19 July 2011

How the GOP Became a Death Cult

My good friend Werther provides some high octane fuel to get you through the day.

Zombies on the March
How the GOP Became a Death Cult
By Werther*
Electric Politics, 18 July 2011
Does anyone still remember the GOP of the chowder and marching society, Jell-O salads, Buicks, and cloth coats? Is it conceivable that a Republican could have written the following? —
"Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid."

That was President Eisenhower, writing to his brother Edgar in 1954.

But the Republican Party of 2011 is not your grandfather's GOP, not by a long shot. To be sure, the party always had its share of crackpots, like Robert K. Dornan or William E. Dannemeyer. But the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today: Steve King! Michele Bachman (now a leading presidential candidate as well)! Paul Broun! Patrick McHenry! Virginia Foxx! Louie Gohmert! The Congressional Directory now reads like a casebook of lunacy.
The Republican Party of 2011 believes in three principal tenets (the rest of their platform is essentially window dressing):
1. They solely and exclusively care about their rich contributors, and have built a whole catechism on the protection and further enrichment of America's plutocracy. Their caterwauling about deficit and debt is so much eyewash, intended to con the booboisie. Whatever else President Obama has accomplished (and many of his purported accomplishments are highly suspect), his $4-trillion deficit reduction package did perform the useful service of smoking out Republican hypocrisy. The GOP could not abide so much as a one-tenth of one percent increase on the tax rates of the Walton family (net worth: $86 billion) or the Koch brothers, much less a repeal of the carried interest rule that permits billionaire hedge fund managers to pay income tax at a lower effective rate than cops or nurses.

2. They worship at the altar of Mars. While the me-too Democrats have set a horrible example of keeping up with the Joneses with respect to waging war, they can never match GOP stalwarts such John McCain or Lindsey Graham in their sheer, libidinous enthusiasm for invading other countries. McCain wanted to mix it up with Russia — a nuclear-armed state — during the latter's conflict with Georgia in 2008 (remember? — "we are all Georgians now," a slogan that did not, fortunately, catch on), while Graham has been persistently agitating for attacks on Iran and intervention in Syria. And these are not fringe elements of the party; they are the leading "defense experts" who always get tapped for the Sunday talk shows. If we are to believe Eric Cantor, a majority of House Republicans will not vote to raise the debt ceiling; yet these are the same people who just passed a defense appropriations bill that increases spending by $17 billion over the prior year's defense appropriation. To borrow Chris Hedges' formulation, war is the force that gives meaning to their lives.

3. Gimme that old time religion. Pandering to religious nuts is a full-time vocation in the GOP. Beginning in the 1970s, religious cranks ceased simply to be a minor public nuisance and grew into the major element of the Republican rank and file. Pat Robertson's strong showing in the 1988 Iowa Caucus signaled the gradual merger of politics and religion in the party. The results are all around us: if the American people poll more like Iranians or Nigerians than Europeans or Canadians on questions of evolution versus creationism, scriptural inerrancy, the existence of angels and demons, and so forth, that result is due to the rise of the Religious Right, its insertion into the public sphere by the Republican Party, and the consequent normalizing of formerly reactionary or quaint beliefs. The Constitution to the contrary notwithstanding, there is now a de facto religious test for the presidency: major candidates are encouraged (or coerced) to "share their feelings" about their "faith" in a revelatory speech; or, some televangelist like Rick Warren dragoons the candidates (as he did with Obama and McCain in 2008) to debate the finer points of Christology, with Warren himself, of course, as the arbiter. Politicized religion is also the sheet anchor of the culture wars. But how did this toxic stew of beliefs come completely to displace Eisenhower Republicanism?

It is our view that the rise of politicized religious fundamentalism (which is a subset of the decline of empiricism in America) is the key ingredient of the takeover of the Republican Party. For politicized religion provides a substrate of beliefs that rationalizes — at least in the minds of followers — all three of the GOP's main tenets.
Televangelists have long-espoused the health-and-wealth/name-it-and-claim it gospel. If you are wealthy, it is a sign of God's favor. If not, too bad! But don't forget to tithe in any case. This rationale may explain why some downscale whites vociferously defend the prerogatives of billionaires.
The GOP's fascination with war is also connected with the fundamentalist mindset. The Old Testament abounds in tales of slaughter — God ordering the killing of the Midianite male infants and enslavement of the balance of the population, the divinely-inspired genocide of the Canaanites, the slaying of various miscreants with the jawbone of an ass — and since American religious fundamentalist seem to prefer the Old Testament to the New (particularly that portion of the New Testament known as the Sermon on the Mount), it is but a short step to approving war as a divinely-inspired mission. This sort of thinking has led, inexorably, to such phenomena as Jerry Falwell writing that God is Pro-War.
It is the apocalyptic frame of reference of fundamentalists, their belief in an immanent Armageddon, that psychologically conditions them to steer this country into conflict, not only on foreign fields (some evangelicals thought Saddam was the Antichrist, and therefore a suitable target for cruise missiles), but also in the realm of domestic political controversy. It is hardly surprising that the most adamant proponent of the view that there is no debt ceiling problem is Michele Bachmann, the darling of the fundamentalist right. What does it matter, anyway, if the country defaults? — we shall presently abide in the bosom of the Lord.
But while the rank and file of the faithful believe, deludedly, in whatever nonsense they believe, their tactical allies and paymasters may be playing a more cynical game. Behind a lot of crazy movements in history there were rational actors who made money off them (Krupp and I.G. Farben vis-à-vis the Nazis, etc.). We may be wrong to blithely assume the "business community" is unanimously supporting an increase in the debt ceiling. There could be vultures who are pushing a default so they can buy up the pieces at a fire-sale price. What else could explain all the money the Koch brothers are pumping into Michele Bachmann's campaign?
The sleep of reason breeds monsters.
* Werther is the pen name of a Northern Virginia-based defense analyst.
Posted by Werther on July 18, 2011 4:34 PM

15 July 2011

Obama's Game: Inflating Expectations but No Follow Thru

President Obama is in trouble at home and around the world.  The common denominator in his problems is his failure to follow through on the expectations (promises of change) he recklessly excited.  The threat of an expectations/reality mismatch unravelling his presidency was always implicit in his election strategy (see my last paragraph of "How Obama Won.").  Today the effects of this mismatch are coming home roost, as can be seen in the mounting alienation of his domestic political base in the United States by continuing the Clinton/Bush neoliberal politicies.  But, those effects are also coming home to roost grand strategically, as can be seen his plummeting popularity abroad, particularly in the Arab World, as shown in the attached survey by Zogby International for the Arab American Institute Foundation, where he has done nothing to change the Three Pillars of Middle East Policy


Conducted by Zogby International, Analysis by James Zogby
Arab American Institute Foundation
The full report can be downloaded from this link:

Executive Summary   
  • After improving with the election of Barack Obama in 2008, U.S. favorable ratings across the Arab world have plummeted. In most countries they are lower than at the end of the Bush Administration, and lower than Iran's favorable ratings (except in Saudi Arabia).
  • The continuing occupation of Palestinian lands and U.S. interference in the Arab world are held to be the greatest obstacles to peace and stability in the Middle East.
  • While many Arabs were hopeful that the election of Barack Obama would improve U.S.-Arab relations, that hope has evaporated. Today, President Obama's favorable ratings across the Arab World are 10% or less.
  • Obama's performance ratings are lowest on the two issues to which he has devoted the most energy: Palestine and engagement with the Muslim world.
  • The U.S. role in establishing a no-fly zone over Libya receives a positive rating only in Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, but, as an issue, it is the lowest priority.
  • The killing of bin Laden only worsened attitudes toward the U.S.
  • A plurality says it is too early to tell whether the Arab Spring will have a positive impact on the region. In Egypt, the mood is mixed. Only in the Gulf States are optimism and satisfaction levels high.

05 July 2011

Why the Big Green Spending Machine Keeps Spending

Perpetual Motion
Why the War Machine Keeps on Running
By FRANKLIN C. SPINNEY, Counterpunch, 5 July 2011

Villefranche, France.
The United States has always meddled in other people's affairs. For those readers who think this statement is an exaggeration, I urge them to peruse the chronology of interventions compiled by the Congressional Research Service. This historical predilection for meddling, however, grew enormously in depth and breadth during the Cold War, and to make matters worse, it is now clear that it exploded after the end of the Cold War.
The Bush-Obama perpetual war on terror is now the longest and second most expensive war in US history, exceeded only in cost by WWII, even if one removes the effects of inflation from the comparison. And this war comes on top of the incessant warmongering during the 1990s, including the bombing of air defense sites in Iraq, the drive by shootings with cruise missiles in the Sudan and Afghanistan, and the bombing in Bosnia and Kosovo during the Wars of the Yugoslavian Succession. Anyone who opposes the meddling and warmongering is labeled an isolationist by the defenders of the status quo, like Senators McCain, Graham, and Lieberman. But this is absurd name calling, as Sheldon Richmand cogently explains in this essay. This absurdity of the isolationist label has a long lineage dating back to the misrepresentations by so-called 'internationalists -- ironically,by mostly liberal democrats -- of the foreign policy views of Senator Robert A. Taft in the 1940s and 1950s.(here)
Today, the United States is locked in a throes of perpetual war, and our politics are dominated by its political handmaiden, perpetual fear. If you doubt this, just think about the recent expansion of drone assaults to Libya and Somalia or your next invasive pat down in an airport or the continuation of the onerous Patriot Act. Some critics believe perpetual war is driven primarily by the lust for empire. No doubt, empire lusting is a factor, but for the reasons I explained in The Domestic Roots of Perpetual War, I believe perpetual war is primarily the issue of a deadly mutation of domestic politics, particularly the imperative to prop up a sclerotic Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex (MICC) -- a political-economic faction that lost its raison d'être when the Cold War ended, and now needs the perpetual threat of war, to pump money through it, if it is to survive and flourish on its own terms, at the expense of others.
The distorting powers of domestic political faction (described elegantly by James Madison in Federalist Paper #10) and executive warmongering were the two great fears of the Framers of the Constitution. The Constitution's system of checks and balances was designed around the idea of preventing the rise of an all-powerful domestic faction and curbing the power of the executive to unilaterally declare war. The emergence of the Cold War, especially with Truman's signing NSC-68 in August 1950, which established the political template for equating military strategy to arms production and economic policy to Military Keynesianisim, institutionalized the MICC as a permanent player in the US political economy.
It is clear the Framers of the Constitution would have considered the MICC to be the most dangerous of all factions, because the MICC has seamlessly synthesized both of their fears: It is an all-powerful domestic faction whose self interest is to promote war or the perpetual threat of war.
Why do I use the modifier "all powerful"?
One need only to consider the conditions surrounding the current paralysis in our government to sense the MICC's ubiquitous power: Today, what's left of our constitutional system cannot muster the political will to stop the ongoing succession of wars, despite polls suggesting a majority of Americans want these wars to stop. Nor will Congress make a significant reduction in the defense budget, even though it is at a post-WWII high, there is no superpower threat to justify this level of expenditure, only a small part of the defense budget is funding the ongoing wars, and there is now a political majority in favor of cutting federal spending to reduce the deficit. Moreover, the President and Congress cannot or will not stop either the war or the defense spending binge despite the facts that (1) there is widespread knowledge of horrendous waste and excessive profiteering in the defense budget; (2) it is a well established fact that a dollar of defense spending creates fewer jobs than just about any other kind of spending, yet job creation is the central need of a stagnating American economy poised on the cusp of a double dip recession; (3) the fact that the members of Defense Department hold the Accountability and Appropriations clauses of the Constitution in contempt, because they can not and will not account for how they spend the money Congress appropriates for it -- a refusal that occurs despite the fact that every member of the Defense Department has taken a sacred oath to uphold and defend the Constitution; and (4) the members of Congress either refuse or are afraid to exercise their duty to enforce that accountability under the powers assigned to it under Article 1 of the Constitution.
And why is the government paralyzed?
The political system is paralyzed for the simple reason that the gamesters in the MICC have deliberately paralyzed it by playing the defense power games which I have explained here and here. On the other hand, the iron triangle of a large standing military, an outsized industrial base of defense contractors, and their network of wholly owned subsidiaries in Congress is less of a simple conspiracy than an emergent complex adaptive system that self organizes its order by processing the flow of money through itself and expels disorder -- taking the form of paralyzing those trying to control it -- into its environment. The MICC in its current form (i.e., a large standing military, a large contractor base, and its widespread congressional patronage network) cannot survive without war or the threat of war to lubricate the continuing money flow it requires like a body requires food for energy. The entire structure in its current form cannot survive or reform itself for the simple reason its defense contractor wing knows full well it cannot convert to the production of commercially viable products at competitive prices. So without a paralysis of the larger governing system system, the MICC could not protect and add to the money flowing through it, and without that continuing money flow, the whole self-organizing edifice of the MICC -- a large standing military, a huge contractor base, and hundreds of wholly owned legislators to dutifully shovel money to their districts -- would collapse into chaos, which some believe would bring down the US economy, which brings us full circle to the political entropy flowing out of the military Keynesianism that has grown and prospered since 1950, when President Truman signed NSC-68.
NSC-68 portrayed itself as a strategic blueprint for a long term confrontation with the Soviet Union. But it was first and foremost a plan for a huge weapons development and production program, and while its authors, led by arch cold warrior Paul Nitze, claimed to have compared the military and economic capabilities to the Soviet Union to the United States, NSC 68 rested on the intellectual bedrock of military Keynsianism.
In fact, language of NSC-68 asserted that increases in Pentagon spending would "increase the gross national product by more than the amount being absorbed for additional military and foreign assistance purposes," In effect, the authors of NSC-68, generalized the peculiar experience of WWII, by making an unconstrained claim that the defense build up would create so much economic stimulus that it would pay for itself -- in effect, promising a free lunch.
NSC 68 was more a marketing document than a strategy; it did not even contain any specific cost estimates or economic analysis to justify its claim of a free lunch. But by equating strategy to a weapons buildup, NSC 68 established the template for strategic planning that transformed George Kennan's political theory of containment into a military strategy grounded on weapons R&D and production.  Such an approach to "strategy" was realistic in one sense: it fit the domestic economic needs of the defense-dependent manufacturers, like the aircraft companies who needed federal subsidies to survive, as a hand fits a glove.
While Truman did not reject NSC-68, he sat on it. Then, on June 25, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea and gave Truman the opportunity to approve NSC-68, and the MICC was off to the races.
Cross-posted from Counterpunch.
Errata: The attached essay is slightly different from the one published in Counterpunch. It contains a few minor editorial changes. More importantly, the second reference to George Kennan in the penultimate paragraph was incorrect and has been deleted.  A change that has no effect on the argument.  Finally, urls for supporting information are included. CS.