Misconceptions about the purpose of terrorism

Brussels_suspects_CCTV

Brussels March 2016 suspected attackers

I’ve been suspicious for years of the canned spiel about how terrorism is supposed to make us afraid, limit our freedoms, and cause us to change our way of life.  I don’t buy it.

There are two purposes of terrorism.  One is real, regarding terrorism used by authoritarian states, or organizations on the verge of attaining enough power to become states.  The other is imaginary, based largely on urgings in the Koran, taken out of the context of the Arab army that in fact did conquer vast territory.

In the real one, the freedoms are already gone, taken by the power of the SS, KGB, Mukhabarat, Iraqi Intelligence Service, Bolsheviks, etc.  The facts of your endangerment are also pre-existing.  If you oppose, you and all your family will be killed.  The purpose of public terrorism is to communicate this to you so as to make you easier to control.  But in fact they already do control you.

There are of course “gray” areas where an organization might not have quite that much power, but through terrorism they might scare the populace enough to tip the balance.  This might be the case in Middle East conflicts, for example.

But terrorism in the U.S., France, Brussels, and especially Russia, has no such effect.  The counter-organization that matters, the governmental police and military, are not cowered by terrorism, but rather energized and more fully funded, so it actually strengthens these opposing organizations.  It would be more logical for Islamic Radicals (for example) to increase their numbers first.  Their campaigns of violence are entirely premature and doomed to backfire.  Even to induce huge negative consequences, as when the Bush administration toppled two governments at great cost after the 9/11/2001 attack.

It is well known that there are some 109 verses in the Quran that promote open ended violence (i.e. not limited to a historical context) for no reason other than to attack non-believers (Infidels).  A few of them make it particularly plain how this is connected to “terror” attacks.  For example, who is the target of terror, and why?

Quran 3:151 We shall cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve, because they joined others in worship with Allah, for which He had sent no authority; their abode will be the Fire and how evil is the abode of the Zalimun.

“Others” means anything worshiped other than Allah, e.g. Jesus.  And exactly what is the effect of the terror supposed to be?

Quran 8:57 If thou comest on them in the war, deal with them so as to strike fear in those who are behind them, that haply they may remember.

In other words, the terror is not directed at the populace exactly, like the terror of Nazism or Stalin-ism.  It is for the purpose of control through fright.  But it is (1) specifically directed at the leaders (those “behind” the people one encounters in war), and not just to frighten into inaction, but to (2) remind them of the certainty of Allah’s punishment.

If such leaders are not inclined to have any belief in Allah or his punishment, then the Quran does not instruct “terror,” but simply that they all be killed.  Because without belief, there is nothing to remind anyone of.

There is a catch-22 here.  In a democracy, the beliefs of the leaders, at least symbolically, reflect the beliefs of the people.  With a large percentage of Muslim voters, one can logically presume that then the leaders would in fact be reminded, and terror would be effective.  For this reason, I support efforts to limit (not restrict altogether, but to limit below the threshold of political significance) Muslim populations in western countries.

If I start a new religion and write a holy book with instructions such as we saw above, and start attracting followers and stockpiling guns, there is no religious freedom granted to such beliefs and activity in the United States.

This has been done.  The Branch Davidians were completely exterminated a few years ago in Waco, just up the road a bit from where I live in Houston, 80+ men,. women and children burned out by tanks mounted with flame throwers.  They did not attack anyone.  They merely defended their property, shooting someone trying to climb in through an upstairs window!  In Texas, that is generally considered a right, to shoot trespassers and burglers.

Another example that comes to mind, not in the U.S. but involving Americans and an American Congressman, was the Jonestown Massacre.  They actually massacred themselves, it turned out, but in any case, after the death of the Congressman they would not have been granted freedom for their religion anywhere in the world.  Except maybe northern Iraq or the border mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It is time to quit pussyfooting around with political correctness.  The beliefs of Islam would not be tolerated if restated by a new religious founder.  They violate other people’s right to their own beliefs and culture.  The promises of normal, moderate Muslims of good common sense are not sufficient.  Unless these scriptures are deleted, they will always be there to guide the disaffected toward terror and violence.

There is precedent for a change in a major religion to accommodate the requirements of entry into a free society.  When Utah wanted to become a state, the Mormons “deleted” their belief about polygamy, issuing a new law stating the law of the country superseded this belief.  To follow that model, the change to Islam would have to come from within the leadership of Islam, as it did with the Mormons.  It would not be credible if imposed from without.

I have always wondered if the Mormons gained political control of the U.S. (they have come very close to gaining the presidency), would they be obligated by their religion to change the law to allow polygamy?

Our laws have already been changed to allow sodomy and homosexuality.  Why is polygamy worse?  I view it as more benign.  In fact, if we get enough Muslims and Mormons in the U.S., would they extend the LGBT protections to those practicing polygamy, and legalize plural marriage?  It seems to me they would be ideologically obligated to do so.  I’m not sure I’d object.  But other beliefs, like slavery, and Sharia law, I’d object to strenuously.

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Unexpected similarities & differences in 2016 presidential candidates?

2016 candidates

Your preference will depend on your views about the world, whether you think liberal or conservative methods work, etc.  In this article I’ll just try to point out some things that might not be obvious that will help you make your best choice.

  1. The Wall:  Cruz views the border with Mexico as a legal problem, needing action against drug smugglers, who are a threat to public safety, citing routing break-ins and other problems in this video interview.  Cruz is a former prosecutor.  Like many over-the-top claims, there is a grain of truth.  Mexico is dominated by violent gangs that defy the government.  It’s not impossible this phenomenon could gradually spill over into the US if we do not resist it.  How much is due to some hypothetical Mexican tendency to corruption and how much due to demand for drugs in the US is a separate issue, also deserving debate.
    .. Trump views Mexican and all border problems as economic.  Trump is a former & current businessman.  Both men view the problem and formulate solutions through the lens of their experience.  Trump’s starting negotiating position is to impose the cost of a wall on Mexico through trade tariffs, but he has stated unequivocally that all his positions are simply starting points for negotiation, not ideological, and not unilateral.  This is widely ignored by both conservatives and liberals who prefer ideology.  I take this to include Trump’s position on deporting aliens, and his method of sending them back and quickly giving them some paperwork and re-admitting them a sort of “trick” to claim a hard line but then make an end-run around it.  No wonder the Tea Party wonders if he is conservative enough.
    .. Kasich rules out deporting anyone, seemingly.
    .. Clinton and Sanders have superficially similar positions on a path to legality for the 11 million already here, but Bernie is against open borders because he actually shares Donald’s view that the border is an economic problem threatening American workers.  See article.
  2. The Economy:  Many pundits have noted the same basic economic anger drives both Sanders and Trump supporters, they just disagree on the solution according to their world view of the effectiveness of business or government at providing for people’s needs.  Clinton, Cruz and especially Kaisch who worked for Lehman before it went bust all have ties to Wall Street and the establishment, and would not likely change the economic picture.
  3. Foreign Policy:  As Secretary of State, Clinton oversaw the fostering of multiple revolutions in the Middle East, none of which have ended well and most of which haven’t ended.  One of them, Syria, resulted in the rise of ISIS, and several genocides according to now-Secretary Kerry.  Not to mention murder of an ambassador in Libya.
    .. No other candidate has a track record.  None advocate that we seize any territory or start any wars.  It is only a matter of difference of opinion as to what policies best avoid them.  Note that Ronald Reagan advocated retention of the operation of the Panama Canal by any means necessary, as president aided a revolution in Nicaragua illegally, and in a radio broadcast claiming he didn’t know the microphone was on (unlikely for an experienced actor) joked about bombing the Soviet Union.  None of the candidates today seem that overtly aggressive.  British conservative prime minister Chamberlain was famously unsuccessful at appeasing Hitler.
    .. For 30 years of the Cold War, strength and mutual assured destruction (MAD, with a history going back at least to 1870) successfully avoided nuclear war with Russia and China, and was supported by both Democrats and Republicans.  This held the civilian populations of all countries hostage.  While believed not effective against Islamic Radicals, we don’t really know because it is not used.  No one today is willing to hold civilian populations accountable for products of their culture.  A show of strength and willingness to engage groups such as ISIS is the next closest thing.  If anyone believes that accommodation of the radicals’ demands results in anything other than the US becoming an Islamic state ruled by Sharia law, they have not been so bold as to voice the opinion. Notice that on the basis of deterrence through strength, someone has already nominated Trump for a peace prize.  However, let’s wait and see.  Giving Obama a peace prize for what he said before he did anything was plainly premature in light of the Arab Spring which ended so badly, with ISIS, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which had he opposed more strongly likely wouldn’t have happened.The remaining Republican candidates are all very hawkish.
    .. Perhaps Trump is the least so, as he is most accommodating of Russia which backs Assad.  Trump is liked by Russia and Iran (which finds Republicans have simpler foreign policy views and are easier to deal with), and disliked by Mexico and Europe.
    .. Kaisch has said Assad has to go immediately.
    .. Cruz is vague on foreign policy except to say that what is best for America is best for the world, but some of his advisors advocate intervention in Syria to remove Assad, making him the most hawkish.
     .. Sanders says force must always be an option, albeit the last one, and blames the Bush Iraq war for destabilizing the Middle East and the rise of ISIS.  Strange as it may be, I entirely agree with the socialist on this one.
    .. Clinton appears much more interventionist than Obama, having advocated further intervention in Syria and Libya.  (An interesting “conspiracy theory” which just occurred to me, I wonder why no one has run with it, is that Clinton might have allowed the fall of the Benghazi consulate to try to spark US intervention.)  Obama encouraged the secession of South Sudan, which now appears to be collapsing.  It’s unclear if Clinton would be this stupid.  But she is idealistic.  Parts of her position statement on integrating with Latin American to address income inequality are reminiscent of the “world government” leanings of both Republican and Democratic elitists in the late 20th century after the decline of the Soviet Union.
  4. Abortion:  Trump has declared neutrality.  The other candidates are split along party lines.  This suggests that only Trump has any capability to attract votes from independents and Democrats to whom this issue is important.
  5. Gun Control:  Strict party-line split on this one.  Trump’s position is only a promise not to take the right to own guns away, again raising doubts about the sufficiency of his conservatism, but opening him to more support in the general election.
  6. Taxes:  Sanders promises to increase them on most of us, Clinton on the wealthy.  (I find increasingly such people imagine I am wealthy, which I’m not and it annoys me, since I’m trying to raise a family in a 1600 sq. ft. house, which they no doubt think should accommodate two other families.)  Sanders, more importantly, appears to want to force corporations to bring overseas money home without giving them any tax break on it.  The US has the highest corporate tax rate in the world.  This might just encourage those companies to move out of the country, which has already been happening.
    .. Kaisch has no coordinated position, but a tendency toward special exemptions for small business and such.
    .. The Cruz plan is a simple flat tax of 10% on those making over $36,000.  That would benefit me, since I pay nearly triple that, but even if it were the only issue I think it is so unrealistic that I couldn’t support the idea.  Too much change too fast causes disruption to the economy and loss of jobs and wealth for everyone.  Imagine how the debt would bloom?  Or does Cruz plan to simply shut down the government, which he has threatened twice as Senator?  Cruz’s tax would not even support the military.  The payroll tax for Social Security, which is 12.5% counting the employer contribution, and has no low-wage exemption, would be larger than the entire rest of the Federal Budget.  Apparently Cruz failed math in elementary school.
    .. Trump’s plan to force the repatriation of foreign business capital while making it palatable with a tax break would in the short run increase Federal tax receipts, while making the US more competitive with other countries for business, and in the long term perhaps increasing receipts through greater business activity.  Oddly, Trump shares with Clinton and Sanders the idea that the rich should not escape paying taxes, saying “I know people making a tremendous amount of money and paying virtually no taxes, and I think it’s unfair.”  Again, he is not conservative enough.
  7. Likeability vs. anger:  Before Trump entered the race, Cruz had acquired a reputation as disliked and antagonistic, and even now the anti-Trump forces will not rally behind him.  Clinton has a 25 year history of antagonizing about half the country.  Sanders admits he is angry, and attracts angry voters, but doesn’t seem personally unlikable to me.  Kaisch, I believe, is merely less well known, and though appearing civil at times, he can display a distinctly unpleasant anger when he thinks he can get away with it, such as in this interview against Trump.  So the only candidate that scores any points on my scale of likability is the socialist, and frankly I’m not socialist so I cannot decide on that basis, though of course it may be an acceptable factor for you.
  8. Domestic stability:  There are allegations that Trump is inciting violence.  I have listened to several entire Trump speeches.  He is possibly cautioning that if democratic procedure is not followed, violence might result, which is always a risk.  That is not the same thing as advocating it.  Just due caution.  Cruz seems the candidate most likely to attract violence, if he presses to implement violence-prone issues such as a prohibition of all abortion access.
  9. Likelihood of implementing promised policies:
    .. Sanders – LIKELY, since they are actually ill-defined, but dependent on gaining some support in Congressional seats.
    .. Clinton – LIKELY, since she and her husband are masters of the art of working with a hostile Congress and many can be implemented through executive action or subterfuge.
    .. Trump – UNLIKELY if you mean his starting positions, but LIKELY if you mean results of negotiations, since those are by definition whatever gets implemented.
    .. Cruz – UNLIKELY on face value for things like the flat tax, but LIKELY he would have an impact on judicial appointments, immigration and foreign policy.
    .. Kaisch – LIKELY since they are just bit points, piecemeal.

Summary.  Here is how I assume each of several viewpoints would conclude who to vote for.  But I cannot speak for you particularly.  If you have a different analysis, please post it in a comment.

  • Ideological or patriotic liberal: SANDERS – Due to position on preserving American jobs, intervention as a last foreign policy resort, progressive but not radical tax policy.
  • Practical or global liberal: CLINTON – Due to connections with Wall Street (practical), and interventionist policies, and desire to address multi-country problems (e.g. Latin America income inequality) in a governmental way.
  • Moderate: TRUMP – Due to 3 issues on which he is “not conservative enough,” non-radical tax plan which actually could increase revenue, and the claim that all his positions are open to negotiation, i.e. are not ideological.
  • Very conservative but not radical and not anti-immigrant: KAISCH – Due to mostly status-quo with minor reform positions on taxes, immigration, etc., and connections to Wall Street.
  • Radical libertarian Tea Party anti-government, but possibly American imperialist: CRUZ – Due to radical flat tax of insufficient magnitude, equating American interests with global interests and a slate of policy advisors with ties to Iran-Contra etc., inflexible law, safety or morality based positions on immigration, border walls, abortion, etc.

Please post your reactions, but also, please provide links to news articles (not just opinion rants) to back up your claims.

Trump vs. Draghi, who would win?

This morning we learn the European Central Bank (ECB) led by Mario Draghi, whom I wrote about at length in Money, Wealth & War, not only cut interest rates to zero, but one-upped the former US Fed of Helicopter Ben Bernanke by including CORPORATE bonds in their Quantitative Easing (QE) program.  See article.  Euro declined, making US exports to Europe more expensive, and the European stock market rose.

Trump vs Draghi

US markets did NOT rise.  Our economy is already under pressure from trade imbalance, because we are not matching the rest of the world’s attempt to keep their economies from sinking.  The WORLD is not printing enough money to pay for the oil, tablets, phones, copper, and services of all kinds that its billions of educated, productive people produce.

The ONLY US PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE to respond, indicating at least that he grasps where the problem is, was the widely-despised Donald Trump.  He plans to institute tariffs.  See article.

Is Trump right or wrong?  If he were president, who would prevail, him or Draghi?

  1. The US need not respond at all if it had a “correct” monetary policy of printing enough money to cover its own productivity, including the productivity of oil producers inventing new and ever cheaper production technology.  It has not had a correct policy since Bernanke left the Fed.  Our QE was ended abruptly, stalling our economy and virtually producing the oil crash, which could destabilize the planet if it continues too low for too long, not to mention lead to global warming if you believe that.
  2. The US president is not in charge of monetary policy, so Trump cannot realistically promise to print more dollars.  That statement wouldn’t be popular with his political base, who are dangerously ignorant of monetary matters (some of them would like to abolish the Fed and go on a gold standard, which was tried in 1900 and led to WWI, the Great Depression, and WWII).  So instead Trump proposed tariffs.
  3. Tariffs would impose costs, lower US demand for foreign products, and reduce consumer funds available in the US economy by transferring them to the government, for building walls and warplanes if we are to believe Trump’s promises.  This would create some jobs, but overall the reduction in demand would reduce prices and the Fed would have to act to prevent deflation.
  4. It’s also possible that tariffs would prove difficult to implement in the context of existing trade treaties and organizations such as the WTO.  The threats and discussions might have enough impact to get the Fed to act.

In other words, we don’t know if Trump understands what to do, only that he understands what area contains the problem.  We know the other candidates don’t understand even this much.  There is some potential for harm if his suggestion is actually carried out, but likely it is political and negotiation posturing (which he freely admits to), and the effect would be to get someone he doesn’t control (the Fed) to do the “right thing.”  Without disaffecting his political base.  If he does have that figured out, and of course I can’t be sure, he’s even smarter than I would have thought.

The NET effect of the battle between Trump and Draghi will be sufficient money-printing to keep the world from deflating.  Money must grow along with the supply of products and services, or else asset values will decline and everyone will go bankrupt.  Both sides win.

Hmm, who would win if Draghi could be granted US-born status and run for president?  Probably he is not charismatic enough, but I would vote for him.  Since that is not going to happen, which unlikable candidate should I vote for?  One that has no clue, or one that knows where the problem lies even if not exactly what to do about it?

On the Republican side, the last opponent standing is Cruz, who also wants to build a wall, and being an ex-prosecutor, knows nothing about money and says nothing about it.  Nothing attractive there.

On the Democratic side, is there any doubt Hillary would raise taxes as much as Trump raises tariffs (without the preferential pressure on the trade balance tariffs would provide)?  No doubt at all.  And of course Socialist Bernie has absolutely promised to do that.

If you want to keep your job, and want your son or daughter to ever have a chance at having one, and you voted on that only, who would you vote for?  What else is so important that it takes precedence, and wouldn’t also be helped by simple full employment?  If you can think of something, use the comment button to post it here and we’ll see if a good idea emerges!

High-flying Land Baron Hits a Wall

By now you know that Aubrey McClendon started the “fracking revolution,” parted ways with the company he founded Chesapeake Energy, and without a seat-belt, drove his vehicle into a concrete wall at high speed two hours before he was to turn himself in at court.  Apparently intentionally, since there was plenty of room to avoid the wall, and at least not yet any report of a medical event.

McClendon

Aubrey McClendon (Wikimedia)

What you may not have thought of yet is that this is not a “simple” case of not wanting to go to jail, though that may have been the last straw.  And there are lessons for investors.

McClendon took a simple vision of the future, and bet on it.  Everything.  Much of his bet was land, usually considered safe.  In particular, he assumed the “price” of natural gas and oil is what it is, or rather “was,” and would be the same or go up.  Most of us thought that.  Not all of us bet so heavily on it.

As a direct result of the revolution McClendon championed, prices of first gas and then oil plummeted.

In chronicling the rise and fall of McClendon, even though he has been having legal disputes with his company and various political entities for some time, Business Insider does not cite this as a factor in his “fall.”  He went heavily into debt, put his company in debt, and then gas prices fell.  See article.

McClendon also appears to have encountered the three strikes rule.  You can make nearly any one and most pairs of two mistakes and survive and find something to be happy about.  McClendon was wrong about the future (not taking into account effects of his own actions and the likely actions of others), and took too much risk with his leveraged bets.  So he probably lost a lot of money.  Then he got desperate and possibly tried to cheat to fix it, and suffered his third strike.

A number of financial high rollers, from Martha Stewart to Ivan Boesky have survived jail terms.  They didn’t combine the legal misconduct with leverage and short-sighted vision.  Martha is back on TV and looking well.  Boesky didn’t regain his reputation, but he got $23 million and a $180k/year reverse alimony from a divorce, so he isn’t doing badly.