Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Tomorrow is the official 60th anniversary of the establishment of the "People's Republic of China", the Marxist/Maoist/socialist-communist/whatever-the-hell-it-is-now edition of the great Middle Kingdom

mighty cultural and economic power of Asia (and birthplace of my not-so-mighty little daughter, Maxine Shaomei, whose power is almost entirely composed of thermonuclear adorability - sorry, guys, had to get the plug in there somewhere...)

Having watched some of the last Summer Olympics, I'm sure the anniversary party will be quite a show...

But even in a digital age, there are times when I think that China is still perhaps the original riddle wrapped in a mystery surrounded by an enigma. Massive and complex, at times peculiarly weak, sometimes, and to some, frighteningly's worth considering the changes that the past 60 years have visited on it and its people.

While just floating around the Internets thinking about this, I came across this story over at China Bystander:
"...just after when Deng Xioaping turned his back on Mao’s revolution and launched the country on its present course of economic development. In the lobby of the Dong Fang Hotel in Guangzhou, just over the road from what we still then called the Canton Trade Fair, an elderly party cadre stood in tears. With his blue Mao suit and cap and weather beaten, careworn nut brown face he was the embodiment of the first 30 tumultuous years of the revolution. The cause of his tears, he said, was the installation of a one-armed bandit, the return of the pernicious evil of gambling, and the betrayal of all he had sacrificed his life for."
The next 60 years will have to be hard put to equal the past 60 for change. But we can be sure of this; change there will be, and throughout the change, China will be a force to be reckoned with across the world. Cliche, yes, I know. But it's hard to avoid that one. The Middle Kingdom is, well, in the midst of everything; its people in both numbers and human genius, it's political and economic power, it's position astride Asia. One can imagine many different futures for our own country, but it's hard to think of one in which China will not be a large part of it...Any thoughts?

(crossposted from Graphic Firing Table)

Parliment of Whores

Insurance, it seems to me, is a pretty simple thing.

The rationale for insurance is similar to the rationale for government; it's a way of using the strength of people as a group to help us do things we couldn't do as individuals.

So you get a bunch of people together and everybody kicks in a little. That little ends up being pretty big, because you've got a lot of people kicking in. And when one of the people has a problem: gets sick or hurt, house catches fire...or maybe gets a great idea, like buying another cow or expanding the widget plant...the group "kitty" kicks out a little money or a little extra help, so that the person can get back to being a productive citizen again, or make a little more and thus contribute a little more to the group.

People have been doing this since Sumer.

Now since then we've learned that for most of the truly "critical" parts of our lives, we've actually gone to the extent of bringing the actual government to do the insuring.

For example: we wouldn't trust the companies building airplanes and running airlines to verify their own safety inspections, or trust airports to coordinate their air traffic control with other airports and other private companies. So we have a Federal Aviation Administration that does all this.

We wouldn't trust private owners to build and maintain our roads and bridges, so we have state DOT's and the Federal Highway Administration to build them, inspect them and maintain them.

We've learned from experience that private for-profit companies have one duty; to make profits. This is not a bad thing - profits help these companies make better products, more cheaply, and get them into our hands in a timely way.

But profits can also be made by making shoddy, dangerous products, selling them as quickly as possible and then skipping town. Or lawyering up and beating the lawsuits. Or declaring bankruptcy. We've learned this the hard way, through potholed roads, failed bridges, burned toddlers, limbless workers. So where our health and safety is concerned, we usually take the approach "trust, but verify".

Insurance, whether it's auto, health, fire, or life, is an unusual sort of "business". An insurance company has no real capital investment; it has no "product line", no physical plant it cannot rent, no real assets other than the people that work for it and the records of those it insures. So when an insurance company makes a profit there is no chance that profit will be spend researching a better life insurance policy, designing a safer health insurance policy, or retooling the car insurance plant. That profit is, in fact, PURE profit, and can be used to pay the insurance company's owners, investors or workers, or used for some sort of financial transaction (like buying other companies...).

And an insurance company can only make money if it takes in more in premiums then it lays out in coverage. So if you take an insurance company and tell it to make more profit, it can do this only three ways:

1. It can charge more for its policies
2. It can pay less to its policyholders, or
3. It can keep the same receivable-payable balance and try and invest existing profits more shrewdly.

#1 is risky, since theoretically in a "free market" pricing too far above the mean will drive your customers to your competetors, and

#3 is difficult to manage - even the cleverest stock/bond brokers seldom make profits of the sort of scale possible if you work exceptionally hard at

#2: the real payoff for a smart company is figuring out how to chisel away at the payouts. It's a trick any smart carnie knows. You make the game just attractive enough to keep the rubes coming in...but hard enough so that they never get ahead of the House.

So insurance companies can - and many have - figure out how to make more money in the same ethical sense as the construction company taking a contract and then shorting the mix on the asphalt so that the pavement falls apart in a year instead of fifteen, or the garment outfit skimping on the fire-resistant material so that the kiddies' PJs go up like flash paper.

Many developed nations have figured this out.

And they've ALSO figured out that medical insurance is different from other forms of insurance. You can wear your seatbelt and drive can put up smoke detectors and fireproof your house...but you can't change your genes to keep out cancer. You can't armor your tibia to prevent fracture.

Medical insurance is, by definition, the chanciest, most liable to fear, panic and irrational need of all the insurance varieties.

Medicine, too, is very vulnerable to the kind of profit-mining schemes that are attractive to insurance companies. When you're in pain, afraid, sick, you're not in a good position to make rational judgements. Especially now, with medicine increasingly complex and the workings of diagnosis and treatment opaque to the layman. The $40 dollar aspirin and the unneeded CAT scan are unlikely to be questioned by the battered character in the bed.

This is why almost all these other nations have taken steps to ensure that medical costs are controlled, and that insurance profits are limited. It's not "socialism" or some sort of strange, Euro-fashion need to put government in control. It's as simple as this:

Medicine and money are limited. Therefore there will ALWAYS be someone "standing between" you and all the medical care you want.

This person can be a third party, an agent of some government, whose primary interest is that you can be made sound as quickly and efficiently as possible so you can go back to paying taxes, or

It can be a private party whose profit depends on spending as little on you as possible, so unless you can be made sound for less than you've paid him you might as well die so he can write you off soonest.

Everyone seems to get this except the Democrats in the U.S. Congress and that entire portion of the U.S. public associated with the GOP.

The GOP has an excuse: they are morally and intellectually bankrupt, and utterly owned by the individual and corporate malefactors of great wealth whose sole purpose it is to keep the groundlings befuddled as they continue to reap largesse from the public purse.

But the Democrats..?

The rationale of the Democratic Party since the 1960's defection of the Slavery Wing to the GOP has supposedly been the welfare of the Little Guy; to look out for the weal of those of us NOT in a two-yacht family. And yet in the Senate yesterday the D's couldn't even keep their own party together to defend the central idea that insurance should be there to help people who are sick or injured and not enrich the healthy and wealthy.

To be middle-class - let alone poor - in the U.S. has always been to be relatively powerless, to have your fate determined by the powerful and the well-to-do. The genius of America has always been to convince these poor slobs that they're NOT just peasants, to keep them "inside the tent", and to prevent the fracturing of the nation on social or regional lines. Think about it - the entire New Deal wasn't a softhearted FDR wanting to cuddle to poor widdle urchins - it was the hardheaded dealmaking of an old patrician takig the elites that had just driven the U.S. economy into a ditch (sound familiar?) by the throat and pointing to flaming Red Russia and inquiring like a snarling Columbian cartel lord whether they wanted plombo o plata - lead from the angry mob or silver to keep the mob quiet?

The existence of a "liberal" wing of the more "liberal" of the two parties has kept a happy face on American poverty and a sexy veil on the impotence of the middle class for the hundred years since the Gilded Age, when Men were Men and poor people ate their own dead (screw 'em, if they weren't worthless why were they poor, then?).

The existence of that wing - or, at least, the ability of that wing to influence actual policy - seems increasingly fictional.

So my question is: what happens to a republic based on a powerfully representative parliment when that parliment demonstrates that it is packed with idiots and whores?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Why Isn't This Man Asst. Secretary of State for Middle Eastern Affairs?

Go read Andrew Bacevich's definitive essay on the non-moron Plan for Afghanistan.

Remined me again; why the hell are we still hearing from Kagans and Rickses and all those other idiots?

The man spells it out in two pages and makes total sense. If Obama's people can't see - and we won't make them see - that Bacevich's ideas are the only sensible way to proceed in the Paimirs, then we deserve everything we will get.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

It's as least as good as most of the plans I've heard for COIN in Afghanistan...

Will Ferrel gets his Shrub on......and the suburb of Southern Pines will never be the same.

As a former 82nd paratrooper, I can only say that 2,000 wild monkeys would probably raise the cumulative GT score of, say, 2nd Brigade by 10%. At least. Fucking Falcon Brigade, like special ed only with more medals.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Objective and Subjective Causes of War

German troops outside of Warsaw, approx 21 September 1939

In strategic theory we say that war is influenced by the political conditions which define its nature. While subordination to objective politics and subjective policy is the rational element of war, it also consists (following Clausewitz) of irrational passion and uncertainty. War is thus a very unstable social activity.

The subjective causes of the war in question, World War II, are not debated much (that is besides by Patrick Buchanan), but one doesn't find much on the objective causes, that is the long-term political situation which was set up years before the Nazis took power in 1933.

In general, the pursuit of negative goals, that is, fighting for the complete or partial maintenance of the status quo, requires less expediture of forces of resources than the pursuit of positive goals, namely fighting for conquest and forward movement. It is easier to keep what you have than get something new. The weaker side will naturally go on the defensive.
These principles are obvious in both politics and the art of war, but only on the condition that the sides have a certain amount of stability and defensive capability in the status quo. In the same way that ocean waves grind the rocks on the shore against one another, historical conflict rounds off amorphous political formation, erodes boundries which are too sinuous and gives rise to the stability required for defensive capabilities.
However, sometimes this condition is absent. The Treaty of Versailles has filled the map of Europe with historical oddities. The class struggle has created a layer cake of different interests and factions on this map. In these conditions the pursuit of the negative goal of maintaining the status quo may be the weakest rather than the strongest form of waging war: sometimes a superiority of forces will be required for a defense rather that for an offensive, depriving the defensive of any meaning. . .

For centuries since the time of Cardinal Richelieu, French diplomatic thinking has been nurtured on the idea of creating conditions of fragmentation, open fields, and weaknesses in Europe. As a result of the work of French policy, whose ideas are expressed in the Versailles "Peace" Treaty, all of Central Europe - Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia and so forth has been placed ina situation which completely rules out the possibility of defense and positional warfare. The French vassals have been skillfully placed in the position of a squirrel compelled to turn the threadmill of militarism. The art of French policy lies in the skillful creation of unstable situations. This is the reason for the impermanence of this creation. The idea behind the Versailles Treaty, putting Germany in an indefensible position, has made it physically necessary for Germany to prepare for offensive operations. Poland will stiall have the opportunity to ponder how it should thank France for the gift of the Polish Corridor, which has put Poland first in line for a German attack.

Aleksander Svechin, Strategy, pp 250-1, 1927

I would only point out that originally the German High Command after the First World War toyed with the idea of using guerrilla warfare to lure in the attacking allies and defeat them inside Germany. This was quickly rejected as impractical and unsuited to the German character and General von Seeckt proceeded to build a highly mobile and professional offensive force which would be able to attack Germany's enemies one by one and defeat them before they had mobilized their mass armies. All this within the restrictions of the Versailles Treaty which having been signed by Germany was the law of the land. So the political situation required offensive war against a surrounding hostile alliance, but forbad Germany the military to carry it out.

This offensive policy was supported by every Weimar government till the collapse of the Weimar system in 1932.

With France the center of gravity for the allied effort, Germany would be required to neutralize each of France's allies which bordered Germany - Czechslovakia, Poland and Belgium - before attacking France. After that a armistice could be decided upon with Britain. This was in fact the line of approach that Hitler took, which was part of his own plan for a war of conquest, but also followed the objective political conditions established in 1919.

So why did France decide on such a policy at the end of the First World War? It required the maintenance of a strong system of alliances with the new Central European states promising France a high level of influence and it tied the hands of the military to a policy which limited their options. The crisis came with the change in political leadership during the late 1920s and the construction of the Maginot Line starting in 1930. France did not have the resources to maintain the Versailles offensive strategy, and attempted to switch to a defensive strategy with heavy defenses, but the unstable political reality which the original policy had established remained. For this original strategy to have worked, the French would have had to have declared war on Germany in 1936 for entering the de-militarized Rheinland. Even when Germany attacked Poland, there was a great opportunity for France to attack in the west and clear the western bank of the Rhine which would have been a massive shock to the German people, whose support for Hitler's war in 1939 was lukewarm at best. . .

Thursday, September 17, 2009

By their actions you will know the character of their soul

I once was a member of the Republican party, but then I grew the fuck up.
I apologize, let me rephrase that.
I once was a little boy with mommy issues, but then I realized that I’m the author of my own life, I am the decider of what I will believe, and whom I will believe.
And I believe that I am an adult now.
By being an adult I have come to realize that there are more important things in my life and in the lives of my family, my neighbors, my countrymen than my own self-interested wants and desires.
I realized that sometimes it is good to compromise, not because I’m a mindless lickspittle who has no spine, rather because for the good of us all Republican, Democrat, Independent, homosexually active, heterosexually active, stupid, genius, idiot, sage, man, woman…whatever, I am willing to compromise on those things that are good for us all.
Compromise does not mean you agree with the other persons world view, compromise means that you are willing accept a quid pro quo of each party surrendering a desire, a want, a demand so that everyone walks away with something, not everything, but something of what they wanted.
In contrast I’ve come to realize that the Republican Party is still a spoiled little child who wants, wants, wants and will pitch a tantrum in the Senate, the House, the streets, the neighborhoods just because they have a dime and the damn Democrats have a whole nickel.
I’ve also come to realize that a lot of the Republicans have sold themselves lock, stock and barrel to their patrons, which affects us on so many different levels it is beyond…belief…I…stunned that so many people in the Republican party would choose money over compassion, would eschew their humanity rather than the plight of the down trodden.
It was said of Reagan that he would give the shirt off his back to whomever asked him of it, and yet one just has to look at how he treated his children in order to realize that if he treated his own children in such a heartless manner what chance I of ever getting a shirt from him?
So, too, one can see that despite the claims of “compassionate conservatism” that words are cheap when compared to the willingness of the marketers to actually show compassion.
I speak of women.
But not just any woman, but rather all women who have been born the brunt of spousal abuse, or abuse from a love one…this goes to the core of the health care, but I think you can all see after you read this abhorrent article from the Huffington post that this should be a no-brainer, and yet…compassionate conservatism yields once again to the bottom line of their patrons.
I leave you with this article, whether you comment on it or not is your prerogative, but I am so disgusted with my country I…yeah…I’m going to stop here before I spew to much more.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Question of Racism . . . and Easy Labels . . .

First a bit of bio . . .
I come from the "South" - Northeast Texas up close to the Arkansas border - and just returned from a trip back home recently. So as dyed in the wool as I am, I've also lived in Europe for over 20 years. Came over to fight the Cold War, got married to a "local" and stayed . . . which is the short version.

I grew up at the end of Jim Crow, experienced desegration as a Sixth grader, heard lots of old and horrific stories from old men (some of whom were ex-Klansmen) about the "good ole days".
We as children were taught by Southern matrons who attempted to keep the ideals of the South alive in us. Most of what they passed on to us was very positive, about service and responsibility. Also, I was taught as a child that Memorial Day was not "our memorial day" since it commemorated only Union losses . . .
Of course there was a noticeable thread of racism through the entire society, like a poison. Read William Faulkner to get more on that . . .
But I would add that the South today is nothing like that what it was growing up in the 1960s. My generation failed to carry on and transfer those old attitudes - both among Southern whites and blacks. To condemn the South as "racist" based on its history is to ignore that history and the changes that have taken place over the last 40 years.

What is far closer to the truth is that America is a racist society. We're very much into the pecking order view and living abroad brings that out. When you first meet other Americans in a foreign country, often the first topic of conversation goes to ethnic background and where you "fit in" . . . Any "redneck" or "Mexican" for example scores kinda low.

So how to explain “Joe” Wilson and his outburst?
There is an element of racism, but it is the same level of "cultural racism" present in the country as a whole. What Wilson's outburst brings out is actually something worse imo. More on that at the close.
What makes Obama a target is not his race, but the whole complexus of things he represents, perhaps the least of all is his race. Had Colin Powell been elected as the first black president on the GOP ticket, do you think we would be having this discussion? Why did Bill Clinton (arguably the most successful Southern president in US history) and Al Gore - both white Southerners - both get taken apart the way they did? Racism? What a hoot!
The radical right has been able to frame the political discussion in our country in very simple terms and have been attacking the legitimacy of Democratic political leaders for some time now. In terms of the nature of the attacks consider that Clinton was accused of murdering people, running drugs, "hanging coke spoons from the White House X-mas tree" and in the end was impeached for (you know the rest) . . . Al Gore was ludicrously tarred as a "serial liar" based on a series of lies propagated about him . . . former Alabama governor Siegelman is still sitting in prison on trumped up charges . . . and former NY governor Spitzer was targeted and brought down barely a month after having made very serious and substantive corruption charges against Bush's economic policies. If you believe that it was all about “hookers”, then you haven’t been paying attention . . .

These attacks are not about race, but about gaining, retaining and using absolute power, without even the fig leaf of any accountability.

What is really driving the anger and confusion in the South is that people there are overwhelmed with change. Much of the change has been positive, and people will admit that, but much is also very negative and economic-driven in various ways. Southerners feel that the country is going to the dogs and they are angry, but like the vast majority of Americans they are angry at the wrong people.
People have to lash out at something and "liberals" are the target that they have been conditioned to go after and see as the cause of their problems.
That "liberals" promote certain social issues that most Southerners find contrary to their values does not help the matter.

Finally, what made Joe Wilson's outburst so reprehensible imo was his target - the weakest social group in the US today - illegal immigrants - who do most of the heavy lifting in the US economy. What angered him and his followers was the possibility that this unofficial subclass might actually get a flu shot on the government dime. There is a growing anger in the South against this group, who essentially operate at the edge of our society. While they usually maintain those values most cherished by Southerners (religiosity, hard-work, family-orientation, frugality) they are at the same time perceived as not having to bare certain responsibilities. The most often heard complaint concerns auto accidents were the illegal (usually drunk in the story) is let go by the cops since he is illegal and shipped back home, the poor American "victim" having to shoulder all the damages. A version of this seemingly has become part of our national narrative.
The contradiction comes in when you point out to the "victims" that those same illegal workers are here due to "the system" that we have allowed to take root, keeping consumer prices low and gutting out worker benefits, that is their condition is due to our own lack of responsibility . . .
Had Joe Wilson really wanted to do something about the problem of illegal workers, he could have sponsored legislation imposing heavy fines on for instance the poultry and pork industries for hiring undocumented workers . . . not much chance of that though, which in my book makes Joe a gutless coward: first for attacking the weakest and second by not taking responsibility for a glaring problem that he seemingly acknowledges. Other than that his outburst was just the latest example of what the radical right has been doing in regards to Democratic political leaders for some time.
If there is any real "racism" present in this whole sorry episode, it is the deliberate exclusion of a politically and legally-marginalized group which is then systematically exploited for economic purposes: what could be argued to be our new "slave class" . . . but that exclusion is not limited to the Joe Wilsons . . .

But then any Democrat should know that.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What He Said

I refuse to link to the steaming pile of geopolitical crazy the Usual Kagans pooped out this weekend at the WaPo. But Gian Gentile does so I don't have to.

I think we all can pretty much agree with what he says here:
"Sometimes it does seem that “wicked” tactical and operational problems in a place like Afghanistan requires not necessarily more experts and “scary smart” army officers to tackle them, but clear, astute, and resolute thinking about strategy and national interests."
My bottom line is that in the larger sense we are actually spending very little - both in treasure and in blood - to police the Paimirs. But the very notion that a faction of my nation's political elite and punditry believe that this is a good idea and we should do more of it and for a longer time...this, to me, is a powerful indication of the rot and corruption settling in at the heart of our nation.

You can argue that this is no different than the sort of manifest destiny rhetoric spounted to justify the Mexican War, the native American Endlösung, the Spanish American War and any number of shitty little wars in Central America and the Caribbean. And you'd be right; we Americans have never been the type to sing kumbaya and love peace and quiet.

But for nearly 200 years we DID believe that the lands beyond the seas were Other People's Business, and that the business of the United States was here, no further than our own Near Abroad. Now we seem to have a significant public for the idea that we need to fiddle-fuck around in places like central Asia. This sort of imperial meddling is always tempting to Great Powers and it seldom ends up benefitting the Powers in the long run.

I'm glad to see COL Gentile slap him some Kagans upside the head. This needs to happen more often. Because, as he reminds us:
"Afghanistan is a country wracked with internal problems; tribal conflict, backwardness, corruption, tension that produces endemic violence, bitter regional disputes, dysfunctional national boundaries, etc. So why do we think we can solve their problems in a matter of a few decades through foreign occupation? Could any outside force have come into the United States in the 1850s and resolved its internal conflicts at the barrel of a gun? Actually, the British tried to resolve internal conflict in North America about 80 years earlier during the American Revolution and lost, or gave up trying because strategy demanded for them that it became not worth the cost of trying to do it."
You get some, colonel. Because we need to remember that just because a fool of a Kagan says something doesn't mean we need to be fools and hearken to it.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


I'm not a great big fan of Bill Maher. But sometimes it's not the messenger, it's the message.

And this clip from "Real Time" pretty much sums up how I feel about this country, this Administration and this moment in history right now. It's time to stop kidding ourselves; 30% of our "fellow Americans" are totally gonzo, batshit, rubber-room-dwelling crazy and to listen to their foam-flecked ranting is to make public policy based of the insane hallucinations of a piss-smelling wino who's cooked his brain with too much sterno.

We're supposed to be a democracy. Why not take the opportunity to start acting like one?

Otherwise we should have just gone ahead and elected "that old guy and Carrie's mom", forchrissakes.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Boy Who Cried "Terror!"

I'm tired of telling the same story today. So I'm going to tell a different one.

There once was a nation bored with politics and governing itself responsibly. So it chose to pander to its baser instincts and went out and found the most incompetent sheepdog it could find. While the sheepdog amused itself with crony capitalism and faith-based sheep-shearing, a wolf crept up and killed some of the sheep. The nation cried out in fear and anguish; "Wolf! Wolf! A Wolf is chasing the sheep!"The villagers came running up the hill to help the nation drive the wolf away. They stood beside it, and held its coat and mopped it's brow while the nation went in among the woods where the wolves lived and burnt down part of the forest, killing some wolves and putting the others to flight.But then the nation's leaders saw some foxes that had nipped their ankles years before. With a crafty smile, the leaders spun tales, lied and frightened the nation into thinking the foxes were wolves.

"Wolves! More wolves! We must attack the wolves before they attack us!" The villagers were a litle more skeptical, but they gathered around all the same. Several helped the nation attack the foxes, killing many, and in the process setting alight several nearby farm fields.But when they arrived at the sheepfold after the killing was done, they found no wolves, only the bloody corpses of foxes, some dead sheep and a goat or two that had been killed in the fracas. The nation sneered at the sight of their angry faces.

"Don't cry 'wolf', nation," said the villagers, "when there's no wolf!" They went grumbling back down the hill.

But the nation continued to sing out; "Wolf! Wolf! The wolf is chasing the sheep!" He shouted this when hawks flew by. He shouted it when a herd of cattle ambled past the base of the hill.To his naughty delight, he watched the villagers startle and run up the hill to help him drive the wolf away.

Every time there proved to be no wolf - or the wolf turned out to be a sick coyote, or a tame wolf, or some dogs, or a hot babe dressed up in a wolf peltto entertain the male readers of this story, or any number of things that were not really dangerous threats to the nation or the other nations - they grew more angry. The began to repeat with increasing vehemence; "Save your frightened song for when there is really something wrong! Don't cry 'wolf' when there is NO wolf!"

But the nation and it's leaders just grinned, scratched their asses and watched the others go grumbling down the hill once more.Later, he saw a REAL wolf prowling about his flock. Alarmed, he leaped to his feet and sang out as loudly as he could, "Wolf! Wolf!"

But the villagers thought he was trying to fool them again, and so they didn't come.

At sunset, everyone wondered why the nation hadn't returned to its position of pride and honor and wealth within the village. They went looking for the nation and found it weeping."There really was a wolf here! My honor is scattered, my wealth is spent, I am in tatters, unable to control my worst impulses and falling to hubris, stupidity and shortsightedness! I cried out, "Wolf!" Why didn't you come?"

An old Frenchman tried to comfort the nation as they walked back to the village.

"We'll help you look for your lost honor in the morning," he said, putting his arm around the youth, "But you'd be well advised to remember: nobody believes a liar...even when he is telling the truth!"

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Game Called: An Economic Parable in Nine Innings

The 2009 incarnation of the Portland Beavers ended their season yesterday afternoon.Thankfully.

This year's version of the AAA ballclub wasn't the worst - the old ragtime era Beavers still hold that record - but it was in the running. The current rubber dummy wearing a Beaver suit is a wholly owned subsidiary of the San Diego Padres, one of Major League Baseball's 2009 Queens of Suck, and among the worst franchises in the game. Their best player is Tony Gwynn, who hit an assload of singles and not much else. Gwynn, therefore, is the perfect embodiment of the San Diego Padres; anti-Zen baseball in which a hell of a lot of activity means absolutely nothing.

And this is who OWNS the Portland Beavers.

Now bear with me here, because I'm going to go a long way around to make a point.

First of all, the Portland Beavers' 2009 season encapsulates, in almost perfect awfulness, the state of professional baseball in the Stygian depths below the big leagues.

The Bevos lost 84 games this year. During this process they went through three managers and 69 - count 'em, sixty-nine, soixante-neuf - players. A grand total of about 370,000 people came to watch this debacle, this mutual fellatio of baseball ineptitude, almost 5,300 per home game. Despite this the owner of the Beavers, Merrit Paulson, is quoted as saying:
"I wouldn't say that losses have impacted us from a business standpoint, but that said, we were way below .500 in 2007, we're way below .500 now and 2006 wasn't a particularly good year either," he said. "You'd like to be able to compete."
Think about that for a moment.

This team finished dead last. They have now finished either last, or close to last, since winning the Pacific Coast League in 2004. Their 4-year record or 320 losses is second-worst in the PCL. And yet...and yet...the team owner says that he wouldn't say "that losses have impacted us from a business standpoint."

In other words...lose? Who gives a shit? We're making money!!

And why is this?

Because, simply stated, the Portland Beavers are slaves. They exist not as an independent entity free to succeed or fail on their own merits. They are compost, a creche' for ballplayers, the reeking humus from which San Diego Padres are grown. The ownership in San Diego has zero - absolutely no - interest in the piddly little PCL "pennant race" and neither do any of the other real PCL team owners, the big league clubs. They will continue to inject money into the corpse of baseball in Portland, Las Vegas and Modesto so long as the walking dead thing grows players for them.What is happening in Portland - and Little Rock, and in Boise, and in Wilmington, Delaware, and in Ossinning, New York and the other 18,415 cities, comunidades, towns, villages, urbanas and the one municipality (Anchorage, in case you're wondering) that don't enjoy one of the 28 teams that DO have the luxury of actually winning anything meaningful in the sport of baseball is a joke; a nasty, mean-spirited joke perpetrated by the Lords of Baseball and those in power who have accommodated their rapacious greed.

The Portland team exists only for its role in servicing the San Diego team; it is the whore, highly paid, lavishly compensated but whore nonetheless, of the Padres organization.

Is this right? Is this just? Should the peoples of Portland, and Boise, and Louisville, and all the other Portlands, Boises and Louisvilles, get a puppet show, a sham and an empty box, so that the people of San Diego can enjoy the Show?

For one thing, the slave minors, as presently organized, offer every player in them an orderly opportunity to make it to the Show. If you stay healthy and produce, you get moved up and, eventually, get a shot at the big club. The NFL, on the other hand, is all-or-nothing. If you get cut you might catch on in Canada, or picked up by another team. But the difference between getting a spot and getting cut may be a tenth of a second or a quarter pound of weight. When the owners fielded teams of scabs in 1987 it was pretty obvious that some of those players were within a reasonable distance of being a major leaguer. After three or four games, with the advantage of the weights, the 'roids, the coaching and the practice it was pretty clear that the end was in sight, with the "real" NFL players getting slower and smaller and their replacements getting stronger and faster. The NFLPA folded its hand and has never really been an effective advocate for the players since.

So freeing the minors wouldn't really be good for the superstars, and it wouldn't be good for the owners, the Lords of Baseball, or the sports networks, and it would be hard for the citizens of the 28 American cities that now have a big league team. Who would it be good for?

Well, the public, first of all, in all the non-MLB cities, who would have a chance to root for their own proud team, to compete as best they can at whatever level they can rise to. The model here might be the European football leagues, where every place has a local team and every local team has a chance to win their own silverware. The baseball fans in every locality, who will have a local team and local heroes, to inspire them and raise interest in the sport. Baseball players, who will have a chance to compete for more than just a promotion to the next level of an increasingly narrowing pyramid. The local newspapers and television, who will have genuine pennant races and local sports news stories to report.

Is this a perfect world? No. There will be lots of broken hearts and broken dreams, lots of chicanery and get-rich-quick schemes and goofy, idiotic promotional ideas. Baseball will become a lot less sleek, a lot less rich but at the same time a lot more lively, a lot more democratic, more part of more people's lives, and a lot more entertaining.

It might just become the National Pastime again.

Our 2009 national paradigm seems to be "bigger, richer, slicker". This seems to please the large, rich, slick components of our nation just fine. But I'm not so sure that its really in the best interest of our nation as a whole. I think that small, modest and versatile might be a better model for the 21st Century.

What do you think?

(Full version at GFT)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Labor Day Weekend

I think this has a bit for everyone: history, art, and music.

Ukrainian Sand Animation.

A pleasant Labor Day weekend for all!

An UpDate for More Art and History.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Strategery for the Pamirs

I apologize for breaking into our Labor Day discussion, but I have to recommend two well-reasoned posts that readers here might want to review.

The first is here, at Armchair Generalist, and does a competent job airing the issue of "strategic competence" and the effect of its dearth at the National Security Council level. The referenced CBAS study is well worth the time reading, as well.

And over at DNI, Bill Lind, whose geopolitical acumen I respect almost as deeply as I detest his sociological views, takes to task those who continue to insist that "we CAN win! in Afghanistan" without really understanding, or explaining, how this "win" occurs in a fragmented and corrupt Third World not-even-failed-because-to-fail-you-have-to-have-tried-to-be-a "state".

His nut grafs sum this up pretty well:
"The American senior leadership thus needs to undertake a serious and competent analysis of political and moral surfaces and gaps both in our opponent’s positions and in our own. Neither can be accomplished with blinders on. Both must be brutally honest.

It is just possible that such an analysis might offer a roadmap for political and moral maneuver, which is what we require if we are to escape the war of exhaustion. There is, of course, no guarantee; the complexity of a Fourth Generation environment may mean the task is beyond our ability. We may also discover that we can identify some surfaces and gaps yet lack the capability to exploit the gaps. This occurs not infrequently in purely military wars of maneuver.

I think nonetheless that this may be the most promising way forward. If it fails to identify political and moral gaps we can exploit with some hope of success, then logically it leads to the conclusion that we cannot escape a war of exhaustion and its inevitable outcome, our defeat. That too is useful, in that it should lead us to cut our losses and withdraw as soon as possible."
My reading? We have neither the willingness nor the perspicacity to perform the analysis he suggests. Which, in turn, suggests that we may be looking at an escalation in the short term and his "war of exhaustion" in the medium term.

What happens in the long term? You know my opinion - I think this fiddling about in Asia has a real potential to be our Dutch Wars. But that's just me.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Embattled Farmers


The topic we've chosen for this week is "whither labor"? Specifically, the implications for the national political and social contract we call the United States in the changes in the composition of our employment we've observed over the past 50 years. Even greater, the changes we've undergone since the turn of the last century.

1. If You White, You Right (well, sort of...)

The United States of 1791 was an overwhelmingly pastoral and agricultural nation; no surprise there - as the natural resource preserve of Great Britain the Brits had no interest in furthering American industry. Americans were, by and large, subsistence farmers, loggers, trappers and hunters. Our laboring and mercantile class was largely confined to a handful of coastal cities.

And this was just dandy with many of the Founders. The rural landowners of the Washington sort believed that republican virtues resided in themselves and the similar agricultural tenantry. The Rousseau admirers, Jefferson and his ilk, had a sort of mystical belief in the nobility of the soil. Even those of the Founders and Framers who saw commerce as the destiny of their nation - men like Hamilton - saw the nation as an overwhelmingly rural, agricultural polity.

And this entity was governed by a pretty narrow class. Women, of course, were ineligible for the franchise because having a vagina makes you stupid.


Or something.

There's 50% of your adult citizens right there. Anyone else not eligible to decide the fate of the nation? Hmmm...well, slaves, native Americans, almost all dusky-hued people...forget it, guys. You're not a Real American. We all know who THAT means, right?

White guy - you're in like Flynn?

Well, no. Most states had a property requirement, and without some means you were just as much a non-citizen as a (shudder!) woman.

Add to that little tricks like legislative appointment of Senators and the rudimentary party systems and you have a government that works in the fashion of the people who designed it: fairly well-off, landed or wealthy white guys.

2. I Hear You Knockin'

So the big story for me, politically, of the U.S. between 1791 and 1892 is the tug-of-war between the original elites and the brash newcomers to the political scene, the farm laborer and the factory worker, the immigrant, the store clerk and the women. The blacks, after 1865.

The story of the U.S. between the Constitutional Convention and the arrival of the modern political era is the story of the populists against the elitists, with the elite slowly losing ground while managing to keep most of the goodies for itself. Every decade, beginning in the 1820s with Jacksonian democracy saw an increase in the enfranchisement of the poor and the working class. This didn't translate into the betterment of those classes - even then, the people who these newly enabled voters elected were typically the "better" citizens of their town, city, or county.

Between 1850-1865, of course, everything takes a back seat to slavery. But after the war the increase in industrialization creates a huge new "class" of people, a working class, a proletariat that is unmoored from the land and unenamored of the traditional triumvirate of gentleman farmer-banker-captain of industry. The slow and complex process of fighting for political power begins to include people who would have been complete outsiders fifty years before.

I would opine that all this comes to a head in 1896, with the Bryan-McKinley election.

3. Money Makes The World Go Around

Bryan with his "free silver" and his populism scares the shit out of the wealthy characters who have been comfortably running the country in the Gilded Age. They are truly afraid that the proles, the small farmers, laborers and assorted riff-raff will get their man into the White House. So McKinley turns to his man Mark Hanna, who, in turn, orchestrates the first public relations election. He soaks the wealthy for "campaign contributions" and pulls in the media for the first swiftboating, associating Bryan with the radicals and anarchists of Europe and the poor niggers and wogs of...well, anyplace not America.McKinley pulls the skilled tradesmen, the kulaks, and the German-Americans into his camp of the rich and the well-born. The GOP holds the White House and much of the legislature for the next 32 years.

The importance here is that most Americans, in particular the poorest and least powerful Americans, are shoved into one party. And that party sees no reason to make things any easier for its enemies - so much so that within half a decade conditions for the urban working poor are SO fucking bad that an entire reform movement (the Progressives") that had been diddling around in the hustings pimping labor, health and safety laws (that were never enforced) since the mid-1870's found themselves voted into national power.

But the Progressives were torpedoed by WW1, and when the nation got back to work nobody wanted to hear jack shit about poor people and workers' rights when there was money to be made. So we speculated and bought on margin and pumped us up a nice big bubble that burst in 1929.

4. Bottom Rail On Top Now

Depression, and the resulting panic fear of Red Revolution, convinced the elites that ran the U.S. that a temporary loss of revenue and power were a fair trade to avoid the noose and the lamppost. Just as the Black Sox allowed Judge Landis to do to the Lords of Baseball what they never would have thought of allowing him to do before scandal threatened the foundation of their profit, the Crash allowed FDR to do to the Lords of Industry and Finance what they would never have allowed themselves to permit before, and have regretted ever since. WW2, making skilled labor at once a necessity and a limited commodity, and the Wagner Act, which finally gave the industrial worker a legal means to bargain with his or her employer for a position other than utter prostration, made the establishment of industrial laborers as a class of freeholders of a sort, no longer completely subject to the whims of employers and the vagaries of the market. Stakeholders, of a kind, in the companies they worked for and the country they lived in.

Not surprisingly, the unions then began ot behave as badly as the malefactors of great wealth they had been fighting. Featherbedding, ruinous contracts, shortsighted the Seventies and Eighties the union bosses had become like Orwell's pigs, looking and acting like the magnates they had been set up to oppose.

5. Back to the Future

And as luck would have it, the GOP finally found its way back from the political wilderness with a perfrect combination of panache in the form of a hack actor turned politician who had a folksy gift for telling people what they wanted to hear and a political imagination that began and ended with "cut taxes".

Since every idiot since Hobbes has wanted something for nothing, the American working class, that had finally begun to profit from things like universal sufferage, public-funded infrastructure from schools to freeways to airports, protective tariffs, labor and economic regulation, dove into this idiocy like microcephalic contestants on some sort of toxic reality TV show. They gleefully took down their own trousers and handed the paddle to their corporate and political masters. Free trade, deunionization, the wild tontine of easy credit and financial speculation...bring it on! Everything that the laboring classes had learned the hard way in the crashes of 1892 and 1929, in the Homestead Strike and the Haymarket "Riot" and the Taft-Hartley Act was forgotten.Why was this important? Why is it so much the worse now, that the ordinary American and ordinary worker is crammed down, is more "productive" and yet not better paid, is less willing and even less inclined to fight the wealthy and powerful that control his or her economic life?

6. Here's What I Think;

a. The original concept of the United States was a nation run by its wealthy, its landowners and its native aristocracy; the President was a mere functionary, the House was limited to the small elite defined by the franchise and the Senate was even more rarified, a playground of the powerful interests in each state in imitation of the Roman Senate.

The idea of the Framers was that this little group would exercise power in a thoughtful, deliberative way because of their very positions. The wealthy farmer and landowner, the rich merchant, the planter aristo - these people were beholden to nobody. They were truly "independent", and as such their vote, and their interest could, in theory, not be swayed but by their own rational self-interest and patriotic beliefs. The entire U.S. system rests on this; that the people making, enforcing, and interpreting the laws will be kept in check by other independent, cussed freeholders, in office and without, who have the time, the inclination and the means to do so. Most of the Framers were dead set against party or "faction" for the reason that it would cause their idealized American voters and leaders to conspire against each other - and, in theory, against the good of the nation - for personal political or economic gain.

b. Over time we have moved to a more egalitarian system. Now, as never before in U.S. history, what the individual American voter knows, thinks, says and does matters. Not, perhaps, individually, but in groups, as parts of parties and groups within parties. The "elites", now both personal and corporate, still have tremendous influence, with their control of the information and entertainment media and - especially now - their penetration of, corruption and cooption of the punditry. But at the moment the individual American has more potential influence than in about 95% of U.S. history.

c. But, at the same time, the U.S. voter has become LESS independent, less likely to have the time, the inclination and the means to take up an argument with his corporate, social, or economic master. That master, whether it is employer, lender, health insurance vendor, government agency, has an overwhelming advantage over him or her. Labor laws have been weakened, employment relations changed (and here we meet the pathetic "independent contractor" and "temporary worker" - only as "independent" as his or her corporate puppeteer is willing to pull on his paycheck string and a temporary as a thought) and economic pressures tightened (between cramdowns, offshoring, loosening of trade and tariff regulations and the race to the bottom of labor and environmental standards) to the point where the average American "workers" don't have time, education, willingness or ability to understand most of the issues put before them, let along make an informed decision.

d. Add to this that the entire composition of the U.S. economy has fallen off the table. There is not even a pretense of balance between the more self-reliant types that the Jeffersonians imagined would run the country; the farmer, the artisan, the mechanic, and the "sturdy yeoman" - hell, there's hardly a fucking yeo left in the country! - and the service industry types, from CEO to cube-rat, copy-shredder and mail sorter.Together the two make up barely a quarter of the electorate. The rest of us depend for our corn pone on the largesse of someone else; a boss, a consumer, a contractor. And we depend, to a great degree, for our opinions on someone else, too: an anchorman, a blogger, a Sunday morning political show.

Being in the "service sector" puts us in a particularly weak position. Even if we do everything "right", factors beyond our control can ruin us. This puts us in the position of the small farmer or unskilled laborer of the 19th Century - completely vulnerable and, as such, deeply fearful, suspicious and conservative. When you may teeter and fall at any moment, the inclination to take chances, to open the way for political, social or economic change, is highly circumscribed. We are, instead of the intelligent decision-makers envisioned by the Framers increasingly a nation of the Led, too worried about paying the mortgage, keeping our job and not getting sick than with where the country is going...

e. ...and a LOT of this has to do with the actions taken - principally by the GOP - to tilt the balance of power back to the employer, industrialist and financier. This has gone a long way to returning the U.S. to the pre-1932 status quo, where the government is a wholly-owned subsidiary of its wealthiest and more powerful "constituents". We have become, in all important aspects of the word, an oligarchy.

7. What Can We Do About This?

a. Not much, I think.

b. Historically the trend for oligarchies is, initially, stasis, and subsequently, desuetude. Once the collapse begins there are two typical opportunities: revolution, on the one hand, and tyranny, on the other.

c. Revolution, despite our mythic past, seems to me the least likely. Revolution comes from two motives: despair and hope. Despair, because at some point even the worst horrors of revolution aren't worse than the existing reality, and hope, because there comes a moment that the dreamer, the malcontent and the reformer look around and shrug - why wait? If not now, when?

The enemy of both despair and hope is cynicism. If there is anything that distinguishes our 21st Century U.S. today it is the plethora of cynics. We have been lied to and spun so often and so boldly that we believe in almost nothing. I believe that the most pernicious legacy of the purile gang of idiots that ran this country for the eight years after the turn of the century will be that they shat their stupidity-stool in everything all the time to the point where you can't look at chocolate cake anymore without wondering whether it's really Dick Cheney's used food.

We are too cynical to be good revolutionaries anymore. Besides, it'd require a whole bunch of us to live outdoors and eat infrequently. Can't have that.

d. Tyranny, though, if it was packaged and puffed right?

In a heartbeat.

Remember, we're now the country that is trained to ask not "Who shall imprison this torturer" but "Did the torture work?". That has been schooled to accept ID checks, background checks, taking our shoes off to board an airplane, the notion of soldiers in fatigues driving around off-post...OK, I'm kidding about the last one, but still - we're hardly a nation of cussed individuals. If properly wrapped in a flag, carrying a cross and promising safety, security, free Internet...could we refuse - more, could we even argue against it?

8. Conclusions

a. Economically, We the People are increasingly dependent on others for our livings.

b. Economic independence was considered by the Framers to be an essential criterion of political independence.

c. Ergo, if trends continue, and we are increasingly dependent on consumer debt, foreign manufacture and service jobs, I find it difficult to believe that we can continue to maintain even the limited self-government we retain. Eventually we will become what we were under Great Britain; subjects, hopefully of beneficent oligarchs and corporate rulers, but subjects nonetheless.