remember that when the Arab Spring erupted in 2010, the total Arab ME population was 348 million (World Bank data); today, it is 400 million. In the past six years, 52 million new Arab citizens were born in the ME, few of whom know a world without war, many who have limited education, schooling and economic prospects.

Should our next president be making new enemies in the ME?

We have a yuuge problem if our so-called foreign policy “elites” think the most “dovish” policy available is Obama’s current foreign policy. If this is the best that our serious policy thinkers can come up with, maybe we should just burn down the Kennedy School and Georgetown.

Wrongo thinks that 2016 is reminiscent of 1964, when LBJ ran against Goldwater. We had an anti-communist foreign policy elite looking for a fight with the USSR, and Goldwater was their man. America chose LBJ, because it was impossible to conceive of Goldwater having his finger on the nuclear button. LBJ was solid on domestic policy, but he listened to the elites, and launched us into Vietnam for no good reason, and with little public enthusiasm.

Today our anti-Russian foreign policy elites have Hillary’s ear, and there is a potential that she will mirror LBJ, getting us into another calamitous foreign policy adventure.

Wrongo will vote for her despite these concerns, as there is no alternative.

Bush’s policy should not be the starting point, with Obama’s foreign policy being the end point in terms of Hillary Clinton’s possible foreign policy options. If Bush’s policy was a complete failure, why on earth would she rely on a variant of it as the basis for our foreign policy?

Sadly, we are having this discussion less than two weeks before the election.

We have to hope that Hillary Clinton can be a good listener to options other than what the Neo-Cons are proposing.

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What’s JOE – 2035?

Haven’t heard of JOE- 35? Not surprising, since it is very difficult to find any mention of it in any major media news outlet. Google JOE- 35, and you get a series of links for a cast stone fire pit that is 35” in diameter.

Wrong. It refers to the “Joint Operating Environment 2035” [pdf] (JOE – 35), issued in July by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It lays out the environment that the military and the nation will be facing 20 years from now. It is written as a guide to how the Defense Department should be spending resources today in order to protect against tomorrow’s threats. They identify six broad geopolitical challenges the US Military will have to deal with in 20 years:

  • Violent Ideological Competition: irreconcilable ideas communicated and promoted by identity networks through violence. That is, states and non-state actors alike will pursue their goals by spreading ideologies hostile to US interests and encouraging violent acts to promote those ideologies.
  • Threatened US Territory and Sovereignty: encroachment, erosion, or disregard of US sovereignty and the freedom of its citizens.
  • Antagonistic Geopolitical Balancing: increasingly ambitious adversaries maximizing their own influence while actively limiting US influence. That is, rival powers will pursue their own interests in conflict with those of the United States. Think China in the Philippines.
  • Disrupted Global Commons: denial or compulsion in spaces and places available to all but owned by none. Think that the US will no longer be able to count on unimpeded access to the oceans, the air, space, or the electromagnetic spectrum in the pursuit of its interests.
  • A Contest for Cyberspace: a struggle to define and credibly protect sovereignty in cyberspace. That is, US cyberwarfare measures will increasingly face effective defenses and US cyberspace assets will increasingly face effective hostile incursions.
  • Shattered and Reordered Regions: states increasingly unable to cope with internal political fractures, environmental stress, or deliberate external interference. That means states will continue to be threatened by increasingly harsh pressures on national survival, and the failed states and stateless zones will continue to spawn insurgencies and non-state actors hostile to the US.

The report also warns that the rise of non-state actors such as ISIS, described in the report as “privatized violence“, will continue, as will the rapidity by which those groups form and adapt. The spread of 3D-printing technologies and readily available commercial technology such as drones, means those groups can be increasingly effective against a fully equipped and highly technological US military.

The study says:

Transnational criminal organizations, terrorist groups, and other irregular threats are likely to exploit the rapid spread of advanced technologies to design, resource, and execute complex attacks and combine many complex attacks into larger, more sustained campaigns…

John Michael Greer has a review of JOE-35 that is worth reading in its entirety. His criticism of the report is that:

Apparently nobody at the Pentagon noticed one distinctly odd thing about this outline of the future context of American military operations: it’s not an outline of the future at all. It’s an outline of the present. Every one of these trends is a major factor shaping political and military action around the world right now.

Like so many things in our current politics, the JOE projections are mostly about justifying current procurement/pork barreling by a linear extrapolation of today’s threats. That, and the institutional blindness that sets in when there have been no real challenges to the established groupthink, and the professional consequences of failure in the military are near-zero.

The JOE list may not be imaginative or fully predictive, but that doesn’t make it wrong. None of the problems they forecast are going away. For instance, the use of ideology to win and shore up support from potential fighters and allies is as old as ancient times, so why would ideological conflict NOT be an issue in 2035?

Threats to US sovereignty and territory go along with the Joint Chiefs’ recognition that the US is an empire most likely on a downward curve, unless there is great change in our policies, domestic and foreign.

In this sense, the report is quietly critical of our politicians.

The admission in the JOE report that we will be actively required to defend our home ground by 2035 is a mark of just how much our geopolitical environment has changed since 9/11.

It is indeed worth your time to read both the JOE report, and that of John Michael Greer very carefully.

Both will make you smarter than reading about the latest Trump outrage.

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The Lyin’ Game

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was, and never will be.”Thomas Jefferson

We received quite a few emails about the column “Lie to Me – It’s a Post-Truth World.” In it, Wrongo called for a means of rebutting lies as they emerge and crawl across our political landscape. Citizens who otherwise lead commonsensical lives cannot seem to hold on to facts when in a political argument.

Let’s start by taking a closer look at how things work in the Lyin’ Game. Charlie Pierce’s 2009 book, Idiot America, lays out what he calls the Three Great Premises that explain how lies take the form of truth:

1. Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or moves units.
2. Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough.
3. Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is measured by how fervently they believe it.

It seems that the 2016 election is confirmation of Dr. Pierce’s diagnosis. The prognosis is not necessarily fatal, though left untreated, it surely could be. Here is a quote from his book:

In the new media age, everybody is a historian, or a scientist, or a preacher, or a sage. And if everyone is an expert, then nobody is, and the worst thing you can be in a society where everybody is an expert is, well, an actual expert.

So, it’s not just that we are fact free, it’s that we, the people, are unable or unwilling to learn the facts.

Susan Jacoby also wrote about the risks of a fact-free society about the same time as Pierce, the 2008 presidential election. In her book, “The Age of Unreason,” she made a great point about FDR and his relationship with citizens and the truth. In FDR’s radio fireside chats, he would ask the people listening out there to spread a map of the world out in front of them so that as he talked about the battles that were going on, they would understand what he was saying about the places, the geography, and the strategy of what was happening. Doris Kearns Goodwin said in a lecture at Kansas State University that one of her favorite fireside chats was the “map speech,” delivered in February, 1942. Millions of Americans went out and bought maps, and they sat by the radio and followed what FDR was talking about.

And FDR wasn’t on the radio every week as presidents are today. He only delivered two or three of these fireside chats a year, deliberately holding himself back for the moment when the country needed to hear from their president. He understood something that we have lost, that less can be more.

In 2009, Pierce offered a prescription about how to get out of the “perception is reality” paradigm: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

I’ve given that a lot of thought and the best answer I can give is that we, as citizens, simply have to do better at self-government. We have to distinguish between entertainment and information. Our powers of discernment have to be sharpened…Any journalist who accepts “perception is reality” as axiomatic is committing professional malpractice. Our job is to hammer the reality home until the perception conforms to it.

When our journalists accept “perception is fact” there is no hope for truth.

Jacoby says that the spread of ignorance and the acceptance of non-truth as fact is caused in part by the absence of national education standards, combined with the anti-intellectualism that we see everywhere. America’s insistence on local control of schools means that children in the poorest areas of the country have the worst school facilities and teachers with the worst training.

Among OECD nations, only in the US, Israel and Turkey do disadvantaged schools have lower teacher/student ratios than in those serving more privileged students.

This gives us an America in which anti-intellectualism is not only tolerated, but celebrated by many politicians and the media. Meanwhile, 25% of Texas high-school biology teachers believe that human beings and dinosaurs shared the earth, and more than a third of Americans can’t name a single First Amendment right.

Facts don’t matter, because more and more Americans cannot recognize facts as true. Jacoby says:

This level of scientific illiteracy provides fertile soil for political appeals based on sheer ignorance.

Our 2016 presidential campaign has clarified what’s wrong with us as a nation. Yet, we’ve proven to willingly to put up with it.

Instead of putting up with what’s wrong, how about fixing it?

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