Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Tony Soprano, Malcolm X, Terrorism and Our Current Ills

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

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

            Question: What is the origin of this breakdown?

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Status Quo Politics and 2016

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

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

Saturday, December 20, 2014


P. Schultz
December 20, 2014

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Fascism Has Arrived

Fascism Has Arrived
P. Schultz
December 14, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 6, 2014

John Kerry and Our Political Comedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 5, 2014

Giving the Game Away - Again

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

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

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

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

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

            It is an interesting situation.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Smoke and Mirrors and the "Realists"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            It is an interesting situation.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Chuck Schumer's Smoke and Mirrors

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

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