Confused Elites

Observations from an unnamed conference, probably something like Davos, where the elites are left wondering where it all went wrong.

The industrial elites have lost their way. In every major profession and institution, they once commanded vast, widely-admired projects that filled their lives with meaning and endowed the entire class with an unconquerable confidence. But the twentieth century couldn’t be preserved forever, like a bug in amber. The elites now face a radically transformed environment – and they are maladapted and demoralized. An inability to listen, an impulse to spew jargon in broadcast mode, a demand for social distance as the reward for professional success: such habits, which in the past placed them above and beyond the mob’s reach, now drag them down to contempt and mockery in the information sphere. Among the public, trust has curdled into loathing. The elites are horribly aware of their fall from grace – hence the conference – but being deaf to the public’s voice, they are clueless about how to respond.

Hoist by their own petard perhaps? Business leaders, politicians and the like have made an art form of speaking in coherent sentences which impart no information and imply no commitments. When confronted with facts they don’t like, they go to great lengths to manufacture alternatives or attack the messenger, so is anyone surprised when people no longer trust them?

Decline of the American Empire

Foreign Affairs has a good article on The Self-Destruction of American Power, looking at where it all went wrong, from the World’s sole superpower after the fall of the USSR to the modern day retreat from any sort of international cooperation.

The Trump administration has hollowed out U.S. foreign policy even further. Trump’s instincts are Jacksonian, in that he is largely uninterested in the world except insofar as he believes that most countries are screwing the United States. He is a nationalist, a protectionist, and a populist, determined to put “America first.” But truthfully, more than anything else, he has abandoned the field. Under Trump, the United States has withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and from engaging with Asia more generally. It is uncoupling itself from its 70-year partnership with Europe. It has dealt with Latin America through the prism of either keeping immigrants out or winning votes in Florida. It has even managed to alienate Canadians (no mean feat). And it has subcontracted Middle East policy to Israel and Saudi Arabia. With a few impulsive exceptions—such as the narcissistic desire to win a Nobel Prize by trying to make peace with North Korea—what is most notable about Trump’s foreign policy is its absence.

Tiananmen

Thirty years ago today, the Chinese Government massacred hundreds, perhaps thousands, of mainly students protesting in Tiananmen Square. Here’s an interesting article written by a Chinese woman, recounting how she only found out about Tiananmen when she went to the US for grad school.

“When I hear ‘Tiananmen,’ the first thing I think of is Tank Man,” said the boy from New Hampshire.

“What is Tank Man?”

“You gotta be kidding me.” He pulled out his laptop and typed into Google. “You have never seen this before?”

I explained how the Chinese government blocked websites and censored information, and that politics was taboo in my family. Nevertheless, I felt a deep sense of shame. I had just been taught something new about my own country from an American who had never been to China.

and earlier…

I started elementary school in 1994. That August, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party issued the “Outline for Implementing Patriotic Education in China.” With an extreme culling of collective memory, the campaign painted China as a historically aggrieved nation still under siege from external foes, and the Party as its heroic savior and rightful guardian. Unbeknownst to me, “patriotic education” was the Party’s solution to its crisis of legitimacy after the Mao-era disasters and the bloodshed of 1989.

Merkel Fading Away

Long article from Der Speigel on the tail end of Angela Merkel’s Chancellorship and her pessimism at the current direction of global politics.

Like every long-serving chancellor, Merkel tries to escape the petty melancholia of domestic politics. In that sense, she’s no different from Konrad Adenauer and Kohl. What does distinguish her from her predecessors, though, is a deep pessimism, the fear that the world is sliding into the abyss. During her term in office, Turkey transformed from a hopeful democracy into an autocratic regime. The Saudi crown prince turned out to be a cruel despot rather than the young reformer many initially hoped he might be. Putin sought to make his delusions of grandeur reality. And then there’s Trump, whose most recent project is to attempt regime change in Iran, an experiment that already failed terribly one time before. In Merkel’s view, the fuse has already been lit.

There’s also a lament at her unwillingness to address the concerns she has now that she’s freed from re-election concerns.

If Merkel were to take her own speech that she gave in Munich seriously, she would have to explain to voters that Germany – together with the Europeans – must feel a sense of responsibility for its periphery, North Africa and the Middle East. She would have to get Germans used to the idea that the German military needs more money and that in the future, German soldiers will be deployed more often on more dangerous missions. After the refugee crisis, who could honestly argue that civil wars in places like Syria or Libya doesn’t have a direct impact on Germany?

Merkel knows all this. She speaks theoretically about Germany needing to do more. But when it comes to suggesting a concrete strategy, she hardly says a word.

Racial Profiling

In the aftermath of 9/11, governments around the world swung into action trying to ensure that their polices agencies were able to root out all terrorist threats within their communities. These efforts usually included passing some form of stop-and-search laws, whether it was people being taken aside for ‘random’ searches at airports, or being stopping in the street and having their bags searched.

At the time, there were lots of complaints that racial profiling was being used, and that Muslim communities around the world were being unfairly targeted by the new laws, or at least their implementation. Now, it turns out, in the UK at least, police have addressed these concerns, not, as you might expect, by ceasing to unfairly target the Muslim community, but by randomly searching non-Muslims to make up the numbers.

Examples of poor use of section 44 abounded. “I have evidence of cases where the person stopped is so obviously far from any known terrorism profile that, realistically, there is not the slightest possibility of him/her being a terrorist, and no other feature to justify the stop.”

He later said that while the police should not discriminate racially, it was equally important that they should not balance the statistics. “If, for example, 50 blonde women are stopped who fall nowhere near any intelligence-led terrorism profile, it’s a gross invasion of the civil liberties of those 50 blonde women.

“The police are perfectly entitled to stop people who fall within a terrorism profile even if it creates a racial imbalance, as long as it is not racist.”

So, rather than come up with a terrorist profile which is more in-depth than “is a Muslim”, the cops just hassle people who don’t match any terrorist profile to mask the fact that they’re continuing to unfairly target Muslims.

Cheney

If you’re pissing Cheney off you must be on the right track.

The former Vice President Dick Cheney today sharply criticised President Barack Obama’s handling of terrorism policy and defended harsh interrogation methods that Obama has labeled torture.

Obama moves to quell Guantanamo fears In a speech at the American Enterprise Institute on the same day Obama defended his approach to terrorism, Cheney said Obama’s decision to ban tough tactics “is unwise in the extreme.”

“It is recklessness cloaked in righteousness and would make the American people less safe,” said Cheney, long viewed as a leading hawk in the Bush administration.

And what’s with the ‘Obama has labelled torture’ crap? It’s been determined by the courts that waterboarding is torture, and you can bet your last dollar/pound/euro that if it was an American on the receiving end it would be labelled as torture.

So Far, So Good

Obama’s been in office for two days and he’s already undoing some of the damage of Bush’s eight years. Day 1 saw him halting all military tribunals in Guantanamo, issued an order to close Guantanamo within a year, started the process of getting troops out of Iraq and offered a new relationship to Iran.

Day 2 sees him closing the CIA’s special torture network and banning torture and rendition, claiming that We are not, as I said during the inauguration, going to continue with the false choice between our safety and our ideals.”

That’s some good work right there. Now all he has to deal with is * Afghanistan * Israel/Palestine * Global Warming * Financial Crisis and the fact that the US is more or less bankrupt

Should have it all sorted by mid-next week!

Nice One Kev!

Australia has switched its position and voted against Israel on two resolutions which it had previously supported. Howard spent his term voting in lockstep with the US, but some common sense has now prevailed and we are starting to take a more principled stand.

In the weekend vote in New York, Australia supported a resolution calling on Israel to stop establishing settlements in the Palestinian territories and a resolution calling for the Geneva Conventions to apply in the Palestinian territories.

The resolutions on the Middle East peace process are held annually and the Howard government had backed both from 1996 to 2002 but in 2003 began to vote against or abstain. It was a move that aligned Australia with only the US, Israel, the US Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau and Micronesia and put the country at odds with Britain, Canada, New Zealand and France.

Australian officials told the UN the Government had changed its position because it supported a two-state resolution of the conflict to deliver a secure Israel living beside a viable Palestinian state and that Australia believed both sides should abide by their obligations under the Road Map for Peace.

Seymour Hersh

The Guardian has a piece on Seymour Hersh in which he intimates that there’s a whole can of worms waiting to be exposed once Bush leaves office…

A Democrat who truly despises the Bush regime, he is reluctant to make predictions about exactly what is going to happen in the forthcoming election on the grounds that he might ‘jinx it’. The unknown quantity of voter racism apart, however, he is hopeful that Obama will pull it off, and if he does, for Hersh this will be a starting gun. ‘You cannot believe how many people have told me to call them on 20 January [the date of the next president’s inauguration],’ he says, with relish. ‘[They say:] “You wanna know about abuses and violations? Call me then.” So that is what I’ll do, so long as nothing awful happens before the inauguration.’ He plans to write a book about the neocons and, though it won’t change anything - ‘They’ve got away with it, categorically; anyone who talks about prosecuting Bush and Cheney [for war crimes] is kidding themselves’ - it will reveal how the White House ‘set out to sabotage the system… It wasn’t that they found ways to manipulate Congressional oversight; they had conversations about ending the right of Congress to intervene.’

Should be interesting.

Shit Sandwich

The New Yorker has an opinion piece wondering how anyone could still be undecided in the American election, which uses a wonderful analogy to point out the bleeding obvious.

Then you’ll see this man or woman— someone, I always think, who looks very happy to be on TV. “Well, Charlie,” they say, “I’ve gone back and forth on the issues and whatnot, but I just can’t seem to make up my mind!” Some insist that there’s very little difference between candidate A and candidate B. Others claim that they’re with A on defense and health care but are leaning toward B when it comes to the economy.

I look at these people and can’t quite believe that they exist. Are they professional actors? I wonder. Or are they simply laymen who want a lot of attention?

To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?”

To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked. I mean, really, what’s to be confused about?

Funny though it is, the time to be concerned about shit sandwiches was four years ago. If common sense had prevailed then, perhaps we could have avoided this:

The US government was today accused of “farce” after dropping all charges against a British resident held at Guantanamo Bay…

He was accused of planning an attack that included the use of radioactive material and chemical weapons.

But Mohamed insists he admitted to plotting the dirty bomb attack only after being tortured, which included having his penis cut with a razor.

Mr Stafford Smith said: “The Bush Administration will not even admit in public that they rendered Mr Mohamed to face torture in Morocco, let alone allow him a fair trial…

The US government has been accused of using a strategy of delay to avoid having to disclose the evidence that could support the torture allegations [until after the elections].

I’m pretty sure any man would confess to whatever you want once you start slicing his tackle with a razor blade.

Truth, Justice and The American Way!