Sunday, October 23, 2011

Government and Public Opinion

A lot of people want the OWSers to delineate just what it is they want. That is, what policies are they in favor of, what steps they want the government to take. But I say, "No, don't do it." And here is why.

George Orwell wrote a piece some years/decades ago on an argument made by a guy named Burnham on what the latter called the "managerial revolution". According to Burnham, not only Communism but Socialism and even capitalism would fade away and be replaced by what Burnham called "managerialism," that is, a social order controlled by "managers." I think he, Burnham, might have meant something like those I label "bureaucrats" but I cannot be certain of this. I personally don't think Burnham's argument was all that off the wall and Orwell, while critical of certain aspects of B's argument, seemed to see something in this argument as well.

He had other problems with Burnham's arguments, however, and one of his objections led Orwell to remark on what is called "public opinion" and its role in social affairs. According to Orwell, it was precisely those political orders, like Hitler's Germany, that most often made what turned out to be gross miscalculations - such as Hitler's decision to invade Russia before defeating Great Britain - and they did so precisely because they excluded public opinion as a political force. Public opinion for Orwell was crucial for restraining government, for restraining those who held the reins of power in modern states of great power and who, as the elite or the intelligentsia always do, overestimated their ability to control things, to undertake great projects and control the outcome of these projects. For Orwell, "ordinary people" are far more sensible than elites, especially elites endowed with great powers, because they are, in the lives they live everyday, reminded of the limits of human action. It is, Orwell contends, the intelligentsia or the elite who lose sight of the truth that human beings are far less powerful than those with power wish to believe. And they make one very simple mistake, viz., that they project into the future whatever seems to be or is prevalent in the present. If Germany was riding high in Europe and about to defeat Great Britain, then they would be able to defeat the Soviet Union as well. Or so the intelligentsia thought, both in Germany and in Great Britain - with some exceptions of course.

It is then unnecessary and even undesirable for the OWSers or the Tea Partiers to fall into the trap of "elaborating on their preferred policies" because this is exactly what the intelligentsia does, thinking that because they have elaborate policies that they have the power to control events. It is not only possible but even desirable for people to simply object, to shout "NO! NO MORE!" over and over again. "No more war!" "No more cuts in needed social programs!" "No more 'Races To the Top' or 'No Children Left Behind!'" "No more war on terror, on drugs, on crime, on poverty!" It is time for a different kind of politics, a politics that is kept aware of the limits of human actions, of human control. And the way to do this is exactly as Orwell argued: Make public opinion the center piece of our politics. You may not always like the results but we won't be led in yet another quest for a "new world order" that will deplete us fiscally, politically, and spiritually.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Party Government in the US of A.

"Citing what he called the “near self-immolation” of House Republicans during the debt-ceiling fiasco, Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, worried in early August that a “large number of Republican primary voters, and even more independent general-election voters, will be wary of supporting a Republican candidate in 2012 if the party looks as if it’s in the grip of an infantile form of conservatism.”"

This article seems to confirm, about as clearly as anything could, the argument that the powers that be within the Republican Party would rather lose the presidential election than win it with a Tea Party type,  not because the Tea Party would harm the republic so much as that the Tea Party would displace from positions of power people like Bill Kristol, who is quoted here. I would say that it was not " a self-immolation" during the debt-ceiling fiasco insofar as it was Republicans like Kristol who lit the match that started the blaze! It was only made to look like a "self-immolation" because that is how the likes of Kristol wanted it to look. And, of course, the same motivation exists with regard to dealing with the nation's issues. The Republicans in power will deal with them only in ways that preserve their power within the party, not as might be necessitated by the state of the union. [The same dynamic exists in the Democratic Party as well, which is why Obama never did push for genuine reform of health insurance or for even a public option. A successful reform of health insurance would threaten the power of the Obama wing on the Democratic Party just as successful reforms based on Tea Party proposals would undermine the power of the powers that be within the Republican Party.]

"Party leaders have managed to bleed some of the anti-establishment intensity out of the movement, Reed said, by slyly embracing Tea Party sympathizers in Congress, rather than treating them as “those people.”
"Did he mean to say that the party was slowly co-opting the Tea Partiers?
“Trying to,” Reed said. “And that’s the secret to politics: trying to control a segment of people without those people recognizing that you’re trying to control them.”"

Here is the citation for the article mentioned and quoted above:

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Government by Cabal

I am reading an interesting book, for me, entitled "The Broken Branch," by Norman Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann on the Congress in its current manifestation. It led me to wonder anew about our corrupt republic or our pretend republic. Ornstein and Mann recognize the intense partisanship that characterizes our politics today and attribute it to several factors, among them the ideological leanings of many politicians today and of years not so far past. They lay much of the blame on the Republicans, even while recognizing that the same tendencies were evident under the Democrats as well. The result with which they are most concerned is the degeneration of Congress as a deliberative, legislating institution as well as an institution willing to oversee the executive department of the government.

But this led me to ask myself: Why would people choose to act in ways that undermined the institution in which they worked? Ideology can explain it in part but there are different ways of pursuing ideological goals, some of which would involve compromise, negotiation, and deliberation. So why take the "low road," as Ornstein and Mann label it? That is, how do people in power benefit from proceeding in this fashion?

And this is where my head stopped at the word "cabal." Consider the following sentence from Ornstein and Mann: "Winning at all costs consumed Republican leaders in Congress, which meant not merely shutting the minority Democrats out of the lawmaking process but also regularly marginalizing the views and roles of rank-and-file Republicans, moderates, and staunch conservatives alike in order to advance the president's program." [pp. 213-214, emphasis added]

Who or what is left, except a cabal working its will to the exclusion of others, even all others? What was the invasion of Iraq about? It surely wasn't about WMDs because there were none and it certainly wasn't about remaking the Middle East because that was not about to happen because the U.S. invaded Iraq and anyone with half a brain would have known that. It was, I now think, the means by which this cabal would solidify its control of, for its own benefit, the government. Some have argued that government by a cabal lay behind "the Iran-Contra scandal," which had to fail once it was exposed. But in this case, the push by and for the cabal was "hidden in plain sight," under the guise of "national security," which made it more likely to succeed.

By intensifying the partisan character of our politics, deliberately, those few can, as Ornstein and Mann have noticed, drive others out of the political arena. The purpose is not so much ideological, although it is not devoid of such motivations, as it is political in the old fashioned sense of getting as much power as is possible and using it to serve the interests of those in power and their friends. Consider the following sentence from Ornstein and Mann:

"Speaker [of the House Dennis] Hastert proudly announced that his primary responsibility was to pass the President's legislative program, which often required ensuring the majority sentiment within the majority party, even if it reflected a distinct minority of the full House, prevailed."[p. 213]

Of course to call the sentiment Hastert and the president were advancing "the majority sentiment" is less than accurate when it required "marginalizing" all but those most committed to the president. Rather, this sentiment "reflected a distinct minority of the full House," meaning that it did not reflect the opinion of the public or those who had elected a majority of the full House. And it is doubtful that this sentiment even reflected "the majority sentiment within the majority party," except of course as that sentiment was manufactured by Hastert and others in positions of leadership in the House by means of earmarks and other tools used to ensure obedience.

In other words, it would seem that when Ornstein and Mann label the Congress "the broken branch" they mean that that branch has been captured by a cabal that refuses to compromise, negotiate, or deliberate and refuses even to consider public opinion except as an obstacle to be gotten around. Hence, it would seem to make sense to intensify their public rhetoric because in this way they can disguise their "cabalistic" politics as ideological politics, which seems to lend them more legitimacy. And, of course, if they are a cabal, they could care less about the institutional integrity of the Congress. In fact, undermining that legitimacy would serve their purposes. One might even say from this perspective, scandals such as those involving Tom DeLay and Abramoff are not inconsistent with the desired outcomes of the cabal, that is, maximizing their power at the expense of Congress as a legislative body. From this perspective, "ethics reform" is politically undesirable.

And this is where we seem to be: In a political order that depends upon scandal to function, just as it depends upon waste and war to function. And we are not likely to escape this order any time soon if the current administration is any indication.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Congressional Deadlock? Not So Much

"Congress gridlock — why?
Dysfunction was long in the making"

This is a headline from an article in today's [10/02] Telegram and Gazette from the Associated Press. The article asks why Congress is in gridlock today and, as is evident from the above, answers that there are numerous causes, apparently beyond Congress' control, that account for this state of affairs. Most important is the alleged polarization of Congress and of our politics in general, with Republican and Democratic "extremists" controlling each party and making agreement impossible. A former member of Congress, Mickey Edwards, endorses this view, so it must be correct.

Let me posit that the answer about "gridlock" is much simpler than Edwards and others would like to think and have us think. Whatever "gridlock" exists, exists because Congress wants it to exist. Hence, when Congress and congressmen don't want it to exist, it disappears. For example, it disappeared recently when Congress overwhelmingly approved a revision in patent law, a revision that would help large, humongous corporations control patents while smaller businesses would go wanting. When it comes to items like the Patriot Act or the war in Afghanistan or even in Iraq, the Congress has little trouble acting. What kind of "gridlock" is it if those who are, allegedly, in that "gridlock" can get out of it whenever they want to? It is not "gridlock" at all but merely play acting at it because it serves some political purpose. 

What political purpose(s) are being served here? At least two that I can think of: (1) This alleged "gridlock" attributable to "two" parties of "extremists" is a wonderful cover for what is a political system controlled by those who should be called "oligarchs," that is, those who govern to favor the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us. (2) This alleged "gridlock" conveys the impression that our politicians are, essentially, powerless, that forces are operating that are beyond their control and that therefore their hands are tied when it comes to helping the middle and lower classes. The operative phrases are "We have to make hard choices and the results will be painful." Ah yes, but notice where the pain is greatest as the middle class shrinks and these politicians set their sights on programs like Social Security - which is now called an "entitlement" - which are crucial to the well being of the middle and lower classes. 

SMOKE AND MIRRORS! Our politics has become a magic show, all smoke and mirrors and no substance.

Here is the link to the article:

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Little History of Chicken Little in Politics

"The sky is falling, the sky is falling." Oh, Chicken Little......Well, we have our own Chicken Littles. A little history to remind us of how our politicians use fear-mongering to govern us. This is from a book entitled Mad As Hell: The Rise of the Populist Right. It is anything but left wing. I have added some editorial comments.

"Kissinger's fall from grace meant that foreign policy shifted to the right. For many observers [in 1975] Communism was on the march. [Yes, toward its grave!] While Vietnam and Cambodia had been lost, Nixon and Ford had cut defense spending, and the CIA had been humiliated by the Church Committee. Britain, West Germany, and Italy were haunted by terrorism, while Spain and Portugal seemed the wave of the future. The mineral-rich country of Angola, for example, had thrown off Portuguese rule at the beginning of 1975, yet within months it was on the brink of falling to a Soviet-backed insurgency. To the neoconservatives, it seemed the United States had lost the will to fight. Commentary warned that Soviet victory in Angola, giving it access to raw materials and shipping lanes, would 'weaken the security of the West.' And according to Daniel Moynihan...Moscow was 'the new colonial power in Africa.'

"We know now that the apparent Soviet expansion in the mid-1970s was much exaggerated. [Ya think?] At the time, however, the American military advantage seemed to be disappearing. In early 1975, James Schlesinger had predicted that the Soviet Union would soon enjoy military 'preponderance.' Two years later, Robert Tucker, a hawkish political scientist at Johns Hopkins, wrote of the 'impressive and persistent growth of Soviet military power,' while the military historian Edward Luttwak told Commentary's readers that 'the Russians are building missiles, bombers, and warships to acquire a worldwide strategic reach.' reflecting their 'expansionist intent.' At the Pentagon, the new secretary of defense was 'absolutely convinced that the United States was falling behind the Soviet Union.' There had been a 'tremendous shift' in Moscow's favor, Donald Rumsfeld told the House Armed Services Committee - which was why he wanted a $14.4 billion hike in the defense budget." [pp. 98-99]

Political Cynicism and the NY Times

 "Many ordinary Yemenis — schooled in the cynicism of Yemeni politics — believe that their government could have killed or even captured Mr. Awlaki at any time, and chose to do so only now for political reasons.

"But in fact, the Yemeni security services, many trained by American Special Forces soldiers, appear to have pursued Mr. Awlaki for almost two years in a hunt that was often hindered by the shifting allegiances of Yemen’s tribes and the deep unpopularity of Mr. Saleh’s government.

"In 2009 and 2010, Mr. Awlaki seems to have been mostly in the southern heartland of his own powerful tribe, the Awaliq, where killing him would have been politically costly for the government, and capturing him nearly impossible. The area where Mr. Awlaki was finally killed, in the remote north, did not afford him the same tribal protection. There are also many tribal leaders in the far north who receive stipends from Saudi Arabia — the terrorist group’s chief target — and who would therefore have had more motive to assist in killing him" NY Times, October 1, 2011

Notice how the NY Times tries its best to devalue those who question the importance of this murder of Awlaki: "ordinary Yemenis" so like what could they know? And then not only are they ordinary but they are also "schooled in the cynicism of Yemeni politics." OMG, cynicism about politics, Yemeni politics! Who'd thunk it? I wonder if those "tribal leaders in the far north" who are on the payroll of Saudi Arabia - read USA - are also cynical. Probably not as they are the "right side." And, of course, in this way the Times does not have to even wonder if "ordinary Yemenis" are correct, while we go on supporting the dictator [experiencing "deep unpopularity"!] who is the head of Yemen's "government"[!] and the enlightened rulers of Saudi Arabia. If these ordinary Yemenis are correct, then our policy is really little more than a house of cards, destined to fail someday. But then why be surprised? Our policies failed in Vietnam, in Iraq, and in Afghanistan and are failing in Pakistan. This is what happens when you follow "deadly paradigms" built on dreams, i.e., the delusions of the possibilities of military power.