Monday, April 28, 2014

The US and Terrorists: And the Beat Goes On

The US and Terrorists: And the Beat Goes On
P. Schultz
April 28, 2014

            The “realistic” shape of United States foreign policy is evident in this activity, which helps to illustrate an argument I have made previously, viz., that “realism,” while it pretends to be an alternative to “extremism,” is or supports extremism. And yet, it is only those who our “realists” are fighting who are labeled “extremists.” Why is that? [Rhetorical question.]

“Clearly, the US military and the US government were both well aware of the heavy Al Qaeda presence in Cyrenaica since as early as 2007. When violence flared up in 2011, it was clear to many geopolitical analysts that it was the result of Al Qaeda, not "pro-democracy protesters." The US government, its allies, and a complicit Western press, willfully lied to the public, misrepresented its case to the United Nations and intervened in Libya on behalf of international terrorists, overthrowing a sovereign government, and granting an entire nation as a base of operations for the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG).

“A similar scenario is now playing out in Syria, where the West, despite acknowledging the existence of Al Qaeda in Benghazi, Libya, is using these militants, and the exact same networks used to send fighters to Iraq, to flood into and overrun Syria. This, after these very same Libyan militants were implicated in an attack that left a US ambassador dead on September 11, 2012.”

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Upcoming Elections, 2014

The Upcoming Elections
Peter Schultz
April 24, 2014

            Almost everyone seems to think that upcoming elections, what are called the “off year elections,” because there is no presidential election, are important. More precisely, it is said quite often and probably every day somewhere that the senatorial elections are most important, the supposition being that if the Republicans take over the Senate or the Democrats hold on to the Senate majority, something important will have happened. And, of course, this is based on the idea that if the Republicans take over the majority in the Senate, important changes are forthcoming. I respectfully dissent.

            I don’t think that anything of much importance will change if the Republicans take over the Senate. Why? Well, my sample is limited, but in investigating those who are seeking the Republican nomination in my home state of North Carolina, I discovered that, with a few, very few, exceptions, these people will continue to support the major aspects of the prevailing political agenda and will, therefore, become, quite quickly and comfortably, members of the prevailing political class.

            “The major aspects of the prevailing political agenda,” I say, knowing that most will shake their heads in bewilderment that someone would think that there is, in these intensely divisive times, anything like a prevailing political agenda. Ah, but there is, and all the intense rhetoric that is spent by Republicans and Democrats to convince us that D.C. is a deeply divided place serves only to hide this agenda. So, it certainly looks like Republicans and Democrats are deeply divided and it sounds like that too. But in this case, appearances and sounds are deceiving.

            Let me take one example, one often thought to divide the two parties in a way that is immune to compromise or accommodation, “Obamacare” or the Affordable Care Act. It is thought, because it sounds and looks like, Republicans and Democrats occupy two, fundamentally opposed positions here, with the Republicans prepared to jettison the ACA as soon as they have majorities in the House, the Senate, and a Republican president. But the interesting thing is that few, and certainly not a majority of Republicans in the House and the Senate are committed to ending the ACA in toto. And, of course, it is always unwise to confuse votes which don’t matter, that is, which won’t change anything in reality, with what those representatives or senators would do in a vote that did matter. Nor is it obvious that a Republican president who manages to get elected would support ending the ACA, any more than it was obvious that Obama would end Bush II policies like the war on terror, torture, the war in Afghanistan, whistle blowers, etc., etc., etc. And here is some confirmation from none other than John Boehner:

            House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) admitted on Thursday that repealing President Obama’s signature health reform law “isn’t the answer” because it’s too late to roll back all of the changes it’s had on the insurance industry over the past several years.
“’Obamacare is the law of the land. It is there and it has driven all types of changes in our health care delivery system. You can’t recreate an insurance market overnight,’ Boehner told a group of his constituents at a Rotary Club meeting in his home district.

            It will useful for me to insert here a caveat, which will also surprise a lot of people. One thought it is useful to get out of your head is the thought that politicians look at elections as a way of guaranteeing change, even though that is what they promise when they are seeking office. This is just not the case, although it may be in some elections and for some of those seeking office. Most politicians, especially the incumbents, which are the overwhelming majority of those seeking office, look at elections as potentially dangerous events. Why? Because these elections give the people the opportunity to “throw the bums out,” as is said colloquially, and create a new political class  who embrace a new political agenda. This danger is particularly pronounced in times of popular distrust of government and popular dissatisfaction, which is certainly the case today.

            This is one reason the rhetoric is so intense these days, to convince us that our prevailing political class is devoted to change, even to big change. But, of course, this cannot be the case because really big change would mean that a new and different political class would take power and this class would embrace a new and different political agenda. You know, something like a Tea Party take over or an Occupy take over. Now that would be BIG CHANGE.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Great Men, Lost Souls

Great Men, Lost Souls
P. Schultz
April 24, 2014

This is my contribution to National Poetry Month. My poem is a response to a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem, shown below.

Ah, the "heights" which men were thought to have reached
When such persons were considered "great,"
Indeed, these "heights" were only great in terms of their cost
As these "great" men their souls they had lost.

from The Ladder of St. Augustine
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

"The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night."

Monday, April 21, 2014

Terri Schiavo: What's Up Doc?

Terri Schiavo: What’s Up Doc?
P. Schultz
April 21, 2014

            Terri Schiavo’s husband, Michael, asks a question that is at least interesting: Why Terri? That is, feeding tubes are removed every day, through out the nation, so what made her case different? As he says in this video: “I still can’t figure out what made this case different.”

            And think about it. He is correct and not only is he correct but we live in a place, in the kind of society where putting in and removing feeding tubes are all but routine. So what made the case of Terri Schiavo different? Can anybody tell me?

The Boston Marathon, 2014

The Boston Marathon
P. Schultz
April 21, 2014

            A question: Is narcissism like a virus that spreads from one human to another?

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Politics of Manipulation, continued

The Politics of Manipulation, continued
P. Schultz
April 11, 2014

            Christopher Lasch’s phrase “the politics of manipulation,” which he used to describe the “new radicals” of the time period from 1889 to 1963, made me think of a passage in Julius Lester’s book, Look Out Whitey, Black Power Gonna’ Get Yo Momma, easily the best title from the black power movement of the 60’s.

            At one point in the book, Lester makes what appears to be a strange assertion, viz., that he would rather deal with a redneck Southern sheriff than with LBJ and his liberal friends and allies. The sheriff, Lester contends, was likely to ask, “What you want, boy?” and he would listen and give the blacks part of what they asked for, if of course they asked politely. LBJ and the liberals, on the other hand, don’t ask the blacks what they want. Rather, they are more apt to tell the blacks what they, the blacks, should want and then tell them how they are going to give those things to the blacks.

            I believe Lester is reflecting on two kinds of politics, a politics of compromise (the redneck sheriff) and a politics of manipulation (LBJ and the liberals). Insofar as this is correct, some questions arise that might prove to be interesting. One question is: What phenomena underlay these different kinds of politics? And another question is: What are the implications or likely results of these two kinds of politics?

            With regard to the first question, a politics of compromise implies a recognition of the legitimacy of the claims of the less powerful, whereas a politics of manipulation implies that only the claims that are recognized by experts or the elites are legitimate. The latter kind of politics seeks not a balance of power, that is, a balance of power between the more powerful and the less powerful. Rather, it seeks to empower those who know, where knowledge almost always means expert knowledge. The resulting disempowerment of those without such knowledge is thought to be justified by the results, that is, the imagined success of the experts’ manipulations of social life. Resistance to such manipulation is then labeled “uncivil” or even “subversive” of the social order altogether and is to be repressed for the sake of the society.

Secondly, with regard to the implications of these two kinds of politics, a politics of compromise implicitly but fundamentally recognizes that consent is necessary in order to legitimate political decisions or choices. But a politics of manipulation trumps consent with expert knowledge, making compromises seem neither necessary – in the best of all worlds – nor legitimate. At best, compromises are merely concessions, and this means concessions to what is called “mere politics,” thereby giving politics a bad name and implying that politics is merely a sordid arena where “the best” is repeatedly trashed for the sake of those who don’t understand and/or those who are ignorant. Furthermore, a politics of manipulation looks to repress politics for the sake of what it takes to be the social good, even those this necessarily means the disempowerment of large segments of the population. A politics of compromise, on the other hand, although seeming to be much messier than a politics of manipulation is, for all of that, more human, more “down to earth,” even more “realistic.”

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Politics of Manipulation

The Politics of Manipulation
P. Schultz
April 9, 2014

            Of late, I have been reading a book entitled The New Radicalism in America: 1889-1963 by Christopher Lasch. Now, Lasch usually has interesting things to say and this book is no exception. Those Lasch is concerned with are the likes of Jane Addams, John Dewey, Randolph Bourne and Colonel House. I have not finished the book yet so I have not made it to 1963 but what I have read so far is most interesting.

            One result of reading Lasch is help in understanding why it is fair to say that there are no deep divisions in the American political landscape, an argument that I have made here more than once. And basically it seems to come down to the fact that both sects, that is, both Republicans and Democrats, both our “liberals” and our “conservatives” pursue or practice a politics of manipulation. Let me illustrate this with Lasch’s argument about the “new radicals” like Addams and Dewey and their common understanding of education.

            As Lasch noticed, the new radicals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries did notice and sympathize with the “waywardness” of youth and they did so because they argued that this “waywardness” was a reflection of what might be called the stilted character of modern life. But, even so, Addams and Dewey still thought of education as “socialization” and, therefore, sought to manipulate “the spirit of youth. . . into socially acceptable channels.” [p. 155] As Lasch sums this up with regard to Jane Addams: “The trouble was that Jane Addams was asking, in effect, that young people be adjusted to a social order which by her own admission was cynically indifferent to their welfare. She confronted a moral problem with a manipulative solution. Having laid bare the brutalizing effects of industrial labor . . . she proceeded to look for ways of reconciling people to their work. Industrial society, according to Jane Addams, was a terrific engine of repression; yet her own efforts seemed to make its parts run more smoothly.” [p. 157, emphasis added]

            One reason for this was because the new radicals saw conflict as the issue, not injustice or exploitation: “For the new radicals, conflict itself, rather than injustice or inequality, was the evil to be eradicated.” [p. 162] And again: “Exploitation presented itself as a matter not of injustice but of waste. It was a problem of management rather than of morals.”

            Now it is possible, even plausible to argue that today, as in the time Lasch is concerned with, both of our most dominant political sects, the liberals and the conservatives, still agree with this, even while endorsing different “management styles” – either governmental or business-like – as providing solutions to our “problems.” That is, no moral reform is needed, meaning no change in the moral basis of our society is needed. It is only a matter of finding the right “management style,” or, to speak more straightforwardly, the right kind of manipulation, to solve our problems.

            And, for similar reasons, it is almost impossible to resist calls to “work within the system,” as the only reasonable way to address our problems. Because we have been taught, and not directly taught but taught nonetheless, that politics is all about manipulation, which always takes some form of “socialization,” we have no way of opposing the call to “work within the system,” which is to say that “the system” is essentially fine and only needs some “fine tuning.” The moral basis of our society is, by this viewpoint, not defective and, hence, no such reforms are needed.

            Another implication of this line of argument is that the solutions to our problems only require that we replace one set of elites with the other set, while restocking both, as it were, by means of an education that focuses on those young who hold the most promise as peaceful producers of profitability. This is what education as socialization in the United States seeks to achieve, a restocking of the political class with an elite that reflects as in a mirror the current elites, the current managers, who are also those who are most adept at being peaceful producers of profitability. It is, after all, peace, production, and profits that we Americans are taught are the highest virtues, is it not?

            And so regarding what is called education reform, the two sects produce policies that are very much alike. One sect, not known for its compassion, called its reform “No Child Left Behind,” by which was implied that all would become peaceful producers of profitability, at least at some level of competence. The other sect labeled its agenda “Race to the Top,” by which was meant restocking the current elite with those young who proved themselves most adept at achieving prosperity by peacefully producing more or better than others. It is all to easy to see that, so understood, there is not a great deal difference between these two agendas and none at all in terms of their ultimate goals.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Don't Know Much About History

Don’t Know Much About History
P. Schultz
April 2, 2014

            Here, from a book entitled Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, is a bit history that at least I was never introduced to in my schooling. It involves an optional essay question on a 1959 English aptitude test for those who were applying to the University of California. That question was: “What are the dangers to a democracy of a national police organization, like the FBI, which operates secretly and is unresponsive to criticism?”

            Now, this question, thanks to the help a member of the American Legion, which organization was working with the FBI at that time to identify those who constituted a threat to national security, came to the attention of the FBI, making J. Edgar Hoover livid. “He viewed the question not only as subversive but as an attack on the FBI – and he took any attack on the bureau personally. His hand passed quickly across the memo as he scrawled….: ‘We really should stir up as many protests as possible.’” [p. 64] And Hoover’s assistant and close confidant, Tolson, assigned this matter to on “Deke” DeLoach, who headed what was called “the Crime Records Division” but was in fact the bureau’s public relations appendage.

            To fulfill his responsibilities in this matter, DeLoach sent a letter to the American Legion’s national commander, which he, the commander, was to pretend he had written himself and send it to the chancellor at UCLA, protesting the question. DeLoach also contacted the chief of Hearst Newspapers’ Washington, D.C. bureau and called upon him to attack the university for allowing such a question to be used on the test. The Los Angeles Herald Examiner, owned by the Hearst chain, promptly published a story repeating allegations of a “vicious communist propaganda scheme” and an editorial critical of the university. The FBI also made use of the House Un-American Activities Committee as well as the Los Angeles Archdiocese to publicly condemn the question.

            The FBI then proceeded to try to determine who was responsible for the question itself but pretty much came up empty. In the course if its efforts, however, it scrutinized professors at UCLA and USC, as well as the essays written in response to this question. The essays were evenly split between those for and against the FBI and pass rates were virtually the same.

            Hoover was very much pleased with the bureau’s efforts to stir up protests to this question and sent Vice President Richard Nixon a letter in which he wrote: “A storm of protest immediately arose in many parts of the state against this viciously misleading question….The minds of young students were being impregnated with the complete falsehood under the guise of truth.”

            It is fortunate that Hoover and the FBI were so attuned to the threats to national security in those times. We can only hope there are some today who are also so attuned to those threats!