Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Kangbashi--Ghost Town

The Kangbashi district of Ordos City in Inner Mongolia illustrates the exact reason that the US has little to fear from China's saber economic saber rattling.

While the US housing and banking markets are recovering, with the Chinese holding a fair amount of US debt, and many fearing the day when the Chinese start demanding bills come due, we have to remember the symbiosis that our markets and the Chinese now exist in.

Ordos City was established to be prefecture seat, and a highlight of the economic boom that the Chinese have lashed themselves to. Inner Mongolia bloomed with a thoroughly modern city, created from scratch. The Kangbashi District is its jewel, with high rises, daring architecture, and lavish infrastructural amenities that rival many Western cities, it is also damn near empty and unused.  Of the 1.3 million or so residents of the city, most are the workers actually building this marvel in the Mongolian desert. 

The Ordos Museum is an impressive structure, a marvel of the new style of Chinese public buildings, designed to wow the rest of the world, as well as impress and instill pride in the residents and their countrymen. It is also rarely visited, save by those who are putting the finishing touches on the structure, and to take photos for promotions to try to lure folks to the Mongolian desert. 

The real estate bubble in the West was devastating.  The housing bubble here in the US was dotted with developments that were bought to be flipped, and fueled by rampant speculation. We were, however, amateurs to the scale that the Chinese have invested in their own real estate bubble. While neighborhoods were fabricated for growing cities, the Chinese were betting on creating whole cities whole cloth, and it is this very reason that, while the amount of US debt in Chinese hands is a matter of some concern, we have little to fear from the Chinese rattling economic sabers. While indeed they own a fair amount of our debt, they need that interest at this point just to survive, and we exist now in a form of economic symbiosis that neither the US nor China can even think about extricating ourselves from any time soon. 

The boundless optimism that dominated the last several years, with dreams of nothing but wealth spiraling upwards wasn't just a Western conceit.  While there may have been the clucking of tongues at the waste and recklessness of US regulatory bodies with our own investment in financial fictions, at the same time, our economic partners were using the wealth that they were skimming from our loan structures, and their own investments in ways that were both impressive, and in their own way, filled with as much hubris and and fiscal hallucination. 

While there are economists who are worried what the real estate bubble in China looks like, with such a huge investment by the Chinese government into what amounts to ghost towns, it only illustrates that the Chinese are going to need our interest payments for some time, and while there may be hardliners who may think about trying to squeeze a bit, ultimately, our interests and the Chinese are interlinked.  Our debt, and the servicing of that debt, may be the only thing that can save the Chinese from economic implosion. 

Monday, March 15, 2010

Why Does Liz Cheney Hate America So Much?

There has been a fair amount of push to derail the Justice Department from doing their job. And one of the culprits of this idiocy has been Liz Cheney. Her latest efforts to keep her father's involvement in less than savory practices during the last Administration has come from a web based attack on our own Justice Department.

Keep America Safe is ironically named, because its rasison d'etre is to keep American justice from playing out. By targeting attorneys doing pro bono work and providing the legal counsel that is every accused's right in this country, she condemns not only these attorneys, but our entire system of justice. 

I am hardly the only Republican who thinks her witchhunt is a bad idea. I join Ted Olson, Bush's own Solicitor General, former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, David Rivkin, Lee Casey, and even Kenneth Starr.

"I of course think it’s entirely appropriate for members of the legal profession to have provided legal services to detainees. It is a part of the responsibility of lawyers and in the finest tradition of the profession to represent unpopular persons who are caught up in the criminal justice system or even in the military justice system. I think that people who do so, do so honorably.” 

“But I also think that some of the people being highly critical now of the criticism of the lawyers in the Justice Department, have been completely silent when it came to attacks — vicious attacks — on lawyers in the Department of Justice and the Defense Department who were providing legal assistance and advice to the United States of America during the last administration in connection with the attacks on the United States by terrorists.

“So lawyers should be encouraged to provide legal advice conscientiously to their clients. And that goes for people in the Bush administration and the Obama administration." 

Mind you, Liz Cheney is hardly alone in this effort, and her partner in all this, Bill Kristol, has long been an opponent of reason, or justice. Sadly, Bill Kristol has best been summed up in his career as of late by Jon Stewart: "Oh Bill Kristol, are you EVER right?"

Inherent to our justice system is the right to counsel. Even the worst has the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. That is how our system of justice works, it is that assumption that is the cornerstone of our courts. While the public, and those in the military, and even our own agents may know and have witnessed folks doing horrible things, even the worst get their day in court.  At least, that is the promise that we have made to ourselves.  That we will apply justice fairly and evenly, and that the attacks on attorneys who are providing defense for those accused is very much in keeping with the tradition of our courts. Even going back to our Revolutionary days, when John Adams defending British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre. 

What bothers me about this idiocy, isn't that Liz and Kristol and the rest of her band of insincere asshats think that folks are guilty--they may very well be--but that they wish to interfere with the justice process, and short circuit it. 

"They hate us for our freedoms!" is a common tirade for our War On Terror. The problem being, when we short circuit our system of justice for short term gain, we lose any hint of a moral or ethical high ground, and it only proves that terrorists can cow the greatest nation on Earth. When we pull back from the principles that this nation is founded upon to tuck our tails between our legs out of fear--or worse, out of expediency--we only give those enemies ammunition for their cause. 

Moreover, that Liz Cheney's involvement is a thinly veiled attempt to shield her own father's possible malfeasance and to throw folks off the trail to track down how badly our own legal and ethical standards were skewed in the capture of many of our detainees is not lost. The raft of appearances to shed investigations and introspection at the policies that have ballooned Gitmo, and other holding facilities, and often without the process of law place the Cheneys and their supporters at the AEI on not only the wrong side of the law and history, but against the very foundations of our rule of law. 

Liz: why do you hate America so much?

Crossposted to The Motley Moose

Friday, March 12, 2010

Conflation is not causation

Let's just get this out of the way: Jonah Goldberg is a fatuous, disingenuous ass that wouldn't know decent scholarship if it came up and punched him in the face. And decent scholars should be doing that for the idiocy that he has poured into his pean to appease those who don't like the current trend that sections of the GOP are taking, Liberal Fascism.

I pop the pic up early, to just get that out of the way. Whether or not the current NeoCons like it or not, their policies have a certain ring. By using a tool like Goldberg, and conflating ideologies and political systems that were long in opposition to one another, our beamish boy tries to swing a semantical bat to knock Fascism and Communism, and Socialism all into the same vat. Revisionism is nothing entirely new, and the push to cast Nixon as a Fallen Hero, or Reagan as a fiscal Conservative is just part of the push to try to lionize the past, and ignore the fallout of failed policies, while demonizing opposition who just plain pantsed you in the last election.

Thinking people would, you might assume, take inventory after a loss like the last one. Losing the House and Senate should have been a wake up call, but instead, it was a signal to turn up the Wing Nut Brigade to higher decibels and damn the torpedoes, it was straight ahead. And McCain's campaign foundered on those rocks. Rather than take that as a sign, that perhaps a change in policy might be in order, the GOP leadership has instead invested in simply revising the past and "changing the tone" again.

By investing in revisionists to recast the past in a new light, and simply excise the parts that might be embarrassing--like supporting Saddam in his fight against Iran, forgetting the USA's part in toppling the democratically elected government in Iran in the 50s, which set the stage for the rise of Fundamentalist Islamic Statists, or Reagan's profligate spending--and write a new "narrative."

For the record, I really hate the new term "narrative" at least in the context of public relations. It does show how removed folks are from reality in that they figure that they can simply spin a tale out of cherry picked facts, and ignore those that simply are inconvenient. The revisionists are looking to recast their tired and trite ideas that failed, and poison the waters for those who oppose them. The push to turn "Progressive" into a conflation with "Liberal Commie Scum" and likewise to push the idea that Commie-Pinko Scum are actually Fascists too, is a trite attempt to turn charges away from themselves--and after support of US PATRIOT and other attacks on personal liberties it's ironic to try to level the fascist bar against others.

Worse, you have an incestuous circle of folks who pat one another on the back for "exposing" this insidious plot to plant ideas into our youth and culture. Beck exposes the horrible plot to weave Progressive/Liberal/Fascist lies into music. You have Krauthammer pounding away at his own disingenuous drum, and Kristol and Goldberg hitting their own notes to try turn the ship of state from its disastrous course away from shooting people up across the world, and getting our economy back on track. And what bothers me about all this, is that it is an attempt to turn the GOP, and the country, away from saner voices.

The conflation to paint Progressives and Moderate voices of the GOP into monsters, and the gross revisionist plays at rewriting history, even only years ago to ignore inconvenient facts, is desperation in the face of failures, and rather than admit that the Neoconservative policies have failed both our security and our economy, they are doubling down on stoopid, and hoping that the American public is dumb enough to fall for it. And that right there shows the lack of respect that these tools have for the American people. That they have to resort to semantic slight of hand, and gross revisionism to work their way out of a corner, as opposed to simply letting the weight of their ideas carry the day, shows that they're out of gas. Out of ideas. Out of anything looking like intellectual integrity.

When Beck and others who try to paint Progressives as Liberal/Commie/Fascists who come for your liberty and your freedoms, this is who they fear. The following is their real boogeyman, because he represents all that the GOP can be, and should be, and idiots like themselves are too cowardly and intellectually bankrupt to strive for any longer...

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Oath Keepers

While I have, I will admit, explored options in dumping my party affiliation, in light of the GOP's shenanigans as of late--looking at the Modern Whig Party as a possible alternative--and questioned the political process as a whole in the face of our Congresscritters patently going off the rails in droves, on both sides of the aisle, I can't say that I've thought about going so far as these folks.

I was in Maine when Clinton was in office, and the modern militias got a fair amount of press. I knew folks who were in one, and I have to admit, I was impressed by the refurbished tank that they trotted out on occasion for events.  The guns were defunct, but with the know how to get the old Russian girl back up to snuff, I had little doubt that they could swap out functional weapons with little notice.  Even still, most of folks involved were retired vets, and young men and women who they trained.  In a similar fashion to a few skinhead groups that train up in the woods, though without the blaring music and probably 95% less race hating.

Justine Sharrock's article struck me, because the Oath Keepers are often serving members of our military.  Their very name illustrates their love of nation, recalling Reza Aslan's words of Flag as totem.  What I find interesting is that many were less concerned with a growing list of intrusions on privacy and other rights during the last Administration, and the Bush Administration's own recommendations for putting militia groups on higher watch status, than the current one.

Mind you, while racial politics does play into the equation a bit, I think that it has far less to do with the narrative that gets promoted.  I have little doubt that the Oath Keepers would have congealed in the face of a Hillary Clinton Presidency--something that Oath Keeper founder Stewart Rhodes wrote vociferously against during the run up to the election last year.

In the face of things, the Declaration of Orders We Will Not Obey is not entirely a bad thing.  Rhodes is entirely correct that if the German military had refused orders, the Holocaust would not have happened.  A principled military that refuses to march against its own citizens or deny them their rights is a key to preserving our republic.  What is interesting is who ire is directed towards.  The fear of the Fed coming down like a hammer is one that has been fostered for quite a while in the paranoiac fantasy life of the likes of Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity.  Democrats have been cast as jack booted thugs and you have revisionists like Jonah Goldberg trying to cast the Commie-Pinko Liberals in the role of Fascists as well. It is an interesting mix of pejorative that are leveled against the Democrats--and as a former resident of Massachusetts and with friends in Chicago, I have seen and certainly know of Democrats who have borne their share of strong arm politics--but I am impressed that at the same time in trying to cast Democrats as New World Order--forgetting apparently who actually used the phrase to begin with--thugs, and limp wristed ineffectual elitist intellectuals without a shred of real world experience, that some sort of cognitive dissonance hasn't penetrated.

The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. And on one level, I have to applaud the idea that it is the Constitution, stupid.  The problem, unfortunately, with many of the grassroots movements, is that they are pointing their ire and anger and outrage perhaps in the wrong direction.  Fear of the other, fear of losing ground, and stoked by pundits and politicians alike who increasingly cast their opponents as figures bent on destroying the fabric of America, we see the politics of fear warping legitimate concerns into armed camps and ratcheted up rhetoric that tend to ignore history.  In casting Democrats--who, to be honest, I've yet to see much of anything as effective as the mythologized FEMA camps materialize--as despotic thugs, it robs our process of what we desperately need.  Real debate.  In the move for an all or nothing sort of politics, we not only rob ourselves of the opportunity for discussion and consensus, we push those who are most fearful and most vulnerable towards those who would use their fear against their opponents, and without care or responsibility for the fear and suffering that they engender.

Crossposted to The Motley Moose

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Play Date

I somehow survived the weekend trip to New York to visit my daughter, and the heaviest of snowfalls that Canandaguia has received this year.  Not quite Snowmaggedon, but it was close. 

Dug the ex-wife out of a driveway of the white stuff, got the snow blower out to take care of the drive so she could get some friends into the house for a while, and above all, got to hang out with the best kid in the world. Mine.

We did a lot this weekend.  Got me acclimatized to her mother's birds: and African Grey with feather plucking issues, a pair of mated Cockatiels who she's rehabilitating, and a fairly sane and sweet little Cockatiel who hops on shoulders and then nuzzles.  There were also several cats to be introduced to.  And I got to see some of my old stuff again.  OK, it was our stuff once upon a time, but Laura got our old bed, I was amazed at how comfy the old girl was when I found it in the guest room.  Gabe challenged her old man to several games of Clue, only to discover that Daddy is a Zen Master at Clue, and when we got down to a three round butt whoopin' in the Conservatory, with the knife, and Mrs. Peacock off in chains, she decided it was time for a new game.

There was a fair amount of goofing around, but the highlight for me--beyond being able to make my girl breakfast--was the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester.  

A museum for kids that encourages them to race around like wild monkeys and touch just about everything.  How cool is that?  Plenty to do, plenty to see, nooks and crannies filled with books and toys, and you can go there three days a week for a month and still find more neat stuff.  Yes, the Hall of Fame is a little odd: ball is apparently in the Hall of Fame. Ball. The ball. Yes, I think they were trying too hard with that, but still, there are a ton of great old toys--my old GI Joes with the kung fu grip were in there.  For the history buff, it's a great place to see the amusements of yore, and for kids, it's great to see that fun has a history.  

If you get out to Rochester, and you've got a day to kill, I can't recommend the Museum of Play stronger.  Though, I would watch out for the gift shop.  Gabe discovered the very creepy fun of Stretchy Arms Gorilla and Squeezy Frog...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Only Way to Win, Is Not to Play

I took the weekend to skip off to New York to visit my little girl, and for the ride, I picked up a little light reading.

Reza Aslan's How To Win A Cosmic War asks fundamental questions on not just our own War on Terror, but at the success of globalization over secularism and nationalism, and the somewhat bitter fruit it has borne.  

In particular, he traces the rise of Jihadists and compares their rise to the Christian Fundamentalists, Christian Nationalists, and Zionists. How Jihadism grew from fairly liberal religious nationalists in Egypt, and its eventual radicalization and exportation across the globe to a new transnationalist agenda. In part, because globalization has shown folks that even if they fail in effecting local change, that they can still have a great cause, and by framing it the context of Jihad, it is a grand site easier than the actual nitty gritty of running a state, and movement based on actually looking at issues that are often difficult, but lack the panache of tilting at the windmills of the West.  

Out of an intellectual and political movement, Jihadists--and likewise Christian Fundamentalists--have learned to cut to the chase, and get to an easy to digest framework as a movement. Duty to God over nation.  

Out of an intellectual movement based on effecting local change, the Jihadists--and others like our Christian Fundamentalists--frame perceived injustice with a great degree of sophistication. First identifying situations of injustice, assigning blame for those "responsible", and then connecting that injustice to a larger framework. Likewise, we see the deployment of aligning that framework to create "In" groups and "Out" groups to help identify their enemy, and then work to make bystanders sympathetic or antagonistic to these groups, compelling them to take sides, and thus open the doors not just for collective identity, but for collective action.  

Convenient is that the rhetoric is similar and compatible for discussion across the globe, when you compare Jihadists, Christian Fundamentalists, and Zionists. America, we are not so oddly drawn into this, not just in our foreign policy, but by our own roots as a form of America as seen as a brand of Christian Zionism. Our own history is replete with imagery of an Exodus to the New World. From Reverend Edwards' "New Caanan" to Melville's "Israel of our time." And today, carried further by the likes of RJ Rushdoony's own visions of a Messianic America. We are, as Reza Aslan puts it, in the midst of "Patriotism as religious devotion. Flag as totem." And we have those who see the Constitution, not as the basis of our law and nation, but as Covenant with God and his new Chosen People.  

Modern Evangelicsm, and its kissing cousin and paternal Fundamentalism came from a place where faith was under fire. From Darwin. Feminism. Scientific revolution. Literary criticism of the Bible itself, and the rise of a Christian liberalism that sought to reconcile tradition with social and scientific process, and the rise as well of modernization and growing secularism. The virulent Fundamentalism that grew from a backlash of these "threats" to God's America was toned down by folks like Billy Graham, whose brand of Evangelicism was far more inclusive and much less fiery, but still defined by a population that saw itself as under siege. And a trait that it shares with many Jihadists.  

Evangelicals and Jihadists can trace their journey, and often prejudices, and feed one another. Many Evangelicals don't recognize Mormons or Catholics as Christians. Jihadists make declarations of takfir to declare other Muslims who disagree with them as infidels. Their own actions feed one another--with the infiltration during the last Administration of Evangelicals into the Air Force Academy, and US troops proselytizing in the course of their duties to a population under US guns, both the Jihadist and Evangelical agendas are advanced, and the feedback between the two--America and God under fire, as well as yet another Western Crusade against Islam.  

Added into the mix, you have the Zionists who began their quest for a state late in the 19th Century. Sadly, there were people already living in that land, but that didn't stop a campaign to de-emphasize the ties to the land by many, and aggressive campaigns in both intellectual circles, and politically, to foment the idea of a paired religious nationalist movement to "recapture" the Holy Land. A vision that was both glorious as it was inventive, and based entirely on the idea of expropriating the natives from their property and land--and de-emphasizing the ties of nationhood of the Palestinian people. While Aslan attributes much credit to Theodor Herzl for the intellectual groundwork for the state, David Ben-Gurion cut to the chase in a letter to his son in 1937: "The Arabs will have to go."  

Jewish nationalists began to frame their narrative. Palestinians weren't a distinct nationality nor people. Not a national identity, but part of a larger "Arab nation" and thus had no claim to the land.  

The problem is, that this rhetoric has been a two edged sword. Not only have the Palestinians congealed now into a cohesive people, but it likewise has framed the conflict beyond just the confines of borders. And it likewise prompted an evolution of thought on the very nature of such conflicts, and paved the way for the transnationalist movements that now plague not just Israel, Afghanistan, Dubai, Chechnya and others, but also spurred nationalist movements of their own. Israel in many ways created a Palestinian identity in the face of denial of its very existence.  

Further, it has become an emblem and totem for a new breed of Islamist, in the face of an enemy that cannot be easily defeated. Conflict now with not just Israel, but the US who backs her, and the fears of what globalization will mean to religion and states as the West's influence grows.  

The radicalization has not just claimed lives in America or Europe, or Israel, but has killed far more Muslims as well. One tactic that the Jihadists have perfected not just a refutation of the admonitions against suicide in the Koran, as well as exhortations to not kill women, children, the elderly, or other Muslims. The practice of takfir--declaration of Muslims as infidels--has become a the best way to justify taking lives of their neighbors. They weren't really Muslims, so killing them is just.  

Never mind that over 170 Imams and religious scholars declared a Fatwa denouncing the practice, and denying its validity. No Muslim can declare another apostate has been the finding, and oddly enough, Jihadist instantly declared all 170 of these clerics and religious scholars immediately infidels and in the pocket of the West...  

Consider, that Bin Laden had no formal training as an Imam, or law or theology for that matter. The global Jihad is not just anti-intellectual but anti-institutional, and unable to compete intellectually, it finds it far easier to undercut and deny the authority of those who stand against them. In much the same fashion that many Christian Fundamentalists and Evanglicals deny the authority of a government, or fetishsize those in government who agree with their Messianic message.  

And meanwhile, religious Zionists seek to use the strife that they, in part, helped to cause, to further call for more stripping of those from their lands--and use the very acts of defiance against their own actions as justification and the whole mess continues round and round, and round, and round, and round again. It isn't too far from the rise of nationalist movements in Britain as a reaction to a growing Muslim population in Europe and Great Britain. Cracking down on the Muslims only begets more strife, which feeds both the Jihadists from the rich ground of European born and bred Muslims, and their actions only feed these nationalists who wear their xenophobia as proud badges. The system gains energy from both sides egging one another on.  

And that is really the question that Aslan raises: who do you fight a Cosmic War? How can you combat the rise of these groups who tangle not just with the secular governments that they are rejecting, but one another and see both as their enemy, and count on push back to feed their cycle and narrative?  

The best way, is to not feed the cycle. Not to play the game...

Crossposted to The Motley Moose