Thursday, January 31, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty and Bruce

Zero Dark Thirty and Bruce
P. Schultz
January 31, 2013

            Here is my movie review of “Zero Dark Thirty.” A couple of things have occurred to me since I saw the movie.

            First and least important, the movie is about 30 minutes or so too long. I don’t mean the last scenes of killing bin Laden need to be cut although some editing there might have been possible but that throughout there are places where less would have been more.

            Second: I believe some critics of the movie have failed to see that Bigelow, the director, was not simply endorsing torture, although there are good reasons to think she was doing so. [See below, #3.] That she wasn’t was indicated for me by the fact that Maya, the woman who was obsessed with “getting” bin Laden, was reduced to tears after she identified his body. That is, whatever that might mean, it certainly meant that she wasn’t going to go out drinking and celebrating his death. And this makes me wonder how those who were cheering bin Laden’s death in theaters, as reports have said happened, felt then. Did they realize that Maya did not share their jubilation? And why didn’t she? Which brings me to the following.

            Third and I think most important: There is a “missing character” in the movie which lends weight to those who have criticized the movie and Bigelow for endorsing torture or, at best, not raising questions about it. The character I have in mind would be someone like Thomas Fowler in Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, an older Englishman who tries to “tame” a young American, Alden Pyle, who is all gung ho about “saving” Vietnam from the Communists and the French. Fowler is old enough and scarred enough to know that action, especially political and/or military action, is fraught with danger, both to those who are supposedly being benefitted and those who are doing the benefitting. As Fowler says at one point, Pyle’s innocence is a kind of madness.

Also, another character that comes to mind is Gust Avrakotos in the movie, Charlie Wilson’s War. Avrakotos is a CIA agent, older and also scarred like Fowler, who knows enough to know that what seems like “success,” such as driving the Soviets out of Afghanistan, might not prove to lasting. He quotes a Zen master whose mantra is, “We'll see.” For example, when a boy received a horse as gift, everyone said, “Oh, that’s so nice.” The master says, “We’ll see.” Then the boy falls off the horse and breaks his leg and all comment that that is too bad. Again, “We’ll see.” Then war breaks out and the broken leg keeps the boy out of the war and people say, “That’s good.” And, once again, “We’ll see.” And as he was CIA, he seems like a fitting character for Zero Dark Thirty. Surely, there was someone like that somewhere in our government.

            There is no character like this in Zero Dark Theater, although there are hints that the situation would accommodate such a character. Dan the torturer is drained and Maya weeps at the end, after her obsession is, perhaps, satisfied. [Are obsessions ever really satisfied?] But without a character like Fowler or Avrakotos, there is no way for the movie to develop what struck me as I watched it: How can human beings treat other human beings inhumanly, torturing them and killing them at will, and not notice that they become inhuman too? Or: Doesn’t anyone notice that the self-righteous all too often act in indecent and even inhuman ways?

            Which brings me to Bruce Springsteen and his song, “Devils and Dust.” Here is a portion of the lyrics:
"I got God on my side
"I'm just trying to survive
"What if what you do to survive kills the things you love..."
            I believe Bruce got it right and did so in a way clearer than the movie Zero Dark Thirty. Survival, while primary, is not most important. If we survive but become inhuman while doing so, what have we done to ourselves? “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”  [Mark 8:35}

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Sarah Palin: What's It All About?

Sarah Palin: What’s It All About?
P. Schultz
January 29, 2013

            Below is a link to an article by Chris Cillizza that was published in the Washington Post on Sarah Palin and what she meant. Here is the concluding paragraph from that column:

“The Palin story is, in the end, one of tremendous talent misused. Like any number of playground greats who never make the NBA or, when they do, wind up disappointing, Palin had as much natural ability as anyone this side of Barack Obama or John Edwards, but was unable to translate that talent into results once the bright lights came on. That she never made good on her remarkable natural talents is a sign of how the political process can chew up and spit out those who aren’t ready for it.”

            Well, you get the point. As the tag line in A Bronx Tale has it: “Wasted talent.” That is the sum and substance of the Sarah Palin story.

            And yet I cannot help but wonder whether that is enough. What if Sarah Palin was set up? And what if, after a bit, she figured this out? And also figured out that she had taken the bait? Katie Couric played her part in the set up, which served Katie’s interests well, did it not? This might help explain some of the behavior that Cillizza emphasizes in his column:

“It’s impossible to trace what began the transformation in Palin but it’s a fair guess to say that her interview with Katie Couric was the spark. Palin seemed to be either over- or under-briefed for the interview and came off as standoffish and, worse, not up to the job for which she was running.

“In the wake of that interview, Palin had a choice: Would she acknowledge she was off her game and try to reboot with another (or several other) major network interviews or would she bunker in, insisting the fault lied with a “gotcha” media?

“We all know the path she took. Palin leaned hard into her “lamestream media” attack and began turning on everyone, including the man who had vaulted her to the national stage. In the process, she somehow lost the mantle of reformer that made her so attractive to many voters in the first place. She embraced a sort of anti-intellectualism in which her lack of knowledge about foreign affairs was unimportant since it was a test put into place by a media who wanted to destroy her.”

            Well, perhaps, it isn’t so hard to “trace…the transformation in Palin” as Cillizza would like to believe. We don’t know, for example, what Palin was told leading up to the Couric interview, whether she was misled about the tenor of it. And, of course, it would serve the status quo quite well when Palin “lost the mantle of reformer,” would it not? And perhaps she did embrace “a sort of anti-intellectualism” but that was hardly unique to Palin. In fact, something of the sort served both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush quite well, as I remember it. What might the difference be? Perhaps the difference was that Palin represented a threat to the status quo, while Reagan and Shrub did not.

            I was not and am not a fan of Sarah Palin. However, if “the man who vaulted her to the national stage” had actually betrayed her, I could understand why she turned angry and “wasted her talents.” Betrayal brings to the surface the most powerful of emotions, rage most importantly. Ask any Vietnam vet. If this happened, Palin did not “lose it;” she just decided she was not going to play the game. If so, then I say two cheers for Sarah Palin.

"Droning" On and On and On

“Droning” On and On and On
P. Schultz
January 29, 2013

            Below is a link to an article in the Washington Post about “plans” to establish a “drone base” somewhere in Africa so we can keep tabs on what is happening there, or such is the public explanation. But consider this quote:

“With Niger, the first question is, is this something they’re willing to host?” said a senior U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning. “If the answer is yes, then the question is, can you accomplish something like that with an acceptable footprint?”

            Now, isn’t that interesting? I thought the first question would and should be: Is creating such a base what the U.S. should be doing? But no, not according to this “senior U.S. official” who remains anonymous for, well, for no reason. Oh well, what else is new in these United States? A truncated political dialogue that leaves the most important questions unaddressed conducted or guided by people who are anonymous. I cannot say I am surprised. Are you?

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Second Amendment

Second Amendment
P. Schultz
January 25, 2013

            The text of the second amendment read as follows:

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

            It has been a question whether this amendment protects a “personal” right to bear arms or whether it protects that right only for purposes of maintaining a militia. Well, the amendment is best understood as protecting a personal right and for the following reason. The Federalists were opposed to any bill of rights being part of the Constitution. As Hamilton argued in the Federalist, such a bill was deemed unnecessary in a political order such as that created by the Constitution. Such bills were necessary in monarchies, for example, but not in a representative republic.

            Bills of rights were important to the Anti-Federalists. However, they were understood primarily as statements of general or basic principles, such as “All power is derived from the people,” a statement found in several state constitutions. They were not understood as provisions that would be used as the basis for lawsuits filed against the government. It would be more appropriate to say that they were seen as providing bases for protest or for seeking a redress of grievances. 

           [As an aside: "lawsuits filed against the government" is misleading because these lawsuits are filed within the government and only with the government's approval. To say that "I will appeal my case all the way to the Supreme Court" has a somewhat "radical" ring to it in the United States but it should be remembered that the Supreme Court is part of the government! "Oh, so Ms. Radical, you are going to appeal your case against the government to the government. How radical! Oh my, oh my, whatever will the government do?" The point is this: The change in the character of the bill of rights as found in the Constitution and as desired by the Anti-Federalists reflects a change in the character of politics as implied by the Constitution and as desired by the Anti-Federalists. The latter were more favorably disposed to what we would call popular protests than the former, where popular protests morph into legal cases that are to be decided by the government in its courts. This is not a small difference.]

            The second amendment, unlike the other amendments, has this character. Hence, the purpose for which the right to bear arms exists is stated, whereas in the first amendment, for example, no such purpose is stated. It follows then that the statement of purpose does not and was not intended to limit the right to bear arms to members of a militia. In this sense, this is a personal right, the stated purpose of which is “the security of a free state.”

            Of course, this still leaves the question, a question lawyers have little trouble arguing, of what constitutes an “infringement” on the right to bear arms. Does, for example, preventing people from owning bazookas or rocket propelled grenade launchers constitute an “infringement” on this right? Not many would argue that such a prohibition would be an infringement on this right. And it would seem that a good place to start for understanding this amendment would be with the thought that what the authors and ratifiers of this amendment had in mind were arms that citizens would normally own and not, say, cannons or, eventually, Gatling guns. In fact, it may be argued persuasively that the private ownership of some arms like Gatling guns or 50 caliber machine guns would compromise “the security of a free state.”

            Perhaps it would be useful if more people would realize that the bill of rights, like so many other provisions of the Constitution, raises as many questions as it answers. And, of course, we have to answer them today. It is no longer possible to answer them as some would have answered them in 1788 or 1860 without the answers seeming and being irrelevant to current circumstances.



Monday, January 21, 2013

Are We There Yet, Really?

“Are We There Yet;” Really?
P. Schultz
January 21, 2013

            Here is a link to a column written by a guy named Robert O. Self, professor of history at Brown University, which is very difficult to respond to. In all honesty, I am unsure of what to say in response because his argument seems to me to be so delusional.

            The question as Self presents it is whether Obama’s presidency represents a fundamental “political realignment,” like the presidencies of FDR and Reagan where “Their triumphs consolidated political transformations that had been building for some time and allowed their respective parties to reset the nation’s political center of gravity.” Leaving aside the question whether this is an accurate description of FDR or Ronald Reagan, I have to say that I can find little basis for even suspecting that Obama’s presidency has any of the characteristics of a fundamental political realignment.

            There are indications in this column that Self is aware of the paucity of evidence for putting Obama in the Roosevelt/Reagan class of presidents. For example, Self spends very little time talking about policy or policies and even seems to understand that Obama represents not so much a break from the politics of the Shrub administration but a continuation: “Taken together, his health care reform and his cautious rejection of most of the policies of George W. Bush may well be judged by future historians as a meaningful adjustment.” Of course, my interpretation is being kind to Self, as his words here illustrate. But I do so because Self does not specify which policies of Bush he, Obama, has “cautious[ly] rejected.” And I would add that this is not surprising insofar as it is exceedingly difficult to find such rejections. After all, Obama just agreed to a “deal” that included making the Bush tax cuts permanent for almost all Americans! And it would be next to impossible to find any rejection, cautious or otherwise, of Bush’s foreign war making and domestic surveillance predicated on threats to our national security.

            I suspect that Self’s column and his obvious desire to find that Obama or some president, someday would represent a fundamental political realignment is the result of a desire to think that our political system actually functions in a healthy way by responding to the need for change with change. I think why the column is weird then is that Self, in trying to make the case that Obama at least squints in that direction, illustrates just the opposite. As Self wrote: “A directionless politics prevails instead. At the national level, there is no political will to address long-term problems like soaring health care costs, climate change, infrastructure decay and prison overpopulation.”

            The problem I have with this argument is that Self fails to understand the our current politics is not “directionless.” It is, rather, quite directed, viz., at preserving the status quo and the rule of the current oligarchs in both the Republican and Democratic parties. [As an aside, I would argue that one can make at least a plausible argument that Reagan’s presidency served the same purpose after the debacles of Vietnam and Watergate threatened to bring down the rule of the then leading oligarchs in both parties. Just as the status quo was threatened then, so too it is threatened today after the debacle of the Bush presidency and the “great recession.”] It is not in fact a lack of “political will” that leads to the failure to “address long-term problems.” Rather, it is political will that leads to this phenomenon and it is not, in the eyes of the current political class, a failure. It represents success because it keeps them in power.

            But Self’s column also illustrates that there is change afoot – just not in Washington D.C. but in the states. “Meanwhile, states like Michigan have further eroded labor and reproductive rights, while others, like California, with its Democratic supermajority, seem poised to safeguard the same while increasing spending. As the left-wing political activist Michael Harrington said in 1976, the country is “moving vigorously left, right and center, all at once.”

            Self might also have mentioned the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, which are indications that people are fed up with the national war on drugs, as well as the legalization of gay and lesbian marriages in some states which are indications that the people reject the regime of DOMA as perpetrated by D.C. It will come as a surprise to many liberals perhaps that real change is now taking place in the states, not in Washington, given that for decades now it has been taken for granted that the states are “reactionary” while the government in D.C. is “progressive.” Apparently, sometimes real change comes vis-à-vis D.C. and sometimes it comes vis-à-vis the states. These days it would seem that real change is taking place in [some] states and not D.C.

            This, of course, makes us Anti-Federalists happy as we have argued for a long time that government is better, safer and freer, when done at the state and local levels rather than at the national level. Note I did not say that such government is “more powerful,” because it is not. Note too that I did not say that such government can reclaim “America’s greatness,” because it won’t. But then power and greatness were not the goals sought by the Anti-Federalists, but rather liberty and goodness. So long though as we await “political realignment” from Washington D.C., just so long will the lessons the Anti-Federalists tried to teach be lost.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The "Game" Continues

The “Game” Continues
P. Schultz
January 19, 2013

            Below is a link to an article in the Washington Post by Chris Cillizza
analyzing the Republicans’ decision to allow an increase in the debt ceiling for three months. According to Cillizza, this is “an interesting — and smart — gambit by House Republicans who have done very little interesting or smart in terms of political strategy of late.” It will allow them to confront the Senate and Harry Reid and not Obama and it allows them time to, well, that is not exactly clear. So what the headline portrays as a “cave in” is really smart strategy on the part of Republicans.

            I believe in a sense Cillizza is correct, this is smart strategy by the Republicans. But the question is, by which Republicans? For Boehner or for “a significant group within the House GOP who prize moral victories over actual victories?” Cillizza distinguishes these two groups but does not ask the question, cui bono?

            Although 3 months is a long time in the political world, it is difficult to see how the alignment of forces will change in a way that will increase the Republicans’ power, vis-à-vis the president or even the Senate. And as Cillizza notes, given that the economy seems to be improving – as all knew it would after the election – the Republican strategy, as a strategy to be used against Obama, could backfire or not accomplish anything at all. As the economy improves, does the argument for the drastic cuts in spending required if no agreement is reached become more or less powerful? It seems to me the correct answer is “less.”

            So how is this smart strategy? Well, it is smart from Boehner’s point of view, as this article inadvertently suggests, because it puts his opponents in his own party on the defensive, as people who “prize moral victories over actual victories.” Cillizza does not say what is in this context an “actual victory” but I am guessing that it would be some kind of tepid, status quo preserving “deal” with Obama on spending cuts. And, as readers will recognize, it seems to me that the game being played is “How Do We Preserve the Status Quo While Pretending Not To.”  Not surprisingly, the prevailing power brokers in D.C. are governing to preserve their power rather than using it for the benefit of the nation. The Republican strategy is smart when looked at in this way.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Charade Continues

The Charade Continues
P. Schultz
January 18, 2013

            Well, here it is: We have reached Nirvana. Here is a quote from a NY Times article on the Republicans and the debt ceiling from an article linked to below:

“But the proposal marks a significant retreat as well. In recent weeks, conservatives from the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal to the Tea Party-aligned Americans for Prosperity had called on House Republicans to drop their conditions for raising the debt ceiling. Business groups had joined in, and Republican Party elders were growing nervous about how House leaders were approaching the debt ceiling, as well as the deadlines for automatic spending cuts and refinancing the government.
“House leadership by and large understands this series of fiscal inflection points we face present a dire threat the Republican brand, which is already in big trouble,” said Vin Weber, a former Republican House member from Minnesota who remains close to the leadership. “If they’re seen as responsible for actions that further undermine the United States’ credibility in the world, and pushes us closer to falling into recession, Republicans could take a bath in the midterm election, which would be devastating.”

            So, in order to avoid “taking a bath in the midterm election, which would be devastating” to “the Republican brand,” it is now time to drop their obstructionism and get serious about negotiating spending cuts with the Democrats. And this is the result of the fact that conservatives across the board are calling for such action. 

            Alleluia! So now we can “move forward.” My suspicion is, however, that all this means is that the status quo has been successfully preserved. Those who wanted significant change, what was called by some “radical change,” have been silenced. Obama won the presidential election against the all-engaging Mitt Romney and the “fiscal cliff” disappeared into thin air. So now, there is only choice left, to play ball, as it were. Nothing new or nothing much new will emerge as those who propose significantly new policies have been dubbed “extremists.” And, of course, they must be: After all, even the Wall Street Journal can see that! 

            And it is amazing. This is said to be a victory for Obama and, of course, it is. But no one asks what that victory means. It seems sufficient to say “Obama won!” And the beat goes on. The charade continues. Not surprisingly, very little will change. It is exactly what is to be expected from a dysfunctional system where, as in a dysfunctional family, the goal is, always and continuously, to preserve the status quo. Because unless that is done, all know that the family or the system will fall apart like a house of cards.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Richard Nixon's Legacy

Richard Nixon’s Legacy
P. Schultz
January 11, 2013

            Attached below you will find a column on Richard Nixon’s legacy by Andrew Rosenthal of the NY Times. There are some reasons I find this column interesting, that is, interesting for how we analyze and think about politics.

            Rosenthal’s argument is that Nixon was a complex character, a shrewd political analyst and manipulator as well as a president who “promoted important social-welfare policies” like the Clean Air Act, affirmative action, the EPA and OSHA. Nonetheless, Rosenthal concludes that he was “a crook who was forced to relinquish his presidency. That is his legacy.”

            Here is what I see as the problem with Rosenthal’s analysis, viz., that it just isn’t political enough. Note that Rosenthal does not present those “important social-welfare policies” as political. That is, he does not describe them in political terms such as “democratic” or “oligarchic” or “elitist.” This is not surprising insofar as a politics of policy making is actually an attempt to escape, suppress, or avoid politics. Policymaking is something that should be done by experts, who of course will gather facts and propose solutions, solutions that “work” to “solve the problem.” These experts are not thought of as being political or participating in politics, that being left to congressmen or presidents. So there is or should be nothing crass about “making policy” or endorsing a politics of policy making and by endorsing such “important social-welfare policies” Nixon was not being crass or manipulative.

            On the other hand, Nixon was “a crook.” Again, although this is not necessarily an inaccurate description of Nixon, it is not a political description. “Crooks” are not political and their activities are not political. What they are is ambiguous but it is clear that they are not political or involved in politics.

            The problem here is that neither of Rosenthal’s descriptions of Nixon, that of social-welfare endorser or that of crook, can explain the intense feelings that Rosenthal admits surround Richard Nixon even to this day. To explain such intense feelings we must recur to Nixon’s politics, that is, to such political actions as his making war or further war in Vietnam, his attempts to subvert the democratic process in the 1972 presidential election that led to Watergate, and his opening to China, to take three examples. Policy makers or crooks do not, and I would argue cannot, create the kind of intensity that Nixon created and creates. Only politics can create such intensity. [See “Note” below.] 

            Viewed politically, Nixon’s actions in Vietnam may be and were seen by many as war crimes and him as a war criminal. Whether he was a war criminal is a political question, whereas whether he was a crook is a legal question. Similarly, Nixon’s actions during and after the 1972 presidential election were seen by many, even by most, as attempts to undermine the democratic process of electing a president. Again, this is a political crime, not an ordinary crime. And, lastly here, Nixon’s opening to China was seen by many as an act of statesmanship and, of course, such acts are necessarily political.

            And this helps explain why Richard Nixon arouses such intense feelings even today: Who was Richard Nixon? What was he, a war criminal or a statesman? It is not difficult to see that such questions will excite people, should excite people, perhaps even for a very, very long time. But it is also possible to see that this debate is far more important than debating whether Nixon’s “crook-ed-ness” was redeemed by his endorsement of certain “important social-welfare programs.”

            [Note: Why this is so I am uncertain. Perhaps it is part of what Aristotle meant when he described we humans as “political animals;” that is, for we humans politics is a serious business indeed, perhaps even our most serious business. And it is because we humans raise and take seriously the questions, what is good or what is best? These are the questions that lie at the heart of politics and are never far from the center of political debate, controversy, and conflict. And they are also the kind of questions that quite naturally lead to controversy and conflict. Just ask Socrates about that.]

Monday, January 7, 2013

Republican Soul Searching

Republican Soul Searching
P. Schultz
January 7, 2013

            Attached is an article in today’s NY Times on what the paper calls the “soul searching” going on in the Republican Party. Here is one thing I found interesting or several things that might be one thing.

            The article is written, as all such articles are, as if this activity is (a) about winning elections and (b) is unconstrained by what I will call political choices. By the latter, I mean that it is nowhere indicated that some choices entail other consequences or require that other choices be made if the “original choice” is to be viable. This is a variation on the old saw: “If you want mayonnaise, you have to break some eggs.”

            So, for example, some argue that the Republican Party has to get back to “its roots” as the party of “small government.” But to be, really be the party of “small government,” the Republican Party, or any party really, has to be the party of a “small economy.” If you are seeking to build and maintain “a big economy,” you need, whether you want it or not, big government. The two, a big economy and big government, go together like a horse and carriage or love and marriage, as was known by Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson and as is still true today. One reflection of this today is the inability of the Republicans, in their alleged quest for a “small government,” to so much as put a dent in our military-industrial complex, if for no other reason that this complex is indispensable for making the economy grow. Big military-industrial complex means or is big government.

            Here is another example, along the same lines, indicated in a quote from the article by Ralph Reed:

“The Republican Party can’t stay exactly where it is and stick its head in the sand and ignore the fact that the country is changing,” said Ralph Reed, the founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition and onetime leader of the Christian Coalition. “On the other hand, if the party were to retreat on core, pro-family stands and its positions on fiscal responsibility and taxes, it could very quickly find itself without a strong demographic support base.”

Reed is correct, I think, on the need to maintain some “core” principles. But to maintain a strong stance on what he calls “family values” would require some kind of moderation of what many like to call our “free market” or our “capitalism.” Free markets and capitalism are just not family or traditional values friendly, as the Catholic Church has known for a long, long time now. It is quite amazing in a nation where much of what is called “popular culture” – at least in movies and books – is dedicated to just this proposition that people seem unaware that a politics of traditional values requires an economic arrangement that does not revolve around unlimited acquisition nor a society that lionizes those who have shown the most skill in acquisition, be they called “job creators” or those millionaires that all women apparently want to marry.

            Moreover, it is not clear to me that it is possible to maintain an active, interventionist foreign policy, so to speak, while maintaining those traditional values Reed claims to honor. A “realistic” foreign policy requires and is based on a rejection of the idea that nations can afford to behave ethically in the international arena. As we have been told these days, we must torture other human beings and spy on almost all human activities if we are to avoid another 9/11. Once one makes such arguments, it is difficult to see how what are called “traditional values” like honesty or even responsibility can be maintained. As Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson pointed out in his dissent in the Korematsu case, when waging war responsible behavior could spell defeat. [Jackson’s “dissent” was “odd” in that he would have allowed the government to do what it did but without validation by the Supreme Court. Courts should not act irresponsibly but presidents and congresses may and even should.]

            So the “bind” the Republican Party finds itself in is not due simply to the fact that “the country is changing.” That bind is also due to the fact that the party has been trying to reconcile the irreconcilable and, as it always does, “push has come to shove” and it must decide which way it wants to go. Of course, because this is politics, the party will, I imagine, continue to grope its way “forward” without choosing because its main concern, as it is for the Democrats as well, is to get and hold power, rather than using it well.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Recipe for Failure?

Recipe for Failure?
P. Schultz
January 6, 2013

“The White House is weighing a far broader and more comprehensive approach to curbing the nation’s gun violence than simply reinstating an expired ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition, according to multiple people involved in the administration’s discussions.

“A working group led by Vice President Biden is seriously considering measures backed by key law enforcement leaders that would require universal background checks for firearm buyers, track the movement and sale of weapons through a national database, strengthen mental health checks, and stiffen penalties for carrying guns near schools or giving them to minors, the sources said.”

            These passages are from an article in the Washington Post, linked below, and I can’t help think that this is a way to ensure that significant federal limitations on assault weapons and other weapons will fail. Given the obvious attachment of a whole lot of Americans to their weapons, and the power of the NRA, why would the White House choose a strategy that is (a) far from simple and (b) unlikely to be legislated or implemented? It is probably me, but this seems a wee bit strange. It seems to me that reinstituting a ban on assault weapons makes more sense and has a greater chance of enactment. But then, heck, I am not nearly as smart as Joe Biden and others who hold powerful offices in Washington, D.C. 

            But just to pursue this a bit: Why would the White House choose a losing strategy? Well, perhaps to remind us, when this strategy fails, that our political “system” does not accommodate real change and that our politicians are incapable, given the “system,” of affecting real change. That way, we will come to accept the status quo and those who are now in office because any real change in policy or personnel is impossible. Oh, that James Madison and those “founders:: They were crafty guys, weren’t they?  

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The "Deal"

The “Deal”
P. Schultz
January 2, 2013

            Once again, little more needs to be said in addition to this NY Times article on the “deal.” And, once again, some of the quotes are worth highlighting.

            Not a single leader among House Republicans came to the floor to speak in favor of the bill, though Speaker John A. Boehner, who rarely takes part in roll calls, voted in favor. Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the majority leader, and Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the No. 3 Republican, voted no. Representative Paul D. Ryan, the budget chairman who was the Republican vice-presidential candidate, supported the bill.”

            Well, Paul Ryan knew “the fix” was in, even if Eric Cantor did not. But then Cantor and Boehner have been sparring since the election and it would appear that Boehner is ahead on points, to say the least.

            “After more than a decade of criticizing these tax cuts,” said Representative Dave Camp of Michigan, “Democrats are finally joining Republicans in making them permanent. Republicans and the American people are getting something really important, permanent tax relief.”

            Yes, and Obama has finally managed to make the Bush tax cuts permanent! “Hope and Change”? Not so much. More like: Hope for change but don’t expect any. And once again, only this time in the Democratic Party, those who opposed “the deal” were made to look like “obstructionists” rather than reformers. And, of course, when these same Democrats object to the cuts in spending that will be forthcoming, they will also appear to be “obstructionists.”

            “An up-or-down House vote on the Senate measure presented many Republicans with a nearly impossible choice: to prolong the standoff that most Americans wished to see cease, or to vote to allow taxes to go up on wealthy Americans without any of the changes to spending and benefit programs they had fought for vigorously for the better part of two years.”

            And Richard Cohen wrote an article recently saying that no one in Washington knows “how to play this game.” Amazing how dense some pundits can be. These guys know “how to play the game,” Mr. Cohen, only you have to know which game they are playing. The game they are playing is “preserve the status quo” in the midst of an economy that sucks and popular anger and frustration only occasionally seen in this nation. And the powers-that-be are prevailing. No wonder Jim DeMint left for Heritage! He too did not need a weatherman to know which way the wind was blowing. And maybe he just got tired of playing a game he knew was rigged!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The "Deal": Apparent and Real

“The Deal”: Apparent and Real
P. Schultz
January 1, 2013

            Happy New Year! I don’t believe I have to add much other than attaching this article from the NY Times today to illustrate that our two political parties, or at least those who control them, are interested in little more than preserving the status quo and, therewith, preserving their power and prominence. And let it be noted that this outcome seems to me to confirm that the last presidential election was meant to serve the same purpose of preserving the status quo.

            Nonetheless, at least one quote from the article should be highlighted. 

“As Mr. Obama all but acknowledged Monday, big bipartisan legislative dreams seem all but certain to be miniaturized as incremental policy visions.
“My preference would have been to solve all these problems in the context of a larger agreement, a bigger deal, a grand bargain, whatever you want to call it,” he said. “Maybe we can do it in stages. We’re going to solve this problem instead in several steps.” 

            What Obama did not say is that by “solv[ing] this problem . . . in several steps,” the problem has been redefined. That is, “in the context of a larger agreement, a bigger deal, a grand bargain,” the problem is one thing; but that changes absent such a deal, call it whatever you will. I just think of it this way: If one approaches political reform, say of foreign policy, in a big way, then your problem is decidedly different than if you approach such reform as, say, cleaning up “a mess” or “messes,” which is how Obama chose to talk about his response to Benghazi. To pursue big change requires challenging and changing the status quo, whereas dealing with change piecemeal does not. In fact, the latter is a way of preserving the status quo while pretending to do the same thing as if one were undertaking “a larger agreement, a bigger deal, a grand bargain, whatever you want to call it.” 

            Well, Mr. President, I want to call the alternative “real change,” “significant change,” not unreal change or insignificant change, which of course isn’t really “change” at all. But then why am I not surprised with the outcome? Because this outcome is perfectly consistent with the actions of the Obama administration since his election in 2008. 

            So, folks, I say once again: Happy New Year. Just don’t expect anything of any significance to change in Washington, D.C. The oligarchy is firmly entrenched there and will be for the foreseeable future.