Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Tony Soprano, Malcolm X, Terrorism and Our Current Ills

Tony Soprano, Malcolm X, Terrorism and Our Current Ills
P. Schultz
December 30, 2014

            Everyone seems to think that there is “something happening here, what it is, ain’t exactly clear,” but it isn’t good. So let us posit, for a few moments, that what we are experiencing is a breakdown, the demise of what I will call “the rule of law.” By the rule of law I mean rule or governance in accordance with principles or processes that “limit” or “channel” the exercise of power, especially social or political power.

            Question: What is the origin of this breakdown?

            One possibility, which is often cited, is crime. That is, crime or criminality leads to the demise of the “law and order,” thereby creating social chaos and undermining civil society. As a result, we hear cries for “law and order,” ala’ Richard Nixon in 1968, which we then identify with reconstructing a rule of law.

            But, it may be asked: Can or does crime itself undermine civil society or is it only part and parcel of civil society? To which an answer suggests itself if we ask in which manifestation did Malcolm Little/X threaten civil society, in his guise as Malcolm Little, pimp and drug dealer or in his guise of Malcolm X, member of the Black Muslims when he obeyed the law even while defying its authority? It would seem that it was Malcolm X, not Malcolm Little, who threatened civil society more.

            Similarly, was Tony Soprano, for example, a threat to civil society? Not really, we can say, as his residence in a suburb in New Jersey illustrated, along with his attempts to deal, therapeutically, with his “issues.” What is safer than those engaging in therapy to deal with their “issues?” There are reasons to fear those like Tony Soprano but the destruction of civil society is not among them.

            So, we can speculate that the breakdown of the rule of law has other sources, e.g., political or governmental attempts to control social phenomena like crime, attempts that to be effective lead the government to abandon or compromise those principles or processes endemic to the rule of law. These principles or processes are seen as barriers to effective government.

            We can then speculate as well that the rule of law is threatened more by a “war on crime” than by crime itself or that it is threatened more by a “war on terror” than by “terrorism” itself – for, after all, what we label “terrorism” is little more than a tactic, a strategy perhaps, necessitated by the prevailing configuration of forces.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Status Quo Politics and 2016

Status Quo Politics and 2016
P. Schultz
December 21, 2014

            Below is a link to an article in the Intercept about the possibility of Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton seeking the presidency in 2016. As Greenwald correctly points out, such an eventuality would be revealing, for example, of the oligarchic character of our political order. As Greenwald puts it, here are two families, one of whom used its wealth to acquire political power and the other that used its political power to obtain great wealth. And, I would add, doing this while all the time preserving the status quo. As of now, it seems to me that anyone who votes in the 2016 presidential election is merely voting to preserve the status quo and, hence, would have no right to complain about the results of that election. As George Carlin use to point out, it isn’t those who don’t vote who are not legitimately able to complain, it is those who did vote who lose that right. The point being, I think, is that if you participate in a farce, you have no right to complain about that farce.

Saturday, December 20, 2014


P. Schultz
December 20, 2014

            The torture “debate” comes down to this: Most or many what to frame the debate around the question, “Do we have the right to torture?” and then answer emphatically, “Yes,” because among other things we have a right of self-defense. But another way to frame this debate would be around the question, “Is torture necessary?” Or, put differently, to ask, “Is there any way to avoid torturing?”

            It seems to me the latter framework is better. Why? To put it briefly, because the question of our rights, what we have a right to do, reduces or displaces questions of justice to/with questions of self-interest. This is the logic of rights as we understand them.

            For example, to say, “I have a right to say ‘Fuck you,’” is far different that saying “It is just for me to say ‘Fuck you’.” And what is called the “freedom of expression” is defended most often because of the interests of the “expresser” and not the justice of the expression. As Madonna put it: “Express Yourself!”

            And if we have a right to something, we need to assert that right vigorously, forcefully, and unapologetically. To facilitate doing so, we can pretend to be “realists,” pretend that we are acting “prudentially,” when in fact we are acting vigorously, forcefully, and unapologetically on behalf of nothing more than our own self-interests. And we don’t even see the need or the desirability of looking for alternatives to torture.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Fascism Has Arrived

Fascism Has Arrived
P. Schultz
December 14, 2014

            Fascism has arrived in the United States. And it has arrived in the form of torture.

            With the release of the Senate’s report on the activities of the United States’ government after the attacks of 9/11, a report which makes its crystal clear that the United States not only engaged in but condoned and legitimated torture, a debate has arisen, ostensibly over the release of this report, but actually over the torture itself. But with the release of this report and the ensuing debate, it has become evident that fascism has arrived in the United States. Whether it will continue or not is the question.

            But why call this “fascism?” Because the debate over torture is precisely the same debate that took place in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s before the rise of the fascists under the leadership of Adolf Hitler. That is, first, the “homeland” was perceived to be under attack and it needed to be defended. And, second, it was argued by the fascists that their situation was “exceptional” and because it was such a “decision” had to be taken to undertake extraordinary measures in defense of the homeland. With the aid of Carl Schmitt, this came to be known as “decisionism,” a concept by which Schmitt and others argued that there are times, “exceptional times,” when “decisions” must be made because the homeland is threatened by existential enemies and that these “decisions” could not be supported by legal, judicial, bureaucratic, or natural law reasons or reasoning. There are times, Schmitt argued, when action must be taken, extreme action taken, for which there is and can be no justification other than necessity. Concerns of justice, of natural law, of divine law, of humanity are, in such circumstances, irrelevant.

            It seems to me that we in the United States have arrived at such a place. That is, those who defend the torturing that was undertaken have been making arguments like those made by Schmitt. The “homeland” is under attack and in these “exceptional’ circumstances actions must be undertaken that, in any other circumstances, could not be justified. This is what Vice President Cheney was talking about when he said that after 9/11 the United States “would have to go to the dark side.”

            However, this is the root of fascism or the root from which fascism grows because it implies that it is the exercise of great and unjustifiable power, especially by a “leader” or “fuhrer,” that is at the heart of civilization. Thus, it is what Nietzsche called “the will to power” that lies at the heart of all great nations or civilizations. And once this step has been taken, it is easy to justify almost any exercise of power because “the exceptional” is rarely far away in the arena of politics as that arena is, Schmitt argued, characterized by the “friend/enemy” dichotomy. Those who think, and they are most often those identified as “liberals” in the current lingo, that the political world in amenable to reform via either economics [globalization] or ethics [civic mindedness] are sadly and dangerously mistaken. They are “pie in the sky” types who fail to see the political world and its requirements “realistically.”

            Therefore, for the United States at this point, it becomes truly significant that those who engaged in, condoned, or facilitated the torturing be held responsible. Otherwise, the root of fascism will grow and spread unchecked. But it is a measure of how fascist we in the United States have become that almost nobody thinks this is likely to happen. In fact, many think, myself included, that those responsible for the torture will be both rewarded and honored for “their service.”

Saturday, December 6, 2014

John Kerry and Our Political Comedy

John Kerry and Our Political Comedy
P. Schultz
December 6, 2014

            I do believe our politicians are capable of marvelous comedy, some times even better comedy than most standup. Take this example from a recent NY Times article, linked to below.

“WASHINGTON — The Senate Intelligence Committee on Friday faced a new obstacle in its efforts to make public its report on the torture of prisoners once held by the Central Intelligence Agency after last-minute warnings from the Obama administration that the report’s release could ignite new unrest in the Middle East and put American hostages at risk.”

            Now, let me get this straight: This report should not be released because it might “ignite new unrest in the Middle East.” Gee, exactly what would be “new” about “the unrest” Kerry says would arise? Seems to me the Middle East is being consumed by war, a war funded by and participated in by the United States. Is Kerry trying to convince us that “the unrest in the Middle East” is not fueled by our funding and making war there? I would think if the goal is to limit “unrest” in the Middle East and to end the taking of hostages there, we would want to end these practices of funding and making war in the Middle East.

            But, of course, as everyone knows or should know by now, the Obama/Bush administration wants this report kept secret not because it would increase the danger in the Middle East but, rather, because it is, at the very least, embarrassing and probably reveals just how inhuman our actions in the Middle East have been. Kerry’s argument is about as sound as the argument, way back when, that the Pentagon Papers would harm national security. As was eventually admitted by one of the officials who made this argument, this was a bogus argument, that the papers would not compromise national security in any way.

            But then, hey, there is nothing much wrong with a little comedy every so often, is there?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Giving the Game Away - Again

Giving the Game Away – Again
P. Schultz
December 5, 2014

            Here is a link to a piece by Paul Krugman on the Affordable Care Act and Chuck Schumer’s critique of it and of Obama. Of course, Krugman never mentions that it is very likely that Schumer is merely preparing the way for Hillary’s expected campaign, where she too will distance herself from Obama and from the ACA.

            But it also worth questioning why Hillary – and Schumer – are doing this, just as it is worth questioning why the Democrats in the last election ran away from Obama as if he had leprosy. One reason, the main reason, this is worth questioning is because there is very little evidence to indicate that the ACA is unpopular with most Americans and even less evidence that it isn’t working fairly well. So, if this doesn’t advance the Democrats chances of winning the 2016 elections, why do it? It just doesn’t seem to make much sense.

            Ah, but it would make sense if one drops the assumption that our political class is actually interested in real reform, however minimal, as opposed to maintaining their own power and privileges or the current political regime. Under the allegedly “mistaken” idea that the country is going in a “conservative” direction and that she needs to move in that direction to become president, Hillary is sounding more and more Republican each day. But is her main objective getting elected or helping to preserve the status quo, a situation that has made her and her husband both powerful and wealthy?

            As has been noted here, more than once, one of the prevailing fantasies about American politics is that both parties care only about winning each election that occurs. This cannot be demonstrated by the evidence – for example, the 2014 midterms where the Democrats seemed content to lose by sounding like Republicans – but that does not stop this fantasy from flourishing. Krugman gets close to exposing it for what it is but stops short.

            It is an interesting situation.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Smoke and Mirrors and the "Realists"

Smoke and Mirrors and the “Realists”
P. Schultz
December 4, 2014

            Recently, a “thought” crystalized in my mind that goes like this. Some time in the past, a person who presented himself as embarking on a radical departure from previous views about politics, both pagan and Christian. The essence of his departure was to make the language, say, of Aristotle outmoded and he replaced it with a new language of politics.

            This new political language would revolve around the word and the phenomenon called “government,” a word and phenomenon we take for granted today, without realizing its roots. Other words would follow from the prevalence of this word, words like “liberal” and “conservative,” which would replace such words as “democrat” or “oligarchy.” And words like “constitutionalism” or “representative republic” would come into vogue and replace words like “law” or “popular rule.”

            But, here is the thing: What if these new words and new phenomena merely disguise what it actually going on in the political world? That is, what if the older, now unused words actually describe better than the new words what I will call “real reality?” And what if this was the intention of this “radical,” to disguise “real reality” because he thought this would make the world a more accommodating place for human beings? What if?

            Here is a reason to raise this question: When you look, actually look at how people think, talk, and act, you can see that the words “liberal” and “conservative” are inadequate for describing these people and their actions. For example, some “pro-life” people favor the death penalty, while some who oppose the death penalty support extensive accommodations for abortions. And besides, which side in this regard is “liberal” and which is “conservative?” As is evident, these words have a kind of slippery character as well, with “liberal” at times seeming “conservative” and “conservative” at times being or seeming “liberal.” As some one once pointed out, for example, one of the most “conservative” groups in the U.S. is named “The Daughters of the American Revolution.”

            Suppose for a few moments that the older words, say, Aristotle’s words, provide a better guide to what is actually happening than these other, newer words. That is, suppose the conflict that characterizes our politics is not between “liberals” and “conservatives” but between “democrats” and “oligarchs,” or that our economic conflicts are not between “free marketers” and “socialists” but between the wealthy, who tend to be oligarchs, and the rest of us, who tend toward democracy.

            Insofar as this is the case, then it is fair to say that what we take to be our conflicts are little more than parts of a play or drama, which like all plays and dramas is constructed by those who are directors and are, as a result, not “real.” But in this case, the play or drama of our politics is a cover for the real conflicts that are taking place, as it were, “off stage” or behind the curtains. Now for this disguise, this ruse, as I might call it, to be effective, it must please its audience or at the very least keep them engaged. One way to do this, of course, is to have a lot of “drama,” and “scandals” are always a means of increasing the “drama.” This is especially so when these “scandals” involve, as they often the “high and mighty,” because the many always enjoy seeing those folks brought down and because these scandals give the impression that justice is being done. And justice is always at the heart of political conflict, with the many being more attached to justice than the few.

            Also, it is necessary that some benefits actually flow to the many. Otherwise, they will become dissatisfied and they might start to wonder why it is that the few seem to be benefitting while they are not. We might call this “trickle down politics,” although for us the phrase “trickle down economics” works better because it makes it seem as if “the economy” is doing the allocating and not those with political power. When you lose your job, it is to be blamed on “the economy” which is in a “recession,” and of course a “recession” that was unwanted by those with political power and that can only be ended by those with political power, which of course they desperately want to do! And often these power brokers are stymied because “the economy” follows “economic laws” which cannot be successfully manipulated by those with political power.

            Now, here is the thought I had: Insofar as this is our “real reality,” then our self-identified “realists” are merely those who engage in the business of preserving the illusions we, the many, take to be, are told are “reality.” And insofar as our “realists” don’t realize this, then it is fair to say that they are delusional because they mistake our “reality,” our play or drama, for “real reality,” which is bound to lead to repeated failures when their dramatized reality comes up against “real reality.” In our current lingo, our “realists” are merely “conservatives” in that they serve the existing order or drama. But they are also “extremists” in that they pursue an agenda that is anything but “realistic.” And their extremism shows whenever they fail, as they must, to achieve their objectives and have to embrace ever more extremes of power to try to succeed. This seems to make sense of a common phenomenon today, which I will illustrate by recalling that Sarah Palin, as vice president nominee, was said to be a “rogue,” making her “a conservative rogue,” a label she seemed to embrace. But as former – and “conservative” - colleague said to me, “When did being conservative become compatible with being ‘rogue?’”

            It is an interesting situation.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Chuck Schumer's Smoke and Mirrors

Chuck Schumer’s Smoke and Mirrors
P. Schultz
December 3, 2014

            Below is a link to a piece in the NY Times by Thomas Edsall, dealing with Chuck Schumer’s critique of Obama and the Affordable Care Act. Now, come on, folks, all Schumer is doing is setting the stage for Hillary to run in 2016, not so much against the Republicans as against Obama! Could his act be any more apparent? So why take it seriously? Interesting question.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Syrian Fantasies, Pundit Fantasies

Syrian Fantasies, Pundit Fantasies
P. Schultz
November 28, 2014

            Below is a link to an article by Robert Parry entitled “Official Washington’s Syrian ‘Fantasy.’” In that piece, Parry argues that official Washington, including President Obama, are basing their policies in Syria on the fantasy that there are “moderate” opponents to the Assad regime who, if properly funded and supplied, would be able to defeat both the radical opponents of the Assad regime and that regime itself. As Parry points out, even such an observer as David Ignatius knows that these alleged “moderates” are hard to find, to say nothing of being able to defeat the radicals and the Assad regime.

            While I agree with Parry’s argument about the alleged “moderates” the current US strategy is based on, it seems to me that his take on all of this is also fantastic or “fantasy based.” First, Parry, like so many others, paints President Obama as reluctantly going along with what Parry labels the “neo-cnservative” strategy of seeking regime change in Syria, even if it means embracing the fantasy that there are alleged “moderates” worth supporting. To wit:

“Though Obama may be a closet “realist” who would favor such a compromise approach, he has consistently lacked the political courage or the geopolitical foresight to impose this kind of solution on the powers-that-be in Washington. Any suggestion of collaboration with Russia and Iran or acquiescence to continued rule by Assad would touch off a firestorm of outrage in Congress and the mainstream U.S. media.”

            Well, while Parry might be correct, it could be that Obama is not “a closet ‘realist’” at all; it could be that he is actually a “realist,” that is, in the mode of the neo-cons. In other words, it could be that Obama isn’t just going along, reluctantly, with the neo-con strategy but has embraced it because he agrees with it. And he agrees with it because he is, at bottom, a status quo president, looking to maintain and fortify the current ruling class.

            And this brings me to a second observation: From the perspective of the current ruling class, there is little that is fantastic about their policy toward Syria and those opposed to the Assad regime. The goal is to create regime change in Syria, and any and all means will be embraced to accomplish this. This change will undermine Iran’s power as well as the power of Russia, while also further securing Israel, who of course and very tellingly stays out of the alleged war against ISIS or Assad’s Syria. The fantasy of their being “moderates” we can support is, as Parry notes, for the public’s consumption, the current version of those WMDs that Saddam allegedly possessed.

            What strikes me is the question: How many times can the ruling class play this game before enough people catch on to make this game unplayable? My answer is: As often as they want to play it, until someone with power, with the status of a player steps up and calls a spade a spade. Will that happen? I don’t think so, at least not in the current “climate” as controlled by the ruling class. Even the picture of Obama, the one embraced even by Parry, as being reluctantly but consistently dragged along into a “realistic” – read “militaristic” – foreign policy serves to control the climate by making it seem that there is no alternative, at least no viable alternative to such a policy. And by making it seem that he is being dragged along, Obama and the ruling class maintain and fortify the status quo by making it appear as the only viable way to be politically.

            And the really troubling thing, at least for me, is that the ruling class actually believes this. They cannot conceive of another way of being politically and so have trapped themselves – and us - in a way that perpetuates war and terrorism. As an older movie title had it: There is “No Way Out.”

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Madness of Our Politicians

The Madness of Our Politicians: Excerpt from Bacevich’s Washington Rules
P. Schultz
November 23, 2014

Read the following and recognize that those waging war in Vietnam knew, early on, that we could not “win” and yet they went ahead anyway:

            “One point deserves particular attention here.  For Bundy and others in the administration, the urge to act grew out of considerations unrelated to the crisis of the moment or even to Vietnam as such. The formal report rendered by the Bundy mission let the cat out of the bag: ‘We cannot assert that a policy of sustained reprisal will succeed in changing the course of events in Vietnam,’ that report acknowledged. ‘What we can say is that even if it fails, the policy will be worth it.’ The very act of bombing the North would demonstrate American will, ‘damp[ing] down the charge that we did not do all that we could have done.’ Pain inflicted on the North Vietnamese would ‘set a higher price for the future upon all adventures of guerilla warfare,’ thereby increasing ‘our ability to deter such adventures.’ In effect, the United States needed to bomb North Vietnam to affirm claims to global primacy and quash any doubts about American will. Somehow, in faraway Southeast Asia, the continued tenability of the Washington consensus was at stake.” [p. 98, first emphasis added to Bacevich]

You must remember that the same logic applied to the sending of troops to Nam and to whatever death toll this involved. In fact, given this logic, the higher the death toll to American troopers, the better – because it would illustrate that the US was serious! Now if this is not madness, then I don’t know the meaning of the word.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Democrats Reward Losers: Really?

Democrats Reward Losers: Really?
P. Schultz
November 19, 2014

            Below is a link to an article in the NY Times reporting that the Democrats have re-elected their leaders in the House of Representatives, including the unanimous election of Nancy Pelosi, as House minority leader. The article speculates that the Dems do not hold these people responsible for their losses. However, another possible explanation, one not incompatible with the first one, is that these “losses” are not all that important to the Democrats, at least not to the establishment Democrats because they help to fortify the status quo and, therewith, the power and privileges of these “kingpins.” Preserving the status quo requires as little change as possible, especially these days when public anger and disgust at our politicians is quite evident and intense. To assuage this anger and disgust without being turned out of office and without enacting significant changes that would undermine the prevailing alignment of political forces in the nation would seem to be the goal of those holding significant power now.

            In pursuit of such an agenda, it would be useful to create or embrace what are said to be divisive issues or to embrace some issues in a divisive way – say, the issue of immigration reform – so as to reinforce the idea that change, significant change is not possible. Or perhaps the issue of the Affordable Care Act could be kept alive, say by a forthcoming Supreme Court case, thereby keeping the focus on an issue already dealt with rather than on issues that might be dealt with anew.

            In any case, the result desired by the “leaders” of both parties is as little real change as they can get away with given the public’s all-too-justified anger and disgust. From this perspective, our political system is not “broken” at all; rather, it is functioning in pretty much the way its controllers want it to function.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War

Excerpts from Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War, by James Risen
P. Schultz
November 16, 2014

            “In fact, endless American wars have been good for business for Amman [Jordan] and many of the Middle East’s other newly gleaming cities. Money from taxpayers in Wichita and Denver and Phoenix gets routed through the Pentagon and CIA and then ends up here, or in Baghdad or Dubai, or Doha or Kabul or Beirut, in the hands of contractors, subcontractors, their local business partners, local sheikhs, local Mukhabarat officers, local oil smugglers, local drug dealers – money that funds construction and real estate speculation in a few choice luxury districts, buildings that go up thanks to the sweat of imported Filipino and Bangladeshi workers kept on the job by their Saudi and Emirati bosses who confiscate their passports. In Wichita, Denver, and Phoenix, meanwhile, McDonald’s is hiring.” [p.124]

            One of the beneficiaries is a Palestinian named Nazem Houchaimi, who was “an asset of a secret intelligence program for the U.S. Special Operations Command.” Nazem knew about “moving money.” And he had profited greatly from his work for the U.S. He had profited so well that he was building “his new weekend estate,” which among other things would have “in-ground lighting, automatic sprinklers, a swimming pool, and a patio,” a house that “could be in Scottsdale [AZ].” [p. 125]

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Another "Failure?"

Another “Failure?”
P. Schultz
November 15, 2014

            Below is a link sent to me by a friend to an article on Libya and the results of the West’s “successful” overthrow of Gaddafi as the ruling tyrant of that nation. It led me, once again, to think about the fact that what are labeled “failures” are, quite often, not “failures” at all or are deliberate failures. And you would think that with so many of these “failures” happening that others would also begin to wonder, “Was that really a ‘failure,” that is, an outcome that was not intended?

            As one reads about the history and course of the Vietnam War, for example, it is impossible not to wonder, “Why?” That is, why did American politicians decide to follow the French into Vietnam and then to undertake, after the French left in defeat, their own war in that country? It wasn’t, as is so often said, a case of the arrogance of ignorance, as tempting as that explanation is to accept. There were more than enough people, even people with power, arguing that such a war was bound to end badly. Moreover, there was enough “data” about to convince almost anyone that this was or would be the case. So then, “Why?”

            Well, for me, part of the answer to this question deals with what might be called “the quagmire of US politics.” No, not the “quagmire of Vietnam;” the quagmire of US politics. People tend to forget that the 60s were a time of political upheaval or, more precisely, of attempts at political upheaval. That is, the reigning political order, the “regime,” was beginning to be attacked, by blacks, by hippies, by college students/boomers, by what was labeled “the drug culture,” by the “sexual revolution,” to name just some of the forces then arising. So, the “establishment,” the political class – which comprises both Republican and Democratic power brokers – took a stand and it took that stand in Vietnam, among other places. [Chicago was another place the political class took a stand, thank you very much, Mayor Daley. And, of course, there was also Kent State and Jackson State.]

            But also a failure in Vietnam, especially a costly failure there, one that followed a good deal of bloodshed, including of course a good deal of American blood being shed, would send a message, viz.: “The Communists are dangerous, even existential, enemies. Look at what they did in Vietnam, the murders, the tortures, and the bloodshed. We in the “West” must be always on our guard, always vigilant, always armed to the teeth. So let us not hear anything about dismantling ‘the military-industrial complex’ we, the ruling class, built following World War II. Such talk is naïve and even perhaps treasonous. Vietnam, even or especially our ‘failure’ there proves it! There are no viable alternatives to our way of doing politics and to try other ways would disrespect all those brave young people who died in the rice paddies of Vietnam.”

            So, not only failure but a costly failure served the purposes of ruling class, a result helped along by some of those who were dissenting. I mean the ruling class would have probably paid Jane Fonda’s travel expenses to go to “North” Vietnam given all the mileage they could reap from her adventure there.  What more evidence was needed to illustrate the “treasonous” character of those dissenting from the war? What more evidence of the character of the dissenters was needed than the “riots” they perpetrated in Chicago? Kent State and Jackson State? Yes, they were unfortunate events but then not all that surprising given the treasonous character of those dissenting. And, of course, such events only underlined how endangered our political system was at that time. More bloodshed to illustrate the seriousness of the situation.

            I could go on. For example, LBJ’s decision not seek re-election in order, allegedly, to “work for peace.” Note well: A president, a man with the best of intentions, driven from office by those dissenters; a president voluntarily giving up power to work for peace it meant so much to him, while the “long haired creeps” were in the streets of Chicago “rioting.” Another “failure” that was hardly a “failure.”

            So, when it is asked, as it is in the attached article, “As the country spun into chaos, violence, militia rule and anarchy as a direct result of the NATO intervention, they exhibited no interest whatsoever in doing anything to arrest or reverse that collapse. What happened to their deeply felt humanitarianism? Where did it go?” the answer is: They did not do anything “to arrest or reverse that collapse” because that collapse was the goal all along. That “failure” was not a failure at all or, if it were, it was one that served and serves the powers that be, that undergirds the ruling class and its power. Oh, Machiavelli would be proud, not surprised but proud.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Mid-Terms: Giving the Game Away

Mid-Terms: Giving the Game Away
P. Schultz
November 5, 2014

[Author’s note: I wrote the following before I saw and read the article in the New York Times cited below.]

            The 2014 mid-term elections give “the game” away. What is “the game?’ Preserving the status quo. What gives that game away? That the Democrats, along with the Republicans, rejected “Obama.” In fact, even Obama has gone along with rejecting “Obama!”

            The lesson for the many, for the people, who are pissed off: Only one kind of politics can succeed in the United States, viz., a politics of the status quo, and certainly not a politics of change. The “Obama” message, “Yes, we can,” which meant, “Yes, we can change!” has been rejected by all, and even by Obama himself.

            The new message is: “Oh no, we can’t!” Can’t what? Can’t change. Change has been co-opted by “cooperation.” And if one measure of a successful political order is a capacity for change, then it must be said that the US political order is a failed political order, as confirmed by these mid-term elections.

            Prediction or warning: Prepare for a Hillary v. Jeb election in 2016. A Clinton versus a Bush, yet again! Talk about an inability to change. The end.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Some Anti-Federalist Thoughts

Some Anti-Federalist Thoughts
P. Schultz
November 2, 2014

            Although it isn’t often that I devote some space to the Anti-Federalists, I will do so this evening, as I am reading a book entitled A Revolution In Favor of Government by Max Edling. It is a pretty good book but has some shortcomings when it comes to its presentation of the Anti-Federalists.

            On the good side, Edling reproduces this poem, from the South Carolina Gazette, published I suspect some time in the 1790s or so.

“The British armies could not here prevail,
Yet British politics shall turn the scale;
In five short years of Freedom weary grown
We quit our plain republics for a throne;
Congress  and President full proof shall bring,
A mere disguise for Parliament and King.”

            Edling also gets some of the Anti-Federalist thinking, to wit: “…the world was locked in a conflict between power and liberty. Only two actors were cast in this drama: the rulers, who were the agents of power, and the ruled, who were the agents of liberty. Power was regarded as by nature expansive and aggressive, with an inherent tendency to encroach on liberty. … The people had to keep up a constant watch on the actions of their rulers. This was so much more important, as power made inroads on popular liberty only gradually, at an almost imperceptible pace, rather than by bold and open actions.” [Pp. 40-41]

            This is all correct, as far as it goes. And it leads Edling to emphasize that these thoughts led the Anti-Federalists to oppose the newly drafted constitution because it created a potentially powerful government that would be far away and beyond the control of the people.

            But what Edling, like others, misses is that the Anti-Federalists were not just partisans of a certain kind of government but they were also partisans of a certain kind of society, what we could call “a middle class society.” And for the Anti-Federalists, a middle class society was not only one where most people were middle class but where most aspired to be middle class. Of course, no one wants to be poor; but also the Anti-Federalists saw problems with a society in which people would aspire to be upper class, in their language, “aristocrats.” In other words, far less than the Federalists, the Anti-Federalists were leery of “the ambitious,” those few who, in Hamilton’s words, “love fame, the ruling passion of the noblest minds.” In fact, the Anti-Federalists may be characterized as desiring to create governments which would not be appealing to “the ambitious” because their governments, being simple and of sharply limited power[s], would not provide the kind of stage “the ambitious” needed to satisfy their desires for fame and even immortality.

            It is in this light that the Anti-Federalists’ case for simple, local, and limited governments should be understood. It is a part of their desire to create or preserve the kind of society, a middle class society, they thought best. Even the conflict between the few and the many should be understood in this way, with the Anti-Federalists being opposed not to any elite but only to those elites, again in their jargon, “the aristocrats,” distinguished by “ambition,” especially great ambition. An Anti-Federalist elite would be "local" rather than national, it might be said, so long as it is remembered that the issue is dealing with ambition.

            A federal political arrangement, as “federal” was understood in 1787, was a political arrangement composed of small stages, so to speak, where small dramas would be played out. A national political arrangement would be composed of one big stage, where large dramas – or what look like large dramas – would be played out. In the latter, those who are most ambitious would pursue a national reputation, and would not be satisfied with a “local” reputation because it would not satisfy their love of fame. In the latter, those without national reputations would be, as it were, non-existent or invisible.

            To “work” well, a national political arrangement would need characters with national reputations and such characters would have to be “produced” in one way or another. And if securing such a reputation could be done by manipulating public opinion, or if they could be bought, then it would come to pass that such persons would be less substantial than their reputations implied.  Great powers would be given to people whose substance, whose character was suspect. This is, in part, what lay behind the Anti-Federalist rhetoric that seems so “negative” to us today. As Edling put it: “the Anti-Federalist argument was characterized by ‘extreme negativity.’” [Edling, p. 31]

            A federalist scheme does not need such characters given that it is a scheme that creates simple, local, and limited governments, or small stages whose “actors” would play and be expected to play small roles in small dramas. And while such a scheme does not hold the promise of excitement promised by a national scheme, it might just be a scheme that is within the capacities of most human beings. I can, of course, think of worse things.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Anti-Federalists' Prescience

The Anti-Federalists’ Prescience
P. Schultz
November 1, 2014

These quotes came to me from a friend. They are worth recalling every so often.

[1] Anti-Federalist Papers: Cato #5: "In my last number I endeavored to prove...[t]hat we would be governed by favorites and flatterers, or that a dangerous council would be collected from the great officers of state, -- that the ten miles square, if the remarks of one of the wisest men, drawn from the experience of mankind, may be credited, would be the asylum of the base, idle, avaricious and ambitious, and that the court would possess a language and manners different from yours" (http://www.constitution.org/afp/cato_05.htm).

“Wherever they looked in the new Constitution the Anti-Federalists saw threats to civic virtue.  The federal city provided for would breed monarchical institutions and courtly habits, with their oppressive tendencies and with the effect 'above all [of] the perpetual ridicule of virtue’[1] (Storing, What the Anti-Federalists Were For, p. 20).

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Cultural, Moral Revolution or the Status Quo

Cultural, Moral Revolution or the Status Quo
P. Schultz
October 25, 2014

Another email exchange with a friend on our current political situation in Britain and a bit about the United States. Enjoy

On Oct 24, 2014, at 3:16 PM, X wrote:

"I really cannot see how spending cuts by themselves are a coherent policy in modern Britain.  You have to reduce the demand for spending first, and that is a social and cultural matter, which may cost quiet a lot of money.  The entire economy (as economists such as David Blanchflower seem to me to imply) is now so dependent on public spending for survival that large spending cuts, though undoubtedly desirable in principle, will simply kill the patient.  He is too ill for any such treatment. You might as well bleed someone who’s suffering from blood loss.
"The levels of spending in this country are the consequence of 50 years of leftist social policy.  The family, the church, independent charity and self-reliance have been undermined to the point that they barely exist as forces, while the state, and its quasi-independent agencies, have grown enormously.  Manufacturing industry as an employer has shrivelled.  The unproductive public sector wobbles on top of the productive economy.  Our ability to export has likewise atrophied.
"How on earth an immediate radical spending cut will do good under such circumstances, I honestly don’t know.  The government’s tax receipts would plunge, as large numbers of public employees stopped paying income tax because they were unemployed.  And its liabilities would increase, as they had to be paid various doles and allowances instead.  Result: More borrowing, plus less economic activity, as you would have taken so much purchasing power out of the economy.  Aldi and Lidl might benefit.  I don’t think anyone else would.  We did, sort of, go through this before in the Thatcher-Howe era.  But the enormous receipts from North Sea Oil (now over) served as great national cushion.
"If this is wrong, I’d be interested to know why.  Serious conservatives, with a practical intent, must recognise that the country can only be weaned slowly off the disastrous welfare dependency it now faces, and cannot instantly recover from the deindustrialisation inflicted on it by market liberals who wrongly insisted that manufacturing didn’t matter.  The reconstruction of the family, of proper education able to produce employable people, plus a long campaign to persuade people that debt is bad for them, might take 20 or 30 years to have much of an effect.
"A large cultural and moral revolution, in short, is called for.  And that won’t happen until there are what Tony Benn calls teachers, and signposts in national politics (he always says that there are two kinds of politicians, signposts and weathervanes, and I agree with him).  Such people need to confront, honestly, the huge size of the problems we face, and recognise our permanently diminished status as a country.  They need to be bolstered by serious journalism, which is likewise prepared to kook our crisis in the face, admit that we have been mistaken, and by an academy which is equally thoughtful.
"Such conditions seem to me to be very unlikely, and absolutely impossible while British political discourse is still dominated by two mobs, one of which says ‘thatcher was wrong!’;, and the other of which shouts back ‘Maggie was right!’.
"Hence the need for a political and cultural counter-revolution, for which the undoubted collapse of the Tory Party is an essential precondition.  The idea that we can, in the course of a single election, restore Britain to its former state is laughable. It will be a long, long march.
"And during that Long, Long March, we will have to recognise that the current economic crisis is not really a temporary period through which we can pass before the tills start ringing again.  It is a process by which we get used to our reduced status, itself largely the result of our long period of unrealistic, utopian folly.
"Much more likely, we will carry on as we are, and be overtaken, in the end, by a great wave of inflation and devaluation which will sweep away almost all we have come to rely on, and leave us savagely reduced, but at least in touch with reality" (http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2012/12/what-if-the-crisis-goes-on-forever-and-that-irish-question-what-was-it-again.html).

Interesting. But why does this person think that the reasons offered for these cuts are the reasons motivating them? He seems to buy into the arguments of those proposing the cuts that they are economically motivated, that is, are understood by the proposers to spur economic growth. And he seems to do this even while recognizing that the real goals are "cultural and moral and political." Why not focus on those "variables" and take on those he is against on those grounds? Could it be because he doesn't really have a cultural, moral, or political agenda that is all that different from his opponents? 

"The entire economy (as economists such as David Blanchflower seem to me to imply) is now so dependent on public spending for survival that large spending cuts, though undoubtedly desirable in principle, will simply kill the patient." Hasn't he given the game away here? First, he relies on an economist and, second, he grants that his opponents are "desirable in principle," "undoubtedly" so! I don't know how you start "a large cultural and moral revolution" on this basis. Don't you need alternative "principles" to do this? If so, what would they be? "Don't kill the patient" isn't going to cut it, I think. 

And as the goals given for the cuts make little or no sense economically, then they must aim at cultural, moral, and political ends, no? Could it be no more profound than preserving the status quo and reinforcing it by "teaching" people that government cannot or should not - the latter is more dangerous, it seems to me - be responsible for the well-being of the many, while promoting the well-being of the few? "Just as the few take care of themselves, so too should the many take care of themselves. If this means pain for some of the many, so be it." 

Now [right now, as I write this] it seems to me that without categories like Aristotle's, viz., oligarchy, democracy, polity, aristocracy, we are compelled to accept, say, oligarchy because it appears to be "necessary" and even "responsible." This is a neat trick, and one I think that Locke, e.g., knew he was promoting. Rousseau saw through it; "Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains." Max Weber too: "the iron cage of rationality." Nietzsche ditto: "The last man." 

In this country, the Dems have known for years that a majority of the people agree with them more often than they agree with the Republicans. They also should know by now that talking as they talk, relying irrationally on rationality in their debates and ads, does not work. But they keep doing it. Is this a "mistake" or a "strategy?" Of course, if one buys into the idea that political parties want to win, genuinely want to win, each and every election, this must be a "mistake." If one does not buy into that idea, which is hard to defend given the evidence, then this is a "strategy." To do what? Preserve the status quo because, even though they lose elections often, the Dems in power, for the most part, stay in power. Were they or someone to promote real change, they would lose that power. No Democrat seemed too upset when Russ Feingold lost his Senate seat, just as no Republican seemed too upset when Santorum lost his Senate seat. And I would imagine if that Congressman in Michigan. whose name escapes me now, were to lose, the Republican establishment would not shed many tears. [Justin Amash, I think.]

Any way, it is really early and so I will end. Besides, I have nothing else!! Or if I do, it has disappeared into the fog of my mind!!