16 February 2015

The Tahrir Square Revolution--Always Just a Dream

Like henpecked husbands, the Egyptian people have never had the
self-confidence to believe they could effectively govern
themselves. Under millenia of authoritarian rule, Egyptians
have yet to gain the enlightenment that leads Western nations
still to overthrow their oppressors.

In the new book reviewed in the February 15, 2015 New York Times,
"Once Upon a Revolution," Thanassis Cambanis is said to disparage
Western media for believing that social media would inspire
Egyptians to adopt a democratic state system. While the
communications technology accessed through IPhones and the
Internet provides the tools for mobilization of popular political
will, it cannot convince the Egyptian public that the military
does not continue to be the only efficient organizational
instrument in the country. Submission has long been the default
posture in Egyptian society, whether pharaonic, Christian, or

It's not beyond one's imagination that a fair and equitable
authoritarian regime can exist in a kind place like Egypt, if the
tools provided by modern technology are used by its well-educated
and prosperous citizens to monitor it and corrall it with
periodic riots and demonstrations. That is a costly and painful
way to bring political self-determination to the general public;
but it may be the only model that works in some Islamic societies.

30 December 2014

Honoring Wounded Warriors 

Brave men and women. All of them. Wasn’t it a waste to have paid them to risk their lives in a futile attempt to bring liberal democracy to the ersatz nation state of Iraq? More than that, it was probably a sin.

Created by the victors of WW1 out of remnants of the defeated Ottoman Empire as a reward to an Arab prince, Iraq has never had a genuine raison d’etre. Surely, it was not a good candidate for adoption of a European style of government. And yet, skilled manipulators of public sentiment were able to convince public policy-makers in the U.S. and the United Nations that removal of a ruthless dictator from power would lead to enlightened reordering of a hodgepodge society of ethnicities that couldn’t be kept peaceful in the absence of a forceful police state.

We in the U.S. took advantage of the readiness (if not economic desperation) of our all-volunteer armed forces to upset an autocrat. The world might be a better place without him, but no advance regard was given to the unfortunate consequences, including unleashed religious unrest and, most touchingly, physical and psychological war casualties.

Now indeed we owe a great debt to those who paid with their lives and livelihoods for our failure to avoid a senseless military adventure. After all, our country had sustained a painful attack on 9/11 and we felt we just had to do something about it. But the obligation which we must fulfill is not thanks for undertaking our battle for freedom; it is rather begging absolution of our guilt for stupidly spending our wealth and blood on a misguided war effort.

Of course, we should already have paid for the disabilities caused by this mistake, particularly if the scandalous Veterans Administration screw-up is resolved. Our guilt for so sheepishly allowing our government to lead us into war cannot be expiated with money to causes like the Wounded Warriors Project. It will only be escaped when we collectively insist on more clear-eyed public policy.

23 September 2014

World Nuclear Self-Destruction Is One Risk That Can Simply Be Averted 

The news article by William Broad and David Sanger in the September 22, 2014 NYT, “U.S. Ramping Up Major Renewal in Nuclear Arms,” shows how inexhaustible is the fantasy that we need everlasting one-upmanship when it comes to weapons-building in anticipation of threats to national security. Eleanor Roosevelt got it right seventy years ago at the dawn of the atomic age that things would never be the same now that this new method of mass destruction had been used (cf. Ken Burns documentary on the Roosevelts shown the previous week on PBS). Perhaps she was under an illusion to think that the world’s self-immolation was never inevitable anyway.

Whether as a result of radioactive fallout, global warming, environmental pollution, overpopulation, stateless terrorism, or another consequence of the human condition, life on Earth will surely not continue as long as the planet itself is allowed to survive by the physical laws of the universe. The best we can do is to extend our reign on its surface for as long as possible. Ending the danger of blowing it up with the products of our ingenuity is probably the simplest, least costly and most immediate measure we can take to eradicate one of those threats to our existence. How can we justify enhancing the deadliness of our nuclear arsenal when the use of even our current inefficient one will undeniably make all else irrelevant?

24 August 2014

Should a Struggling President Help a Brutal Dictator Reestablish Order? 

A genuine test of President Obama’s commitment to act in America’s long-term self-interest is whether to help an allegedly brutal dictator (or his regime, whether or not he is in control of it) to defeat a terrorist group because it challenges both that regime’s hegemony in its own country and the freedom of U.S. citizens to exercise the rights guaranteed by their government’s Constitution. A case in point is the barbarous execution of the journalist, James Foley, by members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which had held him captive for the previous nearly two years.

In fact, it is only since the U.S. has become the world’s single most powerful state that its citizens have come to believe that the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that its Constitution guarantees against actions by the American government are guaranteed by the Constitution to be enforced by their government across the globe. This is particularly problematic when it comes to practitioners of professions such as journalism, who often assume dangerous risks in the performance of their tasks.

A world at peace and maintained in order is definitely in the long-term interest of the American (and all other) people. The inability of a brutal dictator, like Bashar Al Assad, to establish that order in Syria, his own country, threatens not only his own subjects but also the freedom of Americans and others to travel to that country for whatever peaceful reason, including reporting on civil war there. Helping an incompetent ruler to establish that order, at least by eliminating a ruthless element from the opposition to his established central government, may override America’s interest in seeing that any foreign government does not brutally rule or violate the human rights of its own residents.

Choosing to take such a step and crafting a reasonable strategy to do it, in terms of its objectives and costs, both human and material, is the duty of America’s leader. It is also his duty to conform to the statutory requirements for consultation with and approval of Congress in implementing that policy. These are only a few of the challenges that Barack Obama and his administration face in the closing years of his Presidency. Dealing with this one successfully or not could be emblematic of Mr. Obama’s ability to perform the tasks assigned to him with such hope by the American electorate twice over the last six years.

17 March 2014

The Point of ObamaCare 

The Point of ObamaCare

Instead of Affordable Care Act, the law that set up ObamaCare ought to have been named More Affordable Care Act. By the ACA’s definition the cancelled privately offered plans that supposedly force people to resort to ACA exchanges, after all, are worse than the exchange-offered plans, with their exception for preexisting conditions, their referral requirements, etc.

Was the point of ObamaCare the destruction of insurance companies? Oh, come on! Insurance companies will figure out a way to make money under the new rules—otherwise they don’t deserve to be in business. They’re smart. It’s only politicians who believe the voting public is dumb enough not to know that.

If you want a voluntary insurance market, there will be costs involved. Health care is an area that justifies a single-payer model. Everyone needs medical attention sooner or later—there will be no choice in the matter. Universal health care is a human right and it is up to health care providers to satisfy that need first, and to provide high-quality care if and when they can. But the absence of high-quality care does not result in “poor-quality” care.

24 February 2014

Who’s At Fault for Climate Change? It Doesn’t Matter.

There are many ways that the world’s richest communities can react to even the observed (as opposed to the modelled) warming of our global climate. We can diminish our habits that pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. We can invest in finding less harmful substitutes for those technologies. We can learn to live with the consequences.

But refraining from restricting the consumption of fossil fuels by the world’s poorest countries because it deprives them of the benefit of hydrocarbon-fueled economic growth is a red herring. As we in advanced economies increasingly rely on alternative energy sources which cause less environmental damage, we can make them affordable for the nations that need them to spur their development.

It’s all a matter of cost. Regardless whether climate change is man-made, cyclical, or caused by factors we don’t yet understand, it will be expensive to deal with if we want to preserve an ever-improving future. The piper has to be paid so we can keep dancing.

07 February 2014

Apres Moi Le Deluge 

Apres Moi Le Deluge

Like Louis XV, Saddam Hussein and the George W. Bush Administration knew
that without their respective costly repressions of dissent and
sectarian strife, French and Iraqi societies would descend into chaos.
But that doesn't mean that violent suppression is justified.

Stephen J. Hadley was wrong to imply in the January 31, 2014, WSJ, that
the credibility of the U.S. and U.N. depends on their instilling fear
that they will intervene militarily when they believe their interests
are threatened (even in an ersatz nation created by a deluded colonial
power following WWI). A slower, more painstaking process of
community-building would be longer-lasting. Perhaps the disassembly of
Yugoslavia in the nineties can serve as a model for bringing peace to
this troubled region of the world.

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