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July 29, 2010

Can we all agree to be honest about the constitution?

Filed under: State,U.S.A — rmangum @ 7:04 pm
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I recently unsubscribed to the Cato Institute’s daily podcast. I’ve never been a big fan of Cato’s Right-Opportunist, Fabian approach to libertarianism, but there is a dearth of libertarian podcasts that analyze what’s going on inside the beltway (except when it comes to foreign policy, where Scott Horton’s Antiwar Radio will have a monopoly on the market for a long time). The main reason I stopped listening was one particular episode which featured a nameless wonk defending Obama’s use of CIA-directed drone attacks in Pakistan. I nearly broke my iPod. But a secondary reason was that seemingly more than half the episodes since I started listening were about issues related to the Supreme Court and its interpretation of the Constitution. This is to be expected, since this year has so far seen a lot of activity there: the Kagan nomination and important (as far as those things go) decisions on the second amendment and corporate money/free speech (take your pick). I became impatient with Cato’s relatively conservative take on the court, but what finally hit me was how boring I found the whole thing, especially compared with the daily exposure of the truly malevolent shit our government has been up to in the War on Terror. I finally had to admit to myself what I already pretty much knew: I do not care about the Constitution. At best it’s a thin, soft sheath over a vast iron truncheon. I do not care that most people don’t know that torture is unconstitutional, but I am horrified that they approve of its use, and I am unconvinced that correcting the former problem would help with the latter.

The Constitution in American political discourse is usually just a veil for other concerns and interests. Conservatives are most likely to identify as “Constitutionalists” who want to interpret the document “strictly” and according to its “original intent” (an analogy here to the fundamentalist biblical hermeneutic is probably quite apropos), but they do so because they think- rightly in many cases, wrongly in others- that the Constitution conforms to their conservative vision of America. But that doesn’t stop them from disregarding it during wartime (which in our lifetimes means all the time). Libertarians are often highly supportive of the constitution, but really would probably love to scrap everything except the Bill of Rights (addenda forced upon the document by the naysayers in the first place), and if they could design a machine to automatically protect against rights-aggressions they would do so in a heartbeat. Liberals should probably just come out and say they wish for the abolition of the second amendment.

Now I’ve just been going through the archives of the Journal of Libertarian Studies and come across historian Jeffrey Rogers Hummel’s review of Thomas Woods’ (now of Meltdown fame) Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. Hummel is quite rightly critical of the book- which I read when it first came out- from its asinine packaging and marketing (admittedly the publisher’s fault and not Tom’s), its glib style, and the barely held-together tension between libertarian, conservative, and neo-confederate sympathies. But most of all Hummel takes Woods to task for his “constitutional fetishism,” a feature far more appropriate to a conservative than a libertarian, even a conservative libertarian. He wonders why a libertarian ought to care about constitutionality per se, since,

The Constitution, rather than representing the culmination of the American Revolution, embodied in fact a reactionary counterrevolution, designed to reverse many of the previous victories of Liberty over Power.

This was precisely the position of Woods’ avowed mentor, Murray Rothbard, who always preferred the Articles of Confederation. The most charitable reading I can give Woods’ book is that he’s trying to win traditionalist conservatives over to a more libertarian position, but the book so effectively muddies the libertarian message that traditionalist conservatives are more likely to think that their position already is libertarian (or, vice versa, that libertarians are or ought to be traditionalist conservatives).

Then Hummel goes on to write probably the most brilliant thing I’ve ever read about the Constitution, with implications far beyond the libertarian political culture:

In the final analysis, there is no absolutely correct interpretation of the Constitution. From the outset, it was a political document, deliberately ambiguous in some clauses to ease its ratification, and contested right from the Philadelphia starting gate in 1787. Since then, competing theories about applying the Constitution have vied for political supremacy. American politicians have invariably embraced whatever constitutional theory fits their policy predilections. Over the two centuries and more the Constitution has been in force, only a mere handful of intellectually consistent statesmen has ever publicly concluded that government activities they favored for other reasons were proscribed under the Constitution. And I include among politicians all judges, because the courts have always been as politicized as the other branches.

An intriguing question is whether American political life could continue in good faith if we all admitted these facts.

July 4, 2010

Anarchism and Patriotism

Filed under: Anarchy,State,U.S.A,War — rmangum @ 1:03 pm
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Last night I did what I suppose what millions of Americans do for fourth of July: I watched a fireworks show at a local park. I was the designated driver for the evening, and I suppose not being drunk for the occasion had a certain detrimental effect on my enjoyment of the proceedings. I like hot summer evenings, outdoor grilling, and fireworks as much as the next guy, but I do not know what they have to do with America, or freedom, or anything other than a good time and a day off from work. I suppose fireworks are meant to remind us of “the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,” and other such warlike imagery which, we are taught from a young age, are central to our national sentiment. One thing I don’t like is the flyovers by fighter jets and bombers which accompany the show. These remind me that the military is everywhere. They give me a tight feeling in my chest, an anxiety that is the opposite of a feeling of freedom.

Patriotism, even the kind which recognizes a difference between State and Nation, is usually anathema to anarchists (Emma Goldman, for instance), but I don’t think this need be the case. I’d like to quote extensively from an essay by the great English writer G.K. Chesterton, “A Defense of Patriotism.” He considered himself a true patriot and was indignant that patriotism was becoming identified in his country with the warlike spirit, or what he calls a “deaf and raucous jingoism.” His words can be neatly transposed to our own country’s situation as well:

On all sides we hear to-day of the love of our country, and yet anyone who has literally such a love must be bewildered at the talk, like a man hearing all men say that the moon shines by day and the sun by night. The conviction must come to him at last that these men do not realize what the word ‘love’ means, that they mean by the love of country, not what a mystic might mean by the love of God, but something of what a child might mean by the love of jam. To one who loves his fatherland, for instance, our boasted indifference to the ethics of a national war is mere mysterious gibberism. It is like telling a man that a boy has committed murder, but that he need not mind because it is only his son. Here clearly the word ‘love’ is used unmeaningly. It is the essence of love to be sensitive, it is a part of its doom; and anyone who objects to the one must certainly get rid of the other. This sensitiveness, rising sometimes to an almost morbid sensitiveness, was the mark of all great lovers like Dante and all great patriots like Chatham. ‘My country, right or wrong,’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober.’ No doubt if a decent man’s mother took to drink he would share her troubles to the last; but to talk as if he would be in a state of gay indifference as to whether his mother took to drink or not is certainly not the language of men who know the great mystery.

. . .

We have to ask, then, Why is it that this recent movement in England, which has honestly appeared to many a renascence of patriotism, seems to us to have none of the marks of patriotism–at least, of patriotism in its highest form? . . . We are, as a nation, in the truly extraordinary condition of not knowing our own merits. We have played a great and splendid part in the history of universal thought and sentiment; we have been among the foremost in that eternal and bloodless battle in which the blows do not slay, but create. In painting and music we are inferior to many other nations; but in literature, science, philosophy, and political eloquence, if history be taken as a whole, we can hold our own with any. But all this vast heritage of intellectual glory is kept from our schoolboys like a heresy; and they are left to live and die in the dull and infantile type of patriotism which they learnt from a box of tin soldiers. There is no harm in the box of tin soldiers; we do not expect children to be equally delighted with a beautiful box of tin philanthropists. But there is great harm in the fact that the subtler and more civilized honour of England is not presented so as to keep pace with the expanding mind. A French boy is taught the glory of Moliere as well as that of Turenne; a German boy is taught his own great national philosophy before he learns the philosophy of antiquity. The result is that, though French patriotism is often crazy and boastful, though German patriotism is often isolated and pedantic, they are neither of them merely dull, common, and brutal, as is so often the strange fate of the nation of Bacon and Locke. It is natural enough, and even righteous enough, under the circumstances. An Englishman must love England for something; consequently, he tends to exalt commerce or prize-fighting, just as a German might tend to exalt music, or a Flamand to exalt painting, because he really believes it is the chief merit of his fatherland. It would not be in the least extraordinary if a claim of eating up provinces and pulling down princes were the chief boast of a Zulu. The extraordinary thing is, that it is the chief boast of a people who have Shakespeare, Newton, Burke, and Darwin to boast of.

America cannot look back on a long and deep tradition of high culture and intellectual distinction (though we have recently produced some of the finest world literature, from Whitman and Dickinson to Faulkner and Stevens), as England and the European nations can. But it has a far more glorious tradition of libertarianism, and it is this tradition which is forgotten, largely by the design of our education.  It is therefore a shame that the nation of Jefferson and Paine, of the Whiskey Rebellion and the spirit of ’76, of a long long train of religious dissidents and individualist anarchists, has as its best avatar of the soul Dick Cheney.

I recommend as devotional readings for the anarchist patriot the following: “Anarchism and American Traditions” by Voltairine de Cleyre, “The Origins of Individualist Anarchism in America,” and “Was the American Revolution Radical?” (an audio excerpt from the multi-volume history Conceived in Liberty) by Murray N. Rothbard.

P.S.- I was looking for some American flag pictures to accompany this post, but I found it too stomach-turning. Enough with the damn flag already. The less American citizens care about actual freedom or any of the worthwhile traditions of this country (like say, the Bill of Rights), the more they care about worthless symbols like the flag. I am reminded of a witty aside by literary critic Harold Bloom in one of his best books, The American Religion: “Creationism, I am now convinced, is only secondarily directed against the ghost of Charles Darwin. It is directed instead against all those who might deny that the Bible is a vast solid object, like a cliff or a First Baptist Church in a Texas city.” Similarly, American patriotism, 99 times out of a hundred, is only secondarily directed against those who hate America. It is instead a fierce defense of the American flag as a concrete object as it waves in arrogant victory over the cowed foreigner and the awestruck citizen, its stripes licking the sky like tongues of flame, its stars seeming like an explosion of sparks, the kind often seen when one has been punched squarely in the nose.

June 12, 2010

The Only Thing We Have to Fear . . .

Filed under: Notes Toward a Supreme Conspiracy Theory,State,U.S.A,War — rmangum @ 9:58 pm
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I’ve been reading Phillip Jenkins‘ political and social history of 1970’s America, Decade of Nightmares: The End of the Sixties and the Making of Eighties America. The first thing I have to note is the striking similarities between our current period and the one Jenkins covers (focusing specifically on 1974 to 1977). But I really had an epiphany when I read about what Jenkins calls “The Terror Noncrisis.” He argues that the mid-seventies saw a wave of domestic terrorism in America. He writes, “In terms of the scale and frequency of attacks , America during the mid-1970’s was suffering one of the worst waves of terrorist violence in its history to that point.” He cites some well-known events, such as the Patty Hearst kidnapping, the ’75 bombing of the State Department by the Weather Underground, as well as some which were news to me, such as the “Zebra murders” in San Francisco and a Puerto Rican nationalist group called the FALN, supposedly responsible for “over thirty bomb attacks in New York, Chicago, and Washington.” These groups didn’t really have anything to do with each other, but all could be broadly categorized as subscribing to some Leftish variety of radicalism. But Jenkins also notes that anti-Castro Cuban exiles in Miami “became the heart of a flourishing terrorist and guerilla subculture.”

So what is the point in linking all of these together under the rubric of a “terror wave”? 1970’s domestic terrorism as a single phenomenon has been largely ignored by historians (“as late as 1995, writers on Oklahoma City were still remarking that finally ‘terrorism had come to the United States'”) and, more shockingly from a post-9/11 perspective, was not high on the list of earth-shaking fears of Americans at the time. As I said, the various groups were not linked (except as they each represented the death-spasms of the New Left), but it is strange that it was not thought to be the case at the time (except by usual anti-commie suspects like the Birchers). A mere 10 years earlier every longhair with a peace sign was suspected as an agent of Moscow, but now that the longhairs were actually blowing things up, nobody thought the revolution was finally upon us?  And its not as if the seventies lacked the paranoid mindset. As Jenkins demonstrates, this was the decade when the conspiracy theory went mainstream. So what happened?

The short answer is that Richard Nixon happened. The revelations about Watergate, COINTELPRO, the American-backed coup in Chile, and other government scandals had everyone looking to Washington as the source of crime and corruption. “The near-total focus on abuses by government and law enforcement meant that political dangers of a kind that in any other political environment would have demanded an urgent response. . . . The powerful focus on evils committed by the state diverted attention from subversives or revolutionary threats, however well-documented those dangers.”

While Jenkins does not deny that government agencies brought it on themselves, he seems to lament that the CIA and FBI were weakened, and thus unable to deal with new terror threats. “Infiltration and surveillance of the sort that once would have been commonplace was now highly unpopular . . .” But that’s the rub! Every single terror group Jenkins writes about fizzled out within the decade. Precisely nothing came of these threats beyond the isolated events. There was no revolution, because it was not televised. Americans quite rationally feared being spied on by government, but they did not fear that the Symbionese Liberation Army would force them all to smoke dope in communes while having orgies in front of a Chairman Mao poster. But let’s say that the Feds had retained the organization and legitimacy to “mobilize public concern.” It might have been civil war, and people might have felt like the wheels were coming off entirely (as they arguably did in ’69-70, the time of the Manson Family murders and Kent State). Consequently, they would have demanded greater force and more expansive measures.

Obviously, we can learn something from this era. As it stands, we have a president who refuses to prosecute his predecessor, the latter being guilty of crime and corruption at least on the level, and probably far exceeding that of Nixon and LBJ. And, oh yeah, then there’s the whole police state thing. And what are we worried about? The Hutaree.

The terror wave of 1974-1977, unlike that of the 2000’s, was a “noncrisis” because terrorism doesn’t work if you don’t become terrorized.

May 25, 2010

My two (dialectical) bits on the Rand Paul thing

Filed under: Philosophy,State,U.S.A — rmangum @ 7:48 pm

As you probably know, Rachel Maddow recently grilled Rand Paul on whether he would have supported the 1964 Civil Rights act, and whether a strict enforcement of property rights would lead to a segregated society. You can read a transcript, along with a defense of Paul here. Of course an anarchist cannot agree that only federal legislation can stop racism, but I want to critique the defenses of Rand that have been offered by some libertarians as well. First of all, Paul’s responses were not at all straightforward, but incredibly evasive. Other defenses have taken the following form: “Segregation and discrimination were the fault of Jim Crow laws, which come from government, and not private business, which have a natural economic incentive not to discriminate.” There is some truth to this, but it is limited and fails to see the whole picture. Of course Jim Crow laws made things much worse, but laws do not come from nowhere. Laws which have no broad popular support do not last long, and often cannot be passed at all. And while the profit motive does indeed offer an incentive against discrimination, since black or gay money spends as well as any other kind, we know also that human beings are more than homo economicus, or what Dierdre McCloskey has named “Max U”, a kind of rationally self-interested calculating machine. In other words, culturally-inculcated prejudice is often more than enough to overcome economic self-interest. Anxious to exonerate markets and property, libertarians who make these arguments are also letting the racist culture of the South off the hook. (This is not to say that the North was not also racist in its own way.)

I’ve been reading Chris Matthew Sciabarra‘s “Dialectics and Liberty” trilogy. I just finished Marx, Hayek and Utopia, and am now a good ways into Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism. While I’m not fully convinced by Sciabarra’s arguments, I am finding that taking a dialectical view can often be illuminating, and Rand Paul’s gaffe is a case in point. Sciabarra sees “internal relations” as fundamental to dialectics. In social systems, all parts are related to each other in essential ways. Remove any part, and you effect the whole. In contrast, “external relations” view at least things as being independent of each other. The libertarian defenses I mentioned before view culture and government as being externally related, so that all things bad can be ascribed to government. Here’s the crux of these kind of debates: liberals and libertarians fundamentally agree on this externalist view of the state, only with opposite value-judgments about government intervention. Here’s an excerpt from the Maddow interview:

MADDOW: But it could be brought up at any moment. I mean, if there – – let’s say there’s a town right now and the owner of the town’s swimming club says we’re not going to allow black kids at our pool, and the owner of the bowling alley in town says, we’re not actually going to allow black patrons, and the owner of the skating rink in town says, we’re not going to allow black people to skate here.

And you may think that’s abhorrent and you may think that’s bad business. But unless it’s illegal, there’s nothing to stop that — there’s nothing under your world view to stop the country from re-segregating like we were before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 —

PAUL: Right.

Unacknowledged Legislators

Right? Let’s just repeat what Maddow is saying, and Paul is agreeing to: without federal legislation, there is “nothing.” Nothing. So, no boycotts, no marches, no protests? Since the legislators who passed the bill were not black, we can assume that blacks were really helpless. Either white oppressors or white saviors. Now you can see why blacks on the radical left in the 1960’s like Malcom X and the Black Panthers had nothing but contempt for white liberals.

The reality is that the impact of the Civil Rights act was positive, though not quite positive enough to counteract the evil done by Jim Crow. But it was itself the result of a social movement involving heroic actions taken by individuals acting in solidarity to raise consciousness and fight oppression. And the enforcement of Jim Crow was legal oppression, but it too was the result of social forces, enabled by the fact that a majority of southern whites viewed segregation as desirable.

Government is evil, but it is not the root of all evil, merely the apotheosis of evil, the codification of evil. And there is plenty in a worldview that rejects government to fight bigotry, as virtually the whole history of the civil rights movement demonstrates: boycotts, strikes, peaceful demonstration, acts of solidarity in the face of intimidation, and yes, even market forces.

The view that social change springs fully formed out of the head of government legislation, with lawmakers observing and adjusting from some Archimedean point outside society, is ahistorical, undialectical, and condescending to the groups it proposes to help. Furthermore, once this view gains hold, it has an insidiously self-fulfilling effect. Groups who before were able to spontaneously organize to fight for freedom and equality, and become ennobled by the struggle, (“I am somebody” as a young Jesse Jackson once told a crowd in Watts) are now encouraged to seek help only from government, settling into a mediated client-patron relationship which is something like an extremely attenuated form of a master-slave relationship (and dialectics enters the picture once more).

Too many libertarians seem to think that because we view the state as on balance evil, we can never admit that it does any good, as if that would be to admit it is the only way of doing good. That is of course statist nonsense on stilts.

December 9, 2009

Know Your Limits

Filed under: State,U.S.A,War — rmangum @ 8:29 pm
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I have just finished The Limits of Power by Andrew Bacevich, an excellent critique of American foreign policy, specifically the ideology of “National Security” as rooted in our political culture. I believe the book’s flaws have been adequately pointed out by David Gordon in his review back in the Spring, so I’ll avoid the temptation to criticize and highlight what is most valuable about this short but potent book.

First, while Bacevich is by no means any sort of political radical, his critique is stringent and quite amenable to radicalism. Consider this assessment of our recent middle-eastern adventurism in the broader context of American history:

We’ve been down this path before. After liberating Cuba in 1898 and converting it into a protectorate, the United States set out to transform the entire Caribbean into an “American lake.” Just as, a century ago, senior U.S. officials proclaimed their concern for the well-being of Hatians, Dominicans, and Nucaraguans, so do Senior U.S. officials now insist on their commitment to “economic reform, democratic reform, and human rights” for all Central Asians.

But this is mere camouflage. The truth is that the United States is engaged in an effort to encorporate Central Asia into the Pax Americana.


The striking thing about this passage, as with so many in the book, is that it can apply equally to this administration as well as the previous one. Bacevich understands that the ideology of National Security is a bipartisan faith, even if American voters don’t. And he understands the nature of that ideology, which has little to do with the actual safety of the American people.

The ideology of national security does not serve as an operational checklist. It imposes no specific obligations. It functions the way ideology so often does- not to divine truth or even make sense of things, but to provide a highly elastic rationale for action. In the American context, it serves principally to legitimate the exercise of executive power. It removes constraints, conferring on presidents and their immediate circle of advisers wide prerogatives for deciding when and how to employ that power.

Speaking of the executive, Bacevich is particularly scathing about how the focus of mass politics has been reduced down to that office, indeed it seems to be solely about our emotions regarding the man in power:

Beginning with the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960, the occupant of the White House has become a combinaiton of demigod, father figure, and, inevitably, the betrayer of hopes. Pope, pop star, scold, scapegoat, crisis manager, commander in chief, agenda setter, moral philosopher, interpreter of the nation’s charisma, object of veneration, and the butt of jokes- regardless of personal attributes and qualifications, the president is perforce all these rolled into one.

The president also serves as an important cultural shibboleth. How you feel about Obama or Bush will determine who your friends are, what social circles you can participate in. But in practice they all serve the same function. In a recent Young American Revolution article on the antifederalists, Bill Kauffman quotes the pseudonymous Philadelphiensis’ objection to the executive proposed by the recently proposed constitution: “Who can deny the president general will be . . . a king elected to command a standing army?” Our revolutionary forbears were as suspicious of standing armies as we are enamored of- and dependent upon- them.

Bacevich follows his thorough critique of the national security state’s failures with a question that points in the right direction:

When considering the national security state as it has evolved and grown over the past six decades, what exactly has been the value added? And if the answer is none- if, indeed the return on the investment has been essentially negative- then perhaps the time has come to consider dismantling an apparatus that demonstrably serves no useful purpose.

“Dismantling the apparatus” is the starting point, though it will mean different things to different groups. But I think that everyone outside of the hegemonic center of American politics, from left-libertarians to post-paleos, social anarchists to anarcho-capitalists, even disaffected liberals and conservatives, has a common interest in dismantling it. For a somewhat centrist conservative like Bacevich, the purpose is to insure a more cautious and moderate foreign policy that attaches a different, more humble, meaning to American freedom and prosperity. This is worth considering, too. Though I don’t think the word “hubris” ever comes up in the book, it’s clearly what Bacevich identify’s as the country’s greatest sin. And it’s not just that our use of military might is immoral, or that it has been incompetantly exercised: there are actually objective limits on what force as such can accomplish.

November 23, 2009

A Song for Sunday (King-Kill) #33

John F. Kennedy was assassinated 44 years ago today. Texas is the reason.

It’s a bit in poor taste, I know, but today’s song is Bullet by the Misfits. I always misheard the lyric “Kennedy’s shattered head hits concrete” as “Kennedy’s shattered head: it’s complete.” It’s a creative mishearing. Lyrically, I think “Bullet” is one of Glen Danzig’s best, though he can’t refrain from sexual morbidity for long and ends the song with a verse about having sex with Jackie O. (But as we shall see, sex and death both attend accounts of the Kennedy King-Killing.)

For an extreme antigovernment libertarian-type with an attraction to revisionist history, I’m actually not much of a Kennedy conspiracy buff. My accquaintance with the facts of the assassination and the figures involved come primarily through works of ficiton. First is JFK, which I regard as a truly brilliant film, whatever its relation to the actual facts (and which I actually watched earlier today- my brother was assigned to write a paper on a historical film and picked this one off a list of suggestions and was unaware that it was the exact date of the assassination). Second is the Don DeLillo novel Libra, which presents the thesis that I’ve always wanted to see: that there was a conspiracy and Oswald did it (though that’s not really what the book is about). George Will famously, and fatuously, dismissed the novel as “sandbox existentialism”. I think it’s more lunchpail postmodernism myself. It’s pretty good. Come to think of it, DeLillo and Oliver Stone have a lot in common: each has made the only serious attempts at depicting football in fiction (Stone in the movie Any Given Sunday and DeLillo in the novel End Zone), and  both have a great deal of talent that they squander at least half the time. Finally, if you really want to wade in the wierd end of the pool, there’s the Grand Poobah of Paranoia James Shelby Downard’s “King-Kill 33: Masonic Symbolism in the Assassination of John F. Kennedy“, which employs language-analysis, mythology, and geography to show that the assassination was a ritual murder by the ubiquitous secret society. Enough to make Richard Hofstadter blow his stack. Of course you cannot take Downars seriously, but that does not mean he is not supremely entertaining.

I’ve long toyed with the idea of doing a half-joking essay presenting a Downardian reading of Stone’s JFK. Outlandish enough on its surface, the film is downright uncanny if you know how to watch it. With Downard’s thesis in mind watch, for instance, the long scene at the heart of the film where Costner’s as Jim Garrison talks to his Black Ops informant, Donald Sutherland’s X. They’re sitting on a park bench in front of the Washington monument. X urges Garrison to think about the big picture by asking the age-old cui bono: “Who had the motive? Who had the means to cover it up? Who?” At this precise moment, the film cuts to a wide shot of the monument. A certain breed of conspiracist believes the obelisk to be an important masonic/satanic phallic symbol, and central to the supposed occult layout of Washington D.C. (Obelisks as phallic symbols and occult architecture and city planning play an important role in another brilliant work of paranoid fiction, Alan Moore’s graphic novel about Jack the Ripper From Hell.) Watch closely also a scene where one of Garrison’s investigators is talking to a contact in New Orleans during one of those weird parades they have where everybody dresses up as a skeleton. Just as the contact reveals that the suspected co-conspirator and member of the New Orleans gay underworld Clay Bertrand was actually respected business figure Clay Shaw, one of the procession of the dead jumps out and spooks the two; then a cut to another meeting of Garrison’s team and one of them saying, “this is spookier than we thought”. Moments like that are like an alchemical element working throuhout the film. Spooks and death working just underneath the surface.

And don’t think I didn’t get a little shiver when I saw that this Sunday entry happened to be number 33.

I should reiterate, and underline (this is the internet, after all), that I am a conspiracy skeptic. My interest in paranoia is largely an aesthetic one (which is not to say that the Officially Accepted Narrative is not, as per usual, pure fantasy ficiton as well). My own hatred of the National Security State by no means rests on who killed Kennedy or why, and anyway I follow Gore Vidal in thinking that the coup d’état took place in 1947, not 1963.

November 11, 2009

Minority Report

Filed under: U.S.A,War — rmangum @ 11:03 pm
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Last night while at the gym I saw a clip of CNN’s “Senior Legal Analyst” Jeffrey Toobin talking to Anderson Cooper. In the wake of the Fort Hood shooting spree by a Muslim Army psychiatrist, Nidal Hasan, CNN had been showing the obligatory clips of bearded men shouting on streetcorners in London and New York and handing out flyers. Despite the fact that 99% of all reasonable people who have things to do in their lives completely ignore anybody standing on a streetcorner and shouting- particularly if the shouters have a religious bent- the news media feel the need to scare up fear about these “hate groups”. Anyway, Toobin gives us his own version of the “9/11 changed everything” argument by saying that, whereas before 9/11, the focus of the American Justice System was to convict criminals after they had committed a crime (you can see that this is, logically, a tautaulogy, yes?), the focus after 9/11 had to be about crime prevention. In particular, he referenced the need for hate speech/hate crime legislation. You can see where this is going. Since we were attacked by Muslims who hated (irrationally, of course) the United States, we can prevent further attacks by making it a crime to be a Muslim who hates the United States. Toobin went on to say something like, “Unfortunately, our legal system just isn’t set up to deal with this.” Yes, unfortunately. But since 9/11, it’s been getting better every day. What, in my naivete, shocked me was the lack of any mention of why our legal system doesn’t punish people who have committed no crime. Phrases like “due process” and “presumtion of innocence” are not heard.  I can understand, though disagree with, someone opposing those things due to some overriding necessity or contigency, but to look at them uncomprehendingly as a design flaw in an outaded model? Now, I understand this isn’t quite like the “Precrime” department in Minority Report, since the argument is that we should criminalize speech and acts which lead to the greater crimes of terrorism. But I think the totalitarian implications are clear enough. But this is my own streetcorner rant: when liberty is regarded as an dangerous and alien concept, we are already a totalitarian country.

But to get back to the Ft. Hood shooter, Hasan: what could have tipped off a Department of Precrime, and thus prevent a shooting spree? The Washington Post reports. Apparantly, a year and a half ago Hasan gave a presentation to Army physicians as a resident at the infamous Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He was expected to lecture on a medical topic, but instead, much to the dismay of his audience.

he stood before his supervisors and about 25 other mental health staff members and lectured on Islam, suicide bombers and threats the military could encounter from Muslims conflicted about fighting in the Muslim countries of Iraq and Afghanistan.

As near as I can tell about his presentation from the Post article, the purpose was- fitting with his training as a psychiatrist- to explain the psychology of suicide bombers within the context of Koranic faith. This could be useful stuff. Learning about the psychology of Islam might cause the U.S. military to question the widom of occupying Muslim countries. So of course it is doubly offensive to Hasan’s Army supervisors. Hasan was also particularly concerned about Muslims serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

“It’s getting harder and harder for Muslims in the service to morally justify being in a military that seems constantly engaged against fellow Muslims,” he said in the presentation.

This aspect of his presentation has in hindsight a clearly autobiographical element. Hasan was to be deployed to Afghanistan where, according to a relative, he asked not to be sent. His presentation, titled “The Koranic Worldview as it Relates to Muslims in the U.S. Military” concluded:

“Department of Defense should allow Muslims [sic] Soldiers the option of being released as ‘Conscientious objectors’ to increase troop morale and decrease adverse events.”

Oddly, or not, the Post article seems not to get the real meaning of Hasan’s presentation. To them it reveals his “extremist views”. To me it looks like a desperate plea. Hasan may or may not have been “in contact with others who may have encouraged violence against U.S. troops.” More information will come out I am sure. But then why a warning to the Army about potential internal threats?

Nidal Malik Hasan is a criminal, a mass murderer. That much is sure. But is this a crime of “extremism” and “hate”, and does it necessitate the criminalization of those motives as well? Or might this have something to do with the contradictions of being a Muslim employed by an Army that kills Muslims every day? And even if Hasan turns out to be an agent of Al Qaeda, that means the shooting is subject to the same logic of blowback as 9/11, which is that, as  Rep. Ron Paul explained to the dismayed Guliani, they hate us because we’re over there. It’s a hatred that may be extreme, but is anything but irrational.

October 16, 2009

The mainsream American Left is ignorant and naive: some recent evidence

Filed under: Economics,State,U.S.A,War — rmangum @ 6:46 pm
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Let’s go from least to most egregious. First, Rachel Maddow, a prime example of what Kevin Carson terms “goo-goo” liberalism. He writes:

Recently Rachel Maddow mentioned Congressman Jim DeMint’s planned trip to Honduras, where he intended to encourage coup leaders to defy the U.S. government.

Maddow prefaced her remarks with a long homily on how badly the U.S. government hated military coups, because they ran counter to everything the U.S. government stands for, were so abhorrent to American values that the U.S. government cut off all ties to such repugnant pariah regimes, and blah blah woof woof.

This is amazingly stupid—almost as stupid as the Congressman I saw back in the ’90s, speaking in regard to Clinton’s Balkan wars, who said he’d learned in school that the U.S. never went to war to obtain a square foot of territory or a dollar of treasure. The U.S. government is opposed to coups, especially against democratically elected leaders? Yeah, maybe in the Bearded Spock universe. Um, ever hear of Armas? Suharto? Mourão Filho? Pinochet? I’m sure all those nice folks in the U.S. government cried over such coups, just like Iron Eyes Cody watching somebody litter Central Park—or rather just like Lewis Carrol’s Walrus, weeping even as he polished off the last of the oysters.

Maddow also suggested it was “treason” to encourage another government to defy the policies of the United States government.

Carson adds that “It’s usually Olbermann who’s prone to this kind of liberal mirror-imaging of right-wing know-nothingism”, and I have noticed a more critical attitude toward Obama, however tepid, on her show than on others. Still, she’s part of the choir for sure.

Then there’s our good friend Michael Moore, always playing trenchant critic of the status quo while stumping for what is in effect a slightly more left-wing version of it. From what I have read of his new film Capitalism: A Love Story (no, I have not seen it), he shows an American government owned by Wall Street, and yet peddles the line that the election of Obama is a sign of Hope and Change. And yet who do we find right near the top of Obama’s campaign contributors? That’s right, Goldman freakin’ Sachs! You can rest assured that if McCain were president, Moore would have mentioned this fact in his movie. But Democrats just can’t be corrupted like that. Even the NPR review I heard pointed out that Obama’s policies are largely the same.

Thomas Naylor of the left-secessionist Second Vermont Republic likes the critique of Capitalism, but not the Big Government conclusions.

Moore is fully cognizant of the fact that the American economic machine is driven by money, power, speed, and greed. Unfortunately, he is a lot less savvy in his grasp of the problem of size in America. Moore appears to be oblivious to the fact that our country, our government, our cities, our corporations, our schools, our churches, our military, and our social welfare system are all too big, too powerful, too intrusive, too insular, and too unresponsive to the needs of individual citizens and small local communities.

The reason Moore is blind to the “problem of size” (and the problem of power) is that he is obviously not some anti-establishment rebel, but an authoritarian progressive. Another NPR reviewer, Kenneth Turan, points out:

In the end, perhaps the most startling thing about Capitalism is that Moore stands revealed not as some pointy-headed socialist, but as an unreconstructed New Deal Democrat. He admires Franklin D. Roosevelt, believes in increased democracy and opportunity, and feels that the decades-long weakening of unions has fatally weakened America.

For my money, I’ll take a pointy-headed socialist any day, many of whom actually believe that it was FDR’s incorporation of unions as a people’s movement into a managerial-capitalist structure that led to their ultimate weakening. Naylor’s article also quotes Moore as saying his major hero is Abraham Lincoln, which is quite revealing if you know anything about Lincoln’s economic policies, which were essentially mercantilist, and defined by Murray Rothbard as “a system of statism which employed economic fallacy to build up a structure of imperial state power, as well as special subsidy and monopolistic privilege to individuals or groups favored by the state.” If I may do a bit of shotgun revisionist economic history here, one could argue that the Hamilton-Henry Clay-Lincoln economic nationalist and pro-big banking philosophy led in a direct line to the Goldman Sachs’ America we have now. But could you make a hit movie about that?

Finally we have the selling out of the liberal anti-war movement in the Obama feel-good age (and isn’t he really like the Reagan of the left?), as Code Pink goes to Code Yellow. Founder Medea Benjamin is now thinking it might be a good idea to keep the war in Afghanistan after all, after former Karzai “Minister of Women” Masooda Jalal told her they needed more aid and more troops. Well, if the Minister of Women for a U.S. puppet says so! Medea may have just realized, along with authoritarian progressives all across the country, that this is the perfect war for her. As Anti-War.com’s Justin Raimondo writes:

This is a project sure to warm the hearts of “progressives” who long to do the same right here in the US – lift up the starving masses and pull them (forcibly, if necessary) into modernity. In the meantime, however, they’re content to settle for Afghanistan as a target of opportunity, and a kind of experimental laboratory in which to perfect their social engineering skills.

Added to this “humanitarian” impulse is the tremendous pull of identity politics, which dictates that something must be done about the status of women in Afghanistan – and if the US army does it, well then, Benjamin will hold her nose and overcome her distaste for the flag they fly long enough to applaud the “liberation” of Afghan women. Has a more appalling hypocrisy ever been conceived?

You may have noticed a theme in all these stories: a naivete in the face of power on the part of liberals, as long as that power says it is working for “democracy and opportunity”. At least, I only hope it is naivete. It could be that they know full well what they’re doing. It’s worth quoting again one of the most insightful points about the contemporary liberal mentality I have read, from Paul Gottfried’s After Liberalism: Mass Democracy in the Managerial State:

Like other contemporary social democrats who call themselves liberal, Rawls fails to discuss power. . . . The real reason, I would argue, is that liberals do not want to be seen as imposing their will upon others. They are philosophically and temperamentally uncomfortable with the power they both exercise and expand.

October 7, 2009

True Crime

For anyone who hasn’t been following the Sibel Edmonds story, or is just interested in a shocking tale of corruption and intrigue, I highly recommend the cover story of the latest issue of The American Conservative, “Who’s Afraid of Sibel Edmonds?” A former translator of Turkish for the FBI, Edmonds tells a fascinating story of State Department officials selling secrets to foreign intelligence, members of congress being bribed and blackmailed, American university professors acting as foreign agents, and negotiations between the people in the American and Turkish governments over potential occupation of Iraq before 9/11! Oh yeah, and a bit of sex scandal too.

The main reason this story isn’t being picked up by major media outlets is that it serves no partisan utility. It indicts Democrats as well as Republicans. Yes it is in The American Conservative, but don’t let the name scare you. This is an important story. When asked whether she expects change from the Obama administration, Edmonds expresses skepticism, pointing to the continuation or escalation of some of the worst Bush policies (the State Secrets Privelege, most notably), and adds:

The other thing I noticed is how Chicago, with its culture of political corruption, is central to the new administration. When I saw that Obama’s choice of chief of staff was Rahm Emanuel, knowing his relationship with Mayor Richard Daley and with the Hastert crowd, I knew we were not going to see positive changes. Changes possibly, but changes for the worse. It was no coincidence that the Turkish criminal entity’s operation centered on Chicago.

As the old conspiracy-theory saw has it, this one goes all the way to the top.

July 8, 2009

The Death of a Technocrat

Filed under: Dylanalia,State,U.S.A,War — rmangum @ 3:26 am
Tags: , , ,

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I’m young
You might say I’m unlearned
But there’s one thing I know
Though I’m younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do

-Bob Dylan

The hand that signed the paper felled a city
-Dylan Thomas

robert-mcnamaraSynchronicity: My girlfriend had never seen The Fog of War, the fascinating Errol Morris documentary portrait of Robert McNamara as he reflects over his life as a statistical analysis expert during World War II, as the head (briefly) of Ford Motors, as Kennedy’s Secretary of Defense during the Cuban missile crisis and the early days of Vietnam, and as head of the World Bank. We got the film from Netflix more than a week ago, but were away last week for the Shakespeare festival in Southern Utah, and only got a chance to watch it last night. McNamara was already into his eighties when it was filmed, and Jane marveled at how much younger he seemed, how lucid and animated. “Is he still alive?” she asked me. “I’m actually not sure,” I admitted. Well, he was. Until yesterday.

Superficially, McNamara’s career boasts a string of successes beyond belief. He was known in the early, pre-Vietnam years as a “whiz kid”, a genius technocrat out of Harvard Business who made cars safer and bombs deadlier with his mastery of numbers, his gift of analysis. Closer inspection shows someone who engineered a series of blunders as he moved from one institution he had no experiential knowledge of to another. He gave Ford the Edsel, and helped bring America its most traumatic and divisive war of the modern era. But he was blind to the source of his failures because of his ideological commitment to abstract planning, number-manipulation, and managerialism. I’ve been thinking a lot about these things lately as a result of reading Kevin Carson’s Organization Theory. I had to stifle a guffaw when I heard McNamara boast about how he transformed Ford Motors by bringing in his carpetbagging comrades from business schools. You see, Ford had fewer than 10 college graduates among its managers and directors (remember that this is the company which virtually invented the whole industry- and without the help of Harvard!): I’m sure Carson would have a laugh at that one too. McNamara is the “Man of System” famously written of by Adam Smith and (in a more mean-spirited vein) much of Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” fits him like a “T” as well: “You that hide behind walls/you that hide behind desks”; “You play with my world/like its your little toy”.  In these aspects McNamara’s career is an exemplary one for the twentieth century (“I could pick a better century out of a hat!” says a character in the movie Sabrina- the one with Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn, not the one with Greg Kinnear). For further analysis of McNamara along these lines I suggest John Ralston Saul’s Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West, a book I don’t entirely agree with but well worth reading nonetheless. And of course, The Fog of War. Watching it, even a committed anarchist such as myself must feel some sympathy with the man, who on the one hand has genuinely tried to do good in the world and cannot understand why he has wrought evil, and on the other has the candor to admit that he is a war criminal- or would be, if his side lost.

I have not read any of the mainstream obituaries. I’m sure most will be politic. Many will be laudatory. Lew Rockwell.com was characteristically, and I think justly, acerbic:

Robert Strange McNamara, a brilliant bureaucrat and important member of the US power elite, has died at 93. A key planner of  the terror bombing of civilians in WWII and of the terrorist war on Vietnam, he later continued his service to the empire as head of the World Bank.

and:

If the prosecution of war criminals by the United States was ever taken seriously, McNamara would have been one of the leading candidates for the gallows. Instead, as we have been informed, the man died peacefully in his sleep, further evidence that, indeed, there is no justice in our world.

Is this a bit much? I don’t think so. Bernie Madoff just got the proverbial 99 years (or whatever) and would have been strung up and pummeled with stones like Mussolini if let loose amid the angry mob- and yet he never killed anybody, but merely proved the old saw about fools and their money. McNamara on the other hand- well, just watch the video. So I’ll leave off with another Dylan quote from “Masters of War”, even though I don’t think McNamara was a master of anything.

And I hope that you die
And your death’ll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I’ll stand o’er your grave
‘Til I’m sure that you’re dead

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