The Implosion of the American Political Consciousness By David Michael Green

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By David Michael Green
January 10, 2010 “Information Clearing House

If you’re looking for a decent indicator of the political health of the nation, consider the following excerpt from a Christian Science Monitor article this week: “The decision by the White House Friday to not preempt the season premiere of the psychedelic crash-drama “Lost” for the State of the Union address reveals the surprising power of that much ridiculed stereotype: the American couch potato.”

Well, at least no one can accuse us of not having our national priorities in order, eh?

Actually, that’s only part of the story – and frankly the more benign part, to boot.

Presidents like to say, in their annual messages to Congress and the country, that “The state of the union is strong”. Maybe Obama is bold enough to tell a whopper that big even in 2010. I guess when you’ve taken an entire country over the cliff lying about “hope” and “change”, even a stinker that rude wouldn’t be so egregious, relatively speaking.

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If The Russians Did This To Us, We’d Kill ‘Em By David Michael Green

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Dandelion Salad

By David Michael Green
Information Clearing House
October 02, 2009

What if the Russians invaded?

It’s not so far-fetched an idea, you know. We spent half a century and trillions of dollars to make sure that it would never happen, so it’s really not such a strange notion.

So what if the Russians invaded?

What if they came and stole all of our money?

What if the Russians invaded and enslaved our children as cheap worker bee drones locked in dismal dead-end jobs?

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The Fire This Time? By David Michael Green

Dandelion Salad

By David Michael Green
08/08/08 “ICH”

Any American who’s been on the planet for more than a few years has lived through a series of economic ups and downs — what economists call the business cycle. These booms and busts seem to follow one another as inevitably as sunset does sunrise.

Phil Gramm hasn’t apparently noticed, but we’re now pretty deep into an economic downturn — whether or not it officially qualifies as a recession yet or is simply on the way to becoming one.

But two things are especially striking about this particular iteration of our economic malaise. One is that we never quite seem to have had the boom we were supposed to get in between this bust and the last one. Gross domestic product, the key single indicator of economic health used to measure the state of the economy, has done reasonably well since the downturn that began in 2000. So has the stock market, and so, especially, have the one percent or so of the richest Americans, who have lately transitioned from being ridiculously rich to obscenely rich.

Most of the rest of us, on the other hand, may be excused for wondering when the good times hit, ‘cause we somehow missed it. It’s funny (hah-hah, right?), but in the go-go late 1990s, some economists were wondering whether Alan “The Second Coming” Greenspan and Robert “Token Wall Street Pseudo-Democrat” Rubin hadn’t actually killed the business cycle forever, with only good times to come for generations on end. Ironically, the subsequent decade may be considered to have posed the same question, only with a very different meaning. Given the absence of any serious recovery content in the latest alleged recovery, maybe the business cycle is dead — only not with permanent boom, but permanent bust, instead.

In truth, though, we may come to look upon years like 2004 or 2005 as the good ol’ days. That’s because the second unique thing about the present downturn is the depth of down to which we may now be turning. I’m sure somebody was relieved when George Bush recently informed the country that the economic fundamentals are solid, but it sure wasn’t me. Hard as it is to imagine that this president could get something wrong or speak, uh, somewhat less than candidly, my fear is that conditions are quite the opposite of those the cheerleader-in-chief portrayed. I remember well the recessions of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. This one doesn’t feel anything like those. It seems a lot bigger. My fear is that the bottom may be falling out. My fear is that it’s the fire this time.

I’m not an economist (not that economists so very often know what the hell they’re talking about either), so I will readily admit that I don’t have a lot of expertise on this question. But I will say one thing with confidence, however, even as a economics dilettante (in political science we call those people ‘angry voters’). And that is that there are incredible signs of economic thin ice almost anywhere you turn today. The national debt has never been higher. Consumer debt has never been higher. Savings have never been lower. The trade deficit has never been higher. The dollar is spectacularly weak. Foreclosures are mushrooming. Quality jobs are disappearing in droves. People are working longer to maintain the same standard of living, or often less. Employers are economizing, among other ways, by cutting healthcare benefits. Real estate values are plummeting. Sure, it’s a great time to be a bankruptcy lawyer or a repo man, but probably most of us would agree that keeping people in those two fields well employed isn’t worth the trade-off of having an economy in the toilet.

George Bush has laughingly admitted that he got “gentlemen’s C’s” when he was in college (those are what the rest of us, whose daddies don’t endow library wings at Ivy League schools, refer to as F’s ), so perhaps that explains his misreading of the economy. For us folks not laughing quite so hard at his little riff out of the “Humor for Plutocrats” textbook, the real question, given the above-referenced indicators, is what in the world would it take for the Boy Wonder to finally say that the fundamentals of the economy are not sound? Does China have to start actually mailing him a monthly rental invoice for use of the White House? Does real estate have to lose fully half its value, rather than ‘merely’ 25 percent? Does the dollar need to become even more worthless than the 1930s Deutschmark for him to be concerned (”Get your wheelbarrows while they’re hot, ladies and gentlemen, right over here!”)? Or must low-hanging billionaires have to painfully downscale their lifestyles into those of impoverished multi-millionaires before he could perceive the hurt?

You wanna talk fundamentals, George? Let’s talk about some really fundamental fundamentals. And, no, I don’t mean yields-per-acre, pork belly futures or worker-productivity-to-energy-input ratios, dude.

There’s no question that America has historically been an industrious, innovative and hard-working country. We still are today, though the hard-working part has gotten simultaneously more hard, less rewarding, and less driven by desire for advancement than need for survival. Perhaps the paradigmatic moment of our time was Clueless George on the campaign trail in 2004, gushing over a woman he met who said she worked three jobs to keep afloat. For Bush, it was an ‘only in America’ moment – completely oblivious, as he seemed to be, that this represents almost nobody’s vision of the good life. Well, almost nobody. One imagines that Dick Cheney was smiling in the wings of that event, thinking to himself: “Once we get all of them doing that, our work here will be done!”. Nowadays, no industrialized country in the world has workers who put in more hours per year than the US. None has such a glaring absence of economic support programs as America does, either.

But we’ve worked hard here, historically, like the good Protestants we are, and we’ve been technologically innovative and admirably determined in achieving our far-reaching aspirations. That’s all good stuff, but just the same, though, there’s been an undeniable dark side to the phenomenal success of the American economy. We’ve worked hard to produce a lot, true, but we’ve also — in a word — stolen a lot as well.

We stole from indentured servants from the beginning. We stole from Native Americans within minutes of landing here, and never stopped until we’d grabbed all the land and resources we wanted, leaving them casinos and poverty in return. We harnessed yokes around Africans and imported them as if they were agricultural beasts of burden, and continued to do so for centuries. We built our economic accomplishments on the backs of near-slave immigrant laborers, from Chinese coolies to Mexican wetbacks, along with Irish, Italian, German, Jewish and a whole lot of other nationalities in-between. We stole fully half of Mexico following a trumped-up war no less bogus than the current one in Iraq, then we did the same for Hawaii, Cuba, the Philippines and more. We broke the backs of labor movements in order to enrich a few owners while grinding ‘human resources’ into impoverishment and early death. We exploited the entire continent-and-a-half of Latin America, installing local dictators in country after country who got personally wealthy by doing the oppressive and murderous dirty work for American resource extraction corporations. We assigned to women endless domestic chores without the slightest compensation, nor political power, nor even ownership of family wealth.

These are the obvious thefts — and there is no more accurate word for it — by which we’ve massively enhanced our wealth over a period of centuries. But there are less obvious ones as well. We have raped the environment for precisely the same purposes. You can get a lot wealthier a lot faster by not concerning yourself (or even paying compensation for) the environmental destruction caused by manufacturing, mining, drilling and more, than you would by having to be responsible for those very real costs of your enterprise. Economists like to gently refer to such factors as ‘externalities.’ That’s a polite way to describe a process by which the rich get even richer through offloading the costs of their business to you and me, and keeping the profits for themselves.

Not content with any of that, however, we’ve also lately been engaged in other, new and improved, more subtle forms of national wealth theft. Rampant consumerism based on little plastic cards is quite effective, leaving costs to others, like our children. So is — as exhausted consumerism now heads for the ditch — turning our houses into piggy banks to keep an economy artificially afloat, until that can no longer be sustained either. Or running incredible trade deficits, or radically deflating the value of our currency to keep sales of American goods abroad halfway viable. Another nice trick you can do is run up the national debt and leave that to your kids as well. You can also ignore your infrastructural repair and development needs so people can party on now, instead of paying the taxes necessary to keep the economy strong for the next generation. Talk about eating your young. One of the best of all these games over last decades has been the uninhibited agenda of economic globalization which has now managed to successfully export American white collar jobs to India, right behind the blue collar ones that previously went to China. That was supposed to make us all richer, remember? Some people indeed are. Those without jobs, or working for half what they used to make, aren’t in that small group however.

What all of these ploys have in common is that they are all methods allowing one to live larger than we’re rightfully entitled to. Slavery is the most obvious example. You wanna live the good life? The most basic formula ain’t that hard to figure out. Kidnap some dude from a less technologically developed part of the world, terrorize him with overwhelming force and psychological violence to go along with the real kind, then watch as he plows your field while you sit on the porch sipping Mint Juleps. Then, repeat. This is the most obvious example, yes, but really no different in principle from ripping off your own kids with tax ‘cuts’ unaccompanied by spending cuts, which drive up the national debt and hand the next generation the bill. Plus interest. Or stealing in the form of externalizing costs for remediating environmental destruction while the eco-evildoers go off scot-free with grossly inflated profits (indeed, in some cases, these would be non-existent profits, were the real costs to have been factored in). And so on, and so on.

The work of Reaganism-Bushism is nowadays finally beginning to be recognized for what it is. Americans have not felt such economic insecurity since the Great Depression. Whether the epiphany will come in time for them to finally recognize and give leave to the kind folks who dismantled the Good Times of previous generations, is unclear. A very possible scenario is that McCain barely wins in November — on the strength of fear, racism and the usual Rovian smear tactics — literally just months before economic anxiety finally crests over into newfound consciousness and rage. That would feel like a giant version of 2005, when Americans were frightened into re-electing the Little Tyrant, and almost immediately began to regret their choice. This was truly another paradigmatic moment, as Bush did his usual blustering performance, bragging about his mandate and the political capital he now planned to start spending. As he quickly found out when he tried to rip-off the Social Security system, and as his job approval ratings continued to sink until just about nobody other than a few crackers in the Texas Hill Country still thought he was doing a good job, the only mandate he had actually garnered was to be someone other than the cartoon caricature of a would-be president that Rove had turned John Kerry into (with the latter’s ample assistance).

If McCain once again drags the spent and stinking carcass of kleptocratic robber baron public policy across the finish line in November, while the economy continues to deteriorate, he’ll have only two choices on coming to office. One would be to abandon his party once and for all in a sort of reverse version of the U-turn François Mitterrand famously executed, moving from socialism to mixed economy capitalism during the 1980s. McCain might actually relish that notion. He probably hates the crap he’s had to take from the bastards who rule his party nearly as much as the rest of us do. Plus he may know he’s a one-term president no matter what, so what’s he got to lose? And we know that he admires Teddy Roosevelt most of all the former presidents, and such a move would be right out of TR’s playbook.

His other choice would be to continue to hew closely to right-wing orthodoxy while the ground disintegrates below our feet. This would surely please Grover Norquist and all the billionaires whose massive earnings are maybe off by ten percent lately (boo-hoo, fellas), but if he did this my guess is that the rest of the country might well turn on him with some caged-animal ferocity raging behind bared teeth. For reasons which still entirely elude me (though which nowadays probably have a lot to do with simply waiting it all out), the public massively disapproves of the Bush administration, but does nothing about it. My gut tells me, however, that having their hopes quashed once again as things get worse, and the guy they’ve just reluctantly chosen president continues the same destructive policies of doing nothing but making the rich richer, is a bridge too far. At the risk of mixing metaphors, I wouldn’t want to be John McCain on the day that particular dam breaks.

But the bigger point is simply this. Americans historically did well by working hard, educating themselves and bringing clever innovation to the table. But for just as long they got really rich by stealing the extra wealth, whether from someone else’s labor, from their neighbors, from the environment in which we live, or from the future.

What if there are no more piggy banks from which to steal? What happens if the US economy has finally hit the wall of remorseless reality, and can only produce what it can honestly produce? What happens to the American economy and American standards of living if all the gimmicks have been exhausted?

The fire this time?

David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers’ reactions to his articles (dmg@regressiveantidote.net), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website, www.regressiveantidote.net.

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

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Socialism for Speculators by Ralph Nader

The Economy Sucks and or Collapse

A Government of People, After All By David Michael Green

Dandelion Salad

By David Michael Green
07/18/08 “ICH”

So, did you hear about the latest bipartisan commission report?

Bet you can’t guess who’s on the thing! James Baker? Check. Warren Christopher? Check. Lee Hamilton? Check. Ed Meese? Check. Brent Scowcroft? Check.

(What, no Henry Kissinger? Guess he was busy fighting war crime extraditions.)

These guys should just go get a room and get it over with, already, eh? Anytime anyone in government needs some mind-numbingly anodyne cover story for the latest word in power consolidation, they bring in this crew – The Center-Right Dinosaur Club. Six words out of Warren Christopher’s mouth alone is guaranteed to render comatose any formerly sentient being. The guy is a human anesthesia.

They did Iraq. They buried 9/11, leaving the Bush administration not only completely unscathed, but completely off the record as well. Explain to me again, wouldya, why the president would only testify with Dickie holding his hand, and not under oath?

In the wake of the imperial establishment’s utter humbling in Mesopotamia, the latest commission project concerns the sticky old question of national war powers: Who’s got ‘em, who doesn’t, and how to deal with that in a supposed to democracy. (Hint: The short version is this: The president does whatever he wants to, and all you other people should go sit in the corner and just shut up.)

This is nothing new. The Founders grappled with it in the same fashion they did most everything else. Their goal was to create a government with just enough power to govern effectively, and no more. So they split powers up as often as they could, and this case is no exception. Congress got the power to declare war and the president got to be commander-in-chief of the military. Not bad, except nobody bothers to declare war anymore. That concept sorta went out with the horse and buggy.

After the lengthy but undeclared war in Vietnam, Congress realized it was holding the short end of a very long stick, and attempted to reel in the imperial presidency’s war-making powers with the War Powers Resolution of 1973. Nixon vetoed the thing, and Congress then mustered a rare and difficult veto override to make it into the law of the land. Well, kinda. You see, the problem is that every president since that time, Democratic or Republican, has rejected as unconstitutional its central provisions requiring the president to withdraw deployed forces within 60 days (90 days maximum), unless authorization for their continued presence has been obtained from Congress.

How can we ever know who is right – those presidents or Congress? To find out, it would require the rather unique situation of a president continuing to pursue a war in defiance of Congressional opposition. Sound familiar? Oh yeah, I guess I forgot one other necessary factor. In such a situation you’d also have to have a Congress with the stones to do something about such an imperious president and his unpopular war. They’d have to at least have the courage to bring a challenge in the federal courts, whereupon the constitutionality of the War Powers Act would then finally be resolved, one way or another. Call me crazy, but somehow I don’t see this as being on Nancy Pelosi’s or Harry Reid’s agenda.

So, now, along comes this Baker-Christopher Commission to recommend legislative changes, supposedly to avoid another Iraq fiasco. They propose to repeal the War Powers Act (which they describe as unconstitutional) and replace it with “The War Powers Consultation Act of 2009″, which would require the president to “consult” with Congress prior to deploying troops into a “significant armed conflict” (generally, combat operations likely to last more than a week), and would create a new Joint Congressional Consultation Committee comprised of leaders from both houses, and a permanent bipartisan staff with access to national security intelligence. The proposed legislation also calls on Congress to vote yes or no on ‘significant conflicts’ within 30 days. If such a resolution fails, Congress may then legislate against the war, which legislation the president may veto, and Congress may override. Or it may take other actions, such as defunding the war.

This is clearly a step backward. It’s clearly a step in the direction in further empowering an out-of-control executive, at precisely the moment when conditions call for just the opposite tack. And it’s clearly what you’d expect from James Baker and Warren Christopher. Ugh.

It’s all well and good to force consultations, but they mean only as much as the participants want them to, which can range from the pro-forma ticking off of a box on the official Federal War Consultation Checklist Form to genuine negotiations in which assent by both sides is required by both sides in order to move forward. To get a very real and very proximate sense of just how toothless an idea this is, one need only ask oneself how the Bush administration would have conducted such negotiations over Iraq. You know, the very same people who withhold everything from Congress? The ones who refuse to even testify or provide any documentation in cases involving clear wrongdoing, including now the highest law-enforcement official in the land? Yeah, that’s right, Congress is now thinking about holding Attorney General Michael Mukasy in contempt for refusing to turn over information about the politicization of the Justice Department. And he’s the ‘good guy’ who was brought in to clean up after Alberto Gonzales (thanks a lot to ‘liberal’ New York senator Chuck Schumer for arranging that particular disaster).

Yeah, forcing consultations is a wonderful prescription, but no better than forcing a robust round of Kumbaya. Once it’s done and the box checked, the president will proceed to war, laughing all the way down Pennsylvania Avenue as he returns from the Capitol. Think of Warren Christopher, late at night, dentures soaking in the glass of water, gumming up some of the finest plain vanilla ice cream available, and you’ve got a pretty good image of the actual bite of this resolution.

Similarly, in what sense can this legislative formula be considered an improvement over the War Powers Act or the Constitution itself? Let’s just take the most ambitious outcome possible under this scenario, where Congress fails to approve the war, then passes a resolution condemning it, which of course would be vetoed by the president, and then Congress musters enough votes for an override. First of all, what slightest change does that represent from the current scenario, other than to force Congress to vote on the war within 30 days? It already has the power to legislate its disapproval, the president already has the power to veto that bill, and Congress already has the power to override the president’s veto. So what is gained here?

Second, what possible effect does this have on the current impasse over the War Powers Act? The next step which will follow a congressional override will always be the president flipping a finger in the direction of Congress, and I don’t mean a big thumb’s-up. Now Congress would find itself in precisely the same place it does today – quite literally, at the moment (sans the override part) – having to make hard choices in the face of presidential defiance, of which there are pretty much only three. One is to follow the Harry Reid / Nancy Pelosi approach to tough situations, which means to whimper and whine a lot while doing absolutely nothing. The second is to go to the Supreme Court to force the issue, whereupon the president will claim it as an unconstitutional infringement on his or her commander-in-chief powers, regardless of whether a previous president (or even the current one) had signed the legislation that Baker and Christopher propose. (By the way, chances are good that Congress would lose such a suit. If it was brought before the current court, chances are a whole lot better than good. Congress would be about as likely to prevail as would the opposition party in a North Korean election.) The third option is the one ultimately resorted to in the case of Vietnam, which would be to simply de-fund the war.

But if we want to take the full measure of how toothless Baker and Christopher seek to render Congress, we should consider their Trojan Horse in forcing Congress to take a position on the war during its first thirty days. That’s a bit like trying to sell abstinence right in the middle of some rowdy good sex. Let’s just say the incentives are all loaded in one direction. Remember how much bogus noise the right ginned up about ‘supporting the troops’ years after the Iraq invasion was launched, let alone weeks? There is hardly any time when politicians are less likely to oppose a war than the first thirty days after it’s begun. Then what happens after Congress has taken its mandatory vote and, of course, approved some foreign adventure launched by an insane president? It will only have a much harder time, not easier, to shut it off later, when it comes to its senses, or at least when its senses tell it that it is now safe to oppose the war. The president will surely argue that Congress has no business opposing a war it once supported.

Is it possible that the Commission didn’t realize all this? Sure. But it’s also possible that Dick Cheney doesn’t much care for money or power. Is it possible that James Baker – the guy who gave us the Bush Junior presidency by breaking all the rules of democracy in Florida and at the Supreme Court – would use the current desire to reign in a loose cannon presidency to present this plan as an improvement, knowing in fact that it would actually increase presidential power over war policy? Nah. Not Jimmy.

Clearly, this represents a step backward rather than a step forward when it comes to avoiding another Iraq scenario. Just replay the events of the last six years, with the same cast of characters – but this time under the plan proposed by the Baker-Christopher Commission – to see what would happen. The same members of Congress who voted for a bullshit war because they were afraid of the consequences to their careers if they didn’t would be far more inclined to vote for the war three weeks after the invasion began. And they would then have had an even harder time later climbing down off the limb they’d perched themselves on than they already do now. Beautiful. That’s just what we need.

In a very profound way, though, all of this is moot anyhow. So, okay, the president has the commander-in-chief power which is broadly supported (even in Congress), and unlikely to ever be even remotely diminished. This country fought brutal and massive wars in Korea for three years, Vietnam for a dozen, and Iraq will be for easily seven before the earliest we’d possibly get out – all without a declaration of war or any serious question of the presidential prerogative to deploy forces without one. Get the picture? Likewise, however, the one power that Congress possesses in an equally undiluted and uncontested form is the power of the purse. Congress can shut down any expensive war it wants whenever it wants by using that power, as it did finally in the case of Vietnam. All that’s necessary is the will to do so. Purses can be used in many different ways, depending on one’s commitment to doing what is right and one’s courage to follow though on that path, even at the personal cost of career or likability amongst the Cro-Magnon set. Harry Reid’s purse seems to have little use other than for transporting around a bit of eyeliner, some lipstick and maybe a few sanitary napkins. In better hands, it would be used it to flatten George W. Bush and end his Mesopotamian nightmare, pronto.

Which really brings us, ultimately to the heart of questions like these. You can spend an entire lifetime, and fill an entire library wing, with treatises and legal commentaries on these grand constitutional questions regarding the distribution of power in a government such as ours. (Most democracies use a parliamentary system, where the issue is moot. There are no checks and balances because there are no separate branches to check or to balance.) At the end of the day, though, you’re ultimately left with words written on ink in parchment. It doesn’t even require a single struck match to destroy their power (indeed, if they have such power, burning the documents will have zero effect). All that is necessary is for good people to do nothing, while monsters like Bush and Cheney drive freight trains through the edifices of Constitutional law constructed over centuries.

And that is precisely what has happened. There will always be Bushes and Cheneys, and history shows there always has been. This was perhaps the single most profound insight the Founders brought to Philadelphia as they engaged in their experiment in political engineering. They sought to design a government that was powerful enough to hold together and to act when necessary – unlike the one provided for in the Articles of Confederation – yet also sufficiently limited so as to protect their liberties – unlike George III’s regime. The Constitution really is a pretty amazing achievement from that engineering perspective. In any case, this concern for finding the correct concentration of power is certainly the motivation for the otherwise fairly bizarre decision they made to divide the government and set the pieces of it against one another.

The Founders also sought to create a government of laws, not men. A great aspiration, to be sure, though inevitably flawed at the end of the day. (I wish, for starters that they had aspired to a government not of people – rather than not of men, but of course it would be 150 years before fully half the population began to get its legal rights.) But their more critical flaw, for purposes of this particular discussion, is the belief that you can somehow take people out of government and leave only laws in their place to govern.

Unfortunately, people are not only the subjects of those laws, but also the keepers, promulgators and implementers. Laws, principles, rules, codes – these are all ultimately what people make of them, not what’s written on paper. If George W. Bush says that it is legal to waterboard detainees at Guantánamo and nobody stops him, that is what’s going to happen. If the majority on the Supreme Court abandon all their vociferously articulated prior principles of states’ rights, judicial restraint and hostility to equal protection claims in order to justify crowning Bush president – and, again, no one objects too strenuously – then off to the White House he goes. And if Congress is supposed to be an equal partner in war-making decisions but hasn’t got the guts to do its job, well then, welcome to Baghdad, soldier.

The whole matter was put rather succinctly by President Andrew Jackson once, when he was angered at a decision made by John Marshall’s Supreme Court holding that the state of Georgia could not impose its laws on Cherokee tribal lands. Jackson is quoted as saying “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it!”, thereby shredding the notion of a government of laws in a mere eleven-word sentence.

The truth is that there is no such thing as a government without people. There is no main-frame somewhere which can dispassionately compute matters of law and policy. It’s up to us, at the end of the day.

Either we stick to our principles – especially in moments of duress – or we don’t.

No oceans of ink applied to mountains of parchment, and certainly no new scheme concocted by James Baker and Warren Christopher, could ever save America’s Congress, or its press, or its opposition party, or its people, from the historical stain which has attached to them forever by virtue of their abdication of responsibility when it came to Iraq.

We had, in October of 2002, and in March of 2003, and today, and on every date in-between, a government of laws. The principles and codes and Constitution were all there.

It’s just the people who were missing.

David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers’ reactions to his articles (dmg@regressiveantidote.net), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website, www.regressiveantidote.net.

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Go To Helms, Regressives By David Michael Green

Dandelion Salad

By David Michael Green
07/11/08 ICH

Among my occasional guilty pleasures is to watch the Friday evening political analysis segment on the PBS NewsHour broadcast.  It’s truly a sickness, I’ll admit.  First, there’s the show itself, which is so politically neutered that it could make Warren Christopher seem exciting.  Then there’s the loose-tooth-wiggling-pleasure-in-pain indulgence of seeing David Brooks in action, dissembling and distracting as his ideological world goes up in flames, on its way to coming down in ruins.  I do have a soft spot, I must admit, for Mark Shields, a good guy with good politics, who personifies a more decent time in American history, absolutely looking the part as well.

Last week Brooks was off somewhere, probably writing another New York Times op-ed about the latest sociological academic treatise he’s stumbled onto.  Anything not to have to admit that ever since he conveniently switched from the left to the right, he’s been wrong on everything.  Along with Norm Coleman and a host of other neocons – even including Ann Coulter (no, I’m not kidding) – look for those surviving the tsunami of 2008 to flip back again afterwards.  Can you say ‘political opportunism’?

Brooks was gone, so they had this other cat on there, instead – a certain Ramesh Ponnuru, who is a senior editor at the National Review.  Besides wearing trendy rectangular glasses that make him seem like he’s trying way too hard, it seems that Ponnuru also wrote a book back in 2006 called “Party of Death”, which I’m guessing is about as thoughtful as its title is subtle.  I’m aided in my estimation by the text from the inside flap, which includes the following choice excerpts:

Is the Democratic Party the ‘Party of Death’?  If you look at their agenda they are. It’s not just abortion-on-demand.  It’s euthanasia, embryo destruction, even infanticide – and a potentially deadly concern with “the quality of life” of disabled people.  If you think these issues don’t concern you – guess again.  The Party of Death could be roaring into the White House … in the person of Hillary Rodham Clinton. … Ponnuru’s shocking exposé shows just how extreme the Party of Death has become as they seek to destroy every inconvenient life, demand fealty to their radical agenda, and punish anyone who defies them.  But he also shows how the tide is turning, how the Party of Death can be defeated, and why its last victim might be the Democratic Party itself.

Say, that does sound shocking now that you mention it!  Well, at least he didn’t use the old Hillary Clinton bête noire gimmick in order to rouse the cave-dwellers on the right.  Oh, wait a sec…  Okay, well at least he showed his acute skills at reading the political landscape, particularly in arguing how the tide is turning against the Democratic Party.  Hey…  Hold on there!  Thanks goodness he mentions the absurdity of someone whose party brought us Iraq, the death penalty, Katrina, poverty and global warming calling the other guys “the party of death”, eh?  Oops.  Okay, okay, cut the guy some slack, wouldya?  Surely he deserves credit for outing all those pro-infanticide Democrats whom the liberal media have been hiding from us for so long now.  You know, like ol’, er, what’s-his-name from Massachusetts, or, um, who’s-her-dinky from California or somewhere, part of the large crowd who ran back in 1998 on a platform of killing babies for sport.  You remember, right?  You certainly see a lot of that in American politics, and, by gum, it’s time we called a spade a spade!

Speaking of which, my real interest in Mr. Ponnuru actually has to do with the last line he uttered on the NewsHour the other night, as he and Shields were dissecting the sorry life of the recently (but not soon enough) departed Jesse Helms, former long-time senator from North Carolina.  Having said nothing particularly positive about Senator No throughout the segment – a guy who, according to Shields “called 1964 Civil Rights Act the single most dangerous legislation ever introduced in the United States Congress” – Ponnuru closed out the discussion with the off-hand remark that “He was wrong on civil rights”.

What?  Really?  Ya think, dude?  I guess maybe if you’re name is Ramesh Ponnuru, and you look just like one would expect a Ramesh Ponnuru to look, even you can overcome your insane ideology long enough to figure out that Jesse Helms was a racist SOB.  Maybe you can even go one step further and note that he wasn’t quite the only one over on your side of the fence who had that tendency, not least your vaunted deity Ronald Reagan, who opened his campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, home of civil rights murders, talking about – wait for it, now – “states’ rights”.  Maybe, Ramesh, you might even want to go so far as to note that your folks’ treatment of gays is nothing less than a more acceptable contemporary version of racism, eh?  Or is it perhaps your contention that any semen squirted anywhere besides the inside of a fertile vagina represents the destruction of inconvenient life by the Party of Death?  Masturbation is murder!  Gay sex is genocide!

But I digress.  Oh boy, did I digress.

Okay, then, here’s what really just slays me about remarks by people like Ponnuru.  Thirty, forty, fifty years later, now that all the hard work has been done on civil rights, now that all the blood has been shed so that people named Ramesh Ponnuru can have jobs like senior editor of a leading American journal, only now do conservatives grudgingly admit they were wrong on civil rights.  And, really not even that.  He simply acknowledges that nearly the most odious figure of the entire Jim Crow movement was wrong.  As if Willy Horton hadn’t happened since.  As if Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris hadn’t incorrectly and intentionally purged tens of thousands of African Americans from the voting rolls in Florida.  As if voters in Ohio’s black precincts hadn’t faced massive obstacles in 2004 that whites did not.  As if millions of right-wing racists won’t be caught dead voting for Barack Obama in 2008 because he’s black.

And – most importantly – as if civil rights was the only thing that regressives ever got wrong.

Someone once said that “A conservative is one who enshrines his grandfathers’ revolution and fears his children’s”.  In the end, that’s an accurate perception, though ultimately too generous.  But it certainly points to the tendency of those on the right to be wrong about everything in their own time, only to coopt some of the same themes a generation or two later.  Does anyone remember the right leading the charge on gender equality?  Social Security or Medicare?  Voting Rights?  Environmental protection?  Human rights?  Economic justice?  The promotion of democracy abroad?  The empowerment of international institutions?  The expansion of the franchise?  For that matter, even the abolition of slavery or the American revolution?

Of course not.  Whichever of their grandparents’ revolutions they now pretend to support in full, they not only didn’t support them then, they (or their grandparents) in fact actively blocked them.  Today you might hear a regressive say lovely things about, say, Martin Luther King, but it wasn’t that long ago that they sought to block a holiday in his honor, and it wasn’t that long before that that they were siccing the FBI on him and harassing him and accusing him of being a commie and even murdering him.

Jesse Helms himself touched all the bases of regressive depravity, absolutely including race.  But some lunatic named Jeff Jacoby, a columnist for the Boston Globe, couldn’t even get as far as Ponnuru did, lambasting ‘liberals’ this week for wrongly trashing Helms as a racist monster.  Did you know that Jesse was actually a good guy when it came to race issues?  Here’s Jacoby, quoting Walter Russell Mead, on how Helms went from being a racist to a pioneering reformer on behalf of equality:

Instead of leading his followers into resistance, Helms “disciplined and tamed the segregationist South, prodding it “into grudging acceptance of the new racial order.”  Yet rather than hail his statesmanship and acknowledge his contribution to the civil rights revolution, liberals marked his death by reaching for pejoratives. Helms’s sin was not racism; it was his tenacious political incorrectness. Had he been willing to tack left on other issues, his racial wrongs would have been forgiven.

Thanks a bunch, Jeff, for setting that record straight!  I was particularly confused, because I remembered that, trailing in his 1990 re-election bid against Harvey Gantt, the black former mayor of Charlotte, Helms ran television ads in which a pair of white hands crumpled up a rejection slip from a job that had been lost to affirmative action.

Did I mention this was in 1990?  Yeah, ‘cause that was the same year that the Justice Department found that Helms was behind threatening letters sent to black voters, warning them of arrest if they showed up to vote on election day.

In 1993 he got angry at Carol Moseley Braun, the first black woman to serve in the United States Senate, for blocking a bill of his giving a patent to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which included a confederate flag insignia.  So as he got on an elevator she was riding he said to a colleague “I’m going to sing Dixie until she cries”.

Then, in 1995, he was on Larry King Live, when a caller thanked him for helping to “keep down the niggers”.  You wouldn’t think a fella would say that to a guy who was bringing “statesmanship” in “contribution to the civil rights revolution”, would you?  Nor would you think that such a statesman would respond by saying, “Whoops, well, thank you, I think”.  More likely, that’s just another way of saying, “Hell yes, Brother Cracker!  But don’t forget we’re on national TV, okay?”

No, Jeff Jacobs, you need to lay off Karl’s Kool-Aid, my man.  People doing and saying these kinds of things in the 1990s were unreconstructed racists, nothing else.  What was different about Helms was that he figured out how to play the PC game.  In 1960, he would go on television and say things like, “When you educate a negro, you educate a candidate for the penitentiary or spoil a good field hand”.  Or, “The negro cannot count forever on the kind of restraint that’s thus far left him free to clog the streets, disrupt traffic and interfere with other men’s rights”.  By the 1990s, he had learned to speak in code words, like “states’ rights” or “affirmative action”.  That hardly makes him a “contributor” to the civil rights movement.  In fact, it doesn’t even make him a believer in equality.  It just means that he had become a more clever racist.  And, actually, therefore, a more pernicious one as well.

But, wait, there’s more!

Helms was great with presidents.  He idolized Richard Nixon.  He saved Ronald Reagan’s career when that monster was tanking in 1976.  He told Bill Clinton that “he’d better bring a bodyguard” if the president planned on visiting North Carolina.

He fought bitterly to block AIDS research and treatment because it was the product of “unnatural” and “disgusting” behavior.

And, as Mark Shields reminded us the other night, he “embraced every anti-communist dictator, regardless of how ruthless that dictator happened to be”.  And they were plenty ruthless, thank you very much – from the Shah to Pinochet to Marcos to apartheid South Africa.  Helms was also a major force in creating and arming the murderous Contra terrorist force which brought old-fashioned Gringo misery back to Nicaragua, after the Sandinistas had booted it out a few years earlier.  He was famous for tightening the screws ever further on Cuba, and blocking family planning aid overseas if it had any hint of a shadow of a relationship to abortion.

In short, if you want a quick and (very) dirty explanation of the current mess this society is in today, “Jesse Helms” would not be a bad shortcut.

The truth is, though, it’s a bit more complicated than that, and a whole lot more despicable, if that can be imagined.  The truth is that much of the racism and sexism and homophobia and liberal-bashing and all is just a smokescreen for economic raping and pillaging, and for getting your victims to assist you in that effort.  Yeah, Obama got it right at that San Francisco fundraiser, but it was former conservative Michael Lind (once a protégé of William F. Buckley and Irving Kristol who somehow lived to tell the tale) who nailed it best, when he wrote that:

What passes for intellectual conservatism is little more than the subsidized propaganda wing of the Republican Party. … The leaders and intellectuals of the American right [have adopted] a vision of the United States as a low-wage, low-tax, low-investment industrial society like the New South of 1875-1965, a kind of early 20th-century Mississippi or Alabama recreated on a continental scale.

Yeah, that’s right, bro.  It’s all about the Benjamins.  Which can only lead me to wonder what kind of monsters are these, inhabiting otherwise perfectly normal human bodies?  What trauma of their formative years so dehumanized them that they are not only willing to foment such destructive behavior and policies, but even to do so purely on the basis of lies covering up an insatiable greed that justifies every other crime?

And so – speaking of propaganda wings of the Republican Party – what I’d really like to hear Ramesh Ponnuru say is that conservatives were wrong.  Not just about civil rights, but about women’s rights, about environmentalism, about human rights, about foreign policy, about organized labor and fair wages, about taxes, about the whole nine yards.

I’d like to see him admit that neither he, nor his wife, nor so many of the rest of us would ever have had the slightest opportunity in this society if previous members of his conservative family tree had not been roundly defeated in bitter and often lethal struggles, during which they acted neither as ally, nor spineless milquetoast, nor even indifferent bystander – but rather as precisely the obstacle to decency, humanity and progress they entirely were.

And then I’d like to see him quit his job, get down on his knees, beg forgiveness, and promise never, ever, to do this again.

David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York.  He is delighted to receive readers’ reactions to his articles (dmg@regressiveantidote.net), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond.  More of his work can be found at his website, www.regressiveantidote.net.

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

The Ashes Have Been Passed To A New Generation

Dandelion Salad

By David Michael Green
07/04/08 “ICH

We live in the most astonishing of times, politically speaking.

And I don’t mean that as a compliment.

There is so much I would hate to try to have explain to an alien about our politics. Same with a human five centuries from now – it’s just that I’m not so sure there’ll be any.

In America, a regressive majority of one on the Supreme Court disappears a whole clause from the Second Amendment in order to interpret it favorably for an industry merchandizing mass quantities of small death machines. Thirty or forty thousand of us are swept away every year by these killers, but few find the coincidence of that fact with their ubiquitous presence – by some estimates, there is nearly one gun for every American nowadays – somehow noteworthy.

One president has oral sex in a private consensual relationship and lies about it, so right-wing freaks spend $40 million to investigate this most heinous of crimes and bring impeachment charges against a president for only the second time in American history. Meanwhile, one of their own admits to trashing the Constitution at every turn and isn’t even investigated, let alone impeached, let alone removed from office.

This same president plunges the world into war on the basis of non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but couldn’t be less concerned when North Korea actually goes nuclear on his watch. This president goes to war to bring democracy to the Arab world, but can’t even be bothered to pressure Egypt or Saudi Arabia to move a tad in that direction. This president uses an attack on the US to justify international belligerence and mass human rights violations, but doesn’t seem very interested in even attacking, let alone vanquishing, the supposed perpetrator.

The list of these political out-of-body experiences is as endless as it is absurd. I may not speak Martian very well, but even I can tell you what the look on the face of that little green feller with the antennae means. He’s thinking, “Wow, you humans are the strangest freaks in the galaxy, man!”

Well, actually, it’s not so much the entire species, but mostly just us especially twisted sisters manning the bridge over here in the, uh, world’s only superpower. Bad coincidence, eh? Even we wacky Gringos know that weapons and criminals make a bad combination, as do weapons and lunatics. So, what fool handed us the keys to this planetary oil tanker? Shouldn’t, like, um, the Swedes or the Norwegians be the world’s superpower? They seem harmless enough.

Yep, we could go on and on detailing the ludicrous inanities of American politics in the age of Bush (himself Exhibit A), but really my favorite has to be the case of global warming. In a society devoted like no other to the politics of fear, we have somehow managed to forget the one thing we should probably fear most.

Imagine if there was a meteor headed toward our one and only planet, with the potential to do devastating and possibly lethal damage to the planet. Imagine that we had the technological capability to divert the course of this weapon of the massiest mass destruction, and all we needed was the will to do so. And imagine that we chose to focus our society’s energies instead on … gay marriage. Or illegal immigration. Or premarital sex.

Not only would we screw up all of those policy areas, but we be toast anyhow, along with all our unmarried gays, undocumented workers and ‘virgin’ teenagers (who, have you seen, just become experts at anal and oral sex in order to avoid the forbidden standard kind?). Good lord, this is a society which desperately needs medication! Or maybe that’s the problem, and we desperately need to ditch all the brain-benders of every sort that we imbibe like candy.

Remember Dick Cheney’s ‘one percent doctrine’? He argued that if there’s even a one percent chance of a terrorist attack, you have to go on the offensive. Of course, reality external to the Vice President’s secret location tends to be a bit more nuanced than that, but that’s why everyone calls him Dick, I guess. Anyhow, there’s this little thing called cost-benefit analysis that seems to have gone sorely missing over the last, er, eight years or so. It was last seen flowing down the sewers of Baghdad. It would argue, for example, that yes, you should take threats seriously, but that if the solution to a one percent probability of danger that could threaten the lives of a thousand people is to adopt a policy which definitely kills 100 million of your own citizens, that’s probably a bad plan. Costs and benefits, you see. I mean, people can differ on this, of course, but I’d vote to take the one percent risk in such a case. At a minimum I’d certainly argue that we ought to weight the costs along with the benefits every once in a while. Admittedly, though, that’s not so helpful when you’re in the middle of trying to scare the hell out of people so they’ll vote for you, or acquiesce to your destructive policies.

But I digress. There is a monstrous catastrophe not only headed our way, but actually already here. I’m not a climatologist, but my sense from paying attention to media reporting on this issue over the last two decades is that there is not only a one percent chance that global warming is both real and anthropogenic, but rather a ninety-five percent chance. Perhaps ninety-nine. Yep, sure, there are a few scientists out there still making the opposite argument. Probably some of them even aren’t on oil company payrolls! But the vast majority of reputable climate scientists now agree that this is happening, that we are making it happen, and that the results will be catastrophic. This, after ten and twenty years of a (somewhat) healthy scientific skepticism about those claims, which only further underscores the validity of the findings.

So what will they say about us five centuries from now – those very few, very toasty, remaining humans, living on mountain tops, the only dry land to be found? What they’ll say is probably unprintable in any family newspaper, that’s for sure. But in-between the expletives I think you’d be likely to find words like … “unconscionable” … “breathtakingly stupid” … “astonishingly selfish” … and, “If you weren’t already dead I’d kill you!”

Last week we had James Hansen reminding Congress, twenty years after originally doing so, of the gravity of this situation. One of the top scientists from one of America’s premier science agencies – who was told, by the way, to shut the hell up by the Bush administration – was reminding us yet again that we are facing mass species extinctions and ecosystem collapse among the lovely perils awaiting us if we continue in the current direction. Assuming, that is, that it isn’t already far too late to turn it around now.

Think about that for a second: Mass extinction. Ecosystem collapse. Meteor. Ninety-five or better percent chance.

Gay marriage.

Takes your breath right away, doesn’t it? There are certainly few better ways to underscore the full scope of the regressive nightmare haunting a country that likes to think of itself as the last, best hope of humanity. Fat chance of that. Indeed, we – or at least some of us – half-deserve this fate for choosing the likes of Nixon, Reagan, Bush, DeLay, Scalia and the rest these last decades. It’s the rest of the world I feel especially sorry for. Last, best hope? Jeez, the mercury had already burst out squirting from the top of my irony thermometer seven years ago. Somehow I don’t think so. Well, maybe the ‘last’ part…

And what’s especially killer about this particular issue is the degree to which the multiple maladies and solutions all line up so neatly. Sometimes the cosmos sends you a message in very subtle ways. Other times it beats you over the head with a two-by-four. Occasionally, it detonates a small nuclear device in your backyard swimming pool to get your attention.

We’re very much in the latter category right now. You don’t exactly have to do a full and complete inventory to figure this one out. Here, just take this pop quiz. Quick, now: What factor do all of the following items have in common: massive environmental devastation, skyrocketing transportation and food prices, a declining middle-class with disappearing jobs, and a war-prone and constant calamity-threatening Middle East continually sucking in American military involvement and nightmarishly distorting our foreign policy? (If you’re somehow still struggling with this, you may want to consider spending a little more time catching up with current events. Meanwhile, though, here’s a bonus hint for you: Alan Greenspan described this as the real reason America went to war in Iraq.)

Did you get it?!?! Okay! A+ for you! Now flip it on it’s head. What would be a way in which our society could address the massive threats of global warming, a sinking middle class with lousy jobs, poverty-inducing energy costs and military nightmares in the Middle East, all at once? How about if we made it a giant national priority to wean ourselves off carbon-based energy sources through a variety of policies mixing incentives and regulations, and a huge national effort to develop alternative fuel sources, with all the industrial development and good-paying jobs associated with launching such industries? You know. What did Jimmy Carter call it, thirty freakin’ years ago? “The moral equivalent of war”, wasn’t it? Too bad he was a failed president, though. Hardly invaded any other countries. What could he possibly have known?

Seriously, though, here’s a chance to go from the all-wrong scenario of environmental destruction / energy dependence / Middle East war / horrific gas prices / recession / middle class decline, over to the all-right scenario of sustainability / energy independence / peace / reasonable energy costs / economic development / prosperity – all in one fell swoop. I mean, I know that regressives have a problem with any policies that actually make sense, and I know that Americans are just about the dumbest branch of the homo politicus family tree, but isn’t this a no-brainer so obvious that even people who actually have no brains could figure it out?

So, last week James Hansen reminded us that we are headed for such joyous ‘lifestyle changes’ as mass extinction and ecosystem collapse. Of course, most regressives continued to pooh-pooh such warnings as some sort of liberal conspiracy to undermine capitalism. I must say, these people blow me away with their unflinching and robotic dogmatism. I mean, I get why they insist on the Earth being only 6,000 years old and anything having to do with sex being a major sin. They’re incredibly frightened, and these beliefs bring the existential comfort of order to an otherwise messy and capricious universe. But what’s up with middle class fools ardently supporting tax cuts for the wealthy? Or any human being in the whole world denying the near unanimous testimony of scientific experts regarding a planetary threat, because oil companies told them to do so? Do climatologists seriously strike anybody as crypto-anarchists masquerading as scientists in order to destroy capitalism? (Listen to some regressive kooks talk about global warming and you could easily think so.) And, if that was really their goal, wouldn’t there be a lot easier ways to crash the system than to go spend years getting a PhD, do a bunch of boring research for low pay, and grade a million mind-numbing term papers written by a million grammatically-challenged college sophomores?

Then there’s that pesky little problem of evidence. Every week there’s more, though hardly any quite as egregious as what you could have seen on CNN.com just a few days ago: “North Pole Could Be Ice-Free This Summer, Scientists Say”. Woo-hoo. No worries there, eh? Now if Adam and Steve get married in California or Massachusetts, that’s something to get worked up about. But the destruction of the Arctic ice cap? We’ve already got polar bears in zoos, so what’s the big damn deal? Prolly it’ll be easier to get to the oil up there without all that ice in the way, anyhow.

What will they say – assuming there are any they left to be saying – in five centuries about us nice folks who managed to bequeath the solar system a second Mercury where a green and fertile planet once stood, just so we could party a little longer? I’m not sure, but I don’t think it will be pretty. And I don’t think it will be, “Well, sure, they weren’t perfect. And, true, they wrecked the whole planet. But at least they kept boys from marrying other boys.”

These regressive fools and their pre-/anti-scientific religious superstitions just kill me.

And that’s just the problem. They’re killing all of us.

Praise the lord.

David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers’ reactions to his articles (mailto:dmg@regressiveantidote.net), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website,

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

see

Climate Chaos Is Inevitable. We Can Only Avert Oblivion

The Most IMPORTANT Video You’ll Ever See (videos; Parts 1-4)

The Most IMPORTANT Video You’ll Ever See (videos; Parts 5-8)

How It All Ends: Your Mission (global warming; must-see videos)

How It All Ends (Global Warming; must-see video; links)

Social change to stop climate change

Global Warming/Climate changes/Environment

Global Warming

Now Comes The Hard Part By David Michael Green

Dandelion Salad

By David Michael Green
06/27/08 “ICH”‘

People all over the world – and certainly no less progressive Americans – are trying to take the measure of Barack Obama. The previous and coming few weeks will be a good, though not perfect, moment for doing so.

I have long believed that the winner of the Democratic nomination in 2008 would be the winner of the presidency. With Newsweek now reporting a fifteen point polling spread between Obama and McCain, that is looking more and more true. Moreover, my guess is that this year, like most, the Electoral College math will magnify that gap even further. I have contended for some time that Democrats are going to have a giant year (or, more precisely, Republicans are going to be fiercely spanked), all down the ballot, ranging from dogcatchers up to senators and governors. I expected that the presidential race might be a bit closer than those others, but even that may not be true.

Of course, everything can change in a day, let alone four months. Just ask Mike Dukakis, who entered his year’s summer with about a seventeen point advantage over George Bush the Elder, and proceeded to get stomped. Dukakis was one of the earliest swiftboat victims, back before there even were swiftboater political assassins, per se, and of course the Atwater/Rove machine destroyed him mercilessly. He never seemed to know what hit him, and he certainly never fought back.

Neither condition seems likely to apply to Obama, however – particularly the latter. That great hissing sound you’ve been hearing for some time now is the energy going out of the regressive right movement, including the funding and support from the hired guns. Not only do these people see the freight train headed their way, but they can’t even get remotely excited about their standard-bearer, John McCain. If your politics suck in America, it’s getting harder and harder to get out of bed in the morning.

Moreover, there hasn’t been a Democrat like Barack Obama in the thirty years since the Faux Cowboy rode into town and sent them all scurrying for cover. Whatever else one can say about Obama, he doesn’t stand around like Dukakis or Kerry getting punch drunk, watching his prospects go down the drain as scumbags relentlessly punk him with the crassest of tactics. Obama may yet lose this election, but it’s highly unlikely that he’ll do so while being a hapless observer of his own demise. For the pathetic creature known as the Democratic Party, that alone is actually a giant leap of progress.

Given that the presidency is within his reach, the question of who he really is now comes into sharper relief. As I see it, there are basically two options to choose from, with a host of permutations and degrees of variation between and around them. President Obama can either be an FDR, or he can be a Bill Clinton. He can either be a bold leader who leverages crisis and a sweeping electoral mandate into transformational policy and historical leadership, or he can be a caretaker who cravenly seeks to make no mistakes and therefore realizes no accomplishments. He can be a progressive who comes to the rescue of a country badly in need, or he can be Republican-Lite, putting corporate interests ahead of the nation’s.

Many people are wondering which model we’ll get with Obama. Some don’t really care, as long as he is simply President Not Bush. Others have simply gone ahead and made the leap, assured that he is the Second Coming. As he once said, himself, for some reason people seem to project all their hopes and aspirations on this man.

But which is he? My guess, sadly, is that his instincts are more Clinton than FDR, at least when it comes to the cautious inaction aspect. That I can (barely) bear; the corporate shilling I cannot.

It’s very much worth remembering, however, that both FDR and Clinton were presidents of their time. Without serious crises, FDR would likely have been Clintonesque. Meanwhile, with them, Clinton could have arguably risen into the pantheon of great presidents. Indeed, he supposedly once lamented that he got through eight years without such a crisis on his watch, a comment which for me always summed up the priorities of Clintonism better than any other single notion. Quick pop-quiz question: What kind of person is so incredibly self-absorbed that they would wish a deadly national crisis on their own country because of the positive effect it might have on their personal legacy? Answer: A Clinton.

Right now, Obama looks to inherit a situation rather in-between the 1930s and the 1990s, which, ironically, is in many ways probably more unfortunate than if things were palpably much worse. On so many fronts, now and into the foreseeable future, America is a slow-motion train wreck. That means it’s coming apart fast enough to do truly catastrophic fiscal, environmental, economic, moral, political and international damage over a decade or two, but not fast enough to overwhelm the public’s fear of change and thus generate support for bold action. This could well be the worst of all worlds.

Nor, unfortunately, is Obama likely to be compelled to do the right thing on most any of these fronts. Indeed, he will not only run into resistance from a public that claims to want change but probably really only wants the kind that makes their pockets jingle a little more, but he will also certainly inherit a Congress run by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid that is deeply devoted to doing nothing other than serving corporate interests. We progressives can try to pressure him, but if history is any guide, we tend not to have much relative influence. Moreover, almost anything that follows George W. Bush is going to be such a dramatic improvement, and so deeply welcomed, that – especially someone like Obama – will benefit from deep reservoirs of public patience and good will. Finally, the regressive movement which so successfully hobbled Clinton is likely to be in a complete crisis melt-down mode after the American public has had a little Come-to-Jesus conversation with them on November 4th. I don’t expect them to be very adept at pressuring Obama at least during the early part of his administration, and I doubt he would allow them to anyhow.

The long and the short of this is that the contextual conditions don’t bode well for Obama to run a truly transformational presidency, nor does much of anything in his past suggest that that is his ambition. By my count, that leaves only one remaining potential major motivating factor, which is the question of legacy, the factor that seemed to motivate Lyndon Johnson, for instance, to go to the wall for civil rights. But Obama is a walking legacy. Thirty seconds after he is sworn in next January he will already have fulfilled what could conceivably become the bulk of his historical significance. And it’s no small thing, either. American politics have been the provenance of elites for so long now, just having a black man living in that White House is alone pretty huge.

But it is not enough. If Obama defaults to being a Clintonesque caretaker, he’ll get away with it for a while, but not forever. Forget about history. In the here-and-now there is mounting impatience with the state of this country, particularly on the economic front. Unfortunately, this is the major area where Obama has offered his least compelling vision, and where he would face probably the greatest of resistance. I’m not convinced, for example, that it would necessarily be politically more difficult to withdraw from Iraq than to raise taxes on the wealthy.

Recent events in the Obama campaign may have been disheartening to progressives, perhaps signaling his centrist tendencies, perhaps suggesting that the extent of the real change he is offering is simply to not be Bush, perhaps inferring – worst of all – that it will be Wall Street which will have his ear. The most recent and prominent example of this sort of stuff was Obama’s choice to opt out of his prior repeated promise to accept public financing of his campaign and the limitations that go with it. That is, in some respects, disheartening. And perhaps will be much more so if it convinces him that he can lie with impunity.

And there have been other signs as well. His choice of Jim Johnson as his lead advisor in vetting vice presidential nominees was about as Washington old school establishment as you can get, and that was even before it blew up in his face because of Johnson’s skanky personal finances. Much more ominous have been the presumptive nominee’s selection of Wall Street-leaning Jason Furman as the campaign’s chief economic advisor, and his denunciation of the Supreme Court’s decision this week to prohibit the application of the death penalty for raping a child.

As horrifyingly noxious as that latter crime certainly is, few Americans are better positioned than Obama, the African American constitutional law scholar, to understand just how twisted is the use of the death penalty in any case. His criticism of the Court’s majority suggests the worst sort of pandering to a bloodthirsty public, not unlike Governor Bill Clinton’s nauseating decision to personally preside over the execution of mentally retarded Ricky Ray Rector in order to attract centrist voters in 1992.

But the Furman choice may be the worst indicator yet of this guy’s intentions. Furman is closely associated with Robert Rubin, who is closely associated with conservative economic principles within the Democratic Party, those favoring Wall Street over Main Street. What makes that act especially disheartening is that it was essentially a free choice for Obama. He’s not going to win or lose a lot of votes from a voting public amongst whom almost none could distinguish Furman from, say, Joseph Stiglitz, as an alternative. Using the death penalty to pander for votes is truly sickening, but at least if we know it is pandering we can excuse (I don’t) it as perhaps necessary to be able to achieve a greater good in the America of the 21st century. On the other hand, choosing a corporate-leaning economic advisor when almost no one is looking at what you’re doing may well signal the candidate’s true politics.

To an extent, this can all be excused – possibly – as pre-election necessity. It’s crucial to win this year. It’s crucial for Obama not to allow himself to be swiftboated. It’s clear that he well understands these principles. Frankly, I don’t want him to advertise any unpopular, left-of-center politics he might have during the campaign, whether or not he would pursue those policies in office. They won’t help him now, and they’ll very likely hurt him. It does none of us any good for John McCain to become America’s 44th president of the United States, and after watching the pathetic performances of Dukakis, Gore and Kerry in (not) fighting for the presidency, I for one am not going to hold Obama’s feet to the political purity bonfire of ideological self-immolation.

On the other hand, there are limits to what is tolerable, even in an election as crucial as this one. While I don’t expect the guy to be a socialist, I’m going to be powerfully disappointed if he repeats Clinton’s economic policies, notwithstanding that they’re marginally better than McCain’s or Bush’s. And I have to admit that I find the death penalty comments revolting, especially when he could have just chosen to be silent on the issue.

What makes all of this even more troubling is that Obama is already killing McCain in the polls, and therefore doesn’t appear to need to use the most egregious of these tactics. To be sure, he should be highly cautious about believing the election is all sewn up. And he gives every appearance of understanding – as any Democrat long ago should have – that these guys are going to try to smear him mercilessly, and therefore nothing should be taken for granted – eh, Mr. Kerry? That fifteen point lead – even assuming that it is accurate – could potentially disappear rapidly – eh, Mr. Dukakis? Still, is it really necessary to favor the expansion of the use of the death penalty in America?

What Obama appears to be doing is following the standard American presidential script, which is to run to your left (if you’re a Democrat) during the primaries, and then to the center after securing the nomination. Obama never got very far to the left of the public at any point, but you can see him repositioning now. Perhaps after the election we’ll see yet a third version, and perhaps that will be more progressive than not. Perhaps.

I don’t think anyone knows, which is why so many of us are watching this guy so closely. It’s easy enough to be disappointed, especially for progressives, but mostly if you’re so unrealistic that you’d rather be one hundred percent politically pure than have a chance to govern. Some issues are worth that extremely high price. Many are not. What I can say for myself is just this: I’m looking for someone with sufficient courage and vision to be able to govern at the left edge of what is realistically possible. While I’d certainly prefer more than that in a perfect world, in the real one I’m stuck in, I’ll generally take that over nothing at all. And I’ll certainly take that over the rampant destruction of all things precious that will continue if the GOP is allowed to govern another four years. Let’s face it. If we’re honest we’ll admit that the only difference between voting for Ralph Nader versus demanding that Obama take electorally impossible stands is that the latter is an even surer path to political suicide.

Everyone has to make their own choices, of course. But, me? I generally recommend against suicide.

When it comes to Obama, we have to wait and see. What I can say is that he used to be closer to that realistically possible progressive edge in prior months than he has been over the last couple weeks. I might be happy if this is the low point for him and it just gets better from here on out. But let’s be honest, he’s had better stretches than this last one.

And it matters, too. To choose but one example, in the last week top NASA scientist James Hansen told Congress regarding global warming that “We’re toast if we don’t get on a very different path. This is the last chance.” He predicted mass extinction, ecosystem collapse, and dramatic sea level rises if we don’t take steps to save the planet, and fast.

The same is true across so many domains of American and global society, even if the crises aren’t quite that stunningly acute. We are in very deep trouble, in so many ways.

For sure, it will be wonderful to remove from the body politic the cancer currently occupying the White House.

But it will not be enough.

David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers’ reactions to his articles (dmg@regressiveantidote.net ), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website, http://www.regressiveantidote.net/.

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

The Poverty of Reaganism-Bushism By David Michael Green

Dandelion Salad

By David Michael Green
0620//08 “ICH”

Back in the day when communism was a politically viable economic program, its capitalist enemies used to love to rail against the evils of “Marxism-Leninism”.

Interestingly, they almost always attacked it for all the wrong reasons, citing, for example, the lack of political freedom in societies where it was being practiced, the aggressive tendencies of national leaders in those countries seeking to conquer their neighbors, or the ideology’s hostility to religion. That last one in particular was always a good one for getting Americans to rise out of their pews in disgust and anger. Those commies don’t even have Jesus!

The fact that none of these critiques had anything at all to do with the economic system that communism actually is was always telling. It’s not so easy to attack the idea of sharing and community, is it? Better to wrap it up instead inside the godless thugs – sometimes real, sometimes not – who embraced it abroad. What could be more un-American?

This was chiefly a marketing ploy, and probably an unnecessary one at that, as communist experiments – again, in the form of economic systems – had limited successes and some spectacular failures. The Soviet Union did rapidly grow from an agrarian economy into a superpower (albeit not an economic one) in very short time, in part through a planned economy. However, that same system later became so ossified that the country ultimately collapsed around it. Toward the end, workers used to joke about the sham command economy in which they were stuck, saying, “We pretend to work, and the government pretends to pay us”. Often that wasn’t so far from the truth. Likewise, it would be hard to make a real compelling argument for Mao’s Great Leap Forward – a collectivization program that wiped out twenty or thirty million Chinese peasants – over Deng Xiaoping’s turn to the market, which has made the Chinese economy a gale force storm for three decades now, with political and military power following closely in its wake.

We in the US are now being treated to a similar experiment in economic ideology, though it is neither new nor, at the end of the day, actually ideological. More on that later. For now, though, in the spirit of my good friends on the right, I propose that we give this program the name it properly deserves: Reaganism-Bushism.

While China has been growing into an economic powerhouse these last thirty years, America, under the sway of Reaganism-Bushism, has become the economic equivalent of a Midwestern town decimated by a crystal meth epidemic. Nor are the two likely unrelated, particularly when dealing devastating drugs is the sole economic opportunity on the landscape, and doing those drugs is the sole escape from that personal blight.

In any case, that’s our national story. We’re the country that is losing its teeth, blasting its brain cells, rotting its body, and stealing everything not bolted down in order to feed its greed habit. Now, as credit crises explode around us and our housing bubble pops and we’ve run out of foreigners and domestics to exploit and the future and the past from which we’ve borrowed so heavily are both calling in their chits – now we are the crystal meth country. Survey the economic, social, political and moral landscape and cringe. Look what Reaganism-Bushism has wrought.

Reaganism-Bushism markets itself as a real economic ideology with real principles, but the truth is all that’s just for the consumption of the hoi polloi. As a Madison Avenue – or P.T. Barnum – scheme it’s rather more complex than that. As a set of economic principles, it’s far less so.

Because your education in self-destructive political foolishness is not yet complete, it remains necessary to pretend that this is a real ideology with real economic principles that are actually adhered to. You know, stuff like ‘market discipline’ and the ‘invisible hand’, which only ever seem to apply to the already vulnerable, not to the friendly rich people forever espousing these ideas. In truth, there actually are a set of operating principles here. Just not the ones that are advertised.

Principle Number One is that only a fool believes that the government is an instrument whose purpose is to insure the safety and welfare of the people living within the country’s borders. In actuality, the government is a giant cash cow – in fact, the biggest of them all. Yes, its purpose is in fact redistribution of wealth, just not in the southerly direction favored during the more quaint times of our youth. Now it’s all about aggregating what’s left of meager middle-class earnings through tax collections and then redistributing it to the already fabulously wealthy folks of the richest one percent of the population. (Actually, even many of those are pikers compared to the real money in this country, the top one-tenth of a percent who have their fingers really deep into the pie.) But, of course, since this is fundamentally an exercise in wanton societal destruction, the cash cow is probably the wrong mammalian metaphor for the crisis in question. What we’re actually talking about here is geese, as in the kind that lay golden eggs. Or, at least, do so until you slit open their bellies.

But even steering fat, no-bid, no supervision, secret contracts to favored corporations in order to pay for military hardware we don’t need, or services in Iraq that aren’t actually provided, is not enough. (Did you see the New York Times cover story about American soldiers being electrocuted because of shoddy contractor work? Or the one about the Army employee who got reassigned when he questioned Kellogg, Brown and Root’s non-performance there?) So Principle Number Two is to never let economic realities that would deter mere mortals prevent you from maximum possible aggrandizement. In short, steal from your own kids.

The only thing more amazing about regressive-created deficits to finance bloated and unnecessary government spending is the fact that conservatives have until very recently somehow still prevailed in the political marketing wars sufficiently that Americans saw them as the folks who are most fiscally responsible. Considering the record of our most conservative presidents (and the ideological namesakes in question), this is truly an astonishing feat. Ronald Reagan, who castigated Jimmy Carter in 1980 for economic mismanagement, including excessive deficits, proceeded to quadruple the national debt when he came to office. Anyone could see it coming, too. In fact, George Herbert Walker Bush, when he was fighting Reagan for the nomination that year, called the latter’s patently unbalanced economic agenda of military build-up, massive tax cuts and a balanced budget, “voodoo economics”. In one of the greatest sell-outs of all history, however, Poppy Bush put his personal interest over our national interest, and become strangely silent on the matter after Reagan put him on the ticket as vice-presidential nominee, opening the way for him to ultimately win the presidency.

Meanwhile, not to be outdone by his daddy or Saint Ron, Lil’ Bush has turned the greatest budget surplus in American history into the greatest deficit ever. His pals in Congress, always railing about Democratic fiscal irresponsibility, broke every imaginable record for doling out the self-serving pork once they got control of the national piggy bank. The national debt is now well over nine trillion bucks, and fast rising. If Bush’s tax cuts (actually tax burden transfers, from the wealthy to the middle class, and from this generation to the next) are renewed, it will be far worse still. If the alternate minimum tax is properly adjusted, even worse yet. And we know about the time-bomb of entitlement benefits for retiring Baby Boomers that will soon hit us. What most Americans don’t know is that regressives have spent the last decades using their voodoo economics to raid those funds, in order to help keep the general budget deficits from being even worse, thus turning a time-bomb into a nuclear stockpile, about to explode.

So Reaganism-Bushism Principle Number One is use the people’s government to steal everything you can from them. Principle Number Two is to use deficit spending to steal from their children as well. (Can’t you just see the commercial: “Why wait, when you can bilk it now?!”) Principle Number Three is to destroy as much of the social safety net as you possibly can. After all, some Honest John knuckleheads out there are still going to be fiscally responsible enough to want to pay for what we spend, and if they go looking around for potential tax revenue, guess where they might see a whole lot of it lurking about, untouched? So, welfare programs gotta go. Social Security? Gotta go, though of course you can’t just kill middle class programs like you can for the poor, so you have to pretend your privatization plan is a reform to make the program solvent. National healthcare? Yeah, right. And, if you do have to add a prescription drug benefit because of the need to pander to seniors, make sure it’s written to line the pockets of Big Pharma and Big Insurance so heavily that their pants fall down around their ankles. Don’t worry, they have plenty of servants they can get to pull them back up.

The fourth precept of Reaganism-Bushism is an extension of the first three. Once you’ve exhausted your exploitation of the folks at home and their children, why stop? Americans are only five percent of the world’s population. That leaves a whole world of nice vulnerable people to exploit economically!! And politically. And physically. Can you say “Pinochet”? “The Shah”? “Apartheid”? “Contras”? “Marcos”? And lots more where those good old boys came from. Regressives didn’t prop up those bloody dictators because they were great lovers of democracy, or even because of some concern about communist incursions into the ‘free’ world. They did it because all you had to do was enrich these tinhorns and stroke their egos in order guarantee their assistance in the pillaging of their own people. In Grant’s era, or even Hoover’s, all plunder was local – or at least mostly. Reagan and Bush have taken the hunt for spoils truly global.

But why stop with people, even 6.5 billion of them? There’s an entire landscape to be raped! Doing so with wanton disregard for the consequences is Principle Number Five. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, one of the surprises for people in the West, not to mention many in the East, was the degree of environmental annihilation that had taken place. In the race to seek industrial parity with the West, the cheapest way for the Soviets and their allies to get the job done was to ignore environmental impacts of any sort. So that’s just what they did, to devastating consequences. The rest of the world is likely to be having a similar experience pretty soon. Whether it’s mountain leveling, or rainforest obliteration, or gargantuan industrialized outdoor cattle toilets, or sticking the planet in the pot and leaving it there on a low boil, the world is beginning to find out what happens when the captains of industry exploit the planet’s resources while leaving the ‘externalities’ for the rest of us to clean up. And what happens when right-wing politicians who are supposed to be regulating them in the public interest instead serve the special interests. Hint: It ain’t pretty. When it comes to regressive politics in America today, nothing is sacred, not even the ground you walk upon, the water you drink or the air you breathe.

Finally, Reaganism-Bushism Principle Number Six is that war is not healthy for children and other living things, except rich people getting even richer from it. So be sure to have lots of war. Or, at the very least, lots of spending on war goodies. Right now, the US not only spends more on ‘defense’ than any other country, it spends more – and it’s not even close – than every other country in the world, combined! And there are 195 of them or so, if you’re keeping score. And our great national threat is…? Nazi Germany? Nah. Stalin’s Soviet Union? Nope. It’s a guy with a beard holed up in the mountains of Pakistan, and a few other folks like him. (Or, at least it used to be a few, until we had the bright idea of launching the Al Qaeda Hyperdrive Recruitment Program, aka the Iraq War.) Meanwhile, gee, I don’t know. Is it just me, or does this seem like a grossly disproportionate amount of money to spend on privately produced military hardware, especially when our medical, education and infrastructural systems are crumbling at home? I guess it’s just all a big coincidence that we spend so much on military hardware while the fat-cats bankrolling regressive politicians are getting rich from the war toys the latter then turn around and purchase from the former.

All that said, the above itemization of Reaganism-Bushism’s key ideological principles absolutely gives the creed far too much credit. That’s because this is no ideology at all, even a bad one. In actuality, it is a prescription for pillaging and kleptocracy, wrapped in an ideological cloak to give it legitimacy. They need to market it that way because it’s a little early yet in the Dumbification of America campaign for them to come right out and tell you that war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength. Only Republican voters are quite so intoxicated to believe that already, and lots of them have been falling off the wagon lately. So, instead, they have to give you this looting of your own wallet and the tattering of your moral map all gussied up as a real, bona fide economic ideology.

You know: Free trade raises prosperity for everyone! Tax cuts benefit the country and even raise governmental revenues! Government regulation is evil! A skyrocketing wealth gap is just the natural product of entrpreneurial dynamism! And social programs to assist the poor, elderly and the middle class sap the moral strength of the country! Then they go find some loopy economist like Arthur Laffer to legitimate completely counter-intuitive ideas by publishing some fancy graphs in some backward academic journal. Never mind that your wallet gets lighter every year – you’ve got to stick with this economic program because it’s the American Way, and anything else is some commie plot.

Marxism-Leninism may be a dead ideology (or it may not), relegated to the ash heap of history, but at least it sprang from an altruistic motivation. Marx wasn’t sitting in the British Museum all day long figuring out how he could get rich by exploiting the masses. Reaganism-Bushism was always just the opposite – it’s just as non-altruistic a program as thievery always was, whatever fancy label you want to paste on it, however much lipstick you slather on the pig. Just as evil as slavery, colonialism, worker exploitation and environmental depredation ever were.

And just as much a real ideology as any emperor’s fine set of new clothes.

David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers’ reactions to his articles (dmg@regressiveantidote.net), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website, http://www.regressiveantidote.net.

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

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From Marx to Morales: Indigenous Socialism & the Latin Americanization of Marxism

Diligent Democrats Demonstrate Dumbness Daily By David Michael Green

Dandelion Salad

By David Michael Green
08/02/08 “
ICH

Particide In Six Easy Steps

Suppose you had a political party you were trying to get rid of. How would you do it?

Would you give it some cement shoes and toss it into the bay? Would you roll it up in a carpet and drag it into the trunk of your car in the middle of the night? Would you put out a contract on it?

If the latter sounds appealing, no need to get your hands dirty messing with any nasty mob guys from Jersey. I know some very upstanding establishment folks who’ve perfected a killer formula (pun intended) for particide. They’re called Democrats, and they know how to get the job done right.

In fact, they’ve demonstrated it again for the umpteenth time just as I’m writing these words. Yesterday, that tough guy Harry Reid laid down the law for congressional Republicans thinking he wouldn’t play hardball on the much-needed economic stimulus package now working its way through Congress. He told them: “Well, I think that if they think this is a bluff, wait until we have this vote and they’ll find out if it’s a bluff. I’m not much of a bluffer.” Then, today, he completely caved into their pressure on the bill, proving – though perhaps not quite in the manner he intended – that he is in fact not much of a bluffer, after all, even if he is from Nevada. Nor, as it turns out, is he much of a negotiator either.

Yep, ladies and gentlemen, if it’s particide you’re after, Reid and his fellow Democrats would be happy to show you how it’s done. It’s pretty simple, really. There are just six easy steps that you need to follow to take out a political party that’s grown a bit, shall we say, inconvenient.

First of all, make sure it does nothing. If you’re looking for a good way to anger voters, here’s the best. Have them send you to Congress to address a host of their urgent concerns. Let them invest their full faith in you to rescue them from all the effects of a country gone completely off the rails. Let them believe and let them hope. Then do nothing. Crush their pedestrian little dreams in your blood-soaked hands by protecting corporate interests instead. Spend two years racking up not a single notable legislative accomplishment, and then go before the voters asking for another term. They’ll remember your name.

A second excellent technique is to fail to block the worst tendencies of the worst president ever, the very mission you were most entrusted with by the voters. If they hate this president’s stinking war, make sure you give him the money for it every time he asks. Send all his reactionary nominees to the Supreme Court after they mock you in bullshit hearings. Yeah, go ahead. Allow a supporter of torture and Constitution-shredding to become the highest law enforcement officer in the land. Etc., etc. Get it? Sure, you can go through the motions of opposition, but at the end of the day, be sure to bungle it so badly that you leave everybody scratching their heads and wondering which party actually controls Congress.

Next, while you’re at it, don’t do anything to make this hated president and his administration accountable for their manifold crimes of the century. Treat them as though they’ve got pictures of you in some airport men’s room somewhere that they’re threatening to release if you dare do anything remotely resembling oversight (or patriotism). Let these guys absolutely run rampant thrashing the republic in every imaginable way, while you sit on top of your congressional majority abdicating any responsibility for protecting the people who sent you there to protect them. Show the public how tough you can be by investigating the use of steroids in baseball, while lies about war and illegal phone-tapping and torture and suspension of habeas corpus go ignored. Keep your priorities straight and you’re guaranteed to score points with the voters, for sure.

Of course, not only must you fail to oppose an insane kleptocratic dictator, but it’s crucial that you also have absolutely no program or ideas of your own to offer. I mean, who can’t never not get no excitement going about nothing? Er, something like that… Anyhow, the point is that a political party without ideas is like a car without wheels. And it will go just about as far, too. If you want to get rid of your party, be sure to be about nothing whatsoever.

And yet, even while trying to be the Seinfeld of political parties, you will no doubt sometimes accidentally advance some sort of popular idea or another, despite yourself. You know, like a million monkeys at a keyboard… When these inadvertently beneficial bills are immediately destroyed by the obstructionist minority party – who continually overuse and abuse parliamentary tactics you (of course) never dreamed of all those years when you were in the minority – make sure that nobody in the voting public knows about it. You could run around screaming about them continually blocking you from doing the people’s business, but that would only increase public sympathy for you. And since you’re trying to kill your party, you surely won’t want to do that. No, like a good Democrat, you want to make sure the other guys never have to pay for their crimes.

Finally, one of the very best things you can do to destroy a political party is to avoid at all costs articulating an alternative narrative. Play ball on their turf! Let the other guys define the issues, frame the discussion, and paint you in the worst possible light – as deviants, traitors, cowards and haters of your own country! Now you’re talkin’, my friend. You want your house robbed right? Hand the door key to the thieves! You want your car crashed properly? Park it on railroad tracks! You want your party rubbed out completely? Let the other guys make the rules, fool! Heck, if you really want to make sure of your party’s demise, you can even encourage them to steal elections you’ve actually won! It worked in Florida and Ohio!

If these six steps seem like a ridiculously reliable way to destroy a political party, that’s because they are. Still, they may not be entirely infallible. This year will be the acid test.

The good folks running the Democratic Party have assiduously followed the above formula to the letter, carefully dotting every ‘i’ and crossing every ‘t’. But damned if the recalcitrant right isn’t failing to play ball! What’s up with that? Have Republicans become so intractable nowadays that they’re even blocking the Democrats’ own self-induced demise? Is destruction obstruction the latest GOP game?

Or are Republicans just following their own particide formula, which – needless to say, like everything they do – is more disciplined and effective than even this fine blueprint belonging to Dumb Dems’? It kinda looks like it, after all. Consider their prescription: Take the biggest surplus in the history of the federal government and turn it into the biggest deficit. Fight a hugely unpopular war. Get caught lying about the rationale for it. Block efforts to save the planet from a looming environmental crisis, while pretending it isn’t real. Allow religious crazies to deny effective medical treatment to suffering humans in order to protect about-to-be-destroyed blastocysts. Get caught in all manner of corruption and sexual ‘deviancy’ while interminably preaching your own holier-than-thou sanctimonious purity. Shred the Constitution in every way imaginable. Load the government up with every incompetent low-wattage political hack you can find stuck behind a church pew somewhere. Make the whole world hate us. Use the federal government to prosecute people on the basis of their party affiliation. Stand by and watch one of the country’s major cities drown. Destroy a foreign country. Destroy the middle class of your own country. Be asleep at the wheel (at best) when the country is attacked. Fail to come even close to winning a war against the people you blame for that attack. And so on…

Quite a litany, eh? Yet, for all their best efforts, Republicans still can’t seem to get the Democrats to put the GOP out of its stinking misery. Still can’t get them to investigate. Still can’t get them to impeach. Still can’t get them to win. So now Republicans have brought out the big guns, engineering what looks like a massive economic recession on top of everything else. And they’re throwing people out of their homes in droves so that Wall Street can profit even more. Right before an election, too!

Yes, indeed. These guys aren’t messing around. Democrats seeking to kill their party are going to have to work extra hard in 2008, that’s for sure! Six steps may not be enough. If Democrats want to rub themselves out this year, they may need a seventh.

Get on their knees and beg the public not to vote for them? Nah. Too subtle.

Change their name to the Socialist Party? Nah. It might actually increase their share of votes.

Have their own sex scandals? Nah. Been there, done that.

Something else is going to be required to kill the party off for sure this year.

Oh, I know! They could nominate Hillary Clinton!

David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers’ reactions to his articles (dmg@regressiveantidote.net), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website, www.regressiveantidote.net.


FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

You’re Damn Right I’m Angry. Why Isn’t Everybody? By David Michael Green

Dandelion Salad

By David Michael Green
12/29/07 “ICH

I write articles each week with titles like “Everything I Need to Know About the Regressive Right I Learned In Junior High,“ or “Conservatism Is Politics For Kindergartners,“ or “Schadenfreude Is My Middle Name.“

I regret doing so very much. Believe it or not, I really don’t like spewing venom, sarcasm and rage all over my computer keyboard.

I particularly don’t like it because I have friends who are conservative, and it’s not my nature to trash-talk anybody, let alone friends.

Indeed, none of this is in my nature. I don’t start fights and I don’t go looking for them. I’m not an angry, bitter or mean-spirited person. But I can understand how I might be seen as such in the absence of the appropriate context, and it truly chagrins me that I might be so misperceived, and so negatively.

But I don’t intend to change, and I don’t intend to stop making the arguments contained in my rants. I’m angry for a very good set of reasons, and I’m angry because I care about my country just the way conservatives claim to. I’m angry, in short, because I’m a patriot and defender of the ideas that America is supposed to stand for. And what I really want to know is why those on the right aren’t equally outraged?

I was a teenager when Nixon was being Nixon, destroying democracy at home, napalming civilians in Vietnam, conducting secret wars in Laos and Cambodia, employing racism to win elections. At that age I knew enough to dislike what I saw (and what I learned of what Nixon and McCarthy had done to innocent Americans even earlier, before I was born, in order to serve their political ambitions), but I didn’t know enough yet to feel genuine rage at what regressives were doing to my country and to the world.

I began to experience those feelings in my twenties, first as truly sociopathically insane gun laws in this country helped to claim the life of John Lennon, and then as Ronald Reagan began to systematically turn his back on the poor and the middle-class in order to further enrich the country’s already wealthy economic elites. I also felt deep shame and outrage that America – the country that had supported if not literally created every two-bit dictator in Latin America, ‘our backyard’, (and well beyond) for a century – began to murder Nicaraguan peasants in order to halt their struggle to free themselves from the economic and political tyranny of one of those Washington-run caudillo clients, the sickening Somoza regime.

Then I watched in disgust as Newt Gingrich and his merry band of infantile hypocrites impeached a president for lying about a consensual sexual affair, while they were themselves all doing worse, like dumping a wife while she was lying in her hospital bed recovering from cancer surgery, or fathering children with a mistress, or carrying on many years-long affairs.

All of this was truly noxious. Nothing to that point had prepared me, however, for the regressive politics of our time. And they have turned me very angry indeed.

Regressives like to call people like me Bush-haters, and so it is important to address that claim before proceeding, because the entire intent of hurling that label at the president’s critics is to undermine their credibility. If you simply hate the man, they imply, you’re not rational, and your critiques can be dismissed. But it isn’t that simple – not by a long shot. First, it should be noted that the regressive right is far wider a phenomenon than just one person. It currently includes an entire executive branch administration, almost (and, just a year ago, more than) half of Congress, a majority of the Supreme Court and probably a majority of the lower federal courts, a biased-to-the-point-of-being-a-joke mainstream media, and tons of lobbyists, think tanks and profitable industries.

But as to George W. Bush, himself, I suspect it’s quite fair to say that most Americans and even most progressives did not originally despise or loathe him. I didn’t. I certainly didn’t admire the guy, nor did I think he was remotely prepared to be president of the United States. (Nor, by the way, was I particularly impressed with Al Gore in 2000.) Bush campaigned as a center-right pragmatist (a “compassionate conservative”, in his words), much as his father had been, and I expected that’s how he would govern if elected. You know, more embarrassing most of the time than truly destructive.

I mention all this because it is important to note what has – and what has not – been responsible for my/our anger, and to make clear that attempts to dismiss that anger as some Bush-hating bias or predisposition are false, a ploy to destroy the messenger when one doesn’t care for the message he’s carrying. If Bush had governed like he campaigned I’m sure I would have disliked him, but neither hated him nor his policies, nor experienced the rage that I feel about what he’s done to the country and the world. Frankly, my feelings toward another center-right Bush presidency would have likely been largely the same as my feelings toward the center-right Clinton presidency which preceded it.

But he hasn’t governed anywhere near to how he campaigned, and he wasn’t even elected properly, and I do in fact feel huge anger at the damage done. Moreover, I cannot for the life of me imagine how anyone – even conservatives – could feel differently. Even the wealthy, to whose interests this presidency is so wholly devoted, have to sleep at night. Even they have children who will inherit a broken country existing in an environmentally and politically hostile world, though no doubt they figure that big enough fences, mean enough private armies, and loads of central air conditioning will insulate them from the damage.

I don’t mind that the Bush campaign fought hard to win the 2000 election. That was certainly a legitimate goal for them to pursue. But it nauseates me beyond belief that their agents in the Florida government disenfranchised tens of thousands of African Americans in order to keep them from voting Democratic. And it sickens me that they gathered up a bunch of congressional staffers pretending to be an angry local mob and stormed election canvassers, using pure Gestapo techniques to shut down the most fundamental act of democracy, counting the votes.

I don’t mind that the Bush campaign took the election to the Supreme Court, even though they were simultaneously accusing the Gore folks of being litigious. What disgusts me beyond words is that a regressive majority of the Court anointed Bush president in a sheer act of partisan politics. And that they were so anxious to achieve that end that they repudiated all their own judicial politics previously espoused in case after case – from states’ rights, to equal protection, to judicial restraint. And that they were so conscious of what they were actually doing that they took the unprecedented step of stating that no lasting principles were involved in the matter, that their decision would forever apply to this case and this case only.

Once in office, there was still the possibility that the administration would govern as it had campaigned, as a rather centrist, status quo-style government, perhaps especially tempered from arrogance and overstretch by the knowledge that the country was deeply divided and that Bush had in fact actually lost the popular vote. In fact, though, they did precisely the opposite.

The first order of business, certainly the top priority for the administration, and arguably the only thing they were ever completely seriously about, was their tax restructuring program. It was grim enough that the tax cuts, as under Reagan, where dramatically tilted in favor of the wealthy. But what made them especially disgusting was that – again, as under Reagan – these wholesale revenue reductions were not only not accompanied by expenditure cuts, but in fact were coupled with increased spending. Can you say “voodoo economics”? Bush’s father once had, before he treasonously changed his tune to win the vice presidency (leading to the presidency) for himself. But he was right the first time, before he put personal ambition and transparent insecurity ahead of the national interest. And thus we’ve witnessed the only possible result of the combination of massive revenue cuts and continuing spending increases: astronomical debt, now well over nine trillion dollars in total, and rapidly growing. What I want to know is how can we – especially so-called family-oriented, so-called fiscal conservatives – not be outraged, not be scandalized, not be boiling with anger at the debt we have transferred to our own children, all so that we could avoid paying our own way, like every generation before us has?

I am outraged as well at how the administration polarized the country in the wake of one of the greatest traumas it had ever experienced. Let us leave aside the ample evidence demonstrating that the Bush team was asleep at the wheel before 9/11 – or perhaps far, far worse – a set of facts which is noteworthy in part because progressives did not use them to attack the president and score cheap but easy political points. But the administration did precisely that. It is disgusting – and it fills me with anger – how they used a national security crisis to win partisan political contests. How they scheduled a vote on the Iraq war resolution right before the midterm elections of 2002, thus politicizing the gravest decision a country can make by forcing Democrats to choose between voting their conscience and campaign accusations of being soft on national security.

It boils my blood that these chickenhawks – almost none of whom showed up for duty in Vietnam when it was their turn – could dare to accuse Max Cleland of being weak on national security, a guy who gave three of his four limbs to that very cause on the battlefields of Southeast Asia. How could they run ads morphing his face into Saddam’s or bin Laden’s, when his opponent – of course – took Vietnam deferments, just like Cheney and Ashcroft and the rest? And how could they accuse him of being weak on national defense because he opposed the bureaucratic reshuffling to create the Homeland Security Department, when Bush himself had also opposed it? That is, before Rove politicized it by inserting union-busting language applying to tens of thousands of civil servants covered by the act.

It nauseates me beyond words that this president could use the tragedy of 9/11 to justify invading a country which had nothing to do with that attack whatsoever. It enrages me that those who had the courage to oppose this policy so transparently deceitful (and it truly was – from the proof of the Downing Street Memos, to Colin Powell’s charade at the UN, to the assurances that the US knew where the WMD were, to the rejection of the weapons inspectors’ request to have two more months to finish the job) were labeled as traitors and worse for telling the truth. And that 4,000 Americans and over a million Iraqis have died for these lies.

And speaking of treason, what sort of looking glass have we all fallen through when the government of the United States exposes its own CIA undercover agent in order to punish her spouse for revealing administration lies about the war? When did that cease to be a cause of outrage, especially among our super-patriotic friends on the right?

How is it possible not to be angry looking at the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, and the bungled response of the government before, during and after that tragedy? Indeed, even journalists who had spent so many years licking government boots that their tongues had long ago turned black were moved to outrage at the magnitude of that failure, with the president meanwhile on a stage in San Diego pretending to play guitar at a Republican fundraiser.

I am outraged, as well, by one of the most insane and avoidable tragedies of all human history, the slow-motion holocaust of global warming. How can anyone not be angry at a political movement and a government that puts the short-term profits of one or two industries ahead of the viability of the entire planet? How can anyone not be mortified as we one-twentieth of the world’s population, who generate one-fourth of the greenhouse gases causing the problem, not only do nothing about the problem, but actively block the rest of the world from saving all of us from this folly?

I’m furious because the Bush administration and its ideological allies have shredded the Constitution at every turn, destroying the institutional gift of those they pretend to revere (but only when it’s convenient to upholding their own depredations). This president, who has gotten virtually everything he has ever wanted throughout his life and his presidency, once privately exclaimed in frustration at not getting something he wanted when he wanted it, “It’s just a goddam piece of paper!”, and that is precisely how he has treated America’s founding document. His signing statements – probably over a thousand in count now – completely obliterate the checks and balances principle of the Constitution, its most central idea. His admitted spying on Americans without warrant smashes the Fourth Amendment. His fiasco in Guantánamo and beyond mocks due process and habeas corpus guarantees. His invasion of Iraq against the international law codified in the UN Charter, to which the United States is a signatory, violates the Constitutional requirement to hold such treaties as the highest law of the land. Altogether, Americans have never seen a presidency with such imperial ambitions, and anyone who cares about the Constitution should be furious. A year from now, it is quite possible that Hillary Clinton will be president of the United States (ugh). Would our conservative friends silently countenance, let alone viciously support, such a monarchy in the White House if it belonged to Queen Hillary rather than King George? I think not.

We could go on and on from here. This administration and the movement it fronts at least gets high marks for consistency. Everything they touch turns to stone. There’s Pat Tillman and Terri Schiavo. There’s the politicization of the US Attorneys and the corruption of DeLay and Abramoff. There’s North Korea, Pakistan and the Middle East. There’s the shame of torture and rendition. There’s the wrecking of the American military and of the country’s reputation abroad. There’s Afghanistan and the failure to capture bin Laden. And much, much more. But above all, and driving all, there’s the kleptocracy – the doing of everything in every way to facilitate the looting of the national fisc.

What an unbelievable record of deceit, destruction, hypocrisy, incompetence, treason and greed. What a tragic tale of debt, lost wars, stolen elections, environmental crises, Constitution shredding, national shame and diminished security.

All done by the very most pious amongst us, of course. Merry Christmas, eh? I guess those are our presents, all carefully wrapped in spin, contempt, and preemptive attacks on any of us impertinent enough to say “No thanks, Santa”.

So, yeah, you’re goddamn right I’m angry about what’s been done to my country, and what’s been done by my country in my name.

How could anyone who claims to care about America not be?

David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers’ reactions to his articles (dmg@regressiveantidote.net), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website, www.regressiveantidote.net


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If Conservatism Is The Ideology of Freedom, I’m The Queen of England by David Michael Green

Dandelion Salad

by David Michael Green


I wish I had a nickel for every time a conservative told a lie in order to sell an ideology that would otherwise be hopelessly unappealing.

Continue reading

Murdering Butter with Guns By David Michael Green

Dandelion Salad

By David Michael Green
10/05/07 “
ICH

A funny thing happened on the way to the White House in 1981.

Ronald Reagan had been talking throughout the previous year’s campaign about taking a meat-axe to federal taxes (and therefore, also, revenue, but that part somehow never got mentioned), about massively increasing military spending, and about balancing the budget. And doing all at once, no less.

Even a Republican could figure out – if they allowed themselves to – that the numbers couldn’t possibly add up. Indeed, no less a Goppy than Poppy (one George Herbert Walker Bush) referred to this preposterous suite of promises as “voodoo economics”. Er, he did that is, during the primaries, when he was competing with Reagan for the nomination. Once he had lost and was hungering for the newly nice and oh-so wise Saint Ron to offer him the vice-presidency, he all of a sudden became strangely silent on the topic, reminding the rest of us once again what is mankind’s second-oldest profession – a gig very much not unlike the first.

The mystery of how Reagan could possibly do all of these things was finally solved when the administration proposed its first budget and he absolutely didn’t. It couldn’t, of course, and not only did Reagan fail to balance the federal budget as promised, he actually went on to quadruple the national debt, choosing instead to avidly pursue the two more important remaining goals of his troika, tax-slashing and military spending.

Many people wondered at the time how the Republican Party could sustain this debt-crazed apostasy (not to mention hypocrisy), particularly after so many years of hammering the Democrats as “tax-and-spend liberals”. (Oh, and by-the-way Item Number One: The numbers involved would pale against those of today’s borrow-spend-and-giveaway Republicans.) (Oh, and by-the-way Item Number Two: Nevertheless, in an attempt to demonstrate that there truly is absolutely no bottom whatsoever to the well of GOP hypocrisy, this week we have Righteous George, Protector of the Purse, vetoing S-CHIP legislation and replaying the party’s tired old and now jaw-droppingly absurd tune as he claims that the Democratic Congress is being profligate with the public’s tax dollars. No-bid billions for the Blackwater black-hole? Absolutely. Money for sick kids? Irresponsible!)

When Reagan first went down this path it was so weird that a conspiracy theory of sorts arose. The notion was that Republicans knew they could not possibly go through the front door to successfully kill popular programs like Social Security and Medicare, even if they were willing to risk political suicide to do so. So Reagan’s agenda was a back-door approach, instead. Driving up the debt to completely unsustainable levels, the story went, America would be faced with a series of uncomfortable choices as collectors came demanding their payments. The country could either raise taxes, cut military spending, or slash social programs. The idea was that, of the three, the last of these would seem to the public like the least worst choice. And then conservatives could surreptitiously achieve a long-held goal, best expressed by Grover Norquist, right-wing tax crusader extraordinaire: “I don’t want to abolish government, I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” By “government”, of course, he means the parts that help people, not the parts that kill people. For the right, those parts are okay. If not beloved.

Perhaps this conspiracy was real all along. Boy Bush has made Reagan look like Leona Helmsley’s accounts-payable supervisor by comparison when it came to deficit spending, managing to borrow more than all other American presidents (that’s 42 of them, if you’re keeping score here), combined. Ouch. That’s a lot of cash, dude. Indeed, about nine trillion bucks or so now on the national credit card, and rapidly rising. Plus, of course, interest. Trust me, you don’t want to be handed the bill for this party of the millennium, and neither do your children (”Excuse me, you did what to us?”).

But even if the alleged conspiracy was actually real, it seems likely to have been a bad bet all along. That is, I don’t think it’s a given that, presented with these three options, Americans would necessarily acquiesce to the destruction of the country’s social safety net, especially the massive cohort of Baby Boomers who are just now approaching the age where their hands are going to be extended outward, palm up. I think that given such a stark choice, something miraculous might occur. Americans might choose to finally give up their empire instead, just as the British did when they could no longer afford to pay for both guns and butter after the two world wars. This conservative plan, if it was ever real, could backfire quite nicely into forcing the country to think seriously about excessive military spending for the first time since World War II, and then perhaps to, in the words of Colin Powell, “cut it off, and then … kill it”.

To see what I mean, let’s pull Joe Six Pack – or preferably, the Baby Boomer version of Joe Six Pack (Joe Dime Bag?) – off the street and ask him some basic questions about his priorities for American government:

Joe, which would you prefer, to receive your Social Security payments, or to bring democracy to the Middle East (even assuming it could be done by American military force, which it quite clearly cannot)?

Which would you prefer, Joe, to fully fund Medicare, or to protect the ability of American corporations to pillage third world countries unhampered by inconveniences like, say, the governments of those countries?

Which would you prefer, education for your children and grandchildren, or continued tax breaks for Americans who are already fabulously wealthy?

Which would you prefer, national infrastructure that isn’t crumbling, or corporate welfare programs for well connected defense industry firms?

These may seem like tongue in cheek pokes at America’s national priorities, but they will actually become very real choices in the near future, especially if there is a progressive party or other force in America able to articulate the obvious options, and provided the the word can get out. Given the performance of the Democratic Party and the media of late, these are far from foregone conclusions. (Heck, I’m far from even being convinced that Bush and Cheney will actually leave office on January 20, 2009. Watch for them to pull a Putin.) But apart from those major caveats, these questions will rapidly become all too real.

When the bill for the fiscal blow out comes due, hard choices are going to have to be made. Americans are not big on taxes, but they don’t support the idea of the rich getting a free ride. That hard choice is likely to be an easy choice.

Americans will never accept a weak defense apparatus that leaves the country vulnerable to attack. But beyond that, they may well finally be open to some thoughtful discussion about what is needed to achieve that end – and where the rest of the money is going – especially if such a dialogue is prompted by the requirements imposed by an encroaching reality, forcing decisions like the ones posited above.

Right now, it’s a safe guess that the public has only the vaguest notion of the costs and capacities of the American military, especially in any relative sense. Most people probably understand that the United States has the most powerful military in the world, and they support that. On the other hand, they might well be horrified to learn just how expensive that military is, how ridiculously disproportionate it is to the others in the world, and how removed those costs are from any real threat facing the country. In times of plenty – or faux plenty – when your government is giving you tax money back even while it is fighting two wars simultaneously, those questions don’t need to be asked (or at least one can be so deluded into thinking). But those days will soon be gone, and – as they say – payback’s a bitch.

It’s harder than might be imagined to track federal expenditures, because there are lots of accounting choices (and nifty tricks, if you so desire to trick people) involved. But, near as I can tell, the US is now contemplating a budget of $672 billion this year for ‘defense’. That, by the way, is up from $385 billion in 2000, measured in constant (2007) dollars. And that, of course, is nearly a doubling, from what was already a huge amount. These numbers don’t include the costs of past wars (principally debt from loans), estimated in 2006 to be about $264 billion. If you add that figure to the $572 spent last year for last year’s military, you get $837 billion spent on the military in 2006, or 41 percent of the federal budget.

How does that stack up comparatively? Social Security took $595 billion in 2006. Twelve percent of the budget went to poverty initiatives, five percent to community and economic development, and two percent to science, energy and environmental programs.

How does that stack up internationally? In 2004, while the rest of the world’s military expenditures equaled $500 billion, the US was spending $534 billion. That is to say, more than all the rest of the entire world. Combined.

Americans might even be fine with a military budget that dwarfs the sum total for entire rest of the world – nearly 200 other countries – assuming unlimited resources to provide butter as well as guns (though if they knew the relative figure was quite that big, they might choke a bit on the expenditures even with low taxes and adequate social spending). But when you reach the point where you start having to choose one or the other – a point we actually reached long ago, but have hidden from ourselves by borrowing – everything is different, hence the above alternatives for Joe Six-Pack to ponder.

What is sorely missing today, and would be even more so at the moment when our fiscal recklessness is no longer sustainable even under conditions of mass societal hallucination, is simply a rational discussion of the purposes of the United States military. Once that happens, programmatic and budgetary choices then follow in the logical order which they should in any universe where people are even remotely in touch with reality.

In fact, the current military budget could easily be slashed, because the only reason for its ridiculously bloated proportions is to pursue missions far beyond those Americans would support even during conditions of plenty, let alone when the alternative becomes giving up their expected benefits.

If we think about military priorities from the ground up, without any built-in assumptions, and without the necessity of maintaining existing programs on the basis of inertia alone, I don’t think we’d get very far before the public would shout out “enough”, especially if they were faced with the choice of having their Social Security checks bounce in order to instead fund some obscure military objective on behalf of corporate interests in Burkina Faso.

What do Americans want? They want defense, in the true meaning of the word. To begin with, I have little doubt that Americans would be willing to spend whatever it takes to defend American soil from foreign attack. When it comes to state-based violence, that need could be fairly easily addressed by a nuclear deterrent force a tenth of the size of the current one, along with a moderate contingent of land and naval forces. The cost of these represent a small fraction of the current total military budget. No country is ever going to attack the United States in either a traditional operation using conventional forces or by means of non-conventional weapons, of course, because to do so would mean their instant obliteration. Whatever else one can say about nuclear weapons and all the real and potential horrors of mass annihilation, they do give pause to those who would contemplate an attack, in all but the most dire conflicts or screw-ups. (And this works both ways, of course. It is no accident that the US never attacked the Soviet Union or China, for instance, or that Bush did go into Iraq, but not North Korea.) Perhaps some day nuclear weapons can be eliminated from the planet. In the meantime, though, a small quantity of them could form part of a defense structure that permitted the US to dramatically cut military spending while allowing Americans to feel secure from external threat.

Americans would also support, I think, the military having the capability to respond to certain emergencies abroad – say, enough force for the early stages of a scenario where an ally was invaded, or US diplomats or nationals needed to be rescued from some sort of foreign incident. This means some special forces – again, a relatively small and inexpensive portion of the current military budget – and the same small to moderate land and naval forces charged with defending the national borders.

Clearly, the public would also support whatever force is necessary to effectively attack and destroy non-state actors, such as al Qaeda, who seek to harm the United States through non-conventional assaults. John Kerry of course paid the price for speaking honestly about this in 2004, back when this country was still shaking off the hangover from the Bush Binge of 9/11 and beyond, but he was right in asserting that terrorist threats are best resisted by means of intelligence and law enforcement (and sometimes small scale military action, when useful), which is also a relatively low-cost affair, comparatively speaking. (Throw in a little global justice and economic development, moreover, and you might find you’ve eliminated most such threats before they ever come to exist. What a concept, eh?)

Finally, unquestionably, there would be support in the United States for the capacity to rapidly increase US military capability in response to a major unexpected scenario. Americans will want a National Guard, Reserves, and the infrastructure necessary for a Post-Pearl Harbor-like draft and rapid militarization in the event of such an unanticipated attack. But again, maintaining this capacity – as opposed to the actual forces – is not a terribly expensive proposition.

And that, I suspect, is it. A moderate base force, a small nuclear deterrent capability, the Guard and Reserves, and the capacity to rapidly add more as needed. In sum, a vastly smaller military than today’s.

This is not World War II we’re in today, and it’s not the Cold War. There is no need for a massive military armada to be fielded or even to stand in readiness, as there is no massive implacable enemy to be vigilant against, let alone a massive implacable enemy which we would fight with conventional set-piece armies to be landed at places like Normandy, and to fight territorial struggles like the Battle of the Bulge.

What is the difference, then, between this American military that the public would support and the one we’ve got, besides of course hundreds of billions of dollars per year? The short answer is the capacity to ‘protect’ American ‘interests’ abroad. Does the American public care whether Botswana is a democracy or not? Probably a little – not that anyone would have the slightest clue where or what it is – but not enough to invest their tax dollars in it, not enough to forego the government services they want at home, and not enough to spill their children’s blood there. Turns out their government doesn’t care either, though it may well pretend to on occasion. It doesn’t even care whether Botswana – democracy or autocracy – is particularly ‘pro-American’.

What the American government cares about, above all, is that Botswana plays ball with those economic actors (who nowadays might not even necessarily be American-based) with a pipeline to power in Washington. Usually that means that a neat little dictatorship is in fact preferable to a democratically elected government, particularly one that makes the mistake of having the real interests of the local people in mind. Folks in Iran, Chile, Guatemala, Nicaragua and beyond will be happy to verify this proposition, in case you have any doubt.

Which brings us back to the absurd levels of military spending the United States has been indulging in latter years, like an insatiable crack addict. I hate to break up the acid test party with a mild dose of reality, but it’s pure lunacy to spend considerably more than all of nearly 200 other countries in the world on your national defense. I mean, isn’t it? Is there really no limit to the depths of America’s national paranoia? Well, as a matter of fact, it gets far stranger yet when you contemplate that none of those countries – not even North Korea, Cuba or Iran – have expressed anything approaching a genuine hostility toward your country which could plausibly lead to an attack on their part. Then it becomes the very definition of insane when you have a nuclear deterrent force that prevents any of those countries from attacking you even if they wanted to. And it makes the insane look downright wholesome when you spend these obscene sums to fight a non-existent enemy, but cannot afford a children’s healthcare program at home. If you needed to write a definition of a society gone mad, surely this would be the textbook case.

Let’s face it, probably three-fourths of the Pentagon budget is spent to enrich contractors at home and bust down doors for corporate predators abroad. China spends about $60 or $70 billion a year on protecting the same geographical area as the US and more than four times the number of people. Who is going to mess with that country? Not even the United States, with tens times the military budget, would dare. Surely America could easily procure the same degree of security as the Chinese do for – let’s be generous – say, double their expenditure, if its true interests were purely defensive.

Nor would such a formula be a prescription for disarmament or a wimpy defense posture. This is still double the amount of any other country in the world. Certainly many would argue that far less than even that much should be spent. I’m one of them, but right now I’d gladly settle for a 75 percent reduction in military spending.

Of course, there are those who would claim that the United States is the ‘indispensable nation’, the one that provides the glue for keeping peace in the international system, and the only one capable of mounting an operation like the Iraq war. Let’s leave aside for the moment the poor performance of keeping peace during the ‘American century’, which often seemed rather more like the American adventure series, and let’s leave aside also the disasters of Afghanistan, Vietnam and Iraq. What a critique such as this actually reveals is three things. First, that other developed countries have been able to buy butter like national healthcare and such, while we have stupidly forsaken it for guns. Second, that the result of our spending the last decades undermining the creation of a legitimate and functional international force to clean up international messes is – surprise, surprise – that no such forces now exist to carry this burden. And third, that we’re too arrogant and narcissistic to pay attention to the wake-up call that non-interest in our wars among potential allies represents.

This is where multilateralism comes into play in a crucial and cognitive fashion. If we can’t attract serious allied support for a war, it’s certainly worth asking whether we should be engaged in such a conflict at all. Neocon blowhards love to argue that Europeans have gone soft and are all from Venus, while tough-guy Americans are from Mars. The truth is that Europeans were fighting wars long before America was even in diapers, and they’ve learned more from the experience than have we. They’re not soft. Rather, it’s that they’re not indiscriminate. They went to Afghanistan. They didn’t go to Iraq. Or at least a lot of them didn’t. The others only went because they wanted to keep the hyperpower happy. The next stop was regret, followed by withdrawal of what were mostly token forces anyhow. In any case, for a legitimate threat or a legitimate emergency (the antithesis of Iraq), the Europeans and many others would stand shoulder to shoulder with America, as has happened many times previously, including those wimpy cheese-eating French who were there at America’s birth, and without whom, indeed, the country would likely not have been born at all.

But wouldn’t cutting American military spending dramatically make the country weaker? To the contrary, our current approach makes us weaker. We have lost the capacity to exert soft power by over-reliance on hard power. Nobody follows us anymore unless they have to because we have twisted their arm nearly out of its socket, or unless they’re into committing career suicide, like Tony Blair did. And, increasingly, that simply means that nobody follows us anymore at all. The tauntings of Hugo Chávez or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would have been inconceivable not so long ago. Now they represent leadership to a resentful world where the arrogant and impotent superpower has hobbled itself, and can do nothing to respond. Meanwhile, China and Russia quietly build power and influence, wondering what they ever did to get so lucky as to have a rival apparently quite devoted to destroying itself.

In addition to being so diplomatically, we are also weakened economically. Dollars spent on bombs instead of education mean a dummer ‘Muricah, bro. Dollars spent on napalm instead of education mean a sicker America. And ask the Soviets what happens to a national economy when it is dominated by military spending. If you can find the Soviets, that is, which you can’t (hint, hint). National security in the modern era depends on economic power as well as on legions and hardware. In a very real sense, therefore, we are diminishing our capacity to provide sustained military security should we need it tomorrow, by bloating it out of all recognition today.

Finally, it is pretty impossible to argue that recent choices have made the America militarily stronger in even the most narrow sense. When all your land forces are bogged down in a worse than useless war, you’ve got a problem should a real crisis come ‘round the corner. When even a sycophant like Colin Powell can say that your Army is “broken”, surely it is and worse. When your own intelligence agencies affirm that your actions in Mesopotamia are actually creating terrorists with a vengeance (and with a vengeance), you screwed up bad, pal. When nobody believes you anymore including your own public, and you have to pay exorbitant sums to get people otherwise headed to jail to join your ‘volunteer’ military, it’s no longer clear which is scarier – your army or theirs. Hey everybody, raise your hand right now if you feel safer today than before Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld got hold of US national security policy. Yeah, that’s what I thought.

All this obscenely exorbitant military spending represents one helluva lot of bad news, but the good news is that the entire scenario is unsustainable. One day, not long from now, Americans will have to make tough choices that they are avoiding (and therefore exacerbating) today. But in all probability, such choices may not actually wind up being so tough, after all.

We want our MTV, and we want our Social Security.

And if we have to sacrifice protecting Chiquita Brands’ exorbitant profits in Guatemala or Colombia to get them, we will.

David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers’ reactions to his articles (dmg@regressiveantidote.net), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website, www.regressiveantidote.net.

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