Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Strongpoint Defenses

     Every now and then a word or phrase will insinuate itself into my brain rhythms, such that I become consumed with a need to figure out why it matters and how widely its relations to other things might reach. Yesterday evening, while watching Special Report and contemplating the hyper-contentious confirmation process of new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the word that started to bounce back and forth off the walls of my skull was strongpoint.

     The word bemused me for several hours. It describes a defensive strategy common to chess and warfare: the maintenance of a particular, firmly held bastion as a rock against which enemy attacks must break. To be successful, the selected strongpoint must be one the opponent can’t circumvent or bypass. An example is Paris during the earliest weeks of World War I. The Germans’ original strategy for a quick victory over France, known as the Schlieffen Plan, embedded the assumption that Paris, a fortified city that had withstood many attacks over the centuries, could be bypassed in favor of an envelopment of the French armies in the field. General Joseph Gallieni and the reserve forces General Joseph Joffre had marshaled within the city proved that to be a fatal error.

     When an attacker successfully overcomes a critical strongpoint – e.g., the Maginot Line in World War II – the defender often succumbs quickly, as much because of the psychological effect of losing the bastion as its importance in maintaining the defenses. When the strongpoint remains sturdy even under harsh assault – e.g., Stalingrad in World War II – the attacker’s depletion of forces and loss of morale will sometimes decide the contest. The lesson is not lost on strategic planners.

     Strongpoint defenses occur in politics, as well. We saw one of them assaulted and overcome yesterday evening. Others will loom large as the battles on Capitol Hill progress.


     For more than two centuries, the procedural strongpoint the party out of power was most likely to rely on was the Senatorial filibuster: the ability of a minority caucus to prevent an issue from receiving an up-or-down vote in the Senate by insisting that debate must continue. As my Gentle Readers will surely know, any minority party that commanded more than 40% of the Senate’s seats could obstruct a measure in that fashion...until Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided to invoke the “nuclear option.”

     That parliamentary tactic – using the Senate’s rule-changing procedure to dissolve the filibuster – was well named. The Democrats were gambling that by destroying the filibuster strongpoint, they would gain so much that, should they ever return to minority status, they would not miss the filibuster’s power to impede adverse legislation. As of yesterday it appears that they have reason to regret that decision. One of their partisan strongpoints, the Department of Education, fell into Republican hands as a result.


     The “traditional” Republican strongpoints include the Fortune 5000, whose management has historically favored low taxes and an easily managed regulatory environment. As those companies control more than half the nation’s commerce, they’ve constituted a formidable force in defense of market normality. However, the Eighties and Nineties brought a sea change to the American economy that overturned a goodly portion of American business’s previous affection for laissez faire.

     The change was the explosion of digital technology and the rise of software and software developers as a commercial force. Software – indeed, the “information industries” as a group – does not require large amounts of investment in physical capital. Moreover, the physical capital it requires is far more mobile than the older, physical-product industries. The swift shift in commercial power made the new mega-companies targets for the Democrats, who saw an opportunity to present corporate number-crunchers and legal departments with baubles they could not resist: cheap labor and large government contracts.

     Many of the new industries bought into the bargain, using the H-1B visa program and “offshoring” of software efforts to reduce labor costs, while huge contracts for the support of government computing lured other companies into regarding the State as their biggest opportunity. This has greatly undermined the GOP’s strongpoint in corporate America, which is no longer incontestably theirs. Indeed, the ability of companies such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and Twitter to “reroute the information superhighway” has been a considerable thorn in the Right’s flesh.


     Other strongpoints important in the American political dynamic include:

  • For the Left:
    1. The news media;
    2. The entertainment industry;
    3. The “environmental” movement;
    4. The unions, especially those that organize “educators” and government workers;
    5. The licensed professional societies, especially the American Medical Association and the National Bar Association.
  • For the Right:
    1. The “gun culture;”
    2. The armed forces and America’s large community of veterans;
    3. The “extractive” industries, especially the coal, oil, and gas industries.

     Attacks on those strongpoints have been many, but few have had significant effects. Still, they constitute “big prizes:” should one of them fall, it would bring great advantage to its conqueror. Needless to say, their defenders constantly look to strengthen them and eliminate “weak points” when discovered.

     The Trump Administration, regarded by the Left (and many on the establishment Right) as an insurgency, will seek to use its new command of the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency to weaken the associated Democrat bastions. If Trump and his lieutenants are smart – and they are – they’ll swiftly capitalize on any gains they make there. Hopefully, that won’t involve creating new megaliths determined to maintain parochial interests at all costs, as the NEA and the EPA have been doing for decades.

     We shall see.

7 comments:

  1. I wonder how much effect, if any, will be felt from Democratic strongpoints like entertainment, the media and environmentalism undermining their own walls with ridiculous behaviors, as we've seen recently.

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  2. Re Paris and WW I: The Germans failed at Paris because their command structure allowed their two armies to become separated. That allowed a counter attack from the British and French forces in the field southeast of Paris. The threat of allied forces driving a wedge between the German armies induced them to retreat and reorganize on the Marne. Fortress Paris was a factor, but not a determining one.

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  3. The major distinction between the strong points of the two sides bears a strong resemblance to the division in many endeavors, the difference between line and staff. The line part of the business produces the product, the staff handles the paperwork.

    Financial services, information services and, to a large extent, entertainment services are desirable but not essential. Food before Netflix.

    I think that the recent elections illuminate some of these divisions. It's kinda like "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?". People enjoy the fluff but much less so when they start to feel less secure.

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  4. If today's news on Drudge can be believed, the Left may be losing some of the unions. Specifically, the trade unions.

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  5. I'm very glad you followed up your bemusement with "strong point" because it is simply not what I tend to see let alone look for.

    In my profession, now retired, as thermal engineer, I became expert of necessity at spotting weak points and fixing them. Be it in design -- eliminating resistance to temperature reduction or plugging heat leaks -- or in test -- spotting trends and quickly identifying causes of heat gain or loss that could lead to failure -- it was always in my duties to be looking for weak points.

    For good or ill, I still do that. In my comment to your excellent piece yesterday, I concentrated on the weakest point of those engaged in the CAGW fraud in the hopes that our side will pursue that avenue mightily. Indeed, a successful win there portends gains for us in many other avenues too. The legality there would be OUR strong point.

    Thanks for introducing me to another way to pursue the threats facing us.

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  6. I wonder if Trump & Co. have sufficient awareness of the "weaponization of commerce" to pursue even partial corrections through taxation reform.

    The extractive commercial entities, plus the constructive ones (those industries that actually make usable physical things) are unavoidably capital intensive; the so-called "creative" industries - software, entertainment, etc. - have substantially lower - and often, more flexible - capital requirements, at least in comparison to ROI.

    Shifts in tax structure could ameliorate that imbalance, such as accelerated depreciation of capital plant and, potentially, subsidies for strategically important industries, and additonal tax burdens for those industries not engaged in extractive or constructive pursuits. If maintaining adequate petroleum supplies is both economically and strategically valuable, it is not unreasonable to increase taxes on Hollywood to assure that.

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  7. This is one of the many problems with fedgov and the tax codes at the federal and state level - trying to change behavior. It should only be about getting sufficient revenue to run the smallest most efficient gov needed.

    How about a flat tax on all income w/ no deductions? Get the gov out of the business of trying to encourage certain behaviors. If something is beneficial it will happen because there is demand for that something.

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