12 June 2012

Bits and pieces

1) Progressives/liberal types seem to be really up in arms still about Citizens United and want to tie it into every election consideration involving monetary disparities. Unfortunately this rests upon what appears to be a false legal argument. That is: that we should be concerned about this decision and its result on Koch-type individual donors spending large amounts of money in elections, as though this is synonymous with corporate spending and lobbying. There are two major problems. Problem one is that Koch-type individual donors could always spend large amounts of money in elections and that the only real difference appears to be that they are doing so now in larger more public ways and that they can align their funds in semi-anonymous ways along with corporate influence (of all stripes). Problem two is that corporate lobbying wasn't impacted by Citizens United. That is/was always a non-electioneering strategy that is not impacted by what sort and volume of advertising is presented during election seasons.

A related third problem is the idea that somehow corporate bodies are a unified force pushing for the exact same policy changes and that they cannot at all deviate from each other on their expressed political views through lobbying and election (or regular) advertising. Given things like SOPA, I'm a little dubious of this claim, as it was exactly the influence of competing corporate bodies (tech companies on one side and media companies on the other) that gave a considerable voice to defeating such legislation. There's also still left unsaid the increased electioneering influence of unions (the probable reason for the Walker recall vote in the first place), and of non-profit advocacy groups that usually take the form of a corporation. It is possible that these agents will not have as much money as substantial donors or politically active multinational corporations. But the idea that substantial donors are themselves a unified pro-business/pro-GOP front is also highly dubious (see Obama fundraising).

Essentially this is a non-starting issue for me unless they want to increase the transparency involved such that obvious slanderous or libel messages funded by a corporate body (or union or whoever) can be punished in the market through use of boycotts or annoyed consumers and if it turns out to be some cranky rich person every once in a while throwing money at it, perhaps a lawsuit? I'm a big fan of transparency in messaging and the detection of attempts at obvious frauds. Since it appears the concern is somehow that there's all this money involved and that's the real problem, or that corporations have legal rights and protections as "people" owing to Constitutional limitations on government power, I'm not on board with these complaints.

(Note: none of this was to say that I am or was on board with the entire Walker agenda or related agendas in other states, eg Indiana/Ohio. I think he did not go far enough by excluding certain unions from his plans and including others, and that some of his plans were excessively broad. I would have been fine with just eliminating the government from automatic paycheck deductions from public employees to union dues and then changes to the overall contracts such that other potentially useful reforms could be attempted. I also don't think that the Obama response of saying that somehow that lots of teachers and cops and firefighters being laid off as a result of these reforms or policy agendas is automatically a problem that we need to be publicly concerned with as voters. Lots of such people probably do need to be fired, either because of incompetence, because of a change in demand structure, ie, fewer people living in a city or state, or because of a change in the available tax base removing funding for said agencies.)

2) Syria appears to be getting hotter again and we are again treated to various ideological calls for intervention. Either on a purely strategic grounds that we could be able to unseat or otherwise weaken an Iranian/Russian regional ally or on the humanitarian grounds that people are being slaughtered and that this must cease. On both calls, I am extremely curious to know by what mechanics we are treated to a successful intervention. As with Libya, or for that matter Iran in 2009, we don't have very firm grasp of either the levels of popular support for revolution or the dynamics under which that revolution will exercise power post-revolt and how they might differ substantively from the current status quo (Iran in particular I saw very few such elements in the stated goals of opposition figures versus the student/educated demonstrators who apparently wanted more substantial change but were not well supported by the broader Iranian public in these goals). The general proscription that people fighting a tyrant for their own ends will share a demand to expand liberties for others is usually false. Libya has seen a lot of power squabbles, with some spillover effects in to Mali to consider as effects of our actions. Even Egypt, where no direct foreign interventions took place, has seen a good deal of confusion and squabbling over the format of the successful rebellions. It is unlikely that Syria would go anywhere near as smoothly as Egypt were any rebellion to succeed, particularly were it to have foreign military assistance.

Perhaps that is sufficient for a short-term strategic goal of destabilizing a regional player with some enmity for American goals and interests (or those of our allies, mostly Israel). But I doubt it would actually serve those goals in any meaningful way. Syria's primary utility as an "enemy" is to funnel guerrilla tactics into the West Bank or Lebanon. I don't see how those goals are ceased by destroying the Syrian state and replacing it with an uncertain form of governance (or as in the cases of Afghanistan, portions of Pakistan, Yemen, or Somalia, no effective governance at all).

Further, I'm not aware of many scenarios where military interventions, particularly those with regime changes as a probable outcome, successfully culled violence against civilians. It is argued that somehow an intervention force would allow for peaceful transitions or negotiations. This however, as we see in the example of Libya, is false, nor is any meaningful negotiation a condition of either sides' demands. The application of advanced warfare to intercede is not a means to negotiate, it is an injection of foreign power into what amounts to a civil war or at best some sort of internal rebellion. What that amounts to in effects is an unstable state where violence can actually increase or escalate or at least continue. It just no longer takes the form of tanks and artillery and airplanes, the weapons of statecraft and continues with executions, arrests, and various guerrilla tactics by either side. Examples here include Kosovo, Bosnia, or Somalia.

Were Syria a client state of Western powers, in the like of Rwanda, we might be able to see some successful diplomatic pressures (rather than full interventions), but since it is a client state of Iran or Russia, this is not likely either. This leaves an unsatisfying situation existing. I agree fully it is deeply troubling that a government halfway around the world sees fit to slaughter its own citizens for most any reason. I'm just not convinced there are techniques and strategies available to reliably stop them from doing so or at least that these techniques do not carry the risk of replacing one form of slaughter for others, and one form of enemy state for another, and so on.

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