Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Prediction

In many parts of the world, large families are the norm. Development experts try to encourage smaller families with an eye to parents investing more in fewer children – better education, health care, conditions overall. It's a tough sell. Parents see a large family as insurance against infant and child mortality and also insurance in old age in societies where there is little or no social safety net.

In the next few decades, we will see large families become common again in the US. Democrats and Republicans alike advocate privatizing — or eliminating altogether — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. The more extreme want to eliminate public education (Dick and Lynne Cheney were among this number). The most extreme want only two public institutions — the military and domestic enforcement, largely to adjudicate contractual disputes.

A future without the social safety net on which Americans have come to depend. Large families will again serve as insurance against the infirmities of old age.

The Vestigial Human

James Lovelock is the leading advocate of the "Gaia Hypothesis" — the view that the Earth is an organism (if I understand the notion at all) and behaves as one, with systems regulating the body.

Carry the metaphor further (of course, Lovelock does not just mean it as metaphor, but what the hell). . . . The human body has an appendix, a vestigial organ that does nothing; it's positioned too far along the digestive tract to be of any use. In other animals, it is still very important, but in humans it is useless. Still, it can become a site of infection — appendicitis. Infected and burst . . . peritonitis, infection of the abdominal cavity. Death may result.

Humans have become the vestigial organ of Gaia. And we have become infected, inflamed, risking the entire body.

What do we do with an inflamed appendix?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bush Dirty Tricks

James Risen of The New York Times reports today (Wednesday, 15 June 2011) on a former C.I.A. official's charges that the Bush administration sought to torpedo world-renowned Middle East scholar and blogger Juan Cole, professor at the University of Michigan and author of the blog Informed Comment. The story is notable for several reasons, including at least two the Times entirely omits or severely downplays.

According to Risen, Bush people were unhappy with a prominent academic voicing — and getting a wide hearing for — deep criticism of and opposition to the Iraq war. Former C.I.A. intelligence officer Glenn Carle, "a top counterterrorism official during the administration of President George W. Bush, said the White House at least twice asked intelligence officials to gather sensitive information on Juan Cole."

This could be a serious violation of American law; the C.I.A. is barred from domestic spying (though lets remember we have seen a lot of attacks on protections against domestic spying in recent years, including by Democrat and champion of 'transparency, Barack Obama). Had Carle leveled his charges while Bush while still in office and if Bush himself had played a role, such actions would arguably have risen to the level of impeachable offenses (among many Bush committed).

I find the story interesting for points Risen effectively ignores. In 2006, Yale University's departments of sociology and history both approved Cole for appointment. Cole's hiring was scuttled by the Yale administration. There is ample reason to believe the Israel Lobby went to bat against Cole. Certainly, right-wingers and Israel-idealogues were railing against him. There were reports of leading, wealthy Israel-idolaters and Yale donors were threatening to pull their funding. Any skeptical about the tactics of Israel extremists should recall wealthy Israel-supporter Michael Lucas's March 2011 threats against Manhattan's LGBT Community Center and the center's cancellation of a fundraiser by critics of Israeli policy . Or the Alan Dershowitz tirade against Norman Finkelstein taking a post at DePaul University. Or the campaign against the play I Am Rachel Corrie in New York. This list could go for pages (attacks on academics, cultural programs, journalists, human rights institutions, etc.)

The Yale connection is also interesting. I believe that the role of a very small number of very elite universities in securing American oligarchy is being downplayed (and the issue of American oligarchy is downplayed to begin with). George W. Bush went to Yale. Leading Israel fanatic Joseph Lieberman did, too. For many years, Yale was a key source for C.I.A. recruits. Dubya's daddy, President George H. W. Bush went to Yale and was head of the C.I.A. from 1976 to 1977. It is my contention (certainly not original) that universities like Yale serve as factories of "received opinion." That is, they provide the intellectual foundations (to the extent that the United States embraces intellect at all) for power. You need an excuse for bombing civilians in Iraq? Line someone up from Harvard. The history of leading schools barring or even ousting great minds that offered threatening views is very long. (To provide a little grist without milling, look for stories of Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis and Harvard, Chomsky and M.I.T., Gabriel Kolko, William James and Nathaniel Shaler. Several public universities developed great departments in a variety of disciplines because the faculty could and were safely booted from private schools but not could not be from public ones without Bill of Rights protections.)

Some questions remain unanswered (and unasked by the Times). If the Bush administration sought dope on Juan Cole, was it asking for information already in the C.I.A.'s possession, in which case the C.I.A. was already doing domestic work? Or was it directing the C.I.A. to nose about domestically? How does this fit into a larger pattern of expansion of presidential power (an expansion Obama aggressively pursues, arguably more aggressively than Bush)? Will Glenn Carle be treated as Barack Obama has treated other whistleblowers — maliciously and ruthlessly?

All of this will earn me a charge of "conspiracy theorist." Have a made any such claim? No. I am describing the lines of force in American power relations.


Cole, Juan (2011). "Ret'd CIA Official Alleges Bush White House Used Agency to 'Get' Cole," Informed Comment, June 16, 2011. http://www.juancole.com/2011/06/retd-cia-official-alleges-bush-white-house-used-agency-to-get-cole.html

Drum, Kevin (2011). "Bush v. Cole," Mother Jones, Wed. June 15, 2011. http://motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2011/06/bush-v-cole

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Elizabeth Warren, Forging Ahead in Calm Seas

There is a beautiful piece of music composed by Felix Mendelssohn — Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, first performed in 1828 and inspired by both a Beethoven cantata of 1815 and poetry by Goethe. The contradiction in the title may be lost on most people today. In the age of sail, a calm sea was potentially disastrous. The Horse Latitudes may have been so named because horses were cast overboard when water supplies fell too low on a becalmed ship.

Elizabeth Warren strikes me as a seafarer making headway in a calm sea. There is plenty of bluster in Washington but little if any progress on much of anything. Warren is a real force opposed by Obama and Republicans alike. Yet she perseveres.

I find Elizabeth Warren a particularly interesting phenomenon. In some respects, she reminds me of Brooksley Born — someone with great insight and catching the entrenched powers unprepared. Warren is a very rare breed at Harvard Law School, someone who did not go to the big five Elite God-Blessed Law Schools. When Elena Kagan was named (pathetically predictably) by Obama to the Supreme Court, there was some comment that only Harvard and Yale would now be represented among the justices. Warren went to Rutgers. Obama has been a hardcore Harvard lackey in many, even most, of his appointments.

This is not a trivial observation about "old school ties." The issue is one of concentration of power. A particular school affiliation is only a symptom. As more and more are noting with greater and greater frequency, a tiny percentage of Americans are benefitting at the expense of the vast majority. This is reflected in the coddling of Wall Street at the expense of the entire country.

In the case of Obama specifically, there is a question of psychology. He shares with the president he most resembles, Bill Clinton, the experience of being abandoned by a parent. In Obama's case, from the sound of it, he was completely abandoned by one parent, his father, and substantially abandoned by the other. He demonstrates a pattern of behavior that psychologists likely understand — a desperate need to please power figures. But this is just armchair psychologizing.

More important is a problem evident in the growing pattern of political decision-making that isn't just indifferent to the welfare of the overwhelming majority, but is directly repugnant to it. A huge percentage of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the United States systematically disregard existing law (as Obama has now in Libya or in his treatment of Bradley Manning, among others, or as the Supreme Court did in Citizens United or in Bush v Gore). This huge percentage also disregards the general welfare — and the longterm wellbeing of the United States — to serve a tiny fraction of Americans, arguably numbering no more than 10,000, and perhaps far fewer than that.

The three branches of the US government, under the Constitution providing checks and balances with respect to one another, are instead a collective agency capture by American Oligarchy. The system of checks and balances exists today only in the petty bickering between two very similar pseudo-parties. Otherwise, it is absent. So what are We the People to do when (1) the entire government is failing to serve our interests and (2) that same government has very effectively ensured its longevity and continued capacity to serve those interests it does prize?

This is not idle rhetoric, nor is it a view isolated to the left (as it was in the past). There is a growing, very respectable literature on the decline or failure of American democracy. It includes scholars like Sheldon Wolin, Larry Bartels, Joseph Stiglitz, and Paul Krugman. And that's just four.

Elizabeth Warren has sailed on through American doldrums. Why, I don't know.