2016 Election

The Origins of Totalitarianism Part 6: Totalitarian Propaganda

Only the mob and the elite can be attracted by the momentum of totalitarianism itself; the masses have to be won by propaganda. P. 341.

As we saw in Part 5, the elites were neutralized by violence against the Marxists and Communists. That removed a major obstacle to the growth of the totalitarian movement in Germany between the two World Wars. It opened the door to all kinds of crackpot theorizing and ridiculous conspiracy theories. But terror is only available when the totalitarian movement has taken over the state. Before that time, the state monopolizes the instruments of force, and presumably will not use them to assist a totalitarian movement to replace the existing power structure. Therefore, the connivance of the Social Democratic party was the chief driving force in the crushing of the Marxists and communists. Once that was done, the totalitarian movement began its propaganda assault.

Arendt says that both Nazi and Russian Communist propaganda claim to be rooted in scientific theories that explain the hidden mysteries of human society:

People are threatened by Communist propaganda with missing the train of history, with remaining hopelessly behind their time, with spending their lives uselessly, just as they were threatened by the Nazis with living against the eternal laws of nature and life, with an irreparable and mysterious deterioration of their blood. P. 345,

Propaganda was focused on the mob, the displaced and rootless people with little or no understanding of the actual state of society. The primary criterion for the subjects of propaganda was mysteriousness. The creators used all those subjects that were not part of public discourse. That included the Jews, the Jesuits, the Freemasons, and other secret societies, in general anything that was kept secret for whatever reason. The mob was disposed to believe anything that revealed the workings of secret groups exercising power in ways that made their lives miserable. And there are plenty of events that seem unlikely in life, so the propagandists were able to offer explanations for lots of seemingly random events.

The following paragraph deserves special attention:

In other words, while it is true that the masses are obsessed by a desire to escape from reality because in their essential homelessness they can no longer bear its accidental, incomprehensible aspects, it is also true that their longing for fiction has some connection with those capacities of the human mind whose structural consistency is superior to mere occurrence. The masses’ escape from reality is a verdict against the world in which they are forced to live and in which they cannot exist, since coincidence has become its supreme master and human beings need the constant transformation of chaotic and accidental conditions into a man-made pattern of relative consistency. The revolt of the masses against “realism,” common sense, … was the result of their atomization, of their loss of social status along with which they lost the whole sector of communal relationships in whose framework common sense makes sense. In their situation of spiritual and social homelessness, a measured insight into the interdependence of the arbitrary and the planned, the accidental and the necessary, could no longer operate. Totalitarian propaganda can outrageously insult common sense only where common sense has lost its validity. Before the alternative of facing the anarchic growth and total arbitrariness of decay or bowing down before the most rigid, fantastically fictitious consistency of an ideology, the masses probably will always choose the latter and be ready to pay for it with individual sacrifices — and this not because they are stupid or wicked, but because in the general disaster this escape grants them a minimum of self-respect. P. 352, emphasis added.

Our minds seek order. We need a coherent story to explain the way things are. In a functional society, people have social and economic certainties that form the structure in which common sense can operate, and that structure is closely tied to reality. When those structures break down, as in post-WWI Germany and Austria, people want and accept stories that provide them with a sense of order, and a place in which they can find dignity and self-respect, no matter that these stories are totally bizarre and disconnected from reality.

Totalitarian propagandists provided such stories premised on pseudo-scientific certainties about society, certainties that explained the random events and the damaging experiences that made their lives unbearable. They blame secret forces, mysterious groups that control everything. A modern day equivalent would be the UN’s Black Helicopters, the Army’s Jade Helm, and the claim that Obama is going to seize your guns. Older examples include the New World Order or the Trilateral Commission, or the fantastical claims of the Communist menace of fluoride. These stories are always present in the minds of a few, and they spread like cancer when the economic and social structure is in disarray. In the case of Hitler, Arendt gives us as a concrete example, his use of the silly Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This nonsense works because the totalitarian movement is able to shut the targets of propaganda off from the real world. In that setting, propagandists

… conjure up a lying world of consistency which is more adequate to the needs of the human mind than reality itself; in which, through sheer imagination, uprooted masses can feel at home and are spared the never-ending shocks which real life and real experiences deal to human beings and their expectations. P. 353.

The elites, as we have seen, did not provide an alternative, but instead participated in these fictions, cheering them on, and through their art and music, provided even more disruption. Today we have conservative elites who deny science and bow down to the chimeras of religious fanatics.

Of course, today we don’t have anything as ham-handed as propaganda. We have endless advertising, whether in the form of paid spots on your TV, or “earned media”, as when the four former heads of the Council of Economic Advisers make up stories about a paper they haven’t read. We get bombarded with the most awful images and words, using techniques formulated to sell soap:

.…there is a certain element of violence in the imaginative exaggerations of publicity men, that behind the assertion that girls who do not use this particular brand of soap may go through life with pimples and without a husband, lies the wild dream of monopoly, the dream that one day the manufacturer of the “only soap that prevents pimples” may have the power to deprive of husbands all girls who do not use his soap. P. 345.

We see this working in the Orwellian language of Frank Luntz. We see it in the crackpot worldview of Trump, who adopted the Fox-supported fantasy that immigrants caused job losses in the US, and not the CEOs of Apple and Intel who built factories in other nations, supplying US built design and capital extracted from US citizens and giving jobs to Taiwanese instead of US citizens. This false view of the world is useful for selling the Trump brand over the Cruz or Rubio brand, and so off it goes to work on the minds of the poorly educated people that Trump loves so much.

There is a huge number of people whose lives are so disrupted that the stories pumped out by Republican presidential candidates sound good. There are millions thrown out of jobs who aren’t ever going to have the life they were promised if they worked hard and played by the rules. There are millions who lost everything in the Great Crash, and who now watch as their children shoulder mountains of education debt because they refused to pay taxes or to tax the rich. There are millions of racists, homophobes and misogynists who found a religious basis and government support for their biases, and who lost that support. There are millions of people whose parents are immigrants who somehow think that today’s immigrants are making their lives miserable. There are millions of religious people whose faith has been shaken to its roots by grasping preachers, pedophiles and a hierarchy that covered it up. The WaPo has the evidence. Barrons offers the spectacle of a deeply conservative Thomas Donlan calling the Republican base “losers”.

These so-called losers are not stupid people. In their despair, the advertising of the haters offers a bit of self-respect, and a story about the world that doesn’t require them to make radical changes.

Index to posts in this series.

The Origins of Totalitarianism: Index to All Posts

This post will be updated with all posts on The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt. Here’s a copy of this book. All page numbers correspond to that version

Posts in this series:

The Origins of Totalitarianism Part 1: Introduction.

The Origins of Totalitarianism Part 2: Antisemitism

The Origins of Totalitarianism: Interlude on the Tea Party

The Origins of Totalitarianism Part 3: Superfluous Capital and Superfluous People

The Origins of Totalitarianism: Interlude on The Commons

Capitalism Versus The Social Commons (published at Naked Capitalism; discusses privatization using Rosa Luxemburg theory)

The Origins of Totalitarianism Part 4: Humanity under Totalitarianism

The Origins of Totalitarianism: Interlude on Right-Wing Authoritarianism

The Origins of Totalitarianism Part 5: Artistic and Intellectual Elites and the Rise of Fascism

The Origins of Totalitarianism: Interlude Defining Elites

The Origins of Totalitarianism: Interlude On the Twilight of Conservative Elite Pundits

The Origins of Totalitarianism Part 6: Totalitarian Propaganda

The Problem of the Liberal Elites Part 1

The Problem of Liberal Elites Part 2 On Trade

The Problem of the Liberal Elites Part 3 on Trade

The Problem of the Liberal Elites Part 4 Conclusion

The Origins of Totalitarianism Part 7: Superfluous People

The Origins of Totalitarianism: Conclusion

The Origins of Totalitarianism: Interlude On the Twilight of Conservative Elite Pundits

The Origins of Totalitarianism: Interlude On the Twilight of Conservative Elites

Previous posts in this series:

The Origins of Totalitarianism Part 1: Introduction.

The Origins of Totalitarianism Part 2: Antisemitism

The Origins of Totalitarianism: Interlude on the Tea Party

The Origins of Totalitarianism Part 3: Superfluous Capital and Superfluous People

The Origins of Totalitarianism: Interlude on The Commons

Capitalism Versus The Social Commons (published at Naked Capitalism; discusses privatization using Rosa Luxemburg theory)

The Origins of Totalitarianism Part 4: Humanity under Totalitarianism

The Origins of Totalitarianism: Interlude on Right-Wing Authoritarianism

The Origins of Totalitarianism Part 5: Artistic and Intellectual Elites and the Rise of Fascism

The Origins of Totalitarianism: Interlude Defining Elites

After defining the term elites (see previous post), Arendt says that the elites did not actively oppose the rise of fascism in Germany and Austria, and in some respects were supportive. One problem I have (and I have several) is the lack of a direct explanation for the failure of the elites to confront the rise of fascism. The text raises one possibility. I suspect that immediately after WWI, most of the elites were sympathetic to the ideas of the Marxist left, and that many were actively interested. Then they saw that the Social Democrats directed the right-wing violence that killed and imprisoned the revolutionaries. That was enough to keep the fellow-travelers and the sympathizers away from left activism. They retreated to their writing rooms and their ateliers, and left the space of massive change to the right wing. They wanted “to see the ruin of this whole world of fake security, fake culture, and fake life.” (P. 328) The elites weren’t going to do anything about it, they just pointed and laughed as the mob solidified into the fascist movement.

Among the sins of these elites was their refusal to attack crackpot ideas.

To this aversion of the intellectual elite for official historiography, to its conviction that history, which was a forgery anyway, might as well be the playground of crackpots, must be added the terrible, demoralizing fascination in the possibility that gigantic lies and monstrous falsehoods can eventually be established as unquestioned facts, that man may be free to change his own past at will, and that the difference between truth and falsehood may cease to be objective and become a mere matter of power and cleverness, of pressure and infinite repetition. P. 333

That’s uncomfortably close to Karl Rove’s “we create new reality”.

At the same time the elites were disengaging from the political world, they were pursuing their own esoteric ideas, ideas which further distanced them from the mob. This ended badly for the intellectual elites. Some were driven out, some fled, and the rest found a way to accommodate themselves to the fascist states.

As I wrote in my previous post, the US has plenty of elites who are conservative, but if we limit ourselves to writers and philosophers, there has never been a serious conservative intellectual class in this country. There have been a few intellectual conservatives, although none spring to mind who would pass Hofstadter’s test, including specifically William Buckley. If you disagree, perhaps you could read down Richard Posner’s list of 600f or so public intellectuals and identify all the US people listed, living or dead. It is astonishing to think that the likes of Ann Coulter and Erik Erikson are included on Posner’s list. And I confess I’ve never understood why bookstores shelve Ayn Rand among the philosophy books. There is certainly a class of highly conservative economists, but to me they lack any pretense of being intellectuals in Hofstadter’s sense. Further, they do not self-criticize, they do not change their minds in the face of contrary evidence. This means they are ideologues, not intellectuals.

Using my definition from the previous post, Buckley and a number of writers and pundits and economists would certainly qualify as a member of the conservative elite. Let’s focus on the pundits. Does anyone take them seriously? When was the last time any serious thinker took up an political issue raised by David Brooks in his NYT column, or the conventional nonsense he spouts on PBS? Just take a look, if you can, at this absurd column. It begins with a paean to the US system of capitalism and social welfare, and, of course, our crony capitalism: “nurturing disruptive dynamos like Bell Labs, Walmart, Whole Foods, Google and Apple”. Then this:

It’s amazing that a large part of the millennial generation has rejected this consensus. In supporting Bernie Sanders they are not just supporting a guy who is mad at Wall Street. They are supporting a guy who fundamentally wants to reshape the American economic system, and thus reshape American culture and values. As he told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, he wants to make us more like northern Europe.

Why those Millenials are just downright unreasonable in questioning a system that promises that their lives will be much worse than their parents. They should all start businesses and get rich, just like Brooks did, and just like their parents did, or something. Brooks says nothing about the lived reality of Millenials. He refuses to face the fact that his favored Republican policies, tax-cutting, deregulating, war-mongering, and refusal to govern, have saddled them with massive personal debts and a stagnating economy that shipped all the decent jobs out to other countries. In his latest, Brooks has clearly lost it. It’s an explainer of this op-ed in the New York Times from two years ago offering three views of marriage. And here I though glorifying marriage was Ross Douthat’s job description.

Douthat is a deeply silly man, mooning on about conservative values and governance in the face of the actual behavior of the Republicans in government. Here he explains how similar Donald Trump and Pope Francis are. Apparently if you want to change something Douthat likes, you are either a vulgar materialist or an intellectual ascetic. I’m waiting for Douthat to explain how Donald Trump has a classy marriage this time, and is therefore fit to be President.

The bizarre Thomas Friedman is shocked that Bernie Sanders said that the business model of Wall Street is fraud, which became obvious after those scumballs wrecked the economy and destroyed our retirement plans. Since the downturn also cost his wife’s family a staggeringly large amount of wealth, he might have wondered how that happened.

Not one conservative pundit has called out the crackpot stupidity of national politicians on climate denial, denial of evolution, tearing down the separation of church and state, denial of pretty much any fact or lesson from science, or their truly insane theory of government, that if you ruin it things will be great. Instead, they embrace every stupid idea, or simply keep quiet. They cannot tell fact from chain emails. Why do these conservative pundits, and by extension the rest of the conservative elites, think this will turn out better for them in the long run than it did for the German elites of the 1920s?

Thomas Piketty On the Democratic Primary

In an article in The Guardian, Thomas Piketty says that Bernie Sanders represents a real hope for the adoption of the tax policies Piketty lays out in Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Piketty calls for higher and steeply progressive income taxes and a high estate tax, which he thinks will lead to a reduction in income and wealth inequality, and to a better democracy, one less favorable to the interests of the rich and more open to the needs of society as a whole. He calls for a return to the ideals of the Democratic Party, ideals forged in response to an earlier awful financial debacle, and says that even if Sanders doesn’t win the nomination, he has opened the door for someone else to bring these ideas to fruition.

Piketty reminds us of the history of the Democratic Party starting with Franklin Roosevelt. He points out that FDR did not want to follow in the path of European nations, but instead forged a uniquely US path forward, including heavy regulation of the financial sector, a reasonably strong safety net, and a highly progressive system of taxation, including both a high marginal tax rate on outlandish income and a steep and a heavy estate tax that broke up fortunes quickly. After the financial problems of the 1970s, the disastrous loss of the War in Viet Nam, and due in part to the desires of the very rich, the nation turned its back on those ideals, and Ronald Reagan and his band of wreckers led the nation backwards towards a “mythical capitalism said to have existed in the past.” The Democrats did not resist these changes, but made peace with them.

Piketty says that the important thing Sanders wants to do is to restore the taxation system to previous levels, and to return to the uniquely US version of social democracy.

Sanders makes clear he wants to restore progressive taxation and a higher minimum wage ($15 an hour). To this he adds free healthcare and higher education in a country where inequality in access to education has reached unprecedented heights, highlighting a gulf standing between the lives of most Americans, and the soothing meritocratic speeches pronounced by the winners of the system.

Savor that last part, the part about the “gulf standing between the lives of most Americans and the soothing meritocratic speeches pronounced by the winners of the system.” The Clintons stand on the far side of that gulf with their huge fortune, their enormous foundation, and the hedge fund set up for their son-in-law whose meritocratic standing is open to serious question.

The last few weeks have sharpened our understanding of the differences between Sanders supporters and supporters of Hillary Clinton. Clinton is part of the neoliberal consensus described in Piketty’s article, which has governed the elite hive mind for decades. Sanders represents a break with that ideology. He is in the tradition of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the New Deal President, who established the US welfare state that was torn down by the neoliberals. Piketty too represents a break with the neoliberal consensus.

It is instructive to see where this divide lies. Take, for example, Paul Krugman. He is 62 years old, compared with Piketty, who is 44. Krugman is certainly liberal, but he has made it clear that he favors the incremental approach of Hillary Clinton. Krugman was trained in the mathematical school of economics, and even today insists that the use of mathematical models based on past history should be the central method of the discipline. Piketty was trained in the US, and is really good with those math techniques. However, he doesn’t accept the standard approach to the area, which he claims is closer to an ideology than a science. Instead, he adopts the methods of the social sciences. His book is a triumph of dogged efforts to read and understand 200 years of wealth and income inequality in Europe and the US.

Over the past several weeks Krugman has praised Clinton’s stand on Obamacare and financial regulation, and has derided Sander’s policies on both issues. He claims that Sanders cannot implement his plans and that they are somehow flawed. His comment sections are full of shocked people. Some call names, but many have more substantive issues: Krugman supported single payer in the past, and called for stronger financial regulation. Now he claims neither is possible.

What Krugman means is that the Republicans will never allow any tax increases. It’s that simple. He asserts that the ideas of Piketty and Sanders are never going to be possible because taxes cannot be raised. He accepts as a fact that there is no practical way to undo wealth and income inequality, that these are the immutable facts of our new normal. That is the dividing line between the neoliberal and the progressive wings of the Democratic party. One side says we need higher taxes and a larger social commons, areas of life not dominated by the rich people sucking up as much profit as possible. The other says we have to settle for whatever the rich will give us.

Krugman and most of the Democratic establishment is on one side of that line. And it isn’t an age thing. There are plenty of young wonks on the move who work inside the neoliberal consensus. Piketty and Sanders are on the other. And this isn’t an age thing either. There are plenty of people in all age groups, from Millenials to white-haired Boomers, who agree with Sanders.

This is the fight in the Democratic Party. Either you believe that we can change our government and our economy to work for all the people and not just the few, or you believe that we are doomed to remain under the thumb those who rule us from the far side of the money gulf with their laughable claim that they are the meritocracy and not a plutocracy.

While They’re Replacing John Boehner, the GOP Should Replace Devin Nunes, Too

In a profile in Politico, Justin Amash* makes the case that the Freedom Caucus’ rebellion against John Boehner isn’t so much about ideology, it is about process.

Republican leaders see Freedom Caucus members as a bunch of bomb-throwing ideologues with little interest in finding solutions that can pass a divided government.

But that’s a false reading of the group, Amash told his constituents. Their mission isn’t to drag Republican leadership to the right, though many of them would certainly favor more conservative outcomes. It’s simply to force them to follow the institution’s procedures, Amash argued.

That means allowing legislation and amendments to flow through committees in a deliberative way, and giving individual members a chance to offer amendments and to have their ideas voted on on the House floor. Instead of waiting until right before the latest legislative crisis erupts, then twisting members’ arms for votes, they argue, leadership must empower the rank and file on the front end and let the process work its will.

“In some cases, conservative outcomes will succeed. In other cases, liberal outcomes will succeed. And that’s OK,” said Amash, who was reelected overwhelmingly last year after the U.S. Chamber of Commerce backed his Republican primary rival. “We can have a House where different coalitions get together on different bills and pass legislation. And then we present that to the Senate and we present it to the White House.

The truth lies somewhere in-between. After all, 8 of the 21 questions the FC posed to potential Speaker candidates are ideological in nature, hitting on the following issues:

  • Obamacare
  • Budget and appropriation resolution reform
  • Ex-Im bank
  • Highway Trust Fund
  • Impeaching the IRS Commissioner
  • First Amendment Defense Act

Admittedly, even some of those — the financial ones — are procedural, but there are some key ideological litmus tests there.

Of the remaining 21 questions, 3 pertain to use of NRCC resources, 4 pertain to conference make-up, and 6 have to do with process. In other words, this block of members wants to end the systematic exclusion of their members from leadership and other positions and the systematic suppression of legislation that might win a majority vote without leadership sanction.

And while I certainly recognize that some of these process reforms — again, especially the financial ones — would likely lead to more hostage taking, I also think such reforms would also make (as one example) stupid wars and surveillance less likely, because a transpartisan majority of the House opposes many such things while GOP leadership does not (Nancy Pelosi generally opposes stupid surveillance and wars but also usually, though not always, does the bidding of the President).

The Yoder-Polis Act, an ECPA reform bill supported by 300 co-sponsors, is an example of worthy legislation that has long been held up because of leadership opposition.

While making the case for reform, though, I’d like to make the suggestion for another: to boot Devin Nunes, the current Chair of the House Intelligence Committee. According to the House Republican rules, the only positions picked by the Speaker are Select Committee Chairs, which would include Nunes and Benghazi Committee Chair Trey Gowdy (the latter of whom seems to be taken care of with Republican after Republican now admitting the committee is just a hack job, though if the FC wants to call for Richard Hanna to take over as Chair to shut down this government waste, I’d be cool with that too).

But with Boehner on his way out, it seems fair to suggest that Nunes should go too. While Nunes was actually better on Benghazi than his predecessor (raising questions about the CIA’s involvement in gun-running), he has otherwise been a typical rubber stamp for the intelligence community, rushing to pass info-sharing with Department of Energy even while commenting on their shitty security practices, and pitching partisan briefings to give the IC one more opportunity to explain why the phone dragnet was more useful than all the independent reviews say it was.

The Intelligence Community has lost credibility since 9/11, and having a series of rubber stamp oversight Chairs (excepting Silvestre Reyes, who was actually reasonably good) has only exacerbated that credibility problem. So why not call for the appointment of someone like former state judge Ted Poe, who has experience with intelligence related issues on both the Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees, but who has also been a staunch defender of the Constitution.

Hostage taking aside, I’m sympathetic to the argument that the House should adopt more inclusive rules, in part because it would undercut the problems of a two party duopoly serving DC conventional wisdom.

But no place in Congress needs to be reformed more than our intelligence oversight. And while picking a more independent Chair won’t revamp the legal structure of intelligence oversight, it might initiate a process of bringing more rigorous oversight to our nation’s intelligence agencies.

Of course, who am I kidding?!?! It’s not even clear that the GOP will succeed in finding a palatable Speaker candidate before Boehner retires. Throwing HPSCI Chair into the mix would likely be too much to ask. Nevertheless, as we discuss change and process, HPSCI is definitely one area where we could improve process to benefit the country.


*Amash is my congressperson, but I have not spoken to him or anyone else associated with him for this post and don’t even know if he’d support this suggestion.

The Coming Trump Legacy On Immigration

donald-trump-bad-hairHere is a bloody secret about blogging: The best ideas you express often come from others, even if you value add on to them. Welp, there will be no value adding on here, this post is 100% the work of our longtime friend at both Emptywheel and FDL, the one and only Peterr:

I had this vision of Donald Trump taking down the Statue of Liberty, replacing it with an even larger figure of himself, with a new poem inscribed on the base befitting his views on immigrants.

The New New Colossus

Not like the New Colossus, French-built bile
With calling torch and open arms so grand;
Now on this isle a Grander One shall stand:
A mighty huckster with a scam, whose smile
is a racist, hateful sneer, with his pile
of ego-sculpted hair. From his grasping hand
comes a devil’s contract; his beady eyes demand
payment ‘ere any travel one more mile.

“Keep, foreign lands, your homeless poor,” cries he
with flapping lips. “Give me your greedy, your rich,
Your coddled wealthy yearning to pay me,
the grasping powers drawn here by my pitch.
Send these, the makers, ready with my fee;
I snuff the lamp of Liberty, that bitch.”

I leave it to your imagination to envision the figure of The Donald standing astride New York harbor for yourself.

Okay, Peter is a long time friend, and his take totally merited publication. But Lady Liberty takes some attending to. You have to want the freedom of this country, you have to want it bad, and you have to be willing to fight for it, even when that freedom makes your blood curl (props to Sorkin’s American President). But wanting the American ethos is easy for an apparently gerbil topped pretender like Donald Trump. Trump wants the limelight, wants all the glory, and never wants to answer for the hell of stupidity, bankruptcy, loss of jobs and ignorance that he really stands for. Troll on Donald.

So many have given their lives for the right of a hollow shill to troll the American electorate. So many have died for that. So many just to give a blowhard clownshow jackhole the right to parade around like he is diddly shit other than the court jester and a sideshow amusement huckster.

The American people can propagate and tolerate an enormous amount of stupid, but not enough to let a pompous, bankruptcy generated, pompous jackass like Donald Trump through the door. Just an opinion, and a sincere hope.

Nope. George Bush was one thing, Trump is a bridge too far.

Jeb! Manspreads His Way into the Foreign Policy Debate

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 2.48.02 PM

Billmon called this “testicle lebensraum.”

Vote Jeb! 2016: Because every American man deserves a seat for each of his balls.

Perhaps I’m being petty, getting so bugged by Jeb’s utter lack of awareness not just by his body language, but the message that that most annoying male body language sends to those who’ve had to spend their life squishing into a half seat to make room for some man who believes his balls take precedence over the other human beings in his space.

(Also note, at around 49:00, precisely when Jeb! starts talking about his brother’s WMD lies but then claims the surge the most courageous political act ever, he crosses his legs.)

I mean, much of the speech was word salad. The last few minutes of his speech could have been delivered as convincingly by Sarah Palin — just a string of words about American leadership without any substance to what that really means.

Then there was the contradiction within his message. He’s branding his whole spiel “Liberty Diplomacy!” Yet the guy who claimed a “liberty” agenda objects to Obama’s effort to end what he called the “NSA metadata program,” either displaying ignorance that the Section 215 program that Obama wants to alter is just a small fraction of the metadata NSA collects, or even greater ignorance that Obama has done and will do nothing to end all the other means of collecting metadata, including on Americans. Not to mention real ignorance about the NSA’s own evidence about how useless the 215 phone dragnet has been.

Similarly, Jeb!’s Liberty Diplomacy! bemoans the disrespect he sees Obama extending to Egypt’s brutal dictator Fattah al-Sisi. “Now we’re pulling back from providing support to al Sisi.”

That’s was consistent with his theory that if we significantly increase funding for our national security budget, we’ll never have need to go to war. “Others should want America as a friend,” Jeb! said, presumably at the tip of vastly increased defense spending.

Jeb! clearly believes he projects strength in Latin American foreign policy. The brother of the man whose DOJ chose not to charge any of the big white GOP donors at Chiquita who knowingly funded right wing terrorists in Colombia hailed Uribe’s great success there. Which, presumably, reflects his larger conflation of capitalism and democracy, which permits him to ignore the way Bolivarist countries have improved their countries’ well-being. He positively drooled over Venezuela becoming a failed state with low gas prices (though many Democrats are too). Then again, the Bush family has a well-established fondness for terrorists in Venezuela, so he’ll probably be thrilled if more arise in such a failed state.

Well, about one thing Bush was right on the mark. He noted that neither ISIL nor Twitter existed when his brother invaded Iraq. That is, ISIL didn’t exist until his brother fucked up the joint.

All in all, though, I can only conclude that by Liberty Diplomacy he means he will open new space for American mens’ balls to colonize, around the world.

Benghazi Talking Points: Petraeus’ Revenge

It has taken three days for the bleating press corps in DC to wade through the roll-out of Benghazi talking point emails and realize that the tension behind the emails — as has been clear from just days after the attack — is that Benghazi was really a CIA, not a State, Mission, and therefore CIA bears responsibility for many of the security lapses. So State, in making changes to the emails, was making sure it didn’t get all the blame for CIA’s failures.

David Corn describes it this way.

The revisions—which deleted several lines noting that the CIA months before the attack had produced intelligence reports on the threat of Al Qaeda-linked extremists in Benghazi—appear to have been driven by State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland, who, it should be noted, is a career Foggy Bottomer who has served Republican and Democratic administrations [ed: including Dick Cheney], not a political appointee. Her motive seems obvious: fend off a CIA CYA move that could make the State Department look lousy.

Yet it’s only now, several days into this frenzy, that some reporters are coming to report this.

And they’re still not noting ways in which the CIA’s initial emails were self-serving. For example, when the CIA said,

Since April, there have been at least five other attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi by unidentified assailants, including the June attack against the British Ambassador’s convoy. We cannot rule out the individuals has [sic] previously surveilled the U.S. facilities, also contributing to the efficacy of the attacks.

They might have also said, “since February, people tied to CIA’s mission have twice been harassed by militia members, suggesting our OpSec was so bad they knew we were in Benghazi.”

And when CIA’s talking points said,

The crowd almost certainly was a mix of individuals from across many sectors of Libyan society. That being said, we do know that extremists with ties to al-Qa’ida participated in the attack.

They might also have said that the “trusted” militia, February 17 Brigade, trained by David Petraeus’ CIA, whose career legacy is based on false claims of successfully training locals, appears to have allowed the attack to happen (and, critically, delayed CIA guards from heading to the State mission to help).

Note that Congressman Frank Wolf is just now showing some interest in why CIA’s vetting of the militia central to the mission’s defense was so bad. Maybe if CIA had included that detail in their self-serving initial talking points, Congress would have turned to this issue more quickly, particularly since we’re currently training more potentially suspect militias in Syria.

In other words, the story CIA — which had fucked up in big ways — wanted to tell was that it had warned State and State had done nothing in response (which, perhaps unsurprisingly, is precisely the story Darrell Issa and Jason Chaffetz are trying to tell). The truthful story would have been (in part) that CIA had botched the militia scene in Benghazi, and that had gotten the Ambassador killed.

Yet that appears to be just the half of the self-serving function this email release has had for CIA.

Consider how this rolled out. Continue reading

Musharraf Banned from Politics for Life As Violence Flairs in Pakistan Ahead of Elections

Although he has been under house arrest since shortly after his return to Pakistan while facing trial on charges of arranging the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, former Pakistani Army Chief and President Pervez Musharraf was given a lifetime ban from holding political office by the Peshawar High Court:

The Peshawar High Court (PHC) on Monday banned former military ruler Pervez Musharraf from politics for life.

The ruling came in response to an appeal filed by the former army strongman over the rejection of his nomination papers for the National Assembly seat in Chitral.

A four-member larger bench, headed by PHC Chief Justice Dost Mohammad Khan and comprising of Justice Malik Manzoor, Justice Syed Afsar Shah and Justice Ikramullah ruled that since Musharraf had abrogated the Constitution twice, he could not be allowed to contest elections for either the National Assembly or the Senate.

Isn’t that interesting? In Pakistan, violating the country’s constitution as President gets a lifetime ban from politics, while in the US the same offense allows the perpetrator to open a Presidential Lie Bury.

Meanwhile, as the May 11 elections draw nearer, violence is escalating. Today’s New York Times reports on a suicide bomber who killed nine in Peshawar in an attack that seemed aimed at creating an overall climate of fear rather than attacking a particular target:

An attacker riding a motorcycle detonated his explosives near the suspected target, a police patrol car, on busy University Road during the morning rush hour, killing a police constable and several bystanders, said Faisal Kamran, a senior police official.

/snip/

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, although the Taliban have carried out a relentless series of attacks against secular political parties around the country in recent weeks as part of a drive to influence the elections.

Officials in Peshawar said the attack on Monday was different in that it did not appear to target a specific party but aimed instead to foster a broader climate of fear during the campaign season.

Sadly, two of the people who died were Afghan trade officials who most likely were not targeted but merely were victims of the senseless attack.

As stated above, most violence ahead of the election has been aimed at political parties and candidates. It has become so widespread that Human Rights Watch issued a statement yesterday, calling for more protection of candidates and political parties:

Pakistan’s interim government should take all necessary steps to ensure the safety of candidates and political party activists at risk of attack from the Taliban and other militant groups, Human Rights Watch said today. Nationwide parliamentary elections in Pakistan are scheduled for May 11, 2013.

Since April 21, when election campaigning formally began, the Taliban and other armed groups have carried out more than 20 attacks on political parties, killing 46 people and wounding over 190. Earlier in April, another 24 people were killed and over 100 injured in election-related attacks.

That violence is continuing:

An independent election candidate and two of his relatives from Balochistan’s Jhal Magsi area were killed by unknown assailants on Tuesday night prompting the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to postpone the elections in PB-32.

According to the police and relatives of the deceased, Abdul Fateh Magsi was kidnapped on Tuesday (sic) night and his bullet-riddled body was found on Tuesday morning.

Presumably, Magsi was kidnapped on Monday evening and his body found this morning.

There is a long article in today’s Washington Post handicapping the elections. I’m pretty sure that this passage is delivered without a clue to the level of hypocrisy it drips:

On May 11, Pakistanis will choose the next prime minister in an election hailed as a landmark of democratic progress for a country ruled by the military for nearly half its 65-year history. Yet decades of tradition dictate why democracy has remained more of a concept than a reality.

Even as Pakistan prepares to witness its first democratic transition of power, elite political families, powerful landholders and pervasive patronage and corruption undermine the prospects of a truly representational democracy, political analysts say.

Coming on the heels of Sandra Day O’Connor finally admitting the US Supreme Court should not have decided the 2000 Presidential Election and as the Post and other pundits continue to hype the Hillary Clinton vs. JEB! Bush 2016 contest, what more proof do we need that the US is completely free of corruption and elite political families?

Washington Post Tries to Ram Petraeus Down Our Throats Again

No. In the name of God, Thor, Zeuss, Cthulhu and the Flying Spaghetti Monster, no. There are few people who personify the vapid, amoral fetid swamp of Washington politics and defense policy more than David Petraeus. Taking a huge part of the blame for propelling Petraeus from a solely military into an entirely political career is the Washington Post, which gave Petraeus a prime op-ed slot in September 2004, where he spewed wildly optimistic numbers on his accomplishments while training Iraqi troops. Petraeus further told us how victory was just around the corner, implying that if only Americans would re-elect George W. Bush, his plan would achieve full fruition. Active military personnel are not supposed to engage in politics, but Petraeus became political with that op-ed and Washington overlooked it, because that’s what Washington does and that’s what the Washington Post does.

Bush rewarded Petraeus for his role in the election by putting him in charge of US troops in Iraq. Petraeus didn’t impress his immediate superior, Admiral Fallon, who termed Petraeus an “ass-kissing little chickenshit” after their first meeting. Once in charge, Petraeus quickly established death squads. Things didn’t go all that well in Iraq, in part because everything Petraeus does fails miserably while he is busy explaining to us what a good job he is doing. By 2007, the Kagan brain-trust came up with the idea of the surge to “save” Iraq. Washington politics and defense policy prostitute Michael O’Hanlon was brought onto the job of helping to sell the surge. In the fall of 2007, an orchestrated  Washington event, complete with a sideshow purchased in the New York Times for the “General Betrayus” ad, gave us Congressional hearings that resulted in approval for the surge. Completely overlooked at that time was the inconvenient fact that a major part of the Iraq plan moving forward from that point involved a total restart of training Iraqi troops because Petraeus failed spectacularly in his previous attempt at training. But Washington and the Washington Post did not call out Petraeus for that failure, because that’s what Washington and the Washington Post do.

Petraeus was next promoted by Bush in late 2008 to Fallon’s previous position in charge of CentCom.  It was quite clear to Barack Obama once he took office that Petraeus had his sights set on becoming president, so Obama made a very interesting move when he sent Petraeus down in rank to take command in Afghanistan after Petraeus’ protege Stanley McChrystal was fired for insubordination in July of 2010. Because lying about training had worked in advancing his career in Iraq, it appears that fudging the numbers on ANSF capabilities was one of the first things Petraeus did once in charge in Afghanistan. He was caught in this by the GAO, who pointed out that criteria for ANSF readiness were being changed to increase the number of troops qualifying for the most advanced classification, but it appears that only SIGAR and I care about those lies. Washington and the Washington Post ignored those dishonest moves by Petraeus, because that’s what Washington and the Washington Post do.

After Petreaus had been in charge in Afghanistan for six months or so, political handlers stepped into the picture to try to burnish his image for a future run for president. Continue reading

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz RT @adamjohnsonNYC: My latest By Treating Clinton SuperPAC as Separate Media Embraces Core Myth of CitizenUnited https://t.co/I0wOQLFbOt ht…
5mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @DanielLarison We're engaging publicly and it keeps making things worse so let's pretend we aren't to avoid accepting any responsibility!
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JimWhiteGNV RT @SenSanders: Residents of Baltimore’s poorest boroughs have lifespans shorter than people living under dictatorship in North Korea. That…
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bmaz @carriecordero @johnson_carrie @benjaminwittes Well, sure. Bumbling moron Ronald Reagan got briefed+did job, why not racist idiot Trump?
29mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @JayQPublic Nope! But to suggest US engagement -- of both military and diplomatic type -- is not visible is laughable nonsense.
31mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @SeucT OK. You endorse a paragraph built on premise that our engagement IS NOT VISIBLE. That's your choice.
31mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @SeucT What does "a more visible engagement" imply. Let's start w/very very basic stuff.
34mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @SeucT I mean are you REALLY suggesting American engagement is not visible anywhere in the whole wide world? Really?
36mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @SeucT In other words, "Yes, I'm part of that projection and disavowal and I'm not afraid to abuse logic to participate."
36mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @SeucT It is projection, disavowal of mainstream US FP (for both Dems & GOP) of their consequences. Not getting that is failure that > Trump
37mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @SeucT Better alt might be to say, "US intervention (of which Hillary proponent" caused shit I'm about to list, let's call for engagement.
40mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @SeucT It suggests "American engagement" is not visible. That's batshit nuts.
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