Back to current events! Take a look at the future of U.S. competitiveness in The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas L. Friedman.
This is an issue that used to be on the front burner... till the war on terror drove it off our screens. And I wonder. Since it's been 4 years since 9/11, is it possible that the terrorists harmed us most by diverting our agenda from urgent matters for half a decade?
Thomas Friedman speaks to just one aspect of competitiveness in a recent related article, from which I cribbed the following: "It's as if we have an industrial-age presidency, catering to a pre-industrial ideological base, in a post industrial era.
"Thomas Bleha, a former U.S. Foreign Service officer in Japan, has a fascinating piece in the May-June issue of Foreign Affairs that begins like this: "In the first three years of the Bush administration, the United States dropped from 4th to 13th place in global rankings of broadband Internet usage. Today, most U.S. homes can access only 'basic' broadband, among the slowest, most expensive and least reliable in the developed world, and the United States has fallen even further behind in mobile-phone-based Internet access. The lag is arguably the result of the Bush administration's failure to make a priority of developing these networks. In fact, the United States is the only industrialized state without an explicit national policy for promoting broadband."
"Since it took over in 2001, the Bush team has made it clear that its priorities are tax cuts, missile defense and the war on terrorism - not keeping the U.S. at the forefront of Internet innovation. "
Or (I might add) any kind of civilian technological or scientific innovation, at all.
==Now this important insight from Russ Daggatt:
Imagine if Bush in late 2002 and early 2003 had made the case to the American people that we had to invade and occupy Iraq, not because of the threat of mushroom clouds over US cities from Saddam's nuclear weapons, but to establish a pro-Iranian Shiite theocracy:
"We know Saddam has been brought to his knees by the Gulf War and a decade of UN sanctions. He poses no threat to the US or his neighbors. But we must invade and occupy Iraq in order to eliminate a secular Arab regime that has repressed Islamic extremists. As part of our 'Global War on Terror' we will eliminate this secular balance to the growing power of the world's major state sponsor of terrorism, the Shiite theocracy in Iran. We hope to further the ambitions of that radical Islamic regime in Iran by establishing a sympathetic Shiite theocracy in Iraq. Sure, our invasion and occupation of a major Arab country may inflame anti-American sentiment in the Islamic world. Young Muslims may come from around the world to Iraq to fight us, turning Iraq into a training ground for future anti American terrorists, just as our support of anti-Soviet, Islamic 'freedom fighters' in Afghanistan 25 years ago gave birth to al Qaeda. But that is a small price to pay to further the cause of Islamic government in the Middle East. This effort will be long and costly. We could be bogged down in Iraq for years, spending hundreds of billions of dollars, and with thousands of US deaths. And we're not likely to have much allied support -- we'll be doing this on our own. But I ask the American people to join me in this important effort."
Now I know this starts to drift from my favorite paranoid theory, that this war has benefitted - above all - the Saudfamily. Still, one should be flexible, in the face of reports like the following:
Iran hails Iraq draft constitution Tuesday, August 23, 2005 LONDON - Iran on Tuesday heralded the submission of Iraq's draft constitution to parliament, saying the text would improve "security, peace and sovereignty" across the border, according to AFP. "The composition of Iraq's constitution is an very valuable and important step towards the independence and integration of Iraq," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told official media.
==A Failed Foreign Policy==
"President Clinton is once again releasing American military might on a foreign country with an ill-defined objective and no exit strategy. He has yet to tell the Congress how much this operation will cost. And he has not informed our nation's armed forces about how long they will be
away from home. These strikes do not make for a sound foreign policy." -Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA)
"No goal, no objective, not until we have those things and a compelling case is made, then I say, back out of it, because innocent people are going to die for nothing. That's why I'm against it." -Sean Hannity, Fox News, 4/5/99
"If we are going to commit American troops, we must be certain they have a clear mission, an achievable goal and an exit strategy." -Karen Hughes, speaking on behalf of presidential candidate George W. Bush
"You think Vietnam was bad? Vietnam is nothing next to Kosovo."-Tony Snow, Fox News 3/24/99
"Well, I just think it's a bad idea. What's going to happen is they're going to be over there for 10, 15, maybe 20 years" -Joe Scarborough (R-FL) (Um... the Balkans intervention was a textbook case of Pax Americana police action that swiftly got transferred to effective and localized peacekeeping forces.)
"I'm on the Senate Intelligence Committee, so you can trust me and believe me when I say we're running out of cruise missiles. I can't tell you exactly how many we have left, for security reasons, but we're almost out of cruise missiles." -Senator Inhofe (R-OK )
(Um... putting aside the blatant security breach, where are you NOW, when our nation’s fundamental military readiness has plummeted to its lowest ebb in 60 years?)
"I cannot support a failed foreign policy. History teaches us that it is often easier to make war than peace. This administration is just learning that lesson right now. The President began this mission with very vague objectives and lots of unanswered questions. A month later, these questions are still unanswered. There are no clarified rules of engagement. There is no timetable. There is no legitimate definition of victory. There is no contingency plan for mission creep. There is no clear funding program. There is no agenda to bolster our overextended military. There is no explanation defining what vital national interests are at stake. There was no strategic plan for war when the President started this thing, and there still is no plan today"-Representative Tom Delay (R-TX)
"Explain to the mothers and fathers of American servicemen that may come home in body bags why their son or daughter have to give up their life?" -Sean Hannity, Fox News, 4/6/99
"Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is." -Governor George W. Bush (R-TX) (How about an exit strategy called “Go in with a good plan, use overwhelming force and skill, win quick, hand over to local cops, and get out within a year?)
"You can support the troops but not the president"-Representative Tom Delay (R-TX) Amen!
"It is a remarkable spectacle to see the Clinton Administration and NATO taking over from the Soviet Union the role of sponsoring "wars of national liberation." -Representative Helen Chenoweth (R-ID)
Beyond the blatant hypocrisy of these guys, we should note, the Balkans intervention left our status as world leader HIGHER than before, our alliances bolstered, the reserves were mostly left in their home states, with their families, military readiness GREW, and re-enlistments skyrocketed among troops whose morale was among the highest in our history.
And now, from Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman, Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration :"Great Groups are engaged in solving hard, meaningful problems. Paradoxically, that process is difficult but exhilarating as well. Some primal human urge to explore and discover, to see new relationships and turn them into wonderful new things drives these groups. The payoff is not money, or even glory. Again and again, members of Great Groups say they would have done the work for noting. The reward is the creative process itself."
==On to Tax Cuts==
Which brings up those tax cuts. Yes, it is a tired old mantra that they primarily benefitted the top 1% aristocracy while shivving the rest of us. That aspect was conceded from the start. (Will it EVER be relevant that the wealth difference ratios keep rising at an accelerating pace?) Only it was explained and excused by the latest version of that old Reaganite "trickle-down" notion, re-invented as "economic stimulation through supply side investment."
In other words, if we increase the deficit today (through massive unfinanced tax cuts for the rich), this won't ultimately affect America's fiscal health, because the wealthy will invest all of their added gains in new research, development, capitalization and products, resulting in so much accelerated economic activity that the debt will be erased, even at lower tax rates.
I always doubted this theory, because history shows that Adam Smith was right. Many aristocrats prefer safe rather than risky investments. They would rather manipulate politics in order to get preferential treatment for passive dividends and rents - which involve no personal creativity or work - than perform hands-on entrepreneurship or company building that generate actual products and services. It is the job of market fine-tuning to ensure that risky/creative investing has a preference over passive/advantage-reinforcing investment.
Who has been proved right? In five years since the Great Big Tax Cut For the Rich, our federal deficit has only grown worse at skyrocketing rates. The "war on terror" is no excuse, since every prior generation had the sense to tax themselves to PAY for wars. It's what our ancestors did. Always. (Isn't that "conservative"?) But our present rulers would rather have our kids pay the bill.
In science, when a prediction of cause and effect is proved utterly and diametrically wrong, this calls into question the theory that made the prediction. In contrast, falsification is impossible when it comes to ideological mysticism. True believers (of the right or left) will not change their beliefs in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence. Evidence only makes them hate the evidentiary process. Hence the recent neoconservative+postmodernist alliance in waging war against science.
Enough for now... Pick your favorite items. Pass em on.