Reflections on American politics from one who thinks the republic needs constant attention.
Monday, December 27, 2010
Understanding American Gov't and Politics
Friday, December 24, 2010
How We Think About Government and Politics
Political "Analysis" - Sort Of
"Supporters credited Mr. Obama’s tenacity even as some complained that he too rarely showed the trait in earlier dealings with Congress. Instead, they say, he often deferred on legislative strategy to the Democratic leaders — Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who will no longer command a majority in the coming House, and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, who will have a much smaller majority in January — and to his since-departed White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, a former congressman.
"Often cited is Mr. Obama’s failure to act earlier in seeking an extension of the expiring Bush-era tax cuts except those on high incomes; delaying action until after the midterms gave Republicans more leverage to force a compromise that also extends the high-end tax brackets for two years."
Now this is what passes, I guess, for "political analysis" by the nation's "newspaper of record." What explains Obama's "successes" in the past week with the lame duck Congress is his "tenacity." Wow, now that explains an awful lot. All of a sudden, after the Republicans managed to hold together unanimously on almost every issue, the party regulars could not prevent some Republicans from "bolting" and voting for the likes of the New Start treaty and the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Is this all the Times and other have? Some see what is going on, even Charles Krauthammer for example. Why is it that when doing what passes for political analysis, the "analysts" persist in providing "explanations" that don't explain anything? What are they hiding? Could it be the corrupt political system in which the two parties collude so the regulars in each one can preserve their power and perks?
Now, here is my hunch for 2012: No one in the Democratic Party will challenge Obama. The Republicans will put up a candidate who will be most unlikely to win and then they, the Republicans, will not support this candidate, especially if it happens to be someone like Sarah Palin or another "insurgent" type. No one [read Bloomberg] will run as a "third party candidate" and Obama will win, while a number of the recently elected Republican "insurgents" will be defeated....with the blessings of the Republican regulars. Why? Because this is the outcome that will preserve the stability of the current situation. And, of course, this in turn will mean that those in charge now will continue to be in charge. And then the next time that the public's anger erupts, the "analysts" will seek explanations for this in psychology, sociology, history, geography, sexuality.....that is, in anything but the political fact that the public is being screwed over for the sake of systemic stability.
"The conservative gloaters were simply fooled again by the flapping and squawking that liberals ritually engage in before folding at Obama’s feet. House liberals did it with Obamacare; they did it with the tax deal. Their boisterous protests are reminiscent of the floor demonstrations we used to see at party conventions when the losing candidate’s partisans would dance and shout in the aisles for a while before settling down to eventually nominate the other guy by acclamation.
"And Obama pulled this off at his lowest political ebb. After the shambles of the election and with no bargaining power — the Republicans could have gotten everything they wanted on the Bush tax cuts retroactively in January without fear of an Obama veto — he walks away with what even Paul Ryan admits was $313 billion in superfluous spending.
"Including a $6 billion subsidy for ethanol. Why, just a few weeks ago, Al Gore, the Earth King, finally confessed that ethanol subsidies were a mistake. There is not a single economic or environmental rationale left for this boondoggle that has induced American farmers to dedicate an amazing 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop — for burning! And the Republicans have just revived it.
"Even as they were near-unanimously voting for this monstrosity, Republicans began righteously protesting $8.3 billion of earmarks in Harry Reid’s omnibus spending bill. They seem not to understand how ridiculous this looks after having agreed to a Stimulus II that even by their own generous reckoning has 38 times as much spending as all these earmarks combined."
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Obama Is "Wounded"!
Of course, this makes perfect sense, no? After months and even years of holding the Republicans together, the Republican leadership could not do it on this issue. Seems a bit strange, does it not? Of course, the Times provides no explanation or even speculation as to why this is happening, other than to refer to a split between "former cold warrior" types in the Republican Party and other, more newly arrived and empowered Republicans. This provides, of course, no explanation at all. And can you imagine how those Republicans just recently elected feel now? "Gee, guys," the Republican leadership is saying to those people. "It's really good to have you in Congress. Of course, as the lame duck session indicated, you are not in charge here. We are. And we mean to stay in charge even it means helping re-elect Obama."
See, that's one thing about our political parties and the "regulars" in them: They are more concerned with maintaining their own power than they are with winning elections. So, from this perspective, "insurgents," especially when elected in large numbers, must be "disciplined." The Democrats "disciplined" the "Blue Dog" Democrats in the last election and now the Republican regulars are "disciplining" the newly elected members, especially those who want to, genuinely want to change how Washington "works." Because if they, the new comers were actually successful in doing so, the regulars in the Republican Party would lose their power and status. And, of course, that is the last thing they want.
Monday, December 13, 2010
Some Interesting Commentary from C. Krauthammer
This is for those who think that Obama is a left wing liberal or socialist or that the Republican Party is actually interested in changing the situation in D.C. and the nation. This is by a decidedly conservative columnist who has, apparently, seen through the bullshit that passes for politics these days. Genuine conservatives? Genuine liberals? Not on your life......
"After all, these are the same Republicans who spent 2010 running on limited government and reducing the debt. And this budget-busting occurs less than a week after the president’s deficit commission had supposedly signaled a new national consensus of austerity and frugality.
"Obama is no fool. While getting Republicans to boost his own reelection chances, he gets them to make a mockery of their newfound, second-chance, post-Bush, tea-party, this-time-we’re-serious persona of debt-averse fiscal responsibility."
The one thing that Krauthammer does not seem to see is that Obama is "disciplining" the left wing of the Democratic Party with his tax deal as well as getting the Republicans to help him get re-elected by taking the "Republican way" with regard to his stimulus II.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
There is a lot of talk and print about how some Democrats are angry with Obama for "the deal," but what is not mentioned is that is the point or one point of "the deal." It is to discipline the Democratic Party, subjugating it to the current "leadership." See, first, in the elections the Blue Dog Democrats go down to defeat in large numbers, to much larger defeats than other Democrats. Why? Because the Blue Dogs were Democrats who wanted to get serious about the deficit, even at the expense of the power of the current "leadership." This is just unacceptable for the current "leadership." So, let the Blue Dog Democrats go down to defeat. Also, Obama is looking toward 2012 and his re-election and pinning his hopes on seeming to be "pragmatic" and an economic recovery more robust than we have now. Throw a few crumbs to the middle class, and the non-sacrifices made by the very wealthy will be forgotten, the plutocracy will prevail. Or so Obama hopes.
Even more interesting though is the Republican angle on "the deal." First, it puts to rest the assertion by Mitch McConnell that his and his party's most important task is denying Obama re-election in 2012. You cannot do that very well or easily when you are compromising with that "socialist" in the White House. By making this "deal," the Republicans have left Obama off the hook, so to speak, because they have let him be what he pretends to be, a "pragmatic" politician who wants what is best for the American people even at the price of significant compromise. Second, "the deal" puts the screws to the Tea Partiers. After all, the Tea Partiers generally speaking are most exercised by the deficit and this "deal" does nothing but increase that, while compromising with "the socialist" in the White House. This is the Republican version of disciplining the Republican Party by letting the Tea Partiers know who is boss. Earlier, this was made clear when that Tea Party person from Minnesota, whose name I have repressed [Michelle something or other], was denied a "leadership" position in the House of Representatives. And my bet is that the committee chairpersons will all be among the party regulars, even if that means voting to suspend some party rules regarding eligibility for these chairs.
So, without ever planning it, the two parties have colluded once again to keep their power in the hands of "party regulars" while putting the screws to the middle and lower classes and doing virtually nothing to deal with some of our problems. And if you wondered why the tax issue was put off until after the last elections, now you know the reason: It was done in the name of party discipline for both parties. A politics of collusion that serves the few at the expense of the many....Such is the state of the "republic" today.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Obama the "Fence Sitter"
This is a link to an article in today's NY Times entitled "Debt-Busting Issue May Force Obama Off Fence." According to this analysis, Obama has been sitting on the fence, that is, trying to placate both independent voters and his "base" or the "liberals." However, according to this analysis, Obama is soon to be forced off the fence because he will have to make a choice to with regard to the Bush tax cuts and with regard to spending on items like Medicaid and Social Security. A couple of things in response:
(1) Notice that according to the headline the issue is the "debt-busting issue." So, if this is how the issue is described then it would appear that Obama - or anyone else - has few choices and among those choices will be some compromise on both taxes and spending. Despite all the "noise" coming out of Washington these days, it is already clear that Obama will "fold" regarding the Bush tax cuts and their application to the very, very wealthy. They will be preserved and Obama will present this as only "realistic" or "pragmatic." And regarding spending, the die is already cast in that Obama has frozen federal wages for two years, saying that these workers are "patriots" and so will understand and accept the need for sacrifice. Apparently, these workers are to sacrifice but not the very, very wealthy. Guess which way the wind is blowing?
(2) The article is written in a way that one gets the impression that Obama really didn't want to sit on the fence but had to given the "lay of the land." Ah, but consider an alternative: Obama sat of the fence, knowing that by doing so he would end up in the position he is in today and "having" to make the "choices" he is now making. This would be because those choices are not all that distasteful to Obama. In fact, he rather likes those choices and by making them he is trying to guarantee his re-election in 2012. This may or may not work but it means that Obama is putting his self-interest ahead of the public interest or interpreting the public interest in light of his self-interest. Why is it that this alternative and logic, when it describes what can only be described as a common political phenomenon, is overlooked?
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
More from Hedges
Now, this is exactly what some liberals at Assumption argue, at times claiming to ignorant of foreign affairs. Liberals cannot see, perhaps, the connection between foreign policy and domestic policy or, as I like to say, that foreign policies are really only domestic policies in disguise or supplements to domestic policies that serve the entrenched elites and their self-interested policies. I think, though, liberals like Clinton and Kerry and Obama can see the connection and reinforce it so that they can remain "in the game." Otherwise, like Kucinich on the left and Ron Paul on the right, they will be ostracized, an old political practice recognized by Plato and Aristotle.
Monday, November 15, 2010
Interesting new book
"Anger and a sense of betrayal: these are what Ernest Logan Bell and tens of millions of other disenfranchised workers express. These emotions spring from the failure of the liberal class over the past three decades to protect the minimal interests of the working and middle class as corporations dismantled the democratic state, decimated the manufacturing sector, looted the U.S. treasury, waged imperial wars that can neither be afforded or won, and gutted the basic laws that protected the interests of ordinary citizens. Yet the liberal class continues to speak in the prim and obsolete language of policies and issues. It refuses to defy the corporate assault. A virulent right wing, for this reason, captures and expresses the legitimate rage articulated by the disenfranchised. And the liberal class has become obsolete even as it clings to its positions of privilege within liberal institutions."
While I might disagree that this phenomenon is only three decades old, I have no problem with Hedges' take on today's "liberals." For an illustration that these people are as Hedges describes them, it is only necessary to read the New York Times and what passes these days for political analysis. An especially revealing piece was published today, Nov. 15, 2010, dealing with Obama's troubles with a Congress that is, allegedly, unpredictable. But what emerges from the article is that what is going to happen is, actually, fairly predictable. The election, that is, the show is over and now it is time for the two parties to resume their collusion meant to secure their prominence in our political order.
Monday, November 8, 2010
Now this funny!
If the name "Dick Cheney" and the phrase "Presidential power" don't work for you, then think of the law labeled "No Child Left Behind." Of course this was Shrub's contribution to the attempts of the national government to regulate - read "control" - education in this nation, taking the power of regulation away from the states and assigning it to bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. Or if "No Child Left Behind" does not work for you, then think of the law called the "Patriot Act." Of course, this law was passed after 9/11 and increased the powers of the national government immensely, even allowing the government to spy on American citizens without warrants, which means without having to provide any justification for such spying. Perhaps this blog is being spied upon. Who knows? You don't and I don't. And that is the point: If you are genuinely concerned about limiting the powers of the national government, then I would suggest you have to find some other party to vote for than the Republicans. No, I don't think the Democrats will do, as they are no more interested in limiting the powers of the national government than are the Republicans. So, I guess the bottom line is this: If you are genuinely interested in limiting the powers of the national government you are shit out of luck - or you need to become a rebel or insurgent and attempt to overthrow or undermine the political system as it functions today. But if you take the latter tack, ask Russ Feingold, former Senator from Wisconsin, how it worked out for him.
Friday, November 5, 2010
An exchange on the election
Nice article Peter but I'm a little confused. Using your logic the Republicans would have "gone along" with the President following their defeats on 2006 and 2008 but instead the did exactly the opposite and regained power not by going along, and not through vigorous debate but through staunch and unbreakable opposition. Or is your argument that only Democrats behave this way?
On Nov 4, 2010, at 10:57 PM, Peter
No, the Republican few did what they needed to do to preserve their power. If they went along with the Democrats they would lose their base, as they did in part anyway via the Tea Party. They will now, I predict, reassert their control via controlling Palin and, as noted in my piece, already criticizing the Tea Party for losing the Senate. I predicted - and my predictions are usually horrible - that Sharron Angle would lose Nevada and that would be fine with the Republicans. Do you really think that the Republicans wanted O'Donnell to win in Delaware? I don't. They don't even care about Miller in Alaska. In fact, I suspect they like the fact that he is losing to Murkowski, as he is Palin's guy.
Both parties or the syndicates in both parties want, first and foremost, to preserve their power. If that requires losing some elections, so be it. Just look at Brown's votes since he was elected and how he has pissed off the Tea Party. He is no dope and he wants to be a senator. The Tea Party cannot get him that honor in two years.
On Thu, Nov 4, 2010 at 11:18 PM, William
So why would the Democrats go along with the republicans now? Why not double down on the party of no plan that the republicans did for the last two years? Wouldn't the dems lose their base as well or are the bases fundamentally different?
I do agree that the republican power base wants nothing to do with Sarah plain as a presidential candidate nor were they sad to see Sharon Angle or O'Donnell lose as they are so far out of whack with even mainstream Republicanism that they can only hurt the party elite but I still don't quite get the assertion that the dems will simply go along with the new leadership unless it's the theory that that's just what they do.
Because that is how the Democrats, the syndicate, preserves its power. If they double down on the Republicans they will instigate those who are interested in real change, not the faux stuff of Obama. Why did Obama not come out swinging on health care - when he had a super majority in the Senate and the House - but pretended to be incompetent and then overwhelmed by the allegedly "conservative" leanings of the American people? Because if he passes real health care, then he strengthens those forces in the party that would displace "the syndicate" with other people. [Has any Democrat lamented the loss of Russ Feingold in Wis.? Not to my knowledge. It is a defeat that has not even garnered much play in the media and it is probably the most important loss of the night for those in the Dem. party who want genuine change.] The Dems are, in my opinion, "disciplining" their base, just as the Republicans are doing the same thing by illustrating how the Tea Partiers are "losers." By "disciplining" I mean that the syndicate is "teaching" the "base" that they cannot have want they what - just as they did when they had the super majority in the Senate and did very little with it. Why was that? To "teach" the base "the reality" of politics.....The Republicans are doing the same thing. John Boehner represents real change, the kind of change the Tea Partiers are interested in?? Please.....!!!!!
There is danger to the few, to the syndicate of the party in a super majority and in success. The latter feeds the people and might make them think that they can have a government they want, and not one controlled by the likes of Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid, or, I am sad to say, B. Obama.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
The Election as "the opium of the people"
Elections, and even this last election which has been touted in the media as of momentous importance, can serve in this republic as a narcotic, as an opiate by which the people, the "masses" are lulled to sleep so that the political establishment can preserve its power. This works as follows.
As the situation in the country worsens, the possibility of an explosion, a political explosion, grows, as evidenced these days by the Tea Party "movement." So, as noted in the above quote, debate, that is, real or genuine debate becomes dangerous. And this means dangerous to, among others, what may be called the Democratic Party "syndicate," the few who control the party, ala' Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid. As the system fails and these failures grow and are exposed, it is more and more likely that the people will demand change, i.e., real change, which would involve a change in personnel. And this poses a problem for the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid: Would these people really want to give up their places of power and privilege in the Democratic Party for the sake of real change? Probably not. So, they would rather see the Republicans win control of the Congress - or at least a part of it - than give up their roles as "leading Democrats."
Besides, as an added benefit, a Republican victory, especially if it is of impressive proportions or can be made to seem that way in the media, allows the Democrats to claim that they have to "go along" with the Republicans. This is touted as only "realistic" or as the only realistic alternative the Democrats have before them. In this way, they also will "calm" - actually "pacify" or lull - the people, thereby saving their perks and privileges and power by laying to rest any possible insurrection or republican rebellion meant to restore some semblance of popular control on the government. This is made all the easier when the media play along by concocting stories about how, in just two short years, the electorate has become "more conservative." Oh, those fickle masses. First, they seem to be liberal and then, shortly thereafter, they seem to be conservative. No wonder we need elites to govern us.
So, the great election of 2010 has served, in its own way, to fortify the forces of the few in both the parties [the Tea Party is being blamed now by some Republicans for costing that party the Senate. Surprise, surprise!] but especially in the Democratic Party. Order - or is it "oligarchy"? - has been or is being restored and the danger of a republican insurrection or rebellion has been short circuited for the time being. But, strangely, this only serves to confirm the wisdom of Jefferson when he wrote that revolutions in politics are necessary and beneficial, because without them republics cease to exist and "government of the people, by the people, and for the people" vanishes into thin air.
Monday, November 1, 2010
The 2010 Elections
From this perspective, it does not matter to the Democrats all that much that the Republicans will make huge gains in the Congress, perhaps even taking the Senate. What better way to indicate to the American people that now is not the time for embracing the radical republican attitude [definitely small "r" here] that the proper measure of the government's performance is not increasing the GDP or the eradication of evil in the world but, rather, how accurately it "re-presents" the American people and works to satisfy their needs and fulfill their desires? After all, such a standard would require that different people control the Republican and Democratic parties or, put differently, that the current leadership be dethroned. Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner switch places....and then what? I will tell you: Not much that is different. After the Republicans sweep, I can hear it now: "Now is the time to 'consolidate,' to compromise, to work together to 'fix' our political system." But, of course,the "fix" will not involve a change of personnel, just a change from one set of incumbent leaders to the other set. If this is a recipe for change, then I have a recipe for spaghetti sauce that is largely catsup! There will be "working together" just as there was after the 1994 elections when the Republicans took over the Congress with Clinton as president. But there will be no move toward a genuinely republican or representative political system because, well, because that would require radical changes in personnel and leadership and that is not about to happen. But, hey, what the heck! After all, if the GDP increases and we get to kill some more terrorists, who really cares if our republic is functional. We can still, as President Shrub recommended, "go shopping!"
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Some random thoughts or not
"The death of the spirit is the price of progress. Nietzsche revealed this mystery of the Western apocalypse when he announced that God is dead and that He had been murdered. This Gnostic mystery is constantly committed by the men who sacrifice God to civilization. The more fervently all human energies are thrown into the great enterprise of salvation through world-immanent action, [the mantra to "contribute, contribute, contribute" that is imposed on all young people these days] the farther the human beings who engage in this enterprise move away from the life of the spirit. And since the life of the spirit is the source of order in man and society, the very success of a Gnostic civilization is the cause of its decline." [p. 131]
For Voegelin, one of the most important events of human history was "the opening of the soul," which means for him that the soul was viewed as the source of transcendence that all human beings seem to seek. In his less than rousing language: "The opening of the soul was an epochal event in the history of mankind because, with the differentiation of the soul as the sensorium of transcendence, the critical, theoretical standards for the interpretation of human existence in society, as well as the source of their authority, came into view."  That is, among other things, the possibility of philosophy arises, and the possibility of critical social thought.
And it is in preserving this perspective that the possibility of philosophy and a genuine human existence exists. History, human history, is the story of the truth of the soul and the truth of society agitating mankind, continually and perpetually. There are those who would like to "freeze history" by means of "an everlasting constitution," but this is not recommended or desirable.
"The idea of solving the troubles of history through the invention of the everlasting constitution made sense only under the condition that the source of these troubles, that is, the truth of the soul, would cease to agitate man. Hobbes, indeed, simplified the structure of politics by throwing our anthropological and soteriological truth. This is an understandable desire in a man who wants his peace; things, to be sure, would be so much simpler without philosophy and Christianity. But how can one dispose of them without abolishing the experiences of transcendence which belong to the nature of man? Hobbes was quite able to solve this problem, too; he improved on the man of God's creation by creating man without such experiences....."
In other words, Hobbes, and of course those Hobbesians like the founders of the American political order, tried to "de-soul" human beings as the price of social peace.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
As Karp points out, when the New York Times published the Pentagon Papers and were faced with the government's attempt to censor that publication, the law firm that had represented the Times for several decades refused to defend the Times because to do so in wartime would be unpatriotic. But this is only consistent with one version of patriotism, viz., "the corporate entity known as the nation."  "To defend the infringement of liberty, to refuse to uphold the Constitution in a crisis, to support alien methods of despotism - surely that in a republic is shameful, disgraceful, and unpatriotic. The nation pulls one way, the republic another. They are today deadly rivals for the love and loyalty of the American people." 
Further, as Karp points out, "Americans are not fellow nationals, we are fellow citizens." And "America is more a creed than a country, and the creed is republicanism. The ties of a common nationality do not bind Americans together and never did."  This devotion to nationalism or as Karp calls it, "nationism," is much newer than our republicanism, traceable to the late 1800s when the United States undertook what Henry Cabot Lodge called the "large policy," that is, an interventionist, imperialistic foreign policy which led to the acquisition of the Philippines, Hawaii, and repeated occupations of Cuba. "The cult of the nation" requires such a foreign policy because it is only in the international arena that the abstract thing, the nation, comes to life. We were as a nation, well into our second century, before the cult of the nation required a cult of the flag and a cult of militarism. There was no pledge of allegiance uttered in any classroom before 1892 and the elaborate rituals involving our flag were only created by the War Department and the American Legion in 1923. As Karp wrote: "The object of the flag code was to transform the country's banner into a semi-holy talisman ans so give the abstraction called a nation a semblance of life."  And, of course, the nation requires what is called "a strong sense of international duty," which means ultimately, a sense that we as a nation must not only be prepared to make war but be willing, even eager, to make war. After all, war is the most visible action a nation can take. And war would underline that sacrifice, even the sacrifice of one's life, is or should be among the most important political virtues. As JFK said, "Ask not what your country can do for you but ask what you can do for your country." Note well: JFK could not have logically said this about a republic. In these ways, "A 'new religion' of nationism eclipse[d] and even supplant[ed] the old republican patriotism." 
There is also another way of looking at or labeling this great divide, viz., by distinguishing between a "union" and a "nation." To indicate briefly the differences here, in a union, such as a marital union, the parts do not or should not lose their integrity, whereas in a nation, the parts should lose their integrity and be subsumed by the whole. In a nation, the whole subsumes of consumes the parts, whereas in a union, it is important to preserve the parts as they are what make a union a union. A union is impossible without diversity, diverse parts, whereas a nation is impossible with diversity. Where unions strive for diversity, nations strive for homogeneity.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Elections and Football Games
Then I remembered that some years ago I got a paper from a student comparing our political system to the Super Bowl. That is, we were the spectators and the two teams on the field were the Republicans and the Democrats. Of course, we had nothing at all to do with the action on the field, had no control over it whatsoever, and could only sit, cheer, and hope that "our team" would win. I thought that this was a pretty good paper then and think so now, emphasizing at it did the passive character imposed on us by our political arrangements. And for me, this is not too far from what the "Founders," some of the "Founders," wanted. As I like to say, the "Founders" sought to stretch the links between the government and the people in order to empower the government and disempower us, the people, at least to a significant extent. Not break the links between us and the government but to stretch them quite significantly.
However, now I see another dimension to the analogy, viz., that whatever the outcome on the field, it will have no impact on anything of any importance, like your life or my life or the direction of our country. Just like the outcome of the LSU/Florida football game I watched on Saturday. Oh yes, it is exciting and it is fun to watch. But it was, strictly speaking and quite literally, of NO CONSEQUENCE! Just like our elections! And, of course, this is the expected result when the political parties in existence are status quo parties and collude with each other to maintain the status quo.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
"Bitterly Divided Parties?" Not So Much
The article includes commentary on the "growing divide between the two major parties" and the "bitter divisions over the Bush and Obama presidencies...." But at the same time, the article points out that Feingold is a "maverick," that is, a politician who votes independently, opposing both Bush and Obama on their common war policies and their common policies on international trade. He even voted to continue the impeachment of President Clinton, as well as opposing Clinton's proposals to loosen bank rules. He even voted against NAFTA and the Patriot Act.
Gee, first, I wonder: who Obama would like to win this race? Bet it isn't Russ Feingold. Feingold has criticized Obama and his administration for not supporting civil liberties, among other things like the "surge" in Afghanistan. But, second, I wonder about all this talk of how bitterly divided our two parties are. Perhaps what seem to be bitter divisions actually disguise what is, in reality, a movement toward a consensus or the maintainance of an already existing consensus. That this might be the case would explain why health care "reform" passed AFTER the election of Scott Brown to the Senate from Massachusetts. And it would suggest that what the Supreme Court did in a recent case dealing with spending on elections, freeing up "independent" groups to spend without limits, is part of this maintainance plan, part of the movement to consolidate the power of certain elites, among them both the Republican and Democratic parties. And, of course, it would be helpful if people like Russ Feingold were not in the Senate. Because unlike John McCain, Feingold has not made "his peace" with "the Establishment." Surprisingly, perhaps, he is one of the few who thinks it still necessary to stand up against the wealthy and the powerful, those who use our political system to advance their own interests while pretending to "feel our pain." Watch this race and hope that Feingold can pull out a win. The "republic" needs him.
Monday, October 4, 2010
But then I thought that this is hardly a defensible "conservative" position. Traditionally, conservatives favor or trust individuals to make decisions and distrust government from making decisions. Hence, the hue and cry about taxes or the new health care law, which imply that government knows better than we do how to spend our money. This argument gets a lot of traction among current "conservatives." But when it comes to abortion and capital punishment, these same "conservatives" take exactly the opposite position. That is, they distrust women or couples from making certain medical decisions regarding pregnancies and trust the government to make decisions regarding putting people to death. The same disconnect happens to many "conservatives" when it comes to what are often called "end of life issues." That is, they, these alleged "conservatives," distrust people to make their own choices while trusting the government to make these same decisions. Now, these "conservatives" could respond as follows: "Well, the government is not actually making these decisions; it is merely forbidding people from making certain decisions, just as it forbids people from enslaving other people or assaulting them." And this has a certain logic to it, except for the fact that when it comes to capital punishment, the government is making decisions about who is to live and who to die, whereas when it comes to terminating a pregnancy, it is not allowing women or couples to make their own decisions. And, of course, this is a decision by the government, just as government is making a decision for me when it tells me it is illegal for me to end my own life with dignity or freely.
So what is up with these "conservatives?" At the very least, they can be charged with inconsistency, which I admit is not always a virtue in politics. But if we dig a bit deeper, I think there is more going on here than inconsistency. Some would argue that our "pro-life conservatives" have an animus against women, and there may be some truth to that. But I think it is something a bit different because here our "conservatives" move over toward the "liberal" side of our alleged liberal/conservative divide, insofar as current liberals seem more than willing to limit individual choice for the sake of what they consider to be the greater or common good. What begins to emerge is the thought that our alleged liberal/conservative divide is not as basic as we like to think it is. And, moreover, this "divide" just possibly hides or obscures more basic divides, e.g., that between men and women or that between the wealthy and the rest of us. That is to ask: What are the most basic issues, the most permanent issues of politics, liberal v. conservative or gender or class issues? And if it is the latter sets of issues, what happens to politics when these are "hidden" or "obscured?" Que bono? If you have been reading this blog, I suspect to know what my answer to this question might be.
Sunday, October 3, 2010
American Politics For Dummies
And what is the "status quo?" Well, first and foremost, it is the power arrangements that now exist and that have led to power and privilege both Democrats and Republicans, as well as those who are called "Wall Streeters" but who could be called simply "the wealthy." Wasn't it interesting that the election of 2006, in which the Republicans took it on the chin and was about the war in Iraq, changed almost nothing? It certainly changed nothing with regard to Iraq, just as Obama's election in 2008 changed nothing with regard to Afghanistan. And what about all those "Wall Streeters" Obama appointed to oversee the bail out? Oh yes, that was real reform - and if I had wheels I would be a taxi cab!
The current relevance of this argument is that while everyone, or almost everyone, thinks that the upcoming election bodes ill for the Democrats, I think, in fact, the Democrats are not going to be all that upset if the Republicans do well. Then, of course, the Democrats can say, truthfully, "Well, we tried reform and it has been rejected. Now, we will just have to see what we can do with the help of the Republicans." And guess what? They will get help from the Republicans - health care passed after Brown was elected in Massachusetts! - and reform, real reform, will disappear, once again, buried in what we will be told are the "realities" of American politics. It happened after FDR's landslide election, it happened after LBJ's landslide election, and it even happened after Ronald Reagan's landslide election [Reagan ended up raising taxes 11 times!]. If you want to go on thinking that these are the results of some "hidden force" buried deep in the American political scene, be my guest. I cannot help but think that the "hidden force" is only hidden because we choose not to see it - and it is our "two party" system!
Saturday, October 2, 2010
There Must Be Some Other Option
Perhaps this is what politics is like as a matter of course. Pascal in his book titled, Pensees, claims that we make a mistake when we read Plato and Aristotle on politics and read them as if they were being serious. Pascal says that we should read them as if they were writing comedy because for them, reforming politics was like trying to bring order into a madhouse! Perhaps Pascal was right, if not about Plato and Aristotle, then about politics. And this would help explain the success of the Daily Show and Stephen Colbert, who lampoon our politics and our politicians with vigor and intelligence. And perhaps this helps explain why Kurt Vonnegut's book, Slaughterhouse Five, is so good or "spot on." The key delusion that politicians share is the delusion that we are in control here. We are not, as hurricanes and other natural phenomena remind us all of the time. As Billy Pilgrim learned to say, so should we: "So it goes." Or as a parrot says in one of Tom Robbins novel, mocking Marx: "People of the world, RELAX!"
Thursday, September 30, 2010
It is difficult for us to understand the AF and this for several reasons. (1) There are not many AF around any more as they have died out. (2) We are, mostly, the children, the progeny of those we call "Federalists." Hence, to be an AF seems disloyal and we don't like disloyalty. (3) Most importantly: We live in "Federalist place," i.e., a place created by the Federalists and their descendants and so AF'lism seems strange to us, weird or even crazy. When I tell people I am an AF'list.......
NB: the implication here is that between the AF and the Federalists there are two fundamentally different ways of being in the world. And this is hard for us to understand, in large part because of how we have been taught. The Federalists are said to favor strong government. The AF are said to favor weak government. The Federalists are said to favor more government, while the AF are said to favor less government. But there is more to it than that, a lot more.
I will get at it as follows: The basic AF argument is that liberty or republics can only exist in small societies. And underlying this argument are three other arguments, as follows: (1) a voluntary attachment of the people to a government is only feasible in small societies. (2) Genuinely responsible government is only possible in small societies. (3) Small societies produce the kind of citizens that are needed in and by republics. I will review the first one to illustrate where it leads us.
(1) The AF thought that human beings confronted a choice, viz., that governments can rest on voluntariness/consent or force. Large societies are (a) large and (b) diverse and, as a result, they require force to maintain order. Think about the difference between Auburn and Boston or even Worcester. Small places, like Auburn, are "self-enforcing" or "self-policing." I grew up in Metuchen, New Jersey where the police force was, by and large, unnecessary and even some cops were jokes. Moms did fine in Metuchen enforcing our small borough, especially my mom. But large places need the police, that is, those who wear uniforms and carry weapons and are authorized to use them. They, the police, are just like the military in these regards which is of course what they are, a military force.
NB the implication: (a) Large societies are based on force because they need it. (b) Large societies are militarized, it is a "mind-set", a different way of being in the world than non-militarized societies. This mind-set is so pervasive that it is, to us, invisible. We don't even think of the police as a military force, that is, until they use deadly force. (c) Large societies are "war-like." That is, war makes sense there - much more so than at the state and local levels. Michael Dukakis never rode around in a tank when he ran for governor of Massachusetts, as he did when he ran for president trying, vainly, to prove his military prowess.
One argument some AF made went essentially as follows: "Ratify this proposed constitution and you will create a war-like government and a war-like society or people, a people who 'like' war or are attracted to war." Can you think of any reason(s) to think that the AF were correct? Two words come to mind: THE PENTAGON.
Now, let me emphasize how far we have come. (a) The place we live, our Federalist place, is militaristic; at least, it is more militaristic than an AF place would be. (b) We - WE THE PEOPLE - are militaristic, at the very least more militaristic than we would be as an "AF People."
And one of the deeper levels of AF'lism is a critique of war, a rather severe critique of war as essentially politically unhealthy or even obscene. War is especially unhealthy in republics, the AF argued. And this recalls, for me, President Eisenhower's Farewell Address where he warned of "the military-industrial complex," a warning that included the spiritual dangers of a militarized society. I repeat: Eisenhower said this.
Of course, force takes other forms as well, e.g., rule by bureaucracy. The AF also argued that were the Constitution to be ratified there would be swarms of officials roaming through society, compromising the privacy and the liberty of citizens, and issuing and executing rules that were radically uniform. Again, can you conceive of any reason to think that the AF might have been correct? The largest and most powerful part of our government is a humongous bureaucracy, and it is, despite its size, relatively invisible to us because we no longer think about it just as we no longer think about driving our automobiles at 65 miles per hour - or faster - while talking on the phone or, even worse, "texting."
A question is: What does this bureaucratization of society do to us? We get glimmers every so often of what it does to bureaucrats as when, for example, some worker goes "postal," as we say today, not realizing what we are saying or what our speech means. But the AF would have understood this phenomenon and this speech even better than we do because they were alive to issue of a voluntary attachment to government and a government based on force. We have become so inured to this issue that it is all-too-common to think that bureaucrats can evaluate students better than teachers can evaluate students or that bureaucratic measures like standardized tests can measure students better than their teachers can. Or to take a bit different take on this, we think that we can come up with a program, a curriculum, that will stimulate students to new levels of achievement and interest, that we can come up with a curriculum that will breathe new life into those dead white males who have contributed to what we call "Western Civilization." There is life there, I am convinced, but that life cannot be sustained by a program or a curriculum because all programs and curricula are or become routines. And if you want to see a popular presentation of this argument watch either "The Dead Poets' Society" with Robin Williams or "The Emperors' Club" with Kevin Klein. Bureaucracies can do a somewhat decent job distributing license plates but they cannot sustain republics. We have become "clients" rather than "citizens," even in our schools, public and private.
Friday, September 10, 2010
Arrogance and Hubris
I don't understand at least a couple of things about this.
(1) Where did WE get the authority to undertake this project? I mean, did I miss a meeting or something where "it" was decided that WE have the right to force others to change the way they choose to live? Is this just a throw back to the "divine right of kings" or some other divinely ordained responsibility? For me, foreign policy should be about defense, defending ourselves from the threats posed by others, not, as John Quincy Adams said, "going in search of monsters to destroy."
(2) But also, isn't Islam part of "Western Civilization?" I thought it was. Guess I was wrong.
(3) Even if Islam is wanting in some ways, and even if we exclude it from "Western Civilization" what makes us think that this civilization is so great that it is justified in transforming the rest of the world? To wit: Here are some of the goodies that Western Civilization has given the world: Nuclear weapons and the use of them [only one nation has ever used atomic weapons and it wasn't the Muslims!]; the Holocaust and Nazism and the slaugher 6 million Jews; Marxist Communism and the millions killed as a result of that ideology in the Soviet Union, China, and elsewhere; numerous wars like two World Wars that took millions of lives......And there is more but that is enough for my purposes.
It is like these "cultural imperialists" have taken leave of their senses in that they think some of the examples mentioned above, Nazism and Communism and World Wars, as ABERRATIONS. That is, they conveniently compartmentalize these phenomena and as a result think that, hell, those weren't part and parcel of Western Civilization, that they did not arise out of Western Civilization but must have been the result of some alien forces beamed down onto earth which were, as in the movie, The War of the Worlds, defeated by the forces of "Western Civilization." Nice try but it doesn't ring true. Nazism, Communism, World Wars, nuclear and other inhumane bombings [like the fire bombing of Dresden or of Tokyo] are all the "fruit" of "Western Civilization - and not the Muslim part either.
"I don’t think it’s hubris or arrogance. If there’s a superiority complex involved, it’s because we are objectively superior. Now there are two things at work when I say “WE” are superior.
1) Our Western values: Free inquiry and valuing of the individual. These are worth risking your life to protect. These are superior.
2) Capitalist realities: this is where the greed and imperialism come in. We don’t need to be greedy. We don’t need to be imperialistic. We could moderate our economic system into a mixed system: Keynesian economics where the government greases economic gears. If we exported mixed economy throughout the globe—at least made it available, it would improve many lives and has.
I would say it is in fact a matter of self-defense. It wouldn’t be important to Westernize Muslims in foreign lands if we never made contact. Realistically, it's necessary to make sure they are not a threat to us. (We’ve proven that all-out war is not a viable option for making sure…) Now I would combine a "Hitchens" view--and say the Islamic threat is somewhat inherent to its theology and a "Chomskyite" view--and say that the Islamic threat is inescapably of our own doing/ regional meddling. So as a rational political actor, I want to make sure the Taliban and Al Qaeda do not pose a threat to me by being dethatched. You stay in your world, I’ll stay in mine. Unfortunately with globalization, that’s not an option: contact between the two “civilizations” is inevitable.
So, there are only so many ways to deal with the inevitable “Islamic-Western nexus”. "Westernizing" is certainly one option. Chomsky would say this is cultural hegemony, but I'm okay with that, it’s FAR better than Islamic hegemony, or even a constant Islamic threat.
It’s not a neo-con thing. It’s been our policy since at least the end of WWII. We gave volatile non-aligned nations economic incentives to industrialize and modernize. In the industry, we call it “neo-liberal institutionalism” (which is different from neoliberal economics).
It’s helped to raze the land of Islamic superstition while help to modernize and develop the second and third world.
When I say Westernize Muslims, I mean domestically. We can’t have citizens of the United States supporting fatwahs against authors who “defame the name of Muhammad.” This is a constitutional issue. We can’t have newspapers afraid to publish cartoons that might offend people. Questions of poor taste aside, the freedom of speech is at odds with Islam.
As for the international community, I really believe in the principles of Trotskyism and the Socialist International: to help develop viable secular socialist communities. This can’t happen when a woman who has loosened her hijab has acid thrown at her face…..or when books are banned because they defame Allah……. Or when countries become anti-democratic overnight.
I am really put off by Malcolm X’s Islamic beliefs because it progresses an inimical narrative: that blacks in the US can’t do anything collectively without first inquiring with God. Blacks cannot be rational. Despite all the gritty work done by the Black Panthers and the US communist party for the Black community, their national heroes are Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. Good grief.
As for the absence of racism in Islam: sure. But there’s plenty of petty tribal hatreds to take its place."
Friday, September 3, 2010
I am currently healthy, probably healthier than I have been in some years thanks to a quadruple bypass last December. So this is not now about me but, of course, it is about me and you and everyone else. I am looking forward to at least a few more years of good living but then, who knows? I hope when the time comes I will be able to say "Goodbye" on my own terms.....Have a party, drink a little rum or scotch, dance a bit, and then say, "Hey, it's been real. Now it is time for me to go."
Well, I wrote it so you can hold me to it when the time comes. I will probably want to watch one more baseball game, one more golf match, one more concert, just like everyone else. But then, on the other hand, who knows? I only hope that this musing is not evidence that my unconscious knows something my conscious doesn't!!! "Wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then," to quote Pete Seeger..........
Monday, August 30, 2010
"Now, wait a minute: Are you really surprised that some Muslims are anti-American? This seems to be the underlying but unspoken theme of McCarthy's article. For this to be plausible, it requires ignoring some aspects of American foreign policy in the past and in the present. In other words, this article is another example of the mindset that Bacevich [and others] have noticed, that Americans view themselves as victims despite the fact that we pursue an interventionist, even imperialist, foreign policy by which we Americans think we have the right and even the duty to remake the world in our own image because, of course, our values are "universal." So,by this view, 9/11, like Pearl Harbor, missiles in Cuba, and even attacks against our troops in Vietnam, are all seen as "shots out of the blue," having no connection to the past and our actions as "the world's last remaining superpower." All of this is hidden in McCarthy's article, that is to say, left unsaid but without which his argument makes little sense. Is it really your opinion that our interventionist foreign policy, a foreign policy that now includes the Bush proclaimed "right" to make "preemptive war" is a policy we have pursued without creating understandable grievances among those who do not wish to be "Americanized?" If this is your opinion, then I would say that you are living in a world that resembles the world that Alice discovered when she went through the looking glass.
"And speaking of mirrors, while it is difficult to look in the mirror, when a large number of people dislike and even hate you, it is time to look in the mirror and ask: "What is it that leads to these responses?" Of course, you and this nation are under no obligation to do this and we have the perfect right to go on thinking that these anti-Americans are just irrational and spiteful and "evil." But if this is what we choose to do, then I would say that we ought not be surprised if these feelings increase in intensity. I am sure the invasion of Iraq has helped placate feelings among Muslims that we are an imperialist nation bent on imposing our will on the world militarily, particularly given that we found those WMDs that led to and justified our invasion and occupation. And I am just as sure that our military activities in Afghanistan are also placating those who think of us as imperialists because, obviously, our war in Afghanistan has been undertaken in order to "help" those people. We Americans are so good that way.......
I read the piece about Christie and must say, I wasn't surprised. I would have been surprised had Christie turned out to be anything other than a conservative version of Obama or any other ordinary politician. It is impossible for me to take our politics and our political system seriously. It is properly the target of comedy and satire....."
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
More from Bacevich
"Even as the [Kennedy] administration sought to widen its edge over the soviet union in nuclear striking power and worked feverishly to subvert the Cuban revolution, the men of the Kennedy inner circle remained certain of their good intentions. They abhorred war and yearned for permanent peace. If peace somehow remained elusive, the fault must necessarily lie with others - with the recklessness [or the malevolence] of Fidel Castro or Nikita Khrushchev in the early 1960s, and Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini, Iraq's Saddam Hussein, and Al Qaeda's bin Laden at a later date, all of whom maliciously misconstrued America's motives or stubbornly refused to endorse America's benign vision for world order.
"When some event disrupts the American pursuit of peace - the missile crisis of 1962, the o0verthrow of the Shah...in 1979,...Hussein's assault on Kuwait in 1990, or the terrorist attacks of 9/11 - those exercising power in Washington invariably depict the problem as appearing out of the blue, utterly devoid of historical context. The United States is either the victim or an innocent bystander, Washington's own past actions possessing no relevance to the matter at hand. Critics of the reigning national security consensus - skeptical scholars or political radicals - might suggest otherwise, but in the corridors of power such dissenters have no standing." [pp. 85-86]
Sunday, August 22, 2010
3 Quick Items
(1) Excellent new book by Andrew Bacevich, "Washington Rules." Cuts through all the bullshit that passes for American foreign policy.
(2) "Radical" thought: What if our fears of what some call Islamofacism is really just projection?
(3) Another "radical" thought: What if we have the whole "how to live thing" wrong? As I sat sipping my Gentleman Jack after a round of golf, I thought that maybe we have it - living - wrong. Ambition is really a temptress, a seducer who misleads us into spending our lives "working" or trying to "save" the world. Oh, if how we live is wrong, we are really fucked!
Monday, August 16, 2010
Another new book
Now, here is a book that seems worthwhile to read.
THE IRONY OF MANIFEST DESTINY
The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy.
By William Pfaff.
Modern history’s most destructive upheavals, from the French Revolution to Stalinism, Pfaff says, were incited by a “secular utopianism” that the Enlightenment substituted for religious beliefs. He argues that a variant of this malignant fantasy has now overtaken the American foreign policy establishment. Pfaff, a former columnist for The International Herald Tribune, writes that America has increasingly committed itself to a hyper-Wilsonian view, embodied in its assertions, without evidence, that a steady development of international “cooperative institutions” under American leadership is improving “the moral (and political) nature of humans.” To Pfaff, only this national myth can fully explain the war on terror, which he calls a “parody of the cold war,” fought against “a few thousand Muslim mujahedeen.” A threat that “good police work” could have contained, he suggests, was instead built up to justify a militarized intensification of the “universal democracy” project. Pfaff’s call for a “noninterventionist alternative” should not be dismissed lightly. But by treating his opponents’ views as fundamentally deluded, he fails to do them justice. There are reasons other than imperial hubris to question Pfaff’s suggestion of an equivalence between aggressive democracy promotion and Nazi and Soviet aggrandizement.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
The Icarus Syndrome Continued
"In 'Reagan: the Movie,' America, after a long string of indignities and defeats, finally remembers how to win. It returns to Vietnam, slays its demons, and recaptures the confidence of a bygone age. It was as if the country had turned back the clock to 1964, relegating the entire post-toughness era to the status of a bad dream. (The other big movie of 1985 was actually titled 'Back to the Future.') In 1982, Hasbro Toys resumed producing the G.I. Joe action figure, which it had discontinued the year after Saigon fell. By 1985, it was America's bestselling toy. That same year in New York, Vietnam vets got the ticker-tape parade they had been long denied. "This country has really needed to flex its muscles," declared the man who played Rambo, Sylvester Stallone. "The other little nations were pulling at us, saying, 'You're bullying. Don't tread on us.' So we pulled back....And what happened, as usual, is people took kindness for weakness, and America lost its esteem. Right now, it's just flexing. You might say America has gone back to the gym."
"'Reagan the Movie' delighted audiences. But it was a fantasy. When it came to foreign policy, the real Reagan didn't turn back the clock to 1964. He never seriously considered enforcing global containment with U.S. troops. Instead of refighting Vietnam, he created Potemkin Vietnams where America won because it could not possibly lose. He served up victories on the cheap, triumphs without risk. Reagan's critics often accused him of reviving the chest-thumping spirit that led to Vietnam. But they missed the point. For Reagan, chest-thumping was in large measure a substitute for Vietnam, a way of accommodating to the new restraints on U.S. power while still helping Americans feel strong and proud. Reagan didn't revive the hubris of toughness. He did what Carter had tried but failed to do: He performed the last rites." [p. 219]
"Had Reagan wanted to refight Vietnam, El Salvador would have been a logical place. Its smaller size and greater proximity to the United States would have made logistics easier. The American military had a better grasp of its language, culture, and terrain. Its leftist rebels were less unified and battle-hardened than the Vietcong. And if you saw those rebels as agents of Moscow, as Reagan did, the Monroe Doctrine offered a rationale for intervention that dated back to the nineteenth century.
"But Reagan never considered it. At a meeting in early 1981, his first secretary of state, Haig, - the senior official most interested in picking a fight south of the border - told his colleagues that if Cuba didn't stop arming El Salvador's communist rebels, 'I'll make the island a fucking parking lot.'......[Reagan] certainly wanted to keep Central America from falling to communism, and his efforts in that regard helped get a vast number of Nicaraguans and Salvadorians killed. (As a percentage of its populaton, Nicaragua lost more people ...than the United States did in the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam combined.) But Reagan knew he could not get any of his own citizens killed. So when the hawks proposed sending U.S. troops to Central America, he pointed out that Latins did not like 'the colossus of the north sending in the Marines.'....Reagan did not dwell on his failure to overthrow a Soviet ally less than a thousand miles from the Rio Grande. He saw the bright side: He had prevented another Vietnam. Whereas he had once vowed to stare down Moscow and Havana, he now congratulated himself for staring down his own right-wing base. 'Those sons of bitches won't be happy until we have 25,000 troops in Managua,' he told his chief of staff triumphantly in 1988, 'and I'm not going to do it.''' [PP. 223-224 and 225-226]
The Icarus Syndrome
"Soon Americans and Iraqis were engaged in a darkly comic, savagely violent, dialogue of the deaf. In the center of Baghdad, behind seventeen-foot-high concrete walls topped with razor wire, the CPA created the Green Zone, an Epcot America where the televisions played Fox, the radios blared classic rock, the recreation officers taught yoga and salsa dancing, and the stores sold Cheetos, Dr. Pepper, booze, protein powder, and T-shirts reading 'Who's Your Baghdaddy?' At the cafeteria in Saddam's former Republican Palance, well-mannered South Asian workers served cheeseburgers, hot dogs, grits, fried chicken, and freedom fries. The menu, which had a distinctly southern flavor, included large quantities of pork, which Iraqi Muslim might have found offensive to prepare. But that wasn't an issue, since Iraqis weren't permitted to work in the dining hall for fear that they would poison the food.
"When the Americans ventured into 'the red zone' - otherwise known as Iraq - they passed through the looking glass, into a parched, dust-brown riddle of a country where American logic often seemed turned upside down. When the Americans set about building an army to replace the one they had disbanded, they dubbed it the New Iraqi Corps, on NIC, only to later learn that in Iraqi Arabic 'nic' resembles the word for 'fuck.' When a visiting administration official toured Iraq's streets, he was pleased to see kids flash him the thumbs-up sign, only to be told that in Iraq a raised thumb was the equivalent of a raised middle finger. U.S. officials talked incessantly about freedom. (At one CPA briefing, an Iraqi journalist asked an American general why U.S. helicopters flew so low to the ground, scaring local children. 'What we would tell the children of Iraq,' the general said, 'is that the noise they hear is the sound of freedom.') But Arabic-speakers noticed that when the Iraqis spoke back, they talked less about 'freedom' ('hurriya') - which according to George Bush all people desired like food and water - than 'justice' ('adil'), which had a more confrontational ring. 'Marines are from Mars, Iraqis are from Venus,' wrote one major in an email to friends. 'I started to realize,' noted the Washington Post's Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent, Anthony Shadid, 'how little any of us - journalists, policy makers, citizens - really understood about Iraq."
Ah, but when you are convinced that your "values" are universal, that all you need do is to bring other people into contact with these values and they will become infected with them, then knowledge of the local culture, the local language, the local way of being in the world, is irrelevant. All will change, almost overnight, once these values are released into the air. And, when this doesn't happen, then application of force is required because you/we are dealing with reprobates who must and should be forced into the "promised land."
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
“The history of Roosevelt’s New Deal constitutes, therefore, the largest and most detailed confirmation of the proposition I have already set forth: first, that party organizations constantly endeavor to block reform and blast untoward hope in order to maintain themselves and their power; second, that they are powerful enough to choose for high office those who are willing to serve their interests. From 1933 to 1938 the fate of the party oligarchs rested entirely in Roosevelt’s hands. Without his determination to protect party power and his extraordinary skill in doing so, it would have disintegrated rapidly – it was disintegrating rapidly. With one push from Roosevelt, the party oligarchs would have toppled to the ground. That Roosevelt chose to save them should not be surprising. The Democratic bosses knew very well to whom they had entrusted their power when they nominated Roosevelt in 1932. Had Roosevelt betrayed their trust instead of betraying the people’s, the evidence of that betrayal would have been swiftly forthcoming. The 1936 Democratic convention would have been a bloodbath; instead it was a celebration.
“That Roosevelt employed extraordinary means – notably the court-packing scheme- to protect party power should not be surprising either. In the larger context of the world’s political history, his court-packing maneuver is merely a humdrum example of duplicity. The annals of politics are crammed with acts of the bloodiest villainy taken to gain and hold power. As Gibbon famously remarked, political history is a register of little else. It is not the business of free citizens, however, to judge their public men by any standard other than those of this Republic. By that standard, Roosevelt’s duplicity was a heinous act of bad faith and betrayal. There is no doubt that Roosevelt saved the prevailing system of oligarchic power at some sacrifice to himself. It is no small for any President to accept a humiliating public rebuff as Roosevelt did in 1937. Such a rebuff is the stuff of heroes, however, though Roosevelt was not a hero to the Republic, its citizens and its liberties. He was the champion of the party system, a very different matter. In any event the party bosses repaid him well for his sacrifice by letting him seek an unprecedented third term and play a very satisfying role, that of a ‘wartime leader.
“Perhaps the most revealing remark every publicly made about Franklin Roosevelt was made by Lyndon Johnson in 1964. It was a remark which looked back to Roosevelt’s 1937 duplicity and forward to Johnson’s own, providing a dramatic link between them. The occasion, as Tom Wicker recounts in JFK and LBJ, was a luncheon for reporters at the White House to discuss Johnson’s landslide election victory over Barry Goldwater. Johnson quickly dimmed the reporters’ spirits. He reminded them that landslide victories are tricky affairs, as indeed they are to the party oligarchs. ‘Roosevelt,’ he told the reporters, ‘was never President after 1937 until the war came along.’ Knowing his task, like Roosevelt’s, would be to block reform in 1965, Johnson was virtually telling the reporters that hewas not going to thwart it by suffering rebuffs until ‘a war came along.’ He would kill reform by starting a war – and that is precisely what he did.”
Sunday, August 1, 2010
Thinking about Politics
You, quite reasonably it would appear, want 'answers' in the form of 'policies' that will address or 'solve' 'problems' of which you see a lot, even a 'myriad.' I now dismiss 'policies' as, by and large, (a) relatively useless and (b) as tools for control. I try not to think of phenomena as 'problems' because if I do than I have to look for 'solutions'. For me, this is delusional and, ultimately, leads 'nowhere' [it is a 'utopian' mindset literally].
Some simple examples: (1) Say crime is a 'problem.' OK. Solution? More police. Soon, we will have a 'police problem.' Or consider an alternative 'solution,' viz., prisons. Soon, we will have a 'prison problem.' (2) Say that poverty is a 'problem.' Solution? Welfare. Well, soon, we will have a 'welfare problem.' What to do now? OK, let's 'reform welfare.' Soon, we will have a 'poverty problem,' again.
Does this mean we do nothing about crime or poverty? Not at all. It means though that in approaching these phenomena we approach them as road engineers think about pot holes: Fill them in but don't expect that you will ever reach a point where you don't have to fill in pot holes. Or, to put it in a way that struck me as interesting, suppose there is a certain amount of good and evil in the world and that there is no way increase the amount of good or reduce the amount of evil. Sure, we humans can move them around, reduce the amount of evil in, say, the economy but that evil just moves somewhere else. The police and those who study crime have noticed something like this happens with crime: "Fight crime" in one neighborhood and, yes, the amount of crime there goes down. But that crime resurfaces in another neighborhood. Or we know that young drivers have more accidents than older drivers so some recommend raising the driving age, say, from 16 to 18. Guess what? Now, as has been shown statistically, the 18 year olds have more accidents than they did previously.
One result of the policy mindset is that when policies don't "Work", policy makers tend to up the ante, that is, endorse increasingly severe or radical alternatives in order to "solve" a "problem." "Hey, we are bombing them and they are not surrendering. Well, let's bomb them some more with bigger bombs or even with nuclear weapons." That will "work" of course, but then we will have a bomb problem, as we have discovered and are reminded all the time [e.g., now with Iran].
So, if you want to talk about policies, that is fine with me but I don't have a lot interest in doing that. If making policy is seen as being "practical" rather than "theoretical," then I have to say that theory seems to have more value than practice, at least as far as I can see. Or perhaps I should say that we need to find a different way of "being" in the world than the way we are now, because the way we are now does not, and maybe even cannot, work.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
"A myriad of social and financial problems"
This is a quote from a colleague and friend of mine made in the course of an argument about American politics. My friend was asking me what I was going to do or what would I do about all these problems that we are facing, allegedly. I gave him some of my wishes - which are like those horses beggars never will ride - but than I said that he was trying, slyly, to control the outcome of the discussion by using the words quoted above because if I accepted his version of reality then I would, quite logically, have to accept his understanding of the kind of politics we should practice, viz., a big national government with lots of regulatory powers.
Well, as I have continued to think about this, I realize that I was on to something although I couldn't explain it very well at the time. Here it is. Thinking that we face a myriad of social and financial problems is (a) only way of looking at the world. It is a very prevalent way of doing this, and we all pretty much accept it without really thinking about it too much, if at all. But (b) - and this is the really neat aspect - it is this view of reality which has led to, contributed to, our current state of affairs even if one accepts that we now face a myriad of social and financial problems.
For example: it was thought after WWII that we faced a problem with regard to our highway system or lack thereof. Hence, after Eisenhower arranged an "experiment" to illustrate this "problem," we built the interstate highway system. Of course, in the building of this highway system we created more social and financial problems, just as the completion of said highway system also contributed to our social problems, e.g., the demise of cities as middle class people used this system of roads to leave the city and move out, further and further out, into suburbia. Also, systems of public transportation and mass transportation also suffered, such as the railroads and trolley and bus lines. So, by building the interstate system we created social and financial problems, even while we were thinking that we solving one.
If we had never begun to think that the old highway system was a "problem" that needed "solving," we would not have some of these problems today because we would not have interstate highways. Would we have other problems? Of course we would but it is not accurate to say that what we deem to be "progress" actually reduces the number of social and financial problems we are facing. In fact, it might be that "progress" such as this increases our social and financial problems. In other words, we now have "a myriad of social and financial" primarily because we thought we did before.
So, if we think and act as if we have a myriad of social and financial problems, we will soon have them and, hence, we will need a pervasively powerful national government, an inherently bureaucratic government, to deal with these problems and by doing this we will create more social and financial problems and so on and so on and so on. This is what I meant when I said that my friend was trying to control the discussion by establishing a particular and peculiar view of reality, from which one was led to conclusions he liked.
So ask yourself: Do we have a drug problem in this country? The answer would seem obvious that we do. At least that is what all of us have been told to think, no? Yes, it is. So, we then need a solution. I know: How about a war on drugs? That seems to make sense.
But here is the thing. When Richard Nixon declared the war on drugs, drugs were not really much of a problem. As one person has noted, when Nixon did this, in that year more people died falling down stairs than died from ingesting both legal and illegal drugs. [The book is: Smoke and Mirrors.] Now, of course, many years later, we still have a war on drugs and drug use is far more prevalent than it was then. Cause and effect? I doubt it. But perhaps we have to rethink how we think about drugs and their interactions with human beings. It might even be helpful not to think of "the drug problem" at all but rather of more limited and focused phenomena, such as the over prescribing of medications by some doctors for some "diseases" or "syndromes."
In any case, beware of how discussions are framed. Most times, if not all the time, the one who frames the discussion does so in a way that guides it to what that person thinks is the right conclusion(s). If we think we have "a myriad of social and financial problems" today, watch out. Because if we think this way, it is almost guaranteed that we will have "a myriad of social and financial problems" tomorrow.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
A student loaned me a book by G.K. Chesterton, whom I think is popular among some Catholics with conservative leanings, which I kind of understand but only kind of, given what I read. I finished the book in two days, What Is Wrong with The World, is the title. And here is a passage which explains why I like this guy, or at least some of what he has to say. He is aware of the power of the oligarchy as well as being aware that the oligarchy is the Establishment, comprehending both "parties." This passage refers to English politics in the early 1900s but it could, of course, be applied to US politics today. Enjoy.
"And now, as this book is drawing to a close, I will whisper in the reader's ear a horrible suspicion that has sometimes haunted me: the suspicion that Hudge [read "liberal" or "socialist"] and Grudge [read "conservative"] are secretly in partnership. That the quarrel that they keep up in public is very much a put-up job, and that the way in which they perpetually play into each other's hands is not an everlasting coincidence. Grudge, the plutocrat, wants an anarchic individualism; Hudge, the idealist, provides him with lyric praises of anarchy. Grudge wants women-workers because they are cheaper; Hudge calls woman's work "freedom to live her own life." Grudge wants steady and obedient workmen; Hudge preaches teetotalism - to workmen, not to Grudge. Grudge wants a tame and timid population who will never take arms against tyranny; Hudge proves from Tolstoi that nobody must take arms against anything....Above all, Grudge rules by a coarse and cruel system of sacking and sweating and bi-sexual toil which is totally inconsistent with the free family and which is bound to destroy it; therefore Hudge, stretching out his arms to the universe with a prophetic smile, tells us that the family is something that we shall soon gloriously outgrow." [p.190]
Just one illustration from today. In today's NY Times [July 24,2010] there is a story of how the current superintendent of D.C. schools has fired hundreds of teachers who did not measure up on a scale of assessment recently created under Obama's "Race to the Top" education policy. Now, of course, Republicans/"conservatives" will like this because it looks like responsibility being enforced and if some lose their jobs, tough luck and besides this is what happens in the "market place" or at least parts of the market place. Ah, but Democrats/"liberals" will like it because it is "regulation," allegedly "real regulation" and, of course, they have no doubt that all these fired teachers deserved their fate because BOBs - Basic Old Bureaucrats - are never wrong. And just as unsurprising is that the article nowhere even hints at the substance of this "assessment tool" except to say that it is connected to "test scores." But then who really cares if this assessment tool measures anything real? This is bound to produce that "tame and timid population" that is incapable of protesting oppression. And, of course, the school children will get the message too. For real!