Saturday, December 28, 2019

For What It's Worth: Neo-Liberalism or Democracy?

For What It’s Worth: Neo-Liberalism or Democracy?
Peter Schultz

See the link below to an article entitled “After Neoliberalism,” for which I have appended some comments, for better or worse. My comments are in red.

“The central question of our time is what comes after neoliberalism. New political paradigms emerge in response to the challenges and failures of the preceding era, and today, four possibilities for the future are emerging.”
This is not the central question because (a) neoliberalism isn’t dead yet and (b) what the author labels “neo-liberalism” is actually oligarchy. To think that the target is something called neo-liberalism is to guarantee that you will miss the real target.

“The first possibility is reformed neoliberalism.” There is no such thing as “reformed neoliberalism” because there is no such thing as neo-liberalism. As noted above, the current arrangements, the prevailing regime, are oligarchic where the wealthy rule at the expense of the not-wealthy. To “reform” these arrangements means nothing more than moderating the degree to which the wealthy benefit and the not-wealthy lose. This illustrates why it is beneficial to call our current arrangements “oligarchic” and not “neo-liberal.” Oligarchies are less amenable to change than the rather vague phenomenon neo-liberalism. And the author seems to recognize this. “Others, like those who see the Universal Basic Income as a paradigm for the future, want to correct the dislocations that neoliberal policies created—but they are hesitant to attack the root causes of inequality head-on. The real danger of this path is that it threatens more of the same: persistent disaffection, further erosions of trust and social solidarity, and demagogues waiting in the wings.”

“The second possibility is nationalist populism, which combines ethnic, religious, or cultural nationalism with economic populism.” This is, to me, rather weird as a distinct “possibility” because nationalism is endemic to a world composed of “nation states.” Show me a nation that does not embrace to one degree or another “populistic, ethnic, religious, cultural, and economic” nationalism. As the author identifies this with Steve Bannon, I believe this is just a category meant to isolate the likes of Bannon – and of course Trump – as aberrations. They are not aberrations; hence, their abiding popularity. The author dismisses this possibility because it does not, he argues, constitute “a governing strategy,” which is also odd to me in that it implies that politics is about governing. When will people like this author learn that politics is not primarily about governing? It’s about the pursuit of “the good,” although “the good” is understood differently by democrats and oligarchs and aristocrats. This is why the likes of Bannon is appealing: Because he makes no bones about pursuing a particular understanding of “the good.” And if that pursuit renders government less than “efficient” or “progressive,” then so be it. Human beings desire “the good” and pursue it continuously. They desire “the good” even more than they desire power, contra Hobbes, Locke, or even Nietzsche.

“The third possibility, which many refer to as authoritarianism, has gotten the most attention.” Once again, to refer to a distinct phenomenon as “authoritarianism” is weird to me, especially from someone who takes seriously politics as being about governing.  Government is authoritarianism, plain and simple. This is what Machiavelli knew and helps explain why he helped create the phenomenon we call “government,” in distinction from, say, Aristotle who wrote an entire book on politics and never once used the word “government.” Government is, as Machiavelli understood it, essentially bureaucratic and, of course, bureaucracies are “authoritarian,” as Max Weber knew so well, calling bureaucracy the “iron cage of rationality.” The author seems to understand this:

The better term for this third future is “nationalist oligarchy,” and Trumpism is its American variant. This form of government feeds nationalism to the people but delivers oligarchy—special privileges to the rich and well connected. Its economic approach is a corrupt outgrowth of neoliberalism. Its social policy is nationalist backlash. Its political program involves rigging the rules so popular majorities cannot overthrow the powerful. Nationalist oligarchy is undesirable, to say the least—but it could easily define the next era of politics.”

Although the author recognizes oligarchy here as a distinct phenomenon, incredibly he identifies this option with Trump, as if Trump created “special privileges to the rich and well connected.” And then he goes to assert that “Its political program involves rigging the rules so popular majorities cannot overthrow the powerful.” Given the consistency with which our political parties have rigged the rules to perpetuate their rule, one could accuse the author here of suffering from what Jimmy Dore calls “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” And it seems to me that “nationalist oligarchy” is precisely what we have today. So don’t be surprised if it does “define the next era of politics.”

And then we come to the fourth and obviously the favored possibility, democracy. The author sees that democracy requires equality: “For thousands of years, since at least the ancient Greeks, political leaders and philosophers have recognized that democracies could not succeed in the presence of extreme economic inequality.”
This is all well and good. But what he does not seem to see is that the fact of economic equality is not sufficient. That is, he does not seem to see that a middle class mindset is essential for democracy. People must be convinced and act as if being middle class is better than being wealthy. They know of course that being middling is better than being poor but they need to embrace equality not just as a fact but as an aspiration. The wealthy in such a society are tolerated and, if John Adams was right, they should be isolated – say in a senate – where they can be watched and controlled. They are not to be idolized or lionized as they are in the United States these days. And they are certainly not to be given wealth wholly disproportionate to the not-wealthy. In fact, in democratic societies, the wealthy would try to hide their wealth, try to appear to be middle class by acting and living like they are middle class. Otherwise, as the author points out: “In an unequal society, either the rich would oppress the poor and democracy would descend slowly into oligarchy, or the masses would overthrow the rich, with a demagogue leading the way to tyranny.” In other words, the rich as well as the not rich must embrace the fact that justice requires equality, that the just seek equality, not distinction. Equality is “the good” that should be pursued.

And this leads to the author’s next argument about democracy: “And an economic and united democracy cannot be achieved or sustained without a political process that is responsive to the people.” He is correct, of course, but again his language leaves something to be desired. It is not that in a democracy, as described above, that the governors are “responsive to the people;” rather, it is that they are responsive to the demands of justice. Responding to the people is, of course, reactionary language while pursuing justice is not.

And again our author: “It requires that elections capture the popular will rather than the will of interest groups and wealthy individuals, that elected officials act in the public interest rather than doing the bidding of lobbyists, and that civil servants and judges do not stray from their popular mandates. As important as constitutional restraints and protections of minorities are, majoritarianism is critical to democracy.” The author’s focus here is on the popular will as opposed to interest groups and wealthy individuals, on the public interest and popular mandates and majoritarianism. But the focus should be on equality as “the good,” equality not as a manifestation of “the popular will” but as a manifestation of justice. The popular will could be corrupted by the appeal of wealth or by appeals to greatness ala’ Pericles. The popular will is of ambiguous value whereas justice is not. The popular will might point toward “the good,” but justice necessarily points toward or is that “good.”

When Lincoln said that a house divided against itself cannot stand, he was, I believe, talking about justice, about how a nation that is divided on the question of the justice of slavery cannot go on in that condition. Human beings pursue justice and, therefore, either the nation would become either all slave or all free, there being no way to reconcile these different versions of justice. Lincoln was appealing, as best he could in his time, to justice, not to the popular will, as Stephen Douglas did. Lincoln knew that the popular will did not and would not – at least not then – support equality. But justice required Lincoln to save the union as a free nation, not a slave nation. And through it all, Lincoln held firm to his belief that slavery was unjust and, hence, had to be destroyed. This is what Frederick Douglass perceived about Lincoln and led him, despite his clear-sighted assessment of Lincoln as “the white man’s president,” to honor Lincoln and to recommend that the freedmen should honor him also. Lincoln’s goal was justice and this would, Douglass knew, benefit, eventually, the former slaves as well as white men. Justice is good for all.

What the United States needs these days is what it has always needed, viz., a politics of justice. A “responsive political system” might or might not be just; an oligarchy, whether populistic or nationalistic or both is not just. An interventionist foreign policy, as some like to call it, might or might not be just; an imperialistic foreign policy is unjust. Justice is “the good” and it is or should be the goal of our political system. It would be good if a politics of justice succeeded our current oligarchy.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

A Response to Tulsi Gabbard's Impeachment "Vote"

A Response to Tulsi Gabbard’s Impeachment “Vote”
Peter Schultz

            Tulsi Gabbard voted present regarding the impeachment of Donald Trump.
Here is my response.

            Nice try but no cigar, Tulsi. If it was a partisan attempt to remove a president than it wasn’t about his “wrong doing” as you say. And if it wasn’t about political crimes then you should have voted against it. But of course, you couldn’t do that without being hung by the partisans in your party pushing impeachment. So you saved yourself or tried to with this gambit. But you’re already finished because the same people impeaching Trump have hung you out to dry because you don’t support their policies, their oligarchy, their wars, their injustices. Unless those policies are changed, there will be no unity, and all the love in the world won’t accomplish that. Unity requires a politics based on justice, not sentiments like patriotism or love of country. You may love America all you want and shout it from the roof tops but such sentiments are powerless to achieve the unity you seek. As Sally said to Harry on New Year’s eve, “It doesn’t work like that!” What America needs is justice, justice for Americans and justice for non-Americans, even for Muslims. So, again, nice try but no cigar. A house divided must seek, as Lincoln knew, justice because justice is the key to political unity. And as Lincoln also knew, justice is not easily achieved or achieved by “being present.”

Monday, December 16, 2019

Could It Happen Here?

Could It Happen Here?
Peter Schultz

            “Slowly at first, but then with gathering momentum, the ……. public began to discover how deeply it had been misled – not only about the accident and its consequences but also about the ideology and identity upon which their society was founded. The accident and the government’s inability to protect the population….finally shattered the illusion that the…..was a global superpower armed with technology that led the world. And, as the state’s attempts to conceal the truth….even the most faithful citizens….faced the realization that their leaders were corrupt and that the…..dream was a sham.”

            This is a description of a process of discovery that overtook one nation as its people realized that their elites were imposters and that the ideology upon which the state was based was defective, as defective as the nuclear reactors this nation had built to usher in nirvana. Yup, the nation in question was the USSR and it was the “accident” at Chernobyl that led to their “awakening.”

            In the US, it would seem that the elites have more staying power than those in the USSR. After all, the debacle in Vietnam didn’t awaken the people, 9/11 didn’t awaken the people, the economic collapse of 2008 didn’t awaken the people, a war in Iraq built on lies didn’t awaken the people, the inhuman treatment of POWs and others didn’t awaken the people, and Trump apparently hasn’t awakened the people to the facts that “their leaders [are] corrupt and that the [capitalist] dream [is] a sham.” So what will it take? Perhaps an accident on the scale of Chernobyl would do it. But even then I suspect our elites would find a way to cover over the disaster, the deaths of thousands of people, and contamination of huge areas and prevail, or even be fortified. But until people are awakened, the endless wars will continue, the wealthier will get wealthier as the not-wealthy get less wealthy, mass incarceration will be necessary, and the police state will be strengthened.

            But as the people did awaken in the USSR, it would be unpersuasive to say it can’t happen here.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Imaginary Conversation With Nancy Pelosi About Impeachment

An Imagined Conversation with Nancy Pelosi About Impeachment.
Peter Schultz

“So, Madam Speaker Pelosi, you said that although George Bush lied to get the US to invade Iraq that that would not justify impeaching him. Is that correct?”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

“Well, how can you explain that? I mean it seems hard to make sense of that argument given that the Iraq war, waged under false pretenses, destroyed a nation, killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, including many, many civilians and, actually, didn’t succeed in establishing anything approaching a genuine democracy in Iraq. Moreover, 4000 plus US soldiers were killed in that war and many more were maimed, some of them permanently.”

“Well, let me put this way. Everything you said is true. But, of course, Bush didn’t know those things would happen when he lied about invading Iraq. He thought he was doing a good thing; his intentions were good, whereas other presidents, like Trump and Nixon, had intentions that were not good. Trump and Nixon were seeking to undermine democracy while Bush was seeking to establish democracy.”

“But doesn’t the fact, which you agree with, that Bush lied, leading to death and destruction on such a huge scale, matter? I mean perhaps he had, as you say, good intentions but do good intentions justify what might be called criminally irresponsible actions? Shouldn’t the focus of an impeachment be on actions rather than intentions? Doesn’t the focus on intentions actually allow presidents to act in what might prove to be criminally irresponsible ways?”

“But Bush was seeking to establish a democracy in Iraq and that indicates to me that he shouldn’t have been impeached.”

“So even though Bush’s war ended up slaughtering Iraqi civilians, destroyed that nation, a nation that posed no threat to the US, he’s to be granted a pass, as it were, because his intentions were good. Is that your argument?”

“Yes, that’s a pretty good summary of my thinking.”

“Well, I must admit I don’t know how to respond to your argument, other than to say that the same argument could be used by a person like bin Laden in defending the attacks on the US on 9/11 and on other dates. His intentions, from his point of view, were good too as he sought to rid what he took to be the ‘holy land’ of invaders who were unbelievers. So doesn’t justice and humanity make demands on us no matter how good our intentions are? Or are we humans free to do whatever it takes to actualize our good intentions?”

“Well, as the old expression has it: ‘You can’t make mayonnaise without breaking some eggs.’ And you cannot change the world without embracing death and destruction, perhaps even of a very high order. I mean, we must be realistic, no?”

“Even if being realistic means that you embrace lying and death and destruction on a very large scale? And if it means that, isn’t that a very dangerous argument to make?”

“Yes, I guess it is a dangerous argument but we shouldn’t shy away from dangerous arguments or dangerous policies. And this is especially true for the US, which is of course ‘the indispensable nation.’ If the world is to be changed, then we Americans are going to save it.”

“OK. I hear you. But what kind of realism is that, thinking, first, that the world can be changed in fundamental ways and, second, that the US is the only nation that can change it for the better? I mean, pardon my expression, but that seems delusional to me. That seems to me to be creating your own ‘reality.’ Isn’t that as fanciful as people like bin Laden thinking they can recreate a far-flung Islamic caliphate?” 

“Well, we have wandered quite far from the question of why George Bush shouldn’t have been impeached, haven’t we?”

“Well, no, I don’t think we have. We have, I think, laid bare the reasons you don’t want to use the impeachment power against politicians like Bush, because such politicians embrace greatness and seek to actualize American greatness. To use impeachment to restrain presidents and their use of power implies a critique of a politics of greatness. Political greatness requires a nation to embrace both good and evil deeds, and great nations are known by and remembered for both kinds of deeds.”

“I don’t know about that. That seems pretty wild to me. Besides, there is a vote upcoming on the floor of the House so I must go. Good talking with you.”

“Likewise, Madam Speaker, and thank you for your time.”

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

"Analysis" of the Afghan War from D.C.

“Analysis” of the Afghan War from D.C.
Peter Schultz

            Below is a link to an article in the Washington Post that purports to be “a secret history of the war” in Afghanistan. Needless to say, it is or should be controversial. I offer some thoughts, briefly, taken from my Facebook post about the article. 

Interesting analysis but unpersuasive. "By expanding the original mission, they said they adopted fatally flawed war fighting strategies based on misguided assumptions about a country they did not understand.
"The result: an unwinnable conflict with no easy way out." 

              Our elites probability knew but certainly didn't care if the war was winnable. Because like Vietnam, fighting the war was enough to serve Bush's and Obama's political goals, domestic and foreign. Whether it was won was and is inconsequential, which is why the US has been fighting there for 19 years.

While there are pictures of injured American troopers, there are none and no mention of the massacres that occurred at al Majalah and Gardez where civilians were gunned down, including 3 women at Gardez at a baby-naming party for a family working with the government and the US. In Gardez soldiers tried to dig the bullets out of the dead women bodies so their acts would avoid detection. It ultimately didn't work but the massacre was defended by General Hugh Shelton: The women were in "the wrong place, at the wrong I am OK with that....I think you write it off as one of those damn acts of war." [Dirty Wars, Scahill, p. 347] Maybe that's how we should think about the attacks of 9/11: Just "one of those damn acts of war!" As the Afghani home owner in Gardez said: "now we think of that Americans themselves are terrorists....They bring terror and destruction." And as the father of one of slain women said: "We call them the American Taliban." [p. 346]

Friday, December 6, 2019

Obama, bin Laden, and Violence

Obama, bin Laden, and Violence
Peter Schultz

            Here are some sentences I ran across recently from Obama’s speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, a speech that was praised by the likes of Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich.

            “For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies….To say force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism – it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.”

            Here is my question: Why couldn’t bin Laden say exactly the same things in defense of his embrace of violence? And insofar as this is the case, how would one distinguish Obama’s embrace of violence from bin Laden’s? If you embrace “force” or violence because “evil does exist in the world,” you have justified such violence indiscriminately. Without an appeal that goes beyond “a recognition of history,” beyond “the imperfections of man,” beyond “the limits of reason,” you have not only condoned such violence but you have facilitated it, promoted it, even to the point of condoning a “program of global assassination” and this by either bin Laden or Obama, by jihadists or by the United States.

            The non-violent movements, which Obama dismisses in his speech, rest on considerations of justice. That is, they point toward the question: What does justice require of us when confronting the evil that exists in the world? Obama ignores this question altogether in his embrace of violence and so it is little wonder that his administration embraced a program of global assassinations that necessarily, inevitably committed injustices, including the murder children. By embracing what may be called “political realism” Obama embraces, willy nilly, indiscriminate violence; that is, violence unrestrained by considerations of justice. This seems to me a kind of politics that should be avoided.

Delusions? Not Really Just Politics

Delusions? Not Really. Just Politics
Peter Schultz

            Here is an interesting article by Major Danny Sjursen arguing that our elites delusions are keeping humanity on the road to destruction. “As the U.S. government, as well as far too many Americans, remain fixated on the decidedly minor threat of Islamist “terrorism,” two actual global existential perils persist and are hardly addressed. I’m speaking, of course, of nuclear war and man-made, climate-based catastrophe. Hardly any serious establishment political figure in this country has taken meaningful action on such grave matters, mind you—busy as they are either reflexively attacking or defending Trump’s comparably trivial policies in Ukraine or Syria.”

            This is a persuasive argument although many will dispute that the Islamist terrorism is a “minor threat” or that Trump’s policies in Ukraine and Syria are “trivial.” But here’s what struck me as I read this.

            All of a sudden the lights went on and I saw how the Republicans and Democrats have been colluding to mask the most important issues the nation faces. The Republicans have given us the Trump clown show, as it were, replete with inane tweets, outright lies, and all-around clownishness. While the Democrats have given us an impeachment “drama” that drains almost all the air out of any room and overwhelms any discussion of politics in these United States. In this situation, more important issues like climate change, nuclear weapons, oligarchy, and imperialism disappear, replaced by essentially minor issues like Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Venezuela and Trump’s bribery of Ukrainian officials. So our elites get to avoid these phenomena as issues and the status quo continues essentially unchallenged and is even fortified. And, of course, both factions of our imperialistic oligarchy are fortified as well while the nation suffers.

            It’s sort of like a perfect storm for our oligarchs. Those on “the left” get to ridicule Trump’s clown act, while those on “the right” get to impale those on “the left” on the spears of an impeachment that is bound to fail in the Senate. And all the while the mainstream media is playing its role by hyping Trump’s clown act and the Democrats faux impeachment. Although the nation continues to suffer, especially the not wealthy, it must be said that these oligarchs are quite good at maintaining their power and status. If the results weren’t so bad, you could admire the oligarch’s ability to disguise our reality.

            “Sometimes the light’s all shining on me. Other times I can barely see. Lately it occurs to me: What a long, strange trip it’s been!”

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Trump's Impeachment: Controlling the Narrative, Preventing Change

Trump’s Impeachment: Controlling the Narrative, Preventing Change
Peter Schultz

            In thinking about the current Democratic attempt to impeach and remove Trump from office, an attempt that is ultimately phony, it seems to me that this “show trial” has been created so the Democrats can try to control what is now called “the narrative” of American politics.

            As anyone who has offered the opinion that Trump’s actions vis-à-vis the Ukraine, for example, are politically insignificant when compared to, say, to Bush’s war against Iraq, a war based on lies and politically adjusted intelligence, has discovered, the response usually is something like this: “Well, that’s irrelevant.” And this means that whatever Bush did, no matter how monstrous, how deadly, how destructive, that doesn’t matter any longer. The only thing that matters is Trump and what he’s done.

            But such responses and such a myopic focus on Trump only serve to hide the perfectly legitimate argument that the American political order is thoroughly oligarchic, thoroughly imperialistic, and thoroughly militaristic, as illustrated by the Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and Obama administrations. It’s as if people are saying: “I don’t care if our political order is oligarchic, imperialistic, and militaristic. I care only about Trump and I want him out!”

            And if you point out that for the most part Trump’s critics are precisely those who brought us Bush’s wars, Bush torture regime, and Obama’s legitimation of Bush’s policies, the response often is: “Well, that may be true but I don’t care about that. I want Trump out because he should never have been president in the first place. And I am in favor of any decent pretense that accomplish this goal.”

            So the Democrats need not care whether Trump is impeached or, if impeached, removed from office. Their goal is to create “a narrative” by which their militaristic imperialism, for example, disappears from the drama or the discourse of American politics. Also, the oligarchic character of their politics will also disappear and these disappearances will be labeled “centrism” or “political moderation.” But by avoiding what they perceive to be “extremes,” the Democrats are ensuring – deliberately – that we the people will not see and they will not deal with the root causes of our political deficiencies. As I like to say: “Impeach and remove Trump if you care to. But don’t expect much to change afterwards.” Because this “impeachment” has been undertaken to prevent any real or significant change in America’s politics.

            And in this light, you might want to ask yourself: Why is it that the Communist system in the USSR had a greater capacity for change than the allegedly liberal and democratic United States? And don’t look now but the same phenomenon is taking place in Communist China. Americans just might want to look beyond Trump because “the times they are a changing.”


Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Elections: The Life Blood of Democracy?

Elections: The Life Blood of Democracy?
Peter Schultz

            Americans like to think that elections are the life blood of US democracy. So many believe that not only is voting a right but that it is also a duty, a duty that only the lazy, the ignorant, or the unpatriotic fail to uphold. Oh, would that it were so.

           Elections, from viewpoint of politicians, are dangerous and, hence, must be controlled, manipulated, even at times corrupted. This danger is present all the time but it is especially great when there is widespread dissatisfaction, even anger and rage among the people, the electorate. And in times of popular unrest, dissatisfaction, and anger, politicians, especially incumbents and more especially yet the most established, will do whatever they have to do to try to ensure that the outcome of an election does not harm them by bringing into power those who may be called “insurgents.”

            So, whatever is happening now in America’s political scene is being managed or directed by the powers that be in the Republican and Democratic parties. As there are a lot of people seeking the Democratic nomination for president, this is something that the party is encouraging, is directing insofar as it can do so. Why would they do this? Control. An attempt to control who gets the nomination so they can try to control the outcome of the election. The same thing is true of the Republicans. As they are standing behind Trump, it is because they deem this strategy the most advantageous for their chances in upcoming 2020 elections.

            Do their strategies always succeed? Of course not. The Democrats thought they had things under control in 2016 but they did not and Trump ended up president. The Republicans thought they had things under control in 1992 but they did not and Clinton ended up president. But while their strategies don’t always succeed they are motivated by the same goal, to preserve their power within their party and, secondly, in the federal government.

            It doesn’t take too much imagination to notice that ensuring their power does not mean that these politicians need to win every election. In fact, it is pretty clear that losing elections often helps to preserve the power of incumbents, especially of the firmly established incumbents. In 1912, the Republican Party made a decision to reject Teddy Roosevelt as their nominee because he was too radical. So they went with the incumbent president, William Howard Taft, pretty much being assure that they would lose the election, which they did to Woodrow Wilson. But by losing, the mainstream Republicans kept control the Republican Party and bided their time until they could, once again, win, which happened in 1920.

            Personally, I believe that the Democrats preferred to lose the 1972 presidential election because McGovern was far too radical for the mainstream Democrats. And not only did McGovern lose but he lost big, so big that it allowed the mainstream Democrats to change the rules governing the selection of presidential candidates so the party would be able to control that selection. This is where the so-called “super delegates” came from and they worked as they were suppose to work in ensuring that Hillary Clinton would be the nominee in 2016.

            I also think a very good case can be made that in 1968 LBJ preferred Nixon to Humphrey as his successor. Why? Well, because LBJ was committed to the war in Vietnam and he knew that Nixon was also and would prosecute that war vigorously. But he also knew that the most significant dissent was occurring in the Democratic and not the Republican Party. Those insurgents were most unlike LBJ politically and he saw them as a threat to mainstream Democrats and to mainstream Democratic thinking. Hence, to preserve the status quo in the Democratic Party, LBJ bowed out voluntarily. Also, by bowing out to “work for peace” in Vietnam, Johnson tried to displace the other peace movement, a movement that contained some radicals and was based on some non-traditional American values. And, of course, LBJ garnered the praise he so lusted after, pretending to be a statesman doing what was best for the country. In that, he was dead wrong but very few seemed to notice.

            So elections are not the life blood of US democracy insofar as they are controlled, directed, and managed by the elites of our two most important parties, the Democrats and the Republicans. Because if the two parties’ strategies regarding their nominees for president are successful, there is no democracy because there is no real choice. By controlling the nominees, the two parties have decided the election before any votes are cast and after the votes have been counted.

            But it is or seems to be a good show, especially with the mainstream media playing its part in hyping elections as “crucial,” as “existentially significant,” or as “turning points.” In fact, most of our elections are more smoke and mirrors than anything else. And, of course, the people realize this which is why turnout is mediocre at best. Little changes after our elections which is of course not only fine with mainstream Republicans and Democrats but is their intention.

Monday, December 2, 2019

American Values: Torture and Assassination

American Values: Torture and Assassination
Peter Schultz

                  Where did the argument that American values don’t include torture and assassination originate, as so many like to argue? John McCain, may he rest in peace, opposed torture and was eloquent in his opposition. But he did assert that torture was not an American value, which is a really hard to argument to make given US history.

                  Slavery was of course built and maintained by means of torture. The indigenous peoples were also tortured and, of course, assassinated. Both the north and the south tortured during the Civil War and, of course, also assassinated. Lincoln was assassinated, as was William McKinley, JFK, while there were attempts on Presidents Ford and Reagan. The US tortured during the Spanish American War and afterward while its soldiers attempted to put down an insurrection in the Philippines. The US also tortured during the Korean War as well as during the Vietnam War.

                  Moreover, MLK Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, and Malcolm X were assassinated, along with Huey Long, governor of Louisiana, and an attempt was made on George Wallace’s life when he was running for president. And, of course, during the Global War on Terror, which is still ongoing, the US has tortured, even those it admitted later were guilty of nothing, and has assassinated, with at least one president bragging that “Hey, I’m pretty good at this killing thing!” And a Secretary of State gloated about the assassination of Gadaffi that “We came, we saw, he died!” And another Secretary of State said that the deaths of as many as 500,000 Iraqi children due to sanctions imposed on Iraq were “worth it.”

                  Why is it that Americans – and I mean both our elites and the rest of us – have tortured and assassinated as much as we have? What is it about our “values” that makes this possible? Just a brief answer will be offered here.

                  Under the doctrine of modern natural rights, all individuals have and are entitled to certain rights, like “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But what happens when individuals find their rights conflicting? For example, what is the situation between a slaver and a slave? The fact that the slaver is violating the rights of the slave does not mean that s/he is obligated to free the slave. And there certainly is not such obligation if freeing the slave would threaten or undermine the slaver’s rights or the rights of his or her offspring. All persons are created equal which means that all persons are entitled to assert and protect their rights even at the expense of others’ rights. It is common for people to say that “Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.” But that’s not accurate because should I perceive that you are threatening, then my right to swing my fist - or shoot my gun -  doesn’t end where your body begins.  

                  This means, however, that questions of justice become questions of self-interest. It is unjust to enslave people but that does not mean that the slaver must forego slavery if it, slavery, is essential to protecting his or her rights. So, what happens in US society is that questions of justice are replaced by or reduced to questions of self-interest. So although it is unjust and inhumane to torture other human beings that does not mean that such torture is forbidden. If torture  - or assassination - is seen to protect US society than it is legitimate even though it is unjust and inhumane. More generally, whatever serves the national security of the US is legitimate even though the means embraced are unjust, inhumane, grossly destructive, and/or tyrannical. When rights conflict, power will determine whose rights prevail. And in that mindset, only a fool would forego torture and assassination as legitimate tools of government.

                  The US tortures and assassinates then because such actions are not only consistent with but even promoted by the most basic of American values. Rights conflict, eventually but always and everywhere, and must be protected by the exercise of power. And, of course, inevitably the exercise of power, at least by governments, is always unjust and inhumane. This is called “political realism” and it lies at the core of American “values.”

American History Scrubbed Clean: Doris Kearns Goodwin

American History Scrubbed Clean: Doris Kearns Goodwin
Peter Schultz

           I am currently reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, The Bully Pulpit, about Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft and what Goodwin calls “the golden age of journalism.” Of course, Goodwin is a reputable historian and should be, but there are some strange aspects to her work.   

            For example, in her discussion of the onset of the Spanish American War, Goodwin argues, as many have, that Roosevelt was a proponent of that war while President McKinley was trying, vainly it turned out, to keep the United States out of any war with Spain. Yet in the course of her argument, it becomes clear that Roosevelt was not so much in favor of a war with Spain because of what was being done to the Cubans but that Roosevelt was, in fact, in favor of any war. Roosevelt was of course concerned with the treatment of the Cubans but he also was looking for a war to fight because he thought war, apparently any war, was worthwhile.

            Roosevelt said that he “would rather welcome a foreign war.” “The victories of peace are great; but the victories of war are greater. No merchant, no banker, no railroad magnate, no inventor of improved industrial processes, and do for any nation what can be done for it by its great fighting men.” And it would seem that Roosevelt thought that “fighting men” were “great” by virtue of the fact that they were warriors. “Every man who has in him any real power of joy in battle knows that he feels it when the wolf begins to rise up in his heart; he does not shrink from blood and sweat, or deem them to mar the fight; he revels in them, in the toil, the pain and the danger, as but setting off the triumph.” Roosevelt, who had never seen battle before the Spanish American War, welcomed the coming of that war and the chance for him to fight in it. He even said that he would leave his wife were she on her death bed if necessary to fight in that war, a thought to be taken seriously as his wife was seriously ill when Roosevelt went off to fight in Cuba.

            McKinley, on the other hand, according to Goodwin, recalling his participation in the Civil War, where he had “seen the dead pile up” at Antietam. “prayed for peace.” The interesting thing though is that Goodwin treats Roosevelt and McKinley and their stances toward war as equal, as just two different takes on war and its role in human affairs. She does say Roosevelt wrote “blithely” about war but that is the extent of her commentary on Roosevelt’s war mongering. Apparently, a war monger like Roosevelt and a person like McKinley who was praying for peace are both well-intentioned human beings seeking what is best for the nation. So no judgment need be arrived at regarding these two men and their different takes on war. They were both patriots who meant well even though one embraced war as humanizing while the other saw it as dehumanizing.

            Another aspect to Goodwin’s treatment of the Spanish American War is that she does not raise a doubt as to whether McKinley was as against the war as he pretended to be. To not raise this issue, Goodwin has to buy the idea that while McKinley was not pro-war, he appointed Roosevelt to be assistant secretary of the Navy knowing full well of Roosevelt’s pro-war views. Why did McKinley do that? Well, because he was pressured by Roosevelt’s friends to do so. He didn’t want to appoint Roosevelt but he did it anyway when pressure was applied. McKinley, struggling bravely apparently to stay out of war with Spain, appointed someone to a position of considerable power who had made it known that he was in favor of a war with Spain. This requires that one pretend to know McKinley’s motives, while pretty much ignoring his actions and their consequences. Goodwin also treats McKinley’s sending the battleship Maine to Havana harbor with the same innocence, merely quoting what McKinley had said at the time, viz., that this was “’an act of friendly courtesy’ to the Cuban people.”

            Note should be taken that as presented by Goodwin, McKinley was a man who was not powerful enough to stand his ground in favor of peace in Cuba, appointing Roosevelt despite his, Roosevelt’s, clear and strong preference for war. Moreover, McKinley was not a manipulative person, that is, was not a person who would seek to get what he wanted by indirection, if sending a battleship to a foreign harbor amidst significant tensions can be properly called “indirection.” No one reading Goodwin’s account of this period in our history, a period that saw a break with what had been the traditional modest foreign policy of the US, would think that this break was the work of human beings like Roosevelt and McKinley. And they would probably come to think that the onset of an imperial foreign policy, what was then called “the large policy,” was the result of forces beyond the control of US politicians. The US just kind of wandered into a war with Spain, that resulted in the acquisition of the Philippines. And although at the same time the US was about to annex Hawai’i, that shouldn’t lead one to think that the US chose to embrace an imperial foreign policy.

             As a result of history like that written by Goodwin, there is very little to question about US political or military actions. For the actors are all well-intentioned, transparent, and basically good people and decent politicians. There is no reason to study history for the reasons Jefferson recommended, viz., so people could learn the dangers of oppressive government and the consequences of bad choices. At most, people should study history to see the mistakes that were made by well-intentioned, decent human beings. It might have been a mistake for the US to “take” the Philippines, for example, but it was not a policy that resulted from defective politicians who had embraced defective but nonetheless American values.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Vietnam Quagmire: Not So Much

Vietnam Quagmire? Not So Much
Peter Schultz

Here are some interesting facts. Most people think it would’ve been very difficult for the US not to get involved in what became the Vietnam War. Hence, the idea that Nam was a quagmire that sucked the US into a war it really didn’t want to fight. Actually, though it was much more difficult to get involved in that war than not. To not have that war, all the US had to do was let the elections agreed to in the Geneva accords take place in the 1950s. Ho Chi Minh would have won, the place called “South Vietnam” wouldn’t have existed, and ergo no fucking war! The US had to in essence create “South Vietnam” so it could then have a war there! To create “South Vietnam” the US helped thousands, maybe millions, of northerners to move south where they created conflict because resources were sparse and they were unlike southerners of Vietnam. Then the US had to find a puppet to govern the south, who they found in a monastery in New Jersey but then had to “sell” him as a legitimate ruler, even though he was a Catholic in an essentially Buddhist society, and a Catholic who preferred to speak French, not Vietnamese! In other words, the US put a lot of effort into making sure there would be a war in Vietnam it could fight while blaming it on Ho Chi Minh and the communists. That’s why it’s not incorrect to label US policy in Vietnam as war mongering. The US created war in Vietnam as did France before the Americans did. And the US is still creating wars, viz., in Iraq, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela, and Bolivia. A peace policy would be so much easier for the US, not to mention more humane and just. But apparently our elites like war so they create them. Sad, very sad.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Impeachment: What's It All About?

Impeachments: What’s It All About?
Peter Schultz

            Originally, the motivation for creating the impeachment process in the Constitution was to control the powerful, viz., those who become so powerful that they can abuse their powers and subvert the established constitutional order. But as used in the Clinton and Trump cases, impeachments have been used as a tool the serves the powerful. That is, these impeachments were not about presidential accountability in the face of an “imperial president,” but rather about empowering the president’s political enemies.

            Thus, in Clinton’s and Trump’s impeachments, the impeachers base their actions on crimes – like obstruction of justice – a president has allegedly committed. But that a crime has been committed doesn’t threaten the established constitutional order. In fact, “crime” is how the powerful control the less powerful, which is why crime does not threaten the established order. On the other hand, some non-criminal activities do threaten the established order, which is why Malcolm X, the Muslim, was much more dangerous than Malcolm Little, the criminal. And this is why some who are not criminals, like MLK Jr., are much more dangerous than the likes of Tony Soprano. Most criminals are notoriously patriotic and are willing to serve the nation as some “crime figures” did when the Kennedys ran what LBJ called “a Murder Inc.” out of the White House in attempts to kill Castro. 

            Trump’s “crimes” – such as they are – and Clinton’s “crimes” – such as they were – do not threaten the established political order. And those using these crimes as justification for an impeachment are merely engaged in a thinly disguised power play. So disguised as those gallantly dealing with an “imperial president,” Trump’s impeachers, like Clinton’s impeachers, are merely playing power politics, using impeachment to enhance their own power while subverting Trump’s. Not exactly the morality play the impeachers trumpet as their cause.

            The success of such shenanigans is far from guaranteed, as Bill Clinton’s presidency was not undermined by his impeachment and trial. And even as a campaign tactic, the Republican impeachers were not successful or were successful only with the help of the Supremes, that is, of the five Republican Supremes. Trump, because he is even more shameless than Clinton, might emerge from this situation stronger because as “the acquitted one” he will broadcast his “innocence” loudly and continually, making his Democratic impeachers look like mere partisans playing politics based on “Trumped up” charges. Which is of course what they are. In the process, moreover, the Democrats, like the Republicans before them, will leave the impeachment process in tatters and impotent to deal with the real danger, an imperial president.

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Politics of Despair

The Politics of Despair
Peter Schultz

            There is currently a great deal of dissatisfaction, even despair, evident among the people of the United States with our government, our political parties, and our politicians. There are several good reasons for this despair but too often one that is overlooked is that this despair has been created by our governing classes as a way of fortifying their power and control. By not responding to the wishes or the needs of the people, our governing elites create despair among the people, which, in turn, leads the people away from politics and especially away from political activism. Despairing of any significant changes, the people relapse into their customary condition of passivity, as this seems the only “realistic” option, while our elites continue their “activism,” that is, serving their own and their supporters’ interests.

            This is why the Democrats are pushing for Trump’s impeachment even though the chances of Trump being convicted by the Senate in an impeachment trial are between zero and none. By pretending to be doing something significant politically, viz., removing a sitting president, the Democrats, when they fail – as they undoubtedly will in the Senate – will have fortified popular despair with the existing political situation. By failing to remove Trump, the Democrats will thus succeed in fortifying the people’s intense dissatisfaction with politics. What looks like failure is actually success, from the vantage point of our ruling elites. Most people will turn away from politics, thinking “What’s the point of being politically active?”

            And it’s important, even crucial, to keep someone like Bernie Sanders out of the presidency because, otherwise, people would get the idea that political activism isn’t futile. And then where will our ruling political class be? Political activism is, willy nilly, a threat to the current crop of politically powerful persons and, so, it must be stanched, repressed, or rendered hopelessly “idealistic.” Thus, we see Obama warning against going “too far left,” because if that happens and succeeds people will get the idea that political activism is not futile, is not spitting into the wind, is in fact realistic. I mean, heck, it worked in the former Soviet Union, didn’t it? And they were Communists!

            Endless wars also help fortify our elites’ agenda of creating a politics of despair. These wars don’t end, aren’t won or lost, and need not be. They feed popular dissatisfaction with the government, with politics, and with human beings’ capacities to control their environments. And if body counts are kept under control and the use of WMDs is also controlled, then these allegedly “useless” wars are very useful for maintaining the status quo and the predominant political classes.

            Overall, a politics of failure serves a politics of despair very well, Machiavelli taught that fear and government go together very well, to which we may add that failure and government also go together very well. The failure of 9/11, for example, led to a fortification of the government that was inconceivable had the government not failed to prevent these attacks. Failure in US wars in Southeast Asia led eventually to more wars, a greater militarization of American society, and ever-larger “defense” budgets. Repeatedly, political failure leads to the fortification of government and, simultaneously, to the fortification of a politics of despair.  Failure leads to more government and more government, when it fails, leads to more despair.

            So don’t be surprised when our government fails. Those who hold and exercise our governmental powers want it to fail; they do and don’t do things so it fails [cf. the the occupation of Iraq or the war of 19 years in Afghanistan], because in that way they undermine political activism, create a politics of despair, and preserve their own power. And don’t be surprised when Trump survives impeachment, because that is the plan. For the Democrats, as Bob Dylan once sang: “There is no success like failure….” And they will emerge from their “failure” arguing that they need more power so…..well, so they can “fail” once again.