Securing Liberty: A Bailout for the Rest of Us

The following are preliminary notes for a talk I was invited to give at the Midwest Liberty Fest in Du Quoin, IL , 9th-11th inst. The meeting included a wider variety of views than might have been predicted; I think it testifies to the failure of the Republicans and Democrats to constrain political debate within the tenets of neoliberalism (which was constructed a generation ago to suppress the challenging and creative political ideas of “the sixties”). For at least a decade, according to Harvard’s Vanishing Voter Project, about 75 percent of Americans have felt that even presidential elections don’t matter, that they’re just some kind of game being played by rich contributors, party bosses, and the media. That seems right to me, so it shouldn’t surprise us that the politics grown outside that carefully fenced garden should contain some luxuriant varieties, along with some quite sensible critiques. They’re perhaps the beginning of a more serious politics in America, which seems to need to be repristinated every generation or so.

From May ’68: “le vote ne change rien; la lutte continue.”

Misrepresenting Germany

The German election has been seriously misreported in the US — an accident I’m sure. The real story is the breakdown of support of the major parties, and it may presage what’s to happen in US politics.

First, it’s been represented as a victory for the party of Angela Merkel (who’ll continue as chancellor), the CDU/CSU (roughly equivalent to the Republicans here).

In fact the CDU/CSU vote percentage remained about same at 37% as in the election four years ago — but far fewer Germans voted this time, 71% of those eligible, compared with 78% in 2005. (That’s of course still much greater than the US total.) If you look far enough, you can find that the AP admits that “[Merkel’s] party suffered its second-worst showing since World War II.”

The reason that the CDU looked good is that the SPD (roughly equivalent to the Democrats) collapsed, from 36% to only 23%, their worst percentage since 1953. Maybe voters have gotten tired of people who call themselves socialists and aren’t.

That allows the CDU/CSU to form a government with the Free Democrats (a “liberal” party in the European sense, roughly equivalent to Libertarians — the word isn’t used in that sense in Europe), who raised their total from 10% to 15%, after dramatically announcing their opposition to German participation in the Afghan war (cf. the Ron Paul “revolution”).

The other beneficiaries of the SPD collapse were the left parties, Die Linke — from 9% to 12% — and the Greens (not very left) — from 8% to 11%. Naturally, the NYT reported the election as a defeat for “the left” — meaning the not-at-all left SPD — while not noticing that real gains came on the real left.

And on at least one important issue, the “left/right paradigm” isn’t very helpful. While the two major parties support the war in Afghanistan (just as in the US), the Libertarian/FDP oppose it, as do Die Linke and (some of) the Greens.

“All in all, however, the two big parties which have headed every German government since the second world war are now down to less than 57% of the vote [from over 70% only four years ago]. All the minor parties polled strongly and increased their shares. For the first time in modern Germany, all the parties in the new Bundestag have polled more than 10% but less than 40%” [Guardian/UK].

Why are we in Afghanistan?

William Pfaff, who’s been writing from Paris roughly since the German army left, has a piece in the International Herald Tribune (alias European edition of the NYT) “Presidents Need a War to Call Their Own — Now Obama Has His” .

Pfaff is an ex-CIA employee and a long-time member of the Hudson Institute, which is described by US foreign policy scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt as “closely associated with neoconservatives”.

In this article he avers,

“I think the American government now has become institutionally a war government, which finds its purpose in waging war against small and troublesome countries and peoples, in the generalized pursuit of running the world for the world’s own good. In this effort, one war is pretty much like another, and every president, to be re-elected, needs one…”

The article nods towards how domestic constituencies — governmental and corporate — want aggressive war by the US, and on how the US has substituted physical force for its relatively declining economic power over the past 50 years. But it’s wrong to suggest that it makes no difference where US presidents wage war. (Clinton invaded Serbia, not Rwanda.)

“You lie!” — about Afghanistan

The much-predicted demise of newspapers can’t happen too soon, so it seems to me, if we want a well-informed citizenry.

It was a 19th-century gibe that “newspapers are half advertisements — and the rest lies between them.”

But the lies can be subtle — and usually lie (sorry) in the unstated assumptions (unstated, they’re harder to refute). But occasionally they break cover.

Take this morning’s Afghanistan article on the front page of the NYT, the country’s agenda-setting paper (and its agenda is put in place by its executive editor Bill Keller, a right-wing Democrat). It was written by long-time foreign and military reporter, Thom Shanker.

Half-way thru, we find the following, a complete paragraph:

The military’s counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan
is focused on protecting the population and
preventing the Taliban from destabilizing the country.

The Obama administration’s transparently false propaganda assertion is presented as simple fact. If it weren’t about killing people, the only reasonable response would be disbelieving laughter. But instead members of the political class in the US take that as one of their assumptions in the coming “debate about Afghanistan.”

Advance text of President’s speech

Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery
Address to Joint Session of Congress
Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Madame Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the First Lady of the United States:

I come before you tonight in a spirit of remorse — which, I find, requires more audacity than hope does.

Lincoln Cult – February 2009

The Lincoln birthday celebrations seem to have included little attempt to learn from the past. Lincoln is celebrated — by few more than the current president, who insists upon a resemblance — but there’s little critique of the devastation over which Lincoln presided. The end of chattel slavery is taken to be a retrospective justification of his launching of the war. (The actual economic and social position of American slaves and their families in the years after the Civil War is less attended to.)

I can find only one statement of a contrary view by a present-day American politician:

Lincoln should never have gone to war; there were better ways of getting rid of slavery. Six hundred thousand Americans died in a senseless civil war. Slavery was phased out in every other country of the world. It should have been done as the British empire did — buy the slaves and release them. How much would that cost compared to killing 600,000 Americans? And the hatred lingered for 100 years. Every other major country in the world got rid of slavery without a civil war. (Ron Paul)