The Columbia Critic

A place to debate anything we want to. We'll talk Columbia campus issues. We'll talk up the homosexual problem. We'll talk China. And we'll talk without resorting to partisan rhetoric. We may be left. We may be right. But we aren't going to be quoting any party line. We're leading the discussion. But feel free to chime in. Hannity and Colmes this is not.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

He's joking, right?

According to AP:

"President Bush, in a push to take charge of the election-year agenda, is expected to say Tuesday that "America is addicted to oil" and must break its dependence on foreign suppliers in unstable parts of the world."

Umm, yeah? You think? This is like Dracula saying vampires need to break their dependence on blood. In other words, complete bullshit.

President Bush, phone for you. Yes, it's Exxon. They wanted you to know they got the joke.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Return

Welcome back, me!

And perhaps this is what happens when you get an email from a woman praising you for doing something you are not really doing.

But to say I have gone without thoughts over these months would be a lie. I have, more than anything, been struggling with the concept that which we call the blog. The Weblog; these moving and continuous flows of information that seem so fresh, new, modern, the new wave, that the kid in me that still writes notes by hand fights back with a vengeance.

As a medium it depends on its less than steller claim to truth; it is the most subjective form of 'news' that we can get to. It is interspersed with feelings, and thoughts, opinions and commentary, it is presented in ways that are less than rigorous, but worse, the blog is meant to be questioned. I am supposed to write something of this sort. Oh how cyclical thinking, what crap.

I do not like the blog. But then why am I writing this. Because my friends got me started on another blog. The premise not too far from this one, which by itself makes me excited to renew interest. Honest, well thought out opinions sent onto these airwaves to be debated without the haughty attitude of the spectator editorial page, or the abrasive world of popular blogs.

And so why write? Why make these rhetorical questions? Haha. How cylical once-again. It is tough to write on this. I mean, it is a false confessional of many sorts. But if this is so bad, so false, fake and abrasive, writing in a way that dispells this (or contradicts it in someway) provides some joy, right? Someone needs to push the envelope of these blogs and comment on broad topics without the indifference of some, while admitting one's own inability to truly research the facts. Haha, the nice way to put what is going on in this and other blogs.

And so where does this come about. A great op-ed piece by Ted Koppel in the Times about the great state of television news. It has a prescient description of the television world, the decay of our culture in general and the state of our future. His retirement from ABC Nightline was a great loss for the television world. But, to be a bit of a devil's advocate, isn't there something innately wrong with all this complaining, mine and Koppel's.

Perhaps simpler words and more action would suffice; my mom would be proud of me for sticking in my head the old adage "practice what you preach." But need we just do that. The culture that prefers to complain, argue, disagree, be antagonistic, derisive to the point that we have...accomplished nothing. Even now, continuing to do nothing. The irony of such action: a call to action is still but a hopeless waste of energy.

Good news awaits the rise of a good newsman (someone who can foil the traps of publicity and marketing). And too we wait for good blogging, or at least I do, that someone like Mr. Wagner can continue to impress me. I just hope that perhaps we can make this a bigger deal, and maybe start a wave...forward.

(because progress doesn't have philosophical problems, haha, but we will try not to get into those issues and stay within the american lexicon of an annointed nation, harrowing for something good --- what's good? good blogging)

Obama Mamba - is there hope for the democratic party?

Reading the Washington Times today, I came across a suprisingly well thought out, rational response to the Alito nomination. It came from the dems' rising star, Sen. Obama.

"Sen. Barack Obama, the freshman Democrat from Illinois who is one of his party's brightest stars, chided his party yesterday for its "over-reliance" on "procedural maneuvers" such as the fruitless filibuster threats against the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr.

"We need to recognize--because Judge Alito will be confirmed--that if we're going to oppose a nominee, that we've got to persuade the American people that, in fact, their values are at stake," he said yesterday on ABC's "This Week." . . .

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, seemed to agree.

"I think a filibuster makes sense when you have a prospect of actually succeeding," he said on CNN's "Late Edition." . . .

Still, Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden said yesterday that they will support their party's hopeless filibuster."

This guy is great. He is rational, clear headed, and above all practical. Its sad to see him being pressured into towing the party line, particularly when this involves supporting the use of a procedural tactic that only a few decades before had been creatively used by Democrats (and Republicans) to prevent the passage of civil rights laws.

Generally speaking, I believe widespread use of the fillibuster is a dangerous precedent to set. I've seen it misused by Republicans and Dems alike, and rarely is there a case where its use is truly justified. Even though it falls perfectly inline with the rules of procedure, I can't help but see it as cheating the system. I am glad that someone in the Democratic party sees this, and realizes that "crying wolf" over every nominee will only damage the credibility of the party. I do want the dems to gain power and obtain majority in congress. Our nation works best when checks and balances actually exist, and Presidential power is offset by congressional oversight. Any short term gains to come out of the empty threat to fillibuster will only lead to long term losses. The American public doesnt like gritty political tactics, particularly ones that leave a bad taste in ones mouth. Patience is a virtue, as my Mother always said. Democrats need to wait for the right moment, the right opportunity to leave their mark, and gain credibility with the American public.

Responding to "Revisiting Vietnam"

Monique Dols, in today's Spectator, decides it is high time another leftist attacked the vast military-industrial complex. Casting the students of the late 1960s as heroes, and the soldiers of the US military as the brainless drones, she bemoans the current movement to return ROTC to campus. Now, I can follow her to a certain extent. The parallels between Vietnam and Iraq are easily understandable. But beyond that she begins to frustrate and lose me.

Whenever someone in the military complains about discrimination (a fair argument on this campus), s/he is in fact involved in a "series of defamatory fabrications that serve to misrepresent and discredit the antiwar movement on campus." No chance that both sides have bad eggs? no? no? hmm.

At some points she is just being unfair, as in this statement: "On one side are the Columbia Military Society and the Columbia College Conservative Club, supporters of the war in Iraq who want to bring the Reserve Officer Training Corps back onto campus," which links support of ROTC with support of the war. I for one do not support the war, and I think the recent Hamas victory in the Palestinian region is to some degree derived from anger at American actions.

She flat-out lies occasionally, as in saying that ROTC advocates (led in large part by Sean Wilkes of this site) are "discouraged by the lack of widespread support for the return of the program." According to a recent student referendum, a majority of students have no problem with ROTC returning to campus. Chew on that.

In the end, she mouths more of the traditional leftist dogma (which of course has its merits, but is not the focus of this post), and implicitly suggests, in her statement, "It is our generation’s responsibility to work diligently to protect the gains of that era, keep ROTC off campus, and expose the ugly underbelly of US aggression in the world." In her us v. them mentality, the military has become a foe that must be slain. And here we come to the crux of the differences between a liberal like me and a leftist like her. I've studied international politics and history and actually understand the realities of the situation. We need a military. We wouldnt be the country we are today without a military. Our military and economic power have gone hand in hand.

While all that may be changing (I recently wrote a seminar paper on why economic power is surpassing military power in importance), we still need a strong military. Her attacks, broad blows at the entire establishment, would be much more effective if they weren't broadly dogmatic and unrealistic.

Reform minded politicians, who are you kidding?

Congressional Democrats yesterday laid out a plan to change what they called a GOP "culture of corruption" in Washington, even as Republicans pointed to ethics lapses on their antagonists' side of the aisle...
Rather than limiting the value of a gift to $20, as House Republicans are considering, Democrats would prohibit all gifts from lobbyists. Democrats also take direct aim at some of the legislative practices that have become established in the past 10 years of Republican rule in Congress. They vowed to end the K Street Project, under which Republicans in Congress pressure lobbying organizations to hire only Republican staff members and contribute only to Republican candidates.

from Washington Post.

The GOP's answer is limiting the value of a gift to $20? That doesn't even make sense, what is the significance of $20 when compared to the tens and hundred of thousands of dollars that Jack Abramoff fundraised and directly donated to the Republican party? The answer almost seems too obvious.

They've created a system of "accountability" that is filled with even more loopholes, but loopholes that can prove to be legal. Have you ever looked at grocery coupons?

Notice how they say that the value of the coupon is either "no cash value" or something really small like a fraction of a cent.

Lobbyists could continue to give Tom DeLay millions in gifts but say that they have a cash value of less than $20. Sneaky. Why wouldn't I be suprised that something like that would happen if Republican lobbying "reforms" were passed?


Monday, January 23, 2006

Parley! Arrrrrgh!!

The U.S. Navy has caputred one of the most notorious pirate ships to have sailed the seven seas. Or at least around Africa. The vessel, which housed a crew of 16 Indians and 10 Somalis, were chased and seized by the U.S. Missile Destroyer, USS Winston S. Churchill.

The Navy it seems is finally begining to fulfill its role as a "Coast Guard to the World" a decidedly SysAdmin job, as compared to the normal Leviathan force activities it ordinarily undertakes. This is likely going to become the way of things for the navy over the course of DoD transformation, with Carriers and Ballistic Missile subs carrying out most of the heavy-hitting work, and small, agile, long range destroyers along with littoral-focused submarine platforms doing much of the SysAdmin work - anti-pirating, anti drug-trafficking, and general security operations.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Brian's Question of Democracy

So, in relation to my previous blog, my good friend Brian was kind enough to point out:
i agree with much of it, but think you have virtually skimmed the most important section: democracy. Your assumptions here are far too shallow in light of the quality of the rest of the piece, and you completely neglect to mention that there are different versions of democracy, some more stable and desirable to the US than others. Just because people can vote doesn't mean that there will be "democracy" in the sense you seem to use the word. Instead, we need to discuss issues such as liberalism, and the role of Islam in Middle Eastern democracy. Voting is merely the most limited framework--the content is what really matters, and why many people question whether the Bush administration knows how to (or has the ability to) achieve such goals. For more on this, I have to point to Fareed Zakaria, who has written a book on illiberal democracy.

So lets talk a little about democracy. Iraq's progress in the development of its democracy is frustratingly slow. One would think that with all of the insurgencies occurring throughout the country that they might find some greater impetus to move forward. But the current outcome is both expected and hopeful. We completely dismantled an artificially united state. What we are left with is three quite distinct groups, each of whom is not particularly happy with the others. One of those groups, the sunnis, has lost all hope of regaining control of the united state. This alone provides motivation for the continuation of violence and "struggle." With all of this factoring in, it is perhaps a miracle that they were even able to successfully formulate a national constitution. But we must realize that his is not the United States. It is not annalogous, even, to most european states. The "nation," in truth, must exist as a loose federation of three largely self-governing states. The focus and source of federation must revolve around the allocation of resources so as to benefit the individual groups as well as the whole. The two main incentives are peace and potential for economic growth. But the economic incentive does not come naturally to Iraq, it must be built in. Unilke in the United States, where economic interaction between the north and the south provided a structure about which to form a Federal government that coordinates and promotes economic interests internally, Iraq does not have nearly as extensive a domestic trade program. This makes it more difficult to formulate an effective and fair government, particularly when one of the three groups has a greater control over economic interests than the others.
So the democracy in Iraq will likely be quite different than that which exists in the United States. And even a true democracy will not necessarily make Iraq an "ideal" nation. As I mentioned, democracy is but a single measurement of a nation's success. But it is most certainly not the only requisite. The nation must demonstrate a consistent support for human rights and for the promotion of trade and international relations. Even though Iraq has successfully held democratic elections, it has yet to show whether this can be maintained. It has yet to show a consistent dedication to the rights of the minority as well as the majority - this of course being complicated by the fact that the minority were previously the oppressors. Their method of democracy is not so important as the ability of its mechanisms to ensure these basic tenets of the global society rule set.
So their democracy is inevitably off to a shaky start. But realize that all of these things - democratic elections, human rights, trade with low tariffs, international cooperation - all of these make up the rule sets that dominate the landscape of the global economy. A desire for prosperity, for peace, and for participation in the global marketplacce will all contribute as equalizing factors, forcing them to an equilibrium that will hopefully leave a lasting effect not only on Iraq but on the rest of the middle eastern region.
They have to create a new reality. They need their practical builders, movers, and shakers. But they also require their idealists. Can they fail? Most certainly. But we must have hope that they will succeed.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A Response to Wang: iraqi democracy. good idea || bad idea?

So here is the deal with Iraq. The attitude with which we should be approaching Iraq is less one of spreading Democracy, and more one of establishing and spreading connectivity.

The truth of the matter is that 9/11 didn't cause a paradigm shift in the world, rather it was caused by a paradigm shift, and acted as a vertical system perturbation that resulted in a shift in perception. In essence, it changed the rule-sets - or rather it made the changes that had occured since the end of the cold war apparent, nigh transparent.

First, in the Cold War the old rule was that the U.S. was an effective sanctuary due to our nuclear stand-off with the Soviets. We weren't going to hit them, and they sure as hell were not going to hit us. The problem since the end of that stand-off has been the advent of asymmetric warfare, and the realization that the current enemy has no easily targetable assets, and that if we took the fight to them they would have no problem finding a way to bring it back to us. There are no strategic deterrents, only tactical and (very occasionally) economic ones.
Second, we have the movement away from the absolute-war scenario that was prevalent through out the Cold war, and indeed in the World Wars before it. That is, this idea that any war would be an all out war, resulting in total annhilation of either one side or both. There was no focus in the war-making branches of our government on the aftermath of a war, in any form of statecraft. The updraft of globalization creates a scenario where wars cannot occur in isolation like this, due both to the ebbs and flows of the ultra sensitive global economy, and the prospect of a "smart" war, i.e. a war in which much of the infrastructure and indeed population is left in tact.

Another shift was the actual definition of a threat and appropriate response to threat changed. Rather than looking for the Big Red Bad Guy, as the Pentagon has spent much of the post-soviet interlude doing (read: China), there has been a greater need to look at small-state and intra-state actors. This leads to a different idea of a "Big Picture." Rather than on individual nation-states, focus has shifted to strategic ENVIRONMENTS, constantly measuring and analyzing the properties of individual regions, whether large and made up of multiple states, or small on the scale of cities and towns.

Finally, as a result in these changes, our strategic aims were forced to change. Throughout the cold war the basic idea was self preservation through maintenance of the status quo, in the hopes that eventually the Soviet Union would fall by external economic stressors - which it did. When we enter the era of asymmetric warfare, we assume this same idea can be applied to most other world conflicts - keep the flame from spreading here and eventually it will burn itself out. The problem is that these conflicts are not nearly large enough to burn themselves out (think embers of a forest fire that remain hot for weeks until another, even large fire erupts.) The problem with this is that we cannot afford to simply ignore the so called "Third World" regions of the world and wait for them to weaken and collapse. Why? Because they are in a continuous state of collapse, and it is this state of collapse that creates the violence that, occationally, (and as time progresses, increasingly) hits home.

Well "THATS EASY" you say. All that needs to be done is to bring these nations out of poverty. And actually, you would be right. The question is, how does one accomplish this.
There are two main hinderances to economic growth: violence, and disconnectivity. The former is relatively easy to define and observe - either there is overt warfare, or the less overt despotism, persecution, or genocide. The latter is a much broader area, and can exist in various states - but ultimately lies with a lack of access to information, money, and the global economy.
The basic idea is that the more nations thatt are able to overcome these two hinderances, the less that these hinderances will affect surrounding nation-states.

So, then, why are we in Iraq? The President will have you believe that it is to spread democracy...or is it to "bring the fight to the bad guys"...or is it to find those weapons of mass destruction? And to be honest, he probably believes these things himself. The first two are certainly reasonable end-states...and the last one, well, that was simply dumb (not a LIE...just utter stupidity...really REALLY dumb).

But the REAL reason we are in Iraq, the true strategic vision that pushes us forward is what Dr. Barnett of the Naval War College likes to term the "Shrinking of the Gap." The first step is to remove the violence (in this case despotism) that exists in the system. Our shock and awe did this beautifully well (although another form of violence later pervaded the system, which represents a failure in administering the peace, on which I will speak below). So we remove the despot, and establish connectivity. Once you establish connectivity, you let global economic forces, and the new rule sets that come along with the global economy, have their effect. For a society to participate in the global marketplace, they are forced to abide by the rule sets of this new system. This of course will not happen immediately, but will occur over a period of time as the society becomes more and more integrated into the system. China is a perfect example of this (see my previous blog). Democratic government is a resulting end state of this integration. So that is our goal - not to spread DEMOCRACY per-se, though this is an eventual end state. It is to spread connectivity. An integrated economy does not go to war. Why fight it out on the battlefield when you can fight it out in the stock market...or on AIM?

Now you might say that while this goal is noble, we sure are not doing a good job of it. I will tell you why. We are working with a military that was developed and paid for to fight the soviets. There was no need to change our military after the soviet's fall, or such was the idea, because it existed to protect against the big red menace...whatever that was...and we were going to find it...(read again: China). Problem is China has been less of a threat and more a source of MONEY (go check out how many US Bonds China owns....we depend on their money more than practically any other single country save Japan).

So, our Military is designed for near-peer warfare - absolute end-state warfare. But the problem is we need a military that is responsive to asymmetric warfare, and that is able to handle not only the WAR operations, but the post-war operations (termed in the military MOOTW moot-wah, military operations other than war). This requires a somewhat bifurcated defense system that is actually not TOO different than the setup we had before WWII. A large scale, large casualty producing, shock and awe force, and an administrating, peace keeping, policing, economy-protecting force. Pre WWII this was War Department, and the Navy respectively. The platforms of choice have changed over the years, with a movement away from the Land vs Sea concept, but the general idea remains the same. The WAR ops force for instance would include a large heavily armored army, a bomber-centric air force, a naval carrier force, and strategic missile systems on subs and the ground, while the peace keeping force would include large numbers of troops, quick reaction forces - think marines and army rangers, civil affairs units, and an organic diplomatic corps.

Unfortunately we go to war not necessarily with the force that we need, but the force that we already bought. It is true that the Pentagon is constantly engaged in building tommorrows force - indeed this is its ultimate purpose, the job of fighting wars goes to the combatant commanders at each of the combatant commands such as CENTCOM and EUCOM, which is why congress has to fork out extra money for the Iraq war, the pentagon budget goes entirely towards developing the force for future wars, not fighting current ones. Counterintuitive I know, but that is the way of things. At any rate - we already bought the force, and it worked BEAUTIFULLY in fighting the WAR - we defeated the Iraqi military in a matter of DAYS, but in keeping the peace it is not up to the task. And the only way we have been able to find out that this force wont work for this purpose, however, has been to try and to fail. Heindsight is 20/20, though I will concede that Rumsfeld was wrong not to listen to Gen Shinseki. Rummy was right that we had enough troops to win the War. But Shinseki was also right in that we didnt have enough for the second half. To win the peaece.

As is often said, making organizational and doctrinal changes to the DoD is normally akin to using a paddle to turn an air craft carrier. EXCEPT in a time of war. Try then and its like someone attached a rocket to the side of the ship.

So in summary, our grand strategy in Iraq is to introduce connectivity and bring Iraq into the global marketplace. Democracy will result, though not immediately. Our failures have been a result of having the right force for one part of the job but the wrong force for the other. These failures though have been the impetus for grand change and transformation in the way DoD does business. Bush and Rummy have messed up on a number of occasions. But they got one thing right, and that is the need for a new way to think about warfare and security operations abroad.

Chinese Bloggers: The key to an economic future

"Microsoft Defends Censoring Dissident's Blog in China," Wall Street Journal, January 6, 2006

This interesting piece describes how Microsoft recently shut down the site of an online blogger at the insistence of the Chinese government because it contained politically motivated postings that they found offensive. This is not unusual for service and content providers who operate in other nations, like China. Often these are the terms required for access to the particular market in the first place. The question I have is not whether Microsoft was right or wrong in doing this - arguments could be made on both sides (for example, while Microsoft was complicit in what many would concede to be a violation of a basic human right to free speech, its actions in promoting capitalism in the region could also be construed as eroding the very restrictions that they hesitate to fight head on...) - the question I have is how much effort and expense is China going to spend in policing the net. The sheer number of bloggers in China has balooned with incredible speed over the past few years, and more and more are pushing the limits of China's restrictive laws and getting in trouble for it. 33 MILLION.
I predict that eventually, whene the numbers are in the hundreds of millions, China is going to buckle under the sheer mass of connectivity and information dependence. Eventually it will not be able to AFFORD to silence the thoughts of dissidents, as it will require their brain power to stay competitive in the global market.
Should Microsoft have recused itself from providing services to China? Perhaps, but doing so might hurt the bloggers and dissidents as much as it would the Chinese government.
As Dr. Barnett would say, CONNECTIVITY IS KEY.