Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The strong do what they can...


I know I promised to STFU, but I came across this at Bob Farley's blog and wanted to chip in my $0.02...

This is a "Wordle" word cloud of the Bush Administration's National Security Strategy (NSS) of 2002:The application prepares a graphic measure of the number of times a word is used in a text. It is, then, a graph of the individual word density in the document.

Now, here is the same application product for the Obama Administration's 2010 NSS:I have to echo Robert Farley - I'm intrigued by the prominence of the word "must" in both documents:
"It’s interesting to me that “must” is so big in the tag clouds of both the Bush and Obama NSS." Farley says; “Must” implies a lack of freedom; it’s much different than “may” or “can.” It seems odd that the world’s sole superpower, hegemon, unipolar state etc. thinks strategically in terms of “must” rather than “can”."
Now part of this is, I think, a subset of the U.S. military habit of stating objectives in affirmative terms ("First battalion, Empty-empth Infantry WILL maneuver to secure such-and-such by 0700 21 JUNE 2010", for example).

But another part and, I think, the more substantive part, is the purpose this document and others like it have come to play in the propagandization of and psychological warfare directed towards the U.S. public.

Because of the very condition of our adventures in central and southwest Asia I suspect that the authors of this document intend it to hammer home the cruciality and centrality of military action as a means of enforcing national will and achieving national goals. "Must" is so much less negotiable than "can" or "should". "Must" sends the message that the Evil, Scary Bad People are going to taint our precious bodily fluids now, today, and MUST be defeated even if we have to sacrifice things like civil liberties and diplomatic finesses to do so.

So where I disagree with Farley is in my interpretation of the intent of the word "must". I don't think that "...psychologically, institutionally, and politically the imperative of “must” becomes real for policymakers..." I think that the policymakers know perfectly well that we have other options. But I think that they also know that those options do not have the potential for the optimal result they wish to obtain, regardless of the strong potential for a anti-optimal (that is, not merely less than the outcome that these policymakers wish completely for but a completely antithetical result; blowback, unanticipated outcome, it what you wish) result.

They want to convince you, and me, that theirs is the ONLY option, much as BP wants you to believe that the only choice is between continued deepwater drilling using the current means and methods - and accepting the subsequent environmental disasters such as the one we're watching - and complete petroleum depletion and the End of the Industrial Era.

Farley seems to think cynically that the powers-that-be have been captured by their own apocalyptic rhetoric. I'm even more cynical; I think that the thrones and dominations are using these semantic smoke-and-mirrors tricks to continue to supinely ignore their foolery. He thinks that our leaders are fools. I think that our leaders are manipulative bastards who are playing us for fools.

I'm not sure which is truly worse, but I suspect that neither leads to a happy land of sparkle rainbows and fluffy puppies.


  1. "He thinks that our leaders are fools. I think that our leaders are manipulative bastards who are playing us for fools."

    You know, as soon as I read that, I was asking myself, so what's worse? I keep hearing the word "must" in speeches, and my two cents is that it's a deliberate attempt to demonstrate seriousness without doing the hard work of any analyses. "Must" implies a commitment, but shoddy (or nonexistent) analysis leads to really bad programs and certainly no fluffy puppies.

    So either we have leaders who are fools for committing federal funds that can't acheive what the leaders say they want done, or we have leaders who don't care about the chance that people might hold them to their word later. The question is, what happened to the realists? I thought we got rid of the idealists who didn't have a clue. Ends up that the neocon idealists are still in the staffs of these new political appointees, and they're getting their ideologies in there.

  2. Or our leaders are simply telling us what we want to hear? We are still, as a nation, living on the idea of America as the sole superpower, a nation of endless opportunity and abundance where we "can have it all."

  3. J: To me the difference is that foolishness is self-limiting. If our leaders are fools then their foolishness should eventually get them in so deep that not even we can ignore it and we will have to find someone who is NOT a fool and elect him/her even though they will tell us things we don't want to hear.

    But if WE are the fools...well, the breadth and depth of foolishness there is nearly inexhaustible. We can get a loooong way down the road to ruin before being called to account. And the historical track record for manipulative bastards is a whole lot worse than mere fools...

    Andy: I certainly don't get the sense that there are a lot of U.S. citizens out there rooting for the notion that we "must" spend the next several decades sending maneuver units to comb the hinterlands of Eurasia for Osama. In that respect I think that the average Joe Public "gets" the strategic insiginficance of these islamic fundamentalists in a way that the inside-the-Beltway crowd doesn't get. As a facet of our national security strategy, fine. As a central, "must", point? Not so much.

    Now as for the general public's unwillingness to even consider the possibility that we need to use our resources - financial, economic, military - more cunningly? Absolutely. I think we still think of ourselves as the Colossus of the West, and aren't willing to consider that there are ways to be strong AND smart at the same time, and that the biggest, most expensive solution isn't always the "best"...

  4. Agree as to the elites having other options and being aware of that.

    How would you define the current "powers-that-be"?

  5. Remind me again as to who we elected because I'm pretty sure I voted for some guy named Obama, and if memory serves me right the television talking heads said Obama won...not George W. Bush II.
    Why am I now seeing George W. Bush redux?

    Hey, I know...I would like to purchase a clue for the Obama Administration...yeah, a big, not the easy "don't be stupid" that one for the tea, the other one...on the right of "Stupid actions will always lead to regrettable results" oh yeah, yeah...that's the one!

    "Stupid is repeating the same thing over, and expecting a different result"

    Yep, that's the one I want to buy for Obama...can I have it sent via first class, with signature for receipt?

  6. seydlitz: The past 2 years have got me thinking that to a great extent there is now a U.S. "governing class" composed of people drawn from much the same groups that have always supplied it with sock puppets; the wealthy (a combination of inherited wealth - the "old rich" - with the more transient magnates of commerce, financial, and media successes), the "connected" (which draws in people who may not be wealthy per se but who learn to associate with them at places ranging from The Peddie School to Stanford), senior military and retired military officers, and an assortment of "think tankers" - I would stretch this to include the opinion makers from the center and right, ranging from Tom Ricks through George Will to perhaps Limbaugh on the far right fringe.

    These aren't just the people in D.C., they're the publishers of your "local" paper, the Murdochites behind Faux and your local TV in Oregon it would have to include people like Phil Knight and Paul Allen, the guys like Bob Van Brocklin (head of Stoel Rives in Portland) or Merrit Paulson.

    All these people, who wield political power, whether through direct access to the instruments themselves or through information and media control or financial influence on the political parties, have a disproportionate effect on our lives.

    Whether it's getting involved in pointless foreign wars (which are essentially cost-free, to them) or worrying about "the deficit" and inflation in the midst of the worst long-term unemployment and deflationary spiral since the Depression - these people's interests are...almost have to be, by nature of their wealth and the national policies that benefit them most...entirely separate from and (in my opinion) antithetical to those of people like me and my class.

    I'm not saying that my interests are "better" - certainly they are to me, but the matter is arguable in re: the nation as a whole - but certainly very different from van Brocklin's or Knight's or Limbaugh's. And IMO it is the overarching confluence of interests beyond and between parties that has resulted in what we've seen; the supposed "rejection" of the GWB/conservative regime that has, in fact, had almost no effect on substantive national policies. Bagram gets to remain Bagram, BP gets to remain BP, KBR remains KBR, Goldman Sachs remains Goldman Sachs, the NSA remains the NSA, doing what they did before, regardless of disaster, regardless of the possible and even likely detriment to the weal of poor, and lower class, and working class citizens like me, to the nation's long-term stability and honest government, to the environment and world around us.

    Pretty much defines WASF, donnit?

  7. S:

    "Stupid is repeating the same thing over, and expecting a different result"

    Copy that and send it to Israel while you're in the mood to advise heads of state and have their attention. :)

    Nearly totally agree with you, Chief, but there do seem to be pockets of enlightenment popping up here and there. I believe it's why the established print and broadcast media are having troubles; there're just too many folk out there in cyberland and cable with the truth and can't be contained. Of course, there's also a whole lot of scoundrels as well.

    There's where our salvation may lie.

    And there's one helluva FUBAR going on in the Gulf of Mexico stripping the PTB of their patina of respectability, if I may put it that way.


  8. BB: "...stripping the PTB of their patina of respectability..."

    But here's the thing, basil: can you imagine someone, say, Pacific General Electric, dealing with a reactor meltdown the same way and NOT having the NRC and AEC swoop down, nationalize their ass and put them to work for Uncle Sugar in about half of a microsecond?

    Everything I'm reading from those with technical experience are saying that BP is STILL more worried about cost containments, shareholder profit and public relations bullshit than slamming the door on this thing. Obama's people, good little technocrats wholly owned by the "free market" ideology that they are are standing around with their thumbs up their ass expecting BP to act like it's hair was on fire. It won't, and they are going to get reamed by the bad publicity because they fear the finger-wagging from the Right if they dared to put the public weal first and BP's welfare second.

    Well, the fucking R's are going to wag their fingers either way, so my feeling is that the Administration might as well act. But they won't unless the situation goes, if you'll excuse the expression, nuclear...thus proving my point.

    Remind me - what was the point of objecting to King George's ministers again?

  9. Everything I'm reading from those with technical experience are saying that BP is STILL more worried about cost containments, shareholder profit and public relations bullshit than slamming the door on this thing.

    Are you saying that BP could have capped this thing already, but intentionally haven't?

    can you imagine someone, say, Pacific General Electric, dealing with a reactor meltdown the same way and NOT having the NRC and AEC swoop down, nationalize their ass and put them to work for Uncle Sugar in about half of a microsecond?

    That's because the NRC has a lot more authority over nuclear matters (which is not only common sense, but also a treaty requirement) and the US government has a lot of nuclear expertise and capability that it doesn't have regarding oil. Besides, the administration has made it clear that they are in charge and that everything BP does in trying to plug the leak is subject to government oversight and approval. What more can government do?

  10. From a commenter at TPM:

    5. My source also explained to me how one piece of the disaster occurred: you all have heard about the multiple failures (the blow-out preventer insulation cracks, the insufficient walls, too few concrete plugs, and so on). He said that the reason that BP didn't use the heavy mud to keep the oil down while they put in the concrete plugs and used sea water instead is because they were trying to strike a tricky balance. Using the heavy mud makes the well safer, but also dirties the top of the oil reservoir that is going to be tapped eventually, which means that some of the first oil to come out has be subjected to extra cleaning procedures that cost money. Using sea water keeps that first extracted oil cleaner. But sea water isn't heavy. So they try to balance the oil pressure with a combination of mud and sea water. He said that they have monitors to make sure that the balance is maintained properly and that they knew (I don't know how he knows this) from the monitors that things were going badly, that the balance couldn't be maintained, and yet continued to use the seawater.

    There's a bit from Sarah Palin that will be sticking around for a while, "How's that hopey changey thing workin' out for ya?". A big reason for my "Outrage Account" being so far in the red is most everything that has occurred from the start of the health reform. Very frustrating. I did not help to elect Obama so that he could try to make Republicans and DINOs happy.

    I see this oil crisis as a physical manifestation of this country's response to issues of good policy and bad. I do not lay the blame for this spill at his feet, but from the first day after, he does own this.

    I saw a story recently from Florida about officials there requesting money from BP to get tractors and sifting equipment to clean up their beaches. 3 weeks go by and nothing.

    The government should be in charge of taking care of that. If Obama's team is incompetent, that's one thing; but if they're protecting this company more than the Gulf and its people, then damn them all to hell.

    If I could, that is.

    Jon Stewart last Tuesday.


  11. I think your casting your net too wide. The powers-that-be according to your post know that what they are doing is a scam essentially, that they are using the assets and power of the state to achieve their own aims but are disinterested (at the least!) in the actual interests of the country.

    How many of the elite you mention actually fall into this catagory, or are they falling for the GWOT/corporate governance scams just like the great atomized mass, that is they are simply a group of well-heeled rubes . . . ?

    The actual powers-that-be would be by definition a relatively small, but powerful group, who are aware of the true nature of the threats they as a group, rather than the country as a whole, face. That explains their stalking horse police state as well as the inability to reign in the war party, since they are the war party.

    Would not many of the group you mention find the GWOT actually contrary to their economic interests, but accept it as necessary due to accepting the assumptions behind the GWOT?

  12. Andy-

    "What more can government do?"

  13. Andy: I don't know whether BP could have shut this well in. That in itself is a problem - BP hasn't released enough information to let people, even people like me with years of oilfield experience, know what is going on, much less what they're doing.

    But I know thiis:

    1. The well was troublesome for some time before the blowout. BP and it's driller made mistakes and exercised poor judgement that allowed it to blow out.

    2. The BOP should have worked. It didn't, and the reasons appear to be a combination of negligence and cheesparing.

    3. BP has not done many of the things that I know Texaco (my former major) had in plans for a catastrophic blowout back in the 1980s. They should have diverted dozens of tankers to the area to scavange oil; they have not. They should have stopped applying dispersant; they have not. They should have mobilized three or more rigs to drill relief wells; they have not.

    This tells me that BP isn't serious. They're still worried about their bottom line.

    What more and the government do? What Harry Truman did in 1952: nationalize the US operations of BP. Unlkie Truman, the petroleum exploration and leasing deals BP made make that perfectly legal. Nationalization would put a stop to that bullshit right away, and would allow the BP technical people to take direction from the federal adminstrators who would NOT let cost be their primary object.

    Seydlitz: I need to mull that one over a bit. Let me go get my kiddos from daycare and get back to you on that one.

  14. Seydlitz,

    So, Pfaff wants the President to essentially appoint himself as a dictator in this matter? Or is it all merely rhetoric? I'm guessing rhetoric because on one hand he states that BP will be placed under public authority and supervision yet the other hand he states the government explicitly will bear no negative responsibility for that authority and supervision. I guess if I were President that would be pretty nice deal for me.


    I've read some articles that talk about nationalization as a kind of unrealistic fantasy, but I've seen nothing which would suggest that's something the President has the authority to do absent Congressional action. I'd be interested in reading anything you might have that would suggest otherwise.

    Secondly, I question whether nationalization would do any good. The government is already supervising BP's decisions, examining and approving them with it's own experts, etc. There's no indication (that I've seen) that the Administration believes BP isn't doing everything it can to plug the hole. Sealing the hole is ultimately a technical problem, not one of resources or will.

    Also, BP is digging two relief wells and the first began over a month ago - 12 days after the blowout. So I'm not sure where you're hearing they haven't begun relief wells.

    Finally, I'm not against government action on this, but I just don't think there is much government can do beyond the supervision its already exercising. It seems to me the time for government action was before the blowout occurred and obviously there were a lot of failures in that regard including the perennial problem of regulatory capture.

  15. Maddow last night from NOLA and also tonight. In case you missed it.


  16. Andy: 1. Obama has implicit authority through laws and regulations dealing with offshore drilling, especially the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. All of us who worked offshore (beyond the 3-mile limit of state law) were also subject to federal jurisdiction under federal maritime law, international agreement, and the UNCLOS.

    2. Nationalization means that the federal adminstrators decide how to spend BP's money and tell BP to do it. "Supervision" means that BP decides how to spend BP's money and the feds simply have a review function. If that does not sound like a functional difference to you we can't discuss this any further.

    3. "BP did start work on two relief wells as the government requested, but the second has been shut down to cannabalize parts from it for the primary well kill effort." (see here:

    Most importantly, BP and its contractors have shown themselves to be less interested in solving problems than covering their ass and saving money. This isn't a bug; it's a feature of private commerce. But the time for diddling with the niceties of private commerce is past.

    Nationalization now.

  17. Oh, and let me note that two relief wells is a bare minimum; a blowout off Australia required five attempts to hit the original borehole, and the whole business was something of a clusterfuck:


    Nationalize. Now.

  18. Andy-

    I think Pfaff's point is that the president has to decide exactly who he serves . . . and how does doing what is allowed under law make him "a dictator"?

  19. Chief,

    The portion of the 1990 OPA act that Robert Reich and many bloggers are citing is this:

    (A) If a discharge, or a substantial threat of a discharge, of oil or a hazardous substance from a vessel, offshore facility, or onshore facility is of such a size or character as to be a substantial threat to the public health or welfare of the United States (including but not limited to fish, shellfish, wildlife, other natural resources, and the public and private beaches and shorelines of the United States), the President shall direct all Federal, State, and private actions to remove the discharge or to mitigate or prevent the threat of the discharge.

    Emphasis added. Those who point to this passage seem to interpret "direct" as a clear and explicit authority to nationalize, but there are several serious problems with that interpretation, most particularly the 5th amendment. The authority to direct BP's actions is substantially different than the authority to nationalize BP's assets. The administration is claiming that it is exercising that directional authority in its supervision of BP. The problem is that the government experts and the guy in charge (ADM Allen) don't have any better ideas than what BP has come up with.

    But let's assume for a minute that "direct" gives the President has the authority to seize BP's assets by fiat. What then? I'm skeptical that government administrators would spend BP's money and use BP's assets any more wisely than under the current arrangement. In fact the people who would take over BP's assets say essentially the same thing - they couldn't do any more than what is currently being done. So it seems to me the benefit of nationalization is, at this point, speculative even if it were legal.

    Regarding BP only working on one relief well, the question is why? Is the reason that BP doesn't have the assets to drill more than one, or is it because BP is intentionally refusing to fully utilize assets it has? I don't know the answer, but if it's the former then that's a problem nationalization won't solve.


    My point is that very little of what Pfaff suggests is constitutional. Everything he lists assumes the President has the unilateral power to seize and exercise exclusive federal control over BP's assets. The President could certainly try but I think it's unlikely the courts would let such an exercise of executive power stand for long.

  20. John Robb weighs in:

    Bottom line: BP is hopelessly both compromised and captured by its own contradictory financial needs here. A disinterested supervisor is desperately needed to ensure that the actions taken are in the public interest, not BP's. If you can't even buy into that, I have to surrender and accept that the entire notion of public weal has been bought off and corrupted.

  21. And...

    1. If you nationalize BPs assets, you are, in effect, gaining the power to direct its operations.

    2. Read John Robb for why "the government experts and the guy in charge (ADM Allen) don't have any better ideas than what BP has come up with" In point of fact, there are any number of people - including me, here - who have better ideas and have laid them out for you. What the FUCK do I have to do to get this through yer head?

    3. Okay. BP doesn't "have the assets" to drill one well. Or three. Or fifty. It does what every other major does: it contracts with a drilling company, who owns or leases the rig and drills the well. I can tell you for a fact that there are rigs idle - there have been ever since the price contraction at the end of the Seventies.

    So why did BP have to cannibalize one rig to keep one running? Who the fuck knows!?!? Only BP,and because we're still letting the bastards run the operation we neither know nor can really guess.

    I give up. You're seem to be so sold on letting these careless bastards off the hook that I'm wasting my time talking about this. The hell with it.

  22. Chief,

    To me this isn't about letting BP off the hook, this is about the rule of law, constitutionality and limits on executive power. Would I like more accountability from BP? Of course. What I'm not willing to do is just wave a magic wand, throw out parts of the Constitution and give in to the seductive idea that what we need is an enlightened dictator over BP to set things straight. It's not clear that such powers would improve the situation and the Feds already have a lot of authority.

    The OPA 1990 law, for example, allows the government to contract for any services it wants (free from the normal government contracting rules, BTW) to clean up the spill and then bill whoever is responsible for the spill. So there's nothing preventing the Feds from hiring contractors to drill additional relief wells right now, or doing anything else. For whatever reason (and I don't know the reason) they haven't. More than that, the Feds can "take over" in the sense that they can "fire" BP and contract for ALL the needed work themselves and send the bill to BP. They haven't done that either.

    In point of fact, there are any number of people - including me, here - who have better ideas and have laid them out for you. What the FUCK do I have to do to get this through yer head?

    Yeah, I agree with that. There are a lot of good ideas out there that either the Feds or BP could try but, for whatever reason, haven't. How does nationalizing BP and handing their checkbook to Allen solve that problem?

    So yeah, I guess I don't get it Chief. Your arguments for nationalization don't solve any of the issues you keep raising.

    I give up. You're seem to be so sold on letting these careless bastards off the hook that I'm wasting my time talking about this. The hell with it.

    And you seem solely interested in punishing BP by whatever means necessary to the exclusion of any other consideration. Of all people, it's a bit surprising to see you argue that the executive should grant itself extra-legal powers and set another precedent on top of those set by Bush's PWOT and continued under Obama. So yeah, I don't get it at all.