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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Thursday, 29 January 2004

Topic: Bush

Is this big-gun political theorist who is so important to the neoconservative right suggesting that a Machiavellian dictatorship run by Bush-Cheney-Rove is GOOD for the country?

The answer is yes.

My friend in Manhattan, when not sawing away in the violin section of the Lawyers Orchestra of New York or the Park Avenue Chamber Players, wonders if this country is fast moving toward becoming a dictatorship. He read the Franken book, and the Suskind book, and the Soros book. He's actually worried now. I told him to read Kevin Phillips' new book on the Bush family. Why not go all the way?

He should not read this.

David Gordon in The Mises Review, Volume 9, Number 3; Winter 2003, reviews this:

The Modern Prince: What Leaders Need to Know Now. By Carnes Lord. Yale University Press, 2003. xvii + 275 pgs.

Gordon's review opens with a lively paragraph:
President Bush's invasion of Iraq made many observers gasp with amazement. What could have motivated such hasty and ill-advised action? Surely Iraq, a country of minor importance, posed no threat to the vital interests of the United States. It soon transpired that a deep design lay behind the thrust into alien territories. Neoconservatives such as William Kristol, who enthusiastically supported the invasion, wished to export Western-style democracy to the countries of the Middle East so benighted as to wish to govern themselves. And these writers were rumored to have the ear of key policymakers, most notably, Paul Wolfowitz, in the Bush administration. There was method in Bush's madness.
Yes, we gasped in amazement! Of course the towel-heads were so benighted as to wish to govern themselves - the fools! We could fix that! Was it madness? Was there a method to that madness? And what would that method be, pray tell?

Well, yes, the neoconservatives did not devise their plans for worldwide democracy out of nothing. What was the source of their inspiration? Ah yes, they looked for political wisdom to the writings of Leo Strauss, a historian of political thought who taught for many years at the University of Chicago. Kristol, some alleged, was a Straussian; so was Paul Wolfowitz.

There has been a lot of ink spilled saying this is not so. Wolfowitz barely knew Strauss in Chicago; and, besides, Strauss never supported the universal imposition of democracy.

Gordon points out Strauss devoted the bulk of his work to detailed textual studies of Plato, Hobbes, Spinoza, Rousseau and the like. He hardly ever said anything about the here and now. But Gordon points out that in his studies of the classics, Strauss did emphasize the role of a philosophical elite as advisors to those in power.

Which leads us to this book. The author, Carnes Lord, is a translator of Aristotle who, by the way, occupied high positions in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush. Carnes Lord is known as a leading Straussian. His Modern Prince, according to Gordon, "gives us an excellent picture of Straussian elite politics in action."

And that means this:
Lord wastes no time in letting us know where he stands. Machiavelli must be our guide. In particular, we must learn from him that the supreme form of political leadership consists of founding "new orders." The founding prince molds his society according to his ideas: "Listen to Machiavelli: `It should be considered that nothing is more difficult to handle, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage, than to put oneself at the head of introducing new orders. For the introducer has all those who benefit from the old order as enemies, and he has lukewarm defenders in all who might benefit from the new orders'" (p. 8, quoting Machiavelli).

The leader must innovate; but what sort of innovation earns Lord's praise in the American context? It transpires that Lord's Machiavellian new orders do not amount to very much: he has merely dressed up in fancy language Alexander Hamilton's familiar program of a strong executive who follows a mercantilist economic policy.
And then, of course, we get pages of economic theory and comments on Alexander Hamilton, trade and mercantilism.

But after all that we get the non-economic stuff in the book.

We get a discussion of how Roosevelt's attempt in 1937 to pack the Supreme Court was not an assault on constitutional government. It was a justified attempt to repel a challenge to the Supreme Leader. If the constitution, as interpreted by the "nine old men," blocks the way of the New Deal, must not something be done?

Well, that's one way of looking at it.

And what if the press criticizes the president? Might this not impede the leader's program of needed action? Of course, there is the little matter of the First Amendment and its guarantee of free speech; but this is not important. "The model of `objective control' in civil-military relations may be said to have its counterpart in a bargain whereby government respects media autonomy and facilitates its coverage of national issues in return for the media observing certain fundamental norms of behavior and respecting certain government requirements. The fundamental norms are political and ideological neutrality and a reasonable respect for the symbols and traditions of the nation. The government requirements are protection of sensitive information and the integrity of government operations" (pp. 188-89). The point here? If the media do not agree to the bargain, the government will take them over.

This worries the reviewer. Is this big-gun political theorist who is so important to the neoconservative right suggesting that Machiavellian dictatorship run by Bus-Cheney-Rove is GOOD for the country?
But am I not here treating Lord unfairly? Elsewhere in the book, he shows himself alert to the danger of executive abuse of power, and he sometimes speaks of the need to preserve the independence of the three branches of government. Perhaps he is not so extreme as I have pictured him. Only when a great leader like Lincoln or Roosevelt is faced with an emergency will Lord favor tossing the Constitution into the garbage pail.

I would like to be generous, but unfortunately Lord gives away the game. When he speaks of the executive's having too much power, what concerns him is only a situation when the president is officially assigned too many tasks. In doing so, he weakens his real power...

Lord's view, basically, is that leaders are free from the restraints of principle. They are superior beings whose judgments are not to be questioned by the inexperienced.

And it gets better.

War is good. People have this odd idea that, faced with a crisis, one should endeavor to reduce tensions and settle the issues in dispute peacefully.


Lord, speaking for the neoconservative right give us this: "Particularly troublesome is the idea that visible preparations for war should be avoided in a crisis for fear such actions will lead to unwanted escalation. . . . There is a tendency today in some quarters to understand crisis management as a form of `conflict resolution' in which third parties set out to prevent or end violent conflict between other states. . . . Some conflicts are stubbornly resistant to mediation by outsiders, and there may well be cases . . . where military action is the only realistic option for advancing the prospects for a political settlement and eventual lasting peace" (p. 204).

Short version of that? War insures eventual peace. Yep.

And you need crises. A crisis atmosphere is in many cases desirable. Otherwise, the leader cannot get what he wants: "In a larger perspective, one should bear in mind that crises can have their positive side. They present opportunities not always available to policy makers to mobilize the country behind certain policies and to overcome bureaucratic obstacles to firm action. . . . [Crises] may also open avenues for skilled leaders to strengthen alliances, bolster the legitimacy of their regimes, and enhance their international prestige" (pp. 204-05).

Carnes Lord is the man who provides the philosophic underpinning for the neoconservative crowd - William Kristol to Paul Wolfowitz to Dick Cheney - the guys who tell George Bush what to do, what to say, where to stand, when to smile, when to tell us to be very afraid, when to smirk, and when to pound the podium and grunt out words like, "Bring `em on!"

And now you know.



The Ludwig von Mises Institute where I found this is new to me.
Click here to read about who they are.

Posted by Alan at 21:00 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 30 January 2004 10:51 PST home

Topic: Election Notes

It is NOT George Bush or Dick Cheney or Karl Rove... It is us.

If you bop on over to the Stanford University Distinguished Lectures series your will find this address by Philip Zimbardo: The Psychology of Evil - a cheery topic.

Dr. James Benjamin gives a summary noting the focus here is not on leaders, such as Hitler, Pol Pot, and other despots but rather on what would motivate the followers to go along. "In the process, Zimbardo describes the findings of several powerful social psychology experiments, such as Stanley Milgram's obedience experiments, Zimbardo's own experiments on deindividuation (as well as the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment), and Albert Bandura's work on dehumanization." Okay.

Here's what he sees at the "take home" message:
* Start with an ideology (justifying beliefs for actions).

* Use authority to legitimate that ideology.

* Give people desirable roles to play with meaningful status.

* Have rules that channel behavioral options.

* Employ semantic distortion to disguise truth (help = hurt).

* Arrange for contractual agreement with the game rules before the game begins.

* Make situation give permission to engage in usually taboo acts.

* Make initial harmful act minimal, minor, trivial.

* Enable subsequent acts to escalate only gradually, minimally, but their cumulative impact can be deadly.

* Displace responsibility for consequences on authority or others.

* Get actors involved in action, in technology, in details, without time to think through the meaning of their actions.

* Don't allow usual forms of dissent to work; undercut them so dissent does not lead to disobedience.

* Put actors in novel setting, without familiar referents.

* Have authority transform gradually from just to unjust.

* Give no training in how to challenge unjust authority.

* Do not provide apparent means for exiting the situation.

From Zimbardo's research on deindividuation, we can draw these conclusions:

* Take away people's sense of uniqueness and individuality, because that encourages spontaneity, rebelliousness, and independence.

* Do so by submerging them in groups.

* Put them in uniforms.

* Disguise them with hoods or masks.
Feel better now?

And the usual - dehumanizing the intended victims makes it considerably "easier to aggress against them."

But "aggress" is not a verb, is it?

As Benjamin points out, it seems evil is facilitated by a number of factors that psychologically inoculate the individual actor from coming face to face with the consequences of his or her actions. "The not so comforting take home message is that any of us has the capacity, given the right set of conditions, to engage in evil behaviors; and collectively as a society we could commit terrible atrocities under the right set of conditions. When people have in the past tried to reassure me that a Hitler-esque or Stalin-esque sort of environment could never happen here in the US, I find myself returning to the work of Milgram, Zimbardo, and Bandura (among others) and wonder how one could be so sanguine."

Ah, he worries too much.

And he also recommends this paper by Zimbardo: A Situationist Perspective on the Psychology of Evil: Understanding How Good People Are Transformed Into Perpetrators. (PDF format).

Do you doubt Bush will be reelected?

Posted by Alan at 18:09 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 29 January 2004 18:16 PST home

Topic: Election Notes

This Day in History

January 29, 1964 - Stanley Kubrick's 'Dr. Strangelove' premieres.

Forty years ago? Wow.

These days?

A legal note:

Court Keeps Guant?namo Prisoners Isolated
Gina Holland, Associated Press, Wed Jan 28, 8:18 PM ET
WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court stepped in Wednesday to temporarily continue the isolation of terrorism suspects at the Navy base in Cuba.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor granted a request from the Bush administration to stop a lower court from communicating with a detainee at Guant?namo Bay, Cuba.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had planned to notify the detainee of that court's ruling in December that Guant?namo prisoners should be allowed to see lawyers and have access to courts.

O'Connor granted the government's request to put that ruling on hold, but she said the high court could reconsider after it hears from lawyers for the detainee, Falen Gherebi.

... Solicitor General Theodore Olson had asked the high court earlier Wednesday to block any developments in a class-action case over treatment of the Guant?namo detainees until the Supreme Court decides this year, in a separate case, whether Guant?namo detainees may contest their captivity in American courts.

National security is at stake, Olson argued in an emergency filing, because communication with the prisoner would "interfere with the military's efforts to obtain intelligence from Gherebi and other Guant?namo detainees related to the ongoing war against terrorism."
Just a thought, but what these evils guys know might possibly be, shall we say, "stale information" after more than two years.

But one never knows.

Let me see if I have this right.

The president now has the unrestricted power to declare war against a country that has not attacked the United States. We voted to give him that power. We did. You elected your senators and congressmen. Fine.

The president has the unrestricted power to round up unlimited numbers of American citizens within the United States and incarcerate them in military brigs or concentration camps for the rest of their lives and keep them from ever again communicating with friends, families, and attorneys, simply on the president's certification that the incarcerated Americans are "terrorists," as he has done with Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi. We voted to give him that power. We did. You elected your senators and congressmen. Fine.

The president now has the unrestricted power to seize American citizens abroad and remove them to its military base in Cuba, where they can be kept for the rest of their lives and kept from ever again communicating with friends, family, and attorneys, solely on the basis of his certification that the imprisoned Americans are "terrorists," as he initially did with Yaser Esam Hamdi. We voted to give him that power. We did. You elected your senators and congressmen. Fine.

The president now has the unrestricted power to execute American citizens abroad solely on the basis of his certification that the killed Americans are "terrorists," as he did to Ahmed Hijazi, the American who was killed with a one of our missiles last year in Yemen. We voted to give him that power. We did. You elected your senators and congressmen. Fine.

A friend of mine worries Bush will declare a "red level" emergency late in October and cancel the presidential elections, and maybe declare marshal law if he thinks of it.

No. He'll be reelected easily. As will those who grant him the powers he needs to keep us safe. That seem to be what most folks want.

We be real scared, and he'll continue to protect us.

Posted by Alan at 10:14 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Wednesday, 28 January 2004

Topic: Bush

MAILBAG: Bush, Wealth and the Rich Folks

A few of the recent entries here have been on these topics.

I received this reaction from an old friend, a woman who teaches in Boston:
And on how Americans love the rich, yeah, yeah, I know. But through my experience working and worshipping among the urban poor, I have come to prefer their company a zillion times over than those who are preoccupied with how to spend the next several thousand. Personally, I'd rather be glued to a tree in a swamp than to dwell among those whose primary concerns are brand name clothing, fancy car and jewelry purchases, home(s) decorating, obtaining tickets to major sporting events, appointments for the spa, manicurist, masseur, hairdresser or personal trainer, charity ball, the lives of celebrities, various surgeries to evade the natural effects of time and whatever else the conspicuously wealthy do to fill their idle purposeless days.

... So many Americans, rich, poor and in between, seem to have lost the concept of Enough. Sufficient. Satisfied. I suspect it's the ugly underbelly of the culture of fear and is perpetrated by those who want us to believe we can spend our way to immortality. Just stuff enough stuff into the emptiness and fear (Of what? Death? Insignificance? Old age? Exposure for the dull and ordinary souls we really are?) will cease. What a shell game!!! There was a man in colonial Boston, forget his name, who prayed daily that his daughters would NOT marry a rich man. He wanted them to be happy, fulfilled.

...I realize this is a lot more complicated that I suggest in this rant, but it's fun to rant. And I'm disinclined to get more complicated at the moment.
And so she should be.

As for me? The rich?

My view is skewed by living in Hollywood for almost fifteen years. Need I say more? It's a joke. I'm not kidding when I say I sense most folks love the idea that they, some fine day, could, maybe, be rich themselves, and then abuse others. Cheney and Halliburton? Hell, it excites them to think about what he gets away with. Bush - inarticulate, proudly ignorant, scornful of those who read - and in love with abusing those who oppose him? They LOVE that. It feeds their fantasies. When you're powerless you tend to think of revenge without effort. You admire Bush. You want to be just like him - a fellow with enormous power no discernable talent who doesn't have to take crap from anyone. Folks think it's cool when he smirks at intellectuals and foreigners. They imagine how good it would feel to be able to pull that off. And that's why I suspect he'll win the next election easily. He'll ride to victory on a wave of popular anger and resentment against how unfair the world is.

Cynical? You bet. No wonder George Carlin appeals to me.

Ron Suskind's new book The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill tells it all.

Suskind unwittingly explains the visceral appeal of George Bush.

To O'Neill, the overriding impression was of a president who lacked curiosity, deprecated dispute and remained disengaged. Honest brokers need not apply for high positions. Global warming? Fuggeddaboutit. Former Environmental Protection Agency chief Christine Todd Whitman, another of Suskind's major sources, says she was reduced to making "blind stabs at deducing the mind of the President." Bush "doesn't offer explanation, even to his most senior aides," as Suskind puts it. "O'Neill knew that Whitman had never heard the President analyze a complex issue, parse opposing positions, and settle on a judicious path. In fact, no one - inside or outside the government, here or across the globe - had heard him do that to any significant degree."

He does need to. People love that. Bush is the kind of guy who just gets what he wants, and doesn't take crap, or need to look into things. Isn't that the fantasy of many people?
O'Neill was watching Bush closely. He threw out a few general phrases, a few nods, but there was virtually no engagement.... O'Neill had been made to understand by various colleagues in the White House that the President should not be expected to read reports. In his personal experience, the President didn't even appear to have read the short memos he sent over. That made it especially troubling that Bush did not ask any questions.... 'This meeting was like many of the meetings I would go to over the course of two years,' ...
Ah, the good life - all power and no need to worry about things.

Yes, Bush "was caught in an echo chamber of his own making, cut off from everyone other than a circle around him that's tiny and getting smaller and in concert on everything.... " And frankly, that's comfortable. His supporters envy him this state of ease.

Suskind's book is full of such stuff. Bush's well-known propensity to assign nicknames, he says, is more than a cute ingratiation maneuver, for "nicknaming ... was a bully technique. I've given you a name, now you wear it."

How many Bush supports wish they could do that at work?

I suspect Bush support is broad and deep because Bush is leading the life his supporters wish they themselves could live. They cheer him on. They get their vicarious jollies through him.

And that circles back to how folks feel about they rich. They wish they had the balls to grab the money and laugh all the way to the Swiss bank. They cannot. Life's not like that. But they can dream.

So Bush will be elected, again - or elected "for real" if you wish. And things aren't going to get any better.

This is what people want to see - Bush smirking and the rich grabbing everything. What they see feeds the fantasies that keep ordinary life from being overwhelming.

Posted by Alan at 07:05 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 28 January 2004 07:35 PST home

Tuesday, 27 January 2004

Topic: Iraq

A voice from the past longs for the good old days....

In case you missed it, Daniel Ellsberg is calling for someone to, well, "pull an Ellsberg."

For those of us of a certain age, this has some resonance.

And it really resonates out here. Ellsberg took the now famous "Pentagon Papers" from the offices of the Rand Corporation ten miles west of here, down in Santa Monica. Heck, it's local history.

But the idea of someone today finding such papers and sneaking them off to the copy center Ellsberg used down the hill in West Hollywood, just a few blocks from here, and then the idea that today's New York Times would have the balls to print the papers - well, that's pretty far-fetched. The Times has been defanged. Heck, the Times has been toothless for a generation. Along with the rest of the media.

The world has changed. And the Patriot Act is now in play. And the current Rove-Cheney Texas fellows play a lot nastier game than the Nixon team ever did. You don't mess with these guys. And they're untouchable.

Still Ellsberg wants someone to grab some papers and find some wide-circulation newspaper or magazine with the audacity to publish the stuff.

Dream on. That's not today's media.

But for what it's worth check out:
Leak against this war
US and British officials must expose their leaders' lies about Iraq - as I did over Vietnam
Daniel Ellsberg, The Guardian (UK), Tuesday January 27, 2004

After the obligatory tale of being under fire in a rice field in Vietnam, chatting with the grunts dodging bursts of fire from the faceless locals, and realizing that particular war was a tragic farce, he gets fed up. You get a bit of what he was thinking. It felt like being a British Redcoat in New England in the 1770's, and it looks like Iraq now.
Foreign troops far from home, wearing helmets and uniforms and carrying heavy equipment, getting shot at every half-hour by non-uniformed irregulars near their own homes, blending into the local population after each attack.

I can't help but remember that afternoon as I read about US and British patrols meeting rockets and mines without warning in the cities of Iraq. As we faced ambush after ambush in the countryside, we passed villagers who could have told us we were about to be attacked. Why didn't they? First, there was a good chance their friends and family members were the ones doing the attacking. Second, we were widely seen by the local population not as allies or protectors - as we preferred to imagine - but as foreign occupiers. Helping us would have been seen as collaboration, unpatriotic. Third, they knew that to collaborate was to be in danger from the resistance, and that the foreigners' ability to protect them was negligible.
Concord in 1773, Vietnam 1968, Iraq last weekend. Same stuff.

So? Here's the logic:
I served three US presidents - Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon - who lied repeatedly and blatantly about our reasons for entering Vietnam, and the risks in our staying there. For the past year, I have found myself in the horrifying position of watching history repeat itself. I believe that George Bush and Tony Blair lied - and continue to lie - as blatantly about their reasons for entering Iraq and the prospects for the invasion and occupation as the presidents I served did about Vietnam.

By the time I released to the press in 1971 what became known as the Pentagon Papers - 7,000 pages of top-secret documents demonstrating that virtually everything four American presidents had told the public about our involvement in Vietnam was false - I had known that pattern as an insider for years, and I knew that a fifth president, Richard Nixon, was following in their footsteps. In the fall of 2002, I hoped that officials in Washington and London who knew that our countries were being lied into an illegal, bloody war and occupation would consider doing what I wish I had done in 1964 or 1965, years before I did, before the bombs started to fall: expose these lies, with documents.
Daniel, no "officials in Washington and London" would consider that. What were you thinking?

Yes, there are, no doubt, "thousands of pages of documents in safes in London and Washington right now - the Pentagon Papers of Iraq - whose unauthorized revelation would drastically alter the public discourse on whether we should continue sending our children to die in Iraq."

Hey, Daniel, get a grip! Joseph Wilson can tell you that you just don't mess with these folks, and his wife can tell you too. And David Kelly is walking a fine line these days, saying there really were no weapons of mass destruction there for years - but he's being real careful to say Bush and his team should be mad at the CIA and the rest of the intelligence crew for misleading poor George. Yeah, right. How many times did Cheney say just screw the CIA and let's trust the Iraqi exile community's rumors?

Of course both Downing Street and the White House organized covert pressure to punish these guys and to deter others. But that's when they're being nice. You don't want to mess with them when they're in a really bad mood - and "the Pentagon Papers of Iraq" getting printed up and read all over the world would put them in a very bad mood.

Yes, Daniel, you faced twelve felony counts and a possible sentence of 115 years, and the charges were dismissed only when it was discovered that White House actions aimed at stopping further revelations of administration lying had included criminal actions against you.

The current guys are more careful and they don't get caught.

This is not the late sixties or early seventies. That "kinder, gentler world" is long gone.

Any other ideas?

Posted by Alan at 21:42 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 27 January 2004 21:46 PST home

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