Sunday, May 31, 2015

It’s Nestor’s World and We’re Just Living in It

Nestor was an Argonaut…In the Iliad, he often gives advice to the younger warriors….

Homer offers contradictory portrayals of Nestor as a source of advice. On one hand, Homer describes him as a wise man…. Yet at the same time Nestor's advice is frequently ineffective. Some examples include Nestor accepting without question the dream Zeus plants in Agamemnon in Book 2 and urging the Achaeans to battle, instructing the Achaeans in Book 4 to use spear techniques that in actuality would be disastrous, and in Book 11 giving advice to Patroclus that ultimately leads to his death.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard is out with a piece, “ECB fears 'abrupt reversal' for global assets on Fed tightening.”  The subtitle is telling: “The ECB’s financial stability report describes a 'fragile equilibrium' in world markets, with a host of underlying risks.” 

“Fragile,” after seven years; “a host of underlying risks.”  He is writing of the current financial calamity, taking unmistakable form in 2008, but in reality tied to events at least several decades old.

The roots can be found in the formation of central planning for money and credit – central banking.  However, the most visible incarnation – this game of all financial transactions completely unhinged from economic reality – was fully formed on August 15, 1971, when Nixon closed the gold window. 

Certainly, there were many manipulations prior to this date – the fact that Nixon felt this action necessary was due to the government fiscal and monetary shenanigans that preceded it.  But this date is the most visible and complete sign of the total abandonment of any discipline when it comes to the subject of money and credit.

Yet Nestor is never questioned and instead is frequently praised.

As was Nixon; his move was greeted with cheers:

The American public felt the government was rescuing them from price gougers and from a foreign-caused exchange crisis.  Politically, Nixon's actions were a great success. The Dow rose 33 points the next day, its biggest daily gain ever at that point, and the New York Times editorial read, "We unhesitatingly applaud the boldness with which the President has moved."

What do Nestor and Nixon have to do with this latest piece from Ambrose?

The global asset boom is an accident waiting to happen as the US prepares tighten monetary policy and the Greek crisis escalates, the European Central Bank has warned.

The ECB’s financial stability report described a “fragile equilibrium” in world markets, with a host of underlying risks and the looming threat of an “abrupt reversal” if anything goes wrong.

Even if you magnanimously start the clock in 2008, the wizardly central planners have had seven years to deal with whatever they deemed to be the underlying causes of this calamity.  Ambrose lets slip that their advice – like that of Nestor’s – has been “frequently ineffective.”  Let’s just call it ineffective – in other words, wrong more often than advice given by the man of Greek legend.

Ambrose laments the growth of shadow banking – outside the purview of regulators; yet in 2008 it was the institutions in the purview of regulators that were the source of problems.  Banks are one of the most highly regulated institutions in the world – regulated by political actors and not the market (and in this one will find one major source of the problem).

He does not spare the banks, however:

While banks are in better shape than five years ago, their rate of return on equity has dropped to 3pc, far lower than their cost of equity. They remain damaged.

Damaged?  Seven years later, they remain damaged?  What kind of advice have these advisors been peddling for seven years?  We know that their interventions have allowed short-term rates to stay at or near zero (with corresponding effect on rates of longer maturities) for most of this period.  Hasn’t this grace period solved any underlying issues?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Next They Came for FIFA…

No need to provide a link – if you are a football fan (soccer for you Norte-Americanos in the audience), you know the story. (I will set aside the question: is “bribery,” or whatever is ultimately charged, a violation of the NAP?).

There was a time, in the glorious Middle Ages, when law followed the individual: “what is your law?” was the first question asked when the accused was facing a charge; thereafter, with the return of Roman law, law followed jurisdiction: where you lived (or visited) determined the law under-which you lived (suffered); now there is global law as written in Washington, DC: all have sinned and come short of the glory…. (And don’t bring up that “juris-my-diction”…mmm…stuff.)

Until now, perhaps the most blatant example of the empire extending and enforcing its laws on individuals residing in other jurisdictions (after bombing them with drones, if you want to count that) has been in banking and related activities.  Swiss banks for personal tax avoidance, various manipulations of currency markets and the like.

Going after the governing body of football is a big change.  But very shrewd, if the objective is to develop new markets for expansion of American over-reach.

FIFA is shady; depending on your definition, it is corrupt.  True or not, is there a football fan on planet earth that doesn’t hold some version of this view?  Now, don’t try to hide it – what was the first thing that went through your mind when it was announced that Qatar was awarded the 2022 World Cup?  Yeah, me too.

How could anyone complain about American over-reach when the target was so totally deserving?  Where much of the world has grown overly tired of American exceptionalism on almost every case, today football fans around the globe are cheering this decision.

A very shrewd move by the empire.

Next up, the IOC…

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Rand Paul Presidency: RIP*

The ship is sinking fast.  What started with such promise is ending with a whimper.  Every day brings another analysis of the Titanic that is the SS Rand Paul for President candidacy (HT Target Liberty):

Rand Paul took a left turn on his journey to the Republican nomination, and now his hopes seem to be headed south.

The most recent national poll, by Fox News, has Paul in sixth place, with 7 percent, trailing Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee and Marco Rubio. Paul averages only about half the support he had late in 2013. Paul doesn’t appear to be winning over young voters…

“Half the support”; instead of building on the base left by his father (as many apologists for Rand’s compromising positions were certain he would do), he has spent the legacy, like the Prodigal Son.

Regarding his marathon session last week to bring attention to government bulk surveillance programs, and comparing this session to his 2013 filibuster:

As The Post’s Philip Bump reported, it got only about one-tenth of the Twitter attention that his first effort did.


What wasn’t mentioned, but easily could have been: Rand isn’t raising money the way his father did.  People cared about supporting Ron; Rand offers little to get excited about.  He had the opportunity to offer a unique selling proposition (uncompromising positions within a constitutional framework), but instead decided to be more or less like the competition.

Now, wasn’t this a likely end to the decisions Rand made, beginning with his endorsement of Mitt Romney three years ago while his father was still in the race?  As I wrote at the time:

In the words of Marlon Brando, Rand could have been a contender, instead of a bum…

Instead, he is offering a real-time demonstration of the hopelessness of change through traditional political methods:

In the meantime, Rand has done a tremendous service in the cause of those who view playing politics is a hopeless cause.  If his actions end up pulling the rug out from under the movement that Ron Paul germinated, it will deal a significant blow to the idea that change will come from politics, especially national politics. 

Many people have worked tirelessly for Ron Paul.  They have seen abuse from the Republican Party establishment as payback for their efforts.  They have been ignored, marginalized, and physically abused.  Now they see that the natural replacement for the focal point of their cause has turned the other way.  Many will disavow national politics forever.

For this, we can thank Rand Paul.  In the end, it is not a bad outcome.

Despite this compromising position by Rand, I felt he had a shot to win if he stuck close enough to libertarian / constitutional positions.  Needless to say – and by now it must be obvious to almost all who are paying attention – he has not; the nuance required is beyond the ability of human capacity.

Rand had supporters, certain that he would surpass anything done by his father.  For example, Mark Skousen; compared to the lack of success (defined in terms of politics) of Ron, Skousen offered:

His father, Ron Paul, set the stage by maintaining a strict dogma. Senator Paul will have to compromise to achieve success, but I think half success is better than no success at all.

I wonder what Skousen thinks: is half destruction better than no success?

Then there was Ron Holland:

Yes, I feel the same [enthusiasm] about his son Rand [as I do for Ron]. Ron Paul is more doctrinaire in his views and this is crucial for educational success. [Regarding Rand’s endorsement of Romney], Rand is more of a politician and he understands the necessity of building coalitions within a broader freedom or liberty movement if we are to have political success.

Sixth place – that’s some “political success”; great coalition building.

There are those in the libertarian camp who felt a watered-down Ron (in the body of Rand) could mount a successful challenge and advance the dialogue of freedom – Justin Raimondo and Walter Block (here and here) come to mind. 

That didn’t work out so well.

What Ron Paul accomplished – far greater than anyone thought possible – was to expand the libertarian / non-intervention movement and dialogue far beyond anything seen since around 1776.  He also created momentum, great momentum – available to be built upon by another.

What was also obvious is why.  Why did Ron have this success?  It is this “why” that the Raimondos and Blocks of the world missed.  Ron’s success was because of his message, and the consistency by which he stuck to his message.  Rand could have carried this torch, but thought he could grab more by being less.

That didn’t work out so well, either.

Rand tried to win an election by out-politicianing the politicians.  This was a hopeless strategy; the system cannot be beat by playing the same game as those who have mastered the system.

Ron Paul knew this.  Rand should have learned.  He had the opportunity – learning every day from the greatest teacher.

* But for the few remaining Rand supporters…I could be wrong!  It's still early....

Sunday, May 24, 2015


Defense Secretary Ash Carter spoke about the failure of Iraqi forces against ISIS in Ramadi.  There are many layers of misinformation behind every statement.  I will only comment on one, and also explain the title of this post.

"We can give them training, we can give them equipment -- we obviously can't give them the will to fight," Carter said. "But if we give them training, we give them equipment, and give them support, and give them some time, I hope they will develop the will to fight, because only if they fight can ISIL remain defeated." (Emphasis added)

Did the CNN interviewer ask the obvious question: what on earth has the United States government been doing with Iraqi forces for the last decade?

No.  Instead, to make a long story short, she asked (to paraphrase), why aren’t you doing more?

Any further comment I make on this exchange would be superfluous for any thinking human being.

Now, for the title of this post.  At 1:41 of the subject video we see footage of (presumably) an Iraqi military checkpoint.  A red pickup truck is seen driving away from the camera.  On the back of the truck, instead of “Nissan” or “Toyota,” are the letters “GONOW.”

GONOW is a Chinese automotive manufacturer; however, I like to think the message signifies something more.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Timeline to War Update

I have updated the “Timeline to War” page.  This update includes relevant dates from the book “Advance to Barbarism,” by FJP Veale, and the book “Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin,” by Timothy Snyder, as well as other minor additions and clarifications.  The new items are in red. 

Items in parenthesis refer to (book:page); book references can be found at the end of the post.  Where helpful, I have added hyperlinks in addition to page references.  I have also added specificity to several previously unspecific dates.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Centralization and War

One stereotype of the Middle Ages is that of continuous war.  Conflicts during the time tended to be small and local – more like feuds between families involving the lords and nobles, rarely the serfs or other freemen.  Decentralized government resulted in decentralized warfare, drawing in only those who were obligated due to voluntary commitment.

I have previously examined the centralizing desires of Charlemagne, and the warfare that this required.  He not only consolidated many disparate kingdoms, he brought together Church and State – being the first emperor crowned by the Pope in some three hundred years – and at least minimizing the beneficial conflict between competing institutions of authority.


After the demise of Charlemagne’s Carolingian Empire, decentralization returned to much of Europe.  Thereafter, political development took different turns in different regions.

…the civilization of Latin Christendom was by no means uniform.  On the contrary, there were at least two distinct cultural traditions, one in the north and west, the other in central Europe.  The first was primarily French….

In Germany and Italy there was a different culture and different political background.  The Germans, indeed, might have been described (from a French point of view) as ‘backward.’  They were slow in developing feudalism beyond its Carolingian stage, being in this respect a century behind France and England.

There you have it: modern France and England, backward Germany and Italy.

The distinction between Italy and Germany on the one hand, and France and England on the other, was fundamental for the whole period from 900 to 1250.

I suggest it was fundamental for at least another two-hundred years beyond this, but I am getting ahead of the story.

What was this distinction?

It was not merely cultural in the narrow sense of the word, but it was political also.  Italy and Germany were the home of the Papacy and Empire, France and England of feudal monarchies and (ultimately) of nation-states.

During this period – beginning in the tenth century – what is today known as France began to take political form; the Capetian dynasty.  Around the same time, the monarchy in England took form – of course to include a defining event of conquest by the Norman William the Conqueror in 1066, who thereafter took all of the land in the king’s name.

It was not until the latter part of the nineteenth century that Germany took its centralized political form (of “nation-state”); the timeframe was similar for Italy.


The Hundred Years' War was a series of conflicts waged from 1337 to 1453 between the House of Plantagenet, rulers of the Kingdom of England, against the House of Valois, rulers of the Kingdom of France, for control of the latter kingdom.

Hence, I suggest that the distinction was fundamental for at least another 200 years.  Since the fall of Rome, Europe had seen nothing like this.  Sure, there were wars – but never before was it possible to command enough wealth and servitude to fight almost continuously for 100 years on behalf of another.

It was the most notable conflict of the Middle Ages, wherein five generations of kings from two rival dynasties fought for the throne of the largest kingdom in Western Europe.

It took centralized nation-states to make this happen – a one-hundred year war between England and France.  While Germans and Italians were involved in their feuds (think Hatfields and McCoys), life was a multi-generational hell for those living to the north and west:

Bubonic plague and warfare reduced population numbers throughout Europe during this period. France lost half its population during the Hundred Years' War. Normandy lost three-quarters of its population, and Paris two-thirds.

War and the centralized state went hand-in-hand…:

The Hundred Years' War was a time of rapid military evolution. Weapons, tactics, army structure and the social meaning of war all changed, partly in response to the war's costs, partly through advancement in technology and partly through lessons that warfare taught.  The feudal system was slowly disintegrating throughout the hundred years war.

…and re-invigorated nationalism…

The war stimulated nationalistic sentiment. It devastated France as a land, but it also awakened French nationalism. The Hundred Years' War accelerated the process of transforming France from a feudal monarchy to a centralised state.

…and made possible the re-introduction of the common man as an asset to the war-fighting state:

By the end of the Hundred Years' War, these various factors caused the decline of the expensively outfitted, highly trained heavy cavalry and the eventual end of the armoured knight as a military force and of the nobility as a political one.

No longer was significant wealth necessary to be a fighting man.  Equal opportunity employment was offered, making possible standing armies:

In 1445 the first regular standing army since Roman times was organised in France partly as a solution to marauding free companies.

And, unlike the small and localized feuds between members of the noble class, this war ushered in the emotion of national pride in the people:

The conflict developed such that it was not just between the Kings of England and France but also between their respective peoples. There were constant rumours in England that the French meant to invade and destroy the English language. National feeling that emerged from such rumours unified both France and England further.

And this all occurred not in “backward” Germany and Italy, but between the progressive, modern, and centralized nation-states of England and France.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Quo Vadis, America?

President Obama hosts a Gulf security summit, and most Arab leaders decide not to attend.  Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu comes to Washington to address Congress on Iran over protests from the president.  Britain ignores pleas from the United States and becomes a founding member of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a potential competitor for the World Bank.  The Obama administration gripes that the Brits are pandering to the Chinese. Russia’s Putin, like Syria’s Assad, strides across American redlines with little consequence.  Beijing and Moscow announce joint military exercises…in the Mediterranean. NATO ally Turkey turns to China for new defense equipment.  The Dutch go to Huawei for internet security.

These are not random events. What’s going on?

-        Ian Bremmer

We have lived through a few meaningful inflection points in the last couple of decades: September 11, for reasons that need not be listed; the financial calamity that came to full force in 2008, making open to the world the festering wound that remained from Bretton Woods. 

Regarding military and foreign policy matters (which, for the US, has typically been the same thing), perhaps the most overt sign was regarding Syria two years ago, providing what could be determined as a real inflection point in the role of the US on the world stage.

Bremmer has written a book addressing the future possible paths that can be taken – or are possible – regarding the role of the United States government on the world stage.  The excerpt above is from the introduction.  (I have not read the book.)

…the lack of a coherent US foreign policy strategy didn’t begin with Barack Obama—though his second term struggles have made the problem more painfully obvious.  From the fall of the Wall and Soviet collapse, US presidents of both parties have defined America’s mission in terms of tactics.  US foreign policy has been reactive and improvisational for 25 years.  And we can no longer identify a Democratic or Republican approach to foreign policy.

Flailing might be an appropriate term.  Of course, the US used September 11 to galvanize the population against a new enemy – terrorism.  Convenient, as it – unlike a mortal enemy – would never pass from this earth.  Potentially a truly perpetual enemy.

Bremmer offers three possible paths for this American future.  He calls them “choices”; however, the term “choices” suggests that the individual or entity actually has a choice.  I am not so sure.

Indispensable America: This one will be the most familiar to readers. We live in a profoundly interconnected world.  No, America shouldn’t play the global cop, but if America doesn’t lead, nobody else will either.  International wildfires will burn out of control.  More Middle East states will fail, and terrorism will metastasize.  Russian revisionism will threaten Europe and beyond.  China will use its growing economic influence to expand its political leverage, undermining structures and standards created by advanced industrial democracies to strengthen individual liberty and free market capitalism.

To describe this as “the most familiar” would be an understatement.  This view is given glowing support virtually 24 / 7 – through public education, mainstream media, and politically acceptable dialogue.

Monday, May 18, 2015

ISIS to Get a Laser Cannon????

WHAT?  OK, I have been all for the non-aggression principle and all, but now my principle has met its match.  I give up – nuke ‘em all.

Scientists are considering plans to mount a laser cannon on the International Space Station (ISS) for shooting down debris trapped in orbit.

Something isn’t right; I thought ISIS stood for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.  Oh well, whatever they call themselves, they shouldn’t get a laser cannon.  Call out the Marines!

Some researchers are suggesting that the ISS be equipped with a laser powerful enough to shoot down space debris by disrupting the orbits of the pieces and sending them to burn up in the atmosphere.

Sure, those ISIS researchers might pretend that this laser cannon is for space debris, but I know that they are going to use it to bring Sharia law to Kansas.

Researchers estimate that a large-scale, debris blasting satellite could shoot down 100,000 pieces of space junk every year.

Don’t be fooled, Mr. President.  They are going to turn this laser cannon on Bible-thumping Americans before going to meet their forty virgins – already being in low-earth orbit, they will get there that much faster.

I say water-board the scientists working on this weapon from the devil.  Teach ‘em all about American values.

(OK, seriously.  Do you think if such a weapon was invented by NASA scientists that its only use would be to vaporize space debris?)