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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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Saturday, 31 January 2004

Topic: Bush

Why George Should Call Lord Hutton and See If Hutton is Free Next Week

As I mentioned earlier, that David Kay fellow has testified that there actually seem to be no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and there probably hadn't been any for many years, and poor, innocent George Bush was misled by our intelligence folks - Tenet at the CIA and the like - and got suckered because he was so trusting.

It's not his fault! The poor guy trusted the wrong people.

How then, do you suppose the "intelligence community" - the spooks and spies - are going to react?

John le Carre, the British fellow who writes all that espionage fiction (and a former spy who's presumably in touch with his old colleagues) says this in his latest novel Absolute Friends: "The Iraq war was a criminal and immoral conspiracy. It was an old Colonial war dressed up as a crusade for Western life and liberty, and it was launched by a clique of war-hungry Judaeo-Christian geopolitical fantasists who hijacked the media and exploited America's post-Nine Eleven psychopathy."

But he's just being grumpy. Perhaps.

A few days ago Lord Hutton found that Tony Blair hadn't misled the British people by "sexing up" the intelligence available on Iraq. Must have been those awful spy guys, and the BBC not being supportive enough of the government's position.

I suspect the Bush Administration, which doesn't want such an inquiry - or so they have said so far - if faced with pressure to give into an investigation of some sort, will, no doubt, ask if Lord Hutton is available. Hutton would help out, of course.

Hutton would again find that the Bush administration was just doing its best, and was being picked apart by the mean, awful press (except for Fox News). I mean, why can't the press recognize its place as an arm of those in power?

Well, to be fair, CBS is coming around, refusing to air the political advertisement during the Super Bowl. They'll give up the money. Won't touch it. Good little boys, they are.

But I digress. Shall we have an inquiry about the war we had - the war to remove threats that it seems we rather overestimated? I think the idea was that we were all going to die if we didn't act immediately - and the French, Germans, Chinese, Russians and most of the UN didn't "get it."

So we goofed. Shall we blame the spooks and spies?

You might want to read this:

Tinker, Tailor, Jurist, Spy
When it came to acting on intelligence about Iraq, there were none so blind as those who would not see
Christopher Dickey, NEWSWEEK (web only), January 30, 2004

Here's his take:
So the spooks are supposed to fall on their swords. In Washington and London, it's the spies who are taking the heat for all that wildly misleading stuff shoveled out of the White House and Downing Street stables about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. But, you know, it's not just bad intelligence that got us into Iraq, it's bad judgment about the consequences of invading and occupying such a place. And for that the Bush and Blair administrations have no excuses.
And he goes on to concede that it was never a secret that Saddam was a genocidal megalomaniac who wanted WMD. The trick was always to balance the risks he posed against the risks of deposing him.

Well. get did get a little off track there. And maybe that's the real problem. We perhaps could not have really known about the weapons (maybe), but we should have know about the costs.
The current Bush administration simply, and willfully, ignored that aftermath problem, and that's the real reason for the mess we're in now. ... Millions of dollars were spent by the State Department's Future of Iraq Project in 2002, laying out just about all the post-invasion needs and difficulties. But during its plunge into Iraq, the Bush administration not only tossed away those findings, it excluded from the upper levels of the first transition team just about anyone who'd taken part in the State Department's studies.

"It was ideological," says an administration official who watched this spectacle from up close. "These guys convinced themselves this would be a one-week war, we'd be out of there by August, democracy would be in full bloom, [the Pentagon's favored exile leader Ahmed] Chalabi would recognize Israel and they'd all live happily ever after." If you were off message you were on the outs. "Anyone who disagreed with them didn't just have a different opinion," says this official, "they were considered wrong to the point of being evil."
Well, sure. No one likes a naysayer, a grouch who always looks at the negative side of things. Who needs defeatists?

I guess we did.

In 2002 the president's chief economic adviser Larry Lindsey made the mistake of giving congressional testimony that the Iraq operation might actually cost $100 billion to $200 billion - and at a time Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was talking something under $50 billion. Lindsey was soon out of a job. (And curiously there was word going around that Bush hated him anyway because Lindsey was so overweight - and Bush has no patience for folks with no self-discipline - so Bush wanted him out anyway.)

In February 2003, one year ago, a few weeks before the war, Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki was asked at a Senate hearing how many troops he thought would be necessary to pacify Iraq after the war.

And what did the fool say?
"Something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers. We're talking about post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that's fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems. And so it takes a significant ground-force presence to maintain a safe and secure environment, to ensure that people are fed, that water is distributed, all the normal responsibilities that go along with administering a situation like this."
What was this guy thinking?

As Dickey summarizes:
Perfectly reasonable, perfectly predictable, perfectly responsible - but not the kind of thing the Bush administration wanted to hear at all. General Shinseki, whose uniform, ribbons and stars testified to his expertise, was publicly rebuked by the Pentagon's civilian No. 2 , Paul Wolfowitz. The suit knew better. Such estimates, said Wolfowitz, were wildly "off the mark," and a figure of 100,000 was closer to the Pentagon's expectations.
Hey, Paul Wolfowitz studied under Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago and worked for the Rand Corporation. Who are you going to trust - him, or the general?

Well, we're at about 130,00 troops now. And things are just fine. Except for the borders being a bit porous, and the problem that even now Baghdad is without electricity for hours at a time, and the problem that our guys are dying every day with the roadside bombs and exploding pick-up trucks. And it's costing a billion a week. And we're saying no matter what our guys will have to be there for another three or four years. The suicide rate for our troops there is a but worrisome, yes, and moral is not helped by recent "stop-loss" orders meaning one cannot leave the military just yet - no matter what your papers say. And no Iraqis seem to be able to agree on any kind of government, and then there's the local ninety-percent unemployment rate. But not bad? Depends on whether you're a negative, defeatist sourpuss.

Was any of this predictable? Heck, who likes negative predictions?

So. If there has to be an inquiry about all this, should Bush call on Lord Hutton?

Hutton's report finds no fault with the Blair government in this case. Blair and his colleagues acted in good faith when they issued their we're-all-forty-five-minutes-from-death report on the evil weapons of mass destruction poised to end the good life in England's green and pleasant land. And as for what came after the war to get rid of these weapons? How could he have know?

So, George, blame the "intelligence community" for providing false information, and the other agencies for not saying how tough it was going to be once we took over control of Iraq. Who'd have thought that?

You say the problem is more and more folks are beginning to figure out you guys hyped the treat - in spite of warnings that a good part of the information was unsubstantiated, if not totally bogus? And folks can find out there is actual evidence you were given detailed explanations of what the post-war mess might be, and you laughed at the reports.

Yeah, you we're just being positive. A positive attitude is good.

But you'd better call Lord Hutton.

Posted by Alan at 14:49 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Friday, 30 January 2004

Topic: In these times...

At the end of an odd week one wonders if this age will produce another Jonathan Swift - or NEWS YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED, OR WISH YOU HAD MISSED

As the week ends some things have been bothering me. My friend in Paris, Ric, tells me I'm getting a bit angry. Maybe so. I suspect my tone is changing. Do I need to toss a nod to the other side? No. Enough is enough. Angry will do.

As I mentioned previously, my graduate work was on the satires of Jonathan Swift. His attitude must have rubbed off on me. But he was "ironically reasonable" more than he was angry - or the irony masked the deep anger.

Well, being ironically reasonable, and not directly angry, was fine for Swift. He dealt with the dumb-as-a-post Queen Anne. And with Robert Walpole, not a nice man, but one with a veneer of civility, however thin.

The current crew in power? They do not deserve the irony any longer. Bah. And humbug.

Swift got pissed at the fact children were starving in Ireland, and with the Wood's Coinage issue. Were Swift alive today?

He'd look at David Kay's testimony to congress on the problem with there being no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That has a generated lot of coverage and comment. The Kay fellow is saying there be no weapons of mass destruction (oops, my bad) and poor, innocent Bush was misled by our intelligence folks - Tenet at the CIA and the like - and got suckered because he was so trusting. It's not his fault! The poor guy trusted the wrong people.

This is absolute bullshit.

Here is an extensive chronology of how the Bush Administration repeatedly and deliberately refused to listen to intelligence agencies that SAID its case for war was weak - see this - all sources available publicly. They told him. It's on record.

Ah, but Bush doesn't read much. He's proud of that.

So he probably really didn't know they were telling him a lot of the information ranged from questionable to flatly bogus. Yeah, someone might have told him, of course.

Oh well.

They'd have long ago impeached Clinton seven times over for this kind of crap.

Bush gets a pass because the common man likes him - he's inarticulate and mean-spirited and a bully. The electorate loves that - he's the living embodiment of Bart Simpson and Nelson Muntz blended together, but you have to watch the Simpsons to get that reference. The guy alternates between the diplomatic/political equivalent of saying "Eat my shorts!" and "Ha, Ha." A limited range of discourse....

Or as Paul Krugman put in the New York Times Friday:
Surely even supporters of the Iraq war must be dismayed by the administration's reaction to David Kay's recent statements. Iraq, he now admits, didn't have W.M.D., or even active programs to produce such weapons. Those much-ridiculed U.N. inspectors were right. (But Hans Blix appears to have gone down the memory hole. On Tuesday Mr. Bush declared that the war was justified -- under U.N. Resolution 1441, no less -- because Saddam "did not let us in.")

So where are the apologies? Where are the resignations? Where is the investigation of this intelligence debacle? All we have is bluster from Dick Cheney, evasive W.M.D.-related-program-activity language from Mr. Bush -- and a determined effort to prevent an independent inquiry.

True, Mr. Kay still claims that this was a pure intelligence failure. I don't buy it: the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has issued a damning report on how the threat from Iraq was hyped, and former officials warned of politicized intelligence during the war buildup. (Yes, the Hutton report gave Tony Blair a clean bill of health, but many people -- including a majority of the British public, according to polls -- regard that report as a whitewash.)

In any case, the point is that a grave mistake was made, and America's credibility has been badly damaged - and nobody is being held accountable. But that's standard operating procedure. As far as I can tell, nobody in the Bush administration has ever paid a price for being wrong. Instead, people are severely punished for telling inconvenient truths. And administration officials have consistently sought to freeze out, undermine or intimidate anyone who might try to check up on their performance.
Huh? Would these guys really "freeze out, undermine or intimidate" folks who disagree. Oh yeah, Joe Wilson's wife and all that.

And of course the commission investigating what might have gone wrong that allowed the September 11 attacks to happen has asked for two more months to wrap up their work. The administration is vigorously opposing that. Nothing to see here folks, move on, move on.... No one to blame, really.

Investigate how we got the weapons in Iraq thing all wrong? The administration says that's not really necessary. We we just mistaken - duped by the CIA and those spy folks. Nothing to see here folks, move on, move on....

Shall we be angry then, or ironic?


And then there is another item with which Swift would have fun, another oops-not-quite-so...

Medicare Drug Benefit Plan to Far Exceed Cost Estimate
The revised $534-billion price tag is expected to renew debate over the landmark legislation.
Vicki Kemper, The Los Angeles Times, January 30, 2004
WASHINGTON - The Medicare overhaul that gave a prescription drug benefit to seniors will cost at least $134 billion more than the $400-billion price tag President Bush and Congress agreed to last year, administration officials and congressional aides said Thursday.

The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the revised estimate was the product of calculations completed after Bush signed the measure into law last month.

Liberals and conservatives who opposed the bill during debates in Congress are likely to renew their arguments in light of the higher cost.

Conservatives said that the legislation, even at $400 billion over 10 years, was too expensive in an era of rising deficits.

Liberals said the bill gave too much money to private corporations, in part because of a provision for payments to insurance companies to encourage them to offer affordable policies to seniors.

The bill passed the Senate largely along party lines.
No kidding.

Oops, fooled again.


And Swift would get this:

Pentagon seeks big hike for missile defense in $401 billion budget request
Pauline Jelinek, ASSOCIATED PRESS, 4:36 p.m. January 30, 2004
WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is seeking a big increase in spending for missile defense next year, setting the program on course to have a bare-bones system in place by the end of this year and up to 30 interceptors on land and at sea by the end of 2005.

The money is part of a proposed $401.7 billion Pentagon budget that doesn't include money for ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Officials last year went back to Congress for $87 billion beyond their budget to fund those missions, and documents obtained by The Associated Press show they expect to have to ask for money beyond this new budget as well.

The documents say they don't expect to do that until calendar year 2005, after November's presidential election.
The only problem is it doesn't work. Not one test has been successful.

Build it anyway? See Gulliver's Travels, Book Three.


And Dean Swift was always working to shame the powers that be into doing something for the poor and demoralized and exploited folks. So what would he say to this?

Record Number to Run Out of Unemployment Benefits
Kirstin Downey, The Washington Post, Friday, January 30, 2004; Page A05
A record-high 375,000 jobless workers will exhaust their unemployment insurance this month and an estimated 2 million workers will find themselves in the same predicament during the first half of the year, according to an analysis of Labor Department statistics by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The report from the center, a liberal research and policy group, found that in the first six months of the year, about 5,800 jobless workers in the District of Columbia, 20,200 in Maryland and 29,600 in Virginia will run out of unemployment benefits unless they find new jobs or get additional government help.

The jobless recovery has become an issue in this presidential election year, and the report shows the jobless benefits will run out for large numbers of workers in several key states, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, North Carolina and South Carolina.

While the unemployment rate dropped to 5.7 percent in December, down from 6.3 percent in June, businesses added only 1,000 jobs that month. The country has lost more than 2.8 million manufacturing jobs in a steady erosion over the past 41 months.

Congress voted in 2002 to give unemployed workers an additional 13 weeks of benefits and extended the program twice. But it expired just before Christmas. Congressional Republicans said another extension wasn't necessary because the economy was gaining strength and job growth was near at hand.
Yeah, so nearly three million folks are supposed to feel good that something or other is near at hand.

Hey, it isn't near at hand. Wake up.

And can this all be fixed?

Republicans fight Bush budget plan
Lawmakers say Bush's plan will mean painful cuts and will barely dent the deficit.
Reuters, January 29, 2004: 3:44 PM EST
WASHINGTON - President Bush's plans to sharply limit some federal spending next year will barely dent the deficit but could mean painful cuts in programs ranging from veterans' health to medical research, Republican lawmakers who oversee the spending process warned Thursday.

Bush will send his fiscal 2005 budget to Congress Monday. In it, he will propose limiting the growth in federal discretionary spending outside of defense and homeland security to about 0.5 percent - far less than the rate of inflation.
Oh yeah, lower taxes mean lower revenues, and not much money for keeping things going as they were.


Then what would a good satirist do with this from Georgia?

The state's school superintendent has proposed striking the word evolution from Georgia's science curriculum and replacing it with the phrase "biological changes over time." (according to CNN)

And according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Georgia has a new high school history curriculum proposal too. In the proposed changes, teachers will spend two or three weeks discussing the foundation of our country, with the remaining time devoted to studying events from 1876 to the present. Yep, no discussion of the Civil War; that topic is off limits. In a course entitled "American History," students will not study that. There is no mention of Fort Sumter, Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee or anything else associated with those years.

Geez, when I lived in North Carolina the kids were taught about "the late unpleasantness between the states." It wasn't a "civil war" really - but it happened.

No, it's hard to make this into satire. It stands by itself and needs no embellishment.


And you might want to read a few opinions from Townhall - the site that gathers essays from thinkers on the right, every single day.

Try these out.

The other America
Rich Lowry, January 29, 2004

The argument? In reality, there are two Americas: one hardworking, married, and paying taxes; and one lazy, having illegitimate babies, and in need of a kick in the ass so it will stop making us taxpayers support it.
Poverty in America is primarily a cultural phenomenon, driven by a shattered work ethic and sexual irresponsibility.

... According to the Heritage Foundation's welfare expert Robert Rector, the typical poor family with children is supported by only 800 hours of work annually, or about 16 hours a week. This number holds in good economic times and bad, because it is a factor of attitudes toward work rather than the availability of jobs. If the amount of work in these households were equivalent to one adult working 40 hours a week, roughly 75 percent of poor children would be lifted out of poverty.

... The problem is not, as liberals argue, low wages. If you are only working 16 hours a week, you will pretty much be poor unless you're a TV anchor. Raising the minimum wage isn't going to help someone working so few hours. It is the amount of work that matters. If a single mother works full time at the minimum wage -- factoring in such income supplements as the Earned Income Tax Credit and food stamps -- she will not be poor.
Heard it before. Click on the link for the whole thing.

Oh, and this:

Emmett Tyrrell, January 29, 2004
The argument? Palm Beach County is oppressing Rush Limbaugh, and nobody cares, and yes, the Founding Fathers would be outraged!
...The harassment of Limbaugh provides another unlovely glimpse into the workings of the liberal elites. From the days of FDR, they have used the law to persecute political opponents. FDR used the IRS and FBI against such an array of opponents from former Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, to publishers Moses Annenberg and Col. Robert R. McCormick, to labor leader John L. Lewis. All were innocent. Limbaugh is in good company.

... it is repulsive to see the rest of the press sitting quietly by. That Limbaugh, a first offender and recovering addict to pain killers rather than street drugs, is being unfairly harassed is clear to anyone but a political zealot. Conceivably, his harassment will end in court appearances and even a jail term. Will that please his opponents? "We got Limbaugh on an OxyContin charge." It might be a first.

Yeah, I'm paying too much attention to the news and what people say about how things should be.

I think I'll pull down Swift's Tale of a Tub and read the "Digression on Madness" again.

Posted by Alan at 18:25 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 30 January 2004 21:10 PST home

Topic: Election Notes

The Uses of the Past: Can a man who is both a bully and skips out of his military duty lead us in a just war against the forces of evil?

Think back to New Hampshire and the primary business up there. Wesley Clark did not do well. And one of the problems was with a person who endorsed him. No, not Madonna. Michael Moore.

Here are the basics:

Clark: Bush Guard Duty Not an Issue
David S. Broder, The Washington Post, Sunday, January 18, 2004; Page A05
PEMBROKE, N.H., Jan. 17 -- Retired Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark said Saturday he "has heard" charges that President Bush was a "deserter" from his duties in the Vietnam War-era Air National Guard but said, "I am not going to go into the issues of what George W. Bush did or didn't do in the past."

The term "deserter" was used by documentary filmmaker Michael Moore in introducing Clark to an enthusiastic rally of more than 1,000 people in this Concord suburb Saturday afternoon.

After noting that Clark had been a champion debater at West Point, Moore told a laughing crowd, "I know what you're thinking. I want to see that debate" between Clark and Bush -- "the general versus the deserter."

In a news conference after the event, Clark was asked if he had heard those words and if he agreed. "Well," he said. "I've heard those charges. I don't know if they are true or not. He was never prosecuted for it." But Clark said, "I am delighted with Michael Moore . . . man of conscience and courage."

Moore told reporters he was referring to published reports that, as he put it, "Bush left and did not show up for a year" when he transferred from Houston in the Texas Air National Guard to temporary duty at a unit in Alabama.

Clark said the real issue is to hold Bush "accountable for his performance of duty as commander in chief. That's what the issue is in this election."

The Boston Globe reported in 2000 that "there is strong evidence that Bush performed no military service as required when he moved from Houston to Alabama to work on a U.S. Senate campaign from May to November 1972."
Okay. Now go back to the election almost four years ago. By the spring of 2000, it was clear that Bush would be the GOP nominee - and it was clear that there were unanswered questions about his military service.

The Washington press paid little attention to Bush's "puzzling" record. Too hot to handle? Fox News would jump them all? Folks would get upset and cancel their newspapers? Who knows?

Here's Bob Somerby over at The Daily Howler
We're intrigued by Bush-and-the-National Guard because it's such a brilliant story about the press - a brilliant example of the way the press took a dive for Bush during Campaign 2000. As of May 23, 2000, it was clear that major questions surrounded Bush's service in the Air National Guard. And the Bush camp soon gave several explanations for Bush's conduct which turned out to be flatly inaccurate. But most major news orgs knew what to do; they ignored the story completely.

What are the actual facts of this case? ...

1. Bush lived in Alabama from May 1972 through November 1972. His two superior officers in Alabama say that he never showed up for duty.

2. While in Alabama, Bush failed to take his required annual physical. As a result, he was formally suspended from duty.

3. Bush returned to Houston in November 1972. Seven months later, on May 2, 1973, his two commanding officers at Houston's Ellingwood air base declined to perform his annual report (covering the year from 5/1/72 through 4/30/73). Why did they decline to perform his report? Because, they wrote, "Lt. Bush has not been observed at this unit during the period of this report. A civilian occupation made it necessary for him to move to Montgomery, Alabama. He cleared this base on 15 May 1972 and has been performing equivalent training in a non-flying status with the 187 Tac Recon Gp, Dannelly ANG Base, Alabama." Of course, Bush was performing no such duty. But as of May 2, 1973, his superior officers in Houston still believed that he was.
So what?

His war is straining the economy and over five hundred of our guys are real dead, and he flaked out on his own war duty? Perhaps that's the so what. Perhaps not.

Well, Wesley Clark took a whole lot of crap for what his endorser, Michael Moore, said, and for saying he didn't know if it was true, or really cared very much, as the present mattered a whole lot more than the past.

Moore cared:

See You Say Deserter, I Say More Dessert
Tuesday, January 27th, 2004

Talk about getting on your high horse!
I would like to apologize for referring to George W. Bush as a "deserter." What I meant to say is that George W. Bush is a deserter, an election thief, a drunk driver, a WMD liar and a functional illiterate. And he poops his pants. In fact, he shot a man in Tucson "just to watch him die."

Actually, what I meant to say up in New Hampshire last week was that "We're going to have Bush for dessert come November!" I'm always mixing up "dessert" and "desert" -- I'm sure many of you have that problem.

Well, well, well. As George W. would say, "It's time to smoke `em out of their hole!"

... When the press heard me use that word "deserter," though, the bells and whistles went off, for this was one of those stories they knew they had ignored - and now it was rearing its ugly, truthful head on a very public stage. Without a single other word from me other than the d-word, they immediately got so defensive that it looked to many viewers like they - the press - maybe had something to hide. After all, when I called Bush a deserter, how did they know I wasn't referring to how he has deserted the 43 million Americans who have no health coverage? Why didn't they assume I was talking about how Bush is a deserter because he has deserted the working people of this country (who have lost 3 million jobs since he's taken office)? Why wasn't it obvious to them that I was pointing out how Bush had deserted our constitution and Bill of Rights as he tries to limit freedom of speech and privacy rights for law-abiding citizens?

Instead, they have created the brouhaha over Bush's military record, often without telling their audience what the exact charges are. It seems all they want to do is to get Clark or me - or you -to shut up. "We have never investigated this and so we want you to apologize for bringing it up!" Ha ha ha.

Well, I'm glad they have gone nuts over it. Because here we have a Commander in Chief - who just took off while in uniform to go work for some Republican friend of his dad's - now sending our kids over to Iraq to die while billions are promised to Halliburton and the oil companies. Twenty percent of them are National Guard and Reserves (and that number is expected to double during the year). They have been kept in Iraq much longer than promised, and they have not been given the proper protection. They are sitting ducks.

What if any of them chose to do what Bush did back in the early 70s - just not show up? I've seen Republican defenders of Bush this week say, "Yeah, but he made up the time later." So, can today's National Guardsmen do the same thing - just say, when called up to go to Iraq, "Um, I'm not going to show up, I'll make up the time later!"? Can you imagine what would happen? Of course, none of them are the son of a Congressman, like young Lt. Bush was back in 1972.
Compete documentation.
And if you follow the link you'll see Moore reviews all the facts available, in detail.

He ends with this:
... Well, there you have it. Someone got some special treatment. And now that special someone believes he has the right to conduct a war - using other not-so-special people's lives.

My friends, I always call it like I see it. I don't pussyfoot around. Sometimes the truth is hard to take. The media conglomerates are too afraid to take this on. I understand. But I'm not. That's my job. And I'll continue to do it.

And when I'm wrong, like the thing about Bush pooping his pants, I'll say so.
Well, Moore is a self-righteous blustering fool at times.

But he doesn't worry about his audience share. So he brings up curious facts.

Ah, but it is the past. Clark has the right idea. Maybe Bush was AWOL or whatever. The real question is obvious. Now what?

Posted by Alan at 11:39 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

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

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