Thursday, February 24, 2011

Arc of a Diver

Bear with me, because I'm really thinking out loud here; I don't pretend to be parading out expert opinions or fully-formed ideas. There are just some issues I'm seeing in the U.S. that concern me and I wanted to lay them out and let you all kick them around.

Let's start with some of the elements that have been elemental to human life since Sumer, and some others that appear to have become more essential to life in the United States in the early part of the 21st Century.

First, let's begin with the proposition that human well-being comes from a variety of sources, but that the basic principles of Maslow remain sound. Physical needs like adequate food, shelter, and safety come first. If you are starving under a bridge in the February rains it doesn't really make much difference whether you are in a terrific love match. You will be dead soon of exposure, leaving your amorata bereft and looking for a new place to sleep.So securing those fundamental needs is the primary concern of humans everywhere.

For most of us in 21st Century America this means a job; gainful work, work that pays enough to secure that rented flat, food enough to live on, clothing, and the small fripperies that differentiate living from existing.

Let us further assume that political ideals and concerns will always come second to the primary need for security and well-being. Mark Twain called this "cornpone opinions"; tell me where a man gets his cornpone, said Twain, and I'll tell you what his opinions are.

To put it another way, a person fearful of want and hardship, of losing his job, that she will fall into desperate straits, is unlikely to worry much about the abstracts and deeper implications of policies and politics. As hard cases make bad law, frightened people make bad politics. While it would be nice to think that humans respond to desperate times with calculated courage, my experience is that the pressure of fear and want make fools of the hardiest of us. The usual reaction to pressure is panic. The main reason that the Framers of the U.S. Constitution wanted to limit the franchise to men of property is that they feared the "passions of the mob" - by that they meant the impact of the landless and moneyless being led, or driven, by their need to truckle to those whose patronage employed or supported them.And that brings us to the moment, the second Winter of our economic Discontent.

We the People have been assured, reassured, re-reassured that the key to economic strength is through the unshackling of the creative engine of capitalism. That the Market would bring us all prosperity, and that the best way to spread that prosperity was to lift the bonds of taxation and regulation on the Masters of the Universe, the financiers and entrepreneurs and captains of industry.

The rising tide that their flood of wealth creation would break loose would raise all our little boats alongside their yachts. We would lave ourselves in the streams of lucre they would bring forth, like Moses bringing forth water from the rock.

So we helped them, we cut their taxes - lower than anytime since their grandfathers smashed the Republic on the rocks of the Depression - and we waited. We, many of us, demanded the end of public unions, the crushing of deficits, the end of public spending, just as the powerful and wealthy told us would help - and we waited.

And certainly their tide has risen. The stock market is rising, many of the largest companies and corporations are awash with profit.

But for many of us the water is still at low ebb.Employment is still around 10 percent. Worse, many more of us have just stopped looking for work, or are working at menial or part-time jobs that pay little of what we earned before and not enough to live on above the meager minimum.

And here is the worst part of my fears.

I think that this Great Recession may be the harbinger, the slow drawback of the sea that fortells the arrival of the tsunami.

I think we are seeing a great convergence of political, economic, and social changes that spells trouble for those of us ordinary citizens of the Republic.

I think we will find that many of the lost jobs may never return. And I think that this may portend the end of the great "Middle Class Era" of the U.S.

When you think about it, wealth for the ordinary American went through two great periods of expansion. In the late 18th and early 19th Centuries that expansion was literal, physical; the nation prospered as it grew larger, incorporating huge territories into itself. If an American needed or wanted to try and prosper, he or she could move physically to a richer or newer part of the land.

By the end of the 19th and into the 20th Century, the expansion was technological and industrial; people left off farming and started making things, and the things we made became ever more complex and valuable.

But this depended on two things;

First, it depended on resources, and, more importantly, on domestic resources. The iron and coal were mined here, the petroleum drilled and refined here, the cotton grown here and the fabrics woven here. Americans largely used American resources to make American products. That economic power enabled us to purchase resources we couldn't find in North America and still have wealth to spare; our manufactured goods were as much in demand overseas as the resource materials were here.

Second, it depended on tariffs. For much of our nation's history we protected our industries with tariff barriers that made trade within the nation more economical than trade without, despite the relatively high wages we payed each other.In some cases we protected our industries absolutely; in the early 19th Century importing German or British steel would have been cheaper than using steel from Pittsburgh or Cleveland, even though the German and British steelworkers made no less (tho probably little more, and that little enough) than our own. But high tariffs forced Americans to trade with each other.

Well, the resources - especially petroleum - are gone and will not return. And we have chosen to lower the tariffs in the name of free trade and the acquisition of volumes of Cheap Plastic Crap. That has been good in the short run, and for the manufacturers of CPC. Now I think the bill is going to come due.

Because corporations have realized, and, soon, I think the American people are going to find, that many, many formerly living-wage jobs can and will be done by people in places like Brazil, Rangoon, Calcutta, and Guangzhou.These jobs don't take a vast amount of mental acuity, and, what's more, the education the people in Calcutta and Guangzhou is becoming no worse than our own. And their costs are much less than ours. We simply cannot compete with engineers in Mumbai who can design as well as engineers in San Francisco and for a fraction of the price. I think that we will be surprised, and dismayed, by the number and type of jobs that can and will be offshored.

I think that we are going to find ourselves with an indigestible 10 to 20 percent of the population that is going to become "long-term un/under-employed". I think this will have a disastrous effect on U.S. politics.

It's easy to forget that prior to the War on Poverty that roughly a quarter of the U.S. population was poor. Really poor.Shotgun shack, barefoot-hookworm-and-pellagra, bad teeth and rickets poor. What saved us, to a great extent, is that most of those poor were either immigrants living in city slums or the rural poor. The first were too cowed and frightened to be much trouble, the latter were always able to eke out some sort of living, even in bad times.

But the rural poor are pretty much gone; what's left are agribusinesses feeding crap to the poor and lower middle class and the craft farmers feeding slow food to the upper middle class and wealthy. The bulk of the urban poor and suburban poor have lost the skills to farm; the countryside has lost the ability to insulate us from culture shocks. And the likelihood of as much as 20-30 percent of the U.S. becoming poor again, really poor - especially if the recent Republican fervor for dismantling the social safety net takes effect - is likely to remove much of the fear from the urban slums.

In revolution the real devastation begins with the thought "What the hell do I have to lose?"

And the gulf between the rich and the poor is widening again, to an extent unseen since, again, the Depression.It's worth remembering that FDR wasn't some sort of aristocratic Santa Claus. Yes, he had concern for and interest in those suffering from the worst of the Depression. But he was also a cunning politician, a frighteningly bright guy, and an old New York patroon. He could see what was happening as hard times made desperate people make mad and bad choices; the wealthy and then the middle class dead and imprisoned in Russia, fascists springing up in Germany and Italy, class war in Spain, and he didn't want to see it here. His opportunity came when the banksters and the free-marketeers shit the bed in 1929, and he rammed through some arguably unconstitutional measures that bought social peace for the succeeding fifty years.But I think that deal, that New Deal, is falling apart.I honestly have no idea what can be done. I can't see hopes for reviving the U.S. middle class the way it was created after the Depression; by raising the working class into the "middle" by paying them a wage that brought with it middle class expectations, manners, and mores. The competition from foreign workers is just inescapable.

I can't really see the creation of "new industries"; we're at the tag end of a technological cycle.

For example, look at the pace of technological progress, say, between 1910 and 1940 - practically the entire industrialized world changed! An American of 1910 would have had a hard time recognizing the world of 1940.

Another thirty years - from 1940 to 1970 - saw great changes as well. But not was great as the preceding thirty.

Between 1970 and 2000, still more changes. But changes in scale, or type, rather than in method. We went from landlines to "bricks" to cellphones to iPods - but a phone is a phone. We went from mainframes to laptops - but a computer is a computer. The next great technological leap may well be out there...but it seems increasingly like a "black swan". The arc of the present technologies seems predictable and increasingly incremental.

So the U.S. seems presented with the prospect of an increasingly divided society, with a small group of very wealthy at the top, a sullen lump of intractably poor and unemployable at the bottom, divided by a frightened and dependent remnant of the middle class between.Unwilling to tax themselves, the wealthy retreat to their gated enclaves. Unable to pay for themselves, the poor are lost, increasingly nothing more than a mob of votes to be bought and sold. Resented by the proles and ignored by the aristos, the rump of the middle finds themselves chained to the rock of their stagnant mortgage values with the vultures of the rich and poor rending their livers as they dread the day their job is finally outsourced or offshored.Now - don't get me wrong. I don't think that we're crash-diving into some Mad Max apocalypse, or that the U.S. is going to become Afghanistan tomorrow.

This country has always been tremendously resiliant. We have great reserves of human energy and creativity, and there are always events that can break favorably, unlike the gloomy scenario I've painted.

But combine everything we've talked about with a world that wants, and is getting to the point of being able to demand, what we have kept to ourselves for fifty years; with the increasing possibility that we are producing and consuming petroleum orders of magnitude faster than it can be formed from biomass; with the collapse of the post-WW2 political center into the repolarized politics of the Oughts and Teens...

I wondre if we have the wherewithal - political, social, economic - to reverse this trend and reestablish a broad middle class of the sort that had such a large effect in stabilizing the nation between 1945 and 1980; that is, the nation that most of us grew up in and take for granted.Is it?

One solution could be to "lighten" or "open" the U.S. economy. Until now we've rested like a massive stone wall on agriculture, resource extraction, and manufacturing. Above that foundation are the wood floors, the service industries, from the architects, engineers, and designers to the attorneys and the doctors. Above that are the gingerbready attics; the caterers, beauticians, the financial gamblers, the writers, the graphic artists, and the people who sell kitschy knick-knacks in twee little shops.

Agriculture and mining long ago lost their mass employment potential; most of us now work in the service industries. But there has to be a foundation, and that foundation is increasingly looking rather seedy. But do we need "mass employment"? Can we design a society that uses technology to replace human bodies, relies on creativity and a "nimble" exchange of good and services? One that is based on fewer people, but those people capable of more complex tasks? Could the way out of the dilemma of the un/under-employed be to simply have fewer people to BE unemployed?Or perhaps that next wave discovery occurs and revitalizes the U.S.

Or...or something.

I hope.

Because if not I am worried about my children and the nation that they will grow up in. If not I am worried because of what I see as the political and social state of the nation; I'm not convinced that we are prepared to deal sensibly and effectively with the sort of problems I've discussed.

If not I am worried that my children's lives will be more difficult than mine was, and that is every parent's worry.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Bourne Stupidity

I'm a middle-aged American guy; I was raised on "spy thrillers". And don't get me wrong - I enjoy the celluloid adventures of spies and counterspies as much as the next guy.It's just kind of irking when my country's spies don't seem to have watched those flicks or have forgotten the plot.

Take the case of Raymond "Not Jason Bourne" Davis.

Remember this guy? The "diplomat" who shot his way out of the holdup in Lahore, Pakistan?Okay; first off - I have no idea what the hell happened in the streets of Lahore on January 27th. It seems very plausible to me that the guys Davis slotted were robbers, bazaar badmashes intent on at least holding him up and possibly murdering him.


This discussion by a BBC reporter reports that
"investigations by the police, forensic labs and the local and international media suggest that the two men were driving away from Mr Davis when they were shot. That "no fingerprints had been uncovered on the triggers of the pistols found on the bodies of the two men. Furthermore he said that tests had shown that the bullets remained in the magazines of their guns, not the chambers."
Even more damning, far from the bad guys the U.S. has suggested,
"...the men have no criminal records as such. Both...were carrying licensed pistols (and) security sources in Lahore say that they were part-time or low-level operatives for the local intelligence services. Although reports are sketchy about what they were doing in relation to Mr Davis, security officials believe it could be the case of a surveillance operation gone horribly wrong."
Well, damn. So maybe it really was the case of a guy getting flaky at the wrong time and busting a cap on a couple of local snoops from the Lahore ISI Nose Patrol.

But, whatever, you've seen the movie and you all know what happens now, right? Our hero disappears into the crowd, makes his way to the "safehouse" where he changes his appearance and his identity cards and then slips out of the country one step ahead of the dictator's secret police (or his own agency, whichever is cooler...). Every spy has seen this part and knows what to do now.Or not.

Seems that the guy gave himself up on the spot, and was thrown into the local carcel.

Now this is the part where the CIA activates its cunning plan, sends its mole into the Lahore cop shop while the suave State Department spokesmodel spins a seamless web of denials and diversions that baffles the locals, enemies, and reporters alike. Our boy is whisked out of the country as if he had never existed, right?

Or not.

Of course this gentleman was not a "legal" CIA officer, accredited as a U.S. diplomat; he was another damn contractor, more of what appears to be the "secret" side of the war in central Asia which is about as secret as Lady GaGa's underwear. Instead of a cunning plan the U.S. government began by loudly beating the stupid drum by demanding his release AS a diplomat, despite the fact that it seems that both the State Department and the Pakistanis knew from the get-go that he was not.What's worse, the U.S. has insisted in doubling-down on this lie from almost immediately after he was arrested until just this past week after everyone from The Lahore News and Advertiser to the Onion published the truth. Finally, after several British news outlets stated the truth, the U.S. 'fessed up.

Well, damn.

So now what?

I doubt whether this guy is going to rot in a Pakistani jail; he'll get some public spankings to placate the Paki mobs and then quietly slip out of the country.But in the meantime, again, the U.S. ends up looking both foolish and deceptive, reinforcing the Dubya image of the idiot cowboy, shooting up the surroundings and bagging nothing but a couple of cottontails and the local schoolmar'm. And looking incompetent; the bumbling spy is a classic staple of movie comedy from Buster Keaton to Peter Sellers.

Don't get me wrong; I'd prefer that my country not be sneaking around other people's countries unless there was a hell of a good reason for it. But I'm realist enough to understand that all sorts of spying happens for all sorts of reasons, and many of those reasons are too secret for me to know. So I know my country is going to spy all sorts of places for all sorts of reasons, good and bad.But is it too much to ask that if we're gonna sneak around the globe making real-life spy films my country tries to spy more like Jason Bourne and James Bond than Phil Moskowitz and Inspector Clouseau?

Friday, February 18, 2011

--Camel Jockeys, Petar Pismestrovic

A democracy is nothing more than mob rule,

where fifty-one percent of the people

may take away the rights of the other forty-nine

--Thomas Jefferson


Watching U.S. policy floundering in the Middle East is like watching the obsessive-compulsive t.v. character Monk walking a sidewalk.

He knows there are cracks, but he assiduously avoids stepping on them, his arduous crack-avoiding walk allowing him to maintain a measure of equanimity. He would deny that he's making any accommodation for something that is driving him mad -- he would deny even seeing the cracks -- and so it is with U.S. foreign policy.
The fictional Monk is OCD, but how do we diagnose U.S. policy, one as bizarre as Mr. Monk's strange denial and sidesteps?

Our leaders have been all atwitter about the upswell of mob action in Egypt, elevating mobocracy to democracy. This ignores the reality that mob rule should not / cannot be tolerated by any government, democratic, autocratic or otherwise.
The U.S. has never tolerated mob rule, nor should we.

The streets of Washington were planned with crowd control in mind. The School of the Americas at Ft. Benning taught crowd control as a basic element of foreign Army training. U.S. mobile training teams worldwide taught the host nation forces how to control crowds.
Here in the States, elite Airborne Infantry units have performed domestic crowd control, and the National Guard is well-versed in the topic.

So . . . why is the U.S. so optimistic about riots and mobs in the streets of Cairo? Further, was Obama's 2009
Hope - Change Cairo speech the match to this tinderbox (Dictators and Hedgehogs)? We are inconsistent: The U.S. heralds mobs in one place yet quashes them in another, forcing the residents to accept rulers they do not want.

How can the U.S. disingenuously press on with its counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan in the face of such hypocrisy?
It spends trillions of dollars forcing people not to be insurgent, while sitting back on its haunches calling mobs elsewhere constellations of freedom fighting? Furthermore, isn't a mob a form of Low-Intensity Conflict (LIC)?

Will we allow Sadrist mobs to control Baghdad? No, so why can mobs overthrow a regime in Cairo but not in Baghdad? If U.S. policy is to empower mobs, then
COIN should be abandoned as dead-in-the-water.

We need to think versus reacting in a Pollyannaish, vacuous Katie Couric moment. We do not know where Egypt will end up, nor do we know if the results will be constructive or democratic. Additionally, we do not know if democracy in Egypt will benefit the U.S. On the pragmatic side: What leader will cast his lot in with us when he knows he will be tossed to the wolves after he has done our bidding for 30 years?

One thing is certain: Democracy does not prosper in mobs.

Im Westen nichts Neues

Did you know about the firefight today?

Sounds like some of the guys in Kunar Province, way out in the eastern edge of Afghanistan, had a rather trying day today. Some of the local badmashes - probably Afghan Talibanis, possibly Pakistani Talibs, possibly just locals with a case of the ass - shot up their "outpost" (whatever that represents in military terms; a patrol base, a checkpoint, an LP/OP...) with rifle and grenade fire.According to the press release the boys reacted pretty well; they returned fire and shot up their attackers, who presumably grabbed a hat; at least there's no mention of the position being endangered.

So presumably it was just another day at the office for the guys out in Bar Kunar.

In the late Twenties a former German soldier published a book about his life in World War One. The main point of the story was to show the many civilians who had no idea of the lives their soldiers had lived in the war. His title was a piece of vicious irony; the phrase "Im Westen nichts Neues" was used by the Imperial German Army to describe a "normal" day of fighting on the Western Front lines. In such a day anywhere from a handful to hundred of men would have died and more ripped up by bullets, shells, bombs, and mines while others slowly weasted away from disease and exposure. For those men, "nothing new" meant everything; the end of life, or health, or youth. In the "news" the civilians received - it meant just nothing. All this death and injury were just another day at the office.

But the guys who lived through it came back home with a head's worth of nightmare composed of boredom, hardship - ranging from discomfort to misery, stress, fear, hate, and all the other assorted crap that war stuffs into your brain housing group.

And their wives, kiddies, parents, friends, and bosses - whose heads had been stuffed with "nothing new" and marching-song bullshit for four years, had no fucking idea why the guys seemed a little tense now and then.

So I don't know why the fact that our cabinet wars have disappeared off the public news irks the hell out of me. It's nothing new, and certainly nothing shocking. Armies, countries, governments have tried stuffing the dirty work their soldiers do down the memory hole probably since Ramses' day.But it still irritates the shit out of me all the same.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Indian Giver


Talk amongst yourselves . . .

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Party Boys Call the Kremlin

There are never any guarantees in the world, ever.

There is always the arrow that flieth by day and the terror by night. The flu germ. The cancer cell. The dead spot in the heart muscle.But just for today, just this very moment, let us celebrate with the people of Egypt their victory over the hand of thirty years of repression, nepotism, and corruption.

Tomorrow may bring regrets. Sorrow. Disappointment. For some of us tomorrow will not come at all.

But just for today, let's all just walk like an Egyptian.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Getting Called on the Double Down

Here's what I wrote yesterday:

"It appears that Washington's Egyptian "ally" has told Washington to stuff it and intends to double down on their Mad Police State Skilz.One thing that baffles me about this is the goal of the Mubarakites.

I have never got the sense that Mubarak was Saddam, or Baby Doc, or Mugabe. He has always seemed to me to be more like Galtieri; just the face on the junta, the primus inter pares. I always thought of Egypt as an oligarchic kleptocracy rather that a cult-of-personality state. But such a state would have, you think, responded differently to this. If Mubarak was just the figurehead, why not let him go? You have the new boss, Suleiman, same as the old boss. The oligarchs make some cosmetic changes, the Mukhabarat quietly dissappears the leaders of the protests, game over.

How does this latest poke-in-the-eye-of-the-protesters help?

The other thing I don't understand is how the U.S. strategy is supposed to work.

It seems like Washington has done just enough to piss everyone off; pushed the Mubarakites on the succession and the Emergency Law, pushed the protestors to take Suleiman as the best possible deal. Assuming that the current balance of power solidifies the Mubarakites are likely to remember resentfully that the Americans tried to push their man out of the boat, while the protestors who survive will likely recall that when they could have leaned hard on the government - announcing the large aid subsidy would be cut - the U.S. mumbled instead of roared.

For the record, I think that the Egyptian oligarchy has, so far, conducted a prize-winning despotism. They have done just enough to baffle their opponents while keeping their foreign patron on the string and keeping the dometic pot from boiling over. The real winner here, as always, seems to be the Egyptian Army, who appears to have succeeded in playing both sides. Shrewd.The U.S.?

Enh. Hard to say; I'm not sure how you could "win" this one, other than start by not playing back in 1948. But there's losing and losing, and right now, with Mubarak's footprint on our ass, it seems to me that we look kinda ugly."

Update 2/11: Wow.

What a difference a day makes!

Mubarak resigns, transfers power, not to his bobo Suleiman but to Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, the country's defence minister as the head of the "Supreme Council of the Armed Forces". Minimal bloodshed, and it looks as thought the Egyptian people may have actually forced their government to make some genuinely democratic changes.

Color me impressed.

I have no way of telling how much the U.S. helped in doing this. I would observe many commentators have stated that the U.S. Army, whose ties with the Egyptian Army go back to the Eighties, is supposed to have been working very hard to help keep the Egyptians from going all Tianenmen on their people. If this is so, and I have no reason to doubt it, then my Army deserves part of the credit.

This is certainly not the end. It's not even the beginning of the end. IT may not even be the end of the beginning. But at least the seems, for the moment, some promise that the one thing that so many of us in the West have hoped for might have happened; an Arab dictator has been forced out of power without invasion, without chaos, without revolution.I hope this works out, for everyone's sake.

Chipyong-ni 1951

Decisive battle for FebruaryOver at GFT.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Your Tax Dollars At Work

This ia a picture of warplanes doing a "flyover" at the Super Bowl.

Now you will note that this is NOT this year's Super Bowl; this is Supe #43 in Tampa two years ago.Mind you, there WAS a flyoever at this year's Supe in Dallas.

The flyover in this case wasn't the USAF's T-birds, it was the Navy's Blue Angels. And there was another difference.

You couldn't actually SEE it.

Oh, you could watch it on the Jumbotron.

Because the fucking ROOF was CLOSED.

And it cost $450,000 tax dollars.

But, hey. What's a half million here and there? And at least the nearly 1,200 people who got fucked over and were standing outside because they couldn't get to their seats until the folding chairs they payed $400 to sit in got set up got to see the Real American Heroes fly past.

So it's all good.

Sally Jenkins has more.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Towards a General Line in Regards to US Political Reality

Another one of those Virginians, George Washington at Valley Forge

Recently I commented the following on Colonel Lang's blog:

"Let us not let the Zionists make fools of us in their pursuit of absolute security."

What a clear and yet profound statement Colonel! I can only agree, but at the same time, given the level of manipulation that seemingly pervades our discourse, how are we as a nation, as a political community, to see fit to identify our own political interests? Such a simple thing, yet so difficult in practice!

On various occasions I have taken the insights I have gained here and attempted to expand them further on the blog I share with others of like mind. We are all very much indebted to you sir as both a mentor and a source of inspiration. Whatever the outcome of this, there are legion out here that do hear and understand.

Notice that I have implicated all here in my statement, and without even having asked before hand! Was it the emotion of the moment?, the power of the vihno? or something else entirely, say something with nothing to do with US politics?

No, I think it none of these. Rather I wished to make a statement which brought together several different observations I've made over the last couple of years, these being:

* We Americans are in the midst of a profound political crisis, probably the most serious one we have ever faced as a political community.

* This crisis consists of a whole series of systemic failures which include the political, the economic, the strategic/intellectual, the moral . . .

* The current US elite holding de facto power, call them the "Empire Party" are anti-democratic, anti-intellectual, anti-Enlightenment, and radical in their views and intentions for the future of this country. They attempt to pass themselves off mostly as "conservatives" or even at times as "progressives", but their words are consistently betrayed by their actions. Their actions see the means of US government power as a tool to their own enrichment, they use public funds to enrich themselves and promote their own narrow interests.

* The Empire Party has a powerful propaganda instrument in their hands which is used effectively to confuse the citizenry. This propaganda has a significant ideological element which is especially "Libertarian" and Radical Right wing, yet most of those under the influence of this political propaganda do not gain anything through its goals or even benefit from the system in general, rather suffer under it in a variety of ways. The mass of supporters are essentially stooges to be manipulated at will for the interests of the cynical elite. Part of the propaganda mix is a pseudo-religious affiliation with Right-wing Israeli policies, although affiliation with other like-minded foreign interests is assumed.

These are my views, not necessarily those of anyone here or of Colonel Lang, although regarding the former I suspect that we barkeeps are overall in agreement for the most part. This would cover a significant amount of those who comment as well.

So why comment what I did on SST? In the title I use the term "General Line" and that refers to a concept from Marxist/Leninist thought although I use it differently. The General Line in communist terms was the general program of the party which had been decided on by the party leadership and had to be adhered to by all members. Not to do so was to deviate either to the "left" or "right" and face the possibility of being expelled from the party, at the least. My meaning here is not this, but more the nature of "a path forward" instead of a thoughtout program. Which means we could come from different points along the political spectrum and agree on certain current views and see (and follow) a similar path forward. Deviation is this case would be natural and sometimes enlightening, but rejoining the fold would remain a possibility, unlike in the communist system. Also there would be the sense of being part of a movement which is something the opposition to the Empire Party sorely lacks.

I have found the views expressed by Colonel Lang and his associated writers to be professional, thoughtful, insightful and roughly in line with my own views of the current situation, but possibly lacking the harder edge that exists in the four points I mentioned above (that is I may be more radical, although I make no claim of objectivity in that regard - it's more just a gut feeling). Colonel Lang has consistently shown me aspects of this reality I was either unaware of or lacking in the perception to take on and for that I am thankful. I will continue to comment on his blog and use what I have learned there to further expand here. In all I think we are all part of a movement to take back our country and to understand our current harsh political reality. If I have offended anyone by my actions I regret that, but can only add that was not my intention.

I'm very interested in ya'lls take on all this.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Quo Vadis?

I know this isn't a U.S. foreign policy site and I know I've been posting WAY too much about the current Egyptian situation, but...

I'm bird-mesmerized-by-snake fascinated by the dynamics of principle and power at play here.

Some time ago I thought that the end was clearly in view. The Egyptian Army had publicly refused to shoot down the opposition. This is typically The End for strongmen. It was when the Iranian Army stopped shooting the anti-Shah demonastrators that the Pahlevi "dynasty" was finished. When they knew that they couldn't trust their armed forces to protect them the Ben Ali forces were done in Tunisia just last month. So when Mubarak's Army stated that it would not shoot at "the Egyptian people" it seemed like a public endorsement of the end of Mubarakism.

Now things look less clear.

Mubarak has unleashed the "nuclear option" in the form of his own personal Basij. In this the Army has been at least complicit, and at worst supportive; soldiers around Tahrir Square have not stepped in to stop the counterattack, and while they have not shot at "the Egyptian people" they are clearly not interested in stopping others from doing so. So it now appears that the generals are hedging their bets to see if Mubarak's strongarm tactics will work.

The real loser here, regardless of what happens, is likely to be the U.S.

Given the position the U.S. has publicly taken there must now be some significant pain for the Mubarakites comensurate with their escalation of violence. This may be assumed to be the Obama Administration taking some harsh steps; cutting off all aid, or at least military aid, expelling Egyptian officers and troops from U.S. training courses, ending commercial and military ties.

Mark Lynch, who spends a good deal of time thinking about this area, says that the U.S. "...has no choice." but to do this:
"It must now make clear that an Egyptian regime headed by Hosni Mubarak is no longer one with which the United States can do business, and that a military which sanctions such internal violence is not one with which the United Staes can continue to partner. The Egyptian military must receive the message loudly, directly and clearly that the price of a continuing relationship with America is Mubarak's departure and a meaningful transition to a more democratic and inclusive political system. It must understand that if it doesn't do this, then the price will not just be words or public shaming but rather financial and political. If Mubarak remains in place, Egypt faces a future as an international pariah without an international patron and with no place in international organizations or forums."
I can see several ways that this will end badly;

1. Mubarak chooses, rather, to leave the U.S. orbit, and survives. We have a precedent here: Saddam post-1988. Not sure if we want a pissed-off despot with a chip on his shoulder alive and active in the eastern Levant.

2. Mubarak chooses to leave, and falls, but in such a way that his successor takes the credit rather than the U.S. Even worse, this successor may remember not the final dismissal but the years of U.S. support that preceded it.

3. Mubarak stays, acceeds to the U.S. demands, steps down, but is either succeeded by an Egyptian nationalist who chooses to focus on that U.S. support for his predecessor...or an outright radical...or no one - the national dissolves in chaos.

Over all I tend to agree with Lynch. If the U.S. fails to put the blocks to its client now it will forfeit any rights on the subject; we will be exposed as arrant liars and fools, we will look like the organ grinder made to dance as the monkey turns the handle, the slavemaster who bullies and threatens but cannot stop being defied and mocked by his own chattel.

But I think the lesson learned here is that any democracy that plots to make themselves "safer" by aiding in the oppression of others does, or should do, this with open eyes and the understanding that if you side with the slavers you should expect no mercy when Spartacus stands in your doorway with the sword red in his hand.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

You Can't Get There From Here

We'v been spending a good bit of time discussing the current events in Egypt. Jim addresses the specifics of the apparent dissonance between our domestic and foreign policies over the protests there in the preceding post; Jason over at "Armchair Generalist" goes even further, describing our Middle East policy as "broken".But I can't honestly see how the U.S. could have taken a different route than backing the strongmen who have ruled in Egypt since Nasser.

We're caught on the cleft stick of our own making because we want two things that, like matter and anti-matter, don't and can't exist together. We want to:

1) back Israel without serious question; we've been fairly supine on every question of Israeli internal defense. The Israelis make their decisions based on their own analyses, but we have been pretty muted when these analyses end up producing the punitive acts that Israel has used to defend itself from its Palestinian enemies. The cumulative effect is to make us look like Israel's complascent sugar daddy. While Israel is a nice little democracy this is really a luxury on our part, since Israel is strategically worthless, but Great Powers are allowed to have their luxuries and Israel is one of ours.

But we also want (and need):

2) at least some sort of passive neutrality from the Arab states, because they control the REAL geopolitical/strategic assets we need from the region; passage through Suez, petroleum, cooperation against the jihadis.

Genuinely "democratic" Arab states would be unlikely to help with #2 if we insisted that they come with us on #1. You can argue this until the end of forever - I personally think that the Arab states would be well off to get Egypt to absorb Gaza, Jordan the West Bank, accept a whopping cash payoff from the U.S./Israel and get the fuck on with life - but the reality is that to get an Egypt to Camp David you NEEDED a Mubarak (or a Sadat, whatever - a leader who had to be responsive to Abdul and Maryam Lunchpail would have risked his life doing it. Sadat did, and did, remember?).

So I don't see how the U.S. has any real options here. To get an "un-broke" policy you'd need to have different goals. So I think the thing here is that walloping the current U.S. leadership about Egypt is hammering on a symptom. The "disease" - the underlying malfunction that produces things like the current U.S. paralysis on Egypt - is that you can't really design a Middle East policy that gets to have both #1 and #2. And discussing the pros and cons - especially the cons - of #1 are completely and utterly off limits in Washington D.C.

It's worth noting that the fall of a U.S. backed dictator doesn't HAVE to be traumatic or disastrous for U.S. foreign policy. Sure, the post-Marcos Philippines closed Subic (Clark was unusable after Pinatubo, anyway) but in the long run the successor governments have been quite cooperative on many issues; the threat of domestic islamic rebels as well as the loom of the dragon to the west surely has a lot to do with that. Post-Pinochet Chile hasn't really been hostile, and post-Somoza-post-Ortega Nicaragua is relatively quiescent. The real notable outlier is the post-Shah Iran, but Egypt doesn't have anyone like the Ayatollah Khomeni to push it towards a violently islamic state.

So overall I suspect that post-Mubarak Egypt, though possibly not as passive on matters involving Israel, has as good a chance of being willing to cooperate with the U.S. to some extent as it does of becoming a rival. But it IS unlikely to cooperate on Israeli issues, and if the U.S. forces those issues and the Egyptian leaders - whoever they turn out to be - are forced to choose, a democratic Egypt would seem to be much less likely to follow the U.S. policy.

And it seems to me that there's no way to really do much about that.

Update 2/6/11: The situation seems to me to remain fluid and yet I don't see the things Lynch suggests happening. This suggests to me that the U.S. has chosen to hedge its bets, thinking that Mubarak, or at least his cronies, will survive.

Unfortunate. Realistic, but unfortunate.

Haze of Rhetoric

We are more often frightened than hurt;
and we suffer more from imagination

than from reality

--Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Fine sounding phrases,

hiding hollow arguments

--Hendrik Van Loon

Gotta get down to it.

Soldiers are cutting us down.

Should have been done long ago
, C,S,N & Y

All the Japanese with their yen

The party boys call the Kremlin

And the Chinese know (oh whey oh)

They walk the line like Egyptian

--Walk Like an Egyptian, the Bangles

Ranger Question of the Day (RQOD):

Would U.S. police allow demonstrations of the magnitude

of those in Egypt on Pennsylvania Avenue?


The U.S. that is trying to steer Egypt's government on moral and democratic behavior vis-a-vis their protesters and/or angry mobs is suffering a serious amnesia in regards to democratic behavior.

This amnesia is a result of the mass hysteria enveloping the Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©) which has allowed for the degradation of our founding principles. The U.S. is the apostle of international armed overreaction, yet we shamefacedly promote prudence to other nations. Our words do not accord with our actions.
Likewise, no form of government should be expected to tolerate violent riots; democracy does not issue from this source.

Protesters do have a right of assembly
if they are peaceful, yet in America we have created a new society in which protesters are limited to zones strictly cordoned off by the police. Protest around our leaders is not tolerated and protesters are routinely arrested and removed from public events -- a protest can be large but if avoided by the press, may as well have never happened.

Diligent reader and friend tw shared the non-coverage of an anti-war protest in D.C. last December, noted only, it seems, by a humble blogger:

"About 135 people were arrested yesterday in an anti-war protest outside the White House. This came as President Obama was revealing a new report that touted progress in the war in Afghanistan. ... (t)his act of civil disobediance [sic] and arrests apparently are [sic] not news.

"Those arrested included Pulitzer prize-winning war correspondent, Chris Hedges, Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon papers, retired 27-year CIA analyst Ray McGovern, FBI whistleblower Colleen Rowley . . .(135 arrests in DC and that's not news)."

But while protest in America has died an ignominious death, the U.S. has the gall to encourage Egyptian leaders to accept protest of their government, all the while crouching like the Cheshire Cat, knowing the tanks and armaments wielded by the Egyptian authorities were fronted by them. Egyptian repression is facilitated by U.S. policy

Our advice is disingenuous.
The U.S. has created phony villes of Democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan by the barrel of a gun and the bribe of cash and materiel, yet we would moralize to the Egyptians. The Egyptians, who have tortured prisoners for us in our extra-legal renditions.

We will use their non-democratic features when it behooves us, then come out from behind the skirt and admonish them to be kind and forbearing when their power structure is threatened.

U.S. tax dollars have funded and facilitated dictatorial brutality in the region, and we become poseurs when we pretend it is otherwise.

[Cross-posted @ RangerAgainstWar]