Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A Russian in Poland


Vladimir Putin arrives at Warsaw airport and hands his passport to the immigration officer.

Officer: "Nationality?"
Putin: "Russian."
Officer: "Occupation?"
Putin: (smiles) "Not this time, just a short business trip."

h/t Foreign Policy magazine.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Primer on North Korea

Democratic People's Republic of Korea

Fact Sheet


  • Supreme Leader: Kim Jong Un
  • Capital: Pyongyang
  • Population: 24.9mn (2013E)
  • GDP: US$25 bn (2015E)
  • GDP/Capita: US$1,000
  • Main industries: Mining & industrial (34%), services (31%), agri (22%)
  • Trade partners: China, Russia


Note:  South Korea GDP: US$1.3trn (2015)

History


918-1910 AD: Unitary Dynasties (Korean Empire) included parts of Inner Mongolia. Tributary system with Chinese empire
  • 1868: Meiji Restoration in Japan
  • 1894-1895: Qing-Japan War over influence in Korean peninsula
1910-1945: Japanese occupation of Korean peninsula
  • 1939-1945: WW2
1945-1948: Post-WW2 Division of Korean peninsula (Soviet occupies North, US in the South)
1948: Foundation of DPRK; Kim Il-Sung appointed as Chairman
1950-1953: Korean War:
  • Jun 1950: NK (supported by Soviet and China) invasion of SK.  US forces intervened to defend the SK.
  • July 1953: Armistice; border restored with DMZ
Post-War:
  • 1955-mid 1970s: Vietnam War
  • 1970s: China sought to reset relations with US, re-evaluates NK relations
  • 1991: Soviet Union dissolved; aid to NK stopped immediately
  • 1992: Kim Jong Il
  • 2011: Kim Jong Un

Korean War (1950-53)



The USAF dropped more bombs in North Korea than the entire WW2 Pacific Theater, including tens of thousands of tons of napalm.  Bombing campaigns targeted urban areas, key infrastructure and agricultural farmland.

Pyongyang -- Before and After the War


Over the three years, we killed off maybe 20 percent of the population [of North Korea]
- USAF Gen. Curtis LeMay (1984)

Modern-Day Military and Weapons Program


Size of Military (Pentagon estimates):
  • 1mn soldiers + 3mn military reserves
  • Short-range and intermediate ballistic missiles (200-2,000 miles); 400+ launchers (incl mobile)
  • Small arsenal of nuclear weapons (potentially 10-15)
  • No ICBM yet (+3,000 miles; nuclear payload)
Strategic Goals:
  • Leadership’s existential crisis; needs to demonstrate winnable war strategy; prevents coups and foreign interference
  • Propaganda and national pride
  • Industrial development
Source of Funding:
  • China (+75% of NK trade)
  • Overseas labor/remittances (China and Russia)
  • Weapons sales (several African countries, Iran?)
  • Drugs (methamphetamine)
  • Cyber crimes


THAAD Missile Defense System


Infographic - Lockheed Martin

South Korean objections:
  • Limited range of interceptors (~150km) cannot even protect all of SK
  • Missile defense not worth the massive hit in relations with China and Russia
  • National sovereignty undermined by the rapid and massive increase of US presence
  • “South Korea will pay $1bn [for THAAD]” –Donald Trump
Russian objections:
  • “Deployment of anti-missile system poses a threat to the existing military balance in the region” -Russian FM
Chinese objections:
  • Geopolitics: China remains an ally and major trading partner of NK
  • Advanced radar system has a range of >1,000km, penetrating into Chinese airspace

Saturday, April 08, 2017

The US enters the Syrian War, bigly

Tomahawk cruise missile

The United States under President Trump launched its first strike against Syria, launching 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles with 1,000lb warhead each to hit the Al-Sharyat air base outside Homs.  The US military has been active in Syria for many years since the start of the war in 2011, but past strikes have only hit terror groups (ISIL, Nusra, other al-Qaeda offshoots) and ground troops were merely acting as "advisors" behind the front lines.  This time it's different, as it directly hit assets of the Assad regime -- a close, longtime ally of Russia and Iran.

The strike on Thursday was a decisive response to the chemical weapons attack in Idlib that killed 70 civilians the previous Tuesday.  In formulating this strike, the US military worked to avoid casualties on any sides by giving advance notice to Russians and Syrians and striking at 3am local time.  The intent is to "send a clear message", destroy infrastructure of war while minimizing risk of unintended escalation.  No suspected chemical weapons depot was targeted, since there would have been risk of exposing poisonous plume to civilians in the area (these chemicals would normally be destroyed safely at sea).  Note: local reports say that although several airplanes, fuel depots, and reinforced hangars were destroyed, regime planes were still taking off of the runway after the strike  -- leading POTUS to respond that he chose not to hit the runway because it was "easy to fix"   ¯\_(ツ)_/¯



In the aftermath of 2013's deadly chemical weapons attack in Ghouta that massacred 1,400, then-President Obama wanted to avoid committing military resources to Syria when Iraq and Afghanistan still needed significant attention.  The Russian-led agreement that followed, in which Syria surrendered all* of its chemical weapons arsenal in return for US military standing down, was a knockout victory for Assad since he received carte blanche to continue killing with impunity -- bullets, rockets and barrel bombs kill just fine.  (*Now we can all see that either Assad still keeps a hidden cache, and/or the country still has industrial capacity to produce chlorine/sarin gas).  After 2013, Assad and Russia knew the US had no willpower to interfere in Syria, and Fmr. Secretary of State John Kerry's delegation was degraded into begging the Russians to allow humanitarian aid into besieged places like Eastern Aleppo.

Is this missile strike against Assad the right move by Trump?  Only time will tell.  However, most Obama-era team involved in the Syria deliberations, including most notably Fmr Secretary of State Hillary Clinton(!!) and her successor John Kerry, supported the move.  Obviously the old way is not working.  If the strike can give the US more leverage in future negotiations, then consider this a successful mission.  But if this leads to retaliation by Russia or Iran, or an emboldened Assad, then we will see the American response or maybe just fingerpointing in the coming weeks.  However, one thing is certain: inaction is *not* neutral.  "Do no harm", or in Obama lingo "don't do stupid shit", can lead to tremendous harm -- if the Syrian war has taught us anything, this is the main, costly, painful lesson.

Friday, March 03, 2017

"Trumped-up" Trickle Down Economics


Pretty much.

The theory propped by Trump and Paul Ryan: lowering taxes for businesses and wealthy individuals leaves more cash in their pockets, spurring more investment and hiring, and boosting growth -- which in turn would also generate new tax income to pay for the cuts. Win-win-win!

Supply-side economics, also known as trickle-down economics or Reaganomics, have been debunked. The simple reason is that regressive tax cuts doesn't have large enough broad economic multiplier.   In other words: If you give $20,000 to someone who makes $30,000 a year, he or she will spend the extra income on food, clothes, education, and healthcare; but give the same money to someone who makes $1m, and that extra money will probably just sit in a bank.  Others went even further:
There is no evidence that the previous repatriation tax giveaway put Americans to work, and substantial evidence that it instead grew executive paychecks, propped up stock prices, and drew more money and jobs offshore,” said Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the [Senate Subcommittee on Investigations], in a statement [in 2011].Those who want a new corporate tax break claim it will help rebuild our economy, but the facts are lined up against them.”

Furthermore, the mythical growth benefits of lowering taxes are largely long-term. As a matter of policymaking, in the short-term, the revenue shortfall from tax cuts would need to be paid for -- or else expenditure cuts (i.e. fiscal austerity) would be unavoidable.  Tax cuts generally never pay for themselves in long-term growth.

Proponents often cite strong economic expansion of the Reagan era, which was driven by decreased marginal taxes and looser regulations.  However, economist Paul Krugman argued that the growth was driven by Paul Volcker's monetary policy and favorable business cycle as unemployment rebounds from a high peak.  Federal spending notably expanded (from 20 to 22% of GDP), and public debt balooned (from 26% to 41% of GDP), implying Keynesian economics at work between 1980 and 1988.

The state of Kansas is already ailing from ill-advised, five-year tax policy experiment.  Clearly tax breaks are no substitute for pro-growth policy of actually building an environment conducive to creating good quality jobs. Otherwise, the United States may end up just like Trump's many past businesses.


Monday, February 27, 2017

Is Bitcoin dead ???

In God We Trust

YES, It's dead as a dog:


  1. Speculators are not buying it in droves for it like they did before.
  2. It's the currency of choice for criminal activities, notably fraud, malware and extortion -- and no legit businesses want to be associated with these kinds of things.
  3. Technological limitations, namely the number of transactions that can be processed per unit of time, mean it's not scalable.
  4. Bitcoin miners are highly-concentrated in China, where the internet connectivity is notoriously laggy, and the whole state censorship defeats the whole libertarian ideology.  Venezuela, where food and medicine are scarce but electricity is basically free, also hosts a lot of Bitcoin servers. 
  5. Since the whole Silk Road debacle, longtime proponents, namely drug dealers, have given up online and mostly went back to back alley trades.
  6. Fractures within the community, as different factions want to go in different directions.


NO, the cat still has eight lives bro:


  1. People have written Bitcoin eulogies many many times before.
  2. Lots of money has been and continue to be invested into bitcoin-related businesses.

MAYBE Yes maybe not?


Bitcoin is too complex, too user-unfriendly to be useful as mainstream digital currency, and doesn't solve real world problems except at the margins -- dollar bills, coins, debit and credit cards are simple enough to use.   It will stay useful in the corporate setting, maybe, and even that isn't guaranteed.  But the blockchain technology may just evolve and morph into something totally new and unexpected.   Who knows?

Best two-fer job interview question


  • "Tell me about the last time you solved a problem."
  • "Tell me about the last time you walked away from a problem.  Explain about your efforts and why they didn't work."

Leave a comment if you can suggest a better question.


Thursday, February 02, 2017

Monday, January 30, 2017

How to defeat ISIS

... So DJT spent the campaign trail hailing about his "secret plan" to defeat ISIS, which is supposed to be so much better than Obama's....


Sunday, January 29, 2017