Weekend reading recommendations, part one

The usual assortment of interesting articles for your weekend reading!  They are worth reading in full; excerpts are provided below.

  1. Reform School“, John Pfaff, Slate, “Five myths about prison growth dispelled”
  2. The Death Dealers took my life!“, By Mark Benjamin and Michael de Yoanna, Salon, 9 February 2009 — “Adam Lieberman tried to kill himself when he returned from Iraq. Only then did the Army take his mental health seriously.”
  3. Cancel Water-Boarding 101“, David J. Morris, Slate, 29 January 2009 — “The military should close its torture school. I know because I graduated from it.”

No excerpt provided, but worth reading: 

  • OKC officer pulls man over for anti-Obama sign on vehicle“, The Oklahoman, 13 February 2009 — Then the Secret Services searchs his home.
  • Bill Clinton’s Bastard Army“, Ares Demertzis, New English Review, February 2009 — A different version of our intervention in Yugoslavia.
  • The Forgotten Entitlements“, Henry Olsen and Jon Flugstad, Policy Review, Feb/Mch 2009 — “Bad budget news on Long Term Care and Disability Insurance”
  • Pax Corleone“, John C. Hulsman and A. Wess Mitchell, National Interest Online, 29 February 2009 — The current geopolitical situation seen in terms of the movie “The Godfather.”


Reform School“, John Pfaff, Slate, “Five myths about prison growth dispelled” Excerpt:

The United States has a prison population like nowhere else. With one out of every 100 adults behind bars, our incarceration rate is the highest in the entire world. Our inmates-1.5 million in prison, with another 800,000 in jail-comprise one-third of the world’s total. This is a surprisingly recent development. After barely budging for 50 years, our incarceration rate increased sevenfold (to 738 per 100,000 people) between 1978 and 2008.

The system is now at its breaking point. Federal judges in California just issued a tentative order demanding that the state release nearly 60,000 inmates over the next three years to alleviate intolerable overcrowding. New York state’s sentencing commission released a 326-page report calling on the Legislature to cut back on severe drug sentences. And with budgets growing ever-tighter in a collapsing economy, states are beginning to realize that large prison populations are boom-time luxuries they can no longer afford.

Reform is inevitable. But if we are going to rein in our prison populations, we should do so based on facts, not on unfounded perceptions or shocking anecdotes. So let’s start by dispelling some of the myths that surround the breathtaking prison growth of the past three decades.

  1. Long sentences drive prison population growth.
  2. Low-level drug offenders drive prison population growth.
  3. Technical parole and probation violations drive prison population growth.
  4. In the past three decades, we’ve newly diverged from the rest of the world on punishment.
  5. The incarceration boom has had no effect on crime levels.

The Death Dealers took my life!“, By Mark Benjamin and Michael de Yoanna, Salon, 9 February 2009 — “Adam Lieberman tried to kill himself when he returned from Iraq. Only then did the Army take his mental health seriously.”  Excerpt:

The day before Halloween 2008, Army Pvt. Adam Lieberman swallowed handfuls of prescription pain pills and psychotropic drugs. Then he picked up a can of black paint and smeared onto the wall of his room in the Fort Carson barracks what he thought would be his last words to the world

“I FACED THE ENEMY AND LIVED!” Lieberman painted on the wall in big, black letters. “IT WAS THE DEATH DEALERS THAT TOOK MY LIFE!”

Soldiers called Lieberman’s unit, the 1st Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment, the Death Dealers. Adam suffered serious mental health problems after a year of combat in Iraq. The Army, however, blamed his problems on a personality disorder, anxiety disorder or alcohol abuse — anything but the war. Instead of receiving treatment from the Army for his war-related problems, Adam faced something more akin to harassment. He was punished and demoted for his bad behavior, but not treated effectively for its cause. The Army’s fervent tough-guy atmosphere discouraged Adam from seeking help. Eventually he saw no other way out. Now, in what was to be his last message, he pointed the finger at the Army for his death.

It would be a voice from beyond the grave, he thought, screaming in uppercase letters. The last words, “THAT TOOK MY LIFE!” tilted down the wall in a slur, as the concoction of drugs seeped into Adam’s brain.

Late last month the Army released figures showing the highest suicide rate among soldiers in three decades. The Army says 128 soldiers committed suicide in 2008 with another 15 still under investigation. “Why do the numbers keep going up?” Army Secretary Pete Geren said at a Pentagon news conference Jan. 29. “We can’t tell you.” The Army announced a $50 million study to figure it out.

It is not just the suicides spiraling out of control. Salon assembled a sample of 25 cases of suicide, prescription drug overdoses or murder involving Fort Carson soldiers over the past four years, by no means a comprehensive list. In-depth study of 10 of those cases revealed a pattern of preventable deaths. In most cases, the deaths seemed avoidable if the Army had better handled garden-variety combat stress reactions.

Interviews, Army documents and medical records suggest that Adam might not have attempted suicide if he had received a proper diagnosis and treatment. His suicide attempt seems avoidable. But the Army’s mistreatment extended well into its aftermath.

Cancel Water-Boarding 101“, David J. Morris, Slate, 29 January 2009 — “The military should close its torture school. I know because I graduated from it.”  Excerpt:

On his first day in office, President Obama kept his most important campaign promise and began the process of closing Guantanamo. But this eliminates only the most visible part of the U.S. torture bureaucracy. In order to ensure that the atrocities of Guantanamo aren’t visited upon the world by future administrations, Obama must also eviscerate the structures that enabled and supported torture. At the top of a long list is the U.S. military’s secretive torture school, known as SERE, which stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape.

… I served in the Marine Corps in the 1990s, and I attended SERE as a young lieutenant in November 1995. I have since been to Iraq three times (as a reporter), and I can attest that the school isn’t relevant to the threats American soldiers face abroad. It resembles more of an elaborate hazing ritual than actual training.

While I was in the school, I lived like an animal. I was hooded, beaten, starved, stripped naked, and hosed down in the December air until I became hypothermic. At one point, I couldn’t speak because I was shivering so hard. Thrown into a 3-by-3-foot cage with only a rusted coffee can to piss into, I was told that the worst had yet to come. I was violently interrogated three times. When I forgot my prisoner number, I was strapped to a gurney and made to watch as a fellow prisoner was water-boarded a foot away from me. I will never forget the sound of that young sailor choking, seemingly near death, paying for my mistake. I remember only the sound because, try as I might, I couldn’t force myself to look at his face. I was next. But for some reason, the guards just dropped the hose on my chest, the water soaking my uniform.

I was incarcerated at SERE for only a few days, but my mind quickly disintegrated. I became convinced that I was being held in an actual prisoner of war camp. Training had stopped, from my point of view. We had crossed over into some murky shadow land where the regulations no longer applied. I was sure that my captors, who wore Warsaw Pact-style uniforms and spoke with thick Slavic accents, would go all the way if the need arose.

Based on my conversations with recent graduates of SERE, it’s clear that the school continues to inflict on trainees the techniques I experienced, such as sensory deprivation, extreme confinement, and exposure to loud music and recordings of wailing babies. According to congressional testimony given in November 2007 by Malcolm Nance, a former SERE instructor, they still water-board at SERE. If water-boarding is torture, then why are we still doing it to U.S. servicemen? Yes, enlistment in the units that attend SERE is a voluntary act, but must it entail the signing away of basic human rights?

The question is especially pertinent because America’s enemies haven’t used SERE’s techniques of “mind control” since the Korean War.

… But a review of the experiences of American servicemen captured in Iraq and Somalia shows that our enemies don’t water-board their captives. Nor do they have the resources to mount a program of systematic sensory deprivation and humiliation, as we did in Guantanamo and in the American prison at Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base. In fact, our soldiers need training from SERE based on an entirely different premise, as illustrated by the experience of Michael Durant, the helicopter pilot who spent several weeks in captivity when he was captured by Somali fighters during the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” raid. Durant survived by befriending his captors and forcing them to see him as a fellow human being. SERE conditions servicemen to expect nothing but the worst from their captors; Durant’s life depended on his ability to understand his captors and find ways to manipulate them psychologically.

At the same time, the problem with SERE extends far beyond its questionable relevance to the threats that the war on terrorism pose to American soldiers. The school, which all pilots and special-forces soldiers attend, unintentionally serves to legitimize the use of torture by U.S. personnel in the field. In at least one documented case, special-forces soldiers in Afghanistan modeled their interrogations on the SERE training they received. The unit, the “20th Special Force Group,” forced prisoners to kneel outside in wet clothing and repeatedly kicked and punched prisoners in the kidneys, knees, and nose if they moved, resulting in the death of one detainee, according to Mayer’s book.

The experience of torture at SERE surely plays a role in the minds of the graduates who go on to be interrogators, and it must on some level help them rationalize their actions. It’s not hard to imagine them thinking, Well, if I survived this, then it’s OK to do it to this guy. This acceptance of abuse from up high down to the lowest levels is the root of our military’s torture problem. … But unless we stop torturing our own servicemen and training them how to torture others, unless we close SERE and retrain its instructors, Guantanamo could happen again.


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26 thoughts on “Weekend reading recommendations, part one”

  1. The danger of racist violence resides almost exclusively within the black population of the US these days. Black on white violence is over ten times greater than “white” on black violence. “White” is in quotes, because the US government includes hispanic with white perpetrators when computing its racial crime statistics.

    Remember the Black Panthers standing guard outside a Philadelphia polling station in November 08? Obama has done little to quell widespread black resentment in the US.

    Socio-economic hierarchy owes very little to discrimination these days. Now, the hierarchy is largely based upon aptitude which includes intelligence, self-control and self-discipline, and educability. Besides being born into a rich and powerful family, the other prime way of avoiding meritocracy in the US is via affirmative action.

    Michelle Obama’s resentment at her affirmative action status at Cornell shines clearly throughout her thesis. Mr. Obama’s test scores and grades are kept under wraps.

    Regarding the “abort Obama not the babies” bumper stickers, Obama and his bully boys had best grow a thicker skin.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I have seen unpublished (and unpublishable) research that the violent crime rate of non-hispanic whites is similar to that of western europe. That is, the high rate of violent crime in America vs. Europe is a function of differeing ethnic background. Has anyone else seen such research?

    “Socio-economic hierarchy owes very little to discrimination these days.”

    Have you any research to support this theory? Being born to a wealthy family in Greenwich CT, being born in an inner city — I very much doubt they proivde equal opportunity to ascend the “hierarchy.”

    “Obama and his bully boys had best grow a thicker skin.”

    Or we must adapt to yet another new “rule”, showing greater respect to our ruling elites. See “Cartoonists walk fine line with Obama caricatures“, AP, 21 February 2009.

    For another perspective, see “Best of the Web“, James Taranto, at the Wall Street Journal Opinion online, 20 February 2009 — Excerpt:

    “Consider the paradox: Racial “sensitivity” requires not eradicating racial stereotypes but keeping them alive–and not only keeping them alive but remaining acutely conscious of them at all times. Delonas and his {NY Post} editors are under attack for seeing “chimp” and failing to think “black guy.” Perhaps this is an editorial failing, but it is certainly not a moral one.”

    1. Obama and his boys need to grow thicker skins against death threats? People have certainly expected a lot from Obama, but must Blackazoid now learn to repel bullets like Superman? I think you ask too much.

      I submit that it is in the legitimate interest of the state to protect the physical security of its executive. I think we can agree that the Secret Service has to investigate threats. This article mostly quotes ‘anonymous officials’, saying that Obama has had more threats than other presidents-elect (article is from Nov. 08), and describing examples of these threats and other signs (former Secret Service agent Joseph Funk is also directly quoted). The reporter is Eileen Sullivan, apparently a reporter for mainstream press sources including the Boston Globe and the New Jersey Courier-Post Online, along with AP reporters Lara Jakes Jordan and Jerry Harkavy. With these sources I would tend to view the article as credible until show differently.

      As far as actual assassination plots go, there’s the Tennessee skinhead plot from October 2008 that I linked to earlier. In addition, there was the plot from August 2008 to shoot Obama in Denver, during his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. I’m not saying that either of these plots was likely to succeed, but I think it’s significant to have had this much this soon.

      In addition to these actual plots, there’s been a bunch of general hate incidents relating to Obama. I mentioned the incident with the Idahoan children chanting. There were a couple of hangings in effigy, in addition to stupid internet bloviating.

      I’m not trying to argue that we need to let go of the First Amendment, or that we need more rules to force us to show respect or anything like that. I’m just arguing that its not irrational to respond to a level of threat that appears to be objectively elevated, with elevated precaution. Do people think I’m being too credulous?
      Fabius Maximus replies: No, but you totally miss the point. Everybody here agrees that the President should be protected and threats investigated. Saying otherwise is a strawman aguement, and absurd in this context.

      Investigating people on the basis of their bumper stickers does not protect the president. It is just another small step towards tyranny, where police feel free to harass citizens on any imaginable pretext — as a display of State power.

  2. From Bill Clinton’s Bastard Army:

    “Unreported by America´s elite media which consistently shielded the Clinton Administration from negative reporting (excluding the internet), was that President Clinton had secretly armed and trained Muslim mujahedeen in Yugoslavia with the deliberate intent of provoking a civil war that would splinter Yugoslavia into geographically smaller, politically less significant, more manageable, independent states; in the process overthrowing (Serb) President Slobodan Milosevic whose government was clinging to what was considered by the United States as an obsolete socialist economic doctrine.

    When the mujahedeen proved unable to effectively complete their mission, impeded by an unexpectedly effective Yugoslav government (Serb) military response (cleverly promoted by the West as “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” of non-Serbs), the dismemberment of Yugoslavia, and the indispensable regime change required the support of a major, albeit overt U.S. intervention. This arrived in the form of a brutally lethal bombing campaign that included disinformation as an essential component to validate the military assault against a sovereign state accredited with international legitimacy.”

    This is a story I’ve followed from the start. Michael Parenti and Diana Johnstone both have books on it. {Parenti: historian, author of “To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia”, 2000. Johnstone: “Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, Nato, and Western Delusions”, 2003}

    The gist of the story is that the media reports of ethnic cleansing by Serbs of Kosovars, and the “mass graves” mentioned as evidence, were false. After the US invasion, the only graves ever found were those of Serbs living in Kosovo who were killed in reprisal. Kosovo was the first “humanitarian intervention”, a temporary pretext for foreign interventions once the Cold War was no longer available and before the War on Terror had been contrived.

    The writer misleadingly singles out Clinton for blame in what was a European-wide, capitalist strategy of breaking up the last remaining relatively successful independent socialist state in the heart of Europe, partly to free up mineral resources in Kosovo for investment, partly to establish western military presence (Camp Bondsteel) at a major East-West transportation route, and partly for ideological motives like those behind the fifty year campaign to reverse the Cuban revolution.

  3. Seneca, I have been aware for some time that the official story was false but unlike you did not study it in any depth. Am curious:

    a) is it known how much Clinton really knew as to the degree of falsification of the ‘cover story’?
    b) given the false premise etc. to what degree were we justified in hauling up Milosovich and now that other chap recently discovered in disguise for war crimes?

  4. Erasmus: Probably Clinton didn’t know. Probably the reporters who kept repeating the unproved assertions didn’t know. Who knows where foreign policy myths begin? Albright had personal animosities against Milosevich, but she (or Brzezynski) are more the kind of persons who might have been involved in meetings (with German and French representatives) long before Clinton took office discussing the desirability of dismantling socialist Yugoslavia. Of course, the trial of Milosevich was a show trial, much like that of Saddam, in which meaningful evidence for the defense would not have been allowed.

  5. “Socio-economic hierarchy owes very little to discrimination these days.” (Agnostic)

    I agree with this in a sense you may not have meant — that the dismantling of racial barriers, symbolized dramatically by the election of a black President, is partly a distraction from the fact that class barriers still remain, even more solidly than before.
    Fabius Maximus replies: That’s a powerful observation, a better statement of what I was attempting to say.

  6. Yes, Seneca and FM. Class barriers still remain. Much more so than racial barriers, class barriers remain, and will always remain. Just as family, clan, and tribal prejudices will always remain within tribal societies. Every type of society has ways of discriminating between insiders and outsiders.

    If Obama’s supporting deadheads believe that he has experienced opposition up to this point, they are several cards short of the requisite 52. The US national media has bent over backward to cover for the man. The new administration is digging a deep hole for itself at a record pace, after a very promising start with the media and the public. You had best believe that Obama and his vast entourage need much thicker skins. Opposition has just barely begun.

  7. Racism and prejudice are not exactly like snowflakes, they do have common qualities as these forces emanate from the mind of man, a far less complex vessel (apparently) than the ineffable forces we choose to call nature. That said, I point out that in Germany, France and Great Britain prior to WW2 Jews achieved high office. One French Prime Minister spent the war in Buchenwald. I presume he was given special treatment, as was Hitler’s Nobel Prize winning doctor who worked on cancer research in a lab the Twisted One created for him.

    Prejudice in America has certainly changed a great deal since, for instance, the time in WW2 when the Army maintained separate blood supplies for black and white soliders! I think it is evident that Obama’s election, remarkable as it is, would not have occurred if the candidate had been anything other than a Christian who regularly attended Church. (I have seen no mention of the President attending Church since he has taken office. What have I missed?)

    While his election no doubt will contribute to a further dilution of racial prejudice, if anyone thinks we have arrived at the Millenium with regard to racial prejudice, I believe they are mistaken. The terrorized and stricken sharecropper image has been replaced by the urban ghetto regiments resolutely ignoring opportunity, possibly wisely. This image is not going away soon and throwing billions will only further irrigate the crop as has every government boondoggle since Model Cities and the Great Society.
    Fabius Maximus replies: We can look foward the day when the high rates of intermarriage have so diluted the races that skin color matters little, and we have achieved a society where all discrimination is on the basis of social class!

  8. Meant to add that agnostic is on target. We are going to have a remarkable populist unprising over the next decade. Will be very exciting to see real politics return to America. If more than 15% of current Congresspeople survive (not physically, alas) I will be disappointed.
    Fabius Maximus replies: While I do not share your certainty, this is something I’ve wondered about. What happens when people realize that the quarter-century boom has left them poorer, duing which inequality of wealth and income has increased while social mobility has decreased?

    What happens when they see that the massive theft that is called the “bank bailouts”, and when the government must reduce payments retirement plans — certainly for social security/medicare, and perhaps for its employee retirement programs?

  9. The artful management of class distinction, both horizontal and vertical, is what separates the men from the boys in terms of whether or not a society is truly advanced or dysfunctional. In the contemporary West, especially in the US, we have tended to pretend that class is an old-fashioned thingy which we have transcended, but this is unrealisable rubbish. Not possible.

    What is dangerous here is that we have an increasingly hidden over-class that does not manage itself in a public, and artful, manner as such; this combined with increasing inequities will, if times start to get really tough which might happen but hasn’t yet, could prove quite volatile. I think Rubenstein is right: ‘real politics’ might soon be returning to America. If she is lucky.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Or unlucky. As in be careful what you wish for, should politics appear as it did in France during the Revolution. Or in post-WWII Latin America (i.e., how to go from prosperity to poverty in 3 generations).

  10. I could just as easily write an article asserting that the military should continue SERE school; I know because I graduated from it, too. It is a bunch of melodramatic nonsense, like much of what has been written on the subject.

    “SERE is a repository of the world’s knowledge about torture…”, goodness gracious, you can practically hear the pure evil dripping from every word.

    Morris says that it resembles more of an elaborate hazing ritual than actual training. I would say that it resembles a hazing ritual more than actual torture, which is why I can’t really get very excited when I hear that some of those techniques are being used on terrorists (how many times did that actually happen, anyway?). When someone has an ideological axe to grind, using the T-word is always useful when you want to rally the squeamish and uninformed.

    Morris claims that the school isn’t relevant to the threats American soldiers face abroad but he is absolutely wrong. The capture, interrogation and propaganda exploitation of British Sailors and Marines by the Iranians in 2007 is a perfect example of one of the scenarios that SERE training prepares you for. In 2001, a US Navy EP-3E ARIES II collided with a PLA J-8II interceptor, was forced to land at Hainan Island, and the crew was detained and interrogated by the Chinese. I am sure the training was useful under those circumstances as well. Contrary to Morris’s sensational account, SERE absolutely is relevant training for our armed forces, but then, maybe his disintegrated mind wasn’t capable of absorbing any of what they were trying to teach him there.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Thank you for sharing your experience and perspective on this. First person evidence is always valuable, and there is no good substitute for it!

  11. Discrimination may be based solely on class in that faroff place, but given the current trajectory of America, IF everything goes as it is now going, which it will not, we will be a nation of slightly slanty-eyed cream colored nymphs, with long, straight black-hair etc. with names like we now recognize, but two “ethnic” groups will survive — in the Appalachians, “whites”, I will spare you their other names, still honoring Andrew Jackson and even Abraham Lincoln and in urban reservations a group I am unable to name because of my commitment to equality NOW, but whose current epithet will have become their common property through repeated repetition. Now, are we not happy the future is not predictable. However, anything that adds large numbers of beautiful Venezuelan and Shanghai beauty to America’s genepool is welcome to this fantasizing argonaut.

  12. Words Twice claims that the SERE training resembles a “hazing ritual.” I wonder if he could provide us with hard evidence for the number of hazings which involve filling up a person’s lungs with water to produce controlled drowning? Please cite hard evidence to back up your claim, or stand revealed as a liar using sophistry for purposes of gross deception.

    Here’s another potentially important article for the weekend. Europe’s entire banking system on the edge of the abyss. One needs must take this article with a pinch of salt, given its provenance in a far-left liberal site, Daily Kos. However, since the sources cited (including The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, Bloomberg Financial news, George Soros, and Nouriel Roubini) seem credible, it would appear unwise to dismiss the article out of hand without further study.
    Fabius Maximus replies: The sad thing about a crisis is that every hack who can count to 3 using both hands jumps into the act, spewing gibberish at warp speed. There is no need to exagerate, as the truth is bad enough.

    As for Dec 2008, the current European Central Bank report shows that “member monetary financial institutions” (which they define quite broadly) had consolidated assets of 24.1238 Trillion euros. That includes everything, down to the Chairmen’s secretaries’ nail polish. Their “risk” assets (excluding government bonds and fixed assets) are 18.2 EUR (excluding derivatives, another problem).

    How much might they lose? For comparison, in the worst year of the Great Depression bond defaults were 10%. Those weren’t losses, since they recovered something from the collateral on those loans (recovery rates on junk bonds average 40%).

    The bad news is that their “capital and reserves” were only 1.614 trillion EUR. A 9% loss rate on risk assets (or defaults of 22% with 40% recovery) and they are dead. That’s easy to imagine.

    Worse, that looks at everybody — the system. The weakest, the big and dumb, are certainly toast. As explained in “Failure to save East Europe will lead to worldwide meltdown“, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Telegraph, 15 February 2009 — “The unfolding debt drama in Russia, Ukraine, and the EU states of Eastern Europe has reached acute danger point.”

    Austria’s finance minister Josef Pröll made frantic efforts last week to put together a €150bn rescue for the ex-Soviet bloc. Well he might. His banks have lent €230bn to the region, equal to 70pc of Austria’s GDP. “A failure rate of 10pc would lead to the collapse of the Austrian financial sector,” reported Der Standard in Vienna. Unfortunately, that is about to happen. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) says bad debts will top 10pc and may reach 20pc. The Vienna press said Bank Austria and its Italian owner Unicredit face a “monetary Stalingrad” in the East.

    … The sums needed are beyond the limits of the IMF, which has already bailed out Hungary, Ukraine, Latvia, Belarus, Iceland, and Pakistan – and Turkey next – and is fast exhausting its own $200bn (€155bn) reserve. We are nearing the point where the IMF may have to print money for the world, using arcane powers to issue Special Drawing Rights.

    Its $16bn rescue of Ukraine has unravelled. The country – facing a 12pc contraction in GDP after the collapse of steel prices – is hurtling towards default, leaving Unicredit, Raffeisen and ING in the lurch. Pakistan wants another $7.6bn. Latvia’s central bank governor has declared his economy “clinically dead” after it shrank 10.5pc in the fourth quarter. Protesters have smashed the treasury and stormed parliament.

    “This is much worse than the East Asia crisis in the 1990s,” said Lars Christensen, at Danske Bank.

  13. After reading posts such as those above, I must say that things have gotten to the point where I no longer feel even a bit defensive about being from Appalachia.

  14. I used to play tennis with a very thoughtful, politically conservative guy. We both lived in a middle-class suburb in Northern California, far from any threat of big-city crime. I once asked him why he felt the need to keep guns in his home. He said “in case the federal government becomes too big.” This stunned me, and made me wonder if some day the political left and the right might find themselves on the same side.

    Professor Lakoff says “people vote their identities, not their interests” — a depressing fact because identities generally are rooted in the irrational parts of the personality, and this is the level politicians love to work.

    Maybe, when social security payments are cut, and unemployment insurance runs out, people will break out of their Identity prisons and start voting their interests.

  15. “a far-left liberal site, Daily Kos.” (electrophoresis)

    Hardly! DK is straight Democratic party — all Clinton, all-Obama, all the time. If you want far left, try Moon of Alabama.

  16. FM asks the most pertinent question now, what really will happen if things keep getting worse? And ‘worse’ can include the insoluble oil-food-water-population quadrangle, with the looting by the upper classes as icing on that bitter cake.

    Seneca I think speaks well that there is a convergence possible if not already going on, certainly that is beginning in the realm of foreign policy where liberals and paleoconservatives are saying about the same thing at this point.

    I can’t help but think that living standards are going to go down, so is population, and on the way there will be some serious unrest. One envisions a sort of science-fiction scenario where people live essentially pastoral lives that revolve around food, where there is little if any long-distance travel, but the Internet is kept going and very simple and sporadic local energy sources power the remaining high-tech equipment in the farmhouses the survivors inhabit. And that’s the best case ;-).

  17. In “Sleeper” a great joke is when Woody Allen is told that in the future, scientists have determined that everything we believed to be good for us is really bad for us. “Milk, beef…college”. Funny in particular, with so many Harvard boys now in the halls of power.

    Alvy Singer: Sun is bad for you. Everything our parents said was good is bad. Sun, milk, red meat… college.

  18. bc and Greg: I have four sons, from two marriages. The older two went to college, one’s a doctor, the other an entrepeneur. My younger two have a year and a half of college between them; one’s a chef, one’s a gardener. I feel good about their chances.

  19. “If you want far left, try Moon of Alabama.”

    If I’ve learned anything in the past eight years, it is that people’s ideas of what is ‘far-left’, what is ‘far-right’, and where the ‘political center’ actually lies, are matters upon which there is now not even the faintest ghost of an agreement. Perception is always a strange topic, and when so much of our political conflict takes the form of trying to ‘out-frame’ our opponents, we can never really tell whose world-picture we’re seeing through.

    That said, here’s a blog by an ultra-smart guy that I would consider pretty ‘far-left’: Barefoot Bum.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I strongly agree. Is this a recent phenomenon? In the past were the lines more clearly drawn, rather than the “cloud” of opinions we have today?

    1. Fabius, that is a fantastic question.

      I sometimes think that, since television in particular became so widespread starting in.. the 1940s? 50s? It got easier to manipulate the public than it was before. And I sometimes think that, since we’ve started with cable TV & especially the ultimate niche marketing of the internet, people are less connected to a consensus reality, let alone objective reality.

      But one has to be so careful when saying stuff like that. Americans say that our social/political reality is polarized today. And it’s true. Recently our ex-Vice Prez Cheney told someone, “Go Fuck Yourself” while on the congress floor. But back in 1856, Preston Brooks beat Charles Sumner nearly to death on the floor of the Congress. I said our media seems composed of wierd little world-lets that don’t relate to each other. But back in 1910, Wilbur Glen Voliva and his community in Zion, IL, had a nation-wide broadcasting radio station which allowed him to promulgate flat-earth theory, and predict the end of the world more than once.

      It’s so hard to see the past clearly, without either nostalgia for its seeming innocence or contempt for its seeming ignorance.

      In short, Fabius, I don’t even know how to begin to answer that question. I can only go by what I see today.

  20. Real Politics 101: recent resolution about States Rights within United States, this from New Hampshire.

    Many other States in the past year have had similar resolutions apparently. (Not widely reported of course): NH HOUSE CONCURRENT RESOLUTION 6: A RESOLUTION affirming States’ rights based on Jeffersonian principles.

    FM, you are right: ‘real politics’ might be a popular uprising a la French Revolution (although I suspect we don’t know the real story on that one), but really what I meant was getting more into the nitty gritty of the thing, back to basics, returning more control and initiative to real people in their own communities etc. The States ‘secessionist’ or at least ‘re-empowered’ movement is an example of that sort of thing and it actually could be quite peaceful and invigorating depending on where it goes and how it plays out.

    But change is a-comin’ that’s for sure!
    Fabius Maximus replies: Why should proposals like this be widely reported? It costs nothing for a legislator to submit a bill, and thousands are submitted at federal, state, and local level every year. Most die a quick death. The press might as well report on the lives of the weeds in my backyard.

  21. Seneca wrote: “This stunned me, and made me wonder if some day the political left and the right might find themselves on the same side.”

    I have been feeling the same way for well more than a decade now, indeed more and more so. Related to this is – at least for me – an increasing sense of bewilderment-confusion when reading things about ‘socialism’, ‘capitalism’,’free markets’ and so forth. I honestly don’t know what any of these things mean any more, and certainly not what most people using the terms mean by them.

    At some point I think – in the US at least – there is going to be a revival of sorts, one which might emerge and even surge when the rural ‘white’ block who were so energised by Palin link up with more urban/white collar types who finally get less interested in globalisation and ‘equality’ and ‘diversity’ and suchlike and are desirous of returning to a more bedrock society including greatly reduced Federal Government and corporate-friendly legislation.

    I read an article recently by an ex-Sheriff explaining why he never enforced the safety belt law – because it was unconstitional and therefore against his oath of office. A small thing, but maybe many more such small things will soon be surfacing.

    We’ll see.

  22. Many apologies for my belated reply. Electrophoresis (comment #14): “Please cite hard evidence to back up your claim, or stand revealed as a liar using sophistry for purposes of gross deception.”

    Your comment is a perfect example of the melodramatic nonsense I was referring to. It was not I that originally referred to it as a “hazing ritual”, it was your ideological comrade, David J. Morris. Could you perhaps point out where I was in error? Would you like to know how many SERE classes are conducted in the US each year? Regrettably, I don’t have those numbers (it’s quite a few), but it’s irrelevant because we both know that no matter what “hard evidence” I provide, you will not be satisfied. The only sophistry here is yours. In any case, I will hardly lose sleep at night because of your pathetic ad hominem.

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