Saturday, November 30, 2013

Douthat, the "Conservatives," and the Pope

Douthat, the “Conservatives,” and the Pope
P. Schultz
November 30, 2013

It is difficult to get a grip on what Douthat takes to be the debate over Francis’ apparent agenda with regard to the Catholic Church. [See the link below to Douthat’s column in the NY Times.] And I think this is consistent with what is probably Douthat’s intention or his effect: To paint a picture of Francis that will blur the most significant differences between him and those Douthat labels “conservatives.” If that can be accomplished then Francis can be “tamed,” and his agenda can be made to look like merely a footnote to what is called “the teaching of the Catholic Church.”

            What would this accomplish, you may ask? Well, if accomplished, then it short circuits attempts to create controversy with its inevitable accompaniment, questions about the way we humans have chosen to be in the world. That is, insofar as this works, then it would appear that there are no fundamental questions about the way we humans have arranged our world, especially “economically,” as we like to say.

[Whether there is such a thing as an “economy” I will leave to others to debate, but I will say that this is a legitimate question. For example, isn’t it interesting how many questions, like “What should wages be?” get turned into “economic” questions, rather than, say, questions of justice? “You want a just wage, you say? Well, that is idiotic. There is no such thing economically speaking.” But perhaps this is precisely what was the intended when the “economic sphere” was created.]

So, in order to short circuit any attempt to get people to think about “capitalism,” as it is conventionally called – although Aristotle might well call it “oligarchy” – what some are trying to do is to appear to embrace and then characterize Francis as little more than another traditional Catholic, whose agenda presents some wrinkles but no fundamental challenges to our conventional wisdom. That way, as noted above, no one will get the idea that it is legitimate and even reasonable to think that “capitalism” is a fundamentally flawed human arrangement. And if I am not mistaken, I think Francis is aware of this and, hence, he has undertaken to get “his message out” via interviews and other means available to him. Still, it will be a tough row to hoe for Francis insofar as the forces that be never roll over, unless it is to play dead. I can only hope that having opened what the “conservatives” take to be “Pandora’s Box” that Francis can keep it open and, thereby, challenge and even change our way of being in this world.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Romanticism of "Realism"

The Romanticism of “Realism”
P. Schultz
November 27, 2013

            The following is a quote from that foremost “realist,” Henry Kissinger: “I refuse to believe that a little fourth-rate power like North Vietnam doesn’t have a breaking point.” [p. 150 in Ted Szulc’s The Illusion of Peace, an account of foreign policy during the Nixon administration. I highly recommend this book as an overview, a detailed overview of Nixon’s foreign policies.]

            There is much that could and should be said about this quote. For example, how Kissinger reduces Vietnam, first, to “North Vietnam” and then to “a little fourth-rate power.” It should have been clear to almost anyone that with this perspective, it was utterly unsurprising that this “little fourth-rate power” kicked the butt of the United States. Talk about an underestimation of one’s enemy! And it is disguised as a “sophisticated analysis” by someone who was reputed to be extremely intelligent.

            But here is something even more interesting: It wasn’t that “little fourth-rate power” that broke. Rather, it was the superpower, the United States of America, that “broke.” Or, to be more precise, it was the superpower, the United States of America that broke first. Now, when this happens, that is, when a prediction proves to be the opposite of what was predicted, it would seem to behoove the predictor to take notice and to try to reassess his or her premises. Here, we have a very “educated” man, Henry Kissinger, author of books on nuclear strategy, professor of political science at Harvard University, making a prediction or assumption that proved to be, well, just plain wrong. In fact, not only was his prediction wrong; his prediction was so wrong that the eventuality was the reverse of what he had predicted. It was not that “little fourth-rate power,” North Vietnam, that broke. Rather, it was that “great power,” the United States of America that broke first.

            Now, this would, I submit, lead a modest human being to question the assumptions that led to his prediction or his supposition. But not so with Dr. Henry Kissinger. He knew, he just knew that “a little fourth-rate power like North Vietnam” had “a breaking point.” He just knew this, just as he knew that a society that utilized cars was “better,” was “stronger” than one that utilized bicycles! After all, cars are “more” than bicycles, aren’t they? So, those societies with cars had to be “more” than those societies with bicycles. And the society with cars had to be able to defeat any society with bicycles. It was, in fact, unthinkable that a society that utilized bicycles, that was inundated with “peasants,” could defeat a society that utilized cars and was devoid, utterly devoid of “peasants.” This was a thought that could not be thought.

            And yet, and yet, it happened. So, we should ask: What happened? That is, what actually happened? How did this happen? How can we explain this happening? But we don’t. Despite as much evidence as we need to raise these questions, we don’t. That which is unthinkable is still unthinkable…..and we go on like a leper without a bell!


P. Schultz
November 27, 2013

            These “analysts” are just amazing, aren’t they? Here is a column by Dana Milbank claiming and objecting to the fact that the Obama administration is now using its own photographers to snap pictures, and not using or allowing the press’ own photographers to shoot these pictures. OK. Sounds a little paranoid to me.

            But then Milbank goes on to argue that this policy “smacks of propaganda.” Again, I have no objection to this argument but wonder: Has Milbank not noticed that propaganda surrounds the presidency? I mean “Hail to the Chief”. What is that, if not propaganda? The White House: What is that if not propaganda? The “State of the Union” address: What is that if not propaganda?

            Moreover, what is even more interesting is that Milbank has no idea or displays no knowledge of the fact that what is called “the modern presidency” has always needed propaganda to function properly. This was recognized by those who helped create the modern presidency, the progressives and even by their opponents or those who claimed to be their opponents. Woodrow Wilson argued that statesmanship was, by and large, a matter of rhetoric, that is, of propagandizing for the sake of national unity. He knew such unity was, for the most part and certainly absent of war, artificial, the creation of a mind, no, a visionary using the tools available to make this one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.

            And Milbank is worried about some photographs? OK. But contained herein is what strikes me as humorous about Milbank’s column. He complains that the picture[s] of Obama and others the night/day bin Laden was assassinated were doctored, apparently to remove some stuff visible in front of Hillary. So, let me get this straight, Mr. Milbank: You are complaining about these photos being doctored because that is “propaganda,” but you are not complaining about the picture[s] themselves or what they represent: Our president and other high officials taking pleasure in their assassination of bin Laden as if they were watching Jack Bauer take him out! OK. I got it. You just can’t make shit like this up.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Senate Democrats Act!

Senate Democrats Act: Wow!
P. Schultz
November 21, 2013

            Amazing! Senate Democrats have revised the Senate rules in order to short circuit the Republicans’ ability to stop the Senate from acting. I am amazed and surprised, pleasantly so. The link is below.

Monday, November 18, 2013

"Dirty Secret?" Not Here

“Dirty Secret?” Not Here
P. Schultz
November 18, 2013

            Well, folks, here it is, of all places in the nation’s paper of record, the New York Times. What is it? Well, finally, someone at that paper has recognized, or finally decided to publish, the “secret” that our “two” political parties are colluding to preserve the status quo.

            The headline is “Dirty Secret Lurks in the Struggle Over the Grand Bargain.” And here is one of its earliest and most important assertions: 

“That is, many Republicans are no more interested in voting to reduce Medicare and Social Security benefits than Democrats are, lest they threaten their party’s big advantage among the older voters who dominate the electorate in midterm contests like those in 2014.

“And Democrats are no more eager than Republicans, with control of both houses of Congress up for grabs, to vote for the large revenue increases that a grand bargain would entail. They do not want to limit popular but costly deductions, as Mr. Obama and past bipartisan panels, like his Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission, have proposed. That is especially true for Democrats from states like California and New York where affluent voters value deductions for mortgages on first and second homes, charitable giving and state and local taxes.”

            Bottom line: We don’t actually have two political parties. Rather, we have, as some have noticed, a political class. And that political class is more concerned with keeping its power, which requires preserving the status quo as they see it, than with governing, assuming of course that “governing” means acting in the national interest or for what is called here the financial well being of the nation.

            And I love the following quote:

“It’s a lot harder than you’d think to find Republicans who’d actually want to cut entitlements, or Democrats who want to raise taxes,” said Jared Bernstein, a former economic adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and now a senior fellow at the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “The only person who seems to have consistently been interested in a grand bargain is the president, and frankly I’m not even sure about him.”

            Finally, someone calling a spade a spade, although why Mr. Bernstein hesitates to include Obama in the political class is beyond me. What has he done to warrant any other opinion? Help me here because I cannot think of anything. Here is the link.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Blood Telegram

The Blood Telegram
P. Schultz
November 15, 2013

            I am currently reading The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and the Forgotten Genocide, which is about the “birth” of Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan. Archie Blood was a US foreign service officer serving in Bangladesh who approved a telegram dissenting from US policy supporting West Pakistan and its dictator who was waging genocide on the Bengalis in East Pakistan. Nixon and Kissinger, who are described as “realists,” even as capable, competent, and shrewd “realists,” continued to support West Pakistan even after it became clear that a genocide was underway.

            Of course, as realists Nixon and Kissinger are thought to have based their foreign policy on calculation, that is, hard-headed calculations of US interests, both short and long term. Hence, it is thought and they thought that they were not blinded by less concrete considerations, such as a revulsion to deadly violence and by moral concerns.

            But here’s the thing: Their calculations – and those of other “realists” – often fail, as they did in Pakistan as its unity could not be and was not maintained, which was the goal of the Nixon/Kissinger policy, as well as of the West Pakistanis. So today there is a Bangladesh and a Pakistan, the result that Nixon/Kissinger sought to avoid and calculated they could avoid – just as they calculated that they could avoid the reunification of Vietnam under a communist government with the proper application of their “realism.”

            Now, as this happens with some frequency to “realists,” we should ask, What is motivating or controlling these “realists?” as “calculation” seems to have limited explanatory power. Some say: “ Well, perhaps it is racism that skews their vision.” This could be the case but seems an explanation both too general and too specific. A very few might say that “sin” explains their behavior but, again, this seems both too general and too specific.

            So the question recurs: What could “calculation” be hiding or obscuring? It seems hard to say and an answer would seem to require an understanding of the soul or psyche that would explain or reveal that which “calculation” hides or obscures. What passion is driving these “realists” who are so labeled and who like to think of themselves in these terms?

            Whatever it might be – or whatever combination it might be – it seems clear that “realism” is liberating. That is, to practice a “realistic” foreign policy is to liberate oneself from certain constraints, such as considerations of justice, humanity, or sin. [I can hear the chuckling now: “You want to talk about foreign policy in terms of justice, humanity, or sin? Really? That’s funny.”]

            So perhaps realists seek not the calculated use of power so much as they seek the liberated use of power, which would help explain why their calculations are so often miscalculations. They want to wield power freely and, hence, their “calculations” are actually rationalizations. It also helps to explain why the realists always want more power, either by way of technology or by way of institutions. The freest use of power requires the creation of the greatest power(s) available, technologically or politically, and preferably both.

            But doesn’t this seem quite dangerous: The greatest power used with the least restraint? Or to put this question differently: Isn’t it quite delusional, quite unrealistic to think that such a combination will work out well? “Realism,” ala’ Nixon and Kissinger, et. al., is actually extremism and more than a wee bit dangerous. Just ask the Bengalis. Or ask Machiavelli, who was the original “realist” and knew what he was doing.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Francis the "Rock Star"

Francis the “Rock Star”
P. Schultz
November 11, 2013

            Well, it is “Veterans Day” and I am a veteran, or so they tell me, so this is my day. Wish I could feel better about the day but to me it is just another one of those bullshit days, you know, one of those days where the country pretends to pay tribute to those who fight its wars, while fucking them over in other ways, such as sending them to fight in wars that are not “winnable.” Oh well, what is another 4000 or so deaths when it comes to “making the world safe for democracy?”  

            Anyway, recently an acquaintance, a recent acquaintance, described Pope Francis as “a rock star” in her house, a house occupied by a very “devout” Catholic and herself, a convert to Catholicism. And in my inimical way, I wondered: What the fuck does that mean? Francis is a “rock star?” Because when did being a “rock star” become a standard by which we judge people?

            A “rock star?” Really? Now, don’t misunderstand: I think Francis is the best thing to happen to the Catholic Church in a long, long time. In fact, we could use some of his “karma” here in the good, old US of A. For a long time now, I have been saying that we need to “trash” the White House, that is, to convert it to something else, like a place for the “homeless.” And those elected president should be required to buy a house in the D.C. area, drive themselves to “work,” and drive themselves home afterwards. Just like any other modern executive.

            But, I guess, describing Francis or any one else as a “rock star” puts them on a pedestal, as it were, you know, where we allegedly put women in the past. And I understand this all too well as I was putting Obama on a pedestal, looking at him as a “rock star,” just a relatively short time ago. And, boy, was I disappointed. From a “rock star” to just another status quo politician. One can only hope that Francis I has more to offer than Obama – and I would bet he does. But then he knew real tyranny.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Pope Francis and the Conservatives

Pope Francis and the Conservatives
P. Schultz
November 10, 2013

            The NY Times published an article today entitled “Conservative U.S. Catholics Feel Left Out of Pope’s Embrace.” And while I don’t usually comment on religion herein, I cannot resist doing so about this article, or rather about the substance of the article.

            I am not only not a biblical expert but I am also quite ignorant of the Bible and especially it’s words. But from what I recall, I can’t recall Jesus talking about abortion, gays and lesbians, married or otherwise, the trinity, attending mass on Sunday, or papal infallibility. Of course, that might be because Jesus was then still Jewish and the Catholic Church was not even a twinkle in the eyes of his disciples, who were, if I remember correctly, also Jewish. I do recall something called “The Sermon on the Mount,” but that “sermon” – and I am sure that is not the word used in the Bible to describe this event – seemed to focus on other matters, such as who would inherit the earth…….and that would be the meek, as I remember it.

            Conservative Catholics as described here remind me of those politicians and political advisers, many of them Democrats, who bemoan the fact that elections often turn not on “the issues” as they define them but rather on the persona of those seeking office. Well, I guess the same thing could be said of Jesus, viz., that he ignored “the issues” and focused his “ministry” on, well, on people, real, live people and not on abstractions like “pregnant women in ‘crisis’” or those lovers deemed “deviants.”

“When a pope makes a statement off the cuff or in an interview, it’s not an infallible statement,” said Chris Baran, the president of the clinic’s board. “What he said in a statement does not change any teaching of the church that’s been around over 2,000 years.”

            This would be Chris Baran, the president of “the Pregnancy Aid Clinic in Hapeville, Ga., a Catholic-run nonprofit center where women who come for pregnancy tests are counseled against abortion,” and as an “educator” I must point out that the Catholic Church is not 2000 years old and its “teachings” – if enforcing commands disguised as absolute truth can be called “teaching” – are not 2000 years old either. Mr. Baran seems to think that “the truth” appeared whole at one moment in time, which isn’t, as I understand it, even the opinion of his church. But then, doesn’t he have to believe this to maintain and justify his “conservatism,” conservatism that is difficult to distinguish from obstinacy? Just wondering.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

What are "The Issues"?

What are “The Issues?”
P. Schultz
November 7, 2013

            Here is a quote from the executive director of the Democratic Governors’ Association on Chris Christie as a potential presidential nominee in 2016.

“What’s worked for [Christie] has been to make sure that nobody talks about the issues, that people just get consumed with his personality-driven late-show entertainment,” O’Comartun said. “People will see past the bluster and the vaudeville routine that is the Chris Christie show. They’ll focus in on the issues.”

            I submit that Mr. O’Comartun is wrong in two senses: First, he is wrong in the sense he intends to send in his argument, that voters focus on issues like abortion, immigration, etc., above all else when they decide whom they will vote for. And, second, he is mistaken in thinking that Chris Christie is not, himself, a legitimate issue. What O’Camartun calls Christie’s “personality-driven late-show entertainment” is, for voters, anything but that. What Jersey voters, across the political spectrum, like about Christie is his apparent honesty or his directness. He is perceived as someone who speaks his mind, tells voters what he thinks directly, and lets them decide if they will vote for him or not.

            It is difficult for us, me included, to understand why this is appealing but I suspect it has something to do with the fact that Christie is not speaking what might be called “bureaucratize” or the language of a “rationalized politics.” And as this is the language that is currently in vogue among our political class, and as that class seems to be presiding over a situation that can only be characterized as pathetic, Christie is perceived as an alternative. And of course it is difficult to convince people these days that we don’t need an alternative politics, that the status quo is worth defending.  

Political Pragmatism?

Political Pragmatism?
P. Schultz
November 7, 2013

            Leaders of the Republican establishment, alarmed by the emergence of far-right and often unpredictable Tea Party candidates, are pushing their party to rethink how it chooses nominees and advocating changes they say would result in the selection of less extreme contenders.” NY Times, today. See link below.  

Is it “pragmatic” to underwrite the status quo when plenty of evidence exists that suggests the prevailing situation is characterized by failure? And one need not endorse the methods or ends of the “extremist” Tea Party to ask and answer this question.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Preserving the Status Quo

Preserving the Status Quo
P. Schultz
November 2, 2013

            An article entitled, “Two Democrats Split On Tactics to Fight Military Assault,” in the NY Times, dated today, illustrates how our politicians help to maintain the status quo. The link to the article is below and it deals with the split between Senator McCaskill and Senator Gillibrand over how the military should deal with accusations of sexual assault. Note should be taken that both of these senators are of the female persuasion, while male senators want nothing more than to avoid the issue altogether.

“Many male senators in both parties appear extremely reluctant to take a position on such an emotionally charged and complex legal issue. “I come down on the side that is against sexual assault,” Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, said as he raced away from a reporter.”

So, apparently, when confronted with “emotionally charged and complex legal issue[s]” our male senators take a pass on them. Does this make any sense at all, especially when the males who are in charge of the our military seem able to take on these issues? So, my conclusion: They, the male senators [and probably others as well], are satisfied with the status quo and want as little change as possible in how these issues are dealt with. Hence, they pretend to be uncomfortable when dealing with this “emotionally charged and complex legal issue.” It is a pose, an act adopted in order to control, i.e., minimize, how much change will take place.

And the issue isn’t, as the article states, where the authority to deal with such accusations will take place but who should deal with them. That is, the real issue is preserving male control of these issues, which is why it has been left to these two women senators to “split” over……what exactly? As I read this article, over not much at all. So we have this “cat fight” – to use the vernacular – which is basically over nothing much, while it looks important because it involves two women with “strong opinions” in the same party. More smoke and mirrors from those elected to do the public’s business in D.C.