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Round-up late January 2012

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An excellent piece on the war in Afghanistan and complaints about how economics are covered.

In the war in Afghanistan: US troops are not losing, nor are they suffering enormous casualties. But they're paying an enormous price in money, manpower, time and effort to take ground. US troops successfully secured the Afghan city of Kandahar and more or less kicked the Taliban out, but it took 18,000 troops to do so. Kandahar is the Afghan city nearest to Quetta, Pakistan and thereby the one that's the easiest to supply. Every Afghan city that gets similarly secured and pacified is going to cost even more in resources.

The real problem, of course, is that the US still lacks what it obviously lacked at the fall of Baghdad in 2003, what I would call a "colonial corps," a group that I'd model on the Army Corps of Engineers. Essentially, a person would be assigned to each city section, town or group of villages and that person would look over each section, decide what was needed to rebuild and build it up, would request money and/or materials and/or engineering personnel from the US and would stay on to see to it that the money was properly spent. This would not be a military job as it has nothing to do with shooting and killing. The corps would need protection from the Taliban via the US military of course, but as the population benefits and prospers from US money and personnel conducting rebuilding operations, they'd hopefully need less military protection as the population would then feel encouraged and motivated to resist Taliban infiltrations.

Problem is, the US has no such corps and it's hard to see how any such group could be established at this point, over a decade after the initial invasion of Afghanistan. Back around the late 1800s to the early 1900s, Rudyard Kipling wrote stirring tales about the "Great Game" between Britain and Russia as they battled across great, largely empty spaces between Russia and India (Afghanistan was a frequently-used location for their battles). Well, there's nowhere near the enthusiasm in America now that there was then in Britain. Where is the occupation of Afghanistan in American culture? Where was the occupation of Iraq in our culture? Both the more-or-less concluded struggle in Iraq and the current struggle in Afghanistan are pretty much entirely absent from American popular culture. The cultural heroes of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, Jessica Lynch, Pat Tillman and Blake Miller, who, aside from leaders like Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and General David Petraeus, these are probably the most prominent. well-known personalities to emerge out of these conflicts and they all turned out to have stories that were considerably less heroic and inspiring then what was first reported on them.

There was a recent pro-troops rally celebrating the service of Iraq War veterans in St. Louis, MO, showing that the American people don't blame the troops at all. Americans feel that the troops just did as they were instructd to do, but the piece on the rally was interesting for what it didn't say, i.e., what the troops actually accomplished while they were there.  

Heh! Miss Piggy weighs in on an accusation from Fox News that the Muppets were a bunch of subversive Marxists. In a somewhat more-or-less related piece, doll protesters bewilder Russian police.

We'll probably hear this one repeated. A right-wing columnist claims that Mitt Romney gave 42% of his income in charitable giving. Problem: much of that 42% was actually taxes and a really big chunk of what remained was what he was expected to contribute to the Mormon Church.

Very happy to see that political commentators are finally getting over their romance with the idea of bipartisanship.

There is nothing wrong with a party running on its platform, then implementing that platform if elected. If people don’t like the result, they can vote for a new party with a different platform and expect it to be implemented. This is how most democracies work.

I regard the Occupy movement and the drive for austerity as directly opposed movements. One is the nemesis of the other. Very good case laid out against austerity. Good quote:

Thus in October 2010 David Broder, who virtually embodied conventional wisdom, praised Mr. Cameron for his boldness, and in particular for “brushing aside the warnings of economists that the sudden, severe medicine could cut short Britain’s economic recovery and throw the nation back into recession.” He then called on President Obama to “do a Cameron” and pursue “a radical rollback of the welfare state now.”

Strange to say, however, those warnings from economists proved all too accurate. And we’re quite fortunate that Mr. Obama did not, in fact, do a Cameron.

Obsession with government debt is dragging down the recovery and making it difficult to recover from the Great Recession. When you freeze Federal Government spending and refuse to help out the state and local governments, the result is not useful savings for the rest of us, the result is fewer critically-needed government services for all of us.

As a columnist for my local paper phrases it: "If you have few skills and little education, you face a big problem." Well, yes, I agree that that such people do indeed face a big problem and it's a far bigger problem than it was a few decades ago thanks to globalization. What annoys me about the piece is that the author simply takes that state of affairs as a given and doesn't suggest any solutions for it. His attitude appears as simply "The gods have decreed..." an attitude that strikes me as very fatalistic. The economist Dean Baker finds that the Washington Post has the same problem. He quotes the WaPo as saying:

"But it is not clear that the measures [those proposed by President Obama]— or any others — could compensate for the factors behind the decline of the middle class, including the rise of nations with abundant cheap labor and the development of new technologies that allow companies to operate with far fewer workers."

The problem in both cases is the fatalism that says "That's the way things are" and does not see fit to suggest any way to counter "the way things are." Our economic conditions have been created by human beings making deliberate, conscious decisions and can be unmade by using precisely the same process. "Is" does not automaticall translate to "should be." As Baker puts it:

The reason that globalization has put downward pressure on the living standards of the middle class is that it has been deliberate policy under both Republican and Democratic administrations to force middle class workers to compete with their low-paid counterparts in the developing world, while protecting the most highly educated workers from the same competition. The predicted and actual result of this policy has been an enormous upward redistribution of income.

We can change this state of affairs. It's not just a given that we must simply adjust to. We may face a lot of resistance from the 1%, but that's to be expected. That's no reason not to wage the struggle.