Saturday, July 30, 2016

bruce wilder 07.29.16 at 8:17 pm

William Timberman: You’d think at some point they’d at least pull over for a bit and let somebody out to check the wheel bearings. All that screeching can’t be coming just from a few disgruntled Berniebros, can it?

Corey Robin rather eloquently made the point in a couple of his posts that this is the last hurrah for Clinton and Clintonian/Democratic politics. Win or lose, this is the last time her characteristic Third Way, pivot to the Center gambits will work.

She has moved so far Right, that her Convention is getting plaudits from conservative punditry.

Obama, from whatever combination of latent conviction or undoubted political genius, has been doing his bit, implementing necessary preventive maintenance. His foreign policy, since Clinton left her worldwide Clinton Foundation fundraising tour as Secretary of State, has to be acknowledged as a relief from the continuation of Bush II that seemed to characterize his first term. “Don’t do stupid stuff” isn’t quite up to the standard of FDR’s Good Neighbor policy, let alone the Atlantic Charter, but it is what sensible people hope for, in place of hubris and aggressive stupid. Domestically, Obama has done a number of things to shore up the populist foundation of the Democratic Party — he’s made a show of moving on immigration; he’s made a show of moving on labor law regulations that affect overtime, which affects more people and involves more money than modest increases in the minimum wage. I am sure there’s a longer list. These things give the Democrats some credibility, if they have the sense to talk about something other than the ripe horror of Trump’s racism.

Several of our commenters are absolutely sure that it is absolutely, transcendentally obvious that Trump is a huge risk to world peace, and that the contrast with Clinton in this regard scarcely needs to be cast. If there’s any basis at all for this argument, it is derived from the much improved foreign policy of Obama’s second term, with its last desperate efforts to close Guantanamo, to open to Cuba, do a deal with Iran, stay on the margins of the war in Syria and not make it worse, continue the process of global climate talks however disappointing.

NATO expansion in Eastern Europe and the confrontations with China in the South China Sea do not portend well, but Obama has at least given us some reasons to hope for a triumph of reason. TPP and its sisters still loom in the background and Obama appears to be ready to give these attempts to institute corporate neofeudalism his all. So, I am not seeing reasons to be substantively hopeful. Labor law regulatory reform in the 8th year of his Presidency that will not be finalized in his term is a calculation, not an epiphany. I am saying that Obama has been doing preventative maintenance on the bus of the Democratic Coalition, just as Clinton herself has, chameleon-like, adapted Sanders’ colors on some salient issues.

It will be enough to get us thru the general election. I still do not believe that Trump can pull it off. The Democrats will hold together, kinda sorta, despite a drop in turnout and participation that may be truly frightening in its depth.

It is a strange political atmosphere. A lot of people are really, really unhappy with the status quo, even though the status quo isn’t particularly bad. We in the U.S. at least are not experiencing the truly bad times of deep recession let alone war. But, the post-WWII political and economic order has passed its sell-by date and we are in the period of crisis where political re-alignments occur. The magic number is 72 years; it is 72 years since the end of the Second World War, and we’ve been living thru the echoes of world crisis of 1929-1945 since 2001, the institutional order built then, crumbling about us. Our politicians are scavengers, feeding on the carrion of a herd felled by its own extreme old age.

There’s no hope here — at least no hope for the next two to four years. Who ever is elected will step into the maelstrom ill-equipped to respond.

I strongly expect that will be Clinton. For all the talk of her experience, I do not see a case for her being able to cope; she seems on so many fronts determined to do (from my perspective) the wrong things and singularly equipped by the Clinton Third Way approach to take the hazard of political paralysis and making it worse. (Not much commentary on how her VP pick may swing the Senate to the Republicans.) The case for Clinton as peaceably safe on foreign policy seems not just remarkably weak but wilfully ignorant. Clinton is malevolent.

And, yes, Trump, the narcissistic sociopath, would be a disaster in a different way, but his isolationist instincts would seem on the surface to lead in a safer direction — away from the cliff. And, there are a lot of cliffs — in the chaos of the Middle East, in the South China Sea, in NATO expansion, in the TPP.

The “cliff” isn’t an objective thing. It is a social construct, a product of the human tendency to collectively go on doing the same thing, long after it has ceased to be effective. It is so hard, politically, to coordinate our behavior, that when we find something that works we just keep doing it, long after diminishing returns have taken past effectiveness and into self-destructive territory. That’s the cliff. In 1929-32, the Republicans, who had secured a presumptive majority in the country in 1894-96 with protective tariffs and the gold standard and the country had experienced the heady prosperity that followed and the era of Progressive Reform that sought to cast progress in a conservative mold, were bound and determined against all the evidence and the ever-deepening crisis, to double down on Smoot-Hawley and Hoover’s faith in gold and balanced budgets.

The U.S. was the imploding center in that crisis. In the present crisis, it is the periphery that is falling apart, falling into deflation, political breakup and civil war. But, Clinton is the embodiment of the political impulse to continue the status quo, to double-down on the economic and international policies of Bush2-Obama, to extend and pretend. It won’t work. It never works. Because these are the moments when architects are needed, not opportunistic salvage crews. Clinton’s is a politics of controlled disinvestment and dismantling, whether she recognizes it or not and its time has run out.

Bruce Wilder is so smart it is hard to understand how he could be dumb enough to believe in Trump's isolationist instincts. Am I the only one to remember Bush II ran on a humbler foreign policy and promised no nation building? Trump is a con artist and nothing he says should be believed.

bruce wilder 07.29.16 at 6:49 pm

phenomenal cat: I am surprised at the number of people commenting as if the convention represented anything other than made for teevee movie/sub-high school pep rally.

The medium is the message or something, right?

American politics, domestic and international, has been developing along certain lines in a steady step-wise fashion, of incremental degeneration on several fronts.

The political conventions have evolved into carefully orchestrated made-for-teevee pep rallies, the campaigns into the manipulation of a populace of zombies by propaganda, the government itself into a feeding trough for billionaires and international affairs into perpetual war designed for the profit of some of the richest and most pathological greedheads on the planet.

Is there any limit to these processes? Every four years, we have a new test. So far, so good, I guess?
William Timberman 07.29.16 at 7:03 pm

bruce wilder @ 75

You’d think at some point they’d at least pull over for a bit and let somebody out to check the wheel bearings. All that screeching can’t be coming just from a few disgruntled Berniebros, can it?

bob mcmanus 07.30.16 at 8:25 am

Bill Clinton is evil
Hillary Rodham Clinton is evil
Barack Obama is evil

The “lesser evils” are evil, and the desperate HRC boosters have yet to make me believe that they believe and understand that, and are actually willing to resist the incremental evil that our nation has been moving through under Democratic governance.

Trump is worse, and I will vote a straight ‘D’ like I have for fifty years. I don’t think you have any freaking clue or appreciation as to the level of sacrifice and horror that that vote entails, nor do you provide an iota of hope that politics and conditions will ever improve.
bob mcmanus 07.30.16 at 9:23 am

29: Consider “evil” a rhetorical device making seriousness and commitment explicit. “Wrong” is inadequate for radical or effective politics, which is always about designating enemies, burning bridges, and going to war.

And my point in 22 is that the Manicheanism of election season necessarily extends into the policy and legislative seasons, and the insistence that Obama (or HRC) is a “good guy” besieged by nihilist barbarians will always tend to make opposition to his policies lukewarm, defensive, affectionate, guarded and wholly ineffective, since it is only marginal and arguable differences between friends and allies. How bad can this bill be? Obama signed it!

But enough. Rogers has a very interesting chapter on Reagan’s rhetoric that I want to compare to Obama’s, thanks Corey, and I need to finish Tanaka Mitsui’s defense and support for Nagata Hiroko, because nostalgia for authentic politics.
Rich Puchalsky 07.30.16 at 2:00 pm

Corey Robin: “”You might even say that was one of the, long term, purposes of my book on conservatism: to finally get liberals and the left to realize what conservatism was really all about, and thereby to see that to fight it, you’d have to transform yourself into an anti-capitalist party that would make anti-domination, freedom and equality, in all spheres of society (not just the economy), the centerpiece of your argument.”

I think that liberals have really already seen, and decided to not do that. Conservatism is, according to liberalism, ever-present, and the way to deal with it is with a kind of everlasting standoff in which the center point hopefully moves slowly to the left. And if conservatism wins some times, as it inevitably will, well that’s the diffusion of power in e.g. the American political system is supposed to be about — one political victory can not be transformed into full political control.

So the every-four–years “This conservatism is the worst ever!” isn’t supposed to be taken seriously: it’s in bad faith. Really what people are talking about it that in four years they expect to be saying that the conservative candidate then is the worst ever, that they expect the same basic conflict to be there every four years. If they thought that the elements of the worst-ever conservatism were actually bad, they’d have to repudiate them themselves, and they can’t.

The idea that seeing historical connections would transform liberals into anti-capitalist leftists en masse seems over psychoanalytic, if I’m using that term in a correct sense. It’s the idea that by seeing a truth, people see that they have to change. But that hardly ever happens. Changes comes through practice.

William Timberman 07.30.16 at 2:55 pm

Rich Puchalsky @ 50

Changes comes through practice.

Consider how far the practice necessary to create the kind of changes we need diverges from the practice that creates a Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton — or a js or faustusnotes, for that matter. Consider how it is that bob mcmanus’s understanding of the ways our immersion in things-as-they-are affects our cognitive development, or bruce wilder’s analysis of the sine curve of institutional growth and decay, are disdained by the partisans here as the cynicism of grumpy old white men, or a nihilistic attempt to equate the obvious (to them) promise of Hillary with the certain (to them) Trumpian apocalypse.

Sadly for us, it’s not bad faith driving this disdain, it’s an avoidance of precisely that practice which alienates before it reveals, isolates before it offers any viable path toward effective political engagement. As for Trump and what he represents, suffice it to say that the warbling in the depths of our coal mine won’t always be coming from a canary.

Monday, July 25, 2016

bruce wilder 07.25.16 at 4:43 am

LFC @ 470

I was trying to draw attention to the way you were eliding surprise and scandal.

Atrios, clearly a news junkie who follows politics fairly closely, acknowledges that the DNC’s bias was widely known. In that sense, you were perfectly accurate in asserting “no one thought . . . ”

The thing is, the DNC was supposed to be neutral. Its members — and especially its chair — had an ethical imperative derived from the institutional mandate.

You took common knowledge (admittedly somewhat vague and unconfirmed on some specifics) and you made it into moral indifference.

I am not trying to criticize you personally for that. I am not attributing it to some particular shortcoming in your character. As far as I can tell your character is just fine. But, I do think it reflects a troubling aspect of our times, that we have some trouble mustering some feeling about the ethical shortcomings of our lords and masters. Just because we’ve come to expect it doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter.

Sunday, July 24, 2016



Rich Puchalsky 07.24.16 at 6:39 pm

novakant: “So Rich, do you not have contempt for racism?”

Actually, your statement was “if they are racists I have contempt for them”, so you weren’t talking about contempt for racism as a kind of abstract principle, but why don”t you argue it out with faustusnotes? He can explain to you that trailer trash and white trash are not expressions of contempt, they are merely examples of the rhetorical style that he knows how to use with lower class people now that he’s moved up from that class himself. Then you can tell him that he *should* have contempt for his dad the racist who uses shocking expressions like “Polish scrotes”. Then you can both agree that being unable to find a job at 55 and having to defraud the state to get a place to live isn’t precarious at all, and there’s no reason that this guy shouldn’t be desperately holding onto a social place that requires that he find somebody to look down on.

Friday, July 22, 2016

bruce wilder 07.22.16 at 7:05 pm

For much of the post-WWII era, American politics was eminently predictable: if the economy was good in February, the incumbent or the incumbent Party was favored to win the Presidency in November. In general, the Democratic Presidents tended to be better for the economy viewed from the perspective of the general population of wage earners over the course of their four years, but conservatives found ways, sometimes, to undermine the Democrats in election years. And, in the reverse of this pattern, Republican Presidents tended to be bad for the economy (from the perspective of the general population of wage earners) except in election years.

Early on, ex-Presidents imitated Cincinnatus. Truman moved in with his hateful mother-in-law and people worried that he didn’t have enough to live on. Eisenhower went to his farm in Gettysburg. Lyndon Johnson had secured his fortune while in office as a Senator and was able to hold onto office for Texas only by presenting himself as sufficiently corruptible to Texas oil interests. But, Johnson, like Eisenhower, seemed to think reactionary Texas millionaires (they were mere millionaires in those days) were crazy and irresponsible, and needed to be handled and marginalized.

Nixon found the enduring fracture points in the post-war liberal consensus; he used his own personal and deeply felt resentments like a hammer and chisel, first as the most successful commie-baiter and later as a reinvented epitome of mediocrity. His personal corruption, by 21st century standards, was as modest as his wife’s Republican cloth coat. But, he saw that the next generation of the left was anti-authoritarian and wanted to separate from the diminishing working classes and he helped them along on their course. His sociopathy was different from Trump’s narcissism, but it knew few bounds; unfortunately for him, there still were bounds in American politics and while he broke some of those bounds, some of the bounds broke him. He was still a statesman — at least in his own mind — working on a long-term vision at home and abroad, even if it was without much consciousness of his own severe myopia.

Nixon’s many sins tend to get erased from collective memory, partly because he was so deft at using the left against itself. The Keynesian boom he induced to over-insure his own re-election was a catastrophic precedent that would be repeated and amplified by Reagan and GWB and, finally, Obama. This cynical maneuver became the basis for storytelling from the right that overthrew Keynesian demand management. As Corey Robin notes, he prolonged the Vietnam War, killing more Americans than Johnson and spreading and deepening the war in ways that destroyed Cambodia as well as more deeply scarring much of Vietnam. Just as he sabotaged the Paris Peace Talks in 1968, Reagan’s dark eminences would sabotage Carter’s Iran talks. And, Reagan would run bigger deficits and took over Carter’s deregulation push, using it to destroy organized labor and restore predatory finance.

George H W Bush was the last veteran of WWII to be elected President. He organized the first gulf war to vindicate the post-war principle of non-aggression, pushing Saddam Hussein’s forces back within his borders and containing him. The bounds, and the reasons for the bounds, were clear to him, at least where a narrative of aggression was available and the proper response was to mobilize a consensus with self-restraint as glue.

His son, George W Bush, whose honorable service limited his wounds received to dental work in Alabama, did not understand bounds. When the opportunity arose he went instantly from complacent nonchalance (“you covered your ass” in response to warnings) to pure righteous reactionary (and may I say, stupid?) anger. No plan, really; no real consciousness that he needed a plan. No consciousness that he needed even an actual justification. I say, “he” rhetorically; this is politics not personal psychology though the two may mix — his Administration and much of his popular support came to embody this shared conviction that ordinary means and constraints should be broken. It didn’t matter that Iraq had nothing to do with 9 / 11. William Safire was sure there was “smoking gun” evidence of a connection. Tom Friedman thought America needed to beat an Arab country senseless, or something like that. “Torture”? We were quickly mesmerized by ticking time-bomb scenarios and television heroes who did what it takes, righteously beating the truth out of suspects.

The history Corey Robin reminds us of has always had more than a fair share of crazy shit going on. That’s certainly true. Some of today’s Republicans are not that far removed from yesterday’s John Birchers.

But, there’s also something to the fear that the history of the last 70 years has been of a world system that managed against daunting odds to reach adult maturity in the fall of the Berlin Wall, George H W Bush’s Gulf War or Clinton’s intervention in Kosovo or the reinvigoration of the EU in the early 1990s and now show every sign of deteriorating into dementia. We keep doing the same things over and over, and for a while it looked like we were learning, and then we weren’t and it didn’t matter to us anymore. Colin Powell told us we wouldn’t repeat Vietnam; then, he went before the U.N. Security Council and lied the world and the U.S. into the war crime of aggressive war. No one needs no stinkin’ Glass-Steagall! What we need is financial innovation; the home equity ATM of no doc mortgages financed by a savings glut from China of all places.

The U.S. has been involved in endless, fruitless war for nearly the whole of the 21st century. We cannot end it. We just keep extending the pattern, without little acknowledgement that diminishing returns is progressing into blowback. We cannot end the post-WWII era, because, I suppose, we quietly fear what comes after — a zombie politics with a brain-dead Trump or a brain-eating Clinton?

Reagan, though already demented as he left the Presidency, made some fairly serious money making post-Presidential speeches. The Clintons took that to a whole ‘nother level of Davos Man with a collection plate. The corruption involved is epic. When Trump says, “the system is rigged, I know” people believe him, they believe he knows, I believe he knows. And, then he looks at Hillary and Bill. I know it makes no sense to elect a supreme huckster to be huckster-in-chief as if putting a Fox in charge of the chicken coop will protect the chickens, but we stopped being rational enough to respond to feedback or anticipate the obvious a while back.

The Pageant can be total pollyanna b.s., of course, but it can also be instructive about the trajectory we are on, and that trajectory is not looking good.

Pretend and extend, kick the can down the road, is not working out well and the popular impulse to simply break the system in contradiction to “it’s complicated” and “there is no alternative” is growing in strength. And, there really doesn’t really seem to be that much a left left to provide an alternative.

bruce wilder 07.22.16 at 7:29 pm

Turkey’s NATO membership is a bomb waiting to go off. A small-minded dictator who is apparently willing to stage terror bombings and coup attempts to provide pretext for enhancing his own power to destroy his country’s modernist secular political culture holds the Western allies hostage to their ability to penetrate his smokescreen, during a hot war involving Iran, Assad, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Hezbollah, the Kurds, . . .

Compared to that, Latvia and Ukraine are simplicity itself.


bruce wilder 07.22.16 at 10:26 pm

Those putative hot thugs of Latvia might find ways to provoke the Russians. They haven’t been very nice to their Russian populace lately — understandable given the history, but it is what it is. Similarly, attacking the status of the Russian language in Ukraine was probably not a good way to make friends, but Ukrainians are often passionate about it.

Offering NATO protection to Latvia — which is offering U.S. protection; the German Army would have a hard time driving from Bavaria to Berlin in a rain storm — is inviting trouble, entangling the U.S. in local politics it cannot control or even understand for no good reason other than habitual hostility by the U.S. toward Russia.

bob mcmanus 07.22.16 at 12:21 am

It’s about time we recognize the triumph of liberalism/neoliberalism in America, past hegemony into dominance. And ahistorical moralism, with a side order of apocalyptic and missionary imperialism, is what the petty bourgeois do, and Vox, Bouie, and the feminists at Slate and Jezebel are just parts of the latest iteration. It shouldn’t be that hard to recognize Comstock and Carrie Nation and John Harvey Kellogg under the bicycle helmets and tattoos.

Trump’s gonna get smashed. Same relevance and interest as maybe WJ Bryan or Henry Wallace. End of an era. But this is not good news, cause liberal imperialism is gonna kill a lot of people. Again.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016


Keep Shining That Turd General America Depends on You!

America is the most corrupt nation in the world. One thing that was interesting that the article doesn't discuss is what I am convinced is one of the reasons that generals who lose wars are so valuable. In a nation in decline putting a good spin on that decline is one of the most valuable services. Keep Shining That Turd General America Depends on You!

The corruption flows from the US. It is true that your local beat cop doesn't expect a bribe and would be insulted if you offered one. (Though last year cops kept more dollars of stuff than thieves stole.) But because money generally flows from the periphery of empire to the center and because policy in D.C. is sold to those with the deepest pockets people in other countries live in poverty and have to pay money in bribes to corrupt overlords who are ultimately imposed by US.

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