Saturday, July 5, 2014

Out on the OP-LP: Comfortably Numb

--Moderne Terrorisme 

--cryptic ending to, "MS. Found in a Chinese Fortune Cookie,
C. M. Kornbluth 

There's more to life than a little money, you know.
Don'tcha know that?
And here ya are, and it's a beautiful day.
Well. I just don't understand it 
--Fargo (1996) 

Property. The whole fucking thing's about property 
--The Thin Red Line (1998)

Being an American today is an overwhelming and frightful reality.

However, tune into the 6 o'clock news and you will see a fusillade of "news" to the contrary: one heavy lead story of the "world out there" will be followed by a bevy of distractions showing you how your fellow Americans are bucking up when their food trucks explode or a tornado snatches the family dog, followed by the final "feel good" conclusion.

Then you are free to follow your usual evening of diversionary programming, numbing you off into sleep. 

We think we are a democracy, but the events of our daily and national lives are beyond our control. When was the last time you, as a citizen, influenced the actions of government through your vote? Here we are in a war on terror, living in a security state of the first order, yet this contradiction escapes us. Life is a text, Tweet or Facebook entry and we think all is good to go.

We are entertained by the story of returning Prisoner of War Bowe Berghdahl, and what kind of a nutcase is he, yet never ask why Qatar was instrumental in facilitating this prisoner swap.

We watch the "civil war" unfold in Iraq, yet never ask the hard questions:

1) What is the Saudi role in Iraq? Ditto Qatar. Since both support the rebels in Syria, does it not follow that they support the Sunni fighters in Iraq?
2) Is Saudi Arabia really a U.S. ally? Do U.S. and Saudi interests intersect? Did they ever?
3) Has Saudi Arabia split off from U.S. policy by supporting an invasion army in Iraq? If so, how does this differ from previous U.S. actions which sought to create buffer zones a la the Monroe Doctrine? U.S. foreign policy has followed its principles since 1945, making the whole world our buffer zone.
The new Sunni caliphate zone being established in Iraq by Sunni fighters of unknown provenance sure looks like the Saudis establishing a buffer zone from the Shia Iraqi state -- understandable, if not justifiable.

Further, the current incursion into Iraq is being peddled as a "civil war", yet for the previous decade the U.S. has denied that descriptor. So -- is this a civil war, or an invasion? Without reliable facts, how do we know the make-up of the anti-government fighters?

If they are foreign fighters, then it is incorrect to call them insurgents, as they are not Iraqis. So who are they?

And more questions:
4) To those who favor bombing Syrian government forces: by adding U.S. air power to the battlefield, we enable the Sunni groups to pull more fighters out of that front and transform to the Iraqi theatre -- how does this benefit Iraq or the U.S.?
5) Is the fight in Iraq really a Sunni - Shia event of a religious nature, or is it an oil - money event?
6) Are the Russians really the bad guys in the Ukraine, and in the Syrian scenario? Ditto Iran.
7) If S.A. can establish a buffer zone in Iraq, why can't Russia establish one in Ukraine? Why does S.A. get carte blanche, while Russia does not?
8) Doesn't the Russian - Syrian - Iranian nexus stand in direct opposition to Saudi and Qatar oil interests regarding pipeline projections to Europe?
9) Why does the U.S. need allies like S.A., Pakistan and all the rest of the jokers we call "NATO allies"?

Sleep well.

[cross-posted @ rangeragainstwar.]


  1. "The new Sunni caliphate zone being established in Iraq by Sunni fighters of unknown provenance sure looks like the Saudis establishing a buffer zone from the Shia Iraqi state"

    Look up a map. The regions claimed by ISIS are not between Saudi-Arabia and Shiite Iraqi regions.

  2. SO,
    I know how to read a map.
    A buffer zone to be effective need not be contiguous . All it needs to do is to unbalance the target.
    I'd also like to point out that all the cards have not hit the table so we don't know where this land grab will end up.
    jim hruska

  3. The better metaphor for this would be "counterweight", or you could call it "distraction".
    A "buffer zone" is always geographical.

    And it's quite obvious that this tiny ISIS organisation with a few thousand fighters won't even be able to gulp all of Syria. And even if they had a hundred thousand fighters - they would merely call Israeli/Turkish/Iranian/American/Russian bombs on their heads, but still not take all of Syria, much less Shiite or Kurdish regions..

  4. SO,
    point taken.
    I think the key point of the entire situation that you just summarized doesn't even mention the Saudi part of the equation. Obviously bombs will drop like rain and that of course will neutralize any moderate thought or action in the region. This is thanks to US policy. We are holding on to the fiction that we are supporting moderate forces in the Syrian equation. This is a joke. We have killed moderation and that's a fact.

  5. Jim, seriously. Step back for a second and consider this:

    The U.S. ain't all that important. Most of the time they are actually quite powerless, bluffing and producing a show for the folks at home watching "news".
    I thought Putin made this obvious in 2008 already. The U.S. was even rather irrelevant for the outcome of the Iraqi Civil War, even though it had a large occupation force in place for years.

    The Syrian society broke just as the Lebanese did, and we know how irrelevant the U.S. was back then already. Even Reagan understood it in one of his brighter u-turn moments.
    The Levante had a delicate balance between very much segregated subcultures (ethnic, religious) for thousands of years. Even the bible mentions a multitude of tribes in the region - and it didn't grow more homogeneous, ever.
    The tensions grew hugely once after thousands of years of Roman/Byzantine/Ottoman oppression suddenly political power was exercised by people from the region over people in the region.
    The whole thing brew up since 1919, and both the Lebanese government of the late 70's and the younger Assad were unable to keep the lid in place.

    Some country from another continent hardly had anything to do with it. There's a reason why this mess resembles pre-Roman warlord- and village defence-based warfare. They had a cease-fire forced upon them for two millennia.

  6. "The U.S. ain't all that important. Most of the time they are actually quite powerless, bluffing and producing a show for the folks at home watching "news"."

    Who's calling the shots in Kiev? Who selected the stooges, I mean government there? Having been given their orders by a certain CIA Director? How is it in Ukraine's interests, a bankrupt country, to wage a devastating and brutal war on their own territory, referring to their own people as "terrorists"? Certainly not in Ukraine's . . . And of course there is EU policy towards Ukraine, which is in what way good for the EU? Baffling . . . One could of course buy into the Cheneyite narrative of Hitler/Putin . . .

    Then of course there is TAFTA . . .

    At some point most Europeans will wake up to the reality of the actual power relationships that we can see developing around us, as the worn facade collapses and as our corrupt elites stumble into another great war . . .

  7. I have no idea who's running the hot mess in the Ukraine if anyone is, but at the very least whoever is in charge in Kiev - regardless of who they are and who "selected" them (and I'd just comment that presuming that the CIA "selected" anyone presumes a competence that that agency hasn't shown since the Diem days...) - has a vested interest in maintaining a monoploy of force in within the notional borders of the Ukraine. It's not in their interests to fight a civil war, but it can't be in their interests to be clearly shown to be powerless to prevent a supposed-insurrection from carving off a chunk of what's at least supposed to be "Ukraine".

    The reality is and always will be that whoever sits in the government buildings in Kiev will be forced to acceed to whatever the person sitting in Moscow wants; that's the fate of small nations on the border of great powers. But as the Finns had to face back in the Forties, sometimes there's a point where you have to either fight or be consumed. Sadly for the Ukranians they lack the terrain and the military imbalance the Finns were able to exploit.

    And I think the problem with the EU is what to do if Russia decides it wants a "buffer zone" that extends all the way to the eastern border of Germany. That's been the historical pattern, after all. I think at this point the fear - and I won't say it's a completely unjustified one - is that if there's no "fight" for Ukraine the Russians will happily proceed to effectively re-annex the Baltics and continue on westward - politically, I imagine, rather than militarily. If I was a power in the EU I'd be inclined to try and find a way to do this less kinetically. But I don't think the concern itself is misplaced.

    1. Where did I say the CIA selected anyone? . . . it was State . . . you haven't been following the story . . . As to Moscow's influence . . . what does the reality of the current situation say about that?

    2. State? As in the Department of State? The U.S. Department of State? THAT Department of State?

      You're shitting me. The Department of State that got intimidated by fucking Blackwater? The Department of State that couldn't even protect it's facilities in Libya? No, seriously, go ahead, pull the other one.

      That's MORE ridiculous than the CIA.

    3. And you said: "Having been given their orders by a certain CIA Director?" which I connected with your conjecture that the current Kiev government was "selected" by...I'm sorry, I'm snickering so hard I'm having trouble typing..."selected" by the...oh, God, you're killing me...the U.S. Department of State.

      Damn. That was a serious funny.

  8. American influence in the Ukraine is largely conjecture, other than some sponsoring. The new regime doesn't need foreign sponsoring any more; it's ruling already.

    "How is it in Ukraine's interests, a bankrupt country, to wage a devastating and brutal war on their own territory, referring to their own people as "terrorists"? Certainly not in Ukraine's"

    Oh, yes - it is. The Russian-speaking East has much of the Ukraine's industrial capacity. The Ukrainian West is largely agricultural. Show me one country which tolerated the secession of its economic core.

    BTW, the Ukraine has 1/3 the population of Russia, and can muster all of its forces for one conflict, unlike Russia which has to keep much in Asia. It's not a "small" and by default defenceless country.

  9. "Conjecture"? "Doesn't need foreign sponsoring"? They are broke and waging a war against their own people . . . the economy is in a shambles . . . But I suppose the EU will pick up the tab . . . which you support?

    "Defenseless"? Against whom? The Russians aren't attacking, the Kiev regime is attacking its own people . . .

    1. Show me the billions the U.S. is giving to the Ukraine. Where are they?
      You just ASSUME the U.S. is a decisive player there, that's a prejudice - not a conclusion from evidence.

      The IMF; not the U.S. is the big channel for aid here. One billion USD of mere "loan guarantees" by the U.S. are hardly outstanding:

      The EU is in the real world the bigger economic supporter of the new Ukrainian government.
      The "not small" and "defenceless" part was a response to this:
      "Kiev will be forced to acceed to whatever the person sitting in Moscow wants; that's the fate of small nations on the border of great powers."
      The Ukraine is smaller, but far from so very small it would have to yield to Moscow. They lost the Crimea because the Crimea was really 90% Russian, and control thus unsustainable.

  10. Actually on second thought, the whole "conjecture" argument makes this discussion mute.

    Have fun playing among yourselves . . . on this topic . . .

  11. Well, the citizens of Washington and Colorado legalized pot.
    That certainly affected things there via the vote.

    I know no significant recent effect that votes have had on any Federal policy.

    1. The sorta-election of GWB? And the re-election in 2004? All the right wingnuts elected to the House? Have you read the 2014 Texas Republican platform?

      You're telling me that the same policies, the same practices, would have happened in a different nation that rejected those sorts of fucking idiots?

    2. To a first approximation, I don't see many actual differences between Mr. Clinton, Mr. Bush and Mr Obama.

      Perhaps Mr. Gore would have been different, but I get the feeling that the forces driving the presidency largely determine what happens. In other words, to become President, you have to become beholden to those that can make you President.

  12. seydlitz,

    Does "conjecture" render the discussion "mute", or "moot"? It's something of a difference, no?

  13. You've got a lot in here, jim. Let me try and take a whack at discussing some of them.

    "We think we are a democracy, but the events of our daily and national lives are beyond our control."

    I'm not sure how these two are mutually exclusive. I think I am a nice, smart, well-informed guy, but I'm not going to be elected Tsar of All The Oregons, either. History is full of examples of democracies doing things "beyond the control" of their citizens. You think that Joe and Molly wanted to go die on Saipan? That they wanted to spend months in the hell that was the trenches around Petersburg to "save the Union" or "free slaves"?

    And especially now, that we're not just a "democracy" but a ginormous industrial democracy. My daily life? I can sorta control that. But, hell, I can't control what happens across the West Hills in Beaverton, or over the Columbia in Vancouver. Nationally? Well...sort of, but not really. And since when was that ever different? Are you telling me that the jokers in the Pennsylvania backwoods steered national policy back in 1791? That some coffee trader in Boston influenced the decision to go to war in 1812?

  14. As for the specific foreign policy questions, well...I won't argue that the U.S. gets involved in way too many places and for reasons that range from halfway intelligent to outright ridiculous. But I'm not sure whether what you're suggesting.

    In the Middle East, for example, it would be damn near impossible for the U.S. to get completely clear of that gawdawful snakepit. Our association with Israel would mean that eventually either 1) we'd be forced to stand by while one of it's neighbors got lucky and steamrollered the place or 2) step back in again. And that's not even to mention the well we've poisoned so throughly to date. I'm with you; the less we see of the place the better. But how much is "less"? How throroughly do you recommend the U.S. as a nation wash it's collective hands of the place?

    And Ukraine? Well, putting aside seydlitz's notion that a shadowy Illuminati conspiracy run through the U.S. Department of State (we're looking hard at Angelina Jolie's Malificent as the model for Hillary Clinton...) the U.S. has actually done very little there. Probably because, as you recognize, the Ukraine is pertty much in Russia's penumbra of "near abroad". Regardless of its population it's military capacity appears extremely weak and as Thuycidides put so baldly, the weak suffer what they must and Russia is the strong relative to Ukraine and does what it can.

    And the U.S. public? Largely doesn't give a damn.

    Because Life ISN'T "a tweet, or a text...". Because Life is a kid with emotional problems that needs attention, a roof that leaks, bills that need to be paid, a problem neighbor, grass to be mowed, family to visit, sheets to wash, and meals to cook.

    That sucks, given that We the People are supposed to be soverign. But that's also very human. and I'm not sure what we're supposed to be doing about that.

  15. Chief,
    I reckon i'm suggesting that US foreign policy is like watching an episode of Lost/24/and all the other garbage shows like NCIS/NCIS LOS ANGELES.
    It's also like believing in the witches brewed up by DOD and our intel agencies with the compliance of the Courts and the Congress. Sure Bush stole an election, but Congress backed his craziness and called it war.
    In short we are dogs snapping at our own tails.
    WE want Nato's love, but that bitch is a fickle whore.We want AFGH/PAK/INDIA as ass hole buddies, but fail to realize that we have to choose between them when the nucs start poppin' in AO.Every body can't be our friend.
    We don't even know how to define the word ally. Contrary to GWB's dictum you don't have to be for us, we should strive to accept countries not being actively hostile against us. This means that we must drop the for/against mentality. The world is not an ivy league frat house.
    The question is how did we get a horse in the Ukraine affair ,in the 1st place?. What is our national strategic interest? Wouldn't it be smarter to delineate the concept of the EU , and realize that Nato is not the EU strike force. Why would we allow NATO to pull us into a EU war? Have we not learned 1 thing from ww1? Or ww2?
    Now back to Syria, or should i say Saudi Arabia. There is nothing of reasonable analysis in that entire scenario.It's like Pak/india.
    We must choose between a Shia Iraqi /Iranian center of gravity or a Saudi position. It can't be both.
    Now having said that neither position is in the strategic interest of SA/Irq/Iran to play ball with us since none of them want anything from us, beyond our weaponry and dollars to fund their policy efforts.
    Now that was off the cuff and a stream on consciousness, but i think it sums up my thinking.

  16. Chief,
    The lie of US policy is that we are the sole super power.
    Look around you in your home towns. The center is gone and the edges are crumbling, but yet we send money to rebels in Syria.We can't fight a LIC campaign, but we posture like we have 176 divisions to back up our strategic interests, which we can't even verbalize.
    We are crazy men led by buffoons, but yet we are happy just to ... fill in your own words.

    1. Well, we are. At least militarily and, at least for the moment, economically. That's not really a "good" thing or a "bad" one, it just is. No other polity in the globe has the economic, political, and military reach of the U.S. The question is; what do we do with that. home town has a vibrant center and a bunch of rich bastards building McMansions on the edges. But our highways, bridges, and underground utilities are no better off than a lot of the rest of the U.S. But the pittance we send to the rebels in Syria wouldn't so much as replace the rivets in the Hawthorne Bridge. The problems we have - which is, basically, that the "conservative" third of the nation no longer believes in government or the notion of a "public good" - go way deeper than whether or not we drop a couple of bucks on some irritable Syrians.

      And if "we" are happy then "we" aren't anyone I know. Most people I know are scrabbling to stay afloat; worried about their jobs, worried about their friends, or their kids, their mortgages, their debts, the chance that they will get laid off or their job offshored.

      "We" don't give a shit about Syria or Iraq or Mexico because it doesn't really affect anything "we" do.

    2. "Well, we are. At least militarily"

      Naval, aero and space. NOT on the ground.


    Victoria Nuland going orgasmic over how the state dept spent $5 billion in the Ukraine - all but admitting to attempting to foment some kind of pro-west uprising

    1. $5 billion is the total that the US has spent since 1991. It's typical of the sort of "democracy promotion" cash that the US splashes around in various parts of the world.

    2. FDChief, well how do you know if the $s were "splashed" around over the span of 23 years or if was all splashed in the last two years. Both situations meet the definition of "since 1991". You're a trusting soul when it comes to the government. BTW, did you notice the Chevron Oil Co banner to Nuland's right? Shades of Smedley Butler?

    3. Hell, thinking more about your trusting in the "since 1991" gambit, they've only splashed $5 billion on the Ukraine since the planet was formed. That's like a dollar a day. What a deal. I see your point, FDC. Except that's my money and your money. I don't remember anyone asking me if we could help make the Ukraine business friendly for Chevron. Are you the one that ok'ed that plan? I was thinking that the VA could use the money instead. What do I know?

    4. Anon, you're fantasizing here. We have (and linked above) info about the recent payments:

      You want to claim much of 5 bn has been paid recently? Well, that contradicts the fact sheet which means the burden of proof is on you.

  18. Chief,
    Why don't they splash 5 billion on my home town?
    We need it as much as the Ukrainians.
    Hell we could spend it on promoting democracy in Texas.

  19. FDChief- The problems we have - which is, basically, that the "conservative" third of the nation no longer believes in government or the notion of a "public good" - go way deeper than whether or not we drop a couple of bucks on some irritable Syrians.

    Funny that there is a strong sentiment against 'the public good", yet the idea that there really is a "free lunch" abounds. Just a matter of which "lunch" is being discussed. Transportation infrastructure, as you note, is a classic example. People clamor for road and bridge repairs, but do not want to pay the taxes necessary to do so.

    1. The problem, Aviator, is that we do pay plenty of taxes ostensibly for the public good, but then the government gives the money that could go to roads and other internal projects to often questionable external parties like the Ukraine (and by proxy, apparently, Chevron), Israel, Islamic revolutionaries in Syria, Pakistan and a host of military industrial profiteers. It's like giving money to a compulsive gambler and expecting him to come back home with the groceries. Conservatives are trying to say "no more until you get your problem under control".

    2. The 5 billion allegedly sent to Ukraine is a drop in the bucket of our infrastructure needs. Our roads are intentionally underfunded as a result of holding the federal tax on gasoline at the 1993 rate of 18.4 cents per gallon. In constant dollars, that's 8 cents/gal in 2014. Thus, even when tax dollars are earmarked for a particular purpose, the public is unwilling to fully fund that purpose.

      As to "plenty of taxes", if you did a bit of research, you would find that only 2 OECD countries, Mexico & Chile, have a lower tax burden as a % of GDP than the US.

  20. "The 5 billion allegedly sent to Ukraine is ........." Uh huh. How about the $trillion or so spent on Iraq? Still chump change? What about the cost of Africom? The cost of all the other com's? $5 billion wouldn't fix a few bridges? How much does it cost to fix an American bridge? $5 billion here, $5 billion there and pretty soon we're talking about serious money. But, since you've got a money tree, want to lend me a few bucks? There's a pot hole in front of my house that knocked a hubcap off last week and I want it fixed.

  21. Where was the public outrage over the $$$ spent on Iraq? Of course, the bill didn't arrive on Apr 15. No problem with spending, as long as our taxes don't go up, and in the case of Iraq, they went down. Thus my remark about "free lunch". But if Congress were to raise the federal tax on gasoline to 44 cents/gal, the current inflation adjusted equivalent of 1993's 18.4 cents, there would be hell to pay. Point is, no matter what is claimed to be in the "public good" - war, foreign aid, food stamps, school lunches, education, health care, roads - the majority of the population does not want to pay the taxes to provide it.

    1. Aviator, Fact: In fiscal year 2013, the federal government spent $3.5 trillion, amounting to 21 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, or the total value of goods and services that a country produces in a year. Of that $3.5 trillion, nearly $2.8 trillion was financed by federal revenues. The remaining amount ($680 billion) was financed by borrowing; this deficit will ultimately be paid for by future taxpayers.

      I don't think the brew up is over a little gas tax - it's the 21% of GDP that they're already getting. Why don't we give them 100% of GDP? Then we can all be slave wards of the state - the perfect liberal utopia. Seriously, how much more do you want to pay?

  22. My point being that $3.5 trillion/annum is a huge figure, yet the bridges still crumble. You want to make it out like bridges are crumbling because the People are stingy. 21% of GDP ain't stingy.

    1. I should that, of course, the $3.5 trillion/21% of GPD is Federal. Add in state and other local taxes and % of our incomes surrender to "government" is even higher. I know, in total, I'm paying something like 35% of my GDP in taxes.

      What do we get for this? Well armed Africans and some fickle (at best) "allies" in parts of the world no American even wants to visit as part of some failing empire? And pot holes in front of my driveway.

    2. And as I stated above, the "burden" of taxes at all levels as a % of GDP in the US are the third lowest amongst OECD industrialized nations. It's all a matter of perception. I never said that every tax dollar in the US is used wisely. But the stark reality is that Americans do not care to pay for the services of an industrial culture. Look at the states' cuts in education funding from kindergarten through public universities. At public universities, costs have been shifted from the taxpayer to student debt loads. Per student state funding at state universities decreased an average of $2,400 between 2008 and 2012. The general population is unwilling to pay the tab for educating a future generation in the "public good".

      And we can raise our eyebrows in shock over the federal debt, about 101% of GDP, but no one bats an eye at household debt being 80% of GDP, without the "full faith and credit" standing behind it.

      Sorry, no sympathy for any "I'm over taxed" whining.

    3. whatever you say comrade. For the glory of the collective!

    4. It has always puzzled me that so few Americans know the difference between social programs and communism/socialism. Perhaps that's why our infrastructure is falling down around us?

    5. Social programs are anti-communism.

      The arch conservative, royalist Chancellor Bismarck invented the first social insurances (health insurance, unemployment insurance) to counter the rise of the "Sozialisten" (socialists; communists and social democrats).