Daily Archives: November 9, 2009

Leaves on Fire


Leaves on Fire

Originally uploaded by iago18335

I was a teenage Machiavelli

Yet another occasional series in which I thumb through my 25 year old copy of The Prince to see what the 16 year old me thought was important to remember on my quest for world domination.

One should never allow chaos to develop in order to avoid going to war, because one does not avoid a war but instead puts it off to his disadvantage.

That quote seems a little more complicated when you’re a power with interests all over the world and not an Italian principality that’s essentially a regional power.  Clearly there are time you want to avoid (or perhaps just postpone) wars either because you’re already engaged elsewhere, have some serious domestic issues you need to get in order, or maybe suspect that you’re about to get your clock cleaned and want to buy a little time.

After all, the Romans used avoidance to good effect (more or less) by bribing various enemies pushing against their borders for a very long time.  Of course they didn’t do anything with the time they bought and once the barbarians realized they didn’t have to settle for piles of gold and could take Roman land as well it was just a matter of time.

But, on the other side of the coin, clearly the French and British (and maybe the Russians) didn’t do themselves any favors by putting off war with Germany in the 1930s.  And I’m still a believer that leaving Iraq intact in the wake of the first U.S./Iraq war wasn’t particularly good for us.

Of course, the trick is determining when your actions are just delaying a war and when they’re actually addressing the underlying causes of conflict and preventing a war.

Captain Ahab, I presume.


Originally uploaded by iago18335

He did not feel the wind, or smell the salt air. He only stood, staring at the horizon, with the marks of some inner crucifixion and woe deep in his face.

Like Ahab searching for Moby Dick, Shiloh continues his obsessive quest for the elusive great white chipmunk…At night, while kicking his legs in a dreamy chase I can almost hear him whisper…

From hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee. Ye damned whale.”

A failed strategy

See if you can guess which failed state/insurgency/peacekeeping operation/etc. this article refers to.  I’m only omitting details which might give away the answer.

Raw sewage seeped into Mr. and Mrs G’s basement, through its bathroom, hallway, and bedroom.  The fumes forced the family to eat outside and sent [their] 1-year-old [son] to the emergency room three times with respiratory problems. The toxic flow burned holes in walls and ruined clothes and a sofa.  The sewage comes from a collapsed pipe at the end of their block… in City X. How does the city respond? For three hours, three days a week, a bored employee uses a noisy machine to transfer waste from the busted sewer into one that works.  This jury-rigged solution has been in place for more than a year.

City X is so broke, so unable to perform the basic functions of government, that the obvious solution – repairing the century-old brick sewer system – is almost impossible to achieve, fiscally and politically.  Seven years ago, [the government]  rolled out a revitalization plan…[the city] would be taken over, repaired, and put on a path to self-reliance.

[The Government] gave City X $175 million in bonds and loans, plus a one-time $7.5 million appropriation from the [government’s] budget, in exchange for an appointed chief operating officer to run the government and for control over the school board. [The] plan would create jobs, improve the quality of life, decrease crime, demolish all unsafe vacant buildings, lure new businesses, and, yes, mend sewers.

  • X’s residents are just as poor today and just as likely to be murdered. They are just as unemployed and lacking in the skills to succeed at work. Their children’s reading and math skills are just as abysmal. And the city is twice as reliant on [taxes from other areas] as before.
  • The law replaced the political power of X’s most significant advocates – its 70,390 residents – with a murky bureaucracy unable to govern. [The government has] said some control could return to city leaders by the end of the year, but gave no specifics.
  • The law also said [the government] would “provide the necessary level of funding to allow for the demolition of unsafe structures,” but more than 1,500 such buildings remain, as drug dens, fire hazards, and eyesores.
  • Less than 5 percent of the $175 million recovery package was spent on the things residents care about most: crime, city schools, job training, and municipal services.
  • Nearly $100 million of the $170 million spent so far went to construction projects for large institutions, like a law school and an aquarium. And much of the construction work was handled by contractors and [interest groups] that contribute to the authors of the takeover law.

Anyone care to guess?  An Iraqi city in 2007?  Kandahar?  Sierra Leone?

Nope.  Camden, New Jersey.

And this is why I think that some form of COIN doctrine may be applicable to our most depressed cities.  The rule of law has collapsed.  People’s safety is at almost constant risk.  The government can’t (or won’t) provide basic services.  Infrastructure and the local economy are in shambles.

And so the answer to these problems is to throw money into a number of pet projects randomly, make a bunch of street level arrests of easily replaceable drug dealers (who are frequently kept in business by suburbanites) and disenfranchise the population?

Where’s the equivalent of the CERP?  Where’s the dedication to public safety demonstrated by having security personnel stationed among the population (as opposed to rushing from emergency call to call or following the gunshots)?  Where’s the institution and confidence building measures to let the local population take control of their city?

In the article, the reporter interviewed NJ Governor John Corzine.

He described Camden as a “50-year problem” that won’t be fixed in seven

That prediction will come true if we continue with the same old failed strategies.  And if Camden was the only city in this shape in the region or the country we could live with it.  But really, how long are we going to write off these cities, their populations (American citizens, I might add) and the instability that their decrepit conditions lead to?