Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Obama's Passive Aggression: It's the Economy

Obama’s Passive Aggression: It’s the Economy
P. Schultz
January 29, 2014

            “But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled.”

            Here, in three short sentences, Obama reveals a lot about our politics. Note the use of the passive voice: “average wages have barely budged,” and “Inequality has deepened,” and “Upward mobility has stalled.” Obama makes it sound as if these were just “facts of life” in, what the NY Times calls, “the modern economy.” [And note should taken as well of the Times’ language, to wit: “he positioned himself as a champion of those left behind in the modern economy,” by which the Times means “left behind by the modern economy.”]

            But if these phenomena, wages, inequality, and upward mobility are facts of life, they are political facts of life. That is, they are the results of political choices that have been made in the past and that will be made in the future. These “things” are not the inevitable products of our “modern economy,” but are the results of how our government has structured that economy.

            Of course, by talking in this way, Obama does not need to offer a critique of those political choices that have led to these phenomena. And, in another facet of his slight of hand, by not making such a critique, Obama has paved the way for the Republicans and others to prevail, by and large, in their arguments that attempts to remedy these phenomena must not interfere with what are taken to be the economic facts of life. In other words, Obama has set the stage for the continuation of the status quo.

            And while I am pointing out the parameters of Obama’s speech, take note too that his announcement that he is going to employ “the defiant “with or without Congress” approach” takes attention away from what he is proposing and puts it on how he is proposing to do it. Even the Times picked up on this: “But the defiant “with or without Congress” approach was more assertive than any of the individual policies he advanced.” Although I would argue that, taken in its context, this approach is not “assertive” at all. It is just another illustration of the president’s passivity in light of stymied wages, unacceptable inequality, and stalled upward mobility.

            And so we continue on the path we have been on for a long time, perhaps best encapsulated by Bill Clinton’s mantra during the 1992 presidential campaign, “It’s the economy, stupid.” As I characterized this in my book, Governing America, the expression should be, “It’s the economy that makes us stupid.” And I can now add, “It’s the economy that makes us passive aggressive.” And this is not good.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Howard Zinn: Worth Reading

Howard Zinn: Worth Reading
P. Schultz
January 26, 2014

            Here are some passages from Howard Zinn, precisely The Zinn Reader. This guy knew what was going on although he still hoped for a national democracy of some equality. And this even though he saw through, for the most part, the limited character of political change at the national level, e.g., in his piece “The Limits of the New Deal.” The following is from a piece entitled “The Bombing of Royan,” a small town in France that was bombed twice, and in all likelihood unnecessarily, toward the end of World War II. Zinn himself took part in this bombing.  

            “One can see in the destruction of Royan that infinite chain causes, that infinite dispersion of responsibility, which can give infinite work to historical scholarship and sociological speculation, and bring an infinitely pleasurable paralysis of the will. What a complex of motives! In the Supreme Allied Command, the simple momentum of the war, the pull of prior commitments and preparations, the need to fill out the circle, to pile up victories as high as possible. At the local military level, the ambitions, petty and large, the tug of glory, the ardent need to participate in a grand communal effort by soldiers of all ranks. On the part of the American Air Force, the urge to try out a newly developed weapon. (Paul Metadier wrote: ‘In effect, the operation was above all characterized by the dropping of new incendiary bombs which the Air Force had just been supplied with. According to the famous formulation of one general: “They were marvelous.”) [This weapon is now called “napalm.”] And among all participants, high and low, French and American, the most powerful motive of all: The habit of obedience, the universal teaching of all cultures, not to get out of line, not even to think about that which one has not been assigned to think about, the negative motive of not having either a reason or a will to intercede. . . .

            “More and more in our time, the mass production of mass evil requires an enormously complicated division of labor. No one is positively responsible for the horror that ensues. . . .” [Pp. 279-280]

            And that want or obfuscation of responsibility is precisely what “government” is all about. It is also part and parcel of what Alexander Hamilton – and others - called “energetic government,” because when responsibility cannot be assigned, then those with the power to act are free to do so as they see fit. The “enormously complicated division of labor” Zinn sees is not accidental, not the result of some “historical process.” It is deliberate, it is chosen, and it is so precisely because it protects those who find it “necessary” to do horrible things and, as all “realists” contend, it is always necessary to do horrible things.

Obama's Agenda

Obama’s Agenda
P. Schultz
January 26, 2014

            This won’t take up much space. The headlines in the NY Times today is: “Obama Pursuing a Modest Agenda in State of the Union.” And here is one paragraph in that story:

“After five years in office, Mr. Obama has, by his own account, come to feel acutely the limits on his power and the shrinking horizons before him — all of which make his nationally televised speech to Congress on Tuesday a critical opportunity to drive an agenda that may yet shape his legacy.”

            Ah yes, the “modest agenda” in pursuit of “his legacy.” Well, as near as I can tell Obama’s agenda has been and will remain preserving the status quo as nearly as he can. And this is not because of “the limits on his power and the shrinking horizons before him.” [But how do horizons “shrink?” Just wondering.] No, it is because this is what he chooses to do and has been doing since he was elected in 2008. Of course, he pretends otherwise, playing the “oh, we politicians are so powerless, what else could we do” card!

            Except at the margins, it is almost impossible to distinguish the Obama presidency from the Bush II presidency. We still torture or facilitate torture; we still are at war in Afghanistan, the allegedly “good war” started by Shrub; we still are bailing out Wall Street and almost no one has gone to jail or prison for the recent “recession.” I am sure you can think of other ways in which the Obama presidency has done little more than continue the Shrub presidency.

            And why does this seem like a weird assessment? To me, it is pretty simple: We are taught, in a host of ways, that politics is about change, about “reform.” But in fact, most of our politics is about maintaining the status quo and this rather simple, and all too common political phenomenon – those who have power and status want to keep it – is overlooked for the most part by our commentators and is disguised by our political class, as if there were a big difference between most of the commentators and our political class.

            And so we go on thinking, reading, and saying that Obama, for example, has an “agenda” for change that will make his “legacy” as a “great president.” In point of fact, however, he is just another ambitious politician, the kind of politician that the founders thought would populate their new, “large, commercial republic” to a good end. Well, as one of my colleagues said a long time ago about a my characterization of him as “fucking nuts:” “Well, Peter, you got it half right!” We are inundated with the ambitious but the results? Not so good.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Adam Lanza and Others: An Email Exchange

Adam Lanza and Others: An Email Exchange
P. Schultz
January 18, 2014

Here is an email exchange with a friend, CK.

CK:  “I don't know if this is really a giant red flag or not--and maybe it's because I like Anarchy Radio and John Zerzan, but I think this is a coherent assessment of how we all feel the pain of civilization. My hope is that we might find those in (understandable) psychological pain and give them a chance to grasp at the fading comforts of authentic personal interaction, love, compassion and hope.

Me: “Ok.....perhaps. "Red flags" always look brighter in hindsight. My fear with stuff like this is that some bureaucrat somewhere will seize on this as a license to label behavior or speech dangerous and, hence, suppressible for safety's sake. You know, like the little kid who was "dealt with" because he made a piece of paper look like a gun and pointed it at others. And these same bureaucrats will come up with bs like "binge drinking" and use such idiocy as their license to limit our freedom even further. "Authentic personal interaction" or what once was called simply "caring" or "friendship",,,,,in this world controlled by "the iron cage of rationality?" Not likely, I think. But I am with your sentiments.”

CK: “Yah, I was just sitting at a diner counter reading Francis Bacon's "On Friendship" and boy did it read like a reflection upon a dying art in an age where chums text each other ideas knowing full well they are intercepted by the computer of some young statistician that graduated toward the top of his class and earned a not so well over sighted government position.....I was moved particularly by his critique of the chimps lifestyle and subsequent negative impact upon his quality of life, how he called out those who say that humans forced to live within the confines of ciivil society simply defer to something innate that allows them to resign to working jobs and paying bills and other examples of quotidian ratracery because he feels that we have to lose something, not to be social but to be okay with this artificiality.....and how he points out that we all cling on to surrogate behavior to calm the existential pangs of post-modernity. So, aside from the loony pictures you see of him, maybe he wasnt so loony crazy and his problem was one of degree and of nihilism (surely built upon a foundation of various imbalances) and of access to firearms given his mental condition. There's plenty of uncomfortable symbolism in his infamous action, but it stems from a sobering perspective and from, again, a lack of friendship or anyone to intercede.”

Me:  “Of course, Chris, it would be too much to go too far in this direction, but I remember my younger brother, Mike, a psychologist until his death in 2007, saying in regard to the young men who killed at Columbine that they, the shooters, knew they were going to die that day and wondering how those so young could arrive at that "destination" and accept it, perhaps even welcome it. When he said that, it struck me, as your words above strike me too, that something is wrong here, really, really wrong and it isn't just individual lunacy or "madness." I say, often, to myself: "Something is missing here, something 'big' and 'important.'" The picture, even the one above, we have been given of those like Adam Lanza is incomplete, something is missing, something "big" and "important" is missing. And we reach out, trying to touch those who need touching. As Mike use to say: "We all want to be loved." Ain't it the truth?”

And the link:

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Burglary

The Burglary
P. Schultz
January 14, 2014

            On Sunday last, I went to Barnes and Noble to avoid watching yet another football game, this one between the 49ers and the Panthers. While there, I enjoyed a cup of coffee and started reading a book, The Burglary, which is about 7 or 8 people who burglarized an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania in, I believe, 1971.

            It made for interesting reading and took willpower not to buy it. I will read it later when it comes to a library somewhere in my vicinity. One thing that made it interesting was its account of the history of those times when the country was being torn apart by an imperialistic war in Vietnam. This war led to protests and these protests led to beatings and shootings, some fatal shootings, by those who supported that war against those who did not. Some items in this history were new to me, such as the fact that President Nixon welcomed to the White House some “hard hats” who beat war protesters in New York City with blunt objects wrapped in American flags! [Were they, the hard hats, part of the “silent majority?”] I did remember that Nixon essentially pardoned Lt. Calley who had been convicted of participating in the killing of hundreds of old men, women, young girls, and children, including babies, in My Lai, in Vietnam. What a time that was.

            But one aspect struck me as interesting, viz., that allegedly the FBI could never catch these burglars and, allegedly, only now has their identity been confirmed by themselves. This is especially interesting because the FBI clearly identified the leader of this group, a professor from Haverford College, as a suspect and, apparently, did not go after him for some complicated “due process” concerns. This conclusion struck and strikes me as implausible, to say the least, and here is my speculation as to what was really going on.

            The FBI knew who had committed the burglary but decided not to arrest and prosecute them. Why? Well, because these people were what might be called “ordinary people,” law-abiding people generally speaking, people with families, people of principle. If these people were arrested and charged, it would only serve to highlight how unpopular the Vietnam War was and it would be hard to, and imprudent to try to demonize these people. Besides, by not solving the case, Hoover and the FBI could go on pretending that opposition to the war was fed by “subversive” types, you know, communists or socialists or stooges of this or that foreign country. And, by not solving the case, the FBI could pretend that those opposed to the war were dangerous precisely because they could not be caught, being the “sly bastards” that a lot of people assumed they were. Hence, it served the FBI’s interests to leave the case unsolved, at least in the public’s eyes.

            This conclusion is lent some more weight when it is remembered, as the book reminds us, of how the FBI dealt with those who committed criminal acts and waited to be arrested, such as members of the Catholic peace movement like the Berrigan brothers and their cohorts. The identity of these “criminals” could not be hidden and, hence, they had to be maligned and libeled, made to appear as dangerous anarchists and subversives serving foreign powers, if only the Pope and the Vatican. Of course, this is, as the FBI knew, a dangerous game and far more dangerous when dealing with “ordinary people,” and not with robed clerics who owe allegiance to a “foreign” potentate! A college professor from Haverford College does not have the “cache” as “Papists!” At least, this was the case until recently and the popularity of a rather terrible TV show, “The Calling,” starring Kevin Bacon.

            The FBI, like JFK, LBJ, and RMN, knew that it takes a lot of work to promote wars that seem suspect to “ordinary people.” And that bureau was not about to shirk its responsibly of allowing “the movement” to impose its will on the United States’ government. Now, that would be unconscionable, to say the least. And so, the burglars of Media, Pa. were allowed to slip into “the night,” where the FBI could make of them what it wished.


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Iraq, Orwell, and American Foreign Policy

Iraq, Orwell, and American Foreign Policy
P. Schultz
January 9, 2014

            Here is a quote from an article in the NY Times from today:

“Critics complain that Mr. Obama squandered the military success achieved by President George W. Bush’s 2007 troop “surge” and should have done more to persuade Baghdad to accept a residual American force beyond 2011. They say he should have been more active in restraining Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, whose Shiite leadership has alienated many Sunnis, fueling the latest uprising.”

            Where to begin? Anywhere, actually. First: This implies that Obama’s Iraq policies are different than those of George Bush II. Really? “The military success achieved by….Bush” was that Bush got to leave the presidency with the appearance of success. In this sense, and in this sense only, did “the surge work.” And it was Bush who, because of the alleged “success” of the surge, claimed that it would be possible to do what Obama did, pull out of Iraq.

            Second: This continues the fantasy that the presence of American power is the key to peace around the world. Why a fantasy? Well, just to name a few examples: Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Cuba, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Afghanistan. All of these are places where the “presence” of American power did little or nothing to promote peace. In places like Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan especially, American power was the cause of war and created, facilitated, and extended wars there. People forget too easily that more American soldiers were killed and injured in Vietnam after Nixon was elected president than before with his “secret peace plan.” And, of course, the war in Afghanistan has been going on for at least 13 years since the United States has been “involved” there. And now we see that Iraq is quite similar. The war, started by Bush II, as it bears repeating, is on going. It is a fantasy for us to think that “the projection of American power,” as some like to say, leads to peace – or is intended to.

            Third: What is currently happening in Iraq is, I submit, precisely what Bush II and the Obama administration want to happen: Chaos in the Middle East. It seems to me pretty obvious that this has been the goal of American foreign policy over the past few presidencies, a policy that is meant to serve the interests not only of the United States but also those of Israel and Saudi Arabia. The most obvious action supporting my contention is how the Bush II administration “dealt with” Iraq once the invasion was over. And it is impossible to buy explanations like, “Oh, the Bush administration forgot to plan for the occupation.”

Does this policy mean that there might be “blowback,” say in the form of “terrorism” even here in the United States? Of course, but then such “blowback” is merely “collateral damage” for those holding the reins of power in Washington. Such damage is part of a realist’s modus operandi. And what the Bush administrations and the Obama administration have in common, in addition to other things, is an embrace of “realism” as the basis of American foreign policy. “Unconscionable,” you say? Yes, of course. But again that is the essence of “realism.”

So, here is my guess: The killing, the war will go on in Iraq, while Republicans and Democrats squabble here, making it seem that this is, from their perspectives, an undesirable state of affairs. But it is not. In fact, it is exactly the state of affairs they both embrace. And, so, whichever party holds the presidency, war in the Middle East and in Afghanistan, and maybe elsewhere as well, will go on and on and on, as George Orwell saw so long ago when he wrote 1984. And like Winston in 1984, we will be expected to accept these wars as necessary and even as justified. We seem to be pretty much there already, as the Times article illustrates.

Here is the link to the Times article:

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Obama: Perhaps His Instincts Were Better Than HIs Reason

Obama: Perhaps His Instincts Were Better Than His Reason
P. Schultz
January 7, 2014

            In an article in the NY Times today, an account is given of a memoir by Robert Gates which is, allegedly, critical of President Obama, at least with regard to Afghanistan. Here is a quote from the article, the link to which is provided below:

“As I sat there, I thought: The president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his,” Mr. Gates wrote. “For him, it’s all about getting out.”

            Gee, I guess for Mr. Gates this, “losing faith,” qualifies as criticism, while for me it qualifies as thoughtfulness, unaccompanied by a will to follow one’s instincts. Trust Petraeus? Is that what Petraeus’ wife did? Trust him? Oops! Do business with Karzai? You mean, the guy whose brother was as corrupt as they come and who was himself seen as a “lightweight” in the arena of Afghan politics? And what is wrong with “getting out?” As if, “getting in” did the United States much good. Oh yeah, that’s right: By getting in we disabled bin Laden, didn’t we? Well, not so much, it would seem. And our “strategy” there. What did that amount to? It is debatable whether “counterinsurgency” has ever “worked” anywhere. But, of course, that is not the American way.

You know, it is almost always the case that Americans like to think that the reason they have failed, e.g., in Vietnam, in Korea, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, is because they did not employ the “right strategy.” “Oh, if only we had employed the right strategy, all would have been well.” We Americans never fail because we have chosen to fight wars that we could not win; no, we just make “mistakes.” Or, our strategies are never wrong; they are just improperly implemented. “Oh, if only JFK had lived. Even if he didn’t pull out of Nam, he would have ‘won’ that war! After all, he was young, he was handsome, and he had a Harvard education. How could he fail?”

            When we will learn that the world is not “manageable,” that power does not guarantee success, that all the technological “break throughs” do not and cannot guarantee success? When? I doubt ever. And so it is little wonder to me that Obama probably thought of his instincts the way Gates thinks of them: Not to be trusted and certainly not to be acted upon. Too bad. He might have meant something if he had trusted his instincts more than his reason.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

More Fantasy

More Fantasy
P. Schultz
January 5, 2014

            Here is a headline in the NY Times, as displayed on its main web page: “Absent U.S., Power Vacuum in the Middle East Lifts Militants.” You will find the link below.

            To me, this is just astounding. After all, it was the exercise of U.S. power in the Middle East, especially in the form of Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq that has led to rise of militancy in the Middle East! And this is to say nothing at all about how U.S. support for Israel might also contribute to the strength of the militants in the Middle East.

            Oh yes, and by the way, what do you call a nation which claims as its right to preemptively strike, that is, wage war on those who it perceives to be its enemies? I suggest that the word “militant” could be accurately used to describe such a nation. So why is it that the Times feels free to label some in the Middle East “militants,” but chooses not to do so with regard to the United States? Y’all know the answer to that question, of course.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Oh, How We and the NY Times Love to Fantasize

Oh, How We and the NY Times Love to Fantasize
P. Schultz
January 3, 2014

            Immediately below is a link to an article in today’s NY Times reminiscing about how wonderful it was when Reagan was president and he and the Congress “made government work,” as the saying is these days. And then following that is an excerpt from Walter Karp’s Liberty Under Siege, providing a different description and evaluation of Reagan and how government “worked” when he president. When the oligarchs get together, it is amazing just how well the government “works.” Of course, the question is: “Works” for whom? Which is always the question.

Excerpts From Liberty Under Siege, by Walter Karp

The Reagan Revolution As A Political Crime Against Self-Government

            “A tremor of fear ripples through Republican ranks [1980] – with reason most compelling. Inside the supply-side quackery and immense and dangerous force lies latent, coiled up within it like a boa constrictor. Once the Federal Reserve succeeds in disinflating the economy, the one certain result of Reagan’s huge promised tax cut is huge annual budget deficits – more than $100 billion a year; $150 billion, perhaps, counting the military buildup. So calculates Reagan’s future budget director, David Stockman, age thirty four, a former protégé of Senator Moynihan’s. No mace in Stockman’s eyes are these huge crushing deficits, but an ‘opportunity,’ he calls it, a once-in-a-lifetime chance for ‘a formal assault on the welfare state.’ Given the ‘battering ram’ force to those deficits, a titanic reversal of history lies within the power of the Right: ‘Forty years of promises, subventions, entitlements and safety nets issued by the federal government to every component and stratum of American society would have to be scrapped or drastically modified,’ so Stockman recalls himself thinking in those heady autumn days of 1980. The ‘craven politicians’ would have no choice: dismantle the enterprises of government, liberate and exalt the power of capital – trampled and brought low for so many years – ‘or risk national ruin’ from the crush of those deficits.
            “Therein lies the true beauty of the scheme: no choice. No need to persuade a feckless electorate that mitigating gross inequality is an enterprise unworthy of a republican commonwealth. No need to persuade them that a house of one’s own, yeomanly independence, security in old age, clear air and clean water, the principles of liberty and equality perpetually upheld (however ill served), a public realm shielded from hungry mobs and criminal despair (for misery is the enemy of liberty) are impermissible public goals – ‘bloated, wasteful and unjust spending enterprises,’ so the future budget director calls them. No need to undertake the hopeless task of teaching the national mob the sublime, icy truths of laissez-faire capitalism; no need to persuade them – for it is equally hopeless – that no purpose beyond ‘economic efficiency’ is fit and proper for a capitalist country, for America as ‘just one big business,’ for America the ‘industrial giant,’ as the President-elect likes to call this Republic. Are we not something other than that, the feckless rabble would ask? Have Americans not died on a hundred battlefields for something other than that? For something more like government of, by and for the people, which is supposed not to perish from this earth? No need to turn aside such questions. The American people are drowning in inflation, are clinging to the balanced budget idea like a shipwrecked sailor clutching at flotsam. Let Congress enact – but will it? – these huge tax-reduction deficits and then let Reagan demand they be wiped away and there is no need to persuade a free people to abandon their feckless public goals. Under the crushing weight of ‘fiscal necessity’ – a false necessity, necessity brutally, deceitfully contrived – the judgment of the vicious many shall be subjugated to the will of the righteous few, to us, the Right, keepers of the flame, dwellers in the political wilderness for fifty years, in the wilderness no longer.
            “Such is the latent power coiled up within supply-side quackery – the power to carry out a brutal plot, a deceitful scheme, a political crime, a crime against government by the consent of the governed, a tyrant’s crime against a free people’s freedom to decide their own fate, a crime by no means deeply concealed. On October 14, poor, unheeded Carter had presciently warned that his rival’s program must lead, inevitably, to a $130 billion deficit by 1983, to a bloated military establishment and a federal government stripped, impoverished and paralyzed for years to come. Suppose the supply-side plot were launched and the people rose up against it? What would become of the Reaction then? What possible hope would there be for Oligarchy restored?” [127-29]

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

"Saving" Iraq

“Saving” Iraq
P. Schultz
January 1, 2014

            Nothing the US does will “save” Iraq, primarily because the purpose of US policy is decidedly not to save Iraq. And that was not and is not today the purpose of US policy. Rather, the purpose of Shrub’s invasion and occupation was to undermine Iraq as a functioning nation, just as it was and is the purpose of US in the Middle East to create chaos there for as long as is possible and regardless of the inhumanity of this policy. One should never underestimate, as Machiavelli reminded us, of the inhumanity of those we label today “realists.” To succeed, the prince must “learn to be able not to be good.” Link follows.

Happy New Year!