Saturday, January 31, 2015

Grand Strategy: Can Frau Merkel et. al. Out Think Mr Spock?

NOTE:  I have no idea why the text color and background color got cocked up!

Europe has been on tenderhooks over the recent Greek election.  The week prior to the election, Frau Merkel warned Greeks about the risks of "not living up to their agreements", in an oblique attempt to sway the voters from Radical Left Party, Syriza, led by charismatic Alex Tsipras.  Tsipras has been very clear in that the "Bailout" agreement was not working, was based on flawed assumptions by its austerity theory authors, was causing untold human suffering, and in plain words, would not solve Greece's debt issues during this generation, if at all.

In the run up to the election, numerous respected economists had begun to question whether the bailout's austerity would ever work, not just for Greece, but all of Europe.  Guys like Paul Krugman, the Bank of England Governor and Reza Moghadam, one of the IMF officials involved in the original deal.  Moghadam admits that both Greek bailout programs (of 2010 and 2012) were based on overly optimistic assumptions on growth, inflation, fiscal efforts and social cohesion.

In short, while Merkel, the politician, along with some of her fellow austerity proponents, not only stood unquestioning behind what was seen, both in theory and application to be a seriously flawed package, intellectuals and practitioners were vocal in opposition.  How Frau Merkle thought her implied ultimatum could sway an electorate that was seriously suffering, and receiving respected voices opposing austerity, not only in Greece, but anywhere, makes no sense.  Indeed, I had several friends swayed from long term party loyalties in order to "vote against Frau Merkel".  And thus, Syriza, led by young, charismatic Alex Tsipras, changed the face of Greek (and possibly European) politics, rising from a minor coalition of left wing groups to the ruling party.

Now for the Grand Strategy part.  It has been clear that the backers of blind adherence to the bailout provisions had no strategic plan for dealing with a Syriza victory, other than to stick blindly to the bailout.  Nor had they done a reasonable recon of the party beyond it's leader, Tsipras, and his campaign pledges. But Tsipras was light years ahead of the austerity crowd.  Early the next morning, he had formed a coalition government with the Right Wing Independent Greeks Party, who shared Syriza's anti-austerity position, and ensured that certain "sacred" Greek institutions would not be threatened.  Tsipras' austerity opponents reeled and sputtered.  Even more amazing was that Tsipras formed a cabinet immediately and had a government ready to hit the ground running.  A totally unexpected feat for a parliamentary coalition.  Austerity proponents reeled and sputtered even more, openly expressing that they were confused, and warning Greece not to be "too hasty".

While Merkel et. al. were trying to convince Tsipras to back off from his anti-austerity stance, Greece's foreign minister dealt Merkel a huge setback.  Following Merkel's lead, the EU announced increased sanctions against Russia, calling them "unanimously adopted".  Within hours of taking office, Greece's new government complained it was not consulted before the European Union moved to threaten tighter sanctions on Russia, and thus the proposed sanctions were not legitimate and were an affront to Greece's sovereignty. 
Rather than admit the oversight, and fearing that Greece wanted no sanctions at all, a shocked European Parliament President, Martin Schulz, told Greek newspapers, "Greece should not undermine EU policy on Russia at a time when it is seeking support from its partners over its economic problems."  Schulz had foolishly suggested that Greece no longer was sovereign in external affairs, and when the Greek foreign minister arrived in Brussels for discussions of the matter, Schulz had no option but to backpedal and offer lame explanations for his ill chosen words.  The end result, the EU, with Greece's concurrence, settled on only extending the expiring sanctions another six months, and the austerity gang remains confused.  So within 72 hours of the new government's start in office, the score was Greece 1, Merkel maybe 0.5, and Greece has established a modicum of recognition for its sovereignty, despite its economic subordination via the bailout.

But that wasn't the biggest shock to the system.  Syriza selected respected left wing economist and academician, Yianis Varoufakis as Finance Minister.  A totally non-political player, Varoufakis has been an opponent of austerity as well as the terms of the bailout from day one, and his reasons why have come to pass.  Now you have Varoufakis, who called it correctly, versus Merkel and her Finance Minister, Schauble, who called it incorrectly.  And, Merkel et. al. still have no idea exactly what Varoufakis has in mind, other than expecting the worst case scenario.  Why?  Because Merkel et. al. have war-gamed only continuing their failing austerity scenario, which is gaining opposition from more quarters than just Greece, versus nothing. Thus, Varoufakis could very well have the upper hand.  Sooner than Merkel would like, the EU and Greece must meet to discuss the standoff they perceive, and so far, all that Merkel has in her quiver of arrows is the notion that "agreements must be fulfilled", ignoring that they are not working as projected, and probably never will.  So Merkel et. al. are seen as confused, and Varoufakis is described as not only a brilliant economist, but a "Rock Star".  As one local portrayed him:


Yup, Mr. Spock has logic on his side, and Merkel only has obstinacy.  Oh yeah, Spock has a growing body of economists agreeing with the folly of austerity, many of whom find the terms of the Greek bailout the pinnacle of such folly.

BTW, Varoufakis is considered one of the leading masters of game theory.  You know, If we do this, they will do that, to which we can capitalize on this, etc.  In short, is the confusion that some players are suffering because Syriza hasn't a plan, but rather, because Syriza wants to ensure weakness in the opposition to give Syriza the advantage, and thus have not really revealed their plan.  Thus, when one of the lenders warned that Syriza had to be less confrontational, lest the next loan be taken off the table, Varoufakis responded that the next loan was not wanted, as increased debt does nothing but exacerbate the downward spiral caused by the bailout.  In short, Spock nullified the ultimatum.

Speaking of ultimatums, very often, they can be the worst strategic blunders imaginable.  There is no shortage of reputable military historians who hold that "Total and Unconditional Surrender" only served to prolong WWII and increase the cost of treasure to all sides.  There is a reasonable number of cases where labor unions have issued a "cave to our demands or be put out of business", and management has simply given the union one of the two offered courses of action and liquidated the company.  And, of course, the harm to employees far out weighted the harm to the owners.  As one of my grad school profs said many years ago, keep in mind that when you issue an ultimatum, you very well surrender control of the situation to the person you are trying to intimidate.

So, Merkel et. al. have issued a veiled ultimatum.  Greece must comply with the original terms, "or else".  Does Frau Merkel, or her choir director, Herr Shauble, realize that the "or else" ultimatum is usually, in both tactical and strategic terms, the weakest of all?   What if Mr Spock has already war-games all the potential "or elses" and has plans to overcome them?  Consider an EU expulsion.  Greece currently has sufficient resources, if debt service is ended, to not only pay their other bills, but use the billions in debt service avoidance to provide better social services.  Expulsion from the EU would enable Greece to gain increased revenues via the ability to impose higher tax rates on all foreign owned companies, something prohibited by EU regulation.  Take the Athens airport, run under contract by a foreign firm, resulting in high user fees to insure certain levels of pre-tax profit.  The contract would not have to be broken, but the taxation of profits leaving the country could make the current operator desire to get out.  In short, a "Grexit" would have more ramifications than has been in the public discourse.  

Of course Greece will suffer pain via a Grexit, but that pain will not be exclusively Greek.  The Austerity folks have boxed themselves into a situation where there is no painless way out for the lenders, and many less painless ways out for the people of Greece.  Varoufakis knows this and knows a variety of ways of minimizing Europe's pain.  Merkel's intractability now has her and the Austerity crowd far behind in formulating both tactics and strategy.  Varoufakis has been war-gaming other approached to the crisis than that in place for a long, long time.  Merkel et. al. have not.

Has Syriza gained a strategic advantage?  We will see.  Right now, I'm betting that Tsipras, Varoufalis and Co are leagues ahead of the Austerity crew.  Perhaps even light years.  And, much to Merkel; et. al.'s concern, the austerity movement in all of Europe may be on the ropes.  It's hard to take on facts on the ground and Mr Spock's logic with, "So what if it isn't working.  You agreed to it."

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Blood Simple

 Now Jesus don't like killin'
No matter what the reason's for,
And your flag decal won't get you
Into Heaven any more
--John Prine 

But what I know about is Texas,
an' down here... you're on your own 
--Blood Simple (1983) 

There are few things more fundamentally encouraging and stimulating
than seeing someone else die 
--Paths of Glory (1957)

Why our current fascination with snipers?
2013 brought us Marcus Luttrell's "Lone Survivor" (which grossed three times its budget), and 2015 brings Clint Eastwood's film based on Chris Kyle's "American Sniper" released earlier this month (which has already outearned "Lone Survivor" in its first month of release.)

Since the inception of the Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©) the SEALs have undertaken a tremendous public relations campaign aimed at propagandizing the U.S. taxpayer into thinking their dollars have been well-spent. For sure, one group of capitalists did benefit handsomely from the propaganda spawned by Luttrell's Lone Survivor, Matt Bissonnette's No Easy Day and Kyle's American Sniper: the video gaming industry. It is unlikely these men considered if or how their missions were relevant to the concept of fighting terror, but their stories are being bled for all they are worth.

Does the impulse to view such films arise from our need to make meaning, or the need to not admit that men's lives are spent often too cavalierly, in the service of projects which reap little if any benefit? Is it an offshoot of the father archetype and the sniper is the Big Daddy who will protect you and keep you safe? Is a tit-for-tat on life's treadmill, an urge to escape the claustrophobic feeling that if they have you in their cross-hairs, at least you have someone on your side whose weapon is trained on them, too? A cosmic Mobius strip of death.

But the recent apotheosis of the sniper belies the fact that no soldier is irreplaceable, nor does any battlefield outcome rest on the scoped rifle of any one participant. Sniping is as old as the U.S. Army. One could even say characters like Robin Hood were snipers, as they were selective marksman. The current sniper movie genre probably began with the 1980's Tom Barringer films featuring modern-day Natty Bumpos -- James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales adopted for Hollywood.

Whether it is Enemy at the Gates or Saving Private Ryan in a theatre Army scenario, or Luttrells' Lone Survivor in a godforsaken valley somewhere in Afghanistan, Hollywood creates the aura that the sniper creates fear and terror in the enemy, but this is not military thinking.

The most common misconception is that a sniper can, by killing the leaders of an enemy unit, destroy the unit's will to resist. But if this were so, why not call in artillery and fire a "battery five" killing them all?

In fact, the Infantry's mission is clear and simple: to close with and destroy the enemy through fire and maneuver. Nowhere does our mission entail fear or terror. We either shoot, move or communicate, or we don't. The idea of the mission being to create fear or terror is a myth.

American Sniper's director Clint Eastwood is that rare conservative Hollywood bird whose head space and timing seem to be a few degrees off judging by his surreal performance at the 2012 Republican convention. But that does not keep a patriot in his dotage from turning out a good cowboy film, even if it is in the Arabian desert and the punks are hajjis.

Eastwood cut his teeth on "The Outlaw Josey Wales," "Heartbreak Ridge" and "Dirty Harry", finding his groove in romanticizing the unglamorous life of the executioner. Chris Kyle's book does not deviate from this hoo-ah approach. For him, his targets were "savages" and "terrorists" (stating in his book that he would like to kill everyone toting a Koran, a sentiment which Eastwood cannily decided to omit from his film.) Surely Kyle saw himself as an instrument of God's hand, every bit as much as those he shot saw him.

However, as Ranger has discussed before, terrorists do not attack hard targets, an example of which would be the U.S. military. The men Kyle was killing were insurgents, soldiers, militants or guerrillas -- take your pick -- but not terrorists. Of course, since the terrorist menace was the casus belli for the PWOT, the longest U.S. war, it pays to play the term for all it's worth.

Unfortunately, when your film's subject has matters so terribly confused, it is hard to make of him a hero archetype. In Chris Kyle's and Clint Eastwood's world, things are black and white, and do not admit of nuance, and it is he who has the fistful of dollars who calls the tune.

The American Sniper's claim to fame is his 165 confirmed (and possible 225) kills, but how did kills become a metric for achievement? The Vietnam War, despite its hopeful and often inflated body counts, showed that "body count" was a meaningless concept when Saigon fell.

Even had Kyle killed 250 insurgents -- did we win the war? The U.S. is no safer because of the violence men like Kyle visited upon the Iraqi nation, and possibly less so. It could be argued that Islamist State (ISIS/ISIL) is the godchild of the relentless violence wrought by the U.S. military.

Killing without a meaningful military objective is simple murder, whether issuing from Kyle's muzzle of an ISIS executioner's knife. Mr. Eastwood can wrap his movie in a flag and overlay bagpipes playing "Amazing Grace", but the map ain't the territory. 

When Kyle and his actions are apotheosized, it is akin to raising the entire PWOT © to some noble, nation-saving enterprise. Unfortunately, like most of the U.S.'s Counterinsurgency efforts, it was naught more than a bloody game of whack-a-mole. You can put lipstick on a pig ...

Is a film like American Sniper a mass catharsis for the viewing audience eating popcorn and drinking soda? Does it whip up the patriotic fervor that enables a nation to stay in the warfighting game for the long haul? Or is it just another way to shoot two hours of a life being wafted away on the fantasy of some good, clean red-white-and-blue fun?

Hollywood likes to call these fictions "biopics", which is like saying John Tesh's "infotainment" was the news. Viewers leave the theater feeling perhaps proud after the gorefest done in the name of guns, football, hunting, Bibles, beer and cowboys. Eastwood offers us up this heartland bingo and hopes the cards he has throen down will constitute a winning hand.

And in the parlance of the Awards that matter, it probably does. But really, it is just another bad movie based upon a juvenile view of life. The director would have done better to have stopped at his film, The Unforgiven, for that title explains the plight of the gunfighter the best.

America is not about killing people. If it is, then we have morphed into a tawdry version of the Marvel Superhero creation The Avengers.

--Jim and Lisa 

[cross-posted @ Rangeragainstwar.]

( In an interesting aside, American Sniper is poised to out-earn the previous highest-grossing U.S. release, 2012's The Avengers. Chris Kyle stated the he symbolically associated himself with The Avengers.)

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Losing my religion

I was arguing with jim and Lisa in the comments section of the post below (about the Sydney hostage-taking incident) when a bunch of gunsels claiming to be card-carrying members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula Paris Local 1104 shot up the offices of a French political magazine, killing 12 people.

I was arguing that jim and Lisa were doing our readership a disservice by conflating the actions of a single criminal with some sort of global Islamic conspiracy, doing the jihadis work for them, confusing the situation whilst adding to the generalized public fear and panic over the threat of jihadi violence. It was just that sort of fear and panic that led the United States public into supporting a pointless piece of filibustering in the Middle East, invading a secular dictatorship in pursuit of a violent religious sect and, in the process, setting up a geopolitical situation where a siderunner of that sect is now fielding an actual armed field force that controls the western portions of that now-sectarian dictatorship.

But the Paris shooting is just the kind of thing they were talking about; an act of violence designed and carried out by men because of their political beliefs about religion.

I do not and never have pretended that there are not those sorts of violent men coming out of political Islam.

My point was, and is, that using the violent acts of jihadis in the West to gin up some sort of generalized fear of "Islam" and the people who hold by it is both ridiculous and dangerous.

Ridiculous because religions are supposed to be about a mystical or spiritual way to approach living a "proper life"; you can't shoot that into someone with a bullet or bomb it into them. The jihadis WANT that to be the state of play between them and the West, because that's what they know; they are, typically, men bred in violent times in violent places, and violence is what they see as their strong point. Playing it their way strengthens them and weakens us.

Dangerous because it develops into a mindset that blurs the distinction between the jihadis and "everyone else". If a single criminal nutter can be a jihadi, well, who can't? If some random joker is really part of a vast jihadi conspiracy, why isn't the FBI wiretapping those gomers at the mosque down on Clark Street? Why shouldn't we go Full Malkin and intern all those allah-pesterers for The Duration?

This begs the question, though.

If we should be looking skeptically at the poseurs, what about the genuine article?

In her comment Lisa warns of the danger of violence emerging from "...the IS - IS fellow traveler pool..." to which I'd add the other militarized jihadi factions such as AQ, AQAP, the various mujeheddin factions in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Libyan militias, outfits like Boko Haram in Nigeria...and those factions are violent and dangerous and, in many cases, carry grudges against the West. Grudges held by violent men aren't to be disregarded or taken lightly.

What can, or should, the West - that is, the nations of Western Europe and North America, since the old colonial powers and the U.S. are the primary target of these Islamic grudge-holders - do in response to these groups?

I'll propose, first, than we've tried one approach, punitive expeditionary violence, and the results seem to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of this approach. It can put a band-aid on the jihadi tumor but as the examples of Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and Syria appear to show as often as not ends up in just metastasizing the damn thing into new forms in new places it wasn't before.

How about simply disengaging from the region? Walking away from the conflict?

My guess is that it would be difficult if not impossible. The well of hatred and feud is so deeply poisoned that the jihadis will continue their attacks, and even disengaging politically and militarily cannot wall-off the features of Western society that the jihadis hate and fear. It's said that the Soviet Union fell because no Russians wanted to wear Polish sneakers and listen to East German pop music. The jihadis do "hate us for our freedoms" but it is the freedom of our women to walk around in skimpy halter tops and our freedom to tell our pastors to fuck off out of our bedrooms (ironically, the very freedoms our OWN Christian "jihadis" hate and fear...) they hate.

Plus there's Israel and all that petroleum...sigh.

Okay. We're kinda stuck.

More selective violence of the Israeli targeted-assassination sort? That seems to have a sort of Darwinian effect; it can keep the jihadis from "boiling over" but it winnows out the stupid and the slow. Deconstruction the PLO simply replaced them with the deadlier enemies of Hamas and Hezbollah.

And it's well to recall that these jihadis didn't just come out of nowhere.

In 1945 the idea of "political Islam" seemed like the height of lunacy. All over the Islamic world secular governments were replacing the old colonial regimes. In fact the heartland of the current IS and AQ shenangains - Iraq and Syria - was largely run by "Baath" parties which were overtly and fiercely secular. The exemplar for the emerging Arab states was Turkey and the anticlericalism of the Young Turks.

But between the Western powers and Israel these secular states were shown up to their populations as either venal, weak, or both. Secular dictators were suborned with Western cash and weapons, or defeated by Israeli arms. The only groups that seemed to actually fight back effectively were the jihadis.

The U.S. and the West helped coddle a Saudi regime that nursed the Wahhabi madrassis that produced so many of these jihadi vipers. Charlie Wilson & Co. turned them loose on the Soviets which seemed like a damn fine idea at the time...and then cut them loose when the Soviets ran for cover.

So I'd add that, in a sense, we of the West - our governments, at least - helped make this mess. We should, at least, think about what we might do to help clean it up if that is possible...

It seems to me that the BEST answer to the jihadi problem would be the same thing that provided the solution to the Western Wars of Religion; indifference.

Think about it. For hundreds of years Europe was torn up by Protestants killing Catholics, Catholics killing Protestants and everybody killing Jews. Don't even get me started on atheists and witches...where you went to church (or whether you did..) was a killing matter in Europe for centuries. Google "Thirty Years War" sometime and read up on what it did to Germany.

And then we stopped.

Sure, some idiots still want to return to the Good Old Days when killing infidels for Baby Jesus got you into Heaven. But for most of us where our neighbors go to church - or whether they do - is a matter of massive indifference. The notion that someone is scarey because he might be Catholic and take orders from the Pope (as was said of JFK) seems ludicrous as the Blood Libel to us today. Outside of the Balkans (determined to be perverse as they have always been) religious skepticism, ignorance, indifference, and sloth is the rule in Western public life. It's considered rude outside the Issa household to parade your religiousity in public, let alone so much as upbraid anyone else for their infidelity.

So...can the West help inoculate the Islamic world with the vaccine of religious indifference? If so, how?

I'm not sure, myself, so I'm opening the floor to ideas here. What, if anything, can the West do to help the East lose their religion?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Hostage Rescue Situations, II: Civilian

 Whether we like it or not,
the one justification for the existence of all religions is death,
they need death as much as we need bread to eat 
--Death with Interruptions,
 Jose Saramago, 

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be;
and that which is done is that which shall be done:
and there is no new thing under the sun 
--Ecclesiastes 1:9 

When people show you who they are,
believe them the first time 
--Maya Angelou

SubtitleChicken Little, or, The Lone Wolf

Scenario: Sydney (AUS) hostage crisis, 15-16 December 2014.

The media reported yet another Lone Wolf Islamic gunman took hostages at the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Sydney;  two hostages and the hostage taker were later killed. But how -- or does -- this situation differ from hostage situations that preceded it?

Instant analysis provided by hasty experts lead to the speedy disappearance of any discrete event from the headlines in favor of the next shock and awe event, and any lessons to be found in commonalities are lost in the relentless quest for the new. So what's new and what's not?

All hostage taking is criminal behavior, and law enforcement exists deal with such events. The laws already exist in the legal codes of all civilized nations. Motives, tactics and response times may differ, but there is always a police response that is appropriate. Sydney is but another in the ignominious history of the hostage taking event. While there is no comprehensive list online, one can begin ticking off the scores of events in recent memory:

Moluccan separatists (Holland, 1977); DFLP Ma'alot massacre (Israel, 1974); numerous aircraft hijackings, beginning in the 1930's; Mumbai hotel (Lashkar-e-Taiba, 2008); Chechen theater takeover (Russia, 2002); Grozny (Caucasus Emirate, 2014); Beslan School Siege (Chechen, 2004); Grand Mosque seizure (Mecca, Saudi Arabia, 1979); Munich Olympic massacre (Palestinian - Black September, 1972); OPEC ministers (Carlos the Jackal + German and Arab terrorists, 1975); Iran embassy takeover (1979); Iranian Embassy siege (London, 1980); Raid at Entebbe (Uganda, 1976); Norrmalmstorg robbery (Sweden, 1973) -- origin of the "Stockholm Syndrome", etc.

"Lone Wolves" are nothing new. The "shoe" and "underwear" bombers were also lone wolves. Anyone who attempts such an illegal and audacious action is by definition a lone wolf, even if representing a larger group. Most lone wolves are backed by a much larger transnational support system facilitating their operations.

All hostage takers give off intel predictors of their actions, just as all spree killers have. The problem is that we ignore these indicators. The perpetrators of the attacks of 9-11-01 and all subsequent attempts by affiliated groups gave off indicators, but nobody connected the dots. It's not that they are invincible but that we are negligent.

Our negligence allows these people to slip through the cracks and fly under the radar. Since the agencies tasked to ensure our safety are often no more than theater, look for the attacks to continue. The people leading these agencies often lack a police or security background

The police operate on the belief that all life is sacred, including that of the hostage-taker; but if intel indicates the hostage takers will execute hostages, then police must end the situation by assault. The police assault differs from the military one, however.

When the SEALs entered Yemen their assault was a predetermined, essential part of their plan. In contrast, a police assault should be effected only to prevent further loss of hostage lives. As the police assault phase is fluid, hostage lives always hang in the balance. In Sydney, the police had no option as all intel indicated the hostage taker was intent on killing his hostages.

The only critical observation in the Sydney scenario is that the police may have used too much firepower when they employed fully automatic fire. Prudence in the civilian setting may call for less rounds fired in select single fire mode to avoid accidentally killing hostages. A police response should always be measured, but it is always a judgement call for those on-site.

Hostage barricade situations are not going away, but the Western world has levels of security which can address any criminal activity, to include terrorism. The Euroterrorism of the 1960-90 era was effectively neutralized by good police work, intel and counteraction efforts, without governments crossing into authoritarian mode. The same comment will be made 30 years from now about today's "Lone Wolves".

Today's Lone Wolves do not differ much from their predecessors: they want to broadcast a message, and they often seek to gain ransom for further operational funding. Individually, they seem to be nihilists who do not value their own lives. However, their actions continue to support the viability of their group (=the Islamic State), even if they were not directly affiliated with the group to which they claim fealty.

As an aside: what hath the media and its mandatory political correctness wrought by feeding us the line that Islam is a religion of peace? It keeps us in a state of unknowing, children who must act shocked each time we put our hands on the stove and it burns. Certainly there are good Muslims, but the intermittent terrorist act will continue to erupt from that unsettled pool, and we must be stoic in our application of established police protocol.

To deny that there is a large swath of "bad" Muslims who rejoice in their 10th century ethos is to be willfully blind to a movement taking over large swathes of the Middle East and Asia. To paraphrase Sam Kinison, it's called The Islamic State, people. "Bad" to us is "good" to them, and never the twain shall meet.

Our fundamental worldviews are different ... it is not simply a matter of the West disbursing a few more palletized bundles of Benjamins, or more education or fruit juice boxes at the Loya Jirgas. We are as puppets on a string when we recoil in horror at the beheading du jour.

What's new is the environment of fear fomented in the press.

[cross-posted @ rangeragainstwar.]