Wednesday, December 7, 2011

[Politics] On The Brink

This post is about everything else.

I sold my German shares for a very nice profit of 11% today. When I bought them I didn't think that they might rise so fast. The hopes that the media now puts into the coming meeting are impossible to satisfy. The basic problem of the Eurozone is not public debt but economic imbalance. Just like China sells stuff to the US without getting anything in return (except for green paper that will soon be worth less), so does Northern Europe sell stuff to Southern Europe. But Southern Europe doesn't have a reserve currency like the US does. They simply can't pay; and that's a problem for all of Europe; and for the world.

The ECB will not abolish itself. The Euro won't go away. But we are looking forward to a crisis that will last about 10 years. Mrs. Merkel is simply correct: this is a marathon and we just passed the 10th kilometer or so. In the long term (15 years+) I were optimistic about this specific, isolated problem. But there are other problems.

The Russian “guided” democracy is in trouble - just like the Arab autocracies are. But I fear the Russians (as a nation) more than the Arabs. Not only have they a massive amount of nuclear weapons, but more importantly, a significant proportion of the Russian population has a dangerous attitude. They regret the loss of power that followed the fall of the Soviet Union. Free and fair elections in Russia might not bring forward religious fanatics, but it might very well bring forward a nationalistic ensemble of parties which desire global respect and intend to gain it by showing strength. This is potentially worse than a 'balanced' cold war because the only way for the new Russia to show strength is its military; their economy is just not competitive. (I can't help but think about this right now.)

Russia is about to aim nuclear rockets at the US's rocket defense systems which are stationed in Eastern Europe. Russia has just sent a carrier group to Syria. They still supply Iran with weapons.
And Iran is a spark that can spawn a firestorm. Their president repeatedly said that he intends to wipe Israel from the map. Usually that's not a problem because he can't. Well, this is about to change. Israel is small - really small. If any civilization can be eradicated with a few nukes, Israel can. And the Israeli democracy has not exactly grown stronger in recent decades.
After the second world war both Israel and Germany said "never again". But we meant different things. Germany never again wants to be the commiter; Israel never again wants to be the victim. If Israel has learnt one thing from the Holocaust then that inaction is worse than action.

Many Israelis would rather attack than accept a nuclear Iran. And we might well get both. First a conventional airstrike that turns out to be not successful at destroying Iran's nuclear capabilities. Next an Iranian population that stands together against a common enemy and now really wants to have the nuke. Next an Israeli population that now really fears the Iranian bomb. A Israeli nuclear strike that turns out to be successful or not but makes the new democratic Arab states declare war on Israel. A US that supports Israel. Russia that sees a way to show strength.

An resulting oil crisis that makes it impossible to solve the European economic problems. A failing Europe that spawns a world-wide depression; collapsing banks all over the world. Strange presidential candidates in the US that suddenly don't look so funny anymore, but rather dangerous. Social unrest in China which cannot sell goods to the depressed US economy anymore. A Japan hard-hit by the faltering US economy. A Japanese debt crisis that throws whole Asia into turmoil. An Afghanistan with no western economic support makes it impossible for a nuclear Pakistan to catch the ghosts it has once so happily called. Terror attacks on India in the name of Pakistan. And I haven't even mentioned (eratic?) leaders in North Korea with the capability to vaporize Seoul and a constant need for outside help. Dignity and pride are dangerous in their own way.

There are so many hot spots on the planet right now and many of them in possession of nuclear weapons. We have societies that depend so much on the internet which is so easy to disrupt and partly destroy. Perhaps China manages to isolate the US by agreeing to limit their contribution towards a warming atmosphere. Would that be good or bad?

Abstractly speaking, the fall of the last remaining superpower in combination with unprecedented technological advances, unsolved conflicts from the last world war and the aftermath of the strangely forgotten cold war .. It almost seems the two decades since the fall of the Soviet Union have been the silence before the storm.

And it seems we will be able to follow most of what will happen in real time. Isn't that interesting! I couldn't have invented a better story myself. There's is no single bad guy; everybody has his reasons; I used to like credible, consistent stories.


  1. The end of the world and doomsday has been predicted ever since mankind could communicate. That said, wars have always happened and always will happen. Mybe the next one will involve nukes, but so what?

    Do you think nukes will make things worse then WW2? maybe in total numbers but I doubt as a percentage lost.

    Don't want to get off topic but AGW is a religion and not science.

    But getting back to war, I wouldn't worry so much about it. Two reasons. First is you can't do anything about it and the second is the odds are against it really expanding much beyond regional conflicts anyway.

    Even at the hight of the cold war things never passed a certain threshold. I really doubt if they will in the future.

    Thats not to say nukes won't be used in a limited way. I think that eventually they will be. But dying to 1000 bombs or one doesn't matter much. Ask the 3000 people from the World Trade Towers if it matted how they died.

    if you study history and wars you find out that when a war has a clear winner the time of peace tends to last longer almost in dirct correlation to the level of victory. There is no peace in the middle east because there is no winner. When one side or the other is the clear victor there will be peace. At least for a time.

    History is harsh and has harsh lessons for us to learn. But if there are two persons that refuse to get along it usually takes the death of one to bring peace.

    So maybe Germany and other European countries should start building up their military or they risk being on the losing side if war should ever come.

  2. Europe is not interesting for anyone to attack. And even if, the US would defend us for selfish reasons.

    And by the way, I'm in the minority (Germany exports a lot of weapons), but even though I am not religious at all I agree with Matthew 5:38-42 in this situation.

  3. Oh, my.

    The one thing I would mention is that although Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying "wipe Israel off the map," that was a mistranslation. He wanted the Israeli regime to "vanish from the pages of time." Which is the only thing that makes sense anyway - Israel contains extremely important Muslim holy sites, none of which would survive a nuclear bombing or a "wiping from the face of the earth."

    This isn't to say that Israel wouldn't launch attacks into Iran, or that there otherwise wouldn't be retaliation, of course. It is simply unlikely to go nuclear. And none of the Arab countries want Iran (or anyone) with a nuke, no matter how anti-Western they are. So if Iran does produce one, they will likely become even more isolated pretty quick. Nevermind the, ahem, fallout that would occur if the Russians were the ones to make it happen.

  4. WW2 had a death count of up to 70 million or about 3% of the world's population. WW1 (including the spanish flu) had a 65 million death count or almost 4% of the worlds population.

    But the mongul invasions might have killed off up to 17% and the Lushan (or An Shi) rebellion in China killed about 15% of their population.

    To reach 4% today would mean 280 million would have to die in a war.

    Now for comparrison purposes measles have killed 200 million in the last 150 years, smallpox has killed 300 million. And the Justinian plauge from 540-590 might have killed 100 million or around 25% of the population at that time.

    Point is civilization continued even with these death tolls. We might die in a new war but civilization will continue. So be prepared and try to kill more of your enemy then you lose. Remember the losing side in all wars suffer the biggest casualties.

    @Azuriel you are basically wrong. In his first speech he was quoting Komeini and "wiped off the face" was a mistranslation. However, in other speeches and in english worded billboards they clealy use the 'wiped off the face" parts.

    Karim Sadjadpour, an Iranian specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, notes that Iranian government entities began to erect billboards and signs with the “wipe off” phrase in English. Joshua Teitelbaum of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs compiled an interesting collection of photographs of these banners, such as one on the building that houses reserve military forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. “Israel should be wiped out of the face of the world,” the sign reads in English.

  5. Goodmongo, I don't think I wrote anywhere that I think that civilization is about to be wiped out. :)

    In fact, Europe and North America are really quite safe places. It's also interesting to see an American argue casualty numbers. It makes the ~3000 9/11 deaths look so small - for example compared to the hundred thousand Iraqis and unknown Afghans.

    Anyway, exscept for terrorist attacks, which are a no-brainer for every sentient human being, we are pretty safe. On the other hand I remember how japanese-looking americans were de-ported after Pearl Harbor. Terrorist attacks in the western world seem to have a strange power that far, far outweighs the number of casualties.

  6. Nils you never did say civilization would be wiped out. However, you brought into the mix a russian/chinese/us all out nuke war possibility. My comment on deaths was related to that possibility.

    As General Buck Thrugensen said in Dr. Strangelove "Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks."

    See the US ever since the civil war has made an effort to minimize US deaths and maximize enemy casualities. Take the M1 tank as an example. Lots of dollars spent to enhance crew survival.

    And the winner should always suffer fewer deaths then the losing side. The total number of dead will depend on the breaking point of each side. The US military realizing that the citizens in the US are weak had to devise plans where US soldier deaths are limited. Hence things like drones.

    As for the 3000 killed this was around the same amount as killed at Pearl Harbor which BTW happened on this very day.

  7. In the past old men of one nation would make war on other nations without any serious risk to their own lives - perhaps a loss of prestige being the main risk.

    But, these days, if you wish to nuke someone, you have to take into consideration that you are likely to be among the victims of any retaliation. Perhaps, that's where the deterrent lies and why I think the danger is more from crackpot religious states than from say Russia.

  8. In some ways it's a problem to big to worry about.

    I suspect that we're heading for a major economic crisis and that as every major economic crisis in history has been solved by major war, this crisis too will be solved in the same way.

    But what can one do? Occupy the national capital? It's not likely to work, war is pretty much inevitable because it's the only way we have to destroy a system which is both entrenched and unsustainable.

  9. Just to give you Russian perspective, we honestly tried to get partnership dealings with US on "global security". I'd say the entire presidential term of Medvedev was under expectation that it can work. He withheld air defence systems from Iran, and made a few other steps that were unpopular and seen as "bending over to the west" - without getting anything but words out of that. He even supported Lybian invasion, quite unpopular act! (Stance he didn't maintain on Syrian situation later, btw - we have much better deals with Syria then with Lybia)

    But no deal. Experiment failed. We are not allowed to participate in European Missile Defence program on our terms, our opinions go unheard, we get sidelined everywhere, and it's all talk and no actions.

    Well, if we can't get partnership in global security (which, considering European missiles, gets dangerously close to our borders), we got to play our own game. While i'd say that last presidential address is partially electoral trick, we ARE committed to restoring our "power projection" capabilities. Mostly near our borders, but with global reach when possible too. It wouldn't happen overnight, or even get fully realized in this decade, but it will happen. It's in long-term plans, even if not everything goes according to them.

    As for "guided" democracy, it works as long as people support it - which they really did in first decade of 21th century. The 1990s were quite bad for us, and things did get much better, so it's natural. But now that things are better long enough, other problems come into forefront, and ruling party support is falling rapidly. It's nicknamed on Internet as "party of crooks and thieves" (партия жуликов и воров) for a reason. Statistical analysis of last Duma elections (4 days ago) show about 10-15% lower "expected normal" result then official numbers, mostly attributed to electoral fraud. Patterns do seem to be pretty convincing. Which would mean approval of about 35% instead of official ~50%. Still higher then any other party, but not overwhelmingly so.

    I wouldn't be surprised to see some kind of revolution (or attempt thereof) in this decade if things get "tightened" instead of "reformed" some way... Noone would want it to happen, but options are getting quite limited, with new political parties being impossible to register, and corruption getting a bit too noticeable. Putin will still be next president though, have no doubt about that one.

    If things don't go up in flames, whatever comes out WILL be bent on restoring our "former power" one way or another - or maybe catching whatever falls out of weakening US grasp.

    But we're not US, and we wouldn't try to play "world policeman", nor do we have ideology which we would like to enforce upon a world. Our interests would be much more limited, and constant conflict is not how we prefer things to be.

  10. I really hoped to get a Russian perspective on this. Thanks Shalcker!

  11. What really gets me is that students here in America have to pay increasingly high tuition for university (private averaging about $114k for 4 years of undergrad), take out huge loans to do it, and then get the shock once they graduate that there are pretty much no jobs in the market. And while you'd think that the degree would at least give some amount of leverage, even if it's for that minimum wage job at the fast-food place, you quickly come to realize the about 70% of High School graduates go directly to university and degrees are the standard thing now.

    While all of these people who absolutely need jobs are flooding the market with these huge loans and nothing available, the cost of living is increasing even though wages aren't. People who do have jobs are clinging onto them, they are not about retire or leave the economy any time soon if they can help it; in fact a lot of people are in the mindset of having multiple jobs.

    The problem here in America is that we really don't have much economically on our side anymore, the global economy is here and someone can do it cheaper and better somewhere else. If everything goes to hell we don't have any type of localized, self-contained economy to fall back on.

    This is only a small portion of our problems. Between SOPA, the NDAA, the PROTECT IP Act, the increasing anger and unrest seen through the OWS protests, the unpromising 2012 election, the increasing militarization and privatization of the police, our enormous debt and healthcare struggle that seems to be getting nowhere, the list can really go on, it seems like we are on the verge of a steep fall.

    But at least everyone and their mother owns a high caliber rifle, so at least when the thousands of trained soldiers we have produced in the last decade who have returned home to unemployment and are sitting dormant, when they take to the streets after the economy finally crashes to survive the only way they know how, to get food and money however they can, we can all at least cling to our firearms by our doors and pretend that everything will be just fine.

    tldr; I'm moving to New Zealand

  12. @Azuriel you are basically wrong. In his first speech [...]


    The Dome of the Rock is the third holiest site in all of Islam, and can you guess where that is located? Jerusalem, in "wipe it off the face of the world" Israel. That you have a (broken) link saying there are English billboards with the phrase is completely irrelevant to the point that an Islamic theocracy isn't going to literally wipe out Israel in the way the idiom is understood in English, i.e. with nukes.

    Not only would Iran be nuking a lot of Muslims who happen to be living in Israel, but think about the Palestinians. Even assuming Palestine doesn't get irradiated by proximity, it's not as though Iran would be doing them any favors - the Palestinians consider Israel their land too, figuratively or literally (in the cases where they were pushed off by settlers).

    Re: the rest. The death toll itself is fairly irrelevant, as pointed out already. However, the very example of 9/11 demonstrates how a comparatively minor event nearly destroyed the entire airline industry by itself.

    A minor nuclear skirmish WOULD destroy "civilization as we know it," but not civilization in general, for what that is worth. People recovered from the Spanish Flu et tal by doing exactly what they were doing already. Modern civilization is something else entirely. I would be surprised if even 10% of Americans knew how to survive without electricity for a month. If you look at events like Hurricane Katrina, people start losing their shit in days, let alone what happens when it isn't an isolated weather event.

  13. Azuriel is correct concerning the mistranslation of that speech, and, imho, about the political/administrative, not military, meaning of Israel's disappearance. And beyond religious concerns, Iran's rulers, contrary to their portrayal in especially American media, are not wild-eyed, jihad-drunk madmen. They're perfectly aware of Israel's second-strike capability, and if they do develop a nuclear weapon, they're far more likely to use it as deterrent and cover for conventional harassment.

    There's also very little actual evidence, even from a highly hostile IAEA, that Iran is in fact developing a nuclear weapon. They are wisely restricting themselves to acquiring the technology for a fast breakout capability. If a war against Iran does take place soon, it'll be on largely false premises and for American political consumption - again.

    It is easy to fear Russia for historical reasons (particularly if one is German) and it is true that there is a bitter, lost-national-pride streak running through Russian politics, which Putin has deftly exploited for many years. However, the Russian Spring, if it manages to develop, won't be about more national pride. It'll be about all the things that empty "national pride" rhetoric covered so far: genuine democracy, and economic equality. The country is potentially quite competitive economically - it is sitting on a dragon's hoard of hard currency reserves saved up from oil revenues. Corruption and thug rule stand in the way, however.

  14. The Kohmeni speech DID NOT mention Isreal being wiped off the face of Earth. His retelling of it also did not say that. But his LATER speeches and even the billboards you put up in Iran DID say this.

    And nuking is not the only way to wipe someone out. Can you honestly say that the eladers in Iran would allow Jews to live there? They want then either dead or deported.

    @Gilded ever think that just maybe the high cost of college is due to those high salaries the liberal professors get along with thier multi-million dollar taxpayer funded retirements? Supply and demand. Right now there is an over supply of worthless degrees. And face it most of those degrees in areas like'communications, diversity studies, women studies' are not worth the paper they are printed on. I don't see too many chemical engineers lacking a job.

    Not to mention how the greenies have killed jobs in the US. Just look at the XL Pipeline as a perfect recent example.

    Where Nils was correct is that great turmoil is comming to the world. This is caused by many things including social-welfare engineering. But if anyone thinks that after huge wars there will be social utopia they have not studied history. The ones that die are the ones that can't fend for themselves.

    Azuriel is correct in that many can't live without modern convieniences. But these are the OWS types, the Katirina types, basically the drags on society. If it does coem to war they are most likely the ones that won't make it.