Look, the Senate made him dictator, and when he acted like it, they bitched that he was destroying the Republic. It's unlikely that any Brutus is to be found in the US Senate, but if so, so what? Eliminating Caesar only hastened the very end that Caesar sought. It was, in other words, too late for the Republic by the time people began saying that they'd better act before it was too late for the Republic.
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Watching the progglesphere discover that their folk heroes are power-mad little machiavels willing to say any goddamn thing--the going phrase is "embrace GOP talking points," I believe--in order to make themselves seem "electable," or whatever, is not without its joys. "Obama is not a progressive," cries a commenter at the linked Ezra Klein post above, to which the natural rejoinder is that inimitable 1980s sitcomism: No shit, Sherlock. Obama is the precise analogue to Mitt Romney. It is a subtle and enduring sort of race-guilt among white liberals that makes them assume Obama, being a magical negro, sups at the table of social democracy. Never trust someone whose favorite biographical trope is to play up the dissipation of his youth as counterpoint to his virtuous present. I fear an Obama presidency more than any other, including any conceivable administration of Candidate-for-Life Benito Giuliani. When Obama speaks, he gets the same glassy-eyed, messianic look as our current dauphin, and it is quite clear that he's been reading his own press releases about "change" and "transformation" and a new kind of this and a bold kind of that.
So much as electoral tactics are relevant, it seems perfectly clear why Obama has positioned himself as a relative conservative on issues like health-care and social security. He's not going to be another Jesse Jackson. The Democratic establishment still looks in unfettered horror at that brief moment when a droopy-eyed "unelectable" black dude almost took their nomination, and they ain't about to let that happen again. There is, after all, an imperium to maintain. Obama has chosen to craft himself as a kind of MLK--not as King actually was, but as he's come to be remembered, which is as a sainted, nonpartisan, ecumenical martyr dreaming of a "color-blind" society. The real King was a radical socialist and an incipient revolutionary. Obama is a politician.
Fortunately or unfortunately, electoral politics don't matter. The Democrats just traded more than $70 billion in war spending plus countless lives and the contuing destruction of and meddling in Iraq and Afghanistan for $11 billion in "domestic spending." Way to go, progressives.
Friday, December 07, 2007
Have I Wronged Huck? [David Freddoso]The old free-will shell game is alive and well in Huckaworld. Here it isn't merely a question of God's foreknowledge of events causing us to question the truth of our ability to choose. Here, rather, the baby Jesus is the literal, proximate cause of alterations in human behavior. His ghostly hand shall guide each finger to the touch-screen and wag each tongue in the caucus meetings. Th' effect and cause, the punishment and sin. It's like John Donne, but totally retarded.
From a reader, who says he will not be voting for HuckabeeI think you’re misreading Huckabee’s comment...He never said God wants him to win, he merely stated that it wasn’t him who was causing the increase in his voter popularity, but God...And yes, it may well be that God allows Hillary to become President in part so that we can suffer for our own good. That doesn’t cancel out the idea that God is blessing Huckabee’s fortunes at this point, for His own reasons, whoever wins the nominations or the election.Fair enough — although I have heard people talk about Providence, and it seemed different when I watched the video. Probably he meant it that way, it just didn't come out quite right — at least I thought so.
Unlike the legion liberals now crying to heaven that Mormon Mitt's vision of the city on the hill excludes unbelievers, I am not bothered by any of this. I'm amused. There are many, many things wrong with America, and there are many terrible bumps and catastrophes yet to come for our sclerotic global empire, but descent into theocracy is not one of them. I have visited megachurches in my time, and however grandiose the rhetoric of civilizational rebirth, these are, at last, bastions of the same boring, self-righteous, consumerist, suburban, shopping-mall bas-bourgeoisie as, well, the suburbs and the shopping malls. As a fag and as a man whose good friend had an abortion only last month, I'm not unsympathetic to the fear that faith-based governance will prove restrictive of personal choice, or discriminatory against the Gay, or insistent that prisoners find reform through Jesus and Jesus alone. But at the root of it, these people are simply not serious. They aren't Martin Luther or John Calvin or, Lord knows, the Inquisition. Their committment to doctrine is wholly flimsy. The bland ecumenicalism of Mitt's bizarro-JFK speech isn't an act. Their version of a Christian Republic looks like Bible Camp. It's all wholesome activities and bad guitar-playing. The People love to be told that Jesus loves them and that if they pray hard enough he will intercess in their ARM payments and guarantee them low, low APR financing on their next purchase! They still look at porn on the net, and they still fuck women other than their wives.
IOZ Predicts With 100% Accuracy What Democrats Will Do About the CIA's Destruction of Documentary Evidence of the Practice of Physical Torture
It's not the stupidest thing ever written, but it comes awfully close. Greenspan is no longer a Randian. It's questionable whether or not he ever really was, but Federal Reserve Bank and Ayn Rand are two quantities that sit uncomfortably on the same page. Milton Friedman certainly wasn't a Randian, and when he praised Greenspan after his tenure at the FRB, it was for breaking with Friedman's prior belief that central banks must strictly control and limit the amount of money in print, which, it should be needless to say, is precisely the opposite of what Rand espoused. Galt's Gulch, friends, ran on a gold standard. To claim, as Naomi Klein does, that "Rand is simply pulped-up Adam Smith," is to claim that Thomas Kinkaid is simply pulped-up El Greco--in other words, a gross disservice to both kitsch and genius. It reeks of someone who has read the phrase "invisible hand" but not the book from which it derives. What any of this has to do with Leo Strauss is, of course, another question, to which the answer is probably nothing. It is true that they taught on the same campus, but therein the similarity seems to end, for Strauss project was to remake the history of philosophy through a process whereby nothing written means what it says, but rather means what Leo Strauss says that it says, whereas Friedman was interested in advancing what he called Classical Liberalism, a project almost entirely at odds with Strauss' neoaristocratic vision of a cracked Platonic philosopher's republic. Friedman is the only one in this gang that I'd personally defend, although he had plenty of flaws and a huge, horrific blindspot named Augusto Pinochet (though he did later claim that the whole connection and episode had been distorted), but Klein and our pal Digbylicious seem quite disinclined to know what anyone--Rand, Strauss, Friedman, Greenspan, Smith--ever actually said, did, or believed.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Still, the latest news is already weakening international efforts to isolate Iran, which are absolutely critical to implementing a policy of containment and avoiding what happened in the 1990s with Pakistan—a now rarely discussed catastrophe in which American diplomacy failed to stop the first "Islamic bomb", with dire consequences that we see to this day with the open sanctuary given bin Laden.So that's how come them Indians are Hindu and them Pakis is Muslim. Fuck me.
-Victor Davis Glory Hallelujah Faithful Yeller Megatron Massimo Hanson
This does, however, remind me of one of my favorite films.
There's nothing especially objectionable in Digby's post on Guantanamo and the Supreme Court today, but it does show how poorly Americans--even relatively educated, literate Americans--understand literature.
I think Kafka thought he was writing a parable when he wrote The Trial.Now The Trial is not precisely a parable in the way that, say, "Before the Law" is a parable. It's too long; it has too many elements of allegory and satire; it's too insistently novelistic and too modern. I've sometimes thought that The Trial is to the folk parables of the Ashkenazim what Ulysses is to the classical epic: a great, wicked pastiche of the form that becomes its own self-defined and self-defining genre.
But I havent' come to categorize. I just want to note that Kafka wasn't writing some small tale about the excesses of bureaucracy or the perversions of judicial processes. He was writing about the absurdity of life in society, circumscribed by State and God, driven in every moment to behave at the bidding and in the interest of a vast, impenetrable, and interlocking system of systems that is opaque not only to its victims but also to its operators, and possibly to itself. This is the often unremarked theme that makes The Trial one of the great works of prose literature. Unlike 1984, which certainly covers similar territory, and which is an extraordinary book but not a great one, The Trial isn't only a tale about the depredations of tyranny and the excesses man is capable of in order to acquire and retain power. 1984 posits explicitly a tyranny that understands what it is doing. O'Brien, the Inner Party Member, explains this precisely to Winston Smith during his long torture and rehabilitation. Even though it ends hopelessly, Orwell's novel nevertheless locates the source of tyranny in human actors with wicked but understandable human intentions. They are men who want power, have acquired it, have determined to keep it, and have resolved to undertake any measure to do so. That's monstrous, but it's also almost comforting, for even as O'Brien claims that the Party has constructed an infallible mechanism for maintaining control, we know that so long as the Party is made up of and directed by men, no matter how resolved, then it is fallible and mortal.
The Trial has no party, no central committees, no intentions, no self-conscious authorities. It is a bottomless depth. Within every wheel is another wheel; every mirror faces another mirror. Its authority is concealed and concealing, obscured and obscuring, endless, personless, utterly implacable, and totally inhuman. It has no reason, no goals, no purpose, and no desire. Although it operates through human interlocutors, it is utterly and completely alien. Unlike Orwell's Party, it isn't malevolent, nor evil exactly. Kafka's authority is a vast, meteorological force of nature: a disaster, perhaps, but something totally impenetrable to moral or ethical speculation. It's more mysterious than God. His vision is terrifying for precisely these reasons. Winston Smith, at last, is able to understand the reason for his imprisonment, torture, and execution. Josef K. is not. Josef K. is the truer exemplar of our condition than Winston Smith. Even the most vicious and powerful among us, the Presidents and Vice-Presidents and Candidates-for-Life, just as much as poor Josef K.'s judges and executioners, are operating in the service of something totally beyond their capacity to understand.
For all the shit I give Yglesias, I beg pardon, for he introduced me to:
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
What Yglesias doesn't get about European laïcité--which, by the way, is the more felicitous word than secularism--is that unlike, say, the American conservative terror that Mexislam is going to overrun California and turn it into an Islamic narcorepublic and the Venezualan model, or something, Europeans can legitimately fear that a motivated sectarian group within their various polities do pose a substantial danger to their civic order. Given the fractious nature of their more proportional politics, it isn't hard to imagine a dedicated religious minority causing problems along these lines, particularly in a small country like the Netherlands. This is not to say that it would happen; it remains unlikely. But consider France, a far larger nation, which in its penultimate national elections saw a proportionally immense bloc of support go to an uber-rightist, revanchist, nationalist party under Jean-Marie le Pen. It bears noting that le Pen stood no more chance of taking over as president of the Fifth Republic than Islamonazis actually stand of eliminating PACs, but Europeans are understandably more sensitive to these issues. That said, it's all mostly bullshit.
Yglesias notes that traditionalist religious types, including Muslims of course, assimilate much more readily in the United States where, after all, so-called progressive African-Americans still take the pulpit to rage against faggots, where abortion remains the most contentious social issue, where public pronouncements about the inerrancy of religious texts are de rigeuer, and where popular writers at mainstream publications publicly speculate that women really would be better off if they quit working and stayed at home. This follows his observation that the "new atheism" is largely tied up in "problematic anti-muslim sentiments," which is true to a degree, and to a degree, not. The rise of strident atheism is just as bound up in the America-Protestant pushback against the validity of evolutionary theory; it is simply that the current political fixation on Islam, specifically in the form of ol' Hitchens, has a vicious stridency that obscures the fact that vocal atheism really has its roots in the rise of evangelical and charismatic Protestantism in the United States.
In any event, to see European prejudice against its Islamic immigrants through the lens of religion is to overcomplicate a rather simpler racism. The French youth riots are a case in point; you will note that they almost entirely lack religious content, and instead focus on the familiar gripes about persistent unemployment, police discrimination, lack of jobs and opportunity, etc. The same is true of Turkish immigrants in Germany, as another example, or Italian Catholics in turn-of-the-century America. Appealing to Europe's legal walls between religion and government is the way that racism persists under the banner of sociology. It allows chin-scratching over assimilation and acculturation; it allows pontifical worrying about the fabric of the social order; it allows us to talk about those people without getting called on the fact that we just don't care for wogs very much.
The evident conviction that the latest "intelligence" reports on Iran represent a substantial decline in the likelihood of military confrontation is one of the stupidest beliefs to bubble out of the swamp of American politics in quite some time. The fact that many so-called progressives and antiwar activists accept it as a given that without "intelligence," the administration will be meaningfully disinclined to act aggressively is belied by both history and the current rhetoric coming out of the executive branch. As Arthur notes once again, the practical value of "intelligence" is precisely zero. It's a propoganda point. It has no intrinsic value. Its relevance to the actions of states is irrelevance.
You will note that the president's response to this recent report has not been to moderate his rhetoric, but to harden it, "World War III" talk notwithstanding. Personally, I feel we are closer to escalation into Iran than we have ever been before. The nuclear issue provided, at least, an ongoing debating point, but now there is only Iran, the "State Sponsor of Terror" in the words of our favorite Democrats, who fell over themselves in their recent NPR radio debate to assure us that whether or not Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons, it remained "a threat" that must be "taken seriously." Soon, as the "surge" declines and refugees begin returning to Iraq to find themselves dispossessed, violence will again spike upward, and during that terrible period some ginned-up act of provocation by the "terrorists" in Iran's terror-sponsoring elite military corps will provide a pretext for aerial bombardment. The report motivated our putative allies to begin questioning the necessity and harshness of sanctions and isolation. Ah, once again, the savior of the West must go it alone.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
I before E, except after C.
To believe that the current "intelligence" consensus that Iran isn't building nukes has or will have the slightest influence on whether or not America will undertake military action is to believe that past "intelligence" stating Iraq did have such weapons had the slightest influence on our decision to invade. In a word: retarded. Watch, however, as the soi-disant antiwar progressives of America bask in their feckless moral superiority, growing tan in the harsh light of imaginery vindication. The National Intelligence Estimate, hah! How many divisions has it got?
"Look, Iran was dangerous," Bush said. "Iran is dangerous. And Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."Was, is, will be. That covers the major tenses, and it's strongly lacking in the conditional mood. What's notable is that Iran's future state is expressed not in terms of capacity but in terms of knowledge. Eliminating Iran's knowledge of how to make a nuclear weapon constitutes eliminating Iran, by the way. All of it. For the knowledge is but a google away. Anyway, it's a rather ingenious pretextual setup, one we've seen retroactively applied to Iraq's notoriously nonexistent nukes. It is, however, of a kind with the centrality of a chop-shop Neitzschean Will to the present incarnation of the American imperial dream. This is one of the most palpably false, Poor-Richard truisms of our culture: Where there's a will, there's a way. That is clearly not true, as any PCP freak who's ever tried to stop a moving bus or fly out of a 10th-floor window would tell you, were he not squashed flat on something or other. The impediment to nuclear armament has little to do with either knowledge or will, but with intent and industrial capability. The Iranians apparently lack both.
from the Post
A few triumphant, relieved cries have already sounded. We cannot go to war with Iran, they say, because of this new "evidence." When has a war ever been started on an evidentiary standard? I have to say that I rather admire the President for stripping away the many pretensions, elisions, and euphemisms that once encumbered our empire. He has stated with admirable clarity the plain fact that our decision to attack or not to attack Iran will be exogenous to anything the Iranians themselves do or say. Their "weapons programs," like Iraq's previously, are entirely irrelevant, except insofar as they provide fodder for the domestic debate mill. The United States embarked upon a project to cement its political hegemony in the Middle East, and that has proven more difficult than America imagined. Thus does our naked eye turn to the next target of opportunity. Iran's crime is not, nor ever has been, building weapons or "sponsoring" terrorism. Its crime is asserting a right to self-determination and political independence, which the government of the United States percieves as a challenge to its global primacy. There you have it.
In the West, there are tensions between government and business elites. In China, these elites are part of the same social web, cooperating for mutual enrichment.Dear Boobs,
-Boobs in the Times
"Everyone pervasively applies state power for economic purposes. And everyone, to one extent or another, regulates expression both by economic and political means.
And the overall movement is toward a convergence of all these systems in centralized polities dedicated to rapid and regulated economic expansion. The Chinese and American systems grow more similar at every moment, but neither one of them is becoming more free-wheeling, more open to criticism, more entrepreneurial, or more creative."
Monday, December 03, 2007
Therefore, David Broder will endorse McCain as reliably as the sun will set in the West and Joe Klein will bash any Democrat that is less than steadfast in their commitment to empire. And Friedman will tell you that the world is flat and your job isn't worth a damn. It's a game, but it's not a foolproof game. Yeah, sometimes it takes a fluke (like Watergate) to give you a Jimmy Carter. And it's true that the Establishment can make life very difficult for any Carter, Clinton, Dean, or Obama/Edwards that gets strange ideas in their head. Assassination is not unknown in this countryThis, from another rather tepid rebuttal from our latest proggie friend, in which he endorses our argument except to note that the press really was mean to Bill Clinton. I do enjoy the Ollie Stone assassination non sequitur, as if that fate awaits Hillary. Hey, maybe she's got a secret memo that's going to end Vietnam!
Anyway, I'm interested in the excerpt above because of its, how-you-say, head-crushingly ahistorical conviction that Jimminy Carter represented some sort of break with practices of the American empire. Fortunately, Carter gave this great speech, from which I'll just give you the highlight:
Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.Yeah, the good old days. An outsider, that Carter. A man at odds with his time.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
I've been thinking about how to respond to the Booman Tribune's response to some of my more recent notes on Greenwald. The post pivots on a point, responding to the shocked, shocking idea that media is a part of the apparatuses of state authority and government control:
But that is precisely wrong. Joe Klein was playing the exact same role during the Clinton administration, only against the government. If Klein has hidden masters, they aren't 'the government'.Americans obscure the authoritarian tendencies of our own state largely by swallowing a lot of bullshit about totalitarianism and absolutism. The basis of Western Democratic exceptionalism, which is at its height in the US, is an exceedingly banal idea of "real" autocracies as having no set or system of competing interest in government. It imagines autocratic governments of all types as uniform, unitary, and enduring, despite all evidence to the contrary: that autocratic regimes tend toward instability; that they feature frequent coups; that jockeying ministries, scheming generals, and court intrigues of all shapes and varieties flourish like mushrooms in the dark; that there are just as many aspirant Big Men in a military dictatorship as there are candidates in the August before a primary--and often more.
The genius of the American system is rooted in the fact that the Founders were Rome groupies to the man. By aping Roman forms they created a remarkable and sophisticated form of self-maintaining timocracy that was in its time, as much as the Roman Republic at its political height, a model of political equity, though by no means egalitarian. But by the same token, they adopted a form of government that was organically suited to the transition from an agrarian society to an ascendant and urbanizing commercial and mercantile major power to an actual, physical, far-flung, commercial and territorial empire that, at its height, had no terrestrial peer. I don't intend to overburden the analogy, for there are a thousand other points where these histories diverge. Nevertheless, the surest similarity between the old Rome and the self-consciously new Rome is that they originated as republics and ended up as empires with remnant republican pretensions.
An often unappreciated fact of imperial Roman history is that there never was a Roman emporer. Each succeeding ruler or rulers claimed a range of titles, honors, and powers, some ruling nearly absolutely, others ruling in very complicated and ad hoc arrangements with powerful families, private armies, provincial governors, the equivalents of administrative agencies, etc. Succession was never hereditary in the sense of the later dynastic tradition in Europe, and each new administration represented a unique organization of authorities within a symbolic set of durable institutions.
It's important to educate people about BOTH features of corporate news. Yes, there is an inherent bias in favor of whatever the government says, especially on matters of foreign policy and national (even internal) security. This is combined in an unhealthy way with an unreflective (Hugo Chavez is Hitler) pro-corporate bias. We should expect nothing but self-serving crap from Bigfoot corporate reporters when they report on these areas. People need to know that.This is an argument contrary to Booman's thesis, even though he doesn't realize it. The "inherent bias . . . on matters of foreign policy and national (even internal) security" is not a subfeature or symptom of a collection of "charlatans . . . serving as inept sidekicks in a faux left/right debate." Rather, the latter is symptomatic of the former: maintaining an ongoing but essentially meaningless antipathy between "right" and "left" engages that slice of the population that thinks of itself as "political"--the "blogosphere," case in point--in an endless, casuistrical argument over matters that are largely irrelevant to the actual operations of the American empire. Not to put too fine a point on it, but whether or not fags can marry or social security is or is not in crisis, our oil is still under their sand.
But, they also need to know that there are charlatans out there that are playing a role as members of the left, yet are really just serving as inept sidekicks in a faux left/right debate.
Bill Clinton, rightly or wrongly, was percieved by a powerful segment of what Didion calls the "permanent political class" as a usurper, and was dealt with accordingly. He was neither the first nor the last "pretender to the throne." It isn't without reason that the phrase "palace coup" retains currency. The chauvinism, the legalism, the obscurantism, the piety, the concern with "effective governance," and even the petty "he came into this place, and it was not his place, and he trashed it"--all of these are features of a ruling class seeking to regulate itself, of one party to power jockeying against another party to power. Inevitably the pamphleteers take sides, and most took the side of the "movement" and not of the Clintons. Does that make them propagandists against the government?
Looking objectively at the tenure of Bill Clinton, what is most remarkable, especially in the present atmosphere that judges George W. Bush as deeply aberrant, is the continuity of policy in the very military and economic practices in which Bush is supposed to be such an outlier. The system of State Capital functioned much as it does now; Clinton's policy toward Iraq and the Middle East was entirely continuous with both Bush Sr. and Bush Jr--if you look at the deeds, rather than the rhetoric, it's a stunningly clean bridge between the two. "Terrorism" and the necessity of extralegal solutions, harsher penalties, military options were current then as now. Acts of imperial policing were dressed up as essentially humanitarian actions. The domestic security apparatus grew swiftly and dangerously. Clinton didn't mess with harsh drug-war persecution; he was famously "law and order"; his administration oversaw the routinization of military tactics in law enforcement and openly questioned the continued validity of posse comitatus prohibitions on such uses of force.
The government isn't solely the man in the White House. All presidents are powerful these days, some more than others, but their power is nevertheless circumscribed by a set of institutions--military, civilian, and economic--which function to reinforce and perpetuate American imperial aims. Those aims are not "partisan." They don't reside within any one particular instution, party, or faction, but they are the bedrock operating assumptions of every member of the permanent political class. The ruling class. They are the essential, fundamental, unswerving premises from which that class operates. They are the beliefs that we call "America exceptionalism," or that undergird all the newspeak about "multispectrum military supremancy." They are the premises that make a "rising China" a reason for concern. They rest on a singular American teleology that posits our rise to great power status as the necessary forward progress of history and our maintenance of total primacy over the rest of the world as the central reason for our being. These premises are never discussed or debated; they're the givens of the empire.
Joe Klein--we'll come back to the example--has written quite unflatteringly about George W. Bush as well. If his put-downs lacked the personal animus that motivated his hatred of Bill Clinton, then that is a matter of personality but not of substance. He is a member of a privileged class that has some say over the faceman for America, and like anyone given that sort of power, he exercises it, especially when he can excercise it from within the safety of a "movement" and of his peers. But you will not find him questioning the percieved imperatives for the maintenance of American power. Instead, you will find him on the news speculating that it may just be time to drop a nuclear bomb on Iran.