Volatility

June 4, 2010

Kagan and the Corporate Court (2 of 2)

 

In part 1 of my post on the impending installation of Elena Kagan on the supreme court, I discussed how in The Federalist #78 Alexander Hamilton defended the lifetime tenure “during good behavior” for federal judges on the ground that he expected the courts, more than the other two branches, to come reasonably close to working purely in the public interest.
 
Hamilton’s conception was premised on the courts and especially the “supreme” court maintaining it independence of the executive and of other forces in the polity. As we know, by now the SCOTUS has been corrupted by corporatism and is a rogue institution. As I briefly discussed in part 1, this isn’t a new development which could be viewed as an aberration or the result of Bush extremism. On the contrary, the corporate struggle in the courts goes back to the 19th century, and the definitive victory march commenced in the 1970s. The process was only stepped up under Bush, the broad acceptance of the imperial presidency, and now Obama’s embrace of all Bush concepts. The Citizens United decision was more of a formal consummation than a practical change.
 
(We can say that Obama’s embrace thus formally embraces all Bush/Cheneyism as not extreme or aberrational but as within the mainstream of today’s polity. So if Bush policies were anti-constitutional, and they all were, then it follows that the polity as such is anti-constitutional. The system is a parasitic kleptocracy and is not sovereign. This goes for both kleptocratic parties and most existing pressure groups, which are really corporate astroturfs. I’ll discuss this further in an upcoming post.)
 
Obama’s alleged opposition to that decision is belied by his consistently pro-corporate actions. So it’s an accident at best, and more likely a cheap political lie. And there’s no reason to believe that Kagan on the court would’ve voted differently. Indeed, the ineptitude of her argument as solicitor general may have stemmed from her lack of enthusiasm for the position she had to argue.
 
Obama’s record as a corporatist and fanatic regarding executive power is bad, and we have to bet that he intends for Kagan on the court to be pro-corporate and pro-imperial presidency. That brings us to Kagan’s record, such as it is, on civil liberties and the “unitary executive”.
 
Just as on everything else, Kagan’s record here is remarkably barren, given the limitless opportunities she’s had to speak out on anything she wishes. (By contrast, I’m an obscure blogger with few opportunities, yet I’ve already left a record vastly more copious than that of this considerably older elite legal cadre.)
 
We see that at her core she’s a sociopathic careerist, as I discussed in the first post.
 
However, we can piece together a skeletal record. The most important structural point is that Kagan affirms the Bush/Cheney policy frame for the “war on terror”, i.e. permanent war and a society which is always supposed to feel it is “at war” and conform accordingly to whatever the power structure commands. This war is of course a complete fraud, but one of the hallmarks of a kleptocratic, and therefore anti-constitutional, cadre is her support for the Global War on Terror and shilling for the general Permanent War social frame, a Big Lie. (Another hallmark is continued support for the Bailout and telling the Big Lie that the Bailout was “necessary” and accomplished necessary and worthwhile aims. I’ll get to this too in an upcoming post.)
 
Kagan has also, as solicitor general, happily argued Obama’s anti-American positions on detainees (here she seemed more comfortable than in the CU case). Her “progressive” defenders claim that as a DoJ cadre it’s her job to argue Obama’s position, and that doesn’t necessarily mean she agrees with it or will decide that way once on the court.
 
(Notice any logical flaws in that argument? Even leaving aside the question of why Obama would’ve wanted a solicitor general who didn’t agree with his positions, we can certainly assume he wouldn’t want to put anyone on the supreme court who isn’t in full accord with him on the things most important to him.
 
As for the CU case, as I said I think Obama’s political dissent is just for political show, and that it’s not an accident that the administration’s, i.e. Kagan’s, argument was haphazard.
 
Also, aren’t all these liberals who say Kagan secretly disagrees with Obama on civil liberties and presidential arrogation the same ones who moronically say Obama himself really doesn’t agree with all the things he somehow keeps doing? Oh well, I’ll leave it to others to further plumb the cesspool of the corporate liberal mindset.)
 
At any rate, even if Kagan isn’t truly an anti-freedom ideologue but just a sociopathic careerist, how is that any better? Her partisans themselves are saying she’s the kind of person who’s content to “follow orders” and “do her job” even where it comes to assaulting civil liberties; that’s vile. Civil liberties like habeas corpus are too much core American values to be subject to the vagaries of careerism. By definition if you can be so cavalier about something like this, you either don’t care about American values or hold them in contempt.
 
Not that anyone will ask the still-too-few vigilant people of America, but do we want someone on the court who holds these values in contempt? Or is it that the SCOTUS already holds them in contempt, and Kagan will reinforce this?
 
One thing which looks clear enough from the record is that Kagan exalts the imperial presidency. As early as the Clinton administration she argued for broad discretionary executive authority. (We should recall that although Bush escalated the use of “signing statements”, it was Clinton’s DoJ which formalized the concept.) Then throughout the Bush years of ever more extreme assertions of the authority of the president to not only freely interpret the law (which assertions Kagan already explicitly agreed with) but to disregard it altogether, Kagan remained in her sociopathic careerist silence mode. From a cadre at her level, who had spoken out on the issue previously, we can take that as implicit consent.
 
And of course since becoming Obama’s head litigator she’s aggressively argued on behalf of Obama’s aggressive continuation of the entire Bush/Cheney imperial-presidency agenda.
 
This leads us back to Hamilton and his Federalist #78. Hamilton thought the judiciary would be the “least dangerous” branch because it was the least powerful. (The executive enforced the laws and commanded the armies, the legislature wrote the laws and had the power of the purse.)
 

It may truly be said to have neither FORCE nor WILL, but merely judgment; and must ultimately depend upon the aid of the executive arm even for the efficacy of its judgments.

 
Hamilton believed the best safeguard against the courts becoming tyrannical on their own was the simple fact that the judiciary was reliant upon the executive to enforce its judgements, and therefore wouldn’t be able to run too far rogue. The courts would either reflect the agenda of the executive or at any rate couldn’t be completely antithetical to the executive. Of course, this assumes the executive itself hasn’t become a kleptocratic rogue, and that the court isn’t simply following the lead of this rogue executive.
 
In fact, the pro-corporate, imperialistic agenda of the last several administrations adds up to decades of subversion of the constitution and betrayal of the public interest. Obama’s own corporatist, imperialist pretensions are just the latest, terminal escalation of the historical trend. We now have a full-fledged, entrenched kleptocracy. It has abdicated sovereignty.
 
Although judicial review isn’t an issue we’re discussing here, Hamilton’s discussion of it leads to some observations on sovereignty which are highly relevant to us.
 
In an extended discussion Hamilton derives the authority for judicial review from the constitutional facts that the legislature is representative of the people while the written Constitution, embodying the will of the people, is superior to the legislature and its written laws. So for the polity to have any integrity, it follows that some authority has to be the arbiter where the legislature is alleged to have run rogue of the Constitution and the people.
 

A constitution is, in fact, and must be regarded by the judges, as a fundamental law. It therefore belongs to them to ascertain its meaning, as well as the meaning of any particular act proceeding from the legislative body. If there should happen to be an irreconcilable variance between the two, that which has the superior obligation and validity ought, of course, to be preferred; or, in other words, the Constitution ought to be preferred to the statute, the intention of the people to the intention of their agents.

 
I add to this that the sovereignty of the people, also known as the constitution, is always implicitly superior to the written Constitution as interpreted by the courts if the courts themselves have run rogue. (It’s the same logic as Hamilton gives for enshrined judicial review.)
 
So we have the implicit order of rank. The people/sovereignty/constitution is prior to the written Constitution, which is prior to the legislature and the written laws, and the courts are to arbitrate between the Constitution and the legislature, while the people’s constitution is also prior to the courts themselves.
 
I’ve written at length on the corporate hijacking of the law, from the way it’s written in the corrupt legislature to the way it’s enforced by the corrupt executive to the way it’s adjudicated in the corrupt courts (indeed, how access to the courts themselves is increasingly rationed by wealth).
 
Since we’re talking about the law and the courts, I’ll just give a few links which focus on that aspect. I hope with these and other pieces I’ve done a passable job of making my case that this a rogue system.
 
The corporatist subversion of law, smuggling in the fraudulent anti-constitutional concept of “corporate personhood”;
 
Access to the law: Parts one, two, and three.
 
 
On the supreme court itself as a rogue, with special reference to the Citizens United case: Judicial Activism and Judicial Abdication.
 
 
 
Hamilton says the supreme court can never endanger liberty “so long as the judiciary remains truly distinct from both the executive and the legislature.” The condition of it losing this distinction has been met. It turns out that Hamilton’s confidence in the institution of permanency in office for federal judges only worked partially well at its best, and has by now ceased working.
 
Today the supreme court (like the Senate) is among the most discredited institutions. By now permanency in office is a detriment to liberty. The court best represents the inertia of the status quo (which is why it’s lagged behind the Reagan revolution in the other two branches). Much as the Senate is more structurally conservative (i.e. beholden to the status quo inertia) than the House, so the courts are the most conservative – how difficult it is to be placed, the slow rate of turnover, the permanent tenure.
 
So now that the SCOTUS has become a tool of corporatism, it will remain most intractably such a tool for the longest tenure, if left to itself. Therefore we should clearly recognize and teach its illegitimacy and the unlikelihood that any hope for change can be fulfilled through the courts. From here on the best we might get from the corporate courts are increasingly infrequent pro-public accidents.
 
So that’s the answer to the questions I asked above about the SCOTUS. It no longer embodies the constitution nor is it a faithful arbiter of the Constitution. It no longer lives up to the principles Hamilton laid out. Since Obama is a hardened corporatist, and since Kagan’s record is clear on the fact that she’s either a sociopathic careerist or a corporate ideologue herself, we can be sure that she’ll act to further carry the court along the logic of the kleptocratic status quo. That’s definitely Obama’s intention for her.
 
Of course there’s nothing freedom activists can do about this for now. Kleptocracy will traverse the suicidal path of its logic for as long as it can muster the power to do so.
 
All we can do for now is realize the fact that the supreme court is irremediably corrupt, that it’s hopeless to expect anything good from the courts in general, that the court has zero authority but only the power still invested in it by the kleptocracy. It’s not a part of the people’s sovereignty.
 
We must recognize this and where possible be teachers of it. Since the nomination of a new member to the supreme court is always a “teachable moment” regarding the judiciary, I wrote these posts. 

March 12, 2010

Bush Rehab (Social Fascists, 1 of 2)

 

It’s long been known among those familiar with him that Obama is a neoliberal corporatist. That’s why, under Robert Rubin’s tutelage, he became the recipient of the bulk of Wall Street donations. Still, even the corporatists must be pleasantly surprised at the gleeful alacrity with which Obama has broken all his change promises and instead devoted his presidency to looting the country on their behalf even more brazenly than Bush did.
 
Meanwhile the Republicans, who had to expect the worst for themselves (since Obama could easily have served his masters while still hammering the Reps), must be amazed at how well Obama and the Democrats have fixed things up for them as well. If Obama’s actions prove that his first priority is to serve Wall Street and the big rackets, his second has been to rehabilitate George Bush and the Republicans.
 
It was only a little while ago that Bush policy and Bush disasters were almost universally repudiated as one long bad dream. Everyone agreed that Iraq was a debacle, that the MSM had behaved shamefully in shilling for it, serving as stenographer for administration lies, that Democrats had been wrong to support it. Since the financial crash everyone uttered a big sigh of relief that Social Security privatization had failed. Everyone said, Where would we be today if Bush and Wall Street’s plot had succeeded? Fighting back to defeat it was the Democrats’ one great moment in an otherwise dismal decade of cowardice and betrayal. Even Republicans didn’t want to associate themselves with the Bush years exemplified by the monumental failure and betrayal of Katrina. 
 
Katrina broke Bush’s spell over the people. Katrina opened up the space for the Dems to crawl back into power, as Bush’s real approval rating permanently plummeted below 30%. For the rest of history, any revived good feelings for Bush and his Republicans will only be the result of nostalgia as things get even worse. The truth about how the people really saw him will never change.
 
But Democrats are also eternally Democrats, and the same cowardice and betrayal which characterize them in opposition even more profoundly mark them in power. Look at how Obama and the Dem establishment have embarked upon the full-scale rehabilitation of all the defining Bush policies and actions.
 
Obama’s refusal to obey the law and bring Bush war criminals to justice is one part of a broader program to reglorify Bush’s war, including Iraq. Obama did say he’d continue the war in Afghanistan, while promising to get out of Iraq. But he never hinted at the sprawling escalation he’s actually embarked upon in the Afghan theater. Meanwhile, he’s indicating that the vaunted Iraq withdrawal also isn’t going to happen.
 
The Democratic rehabilitation of the Iraq war and the most vile tactics used to fight it has in turn encouraged the MSM to flip yet again on the war. After their sojourn of some years of apologetics and even some alleged self-searching, outfits like the WaPo and NYT coming back full circle to their original jingoism. (These days chickenhawk Bill Keller at the NYT seems to want to outdo the Times’ old bloodlust, even soliciting op-eds complaining that Americans aren’t killing enough civilians.) Afghanistan, just like Iraq before it, is the glorious project for a unified front of the same old warmongering flacks representing themselves as decent, responsible people. And now even Iraq is being restored to its old respectable position.
 
Surely it could never be possible that the worst fuck-up of an American government imaginable, the multiple SNAFUs which converged in the Katrina disaster, could ever be rehabilitated? For the first time in broad daylight, for all the world to see, America was revealed in its true banana republic nature. No one would ever want to revise this as a great time. And when Naomi Klein depicted in Shock Doctrine how American governments and business leaders were overjoyed at the disaster capitalist opportunities the havoc had opened up, this was surely a slanderous exaggeration on her part? Sure, there’s always a few rotten crooks and vultures in any disaster, but decent people would never so much as think, let alone act upon, such a notion as exploiting the great suffering of a disaster-beleaguered people to do things like destroying their homes and schools permanently?
 
Well, yes they could. And while Bush’s own people lied about their intent and actions, it was left to Obama himself to openly say, “Katrina was a good thing”. We now have smoking gun confirmation that Klein was always right not only about the actions but the systematic intentions and precalculation. Yet it’s not even unreconstructed Bush Republicans who are cheering on the Bush system’s crimes here. Here, as with Iraq, it’s the Obama administration which has dedicated itself to rehabilitating Bush’s worst crimes and failures. Obama’s goal is nothing less than to revise history so that Bush’s worst disasters are reformulated as triumphs.
 
Obama’s actions prove that he cherishes his position as steward of Bush’s assault on civil liberties. And, as the keystone of his overarching dream of out-Bushing Bush, Obama even wants to carry to completion Bush’s failed project to privatize social security. Never mind that there’s no reason to even think of this; that for this zombie system a dozen crises loom, any one of which is more pressing than this; how the system will be brought down of its own weight long before Social Security could ever come into crisis of its own accord; how even acknowledging the notion gives aid and comfort to Republican memes in general; how nobody who’s not a criminal wants to even discuss “entitlement reform” right now.
 
None of that matters. Obama, with the support of the deficit terrorists* in the MSM, has unilaterally decreed that privatization must be on the table. The only conceivable reason to do it is to further empower Wall Street, and that as always is Obama’s main motivation. But he also wants to step up the assault on the social safety net, on general principle. That’s part of his homage to his true hero, Reagan. And here above all we see the reason for his rehabilitation of Bush. If Obama can first redeem Bush, revive all of Bush’s ideas and projects, reaffirm them all as good, and then outdo Bush at their achievement, he’ll have proven himself even more Reaganesque than Bush. He’ll be the real Bush, and therefore the real consummator of the Reagan revolution, and therefore the consummator of neoliberalism and the imperial presidency in themselves. Here we see the true evil and derangement of Obama’s deepest fantasy.
 
That’s why some commentators, including myself, have compared gutting Social Security and Medicare to Nixon’s going to China. Just as it’s been supposed that only a Republican could go to China, so now they’re trying to make it look like only a Democrat can undertake the necessary (in the mind of the establishment) painful job of destroying these popular programs.
 
Does this sound like a fanciful interpretation? It’s borne out by the evidence. It’s hard to explain Obama’s actions otherwise. And Obama’s only the epitome of the true nature of Democratic party hacks and liberal cadres. He exemplifies what they really are, as I’ll discuss in the sequel to this post.
 
[*Just to be clear, the reason deficits don’t matter is because the system is already unsustainable because of the lack of sufficient physical energy to keep it “growing”, and because, as we’re already seeing, the debt tower is just one big ponzi scheme. Even if there were no such thing as Peak Oil, the system’s own contradictions render it impossible to prop it up. They’re liquidating the rest of the existing “consumers”, and they’re not going to be able to create new ones out of Chinese peasants.
 
So for these reasons the reserve currency’s already a dead dollar walking. The entitlement system is already doomed. All these now are just political fictions. So if the issue of a “reform commission” comes up, that’s just the same exercise in political theater as the legislative kabuki over bogus health “reform” or finance “reform”. The only question is who gets a political boost out of the way a play is performed.
 
So if Obama makes up out of thin air this alleged necessity to resurrect a Republican meme which was dead and buried, this can only help the Republican political brand as such. Indeed, it’s so obvious that it’s hard to believe even he’s stupid enough not to realize that. That’s why it’s such a prime piece of evidence that Obama actually wants to rehab the Republicans.
 
If we ask how he could think that sacrificing himself for the sake of the Republicans would gain him credit as having consummated the Reagan legacy, why he doesn’t know that they’ll still revile him as a “socialist” and spit on his memory, I guess we can chalk that up to his fundamental kumbaya character flaw. Deep down he’s not only desperate for the right-wing cool kids to like him, but is actually deluded that his own personal greatness and righteousness (as he’s deluded into seeing them) will overcome all their resistance, contempt, and hatred.] 

October 30, 2009

Bailout War

Filed under: Disaster Capitalism, Global War On Terror — Tags: , — Russ @ 11:01 am
As we enter year two of Bailout America and reach the end of year two of the official bank-created recession, and as we continue further and deeper into the decades-long quagmire of financialization and the devastation of the real economy, we should look to the state of what’s supposed to be our democracy as well, since it has been just as degraded as our wages, just as hollowed out as our manufacturing, just as fictitious as our “growth”.
Last fall the Bush administration tried to seize the ultimate disaster opportunity when it sought to steamroll Congress into passing a three-page authorization which would have made Henry Paulson a veritable dictator. They threatened a complete meltdown, that by Monday “there might not be an economy” unless Congress stampeded. The “leadership” was suitably terrified, which reinforced their normal corporatism and cowardice. They did all they could to deliver the “emergency” war powers Bush and Paulson sought. (That’s exactly how the inception of the bailouts should be seen, as an internal economic war authorization, and very similar to the Enabling Act demanded and obtained by Hitler in 1933.)
 
By some miracle the House at first listened to the fierce wisdom of the people who immediately saw this for the coup d’etat it was. But the miracle was ephemeral. The coup plotters added a few pages and toned down a few provisions. They added some limits and oversight authority. Meanwhile the corporate media kept up a drumbeat similar to the SA troopers outside the Reichstag shouting in unison, “We want the Enabling Act or there’ll be hell to pay!”, while an astroturf telephone and e-mail campaign laid seige to the holdouts. “We want the Bailout or there’ll be hell to pay!” It was a classic top-down/bottom-up vise.
 
Congress caved and Bailout America was officially established. The result wasn’t perfect from the looters’ point of view. They’d had to compromise on those limits, deadlines, oversight.
 
But one year in Obama and Geithner are trying to finish the job. They’ve proposed, as part of the general package of phony reforms being bandied about, that Treasury war authorization be made permanent, that there no longer be independent oversight, and that there be no limits on time frames or funds conveyed to the Too Big To Fail rackets. When Congressman Brad Sherman, wanting to avert this “TARP on steroids”, asked Geithner if he could accept a $1 trillion limit on his discretion, Geithner flatly said No. He’s demanding complete bailout dictator power.
 
(All this comes as another TBTF corpse, GMAC, staggers up to the trough for the third time. It’s been a year since the crisis hit and two bailouts already for GMAC, a dog so decrepit and diseased that its own daddy, Cerberus, won’t put money into it. Yet in all this time not only has the administration done nothing to unwind and dismantle it, or any other TBTF entity, but every policy has sought to make them bigger, more unsustainable, to further concentrate them, further entrench them.)
 
You put all this together and it’s clear that this administration, beyond even the normal standard of corrupt government, is nothing but the hired thug arm of the bank rackets. This is the one and only priority. Bush was always rightly pegged as a childish warmonger who wanted to let big corporations loot the country. Obama was rightly questioned for running a vacuous campaign based on nothing but charisma and vaporous rhetoric. What would be the basis of an Obama presidency, and how would it represent Change from Bush?
 
Now we see that Obama represents not change from but the refinement of Bush corporatism. The core of his policy is delivering the country to the Wall Street racketeers as a mine and a playground. The pretext is the crisis, the vehicle is the bailout. Every other policy flows from this.
 
So the overthrow of democracy and institutionalization of looting remains the same, but it’s more focused, better organized. It has more of a sense of permanency.
 
Just as the Global War on Terror is intended to now be permanent (Gates and others consistently refer to the “Long War” and “our wars”), so the Bailout War will now be permanent. The GWOT represents the institutionalization of military Keynesianism (that is, the state as dedicated corporatist buyer to the military-industrial complex), the security- and prison-industrial complexes, and rising authoritarianism, fostered by the power of these complexes as well as by MSM propaganda. The astroturf teabaggers will supplement with street terror from below, if necessary.
 
Similarly, the Bailout War institutionalizes the government as primarily a loot conveyor to the finance sector (and, using Wall St as conduit, to other sectors and to the GWOT), while here authoritarianism takes the form of releasing the government’s fiscal powers from any democratic accountability. This will dovetail with the Fed’s existing anti-democratic unaccountability in its monetary policy, to remove the government from all taxpayer oversight and accountability.
 
Put the bailouts and the Global War on Terror together, see them being used to pursue the policy of resource fascism, and you have a complete precis of what this power structure intends to do in the coming decades of Peak Oil energy descent. It’ll be serfdom for an increasing majority, the looting of our wealth, labor, and blood, and the creeping totalitarianism which won’t be creeping much longer.
 
We’ll have come full circle to the original taxation without representation. After over 230 years we’ve come back to ground zero. American history must end here or start anew.

September 28, 2009

Which Way in Afghanistan?

Filed under: Afghanistan, Global War On Terror — Tags: , , , — Russ @ 4:27 am
In 2001 America had the opportunity and the justification to launch a big raid to capture and destroy Al Queda and, as punishment, knock the Taliban out of power. If the Bush administration had been acting in good faith to avenge 9/11 and apprehend or kill the AQ leadership, this would probably have been accomplished.
 
But Bush was really using 9/11 as a pretext of power, and the real target was Iraq. As always with the Bush crew, where they didn’t really care about what they were doing, they totally botched it. So it was in Afghanistan. (I’ve wondered whether the idea actually was that Osama bin Laden was more useful alive and at large, as a political bogeyman, than dead, and that they let him get away at Tora Bora. It’s possible, but we hardly need such explanations. Bush incompetence and half-assedness always lay at the root of everything he did.)
 
For the next seven years the Bush war was ad hoc, without strategy, without consistent funding or staffing, without sufficient forces. When the Taliban regrouped and reasserted their control of much of the country, Bush and his Pentagon simply lied about it.
 
As a result, Afghanistan is today a quagmire, and the question of the day is whether to extract the mired leg or plunge in with the other. It’s now that the long-feared Vietnam parallels begin to get triggered.
 
Obama is frequently being compared to Lyndon Johnson. The situation looks the same. A proclaimed domestic reformer comes into office saddled immediately with an existing war. Johnson thought his Great Society agenda depended upon a quid pro quo with Congressional hawks, that he give them their war in exchange for their votes. He also thought he was politically vulnerable if he wasn’t a warrior president. (This was rendered nonsensical when he ran in 1964 as the peace candidate; that he still had political fears after that was idiotic.)
 
So it seems nominally with Obama. He says he really wants to reform health care and the financial system, but also has to deal with this inherited war. But that’s really an illusion, since Obama definitely never needed any Republican votes to achieve anything, was never going to get them anyway, and seems to really like the Global War on Terror in principle. So if he ever really believed any of this LBJ parallel stuff, that’s just his personal demon. It’s not reality-based.
 
(I should also mention that LBJ sincerely wanted, ferociously fought for, often against odds, sometimes losing, his Great Society program. Meanwhile all the evidence is that Obama never really wanted finance reform or health care reform. So far he has certainly been unwilling to lift a finger to get either. So as rightfully tarnished as LBJ’s legacy is thanks to his Vietnam derangement, it would still be unjust to regard he and Obama as the same.)
 
If Obama really is having second thoughts about an Afghan escalation, he should remember that he’s had no problem breaking all his other campaign promises. So he shouldn’t worry about this promise, to escalate in Afghanistan. This is the one promise he should break.
 
Obama has compared American war policy to a large ship at sea. It takes time to make a ponderous turn toward a new course. That’s true; government policy has considerable inertia. But:
 
1. The point is nevertheless to turn as quickly as possible.
 
2. With an intrepid mindset, you can do it much faster. For example, although they don’t like to talk about it this way, one of the reasons they can’t withdraw troops more quickly from places like Iraq is because they’re protecting not American interests but the private interests of war profiteers. Another piece of dead weight is existing privateer contracts in these war zones.
 
Well, I think a good way of trimming down this tanker to a sleeker vessel would be to jettison these invalid concerns and illegitimate “interests”. If it’s true that there’s no right to strike against the public interest, it’s equally true that no one in government has a right to sign contracts against the public interest.
 
It’s all academic for the moment; tanker or speedboat, so far Obama is full steam ahead.
 
So where are we chronologically, compared to Vietnam? In one sense Obama is Nixon, taking on an existing war and making it his own. As Nixon and his new commander Creighton Abrahms came in with the “new” strategy of withdrawing troops, Vietnamization, and extending the war beyond Vietnam’s borders into Cambodia and Laos, so Obama has indicated that he cherishes a new emphasis on Pakistan, while his guy McChrystal wants to refocus the military effort in Afghanistan from search-and-destroy to pacification and Vietnamization. Richard Holbrooke, a pacification cadre in Vietnam himself, is gung ho about this program.
 
At the same time, the parallel is also to 1965 and LBJ. Here the newly elected president inherits an ongoing but still relatively small scale war and chooses to greatly escalate the troop levels and the scope of action. Thus Obama has already deployed 21000 more troops toward a total of 68000 by December (plus 75000 contractors, plus the fact that they’ve been rotating out support troops, whose positions are taken by contractors, while they rotate in more “trigger-pullers”; in this way they are escalating the combat troop level without additionally escalating the aggregate troop level), and McC is expected any day now to request anywhere from 10-45000 more, with the expectation being that Obama would end up authorizing the middle case of twenty-something thousand, what they’ve been calling the Goldilocks figure.
 
Or, that was the expectation, until Obama reportedly began to hesitate. In spite of denials, the brass has apparently been putting on the pressure. Last week they leaked McC’s classified report predicting failure without a large troop escalation. JCS Chairman Mike Mullen has been beating the drums for more troops to retrieve a “deteriorating” situation. Mullen, Centcom commander Petraeus, and McC had a powwow in Germany a few days ago. The bloodmongers in the media and Congress (republican and democrat) have been shrieking. It’s hard for me to believe Obama’s going to stand up to this kind of confrontation, even if he did end up changing his mind about the policy. We might end up with Obama himself becoming the McNamara here, in his mind no longer believing, but too weak to say No.
 
We can take this moment to point out another parallel. Just as Westmoreland could never give a coherent explanation of why the Vietnam war should be fought, but took it for granted and kept demanding ever more troops, so these admirals and generals today also offer no cogent rationale for the GWOT or for any of its theaters, beyond parroting neocon boilerplate. We’re of course not talking about something like WWII, where the point of the war was obvious to almost everyone, and it had to be fought to the bitter end regardless because it was total war. One would think that mercenary wars of choice, being fought for no obvious reason, and certainly no existential reason, call for explanations. But instead calling for escalation is simply what officer cadres in a professional military fighting mercenary wars do. It’s ingrained; it’s careerist; it’s inertial.
 
So when we turn to those neocons and their MSM megaphone, what reasons do we hear? Pretty much the same reheated Vietnam leftovers. Just as aggressive global Communism had to be fought everywhere or it would triumph everywhere, so now Islamofascism is the hydra who will keep sprouting heads if you don’t chop off the existing ones. It’s the Domino theory redux. Just as victory in Vietnam would set off a chain reaction sending communism on a triumphal progress through Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and so on until we’d have to “fight them in San Francisco”, as LBJ put it in a report to Kennedy while still VP, so if a fundamentalist regime can triumph in Afghanistan, down will go Pakistan, Yemen, and from there the rest of the Mideast and Central Asia, until we ended up fighting them in San Fran and other American cities.
 
Since this already looks dubious, since we already, through American-brokered elections, brought fundamentalist or quasi-fundamentalist regimes to power in Gaza and Iraq, not to mention the pre-existing Iranian regime, it looks like if dominoes are going to fall they’re going to fall anyway. And so far American arms have shocked and awed only in their fecklessness and inability to achieve what American leaders say they want to achieve.
 
So the jingoists have already trotted out the most malicious Vietnam tropes, “credibility” and even “honor”. These are of course moonshine, as Sherman would have called them. Needless to say America’s Vietnam disaster brought to the government only discredit and dishonor, abroad and for many at home.
 
What “credit” could Obama possibly seek today in Afghanistan? Credibility with terrorists? The concept makes no sense. If they are physically able to attack, they will attack. They’re not gauging America’s “moral fiber” the way it might have been done in Cold War brinksmanship. They care nothing for their perception of American resolve.
 
More important, it’s just as true today as it was during Vietnam that the best way to salvage credibility is to recognize when you’ve taken on a misguided project, horrendously expensive in money and blood, which you can never finish in any satisfactory way (where you cannot attain “peace with honor” in the stupid phraseology of 1969, “honor” being some nebulous substitute term for “victory”, but as a concept just as vague, empty, and bombastic), and make the decision that it’s not worth continuing. To keep going at that point is madness.
 
Meanwhile, just as the North Vietnamese were not stooges of the Soviet Union or China, so the Taliban is not controlled by Al Queda (and AQ itself is no longer the tight global network it once was; today terrorism is decentralized and generally far less professional, with “Al Queda” more a name than anything else, its professional cadre having been decimated – the war on terror has succeeded, to the extent it was meant to be just a reality-based war on terror).
 
But there is an incontrovertible stooge here, the mayor of part of Kabul, I mean Afghan President Diem, I mean Karzai. Karzai is an illegitimate kleptocrat presiding over a regime where corruption and impotence vie for supremacy. His latest theft has been any semblance of legitimacy for the election in which Obama vested such hopes (and for whose protection and integrity he dispatched those extra 21000 troops). This client will almost certainly never be any more legitimate, self-supporting, or morally worthy of support than any of the plutocratic and kleptocratic South Vietnamese regimes. If you want to build a nation, and a nation means a government, then there’s no nation to build. You can only temporarily clear, you can’t hold for long, and you certainly can’t build.
 
(Some are already playing the “blame Diem” card. If we could only get a good guy in there…It’s not that the very concept of “South Vietnam” is flawed. No – we just have some bad personnel.)
 
There’s other echoes. The frequent, reiterated fact-finding tours and “assessments” (redolent of the Peter Principle), as if you think asking the same question of the same facts over and over will eventually return a better answer. The gradually growing resistance in Congress (today we have Jim McGovern in the House and Feingold in the Senate taking the lead in calling for a timeline for withdrawal). The increasingly frequent atrocities.
 
There are some real contrasts. The most obvious and important is that today there’s no draft, nor is it politically conceivable that there could be a draft. This places a cap on how far the troop escalation can go (Mullen has been complaining about how overstretched the army already is, and yet he still wants to escalate in Afghanistan).
 
On the other hand, we’re no longer on the gold standard. This placed a cap on how far LBJ could economically escalate, as following Tet in 1968 a delegation of Europeans lectured him on how he needed to rein in the cost of the war, or else they’d have to think about demanding gold for their dollar holdings. It was probably that more than anything which signalled “peak war” to LBJ. He psychologically gave up after that.
 
Obama in theory faces no such limits. His administration has already shown a willingness to borrow obscene amounts to throw down a rathole – the bailouts. So presumably cost and debt would be no object for something equally stupid and useless like this war (only worthwhile things that could actually help people, like health care reform or a carbon cap, are to be subject to cost controls).
 
And perhaps the gathering depression will throw enough people out of work, render the masses desperate enough, that they wouldn’t need a draft to build a mass army. If the reserve army of capitalism gets big enough, and permanent war is the only job opportunity left…
 
But it won’t be possible to print that much cash without triggering hyperinflation. Gold standard or not, there’s a limit to how much borrowing you can do. Eventually they’ll have crammed so much cash down the world’s throat that it’ll have to be vomited back out, and that’ll be the end of the dollar. It’s difficult to see how they could keep waging high-input, high-tech, high-maintenance imperial war after that.
 
And then there’s Peak Oil…..
 
Also, “victory” in Vietnam, although unachievable, could at least be defined: the continued existence of the South Vietnamese regime, under its own strength, for a long enough time after American withdrawal that America’s honor and credibility could remain plausible.
 
But what constitutes victory in the Afghan theater, let alone the Global War on Terror? They have no idea. “We’ll know it when we see it” is the glib response of administration war hawk Holbrooke. This reply, a combination of know-nothing arrogance and desperation, can be taken as exemplary of the administration’s entire mindset.
 
So now Obama gets to be the decider. Almost no one, including Obama, questions the GWOT or its Afghan theater in principle. In spite of the efforts of McGovern and Feingold, it’s highly unlikely Congress would resist any level of escalation in the foreseeable future. (Although if the health care Progressive Block could hold together, that might embolden them to make another stand. As for the Republicans, don’t be surprised if they cheerfully vote against war measures. As extraordinarily hypocritical as that would be even for them, we know they care nothing for anything but money and political advantage. I imagine they’d be confident they could “vote against the troops” and then go back home and successfully blame it on the Democrats. Their voters would fall for it.) The military, the rightist thugs, and the corporate media are pressing him.
 
This doesn’t look like a situation where Obama fails to take the path of least resistance. But we’ll see.

September 14, 2009

Afghanistan

Filed under: Afghanistan, Global War On Terror, Globalization, Mainstream Media, Peak Oil — Tags: — Russ @ 11:37 am
In the evolutions of the Global War on Terror, which is itself the evolution of the corporatist imperial war of the globalist/Peak Oil age, Afghanistan once again comes to the fore, while Iraq wanes in our consciousness.
 
Evolution, here as always, is not a moral term. Nothing gets better, nothing reaches a “higher” plane, there is no “progress” in the grandiloquent sense. Nor is there simple progress toward a goal. War has long been considered a permanent state of affairs by the elite. It’s an assumed element of the notorious Washington Consensus. The only thing 9/11 changed was how it provided the new scenic overlook where the public could be shown the vista of endless war but convinced that it was practically necessary for the national interest, as well as morally justified.
 
In fact neither of these is true. The Iraq war, which is the real core of the campaign (Afghanistan started out as a politically convenient sideshow), was planned long ago in the neocon think tanks, and advocated for years during the Clinton administration. The most specific objective was the oil, as insiders like Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney have long been aware of looming Peak Oil and concerned themselves with ensuring America’s supply for as long as possible through force. The broader objective was extending America’s corporatist reach, turning Iraq into a free-fire zone for free-market weaponry, using it as the base for further economic and military aggression.
 
In both these ways it’s a typical and key piece in the neolib/neocon process of resource, wealth, and power accumulation, meant to feed the ravening debt bubble economy back in the Western homeland. It’s a classical totalitarian process in that (1) each step is meant to accumulate as much loot as possible even as it prepares the next step, so (2) no step represents “the” goal, (3) there is no end goal, (4) short of world domination.
 
So Iraq, far from being a sincere but misguided response to 9/11 (as the idiot MSM still believes to this day), was a longstanding, carefully premeditated, cold-blooded plan of imperialism. Indeed it wasn’t easy to fit it into the “war on terror” narrative. WMDs of dubious existence and threat, which somehow never mattered much back when we knew Saddam had them and was in fact using them, now the suddenly critical casus belli?
 
That America fell for something so flimsy is a (dis)tribute to the gullibility of the populace (granted, still shaken up over 9/11), the abdication of the media, and the cowardice of the alleged “opposition” party.
 
Well, we all know how things went in Iraq. Bush incompetence and unexpectedly fierce resistance combined to scotch the master plan, and now they’re bumming around trying to decide how to “withdraw” even as they don’t really withdraw, but stick around to maybe launch further attacks later when the situation improves, while minimizing casualties during the downtime.
 
Now the spotlight turns to Afghanistan. Here, at least, we can’t accuse Obama of selling us out. The one truth he did tell during the campaign was how he’d escalate this theater.
 
What happened in Afghanistan? On the merits, the Afghan campaign should have been one big, conclusive raid to temporarily knock the Taliban out of power, obliterate Al-Queda, put some warlord in charge and get out. Then, if he couldn’t maintain power against Taliban resurgence, it would be his problem. As angry as America was at the Taliban for harboring Al-Queda, they were not intrinsically the problem. Al-Queda was the problem, and if we had made them the Taliban’s problem as well, this could have achieved the desired result. Compare how in 1970 Jordan kicked out the PLO once they drew enough heat to become a problem for Jordan itself. These host governments may sympathize with foreign extremists and be willing to harbor them, but their first priority is their own survival in power.
 
If counter-terrorism was ever the real goal, this never required permanent destruction of the Taliban. That America, at first implicitly and later explicitly, claimed the mission of “nation-building” puts the war into the imperialist framework. Therefore we know counter-terrorism, although something they did want to achieve, was still the pretext, not the real objective.
 
At first they were complacent and haphazard about it. Just as they later would in Iraq, so first in Afghanistan the Americans thought toppling the existing regime would in itself create an open political space where the will to Western democracy and capitalism would spontaneously generate. (Then, as in the homeland, corporatism, plutocracy, and pseudo-democracy would be imposed from above, while the veneer of democracy would be used to prettify it.)
 
America invaded, drove out the Taliban and cornered Al-Queda at Tora Bora, where they let them escape. Already they thought it was in the bag, were losing interest, were looking ahead to Iraq. In April 2002 Bush proclaimed his “Marshall Plan” for Afghanistan, but as with every other nation-building proclamation it was big on words, short on follow-through in terms of staff and money. As I said, they were expecting this Western-style paradise to mostly build itself.
 
In 2002 there were 8000 American troops deployed, on terrorist-hunting duty. Barely anyone was even going through the motions of nation-building. There really wasn’t much for anyone to do. While the fugitive AQ and Taliban caught their breath in Pakistan, America sat around in Afghanistan wasting time.
 
In late 2002 there began a massive resource shift to Iraq. All the best intelligence cadres and elite military teams were transferred. Pretty much all resources coming from overseas were now earmarked for the Iraq buildup. The Afghan theater languished, but remained quiet through 2003.  At the same time as Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” announcement, Rumsfeld made a similar announcement in Kabul.
 
In late 2003 there was a belated “surge” of nation-building interest. Incoming ambassador Khalilzad brought some money and some civilian cadres, with promises of more to come. In 2004 America was able to cobble together enough Afghans from enough groups to broker a new constitution, and this in turn led to the election in November making Karzai official president. On the surface, the mission was looking more accomplished all the time. All this time, in spite of the urgings of some experts and officials, the administration put little pressure on its ally Musharraf to move against the Taliban and AQ strongholds.
 
As the Taliban regrouped in Pakistan, America and NATO spent 2005 preparing for the transfer of full authority to NATO. Taliban infiltration and activity steadily increased until they launched an offensive in the spring of 06, carrying out hundreds of attacks. While not quite Tet, it was still a surprise to the Americans. Now Bush finally started pressuring Islamabad for some action vs. the sanctuaries.
 
In July 2006 NATO took formal responsibility for Afghanistan’s security. Over 2006-08 the Pakistani government gradually stepped up its actions against Taliban strongholds, even as the Taliban gradually seeped back into Afghanistan. America came to rely more and more on “smart” Predator strikes which are just as likely to massacre civilians as carry out successful assassinations.
 
For all the bluster, all the blood, the Bush administration threw away the opportunities, if any ever really existed, to remake Afghanistan. Bush bet the war’s momentum on Iraq, and by screwing that up, he screwed up the whole momentum.
 
Obama evidently never questioned permanent imperial war in principle. Nor did he look at what a mess Bush had made of it and decide to abort the whole project. Instead, as we’ve seen, he decided to take personal possession of the whole thing, even campaigned on this (while focusing on the quasi-withdrawal from Iraq, of course, and not bringing up how the resources withdrawn from there would merely be shifted to the Afghan escalation).
 
Since taking office Obama has installed a new commander with a reputation for aggressiveness, General McChrystal. He set in motion a troop escalation which will bring levels to 68000 by December. (Meanwhile since spring of 2008 polls have shown increasing public tiredness of the wars. In August 09 we reached a milestone: a majority now considers the Afghan war not to be worthwhile.)
 
What are the possible courses of action from here? The power structure and the MSM completely rule out ending the war. That’s not even part of the discussion among Decent Serious People.
 
Also not available is full escalation and really fighting the war America’s leaders claim they’re fighting. In its decadence America, even if it were physically and economically capable, which by now is questionable, is simply not morally or spiritually capable of using the level of force commensurate with its imperial ambitions.
 
It is malicious in intent but weak and craven in the execution.
 
So instead we have a selection of middling possibilities. We could continue to muddle through as we have been. We could largely withdraw ground forces and try to turn it into a true video-game war deploying mostly drones and other hi-tech. Or we could, wonder of wonders, try diplomacy; recognize that the Taliban is (1) not a jihadist monolith, but an aggregation of fighters with many different motivations, most of which motivations are generated by America’s presence and aggression themselves, and (2) it’s possible to co-exist on this Earth with the Taliban, without thereby empowering the real jihadists.
 
Those who say in principle they are not willing to co-exist, or that this is impossible, are nevertheless those who have long since conceded that they’re not willing to bring to bear the force necessary to utterly destroy this enemy. So their position, if really motivated by counter-terrorism, is incoherent. That’s part of how we know they’re really motivated by imperialism. 
 
There have been to date five “assessments” of the war this year (usually a symptom of the Peter Principle). McChrystal is currently halfway finished with presenting his theory on how the war should continue. (He was told to present basic policy suggestions first without any troop requests. The idea is that if the policy concept is widely considered reasonable, which it seems to have been, you then say OK, here’s the number of additional troops we need to carry that out. Those who already agreed in principle would then find it hard to backpedal when hit with the troop demand.)
 
McC’s prescription is the following: draw back the military from chasing around the countryside and focus on securing populated areas (that is, finally focus on classical counterinsurgency); step up the training of Afghan government forces (here too no numbers have been given); bring in many more civilian cadres – civil engineers, all sorts of trainers, most of all agricultural experts; and the ever-popular “streamline the military bureaucracy”. (This last one is especially favored by civilian and military leaders agreed upon a policy which is not universally popular in the upper military echelons.)
 
So to put it in Vietnam terms: switch from search-and-destroy to pacification; Vietnamization.
 
As for the upcoming troop request, it’s expected that McC will present a range of options, perhaps from 8000-45000 more troops depending upon how serious and sure people want to be, which will have been calculated to allow Defense Secretary Gates to recommend the “Goldilocks” option, twenty-something thousand.
 
(That Gates is a holdover from the Bush admin is also supposed to help provide Obama with political cover from attacks by Republican hawks wanting the high-end escalation. This guy just will not learn, will he?)
 
So Obama stands ready to take his first big step into what he thinks will be the glory of war. So we see the falsehood of the notion of “learning from history”. Intimates assure us that Obama is painfully aware of the double warning from history: that Afghanistan is the “Graveyard of Empires”, and of course the Vietnam lesson.
 
Obama is therefore giving us a twofer. He “understands” both, but finds a way to discount both so he can walk clear-eyed off the cliff.
 
I’ll close with this quote from the great 19th century historian Leopold Ranke, a quote often adduced in the 20th century, and it seems we’ll have lots more work for it in the 21st:
 
Neither blindness nor ignorance corrupts people and governments. They soon realize where the path they have taken is leading them. But there’s an impulse within them, favored by their natures and reinforced by their habits, which they do not resist. It continues to propel them forward as long as they have a remnant of strength. He who overcomes himself is divine. Most see their ruin before their eyes; but they go on into it.

March 30, 2009

Some thoughts on GM

 

So, just as many of us predicted from the start, giving the auto companies ad hoc holdover money and a deadline to come up with a plan would lead to…..giving the auto companies ad hoc holdover money and a deadline to come up with a plan. Well, the difference this time is that Rick Wagoner is out, and Chrysler has to engineer a merger with Fiat. Still no word on why Cerberus doesn’t have to put up any money.
 
(From the start it’s seemed to me that if Chrysler’s owner doesn’t believe it can be saved with more cash, why should the government second guess them? Why in this case does the administration know so much better than “the market” and an iconic private equity firm, while where it comes to the banks they keep repeating, Hare Krishna-like, the chant “the government shouldn’t be running banks”?) 
 
While I have no love for General Motors and am opposed to this bailout as well, I still differentiate between an auto manufacturer which, however sociopathic its actions and products (its role in the dismantling of America’s streetcar system; the corresponding invasion strategy of highway construction; the massive social engineering project known as suburban sprawl; SUVs), still did actually produce a real product, as opposed to the big banks which were essentially running a big scam.
 
So I find it telling that Obama is willing to at least make a show of getting tough with GM and Chrysler (though not so much with GMAC and Cerberus), while desperately trying to cater to every frivolous whim of the big bankers.
 
(Though even here the focus is very clearly on what is good for GM, i.e. its bondholders, while the public are even in the picture only as “consumers” who must somehow be induced to buy American cars, that is as a sort of mine. Notice also how even though the UAW has already made significant concessions while the bondholders have made none, the administration propaganda line is that we’re at square one, and “both” are equally obligated to give up things at this point. The bondholders are holding firm, expecting to be bailed out completely. Given how Obama is determined to do exactly that for the bankers, the bondholder intransigence here seems perfectly rational.) 
 
My first reaction was that Wagoner, a relatively small fish, is being sacrificed as misdirection from what is clearly a Geithner/Obama policy priority to maintain the big bankers in their jobs.
 
Of course Wagoner provides a clear example of the rent-seeking neo-feudalist mindset. His commitment to the sprawl-SUV societal model, his refusal to pare product lines, tranform to a hybrid-based business model, the killing of the electric car – these all show how he and the board had become completely calcified in the finance elitist sense of entitlement. Wagoner believed GM had a “right” to exist in that form, and if reality was contradicting the entitlement, it was the government’s job to suppress that reality.
 
So GM’s “business model” was to lobby, fund political action groups, deny climate change, and file lawsuits to preserve its bloated, calcified structure. Beyond that Big Auto for a long time coordinated strategy with Big Oil to enforce the continued existence of the fossil fuel/personal car societal model. This is the essence of corporatism. 
 
I think a clear sign that we no longer have a democratic capitalist system but rather a corporatist one is that no one loses his job even over major screwups. Thus we have:
 
1. No one fired over 9/11.
 
2. Where it came to Katrina, Bush got rid of “Brownie” only under extreme duress. (I would bet that to this day Bush still doesn’t understand what Brown did wrong, or why he had to relinquish him. Just like he probably doesn’t understand why he couldn’t have Meirs on the Supreme Court.)
 
3. To the best of my recollection, no one was ever forced out for incompetence or war crimes in Iraq (although anyone who questioned administration policy or priorities was drummed out immediately); indeed they gave Paul Bremer a medal. This certainly wasn’t for any reality-based measure of performance. Rather it was for an ideological cadre who pushed ahead with his ideologically-defined task even in the midst of a war, even where it was directly counter to the rational fighting of that war (as when he removed the entire professional class of Iraq, pretending it was de-Baathification, when it was really to remove indigenous obstacles to predatory carpetbagging; the dissolution of the Iraqi army was just one element of this “blank slate” agenda). 
 
4. Now no one since Fannie and Freddie is to lose his job over the planned destruction of the global economy.
 
It’s clear that no one but ideologues could think it’s reasonable, moral, or desirable to retain the existing management of these banks, and that in the administration we obviously have such ideologues. That the existing bank management not be fired is a major policy principle for the administration. Otherwise there’s simply no way to explain why the management hasn’t been forced out as a condition of the bailouts.
 
Let’s assume that an administration is committed to a bailout policy; still, where they have roused such political anger, both reason and politics demand that you at least take the simple measure of getting rid of the dead weight management. This could go a long way toward defusing populist anger, which is so easily personalized.
 
That Geithner and Obama have refused to take this step, that they are gratuitously courting such a political backlash, is strong evidence that here, just as with Bush and Bremer in Iraq, we are not in the realm of normal reality-based politics, but in the realm of ideology trying to dominate reality.       

March 24, 2009

Corporate Anarchy

Filed under: Corporatism, Law, Sovereignty and Constitution — Tags: , , , , — Russ @ 4:13 am

Conventional wisdom would have it there still exists an intact system of law and good faith enforcers of that law, and that what we have here are just atypical abuses of it. I believe the evidence clearly shows the law itself is fundamentally broken, and we do in fact exist in a state of nature where the nominal law is just another weapon.

It is the finance industry (and corporatism in general) which has eradicated any rule of law in America. For decades they have acted in bad faith, against the people, against the country, against the very concept of law. Each and every political action has sought to (1) strip away all purview of law in the first place, (2) render any vestigial law or regulation which does nominally exist toothless, (3) even if there remained any actual law or regulatory enforcement, they sought to evade it, (4) as a social and political matter, if it comes down to it they flat out lie.

Here’s a few examples of what I mean. (These are just finance examples, but I could multiply them with examples from the environmental, detainee, food and drug, and consumer protection realms, to name a few.) 

1. Obliterate rule of law de jure: At the turn of the century Clinton/Bush cadres, at the behest of the industry, repealed the prosthetic Glass-Steagal law (meant to prevent lawless situations which contributed to the Great Depression) and enacted a “law” which formally placed the CDS industry outside the law. The CFMA was not an action of law, but an action of anarchy. These actions were meant to place the finance industry in a Hobbesian state of nature where might (their money and political muscle) would make right.

2. Preventing enforcement: Under Clinton, when Brooksley Born wanted to enforce the law, she was shunned and fired. Many would-be conscientous regulators had the same experience under Bush (not to mention private whistleblowers like Harry Markopolos, who tried to warn the SEC about Madoff for years). Now under the Bush/Obama bailout expedition we have the administration stonewalling on transparency law, refusing on principle to give the public its rightful information on who has received taxpayer money, who did the administration launder money to through AIG, etc.

3. Evading enforcement: How exactly (if we live amid good-faith actors) does a corporation like AIG which has benefitted so tremendously from the very existence of the American system and is asked to contribute so pathetically little in return still decide it has a right to evade even those meager taxes by offshoring operations? (And if we do live amid the rule of law, why does the so-called law allow this? This also goes back to (1).) Yet AIG’s actions here were so egregious even the Bush IRS balked at them. And today, hoping for better treatment under Obama (better than under Bush!), they’re suing to get a refund on prior enforcement of what was an absurdly low tax bill in the first place. That goes back to (2).

4. As if all that weren’t enough, now we learn AIG was lying about the amount of those bonuses. It wasn’t $165 million, it was $218. While this change to what was a relatively minor # isn’t important, that even here they couldn’t help themselves, they had to lie, it’s so engrained in their corporate culture, is important, because it’s typical and indicative.

(It should also be an embarrassment to any apologist who’s been arguing that people shouldn’t make a big deal about this because the number is so small. Evidently AIG itself doesn’t agree with them.)

Another lie which has been hinted at: I don’t have the link handy, but I’ve seen quotes to the effect that the vaunted “stress tests” are not in fact to be reality-based assessments of the solvency of the banks, but rather propaganda exercises which already have the predetermined result that the banks are fine and the public should have confidence in them and in whatever the administration says should be done for them.

This culture of the lie is endemic not only to a particular company. It’s endemic to the industry, to these administrations, to corporatist America as a whole, and to the existing system of law.

So we already have systemic “barbarism”. Even a literal lynch mob could not be anywhere near as lawless or as barbaric as the system itself.

And if anyone were to treat these persons as outlaws in the classical sense, we’d only be treating them as they always sought to be treated, and have in fact been treated, all along.

It would just be in a different sense than what they wanted.     

March 20, 2009

Bail Out!

Here’s a few notes toward collecting my thoughts on the bailout policy.

Basically, we have (1) a corporatist, neo-feudalist elite, and (2) a veritable bubble society, where the whole basis of the economy and social psychology, indeed the whole culture, is exponential debt and gold rushes.

The elite manages to achieve ever more concentrated wealth and power through a general political agenda and through disaster capitalism, which affords an ever more frequent litany of opportunities.

The two-party winner-take-all pseudo-democracy enables them every step of the way. Politicians are both corrupt and either corporatist ideologues or brainwashed into “capitalist” mythology. (Paul Krugman on his blog gave his assessment that Obama doesn’t want to nationalize these bank-derived structures simply because he’s “culturally” averse to it. Brainwashing.)

I think it does look like Obama’s presidency has already failed. It certainly will if he continues down this path. Obama may not be corrupt like Bush, but he does seem ideologically just as committed to the Bush economic agenda. (We can call it the Clinton-Bush-Obama corporatist agenda.)

What’s worse, his entire temperamental thrust seems to be toward appeasement. His apparent obsession with “bipartisanship” and appeasement is inexplicable from any point of view other than being a basic character flaw. After all, how is it possible to have been paying attention to the way things have gone the past few decades and still believe it’s possible to appease the republicans, unless you have some desperate personal dream of doing so?

Seeing these giant bank structures using money extorted from the public to gobble up smaller, real banks, I’ve long been asking (it seems obvious to me), if we need this massive public bailout, because failure at the top, and on Wall St, will reverberate to Main St, then why don’t we go to the real links in the chain and shore up the real, local, real deposit/real lending banks (as opposed to these castle-in-the-clouds bank-derived structures who just lend one another funny money in a round-robin ponzi scheme)? Why don’t we shield these (there have to be ways at least as effective, and probably alot simpler) from those alleged reverbs, as we let the cancerous growth die off (or better yet burn it off)?

(Basing everything at the smaller bank level would also provide a better base from which to launch the “stimulus”.)

One last point, regarding the poor being inexplicably willing to crucify themselves on debt disaster which wasn’t even their own fault, in a way the rich would never do: This is the same question Thomas Frank wrestled with in What’s the Matter With Kansas? , why do so many among the lower classes support Republican policies which are so obviously radically against their economic interests? Presumably the answer isn’t just stupidity and clever manipulation of “culture war” issues.

I had occasion to think about this the other day when I was rereading part of Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism. She referred to how the unclassed, atomized masses of post-WWI Europe, especially in Germany and other places wracked by hyperinflation, insurrection,  and other economic and social upheaval, developed a strangely selfless way of looking at day-to-day life (“selfless” in the sense of not looking to their socioeconomic interests), while at the same time they became keenly interested in ideology, conspiracy theories, culture war issues, etc., as a kind of mass political escapism, and that this helped prepare the ground for the rise of totalitarianism.

We’re still very early in the world-historical crisis. To paraphrase Churchill, we’re still in the “beginning of the beginning”. But I wonder if people, especially in America where class consciousness has always been artificially repressed, and rational self-interest may therefore be an atrophied faculty (and not only among the poor), are already beginning to check out on “reality” (i.e. give up on really trying to roll up their sleeves and tackle a problem) and fly off into escapes.

Eight years of George Bush is difficult to explain otherwise. And that Obama can clearly signal that he intends to largely continue with the Bush agenda, and not immediately bring down mass protest (where are all the people who supposedly wanted “change”?), is also difficult to explain otherwise.