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" (

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!! 


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Leo Strauss and the Owl of Minerva

Leo Strauss and the Owl of Minerva
P. Schultz
October 23, 2014

            Here are my speculations regarding Leo Strauss and what he may have been about.  These speculations were spurred by the old aphorism, “The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk.”

            The West is dying; that is, the “modern West” is dying as evidenced by the rise of Nazism and Communism, “isms” that are offshoots of modern liberalism and as such, indicate that modern liberalism is also dead or dying.

            What to do? Return to the classics? This is not possible for several reasons but perhaps, most importantly, because of “history” and its “discovery.” [Rousseau] Should modern liberalism then be prolonged? Yuck, as the “last man” comes into view. [Nietzsche]  What then?

            How about after recognizing that the West is dying stoking its end while pretending to “reinvigorate” or “revive” it? To do this, it will be necessary to appeal to the spirited types, those characterized by hubris or “ambition,” so these people become, proudly, “the guardians,” those “noble dogs” trained to defend those they know and attack those they don’t know, “the others.”

            This will in fact facilitate the demise of “the modern West” because these guardians, while ferociously defending what they deem to be “noble,” are unaware of the fundamental defects of what they are defending and of themselves. If, say, a building is essentially and fundamentally defective, then defending it can do little or no good. In fact, its very defense could increase the likelihood of the building’s failure as more and more weight is loaded on to it, weight it will not be able to bear. But as the building must come down, it is not unwise to help raze it and hope for the best.

            Moreover, the few, that is, the very few – not the guardians who mistakenly think they are “the very few” – know what is happening, know it is dusk and that night must come before the light can shine again. Nature will have her way with us, even with the wise. The few though take solace both in the abiding worth of their “activity” and in the fact that the guardians are, in their ignorance, well disposed to them. These few will even bill themselves as allies of the guardians, while avoiding “the active/political life” that the guardians take to be a reflection of the best life.

            But isn’t this a dangerous game to play? Of course it is. But what if it is the only game in town? Then the wise, at least the courageous wise, will play it. The end.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

American Politics and Intellectuals

American Politics and the Intellectuals
P. Schultz
October 21, 2014

Here is an email exchange with a friend and former colleague about American politics and intellectualism. The first part is a link that Paul sent to me, followed by my response, his response to my response and my response to his response. My responses are in red. 

I have to say, Paul, that describing Americans as not believing in science is like describing them not believing in profit/wealth. Sure, some reject certain scientific conclusions but they do this while living in houses controlled by technology - except the Amish, e.g. - and they glory in their high tech killing machines and high tech medical devices. How many Americans with cancer reject science or technology for the sake of, say, prayer? 

Isn't this notion that many Americans don't "believe" in science just another attempt to manufacture fear? It isn't only "conservatives" who play the "fear game." 


Gotta disagree with you on this one.  Sure American believe in science insofar as they use its products, but they believe in its truths selectively, or more accurately, as they are manipulated to believe.  Let's put it this way.  Politicians and media can get people to do weird things.   A more accurate phrase would be that they selectively ignore science when politicians convince them to.

Global warming is the big one:  98% of climate scientists say that this is happening and it's largely man made.  Most GOP politicians choose to glom on to outliers and say that it's undecided or bogus.  When there is that much consensus in the scientific community about something, choosing to ignore it for political gain and convince a large segment of the population that is the case is in some sense "people are ignoring science."

Ebola.  The medical community appears to pretty much be in agreement that a travel ban would make the ebola situation worse, for reasons that I'm sure you've read about.  GOP politicians stoke and exploit a fear of it for political purposes.

"Austrian" austerity economics are a real minority view in academic economics.  From what I understand, a large percentage of economists said that we needed a bigger stimulus.  Under the influence of GOP politicians, once again the outlier position is embraced.  I don't claim economics is "science."  But it is reasoned analysis.

It's the anti-intellectualism that thinks Joe Fuggie can ignore and have contempt for what people have spent their lives analyzing, and the political will to exploit that by politicians who represent those who will advantage from that willed ignorance.

Bobby Jindal on climate change:  "I don't have a degree in climate change, so I am not in a position to claim whether it is occurring or not."  C'mon.  I don't have a degree in oncology but I can have a very, very reasonable belief that cigarettes cause lung cancer.  Why?  Because I trust and believe what there is a large scientific consensus on.

There are more examples, but those are the current three biggies.

I bought but haven't begun reading Naomi Klein's recent book on climate change.  If you want big political change, which I know you do, Klein's book actually seems optimistic in that she thinks global warming will trigger significant political change.

We will have to disagree here. Your "intellectualism" is, for me, at the very least, controversial, less than persuasive, and politically fruitless and dangerous. 

By that I mean, you assume a certain conception of knowledge, of knowing, and use it to measure and evaluate all forms of knowing. Your understanding of "intellectualism" requires, I believe, that people think of politics as involving a series of issues that people reason about and then vote on. But this is, itself, a kind of politics and not only kind. It is a kind of politics that empowers "experts," those who claim "to know" because they are "scientists" or "analysts," whether social, economic, or physical. This is the kind of politics that took control of our politics with the Progressives and was intended to "downsize democracy" for the sake of an allegedly "scientific politics." 

But as near as I can tell this is not the way or the only way that people think about politics, and it certainly isn't how those who you claim are "anti-intellectual" think about politics. There was a book, "What's the Matter With Kansas?" published some years ago, and the author argued that Kansans were hard to explain because they seemed to vote against their own "self-interests," making them seem stupid or ignorant. "Why," the author seemed to beg, "don't these people vote as I want them to vote, as I think they should vote, as "science" or "analysis" says they should vote? Oh, I know! They must be stupid or deliberately ignorant or blinded by religion and other fantasies." 

So this "analyst" had a "model" of how politics works and it didn't fit "Kansans." So he criticized the Kansans but he did not wonder whether his model was an accurate description of how people are politically. For example, he merely assumed people vote their self-interest. Moreover, he reported very few conversations with actual Kansans, conversations that might have led to his own enlightenment. If he had those conversations, he might have found that Kansans were voting as they did because they sensed that something was wrong, that is, wrong in a basic, even fundamental way in this nation. 

Could they articulate this feeling "intellectually", to suit you or other intellectuals? No, they could not, but that does not make them wrong. So they go politically with those who are saying, "Yes, there is something wrong here." They do not respond to those saying, "Well, let's get some experts together and let them tell us what to do, how to "save" the environment, how to solve racism, how to run their our schools, how to democratize Iraq and the rest of the world, how to structure or actually re-structure the '"battle" between the sexes. Because we and our analysts KNOW and you don't."  

Well, a large part of the problem here is that they, the "Kansans" amongst us, have had enough of these "experts," these "analysts." Why? Well, because these "experts" and "analysts" gave them the Vietnam war, our huge bureaucracy, and all kinds of bat shit crazy politics such as the war on drugs, the war on crime, the war on poverty, no child left behind, the race to the top, etc., etc., etc. They, the "Kansans" amongst us, know that these things are not working, that things are not getting better, and unlike the "intellectuals" who want these "experts" and "analysts" running things despite their repeated failures, they have said "Enough already! We need to try something else!" They, the "Kansans," KNOW that not only have they been disempowered, but their lives aren't getting better. Is it any wonder that they are "anti-intellectual" in the sense that you mean it?  I think not.  

Parenthetically, it was the people in the streets, those long haired "hippies" like Mario Savio and Jerry Rubin, those who were and are dismissed by the "establishment" as unwashed and uneducated, who were right about Vietnam, not the "experts" and "intellectuals" at Michigan State, Rand, and a host of other "intellectual institutions." It was those "experts" and "analysts," of course, THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST who gave us that fiasco, not the people who didn't know and didn't need to know where Vietnam was! You seem to ignore this consequence of "analysis" and "expertise." 

Moreover, I doubt that any classroom teacher or public school principal would ever have come up with such bat shit crazy policies like "No Child Left Behind,"  "The Race to the Top," or the "common core!" And they wouldn't simply because they KNOW better. And I doubt that any mayor would ever have come up with a war on drugs or crime because she or he KNOWS better. 

How did they know? I don't know but they knew and they knew without the help of and despite the experts, and they were right! Perhaps it is as Bruce Springsteen sang it: "We learned more from a 3 minute record, baby, than we ever learned in school." And, by and large, what kids learn in schools designed by the "experts" is to be "just another brick in the wall." 

So, you can rail against these people and treat them dismissively for not being sufficiently "intellectual" all you want but you might as well piss into the wind, because they have already rejected, on substantial evidence, the kind of knowledge your "experts" and "analysts" claim to have. And when you do this, you pave the way for more Republican victories because they pretend to be listening to the "Kansans" amongst us, then use their votes to maintain the status quo and their own power and privilege. You or someone should listen to them, actually listen to them, and try your best to give them what they want. Their wants, their desires, are or should be the criteria, not the wants or the desires of "experts" or "intellectuals." [Another delusion of those endorsing "experts" and "analysts" is that these types are not motivated by their wants and desires, their passions, but merely by, say, the "pursuit of the truth." But I have met very experts/analysts who didn't crave success.]

But you are correct, we will not agree about this and, as a result, 

So it goes........

Good examples for something else, but they are largely irrelevant for the issues I raised on climate change, ebola containment, and to a lesser degree, economics.

But I think you are right. we will not agree about this and, as a result, so it goes.

I haven't read any more then the first twenty or so pages of the Klein book, but I think she is talking about big structural change.  Check it out.

Apparently you have not understood what I wrote: I said that "raising issues"  is a peculiar kind of politics, an elitist and disempowering kind of politics that human beings who are not awed by their own intellectualism and the alleged intelligence of "experts" and "analysts" reject.....and with very good reasons, as these "experts" and "analysts" have failed time and time again. You write back and reassert that we need to talk about "the issues I raised." No, I don't and won't because were I to do that I would be conceding the argument to you and, worse, conceding the worth of the conventional wisdom which you are content to embrace in your "issues" brand of politics. 

On MSNBC the other day, Andrea Mitchell was interviewing the woman running for governor in Texas, Wendy Davis, I think, about an ad she had run featuring an empty wheelchair that pointed out how her opponent had consistently favored as a judge the wealthy over the not wealthy in law suits for damages for personal injuries against corporations, and this after he had himself collected millions in a similar case - hence, the empty wheelchair. Mitchell had her panties all in a bunch over the empty wheelchair -"Oh, how insensitive!" - and then asked Wendy Davis whether this issue was more important than the issue of access to abortions in Texas. I yelled at the radio: "It's the same fucking 'issue,' you dumb ass!" I am sorry to say that while Davis made the same point, she was too polite in her response for my tastes. 

This is what happens when you adopt an "issues" brand of politics. Abortion, and, yes, even climate change, ebola containment, and even economics get severed from the social and human context in which they occur as if they were isolated phenomena the resolution of which have no implications for the power relationships in our society. In fact, this is one reason why an "issues" brand of politics is popular: Because it allows us to ignore the very real power "imbalances" that exist in our society and, thereby, perpetuates the status quo. The Progressives embraced such a politics - as an alternative to what was then called, appropriately, "populism" - because it would ensure their right to govern, to rule over its all-too-many and all-too-unsavory immigrants "flooding" the nation then and supporting those unsavory city machines. 

So, no, my argument is not "largely irrelevant for the issues [you] raised." You just have to try to understand that your brand of politics is peculiar, why it is peculiar, and why it is little more than a front for preserving the status quo. Or to simplify: If you say "A" and I say "B", you shouldn't say "A" again. It doesn't get us anywhere. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Shooting at the Moon

Shooting at the Moon: America’s Clandestine War
P. Schultz
October 17, 2014

Here is my review of the book Shooting at the Moon: America’s Clandestine War in Laos, by Roger Warner, published recently on Amazon

By P. Schultz "An Anti-Federalist" (North Carolina)

This review is from: Shooting at the Moon: The Story of America's Clandestine War in Laos (Paperback)

This is a well-documented, factually comprehensive account of the secret war that was waged in Laos as the non-secret war in Vietnam went on. It is illuminating in a couple of ways. First, it makes it crystal clear that the Vietnam War was part of a broader war the United States was waging in Southeast Asia. Focusing on the Vietnam War, as we Americans tend to do, and for understandable reasons, blurs this fact and, with it, blurs the militaristic character of what has been labeled "the Cold War." Perhaps that war was "cold" in Europe, but it was "hot" in Southeast Asia. Secondly, the title comes from a tradition in Laos of people actually "shooting at the moon," during lunar eclipses, because they act as if a huge cosmic frog were eating the moon and they had to kill it or chase it off. This tradition strikes we more "civilized" Westerners as just foolish and inane. However, as Roger Warner shows and concludes, it wasn't only the Laotian who were "shooting at the moon" futilely, "but all along, it was Americans who had been shooting at the moon." [p. 381] Warner sees the futility of the American war in Laos clearly: "The multi tour veterans from the CIA and USAID...were not cynics. They did not deliberately attach themselves to a losing cause. They gave willingly of themselves, hoping the help the Laotians at the same time they helped their own country. The paradox was that even though they helped run the Laos war for their government, the outcome was the opposite of what they intended. Somehow, and they didn't know how, events slipped out of their grasp. In some mysterious way, as the war became institutionalized, the system they worked for betrayed them and turned the war inside out." [pp. 380-381]

But what Warner calls "mysterious" isn't so mysterious if one recognizes that bureaucracies cannot accomplish certain tasks, like changing "hearts and minds" and winning a counterinsurgency, at least not without paying an unacceptable price both monetarily and humanly. That is, as the bureaucratic project "progresses," the goal seems to retreat into the distance, and the people in charge must "double down," as it were, leading to ever greater "exercises of power," to ever more "terror" in order to try to gain control. So, as the Americans "institutionalized" the war, "doubled down" with more troops and more fire power, "events...slipped out of their grasp." And the American effort was as futile as the Laotian effort of "shooting at the moon."

Roger Warner has done us a service with his book, "Shooting at the Moon." It should be required reading at West Point, at the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy, and especially at the White House. It won't be, of course; but it should be.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Endless War, Human Nature, and the U.S.

Endless War, Human Nature, and the U.S.
P. Schultz
October 13, 2014

Another email exchange with a friend: First is a link I sent out to some people. Then there is a response from a friend, Skip, and then we both responded after that. Enjoy.

Skip’s response to my link:

Pete; Periodic war is inevitable, no? You know far better than I of the
endless score of wars in recorded history, SOME of them even before the
advent of Lockheed, Raytheon, General Dynamics etc.  The desire for power,
fame , and wealth is a kin to that hereditary form of Diarrhea.....its' in
our genes.....Skip


My response to Skip:

Well, yes, Skip what you say is quite true. But does that excuse wars based on lies and deceit, unnecessary except in terms of helping to fund Lockheed, Raythreon, and General Dynamics, ala' Vietnam, Iraq, and now Syria? For some one who claims to be "conservative," you are certainly able to excuse the government's behavior with the argument: "Well, shucks, Pete, war is inevitable so even when that secret Muslim, Obama, does it, we should not complain. Shucks, Pete, dismembering other human beings is in our genes! So let the beheadings and bombings go on." 

It is so interesting to me how those who claim to be "conservatives" find that the government cannot provide health care in a reasonable fashion but it can torture, kill, and annihilate with precision. I believe, though, as you say, it is little more than the lust for blood, the desire to kill, whether the killings are needed or not. 

But, don't forget or complain about the consequences. As Willie likes to sing: "It ain't really hard to understand. If you're gonna dance, you gotta pay the band." Or as Malcolm X said after J F Kennedy was assassinated: "The chickens have come home to roost." Indeed they have and boy did they ever come home on 9/11! 

Skip’s response to my response:

Pete; Aren't the lies and deceit necessary to cloak the desire for power, fame & fortune? As a general rule, I see liberals as idealists and conservatives as realists. Liberals cling to the hope (fantasy?) of world peace. Wouldn't it be great.......but we both know it ain't gonna happen. Conservatives usually abide by Reagan's premise of peace through strength. If we relinquish our role as the most powerful country on earth(I think bho would like this!), who will succeed us? Communist China or Communist Russia? A human rights catastrophe in the making. Don't you think we need to continue our role as the most powerful country on earth? Sorry but I have to study my livelihood for a while! Luego Pedro.

And my response to Skip:

I believe that you are correct, Skip, but what apparently you don't see is how right you are when you say that humans always engage in lies and deceit, as well maiming and killing, "to cloak [and advance] their desire for power, fame, and fortune." For some reason, you don't include the United States in the human race in this regard. So, yes, I agree with you about human nature; but I don't exclude or excuse the US when we demonstrate the same characteristics. Otherwise, I believe one is engaging in a fantasy just like the one you attribute to our "liberals."  To explain: 

After declaring that (a) human beings naturally desire for power, fame, and fortune, and (b) need lies and deceit to cloak these desires, you go on to defend "our role as the most powerful country on earth" without so much as blinking or recognizing that perhaps this "role" is merely just another disguise for the humans who hold power in this country to kill, maim, and annihilate for the sake of national power, fame, and fortune. This is, to say the least, confusing and, I submit, confused. The only way this makes sense is if you think that we Americans or some of us are, unlike all other human beings, immune somehow from what you, in my mind rightly label, "that hereditary form of Diarrhea." Did we Americans get an inoculation from this dis-ease? I think not. To your way of thinking, we must have. Talk about a "hope (fantasy)" of the kind you attribute to liberals. I believe you are enmeshed as deeply in such "hope (fantasy)" as any liberal. 

Now, some facts: 
(1) Your oh so "idealistic" because world peace loving liberals aren't: They built the Pentagon against the wishes of many conservatives of the day; they created the CIA, again against the concerns of many then conservatives; they gave us Vietnam and the covert war in Laos and Cambodia [as well as endorsing covert war around the globe]; they have helped build our current armada, thereby greasing the palms of those corporations you name; they did not coin the phrase "the military-industrial complex;" the liberal Obama has merely continued and even expanded, while legitimating, the policies of George, aka "Shrub," Bush; engaging in torture, death and destruction in the deceitfully named, "War on Terror." This is just to point out several facts that have me to conclude that your characterization of liberals is based on a fantasy, and more broadly, the fantasy that our two parties or our liberals and conservatives have deep seated differences. They don't and both of them show symptoms, to say the least, of your "hereditary form of Diarrhea." I am surprised that as a doctor you don't recognize these symptoms. ;-) 

(2) Get ready, my friend, to relinquish "our role as the most powerful country on earth" as it will or has already happened. We couldn't win in Nam, we couldn't win in Iraq, we couldn't preserve the Shah in Iran, we couldn't overthrow Castro in Cuba, we couldn't assassinate Castro while there is considerable evidence that Castro had JFK assassinated, we couldn't defeat the communists in China, we couldn't win in Afghanistan or Pakistan, . to say nothing of our inability to impose a peace on the Middle East. and China is displacing us as the most powerful nation economically [don't we owe them a ton of money? I think we do and we are, and have been for some time, a debtor nation.] You may fantasize as you wish but it is, I think, little more than fantasy to think we control the world. If 9/11 should have taught us anything, it should be that.  

(3) And do you think that our role as the most powerful nation on earth has led to a flourishing of human rights? Not so much. To wit: Guantanamo, the Phoenix program in Vietnam, My Lai, millions or the equivalent of the population of our New England states killed in Nam while we were there, over a 100,000 civilian deaths in Iraq, support for dictators around the world, ala' Saddam [when Reagan was president], the tyranny in Chile, in Guatamala, in Cuba [before Castro took over], in South Korea and South Vietnam, support for jihadists in Afghanistan [how did that work out?], as well as in Egypt, in Lybia, in Syria, in Pakistan, and more dictators in China, in Iran with the Shah and his secret police, the Savak. That is, wherever it was deemed necessary or even convenient, the U..S. has supported dictators, over and over and over. What a boom for human rights!!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Matt Franck, Dred Scott, and Gay and Lesbian Marriage

Matt Franck, Dred Scott, and Gay and Lesbian Marriage
P. Schultz
October 10, 2014

The following is an email exchange with a friend about Matt Franck, who is arguing that the courts’ decisions regarding gay and lesbian marriage are analogous to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Dred Scott case. First, is a link to the Colbert Report where Matt, who replaced me at Radford University a long time ago, is featured, although only briefly.

Subject: Matt Franck makes the Colbert Show

About five minutes into this video, Matt is present or his picture is present. I wonder if he was invited to be on the show and refused. I should write and find out.

Hi Peter,

I looked further- here is Matt's latest piece in NRO responding to critics of his comparison of recent decisions to Dred Scott.

Maybe you can explain this to me.  This kind of reasoning just makes my head hurt.  Is Matt simply arguing that if a state legislature wants to pass a law affirming traditional marriage and denying marriage equality to gays, then their right to do so should be upheld in the courts? But that would apply to slavery as well, right?  Was Dred Scott wrong because the Court should have ruled in favor of Dred Scott or was it wrong because it should have left it up to the states? But that would have led to civil war as well, right?  So what's his point?  The real analogy it seems here is whether the Supreme court should grant marriage equality as a "right" that exists everywhere in the country or whether they leave it up to the states to decide.  Matt just reverses the definition of what is "right" in his reasoning and suggests it's obvious that marriage doesn't involve two men or two women.  The fact that marriage rights should be granted to gay couples (like freedom to African Americans) appears to be a much stronger argument in a republican society- no establishment of religion.  But is Matt OK if gay marriage slowly becomes the law of the land, state by state?  I guess that's what I don't get.  Help.

 I am going to respond without reading Matt's original piece as I don't really want to do that as it is a waste of my time and, being retired, as you now know, I don't have a lot of free time. ;-) 

I think, to put it simply, Matt wants to say (a) that the courts' decisions in favor of gay and lesbian marriage are bad decisions and (b) they are so bad that they should be compared to the Dred Scott decision, which is generally recognized as one of the worst decisions, if not the worst Supreme Court decision of all time. I believe it is really this simple. 

But being an academic, Matt cannot write this or leave it this way. He has to make several points - don't we academics always have multiple points to make? - to dress up his preference for decisions, well, doing what? It is, as you have noticed, hard to say what kind of decision(s) Matt would want. For example, he writes: "Like Dred Scott, judicial decisions in favor of same-sex marriage needlessly divide the country on an important moral issue about which people differ, and could otherwise debate their differences in the democratic process, on the pretext that there is a genuine constitutional issue in the cases." It would seem here he wants the courts to take a pass on this issue and let the country, the people, decide  whether to legitimate gay and lesbian marriage or not. [Fine with me. As George Will said the other day, only old people are against such marriages! And we are dying!!]

Or: "Like Dred Scott, these decisions rely, in part, on the conflation of the due process clause with a constitutionally ungrounded and so far unexplained power of the judiciary to decide what is “arbitrary” or “reasonable” or “just” in legislation, known by the laughable oxymoron “substantive due process.” This is a reference to a legal doctrine that has bothered many people, labeled "substantive due process," meaning that there are some things the government cannot do even though the process by which they were done was "due," that is, reasonable and fair. For example, even though, say, Carrie Buck was determined to be "unfit to reproduce" by a process that was reasonable and fair, to deny anyone the right to reproduce would violate "substantive due process." But how does one avoid making such judgments, especially if you are a justice sitting on a court, which is suppose to concern itself with "justice?" Moreover, I have not read these decisions so I don't know if they rely on substantive due process or not. Matt does not say they do. But what I do know is, is that Dred Scott did not rely on "substantive due process" as this concept as labeled was not created until after the civil war. [The substance of it was around earlier as you might guess given the nagging persistence of human beings to do just things. I guess Matt would prefer the courts not try to do what is just, which makes him, rather surprisingly and confusingly, close to embracing "legal positivism."]

Again: "Like Dred Scott, decisions for same-sex marriage rely on a false anthropology that drives a political decision made by judges.  In Dred Scott it was the false idea that some human beings can own other human beings, and that a democratic people cannot say otherwise.  In the same-sex marriage rulings it is the false idea that men can marry men, and women can marry women, and that democratic peoples cannot say otherwise." This is pure academeeze as near as I can tell or what Colbert would label "truthiness." "A false anthropology" driving "a political decision?" Why not just say that the courts' decisions have been "political?" The problem in Dred Scott was not a "false anthropology" but rather a decision that promised to facilitate by legalizing slavery throughout the United States, which would imply that slavery was just. This was THE PROBLEM  with Dred Scott, that it implied that slavery was just and, therefore, should be protected by the laws. [Before Dred Scott, "once free, forever free" was rather widely recognized, even in some southern courts, meaning that once on free soil slaves were forever free thereafter because it was recognized that slavery was unjust. It was this that the Dred Scott decision overturned or tried to overturn.] Matt is correct that this would have meant that slavery would have to be accepted nationally, at least legally acceptable. And, of course, the courts' decisions regarding gay and lesbian marriage have the same outcome, that the prohibition of such marriages is unconstitutional. But, of course, this only leads or should lead to the question of the justice of gay and lesbian marriage. Apparently, Matt doesn't want to go there and so he attributes the courts' decisions to "a false anthropology." Once again, and interestingly, Matt seems to want to avoid the question of justice, which I guess makes sense when your argument requires that you equate slavery and gay and lesbian marriage! 

Next: "Like Dred Scott, same-sex marriage rulings are a harbinger of further depredations, by courts and others, on human freedom in other dimensions.  In 1857, it was the freedom to live in a country where slavery was minimized and at least arguably on its way to extinction.  Today, it is the freedom to live, work, and learn in communities, schools, universities, and other organizations in which people can live the truth about marriage, for religious or other moral reasons." The slavery issue was not about the "freedom to live in a country where slavery was minimized and at least arguably on its way to extinction." The issue was whether certain human beings, black human beings, could be justly enslaved. The freedom of whites was not the issue, although Chief Justice Taney would have liked and tried to make it the issue! Hence, he argued that whites should be able to take their "property" wherever they wanted to take it, as guaranteed by the due process clause of the Constitution. Here, surprisingly, Matt seems to be an ally of C.J. Taney, not his critic. Maybe this is what happens when you ignore questions of justice. Further, as Matt has framed the issue today, it would seem to be a "further depredation...on human freedom" if "communities, schools, universities and other organizations" were not able to discriminate against human beings who happen to be white, black, female, male, gay, straight, lesbian, Hispanic, Jewish, Islamic, Christian, etc., etc., etc. if such places thought "the truth" required such apartheid arrangements. I believe C.J. Taney would be able to embrace Matt's reasoning here. 

Finally: "Like Dred Scott, same-sex marriage rulings, for all the reasons above, amount to a comprehensive threat to republican government, raising the question Lincoln asked in his First Inaugural Address, whether the American people are entitled to govern themselves, or must surrender to government by an “eminent tribunal” of judicial despots." Well, yes, Lincoln's question was and is appropriate. Matt is correct about that. But that only gets him to allowing the American people to decide the issue of gay and lesbian marriage, a decision they have appeared to have made already in its favor. But this is not only true of the Dred Scott decision and the decisions on gay and lesbian marriage but all Supreme Court decisions, even Gore v. Bush, or the Hobby Lobby decision, or the People's United decision, for example. The Supreme Court, especially when exercising the power of judicial review is hardly a "republican institution," by my way of thinking. Matt is attempting to single out the "same-sex marriage rulings" as different, like Dred Scott. But they aren't different at all.

And, so, I return to my beginning: Matt doesn't agree with or like these decisions. As is said in Texas, you can put earrings and a dress on a pig, but it is still a pig! 

And this is why, I believe, why you are confused and why your head hurts. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Obama and Vietnam? WTF?

Obama and “Vietnam”? WTF?
P. Schultz
October 7, 2014

            Here is a link that purports to equate Obama’s situation with that of LBJ’s situation in Vietnam. Whatever one might say about Obama’s situation regarding ISIS and Syria, the description of Johnson’s situation leaves a lot, to put it mildly, to be desired. Why? Because the description implies or, rather, asserts that Johnson was pulled into escalating the war in Vietnam and this despite his apparent reservations against doing to.

            The only problem with this description is that it fails to entertain the possibility – which to me is much more than a possibility – that Johnson escalated the war in Vietnam knowingly and willingly. He was not dragged into a quagmire in Vietnam for the simple reason that Johnson’s way of doing politics led him to escalate that war just as surely as his way of being romantic led him to woo and wed Lady Bird. That is, he knew no other way of being political in the world.

            What does this mean? It means that Johnson saw what he took to be an “existential threat” to the United States in what he and almost everyone else called “international Communism.” He could not see beyond this “reality” and so, of course, he imposed it on Vietnam and its civil war. The authors of this essay say that Johnson was “trapped” by his rhetoric, when in fact his rhetoric was merely a reflection of his warped view of what he and almost everyone else called “Communism.”

The authors also assert “War has a forward motion of its own.” Well, no it doesn’t. What moved Johnson was not “war,” but a political ideology that led him to see an “existential threat” where none existed, as we know so well now in 2014. Whatever Communism was, it was not “the wave of the future,” and it did not require that we “bear any burden” to “defeat” it. It would collapse of its own weight and, as a result, our Nikes and other apparel are being made in Vietnam!

We are so use to seeing our politicians not as ideologues that this argument will strike most as inane. But that was what Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and all our presidents have been, ideologues. The current president is no different in this regard no matter how often it is said that he is merely a “pragmatist” or a “balancer.” If we wish to avoid “another Vietnam” – which is also a construction that rests on the same ideology that “trapped” Johnson, et. al. – we need to rethink how we think about, talk about, and do politics. Only by realizing that Vietnam was unique and that the situation in the Middle East today is unique, and that neither constituted an existential threat – or perhaps not even a significant threat to the U.S. – will we be able to stop making war endlessly.