November 26, 2009

Wherein We Gaze into Our Inerrant Crystal Ball and Espy a Deadly Rat

The mountains will be in labour; an absurd mouse will be born. -- Horace
So many meetings of the war council! So much intense deliberation over so many months! So many knowledgeable experts training their finely honed minds on the problem of Afghanistan and Pakistan! So many challenges to conventional wisdom and the policies inherited from the reviled Bush administration! So much independence of thought, sober reflection, and careful calibration of the array of competing objectives and concerns!

Truly, the operations of our government -- and if not of government generally, certainly of the Obama administration -- are a wonder to behold. We are comforted by their deliberate, subtle approach, we are bathed in the soothing liquid of their studious avoidance of easy slogans and empty rhetoric. These are profoundly thoughtful people, putting forth their best effort to arrive at the best solution for all concerned.

And so, so many people fall for this stinking load of unmitigated shit.

By way of stark and unforgiving contrast, I am a genuinely thoughtful and compassionate person. Follow along with me, and you can ignore the debate that will take place next week, when Obama gives his address on the "new" strategy for Afghanistan. There is a strategy, but it is assuredly not "new." Nor will there be anything the least surprising about the reactions to Obama's speech dribbling from the slack mouths operated by unfocused minds, and the debate, as on every other occasion, will miss every issue of significance.

Obama will offer something for everyone, although no one will be truly happy with the result. But this, we will be assured by the allegedly adult monitors of our behavior, is what real "compromise" means! In turn, this is a further demonstration of Obama's seriousness, of his willingness to make difficult decisions. No one is satisfied; therefore, he must be right! Aren't people even just slightly tired of this overused script? Not so that anyone in the ruling class need be concerned for more than a fleeting instant, if that.

Conservatives will take comfort from the fact that Obama appreciates that there are important objectives to be won. Obama fights on! They will go on to note, and to regret (or to deplore, or to condemn), that Obama isn't doing enough. Not enough troops, not on a fast enough timetable, no commitment to the clearcut, truly big victory that is required. Still, he's not retreating.

At least the conservatives exhibit a degree of consistency. They think the battle is crucial, so they are thankful Obama continues it, even if they regret (deplore, condemn) that his devotion to the cause doesn't match the intensity of theirs. The Democrats (and liberals and progressives) can't even stake a claim to minimal consistency. Some liberal groups threw their support behind the long fight in Afghanistan and Pakistan near the beginning of Obama's term. As for the others: if Bush had done what Obama will do, they would scream their protest many times a day. "Why, oh why are we in Afghanistan?," they would moan, loudly and repeatedly. "There's no reason for us to be there! Get out!"

Some progressives will say that, but their criticisms lack, shall we say, edge. After all, all this is actually Bush's problem. Bush is the one who started this business. Obama is trying to finish it, but remember, Obama is an adult. He understands that this is complicated. We need to be careful. And don't forget that Pakistan has nukes! Never mind that Israel does too, as does India, as do we (and we're the only ones who have used them, and lied about why we did).

Need I remind you that Obama is the commander in chief? It's not complicated in the least. In fact, the United States could leave, within three or six months. Announce the phased withdrawal of all U.S. personnel -- and then do it. We could do the same in Iraq. We won't do it in either case.

As I've said before about Iraq, and this is also true of Afghanistan: We. Are. Not. Leaving. As for why we aren't leaving, I'll explain that (again) in a moment. Let's first make a few notes about this New York Times story.

Obama is "determined to 'finish the job' in Afghanistan." Excellent! Perhaps we might ask an obvious question. We realize the answer must also be obvious, because almost no one feels the need to ask what it is. Exactly who gave us that "job"? Why, we did! Funny how that works. Let's briefly set that aside. What does Obama think the "job" is? This:
At a news conference in the East Room with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, Mr. Obama suggested that his approach would break from the policies he had inherited from the Bush administration and said that the goals would be to keep Al Qaeda from using the region to launch more attacks against the United States and to bring more stability to Afghanistan.
Did Al Qaeda ever "us[e] the region to launch...attacks against the United States"? Were other regions used to launch attacks? As I recall, certain of the people involved in the 9/11 attack trained in Europe, and others trained in...wait, hmm...oh, yes, the United States. Well, it's complicated, and Obama surely has information that can't be entrusted to feeble laypersons like you and me.

And did the Afghans ask the U.S. "to bring more stability" to their backward, woebegone country? When did they do that? Have they asked recently? I may have missed it. It's hard to keep up with everything. But I understand that the United States represents "the culmination of human development" and similar kinds of good stuff. So of course we need to share the precious knowledge that is uniquely ours with others. Sometimes we have to do that even when those others don't want us to! That's how good we are. We've been doing that for a long, long time ("To conquer Mexico, in other words, would be to do it a favor.").

I appreciate that Obama is one heck of a nice guy. He cares very deeply what we think about all this:
“I feel very confident that when the American people hear a clear rationale for what we’re doing there and how we intend to achieve our goals, that they will be supportive.”
He's "very confident" that we'll all be "supportive." That's sweet. Are you "American people"? Am I? Who are these "American people"? And -- now I'm just saying this hypothetically, in an exercise of wildly fanciful imagination -- what if some of us aren't all that rah-rah and "supportive" of his plans? (Let's just assume we're "American people" for this fiction assignment.) What happens then? Back to the drawing board? Do we get invited to the White House for one of those "war councils"? That would be cool! Those meetings are in the Situation Room. That is way cool. I'm ready, Mr. President!

But hold on. What's this in the NYT story?
Though he and his advisers have drawn up benchmarks to measure progress and put pressure on the Afghan government to do its part, Mr. Obama offered no details in his public remarks on Tuesday. He was also silent on precisely what would constitute finishing the job in Afghanistan or how soon he envisioned being able to begin extricating the United States from the war there.
That sounds sort Maybe open-ended. But that can't be true! He's thoughtful, deliberate, careful Obama! And it's complicated! Besides, they've "drawn up benchmarks"! Didn't Bush have those in Iraq? I don't recall that Democrats found "benchmarks" all that consoling then. I'm probably not remembering that right. I'm sure they're completely consistent on this point, as on all the others. Surely they wouldn't say one thing when a Republican adopts a certain policy and another thing entirely when a Democrat adopts the same exact policy. That would never happen.

And I don't want to be an annoying pest -- I don't! Why would you think such a terrible thing? -- but the story points out another similarity to loathed administrations past:
One administration official involved in Afghanistan policy said the president and his top advisers were thinking in terms of “exit strategies” and not necessarily “exit timetables.” He compared the current thinking to the “conditional engagement” that President George W. Bush used in Iraq.
Exit strategies! Conditional engagement! Sheesh, this is way above my pay grade, and yours too. Only thoughtful, serious adults can handle stuff like this. That's not you, not me. We should just shut up. Well, not just yet. We're badly behaved children.

Obama is going to "put pressure on the Afghan government to do its part." I'm sorry, but there's that same nagging question again. Did the Afghans ask us to do that? They pleaded, "Hey, we're so stupid and backward that we can't figure out how to solve any of these problems ourselves. You're so fantastically smart, you have to help us! Help us, please, please, please?" I can see that if they'd said something like that, we'd have to help out. Especially since we're so good and noble and everything. Only a rotten person could say no when someone begged for help like that. We're definitely not rotten. As if!

Oh, I see that the Obama administration has "benchmarks" for Pakistan, too! I guess they begged for our help, as well. I miss a lot of news. What have I been doing? Why didn't you tell me all this? No wonder the U.S. and our economy are headed straight down the crapper. Look how many countries there are all around the world that are so much worse off than we are, and that are begging for our help! We can't be selfish and think only of ourselves! We have to do what we can. It's tragic that all those innocent civilians get killed and maimed, and it's a crying shame that things only seem to get worse. But all that only shows how miserable those countries are. It can't have anything to do with what we're doing.

Finally, after so many meetings and so much thoughtful deliberation and so many experts thinking outside the box and all that other inspiring work devoted to figuring out the very best course to take, we arrive here:
Although his aides told some allies that the troop increase would most likely be slightly below 30,000 — there are currently 68,000 American troops in Afghanistan — several officials said Mr. Obama did not appear completely settled on a final number.
Compromise! And no one is completely happy! That means this must be the right policy! And totally unexpected and unpredictable, too!

I mentioned that progressives (and also Obama himself very notably) seek to portray the Afghanistan dilemma as one created solely by Bush. That this is their view is indisputably true, as evidenced by this post. The full truth of this common progressive delusion is considerably worse than I've indicated:
Which brings us to Garry Wills' dismaying essay in the New York Review of Books about the political cost Obama will pay if he chooses, as he should, to resist the crushing domestic political imperatives to continue Bush's war in Afghanistan.

Can even someone as brilliant as Barack Obama [!!!] resolve this ghastly dilemma? Can he find a way both to avoid the bloody quagmire Bush - deliberately - left for the incoming president, and also serve for two terms? Wills seems to think it's all but impossible. Sadly, I agree.

Escalating the Afghanistan conflict will lead to disaster. Refusing to escalate it will lead to political ruin not only for Obama or the Democratic party, but for this country, which will be torn apart by the extreme right, even if there isn't a spectacular 9/11 attack after an American withdrawal.

Indeed, Digby is probably right: Obama will escalate, somehow. And countless American and Afghani lives will be sacrificed, for... what, exactly? Certainly not Hamid Karzai's corrupt government.

No. Escalation will likely have little to do with Afghanistan, or even foreign policy, but everything to do both with a sitting president's ambition as well as the prevention of an extreme right takeover in the next presidential election. Just like Vietnam. I hate the American far right as much as any liberal, but it is not worth getting people killed in Kandahar to prevent them from seizing power. If the US really is that far down the road to fascism, then escalating a pointless war will not prevent an imminent rightwing takeover.
According to this view, should Democrats be ousted from power, it is impossible that such a development could be the result of widespread dissatisfaction with the Democrats' performance -- arising out of, for example, the Democrats' refusal to do anything to alleviate in any substantial way the vast economic suffering of "ordinary" Americans even as the ruling elites increase their immense wealth and power still more, or the Democrats' (and progressives') insistence on enacting a "health care reform" bill that won't help you or me but will bring massive wealth and a forcibly guaranteed market to insurance companies already bloated by monumental wealth.

No, it couldn't be any of that -- although a person whose perspective is not deeply corrupted and distorted by the basest form of partisanship might reasonably conclude that Democratic failure on this scale is more than adequate reason to want to "throw the bums out." And even though this writer opposes "escalating a pointless war," he is entirely sympathetic to Obama's doing just that -- because, according to this blogger, Obama can't help it. Forget that he's president and commander in chief. Just like Johnson and Vietnam (nice little two-fer there), it's never the Democrats' fault. It's always the fault of someone else, and it's usually the fault of those crazy, evil rightwing fascists. They are evil, and they are responsible for all of it. This is political tribalism on an exceedingly primitive level: see, " Learning to Hate 'The Other'" for much more on that subject.

I just recently discussed this determined refusal to grant moral agency and responsibility to those in "our" tribe in, "The Plea of Helplessness, the Refusal of Responsibility, and Today's Progressives." As I wrote:
In terms of these issues, what today's progressives do is exactly what many conservatives did during the Bush years. Today, we must stay in Iraq and Afghanistan, for our enemies will not permit us to do otherwise. We must bail out Wall Street, for if we don't, our entire economy will collapse. We must provide the insurance companies a gigantic guaranteed market, a market delivered to the insurers by the threat of government force, for this is the only way we can take this necessary "first step." The Democrats and progressives repeatedly claim that they have no choice about any of it.

Precisely as was the case for many conservatives, it is now the case for the Democrats and progressives: nothing is their fault, and nothing is their responsibility. But as Tuchman and many others have proven at blistering length, not a single element of this argument is true: "[N]o matter how equal two alternatives may appear, there is always freedom of choice to change or desist from a counter-productive course if the policy-maker has the moral courage to exercise it."
To come back to Afghanistan, consider the other significant aspect of that blog entry: "Obama will escalate, somehow. And countless American and Afghani lives will be sacrificed, for... what, exactly? Certainly not Hamid Karzai's corrupt government." This raises an issue that I consider to be of special importance, one I will be discussing in further detail in some upcoming essays. This is only one example, albeit a very significant one, of a fundamental problem in thinking and analysis.

My brief label for the problem is this: compulsive avoidance and denial. I don't mean that in a "clinical" sense, as if I were improperly presuming to offer some sort of technical, "scientific," psychological diagnosis in an individual case. I mean it only in the lay sense of identifying the mechanism revealed by the analysis itself, or rather the failure of analysis.

The critical point of this extended consideration of the absurdity of Obama's concocted drama and PR campaign prior to the (hopefully) widely anticipated announcement of his "new" strategy is that the outcome was never in even the slightest degree of doubt. The mountains have appeared to labour mightily -- with strong emphasis on "appear," for image and PR is not the main thing at this stage of the disintegration of the American Empire, it's the only thing -- and they have finally produced what anyone who understands U.S. foreign policy could easily have predicted before this entirely phony marketing campaign even began. We might wish that the result was the birth of an "absurd mouse"; in fact, this process has produced a deadly rat -- the deadly rat that is U.S. global hegemony, the goal of the American ruling class for many decades.

I've written before about the common lament, one voiced by many writers in addition to this one example: "Why, oh why are we in Afghanistan?" To ask this question is to confess an astonishing ignorance of U.S. history and foreign policy. The ignorance is far more remarkable because the goal of U.S. global hegemony has been announced repeatedly by countless individuals, over a very long period of time.

I discussed this issue at length just a month ago: "The Denial Continues, and the Horror Remains Unrecognized." Both because people often don't follow links and because it appears I will have to repeat this countless times before it begins to sink in, I provide you this excerpt:
The endless appeals to "spreading democracy," fostering "stable governments," and all the rest are nothing but marketing and public relations. They are the camouflage for the actual purposes of our government's actions. You can dissect and demolish those purported justifications for U.S. policy all you wish; our leaders don't care about any of that, no matter how successful your demolition efforts are, because all of that is completely irrelevant. But our leaders and most commentators do love the marketing, so with only very rare exceptions, their analysis and even their criticisms remain on this superficial level.

The actual reasons that drive U.S. policy aren't hidden. Again, the evidence is spread before you in plain sight: all you have to do is look at and understand it. I discussed the general contours of U.S. foreign policy for over the last hundred years in a piece just the other day: "The Empty Establishment: No One's Home in an Intellectual Wasteland." With regard to our presence in Afghanistan, a presence which will continue in one form or another for decades to come barring unforeseen developments (or possibly a regional conflagration, which would most likely be set off by a U.S. attack on Iran), I direct you to an invaluable article by the indispensable Robert Higgs. The article first appeared over a year ago, and I've been meaning to discuss it ever since.

I strongly recommend you read every word of it, several times at a minimum: "CENTCOM's Master Plan and U.S. Global Hegemony."
This is perhaps the key paragraph from Higgs:
It comes as no surprise, then, that of all the unified commands, CENTCOM is the one in which, in today’s world, the U.S. empire’s rubber meets the road most abrasively. The command’s area of responsibility includes a great part of the world’s known petroleum and natural gas deposits, a preponderance of Israel’s enemies, and the places in which the George W. Bush administration has chosen to focus its so-called Global War on Terror. Of course, the region also includes Iraq and Afghanistan, where U.S. forces have been fighting for years, and, sandwiched between these two battlefields, Iran, where Dick Cheney and the rest of the neocons ardently desire to extend the fighting at the earliest opportunity.
Following the Higgs excerpt, I said:
This is the general policy that Obama continues, and that he will continue into the foreseeable future. He made his intentions clear from the beginning of his campaign, and nothing has changed. Nor will it, certainly not insofar as Obama is concerned. ...

So all of the feigned bafflement and incessant caterwauling about the supposedly indecipherable actions of the United States -- Why, oh why, did we invade Iraq?, and Why, dear God, are we in Afghanistan? -- represent only the capitulation of the purported critics to precisely those arguments U.S. leaders hope you will engage. They want you to spend all your time on those arguments, because they're only marketing ploys having nothing at all to do with their actual goals. As I said the other day, if you want to stop this murderous madness -- and I dearly hope you do -- forget about what they say their goals are (fostering "democratic" governments, “regional stability,” “security,” and all the associated claptrap), and focus on the real problem: the carefully chosen policy of U.S. geopolitical dominance over the entire globe. On the day Obama announces the scheduled closure of at least one-third of the U.S.'s worldwide empire of bases, I'll believe he's serious about altering any of this, and not a moment before. He never will, and you know he won't. (I myself would prefer the closure within three to six months of three-quarters of them at a minimum. But contrary to some of my critics, I actually do reside in this world, and not the one I would prefer.)

Higgs' argument and those I consistently make explain the U.S. presence in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in countless other places around the world.
That last link goes to one of the essays in my "Dominion Over the World" series. Two other essays in that series speak to this point, and the nature and purposes of U.S. foreign policy for more than the last half century: "The Open Door to Worldwide Hegemony," and "Global Interventionism -- A Disastrous Policy Supported by Indefensible Ideas." (All of the essays in that series are listed at the conclusion of this post.)

I will be blunt: if you don't understand this, you understand nothing about U.S. foreign policy and the considerations that gave rise to it and that drive it today. As a result, you will never grasp why we're in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Africa, or anywhere else. If you persist in asking questions that have been answered clearly and unmistakably time and again, and if your bafflement is not "feigned" but genuine, you have, as I said, understood nothing.

It may be that you think the goal of U.S. geopolitical dominance is profoundly irrational and evil, and necessarily brutal and murderous on a vast scale. If so, I fully agree with you. That is why I oppose it so deeply. But surely you should be able to see that that is a separate issue entirely. They have a plan and a goal, and they have told you what it is over and over. Believe them. You have countless reasons to credit their repeated proclamations as true, and not a single reason to doubt the veracity of what they say. Why people refuse to believe what is demonstrably true and why they continue to resist the truth with every breath are crucial questions. That is why I will discuss some of the answers in more detail.

In the meantime, Obama's Afghanistan policy will continue, in broad outline (and it would appear even in many specifics), what has been U.S. foreign policy for many awful, blood-drenched years. That isn't news; it's what we've done and what we continue to do all the time. And there will be no news made next week. Obama may offer a new marketing phrase or a nifty slogan, but to judge from the NYT story and many similar ones, even superficial unexpected developments appear unlikely in the extreme. If there is even a single significant element of genuine surprise in what Obama says and in what transpires in the subsequent public debate, I will be amazed.

So feel free to ignore next week's news, certainly as far as this story is concerned. You will miss absolutely nothing of consequence.

November 25, 2009

Global Warming, Fantastic Hypocrites, and the Fatal Corporatist Problem

Part I: Bad-Faith Arguments and Highly Questionable Actors

I'll be addressing additional issues related to the discussion in Part I, as well as analyzing one very significant problem raised by the global warming debate, a problem that comes up in many different contexts. Before getting to all that, let's consider the case of Al Gore, not only with regard to his own history on environmental issues but with an eye to the broader principle of which Gore is a powerful example.

We can begin with this article by Joshua Frank: "Nobel Gore?" The subtitle is: "A Prime Time Hypocrite." As you may gather from the title, Frank's article dates from October 2007, shortly after Gore was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Given Gore's actual history on environmental issues, we can place that Prize, with substantial justification, in the same category as Obama's Peace Prize: "Depraved, Obscene Absurdities."

In what follows, I urge you to keep in mind that it doesn't matter whether you (or I) agree with Gore's views on global warming and climate change. The essential point is an entirely different one: in terms of what Gore himself proclaims to be his grave concerns, he's a fantastic hypocrite, both in general and in connection with many specifics. Frank begins with the longstanding, close relationship between the Gores (father and son) and Armand Hammer and Occidental Oil. Among other things, that relationship brought Gore Jr. "monster campaign contributions," as Frank puts it.

Frank goes on:
Oil companies during the 20th Century, reports the Center for Public Integrity, "have tried unsuccessfully to obtain control of two oil fields owned and operated by the federal government: the Teapot Dome field in Casper, Wyoming, and the Elk Hills field in Bakersfield, California."

When Clinton and Gore took office in 1992, that was about to change. Perhaps only outdone by George W. Bush's connections to Big Oil, Al Gore pressed President Clinton to approve handing over these public lands to the oil companies. The land, managed by the Navy, had held emergency oil reserves since 1912.

It took five years of lobbying on behalf of Big Oil, but Gore and Occidental were victori[ous]. In the fall of 1997 the Energy Department sold 47,000 acres of the Elk Hill reserve to Occidental.

Continues The Center for Public Integrity:
"It was the largest privatization of federal property in U.S. history, one that tripled Occidental's U.S. oil reserves overnight. Although the Energy Department was required to assess the likely environmental consequences of the proposed sale, it didn't. Instead it hired a private company, ICF Kaiser International, Incorporated, to complete the assessment. The general chairman of Gore's presidential campaign, Tony Coelho, sat on the board of directors.

"The very same day the Elk Hills sale was announced, Gore delivered a speech to the White House Conference on Climate Change on the "terrifying prospect" of global warming, a problem he blamed on the unchecked use of fossil fuels such as oil."
The facts themselves are so damning that commentary is rendered almost entirely superfluous.

Frank has more examples of the same general phenomenon, and I suggest you consult the details. The issue that deserves emphasis is this: in all the examples that Frank provides, the central dynamic is the same. Already entrenched, vastly powerful, nominally "private" interests have close alliances with individuals in critical, influential government positions. These alliances result in government power being used to the further benefit of those "private" interests. The parties involved will deluge the public with affirmations of acting in "the public interest," seeking only to benefit "the people," and all the usual boilerplate PR. But that's all it is: public relations whose sole purpose is to drug unreflective and/or uninformed Americans into passive, unprotesting acceptance. The bottom line (in more ways than one) is always that the powerful and wealthy become more powerful and wealthy -- and as for "the public"? Except for very rare instances of public protest and unrest on a scale so huge that it threatens their hold on power, the ruling class couldn't care less. That's the truth, which very few people are interested in.

The further significance of this dynamic is that this goes on all the time, in almost every industry and occupation. We are now witnessing the same phenomenon with regard to the "health care reform" legislation. This is the way business is conducted in America, and the way it has been conducted for more than a century.

And that takes us back to when this dynamic was begun to be put firmly in place. Most progressives today know very little about the Progressive Era of the early twentieth century, or about what actually happened during that period as opposed to the mythologies that many people prefer to believe. Those who do know apparently don't want anyone else to understand the truth of this particular history.

I've written several articles about the Progressive Era and this issue specifically. I direct your attention to one of those essays: "Psst -- While You Were Gibbering, the Ruling Class Rigged the Game and Won Everything." Much of that discussion centers on an invaluable work by Gabriel Kolko (and not so by the way, Kolko is and was when he wrote the book very leftwing in his own political orientation), The Triumph of Conservatism: A Reinterpretation of American History, 1900-1916.

I introduced Kolko's book with these comments:
Kolko's work hit the world of historians and of historical analysis with tremendous force. He performed significant original research -- and the results of his research upended what had come to be accepted as the conventional narrative of the Progressive era. Much additional research since the publication of Kolko's book has confirmed the accuracy of his analysis. At one time, it would have been somewhat understandable for progressives to regard the opening decades of the twentieth century as a testament to the "benevolent" powers of government, operating to constrain rapacious business practices on behalf of "the common man" and "the common good." Today, nearly half a century after Kolko's book was first published in 1963, there is no excuse whatsoever for people who are politically active and who regard themselves as at all knowledgeable about political history to be so profoundly in error about this critical period. Yet today's liberals and progressives appear to understand next to nothing about what actually happened during those years.
As I stressed before, there is one sentence from the Kolko excerpts I offered that is of key significance: "It was not a coincidence that the results of progressivism were precisely what many major business interests desired." "Ripped from today's headlines," as the saying goes. Hence, Kolko's title: The Triumph of Conservatism.

Here are some passages from Kolko. Once again, note how strikingly familiar all this is:
The American political experience during the Progressive Era was conservative, and this conservatism profoundly influenced American society's response to the problems of industrialization. The nature of the economic process in the United States, and the peculiar cast within which industrialism was molded, can only be understood by examining the political structure. Progressive politics is complex when studied in all of its aspects, but its dominant tendency on the federal level was to functionally create, in a piecemeal and haphazard way that was later made more comprehensive, the synthesis of politics and economics I have labeled "political capitalism."

The varieties of rhetoric associated with progressivism were as diverse as its followers, and one form of this rhetoric involved attacks on businessmen -- attacks that were often framed in a fashion that has been misunderstood by historians as being radical. But at no point did any major political tendency dealing with the problem of big business in modern society ever try to go beyond the level of high generalization and translate theory into concrete economic programs that would conflict in a fundamental way with business supremacy over the control of wealth. It was not a coincidence that the results of progressivism were precisely what many major business interests desired.

Ultimately businessmen defined the limits of political intervention, and specified its major form and thrust. They were able to do so not merely because they were among the major initiators of federal intervention in the economy, but primarily because no politically significant group during the Progressive Era really challenged their conception of political intervention. The basic fact of the Progressive Era was the large area of consensus and unity among key business leaders and most political factions on the role of the federal government in the economy. There were disagreements, of course, but not on fundamentals. The overwhelming majorities on votes for basic progressive legislation is testimony to the near unanimity in Congress on basic issues.


This identification of political and key business leaders with the same set of social values -- ultimately class values -- was hardly accidental, for had such a consensus not existed the creation of political capitalism would have been most unlikely. Political capitalism was based on the functional utility of major political and business leaders. The business and political elites knew each other, went to the same schools, belonged to the same clubs, married into the same families, shared the same values -- in reality, formed that phenomenon which has lately been dubbed The Establishment.
Since I devote so much time here to myth-busting, I will offer a further development along the same path. This one may be similarly discomfiting to many progressives, for it concerns the New Deal period. I urge you to appreciate why I go through these exercises: I do it because we cannot fully understand our present, dire circumstances unless we appreciate how we got here. And until and unless we understand that, we cannot figure out to alter the problems that so bedevil us. If we want genuine "change" -- as I certainly do, and as I know many readers do as well -- we must do our utmost to ascertain the truth, however uncomfortable certain parts of that truth may be to some of our cherished beliefs. And I assure you that my own journey, over many years, saw many, and sometimes most, of my own preferred convictions completely overturned.

Another of my essays, "The Elites Who Rule Us," dealt with the same dynamics. My primary focus in the "Dominion Over the World" series (of which that essay is only one part) was on foreign policy, but the mechanisms involved apply very broadly. I offered some passages from Christopher Layne's very valuable book, The Peace of Illusions: American Grand Strategy from 1940 to the Present. Layne's focus is also on foreign policy; again, see the connections to other aspects of our political-economic system:
In his book Myths of Empire, Jack Snyder talks about elites "hijacking" the state. This fails to make the point quite strongly enough. Dominant elites do not hijack the state; they are the state. The United States pursued hegemony because that grand strategy has served the interests of the dominant elites that have formed the core of the U.S. foreign policy establishment since at least the late 1930s, when the New Deal resulted in the domestic political triumph of what Thomas Ferguson calls "multinational liberalism." At the core of the multinational liberal coalition were large capital-intensive corporations that looked to overseas markets and outward-looking investment banks. This coalition displaced the so-called system of 1896, which was organized around labor-intensive industries that favored economic nationalism and opposed strategic internationalism.

The multinational liberal coalition that cemented its hold on power during the New Deal had its roots deep in the Eastern establishment: it also included the national media, important foundations, the big Wall Street law firms, and organizations such as the Council on Foreign Relations. This coalition favored economic and political Open Doors and the strategic internationalism that accompanied them. Although the bipartisan consensus among the U.S. foreign policy establishment favoring strategic internationalism and U.S. hegemony that was forged some six decades ago has occasionally been tested -- notably during the Vietnam War -- it has proved remarkably durable. Unless it undergoes a Damascene-like intellectual conversion, as long as the present foreign policy elite remains in power the United States will remain wedded to a hegemonic grand strategy. It probably will take a major domestic political realignment -- perhaps triggered by setbacks abroad or a severe economic crisis at home -- to bring about a change in American grand strategy.
When I reread this passage recently, one sentence leapt out at me in connection with today's events in the economic realm: "At the core of the multinational liberal coalition were large capital-intensive corporations that looked to overseas markets and outward-looking investment banks." If you want to understand one aspect of the continuing economic devastation (which the Obama administration is doing nothing to alter as far as "the public" is concerned, for the elites continue to accumulate ungraspable amounts of wealth), read Mike Whitney on our relations with China. I had planned to write a separate entry about Whitney's article, with this title: "Why the Ruling Class Wants to Go to China: They Already Own Everything Here."

Whitney provides a concluding paragraph that explains that title of mine:
Summary: Geithner and Co. see the US economy languishing in a low-grade Depression for the foreseeable future. Thus, Wall Street is planning a major shift in its base-of-operations to Asia. This is the real reason behind Obama's trip to China. There's no truth to the rumor that US policymakers give a hoot about "currency manipulation" or the ongoing trouncing of the American worker. China's "dollar-peg" essentially serves the interests of the giant multinational corporations and Wall Street speculators who own the media, the courts, the congress, the White House and most of the country.
Read Whitney for the explanation as to how the China connection will work. Again: you, the "ordinary" American, figure nowhere in these calculations, except to provide your labor and even your life as required.

To return to Gore and global warming: with these general background issues in mind, it becomes a revealing postscript to consider a New York Times story from earlier this month. Here is some of the factual background:
Former Vice President Al Gore thought he had spotted a winner last year when a small California firm sought financing for an energy-saving technology from the venture capital firm where Mr. Gore is a partner.

The company, Silver Spring Networks, produces hardware and software to make the electricity grid more efficient. It came to Mr. Gore’s firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, one of Silicon Valley’s top venture capital providers, looking for $75 million to expand its partnerships with utilities seeking to install millions of so-called smart meters in homes and businesses.

Mr. Gore and his partners decided to back the company, and in gratitude Silver Spring retained him and John Doerr, another Kleiner Perkins partner, as unpaid corporate advisers.

The deal appeared to pay off in a big way last week, when the Energy Department announced $3.4 billion in smart grid grants. Of the total, more than $560 million went to utilities with which Silver Spring has contracts. Kleiner Perkins and its partners, including Mr. Gore, could recoup their investment many times over in coming years.
The story offers further details about Gore's business activities, and about the wealth he has accumulated since leaving office (which is fairly staggering: "Mr. Gore’s spokeswoman would not give a figure for his current net worth, but the scale of his wealth is evident in a single investment of $35 million in Capricorn Investment Group, a private equity fund started by his friend Jeffrey Skoll, the first president of eBay."). And Gore provides the predictable explanation of his investments:
In an e-mail message this week, he said his investment activities were consistent with his public advocacy over decades.

“I have advocated policies to promote renewable energy and accelerate reductions in global warming pollution for decades, including all of the time I was in public service,” Mr. Gore wrote. “As a private citizen, I have continued to advocate the same policies. Even though the vast majority of my business career has been in areas that do not involve renewable energy or global warming pollution reductions, I absolutely believe in investing in ways that are consistent with my values and beliefs. I encourage others to invest in the same way.”
To focus this discussion on the issue that concerns me, consider two further statements from the article. This one: "Mr. Gore is not a lobbyist, and he has never asked Congress or the administration for an earmark or policy decision that would directly benefit one of his investments."

And consider this, in response to a critical questioner at a Congressional hearing: '"And, Congresswoman,' he added, 'if you believe that the reason I have been working on this issue for 30 years is because of greed, you don’t know me.'"

The article presents much of this in the typical left-right, us-them framework; the writer refers to "Critics, mostly on the political right and among global warming skeptics...," and "Ms. Blackburn, who echoed some of the criticism of Mr. Gore that has swirled in conservative blogs and radio talk shows," for example. I strongly urge you to set that aside, and to decline to be trapped by the standard method of analysis. I also emphasize that insofar as the problem of corporatism (what Kolko calls "political capitalism") is concerned, the right has as little appreciation of these dynamics as many progressives. I talked about the related failures of both right and left on this question in the opening of this article. Conservatives generally speak of the "free market" as if such a market completely independent of government has existed for much of our history and still exists today, at least to some significant extent. But as Kolko and other writers have shown in great detail, nothing could be farther from the truth.

What I want you to reflect upon is Gore's statement concerning the investments he makes as "a private citizen," and on the NYT observation that Gore "has never asked Congress or the administration for an earmark or policy decision that would directly benefit one of his investments." On the latter point: Gore doesn't need to "ask" explicitly. He has relationships with many people in government and Congress; they know about Gore and his investments. He doesn't need to tell them anything at all. Those in government understand completely which policies will favor the investments made by Gore (as well as many other individuals of their acquaintance), and which will not.

And Gore himself engages in a singular equivocation. In one sense, he is now "a private citizen" -- but that fact has nothing whatsoever to do with what is going on here. The critical fact is that it is the intersection of government and "private" business that is providing a huge boon to Gore's financial well-being. Remember this:
The deal appeared to pay off in a big way last week, when the Energy Department announced $3.4 billion in smart grid grants. Of the total, more than $560 million went to utilities with which Silver Spring has contracts. Kleiner Perkins and its partners, including Mr. Gore, could recoup their investment many times over in coming years.
This is one deal we happen to know about; how many similar deals are there that we'll never hear about? And not just involving Gore and not only in the energy field -- what about all the people with something of Gore's history and connections, and what about every other field of economic activity?

And when, as just one example, the government hands out $3.4 billion in "smart grid grants," have they targeted that investment in the best possible ways, as determined by genuinely disinterested parties? We'll never know that, either -- because government grants of this and every other kind are never made by disinterested parties. I repeat a point I have often made before:
[F]rom the first historic forms of the State, the State has always formed and will always form alliances with certain individuals and segments of society -- to which the government bureaucrats will provide favors and special dispensations, and to the severe disadvantage of those individuals and groups that are not so favored. ... [O]ur contemporary tribalists believe, without any history or evidence whatsoever to support the claim, that if only members of their tribe were in charge, they would act in saintly and disinterested ways, and they would be uniformly non-venal, non-self-seeking, and non-human. Good luck with that. It has never happened and it never will, barring a fundamental transformation of what it means to be human.
It may be that Gore is sincere in his beliefs, and that his sincerity and honesty are reflected in his investments. But we will never have anything close to sufficient information to make that determination. If you are prepared to simply take his word on this question, or the word of numerous other people who reap massive windfalls from particular decisions and policies of government -- if you are prepared to set aside every issue and question set forth above (all of which could and have been expanded to many books, with endless examples of the same general phenomenon) -- then you are missing every issue of importance.

The complex, intricate operations of our corporatist system, of the dizzyingly numerous interconnections between "private" business and government, are the bedrock on which policy decisions are made in every area. If you look to government to solve the problem of global warming and climate change, however you may conceive that problem, it is this system that you are trusting to make the "best" judgments and the "best" investments -- with, it should always be remembered, your money.

So the question for you is: Do you trust this system? Do you? I would offer one further point: the degree to which you think global warming is a genuine crisis requiring urgent action, is the precise degree to which you should trust this system even less. If you think the entire globe faces a frightening crisis of truly unprecedented proportions, do you trust a system where decisions are made on the basis of friendships, alliances, connections, "influence" and doing "favors" for those one prefers, for whatever reason? No matter how sincere some individuals may be, do you trust a system which invites and encourages the participation of people who aren't sincere in any measurable degree, but are primarily and sometimes solely concerned with increasing their own wealth and power?

And I still have more to say on this subject. Next time for that...

November 24, 2009

Bad-Faith Arguments and Highly Questionable Actors

As mentioned toward the conclusion of the previous post, I feel completely lousy these days. I'm very grateful for the donations that have come in -- thank you, kind people! -- but I don't yet have any kind of financial cushion for the coming month, let alone any of the money needed for even minimal medical care. So if what follows provides a mordant chuckle or two, please feel free to send a few coins my way. Perhaps your generosity will spare you from the galactic calamity that is about to engulf us!

Since I feel like shit, we should consider a subject full of humor and with lotsa laughs. So let's talk about global warming and the impending destruction of the Earth! See, you're smiling already. Good for you! You're smart people. That's why you're here. This is gonna be great. Grab a drink (or something much better; yeah, that's right, sisters and brothers, you know what I mean), and join me for the ride.

Okay, then. I don't think I've written a single word about global warming before. That's true for numerous reasons, only some of which are mentioned in what follows. (I always have reasons for both what I discuss and what I don't discuss. You may think those reasons are complete crap, but I got 'em. That's all I'm saying.) I decided to offer a few thoughts on the subject now, because there is much rejoicing on the part of global warming skeptics about...da dah DUM!...Climategate! Drudge, of course, is having multiple orgasms many times an hour. Billions of links about this scandal, which of course is like the biggest scandal ever, or at least since the one two days ago and until the next one two days hence. But, baby, this outrage is happening, you know what I'm saying? So we get a link to the "greatest scandal in modern science." Wow! And calls for a Congressional investigation! Yeah, that'll fix all this lickety split. More about the gummint in a mo. And lots of skeptics are furiously directing people to articles like this one. This unprecedented scandal (just like all the others past and future are totally unprecedented) proves what the skeptics have been saying for years: It's all a fraud! They're all lying manipulators! None of it was true! They are......EVIL!

I'm telling you: get really comfortable. We haven't even started.

See, one of the huge problems I have with all this is that there is almost no one I believe on this subject, on either side of the debate. Virtually everyone falls within the description offered in my title, as we'll shortly see. But first I have to set out briefly my more general difficulties with this ongoing spectacle. Perhaps the primary reason I haven't written about global warming previously is that I am convinced the overheated concern with this issue (ha! not a single apology will be offered for even one of the thoroughly rotten jokes in this post) is perfectly typical of what I can only call the cultural dementia that afflicts us. For the sake of argument, as well as for purposes of this post, I'll assume that every worst case (and even just very bad) scenario offered by global warming advocates is absolutely, verifiably true. If those predictions are true -- and especially if those predictions are true -- there isn't a damned thing we can do about it at this point. Oh, yes, we might be able to alleviate some of the lesser consequences here and there, and maybe we can figure out a way to ensure the survival of comparatively small groups of human critters in a few places around the perishing globe -- but "fix" it in any major way? Baby, if the climate of the entire planet is screwed, it's screwed. You ain't gonna fix nothing. Pick up another drink, and put that hubris down. I fully appreciate that humans are specially special and all, but seriously, get a grip.

So that's one thing. Here's another. In our self-selected and self-sustaining dementia, we go on interminably about a problem that we severely limited humans can do precious little to alter -- while simultaneously, which means, like, at the same time almost everyone supports policies that will continue an unending series of wars. Yeah, I said everyone. See here, too. Not only that, most people advocate policies that will almost certainly lead to new conflicts, possibly including nuclear exchanges over at least certain regions of the globe.

Such as this part of the globe. And take a look at this earlier post. Also note what I said here -- and I see that I even included global warming as an example:
The horrifying consequences of an unprovoked U.S. attack on Iran should be painfully obvious to everyone; over a year ago, I detailed those consequences at length. Possibly millions dead, chaos and war that spread across the globe, severe economic dislocation and possibly economic collapse, the complete isolation of the United States from the community of nations, and still more and still worse -- possibly including the imposition of martial law in the U.S. itself. The conclusion is stark and infinitely bleak: an attack on Iran would wipe every other issue and concern out of existence for the foreseeable future, probably for years to come if not much longer. Forget debates about global warming; nuclear clouds might be spreading across the globe. Never mind reforming our health care system; millions of people around the world, and possibly here at home, will be worried about survival of the most primitive kind. Nothing else will matter in the least.
Many of those who are the loudest skeptics of global warming (although not all) are also advocates of an utterly unjustified, notably irrational confrontational stance with Iran. Forgive me if I find it very difficult to take their global warming skepticism with any degree of seriousness. But the general problem is far wider in scope: lots of people on both sides of the global warming debate support in varying degrees the overall aims of U.S. foreign policy. In this way, they help to make much more likely a disastrous conflict at some point in the future. The contradiction is especially noteworthy with regard to those who are advocates of the global warming view and also support the general contours of U.S. foreign policy: this group includes Obama, and most Democrats, liberals and progressives.

These individuals make an entirely man-made disaster more probable in the form of an avoidable military conflict -- while they also urge us to reorder our lives and our entire society because of something that may happen in 50 or 100 years. And even if catastrophic climate change is going to occur, it's virtually impossible that we can seriously alter that outcome given the premises of the global warming argument itself. I can only repeat: get a grip. I would earnestly suggest a quick and thorough reordering of your priorities. If people refuse to engage in that process or even seriously consider it, don't expect those of us who aren't suffering from the same dementia to take you seriously. The first principle must be: avoid those catastrophes that you obviously can avoid. Once you've done that, we can talk about all the other catastrophes that might occur if numerous, largely uncontrollable variables all line up in a certain way.

The dementia I speak of is an equal-opportunity disease. As he himself proudly proclaims repeatedly (I've heard him say all this at least once, and I've heard some of these arguments several times just in the last two days, and that's listening only intermittently), Rush Limbaugh has been an exceptionally persistent global warming skeptic for many years. I heard him state what is perhaps his most basic objection to global warming just yesterday; it wasn't the first time I'd heard this thesis from El Rushbo. To call what follows half-baked is to grant it a proximity to normalcy that it doesn't remotely deserve. (I told you: no apologies for the rotten, predictable jokes. They are completely deserved on every front.)

I don't claim this is what Limbaugh said verbatim, but it's very damned close. I couldn't possibly forget this particular "argument" and, as I indicated, I've heard Limbaugh offer this view several times. Limbaugh doesn't believe in global warming, he portentously proclaims in his orotund tones, because ... wait for it, pick up that drink again ... he believes in God.

What does that mean?, you wonder in slack-jawed amazement, as your savagely fractured, faltering grasp on reality resists the echoing vastness of total insanity. What Limbaugh means is that God in his infinite Goodness and Wisdom would not allow humankind to achieve and advance in ways that would destroy the planet that is home to us.

In my unstinting efforts to repel the encroachments of ineradicable infection, I approach views like this in a straightforward manner. I look at history, and I look at the world today. Among other things, I see an endless procession of destruction, violence, hatred, cruelty, murder, and barbarity. True, I also see astonishing achievement, ingenuity and resilience. But if one takes in all of human history, and not just those aspects of history that support a preferred perspective, one is struck by the enormous fragility of human achievement and what we call "civilization." I consider what humankind has achieved in a positive sense to be inspiring and remarkable, in very large part because it is so unusual given man's proclivity for gratuitous violence and unjustified cruelty and murder. And when we consider the weapons now at our disposal, the use of which is made much more likely by the policies supported by people like Limbaugh himself (and many others, including the nominal "opposition" -- see the argument and links above), the highly questionable continuation of "civilization" and its extreme fragility come into view still more clearly.

Yet, according to Limbaugh, God is so infinitely Good that he would never allow the worst to happen. God permits innocents to be slaughtered in huge numbers and others to be subjected to sadistic cruelty for its own sake, and God allows a man found not guilty to be imprisoned forever. But, says Limbaugh, God will never allow the worst to happen. Limbaugh and those who believe as he does refuse to acknowledge that for untold millions of people throughout history, and for vast numbers of people today, the worst has already happened.

If we look at history comprehensively and honestly, and if we face what often happens in the world today with any forthrightness, we might conclude that God, if he exists, is a deeply twisted, sadistic bastard who finds no greater pleasure than in the unending torments he inflicts on what is supposedly his highest creation. And don't even get me started on the unspeakable obscenity of a God who would intentionally set in motion a series of events that results in his precious Son being tortured and then killed by crucifixion, an unimaginably, incomprehensibly painful and awful way to die -- and who would do all this to "save" mankind. Yeah, that's worked out spectacularly well, as two thousand years of history prove conclusively. Seriously, this is deeply sick and twisted stuff. (I will have much, much more to say about religion in general, and about particular aspects of major religious doctrine, in upcoming installments of my Tribalism series, including some excerpts from Alice Miller on that very subject. On this topic, too, I have barely begun.)

Hasn't this been fun so far? I hope you're not drunk. And I've only covered about half of what I planned to say! So there's going to be a second part. One of the stars in the next installment: your favorite and mine, Mr. Albert Gore.

And remember: don't drink and drive. Play safely. And no heathen idols. In fact, no idols at all. Don't make shit up, either in this world or in one you've imagined out of the unreasoning demands of a damaged psychology. Oh, yes, that's a large part of what I think is involved (see this as a preview). As I said, I have much more coming up about all that. But more global warming fun next time; religion later!

Buy another bottle tonight. Make that five. You'll need 'em.

November 23, 2009

Odds, and One Regrettable Usual End

This morning, I looked over the articles I've published between mid-October and today. I will be immodest and say that the output is...not bad. It includes nine or ten essays that I would call "major," by which I mean they deal with issues that won't be out of date in a week or a month, but will continue to have value in coming years (recognizing that others may well have a very different assessment). Among my personal favorites in this group are this piece and a related follow-up. I thought the third section in the latter article was of special value, especially my discussion of the three major factors that in my view led the U.S. finally to abandon Vietnam. I think those identifications are original; at least, I've never seen those elements put together in that manner. I think that particular combination has considerable explanatory power. Except for the reaction from one trusted friend, it appears no one else agrees on that point or, if others do, I haven't heard about it.

I also like this essay quite a lot (and I'll be continuing that series very soon), and this one (that, too, will have one or possibly two follow-up pieces, also to be completed shortly; they're both outlined in detail).

In addition to these "major" posts, there are fifteen or so other entries (more than a few of which I also think offer some observations of more than passing interest). So, all in all, not a poor showing. And then there is the latest article. With regard to that essay, I will be more forthright: in my not unconsidered opinion, several of the identifications I offer are of singular importance. And I would have thought that one of the very probable results of a trial of the 9/11 co-conspirators -- that the appellate process finally "will provide a blueprint for the government, giving them the prize they've been after all this time—a legal way both to torture and to prosecute" (in David Feige's words) -- would easily have been recognized by more than a few people as a signal moment in the debasement and corruption of our political-judicial system.

I was gratified to see that Antiwar featured that essay as its Spotlight article over this past weekend (you'll see it toward the bottom of that page when it first appears on your screen) -- but other than that, my article seems, as usual, headed directly toward the memory hole. You may choose to disbelieve me when I say that my concern about the extent to which my offerings are regularly ignored is about considerably more than satisfying the demands of my ego. Yes, we all like to be noticed, especially when we work very hard to create something which we believe is worthy of recognition to at least some degree. But with regard to much (in fact, almost all) of my writing, my primary focus is not on the fact that I've said it -- but on what it is that has been said, and said by anyone.

Thus, for example, when I read that David Feige article, I was struck very forcefully by the argument he had obviously put together with great care and knowledge. And I repeat still another time the point that both Feige and I placed at the climax of our arguments: that the government will have a blueprint for "a legal way both to torture and to prosecute." This is a critical development along the road to a hell on earth. That issue was the climax in Feige's article and mine because there is nowhere to go after that -- except down, down into a world of indescribable barbarity and cruelty.

But it appears very few others agree with this perspective. Another aspect of the problem is still worse. Just this morning, I saw this post by one of Atrios's regular guest bloggers. It captures perfectly what seems to be the liberal-progressive consensus about the KSM trial: that it will not be a show trial, and that it even represents a "good" development. If anyone seriously believes it won't be a show trial, I suggest they read my post again. If they still continue in their belief, they're too ignorant and/or far too corrupt to be writing about politics, or at least to be writing about politics and to be regarded as at all legitimate by any semi-intelligent reader.

Moreover, it may be (as Feige says) that a KSM trial is better than any of the available alternatives. Please note, however, that that does not mean that a KSM trial is "good" in any respect. In fact, it is terrible and exceedingly dangerous, for all the reasons discussed in my post and in Feige's article. And that was the very point of my post: once you have corrupted the foundations of our judicial system, there is no "good" solution in the manner people typically suggest. The only genuine solution is to start the arduous, demanding process of unwinding all the damage that has been done, including the repeal of all the damnable legislation of the last decade (and longer), as well as new executive orders to countermand all the destructive earlier ones, and so on, endlessly. It's taken us many decades to reach this point; it will take at least that long to get back on solid, civilized ground. But that is the very process that no one in Washington is interested in (save for the usual two or three exceptions, who can't significantly affect the direction of events in any case).

Here's a piece of confirming evidence about the liberal-progressive consensus view of the KSM trial: this post. The critical point of summation in that entry is: "the trial is actually routine." And the writer concludes by saying: "If there's a strong case that terror trials are a bad idea, conservatives seem unable to make it." That's a very revealing formulation: note that the writer apparently feels no obligation or responsibility to determine on his own, independently if there may be any particular dangers involved, not even necessarily in "terror trials" per se, but with regard to this particular trial given the specific context in which it will occur -- and in light of what is more than likely to happen once a conviction is appealed (the focus of Feige's article). No, for this writer, as for most progressives (and most conservatives on "the other side"), the primary and often the sole concern is debunking whatever claims the opposition might make. As for what the truth itself might be -- the truth entirely apart from what one "side" or the other might claim -- why, we don't need no friggin' truth! And thus you have our politics today: a nauseating cesspool of assertions without facts, argument or history, positions adopted only to delegitimize the opposition, and strategies used to acquire, maintain and expand the power of one's own group and for no other purpose at all, despite the ceaseless propaganda both "sides" throw up and out 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Writers who offer the kinds of observations about the KSM trial such as those discussed above apparently have no understanding of even one of the issues discussed in my show trial essay and the Feige article, including the all-important climactic point. But beyond this, the actual concern and purpose of this approach could be summarized as follows:
Obama/Democrats/liberals/progressives/"us" = Good, intelligent, knowledgeable

Scarborough (or whoever the specific target of the moment may be)/Republicans/conservatives/"them" = Bad, ignorant/stupid (and very frequently "crazy," although that often encountered element is mercifully omitted on this occasion)
Us = Good, Them = Bad. I think there might be a term that designates the constellation of issues gathered together in such a perspective. I wonder what it might be... (And, yes, I will be returning to that series as well, hopefully very soon.)

Having gone through this exercise for just this one example, but emphasizing again that it is an example of special significance, I've caused myself to appreciate once more why my own writing and approach will never find popularity among more than a comparatively very small number of people. Our politics today is devoted almost exclusively to warring groups fighting over power, and concerned with acquiring and maintaining power by any and all means; not coincidentally, it happens to be power on a massive scale, power which could overwhelm every aspect of our lives as it lays waste to entire regions of the world. And for the most part, they are interested in nothing else whatsoever. By stark contrast, I'm not interested in power in even the smallest degree, in this or any other world -- and I dream of a very different world altogether.

But you can write all this off as self-serving, self-important bombast. To judge from my email, a number of people do. And very unfortunately, I have to make my standard plea once again. I decided I'd better do it now, since my usual low readership (when not aided by a link or two from "big" sites) will be even lower during this holiday week. But the first of a new month is almost here, and I'm essentially in the position I was when I wrote this. My situation today isn't quite as dire; readers were kind in response to that post, so I have about 2/3 of what I need for December rent. But I still need that last third, plus money for a few other very basic bills (electricity, phone, internet) and food. (I have lots of cat food; they come first, and they are well provided for, to the extent I am able. The cats are wonderful, bless their magnificent souls.)

Several weeks ago, I briefly thought I would use some of the donations that had come in to go to a doctor and have some tests done, get prescriptions filled, and so on. But then I had second thoughts: no, I concluded, better not. Before I know it, another month will have passed, and I'll almost certainly be unable to pay another round of bills. And, indeed, here I am. If I had gone to a doctor, I might well be completely broke at this point. I probably would have been broke almost immediately after that visit. So I'm still without the heart meds and any kind of medical care. I felt not too bad for a week or two. I never feel "good" any longer; that stopped several years ago. I realized a year or two ago that I didn't even remember what it was like to feel "good." Unsurprisingly, that realization depressed me more than a little. I've since gotten used to it, and I try to ignore it most of the time. When I feel "not too bad," that's a good day for me now. But feeling that way ended about a week ago. Now I feel pretty lousy almost all the time. I have no idea what that means and, as I noted in that earlier post, I probably won't know what it means until I have to make the next 911 call.

So, once again, I would be deeply grateful for whatever help you might be able and choose to provide. I know these times aren't at all easy for most people, and I'm not expecting miracles. I'm just trying to get by; that's miracle enough these days. And there still is a lot of writing I'd like to do. As I indicated, I have between five and ten essays in various stages of completion right now, and I have lots more lined up, whenever I'm able to get to them. So on we try to go, as best we can.

As always, many thanks for your consideration.

November 20, 2009

Hey, I Know! Let's Put On a Show Trial!

I've followed all the debatifying about the decision to prosecute five (ALLEGED!) 9/11 co-conspirators in federal court with weary, muffled resignation. Yes, I know "debatifying" isn't, like, a real word. Since almost everyone else is making shit up, I don't see any reason why I shouldn't. Thank God we have a new controversy, eh wot? All those earlier ones were getting mighty tired. Remember Roman Polanski? When I wrote about that (with great reluctance), I said:
This exercise in denial and avoidance across every level of our culture, with regard to every issue, and seen nowhere more clearly than in our political debates and in the heated "controversies" of the moment, means only that we are forbidden from ever thinking or saying anything of genuine importance. As a result, our debates, including all the seemingly passionate arguments about Polanski and what, dear God, is to be done? -- all of which will be forgotten when the next controversy thankfully arrives, and not a moment too soon -- are devoid of meaning.
So here we are, still another time at the grand ro-day-o. It is our great good fortune to have the latest hot topic for our continued mindless diversion. Once again, as always, we have to take a side! "Trying these bastards as if they were human beings is an insult to our great nation! Anyone who attacked us the way they did is a monster! So we should treat them like monsters! Pronounce the death sentence and kill the SOBs!" Versus: "Trying them in federal court shows just what a great nation we are! Yes, they're monsters, but we are so strong, so virtuous, and so, so, so good that we accord even monsters justice in the same way we do everyone else! Truly we are the best that ever was or ever will be!"

You see the critical point of common agreement: the United States is the bestest ever, in this and every other universe. God, we love us. Verily, 'tis a romance for the ages.

I could spend all day dissecting the endless contradictions and utterly nonsensical statements that the Obamoids have offered to "explain" their decision. I won't: there aren't that many anti-nausea pills in the world. Only one contradiction need be noted, and it's not the little oopsie that popped out of the mouth of Obama himself. You know the one I mean: "I don't think it will be offensive at all when he's convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him." That's not putting the cart before the horse. That's dispensing with the cart altogether, grabbing the "defendant" before the trial has begun, marching him directly to the scaffold, slamming his head on the block, lowering the guillotine yourself, and gleefully picking up the severed head and jauntily tossing it in the air before the screaming crowd as blood gushes from the neck, splattering all those who proclaim they are the only true defenders of "civilization." And the man who said that is the president! And he taught constitutional law! You're ruled by idiots, and notably vicious ones. You knew that.

Of course, Obama reversed himself immediately: "What I said was people will not be offended if that's the outcome. I'm not pre-judging it." Well, heck. It's unreasonable to expect people to understand the meaning of the words they speak as they speak them, even if those words concern an issue of immense importance that has been subject to (ALLEGEDLY!) serious scrutiny over a considerable period of time. For many people, life is nothing but a dress rehearsal. I myself think Obama regards his entire first term as a dry run. Can't you hear the 2012 campaign pitch now? "Hey, I was only practicing! Do you always get things right the first time? Of course you don't! I'm human just like you! Reelect me, and give us all another chance!"

Do not for a second think that wouldn't work. Weren't you around last time?

So what were we talking about...oh, yeah. KSM, civilian trials, anti-nausea pills. Obama and his administration may not be "pre-judging" this case, but that pathetic attempt at a save is entirely beside the point. For the truth is far worse. The outcome of these trials is completely irrelevant. They've already told us that:
Senators of both parties also pressed Mr. Holder to say what would happen if Mr. Mohammed or another detainee considered to be a dangerous terrorist was acquitted on a technicality or given a short sentence. Mr. Holder has said he will direct prosecutors to seek a death sentence in the Sept. 11 case.

Other Justice Department officials have said that even if Mr. Mohammed is acquitted, the Obama administration will keep him locked up forever as a “combatant” under the laws of war. But Mr. Holder largely sidestepped such questions, instead simply asserting that he was confident that Mr. Mohammed would be convicted.

“Failure is not an option,” Mr. Holder said.
Ponder that fact, the only one that matters: "even if Mr. Mohammed is acquitted, the Obama administration will keep him locked up forever as a 'combatant' under the laws of war." So he's acquitted -- declared not guilty -- and he's locked up forever.

Not guilty. And still locked up forever.

We can only hope that the United States is "unique."

And: "Failure is not an option." That is deep. Isn't that what the Bush administration said about Iraq? Isn't that what everyone says about Afghanistan? Isn't that what our solons told us about why we had to bail out the Wall Street criminals? Declaring that "failure is not an option" is the way they seek to compel you to obey, to force you to do whatever the hell they're demanding today. That's all. It is, you might say, a vicious, goddamned lie, one of the worst lies that those who would control our lives ever tell.

Of course this will be a show trial. I've written about that subject at length, in "Concerning the State, the Law, and Show Trials." That essay began:
From a broad, theoretical perspective, any trial in any State can be regarded as a show trial. In this discussion, I use "show trial" to refer to a trial in which the guilt or innocence of the defendant may be a concern to those dispensing justice (or what is designated as justice in that State), but that determination is not the primary concern. The primary objective is not answering the question of guilt or innocence in a strictly legal sense (applying the relevant law to the specific facts of the case), but political in nature. The major value of a show trial to the State is its usefulness as propaganda; more specifically, the major value is the utility of the proceeding to the enhancement of the perception of the State as legitimate and/or to the demonizing of the State's chosen enemies.
The article has much more on these issues. Apply my observations to this case as you deem appropriate. Those opening comments themselves strike me as not irrelevant.

One other aspect of this sordid business merits discussion. Events of recent years have often caused me to note one especially bathetic element of the mythologies with which most Americans, including our political leaders, suffocate themselves. We insist on our fairy tales, on our immovable conviction that no matter what destructive acts we commit, regardless of how monstrous our policies may be, there will always be a happy ending. Thus, as just one example, the United States government and its military murder more than one million innocent people -- but we still convince ourselves that the outcome justifies the slaughter, that it was "worth it."

In "Studies in Conformity, Generating Consensus, and Why You Are Not Adults" (an essay I earnestly commend to your attention, whenever your time and interest might allow), I addressed this issue using various examples. The economic crisis was where my analysis began, but I expanded that focus:
The fact that most Americans refuse to grow up and be adults has many results. One of them is critically relevant here: most Americans will not accept that actions have consequences, and that those consequences are sometimes irrevocable. Your prayers will not restore over a million slaughtered Iraqis to life. Your wishes will not instantaneously erase the horrifying memories that make an American soldier unable to sleep, incapable of holding a job, and that make him a stranger to his own family. There are times when our actions lead to results that cannot be undone.
Determination and dedication toward a goal can be great virtues, deserving of admiration. But those qualities are not always virtues, and they cannot be regarded as absolutes, to be adopted regardless of the specific context in which they are to be applied. If invading and occupying Iraq constituted a continuing series of war crimes -- which they do -- it is the opposite of virtue to insist that the crimes be executed "competently," which is the strongest criticism offered by many opponents of that criminal enterprise. Unjustified murder is not made less evil when it is accomplished "efficiently." Yet that is the stance endorsed by many Democrats (and others), in the past and still today.

All of this applies with full force to the efforts of the U.S. government to seek "justice" for those apprehended and held as prisoners in the "War on Terror" (or whatever the Obama administration is calling it this week, as they pursue the identical policy under a different name, thus hoping to camouflage the crimes with a new disguise). Basic, longstanding principles of justice were thrown out the window on the first day of that "War"; as a result, every effort to transform the resulting perversion into something more closely approximating "justice" is doomed to failure.

The consequences of this fact reverberate in countless ways, many of them largely unappreciated. Just this morning, I read an article which sets out some of the disastrous results in an especially compelling manner. I strongly recommend you read the entire article: "The Real Price of Trying KSM." The author, David Feige, identifies the various arguments defense lawyers will make, even though they will know in advance that almost all these arguments will be unsuccessful:
Good criminal defense attorneys are seldom deterred by futility, so it's reasonable to expect that KSM's lawyers will make all the arguments there are to make: They'll allege a violation of KSM's right to a speedy trial, claiming that the years he spent in CIA detention and Gitmo violated this constitutional right. They'll seek suppression of KSM's statements, arguing (persuasively) that the torture he endured—sleep deprivation, noise, cold, physical abuse, and, of course, 183 water-boarding sessions—make his statements involuntary. They will insist that everything stemming from those statements must be suppressed, under the Fourth Amendment, as the fruit of the wildly poisonous tree.
As Feige notes, all these arguments are predictable; they are, indeed, arguments that the defense attorneys are obliged to make if they are to "zealously" represent the interests of their client.

But that's not the problem. This is, and it is a very awful problem:
In an idealized view, our judicial system is insulated from the ribald passions of politics. In reality, those passions suffuse the criminal justice system, and no matter how compelling the case for suppressing evidence that would actually effect the trial might be, given the politics at play, there is no judge in the country who will seriously endanger the prosecution. Instead, with the defense motions duly denied, the case will proceed to trial, and then (as no jury in the country is going to acquit KSM) to conviction and a series of appeals. And that's where the ultimate effect of a vigorous defense of KSM gets really grim.

At each stage of the appellate process, a higher court will countenance the cowardly decisions made by the trial judge, ennobling them with the unfortunate force of precedent. The judicial refusal to consider KSM's years of quasi-legal military detention as a violation of his right to a speedy trial will erode that already crippled constitutional concept. The denial of the venue motion will raise the bar even higher for defendants looking to escape from damning pretrial publicity. Ever deferential to the trial court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit will affirm dozens of decisions that redact and restrict the disclosure of secret documents, prompting the government to be ever more expansive in invoking claims of national security and emboldening other judges to withhold critical evidence from future defendants. Finally, the twisted logic required to disentangle KSM's initial torture from his subsequent "clean team" statements will provide a blueprint for the government, giving them the prize they've been after all this time—a legal way both to torture and to prosecute.

In the end, KSM will be convicted and America will declare the case a great victory for process, openness, and ordinary criminal procedure. Bringing KSM to trial in New York will still be far better than any of the available alternatives. But the toll his torture and imprisonment has already taken, and the price the bad law his defense will create will exact, will become part of the folly of our post-9/11 madness.
All of the very likely results set out by Feige are terrible, but probably the worst is the one concerning torture: that this process "will provide a blueprint for the government, giving them the prize they've been after all this time—a legal way both to torture and to prosecute."

This is the "triumph" of our judicial system, and of the greatness that is America, that is now being promised to the American people. You cannot "save" a structure built on a rotted foundation by making cosmetic improvements to a few of the upper floors. And you will not save our judicial system once you have corrupted the foundations on which it is erected.

This is another manifestation of a principle I've discussed before:
Thus, the lesson: when you choose to be a critical part of a system that has become this corrupt -- and the endless corruptions of our corporatist-authoritarian-militarist system have been documented at great length here and in other places -- you will not ameliorate or "save" it. The system will necessarily and inevitably corrupt you.
It is a profoundly terrible lesson -- and it is a lesson that we cannot afford ever to forget.

November 19, 2009

Palin Derangement Syndrome: When It's Time for a Long, Long Rest

The time is long past due for certain writers to go into temporary retirement at a minimum, to engage in the process of rigorous self-assessment and of regaining perspective, and to find a new approach for commentary on current events. Perhaps foremost among the candidates for such a program is Andrew Sullivan. The only evidence I require for my judgment is this extraordinary post. I'll get back to that in a moment. First, let's consider some general background issues.

There is no question that much of the reaction to Sarah Palin, and to Hillary Clinton as well, is rooted in one of the foundational beliefs of our culture, and not simply that of the United States but of the West itself. I stated that belief as follows:
You need to understand one very simple foundational point: Women are evil. More than that, women are the ultimate source of all evil in the world.

Almost no one will admit the belief in this form, but this is what most people in the West believe, to one degree or another. Western culture is saturated with this perspective; it directs and finds expression in our films and television, in books, in our relationships, in business -- and in our politics. Whatever one may think of their political convictions (and I myself would never vote for either of them), Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin both represent historic candidacies. It is the belief that women are evil that underlies the blindingly intense hatred directed at them.
As I noted, this belief is very rarely stated explicitly, but that essay discusses the source of that belief and how it influences our cultural attitudes and behavior in countless ways. I have written quite a lot about many manifestations of that belief over the last year and a half, and you'll find many of the links in that earlier piece. And here's a post concerning a recent horrifying example of the same dynamic: "A Depraved, Violent and Indifferent Culture."

I also wrote an entry comparing certain statements offered by Palin and Biden in their vice presidential debate. For our concerns here, this passage is of most relevance:
Palin speaks comparatively plainly, using straightforward, everyday expressions. But her views are clear, and there is nothing notably "stupid" about what she says or how she says it -- unless, that is, you have become so accustomed to Washington-speak that you have rendered yourself incapable of recognizing more normal human expression. Yet it is altogether remarkable how much time and concentration so many people devote to demonstrating how much smarter they are than Sarah Palin. Obviously, Palin is not any kind of "intellectual" (also an unqualifiedly admirable attribute in my view), and she is not an Einstein. So let me rephrase the point more colloquially: if you have to devote so much time and energy to proving you're smarter than Sarah Palin, how pathetic are you? Here's your answer: very pathetic. Most of those who repeatedly engage in this kind of Palin-bashing are nothing more than bullies. They're the kind of people who, given half a chance, might torture small animals or pull the wings off flies.
Apply these observations to the example under current examination as you think appropriate, and deserved.

Beyond these issues and going much more deeply, there is another one of critical importance in assessing Palin or any other candidate put forth by the two major parties in our current system. Chris Floyd explained this aspect of the problem with his usual perceptiveness and eloquence, in a post from August 2008:
I must say that I strongly disagree with the argument that Sarah Palin is not qualified to be president of the United States. Such a stance betrays a lamentable misperception of the true function of the office in these modern times. It also ignores the craven nature of our political and media establishments, which has been on such brazen display for lo these many years.

First of all, what do you think would happen in the not-unlikely-event that an aged, ailing President McCain either died or became incapacitated? The very instant that Palin assumed the presidency, the aforesaid establishments would surround her with an aura of substance, seriousness, and respect. She would become..."The President"...her title invoked with the same frisson of pleasurable self-abnegation that accompanied every utterance of the holy phrase on "The West Wing." The media would find hidden reservoirs of charisma and command suddenly coming to light. We would hear stories of her folksy charm, her steely resolve, her self-deprecating wit, her surprising grasp of complex issues.

It doesn't matter what kind of poltroon parks his or her butt in the Oval Office, or how they get in there; they will be presented to the people as a figure of moral authority and gravitas -- and be accepted as such by large swathes of the public. ...

And haven't the past eight years been a painfully glaring demonstration of the undeniable fact that the office of the presidency is -- or certainly can be -- the emptiest of empty shams, a front behind which powerful elite factions shelter as they push their self-serving and undemocratic agendas? Yes, yes, yes, there are tussles and disagreements, even blood feuds, among the elite, there are narrow areas in which marginal differences in policy approaches might come into play. But no one -- no one -- becomes president or vice-president who has not already bought into the basic package: militarism, empire and continual state intervention in the economy on behalf of the rich and powerful.
Anyone who regularly writes about current politics should have at least a minimal appreciation of how these dynamics work. To rephrase Floyd's argument in terms of any alleged "threat" that one might consider Palin to be: given the operation of the current system -- and in light of the fact that these mechanics are entrenched and embedded throughout that system in a multitude of ways -- even a President Palin would not make any difference in any significant way. This is precisely the point that I recently made about Obama and his full embrace and even expansion of all those policies of the Bush administration that he had repeatedly pledged to change or reverse. That post also analyzes the progressives' complete failure to oppose Obama's supposed "capitulation" in any meaningful manner.

And the truth is that Obama isn't "capitulating," for he never opposed our corporatist-authoritarian system. He's the perfect embodiment of that system, a point I have been making for well over a year. The ultimate explanation will again be found in the nature of our current system of government itself:
Any individual who rises to the national political level is, of necessity and by definition, committed to the authoritarian-corporatist state. The current system will not allow anyone to be elected from either of the two major parties who is determined to dismantle even one part of that system.
All of this applies to Obama, and it also applies to Sarah Palin.

Against all this, we have that current entry from Sullivan. I could highlight the entire post as evidence for my argument (and please consider it so highlighted), but let's note just a few critical sentences.

For example, this one: "When dealing with a delusional fantasist like Sarah Palin, it takes time to absorb and make sense of the various competing narratives that she tells about her life."

And this one: "She is a deeply disturbed person which makes this work of fiction and fact all the more challenging to read."

And then this passage:
Since the Dish has tried to be rigorous and careful in analyzing Palin's unhinged grip on reality from the very beginning - specifically her fantastic story of her fifth pregnancy - we feel it's vital that we grapple with this new data as fairly and as rigorously as possible. That takes time to get right. And it is so complicated we simply cannot focus on anything else.
I try to resist "psychologizing" about writers -- that is, speculating about a person's motives, even in the absence of or in contradiction to the available, relevant evidence -- but in rare cases, certain psychological issues scream at you from the page. This is such a case. (Along the identical lines, see this more recent Sullivan entry.)

There may be "a deeply disturbed person" involved in this controversy, an individual exhibiting an "unhinged grip on reality," but that person would not appear to be the one identified by Sullivan. As noted above, the operation of our current system of governance severely limits the effect any one individual can have, even if that person is the president. And in the case of Palin, certain evidence Sullivan himself cites argues strongly against her representing any particular danger -- for example, her high unfavorability ratings. Facts such as that one, again set forth by Sullivan himself, make one look at the intensity and comprehensiveness of Sullivan's obsession and simply go, WTF?

As to the specific reason(s) for Sullivan's obsession, I can offer no explanations at all. Given the realities of American politics and in light of critical relevant facts that Sullivan himself must acknowledge, his purported explanations make no sense at all. But all that isn't my problem, or yours. But I would submit that it is Sullivan's problem, and I wish he would take the time to try to figure out its causes, for his own sake in the first instance.

And I would not want to make the same error myself, by focusing on Sullivan's failures to a degree that isn't warranted. I address this issue and Sullivan's most recent behavior in large part because I want again to make the broader points about our deep cultural loathing of women, an issue of immense importance that should always be among our primary concerns. But I will take the opportunity to repeat that this extraordinarily peculiar obsession of Sullivan's is of a piece with his continuing failures of analysis.

I've discussed Sullivan's inability to appreciate his own ongoing errors with regard to foreign policy; as one example, see, "Undying Myths, and Sullivan's Lies on the Path of Penance." Of still greater significance is what I consider his entirely erroneous approach to the question of torture. Because Sullivan and I both emphatically condemn torture, the profound difference between my perspective and his is one I consider of special importance, so I addressed it in considerable detail -- here and here. Toward the conclusion of the second of those essays, I summarized my argument this way:
This is why, even though I agree with his ultimate condemnation, I reject Sullivan's approach and the means by which he arrives at his conclusion absolutely, and across the board. He is incapable of seeing what the critical question is: he cannot understand the roots of such violence, nor can he see that our current foreign policy itself embodies that same violence. In the end, his condemnation is irrelevant and futile. People who condemn torture for the reasons Sullivan does do nothing to stop the violence that threatens to engulf the world.
To return to this specific controversy: Sullivan's continuing, unrelenting obsession with Palin is bizarre in the extreme. I would also suggest to The Atlantic that they do no good service for Sullivan or themselves by allowing this to continue. Episodes of this kind are the sort of thing one might encounter in a textbook on psychology, one with a heavy emphasis on aberrant behaviors. It is not behavior one expects or hopes to find in a mainstream publication; I say that even as someone with a notably low opinion of the content of all such publications. Still, to hope for certain limits would not seem to be beyond the bounds of reasonable expectations.

A long, long rest is indicated, and time for some desperately needed reflection.

P.S. To dispel any possible confusion in my concluding paragraphs (although no such confusion should arise from a careful reading of my comments), I state that I am absolutely, unequivocally opposed to censorship in any and all forms. See this essay, as just one example out of many. It should be painfully obvious that The Atlantic magazine is not the government -- although I cannot resist noting that if certain of The Atlantic's writers view their role as akin to that of government propagandists, that would explain a great deal. Pointing out that a magazine might think better of providing an outlet for a continuing stream of unreasoning, frequently incoherent commentary targeted at one particular individual, and on grounds which are highly dubious -- especially when that individual merits no special concern for the reasons outlined above -- has nothing whatsoever to do with the advocacy of censorship, whatever the wretched justification might claim to be. I leave that to others; unfortunately, there are far too many others eager and willing to take up that cause.