Saturday, October 31, 2009

Besting the Terrorists

Vali Nasr has a vision of a valid strategy for success in Afghanistan. It is based on developing a relationship with people all over the world by engaging them in economic transactions. This could be described as a form of “economic diplomacy”. This is a process that engages the populations of the world that are at risk for terrorist recruitment so that they come to understand that they have important and powerful interests that align them with the “mainstream” and not with the radical or extreme views of the terrorists.

This strategy can be very powerful and very successful, but why should we limit ourselves and our strategy to this one narrow perspective of engagement? We should send a “representative” to every village that is at risk from terrorist recruiters. We must discover every possible aspect of common interest, and we must convince virtually everyone that our common interests are more important than our differences. It is not necessary to send massive amounts of supplies or to spend vast amounts of money all over the world. It is important to identify common interests and to develop relationships of mutual benefit that will lead to friendly interactions. Within this context of a respectful relationship a plan can be formulated for exchange. They can help us with our interests and we can help them with theirs.

Diplomacy begins with identifying common interests. Stronger bonds are formed by discovering and developing new common interests. Diplomacy requires patients, perseverance, and honest attempts to listen. Diplomacy is not the attempt to coerce or manipulate others so that they do what you want. It is a social relationship, and it requires hard work, continuous engagement, and a long-term perspective.

Terrorism is a social problem indicative of modern complex societies. It cannot be eradicated, and it cannot be “defeated” by military action. The war on terrorism will always result in stronger and more sophisticated terrorists. Engagement and diplomacy can reduce the terrorist threat to a minimal presence.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Inspirational Deeds, Not Wasted Words!

President Obama is amazing! He is the first president of my adult life that I find to be interesting. Many of our presidents were just boring, but some activated my “cringe” reflex every time I saw or heard them. It pains me to say that I spent too much time cringing through President Obama’s speech to American students.

John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not” speech was inspirational (he was president before I became an adult), but President Osama’s “buckle-down and do better” speech was a waste of words. Does anyone really think that American students are sitting around waiting to be told to do better? If our students are under-achieving it is because parents, teachers, and leaders have failed to provide them with the tools to excel and be successful.

I was not an exceptional student, and whenever adults came at me with the “you can do better” speech their words were lost on me. I just wanted to kick them in the shins until they fell screaming to the ground so that I could puke on them. I saw that look in many of the eyes of the students who were interviewed after the President’s speech. I am sorry Mr. President, but your speech to the students of America was worse than wasted time and wasted words. You can’t tell someone to swim faster and expect your words to be inspiring if they don‘t know how to swim. Your words were more likely to have been defeating and depressing.

Parents, teachers, and leaders are failing our students. We are not providing them with the tools to succeed. Don’t extol them to do better, to be better, or to be inspired. Be inspiring! Let your actions inspire them!

President Obama is usually an inspired and inspirational speaker, but he fell far short of the mark with his speech to the students of America. Mr. President, be inspirational again. Make your actions inspiring and do something heroic to transform the educational system. Inspire parents and teachers to step up and take inspirational action. Make our public schools the best school system in the world. Help our students to learn to be successful, and they will excel and become inspirational too.

If you need a little help, then just ask me. I know how to make American public schools the best schools in the world, and they will cost less than our current system.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Mismatch of the Military

No committed insurgency has ever been defeated by a foreign military. This explains why America lost the war in Vietnam, Iraq, and will lose the war in Afghanistan. Why can’t a military solution work against an insurgency?

The military is an extension of a centralized government, and it is also organized as a centrally controlled structure. Command and control is a top-down configuration with decisions conceived at the top, orders drafted, and actions taken by the troops at the bottom. The flow of information is virtually entirely unidirectional, and failure to follow orders that come down through “channels” is typically met with swift and severe punishment.

Military training is designed to shape commanders and troops into a unit capable of achieving strategic and tactical objectives. Typically military objectives involve engaging and defeating opposing armies, taking or destroying “hardened” positions, and disrupting the command and control of the enemy.

Within a military organization information flows from the top down, logistics are also controlled and distributed from the top down, and military units are forced to “regroup” when command and control is disrupted. Civilians represent potential command disruptions, operational interference, and potential collateral damage.

Insurgents function as a distributed network, which means they are not limited by a centralized command and control structure. They are a part of the civilian population, which means they have “real-time” access to the pertinent information about their theater of operation. They don’t have to wait for incomplete, irrelevant, or outdated information to filter down through “channels”. Access to high-quality information is a major factor in understanding how they can engage larger and better equipped forces, inflict significant damage, and then to disengage with minimal losses.

Insurgents don’t present traditional military targets because they don’t organize into armies that can be engaged by traditional military tactics, except when it is to their advantage. They don’t construct “hardened” positions that can be captured or destroyed. Insurgents solve their logistical needs using a broad approach, such as taking supplies and weapons from the military they are apposing, accepting gifts from the civilian population, or purchasing supplies on the black market, to name a few. Insurgents know the culture and customs of the people within their theater of operation. When confronted with “over-whelming” force, the insurgents simply disappear among the civilian population, only to return in force after the military has moved on.

Military tactics are not effective against insurgents. One tactic is to “eliminate” high-ranking leaders. This tactic will always fail because local leaders make all the decisions and, so-called, high-ranking leaders are more symbolic than functional. If you do kill them, they become martyrs, which make them more powerful than they ever were in life.

Another tactic aims at “eliminating” all local insurgent leaders. This tactic is impossible because local leaders are replaced from within the “ranks” almost as fast as they can be killed. Killing all of the insurgents is impossible, and that is exactly what is required by this tactic.

Eventually military leaders get around to the “pacification” tactic. Military commanders are sent to contact the local village leaders in order to convince them that the military is their “friend”. The goal is to convince the “locals” that the military is there to protect the civilians and to provide a better way of life. This tactic fails because the insurgents were there first. The insurgents tell the “locals” that the foreign military is coming to kill them, disgrace their sisters and daughters, take their homes, and to destroy their village. The early years of occupation does nothing to convince the civilians that the insurgents were wrong.

The first few years of occupation go like this: the military shows up, occupies an “abandoned” house as a command post, and then proceeds to engage the “enemy”. Engaging the enemy results in collateral casualties (dead innocent civilians), the destruction of insurgent strongholds (houses, schools, hospitals, mosques…), and attempts to “fraternize” with local women. In other words, the first few years of occupation does little except to demonstrate the validity of the claims of the insurgents.

Military organizations are not trained to successfully engage civilian populations. An insurgency is dependant on their ability to recruit members of the local civilians. Military operations serve only to convince civilians to join the insurgents. The only way a foreign military can defeat a committed insurgency is to kill the entire population. The best military minds in the world all agree that “you can’t kill all of them”, and the more intense the military operations become, the more committed the insurgency becomes.

There is no military solution to the problems in Iraq and Afghanistan! It is time to dial down the “military” and engage in the type of diplomacy that can beat the insurgents in the recruiting strategy.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Leaving Economics in the Dust

This blog uses the Complex-Systems Theory of Culture (Gehlsen, 2009 - find this book on Amazon) to examine and explain current issues confronting America and the world. My posts have focused on the economy because I consider this crisis the most pressing issue of this generation. The American economy is withering, unemployment continues to rise toward record highs, and our leaders don’t seem to know how to solve this crisis and stop our economy from spiraling down into another “Great Depression”. The science of Cultural Evolution indicates that the impending economic depression will be far worse than the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The powerful new conceptual tool that I use to analyze current topics in American culture is the only published scientific theory that explains culture. Cultures are evolving information systems that function as open systems, which are dependent on a flow of information through the system. The flow of information provides the foundation of the evolutionary process in cultures, and the accumulation of information to produce new knowledge is the basis of the transforming mechanism of cultural evolution.

Economic systems are fundamentally information systems, but they are easiest to analyze and evaluate from the perspective of the flow of money. Modern economic systems are sustained by a flow of money, which is ultimately dependent on the flow of information. The flow of money is produced by consumer spending, which is the primary fact for understanding the functions of economic systems.

The American economy was driven to an unstable configuration by thirty years of consumer spending that was based on runaway debt. After WWII America became the “manufacturer to the world”, and American economic growth was produced by the emergence of a vast middle class and a seemingly inexhaustible reservoir of middle class wealth. The last three decades of American economic growth have been marked by a decrease in manufacturing, a dwindling middle class, and a depleted reservoir of consumer wealth. Recent American economic growth has been sustained by unprecedented debt spending. Economists were lulled into believing that economic growth could be sustained without a significant manufacturing component to the economy. Apparently standard economic indicators did not reveal the fact that consumer wealth was nearly exhausted nor that debt-based consumer spending was unsustainable. The system has now collapsed, and long-term survival depends on rebuilding a significant manufacturing sector (30-40% of GDP).

The American economy was not stabilized by nearly two trillion dollars of government intervention in less than one year, and consumer spending continues to dwindle, which causes the economy to continue to wither. This process forces unemployment to higher levels, which results in less consumer spending. Increasing unemployment is not just a lagging indicator; it is a predictor of future economic decrease. This downward economic spiral will continue until the system reaches a level of consumer spending that is sustainable. Sustained high levels of unemployment will become a lagging indicator when consumer spending ceases to dwindle and unemployment stops increasing. The sustainable level of economic activity that we are heading for will be far below the August 2008 level, and “real” unemployment numbers will be significantly greater than 20%.

The looming “Great Depression” is not inevitable. Consumer debt can be restructured to reduce payments and increase the amount of money consumers have for purchasing goods and services each month. This is not a long-term economic solution, but it is the best way to increase consumer spending, which will start an immediate and dramatic economic recovery. Increasing consumer spending will reverse the unemployment trend and put Americans back to work, which will increase consumer spending and send the economy spiraling up to higher levels. Once the economy is truly recovering we can begin to tackle the difficult task of rebuilding the American manufacturing sector.

The choice is clear, increase consumer spending and produce immediate economic recovery, or sink into the greatest economic catastrophe in the history of the world.

I am now changing the focus of my analysis to a new cultural topic.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Losing Two More “Vietnam” Wars

We lost the Vietnam War because our military leaders didn’t understand the dynamics of the situation. American escalation continued until more than five hundred thousand combat troops were committed to the tiny country. We could have doubled the size of our military in Vietnam and the outcome would have been the same.

George W. Bush committed America to two more “Vietnam” style wars, and we are going to lose both of them for the same reasons we lost the Vietnam War. No foreign military has ever defeated a committed insurgency (no matter how large their military commitment). We should have learned this lesson from the many historical examples that are available. The vast British military has been fought to a standstill in Northern Ireland for nearly five hundred years. The undefeated might of three of Napoleons invincible armies were fought to defeat by the Spanish insurgents, which allowed Wellington’s tiny army to operate in Portugal and Spain.

In Iraq we managed to destabilize all levels of government, install a national government that virtually nobody supports, and set the stage for civil war. As soon as American troops are removed from Iraq the country will erupt into a civil war that will eventually determine the next government of Iraq. We should extract our troops from Iraq immediately because the only thing they are doing is delaying the inevitable civil war. The opposing forces grow in strength and sophistication with each passing week that our military delays the beginning of the struggle for the control of the country. We can’t stop the inevitable civil war, but we could reduce the devastating effects of the war by allowing it to begin now,

For many years the Bush administration claimed a victory in Afghanistan, which was the basis of their argument that we would win the war in Iraq. During those years I told everyone that we had not won the war in Afghanistan and that the war had not yet begun. Now the war in Afghanistan has begun in ernest, and we are going to lose it as surely as we lost the Vietnam War. The “inside” military appraisal is that six hundred thousand combat troops will be needed to win the war in Afghanistan. We will lose the war in Afghanistan even if we commit six hundred thousand American combat troops.

The lessons of history are difficult to learn. Military experts may understand “military tactics”, but they seem to be clueless about how ineffective foreign military forces are against a committed insurgency. Even our humble beginnings sprang from an insurgency that defeated the most powerful military in the world.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The “Gravy-Train” Crashed in a Fiery Ball of Destruction

The illusion of riches that could be made in the service sector was so strong that nobody wanted to invest in manufacturing. The problem is this: manufacturing is the only way to generate “real” wealth.

The service sector can never be the foundation of a stable and sustainable economy. Manufacturing is the only economic activity that can generate new and “real” wealth. The service sector can only re-distribute existing wealth. Service industries have only one long-term economic function. They siphon money from the consumers and concentrate riches in the hands of a few wealthy individuals. The long-term effect of an economy that is dominated by an unconstrained service sector is an economic collapse that will lead inevitably to another Great Depression.

Stable and sustainable economies must be built on a manufacturing base! Only the production of “real” wealth can sustain healthy economic growth. The workers have to participate in the growth of wealth or consumer spending will become inadequate to sustain economic growth. “Real” wealth can only be created by extracting resources and using them to manufacture goods. For example, no “real” wealth is created if you pay me thirty dollars to clean your house. This transaction adds thirty dollars to the GDP, but it represents the transfer of existing wealth and not the creation of new wealth. The service sector can only redistribute wealth that already exists. Generating new wealth requires a significant and robust manufacturing sector.

After WWII the American manufacturing sector was the “manufacturer to the world”. All products of relatively sophisticated design were produced for consumption in America, and the world had to either buy our goods or go without. During the first three decades after WWII America produced a vast middle-class and a vast reservoir of wealth. This period represented the pinnacle of American economic power and stability.

The American economy was transformed by the domination of the service sector in the last 30 years. Entrepreneurs focused on creating service corporations, and corporate raiders made billions of dollars dismantling our manufacturing sector. Now only about 10% of the American workforce is engaged in manufacturing (according to the CEO of G. E.).

As manufacturing decreased, the amount of new wealth generated by American workers also decreased. At the same time, the service industries were transferring the existing wealth from the middle-class to the wealthy at an alarming rate. The only way to maintain economic growth was to convince consumers to burden themselves with a vast debt so that they could continue to consume goods and services. Our current economic crisis is the inevitable consequence of “forcing” economic growth by increasing consumer debt. In other words, “debt-based” economic growth is not a sustainable economic strategy. The “gravy-train” of the service sector hay-day is over. That fiery ball of destruction on the horizon is the crash of the service sector “gravy-train”.

The choice is clear. Imagine your boat sinks five miles from shore; your choices are to either swim the five miles to shore, or to give up and drown. Our economic choice is just as obvious; either we do the hard thing and rebuild the manufacturing sector, or give-up and sink into economic oblivion.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Mystique of Hydrogen Fuel

We can all convert our cars so that they run on hydrogen fuel, and then the world would be a better place. Hydrogen fuel is produced from water, and when it is burned to power our cars it just turns back into water. Great!

There is one problem however. It takes more energy to produce hydrogen than the amount of energy that it returns when you burn it. This fact means that you can never use hydrogen fuel as an “alternative” energy source to solve the energy crisis. Using hydrogen fuel just exchanges one energy problem for another.

As long as we are revealing the problems with hydrogen fuel lets look at another. The internal combustion engine is very inefficient. For example, four units of energy are lost to heat and friction for every unit of energy that is used to push your car down the road. In other words, work-to-waste ratio is 1 to 4. Internal combustion engines are inefficient no matter which fuel you burn so hydrogen is no help. We must replace this inefficient technology with one that is more efficient. HINT: electric motors have a work-to-waste ratio of 9 to 1. An electric car uses nine units of energy to push your car down the road for every unit of waste.

Why are all of the energy companies spending tens of millions of dollars on propaganda every year? They are pushing coal, oil, natural gas, hydrogen fuel, atomic power plants, hydro-electric, and wind-farms because these are all centrally produced and distributed forms of energy. Central production and distribution of energy forces consumers to purchase expensive and limited forms of power from the energy companies at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars a year. In the third quarter of 2008 just one of the oil companies posted nearly twenty billion dollars of profit. Let me state that again; twenty billion dollars of PROFIT in just one quarter by just one oil company.

Big business loves centrally controlled energy distribution because it is a huge “cash cow”. They are scared to death that the consumers are going to wise-up and start investing in the only viable technology that is an alternative energy source. The energy from the sun that falls on the earth every 30 minutes is equivalent to all of the energy humans generate in a year. Solar electric panels can be mounted on virtually every home in America, and they can generate more than 100% of the energy that a home needs, including recharging the battery on your electric car. Energy will be abundant and virtually free once production of solar electric panels gets up to high levels and the new technologies come on line. Some communities have already installed FREE recharging stations for electric cars. Solar electric power can be the foundation of a distributed network of energy that is stable (no “brown-outs” or “black-outs”) and sustainable.

The future is going to be powered by free and abundant energy, but hydrogen fuel is virtually irrelevant in this future.