Tuesday, September 30, 2003
Why I want an investigation of the Wilson leak ? part I
In yesterday?s post I said that the Wilson/Plame story stinks and I want to discuss why. The first reason is Joseph C Wilson IV himself. The story begins and revolves around him.
He is the one who traveled to Niger upon the supposed request of the CIA. He is the one who started the "16 woscandaldal" by writing an op-ed piece in the New York Times. Now his wife is at the center of the controversy surrounding the leak of the identity. But something about his story just does not jibe.
I'm very suspicious about the nature of his relationship with the CIA. Was it formal or informal? Wilson claims that he was tasked by the Vice-President himself, a charge that Cheney denies. This is important because the weight given his report by the media. Suppose that he was some private individual who was qualified and decided to travel to Niger on his own initiative. Suppose that he returned with the conclusion that the charge in question was false. Would this individual be given the same credibility by the media? No, for two reasons. One, working on the behalf of the government holds a certain authoritative cache and, two, only if he worked for the government would he be able to claim that they knew the charge was false.
However, it is still not clear what his relationship was. He claims that he was asked by a group at the CIA to go on this mission. But it still does not make sense why he was chosen. Doesn't the CIA have officers in Niger or any other countries of Franco-phone Africa? Why not the Ambassador to Niger? Why was he chosen instead? Why a former State guy instead of CIA? They have plenty of retirees as well. Yes, he was qualified, but weren't there others who were just as qualified? Remember, the question that was posed to him was not to compile a guide of coffee-houses for spooks, but to report on a question of vital national interest? No one on active duty was available for this critical task?
What complicates this question further is his op-ed in the New York Times. Not the content of the article, but the fact that it was written. CIA employees famously sign contracts promising not to write anything without CIA prior clearance. I'm not positive about this, but I believe that CIA contractors have to the same. If his relationship with the Agency was formal, was the essay vetted? If so, who approved it? If it was not approved, did he break the law by disclosing an American intelligence operation? It is unheard of to see editorials by intelligence officers stating the results of their missions so soon after the fact.
In summary, what was Wilson's relationship with the CIA? If none, why did people care what he said? If formal or informal, why was he selected for the task? Finally, if the relationship was formal why was he allowed to publicly reveal the results of his mission?
In my mind, these questions just don't add up. The CIA does not pull people off the street if they need to answer a question of vital national importance. They don't let them publish either. Given the lead role that Wilson has had in the two major post-Iraq scandals ? the Yellowcake and Identity -gates -- we should know a little more about his connections to the government and credibility.
UPDATE: One more thing that I forgot to mention -- what leverage did Wilson have to coax the information from his sources -- really strong mint tea? Why would people just admit that they have been violating UN sanctions? Usually, CIA officers use cash to get information. Was Wilson authorized to make payments on behalf of the US government? If so, how much? If not, how was he supposed to find this highly critical piece of information?
Monday, September 29, 2003
What did Mrs Wilson do at the CIA?
In the ongoing Wilson/Plame “scandal” the press and the pundits are confused about what exactly did Mrs Wilson do at the CIA. Some reports say that she is an Operations Officer (a spy!), others a simple analyst, and the CIA itself is non-committal. Both the moral and the legal implications revolve around her job description. If she is an analyst, then, it is argued there can be no moral or legal culpability. However, if she is a spy then the leakers, if they exist, are both guilty of violating the law and burning a clandestine officer.
I have no personal knowledge of the situation, but there is another possibility – she may have been a Collections Management Officer (“CMO” or a “reports officer” in the old parlance). This would be an “in between” position that would explain the various classifications as an analyst and a clandestine service officer. The CIA describes the position thusly:
“The Central Intelligence Agency's Clandestine Service Collection Management Officers are the connection between the Operations Officer in the field and the U.S. foreign policy community, both in the United States and abroad. As a Collection Management Officer you will guide the collection of intelligence and direct the dissemination of that intelligence. Managing the collection effort requires contact with U.S. policy makers to determine what they need to know and then communicating those requirements to the Operations Officers in the field for collection.”
The Operations Officer, mentioned above, is the person of who we think of when we say spy. It is his (they are predominantly male) job to recruit and maintain contact with intelligence agents (agents are foreign nationals who agree to spy for us in return, typically, for money). The Operations Officer is the one who does the leg work.
The CMO collect the information from the Ops Officers and pass them along to the right users. They do not run agents nor have any agents publicly associated with them. The CMO (predominately women) usually work from Langley (approx. 2/3 of their careers) and, when abroad, are usually in no more danger than a typical foreign service officer. Unlike analysts, however, CMO report to the Directorate of Operations (like the Operations Officers) and assume a cover when working.
The cover assumed by both Ops Officers and CMOs when abroad is typically that of State Department employees. This allows them to maintain diplomatic immunity. The CIA runs very few “illegals” (officers without official cover) and they are never CMOs.
I think that Plame may have been a CMO for several reasons. First, is the general confusion about her job. “Real” Ops Officers don’t think of the CMOs as covert officers in the same sense as them and would likely consider them to be analysts (they don’ run agents and spend most of their time in HQ). At the same time the do not belong to the Directorate of Intelligence, so they are not technically analysts. Her being a CMO is the only way to explain the confusion surrounding her job – nobody confuses Ops Officers for analysts. Second, but less consequentially, she is woman – women in the DO are more readily found as CMOs. For many years, and Plame seems to have been with the Agency for a while, women were “encouraged” to go CMO. Until I hear otherwise, I will assume that this is what she does.
So what are the moral implications of Plame being a CMO? Well because they do not run agents – there is no risk that any intelligence assets would be exposed. It is true that she would not be eligible for overseas posts, but CMOs spend little time overseas and don’t need to go there to advance their careers. For all intents and purposes, the CMO is in the same position as the State Department officer. So, if she’s a CMO – there is some small issues of betrayal of trust, but they are not in the same league as exposing, in increasing magnitude, an Ops Officer, an Agent or an illegal.
How about the legal implications? The disclosure is governed (via Instapundit)
by 50 U.S.C. sec. 421
. Paragraph (b) states the following:
Whoever, as a result of having authorized access to classified information, learns the identify of a covert agent and intentionally discloses any information identifying such covert agent to any individual not authorized to receive classified information, knowing that the information disclosed so identifies such covert agent and that the United States is taking affirmative measures to conceal such covert agent's intelligence relationship to the United States, shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both. [Emphasis added]
While lawyers will recognize that the highlighted passage may exculpate any possible White House leaker (who else speaks for the US?), the portion requiring that the US take “affirmative measures to conceal” would be even weaker in the case of the CMO.
Secondly, Section 426
of the same title defines a “covert agent” as:
(A) a present or retired officer or employee of an intelligence agency or a present or retired member of the Armed Forces assigned to duty with an intelligence agency -
(i) whose identity as such an officer, employee, or member is classified information, and
(ii)who is serving outside the United States or has within the last five years served outside the United States;[Emphasis added]
I believe that all DO employees fall into (i), but given the employment patterns of CMOs, (ii) may not be applicable.
I will say no more about this “scandal” other than it stinks to high hell and reminds me of the accusations against the Blair government of “sexing up” intelligence. However, I will wait to pass final judgement. By the way, I have never worked for an intelligence agency as defined in 50 U.S.C. Section 426.
Friday, September 26, 2003
Baghdad’s Press Collaborators – Where Are They Now?
Recently in an interview with Editor and Publisher, John Burns, the New York Times reporter in Baghdad, accused the pre-war Western journalists in Iraq of corruption:
There were correspondents who thought it appropriate to seek the approbation of the people who governed their lives. This was the ministry of information, and particularly the director of the ministry. By taking him out for long candlelit dinners, plying him with sweet cakes, plying him with mobile phones at $600 each for members of his family, and giving bribes of thousands of dollars. Senior members of the information ministry took hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes from these television correspondents who then behaved as if they were in Belgium. They never mentioned the function of minders. Never mentioned terror.
In one case, a correspondent actually went to the Internet Center at the Al-Rashid Hotel and printed out copies of his and other people's stories -- mine included -- specifically in order to be able to show the difference between himself and the others. He wanted to show what a good boy he was compared to this enemy of the state. He was with a major American newspaper.
Yeah, it was an absolutely disgraceful performance. CNN's Eason Jordan's op-ed piece in The New York Times missed that point completely. The point is not whether we protect the people who work for us by not disclosing the terrible things they tell us. Of course we do. But the people who work for us are only one thousandth of one percent of the people of Iraq. So why not tell the story of the other people of Iraq? It doesn't preclude you from telling about terror. Of murder on a mass scale just because you won't talk about how your driver's brother was murdered.
Burns, who was the best reporter in Iraq is absolutely right. Thanks to his whistle-blowing, people are beginning to ask questions about the behavior of the Western press corps. Jack Shafer
of Slate wants to know who the Internet Center reporter was. Given the amount of bad news coming out of post-war Iraq, I wanted to know what happened to this merry band of Baathist lap-dogs? My research indicates that for the most part, the pre-war reporters are still reporting from Iraq.
Methodology. I used Factiva. I looked up stories written in February 2003 from Iraq. I chose Febraury because it was mentioned in John’s article. I selected US newspapers with internationalist pretensions and the two newswires. In order to qualify both the dateline and the authors name had to be clear. Next, I searched for the authors name in the past 3 months to see if they were still reporting from Iraq. Again, the dateline had to be clear in order to qualify. Here are the results of my findings:
[I used a jpeg becasue I can't format a table in html]
This is a scandal, a group of reporters who ignored crimes against humanity to gain favor with a totalitarian regime are still there reporting on events of reconstruction. The people who are telling us that things are bad now felt comfortable sucking to mass murderers in Saddam’s Iraq. Is it possible that this is why the stories from post-war Iraq are uniformly gloomy?
John Burns is right – the journalistic profession is in crisis. Instead of having one Walter Duranty apologizing for Stalinist terror – there are now many who emulate him today. These are the reporters who lied to us about pre-War Iraq, why do we believe that they are telling the truth now?
Wednesday, September 24, 2003
Soviet Views – The Kulaks
[By special request from Dean Esmay, a belated translation of the entry on Kulaks. I remember as a child seeing many movies where these Kulaks were the bad guys trying to stop the revolution (in the USSR the good guys wore red hats). I’m not sure who they really (w/o Soviet propaganda) were. It seems like they were just small farmers who did not want their land stolen from them.]
Soviet Encyclopedic Dictionary, Volume 2, April 6, 1954, page 200
Kulaks rural bourgeoisie, the most numerous of the bourgeoisie layers in a capitalist village. The Kulaks enrich themselves through the cruel exploitation of farm laborers, the village poor and other layers of the working rural population. The Kulak class is the result of the corruption of small goods production.
In Czarist Russia in 1913, the Kulaks were 12.3% of the population. They “produced” 50% of all bread. The Kulaks concentrated on their farms a large portion of agricultural machinery and instruments of production, also owned commercial-industrial enterprises and ruthlessly robbed working peasants by practicing usury. Along with capitalists and landed gentry, the kulaks are the most rabid, the most unappeasable enemy of the proletariat revolution. During the period of the foreign military intervention and civil war 1918-20, the Kulaks, the owners of surplus bread, tried to strangle with hunger the young Soviet Republic. The Kulaks organized gangs, viciously dealt with workers and rural poor, helped the interventionists. Under the direction of the Communist party the working class and village laborers undertook a ruthless struggle against the Kulaks.
Until 1929 the Soviet government pursued policies of restricting and displacing the Kulaks, decisively suppressing all their attempts to fight the Soviet authority, spoil state bread procurements, kill village activists, etc. As a result of forced collectivization, the Kulaks were liquidated as a class (see Agricultural collectivization). With the victory of the kolhoz* system the conditions that gave rise to the Kulak order disappeared. In Soviet villages, the bourgeois ownership system has been forever liquidated and the socialist system created.
In nations with people’s democracy, in conditions of intense class struggle, after World War II agrarian reforms were carried out, undermining the basis for large-kulak ownership; the special weight of the village socialist sector continues to grow and conditions are being created for it’s total victory.
*kolhoz – collectively owned farms
Monday, September 22, 2003
First: Please donate toys to Iraqi children here (via Zogby blog).
Second: The "Thinking things over" editorial in the WSJ kind of blends what I said in "Top 5 Myths that Leftists believe about themselves (and want others to believe, too)" and an going to say in "The Vietnamnicks and the Vietnamization of Iraq". Namely ignore the ideological arguments from today's Left -- it's all window dressing for a real honest to goodness power struggle.
There was another great opinion in the WSJ by Ion Mihai Pacepa about Arafat's KGB origins. There is no link, but hopefully they'll publish on the weekend.
Tuesday, September 16, 2003
Trying something new, again.
My long time readers know that I’ve been struggling to find an appropriate style of writing. There are several issues: First, my time is constrained – I have a full time job and a one year old son. Second, writing is not easy for me – I tend to think in patterns and relationships and translating this non-linear mess into the direct flow of prose is tough for me. Third, I’ve take a liking to writing long works (for the blog world, at least) and, as a result, I post rarely and in big chunks. I am unhappy with the resulting “chunky” flow.
So, I’m going to try something new – again. I will post my essays as I write them. I will post intermittent sections and paragraphs as well as an outline of the whole topic. Hopefully, this way I can post frequent and edible pieces of my rants as opposed to large and rare ones. Practically, I’ll be opening up my drafting process to you. It is unusual, but blogging is a new format and may work well with this style. Let’s see if it works.
My first try is The Vietnamnicks and the Vietnamization of Iraq. You can read the first part adn the remainder of the outline below.
The Vietnamnicks and the Vietnamization of Iraq
I am too young for Vietnam and, for that matter was not even born in America, so the American obsession with Vietnam has sometimes bewildered me. The Vietnam fever has gotten worse as the consequence of the war in Iraq and commentators have been struggling to make every conceivable comparison between the Wars. There does not seem to be much logic to the analogy – America has participated in many wars (including other failures, like Beirut and Somalia). However, most Americans no longer find this pre-occupation unusual and continue to compare and discuss everything in the context of That War. And I think I've figured why.
The usual explanation that the war left a giant emotional scar on the fabric of our nation is only part of the explanation. The Vietnam that left an impression on our national conscience was not the war overseas, but the domestic power struggle. That struggle was a faint echo of the conflict in South-East Asia and had its own reality and tactics. Today, the winners of the Vietnam War (domestic ed.) constitute the leadership of our government, media and intelligencia. For these people the war was a formative power struggle and they find it hard to relate to any other experience or event. Vietnam, like WWII and the Depression to an earlier generation, was the experience that overshadows all others.
Allow me to retell the story of the domestic war, not in terms preferred by the contemporaries, but in a form of a simple power struggle. Let me introduce you to the generation of Baby Boomers for whom the war became an intellectual proving ground and who went on to build a power base in the name of cherry-picked ideologies. We will review their ascendance to the political peak with the election Bill Clinton and their angst at the election of George Bush. I will show that the domestic war over Iraq is an increasingly destructive battle by these Boomers to defend their vast powerbases. Finally, I will describe how the continued Vietnamization of Iraq reflects a return by these Boomers to the tactics they know best.
The Spoiled Generation
Our story stars with the Greatest Generation -- the men and women who grew up in the poverty of the Great Depression and witnessed the horrors of World War II. When they came home, the last thing they wanted was more of the real world - they had seen enough. So they built suburban islands of fantasy for their families - to raise their children. Any parent can understand their desire to shield their kids from the world that that generation saw, but in the process the Greatest Generation spawned the Spoiled Generation, a.k.a. the Baby Boomers.
The Boomers grew up in the type of environment that produces resentment and anxiety. Their parents were strict, having been brought up that way themselves. Unlike, the children of the Depression, however, the Boomers grew up with no fears. Physically protected by the suburb and materially protected by their parents who wanted to lavish their children with all the comforts not available to them - the Boomers were the pioneers of teenage rebellion. The teenage years were spent trying to shock their parents with rock and roll and sexual promiscuity. But it was when the Boomers went off to college that the real power struggle began.
The Fortunate Happenstance of That War
Undermine credibility of authority figures
The Aftermath of Vietnam -- domestic and international
The inter war years -- building up the base
Clinton – the Vietnamnicks gain political power
George bush and 911
The Vietnamization of Iraq – in order for the Vietnamnicks to win, the US must lose
Undermine moral authority
Undermine knowledge of authority figures
Shift such authority to friendly power base
Take advantage of communications superiority
Outrage over undermining of friendly power bases (UN, France, foreign policy establishment)
Repeating Vietnam tactics after attempt to capture the center (2002 election) fails
Monday, September 15, 2003
CA Recall blocked
This is really scary. The 9th Circuit blocks an election because of "punch card ballots". What I'm wondering is how much power do courts have to stop elections altogether? Are judicial juntas going to stop elections whenever they don't like the results? Can unelected judges practically stop the democratic process if they don't like it? Talk about slippery slopes....
Saturday, September 13, 2003
Dear Mr. President,
If you want to get re-elected next year, please stop listening to Colin Powell and his UN fetish. Twice he has led you there and twice you have been hurt politically.
The first time was before the Iraq War to request the 18th Final resolution. As everyone knew the French would not allow their friend Saddam to be harmed. You came away empty handed. Worse, you gave your political enemies plenty of ammunition. First, they can now claim that the war was not sanctioned by the "international community" (aka France). Second, by going to the UN you were forced to argue only one of the anti-Saddam positions -- the WMD. His inhumanity and the regional consequences of his demise were ignored. Your critics now claim that there was no reason to go to war in Iraq, since no WMD has been found.
The first trip was a disaster for you.
Now, General Powell has convinced you to drink the Kool-Aid again. Again, there is no chance of ever getting a resolution on our terms. Your return to the UN has been seen by the world and your critics at home a admission that things are going poorly in Iraq. Those Americans who have not yet been convinced by the media doomsayers were now convinced by your actions. As a result your poll numbers have dropped -- mostly as a result of your Iraq performance.
So please, President Bush, if you want to get re-elected (and I want you to) -- stop listening to General Powell and trust your gut. Don't go out of your way to give your critics extra ammunition or to prove them right.
UPDATE: Although the latest WashPost numbers don't look as bad. I consider the WashPost poll the most accurate of all the majors.
Thursday, September 11, 2003
Two Years Ago
(This is the post I wrote last year)
I don’t remember how the morning started. My wife, who was teaching then, usually left the house about an hour ahead of me. I spent the time dithering about and watching CNN or CNBC. That morning was already different – I had plans to vote in the local mayoral primary. I was a registered Democrat back then and the choice for mayor was between a number of indistinguishable party-machine candidates. I don’t even remember whom I even voted for.
My first encounter with the tragedy that was about to happen occurred as I was walking away from the polling station. I was proceeding west, along East 19th Street, when I saw a plane flying low down the spine of Manhattan. It was close enough for me to recognize that it was an American Airlines commercial jet. I thought nothing of it then – just that it was strange for a plane to be flying so low.
My next encounter occurred when I reached my home on Third Avenue. Large trucks belonging to NYPD’s Emergency Service Unit sped down the avenue, siren blaring. In the time it took me to transverse a NYC avenue, the plane had already hit the North Tower and New York’s emergency services began to respond. To this day I wonder if any of those policemen are alive today. However, I knew none of this then – I walked back up the stairs of my old building so that I could leave my passport at home (I take it when vote for ID purposes). As the only proof of my US citizenship, it is one of my most prized possessions.
Being an information junkie, I turned on the TV, even though I was going to be home for a few seconds. It was then when I found out. CNBC was reporting that a plane had hit the North Tower of the WTC and was showing a live feed. My apartment, at the time was on the 29th floor and faced west. I had a clear view of both the Empire State Building and the WTC. Most every night, after logging off the computer, I would look at both structures, how they glowed in the night and be assured that everything was right with the world. But this time, when I looked out, the tower had a smoking hole in it.
Looking back, I can’t really explain why I didn’t put 2 and 2 together. It did not occur to me then that the plane I saw was the plane that hit the tower. I just assumed that it was a small private plane lost and out of control. I think that I just didn’t want to believe it. In fact, no cataclysmic scenarios occurred to me (which is unusual for me), so I set off for work. My office is in a building one block north of the WTC.
On my way from my home to the Union Square N and R subway station, I ran into an acquaintance and shared my reactions with him and a few complete strangers. Still no thoughts of terrorism. My train ride was not unusual until we reached Canal Street. It was there that the conductor announced that the Courtland Street Station (the WTC station) was closed for a “police action” and the train would be diverted to another track. The last stop in Manhattan would be Canal Street. “Police action” is a generic term meaning that the train will be stopped or diverted for non-mechanical reasons. If you are a frequent rider of the subway you hear this term at least a few times a year. Determined to get to work, I got off at Canal Street and set off south.
Masses of people, however, were walking in the opposite direction. Only now I began to sense that something was wrong. Yet, since I didn’t see the police closing down streets, I decided to try to get to work – to check in. I was also curious to find out what was going on. As I got closer, the crowds going north were getting larger and the situation more chaotic.
I never got to work, a few blocks before my office the streets were being closed. I asked an attractive and friendly EMS worker what was going on. As she told me of the second plane, I saw a part of a plane engine lying next to a payphone. The FBI was arriving in droves and was blocking off the area. I needed to call my wife to tell her that I was OK – now that I understood how serious the situation was. I don’t have a cell phone (I doubt it would have worked) and every payphone had a line next to it. I walked into a small bookshop and asked if I could use their phone. After hanging up, the proprietors told me that another plane had hit the Pentagon. If I had any doubts before, now I knew that this was an act of terrorism.
I decided to walk home – who knows what else is going to happen today? The enormity of what happened started to dawn on me. The mixture of anger and helplessness were taking turns raising my temperature. I was proceeding up West Broadway and almost reached Canal, when I heard the screams. I immediately turned around. I don’t remember any sound from the collapse – just the screams. I may have been screaming too, I don’t remember. The tower fell in slow motion. “Chips” of the building were coming off in places – it seemed to be as fragile as a champagne glass.
While most people saw the collapse on TV, it is difficult to explain the mixture of emotions one feels. When a massive building in which I had meetings, dinners and under which I lunched almost everyday falls to the ground. The massive structure that seemed indestructible only yesterday no longer existed. Muttering disbelief, I resumed my trek.
The journey home did not seem familiar. My city was not the same one I woke up in. I was not alone. Most my fellow trekkers were similarly bewildered. What happened? How many people are dead? What’s next? What is to become of our fine city? I’m sure that these questions were on everyone’s minds. Once in a while, I would encounter a group of people, listening to someone’s car radio (turned up loud) and all looking south – to where the towers were.
It is on the way home that I noticed the sky. It was perfect – perfectly blue and perfectly cloudless. I couldn’t help feel that it was mocking us. How much better would it have been to have a dark foreboding sky to match the weight that has now been placed on my heart. For the next several months, I detested these “perfect”, cloudless days.
I’ll never forget the sky. And I’ll never forget the plane chugging low across it. I’ll never forget the collapse and I’ll never forget the screams. Most of all, I’ll never forget the last day I could look at a plane in the sky without a chill running down my spine.
Sunday, September 07, 2003
The New York Times magazine had a great article this week. It highlighted psychological research that concludes that people always overestimate their reaction to possible future events.
The problem, as Gilbert and company have come to discover, is that we falter when it comes to imagining how we will feel about something in the future. It isn't that we get the big things wrong. … What Gilbert has found, however, is that we overestimate the intensity and the duration of our emotional reactions -- our ''affect'' -- to future events. In other words, we might believe that a new BMW will make life perfect. But it will almost certainly be less exciting than we anticipated; nor will it excite us for as long as predicted. … On average, bad events proved less intense and more transient than test participants predicted. Good events proved less intense and briefer as well.
In my writings, I like to focus on the difference between how we believe we behave and the reality. My past attempts at amateur psychology (the hate series, here
) differ considerably from the common conceptions of what causes mass hate movements. The underlying principle of my views is that human beings are incapable of acting perfectly, ever. Hence, it does not surprise me that we cannot effectively predict how we would react to various future stimuli.
Perhaps, I can answer the query posed by the main protagonist of the article, Daniel Gilbert: “In fact, in his recent writings, he has wondered whether forecasting errors might somehow serve a larger functional purpose he doesn't yet understand.” At the same time, I would like to take issue with a dictum by one of the economists leading this research:
While walking in Pittsburgh one afternoon, Loewenstein tells me that he doesn't see how anybody could study happiness and not find himself leaning left politically; the data make it all too clear that boosting the living standards of those already comfortable, such as through lower taxes, does little to improve their levels of well-being, whereas raising the living standards of the impoverished makes an enormous difference. [This is still the NY Times, after all]
Both concern a common perception of human nature that the group fails to question.
Let’s start with Loewenstein’s statement. Where he does not see how his studies could not push someone to the left, I don’t see how it could not push someone to the right. The difference between our conclusions is how we view human nature. Loewenstein, presumably, sees absolutely nothing wrong with hampering our ability to pursue goals (since the happiness we receive is temporary). On the other hand, I believe that human beings cannot be content in a society where they are not allowed to pursue their greed (no matter how temporary the happiness), and, in fact, history shows such societies to be dangerous.*
My view of human nature is that we are most content in a chase. In our most natural state, we need to continually pursue (driven by love or greed) and be pursued (driven by fear). There are good evolutionary reasons that this may the case. For animals and primal humans, success meant life and failure meant death. Hence, those animals that constantly kept chasing sources of food were more likely to survive than those that took a more “casual” approach. Likewise, an animal that was always on the lookout for potential danger was more likely to survive than those who were less scared of the surrounding predators. Thus, I believe that greed and fear are survival techniques. Our primal impulses constantly drive us to chase further goals and to fear failure – our thin cerebral cortex can do little to overrule the ancient drives coming deep from within our psyche.
Although we enjoy an occasional pause, a long-term static position is incompatible with human nature. A state welfare existence (where there is nothing to fear and nothing to chase) does not satisfy our needs, but creates frustration and impotence. This frustration is then channeled into hate (of self or other), as I relate in the hate series. There is certainly plenty of data showing that welfare states, no matter how wealthy, do not yield content citizens (e.g. the Welfare Kingdom of Saudi Arabia). In fact, it is impossible to name a welfare class that was ever content.
If I am correct about human nature, then the answer to Gilbert’s query is simple. The overestimation of future pleasure or pain is part of our survival technique. If we think that the utility we will derive from our pursuits will be greater, then we are more likely to pursue them. Likewise, if we overestimate the impact of a failure event, we are even more likely to avoid it. This too has an evolutionary origin. An animal that believes that the taste of its prey is more delicious than it is will pursue it much more resolutely. On the other hand, the same animal will defend it’s territory with greater ferocity if it overestimates the impact of the its loss. In both cases, natural selection favors overestimation. Survival is the “larger functional purpose” served by overestimation.
So when Loewenstein says that lower taxes do little to improve levels of well-being (as he defines them) – he is absolutely right, but the observation is beside the point. The level of temporary happiness is irrelevant to our long-term contentment. To maximize the latter, individuals must be allowed to pursue goals even if the happiness from them is temporary and should be allowed to fear the consequences of their failure. The major exception to this, in our wealthy society, is when failure involves issues of physical survival.
The major finding of the research mentioned in the article is that human beings do not behave in step with some ideal that we imagine for ourselves. It is time that we question another imaginary ideal – that humans can live in a static welfare state. As much as we hate to admit it, the most natural human lifestyle is one where we never stop – always running from overblown fears and pursuing overestimated goals. Trying to social engineer ourselves into an unnatural society only causes friction, frustration and, usually, death.
* On the difference between happiness and contentment. Happiness is an intense, temporary (as their research shows) feeling of elation. Contentment, as I use it, is the long-term absence of feelings of frustration that cause destructive or self-destructive behavior. A content person may or may not be happy.
Thursday, September 04, 2003
The Democratic Debate...
is in Spanish and English. I feel very slighted! What about a debate in the native language of my ethno-linguistic pander group?
Where are the Russian debates? The Chinese debates? Portugese? How about ebonics?
I'm sure that these politicians don't mean to say that our cultures are somehow inferior to Spanish, do they?
How bad is Afghanistan?
I know we all heard how bad things are in Afghanistan -- another predictable failure of the Bush imperialist tendencies. Then you read an article like this on the front page of the Wall Street Journal (subscription required):
Under the Taliban, the streets of Kabul -- some paved, some not -- carried an occasional pickup truck loaded with armed men but relatively little other traffic. Barely two years later, and with the population swelling, the Afghan capital has about 90,000 registered cars and 33,000 taxis, plus buses, trucks, cars from the provinces and cars without license plates.
Mirwais Alemyar, a 20-year-old shopkeeper, just bought an old Toyota with right-side drive for $2,500. He is the first person in his extended family to own a car. Under the Taliban, he said, casual driving was frowned upon as a sign of decadence, and Mr. Alemyar didn't want to stand out. He couldn't have afforded a car anyway because most of his savings came after the mullahs were driven out of power.
All of this makes car salesmen happy. Hamidullah Khaksar, owner of Park car salon, sat on an ornate couch as he recounted the history of his shop. He has been in the business for 22 years, but he has never had it so good. On his office wall, Mr. Khaksar has put up posters of a red Ferrari and a pink Lamborghini, their doors opening invitingly upward. These low-riding sports cars wouldn't last long on the bumpy streets of the city, where the car of choice for the wealthy is a four-wheel-drive sport-utility vehicle, preferably a Toyota Land Cruiser, with tinted windows for privacy. In a good month, Mr. Khaksar can sell as many as six SUVs, at about $50,000 each. Abdul Rassul Sayaaf, a wealthy former warlord and a leader of an Islamic party, rides in a convoy of Land Cruisers from his home in Paghman near Kabul. His jeeps stood in a sharp contrast to a smelly latrine and a cow's head lying on the sidewalk in the center of Paghman.
Yep, things sound pretty horrible in Afghanistan, all right.
Tuesday, September 02, 2003
Soviet Views – BBC, VOA, and the NY Times
[Some quick translations -- see if you can spot the trend…]
BBC – the abbreviated title of the British Broadcasting Corporation, the propaganda organ of British monopolists. Founded in 1927.
[Are they still trying to prove Comrade Stalin wrong? Is that why they sexed-up their war coverage?]
Voice of the USA broadcasts of the U.S. State Department (Ministry of Foreign Affairs), provided (since 1942) in many languages and controlled by American capitalist magnates. Voice of the USA is the mouthpiece of American imperialists, disseminates lies, slanders the news, and is directed against the USSR and other people’s democracies. Conducts war propaganda.
[This role has been taken over by Fox Network it seems…]
”New York Times” American daily newspaper, founded in 1851. The newspaper is connected to both Republican and Democratic circles. Expresses the interests of the largest groups of US monopolistic capital. Propagandizes reactionary domestic and aggressive foreign policies of the American imperialists.
[The Soviets were such ingrates -- after all the good publicity the Times has given them! At least the Soviets thought that the paper was objective between the Republicans and the Democrats…]
Monday, September 01, 2003
Top 5 Myths that Leftists believe about themselves (and want others to believe, too)
One of the benefits of becoming a Leftist is the belief in the purity of their cause. Leftists believe themselves to be an exceptional breed and not subject to normal constraints of the human condition. They are so sure of themselves, that they expect others to believe the same thing. We are all exposed to the mythology of the Pure Left through the media and academia.
This body of belief is too great to list here, but I’ve selected what I feel are Top 5 Myths that have woven themselves into our combined culture. Let me be clear from the start – the only thing that I allege about the Left is that they are mere mortals. Whatever their failings or shortcomings, as individuals they are no better or worse than the rest of the population, except that they refuse to acknowledge this fact.
Myth 1. They represent the “little guy”.
Nothing sustains the espirit de corps of the Leftists than the belief that they are laboring not for themselves but for others who are less privileged. Nothing can be further from the truth. Consider, as an example, contributions to political parties. According to the Center For Responsive Politics, during the 2002 election cycle, most of the smallest reported contributions went to the Republicans – supposedly the party of the rich. As the contributions increased, a larger percentage goes to the Democrats – the self-professed party of the “little guy”. In the category of donations of $1 million or more (wow!) 92% of the money went to the Democrats. 2002 is not an aberration, despite their claims to the contrary, the Left has always been composed of middle or upper class radicals who claim that they speak for the less fortunate. George Orwell, writing in 1984, put the relationship this way:
“Throughout recorded time, and probably since the end of the Neolithic Age, there have been three kinds of people in the world, the High, the Middle, and the Low. … The aims of these three groups are entirely irreconcilable. The aim of the High is to remain where they are. The aim of the Middle is to change places with the High. … Thus throughout history a struggle which is the same in its main outlines recurs over and over again. For long periods the High seem to be securely in power, but sooner or later there always comes a moment when they lose either their belief in themselves or their capacity to govern efficiently, or both. They are then overthrown by the Middle, who enlist the Low on their side by pretending to them that they are fighting for liberty and justice. As soon as they have reached their objective, the Middle thrust the Low back into their old position of servitude, and themselves become the High.”
The relationship between the Leftists and their favored groups is tactically symbiotic. The Leftists can claim to be fighting for a disadvantaged group while broadening their ranks from their relatively small number. The favored groups, in return for naming the Left their champion, receive the benefit of a powerful and wealthy advocacy group (how many people can blow a million on a political campaign?). Since the relationship is one of convenience, the relevant “group of disadvantage” can change with time. The original appeal of the Leftists was class based and their favored group was blue collar. As the working class began to defect to the Right, the Left had to find other groups that would legitimize them. The modern Democratic Party is a collaboration between the coastal elite and a menagerie of minority groups with differing agendas.
The myth that the Left works for the benefit of some unfortunate or underrepresented group masks the real power dynamic described so well by Orwell. The real prize is power – some groups are comfortable admitting that, while others need a fig leaf for their pursuits.
Myth 2. They are outsiders fighting the establishment.
This myth paints the Leftists as brave revolutionaries, assaulting the fortress of the Establishment against the odds. This falsehood is similar to the first in that it’s ego-satisfying and elevates the Leftists to the pedestal of Hero. It is also dead wrong.
Today, the Left is the establishment. To be more precise, they are a part of the establishment. The Left has firm control of almost all means of information production. From kindergarten to university, young Americans are educated disproportionately by Leftists and follow Leftist teaching agendas. They dominate the media and the foreign policy establishments. To end-run elected government, scores of NGO (non-governmental organizations) were created to channel money to Leftist causes. Even Wall Street, the center of American capitalism, is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.
Their ideological grip on these institutions is enforced by a code of political correctness, which threatens the livelihood of any individual willing to take a stand. The technique works poorly against whole organizations, which still frustrates the Left to no end. Thus the anger and spite focused on Fox News, which can’t be silenced by the usual methods of intimidation.
The anger at the Bush Administration can also be explained in terms of the fight over the establishment. The leaders of the Left today are the Baby Boomers. Their Left – born in the Vietnam protests and encompassing the crème of the academic crop did not “drop out,” but took the well paying jobs that would allow them build their power base. By the eighties, the Left already held their current seats of power, but political power still eluded them.
That’s when Clinton came along. Ideologically a centrist, but representing the Boomer-protest generation he gave hope to the Left of real political dominance. Since the real goal is power (see Myth 1) Clinton’s unorthodoxy wasn’t a problem. Simultaneously, the end of the Cold War meant that national security, the strong point of the Right, was not as important to the electorate. Leftist Boomer governments took power in much of Europe as well. To the Left this looked like the beginning of actual, not just theoretical world-wide dominance. Using Orwell’s analogy above, the Middle almost reached that point where they would be able to overthrow the High – they could smell victory.
The election of George W. Bush was the first crack in the façade. However, the war against terror was much more threatening to the Left. First, it threatened the Left’s position of dominance in the foreign policy (both official and NGO); and, second it threatened the nation’s relationship with the Left’s fellow travelers in Europe. These new positions are putting too much of the Left’s patronage at risk. Furthermore, it’s an emotional shock to think that only three years ago you were on the verge of total victory and now to have to fight a rearguard action (to be fair, the Right’s anger at Clinton had similar origins – after 12 years of Reagan-Bush they thought they had a lock on the White House).
It’s slightly less glamorous to admit that rather than being a “working class hero”, you are a part of the establishment’s factional struggle. But that’s the truth – the Left is the establishment.
Myth 3. They are much less bigoted.
This myth seeks to affirm the good-hearted intentions of the Left. So central is this myth to their sense of self-worth that Leftists tie themselves in knots trying to explain away their own bigotry. One way they do this is by insisting that only certain kinds of bigotry count (coincidentally only against those groups that they favor (see Myth 1)). Another way is to pretend that their bigotry is not really bigotry at all, but an aversion to another political movement.
As an example of latter bigotry, consider the movement’s relationship with Jews. From the early beginning, socialism was strongly anti-Semitic. One of Karl Marx’s (his father converted to Christianity) early writings was “On the Jewish Question”. This was perhaps the Left’s most honest attempt to deal with it own bigotry. Since then they felt compelled to use euphemistic terms for the Jews. For Western European revolutionaries, they were the hated bourgeois middle class capitalists, for Stalin they were “cosmopolitans” or the “doctors”, for latter day socialists the preferred term was “international bankers” and so on. Today, Leftist anti-Semitism is reaching one of its periodic frenzies. Israel, the only Jewish nation in the world, bears the brunt of Leftist anger along with America. Rather than admit their bigotry, Leftists use the term of art “anti-Zionist” rather than “anti-Semite” and argue that their problem is only with the actions of the state not the Jews themselves.
However, their bigotry does not end at Israel’s borders. Many Leftists also hate America’s Jews. Some are hated for their support of Israel; others, for their uppity views of foreign policy (as well as their support of Israel). This second group has acquired the term “neo-conservative”, which is batted around in the same way that Stalin used “cosmopolitans.” Despite the fact that Leftists hold in contempt approximately 80% of the Jewish world (between Israel and the US), they still refuse to acknowledge their anti-Semitism. Doing so would not change their policies, but undermine their self-image, which assumes that their hearts are purer than the others’ are.
In reality, Leftists are just as susceptible to bigotry as the rest of us. But because they feel they are not susceptible to this human foible, they feel that they are justified in using it as a political tool.
Myth 4. They are capable of rational and objective thought.
Leftists believe that they are capable of separating their partisan and emotional self from their reasoning self. They believe that they are always capable of reaching conclusions or acting in a reasonable and objective manner. Furthermore, they believe that others are incapable of such mental bifurcation.
This myth most likely has its origins in the roots of the Leftists movement. Through history, most of the adherents have been highly educated or in some way related to the academia. One of the side effects of too much exposure to education is the mistaken belief that everything can solved by reason. Alternatively, that emotion can be suppressed by reason to achieve a clear and unbiased answer. If asked, most Leftists will tell you that they as a group are much smarter than the others are (see Bush, attacks on).
One of the manifestations of this myth is in the continuing argument about bias in the media. In order to believe that a media organization (that’s say 90% Democrat) can deliver unbiased news from its echo chamber one has to believe in this myth. Because Leftists can think rationally and detach their biases can such a miracle be possible.
This also explains the rage against the few outposts of non-Leftist thought in the media. The right, you see, are incapable of objective thought and thus run a propaganda machine. The thinking goes something like this: “I’m objective and since the arguments offered by, say Fox, differ from my objective views, they must be biased.” Game, set and match.
This assurance in their own deductive powers creeps into all areas of debate. If rational people like themselves have determined that there is no God, then that’s it. It’s not even worth the time to debate those uneducated faith-driven zealots. Same for every issue of daily life – the right answer must come from them since they are they only ones capable of seeing through the mist of emotion and superstition.
Myth 5. They are liberal.
“Liberal” is a word that has underwent similar metamorphosis as the word “gay”. Gay once meant happy, but today means homosexual. Liberal once meant someone who advocates individual freedoms for all, today it is simply a synonym for Leftist. And just like not all homosexuals are happy, not all leftists advocate individual freedoms.
Nothing has highlighted the difference between Leftists and Liberals (old definition) than the Iraq War. Here we saw millions of Leftists pour out on the street to protect the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. They claim that they merely wanted to stop the war. But the regime of Hussein, which stood opposed to everything that a liberal stands for, would have continued to murder and torture for the foreseeable future had it not been for the War. Whatever else liberals should stand for, it shouldn’t be for their “arch-enemies” the tyrants.
Of course, Leftists have a horrendous record with liberty. Tens of millions were killed in the name of socialist progress in the 20th century and hundreds of millions lived in socialist tyrannies. The contemporary Leftist will argue that those mass murders were a result of a few bad apples – that the acts of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Ceausescu are isolated incidents that do not reflect on them. A less self-righteous group would probably question the wisdom of claiming that the perfect correlation between unrivaled socialist control and tyranny is a matter of coincidence. Perhaps, they would say, it is our policies carried out to their logical conclusions that encourage such behavior. But the Leftists are not such a free-thinking group.
Violations of freedom, when they are undertaken by Leftist states, are considered unfortunate, but necessary to the cause. The real relationship between Leftists and liberty, as seen through the lens of history, is that of convenience. When the liberties of the Leftists favorites’ are abused they are outraged, but when an ally is accused of far worse crimes they demure.
The transformation of the word “gay” did not carry with it any moral force. After all, when we think of homosexuals we don’t assume that they are all jolly and happy people. On the other hand, the word “liberal” has managed to keep its moral weight despite its transformation. Leftists consider themselves champions of freedom and human rights when in fact they are selective enforcers at best and grave violators at worst.
When thinking about Leftist, or any other, ideology it’s worth remembering that those who march under its banner are mere mortals. And as mortals, their piety is often cover for less noble causes. There are no exceptions to the rule of humanity – in each group there lurks greed, fear and lust for power. The Left cannot go on imagining itself to be a pure savior of mankind’s future. Belief in a socialist paradise does not absolve one of human weaknesses any more than a belief in an Aryan or an Islamic one.