Saturday, August 27, 2011

The New America

"According to the AP report, "The [NYPD] has dispatched teams of undercover officers, known as 'rakers,' into minority neighborhoods as part of a human mapping program, according to officials directly involved in the program. They've monitored daily life in bookstores, bars, cafes and nightclubs. Police have also used informants, known as 'mosque crawlers,' to monitor sermons, even when there's no evidence of wrongdoing. NYPD officials have scrutinized imams and gathered intelligence on cab drivers and food cart vendors, jobs often done by Muslims. Many of these operations were built with help from the CIA, which is prohibited from spying on Americans but was instrumental in transforming the NYPD's intelligence unit."

This references an Associated Press report on an alliance between the CIA and the NYPD and how the latter is now spying on the citizens of NYC. Of course, these are almost always Muslims. And "spying" is the appropriate word because the information gathered is not being used as evidence for court proceedings. Pretty amazing stuff in what claims to be a "republic" and touts itself as "the land of the free." Not so much, at least if you are Muslim.

Random Thoughts

We Americans don't like to think that we have made choices or that we have to make choices, that is, choices that affect in important, even fundamental ways, the way that we live. For example, the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists are taught as two separate political factions but factions that agree more than they disagree. When "we" chose the "Federalist way," that is, by ratifying the constitution that was proposed in 1787, we did not by that choice reject another way of being in the world. We opted, as it often said, for a more powerful national government than the one that existed under the Articles of Confederation or the one that would have existed if the Anti-Federalists had had their way in 1787. On a more contemporary note, we Americans don't like to hear our current foreign policy described as "imperialistic" because in part that would indicate that we had chosen a particular kind of foreign policy and a kind of foreign policy for which there are clear alternatives. So, we like to say that our foreign policy is controlled by "realists" and that the policies themselves "realistic," which is to imply that we have no choices here unless we wish to deny the demands of "reality." Of course, the same logic is applied to the "choice" of 1788, ratifying the proposed constitution, by arguments that hold the Articles of Confederation were a failure and failed because they had created a national government that was "too weak." As a result of this "weakness," we had to be "realistic" and opt for a more powerful national government. Nothing happened here other than the American people being "realistic." We had no other alternatives.

But what if this line of reasoning is wrong? What if, as I think is the case, that the decision made in 1787 changed in important, even fundamental ways how we Americans live, how we are in the world, our "being" in the world? Suppose, for example, that the creation of a powerful national government like that made possible by the Constitution of 1787 also made possible the creation, some many years later, the Department of Defense. And suppose further that the creation of the DOD had made us a more war-like people than we had been before its creation. This would mean that the choice to ratify the proposed constitution on 1787 has made us a more war-like people than we would otherwise have been.

I like to point out to students that when we say that the Articles of Confederation "failed," we have to be careful not to use inappropriate standards when judging the Articles. Those articles created a "confederation" and so it is inappropriate to use the standards used to measure the success of a national government to judge the success or failure of a confederation. To use national government standards to judge confederations would be like using standards of an offensive lineman to judge Tom Brady's ability to play football. Or like using standards of a fastball pitcher to judge Tim Wakefield's ability to pitch. So to say the Articles failed because the confederation could not protect national security by means of institutions that would be capable of making war with "energy and dispatch" is inappropriate. One reason those who supported confederations did so is because they wanted to create a system that would less rather than more war-like. And whether they were wise or not depends on what one thinks about war or war-like political systems. Can such systems be republican? If the answer to this question is "No," then it cannot be said that the Articles of Confederation "failed" because, under them, it was impossible to create what some today call "a military-industrial complex." It was to preserve the creation of a republican political system that confederationists rejected just such a possibility. That the confederationists may have been right is reflected by Eisenhower's Farewell Address, where he coined the phrase and cautioned us of "the military-industrial complex."

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Rick Perry and Shrub

"Mr. Perry, however, is hardly a natural heir to the Texas Bush legacy or the much-maligned reputation that Mr. Bush left among both Republicans and Democrats. The blue-blooded Bush clan’s dislike of the gun-slinging, coyote-shooting son of tenant farmers runs deep — from the first President George Bush on down to the family’s political Svengali, Karl Rove, to state-level operatives — and Mr. Perry further offended Bush-world when, in recent years, he publicly criticized President George W. Bush on a number of issues, and questioned his fiscal conservatism."
From the NY Times, August 20, 2011

Although the Times is presenting the distance between Perry and Shrub as something personal, it should not be forgotten that this is about politics. This confirms for me my suspicion that the Bush's and other Republicans like them, called "blue blood Republicans," would rather have Obama as president than Rick Perry. Why? Because Obama is less of a threat to their power within the Republican Party. For similar reasons, the Bush's supported Perry's opponent when he ran for governor, Bailey Kay Hutchinson. Obama has demonstrated, over and over, his willingness to "do business" with establishment Republicans and, of course, even if he wins he is no threat to those Republicans. And if he wins against someone like Perry, then he is in fact an ally of those Republicans. It is always necessary to remember that the leaders of both parties are quite willing to lose elections in order to maintain their power within the parties. After all, that is what politicians seek, power.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Rick Perry: Changing the Climate

"But Mr. Perry said Wednesday that carrying out programs to reduce carbon emissions would cost “billions if not trillions of dollars.” He acknowledged that “yes, our climate has changed,” but he accused scientists of manipulating the data and was skeptical that human behavior was the cause.

“I don’t think from my perspective that I want America to be engaged in spending that much money on still a scientific theory that has not been proven and from my perspective is more and more being put into question,” he said."

Quoted in the New York Times, today, August 18, 2011. So, let me get this straight: We can and will spend "billions, if not trillions of dollars" to wage war but we will not and cannot spend that much to deal with our overtaxed environment. Now, golly gee, as Reagan use to say, that doesn't make a lot of sense to me but then neither does toting a gun around either. Ah yes, we are on hard, hard times when a buffoon like Perry appears as a thoughtful candidate.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

"Counter Insurgency" as Myth

"BAGHDAD — A chilling series of fatal attacks across Iraq on Monday sent a disheartening message to the Iraqi and American governments: After hundreds of billions of dollars spent since the United States invasion in 2003, and tens of thousands of lives lost, insurgents remain a potent and perhaps resurging threat to Iraqis and the American troops still in the country."

This is from the NY Times, today, August 16, 2011 and it made me think of a book I read and even reread recently entitled "Deadly Paradigms" by D. Michael Shafer. It was published in 1988 and Shafer argues that counter insurgency never works and that where it appears to have worked, like the Philippines, the insurgency ended because of factors, variables that were outside of the counter insurgency paradigm. The subtitle of Shafer's book is "The Failure of U.S. Counterinsurgency Policy." And it would seem that, once again, we are being treated to an illustration of the strength of Shafer's argument. Note well just how deadly our counterinsurgency policies have been in Iraq, with "tens of thousands of lives lost...."

There is a song, old now, "Where have all the flowers gone?" which asks, "Where have all the young men gone?" and answers, finally, "gone to graveyards every one." And then it asks: "When will we ever learn?" I can say, sadly but honestly, "Not yet."

Monday, August 15, 2011

Two Ways of Looking at Politics

It struck me recently and not so recently that one can look at politics in two very different ways, represented by Thomas Jefferson on the one hand and Teddy Roosevelt on the other. Jefferson wrote once, something like, that a little revolution every so often was a good thing in republics, as good as storms in the natural world. Roosevelt, on the other hand, wrote that a little war every so often was a good thing, even in republics.

Now these are two very different ways of thinking about, talking about, and doing politics, it seems to me. Both arguments have in common the thought that political orders require renewal every so often as if they run out of steam or necessarily lose their integrity. But for Jefferson, these renewals are to be, for the most part and primarily, domestic affairs. It would seem that they would necessarily involve political parties and especially political parties that are not concerned with stability or maintaining the status quo. Of course, revolutions might be but need not be bloody, as Jefferson's own election in 1800 demonstrated. But they would involve civil unrest, even if this unrest did not eventuate in violence or bloodshed. And they would involve, it would seem, the existence of a new political vocabulary, a new political lexicon as it were. In other words, these revolutions would involve great debates or would "revolve" around such debates.

On the other hand, Roosevelt's endorsement of war as the necessary means to rejuvenating our political system would be, primarily, a foreign affair or foreign affairs. And it would seem that, necessarily, Roosevelt's rejuvenation would be bloody, involving the killing of other human beings, of "foreign" human beings. Moreover, it would seem that Roosevelt's rejuvenation looks toward the creation or re-creation of unity, especially national unity. And hence it would lead to the creation of a nationalistic spirit among the people, even such a spirit combined with a nation marching into war in order to prove its "manliness."

I cannot quite shake the thought that Jefferson and Roosevelt were seeking very different ends, had very different political agendas. As illustrated by Jefferson's election in 1800, he did not think that unity, especially national unity, was an unalloyed good. It might be accurate to say that Jefferson was concerned with creating "a union" as distinguished from "a nation," the latter being the goal of Roosevelt's political agenda. And at times Roosevelt called his agenda a "new nationalism," whereas we might call Jefferson's agenda a "new federalism." In the best unions, the parts retain their integrity and, hence, in a union, policies would be created to enhance the integrity of the parts. In the best nations, however, the parts are subsumed by or into the whole. The parts are homogenized as it were; they might even be said to disappear, to be assimilated. And policies would be created that sought to accomplish this disappearing act, policies like "a little war every now and again." For when nations go to war, all are "mobilized" for the effort and all are expected to "ask what they can do for their country." Unions require different skills to persist than do nations. Which is better? I don't know but as I get older I lean more and more toward union if only because they seem to be more peaceful.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Waste and War

Here is a "discovery" I made recently. It is simple although its consequences are immense. It is this: Waste, as in government waste, and war are not accidents, not marginalities as I think economists would say, not incidental to our political system. Rather, they are, both of them, integral parts of that system, necessary parts of the that system, indispensable variables for maintaining our system.

Hence, when candidates talk about eliminating "waste" in government spending, they are either (a) employing meaningless rhetoric or (b) proposing, even if they don't know it, a revolution in our system of government. Without wasteful spending, the system we live under would not work, could not work. It is waste, e.g., waste in spending on "defense", that keeps the skids greased, the wheels turning, the pot boiling. Without this waste, the military industrial complex would be impossible.

Similarly with war. Wars don't just happen, and they aren't the result of inexorable forces, either social or political. Rather, they happen because, like waste, the system needs war to keep going, to "work." Without war, our political system would come to an end, government would lose its purpose, and our institutions would become inert.

Now, just entertain for a few minutes the idea that these arguments above are correct. We have a system that needs waste and war in order to exist, in order to operate. Without waste and war, the system fails, it stops, it breaks or is broken. What an uplifting thought: We have created a political system that only works by wasting vast sums of money and waging wars continually.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Even Nader Gets It Wrong

"The Tea Partiers don't even care that 50 percent of Tea Partiers back home and 70 percent of Republicans polled thought additional tax revenues should be part of the deficit-reduction program passing through Congress.

"You see, these House and Senate Tea Partiers are like mad dogs - at times even beyond control of their political and corporate masters. Fanatics neither think nor blink in their hostage politics. They're scarring Wall Streeters with their brinkmanship. Brandishing a historic moniker that symbolized rebellion against the then monarchial power, the Congressional Tea Partiers are anything but rebels against power - whether against the wars of empire, corporate welfare, sovereignty shedding NAFTA and WTO, corporate crime, the flouted war powers of Congress, or a runaway Wall Street."

These quotes are from one of Ralph Nader's blogs on his web page. There are others, of course, but this one caught my eye given that Nader is bashing the Tea Party and trying to make them responsible for our current troubles. Nader knows better and this one is a bit confusing. First, Nader points out that half of those called Tea Partiers are not fanatics and that well over half of Republicans are not fanatics either. But then he goes on to argue that the Tea Partiers in Congress, a distinct minority, are "scarring" their opponents and are doing so even against the wishes "of their political and corporate masters." This is, to put it mildly, hard to accept. And then Nader asserts that the Tea Partiers are "anything but rebels against power." Well, which is it, Ralph, are they rebelling against their "masters" or not? According to Nader, they are "scarring Wall Streeters with their brinkmanship" but they "are anything but rebels against...a runaway Wall Street."

Sorry, Ralph, but this makes no sense. And I would suggest that it makes no sense because the "story line" makes no sense. Some people must be either (a) silently colluding with the Tea Party, either to make them look like dangerous fanatics or (b) are actually in agreement with the Tea Party types in Congress and they want the Tea Partiers to bear the brunt of the responsibility for actions they want to take but don't want to take responsibility for. I imagine it is a bit of both.

Anyway, the intense and almost universal bashing of the Tea Party continues, and soon, if not already, people will be ready to rely once again on those who are responsible for our current situation. And we will wonder why our political system is dysfunctional.