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Recommended: The Limits of Israeli Belligerence

10:18 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

In this worthy article, Dina Jadallah wrote:

One can watch the latest Israeli assault on Gaza and become overwhelmed with the enormity of the destruction, the loss of human life (one-third of whom are children), and the indiscriminate and disproportionate use of asymmetric power by an occupying state against one million and seven hundred thousand people (mostly refugees) living under an embargo for several years.

On the other hand, one can watch the latest assault and marvel at the resistance, the power of human will, the high morale of a steadfast population that is determined to return to their usurped lands. More importantly, one can be reassured because the people in Gaza are ahead of their leaders, while their resistance is inflicting real damage on their enemy.

The latest conflict might be an inflection point in the struggle, especially if its achievements are employed wisely in order to achieve politically strategic goals such as the lifting of the embargo, a halt to colonies / “settlements, and so forth.

Despite the skewed balance of raw muscular power in Israel’s favor, how is it that it cannot even win what was (wrongly) projected to be a brief and spectacular skirmish that would boost the political fortunes of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak.

Zohan, like his good friend, Uncle Sam, possesses a vast and ever-increasing military advantage over those he would dominate. But also like Uncle Sam, Zohan mostly fails to achieve the political goals he seeks. Zohan has already lost his latest battle. The imprisoned Palestinians refuse to yield. In this they are akin to the Afghanis, who stubbornly defend their land when invaders threaten it. The Gazan Palestinians continue to fight back, to resist the compelling force Zohan musters whenever he butchers the unarmed. That is his defeat in a nutshell. Zohan now needs a cease-fire settlement as much as the peopled interred in his Gaza prison-land.

Whenever we consider a situation like this one, when we find the weak successfully resisting the powerful, we should always keep this thought in mind: “You can do anything with bayonets except sit on them,” a maxim attributed variously to Talleyrand, Thomas Hardy, Napoleon I and Bismarck. In the last instance, Zohan will accept defeat and a two-state solution to this permanent crisis or he will exterminate the Palestinians.

George McGovern died today (1992-2012)

7:06 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

He was 90 at the time of his death

It cannot be said that McGovern’s star-crossed 1972 Presidential campaign signaled the death of American liberalism (America’s version of social democracy). That death would finally come when Ronald Reagan demolished the politically conservative Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization in 1981. What his 1972 campaign managed to accomplish was the creation of a potent and enduring symbol, one which encapsulated the political impossibility of liberal reform in the United States. It did not matter a jot that McGovern was not a radical in any way at all; his defeat at Richard Nixon’s dirty hands, America’s last liberal President (Chomsky), was so decisive that it suggested Americans in general would not accept the political implementation of a just social order, a project which informed national politics in the prior decade. In this sense it can be said that McGovern’s defeat in 1972 ushered in the Age of Reaction in American politics. It was the watershed moment for this reactionary turn. Even the Watergate Scandal — which one might have expected to affirm completely and strongly the leftwing of the Democratic Party and which destroyed the corrupt Nixon Administration as well as the Party-man Gerald Ford — failed to deter the hard right turn made by the American elite after the 1960s. Militarism, predatory economics and social reaction would dominate American politics thereafter.

The significance of McGovern’s defeat is such that echoes of it could be heard in Scott Walker’s decisive victory over Tom Barrett in the Wisconsin Governor’s Recall Election of 2012 and in the public and private despair felt by the Democratic Party left over Barack Obama’s reactionary politics. Both situations reflect the political weakness of a center-left politics in the United States, a weakness revealed by the 1972 Presidential Election. A Heideggerian might consider this despair to be Uncle Sam anticipating his very death

George McGovern was considered to be a decent man. I did not know him and cannot confirm this observation from my personal experience. But, if McGovern had been a decent man during his long life, we who remain alive might appreciate the fact that his name will always remain associated with the effort to turn the country away from its self-selected destruction. This will be his posterity.

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Food for thought

4:04 pm in Uncategorized by szielinski

The political philosopher Andrew Levine recently addressed the nearly lifeless condition of democracy in America. The condition he discussed hardly affirms America’s self-identification as the world’s oldest, freest and most democratic country. Yet this sour claim resonates with the experience of many, and has real material and systemic causes which cannot be separated from the institutions which self-satisfied patriots affirm without thought or irony. These causes include a duopolistic party system with nearly unscalable entry barriers; the strongly anti-democratic features of the 1787 Constitution; the vast sums of money now spent on electoral campaigns, monies which mostly spring from the coffers of the better-off, the massive corporations and the obscenely rich oligarchs; the social, economic and political powers embedded within private institutions; and the enormous size, complexity and diversity of the American social system. These factors affect the quality of American democracy, as Levine points out:

Despite what students are told in civics classes (where they still exist) and what normative theories of democracy propose, democracy in America today has almost nothing to do with rational deliberation and debate, and very little to do with aggregating preferences or reconciling conflicting interests. It is about legitimating government of, by and for the corporate malefactors and Wall Street banksters who own Congress and the White House along with an obscenely large chunk of the nation’s wealth.

The Occupy movement has driven this point home, but it was widely appreciated long before Zuccotti Park entered the national consciousness. Why then is there no legitimation crisis here in the Land of the Free? The answer, in short, is that we hold competitive elections and, for the most part, abide by their results. Evidently, that suffices.

Thanks to centuries of struggle, we are all today at some level democrats, no matter how removed our political system is from anything like real democracy — rule by the demos, the popular masses (as distinct from economic and social elites). Democratic commitments run so deep that almost anything that smacks of real democracy becomes invested with extraordinary powers of legitimation.

This is why competitive elections have the power to legitimate even regimes like ours in which elites plainly do rule a disempowered ninety-nine percent plus of the population. Competitive elections embody a shard of what real democracy is supposed to be, and that evidently is good enough for us.

The United States of America — a land with a deep and intractable legitimation deficit (due to its democracy and accountability deficit) but no legitimation crisis to speak of, a country where the well-off and powerful fear the latent power of lesser people and where the relatively powerlessers have little input into the system which governs them. Common Americans mostly obey the laws made for them while meekly meeting the needs of their betters, a feature of the American system which affirms the status quo. The public face of this paradox will be on display this election year. One need only juxtapose presidential Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to sense the absurdity of this electoral contest, the completion of which will legally but not popularly legitimize the government thus elected. We have government with only barest consent of the governed.

This condition, ironically enough, may be compared to one which could be found in the various countries which composed the Warsaw Bloc prior to the Velvet Revolutions of the late 1980s. There one could find a depoliticized and seemingly cowed population, one which endured the policies and intrigues of an elite which they could not hold accountable in any way. Only a popular refusal to submit to authoritarian governance, when coupled to the dissolution of the Soviet imperial system, put these regimes into their well-deserved graves. Neither the Tea Party Movement, the two legacy parties, the Pentagon and the security-surveillance apparatus in general nor the coequal branches of the federal government embody the spirit of the American Revolution. That is, they are not agents of radical democratization. In the United States today, that honor today belongs to the Occupy Movement, for democracy in America can be found only when it is put into practice on the streets of its cities and towns.

As a matter of fact, the Tea Party Movement, the legacy parties, the security-surveillance apparatus and the coequal branches of the federal government are committed opponents of the democratization of the American political system.

Environmental science — an ersatz religion

7:31 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

Humpty Dumpty/wikimedia

In a speech he recently made to the Ohio Christian Alliance, Rick Santorum, a former Senator from Pennsylvania and a Republican candidate for President, recently accused President Obama of having a “phony theology,” one that does not derive from The Bible and which the President has imposed on the citizens of the United States.

Although Santorum later admitted that Obama is a Christian — Santorum: “I wasn’t suggesting the president was not a Christian. I accept the fact that the president’s a Christian….” — it remains the case that the President’s theology is a secular belief system.

Speaking for myself, I find it difficult to glean the mediating concepts Santorum needs to use in order to logically reconcile his claim that Obama is a Christian (as is Santorum and the citizens to which he directs his propaganda) and the claim that Obama believes and wishes to impose a phony theology on America? Amazingly enough, claims of this sort are shaky ground for a Catholic politician in the United States, the Catholic’s Church being the Whore of Babylon and the Pope the Antichrist for some of protestant America. One might wonder why Santorum makes these claims given the history of anti-Catholicism in the United States.

Be that as it may, Santorum did eventually clarify his position on Obama’s theology. Santorum believes Obama is an environmentalist. That is Obama’s theology! Moreover, environmentalism is not only a theology, it is a belief system based on the misuse of scientific evidence. The abuse: Claims which assert the existence of anthropocentric global warming are a “hoax,” according to Santorum. The evidence does not support the anthropocentric global warming position. (The anthropocentric global warming thesis is the consensus opinion among the experts.) And Obama, for his part, has been an industry-friendly advocate of green energy proposals. Because he is such, Obama wants to impose his “phony theology,” environmentalism, on the United States.

The crux of the matter: Are climate science, ecology and biology theological belief systems? Is environmentalism, the practical use of these sciences, a theology? Not at all if by theology one means a discourse (logos) about the nature of the divine (theos being the Greek word for God). One can be an atheist, a practicing scientist and an environmentalist without contradiction. These are not mutually exclusive terms. Nor does scientific practice entail the enchantment of nature. A scientist can practice her craft believing the universe to be nothing more than a consciousless, intentionless, aimless set of mechanisms. But historical semantics does not concern an obscurantist thinker like Santorum. He only needs to label environmentalism a theology because it is a belief system, and it, like every belief system, allegedly has a theological core and even a theodicy. Read the rest of this entry →

Cynicism in politics

8:58 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

Machiavelli

Niccolo Machiavelli (via commons/wikipedia)

Paul Krugman noticed the cynic at work in a recent Romney gaffe and its aftermath:

Speaking in Michigan, Mr. Romney was asked about deficit reduction, and he absent-mindedly said something completely reasonable: “If you just cut, if all you’re thinking about doing is cutting spending, as you cut spending you’ll slow down the economy.” A-ha. So he believes that cutting government spending hurts growth, other things equal.

Romney, it seems, is a closeted Keynesian, which is a sin against modern Republicanism far worse than being a closeted gay man!

Romney aide Ryan Williams quickly attempted to control the damage Romney’s lapse caused:

“The governor’s point was that simply slashing the budget, with no affirmative pro-growth policies, is insufficient to get the economy turned around. However, he believes that budget cuts — especially in the context of President Obama’s unprecedented spending explosion — are a step in the right direction. As he made clear in his economic plan, he believes that spending cuts that reduce the size of government and balance the budget are crucial to economic growth and job creation.”

How might we reconcile Romney’s claim about government spending cuts and Ryan William’s ‘explanation’? It so happens that the two cannot be reconciled. Market fundamentalism demands that one makes a choice. One is either a fundamentalist or not. Krugman cheerfully concludes from this episode that Romney “…is running a campaign of almost pathological dishonesty.” Krugman continues to mine this political gold:

Every one of the Romney campaign’s major themes, from the attacks on President Obama for going around the world apologizing for America (he didn’t), to the insistence that Romneycare and Obamacare are very different (they’re virtually identical), to the claim that Mr. Obama has lost millions of jobs (which is only true if you count the first few months of his administration, before any of his policies had taken effect), is either an outright falsehood or deeply deceptive. Why the nonstop mendacity? Read the rest of this entry →

My — our — long wait: Enduring the Reagan Revolution

11:42 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

Reagan lays down the law to PATCO

Reagan lays down the law to PATCO

I’ve pined thirty-years for something like the Occupy Wall Street movement. Thank God — I’m an atheist! — it’s here. I’ve waited that long because it’s been a little more than thirty years since the 1981 Washington, DC Solidarity Day March. The AFL-CIO organized and paid for it. (I was collecting unemployment but took a union sponsored bus to DC.) Estimates of the march’s size range from 100,000 to 500,000 (I’m drawing upon my memory here). Whatever the precise numerical count might have been, the March was large. I’d say its purpose was clear to the participants and to its adversaries. It expressed a popular disgust with the Reagan Administration, which had recently concluded the PATCO strike by firing the striking air traffic controllers. The PATCO strike was a seminal event in American history. It clearly revealed the weakness of organized labor in America and the willingness of the Reagan administration to demolish a politically conservative union filled with labor aristocrats who had supported Reagan in the 1980 election. I thought then that the March would be the initial event of an on-going popular response to the Reagan Presidency. Surely many if not most Americans would see Reagan and his policies for what they were and what they promised. Surely they would push back. Read the rest of this entry →

A discussion about Barack Obama’s political persona

7:37 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

Corey Robin, a professor at Brooklyn College, posted an interesting discussion focused on the questions:

Is Obama politically inept or does he want these massive cuts? And if he wants them, is it because of political calculation? Is he a true believer in neoliberal economics? A hostage of Wall Street?

The occasion: The Debt Ceiling Debate.

The discussants are:

Joshua Cohen

Jodi Dean

Jay Driskell

Lisa Garcia Bedolla

Alex Gourevitch

Doug Henwood

Joe Lowndes

Rick Perlstein

Katha Pollit

Adolph Reed

Thaddeus Russell

Thomas Sugrue

Shane Taylor

The consensus opinion broadly construed: Obama is not weak and is a neoconservative, albeit a neoconservative who wants to be considered a tailor who mends the rips found in America’s political fabric.

The discussion is worth reading.

What’s wrong with this thought?

12:10 pm in Uncategorized by szielinski

In a widely read and much discussed article, Elizabeth Drew wrote:

Cesare Bogia

Someday people will look back and wonder, What were they thinking? Why, in the midst of a stalled recovery, with the economy fragile and job creation slowing to a trickle, did the nation’s leaders decide that the thing to do —in order to raise the debt limit, normally a routine matter — was to spend less money, making job creation all the more difficult? Many experts on the economy believe that the President has it backward: that focusing on growth and jobs is more urgent in the near term than cutting the deficit, even if such expenditures require borrowing. But that would go against Obama’s new self-portrait as a fiscally responsible centrist.

First, let us consider the point which Drew got right: America’s political situation is now in such a low state and likely produce a bizarre outcome with respect to the “debt limit” and “budget priorities” conflicts that future Americans — along with others around the world — will find it difficult if not impossible to understand and explain what happened in the summer of 2011. It is telling that a routine matter like increasing the debt limit triggered a budget conflict. This fact strongly suggests that Washington was waiting for the occasion to run wildly into this risky future.

Let us turn to what is wrong with her thinking. Obama is not a fiscally responsible centrist. The broadly construed reasons for making this judgment: He’s not fiscally responsible and he’s not a centrist. How might one reasonably call Obama a fiscally responsible politician when he has already refused to use the 14th Amendment and Coin Seigniorage options to manage the debt limit political problem? With this double refusal Obama has publicly embraced Federal debt default as an acceptable political risk for him and the country he governs. Now, to my mind, befuddled as it is by leftwing thinking, defaulting on the nation’s debts is as obvious a case of fiscal irresponsibility as one could imagine. Promising to do so if pushed is no improvement at all. So, Obama is not a fiscally responsible president.

Furthermore, how might anyone consider Obama a centrist when he has embraced a reactionary political economics? Choosing to throw millions into poverty is always a politically reaction path. And this is the path Obama has put his name on. Perhaps this Democratic President does sit between the far rightists and the moderates and leftists in his own party. But that fact, assuming its veracity for the sake of the argument, only reveals the vacuity of the term, “centrist.” Even though he might be a centrist in this sense of the word, Obama would remain a reactionary in the substantive sense of that word, albeit a reactionary who sits between the farther rightists and the undifferentiated mass sitting to his left. There is little that is tempered, rational, pragmatic and thus moderate about this President’s politics. He fights for the programs he believes to be best.

Drew’s dubious Obama interpretation may originate in her belief about Obama’s ‘right turn’:

The question arises, aside from Obama’s chronically allowing the Republicans to define the agenda and even the terminology (the pejorative word “Obamacare” is now even used by news broadcasters), why did he so definitively place himself on the side of the deficit reducers at a time when growth and job creation were by far the country’s most urgent needs?

It all goes back to the “shellacking” Obama took in the 2010 elections. The President’s political advisers studied the numbers and concluded that the voters wanted the government to spend less. This was an arguable interpretation. Nevertheless, the political advisers believed that elections are decided by middle-of-the-road independent voters, and this group became the target for determining the policies of the next two years.

That explains a lot about the course the President has been taking this year. The political team’s reading of these voters was that to them, a dollar spent by government to create a job is a dollar wasted. The only thing that carries weight with such swing voters, they decided — in another arguable proposition — is cutting spending. Moreover, like Democrats — and very unlike Republicans — these voters do not consider “compromise” a dirty word.

Pace, Drew, it is a matter of public fact that Obama wanted to cut Social Security and other entitlements since the early days of his administration, and his desires were reported to be such at the time. Knowing this about Obama’s intentions, I would argue that the President is not a weakling or a deal-maker willing to bridge two extremes; rather, he is a Machiavellian virtuoso who has used the Congressional Republicans as his stalking horse. As Michael Hudson observes, “Obama has come to bury Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, not to save but kill them.” The reality of the moment shows that, “The President and his men simply support terrible policies.” And it is because of his masterful statecraft that the President now sits in just the place he wants to be — holding an axe over the neck of America’s New Deal liberalism. The fall of this axe will be Obama’s radical change we can believe in.

Report: Obama goes all in (updated)

4:21 pm in Uncategorized by szielinski

Reuters now reports that Obama directly told his Republican foes:

I have reached the point where I say enough,” Obama said, according to the [Republican] aide. “Would Ronald Reagan be sitting here? I’ve reached my limit. This may bring my presidency down, but I will not yield on this.”

When someone prefers (political) death to capitulation, her opponent can also choose death or can capitulate.

If only he was on the side of the “lesser people.”

Update

Martin Wolf assesses here the stakes present in the current situation:

These are dangerous times. The US may be on the verge of making among the biggest and least-necessary financial mistakes in world history. The eurozone might be on the verge of a fiscal cum financial crisis that destroys not just the solvency of important countries but even the currency union and, at worst, much of the European project. These times require wisdom and courage among those in charge of our affairs. In the US, utopians of the right are seeking to smash the state that emerged from the 1930s and the second world war. In Europe, politicians are dealing with the legacy of a utopian project which requires a degree of solidarity that their peoples do not feel. How will these clashes between utopia and reality end? In late August, when I return from my break, we may know at least some of the answers.

Wolf’s stated position would commit him to identifying the maximalist Obama as a Right Utopian!

Capital’s iron fist

1:38 pm in Uncategorized by szielinski

After reading the transcript of Obama’s 7.11.2011 Press Conference, I would normally feel the need to say something snarky about lesser-evil voting and the ‘pragmatic attitude’ which motivates the left to throw its lot in with the Democratic Party. But there is no reason to do that now. Obama has shown himself to be such a tool that only those leftwingers who refuse to see something so plain and obvious as him would continue to support him and his party.

I suppose we can be grateful for one thing. The Democratic Party, thanks to Obama’s brutal economic project, can no longer pretend to be the party for the rest of us. It today stands tall as capital’s naked iron fist. The Republicans should stand in awe of what Obama is now proposing.