Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Rich Puchalsky 10.19.16 at 12:37 pm

Even as we write this, forces are advancing on Mosul to recapture the city from ISIL: the reason they can do this is because of U.S. airstrikes and troops. Refugee organizations expect something like 200,000-700,000 refugees from the city. The city was captured a couple of years ago when 1,000 Daesh fighters routed something like 60,000 defenders, mostly because the defenders weren’t strongly motivated to defend: people in the city now have a counter-assassination resistance against ISIL executions.

That is our intervention. Our bombs will not kill civilians in the city: the disparate groups of fighters that we support certainly won’t commit the usual atrocities of war: the refugee crisis will no doubt be handled responsibly and will be fully resourced: when the city is recaptured, the ISIL fighters will be defeated once and for all and we’ll never hear from them again.

The people who support this are crazy. They are insane and I can only talk to them in the jocular way that you’d talk to people who are suffering from such severe mental illness that there is no way to rationally convince them that their delusions are not real. But these people have not been institutionalized: they are running our institutions.

bruce wilder 10.19.16 at 1:41 pm

LFC: Deliberately targeting noncombatants is a clear violation of law and norms, and it cannot be justified by saying: “well, we have to eliminate the violent rebels in this city, and we’ve offered a pause to allow the rebels to leave, but the rebels have declined the offer, and therefore the lives of the civilians [whether they be 30,000 or 200,000] in the city are of no particular concern to us, . . .

The laws of war are a very particular and even peculiar species of bullshit. I am not a lawyer, let alone a military lawyer or specialist in such things, but from casual reading of news reporting, I think you are actually wrong in the above assertion. Giving a warning and an opportunity for combatants or civilians to vacate an area actually does open up a broad exception. “Exception” is probably the wrong term, technically, but in operation, . . . The offering of a warning, a pause and opportunities to vacate are all the laws of war require, in order to excuse the collateral damage that follows from combat operations against targets that are believed to shelter enemies among civilians.

bruce wilder 10.19.16 at 2:31 pm

If you don’t see any point in distinguishing between combatants and non-combatants (yes, the lines are sometimes blurry, but they are often very clear), and if you don’t think that intentions are of any relevance — that is, if you think there’s no difference whatsoever, for instance, between (1) deliberately blowing up a hospital and (2) accidentally bombing a hospital in a culpably negligent act of misidentification in the middle of a nighttime battle (as happened in a highly publicized case in Afghanistan a while back), then we can’t have a conversation b.c we are operating in different universes of discourse.

Do I think intentions are relevant? Maybe. Do I think statements of intention are relevant? Harder. I do not have any reliable way of sorting or confirming actual intentions, as distinguished from propaganda.

I am afraid we are stuck with this universe of discourse. No one can offer LFC a corridor of safe flight to a more morally certain world.

In my mind, I keep coming back to that NYT Mag profile of Ben Rhodes, the White House speechwriter (Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications) trying to manage U.S. foreign policy with rapid fire narratives. This is the world we live in. And, yes, it is one where it is not possible to distinguish between deliberately blowing up a hospital and accidentally in a culpable act of negligence blowing up a hospital. Not because there are not relevant moral distinctions, but because any story is built around those putative distinctions without much regard for facts. As Layman points out, the “information” given out by officials is dictated by a desire to manipulate public perceptions and deflect criticism and follows a predictable pattern unrelated to facts of a case.

This discourse has become delusive, as Rich P says above. Sarcasm or mockery may be rude, but appropriate.


Rich Puchalsky 10.19.16 at 3:18 pm

BW: “I do not have any reliable way of sorting or confirming actual intentions, as distinguished from propaganda.”

Note that even criticizing propaganda as such is supposed to imply commitment to the other side. Remember how faustusnotes apparently sincerely could not distinguish between criticism of propaganda about atrocities threatened in Gaddafi’s speech and actual defense of Gaddafi? In the same way, if you oppose a no fly zone that threatens great power war where the no-fly zone would be an area in which 165 people were killed in two months by bombs and shells by one “side” as opposed to 168 by the other, you must not be concerned about people being killed.

This is ancient stuff, but here we have the best and the brightest — university graduates, people with Ph.Ds in international relations, educated people of all kinds — no more able to think about it than any barely literate 19th century lower class urbanite. Clearly education only means that people are freed to rationalize a class position that justifies their interests.

This is why I think that problems of scale and responses to problems of scale really are the core elements of what people should be thinking about.

bruce wilder 10.19.16 at 6:18 pm

My phrase, “morally certain world” was poor. It doesn’t denote what I meant.

I think an objective observer, weighing the balance of likelihood, would conclude that the U.S. military targeted the MSF hospital and most probably did so, because the MSF hospital was only facility in the area where Taliban fighters could seek sophisticated medical treatment. That the choice of target originated in the U.S. chain of command was confirmed, so there is no dispute really that this choice was made, though the motivation and objective have been obscured and can only be surmised. No one was disciplined specifically for initiating the attack — we know this because no one was named let alone court martialled and sent to Leavenworth as would be nominally appropriate for such an unauthorized(?) act of murder and mayhem. The only discipline handed out was essentially administrative and only for the negligence and general snafus that allowed the rest of the chain of command to execute the attack without objection. Again, a reasonable and objective observer would wonder whether the initiator of the attack might not have had a hand in arranging things so that the attack went ahead and wasn’t short-circuited by the ordinary and routine controls put in place to prevent such “mistakes”.

Presumably, this balance of likelihood is why the MSF wanted an investigation independent of the U.S. military’s own self-examination.

“Blaming the victim” should not be the primary issue, here, though, of course, in the prolonged sequence of contradictory explanations in an incident that attracted international attention at the highest levels, the U.S. did at various times officially claim that the Taliban were firing from the compound and that the MSF complex was not properly marked. There is no particular reason to think that the sequence of explanations arrived at anything resembling the truth; only a defensible redoubt of apologia.

Whether the attack on the MSF hospital in Kunduz constituted a “war crime” isn’t the issue I want to raise either. I think it was a war crime, but the U.S. has a general policy of committing war crimes while denying that policy, so unless you think denial is itself a singular virtue is, I do not understand the argument. If the problem is whether Russia is the bad guy and the U.S. is the good guy, I don’t think the U.S. has much the better argument, at least on the face of it. Pretty much every “bad guy” atrocity in the record books has a corresponding atrocity with an American signature. Shoot down a passenger airliner? Check. Unprovoked aggressive war? Check. And so on.

The thing that troubles me — the thing I want to draw attention to — is the delusive effect of letting moral narrative dominate all policy discussion.

In the case of the Kunduz MSF hospital incident, the effect of moral-narrative-domination is that we do not know who in the U.S. chain-of-command decided MSF should clear out and the MSF hospital should close down (and people should be killed and maimed to achieve that objective). The civilian leadership presumably is not willing to own this policy choice, and they are willing to let the military bear the costs of demoralization, by disciplining, however mildly proportionate to the consequences for the dead and maimed victims, those in the chain of command responsible for the “negligence” which was ultimately trotted out as an excuse for “poor performance” (after several other explanations failed to stymie high-level criticism).

Our American b.s. pretense of righteous conduct is seriously interfering with the political ability to arrive at a deliberately chosen policy likely to achieve strategically chosen objectives, to cooperate efficiently within the policy-making hierarchy, to cooperate with allies and rivals (like Russia, which probably does not see the U.S. as particularly trustworthy or even entirely rational in negotiation), and to generate public support and general legitimacy.

I would submit that the ordinary purpose of international law is not to mandate just conduct per se, but to establish conventions that allow for political coordination, even between rivals, as well as facilitate hierarchical control of the state’s forces for the centralized control of policy. And, domination-by-moral-narrative has become a serious handicap, a source of American foreign policy palsy cum dementia.

I’m not taking the position that morality and ethical conduct do not matter. (I think long-time readers will realize I am something of an impractical idealist.) What I am trying to draw attention to is the effect of bull shit justifications: the narratives are drawn up in disregard for their factual truth value. (Disregard for truth value is kind of the definition of bull shit).

In short, I think judgments should be attempted, even in the face of the obscuring propaganda, but I think we have to confront the propaganda as propaganda and the doubts and uncertainties it engenders, as well as the semi-deranged social climate of opinion it engenders, as Rich P points out.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

bruce wilder 10.16.16 at 8:00 pm

LFC @ 317

Dropping the heavy mockery for a moment to get at the logic of my view:

I think that if Y wants to stop Z from happening, Y might consider as a first expedient, self-restraint: not doing Z, itself. That is, discipling its own forces and reforming its own strategies, when it finds itself either doing Z or creating the conditions where Z happens.

Your strawman summation of my view is actually not half-bad:

. . . we know a priori that X [the U.S.] cannot act without committing war crimes because X [the U.S.] is an imperial power bent on maintaining its global hegemony, therefore any employment of any military force in any way by X [the U.S.] anywhere necessarily constitutes a war crime, because every aspect of X’s [the U.S.’s] foreign policy is criminal and therefore every act taken by X is criminal.

What makes this a strawman is the “we know a priori“. I don’t think we know this a priori. I think we know this, a posteriori, that is, from ample recent experience and observation. I think there’s a pattern of choice and strategy that we ought to recognize and, if we recognize it, there might actually be an opportunity to choose differently and realize less horrific consequences.

I would not precisely characterize the recognizable pattern of American choices and strategies — that is, of American policy — as that of “an imperial power bent on maintaining its global hegemony” without further qualification. I would say the pattern is that of a global hegemon approaching imperial collapse. There are important differences, with immediate relevance.

A global hegemon in its prime is all about reducing the risks and costs of armed conflicts and coordinating the cooperation of allied, nominally neutral and even rival states with the elaboration of international law, norms, conventions and other agreements. The U.S. in its prime as global hegemon was all about sponsoring the formation of organizations for global and regional multilateral cooperation, even where its direct participation was not welcome. It is true that the political autonomy of states was respected only to the extent that they adopted sufficiently reactionary and economically conservative or authoritarian governments and the political costs to any other course could be large. Back in the day, a Gaddafi or an Assad or a Saddam had to balance on an international tightrope as well as a domestic one, but it was doable and such regimes could last a long-time. Anyway, I do not want to litigate the mixed virtues and vices of (Anglo-)American hegemony past, just to point out the contrast with our present circumstances.

The turn toward a palsied expedience is a distinct symptom of impending imperial collapse. That the U.S. cannot seem to win a war or bring one to a conclusion in any finite period of time is relevant. That a vast “deep state” is running on auto-pilot with no informed instruction or policy control from Congress is a problem.

When commenters decry the failure to observe the norms of international law, they are not just being moralists in an immoral world; they are decrying the erosion of international order, an erosion that has been accelerated by the U.S. turn toward futile expedience as a foreign policy justified by groundless self-righteousness.

“It’s complicated” shouldn’t be a preface to ungrounded simplification and just rounding up the usual policy suspects: let’s declare a no-fly zone, then find and train some moderate faction of fierce fighters for liberal democracy (as if such exist). If we demonstrate the will and commitment and stay the course . . . blah, blah, blah.

And, the R2P doctrine has been ruined not just by hypocrisy but by the demonstrated incapacity to match means to putative ends. It is not just suspicious that the impulse to humanitarianism emerges only when an opportunity to blow things up arises, it’s criminal. Or should be. (sarcasm) But, of course, it is not criminal, because atrocities are only a problem when it is the other guy committing them. Then, we can exercise our righteousness for the good, old cause. (end sarcasm)

The situation in Syria is chaotic, but the chaos is in U.S. policy as well as on the ground. But, the immediate question is not whether the U.S. will intervene, because, as other commenters have pointed out, the U.S. has already involved itself quite deeply. The creation of ISIS, one belligerent in the Syrian conflict is directly attributable to the failure of U.S. policy in Iraq and the U.S. is actively attacking ISIS directly in Syrian as well as Iraqi territory. The U.S. provides military support to multiple factions, including both Turkish-backed forces and the forces of a Kurdish belligerent, which are in conflict with each other. Meanwhile, our great good allies, the Saudis and Qataris are apparently funding Al Qaeda in Syria and maybe ISIS as well.

This chaos, I repeat, is inherent in the organization of U.S. policy — it is an observable pattern, not a property by axiomatic definition as your strawman would have it, but it is very worrisome. It is a symptom of what I rather dramatically labeled “imperial collapse”. That the next President of the U.S. cannot work out why a no-fly zone in a country where the Russians are flying might be a bad idea is not a good sign. That the same person was a proponent of the policy that plunged Libya into chaos is another not-good sign. That’s not an argument for Trump; it is an argument that Trump is another symptom.

The chaos, the breakdown of rational, deliberate and purposive control of policy, means that policy and its rationales are often absurd. I mock the absurdity as a way of drawing attention to it. Others seek to normalize. So, there you have it.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Rich Puchalsky 10.15.16 at 1:45 pm

Ronan(rf): “Personally I don’t know how j feel about the managerial class argument”

There are certain decision makers who make all of the important decisions, or who at least get a tremendously inordinate amount of power over those decisions. If they aren’t making a decision in a positive sense, their power often controls decisions in a negative sense by restricting the available choices to those that are all acceptable to them.

The developments of late capitalism have to do with the transition of these decisions from the elite capitalist class as such to a group of managers. These managers can not and do not go against the traditional interests of capital as such. But their decisions characteristically favor their class in ways that a traditional class analysis can not fathom, and their ideology appeals to a group variously called “professionals”, “technocrats”, “the 10%” etc. who more broadly control the levers of power in society.

The managerial class operates a world system — the system of trade agreements, monetary agreements, etc. This system keeps the world economy going as it is going through the cooperation of American economists, Eurocrat bureaucratic appointees, Chinese Communist Party higher-ups, important people in the financial industry (whether bankers or at central banks), CEOs of multinationals, and even the leaders of important NGOs. These interactions are observable and not a matter of conspiracy theory.

Rich Puchalsky 10.14.16 at 4:55 pm

Ronan(rf): “This has added some much needed complexity to the VOX narrative [link to article about _Twilight of the Elites_]”

_Listen, Liberal_ is like Chapter 2, or some kind of companion volume, to _Twilight of the Elites_. Reading both, you really start to get a sense of how invisible it is to what I’ve called the global managerial class that they are actually a class, and how professionals (a lower but affiliated rung) can keep demanding things in their class interest while justifying them as in everyone’s interest.

As for the people who write that CT threads around the election have become a complete waste of time (LFC being one): it’s a highly contested election. That is what happens to public discussion around a highly contested election. If you don’t think it’s valuable, please just don’t participate in it: don’t keep commenting that it’s a waste of time to people who are actually interested in it.

bruce wilder 10.14.16 at 4:59 pm

Luttwak’s prescience was answered, I see at the link (LRB, Letters May 26 1994) by John McMurtry:

There is, however, an alternative conclusion more consistent with the geo-economic pattern of facts Luttwak exposes. Economic security is no longer a benefit that international corporations are willing to concede to workers because the new transnational mobility of technologies and investment has eliminated the need to negotiate job protection or to depend on site-specific workforces. International capital now aspires to the conditions of an ideal global market for the purchase of labour – unlimited access to the world’s population as a vast pool of temporary employees to hire and dismiss at will.

If we keep in mind that Fascism must rely on the co-operation or support of big business to achieve state power, we have to ask why the rootless, globe-roaming international capital of today would ever support any party which promised ‘full secure employment’ to workers. Any such programme would undo capital’s new global leverage over workers’ livelihoods, wage-levels and employment conditions – all of which are already being rapidly and successfully brought by relentless international competition for jobs to an ever lower common denominator. International capital can already discipline a country’s workforce overnight by moving around the world at the speed of an electronic signal to another society where its cutback wages and insecure jobs will be welcomed. And it can do it cost-free, selling the products it makes back to the very communities it has disemployed under the protection of international trade regimes which rule out any control over its actions by elected governments. Why would corporate capital ever permit the ‘full secure employment’ policies of the old Fascism in exchange for gaining popular support? This would undermine its greater new power, which is to be free of the needs or demands of any working class anywhere.

Neoliberalism has mobilized a fun-house mirror version of fascism: what Sheldon Wolin called inverted totalitarianism. Soru @ 126 provided a link to Adam Curtis explaining how the propaganda of this neoliberal inverse of totalitarianism works, not to mobilize the masses, but to demobilize us all thru confusion, demoralization and atomization.

The date of the Luttwak piece and McMurty’s letter — 1994 — is significant I think. We’ve been at this since at least 1980 and had every opportunity to be fully cognizant for more than 20 years. And, yet, we have Vox decontextualizing all, to create the new normal.

engels 10.14.16 at 5:09 pm

Isn’t this…what one would expect?

It is

Rich Puchalsky 10.14.16 at 5:15 pm

BW: “Soru @ 126 provided a link to Adam Curtis explaining how the propaganda of this neoliberal inverse of totalitarianism works, not to mobilize the masses, but to demobilize us all thru confusion, demoralization and atomization.”

And, when need be, to blame us for recognizing this condition. Look at all of the verbiage on the last thread about defeatism, nihilism, lack of a plan to fix everything and so on. One proud defender of UK Labour called it a therapy session or some such. I am confused about how “We should stop killing people: I think that is very important” turned into “nihilism”, but then I guess that acknowledging this confusion is for sissies.

bruce wilder 10.14.16 at 6:06 pm

Rich Puchalsky @ 155

But, isn’t “boring” an argument too? A third way to dissolve all the noisier contention, make it meaningless and then complain of its meaninglessness?

I haven’t quite recovered from merian challenging your argument from pattern and precedent as decontextualized and ahistorical or then announcing that she was not a supporter of Clinton after having previously justified her own unqualified (though time-limited) support for Clinton.

I see the rhetorical power of Luttwak’s “perfect non-sequitur”, which Adam Curtis explains as a basis for the propaganda of the inverted totalitarian state in some detail. I’ve long argued that the dominating power of neoliberalism — not just as the ideology of the managerial classes, but as the one ideology to rule them all at the end of history — has to do with the way (left) neoliberals argue almost exclusively with conservative libertarians (right neoliberals). It is in that narrow, bounded dynamic of one completely synthetic and artificial thesis with another closely related and also completely synthetic and artificial antithesis that we got stuck in the Groundhog Day, where history tails off after a few weeks and evidence consists of counterfactuals projected a few weeks into the future.

It is not a highly contested election. It just looks like one and sounds like one, but the noise (and it is all noise in the end) is drowning out anyone’s ability to figure out what is going on. And, really, nothing is going on — or rather, nothing about which voters have a realistic choice to make. That’s the problem. (Left) neoliberalism was born* in the decision to abandon the actual representation of a common interest (and most especially a working class interest). Instead, it is all about combining an atomizing politics of personal identity with Ezra Klein’s wonkiness, where statistics are used to filter out more information than revealed and esoteric jargon obscures the rest. Paul Krugman, Reagan Administration veteran and Enron advisor, becomes the authoritative voice of the moderate centre-Left.

*That’s why the now ancient Charles Peters’ Neoliberal Manifesto matters — not because Peters was or is important, but because it was such a clear and timely statement of the managerial / professional class Left abandoning advocacy for the poor or labor interests against the interests of capital, corporations and the wealthy. The basic antagonism of interests in politics was to be abandoned and what was gained was financial support from capital and business corporations. The Liberal Class, the institutional foundations of which were eroding rapidly in the 1980s, with the decline of social affiliation, mainline Protestant religions, public universities, organized labor could no longer be relied upon to fund the chattering classes so the chattering classes represented by Peters found a new gig and rationalized it, and that is the (left) neoliberalism we know today as Vox speak.

The 10% gets free a completely artificial (because not rooted in class interests or any interests) ideology bought and paid for by the 1/10th of 1% and the executive class) ideology, but it gets it free and as long as the system continues to lumber along, employing them (which makes them the 10%) they remain complacent. They don’t understand their world, but their world seems to work anyway, so why worry? Any apparently alarming development can be normalized by confusion and made boring.

More than 20 years after Luttwak / McMurtry, I would think inability of the 10% to understand how the world works might be the most worrying thing of all. The 10% are the people who make the world work in a technical sense — that is the responsibility of the professionals and professional managers, after all.

That the economic system is being cannibalized to generate the outsized economic claims on income for capital and their minions among the executive classes is worrying, as is the stagnation and the slow reaction to climate change and other similar issues. The 10% don’t seem to be entirely ready to accept the parasitism in every detail. If you poison Flint’s water or Well Fargo charges for fake accounts, there’s some kind of reaction from at least some of the managerial / professional classes. We have Elizabeth Warren and she can be amazingly effective even if she seems like a lonely figure. But, mostly the parasitism of the financial sector affects the bottom 50%; the 10% get cash back on their credit cards. I read with fascination articles about the travails of that Virginia Tech guy who persisted in the Flint Water case; again, a lonely figure. I personally know a guy who is an expert on the liver and therefore on the hazards posed by Tylenol (acetaminophen or paracetamol); it is quite revealing to hear about how he’s attacked by interested corporations.

William Timberman 10.14.16 at 6:19 pm

And yet…. In the more or less cobwebbed corners of the Internet, like CT, we are in fact having this conversation, and others much like it — even when, as inevitably happens, it leaves us vulnerable to accusations of leftist onanism by self-appointed realists of the status quo. They may not be easy to ignore, but knowing that their opinions can’t possibly be as securely held as they claim, and are in fact more vulnerable to events than they’re capable of imagining, we shouldn’t feel obliged to pay their denunciations any more attention than they deserve.

The inverted totalitarianism that Bruce and Rich are referencing here is only apparently a successful marriage of the impulse to control complex processes and the technologies which promise the possibility of that control. If we really want to foster a future in which institutions are stable again, and can successfully design and implement effective protections for the general welfare, we’re going to have to get a lot more comfortable with chaos, unintended consequences, the residual perversity, in short, of large-scale human interactions. Never mind how powerful their tools, managers who want to avoid catastrophic delusions will have to learn a little humility. My advice to them: feed that to your big data and your AI, right along with your fiat money, your global capital flows, and your commodified and devalued labor force. and see where you wind up. Where you’re headed now is a dead end.

Rich Puchalsky 10.10.16 at 3:04 am

basil: “See for example all the anti-racists who support/extenuate for war, drones, cages for immigrants, and the liberal politicians pushing these positions.”

Since I’m really talking about a coherent line and not a few commenters, it’s worth pointing out that every one of the items that basil mentions has its own particular defense as part of that line:

war: Don’t you want to help people who are being killed by [dictator X]? Or the women being attacked by the forces of [dictator X]? You must not care about saving the lives of these people because you’re a white man, you [dictator X] lover.

drones: Don’t you know that bombs and bullets kill people too? How would it better to kill more people with a bomb drop since these people obviously have to be killed? Wait, you’re saying that maybe we shouldn’t kill them — oh, you just can’t support any of the unpleasant but necessary things that Obama does because you’re a racist.

cages for immigrants: The GOP manipulated the stats to make it seem like Obama was deporting more people than he actually was, so it’s not true that he deported more people than any other President. No, Obama manipulated the stats himself to placate them. And he couldn’t do anything differently anyways. You seem to be opposing a lot of the things that Obama, our first black President, does. It’s not coincidental that you’re white, is it.

liberal politicians:

[1] OMG you think Obama could have pushed to fulfill any of his promises? You’re a Green Lanternist who believes that a President only has to will something in order to accomplish it. Don’t you know that Presidents have very little power? Although Trump absolutely can not be allowed near the Presidency because he’d have so much power. Wait, you’re saying he wouldn’t, wow you’re a white guy who only cares about other white guys.

[2] Obama planned that the GOP would reject his Grand Bargain all along! He was definitely not bargaining away Social Security. It was all a plan to make them look bad. Don’t you know that politicians lie and that you can’t take their public statements at face value… wait. You’re saying that HRC’s promises to carry out her bargain with Sanders are worthless? You really don’t like women, do you?

Monday, October 03, 2016

bruce wilder 10.02.16 at 7:49 pm

Anarcissie @ 239: We basically have a whole class of people, at the top of the social order, who seem devoid of a moral sense — a problem which the upcoming election isn’t going to touch, much less solve. I don’t blame Clinton for this . . .

JimV @ 317: I am sorry if I mischaracterized BW as implying that HRC is evil, . . .

Peter T @ 320: Whatever the merits of their individual stances, there is no reason to suppose that either Obama or Hillary can exert more than loose control over this mess [the multi-sided regional civil war engulfing Syria and northern Iraq]

stevenjohnson @ 324: The recent leak that Clinton is against nuclear armed cruise missiles and isn’t committed to Obama’s trillion dollar nuclear weapons upgrade appears to suggest she’s not quite on board with plans for general war.

LFC @ 330: I disagree w the notion that the pt of nuclear ‘modernization’ is to make plausible the threat of “imminent general nuclear war.” If U.S. military planners took hallucinogenic drugs and went nuts, they could “plausibly” threaten “imminent general nuclear war” right now with the US nuclear arsenal as currently configured. They don’t need to upgrade the weapons to do that. The program is prob more the result of rigid, unimaginative thinking at top levels of Pentagon and influence of outside companies (e.g. Boeing etc) that work on the upgrades.

I don’t know if that seems like a somewhat random collection of precursors to assemble as preface to a comment. I was thinking of picking out a few upthread references to climate change and the response to it (or inadequacy thereof) as well.

I am a little disturbed by the idea of leaving the impression that I think Hillary Clinton is “evil”. What I think is that American politics in general is not generating realistic, adaptive governance.

I am using that bloodless phrase, “realistic, adaptive governance”, deliberately, to emphasize wanting to step outside the passions of the Presidential election. I think the Manichean narrative where Trump is The Most Horrible Candidate Evah and Everyone Must Line Up Behind Clinton as an Ethical Imperative of a High Order is part of the process of propaganda and manipulation that distorts popular discussion and understanding and helps to create a politics that cannot govern realistically and adaptively. This is not about me thinking Trump is anything but a horrible mess of a candidate who ought to be kept far from power.

I see Clinton as someone who is trapped inside the dynamics of this seriously deranged politics qua political process. I don’t see her as entirely blameless. Politicians like Obama and either Clinton, at the top of the political order, are masters (keeping in mind that there are many masters working to some extent in opposition to one another as rivals, allies, enemies and so on) of the process and create the process by the exercise of their mastery, as much as they are mastered by it. I see them as trapped by the process they have helped (more than a little opportunistically) to create, but trapped as Dr Frankenstein is by his Creature.

Clinton must struggle with the ethical contradictions of governance at the highest levels of leadership: she must, in the exercise of power in office and out, practice the political art of the possible in relation to crafting policy that will be “good” in the sense of passably effective and efficient — this may involve a high degree of foresightful wonkery or a lethally ruthless statesmanship, depending upon circumstances. Beside this business of making the great machinery of the state lumber forward, she must strive to appear “good”, like Machiavelli’s Prince, even while playing an amoral game of real politick, gathering and shepherding a complex coalition of allies, supporters, donors and cooperative enemies.

Machiavelli, when he was considering the Princely business of appearing “good”, was contending with the hypocrisies and impossible idealism of authoritarian Catholic morality. He barely connected with anything that we would recognize as democratic Public Opinion and could scarcely conceive of what Ivy Lee or Edward Bernays, let alone Fox News, Vox and the world wide web might do to politics.

We are trapped, just as Clinton is trapped, in the vast communication nightmare of surrealistic news and opinion washing in upon us in a tide that never ebbs. We are trapped by the politics of media “gotchas” and Kinsley Gaffes (A Kinsley gaffe occurs when a political gaffe reveals some truth that a politician did not intend to admit.)

I don’t think Clinton lacks a moral sense. What I think is that Clinton’s moral sense is exhausted calculating what to say or do within the parameters of media-synthesized conventional wisdom policed by people who are themselves exhausted trying to manage it. Matt Lauer’s interview with Clinton was notorious for the relentless and clueless questioning about the email server, although I, personally, was shocked when he asked her a question that seemed premised on the idea that veterans should be offended by admitting the Iraq War was a mistake.

I would think it is easy to see that the media circus is out of control, especially when a clown like Trump graduates from The Apprentice to the Republican nomination. YMMV, but I think this is a serious problem that goes beyond vividly imagined sepia-toned parodies of Trump’s candidacy as the second coming of Mussolini.

While we’re getting ourselves agitated over Trump’s racism or threats to bar Muslims from entry, apparently the Military-Industrial Complex, left on autopilot, is re-designing the nation’s nuclear arsenal to make the outbreak of nuclear war far more likely. And, the closest Clinton gets to a comment, campaign commitment or public discussion, let alone an exercise of power, is a PR “leak”!!!

The chaotic civil war in Syria and Iraq seems like another example where the U.S. is having a hard time “thinking” things thru realistically. Clinton offered up a sound-bite last year, saying that she favored imposing a “no-fly” zone, which was exposed as kind of crazy idea, given that the Russians as well as Assad’s government are the ones flying, not to mention the recent experience with a no-fly zone in Libya. One interpretation is she’s stupid and vicious as a badge of class honor, blissfully consistent with the bloodthirsty record of Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger. Unfortunately, that might be true, though I think if it is true, it is more likely a product of being caught up in the amoral bubble of political and media process that has enveloped the whole foreign policy establishment than any personal psychopathy. What’s most alarming to me is that we cannot count on personal character to put the brakes on that process, which is now the process of governance. I am writing now of the process of governance by public relations that was has been exposed a bit in profiles of the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, Ben Rhodes.

In Syria, it has become almost comical, if you can overlook the bodies piling up, as the U.S. has sought a the mythical unicorn of Syrian Moderate Democrats whom the Pentagon or the CIA can advise, train and arm. This is foreign policy by PR narrative and it is insanely unrealistic. But, our politics is trapped in it, and, worse, policy is trapped in it. Layer after layer of b.s. have piled up obscuring U.S. interests and practical options. Recently, U.S. forces supporting the Turks have come dangerously close to blowing up U.S. forces supporting the Kurds. When you find yourself on opposing sides of a civil war like Charles I you may be in the process of losing your head. Some of the worst elements opposing Assad have been engaged in a transparent re-branding exercise aimed at garnering U.S. aid. And, U.S. diplomats and media face the high challenge of explaining why the U.S. supports Saudi Arabia in Yemen.

But, hey, Clinton will get Robert Kagan’s vote and a better tomorrow is only a Friedman unit away, so it is all good.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

bruce wilder 09.30.16 at 7:52 pm

RP @ 199

1.) I do not think the election is “close” — I think the pseudo-probabilities assigned by 538 to give Clinton ~60% chance of winning are not representative of Clinton’s chances, but are statistically representative of the state of partisan politics and related divisions in the country. If 538 is on to something, it may be that the ability of elite manipulations to get an electoral result is eroding, but I think not fast enough for Trump given his negatives.

I guess my views are in the structural factors category. The vast majority of people do not pay much attention to politics and do not understand much when they do. So, most people will vote the Party label supplemented by vague, emotion-laden impulses, and this includes most people who do pay some attention and have committed to a political identity. The most persuadable voters can be the least knowledgeable and the least committed. This makes the mass electorate eminently manageable and politics an exclusively elite province. The rise of the plutocracy and the decline of social affiliation has exacerbated the tendency of politics to become exclusively responsive to the prejudices and interests of the (financialized) rich and the new class of creatives and professionals and managers that serve the globalizing plutocracy.

The numerical majority are neglected by politics, and actual victims of its economics. We are in this moment in a period of economic stability, but still it is unsatisfactory. It is not a recession, when fear is acute, but people are unhappy about declining wages, etc. The sense of rapid technological change and an ominous future fills the popular imagination. Most people are unhappy with elites and elite performance, in one respect or another, bubbling up into their consciousness in ways that may or may not make contact with what they think of as politics. It might be a sense that something is wrong, if elites cannot manage the “war on terror” or it might be a rising cable bill or poor cell phone service. It might be a shabby airport or a bank being fined or police shooting someone unnecessarily.

For a long time, the two Parties represented the masses differently. The Democrats gathered the cultural outsiders and the economic underclass, while the Republicans took on the mainstream WASP core and the middle class establishment as well as big business. But, things have been changing and I do not think either Party represents any mass constituency. There are vestiges, in the Republican ability to marshal evangelicals or the Democrats to turn out blacks, but that is a statement about the capacity to manipulate, not about representing interests.

We have two intensely unpopular candidates, neither of whom is credible as an advocate for the common interest or elite competence and integrity. A lot of people will vote against one or the other. A few will vote against both. And, a great many — maybe more than any of the above — will not vote at all.

The glue of trust and legitimacy that held party leaders to their popular constituencies and made elections so eminently predictable is failing. Not so fast that I think Clinton will fail of election, though I keep my eye on the observations of a few who think otherwise.

In the meantime, campaigns have to campaign and so the tools of manipulation and propaganda are trotted out and hot buttons are pressed and pressed hard.

In a healthy democratic politics, politicians pursuing office bring about rotation in office. The loyal opposition criticise and develop alternatives to the current line of policy. When a line of policy fails, the opposition are all over it, leveraging that failure as an opportunity to gain office by championing some alternative. That pendulum swings freely.

That has not been happening. The pendulum has not swung. The Parties have settled into a partisan stalemate and rotation in key offices of state has been arrested and failed policy has been continued and extended without alteration.

Careful observers have wondered why the neoliberalism that produced the GFC was not discredited. Why the neocons that promoted the Iraq War are still dominating the fp discussion. Why so many leaders of the surveillance state have continued in office from Bush thru Obama. Ditto for the Fed. Ditto for the Media punditry, for that matter.

I think elite politics does not depend on the voters. Politicians compete to deliver voters to the donor class in a sense, but policy performance in relation to common interests does not matter. This is partly about how plutocratic interests have been melded with the interests of the executive class and the managerial class by financialization, so there are no elite divisions that might lead an elite faction to seek mass support against another elite faction. It is also about the decline of social affiliation in the society at large. No one belongs to an organisation, so there are very few mass platforms that could support any challenge from below, even from the middle-class. No strong unions, churches, etc.

The dynamics of Clinton’s campaign have been remarkable. Clearly, Trump has been a welcome gift and she has been running hard on not being Trump. If the Clinton Foundation is rotten, never mind the Trump Foundation is a bigger scam. If Bill skimmed millions from a for-profit school, never mind Trump U is a bigger scam. If Clinton is a war monger, never mind Trump is crazy in his bellicose bluster. If Clinton is a servant to the plutocracy, never mind, Trump is a billionaire and a cheat. It goes on and on, this lesser evil calculus absolves Clinton of a multitude of sins.

Trump, for his part, has to be one of the most cringe-worthy candidates ever. He will apparently say anything to get audience response. And, sometimes he says something –seemingly random — that reminds people of what adaptive change might look like. Like maybe we should not be nurturing WWIII in Ukraine. ISIS is a product of failed U.S. policy. When he says the system is fixed and corrupt, he should know. The Democrats are so busy crying, “racism” they do not have to deal with the elite competence and integrity issues buried in anger about immigration and terrorism and trade policy. The challenge to the integrity of elections cannot be met as both Parties have been promoting concerns in an increasingly cynical fashion since 2000.

It is mildly interesting to see what other people, people who have enlisted their psyches in the election, do with the major issues, which are not being discussed as we focus on just how terrifying is Trump. I do not know why anyone would use CT to campaign, so I presume what is written here is meant to be reflective thinking.

The absence of mechanism and agency bugs me. I do not see the case for the Iraq War vote making Clinton a war criminal, but I see how hyperbole substitutes for shouting at the deaf. GWB made the worst fp blunder imaginable: morally wrong, incompetently managed, unimaginably costly in blood, honor and treasure. And, yet the political system cannot reject it. Neither Obama nor Clinton turns away in any but the most nominal terms. Clinton promises an “intelligence surge”! Because Bush’s surge in Iraq was so successful and Obama’s surge in Afganistan confirmed its wisdom?

I feel much the same applies to economics. Inequality has no authors. I harp on Obama’s failure to prosecute banksters because of my irrational hatred for Obama, apparently.

To me, Clinton seems to be insistent on persisting in failing policy, in economics and in foreign policy. That the “better” pilot seems determined to crash the plane is not an argument for substituting a pilot that does not know how to fly. Noticing is an argument for detaching from anything that involves pretending that the “better” pilot is trustworthy.
Rich Puchalsky 10.01.16 at 11:06 am

BW: “And, sometimes he says something –seemingly random — that reminds people of what adaptive change might look like.”

I think that this is pretty much John Emerson’s territory. He wrote a lot about populism and how the Democratic Party not only rejected populism but successfully redefined the whole legacy of populism as racist. This is easy to do because if you go back in time for half a century or a century, everything is racist in America — look at merian’s “the left was sexist in 1968, so of course it always is” bit above. Jonah Goldberg tried to do this kind of thing with his Liberal Fascism book but of course overplayed it with comical effect.

So for the moment let’s ignore the bit about liberalism vs neoliberalism. What happened is populist elements were pushed out and technocratic ones pushed in, as being a whole lot more responsive to both the wealthy elite and to the new class of what Thomas Frank calls the 10%. And part of this was a new version of the past is which populism became racism, and in which any new populist demand was dismissed as racist and therefore the Democratic Party was immunized against it.

So there can’t really be a left populism any more. There can’t really be a right-wing one either because the GOP is run by con men and doesn’t actually do anything with the populist tropes that it uses to raise money — Trump is only the latest example of this. The interests of the people can only be represented by the voices of the 10%, and when problems don’t affect the 10%, they don’t exist.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?