Politics Archive

Politics has been the curse of my life, starting when I was still a schoolkid. I even tried to get away from politics from 1984 to 2001, but with the 9/11 attack I knew that things would quickly get much worse and got sucked back in.

I no longer think of myself as a participant in American politics, but just a witness. I have no practical proposals to make that anyone would want to hear. The gap between what is politically possible in the U.S. and what needs to be done is just too wide.

I did lesser evil politics for decades, trying to find a little common ground with the people who mattered, but that was a waste of time. During that time I was also the pet radical for many liberals, and that was a waste of time too. Almost all of the people whose political ideas I respect are marginal figures, but I remain eclectic and am committed to no particular outsider stance. I wish the progressive Democrats well but don’t hope for much from them.

If I lived in Saudi Arabia and became aware of a factional dispute within the royal family, I might end up feeling that one faction was less bad than the other, but I wouldn’t have much enthusiasm about that faction. That’s where I am with American politics.

Because of its refusal to act on the environment, its policing and corrections practices, its military adventurism, and its insistence on forcing neoliberal policies on weaker nations to their detriment, the US is a villainous nation. McConnell, Trump, and Biden are what America is, and they will continue to be unless something big happens.

Andrew Cockburn: The Spoils of War

Andrew Cockburn’s “The Spoils of War” confirms, with more up-to-date information, my decades-old cynicism about American politics and foreign policy. The gist of the book is it’s impossible to be too cynical and that that most of American politics is entirely fraudulent. The US is not just “failing to live up to its own high ideals”, but is a classically dishonest and brutal imperial power much like all of the others on our historical-villain list.

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  • American military policy and foreign policy are dominated by faux-Keynesian pork barrel spending and the international arms trade. Afghanistan has been a faux-Keynesian money sink — it had an immediate stimulating effect here and there in the US, but it was a drag on the economy overall.

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  • Investigation of Saudi Arabia’s role in terrorism (including both the 9/11 attack and the 1993 WTC trade center attacks) has been repeatedly blocked. Even before the Soviet invasion (which we worked to provoke) the US was playing its own role in the encouragement of militant Islam in Afghanistan, and now in Syria we are cooperating with a late stage of al Qaeda.

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  • On foreign and military policy, there’s no reason to think that Democrats are less bad than Republicans.

(More at the link)

Neoliberalism in America

Two factors make it more difficult for Americans to easily grasp the concept of neoliberalism. First, the colloquial meaning of the word “liberal” is different in the US than in Europe, where neoliberalism was born. Second, when the term “neoliberal” first came into the American political discussion, it mostly was used to label a group of Democratic politicians who rejected the heritage of Jimmy Carter and LBJ.

In the US “liberalism” means the welfare liberalism of FDR and his heirs — watered-down social democracy adapted to fit American law and custom, whereas in Europe “liberalism” means market liberalism. The European meaning is closer to the word’s traditional meaning, but in the US “market liberalism” is called conservatism. Both welfare liberalism and market liberalism are defined in terms of individual rights, but these rights ae defined differently, and welfare liberals are willing to intervene in the economy in order to protect individuals from the cruellest effects of capitalism. Market liberals accuse welfare liberals of being crypto-socialists, and not without reason.

(More at the link)

Neoliberalism II

But the main interest of neoliberalism lies in its differences from little-government, laissez-faire liberalism, rather then in what the two tendencies hold in common. Neoliberals accept the need for a strong state which will enforce liberal principles, by authoritarian methods if necessary. In some respects this just authorizes practices such as the violent repression of unions which the old laissez liberals supported, even though it didn’t fit into their little-government philosophy. In a broad historical sense, the neoliberals realize that market liberalism is not the inevitable natural state of society once oppressive government has been eliminated, but something that must be constructed. This did not mean that they didn’t claim that the liberal market society is the natural, best state of mankind. They just denied that it would automatically be achieved once government interference was lifted, and held that it must be achieved and maintained by political action and a strong state.

(More at the link)

Daniel Kato: Liberalizing Lynching

But this subtlety of accommodating something that was anything but subtle reveals the dark side of constitutional flexibility. If it is the case that “Our Constitution is so simple and practical that it is possible always to meet extraordinary needs by changes of emphasis and arrangement without loss of essential form”, then what exactly is the point of having a Constitution?”
Kato, p. 158

Daniel Kato’s book Liberalizing Lynching describes the way the Supreme Court allowed the Fourteenth Amendment (1866) to be suspended in the Southern states for the greater part of a century (1877-1965). Lynch-mob justice came to be accepted as normal in about a third of the US, and black Americans in the old Confederacy lost their voting rights, their right to the protection of the laws, their right to a fair trial, and their access to education.

(More at the link)

Katharina Pistor’s “The Code of Capital”

Contracts and property rights support free markets, but capitalism requires more – the legal privileging of some assets, which gives their holders a comparative advantage in accumulating wealth over others. Not all assets are equal; the ones with superior legal coding tend to be “more equal” than others.

Not the asset itself, but its legal coding, protects the asset holder form the headwinds of ordinary business cycles and gives his wealth longevity, therefore setting the stage for sustained inequality. Fortunes can be made or lost by altering an asset’s legal coding.

Today’s entrepreneurs no longer need to seek redress at home, and the fate of their wealth is no longer tied to the communities they have left behind. Instead, they can choose among many legal systems whichever one they prefer, and can enjoy its benefits even without physically moving themselves.

(All citations from Pistor. More at the link)

Philosophy and Nuclear War

Awhile back I ran across some citations from the years 1947-1952 which showed philosophy in a rather odd light. The topic is nuclear warfare, and the authors are Ludwig Wittgenstein, the process philosopher and Christian theologian Charles Hartshorne, and the world-famous philosopher and public intellectual Bertrand Russell.
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From these citations it seems pretty clear that in 1947 and 1948 Russell proposed a nuclear war against the Soviet Union which the Soviets could have escaped only by abject surrender and the renunciation of Communism. The fact that this was was to be preceded by an ultimatum rather done as a surprise attack than makes little difference, nor does the fact that at times Russell believed that it probably wouldn’t lead to war. The Mongols themselves, also in the name of world peace, would always sent ultimatums to the cities and nations they planned to attack, offering unconditional surrender as the alternative to total destruction. (See Kotwicz and Richard).

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All three of Russell’s statements are reminders of the enormous anxiety that the Soviet threat caused after the end of WWII and the degree to which WWII had conditioned people, even philosophers, to regard desperate measures as acceptable and mass killing as thinkable. There’s nothing in them or in Wittgenstein’s or Harteshorne’s statements that can be used as evidence that philosophers as a group are wiser or more benign than the average citizen.

(More at the link)



Trump as Extremophile

Trump is a human extremophile. There are creatures that live 2 miles deep in the rocks, or 2 miles deep in the ocean at steam vents, and never see light. There are tiny creatures suspended in the air and water who have no perception of gravity, or of up and down. From birth Trump has lived in a world which is not ours, and he’s been successful in it. And his world dominates our world.

(More at the link)

Facts on the Ground: Ariel Sharon as Teacher

Reality based Democrats take pride in being members of a rational political party which accepts the truths of science and puts them into practice, and the majority of American social scientists (even economists) are Democrats. At the same time, Democrats continually find themselves regretting that, even when they are in office, Republican resistance means that there’s not much they can realistically do. If you ask a Democratic pro why it is that they can’t win elections when they’re so much more in touch with reality than the Republicans, he will use abundant data and the best of theories to make you look dumb as he explains why little or nothing is possible. For the lesser-evil party of lowered expectations, Science is now primarily useful for constructing proofs of futility. (A second factor, which I will not discuss here, is the Democratic devotion to playing by the rules and treating their adversaries with respect, whether or not they deserve it).

(More at the link)