Sunday, November 29, 2015


Thinking About Left-Right Convergence

I first joined Veterans For Peace well over a decade ago. As I explained earlier, one of the main reasons I recently gave up on VFP was because it finally became clear that the VFP national leadership was dead set against involving the group in the kind of broad-based effort that will be required for an effective peace movement in the US. On the contrary, their misguided idea of "broad-based" is to work with Lefties of all types and virtually no one else in pursuit of a statist, Left-Liberal agenda along with all the violence inherent in that. I cannot say that the tiny VFP rank-and-file affirmatively endorses this program as much as they acquiesce in it.

Fortunately, not everyone on the Left is as short-sighted as the leaders of VFP. Last spring Yes! magazine ran an interesting article entitled "Can the Left and Right Unite to End Corporate Rule? An Interview with Ralph Nader and Daniel McCarthy". It may be too little, too late but it is a hopeful sign nevertheless. Below are a two excerpts from the interview.

Ralph Nader: Well, liberalism and conservatism, in various ways, have been hijacked by corporatism.

Liberalism in the 18th and 19th centuries was the classic philosophy aimed at restraining arbitrary government power—then often exercised by kings and emperors. Civil liberties were the foundation of freedom of speech and due process of law, which became part of our Constitution.

Fast forward, you now have corporate liberals— like the Clintons—and you have the corporatists who call themselves conservatives throughout Congress. They're all pushing corporate welfare and bailouts for banks.

What we're trying to do here is go back to fundamental principles and un-hijack conservatism and liberalism. When we do that, we see that there's a convergence of support on a lot of major issues.


McCarthy: Yeah, the two parties and the bipartisan elite have had their own kind of convergence on a strategy for dominating the country, both in government and in big business.

Americans of all ideological stripes have been feeling a great deal of alienation, resentment, and anger. But it's very difficult to talk about the actual structure of government and of the economy and to explain how it is that people have been effectively disenfranchised and manipulated. It’s much easier on both the left and the right to focus on cultural issues, where you can have scapegoats and think that those are the central issues, and to ignore these more structural problems.

I think the left's embrace of identity politics in the 1960s and '70s was disastrous for the working class. It was very bad for the labor union movement, it was very bad for any number of economic issues. Which is not to say that there wasn’t a place for the civil rights movement. Of course there was. But identity-based politics went from being a necessary thing to being something that started to preclude some of the economic and other policy efforts that needed to be undertaken.

And similarly on the right. It's not just a matter of a cynical manipulation of the public by going for hot-button issues. There really was a sense among many ordinary people in the 1960s that something had gone culturally wrong in the country. Crime rates were going up, promiscuity was going up. There were changes that people found weird or disorienting. Whether or not they were right or wrong, they were unfamiliar and new, and therefore alarming.

This set of emotional complexes was turned into the so-called culture war, to the detriment of anything that would reform our economy, our self-government, or our foreign policy. Those sort of complex issues have been thrown by the wayside in favor of identity politics.

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Sunday, November 15, 2015


Quotable: To Defend the Empire & American Supremacy

'We're trying to defend the empire with a force about the size of the New York City police department,' said retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert H. Scales Jr., former commandant of the U.S. Army War College.


As Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to President Carter, said this week, "For several decades to come there is no meaningful alternative to American supremacy, as a practical matter."

Source: "Cracks in America's Armor, or America's Will?" by David Wood, March 11, 2004. Newhouse News Service.

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Quotable: The First Story

Most people, in fact, will not take the trouble in finding out the truth, but are much more inclined to accept the first story they hear.

Source: Thucydides, Greek historian (c. 460 BC – c. 395 BC) in his History of the Peloponnesian War, Rex Warner, trans., (Penguin Classics, 1972), book 1, chapter 1.

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Sunday, November 08, 2015


Quotable: The Souls which would Perish

"... nothing is the way I thought it was. I went to war thinking of myself as Galahad, out to free fellow human beings from the intolerable bondage of slavery. But it wasn't as simple as that. There were other, less pure issues being fought over, with little concern for the souls which would perish for nothing more grand than political greed, corruption, and conniving for power ... I saw a man with his face blown off and no mouth to scream with, and yet he screamed and could not die. I saw two brothers, and one was in blue and one was in grey, and I will not tell you which one took his saber and ran it through the other. Oh God, it was brother against brother, Cain and Abel all over again. And I was turned into Cain. What would God have to do with a nation where brothers can turn against each other with such brutality?"

-Character of Bran Maddox in A Swiftly Tilting Planet (Crosswicks, 1978) by Madeleine L'Engle, p. 243.

"... there were many nights during the war when God withdrew from our battlefields. When the sons of men fight against each other in hardness of heart, why should God not withdraw? Slavery is evil, God knows, but war is evil, too, evil, evil."

-Character of Bran Maddox, p. 247.

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Keystone XL Update

Four years ago I wrote a post questioning the framing by environmentalists of the struggle over the Keystone XL pipeline project. Last week, the Obama administration announced it would not be approving the construction of the pipeline across the border from Canada. I would say that the major factor in the decision was the steep drop in oil prices since 2011. That, more than anything, has paved the way to block a pipeline which, for the time being, has lost much of its financial viability.

I also mostly agree with Bruce Huber's assessment of the decision. Huber is a professor of energy law at the University of Notre Dame and yesterday he told NPR:
Well, in my view, it's not really a very big decision at all. I don't think it would even make my top 10 list of the most significant events for the environment. It's not a decision that has much of an impact on our domestic energy infrastructure. And it's, frankly, not a decision that is going to have that much of an impact on the environment either ... it simply was one of a whole mass of pipeline projects that are out there that are either underway or in the inaugural stages. And furthermore, the construction of the pipeline itself was not a major determinant in whether this oil actually comes out of the ground in northern Alberta. If you didn't want to go the pipeline route, you could transport the oil by rail, as we've been doing in great quantities out of North Dakota in recent years.
Huber goes on to comment on Bill McKibben's response to the decision claiming: "it's clear that what he's [McKibben] referring to is the fact that this particular decision had assumed this larger symbolic importance." I don't know if McKibben would agree but I think it's true that the decision is "largely symbolic". Now don't get me wrong, symbolism is very important but only time will tell if the Keystone XL decision marks a key turning point in the campaign to significantly reduce the use of fossil fuels.

See also: Keystone XL: A Horse Already Out of the Barn?

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Quotable: Nasty and Brutish

War is nasty and brutish. War is no good for anyone ... but at least it's fucking real.

Source: "Brothers in Civilianland" by Max Black on

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Sunday, November 01, 2015


Quotable: Separation of Church and State in Ancient China

[The] Qin [dynasty] had arguably developed the first secular state ideology but Shang [Yang] separated religion from politics, not because of its inherent violence but because religion was implacably humane. Religious sentiment would make a ruler too benign, which ran counter to the state's best interests. "A State that uses good people to govern the wicked will be plagued by disorder and be destroyed," Shang insisted.

Source: Karen Armstrong, Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence (New York: Knopf, 2014) pp. 96-97.

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