Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

27 November 2011

Common Sense about Pakistan


[For a brief update on electric cars and the risk of crash-induced fires in the Chevy Volt’s batteries, click here. I apologize to readers for being slow to moderate comments. I'll be back on that job December 2.]

Cyberspace is all agog over yesterday’s apparent killing of 25 Pakistani troops by American air strikes. As usual, we Yanks are aghast at a wholly predictable development.

This tragedy may not have been predictable in precise detail. But in general outline such events were not only predictable, but predicted. Nearly six months ago, I predicted a dark and prickly turn to the US/Pakistan relationship. The reason was an obvious divergence of interests.

That divergence becomes more evident every day. Our primary interest in the area is simple and limited: preventing the Af-Pak border area from becoming a launching pad for terrorist attacks against us.

Pakistan has much more complex and less limited interests. Among other things, it is caught up in a regional power struggle with some very strong neighbors, including India. It is also finding its place among the other “Stans,” including those that used to be part of the Soviet Union.

Part of its struggle (particularly regarding Kashmir) has religious roots. The British split Pakistan from India in 1947 because its Muslims did not want to live in a Hindu-majority nation. The Muslims who fled India to the new state―sometimes driven by pogroms and often bearing unspeakable hardship―were either more fearful or more committed to Islam than those who (in much larger numbers) remained in India.

This history gives Pakistan some of the tarnish of a religious state. But lest that fact evoke even more needless Islamophobia than we Yanks already suffer, I rush to qualify it.

Pakistan’s religious aspects are important but limited. They derive primarily from its origins as a state and the relatively primitive education of much of its people, especially in the tribal borderlands (inluding Baluchistan). They also derive from the extremist madrassas that the Saudi Princes have financed throughout the region. (This is by far the worst consequence of the Saudis’ Faustian bargain with extremism, which some day will destroy their own rule and perhaps take much else with it.)

But Pakistan also enjoys an overlay of modern bureaucracy, a strong but still nascent democracy, and a now-dominant professional military and intelligence culture―all derived (and well learned!) from British colonials. It is self-evidently not a theocratic state.

In these respects Pakistan in not dissimilar from Israel, although less advanced. Its modern democracy and relatively efficient military sit atop a population that, under the wrong circumstances, might support a theocratic state.

Let me remind readers than I am Jewish. As an American Jew, I have an absolute conviction that my own country handles religion the right way: no official or “established” religion, and complete freedom for every citizen to believe and worship as he or she chooses.

Our First Amendment has the best answer for a modern, pluralistic, connected world. And every successful empire in human history observed the same principles, especially the largest ones. The ancient Roman empire did. So did the Mongol Empire. China’s empires, including Mao’s, were all based on secular power and civil governance, not religion. At its height, the Islamic empire tolerated Christian and Jewish worship widely, although Islam was as much a part of the ruling class in it as Catholicism was in the Holy Roman Empire. (The Islamic empire, however, never had anything remotely resembling the Christian Inquisition. More medieval Jews were forced to recant their religion, flee or die from Christian lands than ever under the Caliphs.)

Today secular government and religious tolerance are the norms worldwide. To varying degrees they prevail in China, Europe, India, Russia and the United States. They even prevail (in somewhat diluted from) in majority-Muslim nations like Indonesia, Malaysia and Turkey.

So in this respect Israel and Pakistan are both a bit retrograde. And both have nuclear weapons. Every human on this planet has a strong interest in making sure those weapons never get used to advance religion, or because some “prophet” believes that God commands it.

I make these points simply because I have never seen them made anywhere else. But it’s important not to overemphasize them, especially in Pakistan. Pakistan’s current leaders are about as far from religious fanatics as it is possible to be. Like other leaders worldwide, they have exclusively secular goals, such as regional influence, social stability, economic advancement and national sovereignty (a key concern of any nation as young as Pakistan).

Pakistan also lives in a dangerous and still potentially unstable neighborhood. Freed by the collapse of the Soviet Union, the other “Stans,” including Afghanistan, are potential allies, potential rivals, potential trading partners and (by virtual of majority-Muslim similarity) potential partners for social and cultural exchange. Some are still ruled by tyrants and therefore sources of potential instability, including refugees from any violent change.

Pakistan’s neighborhood also has a number of powerful, stable giants (China, India, and Russia) and one not-so-stable Islamic theocracy, namely, Iran. As a young and insecure nation, Pakistan is trying to find its place among the giants, while trying to reconcile its sectarian origins and religious population with the giants’ uniformly secular norms and with Iran’s muscular theocracy.

All these things make dealing with Pakistan a diplomatic and military leader’s nightmare. They also make our stunning success in virtually dismantling Al Qaeda in the region all the more remarkable. But they make utterly quixotic any further (and perhaps more noble) ends, such as building nations or democracies.

This is where the realism comes in. We have nearly achieved our primary goal―taking down the terrorist training camps and killing or co-opting their leaders. There is virtually no chance that we can achieve broader goals at acceptable expense, whatever guilt we may feel for letting Afghanistan decay into a war-torn theocracy after our successful jihad against the Soviet Union.

So the key to wisdom here is hewing to the pragmatic. We are not in the neighborhood. We are half a world away. Very powerful nations situated much nearer―China, India and Russia―have more interest than we do in seeking stability and peaceful economic growth. They have infinitely more interest in avoiding the use of nuclear weapons, since any nuclear blast in the region would undoubtedly affect their territories and peoples directly, through radioactive fallout, refugees and all the other unintended consequences of war.

Like tyrants, great empires get pathetic in their old age. They cannot ken when it’s time to leave things to younger, closer, newer forces. Had they passed on power in their primes, Mao Zedong and Robert Mugabe would have been sung forever as national liberators, unifiers and founders of new nations. But they both nearly destroyed what they had built by holding onto absolute power far too long, far beyond their personal competence.

So it is with empires. Like the Brits before us, we Yanks have had a good run. We helped bring peace in World War I and World War II and bore the brunt of keeping the peace since then. Following the Brits’ lead, we brought the economic benefits of free markets and capitalism to most of the world. We have stood as the world’s prime example of racial equality, religious freedom, freedom of speech and human rights, although now the EU is challenging us (which is why it’s well worth preserving, whatever the Euro’s troubles). Having no colonies (we let Cuba and the Philippines go), we introduced the principles of native sovereignty.

We’ve done much that we can be proud of. But we’ve held on much too long. And in doing so, we’ve let our homeland decline to the point of embarrassment. (On my recent trip to Cataluña, for example, that part of Spain seemed like Beverly Hills compared to our aged and dilapidation Eastern cities. A US-Europe comparison used to be the other way around.)

So it’s time to let go.

Of course we need to maintain enough force in the region to be sure that terrorist camps don’t rise again. But our aerial technologies for doing so are increasing in power and accuracy daily. And this is one area in which Pakistan’s and our interests virtually converge. Might we do better in letting Pakistanis carry most of the burden, even if they don’t act as quickly and as decisively as we would like in every case?

As for the giant neighbors, their interests converge with ours almost precisely. They want what we want even more avidly because they are nearer to the possible epicenters of instability, as well as to the terrorist training camps. And their capabilities are greater because they are nearer and because they (unlike us) are not teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. So why not trust the giant neighbors more, work more closely with them, and build better relationships at the same time? The results might surprise us.

If we continue on our present course, future historians may rank us with Mao and Mugabe as having blown a promising start by holding on too long. There’s a time to build, a time to control, and a time to step back and work with others. We’re at that last stage now.

[Erratum (12/30/11): In an earlier version of this post, the following sentence was garbled by omitting the words in brackets: “At its height, the Islamic empire tolerated Christian and Jewish worship widely, although Islam was as much a part of the ruling class in it {as Catholicism was} in the Holy Roman Empire.” I regret the error.]

Yellow Journalism and Electric Cars

God, how I wish the news media would hire some reporters with engineering backgrounds. Even one or two would make the so-called “news” much better.

Today Bloomberg.com, my now-favorite source of business news, reported on a minor setback in GM’s Chevy Volt production with all the sensationalism of Hearst or Fox at their worst. “GM’s Volt Battery Fires Threaten ‘Moon Shot,’” the headline screamed.

What malarkey! The headline is absolute nonsense in two respects. First, it implies that the battery fires are regular or random occurrences. Not so. As the story itself reveals, three fires have occurred in the Volt’s lithium batteries days or hours after they were subjected to crash tests, i.e., simulated crashes. Second, referring to a remark of GM’s Volt “champion,” Bob Lutz, the headline implied that making lithium batteries work is as difficult as sending men to the Moon.

Anyone with the slightest knowledge of engineering can only shake his head. Lithium batteries aren’t rocket science. They aren’t even close. They’re matters of pedestrian engineering. They work right now, today, by the millions, in every cell phone, laptop, tablet, Prius, and other hybrid running down the road. Problems with fires after radical deceleration in crash tests (or possibly actual crashes) mean that the batteries’ interior structure and cell separation need to be more robust. Or the batteries need to be (better?) shock-mounted. Duh!

GM’s problem is purely economic. It has to fix the batteries (and possibly replace existing ones) quickly enough to avoid consumer anxiety. It needs to do so at a reasonable price, which may not be easy. And, above all, it needs to avoid a repeat of the Ford Pinto, whose rare but fatal gas-tank explosions tarnished the car’s and Ford’s public image for decades.

Can GM do this? Almost certainly, if it acts quickly and puts the right people on the job. Will it be as hard as putting men on the Moon, or getting the ill-fated Apollo 13 crew back safely? Not even remotely in the same league. GM could solve the problem right away, at least temporarily, by promising to tow any car involved in a crash and replace the battery pack free of charge.

GM’s reported solution―offering Volt owners replacement gas-driven loaner cars―is retrograde. It implies that electric cars are not a viable technology, and that GM lacks corporate commitment to them. Replacing the battery packs after crashes, however minor, would be a better solution. Likely it would be less expensive. Crashes don’t happen very often, and probably even less often to Volts. People driving a brand new, relatively expensive car with new technology tend to drive carefully.

For me, the big news in Bloomberg.com’s yellow story is that GM is now marketing the Volt in all 50 states.

So I should be able to test-drive one this year. I also plan to test-drive a Leaf if I can find one in my area. If I like one or the other, I’ll probably buy it. I’ve lusted for an electric car for most of my life, and I’m not getting any younger. I’ll worry about battery fires if I have a crash, which I don’t plan to do; then I’ll take the car in for testing. (My wife and I do plan to keep at least one of our two gas-driven Hyundais for longer trips.)

The big thing for me is not battery fires, but the Volt’s range in cold weather and the stories I’ve read that you can’t really force it to run on electricity alone, at least not when the battery is partially discharged or when accelerating on the freeway. If I can get to town and back on the battery alone, I may be satisfied.

I still want to reward stodgy old GM for being the first mover that forced all the “me, toos” (including Ford) to get off their duffs. So I’ll probably buy the Volt if I like the way it runs, even if the Leaf is fully electric, and without waiting for Ford’s all-electric Focus, which will probably debut late next year.

But GM better produce enough Volts to keep its dealers from price-gouging based on scarcity. According to the Bloomberg.com report, it plans to produce 60,000 next year. If it wants to stick to that schedule and retain the lead, it had better solve the battery-cell-matrix problem quickly. Competent engineers surely could.

[Note to readers: the shock-mounting alternative and the paragraph criticizing gas-driven loaner cars as a temporary solution were not in the original version of this post.]

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24 November 2011

Thanksgiving: A Good Day to “Come Out”


Once again, I find myself abroad at Thanksgiving. In the past, that feeling has been bittersweet. There was bitterness at being far from home, mixed with the sweetness of anticipated homecoming. And―though I hate to confess it―there was sweetness also in an inbred sense of America’s global superiority.

This year much has changed. I still look forward to my return home, which will come just days after Thanksgiving. Yet the smugness of returning to an unquestionably better place has vanished utterly.

I have always been skeptical of American “exceptionalism.” Unfortunately, America today is “exceptional” in much the same sense that Mongoloid children are “exceptional.” Pride, arrogance, stubbornness, belligerence and stupidity have stained our national character as never before. It is hard to be an American abroad today without feeling a sense of shame, if only for destroying a global economy that―by our effort and under our leadership―not long ago seemed poised on the edge of a new, global Golden Age.

Nevertheless, Thanksgiving is still my favorite holiday. Unlike most other holidays at home and abroad, it celebrates no victory in war, no conquest or territorial acquisition, and no saint, miracle or religion. It recalls the simple beauty of refugees from religious and political persecution, barely surviving in what was for them a wilderness, being helped by friendly and cooperative native people.

In our very first Thanksgiving dinner, immigrant European refugees and native Americans feasted together, each learning from the other. So-called “Indians” contributed much of the food, as well as much of the know-how to grow or gather it in a harsh new land. That simple cooperation seemed to me a beautiful paradigm for inter-cultural relations. It still does.

The internment, relocation and near-genocide of our “Indians” came later. They mar the promise of that beautiful fall day considerably.

But they do not extinguish it entirely. Though tarnished, the promise of that day still shines brightly. We still are the world’s only nation―and by far the most significant major power―to be led by a member of an oppressed and once enslaved minority. We are still the nation to which many around the world seek entrance for the opportunity to live, work and prosper free from persecution based on skin color, native language, ethnicity, religion, politics, or family connections. Our “Indians” still survive, and many prosper, in a state of relative political and cultural autonomy that many oppressed minorities abroad might envy. And we all speak a common English language, with innumerable accents, including many native ones.

So in spite of our many failings, we still lift our lamp beside the golden door. In that alone, we are a luminous example.

Thus Thanksgiving still has meaning. No doubt it will as long as America (or the idea of an America) persists. Hence it’s still a good day to “come out” from behind my anonymity.

My reasons for doing so I’ve already outlined. Now that I’m fully retired from teaching (although I still profess from time to time), I have much less need to preserve my professional neutrality . In our personality-obsessed culture, anonymity seems to detract from acceptance of (and traffic to!) this blog more than I ever dreamed it would. And there is much in my background that, absent the fetters of anonymity, might enhance my credibility.

For those who hoped for some earth-shaking revelation, I apologize in advance. I am far from a household name. I’m one of those anonymous experts from the “next levels down” that I’ve described in an earlier post. I have spent a quarter century in school, have been a Woodrow Wilson National Fellow, an NSF-NATO Postdoctoral Fellow, an articles editor on the Harvard Law Review, and a Fulbright Fellow in Moscow. I've lived abroad in England and in Russia. I have visited every one of the seven continents, including Antarctica, although travel in Africa has been sparse and China remains on my list.

In my 66 years I’ve been a scientist, engineer, lawyer, and law professor. These four disparate careers give me an unusual perspective that I hope informs this blog. My last two careers―law practice and teaching―give me special insight into a society (ours) with far too many lawyers having far too much power.

And all my careers have given me an abiding respect for facts, evidence and logical deductions from both, plus a healthy skepticism of simple theory. The more you know, it seems to me, the more you come to believe that the simple abstractions our grapefruit-sized brains are capable of forming and retaining are usually misleading and often flat wrong.

Wisdom and pragmatism often abide in forsaking theory (including ideology) for facts and reality in all their complexity and detail. Fox’s cardinal sin, it seems to me, is deriving facts from opinions, rather than vice versa. That approach is very close to the clinical definition of insanity.

It may seem inconsistent with my veneration for facts, but I’m now working on my first novel. History tells us that stories (myths and fiction) can be far more influential in motivating change than fact. God knows we Americans believe many fictional things, including our own omnipotence. And God knows truth can be stranger than fiction. Who would have guessed, for example, that a blond, right-wing Norwegian, not an Arab or Muslim, would perpetrate Europe’s single greatest terrorist atrocity since the rape of Sarajevo by Christian Serbs?

My idol in this regard is Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose famous novel Lincoln credited with starting the Civil War. I am hardly presumptuous enough to compare myself with her. She probably ranks with Newton, Adam Smith, Darwin and Einstein in changing human thought and behavior. And she did it with fact-based fiction, avoiding equations and the curse of all those damned footnotes. If I can emulate her even in some minuscule way, that would sate my desire to feel a small measure of usefulness in my old age.

My name? I might as well extend the suspense a bit. Few who don’t know me already will recognize it. You can find it on my profile, and you can find a fairly complete résumé here, and a better photo and links to some of my books here. But don’t look for novels; my books to date have been dry and tedious law tomes.

In posts to come, I now can cite my background for greater credibility. I intend to emphasize my experience with and in Russia, whose language I have studied off and on for all my adult life, and whose transition away from internal terror and Communism I witnessed personally in a fellowship in Moscow in 1993, teaching in the same Institute that once educated Vladimir Putin.

But for the moment, let’s return to the bitter and the sweet. It’s sweet, I think, to “come out” now and to be free to be myself. Yet it’s bitter to do so at a time when so much is wrong in the world, and when we Americans are responsible for so much of it. As an educator, I find it particularly galling that so much of what is wrong today stems from fuzzy thinking or deliberate, self-serving nonsense that we Yanks propagate. So I intend to do what I can, in the time left to me, to set things right.

One thing I ask of readers. With my name, clever users can discover my personal e-mail address. I implore all not to use it, but to confine responses to this blog to comments on it. I pledge to be fair (albeit slow) as a moderator and post all comments that are (1) civil and (2) substantive and (3) avoid spam and abuse. Right now, further moderation of comments will have to await my return home.

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20 November 2011

Can Markets Be Wrong?


Human history is a tale of the elite controlling the masses by manipulating popular belief.

In the bad old days, back before science and near-universal literacy, the priests did it. They “read” the entrails of recently slaughtered animals or the “signs” of weather. They found “meaning” in unusual movements of birds and animals. The natural world “spoke” to them in a language only they could hear.

Random natural phenomena of course didn’t “speak” intelligibly. They were ambiguous at best. They required interpretation by “experts.” And why shouldn’t the “experts” construe them as best fit their own interests, even if dimly perceived?

Ever since the days of polytheism, a priest class has been with us. Once every rock, tree or peal of thunder could become its own special god. When uncertain leaders sought guidance, priests “read” the unknown for them, and so increased their own numbers, prestige and authority.

At first they did so unconsciously. Later, after the fall of Rome, they acted quite consciously. For the better part of a millennium, the Church ruled the West as a secular power. Innovation ceased by religious command. Intellectual activity devolved into passing on the Word of Authority, in the form of beautifully illuminated manuscripts.

The people who did the utterly boring (but safe!) work of passing on the Word of the Powers that Were won refuge (in monasteries) from the ceaseless wars, famines and feudal class exploitation that had overtaken the West. It was a hard time.

We call that the Dark Ages. It ended with the rise of science, the Renaissance of human thought and the rebirth of individual initiative, along with democracy in modern form. For all the violence and tumult it caused, the Protestant movement was a key factor in that rebirth, based on each individual’s personal relationship with God and therefore individual thought and conscience.

Human history repeats itself, but never precisely the same way twice. Our modern priests wear no robes or jewels and carry no scepters. They wear business suits. The old ones we have relegated to supporting roles, teaching basic human virtues like kindness, charity, and humility.

There’s an easy way to tell who has the real power in any human society. Just look for the tallest buildings. In the Dark Ages, they were the cathedrals. Societies mired in poverty and misery spent all their meager resources building for the priests, often for decades and sometimes for centuries. In Morocco and other Islamic societies, even today, the tallest buildings (often by law) are the minarets of the mosques.

But in the West our modern cathedrals are different. They bear the names and logos of banks and insurance companies. Or, like the Empire State Building and the now-demolished Twin Towers, they served the needs of Capital without fear or favor, renting their vertical space to banks, investment banks, brokerages and real-estate offices―and their handmaidens in law and accounting.

Our high priests today are mostly anonymous. Except for minor narcissists like Donald Trump and Jamie Dimon, they work behind the scenes. But collectively they have far more power than any priest class in human history, with the possible exception of the Dark Ages.

These priests rule by a sort of public oracle that has become a central institution of every advanced human society. It’s called “The Markets.”

The last few weeks have shown just have much power The Markets have. Without a shot fired, and with nary a public objection (except from the hoi palloi), they have brought down democratically elected governments in Greece and Italy. And they have done so by supporting programs of public austerity that the public universally opposes.

Think about that. Here are the remnants of ancient Greece and Rome, the seats of ancient democracy and the progenitors of modern political thought and architecture. And The Markets blew their modern remnants away like a child blowing a bubble.

What does it all mean? Well, it certainly doesn’t mean that The Markets know the way to Truth, Light and Happiness for all humanity. Alan Greenspan taught us that.

Not four years ago, Greenspan was the highest priest of The Markets, charged with supervising The Markets of the world’s largest economy. Just like the ancient world’s high priests, he commanded a combination of science and art. He ruled, mostly successfully, for decades. He understood sophisticated quantitative economic science, with all its horrendously complex computer models. And when that didn’t suffice, he ruled by the seat of his pants, using his extraordinary insight and intuition.

But as a high priest of The Markets, Greenspan had a fatal flaw. Unlike most priests―but like most scientists―he was (and is) an honest man. When the tower of cards that derivatives had created finally fell, destroying human history’s largest economy and most of the world’s with it, he recanted. The Markets, he said, don’t regulate themselves, and he was wrong in so believing.

Greenspan’s recanting was a giant milestone in human intellectual development. It didn’t take the brilliance (or the hard work) of Newton’s calculus or theory of gravitation, Darwin’s theory of evolution, or Einstein’s theories of relativity. But it took similar intellectual and moral courage. It was as if the Renaissance Pope had put his arm around Galileo and said, “You know, Gally, you’re right and I’m wrong. The Earth really does revolve around the Sun.”

But in our chattering, gossiping culture, morons like Palin, Bachmann and Perry occupy weeks of public attention. (That, too, is part of the ruling class’ plan.) So the seminal moment of Greenspan’s recanting passed without much notice. He left the stage, disgraced as a mere tool of the financial ruling class.

We should have lionized him as an intellectual hero. For he was the high priest who confessed, in effect, “Look folks, there’s no God in The Markets; there are just bankers’ self-interested hands.”

Educated people today are far too smart to believe in a personal, anthropomorphic God―one who answers their prayers and tilts this huge and impossibly complex Universe in their favor. Their “God” is much more abstract―a silent and largely unseen force of Reason, Order, and Truth. They can’t square their education and sophistication with the idea of an old, bearded gentleman sitting on a cloud, who gets mad at them when they don’t bend their knees or observe the proper rituals.

But at the same time, they’ll believe in the theology of Adam Smith. They think he taught that Markets are the individual Hand of God, operating invisibly and automatically for the betterment of humankind, without friction, without transaction costs, and without perceptible conscious intervention.

Voltaire would laugh out loud at this naïve faith in an invisible force making this the best of all possible worlds.

Of course this belief is nonsense. Markets are human institutions. They have leaders (or rulers, if you like accuracy). Hedge-fund managers and their banker buddies, along with their trading computers, can move hundreds of millions or trillions in minutes. They don’t have to agree or conspire because they all think alike. So when secular leaders have the temerity to question their rule or their bailouts, or their sacred status as “too big to fail,” they make The Markets dive and governments fall. Just ask Papandreou or Berlusconi.

This was not the inevitable reaction of some ineluctable celestial force. It was a conscious and deliberate international power play. Who were and are the beneficiaries? Do you really have to ask?

Are these hands behind the masks supernatural? Hardly. Are they smarter and better than the rest of us? Recent economic history suggests not.

But these new high priests of an unseen economic religion are just as powerful as ever were the Pope and Cardinals in the Dark Ages or the oracular “seers” of ancient Greece and Rome. And as we increasingly fall under their spell, forsaking science, reason and democracy, we begin to resemble history’s most dysfunctional societies. We follow them and enrich them because we believe the myths they have spawned.

Can markets be wrong? Of course they can. In an historic burst of unaccustomed honesty, the Great High Priest Greenspan told us so. But we didn’t listen.

The Markets are just our new religion, and bankers its unseen priests. They are neither honest scientists not disinterested public servants (if in fact any such exist). Like all the high priests in human history, they will run their special religion for their own enrichment and aggrandizement until the rest us―the vast majority of our sorry species―wise up.

Maybe the Chinese can help. They appear to be the only people on Earth whose leaders can still think clearly, without the taint of manipulated economic religion. But good luck in getting our Western sheep to follow China’s pragmatic and sensible lead.

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10 November 2011

Two Things You Can Do Right Now to Help Save America


[NOTES TO COMMENTERS AND READERS: I am traveling and unable to devote as much time as usual to this blog. As a result, responses to comments will come out of order, and some will be delayed. I am responding to comments in the order in which I think they make points of general interest, not in the order received. Eventually I intend to respond to all, but that may take a couple of weeks.

As for finance and the stock market, I have little further to say. (See 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8). Nothing significant about the global economy will improve until Greece defaults, the banks take a huge haircut (as Europe’s leaders have proposed), and the world’s politicians begin to unwind the monstrous global casino that international finance has become.

That process will take some time―perhaps a year or two. It will be slow, halting and painful. The slower it goes, the slower and more painful will be our global recovery.

A cure delayed is always painful. In the meantime, I recommend that readers do what I have done: assume an extremely defensive position in their personal finances, hunker down, and wait. Day traders can take their chances, but the extreme volatility we are now suffering will not relent until political and business leaders have achieved at least a weak consensus on a new direction. We are far from that day.

As for us Yanks, there is not much we can do at all. Under the “leadership” of people like Hank Paulson Tim Geithner, who have sacrificed our real economy to the most outrageously selfish, bloated and short-sighted financial sector in human history, we so far have “led” in precisely the wrong direction. The rest of the world, especially Europe, will have to throw off our dominance and seek an independent path if Western capitalism (as distinguished from Chinese capitalism) is to save itself.

So, while Europe is struggling to come to its senses and its independent voice, I will be writing mostly about how we Yanks can get our own house back in order.

That’s going to take years, if not decades. At the end we will be much diminished in wealth, power, influence and international stature. But if we are successful, we can regain our self-respect and once again earn the respect of others as a nation of good will and common sense. The short essay below is one small step in that direction, but it is directed largely to us Yanks.
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Are you worried about our nation’s future? Do your kids have less chance to make it than you did? Do you expect their standard of living to be worse than yours? Are they living at home with you while looking for low-paying jobs for which they are overqualified?

If so, you’re not alone.

And if so, there are two things you can do right now to help. They don’t involve politics, voting or supporting the Occupy Wall Street movement―although all those things can help, too. (See 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6). These are things you can do easily, right now, in minutes. They will improve your life and save you money, too.

First, turn off Fox. I mean really turn it off. Take the pledge. Promise never to watch it again, anywhere, anytime, even in bars or at friends’ homes. If you have to leave, tell everyone why.

It’ll be a bit like losing weight. If you really want to lose weight, all you have to do is swear off desserts and do a bit of exercise. But I mean really swear off them. Go cold turkey. In two weeks you won’t miss them any more. Your love handles will start to shrink. And soon you’ll feel lighter, stronger, brighter, healthier and more alive.

Swearing off Fox is just like that.

I know, I know. That know-it-all self-righteousness can give you a high, a feeling of mastery over a complex and contrary world. It’s like the sugar high you get from eating rich desserts.

But in two weeks, you won’t miss it. You’ll begin to recall the difference between opinion and fact. Your brain will refill with the once-familiar idea that opinions come from facts, and not vice versa. You’ll have more time for your family and for fun. And soon you’ll feel lighter, stronger, brighter, healthier and more alive. Trust me.

The second thing you can do right now to save America is to cancel your cable TV subscription.

Doing that will actually save you money. And you won’t lose a thing. All the things you like on cable TV are now available over the Internet through services like iTunes, Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, IMDB and others. Best of all, you can have them for free with commercials, just as on cable TV. Or you can pay for them separately, as on iTunes or Amazon Video, and junk commercials forever, without paying for a DVR or taking the trouble to fast-forward every show.

Canceling your cable TV subscription won’t force your cable company out of business or leave you without an ISP. Why? Because your cable company is probably your ISP, too.

As more and more customers junk cable TV, it will have more resources to improve your Internet bandwith and your online experience. It may jack up your Internet pricing a bit. But it’s got a long way to go to recapture what you pay for cable TV, which is usually the same or more than you pay for Internet access.

Best of all, canceling cable TV will break you out of “audience jail.” You may not know it, but you’re in that jail right now. When you pay $50 or more every month―$600 or more per year―for cable TV, you’re paying for dozens or hundreds of channels that you never watch, likely including Fox. And if you’ve been reading the business pages lately, you know that Fox has had some high-profile brinksmanship negotiations with cable companies like Comcast. It tries (and often succeeds) to squeeze them for more money for the same old junk. Of course customers like you ultimately have to pay the increase, whether you watch Fox or not.

In that respect, Fox is like the Taliban and Islamic terrorists. It’s on the run. It’s losing customers by the bushels. More and more Americans are coming to see its leader, Rupert Murdoch, as the Australian destroyer of America―a liar, thief and scoundrel whose ruthless media prey on anyone, including kids, and promulgate any lie to keep his friends in power and make a buck.

So what does Rupert do to keep the departing customers? Does he improve his service, lower his prices, or actually become more “fair and balanced”? Hell, no. He acts like a monopolist or the titled royalty he no doubt thinks himself to be. He raises prices to cable TV systems, which made him what he is today and can just as easily break him. He’s like the Taliban blowing up yet more people when it’s under pressure and so making yet more enemies.

You can accelerate his (and Fox’s) downfall just by canceling your cable TV subscription, while keeping your Internet service. That will save you money right away. Then send an e-mail to your cable TV company saying that your canceled because you don’t want to pay for Fox.

If a marketer calls to ask why, say the same thing. But be careful. Truth can be habit forming.

And don’t worry about consequences. In two weeks, you won’t miss that snarling self-righteousness. The tone of the bully will fade from your ears and sweet reason will resume its flow through your veins. You’ll feel lighter, stronger, brighter, healthier and more alive. You might even start to believe that America has a future again.

If you like this message, send it or a link to all your friends. Post it on Facebook or Twitter. With my blessing.

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03 November 2011

Islamophobia: Three Lies


Introduction
Lie 1: Islam is an inherently violent religion
Lie 2: Muslims want to establish a global Caliphate
and subject everyone to Sharia law

Lie 3: Muslims intend to establish their global Caliphate by killing or converting nonbelievers
Conclusion

Introduction

It is long past time for wise and good people everywhere to take up the struggle against Islamophobia. Islamophobia is a self-fulfilling proposition. The more people who ought to know better fear and hate Muslims, in nations whose leaders ought to demand better, the more Muslims will fear and hate them back.

Islamophobia is nothing more than primitive tribalism dressed up in fancy clothes. It’s a second cousin to racism, anti-Semitism, Hispanophobia, and all the other tribalisms that propagandists invent to subvert weak minds and keep them from seeing the theft of their liberty, livelihood and future that is going on right under their noses.

Islamophobia springs from three persistent lies. Islam, it says, is an inherently violent religion. Its adherents want to dominate the world, creating a global Islamic Caliphate and subjecting innocent Christians, Jews, Buddhists and others to medieval Sharia law. And they want to reach those goals by putting innocent nonbelievers to the sword, or by killing and terrorizing them as bin Laden and Zarkawi did.

There are indeed a few wild-eyed extremists whom these propositions describe. They include Al Qaeda and some, but not all, of the Taliban. But they are now and always have been a tiny minority of the 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide. As applied to the overwhelming majority of Muslims, none of these three propositions stands up to the slightest serious scrutiny.

Lie 1: Islam is an inherently violent religion

Islam is no more inherently violent than any other monotheistic religion. To be sure, the Qur’an has some phrases that suggest violence as a means to political and religious ends. But in that respect how does it differ from the Old Testament?

From Cain and Abel, through Joseph’s brothers, to the innumerable incidents of “smiting,” that good Book has more than its share of violence, assassination and treachery. Its dark images of human nature are mere literary reflections of sordid but universal human impulses. In the primitive time in which the Old Testament was written, those impulses led to tragic action far more often than they do today.

The New Testament can claim a bit of difference. Jesus’ central message was one of peace. But that message was a political necessity for him in his time. He was a member of a tiny minority: a Jew in one of the farthest corners of the mighty Roman Empire. And he was starting a brand new movement that (much later) took his name as “Christianity.”

Jesus’ movement began impossibly tiny, with nothing more than twelve disciples. So he had to―and he did―keep a low profile, professing to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.” Yet the Romans treated his message and his movement as dangerously political anyway and crucified him just the same. His martyrdom spawned what was unquestionably the world’s most powerful new mass movement of any kind, until Mohamed came along.

But look what happened later to the religion that Jesus started. A schism between Catholics and Protestants incited some of the most violent and prolonged wars in human history. Like all wars, those wars had economic causes as well. But religious tribalism was a principal motivating factor for the fighting and the dying, especially among the common foot soldiers that did them.

For their times and their levels of weapons technology, those wars were some of the bloodiest in human history. They persisted in various places and in various forms for several hundred years. They persist today in the uneasy peace in Northern Ireland.

Of course those wars were part nationalistic and part political, as well as religious. But can’t we say the same today about the tensions between Sunni and Shiites? The Sunni-Shiite split was political from its very beginning, so any astute student of history can see the resemblance. Since the days of the Greek oracles, political and military leaders have always exploited and manipulated (and only rarely sincerely adopted) religion for secular political and military ends.

To an historical realist, there is very little difference between the real-world effects of the Catholic-Protestant schism in the history of Europe and the Sunni-Shiite schism in the history of the Islamic world, up to today. The only difference is the passage of time, today’s access to more fearsome weapons, and the different stages of development of Islam and of Christianity, which had a six-hundred-year head start.

And what can we say about the Crusades? To be sure, they were in part a reaction to the conquest of large parts of Southern Europe by the Islamic Empire. That was the political part. But in their pathological focus on religious images and artifacts, such as the Holy Grail, they masked a fundamental economic problem in the organization of “Western” society.

During the Crusades, the Western world was mired in feudalism. Under that hapless regime, the vast masses of “common” people, including rising classes of merchants and artisans (but very few truly educated people), labored in squalor and poverty to support largely idle landowners. To maintain their power and occupy their largely idle time, the ruling class engaged in the “sport” of war, continually training in swordsmanship, jousting, and other preparations for affaires militaires.

In other words, Western feudal society devoted a pathological share of its meager resources to arms and armies. Boys will be boys, and testosterone is the Earth’s most dangerous single substance. So all those troops, weapons and training had to be used somewhere. Better for them to be used outside of Europe, where they would do the European ruling class little harm and (for those who survived) produce tougher and better soldiers.

So the Crusades were born. They dumped all that excess military expenditure and all that dangerous testosterone onto the Islamic world. In the process they perpetrated some of the most horrendous wartime atrocities in human history, in which whole cities were butchered. This expedient nicely disposed of the Europe’s dangerous military surplus, with little direct or immediate consequence for Europe or its ruling class (except those unlucky enough not to return from the Crusades).

Under this intermittent but fierce onslaught, the great Islamic Empire slowly retreated. Once Jerusalem got “liberated” and the Empire no longer seemed a serious threat, Europe began to turn its well-trained military inward. At the same time, the Catholic-Protestant schism and rising nationalism added fuel to the fire.

The result was several hundred years of the worlds most vicious and senseless wars, fought mostly for reasons of religious and national tribalism that now seem absurd. That era culminated in the greatest war in history, which, had nuclear weapons arrived a little earlier, might have extinguished human civilization or our entire species.

Now Europe, exhausted by those wars, is at peace and trying fitfully to construct a real, diverse, and multifaceted peaceful civilization. But to say that the Islamic world is more violent, when its own wars for the past several centuries have been but pale reflections of the incomparably bloodier wars in Europe is to be ignorant of history.

No one but Europeans ever produced the industrial-scale slaughter of World War I (with machine guns and poison gas), the fire-bombings of London, Dresden and Tokyo (with civilian casualties in the hundreds of thousands in the latter cities), the nuclear incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (ditto), and the death machinery of the Holocaust (with six million casualties). Those horrible episodes of human history were “innovations” of Europeans and their cultural descendants, us Yanks. Muslims had nothing to do with them.

So whose religion is more violent?


Lie 2: Muslims want to establish a Global Caliphate and subject everyone to Sharia Law

There are indeed Muslims who profess to want these things. But how numerous are they, and how representative of their faith?

You have only to look around the world for an answer. Indonesia―the most populous Islamic country on Earth―is a peaceful tropical country struggling to become a modern democracy. Ditto Malaysia. Both nations are preoccupied with economic development and their own ethnic minorities, which in Malaysia comprise 35% ethnic Chinese and 15% ethnic Indians (mostly Tamils). The half of the nation that consists of non-Muslims enjoys both economic and political freedom, while complaining noisily about affirmative action for Muslim Malays. No serious politician in either nation has even proposed implementing Sharia law nationwide, let alone has any prospect of implementing it.

Next take Turkey. It is probably the world’s most advanced Muslim nation. Why? Because Mustafa Kemal Attatürk, the founder of modern Turkey and its great leader in the last century, threw off the dead weight of backward-looking Islam in politics (without constraining the religion as such), remade its economy, military and governance under modern, secular principles, and brought Turkey into the twentieth century.

Turks are still free to practice their religion, but the nation’s thriving democracy, increasingly vibrant economy and powerful, secular army are all based on modern, universal, non-Islamic principles. Turkey has about as much chance of becoming a theocracy as Catholic France. (And as for reasonable military restraint, how else would you describe Turkey’s response to Israel’s capture of its ship on the high seas, killing several Turkish nationals?)

Most of the rest of the list is about the same. Egypt is a nascent democracy now controlled by its army, a relatively tolerant, professional and secular force in absolutely no danger of instituting Sharia law. Jordan is a Western-oriented, relatively moderate kingdom in the process of democratizing. The Gulf Emirates are much the same. Those that have oil are using its proceeds to build modern, secular societies with varying degrees of democratization. Those that don’t are trying to integrate themselves as quickly as possible into the global economy, in order to draw some trade and wealth from their oil-rich neighbors. And the sheikhs who run them have absolutely no desire to institute Sharia law, at least for themselves and their families, since they are all busy with smoking, drinking, fornicating and stealing their countries’ wealth as best they can, every time they go abroad, which they do often.

So who, if anyone, in the Islamic world is advocating Sharia law and a new global Caliphate? We know the terrorists are. But they are a tiny, tiny minority daily getting tinier under the not-so-tender ministrations of our ninjas and drones. Is there anyone else?

Yes there is. But they are all hypocrites. They keep the vision of Sharia and a new Caliphate alive to placate, suppress and oppress their own populations while they rape and rob them and keep them in ignorance and poverty. They have absolutely no desire or intention to institute Sharia law inside their own domains because, were it administered impartially, they would be its first victims. And they have even less desire (let alone plans) for global conquest.

This is the state of the mullahs in Iran, the Saudi Princes, and the ISI and some military leaders in Pakistan. All are exploiting Islamic extremists for purely secular purposes: to maintain their own political power, to suppress secular and religious democratic opposition, and to keep their presumed foreign foes off balance. For these purposes they finance and support Islamic extremists outside their borders while killing and imprisoning them inside.

How do these nations’ ruling classes use extremism? Each in its own way. The mullahs in Iran use it to keep their educated and internationalist big-city people in check. If you look into them, you will find that nearly all the stonings of adulterers and cutting off of thieves’ hands occur in the countryside, where simple country folk, often devout and fundamentalist Muslims, accept them. In the cities, where many reject this medieval primitivism, these medieval punishments are used (along with lighter punishments like caning and beating) to keep political opposition in check. The Basiji who inflict these punishments on ordinary citizens are close cousins of the Nazi Gestapo and the Soviet secret police, operating under the cover of primitive religion. Their goal is political control, not piety.

The Saudi Princes have made a very simple Faustian bargain. They permit no extremism inside their borders. But they placate (or try to) extremist mullahs and their followers by using their own oil wealth to support radical Wahhabi madrassas abroad, all around the world. Many of these schools of hate and ignorance are in Pakistan, where they indoctrinate youth in extremist ideologies and fuel the terrorism that Pakistan’s ruling class directs against India and other regional rivals.

In short, the Saudi Princes’ only significant export (besides oil) is Islamic extremism, which often produces Islamic terrorism. It was no accident that most 9/11 hijackers were Saudi nationals.

The Saudi Princes’ gilded tyranny is probably the most tenacious and effective totalitarian regime in human history. It preserves itself by rigidly suppressing any kind of dissent at home and sometimes buying it off, as recently in the Arab Spring. At the same time it spreads extremism and terrorism like plagues, to all external parts of the globe not sufficiently healthy to be immune to them. And we, in turn, foolishly support this evil regime with our oil money, our sales of aircraft and other military supplies, and our obsequious and fawning support from our last five or more presidencies, epitomized by those wonderful photos of Dubya walking literally hand-in-hand with the late King Abdullah. We are absolutely in league with the Devil here.

There may be a few closet Islamists in Pakistan’s military or intelligence services, but their goals are purely secular. They want to harm India as revenge for the human cost of their partition. And they want to conquer Kashmir and annex it, regardless of the wishes of its rather diverse populace.

These are purely secular military and political goals. Yet because India is much larger and also has nuclear weapons, the Pakistanis cannot reach them by conventional military means. So they exploit terrorists and Islamic extremists as means to fight their traditional rival (India), to keep alive their dark dream of annexing Kashmir, and to maintain some regional influence.

Pakistan itself has a British cultural overlay, a vibrant subculture of lawyers (who marched in the streets to push out the strongman Musharraf and restore the Supreme Court), and a strong and not unprofessional military. None of these cultural factions supports Islamic extremism as a ruling philosophy or would like to institute Sharia law. But Pakistan’s military and intelligence leaders fan the flames of extremism as a means of keeping perceived foreign enemies at bay. At the same time they continue to kill extremists at home, sporadically and spasmodically, as outside the Red Mosque. In this respect, as in some others, Pakistan is a schizophrenic society, with significant elements adhering to the most cynical and primitive Macchiavellianism.

No matter how far to the left or right it may be, no rational government can tolerate random terrorism for long and survive. Nor can any rational government tolerate a brand of Islam that seeks to replace it with rule by mullahs and Sharia law. Eventually, extremists will turn on their supposed masters, and vice versa. But some governments can, for a time, delude themselves that they can exploit terrorists and extremists for domestic and international political purposes without significant long-term consequences to themselves.

That is the fantasy world in which the ruling classes of Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia now live. And that is what creates uncertainty for them and their neighbors.

The future is always unclear, and the outcome of these risky strategies is uncertain. But one thing is absolutely certain: in the long run, these strategies will not end well for the people behind them. As for the rest of the Islamic world, it is in as much danger of instituting Sharia law and building a new global Caliphate as Ireland.

Lie 3: Muslims intend to establish their Global Caliphate by killing or converting nonbelievers

This lie persists despite the utter lack of any credible evidence for it in the modern world. All the “evidence” for it comes from the ancient world, i.e., the Islamic Empire that preceded the Crusades. That was six centuries ago.

People in the Dark Ages did a lot of killing, whether they were Christians or Muslims. If the truth be told, Christians probably did more killing on a per capita basis. You would think that rational people, let alone rational leaders of a democracy, would demand some current evidence of the extraordinary proposition that Muslims today kill or convert nonbelievers. But there is none.

Are there people who call themselves Muslims who support such things? Of course. But we have similar crazies inside our own society. We have people who want to nuke Iran. We have people who would like to to nuke China. We have people who want to put up tariff barriers on all Chinese goods, thereby immediately increasing the prices the vast majority of manufactures that we use here at home and sparking rampant inflation. There are even people who still want to nuke the Russians, although they have totally forsaken Communism of their own free will and haven’t been our enemies for two decades.

But do we pay any attention to these wing nuts? Do we expect our allies or even international rivals to do so? Of course not. You can do quite a good job driving yourself crazy if you take the most extreme elements in a foreign nation, project their loopy views onto the whole society, and imagine that that nation is out to get you. That is precisely what Islamophobes do.

If you look at results, i.e. actual killings, there is no evidence suggesting any organized movement, let alone a significant one, to kill or convert non-Muslims. Some Christian Copts got killed by mobs in Egypt recently. But the army and civilian leaders hardly condoned this atrocity, let alone deliberately incited it. It was an unfortunate pogrom of the type that often happens in unstable socieities, just like the murders of Alewites (minority Muslims like dictator Bashar al-Asaad) in Syria.

The last real genocide of Christians by Muslims was perpetrated by Turks against Armenians about a century ago. In the meantime we had a much larger genocide of Jews by Christian Nazis in the Holocaust, and a deliberate massacre of Muslims by Christian Serbs in Kosovo. Is there a discernible trend in these revolting episodes of human bestiality? I think not. They are random acts of evil flowing from pathological conditions at particular times and places.

The trouble with Islam is that it’s too “democratic.” Anyone can call himself an imam or mullah and set up shop as one. You don’t have to have any formal religious training whatsoever, let alone have “graduated” from a respectable Islamic center of theology.

So people like Muqtada Al-Sadr in Iraq and the recently dispatched Anwar Al-Awlaki in Yemen can call themselves mullahs and attract a “religious” following without even the acknowledgment, let alone approval, of any widely recognized religious authority. Al-Sadr relied on association with his assassinated father and uncle, who had been recognized religious leaders, and Al-Awlaki exploited his association with American mullahs and terrorists, plus his Internet notoriety. Neither had or (in Al-Sadr’s case) has any legitimate claim to religious authority.

While this state of affairs offers the potential for religious revival and renewal, it also has a big downside. It allows cranks and charlatans like bin Laden to hijack one of the world’s oldest and most venerable religions. It also allows demagogues here at home to tar a global religion as “violent” or “evil” with a semblance of credibility. Not being a Muslim myself, I hesitate to prescribe a remedy, but this is clearly a problem that begs for solution.

Several non-Muslims have been executed as such by stateless terrorists without formal political or religious authority. The most notable was Daniel Pearl, the late WSJ reporter, whom Khaled Sheikh Mohammed decapitated in Pakistan. This killer is now in our custody, and Pearl’s bereaved wife has made a personal crusade of fostering religious tolerance in her deceased husband’s name.

Yet so far as I know, not a single Christian or Jew has been executed, anywhere in the world, solely for being an unbeliever in Islam, with the official sanction or edict of any well-recognized religious or secular Islamic leader. Not one, during my entire 66 years of life.

So where does this rampant Islamophobia come from? Ask Fox.

Conclusion

When so many people believe such patent lies, you have to ask the age-old question: cui bono? Who benefits? Who gains by deluding Americans and making them fear and hate one of the world’s oldest religions, practiced by nearly one-quarter of the human race?

The first obvious beneficiary is Christian fundamentalists. It’s hard to attract people educated in a modern, scientific, secular society by denying the foundation of all modern biology (evolution), ignoring global warming as polar ice melts and the weather gets wilder worldwide, and generally acting like a “seer” of still-warm entrails from the Dark Ages. But set up fictional enemies who you claim do the very same thing and oppose yourself to them, and you’ve got a better chance at gaining a following.

Tribalism is always the last refuge of scoundrels and demagogues. It’s been a staple of vicious propaganda from the destruction of Carthage, through the Nazi Holocaust, to Nixon’s Southern Strategy and the rape of Sarajevo. It’s a little embarrassing that it’s happening so successfully in our “exceptional” nation that styles itself the foundation of Reason and modern democracy. But I guess it just shows we Yanks are human, after all.

The next class of beneficiaries is less obvious. We have a problem not dissimilar to the problem of feudal society described above. Spooked by World War II and the Cold War, we Yanks have massively over-invested in arms and armies. We spend more on “defense” than the rest of the world combined, at a time when we are nearing bankruptcy.

When you spend so much on arms, you’ve got to use them one way or another. If you don’t, they get rusty or make trouble at home.

So it’s no surprise that the country (ours) that spends the most on arms and armies started the last two big wars and kept them going for the better part of a decade. And it’s no surprise that, for a society rightly famed for social engineering and brilliant planning, our action in those wars had no discernible rational plan (1 and 2) until recently. We didn’t even have a clear idea of who our enemies were.

Is the “plan” just to keep our military “ready,” “lean and mean,” well supported, and out of domestic trouble?

I mean no disrespect to our courageous troops or their well-qualified leaders. But the simple fact is we Yanks devote an extraordinarily large (and poorly justified) fraction of our industrial output, wealth, popular culture, and politics to military affairs. When you have that large a sink of national resources devoted to arms, you need an enemy.

The Chinese are no longer our enemy. Apart from occupying Tibet and a few disputed incidents in the Spratly Islands, they have not taken any hostile external act since the end of the Vietnam War 36 years ago. And in diplomacy they go out of their way to keep a low profile, never making threats or referring (even obliquely) to the possibility of war.

We did have a real enemy in the form of Al Qaeda. It did us great damage on 9/11 and in the years leading up to that attack. But we have it on the run now. And we are on the path to defeating it economically, using ninjas and drones and supporting legitimate popular liberation movements like the Libyan rebels. All these things cost us a small fraction of what we have spent in Iraq and Afghanistan and have achieved incomparably better results in far less time.

So if you have no powerful enemy, and if you are routing the small bands of stateless terrorists that had the temerity to declare “war” on the greatest military power in human history, what do you do? You have to invent an enemy sufficiently fearsome to justify continuing your massive over-investment in arms and armies.

And what better enemy to invent than one so diffuse as militant Islam? It’s everywhere and nowhere. It’s part of a religion in which nearly one-quarter of the human race believes. It’s here at home, embodied in millions of peaceful Muslims thankful for (at last) reaching a place where they can practice their religion without fear of death or imprisonment. But how many of them are terrorists, deep in their hearts?

Islamophobia is tailor-made for those who make their living from a bloated military-industrial complex. It’s hard to refute, because terrorists do exist. It’s hard to belittle, because any domestic terrorist attack will make you seem, in retrospect, a fool or a dupe. So it’s a perfect vehicle to keep fear alive and keep the military profits and career opportunities rolling in.

In that respect, Islamophobia is much like the Red Scares of the early Cold War. Just as Joe McCarthy once accused our own State Department (without evidence but without contradiction) of harboring dozens of (never-named) Communists, fear-mongers today say that terrorists live among us in the bodies of the peaceful the Muslims down the street. And no one has the information to contradict them, or the courage to say something that eventually might turn out to be wrong.

Yet still we have to recall how the Cold War turned out. An effective and peaceful policy of deterrence avoided war for over half a century, giving the Russian people a chance to discover the nonsense of Communism and reject it of their own accord.

Much the same thing is now happening with militant Islam in the Arab Spring, which promises a decisive rejection of terrorism and an embrace of globalism throughout the Islamic world. We would be foolish indeed if we failed to catch that wave, and instead grasped the demagogues’ fear. We might bankrupt ourselves, financially and morally, just when our President has finally found an effective and quite economical strategy for fighting terrorism.

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