THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 661 February 7 - 13, 2011
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February 7, 2011
.The last reports I have from Cairo are that the revolution is now a crowd camped out in on corner of the central square, "protected" by the Army and ignored by the police and security forces. Stores are opening, commerce is flowing back into the city, banks are opening. There is no general strike, and no mass flow of protestors. People arrested by the police are being released, some much the worse for the experience, others not in such bad shape. The Vice President, a man not a lot younger than President Mubarak and thus not likely to found a new regime much less a new dynasty,, is meeting with opposition leaders to discuss terms for a new parliamentary and presidential election. We don't know who the Army will put up as its candidate for President, but we can be sure there will be someone the Mamelukes approve, and that he will be elected. In the meantime someone will have to form a government since the entire Cabinet resigned.
Obama and his spokespeople have been more cautious lately although Obama still sounds like a schoolmaster lecturing the student body president rather than the President of the United States and a long term ally and keeper of the peace who happens to be President of the largest of the Arab nations, and the most formidable enemy Israel faced before Sadat joined the peace process. But then we have a long history of arrogant presumption about the Middle East. Bush sent in Paul Bremer, who in his own memoirs admits not knowing anything about Iraq before becoming proconsul. Colin Powell and Condoleeze Rice, bright cookies both of them, knew almost nothing about the history of the Middle East. At least Powell did understand that "If you break it, you get to keep it," and warned Bush accordingly, a warning that Bush apparently didn't understand, and which didn't prevent his sending in perhaps the most incompetent proconsul since Roman times.
The Legions did their part, but armies do not usually govern, and very seldom govern well. The Egyptian Army has done better than many, and had learned some of its part. What the Egyptian government did not do was restrain the incompetent arrogance of the police and security forces. What the Army did not do was require the government to restrain the incompetent arrogance of the police and security forces. Mubarak and his cohorts are neither venial nor evil, but they did become neglectful. They had no competition for their offices, and they left most of the work to bureaucrats with the usual results. The bulk of Egypt's Army are short time conscripts, but there are Regulars, and the Army is controlled by professional officers who take some pride in their military skills and abilities, and of course by long term non-commissioned officers whose loyalty to their officers is essential if the Army is to have capabilities.
Armies can learn to govern. They prefer to do so by consent of the governed, but that is not necessary if it comes to a crunch. From all I hear from reliable sources, some of the military virtues remain in the Egyptian Army. There is some professional pride and competence. Perhaps not so much as Napoleon observed in the Mamelukes, whom he admired; it has, after all, been two hundred years since Napoleon's campaign there. But the last war between Egypt and Israel, although an Egyptian defeat, showed a degree of Egyptian competence. They did cross the Suez canal and destroy Israeli forts in Sinai. And by all reports they performed with credit as US allies in the reconquest of Kuwait and the First Desert War.
It will be interesting to see what happens next. What will not happen is the Egyptian Army allowing their President to be chased to the airport by a mob as happened in Tunisia. Tunisia is not Egypt.
WikiLeaks continue to show the consequences of empire by bureaucracy. They also have a consequence: it is always difficult to get ones foreign service to be candid with their bosses, and the senior State department career officials to be candid with their political masters. Now that everyone can see there is a real danger that anything they write or say can be part of a Washington Post -- or Fox News -- article for all the world to see, that becomes even more difficult. Few in Washington actually know what is going on overseas, because few in Washington and even fewer of those we send out as diplomatic officers know any history of either the world or the region to which they are sent; now they'll all learn and say less about what they find when they report. Welcome to the candid world. Open diplomacy openly arrived at.
What so proudly we hailed -- one can have some sympathy for Christina Aguilara. I presume that by now all the world knows that she mixed two lines in singing the national anthem solo at the superbowl. The Star Spangled Banner is not easily sung, nor is it often in the repertoire of performers like Aguilara. It's easy to imagine you know it better than you do. My sympathies to the young lady. I don't myself care for her overly emotional style and I don't at all care for that throaty technique, but that's my personal preference. Apparently she is very popular with her own set. No harm done, and overall the pre-game ceremonies were refreshingly patriotic.
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|This week:||Tuesday, February
.The Egyptian authorities have released Wael Ghonim , a Google middle
east executive based in Dubai who flew to Cairo to take part in the
Wael Ghonim seems to have had some to much influence on the generation of the flash crowd that formed in Egypt after the Tunisian populace spontaneously rose up to chase out their entire government. Clearly many hoped for a similar result in Egypt. The difference was that in Tunis the police fired on the populace, the populace retreated in fear, and then the Army intervened and told the police that the street demonstrators were under their protection and if the security forces fired on the demonstrators the Army would fire on the police. Once that was made clear the crowds chased the government to the airport. In Egypt the Army was less enthusiastic about the demonstrations. One infers that the Army was not entirely pleased by Mubarak's attempt to anoint his son as successor. The result was the appointment of one of the Army's inner leaders as Vice President. Another result was that the President did not flee the country. Egyptians historically do not drive out Pharaoh although there are exceptions: King Farouk learned that.
I have heard little about the farcical revolt of the camel drivers, but the explanation of that incident becomes clearer: it was a silly but cheap way to test the mettle of the crowd. The tourist trade is dead in the water in Egypt, and that is after all the primary Egyptian industry. Tour guides have no other income. The tour guide industry is heavily unionized and there are strict rules: foreign tour guides cannot lecture at the historic sites. Tours organized by non-Egyptian guides have to obey strict rules, enough so that most make some kind of deal with the locals. (This practice is hardly limited to Egypt, of course.)
One of the enhancements of a trip to Egypt is a camel or horseback ride to the pyramids. Those horses and camels have to be fed. No one was renting them. You can guess the rest of the story. There were also the tourist police out of work and worried about their jobs. And the Army was in the square, perhaps the mob would run and this nightmare would be over and the tourists would come again, and...
That didn't work; but restoring the tourist industry is a major objective in this impoverished country.
Of course energy and liberty work wonders for an economy. Not so much in a place where there are few property rights and very little tradition of property rights or a middle class. After all this is one of the primary places of origin of what Wittfogel called The Oriental Method of Production. Oriental Despotism is hardly a new phenomenon in the Orient, and property rights are not well developed in most of the Arab world. If Egypt wants a thriving economy, they might try regularizing property rights and adding economic freedom. Franco discovered that you can have authoritarian government, public order, a rather low threshold of political rights, but give a great deal of economic freedom -- and get really big payoffs. At one time Spain under Francisco Franco led the world in economic growth -- a lesson not entirely lost in modern China.
There are many lessons to be learned from recent events in Egypt after Tunisia. There are stories to be played out in Jordan and Yeman. One wonders that the Iranian street crowds think of Obama now that their attempts have failed. I am sure that the people of Tehran follow the events of Cairo.
Incidentally, regarding lessons learned from the Egyptian story, one wonders what the military in Pyongyang think of the deposition of the son of the Egyptian President?
As to US policy, we seem to be spiraling toward some final position which ought to be announced very soon. Israel will be pleased to learn what it will be. The Israelis, like the Egyptians, are allies of the United States. We don't insist that our friends like each other, which in this case is just as well.
I've been reading further into the history of the Second Desert War and the disaster that followed when we brought in Bremer. I am hoping that find in Rumsfeld's new book some clue as to why Bremer was selected to be proconsul, and why we couldn't find someone better. Surely we had access to telephone books and a pin?
I hear on the radio that the demonstrations have started up again, as Wael Ghonim addressed the Cairo crowd.
A new form of plebiscitary democracy?
Bring 'Em Down! (tm)
The Modern System of Government! Click here...
At the moment there is still room for humor. There may not always be. People must be fed. Armies believe in public order. And economies, particularly those based on tourists. require public order. Or is the power of Google so great that all this is but idle grumbling.
February 9, 2011
"Doing the math on a jobless recovery" by Brad Schiller in today's Wall Street Journal (link) is well worth your time. It will not tell you anything you could not have worked out for yourself, but few of us do that kind of simple analysis even though we should. As Samuel Johnson said, men seldom need educating but they often need reminding. We mostly have been exposed to what we need to think about, but it's easy to forget such things.
Note that officially we created 36,000 jobs in January. In December, with all the temp hiring of the season, we created 121,000; a number unlikely to be repeated in the next two quarters.
Of course one can get closer to full employment by restricting population growth, and in particular restricting growth of uneducated and unskilled workers who soak up the entry level jobs that were once the apprenticeship program for the unskilled and uneducated, particularly minority workers who came from very bad schools. Of course the vast majority of those coming from the public school schools now come from very bad schools. Worse, though, regulations and wage laws and unions make it very difficult to create a new job now; easier to hire someone off the books and hope that there won't be raids. Clearly it's easy to fool the system: ask Meg Whitman.
On 1942 things looked grim for the United States. We were at war on two fronts, with both Germany and Japan. The Axis had the armies and the determination. German tanks were better than ours, their airplanes were as good, and they had far more of them than we had or anyone might reasonably predict we could get in any short time. The US battleship fleet was destroyed, and the German submarine fleet made Atlantic shipping a nightmare. The Japanese understood naval warfare, had the carriers, and a highly trained naval air corpt. The United States would have to create a new fleet, build a new army, build tanks and trucks and artillery and airplanes and ==
And of course the United States did that.
The goal of Germany and Japan in January, 1942 was to destroy Detroit. Destroy the factories, and lay the area waste. Turn it into slums that might, just might, be convertible back into farmlands. Of course they couldn't do that. By 1945 Germany and Japan were conquered and their industries were in ruins. Detroit thrived.
Now in 2011, Detroit is a wasteland, some of which might, just might, be convertible back into farmlands. Germany and Japan couldn't do that, but we could do it to ourselves. Meanwhile, Germany rebuilt its ruins into industrial might. Is there a lesson here?
What man has done, man can aspire to. What Americans have done, Americans can aspire to. We can see how Germany and Japan came back from ruin and near starvation. Initiative, hard work -- and sane labor and economic policies.
If the United States wants to create jobs, the answer is simple: make it easy to create jobs. Stimulus funds don't work. Economic freedom does.
The three major factors in economic growth are sane economic and labor regulation and laws; availability of energy, and availability of educated workers. We had all those in 1942. We do not have them now.
It shouldn't be hard to draw conclusions from that. Even Congresscritters and State Legislators ought to be able to get it.
The Egyptian story continues to unfold.
Someone in the State Department seems finally to have convinced the White House that immediate elections in Egypt will result in victories by the Muslim Brotherhood, whose 1987 offshoot is Hamas. Hamas won the election in Gaza and now rules there. Gaza is hardly an example of liberal democracy. Under Hamas, thousands of rockets have been launched in the general direction of Israel. Most of those opposed to Hamas have vanished into prisons or unmarked graves.
Egypt will not become a liberal democracy as a result of any election to be held in 2011. An early election is far more likely to result in one man, one vote, once, unless the Army intervenes, as it would.
Meanwhile, Mubarak is an intelligent man; surely he understands the major lesson of the Twentieth Century for people in his position: if you hold power, particularly if you hold power and your major opposition are the enemies of the United States, never let go. You are safer as Castro than Pinochet.
The other lesson is for genuine tyrants, not authoritarian dictators: Get Nukes and Get Them Fast. If you have enough money you may be able to get them from North Korea; and if you have them, you may be treated like the North Korean dynasty rather than like the friends of the US like Diem or the Shah, or for that matter Saddam Hussein after Iran became the major US opponent in the Middle East.
Get Nukes. Never let go. These are the lessons US policy makers have been teaching, beginning with Kennedy who engineered the assassination of Diem, continuing through Carter and the Shah, to the harassment of Pinochet, and the invasion of Iraq. Mubarak, who is estimated as having personal control of billions -- easily enough to buy both legions and nukes -- must be aware of all this.
It is easy to blackguard Mubarak, and easy enough to say in hindsight that he ought to have done more to assure a tranquil succession; it is much harder to see how he should have done that. Pinochet retired and Chile returned to liberal democracy, under a solemn a set of guarantees as could be devised. Naturally those were ignored and he was not permitted to die in peace. Mubarak, whose predecessor was assassinated by the Moslem Brotherhood, handing over power while assuring the safety of his family, had more to fear. He tentatively tried to assure the succession of his son -- apparently King Lear is not on the reading list for Egyptian generals -- but that didn't work. The Army had no enthusiasm for his son, and unlike North Korea, where the Party rules, in Egypt the Army is the major power.
The social network changed everything, but the lessons of the Twentieth Century remain: if you have power, do not let go, because the liberal democrats will swear to anything to get you to leave, but their thirst for justice will overcome any commitments they have made.
Never let go, and Get Nukes. And you might think of building a party structure; basing your power on Janissaries carries the disadvantage that you have to pay attention to the troops. Ortega y Gasset had that part right. I have addressed that issue before.
The headlines this morning predict that Mubarak will "step down" this afternoon, possibly before I get back from my medical appointment. The Power of the Internet? What happens next is not clear. The Mamelukes will cast up a new Chairman, but I doubt any of us can predict who it will be. The disastrous outcome would be a continuous revolution, ending the long peace since Sadat.
And it is time for me to go.
Medical exam found nothing but I didn't expect it to. Had a number of blood samples taken. Also whole body X-ray. We'll know the results of all that in a few days.
On the way home Mubarak made his speech. I heard most of it on the radio. He isn't leaving. There was not a military coup. He is not going to exile. The crowd doesn't accept that. They are said to be marching on the state TV station, where the Vice President is speaking. The game goes on. The Mamelukes have not yet had the final word.
And Egypt is losing money by the minute. Of course the Mubarak personal fortune is large enough to make up for some of that. Tap into the Mubarak stash...
Why am I reminded of the Nike Sedition? We know that outcome. Mubarak is no Justinian, and there does not appear to be a Belisarius on the scene. The Moslem Brotherhood has so far not begun to burn the city down. We are not yet to that situation. But the crowd shouts "Out. Out. Go." "What do we want? You out! When do we want it? Now!" The question is, will the Mamelukes join the crowd and openly turn against their Chairman?
It would be pointless for me to attempt breaking news, and we won't know enough about this situation for intelligent comments until we know what the Egyptian Army will do. The commentators continue to blackguard Mubarak and to posit him as an absolute power dictator. Not true. He rules at the pleasure of the Army. Armies are always reluctant to turn on their commander in chief, but they do have influence. When you rule through Janissaries, you must pay some attention to those Janissaries. The upper echelons of the Egyptian Army do not live in fear and terror and have not since Sadat.
February 10, 2011
Two things happen this morning. One is that I have my appointment with my oncologist. It's a routine checkup scheduled for a long time. I don't expect anything to come of it. Doesn't stop me from worrying.
The other event is that KFAC begins its week long pledge drive. This site operates on the public radio model: it is free, but if we don't get subscriptions the site will go away. There isn't much danger of that with KUSC because it gets subscriptions. I time my subscription drives to match KUSC's. So far it has worked: we get subscriptions. Thanks for all the support.
Of course if my medical appointment goes badly this is all pointless, so you may want to wait until I get back before subscribing. On the other hand, if you want to subscribe now, feel free. And of course for many it is time to renew (but we did get a hefty number of renewals in January, enough that I am a bit behind on recording them. Thanks to all who recently subscribed or renewed.
I'll be back about noon.
I wrote a long piece at 1330 today, and posted it. And it did not post, as I found from some of your mail. Yet I could see it, here, and I used ftp to send it up, and it didn't go. So when I closed the file it vanished. It appears to be gone. This is the first time Front Page has done this to me. It's just gone.
I had notes on Cairo as well as on my experiences at Kaiser. I'll leave those off since the situation changes there so rapidly. It's clear the Army is in charge, but hasn't quite decided what to do. Mubarak wouldn't follow the script. We'll see what the Mamelukes to. I did wonder at the similarity to the Nike Sedition, but it's not really similar. Mubarak is no Justinian, there is no Theodora and more importantly no Belisarius. Do note that in the Nike sedition the Army did not hesitate to slaughter tens of thousands of rebels who were rioting in the Hippodrome.
As to my examinations, it was a regularly scheduled visit, nothing was found, a lot of blood was drawn and we don't have the blood work results, but nothing abnormal is expected, and I got a full body x-ray. That all took a lot of time, and was a bit tiring.
I really did post all this earlier, or thought I did. Apologies.
Thanks to all those who inquired, and apologies: I wasn't trying to keep anyone in suspense.
Thanks also to those who subscribed or renewed. The pledge drive continues for a week, of course. I prefer it this way. I exhort you, or remind you, until you're weary of hearing about it, then the drive is over and I don't bother you again for a while, so you're not always being badgered about subscribing. But this is the week, and consider yourself badgered. Subscribe now if you haven't. Renew now if it's anywhere near time to renew.
And good night.
[Hah. Steve Lyon points out that the missing text was put into Wednesday's entry. Sigh.]
February 11, 2011
The Supreme Military Council now rules Egypt. President Mubarak has retreated to his summer palace in Sinai. Cairo continues to be dominated by crowds in the public squares. Various politicians in Washington will explain it all to you in a few minutes.
I have no idea what happens next, and I doubt that anyone else does. Sadat and Mubarak took Egypt out of the Soviet orbit and made peace with Israel. Sadat was assassinated for this.
We can wish the Egyptians well. Perhaps something good can come from all this. It is not impossible. Turkey emerged from turmoil and defeat and a secular Republic was built by the Young Turks headed by Mustapha Kemal Ataturk. That Republic endured and thrived, although there are signs that it is being transmogrified into an Islamic state, as witness the odd incident of the "peace flotilla" to Gaza.
There was dancing in the streets and huge crowds celebrating the accession of Peron, and for a year after he took over Fidel Castro could boast of the support of the New York Times and most of the US media and press. There was dancing in the streets and great approval by the US media when the Shah fled to Egypt.
There are differences. Egypt has its Army and the tradition of the Mamelukes.
And there are hundreds of thousands of people in Cairo. The foundation of the Egyptian economy is tourism. Food prices are rising. Food futures are up and rising. The first task of the Mamelukes will be to feed those people as they stand down from the public square. They will also need to feed the soldiers. They will also need to pay the soldiers: Bremer neglected to do that in Iraq, with the result that it has cost the US trillions. Iraq has oil, but that didn't make the Iraqi economy work.
We live in interesting times.
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It is a measure of the professionalism in Washington that the Director of National Intelligence, the Super Spy Chief who is supposed to be above all other intelligence organizations, told the Congress that the Muslim Brotherhood is a secular organization.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which assassinated Sadat and later spawned Hamas, is anything but a secular organization. Its goal is the establishment of Sunni Muslimism as the established and only religion in states that it controls. This means the establishment of Sharia. One hopes that there might be more enlightenment in its application in Egypt than in Bangla Desh.
Given that the official in charge of providing intelligence to the Commander in Chief believes the Muslim Brotherhood is secular and non-violent, we may look forward to upcoming US policy regarding Egypt. We may hope that the Egyptian Army is a bit better informed.
As to what happens next in Egypt, that is clearly up to the Egyptian Army. I do not think the opinions of the White House will be decisive.
When your only job is to prepare the national intelligence estimate and either reconcile or choose among conflicting opinions of experts in the intelligence field, you must not have that kind of senior moment. When that happens, it is time to take a staff job, so that momentary lapses in judgment do not get conveyed to non-professionals. Its particularly important in a case like this. Everyone hopes that Egypt will be governed by secular technocrats and advocates of Good Government. Wishful thinking should be no part of policymaking, and by definition the Director of National Intelligence takes part in that process. Of course the Brotherhood, which assassinated Mubarak's predecessor, "makes efforts to work through" Mubarak's largely secular political system; but it was also instrumental in the founding of Hamas, which won the first -- and only -- free election in Gaza. The Egyptian Army under Mubarak has been charged with sealing off Gaza and preventing the transport of weapons -- including rockets -- into Gaza. The success of that blockade can be estimated by Googling Gaza + rockets.
Our President says "The people of Egypt have spoken," and the phrase is being echoed everywhere by the media. It could also be said after the election in Gaza that "The people of Gaza have spoken." Meanwhile, I recommend to you Jose Ortega y Gasset, "The Revolt of the Masses." Ortega didn't get everything right, but his insights are very much worth your attention. Published in 1930, long before the information revolution, it looks at some of the consequences of the enlightenment.
February 12, 2011
In 1848 much of Europe exploded in revolutions against monarchs and aristocracies. A United States warship furnished transportation for the Hungarian revolutionary hero Kossuth, and when Kossuth visited the United States he addressed a joint session of Congress in the old House chamber. US support for democratic revolution is an old tradition.
Mubarak's resignation has been a signal for widespread unrest across the Arab world. Algeria, Libya, Dubai, the Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Yemen are all reported to be candidates for uprisings. Syria had demonstrations put down by the security forces. No one knows what's happening in Iran. There is even talk of street movements in Iraq to demand the immediate departure of US forces. The Internet is everywhere.
It is a brave new world, and no one understands it.
Meanwhile all the governments of the United States: the Federal government, nearly all the state governments, most cities and counties, are broke, and most have the kind of financial structure that would force private firms into bankruptcy. In California both state and city governments face a situation in which they will shortly be paying out over half their income to pensioned government workers, while streets, prisons, and infrastructure deteriorate. California at one point proposed selling off all its public buildings then leasing them back, a whacky scheme that would put off disaster for a few years at enormous cost. Fortunately that scheme is out the window, but the only remedies proposed so far are "cuts" that turn out to be cuts in future growth, freezes that keep in place all the expenditures that have created the crisis, and tax increases that have managed to cripple the economy. California does not appear to be unique.
The financial crises were created by democracy.
The goal of the Democratic Party in the US is redistribution of wealth, and the restriction of coal and gas energy in favor of solar an windmills. Renewable energy will be mandated. Energy demand soared this winter -- but the solar and wind plants suffered loss of efficiency due to cold and snow.
Those rejoicing at the prospects for democracy in the Middle East might want to contemplate all this.
Perhaps I am being unduly cynical. Meanwhile the euphoria continues, but the crowds have not gone home from Cairo. Someone must be bringing in food and water. I don't know who is doing this, or who is paying. I am told that food prices are soaring.
A side note: I look in vain for portapotties in the Cairo Square: there are a lot of people out there. If someone isn't thinking about control of sewage, can cholera be far away? Or perhaps again I am unduly cynical, and there are those quietly laboring to preserve the public health.
The crowd is in the streets. They demand a new constitution before they will go home. And the military will hold free elections. And --
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February 13, 2011
.I took the day off.
This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying. See also the COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 5,000 - 12,000 words, depending. (Older columns here.) For more on what this page is about, please go to the VIEW PAGE. If you have never read the explanatory material on that page, please do so. If you got here through a link that didn't take you to the front page of this site, click here for a better explanation of what we're trying to do here. This site is run on the "public radio" model; see below.
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