Posted by: quiscus | December 4, 2008

December 4, 2008

1.  “Conservatives have long taken for granted their place on the right of the political spectrum. But as the organized Right, in the form of the Republican Party, has hitched its wagon to big business and big government in the decades since World War II, some unconventional voices on the American Left have spoken up for the traditionally conservative causes of decentralism, prudent government, and foreign-policy restraint. This “left conservatism” owes its name to Norman Mailer, but it has deep roots in American history. And now that so much of the official Right has been co-opted by advocates of a materialistic consumer culture—to be maintained by a military empire—the time may be ripe for conservatives to look in a new direction.

Kolko’s indictment of what he calls “conservatism” is not aimed at the Southern Agrarianism of Richard Weaver or the Old Right individualism of Albert Jay Nock. In fact, Kolko’s thesis—that big government and big business consistently colluded to regulate small American artisans and farmers out of existence—has much in common with libertarian and traditionalist critiques of the corporatist state.

The Triumph of Conservatism and other works of Kolko’s scholarship furnish a poignant reminder that the original progressives of Theodore Roosevelt’s time were big-city bureaucrats and elitist Republicans, and that wing of the GOP has a long history of enthusiasm for American militarism. Under the proud banner of President William McKinley, Republicans developed a foreign policy grounded firmly on the principles of empire, substituting a global Manifest Destiny in place of the Monroe Doctrine. “Progressive Republican”—John McCain notwithstanding—is a label altogether out of fashion today. But the movement conservatism that overtook the Republican Party during the Cold War now pursues a foreign policy every bit as interventionist as TR’s progressivism.

To Kolko and Williams, this Cold War mindset was just the most recent manifestation of the quest for unlimited growth that has so grossly altered the landscape of American life for so long. Foreign policy became a fulfillment of American excess, or to paraphrase the title of Williams’s most overtly political work, “empire” became “a way of life” for much of the American Right. But the real targets of left-wing scholars Kolko and Williams are not libertarians and individualists of the Old Right or even the small-town conservatism of Russell Kirk or the Nashville Agrarians. On the contrary: these varieties of Left and conservative are more in agreement with one another than not. They are de facto allies in a war against empire, bigness, and the most pernicious doctrine of them all, American Exceptionalism.

Nearly 30 years ago, Williams asked if it was “possible to create and sustain a democratic culture without conquering or otherwise controlling and wasting a grossly inequitable share of social space and resources?” As the Republic of old continues to crumble and the GOP descends further into corruption and authoritarianism, it may be time for those on the Right to set their prejudices aside and ask a pressing question of their own: “What is Left?””

2.  “On November 8, three men were executed by the government of Indonesia for terrorist attacks on two night clubs in Bali in 2002 that took the lives of 202 people, more than half of whom were Australians, Britons and Americans. The Associated Press8 reported that “the three men never expressed remorse, saying the suicide bombings were meant to punish the United States and its Western allies for alleged atrocities in Afghanistan and elsewhere.”

Even the claim that the War on Terrorism has kept Americans safe at home is questionable. There was no terrorist attack in the United States during the 6 1/2 years prior to the one in September 2001; not since the April 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. It would thus appear that the absence of terrorist attacks in the United States is the norm.

An even more insidious myth of the War on Terrorism has been the notion that terrorist acts against the United States can be explained, largely, if not entirely, by irrational hatred or envy of American social, economic, or religious values, and not by what the United States does to the world; i.e., US foreign policy. Many Americans are mightily reluctant to abandon this idea. Without it the whole paradigm – that we are the innocent good guys and they are the crazy, fanatic, bloodthirsty bastards who cannot be talked to but only bombed, tortured and killed – falls apart. Statements like the one above from the Bali bombers blaming American policies for their actions are numerous, coming routinely from Osama bin Laden and those under him.

Terrorism is an act of political propaganda, a bloody form of making the world hear one’s outrage against a perceived oppressor, graffiti written on the wall in some grim, desolate alley. It follows that if the perpetrators of a terrorist act declare what their motivation was, their statement should carry credibility, no matter what one thinks of their cause or the method used to achieve it.”

3.  Not surprising, since he’s one of them:

“Departing U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey said on Wednesday that he saw no reason for prosecutions or for pardons for those who gave legal advice on the Bush administration‘s terrorism policies.

“There is absolutely no evidence that anybody who rendered a legal opinion either with respect to surveillance or with respect to interrogation policy did so for any reason other than to protect the security of the country and in the belief that he or she was doing something lawful,” he said.”

4.  “Terrorism has long been part of the Pakistani military establishment’s strategy of proxy warfare against India over Kashmir, and more recently, even, over Afghanistan,” I wrote last weekend. “Kashmiri jihadist outfits – some of them suspects in last week’s Mumbai attacks – have long been based in Pakistan and backed by its Inter Services Intelligence agency. When suicide bombers struck India’s embassy in Kabul in July, the CIA produced clear evidence of involvement by ISI operatives.”

5.  “The annual ceremony at which Queen Elizabeth formally opens Parliament was overshadowed on Wednesday by an uproar in the House of Commons over a police raid last week in which Scotland Yard’s elite counterterrorism squad raided an opposition member’s parliamentary office to gain evidence for a possible criminal case against the member of Parliament and a civil service whistleblower.

“Let me make it absolutely clear that I believe that members of Parliament are not above the law,” Mr. Green said, before adding, “and that those who have the real power in this country, ministers, senior civil servants and the police, are also not beyond the law.”

To cries of “Hear, hear!” from almost every corner of the Commons, he said, “An M.P. endangering national security would be a disgrace; an M.P. exposing facts about Home Office policy which ministers are hiding is doing his job in the public interest.”

6.  “Pakistan’s UN ambassador Abdullah Hussain Haroon told the US network CBS in an interview that Pakistan has been handing over to the US ‘under rendition’ any foreigners it has caught in Pakistan.

‘Rendition’ or ‘extraordinary rendition’ is the CIA activity of ‘transferring’ or flying captured terrorist suspects from one country to another for detention and interrogation without the benefit of formal legal proceedings.”

7.  The US war crime against Laos, always referred to as ‘the secret war’:

“The scale of the contamination is mind-boggling. Laos was hit by an average of one B-52 bomb-load every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, between 1964 and 1973. US bombers dropped more ordnance on Laos in this period than was dropped during the whole of the second world war. Of the 260m “bombies” that rained down, particularly on Xieng Khouang province, 80m failed to explode, leaving a deadly legacy.”

8.  “It is true that some proportion of the population may face addiction problems from marijuana. But it is not as if it isn’t already a multi-billion dollar business and widely available. About 15 percent of Americans regularly use it. And about 1/5 of the population is susceptible to alcohol addiction, but that doesn’t impel us to a second Prohibition in its regard. Use some of the tax receipts on the industry to fund treatment of those who can’t handle it. A lot of the deleterious effects of being high come from people driving under the influence. But actually you could just mandate that the auto industry put in ignition switches that only a sober person has the reflexes to make work. Since we are likely to own the auto industry soon, we should be able to do what we want. And besides, green mass transit is much better than individuals driving around wreaking mayhem,and a pothead on a subway isn’t much of a threat to anyone. We should move in that direction for all sorts of reasons.

I can remember reading an op-ed in the NYT years ago arguing that there are 60 million crimes a year in the United States, but only a tiny fraction of the perpetrators is ever actually prosecuted and a smaller fraction still brought to trial. I thought to myself, and a good thing too! How would we pay for 60 million prisoners? And, if you have a country of 280 million people committing 60 million crimes a year, you clearly just have way too many laws.

The baneful impact on the United States of Puritanism, which comes in part from the Religious Right, has diverted our energies from educating ourselves, and developing our society, toward instead creating a Nanny State that employs people to make sure you only get high from alcohol, not from other substances. Bush even created an FBI porn squad. As if wealthy Republican hoteliers weren’t the primary distributors of porn (via pay per view channels) in the country.

It turns out that if we had more personal freedoms, we’d have more state monies and could educate ourselves to develop our potential as free human beings.

In the past 40 years, the snowball has been going in the other direction– fewer personal freedoms, a vast gulag of the incarcerated, and less and less state money for the development of the minds of the public. We’ve built ourselves a big ignorant prison, with a loud-mouthed fundamentalist preacher for a warden, and called it America.

We should legalize pot, and tax the resulting industry. We should repeal mandatory sentencing guidelines and develop rehabilitation strategies rather than putting the ill-behaved in expensive state hotels. And we should go back to having state-funded state universities.”

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