Sunday, December 30, 2012

Foreign Policy "Mess"

Foreign Policy “Mess”
P. Schultz
December 30, 2012

            “Obama…To Fix Flaws.” A partial headline from an article in the NY Times, linked here, about how Obama saw the attack in Benghazi as a result of “messiness” that was “unintentional” and that now he or the State Department will fix it. On the other hand, Lindsey Graham is trying to hold up hearings on John Kerry’s appointment as Secretary of State until Hillary Clinton testifies about Benghazi before the Senate. Graham is characterized as one of the harshest critics of the Obama administration’s handling of Benghazi.

            What is most interesting to me is that no one is raising the question of our involvement in Libya and our support for the “rebels” there. It is as if both the administration and its critics take a janitor’s point of view toward our foreign policy: Clean up “the messes” and things will be alright. This is an interesting mindset, to say the least, because it is not as if our foreign policy has generally been successful to any great extent in the recent past. But that there might be something wrong with that policy is not a possibility to be considered by either of our political parties.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Game They Are Playing

 The Game They Are Playing
P. Schultz
December 28, 2012

            Here is a column by Richard Cohen of the Washington Post [linked below] in which he quotes Casey Stengel, then the manager of the 1962 “Amazin’ Mets”, asking “Can’t anybody here play this game?” And then Cohen asserts: “That very question can now be asked about Washington.”

            My response is as follows: Yes, Mr. Cohen, those politicians in D.C. can play the game. Only it is crucial to understand what game they are playing and it is not the one you think they are playing.

            When will it strike Cohen, and many others, that what seems to be incompetence is simply strategy. Or you could even say that the appearance of incompetence serves the interests of those alleged “incompetents,” here Boehner and Obama. It is really not very complicated. Say you want to achieve certain things in dealing with our economy, an economy that is anything but healthy making the preservation of the status quo difficult to defend publically, what better way to go about it then making it seem that those things are the only acceptable alternatives for those holding power in D.C.? Say at the same time, you are faced with considerable popular anger, anger that has led to the election of people who threaten your power. Now, suppose there was a way to accomplish both objectives at once: To preserve an economic situation that benefits you and those who underwrite you and to preserve your political power by making those who rode the popular anger into office appear to be “extremists.” That is, suppose you had a way to avoid economic reforms that would mean huge changes, changes you and your cohorts don’t want, and were endorsed by people who wanted to displace you politically. Would you take such steps, even though it meant you would be labeled “incompetent?” You bet you would. Or as my parents use to say about someone who acted a bit odd: “She’s laughing…….all the way to the bank.”

            Yes, Richard Cohen, those in D.C. can play “this game.” Only you have to know what game it is they are playing.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

What "Fiscal Cliff?"

What “Fiscal Cliff?”
P. Schultz
December 27, 2012

            Well, the scam continues in Washington as we approach ever closer to the alleged “fiscal cliff” and our politicians in D.C. play the game. If you cannot smell a scam here, then I recommend you not go to state fairs or, if you go, stay away from the games there, which are always scams. [See the article from the NY Times linked below, not on state fairs but on the scam in D.C.]

            “Crisis” created, “crisis” averted, but only temporarily. Such is the character of our politics and, as pointed out previously here, this is merely a way to preserve the status quo, to serve the interests of those who hold power in each party and in the nation. When “crises” arise, they must be dealt with so any attempt at real or genuine reforms must be put on hold. And as “time becomes short,” as it always does in D.C., interim or stop-gap measures are necessary. Genuine or real reform? Well, that just isn’t possible.

            And it seems to me that this is pretty much our political modus operandi. “Crisis” in Iraq? Weapons of mass destruction and, as Condi Rice said, an imminent  threat of a mushroom cloud? Invasion. “Crisis II” in Iraq post-invasion? Ah yes, we need a “surge.” Massacre in Connecticut of 20 children? “Crisis,” yes? Ah, but real change? Well, no, that cannot happen because of the NRA so let us put in place some stopgap measures. Something like a “surge,” if you will. Perhaps if we all just promise to do 26 good deeds, one for each victim of the Connecticut massacre, all will be well. Yes, that should do it.

            And all the while, those in power act in ways that are intended to keep that power, even if it means losing some elections or not addressing issues except in stop-gap ways. To wit:

“Democrats now suggest that Republicans are content to wait until after the January deadline. On Jan. 3, Mr. Boehner is likely to be re-elected speaker for the 113th Congress. After that roll call, he may feel less pressure from his right flank against a deal.”

And note all the procedural hurdles that can be used to feign an inability to act:

“For its part, the Senate may simply be out of time. Without unanimous agreement, Mr. Reid would have to take procedural steps to begin considering a bill. He could then be forced to press for another vote to cut off debate before final passage. If forced to jump through those hoops, the 112th Congress could expire before final votes could be cast.”

So, translation of part of this: Mr. Reid would have to do something to begin considering a bill, which is of course always the case as bills don’t line up on their own to be considered. Of course, this also means that these “procedural steps” are there already and all Mr. Reid has to do is to decide to use them! Oh, “those hoops!” So much to ask of Mr. Reid. And it is all so complex, so involved, isn’t it? And the result: “the Senate may simply be out of time!”

And then there is this, the coup de grace:

“I think there’s some chance that we get a deal done in the early weeks of January, which technically means you’re going over the cliff,” Representative Jim Himes, Democrat of Connecticut, said on CNBC on Wednesday.”

So now, hocus-pocus, the “fiscal cliff” is a “technicality.” And, of course, if going over the “cliff” is a “technicality,” it means it was never a cliff in the first place! Don’t say I didn’t warn you. The charade continues, as always. It’s three card monty. It’s magic. And it is all done with straight faces and a solemnity that is as impressive as any Emmy winning performance from Hollywood.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Maintaining the Status Quo

Maintaining the Status Quo
P. Schultz
December 25, 2012

Here is an article from today’s New York Times entitled, “Clout Diminished, Tea Party Turns To Narrower Interests.” No shit, Sherlock, as this was what the last presidential election between Mr. White Bread and Mr. Almost White Bread was all about, as noted here more than once.

“The Tea Party might not be over, but it is increasingly clear that the election last month significantly weakened the once-surging movement, which nearly captured control of the Republican Party through a potent combination of populism and fury.”

“Leading Congressional Republicans, though they remain far apart from President Obama, have embraced raising tax revenues in budget negotiations, repudiating a central tenet of the Tea Party. Even more telling, Tea Party activists in the middle of the country are skirting the fiscal showdown in Congress and turning to narrower issues, raising questions about whether the movement still represents a citizen groundswell to which attention must be paid.”

“A potent combination of populism and fury” has been checked, the “republic” has been “saved” even as, or rather if truth be told, because we are close to going over a “fiscal cliff.” Oops! I am sorry: I should have written “the fiscal cliff.”

“It would be a mistake…to assume that…a system could not be, despite its fraudulence and persistent malfunction, a viable social order careening along its madcap course indefinitely.” [Where the Wasteland Ends, Theodore Roszak, p. 68]

Of course, such a system requires much labor, much finesse to maintain the appearance of “success,” to disguise the malfunctioning that is endemic to it. But then there are, given the wealth such a system has created, always more troops, more “boots on the ground,” as those “in the know” like to say these days, to adjust to the latest malfunction. We can always engage in the latest “surge,” and not just abroad. Perhaps all that is needed is a massacre in a school, even an elementary school, to provide the needed momentum for our latest “surge.” “Ah yes, more gun laws; that should do the trick, shouldn’t it?” Or perhaps we can find yet another “crisis,” say one in “higher education,” which will motivate yet another “surge” by which we will, without actually changing anything of importance, “progress” toward that ever receding “promised land.”

Ah, but there I go again, engaging in “conspiracy theories.” When will I ever learn, when will I ever learn?

Monday, December 24, 2012

The "Fiscal Cliff"

The “Fiscal Cliff”
P. Schultz
December 24, 2012

            Ah, we are, allegedly, ever closer to going over “the fiscal cliff;” that is, that time when our taxes will be raised, government spending will be slashed, and the gods only know what else will happen. “How can we avoid it?” is the question most are asking. Some are saying: “Don’t avoid it. Let’s go over and see what happens then.” But, in any case, all eyes are on “the fiscal cliff.”

            Which is one reason why I sense that what is going on is a lot like three card monty, that “card game” where a quick handed person asks you to find, say, the ace of spades among three cards which he moves around on a card board box, after you have bet $5.00 you can. It is, of course, a scam and you lose your money. And I sense, I feel, this is what is going on now: As all eyes are on “the fiscal cliff,” there is something else altogether going on – and we will perhaps even lose some more of our money.

            Why is this? First, because the makings of a deal are quite visible now, with the Republicans or some of them “compromising” on taxes and the Democrats or some of them compromising on spending. After all, it is just dollars being discussed now, at least among most Republicans and Democrats, so compromise is not difficult imagine.

            But then, why all the shenanigans? I am not sure but if they are not about “the deal” then they must be about something else. Here is one possibility, taken from an article in today’s New York Times:

“Both Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell are dealing with rising pressure from the right. The conservative Web site stoked passions in conservative circles when it reported that a handful of Republicans were considering a challenge to Mr. Boehner’s speakership when the House votes on Jan. 3 to elect a speaker for the 113th Congress. Boehner critics took to Twitter to keep up the pressure on him not to return to negotiations with Mr. Obama.”

As always, there is apparently a power struggle going on in the Republican Party, with John Boehner looking to maintain his leadership and others looking to overthrow him. We often fail to recognize that intraparty politics is just as important to policy outcomes as interparty politics. Perhaps they are even more important. From this viewpoint, Boehner has much to gain by deferring to the “rising pressure from the right” insofar as those right wingers look like extremists and insofar as Boehner is pretty sure there will be a deal. In that case, those who want to unseat Boehner can be made to look like extremists and, therefore, unfit to hold power. And given that they are only “a handful,” it would appear that Boehner has a strong hand to play.

            But another possibility is that all this hoopla about a “fiscal cliff” is a way of preserving the status quo or the current political alignment of forces, in both political parties. Given the situation of the nation now, it must be said that the current alignment of forces is on shaky ground. So, it serves the interests of the current political establishment to focus on how to avoid “the fiscal cliff” because this keeps other political options off the table. If there is a “fiscal cliff” then our first priority must be not to fall off that cliff because, as everyone knows, falling off a cliff hurts! All eyes shift toward “the fiscal cliff” and all other issues or alternatives disappear, as it were.

            And as these other alternatives disappear, so too does the appeal of those who would pursue these other alternatives. Note how the “presence” of a “fiscal cliff” helps to make that “handful” of right wing Republicans look like obstructionists, not reformers. “Hey, guys, get with the program! We need to deal with this fiscal cliff so we don’t have time to be monkeying around with long term issues.” Here is verification of this from Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican:

“We can’t let taxes go up on working people in this country,” she said, backing Mr. Obama’s calls for a stripped-down temporary measure. “It is going to be a patch because, in four days, we can’t solve everything.” [Emphasis added.]

Ah yes, a “patch job” because that is all we have time for now. How convenient for those who don’t want to address any alternative policies that might change our current political regime and the current alignment of political forces.

            So, “the fiscal cliff” and all of the attendant hoopla could be – and I think it is – little more than a political version of three card monty or, if you wish, conventional “magic.” As our eyes are captured by the impending “fiscal cliff” our politicians, performing like magicians using a sleight of hand, will make any possibility of genuine reform disappear and pull a rabbit out of their hat. And when they do, we will, if not ooh and aw, certainly applaud their skill. And despite its odor, it will probably escape our attention that what they presented to us was not a rabbit and it had not been pulled out of their hat.

Red States and Blue States: Frank v. Deneen

Frank v. Deneen

P. Schultz
December 23, 2012
[This is in response to an article sent to me by a friend entitled "When Red States Get Blue: What's the Matter with Connecticut," by a guy named Deneen who teaches either at Georgetown U. or Notre Dame. Deneen is debating with a guy named Frank, who wrote a book some years ago entitled, "What's the Matter with Kansas?" exploring why Kansans, who live in one of the needier states in our nation, vote conservative when such votes were, according to Frank, against their self-interests, especially their economic self-interests. This started me thinking about why I always had issues with Frank's book and the result helped me clarify the basis of my objections to Frank - and by implication to Deneen. And the bottom line is: This is just another distracting debate that obscures its own assumptions, assumptions that are questionable at best. A link to the article is at the bottom of this response.]

            Is this a debate worth having? To have this debate, we must make two assumptions:
(a) That we in the U.S. have two distinct political parties and not two indistinct political parties. If these parties are indistinct, hard to differentiate in important ways, then Kansans’ choices, for example, are not all that interesting.
(b) The “models” or “theories” underlying the debate reflect “real reality.”

To elaborate on the second assumption. The “theory” underlying the debate
is that people vote their self-interests, especially their economic self-interests. Frank and Deneen, et. al., assume this is true and then when the evidence illustrates that this isn’t apparently happening, as in Kansas and in Connecticut, they look for explanations.

            Well, how about this: The theory is wrong! If what you think should happen is not happening, then you need to rethink your theory, you should scuttle the one you have and start over. And why should we be surprised? Like any theory, this one simplifies “real reality”  - as all theories must do to be theories and to be “useful.” Absent such simplification, they wouldn’t be theories nor would they be useful. But what simplifies also distorts, necessarily.

            Theories are like maps and, of course, maps simplify. They have to simplify to serve their purpose, to be useful. But it is or it can be deadly to equate a map with reality. Hence, the use of guides, those with “local” or actual knowledge of the terrain one is traversing.  [Read Deadly Paradigms by a guy named Schafer, I think, about the failure of all applications of theories of counterinsurgency.]

            Do we need a better theory? No, we need a different kind of knowledge, a different way of knowing – not theoretical knowledge but real knowledge. Theoretical knowledge lets us know more when we need to know deeply. There is a difference. To know deeply, we must confront “real reality”. We must learn to look into reality or let reality into us.

            And this is the road to “mysticism,” as we call it today. “Mystics” let reality in; they absorb it. And to do this, a healthy soul is required, a soul that is open, especially open to the depths of reality. The imaginative, those we might label “artists,” are often the best guides here, not the theoreticians.

            Regarding the Frank/Deneen debate, I would say this to both: Wouldn’t it help to talk with and not just about Kansans and Connecticut people? Think Socrates, talking with his Athenian citizens, not about them. Think Plato who, as some say, had no theory or theories. Such is the beginning of “mysticism.”

Friday, December 21, 2012

Guns: The Disconnects

Guns: The Disconnects
P. Schultz
December 21, 2012

When I was young, we had guns in our house. But we had them for hunting game, rabbits, pheasants, and sometimes even deer. We did not have them or think of them as “protection.” They were for sport, not “self-defense.”

            This connection is now broken and guns are seen as necessary, necessary for “protection,” necessary to maintain “civilization,” as we understand it. [Is this what the second amendment was about? Hardly. The Federalists, those who supported the cause of the proposed constitution were proponents of a potentially pervasive national government, a government that would and could not only preserve but advance “civilization.”] Guns are what stand between us and danger, even death, between us and anarchy or the end of our “civilization.” It’s as if we are poised on a precipice and guns will keep us from falling into the abyss. Guns are not for “sport” any more. Oh no, guns are now for the serious business of maintaining our “civilization.” It can now be said, even publicly, that without guns the good will fail, must fail, and the bad will triumph. And so, post Newtown, we now need armed guards in every school, the NRA chief says, while many, very many, nod their approval.

            And it is the self-proclaimed “conservatives” who nod in agreement most often, a version of “conservatism” that can only be described as weird, as strange, insofar as “conservatives” are suppose to be opposed to a pervasively powerful government. But this is the same kind of “conservatism” that wholeheartedly supports the Pentagon, the NSA, the CIA, the FBI, and other appendages of an ever greater and ever more powerful national government. “Small government” for these “conservatives?” Hardly. An armed guard in every school house? How anti-government is that? Not very.

            And let us pursue the “slippery slope” that the NRA sees in every piece of legislation attempting to regulate guns. If in the schools, then we definitely need armed guards in every movie theatre and banks, as well as armed guards at every place a congressperson is to speak, to say nothing of any place where violence might erupt, especially where people are protesting government policies. Ah, I see, barely but clearly, Kent State and Jackson State, where those protesting government policies were gunned down by the duly constituted authorities.

            So, definitely, guns are not for “sport” any longer and “conservatives” no longer oppose the insertion of the government, armed and authorized to kill, into every nook and cranny of our lives. These are some disconnects. Can’t anyone see how fucked up this is? But then perhaps, as some alleged “conservatives” like to say: “Freedom isn’t free.” Indeed it is not these days. In fact, it is difficult to tell whether the price of freedom isn’t freedom itself.


P. Schultz
December 21, 2012

            The headline in the NY Times reads as follows:

“Even in Disarray, G.O.P. Has Power to Constrain Obama,” NY Times, Today

            I have a simple question: Why does the Times think that the GOP is in disarray? Seems to me that the GOP, both Boehner and the insurgents, are right where they want to be. Boehner “can’t” control the insurgents, or so he claims. And the insurgents refuse to kow tow to Obama or to Boehner and so, the argument goes even in the Times, they must be accommodated. So what are we left with? The answer is simple: The only possibility is “a deal” that will be sold as, ‘hey, this is all we could do.’”
            And mission accomplished: The status quo is preserved, along with the power of the establishment types in both parties. Boehner tried or so he tells us and Obama need not, allegedly because he “can not,” do very much by way of changing the status quo. And, of course, who can blame our politicians? They did what they could.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Newtown: "Something's Happening Here"

Newtown: “Something’s Happening Here”
P. Schultz
December 20, 2012

            Well, true to form and all too understandably, we Americans have begun running away from Newtown, trying to make it disappear, as it were. I am reminded, as I often am, of Tim O’Brien’s book, In the Lake of the Woods. The main story is relatively simple: John Wade, “the sorcerer” as he was known to his troopers in Vietnam, has his political career killed when it becomes known that he had participated in a massacre in Vietnam of women, children, and old men and that he tried to “cover it up,” that is, make it disappear. Later, his wife, Kathy, disappears while they “vacation” near the Lake of the Woods and the question is, Did John make Kathy disappear? The narrator, a researcher, says he cannot solve this mystery and presents several possibilities, leaving it to the reader to decide which is most plausible. A good mystery. Read it.

            I believe what O’Brien was trying to get across was that we Americans made Vietnam disappear or at least tried to make it disappear. We did this by calling that war “unfathomable,” or a “quagmire,” or a “mistake.” By making it disappear, of course, we would not have to take responsibility for our actions there. More generally, it is implied that this is what our politicians try to do, make stuff, make phenomena disappear, phenomena like poverty, crime, drugs, or unwanted or “undesirable” pregnancies. [In fact, John and Kathy have an abortion because the pregnancy did not fit into their or rather John’s schedule.]

            How are we trying to make Newtown disappear? Well, one way is to categorize or catalog Adam Lanza as mentally deranged. Now, I have no doubt that Adam Lanza was mentally deranged but this categorization is comfortable because insofar as he was deranged, he is not “one of us.” He is apart from, not a part of us. His brain must have been defective and we all know that such defects can only be cured by medical treatment, if they can be “cured” at all. In any case, “we” are not responsible for the massacre that occurred in Newtown, an idyllic town as reported by all who have been there. And, of course, there are no dark secrets in idyllic towns, at least none for which such a town [or nation] is responsible.

            Or how about we blame our laws for what happened in Newtown? “Oh, if only we had kept the federal ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines, all of this would not have happened.” And how did this ban get overturned? Well, that is the work of the National Rifle Association and other private interest groups [or what I like to call “PIGs”]. In any case, “we” are not responsible in anyway for what happened in Newtown. Of that, we can be sure.

            Another book I thought of was No Country for Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy. And I have in mind one particular passage where Sheriff Bell, the main protagonist, is talking with another sheriff about our drug problem. The other sheriff says something like:
“It is really bad. We have people selling drugs near schools to school kids.”

And Sheriff Bell responds: “It is worse than that.”

“How’s that?” the other sheriff asks.

“School kids are buying them,” says Bell.

Indeed. And maybe we do need stronger gun laws, especially with regard to assault weapons and high capacity magazines. But even absent such laws, we don’t have to buy such guns and such magazines. So the question becomes: Why are we buying such things, just as Sheriff Bell’s question is, why are school kids buying drugs? Recently, this question was brought home to me forcefully as I sat, in Arizona near Phoenix, conversing with some people I had just met and the woman sitting next to me, about my age or even older, indicated that generally speaking she was “packing.” That is, she generally carried a concealed weapon – and this is a woman who lives in what has to be described as an upscale community near Phoenix. What struck me was how she said it, as if this were simply the normal thing to do and she would have been surprised were anyone to question her behavior. In the circumstances, as it would not have been appropriate to ask about this, I did not. But think about it: An old woman in an upscale community “packing!” If this is the case, if such behavior is now normal, pass all the gun laws you wish, nothing much is going to change.

The point is: We can sense our responsibility when we ask, “Why are school kids buying drugs?” just as we sense responsibility when we ask, “Why are old ladies carrying concealed weapons?” Or more generally when we ask: “Why have we embraced violence as we have, to the point of massacres, and massacres not only here but abroad as well?” Is Newtown another example of “the chickens coming home to roost,” as Malcolm X said after JFK’s assassination? We will do most anything not to raise this question. And so we need to make Newtown disappear, just as we had to make Vietnam disappear, just as we have to turn away from the possibility that JFK brought on his assassination by assassinating or trying to assassinate others. Obviously, such “conspiracy theories” are unacceptable among “responsible” people. But then………and we wonder.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Natural Law

Natural Law and the Founding
P. Schultz
December 16, 2012

Just some fun on a Sunday morning. My responses to one of the many posts on my Facebook page from a friend. This one is worth reading and the link is below.

"Schlueter pushes this argument in a somewhat unusual direction: he claims that the founders were altogether cognizant of a tradition about which he admits they had little explicit to say. Following Christopher Wolfe, he calls this “natural law liberalism,” and argues that this is our true inheritance. He contends that “it does not matter that none of the American founders ever articulated the principles of natural law liberalism in a systematic way…. As John Cardinal Newman said of the Apostles, the American founders did not build better than they knew, they knew more than they said.”

Schultz: I believe the correct label for people who make such arguments - the founders were driven by arguments they never articulated - is sophistry. Of course, I prefer a less "correct" label: People like Wolfe are "prostitutes." And I have never understood the appeal of whores. Nor do I understand why one should debate them.

"The reason why my claims about the self-undermining nature of the liberal founding so disquiet many of my conservative friends, I believe, is that they raise anxiety that our tradition may have fewer native resources than we might believe or want for the restoration of the virtuous republic that we all desire."

Schultz: Well, here is Deneen's error clarified. There can be no "restoration" of that which never existed and was never even intended to exist. As is clear from the Federalist, the goal was to establish a "commercial republic" not a "virtuous republic." There is a world of difference between the two. And it is a stretch to label even the Anti-Federalists proponents of a "virtuous republic" as they were proponents of "small republics," meaning among other things "small minded republics." You might even say they wanted local commerce, rather than national commerce, if you understand "local" and "national" as more than geographical. They advocated for small for the sake of maintaining relative equality, not for the sake of virtue as Deneen wishes us to understand it. And I will add that if "the restoration of the virtuous republic" means that people like Deneen and Wolfe will "rule," than I for one do not desire it. As Thoreau once said: "If I know a man is coming to my house to make me good, I run like the wind." Or something like that.

Schultz: Last comment - maybe: Deneen is pretty good here exposing the sophistry of these arguments for a "natural law" tradition. But he at one point connects this tradition to Aristotle. Problem: Aristotle never used the phrase "natural law" and he couldn't because his view of nature - incomplete and in need of completion by humans - would not allow it. Often, Aristotle says that nature intended certain things, such as that the bodies of "freemen" be visibly different than those of "slaves" but of course failed in this intention. Well, if I am not wrong, this throws the whole argument in favor of slavery as "natural" into a tizzy and makes it less than plausible. And, of course, as a Greek, Aristotle knew that men loved men and women loved women, which goes unmentioned in his account of the origin of the "natural" polis based on the "natural" connection between the opposite sexes. Well, even the Catholic church recognizes that same sex attraction is natural, if sinful if acted upon. Of course, Aristotle did not agree with the second part of this sentence. Anyway, Aristotle knew that his argument that the polis is natural was and is and always will be controversial. He made it anyway - perhaps to complete what "nature" intended.

"Schlueter’s natural law liberalism, then, is a chimera, a combination of parts of fundamentally different creatures that does not and cannot exist in reality. The two are, in fact, contradictory and mutually exclusive. One wishes their union was an option, but wishful thinking is not a substitute for political philosophy."

Schultz: Deneen at his best. I am happy to see that Notre Dame will employ Deneen as I can think of other Catholic institutions that would not. Can you think of any?

P.S. I have reconsidered my equating Deneen with the likes of Chris Wolfe, et. al. and have decided that he is worth reading. They are not.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Torture v. McDonald's

Torture v. McDonalds
P. Schultz
December 11, 2012

A selection from the book, “500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars,” by Kurt Eichenwald.

“The detainee was a very bad guy. His file revealed that he was a hard-core terrorist and had been aggressively resistant to questioning. But manhandling and humiliating him were guaranteed to fail, [Colonel Larry] James [ a Guantanamo psychologist]knew.

“When he held the promised review with the interrogator, James asked him how it was going. ‘Sir, the problem is that the fucker won’t talk to me,’ he replied. Okay, James said. He asked what the detainee was being fed. The same meals that soldiers in the field get….nothing hot, nothing particularly tasty, but good enough.

“’Here’s what I recommend,’ James said. Go to the base McDonald’s and pick up a fish sandwich. Then buy a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue at the PX….Muslim or no, the man hadn’t seen a woman in a year. [Don’t give him this stuff but] go into the interrogation booth and eat the sandwich. Have some pistachios and tea as well. Read the magazine. Don’t ask the man a single question, don’t yell at him. Do the same thing for three days….At the end of the week, bring an extra fish sandwich. Let’s see what happens.’

“It worked. When the soldier arrived with the extra sandwich, he casually handed it to the detainee. He let him have the magazine. Slowly, the prisoner warmed up to his former tormentor. He started talking, revealing useful intelligence.

“A meal from McDonald’s had pulled off what a year of abuse had failed to achieve.”

[pp. 448-449]

Insurgent Republicans: Goodbye

Insurgent Republicans: Goodbye
P. Schultz
December 11, 2012

            As their leaders inch toward agreeing to higher tax rates, dozens of House Republicans find themselves caught between the will of a larger American public that favors higher taxes on the rich and the wishes of constituents who re-elected them overwhelmingly to oppose the Obama agenda at every turn.”

            This is the lead paragraph in a story in today’s NY Times about the Republican Party and its attempt to deal with Obama’s victory last month. It portrays the “insurgents” in the Republican Party as “caught,” which is accurate. But they are not only “caught” between “a term not heard often in the House – the national interest,” as the article has it, but also they are “caught” between their constituents and the establishment Republicans – who basically have these insurgents right where they want them. That is, they, the insurgents, can remain true to their constituents’ desires regarding taxes and spending, in which case they will be rendered powerless in the House, or they can renege on their constituents, in which case they will probably be defeated in the next election. In either case, the establishment Republicans will prevail while preserving their own power and prominence, which is of course what they, the establishment types, want to accomplish, even if it means joining Obama and the Democrats in constructing a deal to avoid what is called “the fiscal cliff.”

            You see, when this alleged “fiscal cliff” was created – and even recently – many were critical, seeing it as a disaster waiting to happen. But, as we now can see, it was nothing of the sort – except of course to the insurgent Republicans. As Boehner and other establishment Republicans must have known, this “fiscal cliff” helped to create a no win situation for the insurgents: They could cause the government to go over the cliff or they could renege on their principles. In either case, they would lose! And, from this perspective, all the better that Obama won the presidential election as that makes the insurgents’ situation even more perilous than it otherwise would be. Compromise is one thing; but compromising with a “socialist” who is the epitome of a “radical liberalism” is another thing altogether.

            This is the sort of thing that is very common in our political system, viz., the collusion of the “two” parties that preserves the power of the establishment faction in each of those parties. Our textbook view, according to which the Republicans and the Democrats want to win elections, to win every election, as well as to win every political battle, cannot account for the behavior we are witnessing now. The desire to win every election or every battle is obviously not the case and especially not the case when winning an election or winning a political battle threatens the power of those in “leadership” positions. Here, the establishment Republicans, as is becoming evident, are quite willing to “lose” the deal to be struck with Obama to avoid the “fiscal cliff.” Hence, this explains why “responsible” Republicans are now using “a term not heard often in the House – the national interest” to justify this “loss.” Of course, these “responsible” Republicans are actually motivated not so much by the national interest as by their own self-interests, especially by their interests in retaining their power and prominence. In this case, their self-interests may align with the national interest but it is the former at least as much as the latter that is driving them and when the former and the latter do not align, it is the former that prevails.

            A troubling question is: How far would these politicians go in order to preserve their power? That is, what kind of losses would they accept to preserve their power? Would they, for example, fight what they knew to be a losing war to preserve their power? Would they propose policies or institutional reforms they knew would fail to preserve their power? It is hard to say but not difficult to imagine instances where such behavior actually was undertaken, aka’ Vietnam or FDR’s “court packing” proposal.

            It is often said that politics is not for the faint of heart. Indeed. We might even say that our politics, based as it is on self-interest [just read the Federalist], is for those with no heart.

Monday, December 10, 2012

America's "Decline": Response to Frank Rich

Response to Frank Rich on “Decline”
P. Schultz
December 10, 2012

Here is a post from Facebook that I wrote in response to an article forwarded to me by a friend written by Frank Rich on what he alleges is an essentially delusionary concern with the decline of American dominance. I am simply interested in understanding what this concern with decline, if that is what it actually is, is about as it cuts across the political spectrum.  I have attached a link to the Rich article below and if you read it, my response will make more sense.

“A little speculation here based on the assumption that what all these people, the declinists, are talking about must be something other than delirium or panic. Assume momentarily that they are on to something but it is not yet clear what that "something" is. Suggestion: The loss of "dominance" is not a loss so much as it is or could be a gain, making possible a "return" to or an opportunity to adopt an alternative way of being in the world. That is, perhaps what is going on is not so much a "loss" of dominance as a "critique" of dominance, a critique of the politics of dominance. These "declinists", as Rich call them, tend to confuse the issue and to clarify it they would need to see that what they bemoan, the loss of dominance, is actually a critique of dominance. A politics of dominance is troubling, this the declinists get. But what they or most of them don't get is that such a politics is and should be controversial, that the "decline" they bemoan reveals that controversy.

“Hence, contra Rich, we can and did survive previous "crises" and still were not and could not be comfortable with ourselves insofar as we had adopted and continued to pursue a politics of dominance. Also, the combo Rich mentions as odd, decline paired with American exceptionalism, is not so odd. A critique of dominance is quite compatible with and could even explain the nub of this alleged exceptionalism: the US is exceptional precisely because, unlike most other nations, it questions or is bothered by, is not quite comfortable with the pursuit of great power, political, cultural, and economic - which need not and should not be called "isolationism" because it is not a retreat, an "unmanly'' retreat from the world but rather is or could be an embrace of an alternative politics to a politics of dominance. A politics of dominance is based, these days, on "the will to power" that Nietzsche attributed to "the best" of human beings. Such a politics must be controversial and especially so in a people like we "Americans." [An aside: Isn't it interesting that some of those who should see the controversy in such a politics, those who allegedly take on Nietzsche, those "neo-cons" and some Straussians, are those who embrace a politics of dominance? Not only interesting but weird.]”

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Cleaning Up After the Election

Cleaning Up After the Election
P. Schultz
December 5, 2012

            Well, the establishment Republicans, aka John Boehner and his gang, are “cleaning up” after the 2012 election, meaning that they are solidifying their power by removing those who have refused to support the Boehner agenda.

            People often respond with surprise when I argue that at times politicians don’t mind losing elections, meaning at those times when a loss will solidify their own power. Too often, people forget that, say, the Democratic Party winning an election poses much less of a threat, if a threat at all, to Republicans like John Boehner than what happens in the Republican Party. This is why it may be argued persuasively that any landslide for one party should be seen as threatening to the established leaders of that party and must be dealt with carefully. So, when the Republican Party was “infiltrated” by “insurgents” – Tea Partiers, for example – in 2010, this was not an event that Boehner and other establishment Republicans could take lightly.

            And now, after the loss to Obama and using this loss as justification for his actions, Boehner has moved to solidify his control of the House. This is one reason I argued previously herein that establishment Republicans would not look on an Obama victory as an unwelcome event. The loss, it is fair to say, has been taken as evidence of the weakness, even the utter unacceptability politically, of, say, the Tea Party agenda. It was that agenda which cost the Republicans what was hyped as “a sure thing” for their party – at least this is the message being sent with such pervasiveness that it is barely visible – and therefore Boehner and company can move on “the culprits” with dispatch.

"The move is underscoring a divide in the Republican Party between tea party-supported conservatives and the House GOP leadership.

"This is a clear attempt on the part of Republican leadership to punish those in Washington who vote the way they promised their constituents they would — on principle — instead of mindlessly rubber-stamping trillion dollar deficits and the bankrupting of America," said Matt Kibbe, president of the tea party group FreedomWorks.

"Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, would only say Tuesday that the party's steering committee chaired by the speaker made the decision "based on a range of factors."