Category Archives: Politics

Garry Wills explains The Triumph of the Hard Right

Summary: As America drifts into control by the Right through the “bottoms up” movement the Left has so longed dreamed of, many of our brightest minds describe with clarity and urgency what is happened. Such as in this review by Garry Wills of a powerful new book by E. J. Dionne. Whatever happens, we cannot say we were not warned.

“Every nation has the government it deserves.”
— Joseph de Maistre (lawyer, diplomat, philosopher), Letter #76 dated 13 August 1811, published in Lettres et Opuscules.

“Sooner or later, everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.”
— attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson.

The Triumph of the Hard Right

By Garry Wills

New York Review of Books, 11 February 2016
Posted with their generous permission.

Review of Why the Right Went Wrong: Conservatism from Goldwater to the Tea Party and Beyond by E.J. Dionne Jr.

 

Everybody told everybody early in this year’s presidential campaign (during what was called Trump Summer) that we had never seen anything so sinisterly or hilariously (take your choice) new. But Trump Summer was supposed to mellow into Sane Autumn, and it failed to — and early winter was no saner. People paid to worry in public tumbled over one another in asking what had gone wrong with our politics. Even the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, joined the worriers. After Mitt Romney lost in 2012, he set up what he called the Growth and Opportunity Project, to reach those who had not voted Republican — young people, women, Latinos, and African-Americans.

But its report, once filed, had no effect on the crowded Republican field of candidates in the 2016 race, who followed Donald Trump’s early lead as he treated women and immigrants as equal-opportunity objects of scorn. Now the public worriers were yearning for the “good old days” when there were such things as moderate Republicans. What happened to them?

The current Republican extremism has been attributed to the rise of Tea Party members or sympathizers. Deadlock in Congress is blamed on Republicans’ fear of being “primaryed” unless they move ever more rightward. Endless and feckless votes to repeal Obamacare were motivated less by any hope of ending the program than by a desire to be on record as opposing it, again and again, to avoid the dreaded label RINO (Republican in Name Only).

E.J. Dionne knows that Republican intransigence was not born yesterday, and he has the credentials for saying it because this dependably intelligent liberal tells us, in his new book, that he began as a young Goldwaterite — like Hillary Clinton (or like me). He knows that his abandoned faith sounded themes that have perdured right down to our day. In the 1950s there were many outlets for right-wing discontent — including H.L. Hunt’s Lifeline, Human Events, The Dan Smoot Report, the Fulton Lewis radio show, Willis Carto’s Liberty Lobby, the Manion Forum. In 1955, William F. Buckley founded National Review to give some order and literary polish to this cacophonous jumble. But his magazine had a small audience at the outset. Its basic message would reach a far wider audience through a widely popular book, The Conscience of a Conservative, ghostwritten for Barry Goldwater by Buckley’s brother-in-law (and his coauthor for McCarthy and His Enemies), L. Brent Bozell.

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DoD’s next challenge: managing the fall of our military welfare state

Summary: The military is often described as a test tube for American social science, running experiments such as integration of race, sex, and gender in its relatively controlled society. But the largest social science experiment in the military — perhaps the largest in US history — is DoD’s socialism. We close our eyes, preferring not to see it. Now the military’s spending priorities are changing, and we’ll see the effects on recruitment and retention as it is eroded away. Here Jennifer Mittelstadt explains the history and workings of the military “welfare state”.

 

Military socialism under siege

Under pressure from the increasingly outlandish cost of hardware (e.g., carriers, the F-35), DoD has chosen to cut compensation of its people. It is one of the most important and least covered defense issues (a minor sideshow, keeping the A-10 Warthog, has received 100x the attention).

One of the best articles I’ve seen in years about this is “Welfare’s last stand” by Jennifer Mittelstadt (Assoc Prof of History at Rutgers) at Aeon, 21 September 2015 — “Long in retreat in the US, the welfare state found a haven in an unlikely place – the military, where it thrived for decades.”

Her essay does not respond the usual rebuttal to these facts: this social safety net is compensation for risk borne by our troops. In fact it covers everybody in our uniformed services, during peace and war. It is not limited to those in war zones. It is not limited to those experiencing non-combat risks greater than those of most civilian jobs (and the even smaller number exposed to risks greater than those of the most dangerous civilian job (logging and fishing).

I assume Mittelstadt called it “military welfare” for the shock value. In fact welfare is much more selective in its benefits than the “safety net” inside the military — so “military socialism” fits better.

For more see her book The Rise of the Military Welfare State (2015) — which I ordered today.

Opening of “Welfare’s last stand”

Over the past four decades in the United States, as the country has slashed its welfare state and employers gutted traditional job benefits, growing numbers of people, especially from the working class, grasped for a new safety net – the military. Everyone recognises that the US armed forces have become a global colossus. But few know that, along with bases and bombs, the US military constructed its own massive welfare state. In the waning decades of the 20th century, with US prosperity in decline, more than 10 million active‑duty personnel and their tens of millions of family members turned to the military for economic and social security.

The military welfare state is hidden in plain sight, its welfare function camouflaged by its war-making auspices. Only the richest Americans could hope to access a more systematic welfare network. Military social welfare features a web of near-universal coverage for soldiers and their families – housing, healthcare, childcare, family counselling, legal assistance, education benefits, and more.

The programmes constitute a multi-billion-dollar-per-year safety net, at times accounting for nearly 50% of the Department of Defense budget (DoD). Their real costs spread over several divisions of the defence budget creating a system so vast that the DoD acknowledged it could not accurately reckon its total expense.

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The great Andrew Undershaft explains US politics

To cut through the analytical fog covering our Presidential elections, here is the transcript of a private meeting held in Washington in which a member of the 1% explains the cold realities of our political system. {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Robert Morley as Andrew Undershaft

 

What is the government of this country?

Remarks to a to senior Senator
by Andrew Undershaft

CEO of the multi-national defense contractor
Undershaft & Lazarus

 

The government of your country!  I am the government of your country; I, and Lazarus.  Do you suppose that you and half a dozen amateurs like you, sitting in a row in that foolish gabble shop, can govern Undershaft and Lazarus?

No, my friend; you will do what pays us.  You will make war when it suits us, and keep peace when it does not.  You will find out that trade requires certain measures when we have decided on those measures.

When I want anything to keep my dividends up, you will discover that my want is a national need.  When other people want something to keep my dividends down, you will call out the police and military.

And in return you shall have the support and applause of my newspapers, and the delight of imagining that you are a great statesman.

Government of your country!  Be off with you, my boy, and play with your caucuses and leading articles and historic parties and great leaders and burning questions and the rest of your toys.  I am going back to my counting house to pay the piper and call the tune.

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Why the Outer Party hates Trump & will waste this opportunity for reform

Summary: The reaction of our upper classes to the rise of Trump reveals much about 21st century America — a society divided by class, with blinkered elites, and an opportunity to unify and make reforms (which we’ll almost certainly squander). 2016 will be a big year for America, a bad one if we do not try to understand what is happening.

Trump as Hitler

We can only guess at the reaction to Trump by the bourgeois (who own America) and the Inner Party (their senior executives, having less power but are social similar). My guess: they’re probably unhappy that Trump is defeating their apparatchiks and co-opting their political machines. However, Trump is one of them — and a deal-maker. In the unlikely event Trump wins, I suspect they expect to ally with him.

More interesting is the reaction of those in the Outer Party, America’s professionals and managers. They are spitting with rage, so vituperative that discussions about Trump quickly veer from analytical to irrational. Trump has aroused them to an extent I’ve seldom seen — and with good reason.

Our elites are distant to the America people, images on TV and stories in the tabloids. But the Outer Party administers America’s bureaucratic regime, which has been losing legitimacy for decades (e.g., see Gallup’s Confidence in Institutions poll). The rise of Trump shows that this has brought forth a populist revolt (i.e., an attempt to change political authority). It’s a rebellion against them, the faces of the US political regime.

They respond with their most powerful tool: delegimization. People and movements have been destroyed as they use their institutions — the news media, academia, think tanks, etc. — to label reformers and rebels as “Communists”, “racists”, “sexists”, “deniers”, “he’s like Hitler” (applied to both Bush Jr. and Obama), etc. Plus they fire barrages of mockery and funny pictures.

But the regime’s loss of legitimacy renders these ineffective. Much of America no longer considers the upper classes to be our moral arbiters. Worse, to many Americans the upper classes’ hatred of Trump identifies him as their friend. “By their enemies you shall know them”.

The “chattering classes”, especially journalists and academics, are especially hostile to Trump (senior journalists and tenured university professors are of the upper class to the minimum wage – no benefit – no security workers who are so much of America). These are among the least popular of major American institutions. Gallup shows that only 24% of Americans have confidence in newspapers and 21% in TV news. Gallup does not ask about the public’s confidence in professors and universities, but they we have a clue — populist politicians often use them as targets of applause-lines…

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Magnus: China’s leaders must choose: political power for them, or economic growth for China

Summary: Today’s post by A-team economist George Magnus discusses China’s economic challenges, especially the clash between its political and economic transitions. These are among the major unknowns affecting the future of China, that other pole of the world economy, {1st of 2 posts today.}

Globe and China Flag

Will, or can China put change before control?

By George Magnus, 29 January 2016
Reposted from his website with his generous permission

One of John McDonnell’s economic advisory team, David Blanchflower, recently wrote in the New Statesman, “The new Labour leaders are not economists and are going to have to learn fast. They will have to accept the realities of capitalism and modern markets, like it or not.” He makes a fine point, and on reading it, I immediately thought that it could equally be made about China.

The leadership is no longer new, and for them the realities of capitalism and markets are not the same: they are prepared to incorporate market mechanisms and go along with western capitalism only to the extent that they, a) do not compromise the interests and primacy of the Chinese Communist Party; b) help the Party further Chinese economic and political power;  c) bolster the competitiveness and efficiency of state institutions. What the leadership does not want is a central role for markets and prices in the determination of the ownership, allocation and distribution of resources.

This much, if you did not know it before, has become evident to global audience in the seemingly parochial world of finance.

On the one hand, China has taken the initiative to set up the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank under the umbrella of what President Xi Jinping has called the One Belt, One Road project, or to you and me, a 21st century Silk Road by land and by sea; and most recently won the IMF’s backing to include the Yuan in the so-called Special Drawing Right, the IMF’s accounting unit. We could also point to other initiatives to encourage greater use of the Yuan in the settlement and invoicing of trade, the denomination of international bonds, and the composition of central bank currency swaps; and to encourage foreign capital to come into Chinese financial markets.

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Review of Mike Lofgren’s “The Deep State”, a must-read for 2016

Summary: Today’s post reviews Mike Lofgren’s important new book about The Deep State, the ruling center of the New America. Lofgren’s entertaining but scary book sketches out this institution and how it works. Here’s an explanation of why you should read the book, and its two big limitations.

 

Review of

The Deep State:
The Fall of the Constitution
and the Rise of a Shadow Government

by Mike Lofgren (2016)

 

Mike Lofgren has written the definitive account of the Deep State, the “hybrid association of key elements of government and pats of top-level finance and industry that is effectively able to govern the United States with only limited reference to the consent of the governed.”

His has the experience to do so after 28 years as senior budget and national security expert with the Republican staff in Congress. It gives him technical knowledge plus a wealth of observations and vignettes, which he weavers into an entertaining narrative (see the Forward).

The Deep State is the hidden connecting thread to the news in America. It explains the government’s operations run with indifference to their stated goals, its leaders’ unconcern with failure, and the inability of citizens to affect its policies. The quiet growth of the Deep State is the story of modern America’s history.

“Our venerable institutions of government have outwardly remained the same, but they have grown more and more resistant to the popular will as they have become hardwired into a corporate and private influence network with almost unlimited cash to enforce its will.”

Lofgren explains the origins and operations of the Deep State, how it has shaped Washington to its needs and sent its tentacles throughout the American power structure. After reading this book you’ll see the news with a different perspective. It should be required reading for every college student.

Now for the critical part of the review. He goes too far in the middle of the book, almost a list of everything wrong with America — with the Deep State the master explanation. He sometimes conflates the Deep State with conservative forces, when its strength comes from its bipartisan support (everybody loves the F-35, and few are more hawkish than Liberals explaining our Responsibility to Protect).

But these are minor points in a brilliant, thoroughly researched, and well-written book. My disagreements concern two subjects about which we can only speculate.

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It doesn’t matter if Trump wins. 2016 is already a revolutionary election

Summary: The public, and so journalists, focus on the presidential elections as races, reasonable since the political consequences of each party’s victory are large but predictable. The 2016 election is different. Focusing on Trump’s latest outrageous sound-bite conceals the massive change made by his success to date. What if the parties’ control of political money and our political machinery no longer controls election results, and elections become a free-for-all among the power centers of America? This post explores what it means for our future.

USA Revolution: the Logo

 

Many factors produced the simultaneous insurgencies by Sanders and Trump against the Democratic and Republican establishments. Most obviously, for decades they have ignored vital concerns of their core constituencies, preferring instead to serve unpopular special interests such as Wall Street — and those of the 1% (e.g., favoring mass immigration).

A classic sign of organizations’ senescence is the increasing age of its leaders and their decreasing qualifications for high office. As seen in the candidates offered for President. In the case of John McCain in 2008, the Republicans gave us both — an erratic elderly man (would have been 73 at inauguration) with poor judgment and an unqualified VP (Sarah Palin, chosen with 21 months as Gov of AK).

Now the Boomers are turning over leadership of America, but the Democrats appeal to a new generation with two contenders: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, who would be 70 and 76 at inauguration.

These events take place in a nation where the people’s confidence in their governing institutions has been eroding away for decades (see Gallup’s Confidence in Institutions polls). Which brings us to this, the key insight about 2016 (although written long ago)…

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