Monday, December 17, 2018

Washington Ain't Broke: It's Rigged

Washington Ain’t Broke. It’s Rigged.
Peter Schultz

            Want to know why our two political parties are so intensely divisive? Because that’s how they preserve their power and privileges. Want to know why there is stalemate in D.C.? Because it serves the interests, preserves the power of our political or ruling elites. It really is that simple.

            In the 60s, it became necessary, given the civil unrest taking place, fed by radical factions within American society, to drive these factions out, to dismantle them, to delegitimize them. Hence, the government practiced repression via a vast network of spying on these Americans, and via covert activities including even assassinations ala’ the deaths of Black Panthers in Chicago, not to mention other assassinations that may have been conspiratorial. Most importantly, however, it was necessary to de-legitimize these radical forces then in vogue, which was accomplished by our two parties adopting and intensifying certain political differences.

            The Republican, even before the advent of the so-called “Reagan Revolution,” embraced what they called the “traditional values” of “the silent majority,” e.g., religion, law and order, the war on drugs, national tranquility, family values, heterosexuality, and of course corporate capitalism. With Reagan, this embrace tightened and intensified as conservatives and “neo-cons” took over the party.

            And then the Democrats announced that they were to be “new Democrats,” who were going to, among other things, “reinvent government.” They too would embrace “traditional values” like family values and other values that “nearly every American” embraced, to quote Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential election. Clinton would, he announced, find ways to make certain that children could live safe lives again, a forerunner to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” in the form of “Make America Safe Again.” Like the Republicans, these new Democrats would stand for family – don’t forget DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act that Clinton signed – religion, law and order, capital punishment, and of course corporate capitalism. There was no room in the Democratic Party for even the likes of George McGovern or even Ralph Nader.

            Under this new alignment, which was confirmed by the 1992 presidential election in which Clinton bested Poppy Bush, the more radical political choices or options of the 60s disappeared from the political arena and had no nationally recognized spokespersons or nationally recognized organizations. Such options were replaced by the likes of Ross Perot! But the appearance of deeply divisive political differences were and are maintained even while the more radical political options remain outside the prevailing political discourse and debate. The allegedly deeply divisive political differences between the Republicans and Democrats serve then to preserve the status quo, keeping genuinely alternative political options off the table. Hence, while the US wages war throughout the world, there is no discernable peace movement, as there was in the 60s. And anyone who suggests that our corporate capitalistic economy is not serving most people well is labeled a “socialist” and thereby marginalized. And as was clear from the recent Kavanaugh debacle, even those who suggest that the prevailing patriarchy is flawed will be dealt with promptly and judiciously, that is, silenced and marginalized. A person could even be forgiven for thinking that that debacle was welcomed by and served the interests of our ruling elites.

            There is thus a kind of collusion between the Republicans and the Democrats these days whereby their allegedly intensely divisive political differences serve to maintain the status quo, both in terms of their own power and in terms of the prevailing political agenda. The resulting stalemate is useful and it is practiced, maintained, and fortified by both parties to the detriment of the people. Washington ain’t broke. It’s rigged and it’s rigged to serve the interests of our ruling elites rather than the general welfare.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Bill Clinton; Prelude to Trump?

Bill Clinton; Prelude to Trump?
Peter Schultz

            Reading Joan Didion’s Political Fictions made me realize how much of a prelude Bill Clinton was for Donald Trump.

            After the “defections” of the so-called “Reagan Democrats,” “all election appeals were directed” at them, “a narrow focus with predictable results, not the least significant . . . was that presidential elections [were] conducted almost exclusively in code.” [p. 144]

            For example, one code phrase was “middle class.” The Democrats’ focus on the “middle class” was code for support of the death penalty, law and order, and being anti poor, black, Hispanic, urban, and homeless people.” “’Middle class” Mr. Clinton [said] “’was not a ‘code word’ for racism.’ “[This] was accurate [because] the appeal was broader [than racism] to an entire complex of attitudes held . . . by those who [felt] isolated and set adrift by . . . demographic and economic and cultural changes….” [145]

            As Clinton put it, “’Middle class’ referred to values nearly every American holds dear: support for family, reward for work, the willingness to change what isn’t working….” But take note of the phrase “nearly every American,” which means that there are some who don’t endorse these values and they are the enemy. And therein resides the coded message. Those Americans who don’t endorse these values and those like the “new Democrats” who are endorsing them are actually un-American. And we can pretty much guess who those people are, those left-wingers and other “radicals.”

            As Clinton elaborated on his “life work,” he sounded almost like Trump: “I have spent most of my public life worrying about what it would take to give our children a safe place to live again.” [146] So, Clinton’s campaign could have been called “Make America Safe Again,” and this meant safe from those Americans who don’t share those values that “nearly every American” shares.

And apparently, to make America safe again would require use of the death penalty and especially use of the death penalty as applied to the likes of Ricky Ray Rector, a mentally challenged young man who was executed per Clinton’s order only 48 hours before the Clintons appeared before the Super Bowl to address Bill’s affair with Jennifer Flowers! In his endorsement of the death penalty and the use of code, to say nothing of his extramarital activities, does anyone see a prelude to Trump?  

Moreover, how large a step is it from “worrying about what it would take to give our children a safe place to live again” to securing our borders? Perhaps Clinton and Gore would use their proposed “National Police Corps,” made up of “unemployed veterans and active military personnel,” to secure the borders. Thus, it doesn’t seem to be much of a step from Clinton’s concerns to Trump’s concerns. Or how big a step is it from such worry to declaring a worldwide war on terror after 9/11? And, again, it doesn’t seem such a big step to me. So, it seems fair to me to say that Clinton and Trump share much more politically than is commonly recognized. If so, this seems like a phenomenon worth considering.


Friday, December 7, 2018

George H.W. Bush: Our Latest Aristocrat

George H.W. Bush: Our Latest Aristocrat
Peter Schultz

            For a few days now, ever since his death, I have been wondering why George H.W. Bush, although he seemed to me to be little more than a mediocrity, is being elevated into the pantheon of great presidents and American politicians. Heck, he couldn’t even win re-election against a virtual nobody from Arkansas who had dodged the draft and was admittedly guilty of adultery – depending of course on whether you think a blow job is sex or not. The outpouring of emotion for Bush was impressive if somewhat inexplicable. But then I stumbled upon the answer for this phenomenon.

            Reading The Power Elite by C. Wright Mills, I came upon the following passages: “conservatism in its classic form . . . involves some ‘natural aristocracy’ [for] in the end, such an elite is the major premise of a generally conservative ideology.” And given the importance of such an “aristocracy” to a “conservative” – read “decent” – political order, it is only to be expected that there will be “attempts to find or to invent a traditional elite for America…. [326]

            So, there it is. George H.W. Bush has become just the latest example among recurring attempts “to find or to invent a traditional elite for America.” Especially today, when a crass, real estate tycoon, unsullied by culture of any kind, is in the presidency, we the people need to think that there are “natural aristocrats” and that our society not only produces them but rewards them with the honors of our highest office. We the people desperately need to believe this because we don’t want to believe that our “best” people, those elected or appointed to our highest offices, are little more than sharp operators who know how to strike shady deals or dodge charges of sexual misconduct. We need to know and, hence, want to believe that these “aristocrats” are not manipulators who know how to arrange their own successes even at the cost of making society suffer. And given our past experiences, and recent experiences with crass, real estate tycoons or philandering draft dodgers, we the people fear these types are not aberrations but actually the product of our legitimate institutions and of our deep-seated mores.

            And why shouldn’t we be fearful given the immorality that has been and continues to be exposed, especially by those who have been most successful? We need, desperately need to believe that “Papa Bush” was a man with an inner moral sense a man with a conscience, and not just another sharp operator seeking to close shady deals.

            The thing is though it is not clear that Bush can carry this load. Looked at closely, Bush’s political career does not reveal an inner moral sense or a conscience. For example, Bush occupied by choice offices that did not require him to win the moral consent of the governed, like his time at the head of the CIA. This is definitely an office where an inner moral sense or conscience is not recommended. And if the officers of the CIA are to be believed, Bush flourished there, so much so that they named a building after him although he had served for only a short time. It would be hard to describe Bush’s campaign against Michael, and as it turned out against Kitty Dukakis as upright and honest. And Bush was intimately involved in the Iran-Contra scandal as vice president, a fact he successfully hid from the independent counsel until it was too late to matter. And of course he had to hide his involvement because the scandal involved actions by Reagan, et. al., that violated the nation’s moral sense that we ought not deal with terrorists. Reagan was practicing a low-level kind of Machiavellianism and Bush supported and participated in that project. And Bush’s pardons of Casper Weinberger and others, after he had lost the 1992 presidential election, revealed anything but an inner moral sense or conscience as those pardons ended that investigation just when it was about to reach Bush himself.

            Inner moral sense? Conscience? Hard to find with regard to “Papa Bush,” who is better described as a sharp operator who knew how to do shady deals. But because we desperately need to think we admire moral persons, we cling to our fairly tale Bush as if he were the only thing keeping us from drowning in a sea of the crassness and greed. Without this fairy tale Bush, we are stuck with Trump, not just as our president but what’s even more troubling, as the kind of person our society produces and rewards. [And it is, once again, time to re-read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.]

Sunday, December 2, 2018

An American Defeat in Afghanistan: Who Cares?

An American Defeat in Afghanistan: Who Cares?
Peter Schultz

            Below is a link to an article entitled “American Is Headed for Defeat in Afghanistan,” in which Major Danny Sjursen argues that American forces are about to lose the war in Afghanistan. But, of course, this doesn’t actually bother our ruling class because the war in Afghanistan has never been about winning. Sure, it would be nice to win but that is of marginal importance to our ruling class, just as winning in Vietnam was of marginal importance. In both places, there was and is nothing worthwhile to win. Waging war in such places has little or nothing to do with winning.

            What’s the real purpose of the Afghan war? Quite simply, it is part of the geopolitical theatrics our ruling class engages in, theatrics that are conventionally known as American foreign policy. These theatrics are important, some would say crucial for maintaining the power and prestige of the current ruling class, which depends upon instilling fear in the American people, especially these days fear of terrorists, Islamic and otherwise. Instilling fear in the American people has been the constant goal of America’s geopolitical theatrics at least since the end of World War II. The dangers, the threats have changed over the decades, from a fear of monolithic communism to a fear of Islamic terrorists. But fear, creating it, fortifying it, has been the purpose of the dramas our ruling class has created in order to maintain its power and prestige. And there is nothing like a long war, even one that ends in defeat, to instill fear in human beings.

            Now, of course, coping with defeat in war can be tricky for any political regime or any ruling class. But our ruling class managed to survive our defeat in Vietnam, preferring to call it “peace with honor” when it was neither, and so I suspect the ruling class can survive a defeat in Afghanistan. There will be enough culprits to blame, especially the Afghans themselves but also domestic opponents of the war will be blamed, just as they were in Vietnam. And then of course there are innumerable Islamic fanatics who are portrayed, as roaming pretty much at will throughout the Middle East and south Asia.

            But all of this is good insofar as even a defeat can be used to reinvigorate our foreign policy by reminding us that such policies are all about power and more power. Even in defeat, our “realists” win because the losses are never their fault. “Realism” rises from the ashes of its own defeats like a phoenix, as it rarely occurs to anyone that realists themselves are delusional. And so these realists will set about creating more geopolitical theatrics, more show, in order to retain their power and prestige.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Road to Disaster: Part Two

Road To Disaster: Part Two
Peter Schultz

            As noted in an earlier posting, I am currently reading a book entitled The Road to Disaster: A New History of America’s Descent Into Vietnam, by Brian Van DeMark, which purports to use some recent scientific findings about decision-making in order to explain how decent, humane, and well-intentioned men, men of significant mental capacities could make such bad decisions as those which led the United States into the disaster that was Vietnam.

            Now early in the book, DeMark argues that John F. Kennedy and many of his administration were inexperienced with regard to how things worked in Washington and the American political system generally. In sum, they needed to be educated and DeMark argues that this education began with the Bay of Pigs invasion, another disaster of the Kennedy administration. DeMark argues that this “failure stemmed from inexperience and wishful thinking.” [8] So, assumptions were not examined, assumptions that were so “remarkably naïve, even preposterous “ that DeMark seems almost at a loss to explain why they were accepted by such intelligent men. And he turns to some academic research to try to make sense of these decisions.

            However, DeMark does not comment on the fact, which is pretty clear now, that the CIA and the Kennedy administration were at cross-purposes. That is, the CIA was trying to get Kennedy to embrace an invasion of Cuba with American troops and thought that, once the Bay of Pigs invasion began to fail, as they were sure it would, Kennedy would be forced to use American military power to ensure its success. And this would allow the CIA to accomplish what it wanted to accomplish, the overthrow of Castro and his Communist regime in Cuba.

            On the other hand, Kennedy had no desire and no intention of invading Cuba with American military power in order to overthrow Castro and his regime. So Kennedy went along with the CIA and its plans to invade Cuba even though he knew that such an invasion, which depended for success on the Cuban people rising up against Castro, would fail. This suited his purposes because Kennedy saw that this ‘failure” would make it possible for him to remove both Richard Bissell and Allen Dulles from the CIA, while also allowing him to move control of foreign policy into the White House for the most part. And, of course, Kennedy did both of these things in the aftermath of this “failure.”

            In other words, it is not necessary to seek answers from decision-making research for why what DeMark describes correctly as “naïve” and “preposterous” assumptions went unquestioned by otherwise intelligent and powerful men. These assumptions went unquestioned precisely because they served the purposes of both the CIA and Kennedy.  The CIA thought that these assumptions, even though they were naïve and preposterous, would force Kennedy to do what the CIA wanted done, authorize an American invasion of Cuba in order to overthrow the Castro regime. And Kennedy thought, correctly it turns out, that although these assumptions guaranteed the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion, this would not be a bad thing because (a) there would be no American invasion of Cuba and (b) Kennedy could remove two of the most important members of “the old guard” in charge of foreign policy under Eisenhower, while (c) allowing him to gather more power to himself regarding foreign policy.

            And, generally speaking, when it appears that our politicians are making decisions based on assumptions that are, at best, controversial, it is worthwhile to ask whether or how these assumptions serve the purposes of these politicians. In the context of the Cold War, which is what DeMark is writing about, the widely embraced but controversial assumption that communism was a monolithic phenomenon devoted to conquering the world clearly served those who wanted to create a great nation able to impose its will on the world economically, politically, and militarily. Our politicians are more than willing to play the fool if it helps them secure their own power and purposes. And I imagine that DeMark’s history will provide many examples of those politicians and administrators making “bad decisions” based on assumptions that are naïve and even preposterous. The trick is to identify these purposes.

            Neither the purposes of the CIA nor of Kennedy in dealing with communist Cuba and Castro are hard to discern. The latter was committed to overthrowing Castro, thereby demonstrating its power, fortifying its status, and ensuring that it would continue to be intimately involved in America’s foreign policy. Kennedy, on the other hand, was seeking to establish a “New Frontier,” that is, a new way for America to be in the world, a way decidedly different than the world as seen by the Eisenhower administration and, perhaps, even earlier administrations. There was no room in this “New Frontier” for many of the policies and many of practitioners of the “old world” of Eisenhower, of the Dulles brothers, and of a CIA devoted to trying to control the world via covert activities such as overthrowing governments ala’ Iran and Guatemala.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Road to Disaster: A New History

Road To Disaster: A New History
Peter Schultz

            Last week I went to my local library to pick up a book and I stumbled upon another book entitled Road to Disaster: A New History of America’s Descent Into Vietnam, by Brian Van DeMark. So, even though I was skeptical that anything much new could be written about Vietnam, I checked it out and am glad I did.

            It is well-written and in the prologue DeMark clearly lays out his argument, viz., that “It [the history of America’s descent into Vietnam] is the more complex and sobering tale of well-intentioned individuals making bad decisions.” [xiv, italics in original] And he elaborates a bit more later in the prologue:

            “I wanted . . . to go beyond the powerful cliche’ of arrogant and ignorant men stumbling blindly into danger and disaster, to search for a deeper and more fundamental truth that explained their mistakes and failures in a way that took account of what I knew to be their essential decency and humanity.” [xxvii]

            Well, to save some time, let me just cut to the chase and ask: Can imperialists be “decent and humane?” Can they be “well-intentioned?” That is, is that allowed to them? Once you choose imperialistic policies, it could be that your attempts, your desire to be decent and humane are meaningless or irrelevant. That is, if you think that imperialism and decency and humanity can go together, you are, in all likelihood, delusional. Just consider in this regard not only Machiavelli’s politics but also that of Plato and Aristotle.

            It really is quite simple. If you want to be decent, humane, well-intentioned, you must forego imperialism, that is, the desire to rule the world. To see the people who took the United States into Vietnam as decent and humane is to miss the forest for the trees. As General Giap once pointed out to Robert McNamara when they got together to discuss the war: “The war was a tragedy for the Americans because they were imperialists trying to impose their will on the Vietnamese people. It was not, however, a tragedy for the Vietnamese as they successfully defeated the imperialists.”

            Without a recognition that (a) imperialism is necessarily and always indecent and inhumane and (b) that American foreign policy was imperialistic, it is impossible to understand why American leaders made “bad decision,” indecent decisions, inhumane decisions, over and over and over again, until they were defeated. Other explanations may be interesting but they do not, they cannot get to the heart of the matter.

Recommended reading: George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant.” 

Sunday, November 18, 2018

American Politics: How It Works.....or Doesn't Work

American Politics: How It Works…..or Doesn’t Work
P. Schultz

Below are some of my postings to Facebook that I made during the “battle,” largely one-sided, over whether Nancy Pelosi will be the next Speaker of the House. Not surprisingly, she is overwhelmingly supported by the establishment Democrats, you know, those who gave us Hillary for president with such wonderful results! There are also links to a couple of the articles that I was responding to

As I read this, Pelosi will win as the establishment Democrats are for her. The result? No real challenges to the status quo or, therefore, to Trump. Wait for the arguments: “We must move forward.” “It’s time put the past behind us.” “The American people want us to govern.” And so, just as happened in 2006 when the Dems took over the Congress they merely continued the status quo. Which is basically what Obama did for 8 years, embracing Bush’s policies just as Michelle embraced Shrub recently: “Oh, I just love him to death.”

Surprise, surprise: more Democrats lining up for Pelosi, as well as preserving the status quo, which means of course not taking on Trump in any way that would upset the current alignment of forces. The Democrats, that is, the establishment Democrats, are doing and will do what they did in 2006.....nothing significant. Again, my prediction: Pelosi will be Speaker of the House and the Dems will find a way not to confront Trump is any significant way. "We must move forward, people. We just must!" Which means of course we must stand still, we must preserve the status quo.

Pelosi: Struggling to maintain her power and the status quo policies she has supported for years. Forget the "gender issue." Merely trotted out to keep Pelosi and the establishment Democrats in power in order to continue the policies that they have supported for years/decades - endless wars, growing socio-economic inequality, no single payer health insurance, mass incarceration. mass deportations of immigrants. And keep one thing in mind: Whatever threat Trump represents to the likes of Pelosi et. al,, the insurgents in the Democratic Party are a greater threat to their power and their policies. If you want to see changes, significant changes in our foreign and domestic policies, then you should want to see Pelosi, et. al., deposed. But, my prediction, this ain't gonna happen. Steny Hoyer has already been selected as House majority leader and he is establishment through and through. The "blue wave" becomes meaningless with these guys and gals in power.

You want confirmation that Pelosi is nothing but a status quo politician? Here it is, disguised as praise in the NY Times: "As the first woman to become speaker, Ms. Pelosi, of California, is a history-making figure in Washington. She held the gavel from 2007 to 2011 and is considered by both Democrats and Republicans to be the most effective speaker in modern times. Were it not for her political skill and keen strategic sense, they say, President George W. Bush could not have secured the bank bailout he needed to halt an economic free fall and President Barack Obama could not have passed the Affordable Care Act." So, this means Pelosi helped bail out Bush/Republican Party - and of course did nothing about his wars - and helped kill single payer health care. What a leader! What a stateswoman! How would we ever survive with Pelosi? Got me.

“Drama” over. Pelosi “wins” and real change loses. Same shit, different day! Just as I said: As much drama as whether Kavanaugh would be confirmed and how Susan Collins would vote. Once you understand that American politics is almost all smoke and mirrors, most of the “drama” disappears. But hey, we can still obsess about Trump, can’t we?

Some uncertainty in the media over whether Pelosi has "won" or not. But, note well, if she loses it will because of "a band of disgruntled Democrats, led mostly by men, standing against the sweep of nationally-known Pelosi allies." Oh my, oh my: don't want to be a "disgruntled man . . . standing against [the ] nationally-known," do we? Heaven forbid! But, WTF, count me in this group of disgruntled men. Pelosi represents no or little change. As one of her female critics argued: ""It isn't about her, it's about wanting new leadership," said [Abigail] Spanberger, a former CIA operative who defeated tea party Republican Rep. Dave Brat in suburban Richmond. "There isn't anything she could say, because the decision isn't about her."

“Blue wave” you say? Not under Pelosi and most other Democrats. They would rather maintain their power than take on Trump and other Republicans. And that’s because, by and large, they agree with Trump’s politics. Hence, they can “find common ground” with him. Our political order: Corrupt from top to bottom, from left to right!

"Celebrities have weighed in as well, and prominent liberal activists have openly discussed fomenting primary challenges in the next campaign against the leaders of the anti-Pelosi opposition." Oh yes! This is what this "battle" is all about: Putting the Democratic insurgents in their place and maintaining the status quo. No wonder that millions of people are "politically apathetic." Most of them aren't apathetic. They just know the deck is stacked against them. The ruling class, the power elite, which includes Republicans, Democrats, and celebrities will tolerate no challenges to their rule, their power, and prestige. This is the Democratic version of what the Republicans were doing defending Kavanaugh.

“Go figure,” Navratilova tweeted. “A man loses and keeps his place, a woman wins and gets booted?!?” Oh, Martina: I guess you've forgotten that in 2010 the Democratic Party took massive losses in that midterm election and Pelosi kept her lead role for the Democrats. And I mean those losses were huge: "Approximately 82.5 million people voted.[3] The Democratic Party suffered massive defeats in many national and state level elections, with many seats switching to Republican Party control. Although the President's party usually loses congressional, statewide and local seats in midterm elections, the 2010 midterm election season featured some of the biggest losses since the Great Depression. The Republican Party gained 63 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, recapturing the majority, and making it the largest seat change since 1948 and the largest for any midterm election since the 1938 midterm elections." The establishment Democrats here remind me of the Republicans defending Kavanaugh. Learn some history, Martina, learn some history!

This is for anyone who still has faith that the Democratic Party’s establishment members are anything but status quo politicians not all that different than their Republican counterparts. The recently declared “blue wave” will probably change nothing so long as the likes of Schumer and Pelosi are the most powerful Democrats. And people wonder why Trump is president. Why are these Democrats still in power? Our political order is corrupt, from top to bottom and from left to right.