Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Senator Rubio and History

Senator Rubio Doesn’t Know Much History
P. Schultz
June 26, 2012

Last night on the Daily Show, Marc Rubio, Senator from Fla., repeated that "Obama is the most divisive president in our history." Really, Marc? Two responses: (1) More divisive than Lincoln? Really? FDR? Hardly. LBJ? "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many babies did you kill today?" Remember that? Some of us do. (2) When did being not divisive become a standard for judging presidents?

              At least Rubio, if Romney's VP, won't challenge Romney intellectually. "Don't know much about history......"
This is interesting to me, that is, how standards that should be controversial are “adopted” by politicians on the sly, so to speak, and then used as if they aren’t or shouldn’t be controversial. In this case, is it a president’s job to not be divisive? That is, is a president obligated, is it part of his or her “job description” to not be divisive? If so, then all of those presidents who are labeled “great” should be labeled failures. Even George Washington proved to be divisive and when he left office was hardly as popular as he was before he became president. And, of course, as mentioned above, Lincoln was as divisive a president as one can imagine as his election and policies led to a civil war! Hard to beat that for divisiveness, no?
Of course, the bottom line on all of this is merely that Rubio is nothing more than your ordinary, run of the mill politician who is more interested in what appears to be a “neat” sound bite than in anything resembling intelligent conversation or rhetoric. And we wonder why our politics is so screwed up?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Tom Robbins: More

More From Tom Robbins
P. Schultz
June 24, 2012

            Here are some interesting passages from another interview with Tom Robbins. You might like them – or not.

“Interviewer: ….you’ve been quite outspoken in your criticism of U.S. foreign policy and the current wave of ultra-patriotism. Why do novelists such as you, Kurt Vonnegut, Sherman Alexie, and Peter Matheissen seem to get away with this criticism more so than do entertainers and political figures?

“TR: Tragically, a nation that was created by intellectuals and visionaries has been completely taken over by venal corporate gangsters, delusional Christian fruitcakes, and hopelessly shallow Texas shit-kickers. In such a dumbed-down environment, the cowboys in power probably don’t feel that they need to pay much attention to the protests of the intellectual or artistic community. We’re considered irrelevant. That’s why when Jerry Falwell included me on the list of ‘traitors’ he wants rounded up and shipped back to Guantanamo Bay, I was honored. Just put me in the same cellblock as the Dixie Chicks and I’ll be happy to go.

"Having said that, I must point out that I try to avoid the blatantly political both in my life and in my work. Instead, my approach is to encourage readers to embrace life, on the assumption that anyone who’s saying ‘yes’ to life will automatically say ‘no’ to those forces and policies that destroy life, suppress it or reduce it to mere survival.

“Interviewer: How dangerous is the threat to independent thinking today?

“TR: Worse than it’s been in a long, long while. However, independent thinking has always courted danger because it’s always bolstered enlightenment in its ongoing struggle with ignorance and dogma. It’s a threat both to those who fear liberty and to those who profit financially from mindless obedience and herd control. Jesus, you may recall, was an independent thinker.

“Interviewer: Are there any escape routes left?

“TR: Of course. Villa Incognito, for example, takes history, current events, and myth, braids them into a circus high wire, stretches that wire across the yawning abyss of consensual reality, and tempts us to walk across it if we dare. The wire leads inward. It’s anchored in the soul, in full consciousness, in our ancient animal past. It connects us to the Mystery. It’s the ultimate escape route. It’s always been there. It can be obscured, but never destroyed.”

Conversations with Tom Robbins, pp. 137-138.

Seymour Hersh and Our Journalism

Seymour Hersh and Our Journalism
P. Schultz
June 24, 2012

            I have been a fan of Seymour Hersh for some time now. He was the journalist or one of them who helped to tell the truth about what was or was not happening in Vietnam, a project that has won him the undying disapproval of many in the United States. I am now reading his book, Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib.

            It is a good book and it has helped me understand Hersh’s shortcomings, which are not, of course, unique to him. His most important shortcoming is that he focuses on technical or administrative matters. That is, when you read Hersh, you come away with the impression: “Oh, if only the FBI had ‘talked’ to the CIA or vice versa, 9/11 would not have happened.” Or: “If only we had a Director of National Intelligence, 9/11 would not have happened.” Or: “If only we had more Arabic speakers in the CIA, 9/11 would not have happened.”

            OK, fine. And maybe even some of these adjustments would have mattered. But what is interesting to me is how apolitical all of this is, how merely “technical” or “organizational” it all is, as if there is some organizational solution or mecca which, once discovered and implemented, would allow us to “successful” in whatever project or projects we are undertaking. And this mindset is nothing new as one can see it in operation in 1787-88 when it was thought by many that a new constitution, that is, a new arrangement of offices, would solve our problems.

            But it is a mindset that is apolitical, that is, that does not confront the questions raised, the political questions raised by our projects or policies. Here is an excerpt from an interview with Tom Robbins, labeled a “counter culture novelist” by many.

“In my last novel, Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates, a character comments that ‘terrorism is the only logical response to America’s foreign policy.’ So, the death planes didn’t surprise me. I happen to have been in the air on the morning of September 11, flying out of New Orleans. When the pilot announced that we couldn’t be assigned a gate in Atlanta due to ‘an aircraft accident in New York,’ I instantly turned to my paramour and said, ‘Terrorists!’ Just blurted it out. Our foreign policy made such an attack inevitable, and that may have been its most tragic aspect: it was entirely preventable – not by better intelligence gathering but by a more honorable, less arrogant American role in foreign affairs.” [pp. 124-25, Conversations with Tom Robbins]

            See, this is what I call a political analysis, not an apolitical analysis. And if you noticed, the 9/11 Commission focused entirely on the apolitical, not the political. So, don’t be surprised if there is a repeat engagement…..which of course is already taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Commission, Continued

The 9/11 Commission, Continued
P. Schultz
June 19, 2012

            Here are some more passages or partial passages from The Commission, which I find revealing and interesting.

“Kean and Hamilton had been saying it for more than a year. And in the final weeks of the investigation, they said it again. They wanted no ‘finger pointing’ in the final report. They were aware of criticism from within the staff, certainly from 9/11 families, that the report was failing in a basic mission of accountability. Certainly, Kean and Hamilton sensed that the Washington press corps and pundits wanted individuals held responsible…..With a unanimous report, Kean and Hamilton also wanted to prove something that they stood for throughout their careers and that seemed to have been forgotten….that is was still possible for loyal Republicans and loyal Democrats to agree on what was best for national security.

“Kean and Hamilton had settled on a useful catchphrase in describing what had gone wrong before 9/11. There had been a ‘failure of imagination’ by the government as a whole – not so much by individuals who worked in the government – to prepare for the threat that Osama bin Laden posed.” [pp. 404-406]

            Now, just how does that work? A failure by “the government as a whole” but not anyone, not any particular person or persons in the government? Of course, this does not work at all. This explanation is really no explanation at all; it is merely a rationalization to justify the goal of unanimity, a goal that is nowhere defended by Kean or Hamilton as desirable.

            And it should be noted that while this report was issued just a few months before the presidential election of 2004, it did not become an issue in that campaign. As Shenon points out: “The report was released to almost universal acclaim. For days afterward, Bush and Kerry tried to one-up each other on the campaign in expressing enthusiasm for the commission’s work.” [p. 415] And this for a report without any “accountability” of those who failed to prevent or even to detect the 9/11 attacks. Amazing, simply amazing.

            But, as it has just occurred to me: There was no argument for unanimity because unanimity was not the goal. It was merely the tool, the means. The goal was to leave "the system" untouched by controversy, to reinforce the idea that there is nothing or very little wrong with that system or political order. And because the Commission was successful in this project the report "was released to almost universal acclaim" and any suggestions for "reform" amounted to merely tinkering with the system or even reinforcing the system and its basic outlines. For example, the recommendation, acted upon by President Bush, for a DNI, Director of National Intelligence, merely reinforces the system already in place. It does not represent in any way a major alteration of the existing system.

             So, it is important to understand why unanimity was so important to Kean and Hamilton. It was not to demonstrate their adherence to "old fashioned values" like bipartisanship. Rather, it was to squelch any move, or even any thoughts, that there were and are fundamental flaws in the system or regime that then existed and that, thanks in large part to the Commission,  currently exists.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Tom Robbins on Pop Reality

Tom Robbins on Pop Reality
June 18, 2012

This is from an interview with Robbins published in the Northwest Review in 1982. When asked if he wanted to add anything, Robbins said:

“One thing. Saul Bellow has been sneering in public at those writers who, in his words, ‘have succumbed to pop reality.’ I suppose I am one of them. I have not the slightest objection to being linked to ‘pop reality’ and I’d like to tell you why.

“With the exception of Tantric Hinduism, every religious system in the modern world has denied and suppressed sensuality. Yet sensual energy is the most powerful energy we as individuals possess. Tantric saints had the genius and the guts to exploit that energy for spiritual purposes. Food, drink, drugs, music, art, poetry, and especially sex, are used in Tantra in a religious manner. Tantrikas perfect the techniques of sensual pleasure and use the energy released as fuel for their God-bound vehicle, their rocket ride of enlightenment.

“Pop culture, in somewhat the same way, may be exploited for serious purposes. Pop reality has great energy, humor, vitality, and charm. When it comes to liberating the human spirit, sensitizing experience and enlarging the soul, pop reality has one hell of a lot more literary potential than Bellow’s earnest moralizing, all stuffy and dour.”

From Conversations with Tom Robbins, ed. By Liam O. Purdon and Beef Torrey, pp. 23-24.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Commission on 9/11

The Commission on 9/11
P. Schultz
June 16, 2012

From the book The Commission by Philip Shenon:

“Tom Kean could not deny the thrill of this. He took a seat in the reading room in the New Executive Office Building in early December and was handed the sheaf of PDBs [Presidential Daily Briefings] from the Clinton and Bush administrations. Here in his hands were the documents that the White House had been so determined for so long to keep from him. Lee Hamilton liked to refer to the PDBs as the ‘holy of holies’ – the ultimate secret documents in the government – and Kean assumed that must be the case.
“’I thought this would be the definitive  secrets about Al-Qaeda, about terrorist networks and all the other things that the President should act on,’ he said. ‘I was going to find out the most important things that a president had learned.’ He assumed they would contain ‘incredibly secretive, precise, and accurate information about anything under the sun.’
“Each PDB was only several pages long, so Kean could read through months of them in a stretch of a few hours.
“And he found himself terrified by what he was reading, really terrified. Here were the digests of the most important secrets that were gathered by the CIA and the nation’s other spy agencies at a cost of tens of billions of dollars a year.
And there was almost nothing in them.
“’They were garbage,’ Kean said of the PDBs. ‘There was really nothing there – nothing, nothing.’ If students at Drew [University, where Kean was president] turned in term papers this badly researched, ‘I would have given them an F,’ he said.”  [page 220]

Kean pointed out to his “handlers” who were watching him read this material, that he knew all this stuff because he read newspapers like the New York Times  or the Washington Post. His “minder” replied: “Oh, but you’re missing the point. Now you know it’s true.” [p. 221]

I don’t believe any comment is necessary by me.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


P. Schultz
June 13, 2012

            I have been having a discussion with a former student as to the morality of the Vietnam War and our nation’s conduct at the end of it. The student has also quoted Shrub comparing our pulling out of Vietnam with the consequences of pulling out of Afghanistan, suggesting that such pullouts were immoral. My response has been, regarding Vietnam, that those awful consequences, “re-education camps,” “the boat people,” and other inhuman acts, could all have been avoided had we as a nation not conducted an imperialistic war in Vietnam, had let the Vietnamese decide their own fate, as FDR said we were going to do after World War II. Of course, FDR did not mean that, nor did subsequent presidents, who were, apparently, obsessed with Marxist Communism – or so they said.

            However, I will add here that arguments from morality, by the likes of George Bush, Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, LBJ, or even FDR have to be taken with a grain of salt insofar as these people use such arguments like interior decorators use furniture: That is, they move them around to suit their purposes of the moment.

            If you want proof of this argument, just pick up and read a book entitled The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Commission, by Philip Shenon. I cannot do justice to this book here but you will find therein that President Bush – and many others – conspired to impede the investigation into the causes of our failures to prevent the attacks on 9/11 and did so for no other reason than to protect their own power and positions – and the power and positions of the ruling class. It is truly astounding how these men, on both sides of the aisle as we like to say, did what they could to ensure that that investigation would not get to the heart of the matter – and this after thousands of Americans were killed on 9/11.

            So, please, no more arguments by these guys about morality. They have no more morality than, well, Saddam Hussein. And, of course, they were happy to be allies of his when it suited their purposes!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

If the President Does It, It is Legal

“If the President Does It, It is Legal”
P. Schultz
June 10, 2012

“Last week, the Times published an expose detailing how President Obama personally orders the execution of American citizens and foreigners that he labels “terrorists.” According to the Times, this program deems “all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants”; allows the president to be judge, jury and executioner; and operates wholly outside of the law. Indeed, the Times reports that the administration justifies such dictatorial power by insisting that the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process can now “be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch.”

“However, the memo laying out this utterly preposterous legal theory is secret—and, of course, hasn’t been ratified by any court.

“In terms of size, scope and long-term effects, this program makes the Watergate scandal look altogether quaint. You would therefore think that at minimum, even the most flaccid, rubber-stamp Congress might ask a few questions about the president’s “kill list” and the dangerous precedents it sets.

“But evidently, you would be wrong.

“As the Times noted in that subsequent follow-up story, Congress is focused not on shutting down—or even overseeing—the assassination program. It is instead focused on making sure those who blew the whistle on it are punished. Why? Because that will ensure that other such unauthorized programs can continue.”

These passages come from In These Times and are relevant to my last post on how the Republicans and Democrats collude – without literally doing so – to control our debate. Here is another aspect of the actions and agenda of the ruling class: Ensuring that those who rule are beyond the reach of the law or what are called “checks and balances.” The impeachment process and power has been rendered impotent over the past four plus decades, beginning with the aborted impeachment and trial of Richard Nixon and continuing through the Reagan and Clinton administrations. Some, like Bruce Fein and John Nichols – one a conservative and the other a liberal – try to hold the line on impeachments and their necessary and beneficial affects on our political system and especially on the presidency, but by and large such arguments are scorned by the ruling class who have convinced almost everyone that impeachments constitute “constitutional crises” rather than constitutional necessities and even solutions. And here we have another part of the ruling class’ attempt to undermine accountability in government: Taking down, rendering suspect and illegitimate, “whistle blowers.” And this too has been part of the ruling class’ agenda at least since the Nixon administration and its treatment Ernest Fitzgerald, a cost accountant for the Air Force who was fired for, well, for “cost accounting.” What gave the game away is that Fitzgerald was fired by the LBJ administration but it was the Nixon administration that pilloried him! And people say there is no “establishment.” 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Controlling the Debate

Controlling the Debate
P. Schultz
June 9, 2012

            Here is an example of how the Democrats and Republicans control the political debate without directly colluding.

            First, the Democrats leak information about Obama that he is actually in charge of our killer drones, deciding who lives and who dies, and how he was responsible for disrupting Iran’s nuclear energy development.

            Second, the Republicans complain that these “leaks” undermine national security and call for investigations of them.

            Third, after appropriate and righteous denials from the president and others, Attorney General Holder promises to find out who “leaked” this information and the Republicans in the House of Representatives promise to hold hearings on these “leaks.”

            Now, take note of what has transpired and what is no longer at issue. No longer is the issue whether the president has the power to kill anyone he chooses to kill or whether he should have or exercise this power. In fact, these issues are decided in the affirmative without any debate over them. They are decided in absentia as it were.

            The same process was visible in the recent debate over whether our drones were killing efficiently, that is, without too much “collateral damage” in the form of the killing of children. This debate displaced any debate over the use of drones to kill other human beings and any debate over whether these killings could ever actually decide or even influence the outcome in Afghanistan or Pakistan. It is just assumed that the use of drones is legitimate, not cowardly, and that their use will influence or even decide the war in Afghanistan.

            This stuff goes on all the time. Example: How do we fix Social Security? Draws our attention away from the question: How did Social Security get “broken?” Or: Who broke Social Security? Perhaps those who broke it are those who are promising to fix it and I for one think that this is madness. Sort of like putting the fox in charge of the hen house.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Choice: Torture or Killing

The Choice Today: Torture or Killing?
P. Schultz
June 4, 2012

            Here is a Charles Krauthammer column critical of Obama as our “drone killer” president. Is this because Krauthammer is “pro-life?” Hardly. He might be “pro-life” when it comes to protecting fetuses but he isn’t when it comes to protecting children already born who happen to live near terrorists, I mean, Muslim terrorists.

            So what’s his beef with Obama killing terrorists with drones? Well, dead terrorists cannot tell us anything, that is, after they are tortured, oops, I meant to say “intensively interrogated.” So this is what our political debate has come to: Torture or killing? I must say when Cheney said that in waging the war on terror we would have to live in “the dark side,” he knew of whence he spoke. As Jefferson said: “I tremble for my country when I remember that God is just.”


Saturday, June 2, 2012

Warren v. Brown

Warren v. Brown
P. Schultz
June 2, 2012

Here is a story about Elizabeth Warren and that she was spared a fight for the Democratic nomination for Massachusetts senator to run against Scott Brown. Apparently, she has found “a new feistiness” and she will not wilt when attacked by Brown. I guess this is good to know and reassuring but I cannot help but think that if this is all there is in this choice between Warren and Brown that there isn’t much here at all. I mean as near as I can tell for the past few weeks, the focus has been on Warren’s claim or non-claim of some sort of special ethnicity. Really? This is what a debate between Warren and Brown comes down to? Aren’t there more important issues that these two have to debate?

And what if there aren’t? Now that is scary and sad. Warren is billing herself as the person who will help prevent the Republicans from taking over the US Senate. But what if it doesn’t matter if the Republicans take it over? Will our foreign policy change? More drone attacks? Hard to conceive. Guantanamo closed? Don’t think so. Goldman Sachs people have less influence? Wanna bet.

Oh well: Such is life in our oligarchy. As things go “down the tubes,” as George Carlin use to say, we worry about Mitt Romney’s religion, whether Obama was born in Hawaii, or whether Warren claimed to be a “Native American.” What a country!