Sunday, April 28, 2013

Grozny, Boston, Putin and the Tsarnaev Brothers -- Plus More

Making Unfair Demands on the US Commercial Media
Gee Whiz.  We listened to all that stuff, but we're still not satisfied.

Once the smoke had cleared on Boylston Street, the American commercial media, no doubt "just following orders," immediately began its predictable fear mongering.  Just as predictably, the "usual suspects" started with their 19th Century jingoism.  Senator McCain, already always quite grumpy anyway and still smouldering from his election fiasco, joined in chorus with the loud mouthed "Southern Belle," Lindsay Graham, to demand military action and the "same day" Guantanamo water boarding of the surviving teenager.

The "news" coverage began a few test runs with the Chechnya connection to see if it had the fear provoking potential of becoming a more frequently inserted "news item."  Since most Americans had no idea what "Chechnya" was, the scheme was apparently shelved in favor of some other more tested topics which might prove more direct, threatening, and therefore, commercially promising -- MeanMesa is certain that the networks' list of "more tested fear topics" contained terrifying alternatives such as Syria, Iran or even, possibly, Benghazi although that last one would require something to replace the ashes after its initial incendiaries fizzled. 

Encountering this media train wreck, MeanMesa has bravely shouldered the task of trying to make some sort of sense from the tattered remnants of the "big boys'" sketchy reportage. Perhaps most importantly, someone needs to fill in a few of the blanks about what made up the motivation for those bombings.

The most difficult part of this post, it turns out, will be collecting all these frayed ends of scattered histories, geopolitics and purposely obscured facts into something glitzy or, at least, coherent, so MeanMesa will simply "spread the manure" and just leave the rest up to you.

What's Going On In Chechnya?
A MeanMesa Geographical and Historical Overview

In the larger picture, the bombs immediately began to wreak massive emotional damage.  MeanMesa was especially saddened with the death of eight year old Martin Richard.  While it's pointless to lament one murder as more or less grave than another, the explosions expanded very low to the ground, and, standing near by, this little boy didn't have a chance. 

There is no way to aggregate the value of what futures were snuffed out in the violent moment.  However, aside from the grisly injuries we must also take a very cold look at the psychological impact of the event.  After all, beyond the wrenching misery in the Boston ICU's, terrorism is all about the psychology of those quiet moments twenty four hours later in a hundred million bedrooms.

These terrorists wanted to enter the consciousness of everyone who might see what they had done.  It's a terribly inefficient communication model where the "important" details about conditions in Chechnya are almost completely suffocated by the fear and anger rising up from the outrage.  Whatever that "message" might have been, it is relegated to the status of table scraps amid the other responses.

A public poll in the United States a few months ago asked respondents to locate the country of Iraq on a large map of the world showing national boundaries but not the names of the corresponding countries.  Just under 40% of those asked could locate Iraq.  MeanMesa has to wonder what percentage could have located Chechnya?

More disturbingly, MeanMesa might also wonder what percentage would have responded that the answer was simply unnecessary information.

Americans, living up to their now world-wide reputation of having essentially no memory beyond 90 seconds, rushed to GOOGLE for a map.  If that flickering curiosity led them any deeper into the story because it was a "fear generator" by design -- in this case, both by the design of the Boston brothers and the design of the media executives intent upon squeezing every last gasp and shudder of Stoic American horror from their "reporting" -- those stalwart "investigators" were rewarded with a bloody litany of Chechnyan terror throughout Russia.

Probing just a little deeper reveals equally appalling stories of Russian terror in Chechnya during efforts to suppress the rebellion there.

Chechnya - the red dot at left. (map source: WIKI)
To keep things in perspective, we can take a quick look at a map of Russia to understand that relative size of the players in this central Asian chess game.

During the days of the old Soviet Union, regional rebellions were rare.  All across the vast nation, Russians of all sorts had the cultural memory of what transpired in Hungary when, as a Soviet "satellite," that country attempted independence in 1956.

The violence between Chechnyans and Russians has been both brutal and relentless.  During the late 90's a series of lethal apartment bombings were attributed to the rebels, but a sizeable percentage of Russians lay the blame with the Secret Police seeking public opinion which could justify military action against the state.

In October 2002, 40–50 Chechen rebels seized a Moscow theater and took about 900 civilians hostage. The crisis ended with a large death toll mostly due to an unknown aerosol pumped throughout the building by Russian special forces to incapacitate the people inside. In September 2004, separatist rebels occupied a school in the town of Beslan, North Ossetia, demanding recognition of the independence of Chechnya and a Russian withdrawal. 1,100 people (including 777 children) were taken hostage. The attack lasted three days, resulting in the deaths of over 331 people, including 186 children. (Read the article:

Further, when we discuss the regional history of Chechnya, the small state's neighbors must also be included.  Roughly the same ambition for independence prevails all through these small Muslim states. Each one has its own account of Soviet or, later, Russian Federation brutality.  Looking at a regional map presents the names of a number of other little known [to the geographically illiterate US] countries which have, in their turn, briefly been in US headlines.

Chechnya - the Neighborhood (map source)
You can see North Ossetia on the map just to the north of Georgia across the border.  South Ossetia is, theoretically, currently within the national borders of Georgia, but the majority of Ossetians consider themselves to be Russians, or, at least, Ossetians -- just not Georgians.

This partition was arranged during the Stalinist days in a routine "divide and control" boundary drawing session in the Central Committee's Politburo.  At the time, Georgia was in the Soviet Union, so the division didn't really begin to bother the Ossetians until the old USSR disbanded, releasing Georgia from "satellite status" to "independence."

During the 2008 Presidential campaign the McCain campaign manager met with the then President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili.  A short time later, the State of Georgia initiated an unlikely military campaign to "dislodge" the Russian influence in South Ossetia.

Of course, the military action was a disaster, but the factors which created such arrogant confidence in the mind of President Saakashvilli remain essentially a "secret" in the US.  After an extremely short, semi-visible "blip" in corporate network reporting, the story immediately vaporized from the US domestic media.

Saakasvilli launched a lesser but equally disastrous military adventure in Eastern Georgia to "liberate" South Adygea. MeanMesa suspects that the Georgian President had received "promises" which would have been "kept" once the lunatic, McCain, had won the election and been installed in the Oval Office. The reach of American war mongers such as Senator McCain is impressive.  The Senator's cruelly adolescent disregard for human suffering is sickening.

All this is posted here to provide a bit of background for the rage in the minds of the Tsarnaev brothers.  It is quite reasonable for Americans to be confounded by the seemingly tenuous thread between events in these nations in the Caucuses, the motivation of these domestic terrorists and their ultimate attack in the City of Boston.  While MeanMesa can not propose specific connections, understanding the atmosphere and regional background of the Chechnya, Ossetia, Georgia and Dagestan may shed a little light on the issue.

Local Super Powers: Russia and Turkey

In 2013 the "conspiracy theories" associated with all of this have become something akin to the ancient flood which raced through the Black Sea -- and the Bible.  At first blush we find Vladimir Putin firmly in charge of the new Russian Federation.  Vladimir is an old OGPU schemer with an almost unearthly political and geopolitical competence -- a cynical one quite beyond anything remotely comparable among the "leadership" on our US domestic scene.

Crushing the Chechnyan "nuisance" was a task which drew out both Vladimir's notable pragmatism and his casual brutality.  In fact that "crushing" was so brutal as to even demoralize Russian brigades sent to execute the orders.  Demoralizing a Russian army -- especially one that is winning -- is no easy task.  These brigades were already performing "popular work" with respect to the Russian population after all the "in country" Chechnyan terrorism.

Make no miscalculation here.  Putin has built a durable oligarchy inside the Russian Federation and protected it by gradually introducing slightly improving conditions of life for the Russian Federation's middle and lower class populations, exhausted after decades of Soviet bumbling. The man hates most Muslims and loves most dictators [Syria's al Assad, for example].  He personally appointed Kremlin "managers" for any of the Federation's dissatisfied "member states" in the Chechnyan-Ossetian-Dagestani region foolish enough to attempt a democratic election.

While he was pulverizing the rebellions in the area during the 1990's, the Western powers complained loudly but, as usual, did very little [with only the later exception of when McCain tried to use Caucasus blood as a "talking point" for his Presidential campaign] -- conceivably some part of the foundation of Tsarnaev brother's angst.  The Russian Federation at the time was awash with petroleum cash, mostly flowing effortlessly into the pockets of the newly minted Russian oligarchs. This time around, however, the Federation is ankle deep in intractable foreign policy exposure.

Chechnyans cheering Russian pull out (image)
Although Putin would very much have preferred to finish "flattening" the upstarts, his other "leg" remains mired in Syria's revolution and the increasingly bellicose Iranians.  The latest conspiracy estimate fits in right here. 

Russian "image" concerns" could be well served by a growing popular US hostility toward the Chechnyan rebels.  If Chechnyan terrorists alienate the US popular opinion, demonizing the Caucasus uprising, Putin would be free to complete the neutralization of his perennial "nuisance."

Materializing this particular conspiracy, Vladimir Putin would find the tattered domestic remnant of the US Fourth Estate -- along with its derelict, low information audience -- a conveniently malleable utensil for managing US public opinion, and the Tsarnaev brothers a tool with, shall we say, a "perfect fit."

While a little atmospheric on the surface, this theory focuses on the question of why the Russians did nothing to interview the elder Tsarnaev brother while he was spending months being radicalized in Dagestan after earlier being granted asylum to the US based on evidence that his life [and his brother's] would have been in danger had they remained there.

Again, this post is intended to provide just a little background which might assist visitors in understanding the cultural/historical "platform" of what the Tsarnaev brother might have encountered during his Russian visit.  

Since we are already "flitting" around the region looking for clues, we should probably expand our "circle of inquiry" just a little more while we're at it.

Armenian genocide (image source)
Returning to the map [lower] we see the countries to the south of this region.  In particular, two of these have their own history of brutal colonial reprisals.  The historic conflicts between Turkey and Armenia still leave both populations with a raw cultural memory.

Perhaps visitors here have heard, at one time or another, the phrase "starving Armenians."   Although this may have been no more than "one of those things" a mother might have used to characterized a hungry family headed for he dinner table, it has a chillingly cruel historical source from the Turkish genocide of the first years of the 1900's.  [Read the history here.

The Turks, to their credit, have begun a sort of "Middle Eastern reconciliation"  effort with Armenia.  Recently, although still quite provocative in Turkish society, history texts have begun to at least recognize this genocide while the respective governments have also begun to do what was expedient in efforts to extinguish the hatred.

Turkey has come to realize that settling such matters with both Armenia and the Turkish Kurds in the east of the country are tasks which, although difficult, are important to efforts for re-framing the country into a more acceptable, more modern image.  Turkey's membership in NATO and possibly also in the European Union have increased the interest in this.

The Tsarnaev Brothers

In Chechnya or Dagestan young men like the Tsarnaevs have experienced the relentless violence within the last decades, but there is more beyond even that.  When a child is surrounded by adults who still scathe in the fear, anger and hatred that their parents, in turn, were immersed with and whose parents, before those, were immersed with -- and so on -- the motivation for Boston begins to emerge.

The post doesn't dare offer the specific reason the brothers finally slipped into their rampage, but -- sometimes -- the deeper story begins to "flesh out" such questions in a general way.  If we insist upon a complete explanation shoe horned into a nicely packaged, easily expressed answer for the "low hanging fruit crowd" of low interest, low information media consumers, we will, most likely, wind up with the hodge podge we are seeing right now.

Americans have been told that a "mysterious someone" may have radicalized the brothers along with their mother.  Americans were presented with the possibility that the brothers "self-radicalized."

Such propositions may seem to be quite reasonable -- digestible, and perhaps even somewhat factual -- enough, but the far less constructive element of that explanation's incompleteness shows up when such an "explanation" implies that the starting point for the "radicalization" was two typical American boys.  The Tsarnaevs didn't start there.

They also didn't end there.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Economics of Bombing Boston

Spring planting is done, and MeanMesa's garden is covered with brave little vegetable sprouts!  Now there's time for another visit to Short Current Essays

The Cost and Value of Terrorism
and a few other issues

If the three sinister pressure cookers with removable handles detailed in the reporting on the bombing were purchased at a thrift store, one could anticipate a check out total of around $30.  The "Super Blaster" high end, black powder Roman candles [buy one, get one free - 3 lbs. of black powder in each package!] added $200 -- plus, of course, the bus fare for the trip to the "year round fireworks convenience center."  The "high tech" fusing, detonator and triggering assemblies from the local electrical surplus shop looked like items worth around $20 worth for components including the solder and flux.

Coming up with "household shrapnel" usually entails no more than a quick search of the kitchen "junk drawer" or a trip to the basement.  Presumably, the brothers already had the back packs.

The home made IED "grenades" look suspiciously like combinations of "left overs" from the pressure cooker projects.  None of the net work coverage has really "spilled the beans" on where all the guns and bullets were acquired, but we can be confident that, as the last drops of "breaking news" blood slowly seep away from the "career opportunity" media event, the government intelligence crews will pony up just a few more, last, breath taking, "late breaking" revelations concerning the grim details.

In this country where half the front yard lemonade stands have semi-automatic pistols tucked away under the iced pitcher sitting on the box, those "revelations" about the guns will, most likely, not be particularly much more enlightening or "revelatory" than a hangover might be at noon tomorrow.

Balancing the Books

Roughly totalling the purchases necessary to pull off the Boston Bombings, we could arrive at some figure around $1,000 -- probably less, depending on where and how the guns were acquired.  As we estimate the cost of responding to the Tsarnaev brothers' bombing, a very different picture emerges.

The governments involved -- the City of Boston, the State of Massachusetts and the Federal Government in Washington D.C. -- showed up quickly, ready to write a very, very large number of over time pay checks, starting right away.  As the story unfolded, local police departments were added to that payroll.  The surviving suspect was captured in Watertown, a community a few miles west of the city.

The Feds didn't stop with just contributing the "on the ground" forces, either.  The CIA, it turns out, had already been talking to the Russians after the older Tsarnaev caught their attention during his visit to Dagestan.  Because this was an "in country" matter, some or all of those CIA folders were forwarded to the FBI.

Minutes after the Boylston Street explosions, hundreds of off duty law enforcement were back on the "ot" clock.  Warehouses full of police equipment emptied in minutes.  The security presence at the scene was immense.  Within the first hour that presence rapidly expanded to a larger and larger radius around the Marathon site.  State Police were arriving to bolster the force which had been routinely assigned to cover the race.

The count of police and FBI investigators sifting through the thousands of photos and video was mushrooming as citizens responded to pleas from the Mayor and Governor.

The point here is not about the emotion, fear or terror.  The point to be made here is about the cost -- about the money, about the general funds tapped to fund the effort.


Within minutes after the smoke from the explosions wafted off into the Boston sky, the price for the response, considered in whole, was easily topping several million dollars per hour.  Over the next week, that total cost would reach to around a billion dollars -- more or less -- depending on what all was included in the tally.  MeanMesa suspects that even that monumental price tag may be deceptively low.

In terms of economics, the terrorist brothers had transformed a $1,000 investment for an episode of terror into $1,000,000,000 worth of terror response.  Fortunately, at least for our peace of mind as tax payers, the powers that be do not account such totals primarily because there is no established chart of accounts which could accept all that data.

For the reasons previously cited MeanMesa can hardly expect to offer a definitive, highly accurate accounting, but we can pretty sensibly select a few of the biggest items to lay down for a start.   Hopefully, visitors will agree that even a "shot in the dark" is preferable to "no shot at all."

Gravity of Threat/Damage
US Domestic - Civilians      $5 Mn
US Domestic Damage        $1 Mn
Interruption of Commerce $3 Mn
Material Damage Total      $8 Mn

Scope of Response
Boston Bombing          $1,000 Mn
[$1 Bn]

The spectrum of possibilities for terrorist schemes is simply too broad for an accountant's normal "cookie cutter" approach to accommodate the task of sizing up the cost of the response.  Further, the full continuum of possible responses is so vast that there doesn't seem to be any set of rules for estimating such a cost beforehand, either. From lack of such data we find ourselves forced to forgo the logical process of deciding whether or not the cost of a potential response plan is "worth it."

Of course it's hardly a decision based on a business plan.  Generally, it cannot even be a decision based on the idea that all -- or even enough -- of the facts are known, either.   Will the threat be ended by the response or will more threat be revealed as the first process unfolds?  We've had some experience, but not nearly enough to comfortably anticipate additional, undisclosed conspirators or strategies which may not exist or patterns which may not be in place.

At various times we have responded in fairly cost effective ways, but in other instances we have blown away even a vestige of sensibility like fall leaves in an October wind. The recent examples of these varied responses -- especially the bad ones -- don't paint a pretty picture.

Post Explosion Psychological Economics

We've had some experience with this part of the equation.  The scope of the response is naturally measured by the scope of the damage from terror or threat, but that is only the beginning of the calculation.  Even in the dwindling tatters of a representative government, the public response is also a factor.

In fact, the psychology of the public response is -- or can be -- just as material a parameter as the scope of the material damage.  When the public is frightened or hopeless, politics will drive the scope of the response to higher and higher levels of investment regardless of a more rational appraisal of simply considering "what it's worth."

We can look at a few recent examples.  While in each case a multitude of "additional considerations" may immediately present themselves, we want to focus on the highly simplified, limited parameters of:

the gravity of the material threat
the severity of the perceived threat
the scope of the response

Those "additional considerations" tend to include quite a collection of emotional reactions to terror or threats of terror.  After an event such as 9/11 or Boston, these can crowd into our thought model as understandable, yet not particularly constructive, adjustments to fundamental values we might have held with cooler minds.

Vietnam War

The actual, material threat used to justify the disaster in South East Asia was, believe it or not, primarily no more than another rehearsal of the well tested "domino theory" popular during those times. It quite comfortably founded upon carefully presented ideology and mind numbing fact manipulation [which suffered even more as the conflict progressed] offered up as a grave material threat while still being painted in only the most abstract form.  The American response to that "threat" was, perhaps most importantly, amateurish.  The balance between the actual "gravity of the material threat" and the "scope of response" was neither valued highly nor even well planned.

After a few years of North Vietnamese intransigence there were more than half a million conscripted US troops in the country.  MeanMesa, a real life observer during those decades of constant war, suspects that any number of other approaches might have served US interests just as well at a substantially lower cost in both blood and treasure.

The psychology of the war effort there was a quite "out of focus" mix of cultural memories of the WWII and Korean conflicts along with Cold War propaganda.  It went on for around twenty years at a cost of 60,000 dead Americans, 200,000 with casualty injuries and at an average cost of $1,000,000 per minute [1970's value dollars].

The "whether it was worth it" question remained one starkly based on the already tenuous logic of "domino theory."  That kind of explanation rapidly wore out both its usefulness and its welcome.  The price? Each North Vietnamese casualty cost around $70,000.

The Vietnam War is noted here to fill in the measurement of both the "scope of response" question and to provide a glimpse of past forms of justification.


Now, the longest war in the history of the United States, this one was initiated immediately after 9/11.  The US population was thoroughly terrified by the attacks in New York and Washington -- a terror further embellished by the dramatically fearful response of the current government.

The next unfortunate side to unroll was the replacement of al Qaeda by the Taliban in the "enemy" slot.  The early military moves against al Qaeda and specifically against Bin Laden were very poorly handled, perhaps on purpose.  The "scope of response" was left to expand uncontrollably after that.  The mission, originally to deny al Qaeda an Afghan "safe haven," gradually shifted to "fighting anybody who would fight back" and finally into "they can't throw us out" no matter how hard they try.

Afghanistan was also the "first time tried" for massive contracted services for the military.  Touted as cost savings and as a necessity with the limited personnel of a volunteer military, the contract costs sky rocketed while services were steadily degraded.  Oligarchs had always loved war profiteering, but this was the first time that the process had been allowed to move from domestic factories to also encompass the cash flow previously found only on the battlefield.

Estimated final cost of the Afghanistan military adventure could easily exceed $2.5 Tn [$2,500,000,000,000].  Comparing that cost with the expense of incurring the initial damage on 9/11 is discouraging. Comparing this figure with even a coarse estimate of the monetary damage of 9/11 -- the ostensible justification for the response -- is more discouraging. 

Pentagon 9/11(image source)
The value of the World Trade Centers, generously, might amount to $3 Bn.  The damage done to the Pentagon perhaps amounted to another billion -- especially with repairs performed by the Pentagon's favorite contractors with the necessary "security clearances" and conventiently tight lips.

The four jet liners full of passengers who became "liability suits" could possibly add another $3 Bn.  The remainder of the cost which can be attributed to the Afghan War derives from money we spent in our response to this damage.

Gravity of Threat/Damage
Trade Centers                $3 Bn
Pentagon                       $1 Bn
Airplanes and liability     $3 Bn
Material Damage Total   $7 Bn

Scope of Response
Afghan War              $2,500 Bn
[$2.5 Tn]


Having seen the public discomfort with both the war's painful longevity, its uncomfortable inefficiency, its obvious "mission creep" and its "exit policy" failure in Afghanistan, the "threat" for invading Iraq received significantly more attention and preparation. In hindsight, this may well have been the most scandalous feature of the historic disaster.

The fabrication of the "gravity of the material threat" was clearly overdone, most likely as a misjudgement of the credulity of the American public.  The voters were more or less manageable while being relentlessly plied with jingoistic maxims such as "They hate our freedom" or "Cut and run or stay the course," but fairly rapidly the "product" of that media investment was transformed from its intended role as a "manipulation asset" into a "suspicion debit." 

Oligarchs at work (image source)
By year eight or nine of the thing, the cash rushing into the "scope of response" continued at full bore while the public acceptance of the "gravity of the material threat" uncontrollably subsided, further aggravated by the Republican Economic Collapse of 2008.  While VP Dick Cheney's Halliburton, desperately failing at the war's onset, was now logging historically high profits from $35 Bn of "no bid, emergency" contracts, the endless war itself had become a public opinion tooth ache.

The same dilemmas which were plaguing the "cost benefit" cycle analysis of the Afghan War quickly visited the adventure in Iraq.  The cost steadily expanded to around $4 Tn.  The little accounting table in the discussion of the Afghan War could not be duplicated for the Iraq War because there were no justifying, initial, "grave material damages or threats."  This left the thing stranded without material validation, a void at first clumsily filled with propaganda, but one which later became a void so "perfect" that the resulting public opinion vacuum could no longer be filled with anything.

Gravity of Threat/Damage
Damage from Exported Terror  $0 Bn
US Domestic Terror                  $0 Bn
US Domestic Civilian Damage   $0 Bn
Material Damage Total             $0 Bn

Scope of Response
Iraq War                            $4,000 Bn
[$4.0 Tn]

By the way, the fact that Iraq sits on the fifth largest proven reserve of sweet crude on the planet does NOT constitute a "grave material threat."

Facing Facts

The Wahabist billionaires in Saudi Arabia who picked up the tab for the nineteen hijackers to come to the US for a year or more before 9/11 probably spent a maximum of around $4 Mn for living expenses, travel, pilot school and the rest.  However, the al Qaeda's lead guy on the project, bin Laden, had also made some remarkably perceptive assumptions of his own.

These "assumptions" -- viewed in the cost basis approach of this post -- are not particularly similar to the hyperbolic versions with which we are familiar.  In fact, becoming "acquainted" with these "assumptions" turns out to be, actually, rather painful.

Yet, these are the essential foundations of both 9/11 and Boston.

First, bin Laden anticipated that the tragically effeminate US President, already on record expressing his rehabilitative fantasy of being a "war time" President, would instantly "take the bait" after the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon.  Further, well known for a catastrophic lack of imagination, bin Laden also correctly anticipated that Bush W. would pursue his "revenge" in the most expensive, least effective military plan possible.

The Saudi mastermind was well aware of the salivating war profiteers surrounding the President as well as also correctly anticipating their suffocating influence on the White House.

All of this unfolded to make Afghanistan not only possible but inevitable. However there was more in bin Laden's mind.

Once the Afghan War's financial "bull had wrecked the first China shop," all restraint  vaporized.  The invasion of Iraq might have been triggered by Sadam's intelligence service's assassination attempt on Bush Sr., but its real foundation rested with the quite predictable behavior pattern of oligarchs.

That would be the quite "predictable behavior pattern" of oligarchs who smell blood available for the taking.  Once past that "garden's gate," all bets were off.

As the White House took out the check book to pay for Afghanistan, the oligarchs also eagerly "took the bait," but for them the "bait" was the prospect of the untold fortunes to be extracted from owning the Iraqi oil fields.  All of this was in bin Laden's basic plan.

The "painful" part of all this emerges from the fact that Americans had elected all the incompetent and exploitative stooges required to be present to complete bin Laden's "materials list."

This discussion is relevant here because one of bin Laden's main ambitions was to sucker the United States into a "spending spree" which would serve to cripple its economy for years to come.  That worked.  We simply don't know if a similar ambition was among the "dreams of damage" which coaxed the Tsarnaev brothers into their terrorism, but it may as well have been.

The United States is, frankly, horrible with respect to designing appropriate "scopes of response."  Somewhere, the same day that Boston exploded, American military forces killed and wounded far more than the casualties on Boylston Street.  Somewhere, the same grief and anger of Boston were also duplicated, possibly to a lesser degree due to the frequency of such events, but still quite materially.

Believe MeanMesa on this one.  That "materiality" will be waiting for us.  That day to day materiality of grief and anger has become a formidable, durable glacier of materiality of grief and anger with new additions every day.

As for the nation, we should probably do what we can to mature past the "hair on fire" screaming which validates "restoring security at any price."  Internationally, other places which have experienced Boston style terrorism frequently have developed their own, effective, affordable "scope of response" in a way which should definitely "catch our eye."

As a final note, we are watching President Barack Obama utilizing his notable rationality as plans for "the scope of response" to events in Syria are being developed.  We are also watching people like Senator McCain reveal their predictable jingoist penchant for war making and suspect torturing.

MeanMesa's compliments to the President.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Full Term Birth of the Partisan Obama

Just a Bit About "Political Climates" 
When both the representation and the represented are the problem

Of course there is a compelling "string" of historical similarities if not between the personal attributes of the Presidents themselves, at least between the national environments each one respectively encountered while trying to meet the responsibilities of his office.  Although even if it's not emphasized in the public media very much, there is still the citizen's chore of facing facts.

"Rocket science-wise," citizen "fact facing" must begin with a bit of "fact knowing."  That, of course, begins even more fundamentally with "being interested."

For our own peace of mind, we have to accept the idea that Americans don't particularly trust their grasp of historical realities enough to comfortably bother with drawing many such conclusions on their own steam.

It turns out that coast to coast education failure is, indeed, the "gift that keeps on giving."  Happily, whatever expertise citizens seem to lack with respect to the precise details of the Great 2008 Republican Economic Disaster, they are unquestionably acutely aware of the pain.  The fact that it continues to be further aggravated and compounded isn't missed by many, either.

With the Congressional servants of the oligarchs showing no signs of even slightly beginning to release their suffocating death grip on the remnants of the thoroughly looted economy, remedial economic policy relief remains out of the question.

So, what remain "in the question?"

It may well not be an answer which sparks much optimism in citizens, but it appears to be the single glimmer of hope that's left among the twisted wreckage.


First, Let's Look At Some Similarities

Yes, it's all about these two. (image source)

If distant history will enjoy a reconciling "numbing" of the immediate trauma, it may point more to the similarity of national environment encountered by the two Presidents than to their personal natures.  In both cases the oligarchs had seriously "over reached" with their looting penchants, crippling the possibility of the respective economies continuing to function -- even as wounded animals staggering forward only on blind instinct.

In both cases the severity of the damage was under estimated until it began to manifest in terms of daily suffering.  Then it was relentless.

There is no way to reasonably imagine what the "end game" conditions anticipated by these "money class Vikings" might have looked like -- at least, what it might have looked like to them.  MeanMesa doubts if either the 1930's oligarchs or the 2000's oligarchs realistically expected the dire results which would follow their unchecked, wild largesse.

Almost certainly the oligarchs had no expectation of ever having to face the hundreds of millions of people they had just wounded.  On the other hand, they did probably expect to emerge in the aftermath as some sort of repackaged nobility, so rich and so powerful that their newly minted class would become perpetual.  Their vision of what the rest of the country might be like in their wake is anyone's guess.

Nonetheless, in the American system all results of everything -- including these rampages of wealth redistribution, corruption and greed -- fall into the lap of the next President.  This was the case with FDR, and it was also the case with Barack Obama.  The tediously predictable route into these "caverns of misery" in both cases are hardly interesting.  They are the same in every instance.

However, while the machinations creating each collapse are uniformly mundane, the history of recovering from such disasters becomes fodder for future, heroic folk ballads.  This process took FDR a decade to even so much as begin to "turn the ship."  His antagonists, 1930's style Republican looters, tormented his every effort at each step of that journey.

In terms of comparison, while Obama has managed to "turn the ship" a little more agilely, his -- and our -- antagonists, 2000's looters, have fought back just as rapaciously as their Depression Era Robber Baron forbears, but  unlike the vast majority of citizens who fervently supported FDR, roughly half of the citizens with futures relying on the success of Obama's efforts have steadfastly allied themselves with the looters.

Among many other similarities, perhaps another one most relevant here does reflect on the personal nature of both Presidents.  Both FDR and Obama entered politics with a sort of individual, systemic personal disadvantage.

While the country was already beginning to feel the bite of the 1930 Great Republican Depression, candidate Roosevelt was the product of immense wealth.  Throughout the population -- including among those who would vote for him -- had to be the inevitable concern that he was simply too rich to relate to the challenges facing them.

Once in office, his actions steadily evaporated this concern although the rate of that "evaporation" measurably slowed in his early terms when his recovery strategy had not yet begun to produce relief.  FDR faced the continuing possibility that his depression damaged supporters would, exhausted, shift to a mood of intolerance and alienation toward his wealth.

The Republicans hammered on this as constantly as a boxer works on a bleeding eye.  Ironically, FDR's great difficulties with health issues actually evoked more than enough sympathy and support to mitigate this political vulnerability.

We'll be looking directly as some of FDR's words just a little later in this post.

By comparison, Barack Obama, once he assumed office, "discovered" two defining bits of information.  Neither had been incorporated in his 2008 campaign, but both were solidly ensconced on the Oval Office couch when he turned on the lights.

The first was the scope of the oligarchic looting which had destroyed the economy.  The Bush autocracy had been quite clever at obfuscating the dire gravity of the wreckage they were leaving.  Had Obama been more completely aware of the mortal damage, he might have included it much more openly in his Presidential campaign.  He also might not have.

If the schemes of the Bush cronies had been more aggressively illuminated during the Presidential race, Obama would have enjoyed more understanding and more support for his remedial strategies once in office.

The second "discovery" was an unanticipated racism, a fire too easily presumed as extinguished or, perhaps, still only slightly smouldering, by Obama as a Senator.  Within the gentrified civility of that body of snakes, the black Senator from Illinois had possibly slipped too far toward the overly optimistic view.  As a personally successful Ivy League academic or even as a black social organizer [largely among other Chicago blacks], Obama may have sincerely underestimated the level of "revealed" animus incited by his skin color.

As a result, when Obama took office not only were the loot starved oligarchs left over from the autocracy salivating at his shadow, tens of millions of previously quiet bigots -- everyone from a drooling, tax exempt pastor to a beer drinking plumber at the American Legion bar -- began to come back to life like vampires at sunset.  In no time there were pockets of the country where Ku Klux Klan hoods were back in style.

None of the reasons for this new "hat style's" reinvigorated popularity had anything to do with recession, socialism, liberalism, or anything else with more than one syllable.

Obama's first term was marked by his perhaps overly great caution to avoid introducing any unnecessary racial animosity.  If FDR was cautious to avoid being called the "spawn of plutocrats," Obama was cautious to avoid being casually classed as an "uppity Negro" and inciting the inevitable consequences.  Both Presidents suffered the same toothy gnawing from the oligarchs' Congressional servants about "being a socialist."

In Obama's case there were further complications not in place in the 1930's.  The nation had been looted to the bone by the unregulated crime family preceding him coupled with fairly substantial issues of out right crimes and, perhaps, even treason in the administration his replaced.  Reiterating the looting issue need not be set aside as hyperbole.  The looters had the money -- literally trillions by this time -- and they were clearly intent on discrediting him, re-establishing the oligarchic extractive mechanisms and, ultimately, usurping control of the country.

FDR had plenty on his plate, but he was not additionally burdened with navigating toward some level of economic recovery while simultaneously  employing delicately crafted political tactics to avoid civil war.  Ironically, at the time of this writing there are still Americans convinced that the events of the last decade were essentially coincidental.

MeanMesa is confident that with an even slightly more informed citizenry which would yield that "coincidental" verdict impossible, we would be in civil war.  The explosive outrage accompanying a full knowledge of the crimes would have made it inevitable.  Instead, we find ourselves immersed in tenuously supported Pax Bardus ["Peace by Stupidity"], in this case, hope's faltering grasp at a few more months or years before the conflagration and self-immolation.

Don't lock up the geezer just yet.

There's more.

MeanMesa's ominous strategic prediction is that, from here, we will have to move even perilously closer to that civil strife in search of a stable resolution.

A Memo to Obama: -- from FDR

Although it's difficult to absolutely retrieve such subtle details from the history of the time, FDR's efforts to repair the 1930's Great Republican Depression may reveal an approach similar to Obama's with respect to a "do nothing" Congress.  The Depression Era oligarchs, much like their more modern and possibly even more destructive, kinsmen, were very determined to regain control of their unregulated "gravy train."

FDR had tried the cooperative, civil approach only to withdraw the hand of compromise to find a few of his fingers had been chewed away.  Much like Obama, he continued to propose even more of the same genteel entreaties in the hope that the "hypnotic spell of avarice" might relent long enough for his Congressional adversaries to return to their senses.

Then, like now, there was no sign of any of that change emerging.  Oligarchs, just as much as ideologues, don't negotiate.

Let's reconsider the "Politics" suggestion from above.  We can look at the traditional advantages that our country has enjoyed in past crises, but the resulting inventory is not too promising.  We can call on no "reserve" of leadership types in the House or the Senate, and the heavily soiled ideologues controlling the Supreme Court offer nothing particularly promising.

After woefully deleting these corresponding elements from the list of "parts of the representative government," we are left with a both apathetic and frightened, uninformed, low interest, politically exhausted electorate still under daily shelling from a now imaginary "Fourth Estate," and a respectfully progressive President left stranded, isolated without any particular allies.

In this sense Obama may actually have it worse than FDR.  However, there is one, additional, chilling side, too.

FDR enjoyed the possibility of job creating programs such as the WPA and CCC.  Obama doesn't.  For half of the modern unemployed, the prospect of holding a shovel for even half a shift would be an inconceivable physical impossibility.  The wheezing, over weight American is also not at all "ready" to work a shift on a machine lathe or welder even had that factory not been off shored to China a decade ago. 

In the 1930's of FDR, if an average American youngster had a chance to attend and graduate high school, or if a hungry, downtrodden, unemployed, Depression victim had a chance to pick sweet onions for two days, no force on Earth could have stopped either of them.  Not so for Obama's 2010's.

THAT's why MeanMesa concludes that only "politics" is left.  In terms of salvaging the country, even if the 2013 population can't really work like they could in the 30's, they can still vote.

That is, if they once again become interested in voting.  
FDR was quite familiar with this difficult to manage "territory."  Folks had grown overly comfortable with -- and dangerously tolerant of --  really bad politics during the Roaring 20's. By comparison, Obama has, similarly, been knee deep in the same "inertial political dilemma" every day since before he was even first elected Senator.  It was the same problem he tackled as a community organizer in Chicago.  Contemporary voters, in their own time, have endured equally nasty, really bad politics during the last decades -- plus, this time, exposure to roughly 10,000 times more hours of very suspicious media messaging.
So, politics.

Of course FDR said and did all sorts of things to restore the country, but right here we'll focus on a single, notable speech he made in 1936 to introduce his continuing plans for The New Deal.  At first, MeanMesa was simply going to supply a link and then "slice and dice" a few excerpts for inclusion in the post.  However, on further thought, the whole speech belongs here.

[A note from MeanMesa: After all,   Short Current Essays has long ago quit apologizing for, well, not being short.  A "short" essay from the mid-1800's would currently be considered a book.  While the 2013 definition of "short" might be anything from a laconic text message to a fly-by quip of a comment to a thread on a social media page -- or even a 140 character, conceptually castrated Tweet -- the Short Current Essays definition of "short" is more than liberal enough to include the whole speech.]

This speech by FDR marked the end of his efforts to deal with the Congressional Republicans and their oligarch puppet masters.  It marked the end of his careful admonition to the American voter to continue to try to "not get upset."  It marked the end of his patience to keep toiling at his efforts to make a broken, corrupt system behave as if it were otherwise.  It marked the end of his previous commitment to continually encourage everyone to simply have trust that the government system would eventually correct itself.


 of President Franklin Roosevelt's Radio Address unveiling the second half of the New Deal (1936)

Campaign Address at Madison Square Garden, New York City. 
"We Have Only Just Begun to Fight." October 31, 1936

(American desire for peace and security at home and abroad—What we have done to fulfill that desire—We shall continue in our fight to attain our objectives.)

Senator Wagner, Governor Lehman, ladies and gentlemen:

ON THE eve of a national election, it is well for us to stop for a moment and analyze calmly and without prejudice the effect on our Nation of a victory by either of the major political parties.

The problem of the electorate is far deeper, far more than the continuance in the Presidency of any individual. For the greater issue goes beyond units of humanity - it goes to humanity itself.

In 1932 the issue was the restoration of American democracy; and the American people were in a mood to win. They did win. In 1936 the issue is the preservation of their victory. Again they are in a mood to win. Again they will win.

More than four years ago in accepting the Democratic nomination in Chicago, I said: "Give me your help not to win votes alone, but to win in this crusade to restore America to its own people."

The banners of that crusade still fly in the van of a Nation that is on the march.

It is needless to repeat the details of the program which this Administration has been hammering out on the anvils of experience. No amount of misrepresentation or statistical contortion can conceal or blur or smear that record. Neither the attacks of unscrupulous enemies nor the exaggerations of over-zealous friends will serve to mislead the American people.

What was our hope in 1932? Above all other things the American people wanted peace. They wanted peace of mind instead of gnawing fear.

First, they sought escape from the personal terror which had stalked them for three years. They wanted the peace that comes from security in their homes: safety for their savings, permanence in their jobs, a fair profit from their enterprise.

Next, they wanted peace in the community, the peace that springs from the ability to meet the needs of community life: schools, playgrounds, parks, sanitation, highways- those things which are expected of solvent local government. They sought escape from disintegration and bankruptcy in local and state affairs.

They also sought peace within the Nation: protection of their currency, fairer wages, the ending of long hours of toil, the abolition of child labor, the elimination of wild-cat speculation, the safety of their children from kidnappers.
And, finally, they sought peace with other Nations-peace in a world of unrest. The Nation knows that I hate war, and I know that the Nation hates war.

I submit to you a record of peace; and on that record a well-founded expectation for future peace—peace for the individual, peace for the community, peace for the Nation, and peace with the world.

Tonight I call the roll—the roll of honor of those who stood with us in 1932 and still stand with us today.

Written on it are the names of millions who never had a chance—men at starvation wages, women in sweatshops, children at looms.

Written on it are the names of those who despaired, young men and young women for whom opportunity had become a will-o'-the-wisp.

Written on it are the names of farmers whose acres yielded only bitterness, business men whose books were portents of disaster, home owners who were faced with eviction, frugal citizens whose savings were insecure.

Written there in large letters are the names of countless other Americans of all parties and all faiths, Americans who had eyes to see and hearts to understand, whose consciences were burdened because too many of their fellows were burdened, who looked on these things four years ago and said, "This can be changed. We will change it."

We still lead that army in 1936. They stood with us then because in 1932 they believed. They stand with us today because in 1936 they know. And with them stand millions of new recruits who have come to know.

Their hopes have become our record.

We have not come this far without a struggle and I assure you we cannot go further without a struggle.

For twelve years this Nation was afflicted with hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing Government. The Nation looked to Government but the Government looked away. Nine mocking years with the golden calf and three long years of the scourge! Nine crazy years at the ticker and three long years in the breadlines! Nine mad years of mirage and three long years of despair! Powerful influences strive today to restore that kind of government with its doctrine that that Government is best which is most indifferent.

For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up.

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.

I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master.

The American people know from a four-year record that today there is only one entrance to the White House—by the front door. Since March 4, 1933, there has been only one pass-key to the White House. I have carried that key in my pocket. It is there tonight. So long as I am President, it will remain in my pocket.

Those who used to have pass-keys are not happy. Some of them are desperate. Only desperate men with their backs to the wall would descend so far below the level of decent citizenship as to foster the current pay-envelope campaign against America's working people. Only reckless men, heedless of consequences, would risk the disruption of the hope for a new peace between worker and employer by returning to the tactics of the labor spy.

Here is an amazing paradox! The very employers and politicians and publishers who talk most loudly of class antagonism and the destruction of the American system now undermine that system by this attempt to coerce the votes of the wage earners of this country. It is the 1936 version of the old threat to close down the factory or the office if a particular candidate does not win. It is an old strategy of tyrants to delude their victims into fighting their battles for them.
Every message in a pay envelope, even if it is the truth, is a command to vote according to the will of the employer. But this propaganda is worse—it is deceit.
They tell the worker his wage will be reduced by a contribution to some vague form of old-age insurance. They carefully conceal from him the fact that for every dollar of premium he pays for that insurance, the employer pays another dollar. That omission is deceit.

They carefully conceal from him the fact that under the federal law, he receives another insurance policy to help him if he loses his job, and that the premium of that policy is paid 100 percent by the employer and not one cent by the worker. They do not tell him that the insurance policy that is bought for him is far more favorable to him than any policy that any private insurance company could afford to issue. That omission is deceit.

They imply to him that he pays all the cost of both forms of insurance. They carefully conceal from him the fact that for every dollar put up by him his employer puts up three dollars—three for one. And that omission is deceit.

But they are guilty of more than deceit. When they imply that the reserves thus created against both these policies will be stolen by some future Congress, diverted to some wholly foreign purpose, they attack the integrity and honor of American Government itself. Those who suggest that, are already aliens to the spirit of American democracy. Let them emigrate and try their lot under some foreign flag in which they have more confidence.

The fraudulent nature of this attempt is well shown by the record of votes on the passage of the Social Security Act. In addition to an overwhelming majority of Democrats in both Houses, seventy-seven Republican Representatives voted for it and only eighteen against it and fifteen Republican Senators voted for it and only five against it. Where does this last-minute drive of the Republican leadership leave these Republican Representatives and Senators who helped enact this law?

I am sure the vast majority of law-abiding businessmen who are not parties to this propaganda fully appreciate the extent of the threat to honest business contained in this coercion.

I have expressed indignation at this form of campaigning and I am confident that the overwhelming majority of employers, workers and the general public share that indignation and will show it at the polls on Tuesday next.

Aside from this phase of it, I prefer to remember this campaign not as bitter but only as hard-fought. There should be no bitterness or hate where the sole thought is the welfare of the United States of America. No man can occupy the office of President without realizing that he is President of all the people.

It is because I have sought to think in terms of the whole Nation that I am confident that today, just as four years ago, the people want more than promises.

Our vision for the future contains more than promises.

This is our answer to those who, silent about their own plans, ask us to state our objectives.

Of course we will continue to seek to improve working conditions for the workers of America—to reduce hours over-long, to increase wages that spell starvation, to end the labor of children, to wipe out sweatshops. Of course we will continue every effort to end monopoly in business, to support collective bargaining, to stop unfair competition, to abolish dishonorable trade practices.

For all these we have only just begun to fight.

Of course we will continue to work for cheaper electricity in the homes and on the farms of America, for better and cheaper transportation, for low interest rates, for sounder home financing, for better banking, for the regulation of security issues, for reciprocal trade among nations, for the wiping out of slums. 

For all these we have only just begun to fight.

Of course we will continue our efforts in behalf of the farmers of America. With their continued cooperation we will do all in our power to end the piling up of huge surpluses which spelled ruinous prices for their crops. We will persist in successful action for better land use, for reforestation, for the conservation of water all the way from its source to the sea, for drought and flood control, for better marketing facilities for farm commodities, for a definite reduction of farm tenancy, for encouragement of farmer cooperatives, for crop insurance and a stable food supply. For all these we have only just begun to fight.

Of course we will provide useful work for the needy unemployed; we prefer useful work to the pauperism of a dole.

Here and now I want to make myself clear about those who disparage their fellow citizens on the relief rolls. They say that those on relief are not merely jobless—that they are worthless. Their solution for the relief problem is to end relief—to purge the rolls by starvation. To use the language of the stock broker, our needy unemployed would be cared for when, as, and if some fairy godmother should happen on the scene.

You and I will continue to refuse to accept that estimate of our unemployed fellow Americans. Your Government is still on the same side of the street with the Good Samaritan and not with those who pass by on the other side.

Again—what of our objectives?

Of course we will continue our efforts for young men and women so that they may obtain an education and an opportunity to put it to use. Of course we will continue our help for the crippled, for the blind, for the mothers, our insurance for the unemployed, our security for the aged. Of course we will continue to protect the consumer against unnecessary price spreads, against the costs that are added by monopoly and speculation. We will continue our successful efforts to increase his purchasing power and to keep it constant.

For these things, too, and for a multitude of others like them, we have only just begun to fight.

All this—all these objectives—spell peace at home. All our actions, all our ideals, spell also peace with other nations.

Today there is war and rumor of war. We want none of it. But while we guard our shores against threats of war, we will continue to remove the causes of unrest and antagonism at home which might make our people easier victims to those for whom foreign war is profitable. You know well that those who stand to profit by war are not on our side in this campaign.

"Peace on earth, good will toward men"—democracy must cling to that message. For it is my deep conviction that democracy cannot live without that true religion which gives a nation a sense of justice and of moral purpose. Above our political forums, above our market places stand the altars of our faith—altars on which burn the fires of devotion that maintain all that is best in us and all that is best in our Nation.

We have need of that devotion today. It is that which makes it possible for government to persuade those who are mentally prepared to fight each other to go on instead, to work for and to sacrifice for each other. That is why we need to say with the Prophet: "What doth the Lord require of thee—but to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God." That is why the recovery we seek, the recovery we are winning, is more than economic. In it are included justice and love and humility, not for ourselves as individuals alone, but for our Nation.

That is the road to peace.

MeanMesa's Note to the President

Mr. President:
As citizens we call you.

You may consider civility to be paramount, a refreshment of past process.

It is not.  

The past process is finished, obsoleted by the forces which have emerged from the remnant of the Republican Party

They prevent us from using our own resources to solve our problems. They are killing us. They are effortlessly pillaging what remains of our wealth, and they are doing this with impunity.

You may have a personal ambition for a legacy of equanimity, of restoring the genteel  politics of our past and of avoiding the incendiary consequences your race incites in some.  Forget all of this.  There is no equanimity to be had.  No part of this can any longer be genteel or even civil.

We find ourselves without advocate beyond you.  The House of Representatives is nothing more than an extension of a failed media dancing to tune of unseen oligarchs. The Senate remains under the control of the Minority's whim.  The Supreme Court rules every issue possibly useful to us unconstitutional.

We suffer.  We are ready to end this.  For that we look to you.

MeanMesa is certain that you have read this speech more than once.  Take these words and this strength for your own.  Let them flow inside you.  The gravity of our situation has moved beyond politics or legacy.

You will either, as FDR did so long ago, mobilize the nation and prepare it for battle or you -- and we -- will quietly expire without meaning, noted only with the dismal epitaph reserved for those who would not even try.