Tuesday, June 23, 2015

"Take Down This Flag!"

“Take Down That Flag!”
P. Schultz
June 23, 2015

            “Take down that flag!” It’s the new hit phrase sweeping the country, and, the NY Times is reporting, supported by conservatives as well as liberals. Which really isn’t all that surprising as it is merely an updated version of the old game, divide and control, a game that in the United States has always been played with “race cards.”

            Once, sometime ago, the powers that be saw to it that the poor and the powerless were classified as “white” and “black,” labeled different “races” and set against one another so that in their poverty and powerlessness they would think they did not have any common interests transcending their racial differences. In this way, the powers that be maintained their control of the government, disenfranchising the poor and the powerless for all practical purposes.

            The “take down that flag” rallying cry is part of the same game, even though it looks different. That is, it looks as if those endorsing this movement have transcended racism and are forging a new, post-racial unity. And, of course, were this in fact the case, kudos would be most appropriate. But as the phrase “take down this flag” makes clear, the racism being transcended is merely the racism of the past, the racism of the Confederacy. The conservatives who are rallying around this movement need not change one iota of their political agenda, from their opposition to affirmative action to their endorsement of a war on drugs and the resulting mass incarceration and disenfranchisement of the many African Americans who have been incarcerated.

As with Reagan’s rallying cry, “Mr. Gorbachev, take down this wall,” this rallying cry has no implications for any real change in the basic policies being pursued by our current “establishment” or oligarchy. And it serves those in power by distracting us from more important issues such as the increasing inequality in the U.S. or the destruction of the middle class. All is subsumed under the alleged need we have to deal with “racism,” as if mass killings in the U.S. have much to do with racism. Doesn’t anyone remember Newtown, the shootings in Colorado, or Columbine? These had nothing to do with race or racism.

But just as after 9/11 and the attack in Boston, now all must attend to the alleged new threat on the horizon and this despite the fact that in this case the perpetrator was almost powerless and alone. It is no longer possible to play “the race cards” as they use to be played as we are well beyond that. But that doesn’t mean “the race cards” can’t be played. They are being played yet again and, yet again, for the purpose of disempowering or distracting the dissatisfied.

Monday, June 22, 2015

When the Chickens Come Home to Roost

When the Chickens Come Home to Roost
P. Schultz
June 22, 2015

            Since the shooting in a Charleston, South Carolina church, it is interesting to me how outraged everyone seems to be. Not that outrage isn’t the appropriate response, but this outrage seems combined with an element of astonishment as if people are asking “How could this happen?” The act is presented to us and we view it as almost unimaginable, leading to the question cited above, “How could this happen?”

            I really don’t understand this response insofar as mass killings are anything but unusual in the United States or where the United States is involved in the world. Have people forgotten, for example, the mass killings in Connecticut at an elementary school? Have people forgotten the mass killings in a Colorado movie theatre? Have people forgotten the millions of Vietnamese who were killed as a result of our waging war there for several years, to say nothing of the 58,000 plus American soldiers who also died there? Have people forgotten the mass killings of civilians in Iraq that occurred as a result of our invading that nation and even doing so under false pretenses?

            Maybe people haven’t forgotten these events but what they seem to fail to recognize is that when mass killings are common events, and some of them are even seen as justified, it is fair to conclude that these events are part and parcel of the way we live, of the way we are in the world. It is this way of being in the world that accounts for the fact that mass killings are common place, not the presence of Confederate flags or even large numbers of guns. To think that taking down all flags that incorporate Confederate symbols, or to think that more gun regulation will make a significant impact on such events is like thinking that if the show “24” were taken off the air or never aired, the US would not torture people. It is a comfortable way of thinking but it isn’t all that persuasive.

            And by failing to recognize that these mass killings are part and parcel of our way of being in the world, we also then, when these events take place, turn to our leaders or to the government for guidance and reform, forgetting that it was their “watch” and under the current government that these events took place. Why should we listen to what the current leadership has to say when it was on their watch that the latest mass killing took place? Isn’t this just another way of preserving the status quo and, thereby, preparing the ground for more mass killings?

            When JFK was assassinated, Malcolm X got in trouble for saying, “The chickens have come home to roost.” But it was the truth. JFK was assassinated just weeks after the assassination of President Diem in South Vietnam, an event JFK was intimately involved with. It also occurred after JFK and his brother, Robert, authorized “Operation Mongoose,” by which they were trying their best to have Fidel Castro assassinated. As LBJ said when he discovered these things, the Kennedys were running a “Murder, Inc.,” out of the Oval Office. But, of course, Johnson never made this public or condemned it publicly. He knew he couldn’t do that. And, of course, he was correct. Had he done that he would have been condemned. Note well: the Kennedys would not have been condemned; but LBJ would have been condemned had he revealed their “Murder, Inc.”.

            We Americans have embraced violence as a tool, even as one of the primary tool, of maintaining what we think of as a civilized society. Is it any wonder then that some Americans turn to violence, to mass killings, as a way of improving our society? It might seem “wonder-ful” but it shouldn’t. We as a people and as a government do it all the time.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

More on "Regime Thinking"

More on “Regime Thinking”
P. Schultz
June 16, 2015

            This is a continuation of my last post dedicated to Aristotle’s idea of “regimes” and the implications for thinking about politics.

            A “regime perspective” makes it necessary to consider “issues” or “problems” not as isolated or unique phenomena but as embedded in an environment characterized by uncertainly or instability. Politicians, and especially “leading politicians,” cannot afford to deal with issues or solve problems in isolation from the broader considerations forced upon them by the necessity of preserving the established order, the regime.

            To illustrate, consider the events of 9/11, the attack on the U.S. by Islamist fundamentalists. Certainly, an attack of this significance had the potential to make the existing regime suspect. The attack itself obviously revealed flaws in that regime, flaws both of perceptions and of intelligence gathering of the bureaucratic kind. What was it about the regime that blinded its most powerful members to such an attack, in the sense of failing to take seriously warnings as well as failing to “connect the dots” of intelligence actually gathered?

            As a response to this possibility, the response to 9/11 must be concerned at least as much with protecting the regime as with getting those responsible, the attackers. In fact, the former concern is primary, while the latter concern is secondary. This is just “the way it is.”

Action is, therefore, essential, whether the actions undertaken are neatly calculated to get the attackers or not. It is also essential that attention be diverted away from the regime and its failures and pointed toward the attackers. So making the attackers appear dangerously shrewd, malicious, even hateful, as well as quite impressively competent, is useful. And, given that the attackers are so dangerous, a war-like response, not “a” but “the war on terror,” serves much better than what I will call a “law and order” response. These guys are not criminals but are masterminds that can only be taken out with the application of maximum force.

By way of further illustration, consider the war in Vietnam, especially as it was conducted by LBJ and RMN. It is all-too-common to think and to say that the issue, the problem was getting the U.S. out of that war, to get “peace with honor,” as RMN liked to put it. But that war took place in the 60s, at least for these two presidents, and that was a time of considerable instability in the U.S. After all, a president and a presidential candidate, brothers in fact, had been assassinated, another presidential candidate had been shot and crippled, and two prominent African American leaders, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, had been assassinated. And this says nothing about the killings of college students at Kent State and Jackson State. If ever a regime was under attack, in the 60s the existing regime was under attack. So, the question was: How to deal with Vietnam in a way that preserved the existing regime?

“The peace movement” was, of course, about more than peace in Vietnam. It reflected a different way of thinking about, talking about, and doing politics than the ways of LBJ and RMN. And the longer the war went on, the clearer the flaws of the existing regime became and the more appealing the alternative appeared to be. So, what to do?

One possibility would be to make the peace movement look violently uncivil and/or unpatriotic. From this point of view, the riots surrounding the Democratic national convention in Chicago worked quite well. And, interestingly, these riots were described by one investigation as “police riots.” Or fabricate or exaggerate stories of how the “peaceniks” degraded, verbally abused, or spat upon ordinary soldiers. Contrasted with Nixon’s “silent majority,” these “peaceniks” were undesirables. And so of course would be their politics.

Another possibility would be for the incumbent, but allegedly beleaguered president, one apparently confined to the White House against his will because of civil unrest, to voluntarily forego the possibility of re-election so he could devote his energies to achieving peace. By doing this, the beleaguered president displaced the other peace movement, while demonstrating his selfless patriotism by foregoing the most powerful office in the world. The same beleaguered president could also work to ensure – or at least not get in the way of – that the candidate who practiced a “politics of realism,” who understood the need to use power and even to use it brutally, and who would not be beholden to any “doves” or “peaceniks” in his own party, would become the next president.

And yet another possibility would be for a president who was seen as willing to maximize the use American power to save an ally and prevent the expansion of Communism to secretly betray that ally while promising the Communists he would do nothing to stop their victory if they waited for a “decent interval” before doing so. In that way, he could disguise his capitulation as “peace with honor,” while securing the release of American prisoners of war after years of tortured captivity. In these ways, this president could re-establish the bona fides of the existing regime, the regime in which he was embedded and which made him “the leader” he was. And except for his ally and those soldiers and Vietnamese who died while this ruse was being acted out, it was a “win-win.” The war was ended and the regime preserved.

Monday, June 15, 2015

"Regimes" and Thinking About Politics

“Regimes” and Thinking About Politics
P. Schultz
June 15, 2015

            Conventionally speaking, it is often said that “issues arise,” that is, social, political, and economic issues arise, and that they must be dealt with. Or, perhaps, it is said that “problems arise” and “solutions” must be sought. This is the way we talk most of the time, without being aware of its implications.

            One such implication is that such talk abstracts from, even obfuscates, a most basic political phenomenon, viz., the regime. As Aristotle noted, all political societies are characterized by regimes, i.e., particular arrangements of power and privilege, arrangements that carry with them certain “values” or “principles.” In democratic regimes, e.g., the many possess the power and privileges, they govern, which form of rule is based on or leads to a belief in equality as the primary political and social value.

            Now, insofar as Aristotle was correct, the view that “issues” or “problems” arise and must be dealt with is misleading in at least two ways. First, issues or problems don’t simply arise; rather, they are created and the existing regime may be said to create them. Certain phenomena are issues in, say, a democratic regime that would not be issues in, say, a monarchy or aristocracy. Second, to say that dealing with issues or solving problems is the crux of politics is also misleading. A more complete description of political activity would be to say that politicians, at least most of the time, deal with issues or solve problems in ways that preserve the existing regime, that is, preserve the power and privileges of “the established political arrangements” or the predominant political elites.

            So, consider what is labeled today “health care reform.” While this may be and usually is treated as a technical issue, one best dealt with by “experts,” it is also a political issue, which is to say that any “reform” will necessarily have implications for the regime and for those who “are,” so to speak, that regime. At the most basic level, the issue is whether the reforms proposed or adopted will undermine or fortify the existing regime. And those politicians who are most indebted to the existing regime – most often these are those politicians labeled “leaders” – will seek “solutions” or policies that preserve their status as “the leading politicians.”

            Hence, if there is considerable unrest or dissatisfaction among “the people,” these leading politicians will have to navigate so as to appear to favor real change or genuine reform while actually trying to control such change in ways that preserve their power and privilege. And because it often happens that appearances are eventually seen for what they are, viz., mere appearances, the skill needed to navigate these political waters successfully is considerable. The leading politicians must be constantly on guard to avoid either any genuine reforms that undermine their status or being exposed as opponents of such reforms.

            Regimes are, Aristotle argued, multi-faceted and ephemeral; hence, they are fluid or in motion, vibrating this way and that, with only momentary periods of rest or stability. In such an environment, to speak of “dealing with issues” or “solving problems,” as if these issues or problems were merely technical and politicians were merely looking for the “best” deals or solutions, is to obscure rather than reveal the reality of politics. And, in fact, this is one way to obscure from “the many,” the uninitiated, what is actually going on insofar as it obscures the degree to which politicians, whether “liberal,” “conservative,” or “moderate,” seek to preserve the status quo even at the expense of genuine change or reform.  

Friday, June 12, 2015

Richard Nixon: Supporter of Veterans

Richard Nixon: Supporter of Veterans
P. Schultz
June 12, 2015

            Here is another Richard Nixon story that reveals the measure of the man.  On October 24, 1972, just before the presidential election, Nixon signed a bill increasing veterans’ educational benefits, which were made retroactive. After announcing that each veteran present would get a souvenir pen, a veteran, Larry Kirk, approached the president and shook his hand. Kirk was Army and had lost both legs below his knees in Vietnam, and part of one arm.  Ken Hughes, in Fatal Politics, describes what happened then and later.  

            “[Kirk] hoped the president meant what he said about giving veterans ‘the first crack’ at jobs, since he’d applied for one as a White House Fellow. . . .’You want to be a White House Fellow?’ the president asked. ‘Seriously?’
            “Kirk said he wanted to ‘continue to serve my country.’
            “’It’s arranged,’ said the president. A press photographer captured the moment: Kirk looks relaxed and friendly, but modest; Nixon . . . angry. This spontaneous, heartwarming anecdote made the New York Times, Washington Post, and a lot of other papers, thanks to an Associated Press dispatch. Seven months later, the White House announced the selection of eighteen Fellows for the coming year; Kirk’s name wasn’t on the list.” [p. 126]

Friday, June 5, 2015

The "Who Lost China?" Game

The “Who Lost China?” Game
P. Schultz
June 5, 2015

            I am currently reading a book entitled, Fatal Politics: The Nixon Tapes, the Vietnam War, and the Casualties of Reflection, by Ken Hughes. In one part of the book, Hughes discusses what he calls “The who lost China” game; a game played by Republicans who wanted to blame the loss of China on the Democrats. Of course, Hughes points out the Democrats also played the “who lost X” game, e.g., charging that the Republicans lost Cuba.

            Hughes is aware that there is something amiss here, because as he points out: While “the Democrats may have had more facts on their side [regarding China],” these facts proved to be meaningless given “the genius of such rhetoric.” [p. 38] For some reason, Hughes suggests, there seems to be no way to respond and successfully defend oneself against “such rhetoric.”

            Hughes is correct because “the genius of [this] rhetoric” is that the question is a set up, much like the question, “When did you stop beating your wife?” The set up works as follows.

            The question assumes that conducting foreign policy is like playing a game, say, a baseball game. In a baseball game [or any game for that matter], there are established rules, that is, approved ways to play the game. And these rules help to determine winners and losers. So, the question implies, first, that there are established and accepted rules by which American foreign policy is conducted and implies, second, that if these rules are followed then victory will follow. Whoever “lost,” say, China, obviously did not implement the rules that guide or should guide US foreign policy.

            But another implication, perhaps the most important implication of the “who lost X” rhetoric, is that it suggests, but without openly stating it, that the way the US “plays the game” of foreign policy is how that “game” should be played. Hence, the question “who lost X” deflects attention away from a more basic question, viz., the question of the worth of US foreign policy as it conducted by the establishment. This is a question that never gets raised.

            And because it never gets raised, it is assumed that it need not be raised. As a result, the problem or issue becomes one of competence, how well or poorly a politician or a party played the game. And of course if some nation or war was “lost,” it is irrefutable that whoever was “in the game” was incompetent. This is why the Democrats’ attempts to refute the charge that they “lost” China by amassing facts failed and had to fail to be persuasive.  Once they bought into the rhetoric of “who lost China,” they were bound to seem incompetent, as were the Republicans for their failure to prevent or overthrow the Communist regime in Cuba.

            However, once the question of the worth of “the game” the US is playing is raised, the issue is no longer simply one of competence. And this changes almost everything. For example, the question of how competent the US was in conducting its foreign policy in, say, China is less important than the question of the kind of foreign policy the US was practicing in China. To begin with a simple question: Was US foreign policy in China “realistic?” Because if that policy was not realistic, then whether it was competently carried out or not is unimportant. And if it were not realistic, why was it adopted? That is, what assumptions made it seem realistic? And what is the worth of those assumptions that underlie US foreign policy?

            But these more basic issues, more basic questions all disappear, as it were, when the question is raised, “Who lost China?” Or “Who lost Vietnam?” Or “Who lost Iraq?” The “who lost” question makes it seem as if the only ingredient lacking for the US to have a successful foreign policy is competence. And so we can go on thinking that if only we could find competent managers, say, like Henry Kissinger, or if we could only find the right bureaucratic arrangements, then all would be well. But it could well be that incompetence is not the problem. It is not how we conduct foreign policy but the kind of foreign policy we are conducting that needs changing.