Archive for the ‘Political Cretinism’ Category

Paul Craig Roberts

September 7, 2013

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Paul Craig Roberts is a former Reagan Administration official who, during the past decade or so, has reinvented himself as a populist, an outspoken critic of the banksters whose interests he once faithfully served. Roberts is also a 9/11 conspiracy theorist.

The September 6-8 edition of CounterPunch has an article by Roberts entitled Will Congress Now Save Obama’s Face By Selling Out Democracy and the Syrian People?. In it, Roberts writes:

    The presstitute media and the House and Senate “leaders” who report to the military/security complex and to the Israel Lobby keep talking about Assad’s “own people,” but Assad’s own people support him. Polls of Syrians show that Assad has more support from the Syrian people than every head of every Western country has from their citizens. Cameron’s, Hollande’s, Merkel’s and Obama’s poll numbers are dismal compared to the Syrian peoples’ support for Assad.

I clicked on the link that Roberts provides with this paragraph. It took me to a website called World Tribune.com. The editor of the site, Robert Morton, is a former editor of the right-wing Washington Times. The site lists Breitbart.com, which smeared ACORN and Shirley Sherrod, as a “content partner”. It featured an article titled “NATO data: Assad winning the war for Syrians’ hearts and minds”. It says:

    The data, relayed to NATO over the last month, asserted that 70 percent of Syrians support the Assad regime. Another 20 percent were deemed neutral and the remaining 10 percent expressed support for the rebels.

    The sources said no formal polling was taken in Syria, racked by two years of civil war in which 90,000 people were reported killed. They said the data came from a range of activists and independent organizations that were working in Syria, particularly in relief efforts.

Clearly, this was no systematic poll, but simply a collection of opinions from various unidentified “activists and independent organizations”.

In the next paragraph, Roberts writes:

    Just as there was no evidence that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction,” but the facts did not stop the Bush regime from telling its lies that resulted in massive deaths and destruction of Iraqis, deaths and destruction that continue as I write, Assad has not used chemical weapons “against his own people.” All of the evidence points to a false flag event that Obama could seize upon to launch America’s 7th war in 12 years.

I googled the words “Gouta false flag event”, and all I found were articles based on an article on the Mint Press News site titled “EXCLUSIVE: Syrians In Ghouta Claim Saudi-Supplied Rebels Behind Chemical Attack”. However, the article never uses the term “false flag event”. Instead, one of the authors interviewed some Syrians who claimed that what actually happened was that some rebel soldiers accidentally set off some chemical weapons. If the gassing was accidental, it was not a “false flag event”. The article ends with a disclaimer: “Some information in this article could not be independently verified. Mint Press News will continue to provide further information and updates.”

Roberts accuses the government and the media of making false claims about Syria, yet he makes false claims himself. This crank is not worth our time.

Pham Binh and the Egyptian Revolution

August 14, 2013

I first became aware of Pham Binh during the late 2000’s. Don’t ask me why, but I had developed a fascination with British political blogs at the time. Binh would often comment on their threads. He would give the impression of being an ISO member (he had actually just left the ISO), while making snarky comments about Alex Callinicos and the British SWP. This struck me as an odd thing for someone to do.

In recent years Binh has taken to writing articles for The North Star website, which is definitely a step up from making weird sectarian comments on British political blogs. His latest article is titled Egypt’s Revolution: Democratic, Not Socialist. It begins:

    In Marxist lexicon, there are two types of revolution: democratic and socialist, or more scientifically, bourgeois-democratic and proletarian-socialist. These two types of revolution involve different class alignments, have different tasks, and lead to different outcomes, although a two-stage uninterrupted revolution that is initially democratic and becomes socialist is possible. The socialist revolution is a battle between the whole of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat for political supremacy and ends with the victory of either the capitalist or socialist social systems. The democratic revolution is a battle against autocratic rule that removes fetters on capitalist development between a great variety of classes – peasants, workers, students, landlords, capitalists, small business owners. In democratic revolutions, bourgeois forces can be found on both sides of the barricades (unlike in socialist revolutions) and their concrete outcomes can vary tremendously because of their class heterogeneity. Making accurate generalizations about democratic revolutions is difficult since they have occurred on every inhabited continent in one form or another beginning at least 300 years ago.

This sounds ponderous, but it is actually simplistic. Some revolutions don’t quite fit the neat categories that Binh posits. The American Revolution, for example, involved a number of different class forces, and it was led by an alliance between Northern merchants and Southern plantation-owners who wanted to preserve slavery. Binh’s comment at the end about the “difficulty” of “making generalizations about democratic revolutions” is perhaps meant to acknowledge this. However, Binh then proceeds as if he never made this qualification.

Binh tells us that the Egyptian revolution is a bourgeois-democratic revolution, even though the Egyptian military is defending the interests of the Egyptian bourgeoisie. And Mohamed Morsi is a bourgeois democrat, even though he tried to assume dictatorial powers. Binh therefore argues that it was a strategic blunder for the Revolutionary Socialists and other Egyptian left groups to join the millions of Egyptians calling for Morsi’s ouster. So what should these leftists do about this? Binh tells us:

    Championing the democratic revolution in Egypt now means not only condemning the coup and the SCAF-controlled interim government in words but actively organizing to reverse the coup in deeds by literally breaking Morsi out of jail and returning him to his rightful office. The weapon of criticism cannot replace the criticism of weapons, condemnation without action is phrasemongering.

    Marxists are not supporters of Morsi, but letting him rot in a Republican Guard cell and allowing the coup to proceed as planned is a death-blow to a democratic revolution barely begun and without the freedoms its victory will bring, no powerful proletarian movement can develop. Our loyalty is not to Morsi (who we will not hesitate to overthrow and defeat) but to the working class specifically and the democratic revolution generally. Breaking him out of a military jail today does not preclude arresting, overthrowing, or un-electing him tomorrow, nor does it imply an ounce of political support for the bourgeois-obscurantist Muslim Brotherhood or Morsi’s reformist ineptitude any more than the Bolsheviks’ active defense of the Kerensky government from Kornilov’s coup make them supporters of Kerensky’s strike-breaking and repression of peasant committees.

So, Binh is saying that having called for Morsi’s overthrow, the Egyptian leftists should now call for reinstating him, so that at some unspecified future moment (“tomorrow”), they can again call for his overthrow. Is he serious? Let me me point out here that calling for returning Morsi to the presidency is supporting Morsi, so it is nothing at all like the Bolsheviks’ position on Kerensky during the Kornilov coup. One of the reasons the Bolsheviks were successful in 1917 was that they maintained more-or-less consistent positions. They did not make sharp reversals, such as what Bingh is urging Egyptian leftists to do.

The Egyptian Left is facing a difficult situation, and, unlike Binh, I don’t pretend to be able to tell them what course of action they should take. One thing, however, is clear to me: the worst thing they could do is adopt a hare-brained scheme that is based on over-simplified Marxist theory and a faulty historical analogy.

A 9/11 Truther Comes in from the Cold

May 30, 2013

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The British 9/11 Truther, Charlie Veitch, has recanted. He reportedly changed his mind after a demolitions expert explained to him why the Twin Towers could not have been brought down by controlled demolitions. He was friends with Alex Jones and David Icke, and he had his won website. Since he announced his change of mind, he has received death threats, and both he and his mother have received harassing e-mails.

The Telegraph has an interesting article about Veitch that is worth reading in its entirety. One of the more interesting passages tells how Veitch became a Truther:

    And at six o’clock one morning, after a night out at a club, it pounced.

    “I was absolutely spangled from the nightclub when my best friend said ‘Charlie, you know you’re Right-wing and you joined the Army? Well, they were lying to you.’ I’m like, ‘What?’ He said, ‘9/11; it wasn’t as you think.’ It was almost like an initiation into a cult, a religion. You’re being given special knowledge.”

Truthers have often seemed to me to be almost like religious cultists. The idea of a 9/11 conspiracy is like a revealed truth to them. And it’s one that can seem empowering. Somebody who has never even taken a calculus course can suddenly become an expert on structural engineering, pedantically lecturing other people on controlled demolitions and what a hole left by an airplane looks like.

What’s interesting is how the 9/11 conspiracy theories have begun to bleed over into other more bizarre theories held by people such as Jones and Icke. A conspiracy theory can be like a rabbit-hole. Having embraced an idea that most people reject, the conspiracy theorist begins to associate only with other like-minded people. Eventually he or she learns about the Bilderburg Group, the New World Order, and the Illuminati, until finally the seeker is initiated into the ultimate mystery: shape-shifting reptilian overlords from another dimension.

CounterPunch readers who want to believe that anti-Semitism is not a problem may want to read this part:

    In essence, the modern conspiracy narrative is the same as the one that has existed since at least the 19th century: that the few (often termed the “Illuminati”) control the many. This, of course, is the nucleus of the dangerous anti-Jewish myth. When he was an insider, did he experience anti-Semitism? His eyes open wide: “Loads. Loads. I was once accused of being a Jew because of my olive skin and my nose. They said, ‘We can’t trust him’.” And when they say the ‘Illuminati’ or ‘Reptiles’, do they actually mean Jews? “It’s slightly complicated but, mostly, yes,” he says.

This article in Slate is also worth reading.

Conspiracy Trolls Busy at Work

April 17, 2013

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Mike Adams

Hardly had the smoke cleared from the bombs at the Boston Marathon, than our nation’s conspiracy trolls were hard at work, assuring us that this was another “false flag operation”. You see, any time a shooting or bombing happens, it’s a false flag operation by the government. It’s simply impossible for anything to happen in this country without the government being behind it.

Just ask Mike Adams (his friends call him the “Health Ranger”.) He is the editor of NaturalNews.com, which, I’ve been told, gets over 4 million unique hits each month. According to Wikipedia:

    Adams is an AIDS denialist, a 9/11 truther, a birther and endorses conspiracy theories surrounding the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

So, name just about any stupid idea you’ve ever heard, and chances are that Mike Adams believes it’s true. (Yeah, you guessed it, he believes in chemtrails.) For Adams, life is just one long, bad episode of The X-Files.

Not long after the bombings, Adams wrote on his website:

    The official story of the bombing is that terrorists detonated two bombs at the marathon finish line and that the Boston bomb squad magically located a third bomb one mile away, identified the bomb, rigged it with explosives and initiated a “controlled explosion” all in less than an hour! (Absurd.)

No, that is not the official story, and it has never been the official story. Shortly after the bombings, there were news reports about a third explosion occurring at the JFK Library, but it later turned out that this was just a fire in the equipment room. The police did search the library for a bomb, but they never claimed to have found one. So, Adams invents an “official story”, and he then proceeds to punch holes in it. Brilliant.

Adams later tells us:

    …the mainstream media is pushing a new narrative that blames “right-wing extremists” for the bombing, even without a shred of evidence to back that up.

Really? I haven’t noticed. To be fair, Adams probably doesn’t actually pay attention to the mainstream media, since he knows that everything they say is a lie. He also notes:

    It is impossible for a bomb squad to have located, analyzed, rigged and detonated the third bomb in under an hour, especially when it was located one mile away, at the Kennedy Presidential Library.

Which is no doubt why the mainstream media don’t claim that they did any such thing.

Adams then comes to this shocking conclusion:

    Although it’s still a bit early to know for certain, this looks more and more like a planned event that was deployed by the Boston bomb squad, called a “drill,” then used as a pretext for the President to call for TSA agents to be on the streets at all future sporting events.

    And that, in turn, is the run-up to the TSA occupation of America, which has always been the goal of Obama. Remember that back on the campaign trail, he announced he wanted to build a “civilian national security force.”

That’s right! Obama can’t settle for the FBI, the CIA, the ATF, the National Guard, Homeland Security, the Federal Marshals, the Secret Service, and local police departments. No! He must have TSA agents groping us on the streets! Bwahahahahahahahahaha!

I gave in to my morbid curiosity and looked at some of the other posts on Adams’s website. I found one entitled Should you leave the USA before the collapse? Words of wisdom from someone who tried. (I wont’ comment on Adams’s use of capitals.) By “collapse”, Adams means that the US is becoming a police state. (I would argue that the US is already technically a police state, but I will leave that for some other time.) Adams begins by talking about how he has visited other countries and found them wanting in various ways. He then advises people to move to Texas instead:

    Because Texas has its own power grid unlike the rest of the nation. Texas can grow its own food. [Texas has also been known to have severe droughts.] Texas is the energy capital of the nation and can produce natural gas, diesel, oil and even jet fuel. Texas has masses of armed patriots who own more guns than they do pairs of shoes, and that makes Texas practically impenetrable to any invading force. [Does this guy know anything about history?]

    For example, suppose North Korea launches an ICBM into the high atmosphere over North America and unleashes an EMP weapon that destroys nearly all electronics.

    This could theoretically be followed by a naval invasion of forces from Red China [sic] and North Korea, both of which suffer from too many young males that can hardly be fed and might as well be thrown at some enemy nation as cannon fodder.

This could theoretically be followed by Martians landing in New Jersey and killing every human being, so they can then leave their dying planet and colonize Earth.

Life’s a bitch, huh?

Rehabilitating the Kingfish

March 25, 2013

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Huey P. Long, a.k.a. The Kingfish.

Mike Whitney has posted an article on CounterPunch titled Our Chavez: Huey Long. There seems to be an effort in recent years on the part of some people to to try to portray the sometime governor of Louisiana and U.S.Senator as a great champion of the people, no doubt because of his ant-capitalist rhetoric. Yet when one takes a closer look at his life, it becomes clear that things were not that simple.

During Long’s lifetime, most of the Left regarded him with deep wariness, if not outright hostility. There were good reasons for that. First of all, he governed Louisiana as a virtual dictator. He even organized a secret police force to keep watch on his opponents as well as on his followers.

Long was also a white supremacist. He maintained Louisisana’s Jim Crow laws. (Long would sometimes smear his opponents by spreading rumors that they had “coffee blood”. This gives a bitter irony to calling him “our Chavez”.) Long’s apologists point out that he didn’t talk about white supremacy in his speeches. This was perhaps because he didn’t need to. In 1935, Roy Wilkins interviewed Long for The Criis. They discussed an anti-lynching bill that Long opposed in the Senate:

    How about lynching. Senator? About the Costigan-Wagner bill in congress and that lynching down there yesterday in Franklinton…”

    He ducked the Costigan-Wagner bill, but of course, everyone knows he is aganst it. He cut me off on the Franklinton lynching and hastened in with his “pat” explanation:

    “You mean down in Washington parish (county)? Oh, that? That one slipped up on us. Too bad, but those slips will happen. You know while I was governor there were no lynchings and since this man (Governor Allen) has been in he hasn’t had any. (There have been 7 lynchings in Louisiana in the last two years.) This one slipped up. I can’t do nothing about it. No sir. Can’t do the dead nigra no good. Why, if I tried to go after those lynchers it might cause a hundred more niggers to be killed. You wouldn’t want that, would you?”

    “But you control Louisiana,” I persisted, “you could…”

    “Yeah, but it’s not that simple. I told you there are some things even Huey Long can’t get away with. We’ll just have to watch out for the next one. Anyway that nigger was guilty of coldblooded murder.”

    “But your own supreme court had just granted him a new trial.”

    “Sure we got a law which allows a reversal on technical points. This nigger got hold of a smart lawyer somewhere and proved a technicality. He was guilty as hell. But we’ll catch the next lynching.”

    My guess is that Huey is a hard, ambitious, practical politician. He is far shrewder than he is given credit for being. My further guess is that he wouldn’t hesitate to throw Negroes to the wolves if it became necessary; neither would he hesitate to carry them along if the good they did him was greater than the harm. He will walk a tight rope and go along as far as he can. He told New York newspapermen he welcomed Negroes in the share-the-wealth clubs in the North where they could vote, but down South? Down South they can’t vote: they are no good to him. So he lets them strictly alone. After all, Huey comes first.

In 1934, Long created the Share Our Wealth Society, which had clubs all over the country. He chose as its national organizer Gerald L.K. Smith, an outspoken anti-Semite and a former member of a fascist group called the Silver Shirts. Long also formed a political alliance with the ant-Semitic radio broadcaster, Father Coughlin, who expressed sympathy for Hitler and Mussolini and who claimed that the Russian Revolution was the work of Jewish bankers. Lance Hill has argued that the Share Our Wealth movement was an incipient form of fascism.

According to Wikipedia:

    Long .. planned to challenge Roosevelt for the Democratic nomination in 1936, knowing he would lose the nomination but gain valuable publicity in the process. Then he would break from the Democrats and form a third party using the Share Our Wealth plan as its basis … The new party would run someone else as its 1936 candidate, but Long would be the primary campaigner. This candidate would split the progressive vote with Roosevelt, causing the election of a Republican but proving the electoral appeal of Share Our Wealth. Long would then run for president as a Democrat in 1940. In the spring of 1935, Long undertook a national speaking tour and regular radio appearances, attracting large crowds and increasing his stature.

This scheme came to naught, as Long was assassinated in 1935. The Share Our Wealth movement quickly dwindled after that. The reasons for this may be that the economic recovery of 1934-36 strengthened support for Roosevelt, and that the revitalized labor movement probably drew in people who might otherwise have been attracted to Share Our Wealth.

It is often tempting to idealize figures from the past, yet if we hope to actually learn from them, we have to look at these people for what they actually were.

Gilad Atzmon Knocks Down Straw Men, CounterPunch is Impressed

March 12, 2013

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It had been a while since I’d seen anything by Gilad Atzmon in CounterPunch, so I thought maybe they had lost interest in him. Unfortunately, I was wrong about that. On March 8, they posted an article by him entitled Is Palestinian Solidarity an Occupied Zone? It begins:

    Once involved with Palestinian Solidarity you have to accept that Jews are special and so is their suffering; Jews are like no other people, their Holocaust is like no other genocide and anti Semitism, is the most vile form of racism the world has ever known and so on and so forth.

Atzmon doesn’t name anyone who says this. I don’t know of anyone in the Palestinian solidarity movement who says such things. Atzmon continues:

    But when it comes to the Palestinians, the exact opposite is the case. For some reason we are expected to believe that the Palestinians are not special at all – they are just like everyone else. Palestinians have not been subject to a unique, racist, nationalist and expansionist Jewish nationalist movement, instead, we must all agree that, just like the Indians and the Africans, the Palestinian ordeal results from run-of-the-mill 19th century colonialism – just more of the same old boring Apartheid.

Again, Atzmon doesn’t identify who is saying these things. No doubt, this is because he can’t. I think I should point out that here in the U.S., simply using the word “apartheid” in connection with Israel can get one in a lot of hot water. Doing such a thing requires a certain amount of courage.

From this, Atzmon segues into an aesthetic criticism of the Palestinian Solidarity movement:

    Can you think of any other liberation or solidarity movement that prides itself in being boring, ordinary and dull?

I have met a number of people in the Palestinian solidarity movement, and they are among the least boring people I have ever met. One must admit here that Atzmon is not boring himself. Unfortunately, that is the only thing one can say for him.

    Palestinian Solidarity is an occupied zone and, like all such occupied zones must dedicate itself to the fight against ‘anti Semitism’.

Ah, now we see what’s really bugging Atzmon. It seems that his tender feelings have been hurt by all those people who have called him an anti-Semite. Of course, that does tend to happen when you say things that are anti-Semitic. Life can be funny sometimes.

Atzmon then delivers his knock-out punch:

    Dutifully united against racism, fully engaged with LGBT issues in Palestine and in the movement itself, but for one reason or another, the movement is almost indifferent towards the fate of millions of Palestinians living in refugee camps and their Right of Return to their homeland.

That’s right! All those people who have dedicated their lives to the Palestinian struggle – sometimes at great personal cost – have done so because they basically don’t give a shit about the Palestinians!

What a brilliant insight!

Why the hell do the editors of CounterPunch insult the intelligence of their readers by posting such gobbledegook? I am at a a complete loss to try to explain this.

As for Atzmon, I can’t see why he’s being so petulant. Things are actually looking up for him. At a special conference held by the Socialist Workers Party of Britain this past weekend, the leadership defeated motions put forward by the opposition, causing many of the latter to resign. This means that Atzmon’s good buddy, Martin Smith will soon be back on the SWP’s Central Committee, and they will soon be again sponsoring concerts featuring Atzmon playing the saxophone in front of empty seats. Good times!

Greg Palast Has a Man-Crush on Alex Jones

January 21, 2013

And you thought that Alex Jones is just a loud-mouthed buffoon. According to Greg Palast, Jones, who promotes 9/11 conspiracy theories, as well anti-immigrant racism, is “the host of one of the only intellectually substantive, fact-heavy forums on American radio”.

Palast likes Jones a lot. How much does Palast like Alex Jones? He tells us:

    I love Alex Jones. If I were a woman, I’d appear on his show in my highest heels and shortest mini-skirt.

Palast also tells us that Jones has “iron balls”.

Some things simply defy satire.

Why does Palast like Jones so much? It has to do with a story he once did. He tells us:

    While the BBC ran the story regardless of the threat, my investigations of Singer, despite gaining the cover of Nation, were suddenly pulled from US airwaves, including Piers’ CNN. A major news service said it was spiked not by editors, but by “high up”. Even MSNBC said, coyly, that the story was “too complex for our viewers”.

    But not Jones’ audience. “This is complex,” Jones told me, “so we’ll give you a full hour to explain it.” Which is part of the reason Alex is such a hero in the US – he has the cojones to venture where the mainstream media fear to tread.

So what? The people who listen to Jones’s conspiracist rants aren’t going to build a movement for social change. They’re going to stock up on assault rifles and wait for Armageddon to come. Palast, however, is so vain, he is willing to slobber all over Jones just for letting him talk on his show.

To be fair, Palast says he doesn’t agree with everything that Jones says. Which is nice to know.

Vice.com promises us that this article is the first of a three-part series, in which, among other things, Greg Palast will talk about his penis. I can hardly wait.

You can find out more about Alex Jones here.

Paranoid Stylings: American Politics in the Twenty-first Century

January 18, 2013

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    This glimpse across a long span of time emboldens me to make the conjecture—it is no more than that—that a mentality disposed to see the world in this way may be a persistent psychic phenomenon, more or less constantly affecting a modest minority of the population. But certain religious traditions, certain social structures and national inheritances, certain historical catastrophes or frustrations may be conducive to the release of such psychic energies, and to situations in which they can more readily be built into mass movements or political parties. In American experience ethnic and religious conflict have plainly been a major focus for militant and suspicious minds of this sort, but class conflicts also can mobilize such energies. Perhaps the central situation conducive to the diffusion of the paranoid tendency is a confrontation of opposed interests which are (or are felt to be) totally irreconcilable, and thus by nature not susceptible to the normal political processes of bargain and compromise. The situation becomes worse when the representatives of a particular social interest—perhaps because of the very unrealistic and unrealizable nature of its demands—are shut out of the political process. Having no access to political bargaining or the making of decisions, they find their original conception that the world of power is sinister and malicious fully confirmed. They see only the consequences of power—and this through distorting lenses—and have no chance to observe its actual machinery. A distinguished historian has said that one of the most valuable things about history is that it teaches us how things do not happen. It is precisely this kind of awareness that the paranoid fails to develop. He has a special resistance of his own, of course, to developing such awareness, but circumstances often deprive him of exposure to events that might enlighten him—and in any case he resists enlightenment.

    – Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics

It seems that everything that happens in America nowadays is part of some sort of conspiracy. A small, but very vocal group of people are now claiming that the Sandy Hook massacre was faked, that it was a “false-flag operation”, carried out so that President Obama can have an excuse to “take away our guns”. One witness to the shootings has received threatening phone calls and e-mails accusing him of being in the pay of the government. There are also conspiracy theories about the Aurora Shootings.

You can laugh (or cry) all you want about this, but is it really any sillier than some of the claims made by the 9/11 “Truth” movement? I don’t know how many times I read somebody on Indymedia or some other website claiming that the “hole” in the Pentagon could not possibly have been made by an airplane, as if this person had spent his life observing planes crashing into buildings. And a surprisingly large number of Americans think that the Apollo moon landing was faked. One wonders why they just don’t go all the way and claim that everything on the news is faked.

In his essay, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, Richard Hofstadter argued that there is a long history of conspiracist thinking in the U.S. He discusses anti-Masonry and anti-Catholicism in nineteenth century America, and he draws a direct line from them to the anti-Communism of the 1940’s and 1950’s. A common characteristic of these movements is a belief that the U.S. is under threat from secretive forces, usually of foreign in origin. (Think of how birthers try to claim that Obama wasn’t born in the U.S.) Hofstadter sees these movements as being mainly rural in character. This may have been true of earlier movements, but it can’t really be said of the 9/11 “Truth” movement. It seems to me that the paranoid style is beginning to become so pervasive in this country that it is starting to crowd out reasonable critiques of our political and economic system.

The Fog of War

January 6, 2013

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I just got around to watching Errol Morris’s 2003 documentary, The Fog of War. I didn’t see this film when it first came out, probably because 2003 was a busy year for me. I found it somewhat disappointing. Much of it consists of McNamara trying to justify his actions. I should have expected that, but the reviews I read led me to believe it would be much more than that. Still, the film does have some interesting moments, and it gives some insight into the way one member of the ruling class thinks. I don’t think this is a minor thing. I think that perhaps the reason so many people on the Left are suckers for crackpot conspiracy theories is that they don’t have much understanding of how the ruling class thinks.

The film begins with McNamara, who is shown in tight close-ups most of the time, discussing the Cuban Missile Crisis. McNamara repeatedly points out the U.S. and the Soviet Union came extremely close to a nuclear war. McNamara uses his account of the crisis to illustrate one of the “eleven lessons” he talks about in the course of The Fog of War; in this case, “empathize with your enemy”. McNamara tells how a diplomat named Tommy Thompson, who knew Krushchev well, persuaded a skeptical Kennedy that the Soviet premier would be willing to cut a deal over Cuba, which turned out to be the case. This raises the question of why there was a crisis at all, though, unfortunately, Morris doesn’t ask this question. McNamara also uses this incident to illustrate another one of his “lessons”: “rationality will not save us”. McNamara insists that the governments of the U.S., the Soviet Union, and Cuba all behaved in a “rational” manner, even though they brought their countries to the brink of nuclear annihilation. So, if this is rationality, then what is irrationality? And if rationality will not save us, then what will? Morris doesn’t ask, and McNamara doesn’t say.

The Fog of War then goes into a discussion of McNamara’s early years. During the Second World War, he served as an analyst for the Army Air Corps. Under the command of Gen. Curtis LeMay, McNamara helped plan the fire bombing of Tokyo, which killed 100,000 people. This leads to the film’s most startling moment: McNamara frankly states that he and Gen. LeMay were war criminals. Still, he expresses no regrets about what he did.

The largest section of the film is devoted to the Vietnam War. McNamara doesn’t say much about the strategic justification for the U.S.’s intervention in Vietnam; he seems to consider this to be self-evident. McNamara admits that there was some confusion over what actually happened in the Gulf of Tonkin Incident; nevertheless, he and President Johnson used it as justification to launch an intensive bombing campaign in North Vietnam. McNamara also gives a discussion in which he tries to distance himself from the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam. To illustrate his “lesson” of “empathize with your enemy”, McNamara talks about how years after the war he met the former foreign minister of North Vietnam. McNamara says he was surprised to learn from this man that his government viewed the U.S. as a foreign colonial power trying to take control of their country. Reall? It never occurred to McNamara that the Vietnamese might view the U.S. in this way? If McNamara was being honest here, then he was every bit as self-deluded as the people who led us into the Iraq War. (It so happens that this film was released the same year as the U.S. invasion of Iraq.)

McNamara casually discusses the deaths of millions of people, yet he gets choked up when he recounts how he helped pick out the grave-site for John F. Kennedy. One is reminded here of Stalin’s dictum: “One death is a tragedy, but a million deaths is a statistic.” I don’t think it is a stretch for me to say that McNamara had some of Stalin’s bureaucratic mind-set.

Another of McNamara’s “lessons” is “in order to do good, you may have to engage in evil”. One wonders if McNamara ever questioned whether what he was trying to do was actually good.

Libertarianism: A Trojan Horse

December 11, 2012

Timothy P. Carney recetnly wrote in the Washington Examiner regarding the retiring senator, Jim DeMint:

    For libertarians, Christian conservative pro-lifer Jim DeMint was the best thing to come through the Senate in decades. DeMint, quitting early to run the conservative Heritage Foundation, embodied an underappreciated fact of life in Washington: The politicians who most consistently defend economic liberty are the cultural conservatives.

This is further proof of what I’ve always argued: that libertarianism is a Trojan Horse for the far right. Naive young people are attracted to libertarianism because of its position on decriminalizing drugs as well as its opposition to foreign wars. Yet when election time rolls around, libertarians start arguing to support socially conservative, pro-war Republicans. DeMint supported the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of the democratically elected president of Honduras. He wants mandatory prayer in public schools, and he wants to outlaw abortion, including in cases of rape and incest. Yet Carney admires him for his support for “economic liberty”, meaning the right of corporations to screw us over.

Some on the left have been lulled by Ron Paul because of his criticism of U.S. foreign policy, ignoring his history of making racist statements. In his farewell speech to Congress, Paul denounced “pure democracy”, saying that it results in people demanding things from the government. An argument that echoes the racist comments made by Bill O’Reilly after Obama’s re-election.

The pupose of libertarianism is to steer people into the Republican Party. We should have no illusions about this.