25 June 2007

History is not inevitable

My thanks to Stanley Kurtz at The Corner at NRO for a link to an article by Azar Gat at RealClearPolitics, The Return of Authoritarian Great Powers.

There is a crucial and critical flaw in the view of Left and Right about the 'inevitability' of history and a shift towards democracy. Azar Gat points out this flaw by pointing out that the wars of the 20th century were neither foreordained to turn out the way they did nor can the maxims of democracies promoting stability be put forth as a viable conception of governmental attitudes. A glaring fault of 20th century economic theory to respond to Marxist theories, was to put forth that capitalism, due to efficiencies of marketplace, would serve as a basis for democracy. This is AFTER two world wars had pointed out just the opposite:

But the reasons for the triumph of democracy, especially over its nondemocratic capitalist rivals of the two world wars, Germany and Japan, were more contingent than is usually assumed. Authoritarian capitalist states, today exemplified by China and Russia, may represent a viable alternative path to modernity, which in turn suggests that there is nothing inevitable about liberal democracy's ultimate victory -- or future dominance.
Germany, in 1914 had capitalism as its economic basis, and yet that basis *supported*, and fully, the authoritarian regime of the Kaiser. The spread of socialism did temper that, somewhat, but that did not change the attitude of the Nation nor did it give rise to a people who saw anything wrong with a Germany as driving force controlling European affairs. Mr. Gat then goes into some depth on World War II and points to some telling issues on authoritarian capitalism and the dedication within Germany during that conflict:
Nor did the totalitarian capitalist regimes lose World War II because their democratic opponents held a moral high ground that inspired greater exertion from their people, as the historian Richard Overy and others have claimed. During the 1930s and early 1940s, fascism and Nazism were exciting new ideologies that generated massive popular enthusiasm, whereas democracy stood on the ideological defensive, appearing old and dispirited. If anything, the fascist regimes proved more inspiring in wartime than their democratic adversaries, and the battlefield performance of their militaries is widely judged to have been superior.
One of the most telling parts of why World War II turned out as it did is that the German State control over capitalism was inefficient and a bit short sighted. An example of this is that the German regime saw no need to invest in new aircraft designs after 1939, as they were certain that they did not NEED better aircraft. When re-investment into design did re-start, it happened at many different design bureaus, each competing for scarce resources and limited factory production time. Germany, itself, did not move to a three-shift industrial basis until 1943, and then only under the duress of need to keep equipment supplies up for its military as it had used the two-shift basis to ensure that there was domestic accord during wartime. What one gets from looking at that situation and the pre-war research status of Germany, even without its Jewish scientists, is very frightening due to the lax attitude of the Western powers during that same era. Even more basic, however, is that these were capitalist societies at war and capitalism did not lead to democracy and fully supported in WWII an authoritarian Nation as it did in WWI.
The outcome of warfare and State power is contingent upon many aspects, and getting logistics, supplies and ensuring that there is enough advancement of production to meet that of opposition advances is critical. Actual reasons for Germany being unable to sustain production are due more to lack of industrial capacity and vulnerability to having critical supply components cut off for wartime production. In that realm, trade and transport capacity as the basis for logistical supplies are key, and the reliance of Germany upon oceanic supply lines allowed superior naval forces to stalemate its supply lines in WWI and to interdict them in WWII. That is *also* a contingent basis phenomena as before WWI Germany had sought out a strategic ally to remedy the oceanic supply lines and give it a thoroughly land-line basis with minimal exposure to seaborne attack. That ally was the Ottoman Empire.

In one of the forgotten portions of history, there is one element that has been almost absolutely forgotten for strategic supply of Germany during WWI. It is forgotten because it was forestalled by the war and played no part in it because it had not been completed, but it was being built. This was a movement to get an insured overland capacity from Baghdad to Berlin: The Baghdad Railroad. That had been blocked in 1911 by Great Britain, and the movement to complete it stagnated and then halted, so that by the time war arrived in 1914 it would play little to no part in the actual supply of German industrial capacity. Nothing foreordained an assassination of an Arch Duke by factional separatist in 1914, although the building to war had been a common thread of thought for many years leading up to that point in time. Nor was it foreordained that Germany would not complete the portions already in work and expand its war plans on contingent basis so that a swift delivery of arms and material down it to seize Mesopotamian oil resources from British and Persian interests. That is *not* something that capitalism would drive against and, indeed, with the support of the German government, would be seen as a necessity to sooner, or later, actually secure those resources.

The fighting stalemate and loss of industrial capacity in Germany, with those resources, would not have happened as quickly with that railroad built, and the entry of the US would not be an assured thing either: US oil needs, if minimally met by German controlled fields, would preclude the US from wanting to actually join the war. By having British control of those fields, and having resource needs met by Arab and Persian output, the US saw no need to side with Germany. Additionally the isolationist President Wilson, in our world, put forth a very limited war plan so that ALL of the enemies of the Anglo-French alliance did not need to be targeted.

With any consequential petroleum resources held by Germany and threat to take more of same, plus a stalemate in the Euoropean theater, President Wilson would be forced to put the economic needs of the US aside and join the Allies or to fully fight *all* of the Allies of Germany. There would even be the case made that supporting Germany so as to *influence* it and its allies was in the US interest for the long-term spread of democracy and liberalization of those regimes. That was a case hard to put forth with Germany relatively isolated, but a Germany with more resources and active in the Middle East then puts Germany combat expertise in support of the Ottoman Empire.

World War I was not foreordained to be the US coming in to save the Alliance bacon and then fouling up its handling of the Middle East for 90 years thereafter. With one relatively simple shift in outlook, one that the Kaiser could easily have taken umbrage to, the entire geo-strategic basis for World War I would have changed and harshly. If the Aussies had problems at Gallipoli with Ottoman Turks there, imagine the problems they would have with Germany supported Ottoman troops with more modern weapons and tactics. And securing victory against the Ottomans by the British from the south would have to be concentrated on attempting to regain natural resources and be faced with German troops attempting to isolate Persia and threaten Arabian oil supplies and other Middle Eastern natural resources. Not to speak of the Suez Canal.

That is because Germany was a *capitalist* Nation that could use the productive capabilities of capitalism to reinforce itself for Imperial means. A world of one relatively modest and simple shift, with the Schlieffen Plan then expanded by later strategists and *reworked* by them would then have yielded a truly horrific war with NO assured outcome to it in any way, shape or form. And a heavily isolationist America would see problems supporting *either* side in that conflict and German intimidation would have been much more telling against a weak President Wilson who had seen no need to actively respond to earlier intimidation against Germany until after the Lusitania had been sunk. A true German-Ottoman Middle Eastern Campaign would have been lethal to decisiveness to Woodrow Wilson who would attempt to appease the tyrants, oppose intervention and even try to use his good offices to ameliorate the conflict... which the British and French would then see as stalling while their production resource *base* was being threatened with OVERLAND interdiction that could not be addressed due to Ottoman and German reinforced fortifications along the Dardanelles that would be necessary to secure that limited waterway. As it was the cost was high in ships and men to attempt to do that with the minimal Ottoman fortifications of that era.

That 'inevitability of history' and ability of 'liberal democracy' to win, is based more on production capacity and strength and commitment to utilizing it, than is the actual forms of liberal democracy to win adherents. Here Mr. Gat has a very salient view on what the outcome of world without the US as a coherent Nation would have been:
Throughout the twentieth century, the United States' power consistently surpassed that of the next two strongest states combined, and this decisively tilted the global balance of power in favor of whichever side Washington was on. If any factor gave the liberal democracies their edge, it was above all the existence of the United States rather than any inherent advantage. In fact, had it not been for the United States, liberal democracy may well have lost the great struggles of the twentieth century. This is a sobering thought that is often overlooked in studies of the spread of democracy in the twentieth century, and it makes the world today appear much more contingent and tenuous than linear theories of development suggest. If it were not for the U.S. factor, the judgment of later generations on liberal democracy would probably have echoed the negative verdict on democracy's performance, issued by the fourth-century-BC Greeks, in the wake of Athens' defeat in the Peloponnesian War.
This was a prime worry amongst the Founding Generation and democracy, to this day, has not won through because of superiority of system, but due to superiority of resources and ability to utilize them. It was a highly and hotly argued point during the period of 1783-87, that the track record for liberal democracy was not only not good, but had inherent flaws and weaknesses in it that made it more liable to deterioration and final movement to tyranny as the unchecked sway of public opinion would come to dominate any forum of government. The ability of government to bestow gifts and favoritism, influence debate and pander to the public makes democracy a highly unstable system of government.

The success of liberal democracy may be in the absence of other viable forms of government, not due to inherent stability and structural superiority. That is brought up by Mr. Gat and is highly worth thinking about:
Because the totalitarian capitalist great powers, Germany and Japan, were crushed in war, and these countries were subsequently threatened by Soviet power, they lent themselves to a sweeping restructuring and democratization. Consequently, smaller countries that chose capitalism over communism had no rival political and economic model to emulate and no powerful international players to turn to other than the liberal democratic camp. These small and medium-sized countries' eventual democratization probably had as much to do with the overwhelming influence of the Western liberal hegemony as with internal processes. Presently, Singapore is the only example of a country with a truly developed economy that still maintains a semiauthoritarian regime, and even it is likely to change under the influence of the liberal order within which it operates. But are Singapore-like great powers that prove resistant to the influence of this order possible?
By the polarizing influence of the Cold War, two systems were pushed hard as viable alternatives, not due to their inherent superiority as government types, but due to their economic capacity imbued in the two superpowers. From this the victory in the Cold War is not one of moral superiority of one government type over another, but the actual economic power of the two Nations involved and their ability to retain economic coherence. Moderate and small size Nations that embrace liberal democracy that succeed, as Nations, may have more to do with that underlying success in the social order of their cultures rather than the liberating influence of democracy. For every Taiwan, South Korea and India, there are Colombia, Trinidad & Tobago, Argentina, and Sudan that have shown that democracy, as a process, is not all that is necessary to succeed, nor that capitalism mixed in does much to help democracy out.

If capitalism is the great 'securer of liberty' then why are so many Nations with it having problems keeping to democratic and liberal ways? That simplistic view of Marx and many on the Right today, that economics guides society, has problems demonstrating that as an underlying fact without having to add in factors of culture, society and underlying legal structure. Similarly if democracy is the great 'cure all' for societal ills, then why are so many democratic governments so unstable and prone to overthrow and upheaval? For larger Nations inertia and size of population does play a role, also, and that must be taken into consideration when approaching this as a concept. Mr. Gat does bring this up within the modern context of Russia and China, and to any who have looked at where either of these Nations are, today, the underlying premise of the last 60 years that Nations will 'evolve' towards democracy because it is a 'superior system' are having problems in showing that. I have looked at China and the actual underpinnings of its growth are on bad debt, poor to no repayment, crony capitalism and working and environmental conditions that look more 19th century than 21st century.

Thus, on the actual ability of Nations to 'evolve' towards democracy, Mr. Gat puts forth the following:
It is widely contended that economic and social development create pressures for democratization that an authoritarian state structure cannot contain. There is also the view that "closed societies" may be able to excel in mass manufacturing but not in the advanced stages of the information economy. The jury on these issues is still out, because the data set is incomplete. Imperial and Nazi Germany stood at the forefront of the advanced scientific and manufacturing economies of their times, but some would argue that their success no longer applies because the information economy is much more diversified. Nondemocratic Singapore has a highly successful information economy, but Singapore is a city-state, not a big country. It will take a long time before China reaches the stage when the possibility of an authoritarian state with an advanced capitalist economy can be tested. All that can be said at the moment is that there is nothing in the historical record to suggest that a transition to democracy by today's authoritarian capitalist powers is inevitable, whereas there is a great deal to suggest that such powers have far greater economic and military potential than their communist predecessors did.
This is an ideological blind spot of Western thought in the post-20th century era, and one that is now hitting the entire foundation of the modern Nation State very hard. In the era of hard-hearted diplomacy, the underlying foundation of international affairs was:
“Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.”
- Lord Palmerston
With that being the case, the older views of societies being represented by their government and having that government reflect much in the way of that society is one that becomes an issue. The Cold War stasis may have imposed an artificial choice upon Nations that pushed them into roles based on superpower alignment and *not* upon government as representative of societal outlook. To those who grew up in the latter half of the 20th century, that sounds like an archaic, parochial and even heavily discriminatory statement. That is exactly what it is and with good reason. It is biased and discriminatory because Nation States ARE that way by design. The entire Nation State system is one of differentiating populations by self-adherence and having common government, even if it is authoritarian, dictatorial, repressive and genocidal.

From this viewpoint, the United States is the safeguard of liberal democracy by its ability to hold its own democracy together. Mr. Gat does close out on the hopeful note that the US will most likely remain the foremost economic power globally, even if China realizes its potential as current forecasters are wont to forecast. What is not addressed directly, and only peripherally by Mr. Gat, is the actual essence that for the US to have such capability it must remain in its current state of affairs and not decline nor change overmuch in its outlook and internal coherence. History is, however, a contingent basis phenomena that plays upon things done and undone, both great and small, playing out from the level of individuals to that of Nation States. Small changes in perspective within a known and given scope, while seemingly trivial at the time, say the Kaiser taking a disliking to the British concept of oversight in the area of Mesopotamia, and continuing to extend rail coverage so as to exploit other resources and build a means to get troops and supplies to that region quickly. That is not a major change and, in actuality, rather trivial for the era involved, and yet the ramifications of *not* doing that led to the world we are in today.

That said the actual basis of democracy is citizen exercise of the franchise right in voting and the disturbing long term trends in the US have been evident for over 3 decades. The years of Presidential Elections typically see higher participation than in the mid-term elections for Representatives and 1/3 of the Senate.

The above taken from US Census datasets.

America is no longer a majoritarian ruled Nation. On the Presidential year a bit over 58% of the population came out to vote, which means the actual selective group that voted the current Administration back into office was 53% of 58%, or about 31%. Even worse is the more representative seats in the House and 1/3 of the Senate that see a selective body size for the United States of less than 25% of the population as a whole. This is not the signs of a healthy democracy nor, indeed, OF a democracy at all. The much vaunted two-party system has significantly degraded the turn out of the population so that those interested enough to vote on a Presidential year is about the same as those willing to show up for the less interesting mid-terms.... of 1966. In 40 years 14% of the US population has moved from utilizing their franchise right to not doing so during Presidential elections, and a very similar 12% have declined to do so over that same period for the Mid-Terms. The United States has moved from bare majoritarian rule to minoritarian rule over that same time span, so that even a 'landslide' is unlikely to represent half of the voting eligible population.

During the Founding Generation there were views on what good government was and was not. In from Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 26 on 22 DEC 1787 we see the following when speaking about the improbability of the government to continue on with standing armies when not needed, but the general point is well taken:
Schemes to subvert the liberties of a great community require time to mature them for execution. An army, so large as seriously to menace those liberties, could only be formed by progressive augmentations; which would suppose not merely a temporary combination between the legislature and executive, but a continued conspiracy for a series of time. Is it probable that such a combination would exist at all? Is it probable that it would be persevered in, and transmitted along through all the successive variations in a representative body, which biennial elections would naturally produce in both houses? Is it presumable that every man the instant he took his seat in the national Senate or House of Representatives would commence a traitor to his constituents and to his country? Can it be supposed that there would not be found one man discerning enough to detect so atrocious a conspiracy, or bold or honest enough to apprise his constituents of their danger? If such presumptions can fairly be made, there ought at once to be an end of all delegated authority. The people should resolve to recall all the powers they have heretofore parted with out of their own hands, and to divide themselves into as many States as there are counties in order that they may be able to manage their own concerns in person.
Is a minoritarian selected government good government by this standard? The backstops to prevent this, which Hamilton mentions earlier, are that the State Governments would serve as check and balance against the Federal Government. Thus, legislatures in the States would act as bodies to ensure good Federal Government is achieved and no State denied of its rights and protections under the Constitution. Unfortunately those have been undermined and the actual basis for the Congress changed since the founding, as I discussed in the introduction to another article looking at this, with this lengthy excerpt:
In 1909 the US had called for an International Opium Conference to start to limit the opium trade This had been spurred on by American missionaries in the Far East that had seen the social havoc of opium in China and the social decay of it there along with disrupting the counter-insurgency work of the Philippines by the US. The Hague Convention of 1912 would lead to international agreements on limiting or eliminating the opium trade. This Conference would lead to the very first legislation in the US to curb drugs: Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914. This law was the very first in US history in which Congress tried to decide what an individual could or could not ingest in the way of drugs. This was done due to that missionary zeal and the feeling that such drugs were ruining the Nation as a whole. And it is hard to see where opium in cough syrup was a great help to much of anyone, since it hid tuberculosis. The use of it by mothers on children was a problem and should have been restricted by the States. This feeling by the prohibitionists to outlaw such was one that ran strongly religious communities, which saw the overseas use of such drugs and worked to marginalize or eliminate them for use in the US. Still, it was under Treaty obligations that the Harrison Act was promulgated, to uphold the US signing on to the 1912 Hague Convention. The far reaching effects of this are felt to this day with organized crime and Narco-terrorism rife in those areas that grow plants that lead to making narcotics and makes it such a profitable business in the criminal realm to this day. For the first time a social movement to limit the rights of Citizens had gained a foothold in America after the Civil War.

Also started in 1909 was Amendment XVI to the
US Constitution that would allow Congress to collect income tax. Prior to that the US used a system of property taxes and tariffs to generate income, but the first was seen as being unwieldy and the movement to income tax was pushed by a view that the wealthy were not paying their share of the burden in the Nation. While it has done that, it has also been broadened to include such things as tips, wagers on bets, and even finding something of value and selling it. All of that now falls within the power first given to Congress once this Amendment was ratified in 1913. Until that point in time taxes were levied via apportionment to the States via the census so that it would fall equally upon all in the Union. Also in this era was the Clayton Antitrust Act that would further limit monopoly power and cover problems with business sales and mergers that would unduly concentrate market power as an extension of the Sherman Antitrust Act. These were aimed at reducing the power of wealthy individuals, but also put power in the hands of Congress to apportion taxation as it saw fit upon income. While this may have made collecting taxes 'easier' the question of if such would actually lead to a 'fairer' assessment of taxes is still debated. With the ability of wealthy individuals to get loopholes and tax havens and other means to gain income outside of the income routes, the burden of this has fallen to the working class, by and large, although the wealthiest still do pay the largest amount in taxes. In the modern era the movement back to a more 'flat tax' which removes all loopholes is one that continues to be seen as more fair, even if graduated by income, as it removes the power of lobbyists to unduly influence legislation on behalf of the wealthy.

In 1911 the movement for the direct election of Senators by the public was put into what would become Amendment XVII which would also be ratified in 1913. Here the ill was seen as bribery and corruption at the State level to gain Senate seats, and these problems continued on for decades. Some States ran referenda to elect Senators and the election date was also regularized to that of the General Election. Still, the ability to 'wheel and deal' at the State level to gain Senate seats was seen as a major problem by the majority, and this Amendment was made to allow for direct selection by popular vote. This also changed the balance of power so that both Houses of Congress were now in hands of direct election instead of by dispersing power to the States and the People for the Senate and House respectively. The concentration of power in Washington via those that could win and continue to win these elections changed the turnover rate in the Senate and removed a major role for the States to play in the Federal system of governance. Previously that had been a check on Federal power via the States and a limit to the People so that more moderate voices could be heard in the Senate.

Also in 1911 came
Public Law 62-5 which would permanently set the size of the House at 435 members and allow voting portion to float while keeping a set House size. With the enactment of this law in 1913, the modern Congress type would be set and the difficulties of it would take time to manifest. The first and most important of these is that as the population increased, the amount of diversity in the House remained the same. Seats would shift from State to State, instead of having States grow in their number of seats over time. Although gerrymandering or 'non-compact districts' had always been a problem, they were seen as amenable to the fact that more would be created over time. Re-draw the districts every decade and you get a different mix of communities. In a set system, the redraws come at a much lower rate and only happen due to internal shifts in proportion of population, not absolute size. With that comes House seats that become 'safe' election after election and often for decades at a time with a single member for that seat.

Finally, in 1919 would come Amendment XVIII for the Prohibition of Alcohol, and while that would be repealed, it pointed to how far social ills were seen as needing a National remedy instead of via local control. Taken as a whole, these Amendments and Public Law would greatly change the nature of representative democracy within the Republic of the United States and start a major power shift towards Washington. With that would also come the money of wealthy individuals to start influencing this new form of Government and change the outlook of the Federal system itself in that doing. Lobbying this more constant government set-up would entrench power and money over time and give affluence access to the National Government.
In that short span of time the US Federal Government went from one with State check and balances against over-reach to one in which the States became secondary players to direct elective capability of the general population. By further diluting representation via the shifting to a fixed House size, as the population increased the voice of each individual would become less important over time. By the time the late 1930's rolled around the power and influence of the Federal Government would be waxing, and hard, to try and keep up with those self-same authoritarian capitalist societies that were seen as having worked their way out of the Depression, while liberal democracies were still trying to cope with those problems.

The solution given by the election of FDR was to increase Federal Government power by putting forth various programs to change the labor outlook of the Nation. First was to remove older workers from the workforce, via the Social Security System, so as to allow younger workers greater access to it. That temporary fix for a limited time has continued on indefinitely, until the changes in lifespan due to increasing technological capability have put the very basis for it at risk: Federal Government will be devoted entirely to this 'entitlement' and have no funds left for anything else by 2050. Before that, there will come a time when there will not be sufficient funds to actually run the government and either the government itself will have to be cut back more and more until it ceases to exist, or taxation will need to be increased, over time, until more and more of the money earned is taken and given to the older, retired generations.

Generations. Plural. Increasing lifespan has put this worker-based payoff to the retired as a lethal pill to the Republic as the number of retirees decrease the number of workers to support them over time. This has been known as a problem since the early 1980's, but this form of government that has been created has proven absolutely incapable of dealing with a structural threat that was created in the 1930's. Which was a temporary way to increase those working so as to get out of the Depression. And as the older generation votes out of proportion with the younger cohorts, the political power has shifted with it. Those feeling disenfranchised are increasingly the young and middle aged, working generations who are needing to continue on supporting older Americans who utilize Social Security as a means to retire with two or more DECADES of active retirement ahead of them. In the 1930's the life expectancy was only a few years beyond the retirement age, not decades.

In theory, 'older and wiser heads' should have self-limited this so as to ensure that a healthy means of sustaining the Republic was achieved. Yet it is those older Representatives and Senators, who have held seats for decades, that have utilized that Government transfer payment system to ensure that older individuals now get disproportionate benefit from that transfer system and vote to continue it onwards. While decreasing taxation helps to build the economy, the demographic shift is far harder and faster than economic expansion, even in the best of years. When there are times of limited growth, or 'recession', then the demographics move faster than the economic expansion can handle them. The global economy has not seen a 'depression' or actual shrinking in economies on a global scale since the 1930's.

It is exactly this marginalization of the franchise right that was worrying to one of those that stood as an Anti-Federalist, as those who saw problems with the Constitution were named. He was John Lansing, from New York, who had this to say at the New York ratifying convention for the Constitution on 24 JUN 1788:
It is further objected to this amendment, that it will restrain the people from choosing those who are most deserving of their suffrages, and will thus be an abridgment of their rights. I cannot suppose this last inference naturally follows. The rights of the people will be best supported by checking, at a certain point, the current of popular favor, and preventing the establishment of an influence which may leave to elections little more than the form of freedom. The Constitution of this state says, that no man shall hold the office of sheriff or coroner beyond a certain period. Does any one imagine that the rights of the people are infringed by this provision? The gentlemen, in their reasoning on the subject of corruption, seem to set aside experience, and to consider the Americans as exempt from the common vices and frailties of human nature. It is unnecessary to particularize the numerous ways in which public bodies are accessible to corruption. The poison always finds a channel, and never wants an object. Scruples would be impertinent, arguments would be in vain, checks would be useless, if we were certain our rulers would be good men; but for the virtuous government is not instituted: its object is to restrain and punish vice; and all free constitutions are formed with two views——to deter the governed from crime, and the governors from tyranny.
Uninhibited government duration of individuals in office was seen as a major problem at the State level when the Constitution was created. With 'the establishment of an influence which may leave to elections little more than the form of freedom' has come the movement of those elected to be done by minorities within the population and moved by minoritarian agenda that purports to be good for the whole of the people but that cannot GET the whole of the people to turn out for them. Those that put forth that this disenfranchisement is a reflection of the voting whole need to demonstrate that by having an agenda that can, in actuality, get a majority of the voting population to vote for it... or even, in Congressional Mid-Terms, to even SHOW UP at the ballot box.

If agendas by the two party system are so good for the Republic, then why do they not strike more fervor in the population and get folks off their butts to come out and vote for them? That can, apparently, only be done in Presidential election years and, even with that, the slide has been ever downwards since the early 1960's and that steepest decline then points to a marginalization of a large and important segment of the US population that has been so turned off by the type of politics seen that they are and remain unconvinced, over time, that the franchise actually has meaning in America.

Democracy, at its basis for representative government, requires majoritarian participation and approval to have meaning. That 70% figure of the 1964 election was worrying *then* for it put forth that even after a Presidential ASSASSINATION there was 30% of the American people that did not see any reason to vote for a President. And that was from a President that was greatly mourned, there was a part of the population that could not be moved enough to recognize the simple act of voting would or could make a difference. In 1964. The disaffection with Americans for their political parties and those put forth to represent them has only increased since then.

Those are extremely worrying and trendlines for the Nation that is supposed to be the great supporter and, if this historical analysis is correct on the actual reasons for democracy and liberal views of liberty and freedom being correct, an overall concern of actually retaining a concept of such simple things as democracy actually being a force for empowerment of the individual over the long haul. If we now cannot convince more than 61% of the people to come and vote for a PRESIDENT, as seen in all of the elections starting in 1976, then what is the basis for any optimism on this concept of 'majority rule' by 'consent of the governed'? When 40% of the people do not show up, that IS the majority rule: to NOT vote for ANY party or individual for ANY position in government.

That is not sheer laziness or inertia.

It is a vote of 'no confidence' by staying home and withholding the franchise support of the government in all particulars. The 'inertia' part comes in on the Mid-Terms when an additional 13% just don't care enough about representative democracy to vote for a representative to do this thing known as REPRESENT THEM. That is what representative democracy means. Voting for an individual to represent YOU. There is an absolute majority in the Mid-Terms that have voted for NO representative government for the United States and that is, exactly, what we have gotten: Government that no longer represents the Will of the People.

What it does represent is the will of the ideologues and partisans in politics. And even *they* cannot get a significant plurality to claim representative government, so that 'majority rule' now is down to less than 25%. Compare that to the NSDAP in 1932 during a National election that saw 80% of the voters turn out and won 33% of the vote for just over 26% of National representation. That was enough to swing the tide of power and the 1933 election with 88% of the people showing up at the polls would see it garner nearly 44% of the vote or nearly 39% of the entire voting age population. Yes, the NAZI Party did better in a multiparty system, getting votes in their off-year, 1932, by a couple of percent BETTER than either party in the US does today and they did far better in 1933 for actual percent of the population than the US did in the last Presidential election.

And the US has a two-party system, which, in theory, should make it far *easier* to get substantive plurality of the population to get out and vote for it.

What is that about the superiority of the two party representative democracy to that of the multiparty system that voted the NAZI party to power?

How about that Senate trying to pass laws that don't go through conference and that they want to restrict debate on? Such a lovely democracy we have! Almost as good as that of Weimar Germany in 1932.

Almost as good.

Thank you to the Right and the Left for getting us this system. Apparently you can't do as well as the Nazis did, but I know you sure are trying to, aren't you?

24 June 2007

Dumb Looks Still Free: Question Authority?

Yes, yet another cheap post where I get to copy and paste a comment given elsewhere and make it into a post here! Its a two-fer and saves typing time... still, there is always some fun to be had with such and I can easily comment on any knowing thing in an inane way and almost make some sense, now and again. Or feed an encyclopedia through a Cuisinart and then take the resulting scraps and paste them together to get the same effect.

This time I was at Rusted Sky a bit closer to the present time, and the good site owner had a post on 'Questioning Authority' as the epitath of the Nation. Yet again some value was found in my meanderings and thought put forth and the site owner added yet more into the concept! Still, the idea of that lovely and charming 'Question Authority' did, get a response to do that and so my response is given here. As with all such, you get it just as I put it down, with dictionary thrown out the window, syntax twirled through the air and logic left to the fair winds of time, with just a bit of reformatting to make it almost readable:

I do love the one button I picked up way back when on this topic, quite the way to put things in perspective:
"Question Authority -
Ask me anything."
Then there is the 'speak the truth to power' concept, which always assumes that one is unbiased and the wall outlet is biased... which it had better be for most appliances.
Still, the nub of it is that in some way by doing the questioning and speaking one will play upon the conscience of the authority/power. I mean if you already *think* that you are being lied to... then you are doing an exercise in self-fulfillment, but really not much beyond that and definitely not working towards 'making a more perfect Union'.
Questioning competence or even the ability of those with some power and/or authority to do something *right* is something else again, and We the People clearly demarcate not only what the power *is* but what the limits and responsibilities *are*. Thus when I hear a Congresscritter decrying the lack of supplies to the Armed Forces, the Constitution tells me which part of government gets to set out, scope and ensure funding for these things: Congress. Funds may be ill spent, but that is *also* done with full Congressional oversight and mandate by the laws it passes and the resultant bureaucracy it creates. A Congresscritter decrying those things had best look in the mirror to apportion blame and responsibility or realize that they have just indicted themselves as *incompetent* and without a clue as to their actual power and responsibilities.
The extra, special fun these days is the generation that first promulgated these memes is NOW the one in power and authority and they do *not* like being questioned or having 'truth' spoken to them. So lovely, that.
And if one is actually doing the questioning and truth-speaking it is best to know what you are actually talking about... or the actual question and truth one is speaking may suddenly show up one's *own* inability. That would be far more entertaining if those doing that weren't screaming so much about how they want the world to run to *their* liking and biases.... then it is mere juvenile ranting, which wears on the nerves very quickly.
Of course there is a button for every situation, and the best for this is:
"All power corrupts...
But we need the electricity."
Ah, buttons!

One could live their life with just buttons to give solace and guidance to a weary noggin.

The world obviously needs more buttons!

Dumb Looks Still Free: Its all a Conspiracy, isn't it?

Why, yes, I do give feedback at a site, now and again, and this time I finally realized that I had intended to post this bit in response to a post at Rusted Sky on da troofers! And the good site owner so liked the response he used it to bonus off of it for another post, which means that someone not only read what I put down but *thought* about it!

Amazing this communication business in the 21st century...

In any event the original post was on those seeking conspiracies to get to some sort of 'truth', and I did, indeed, respond to it as I felt that those wanting a conspiracy really... yes, really.... forgot to do just a bit of thinking on *why* such grandiloquent things just don't work too well. As with all my commentary I give it to you as written, no spelling checked, all twisted logic and syntax left in, with only a little smidgen of reformatting when needed:

Needless to say The Great Global Warming Swindle says it best when it points out that money is driving things... again, the planet has been here for a long, long time and methane has been far higher in atmospheric concentrations than it is *now* and we have *not* had runaway global warming. Ditto carbon dioxide. The chances of man-made global warming is about the same chances of me winning a lottery that I did not buy a ticket for... I could *find* the winning ticket on the street, but I wouldn't plan my future on that.

Both methane and carbon dioxide are driven by this thing known as *life*. Carbon dioxide is a lagging indicator of temperature, not a *leading* one. Methane from decomposition is an indicator of life: more life, more things dying and more methane as a result. Lower the temps and you lower carbon dioxide and methane. Raise the temps and both raise. The linkage is inverse as they follow temperatures, not *lead* temperatures.

That is how Mr. Gore can get away with putting up two graphs at a distance that seemingly correlate... superimpose them and the white space between them shows up with temperatures leading carbon dioxide. The level of fraud and deceit going on in the global warming activist community is disgraceful as they want to find data to fit their hypothesis. That is *not* science, which requires that hypothesis be *driven* by the data. And when the data changes, so does one need to revise the hypothesis.

Having grown up with my father being an electrical engineer, but he still had to work out the stresses in things like the Sears Tower for the elevator motors he helped design there, and from my own knowledge as a geologist on the forces involved in civil engineering projects, the lack of scientific and engineering background by any 'truther' movement, be it 9/11 or Global Warming or even something like the Kennedy Assassination, is astonishing. People say the damnedest things about engineering with little or no background in it. The structural engineers who *built* the twin towers were amazed that they were still standing after each strike and then realized what was going on and watched in horror as they knew what was coming. Similarly on global warming, politics pushes money... that pushes science and now thousands are employed in global warming who only have a job if they can convince you it is happening. Sort of like the Dept. of Education that *still* has not gotten reading levels up past 1958 where poor Johnny couldn't read.

Even things like the Kennedy Assassination you get a sniper pointing out that it wasn't an expert sniper that did it because he needed more than one shot to get the kill. Doing the physics analysis and looking at firing lines and firing times all points to one firing position, one weapon, one man. You can ask Oswald's *brother* about Lee and he will tell you why he did it... but, no, there must be a 'conspiracy'. Mere skill at being a Marine marksman with high grades and practicing with a known assassin's weapon mean *nothing* to those looking for the truth *out there*. Mere skill and a failed life shouldn't bring down a President, but that is America where *anybody* can do such things.

Basically, when you have to go 'another level deeper' to explain why the data isn't so, you know something is fishy. When nefarious conspiracies get added in, you can feel the hot air. So when you hear about conspiracies in an area like NOLA, you find that everyone wants politics to be the cause... not just a contributing factor with the main cause of subsidence remaining, to this day, unaddressed. For 9/11 you find that the hijackers spent hours in trainers learning how to fly their target aircraft, but spending little on learning take-off and landings. The instructors actually raised flags about that locally, and that got to one FBI office... and was ignored. But that is just bureaucracy, not malice aforethought.

Heading towards conspiracies is a dis-empowering concept: you absolve yourself of having to do anything and, instead, look for those trying to control the world via conspiracies. Thus you do not have to take part in the normal, humdrum and everyday world in which effects can have complex causes and not have easy remedies. My main gripe about such 'truthers' is that if there are groups "running the world" they are doing a damn poor job of it. Pure and outright incompetence, in fact, as any conspiracy or set of same that had so much capability and so much power wouldn't be so idiotic in the things they are purported to do.

But that is just me, and I do think strange thoughts.

And there you have it! Really, if any conspiracy *could* do so well as to keep itself unknown while being 'the real power', then they are DAMNED incompetent at running the rest of the planet.
Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.
-Benjamin Franklin

23 June 2007

Vietnam, then and now

Do you remember the Vietnam war protests? I do...

Vietnam War protest, Hawaii AUG 1967

...well maybe not that one...a bit too young...

San Francisco end war protest, 1967 (API)

...nor that... but somewhere in there things did start to get through...

Jane Fonda, John Kerry at rally

...certainly by this next one, yes.

VVAW Rally, 1971, Cambodian and Vietnamese flags

Yes there were folks waving the flags of those we were fighting, right here in America. Strange that... took awhile to take in... then I understood! We were NOT capturing enemy territory!

Very simple! Every single war film I had ever seen at that time really did get to something like that or ending the enemy's ability to get YOURS.

And their threat to your troops.

And their threat to innocents.

That was pretty obvious, then! These people wanted the war ended because we weren't fighting to win it!



Photo: Univ. of Michigan

Well, these folks wanted the US to stop fighting, and the President did that.

And South Viet Nam collapsed.

Then we started to find out what it means when US troops leave innocents to the enemy.

Photo: Suffering of Vietnamese Boat People

Do you remember the Boat People?

Photo: UNHCR via Guardian

Folks fleeing from South Vietnam and, soon, neighbors who had also been overthrown by Communism. The ones that we gave 'peace' to, by leaving? Do you remember them?

Photo: Boatpeople.org

Surely you remember these innocents left to the tender mercies of a totalitarian society?

Photo Courtesy Iowa State

We left there because many decried those that were dying due to fighting when we were there. Remember that? The US was the cause of those deaths, right?

Photo: Boatpeople.org

Apparently when we left the fighting didn't stop. Something was wrong in this 'peace' ideal.

From Davids Mediencritic,
villager remains after North Vietnamese offensive

But we left with the very BEST of intentions! To SAVE LIVES... or so they said... remember how earnest people were about it?

Photo Louisiana State University Archives

But then those were American lives. An easy point to sell, that. While those lives that would be "saved" overseas? How was *that* going to happen without those wanting 'peace' going there to 'make peace'?

End of the Hmong, Newsweek, 27 AUG 1979

If the US was the *cause* of the war and the *cause* of the conflict and the *cause* of the killing it should have STOPPED once we left. Or those who wanted 'peace' should have put their lives on the line to go and make what they sought for. No one forced these people to protest for 'peace'. And their consciences would not force them to back up their fine ideals, either.

Photo Elmhurst College Archives

Right? Say, this 'Peace' thing that all these folks marched about... how many actually went out of their way to WORK for it? Not in America... apparently ending war is not the same as creating peace.

How many of these vaunted thousands actually did 'something' that was not protesting, not dropping acid, not tuning out, not yelling, not screaming and not flipping the bird at authority?

Pa Ndau story cloth hill tribes flee Laos for Thailand, Courtesy UC Irvine

Where did all those folks for 'Peace' go?

Photo: Killing Fields, Cambodia, courtesy CNN

Didn't they care about Cambodia becoming Kampuchea? Or was this 'making peace' business that they espoused and took up just grand sloganeering? Just a cheap way to say: "Its not my war and to HELL with the those that depend upon me. I am more important than keeping faith with my Nation's commitments."

Pathet Lao revenge on the Hmong, Painting Cy Thao, Photo David Kern

Who would step up to 'make peace'? Or stop the revenge being inflicted upon the Hmong who helped the US?

Pathet Lao revenge on the Hmong, Painting Cy Thao, Photo David Kern

Apparently, actually WORKING for 'peace' was too much to expect. How easy to mouth the words against war. How hard it was to put your life on the line to go and take up the responsibility you wanted when the Nation left those that needed us. So easy to forget that when it is not your war, and you want it ended, then you are the holder of that self-same 'peace'.

Photo: Courtesy Lehigh University, Pol Pot's Killing Fields

And so the 'brave' anti-war protesters delivered up a different sort of 'peace' to those that relied upon the US to support an ally in a far off land.

Photo: History Place, Pol Pot's Genocide

Well they were, after all, foreigners. Useful as a pawn to talk about, but nothing compared to American lives as a selling point. These 'peace' protesters did give them 'peace', these people who depended upon us in a far-off land.

The 'peace' of the grave.

And today? How do those that survived in the aftermath feel?

Photo Drew Anderson, University of Texas
Electrical engineering senior Phuoc Tran hangs a former Democratic South Vietnamese flag decoration at the Socialist Republic of Vietnam flag protest on the University Center mall. President Spaniolo decided to hang the current Vietnamese flag in Nedderman Hall, and the Vietnamese Student Association wants it taken down.
Apparently a few still hold fast to what was left behind.

Demonstrators protest in Lafayette Park across from the White House, Friday, June 22, 2007, as Nguyen Minh Triet, the president of Vietnam was to meet with President Bush. The first visit of a Vietnamese president to the White House since the Vietnam War comes amid harsh criticism by U.S. lawmakers of the communist-led nation's human rights record. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
h/t: Gateway Pundit
Yes, all those lovely protesters back in the war days... used their freedom... so others could lose theirs. And their sons and daughters get to protest that loss.

Demonstrators protest in Lafayette Park across from the White House, Friday, June 22, 2007, as Nguyen Minh Triet, the president of Vietnam was to meet with President Bush. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
h/t: Gateway Pundit
That is so 'empowering', I am sure that this is *exactly* what those fine anti-war protesters of yesteryear wanted... No?

Photo Courtesy: Mark Rightmire, The Orange County Register

So where are all the 'peace' protesters today?

Hoi Pham, 73, of Westminster, says he wants freedom and democracy for Vietnam. He waves the American and former South Vietnamese flags.
Allen J. Schaben / LAT)
For there are some that do remember what that 'peace' gave them.

So before decrying the wages of a war you see as wrong... remember the wages of an unjust 'peace' that the absence of war can bring.
Peace, above all things, is to be desired, but blood must sometimes be spilled to obtain it on equable and lasting terms.
Andrew Jackson

Robots for the future of farming

Major h/t to Instapundit linking to this Wired article on automated harvesting done by robots. This was also seen in an earlier Modern Marvels on the History Channel, which caused me to ask, at the time: If robotic 'beta versions' are being tested *now* then how long until production versions come around?

That centered on the multi-spectral sensors on gripping hands to judge fruit quality and send tactile feedback for picking of same. Since such sensors, which would include chemical sensors, do not rely on sunlight (looking more to IR and other non-visible spectra) and using chemical sensors to determine fruit quality and ripeness, one is soon in the position of picking delicate fruit (peaches, pears, apples, etc.) without the need for hand harvesting while keeping quality high. So to get an idea of jobs that humans will not need to do, by and large, lets start hitting that sector of the economy and find out just how much longer there will be jobs that *people* will need to do in the agricultural sector of the US.

To get started lets head over to the UK for a look at a back-breaking job if ever there was one: picking cauliflower. The Pera company points to its first pre-production model of an automated cauliflower harvester, that should be coming to market in the next few years.

Well, no one said these things would be a joy to look at! Still, this is a finicky vegetable that does require good handling and picking, and getting *that* into the automated realm is a huge plus to eliminating back breaking work in the world.

Not to be outdone, Giulio Reina's work at the University of Salento's Department of Innovative Engineering (on leave this year to Tokyo's Space Robotics Laboratory) points to a paper for robotic harvesting of raddicchio. While a pretty sturdy plant, it does need some specialized handling and the paper goes through the parameters of vision, examination and picking of it via an automated process. Who knows, the price of the stuff might come down a bit!

The University of Western Australia has been developing a sheep shearing robot, of all things!

And after seeing the Dirty Jobs episode of shaving alpaca, I can understand *why* someone would want to automate this for sheep... and if you can do this in a production line environment then the Shear Magic is the robot for your sheeply needs.

Yes, many jobs to go by the wayside in the sheep business with this, plus a reduced risk of getting things like anthrax. Apparently that is something that Australians would prefer that NO ONE gets from doing that job.

The TimesOnline (UK) reported in 2005 on the automated cow milking machine, so that one can have no fuss nor muss when having to get that task done day in and day out. There appear to be lots of jobs that folks in the UK and Australia just don't want to do!

Well, far be it from the US to lag behind, and Carnegie Mellon University has been at the forefront of automated harvesting of crops in an unattended fashion. Yes, set the harvester to go, day or night, and off it goes into the field to harvest the crops. To step just a second to another dirty job, how would you like something to help automate the fun job of paint removal?

M3500 Ultra Strip

Brought to you by the researchers at CMU! For those of you who don't think paint stripping is the best of all possible jobs on the planet.

CMU is famous for having been awarded a contract for the Unmanned Ground Combat Vehicle after the last DARPA Grand Challenge.

Apparently getting ammunition, supplies and such to soldiers on roads that are in or near hostile territory or frequented by IEDs is something that soldiers do, but would prefer to have robots do for them. And with this add-on package, called the UPI, the vehicle will perform even better against unknown parts of terrain or sudden problems.

But back to those *other* jobs Americans don't want to do!

How about lawn mowing for large areas? Yes the little home robot mowers are fine for the family yards, but, for things like golf courses... well... you need something a bit better. And that is what CMU is partnering with Toro on!

Ah, why should someone need to do *that* job, if a robot can do it for you? On the larger scale, for fields and orchards and such, there is the automated water sprayer system, also from CMU and partnering with John Deere.

Why should anyone have to just drive around and around hauling a spray system? Sounds very robotic so let a robot do it! One can get a full run-down of the CMU program here in their Projects vs Capabilities page.

The University of Kentucky with BAE systems has been working very hard at automating the tobacco harvest, as seen at their page on same. Their paper on mechanizing the harvest is here. Who would have guessed that Americans would prefer to have machines pick tobacco? The UK/BAE work is also looking into precision agriculture for forecasting, watering and soil analysis. Getting good and solid info on soil type, moisture content, plant nutrient needs and such is critical to doing robotics and better farm management, so that higher yields and lower utilization of pesticides and fertilizer allow for precision application *just* in the amounts needed and only where it is needed.

In 2001 Loyola College spun of its World Technology Evaluation Center into a corporation, WTEC, and it held a robotics conference in 2006 (full page here), looking across a broad array of uses of robotics across industries and environments. That conference looked at the wide array of types of robotics currently in use, in design and proposed, from such things as the Sony Aibo and Roomba to proposed environmental research vehicles to find the precursors to off-shore algal plumes that endanger fisheries. Yes, getting that data is, apparently, a job that is better suited to a robot than a scientist.

What all of this is leading to, of course, is RoboFarm. The first test of the automated farm is being done in Monterey County, to work with things like lettuce, strawberries and other farm produce that currently needs a lot of hard work to get picked. This is the first real integration of all the technology from soup to nuts, from GPS analyzed fields via automated systems to automated planting, watering, fertilizing, harvesting and packaging. The elimination of humans in the farm to make it more efficient. There will *always* be a place for human experience and the ability to integrate non-linear systems, of which farming is a prime one, but the removal of drudgery and labor intensive tasks that are limited to the fallible human for judgement and time on the job, means that better crops, more crops and cheaper crops will result due to lowered overhead and consumable expenditures via better crop management.

Within 10 years the first real hard changes will be towards eliminating humans completely from the mundane tasks of farming. And that will shift the areas of expertise to those areas that machines just don't do such a good job.

I am sure that we will become so lazy as to no longer wish to procreate.

Don't worry, there will be robots to help there, too.

22 June 2007

The 1920 Brigades and what they are or aren't doing

A small update to Operation Phantom Thunder, and that is the 1920 Brigades feel that they shouldn't be included as actually helping! This via a few folks, but notably is Evan Kohlmann at Counterterrorism Blog, which cites this earlier AP via MSNBC account of 1920's working with the MNF. Mr. Kohlmann puts it like this:

In their flurry of responses, the 1920 Revolution Brigades scoffed at these reports as the product of an ongoing crusader media conspiracy designed to "cause trouble amongst the jihad factions." The group denied having any active "presence" in the Diyala province at this time and furthermore threatened to hunt down and punish anyone who maliciously attempts to "exploit" their name and reputation. Coming from a group whose former leader was assassinated only two months ago apparently at the hands of Al-Qaida, it is difficult to know for certain the degree to which these statements reflect the truth, or instead are mere lipservice aimed at avoiding further public controversy within the jihadist community.
Ah, 'factions'! Welcome to the wonderful world of factions and terrorism, brought to you by the letters AQI and, previously seen in the land of the letters IRA. Perhaps we heard from an 'Official 1920 Brigades' or 'Real 1920 Brigades' or 'Provisional 1920 Brigades' instead of the 1920 Brigades themselves!

Now the Terror Knowledge Base yields up a little on the 1920 Brigades, but it did take part in this incident, which is its major claim to fame:

The 1920 Revolution Brigades gained international media attention on 27 June 2004 when the Arab television network al-Jazeera broadcast a hostage video of captured U.S. marine Wassef Ali Hassoun. A group called Islamic Response, identifying themselves as the security wing of the 1920 Revolution Brigades, claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. The incident later appeared to be a hoax when Hassoun surfaced in his native Lebanon three weeks after he was supposedly captured. Hassoun then reported to the U.S. embassy in Beirut and returned to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, but he disappeared again in January 2005 just before his military hearing.
We do all remember that episode, don't we? In any event we now have the ubiquitous phenomenon in the terrorist world of a 'security wing' sometimes even a 'military wing' for an already terroristic outlook. From Bill Roggio just a bit ago we get this on them:

The 1920 Revolution Brigades is considered the "nationalist element" of the Sunni, largely made up of members of Saddam's disbanded army and tribesmen. The Buhriz group turned on al Qaeda in April, after the group terrorized the local population. "[Al Qaeda] ruled Buhirz with tyranny, they really harmed our town," a member of the Sunni insurgent group told CNN. "We had to stop them, and they left, no return."

"Before, when al Qaeda was here, it was all killing and stealing," another insurgent said. "We would hide in our house this time of day [during daylight]. It was all kidnapping, killing and stealing."

Al Qaeda followed the same pattern of behavior in Anbar province, which led to the formation of the Anbar Salvation Council, the grouping of tribes and insurgents which battle al Qaeda. The 1920 Revolution Brigades makes up a significant portion of the leadership of the Anbar Salvation Council. Recently, the Anbar Salvation Council has sent expeditionary units into Salahadin, Diyala, Babil and Baghdad provinces to organize local Awakening movements and fight al Qaeda.
Part of the problem in believing that they are going back on their word in Diyala, is that then makes them look damned incapable to the folks in Anbar. So while the 1920 Brigades may be made up of ex-Ba'athists and a few other thugs and murder for fun folks, it doesn't really help much to go back on your word when it is given as that makes you look... well... untrustworthy. And if the Buhriz wish to have a longer life expectancy, it might be wise to figure out just what part of the 1920 Brigades is working for whom.

Now that just might be the case for Hamas in Iraq, as seen by IraqSlogger... ummm... 'Hamas in Iraq'? Ok, lets take it from the Slogger, on 29 MAR 2007:

A new group by the name of “Hamas of Iraq” has announced its formation, al-Melaf reports in Arabic.

This armed group has apparently been formed by seceding from the 1920 Revolution Brigades, which has carried out operations in many areas of the country.

This development points to the existence of divisions among the leadership of the various armed groups, which are becoming manifest as some groups follow the inclination to abandon armed operations and enter into negotiations with the government.

Sharp divisions have opened between the leaders who support these divisions, especially after the assassination attempt on the Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zubaei, and those who oppose them.

At the same time, al-Sabah carries a brief report pointing to splits emerging within groups affiliated with al-Qa'ida, which it says will isolate al-Qa'ida in Diyala and Anbar provinces. Al-Sabah says that the groups “would receive direct orders from Arab states” to give up armed operations and enter negotiations. The brief report does not name the groups or states it refers to.

This alleged splintering in Sunni organizations comes in tandem with reports of a similar splintering in the Mahdi Army, reported earlier.
Yes it is factionitis and splinter diversification going on! Quick, get a score card for 1920 Brigades as we can now add in - Islamic Response and Hamas in Iraq!

Buy one, get two free!

Now IraqSlogger (13 APR 2007) has a good rundown of those organizations that joined together to get rid of al Qaeda:
On Wednesday Iraqi President Jalal Talabani announced that he met with representatives of armed groups calling themselves the “national resistance,” Aswat al-Iraq reported earlier. The government is in the final stages of the negotiations, Talabani claimed.

The nine factions that signed that statement agreeing to coordinate their efforts against the Islamic State of Iraq via the new office are as follows:

    Jaysh Ansar al-Sunna (Army of the Protectors of the Sunna)

    Jaysh Ansar al-Muslimeen (Army of the Protectors of Muslims),

    Jaysh al-Muslimeen (The Army of Muslims)

    The 1920 Revolution Brigades

    The Army of the Men of Tariqa Naqshabandiyya,

    Islamic Front for the Iraqi Resistance

    Al-Farouq Brigades

    The Mustafa Brigades

    The Ansar Allah Brigades
Yes, the 1920 Brigades are there! So 'nationalists' seeking an 'Islamic State of Iraq' but NOT controlled by any outside groups. Clear? Didn't think so... But al Qaeda has been going after the 1920 Brigades as seen by a chlorine truck bombing reported on by Mr. Roggio on 27 MAR 2007.

In any event apparently *someone* thought they were working with the MNF, from the ever doubtful when not reporting quotes AFP via ABC Australia on 01 JUN 2007:
Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, the number two US officer in Iraq, has told reporters that about four-fifths of the militants currently fighting American forces are thought to be ready to join Iraq's political process.

"We want to reach back to them, and we're talking about cease-fires and maybe signing some things that say they won't conduct operations against the Government of Iraq or against coalition forces," he said.

As Lt Odierno was speaking to reporters by a video link to the Pentagon in Washington, residents in west Baghdad reported that insurgents from the nationalist 1920 brigades were fighting their former Al Qaeda allies.
Somehow I do smell factionalism at work with a smidgen of splinter added in. Why is that? Well, Evan Kohlmann reported on a 27 MAR 2007 cybercast for globalterroralert.com on just that thing:
[Evan Kohlmann]: “It is also, as of yet, unclear whether the ISI’s provocative behavior was the cause of a new, mysterious split in one of the organizations that it claimed was recently working underneath its umbrella: the 1920 Revolution Brigades. On March 9, the official website of the 1920 Brigades announced that the group was formally dissolving and splitting into two separate factions: the ‘Islamic Jihad’ movement and the ‘Islamic Conquest’ movement. The statement did not offer great detail as to why the split had occurred, only suggesting that the decision was made in order ‘to overcome differences and to preserve our brotherhood in Islam.’”
Yes! Two entirely, brand new factions to add in to the mix... any one of which, as seen in the lovely IRA days, can claim responsibility under the 1920 Brigades banner! Time to update the scorecard on 1920 Brigades:
    1920 Revolutionary Brigades

    Islamic Response

    Hamas in Iraq

    Islamic Jihad

    Islamic Conquest
We are now up to....1..2...3...4....5... yes FIVE groups that can all claim to be 1920 Brigades or some part thereof and cause untold turmoil. Isn't this grand?

No? Well, I do wish that they would just settle down and become nice, home grown guerrilla movements with uniforms and such, too. But that, apparently, is far too honorable for these folks. Far better to form a 'faction' when you disagree on which are the best pizza toppings or proper way to build an IED. Only one of which can lead to the sudden end of a group, mind you...
These 'umbrella groups' made up of 'factions' and 'splinter groups' make keeping a scorecard on these folks a bit of a dubious occupation. Still, it does help keep track of who is in and out with whom. Quite necessary when dealing with dishonorable terrorists, really.

So who is working for whom?

Pretty simple: if the guy shows up to help, make sure you keep an eye on him and measure results. If he leads you into an ambush or trap, or gives misleading information knowingly, then you got a ringer.

If he is in your gunsights and acting like an 'insurgent', pull the trigger.

That *is* how to deal with these sorts of things in a very diplomatic fashion.

Warfare is the highest form of diplomacy, isn't it?

21 June 2007

Operation Phantom Thunder

In the last two days the MNF-I forces and Iraqi Army, Iraqi Security, Provincial Militias and recently turned insurgent groups have started a major offensive against remaining insurgent and terrorist groups: al Qaeda, Mahdi Army and remaining Ba'athists.

This is a large, Nationwide offensive, that will consist of two main areas of engagement, plus a host of Iraqi Police and smaller operations going on simultaneously against the insurgents. Those insurgents who have been turning have been doing so for multiple reasons. In Anbar province, it is to establish the traditional tribal order and finally end the killings being done by al Qaeda which has been endangering the tribal structure there. This is known as the Anbar Awakening movement, which is pan-tribal in characteristic and seeking to establish political capability inside the Province and move towards secular government there. As Anbar Awakening is tribal in nature, the tribes themselves have moved to take the lead in neighboring provinces as al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has fled from there.

This has made Diyala Province the new hotbed in Iraq, and AQI has been working to establish itself there, principly in the city of Baqubah. They have been joined by the pre-surge work done in Baghdad that has started to move the Mahdi Army (JAM) out of safe districts there and have further started to hit traditional escape routes of JAM thus forcing them north and east of Baghdad. This comes as a good portion of Iraq is now under full Iraqi control with other areas seeing Iraqis in the lead, and only a few areas not fully integrated and still under MNF-I responsibility. The following graphic shows that:

Image Courtesy: Defenselink

The longitudinal security section of Iraq from last year has now been laterally extended, with the southern and northern provinces becoming relatively quiet areas under full Iraqi control. This now cuts off eash East-West and North-South supply lines for the insurgents, and allows for their exterior supply lines to be better examined. Part of the build-up to The Surge was to get that done and start to drive insurgents, AQI, JAM and Ba'athists, back along their lines of supply.

We have a few very reliable sources in the field reporting now, and foremost of those is Michael Yon, who has kept quiet as he shuttled from Anbar to UK units and has now been waiting for The Surge to properly begin. That reporting began with Be Not Afraid, and the salient features of the operation in Baqubah were the first to get started:

This campaign is actually a series of carefully orchestrated battalion- and brigade-sized battles. Collectively, it is probably the largest battle since “major hostilities” ended more than four years ago. Even the media here on the ground do not seem to have sensed its scale.
From this, would build later reporting, but the setting of the scene in Baqubah is key. He later goes on to move through the history of the fighting and how it has gone well and not so well, until he arrives at the present time:
In the short time since Petraeus took charge here, Anbar Province—“Anbar the Impossible”—seems to have made a remarkable turnaround. I just spent about a month out there and saw no combat. I have never gone that long in Iraq without seeing combat. Clearly, some areas of Anbar remain dangerous—there is fighting in Fallujah today—but there is also something in Anbar today that hasn’t been seen in recent memory: possibilities. There are also larger realities lurking up on the Turkish borders, but the reality today is that the patient called Iraq will die and become a home for Al Qaeda if we leave now.

But now the AQ cancer is spreading into Diyala Province, straight along the Diyala River into Baghdad and other places. “Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia” (AQM) apparently now a subgroup of ISI (the Islamic State of Iraq), has staked Baquba as the capital of their Caliphate. Whatever the nom de jour of their nom de guerre, Baquba has been claimed for their capital. I was in Diyala again this year, where there is a serious state of Civil War, making Baquba an unpopular destination for writers or reporters. (A writer was killed in the area about a month ago, in fact.) News coming from the city and surrounds most often would say things like, “near Baghdad,” or “Northeast of Baghdad,” and so many people have never even heard of Baquba.

Baquba has been an important city in this fight for several years, and for various reasons. It’s critical to keep in mind that AQM and others had the specific goal of starting a civil war, and this was plainly clear by early 2005. When the Golden Dome was obliterated in Samarra in 2006, and blood gushed into the streets, the politically inconvenient truth about the malignant potency of Al Qaeda was undeniable. In a perverse anniversary commemorated earlier this month, the two lone minarets left standing in Samarra after the 2006 bombing, were unceremoniously flattened in attacks that resulted in reprisals nearby in Babil Province and as far removed as Basra.
Yes, al Qaeda strikes again to try, once more, and ignite civil war, but it finds tough going of it. I do demur on Mr. Yon's view of this having been a civil war as it fits no definition of it in a military sense - there has been no substantive attempt to set up rival government, stand up new authority to govern, and no one has donned opposition uniforms to stand up and be counted as part of a Nation. Without those you do not get civil war, but 'ethnic cleansing' and, sometimes, genocide. The innocents are slaughtered to try and bring greater war and strife, but with terrorism the slaughter becomes an end in and of itself until chaos is all that is left. Would that any that the MNF and Iraqis have been fighting, and now the Provinces and tribes, had any honor at ALL to declare themselves a foe and show themselves to be capable of protecting innocents and standing up for their new form of government.

We have not gotten that, just brutal terrorism.

Mr. Yon's second dispatch is Operation Arrowhead Ripper Day One, and, like all his work, a compelling and moving account of the day's activity:
Michael Gordon is a NYT reporter who is in the battle. Gordon will be an important resource. The commanders take a break from fighting each day to have meetings with each other, and Iraqi officers, and he comes off the battlefield with one of the commanders to the briefings. I saw Gordon today, his shirt stained white from sweat. Gordon and I were at a commander briefing when one of the battalion commanders, LTC Smiley, talked about how his soldiers shot some terrorists today (June 20); on different occasions today, women and children came out and “gave aid” to the wounded terrorists. My guess is that the number of civilian casualties is not high. Gordon has been running with other soldiers, so it will be important to hear his accounts. From what I’ve read so far, Gordon has been very accurate and on target.

By the end of the first day (June 19), about 30 enemy had been killed, 1 U.S. killed and 5 WIA. At least two soldiers were heat casualties, including one who was with my group.
With that Mr. Yon now vouches for Mr. Gordon's reporting for the NYT, and thusly have a second reliable source for the happenings there. Just priior to this Bill Roggio has been coordinating reports from the field and giving added depth to them, so that a proper scope can start to be shed upon the entire set of operations. He starts with a piece on the OPSTEMPO increase on 18 JUN 2007, and the flavor of that is this operation going against *all* insurgent groups no matter who they are or who supplies them. Later that day he reports on UK units taking the field to go after Iranian Qods force 'Secret Cells', which are their re-inforced Badr units now operating under direct control of Iran. As these would be working in concert with JAM and serving as INTEL and re-supply coordination groups, they are critical to take down as the JAM gets engaged. Further on 18 JUN 2007 Mr. Roggio would report on the Battle of the Belts in and around Baghdad.

From that reporting comes 2,000 Kurdish Provincial Peshmerga joining with the 10,000 or so MNF-I troops in Diyala. Mr. Roggio continues on with this, backstopping Mr. Yon's reporting from Baqubah with a 19 JUN 2007 post on Operation Arrowhead Ripper. In that IA, IP, MNF-I and the recently turned 1920 Brigades are acting together to start going after Baqubah, but also to go after lines of supply and communication for AQI. On 20 JUN 2007 Mr. Roggio continues with the review of forces, citing at least 7,500 IA forces and up to four times as much in Diyala, but with that first bulk moving on Baqubah. This is a combined arms assault modeled on the Tal Afar assault, that was highly successful in clearing out neighborhoods and keeping things generally quiet thereafter. At a rough guess, approximately 50,000 IA/IP/ISF/Peshmerga and MNF-I forces are taking part in this, along with an unknown number of 1920 Brigade members acting as scouts and neighborhood liaisons.

Finally on 21 JUN 2007 comes word of Operation Phantom Thunder which is a highly coordinated operation incorporating Arrowhead Ripper and Marne into a multi-force operation within Iraq. From that we get a link to US Cavalry ON Point and their description of the operation:
The plan involves three major operations, but only two are, in military parlance, “kinetic.” The largest, Operation Arrowhead Ripper, is an assault on the city of Baqouba, which is located north of Baghdad in Diyala Province. According to Associated Press reporters, American and Iraqi troops have sealed access to the city and are not letting anyone come or go.

Simultaneously, the 3rd Infantry Division—dubbed “Task Force Marne” in recognition of their historic role in the pivotal 1918 battle at the end of World War I—is blocking the routes south from Baquoba into Baghdad. “We want to keep the bad guys from getting into the city,” LtCol Garver said.

The smallest, or least kinetic, is the continued operation in Anbar. A battalion of Marines, the 13th MEU, was recently “surged” north of Fallujah and Karmah. There is little activity in Anbar, however, beyond the normal routine of patrolling with Iraqi soldiers and policemen.

According to 1stLt Shawn Mercer, a public affairs officer with Marines in Anbar, extra forces are “positioned along the belts between Baghdad, Fallujah, Ramadi and the cities along the Euphrates to kill or capture terrorists trying to move into those population centers.” Mercer also said that he did not expect to see major spikes in combat in western Iraq. “We’re past that,” he said.

Located 50 miles northeast of Baghdad along the Diyala River, Baqouba has, in recent months, become a refuge for Al-Qaeda terrorists. Over the fall and winter of 2006 and into the spring of ’07, Al-Qaeda militants were forced out of safe havens in Anbar by Iraqi tribal leaders who rebelled against their tyranny and pledged their support to American forces.

From the Syrian border to Fallujah, Al-Qaeda has sustained one defeat after another in western Iraq. Since their goal is to continue attacking Baghdad, relocating to Baqouba as an operational base appears to have been their only option.

It’s this option that Coalition forces are hoping to deny Al-Qaeda, and that’s what Operation Phantom Thunder is all about. According to LtCol Garver, the extra manpower from the surge is making a big difference.

“No time was wasted from getting all the promised troops until we pushed off," LtCol Garver said. “The Coalition now has the ability to conduct simultaneous joint missions anyplace we want. We are hitting them, and we are killing and capturing them.”
This operation, thus, extends far out into Anbar to interdict supplies and serve as a No-Go area for AQI and JAM. The ability to get trustworthy local forces in Anbar has proven key to finally shifting the fight from a defensive mode and back to an offensive one. With the initial investment of troops and growing IA/ISF/IP capability and size, added flexibility to operations make The Surge possible. The 21 JUN 2007 report backfills smaller operations that have been going on against JAM and AQI elsewhere.

It must be pointed out that in Baqubah there is no *surrender* expected from AQI and that the area where it has been active has been surrounded. With forces watching to the West, South and North, only Eastward exits are left and those head straight to Iran. Any flight by AQI along those routes will be indications that it expects some survival there. And with Peshmerga activity on the periphery, as well as IA/IP and IA/SF work to the southeast, those supply lines to Iran are also being cut. This will leave smaller towns in Diyala as the next set of operations once Baqubah has gone well, and the work to the south of Baghdad is now aimed at finally cutting off and ending the 'triangle of death'.

That has been the Arrowhead lodged in Iraq.

Now it gets ripped out by the shaft in Baqubah.