The progress of humanity has been greatly enhanced by those who, after thoughtful analysis, expressed views that are contrary to popular thought. Persons like Voltaire, Galileo, Socrates, Nietzsche, and the father of both the American and French revolutions, the great Thomas Paine, whose "Rights of Man" and "Age of Reason" would make him the contrarian of all time in my book.

It is in the spirit of these polemicists that I create this blog. It is my intent to challenge popular suppositions. While it will become evident that I am generally a progressive liberal, hopefully I will have the courage to take opposing viewpoints to those of my own comrades when appropriate.

No comments will be deleted based solely on the political , social, economic or religious views you may have. In fact I encourage thoughtful discourse. I will however promptly remove any postings that contain overtly vulgar comments, racial slurs, hate speech of any kind, or multiple postings of "conspiracy theories". Though not required, please post links for references to the point you are trying to make, or at the least, give us an idea of where you found the information that supports your cause or claim.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Wisconsin Union Busting: Convoluted Economics?

In my years of exposure to the writings of economists it has become clear to me that there rarely is a convergence of opinion as to the nature of a fiscal crisis or of a viable solution. There is generally some degree of accuracy to all conclusions, with future hindsight being the only indicator of veracity. I'm sure that our current economic and budgetary conundrum is no different.

                                                  1912 Textile Strike, Lawrence, Mass.

It is from this perspective that I am both perplexed and disturbed by the current events in Madison, Wisconsin where it would seem the political powers are intent on "union busting" as becoming the solution to the state's budgetary woes. Several other states are considering similar bills in their statehouses. I have not heard one economist, whether liberal or conservative, state that excessive power of organized labor was in any way to blame for our economic meltdown. Nor have I heard any one of them make claims that overpaid state and public sector workers were responsible for our demise. On the contrary, despite their many differences, most respected economists agree that the single most overriding cause of the Great Recession was the excessive power of capital, specifically finance capital and it's use of trading in ficticious mortgage instruments and derivatives that created a housing bubble. There is an unusual level of agreement, even among academia, that this was the case.

While the financiers have gotten off scott free, and with taxpayer funds racked up record profits and bonuses, real wages here in the U.S. as well as across the free world have been in steady decline since the 1970's. Interestingly, the power of organized labor has been in decline over this same period. Concession after concession on wages, benefits and retirement plans have been made to both management of private sector companies and public sector entities. In some cases unions have given up decades worth of gains. Governors and mayors, particularly in right to work states, make gleeful announcements of companies bringing a few hundred new jobs to their area that pay ten dollars per hour and only mediocre benefits. Most of the time these companies were enticed by tax incentives and sometimes given low cost or even free leases on publicly owned property. Many of the "fortunate" hirees end up drawing food stamps or some other form of assistance just to survive.

As is the case with any disaster, blame for the global economic crisis needs a scapegoat. From the very outset of the catastrophe financial moguls, their lobbyists, pundits, and bought politicians have been orchestrating a calculated program of misinformation and demagogy. Their targets have alternately been poor people who received sub-prime mortgages, illegal immigrants, Medicaire and Medicaid recipients, persons on disability, environmentalists, non-Christians, the school lunch program, the Department of Education, Planned Parenthood, American Civil Liberties Union, socialists, and spoiled people who refuse to work for minimum wage. As with most victims of scapegoating, many of these targets have no means of defense.

Organized public labor unions in Wisconsin can now be added to the rediculous reasons for state governments going broke. Never mind that of the 137 million dollar shortfall in Wisconsin's budget, 117 million dollars is due to a tax cut for the wealthy pushed through recently by Gov. Scott Walker. Ignore the fact that in the short time he has been in office he eliminated the Department of Commerce and replaced it with a public/private corporation funded with 80 million dollars of taxpayer money with little or no oversight. The public unions have agreed to ALL of the wage and benefit concessions demanded of them. But that is not enough. The governor is intent on busting the union as well, setting a horrid precedent for other states and municipalities to follow suit.

As sad and disconcerting this all is, the real tragedy is that the singular cause of our peril will not be addressed. The problem will be left to languish, awaiting it's inevitable return. The finance juggernaut, free from meaningful regulation and with the backing of America's largest lobby, will continue to rack up enormous profit while getting those who are of the least means to shoulder the burden. No one can say what the next crisis will be. It could be a commodities bubble,a sovereign debt crisis, or a failure of the dollar as the world's reserve currency. But it will come. Perhaps they are searching already for the next scapegoat.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

WMD and Radical Islam: The Dubious Case for a Suleiman Solution

While the Obama administration gets fairly high marks in most domestic quarters for it's response to date regarding the serious crisis in Egypt, the skeletal remains of American credibility throughout the rest of the world have taken yet another body blow with the news that at least some of the 1.3 billion dollars in military aid to Egypt's regime has gone towards the development of WMD's. It seems that, under Mubarak, Egypt has had an active and ongoing program to develop chemical, biological and even nuclear warfare technology, ranging from a three-way deal with N.Korea and Pakistan involving medium range missiles to a covert facility in Argentina for experimental uranium enrichment. Of particular embarrassment to the U.S. is that while Mubarak supported the overthrow of Sadaam Hussein, it was he who supplied the sarin gas to the latter to be used on the Kurds. Sarin gas that was developed with American funds. And obviously this all occurred with the full knowledge and at least tacit consent of the American government. Not that any of this is necessarily breaking news. For most of the last 30 years this information has been there for the asking. It's just that mainstream American media have not had cause to report it, at least not until now. I'm wondering why? One plausible guess could be that the U.S. government would have had too tough of a time explaining that we were invading Iraq because of WMD, when in fact we were supporting the same sort of behavior in Egypt. However onerous this news may be, the injection of WMD's into the Egyptian equation sets up a late in the game opportunity for American fear-mongers.

The purveyors of fear were in the game from the very beginning. From the first hours of the Egyptian uprising there began whispers of the "Muslim Brotherhood". Over the last weeks those whispers have become loud voices, portraying them in the most exaggerated terms not only in numbers but as to their purpose. Despite the mutual disdain and hatred between the two groups, the usual reference to al-Qaida creeps into the narrative. The right-wing media jockeys are already pointing to a conspiracy of radical Islam with the American left to overthrow Mubarak, with one even suggesting the inane claim that the Egyptian revolution has as it's aim a new "caliphate" to spread Sharia law across the entire globe.

It is beginning to become troublingly clear that the U.S., along with others of our allies, like Israel, are embracing the Suleiman solution, whereby the newly appointed Egyptian Vice-President would preside over a transition government. The so far leaderless populist revolt has already voiced it's adamant rejection of this scenario. Omar Suleiman, a decades long supporter of Hosni Mubarak, is a firm entrenchment of the old regime, correctly viewed by the people as a torturer and a "yes" man. He is a retired army general and former intelligence chief who as director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Service (EGIS) entered an agreement with the U.S. in 1995 that allowed for suspected militants to be secretly transferred to Egypt for questioning. He was reportedly required to provide assurance that prisoners brought to Egypt would not be subjected to torture, but at least one CIA officer testified that such assurances from Suleiman were worthless as "a bucket of warm spit". While Suleiman's official duties at EGIS regarded foreign and military intelligence it requires a contorted imagination to believe that he did not also use his power to spy on and intimidate unsuspecting Egyptians. In my view Omar Suleiman has the appearance of a common thug wearing a coat and tie. All of this aside, the question stilll presents itself as to the legitimacy of any high ranking military official having the necessary motivation to oversee an honest and fair transition of power. Albeit the Egyptian army at it's lower level of conscripts appears to be supportive of the people, it is difficult to believe that the higher level of generals and ministers are not at first interested in maintaining as much of the corrupt status quo as possible. Along with their wealthy business-class counterparts, the military elite are not likely to let go of power or the purse easily. Do the majority of Egyptian people wish to see this group overseeing a revision of their constitution or setting the rules of engagement for new elections? I think not.

What we are witnessing has become all too familiar. On the one hand our government extends the hand of America by extolling the virtues of democracy, offering aid to the innocent, decrying injustice, supporting the cause of the people, and assuring all that the future of their nation is to be determined by them and only them. Leaders and politicians give grand speeches and make emotional statements of support. It all looks wonderful on the evening news. This is what Americans really believe. It is what we want to believe. We embrace these principles. It is at our core and serves as the cornerstone of what we see as the goodness of America.

But behind the scenes something very different is taking root. Fear is setting in. Those in the know are increasingly concerned about our past complicity with the guilty party. Every effort is being made to place the proper spin on past and current events. We are starting to hear the phrase "peaceful, orderly transition", a translation of which could be "how do we effect the best possible outcome for America?". The prospect of a functioning, truly democratic nation that is not fully on our team is too much to swallow for some in our government. Spoiled by the relative ease of dealing with a well entrenched dictator, they just are not ready. Nor or they ready to accept any responsibility or blame for the three decades of policy in which they were complicit in the demise of the Egyptian people. In spite of all it's pronouncements of support for a transparent hands-off approach to the formation of a new government, the U.S. is actively promoting it's own agenda. Enter the Suleiman solution, with all the shallow promises, vague gestures and back room deals that are sure to accompany it.

But in this self-serving attempt lies a real dilemma. How do our policymakers sell this idea of an already rejected caretaker government to an overwhelming majority of altruistic Americans who support the populist cause of the Egyptian people? Actually it is a relatively simple task. It has been done before. In one word.... "Fear". It is the brand of fear that trancends all idealistic notions of democratic freedom and trumps our deepest desires for affinity with the Egyptians camping in Liberation Square. It is the same imagery that closed the deal with us on Iraq. It requires only the mention of two phrases: "Takeover by Radical Islam" and "Weapons of mass destruction". With these two elements added to the mix, a justification for U.S. influence in the shaping of any transitional government in Egypt becomes not only a possibility but a likelyhood.

So now we have it. A fresh revolution in the Middle East. A popular, secular uprising of an honorable and proud ancient society who have had enough of pharaohs, dictators and military regimes. And unlike our episode in Iraq, it is a totally self-generated movement with no outside forces, no ideas of "occupation" by a foreign military, and no U.N. resolutions. For once it would be nice to end up on the right side of history. In light of our recent questionable affiliations with dictators and illicit regimes it would be a huge step in the right direction if we were to place our principles above our fears and just do what is right. Certainly diplomacy will be much more difficult with a properly represented democratic nation that has such diverse political viewpoints, and there are some legitimate concerns about Egypt's future relationships with it's neighbors that can't be ignored. But we should not blow these things out of proportion. The new Egypt will disagree with us on many issues, of that we can be quite sure. Our own is a nation of political diversity with radical elements of all flavors having a voice. For what reason do we find such great difficulty in granting that same latitude to our Egyptian counterparts? In spite of the potential conflicts there most assuredly would be enormous opportunities for us to find common ground, and I believe that any compact between our nations would be a real milestone towards a peaceful and prosperous middle east.

We should remember that we had our own revolution. The American collection of colonies had it's own transitional government and had no singular leader. Our new nation required over a decade to write it's constitution and elect it's first president. During our transitional period there was a myriad of viewpoints to be dealt with, from those who wanted appeasement with England to others who did not wish there to be a "united" states at all. We were a Christian population of different denominations who had some serious conflicts with each other, yet we settled on a secular government. Accounts by it's own members portray our Continental Congress as being a difficult and sometimes ugly affair. The rest of the civilized world didn't quite know how do deal with us and were concerned as to our intentions. Other colonial powers worried that our revolution would spread across the globe. But we avoided any foreign intervention or influence. What we ended up with was truly of our own making. We owe the Egyptian people that same opportunity.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Proof of US Government Support for Egyptian Uprising

The following is the secret document just released three days ago by Wikileaks. It was sent on Dec. 30, 2008 from the US Embassy in Cairo to Washington disclosing the extent of American support for the protesters behind the Egypt uprising. The April 6 Movement is the primary opposition group leading the current uprising. It is not a political party, but rather a grassroot collection of opposition parties, groups and individuals who have been trying to affect regime change in Egypt. The name of the activist who made the trip to the USA for conferences on Capitol Hill has been blocked out, as have the names of the American diplomat and other individuals. I take this to be conclusive proof that, while skeptical as to the possible success of their movement, the US government has in fact lent support to their cause.
Brief History of April 6 Youth Movement
NOTE: USG refers to U. S. Government and GOE refers to Government of Egypt.

10:30PM GMT 28 Jan 2011





CAIRO 2454 C. CAIRO 2431 Classified By: ECPO A/Mincouns

Catherine Hill-Herndon for reason 1.4 (d ). 1. (C) Summary and

comment: On December 23, April 6 activist xxxxxxxxxxxx expressed

satisfaction with his participation in the December 3-5 \"Alliance of

Youth Movements Summit,\" and with his subsequent meetings with USG

officials, on Capitol Hill, and with think tanks. He described how

State Security (SSIS) detained him at the Cairo airport upon his

return and confiscated his notes for his summit presentation calling

for democratic change in Egypt, and his schedule for his Congressional

meetings. xxxxxxxxxxxx contended that the GOE will never undertake

significant reform, and therefore, Egyptians need to replace the

current regime with a parliamentary democracy. He alleged that

several opposition parties and movements have accepted an unwritten

plan for democratic transition by 2011; we are doubtful of this claim.

xxxxxxxxxxxx said that although SSIS recently released two April 6

activists, it also arrested three additional group members. We have

pressed the MFA for the release of these April 6 activists. April 6's

stated goal of replacing the current regime with a parliamentary

democracy prior to the 2011 presidential elections is highly

unrealistic, and is not supported by the mainstream opposition. End

summary and comment. ---------------------------- Satisfaction with

the Summit ---------------------------- 2. (C) xxxxxxxxxxxx expressed

satisfaction with the December 3-5 \"Alliance of Youth Movements

Summit\" in New York, noting that he was able to meet activists from

other countries and outline his movement's goals for democratic change

in Egypt. He told us that the other activists at the summit were very

supportive, and that some even offered to hold public demonstrations

in support of Egyptian democracy in their countries, with xxxxxxxxxxxx

as an invited guest. xxxxxxxxxxxx said he discussed with the other

activists how April 6 members could more effectively evade harassment

and surveillance from SSIS with technical upgrades, such as

consistently alternating computer \"simcards.\" However, xxxxxxxxxxxx

lamented to us that because most April 6 members do not own computers,

this tactic would be impossible to implement. xxxxxxxxxxxx was

appreciative of the successful efforts by the Department and the

summit organizers to protect his identity at the summit, and told us

that his name was never mentioned publicly. ------------------- A

Cold Welcome Home ------------------- 3. (S) xxxxxxxxxxxx told us

that SSIS detained and searched him at the Cairo Airport on December

18 upon his return from the U.S. According to xxxxxxxxxxxx, SSIS

found and confiscated two documents in his luggage: notes for his

presentation at the summit that described April 6's demands for

democratic transition in Egypt, and a schedule of his Capitol Hill

meetings. xxxxxxxxxxxx described how the SSIS officer told him that

State Security is compiling a file on him, and that the officer's

superiors instructed him to file a report on xxxxxxxxxxxx most recent

activities. --------------------------------------------- ----------

Washington Meetings and April 6 Ideas for Regime Change

--------------------------------------------- ---------- 4. (C)

xxxxxxxxxxxx described his Washington appointments as positive, saying

that on the Hill he met with xxxxxxxxxxxx, a variety of House staff

members, including from the offices of xxxxxxxxxxxx and xxxxxxxxxxxx),

and with two Senate staffers. xxxxxxxxxxxx also noted that he met

with several think tank members. xxxxxxxxxxxx said that xxxxxxxxxxxx's

office invited him to speak at a late January Congressional hearing on

House Resolution 1303 regarding religious and political freedom in

Egypt. xxxxxxxxxxxx told us he is interested in attending, but

conceded he is unsure whether he will have the funds to make the trip.

He indicated to us that he has not been focusing on his work as a

\"fixer\" for journalists, due to his preoccupation with his U.S.

trip. 5. (C) xxxxxxxxxxxx described how he tried to convince his

Washington interlocutors that the USG should pressure the GOE to

implement significant reforms by threatening to reveal CAIRO 00002572

002 OF 002 information about GOE officials' alleged \"illegal\"

off-shore bank accounts. He hoped that the U.S. and the international

community would freeze these bank accounts, like the accounts of

Zimbabwean President Mugabe's confidantes. xxxxxxxxxxxx said he wants

to convince the USG that Mubarak is worse than Mugabe and that the GOE

will never accept democratic reform. xxxxxxxxxxxx asserted that

Mubarak derives his legitimacy from U.S. support, and therefore

charged the U.S. with \"being responsible\" for Mubarak's \"crimes.\"

He accused NGOs working on political and economic reform of living in

a \"fantasy world,\" and not recognizing that Mubarak -- \"the head of

the snake\" -- must step aside to enable democracy to take root. 6.

(C) xxxxxxxxxxxx claimed that several opposition forces -- including

the Wafd, Nasserite, Karama and Tagammu parties, and the Muslim

Brotherhood, Kifaya, and Revolutionary Socialist movements -- have

agreed to support an unwritten plan for a transition to a

parliamentary democracy, involving a weakened presidency and an

empowered prime minister and parliament, before the scheduled 2011

presidential elections (ref C). According to xxxxxxxxxxxx, the

opposition is interested in receiving support from the army and the

police for a transitional government prior to the 2011 elections.

xxxxxxxxxxxx asserted that this plan is so sensitive it cannot be

written down. (Comment: We have no information to corroborate that

these parties and movements have agreed to the unrealistic plan

xxxxxxxxxxxx has outlined. Per ref C, xxxxxxxxxxxx previously told us

that this plan was publicly available on the internet. End comment.)

7. (C) xxxxxxxxxxxx said that the GOE has recently been cracking down

on the April 6 movement by arresting its members. xxxxxxxxxxxx noted

that although SSIS had released xxxxxxxxxxxx and xxxxxxxxxxxx \"in the

past few days,\" it had arrested three other members. (Note: On

December 14, we pressed the MFA for the release of xxxxxxxxxxxx and

xxxxxxxxxxxx, and on December 28 we asked the MFA for the GOE to

release the additional three activists. End note.) xxxxxxxxxxxx

conceded that April 6 has no feasible plans for future activities.

The group would like to call for another strike on April 6, 2009, but

realizes this would be \"impossible\" due to SSIS interference,

xxxxxxxxxxxx said. He lamented that the GOE has driven the group's

leadership underground, and that one of its leaders, xxxxxxxxxxxx, has

been in hiding for the past week. 8. (C) Comment: xxxxxxxxxxxx

offered no roadmap of concrete steps toward April 6's highly

unrealistic goal of replacing the current regime with a parliamentary

democracy prior to the 2011 presidential elections. Most opposition

parties and independent NGOs work toward achieving tangible,

incremental reform within the current political context, even if they

may be pessimistic about their chances of success. xxxxxxxxxxxx

wholesale rejection of such an approach places him outside this

mainstream of opposition politicians and activists.