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December 15, 2011

The present cultural state of America
Posted by Avram Grumer at 07:18 PM *

Hey, remember five years ago, when Congress gave the president the power to indefinitely imprison and torture, without civilian judicial review, anyone (even US citizens on US soil) accused of giving “material support” to terrorists, and the 44 Democrats then in the Senate couldn’t even manage to scrape together a filibuster? And Bush signed the bill into law, because he was a power-hungry Republican asshole? That sure sucked.

I sure am glad that sort of bill couldn’t pass now that we have a Democratic president who’d be certain to veto it.

In other news, Happy Holidays!

Comments on The present cultural state of America:
#1 ::: Max Kaehn ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 07:25 PM:

I will forgive Obama for signing the bill if he immediately uses the powers granted him by the bill to detain the authors of the bill, as an example to the rest of Congress why you don’t do this sort of thing.

#2 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 07:28 PM:

"I once discussed the phenomenon that is precisely communities with adjoining territories, and related to each other in other ways as well, who are engaged in constant feuds and in ridiculing each other --- like the Spaniards and Portuguese, for instance, the North Germans and South Germans, the English and Scotch, and so on. I gave this phenomenon the name of 'the narcissism of minor differences', a name which does not do much to explain it. We can now see that it is a convenient and relatively harmless satisfaction of the inclination to aggression, by means of which cohesion between the members of the community is made easier. [...] The present cultural state of America would give us a good opportunity for studying the damage to civilization which is us to be feared. But I shall avoid the temptation of entering upon a critique of American civilization; I do not wish to give an impression of wanting myself to employ American methods."
--- Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents

(In case anyone was wondering.)

#3 ::: Flora ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 07:43 PM:

@ Avram: Criminy, that's amazing.

#4 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 08:06 PM:

The question now is, are there any third-party candidates who aren't nearly as batshit as the major party candidates?

#5 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 08:13 PM:

I'm feeling like the OP already warrants a unicorn chaser:

Teddy Bear the talkative porcupine gets some gingerbread.

#6 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 08:24 PM:

David @4:


#7 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 08:26 PM:

David Harmon @4, I don't think that's really the question, because the Big Two and the rest of the ruling class control so much of the campaigning and nomination process that it's almost certainly not possible to actually get anyone into office who doesn't uphold the war-and-police state. Not for the presidency, and not more than a tiny handful in Congress.

I think actual solutions have to start outside the election process. The Occupy movement is a start.

#8 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 08:53 PM:

Marcy Wheeler pointed out that the provisions of the bill would make it possible to hold Jamie Dimon indefinitely - because Chase was laundering money for Iran.

#9 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 08:59 PM:

Avram #7: The thing is, the "nomination process" applies to the parties, as does much of the campaigning. There have been third-party candidates on the national ballot; the obvious question is whether the powers-that-be can manage to 1) keep a realistic challenger off the ballot (perhaps by force, thought hat might tip their hand), and/or 2) squelch Internet and word-of-mouth publicity for same. The recent Internet-control bills could easily enable (2), but there's worse: the POBs also have prior experience at (3) infiltrating and disrupting any organization that threatens to actually challenge the status quo -- which could also enable (1), by "arranging" violence in the challenger's name, and labeling it "terrorist".

I hate it when my paranoia gets justified....

#10 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 09:11 PM:

David Harmon@4, one of the nice things about living in California is that the Democrats have a strong enough majority that I don't need to feel tempted to actually vote for them just to stop the Evil Republicans from winning like I did in 1984*, so I can safely vote third party yet again. My general preference is to vote Libertarian, or if we're not running somebody, then Green, or Peace&Freedom, or Monster Raving Looney (if only he were still alive), or write in Hugh Romney (aka Wavy Gravy, aka Nobody for President!), and potentially a couple of the other minor-party candidates or independents before I'd vote Democrat, though there are some who are even worse than Republicans. (I won't rant about Republicans here, though under Bush 43 I'd have been happy to have that leftist pinko Richard Nixon back.)

(My experience with discussing "Are Libertarians Batshit Insane" on the Internet is that it might not be quite as unproductive and unpleasant as Gnu Ctrl or Brtn, but I'd rather not inflict it on my friends. And I haven't been active enough with the party the last few years to discuss which specific Libertarians are insane, though some of us definitely are.)

After catching Dr. Demento's talk on Frank Zappa at Renovation, I feel bad that I didn't follow up on my 1992 thoughts about getting him on the ballot for President in New Jersey. There was a joke campaign already, and it would have only taken 1000 signatures for the real thing, maybe a couple of afternoons at Rutgers and Princeton, but I'd have also had to get him or his agents to actually submit the forms, I didn't have any connections to them, and he already had cancer at that point so I didn't want to bug him.

(*Yes, I voted for Mondale in 84, and boy that worked really well.)

#11 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 09:17 PM:

So Obama is making himself dictator, in effect. HE may not use those powers for evil (though he probably will) but what if Romney or Gingrich gets elected? I can see either of them deciding that 'enemy combatant' means...oh, say, gay rights activists.

Disgustingly easy to imagine, in fact.

Our descent into fascism is complete except for the implementation phase. Annnnnd here we go.

#12 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 09:34 PM:

Bill Stewart @10, I'm thinking that "Are libertarians insane?" is nowhere near as interesting a question as "Are Republicans and Democrats insane?", seeing as how the latter two parties are the ones with the actual power.

Given that the current foreign policy of the United States, heartily endorsed by both major parties, is that we should continue to spend trillions of dollars that we don't actually have to murder thousands of brown people on the other side of the planet in the hopes that the friends, neighbors, and relatives of those murdered people will thereby come to like us better, I've gotta say that Ron Paul's talk about shutting down the Federal Reserve and going back on the gold standard seems a mild eccentricity by comparison.

#13 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 09:37 PM:

David Harmon @ 9... There have been third-party candidates on the national ballot

Ah, yes... And Nader's campaign helped make the 21st Century such a nice era to live in.

#14 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 10:14 PM:

Well, there's still the hope of an independent judiciary putting the brakes on tyrannical overreach by Congress and the executive. In the end, if the courts strike a law or government action down, the government has to yield to them, right?

Well, the currently leading GOP candidate apparently doesn't think so. (And when former Bush attorneys and Fox News are getting alarmed at his position, you know it's pretty extreme.)

#15 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 10:32 PM:

I find myself wondering just what happens when "tax the poor, and spend on war" meets "you can't squeeze blood from a turnip".

#16 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 10:34 PM:

Serge #13: Nader was already off the rails at that point. And on the flip side, we have had one President from what was then still a third party... that was Abraham Lincoln.

#17 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 10:39 PM:

David Harmon @ 16... This is the first I heard that Nader's campaign didn't hurt Gore's, but I'll take your word for it. As for Abe's Party... That may be the case, but that was 150 years ago, when campaigns were low-tech and didn't cost an arm and a leg, and one's soul. Me, I just don't want a Republican in the White House.

#18 ::: Laertes ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 10:44 PM:

It's been a demoralizing week. Up to now, I've been pretty happy about the work the President has done. I've taken the view that he's done about the best he could and under pretty difficult circumstances.

I was horrified to learn that this bit about detaining Americans indefinitely without trial wasn't just something the Republicans cooked up and forced upon him, but instead something he asked for. The veto threat was about some extra constraints upon the President's authority. Once that bit was removed, he put away his veto pen.

He'll veto to protect his freedom, but not ours. That's a bitter pill. I honestly thought he was way better than this.

#19 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 10:48 PM:

Serge #17: This is the first I heard that Nader's campaign didn't hurt Gore's,

I didn't say he didn't, I said he was "off the rails" -- no longer accepting input about the consequences of his actions. Once could also argue that he was well before his time, with the usual consequences thereof.

#20 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 10:54 PM:

Laertes #18: Yeah -- the saying is "we needed another Roosevelt, we got another Carter"... but Carter at least had genuine moral fiber, and Obama... doesn't.

#21 ::: John M. Burt ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 11:32 PM:

I am taking a lot of harassment because I insist that all decent human beings must continue to vote Democratic until the Repub party has completely destroyed itself.

Once the GOP is no longer a credible threat to humanity, the Democrats can resume their natural status as the country's right-wing party, and we can all decamp for the Greens or Working Families or the like.

But not until then....

#22 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 11:43 PM:

#16: The Republicans were most definitely not a third party in 1860 -- they weren't even really a third party in 1856. Different definitions will get you slightly different results, but the two categorizations that make sense are either that A) the Republicans were one of the two-parties in a newly emergent two-party system (the "Third Party System" (Democrats/Republicans) as historians term it, which follows the second (Democrats/Whigs) and the first (Republicans (no relation)/Federalists)), or B) we were between party systems and the issue is moot.

There was a "third party" in 1860 -- assuming you go with A above -- but it was the Constitutional Union party, which was mostly leftover Whigs who hadn't joined the Republicans (which, in turn, drew people from a lot of places besides Whigs -- Know-Nothings, Anti-Masons, Free Soilers, disaffected Democrats, etc. The third party system wasn't just the second in new clothes.) And there were also two Democratic candidates -- a northern & a southern one. Which is why personally I'd go with B, arguing the third party system wasn't really constituted until 1864 or maybe 1868. But basically in 1860 the Republicans were one of the major parties and everyone knew it.

The best a genuine third-party candidate has ever done is 1912, when T. Roosevelt, running on the Bull Moose ticket, out-polled the Republican (and put the Democrat, Wilson, in office).

The best a genuine third-party candidate probably *could* do is to win a few states, throw the election into the House, and use the balance of power (assuming that exists: none would officially, and the old assumptions that would have made it real have frayed beyond repair I think) to gain concessions on an issue. This is a plausible scenario largely if an issue/candidate is regional (so there support is clumped and could win states). The times when people have come close to this mostly have to do with various attempts to maintain segregation in the south, e.g. Thurmond in 1948 and Wallace in 1968.

...Although now that I say that, it'd be an interesting alternative history scenario: Nader dumps all his resources into one small state. Close as things are, this throws the vote into the House -- at that point Republican, but voting by state, not individual. Hmmm....

#23 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 11:48 PM:

David Harmon @ 19... I stand corrected, and my most sincere apologies for being so cranky.

#24 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 01:49 AM:

David Harmon @ 15:

I find myself wondering just what happens when "tax the poor, and spend on war" meets "you can't squeeze blood from a turnip".

It already has for millions of us.

#25 ::: forgot the name ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 01:52 AM:

'Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely' seems trite and simplistic, but situations like this give it some truth. Not as an exact prescriptive, but an indicator of what happens in that kind of situation.

I think it describes a process of thought where certain things, once horrific or unspeakable, become routine and habitual enough not to be seen as corruption at all by the person it describes. "corrupts absolutely" is the view of an outsider, someone watching a tyrant, or a dictator, and observing the degeneration of ethics.

From within it most likely seems ... natural. I have this power; why not? I have this power; why not say, again, that I have the right to this power by virtue of my office? It is the same as what I have had, and it matters very little that I am not to have it, because I do.

Very circular. But I think once it becomes about protecting and reinforcing (and codifying into law what you feel entitled to) what power you have rather than protecting the virtues of your station that you're supposed to exemplify, you've fallen into "corrupts absolutely" territory.

All it takes is for good men to do nothing -- well. It seems that "do nothing" is something to codify as a right, and that saddens me. As long as the US operates under the belief that it is the most powerful nation, that it is the most deserving nation, we are all in danger. Things like this don't help that wariness. When Obama, who I've heard widely acknowledged as a good man, codifies such things, it seems to be the case that it is no longer a matter of "absolute power corrupts"; it's a matter of the office of President reinforced as being entitled to, and exemplifying, that kind of corruption in and of itself.

Which is nothing new, but it seems like the more it is written into the assumptions of office, the more that office is comfortable being occupied by those who are already corrupt in that kind of manner, like a lot of the Republican and much of the Democratic candidates. Would a person, not corrupt, be comfortable in that kind of office, or comfortable wanting it, representing themselves as desiring it? Would someone uncomfortable with that kind of power want it? Would someone uncomfortable from the beginning with the assumptions in that power be willing to come into office to use the power they are uncomfortable with in order to set limits on it? Is that the kind of mindset that can survive the influence of inherent corruption?

It seems like the more corruption is assumed as the natural right and entitlement of the office of President by those who are President and who aspire to be President, it narrows its candidates by a process of attrition.

#26 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 02:04 AM:

At this point, I see no alternative in the long term to forced change; the democratic process has been so badly subverted that working within the system is no longer a viable option for real change.

So there are three likely alternatives, that are what I think are the most probable points along a spectrum:

1. The "American Spring" takes place, Occupy Wall Street grows and proliferates until the government is forced to deal. I'd like this to happen, but frankly I don't think our Galtian Overlords are at all likely to back down short of mass violence.

2. Irresistible fecal air mass meets immovable fan and results in violent revolution. If things go just right and the military doesn't stomp all over the people, just maybe this could end with the current regime overthrown and a new regime that actually works installed by the rebels.

3. Civil unrest, successful secession, and migrations of people that leave political groups separated geographically results in the (relatively) bloodless collapse of the United States into some set of regional republics (with maybe a kingdom or two thrown in). If Oregon, Washington, and maybe Northern California hook up, maybe I get to live somewhere that's halfway sane and still economically viable. If Oregon and Idaho get together maybe I move to Washington, and that unites with British Columbia.

But these are the best possible outcomes; in general, we should be so lucky. 2) could easily turn into a bloodbath and a military dictatorship. 3) could turn into widespread economic and civil collapse. And there are days I think that maybe Nehemiah Scudder's America is a good idea, in that it would keep us from bothering everybody else in the world.

#27 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 03:32 AM:

Bruce Cohen @26, if our Overloards were really Galtian, they'd step down peacefully and go off to live in some hidden valley somewhere. Sadly, I think they lack the integrity to actually live up to their idol.

#28 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 05:41 AM:

My analysis, which is that of an outsider and obviously incomplete (and possibly faulty) is this:

1. The USA is already a functional oligarchy. It has been so for some time -- since 1992 at the latest, probably a good bit earlier -- but we're now seeing the effects of mismanagement by the second generation of oligarchs in power; the self-entitled who were born to it and assume it to be the natural order of things.

2. It's impossible to be elected to high office without so much money that anyone in high office is, by definition, part of the 0.1%; even if they're an outsider to start with, they will be co-opted by the system (or neutralized -- usually before they are elected).

3. Public austerity is a great cover for the pursuit of private luxury by the rich (by using their accumulated capital to go on acquisition sprees for assets being sold off for cents on the dollar by the near-bankrupt state). But public austerity is a huge brake on economic growth because it denies the applicability of Keynesian stimuli. Consequently, we're in for another long depression.

4. Starving poor people with guns and nothing to lose scare the rich; their presence in large numbers constitutes a pre-revolutionary situation.

5. Worse, the poor have smartphones. (Or will, within another couple of years. By 2020, today's iPhone 4S will be a cereal-packet-freebie grade toy. $10 for an equally powerful device, sold on a pre-pay tariff, via WalMart.) Which means a former constraint on civil unrest (media channels are expensive to run, so the oligarchy can maintain an effective choke-hold on mass media while trumpeting their support for freedom of speech) no longer holds true. See also the "Twitter revolution" (RIP) in Iran.

6. The oligarchs are therefore pre-empting the pre-revolutionary situation by militarizing the police (as guard labour). Note also that the prison-industrial complex remains profitable as long as there's a tax base on which to pay for the prison guards -- or even sufficient creditworthiness to borrow the guards' wages.

7. Modern communications technologies (including the internet) provide people with a limitless channel for self-expression. They also provide the police state with a limitless flow of intelligence about the people. See, for example, the FBI's recent tight-lipped admission about using Carrier IQ spyware embedded in most Android mobile phones. Note also that it's possible to not merely listen in on mobile phone calls, but to use a mobile phone as a GPS-aware bugging device, and (with a bit more smarts) to have it report on physical proximity (within bluetooth range -- about 20 feet) to other suspects.

8. The purpose of SOPA is to close the loop, and allow the oligarchy to shut down hostile coordinating sites as and when the anticipated revolution kicks off. Piracy/copyright is a distraction -- those folks pointing to similarities to Iranian/Chinese net censorship regimes are correct, but they're not focussing on the real implication (which is a ham-fisted desire to be able to shut down large chunks of the internet at will, if and when it becomes expedient to do so).

What am I missing?

#29 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 05:46 AM:

Avram @ 27: A Galt's Gulch composed entirely of professional rent-seekers would have an interesting, if painfully compact, history; and our Pointy-Haired Overlords, in their superior wisdom, may have allowed themselves to be influenced by some such consideration.

Possibly what is needed is a Galt's Gulch in reverse - we could call it Polly's Plains, or some such - in which the rest of the world quietly rises up in the night to build enormous fences around certain selected locations, defended by razor-wire and electric cables and signs warning WATCH OUT IT'S THE WEASEL PITS! on every hand. We would lose some quite handsome architecture behind the barriers, but I for one would welcome our old familiar overlords to keep it free gratis and for nothing.

#30 ::: crazysoph ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 05:57 AM:

I'm spending a lot of time listening to a song (HLN edition: heard via the group Laïs) - based on an old Bretonne folk song called "La Jument de Michao" (but sung as "Le Renard Et La Belette" by the aforementioned group). My French is abysmal, but still,... singing about how one hears the song of the wolf, the fox and the weasel (apparently standing in for the local lord, the tax collector and the Church), at least provides me with an outlet for the more poisonous frustrations with the current age, while hopefully gathering strength for continuing what's needful.

Crazy(why, yes, I posted to this thread and not the open thread)Soph

#31 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 08:11 AM:

Charlie Stross @ 28:

What am I missing?

Not much, as I see it. I'd add that:

9. One of the useful techniques that the oligarchy has developed is to allow the proles enough freedom of speech that they have outlets to vent. These outlets allow channeling that venting into venues and topics that are controlled by the oligarchs and relieve frustration at the increasingly dire economic and political situation. But they don't allow useful dialog or cooperation on effective rebellion. Hence the Tea Party and the hot air vent that is Talk Radio.

10. Large portions of the military have been captured by the evangelical/political propaganda and social structures of the extreme right-wing. This renders them largely immune to the plight of the civilian population; dissenters can be portrayed as enemies of the white, evangelical, conservative, privileged "majority", and targeted by military forces if necessary.

11. The Federal law enforcement agencies have been largely retargeted away from white collar crime, which might affect the members of the oligarchy, and domestic terrorism, which might affect the evangelical extremists who are useful in spreading the FUD that obscures so much of the real political situation from the populace. Agents and task forces who remain true to their professional duties can be distracted by witch hunts like the search for pedophiles; the more easily corrupted can be used in surveillance and suppression of political dissenters or in the War on Some People Who Use Some Drugs.

⚔ As an aside, I found out quite by accident yesterday that Col. John Yngling, the strategist and co-author of the US Army field manual on counter-insurgency warfare is about to retire to become a high school social studies teacher. This is the officer who published an article in a military journal blaming the General Staff for acceding without objection to the Bush era strategies and military objectives, which he said had reduced the military to a state of almost complete unreadiness for combat. Many younger officers, especially his peers at Field Grade level agreed with him.

#32 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 08:20 AM:

Stephen Frug #22, Serge supra: I was writing based on a fairly casual googling of "third party history", but may well have been too casual about accepting the phrasing offered here.

Bruce Cohen #24: Indeed -- but I was thinking about the armed-forces paychecks.

Charlie Stross #28: What am I missing?

(8) How about external resource flows? Clearly the foreign wars are intended to provide oil, but we don't have much in the way of domestic manufacturing left in any case. When oil runs out, the USA will have major problems with internal transport.

(9) Water supplies are already provoking regional tensions. There have been a couple of "I'm upstream, you ain't" incidents out West. I think that so far, they've all been resolved within the legal/political system, but there are large stretches of the West which will simply collapse if/when the external water supplies get cut off.

(10) Medical-care provision is drifting toward a possible flashpoint.

(11) Our agricultural practices are at best dubiously sustainable -- besides water, they're energy-intensive and dependent on rapid transport.

(12) I'd think the monetary situation has a few crisis points left on the way down....

#33 ::: Larry Sanderson ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 08:24 AM:

Shocked! I'm just shocked!

#34 ::: LMM ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 08:42 AM:

@32: While we're on external forces that are starting to destabilize the US, what about climate change? It's incredibly clear that most major emitters are either incapable of or unwilling to decrease carbon emissions to any meaningful extent, and the combination of climate refugees and the effects of climate changes upon agriculture are probably going to result in serious tensions over the next decade or two.

#35 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 09:24 AM:

Two points, only two:

(1) Next time (which will be 2016 at this rate) someone ought to ask the Democratic candidate what he is about instead of electing a noble-looking poster.

(2) Really, if the whole police state thing is your first concern, I don't see any alternative to choking down Ron Paul and hoping that congress will block his attempts at Austrian economic policies.

#36 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 09:35 AM:

One of the more chilling things about the 16th and 17th centuries in England is the use of "homilies on obedience"--sermons issued by the government and required to be read in churches.

"What a perilous thing were it to commit unto the subjects the judgement which prince is wise and godly, and his government good, and which is otherwise. As though the foot must judge of the head; and enterprise very heinous and must needs breed rebellion. For who else be they that are most inclined to rebellion but such haughty spirits? From whom springs such foul ruin of realms? Is not rebellion the greatest of all mischiefs? And who are most ready to the greatest mischiefs but the worst men?"

I usually feel a bit like a 17th century transplant into the modern world. At the moment, with SOPA and the NDAA, I'm feeling quite terrifyingly at home. We know the story, and it does not end well.

#37 ::: cleek ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 09:39 AM:

that was Abraham Lincoln.

and he also had a wildly mixed record w.r.t. civil liberties. blacks, you're free. habeus, you're suspended.

#38 ::: cleek ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 09:45 AM:

Worse, the poor have smartphones.
but the rich run the towers and networks.

(8) How about external resource flows? Clearly the foreign wars are intended to provide oil, but we don't have much in the way of domestic manufacturing left in any case.

that is false. the US is the #1 manufacturing country.

#39 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 09:52 AM:

Anyone know where Ron Paul stands on indefinite detention without trial?

Yes, I know, it's a naive question-- I voted for Obama because he seemed to be good on civil liberties.

#40 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 10:29 AM:

Nancy, colour me deeply skeptical about Ron Paul. There's some ugly misogyny implicit in his attitude to brtn and what looks -- to my eyes -- like low-key opposition to gay rights and access to contraceptive services; he's more than happy to hide behind "states rights" as a fig-leaf for his moralizing conservativism.

Given that libertarianism falls foul of the same fallacy as Leninism (it provides a very attractive internally consistent model of how to optimize human behavioural interactions, for perfectly spherical humans) I'd have to say that his economic policies are grotesquely flawed and his social policies are probably as hard-right as any other Republican candidate once you see through the smoke screen.

He did oppose the National Defense Authorization Act (and his son voted against it in the senate) but I can't help but feel that taking this as evidence that he's one of the good guys is like pointing to the home movies of Hitler playing with his Alsatians at Berchtesgaten and saying, "but he loved dogs!"

#41 ::: cleek ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 10:39 AM:

the generic GOP candidate is right about 15% of things.
Paul is right about 30% of things.
Obama is right about 60% of things.

as Freud in #2 points out, we often hate most that which is most similar to ourselves. and it's a stupid thing to do.

#42 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 10:58 AM:

David Harmon #32: Water wars aren't just happening *out West*. We have a couple going on in the South. Georgia is in conflict with Alabama and Florida over the water from Lake Lanier (located in Gwinnett and Hall counties, Georgia) which provides Atlanta with its drinking water but is also hydrologically important to Florida and Alabama. Georgia has also revived a border dispute with Tennessee in order to gain access to the last-named state's eponymous river.

All this is because of recurring long droughts. These are creating persistent water shortages. Georgia's already had one idiot governor whose solution was prayer.

#43 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 11:32 AM:

I don't like Ron Paul's stance on abortion, and I've heard somewhat that he's bad on immigration.

Being opposed to America getting involved in wars isn't a mere "likes dogs" personality issue.

However, (and this may be an oversimplification) I believe it's easier to work on everything else if the government isn't going to detain you indefinitely without a trial.

#44 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 11:41 AM:

cleek @ 38:

but the rich run the towers and networks.

And this may be the reason why the (quite sensible) proposal to add to the wireless networks the ability pass peer-to-peer SMS messaging between phones if the towers go down. That way emergency messages could be sent and received during disasters. It's such an obviously good idea that I've had a lot of trouble understanding why the bureaucratic process has been even slower than normal just getting to the point of a pilot program somewhere. Clearly this would be a good thing only from some points of view; there are some who would be most upset at the capability for individual citizens to go around the power of the central controllers to turn off communications.

#45 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 11:42 AM:

The successor to the Occupy Wall Street movement:
    Detain Wall Street.

#46 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 12:05 PM:

With all respect to Charles Stross, this didn't start in the 1990s, or the 1980s, or in the 1960s.

The authoritarian streak in American governmental tendencies is long and wide. Take at look at the Palmer Raids, part of the earlier Red Scare; it's where J. Edgar Hoover got started on his life-long crusade against people who were a threat to the world as he saw it. It wasn't new then; the career of Emma Goldman is a testament to that.

AG Palmer brought us J. Edgar Hoover, who did so much to bring us the modern American surveillance state, and whose fear of dissent, especially from leftists and non-whites, carried us into the 1960s and early 1970s and the late 20th century-early 21st century national security regime. The people acting now think the same way, and want the same things.

I will also add that while Hoover was evil and high-handed and operated outside the limits of the laws and the Constitution, if we had not had a J. Edgar Hoover we would have had someone else, or several someones else, just as bad, if in slightly different ways.

Jedgar would have loved the internet, though, as it would be so much easier to use it to track down and spy on suspicious people like us with it; you don't have to intercept letters or tap phones or anything to find your suspects, and so you can use those techniques much more carefully to keep track of your targets once you've found them. He probably would have opposed SOPA for that reason alone, and he'd have had enough dirt on the people in Congress to make sure they danced to his tune--that was a speciality of his.

As SamChevre is wont to say, this is not a new thing in America; it is an old thing that keeps coming back again and again, because it is useful to some people, and it grants other people the illusion of safety, and makes others feel patriotic and righteous. We don't do ourselves any favors when we forget that it's always there, waiting, as tempting as the last cookie in the cookie jar, the last chocolate in the box, the last half-a-drink in the bottle.

I know the Wikipedia links are not something a lot of people may want to wade through, but I put them in there because they give a basic rundown of a very important time period, one that has ties and links that bring us to the present day. The bibliographies are worth checking out, starting with Ackerman's book about Hoover and moving on from there.

Fascism is a term that gets thrown about pretty loosely, as badly as "socialism" does. It's worth taking a serious look at what lies behind that term. It's not a way of thought that business necessarily has much reason to fear; in fact, it can sound pretty attractive to both oligarchs and small business owners, who need stability to survive, let alone make a profit. Dave Neiwert and his blgging partner, Sara Robinson, have written extensively about the patterns and habits of thought which inform a lot of American Rightist thought, and although Orcinus has not been updated lately, it's well worth the time to look through the archive there for the sake of the thoughtful analyses both have posted.

#47 ::: Doug K ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 12:25 PM:

Charlie @28, it had not occurred to me to read SOPA as a response to OWS, but that makes more sense than any other explanation. I couldn't see why piracy had suddenly become such an emergency as to need the blunt instruments in SOPA, but the threat of poor people with tents in public spaces, now there's an existential challenge to Our Way of Life which has to be met with overwhelming force. Why, it's a Total Onslaught..

#48 ::: Lee sees possible spam probe ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 12:29 PM:

#33 has no posting history and no relevant content. OTOH, the linked website doesn't seem to be commercial; I'm just noting that the mods might want to take a closer look.

#49 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 12:42 PM:

Charlie, #40: Using the "states' rights" Magic Word as cover for assaults on the civil rights of women and non-whites* is one of the core positions of the Libertarian Party. I would not expect Ron Paul to be any different.

* By which I mean blacks, browns, and Asians; by the time you add all those groups together, they're no longer a minority. What the Libertarians want in the long term is, effectively, South African-style apartheid and the restoration of absolute privilege for white men.

#50 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 01:08 PM:

Lee @#49

That's a caricature of libertarianism that is, on occasion, well-earned. However, there are a lot of very well-regarded libertarian philosophers, economists, and others who are horrified by the use of libertarian rhetoric in defense of assaults of the civil rights of women and non-whites. Many of us spend a lot of time working--in print and in our professional and personal lives--against that caricature.

I usually let the libertarian slams that crop up here slide past--because they are primarily about the Libertarian Party, and I simply disagree with the idea of politics as a legitimate vehicle for change. However, your assertion that what libertarians want is "South African style apartheid and the restoration of absolute privilege for white men" is inaccurate and insulting.

#51 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 01:25 PM:

Ron Paul has a very consistent record of opposing the police state at home/empire abroad policies that are the bipartisan consensus right now. You may hate his other positions, but he routinely votes against very popular stuff (like the patriot act) that almost nobody else is willing to vote against, and he's actually opposed our endless wars and invasions and assassinations and bombings overseas.

Looking at his scorecard at the ACLU is really interesting--on police state, war on terror, and free speech issues, he's at or very close to 100% voting with the ACLU's positions--while at the same time, he's close to 100% opposed to the ACLU's positions on almost everything else.

Anyway, this isn't a commercial for Paul, and there are things I think he's all wrong about, but he deserves credit for being pretty consistently against some really bad policies that, right now, are being enacted with support from virtually the whole ruling class of the US.

#52 ::: BigHank53 ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 01:32 PM:

American paranoia & police states go all the way back. Examine labor relations in the late 1800s, if you have a strong stomach. White southerners were grumbling about "outside agitators" inciting unrest among the black 1820. The Alien and Sedition Act. Sacco and Venzetti. State-issued travel passes were required in some southern states before the Civil War, in an attempt to control the mixed-race blacks that could pass for white.

Charlie, a couple points for your consideration. Our oligarchs have been lucky enough to inherit some of the best infrastructure on the planet. A depressing portion of our rail and highway transport system is at or over its designed capacity, which means an utter inability to absorb shocks. (Dumping imported consumer goods would free up a lot a capacity, but enthusiasm of the populace for wartime rationing is...low.) David Harmon raised the issue of our agricultural policy and its dependence on natural gas (fertilizer) and oil (harvesting and transport). Interruptions there...could be quite unpleasant indeed.

The biggest problem we have is that our oligarchy is so very, very stupid. Even cursory reading of history will show you how much better off even the richest person is with a comfortable middle class and a welfare state supporting the lower class. These provide a soft landing for you when your latest Financial Innovation turns out to have design flaws...

#53 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 01:37 PM:

Sarah S #50: I find Lee's characterisation of Ron Paul to be pretty accurate. Ditto her view of the Libertarian Party. Perhaps you'd care to tell me why that's inaccurate and insulting.

#54 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 01:38 PM:

Lee, I don't think the libertarians have any particular use for states' rights. If they don't want the feds making laws about something, as a rule they don't want the states making laws about it either.

Charlie, you are certainly on top of the problem that libertarians believe in "perfectly spherical humans." The problem, in the current election, is that unless someone leftist (or for that matter, even centrist) enough runs against Obama, you will end up having to make trade-offs. Either the advancing Surveillance America (and it isn't just the government) is enough to tip the scales, or it isn't. Obama isn't pushing back against it in the slightest, and as far as I can tell the only one in the race who wants to push back against it at all is Paul. There's no point in grousing about any of the other Republican candidates on this point because Obama, on this point, is about as bad. It also doesn't hurt him that Paul is really the only candidate who is willing to throw axes at the defense budget; again, Obama on that point is not significantly different from the pack. The message I'm getting here is that maintaining liberal Democrat social and regulatory programs trumps everything else. I'm not entirely adverse to that: regulatory functions are policing, and unlike the crazy "the free market will sort it all out" Austrians, I think that policing needs to continue. But as long as the Tyrannous State is outweighed by these other considerations, we're going to have tyranny at least until one party or the other puts up someone who proposes to rein it in.

#55 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 01:39 PM:


I find that characterization of libertarians to be exactly as fair and based in reality as the characterization of feminists I would get listening to Rush Limbaugh.

At any rate, we can certainly reassure ourselves that the Obama administration isn't overly friendly to state's rights issues wrt medical marijuana. Not like those dirty f--king hippieslibertarians, who think that stuff should be legal.

#56 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 01:40 PM:

Fragano, the libertarians I know hold that the party has betrayed the movement's ideals, and they are all supporting Paul and not the party candidate.

#57 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 01:50 PM:

Fragano @#53

Because of Steve Horwitz whose libertarian credentials go all the way down, and who consistently reminds other libertarians that, "I do not believe the future of libertarianism is in making alliances with the forces of nativism and the wrong sort of isolationism, nor with those who cannot see the ways in which the US is still not a society that treats women, gays/lesbians, and persons of color as equal individuals, both under the law and culturally."

(More Steve here.)

And because of the Bleeding Heart Libertarians who make a consistent plea for social justice and free markets.

And because of Wendy McElroy, Virginia Postrel, Katherine Mangu-Ward, and a host of other libertarians in public and private, including myself.

#58 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 01:52 PM:

myself @ 44 adding back the words that got lost to morning haze:
"And this may be the reason why the (quite sensible) proposal to add to the wireless networks the ability pass peer-to-peer SMS messaging between phones if the towers go down has met so much resistance."

grumble, grumble, need more coffee ...

#59 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 01:55 PM:

albatross @#55

"I find that characterization of libertarians to be exactly as fair and based in reality as the characterization of feminists I would get listening to Rush Limbaugh."

Yes, precisely that.

#60 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 01:56 PM:

C Wingate:

I think the thing to understand is that, whatever rhetoric is used by politicians when the voters are listening, the path we're walking down is bipartisan consensus policy, backed to the hilt by most big media sources, the judiciary, etc. Unlimited executive power and scary police state measures are as much a part of that bipartisan consensus as continuing our sociopathic foreign policy, making sure regulation of financial companies is done with great gentleness and deference to the important people at the top of the big banks, and continued deficit spending in good years and bad.

Anyone opposing those things for real can expect to have the big media sources ignore or distort as much as they can to delegitimize him. (And RP is quite capable of doing that all by himself, simply by running his mouth for a few minutes.) Similarly, he can expect to have the party hierarchy go to some lengths to keep him away from power.

#61 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 02:10 PM:

One question I have, in general: How the hell do we push back on this stuff? To the extent this is bipartisan, it's like the bank bailouts, or the war on drugs--which party should I vote for in order to signal that I want those things stopped? They're bipartisan policies.

Obama probably knows perfectly well that most liberals will vote for him despite whatever he does, because the Republicans are going to find a way to nominate someone whose rhetoric and likely cabinet and judicial appointments are scary as hell. So what's his incentive not to dump on his liberal base? (I assume, being a professional politician, that he has the morals of a used car salesman or a conman. Appealing to his better nature is unlikely to make much of an impact. Appealing to his desire to be re-elected is much more likely to work. But how?)

If there's not an answer to this, then why should you ever expect to have your side stop screwing you over? (Not my side, I'm not really liberal, and the Democrats have dumped on the part of liberal ideology I care about with much the same enthusiasm the Republicans dumped on the part of conservative ideology I care about.)

#62 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 02:19 PM:

Sarah S #57: Thanks. Those are interesting links and people. Certainly very different from the Libertarian Party. Still, the LP is very much the public face of libertarianism. Not to mention organisations like the Phoenix Foundation, with its history of trying to create servile libertarian republics in the Bahamas and Vanuatu (where the dark-skinned people would have served the free whites). When I think of libertarians, I think of them first.

C. Wingate #56: See above.

#63 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 02:26 PM:

Fragano @#62

It's a problem, I agree.
However, since the Democratic party now officially stands, as does the Republican party, for the indefinite detention of American citizens without cause or trial, it may be time to consider the possibility that a political party--any political party--is a really rotten representative for a human.

#64 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 02:28 PM:

Fragano @ 62... At the recent worldcon, I had breakfast with a writer whose background is in Economics, and we got to talk about Libertarianism, an ideology that didn't impress her, especially as it was practiced in the 19th Century.

#65 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 02:32 PM:

#45: The successor to the Occupy Wall Street movement: Detain Wall Street.

IMHO, Marcy Wheeler is now up there with Mark Twain or Jonathan Swift in producing this bit of perfectly-biting political rhetoric.

#66 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 02:34 PM:

One person I very much respect isn't happy with Obama's actions, but she pointed out that this is an election year and that his plan may be that, instead of giving fodder to the GOP saying that he'd weaken America, he's going ahead, expecting that the ACLU will jump in. I guess that makes her an obamapologist, like yours truly.

#67 ::: Alan Hamilton ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 02:36 PM:

I think what bugs me as a non-libertarian is the defense of racist cartels. For example, until those freedom-haters got in the way, it was common in some areas to blackball any black person that registered to vote. All businesses would refuse to employ or otherwise do business with him.

From a strictly libertarian point of view, private businesses should be able to do this. The claim is made that other businesses would rise up, eager to get the business of the blackballed people, but in reality this never happened.

I like the "perfectly spherical humans" line, because this is where it fits perfectly. Yes, rationally, serving an underserved market is a good business decision, but in those areas it would have been a social disaster for anyone foolish enough to try it. Even if they didn't share the same beliefs, they'd risk being social pariahs and suffer the same blackballing. There simply isn't an infinitely diverse market. There's a limited number of places to work, live, and shop.

There's also the uncomfortable questions as to why such policies survived so long, if it was counter to the market. Some claim Jim Crow laws forced businesses to discriminate, even though they were against it themselves. Although true in isolated cases, the guys running the businesses were also the ones making the laws and it just reflected their own beliefs. Discrimination was also rampant in areas were it wasn't legislated. Few areas had laws specifically banning women from certain professions, but that's how hiring practices operated, as an example.

Another possible explanation is that they were right -- serving black people or hiring women to be lawyers really is bad for business and that's why they didn't. They were just acting rationally. Most libertarians are loathe to defend this for obvious reasons, but such denial is contrary to "the market knows best".

#68 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 02:47 PM:

Serge@24 - my most sincere apologies for being so cranky.

We're talking about recent American politics - crankiness is just sort of a required minimum level that shows you're awake...

#69 ::: Steve Horwitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 02:50 PM:

No serious libertarian thinker assumes the "perfectly spherical human" idea. We are the first to argue that humans are flawed, myopic, irrational people.

That is precisely why we don't want to trust any of them with the power to lock up other humans without a trial, nor to tell other humans what they can eat, smoke, or buy, nor to tell others who they can screw and which openings they can put it in, nor whether that thing inside their uterus is morally a human or not.

The question is whether we think giving some of us imperfect beings the power to coerce others at the point of a gun or whether we think voluntary institutions like the market and mutual aid/charity etc. provides a better way to minimize the disasters that us flawed folks can create so easily.

The history of humanity, and especially the 20th century, suggests that giving governments more power pretty much gives you hundreds of millions of dead innocents and that markets and decentralization give us longer, healthier lives, better and cheaper food and medicine, air conditioning, cell phones and other fun stuff, not to mention opportunities aplenty to increasingly define our lives as we wish.

At least that's how history looks to me.

#70 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 02:54 PM:

Alan Hamilton @#67

Yes, it bothers me when people use libertarian rhetoric to defend that kind of dross as well.

Steve @#69

#71 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 02:57 PM:

Serge #64: The Gilded Age -- with its magnificent freedom to starve -- doesn't impress me either.

From the 1920s through the 1960s, Portugal was ruled by a professor of finance, António de Oliveira Salazar, whose regime, in the words of the folk singer Luis Cilia, guaranteed a certain kind of freedom:

No campo e na cidade, o nosso povo não come;
más tem a liberdade de poder morrer de fome.

("In countryside and city, our people do not eat;
But they have the freedom to starve to death.")

Wrong Paul and his type (not to mention Coot Sheepdip) make me think of those lines a lot.

#72 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 03:08 PM:

Bill Stewart @ 68... :-)

#73 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 03:08 PM:

Steve @69: that's dangerously close to a "one true Scotsman ..." argument. I will concede that serious libertarian thinkers may think that, but you just drew a Venn diagram that puts Ron Paul outside that set, along with a hell of a lot of other self-proclaimed libertarians.

I'd also like to remind you that there was in relatively recent historical times a fully-functioning night watchman state (the economic military superpower of its day) that had no income tax, no anti-narcotics laws, virtually no restrictions on how businesses could hire or fire their staff or how they should be run, just about everything ran on the free market system, no licenses for this and that and no regulations for everything else. Do you want to guess what it was? Here's a hint: I live in the socialist hell-hole that is its [vastly improved] modern form. These days we don't have windrows of starved homeless corpses clogging up the public parks every winter when there's a recession. (Although I'm sure David Cameron and his friends don't care two hoots about that, and some of them probably think it would be an improvement ...)

#74 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 03:19 PM:

Steve Horwitz #69: That explains why unregulated markets don't need, say, food inspection, and why Teddy Roosevelt didn't get ptomaine poisoning.

My freedom is due to a government forcing property owners to surrender their rights to compulsory purchase, and guaranteeing the subsequent freedom transgenerationally, by force and without precedent. I consider that a reasonable, decent, honourable, and moderate action and celebrate it every First of August. I see the state as an agent to serve me, not an outside entity. If it does not serve me, then it needs to be brought back under control.

#75 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 03:32 PM:

Surely the obvious meta-point is that all organisations, when they get increasingly centralized and powerful will warp the situations around them to suit their goals. In the case of Wal-Mart, more quarterly profit, in the case of Bush et al, more government spending on companies they have links with, war with Iraq and so on. In the case of Obama, well, you can fill in the blanks.

So the question is how do you fight back, as Albatross asks? Just how vulnerable to popular action are Democrat party politics?

#76 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 03:45 PM:

Lee @48: He is a well-known Mpls fan. Someone you would probably like. I'm surprised he hasn't posted here before.

#77 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 03:56 PM:

@ guthrie and albatross

I think the fighting back has to be cultural. I think politics is a lost cause. I can see no other way to read NDAA and SOPA and so on.

#78 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 04:18 PM:

Sarah S., #50: That's no caricature. That is what I learned over the course of a decade or so of actual conversations with actual Libertarians. There are exceptions among individuals, but the long-term goals of the Libertarian Party are exactly as I described.

#79 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 05:28 PM:

I don't understand why people cling to libertarianism as the best solution when the wisest, best-spoken, most consistently-for-all-kinds-of-freedom politician we have is a democratic socialist.

Seriously, I wish there were a mainstream party that looked like Bernie Sanders a lot more than I wish there were a mainstream party that looked like Ron Paul (or any remotely popular libertarian I've spoken to or read about in the last decade). Sanders is proof that freedom isn't something that libertarians have a monopoly on, and that freedom and compassion can be wed in the same philosophy, that you can actually be more consistently for freedom if you aren't married to some Galtian madness. He has a 98% lifetime ACLU scorecard compared to Ron Paul's mere 57%, yet obviously libertarianism is the answer rather than independent democratic socialism.

I'd honestly like to hear from people in this thread who identify as libertarians why they favor Ron Paul's rhetoric, party, and style over Bernie Sanders's. I guess I feel like libertarianism may have been an interesting idea in the past, but its current most popular and well-known incarnations are so tainted and twisted that it's time to go somewhere else and start a new party. I feel like a new party that broke free from associations with Paul and the Randoids would have more chance of success, and wouldn't make me feel like I'm being asked to destroy everything else I care about (the environment, care for the poor, freedom for women) just to preserve my own liberty as a middle class, white, coast-dweller.

The fact that Bernie Sanders exists is pretty much the only reason I have any faith in American politics anymore. I know he got elected in a perfect storm, but it makes me wonder... can we manage that kind of perfect storm again? Can we construct one, somehow?

#80 ::: Naomi Parkhurst ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 05:45 PM:

Leah Miller @ 79

Hear, hear.

#81 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 06:01 PM:

Well, being but an ordinary joe, and not even American, I don't see how culture and politics are so easily separated. Obviously not identical, and perhaps there has been an increasing divorce between culture and politics, but to say that you need to fight back in culture and not in politics seems to me to cede the high ground to your enemies, who will proceed to pass laws directly attacking your culturally important freedoms (e.g. on abortion, free assembly, rights to trial, communications, etc). Culture is part of the solution, but only because healthy politics is an outgrowth of cultural interactions involving a large part of the populace.

Whereas when you have fewer and fewer parts of the population engaging in politics and that politics forms its own self referential culture influenced by narrower interests (E.g. the UK, the 3 main parties basically agree that austerity is good, there is no alternative, evil dlose scroungers are destroying the world therefore we must cut benefits, and all functions of the state are to be outsourced to private corporations. For the political culture itself, see "The triumph of the political class" by Peter Oborne, a conservative, yet he's written a book which I as a lefty and probably socialist regard as entirely sound), at what point does the fight back cross over from culture to politics?
At the stage where you organise and put forwards your own people for election? Or maybe you opt out of the entire economy and try using your own currency or living by barter?

#82 ::: Keith Ray ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 06:06 PM:

One benefit of the Republican politicians mostly favoring the interests of the 1%, is that while their campaign rhetoric seems to advocate a fundamentalist Christian theocracy, they actually do very little that the fundamentalists would want them to do. The few actions they do take are mostly symbolic.

(Democrat politicians also tend to favor the 1%, because the reality is that bills are more often written by lobbyists than by politicians.)

#83 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 06:08 PM:

The spherical human also arises when we talk about the frictionless, highly efficient free market. The most recent attempt to create a totally free market was probably Chile, after Allende. It nearly destroyed the Chilean economy, left the country largely in the hands not of innovative capitalists but of multinational monopolistic (or at least oligopolistic) corporations like IT&T, and was maintained while it existed largely by massive acts of violence against the Chilean people.

History is pretty clear that unregulated markets are neither efficient nor benign. In any network, from a communications net to an economy, there are both negative and positive feedback effects at work in the growth and evolution of the nodes, and that very evolution by positive feedback can be described by the old blues line, "Them that's got shall get. Them that's not shall lose." This has nothing to do with fitness, efficiency, or correctness of operation; luck and swallowing the competition by means fair or foul are usually what make the difference. And the Iron Law of Organizations is true for any organization, governmental, corporate, non-governmental, military, or fraternal/sororal.

#84 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 06:22 PM:

#28: Charlie, the caveat I have about your diagnosis of the state of American culture and politics is the assumption that the primary driving force behind our deterioration is oligarchy (or lust for political power) rather than plutocracy (lust for ownership and control of wealth).

My feeling is that the Occupy people have chosen the most appropriate targets for protest -- the greed of the U.S. financial sector and other U.S. corporate entities (Koch Brothers, Goldman Sachs, etc.). I think the plutocrats are the ultimate drivers of the deterioration of democracy in the United States -- and that the paid-off bureaucrats, professional political haters, and militarized police forces are instruments of their will to power.

In the past 50 years, the world's plutocrats have been highly successful in neutralizing the power of lawful government to oppose their interests. They've developed new efficiencies and methodologies for corrupting/controlling political systems and corrupting the ethics of the bureaucrats who populate those systems. Plutocrats have identified regulated markets as an obstacle to their drive to increase their wealth by any available means.

They've also had time to experiment and develop more successful attacks on social democracy, freedom of expression, universal education, and decent law enforcement -- additional barriers to the short term attainment of wealth through victimization/exploitation of the general population.

I'm sure that unopposed lust for political (and technological) control over human thought processes is also a factor in the decline of civilization in the United States -- but this seems to me to be secondary to dispassionate attacks on civilization that appear to be motivated by plutocratic desire to loot and control economic resources.

#85 ::: Throwmearope ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 06:54 PM:

Senator Udall of Colorado (nifty that there are two of them, isn't it?) is co-sponsoring a bill to ensure due process to American citizens. (Which I thought we were already guaranteed under the constitution, but whatever.)

#86 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 07:06 PM:

I'm looking for anything about American politics that isn't depressing. The flameout of Rick Perry is pretty funny, but if Newt gets elected POTUS I may have to flee for my life, and that idiot Romney isn't much better. And Barry O has embraced fascism.

It's pretty much bummers all the way down.

OK, Bernie Sanders. If I have any hope for America, it's the fact that Bernie Sanders is in Congress.

#87 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 07:41 PM:

Xopher @ 86:

I was really happy with Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkeley until Wyden proposed changes to Medicare along with Paul Ryan. All my idols have feet of clay. Well, Merkeley hasn't blown it, so maybe there's some hope.

#88 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 08:55 PM:

hoping that congress will block his attempts at Austrian economic policies

Good luck with that - Congress seems to be happy to enact that kind of economic policy. That's the 'deficit crisis' they're sure is The Most Important Thing Ever right now, even when competent economists (and a lot of other people) are telling them 'hell no'.

#89 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 09:09 PM:

SOPA is delayed-- there's more time to oppose it.

#90 ::: Nanette Furman ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 09:14 PM:

#85- yes, and Mr. Udall voted FOR that abomination..
and I will never vote for him again- or Obama.

#79= YES. Bernie Sanders. Yes. My daughter tried to drum up a write in movement on FB. Sigh. No one cares. Also FB is censoring comments in political discussion. Cute, huh? Thinking of trying for asylum in Germany- ah, the irony.

#91 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 09:24 PM:

However, (and this may be an oversimplification) I believe it's easier to work on everything else if the government isn't going to detain you indefinitely without a trial.

It's also easier to work on everything else if you're not dead from an easily treatable medical condition you couldn't afford to pay for treatment for. Or if you're not working 120 hours per week because there's no minimum wage or overtime laws and you need that many hours to make enough to survive. Or if you didn't die in a fire at your workplace because the doors were chained shut. Or if you have a good enough education to read about and understand political subjects.

Lots of areas of policy matter, and on many of them there *is* substantial difference between the existing parties. ISTM silly to take one's eye off issues that voting *can* affect, just because there are some that it can't in the existing political landscape and where the mandatory outcome is unpalatable.

#92 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2011, 09:48 PM:

I note that John Scalzi is currently hosting a thread specifically for Republicans & conservatives to discuss the R candidates. (Rants against Obama prohibited, and Scalzi's being quite strict with his Mallet of Loving Correction.)

Interestingly, there's a lot of interest in Huntsman, even while thinking him unelectable in the next breath. Many of those give Johnson as a second choice. (Neither of those two were on my own radar at all.)

I'm also comforted to see that a fair number of folks would rather vote for Obama than for several of the Republican candidates (frequently including Newt).

#93 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2011, 12:11 AM:

How inconsiderate of Ron Paul to have all that unsavory baggage, instead of just the bits that I like.

#94 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2011, 12:16 AM:

Cleek at # 41: I'd rank them in that order too, although closer together and probably with lower numbers all around.

Now my question is: how bad can Obama get before he's statistically indistinguishable from the Republicans? How do you signal your disapproval at the ballot box when both parties support repugnant policies?

#95 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2011, 12:19 AM:

But on the other hand, an ohnosecond after my last post, I realized that's how I thought in 2000. I didn't think Bush was that much worse than Gore. How wrong I turned out to be!

#96 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2011, 12:24 AM:

Charlie Stross at # 73: Paul is no more a libertarian than your one true Scotsman is an Englishman. In other words, they live near each other, speak similar languages, trade with each other, and are confused with each other by people in other parts of the world, but they're not actually the same.

On the other hand, I think your analysis at # 28 is spot on.

#97 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2011, 12:45 AM:

Leah Miller at # 79: I'd honestly like to hear from people in this thread who identify as libertarians why they favor Ron Paul's rhetoric, party, and style over Bernie Sanders's.

I wish I could help you there, but I don't actually favor Paul in general. He only looks good to me if I cover one eye and squint just so. And I do respect Bernie Sanders, and also Dennis Kucinich, more than the typical Democrat in Congress. But that's a pretty low bar. I'd also add former senator Russ Feingold.

What they have in common, it seems to me, is principles that they more or less stand by (not the same principles for each of them, of course), rather than kowtowing to the corporatist lobbyists.

#98 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2011, 01:42 AM:

Nancy Lebovitz @89: Heh! Go, Jared!

The second unusual detour came when Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat who presumably knows his way around the Internet better than any other member of Congress (he founded, brought up pornography.

A "high percentage" of the Internet's use is for porn, he said. It's "a pornographer's wet dream!"

Polis suggested an amendment, perhaps not seriously, that would curb SOPA's use to police pirated porn sites. Smith opposed it and it was defeated by a vote of 9 to 18.


it gave Polis an excuse to insert the full lyrics of the popular Internet meme "The Internet is for Porn" into the official congressional hearing record for SOPA. (Representative excerpt: "All these guys unzip their flies / For porn, porn, porn!")

Ghods. Freakin' brilliant.

#99 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2011, 10:07 AM:

If revolution is the only way out, I think it would be well not to put it off too long. I'm guessing we're 10 or 15 years away from remote control police robots, and possibly less if they can roll instead of walking.

#100 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2011, 10:50 AM:

I'd honestly like to hear from people in this thread who identify as libertarians why they favor Ron Paul's rhetoric, party, and style over Bernie Sanders's.

Ron Paul is running for president, and Bernie Sanders is not, at least not when I checked last.

#101 ::: heckblazer ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2011, 11:18 AM:

I would point out that the reason politicians are always compromising is because that's their job. When they refuse to compromise we get debacles like the debt ceiling fiasco. In the worst case scenario you get a civil war.

The question then is whether or not the the politicians in question get a good deal, or right now why Democrats keep getting crappy deals. The main answer there is that the Republicans refuse to compromise, and frequently fail to negotiate in good faith. That's a tough row to hoe.

The only real long term solution is to vote in more Democrats and to vote in more liberal Democrats. Starting a third party won't work, because in the American system coalitions are formed before the general election, not after. Forming a caucus within the party to counterbalance the influence the likes of the Blue Dogs OTOH could work. That's basically what the Tea Party has done within the Republicans.

As for the claim that Democrats are indistinguishable from Republicans, it isn't the Democrats busting unions, attacking immigrants or making it harder to vote

#102 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2011, 12:09 PM:

As for the claim that Democrats are indistinguishable from Republicans, it isn't the Democrats busting unions, attacking immigrants or making it harder to vote

That, and in general, people who look at a vote where 90% of the Democrats lost to 10% of the Democrats + 100% of the Republicans and say "well, this is what happened under a Democratic majority, and there were Democrats on both sides, so obviously the parties are indistinguishable" just baffle me.

If you're actively trying to make the parties look similar, you can maybe sort of succeed, if you cherry-pick your evidence carefully; but if you're actually trying to distinguish between them, it isn't hard at all.

#103 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2011, 01:05 PM:


The president does not need anyone to compeomise with him to veto the bill, any more than he needed anyone to compromise with him to refuse to order the assassination of two American citizens in Yemen. So blaming those things on Republican unwillingness to compromise doesn't make much sense to me. Also, what party has the majority in the Senate, again? How could Republican unwillingness to compromise explain passing this bill through a majority-Democratic Senate?


It seems to me that the process of reasoning you are using could be used to justify absolutely anything, and in fact, it seems like you are already jusitfying stuff that you would rightly condemn if it were done by the other team. Yes, perhaps Obama's really supporting civil rights via some complex, too-hard-to-follow 11-dimensional chess. Similarly, perhaps Bush's apparent bumbling and incompetence was really an act, masking a Machiavellian playing of the Great Game to America's benefit. But doesn't it seem a lot more plausible, at this point, that things are what they look like? That is, Bush looked like a bumbling fool because he was a bumbling fool, and Obama looks like he's sold out the civil liberties part of his base because he has, in fact, sold out the civil liberties part of his base.

#104 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2011, 01:27 PM:


Senate roll call on the bill. There were a total of seven no votes: three R, three D, one I. This does not look entirely 100% consistent with the story that this was 10% of the Democrats and 100% of the Republicans, to me.

It would indeed be a better world if one of the two big parties was consistently opposed to this sort of thing. But we don't live in that world, and pretending that we do is unlikely to lead us anywhere we want to go.

#105 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2011, 01:43 PM:


In most areas, I'd like to see the US move in a more libertarian direction, though I have no desire at all to arrive at some kind of libertarian governmentless end-point. Move far enough in that direction, and I'll be one of those crazy lefties campaigning for government maintenance of commons, provision of food, shelter, and education to the poor, etc.

Paul sounds better than any other Republican I can think of on issues of war, national security, drugs, and rule of law. That's his appeal' to me. On those issues, he's better than the great majority of Democrats, as well. On other issues, he is much less appealing.

#106 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2011, 03:40 PM:

albatross @ 104: Looking at the roll call of the vote on NDAA, I'm at least relieved that both of my (Oregon) senators voted No -- Ron Wyden, and Jeff Merkley. It's a weirdly frustrated sensation, though. I want to storm and stomp and demand that my representatives vote no on SOPA and this bill -- but they have opposed both of them. I can write to other representatives, but I'm sure they could care less about the opinion of people outside of their areas (assuming they care about their constituents' opinions).

I still write my representatives, of course, thanking them for supporting civil rights.

#107 ::: heckblazer ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2011, 06:56 PM:


Issuing a veto would not have been cost-free. The indefinite detention wasn't a stand-alone bill, it was part of the defense authorization act that was passed just before the annual deadline by a veto-proof majority in both the House and Senate. A veto would quite likely have been a mere symbolic act that would have shut down large chunks of the federal government.

#108 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2011, 07:34 PM:

Note that if Our Glorious Leader had spoken out against indefinite detention, it might never have gotten into the bill in the first place.
(He has legal opinions that say he can have American citizens arrested or assassinated when they're in other countries, without any legal proceedings at all. He just got his cake iced with this.)

#109 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2011, 08:39 PM:

I'm not so very worried about Barry O having this power. But if Newt or Mitt had it, that would be scary. And BACHMANN would use it to have gay activists killed.

#110 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2011, 09:01 PM:

Xopher @109, why not? So far "Barry O" has had at least two US citizen murdered by flying death droids. How many have Newt and Mitt killed?

#111 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2011, 10:36 PM:

See, Avram, I AM worried about Obama using them as Congress intended. That's bad enough. Whereas I wouldn't put it past Romney (or, worse, Gingrich, who isn't as fake a fascist as Romney) to use that power to go after ME.

#112 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2011, 02:36 AM:

How many people did Romney have killed/roughed up/imprisoned when he was governor of Massachusetts?

#113 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2011, 09:25 AM:

The question of how many people Romney had abused during his term as governor is not useful. The answer is going to be a smallish non-zero number, not because of anything in the man's own character, but because that's what HAPPENS when you're governor of Massachusetts. Obama didn't have ANYBODY killed when he was a senator, because senators don't get to do that. Aaaaaand then there's governors of Texas, but bringing them up is just cheating, so let's just let them drop back into their little slime pit.

The real question is, "Would the installation of President Romney cause more deaths/roughings-up/imprisonments than the re-election of President Obama?" I'm pretty sure the answer to that one is, "Yes."

#114 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2011, 11:53 AM:

mjfgates @113, I agree that that's the real question. I just don't see that your answer is obviously true.

#115 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2011, 01:00 PM:

Avram @ 114

Sure. But my concern about Romney is that I feel like he has such weak character that all it would take is a few strong-minded cabinetmembers to persuade him into doing appalling things as their proxy. It certainly makes him unpredictable, because I have to worry about not only what he would do, but what the people he might appoint to his cabinet might try to convince him to do.

It's the GW quandry, all over, except that GW was overtly petty and vicious, and Romney at least attempts to portray an image of high-mindedness.

#116 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2011, 01:14 PM:

Nearly seven years ago, in comments here, I wrote, "And--'this is not my party'. My party does not exist and probably will not, not in my lifetime."

I was, at that time, dinged for elitism for making that remark. To which I replied, "It's not my party because [...] my Democratic senator [Janet, it was Wyden] voted to allow extraordinary rendition, because it has yet to fight for accurate counting of votes, let alone registering most citizens, because, in the final reading, major US parties don't have political positions; they have geographic bases.

"I don't feel superior; I feel disenfranchised and marginalized and I don't expect this to change in my lifetime."

Why couldn't I have been wrong?

#117 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2011, 01:19 PM:

Randolph @ 116: I do quite agree that Wyden isn't a shining paragon in all things. The Democratic party isn't my party, either, it's merely closer to my beliefs that the Republican party has ever been.

#118 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2011, 01:55 PM:

Avram, Romney has signed a pledge to use the Justice Department to "investigate" (that is, harass) the LGBT community. That's a man who is committed to using government power inappropriately.

I think Obama's use of these new powers will be for the (admittedly outrageous) purpose Congress intended when they passed the bill. I will be surprised if he uses them to carry out personal vendettas or to harass a peaceful community (though the American Muslim community might be an exception). I've been surprised by him before, and negatively, so I can't say I'm certain.

I think Romney will use these powers inappropriately (that is, in a way that subverts Congress' purpose in giving them to him). I don't think he'll stop with the Justice Department. I think some Occupy people will just vanish never to be seen again, and so will some gay activists.

Gingrich would use them to disappear everyone who's ever crossed him.

The difference isn't "are they scumbags or not." They all are. It's the DEPTH of scumminess that's in question.

And voting for Obama isn't a guarantee of safety, any more than wearing a seatbelt is. It's just the way to bet.

#119 ::: heckblazer ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2011, 03:19 PM:

I would note that these aren't really new powers, they're intended as a codification of existing case law. In theory it's perfectly consistent with previous wars. If we capture you while you're fighting for an enemy of the United States we get to keep you in detention as a POW for the duration of hostilities. If an enemy commander happens to be an American citizen, well it's too bad for him when we drop a bomb on him. Past wars were more clear cut though. When the war is against an amorphous group like al Qaeda on a battlefield with no clear borders that you get really serious due process problems. So far we've had the implicit assumption that these powers only apply to places without effective government control like Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen, but recent history has given good reason to not trust politicians to follow implicit rules.

#120 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2011, 03:39 PM:

Heckblazer @119: no, you've got it precisely back-asswards.

What this represents is the militarization of what is actually a policing/law and order problem.

Al Qaida et al and their like, with a limited exception for situations such as Afghanistan or Iraq circa 2003-08 where the rule of law has effectively collapsed, are best dealt with as criminals via intelligence-led policing.

Treating them as a military target (a) gives them the false legitimization of recognition as a state-equivalent actor, and (b) encourages the use of military techniques in a wholly inappropriate context (such as drone missile strikes or deployment of soldiers inside cities with large civilian populations).

The instant GWB declared war on the perpetrators of 9/11, he lost -- by giving them exactly what they wanted. And this act is just Obama signing his name at the bottom of the roll of dishonour.

#121 ::: Chung Mclead ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2011, 04:07 PM:

When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the Fire Department usually uses water.

#122 ::: Leroy F. Berven ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2011, 04:24 PM:

heckblazer @ 119: Speaking of existing case law, see ex parte Milligan, wherein the U.S. Supreme Court quite clearly settled some of the core aspects of this issue. In 1866.

The Milligan decision didn't specifically address the issue of American citizens waging war against the U.S. while physically located in areas where the U.S. federal domestic court system is not functioning at the time of that action -- such as Yemen circa 2011, or much of the southeastern U.S. during the 1861-1865 era. That, I suggest, comes more generally under the "laws of war", including the Geneva Conventions (for those states that have ratified same).

#123 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2011, 04:45 PM:

#119 Heckblazer: When the war is against an amorphous group like al Qaeda on a battlefield with no clear borders that you get really serious due process problems.

The thing is, it isn't a war, and can't be a war, so using the laws of warfare will always get you to the wrong answer. Using the term "war on terror" is as misleading (and gets you to reasoning-by-analogy fallacies) in the same way that applying military solutions to the War on Drugs does, and the War on Poverty would if we decided on indefinite detention for poor people.

Non-state international criminals have a solution set that dates back to the time of Caesar: They're pirates; treat them like pirates.

Even inside of a War situation, torture has no place.

#124 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2011, 05:06 PM:

And the permanent state of war is what the right wing have always wanted. The "War on Drugs" was one, and it was only moderately successful. The "War on Terror" gives them everything they want, which is the entire suspension of civil rights.

#125 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2011, 05:10 PM:

When the DoD gets to decide who gets detained, and the Attorney general doesn't - it isn't expanding existing powers.
When they're claiming that citizens (and legal residents) of the US can be detained without trial or charges when overseas, that's not expansion of existing powers.
Everyone is supposed to have the right of habeas corpus, not just people the government likes; anything less is not expansion of existing powers.
And the idea that search warrants aren't needed isn't an expansion of existing rights, nor is the idea that all that's needed to get one is reasonable suspicion of a crime.

#126 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2011, 06:56 PM:

Xopher at # 118: voting for Obama isn't a guarantee of safety, any more than wearing a seatbelt is. It's just the way to bet.

That's an interesting take on it. Mildly encouraging, in fact.

I'd like to tone down what I said yesterday about Obama becoming indistinguishable from the Republicans. He's getting worse, but they're getting worse too, so he may never catch up.

I still want to research more effective seatbelts.

#127 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2011, 07:41 PM:

Lenny at 84, *waves across the Bay* I think your analysis is correct but I also think you are splitting hairs. Oligarchy, as I understand it, is domination/rule of government/the state by a small group, clique, or class, and that group may be defined variously: one way which it appears to be defined in most societies is possession of wealth and/or military strength. The characteristics vary with the times and place. In our current situation the plutocrats appear to be comfortable using cut-outs, stand-ins, i.e. the folks in the political class, to front for them, but the decisions are clearly being made by the folks behind the screen.

In other periods and countries (I'm thinking of both Japan and England about 500 years ago, but it's not necessary to go that far back, there are plenty of more recent examples) the plutocrats have been less shy: the best way to acquire access to power was to lend the government (the Emperor, the King) money or build an army and make it available (on a temporary basis, of course) to the state, or both, and it was understood that people who did that would receive the political reward they desired.

What we have right now is fast becoming a plutarchy, a government of the wealthy for the wealthy. Count the number of millionaires in Congress. It's not an accident that the plutocrats despise and fear universal non-profit education, and a free press, and have done their best to attack, degrade, corrupt, belittle, and trivialize both.

I find the expansion of the idea of corporate personhood utterly terrifying.

And with regard to Ron Paul, I think his position on the Iraq war (he voted against the War Resolution) and on medical marijuana (he thinks it should be legal) does not balance his introduction of the Sanctity of Life Act, which defines legal personhood as beginning at conception.

And still, I have hope.

I do not think -- I have friends in the military, specifically the Marines, so what I say now is based on what I have learned from them -- that as it stands now, the U.S. military would allow itself to be used directly against U. S. citizens in this country, and I think even our corrupt political class would fear trying to force that issue. The internet press is fighting back. There still exist grass-roots political organizations that seem able to use the machinery to fight the Machine: for example, the attempt to recall Scott Walker in Wisconsin seems to be working. Also, I don't believe that every single American politician is owned by the Koch brothers, or the Waltons. I think there is a difference between the Republicans and the Democrats, and yes, I'm going to vote for Barack Obama when the time comes, despite this bill, even though doing so makes me feel like Charlie Brown marching stolidly toward Lucy and that damned football.

Sorry for the rant. *holds out plate* Would you like a cookie?

#128 ::: heckblazer ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2011, 12:27 AM:

Charlie, Jim, et al.:

I don't think we disagree. Let me restate to hopefully make myself clearer. If al Qaeda was a uniformed belligerent fighting in a clearly defined theater there would be no problem. However, al Qaeda is not a traditional belligerent so treating them as one is a horrible mistake. They absolutely should be treated as a law enforcement problem, with the odd exception like the attempt to nab bin Laden. That said, once the decision was made to treat al Qaeda like an opposing army indefinite detention logically followed.

For some contrast, the "enemy combatant" classification was something completely new that was backed up solely by pixie dust and bullshit.

In a bit of good news, the last American troops finally left Iraq yesterday.

#129 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2011, 12:50 AM:

Lizzy L @ 127:

I do not think -- I have friends in the military, specifically the Marines, so what I say now is based on what I have learned from them -- that as it stands now, the U.S. military would allow itself to be used directly against U. S. citizens in this country, and I think even our corrupt political class would fear trying to force that issue.

I think they would be fools not to fear it; history shows that involving military forces in civil conflict rarely ends well for the civilians, including the ones in the government. It's just too easy for the generals to settle conflicts by kicking everyone else out and taking control of the state. Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of faith in the wisdom of our political class.

However, I agree with you that the military may very well try to stand clear of a civil rebellion against the political class, as the Egyptian military did during the uprising against Mubarak. For one thing, I believe that the US military is not monolithic. Parts of the US Air Force have been captured by Evangelical ideology, but this is not the case for the Army or Navy, and the resultant balance of forces might act as a deterrent to the military as a whole.

#130 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2011, 01:49 AM:

LizzyL, #127: Obama still stands head and shoulders above any of the Republican clown car (no, clowns are fun) field. Still a "centrist" (that is, conservative) though.

The Dems do at least have a liberal faction, for all that it is dependent on big money and not in control of the party.

If the Congressional Representative of my district were centrist Democrat or Republican, I'd vote for a credible Occupy candidate in a heartbeat.

#131 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2011, 02:11 AM:

Does it matter what the nominal party of the President is?

Its the Congress that sets the laws. All they care about is whether the President will veto a law, which never seems to happen.

#132 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2011, 03:00 AM:

heckblazer @128: In a bit of good news, the last American troops finally left Iraq yesterday.

I've been trying to find out whether that's actually true.

This NY Times article from Dec 16th claimed that "Although Thursday’s ceremony represented the official end of the war, the military still has two bases in Iraq and roughly 4,000 troops, including several hundred who attended the ceremony", and further more that "Even after the last two bases are closed and the final American combat troops withdraw from Iraq by Dec. 31, a few hundred military personnel and Pentagon civilians will remain, working within the American Embassy as part of an Office of Security Cooperation to assist in arms sales and training to the Iraqis." And also: "But negotiations could resume next year on whether additional American military personnel can return to assist their Iraqi counterparts further."

Also, according to the Guardian, there will be 4000-5000 "defense contractors". I don't know what that means. Construction workers? Office temps? Mercenaries?

#133 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2011, 09:00 AM:


My understanding is that we built a huge imperial governor's mansion embassy in Iraq, much bigger than any other US embassy in the world. That embassy will continue to be manned and guarded. That alone may account for a lot of the soldiers still there. I don't know how much of the rest of the end of the war rhetoric is really true, though--the Obama administration celebrated the end of the combat mission a couple years ago, though we kept about 45,000 troops there. I expect we still have special forces types running around (if nothing else, we need the base of operations for our low-intensity war against Iran), but I could be wrong.

#134 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2011, 10:37 AM:

The official U.S. military is not the only army-airforce that is in the U.S. or elsewhere. There are many private armies now, starting with the Black Princes Used to Be Known Blackwater. Mercenaries. Most corps have one -- and thanx to the bushwas have been armed and funded with taxpayer dollars as we 'privatized' everything we could of the U.S. military in the Iraq wars.

This was how we plan to avoid that problem of the U.S. military not wanting to rain death, destruction and rape upon their home towns, families and friends -- while protecting the corporatistas.

Love, C

#135 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2011, 11:18 AM:


Actually, it seems like every two bit county sheriff and federal agency regulating toilet seats now has a militarized wing, complete with automatic weapons and jackbooted thugs wearing black stormtrooper outfits.

Short term, this is a recipe for oppression--hundreds of petty tyrants can call out a private army of thugs to break up an irritating demonstration, raid the homes of protesters or gadflies, or rough up journalists.

Long term, it's a recipe for a godawful fucking disaster, ensuring that if power struggles between different administrative levels/agencies of government should ever start using violence, everyone will already be armed. Similarly, if a massacre or roundup of some undesirables should become necessary, all the equipment and procedures will already be in place.

#136 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2011, 12:11 PM:

In other news, PPP Iowa Tracking Poll is now announcing (per Daily Kos) that Ron Paul is at the top of the heap in Iowa. Mitt Romney is 2nd, Newt third.

And the music starts again....

#137 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2011, 12:54 PM:

Avram, #132: I am told that the US Embassy compound in Iraq is bigger (in square footage, I assume) than the Vatican. The "contractors" are probably mercenaries, yes. The Authorization for Use of Military Force remains in place, enabling a President to return forces to Iraq at whim, as does its language authorizing various actions against terrorism.

It seems the leaders of the USA are thinking about feeding us corvids again.

albatross, #135: "it seems like every two bit county sheriff and federal agency regulating toilet seats now has a militarized wing"

Pretty good croak. But you are forgetting how popular weapons are among US civilians, especially in those parts of the USA where the country sheriffs are most proud of their little armies. It seems that there is potential for the kind of multi-sided conflict that has made Somalia such a happy place.

#139 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2011, 01:08 PM:

They like him. They really, really like him!

#140 ::: cgeye ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2011, 01:49 PM:

From Henley, 2006:
"There remains an escalation problem. Four years ago, the “crises” were a rush vote on a manufactured war and the creation of a new bureaucracy. Two years ago it was the imperative not to admit that the manufactured war was pointless and counterproductive. This time it’s the overpowering need to hide whoever the executive claims is a terrorist away and torture them. Next time, if the economy is a little worse and the people a little more restless, what will it take? And the time after that? We can’t say. We can only say that Republicans will slaver and Democrats will whicker, shuffle and, finally, shrink."

I've think we're there: Anyone, anytime, is a terrorist, and the oligarchate now dependent on making new enemies -- because peacetime, and the accountings thereafter, are too dangerous.

#141 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 10:55 AM:

The difference between Obama and the Republicans on this issue is pretty significant--the Republicans wanted to ban civilian trials for accused terrorists. Obama doesn't think that they all should get civilian trials, but some should.

It's pretty clear that there are some circumstances in which the federal government can, consistent with the Constitution and common sense, hold American citizens prisoner without trial. What ought to have been done with captured Confederate soldiers? The problem, of course, is applying that rule to present-day circumstances.

#142 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 11:02 AM:

Have you all heard of the 1033 program? It is essentially a funnel through which excess military hardware is directed straight into the hands of local police departments. For nearly free.

The article mentions the crackdowns on the various Occupy protests as one of the side effects, but that's really just about the most harmless way this stuff can be employed: publicly, in response to unusual events. Far more terrifying to me is the routine militarization of daily life, of transit and commerce and housing and public space, a la Jerusalem or Durban.

#143 ::: Manny ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 11:53 AM:

I struggle with hopelessness. So many people believe all these changes are good. They are afraid and misinformed (I believe actively and deliberate made so) and have been convinced that these measures are essential to protect America.

I used to think that local activism was the way to drive corrections long-term. Now I think that local politics is dominated by national considerations much more than ever before, except maybe during WWII. The War Against Terrorism is against the people around you. Evangelical Christianity sees itself in the trenches defending decency against real threats. The oligarchs are more dominant than they have ever been. The differences between the Nine Nations of North America are growing (although the maps we see simplify this to Red vs Blue). These pervade daily life in every corner of the country. That tension gives the authoritarians a whip hand.

What can happy mutants do in a country where Nehemiah Scudder is looking like a less-bad option?

#144 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 01:19 PM:

#135 ::: albatross

O yes. It's an open secret that the "war on terrorism" was war on us. TSA utterly useless and unjustified airport 'security,' for instance, is merely training of us to deferentially respond How High Sir? when ordered to jump anywhere any time.

Osama bin Laden died happy and fulfilled. His work here now has been done. By us.

Love, C.

#145 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 01:20 PM:

#143 ::: Manny:

I'm going to talk about some work I haven't been willing to do, but one of my friends managed it.

You as you are now may well not have the resources to make significant changes. There may be things you can learn, skills which you can acquire, and connections you can make which would would enable you to push things in the direction you want them to go.

It took my friend about five years or so, but he learned how to raise money and do administration-- the thing he's working on is a big project and whether there will be success isn't obvious, but he's accomplished more than would have seemed at all likely ten years ago.

#146 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 06:30 PM:


The problem is, in our current situation, 99.9% of the ways this power can be used are bad ways. Yes, it's conceivable that someone in the Administration will discover that John Smith is secretly a terrorist, is super dangerous, but in a way that doesn't allow them to prove it in court. And in that case, maybe locking John Smith up in Guantanamo is the right thing to do.

But even without intentional misuse of this power, I have to guess that it will mostly be used when John Smith looks pretty guilty, but it's not really clear he is, and the authorities don't want to let him go. Or when the evidence against him was gotten illegally--we tortured his alleged co-conspirators and got a confession implicating him, we wiretapped and automatically searched every email sent through Gmail for six months to discover the trail that led us to him, whatever.

And this power begs to be abused. Look at how Bradley Manning has been treated. Or how other whistleblowers have been harrassed and threatened--the Obama administration has been really big on making an example of whistleblowers. If the authorities want to take someone they suspect of involvement in terrorism--or for that matter some other serious crime--being able to detain them indefinitely outside the civilian system seems like it will let them try to terrorize or beat answers or a confession from them. Manning was subjected to solitary confinement and forced nudity and some level of sleep deprivation despite being in the public eye--what will someone nobody's heard of get, locked away in some deep dark hole?

#147 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 07:53 PM:

Ron Paul in his own words. (And his son is worse.)

I tell you what, I am goddamn sick and tired of being told that, my food having gone bad, the remedy is to swallow poison.

#148 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 09:39 PM:

albatross #146: Yes, it's conceivable that someone in the Administration will discover that John Smith is secretly a terrorist, is super dangerous, but in a way that doesn't allow them to prove it in court.

Handling a situation like this is morally equivalent to civil disobedience: If the guy on the spot thinks it's that important, they can break the law and take the consequences. In both cases, the idea that you should be able to "do what's necessary" without consequence, is purely a corruption of the social fabric. And in both cases, the idea that people should be so tightly controlled that they can't break the law nohow, is likewise a corruption, a denial of the very concept of freedom.

#149 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 09:50 PM:

They only have to said that you did something that helped a suspected terrorist (even at a couple of removes) and they can have you arrested. Or they could issue some of their secret security letters and have your home and office searched (and your phones and computer bugged), and no one can tell you (or your lawyer) anything about it.

#150 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 09:52 PM:

Lee, #147: Also, here. Turns out that in October 2008, Ron Paul was the keynote speaker at the Jhn Brch Scty's 50th anniversary. (Disemvoweled in the hope of avoiding troll bait.) Via Little Green Footballs, which has turned sane.

If it falls out Paul vs. Obama it will be a referendum on race and racism, and never mind the candidates' actual politics.

#151 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 10:51 PM:

LGF has turned sane? When did that happen? Did everyone who ever wrote for it or commented in it suddenly die or something?

Wow, that's bizarre. That's one site I never thought would turn sane.

#152 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 11:14 PM:

Xopher, #151: not only that, it's been sane for just about two years. As to why, Charles Johnson writes about it here. He writes more about his conversion, and the response of his long-time readers, in following posts.

And, by the way, he is all over Rand's racism and sexism and has been on it for two years. He even did a post on it today.

#153 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 11:33 PM:


Yeah, the stuff in the newsletters is just nasty.

And yet, I keep coming back to the contrast. RP said some really nasty stuff, and has some policies I think would go very badly if enacted. And the mainstream political leaders from both parties backed a war of aggression on pretty clearly made-up evidence, which led to the deaths of over a hundred thousand human beings. RP associates with Jhn Brchrs and Lw Rckwll types, with all the nastiness that implies. And the mainstream guys calmly associate with bloody tyrants (as with Mubarrek, as well as the current regimes in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia). They're not just unsavory folks we have to deal with at arm's length across a negotiating table, either--those are/were our friends and allies, to whom we sell weapons and send money. A number of important political figures in the US also hung our with Kadaffi, back before we decided to push him out of power.

So yeah, poision as food or poison as antidote. But Paul's version of poison tastes like bigotry and ignorance. Hillary Clinton and John McCain's poison smells of mass graves.

#154 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2011, 11:44 PM:

albatross, #153: At risk of stating the obvious, you're white and male. Ron Paul's poison stinks of mass graves too -- but only for minorities and women, not for the People Who Matter.

#155 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 12:08 AM:

Lee @154, at the risk of repeating myself, how many people has Ron Paul had killed?

Not to defend Paul's racist bullshit rhetoric, but I have a hard time seeing it as on the same level as, much less worse than, racist bullshit mass-murder, which is what the political mainstream has conditioned us all into thinking of as sane.

#156 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 02:31 AM:

OK, maybe Ron Paul isn't quite as batshit insane as some of the other candidates, and he's not as steeped in the tradition of using torturers and murderers as puppet rulers. But will he be motivated to change the way things are done? If not, he's not much better than Obama, who's caved in (or just abandoned his pre-election protestations) on moving out of the moral swamp our foreign and military policy is in. If Paul won't pull the plug on the CIA drone wars, then he's no better than what we've got right now on foreign policy, and his domestic policy is just awful, so what does he have to offer?

#157 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 03:16 AM:

Avram, #155: how many people has Ron Paul had killed?

This is like asking who's a better mouser, a barn cat or a house cat?

If Ron Paul had ever had the power to order people killed, it would be a relevant question -- but he hasn't. We're being asked to hand him that power. Based on his stated positions, I don't think he's any worthier of holding it than the people who currently do.

#158 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 05:05 AM:

Avram, #155

Well, it's estimated that some 45,000 people die a year due to lack of health insurance, and Ron Paul's been in office opposing the expansion of health care for the impoverished for 12 years. So, rounding down a bit, Ron Paul has only managed to kill about 500,000 people. He wants to kill more, though, millions more. And you're saying we should let him kill millions more people because so far he's only managed to cackle gleefully at the deaths of five hundred thousand?

That's like saying we should elect Cobra Commander President, because he's such an incompetent villain that he never manages to kill anyone. By your reasoning, no matter how many people someone wants to kill or plans on killing, all that counts is how many they have successfully killed.

Maybe I'm an idealist, but I'd like to eventually find a president who hasn't murdered anyone. Until then, I'll look at how many people they plan to kill, exploit, or destroy. By that count, I'd say Ron Paul's ideal plans would do a lot more damage to individual lives than Obama's.

#159 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 06:00 AM:

Hmm, after making that last post in a fit of pique, I realize that it might come off differently than I intended. I intended the reference to Cobra Commander to throw it easily into the realm of parody, but then I remembered that not everyone shares that cultural touchstone.

The post, hasty. The math, clearly a nice round guesstimate... after all, the study I was citing says that though the increased risk of death for those without health insurance is 40% now, it was only 25% in 1993, so that "45,000 a year" number is obviously not consistent over the last decade.

I still stand by my point, though I may need to clarify it. I don't actually think Ron Paul is a cackling super-villain plotting the downfall of GI Joe, or even a murderous, self aggrandizing plutocrat like Lex Luthor. But I do think he has a plan to set things up in a way that will hurt many people. I think that if he did everything he wanted to do, a lot of people would die, or be destroyed in some way. I think he would have his colleagues do irreparable damage to our earth, as well.

It's all horrible to think about, and I'm very sad now.

#160 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 10:04 AM:

There is also this: no matter how much Ron Paul may decry the modern American military-industrial complex and the security state, to what extent will he be able to unravel that tangle, without the cooperation of Congress and the relevant bureaucracies? Since the days of Henry Luce, Whittaker Chambers, and the Alsop brothers, there's beeen far more effective, long-term support for those two things than anyone has been able to muster for other points of view on the matter, over the long haul.

However much we may agree with Dr. Paul about the need to rein in military adventurism, he's more likely to be able to raise support for those parts of his program we find pernicious (like ending, or radically cutting, Social Security programs) than for the ones we like.

The President of the United States does not (despite recent efforts to make it so) govern alone. Plenty of people in Congress are committed to keeping military contracts in their districts active. One of the factors that has made the security state and the military-industrial complex thrive and endure is the number of people who feel they benefit, and are not willing to be convinced otherwise.

I will also point out that Ron Paul is 76 years old; you'd want to make sure his vice-president was as committed to the program of End American Imperialism Now as he was.

#161 ::: alsafi ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 11:00 AM:

I may be reading this uncharitably, but I'm tending to hear the "who has Ron Paul killed?" question as "Well, sure he's a racist and misogynist and homophobe, but really, it's not like those things hurt anyone, the way wars do." Which I find breathtakingly disingenuous. Sure, okay, he doesn't have his hands on the levers of power, so he hasn't had a chance to dirty them yet. But are you really meaning to assert that, say, Woodrow Wilson is only guilty for the deaths of the Great War, and gets a pass on his enthusiastic support of Jim Crow and segregation and the lynchings that were concomitant with those policies?

I'm not minimizing the harm that you're laying at Obama's feet, and I agree that it's shared around a great deal more equally than I would like between the Republicans and the Democrats. But I can't find it in me to regard the suggestion that the answer to all of this harm is to put my hope in someone who has proven to be actively noxious in his views on anyone who's not a straight, white, relatively-wealthy male as anything but bizarre.

#162 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 11:25 AM:

I'm not responsible for any human death. That doesn't make me qualified for the job of POTUS.

#163 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 12:08 PM:

I think the real problem of US politics is that there is no one qualified for the job of POTUS. The job, as currently constituted, shouldn't exist at all, and I'm not sure there's any way to change it that would make it work. We've got a system that might have worked, with some creaking and groaning, in the late 18th century with a population in the low millions, but is both not effective enough and far too unaccountable for the 21st century with a population of a third of a billion and the power to destroy the human race in several different and novel ways.

#164 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 12:22 PM:

Bruce, what possible organizational structure could take its place? A remake of the constitution seems unlikely in the extreme.

#165 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 12:29 PM:


If yu believe in voting for the lesser evil, then you will have to weigh, sooner or later, RP's faults against those of the other candidates he will be running against. My sense is that:

a. While few of the other candidates have that kind of baggage (I think Gingrich and Bachman and Santorum have said stuff that ugly much more recently, though targeted at Muslims and gays instead of blacks), nearly all of them seem to have a history of supporting an extremely bloody foreign policy, complete with six-figure body counts, torture chambers, and puppet regimes that terrorize their citizens into accepting their power. So, no, I dont think that casual bigotry compares with killing hundreds of thousands of people for domestic political gain.

b. A more important question is what policies the candidates will do in office. There, RP's history seems to me to suggest that he would try to follow both his good ideas (stop the police state at home/empire abroad policies we've been following for so long) and his bad ones (massive downsizing of the federal government, phasing out Social Security). And his position far outside the ruling class consensus suggests to me that he would have very little success with most of these policies. My guess is that a president who wanted to stop the continuus violent intervention all over the world would find himself cut out of the loop of decisionmaking a great deal of the time, and might well find that he presides over the presidency losing a great deal of its power.

But what are the alternatives? Who else is running who opposes the power of the president to assassinate or disappear anyone he wants, anywhere, on his authority alone, that is running for president?

#166 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 12:43 PM:

An aside: This Mother Jones article claims that the new indefinite detention powers also allow the administration to have American citizens handed over to other governments for detention and questioning, again without any tiresome trials or hearings or legal procedngs.

#167 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 02:01 PM:

Steve C. @ 164:

Oh, I can think of a lot of better structures, but I doubt very much we can get from here to there in any peaceful or legal way. You're right, no one is willing to change the Constitution except to enshrine their own particular bigotries just now (I haven't heard any suggestion of reviving the ERA for instance).

This is one of the reasons why I believe that the US will eventually (probably in the 20 to 30 year timeframe) break up into regional states along red/blue and economic interest boundaries. I keep hoping that if I'm still around then (a distinct possibility; my family tends to live a long time) western Washington State and western Oregon will merge with British Columbia and I'll be living in a nation with a robust economy and some notion of human rights.

#168 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 02:28 PM:

I don't care how wonderful Ron Paul is on other issues, we can't elect a man president who thinks that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was (1) unconstitutional and (2) immoral.

#169 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 02:34 PM:

Say, didn't Making Light recently run a thread about Ron Paul asking where Fort Knox's gold really is?

#170 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 04:06 PM:

Leah @158 & 159, at exactly what point did I say anyone should "let" Ron Paul do anything?

My point about Paul is not that he'd make a good president --- he wouldn't, he'd be awful. But that's irrelevant, because there's no chance of him actually becoming president, unless maybe every other candidate dies in a plane crash or something.

My point about Paul (made explicitly all the way back in comment #12) is that he advocates a bunch of ideas (like going back on the gold standard) that are widely dismissed as "crazy" (and are!), while he also criticizes a bunch of ideas (our ever-expanding set of wars in the Middle East, our likewise ever-expanding wars on civil liberties at home) that really are crazy, and yet not only are these latter ideas not dismissed as crazy by the mainstream of American society, it's the dissent from them that's stigmatized.

#171 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 04:11 PM:

re 168: While I disagree with his exegesis of the Commerce Clause (short summary of my objection: doing business of any kind is public enough to allow regulation), here again we're basically reduced to trade-offs between unconstitutionalities. The repeating message in all of this is that the 4th amendment just isn't important enough to get people to vote against the vast majority of the candidates, and that apparently the only way to find someone who will defend that amendment is to find someone like Paul who is a minarchist crazy. What should be happening on the Democratic side is that someone should be challenging Obama as being, well, awfully like Mitt Romney. It isn't happening, it isn't going to happen, and I think that part of the reason it isn't going to happen is that, really, among those who could plausibly run for president (particularly in the ranks of state governors) there isn't anyone who isn't within the police-statist consensus that put us where we are.

re 167: I don't see this breakup happening. There is another way to look at the Republican slate: the fact that Romney is the only non-crazy one in the pack, and that they don't really like him but are willing to put up with him simply to regain the office, suggests that they are vulnerable to a big swing in the electorate and losing lots of seats. I can see them regaining the White House and then doing something deeply alienating which costs them power for a decade or more. Also, it seems to me that the commitment to the national identity will, when push comes to shove, trump very poorly drawn lines of regional identity.

#172 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 04:20 PM:

ever-expanding wars on civil liberties at home

This discussion tends towards me losing my temper easily, so I've been staying out of it.

The problem is that the people who are actually against the ever-expanding war on civil liberties on principle are roundly condemned as "wanting to destroy everything important" by the very serious people, since they're opposed to using federal force where the very serious people LIKE the outcome.

#173 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 04:58 PM:

SamChevre @172, could you knock a few levels of abstraction off that comment? Who's condemning who for what, now?

Also, it seems to me that if someone cares about protection of civil liberties above all else, then that person will support federal force where that force protects civil liberties, and oppose federal force where that force erodes those liberties. Right?

If, on the other hand, someone opposes federal force above all else, then that person will only support civil liberties where those liberties are harmed by federal force, and will be willing to see civil liberties eroded where the only effective means to protect them is federal force.

So you've got the potential there for two people who seem, at one point, to agree about civil liberties to later seem to disagree about them, without needing to imply that one of them's being inconsistent.

#174 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 05:07 PM:

I think the damage Rom Paul could do as president is underestimated. He is unlikely to obey the law and would not be impeached by a Tea Party Republican dominated Congress.

If the US returned to an isolationist military policy, hundreds of thousands of soldiers would be swept into unemployment into unemployment. Without some policies to find work for them--policies which Paul specifically rejects--a revolution seems likely.

Paul would probably find reasons not to enforce the Civil Rights Act and subsequent civil rights laws. A return to lynch law in some states seems not unlikely.

Withdrawal from various military positions would destabilize numerous international conflicts. I would prefer to see an end to US imperialism, but I hope it would be succeeded either by a stable international balance of power or an empowered United Nations: Paul is not likely to undertake the work to establish the first, and is actively hostile the the UN. Without those steps, mainland China would invade Taiwan. A successful invasion of Israel also seems likely. There would be other areas where smouldering conflicts would break into open war.

It is hard to escape the sense that Paul's isolationism is rooted in racism and anti-semitism.

Then there is his gold-buggery and his opposition to the Federal Reserve. The President appoints the Secretary of the Treasury. A second, greater, global financial collapse would, with a Paul presidency, be nearly certain.

The long-term results of centrism--conservatism--area ugly, and we are already starting to feel them. They pale, though, next to the harm both immediate and long term that Ron Paul plus a Tea Party Republican House are likely to do.

#175 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 05:54 PM:

"You must always choose the lesser of two weevils."
- Aubrey to Mathurin

#176 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2011, 05:55 PM:

"But that's irrelevant, because there's no chance of him actually becoming president, unless maybe every other candidate dies in a plane crash or something."

Avram, that's been though of so many people who have actually become president that I don't think it's the least wise to believe.

#177 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 12:17 AM:

The Raven @174: If the US returned to an isolationist military policy, hundreds of thousands of soldiers would be swept into unemployment into unemployment. Without some policies to find work for them--policies which Paul specifically rejects--a revolution seems likely.

Seriously? Endless war as a make-work project? This is supposed to make me feel good about the two-party system?

Let's see... it says here that we've got about 370,000 military personnel stationed overseas. And it says here that the average military salary is $57,000/year (I don't know if that covers combat pay, housing allowance, separation from family pay, etc). That's about $21 billion, or about a fifth of what we just spent this year killing Afghans. That means we could shut down all of our overseas bases, bring all those troops home, and just pay them to sit around at home for a few years, and we'd still save huge amounts of money. (And, as an added benefit, we'd not be killing people.)

#178 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 03:18 AM:

Avram, I think that's a misreading of the Raven.

Nobody's saying that the war is a good make work project. I, for one, am strongly in favor of ending the war as quickly as possible, and I believe the Raven is as well.

I think the Raven was saying that ending the war during a hypothetical Paul presidency would create exactly the kind of problems that Paul's stated policies would definitely exacerbate, likely to the point of completely destabalizing the American economy, and possibly the world. Your post describes a scenario where we bring the troops home and then keep all of them employed, paying them their full salaries in perpetuity. That does not seem like something it is reasonable to suggest that Ron Paul would likely do.

Also, what if our troops overseas are doing something productive, like preventing a genocide? Is it better for us to withdraw and let the genocide happen? I believe that there are probably places where long-term US military presence is doing more good than harm; that's how I interpreted Raven's post, as well. Look at South Korea, for example: based on the promises Paul has issued on his own site, he would not allow situations like South Korea to occur, where American military forces are stationed overseas for long period of time.

I don't think we should have gone into the middle east to start with. I wish we could be out of there entirely today. That said, I don't think there's a way to accomplish that safely and well, unless Ron Paul has a secret time machine (note to self: movie idea). I think the whole thing needs to be done very carefully to prevent causing even further harm. I think that's what Obama has likely been doing, to the best of his ability. An appendix may not be a necessary organ, but if someone tears it out of you with their bare hands rather than carefully preparing to extract it with surgical tools, it's going to be a lot worse for you. This is true even if the appendix is inflamed and needs to come out.

I think that this all comes down to priorities, and differing perceptions, rather than strongly divergent views on essential policies. I agree that we need to restore our civil liberties. I agree that we should never have gone to war in Iraq.

I do, however, believe that a gradual withdrawal such as we are currently carrying out probably has significant advantages. Do you firmly believe that to be false? And if so, why? I'm genuinely curious.

So, if we agree on the issues (but likely disagree on their relative priorities), why am I so opposed to Ron Paul? I'll explain, employing my hot-button issue: the environment.

I want to prevent us from destroying the Earth's ecosystem. If you asked me what I think the most important issue is, I'd pick that one.

However, if the person who had the best environmental policy was also someone who wanted to declare war on Mexico, I wouldn't vote for them... (unless all the other candidates also wanted war with Mexico). I'm saying that the good that would come from four years of strict environmental regulations would not outweigh the bad that would come from four years of war with Mexico.

That's the problem I have with Ron Paul. I don't believe that the benefit of any of the good policies he could conceivably enact could possibly outweigh the negative consequences of the terrible policies he would very likely be able to enact.

When you really look at all the policies he has promised to enact, and examine his relative likelihood of achieving each one, do you really believe that the good would outweigh the harm?

Ron Paul has sworn to eliminate the EPA, allow people to drill wherever they want, and to reduce any restrictions on coal or nuclear. This is something that the party he has allied himself with, and the current majority in the house, also strongly advocates. The only check against pollution would be lawsuits, and we all know how efficient a single family suing a large company for environmental malfeasance usually is. If you don't own property, or don't have money to sue, there's absolutely nothing ensuring that you will have safe food or water, or clean air, except trust that your landlord will sue in your favor. If your landlord is the company involved, too bad. Move. If you don't have the money to move, too bad.

And any harm to the environment that does not directly affect a human who cares enough to sue and has the resources to do so? There's no restriction on that whatsoever. Screw future generations. Screw endangered species. Screw every living thing on the planet that isn't a human with enough money to hire a lawyer.

There are very few good things I can see outweighing that evil, and that's just a single issue. I have not even begun to discuss the lives and families that would be destroyed by his economic policies.

I can understand your desire to elect a president who can restore civil liberties and who will bring our troops home.

I just can't say that those two things are more important than any other thing in the entire world

#179 ::: forgot the name ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 03:50 AM:

The largest sense I get of Ron Paul is that he would be, and is, entirely too happy to let people like me die for the sake of 'libertarian ideals' and 'freedom' for people who are white-straight-rich-able-male and fuck everyone else, since we don't deserve to live anyway. Oops, you died of starvation. Oops, you were beaten to death. Oops, you're less important than your fetus. Oops, THAT'S FREEDOM!

He wants to call himself a supporter of individual choice? Fine. He wants to say he supports individual freedom? Fine. If that's the case, why is he anti-choice?

The entire GOP looks rotten to me, and a good deal of the Democrats. But Ron Paul looks very much a hypocritical stripe of the GOP, and not much different at all even with his anti-external-war stances, because all it looks like is trading one set of external acceptable targets/deaths for an internal set of acceptable targets. ISTM to be counterproductive.

#180 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 03:55 AM:

Bah, and once again, even after laboring over a post and previewing several times, I find I have to make one further clarification.

Avram: I'm not trying to claim that you personally believe that restoring civil liberties and bringing our troops home is more important than anything else in the world.

It just seems logical to me that anyone who would suggest Ron Paul as a solution would have to value those things very highly indeed, more highly than social welfare or the environment. I'm wondering if this is the case for you and, if not, how you weigh the likely effects of a Paul presidency in such a way that it looks like a net positive compared to Obama?

#181 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 11:37 AM:

The Raven raised one interesting sideline point[1]--assuming we want to reverse our empire abroad/police state at home policies, how can we do that with minimal disruption?

I've often wirried about this wrt our economic/financial situation. I can easily imagine a financial crunch leading us to rather suddenly decide we can no longer afford to maintain our military bases, occupations, and other operations all over the world, followed by a very abrupt pullout. If we are going to stop that stuff (and I think we need to), then we need to start early and do it over many years, to avoid destabilizing s lot of parts of the world.

As far as out of work soldiers, I don't think this is likely to be all that big a problem--our military is smaller now than in past comflicts. A bigger problem is the support businesses--defense contractors of various kinds are a relatively large chunk of the economy, and an end to imperial policies abroad will close down a huge number of those businesses. On the otherhand, we have precedent for this--there was large scale downsizing of the military budget after the end of the cold war. This was painful for many people, but the country didn't melt down.

[1] I'll just point.out up front that I don't buy the apocalyptic predictions in case of a Paul win. Nor do I think racism or anit-semitism have anything to do with his proposed foreign policy, given that it's consistent with a whole surrounding philosophy of how the US government should behave.

#182 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 11:40 AM:


Yeah, that seems to me to be a very strong reason not to vote for RP. In fact, much more so than the other Republicans, because RP probably means what he's saying about getting rid of the EPA.

#183 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 11:56 AM:


I'm not Avram, but I have a hard time weighing the different choices. I am convinced that building a turnkey policestate here at home is a catastrophically bad idea. I am convinced that our sociopathic foreign policy is both morally awful and sets us up for terrible consequences in the future--both the blowback that RP gets called nasty names for mentioning in GOP debates, and more subtle stuff like widespread distrust of
America. (If we are ever not at the top of the heap, I hate to think how much payback we'll be looking at.)

Is that worse than gutting the envoronment, or ceasing to enforce antidiscrimination laws? Probably not, but it's hard to measure, because the worst potential downsides are low probability but truly horrifying.

And I'll come back to a comment I made on RP four years ago. He's not really the guy we want. He's not going to wiin the nomination, let alone the presidency. He's like the quack cure clinic you go to after your oncologist tells you there's nothing more to be done for your cancer--you want to believe he's going to do you some good, even though you're pretty sure he's just giving you sugar pills.

The potential good outcome from a reasonably successful RP candidacy is to get his ideas into widespread discussion. Some of those ideas are lousy, but others seem pretty good to me, and yet they're pretty systematically excluded from the publci debate, at leasr in the respectable media--even to the point of not reporting on large antiwar rallies.

If we could get serious scaling back of our overseas military commitments in widespread discussion, alongside serious scaling back of our police state measures at home, and ending the drug war, I think that might actually lead us to have a better country.

#184 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 11:57 AM:

albatross @ 181:

The money paid to our military personnel (the ones in uniform, I'm omitting the contractors for the moment) is an insignificant fraction of the defense budget ($20 billion out of the $600 billion open budget, with Ghu alone knows how much in the black budget, my guess is at least $100 billion and quite possibly twice that). If we shut down all work on advanced weapons systems that don't really make sense or that have gone completely FUBAR (and, yes, F-35, I'm looking at you) we could easily free up $100 billion to arrange new jobs for the de-mobbed military. That would give them decent salaries and still allow for a 3 or 4 to 1 support ratio for administration and real-estate. The obvious thing to do is to set up a hybrid public/private organization to repair the nation's infrastructure; the money from the defense budget keeps the organization running, and the transportation and other infrastructure budgets pay for equipment and materials.

#185 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 12:00 PM:

Menawhile, I foung this Liberty/Justice image in a TVTropes "LOLsbians" link.

#186 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 01:14 PM:

Great image, Julie L!

#187 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 02:36 PM:

The problem I have with Libertarianism, as it seems to be presented, is that it gives liberty to all, without apparently protecting anybody. Whatever system there is for resolving disputes, it should be able to cope with the imbalance between the ordinary and the powerful. You can propose systems that allow great freedom, and have balancing mechanisms. Some, such as anarcho-syndicalism, might work, but if I were trying to go there, I wouldn't start from here.

And look what happens when we don't know yet how harmful something can be. A hundred years ago, the enviromental worry was streets filled with horse-shit, not global warming from the release of fossil CO2. Look at the scare stories about vaccination: how does a Libertarian society cope with stupidity?

In our world, weak government amounts to a surrender to the sociopathic thuggery of the corporate world. It is not an achievement, it is a despicable failure.

#188 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 03:05 PM:

Hear FRAKKIN' hear, Dave Bell!!!!! May I quote that?

#189 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 03:16 PM:

Dave Bell... the imbalance between the ordinary and the powerful

'They' would probably say that, in a Libertarian world, the ordinary would be forced to strive and surpass what are probably self-imposed limitations, if those can't be overcome it obviously because the ordinary is letting itself be a victim. Or some variation of that social-darwinist crap...

#190 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 03:22 PM:

Leah Miller @180, could you point out exactly where it was that I "suggest[ed] Ron Paul as a solution"?

Here's a quick guide to my contributions to this thread: the original post, comments 2, 7, 12, 27, 110, 112, 132, 155, 170, 173, and 177. I'd especially like to direct your attention to 7 and 170.

#191 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 04:36 PM:

I find it really strange here to be echoing Avram (at least, I think that's where he and I are), but the issue as I see isn't so much that Ron Paul is unacceptable for a whole host of reasons, and never mind what differences we may have about those reasons. It's that in one corner we have a bunch of rightist neocon crazies, and in another corner we have Ron Paul, and in the other two corners we have Romney and Obama, who if different, are both perhaps somewhere in the neighborhood of Nelson Rockefeller, if not even further to the right. Right now the only pressing reason I can see for voting for Obama is divided government, which is depressing.

#192 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 04:41 PM:

One concern I have with Ron Paul is that his batshit crazy ideas (gold standard, social-darwinist and racist crap, etc.) can be used to discredit his good ideas (opposition to imperialist foreign policy, opposition to domestic police-state policies, etc.) via guilt-by-association.

It's plausible that the Powers That Be allow or encourage Ron Paul because he's useful, both as an outlet for and way of harnessing the power of the certain types of crazies, and as a justification for saying to people near the center "only nutjobs like Ron Paul oppose the War on Terror; you're not a nutjob are you?"

#193 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 04:41 PM:

C., how about "because the next POTUS will appoint at least a couple of SCOTUS Justices"?

#194 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 04:55 PM:

C Wingate... the only pressing reason I can see for voting for Obama is divided government

We've seen what an undivided govt was like, under Obama's predecessor, whose opposition was quite spineless. Under Obama, we have a divided govt where the Other Guys won't recognize the legitimacy of someone lawfully elected because they just don't like him, and nothing is getting done for the country's health as a result. Whoopee. What a shining century we're having.

#195 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 06:46 PM:

You know, we have more federal law enforcement forces than ever -- every agency has one -- meaning individuals with guns who are deciding whether a law is being broken or not -- and who don't batshyte about the laws -- because nobody even knows what law we have any longer.

Federal Agents: The Growth of Federal Law Enforcement in America by Jeffrey B. Bumgarner is one source for this.

Love, C.

#196 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2011, 06:47 PM:

#194: I don't think it's really a question of the Republicans not liking Obama. Their game plan includes mechanical vilification (and obstruction) of *anyone* who might interfere with their virus-like behavior - legally or illegally. One cluster of them has the delusion they're doing God's work by disabling American government. The rest of them seem to be getting paid/bribed by corporate masters whose goal is to do a bust-out on the American economy.

#197 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2011, 06:04 AM:

Avram, #177: "Endless war as a make-work project?"

Kraw...Leah has the right of it, thank you, Leah. I am not a military Keynesian. I would prefer to see the troops come home and granted extensive veterans benefits as a stimulative measure. At the same time, I would prefer to see international conflict resolution mechanisms replace the current gimcrack balance of power.

Problem is, Ron Paul opposes both support for the vets once they are home, and any international conflict resolution mechanism.

The result is likely to be a deepened depression at home and war overseas.

I am unable to see a positive for Paul, the vets, the American people, or the world, here.


#198 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2011, 06:13 AM:

albatross, #181: "Nor do I think racism or anit-semitism have anything to do with [Paul's] foreign policy, given that it's consistent with a whole surrounding philosophy of how the US government should behave."

Perhaps he chooses the surrounding philosophy to provide cover for the racism and antisemitism. Many economic libertarians turn out to have adopted their economics to provide a rationale for the depredations of the 1%.

"I don't buy the apocalyptic predictions in case of a Paul win."

Albatross, seriously, why not? Paul has so many bad ideas; if even a few of them are implemented, the results will be disastrous. What am I missing here? Why shouldn't the results be as bad as those of Bush II?

For liberals, Ron Paul is not even a false hope: he is despair, embodied.

#199 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2011, 11:42 AM:

Lenny Bailes @ 196:

Well, perhaps some Republicans just rail against Obama as a political statement, but I am willing to bet a large amount of almost anything you want to name that a very large number of people who self-identify as "conservative" are deeply bothered by the idea of a man of color as POTUS. Bothered to the point of outrage and willingness to believe or at least say they believe almost any slander they hear about him.

#200 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2011, 12:36 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ 199
I am willing to bet a large amount of almost anything you want to name that a very large number of people who self-identify as "conservative" are deeply bothered by the idea of a man of color as POTUS.


But I'd say not likely; I think that a very small proportion of conservatives who deeply dislike Obama as POTUS would be "deeply bothered" by Clarence Thomas, or Bobby Jindal, or JC Watts, or Marco Rubio, as president.

Dave Bell @ 187

I would say that yes, dispute resolution systems should be able to cope with the difference between the powerful and the less powerful.

Where I differ very strongly with the overall discussion here is that I think that the dispute resolution system that we have in the US today is substantially worse in that regard than the one we had in 1910. With a dispute resolution system that provides lots of power, and is not bounded in its area of authority, the powerful are precisely the people that control that system.

#201 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2011, 12:55 PM:

SamChevre, 1910? Really? When a man had a legal right to beat his wife and kids, and disputes about whether some person of color didn't know his place were routinely resolved by lynching?

#202 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2011, 01:22 PM:

Lila @201 (emphasis added): disputes about whether some person of color didn't know his place were routinely resolved by lynching

That pronoun choice made me wonder about women being lynched. I rather regret the Google search now.

(Link not safe for anyone who wants to avoid historical despair. I couldn't make it to the end of that page.)

#203 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2011, 01:28 PM:

#189 ::: Serge Broom

Speaking as an actual libertarian, I focus on the amount of damage done by a powerful government rather than the idea that government squelches excellence by protecting people too much. I suppose I could make a case that government sometimes squelches excellence by protecting existing power structures.

#204 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2011, 02:35 PM:

This is a most interesting development. Perhaps other employers will imitate it.

#205 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2011, 04:29 PM:

re 199: There were perhaps not as many people who found it easy to vote for Obama in order to make him our first non-white-male president. I don't think this has anything to do with what's going on in congress: I'm willing to take at face value their up-front admission that they attack him primarily to the end of capturing government. And I think that this is really the more present threat, anyway.

#206 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2011, 04:31 PM:

Julie L, you're right, of course. In fact, I've mentioned Mae Murray Dorsey and Dorothy Malcolm here before (they were lynched along with Roger Malcolm and George Dorsey not far from where I live). I did not mean to suggest that all lynching victims were male. (I do notice, however, that many female victims were "substitutes" for the male the crowd was really after, so the pronoun isn't all that inaccurate.)

#207 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2011, 05:17 PM:

Elsewhere Charles Stross compared our current political situation with what happened in Poland's democracy. The ruling oligarchy of representative magistrates never had the national interests of Poland at heart. Instead they voted for for the interests of other nations that paid them in cold cash, gifts and titles (titles they couldn't have in Poland) -- against the interests of their own nation. This had slipped my mind until Charlie reminded me of it. We are certainly seeing this in D.C.

Love, C.

#208 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2011, 12:21 AM:

The Raven @197, did anyone ask you to see a positive for Paul, etc?

Sure Paul would make a terrible president. Bejamin Netanyahu would probably make a terrible Pope. If Darth Vader teamed up with Voldemort, that'd be trouble too. But none of that's real.

Obama having US citizens assassinated, and refusing to even reveal the criteria under which assassination is considered an option? That's a real thing happening in the real world, right now.

#209 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker To Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2011, 01:13 AM:

Constance @ 207:

I see an even closer analogy between the current behavior of the Republicans in Congress and the recent actions of the Fidesz party in Hungary. Having achieved a 68% supermajority in parliament as a result of a 53% majority of the popular vote, they have been rewriting the Hungarian Constitution to enforce their political and social agenda and prevent ever having to give up power.

#210 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2011, 07:09 AM:

Avram, #208: "did anyone ask you to see a positive for Paul, etc?"

For his stated foreign policy, yes, here in this thread. He is also running for President, so there are rather a lot of people not in this thread who want me very badly to see positives for him, on the off chance that birds can vote.

Comparing the damage from Paul's policies to Obama's is like comparing the damage from an unexploded bomb to one that has already gone off.

Anyhow, I'm giving this a break until next week. From my viewpoint the question here is not "Are the policies of this Democratic President toxic?" but rather, "What are we going to do about them?" Supporting Ron Paul ain't in it.

#212 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2011, 03:54 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @ 203: Speaking as an actual libertarian, I focus on the amount of damage done by a powerful government rather than the idea that government squelches excellence by protecting people too much.

Please allow me to second that sentiment.

I'll add to that my problem with the way that government tends to actively suppress egalitarian, voluntary, personal, spontaneous, and diverse responses to any given problem in favour of hierarchical, coercive, impersonal, canned, and uniform ones. Because those are the tools it has. And the more they're employed and valorized, the less fit society becomes to even contemplate kindlier or more respectful approaches.

As to "protecting people too much", I will start worrying about this three hundred years after I no longer have to worry about the government kicking people in the face when they're down, for instance by impossibly penal marginal tax-rates on poor people who find more or better-paid work. Were it possible, I'd gladly pay double taxes to get rid of the poverty trap and its army of spies and enforcers, and replace means-tested benefits with something civilized and non-intrusive like a flat universal basic income. A poor but non-regressive substitute, like a smoothly graduated income tax beginning at significantly negative rates, would still be a massive improvement on the present abuses.

And I would even consider that a victory for small government, since I think it would increase individual discretion and decrease central planning quite a lot.

#213 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2011, 05:30 PM:

Gray Woodland @212, that's an odd article (by Megan McArdle) that you just linked to. On the one hand, she says "the supply siders seem to be completely right" about the matter of poor people responding to high marginal tax rates by taking lower-paying jobs, or avoiding work.

But! Actual supply-side advocates argue that the economy is driven, not by the actions of the poor, but by the actions of the wealthy. That's why they always call for lower marginal tax rates on the rich. They've even developed an argument in the last few years that poor people aren't taxed enough.

The most obvious solutions to the problem she describes all involve, as you point out, more smoothly graduated benefits, which would involve increasing the amount the government pays out in benefits, because some people who currently get none would be getting some. The supply-siders, on the other hand, generally argue for doing away with the benefits entirely. So describing this as a case where the supply-siders "are right" seems more than a bit dishonest.

(I don't even know where to start with your paragraph about "hierarchical, coercive, impersonal, canned, and uniform" responses being somehow unique to government.)

#214 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2011, 07:32 PM:

Avram @ 213: I'm citing the McArdle article for some painful and USA-current examples of what's wrong with the status quo. I have no wish, and likely enough not the competence, to defend the conclusions she draws from them. Our beliefs are not very similar.

More centrally to my own point, I don't at all think that the rather inhuman and authoritarian mode of 'solving' problems I'm deprecating is unique to government. I am saying it is necessarily endemic to government, which is a quite different matter. Society is quite capable of spawning arbitrarily bad institutions without the help of an overarching government - though not necessarily of stopping them trying to become or infect governments. We can all surely name some.

But there are whole classes of good institution and custom which necessarily can't be achieved through government (except self-government), because of its nature as a formalized power relationship. And I do say that it is the nature of government to overwrite these kindlier institutions wherever the opportunity arises, either out of well-meaning officiousness or naked self-interest.

Yes, sometimes government is really the only solution in a tight corner, or at least the only one any of us can think of at present.

And sometimes, the only thing to do is to put on the Ring, and hope one will be able to get the precious thing off again. That is pretty well how I feel about it.

Now I will shut up about politics until after Boxing Day at least, for the sake of my good humour and digestion.

#215 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2011, 02:11 PM:

A little more on the power to disappear or assassinate people on the president's say so alone: The Washington Post story on the secret drone assassination program.

It's certainly a good thing this sort of action doesn't ever make enemies for us around the world. And I'm grateful to recognize that this technology will never be used against Americans (other than evil terrorists who have no rights), or at home (unless the president decides he really needs someone offed). Certainly, this will never be used against irritating journalists (unlike more conventional artillery, bombings, and kidnappings, which have been used against foreign journalists from time to time).

Really, we have nothing to fear from this sort of program. Keeping it secret from us is all for the best--knowing would just put senseless worries into our little heads. As Peggy Noonan said, sometimes in life you just want to keep walking. Some things are better left a mystery. (Indeed, many of these programs are apparently a mystery even to the people nominally overseeing them.)

It's really a lot like our torture and domestic spying policies, which you can totally 100% trust aren't happening anymore--that's why the whole political and media establishment closed ranks to ensure that no investigation of them would be pursued, even passing a few laws to make sure of that. Really, do you want to know what we're doing? I mean, you'd probably feel yucky about it if they told you, and since nobody you can elect will stop doing that stuff, what would be the point?

It's kind of like our diplomatic dealings with other countries, or our use of the secret police in lovely countries like Egypt and Libya to get answers out of terrorism suspects, or exactly what our war in Iraq looked like when you got to see the raw footage--why should we know that stuff? (Fortunately, the Obama administration has bravely stepped forward to ensure that we don't learn about these things in the future, by treating whistleblowers as badly as they can get away with.)

#216 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2011, 08:28 AM:

albatross @ 215:

I've been fascinated for many years by the amount of effort a government will go to to keep something secret from its own people that is common knowledge to its enemies.

#217 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2011, 10:47 AM:

Nancy Lebovitz, #203: "Speaking as an actual libertarian, I focus on the amount of damage done by a powerful government rather than the idea that government squelches excellence by protecting people too much."

Dave Neiwert recently pointed out that harm is done to people by their fellow citizens, without any government intervention at all. If anything, democratic government is recruited to support that harm, rather than the other way around.

Seriously, do you believe that organized bigotry or the abuses of the power of wealth will be lessened with weaker law or a lesser voice for the broad public in making that law?

#218 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2011, 10:54 AM:

Bruce Cohen, #216: "I've been fascinated for many years by the amount of effort a government will go to to keep something secret from its own people that is common knowledge to its enemies."

Or sometimes even common knowledge to its own people, as in the bizarre treatment of government employees who cite documents already published by Wikileaks.

I think the reason for this is internal to government officials, rather than any actual attempt to maintain secrecy. It is an expression of failures of thought and internal bureaucratic (or perhaps aristocratic court) politics, rather than a result of the actual belief that the secret can be kept.

#219 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2011, 11:33 AM:

"Interestingly, there's a lot of interest in Huntsman, even while thinking him unelectable in the next breath. Many of those give Johnson as a second choice. (Neither of those two were on my own radar at all.)"

Well, after getting nowhere as a Republican presidential candidate, Gary Johnson just switched parties and is now seeking the Libertarian nomination.

It'll be interesting to see how that unfolds. I haven't really followed him closely, but his platform seems to have the bring-the-troops-home, and restore-civil-liberties planks that Paul's known for, but he doesn't seem to have the same racist/soak-the-wingnuts baggage that Paul has. (And he has a record of executive performance, having been elected governor of New Mexico twice.)

I've been curious why he hasn't gained any significant notice before now. (Is it his pro-marijuana-legalization stance, I wonder?) It'll be interesting to see if his third-party bid helps or hurts his campaign... and which voters gravitate toward him and away from the major parties, should he win the Libertarian nomination. (It's still possible that Paul might seek that nomination as well.)

#220 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2011, 01:21 PM:


The general push for keeping stuff secret from American citizens seems pretty obviously targeted at keeping the voters and taxpayers from knowing what they're supporting and paying for. Consider the collateral murder video, one of the early fruits of Manning's leak (assuming they've got the right guy.) I claim no expertise about military matters, but it seems pretty damned clear that keeping that video classified had nothing to do with keeping our enemies from learning that (say) we had helicopters with guns on them or something. The US government's refusal to release details about the killing of their reporter and cameraman to Reuters had nothing to do with keeping soldiers safe. It was all about managing the perception of the war here at home. Under Bush, reporters weren't allowed to take pictures or video of returning caskets, for the same reason--not because a picture of a flag-draped casket would violate anyone's dignity or privacy, not because this would leak critical casket-making technology to the taliban, but because those images would have made it harder to keep the war going.

I suspect this is broadly true for most of our military adventures overseas--the secrecy isn't to keep our enemies from knowing what we're up to, it's to keep our citizens from knowing what we're up to.

#221 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2011, 03:18 PM:

#217 ::: The Raven :

Seriously, do you believe that organized bigotry or the abuses of the power of wealth will be lessened with weaker law or a lesser voice for the broad public in making that law?

As far as I can tell, sometimes government amplifies private bigotry and sometimes damps it down.

The war on drugs and the efforts to keep out immigrants, not to mention the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are done on such a grand scale that I don't think they could be done privately.

This doesn't answer whether the net effect would be more status-based damage or less if the government were less active, but I don't think the answer is obvious.

#222 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2011, 03:30 PM:


I'd say some of the tools of government, but not all, tend toward hierarchical solutions. There's a whole class of government solutions to problems that involves passing and enforcing laws, or creating regulatory agencies, and another that involves writing checks to people (with a large side order of building a bureacuracy to make sure the money goes where it's supposed to go). Those both tend to hierarchy. Many programs to aid the poor also tend to hierarchy because they include some element of wanting to tell the recipients of the aid what to do with it (for good and bad reasons).

But that's not the only way things can go. Government can also run competitions of various kinds (think NIH grants), create private rights of action (think patents and civil rights laws), etc. And the most important job government does is to create a predictable set of laws and rules under which people can live their lives. Similarly, government is the only way we know to protect ourselves from invasion and manage commons on a large scale--both prerequisites to letting people live their lives in freedom. That mostly doesnt need to drive your whole society toward a more hierarchical, top down kind of organization.

#223 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2011, 03:41 PM:


I'd add one thing: Many of the civil rights issues we run into involve conflicts between different levels of government. The civil rights struggle for blacks was largely (though not entirely) a fight between the federal and state governments, and also between courts and elected governments. Spinning that as proof that government is a force for civil rights is a little off somehow--the state government of Alabama was not a force for civil rights for blacks, though the federal government was.

You could make the argument that powerful central government is a force for civil rights, but I wonder if the Japanese displaced in WW2 or the American Indians displaced and massacred historically would agree. And then there's the war on drugs, sex offender lists, and all the lovely bits of the war on terror--none of them exactly commercials for how a strong central government protects civil rights.

Government is like firearms, markets, computers, or any other human technology--it is morally neutral. The tools of government tend in certain directions, but they can be used for good or evil as the people in power decide--just as there can be markets for food or markets for slaves, just as both bank robbers and bank guards can use guns, etc.

#224 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2011, 07:21 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @221: The war on drugs and the efforts to keep out immigrants, not to mention the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are done on such a grand scale that I don't think they could be done privately.

"There are about 100,000 government contractors operating in Iraq, not counting subcontractors, a total that is approaching the size of the U.S. military force there, according to the military's first census of the growing population of civilians operating in the battlefield." --- "Census Counts 100,000 Contractors in Iraq" by Renae Merle, 5 Dec 2006, The Washington Post

#225 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2011, 03:04 PM:

The Raven @ 217:

Agreed. Classifying information is often the result of a sort of knee-jerk reflex of bureaucracy, intended to maintain the power of the agency by denying knowledge of its actions to people who would attempt to hold it to account.

albatross @ 220:

I suspect this is broadly true for most of our military adventures overseas--the secrecy isn't to keep our enemies from knowing what we're up to, it's to keep our citizens from knowing what we're up to.

Oh, absolutely. One lesson the US military actually did learn from Vietnam (as opposed to all the military lessons they should have learned) was to keep the news correspondents and most especially the photographers close, where their access to information and experience could be controlled. I don't think there's any question but that the nightly news film of the Vietnam War was a major factor in turning the country so strongly against the war.

And, of course, an imperial power often has to do things that a representative democracy with a strong historical aversion to an interventionist foreign policy (remember "No foreign entanglements"?) would take badly. So it's best if we just hide those less palatable actions from the bleeding hearts.

#226 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2012, 04:25 PM:

My understanding is that Obama has signed the bill, albeit witih some kind of signing statement saying he didn't really mean it or something.

On Ron Paul, I rather liked Greenwald's take. We have all kind of internalized the idea that some kinds of change aren't possible--that we will always have an interventionist foreign policy', that the powerful will always be above justice, that the war on drugs will never end. Perhaps that is right, but the only way for it not to be right is for those of us who care about these issues to be willing to vote and donate mney and protest in that directlion, even in spite of the folks who will tell us we're nuts or being unrealistic or dirty hippies or whatever. The MSM portraying the world as being one where these policies are simply the only ones possible, and anyone fighting against them is simply nuts or at best unworldly and unrealistic, iis no more reliable than their protrayal of antiwar protests and sentiment, or police abuse, or any number of other things.

The *purpose* of those media messages and images is precisely to keep us from loudly calling these things into question, to keep us all biting our tongues and remaining silent on these issues because they're outside the mainstream. The only way the Overton window gets moved is if people are willing to push to move it.

Paul's candidacy, right now,offers a chance for us to push against the Overton window on those issues--to maybe make a less sociopathic foreign policy and some checks and balances on the domestic police state we' re building and accountability even for the powerful part of the stuff that gets discussed in public, by political candidates and among the talking heads. Probably in another month,Paul will be forgotten--the powerful in the GOP would much rather lose in November than have those issues become part of the normal range of debate in the Republican party, and I expect they will do everything in their power to shut it down. But right now, there is an opportunity to have these issues heard. We need to do that, if we can, though I'll admit I'm not too sure how to do so.

#227 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2012, 07:43 PM:

albatross, #226: I repeat what I said @147. I am goddamn sick and tired of being told that, my food having gone bad, the remedy is to swallow poison. And no, it doesn't matter whether it's only a little poison, or a different and less-offensive kind of poison, or that some of the side effects might be temporarily beneficial before the lethal reaction kicks in.

#228 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2012, 10:35 PM:

Lee @227, who's asking you to swallow anything? Did you even look at the Glenn Greenwald article that albatross linked to?

Also, do you think repeating the same thing you said in an earlier comment (in the same thread) is a useful rhetorical strategy? (And it's not even a good metaphor. I mean, there are plenty of substances that have medicinal, neutral, or even life-sustaining effects in a small dose, and lethal effects in a larger dose. You probably swallow poisons all the time. You know what table salt is made of, right?)

#229 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2012, 11:15 PM:

I've come to a similar conclusion as Lee, but via a different route—I only set the cup down after staring at it for quite a while.

If there is any good to come out of the Paul candidacy, I see it coming from making grand gestures with the poison but stopping short of swallowing it. I hope he does well enough in the primaries, without winning, that other politicians have to take war and civil liberties seriously.

#230 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2012, 11:26 PM:

Table salt isn't poison: that's like saying that cold wood ash is a fire hazard.

#231 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2012, 11:29 PM:

Oh, and to clarify: I hope the other politicians learn the right lessons from the Paul campaign, not something like you can write racist newsletters and still get X% of the vote.

#232 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2012, 11:30 PM:

Haven't you heard of low-sodium diets? Too much salt is, definitely, bad for you. (So is Ron Paul. A stopped clock, right on a couple of things, but very much wrong on others.)

#233 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2012, 11:40 PM:


That's my hope, too. I think this is the best chance in the last several years to try to move the Overton window in such a way that some kind of sanity in our foreign policy, drug war, endless deficit spending, and war on terror at home become ideas that at least occasionally are discussed by politicians and talking heads and newspaper writers. The current window doesn't include the idea that maybe we arent made safer by blowing up thousands of foreigners, or that maybe we would be better off without putting huge numbers of people in jail for drug use, or that maybe we arent made safer by blowing billions of dollars on security theater and tapping everyone's phne calls, text messages, and emails.

My hope is that when these ideas get into the window of acceptable opinion, when they're regularly discussed in political campaigns and talk shows, a lot of people will come to see why they make sense.

None of that requires thinking RP would be a good president. But it does require finding some way to push the window of acceptable opinion. Right now, the two big parties are demnstrably not interested in that stuff being part of the debate, because the people in power all agree that we should keep doing those things--keep blowing up foreigners and Americans as the president sees fit, keep spying ever more pervasively on Americans, keep building up all the mechanisms and laws needed for a nightmarish police state, keep locking up drug users and doctors who are too free with pain medicines and even people who run legalized in their state medical marijuana dispensaries, keep bailing out the banks when they make bad bets, and on and on. Unless we can find some way to push back on that, it will keep on happening. I'm hoping Paul's 15 minutes of fame will somehow allow us tp push back on that stuff.

#234 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2012, 12:20 AM:

Allan Beatty @229, I don't imagine that the other candidates will feel any voting pressure to take peace and freedom seriously. I think the best we can expect from Paul's candidacy is that the issues get more air time. The worst is that peace and freedom become loaded down with Paul's baggage.

Speaking of which, there's more than just the newsletters. There's a hilarious recent article in Rightwing News by Eric Dondero, Ron Paul's former senior aide. What makes it so great is that Dondero's the kind of thuddingly literal-minded libertarian who has no idea what sorts of things normal people find offensive, so winds up ladling out all sorts of spicy new dish about Paul, and all the time clearly believes he's defending him. It's like the Captain Sternn/Hanover Fiste sequence from the Heavy Metal movie: "Captain Sternn would never do anything illegal — except the pre-school prostitution ring!"

@231, around the time those newsletters were being published, you could court racists pretty openly and get elected. Every winning candidate did it: Carter in '76 (the "ethnic purity" speech in Alabama), Reagan in '80 (the "states' rights" speech in Mississippi), Poppy Bush in '88 (Willie Horton), and Clinton in '92 (Sister Souljah). It'd be more accurate to say that you couldn't not court racists and get elected.

#235 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2012, 03:47 AM:

Avram, #228: Interesting. It's fine for Paulists to keep beating me over the head with arguments about why I should vote for him, but wrong for me to say "It's still spinach, and I still say the hell with it."

I am seriously considering voting in the Republican primary* this year (in Texas, you don't have to declare your affiliation; both primaries are held on the same day, and you just have to pick which one you want to vote in), and Ron Paul is on the list of possibilities. But vote for him in the general election? HELL, no.

* In the 2008 primary, a lot of Republicans crossed over to vote for Hillary Clinton, precisely because they considered her unelectable. At least half the Clinton supporters in my caucus group were undercover Republicans who didn't know how not to give themselves away. Two can play that game.

#236 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2012, 08:58 AM:

Avram @ 234: Sister Souljah my ass. If you want to understand the true depths of Bill Clinton, you must have a meal with Ricky Ray Rector.

Anyway, a Merry Christmas to all, and do read the first comment for another little peek into yonder abyss.

#237 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2012, 10:31 AM:

Lee @235 who, in this thread, was beating you over the head with arguments about why you should vote for Paul?

The comment you were specifically responding to was albatross @226, which does not ask you to vote for Paul. The link in that comment goes to a Glenn Greenwald piece about the candidacies of Paul and Obama, which starts out with an eight-paragraph preface bemoaning the fact that, no matter how strongly he states that he is not endorsing or supporting any candidate, people will inevitably misread criticism of one as endorsement of the other.

#238 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2012, 10:19 PM:

But some people here are repeatedly beating our heads with why Paul has some ideas that are just So Important that any and all of his utterly toxic policies should be ignored in support of those one or two rough gems. (And then complaining when anyone else gets as repetitive.)

This stopped being productive some time back. And personally, I'm done with it.

#239 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2012, 10:53 PM:

geekosaur @238, wait, what exactly do you mean by "support of those one or two rough gems"? Do you mean that, because you find Paul's position on sexual harassment repugnant, you also reject his positions on war, civil liberties, and drub prohibition?

#240 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2012, 10:59 PM:

Well, I suppose we could ignore that he isn't non-interventionist, but isolationist, but he's also a misogynist, homophobe, racist, and a gold-bug and a states-righter.

He sounds like someone from the 19th century. Pre-Civil War.

#241 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2012, 11:05 PM:

I think drubbing should be prohibited.

#242 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 12:21 AM:

P J Evans @240, "isolationist"? Seriously? You're telling me he's opposed to international trade and travel?

Anyway, yeah, ignore whatever you want, or don't, whatevs. Does that mean you think he's wrong about drug prohibition, indefinite detention, and our current batch of wars?

#243 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 12:31 AM:

Anyone who publicly proposes that we reestablish letters of Marque and Reprisal is not operating from a basis that fills me with confidence on their other proposals, no matter how much I'd like them to be correct.

#244 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 01:12 AM:

Anyone who publicly proposes that we reestablish letters of Marque and Reprisal is not operating from a basis that fills me with confidence on their other proposals, no matter how much I'd like them to be correct. a bonehead wacko who can't be trusted with 75 cents and a stick of gum, let alone a national budget and nuclear weapons.

FTFY. I'm assuming this is approximately what you meant. :-)

#245 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 01:45 AM:

OK, so the general sense of the thread that I'm getting is that if a fringe politicians proposes crazy, bigoted, and/or destructive ideas, the correct response is to mock him, but if a mainstream politician (like a currently sitting president) actually implements crazy, bigoted, and/or destructive ideas, the correct response is ... to mock the fringe politician.

What's up with that? Is it that we can't see any prospect of changing the fact that our nation has adopted sociopathic policies, so we distract ourselves by worrying about some guy with (at best) a snowball's chance in Hell of winning the election?

#246 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 01:55 AM:

Avram @245:

I think the problem—certainly my problem—with this discussion is that it reads not like "he has some interesting ideas in among the bad ones" but as the first stage of the Redemption of a Nutcase into Respectable Politics. And I think that a lot of us are already violently allergic to that process, thanks to far too much exposure to it over the years.

You know the sequence. First he has some good ideas, but he's completely unelectable, so we don't have to worry that he's also batshit insane in other areas. Then he's got some good ideas, and he's only 75% as crazy as your average rabid weasel. Then he's got some good ideas, we should be listening to this fellow. Then he had some nutcase ideas, but those are in the past, or in the background, because he also has some good ideas. And then he's just a politician with some good ideas and some bad ones, no worse than all the others.

A few too many times, and one becomes twitchy about even that first sentence in the list.

#247 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 02:59 AM:

abi, #246: Yes, that's part of it. Another piece, at least for me, is the nearly-religious fervor of the Paulists. A number of the ones I know would (quite rightly!) be appalled and horrified by any other politician who said the kinds of things he does, and (the Republican Party not currently lacking in politicians who do say those kinds of things) have in fact been so in the past. But because it's RON PAUL, suddenly those things no longer seem to matter to them.

#248 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 03:11 AM:

Abi @246, the problem I have with that analysis is that in politics, Respectable is another kind of Crazy.

Repeal the Civil Rights Act is Fringe Crazy, the sort of thing that, if you say it on a Sunday morning talk show, the host will ask if you're really serious, maybe more than once. Let's keep on having wars in the Middle East is Establishment Crazy; the Sunday morning talk show host will just nod in agreement if you say it, because it indicates that you're Serious About Terrorism; he's more likely to look askance if you question the Endless War than if you advocate it. I worry more about Establishment Crazy; it's the thing that actually does large-scale damage.

Now, one danger with people who are Fringe Crazy is that they might inject their Fringe Crazy ideas into the establishment, to make a new Establishment Crazy. But one useful thing about people who are Fringe Crazy is that they actually notice that the Establishment is crazy, when most of us just sort of nod along like the Sunday morning news host.

#249 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 03:12 AM:

I see from a summary on the BBC that Ron Paul is 76. Quite apart from his expressed opinions, isn't that a little too old for the job. It isn't as though it's an elderly head of state with sixty years of experience in the role, and a clearly defined succession. Ron Paul is old enough that you have to take into account who would run as Vice President, and the phrase "senile puppet" becomes plausible.

#250 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 04:03 AM:

Avram @248:

I think that's an interesting question. I think this would have been a more productive discussion of it if it didn't feel so very much like you were trying to get people to admit that they were hypocrites, or perhaps concern trolls (in the classic "stop worrying about x because children are starving in China!" sense).

For my part, it looks like we have no, zero, zip traction on the issues where Paul is correct, and are actually a fair way along the road to solid, reliable, bedded-in and culture-changing solutions to the ones where he's batshit crazy. But there's still opposition, and what we've got isn't safe and solid yet. So I look at Paul, and I see a man who won't get anywhere against the Establishment Crazy, but who will let the groundwater seep in and erode the things we have achieved.

Which, as a woman who has been harassed at work (just to pick one example), means this isolated conversation of the merits of someone whose Batshit Crazy should just be overlooked for the purposes of this discussion, isn't really as abstractly intellectual as one might wish.

I think you have to pick your crazy, and not switch crazies too often, or you get a bunch of half-completed reforms that don't quite do what they promised—and discredit the effort of reform thereby.

If it helps, I'm happy to admit the hypocrisy of this position.

#251 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 04:24 AM:

Dave Bell @249, hey, y'know what's weird? Ron Paul is a year older than John McCain, and three years older than Reagan was when he ran for reelection in '84. I hear McCain-is-old jokes all the time (or used to, when he was in the news more), and there was talk of Reagan maybe being too old back in '84, but I've never yet heard a joke about Paul's age. Probably just because Paul's got a younger-looking face and generally more energetic aspect to him, while McCain's war injuries make him stiff and awkward, which makes him seem even older than he is. And the comments about Reagan, well, he did kind of appear to be maybe a bit senile (and may have actually been suffering the onset of Alzheimer's disease).

Which I guess is just another lesson about the shallowness of public perception. Comedians follow dominant media narratives even more closely than journalists do, and that shapes our perceptions of the candidates.

#252 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 11:20 AM:

This voter most certainly McCain was too old and unhealthy, in addition to everything else that made him unfit to be POTUS -- or elected into any responsible position of anything anyway. I always felt that way about him, sans the age part. His judgment in pulling the unspeakable in as his running mate surely justifies my earliest feeings about him.

RR was too old too -- as proven by the no longer secret fact that his dementia had already kicked in while a sitting POTUS. He was unfit for a whole host of other reasons as well. Silly U.S. voters did not see that though.

RP is too old too, as well as unfit for a whole host of other reasons.

The fringe has become the driver of all our politics now. That is what must stop.

Love, C.

#253 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 01:27 PM:

Preferring Obama to Paul: What Does It Say About Progressive Priorities? from the Atlantic with links to Glenn Greenwald and others on the issue we've been discussing here of late

#254 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 03:33 PM:


I totally get why a liberal or progressive isn't too keen on Paul, who is somewhere between libertarian and paleocon. He disagrees with you on fundamental issues. He wants to shut down the Department of Education and the EPA, get rid of federal civil rights law, and repeal Roe v Wade. I get why you aren't voting for him.

What I'm not so clear on, and I honest to God don't mean this as any kind of attack, is why a liberal or progressive is at all keen on Obama.

In what universe are the Obama administration's policies wrt war, foreign policy, domestic surveillance, claims of executive power, secrecy, retribution against whistleblowers, or drug policy liberal? What in the treatment of Bradley Manning, or the handling of the reconstituted military tribunals trying Omar Khadr, or the assassination of Al-Awlaki is liberal? What in amending the FOIA to suppress release of pictures of what our torture of captives looked like is liberal? What the fuck is liberal about a secret campaign of murdering people via flying killer robots? Or by the more traditional, low-tech death squads we also have operating?

#255 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 03:45 PM:

albatross @254:

Like I said above, we're partway through some pretty deep-level social transformations on the issue of equal rights for people of genders, colors and sexual orientations that have not previously attracted said rights. We're not there yet, and there are plenty of people who want to roll those changes back, but we're underway on them.

Meanwhile, apart from Paul, we are absolutely nowhere, in either party, on the subjects of genuine engagement with the wider world on an equal basis, the reining-in of corporatocracy, and the steady erosion of civil rights for the population as a whole. There's no one with political juice and gumption advocating for these matters.

So I see one guy who sucks on many issues, but is at least not standing in the way of others that are underway and achievable. And I see another who would lose us the dearly-bought gains of the last fifteen or twenty years as enumerated in my first paragraph, and would not be very likely to get traction in the wider culture on the issues in my second.

What's to like?

#256 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 03:51 PM:

albatross... What I'm not so clear on, and I honest to God don't mean this as any kind of attack, is why a liberal or progressive is at all keen on Obama

What Abi said.

#257 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 04:04 PM:

Also, there's no reform deader than a half-completed and abandoned one.* If we lose this stuff now, we lose it for years. There are people who already make it their electoral platform to ensure that we do.

It would have to be a pretty iron-clad guarantee of tangible progress in the other issues to make me risk what we have and what we are building. I probably would, though, if it were in the offing. But I don't know that other liberals would, particularly not gays, not at this stage of things.

But I'm not seeing that kind of chance in any candidate, not even Paul.

* ERA, anyone? And health care was an order of magnitude harder because of Clinton.

#258 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 04:07 PM:

Some blunt exposition over at Digby's on why Ron Paul is a dreadful presidential candidate despite the coincidence that several of his views coincide with liberal objectives.

#259 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 04:27 PM:

albatross, #254 (and all the other people who keep insisting that I must be completely besotted with Obama because I don't like their pet candidate): I'm not particularly keen on Obama, for all the reasons you mention. He has severely failed to live up to the reasons many of us voted for him. If there were a mechanism that allowed for a seated President to be challenged from within his own party, there are 3 or 4 contenders I'd back long before Obama, of which Alan Grayson is probably the leader.

There is not such a mechanism. Obama is what we've got, and what everyone outside the Democratic party is offering is much, much worse. This isn't a decision between good and bad. It's not even a decision between bad and less bad. It's a decision between bad and UNTHINKABLE.

#260 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 05:37 PM:

re 258: Well, Digby is quite happy to equate being liberal with being socialist, but plenty of liberals out there, I think, would object to that equation. And I don't know that it's such a great thing to buy into the neo-con picture of liberals as interfering and confiscatory busybodies.

I figure I'll end up voting for Obama, but not with any enthusiasm. It's pretty sad when, for most of the issues I really care about, all of the candidates are to the right of me, except for Paul's civil liberty positions.

I'll be up front about it: sexuality is not my issue. I realize it's a more pressing issue for other people. But I also think that putting a lot of faith in the presidency on those issues is misplaced. Gay marriage and the like are going to be won on a state-by-state basis, at least in the near (which is to say, next-four-year) future. Obama is not going to make the supreme court appointment which is going to get it to rise up and pull a Roe-v.-Wade-style end run around the legislature. And I certainly don't see Paul cooperating with congress in a federally mandated rollback of marriage law; he would let the states advance or regress as they saw fit, and I don't see regression in the cards.

#261 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 05:42 PM:

" ... why a liberal or progressive is at all keen on Obama."

Who claimed "all keen"? Obama's been deeply and constantly criticized by progressives and rightly so.

However -- Obama is not a racist. He seems to be a feminist. He is not an ancient fellow we need to be concerned about going all senile dementia during his time in the Oval Office. He's got a wife is the most like people I know than any First Lady has ever been, and she's got my 100% approval.

The question you should ask is why anyone in their right mind would find RP a reasonable candidate for POTUS?

Well, we know the answer to that: Because every one that is being thrown up as an opponent to Obama is batshyte loonytunes and a racist and hater of women to boot.

#262 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 05:53 PM:

Abi @255, I see one guy (Obama) who sucks on many issues, is currently president, and is likely to be president for the next six years. And I see another guy (Paul) who will never be president (unless maybe Romney picks him as veep, somehow wins the election, and then dies in office). Those aren't equivalent things.

I'd be much harsher on Paul if I thought he had a reasonable chance of actually becoming president. As it is, he's a marginal figure (relatively, given that he's a US Senator), which allows him a certain degree of freedom to speak his mind, to criticize the insanities of the "respectable" consensus. I'm amazed that the hypothetical damage that Paul could do to civil rights under the extraordinarily tiny chance that he both becomes president and has a willing Congress to support him looms larger in some people's minds than the real damage being done by the current president (and the previous president, and endorsed by the leading rival contenders for the office).

#263 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 05:57 PM:

albatross 254: What I'm not so clear on, and I honest to God don't mean this as any kind of attack, is why a liberal or progressive is at all keen on Obama.

Because there isn't anyone better who's remotely electable. Obama isn't a liberal; actual liberals have no chance at all of being elected POTUS. NONE. And as evidence I cite the fact that the last time a liberal was elected POTUS was in 1960.

That being the case, we're smart enough to support the least batshit-crazy conservative out there, who happens to be Obama. He's not peaceful enough either...but he's better than any Republican. He's not good on whistleblowers...but any Republican would be as bad or worse.

Ron Paul is even worse than ROMNEY. He doesn't come CLOSE to being as not-bad as Obama.

C. 260: I'll be up front about it: sexuality is not my issue.

How nice for you. Your privilege allows you to be indifferent. Comfy. Enjoy that.

If they come after you for something arbitrary and stupid, don't come to me for help or sympathy. But you're probably in a privileged enough class that you don't have to worry about that, and can sit there smugly shrugging about our lives and happiness.

Obama is not going to make the supreme court appointment which is going to get it to rise up and pull a Roe-v.-Wade-style end run around the legislature.

No, but he's also not going to make appointments that will guarantee the deterioration of civil rights and environmental law, as all the Republican candidates would.

And I certainly don't see Paul cooperating with congress in a federally mandated rollback of marriage law; he would let the states advance or regress as they saw fit, and I don't see regression in the cards.

You're not very good at this card-reading thing. Does "Prop 8" mean anything to you? There are similar movements afoot in several other states.

#264 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 06:00 PM:

C Wingate @260, first, while that essay was posted at Digby's blog, it was written by someone else, named David Atkins. Second, while I disagree with Atkins's thesis ("Liberalism is and has always been about intervention"), he isn't equating liberalism with socialism.

#265 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 06:07 PM:

I've gotta leave the house in a bit, so I can't write the long comment about how this whole discussion makes me despair about the possibility of ever having a sane discussion about politics on the Internet during presidential election season, but maybe could everyone who hasn't already please read the first part of Glenn Greenwald's "Progressives and the Ron Paul fallacies"? (Albatross linked to it @226.) I'm not asking you to read the part that's actually about Ron Paul --- just the opening eight paragraphs, about how awful political discourse gets. The reactions to it across the blogosphere have, I think, shown Greenwald to be right.

#266 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 06:33 PM:

You know what? This isn't worth my time.

Avram, if you want a sane discussion on the internet, don't start it out as an accusation of hypocrisy to a large slice of your most dedicated and interested readership, don't follow it up with hectoring and tendentious comments rather than full and explanatory ones, and pay attention to what people are saying.

I certainly don't get the feeling you've read my last three comments with any kind of attention; it feels more like you're busy checking whether I agree with you before having another gnaw on my leg. I don't see Lee feeling all that attended to either.

As I said, not my cup of tea for political discussion. I don't despair of this election season, but I certainly do despair of this approach to discussing it.

#267 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 07:09 PM:

I'll probably be voting in the Republican primary here in Ohio -- for one of the few seemingly sane candidates -- Huntsman.

I'm a New Deal Democrat -- and as far as I'm concerned Obama is a Republican in a donkey suit.

When it comes down to the general election I'll probaby either vote Green or write in the guy who would have been a real Democratic president...John Edwards.

Note: I don't give a damn who or what the man was bedding -- that's between him and his family.

#268 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 07:29 PM:

Constance @ 261... Obama is not a racist. He seems to be a feminist.

When he showed up on "Mythbusters" to question how they'd dealt with Archimedes's death ray, he mentionned that he watches their show with his daughters. Oh my... A man who probably is thus fostering in his female offspring an interest in the spirit of inquiry? The horror. The horror!

#269 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 07:31 PM:

Avram #265: I've read that article, and you know what? Glenn Greenwald is full of shit. He's putting up Ron Paul as a "lone light", as if he were the only public voice in America standing up against the Drug War, the foreign wars, fiscal mismanagement, and so forth.

Except he's no such thing. There are plenty of people who have been speaking up against these things all along. Ron Paul is merely the only person who's been permitted to say such things in the context of a national presidential campaign. And I think there's a very fair case to be made that the only reason he has been permitted to say such things, is because he's both unelectable, and "sufficiently evil" in other respects.

Furthermore, let me point out that the thread here has in fact been civil, and that in fact you personally have been treated with far more courtesy and forbearance than warranted by your repeated dismissal of, and refusal to address, other people's arguments.

Bluntly: Just because you're not getting any traction in the argument doesn't mean the argument hasn't been civil! And most of the people you're arguing with are not willing to ignore that RP is a hateful bigot and a nutcase, just because he also happens to support a few things that real liberals also want. Even if "he couldn't be elected anyway".

#270 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 08:33 PM:

abi at 266: I am awed by your graciousness.

Ron Paul, a man in his seventies who lived through the civil rights struggles of the 50s and 60s, nevertheless professes to believe that the country would be better off if the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had not been passed and if, instead, the issues that that act addressed, of justice and equity for all Americans, had been left up to the states.

Because he lived through it, and still holds this view, I conclude that this man's understanding of the world is utterly untrustworthy. That Act was necessary because indeed, the states -- Mississippi, Arkansas, South Carolina -- had been and were addressing the issues, and the way the states chose to address the issues was with brutality, injustice, inequity, and government-sanctioned murder. Yes, Ron Paul appears to hold some positions I can agree with. I too would like to see the U.S. curb its militarism. But that he can, somehow, not see the reality of racism in this country, and the historical necessity for the federal government to act to protect the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of its citizens of color, makes me unable to trust either his principles or his fundamental perception of the world.

President Obama has done some things I fear, even hate. He's made some decisions, both to act and to avoid acting, that I strongly disagree with. But despite this, it seems to me that Obama and I share certain common philosophical and political understandings, so that where we disagree, we can at least talk about them. (Can't say that for sure, since I've never had the pleasure of a conversation with Barack Obama.) I very much doubt that I could say the same of Mr. Paul.

And, oh yeah, this is a man who supported Pat Buchanan's Presidential ambitions in 1996. Pat Buchanan. Dear sweet Jesus on a pogo stick.

#271 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 08:34 PM:

Additionally, Avram, to accuse the posters on ML of being Obama zombies -- Really? Do you even READ what posters here on ML have been criticizing Obama about for lo these last 3 years? Where do you get off anyway?

And this thing of candidates? Debates? One goes up, then he's down in favor of the next on on the list, etc.? Don't you get it? It's all one big clown show, a bread and circuses diversion, called campagining and elections. None of them are taken seriously by anybody. It's all for the media and all the people who make shyte loads of moola out of electoral circuses. We really have become Rome, it seems ....

Not even a bush wants to run in this atmosphere of Economic Depression and Batshyte nutso have have taken of the media and the country. All it is, is s farce, in which the lo$ers, to get paid for their time and humiliation, to milk it for a$ much a$ the bottom of the lo$er barrel can get. They're gettin' quite a bit too, you betcha.

Love, C.

#272 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 08:44 PM:

Also, Avram? You keep telling people to go read an article.

So I'm going to suggest you read this one up at Ta-Nahesi Coates's blog about this very subject. I'll just quote this little bit, where he compares those who wanted to admire Farrakhan despite everything for the sake of a couple of things:

[ I've thought a lot about Farrakhan, recently, watching Ron Paul's backers twist themselves in knots to defend what they have now euphemistically label as "baggage." I don't think it makes much sense to try to rebut the charges here. No minds will be changed.

Still let us remember that we are faced with a candidate who published racism under his name, defended that publication when it was convenient, and blamed it on ghost-writers when it wasn't, whose take on the Civil War is at home with Lost-Causers, and whose take on the Civil Rights Act is at home with segregationists. Ostensibly this is all coincidence, or if it isn't, it should be excused because Ron Paul is a lone voice speaking on the important issues that plague our nation.

I have heard this reasoning before." ]

Love, C.

#273 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 09:09 PM:

One more thing concerning the RP lurve "because he stands for a couple three things that are important to me, blahblahblah ...."

There are many, many, many people who might run, standing on to like surveillance and the stupid drug war for the sake of our private prison industry, but -- who are also not the things that are evil and mentally disturbed, such as racist and woman-hating, -- and who are far more times qualified to be POTUS.

Yet, they aren't running for the nom. They can't run, they are not allowed to run. Why is that? Only those who propagate hate are allowed to run for the repub nom this year, you notice?

That will not be cured by putting in a batshyte guy who hates just about everything I love, respect and admire, and is in favor of just about everything any right thinking person despises and turns their backs on.

He's never had to work hard in his life. He's 76 -- you think he can stand up to the pressure of being POTUS?

Love, C.

#274 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 09:13 PM:

Speaking of Obama zombies... Did you know that the movie "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer" will soon be coming to a theater near you?

#275 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 09:38 PM:

And just to play "combo breaker" to Constance:

Perhaps you should think about just why the Republicans have let this guy up on stage to argue against their beloved wars, including the war on "Those Peoples'" Drugs....

My guess is, it's because they're hoping he'll split the Democratic vote, peeling off folks who are new to being scared of their government, and mention white guys who'd like to have their weed and powder legalized, and/or are Against War... but just don't see why this racism thing is still such a big deal these days.

Then too, from here on in, anytime someone pushes for, say, drug legalization, the Republican Noise Machine can start saying "Oh, like Ron Paul? You wanna put us on the gold standard, right?" And then keep them too busy explaining that they're not a racist or a lunatic, to actually get their own message across.

That's why Ron Paul gets to run. He's not expected to win; he doesn't have to. But by running his mouth off on national TV, he helps break up liberal cohesion, helps the Machine taint by association several key liberal goals, and indeed lets them recast those goals as the ravings of a bigoted lunatic.

In short, he's not supporting liberal purposes... he's kidnapping them.

#276 ::: David Harmon has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 09:40 PM:

Gnomed again, dunno why I've been gnomed again....

#277 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2012, 10:55 PM:

At this point I'm convinced that nobody's reading anybody, so I'm shutting down the thread.

Update: Constance just emailed me with an apology; two comments in this thread that she addressed to me, she had intended to address to someone else, and she apologizes to me and "everyone else on ML".

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