Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The martial paradox

The martial paradox is well-known and generally accepted among conservatives but is ridiculed by Leftists.  Why?

I think it helps if we consider its origins.  I am not historian enough to give a comprehensive history of it but I can offer a few brief notes.

The paradox is familiar as "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance" or: "si vis pacem para bellum" -- from Vegetius, a Roman military writer in his Epitoma rei militaris.  In English:  "If you want peace, prepare for war".

And there is no doubt that it is true.  A key period for progress in most spheres during the development of Western Europe was the long peace between 1871 and 1914.  And that period was ushered in by a series of military conquests supervised by Otto von Bismarck -- which led to the creation of a unified Germany.  The fear of the Kaiser's hordes and Krupp artillery kept everyone else on tiptoe for a long time after that -- a long time when nobody was willing to risk war -- despite Europe's long history of wars before that.

But perhaps we see the process most clearly in Japan.  The Japanese samurai code (Bushido) was developed during a long series of wrenching civil wars between rival clans. And when one clan finally got the upper hand over all the rest, that code became in effect the official religion.

So what was that code?  The most extensive exposition of it appears to be the Hagakure -- and you don't have to read the Hagakure for long to find a scale of values that is very different from a modern Western scale of values. It is a very rambling document but repeatedly you find in it two major themes:  Indifference to death in battle or otherwise and loyalty to the master.  It glorifies conflict and a militarized society, in short.

Yet men who followed that code -- the men of the Tokugawa Shogunate -- created and sustained the longest period of of peace that any nation has ever known: A period generally reckoned to stretch from 1600 until 1868.    So while Europe was tearing itself apart, fanatical militarists gave Japan unrivalled peace.

But the values found in the Hagakure are not so alien to those who know our own more remote history.  Ancient Germanic values were never spelled out the way they are in the Hagakure but they seem to have been not a lot different from that which we read in the Hagakure.  One can refer to Caesar, Tacitus and others for an account of those values but we do not really need to go much further than that great classic of old Anglo-Saxon literature: "Beowulf".  The comparison is not precise but in Beowulf too the focus was on the glory of battle and conquest -- and also incidentally the centrality of kings*.

So from the Romans to the old Anglo-Saxons, to the Tokugawas to  Bismarck, the martial paradox has prevailed.  Which, I take it, is why Leftists reject it.  Rejecting anything established is a  kneejerk reaction for them.  They are always sure that they can soar above established wisdom.  That they cannot the many "unintended consequences" of their policies make clear. And with Obamacare heading down the pike we will soon be seeing lots of that.

* Though in the Anglo-Saxon case the king seems mainly to have been a "giver of rings"  -- i.e. someone who awarded honors. That's still true in Britain today.

About turn!  Proof that Leftist "principles" are made of sponge rubber

Support for Obama's unconstrained assassination program makes that crystal clear

Glenn Greenwald

This past week has been a strangely clarifying political moment. It was caused by two related events: the leak of the Justice Department's "white paper" justifying Obama's claimed power to execute Americans without charges, followed by John Brennan's alarming confirmation hearing (as Charles Pierce wrote: "the man whom the administration has put up to head the CIA would not say whether or not the president of the United States has the power to order the extrajudicial killing of a United States citizen within the borders of the United States"). I describe last week's process as "strange" because, for some reason, those events caused large numbers of people for the first time to recognize, accept and begin to confront truths that have long been readily apparent.

Illustrating this odd phenomenon was a much-discussed New York Times article on Sunday by Peter Baker which explained that these events "underscored the degree to which Mr. Obama has embraced some of Mr. Bush's approach to counterterrorism, right down to a secret legal memo authorizing presidential action unfettered by outside forces." It began this way:

"If President Obama tuned in to the past week's bracing debate on Capitol Hill about terrorism, executive power, secrecy and due process, he might have recognized the arguments his critics were making: He once made some of them himself.

"Four years into his tenure, the onetime critic of President George W. Bush finds himself cast as a present-day Mr. Bush, justifying the muscular application of force in the defense of the nation while detractors complain that he has sacrificed the country's core values in the name of security."

Baker also noticed this: "Some liberals acknowledged in recent days that they were willing to accept policies they once would have deplored as long as they were in Mr. Obama's hands, not Mr. Bush's." As but one example, the article quoted Jennifer Granholm, the former Michigan governor and fervent Obama supporter, as admitting without any apparent shame that "if this was Bush, I think that we would all be more up in arms" because, she said "we trust the president". Thus did we have - while some media liberals objected - scores of progressives and conservatives uniting to overtly embrace the once-controversial Bush/Cheney premises of the War on Terror (it's a global war! the whole world is a battlefield! the president has authority to do whatever he wants to The Terrorists without interference from courts!) in order to defend the war's most radical power yet (the president's power to assassinate even his own citizens in secret, without charges, and without checks).

Last week's "revelations" long known

Although you wouldn't know it from the shock and outrage expressed over the last few days, that Barack Obama claims the power to order US citizens assassinated without charges has been known for three full years. It was first reported more or less in passing in January, 2010 by the Washington Post's Dana Priest, and then confirmed and elaborated on by both the New York Times and the Washington Post in April, 2010. Obama first tried to kill US citizen Anwar Awlaki in December 2009 (apparently before these justifying legal memoranda were concocted) using cruise missiles and cluster bombs; they missed Awlaki but killed 52 people, more than half of whom were women and children. Obama finally succeeded in killing Awlaki and another American, Samir Khan, in October 2011, and then killed his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman in a drone strike two weeks later.

That Obama is systematically embracing the same premises that shaped the once-controversial Bush/Cheney terrorism approach has been known for even longer. All the way back in February, 2009 - one month after Obama's inauguration - the New York Times' Charlie Savage reported that "the Obama administration is quietly signaling continued support for other major elements of its predecessor's approach to fighting Al Qaeda" and that this continuity is "prompting growing worry among civil liberties groups and a sense of vindication among supporters of Bush-era policies" (I actually wrote at the time that Savage's alarmist conclusions were premature and overly pessimistic, but subsequently told him how right, even prescient, he turned out to be). In April, 2009, the Obama-friendly TPM site announced that "Obama mimics Bush" when it comes to assertions of extremist secrecy powers. In June, 2010, Obama's embrace - and expansion - of many of Bush's most radical policies had become so glaring that ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero gave a speech to a progressive conference and began by proclaiming himself to be "disgusted with this president", while Bush's most hawkish officials began praising Obama for his "continuity" with Bush/Cheney policy.

That many Democratic partisans and fervent Obama admirers are vapid, unprincipled hacks willing to justify anything and everything when embraced by Obama - including exactly that which they pretended to oppose under George W Bush - has also been clear for many years. Back in February, 2008, Paul Krugman warned that Obama supporters are "dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality." In May, 2009, a once-fervent Obama supporter, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, wrote a column warning that Obama was embracing many of the worst Bush/Cheney abuses and felt compelled - in the very first sentence - to explain what should be self-evident: "Policies that were wrong under George W. Bush are no less wrong because Barack Obama is in the White House." The same month, former Bush DOJ official Jack Goldsmith - who provided the legal authorization for the illegal Bush NSA warrantless eavesdropping program - went to the New Republic to celebrate that Obama was not only continuing the core Bush/Cheney approach to terrorism, but even better (from his perspective), was strengthening those policies far beyond what Bush could achieve by transforming Democrats from opponents of those policies into supporters.

And exactly as Goldsmith happily predicted, polls now show that Democrats and even self-identified progressives support policies that they once pretended to loathe now that it is Obama rather than Bush embracing them. On MSNBC, Obama aides and pundit-supporters now do their best Sarah Palin impression by mocking as weaklings and losers those who think the President should be constrained in his militarism and demonizing as anti-American anyone who questions the military (in between debating whether Obama should be elevated onto Mount Rushmore or given his own monument). A whole slew of policies that would have triggered the shrillest of progressive condemnations under Bush - waging war after Congress votes against authorizing it, the unprecedented persecution and even torturing of whistleblowers, literally re-writing FOIA to conceal evidence of torture, codifying indefinite detention on US soil - are justified or, at best, ignored.

So none of this - Obama's assassination program, his general embrace of Bush/Cheney radicalism, the grotesque eagerness of many Democrats to justify whatever he does - is at all new. But for some reasons, the events of last week made all of this so glaring that it could no longer be denied, and it's worth thinking about why that is.

What made last week's revelations so powerful?

What this DOJ "white paper" did was to force people to confront Obama's assassination program without emotionally manipulative appeal to some cartoon Bad Guy Terrorist (Awlaki). That document never once mentioned Awlaki. Instead - using the same creepily clinical, sanitized, legalistic language used by the Bush DOJ to justify torture, renditions and warrantless eavesdropping - it set forth the theoretical framework for empowering not just Obama, but any and all presidents, to assassinate not just Anwar Awlaki, but any citizens declared in secret by the president to be worthy of execution. Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee wrote that the DOJ memo "should shake the American people to the core", while Harvard Law Professor Noah Feldman explained "the revolutionary and shocking transformation of the meaning of due process" ushered in by this memo and said it constituted a repudiation of the Magna Carta.

In doing so, this document helpfully underscored the critical point that is otherwise difficult to convey: when you endorse the application of a radical state power because the specific target happens to be someone you dislike and think deserves it, you're necessarily institutionalizing that power in general. That's why political leaders, when they want to seize extremist powers or abridge core liberties, always choose in the first instance to target the most marginalized figures: because they know many people will acquiesce not because they support that power in theory but because they hate the person targeted. But if you cheer when that power is first invoked based on that mentality - I'm glad Obama assassinated Awlaki without charges because he was a Bad Man! - then you lose the ability to object when the power is used in the future in ways you dislike (or by leaders you distrust), because you've let it become institutionalized.

Much more HERE


French socialism in big trouble

The daily drumbeat of layoff and plant-closure announcements in France has been riling up desperate workers who stand to lose their livelihood without much hope of finding a job elsewhere as unemployment has hit 10.5%. But now the government is worried about a “radicalization” of these angry workers. A major quandary: on one hand, the Socialists promised during the election to side with the workers; but on the other hand, they must somehow figure out how to create an environment where the private sector can survive.

And the private sector is gasping for air. The Services Purchasing Managers’ Index fell to 43.6 in January, from 45.2 in December (below 50 = contraction), the fastest rate of contraction since March 2009. Particularly worrisome was the steep decline in employment. Manufacturing was even worse. Its index fell to 42.9 in January. New orders plunged at the fastest rate since March 2009, with domestic demand the primary culprit. Employment skidded as excess capacity led companies to slash their headcount.

That these references to March 2009, the dark days of the financial crisis, keep cropping up in economic data is troubling. The report speaks of a “deepening malaise” and “a broad-based deterioration in the private sector” with “significant headwinds,” “accelerated job cutting,” and “heightened levels of uncertainty.” President François Hollande and his government should be in panic mode.

The private sector is anemic in France. Based on the 2013 budget, the central government will contribute 56.3% to the economy. The remaining 43.7% is spread over local and regional governments and finally the private sector—that is shriveling with the relentless de-industrialization of France.

Plant shut-downs and layoffs, or merely the announcement of these events often months or even years down the road, make bold headlines. Video clips of protests associated with them show up on TV, with angry men and women blocking the site. There are images of fires and mayhem. Managers are taken hostage. Politicians weigh in gravely and speak of “dialogue.” Layoffs and plant closures don’t go down smoothly in France.

A series of big-name companies, some of them part-owned by the state, has become part of the nightly layoff blues: Air France, steelmaker ArcelorMittal, Texas Instruments, Goodyear, refiner Petroplus, or automakers PSA PeugeotCitroën and Renault, whose unit sales in France had plunged 17% and 20% respectively last year. But it doesn’t stop there. Now home sales are grinding to a halt

The numbers are adding up: in 2012, according to Trendeo, which tracks the creation and destruction of jobs in France, 266 industrial plants were closed last year, a 42% jump from 2011! Since 2009, a total of 1,087 old factories were shuttered while only 703 new ones were brought to life, for a net loss of 384 plants. And these new factories have on average 8.5% fewer employees than factories that are being shut down.

Just how deeply the government is worried about the growing labor unrest emerged during an interview on BFMTV on Tuesday:

And not in a propitious location: Interior Minister Manuel Valls was discussing the hunt for Islamist terrorists in France—efforts that the government has redoubled since its military involvement in Mali—when suddenly the topic shifted to the government’s fear of “excesses and violence” during the next labor-related demonstrations.

“Social anger”—meaning, anger by unionized workers—“as a consequence of the financial and economic crisis, job insecurity, unemployment, and layoffs is here and has been rumbling for years,” admitted Valls. “But what we’re seeing today are less social movements but social implosions or explosions.”

Turns out, the government is already preparing for them. A memo to that effect, dated January 30, bubbled to the surface. Sent to regional directors of the police intelligence service, it underlines “the risks of incidents” or possible “threats to production equipment in case of radicalization of the conflict.” To get a handle on the situation, the government has instructed its police intelligence apparatus to gather information on the movements and to follow teetering companies “very closely” in order to anticipate a possible “radicalization” of the labor unrest.

Valls confirmed the police surveillance. “You have to carefully analyze it,” he said about the social anger. And that was the job specifically of the intelligence services of the police, he added. Ever the likeable Socialist, he found the right words. “We have to try to understand the reasons that push men and women into desperation,” he said. “Men and women who are in the process of losing their jobs.”

What about vandalism and destruction of production equipment often associated with these movements? “We have to try to understand them, but we cannot permit them,” he said firmly, as the interview drifted to the next topic: rising violence and property crimes against individuals.

The heightened police presence at these sites during times of labor unrest, often in unmarked cars, has the unions worried. And Bernard Thibault, Secretary General of the CGT, warned that it would be seen as a “provocation.” And so the second largest economy of the Eurozone enters into a phase where fear of a labor revolt hangs over every economic decision the government makes.

The unemployment rate in particular has become treacherous. While all countries use inscrutable statistical systems to make unemployment look better, France also has an administrative tool: removing tens of thousands of people every month from the unemployment rolls for spurious reasons.




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