A Terrible Blogger is Born!

January 29, 2009

What cranky paleocon said it?

Filed under: who said it? — rmangum @ 4:59 pm

The growth of federal power over all the traditional checks and balances is the worst single event of this dying century and I hope it will be reversed in the next century.

Click here for answer.

Influentially glib

Filed under: State,U.S.A,Uncategorized — rmangum @ 1:18 am
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Forbes recently published a list of the 25 Most Influential Liberals in the U.S. Media. Now that we have officially become an Obama-nation, it might be a good idea to keep an eye on these people. There’s a couple in there that I have some respect for, the civil-libertarian Salon.com writer Glen Greenwald undoubtedly topping the list. Then there’s John Stewart and Christopher Hitchens, both very entertaining even when I disagree with them vehemently. (Of Hitchens I have little doubt, but will John Stewart be as funny or relevant in the years to come?) Topping the list, unsurprisingly is, Paul Krugman, who I despise and have already written about. Coming in at fourth is Thomas Friedman, about whom I confess much ignorance, though he seems something of an intellectual flavor-of-year to me. What I find interesting is this description:

Behind the seemingly glib sound bites lie opinions that are genuinely influential among the educated, tome-reading public and the Washington establishment.

I’m sorry, but influence among the elite (tome-reading or otherwise) doesn’t cancel out “glib”. Now, I’m a rather uneducated and non-establishment tome-reader myself, but dagnabbit do I have an uppity streak that doesn’t let me keep to my place, so allow me to re-write this sentence to properly convey its meaning: “Thomas Friedman isn’t just glib; he’s influentally glib.”

I’ll let you read the list for yourself, but what I want to examine is what actually defines a “liberal”. The criteria, according to Forbes:

Broadly, a “liberal’ subscribes to some or all of the following: progressive income taxation; universal health care of some kind; opposition to the war in Iraq, and a certain queasiness about the war on terror; an instinctive preference for international diplomacy; the right to gay marriage; a woman’s right to an abortion; environmentalism in some Kyoto Protocol-friendly form; and a rejection of the McCain-Palin ticket.

Well, that is pretty broad. The parts of the checklist that aren’t historically specific would have described British Fabians at the turn of the 20th century, who were considered (and considered themselves) socialists. The “rejection of the McCain-Palin ticket” is meaningless, not only now but during the election, since many neoconservatives, such as Francis Fukuyama, supported Obama (and many have expressed admiration for uber-hawk Hillary), and the the list of liberals contains at least two Iraq war supporters (Hitchens and Andrew Sullivan). Environmentalism “in some Kyoto Protocal-friendly form” surely excludes a lot of localist and decentralist greens out there, though I don’t know that they would care too much having the term “liberal” denied them.

The list is pretty loose as well, as evidenced by the “certain queasiness about the war on terror”. Does this queasiness add up to opposition? I will assume not. “Queasiness” is not a political principle, I don’t think. And favoring diplomacy is “instinctual”, like social grooming in ape cultures.

And hey, even I subscribe to about half of the opinions listed.

It’s worth mentioning what liberal used to mean, in the days of the old Republic. Wikipedia defines classical liberalism thus:

a doctrine stressing individual freedom and limited government. This includes the importance of human rationality, individual property rights, natural rights, the protection of civil liberties, individual freedom from restraint, constitutional limitation of government, free markets, and a gold standard to place fiscal constraints on government . . .

This doctrine is found today mostly among libertarians, and many say they would like the term “liberal” back. I find that to be pretty pointless, and I use the term pretty much the way anybody at Fox News would, and if you think that allies me with them, well, I can’t help it if you have such a blinkered and ahistorical view of the political spectrum.

But my favorite definition of liberalism, in its more modern sense, comes from Robert Anton Wilson‘s Illuminatus! trilogy:

That school of capitalist philosophy which attempts to correct the injustices of capitalism by adding new laws to the existing laws. Each time conservatives pass a law creating privilege, liberals pass another law modifying privilege, leading conservatives to pass a more subtle law recreating privilege, etc., until “everything not forbidden is compulsory” and “everything not compulsory is forbidden”.

A caveat for classical liberals: oppose laws “modifying privilege”, as you should, but especially beware the “more subtle law” recreating it.

January 24, 2009

My asthma and the liberal trickle-down theory of economics

Filed under: Contra Keynes,Economics,State — rmangum @ 11:54 pm
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The Republican’s favored mode of economic “stimulus”, whose justification comes from the “supply-side” school of thought (conservative Keynesianism), consists, as we all know, of tax cuts for corporations and the rich. Associated mostly with Ronald Reagan, this idea never fails to elicit a sneer from liberals, and whenever it is mentioned, the phrase “trickle-down” is likely to be brought up. As Bill Maher described it, “They’re literally saying, ‘we’re pissing on you’.” Well, yeah, sort of. I mean, as a libertarian anarchist, I think that nobody would pay any coercive tax whatsoever or be forced to pay for any service they did not want. I don’t believe in enforced charity, or that anybody should be punished for their success, economic or otherwise. On the other hand, not only do most of these corporations and rich getting the tax breaks owe their wealth to the State anyway, directly or indirectly, but the very existence of the State makes the presence of the super-rich all the more dangerous. And surely it is unjust to cut welfare for the poor while the rich receive much greater welfare, and leave the tax burden mostly to the middle class.

At any rate, the liberals don’t seem to realize that they embrace a form of “trickle-down economics” too. They tend to endorse the Keynesian theory of deficit spending to stimulate a flagging economy and achieve full employment. They tend to think of this as helping the working-class. But does it? Rationally, it follows that if we are trying to provide the most jobs through spending, we will have to spend the money on those who will be doing the employing first, and benefits will “trickle-down” to the working class in the form of jobs. But what they don’t realize is that inflation works by a kind of ripple-effect. Those who get the money first (government-favored employers) benefit the most, since prices have not yet gone up, and those who get it (working wage-earners) last will recieve the least bang for their new bucks.

So if you don’t tax the rich as much, you’re endorsing a “trickle-down” theory, but if you give the rich money, you’re providing much-needed work for the masses. It neatly fits the liberal psychology of wanting to better the poor, but wanting that betterment to depend on a very important political class consisting mainly of themselves.

But I know they will reject this formulation, because they are not giving handouts to the plutocrats, but rather important civic and public works. You know, teachers, cops, and other friendly neighborhood spider-people. They’re not only restoring economic health, but our uplifting the civic soul as well.

Well, that’s the idea. Reality falls well short of it. I suggest reading Kevin Carson’s article on “shovel-ready” projects and “cockroach caucuses”- good ol’ by networks that run local politics, diverting these funds away from public interest and into their own pockets, subsidizing sprawl and the inflation of real-estate values. He writes:

That’s the problem with liberals’ faith in the state as a tool for promoting the “public good” and “general welfare.” They haven’t looked closely enough at how the sausage is made.

One part of this article really caught my attention, since it happens to affect me quite directly. He quotes a Bloomberg opinion piece on Obama’s stimulus plan:

Utah would pour 87 percent of the funds it may receive in a new economic stimulus bill into new road capacity.

Well, the traffic is pretty bad, right? I have lived in Salt Lake City off and on for about eight years, and Utah for well over ten, and I have seen multiple expansions of I-15, as well as neverending Kafkaesque road construction around the valley. And the traffic has just gotten worse and worse. How is it that we just don’t have the road capacity? Because the traffic just expands to fill the new space. Carson describes a similar situation in is neck of the woods, Arkansas:

twenty years ago the region built Hwy U.S. 471, itself a western bypass intended to relieve congestion on the old U.S. 71 that ran through the centers of all the major cities of NW Arkansas on a north-south corridor. And guess what? As anyone but an urban planner or traffic engineer might have predicted, the new subsisized highway didn’t alleviate congestion at all! Instead it generated new congestion, filling up with new traffic from the new subsidized subdivisions and strip malls that grew up like mushrooms at every single exit. And assuming that previous patterns persist, the new bypass, even further to the west, will generate even more congestion as it fills up with traffic from the new sprawl along its route.

Why does this affect me so much? Because Salt Lake City happens to be situated between the Rocky Mountains and the Great Salt Lake, creating the perfect natural conditions for a temperature “inversion” in the Winter, keeping pollution locked in a kind of bubble over the city. I have asthma, and my health depends a lot on the pollution-level, and therefore I am extremely sensitive to weather conditions. I spend most of every Winter here sick. I can hardly stand the thought of even more cars on the road.

Not for a minute do I think this has anything to do with the “free market”, since we live under a regime of Road Socialism. In fact, one of the first objections to a real free market (anarchy), will likely be “What about roads?” Road construction bears no link whatsoever with demand and available resources (by definition, in the Keynesian system). Since roads are essentially a free resource- or, at least, my use of the roads has nothing to do with how much I pay for them- nobody has to economize on use. It’s a perfect example of the tragedy of the commons.

If it clears out the air, I’m perfectly willing to consign all those new construction jobs to perdition.

P.S.- A few days after writing this post I saw an obnoxious commercial on t.v. promoting the road expansion project, one of those “man on the street” types with people saying things like, “Hey, I don’t like it, but we’ve gotta drive right? And we don’t want to pay for it, do we?” Okay, so when it’s subsidised health care, it’s communism, but subsidised driving is just the American way, huh?

Marx: Three Libertarian Assessments

At least he wasn't a Keynesian.

At least he wasn't a Keynesian.

Anarchism knew in him its bitterest enemy, and yet every Anarchist must hold his memory in respect. Strangely mingled feelings of admiration and abhorrence are simultaneously inspired in us by contemplation of this great man’s career. Toward the two fundamental principles of the revolution of to-day he occupied an exactly contradictory attitude. Intense as was his love of equality, no less so was his hatred of liberty. The former found expression in one of the most masterly expositions of the infamous nature and office of capital ever put into print; the latter in a sweeping scheme of State supremacy and absorption, involving a practical annihilation of the individual. The enormous service done by the one was well-nigh neutralized by the injurious effects resulting from his advocacy of the other. . . . He was an honest man, a strong man, a humanitarian, and the promulgator of much vitally important truth, but on the most vital question of politics and economy he was persistently and irretrievably mistaken.

-Benjamin Tucker, “Karl Marx as Friend and Foe”, Liberty, April 14, 1883.

. . . the theses that constitute the hard core of the Marxist theory of history . . . are essentially correct. . . . these true theses are derived in Marxism from a false starting point.

– Hans-Hermann Hoppe, “Marxist and Austrian Class Analysis”, The Journal of Libertarian Studies, Fall 1990

There is one good thing about Marx: he was not a Keynesian.

-Murray N. Rothbard, Austrian Economics Newsletter 1990 Interview

Brave New World Order

London Financial Times columnist Gideon Rachman says that a world government is coming. It’s only a question of when. But, he assures us,

I have never believed that there is a secret United Nations plot to take over the US. I have never seen black helicopters hovering in the sky above Montana.

empireWhew, that’s a relief. For a moment there, I thought he was one of those conspiracy theorists. You, know, some racist redneck yokel who believes in bigfoot, UFO’s, and that Elvis is still alive. Which would make it weird that he managed to get a job at the Financial Times. But, wait a minute, if Rachman is right, that means all those paranoids from Montana were right, too, and years before he was! Well, I certainly can’t grant that point and maintain a smug disdain for America’s heartland lumpenproletariat, can I?

Ah, but there is a crucial difference. Rachman, you see, assures us in his best Martha Stewart dulcet intonation that, “It’s a good thing.”

First, it is increasingly clear that the most difficult issues facing national governments are international in nature: there is global warming, a global financial crisis and a “global war on terror”.

This may be an odd time to paraphrase Marx here, but does not Rachman accept as a given what he should be explaining?  Namely, that a State should cover as much physical territory as contains the problems it seeks to address. Why should this be so, even assuming (and this is a big assumption) that a state is necessary to address every problem. By defining a problem as “global”, we thereby justify global governance. But weren’t slavery and polio once problems as “global” as terrorism and climate change? And yet those were somehow solved without a World State.

What a poverty of logic this is. National governments have indeed always faced problems that were “international in nature”. Sort of like how I, as a limited being with a body containing physical boundaries, have to deal with other such beings and therefore face “interpersonal” problems. Were I to expand like The Blob and absorb all of my enemies, I would surely cease to have such problems. I might have some kind of internal indigestion, though. And of course, these problems might just originate in the fact that I’m an asshole.

Never does the thought occur to Rachman that we could solve worldwide terrorism by the West ceasing to meddle in the affairs in the Muslim world, or financial and environmental problems by scaling back the state and completely decentralizing the economy.

Rachman also writes about the feasibility of global government:

The transport and communications revolutions have shrunk the world so that, as Geoffrey Blainey, an eminent Australian historian, has written: “For the first time in human history, world government of some sort is now possible.”

In other words, “World domination: we now have the technology.” But wait a minute, isn’t government expansion usually justified by the lack of such infrastructure, in the name of bringing rural electrification to the hicks and Christianizing the heathen? Don’t the transport and communications revolutions actually make government unnecessary?

If I were to write the things Rachman writes (with a negative view of course), I would surely be branded as the kind of Montana Black Helecopter-spotter he scorns. For instance, that the New World Order may begin with the Obama administration.

Barack Obama, America’s president-in-waiting, does not share the Bush administration’s disdain for international agreements and treaties.

Actually, I don’t make too much of this. There are two political factions in this country who want a global hegemon: the one that would like it to be run through a multi-national U.N.-type body, and the one that would rather it simply be the U.S. and its ally Israel. It simply does not do to mistake George II for a member of the John Birch society. The factions replace each other in positions of power and opposition like Tweedledee and Tweedledum when they agreed to have a battle, but the center between them can not hold.

And then there’s something called the “Managing Global Insecurity project”, headed by Obama’s transition leader and former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta, and Brookings Institution Prez Strobe Talbott.

The MGI report argues for the creation of a UN high commissioner for counter-terrorist activity, a legally binding climate-change agreement negotiated under the auspices of the UN and the creation of a 50,000-strong UN peacekeeping force. Once countries had pledged troops to this reserve army, the UN would have first call upon them.

Because there just aren’t enough armies- excuse me, “peacekeeping forces”- in the world.

It takes no conspiracy to make a world government. It is implied in the logic of statism, as Hans Hoppe reminds us in Democracy: The God that Failed. (See also his article “Marxist and Austrian Class Analysis”) But there might be a tiny problem with justifying it to the sheeple.

These are the kind of ideas that get people reaching for their rifles in America’s talk-radio heartland. Aware of the political sensitivity of its ideas, the MGI report opts for soothing language. It emphasises the need for American leadership and uses the term, “responsible sovereignty” – when calling for international co-operation – rather than the more radical-sounding phrase favoured in Europe, “shared sovereignty”. It also talks about “global governance” rather than world government.

Hey, didn’t George Orwell write something about this? Anyway, don’t forget Mystery, Miracle, and Authority. That usually helps keep those “stubbornly local” types in thrall. Hey, maybe we could make some more “global” crises- then they’d practically have no choice, would they?

But anyway, once the Brave New World Order is here, don’t go thinking that it you’ll have much of a say in it, even if it bears the name “democracy”.

In general, the [European] Union has progressed fastest when far-reaching deals have been agreed by technocrats and politicians – and then pushed through without direct reference to the voters. International governance tends to be effective, only when it is anti-democratic.

Large political bodies, even “democratic” ones, are alienating. Huxley writes in Brave New World Revisited:

Self-government is in inverse ratio to numbers. The larger the constituency, the less the value of any par­ticular vote. When he is merely one of millions, the individual elector feels himself to be impotent, a neg­ligible quantity.

How negligible would you be in a 6 billion-plus body politic? And then there is the old problem of who watches the global watchers. I’ll leave off with this question and another relevant quote from the same Huxley essay.

In the more efficient dictatorships of tomorrow there will probably be much less violence than under Hitler and Stalin. The future dictator’s subjects will be painlessly regimented by a corps of highly trained social engineers. “The challenge of social engineering in our time,” writes an enthusiastic advocate of this new science, “is like the challenge of technical engi­neering fifty years ago. If the first half of the twen­tieth century was the era of the technical engineers, the second half may well be the era of the social engi­neers” — and the twenty-first century, I suppose, will be the era of World Controllers, the scientific caste system and Brave New World. To the question quis custodiet custodes — Who will mount guard over our guardians, who will engineer the engineers? — the an­swer is a bland denial that they need any supervision. There seems to be a touching belief among certain Ph.D.’s in sociology that Ph.D.’s in sociology will never be corrupted by power. Like Sir Galahad’s, their strength is as the strength of ten because their heart is pure — and their heart is pure because they are scien­tists and have taken six thousand hours of social studies.

P.S.- For an interesting contrast of the Brave New World Order that has been a long time coming with the old world that has been a long time gone, I suggest reading Bill Kauffman’s essay, Think Locally, Act Locally, Live Locally. A rootless, restless spirit by nature (not nurture) myself, who moved from his rural upbringing to city life without much regret, I cannot quite assent to Kauffman’s romanticization of all things small and local (he surely ignores the extent to which small towns can be as stultifyingly conformist as the big-city school/factories), but I find his vision of giant schools run by heartless technocrats (entirely in accord with the history of education in America) frighteningly resonant with Huxley’s dystopian description of behaviorist engineering of children en masse (“We condition the masses to hate the country”, says the director of Central London Hatchery and Conditioning), the transmutation of all references to family as smutty and anachronistic talk (“The world was full of fathers,- was therefore full of misery; full of mothers- therefore of every kind of perversion from sadism to chastity; full of brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts- full of madness and suicide”) an abolition of historical knowledge (“History is bunk,” goes a saying of World Controller Mustapha Mond)- as well as Pink Floyd’s great song “Another Brick in the Wall”.

January 23, 2009

I Wanna Riot of My Own

Filed under: Anarchy,State,U.S.A — rmangum @ 4:56 am
Tags:

seattle-robert-crumb1Over in Iceland they’re rioting in the streets over the bailout of their banks. That’s right, Iceland. Kinda makes us look like a bunch of slobs, right? I mean, the overwhelming majority of the public in this country were opposed to the bailouts that happened here, but it was passed by the people we elected to (hard to write this, I’m laughing and crying at the same time) represent us, right? Are we not the country of the Boston Tea Party and the Whiskey Rebellion?

Of course, there was a demonstration back in October on Wall Street, and this sign is particularly good, almost as good as when Allen Ginsberg and Abbie Hoffman performed an exorcism on the pentagon. We need that rebelliousness and that prankster spirit back. Nothing violent, but unmistakable presence, a “No! in thunder”.

It brings a song to mind:

White riot – I wanna riot
White riot – a riot of my own
White riot – I wanna riot
White riot – a riot of my own


Black man gotta lot a problems
But they don’t mind throwing a brick
White people go to school
Where they teach you how to be thick


An’ everybody’s doing
Just what they’re told to
An’ nobody wants
To go to jail!


All the power’s in the hands
Of people rich enough to buy it
While we walk the street
Too chicken to even try it


Everybody’s doing
Just what they’re told to
Nobody wants
To go to jail!


Are you taking over
or are you taking orders?
Are you going backwards
Or are you going forwards?

White riot – I wanna riot
White riot – a riot of my own
White riot – I wanna riot
White riot – a riot of my own

-The Clash, “White Riot”, 1977

Ford’s in His Flivver pt. 2: Business as Usual in America

Filed under: Contra Keynes,Economics,State,U.S.A — rmangum @ 12:36 am
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In a previous post, I spoke about the auto bailout, and the debate over whether the industries economic woes stemmed primarily from the excessive wage demands of the Unions, or the excessive salaries of CEOs. I felt that, though I admitted unfamiliarity with the specific practices of this industry, there was no reason it couldn’t both. Well, Kevin Carson has a new article up at Center for a Stateless Society which brings some clarity to the issue. He quotes Dean Baker that American executives earn millions of dollars more than their Japanese counterparts. It would seem obvious that to stay competitive, executives at the Big Three would be forced to take big pay cuts, if it did not have help from the federal government to prop up their exorbitant salaries. But editorials coming from the Washington Post and that great “free-market” mouthpiece, The Wall Street Journal, stress worker pay cuts as vital. Carson also points out that they would acutally have to change their whole business model, since

GM still produces cars to sell to inventory without regard to current orders for them, and treats human capital as a variable cost to be downsized whenever business fluctuates.  But management salaries are treated as a fixed cost, and swept under the rug through the practice of “overhead absorption” (incorporating them into the price of the cars sold to inventory, so they are magically reclassified as an asset).

So there you have it.  In what passes for “free market” thought among Republican politicians and neoliberal hack journalists, “restructuring” is good if it means rolling back union wages and benefits, but bad if it means abandoning the gas guzzling business model that put Detroit in the tank.  Government-imposed discipline is good and pro-market only if it’s aimed at labor, and not capital or management.

And of course the Democrats and their associated hack journalists pretend that this is what the “free market” means also, in order to justify government expansion and Keynesian economic policy. Yet it’s clear that all that is needed is genuine laissez-faire, and the auto industry would scale back to its proper size and level of produciton to what is actually demanded by consumers. The disparity of pay between workers and executives would actually be less.

Carson, as always, challanges our assumption that a “Free Market” and “Capitalism” are the same thing.

In neoliberal orthodoxy, supposedly, labor and capital are just coequal “factors of production.”  So why name an economic system after one of the factors of production, in particular?  What we’re seeing is that, beneath the ideological veneer of “free contract” and all the rest of it, some “factors of production” are more equal than others.  That’s why, when Costco pays its workers above-average wages for the retail industry, business analysts squirm with the same undisquised moral disapproval that some people reserve for diamond-studded dog collars.  But when a Bob Nardelli or Carly Fiorina gets a retirement package worth tens or hundreds of millions, after gutting their companies to massage the quarterly numbers and game their own bonuses and stock options, that’s just the way “our free enterprise system” rewards them for “the value they created.”

What the politicians and journalists are for, behind all the “pro-market” rhetoric, isn’t the market at all.  It’s the interests of capital.

And that’s what typically goes under the name “Capitalism”, which also serves the interest of the political class in Washinton too, as it produces a never-ending stream of opportunistic legislation justified by the logic that goes, “We have a free-market Capitalist economy. Our economy is bad. Therefore free-market Capitalism is to blame. Therefore we need to alter this free market economy.” As if no intervention had occurred before which might at some point have caused it to stop being a free market, if indeed it ever was one.

What this all reminds me of is Bastiat’s dictum, “The state is that great fictitious entity whereby everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else.” Yet some are better disposed to do this than others. They are called “Capitalists”, and I think this “Calvin and Hobbes” strip sums up the behavior of this class quite well.

image0012

Business as usual in Capitalist America means that Calvin gets his subsidy via Mommy and Daddy Government, who picks it from Susie’s pocket, who then has no choice but to drink Calivin’s awful swill. She gets fed up with this “free market” and asks Mommy and Daddy Government take more money to make the swill more drinkable (though not likely from Susie’s pocket herself, who will no doubt be made head of the bureau overseeing swill quality) . And round and round it goes. Of course, Calvin could have just made good lemonade at a reasonable price in the first place. But then what would Mommy and Daddy do?

January 22, 2009

Something is happening here, but I don’t know what it is

Filed under: Anarchy,Economics,Utopia — rmangum @ 12:51 am
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Apparently the economic bad times have caused some local communities to start using alternative currencies. Now, as a follower of Rothbard and Ron Paul, and therefore a sound money, gold standard, anti-fractional reserve banking kind guy, I have a great deal of skepticism about the sustainability of such schemes. But as a proponent of decentralization and secession, I find myself quite pleased with such openness to experimentation. It means that our independent spirit hasn’t totally atrophied and prostrated itself before Leviathan. It means that not everyone in the world believes nothing moves if not pushed from Washington DC, that economic “policy” can only originate in the op-ed spaces reserved for court intellectuals in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. But yeah, it looks like this stuff is funny-money not backed by anything and susceptible to inflation, but to paraphrase Robert Anton Wilson, it can’t be any more hilarious than that given us by the Fed.

January 21, 2009

The Evil and Stuipid Party vs. the Party That isn’t Quite as Stupid and Evil

Filed under: State,U.S.A,War — rmangum @ 10:41 pm
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I’d hate for anybody to think from my last post that I was either conservative or a Republican partisan, so let me go on record by saying that I have some hope for things to get better with Obama, however much that hope is attenuated by skepticism, and that I regard the Democrats as the lesser evil (though not lesser enough to make me join their cheer section). For example, the recent bill supporting Israel’s bombing of Gaza was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. Only four Democrats in the House voted against (including Dennis Kucinich) but that’s better than the mere one Republican rejected the proposal. Can you guess who? That’s right, our man Ron Paul.

And if I end up bashing the liberals a lot more on this blog, it’s only because I don’t like easy game. Take this asshole, for instance, who wants fresh young conscripts to send to Pakistan, of all places. As you watch the video of this fat, pasty bag of crap pimp his new book, which bears the John Wayne-esque title American Grit, you have to wonder what kind of childhood playground demons he is exorcising by playing the tough-guy pundit. I’m sick to death of these “clash of civilizations” fantasists, who really ought to do what every other unathletic adolescent nerd does to feel powerful and play Tom Clancy videogames. “What happens if Pakistan goes Jihad-y?” he asks. I don’t know, maybe you could pick up your gun and leap into the fray like the Duke would, you useless bastard. As for me, I’m hoping America goes Jihad-y against its corpulent gasbag ruling class. That would be a clash of civilizations I’d sign up for. (By the way, do you notice how revolutionary and resistence movements never need to conscript anybody? You think that says anything about the justice of their cause?)

January 20, 2009

Clintonia Revisited

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"O what fine thought we had because we thought/That the worst rogues and rascals had died out." -Yeats

Inspired in part by the return of much of Team Clinton to the Obama White House (nominations which prove Obama not to be the bomb-throwing radical McCain partisans wished to paint him as*, but rather the not-so-left-wing representative of the War Party), and in part by my post on the liberal police state, named “Clintonia” after its Master Builder, I have been revisiting the nineties through several books. I have just finished Christopher Hitchens* No One Left to Lie To, a brief but delicious piece of muckraking that not only confirms my suspicions about the fascist contours of Clintonia, but many other libertarian insights on the nature of the State as well.

The best part of Hitchens’ book is that he mounts a righteous smackdown of the Clintons (yes, both of them) from a left-liberal rather than right-wing perspective. His book reminds us that before the Lewinski affair and impeachment, Clinton and his whole neo-liberal approach was actually despised by much of the Left, and still would be if the Republicans hadn’t bungled their attempts to depose him. They raised the (mostly imagined) specter of a “sexual McCarthyism” and puritan hysteria, causing liberals everywhere to circle the wagons and stick their fingers in their ears to shut out the white noise of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy if they were to ever catch so much as a hint of the incredible corruption and criminality emanating from the White House in the age of Clinton. (Reminding me that another virtue of Hitchens’ book is that he is a well-known name who writes for mainstream publications like Vanity Fair, which insulates him somewhat from the inevitable “conspiracy theorist” accusation, and allows him to get away with more severe allegations- the worst I am not even discussing here- than more proletarian writers could, even though, as he says, “no Clinton apologist can dare, after the victim cult sponsored by both the president and the First Lady, to ridicule the idea of ‘conspiracy’, vast or otherwise.”) Never mind that the Clintons were horrible even when you evaluate them based on their own professed values! Without Monica-gate, only the most fawning and epicene of Clintonistas and most shameless Democratic party hacks (and of course, the ever-present neocons) would now be apologizing for Clinton. Thanks, Republicans!

About the prurience and puritanism of the Starr inquisition, I think Hitchens dispatches this liberal bugaboo pretty handily:

Those who claim to detect, in the widespread loathing of Clinton, an aggressive “culture war” against the freedom-loving sixties should be forced to ask themselves if Clinton, with his almost sexless conquests and his eerie affectless claim that the female felt no pleasure, represents the erotic freedom they have in mind.

Indeed, and apart from the enormous hypocrisies of claims by the architects of the most petulant and overbearing nanny-state that the government should “stay out of their bedroom”- which was owned by the American taxpayer anyway- as well as self-identified “feminists” defending the honor of a man who never went anywhere without leaving a trail of quite credible allegations of sexual harassment and rape by women who he then defamed as nuts and sluts in his wake (behavior which would cause those with a much-publicized bout of sexual hysteria and puritanism themselves to burn him in effigy, if only he had been a Republican), it’s clear that the real sexual inquisition was coming from the White House. Hitchens describes callous interrogations of military personnel about potential adultery and homosexuality, stating that “Such persecutions increased during the Clinton era, with discharges for sexual incorrectness reaching an all-time high in 1998.”

Hitchens doesn’t even have to get into Waco and Janet Reno or Kosovo and Madeline Albright to see in Clinton’s foreign and domestic policies as just to the right of Mussolini. (Remember that this book came out before 9/11.)

Mr. Clinton can also claim credit for warrantless searches of public housing and the innovation of the “roving frontdoorwiretap”. If any successor to Arthur Miller [Hitchens had just quoted, and eviscerated, a ludicrous Miller op-ed painting poor Bill as the victim of- what else- a witch hunt] wanted depict a modern Salem , he would do better to investigate the hysteria of the war on drugs, where to be suspected is to be guilty [and to have your property confiscated, and quite possibly be murdered with no recompense to your family]. In 1995, arrests for drug offenses that involved no violence were numbered 1.5 million per annum, having climbed 31 percent in Mr. Clinton’s first three years of tenure. The crime and terrorism statutes enacted in the same period caused even his most dogmatic apologists- Anthony Lewis, most notably- to wince.

And on the foreign front:

images. . . the Clinton White House took no step of any kind to acknowledge, much less take take advantage of this new reality [of the end of the Cold War] and always acted as if the most paranoid predictions of John Foster Dulles were about to be fulfilled.

The budget of the Central Intelligence Agency was increased, while democratic “oversight” of its activity was held to a myopic level . . .

No matter how fanciful or budget-busting the concept, from the B-1 bomber upwards, Clinton always relaxed his commitment to government spending, and invariably advocated not only a welfare “safety net” for the likes of General Dynamics and Boeing, but a handout free and clear.

Bill Clinton sometimes did find the strength and the nerve to disagree with his military chiefs. He overruled them when they expressed doubts on the rocketing of Khartoum [the supposed “chemical weapons plant” that turned out to be a pharmaceutical plant making medicine for the abysmally poor Sudan- oops, guess we got some bad intelligence!] and Afghanistan in August 1998. [I should note that Noam Chomsky has also written about and condemned these attacks.]

Now, note that I have said Clinton was bad even from the liberals’ own standards, and I am fully aware how low a concern the war on drugs and the military-industrial complex are for the average liberal (those are more New Left type worries), so how about the Clinton record on health care and welfare? Didn’t Hillary at least try? It wasn’t that the Republicans thwarted her plan, or even that her plan was too complicated even if well-intentioned. Hitchens’ reveals it to be a ruse pure and simple. Attacking an ad that criticized her scheme, Hillary said in a speech, “What you don’t get told in the ad is that it is paid for by the insurance companies. It is time for every American to stand up and say to the insurance industry: ‘Enough is enough, we want our health-care system back!'”

Hillary standing up for the poor un- and-under-insured against the Capitalist fat-cats? Not so fast.

Had the masses risen up against the insurance companies, they would have discovered that the four largest of them- Aetna, Prudential, Met Life, and Cigna- had helped finance and design the “managed competition” scheme which the Clintons and their Jackson Hole Group had put forward in the first place.

But wait, it gets better. The aforementioned advertisement was indeed paid for by insurance companies- the many small ones trying to compete with the Big Four, who were spending even more trying to get Clinton’s plan passed, a plan which would insure (no pun intended) that they would be running the show. “The Clintons demagogically campaigned against the ‘insurance industry’ while backing- and with the backing of- those large fish those large fish that were preparing to swallow the minnows.”

And here is where we approach the weakest part of Hitchens’ analysis. He views the Clinton health plan, along with his welfare “reform”, as a betrayal of the New Deal and Roosevelt’s legacy. Actually, this was Rooseveltian fake-populism and patrician liberalism all over again. Clinton just didn’t have the Great Depression to blind everybody to the mere voodoo of his system; he had no crisis to put everybody into a state of mind readily susceptible to hero-worship that demagogues always rise up amidst- until Ms. Lewinski, that is. (Oh yeah, and the Oklahoma City bombing, but I don’t even want to get into a cui bono analysis of that one, except to note that Clinton’s approval rating soared immediately after, just as Bush II’s did after 9/11, and that, more anecdotally, journalist and Feral House publisher Adam Parfrey noted of Bill’s post-bombing speech, “His righteous anger reflects Mussolini-like vitality rather than his usual wan, comforting equivocations.” Mussolini? Well, that’s a bit high a balcony to place Slick Willie on perhaps, but the event did apparently help him tap into his inner Merle Haggard, as he told and audience at Michigan University, “You have the right to say what you please in this country, but that doesn’t give people the right to tear down this country.” That would be even a bit too rednecky for my grandpa! This guy is supposed to be a liberal?)

If Hitchens were aware of the libertarian analysis of the New Deal (or the New Left revisionists like Gabriel Kolko, for that matter), he would know that it, too, was partially written by corporations to cartelize the economy and drive their small-fish competitors out. A good deal of it was simply cribbed from a plan drawn up by one Gerard Swope, president of GE, and the scheme was much admired from abroad by Hitler and Mussolini. All with anti-plutocrat and pro-working man rhetoric, of course (and as always, the conservatives were dumb enough to believe it). The New Deal was against the free market, no doubt, but it was also for the corporations (This is the real meaning of the well-trod truism that FDR “saved Capitalism”- sure, for Capitalists). The Clinton plan “embodied the worst of bureaucracy  and the worst of ‘free enterprise'”: that’s the New Deal to a T, right down to the free enterprise in quotation marks. Hitchens describes the “Clintonian style of populism for the poor and reassurance for the rich or, if you prefer, big pieces of the pie for the fat cats and ‘good government’ for the rest.” Who does this sound like more than ol’ magnanimous papa himself, FDR? Oh, and you might want to check out who funded Obama’s campaign too, just so you know who’ll be left out when Obama rolls out his “anti-big business” legislation. (Not that Republican’s are the slightest bit better. They just tend to be less hypocritical about their coziness with robber barons, if only because nobody would believe it if they claimed otherwise.)

You can usually find that big business heartily endorses certain types of “socialist” legislation. The irony is that this is when they are acting most fully as predatory capitalists, and yet it is also precisely when they are praised by intellectuals as setting their own greedy self-interest aside and acting for the public good. It’s a shell game. And if you don’t know who the mark is. . .

swing-you-sinners-cartoon3So also with the Clinton welfare reform, the prime beneficiaries of which Hitchens sees as being government-favored businesses such as Tyson Foods, which “uses the Direct Job Placement scheme as its taxpayer-funded recruiting sergreant.” The analysis is perfectly in accord with that of left-libertarians like Kevin Carson, who sees in the expansion of so-called “services” such as the public school system an enormous boon for big business since it helps to manufacture and manage obedient worker-bees (or cannon fodder in the case of those restless souls who aren’t fit to wear a blue collar and need to learn how to “respect authority” more) for the corporate-therapeutic state, all while externalizing their operating costs onto the hapless and eternally bamboozled taxpayer. And then what little security net there is left is ruthlessly pulled away by a man who “feels your pain”.  Hitchens sums up the Clinton plan to move people from “welfare to work”: the state bureaucracy mutates itself into a hiring wall for cheap labor in junk-nutrition conglomerates such as Tyson Foods. Welfare recipients are told to sign on and gut fifty chickens a minute, or be wiped from the rolls of the new Poor Law.  (I don’t support the welfare state per se, but I do recognize that it is perverse to create the conditions which make it necessary, and then take it way- such is the philosophy of neoliberalism – and then go on to preach about the insufficient morals of the exploited class- such is neoconservativism. Cut welfare for the rich first! Welfare for the poor is only an evil insofar as it is used as an ideological tool to justify the existence of an ever-expanding state apparatus. It doesn’t help the poor, it helps keep them under control. )

Can you see now why the Left hated the pre-Monica Clinton? And let’s not forget Hillary, since she’s back with a vengeance. She, too, fails to live up to the image portrayed by either liberal hagiographers or conservative demonologists.

She is a dogged attender at church and a frequent waffler at prayer breakfasts and similar spectacles. She is for sexual abstinence, law and order, and the war on drugs [boy is she ever!] She stands by her man. She is for a woman’s right to “choose”, but so are most Republican ladies these days. She used to be a Goldwater girl and a preachy miss, and it shows. She once assured Larry King that “there is no Left in the Clinton White House.”

And there is none now. I just hope Obama knows what he is getting into by bringing a Clinton back to the throne. Or maybe I don’t. I still have some respect for the guy.

* Although, in a way most of our presidents have been bomb-throwing radicals. Harry Truman, for instance, was a greater terrorist by several orders of magnitude then anybody who was in the Weather Underground.

* Obviously, I don’t agree with everything, or even most things, that Hitchens has written. He is way wrong on the Iraq war, and seems to have become a bit of a neocon like so many ex-Trotskyites, after a brief, superficial flirtation with libertarianism. During this latter period, he wrote the introduction to the Reason Magazine anthology, Choice, which was particularly galling since this book also contained an interview with Hitchens that revealed how little he knew about libertarianism. Look, you can not get the whole of libertarian philosophy just by reading Reason. At any rate, he remains a witty, literate contrarian and intellectual pugilist and there simply aren’t enough journalists like that out there. You read good writers for the good writing, not to swallow all of their opinions whole. (Although, I should point out that Hitchens admires all the right people- Paine, Jefferson, Orwell- and hates all the right people- Kissinger, the Clintons, Mother Theresa, God.) George Bernard Shaw was an excellent writer, and he was wrong about almost everything.

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