Signs & Portents

I’m a huge fanboy of The Atlantic Monthly. If you’re interested in foreign policy, relatively unbiased political commentary, and expert writing, I think that you’d do yourself a favor to consider subscribing.

I received the September 2006 issue in the mail last week and spent a good chunk of time reading it over the last few days. There were several articles that raised interesting points.

The cover story, “Declaring Victory” by James Fallows, basically explains that for all intents and purposes, the US has beaten Al Qaeda. We’ve disrupted their organization, and they spend so much time fleeing from one safehouse to another that they lack the ability to pull off another high-profile & daring attack like 9/11. The best they can hope for is to goad the United States into overreacting to one of their pin-prick attacks, and thereby raise their profile and further inflame the Arab street against the USA. If we show restraint, we will win. We won’t remove the possibility of terrorist attacks, but we will effectively negate Al Qaeda as a political force.

While I originally disagreed with Fallows’ premise, the more I thought about it, the more I agreed with him. Al Qaeda is not the primary force we’re fighting with in either Iraq nor Afghanistan. The situation in Iraq is growing worse day by day, but that is more due to sectarian issues between Sunni & Shiite, or Kurd & Arab, than it has to do with straight-up jihad. Likewise in Afghanistan, we’re dealing more with the Taliban, who seem to be gaining support against the Karzai regime, which is seen as nothing more than a US puppet (which is all it is). Taking those things into account, I can see Fallows’ argument much more clearly.

It’s interesting that Israel seems to be acting as a test case, since they are overreacting to the situations in both Gaza and Lebanon, and they are paying the price both in terms of world opinion (both in the Arab world and globally), as well as economically. I heard on NPR this weekend that the ‘war’ with Lebanon is costing the Israeli national economy approximately $220 million per week that it lasts. Economists predicted that Israel could prolong the war for only another few weeks before it has a detectable impact on the economy. Hezbollah & Hamas have benefited from the war even as Lebanon & Gaza have suffered, for both parties are being feted in the Arab press as leading the fight against Israel. It has been reported elsewhere that some of the more corrupt & tottering Arab governments may have no choice but to support their actions, lest they become a target for their own population’s ire due to their perceived inactivity and/or support of US (and, by extension Israeli) policy.

Another article “The Height of Inequality” by Clive Crook, details how in the latest round of economic growth, wages for American workers have more or less stagnated while the pay of CEO’s has skyrocketed. This seems to be more proof that the American middle class is slowly but surely being pushed into the lower class, as many commentators (Kunstler, among them) have predicted. For what it’s worth, my own pay has seen small increases over the last few years, but they have not kept up with the inflation rate, so my buying power has been declining yearly since 2000.

This stratification of American society is further documented in “Inside the Billionaire Service Industry” by Sheelah Kolhatkar, which describes the growth of a niche industry of highly-compensated Majordomo running the households of the super-wealthy. While most of this article describes how even the ultra-rich need help managing their fortunes, there’s a throw-away quote at the end of the article that I think is telling (emphasis is mine):

Then, out of the blue during one of our later conversations, Natasha Pearl said something surprising: “If the income inequality persists, we could end up with real armed camps, like in South Africa.”” She said she was increasingly aware of the tension between the “haves”” and the”“have-nots,” and she described a surge in demand among the ultrarich for real estate in out-of-the-way places such as New Zealand and rural Argentina – —expensive insurance policies in case things go haywire for some reason at home. “The wise ones are thinking about it now,”” Pearl said. Indeed, it might be worth planning ahead; I wonder what the going salary will be for a spot in an oligarch’’s private army.

Spotting trends early is what separates the wise from the foolish. One of the possibilities Kunstler discusses in The Long Emergency is a situation where the US government collapses under the weight of both federal and personal debt loads, and the ultra-rich high-tail it to other places on the globe, leaving the US as a collapsed third-world nation state that’s poor, insolvent, owned in large part by other nations, and mostly inhabited by the “formerly middle class.” That’s us he’s talking about, folks.

I don’t wish to sound too alarmist about things, for I don’t think that things will go to hell in a handbasket in the next few months’ time or anything. If things continue the way they are going now, though, I think that the USA will be a less happy place to be living in 2008 when the next major elections come around. The powers that be seem to be doing their best to loot the country now and get future generations of taxpayers to foot the bill. While the Republicans are taking center stage in this travesty, the Decomcrats have been more or less complicit in all this as well. I think it’s very encouraging to see Joe Lieberman of Connecticut being reduced from a possible 2008 presidential candidate to being a longshot to retain his senate seat. Voters seem to be slowly coming out of their doldrums once again, and I hope they can send enough of a message this fall to make both political establishments very nervous for the next presidential election.

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