Saturday, July 16, 2011

Eisenhower and Petraeus and Butler

General Smedley Butler

General Dwight Eisenhower

General David Petraeus

What differentiates the images of these three generals? And what does it have to say about modesty and real character? Which of these three men would you NOT want to put in charge of a secret, shadow army?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Careful With THE REASON

I always try to caution anyone looking for the reason behind any Federal policy or program. The Federal government acts outwardly like an empire, but the machinations behind closed doors in the Imperial capitol are much more complex than the will of Caesar. But, every day I read the reason behind something at least once. It is often amplified by writing the real reason. The articles that pretend to uncover the real reason usually touch one of many forces behind some asinine governmental action. But in order for there to be single, hidden reason behind Obamacare, or the Global War On Terror™, or the bank bailouts there would have to be an incredible behind-the-scenes organization of thousands that is capable of maintaining its deliberations and communication perfectly secret. That is but the most obvious of the reasons (small r) that THE REASON is a truly stupid notion.

As designed, the American political process is complex, in practice in the 21st century it is infinitely more complex than designed. The President does not rule by decree. As Ludwig von Mises explains in "Human Action", even a dictator rules only with the consent of the governed. And the President is, even today, somewhat constrained by the Constitution to make laws and obtain funding through the Congress. Nor is the President's rule simply a question of getting a majority of Congress behind him. The President must align divers powerful interests before he ever goes to Congress, or decides that he has enough power to ignore Congress.

In the American power structure there are legal, institutional interests, such as the Congress, court system, state legislatures and the Departments of the administration. We can know some of what they do. We know the legislation that they are discussing, we can see some of the court cases that are being adjudicated. We can read the reports that are published by all the different Departments and Offices and Administrations within the Federal leviathan.

There are also semi-legal institutions such as registered lobbies. The lobbies write many more laws than do the Congress because the lobbies have more resources, more professionals and more motivation to write good laws. (good for them, that is). The lobbies control the money that Congressmen and especially Senators need to be re-elected. The lobbies have become the real constituency of the US Senate. The lobbiest-Congressman conversations are not transparent. We the people have no idea what is talked about there.

Then there are extra-legal powerful interests. The most important extra-legal power groups are the big corporations acting through public employees. Americans are much more constrained and manipulated by regulations than by laws. Those regulations are written by bureaucrats who are frequently eyeing a lucrative job with one of the biggest corporations in the field that the bureaucrat is entrusted to regulate. But bureaucrats don't just write regulations, they also have great influence over law. When politicians decide to make a new law and they do not enlist a lobby to write it, then the politicians usually must count on bureaucrats to give them the data that will inform the new law. Bureaucrats can determine the nature of the law by carefully selecting the information that they provide or conceal. They have tremendous influence over the actions of government.

The media is another extra-legal source of real political power. The larger the medium, the more its opinions and desires are taken into consideration. FOX News has more weight in Washington than does (unfortunately). Editorials in important papers can change the course of what the government does. But media does not only influence government, it also aids the government by being its propagandists. The mainstream American media never challenges the primary precepts of the status quo in American government, and they actively broadcast lies designed to confuse and frighten Americans into malleability.

All this mess is woven together in an extremely complicated, dynamic and treacherous network. Decisions are only enacted when enough actors with enough influence push in the same direction. This does not mean that these interests are aligned on other issues, or that their motives to align on the issue in question are similar. But the interests that always seem to be pushing away from the consensus get marginalized and their power wanes. Power in Washington comes through networking and from making successful accords and partnerships. The art of the deal is the ability to align enough interests to get your agenda moving.

A small fraction of this network or matrix is visible. Congress holds some public discussions. The President announces his ideas for the future. Political pundits pontificate in the media. But most of the application of power and influence happens out of the public eye. For instance, we will never hear the discussions between Pfizer and upper level civil "servants" at the FDA, although these discussions are key to how drugs are regulated in America. The Secretary of Labor may suggest in a cabinet meeting that unemployment will spike if we end the wars, but we won't know that until years later when someone writes a memoir. The general that writes papers about possible alternative military strategies for the White House is counting on a job from Lockheed when he retires, but only he knows that the position is already waiting for him. AIPAC representatives dine with a Congressman and offer money and veiled threats for her support. These are examples to show that the hidden applications of influence are probably more powerful than the visible ones.

So there is no ONE REASON behind anything that happens in DC. I think that one of the reasons that so many people believe in THE REASON is that they can only see a fraction of the myriad deals and interchanges of support that impel government action. The reasons that are given to the public through spokesmen and through the media to explain government actions are often clearly untrue or just absurd. That leads to the search for THE REAL REASON. But its just not that simple.

One thing is certain, if we are to have any control over government, it needs to be more transparent. But that will not happen by working through the system. The system is designed by the powerful to keep us out of the loop. And that's why we all need to support these wonderful people.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Panqueques de Papas

In honor of Rachel Corrie and all brave antiwar activists.

The key to this recipe is to have potatoes with a relatively low water content. Most American potatoes are irrigated and are full of water. They suck. If you're in the USA, try the gold or yukon gold variety. They aren't so watery.

5 medium potatoes
2 eggs, beaten
less than 1/4 cup of flour
salt and pepper to taste
10 grams of butter
5 ml. cooking oil

lots of homemade plum jam

Peel and coarsely grate 5 medium sized potatoes into a colander. Pour cold water over the grated potato to rinse off the starch. Now squeeze as much water out of the grated potatoes as possible.

Transfer potatoes to a bowl and add the beaten eggs, the flour and the salt and pepper. Let sit for 5 minutes.

Heat a heavy sauté pan and put in half of the oil and butter. Spoon the potato mixture into the hot pan on medium heat. Each pancake should be the diameter of the palm of your hand. Flatten the pancakes with the back of the spoon to about 1.5 cm. thick. Let them brown slowly about 3 or 4 minutes, turn and brown the other side.

Serve hot with homemade jam. Spread lots of jam on the pancakes, especially if the jam is good.

We usually serve the pancakes on a summer weekend with the doors and windows open to hear the chucao call from the woods and see the trees revel in the morning sun.

Eat these pancakes with fried eggs from country (free-range) hens. Factory eggs are watery and the taste bad. Find a farmer whose hens wander around and eat grass and bugs like they should. The yolks will be a deep yellow and the whites will be firm. Don't cook them too long! The yolks have to be runny to mix in with the pancakes.

Friday, July 1, 2011

For Everyone Else, There's Wikileaks

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free,
it expects what never was and never will be...
Thomas Jefferson

What Does it Cost to Change the World? from Wikileaks

Liberty and secrecy do not co-exist. When governments hold information secret from the electorate, liberty and Constitutional government are in jeopardy. When governments discuss and craft policy in secret from the electorate, liberty and Constitutional government are already on the run. When governments constrain our representatives from telling us what they know, liberty and Constitutional government have been truncated. When laws are made that are secret from the people, then liberty and Constitutional government are already dead. All that is left are institutions that maintain a pretext of government by the people. Remember that after Octavian made himself Juilius Caesar Augustus and ruled by decree, that the institutions of the Senate and the Tribunes were still in place, however they were only for show. Our Congress also exists for show, all important decisions are made by the unitary President and unelected bureaucrats. We are not privy to the conversations that lead to those decisions.

In order to recover liberty we must stop the secrecy under which our government operates. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the Federal government is generating around 560 million pages of documents marked secret or above every year! It is ridiculous to think that we can control OUR government if we have no idea what it is doing and what it knows. Free society must operate without secrets.

Since the Federal government (or the Empire, if you prefer) will not allow us "consumers" access to the information that it uses to make decisions on war, spending, regulations, dirty tricks or selling guns to the Mexican drugs mafia, we are blind and dependent on the US media which has been shown to cooperate with the government to keep the electorate in the dark.

But this is true in every country where the government rules without citizen participation in the decision making process. The Egyptians knew, viscerally, that Mubarak and his minions were as corrupt as Papa Doc Duvalier, but they didn't have any concrete evidence and they were afraid to organize. Those who complained too much went to jail. The same was true in Tunisia under Mr. Ben Ali and in every other country in the mideast and many other places as well. But a ray of truth broke through the cloud cover of secrecy when the hero, Bradley Manning copied some 600,000 secret US State Dept. files onto a Lady Gaga CD and posted those files onto the Wikileaks confidential upload site.

The Arab spring is an avalanche which was set into motion when Tunisians, Egyptians, Jordanians and their neighbors began to read documents that confirmed their suspicions. They read those documents on Wikileaks. Information is freedom. The US government does not want you to have information, therefore the US government does not want you to be free. Period. Full stop.

Support Wikileaks with money and with pressure on the government to abandon its persecution of Julian Assange.

And support Bradley Manning who opened the curtain a tiny bit and gave us a glimpse of the cynical men and women who decide your destiny in secret.