Saturday, February 25, 2012

Dangerously Naive - Americans Piss Me Off

Think of the things America has not experienced.  Ever.

Aerial Bombardment.
If you tried to make a list of the nations our bombers, fighters and drones have attacked in the hundred years that there has even been such a thing as military air power, you would quickly find it to be an almost impossible task.  The list is so long it's mind boggling.  And when you add to the list all the other nations that have endured aerial bombardment by other nations (or even their own feckless government), and you will find that virtually all societies, in just the last several generations, know that particular terror.  But we, alone among modern nations, have never experienced air attacks on our soil.

Foreign Invasion/Occupation.
Europe is the poster child for this horrific experience, but one cannot forget that throughout Asia, the sub-Continent, Africa and Latin America it has been a regular experience, with all the brutality and slaughter that comes directly from an enforced occupation.

Nuclear Coercion.
This is simple.  We were the first to develop nuclear weapons.  To this day still the only nation to use them in anger.  We have been threatening the entire world with apocalyptic destruction for sixty years, and have NEVER, not for one second, known the feeling of being defenseless before a nuclear threat.  Oh, we have feared our own holocaust - but only with the knowledge that any attacker would be signing their own death warrant.

Yes.  The Civil War was an insurgency.  But how many nations have suffered the slow bleeding of a low level internal conflict, and the brutality of draconian police measures that always result, just in the last fifty years?  Yes, the Civil War was horrific, but with modern weapons and modern technology, insurgency is easier, more lethal and requires fewer committed rebels.  1865 was so long ago as to be meaningless.

*  *  *

Now think of the torments we routinely inflict on other nations, without hesitation or even consideration of what precisely it might be that gives us the RIGHT, whether these actions are those of the global "Good Guy" or whether the actions make us a rogue nation and the single greatest threat to peace in the world today.  Try to come up with a functional definition of the term "Terrorism" that excludes anti-tank missiles launched from stealthy drones into houses and cars in unsuspecting civilian neighborhoods.  Go ahead. I'll wait.

If Venezuela had nuclear missiles and the US did not, can you imagine any scenario where the US didn't throw out the IAEA inspectors, abrogate the NPT and go for broke to build a nuclear deterrent?  How can we expect the Iranians, or for that matter the Syrians, Saudis or Egyptians to stand confronted by a nuclear armed Israel when we KNOW we would not be willing to do the same thing ourselves?  Wouldn't it be more aligned with our professed values to pressure Israel to give up their illegal weapons then to try and prevent other nations legally developing their own nuclear capabilities?  Wouldn't it actually reduce the likelihood of a nuclear attack if there was a more balanced nuclear presence in the region?

Where is the value in loudly and publicly declaring China our next great adversary?  Do we really NEED a great adversary all the time?  Isn't it possible to have a world where the great powers do not divide themselves into warring coalitions, but rather compete to increase trade, wealth and global quality of life?  Why is that so incomprehensible?  How might China, in her role as grand adversary, go about harming the US without destroying herself in the process?  Wars are destructive for trade - they reduce global demand, divert resources from commerce to war-making, and they reduce access to all manner of raw materials.  And if the fear is that China will use force to re-take possession of Taiwan, that's just silly.  They want Taiwan intact, with all its wealth, not an economic and human basket case of smoldering ruins and shattered infrastructure.   And the Chinese know that it is inevitable, a matter of time only, before Taiwan chooses to rejoin the mainland all on its own.  There is no other path for them, and even now, this is becoming clear.

All around the world, we are seeing the rapidly eroding utility of military force.  The US invasions of both Iraq and Afghanistan were very brief, overwhelming military victories followed by long, grinding, bloody debacles.  Nothing was gained in either case, and a great deal was lost.  Not the least of which was a global perception of US military superiority.  Every nation now understands, from China to Syria to Sudan, that the US can defeat their military, but that won't achieve their aims, and they can be bled out in a long insurgency.  The US, on the other hand, is still locked in a World War II mindset, building huge, heavy tank brigades and powerful air forces to defeat - who, exactly?  There are exactly two kinds of warfare possible in the modern era, and we are seeing them both.  Most common is the war between a government and it's people - a rebellion as we see in Syria and before that, Libya, or a civil war as in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Typically these sorts of insurgencies pit a much better armed and funded government against a smaller, weaker foe, and they are fought in a series of ambushes, bomb blasts, kidnapping, assassinations, torture and executions.  They last for years or decades, because there is no clear cut way for them to end - no path to anything that might be described as "victory".  The other kind of war is the kind the US is fighting all over the world.  No matter what you believe about the morality of drone strikes and special operations raids, there is very little doubt about their efficacy.  They are merely an extension of the tactics of terrorism - designed to create fear to achieve primarily political ends.  There have always been elite fighters in every culture, and much of the advanced technology used in drones is software, and therefore available to any nation, so this kind of warfare will soon become commonplace around the world, and make no mistake, it will be used against the US.

All apropos of nothing I suppose, and unlikely to lead to anything revelatory, but I think, when you get past our indoctrination and the fog of lies about American Exceptionalism and "False Equivalence", there's something important here to be learned about who we are.  We are an optimistic and inventive people, certainly, but that optimism, coupled with a geographic location rich in resources and virtually invulnerable to military attack, seems to have lead to a kind of a cruel nationalism, an inward-focused hubris that allows us to forgive virtually any criminal act, as long as it was committed by Americans.  Where all cultures have a great capacity for ethnic hatred, and all religions are steeped in a particularly irrational loathing of "unbelievers", Americans, with their unique history, couple a kind of hyper-tribalism with a dangerous belief that violence is a perfectly appropriate approach to conflict resolution.

It is nothing short of astonishing that we, as a people, are not hated and feared much more than we are...

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


So Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu is upset with US Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey.  What, you might wonder, could the titular head of the US Military have possibly done to enrage the number one user of American Military hardware and technology?  Well, he had the unmitigated gall to go on TeeVee and take the position that it would not be "wise" for Israel to launch a military attack on Iran "at this time".  An outrage, I know.  What else did he say?  "...we are of the opinion that the Iranian regime is a rational actor."  I know - how DARE he?

So what did PM Netanyahu and his DM Barak have to say about this gross provocation?

“We made it clear to Donilon that all those statements and briefings only served the Iranians,” a senior Israeli official said. “The Iranians see there’s controversy between the United States and Israel, and that the Americans object to a military act. That reduces the pressure on them.”

Here's the thing, though.  There are three distinct actors in this little drama.  There is the Israeli government, the Iranian government, and the United States government.  General Dempsey is a decorated officer in the United States Army.  Now, whose interest do you suppose he seeks to serve?  If you guessed the US, you win.  At some point, regardless of how the US aligns itself with Israel and against Iran, Dempsey's number one concern has to be America and serving her best interests.

Now it seems to me that there are only two possible interpretations here.  Either Netanyahu sees the world in such starkly binary terms that every single act, every word spoken and every statement issued, anywhere in the world by anyone must be defined in terms of either being in Israel's interests or in Iran's.  Or, the other possible interpretation, that Netanyahu sees America's interests as being aligned more closely with Iran than with Israel, and therefore, if an American speaks out in support of American interests, he is, however unintentionally, simultaneously speaking in support of Iranian interests.

Ultimately, of course, it doesn't matter either way.  This kind of rhetoric is offensive, and the fact that we Americans send billions of our tax dollars to Israel instead of hiring teachers and firefighters, or building roads and schools should necessitate a more thoughtful and respectful consideration from the Israeli leadership.  I am personally offended that they take all that money as if it was their birthright, and are unwilling to do ANYTHING for the US in return.  They are the spoiled child, always expecting more, and never willing to do anything to deserve it.  Obama should demand an apology from both Bibi and Barak, but it being an election year, I suppose I'd be very surprised if it even got mentioned.  Which is why it will happen again...

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The De-Evolution of Governance -- Fear of a Sustainable Future

In simple terms, nation states all over the world are facing the same problem - quality of governance.  Sure, it manifests itself in different ways - in the US it's a horrific imbalance of wealth and a grossly underfunded government, in Europe it's monetary integration without fiscal or political (or cultural, for that matter) integration.  In China it's the constant rumblings of a restive population.  It's the competing demands of ethnic, sectarian and tribal factions, it's national borders that don't reflect national populations, it's authoritarian rule, cronyism, corruption and brutality.  But at the core, it all goes to one key problem.  In the obscene, self-reinforcing scramble for personal wealth, the entire world has abandoned sustainable policies and long-term solutions for short-term patches, last minute acts of political and economic desperation and a general unwillingness to invest in the future.  Government has ceased to be about governance, and has become strictly another path to wealth an individual might choose - another entrepreneurial option for hucksters and psychopathic risk-takers.  Where politics were once a means to an end, the way one might achieve power, contribute to the success and esteem of his nation, perhaps grow to become a statesman, now it is an end unto itself.  Election campaign morphs smoothly and instantly into re-election campaign, and there is never a good time to make compromises, let alone sacrifices, to achieve a stable, sustainable future for the generations to come.

Inability to act on Climate Change, on Education, on Infrastructure, on sustainable government funding is not a passing challenge.  It is not due to "gridlock" or some kind of temporary status quo that will be erased with the next election, or in the next Congress.  Because as problematic as these issues are, they are not the problem - they are merely symptoms.  The problem is systemic - the result of massive global corruption, where absolutely NONE of the wealth of these already obscenely rich individuals can be put at risk, certainly not for "the greater good".  The systems of governance have been modified to serve the needs of the wealthy, and the individuals elected or promoted in those systems are beholden to them, serving essentially at their whim.  The Faustian agreement is mostly implicit, but do not assume it will not be made explicit when necessary.  The politicians are free to pursue their own empires, and they are free to impose whatever ideological or sectarian torments upon their constituencies they wish, but the flow of wealth to the wealthy must not be impeded in any way, and any and all necessary government resources will be brought to bear whenever that wealth is threatened.

When people rend their garments over the bank bailouts, even as the homeowners are left at their mercy, with nothing to protect them from utter destitution, they only reflect obsolete thinking.  This is not a bug, this is a carefully designed feature.  Government no longer exists to serve the people - its only purpose is to serve the wealthy, and to preserve the wealth.  When those same people shake their heads in disbelief as schools and infrastructure crumble while we build trillion dollar aircraft carriers to impose our will on other, mostly tiny and powerless nations, it is not because the people or the nation are at risk.  It is because the wealth is at risk - economies dependent on the massive daily flow of inexpensive energy require that there be no limit to the squander of national and generational wealth, just to ensure that energy continues to flow.  Dynastic families with billionaire grandchildren still demand lower taxes - the crumbling roads, declining dams and collapsing bridges are not their concern.  Wealth provides its own solutions, and the people who need the infrastructure have nothing to offer their now heartless and disinterested government to build it for them.   Increasingly, the people exist to work long hours in service jobs in order to provide the capital for the engine that drives the worlds largest economy - what we call "consumer spending".

So how does a world comprised no longer of people and their nations, but rather of owners and commodities play out?  What might the end game look like?  For the near term, we have entered a period of crisis management.  Governments will no longer act until faced with imminent catastrophe, and even then will only take the minimum steps to mitigate disaster, while doing anything necessary to preserve the wealth of the ownership class.  We saw this in the Financial collapse in '08, we're seeing it again in the Euro crisis right now.  We'll see it when an economic or geopolitical crisis reduces the supply of crude oil to below the level of demand.  We'll see it when nations are faced with default, and the banks and investors are confronted with the requirement that they "take a haircut".  It is unquestionable that we have entered a period where no significant action can be taken until it is in response to an existential crisis, so we will drift from crisis to crisis until confronted with one we are too late or too small to allay, and then big bad things will start to happen.  In the meantime, of course, the rising cost and declining quality of education will impact our ability to create a modern, competitive workforce, and our unwillingness to even maintain, let alone update, our infrastructure and physical plant will lead to a series of tragedies and events that will point the way to decline.  And all of these crises and events will ripple around our globally connected world, creating unintended consequences and black swans.

Of course, the outcome is violence.  In a perfect storm of economic collapse, ideological and sectarian hatred and intolerance, ineffective governance, starvation, drought, storms and fear, people will rise up, and unlike anytime in history, the world is awash in terribly lethal weapons.  It was pointed out to me long ago that people will suffer any indignity, any brutality on their own, but when they no longer can see a better future for their children they become willing to fight, and to die, to change that.  And that is the course we're on.  How many people can look forward to a bright, safe, fulfilling future for their children?  Is it merely a coincidence that those same people are the ones now well served by their governments?  Do they not see that their future is just as grim as ours, for not only will their wealth not survive the coming turmoil, but most of them will not, either?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Syria Thing

Homs, besieged and under relentless artillery fire
Bashar al-Assad's Syria represents a horrific problem for the international community.  Syria is nothing like Libya, and any kind of direct intervention, for a variety of reasons, is extremely difficult, if not impossible.  And yet.

Certainly the international community in a modern, civilized, educated world has some responsibility to try to stop a dictator from slaughtering his citizens.  Sovereignty simply cannot mean that an individual, political party, organization or cult can use the conventions of international borders to commit the unfettered industrial scale murder of vast swaths of his population.  But at the same time, any military intervention is fraught with risk, and there is no value in any process that leads to further destabilization, a regional war, more killing and more destruction.

The politics of it are what make it so hard.  al-Assad is not going to back down - for him it truly is an existential struggle.  There is no place for him and his Baath party cronies except either as the autocratic rulers of Syria, in a cell in The Hague or in a grave.  His father murdered hundreds of thousands of his own people (well, Syrians, but (mostly) not Allawites) to stay in power, and any dictator today, well aware of the fate of those such as Gadhafi and Saddam Hussein will see no future in compromise.  So diplomacy, negotiations, even brutal economic sanctions are unlikely to alter the path.  A dictator in al-Assad's position today must either completely and utterly crush the revolt or eventually he will be deposed, and he will die.

Direct intervention is not possible at all without a UN Mandate, and the willing participation of the regional organizations like the Arab League and the GCC.  And as long as Russia is willing to provide cover for the Syrian leadership in the UN Security Council then there can be no mandate, and European nations, having seen firsthand what international miltary adventures without UN support look like in Iraq, will not be willing to participate.  And the US has, rightly, had her fill of unilateral "cowboy" actions that lacked international support.  Even with a UN Resolution, there are real, practical questions about what can be accomplished, and what the indirect and unintended consequences of any military action might be.

So if, at least for now, we must rule out direct intervention in Syria - and let's be perfectly clear:  we must - and yet, even still, we feel that to do nothing would not only compound the crimes, it would be a crime in itself - just what CAN the international community do?

What about a No Fly Zone?
Both sides learn from history, and al-Assad has learned well the lessons of Libya.  First, he doesn't need air power to suppress the rebellion.  Oh sure, make no mistake, he'd LOVE to use the terrifying power of random death from the skies, but the risks and costs just don't justify the benefits.  If he used his air against Homs and the Damascus suburbs, that would give the international community an excuse to push for a No Fly Zone, much as they did with Gadhafi.  And he must always be aware that Israel is ALWAYS looking for an opportunity to engage, and if he starts flying fighter bombers and dropping bombs and a few of those jets stray a bit too close to the border they'll get knocked down.  Problems he does not need at this point.  And the bottom line for the Syrian regime is that suppressing this rebellion is dirty, close, eyeball range murder.  It calls for tanks, machine guns and snipers.  It calls for detention and torture.  The idea is to make the rebels stop rebelling - and that means inflicting maximum pain on them, their families and their tribe.  As long as he doesn't actually NEED his air power, he won't make that mistake.

Sanctions just don't matter.  There is no option for Bashar al-Assad.  He's in a win or die struggle, and anybody in the Western community who doesn't understand this is bound to miscalculate.  Sanctions won't end the slaughter.  They won't even slow it down.  The regime knows they're losing revenue, but they're fighting to keep their lives.  They'll let the whole country starve before they'll negotiate in good faith.  See North Korea.

Arm the Rebels?
This seems a reasonable course of action when first examined.  Some kind of active support that challenges the regime, sends a message the the international community is not going to stand passively by and allow these crimes, and maybe hastens the fall of the dictator.

The argument against arming the rebels is that injecting a large number of arms into a particular region is destabilizing, and will contribute to violence and instability in the post-conflict future.  I suspect there is some truth to this, but for the most part it seems to be a correlation without causation.  In the aftermath of war, the population is predisposed to violence because they are inured to it.  Indeed, all of the societal barriers to violence, killing and destruction have already been stripped away, and people will use any available weapons because that is what they have come to believe is necessary and proper. So the presence of weapons might well enable post-conflict violence, but it seems unlikely they are actually a primary driver of it.  And the fact is we're faced with a slaughter TODAY, and the balance of power is fully in the favor of the regime.

The larger question is whether the rebels actually NEED arms.  The number of actual rebel fighters isn't clear, and the core of the Free Syria Army seems to be military professionals who brought their weapons with them.  What's needed militarily is a way to stop the armor and artillery, to bring a halt to the shelling of civilian neighborhoods and end the indiscriminate slaughter.  And that's either tanks or air power, and there is no hope of either as things stand today.

Carve out a "Safe Zone"?
It would be nice if there was a place where Syrian refugees and those targeted by the regime could go to be safe and begin to form the basis for an opposition leadership.  But I am skeptical about the chances for this for a couple reasons.  First, whether done under the auspices of the Arab League or the UN, it would still constitute an invasion of Syria, probably from Turkey, and the international soldiers on the ground would not be peacekeepers, but would very quickly find themselves in heavy combat.  Second, the Internally Displaced People that would be protected in this safe zone would have to find a way to get there, and the al-Assad loyalists would make that a very bloody, very dangerous trip.  And third, remember Srebrenica.  The UN promised the Bosnians they would be protected there, so they came, and when they did the Serbs murdered them by the thousands in the worst genocide in Europe since the Second World War.  The UN troops?  They stood by and did nothing, or they fled.  You cannot promise a safe zone if you're not committed to doing whatever is necessary to protect those to whom you promised sanctuary.

I'm the first to admit I don't know what should be done.  But civilized nations have GOT to be willing to spend some treasure and take some risks to stop this kind of horror.  It is brutally dishonest to call it an "Internal Syrian Affair" and do nothing while thousands are killed, wounded and tortured.  In a way, Bashar al-Assad may be making it somewhat easier by ratcheting up the violence, brutality and suffering to the point where even his most stout defenders may be forced to turn away, and that might open up some options for the West to intervene.  The open question is how many have to die before that comes to pass?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Abortion, Planned Parenthood and a Big Bucket of Reality

Every now and then some event happens that brings the Great American Abortion Argument to the forefront, forcing all manner of news and opinion outlets to spill billions of pixels and gallons of ink rehashing not just the event, but the argument itself.  One side claims to be all about women's health, and their rights to privacy and choice.  The other side claims the mantle of morality, closing their eyes to any other consideration and demanding that an abortion be treated no differently than an armed convenience store robbery that ends in bloodshed and tragedy.  Despite the fact that the realities surrounding abortion are obvious, the elephant in the room that ensures that those opposed to legal abortion will never win the argument, we never actually see those realities discussed in the open.

Sure, women have a right to make their own decisions about their bodies and their health care.  They have the right to make private decisions with their physician and have those medical treatments and procedures deemed proper and necessary by them, without the interference of a government agency or private organization.  But these are all second-order arguments.  They completely bypass, even ignore, the extant realities surrounding abortion in America.  Similarly, those opposed to legal abortion couch their arguments in morality and legalese.  But that's not what they mean - not by a long shot.  These people who call themselves "Right to Life" are very often the same people out cheering in support of the Death Penalty - a distinction they can only meet with a child's hand-waving "it's not the same thing".  The perfectly transparent truth, however, is that these are religious fundamentalists, what we used to call religious fanatics before we discovered that, suitably exercised, these extremists could suddenly take lives in industrial quantities. And like all religions fundamentalists, it is not enough for them to follow their ridiculous teachings, but they will always try to impose the same dogma on everyone, regardless of how inappropriate it might be.

So what are these 'Realities' I keep speaking of?  Well, there are several of them.  We know them all, just as we know who all the players in this endless contest really are, but we don't see them printed nor hear them spoken anywhere near as often as we should.

1. Abortion is legal
You might have heard about it.  Roe v. Wade.  It is legal for women to seek an abortion, and it is legal for doctors to perform the procedure.  It is, in that sense, no different from plastic surgery or a hip replacement.  If a woman, in consultation with her doctor, chooses to abort her pregnancy, it is the unequivocal law of the land that she may.  So there is no reason why there should be any limitation on insurance coverage or clinical operations.  We have done a dreadful job of separating the secular LAW from the religious doctrine - there should be no discussion in a nation of laws, not men.  If they can pass laws to limit access to abortion that are constitutional, I won't like it, but I'll live with it.  Because that's how our system works.  This is the reason it is especially egregious when Democratic lawmakers and political leaders accept these entirely artificial limitations.  They only need one argument - "I've sworn to uphold the law, and legal abortions are the law.  Come back and see me when you change that".  To do otherwise is putting politics before the law, and although we've come to see that happen regularly, it continues to be fundamentally wrong.

2.  Abortion is good for society
This is the key point, and it's the one you simply NEVER hear.  When a young woman is forced to carry her unwanted child to term, she to a large extent defines her life in terms of limits and constraints.  She probably won't finish her education, she probably won't rise up the corporate ladder to a position of authority, she probably won't create or invent or lead.  We as a society simply lose the benefits we might have otherwise accrued.  Economists call this Opportunity Costs - the things you won't have because of a decision made to do something else.  The Iraq war, above all else, represented an opportunity cost - a trillion dollars that could have done so much good here at home.  Why are there so many educated, successful, powerful women in business, academia and government today?  There are many reasons, but you can bet that a significant number of them are where they are because they had access to an abortion when they needed it.

3.  Any alternative to legal abortion is barbaric.
And here, of course, is the pragmatic concern.  You'll occasionally hear mention, usually in the context of sloganeering, of "Coat Hangers".  But this is an area worth considering as part of the public debate.  First, there can be no doubt that, given some amount of wealth, the law would never be an actual impediment to an abortion.  So we're really only talking about women of more limited resources, who may not have access not only to safe abortion services, but good advice and healthy guidance.  The net outcome is that there are still a very large number of abortions, but in a much larger number of cases the woman dies too.  Explain this Right to Life to me again?  I think I'm missing something.

But a conversation about alternatives has to go deeper than that.  It has to speak to methodology.  How is this ban on legal abortion enforced?  Do we send doctors to prison?  Or if we believe that might needlessly deplete our pool of physicians, do we send young women to prison?  For how long?  So now society pays to incarcerate a woman for making a decision about her own reproductive health?  It's interesting that the "Small Government Conservatives" seem to be on board with this plan.

Once again, this is another deeply frustrating issue to me, because it masquerades as so many things it is not.  All it is, simply and transparently, is yet another intrusion of "Big God" into our lives.  Where the law should be secular, it is prevented from being so by the equivalent of a rabble of sixteenth century peasants, threatening our system of governance with torches and pitchforks.  Just as the Marriage Equality argument should be entirely secular - it's only about marriage licenses issued by government and the laws governing the rights of married couples, and churches would not ever be required to participate if they chose not to - the abortion argument should be strictly limited to legal and economic rights and restrictions.  And to the extent that we would be expected to follow a law banning abortion, so should the Christianists be expected to live under a legal construct where abortion is the law of the land...

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Exuberance of the Truly Irrational Sort

My goodness, but the valley is all aflutter over the Facebook IPO.  And while the discussion has occasionally bumped up against asking the right questions, it seems to shy away at the last moment out of fear of allowing reality to intrude on our own little fantasy financial juggernaut.  

Let's start with this - what makes Facebook special?  Is it a truly innovative technology?  Actually, the only thing Facebook has had to invent is a way to scale up to a system of this magnitude and keep it available to pretty much everyone.  Otherwise, the tools, technologies and protocols they are using are solidly in the mainstream. For that matter, the things this system allows people to do - chat, email, share pictures, videos and web pages, publish information about themselves and find like-minded people - all that has been done before, in many cases in a better, more usable fashion.  Again, just not at this scale.  Is it revenues?  Not even close.  Facebook's revenues have mostly seemed like an afterthought, and any way you measure them - per user, a percentage of cost - they have been, and continue to be small beans.  And that brings us to the more salient point.

Facebook is special not for what it does, but for what it has.  It has been the first site without an underlying purpose (search, commerce, etc.) to develop such an enormous active user base.  It will be the first site with a billion users.  As a social media site, that's an incredible level of sustained success.  But as one of the most valuable brands in America, if not the world, they have yet to succeed at all.  In fact, you could say that on  the basis of their costs and their revenues to date, they have been a massive failure, a giant hole into which investors have thrown millions of dollars.  In order to justify such a ridiculous market capitalization, they will have to figure out how, not to just monetize that user base, but to scale that monetization to the level they scaled the site during its growth years. 

How might they do that?  Well, they can't do it directly.  Remember when we said they didn't have any real new technology of their own?  That means that those users can jump ship any time they see a better option.  There is no technological impediment to building Facebook 2.0.  Now, Google+ has struggled, it's true, but primarily because of the chicken-egg dilemma.  People don't want to use a social media site unless all their friends, and all their potential friends, and enough other people to provide a content rich ecosystem are on there too.  And they had no compelling reason to leave Facebook.  If given one, there's not much  real stickiness keeping them there, provided the people and the content move with them.  And remember, the whole world is moving to the Web.  Facebook might be the first site to a billion users - somebody had to be first - but it's simply apparent that they won't be the last.

I suppose I could be wrong, but I sure don't think advertising is the answer.  There is just a radical difference between search advertising, where a significant portion of the users are actively looking for some product or service, and placing "targeted" ads where people hang out with their friends, in hopes that they not only notice them, but act on them.  The returns would appear to be somewhat limited.

In short, Facebook's path to monetization would seem to be limited to advertising revenue and those profits to be gained by selling user information.  The one seems grossly inadequate to support the entire edifice, and the other is fraught with danger.  The users, in both their volume and their activity, provide all the value Facebook has.  Anything that might cause the users to move in significant numbers to a different but equivalent (perhaps even superior) platform would be their death knell.

It's true that having access to a billion people, about whom a wide array of specific things are known, is an unprecedented opportunity.  But when it comes to the valuation of the Facebook brand, and it's concomitant value to its shareholders, the key question is whether there is a way to convert that access into profits without destroying the brand in the process.  My guess is that in five years we'll see a much smaller Facebook with a much smaller market capitalization, competing among a number of top level competitors for those users, still struggling for profitability.