Browsing the blog archives for June, 2014.

Prosecutors Closing in on Scott Walker and the VRWC

Republican Party, Wisconsin

See Wisconsin Governor at Center of a Vast Fund-Raising Case and John Doe prosecutors allege Scott Walker at center of ‘criminal scheme’. No indictments yet.

Prosecutors in Wisconsin assert that Gov. Scott Walker was part of an elaborate effort to illegally coordinate fund-raising and spending between his campaign and conservative groups during efforts to recall him and several state senators two years ago, according to court filings unsealed Thursday.

The allegations by five county district attorneys, released as part of a federal lawsuit over the investigation into Mr. Walker, suggest that some of the governor’s top campaign aides directed the political spending of the outside groups, most of them nonprofits, and in effect controlled some of them.

The documents made public on Thursday threatened to cloud the political prospects of Mr. Walker, who is seeking election to a second term this fall and is mentioned as a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016. They provided a rare view of the inner workings of a far-flung network of conservative nonprofit groups that have come to play a decisive role in national and state elections, secretly moving hundreds of millions of dollars into campaigns by avoiding traditional political action committees, which typically face tougher disclosure requirements.

This is bigger than Scott Walker. Very briefly, it is alleged Walker, his aides, and political operatives connected to Club for Growth were coordinating the spending of various outside interest group, such as Americans for Prosperity, the Koch Bro’s outfit. By law, such groups cannot directly be in contact with political campaigns. Karl Rove’s name comes up, but it’s not clear he was in on anything.

Right-wing bloggers (Althouse, Instapundit et al.) still insist the investigation is nothing but a witch hunt directed by Democratic political operatives to stop Scott Walker from becoming president. Evidence? what evidence? Althouse is so upset by the “prosecutorial aggression and overreach” that she is tempted to renounce “the liberal values I believe in.” I’m not linking to this, as I’m afraid the bullshit could leach into my laptop and cause a system crash.

Other right-wing bloggers are calling the charges false, because. They’ve taken the position that the investigation itself is an outrage.

Angry Bear recalls,

Mind you, this did not happen in the last day or so. This has been an ongoing John Doe investigation in 2014 which Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Club for Growth have been attempting to quash. Wisconsin District Judge Randa agreed with Walker’s group and ordered all documentation destroyed. The case was appealed to the 7th District COA where Judge Easterbrook and two other judges over ruled Randa. “Federal Judge Rudolf Randa is a member of the Federalist Society and his wife donated often to Walkers campaign. Judge Randa’s Judicial Assistant is the wife of Scott Walkers lawyer.” Hey, its all in the family.

“Federal Appeals Judge Frank Easterbrook unsealed the court documents Thursday as he reviews a lawsuit attempting to end the John Doe probe. Two unnamed individuals this week tried to intervene in the case to prevent the release of the records, but Easterbrook rebuffed their request.” I wonder who that could be?

One alleged Scott Walker email with Karl Rove was released by Easterbrook in the ~250 pages.

“The documents include an excerpt from an email in which Walker tells Karl Rove, former top adviser to President George W. Bush, that Johnson would lead the coordination campaign. Johnson is also Walker’s longtime campaign strategist and the chief adviser to Wisconsin Club for Growth, a conservative group active in the recall elections.’

‘Bottom line: R.J. helps keep in place a team that is wildly successful in Wisconsin,” Walker wrote to Rove. “We are running 9 recall elections and it will be like running 9 Congressional markets in every market in the state (and Twin Cities.)’” No crime there yet; but, it is a smoking gun.

Walker and the Wisconsin Club for Growth are accusing the state prosecutors of violating their rights to freedom of speech due to the gathering of this information which reveals the names of donators to pro-Republican/Conservative funds. They accuse the prosecutors of violating elections laws.

The 7th District COA with Judge Easterbrook as the chief judge of a panel of three is reviewing the case. Like Posner, Easterbrook is not so easily swayed by politics. It should get interesting.

Update: See Simon Maloy, “GOP Is Falling to Pieces.”

The funny thing is that as Republicans team up with pundits to chisel out Obama’s epitaph, the Republican Party itself is falling to pieces right before our eyes. . . .

. . . Now Christie and Walker are implicated in criminal investigations. Prosecutors in Wisconsin placed Walker at the center of a “criminal scheme” to coordinate campaign spending with outside groups. In New Jersey, the investigation stemming from the George Washington Bridge scandal is reportedly closing in on Christie himself. For both men, once considered potential saviors of the GOP, the political future looks considerably dimmer.

Losing two top-tier presidential candidates (and potentially two governorships) would be bad enough, but the party also has to deal with the Tea Party/establishment fight that flared anew with Eric Cantor’s downfall earlier this month. The House leadership elections yesterday were quick and uneventful: Majority Whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy replaced Cantor as majority leader, and Rep. Steve Scalise replaced McCarthy as whip. Hardcore conservatives felt that Cantor’s defeat at the hands of a Tea Partyer would send a message to the leadership that RINOs (it’s still amazing they consider Eric Cantor a RINO) would not be tolerated at any level of government. The leadership heard that message, ignored it and installed McCarthy, whom the hard right considers even more of a squish than Cantor.

The media are conditioned to spew out the “Democrats in Disarray” narrative, whether the Dems are disarrayed or not. But as Maloy points out, right now about the only thing holding the Republican Party together is pathological hatred of Barack Obama.

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Not Enough Bell Jars

Dick Cheney, Iraq War

Dick the Dick has slithered out from wherever he keeps himself and offered his opinion on Iraq. The widespread reaction from news media has been, “Really, Dick? You went there?” So that’s something. He even caught a hard time from Megyn Kelly.

[Update: I didn’t see the Megyn Kelley encounter myself; apparently it wasn’t as tough as was hyped.]

Yet I understand the old neocon crowd is turning up on the teevee. Apparently they still think they are owed a victory parade.

Back in 2006 I wrote a post called “Save Us From CEOs” which is more or less about the phenomenon of high-level executives and politicians who are pathologically incapable of perceiving their own failures. Dick and his pal Shrub are featured prominently, and I think it holds up pretty well.

The problem is that, as a species, we seem always to allow the self-confident, assertive types to be in charge whether they actually know what they’re doing, or not. I don’t think this is a new thing (see, for example, the Civil War and General George B. McClellan). The Dickster is such a perfect example of such a specimen that for a time “Dick Cheney” became a kind of euphemism for “arrogant clueless empty suit.” See also “The Agony of Dick.”

Watching Dick parade his magnificent lack of self-awareness today is both fascinating and horrible, like watching pythons trying to swallow alligators. He’s wrapped himself in so many layers of bullshit I doubt there’s a force on this planet that could get through to him that he failed.

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Guns Not Always Wanted


Lake of the Ozarks is a big man-made lake smack in the middle of Missouri. The Osage River was dammed up ca. 1930 to create a hydroelectric plant, and the resulting lake stretched across four counties and became a tourist attraction. I haven’t been there in a gazillion years, but when I was a young ‘un for summer vacation my family used to rent a cabin on the lake where there was fishing and swimming and boat riding. Happy memories.

There are also resort hotels with city slicker amenities like swimming pools, golf courses, restaurants, bars, and even some spas. It looks like there’s a fancy-schmancy luxury resort about where I think those old rental cabins used to be. And I’m sure there are still some cheap motels and cabins and plenty of places selling live bait and tackle. So the area draws tourists from all over the Midwest, and tourism is pretty much the whole economy there.

One of the communities depending on that tourism is Lake Ozarks, and Lake Ozarks has a problem with guns. Missouri is a gun-lovin’ state, mostly, and apparently the folks at Lake Ozarks decided that strangers walking around with rifles scared away the tourists.

The Lake Ozark, Missouri Board of Alderman voted last week to ban gun owners from openly carrying firearms, even if they have a concealed carry permit, because they were afraid that armed individuals would chase away tourists. “We’ve had a tough time over the years promoting Lake Ozark as a family area,” Alderman Larry Buschjost explained. “We want you on the Strip with families, everywhere in Lake Ozark with families. We want you to bring your kids down here and let them loose. For the life of me, I don’t understand why I would have to carry any type of gun, concealed or otherwise.”

The ban was initiated by the local police chief, in part due to concerns raised by business owners.


Lake Ozark’s efforts to keep people with guns from scaring tourists and other patrons away from local businesses, however, may be short-lived. The Missouri state legislature recently passed a bill that will allow concealed carry permit holders to openly display their guns, regardless of local ordinances. The bill is currently awaiting Gov. Jay Nixon’s (D) signature or veto.

So the people of Lake Ozarks may not get to decide for themselves what’s best for their community, because freedom. I wonder also how that ordinance is going to work in Saint Louis, which is kind of like an actual city, last time I looked. I just hope a bunch of second-amendment yahoos don’t take it upon themselves to vacation in Lake Ozarks and terrorize everyone.

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Beware of Safety


You absolutely must put your coffee/soft drink aside and take a bathroom break before reading this. Otherwise I am not responsible for the consequences.

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Three Little Words

Democratic Party, Iraq War, Obama Administration

If Hillary Clinton intends to seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, questions about Benghazi!!! may be less likely to trip her up than questions about Iraq. A little candor on her part might go a long way toward putting her support for the invasion to rest, but I’m sorry to say candor isn’t her strong suit.

These days she is saying her vote to authorize the invasion in 2002 was a mistake, but she couldn’t recant the vote because she couldn’t “break her faith” with the troops. See George Zornick, “Hillary Still Doesn’t Get It on Iraq.”

CLINTON: I kept trying to say “Well if we knew then what we know now it would not have ever come for a vote,” all of which was true, but just sort of avoided the fact of my saying “You know I just got it wrong, plain and simple. I made a mistake.” I thought a lot about that, because people said well—“You’re not saying you made a mistake for political reasons.” Well in fact, in the Democratic Party at that time, the smart political decision, as so many of my colleagues did, was to come out and say “Terrible mistake, shouldn’t have done it,” and you know blame the Bush administration. I had this sense that I had voted for it, and we had all these young men and women over there, and it was a terrible battle environment. I knew some of the young people who were there and I was very close to one Marine lieutenant who lead a mixed platoon of Americans and Iraqis in the first battle for Fallujah. So I felt like I couldn’t break faith with them. Maybe that doesn’t make sense to anybody else but me, but that’s how I felt about it. So I kept temporizing and I kept avoiding saying it because I didn’t want there to be any feeling that I was backing off or undercutting my support for this very difficult mission in Iraq.

“I was wrong” would have been a better answer. Instead this comes across as “I avoided admitting my mistake and calling for a change in direction because we were sending all those troops over there to die and I didn’t want to hurt their feelings.”

Combine that with something Robert Kagan said a few days ago

But Exhibit A for what Robert Kagan describes as his “mainstream” view of American force is his relationship with former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who remains the vessel into which many interventionists are pouring their hopes. Mr. Kagan pointed out that he had recently attended a dinner of foreign-policy experts at which Mrs. Clinton was the guest of honor, and that he had served on her bipartisan group of foreign-policy heavy hitters at the State Department, where his wife worked as her spokeswoman.

“I feel comfortable with her on foreign policy,” Mr. Kagan said, adding that the next step after Mr. Obama’s more realist approach “could theoretically be whatever Hillary brings to the table” if elected president. “If she pursues a policy which we think she will pursue,” he added, “it’s something that might have been called neocon, but clearly her supporters are not going to call it that; they are going to call it something else.”

That’s exactly what worries me.

A few days ago radio interviewer Terry Gross pressed Clinton to explain the evolution of her thinking on same-sex marriage, and Clinton later criticized Gross for being persistent. All Clinton had to say was “I used to oppose it, but then I realized I was wrong and changed my mind.”

This is not difficult. It might even be true.

Where I see enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton in 2016, it appears to be coming mostly from women who really, really want to see a woman president. But that’s not good enough. After all the bellyaching about how Barack Obama isn’t progressive enough, why are we even thinking about Hillary Clinton, who is arguably even more corporatist and less progressive than Obama? It’s not like the Republicans are going to nominate someone who won’t scare the bejesus out of most folks, and we have to settle for name recognition.

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Impulse and Ideology

conservatism, firearms, Religion, Social Issues, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

Some guy at MSNBC argues that it makes “little sense” to call Jerad and Amanda Miller, the Las Vegas shooters, “right-wing extremists.”

He said right-wing extremists typically focus their anger on federal authorities, not local law enforcement officers like these.

“They weren’t the ATF, they weren’t the FBI. They couldn’t be seen as the representatives of a repressive government,” Levin told NBC News. “There are some militia group members who believe that the only valid authority is at the county sheriff level. In fact, many right-wing extremists love the police. They feel kinship to local law enforcement.”

So we’re just supposed to ignore the white supremacist literature, the shooters’ attempt to join the crew at the Bundy ranch and the “don’t tread on me” flag.

I wrote in my first post about the Las Vegas shooting that I doubted the shooters were working with the Bundy crew, who have decided only the federal government is evil. But the remarks at MSNBC reflect a basic misunderstanding of the connection between ideology/belief, whether political or religious, and violence.

This is something I spend a lot of time on in My Book, Rethinking Religion: Finding a Place for Religion in a Modern, Tolerant, Progressive, Peaceful and Science-affirming World, because I think understanding this connection and how it functions is critical to dealing not only with our ongoing domestic violence problem but also with understanding religious violence around the world.

My thinking on this issue is very much influenced by Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind. Very simply, Haidt makes a strong argument that our moral choices — including the choice to be violent — and our political and religious beliefs are rooted deeply in the subconscious. We are born pre-wired to interface with the world in particular ways, and this pre-wiring disposes us to leaning left or right, say, or determines whether we are likely to be dogmatists or open-minded. And, of course, the way we perceive, interpret and experience ourselves and the world also is very much influenced by cultural and other conditioning.

As we meander through our lives and bump into myriad phenomena, including religious and political beliefs and moral issues, all of this pre-wiring and conditioning and whatnot clanking around in our psyches churns up emotional responses. These include feelings of comfort and discomfort. We naturally want to affirm those things that make us feel good while denouncing the stuff that frightens or disgusts us. We then call on our rational minds to craft a narrative that justifies our feelings. These narratives are merged into our primary narrative, or personal myth, which is the ongoing story we tell ourselves about who we are and what the events in our lives might mean.

Another factor is what Buddhists call “mental formations,” or our states of mind, which can become habitual. This (in part) refers to the way some people tend to easily become defensive and critical, while others in the same situations are understanding and accepting. This also speaks to our basic orientation toward the world and whether we feel integrated with it or estranged from it.

By the time we are adults this wiring/conditioning “stuff” has become extremely complicated, and I doubt any two human beings who ever lived have identical inner stuff. But it’s important to understand that, ultimately, we are drawn to our beliefs and ideologies because of the stuff, not because it appeals to our rational mind. For this reason, what an ideology or political position represents to an individual on a subconscious or even metaphorical level is more critical than intellectual consistency.

This is what the guy on MSNBC doesn’t get. From their own words and actions, it’s obvious that right-wing anti-government rhetoric and the Bundy ranch drama resonated deeply with Jerad and Amanda Miller and represented something enormously significant to them, even if how they understood the “movement” differed in some particulars from most of the rest of the Bundyites.

More crudely, they wanted to kill police because they wanted to kill police, and in their minds the militia anti-government movement gave them permission, and even made killing police a righteous and praiseworthy act. They weren’t being logical, no. But does anyone seriously think the crew in the desert pretending to be at war with the federal government got there because of logic?

This is why the “he did it because of mental illness” excuse for Elliot Rodger didn’t fly for me. Crazy is a continuum, and we’re all on that continuum. None of us are entirely rational. Everyone feels a violent impulse now and then. But except for those who are demonstrably psychotic, we are capable of choosing to not act on those impulses. And Rodger was not psychotic. His writing was ordered and organized, even if the ideas he expressed were outrageous. This means he was rational enough to choose to not do what he did, as were the Millers. They all knew perfectly well they were breaking laws. Had they lived, it’s enormously unlikely they would have gotten off on an insanity plea.

But what Rodger and the Millers had in common was that they had seduced themselves into believing that their impulses were righteous and justified. And this is where public rhetoric and hate-group subcultures really do get people killed. Within the misnamed “men’s rights” subculture, talk of violating and killing women meets with social approval. Women as a class are perceived as evil and dangerous; violence against women is therefore justified, even heroic. Likewise, the right-wing anti-government rhetoric permeating American society can make killing government officials seem justified, even if some are a little hazy about the distinction between state and federal government officials.

I don’t think extremist right-wingers are inherently more prone to violence than extremist left-wingers. But at this moment in American history, the “extremist” Left is the fringe of the fringe, and it is absent from mass media. I’m not even sure it has much in the way of an internet presence. The applicable political spectrum here goes from a liberal/progressive Left that is well within the mainstream of American political traditions to a Right that stretches deeply into the tin-foil-hat section of the Twilight Zone.

And while you can find individuals on the Left expressing violent impulses, on the Right it’s not just individuals; it’s major media personalities and politicians serving in high-level state and federal offices. It’s coming from positions of authority, in other words.

This is why public rhetoric has consequences (see, for example, Paul Waldman, “How much does right-wing rhetoric contribute to right-wing terrorism?“). We’ve been having this conversation since Columbine, and the hate-speakers on the Right simply refuse to acknowledge any responsibility for the ongoing right-wing domestic violence. I have no solution to this impasse. I fear it will have to get worse before it can get better.

But this is why splitting hairs over whether the Millers were truly “right-wing extremists” because they killed local cops instead of federal BLM agents is stupid.

I’m seeing the same misunderstanding among western “Buddhalogists” in academia. There is a faction of western religious studies professors who are combing through Buddhist doctrines to find the “cause” of the Buddhist violence against Muslims in Burma, and some other places. And they are “finding” it by misinterpreting scriptures and even projecting meaning into scriptures that just plain isn’t there; I walked through an example of this in My Book.

The plain fact is that the violence violates everything the Buddha taught. The impulse is not coming from Buddhist teachings, but from racism and jingoism, and it’s being fueled by political expedience. “Buddhism” is not just a religion to the majority in Burma; it’s part of their ethnic and national identity. And a faction of monks has been cranking out rhetoric that justifies violence as “defending Buddhism.” So in spite of what it teaches, Buddhism has become a symbolic permission slip for violence in Burma.

And weirdly, in America, “patriotism” has become a symbolic permission slip for sedition. Looking for logical reasons for this is a fool’s errand.

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The Neocon Legacy

Bush Administration, Iraq War

David Atkins, The Brutal Neoconservative Legacy in Iraq, pretty much says the same stuff I wrote here. Very basically, Atkins points out that the neocons have continued to justify the invasion of Iraq by claiming that getting rid of Saddam Hussein would be good for America in the long run.

But over a decade after the invasion and with Iraq seemingly entering a disastrous sectarian civil war, it seems abundantly clear that whatever the long-term effects of the invasion may be, the near to mid-term result has been to empower Shi’ite theocrats in Iran, and to radicalize Sunni factions in Iraq. As of this writing, Sunni extremist groups expressly intent on establishing a global caliphate are threatening to overrun Baghdad. The corrupt Shi’ite government of Nouri Al-Maliki is counting on and receiving support from the Ayatollahs in Iran.

Neither of these developments have even a silver lining behind them.

It wasn’t just the invasion, but the gross mismanagement of the occupation/nation building phase that came after pretty much guaranteed that the invasion of Iraq will always be counted as one of the greatest foreign policy bleep-ups of all time. I’d say it’s got Napoleon’s invasion of Russia beat by a mile.

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Beyond the Libertarian Worldview

Obama Administration

One of the points I try to make my My Book — Rethinking Religion: Finding a Place for Religion in a Modern, Tolerant, Progressive, Peaceful and Science-affirming World — is that we all live in a fog of cognitive bias and we all tend to navigate the world by means of artificial models and conceptual interfaces. Genuine wisdom requires recognizing this.

Until we do recognize this, we are doomed to living life in a mental state removed from reality. It’s difficult to see that our conceptual models are not “real,” because our cognitive biases and conceptual filters “edit” reality for us so that it fits our models and interfaces. On those rare occasions we perceive that some part of the conceptual box we live is is not true, we nearly always patch up the hole with another artificially contrived bit of ideological plaster. To be able to completely step outside the box is a very rare thing. Most people live their entire lives without ever doing this even once.

I thought of this when I read this essay “Why I left libertarianism: An ethical critique of a limited ideology” by a young man named Will Moyer. The young man is in the process of re-plastering his conceptual box and is not yet ready to step out of it entirely. Give him another thirty years, though, and he may be able to do it. And I’m not saying that to put him down; I see the potential. It takes most of us until we’re well into our 40s and 50s before we can even begin to demolish the box, if we do it at all.

Moyer perceived that libertarian ideology is rigid and limited, and as an interface to reality it simply does not “work” in a lot of real-world situations. It’s like a navigation app with skimpy maps. He writes,

Granted, libertarianism  —  as a body of thought  —  doesn’t have to comment on every social issue. It can say nothing of race and gender and class. It can be silent on nonviolent forms of hierarchy and inequality. But then it stands incomplete as a social philosophy. That’s fine, especially if that is a conscious and intentional choice on the part of libertarians. We will focus our ideological work on this area and let other systems of thought cover everything else. But it certainly wasn’t something I was aware of when I considered myself a libertarian. On the contrary, I thought libertarianism offered a robust and complete analysis of society. I suspect others do, too.

And here we are:

Within the libertarian ethical framework, choice is binary. Either something was consented to voluntarily or it was not. This conception of consent marks the line between good and evil. On one side of the line are socially acceptable behaviors and on the other side are impermissible behaviors.

Theft, rape, murder and fraud all lie on the nonconsensual side and are therefore not good. The other side includes all forms of voluntary human interaction which, again because we’re limited to a political ethic, we can’t really say much about. It’s all fine.

But there is some gray on the good side. Is a rich CEO really in the same ethical position as a poor Chinese factory worker? In the libertarian view, yes. There are plenty of differences, but if that Chinese worker voluntarily chose to work for that factory, they’re not ethical differences.

Like the starving-your-child issue, any moral objections you might have are outside the scope of the libertarian ethic. They reflect your personal morality, which has no business being used to dictate social behaviors.

But choice isn’t binary. It’s a spectrum. There’s a gradient that we can use to measure how constrained a choice really is. On one end is outright force and on the other is pure, unconstrained freedom. But in between is a fuzzy gray area where economic, psychological, cultural, biological and social forces are leaning on human decision making.

Most libertarians would admit that this spectrum exists, but there is still strong sentiment within libertarianism that any non-coercive relationship is good. And  —  within the political ethic  —  even if it isn’t “good,” it’s still permissible. That’s why you see libertarians defending sweatshops.

A poor Chinese factory worker is far more constrained than a rich white businessman. His range of possible options is tiny in comparison. He is less free. The same may be true depending on your race, gender, class or sexual orientation. The way you were treated growing up  —  by your parents, teachers and peers  —  may contribute. The way people like you are represented in media and entertainment may contribute. Social prejudices and cultural norms may contribute. These factors don’t mean people are being outright forced to do anything, but simply that they’re constrained by their environment. We all are, in different ways.

We don’t lose any ground or sacrifice any claims to a rational moral framework by admitting that. We can still say that one side of the spectrum  —  the unconstrained one  —  is good for human beings and the other side is bad. And we can still conclude that the use of force is only a legitimate response to human behavior that falls on the far end of that bad side (theft, rape, murder). But by accepting the spectrum we can examine other relationships that, while they may not include force, can be exploitive, hierarchical and authoritarian.

As before, without admitting that this spectrum exists, libertarianism leaves an entire range of human social behavior off the table.

Obviously Moyer is working through the difference between libertarianism and liberalism, in the American sense of the word. Liberals see that the sweatshop worker isn’t “free” if his choices consist of remaining in the sweatshop or starving to death. A liberal can perceive that someone with a chronic, debilitating illness and no access to decent health care is not “free”; a libertarian only sees the lack of “freedom” of being mandated to buy health insurance so that the health care system works better for all of us. And, of course, some variation of single payer is even more objectionable to libertarians. This represents one of the huge blind spots of libertarian ideology that many of us have noticed. Granted Moyer is still dismissive of liberalism, but I suspect he doesn’t yet know what it is. Like I said, he’s still working through things.

Like most ideologies libertarianism and reality do match up here and there. If it didn’t match up at all no one would ever adopt it. The problem is that those who become True Believers lack the will or ability to notice when it doesn’t match. In the words of the great Eric Hoffer,

To be in possession of an absolute truth is to have a net of familiarity spread over the whole of eternity. There are no surprises and no unknowns. All questions have already been answered, all decisions made, all eventualities foreseen. The true believer is without wonder and hesitation. “Who knows Jesus knows the reason for all things.” The true doctrine is the master key to all the world’s problems. With it the world can be taken apart and put together. [The True Believer, p. 82]

Part of the libertarian pathology is an inability to think things through to logical consequences. Of course, if they could do that they might see (as Moyer did) that their simple binary interface is not reality but is instead an artificial order superimposed over what is really an infinitely complicated mess. Maintaining the comforting fiction that they actual understand anything requires not seeing this. So they hardly ever do.

I realized yesterday that my “David Brat in La-La Land” post had been linked in a National Review article defending Brat. The link actually did not send much traffic here, which might tell us something about NRO’s readership, or lack thereof. But the libertarians who came over here to defend Brat and call me an idiot all exhibited the same dreary inability to see outside their conceptual box to the logical implications of what they were arguing. You can read some of this if you like. I got home last night and found seven more comments repeating the same arguments, and I deleted them and closed comments because I didn’t have the energy to argue with a brick wall any further. But the blindness all boils down to an inability to perceive the implications of their “truths” or an appreciation of how badly their interface actually fits the real world.

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No, Warhawks, We Told YOU So

Iraq War, Obama Administration

It appears Iraq is about to fall to a faction of militants who could make the reign of Saddam Hussein seem like the good old days. The usual hawks — Grandpa John McCain, that mighty nimrod of warriorness Lindsey Graham, et al. — blame Obama for leaving Iraq to be defended by Iraqis (after spending countless billions building up their military so they could do that). We told you so, they said.

No, warhawks, we told you so. We warned that sending American troops into a Middle Eastern country, especially for obviously phony reasons, would inspire more radicalism and more enmity toward the U.S. and would bite us in the long haul. And we warned all along that making the Iraq invasion “work” would require pouring unlimited resources we couldn’t afford to pour into Iraq, forever and ever. There would be no end to it until we declared victory and went home.

And we were right.

If I were president, I’d call up the leaders of surrounding nations (the Saudis first) and say, good luck with this. I hope you guys can handle it. Let us know if you need anything, and we’ll consider it. I assume it’s in your own interest to not be seized and beheaded if this spreads, so I’m confident you will make a good effort without us.

Leslie Gelb makes some good points here —

The U.S. fights in Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya and Vietnam and other places (maybe next in Syria), provides billions of dollars in arms, trains the friendly soldiers, then begins to pull out—and what happens? Our good allies on whom we’ve squandered our sacred lives and our wealth fall apart. That’s what’s happening in Iraq now.


And before the U.S. government starts to do the next dumb thing again, namely provide fighter aircraft and drone attacks and heaven knows what else, it should stop and think for a change. If America comes to the rescue of this Iraqi government, then this Iraqi government, like so many of the others we’ve fought and died for, will do nothing. It will simply assume that we’ll take over, that we’ll do the job. And when things go wrong, and they certainly will, this cherished government that we’re helping will blame only America. Don’t think for a moment it will be otherwise. Don’t think for a moment that the generals and hawks who want to dispatch American fighters and drones to the rescue know any better today than they’ve known for 50 years.

How many times do we have to re-learn this lesson? The horrible truth is that as far as American security was concerned, we were better off when Saddam Hussein ran Iraq. Stephen Hayes’s fantasies to the contrary, Saddam was no friend of jihadists and clearly had given up plans to expand his territory after he was smacked down in the Gulf War. Yeah, he was a nasty piece of work, but it’s about to get a lot nastier.

See also Fareed Zakaria, “Who lost Iraq? The Iraqis did, with an assist from George W. Bush.”

The prime minister and his ruling party have behaved like thugs, excluding the Sunnis from power, using the army, police forces and militias to terrorize their opponents. The insurgency the Maliki government faces today was utterly predictable because, in fact, it happened before. From 2003 onward, Iraq faced a Sunni insurgency that was finally tamped down by Gen. David Petraeus, who said explicitly at the time that the core element of his strategy was political, bringing Sunni tribes and militias into the fold. The surge’s success, he often noted, bought time for a real power-sharing deal in Iraq that would bring the Sunnis into the structure of the government.

A senior official closely involved with Iraq in the Bush administration told me, “Not only did Maliki not try to do broad power-sharing, he reneged on all the deals that had been made, stopped paying the Sunni tribes and militias, and started persecuting key Sunni officials.” Among those targeted were the vice president of Iraq and its finance minister.

But how did Maliki come to be prime minister of Iraq? He was the product of a series of momentous decisions made by the Bush administration.

Mao Zedong took China largely because the Chinese had come to genuinely hate “our” guy, Chiang Kai-shek. Our propped-up puppet leaders in Vietnam didn’t exactly inspire devotion, either. Ngô Đình Diệm was such a disaster the Kennedy Administration approved his assassination. And Kennedy’s “best and brightest” at least had measurable IQs, which beats out the crew running things for Dubya.

And like Steve M, I’m waiting for Rand Paul and the teabaggers to stand up to the establishment hawks and demand we not compound the mistakes by
defending Maliki. Wait … do I hear crickets chirping?

I also think that if McCain, Graham et al. think the GOP can take back the Senate by demanding we re-invade Iraq and blaming Obama for having “lost” it, they may be surprised. 9/11 is ancient history, and who needs to be afraid of potential jidahis when our chain family restaurants are being taken over by halfwit armed domestic goons? I don’t think most Americas give a hoo-haw what happens to Iraq, and most of those who do care probably realize there’s not a hell of a lot we can do about it without hurting ourselves worse. And I am genuinely sorry about that, because it’s possible we’re about to witness atrocity on a historic scale.

Via Digby, see also (from 2011) U.S. Troops Are Leaving Because Iraq Doesn’t Want Them There.

And see also Juan Cole. Our best hope for beating back the jahidis in Iraq may be … Iran.

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Don’t Be Fooled

Obama Administration

Digby explains why the emergence of David Brat does not signal a new left-right consensus on economic issues.

There is little doubt that all these years of economic torpor, high unemployment and rising poverty and debt have opened up some potential paths to bipartisan agreement on these issues around corporate welfare and big money influence in politics.

But a closer look at Brat’s rhetoric reveals a man who is not very populist beyond that one issue. He’s a typical libertarian (albeit with a theological twist). And so along with his commitment to end corporate welfare, one would presumably need to take the bitter with the sweet. He thinks it’s unfair that people pay less into Medicare and Social Security than they take out so these programs have to be slashed or eliminated. He believes that Obamacare should be scrapped along with employer-based insurance so that people will buy their own health policies, which will (he doesn’t say how) eliminate the problem of preexisting condition exclusions. He thinks education funding should be drastically cut. He believes that if the country is rich enough it will solve the climate crisis — because rich countries always solve their problems.

In other words, he’s a knee-jerk Ayn Randbot ideologue who thinks reality must bend to fit his ideology, rather than the other way around.

What has to be understood is that people like Brat are proposing authoritarianism dressed up to look like populism. It’s a weird position that acknowledges the little guy is getting screwed but insists the answer to this is to give more power to the big guy. The plan is to “empower” the people by taking away the one self-defense tool they possess, the government — which takes its power from the consent of the governed; of the people, by the people, for the people, etc. — and placing them at the mercy of an imaginary, godlike entity called the “free market,” a phrase that amounts to a euphemism for “plutocracy.” And the Brats of the world sell this nonsense by playing on people’s fears and resentments — of Spanish-speaking immigrants; of a imaginary boogieman called the “liberal elite,” which functions as a scapegoat for what the decidedly not-liberal plutocrats are up to. And, unfortunately, they’re getting away with it.

Let us not for a moment be fooled into thinking that Brat’s populist rhetoric signals a new birth of freedom for anybody but the 1 percent of the 1 percent.

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