Monthly Archives: February 2011
Protests turned violent yesterday as "pro-Mubarak" forces clashed with "anti-Mubarak" forces (descriptions used by various media outlets) in Cairo.
The violence, though not really unexpected, is unfortunate but a fairly routine part of these sorts of confrontations. The question is – and I think we probably know the answer – were the "pro-Mubarak" forces real or recruited? I.e. was it a spontaneous grouping that finally came out in the streets to counter the other side, or was it an orchestrated "spontaneous" uprising on the "pro-Mubarak" side? I’m pretty sure most feel it is the former rather than the latter. If so, then Mubarak, et al, have decided to fight to stay on.
Speaking of orchestration, Robert Springborg is of the opinion that there has been some careful orchestration in the response by the Mubarak government, all aimed at seeing the military take control of the government when everything has run its course – thereby pretty much preserving the status quo with different leaders. While the administration has finally come out publicly saying Mubarak should step down, the best “realpolitik” foreign policy ending for the US could be such an outcome. But that means the death of any possibility of Egyptian democracy and the perpetuation of the autocratic “strongman” state under which Egypt has suffered for decades.
Egypt’s government hit back swiftly. The Foreign Ministry released a defiant statement saying the calls from “foreign parties” had been “rejected and aimed to incite the internal situation in Egypt.” And Egyptian officials reached out to reporters to make clear how angry they were at their onetime friend.
Separately, in an interview, a senior Egyptian government official took aim at President Obama’s call on Tuesday night for a political transition to begin “now” — a call that infuriated Cairo.
Not particularly surprising or unexpected. I’m not sure why Washington continues to fear this argument as it appears it does. It is going to happen at sometime during any event like this in the Middle East whether we sit on our hands or not. Even if its not true the US is going to be blamed. So we need to get over worrying about it and have our say.
Speaking of having his say, George Soros is out with a op/ed about how well Obama has handled all of this:
Revolutions usually start with enthusiasm and end in tears. In the case of the Middle East, the tears could be avoided if President Obama stands firmly by the values that got him elected. Although American power and influence in the world have declined, our allies and their armies look to us for direction. These armies are strong enough to maintain law and order as long as they stay out of politics; thus the revolutions can remain peaceful. That is what the United States should insist on while encouraging corrupt and repressive rulers who are no longer tolerated by their people to step aside and allow new leaders to be elected in free and fair elections.
About an mile wide and inch deep analysis Soros is trying to pretend that the army is a benign agent in Egypt and is claiming the Egyptian army is looking to us for leadership, which Soros claims Obama is providing. The alternate scenario, and the one that seems much more likely, is that one Springborg describes. IOW, look for an eventual government to emerge peopled by the military. And, of course, Soros buys into the charade involving ElBaradei and the Muslim Brotherhood:
The Muslim Brotherhood’s cooperation with Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel laureate who is seeking to run for president, is a hopeful sign that it intends to play a constructive role in a democratic political system. But despite his claims to the contrary, ElBaradei is not as popular as he’d like to believe and is seen as almost an outsider who has spent very little time in Egypt in recent years. He is, however, a convenient front man for the Muslim Brotherhood – at least for the moment.
The main problem ala Soros? The Joooos:
The main stumbling block is Israel. In reality, Israel has as much to gain from the spread of democracy in the Middle East as the United States has. But Israel is unlikely to recognize its own best interests because the change is too sudden and carries too many risks. And some U.S. supporters of Israel are more rigid and ideological than Israelis themselves. Fortunately, Obama is not beholden to the religious right, which has carried on a veritable vendetta against him. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is no longer monolithic or the sole representative of the Jewish community. The main danger is that the Obama administration will not adjust its policies quickly enough to the suddenly changed reality.
Soros concludes that he’s very hopeful and enthusiastic about the probability of democracy and freedom breaking out in Egypt.
Speaking of ElBaradei, he’s now demanding Mubarak step down in 48 hours or else.
Egyptian uprising idol Mohammed ElBaradei has ordered Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to leave the country by Friday – or he will be a “dead man walking” and not just a lame-duck president.
Nice – peaceful, civil discourse with a threat he has no way of backing up with action. Not something that aspiring leaders should be throwing out there if they want to be taken seriously.
And, as Springbork suggests in his piece, all of this orchestration of events and postures assumed have been done for a purpose, one of which is to get the factions and groups to want normalcy again and be willing to negotiate a “peace”. Not so our friends in the Muslim Brotherhood:
The radical Muslim Brotherhood has become more vocal in its calls for Mubarak’s resignation, drowning out several opposition groups that have accepted an offer by newly-appointed vice president Omar Suleiman to negotiate.
It is not in the best interest of the Muslim Brotherhood for there to be peace, negotiation and accommodation (the NYT still buys into the “benevolent Muslim Brotherhood” nonsense). But it appears the regime, via the newly appointed VP and the Army, are attempting the old “divide and conquer” tactic. The “pro-Mubarak” faction’s (thugs) violence have tempered the fervor of some of the members of the populist portions of the uprising. Negotiations begin to steal the momentum from the protesters by peeling them away. Splitting off the “fair weather” protesters allows the regime (via the security forces that Suleiman ran for years) to begin to identify the hard-core extremist factions involved and deal with them. The army, of course, remains above the fray (and seemingly neutral) and positions itself to be the choice of most of the people as the moderate successor to the Mubarak regime.
Result? Pretty much the same set-up as now (except with uniforms – the VP and PM are Army or former Army) but possibly more anti-American than before. Of course George Soros won’t tell you that.
As predictable as your relatives showing up on your doorstep a few hours after it’s announced you won the lottery, Al Gore had emerged from his hole in the snowpack to make sure we understand that the reason we’re seeing so much snow is … wait for it … man-made global warming.
As it turns out, the scientific community has been addressing this particular question for some time now and they say that increased heavy snowfalls are completely consistent with what they have been predicting as a consequence of man-made global warming: “In fact, scientists have been warning for at least two decades that global warming could make snowstorms more severe. Snow has two simple ingredients: cold and moisture. Warmer air collects moisture like a sponge until it hits a patch of cold air. When temperatures dip below freezing, a lot of moisture creates a lot of snow.”
Well, yeah, except the UK is on record as having had the coldest December in its recorded history and possibly the coldest in 1,000 years. I assume that’s all wrapped up in whatever we want "global warming" to be today, isn’t it Al? Because this isn’t the same story we’ve been hearing about all of this for years:
So which is it?
A bill has been introduced in the South Dakota legislature that would require any adult over 21 to buy a gun “sufficient to provide for their ordinary self-defense.”
The hook – the purpose of the bill is to demonstrate that government shouldn’t be requiring anyone to buy health insurance. Really. Or so say the sponsors:
“Do I or the other cosponsors believe that the State of South Dakota can require citizens to buy firearms? Of course not. But at the same time, we do not believe the federal government can order every citizen to buy health insurance,” he said.
So now our liberal friends are free to tell us why requiring all the citizens of a state to buy a gun is bad and different than telling all citizens of the United States they have to buy health insurance. If they believe in the power of the Commerce Clause to require citizens buy what the government demands they buy, why not a gun?
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Trust me when I say I’d love to see the next government in Egypt be a democratic and modern one dedicated to freedom and liberty. But I don’t find myself to be particularly cynical when I say I don’t think that will happen at all.
Let’s start with Richard Cohen’s points as a good foundation for why I believe that:
Egypt’s problems are immense. It has a population it cannot support, a standard of living that is stagnant and a self-image as leader of the (Sunni) Arab world that does not, really, correspond to reality. It also lacks the civic and political institutions that are necessary for democracy. The next Egyptian government – or the one after – might well be composed of Islamists. In that case, the peace with Israel will be abrogated and the mob currently in the streets will roar its approval.
It not only lacks the civic and political institutions necessary for democracy, it has no history or tradition of democracy. Given all of that, I’m constantly amazed by those who see what they choose to interpret as “people’s revolutions” in places like Egypt as precursors to a sunny day in the bright light of democracy and freedom.
David Larison points to something Jeane Kirkpatrick once said decades ago after Iran fell to the Ayatollahs.
Although most governments in the world are, as they always have been, autocracies of one kind or another, no idea holds greater sway in the mind of educated Americans than the belief that it is possible to democratize governments, anytime, anywhere, under any circumstances. This notion is belied by an enormous body of evidence based on the experience of dozens of countries which have attempted with more or less (usually less) success to move from autocratic to democratic government. Many of the wisest political scientists of this and previous centuries agree that democratic institutions are especially difficult to establish and maintain-because they make heavy demands on all portions of a population and because they depend on complex social, cultural, and economic conditions.
As legitimate as the grievances against the Egyptian government are, it is entirely possible that whatever comes after Mubarak and his allies could be dramatically worse. We seem to forget that political change can also be change significantly for the worse, and that empowering a dispossessed majority can lead to economic catastrophe, ethnic and/or religious violence, and contribute to an overall decline in the public’s welfare.
Exactly. And for examples of the point, we once again turn to Jean Kirkpatrick:
In Iran and Nicaragua (as previously in Vietnam, Cuba, and China) Washington overestimated the political diversity of the opposition–especially the strength of “moderates” and “democrats” in the opposition movement; underestimated the strength and intransigence of radicals in the movement….
Many of us simply cannot see past the fact that history doesn’t much support the contention that something “good”, as in a government that will be good for its citizens and a friend to the US, will emerge in Egypt or countries like Egypt. One of the results of oppression and repression are the withering and finally death of democratic institutions – if any even existed to begin with.
And the promise of “free and open elections?” As common and predictable as sunrise. Free and open elections only guarantee you’ll see them once. After that, you’re more likely to see Venezuela, Zimbabwe and Lebanon than you are Canada, the United States and the UK.
It is having those “free and open elections” the second time, and the third, and fourth, etc. that develop the institutions we’re talking about. Holding an election after the overthrow of a government doesn’t make what follows a democracy anymore than writing a Constitution means anyone will live by it or uphold it.
Dictatorships in countries with no democratic traditions or institutions usually beget a dictatorship of a different form when the current strongman is overthrown. And even if the revolution makes an attempt at democratic progress, it usually gets subverted and taken over by the country’s next oppressor as soon as he and his followers gather enough power.
Obviously everyone would like to believe there can be exceptions to the rule and certainly it would be in our, Israel and the region’s best interests if that’s the case in Egypt. But that’s not what we should expect, and it damn sure isn’t that for we should be preparing. Instead, it appears we’re in the middle of repeating our own disastrous history of dealing with such problems. Here’s Kirkpatrick again, talking about Iran – see if you’re feeling a little déjà vu as you read it:
The emissary’s recommendations are presented in the context of a growing clamor for American disengagement on grounds that continued involvement confirms our status as an agent of imperialism, racism, and reaction; is inconsistent with support for human rights; alienates us from the “forces of democracy”; and threatens to put the U.S. once more on the side of history’s “losers.” This chorus is supplemented daily by interviews with returning missionaries and “reasonable” rebels.
As the situation worsens, the President assures the world that the U.S. desires only that the “people choose their own form of government”; he blocks delivery of all arms to the government and undertakes negotiations to establish a “broadly based” coalition headed by a “moderate” critic of the regime who, once elevated, will move quickly to seek a “political” settlement to the conflict.
Dean Baker, over at HuffPo, headlines a post: “Debts Should be Honored, Except When the Money Is Owed to Working People” and says:
It seems to be the lesson that our nation’s leaders are trying to pound home to us. According to the New York Times, members of Congress are secretly running around in closets and back alleys working up a law allowing states to declare bankruptcy.
According to the article, a main goal of state bankruptcy is to allow states to default on their pension obligations. This means that states will be able to tell workers, including those already retired, that they are out of luck. Teachers, highway patrol officers and other government employees, some of whom worked decades for the government, will be told that their contracts no longer mean anything. They will not get the pensions that they were expecting.
I beg to differ. It seems that “lesson” was already taught with the specially done bankruptcies of GM and Chrysler where the bond holders were screwed in favor of unions and government.
But nevertheless, the simple reality of the situation in the states is this – they overpromised something for which they haven’t the revenue to fulfill. What would Baker have them do except restructure that debt so it is both affordable and something they can manage? The fact that a state promised something it hasn’t the means to produce doesn’t make what it promises sacrosanct. Especially if the means for fulfilling it is more debt or much higher taxes for those who aren’t affected by the problem.
This is the general story of public pensions. Public sector workers are often better situated than their private sector counterparts, in that they even have pensions. But study after study shows that these workers paid for their pensions with lower wages than their private sector counterparts. It is tragic that so many private sector workers cannot count on a secure retirement, but it won’t help them to make workers in the public sector equally insecure.
What’s even more tragic is the fact that Baker and the left can’t see that state governments have badly managed those retirement funds just as the federal government has with Social Security. It isn’t just the states who are in trouble – they’re just having to face the reality of their mismanagement first. Facing the reality on a national level is coming in a few years. And it won’t be pretty. In the meantime, this is the reality states must deal with, and unlike the federal government they can’t create money out of thin air with the click of a mouse.
Additionally he notes that many in the private sector “cannot count on a secure retirement”, yet we don’t see him whining about ensuring they’re covered. You know, tough beans and all, folks, but the public sector folks vote Democratic.
So Baker is left with an essentially emotional argument to try to shame the right (who somehow became the bad guys here) into going into even more massive debt at a state level to pay workers what they are “due.” Well, since I had nothing to do with the states making promises they couldn’t keep, I feel no obligation to bail them out when their promises are found to be empty. Baker’s cry that the right believes people should pay debts and that right-wing lawmakers conspired to rewrite bankruptcy laws to make it harder but now want to help facilitate state bankruptcies is facile at best.
As mentioned, state pension plans have been in trouble for years – even in good economic times. Warnings and calls to do something have essentially fallen on deaf ears as politicians preferred to kick the can down the road (just as they have done with Social Security). Now, at least for a number of states, that road has come to a dead end. While it may be emotionally satisfying to argue that the right wants people to pay their debts and charge them with hypocrisy, it should also be understood that the rewriting of bankruptcy laws was intended to take the action from being a first choice for those who used existing law to shirk paying debt when they probably could, to a law that was a available to those who had done all they could to pay their debt and found it impossible because they hadn’t the means to do so.
Whether he likes it or not, that’s where many states are at this point.
Of course Baker doesn’t offer a solution (although I think it is pretty well implied), just a whine. The reason he doesn’t offer a solution is the solution is obvious – even if he doesn’t like it. Restructuring the debt may reduce the pension amounts paid, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be eliminated altogether. As for what people were promised (and planned their lives around) vs. what they get, they need to look to their state leadership for answers – not taxpayers.