Articles

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Lawless Middle East

While a great deal of attention has been paid to the motives and methods of the Middle Eastern protesters, the question of why so many governments have collapsed in the face of the protests has gone mainly unaddressed. The Middle East's governments are governments of men, not of laws. There are plenty of laws, but none of them actually matter as the ultimate authority in any situation is that of men, not of laws. Their institutions, from the military to the bureaucracy, depend not on laws, but on personal fealty.

Laws are covenants. And covenants must derive their authority from some unifying principle. An idea that the entire society can agree on. National exceptionalism can then base itself on that covenant, depicting its national history as the expression of that ideal. The laws then become the guardians of that national ideal. For example, subtract individualism from America and the Constitution ceases to make sense, its hallowed principles become gibberish and the legal system derived from them implodes on itself. (This is arguably what is taking place today, and why we no longer have governments of laws, but of men only.)

For all the flags being waved in the air, the Arab nations have tribal identities, not national identities. There is no such thing as Egyptian or Tunisian exceptionalism. And no national principles of law and government. The Arab world has plenty of legal traditions, but they are not married to any institutions. The nations of the Arab world are orphans of colonialism. Fictional entities trumped up to fill a void. Arabs will passionately champion them the way they do soccer teams, but it is a collective identification with a thing that has no identity. There are peculiar national jokes and antipathy toward citizens of Arab nations, but this is only tribal identity. And tribal governments are personal, not lawful.

In a government of men, day to day decisions may be made by following the rules, which provides a veneer of lawfulness, but any larger conflict is resolved through personal allegiance. Whether the police will take action, does not depend on the laws, but on the parties involved. The power of the complainant or the defendant is what determines police action. A foreigner against a native leads to a complex balancing act, calculating the loss of tourist revenue and foreign displeasure, over loyalty to one's own. The law never enters into it, except as justification after the fact. Map the micro onto the macro, and you can see that what happened in Egypt had nothing to do with democracy or law.

Within the United States a protest will be treated as a law enforcement matter. The police will act within the limits of the law to enforce public order, regardless of whether they are sympathetic to the protesters or not. (Deviations from this norm are aberrant and usually occur under the influence of political authorities, e.g. the Crown Heights Pogrom.) Within the Middle East however, a protest is a test of political allegiances between supporters and opponents of the government. The police are dispatched as supporters of the governments, not as law enforcement officers. Because there is no 'law' to enforce. In a government of men, law derives from the will of the authorities. There is no law, but that which the authorities make, and spoken commands trump legal codexes. The protests were a test of will between two sides, regime opponents and regime supporters, which got thrown into the bailiwick of a third party with a monopoly on armed force, the military, serving as arbitrators of the conflict. 

Middle Eastern regimes operate by (1) controlling limited resources, e.g. food, oil, money and (2) the use of force. Systems based on personal authority invariably corrupt resource distribution, by skimming from the top and manipulating prices, causing perennial dissatisfaction which necessitates the use of force. Resources are used to buy the loyalty of the enforcers. This happens more subtly in Egypt, where the officer class holds a privileged position in the economy, or more blatantly in Bahrain, with its foreign mercenaries.

The essential problem of power in the Middle East is how to leverage force, without putting the military in power. Most of the Kings and Sheiks that the British and French colonial authorities put into power were quickly overthrown by their own armies. The more Arab leaders depend on the military, the faster they are overthrown by it. The Egyptian officers who overthrow Egypt's royal family got their idea for it when King Farouk sent them off to try and destroy Israel in 1948. When the Jan 25 protests grew too furious, Mubarak's need for the army put it in the driver's seat. Mubarak left office, but the military remained in charge. Similarly the Iranian protests may have put the Revolutionary Guard in charge there.

Many Arab rulers closely identify themselves with the military, giving themselves military ranks (e.g. Colonel Khadafi, Field Marshall Saddam Hussein, General Bashar Assad) to artificially place themselves within the military's hierarchy of command. Some rule through a minority elite, such as the Sunnis of Iraq or the Alawites of Syria, who live better off, dominate the upper ranks of the military and are loyal because they  know that any change in power will throw them on the mercy of the larger populace which hates and despises them. Secret police forces are used to threaten those at the top and maintain authority over the population through terror. All these approaches have obvious and easily apparent weaknesses.

The problem of power has a long history in the Middle East. Rulers once relied on slave armies such as the Janissaries and the Mamluks, but these armies invariably turned on the rulers. The Mamluks did so successfully, and the Jannisaries unsuccessfully (the reason for the difference is that the Mamluks were culturally integrated with the population, and the Jannisaries were not.)

The slave armies were an attempt to use a minority elite, that was individually powerless and collectively powerful. Such a formula was inherently unstable. Political eunuchism, or the use of eunuchs in government, was a more explicit attempt at reining in the dynastic excesses of tribalism. A eunuch might hold power, but he could not pass that power on to his son. His loyalty had to be personal, as it could not be dynastic. Both slave armies and eunuchs depended on tearing men out of the tribal system, through slavery or castration, to compensate for the essential instability of any system of governance in the region.

Dynastic power is still commonplace in the region. Royal families rule in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain. Saddam Hussein, Assad and Mubarak were secular leaders who overthrew royal families, but still attempted to pass on power to their sons. Even when the rulers change, the powerful families usually remain the same. The institutions may wear a Western patina with modern titles and systems, but underneath all that, the powerful sons of powerful fathers go on giving jobs to their cousins and nephews, consolidating dynastic power for the clan. Getting anything done means dealing with members of the clan and their political machine  tied together by blood. 

A dynastic power structure is only as stable as the next link in its chain. Mubarak's loss of support was closely tied to his son's reformist agenda. Syria's Assad Jr has become a pawn of Iran. Jordan's new king is at odds with his people. The Saudi royal family is much less secure than it looks. A false step and the entire lot of them will come tumbling down the tightrope.

There is of course one unifying element which has gone unmentioned. Islam. But for all the golden caliphate dreams, the reality is dung and sour ash. An Islamic republic is just another oligarchy, with clerics as the rulers, and the Islamic institution as the incubator of tyrants. Despite its Velayat-e Fiqh trappings (the theory of the guardianship of Islamic jurists) it inevitably also becomes dynastic, as in the case of Iran where powerful families quarrel with each other over control of the resources.

The case of Mohammed is instructive. The first Muslims were members of his own family. His first outside non-family was Abu Bakr, a bargain sealed with the sexual abuse of Aisha, Bakr's six year old daughter given in marriage to Mohammed. And Abu Bakr became the first Caliph after Mohammed. Like most dynastic systems, Islam proved unstable. The Sunni-Shiite split happened over a debate of succession between Mohammed's extended family. What most take for a religious split, was actually a political civil war. Sunni and Shiite Muslims are split by the question of whether Abu Bakr or Imam Ali was Mohammed's chosen successor. A theological split that hinges on whether Mohammed should have been succeeded by his father-in-law or his son-in-law is not a theological debate, but of dynastic politics.

The Islamists promise an Allah sanctioned regime that will be fair, honest and ethical. But even their prophet couldn't manage a stable transition-- within his own family. His failure split Islam to the present day. Do they really imagine that they can do any better?

Mohammed's wars were really tribal conflicts cloaked in thinly patched together borrowed religions set to Bedouin poetry. Like most fanatical revolutions, modern Islamists begin by beheading everyone in sight and then eventually settle down to dividing the wealth and setting up their own power structures. And those power structures inevitably become dynastic. For all that Muslim clerics pride themselves on being jurists, they follow no law but their own. Convoluted interpretations of Islam legalized "temporary marriages" in Iran, relabeling everything from premarital sex to prostitution as marital relations so long as the fee gets paid. For all that Islam inveighs against the Bedouin love of wine, women and song-- they always come sneaking in through the back door anyway. And an Islamic republic which flogs women for showing their hair-- has brought back the concubine under the sanction of its own clerics.

Islam is no solution to the problem of power in the Middle East. It is only a perpetuation of the existing problems. Islam cannot create modern Arab states. It cannot provide those states with a meaningful identity. It can only spread more misery, terror and death.

Nor will the so-called democratic elections do any better. The cult of democracy can be as bad as that of Islam. The adherents of both confuse their ideals with a change in culture. But that will not work, no more than it did in Russia. Democracy in the hands of a culture which is not individualistic, is no more than another tribal referendum leading to factional chaos and eventually another oligarchy or tyranny by the strongest and the best organized. There is a long tradition of that sort of thing in Egypt, from the Mamluks to the Muhammad Ali Dynasty. And either the military or the Muslim Brotherhood are the likeliest beneficiaries.

The essential problem is that of law. The clerics speak of it, the activists invoke it and the reformers promise it-- but their law is still that of the government of men. Their authority is still derived from violent mobs, the military and militias. And the law of force is their true law. It is the true law of the entire region, ruled over by the orphans of colonialism, tribesmen who call themselves presidents and military coup leaders who call themselves prime ministers. Referendums will not civilize it and the Koran will not moralize it. A man abides by his own laws. A nation abides by the laws that give it meaning. The Arab world has not found those laws yet. And until it finds them, then lawless it will remain.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Thug of War in Wisconsin

Obama has chosen to continue his war against the states by using the unions. Like the rest of his objectives, the goal is to kill any attempts at reform and destroy all forms of authority not directly under his control. The integration of Democratic party political machines with public sector unions create a corrupt political trust that is being leveraged to impose heavy burdens on the taxpayers, even while his volunteers organize to terrorize state governments and voters. Like the czars, the public sector unions represent a system of organization loyal to him, that is outside the system. Any attempt to bring it into line touches off a thug of war.


The talking point to those who talk up this thug of war is that instead of "penalizing" unions, we should be penalizing Wall Street. In a column titled, 'Stop Scapegoating Teachers", Susan Estrich demands to know, "Where are the Wall Street banks for whom there was no limit to greed?" Well they certainly aren't in Wisconsin. It's almost a thousand miles from the gray towers of Wall Street to the overarching dome of the Wisconsin state capitol. And the Wisconsin state budget is not in hock to Wall Street bank bailouts, but to a teacher's union that runs its own insurance company. Like a store owner who picks out a gift for himself from his own store and then makes you pay for it, the Wisconsin teacher's union is forcing the taxpayers to buy insurance from them... for them.

If taxpayers are the bosses of public employees-- then this is a unique case where the workers live better than their employers do. Unions and their supporters have pretended that their fight is with Governor Walker and with the Koch Brothers, when it's actually with the taxpayers. Walker isn't Governor because of a vast conspiracy by Wall Street, but because the public is fed up and wants actual reforms. If that weren't the case, or if Walker was just a fluke, the Democrats would have the majority they need to block this legislation, instead of resorting to thuggery, vandalism and fleebaggery.

The left insists on casting every one of their fights as a struggle between the powerless and the powerful, the well connected and those on the fringes denied access to political power. But is there any measure by which the unions can be said to be on the fringes, and can public employees who use money harvested from taxpayers to subvert the will of the taxpayers, really be said to be powerless? Their dichotomy demands that we choose either the side of Wall Street or the unions. But what if we choose neither? What if we choose to be equally disgusted by corporate lobbyists who got their bailouts and stimulus packages, and union lobbyists who make sure to get their own piece of the action, and go to war against the will of the voters when they don't get their way.

What we have are two sets of greedy bastards, and the left expects us to cheer for their set of greedy bastards as if they were the starving children in a Victor Hugo novel. And it's their greedy bastards that are the problem in Wisconsin right now. It's their greedy bastards who run their own insurance company, which puts them a lot closer to Wall Street than the poorhouse. And this entire protest circus, that liberal pundits label "class warfare", has gotten a helping hand from a man who makes the worst Wall Streeters look like plaster saints-- George Soros.

For all the posturing about the Koch Brothers, there are far more billionaires on their side, than there are on ours. You know that time when the richest man in America suggested that we could save money on health care by killing sick people? He wasn't one of the Koch Brothers, he was one of Obama's own fundraisers. If you wanted a villain to star in a Dickens or Hugo novel, perhaps the one who pushes the dying old lady into the snow, he's available. Unfortunately he's actually a liberal hero, eugenics being one of those quirks that many noble progressive souls looking for a way to improve society have embraced in their time.

Eugenics is about making choices. So is forcing taxpayers to pay for health care for public service employees that they can't afford themselves. When police union thugs march into the capitol and announce that they will disobey the law, because the capitol "belongs to the people", they only mean certain people. And it isn't the majority who voted for the governor, but the angry minority of public employees that they happen to belong to. "Our house" is their house. They paid for it with money they extracted from the taxpayers, and now they want it back from the elected representatives of the taxpayers. So they can continue holding the taxpayers hostage.


When all the union songs die down, then all the dirty little secrets come out. Like the nearly half a million dollar salary of the president of the union's health care service. These are the things that are truly being fought for. The power and privilege of an entitled elite. Public sector unions are not fighting for the right to organize, but for the power to organize the system around them. To keep the flow of money moving from taxpayer pockets into their pockets and into the pockets of their pet politicians. Unions represent an establishment like any other. The difference is that there is no way to opt out of dealing with them.

Liberal columnists have tried to make the rich into the villains, but it is not the billionaires who are losing their homes due to high property taxes, it is not the billionaires who have to cut back so that union bosses can play on their own private golf course, and it is not the billionaires who have to tighten their belts so more government workers can be hired at their expense, and without their consent. And it is not the rich who pack the pockets of politicians, nearly so much as the unions do. Because those politicians are how the unions get rich.

The Koch brothers have become default villains in this Alinsky puppet theater meant to identify all calls for reform with a nefarious cabal of billionaires. All the better to shift attention away from the real villains. Attacking the Koch brothers personalizes the enemy. Better than attacking the 1,128,887 Wisconsinites who cast their ballots for Walker in the hopes of reform. Better than dealing with the hard truths that voters are in no shape to subsidize their privileges anymore.


Calls for higher taxes war with calls for cuts in government spending. That's the red line that comes up when the money gets tight enough that we can't just keep letting it ride anymore. And that's when the tug of war begins. Or rather the thug of war. Political systems being held hostage by the people who run them. As much as the public cries, "Stop", they bellow "Onward". Their right to make money off us trumping our right to stop them from doing so.

Who are the exploiters and the exploited. The public has voted. Their representatives have voted. And the unions have brought out their thugs and the politicians have headed for the border. It's the Middle East but , with the despots and the thugs on the union side. It takes a lot of spin to turn the unions and their pols into the exploited. But minor matters like the color of the sky, the distance between two objects and the nature of reality have never stopped the media from performing their sworn duty as tinpot agitators for their ideological friends. Banging their drums loudly for civil unrest, so long as it's the right kind of civil unrest by privileged public servants, and not those nasty tea party people who want to pay less taxes and enjoy more freedoms.



The Guardian labels it class warfare, but between which classes? The class of union members who can hold the public hostage for their benefits, and the class of the public which is supposed to pay for it all or get beaten down in the streets when they try to protest.

Government workers have become the Second Estate of the American Republic, with most of the population reduced to the Third Estate grubbing through to pay their wages. And the more the Second Estate keeps growing, the more it impoverishes the Third Estate, pushing them down further below the Middle Class line. If this goes on, then the Middle Class will consist entirely of government workers. And America will cease to exist as a free country. Then the class war that the left has been fighting inst the rest of the country will finally end in victory.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Tout va Très Bien Madame la Multiculturalisma

France's President Sarkozy has stated that multiculturalism has failed, insisting that Muslim immigrants merge into the "national community". Germany's Angela Merkel made virtually the same statement earlier at her party's convention. British PM David Cameron went further saying that Islamism had taken root because multiculturalism had diminished a collective English identity. All three leaders are conservatives and language like this has been greeted with applause by their base. But there is really very little to cheer here.

Announcing the failure of multiculturalism in Europe of 2011 is as relevant a disclosure as the comic French song, Tout Va Très Bien, Madame La Marquise, in which the groom informs her ladyship that her husband had committed suicide after losing his money and burned down the estate, by telling her that everything was alright except for a minor mishap with her horse. Multiculturalism may be the post-national left's favorite nag, but the failure here is much greater. It is mass migration from the Muslim world that is the problem, and any policy that only addresses the consequences, rather than the cause, is bound to be a failure.

Of the three leaders, Cameron was the only to lay out something close to a policy. But his muscular rhetoric sounds suspiciously like the pre-election Sarkozy. And conservative British pols have developed a habit of talking tough about Islam one minute, and pandering to it shamelessly for votes on the other. Before becoming Prime Minister, Cameron went to live with a Muslim family and announced that, "Not for the first time, I found myself thinking that it is mainstream Britain which needs to integrate more with the British Asian way of life, not the other way around."

Has Cameron suddenly realized that the extended Muslim family with its rugs and hospitality masks less appetizing cultural problems, particularly when it comes to the treatment of women, or is he trying to stay ahead of a public backlash. Sarkozy certainly is. His popularity is low. Meanwhile LePen's daughter is behind a revived party, without her father's Nazi sympathies and anti-semitism, that may take away enough votes to make a difference. Merkel is also unpopular and needs a red meat issue that will distract the voters from Greece and Portugal. And so for all that European leaders are talking about the threat of Islamic separatism, and the Palestinization of Muslim communities with their No Go zones, honor killings and riots, they are still speaking the language of integration.

Integration. Process the millions of Muslims through British, Germany and French schools and make sure that they know the national language, rather than the urban patois that has become the lingua franca of a changing Europe, showing up in rap albums and TV shows. Teach them how wonderfully tolerant we are, bridge the gap by celebrating their culture, and maybe even making room for a little Sharia law on the side. Tie the knot and there'll be a happy integrated nation, which marries the Middle Eastern values of hospitality and the British values of not beheading your daughter.

The problem with this new anthem of 'Tout va Très Bien Madame la Multiculturalisma' is that multiculturalism isn't the problem, it's the symptom. The British, French and German systems haven't failed, they have had a chance of success. It would have been possible to integrate a few thousand Muslims per country, but not a few million. Certainly not people who have no definition of integration, and whose cultural and religious assumptions are so far apart that they cannot integrate without losing their identity.

But even this need not have been a complete and absolute disaster. 3 million Nepalese might have made their own separate communities, as they have in towns such as Reading, without it leading to a civil war. The natives would have complained of the smells, the foreign languages and the strange signs. Of entire English towns in the hands of strangers. And it would have ended at that. But Muslims are a special case for three unfortunate reasons.

First, they hold an enduring grievance toward Europe for everything over the last 1000 years. Considering the troubles in Northern Ireland between peoples far more closely related by culture and blood, who in their right mind thought that it would be a good idea to import millions of foreigners who still resent the loss of Spain, the Crusades and colonial governments with nearly equal ferocity, and imagined that it would all go smoothly.

Second, their culture is tightly integrated with their religion, and their religion has a long history of expanding through conquest. A history both ancient and recent. It took enormous arrogance to import millions of members whose civilization still employs violence as a religiously sanctioned tool for promoting the faith, and then act as if they could be integrated with a good lesson plan.

Third, many Muslim countries have enormous wealth and influence, and have used it to promote Islamism and tear down the defenses of Western nations. Imagine if the Soviet Union had possessed enormous oil wealth or if Japan in the 80's had decided to use its wealth to aggressively promote a cultural takeover. That is what we are dealing with here.

All this talk of integrating Muslims disregards them as a civilization, and treats them as if they were delinquents. Cameron's talk of youth falling into extremism suggests that he thinks of them as if they were children from a broken home falling through the cracks of the system and shooting up heroin on council estates, rather than young men acting in accord with the values of their own religion.

The Muslim terrorists of Europe are neither impoverished nor marginalized. They are doctors, architects and university students who have taken the full benefit of what the countries have to offer them, and gone to war to win it all. They are not brats acting out, but soldiers engaging in a war of conquest. A simple fact that all the integration prattle obscures.

The difference between the so-called extremists and the moderates, is that the extremists want to conquer Europe by force, and the moderates through demographics and culture. The extremists want to blow up Europe. The moderates want to integrate it. And their lesson plans have gotten much further into the European, Canadian, Australian and American child-- than the lesson plans of the Western integrators have into the Muslim child.

Cameron has rightly identified a portion of the problem. But his solution is asinine. You do not create a vigorous culture worthy of respect by passing a law and making it so. A culture that merits respect can only be created by the measure of its accomplishments. The decline of English culture parallels the physical recession of the nation, its power, its industry and its achievements. (And that is a fair warning for America, which is headed down the same path at a slower pace.) A lesson plan on King Alfred the Great, will not make England great, and will not earn Muslim respect, let alone their integration. Most nations have their own grand histories and their own tales. But unless they still have greatness within them, these are nothing but matters of trivia.

Talk all you want of greatness, but great nations colonize, they are not colonized. All a UK Muslim needs to do in order to gauge where the future lies is look at the native birth rate, at the Muslim birth rate and at the immigration statistics. And then he can safely relegate King Alfred the Great, Lord Nelson and Winston Churchill to the realm of obscure trivia from a vanishing nation. After all Byzantium too was great in its time, but now it's a giant Muslim marketplace.

The Middle East was once the cradle of civilization, today it is a heap of dirt with a smattering of oil, olive groves and vast dirty slum carrying the names of once legendary cities. The region was full of cultures and civilizations that were once great, before being trodden under the boots of maddened Bedouin fanatics. Today only two, the Jews and the Persians, exist as independent nations. And it would not take all that long to turn Europe into the new Middle East.

The integrators imagine that they can halt that process with a reading of 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' or by banning the burqa, but the tide of history is not turned so easily as that. The great men of England's own history could tell Cameron that. It is not history that makes nations great, but the way in which they carry on that history into the present. The way in which they realize that history in the present day.

Say what you will about Muslims, but they are realizing their history in Europe today. While they reenact the old battles, their foes are tempting them with social services funding. European governments want Muslims to join their republican secular states. Muslims want Europeans to join their caliphate. And it is not difficult to see who will win that particular contest if things go on as they are.

Reporting the failure of multiculturalism is a touch of Tout Va Très Bien, Madame La Marquise by the integrators who are comically understating the scope and the nature of the problem. Europe's problem is not multiculturalism, but that it has been invaded and it has forgotten how to fight back.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday Afternoon Roundup - From Obama to Khaddafi, a Tale ofTwo Tyrants

A Tryst of Two Tyrants

While Americans are going hungry and cutting back, not because Michelle Obama told them to, but because they can't afford it-- the White House is throwing yet another party. This time to celebrate the cultural accomplishments of Motown complete with performances by trendy musicians.

It's funny how the media breathlessly reports that Khaddafi spent 1 million dollars to fly in one singer or another for a performance, and yet the White House has flown in far more singers, at doubtlessly far greater expense to throw themselves a party.

If Khaddafi was a wastrel madmen for throwing himself parties like this, what of the Obamas who are doing far worse, under the pretext that this is a celebration of the form.

Motown is not some obscure form of music that needs to be revived with government sponsorship. It is more than popular and there are plenty who will pay for it. The public should not be footing the bill, so that the Obamas can once again hobnob with musicians.

But the very behavior that the media condemns in Libya, it celebrates in Washington. Tell me again the difference between this

The New York Times, citing cables obtained by WikiLeaks, says songstress Mariah Carey was paid $1 million to belt out four songs on the Caribbean island of St. Barts for Gadhafi’s son, Seif al-Islam, whom you may remember from the rambling speech that kicked off the recent carnage.

Another son, Muatassim, Libya’s national security adviser, allegedly hired Beyoncé and Usher to entertain at another New Year’s bash.

and this

The White House reverberated like a long-ago basement sound studio in Detroit on Thursday as the likes of John Legend, Seal, Jamie Foxx, Nick Jonas and Sheryl Crowe channeled their inner Motown before Michelle and Barack Obama. Musical pioneers Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder joined in for the celebration of all things Motown.

Tell me, what's the difference here? One is written in a condemnatory tone and the other in a celebratory tone.

We are supposed to pity the poor Libyan people whose evil overlords shamelessly squandered millions on concerts by famous musicians

-- and simultaneously thrill at the news that our own overlords are spending millions on throwing concerts in the White House.

The Libyan papers might well have it in reverse, condemning Obama for his spendthrift wastefulness, while celebrating the Khaddafi spawn for circulating with famous musicians to show the cultural amplitude of Libya. But it's propaganda either way. Wrap it in the wax paper of civil rights and some blather about Americanism-- and it still comes down to our leaders acting like the very Middle Eastern buffoons they claim to despise. Even as the American media fulfills the same role for the Obamas, that its Libyan counterparts do for the Khaddafis.

All this might have been forgivable, if the big zero hadn't been making constant noises about his commitment to cutting spending. If his first spouse hadn't appointed herself Czar of America's Kitchens, in between gorging during her constant vacationing. If they just admitted that they were rotten liars who are going to take us for all they can get-- then we could almost tolerate their thievery. So many Americans forgave Clinton when he smiled and winked, but wouldn't forgive him when he self-righteously shook his finger at us, when everyone knew he was lying. Obama has never stopped shaking his finger at us, while going from the party to the golf course.

Americans like to believe that we are better off than the Libyans. And we are... for now. But we won't be for long if this style of government continues. Leaders who play messiahs, wrap themselves in cults of personality, enforce only those laws they like and send out their thugs to assail and assault anyone who threatens their power.

We are not better off than then Libyans because of the government we have now, but because of the legal traditions and open elections that have not been completely eradicated by the left.

(In an added layer of irony, Khaddafi is boosting government worker pay by 150 percent. Comparisons to the Democratic party go begging to be heard.)

When the Democrats win they wreck the system through mismanagement. When the Democrats lose they wreck the system through sabotage. The Democrats lost in Wisconsin which means they have nothing to lose by tearing the system down. They still hold the White House and are mismanaging the country. There's no win scenario here.

Mass protests won't hurt the Democrats, but may hurt Governor Walker. And even if they don't, the Democrats will have radicalized union members, some of whom may have agreed on a few points with Republicans, and made other governors wary of a confrontation. It's a win-win scenario for them. Sure the unions could have scored some points with the public by cooperating, but they don't expect voters to hold Democrats accountable for their actions. And even if they do, it's a forced marriage with no way out.

Meanwhile the protest riots are continuing to spread throughout the Middle East. Libya's deranged colonel is showing how a regime which doesn't mind gunning down protesters reacts to such challenges. And putting into focus the absurdity of defining tyranny by Mubarak or Ben Ali. Khadafi is giving liberals a timely reminder of what a real tyrant looks like. And it isn't an oligarch like Mubarak.

The violence has spread to Iraq, which is already unstable enough, and shows that this really isn't curable by democracy, as so many neo-cons have insisted. Democracy is not an antidote to sectarian conflict or public anger over government policies. When a minority of protesters can overthrow the government through sheer violence, than the occasional elections are no curative measure. That is also the situation in Wisconsin, where a violently angry minority infuriated at the prospect of being robbed of its privileges is sabotaging the state.

Compare if you will, Sam Slom, the one Republican state senator in Hawaii, with the fleebager senators of Wisconsin. There is a pattern here. Republicans in the minority ask questions and challenge legislation, Democrats in the minority try to sabotage the system. Republican congressmen were being compared to terrorists for obstructing Obama's program. But Wisconsin Senators are heroes for absconding to Illinois. A Republican shutdown of the government is considered a worst case scenario, but Democratic shutdowns of the governments are much admire.

The law of the land is the law of the land-- until the Democrats decide otherwise. And then they just refuse to enforce them. As Obama is doing with DOMA. But imagine the outcry had a Republican president's attorney general had refused to defend civil rights legislation for gay rights. The law is the law, so long as it's liberal law. But that's no way to run a country.

In the roundup,

Revolution isn't just coming to the Middle East, it may also be coming to Ireland, with Fianna Fail finally set to take a well-deserved beating.

Lemon Lime Moon points out that the protests have centered on nations with ports in the Mediterranean, access to the Suez Canal, and the Gulf.
Why is it there is so little news on the importance of the Suez Canal, the Mediterranean Sea and the importance of Libyan oil to Europe? Is it a myopic view of things that is keeping news from looking at the overview of the middle eastern situation?

...

Controlling the flow of oil would give Moslem nations tremendous bargaining power in the world. Money talks. Money makes people do the worst things. The goal of the Moslem religion is control. If a Moslem brotherhood can control oil flow, they have a very powerful weapon indeed. If Europe can control the middle east, they will have a very great ace in the hole for themselves.

Read it all

Timothy Carney at the Examiner points out that Soros' investment fund is profiting from Obama's green energy programs. But there are levels beyond that.

Consider Soros' investment fund buys into a number of domestic energy producers and coal companies, such as Massey energy. An offshore drilling ban would lower the stock price off domestic energy producers. Obstructing coal would similarly lower the asking price. Also interestingly, Soros earlier dumped much of his holdings in Hess, which has an energy presence in Egypt. There's probably a story here for anyone with the financial knowhow to go properly digging. But just like Soros' Countrywide investment, no one seems to be following the money.

From the heart of Texas, a good ole Saudi boy plotted to blow up some reservoir dams. (See the whole story at Doug Ross' Director Blue blog.) But he probably never meant no harm.

But it gets better. Guess who funded his scholarship.

Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, the Saudi student arrested Thursday on charges that he planned to build bombs for terror attacks inside the United States, was granted a U.S. student visa after qualifying for a generous scholarship sponsored by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah,

Have we learned anything from 9/11 when Saudis could just waltz into the United States and murder thousands of Americans? No not really.

Aldawsari was one of more than 10,000 Saudi students granted student visas in 2008, an NBC News analysis of the visa program shows.

Indeed, the number of Saudi students approved for entry into the United States has jumped more than fourfold since 15 young Saudis helped carry out the attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. At the same time, visas granted to other Middle East nations dropped often precipitously or remained at the same level.

The analysis shows that 26,744 Saudi students received US F-1 and F-2 visas in 2010, up from 6,836 in 2001. The numbers have steadily increased as the Kingdom has provided financing for students, believing the students' exposure to the U.S. and its education system would help US-Saudi relations.

US-Saudi relations being a euphemism for Saudi manipulation of American universities, and of course a generous helping of murder. We're importing Saudis like 9/11 never happened, because the Saudi government is underwriting it. And so what if Americans get killed, as long as Ivy League deans get to built another facility or two for their campus.

In May of 2009 Aldawsari talks about learning English in Nashville, Tennessee and his dreams about working for Google. June of that year he writes in Arabic about the Book of Allah and his conquest that will depend on his Jihad.

As it turns out, there isn't that much of a contradiction.

At Cliffs of Insanity, a challenge for Rush Limbaugh to take a much more active role and make a real difference.

Joshuapundit has the latest Watcher's Council results.

Finally at Biased BBC, a question of blindness and what are we ignoring now

Many people suspect that “tyrants” were all that stood between the fragile stability and the dreaded clash of civilisations. However, for the BBC and, it seems, Cameron’s government, democracy is a thing with magical properties. If it comes, lo and behold, it will turn the Islamic street into a secular wonderland.
Meanwhile, (as if we had any choice) we’re plumping for toppling tyrants and keeping our fingers crossed this will bring about liberty, freedom and peace - and abracadabra, turn the Arab World into the West.

No longer must we turn a blind eye to tyranny. Now our blind eyes are turned to the baying mobs chanting “Death to Jews” in Tunis, the stars of David scrawled on Mubarak posters, and the sinister signs of religious bigotry rather than secular liberalism that are emerging from the angry rioting crowd. The BBC’s eyes are the blindest of all.

See Solomonia which quotes a rather relevant observation on the ethnic cleansing of Egypt's Jews

You will find no Jews in Tahrir Square. Or in Mansoura, where Grandfather Wahba had a drug store. I scan the architecture on CNN looking past the screaming demonstrators. I want to see Egypt, Dad’s Egypt, and imagine what he would be saying about the situation today; almost four years since he died.

Egypt is in the news and how I miss my father. I see “Rioting in Mansoura, Cairo, Alexandria,” flash on the news. Cities that were home to my dad, at different points in his life. Born to an old Egyptian family in Mansoura, “the Wahbas were real (not transplants from another country), Egyptians” he bragged. They were indigenous to the land, originally farmers, peasants, in Midghram.

When President Obama spoke in Cairo he didn’t ask, “Where are your Jews”? Once not so long ago Egyptian Jews were an integral part of Egypt’s infrastructure. Obama did mention the Copts (Egypt’s Christians,) another indigenous group who suffer discrimination and he asked for “tolerance”.

ASK WHERE ARE THE JEWS WHO LIVED HERE FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS I wanted to break through his eloquence. But yelling at the TV is not my style.

A little note now for all the commentators who approvingly quoted and celebrated Sandmonkey, treated him as a martyr during the riots, and discover that now he's joined the conventional liberal Egyptian line in essentially calling for tearing up the Camp David accords, remilitarizing the Sinai and opening up the border to Hamas. Oh he's phrasing it better than that, but that's what it amounts to.

Some like Barry Rubin are giving him the benefit of the doubt. I'm not. There's a certain commonality to these things. We got played. And it isn't the first time. The difference between Curveball and Sandmonkey isn't as big as you might think. There are no shortage of "dissidents" from the Arab world with a focused narrative, who are very good at telling us what we want to hear, when we want to hear it, and even capable of believing it themselves, before shifting on a dime. They are often members of prominent families, often with ties to previous regimes (according to his blog, Sandmonkey's grandfather was a general in the royal guard, that would be the royal family overthrown by Mubarak's predecessors) and often sympathetic and believable. Word to the wise, be wary. Be smart. And don't be taken in.

A final personal note, I have created a new Facebook account and one for the site here. Anyone I have lost touch with, please send me a request, if I haven't sent you one yet already.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Threat of Government Power

Time and time again, the liberal defenders of government power have attacked any call for reform as a plot by the wealthy. Even now New York Times editorialists pound their keys about the "Concentration of Wealth", invoking presidents from Andrew Jackson to Theodore Roosevelt. But in our America, the "Concentration of Wealth" is not found in the hands of a few billionaires. It is found in the hands of the government.

The editorialists talk about the income gap and how much wealth is held by the top 1 percent of the country, but they are leaving something out. Their statistics deal with individuals, not institutions. And it is institutions which threaten our liberties, not individuals.

The top 10 wealthiest men and women in America barely have 250 billion dollars between them. That sounds like a lot of money, until you look at annual Federal budgets which run into the trillions of dollars, and the country's national debt which approaches 15 trillion dollars. And that's not taking into account state budgets. Even Rhode Island, the smallest state in the union, with a population of barely a million, has a multi-billion dollar budget.

As the 10th richest man in America, Michael Bloomberg wields a personal fortune of a mere 18 billion dollars, but as the Mayor of the City of New York, he disposes of an annual budget of 63 billion dollars. In a single year, he disposes of three times his own net worth. A sum that would wipe out the net worth of any billionaire in America. That is the difference between the wealth wielded by the 10th wealthiest man in America, and the mayor of a single city. And that is the real concentration of wealth. Not in the hands of individuals, but at every level of government, from the municipal to the state houses to the White House.

While liberal pundits pop on their stovepipe hats, fix their diamond stickpins and cravats, and trade in 19th century rhetoric about the dangers of trusts and monopolies-- the power in 20th century America lies not in the hands of a few industrialists, but with massive monopolistic trust of government, and its network of unions, non-profits, lobbyists and PAC's. The railroads are broken up, offshore drilling is banned, coal mining is in trouble and Ma Bell has a thousand quarreling stepchildren-- now government is the real big business. How big?

The 2008 presidential campaign cost 5.3 billion dollars. Another 1.5 billion for the House and the Senate. And that's not counting another half a billion from the 527's and even shadier fundraising by shadowy political organizations. But that's a small investment when you realize that they were spending billions of dollars to get their hands on trillions of dollars.

Do you know of any company in America where for a mere few billion, you could become the CEO of a company whose shareholders would be forced to sit back and watch for four years while you run up trillion dollar deficits and parcel out billions to your friends? Without going to jail or being marched out in handcuffs. A company that will allow you to indulge yourself, travel anywhere at company expense, live the good life, and only work when you feel like it. That will legally indemnify you against all shareholder lawsuits, while allowing you to dispose not only of their investments, but of their personal property in any way you see fit.  There is only one such company. It's called the United States Government.

It wasn't always this way. There used to be limitations on executive and legislative power. But those limitations are gone along with the top hat and the diamond stickpin. Under an ideological cloak of darkness, politicians act as if they can do anything they want. Public outrage is met with alarmist news stories about the dangers of violence, as if this were the reign of the Bourbon kings,  not a democratic republic whose right of protest is as sacrosanct as its flag and its seal. Instead the republic is dominated by political trusts, party machines, media cartels, public sector unions and a million vermin who have sucked the cow dry and are starting in on its tender meat.

Consider that in 2008, Obama pulled in 20 million from the health care industry. (McCain only 7 million). Afterward, he conspired to pass a law which mandated that every American be forced to buy health insurance from the industry. There is no definite figure for how much money the industry will make from this, but it will be a whole lot more than the mere 20 million they invested in him. During the days of the robber barons, the government never mandated that everyone must buy a product from them. Private companies might have contrived such control over the marketplace, but the IRS was never enlisted to collect their bills for them.

Every New York Times columnist who summons up the ghost of T.R. to mewl about the "concentration of wealth" should hang his head in shame. If Theodore Roosevelt were to come to life and behold such a connivance between the government and the industries it created, at the expense of the people, whether it is HMO's or the mortgage market, is there any real doubt that he would seize his big stick and bust some trusts.

How much money has flowed from the Obama Administration to its friends in the private sector in just the last year alone. And how much of that money was used to secure jobs for its allied unions, money which is then kicked back to liberal politicians running for office. Entire states are going bankrupt because of political trusts formed by politicians and public sector unions which pass money back and forth to each other in the plain sight of God and the American taxpayer.

In response to a suit on the legality of forcing Americans to buy a product from a private company, Judge Gladys Kessler declared that an individual who does not buy a product, falls just as much under the jurisdiction of the the Commerce Clause governing interstate commerce, as one who does buy a product. And can be punished for it. Never mind the powers of the executive and the legislative, the Bill of Rights, the enumerated and the unenumerated-- they have all just been trumped by a clause meant to govern foreign and interstate trade. Forget reading laws into commas, the entire Constitution has just fallen into a single clause that was meant to limit Federal authority to interstate and foreign commerce.

This ruling insures that Obama's 20 million dollars will be paid for with a hundred times that in public money. Judge Kessler, began her career on the National Labor Relations Board, an unconstitutional body created by FDR for the benefit of gangsters and Trotskyists, went on to work for a corrupt Senator who was convicted of taking bribes, and was finally nominated to her current position by Bill Clinton, possibly the nation's most corrupt president. Now the man who is giving him a run for his money, has had a judge rule that people can be punished for not buying a product from some of his biggest donors.

This is not the mere concentration of wealth, but the ruthless concentration of power. The real money isn't coming from that top 1 percent, it's coming from unions, lobbies and companies which use political power to extract public money. And that money goes to the party which is so determined to keep on extracting that money no matter what it takes.

The Tea Party movement brought millions of Americans out into the street, not because they were members of a fraternal organization, a political party or a formal movement. But the advocates of big government have failed to bring out the boots, except as in Wisconsin, when the power and privilege of one of their political trusts is challenged. That is the difference between a reform movement and a counter-reform movement.

The big government left keeps playing the class warfare card, but for all their murmuring, it is not the top 1 percent that robs the middle-class blind and then sends them the bill. Even the worst company in the world isn't as larcenously extortionate as the politicians who spend and kick back, and then raise cry poverty and raise taxes. They shout that we need to raise taxes on the rich, and supposing that we do, where will that money go? Even if we strip that 1 percent of all their wealth and dress them up in barrels, is there anyone who does not believe that those in power will still contrive to spend it all and run up huge deficits anyway.

And still some of the most greediest and most abusive companies, were invariably either created by the government or operate in close partnership with it. HMO's were created by the government. Banks fed off Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's subsidized mortgages like vultures. Do we really need to go into insurance companies, defense contractors or Sallie Mae. AT&T is considered one of the worst companies in America, and it's also one of the biggest political donors. Is there a connection there? Only that companies close to the government don't need to worry as much about what the public thinks of them. Hate the airlines? They've both been overregulated and subsidized into incompetence. Airlines have been bailed out and protected from competition too many ways to count, because of the unions riding on their coattails. And those unions are destroying airline after airline, while the non-union airlines prosper.

It's easy enough to go down the list, but why bother. Suffice it to say that American business is looking a lot like Soviet business did, full of companies with contempt for their customers, and an unctuous smile for the government. They know where the money is coming from. And in an era of cut throat price competition, and high labor and regulation costs, it's just easier for them to extract the public's money by going over their heads to the politicians. Don't feel like paying for any of it? As Judge Kessler would tell you, non-participation is the same as participation. It's no longer a free market in which individuals make economic choices, but a collective economy with governments fixing prices and then turning around and taking more of your money to pay back the companies.

Forget the old trusts and the cartoons of moneybags sitting on his gold. The new trusts operate out of Washington D.C. for the benefit of the public. Much like the food markets of Venezuela or the hospitals of Cuba. The money goes back and forth, lobbyists, unions, politicians, consultants, contractors, activists and lunatics huddling together and passing bills that no one has read. And still the defenders of big government treat any calls for reform as a conspiracy of the rich. Yet the two richest men in America, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, were holding fundraisers for Obama. And the tenth richest man in America runs one of the biggest bastions of liberalism. And number 14 on the list, George Soros, is the left's sugar daddy.

But this isn't a battle of billionaires. Mere money no longer means what it once did. The billionaire is a dinosaur. The wealthiest men in America can't wait to get rid of their holdings. In the free market, money made you king. But under socialism, money just buys you access and leverage. The leverage to force every man, woman and child to buy your product. The real concentration of wealth is no longer among men, but among institutions. Like electricity passing along copper wire, it jumps among unions, political machines, companies, non-profits and back again. Its function is to provide the motive power for the great beast of government to grind on. And the American taxpayer is left lying flat in the street.  

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

No Settlement in Sight

During a week in which half the Middle-East was in flames, the diplomatic chatter over a UN condemnation of Israel's so-called "settlements" showed just how irrelevant Western diplomacy is to the real issues in the region. The riots in Bahrain, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Iran were not about a few Jewish villages on one side of a line on a map that has been redrawn half a dozen times in the 20th century. The trouble with the Muslim world does not lie in the vineyards of the Judean Hills, the glass factories of Ariel, the academies of the revived Maccabean town of Modi'in Illit, the solar panel plants of Nazareth Illit, the dairies of Carmel or the fruit orchards of Gush Etzion.

Ever since ten Arab nations lost a war to Israel over six days in the spring of 1967, too many diplomats have acted as if it were its responsibility to fix the Muslim world. In 1973, Israel was set up to lose a war in order to bolster Muslim self-esteem. But Israel still won and while its people buried more of their dead this time around, Muslim self-esteem did not noticeably improve. In the early 90's, Israel was pressured into providing an autonomous territory for Islamo-Marxist thugs who had been trained and equipped by its neighbors to carry out terrorist attacks on its citizens. And year after year, for almost two decades, Israel has been held responsible for all the problems in the region because it has been unable to achieve a lasting peace with the terrorists.

Only a few weeks before the rioting started, American diplomats and journalists were being told by Arab leaders that a solution to the Palestinian problem would stabilize the region. It would be interesting to go out into the streets of Cairo, Manama, Tripoli and Tunis to find out how many of the rioters would be willing to go home if there were a Palestinian state tomorrow. The answer would be none. Palestine has never been anything but a myth used as a channel for Muslim anger. Like Al-Andalus or the Mu-Pan-Li myth, (which Muslims use to claim that they were the first discoverers of America), Palestine feeds the Muslim ego and its sense of victimization. And like all xenophobic myths, its emotional teeth cannot be pulled by any amount of appeasement or concessions.

The reason Western intelligence didn't see this coming, and Israeli intelligence did, is that the West was successfully gulled and deceived by Arab leaders who insisted that the only real source of regional instability was Israel. And now even when half a dozen cities are burning, Western diplomats wrangle over a few Israeli towns and villages as if they were the real threat to peace. European leaders like Sarkozy, Merkel and Cameron may be proclaiming the failure of multiculturalism, but they are still unable to stop pandering to it anyway.

When New Zealand's Clarke government wanted to sell some sheep to the Muslim world, Wikileaks reveals that it staged a crisis with Israel. Such second-hand bigotry has since become commonplace as nations already drowning in violent Muslim immigrants, queue up to inveigh against the peach tree orchards, olive groves and wineries of Israel's native inhabitants. But European leaders aren't selling sheep to the Saudis, they are selling themselves. The ancient cities of Europe have their own settlement problems. And it is not too difficult to foresee an age when London, Paris, Berlin and Rome are as Muslim as the former Constantinople.  
Ceding towns and cities to the Islam has not worked out for Israel or for Europe. And while many Americans may not be aware of the Little Mogadishus and the Dearbornistans in their own country, the fruited plain and   the purple mountain majesties set from sea to shining sea, are bringing forth mosques and terrorists out of the ground like thorns. The secular republicanism of France has faltered in the face of millions of angry Algerians and Moroccans. And Albion's bid for a multicultural New Britain has been overwhelmed by Pakistanis and Egyptians. Germany grits its teeth at the Turks and it is not the cold that sends shivers up Sweden's spine.

Israel is a convenient whipping boy for European leaders who know this can't go on, but also believe that it must. Their assents to denunciations of Israel by such solid UN citizens as Libya, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are acts of moral cowardice by men and women who would rather collaborate than lead. It is easier to condemn the settlements of Israel, than the settlements of Europe. Barking about the Jews of Judea and Samaria requires no courage, standing up to the Muslims of Birmingham, Goutte-d'Or or Essen does. Jews may write angry letters to newspapers, but Muslims lop off the heads of newspaper cartoonists.

And what goes for the millions of Muslims scattered across Europe, goes double for the billion or so Muslims of the globe. Western leaders have no clue what to do about the rush of events in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. But they still know how to push the automatic 'condemn' button when it comes to Israel. These events have shown the impotence of the post-colonial Western order when it comes to dealing with the Muslim world. And faced with that impotence, the gaggle of politicians, diplomats, foreign policy experts and journalists who in a space of a month have proven that they know less about the region than any child, revert to the known. To the proven and failed methods that are safe, because they are useless.

As the Camp David accords, the original treaty that paved the way for all the others, is being disowned by Egypt's liberals, the push for a settlement goes on. A settlement with Mahmoud Abbas, who refuses to stand for elections, gets most of his money from America and is about as popular as Mubarak was in Egypt. That Abbas looks exactly like all the tyrants who are being overthrown across the region has yet to come up, because it's another of those inconvenient observations. The last time Condoleezza Rice pushed for democracy, Abbas nearly lost his head to Hamas. No one will be making that mistake this time. Instead Israel is expected to turn over half its capital and large portions of its country to a flimsy dictator who remains in power only by the grace of American assault rifles and an Israeli blockade of Gaza.

With the Egyptian peace treaty going down in flames, Israeli leaders would have to be out of their minds to stake half their country on a deal with Abbas, an unpopular terrorist group's office boy. Signing an agreement with an Arab leader is like buying stock in a bankrupt company. And Abbas' stock is that of a telegraph company after the invention of the telephone. The only thing left to do is lay down the law, but a leader with the brass to do that is as hard to find in Israel, as in Europe. They exist, but are invariably treated as dangerous warmongering pariahs on every continent, when the real dangerous warmongers can be found shouting the Koran from the floor of every mosque.

For America and Europe, the settlement comes down to the settlements. A term that has been defined so far down that Jerusalem, one of the oldest cities on earth, is now being called a settlement. Turn them over to the terrorists and there will be peace, the diplomats and the pundits pant. But is there actually a way to settle this?

Israel could sign yet another agreement with the terrorists. But which terrorists. Like a Sheikh in a preschool, there are too many to choose from. There is Abbas, who might be willing to negotiate and sign an agreement, but won't abide by it. Then there's Hamas, who run Gaza and will eventually run the rest of the Palestinian Authority, but the only agreement they're willing to sign is a temporary truce. Islamic Jihad won't even go that far. Jaysh al-Islam, the Al Qaeda affiliate in Israel, has condemned Hamas as a bunch of Zionists for offering a temporary truce. Instead it's bombing coffee shops in Hamas run Gaza, because all the other terrorist groups have cornered the local market on everything else.

The pundits assured us a month ago that if Israel signs a deal with Abbas, it will stabilize the region. Now that the region is burning, they tell us that if Israel doesn't sign a deal with Abbas, he will be overthrown by Hamas. And then if Israel doesn't sign a deal with Hamas, it will be overthrown by Al-Qaeda, and then if Israel doesn't sign a deal with Al-Qaeda-- that is proof positive that Israel doesn't want peace. Somehow the burden is never on the alphabet soup of Muslim terrorist groups to reach an agreement, but on the civilized nations who must somehow find a way to accommodate them-- instead of shipping the whole bunch back to Egypt, Jordan and Syria marked, 'Return to Sender'.

Israel can dig up Hitler's corpse, wrap a turban around his skull and sign an agreement with him, and it still won't make a bit of difference. Land for peace is as dead as Goebbels and twice as useful. So is blaming Israel for the New Brownshirts and Blackbeards striding around Berlin, London and Paris as if they own the place. Bashing the Jewish state may sell sheep to the Saudis, but it won't make the 16 million Muslims of Europe sit up and Baa. Instead the Muslims are the ones holding the shears.

The Muslim world's problem is not in the vineyards of the Judean Hillside, but in the demons fluttering around their own skulls. The Arab Street is angry, but it's been angry even before it had actual streets. Perpetual anger is not righteous, it's just plain mental. People who are angry all the time are not in the right, they are out of their minds. For too long the Arab Muslim world has solved all of its problems by blaming them on someone else. This hasn't resolved a single problem, but it has led to most of the wars fought over the last 50 years.

Now quite a few of them have decided to pile together all their social dysfunction and cultural malaise into one heap and call it a Caliphate. Women will know their place, so will Jews and Christians and anyone else who doesn't lift his arse high to heaven five times a day. That will fix the Muslim world, about as well as Nazism fixed Germany and Communism fixed Russia, but as usual it will get a lot of people killed. It already has from Russia to Israel to America to Afghanistan to Iraq, to less likely places like Thailand, the Philippines and Nigeria. And it won't stop there. Because for all the talk of settlements, there isn't enough wine in the Judean Hills to put a stop to all this-- even if someone could talk the Muslim world into drinking it.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Taxpayer's Civil War

The protests in Wisconsin represent a split in American politics. Not a split between Republicans and Democrats, but between those who believe that the government should continue expanding, and those who see the continued expansion of governments as the greatest threat to their political and economic freedoms. This is not just a debate over budgets, it is a battle over political power, and it is the country's most fundamental split since the Civil War.

The combination of abuses of power by an out of touch liberal party, an economic recession and growing insecurity about America's future have touched off something that is more than a taxpayer's revolt. Instead it's turning into a showdown over the nature of government itself.

Money is the engine of government. Tax revenues are meant to to fund the operations of government only through the decisions of elected officials. Which is why public officials who want to expand the size and scope of government need an electoral base of support. That electorate is created using wealth redistribution. Taxpayer money is siphoned off to a redistributive electorate, which delivers mass votes and campaign contributions. There's no way to halt the expansion of government, without taking on the redistributive electorate.

That is what's happening in Wisconsin. Public sector unions are one half of a political trust. They elect candidates and then "negotiate" contracts with them. The generous contracts turn into union dues which turn into contributions to the candidates. It's a big circle of corruption that goes round and round again. And it has brought states like California to their knees.

Bigger contracts mean bigger budgets which mean bigger taxes and less jobs. In order to keep paying off the unions, states strip themselves of everything but minimum wage and union jobs. Small businesses collapse. Big businesses outsource. Less jobs mean more workers on the dole, and a smaller tax base. Everyone gets poorer, except the skeletal workforces on the state payroll, and their contractors. The taxpayers will complain that the country isn't what it used to be, but they will go on hoping for a better tomorrow.

Call it 'Planned Poverty'. 'Planned Poverty' works as long as the economy keeps growing, politicians can keep manufacturing budgets that keep their state just ahead of imploding. It's done through a thousand tax hikes and fees, and financial gimmicks that hide the red ink. Like a beat up old car clunking down the highway, there's still forward momentum. But when the economy implodes, so does the whole mess. Suddenly there's no more money. But the redistributive electorate still has to be paid. The only way out is either massive tax hikes or a showdown with unions.

Wisconsin union leaders would rather see thousands of union members lose their jobs, than risk losing their power and privileges. Some union members understand this and covertly support Governor Walker's budget. But many others have gotten too used to the system. They don't understand that their union bosses and the democratic party have been exploiting them as ruthlessly as any employer would. It's been a velvet gloved exploitation, setting them up as a privileged class so that the party and the union leadership could keep robbing the public. Now the leadership and the party expect them to go out, scream and threaten the reformists who want to take away the power and privileges of the bosses.

Public sector unions don't just create higher end niche jobs for their membership, they shrink the available pool of non-union jobs. As successful predators they are at the top of the food chain, but their predation has also wiped out everything below them. Like wolves who have overhunted a territory, they have no more competitors and nothing for them to eat. In an economic crisis, that leaves their membership with few options. You either work for the government in some capacity, or you don't work at all.

This is the situation that most of the various redistributive electorates are in right now. They have been living in gilded cages. The wealth redistribution they have been benefiting from has impoverished their cities, counties, states and the country as a whole. The longer it has gone on, the fewer options they have outside the gilded cage. Some have never worked in the private sectors. Others have never worked at all. And thanks to them, there are fewer available jobs anyway.

Living in the gilded cage means benefiting from a corrupt system that's bankrupting the country. But their patrons have been hammering into their heads that they are not living in the gilded cage, the taxpayers are. The message they are getting from bosses, community leaders and politicians is that they are the victims. The poor unfortunate victims of the rich or of racism, and that it's up to them to fight for what's theirs. When actually they are the political mercenaries of a corrupt system, and their benefits and privileges pale besides those of the higher ups on the ladder above them.

Those who believe that government must continue expanding, for selfish or ideological reasons, have the redistributive electorate as their final line of defense in any conflict with taxpayers. Every regime has a ring of supporters who enjoys the benefits of being close to those in power. During the riots in the Middle East, their governments bring out those supporters into the streets. That is what's happening in Wisconsin. The unions have gone from being a revolutionary force, to being a counter-revolutionary force, an army of angry goons used to silence dissent by an angry public.

While the promoters of expanding government would like to frame this as a clash of class and race, it's neither. It's a struggle over the nature of government. The economic crisis took place not because Wall Street wasn't being regulated enough, but because redistributive policies had glutted Wall Street with bad loans. The market was reselling bad commodities, but it didn't originate those commodities. Like trees covered in rotten fruit, every state is full of its own bad commodities, bad deals and bad policies. And unprecedented numbers of Americans have recognized where the problem lies and what needs to be done about it.

This is not a war between the rich and the poor. For the most part it is a civil war within the middle class. The American middle class is shrinking and endangered. Too many Americans can foresee a day when, as in George Orwell's 1984, the remaining middle class consists only of government employees. And if government continues expanding, that is exactly how it will be. The choice is between a small subsidized middle class and a larger unsubsidized middle class. That is also what the taxpayer's revolt is really about.

Both the left and the right agree that the middle class is endangered, but they differ on the solution. The left wants more government intervention, the right wants less. But it is not just a question of jobs, but of what jobs. Small business against lifetime employment. The free market against the nanny state. Manufacturing against the humanities. The rural against the urban. Underlying the political argument is the cultural argument. Will America follow Europe or stick with its roots.

Obama's victory lit the fuse of the taxpayer's civil war. The Republicans had failed to present a meaningful alternative, and when the party crumbled, a grass roots movement gained force. Its adherents understand that their economic survival depends on cutting back government. On taking away its power to constantly raise and spend money, and its drive to regulate everything. Once they had pushed past the elites of the media and the political kingmakers to be heard, the pro-government forces pushed out their armies of the redistributive electorates, the people who had been cashing their checks for years and could be counted on to challenge one revolution with a counter-revolution of their own.

At stake is the simple question of freedom. Political freedom originates inextricably from economic freedom. There is no political independence without economic independence. A government that begins to tightly restrict economic freedoms will eventually also restrict political freedoms. The redistribute electorates are the greencoats of big government. They are the beneficiaries of the destructive economic policies and their final line of defense. If they go on as they are, then they will bankrupt the system. Like Rome's Praetorian Guard, they will appoint new emperors who will do what they say regardless of the consequences.
No fundamental change is possible without confronting and defeating them. The taxpayer has lost battle after battle to them. We lost California. We can't afford to lose Wisconsin.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Toward a Rational Foreign Policy

To develop a rational foreign policy, we have to start by looking at our foreign objectives and analyzing whether those objectives are being met, and whether we should even be trying to meet those objectives. The existing foreign policy objectives can be broken down into roughly three goals based on order of importance

1. Global stability

2. International trade

3. American interests

American interests always come in last. They have consistently come in last under every administration since Taft. Foreign policy wonks would say that these three goals are actually the same goal. That global stability promotes international trade, which serves American interests.

This reverse logic has been used by every administration to deprioritize American interests. It's similar to "What's good for GM is good for America". American corporations used foreign policy as a tool to open up new markets and promote international trade. But as the corporations outsourced more labor overseas, their interests were less and less American. They became multinationals. Corporations with offices around the world, plants in China and Mexico, branches in Tokyo, Dubai and Paris. They were no longer local businesses trying to move American goods overseas, but international conglomerates looking to make sure that everyone in the international community was getting along with everyone else.

Pax Americana might have started out as a cross between the muscular nationalism of Theodore Roosevelt and the woolly liberalism of Woodrow Wilson, crossed with the internationalism of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Realpolitik of Eisenhower became a classically imperial way to keep a stable international marketplace on as much of the globe as we could. The moralizing of Theodore and Woodrow gave way to the cynicism of Franklin and Ike. Capitalism was our best weapon against Communism, but more importantly it paid the bills. Even when they weren't our bills anymore.

When the Cold War ended, Pax Americana lost its existential reason for being. Under Bush and Clinton, Pax Americana was turned to the service of global stability. Governments were overthrown to make way for more stable or more ideal governments. It was no longer about Communism, but some grand global theory of a perfect order. We had no other enemy but chaos.

The international deployments no longer made sense. We went on doing them, because it was expected of us. We had become an empire without a clue. Upholding a global order that depended on us and resented us. America had become the armed forces of the UN and an emerging European consensus. Our goal was to uphold the poorly defined notion of global stability at all costs. We told ourselves that we were intervening to stop atrocities, but in most cases we were picking and choosing between two sides that were just as bad. In Kuwait and Yugoslavia, we told ourselves that we were acting to stop tyranny and human rights violations. The problem is that the people we were fighting for, were tyrants who violated human rights. Even by our own neo-liberal standards what we were doing made no sense. 

The post Cold War global economic order we were defending was a ridiculously fragile thing. By the late 90's it was already becoming clear that something would have to take the place of the Soviet Union. The only player with global ambitions was Islam. Muslims had the demographics and the resources to capture large amounts of territory, without having to formally invade them. And more importantly they were the beneficiaries of our 'international trade' and 'global stability' policies. The Saudis already owned our foreign policy. The fall of the Soviet Union opened up huge Muslim republics to expand into. Falling European birth rates meant those countries with their newly liberal immigration policies could be swarmed by new immigrants. America was a tougher nut to crack, but they were still determined to crack us.

2001 did not begin a war, it only made it obvious. From the Muslim perspective the war had never ended. Their war began with Mohammed, it raged on in Byzantium and Spain and at the Gates of Vienna. But Muslims were not unique in that regard. Most of the world had a history far older than 1776. The American attempt to maintain a global order ran against the currents of ancient hatreds. Japan and China. Russia and the Tartars. Sunni and Shiite. African and Arab. While in Brussels a new age of man was being proclaimed, outside the darkness and the scimitar were falling. American foreign policy claimed to serve that new age of man, but instead it had come to be in service to the darkness and the blood-stained sword.

This summarizes the flaws of our foreign policy until now.

To begin constructing a rational foreign policy, we need to begin at the center. A policy serves someone's interests. Whose interest does our present foreign policy serve? A rational foreign policy serves the interests of its nation. It's hard to argue that our foreign policy does that. Successive administrations have said that our foreign policy is America because it is moral, or that it is America because it is what makes us a great nation, or similar rhetorical boilerplate with no real meaning. What rhetoric like that translates to is that internationalism is what makes America great.

So let's begin back at the beginning. What foreign policy is in our interests? To answer that question, let's assemble a list of what our interests might actually be in order of importance.

1. Self-defense

2. National economic success

3. Alliances with like-minded partners

This list would have been non-controversial a century ago. But today foreign policy experts claim that all three are rolled into the umbrella of global stability. Except they aren't.

1. Self-defense is the obvious priority in foreign affairs. That doesn't mean that we constantly need to interfere in the foreign affairs of other countries. It doesn't mean that we have to decide who should be running Haiti or whether Country A should be independent of Country B or not. Self-defense only applies to real or emerging threats to us. We needed to stop Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, we don't need to stop Haiti. The problem is that in the nuclear age, the bar for what can constitute a threat is lower than ever. It's possible to foresee a world a generation from now in which most of the world has its own collection of nukes. And what then do we do about that?

There are two available extremes. Either we go around to make sure that no country is ever hostile to us, or we rely on MAD again to destroy any country and its patron that launches a nuclear attack on us. Neither is really complete in and of itself. And there are middle ground alternatives, including the development of missile defense systems. But it's clear that we do need to be prepared to defend ourselves. That may mean fighting a war, but it may also mean fighting an economic war, political subversion or other non-violent tactics. So long as we do so in response to a real threat to us, rather than because a country offends our sensibilities or our ambitions or the consensus of the global order. A real threat being the rise to power of forces or factions determined to make war on us. Proponents of blowback theory argue that making war causes war. History however suggests that war is a function of ambition and greed, and happens regardless of how pacifist we are willing to be.

2. National economic success means that we are interested in free trade only as long as it profits us. There is no reason for us to hold to NAFTA, if it does not benefit us. Every economic treaty and organization from the WTO on down should be analyzed from that perspective. And only from that perspective.

Our perception of national interests has long ago gone down the rabbit hole of internationalism that we confuse global stability with our own bottom line. The only question that should be asked is, does this treaty, does this agreement, does this organization, bring jobs and wealth to us, or does it ship jobs and wealth elsewhere. If the balance sheet is negative, then so is its impact. No sane country abides by agreements that leech away its wealth and its productivity.

3. Alliances with like-minded allies are in our interest so long as we have common goals and common enemies with them. Such alliances should not be cemented by foreign aid, but by common objectives. A good alliance allows us to maintain our influence and deter potential enemies without putting boots on the ground. Ideal alliances would have a moral and cultural overlay. Others would be alliances of convenience. Either way no alliance should prevent us from defending ourselves.

Alliances should be evaluated based on their net benefits. A temporary alliance with a future enemy is a dangerous thing. An alliance with a weak ally against a common enemy should either lead to us strengthening that ally or abandoning it if we cannot. Walking a cynical balance as we do with Taiwan is dishonorable and sends mixed messages to both our allies and our enemies. Alliances should not lead us directly into wars, rather they should enable us to have others fight our wars for us. Building up strong allies to counter rising enemies who would threaten us anyway allows us to keep wars from our own doorstep. But this should be done carefully. 20th century American wars often began with soldiers being drawn in to protect an ally whose own armies could not fight its own battles.

Do these three goals comprise a rational foreign policy? I would argue that they represent the traditional foreign policy, not only of America, but of most nations. They are rational because they are self-interested. They don't depend on lofty ideals, but on practical realities. We may choose to move beyond them in a call of moral urgency, but we should be wary of moving too far beyond them. More evils are born out of misplaced idealism, than out of naked pragmatism. And pragmatism testifies that we should be wary of committing to any world order. It is not the world that we need to protect, but ourselves.