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Friday, April 18, 2008

Closing the Book on State of Denial

So I finished Bob Woodward's State of Denial a couple days ago. Time to sum up. The book did change certain views I have on the Iraq War. But more importantly, it affixed blame for the Iraq fiasco on the shoulders of three individuals, Rumsfeld, Feith, and Bush himself. Though there are many people who took a lot of blame for poor decisions, it is clear what Woodward himself thinks. And the title itself applies unquestionably to those three in particular.

So where does that leave Darth Cheney. Well...not explicitly anywhere. Woodward makes a couple of references to him, and his power--but since the Man of Darkness lives behind shut doors, no light is ever cast on him. He does not interview. And when he does, he only interviews on shows that ask him softball questions, or won't or can't hold him down when he squirms. The man is iron hard, and his rhetorical skills, though often blunt, run rings around the idiots that interview him. All of this makes him extremely hard to pin down. It is clear, however, that Rumsfeld and Feith are HIS MEN. Rumsfeld is no subordinate to the Cheneymonster, but he was proposed by him. Feith, certainly a toadie, was under direct control. Wolfowitz...again, here Woodward really leaves a gap. Paul Wolfowitz really ought to have his feet held to the fire. He's a Cheney Man through and through--and you just don't see his handprints where they rightfully ought to be.

Regardless, I was hardcore anti-War before I read the book. I am no longer as certain. The case for going in was, and remains ridiculous. But the case for no longer as clean cut. My gf believes in the "you break it you bought it" school. And I might be coming around. The fact is, I think Iraq is bankrupting the U.S.. I think this will be made abundantly clear in the coming recession. When the government reaches into its coffers to bail out the banks, and finds nothing...well then it might be a total collapse. Right now, I'm just waiting to hear for JP Morgan to post losses. Then the Fed will have to fork over 30bn and then things will start falling fast. I'm getting far afield. There are many great reasons to leave--but are they responsible reasons? The potential for wholesale slaughter is potentially very high if the U.S. leaves. Woodward makes that pretty clear. This is even now more true since Moqtada Al-Sadr's militia seems more powerful then the Iraqi government. The second we pull out, the government, already corrupt, will either collapse, or elect the man PM. Depending on how nuts he is, you could see mass religious killings of the entire sect. Worse, it is abundantly clear now that Iran is funding the insurgency in some part. Woodward talks about IED's and how they are becoming increasingly complex. Made with materials that aren't household--and can puncture through the armor of an Abrams tank. The interesting thing is that this actually constitutes an act of war. And there seems to be a lot of evidence for this--not just WMD sort of evidence, but real evidence. Why would the neo-cons not want to go to war with Iraq? They do--but the administration absolutely can't. Which leads me to my next point.

The big surprise for me was that the liberal cry of "occupation" actually was wrong. Rumsfeld himself never wanted to occupy the country! Completely the contrary, if he could have gotten the U.S. out two days later he would have. He's famous for saying, it's "time to take the training wheels off." He said this repeatedly, by which he meant, time for them to pedal on their own. The problem with Rumsfeld isn't that he wanted an occupation, but that he never planned for one. All of his work, and all of his measures were aimed at a speedy exit. Which, of course, was why it failed so dramatically.

The other thing that jumps out at me, and I've commented on this before, is that the management was and remains so staggeringly bad. Every couple of months, an exasperated Rice would send someone over to Iraq, almost always someone new, someone "fresh" to give her an accurate assessment of what was going on. They always came back with the same information. No electricity, no security, no communication between the branches of the military and the civilians who ran the American agency which ran the country. All the time the same information, and they'd hold meetings with everyone. Bush, Cheney, Rice, Hadley, Wolfowitz. Even Gingrich! And still--nothing ever got done. Nothing ever changed. Still nothing has changed! To me it smacks of the Business school ethic of outside consultants. They charge an arm and a leg, make a lot of grandiose promises, and mostly they annoy and complicate procedures for their trouble.

All in all, I need to read a lot more on the subject. Some questions:

1) What happened after? State of Denial leaves off while Rumsfeld was still in office. What has happened in James Baker's watch?

2) What about the torture? Woodward barely mentions it. Maybe he didn't have a problem with it, I don't know, but it hardly figures at all in the book. Who knew? When? What did they do then? What are they doing now? How many people have been prosecuted? Who hasn't?

3) The military. A lot of this book talks about the relationship between Rumsfeld and the military. I'd like to know what was the overal state of the military before the invasion, including moral, recruitment, and finances, and what is it like now?

4) The pentagon. Woodward talks a lot about Rumsfeld and the Pentagon. Rumsfeld was reforming it. Well it's pretty clear that he was a shitty manager. What did he do? Can it be undone? Should it be undone? This is the administration of loose ends. Where are they, and who will tie them up?

5) some point, we have to know about the man. History demands it. I'm sure he has deleted his correspondence, but there have to be records out there. Even if it's ten years from now--we need to know. Woodward makes one comment that alludes to him toward the last fifty pages of the book that is particularly illuminating. He asked Rumsfeld what role Cheney had (I'm paraphrasing here) and Rumsfeld replied, "Oh, minimal, its not like he ever tried to upstage the president or back him into a corner." Woodward wonders...what kind of VP could even conceivably back the Chief Executive into a corner? It begs the question--you don't need to rule with an iron fist to not be in control. For that matter, the neocons all say that Cheney backed off in the second term. What does that mean? Is it true?

6) Feith. Someone needs to document the immense failures of the guy that General Franks called a fucking idot. Someone has, rather. I just need to read it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The logic of the American Voter

I think people suffer from a basic logical slip when it comes to voting. This slip is based on a poorly made argument resting on faulty assumptions. The underlying assumption to voting for many people is that, voting is only worthwhile if they get the thing for which they vote. This is why so many of the arguments that people use to convince people to vote fall short of convincing. Since people apply this sort of cost benefit analysis to voting, democracy will always lose. "If my candidate isn't elected, going to the polls was a waste of my time." Even though voting in many districts takes as little as ten minutes, the time involved doesn't make a difference--because they feel that they can't win.

Let's look at American Idol. Though I have no statistical evidence to back this up--I think the argument holds true. If people truly believed that their contestant couldn't win I think it likely that wouldn't vote in American Idol either. In fact, I think this happens fairly often. Voter A likes contestant Z. However, Z is roundly known to be a poorly ranked contestant and is likely to be kicked off regardless. Again--not wanting to be a loser, or have sided with a loser, or to not have their "vote" count. They'll pick between contestant X and Y, because one will certainly win, and since the contestants clearly ARE NOT equal, one MUST be better then the other. However, clearly Idol and shows like it, have different formats. Instead of being asked to vote only once, or twice (as in a primary) they are asked to vote again and again, each week. Instead of starting with one or two choices, they are provided with 10 to 20 choices. Evidence, biased or not, is provided each week for the viewer to make his choice. Keep in mind, that not every viewer is voting on every candidate each week. In shows like the recent Bravo "Make Me a Supermodel" the judges pick a number, two to four choices for the public to choose from each week. As a parenthetical, it is important to note the obvious: voting more frequently garners care/loyalty/interest and demand. If American idol style voting had been carried out with the 9 or so presidential candidates each week, I think it fair to say that rather a larger percentage of the populace would be voting more often. After all, regardless of whether or not your candidate wins--the sheer number of votes give you more chances to win. All of this to say, the assumption in American voting is that you play to win, and only to win.

Since American Idol style election voting is not practical, nor even necessarily desirable, all of this is a moot point. The American voter can only win--if he picks the candidate that the evidence shows is likely to win. Unfortunately, winning has nothing to do with policy or belief. Nor do we have any justifiable way to show whether or not the evidence is true, and in fact, have every reason to suspect that it is not. All of this proves one thing: the American voter is in fact a Nihilist.

The popular definition of nihilism is not the philosophical definition. People often commute a belief 'in' nothing, to mean that nihilists hate 'everything.' This is not the case. A belief in nothing is actually nothing, and is logically impossible unless the following conditions are met: If person A believes in two things, X and Y, and X and Y lead person A to conclusions 1 and 2, that person is not a nihilist. But if person A believes in two things, X and Y, and X and Y leads to conclusions 1 and not 1, then person A is confronted with a problem. He has chosen to accept X and Y as true, but finds that they cannot be true together, and since they cancel each other out, A is left believing nothing and is therefore a nihilist.

Our premises
1) the American voter believes there is only one point in voting, namely, winning.
2) In order to properly vote, you must believe your choice is right.

So, now with candidates A and B.
A is the favorite
B is not.

If the voter believes in premises 1 and 2, then he will not vote.

If he believes that A is the favorite and his rational choice is A, then clearly, he need not vote. While voting in this case certainly commutes winning, our voter is clearly sure that A is the favorite. Since voting is only worthwhile if he wins, then in this case, he need not vote at all, for he has already won. The rational voter has reason to believe this to be the case. After all, he has voted infrequently, sometimes rarely, and sees clearly that people are still elected to office by vote. Assumption? Someone out there is voting. The reasons for their votes don't matter, so long as our potential voter believes he is winning.

If he believes that A is the favorite, but that his rational choice is B, then clearly, he need not vote. B is not the favorite, therefore the only way to vote and win is to vote for someone he does not believe in. In a field of three or more, this voter might still vote, after all, he might not like A, but C might not be that bad, and if C is not the favorite, but more popular then B, then there is still some chance that he might win. But based on the evidence in this situation the voter clearly cannot win, and will therefore not vote.

So who votes then?

Clearly the people who do not believe in premise 1. There are all sorts of premises we could insert here. I don't want to waste your time with more logical arguments. Suffice it to explain why I vote: It was explained to me, and proven logically, that the purpose of voting is not winning, but fulfilling an obligation to which we owe the state. The state grants us freedom for one reason, because it requires the participation of its citizens to function.

In the end, all systems rely on trust and fear. If Donald Rumsfeld doesn't trust the Pentagon to make choices, then let him reform it, but if even after his reforms he still cannot trust it, then it means that all decisions must be made by him. Certainly this is too tedious, cannot and will not happen. So you get what we had here. Even the lowest echelons of decision-making, such as how much packing tape to buy would ordinarily be made by a manager who was managed by someone else. If the hierarchy is robbed of authority, then on and on down the line, there is no authority. How can the manager know how much packing tape to buy? What kind? How much budget? Who buys the packing tape? No one, unless there is a direct order because there is no more packing tape to be had. In the case of fear, Saddam's reign was primitive and barbaric, but again, things functioned at some level because not only would Saddam kill you if you didn't do it, he'd shoot your entire family, including your cousins, aunts and uncles. Not the model of efficiency, but it certainly provided a rational motivation to buy the packing tape, even if it was the wrong tape.

That's from the top down. But we live in a democracy, which is supposed to be from the ground up. If we elect our local representatives, and our national representatives, and cease electing them when they cease to represent us, then the government will continue to function in our interests. The moment we stop voting, is the moment when democratic government begins to fall apart. Since there are fewer votes to be cast, then an interested party can essentially buy an election by simply retaining more people to vote for him. This is one of the reasons that the Christian right attained such power in the U.S. A centrally controlled group of people, who do not have much power nationally, will operate as a voting bloc for any party who purports to defend their interests--if no one else votes, you get the picture. Though this may not at first lead to the fall and dispersion of government, eventually, through intentional dismantling or plain neglect, the institutions that engender the government will begin to decay. After all, a government that is not elected by the people at large, has no reason to look after the interests of people that did not elect it.

I think people have lost sight of the fact that voting isn't actually a right, per se. Back when voting was the right of only propertied white men, it was still a right. But with universal suffrage, voting is no longer the same. After all, it is difficult to believe in existential rights, when your brother is every man. Definition requires boundary. When there are no boundaries, then definitions become hazy. Since value is conferred on that which is rare andnot necessarily that which is useful, like gold, then when everyone has rights, the perceived value decreases. Clearly there are better ways of assigning value: oil is only valuable depending on it's use. Since there is never a time where oil will not be useful it will always be valuable. Rights do not compare in the same way, because it is very difficult to ascertain "rights" being used, as such they are hard to value. The right to assembly is a good example. But if that right is guaranteed all, who would treasure it? Start gunning down certain groups of people who are not allowed to assemble, and suddenly value is conferred.

Rights are peculiar that way...certainly no rational human being would disagree with my right to breathe air. Unless, of course, I should one day decide to breathe water instead. Then my right to breathe air, would no longer become just a right, but an expectation, a consideration, or ... an obligation. To whom? Again, to the state. You think your mother raised you, and your father provided for you. Your mother nurtured you, your father protected you. But you're wrong. Your love of family is nice, but misplaced. Your mother gave birth to you, but the state provided for your healthcare and education. It doesn't matter if the hospital was privately owned, because the hospital itself is protected and nurtured by the state. And without the state, that hospital itself would not be there. Look at the state of Iraqi hospitals, the state cannot provide properly for them, and so they are a shambles. Even if you've gone to private school, again, that school was zoned, likely given government permission or subsidies, grants. And even if it wasn't, you drive on a road that the government provided you to get there. And even if they didn't, you'd be driving a car that the government has certified to be safe. Your father provided for your welfare? Maybe, maybe not. Directly, if your father couldn't pay for your subsistence then clearly the government paid for you. If your Daddy's rich, and your Mamma's good lookin' the government still paid for your education. After all, even if the entity that schooled you is not a direct arm of the state, then the state did in some large way pave the way for that institution to exist. The ivy league? Them too. Every institution in the country relies on government grants to pay for research. The long and short of it is that everywhere you look your obligation to the state is manifest. And the only way in which you can truly pay back the state is by serving in combat, serving as a teacher or bureaucrat, or by voting. If none of those three suit you, you damn well better be voting.