The progress of humanity has been greatly enhanced by those who, after thoughtful analysis, expressed views that are contrary to popular thought. Persons like Voltaire, Galileo, Socrates, Nietzsche, and the father of both the American and French revolutions, the great Thomas Paine, whose "Rights of Man" and "Age of Reason" would make him the contrarian of all time in my book.

It is in the spirit of these polemicists that I create this blog. It is my intent to challenge popular suppositions. While it will become evident that I am generally a progressive liberal, hopefully I will have the courage to take opposing viewpoints to those of my own comrades when appropriate.

No comments will be deleted based solely on the political , social, economic or religious views you may have. In fact I encourage thoughtful discourse. I will however promptly remove any postings that contain overtly vulgar comments, racial slurs, hate speech of any kind, or multiple postings of "conspiracy theories". Though not required, please post links for references to the point you are trying to make, or at the least, give us an idea of where you found the information that supports your cause or claim.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Largest Contributors to 2008 Presidential Campaign

These are the top contributors to both candidates last presidential election. As you can see, the banks lobby both sides of the aisle. So do the oil companies. It is important to note these are all legal contributions, and in and of itself do not prove any malfeasance. However I would not think these organizations would give these amounts if they did not expect to receive some sort of preferential treatment by the successful candidate. I would also point out that UBS AG and Credit Suisse Group are American subsidiaries of foreign corporations.

The organizations themselves did not donate , rather the money came from the organization's PAC, its individual members or employees or owners, and those individuals' immediate families. The information below is a matter of public information available to anyone. That is, to anyone who cares to look.

Barack Obama - Largest Contributors to 2008 campaign:

University of California $1,648,685
Goldman Sachs $1,013,091
Harvard University $864,654
Microsoft Corp $852,167
Google Inc $814,540
JPMorgan Chase & Co $808,799
Citigroup Inc $736,771
Time Warner $624,618
Sidley Austin LLP $600,298
Stanford University $595,716
National Amusements Inc $563,798
Wilmerhale Llp $550,168
Skadden, Arps et al $543,539
Columbia University $541,002
UBS AG $532,674
IBM Corp $532,372
General Electric $529,855
US Government $517,908
Morgan Stanley $512,232
Latham & Watkins $503,295

John McCain - Largest contributors to 2008 campaign:

Merrill Lynch $375,895
JPMorgan Chase & Co $343,505
Citigroup Inc $338,202
Morgan Stanley $271,902
Goldman Sachs $240,295
US Government $202,929
AT&T Inc $201,938
Wachovia Corp $199,663
UBS AG $187,493
Credit Suisse Group $184,153
PricewaterhouseCoopers $169,400
US Army $169,020
Bank of America $167,826
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher $160,346
Blank Rome LLP $155,226
Greenberg Traurig LLP $147,437
US Dept of Defense $146,356
FedEx Corp $131,974
Lehman Brothers $126,557
Ernst & Young $114,506

Thursday, October 6, 2011

There is NO association between "OccupyWallStreet" and the hacker group 'Anonymous'

Let it be known that there is a group known simply as 'Anonymous' that according to YouTube postings is planning a DNS (denial of service) hacking attack on Wall Street computers some time in the next few weeks. They are asking that you download a hacking program so that your computer can be used in this illegal action. I wish to make it clear that although I have associated myself with the "Occupy" movement, I in no way condone any of the activities of the 'Anonymous' group whatsoever. My position is that beyond being illegal, such action flies in the face of the 1st Amendment, is a form of defacto censorship, is a bastardization of the term "civil disobedience", and is counter-productive to the cause of the "Occupy" movement. "Anonymous" has publicly supported the "Occupy" movement. So have other political groups, unions, politicians. However, the "Occupy" movement does not endorse, promote, or associate itself with any of these groups or approve of any of their actions. Nor do the words or actions of any individual member of the movement garner such endorsement. The purpose and goals of "Occupy" are clearly stated in their official releases, and only after a consensus of their General Assemblies held daily.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Benjamin Franklin's Final Speech to the Constitutional Convention

On occasion when trying to make a point  a writer finds that there already exists such a masterful writing that reference to it is the only necessary course. Considering the current state of our political climate the words of Benjamin Franklin are not only appropriate but prescient. 
Monday, September 17, 1787, was the final day of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania delegate Benjamin Franklin wanted to give a short speech to the Convention prior to the signing of the final draft of the Constitution. Too weak to actually give the speech himself, he had fellow Pennsylvanian James Wilson deliver the speech.  Considered a masterpiece, it alludes to the many differences between the delegates, the imperfect nature of the document, and surprisingly, a rather cynical view as to its potential for success over the long term. What follows is a word for word transcription taken from James Madison's notes:
"Mr. President

I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others. Most men indeed as well as most sects in Religion, think themselves in possession of all truth, and that wherever others differ from them it is so far error. Steele a Protestant in a Dedication tells the Pope, that the only difference between our Churches in their opinions of the certainty of their doctrines is, the Church of Rome is infallible and the Church of England is never in the wrong. But though many private persons think almost as highly of their own infallibility as of that of their sect, few express it so naturally as a certain french lady, who in a dispute with her sister, said "I don't know how it happens, Sister but I meet with no body but myself, that's always in the right — Il n'y a que moi qui a toujours raison."

In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of Government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other. I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution. For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected? It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear that our councils are confounded like those of the Builders of Babel; and that our States are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting one another's throats. Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best. The opinions I have had of its errors, I sacrifice to the public good. I have never whispered a syllable of them abroad. Within these walls they were born, and here they shall die. If every one of us in returning to our Constituents were to report the objections he has had to it, and endeavor to gain partizans in support of them, we might prevent its being generally received, and thereby lose all the salutary effects & great advantages resulting naturally in our favor among foreign Nations as well as among ourselves, from our real or apparent unanimity. Much of the strength & efficiency of any Government in procuring and securing happiness to the people, depends, on opinion, on the general opinion of the goodness of the Government, as well as of the wisdom and integrity of its Governors. I hope therefore that for our own sakes as a part of the people, and for the sake of posterity, we shall act heartily and unanimously in recommending this Constitution (if approved by Congress & confirmed by the Conventions) wherever our influence may extend, and turn our future thoughts & endeavors to the means of having it well administred.

On the whole, Sir, I can not help expressing a wish that every member of the Convention who may still have objections to it, would with me, on this occasion doubt a little of his own infallibility, and to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this instrument."

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Trading on the Environment: A liberal argues against "cap & trade"

Well, by now it's fairly clear that Wall Street and its overpaid hucksters were the guilty party in the development and subsequent crash of the housing bubble. They, with government implied consent and minimal regulation or oversight, were able to create a myriad of slight of hand financial instruments that few could understand, sell them to banks and fund managers, and pocket huge fees in the process. All went well as long as the market was rising. But as was the case in the dotcom crash, ultimately the lack of value of the underlying asset comes back to haunt.

We allowed Wall Street be entrusted with our housing market and were burnt. Not only did we suffer direct losses to our pension plans and 401k's, we let the financial market shift the risk to taxpayers through government bailouts and loan guarantees. The failed housing market and its lack of recovery is the most likely culprit of our inability to solve the unemployment problem and pull ourselves out of recession. And the correlating drop in GDP growth and increasing evidence of stagflation only worsens our sovereign debt situation.

So now what? Not for us. In that regard the answer is painfully clear. We're in danger of seeing a "lost decade" the likes of which haven't been seen since the 1930's. But what's next for Wall Street?

How about carbon trading? Yes, the sacred cow of the liberal establishment. We have endeared ourselves to the notion proposed by figures like Al Gore that we can cut emissions of greenhouse gasses by essentially granting licenses to pollute, capping emission levels, and trading these new financial instruments called "carbon credits".

The custodians of Wall Street have been uncharacteristically quiet during the ongoing debate over "cap and trade". Carbon trading happens to meet many of the requirements for a highly profitable Wall Street model, and in some ways is even more attractive to traders than the aforementioned housing market. An asset of inherently subjective value, carbon credits would be a market of artificially created short supply, and by its very nature subject to market manipulation and government lobbies. Not unlike the housing and mortgage markets, few individual investors will understand the complexity of carbon markets or of the underlying asset, the definition of which will be contained in a maze of government regulations. Wall Street will waste no time in developing carbon "futures" trading and other exotic financial instrumentation. I'm thinking the speculators over at the NYMEX have probably already developed a sophisticated computer model to take advantage of the potential profits available to them in yet another fictitious market. Will any of us understand a "carbon default swap"?

Let me be clear to my liberal friends and associates. I am not a climate change denier. I concur that if our planet, or even our economy in the shorter term, is to survive there is an urgent requirement to reduce carbon emissions. I'll be the first to champion the idea that the costs to humanity associated with burning fossil fuels have not been accounted for by the free market. I just have trouble believing that "cap and trade" is the answer. Is this concept not playing right into the ideology of conservatives? Do we really want to monetize and marketize our environment, essentially selling it to the highest bidder? And do we turn our most precious commodity over to the same people who so nobly handled our housing market?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Collective Denial: The Bane of Humanity

“Someone should have seen this coming.” A familiar refrain. Calamity and catastrophe initially engender fear, horror, and a sense of helplessness. We become all too cognizant of mans’ fragile existence on a small planet fraught with hazard and uncertainty. Initially, wether it’s a part of our genetic makeup to insure survival of the species or a moral propensity for human compassion, we come together in extraordinary displays of community to offer aid and comfort to the victims. But in the days, weeks and months that ensue, our initial response often turns into anger. The general sense is that the devastating event could have been avoided, that the response plans weren’t adequate, or that there was some sort of malfeasance, ineptitude or even fraud involved. Our unease cries for a scapegoat. We need someone to blame.

But in a large number of calamitous events, if blame is truly in order, we need only look at ourselves. In such cases there are normally a good number of experts who have in fact “seen it coming”. From climatological disasters like Katrina, droughts, tsunamis and floods, technological meltdowns like Fukushima and interruptions to the electrical grid, to breakdowns in financial markets and economies, the possibilities of disaster have been forewarned to us all.

Collective denial is a force more powerful than reason. It plays to our selfish egocentric sense of invincibility. Reason requires one to consider all information that may be available, even that which we find uncomfortable or displeasing. We all have the tendency to only accept information that reinforces a preconceived notion, one that falls in line with our own individual needs and desires. Therein lies the root of our inability to preempt or effectively deal with possible disasters.

We continue our love/hate relationship with science, maintaining an unrealistic faith that it will somehow save us from peril despite our own destructive behavior, while at the same time ignoring or dismissing its well defined warnings. Our on again, off again relationship with the stewards of education serves as a stark display of our need to learn only that which we find supportive of our current course and policies. Today’s heroes become tomorrow’s villains and vise versa. We only approve of solutions to complex problems that require no personal sacrifice or infringement on our lifestyle, much preferring a miracle in the eleventh hour to well-thought progress. What’s more, living in this culture of scarcity we have come to accept that there are the unfortunates who will not survive, a defacto admission on our part that we DO live on a planet with limited resource. This point is all too glaring in the face of the estimated 24,000 children who will not survive the famine in Somalia. It’s just much easier to change the channel than to face the predictions of scientists that there aren’t enough resources to go around and that almost half of human beings don’t have the basic necessities. We exonerate ourselves of responsibility for their plight by vilifying their governments, or worse yet, by laying the blame on the deity by saying that it must be “gods’ will”. We refuse to accept that the “haves” play any role in the condition of the “have nots”, nor have we seemed to draw the connection between most wars and poverty. The war on poverty has, for most of the world, been a dismal failure by any measure and the now global system of capital economies has proven it has no moral compass. While many moral individuals give charitably and deserve thanks, the much more difficult task of effecting long term positive change is remorsefully lacking.

Our globe faces a good number of crises. In the short run many will effect our way of life in fairly substantial ways, and in the longer term perhaps even our survival. But there is hope for us all if we can get past our denial and use reason as a basis for our choices rather than self serving ideas that only forestall the inevitable. A realization that we live on a finite planet with finite resources would be a good place to start. A crisis could and should be recognized as an opportunity in disguise. We should begin to realize that a world based on unbridled consumerism is very likely a broken model. Will more “stuff” really make us happier? Perhaps we should find better ways to quantify the progress of man than GDP growth figures.

To be clear, I’m not saying that we should abandon our economic model or the core principles of humanity and democracy. On the contrary it is time to assert them. Much of what we do does work and works well. But I think some adjustments are in order. We need to take a closer look and give a fair hearing to those knowledgeable persons who may have ideas with which we are uncomfortable. We need to stop alternately putting scientists, researchers and educators on pedestals and then demonizing them when their data disturbs us. A fair and honest measurement of our condition and our response to it can only improve the outcome for us all. Let’s do more of the things we do well, and less of the things that we don’t. And consider that we are all citizens of the same planet. The fate of one ultimately affects us all.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

We're All Involved in the Middle East. We Just Are.

In the great debate over what we should or should not be doing in regard to involvement in the affairs of various middle east nations we are failing to recognize one huge truth. We ALL became inextricably involved on that fateful day when we purchased that first barrel of oil from an autocratic Arab nation. The cheap oil that fueled the second half of the Industrial Revolution and enabled free market economies to act as an athlete on steroids has served as more of a curse, not only to us, but to the Arab people as well.

A century ago no one cared. The nations of Persia, Arabia and North Africa were dismissed as being tribal populations of countries whose main economic activity was limited to the cotton, spice and textlile trades. None were taken seriously as important components of the world community. None even had a seat at Versailles in 1919. The post-WW1 treaty divided them up as "protectorates" mostly between Britian and France. They were an afterthought.

Oil changed all that. The foreign policies, political and economic alignments, military alliances, and corporate behaviors since that first gusher have all mastesized into an overwhelmingly complex set of problems that one could only describe as being a "conundrum". Regardless of the pundits screaming at each other over what we should or should not be doing in Libya or elsewhere, there are serious consequences no matter what policy we pursue. The notion that we even NEED a policy speaks volumes about us and our past complicity in the events leading up to the current middle east situation.

Anyone who believes this is not about oil needs to consider the following larger view: On the one hand, at least as of today, the global economic system CANNOT survive without oil from the mideast. It shouldn't be any surprise that France, who gets a large portion of their oil from Libya, is leading the charge against Gaddafi. On the other hand, the autocratic leaders of the Arab nations know that if the oil can't be gotten out of the ground and shipped it is worth absolulely ZERO, and without oil income their regimes are finished. As is the case in countries like Saudi Arabia, if they lose the ability to "buy off" their people, more populist revolts are inevitable. You don't need to be an economics graduate to understand the strains a situation like this puts on any political solution.

What we are seeing is the possible systemic failure of the global oil-based economy. Add to that the tribal and religious conflicts, the Israeli -Palestinian issue, and the threats of terrorism. The complexity of problems grows to staggering proportions, making the argument over the Libyan "no-fly zone" almost a silly elementary excercise. I'm quite sure we'll be spending the next few months, if not years, debating details of policy and military response in the region, all the while ignoring the underlying larger problem.

We entered the middle east conflict when we purchased that first barrel of oil. We had no "end game" then and we still don't. After decades of intervention in their affairs we want to wash our hands of all of it. It has all become a moot argument. We can debate the constitutional legality of our presidents' military actions, question the loyalties of the rebel forces, espouse our moral and humanitarian obligations, and argue who should be in charge of enforcing U.N. resolutions. We can conduct our polls, square off in our usual partisan entrenchments, and muse about "political risk". We can blame whoever we want. In the end I fear none of this maneuvering will be of any substantial consequence. There are still no substantive discussions or movement towards a world-wide non-oil energy solution. Nor are there any global efforts to insure that policies toward the middle east have at their core a concern for the people of those nations or of their need for transition to a non-oil based economy. We need to recognize that the citizens in the streets of countries like Libya are possibly the biggest victims of the oil debacle.

Whether or not we and our allies pursue a policy of action or of inaction the reality is upon us. It's too late to take our ball and go home. The oil juggernaut does not care if we are conservative or liberal, isolationists or nation builders, hawks or doves. We ARE involved in the Middle East. We just are.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Wisconsin Union Busting: Convoluted Economics?

In my years of exposure to the writings of economists it has become clear to me that there rarely is a convergence of opinion as to the nature of a fiscal crisis or of a viable solution. There is generally some degree of accuracy to all conclusions, with future hindsight being the only indicator of veracity. I'm sure that our current economic and budgetary conundrum is no different.

                                                  1912 Textile Strike, Lawrence, Mass.

It is from this perspective that I am both perplexed and disturbed by the current events in Madison, Wisconsin where it would seem the political powers are intent on "union busting" as becoming the solution to the state's budgetary woes. Several other states are considering similar bills in their statehouses. I have not heard one economist, whether liberal or conservative, state that excessive power of organized labor was in any way to blame for our economic meltdown. Nor have I heard any one of them make claims that overpaid state and public sector workers were responsible for our demise. On the contrary, despite their many differences, most respected economists agree that the single most overriding cause of the Great Recession was the excessive power of capital, specifically finance capital and it's use of trading in ficticious mortgage instruments and derivatives that created a housing bubble. There is an unusual level of agreement, even among academia, that this was the case.

While the financiers have gotten off scott free, and with taxpayer funds racked up record profits and bonuses, real wages here in the U.S. as well as across the free world have been in steady decline since the 1970's. Interestingly, the power of organized labor has been in decline over this same period. Concession after concession on wages, benefits and retirement plans have been made to both management of private sector companies and public sector entities. In some cases unions have given up decades worth of gains. Governors and mayors, particularly in right to work states, make gleeful announcements of companies bringing a few hundred new jobs to their area that pay ten dollars per hour and only mediocre benefits. Most of the time these companies were enticed by tax incentives and sometimes given low cost or even free leases on publicly owned property. Many of the "fortunate" hirees end up drawing food stamps or some other form of assistance just to survive.

As is the case with any disaster, blame for the global economic crisis needs a scapegoat. From the very outset of the catastrophe financial moguls, their lobbyists, pundits, and bought politicians have been orchestrating a calculated program of misinformation and demagogy. Their targets have alternately been poor people who received sub-prime mortgages, illegal immigrants, Medicaire and Medicaid recipients, persons on disability, environmentalists, non-Christians, the school lunch program, the Department of Education, Planned Parenthood, American Civil Liberties Union, socialists, and spoiled people who refuse to work for minimum wage. As with most victims of scapegoating, many of these targets have no means of defense.

Organized public labor unions in Wisconsin can now be added to the rediculous reasons for state governments going broke. Never mind that of the 137 million dollar shortfall in Wisconsin's budget, 117 million dollars is due to a tax cut for the wealthy pushed through recently by Gov. Scott Walker. Ignore the fact that in the short time he has been in office he eliminated the Department of Commerce and replaced it with a public/private corporation funded with 80 million dollars of taxpayer money with little or no oversight. The public unions have agreed to ALL of the wage and benefit concessions demanded of them. But that is not enough. The governor is intent on busting the union as well, setting a horrid precedent for other states and municipalities to follow suit.

As sad and disconcerting this all is, the real tragedy is that the singular cause of our peril will not be addressed. The problem will be left to languish, awaiting it's inevitable return. The finance juggernaut, free from meaningful regulation and with the backing of America's largest lobby, will continue to rack up enormous profit while getting those who are of the least means to shoulder the burden. No one can say what the next crisis will be. It could be a commodities bubble,a sovereign debt crisis, or a failure of the dollar as the world's reserve currency. But it will come. Perhaps they are searching already for the next scapegoat.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

WMD and Radical Islam: The Dubious Case for a Suleiman Solution

While the Obama administration gets fairly high marks in most domestic quarters for it's response to date regarding the serious crisis in Egypt, the skeletal remains of American credibility throughout the rest of the world have taken yet another body blow with the news that at least some of the 1.3 billion dollars in military aid to Egypt's regime has gone towards the development of WMD's. It seems that, under Mubarak, Egypt has had an active and ongoing program to develop chemical, biological and even nuclear warfare technology, ranging from a three-way deal with N.Korea and Pakistan involving medium range missiles to a covert facility in Argentina for experimental uranium enrichment. Of particular embarrassment to the U.S. is that while Mubarak supported the overthrow of Sadaam Hussein, it was he who supplied the sarin gas to the latter to be used on the Kurds. Sarin gas that was developed with American funds. And obviously this all occurred with the full knowledge and at least tacit consent of the American government. Not that any of this is necessarily breaking news. For most of the last 30 years this information has been there for the asking. It's just that mainstream American media have not had cause to report it, at least not until now. I'm wondering why? One plausible guess could be that the U.S. government would have had too tough of a time explaining that we were invading Iraq because of WMD, when in fact we were supporting the same sort of behavior in Egypt. However onerous this news may be, the injection of WMD's into the Egyptian equation sets up a late in the game opportunity for American fear-mongers.

The purveyors of fear were in the game from the very beginning. From the first hours of the Egyptian uprising there began whispers of the "Muslim Brotherhood". Over the last weeks those whispers have become loud voices, portraying them in the most exaggerated terms not only in numbers but as to their purpose. Despite the mutual disdain and hatred between the two groups, the usual reference to al-Qaida creeps into the narrative. The right-wing media jockeys are already pointing to a conspiracy of radical Islam with the American left to overthrow Mubarak, with one even suggesting the inane claim that the Egyptian revolution has as it's aim a new "caliphate" to spread Sharia law across the entire globe.

It is beginning to become troublingly clear that the U.S., along with others of our allies, like Israel, are embracing the Suleiman solution, whereby the newly appointed Egyptian Vice-President would preside over a transition government. The so far leaderless populist revolt has already voiced it's adamant rejection of this scenario. Omar Suleiman, a decades long supporter of Hosni Mubarak, is a firm entrenchment of the old regime, correctly viewed by the people as a torturer and a "yes" man. He is a retired army general and former intelligence chief who as director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Service (EGIS) entered an agreement with the U.S. in 1995 that allowed for suspected militants to be secretly transferred to Egypt for questioning. He was reportedly required to provide assurance that prisoners brought to Egypt would not be subjected to torture, but at least one CIA officer testified that such assurances from Suleiman were worthless as "a bucket of warm spit". While Suleiman's official duties at EGIS regarded foreign and military intelligence it requires a contorted imagination to believe that he did not also use his power to spy on and intimidate unsuspecting Egyptians. In my view Omar Suleiman has the appearance of a common thug wearing a coat and tie. All of this aside, the question stilll presents itself as to the legitimacy of any high ranking military official having the necessary motivation to oversee an honest and fair transition of power. Albeit the Egyptian army at it's lower level of conscripts appears to be supportive of the people, it is difficult to believe that the higher level of generals and ministers are not at first interested in maintaining as much of the corrupt status quo as possible. Along with their wealthy business-class counterparts, the military elite are not likely to let go of power or the purse easily. Do the majority of Egyptian people wish to see this group overseeing a revision of their constitution or setting the rules of engagement for new elections? I think not.

What we are witnessing has become all too familiar. On the one hand our government extends the hand of America by extolling the virtues of democracy, offering aid to the innocent, decrying injustice, supporting the cause of the people, and assuring all that the future of their nation is to be determined by them and only them. Leaders and politicians give grand speeches and make emotional statements of support. It all looks wonderful on the evening news. This is what Americans really believe. It is what we want to believe. We embrace these principles. It is at our core and serves as the cornerstone of what we see as the goodness of America.

But behind the scenes something very different is taking root. Fear is setting in. Those in the know are increasingly concerned about our past complicity with the guilty party. Every effort is being made to place the proper spin on past and current events. We are starting to hear the phrase "peaceful, orderly transition", a translation of which could be "how do we effect the best possible outcome for America?". The prospect of a functioning, truly democratic nation that is not fully on our team is too much to swallow for some in our government. Spoiled by the relative ease of dealing with a well entrenched dictator, they just are not ready. Nor or they ready to accept any responsibility or blame for the three decades of policy in which they were complicit in the demise of the Egyptian people. In spite of all it's pronouncements of support for a transparent hands-off approach to the formation of a new government, the U.S. is actively promoting it's own agenda. Enter the Suleiman solution, with all the shallow promises, vague gestures and back room deals that are sure to accompany it.

But in this self-serving attempt lies a real dilemma. How do our policymakers sell this idea of an already rejected caretaker government to an overwhelming majority of altruistic Americans who support the populist cause of the Egyptian people? Actually it is a relatively simple task. It has been done before. In one word.... "Fear". It is the brand of fear that trancends all idealistic notions of democratic freedom and trumps our deepest desires for affinity with the Egyptians camping in Liberation Square. It is the same imagery that closed the deal with us on Iraq. It requires only the mention of two phrases: "Takeover by Radical Islam" and "Weapons of mass destruction". With these two elements added to the mix, a justification for U.S. influence in the shaping of any transitional government in Egypt becomes not only a possibility but a likelyhood.

So now we have it. A fresh revolution in the Middle East. A popular, secular uprising of an honorable and proud ancient society who have had enough of pharaohs, dictators and military regimes. And unlike our episode in Iraq, it is a totally self-generated movement with no outside forces, no ideas of "occupation" by a foreign military, and no U.N. resolutions. For once it would be nice to end up on the right side of history. In light of our recent questionable affiliations with dictators and illicit regimes it would be a huge step in the right direction if we were to place our principles above our fears and just do what is right. Certainly diplomacy will be much more difficult with a properly represented democratic nation that has such diverse political viewpoints, and there are some legitimate concerns about Egypt's future relationships with it's neighbors that can't be ignored. But we should not blow these things out of proportion. The new Egypt will disagree with us on many issues, of that we can be quite sure. Our own is a nation of political diversity with radical elements of all flavors having a voice. For what reason do we find such great difficulty in granting that same latitude to our Egyptian counterparts? In spite of the potential conflicts there most assuredly would be enormous opportunities for us to find common ground, and I believe that any compact between our nations would be a real milestone towards a peaceful and prosperous middle east.

We should remember that we had our own revolution. The American collection of colonies had it's own transitional government and had no singular leader. Our new nation required over a decade to write it's constitution and elect it's first president. During our transitional period there was a myriad of viewpoints to be dealt with, from those who wanted appeasement with England to others who did not wish there to be a "united" states at all. We were a Christian population of different denominations who had some serious conflicts with each other, yet we settled on a secular government. Accounts by it's own members portray our Continental Congress as being a difficult and sometimes ugly affair. The rest of the civilized world didn't quite know how do deal with us and were concerned as to our intentions. Other colonial powers worried that our revolution would spread across the globe. But we avoided any foreign intervention or influence. What we ended up with was truly of our own making. We owe the Egyptian people that same opportunity.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Proof of US Government Support for Egyptian Uprising

The following is the secret document just released three days ago by Wikileaks. It was sent on Dec. 30, 2008 from the US Embassy in Cairo to Washington disclosing the extent of American support for the protesters behind the Egypt uprising. The April 6 Movement is the primary opposition group leading the current uprising. It is not a political party, but rather a grassroot collection of opposition parties, groups and individuals who have been trying to affect regime change in Egypt. The name of the activist who made the trip to the USA for conferences on Capitol Hill has been blocked out, as have the names of the American diplomat and other individuals. I take this to be conclusive proof that, while skeptical as to the possible success of their movement, the US government has in fact lent support to their cause.
Brief History of April 6 Youth Movement
NOTE: USG refers to U. S. Government and GOE refers to Government of Egypt.

10:30PM GMT 28 Jan 2011





CAIRO 2454 C. CAIRO 2431 Classified By: ECPO A/Mincouns

Catherine Hill-Herndon for reason 1.4 (d ). 1. (C) Summary and

comment: On December 23, April 6 activist xxxxxxxxxxxx expressed

satisfaction with his participation in the December 3-5 \"Alliance of

Youth Movements Summit,\" and with his subsequent meetings with USG

officials, on Capitol Hill, and with think tanks. He described how

State Security (SSIS) detained him at the Cairo airport upon his

return and confiscated his notes for his summit presentation calling

for democratic change in Egypt, and his schedule for his Congressional

meetings. xxxxxxxxxxxx contended that the GOE will never undertake

significant reform, and therefore, Egyptians need to replace the

current regime with a parliamentary democracy. He alleged that

several opposition parties and movements have accepted an unwritten

plan for democratic transition by 2011; we are doubtful of this claim.

xxxxxxxxxxxx said that although SSIS recently released two April 6

activists, it also arrested three additional group members. We have

pressed the MFA for the release of these April 6 activists. April 6's

stated goal of replacing the current regime with a parliamentary

democracy prior to the 2011 presidential elections is highly

unrealistic, and is not supported by the mainstream opposition. End

summary and comment. ---------------------------- Satisfaction with

the Summit ---------------------------- 2. (C) xxxxxxxxxxxx expressed

satisfaction with the December 3-5 \"Alliance of Youth Movements

Summit\" in New York, noting that he was able to meet activists from

other countries and outline his movement's goals for democratic change

in Egypt. He told us that the other activists at the summit were very

supportive, and that some even offered to hold public demonstrations

in support of Egyptian democracy in their countries, with xxxxxxxxxxxx

as an invited guest. xxxxxxxxxxxx said he discussed with the other

activists how April 6 members could more effectively evade harassment

and surveillance from SSIS with technical upgrades, such as

consistently alternating computer \"simcards.\" However, xxxxxxxxxxxx

lamented to us that because most April 6 members do not own computers,

this tactic would be impossible to implement. xxxxxxxxxxxx was

appreciative of the successful efforts by the Department and the

summit organizers to protect his identity at the summit, and told us

that his name was never mentioned publicly. ------------------- A

Cold Welcome Home ------------------- 3. (S) xxxxxxxxxxxx told us

that SSIS detained and searched him at the Cairo Airport on December

18 upon his return from the U.S. According to xxxxxxxxxxxx, SSIS

found and confiscated two documents in his luggage: notes for his

presentation at the summit that described April 6's demands for

democratic transition in Egypt, and a schedule of his Capitol Hill

meetings. xxxxxxxxxxxx described how the SSIS officer told him that

State Security is compiling a file on him, and that the officer's

superiors instructed him to file a report on xxxxxxxxxxxx most recent

activities. --------------------------------------------- ----------

Washington Meetings and April 6 Ideas for Regime Change

--------------------------------------------- ---------- 4. (C)

xxxxxxxxxxxx described his Washington appointments as positive, saying

that on the Hill he met with xxxxxxxxxxxx, a variety of House staff

members, including from the offices of xxxxxxxxxxxx and xxxxxxxxxxxx),

and with two Senate staffers. xxxxxxxxxxxx also noted that he met

with several think tank members. xxxxxxxxxxxx said that xxxxxxxxxxxx's

office invited him to speak at a late January Congressional hearing on

House Resolution 1303 regarding religious and political freedom in

Egypt. xxxxxxxxxxxx told us he is interested in attending, but

conceded he is unsure whether he will have the funds to make the trip.

He indicated to us that he has not been focusing on his work as a

\"fixer\" for journalists, due to his preoccupation with his U.S.

trip. 5. (C) xxxxxxxxxxxx described how he tried to convince his

Washington interlocutors that the USG should pressure the GOE to

implement significant reforms by threatening to reveal CAIRO 00002572

002 OF 002 information about GOE officials' alleged \"illegal\"

off-shore bank accounts. He hoped that the U.S. and the international

community would freeze these bank accounts, like the accounts of

Zimbabwean President Mugabe's confidantes. xxxxxxxxxxxx said he wants

to convince the USG that Mubarak is worse than Mugabe and that the GOE

will never accept democratic reform. xxxxxxxxxxxx asserted that

Mubarak derives his legitimacy from U.S. support, and therefore

charged the U.S. with \"being responsible\" for Mubarak's \"crimes.\"

He accused NGOs working on political and economic reform of living in

a \"fantasy world,\" and not recognizing that Mubarak -- \"the head of

the snake\" -- must step aside to enable democracy to take root. 6.

(C) xxxxxxxxxxxx claimed that several opposition forces -- including

the Wafd, Nasserite, Karama and Tagammu parties, and the Muslim

Brotherhood, Kifaya, and Revolutionary Socialist movements -- have

agreed to support an unwritten plan for a transition to a

parliamentary democracy, involving a weakened presidency and an

empowered prime minister and parliament, before the scheduled 2011

presidential elections (ref C). According to xxxxxxxxxxxx, the

opposition is interested in receiving support from the army and the

police for a transitional government prior to the 2011 elections.

xxxxxxxxxxxx asserted that this plan is so sensitive it cannot be

written down. (Comment: We have no information to corroborate that

these parties and movements have agreed to the unrealistic plan

xxxxxxxxxxxx has outlined. Per ref C, xxxxxxxxxxxx previously told us

that this plan was publicly available on the internet. End comment.)

7. (C) xxxxxxxxxxxx said that the GOE has recently been cracking down

on the April 6 movement by arresting its members. xxxxxxxxxxxx noted

that although SSIS had released xxxxxxxxxxxx and xxxxxxxxxxxx \"in the

past few days,\" it had arrested three other members. (Note: On

December 14, we pressed the MFA for the release of xxxxxxxxxxxx and

xxxxxxxxxxxx, and on December 28 we asked the MFA for the GOE to

release the additional three activists. End note.) xxxxxxxxxxxx

conceded that April 6 has no feasible plans for future activities.

The group would like to call for another strike on April 6, 2009, but

realizes this would be \"impossible\" due to SSIS interference,

xxxxxxxxxxxx said. He lamented that the GOE has driven the group's

leadership underground, and that one of its leaders, xxxxxxxxxxxx, has

been in hiding for the past week. 8. (C) Comment: xxxxxxxxxxxx

offered no roadmap of concrete steps toward April 6's highly

unrealistic goal of replacing the current regime with a parliamentary

democracy prior to the 2011 presidential elections. Most opposition

parties and independent NGOs work toward achieving tangible,

incremental reform within the current political context, even if they

may be pessimistic about their chances of success. xxxxxxxxxxxx

wholesale rejection of such an approach places him outside this

mainstream of opposition politicians and activists.



Sunday, January 30, 2011

Egypt, Tunisia: Answers? A Warning?

In a mere three week period we've seen the overthrow of an old-line government in Tunisia and, as I write, the impending similar result in Egypt. The rapid succession of events in the latter is simply staggering. All of this history unfolding in full view of the world is both awe inspiring and frightening. What initially seemed to be somewhat "old news" cable releases by Wikileaks has served as a spark plug for simmering tensions in both countries. The implications of these events are cause for grave concern by other similar middle eastern nations and, perhaps more importantly, the world as a whole. The prospect of a spreading revolt throughout all of the middle east is most unthinkable. The delicate balance of power in the region, particularly regarding Israel, is at stake. The potential opportunity for terrorist activity is certainly a possibility, though perhaps somewhat exaggerated. The economic ramifications to a world just recovering from global recession could be unfathomable. While Egypt has little oil to speak of, a huge percentage of the middle eastern oil, as well as other goods, travel through the Suez Canal, dug by the Egyptians 5000 years ago.. As we all learned in grade school geography, the 100 mile trip through the canal could turn into a 6000 mile trip around the Horn of Africa. Whether intentional or not, any interruption of the canal's operation could cause gasoline prices to rise to astronomical levels overnight. But perhaps the most disturbing is the inevitable suffering of the innocents in the chaos of anarchy. There have already been some killed and numerous injuries, but the foreboding prospect of continued instability could cause a rapid implosion of basic services. Hospitals are already suffering strain from the injuries. There no longer seems to be an operational government in place as all the ministries have been under siege. The usual criminal element to be found in any society are out in force robbing and looting, and some 10,000 prisoners have escaped jails. The citizens have formed vigilante groups to protect property, the police having disappeared. One can only surmise as to the effect on public utilities if there is a protracted conflict.

But what lessons and conclusions can be drawn from all this? What exactly is going on here? And should all this serve as a warning? The experts are raising all sorts of scenarios as to what has happened and where it is all leading. There most likely is some validity to all of them , and I have my own guesses as well.

I believe what we are witnessing here boils down to two growing realities.

The first reality is a function of our 21st century technology. It is clear now that there really are no secrets. Not for governments. Not for the rich and elite. Not for anyone. Any analysis of these events that does not include the effect of the recently released Wikileaks documents would be remiss. Many of them were secret diplomatic cables that shed a most unfavorable light on governments of the region and their relationships both with each other and with businesses. In an obscure article last month in The New York Times a former NSA director admitted there was no such thing as a totally secure computer, not even in government. There are now copycat sites ready to open such as Openleaks which plans it's launch soon. They are promising even more damaging document releases that will target governments and business interests. Even the most disadvantaged individuals on earth now have access to knowledge that was once kept secret.

The explosion of communication technology has far outstripped the ability of most governments to effectively stop the flow of information. Wireless internet, cell phones, texting, and social networking are the tools of the current uprisings. Egyptian protesters are even calling their revolt the "Facebook Revolution". In the face of government shutdown of these services a trickle of information still got out and in. Service provider experts are saying that newer technology and distributed networks are making it more or less impossible to totally stop the flow of information by any government crackdown.

Governments and the well-connected elites they do business with can no longer hide the dirty business they have used to oppress the unfortunate. In this regard the world and how we relate to each other has changed forever.

The second and, I believe, far more important reality is one of historic economic certainty, that has repeated itself time after time. The majority of populist uprisings have more to do with poverty and wealth disparity than with lack of freedom. Human beings have a tendency to accept certain restrictions on their freedoms as long as their basic needs are being met (see Maslow's Theory of Heirarchy of Needs). The current situation is very similar to the European Wars of 1848. The nations of Europe had all been, in one form or another, monarchies or leftover feudal states like those in Germany closely allied with the Church. The sole exception had been the mostly failed Napoleanic outcome of the French Revolution. The people had accepted their plight and station in life. The poor had remained fairly silent and docile even in the midst of The Inquisition and Protestant Reformation. So what changed? For one thing the noble classes had become more and more greedy, holding little regard for the poor. The ideas of the French Enlightenment were beginning to ferment with many commoners seeing the success of the American experiment and beginning to think "Why not us?" Add to that the effects of the worldwide potato famine and there could be only one result, a population craving change. Of course, we here in America and in Australia saw this as the time of the great immigration. But for Europe, 1848 saw one populist revolt after another. Most of them were at least to some degree failures and in retrospect we can see, particularly in the case of Germany, the result was an almost complete century of pain and instability. There are other, more recent examples. More than anything else, economic disparity most certainly led to the Bolshevik Revolution, and to the downfall of the Shah of Iran. In both cases the population had remained compliant under autocratic monarchies for centuries. One could make a similar case for Cuba. In their time, both the Russian and Iranian revolts were widely praised by many in the free world. No one could envision, however, the horrors of the Soviet goulags or the violation of human rights by the mullahs of Iran's quasi- theocracy. Nor could most predict the failed socialist experiment of Fidel's Cuba. There have been uprisings among nations in the middle east with positive conclusions. The Turks, while certainly not willing to bend to every whim of the west, are enjoying not only a representative government but improved living standards of it's peoples. But the crown jewel is the case of India. Poverty has seen a substantial decrease, their economy is one of the world's largest, and their government is the only secular democracy in the region. There is no way to predict at this point wether the results of the current turmoil will be positive or negative. But one thing is certain in the midst of anarchy. Many innocents will suffer. The tragedy is that it could have been avoided.

From the live reports I'm seeing and hearing from the major news sources like Reuters and the BBC, and from blogs of many independent reporters I have concluded that, once again, the real seeds of these revolts are economic in nature. I have particularly listened to the statements and chants of the protesters. They repeatedly are saying that they have no jobs, no money, and are angry at the government and the rich elite who they see as having robbed them for decades. To back their statements economists are reporting rising unemployment and disparity of wealth in many middle eastern countries like Egypt and Tunisia, as well as in Yemen, Algeria, Jordan, Syria, Iran, Sudan, and Lybia. Sixty percent of the population of the middle east is under 30 years old. For example, in Egypt the median age is 24 years. It is estimated that among the young unemployment may be as high as 40 percent. The trend towards polarization of economic condition has worsened over the last decade, not only in the middle east, but throughout the world. Document releases by Wikileaks have only confirmed suspicions of government improprieties and collusion with corrupt business interests, particularly in autocratic governments which show favoritism and loyalty to a select few families and businesses.

What is remarkable to me is that this appears in no way to be a revolt inpired by Islamic extremists. I hear no one chanting "Allah". If anything, the Muslim leaders have been unusually silent to this point. It could very well be that this doesn't bode well for Islamic fundamentalists either. This appears to be simply about economic suppression. The protesters speak excellent English for the most part and wear western clothes. I have also heard hardly any hatred speech towards America. In fact, one protester said that "we love Obama, and beg him to help us". What they are chanting is that they want jobs. The freedoms they are demanding are seen mainly as a way to improve their economic condition. They want justice for those they see as responsible for their plight, primarily the government and rich business people. Late reports indicate that many of the elite are chartering planes to leave the country. I can only assume they've already transferred their wealth to foreign banks. They appear to know they are the enemy to which the Egyptian people are referring.

There is no possible way to predict the results, or whether a new regime will be favorable or unfavorable to us. One thing appears clear. In spite of his maneuverings, Mubarak is finished. I can only hope that our own nation will do the right thing in spite of the potential ramifications and take the high road. We need to revisit our relationships with dictatorships like those in Egypt and elsewhere and withhold aid to those who are violating the basic needs of their poor. In their defense, both George Bush and President Obama have put great pressure on Mubarak regarding these matters, but evidently not enough. We need to make it clear to all the citizens of middle eastern countries that they have our support and will only take action based on their best interest, regardless of their government. If our principles are to have any relevancy at all, we should certainly practice them in all of our affairs. In the long run only this will build any element of trust and chance for meaningful partnerships.

The revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, as well as the unrest being reported in several other countries in that region should serve as a warning. What we are witnessing now on our televisions is the least attractive and, in fact, most horrible method of wealth redistribution. There are many other better, more effective, and less painful methods available. But without peaceful, orderly change, the method we are seeing is eventually not just a possibility, but a certainty. Those persons in this world who build their fortunes on the backs of the working poor without respect for their well-being, collude with corrupt governments, and wish to deny the unfortunate even the most basic assistance should take heed. Just because the world's Marxist experiment was a failure doesn't mean the problem disappeared. Any society that shows no regard for the disadvantaged is on the road to self-destruction. Wealth, in and of itself, is not the problem. There are many of the world's rich who have earned their money by hard work, have made sure those who work for them have adequate incomes, have practiced honesty in their dealings, and are good citizens of their communities. Many are champions of the causes of the poor and are much deserving of our admiration and respect. It is my belief that the guilty parties know who they are. And in these days and times we know too. To them I say the world has changed. To them I say the blood of the innocent is on your hands.

Let us all pray for peace.