Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"A myriad of social and financial problems"

"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

Indispensable enemies

Indispensable Enemies

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!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

More debate on our politics.

More Debate On Politics

First from my friend and colleague:
Peter, I think you have a fundamental misunderstanding of what happened under the Reagan administration, and consequently don't see it as a paradigm shift away from the FDR model that I do. The government grew, but it was largely the military that grew, not the social programs that began with FDR. At most those held steady, but in many cases were cut. I furthermore think the grand strategy was to set the stage to cut them more. You remember "trickle down" economics; same thing repeated to a greater degree under Bush. This consisted, as you know, of massive tax cuts to the wealthy and to corporations with the idea that that money would be invested in business (and not in art works and other such non-productive investments, as it often was), and when business was stoked, the riches generated by the now more active market would trickle down to everyone. The pie gets bigger; everyone gets a larger slice. But I never believed it, and David Stockman, the architect of it, never believed it either. If you cut taxes significantly, and raise military spending significantly, well, you've got more output than input. To balance it out, what do you have to do? You have to cut government programs for what I like to think of as the real common good, rather then the common good Mahoney talks about. Paul Krugman has described this strategy as "starve the beast." Less money in, more money out in the form of military, results in a crisis and a justifitication for less money out to social programs, which Reagan and Republicans, if not hated, were highly suspicious of all along. There is a fundamental difference between the way government grew under LBJ and how it grew under Reagan.

My response:
The bottom line is, The government grew under Reagan and Bush II. The issue was an alleged difference between Republicans and Democrats about responsibility, individual responsibility. I claim there is no fundamental difference between the two on this score, that neither one is interested in genuine individual responsibility because that would necessitate a fundamental shift of power AWAY from the national government to the states and localities. Neither part of the oligarchy, Republicans or Democrats, wants such a shift and so both, using different means, fortify the national government, either through social programs or defense spending or some combination of both, which is what has happened because both parts of the oligarchy know it is in their best interests to maintain the status quo by not undermining their "indispensable enemies." The Democrats don't really dispute defense spending just as the Republicans, for all their bluster, don't really dispute social spending. Obama in Afghanistan and health care "reform" finally passed, and this despite Brown's election as senator. I would wager that if the Republicans win in the near future that health care "reform" will continue. Just as a Republican, Mitt Romney, gave Mass. health care "reform" when it was in his interests to do so [and supported gay and lesbian and abortion rights as well]. This is how the "system", their system, is preserved while we, the middle class and the lower class, are screwed. But I guess if you cannot see that we live in an oligarchy, if you take seriously that "liberals" and "conservatives" are actual enemies and not convenient ones, then you are bound to think that Reagan/Bush was "the problem" or that Obama is "the solution."

You know, it is basically an off shoot of Locke that we speak of "liberals" and "conservatives" as if they were real categories, and descriptive of the most basic political conflict. Whereas Aristotle thought the most basic and common political conflict was between oligarchs and democrats. Methinks that Locke wanted a disguised oligarchy - he called it "government" - because he thought the battle between oligarchs and democrats too unsettling and not "progressive" enough. Methinks we are living out Locke's dream of a disguised oligarchy, and the oligarchs are only too happy to have us think that liberals and conservatives are real alternatives.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Politics: Our Grand Delusion

Oh, how simple and understandable the world looks when viewed through the lens of our conventional political categories. The Democrats know how to fix things and, of course, the Republicans do too. They might disagree about the fix but they agree that things are fixable and they agree that if you give them the power - elect them and then turn them loose - they will fix things.

How comfortable our thinking makes us. More government, more regulation will fix things. Less government, less regulation, less entitlements will fix things. Question: Is this thinking evidence of delusion or arrogance?

"I laugh when I can and I live with the rest....There's one rule in life I trust, everything outside my gut ain't necessarily so."

"I don't care what anyone tells you, we humans are here to screw around."

"People of the world!! RELAX!!!!"

It's not fixable. So.....enjoy the ride.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

New Book: Beware of Small States by David Hirst

Beware of Small States

An excerpt from Hirst's book. For those who still think that the US does not have imperialistic intentions:

Excerpts From Beware of Small States by David Hirst

Chapter Eleven “Redrawing the Map of the Middle East, 2001-2006”

“In the summer of 1996, thanks largely to the failure of Operation Grapes of Wrath over which he had presided, Shimon Peres and his Labour Party were defeated in general elections by Binyamin Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud. Before the new prime minister took office, a group of American neoconservatives, some of them, such as Richard Perle, former and future government officials, took it upon themselves to advise him what to do when he did. In a paper entitled Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm, they outlined the means by which Israel – ‘proud, wealthy, solid and strong’ – should make itself the cornerstone of ‘a truly new and peaceful Middle East,’ one in which it would no longer simply ‘contain’ it foes, but ‘transcend’ them. First it should replace ‘land for peace,’ the core principle of the American-sponsored peace process, with ‘peace through strength,’ and secure the Arabs’ ‘unconditional acceptance’ of its rights, especially its ‘territorial’ (that is expansionist) ones. Then, in ‘partnership’ with the US, it should embark on a grandiose scheme of geopolitical engineering for the whole region. It should start by ‘removing Saddam Hussein from power’ and supporting King Hussein of Jordan in his ‘redefining’ of Iraq through the restoration of a fellow Hashemite dynasty there. The ‘natural axis’ – composed of Israel, Turkey, Jordan and ‘central’ Iraq – would join forces in ‘weakening, containing or even rolling back Syria,’ seeking to ‘detach it from the Saudi Peninsula,’ and ‘threatening its territorial integrity’ as a prelude to a ‘redrawing of the map of the Middle East.’ Since Lebanon’s Syrian-controlled Beqa’a Valley had ‘become for terror what the Silicon Valley has become for computers,’ Israel should ‘seize the strategic initiative along its northern borders by engaging Hizbullah, Syria, and Iran, as the principal agents of aggression in Lebanon.’ It should hit Syrian military targets there, or ‘select’ ones in Syria itself. Syria might also come under assault from ‘Israeli proxy forces’ operating out of Lebanon.

“Clean Break was a seminal document, an early authoritative expression of ideas and prescriptions – extreme, violent, simplistic, and utterly partisan – originally intended for the Israeli leadership but eventually emerging as ‘a kind of US-Israeli neoconservative manifesto.’ At the time, the neoconservatives were out of power. Not since President Reagan, and their enthusiastic backing for Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, had they commanded serious influence from within the corridors of power. Ultimately disappointed by him, whom they considered too moderate, as well as by his two successors, they now constituted a very influential, ambitious, militant pressure group, most denizens of a plethora of interlocking, pro-Israel Washington think tanks, impatiently awaiting the champion through whom they could put such ideas into effect. They found him in President George Bush; they entered his Administration en masse, some of them in positions of great power. But it was only when bin Laden’s nineteen kamikazes steered three of their hijacked aircraft into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon that they truly came into their own; only then that Bush, who, in his electoral campaign, had pledged himself to a ‘humble’ foreign policy imbued with the ‘modesty of strength,’ became a convert to their millenarian vision, and the belligerence that came with it. In their speedy and well-orchestrated reaction to what they saw as the most providential of national emergencies, the neoconservatives succeeded in hijacking the foreign policy of the world’s only superpower; in persuading its leader to endorse a pre-existing plan of action which had little to do with the nature of the emergency itself, with bin Laden and al-Qaeda, but everything to do with their extravagant project for a future Middle East. It was quite as much an Israeli as an American one. The Jerusalem Post described its authors as ‘Arik’s [Sharon] American front,’ and a high American official told the Washington Post that the ‘Likudniks are really in charge now.’ Bush himself was said to be ‘mesmerized’ by Sharon. As for the degree of influence, steadily rising from administration to administration, which the Israeli protégé had now attained over its American patron, this – wrote scholar Anatole Lieven – was no longer ‘a case of the tail wagging the dog,’ but of ‘the tail wagging the unfortunate dog around the room and banging its head against the ceiling.’

What the Americans and the Israelis imagined was a transformation – strategic, political, economic, religious, cultural – of the entire Middle East. In place of tyranny, extremism, social oppression, corruption economic stagnation – basic maladies which, in their view, had thrown up 9/11 and turned the region into a menace both to itself and the world – would come freedom and democracy, human rights, the rule of law, pluralism and market capitalism. Of key importance was the notion that since – or so they argued – democracies tend by nature to be more peace-loving and good-neighborly than despotism, democratization would contribute mightily to that abiding American quest in the region, an Arab-Israeli peace settlement.” [pp. 279-281]

Monday, July 12, 2010

More on "regulation" and our politics

More On Regulation

More dialogue between me and my friend. We have a good time conversing and disagreeing. And we are good friends so don't worry about my rather "straightforward" language....He understands... From my friend first....

"I think we're either up shit's creek, or that a capitalist democracy requires major tradeoff and will always be imperfect. What I worry about is that if we are up shit's creek, then you may very well be right. But the only "solution" then is a pretty radical breakdown and revamping of our system, a revolution of sorts.

I was a young college student during the "days of revolution" from the student left. In retrospect, I think those were very dangerous and very irresponsible times. I simply am no fan of radical changes. They bring with them violence, uncertainty, and heartache.

I prefer the unsatisfying balancing act, until you can convince me otherwise. I still think FDR had it as right as you're going to get it."

My response:
I love you, you ugly old man with a bald head!! Italics are on and u don't know why!!!??? Then turn them off, you goof!!

I have no adequate response to this, as honest a response as is possible. And you are in one sense correct, about "the unsatisfying balancing act," which so characterized I have no problem with at all. This makes FDR less than the "savior" that so many want to make of him and makes "salvation" a non-issue or a nonsense issue. There is no salvation up this shit's creek.....And balancing I can live with. It is talk of salvation that pisses me off.

I would only add that there are all sorts of "revolutions" that have gone on and some of them were not violent.....TJs in 1800 and thereafter comes to my mind, for example. Lincoln had no choice as the eradication of our "original sin," slavery, was only going to be expunged with the sword [and still the Lord is just, said Abe in his 2d inaugural]. As to "heartache," you must forgive me for chiding you a bit in your person as a musician: Without heartache and heartbreak, where would our music come from? And "uncertainty"? You are old enough to know that uncertainty is our fate. As one of my favorite philosophers/novelists points out: Our lives are mysterious as the future is a mystery but so is the present and the past, which is not dead. In fact, it is not even "past".

But I want to persuade you of nothing. I just throw these things out there because I can....And at least you are receptive, which is too often uncommon among we academics......

"It what it is
You are what you it
There are no mistakes...."

Whatever that means......

Kippee Hi Ho


I am currently working on the impeachment process as it exists in the United States, in part to fulfill the terms of my upcoming sabbatical from Assumption College. And here, in part, is what I have discovered so far.

Impeachment may serve at least two purposes, accountability or removability. Currently and for some time, a very long time in fact, we have viewed impeachment through the lens of removability. That is, impeachment is a way, the way even, of removing officials from office against their will for acts that seem to warrant such action. And as a reflection of this, nearly everyone who has written about impeachment assume that if a president, for example, is impeached, tried and convicted, then he must be removed from office. But this is not what the Constitution says or is not what that document must be interpreted as meaning. As I am likely to put it, the impeachment process was meant to serve as a leash and not only as lethal injection, it was meant as a way to restrain government officials, including presidents, not merely remove them from office. Hence, a president, like President Clinton, could have been impeached, tried, and convicted and then punished in some way short of removal from office, which at the time seemed like punishment that did not fit his "crime." In fact, given my understanding of the impeachment provisions in the Constitution, it would have been possible in the Clinton case to make the punishment fit the "crime," rather than, as happened, trying to make the "crime" fit the punishment.

Ruminations on regulation and our political order

This is my response to a friend who was and is supporting national regulations as a general principle and arguing that my preference for state regulations is naive and even inane, at least in today's world. I am also posting his last email so you can read what he has to say as well. First, is my friend's post:

How can serious financial regulation be done on a state by state manner?

But I'm being swayed by some of your arguments, especially in light of the probable Federal challenge to Massachusetts gay marriage laws. I forget that "the state" has generally been liberal. But you're right, have a powerful state imposing national laws that strike me as unjust, then you have problems. A nationwide ban of all abortions would be troublesome to say the least. A nationwide ban of all alcohol was troublesome and a disaster. You've got a point, Peter, and you're making me think, always a good thing. But it's only a point, not a hammer.

Here is my response:

Alright, here is the problem as I see it. If you found me up shit's creek without a paddle, and you offered me a paddle, I would take it. But I would still be up shit's creek! Point being: We have created an economy that makes state regulation seem inane and it is probably inane under the circumstances. So in this sense you are correct with your question below. But this is really no different than arguing, as I do, that because we have created and embraced an empire, because we have troops stationed throughout the world, when the powers that be argue that "national security requires this limitation of our personal liberties or that limitation of our personal liberties," they are, logically, correct. But that only tells me that our foreign policy is inconsistent with maximizing personal liberty and, hence, it needs to be changed for the sake of our liberties. This is why it is necessary to try to see our issues outside the parameters of our conventional political discourse. Under those parameters, we never get to the really important and some would say the only important issue: Is the character of our foreign policy "republican," in the sense of being consistent with maximizing personal liberties?

"National security" is a term that is too often taken to be "objective," that is, the demands of "national security" are taken to be the same regardless of the character of our foreign policy, which is just not correct. If we intruded less into the world, the demands of national security would be different. The same phenomenon takes place with the term "the economy." That is, the demands of "the economy" are taken to be the same regardless of the character of our economy, which is just incorrect. If we have created an economy that demands national regulation, then one can argue that we should change that economy, especially if, as I think, national regulation more often than not does not "work" - depending on what we mean by "work." To return to my original metaphor, if we have created an economy [and social order] that puts us up shit's creek, then the paddle of regulation, while useful, is only that, useful. But it does not and cannot get us out of shit's creek. And, of course, if we are up shit's creek, then we should be trying to get out of it, which requires more than paddles/regulations.