Shame, Come Back!

Really good article by Neal Gabler in Politico today. In How conservatives lost their moral compass, America’s Republicans, Gabler writes, have decided that shame is some sort of liberal plot designed to hobble tough, robust Conservatism. Hence, Perry’s unseemly boast about his record-setting execution numbers. And Paul’s (theoretical) condemning of an uninsured 30-year-old man to death if he can’t pay for medical care.

As Gabler notes, the crowds at the debates cheer for this sort of nastiness.

An excerpt:

American history can be read as a series of episodes in which we reached what could be called a “tipping point” of shame — when our behavior became so egregious that we, as a people, decided to desist from our worst excesses, whether it was slavery or antipathy to immigrants.

Take civil rights. The majority of Americans, even outside the South, might originally have had little real enthusiasm for the civil rights movement. Most urged patience. It was only after the public saw the beatings during the Freedom Rides, the firehoses and police dogs at Selma and the church bombing in Birmingham that Americans were shamed into accepting the claims of African-Americans to equal justice under the law. Shame was the moralizing force.

Shame also defeated the hatred of Father Charles Coughlin, the famous “radio priest” who laid the Great Depression at the feet of Jewish international bankers, and Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who recklessly accused his critics of communist treachery. Both had reached that tipping point at which ordinary Americans felt these provocateurs had gone too far. Americans felt shamed.

There is a reason we have never previously had a hatemonger like Rush Limbaugh enjoy popularity for as long as he has. The reason was shame. You couldn’t find enough people, let alone a broadcaster, who wanted to be identified with that sort of viciousness. The initial enthusiasm for it eventually waned.

But that was then. Surely when a group can publicly cheer a man’s death for not having health insurance, the sense of shame is gone. It faded not only because liberals had subverted it by casting it as a conservative scheme to corset society, but because conservatives managed to delegitimize it. They attacked it as yet another elitist scheme, contrived to neuter strong conservatism.

Great stuff. I highly recommend reading it. I would only add that Gabler could be a little more inclusive.

I would stop short of saying this shamelessness is shared equally by liberals, but you’re not paying attention if you don’t see it across the political spectrum. Consider how giggly  the Secretary of State became when she sat down with Diane Sawyer to have a Just-Us-Girls chat about the death of Gaddafi (“We Came We Saw He Died”), or Obama’s joking about using predator drones to assassinate the Jonas Brothers. Ha-ha. You thought he was joking? Nope. Sixteen-year-old boys in foreign lands are legitimate targets these days. Or maybe not. Maybe Awlaki’s son, vaporized as he sat down to eat with some friends, was “collateral damage.” Obama won’t say,  because he doesn’t have to ask permission, and he doesn’t have to explain.

I wrote in an earlier post about the giddiness I notice when politicians like Madame Clinton play at being tough guys. In the last week, Ice T said she should be the next president and brought the tough-guy schtick to an entirely new level:

She did the Secretary of State job, she was a G, she held it down, she didn’t cry.

Set aside for a moment the patronizing “she didn’t cry.” This is a shout-out from Ice-T! Hillary Clinton an honorary “G”! I’m pretty sure that HuffPost piece has been printed out and taped up somewhere conspicuous at the Secretary’s office. Did it gave Hillary and her staffers another case of the giggles and high-fives all-around? I have a feeling it did.

True, the Democrats do not seem to revel in cold-heartedness (theirs is still a little school-marmish, “it’s for your own good” affect–see Albright, M.),  but let’s look at the bipartisan coldness that is at large in the land.

Start by taking a look at Adam Gopnik’s recent New Yorker piece on our sprawling, and growing, prison complex, and the ugly fact that, according to a 2010 report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, “nonviolent offenders make up more than 60 percent of the prison and jail population. Nonviolent drug offenders now account for about one-fourth of all inmates, up from less than 10 percent in 1980.”

Is that only the product of Republican mean-spiritedness? I think not. Is it possible for a situation like the one described by Gopnik to exist without broad support from politicians of all stripes?

For most privileged, professional people, the experience of confinement is a mere brush, encountered after a kid’s arrest, say. For a great many poor people in America, particularly poor black men, prison is a destination that braids through an ordinary life, much as high school and college do for rich white ones. More than half of all black men without a high-school diploma go to prison at some time in their lives. Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today—perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system—in prison, on probation, or on parole—than were in slavery then. Over all, there are now more people under “correctional supervision” in America—more than six million—than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height. That city of the confined and the controlled, Lockuptown, is now the second largest in the United States.

As Gopnik notes, the fact that we’re sticking millions of our citizens down a hole for decades at a time is just the beginning. Absurd numbers of prisoners are singled out for solitary confinement. The very existence of even one “Supermax” prison is pretty much enough to indict our culture as broadly vindictive, even sadistic. There are dozens of  prisons with Supermax wings, and I would venture to bet they are in districts represented by politicians of both parties.

And, if you ever find yourself on the wrong side of the criminal justice system, not only will you be locked up, you will be pretty much on your own vis a vis preventing yourself from being raped. This should be the subject of much outrage, right? Uh, no. Gopnik again.

Prison rape is so endemic—more than seventy thousand prisoners are raped each year—that it is routinely held out as a threat, part of the punishment to be expected. The subject is standard fodder for comedy, and an uncoöperative suspect being threatened with rape in prison is now represented, every night on television, as an ordinary and rather lovable bit of policing.

Again, I’m not rejecting Gabler’s point. There’s no question: the state of “conservative” discourse has changed into something that is unspeakably ugly to behold. The past months of virtually non-stop debates have put this fact on dramatic display (while at the same time setting the range of topics for whichever candidate emerges from this clown/monster show to debate Obama).

There are of course significant differences between the parties, but a similar agenda gets enacted no matter who wins. Bold prediction: It will be More War, More Austerity and More Prisons for the foreseeable future. Three things few voters are clamoring for. And you’ll have a hard time finding a politician of either party willing to apologize for (let alone be ashamed of) that state of affairs.

After Spotify

When I moved to New York from Minneapolis in 1988, I wasn’t looking to set the city on fire, at least not right away. As it turned out, I never did, but that is another story.

My goals were modest: to have a lease, a little  money in the bank, take a few trips each year, and to be able to buy any CD I wanted. It didn’t take long to become a huge success by those modest standards.

It was the early 90s. I realize in retrospect I was  working in a marketing department at the tail end of the Golden Age of Working in Marketing Departments. I was in books, at HarperCollins, and it was a common and lovely practice  to call your counterparts at any publisher or record company  to trade books for books or books for CDs. There were days when the mail drop on my floor would be teeming with jiffy bags and boxes of books and musical wonderment. A lot of it was junk, but you often got  more or less what you asked for, and there were a few serendipitous things I would never have thought I’d like. Nancy Wilson and George Shearing The Swingin’s Mutual, for one. Malcolm McLaren’s Fans, for another. Cibo Mato, Viva la Woman!

Between trading and buying whatever music I  wanted, my New York years produced a collection of CDs so large that it became a major project to pack it up when it was time to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest. I settled on large 240-cd folios, about six of them, kept some of the nicer big-format boxed sets, and put an ad on Craigslist for 1500 jewel boxes.

Fast forward eight years, and we are living in Kentucky in the age of  Spotify and instant musical gratification. Those folios sit on our porch and I very rarely have occasion to open them. Lo, the larges folios begat smaller ones, the “travel” kind that hold 48 CDs.  I created about six of these smaller collections for the car, but the adding and subtracting of CDs to the car folios quickly became tiresome, and the plastic dividers that hold the cds in place tore and fell apart. And then I discovered how easy it was to  load an IPod with a thousand songs and use it in conjunction with the car stereo. The CDs and their folios got sadder and more neglected, and crawled further under the passenger seat, with the golf  tees, candy wrappers, and empty bottles of Life Water.

And yet. Something in me recoils at limitless choices. From my teens through my mid-twenties, I remember expending much mental energy trying to listen to music I had read about, in Rolling Stone, the Village Voice, or the local alternative weeklies in the Twin Cities. With the much-lamented passing of the indie KQRS, radio wasn’t much of an option and if you didn’t have friends who actually possessed the vinyl, you were out of luck. I was desperate enough to go halves on an album with friends, and let the friend keep the physical product, just so I could make a cassette.

I remember once interviewing to become part of a shared house with four guys from the western suburbs–Edina? Minnetonka? Wayzata?, in my mental map of the Twin Cities a mysterious Forbidden Zone populated by the rich, arrogant and decadent. These bros all  had asymmetrical haircuts, used copious amounts of hair gel, went to First Avenue a lot (for the dancy part, not the bands), and were “really into ABC.”

I  didn’t get the place in that house, needless to say, and never had a personal connection to anyone else who shared the communal enthusiasm for ABC. My curiosity had long expired, but just now I got up to speed via Spotify/Youtube. No regrets…..


For some reason, having the luxury of Spotify has taken some of the mystery, and joy, out of being a music aficionado. Being able to hear virtually any song I want on demand, has driven me backwards, made me appreciate serendipity and repetition.  I realize now I really like leaving a single disc in the car CD player for days at at a time. Last week, I played these three until the grooves wore out:

  • The Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest (“What is a war if it doesn’t have a general? What’s channel nine if it doesn’t have Arsenio? … What are the youth if they ain’t rebellin’? What’s Ralph Cramden if he ain’t yellin’–at Ed Norton, what is coke snortin’?”);
  • The Stiff Records Box Set, Disc Three (Madness, Desmond Dekker, Tracey Ullman, Graham Parker, Tenpole Tudor, some truly daft things from one-hit wonders….);
  • George Strait’s Strait Out of the Box, Disc Two, his peak years, lots of hard country songs, plus the super-slick pop ones, eg. “The Chair”, one of the best stalker songs ever. A duet with Hank Thompson on “Six-Pack To Go”!

As for serendipity, I had taken for granted that local radio here in central Kentucky would not have much to offer. I didn’t try hard to search for good stations. My prejudice was that there would be lots of mainstream Nashville junk, the occasional classic country station, Christian rock, and cheesy mainstream pop with really obnoxious DJs.

My snobby ignorance persisted for over eight years, and then yesterday, I happened upon a station of bizarre eclecticism that played a succession of songs that were right in my wheelhouse, some of which I had not heard for decades. “I Wanna Be Sedated”! Ten Years After’s “I’d Love to Change the World” and “5:15” from Quadrophenia.

The video below is kind of amazing. I had forgotten I had seen the movie. I had not, however, forgotten a single word of the lyrics, which I hadn’t listened to since college. My teenage infatuation with late-period Who still being something of an embarrassment to me.

The lyrics to “5:15” are complete doggerel nonsense–“The ushers are sniffing/Eau de cologne-ing!”–but like  “madman drummers bummers” etc. from the early early skinny-hippy Springsteen, are somehow impossible to forget.

I realize that to this point I’ve failed miserably to tie this all together. Who can complain about the near-infinity of choices offered by a post-Spotify musical universe? And yet I appear to be doing just that. Something something Surprise Mystery Serendipity Tyranny of Choice. Just saying something has been lost with the absolute freedom of Spotify.

Perhaps a tendentious quote from an obscure Yeats play, Fergus and the Druid, will suffice. For now, it’s all I got:

And all these things were wonderful and great; But now I have grown nothing, knowing all

“Self-serving mendacities” and the American Century

Andrew J. Bacevich’s The Short American Century: A Postmortem is excerpted in this month’s Harper’s (subscription required, alas).

Bacevich is a West Point alum, retired colonel, self-described Catholic conservative, professor of international relations at Boston University, and the father of Andrew J. Bacevich Jr., a soldier who was killed in Iraq in 2007, aged 27. He cannot be touched by the typical slanders cast  against antiwar voices.  Like Smedley Butler and James Carroll, he offers an insider’s  critique of militarism and American exceptionalism (which of course go together rather well). He also writes astonishingly well.

As such, he’s the perfect puncturer of the myths surrounding what has come to be known as The American Century, a concept still current in some circles, like, for example, whoever wrote this.  (Bacevich reminds us that candidate Obama was wont to  invoke the American Century on the campaign trail).

The phrase “the American Century” is credited to Henry Luce, who, as Bacevich points out, slipped the eponymous February 1941 Life magazine essay between “a feature on women’s fashion … and a profile of Betty Carstairs, oil heiress, adventuress, and speedboat racer.”

I want to share a big chunk of this, without (I hope) violating the spirit of the Harper’s business model.  Here, in a couple hundred words, Bacevich puts the Good War/Greatest Generation claptrap to rest in a rather authoritative manner.

Framed as chapters in a longer narrative of liberation, these two events [WWII and the Cold War] invest the ambitions inherent in the vision of an American Century with a modicum of plausibility. Yet sustaining that narrative requires the careful selection and arrangement of facts, with inconvenient or uncomfortable truths excluded, suppressed, or simply ignored.

With regard to World War II, the many facts that don’t fit include the following: in the destruction of Nazi Germany, U.S. forces played at best a supporting role, with Stalin’s Red Army—the vanguard of a totalitarian police state—doing most of the fighting, killing, and dying;  as a result, the price of liberating Western Europe included delivering Eastern Europe to Stalin and his henchmen. Meanwhile, in its aerial bombing campaign against German and Japanese cities, the United States engaged in the conscious, intentional, wholesale slaughter of noncombatants. In the aftermath of the European war, the Allies collaborated in enforcing a massive involuntary transfer of populations—that is, a policy of ethnic cleansing. When they found it expedient to do so, U.S. officials allowed Nazi war criminals—rocket scientists and intelligence officials, for example—to escape prosecution and to enter the service of the United States. Then there is this: at no time prior to or during the war did the United States make any substantive effort to prevent or even disrupt the Nazi persecution of Jews that culminated in the “final solution.” In Washington the fate of European Jewry never figured as more than an afterthought. As much or more than the promotion of American ideals—that “sharing with all peoples of our Bill of Rights, our Declaration of Independence, [and] our Constitution” that Luce dearly hoped to see—these decisions, along with the priorities they reflect, laid the basis for the interval of American primacy that followed.

He then goes on to warn that the “self-serving mendacities” underpinning the American Century are not just wrong, but also dangerous:

The way that Americans choose to remember World War II and the Cold War—evil overthrown thanks chiefly to the United States—invests the American Century with reassuring moral clarity. Fixing December 7, 1941, as the start date of the struggle for Pacific dominion, for example, saddles the Japanese aggressor with responsibility for all that followed. The high-handedness of Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry in coercing Japan to open itself to the outside world, nearly a century earlier;  systematic American discrimination against Japanese immigrants, codified in insulting state and local laws;  Washington’s refusal to acknowledge a Japanese sphere of influence in East Asia,  while asserting American primacy throughout the Western Hemisphere; and, more immediately, the impact of U.S.-imposed sanctions intended to strangle Japan economically:  for most Americans, Pearl Harbor renders all these irrelevant.

Self-serving mendacities—that the attacks of September 11, 2001, reprising those of December7, 1941,  “came out of nowhere” to strike an innocent nation—don’t enhance the safety and well being of the American people.  To further indulge old illusions of the United States presiding over and directing the course of history will not only impede the ability of Americans to understand the world and themselves but may well pose a positive danger to both. No one opens an old issue of Life today in the expectation of unearthing truths with contemporary relevance. They do so to satisfy their taste for nostalgia, resurrecting memories, real or imagined, of an America that was good and getting better, a land and people overflowing with promise. Something of the same can be said of Luce’s other great creation: his vision of an American Century likewise survives as an artifact, encapsulating an era about which some (although by no means all) Americans might wax nostalgic—a time, real or imagined, of common purpose, common values, and shared sacrifice. Only by jettisoning the American Century and the illusions to which it gives rise will the self-knowledge and self-understanding that Americans urgently require become a possibility. Whether Americans will grasp the opportunity that beckons is another matter.

The book containing this essay is scheduled for publication in March.

Also, here is the most recent video clip I could find featuring Bacevich, from September, on RT, a network that, in spite of occasionally erratic production values, provocative but clumsy captions (“is it time for the US to send the sacred military cow out to pasture?”), and borderline inappropriate fashion sense of their interviewers (who are nevertheless very sharp), is still one of the best places to hear people like Bacevich talk at length. This is a terrific interview.

Iran: Isolated or “more connected than Google”?

AP photo

What to make of the fact that last month the Senate voted 100 to zero (!!!!) to impose a new sanctions package on countries dealing with Iran’s Central Bank. (The House at least had a whopping twelve “no” votes and a smattering of “presents”).

On learning that bit of news in December, my takeaway was not particularly sophisticated, I must admit. There is no hope for Congress when such a craven, demagogic act of bullying (and a possible prelude to another war) is met with pretty much unanimous approval. Our lawmakers are simply not serious people, and certainly are not acting in the interests of their constituents.

But I’ve thought that for a while.

Fortunately, there is Pepe Escobar to bring a more nuanced analysis to bear on the despair-inducing “crisis” (is it still a crisis if it goes on for decades?).

The Myth of “Isolated” Iran: Following the Money in the Iran Crisis at TomDispatch makes a strong case that, in spite of Washington’s wishful thinking and best efforts, Iran is hardly isolated. It is in fact, says Escobar, “more connected than Google” and has been continuing arrangements with long-term (measured in millennia) partners like China and Russia, and is forging new ones with Latin America, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Japan and Korea are already “begging for exemptions” from the new sanctions package scheduled to go into effect in June.

The gist of the article is a little difficult to summarize fairly, so I will leave you with a few paragraphs in which Escobar encourages us to “follow the money”:

That Iranian isolation theme only gets weaker when one learns that the country is dumping the dollar in its trade with Russia for rials and rubles — a similar move to ones already made in its trade with China and Japan. As for India, an economic powerhouse in the neighborhood, its leaders also refuse to stop buying Iranian oil, a trade that, in the long run, is similarly unlikely to be conducted in dollars. India is already using the yuan with China, as Russia and China have been trading in rubles and yuan for more than a year, as Japan and China are promoting direct trading in yen and yuan. As for Iran and China, all new trade and joint investments will be settled in yuan and rial.

Translation, if any was needed: in the near future, with the Europeans out of the mix, virtually none of Iran’s oil will be traded in dollars.

Moreover, three BRICS members (Russia, India, and China) allied with Iran are major holders (and producers) of gold. Their complex trade ties won’t be affected by the whims of a U.S. Congress. In fact, when the developing world looks at the profound crisis in the Atlanticist West, what they see is massive U.S. debt, the Fed printing money as if there’s no tomorrow, lots of “quantitative easing,” and of course the Eurozone shaking to its very foundations.

Follow the money. Leave aside, for the moment, the new sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank that will go into effect months from now, ignore Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz (especially unlikely given that it’s the main way Iran gets its own oil to market), and perhaps one key reason the crisis in the Persian Gulf is mounting involves this move to torpedo the petrodollar as the all-purpose currency of exchange.

It’s been spearheaded by Iran and it’s bound to translate into an anxious Washington, facing down not only a regional power, but its major strategic competitors China and Russia. No wonder all those carriers are heading for the Persian Gulf right now, though it’s the strangest of showdowns — a case of military power being deployed against economic power.

In this context, it’s worth remembering that in September 2000 Saddam Hussein abandoned the petrodollar as the currency of payment for Iraq’s oil, and moved to the euro. In March 2003, Iraq was invaded and the inevitable regime change occurred. Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi proposed a gold dinar both as Africa’s common currency and as the currency of payment for his country’s energy resources. Another intervention and another regime change followed.

Washington/NATO/Tel Aviv, however, offers a different narrative. Iran’s “threats” are at the heart of the present crisis, even if these are, in fact, that country’s reaction to non-stop US/Israeli covert war and now, of course, economic war as well. It’s those “threats,” so the story goes, that are leading to rising oil prices and so fueling the current recession, rather than Wall Street’s casino capitalism or massive U.S. and European debts. The cream of the 1% has nothing against high oil prices, not as long as Iran’s around to be the fall guy for popular anger.

As energy expert Michael Klare pointed out recently, we are now in a new geo-energy era certain to be extremely turbulent in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere. But consider 2012 the start-up year as well for a possibly massive defection from the dollar as the global currency of choice. As perception is indeed reality, imagine the real world — mostly the global South — doing the necessary math and, little by little, beginning to do business in their own currencies and investing ever less of any surplus in U.S. Treasury bonds.

Of course, the U.S. can always count on the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) — Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates — which I prefer to call the Gulf Counterrevolution Club (just look at their performances during the Arab Spring). For all practical geopolitical purposes, the Gulf monarchies are a U.S. satrapy. Their decades-old promise to use only the petrodollar translates into them being an appendage of Pentagon power projection across the Middle East. Centcom, after all, is based in Qatar; the U.S. Fifth Fleet is stationed in Bahrain. In fact, in the immensely energy-wealthy lands that we could label Greater Pipelineistan — and that the Pentagon used to call “the arc of instability” — extending through Iran all the way to Central Asia, the GCC remains key to a dwindling sense of U.S. hegemony.

If this were an economic rewrite of Edgar Allan Poe’s story, “The Pit and the Pendulum,” Iran would be but one cog in an infernal machine slowly shredding the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. Still, it’s the cog that Washington is now focused on. They have regime change on the brain. All that’s needed is a spark to start the fire (in — one hastens to add — all sorts of directions that are bound to catch Washington off guard).

Remember Operation Northwoods, that 1962 plan drafted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to stage terror operations in the U.S. and blame them on Fidel Castro’s Cuba. (President Kennedy shot the idea down.) Or recall the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964, used by President Lyndon Johnson as a justification for widening the Vietnam War. The U.S. accused North Vietnamese torpedo boats of unprovoked attacks on U.S. ships. Later, it became clear that one of the attacks had never even happened and the president had lied about it.

It’s not at all far-fetched to imagine hardcore Full-Spectrum-Dominance practitioners inside the Pentagon riding a false-flag incident in the Persian Gulf to an attack on Iran (or simply using it to pressure Tehran into a fatal miscalculation). Consider as well the new U.S. military strategy just unveiled by President Obama in which the focus of Washington’s attention is to move from two failed ground wars in the Greater Middle East to the Pacific (and so to China). Iran happens to be right in the middle, in Southwest Asia, with all that oil heading toward an energy-hungry modern Middle Kingdom over waters guarded by the U.S. Navy.

So yes, this larger-than-life psychodrama we call “Iran” may turn out to be as much about China and the U.S. dollar as it is about the politics of the Persian Gulf or Iran’s nonexistent bomb. The question is: What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Beijing to be born?


Music for a crispy winter’s day

I love this sort of morning, mid-twenties, clear sky, the ground crunching as I walk through the Minimal Cold Day Chore Set–scatter some scratch grains for the chickens, break a hole in their water dish and the cattle tank, gather a few choice logs for the wood stove.

The herd is grazing a tenant’s pasture that he doesn’t plan to use this winter. They’re a half mile away from the house, which is nothing for a real cattleman, but I’m used to being able to see them by looking out the window.  After dropping the kids off, I took the lazy way to check on them, by driving around the perimeter of the farm in the nicely toasty minivan until I established they’re where they should be.

Meanwhile, I was listening to some lovely music on the way. Cannonball Adderly was a nice palate refresher after the kids played Stereo Hearts on the Ipod three times on the way to school. I’m ready for them to be through with that song.

And this hauntingly beautiful She and Me by Heavenly, which never ceases to amaze me.


“Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

Not  that it’s in any way likely, but let’s ask: What happens under President Paul?

Specifically, would there be any reduction in the number of innocent bodies crushed or blown to bits under U.S. bombs and missiles, or hacked to death by the minions of regimes we support?

Paul supports a number of positions that put him beyond the pale of progressive or even civilized thought. But his appeal is real, and cuts across ideological boundaries, because more and more Americans really do see the pointlessness or malign effects of having our military spread across the globe, at war or threatening it, in too many countries to count. Paul, as this excellent “Imagine” ad promises, will do something about that.

There is a serious effort afoot to shame or scold liberals/progressives who have good things to say about Paul. Katha Pollitt, especially, goes to town on any progressive who might consider straying. “Man-crush”–the ultimate insult. That is so grad-school in the eighties (and I know from experience!)

For what it’s worth, in Pollitt’s exasperated contempt for Paul I see echoes of her review of Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke, a genuinely radical and important book that painted sympathetic portraits of pacifists and nonviolent activists in the years leading up to World War Two. Her main response, stated up front: “fury at pacifists.”

Because of course, World War Two produced 60 million corpses, a permanently militarized and aggressive United States, and the specter of nuclear annihilation for the planet forever. Only an asshole (or a man) would try to revisit the run-up to such a war and try to imagine alternative scenarios, right?

Is it possible that after everything we’ve learned about America’s  low, dishonest wars since the Good War ®, liberals cling to the idea that U.S. bombs and boots on the ground in foreign lands are a force for good? That establishment liberals are not dismissing Paul in spite of his non-interventionism, but because of it?

It’s a partisan thing, partly. Democrats are as good as, or better than, the other guys at starting wars. A combination of the Wilsonian streak and, in recent years, a byproduct of domestic political battles, whereby the Democrats always feel compelled to prove they’re not “soft” on communism, or terror (only the Muslim kind, of course).

Supporters of the the current administration should be forced to confront just how Paul’s positions on foreign policy and war  make conventional progressivism/centrism/liberalism (the three conflated in a bewildering way in the current president) look compromised, corrupt, and downright evil.

So, finally, to the point of all this:  a consideration of Freddie De Boer’s It’s not about Ron Paul: It’s about you, which uses the case of historic and ongoing U.S. support for Indonesian repression as a representative instance of the liberal establishment’s complicity in barbarism.

When confronting establishment progressives with the reality of our conduct and how much it has cost some of the poorest and most defenseless people on earth, the conversation never stays about our victims; it inevitably changes to those attempting to talk about them, a knee-jerk defense that progressives have made an art form. That’s why Ron Paul is so perfect, for establishment liberals. He is an open invitation to change the subject. The United States keeps killing innocent people, keeps propping up horrific regimes, keeps violating international law, keeps trampling on the lives of those who lack the power to defend themselves– but Ron Paul is a racist, and believes in the gold standard, and opposes abortion, and in general supports some of the most odious domestic policies imaginable. What I insist, and what people like Glenn Greenwald keep insisting, is that Ron Paul’s endless failings shouldn’t and can’t exist as an excuse to look away from the dead bodies that we keep on piling up. What I have wanted is to grab a hold of mainstream progressivism and force it to look the dead in the face. But the effort to avoid exactly that is mighty, and what we have on our hands is an epidemic of not seeing.

Even though De Boer doesn’t allow comments, he does share Robert Farley’s response in an update, which I think takes a useful (theoretical) look at what would be different under President Paul.

And so this brings us to assumption the second, which is that a President Paul would somehow have done something to make all those Indonesia people not dead. I suppose it’s possible that a President Paul would have refrained from supporting the Suharto coup, although it’s also certainly possible that Paul’s free market commitments would have made anti-communist activity attractive; I don’t know enough about Paul’s early career attitudes regarding the USSR, the Sandinistas, etc. I guarantee you, however, that President Paul would have lifted not a finger to assist all the Indonesians killed in the wake of the coup, or in the various statebuilding projects later engaged in by the Suharto and post-Suharto governments. President Paul might not have engaged in a direct military relationship with Indonesia, but he would not have prevented American private military firms from contracting with the Indonesians in training and advisory roles; he would not have prevented the Indonesian military from purchasing all the military equipment that it could afford from US defense corporations; he would not have prevented US corporations with interests in Indonesia from calling (publicly or privately) for violent defense of their extractive and labor interests; and he would not have supported any robust international action to condemn or isolate the Indonesian government.

I would have to point out that all the private military activity is a direct byproduct of America’s armies and navies and air forces having spent the past half century  spread out across the planet. How many of these private military contractors are ex-U.S. military? Most? Nearly all?

And yet even if Paul does make radical reductions to America’s military, Farley is right. There will still be plenty of Yanks and plenty of U.S.-made munitions, ships and aircraft. And I don’t imagine Paul would be aggressive in stopping American BUSINESSMEN from doing American BUSINESS, would he? As long as they’re not supported by the tyranny of taxation, that is.

Not that any of this has a snowball’s chance in hell of happening. Paul’s  role has been at least partly constructive in this campaign because he has asked hugely important questions and, yes, imagined an alternative. But unless he mounts a third-party run, he’ll be out of the race soon, and the entire debate on “defense” will be reduced again to the moronic question  of which party Keeps Us Safe ®. America will continue to be sucked dry by its military no matter who gets elected, and we’ll return to the alternate universe  where slight reductions in the rate of the Pentagon’s budget growth are looked upon as  brave (or treasonous)  major cuts.


Politics is over, if you want it

When we talk about the process, then, we are talking, increasingly, not about “the democratic process,” or the general mechanism affording the citizens of a state a voice in its affairs, but the reverse: a mechanism seen as so specialized that access to it is correctly limited to its own professionals, to those who manage policy and those who report on it, to those who run the polls and those who quote them, to those who ask and those who answer the questions on the Sunday shows, to the media consultants, to the columnists, to the issues advisers, to those who give the off-the-record breakfasts and to those who attend them; to that handful of insiders who invent, year in and year out, the narrative of public life.
-Joan Didion, Insider Baseball, 1988

This caucus, let’s face it, marks the beginning of a long, rigidly-controlled, carefully choreographed process that is really designed to do two things: weed out dangerous minority opinions, and award power to the candidate who least offends the public while he goes about his primary job of energetically representing establishment interests.

If that sounds like a glib take on a free election system that allows the public to choose whichever candidate it likes best without any censorship or overt state interference, so be it. But the ugly reality, as Dylan Ratigan continually points out, is that the candidate who raises the most money wins an astonishing 94% of the time in America.
-Matt Taibbi, Iowa: The Meaningless Sideshow Begins, 2012