Tag Archives: ahistorical

Paralyzed? no, numbed a bit!


from a dear friend:

It is not the US President, Senate of Congress, but the full application of “check and balance”:
in the past “balance” was not applied to the full because Republicans and Congress shared the same basic values; now Congress as well as Senate are fundamentally divided, and Congress, Senate, Legislative and Executive all blocking each other. The US Government is paralysed, no matter who is President, and how good the President is…

I don’t see it this way at all.
First of all, the financial crisis [the 20107-08] was initially brought on by government interference resulting from the housing debacle which was the product, not of the markets, but of government legislation and regulation intended to manage the housing scene for supposed beneficial and narrower partisan ends.
The nature of the crisis was also exaggerated in the heat of the debate: there was no threat of immediate default given the government’s revenues, etc. Obama & Co. were trying to use  concern with default to force their philosophy of government intervention in the economy on the majority which still opposes it, at least in theory although the electorate has to some extent been “bought off” with populist arguments and “spoils”. It is a basic argument over whether more of the resources of the economy are to be used to fund government and its intervention in the markets and the society or to permit the markets with all their imperfections to dictate the direction and progress of the economy and the society generally by  maintaining maximum personal freedoms and choices.
The debate was useful and necessary as nasty as it looked. Great ideological battles are always ugly in a democratic society with representative government. After all, what is the use of having a debt ceiling if it is a matter of “routine” as the Administration argued, to keep voting it larger and larger, without this fundamental examination.
The partial resolution of the crisis has, for the moment, been effective. While it was a compromise of the goals of one party — the fiscal conservatives — it did accomplish its purpose by making increasing debt and additional taxation the main subject of the debate, which it had not been and which the opposition — the Obama Administration and its supporters — had refused to accept until now.
I think a watershed in thinking has been achieved and will have its long-term effect.
All this fashionable commentary — such as this BBC piece, which I see as typical of the “bien pesant”, and I must say, more trypical than not, of the BBC and The Economist — about the paralysis of government, etc., etc., is superficial and ahistorical. The U.S. has always gone through these kinds of crises when big issues are being debated. They are inevtiable, a part of the life of a relatively effective system of representative government but one based on a division of powers. [Please note that the European style of the monopoly of a legislative body — where it hasn’t broken down — rather than an intended balance of forces among legislative, executive and judicial certainly doesn’t work better. The evidence, if further historical references were not enough, is the crisis of the Euro and the EU which is as deep if not deeper than the present situation in the U.S. with less possibility of resolution, I would argue.]
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Revolution and common sense



A revolution is not a tea party”. -Mao Tse-tung

Every revolutionary ends up by becoming either an oppressor or a heretic. –Albert Camus

All revolutions devour their own children.-Ernst Röhm

Revolutions have never lightened the burden of tyranny: they have only shifted it to another shoulder. –George Bernard Shaw

In a revolution, as in a novel, the most difficult part to invent is the end. –Alexis de Tocqueville

Historians will have to evaluate how much Obama Administration’s denigration of American power and prestige contributed to Egypt’s chaotic crisis. But led by an often untutored media seeking sensation at whatever cost, and Al Jazeera beating the jihadist drums, U.S. Mideast policy waffles and meddles beyond its competence.

The American tendency is not only ahistorical, but antihistorical. After all, our forebears came to escape their European, Latin American and Asian – even African – histories. Nothing could be further from the American experience than Egypt’s multimillennial suffocating cultural “overburden”. To further alienate Americans from context, the world has moved to instantaneous electronic transmissions. Images and tweets replace studies and serious journalism – and contemplation.

That’s why it might be well to lean back and view unpredictable events with more dispassion — and, yes, common sense. [I like the Oxford English Dictionary’s No. 2 definition: “xxx the plain wisdom which is everyone’s inheritance xxx”.]

America’s role and national interest.

Egypt’s burgeoning 80 million people has been for centuries the center of Sunni Islam; Cairo, heart of the larger Arab world with its vast petroleum resources [only gas in Egypt]. With feeble economic, cultural and physical infrastructure, the Arab and Persian petrosheikhs now levy a “tax” on the world economy [as former Sec. of Treasury William Simon rationalized.] Therefore, Egypt’s stability inherently demands Washington’s highest priority.

As Biggest Boy on the Block, the U.S. is both envied and courted, not least by Egypt. Washington struck a bargain with its annual $2 billion aid package – a bribe to keep Egypt’s military on the straight and narrow. Cairo was to modernize, bolster regional moderates, help secure the world oil supply and prevent attacks on Israel. Not least, it guarded Suez Canal passage for 80% of world commercial traffic.

Those dollars and weapons have undoubtedly helped; Pres. Hosni Mubarak, whatever else, has cooperated to stem worldwide Islamic terrorism. But no person, no nation, likes dole, certainly not Egypt with its fabled history. So “anti-Americanism” is endemic.

But current idiocies include polling – which, of course, has been so accurate in the U.S.! Does that little lady with a clipboard asking questions in an authoritarian society with a secret police wear a burka? Are “Westernized” elites or illiterate subsistence farmers measured?

Poverty, insecurity and lifestyle.

Most Egyptians have no safety net beyond extended family, living with greater insecurity than Americans have known since the Civil War. With population doubling during Mubarak’s 30-year rule, a third now under 14, unemployment is staggering. [That’s why early demonstrators were mostly adolescents.] Egypt would have to generate 450,000 new jobs annually just to keep its current unemployment level.

Agriculture – less than 3% of land along the Nile is arable — desperately needs modernization. Even with the world’ best cotton, progress toward agroindustry as elsewhere in “the third world” has been slow. But farming employs one-third the workforce, including subsistence on three million holdings under five acres. Egypt, in Caesar’s time Rome’s granary, by 1980 was importing about three-fourths of its staple, wheat.

Mubarak has unwound nationalized industry slowly – often rewarding his fellow military. It was “collectivized” in the 1950s by army dictator Abdul Gamal Nasser, seduced by Moscow planners. Perhaps even more damaging, Nasser expelled ethnic communities – Greeks, Armenians, Jews, Italians – who for centuries had managed Egypt’s economy. [Still, today, Copts, Egypt’s indigenous Christian minority – perhaps as much as 15% – are disproportionately “wealthier”, an always threatening political timebomb.]

The politics of desperation

Government to government and UN aid has been irrelevant. Faced with staggering problems, the remnants of Egypt’s traditional elite and its new military recruits have ruled despotically. Still, Egypt’s purchasing power ranks around 25th in the world. And the Mubarak regime has managed growth of about 5% annually. Violence has already torpedoed that; for example, frightening off 13 million annual tourists bringing in $12 billion, supporting 10 million workers.

The totalitarian temptation

Egypt has been the fount of modern Islamic fundamentalist violence. Its Moslem Brotherhood, coalescing in the 1920s, advocates returning to medieval church-state organization based on a primitive Islam. Plotters from a Brotherhood offspring assassinated Pres. Anwar Sadat in 1981, an officer of peasant origin who broke off Nasser’s Soviet alliance, allied himself with Washington and made peace with Israel. Mubarak has walked in his footsteps, however hesitantly. No one is certain – because of off and on suppression – of Brotherhood strength. But it is the only significant political organization beyond Mubarak’s government hangerson – and the military. And although splintered – and without charismatic leadership of revolutionary Iran — its “magic formula”, “submission” to the Koran, to solve all social and economic problems, is as attractive as Communism and Fascism were to so many in the 1930s.

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