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February 2011 Archives

February 1, 2011

Making the mummies dance

Good gray NPR had this interesting item:

Plan To Replace Hosni Mubarak May Be In The Works

Two of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's closest allies, his new vice president, Omar Suleiman, and his defense minister, Hussein Tantawi, are quietly working on a plan under which Mubarak would step down from power, according to a U.S. scholar who has been staying in regular touch with the Egyptian political and military leadership.

"They want to be sure that Mubarak is going to cooperate," said Stephen P. Cohen, president of the Institute for Middle East Peace and Development and a longtime confidant of Egyptian and Israeli leaders.

The two-part plan, according to Cohen, would involve the immediate removal of 100 members of the Egyptian Parliament whose election this past fall was seen as illegitimate. They would be replaced by 100 candidates who were barred from running in the election or who were defeated because of government meddling in the election process.

A second possible step would be the organization of new parliamentary and presidential elections. The plan, according to Cohen, "requires [Mubarak] to give up his office." Asked whether Mubarak would do that, Cohen answered, "He is getting ready to do so."

This Stephen Cohen (not to be confused with the isonomous Brookings Institution South Asia guy) is an interesting character, a sleek plump catfish at home in some fairly murky waters. Obviously well seen in Israel, and among the neighboring stoogery -- just the sort of sketchy entrepreneurial figure that NPR would go to for "analysis." But even so, perhaps he actually knows whereof he speaks.

It makes a certain amount of sense. The Egyptian uprising seems very focused, so far, on the person of Mubarak. Suppose Mubarak gone; the army still intact -- no conflict between the high command and the mid-level officers, much less the rankers. Does the steam then go out of the uprising? Do people go home and settle down to the status quo under new -- or almost-new, gently-used -- management?

The situation is like Iran in 1979, in some ways but not in others. Like Iran, it's a genuine mass movement. Like Iran, there's not a blessed thing the US can do about it if it really gets the bit between its teeth. Unlike Iran, there's no Khomeini, and no organizational network like his -- as far as I know. The somewhat geriatric Muslim Brotherhood doesn't seem like quite the same breed of cat, and it's been reported, accurately or not I don't know, that they're behind El-Baradei, hardly a transformative figure unless he turns out to be full of surprises.

I'm hedging against disappointment here, obviously.

But a few minutes ago I was watching the Al-Jazeera live feed from Cairo. It was about 7 AM there, and people were already assembling in Tahrir Square for the planned march to the presidential bunker. The fresh dawn light on the homely apartment buildings; the people already up and milling around in the square, wondering what comes next, and realizing that anything could come next; that the old rules don't apply; that the cops are gone, melted into the woodwork, and the streets are theirs, to do with as they will; that what does come next might depend on me or the stranger next to me or somebody who is still on his way after a hurried breakfast. Sunrise, and the freedom of the streets, and the future utterly unknown.

To borrow a phrase from Philip Sidney, I felt my battered sclerotic old heart stirred as with the sound of a trumpet.

February 2, 2011

The plot thickens

Mubarak's foolish gestures -- the appointment of Suleiman, the promise not to "run" again -- have entirely failed to pacify the crowds in Cairo. It appears that the last-ditchers in the regime have rallied round him and decided to try repression, rather than attempting the experiment of bundling La Vache's sorry ass onto an airplane.

It's hard to see why; business as usual could quite easily go on without Mubarak, surely, if only those pesky people in the street would just go home. And maybe they would go home, if Mubarak retired to Jiddah -- or Kiryat Shemona.

But for whatever reason, the decision to repress has clearly been taken. Hence the flying squads of goons and cops -- sorry for the tautology -- unleashed against the demonstrators today.

Looks like a hinge of fate to me. The possibility of pacifying the crowds, after today, looks a lot more remote, even if Mubarak did take off. The regime has committed itself to a trial of force.

What happens next, it seems, crucially depends on the army, which stayed on the fence today -- though many of the protestors felt very strongly that the troops should have intervened against the goons; further fence-sitting could easily erode the army's reportedly considerable prestige among the public.

No doubt the high command is thoroughly compromised, thoroughly Mubarak-ite, thoroughly dependent on Uncle Hegemon's billions to line its collective pockets. If they were all on the same page and determined to ditch Mubarak, he would have been gone long since. Evidently they're not, then.

What about the colonels, the majors, the captains? The troops themselves are out on the street in their tanks and APCs , in actual contact with the demonstrators. They must be experiencing some seriously conflicted loyalties.

How far up the chain of command do those conflicts percolate?

Damn. I wish I knew more about Egypt.

February 3, 2011

Another dawn in Cairo...

.. and the stubborn Cairenes are still in the street, after a day and a night that would have sent most of us home long since.

Once more the old mysterious glimmer steals
From thy pure brows...

... as the poet says.

Every dawn is a miracle, of course, but these Cairo dawns, the last few days, seem especially so.

Whistling past the graveyard

Some fascinating developments here in the land of the free, etc., consequent upon the developments in Egypt:

Mubarak splits Israel from neocons

As Israeli leaders worriedly eye the protests and street battles in neighboring Egypt, they’ve been dismayed to find that the neoconservatives and hawkish Democrats who are usually their most reliable American advocates are cheering for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s fall.

As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made clear in a cautious speech to the Knesset Wednesday, Israel is deeply worried what will happen to that relationship when Mubarak departs....

“You should have also thought about Israel before hurrying to call upon Mubarak to go,” Dov Weissglass, a former advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, wrote, addressing the Obama administration. “It is difficult to think of more serious harm to Israel’s security than the collapse of the peace accord with Egypt.”

But while a few American conservatives like former U.N Ambassador John Bolton share the same qualms as Weissglass, many of Israel’s most prominent supporters - some of whom are regularly accused of putting Israel’s interests before those of the U.S. - dismiss those worries.

In particular, neoconservatives such as Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol, Bush National Security Council official Elliott Abrams, and scholar Robert Kagan are essentially saying good riddance to Mubarak and chiding Obama mainly for not making the same sporadic push for democracy as President George W. Bush.

(I snipped the bit where Politico refers to Mubarak as an "autocrat." What on earth do they think that word means? Was Ferdinand Marcos an "autocrat"? Fulgencio Batista? Anastasio Somaza? Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi? Catherine the Great was an autocrat. But all these other murderous clowns -- were they not in fact just... stooges?)

But I digress.

Sharing the "qualms" of a Weissglass is an unenviable job, and almost makes me feel sorry for Bolton. A dose of salts couldn't hurt. But beyond all the rich personal humor of the thing: What's going on here? Splits Israel from neocons? What does that even mean? Splits lizards from reptiles?

Have the cisatlantic neocons been smoking their own propaganda dope? Do they really think that a more "democratic" Egypt -- whatever that means -- would be better for their project? Oh, I know, they've been saying that kind of thing for years. But do they really believe it? Surely not. These people went to good schools, right?

Perhaps there is a kind of sense to made of all this, though. The appropriate model for practical, facts-on-the-ground Zionism is, of course, the Mafia. In that kind of world, personal loyalty to a fellow-gangster matters. Mubarak has been a good soldier for Israel lo, these thirty years, and so the Israelis feel obliged to pay lip service -- if nothing more -- to him.

But the Abramses and Kaganses are, after all, Americans, in the last analysis -- which is to say, they take a de-haut-en-bas imperial view of stooges like Mubarak, and are quite willing to replace an embarrassing stooge with a new one, not yet so badly compromised, whenever needed.

The Kaganses' and Abramses' complacency indicates their read of the likely outcome in Egypt, once Mubarak gets on that airplane -- namely, status quo with a fresh-faced management team.

They could be right. It could work out that way. More likely than not, perhaps.

Still, though, the corridors of power they tread are located in the malarial, mephitic town of Washington. No matter what happens in Egypt, Washington will still be Washington, for the foreseeable future.

Netanyahu & Co., however, bestride a small, precarious and improbable settler colony, surrounded by countries where the ordinary citizenry hate the settlers' guts. Things could go badly wrong for Israel in ictu oculi; and if they did, Netanyahu & Co. could end up like Mubarak.

Keep the Learjet warmed up on the tarmac, there.

February 4, 2011

Compare and contrast

So which one is Tehran 2009, which one is Cairo yesterday? Anybody who can actually read Arabic and/or Farsi is disqualified from the competition.

Okay, okay, so I cherrypicked a bit. So shoot me.

It's a little surprising how few comparisons have been made -- though there have been some -- between Tehran two years ago and Egypt now. You'd think it would be a liberal-schmiberal's dream: the masses everywhere want Democracy, like we have here.

There actually are some points of similarity, I think. The Tehranis, or some of them, were bothered, among other things, by corruption and cronyism in the government, and by economic stagnation -- golly, I hate slinging these hollow booming abstractions around; I sound like Yggy Wiggles:

The Egyptians are bothered by these things too, by all accounts. Not the abstractions, or Yggy, of whom they have blessedly never heard, but by the concrete realities of making a living and buying food and shelter in the early 21st century, after the neoliberals put an end to history. Or thought they did.

Still, it seems difficult to escape the conclusion that what we're seeing in Egypt has a considerably broader social base than what we saw in Iran.

One obvious point of dissimilarity is that the Iranian regime still has considerable (though of course not universal) popular support; whereas nobody who isn't actually on the payroll has a good word to say for Mubarak & Co.

I also wonder whether perhaps neoliberalism has actually hit Egypt harder, since its regime is so much more integrated into the world the central banks made. Oh sure, Iran certainly hasn't escaped, and there are plenty of people there -- including a good many of the 2009 enragés -- who would like to see it brought even more into that Friedmanite world. (I mean Tom, not Milton, though Milton would be proud.)

I'm such a shallow person -- browsing through Google Images for the tendentious two I showed above, I was very struck by how much better dressed the rock-throwing Iranians were two years ago, than their Egyptian (putative) counterparts are today; and the Persians' haircuts were to die for, which the Egyptians' mostly are not.

I've never had a good haircut in my life, so naturally I identify more with the Egyptians. I just got the usual bad haircut today, so this is a sore spot. I look like a cross between Ahmadinejad and Samuel Beckett.

Surely there are readers here better informed than I am about this topic -- economics in Iran and Egypt, I mean, not haircuts. If so, let's hear from you.

Of course, comments about the haircuts are welcome too.

February 5, 2011

Today in cruise missile liberalism

Economics takes a lot of flak around here, and some of it is well-deserved. There is, however, one discipline that really ought to get it even worse: political science.

I had the misfortune of taking a couple classes in political "science". It's dreadful stuff; a rancid stew of un-examined assumptions, moral equivocations and pointless abstractions of the most worthless variety. It seems that political science departments are roughly divided into three camps: the quantitative political scientists who are concerned almost solely with voting behaviour and electioneering, the Straussians occupying the political theory wing, and the theorists of Democracy, Freedom, Statecraft and Diplomacy, the Fulbright fodder. Of these groups, the last is by far the worst, and within this group Fareed "Death's Head" Zakaria is the most heinous of all.

As might be expected, India's answer to Rudyard Kipling has a new cover story in Time on the Egyptian uprising. There's no shortage of howlers in there, but I'm going to skip straight to the economics part. Zakaria's thesis is that Egypt's revolt was actually caused by too much prosperity rather than too little:

Egypt has had some successes, and ironically, one of them has helped foment change. Over the past decade, Egypt has been reforming its economy. From the mid-1990s on, Egypt found that in order to get loans from the IMF and the World Bank, it had to dismantle the most inefficient parts of its somewhat socialist economic system. In recent years, Mubarak — persuaded by his son Gamal, a Western-trained banker — appointed a set of energetic reformers to his Cabinet, who embarked on an ambitious effort to restructure the Egyptian economy, lowering taxes and tariffs, eliminating regulations and reducing subsidies. Egypt, long moribund, began growing vigorously. From 2006 to 2008, the economy expanded about 7% a year, and even last year, after the economic crisis, growth came in at almost 6%.


Why would economic progress spur protests? Growth stirs things up, upsets the settled, stagnant order and produces inequalities and uncertainties. It also creates new expectations and demands. Tunisia was not growing as vigorously as Egypt, but there too a corrupt old order had opened up, and the resulting ferment proved too much for the regime to handle. Alexis de Tocqueville once observed that "the most dangerous moment for a bad government is when it begins to reform itself." It is a phenomenon that political scientists have dubbed "a revolution of rising expectations." Dictatorships find it difficult to handle change because the structure of power they have set up cannot respond to the new, dynamic demands coming from their people. So it was in Tunisia; so it was in Egypt. Youth unemployment and food prices might have been the immediate causes, but the underlying trend was a growing, restive population, stirred up by new economic winds, connected to a wider world. (Notice that more-stagnant countries like Syria and North Korea have remained more stable.)

Growth necessarily causes upheaval, and stagnation promotes political stability? Um, Africa? China? USSR? America? Somehow they don't seem to be on Zakaria's radar.

As far as Egypt's "economic progress" is concerned, consider the evidence that Zakaria chooses to provide. He casually dismisses unemployment and food prices, two things that actually matter to regular people, while the evidence he cites has no necessary link to the well-being of ordinary Egyptians. GDP growth is all well and good, but in and of itself it doesn't say much about the conditions faced by Egyptians. The pie may be growing, but if the slice being offered to working people is shrinking, then what difference does it make? If your salary is shrinking, but your company's revenues are rising, would you be happy about that? Even if some of the growth does trickle down to the working people, it's beside the point. Would you rather have a salary of $50,000 that grows by 1% every year, or a salary of $5,000 that grows TWICE AS FAST at 2% per annum? Distribution matters.

Fareed has internalized the idea that neo-liberal policies ostensibly aimed at providing certain goods are simply good in and of themselves. In his world, it doesn't matter if the policies actually deliver anything to the people. Just implementing them is "economic progress". Eight years of Harvard will do that to a man who once arrived as a young, bright-eyed imperialist lickspittle.

Putting that degree to work

Cairo, of course. Almost certainly a group of unemployed engineering graduates, I'd say. This image is part of a fine set at


The photog's name is David Degner.

The people in arms?

When armies rise up and overthrow their regimes, usually the poor souls have been put through a wringer, often for years, and decidedly with bad results on the field of battle.

Take Portugal's army in 1974, a topic of the great and testy Mr Blum.

They'd fought a multi-colony liberation war for decades by then, and after enough nowhere and bloody shirts, they fetched up and shitcanned that moldering midget of an empire's epigonian masters.

Egypt's army has no such context today, except for the drubbing in '67; and that was so sudden and total that something beyond fury reigned, namely humiliation. That's an emotion that cries out for revenge, not revolt.

One could go on here, but the outcome is the same with 10 examples as with one: the Egyptian military is intact, and what's more, its officer corps, at its base and middle senior ranks, like captain and major and colonel, appear not to smolder with resentment against the system, even if the squalid little clique of horned toads at the top might look better to them in shorts and sun glasses on a beach chair on the Persian Gulf.

The question really is, why the army hasn't yet restored order?

My guess: the officers are smart enough not to want to test their rank and file against determined martyrs if they don't have to. Of course there are units and there are units; the right elite troopers will do anything you ask -- at least once.

So what's their game -- I mean the layers that produced Nasser in '52? For now, wait. Why not? They have nothing to lose. The people still want the army -- the whole army, more or less intact -- on their side, not just the rank and file plus whatever there is of young turks among the officers. They want the whole damn operation, "pro-western" though it be.

On the revolutionary to-do list is to dissolve this monolith or apparent monolith; take off the general staff's figleaf; start blaming certain obviously corrupted Jabbah types; name names, not just the torture coach Suleiman the mephitic, but that field marshal that showed up in the square on friday. Get a buzz going about these sluggos of the cow prez.

This army officer corps is not the people in arms; it's still strictly a wolf in Grandma's head scarf -- albeit not too toothy; but still a howler at the moon of chaos.

Redeunt Saturnia regna

This passing reference, and photo, left me speechless:

Coptic Christians show solidarity by forming a human chain around Islamic protesters during Friday prayers in Tehrir Square on Feb. 4.

Strange days indeed -- strange, and wonderful.

Franklin Delano Rodham Clinton

I wish our artist-in-residence, Mike Flugennock, would combine these two images: give Hillary the jutting jaw, the cigarette holder, the foxy grin of FDR. Seems only right, now that's she's suddenly become such a prophet of progress and democracy and The People, Yes! and so on. Here she is, speaking at a "security conference" in... Munich! (You can't make this stuff up).

The Middle East "is being battered by a perfect storm of powerful trends," Clinton said at the annual conference. A growing majority in the region are under the age of 30, and many are unable to find work, she said. They are connected with each other and with events around them by technology.

"And this generation is rightly demanding that their governments become more effective, more responsive and more open," Clinton said. Meanwhile, resources such as water and oil are running out, she added.

"Leaders in the region may be able to hold back the tide for a little while, but not for long," she said. "This is what has driven demonstrators into the streets of Tunis, Cairo and cities throughout the region. The status quo is simply not sustainable."

What we're seeing here, I think, bears out a long-standing conviction of mine: namely, that our rulers can suddenly get very concerned -- genuinely concerned, too -- for reform and the happiness and well-being of the public, when the public gets restless enough to scare the shit out of 'em.

They've gotta be really frightened by the situation in Egypt (not to mention Jordan and Yemen). They don't even apparently have any real control over their stooge, much less the folks in the streets.

February 8, 2011

About that signature...


So… Krugman has written another post arguing against the the possibility that futures speculation drives up commodity prices without leaving a signature of inventory buildup, aka hoarding:

[T]his isn’t about a priori belief in markets; it’s about whether we see the “signature” of a speculation-driven price surge.

Many people on the “speculators did it” side like to point to financial data, especially large purchases of futures by various players. But food is a physical commodity, and plays in the financial markets can only move the price to the extent that they affect physical flows and stocks.

Commenters like Yves Smith may have the story right, but Krugman does pose a good challenge here. The basic economic theory is initially on his side, and the more intuitive approaches of Yves Smith, your's truly, and most of those on the speculation side of this argument do leave a lot to be desired.

I have a sort of theory in my head that brings together the short run inelastic demand and feedback from futures to spot prices in a way that could allow for speculative increases in price without hoarding. The problem is that trying to pull down this loose constellation and transmute it into algebra is really difficult for me and very time-consuming.

That still doesn’t change the fact that Krugman’s challenge really ought to be met. Even if we are right in fact, this is really the type of thing that we should still be able to disprove in theory. So far, nobody has presented a model of what Owen calls “immaculate speculation”, a speculatively driven increase in prices without inventory buildup...


Pull up a seat, folks, here’s the blogosphere premiere:

Speculation without Oil Stockpiling as a Signature: A Dynamic Perspective - Axel Pierru and Denis Babusiaux (April 2010)

Let’s see Krugman deal with that.

Just when you thought it was safe....

Comrade Mike Flugennock is on the case:

I like the mean determined expression Mike gives the girls. It's like a grin and a scowl at the same time. Irresistible. And then of course if the actual statue of liberty, which I sail past from time to time in my little boat, were to actually start throwing Molotovs -- well, Wall Street is the nearest target. Just talkin' geography here.

February 11, 2011

Iron Sheik stays in the ring

Mooby not stepping down -- cliging to his title -- is absolutely the best news possible. Now the army must either blow off its top or turn on the people. No Sneaky-Ali moves here -- throwing the mob Mooby's head and hoping they'll go home.

Now the inner circle has failed to budge their Issimo, the whole rotten crew either gets bounced and prolly arrested by junior officers, or the bastards test the resolve of their rank and file by giving the shoot to kill orders to the elite units they can trust -- or think they can trust.

I doubt we'll see another ride of the goons here. For the moment, at least, the security covert outfits and assorted thugs lugs mugs and jugs are as useless as Mooby's tits, and will remain so -- err until or unless the masses subside.

Pirate chief walks plank

La Vache is gone. Wow.

Al-Jazeera did a nice thig: The commentators shut up for a solid ten minutes and just broadcast the crowd noise from Tahrir Square. Extremely moving. It's quite a moment.

Of course, now comes the hard part....

February 13, 2011

Sites of metastasis

The Egyptian Supreme Copuncil of the Armed Forces needs a purge in the worst way. A look at the some of these brass hats oughta make any Egyptian democrat's blood boil.

It's festering with Mooby hacks, stooges, and clubfoots -- starting with those two compradore beauts, Suleiman and Tantawi (the latter shown above).

February 14, 2011

Spinning in his vitrine

A few commenters here draw deeply from a wishing well called Lenin's Tomb. I have recently dived into that well for a paddle 'round:

"...Those whose revolutionary agenda did not include the interests of the working class are likely to find themselves left behind by events very soon."
What crystal-ball puffery. "Revolutionary agenda," indeed.

Of course making that threat a reality is the movement's agenda now, inasmuch as the movement can morph from tyrant toppler to social transformer.

But the vestal virgins tending the flame at Lenin's Tomb haven't the foggiest notion about whether this agenda will or won't be implemented, any more than the rest of us. Unless these paragons of crackling revolutionary scripture got a class-struggle Ouija board?

To be perfectly fair and balanced -- and one must always be perfectly fair and balanced -- this ending bit is keenly so:

"It's early days for the Algerian uprising. But the miraculous breakthrough in Egypt will have given it, and every other brewing rebellion in the vicinity, a tremendous shot in the arm."
Allah be praised!

Turn a bad thing into a good thing...

... or, Your Tax Dollars At Work, in Iran:

The coiffure, the maquillage, the manicure, the rather polished professional-looking(*) poster with its English text and globalized semiotics.... all very fishy, if you ask me.

Of course it's over-determined, like everything else. There are plenty of people in the Islamic Republic who have every good reason to be unhappy with the existing order there. It doesn't seem likely that the CIA all by itself could get any appreciable number of people in the streets just by sending a well-placed tweet, or a few million well-placed greenbacks. But if the Langley reptile fund is not a big part of the events today in Tehran, I'm a lizard.

You've gotta admire 'em, really, the gold-braid gang on the bridge of the imperial Death Star. The last couple of weeks in Egypt have really shaken their world. They may yet come out on top again, even there; but they weren't expecting it, and it scared 'em. Poor Obie looked like a deer in the headlights.

Nevertheless, they haven't entirely lost the ability to learn from experience, and hats off to 'em for figuring out how to co-opt, for their own purposes, the technical elements (like Twitter) and the thematic elements (Death to Dictators) of the Egyptian insurrection for their own wicked purposes.

Despise 'em strategically, respect 'em tactically -- it still seems like good advice.


(*) Okay, it's pretty low-end. But maybe that's the idea? -- I know this is starting to sound like an English-department thesis about Measure for Measure.

February 15, 2011

Phase Two

If politics is simply concentrated economics, then economics is diffuse politics.

With the Egyptian SCAF now brushing aside "the old legitimacy" to rule with naked gun barrels (with or without flowers) until the day when ballots decide... it's high time the uprising spread out in this new protracted phase of the struggle and immediately challenge the new power -- not with a few mighty but symbolic points of mass focus, but at ten thousand points of sweat: work sites, civil service offices, cop beats, tenant fields... you name it.

Obviously the challenge has been thrown down by the combover gang in the SCAF. So probe 'em, find the limits of this raw preemptive show of power over the people, this presumption that civil order trumps civil liberty.

It's a moment of some danger. I hope the Egyptians go on to manifest the people's right of unfettered public speech, public assembly, demand political amnesty, close the torture chambers and sandbox gulags, and most of all, assert by deeds the right to organize on the job and strike for living wages, decent conditions, full employment; demand food and utlities, shelter for all, occupy the vacant lots, open the storehouses on the authority of the people's right to live.

Sure, the SCAF can clear Liberation Square. But can it make the people produce against their will? Can it demand the people go hungry and jobless as they wait for their day -- someday -- to exercise their "right " to vote in a "free and fair" election.

If repression is going to come, better it come now while the people have the taste of power still in their mouths.

Hometown boy makes good

The cartoon above, by our own Mike Flugennock, was picked up by Al-Jazeera! (Scroll down the page a bit to see it.)

Now that is distinction for you.

No sense of fun

Now isn't that something? You'd think it's a screencap from a computer game, right? But no: it's the Navy's latest preadolescent fantasy weapon, the Next Generation Cruiser, now scrapped by grim reaper Barry with his three-little-pigs straw-roof strategic defense plan.

l Is the good emperor really gonna cut the armada... a bit?

I got a pointer from my gal Jen Rubin to take a look at this eye-popper, pasted up at politicox by the saggy-rope tagteam of Shoofly and Flagpole:

"As the Obama administration unveils its fiscal 2012 budget Monday, the Pentagon is expected to take a hit. In advance of the budget’s release, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced significant cuts to Pentagon programs, totaling $78 billion over five years. The cuts are deep and far-reaching and will jeopardize the U.S.’s ability to fight and win wars. Several critical weapon systems, believed safe after surviving a round of cuts in 2009, will now be defunded — forcing the services to develop less desirable options for force modernization already long overdue.

Most concerning, however, is a proposal to significantly decrease Army and Marine Corps end strength by tens of thousands of troops. Gates stated that by the end of 2015, the Army could be expected to sacrifice up to a full fighting division worth of soldiers, while the smaller Marine Corps would have to slash up to three brigades — roughly 15,000 troops."

Best bit in piece:
"As the combat load on the Marine Corps intensifies, Gates announced the cancellation of its Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle... It is true that the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle has had major cost overruns, and some question its utility given that Marines have not carried out amphibious landings for decades."
Who sez the jarhead legion needs enemies, with friends of the corps like these two? Semper Fi, baby!

February 18, 2011

The Golden Age really is over

(The Golden Age in question is of course Eric Hobsbawm's of the "short twentieth century"; though he ended his in 1975, I think.)

I neglected to scribble about this item when it appeared last week; but it concerns a favorite hobbyhorse of mine:

Administration Calls for Cutting Aid to Home Buyers

The Obama administration [calls] for the federal government to cut back its broadly popular, long-running campaign to help Americans own homes. The three ideas that the report outlines for replacing Fannie and Freddie all would raise the cost of mortgage loans and push homeownership beyond the reach of some families....

[A]dministration officials said they had concluded the country could no longer afford to sustain its commitment to minting homeowners. Better to help some people rent.

Federal programs subsidized nine in 10 mortgage loans made last year. If the Obama administration succeeds, that could plummet to a mere one in 10 loans by the end of the decade.

First good thing Obie has done, if you ask me, though it probably won't win him many friends apart from me, and I'm likely to prove fickle.

That's an amazing statistic -- Federal programs subsidized nine in ten mortgages. Does that include the mortgage interest tax deduction, I wonder? If so, you'd think it would be ten out of ten.

I was also amazed to read that

30-year fixed-rate mortgages [are] a product that has never existed without government support.
Pull the plug, I say. People want to own houses? Fine. But what social purpose is served by paying 'em to do it?

Rhetorical question, of course. I know the answer: the enrichment of real-estate developers, the further enrichment of banks, and the pacification and stultification of the public.

The power of a bad example

Of course I'm really glad to see what's happening in Wisconsin.

Who can doubt that seeing people in other countries do this stuff emboldens us to try it ourselves?

May the rot spread and spread.

February 19, 2011


Most of you all prolly saw this but it's still kinda nifty:

"A feud between a security contracting firm and a group of guerrilla computer hackers has spilled over onto K Street, as stolen e-mails reveal plans for a dirty-tricks-style campaign...

The move was in retaliation for assertions by HBGary Federal chief executive Aaron Barr that he had identified leaders of the hackers' group, which has actively supported the efforts of anti-secrecy Web site WikiLeaks to obtain and disclose classified documents...

The e-mails revealed, among other things, a series of often-dubious counterintelligence proposals aimed at enemies of Bank of America and the US Chamber of Commerce... The proposals included distributing fake documents and launching cyber-attacks... ...Several of the documents focus on ChamberWatch, a union-backed organization that criticizes the business lobby and many of its members. The documents include personal details about activists who work for the group and suggestions for targeting its reputation, including planting fake documents, tying the organization to radical activists or creating "fake insider personas" on social media.

ChamberWatch, one memo said, is "vulnerable to information operations that could embarrass the organization and those associated with it..."

And it wasn't a solo operation; two other outfits were in on the "proposals". One in particular caught my eye: "...Palantir chief executive Alex Karp, a self-described progressive...
severed ties with the lead firm HBGary Federal, and placed on leave an engineer involved in the project pending a review."
-- Cue the echo chamber --
"Palantir does not make software that has the capability to carry out the offensive tactics proposed by HBGary... Palantir never has and never will condone the sort of activities recommended by HBGary."

February 20, 2011

Seems like kind of a big deal

This item made me very happy:

Iran naval ships to cross Suez Canal on Monday

CAIRO (Reuters) - Two Iranian naval ships will sail through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean on Monday, a Suez Canal official said, in what will be the first passage of Iranian naval ships through the canal since 1979.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has described Iran's plan to send the ships through the canal en route to Syria as a "provocation."

Let's hear it for the Egyptian junta! And may Avigdor Lieberman's head explode.

I love canals. The only one I regularly visit is the Cape Cod canal, a relatively modest affair which nevertheless cuts a couple of days off my sail from New York to Maine. I dream of the Panama, but will probably never see it.

Does the Suez have locks? I don't even know. Locks are so cool. I have gone through locks on the Ohio and the Green River in Kentucky, in a canoe, and weensy cute little ones on the Saranac Lake waterways in the Adirondacks, also in a canoe. Never been in one in the sailboat, yet.

Perhaps I may yet follow an Iranian frigate through the Suez. If so, I'll feel that I'm in excellent company.

PS: Reuters needs to employ an expert in nautical terminology (I'm available, by the way). One does not "cross" a canal, unless perchance one swims the hundred feet or so from one bank to the other. One "transits" a canal -- which is pretty illiterate too, of course, but it's at least the Said Thing.

The hinge of fate

The Repugs sure can come on strong, eh? Looks like they hope to criminalize public unionism in our time, with one big state-by-state wave of prohibitive legislation.

Musical question: can the 7 and 7 gang push back hard enough?

What's that, you say? The 7 and 7 gang, Citizen Paine?

You know: the public sector unions, and their long-in-the-wilting private sector brothers and sisters, now roughly of similar size at 7 million souls each under dues-paying organization.

Unfortunately, the movement today may finally be small enough to drown, and I say that even after digesting all the lovely splashing and thrashing around we see now in Wisconsin.

One thinks of the Egyptian flu; but seems maybe this is more like it -- the last gasp of Brit blue-collar fribbulating, "the winter of discontent" in 78-79.

Unions took a horrible beating at the polls that spring. Seems the public majority -- like here in 1946 -- was revulsed, not inspired, by the fantail of the class struggle.

Soooo... can some sort of global Zeitgeist, out and about the planet now, quite contrary to '79, draw Clio's class power needle to the left this time round? I mean right here in River City, so we don't get an American Maggie T. in '12?

My longtime pal and labor gadfly, Herb N Sorrel III remains sanguine:

"Paine, you puggy doom pimp, this ain't the 70's all over again. This time we got the horsepower to make the climb. This time we'll swing the innocent public behind us. Mark my words!"

Damn, I hope he's right.

February 21, 2011

Fizzle, or fusillade, or....

Conscript troops is Egypt didn't fire on Egyptians. Mercenary troops in Libya seem to have had no such qualms. What will mercenary cops in Wisconsin do to Wisconsin teachers, if the Wisconsin teachers keep up the pressure?

I'm not a big cop fan, but the outcome doesn't seem like a foregone conclusion, either way. Much reason to fear, some reason to hope.

I'm also not a big teacher fan. But this is a case where the teachers aren't claiming expertise, or authority. What they're demanding is quite simply what labor has always demanded -- in the steel mills or the stockyards or the car plant.

The more teachers think of themselves as mere labor, the more I'm with 'em. The Wisconsin teachers seem to have made the connection. As Dr Johnson observed, the prospect of being hanged tomorrow morning concentrates a man's mind wonderfully.

February 23, 2011

Eye of the beholder

Here's an interesting just-the-facts item from, of all places, USA Today:

Poll: Americans oppose weaker unions

MADISON, Wis. — Americans strongly oppose laws taking away the collective bargaining power of public employee unions, according to a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll. The poll found 61% would oppose a law in their state similar to such a proposal in Wisconsin, compared with 33% who would favor such a law.

And here is the mighty highbrow New York Times' highly anecdotal take on the same topic:
Union Bonds in Wisconsin Begin to Fray

JANESVILLE, Wis. — Rich Hahan worked at the General Motors plant here until it closed about two years ago. He moved to Detroit to take another G.M. job while his wife and children stayed here, but then the automaker cut more jobs. So Mr. Hahan, 50, found himself back in Janesville, collecting unemployment for a time, and watching as the city’s industrial base seemed to crumble away.

Among the top five employers here are the county, the schools and the city. And that was enough to make Mr. Hahan, a union man from a union town, a supporter of Gov. Scott Walker’s sweeping proposal to cut the benefits and collective-bargaining rights of public workers in Wisconsin, a plan that has set off a firestorm of debate and protests at the state Capitol. He says he still believes in unions, but thinks those in the public sector lead to wasteful spending because of what he sees as lavish benefits and endless negotiations.

I must say that my heart sank when I saw the byline on the Times piece. Another fucking Sulzberger? Is there no end to them? Whose whelp is this wretch?

We need more of this

The Greeks, who seem to have a folk memory of what the word "democracy" means, are now setting cops on fire. Lively times, lively times.

February 24, 2011

I'm Robert Siegel...

... and I'm doing you a huge favor by talking to you at all.

I may have confessed previously that I sometimes listen to NPR -- when I'm driving, and the only alternative is Angry White Guys Talk Radio in western Massachusetts, or when I'm sailing through the night, and there aren't any deeply committed and surprisingly well-read fundamentalists preaching on the Epistle to the Romans.

Haven't been much in the car lately, or on the boat of course -- poor dear is up on poppets in the Bronx -- but I've been watching the Al-Jazeera live feed quite a lot these last few weeks, and I fear it may have spoiled me for NPR.

Oh, al-J isn't perfect of course. But still. The intellectual level is so infinitely higher than anything -- apart from the fundies, of course -- that you'll find in the US of A. And nobody on the Al-J has that irritating testy condescending way of saying -- after a half-beat pause, to give the statement agogic emphasis -- "And I'm... Robert Siegel." Stop the presses. Really, Robert, who gives a fuck? And I'm... Eliyahu. And I'm... The Spanish Inquisition.

I happened to walk just now into one of the Versailles-like chambers here in Chateau Smith, where one of my family was listening to NPR. The topic appeared to be a fretful worrification about...al-Qaeda! What's up with al-Qaeda, now that all the rules of the Mideast game got suddenly rewritten in the last two-three weeks?

It's hard to find an analogy that does justice to the sublime inanity of this topic. The closest I can get is, What will happen to stamp collectors if the sea level rises ten feet? Not quite right. Somebody come up with a better one. There's a Valuable Prize for the winner.

It was sorta fun to listen for a few minutes -- like watching a flea circus, or a chess match in a nursing home; sincere sweaty-browed effort in a sharply circumscribed field of play.

But I had to run from the room -- with hollow shriek the steep of Delphos leaving -- when they brought on somebody from, what, GWU or some such place, who was accredited as a "terrorism expert."

That dyad is a quadrate term in bogosity, innit? Unless the interviewee was Osama himself -- which seems doubtful.

Terrorism -- an empty signifier. Expert -- another. Terrorism times expert -- math doesn't offer the right parallel; it's more like mixing two parts ectoplasm and one part phlogiston.

I will now have to find some other voice through the night once the boat is back in the water, or I head off for my next road trip.

Suggestions? If I spring for satellite radio, can I get al-J in North American waters and highways? I get the impression that that's not something I can count on.

February 25, 2011

If Egyptians were Democrats...

Nice item from an occasional participant here:

If the Egyptian protesters were Democrats, they would have accepted Mubarak’s proposed reforms—not because those reforms were good, but because Democrats are accustomed to settling for empty rhetoric. They would have accepted Mubarak’s handpicked successor, the infamous torturer Omar Suleiman—not because they like him, but because he would presumably be less evil than his predecessor. They would have accepted the inevitability of defeat—not because they wanted to lose, but because losing would be both pragmatic and realistic. The actual Egyptian protesters, however, would only accept freedom.

February 28, 2011

Oh fuck. Here come the humanitarians.

Another exercise in compare-and-contrast: Egypt and Libya.

When the Egyptian public rose up and kicked Mubarak out, the EU and the US were remarkably quiet and diplomatic. But Libya is another story. Ghadafi -- or Qaddafi or whatever his name is -- is getting the full Milosevic treatment: sanctimonious condemnations from every other bloody-handed government criminal in the world, including Hillary The Ripper(*) and the gangsterish skinhead Brit foreign secretary William Hague; threats of being haled off to an international kangaroo court in Geneva or the Netherlands or some other Ruritanian theme park in the more orderly and well-swept arrondissements of the global empire; and of course calls for humanitarian intervention by those Pecksniffian creeps at Human Rights Watch.

My heroine Yoshie Furuhashi had a nice piece on a related topic at MRzine recently:

As the fate of Libya was being discussed by the powers represented in the NATO and the UN Security Council yesterday, among those most fervently calling for no-fly zones were Libya's own UN ambassadors turned defectors, Abdurrahman Mohammed Shalgham and Ibrahim Dabbashi, making the same demand as the National Conference of Libyan Opposition (NCLO), an umbrella group of major Libyan exile organizations including the Libyan Constitutional Union (led by the so-called "Crown Prince" of Libya) and the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL, a tool of the CIA and Saudi Arabia during the Cold War).

Thus it fell to a few good Latin American socialists to do what they could to argue the case of Libya and defend its right to self-determination -- that is, the right of the Libyan people, those who are for, against, or indifferent to the soon-to-be former Libyan regime, to sort out their own affairs, free from NATO or any other foreign troops ... And they tried, knowing that their efforts would be met with not only attacks from the Right but also total incomprehension on the part of not a few leftists.

It's an interesting development. Qaddafi and the Empire buried the hatchet some years ago, and Q. seemed to be quite willing to carry out the neoliberal program in Libya. But perhaps the managers of empire never really thought he was quite reliable. Or perhaps they simply have their eyes on the oil: big, big country, very thinly populated, and oodles and oodles of lovely oil. Do they dream, perhaps, of a Maghrebian Saudi Arabia, ruled by a stooge more reliable than Qaddafi?

I hear Hosni Mubarak is in the job market.


(*) What fun it is to see Hillary so tenderly concerned about the Arab masses -- anywhere but Gaza and the West Bank.

About February 2011

This page contains all entries posted to Stop Me Before I Vote Again in February 2011. They are listed from oldest to newest.

January 2011 is the previous archive.

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