Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

November 30, 2007

On The Impeachment Stand-still

Filed under: history, impeachment, politics — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 10:28 am

Once Upon a Time… has a post called “Yes: I TOLD YOU SO” written by Arthur Silber. It is an excellent post and worth reading in its own right. The question is: why are Democrats so unwilling to pursue impeachment?  Mr. Silber provides an explanation.

The Democrats will never pursue hearings or investigations of the Bush administration beyond a certain point the Democrats consider “safe,” they will not object to the administration derailing any case of moment by invoking the state secrets privilege, they keep telecom immunity alive, and the Democrats act in countless other ways to bury and cover up the crimes of the Bush gang, because there is one eventuality they fear more than any other: if there were ever to be a finding — by a court, in Congressional committee, or anywhere else — that the Bush administration, including the president himself, in fact ordered criminal acts, then they would have to begin impeachment hearings. It is inconceivable that even this repellent Congress could ignore, for example, a court determination that Bush had ordered torture — which, as Turley pointed out, would constitute a war crime as defined by U.S. courts. The same would be true of any finding that the administration, perhaps including the president himself, had committed a crime by ordering illegal domestic surveillance.

Democrats are not avoiding impeachment because they think there is no cause, or because the evidence is weak, unsubstantial or irrelevant. They are avoiding impeachment because they are afraid the system will uncover the mother-lode. Once a federal judge rules the administration knowingly violated U.S. law, Democrats and Republicans hands will be forced. The blanket corruption that envelopes both parties will be exposed for all to see.

Democrats are more than happy to play the non-binding oversight role, aware not to poke to hard and fully aware of Republican safe words. Democrats could have grilled General Petraeus in his congressional testimony. They didn’t. Instead, they rushed to condemn anyone who would dare question where the General’s loyalty lies, to the President or to the people. Leading Democrats are faster and show more conviction criticizing their own base than they ever show going after Republicans.

The mainstream Democratic party is never going to leave Iraq. The goal in Iraq is to quell violence enough to get an amenable client state. Democrats are careful to promise a new direction, but not commit to leaving. The corporate gouging bonanza will lessen. The U.S. will have its permanent military bases to project power a.k.a. bomb countries that don’t listen to Washington.

The majority of Democrats are not incredibly indisposed to bombing Iran. I think some of them would prefer that Bush did manage it before he left office, it would give Democrats a fall guy. However, I do think that the fervor has reduced recently because of public reaction to the idea and bureaucratic kick-back. Definitely not off-the-table, but put on the back burner temporarily.  However, it is certainly more of a possibility than Democrats as a party honestly pursuing impeachment.

Using this perspective, it is important to examine the one impeachment that would have succeeded: Richard Nixon. As Noam Chomsky wrote in 1973 “Watergate: A Skeptical View,” the reason for Nixon’s imminent removal from office before he resigned was not crime, but rather the targets.

Watergate is, indeed, a deviation from past practice, not so much in scale or in principle as in the choice of targets. The targets now include the rich and respectable, spokesmen for official ideology, men who are expected to share power, to design social policy, and to mold popular opinion. Such people are not fair game for persecution at the hands of the state.

In 1973, Chomsky also predicted the predicament we are currently facing.

More generally, the President’s position is that if there is some objection to what he does, he can be impeached. But reverence for the Presidency is far too potent an opiate for the masses to be diminished by a credible threat of impeachment. Such an effective device for stifling dissent, class consciousness, or even critical thought will not be lightly abandoned.

If the choice is between impeachment and the principle that the President has absolute power (subject only to the need to invoke national security), then the latter principle will prevail. Thus the precedent will probably be established, more firmly and clearly than heretofore, that the President is above the law, a natural corollary to the doctrine.

A corollary Frontline dubbed “Cheney’s Law.”

9/11 happened as a response to U.S. policy.  The terrorists were trying to send a message, and it wasn’t that they hated our freedoms.  The targets were the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and most likely the White House.  The symbols of our corporate, military, and executive power.  The very institutions that in turn have made Iraq the endless, hopelessly expensive meat-grinder that it is.

A connection that the leaders of this country didn’t want its people realizing.  So, it made up an irrational narrative of a backwards people, playing on the racism, bigotry and patriotism of the nation.  Any examination was immediately shouted down as giving comfort to the terrorists and possibly treasonous, certainly unpatriotic and un-American (whatever that truly means).  Deviating from past policy or even starting to question the policy of our elites would be proof of the terrorists winning.

So, what can we do about it?  We need to unseat the elites.  It starts with destroying the structural, mathematical artifact that causes the two party system to arise.  We need to change the way we vote, as I’ve suggested before.  Not just from Democrats to Republicans, or vice-versa, but to allow people to vote for third-party candidates without undermining their position.  Stepping outside our corrupt two-party rule will be a major first-step to achieving a better democracy, and in the long-run the only meaningful one.

November 29, 2007

The Myth of Liberal Media

Filed under: media — Tags: , , — codesmithy @ 9:27 am

The above video is a good run through on why the media product is not liberal. Glenn Greenwald has a piece called “Bad stenographers” which touches on some of the themes of the video.

There are two points that I would like to add.

One, the truth does not lie somewhere in the middle of two extremes. If the Republicans claimed 2+2=4 and Democrats claimed 2+2=5, it does not mean the answer is 4.5. One side could be right, they could both be right, or both sides could be wrong. The goal of journalism is not to faithfully record all sides of a story. It is to put all sides into a coherent context from which informed decisions can be made. It does require good judgment and a degree of humility. This is one of the reasons it is disheartening to see Time’s fumbling reaction. However, I haven’t found their reaction to be atypical because a News outlet’s claim to superiority rests on its authority and reputation. So, naturally, the institution does not like it when either of those qualities are challenged. When caught, the response is to waffle, ignore and misrepresent.

Two, there is a nasty tendency to smear the workers instead of the institution. Lackluster shows, blame the writers. Poor programs, blame the programmers. While it is true that a few bad eggs can cripple a product, solely blaming the workers is a cop-out. Workers are hired and can be fired. If the workers are believed to be competent, then inferior results have to attributed to the conditions inside the institution. Individual workers have very little control over the conditions inside the institution. If the conditions are to blame, then it has to be laid at the feet of those that run them. Given the usual ratio of blame, I would say people who blame low-level workers have their scorn direction backwards. More needs to go towards management, less towards workers.

November 28, 2007

Re: “Hey, Young Americans, Here’s a Text for You”

Filed under: culture, history, media, politics — Tags: — codesmithy @ 12:18 pm

Naomi Wolf, the self-appointed soccer-mom of American democracy, breaks out her condescending and faux-paternalistic ranting in a piece called “Hey, Young Americans, Here’s a Text for You.” No doubt a condensed version of her book: “The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot.”

I agree with Ms. Wolf that democracy and civic participation are very weak in this country. I agree with some of her points about education. It is shameful that “only 45.9 percent of those surveyed knew that the sentence “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” is in the Declaration of Independence.” Government class in my high school was a joke. But, it was a joke because everyone was forced to take it. There is nothing worse than a classroom with actively disinterested students. The tougher nut to crack is how to get people more interested in participating in their government. Which is the salient point behind the education figures:

The study also found that the more students increase their civic knowledge during college, the more likely they are to vote and engage in other civic activities. And vice versa — civic illiteracy equals civic inaction.

Interested citizens are more likely to increase their knowledge and participate in government. Disinterested citizens do not increase their knowledge and do not participate.

I understand where the students quotes are coming from, although I don’t think the 16-year-old from Menlo Park is quoting their teacher correctly. I’m almost certain it was along the lines of “you shouldn’t believe everything you read in the newspaper.” Good advice, as the Joe Klein debacle shows.

The problem is that people don’t see an alternative. Our voting system is functionally restrained to two parties. I’ve written why this is the case before, so I won’t repeat the arguments here. In this system, the mass media has an extraordinary ability to shape an election. It takes a lot of money to even get access to media outlets. So, it is typically corporate backed candidates that work themselves to the top. The media doesn’t focus on policy, they focus on the most middle-school grade gossip. The way this system works does have limited potential.  However, it is important to note that this power was strengthened through technology changes.  So, it is possible that new technology can undue this trend.

Ms. Wolf then proceeds to attack the left, saying it put to much stock in communist ideas and abandoned patriotism. First of all, I feel Marx is an important thinker, and his ideas are worth learning about (I will not vouch for Lenin or Mao).  Second, one should not judge Marx by his followers as Marx himself remarked: “All I know is I’m not a Marxist.” Third, I would say a lack of social consciousness is one of the key demotivators to civic action. If one believes that they live in a fundamentally classless and equatable society that they’ve found themselves on the short end of, a rational conclusion is to blame yourself.  However, if one understands that we live in society with classes and inequity, we see the necessity to change those structures through civic action.   As for Ms. Wolf’s comments about patriotism, after the Vietnam War, the U.S. went through its own version of Dolchstoßlegende. This sentiment is probably epitomized in the jingoistic Rambo movies. But, the other point that I’d like to make is that patriotism means different things to different people. Some people consider what John Kerry did, to serve in Vietnam, and come back to speak out against the war to be unpatriotic. Others consider what John Kerry did to be the very definition of patriotic. To say the left has let the right monopolize patriotism is senseless. The right’s version of patriotism allows no dissent, the left’s does. One is easy to demonstrate as the principles on which this country was founded. The other is so baldly false that people who dare to claim it are as busy wrapping flags around their ideas as they are stating them.  Don’t confuse the effort and tiring facade of patriotism with the substance of it.

Her final points about civic action and history education are somewhat infuriating.  American history is typically taught through the lens of great leaders, not social movements. Students are taught that our leaders see problems throughout the population and responsibly act on them. This overarching view is one of the core reasons for complacency, and much more lethal than simple cynicism.  There is no reason to do anything because the great leaders will look after the people.  So, calling for more education is fine, but attention has to also to be paid to what students are actually taught.  If one calls for more patriotic, history education, don’t be surprised to find a more complacent populace instead of a more active one.

However, on Ms. Wolf’s final point, I can’t help but feel that she is extraordinarily blind. The most hopeful sign that our democracy is turning around is not the lackluster performance of her “American Freedom Campaign.” It is Dr. Ron Paul. Although, I don’t care for some of his positions, Ron Paul is a vanguard of a vast grass-roots effort.   Ron Paul is an alternative that has the potential to wake-up a complacent democracy.  His success is a litmus test for the potential for a reinvented and reinvigorated American democracy.  Once people are more engaged, I suspect some of the other problems will disappear.  They are symptoms, not causes and the good doctor just might be a part of the cure.

November 27, 2007

The Long-Term U.S. Presence In Iraq

Filed under: history, politics — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 8:21 am

The AP has a story that the “Iraqis may offer US deal to stay longer.”

Iraq’s government, seeking protection against foreign threats and internal coups, will offer the U.S. a long-term troop presence in Iraq in return for U.S. security guarantees as part of a strategic partnership, two Iraqi officials said Monday.

As is typical, it is hard to properly parse what is going on in the Western press.

Al Jazerra has their take on the agreement which is a bit more informative.

Basically, Al-Maliki has promised to be client state of the U.S. in exchange for security guarantees. In all honesty, I don’t know what Al-Maliki could really do. Bush has Ahmed Chalabi waiting in the wings. It isn’t like Al-Maliki is in any position to kick the United States out.

The “encouragement” of investment from U.S. companies has been the idea all along. As Naomi Klein put it in her book “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,” Iraq has been subjected to an anti-Marshall plan. No local economy has been built up. Infrastructure is still a mess. Projects that have been lavishly paid for literally have human feces running down the walls. Now, factories and natural resources are going to be sold off to American companies at bargain basement prices. The looting that took place in the aftermath of the war is nothing compared to the professional looting and long-term subjugation that is about to take place. The Iraqi people deserve better. Make no mistake, this has been the plan all along.  How do I know? Because we’ve done it before, and for the same reasons. Amy Goodman and Democracy Now look at the U.S.-backed 1953 coup d’etat in Iran.

Parts 2, 3, and 4.

November 26, 2007

Discovering Truth Through Arguing

Filed under: culture, politics — Tags: , , — codesmithy @ 6:25 am

Linda O’Connor, a librarian at Great Meadows Middle School put up signs saying: “Just Say ‘No’ to Wikipedia.” I can only imagine how Ms. O’Connor feels about the Dewey Decimal System. Educators are correct that Wikipedia is not an authoritative source. To my knowledge, Wikipedia has never claimed to be perfect, or the world’s most authoritative encyclopedia. In fact, there are all sorts of warnings, advertising problems with particular articles.

If Ms. O’Connor’s point is to highlight problems with any one source that is perfectly fine. If her point is to say no with Wikipedia because it is currently the most popular, that is fine also. However, the underlying point needs to be that no one should just trust one source, and authority is one of the worst foundations for any argument. If the children’s takeaway from O’Connor’s message is simply: don’t use Wikipedia, then I feel a great educational opportunity has been lost.

In my mind, the strength of experts or authorities is that they should be able to make really convincing arguments, not just what they say is automatically gospel. It is unfortunate but a practical necessity to summarize main points or conclusions from certain works. For example, arguments for the theory of evolution rest on a huge body of evidence. In fact, some of the most conclusive evidence supporting evolution wasn’t discovered until well after Darwin’s death, DNA being one example. The salient point is that the theory of evolution is as true as any other theory in science can be. This notion of scientific truth is essential to get children to understand.

As a counterpoint, Newton was unquestionably a smart individual. However, he believed in a “Luminiferous Aether Wind” which was the universal propagation medium of light. One of the great tragedies of modern education is its emphasis on the “right” answer with little to no attention paid to the wrong tracks people have gone down. The most important aspect of education is the journey, not the destination. More can be learned by going down few wrongs paths than many right ones.

This brings me to arguing and the Internet. The Internet is an egalitarian battleground of ideas. Among, the greatest ills of the Internet is the inability for people to properly argue. “A Rulebook for Arguments” by Anthony Weston is a good example of what every child should be ingrained with since the beginning of their education. It not only presents how to make arguments, but also numerous logical fallacies (although finding online sources of logical fallacies is not too difficult either). As Weston states in the introduction, “some people thing that arguing is simply stating their prejudices in a new form.” As long as arguing is seen in this light, then any vetting of knowledge on the Internet is hopeless. However, arguing doesn’t have to be this way. Arguing should be about, “offer[ing] the reasons and evidence that convinced you. It is not a mistake to have strong views. The mistake is to have nothing else.”

A central point of education should be get children to agree on correct answers among themselves, not to reproduce the answer that agrees with the teacher’s. If the class produces the wrong answer, that is also a wonderful teaching opportunity for students to examine what went wrong. If we do not teach children to question authority, we are not safeguarding democracy. The Internet can be a grand teaching device to that end. A true test of a good education is not how faithfully a student can reproduce information, but rather how well they can identify the bad.

November 25, 2007

Howard and Kasparov

Filed under: politics — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 9:16 am

Australia’s Prime Minister, John Howard, was defeated in the country’s 2007 election seeking his fifth term.  The incoming Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has promised his first acts as PM include ratifying the Kyoto Protocol and to withdraw Australian troops from Iraq.  Glenn Greenwald has more analysis.

President Bush appears to be relatively unfazed by the whole affair.

In Russia, Garry Kasparov former world chess champion, opposition leader, and one of Putin’s harshest critics was arrested and sent to jail for five days.  I can’t read the Russian, but there is video of the protest here (h/t jrf).  Yes, those are Bolshevik flags people are waving at the protest.

I don’t know what Garry Kasparov’s politics are really beyond anti-Putin and pro-democracy.   A clearer picture can be made at “The Other Russia.

Below is Bill Maher embarrassing himself interviewing Kasparov on “Real-Time with Bill Maher.”  I like Maher, but it is one thing to be condescending about a country with a bunch of self-absorbed Americans, and it is quite another to try it with a foreigner from that country who is unquestionably smart.  Kasparov puts Maher in his place a few times during the interview.

November 24, 2007

Michael Moore on Norway

Filed under: culture, politics — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 8:41 am

I know, every country has its own problems.  We might not like everything about Norway, but when we stop taking the best ideas from elsewhere, we cease being competitive.  The United States is situated on some of the best land in the world.  In the long run, the United States has much more inherent wealth than Norway.  The question is whether we want to continue to support an opulent minority, or use our vast wealth and resources to raise the standard of living for everyone on the whole.

November 23, 2007

Chomsky on Iran

The Real News has an interview with Noam Chomsky about Iran.

The narrative Chomsky gives of U.S. involvement in Iran starting from the aftermath of World War 2 and the disintegration of the British Empire to the present day should be canon for any meaningful discussion of Iran.

The key events are

  1. Mohammed Mosaddeq, prime minister of Iran announces plans to nationalize Iran’s oil fields
  2. Operation Ajax – CIA backs 1953 coup d’etat to install the Shah
  3. Iranian Revolution of 1979, the oppressive regime of the Shah is replaced with an Islamic theocracy
  4. 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War – Saddam Hussein attacks Iran out of fear of the Islamic revolution spreading to Iraq (United States backs Hussein)
  5. 1990-1991 Gulf War – Iraq invades Kuwait, U.S. wages war to maintain balance of power in the region
  6. 2003 Iraq War – U.S. invades Iraq under the pretext of fighting global terrorism and failure of Hussein’s regime to relinquish its stockpile of Weapons of Mass Destruction (the massive stockpiles of WMDs still have not been found)

The mainstream media seems either ignorant or uninterested in this uncelebrated history of U.S. involvement in the region. No matter how banal or irrelevant our media or U.S. elites may find it, Iranians probably feel differently.

On another note, Glenn Greenwald does a good job tearing into Joe Klein. Klein is not stuck in the 80’s however. Klein is doing what he probably has always done. Defending and encouraging Democratic capitulation on foreign policy and security matters on behalf of the Washington consensus. The fact the Washington consensus has fallen way outside the favor of average American citizen makes no difference. Joe Klein will lie or bullshit his way to defending it. This further proves Joe Klein is a lying, formulaic hack, as was also demonstrated with the “Primary Colors” incident.

“For God’s sake,” said Mr. Klein, a Newsweek magazine columnist, “definitely, I didn’t write [Primary Colors].”

For God’s sake Joe, you did! Further proving that either lying or being consistently, demonstrably wrong is not sufficient grounds for ejection from the pundit class.

One could make a career proving Chomsky right about his ideas on political discourse in America.

As a final note, we should examine what “liberal” pundits tell the politicians we elect to capitulate on.

This is part of Amnesty International’s unsubscribe-me campaign. From the website:

The Directors approached the making of the film in a way that has never been done before, choosing to show the reality of Stress Positions in as authentic a way as possible. They filmed a person being put into Stress Positions over a 6 hour period. There is no acting on the part of the “prisoner” – his pain and anguish is for real.

November 22, 2007

R.G. Price – Understanding Capitalism

Filed under: capitalism, economy, politics — Tags: — codesmithy @ 8:13 am

R.G. Price has a good piece about “Understanding Capitalism Part I: Capital and Society.” I agree with most of his points and prescriptions.  There is little point in elaborating on it since I would have a hard time making the case better than Price did. Although, I find it funny how easy to tell people who have actually read Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, and those that have bought into the free market fundamentalist myth about what Smith wrote.

The one thing I would like to add is the term that Price is looking for instead of “true free trade” is so-called fair trade although how much the modern movement embodies Price’s vision is another matter. However, it could be the terminology wasn’t as developed when he wrote the piece back in 2003.

In this light, we must recast what free market fundamentalism is. Free market fundamentalism is to economics as social Darwinism is to evolution. A system that has the pretense of being impartial and scientific, but is in fact an intellectual movement meant to justify inequality and maintain the status of elites in society. It is divine right for a new age to replace a discredited rationale. Just as in the age of kings, this hierarchy is brutally enforced.

The United States has been a major exporter of this ideology and system for at least the past half-century as “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism” by Naomi Klein explores. It is an attempt to supplant the institution of the government with that of the corporation. And one of the most powerful weapons in the arsenal is public debt; another system of control on a democracy.

November 21, 2007

Kucinich and Gravel

Filed under: environment, media, politics — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 9:11 am

Rep. Kucinich gave an inspiring ten minute speech about the role environmentalism would play in his administration. The key question facing our species is whether we can overcome ruthless exploitation, not only with our fellow men but also planet we live on. A flawed notion of our species is that we are separate from nature. We build our societies, our homes, our machines, the world beyond our narrow affairs seldom enters into our day to day reality.  Nor is this surprising, because we’ve done such a great job masking it.  But, no matter how hard we try the underlying reality remains the same, our survival depends vitally on the ecosystem of the Earth as a whole.  It is easy to forget what we’ve taken and what we’ve wasted.  The Earth is so large and the resources have been so abundant.   However, there are now signs that we need to start considering those issues, because failure to so could very well mean our extinction.  And yes, war is an environment issue.

Mike Gravel is another dark horse Democratic Presidential candidate and former U.S. Senator from Alaska.  Someone put together a video of audio clips of him and Nine Inch Nails “In This Twilight” from Year Zero (an album about a dystopian future set in 2022).  I thought it was quite good and should pass it along.

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