Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Children of the Days

Children of the Days
P. Schultz
July 31, 2013

            Here is an excerpt from a book by Eduardo Galeano, which looks like it might be worth reading.
“War Against Drugs
(October 27)

“In 1986, President Ronald Reagan took up the spear that Richard Nixon had raised a few years previous, and the war against drugs received a multimillion-dollar boost.

“From that point on, profits escalated for drug traffickers and the big money-laundering banks; more powerful drugs came to kill twice as many people as before; every week a new jail opens in the United States, since the country with the most drug addicts always has room for a few addicts more; Afghanistan, a country invaded and occupied by the United States, became the principal supplier of nearly all the world’s heroin; and the war against drugs, which turned Colombia into one big U.S. military base, is turning Mexico into a demented slaughterhouse.”

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Obama/Bush Administration Continues

The Obama/Bush Administration Continues
P. Schultz
July 25, 2013
[From Ballina, Ireland]

            And the Obama/Bush administration continues. And this is also for those who think the establishment Republicans cared if Romney won the last presidential election. They didn’t need Romney as they have Obama.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Preserving the Status Quo

Preserving the Status Quo
P. Schultz
July 16, 2013

            The link below is for those who might doubt that our politicians, both the “liberals” and the “conservatives,” are supporters of the status quo. The conditions were as ripe as they could be for the Democrats in the Senate to change the rules regarding filibusters and what did the Dems do? Yes, that’s right: They bailed on real change and “compromised” in a way that will not upset the status quo at all. So, now the Senate, which is organizationally about as democratic as military rule in Egypt, can continue to “fail” to act. Of course, now it should be perfectly plain that this alleged “failure” is not failure at all. Rather, it is a choice that the Senate has made. Why? To preserve the status quo.

Sin, Change and Politics

Sin, Change, and Politics
P. Schultz
July 16, 2013

            Here is an email exchange I had with a friend which I thought was worth posting here. Enjoy.

Dear Peter,
You once said in a class that what had adversely affected the nation was an underdeveloped sense of sin.  How does an individual or a community come to possess a developed sense of sin?  How ought an individual or a community in possession of a developed sense of sin reply to an individual or a community coming into possession of a developed sense of sin?

My response:
Good questions. Let me think about them a bit. I am not even sure what I meant when I said that the nation has an underdeveloped sense of sin. I think I said that once I had said this somewhat spontaneously and later came to think that perhaps I was on to something. 

Perhaps it means that we don't have a sufficiently developed sense of transgression or transgressions. Do we moderns think in terms of transgression(s)? Or do we think we ought to get away with whatever we can get away with? Is this a "definition" of "success"? Getting away with whatever we can by any means necessary? If one is allowed to torture other human beings because it is deemed "necessary," what is it we can't do? Seems then that any notion of transgression goes out the window. 

More of my response:
How does one account for change? This seems to me like a mysterious phenomenon, at least. We like to think that we are in control, that we can, for example, make schools better or eradicate the use of mind altering substances that we don't like by creating a policy. If we have an underdeveloped sense of sin, how did that happen? I could not begin to tell you nor do I think anyone else could. So it seems to me that your question about developing a more fully developed sense of sin is unanswerable, in the abstract at any rate. And I would also assert that any policy intended to accomplish this goal would fail or if it succeeded would do so for reasons unrelated to the policy. 

This faith, all encompassing at times, in policy or policies has come to seem to me one of the delusions to which we cling because if we didn't we would have to face "real reality," as I like to call it. The world is a mysterious place, Matthew, and as Tom Robbins has pointed out somewhere, even the present is a mystery because "the future" has not arrived yet. For example, perhaps many of those who have faced war and have come back "scarred," as we like to say, have acquired "a sense of sin." They know, even if they would not articulate it this way, the meaning of "transgression," and they know it in a way that affects their souls. Perhaps those who oversee what we call "capital punishment" also acquire a sense of sin. Perhaps not, and perhaps this is another reason bureaucracy/government is relied on as much as it is, because it allows human beings to transgress while disguising this act even from themselves. [Possibility: Less bureaucracy = greater sense of sin.]

Having read some accounts of the Holocaust, a good case can be made and has been made that such a project would have been impossible without bureaucracy. Perhaps at a deeper level than just dealing with the pragmatics of executing so many people, this is what is meant: Only when enmeshed in a bureaucracy, could human beings transgress to such a degree and not go mad. 

Anyway, this is what I think.....right now. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Food Stamps "Crisis"

The Food Stamps “Crisis”
P. Schultz
July 12, 2013

            Below is a link to a NY Times article on the alleged “food stamps crisis.” Why is it that the media play along with politicians in D.C. and allege or pretend there is a “crisis” about this, that, or some other thing when, in fact, there is none? Remember the “fiscal cliff” we were going over? Well, we did. Big Deal!

            Of course there will be money appropriated for food stamps and the only question is, How much? What is going on is part of a bargaining scenario, one that makes both the liberals and conservatives look good. The liberals can bellow about “the poor, the poor,” and the conservatives can bellow about “the poor, the poor.” The only losers here are those on food stamps and anyone who buys into the hype about a “crisis.”

            My answer to the question above about the media is this. They play along for the same reason that the liberals and conservatives play along: It suits their purposes or serves their interests.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"Conservatism" or Oligarchy

“Conservatism” or Oligarchy
P. Schultz
July 10, 2013

            Below there is an editorial from the New York Times on what is happening in the state of North Carolina, where I happen to live. It is interesting for the following reason: Those who label themselves “conservatives” are enacting a distinct kind of “conservatism,” which should be noted and relabeled “oligarchy.”

            Note should be taken what these Republicans are not doing: They are not dismantling or limiting or reorganizing the powers of the government. Nor are they holding the line on taxes or reducing taxes, which of course is one way to limit the powers of government. Limiting access to abortion and other reproductive services, which services are not provided by the government, does not limit the power of the government. In fact, such action increases the power of the government and limits the freedoms of the people. Moreover, while reducing taxes on the wealthy, the legislature wants to increase taxes on every one else by raising the sales tax, as well as some other taxes which will fall on those who are not wealthy.

            A little history for purposes of illustration: Thomas Jefferson conducted a genuinely conservative revolution as president and one result was that, after Jefferson left office, the Congress became the focal point of the then new national government. That is, Jefferson reorganized the government so that what the Constitution had created, an energetic, unitary executive, no longer could control the government. Andrew Jackson, as president, did pretty much the same thing, although he used different means. Jackson did enhance the prominence of the presidency, but his presidency would be prominent within the context of a national government whose powers had been shrunk. Jackson waged what has been called “an attack” on the national government, including of course his creation of what has come to be called “the spoils system.” The latter legitimized putting party loyalists in the bureaucracy as a reward for their loyalty, not because they merited such appointments on other grounds. What many fail to see is that this “system” was created not just to reward partisanship, but also to decrease the power and authority of the bureaucracy. Party hacks, even those with offices, don’t carry as much “clout” as, say, experts or persons appointed because they have “character.”

            And, lastly, it was conservatives who opposed the creation of the Department of Defense and, by implication, of our national security state because such a state would limit our individual freedoms and foster the creation of an American empire.

            So, bottom line: Not only is what is happening in North Carolina a rejection of “progressivism,” as the Times points out. It is also a very strange kind of “conservatism.”

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Success and American Politics

Success and American Politics
P. Schultz
July 4, 2013

            It is interesting for me to read about LBJ and the war in Vietnam as an illustration of the psychology of American politicians. And the following is based on some passages from a book, The Eve of Destruction: How 1965 Transformed America, by James T. Patterson.

            In his book, Patterson presents LBJ as “trapped” or “doomed” with regard to Vietnam. Here are two passages, one from Patterson and the second one a quote from LBJ himself, taken from a book by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

            “If Johnson…allowed himself to hope…that incremental increases in bombing might…achieve…success…he was doomed to disappointment. The North Vietnamese were fighting a revolution, and they were not to be shaken from their course. Johnson, trapped, quietly decided…to launch daily and gradually more powerful air strikes against the North Vietnamese.” [p. 95, emphasis added]

            “I knew from the start that I was bound to be crucified either way I moved. If I left the woman I really loved – the Great Society – to get involved in that bitch of a war…then I would lose everything at home. All my programs….But if I let the Communists take over South Vietnam, then I would be seen as a coward and my nation…as an appeaser and we would find it impossible to accomplish anything for anybody anywhere on the entire globe. Once the war began, then all those conservatives in Congress would use it as a weapon against the Great Society. Oh, I could see it coming. And I didn’t like the smell of it.” [p.92]

LBJ was and he played the victim, even to the point of being Christ-like as he would be “crucified” like Christ. He was the victim of Communists, of Congress, of conservatives, and of a “bitch.” And, apparently, there was “no way out.”

Secondly, victimizers very often play the victim. E.g., OJ Simpson and his children were “victimized” by Nicole who was a “slut.”

But let us take for granted that LBJ, in his own mind, was “trapped” or “doomed” and ask a simple question: Why?

Answer: Because he was unwilling to “do the right thing.” That is, he was unwilling to “do the right thing” if doing so meant “losing,” i.e., losing his power, his reputation as a powerful man, his place at “the top.” LBJ, like any calculating politician, put success, his success, the success of his programs, his policies, ahead of “doing the right thing.” Even MLK, Jr. made similar assumptions, saying that “he sympathized with Johnson’s ‘serious problem’ concerning Vietnam….” [p. 97] That is, MLK saw that handling Vietnam successfully was indeed a serious problem.

This is why it appeared that there was “no way out,” because success required actions that were, to put it mildly, less than satisfactory – bombing a “damn little piss-ant country,” as LBJ once described Vietnam – but were unlikely to succeed, as Johnson well knew.[1] Once you seek success above all else [or power, prestige, or greatness], you are in fact “doomed,” “trapped,” and there is “no way out” from doing things that you know are not only inhuman but also almost certainly bound to fail.

Ah, but “do the right thing” and there is “a way out.”

[1] “As the marines were preparing to land [at Danang], [LBJ] called Senator Richard Russell.” “Dick,” he complained on March 6 [1965], “a man can fight if he can see daylight down the road somewhere. But there ain’t no daylight in Vietnam. There’s not a bit.” Russell concurred: "There’s no end to the road. There’s just nothing.” Johnson agreed….Russell sympathized, saying, “It’s just awful….It’s the biggest – it’s the worst mess I ever saw in my life. You couldn’t have inherited a worse mess.” P. 99.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

"Failure" as Success: A Key to American Politics

“Failure” as Success: A Key to American Politics
P. Schultz
July 2, 2013

            It is said often, “Washington is broken,” or “the government is broken,” or “it is not working.” The interesting thing is that this is said even by those in Washington, who wield power, even significant power. So, why don’t these politicians “fix” Washington, make it work, as it is surely within their power to do so? And if they don’t fix it, it must because they don’t want to. So then the question becomes: Why not? Or: Why is “failure” really “success?”

            Actually the answer, I think, is pretty simple and straightforward. A government that is not working, that is broken preserves and serves the status quo.

            But here is the rub: Given that governments are suppose to work, to be “active,” to create change for the better, for those with power the trick is to look like you favor change without actually changing, at least no more than is absolutely necessary.

            There are ways to do this and one way that I recently stumbled upon involves saying you are proposing “radical change,” that is, “real change,” such as LBJ’s “Great Society.” You propose, actually propose such change, e.g., LBJ’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act, ESEA. This act was touted by LBJ as the means of helping poor children get better educations. However, as enacted, the ESEA did no such thing. In fact, the act ended up serving, “compensating” in the language of the law, wealthier school districts more than the poorer ones. And Congress liked it because it was actually just “pork,” and not even a lot of “pork,” disguised as “radical change.”

            Of course, ESEA did not work, as it was rhetorically intended to. Conclusion? “Radical change,” “real change” doesn’t work, even cannot work, as this legislation demonstrates. Conclusion? The “center holds” or we must or should be satisfied with the status quo. [It is even possible to see a set-up for a “conservative backlash” here but that too serves and reinforces the status quo.]

            Ever wonder why our government involves itself and us in “unwinnable wars,” even while presenting our strategies therein as “new,” “bold,” or “radical?” Here at least is part of an answer. Because by “failing” in those wars, the government “succeeds.” At what? At reinforcing the status quo in the sense of reinforcing the idea that military power is the key to our security, not grand projects like “making the world safe for democracy,” or creating “new world orders.” Rhetoric like this is used, of course, but it is merely part of a set-up to remind us that government is, by and large, unable to create “radical” or “real” change. And because it is incapable of such change, we must maintain and even extend our “national security state.” We have no choice.

            And this phenomenon also affects our choices in other ways. For example, if faced with the choice “to accept the likely collapse of South Vietnam or to back up American commitments militarily,” the deck is stacked, so to speak, in favor of the latter because even if the commitment is unsuccessful, it is better than the former in that it fortifies or reinforces the status quo. From the point of view of maintaining the status quo, “failure” is as good as, perhaps even better than “success.”

            [And if someone objects and says: “But look what happened to LBJ!” Ah, yes, he was forced to leave the presidency or so we like to think. But the status quo prevailed nonetheless as evidenced by Nixon’s victory in the 1968 presidential election and the demise of Eugene McCarthy. And one could also point to the presidential election of 1972 as another illustration of how “failure” in Vietnam reinforced the status quo.]

            Here is another example. It was obvious or should have been obvious to almost anyone that an educational policy labeled “No Child Left Behind” would fail, even had to fail. As one of my students at Bridgewater University said: “The whole purpose of our educational system is to leave some children behind!” Exactly. So, then, why pass it? Because its “failure” was “success.” Not an educational success but rather a political “success” by undermining further the idea that government or politics can create real change. And it should be noted that the “failure” of this policy did not undermine those with power or, more importantly, their claim to that power. It did not even undermine the bona fides of such policies as is reflected by its alleged replacement, “Race to the Top.”

            This is why those with power in D.C. don’t mind saying and even demonstrating that “Washington is broken” or that “our political system is not working:” Because the “failures” are really “successes” from the current establishment’s point of view. And from the current establishment’s viewpoint, there is little incentive to “fix” the system. In fact, as with those “unwinnable wars,” where “failure” does not dictate staying out but actually encourages going in, political calculation favors “failure.” For in this way, the status quo is preserved, as is the power who have benefitted from it.