Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Counting Down

Things are getting even worse - we have Fox News having guests that outright compare interracial marriage to inter-species "marriage". Elsewhere, the media attack is reaching a fever pitch, with the "Birthers" receiving more attention than they ever dreamed of.

Away from the prying cameras of mainstream news channels, we're seeing widespread military war games by civilian minutemen groups in Northern Idaho. South, towards the border, we have threats of massacres of illegal immigrants (this from a group with ties to murderer who misidentified legal immigrants with no connections with drugs or gangs with illegal immigrants running a gang financed by drug running) now approaching routine, but still fresh enough that they retain an elaborate flavor. Miles of landmines, they say; gunning down children, they say.

Is any one taking the Department of Homeland Security Memo seriously yet? They're plotting something, and you know it.

Not quite

There's one passage of Rachel Carson's brilliant Silent Spring that always struck me particularly strongly:
Have we fallen into a mesmerized state that makes us accept as inevitable that which is inferior or detrimental, as though having lost the will or the vision to demand that which is good? Such thinking, in the words of the ecologist Paul Shepard "idealizes life with only its head out of the water, inches above the limits of toleration of the corruption of its own environment... Why should we tolerate a diet of weak poisons, a home in insipid surroundings, a circle of acquaintances who are not quite our enemies, the noise of motors with just enough relief to prevent insanity? Who would want to live in a world that is just not quite fatal?" (12)
Something similar seems to be at work here. The Economist, as a passionate (some might say rabid) defender of libertarian economics, naturally can't fault Texas's strategy of leaving the poor to fend for themselves. As well educated writers, however, they seem incapable of ignoring the resultant poverty that seems poised to swallow the state - even more unthinkably low educational standards, even higher pollution, less wealth in every corner of life, except for a small super-rich upper class. Their ideological solution? Texas is apparently not quite fatal, which is good enough.

Seems like this line of thought is becoming pervasive, especially on economic issues:
With U.S. unemployment at a 20-year high, some Americans are working for free while looking for a job, but experts are split over whether it is a sign of dedication or desperation.
Experts can't decide if pseudo-slavery is good or bad? Not quite fatal so far seems to be the verdict? Dear God, who appointed these people "experts"?

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Sorry about the delay, for that you get both of the remaining alleged results of a market-dominated minorities' dominance.

After a comparatively lengthy description of the so-called horrors the black Zimbabwean population has committed against the white minority (tellingly, Chua has omitted the atrocities the Zimbabwean leadership under Mugabe has brought to both whites' and blacks' doors), Chua gives us the mirror-opposite, the shocking knowledge that, yes, wealthy minorities are often undemocratic. She writes-
In the contest between an economically powerful ethnic minority and a numerically powerful impoverished majority, the majority does not always prevail. Instead of a backlash against the market, another likely outcome is a backlash against democracy, favoring the market-dominant minority at the expense of majority will. Examples of this dynamic are extremely common. Indeed, this book will show that the world's most notorious cases of "crony capitalism" all involve a market-dominant ethnic minority--from Ferdinand Marcos's Chinese-protective dictatorship in the Philippines to President Siaka Stevens's shadow alliance with five Lebanese diamond dealers in Sierra Leone to President Daniel Arap Moi's "business arrangements" with Indian tycoons in Kenya today.
That's all she wrote. The basis of an entire suite of despotism apparently only deserves a paragraph made into anything more than a four sentence description with egregious name-dropping. The populist-uprising result she mentioned yesterday, on the other hand, supposedly deserves a multi-paragraph explanation with in depth description of the regime headed by Mugabe.

To be fair to Chua, Ferdinand Marcos and Siaka Stevens are such common household names that they don't need introduction, unlike Robert Mugabe, a completely unknown individual for the primarily American audience that Chua was addressing.

More seriously, the inclusion of this paragraph feels slightly like the now famous liberal showcasing people feel they have to include for the mysterious PC police (who never seem to be around when I'm with them...). I've seen Crash. I know how hard some minorities have had it. I've read all about this. I'm not racist. And we're all supposed to nod knowingly to the speaker while still exchanging nervous glances and pained looks.

Worst yet, Chua seems to have embedded this apologetic sidestepping in between two more obviously questionable arguments. She returns those immediately:
The third and most ferocious kind of backlash is majority-supported violence aimed as eliminating a market-dominant minority. Two recent examples are the mass slaughter of Tutsi in Rwanda and, to a lesser extent, the ethnic cleansing of Croats in former Yugoslavia.
Two sentences in, Chua has already pulled all sorts of red flags. Within the first sentence alone, her parallel wording in the first two potential reactions makes this final one appear odd - the first two were defined by their origin and their opponents, and out of nowhere we see majority-led genocide, without the parallel capacity (minority-led genocide) addressed, or even dismissed.

Furthermore, the examples she selects have particularly complex histories which contradict the picture she seems to be painting, with a lot of general description (the impoverished majority attacks the elite minority with intent to eradicate) supplemented with name dropping, not actual descriptions. In fact, the only explanation she gives fails to even differentiate between the two examples:
In both cases a resented and disproportionately prosperous ethnic minority was attacked by members of a relatively impoverished majority, incited by an ethnonationalist government. In other words, markets and democracy were among the causes of both the Rwandan and Yugoslavian genocides.
Except massive differences between that description and the realities of those horrific atrocities. In the case of the former Yugoslavia, a patchwork of religious, ethnic, and political fault lines lined up in a perfect storm, resulting in a dangerous de facto war between three primary blocs - the muslim Albanians, who had become an elite proxy under Turkish rule; the catholic Croats, who had originally risen to prominence as proxies for the Nazi government but had very effectively refashioned themselves as proxies for the West, building on historical ties between Croats and Italians, Austrians, and other "westerners"; and the Serbs, historically the greatest beneficiaries under pan-slavism and similar "eastern" nationalism, most notably under communism. The opening of the former Yugoslavia threated the Serbs' rule, and ultimately, the Serbs snapped and attacked those they perceived as their greatest historical enemies - the muslims, especially the Albanian Muslims, and the Croats. Ironically, the alleged market-dominant minority very effectively defended itself and avoided in large the Serbs' attacks, at least in its rich sections - countless impoverished Croat villages found all their women raped and their men killed. Ultimately, the violence proved to be undone by the economics, and continued on in purely ethnic terms. Alternatively, the Albanians were massacred much more uniformally. The situation is complex and could be studied for decades without acheiving a proper summary. Chua's very quick analysis seems to have been delivered in good faith, but could easily be interpreted as insensitive.

Alternatively, Rwanda displays a much more complex political event - the first attacks were on moderate Hutu, an preemptive attempt at weakening a potential retaliation of centrist Hutu and Tutsi against Hutu attacks. Combined with continual brutality of the Tutsi minority over the Hutu majority in neighboring Burundi, extensive European meddling, and constant influx of radicals from Uganda, this clearly is a much more complicated situation than Chua seems to be willing to give it credit for.

Next Friday, we'll see Chua finally give her critics a bit of credit.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Where certainty ends and zealotry begins (page 10)

Amy Chua isn't just writing about a process that can occur. She's, allegedly, talking about something inevitable:
Introducing democracy in these circumstances does not tranform voters into open-minded cocitizens in a national community...
Wait, I thought the point of your book was the combination of laissez-faire capitalism and democracy radicalizing and created ethnic tensions, not drawing from them? Maybe I'm picking at something that's not here, but it seems like Chua is writing from personal experience, the situation of the Phillipines, where lack of regulation and the rise of a Chinese economic elite proceeded later democratization. Getting back to the main point:
Introducing democracy in these circumstances does not tranform voters into open-minded cocitizens in a national community. Rather, the competition for votes fosters the emergence of demagogues who scapegoat the resented minority and foment active ethnonationalist movements demanding that the country's wealth and identity be reclaimed by the "true owners of the nation". (10)
Look at that language - "fosters" not "can foster". Not only is this strangely absolute (and if there's one absolute that holds firm it's that absolutes rarely stand the test of time), but she seems to be making herself bizzarely vulnerable. A single counterexample can destroy her entire statement here, and thereby damage the credibility of the rest of her thesis-meets-book. One, sole, singular example of, Catholics (the rich minority) and Protestants (the not-so-rich majority) in the Netherlands over the past few centuries not killing each other or much of anything on par with Chua's predictions. Before she or any one else complains, she uses other primarily religious shifts as examples several times - the Catholic-Protestant splits in Ireland and the Balkans most memorably and pertinent to this issue.

A few sentences later, however, she's backtracted some:
When free market democracy is pursued in the presence of a market-dominant minority, the almost invariable result is backlash. (10)
Ok, so it's only 99.9% of the time. That's even harder to prove, since the existance of examples or counter-examples means nothing. Now we need ratios. Why didn't Amy Chua look into this, instead of using backdoors like "almost invariable result", or better yet, not have gone down the road of absolute certainty in the first place?

Meanwhile, back in her slightly more calmly worded paragraph:
When free market democracy is pursued in the presence of a market-dominant minority, the almost invariable result is backlash. This backlash typically takes one of three forms. The first is a backlash against markets, targeting the market-dominated minority's wealth. (10)
Hold up a second, isn't that the preferable response? Isn't that what should happen? Or are you suggesting that disproportionate levels of wealth should be encouraged? She goes on to give us the first in depth example since her autobiographical one concerning the Phillipines:
Zimbabwe today is a vivid illustration of the first kind of backlash-- an ethnically targeted anti-market backlash. For several years now President Robert Mugabe has encouraged the violent seizure of 10 million acres of white-owned commercial farmland. As one Zimbabwean explained, "The land belongs to us. The foreigners should not own and here. There is no black Zimbabwean who owns land in England. Why should any European own land here?" Mugabe himself was more explicit: "Strike fear in the heart of the white man, our real enemy!" Most of the country's white "foreigners" are third-generation Zimbabweans. Just 1 percent of the population, they have for generations controlled 70 percent of the country's best land, largely in the form of highly productive three-thousand-acre tobacco and sugar farms. (10-11)
(Lest any one get the wrong idea, I don't support Mugabe. But I don't agree with the position presented here either - welcome to a non-Manichean worldview!)

Frankly, Mrs. Chua, I don't give a damn. The transformation of most of the third world's agricultural fields into commodity plantations (virtually always with either non-edible products or not terribly useful foodstuffs like tea, sugar, coffee, and the like) was the basis of colonialism. This is eighth grade world history, honestly. I'm sure with a degree from Harvard you could grasp at this much better than I -- but what I'm trying to say here is that those plantations (and thereby their owners) were not only symbolic of the brutal colonial regime, but of the continuation of the economic conditions which typified that regime. I know you bring up Latin America collectively as an example later on, so let's get this out of the way, so I don't have to define this when we delve into it: Land redistribution isn't inherently bad. Just say it over and over. Some slacktivist might help make it make sense.

Fundamentally, I don't think Chua sees the disconnect. 1% of the population controlling 70% of the land isn't democracy. And given that they've controlled it over generations, that's also not a free market it any sane definition of it. That's an enormous amount of power undemocratically (and for that matter against the principles of the free market) stolen, yes nearly a century ago, but still stolen. Worse yet, the small group that stole that source of enormous wealth and used it to create a racially-based supremacy over the majority for much of that past century. Now that the majority has turned on that small, violently despotic minority, the rest of the world has withdrawn anything that could be perceived as tacit support, out of misplaced loyalty with that small upper class.

Mugabe is thug and a fool, but ultimately his success comes from over a century of brutal misrule by foreign powers and their descendents - who let Zimbabwe tear itself apart rather than accept that their reign was undemocratic, unprincipled and unfair.

This is the second time Chua has failed to adequately explain the very situation she has decided to write a book about.

(You get to find out the other two "forms of backlash against market-dominant minorities" are tomorrow.)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Some catch-up

Yes, I'm a little behind on World on Fire, sorry. I'm switching to Friday, since hopefully that will make updating a bit easier. In the meantime, however, I'll go through with a mini-post on one of the earlier passages in the book that caught my eye. Jumping in,

For globalization enthusiasts, the cure for group hatred and ethnic violence around the world is straightforward: more markets and more democracy. (9)
I wouldn't consider myself a globalization enthusiast, especially given my opinions on protectionism, but I really can't see what she's trying to say here - it seems almost universally accepted that true democratic representation is a key component in reducing terrorism and violent extremism. For example, Islamism, a popular example of both, has thrived in the least democratic areas of the Muslim world, and has only seen stunted growth in more democratic areas. Where there is some level of democratic representation, as in Morocco or Turkey or the United Arab Emirates, a lengthy battles continues between the democracy and the Islamist forces. This goes further than correlations, as countless politicians from that region have remarked on how the rule of secular, pro-Western despots have steadily radicalized the population, often making them vulnerable to Islamist revolutionaries. As Benazir Bhutto once said, she found herself stonewalled in trying to expand educational and economic opportunities in Pakistan, often by the remains of the dictatorship or the grounds on which the later dictatorial governments were built. Nonetheless, she wanted aid to reach the poor through the semi-secular government without coming through a mosque, which in many cases bred a religiously-defined identity, which first stoked sectarian violence between Shia and Sunni populations, precisely what Chua claims to want to prevent through lesser democracy - what stunted the necessary aid in the first place.

Alternatively, the statement about markets, on the other hand, seems nonsensical. More markets? Does that mean more goods and more products or more exchanges and more buyers? What are we talking about here? Globalization advocates clearly favor opened markets, a lack of national trade barriers, and other means to restructuring markets, not increasing their size (whatever that translates to). Nonetheless, globalization is only one of several alleged solutions to promoting economic as well as political equality; what of us anti-globalization advocates? To put it simply, we try to point out that the correlation of extremism and anti-democratic oppression is dwarfed by a triple correlation between extremism, lack or deficiency of democracy, and poverty. Yet, apparently we neither matter nor exist for Chua, who only describes a pro-globalization position:

Thus after September 11 attacks, Friedman published an op-ed piece pointing to India and Bangladesh as good "role models" for the Middle East and arguing that the solution to terrorism and militant Islam is: "Hello? Hello? There's a message here. It's democracy, stupid!" -- "[m]ulti-ethnic, pluralistic, free market democracy." (9)
I'm just surprised there's any one who takes Thomas Friedman (or for that matter Globalization) seriously. Even stranger though, is that Chua seems to present this as the only alternative to her muddy position, despite the fact that she's characterized this Friedman alternative as consisting of multiple political opinions - pro-democracy, pro-"free market", and pro-Globalization - without discussing alternatives to the alternative that can switch off one or two of those opinions.

At first she seems to lay down a comparatively reasonable conclusion:
Because markets and democracy benefit different ethnic groups in such societies, the pursuit of free market democracy produces highly unstable and combustible conditions. (9)
I'm unclear on how democracy fits into this. Dictatorships actually destabilize countries, often because they pit different ethnic groups against each other with the intention of dividing and conquering. More fundamentally, dictatorships often pit patriotism against rationality, love of country against love of equality and freedom. It's quite difficult for patriotism to stand in the face of outright political violence of that sort, and so, again returning to theoretical impacts, fanaticism on ethnic identity is often a necessary basis for a patriotism strong enough to withstand human decency. We can see this in Sri Lanka, in a situation quite similar to Amy Chua's, but in one regard. The Sinhalese majority attacked the politically and economically influential Tamil minority in a ruthless manner, targeting, in an eery way reminiscent of Rwanda, Sinhalese moderates who opposed the massacre of their compatriots. The only difference? The Sri Lankan government was a transparently failing democracy, not a state keeping up the appearance of democracy despite clear violations of minorities' rights and even basic rule of law. Chua has given some arguments explaining why a "free market" (again carefully examine what that term even means) can be a necessary component to extreme ethnic competition, but nothing concerning democracy, and now she should deal with an obvious counterexample that precisely what she wants to discuss can occur without democratic assistance.

Yet Chua seems unconcerned with whether addressing this, instead continuing and letting a thin piece of her actual opinions peek through:
Markets concentrate enormous wealth in the hands of an "outsider" minority, fomenting ethnic envy [...] (9)
Envy? Ignoring issues with mechanics, that we'll start with on Friday, wanting equality with a newly emerging upper class is envy? As others have said, wanting equality is justice if you're hungry but envy if you're well-fed. Chua had persisted on how unfairly the lower class Filipino servants of her family were treated, but in this moment she let her guard down and showed us her unmediated thoughts, and we saw how little concern she actually has for the situation of the poor. She clearly cares enough about something to write a book, and it's becoming increasingly clear that it's not the horror of the inequality, but maintaining the status quo.

Again, I think we're seeing all the reasons Chua shouldn't have written this book on parade, the most visible being her inability to separate herself from the issue and report on it objectively. Instead of picking apart the violent revolutions and finding a complex interaction of ethnicity and economics, and perhaps finding the ability to criticize her own community in addition to others - faulting both, the elites for their lack of empathy and the majorities for their ends-justify-the-means insanity within most of her examples. And her injection of democracy into it deserves some examination as well. But Chua seems determined on each and every page to look away and fault every one else (recall it was other members of her community, not her family, and especially not her than had supposedly provoked the nativist response) for the anger, sometimes justified anger, directed at her.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Burqa Logic

They don't want to talk about those people. They don't want to think about those people. So of course they don't want to see those people.

From El Paso to Philadelphia, from one of the most repressive corners of America to a place of supposed "brotherly love" things are getting ugly.

Two things we can draw from this is how willingly the police let both groups discriminate and how suddenly events that sound like they crawled out of the seventies or sixties are popping up in the news.

Both of these minorities, naturally, are unfortunately used to strange coincidences and even the occasional outright bitter hate-rant, unlike most of the rest of us. Remember the Jena 6? Or a certain other case in Louisiana?

Is there more to come though?

One step forward...

Last month, I wrote on the democratic elections in Iran, India, and the US, and how the popular responses all hinted at broad coalitions forming in response to third different authoritarian ideologies that quite literally, want to watch the world burn.

Perhaps, I spoke too soon. Since then, we've seen some serious set backs in a number of places.

Early in the morning hours of June 28, 2009, the democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras was dragged from his house still in his pajamas, and put on a plane to Costa Rica. For the past three days, he had had an arrest warrant placed on him by his Attorney General.

The leaders of this coup, most notably the interim president Roberto Micheletti, have already framed this event in the context of Zelaya's "corruption" - that he had supported a non-binding plebiscite concerning the possibility of a constitution convention to address the radical disparities in wealth between the Honduran upper and lower classes and other issues. Only, of course, the media outlets owned by the wannabe banana corporations and the upper-class dominated officers of the military who together led the coup have claimed that he wanted to... get rid of term extensions. A coup, in response, to that? Huh?

The fact that Zelaya had more and more consistently attacked the anti-labor factions of the government and hinted at radically changing Honduran policy to the benefit of labor unions, which threaten the semi-feudalistic caste system in Honduras which in turn supports those same wannabe banana-republic-leading-corporations and military-dominant upper class, of course had nothing, absolutely nothing to do with the coup. Right.

Meanwhile, in the US, Palin apparently feels comfortably leaving her post in Alaska with six months left on her term, because of her fan base in the rest of the country. In other words, she's going national. Many have pronounced this political suicide, and perhaps quite rightly, but keep in mind that many authoritarian movements have no real memory - their leaders and policies can change, but they still claim a constancy and unchanging truth. Her base, clearly, doesn't see this as a failure, and thankfully, she needs to convince more people than her fan club of her potential - for the moment.

"For the moment" is the real thin line protecting us there. What happens if voter turnout lowers? What happens if there's another cataclysmic event that she can effectively spin? What happens when the Democrats blow it? We need certainty and stability, not low possibility.

She probably feels so comfortable due to the far right's increasingly distorted perception of the tea parties. They expected giant crowds and massive publicity for their second series of rallies, planned for Independence Day. Instead, they got a few small groups and rather spotty media coverage, because insane and inane rants are only entertaining the first time. Watching reruns of those are rarely captivating.

Nonetheless, "secular" authoritarian extremists have skillfully transformed these failed revolutionary rallies into recruitment camps. The "secular" white supremacists and neo-Nazis have managed to incorporate huge numbers of previously free radicals into their own authoritarian structures. We're seeing a solidification of a minor, radical right wing block, centered on the "secular" aspects of that political landscape.

I say "secular" because the Dominionist and Dominionist-leaning right have so far stayed their distance, even though many have participated in the same tea party rallies and similar events, and there's been an alarming degree of continuity between the conspiracy theories within the Dominionist circles and those in other extremist right wing groups. The anti-Semitic neo-Nazi subgroup and the fanatically pro-Zionist Dominionists have clear ideological rifts that could easily be exploited to divide them. If any one interested in opposing this "loose-bundle" movement actually means it, we need to use this fracture to our advantage.

This is the primary distinction between the modern Western ultra-nationalist palingenic movement and those occurring in the Hindu and Islamic worlds - the Western variant has largely lagged behind the other two (who have already become major political forces in several countries instead of minor influences on larger coalitions as in the US) in part because this split has kept the more violent race-based nationalism from the more widespread and organized faith-based nationalism.

Similar splits existed decades ago in the Middle East and in India - Arab nationalists such as the Baath party in Iraq and Nasser's Arab Union led from Egypt were bitter enemies of various early Islamist groups like the Iranian and Saudi governments and the now national Hindutva movement began as a number of small, local movements as angry at each other as they were at left wing and centrist opponents. Islamists waited out the gradual collapse of Arab nationalism and now dominate much of the Middle East, although the Sunni-Shia split still haunts them. At least three local right wing movements - Shiv Sena in Gujarat, the early Uttar Pradesh movement surrounding the Babri Masjid, and the increasingly alienated upper middle class Brahmins stung by land reforms scattered through out central India - which were frequently in opposition to each other were the base out of which the modern Hindutva movement grew. A parallel movement developed in South India, and the split between these two twin authoritarian groups has been maintained, but it stands that these countless small basic groups merged until two major powers and forced allies remained.

Something similar is brewing in the US. When the splinter radicals build significant alliances, we go from run-of-the-mill extremists into a political force, which all three of these major groups have seen. The two others, however, went further, melding these small angry pockets into sizeable broad movements. That's when India transitioned from panderers to the Hindutva running the legislature to actual Hindutva believers controlling the government. That's when the Islamic world found itself plunging from a variety of horrific despotic governments into a dangerous international Islamist movement.

I don't want that here.