Next up: Republicans will blame the troops for dying

After the barrage of silly “Democrats want to surrender to the terrorists” accusations by Republicans, next we’re likely to hear that the troops are traitors because they are dying before the election.

Two more Americans die in Iraq as toll climbs – Yahoo! News:

The U.S. military announced the deaths of two more soldiers in Iraq on Tuesday, taking October’s death toll to an unusually high 103 just a week before U.S. congressional elections.

If Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s Disease is a political ploy (that he was diagnosed with a decade ago, but was only sprung on the public this election cycle—diabolical Democrats!), these troops are next in line for the blame.

When a political party associates its successes with the moral and patriotic character of the nation, it is time to replace that party or give up your liberty.

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Turn up the global heat, turn down the global economy

My comment: Keep in mind, this five-to-twenty percent less economic activity figure is if we do nothing. If we invest and solve the problem, it’s the key to making the massive gains of the industrial era looking like child’s play. Why would we not invest to end global warming? It means clean power, perhaps unlimited power to drive generations of progress, not just lower sea levels.

Global warming, economic cooling? | Economist.com :

SIR NICHOLAS STERN, the head of the British Government Economic Service, has produced the world’s first big report on the economics of climate change. … Sir Nicholas’s argument is that, far from undermining the American way of life, attempts to mitigate climate change may help preserve it. He argues this by setting the costs of allowing climate change to happen against the costs of mitigating climate change.

Previous estimates of the costs of climate change—as a result of more hurricanes, more floods and rising sea levels, for instance—have been somewhere between nothing and 2% of global GDP. But Sir Nicholas says those figures were wrong, for two reasons. First, the science has changed, and global warming seems to be happening faster than was previously believed. Second, those estimates have looked only at the likeliest outcomes from climate change, not at the outlying catastrophic possibilities. As a result, Sir Nicholas maintains that if greenhouse gas emissions go on increasing at their present rate, global output is likely to be between 5% and 20% lower over the next two centuries than it otherwise would have been.

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Dance, Tony Snow, Dance

Press Briefing by Tony Snow:

Let me give you the no-brainers here. No-brainer number one is, we don’t torture. No-brainer number two: We don’t break the law, our own or international law. No-brainer number three: The Vice President doesn’t give away questioning techniques. And number four, the administration does believe in legal questioning techniques of known killers whose questioning can, in fact, be used to save American lives. The Vice President says he was talking in general terms about a questioning program that is legal to save American lives, and he was not referring to water boarding.

So says former Fox commentator and current Press Secretary Tony Snow of Vice President Richard Cheney’s comment in response to a question about whether “a dunk in the water is a no-brainer if it can save lives” that:

“Well, it’s a no-brainer for me, but for a while there I was criticized as being the vice president for torture. We don’t torture. That’s not what we’re involved in.”

It is apparently a no-brainer that we don’t do, but Cheney approves of, but doesn’t mean when talking to reporters, according to Snow.

Then why, we must ask, has the White House pushed for legislation that reserves the right “interpret the meaning and application” of international law, specifically what torture is and and isn’t, to the President?

The only no-brainer here is that these are people willing to say or do anything to retain power.

The transcript of the press conference is priceless. At one point, Snow descends to almost plaintively crying ” No, no, no, no –”

MR. SNOW: I’ll be happy to talk to him. Okay, I’ll talk to him for you, okay? Everybody happy?

Q Yes.

Q Will you tell us what he says? (Laughter.)

Q — when he says “dunk in the water,” that’s a serious question. You can’t just sort of beg off and say, I’m sorry, I’m not going to deconstruct it.

MR. SNOW: No, but, Jennifer — Jennifer, you’ve listened — there have been statements out of that office for two consecutive days that say they don’t talk about water boarding, they don’t talk about torture, they don’t condone torture. They’re not going to talk about techniques.

Q All we’re asking is, what’s a “dunk in the water”?

Q He agrees with it. We want to know what that means.

MR. SNOW: All right.

Q If he agrees with a “dunk in the water,” then —

MR. SNOW: All right, talk about a dunk in the water.

Q But you need to deconstruct it, not us. That’s why we’re asking you.

MR. SNOW: Okay, well, I’ve told you what deconstruction I’ve had. Yes, Anne.

Q Tony, this administration has, indeed, talked about specifics, including after Abu Ghraib, President Bush condemning that kind of behavior.

MR. SNOW: Right.

Q And he did talk about specifics, saying that was not —

MR. SNOW: Wait a minute, he was talking about — he was talking about specific breaches of the law. He was not talking about lawful techniques, which we will not disclose for obvious reasons of security.

Q To say that Vice President Cheney doesn’t make mistakes like this, he did go up and curse a senator to his face on the Senate floor, and accidentally shot his friend, so he’s not perfect. (Laughter.)

Q He never slips up?

MR. SNOW: No, I mean, it’s just — that’s — that’s a great line, but it’s not germane. Yes, Helen.

Q Is the emphasis on “we don’t torture” when we send captives to notorious places that do torture? Does that absolve you?

MR. SNOW: No, it’s — as we’ve said many times, when we move people to another place, we have to have assurances that there will be no torture, and the treatment will be in accordance with international law.

Q Why do you send them there? Why? Why don’t you keep them in your own captivity?

MR. SNOW: Well, wait a minute, I thought you guys wanted to close off Guantanamo. The only way you do that — we quite often try to repatriate people to places —

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The economics of demand-side scarcity

First, an extended excerpt of this piece by Robert Samuelson at Newsweek:

Samuelson: The Next Capitalism – Newsweek Robert Samuelson – MSNBC.com:

When he died in 1848, John Jacob Astor was America’s richest man, leaving a fortune of $20 million that had been earned mainly from real estate and fur trading. Despite his riches, Astor’s business was mainly a one-man show. He employed only a handful of workers, most of them clerks. This was typical of his time, when the farmer, the craftsman, the small partnership and the independent merchant ruled the economy. Only fifty years later, almost everything had changed. Giant industrial enterprises—making steel, producing oil, refining sugar and much more—had come to dominate.

The rise of big business is one of the seminal events in American history, and if you want to think about it intelligently, you consult historian Alfred D. Chandler Jr., its pre-eminent chronicler. At 88, Chandler has retired from the Harvard Business School but is still churning out books and articles. It is an apt moment to revisit his ideas because the present upheavals in business are second only to those of a century ago.

Until Chandler, the emergence of big business was all about titans. The Rockefellers, Carnegies and Fords were either “robber barons” whose greed and ruthlessness allowed them to smother competitors and establish monopolistic empires. Or they were “captains of industry” whose genius and ambition laid the industrial foundations for modern prosperity. But when Chandler meticulously examined business records, he uncovered a more subtle story. New technologies (the railroad, telegraph and steam power) favored the creation of massive businesses that needed—and, in turn, gave rise to—superstructures of professional managers: engineers, accountants and supervisors.

It began with railroads. In 1830, getting from New York to Chicago took three weeks. By 1857, the trip was three days (and we think the Internet is a big deal). From 1850 to 1900, track mileage went from 9,000 to 200,000. But railroads required a vast administrative apparatus to ensure the maintenance of “locomotives, rolling stock, and track”—not to mention scheduling trains, billing and construction, as Chandler showed in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book “The Visible Hand: the Managerial Revolution in American Business” (1977).

Elsewhere, the story was similar. Companies didn’t achieve lower costs simply by adopting new technologies or building bigger factories. No matter how efficient a plant might be, it would be hugely wasteful if raw materials did not arrive on time or if the output couldn’t be quickly distributed and sold. Managers were essential; so were statistical controls. Coordination and organization mattered. Companies that surmounted these problems succeeded. Typical was Singer Sewing Machine. Around 1910, it produced 20,000 to 25,000 machines a month and had 1,700 U.S. branch offices, whose salaried managers supervised an army of salesmen.

Robert Samuelson goes on to say that the managerial capitalism that defined the era Chandler described has given way to something new.

The key to Samuelson’s argument, as many argue these days, is the economics of abundance, which some say has transformed the idea of scarcity into generosity (“the economics of abundance,” as Chris Anderson put it) as the primary catalyst of business.

I’m not convinced that what has really changed is the scale of coordination, which still requires that we treat the shortage of something–whether physical goods, software or knowledge–in one place as scarcity in all places by managing the costs of delivery so that the largest number are served for the lowest price.

Chris Anderson points for confirmation to this speech by Barry Diller of InterActive Corp. at the Forbes MEET Conference in which he says: “In a world of not only plenty, but the eventual time-shifting – everything will be time-shifted – you’ll be the editor and the master of your own stuff. The single channel, general entertainment approach [isn’t valuable].”

All Diller does is say the mass market channel is dead, not that scarcity is no longer a factor in the economy. Diller argues for increasing emphasis on coordination with a kind of demand-side scarcity, but scarcity nonetheless, bringing people what they want when they don’t have it, which is simply a more fluid form of scarcity economics where “I won’t give this to you” becomes “I’ll hold it for you until you need it.” The thing is, the holder wants to know an awful lot about you so that they can suggest other things you might not yet know you want. Someone gets rich on that access to information, which is now the mining of preference instead of scarce materials.

The fact every social networking site attempts to keep its doors closed to competitors so they can monopolize to the greatest degree possible the personal information they collect demonstrates that is is scarcity of demand rather than supply that has become the source of wealth.

A single person can do what John Jacob Astor did, build an unrivaled empire with little assistance because they recognize those inefficiencies and move resources in response. The corporate structure that made wealth possible during the industrial era may not be necessary anymore, but are we not repeating a phase of entrepreneurialism in response to efficiencies created by technology rather than inventing a new economics? And if we’re repeating the process that gave rise to the massive organization, what shall we change to produce some new kind of social system that doesn’t only produce extremes of wealth in an environment of general want, such as a third of Americans uninsured and half the world living on $2 a day? Calling it something new doesn’t change anything.

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An admirable meditation on evil

History News Network: (Read the whole thing, this is an excerpt)

When we debate estimates of Iraqi civilian casualties, we see that war in any form makes even the good side complicit in harming innocents. This knowledge is so disturbing to us that we use the euphemism “collateral damage” to soften its impact.

It is also hard to call people and what they do evil because we are so used to compromising in our daily lives. Compromise, in its good sense of meeting people halfway, is arguably the chief (and now forgotten) art citizens and leaders in a democracy must know and use. But evil is uncompromising.

In Vietnam, My Lai was evil. Of all the soldiers at My Lai on March 16, 1968, few had the uncompromising moral courage of Hugh Thompson. Thompson, who died in January, forcefully intervened to stop his fellow soldiers from massacring old men, women, children, babies. He later explained, “I didn’t want to be part of that. It wasn’t war.”

Others, however, succumbed to a mode of thinking that William Eckhardt, chief military prosecutor of William Calley in the My Lai courts martial, came to know too well: “Evil doesn’t come like Darth Vader dressed in black, hissing. Evil comes as a little bird whispering in your ear. ‘Think about your career. I’m not sure what’s going on. We’ll muddle through.’ ”

If and when you see “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Last King of Scotland,” or read the books on which they were based, contemplate evil, and consider what it means that Calley, after spending three years in house arrest, one month for every 10 villagers he killed, at last report was married and working at a jewelry store in Columbus, Ga.

We are eager to see monsters everywhere, except among us. Rational skeptical debate demands we see our flaws, as well.

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John Robb’s book is comingWiley::Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization

John Robb, who has blogged intelligently about terrorism and warfare for many years will soon book about it, as well: Wiley::Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization :

Terrorism has become global, and incredibly complex, because it exists inside a social and economic system that’s become global and complex. Globalization, unfortunately, has planted the seeds of its own destruction. Every new technology for improving the world system, is also a tool for undoing it. The question John Robb is most concerned about boils down to: will terrorism, in the end, be able to destroy the current system? The tragedy of 9/11 represents the pinnacle–and finale–of terrorism the old way. The goal was to inflict psychic damage, and nothing will ever top that–but they don’t need to. Most forward thinking military strategists understand that we’ve entered the age of “fourth generation warfare.” The first three “generations” of strategy revolved around the best way for one state’s large army to inflict massive casualties on the other state’s army. Political scientists are moving away from state against state thinking, to thinking about non-state actors. Our enemies are now much smaller than that: small, ad-hoc bands of like-minded insurgents, organized less like bees in a hive than like the millions of users for Wikipedia, each with its own competing, but complementary agenda.

As Brave New War explains, system disruption lies at the heart of the agenda. Instead of symbolic, or deadly attacks, we should be on the lookout for economically devastating attacks. Our enemy will be looking for gaps in the system where a small, cheap action–say, on an oil pipeline–will generate a tremendous return. It may not even make the evening news, except as a report on spiraling gas prices. Because of the open source nature of the enemy, they don’t all need to be smart. In fact, none of them need to be smart. They’ll just keep trying random acts until one really works, and then they’ll all copy it. That doesn’t take genius, just flexibility. Is this all just theoretical? No, it’s exactly what we’re seeing in Iraq, as their IEDs improve, their targeting abilities expand, and their networks become more invisible. But isn’t Iraq sui generis? Hardly. From Nigeria to Saudi Arabia to Chechnya and beyond, it’s spreading. Right now, the West is not prepared for it, and worse, we never can be truly prepared. No one can predict what the next catastrophic attack will be, because even now it’s beyond the imagining of those who will perpetrate it.

What’s the solution? What Robb refers to as deep resilience. We need to make our economic and communication systems more decentralized. If we can’t stop an attack in advance, we can mitigate it. Right now, we’ve left ourselves too open to attack, with all our resources too concentrated. A simple, successful attack in Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, or New York could shut down the world’s oil, high-tech, or financial markets, costing millions. We have too few energy sources, too few shipping routes, too few companies making the components for all the things we need. Until Americans start seeing the world as John Robb does, we’ll spend all our resources preventing the last attack, rather than the next one.

I don’t see it on Amazon, yet. Congrats, John!

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Saying “Goodbye” to Iraq’s heritage

‘Stop the looters destroying history’ – World – Times Online:

THE cultural treasures of Iraq — the birthplace of writing, codified law, mathematics, medicine and astronomy — are being obliterated as looters take advantage of the country’s bloody chaos.

Fourteen of the world’s leading archaeologists have written to the President and Prime Minister of the country, demanding immediate action to stem the vandalism after seeing photographs of sites left pockmarked by enormous craters.

Among examples in the letter, seen yesterday by The Times, was a Babylonian sculpture of a lion dating from about 1700BC that lost its head because the terracotta shattered as looters tried to remove it.

Another was the destruction of the Ana Minaret on the Euphrates about 190 miles (310km) west of Baghdad, revered for 1,000 years as a unique construction. It was blown up by Islamic extremists apparently for fear that it would be used as an American observation post.

Another irreplaceable human casualty of this war.

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