29 October, 2008

Watch North Korea

The following excerpt is from the most recent (10/28/08) Nightwatch. The quotes are translated by a South Korean news service. The comments come from John Mccreary--and I can't improve on them.

“We clarify our stand that should the south Korean puppet authorities continue
scattering leaflets and conducting a smear campaign with sheer fabrications, our
army will take a resolute practical action as we have already warned.”
(Note: this is a reference to threats made at a 2 October working
military-military working meeting.)

“As for the "preemptive strike" which the puppet warhawks officially announced as a basic mode of strike at the DPRK (Note: South Korea announced it has a preemptive strike doctrine), we will counter it with more powerful and advanced preemptive strike of our own style as we have already stated before the world. This is our steadfast stand.

“The advanced preemptive strike of our own style is based on a preemptive strike beyond imagination relying on striking means more powerful than a nuclear weapon. It will, therefore, render any early warning system and interceptor system of the puppet warmongers completely ineffective, and the "preemptive strike" based on the so-called method of fighting a war centering on Network much touted by them will also prove futile.

The puppet authorities had better bear in mind that the advanced preemptive strike of our own style will reduce everything opposed to the nation and reunification to debris, not just setting them on fire, and it will turn out to be a just war of strike to build an independent reunified state on it.”

(Note: this seems to refer to thermobaric weapons and/or an electro magnetic pulse blast. The context of fire is that in the1990s the North’s military representatives at
Panmunjom threatened to set Seoul on fire. Same guys, same setting, worse threat.)

Comment: This is out of character with other actions taking place, including that listed below. The threat is disproportionate to the provocation and violates the North’s oft touted principle of symmetry: “action for action.” The proportional response, for example, would be a revival of the old propaganda wars across the Demilitarized Zone. The North is betraying extra-sensitivity to slight provocations. It does this whenever the country or leadership is experiencing internal trouble that the leadership fears outsiders will attempt to take advantage of.

The video taken of Kim Jong-nam, the eldest son of Kim Chong-il, leaving the hospital in Paris is persuasive that the elder Kim has taken a turn for the worse. The hypothesis is reinforced by the mismatch in the military statement between the provocation and the threat response.

This is a warning that needs to be taken seriously and the North’s missile forces
watched closely because the North has the capability to do what it has threatened with little warning. The message behind the threat statement is that this is not a time for business as usual relative to leaflet deliveries, which do foment discontent.

On the other hand, North Korean media continued to report on routine diplomatic and other internal activity. A delegation from Syria was feted in Pyongyang by the Party leadership, not including dear leader Kim.

What graduates earn

Yet another survey of the starting salaries of graduates with the Bachelor's degree in various fields. I've trimmed the descriptions of most of them, but left the comments regarding political science:

A general biologist starts out at $38,896, while a biochemist
makes slightly more at $43,961.

Business administration and
Beginning salary: $57,132.

salary: $30,921.

Computer science
Beginning salary:

Criminal justice
Beginning salary:

Elementary education
Beginning salary:

Beginning salary: $59,471.

Beginning salary: $41,173.

Beginning salary:

Political science
Politics is far more than local, state, and federal elections. Political science majors can work in a number of roles, including working for political parties in administrative positions or as analysts. Forty-one percent of all workers with this major are employed by government agencies. Some common career paths for political science
majors include lobbyist and diplomat. They may also work in the media as a journalist in an editorial capacity or for nonprofit organizations.
Beginning salary:
Of course, actual salaries are influenced by a local and personal factors. Your mileage may vary.

The worst presidents

The Times of London gives us, yet again, a list of the best and worst among US presidents in history. Starting with the worst:

1. James Buchanan

2. Frankilin Pierce

3. Martin Van Buren

4. William Harrison

5. (TIE) Richard Nixon and George W. Bush

Personally, I wouldn't have included Harrison (with only 32 days in office, there's only so much he could do) and Nixon, while a totally screwed-up human being, had skills in foreign policy. Thus, as I figure it, G.W. Bush is the fourth-worst American president ever.

What is it about these guys and melamine?

Now it's showing up in eggs from China. Probably got into the feed.

27 October, 2008

Middle earth politics

An article by Ruane and James, in the most recent issue of International Studies Perspectives, has a lot of fun with using The Lord of the Rings to illustrate some of the classic divisions among IR theorists. Here's something to think about:

Table 1. Approaches to IR and the Characters by Which They Can Be Illustrated

Great Debate IR Approach Race Male Character

1. Vision of future (idealism ⁄ realism): 1920s ⁄ 1930s
Kantian Elf Elrond
Machiavellian Orc Uglu´ k, Led by Saruman

2. Method (history ⁄science): 1950s ⁄1960s
Rational choice (bounded ⁄ unbounded) Wizard Gandalf ⁄ Saruman
Neorealist (defensive ⁄ offensive) Human Boromir ⁄ Ringwraith
Neoliberal (Institutionalist) Dwarf Gimli

3. Epistemology (positivism ⁄postpositivism): 1980s ⁄ 1990s
Constructivist Hobbit Frodo Baggins
Critical theory (Marxist roots) Ent Treebeard

source: A E.bigail Ruane, Patrick James. The International Relations of Middle-earth: Learning from The Lord of the Rings. International Studies Perspectives, Volume 9, Number 4 (November 2008), pp. 377-394.

Stiglitz' recommendations

Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel prize winner, former chief economist of the World Bank, chairman of Clinton's council of economic advisors, critic and reformer of globalization, makes some suggestions in an essay in Time magazine to deal with the financial mess. You can't claim he doesn't think big:

5 Create an effective multilateral agency. As the global economy becomes more interconnected, we need better global oversight. It is unimaginable that America's financial market could function effectively if we had to rely on 50 separate state regulators. But we are trying to do essentially that at the global level.

The recent crisis provides an example of the dangers: as some foreign governments provided blanket guarantees for their deposits, money started to move to what looked like safe havens. Other countries had to respond. A few European governments have been far more thoughtful than the U.S. in figuring out what needs to be done. Even before the crisis turned global, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in his address to the U.N. last month, called for a world summit to lay the foundations for more state regulation to replace the current laissez-faire approach. We may be at a new "Bretton Woods moment." As the world emerged from the Great Depression and World War II, it realized there was need for a new global economic order. It lasted more than 60 years. That it was not well adapted for the new world of globalization has been clear for a long time. Now, as the world emerges from the Cold War and the Great Financial Crisis, it will need to construct a new global economic order for the 21st century, and that will include a new global regulatory agency.

This crisis may have taught us that unfettered markets are risky. It should also have taught us that unilateralism can't work in a world of economic interdependence.

Some will see this as yet another assault on American sovereignty. And you know, they're not entirely wrong. But no country has absolute sovereignty in practice. Only a great power like the US could lose sight of that--until reality drives home the point. I doubt Stiglitz' answers are entirely correct--and I'm sure they're not complete--but he's probably on a productive track.

The big breakdown

No matter how bad you think it is, it's worse.

If you don't believe me, listen to Taleb and Mandelbrot. I've been watching this for years, hoping to avoid it. I still hope the system proves to be more resilient than these guys believe--a "break-UP" rather than a "break-DOWN"--but they make a strong case.

Thanks to zen for the pointer.

Security studies conference

Just back from a conference for security studies types, held by the ISA and APSA in Vail,
CO. Lots of good people. I would have enjoyed it more if I wasn't so ill. Fever, lack of sleep and congestion are bad enough at home; they are more of a pain at 10,000 feet. I did get to present my paper on NBIC technologies, soon to be published by the Journal of Human Security, and learned more. I was too sick to present my paper on PMCs, but it needs a substantial rewrite anyway.

(I wish I could have heard the comments on the second paper. I'll contact the chair to see if he has anything for me.)

Two general observations:
  • A lot of people are waiting to see how much of the Bush foreign policy will survive the upcoming election. Will there be a general outbreak of sanity? If so, what does that mean for strategic and security studies?
  • Few people, inside or outside government, seem to be interested in discussing some of the threats on the horizon associated with nano-scale and associated technologies. In part, I suspect this is just because it donesn't fit the standard paradigm. In particular, the potential for commercial dual-use applications, small-scale (personal?) production, and accidental release (let alone terrorism) challenges the whole idea of a state-based regulatory regime. It felt at times like we were medieval experts, confronted with the proliferation of guns, who would prefer to keep talking about the tactics of armored knights.
The world is changing. Just how much, I don't know. But it clearly is changing, and we aren't ready. While I'm glad I went, I'm equally glad to be home.

Twittering terrorists

An Army report, released throught the Federation of American Scientists, finds that Twitter could be used by terrorists to coordinate attacks.

Well, duh.

That's the "problem" with global, real-time communications: people you don't like might use them, too. What I find more interesting are a couple of other points. First, there seem to be no open-source references to twittering terrorists. Are the terrorists clueless? Are they that good? Is nobody looking? Are the reports classified? Second, there is the ease with which the Army lumps all kinds of "hacktivists" with terrorism.
Twitter has also become a social activism tool for socialists, human rights groups, communists, vegetarians, anarchists, religious communities, atheists, political enthusiasts, hacktivists and others to communicate with each other and to send messages to broader audiences...


Twitter is already used by some members to post and/or support extremist ideologies and perspectives. Extremist and terrorist use of Twitter could evolve over time to reflect tactics that are already evolving in use by hacktivists and activists for surveillance. This could theoretically be combined with targeting.
Gee, is there anybody with a different opinion who we shouldn't be afraid of?

26 October, 2008

Palin "goes rogue"

While watching the VP debates my brilliant and beautiful wife commented that it seemed to her that Palin was less interested in winning this election than she was in positioning herself for the next one. The national press is finally getting it, too. This from CNN:

Several McCain advisers have suggested to CNN they have become increasingly frustrated with what one aide described as Palin “going rogue” recently, while a Palin associate says she is simply trying to “bust free” of what she believes was a mishandled roll-out that damaged her.

McCain sources point to several incidents where Palin has gone off message, and privately wonder if they were deliberate. For example: labeling robo calls “irritating,” even as the campaign was defending the use of them and telling reporters she disagreed with the campaigns controversial decision to pull out of Michigan.

A second McCain source tells CNN she appears to now be looking out for herself more than the McCain campaign.

While the McCain campaign goes down in flames, the newest darling of the neocons is the only person positioned to get any long-term advantage. A paranoid question: were the advisors who pushed for Palin hoping something like this would happen? McCain, despite towing the line in this campaign, was always too unpredictable (and autonomous) for many "conservative" true believers.

22 October, 2008

The good news (and bad)

The Conservative Rebellion October 21, 2008Alvaro Vargas Llosa

WASHINGTON—A rebellion is beginning to take place among American conservatives, many of them influential commentators who are denouncing the takeover of the Republican Party by a mixture of anti-intellectual populists and political extremists.
Novelist Christopher Buckley, the son of the founder of modern American conservatism, has endorsed Barack Obama for president. Columnists Kathleen Parker and Peggy Noonan have questioned John McCain’s judgment in picking Sarah Palin as his running mate. Another columnist, David Brooks, has offered a jeremiad against the Republican Party’s anti-intellectual bent.

More poignantly, they all decry what they perceive as a betrayal of conservative principles. Buckley put it succinctly when he wrote that George Bush’s government has brought America “a doubled national debt, ruinous expansion of entitlement programs, bridges to nowhere, poster boy Jack Abramoff and an ill-premised, ill-waged war conducted by politicians of breathtaking arrogance.” Brooks thinks the problem goes beyond the Bush years, stating that “modern conservatism began as a movement of dissident intellectuals” against the liberal domination of the academic world, but “what had been a disdain for liberal intellectuals slipped into a disdain for the educated class as a whole.” Parker is even more forceful: “The well-fed right now cultivates ignorance as a political strategy. ... Years of pandering to the extreme wing ... have created a party no longer attentive to its principles.”

We don’t know if these symptoms of dissent will develop into a full-blown rebellion against the Republican establishment. Much will depend on the result of the presidential election. If McCain and Palin lose, the chances of an insurgency taking root within the party itself are significant.
The Republican Party has indeed deviated from conservatism as it is understood by those who consider Edmund Burke the founder of the conservative idea, William F. Buckley the intellectual midwife of modern-day American conservatism, and Barry Goldwater the flint that sparked a vast political movement in favor of small government in the United States.

This deviation expresses itself in different ways. First, in the confusion between Jeffersonian populism—a salutary mistrust of economic power allied to political power—and class-based populism, which is what Republican leaders promote when they scorn America’s coastal and big-city culture. Second, in the contradiction between a low-tax, low-spend policy and an interventionist foreign policy that, by definition, is costly—as every empire in the history of mankind eventually and painfully found out. Last, in modern-day Puritanism, which started, perhaps understandably, as a reaction against the cultural excesses of the 1960s but ended up turning into what H.L. Mencken described decades earlier as “grounded upon the inferior man’s hatred of the man who is having a better time.”

These fundamental deviations from conservatism crystallized in the Bush administration. The result was the biggest growth in government since the presidency of Lyndon Johnson, a loss of international prestige and, in purely political terms, the alienation of millions of people who could have been attracted to the Republican Party had its libertarian roots been preserved in dealing with social issues. Thus, the party that styles itself the champion of individual liberty has come to be seen by many in the United States and around the world as a special-interest group driven by factions and devoid of principle.

That many conservatives have finally decided to speak out is encouraging. That they are being vilified is even more encouraging—it means that they may just have a point. After the elections, conservatives will have to do some serious soul-searching and ask themselves a few simple questions: How was it that they let their movement and their party be hijacked by people who were hellbent on disfiguring the face of American conservatism? How was it that the self-styled party of individual liberty became, in the eyes of many, the party of big government, intolerance and jingoism?

The recent spats among the various strands of American conservatism are the harbinger of a transcendent fight for the soul of the movement. We don’t yet know who the leaders will be and much less who will emerge victorious. The search for a renewed Republican Party could, as in 1964 and 1980, produce a return to its roots. But this will not be a pretty picture. If the “root” conservatives are going to displace the faction that now controls the movement, they will need to displace some very unpleasant people.

Excellent advice

Intended for Sarah Palin, but good for anyone to hear.

Cyberwar goes both ways

Somebody is screwing with Al Qaeda's propaganda websites.


You gotta love a globalizing world: Columbian drug smugglers are helping to finance Hezbolah.

08 October, 2008

A history lesson

Excerpts from pages 166-73 of They Thought They Were Free: The Germans
First published in 1955
By Milton Mayer

"What no one seemed to notice," said a colleague of mine, a philologist, "was the ever widening gap, after 1933, between the government and the people. Just think how very wide this gap was to begin with, here in Germany. And it became always wider. You know, it doesn’t make people close to their government to be told that this is a people’s government, a true democracy, or to be enrolled in civilian defense, or even to vote. All this has little, really nothing, to do with knowing one is governing.

"What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.

"This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.

"You will understand me when I say that my Middle High German was my life. It was all I cared about. I was a scholar, a specialist. Then, suddenly, I was plunged into all the new activity, as the university was drawn into the new situation; meetings, conferences, interviews, ceremonies, and, above all, papers to be filled out, reports, bibliographies, lists, questionnaires. And on top of that were the demands in the community, the things in which one had to, was ‘expected to’ participate that had not been there or had not been important before. It was all rigmarole, of course, but it consumed all one’s energies, coming on top of the work one really wanted to do. You can see how easy it was, then, not to think about fundamental things. One had no time."

"Those," I said, "are the words of my friend the baker. ‘One had no time to think. There was so much going on.’"

"Your friend the baker was right," said my colleague. "The dictatorship, and the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting. It provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway. I do not speak of your ‘little men,’ your baker and so on; I speak of my colleagues and myself, learned men, mind you. Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things and never had. There was no need to. Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about—we were decent people—and kept us so busy with continuous changes and ‘crises’ and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the ‘national enemies,’ without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us. Unconsciously, I suppose, we were grateful. Who wants to think?

"To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it— please try to believe me—unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.

"How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have. And everyone counts on that might.

"Your ‘little men,’ your Nazi friends, were not against National Socialism in principle. Men like me, who were, are the greater offenders, not because we knew better (that would be too much to say) but because we sensed better. Pastor Niemöller spoke for the thousands and thousands of men like me when he spoke (too modestly of himself) and said that, when the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was a little uneasy, but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did nothing; and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little uneasier, but, still, he was not a Socialist, and he did nothing; and then the schools, the press, the Jews, and so on, and he was always uneasier, but still he did nothing. And then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman, and he did something—but then it was too late."

"Yes," I said.

"You see," my colleague went on, "one doesn’t see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don’t want to act, or even talk, alone; you don’t want to ‘go out of your way to make trouble.’ Why not?—Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.

Copyright notice: Excerpt from pages 166-73 of They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 by Milton Mayer, published by the University of Chicago Press. ©1955, 1966.

06 October, 2008

The market reacts to the bailout

New web address

In the interest of distinguishing this blog from all the other "Political Outsiders" out there, I'm changing name of this blog, and changing the address to http://secureliberty.blogspot.com.

03 October, 2008

A pork-encrusted scam

The "revised" Bailout is the most horrible piece of legislation I have ever read: wrongly conceived, poorly organized, badly written, a collection of executive aggrandizement and legislative pork that makes the PATRIOT Act look well-considered.

Even if something needs to be done, this is not it.

The Bailout conference call

I'm seeing this in several places. I have no independent confirmation. The story is that there was a conference call Monday evening involving spokespeople for the Treasury Department and various insider analysts looking for a precis of what the "improved" bill that was going to the Senate (and now to the House) really means. The call was recorded, and has been linked to several sites, starting with a torrent (that I have so far been unable to open) at The Pirate Bay. There are also notes from the call:
"Draft bill is very positive for both markets and our companies"

Much explanation of Executive Comp

Residential and commercial mortgages. But very importantly, it can be any asset.

Excited about ability to guarantee assets in exchange for a guarantee fee.

Sought as much authority and as much flexibility as possible.

Eligibility: as broad participation by institutions as possible. The
more participation, the more effective it will be. Want banks of all
sizes or any financial institution that has a meaningful presence in
the US to be interested and enthusiastic.

Purpose is to help private sector clean up their balance sheets.

Highest priority: make sure it works, will attract companies to
participate. Warrants and exec comp. were very highly negotiated.


Direct purchases from failing institution e.g. Bear Stearns, AIG, F&F: will do the same thing, take maybe 79.9% equity.

Market mechanism: Congress wanted taxpayer benefit in upside. Sell
warrants for assets over $100M , but the amount of warrants is still
TBD. WE want healthy institutions to participate so it should not be

Exec comp.

Most difficult part of negotiation.

Direct deal: fire the management, like AIG etc.

Market mechanism: if sell over $300M into fund, some exec comp limits
come with it. For 2 years, the firm could not enter into NEW contracts
including golden parachute, for involuntary departure. And lose some

We feel really good that we have encouraged healthy institutions to participate, not just bailouts of sick institutions.

Clawback of taxpayer losses:
1. it's a long way out, "a lot can happen in that time"
2. it's targeted at all financial institutions, not just participants! (that means it will never happen)
3. would need more congressional and presidential action to implement this.

Oversight (Bob Hoyt)

1. Financial Stability Oversight Board
2. General Accountability Office and Comptroller General managing purchase auctions
3. Special Inspector General
4. Congressional Oversight Panel
5. Reporting provisions
some1 | 09.28.08 - 9:27 pm | #

Tranching of $700B (I didn't know that was a limit)

Entire 700B is appropriated entirely by the act, no further appropriation necessary.

Tranching: first $250B
Then Secretary determines that more is needed and tells Congress, another $100B
Then Secretary determines that more is needed and Congress has 15 days to refuse, the remaining $350B

No time limits. Can request all the tranches at once, no need for delays.

More about tranching:

To block the last $350B, Congress has to say no. Then the President can
veto that. To override that veto, Congress needs 2/3 majority.

ALL of that must happen within 15 days, otherwise the money goes out.

Can't the President wait and veto it with one minute left in the 15 days?

RTC had to go back to Congress. Kudos for making this program much EASIER!

Price: not a fire-sale price, not an outrageous price, a "fair" price. Firms might get a price higher than their current mark.

(Congress will be voting on this, with this aspect totally undetermined.)

Not trying to maximize return to the taxpayer, but to provide liquidity to the system as a whole.

They will prefer to help healthy banks become even healthier, as
opposed to rescuing a failing bank, because the healthy bank is more
likely to relend into the system.

They expect that the exec. comp. limits won't constrain the healthy banks, since they are so light.

It will take several weeks, before any assets can be bought, to hire asset managers and get systems up and running.

(They're going to let the weak banks fail, then help the rest.)

No provision to mandate re-lending.

Stuff that is still to be determined, will be issued as "guidelines" therefore exempt from discussion and comment period.

About 800 people on the call.
Make of it what you will. I think it sucks.