I confess that I am a bad American. Yes, I pay little attention to Congress. why? Because it seems to me little more than a storefront operation for the powers that count in America: Big Pharma, military industry, Wall Street and so on. They make policy. Congress just announces it. Nor do I much read the Constitution, a document in tatters that has little obvious connection to American life.
Recently however I found Senator Marco Rubio, a pseudo-Cuban from Miami, inveighing without detectable comprehension against RISC V and how we need to forbid American firms to collaborate with the Chinese in its development. Marco inveighs against Washington’s budgetary-pretextual enemies du jour with the predictability of gravitation.
Anyway, here a unavoidable bit of tedhnoglop: RISC V is a sort of language, more correctly an Instruction Set Architecture, necessary to “write” semiconductor chips, just as English is a language for writing books.
The two overwhelmingly dominant ISAs are ARM and .x86, both controlled by America or by countries controlled by America. China, worried that Washington might ban their use, has turned to RISC V, which is open-source, like English. Anybody can use it. China does nothing underhanded by using it. Rubio, not burdened with an unbearable weight of comprehension, or capacity for it, confuses the chips with the language used to design them. He thinks he is protecting American intellectual property. And so he promotes a policy he doesn’t understand, with effects he cannot foresee. Oh good.
Curious, I looked him up in the Wikipedia to see just what qualifications he might have for trying to talk about semiconductors. None. He is a lawyer. No mention of technical training.
How could this happen? Shouldn’t people influencing policy know what they are talking about?
Becoming more curious, I looked up the House Select Committee on China, with discouraging results.
A bit of preamble. China is a country of immense importance to the US. It has four times the American population and many more engineers. They are good engineers. China is an enormous market, the world’s foremost manufacturing power, and advances rapidly in technology. For all of these reasons, Washington appears to be preparing to start a shooting war. This being so, one would expect the committee to consist of…what?
If I were forming such a committee, I would want at least a half dozen members who could speak and read Chinese. I would raid elite universities for people with advanced degrees in Asian studies, Chinese history, and Chinese government and politics. I would find economists specializing in Asia. And I would have several people from the semiconductor industry.
In the Wikipedia I went through the entire committee, one by one, paying special attention to the section Early Life and Education. Some members were more impressive than I had expected, a couple of former Marines with real combat experience, a woman who went through the Naval Academy and served as a helicopter pilot. A few were complete duds. But one word never appeared:
The committee is a Sino-Asian wasteland, comprehensively unfit to be in the same building with a China policy. Check for yourself.
Why do we have such blank slates in a crucial committee? For many reasons. One is that representative democracy is a poor way to govern a modern country. An authoritarian government can appoint committees competent to do whatever they are supposed to do. It can inaugurate a policy in the expectation that it won’t change with the next election. Think China and high-speed rail. Our approximation of democracy cannot do this.
In practice we are ruled by provincial lawyers chosen in popularity contests. People selected with no regard for ability will be of little use in governing a fantastically complex techno-industrial society. Elections select people who are good at getting elected. Often they are good at nothing else, or not good at the assignments they are given. Where in Congress do you find people who speak Mandarin?
Perhaps as bad, anyone who has known Congressmen can confirm that they are faintly unpleasant, always calculating the spin, estimating press coverage, looking over your shoulder for the next name tag. They are manipulative, resembling Amway salesmen, always thinking in terms of the next election.
Further, American democracy isn’t one. To be elected a candidate needs support of one party or the other. These choose predictable candidates who will perform the primary political functions, namely to protect Wall Street, Israel, the big corporations, and the military budget. You and I get to choose only the candidates the parties allow us to choose. The real reason for the bipartisan loathing for Trump is that he wasn’t vetted in the usual manner and isn’t beholden to the system. He might do anything, such as ending the wars.
Consequently American government just doesn’t work. Can anyone believe that Joe and Kamala, second-rate lawyers both, should govern a nuclear-armed country of 330 million? Joe was elected because he wasn’t Trump, Kamala for being black, Trump for not being part of the reigning elites. Joe and Kamala aren’t bright enough for the job. Trump and Joe are under investigation for corruption. This our system produces.
No requirement exists that candidates be intelligent. Americans resent the intelligent, this being an expression of the resentment of the superior that underlies society. We want jes’ folks. No pointy-headed intellectuals need apply. We get what we want.
Many in electoral politics seem actual freaks or nut jobs. As a possible Presidential candidate we have, God save the mark, the pathologically aggressive Nikki Haley, a squalling she-ass who, apparently doubting her manhood, wants to attack some country, any country. Of the Palestinians she says, “Finish them! Finish them!” An explosively excitable President who wants to kill 2.3 million people?
Decisions urged by the equivalent of carney barkers can have serious consequences. Lindsey Graham, who sounds like an escapee from Gone With The Wind, seriously wants to bomb Iranian refineries. This sort of thinking, if so it may be called, is common in a Washington of minor minds with little in them.
Bomb Iran? What fun. Probable consequences: In short order several tankers in the Gulf would be ablaze. Thereafter no tankers would enter. Half the world gets its oil from the Gulf, for example Japan at (I think) ninety percent. In No exist strategy, no Plan B. Business as usual.a few days countries are screaming for petroleum. Many American bases are in easy range of Iran’s many and accurate missiles. So is Israel. Other oil facilities around the Gulf get hit, aggravating the problem. Iran then hits Saudi desalination plants that produce around half of the country’s drinking water. Biden “the ruble is rubble” says confidently that the Navy will take out the antiship missiles in a few days and, six weeks later, it hasn’t.
I need a drink. The Brew House is a half mile down the lakefront. News at eleven.