Saturday, May 28, 2011

More on American Politics

There is an article in today's New York Times [May 28, 2011] on Massachusetts and Scott Brown and upcoming senate election in 2012. According to this article, the election of Brown seems to be a pretty sure thing as, according to the article, the Democrats struggle to find someone who can beat Brown. It would seem from the article that there is a lack of potential leaders because, among other things, no one thought Ted Kennedy would die someday and, hence, no one groomed a successor. Of course, all of this assumes, which the article does implicitly, that the primary concern of Massachusetts Democrats is to win this Senate seat. That is, the article never explores the possibility that the Dems have other concerns and that, these other things considered, they would not mind Scott Brown winning re-election. That is, the re-election of Scott Brown is not the worse thing that could happen to the Democratic Party in Massachusetts or in Washington, D.C. That the Dems' primary concern is winning back the Senate is premised, at least in part, on the idea that they are the "liberal" alternative and that it is their commitment to "liberalism" that explains their actions and their desire to win back this seat. Hence, it is also necessary for the article to portray Ted Kennedy as, above all else, a "liberal," that is, as someone who sought power in order to advance "liberal" causes.

There are two assumptions made in the article that are not defended, because they are taken for granted. First, it is assumed that the most important thing for political parties is to win elections. That is, it is never in the interest of political parties to lose elections. Of course, it is amazingly easy to call this assumption into question. One example, obscure for almost everyone I am sure, occurred in 1912 when the Republicans and incumbent president William Howard Taft said, literally said, that they would prefer to lose the election rather than compromise with Teddy Roosevelt and his insurgent Republicans. And, of course, this is just what they did, they lost that election and were fine with that result. I can imagine a similar scenario being played out in 1968 by the Democrats if Bobby Kennedy had not been assassinated. That is, I can imagine the Democratic regulars going with Hubert Humphrey even though it would have meant losing the election. And, in fact, a similar scenario probably did play out in 1972 when the Democrats went with George McGovern even though they knew he would lose and lose big, which he did. What better way to discredit the insurgents than to show them that they were impotent when it came to winning the presidency? I have even heard it argued that this is what happened in 1996 when Bob Dole ran against an incumbent Bill Clinton and the conservatives in the Republican Party basically sat the election out, even though it meant that Dole would lose, which of course he did.

Secondly, it is assumed that what motivates, what drives our politicians is primarily a commitment to certain political causes rather than a commitment to maintaining themselves and their cohorts in power. So, when it is said in the article that Ted Kennedy was the one who brought unity to the Democratic Party in Massachusetts, this is understood to mean that that party and its members followed Ted because of his commitment to "liberal" causes. Hence, someone like Brown should be an anathema to the Democratic Party and it would never, ever let an opportunity pass to defeat someone like Scott Brown. But all of this analysis turns on the above stated assumption. If that assumption is faulty, then the analysis which follows is also faulty. Perhaps Ted Kennedy brought unity to the Democratic Party not by his unwavering commitment to "liberal" principles but rather by squelching any insurgency within the party that might arise. And in order to do this, it was fine with Ted if the Dems lost the governorship to Republicans like Bill Weld or Mitt Romney. And it could be that the Dems are quite prepared to sit this election out, to so speak, if that is what it takes to maintain the power of the party's regulars. And, conveniently, if they can persuade Elizabeth Warren to run for the seat, even though or precisely because an academic is the almost perfect foil for Brown and his down home, truck driving image, they can kill two birds with one stone as Warren is an insurgent who is upsetting things in Washington, D.C. Without Warren there, it would be easier for Obama and the Democratic regulars to work with the Republicans to insure that that new consumer protection agency does not do too much protecting and to preserve their own power.

But these two assumptions, that political parties want above all else to win elections and that politicians are driven by a devotion to certain causes, are so deeply embedded in our consciousness that most of those who are confronted with questions about them will simply write off the questioner as insane. But, what the heck, there are worse things to be called......

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

More on Obama from C. Hedges

"Nader Was Right: Liberals Are Going Nowhere with Obama." This is from Hedges'new book "The World As It Is." In this piece, Hedges quotes Nader pointing out the passivity of the American people including the young. "No one sees anything changing. There is no new political party to give people a choice. The progressive forces have no hammer....There comes a point when the public imbibes the ultimatum of the plutocracy....[And] this is the third television generation. They have grown up watching screens. They have not gone to rallies. Those are history now. They hear their parents and grandparents talk about marches and rallies. They have little toys and gizmos that they hold in their hands. They have no idea of any public protest or activity. It is a tapestry of passivity." [pp. 53-54]

But it is even worse than Nader makes it out to be because the young are so bureaucratized that they don't even know it. Their bureaucratization is hidden in plain view and, as a result, the young have difficult even conceiving of public action or demonstration. When teaching, I use to encourage my senior students to blow off the school's "Senior Week," for example by going to the beach. One year when I made this suggestion a young woman, one of my best students, responded spontaneously: "But they won't let us to the beach." She was thinking that she had to get the approval of the BOBs [Basic Old Bureaucrats] to go to the beach! And she was programmed to think this way. When I said that they couldn't stop you from going to the beach with some friends, she looked at me like I was an alien. But what should we expect from a generation that has been raised with activities like "play dates" and almost all of whose sports activities have been organized by adults and overseen by them and bureaucrats? Then throw in "high stakes testing" and you have the makings of a passive generation, which is of course fine with the powers that be. Passivity allows the plutocracy to govern as it wishes while the republic withers. And, apparently, even an economic crisis of great proportions cannot change things.

More on Obama and Israel

This is for those who think that Obama broke some new ground in his speech on the Palestinian/Israeli standoff in the Middle East. For this commentator, Ms. Andoni, writing in Al-Jazeera, not so much. It is interesting to me how delusional our politics has become. Does anyone really believe that a one state solution will work?

Also, insofar as this commentary captured Obama's meaning, it illustrates that the "cult of the presidency," by which each president is seen as distinct and different, especially from his predecessor, is another delusion we like to entertain. It feeds into our desire to believe that the presidency is the capstone, the brilliant capstone, of the American political order, an office that allows its occupants to demonstrate "greatness." As I have been saying for awhile now, disillusionment is not a bad thing. Otherwise, we condemn ourselves to live in a land of illusions.

"Just in case his pro-Israel support base misunderstood the thinly veiled statements from his Middle East speech last Friday, Obama made sure to clarify to his definitively pro-Israeli view that there is no going back to the true 1967 borders:

"'[The statement] means that the parties themselves - Israelis and Palestinians - will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 196... It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last forty-four years, including the new demographic reality.'"

"In clearer words, the president is effectively, although not explicitly, equating the presence of Palestinians on their own land with the illegal presence of Israeli settlers living on land confiscated forty-four years ago from the Palestinians.

"Basically, despite the fact that settlers live on that land illegally under international law, because they are physically there, the land becomes theirs.

"This confirms the belief of many in the region that the construction of Israeli settlements and of the Separation Wall inside the 1967 borders is Israel's way of slowly completing a de facto annexation of Palestinian land.

"This latest of Obama's statements may be the closest the president has come to legitimising illegal Israeli settlements."

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Obama and Israel: What's Up, Dude?

Well, below are passages from an article in Al Jazeera, about Obama and his latest speech on Israel and the Palestinians. As you can read, the essay characterizes Obama's attempt to make peace through a two state "solution" as a "failure." But what if this is inaccurate? That is, what if Obama got the result he wanted, viz., he set things up so Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could reject his, Obama's, proposals, thereby allowing Obama and others to say, "Well, we tried but we have to be realistic given the Israelis refusal to use the 1967 borders as the basis for a settlement. And, besides, the Palestinians have rejected my proposal for a 'demilitarized nation.'" [Of course, what sense does it make to talk of a demilitarized nation? Nations are defined by the possession of a military.] As a result then of Obama's "failure," the peace process is exactly where the Israelis want it to be and, probably, exactly where Obama wants it to be.

"Many Palestinians, on the other hand, did not like Obama's assertion that it made little sense for them to go to the UN General Assembly this September and win recognition for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders. Surely they also noticed that shortly after saying "every state has the right to self-defence, and Israel must be able to defend itself," the president said that the Palestinians would have to be content with "a sovereign non-militarised state," which means that they would not be able to defend themselves against Israel - or any other state for that matter. Hypocrisy appears to be wired into the DNA of US foreign policy makers.

"Obama's failure to impress and move US Middle East policy in new directions raises the intriguing question: Did he blow an opportunity to give a truly important speech at what appears to be a plastic moment in history? I think not. The sad fact is that Obama has remarkably little manoeuvre room on the foreign policy front. The most important item on his agenda is settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and there he knows what has to be done: Push both sides toward a two-state solution, which is the best outcome for all the parties, including the United States. Indeed, he has been trying to do just that since he took office in January 2009. But the remarkably powerful Israel lobby makes it virtually impossible for him to put meaningful pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is committed to creating a Greater Israel in which the Palestinians are restricted to a handful of disconnected and impoverished enclaves. And Obama is certainly not going to buck the lobby - with the 2012 presidential election looming larger every day."

The Wrong War

"The Wrong War"is a book by Bing West about Afghanistan and the American war there. It is quite redundant but it does illuminate the futility of our war there, even if that is not what West intended to do. And there are some remarkably illuminating passages such as this one on the failure of both the civilians and military personnel in charge to define what we are doing there and how we are going to do it.

"Are we nation building? Yes (Mullen). No (Obama). Are we pursuing a strategy of counterinsurgency aimed at winning over the support of the Pashtun people? Yes (McCrystal). No (Biden). Are we withdrawing a large number of troops in mid-2011? Yes (Biden). No (Gates). Is Pakistan committed to helping or impeding? Secretary of State Clinton implied that it was both, while rhetorically asking, 'Are we to believe that no Pakistani official of any rank knows where Osama bin Laden is hiding?' Do we have a real plan for transitioning the war to the Afghans? No senior official has issued a statement for the record." [p. 191]

Note should be taken that Clinton was raising the question of Pakistani knowledge of bin Laden's whereabouts in 2009, which suggests that, as the Washington Post has reported, that we were aware of his location as early as 2009, if not earlier. Was Clinton trying to get the Pakistani's to act, to take out bin Laden? And if she was and they refused to act, what were the reasons for that decision by Pakistan? Incompetence is actually a comforting explanation in that it implies that Pakistan does not or did not have reasons for not taking bin Laden out. But as almost everyone knows, Pakistan has reasons, viz., India, for not wanting a strong and independent Afghanistan to exist. And just a glance at a map will reveal why Pakistan embraces such a policy as Pakistan is wedged between Afghanistan and India.

More from West: "By declaring an ambiguous mission, the president has positioned himself brilliantly as a politician. His Delphic statements left open his options. That same uncertainty harmed the military mission. The commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Conway, later said the 2011 pledge 'is probably giving the enemy sustenance.'" [p. 191] Probably? Now that is an understatement. Leave to a Marine to point out the obvious and that which is deadly to the grunts who are actually fighting this war.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Not For the Faint Hearted

There is a new book by Chris Hedges, "The World As It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress," which consists of columns Hedges wrote for over the past few years. This is not a book for the faint hearted or for those who cannot entertain rebellious thoughts about our current state of affairs. The first essay is entitled "It is Not Going To Be OK," and in it he writes about Sheldon Wolin who is now 86 and has been a political scientist for a long time. In his latest book, Wolin writes about "inverted totalitarianism," which does not revolve around a particular leader but "finds its expression in the anonymity of the corporate state. It purports to to cherish democracy, patriotism, and the Constitution while cynically manipulating internal levers to subvert and thwart democratic institutions." According to Wolin, "Under inverted totalitarianism...economics dominates politics-and with that domination comes different forms of ruthlessness."

This makes me think of the prominence of Tocqueville today and especially his account of "soft despotism," a prominence I have wondered about. Perhaps this is a way of distracting us from the reality of what Wolin calls "Democracy Incorporated," which is the title of his latest book. Such distractions are common especially when useful. If we think about Tocqueville, we won't be thinking about our current situation or will fail to see our situation as it really is....."real reality" as I like to call it.

Here is another passage, this all Hedges, from the "Introduction": "My former employer, the New York Times, with some of the most able and talented journalists and editors in the country, not only propagated the lies used to justify the war in Iraq, but also never saw the financial meltdown coming. These journalists and editors are besotted with their access to the powerful. They look at themselves as players, part of the inside elite. They went to the same colleges. They eat at the same restaurants. They go to the same parties and dinners. They live in the same exclusive neighborhoods. Their children go to the same schools. They are, if one concedes that propaganda is a vital tool for the power elite, important to the system....All that talent, all that money, all that expertise, all those resources proved useless when it came time to examine the two major cataclysmic events of our age. And all that news, however objective and balanced, turned out to be lies." [p. xii]

Good stuff but, as noted, not for the faint hearted.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Is Killing Politics?

Headline from an Al Jazeera piece: "Obama: The Courage to Kill but Not to Lead." Now, that is an interesting question or raises one anyway. The thrust of the article is that Obama's alleged "realism" is really quite empty and offers little guidance for understanding what is driving American foreign policy in the Middle East. For me, it raises a question about the statism that seems to characterize American politics now, because the killing of Osama, however bold it might have been, changes almost nothing in the political geography of the present. We are still in Iraq, still in Afghanistan, Gitmo is still open, we are still in Pakistan, we are still unable to keep any kind of "peace process" going in the Middle East between the Israelis and the Palestinians, still mired in a "war on drugs" that is endless and pointless, and still unable to grow the economy in any significant way. Obama promised "change" but as the joke from Tea Partiers has it, the only change I have is that which is in my pocket. I guess the question for me is something like: Why is killing so easy for us but politics, that is, genuine political change, so difficult? Anybody got any answers? I sure don't.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

More on American Politics

Headline in today's NY Times [Saturday, April 14, 2011] says that Obama is going to "shift" and speed up the search for more gas and oil on public lands in the U.S. This is billed as a "concession" that is necessary in light of the price of gas and in light of the bills proposed by the Republicans to do this very thing. This is another example of how the two parties agree more than or at least as much as they disagree, an argument made in an earlier blog here. The article assumes that Obama is doing this because it is politically expedient and, of course, that could be the case. However, it still remains that Obama is now touting the line previously touted by the Republicans and some Democrats. Once again, it may be asked how this move by Obama fits with the prevailing idea that Republicans and Democrats are almost mortal enemies. Perhaps that is just not the case.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

American Politics

It is just dawning on me more clearly than ever before that in order to understand American politics and the American political system, it is necessary to discard almost everything we are told about it in the mainstream media and other avenues of mainstream commentary, e.g., from those labeled "political scientists." This dawned on me this morning, while vacationing with friends, one of whom informed me, after he had read USA Today, that "Republicans and Democrats are not getting along." And I found myself responding: "Oh yes they are. You just don't realize it."

This is perhaps the one nugget of conventional wisdom which it is necessary to discard, and perhaps the most difficult. After all, we are told, over and over, in a host ways, by means of the media [a plural word, I remind you], that this country is divided between the Republicans and Democrats, between liberals and conservatives, between socialists and capitalists. How could it be otherwise? Although I cannot "prove" it, I am convinced that it is otherwise, that the Republicans and Democrats, or at least those in positions of power, are more in agreement than disagreement. Or, perhaps, I should say that they are in agreement about certain policies and that these policies are much more important in defining us as a people than their areas of policy disagreements.

For example, where is the disagreement over Afghanistan and war therein? As near as I can tell, there is no disagreement of any importance. Oh yeah, some Congressmen might make noise every so often, but these noises are just that, noises, and once made, disappear into the night.

This is just one example and I am sure there are more. But for now I just wanted to put this idea down on "paper" so I would have it. Otherwise, I will forget it......and I think there is a lot more to be said in this regard. Now, it is time to play some [more] golf!

Sunday, May 8, 2011


I am beginning to appreciate the nationalistic, moralistic, and aesthetic value of the killing of bin Laden. I mean, come on, why should we worry about the ramifications or whether Obama is using bin Laden's death to advance his political agenda? This killing has great value, especially if we use it properly by reminding the very young and the young how great this nation is, and how heinous was the attack of 9/11. Again, I think we should use this as an opportunity to instill the war-making spirit in our young because they are, all too often, narcissistic and self-centered. As Teddy Roosevelt said, "A little war every now and again is really good for a nation." People wave flags, they forget about those little things like those who live poorly, or those who are treated unfairly, and they rally around the flag, celebrating the greatness of this nation which was obviously put here to by God and Jesus to bring the light to the rest of the world. Yeah, that's the spirit......USA, USA, USA!!!!!!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Modest Proposal

I have a modest proposal for how all school children in the U.S. should begin their school days. Instead of saluting the flag, they should be shown pictures of bin Laden both alive and dead and then, while chanting USA, USA, USA, they should be shown a picture of Obama and an anonymous Navy Seal [to preserve his safety]. That should get their day off to a great start and would convey to all our youths the nationalistic fervor we want them to display.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Spiking that football

Gee, the POTUS met with those who did UBL in and gave them a medal. Good thing he isn't interested in "spiking that football" he spoke about when he refused - for now - to release a photo of UBL dead. Only the gods would know what Obama would do then. Could it be that maybe the shots fired where not as precise as we might want to believe and that there was little left of UBL? Oh, no, that could not be the case because we Americans never, ever use more force than is necessary to "do the job!" Oh yeah, there was My Lai and the Phoenix program in Nam but those were aberrations, of course. How can anyone take our political system and its politicians seriously?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

My New Bet

Here is my new bet: The Bush Administration knew where Osama bin Laden was but had decided, not for bad reasons, to leave him be. I mean, after all, Osama was quite impotent, quite harmless, and if he ever actually did anything else, we could deal with him then. "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." The Obama Administration, however, decided for domestic reasons to take him out, maybe even thinking that they had actually discovered something that the Bushies did not know. Of course, the Bushies could not say anything without appearing weak and insipid, to say nothing of their objections sounding like sour grapes. But one could make a good case, if this were the case, that the Bushies were wiser than Obama and his cohorts given that the latter had turned Osama into a martyr, which even they knew as evidenced by their "burial" at sea. Geez, wouldn't this make for a good novel? Maybe I will write it too!

The Sadness of Us

It is really sad to me that the President of the United States compares the killing of bin Laden to scoring a touchdown when he said about not releasing the picture of the dead bin Laden, "we don't have to spike the football." But then maybe he is correct; maybe the killing of bin Laden is about as important as scoring a touchdown....that is, just not very important at all.