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
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
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
“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
“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.”
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.”
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
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]
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.
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]
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.
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.
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
“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.”
with Tom Robbins, ed. By Liam O. Purdon and Beef Torrey, pp. 23-24.
“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
“’I thought this would be the
definitivesecrets 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
“’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.
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.
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.
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!
“If the President Does It, It is Legal”
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
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.”
Here is an
example of how the Democrats and Republicans control the political debate
without directly colluding.
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.
Republicans complain that these “leaks” undermine national security and call
for investigations of them.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.”
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!