April 01, 2010

The Nonentity in the White House

From Kevin Baker's essay in the April issue of Harper's Magazine, "The Vanishing Liberal":

Baker comments on Obama's West Point speech of 1 December 2009, in which he first said that we have to limit our troop commitment in Afghanistan, because our own priorities come first, and then announced that he was sending 30,000 more troops there. He continues:

"How could this be? It was the question that Obama's most fervent supporters had been asking themselves for months, as their candidate discarded almost every vision of a new America, a new world, that he had described during his campaign. By the time of his West Point speech, health-care 'reform' had already been transformed into yet another scheme to transfer wealth to the richest corporate interests in the country. The stimulus program had been botched, the promised money delayed and diverted from badly needed public projects into unhelpful tax cuts. The banks had been bailed out but not the people, and any significant proposals for repairing our infrastructure, addressing climate change, re-regulating the financial markets, or rebuilding New Orleans were generally acknowledged to be dead letters.

"Now, with the president's decision on Afghanistan, our foreign policy settled back into its familiar pattern of endless war for unknown purposes. To people who had been clamoring for real change in how we work and consume, how we live in the world and with one another, this retreat to the failed policies of the recent past was stunning. No other president in our history had so thoroughly spurned his political base in so short a time....

"The party that claims to represent all progressive interests in this country proceeds with its impervious, self-interested agenda. The administration's stated priorities for the near future are to balance the budget before a deep recession has abated and to commit the nation to a long-running war in a dysfunctional Asian country that we neither understand nor care about--thereby promising to repeat, simultaneously, the two worst mistakes made by liberal presidents in the past seventy-five years. As for the long term, the White House will form a commission bent on cutting 'entitlements,' such as Social Security and Medicare, that are the bedrock of retired Americans' prosperity...

"It is increasingly clear that [Obama] never intended to challenge the power structure he had so skillfully penetrated....There is no longer any meaningful reformist impulse left in our politics. The idea of modern American liberalism has vanished among our elite, and simply voting for one man or supporting one of the two major parties will not restore it."

Translation: Game over, folks!

67 Comments:

Anonymous Art said...

Game Over?

Chris Hedges still holds out hope for a Third Party candidate. How about Jesse Ventura? Who better to knock out Sarah Palin in the political arena!

8:17 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Art-

In his heart of hearts, I think Chris knows the game is over also. He's been saying that in various ways for a long time now. "Change" in America, in terms of popular objection to the powers that be, can only come from the Right in this country...that seems clear enough.

Is Jesse still doing anything? I thought he had vanished. Sarah, on the other hand...

mb

10:35 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

I think the problem is that our "choices" -- the ones allowed by those with the money & power to make them for us -- seem to boil down to The More Obviously Blatantly Egregiously Terrible Candidate or The Less Obviously Blatantly Egregiously Terrible Candidate.

I do think there are some people who genuinely want to effect real change that actually helps everyone ... but I don't think they'll be allowed to get within a few thousand miles of even being potential candidates. Media "wisdom" will see to that, via dismissal by derision. The Dean Scream, anyone? All it takes is one trivial moment, a split-second, to be repeated ad nauseum & "analyzed" to death by compliant pundits ...

Too many air quotes? Well, we're in the Ironic Age, when nothing really matters, and it's all a big joke.

On us.

11:33 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Tim-

I remember Dick Gregory once asked, "If we're always voting for the lesser of two evils, how come things are getting worse?"

Answer: a 60s graffito I saw back then: "If voting could change the system, it would be declared illegal."

R.I.P.

11:43 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

That's it, all right!

And I realized that I was using the air quotes because language itself has become so mushy, at least in what passes for political & cultural discourse these days. Words literally don't mean what they mean, so to speak.

In C. S. Lewis' novel "Perelandra," the protagonist observes of his foe, a Satan-possessed scientist, that the Un-Man (as Lewis calls him) regards intelligence merely as a tool, like a bayonet, to be used when required, but otherwise set aside. It has no value in itself, no inherent goodness or meaning; it's simply there to be used as necessary. Which is how the current powers that be seem to regard facts, knowledge, words, language, emotions.

Certainly the political world has always been a hothouse of empty platitudes -- but when I listen to politicians & pundits speak today, it's obvious they're regurgitating words as mere sounds, and that those words don't mean anything to them, have no inherent worth or value or context. They activate the appropriate responses in their pre-programmed listeners, and that's all.

1:25 PM  
Blogger Carl said...

The Tea Partiers think they can change the system. The problem is that they can barely spell.

Link to photo set featuring Tea Party signs:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/pargon/sets/72157623594187379/

2:27 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Carl-

This is why I want Sarah in the W.H. These people are so dumb, they are hysterical. Besides crashing the economy, rounding up all dissidents, and reducing the US to Third-World, Fourth-Rate status, Sarah will be *funny*! "Teabonics" is indeed a good name for the language these people speak (and write). The EDF (Escalating Dolt Factor) has no upper limit in the US, as H.L. Mencken pointed out nearly a century ago. Or to put it another way, we live in a BRE (Buffoon-Rich Environment). Anyone with a touch of Woody Allen or Chris Rock in them, will appreciate the spectacle.

mb

3:31 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

Dr. Berman et al,

"Dr. Strangelove" is my favorite movie. I watch it at least once a year. Kubrick really understood America. That's us folks! "You can't fight in here, this is the war room!"

And Slim Pickens riding the bomb like a rodeo cowboy. Perfect! The last scene in that film, with Vera Lynn singing "We'll Meet Again," still takes my breath away.

MB next time you write about smart people acting dumb, forget McNamara, we've got a current example living in the whitehouse.

Dave

7:10 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Jesse Ventura appeared on Larry King last month, promoting his new book, "American Conspiracies". He said that "our country better start waking up and quit voting for Democrats and Republicans".

VENTURA: It is high time to destroy these two parties, if we can, because they're leading us down the road to ruin, both of them. KING: It's never going to happen, though. It's not going to happen. You know that. VENTURA: Oh, never say never, Larry. Stranger things can come to pass. Never say never in this country.

Sounds like he's planning a comeback. If nothing else, it would be entertaining.

8:24 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dave-

Not only dumb, but hollow. The George Packer article in the New Yorker I referred to in another post claimed that the pres has no other goal beyond being loved, and remembered in history. But loved, remembered, for what? In this sense he's pathetic, like Bill Clinton. Like most Americans, these guys have no real vision, or serious goals. "Getting ahead" (to where?) seems to be everything in the US, and they exemplify it. Without real gravitas, in both leaders and citizens, a country can't really endure.

(As an aside, I remember once being invited by some university to teach a class, and the students were sitting at formica tables. And I looked in their eyes, and their eyes looked like formica as well--I kid u not--they registered nothing, were completely soulless. This was many years ago, and I recall leaving the class, having reached no one, and feeling very depressed. I wouldn't have expressed it in these terms then, but I think what I was seeing was the future of America, and it didn't feel very good. You remember that line in "The Graduate," when a friend of the family tells Dustin Hoffman: "Just one word: plastics".)

In this sense, Islam has much more of a future than we do, as stateless and disorganized as it is. It's not a culture I wd wish to live in (not being a religious person, just for starters), but at least it does have a moral center, and one that propels some of its followers to action. I don't condone 9/11, of course; but these people were fervent, not insane. They were well-trained and well-educated; they knew what they were doing and why. The Vietnamese defeated us not despite their makeshift weaponry and pyjamas, but *because* of them. We had no reason to be there; they had a major reason to defend their homeland, and were willing to sacrifice nearly 3 million peasants in the process. Similarly, the 9/11 attackers could pull it off with box cutters and such because of their dedication. And if you read Michael Scheuer ("Imperial Hubris"), the CIA point-man on Osama for 17 yrs, you see why: he lists the enormous grievances the Islamic world had/has toward us, and pts out that they are justified. Again, this doesn't make the slaughter of the innocents OK, but we need to acknowledge the gravitas that Islam has that we do not.

In 1967, the blueblood brahmin historian, Henry Steele Commager, testified before a Senate committee that a loss for the US in Vietnam would be good for us; that it would teach us something important. But he was wrong, because Americans really didn't get the message: that you can't control the entire world, you can't violate the self-determination of other people, that our foreign policy was based on a fallacy, etc. As Gore Vidal once said, "Americans never learn; it's part of our charm." What a waste, all around.

It would be very impt for Americans to ask: Who are we, anyway? Where are we going? What are our true values? Questions like this are terrifying for us (but not for Islam, or for the Vietnamese) because the answers are depressing:
(1) We don't know; (2) Towards having more money; (3) See #2. This is simply not a sustainable basis for a civilization, and personally, I find it depressing (another version of "formica eyes," perhaps).

And as in the case of Vietnam, we are not going to learn anything from our civilizational collapse. The clowns on Wall St. still talk in terms of the 'self-regulation of the market'--!! These guys, like McNamara or Obama or Clinton, have high IQs and are dumb as a stick. Since that collapse is inevitable, one wd like to think that *some* learning took place, as a result. Not a chance. We don't reflect; we don't absorb contradictory evidence. We merely plod on--to nowhere.

Yeah, Strangelove is indeed *the* American movie. I esp. love Sellers' rendition of Henry Kissinger, as his arm keeps giving a spontaneous Nazi salute, which he has to continually rein in.

Thanks for writing-

mb

8:47 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Art-

Jesse: My hero!

Yes, to see him square off w/Sarah, that wd be pure bliss.

Where are the Mugwumps when we need them? (Ma, ma, where's my pa? Gone to the White House, ha ha ha!)

mb

8:59 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Yes, I think we would all appreciate the spectacle. Imagine Larry King moderating the debates: "We have an historical first--three candidates: one black, the other two sporting black leather jackets. Heh, heh."

10:24 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Wd like to see the two of them slug it out, literally, with the pres doing his usual cool (empty) thing, above it all. I can't help wondering if the final days of the Roman Empire were this funny.

10:31 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

"Dr.Strange Love", oh yes, what a great movie. I had my husband watch it for the first time last year "Do you know what Russians call water? Vodka" Kubrick definitely had us pegged.

Ventura seems to be enjoying himself in Mexico and from the sounds of it doesn't want to come back to the U.S. any time soon. Although it would be great to have him go against Palin. Maybe he could even have one of his former c-workers sneak up from behind her with a metal folding chair

11:34 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

When asked her about her plans for the economy, the "Million Dollar Man" comes from behind and gets her into the sleeper hold. Yes quite entertaining.

12:15 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Heather-

What, you mean Jesse's down here, and hasn't bothered to give me a call? I'm crushed.

mb

12:31 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

I didn't know that Jesse was in Mexico. But, apparently, he's living "completely off the grid" in Baja California. That must be why he hasn't called.

3:34 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

My feelings are still hurt (sniff).

4:33 PM  
Blogger PALOBLANCO-CAJANEGRA said...

Querido Mauricio:

The last earthquake in Chile on feb 27, was not just telluric, but also social. We saw a middle class model colapse, in its need for “more” without following a: “regular procedure” , in other words not just stealing, but breaking their faith in a system that seemed they so much believed in. Any way this subject was not called out very much as you can imagine.

This was the really fragile and pathetic thing that happened, not the poor people who lost their homes (the lost lives of the beloved ones is another matter, obviously a great pain), those poor people that lost thing’s are heroes and instead of making me sad, they give me strength. Sophisticated comfort is a sort of slow death, no? Precariousness is a kind of breath in some sense, but nobody looks for it, it just comes, with circumstances like this or simple madness. Fervent or insane?

The problem of U.S. mortgage debt is due to Jose Pinera’s ideas (our president’s “big brother”), Naomi Klein once said. Privatize health was implemented in Chile in the 80’. Chile has been a neoliberal (M.F) laboratory for long, pioneers according to Klein (that sadly doesn’t react like islam or vietnamese) . A Neo-liberal-lab for right and specially left (says Walden Bello), where affection (in human proportion and intensity) was replaced by “the moral”, for me: a sublimation (deluded) that behind the apparent and formal social duty it shows, lies the seed of ambition to be as you say "more". That last part is not spoken. With post-quake “looting” this phenomenon was clearly revealed in Chile but not comented, a latent cynicism unveiled, worthy of Voltaire's Bastard `s (Ralston Saul).

The nowhere man (Obama), lives in “his” nowhere land (in his utopia or “no lugar” in spanish, which means exactly nowhere in english). He is us, our mirror, that lives “as if” we cared, due to a : “social morality (polite) to achieve a privileged position among others and as you say be loved and remembered for our ambition and hard work”. But the Nowhere man does not make nowhere plans for nobody, thank’s to the conspiracy with a “C” as you once called that works by itself, like a kinf of catalyst due to the architecture Jeferson once brought?, plastics? (harmless concept but very dangerous). Formica eyes, like spick and span brightness that calms the bourgeois neurotic hygiene.

Plastics without warmth, that brought hopes without hearts, that today are “embedded to the spinal”, as we say in Chile. For me the inlightment (part of the neoliberal process) was a way of corrupting the real affection with people, by visualizing a social accepted hope (anticipating vision or light), that hides a solitary ambition (dark unsolved feeling). “Light, funny or Ironic (Tim) Ages America” could have been a good tittle? We live an endless dream for an unknown porpuse, that will never turn into a nightmare, although deep inside we wait for it to happen.

Un abrazo amigo, otra vez me hace funcionar “el cacumen”, agradecido.

6:46 AM  
Anonymous paul said...

So just what the hell is "progress" anyway?

It would be nice to hope that "the people" will 'wake up' but that's never really happened and probably never will (to a very limited degree)... people usually just react to the events in their lives but that's about it... most of which is misdirected and futile. For the most part, our lives unfold in relationship to the world in which we find ourselves. Isn't it all really just an inner personal journey which is likely the best anyone can ever achieve? The fact there are so few on "the path" doesn't diminish those who are. Politically speaking, I can only offer the following quote...

"Politics is the second oldest profession, notably less moral than the oldest. But neither of the two has reported layoffs."

5:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think what is happening is such a big deal. The education level of the masses really has little to do with economic activity, but it is funny to talk about. Wealth distribution may be lopsided, but that's how it was for most of human history. What is going down exactly? The middle class is going down, and I think that is what we are talking about here. Most of the "old" wealthy are still wealthy, believe me. The poor have always been poor. Nothing new there. A good education isn't going to "save" anyone; it will just help them see what is happening. Yes, the American dream for the masses is gone, maybe forever. We are going back to the lifestyle of Charles Dickens, with more set social classes, street urchins, etc. It really was just a fluke that America became so wealthy after 1940. If Hitler had kept his alliance with Russia things would have been different. America may be just returning to its former status (pre 1940) of being a minor, regional player like England today. Not the end of the world.

9:51 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Thanks Morris, for your positive and constructive "dismantling work," for putting things in their proper context.

But isn't it so, that even if Obama wanted to, he couldn't change very much of anything. Maybe reality has finally caught up with his ideals. Didn't that happen to that French guy Mitterrand...who had a grand plan? As a famous person kind of said: men can make history, but not under conditions of their own choosing. These problems, after all, are structural (which I think you pointed out)...like you can't stop a supertanker on a dime. Anyway, he seems to be a sellout like Clinton. Only question though, is he faster or slower?

But it is like you said: game over.

11:16 PM  
Anonymous John M said...

The federal courts this morning just ruled the FCC cannot enforce net neutrality. So Comcast and the other big corporations not only control the airwaves and print media but also the internet now. Will they allow access to blogs like this in the future? The grip tightens...

6:55 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

This makes me wonder what ideals, if any, Obama ever actually possessed:

http://www.salon.com/news/politics/barack_obama/index.html?story=/opinion/greenwald/2010/04/07/assassinations

In late January, I wrote about the Obama administration's "presidential assassination program," whereby American citizens are targeted for killings far away from any battlefield, based exclusively on unchecked accusations by the Executive Branch that they're involved in Terrorism. At the time, The Washington Post's Dana Priest had noted deep in a long article that Obama had continued Bush's policy (which Bush never actually implemented) of having the Joint Chiefs of Staff compile "hit lists" of Americans, and Priest suggested that the American-born Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was on that list. The following week, Obama's Director of National Intelligence, Adm. Dennis Blair, acknowledged in Congressional testimony that the administration reserves the "right" to carry out such assassinations.

Today, both The New York Times and The Washington Post confirm that the Obama White House has now expressly authorized the CIA to kill al-Alwaki no matter where he is found, no matter his distance from a battlefield. I wrote at length about the extreme dangers and lawlessness of allowing the Executive Branch the power to murder U.S. citizens far away from a battlefield (i.e., while they're sleeping, at home,with their children, etc.) and with no due process of any kind.


Land of the free & home of the brave, folks!

Though I hardly feel as flip & glib as that last bitter remark might indicate. Just sick at heart. They're not even bothering with the facade of decency any longer.

9:43 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Tim-

Equally impressive is the fact that at least 95% of the American public has no knowledge of this, and would approve of it if they did.

We are committing cultural suicide.

mb

9:38 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

And note that the vast majority of liberal & progressive bloggers & pundits are either ignoring or excusing it, some to the point of complaining about "moral purists" & begging us to understand the importance of "pragmatism."

This is why my rare, fleeting hopes for turning things around in America are indeed so fleeting as to be intangible. It ain't gonna happen.

Neb, if you're still reading, I haven't forgotten about that promise to compile some good basic reading websites. The NMI option is becoming more & more important.

3:05 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

Did you happen to read Glenn Greewald today in Salon? He said essentially the same thing you've been saying all along about Obama---he's simply a biracial happy face on repressive agendas.

9:31 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Susan,

I still find it hard to believe anybody thought it would be any different. Robert Kuttner and Slavoj Zizek called the election 'transformative'. Where were their brains? Interviewed b4 his death, Howard Zinn said he wasn't disappointed because he had no expectations of the guy. Now that's an intelligent response. But in general, Americans (and Zizek, apparently) don't get it, that it's not about this or that candidate, but about a system that simply cannot change. All we did in 2008 was elect a funeral director. What's the difference if he's black, or female, or green?

mb

9:50 PM  
Blogger PALOBLANCO-CAJANEGRA said...

Dear Mauricio:

Obama is an ideal candidate because he has a very good disguise, but the problem is he just can’t get out of the script he is in, the show that must go on. His powerful form can actually inspire “the people” to the point that they can’t see the real implications the structure we are all in, deals with. He is a “palo blanco” in a “caja negra”, although he is a black person in a white house. But as Micheal Jackson said: it doesn’t matter if your black or white.

Take care amigo, here in Latin America, we don’t have these “formal” deterrent problems, we are all “cholitos” down here, in USA’s backyard. Latino America es un pueblo al sur de Estados Unidos.

11:31 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

And if anyone still had doubts about the funeral, one small anecdote:

http://www.salon.com/wires/us/2010/04/09/D9EVK2401_us_sheriff_s_cutbacks/index.html

An Ohio judge tells citizens to start arming themselves because cutbacks will drastically reduce the size of the police force, so they'll have to protect themselves.

I'm reminded of a science fiction short story from 1969 or so, entitled (If I recall correctly) "The Gantlet," which follows a communter train home one Friday evening. The protagonist is upset because he's drawn the gunner's position that day -- he has to help fight off the unemployed, savage masses that roam outside the walled, gated city where he lives. He doesn't see anything wrong about the situation itself, which he accepts as the norm; he's just pissed that he's the one in the line of fire that day.

And doesn't the more recent film "Code 46" posit a similar scenario of privileged cities & masses of unemployed roaming the wasteland outside?

More & more this seems like the coming scenario for America. Yet even up to a few years ago, I would have dismissed that possibility as sheer apocalyptic fantasy. Seems quite plausible now.

12:54 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Hola Andres-

I confess, I've always loved cholos. In my opinion, a country cannot have too many cholos. I'm hoping that b4 I die, the US will have a 100% cholo population. As for Obama, he's too empty to be a real cholo.

Tim-

I'm a tad annoyed at the Ohio judge because he seems to be pulling his punches. Instead of telling citizens to arm themselves, he should be telling them to gun their neighbors down before their neighbors gun them down. This dancing around barbarism is completely annoying. I say, cut to the chase. And while we're at it, let's get Sarah into the Oval Office, toot sweet. This whole liberal notion (The Nation is the worst offender, I'm guessing) that we still have some margin of flexibility in which to operate is really starting to piss me off. Makes more sense to hold conferences on saving the planet, or reversing the earth's gravitational field.

8:49 PM  
Blogger a peaceful warrior said...

somehow i think gandhi and MLK would disagree with the Islamic "moral center" that condones women and children suicide bombers, not to mention hijacking planes and crashing them...

and don't get me wrong, washington is full of terrorists who kill indiscriminately as well...

is it just a case of anything pushing back against u.s. hegemony is admirable? i know this is a meme that's had a lot of traction since 9.11...

4:10 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Warrior,

To my knowledge, the Koran doesn't condone anything of the sort. But it may hinge on the interpretation of jihad, and what people feel they have to do in the face of having their cultures (and economies) destroyed. If you haven't read Yasmina Khadra's novel, "The Attack," now might be a good time.

Rolling back U.S. hegemony has had no traction within the US, of course. Outside of the US, we are viewed with disgust by billions of people--no surprise there. So of course, in those contexts, and for those people, the idea makes a lot of sense. But it will happen anyway, for reasons both internal and exogenous to the US. Hegel was right, and the bell is now tolling for us. Whether this is a good or bad thing is probably beside the point.

mb

5:35 PM  
Blogger a peaceful warrior said...

"but at least it does have a moral center, and one that propels some of its followers to action. I don't condone 9/11, of course; but these people were fervent, not insane. They were well-trained and well-educated; they knew what they were doing and why."

i'm afraid i must say that the above passage is inferring that islam condones violence of the kind mentioned therein. at the very least it's loaded with the innuendo of approval and admiration for such violence.

whether or not it's condoned in scripture is another point; (in fact, to my understanding, the hadith carries injuctions for such "just" murders.)

at any rate, i believe my original point still stands...

5:12 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Well, I'm no expert on Islamic law, so you could be right (but I'm guessing not). And there is more than one aspect to the Islamic moral center, in any case, it seems to me. For what it's worth, you might consider the record of Christianity's own jihads, and the use of scripture to justify them. In (most of) those cases, the Christian world didn't have its back to the wall, which the Islamic world often does. (Again, Yasmira Khadra) But it's a large question, about nature of justification, definition of terrorism, etc. The film "Battle of Algiers" is very good on this, I think.

10:14 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

A Peaceful Warrior,

I think there's a difference between explaining to understand, and explaining to excuse -- and I'd say MB is making that distinction, although it's one inevitably lost on the mainstream media & political world.

My sense of horror at 9/11 is no less for the knowledge that it was a response to American policy in the Middle East. Understanding it isn't the same as excusing it. When the initial shock began to settle, I realized that somewhere inside me, I'd been expecting something like this sooner or later. Not because it was a good & noble thing, but because it was almost bound to happen.

We had this fantasy that America was immune -- but it wasn't. What's happened to others could (and did) happen to us. Again, I'm not justifying indiscriminate slaughter -- on any side! I can just see why it happens, sadly.

1:01 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman and Peaceful Warrior,

According to a Muslim scholar I know, the Koran does not condone violence but does allow for self defense. Neither does The New Testament--in fact, it would be difficult to find a religious tract more nonviolent but that hasn't stopped anyone from declaring war and claiming Jesus or God is on their side. 9/11 was a political act. Perhaps the men involved were also religious and really felt this was a blow for Islam (I don't know) but "Christian Warriors" are also oxymorons. Honor and shame in the Muslim culture (again, according to him) are practiced on a community level and the higher up a man goes in politics thus increasing the stakes in money and power, then the less you see of either. Not too different from us.

5:54 PM  
Blogger Neb said...

Tim, reading and enjoying the post. Still absorbing, I'm not that good a blogger.

MB: as humorous as Sarah Palin is as a puppet president, I don’t think the puppeteers would stop her from allowing patriot group death squads (that's just where my thoughts on the fantasy goes). As how most of Europe turned a blind eye to the plight of the Jew pre-wwII, I suspect the same for that near extinct serious liberal. So then, when all of you get shot (and she won't care if you're in Mexico) who will I have to talk to when I come out my cave?

12:41 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Neb-

Good pt, tho I plan to be in a cave as well. I've been exploring the basements of friends in rural parts of SW Bulgaria. (They have Internet, don't worry.)

mb

11:47 AM  
Anonymous jonfrontational said...

Hello

I've been lurking around this blog for a few months, but this is my first post.

I agree that its Game Over.

In my view, the only hope there ever was, was from the people themselves. I am just stunned that many a democratic voter does not SEE, the continuity in policy from George W Bush to Obama. (not to speak of the continuity on policy by both parties dating back decades)

From the people I talk to, I do not sense that they have any idea as to how serious the Economic situation is, the absolutely have NO idea about U.S. Decline, and what that might mean, let alone what living in a world with scarce resources such as oil/gas might mean.

I have a cousin, veteran of Iraq war (occupation), who i try and talk about geopolitics, economy, domestic police state etc with, I honestly thought he was starting to "get it",(of course he will not read anything) but then he informed me that when he finishes college(currently a Junior) that he wants to work for the Department of Homeland Security. (I almost fell out of my chair)

My other cousin, is highly educated, currently working on his doctorate, and I spoke with him last week, and He did nothing but make excuses for Obama(...its congress, its congress) Even highly educated people can't SEE, what is so obvious

Scary.

...And Chomsky was warning recently that he thinks the U.S. may turn Fascist

2:31 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Jon,

Welcome to the DAA blog. Trying to talk to Americans abt the collapse of the US is like whispering to someone on the other side of a wall of concrete 50 feet thick. In short, good luck. I have the feeling that the contemporary US represents the largest collection of morons ever gathered in a single geographical locale in the history of the world; but of course it's not easy getting hard data on the subject. Someone did write an article recently, however, pointing out that the ancient Romans were quite aware of what was happening to them in the late empire phase, and claiming that Americans were, in comparative terms, quite dumb. Wish I cd give u the reference. Read my new book, "Meathead Nation" (just kidding).

mb

3:40 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Susan, and friends:

Qur'an (2:216) Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not.

"Not only does this verse establish that violence can be virtuous, but it also contradicts the myth that fighting is intended only in self-defense, since the audience was obviously not under attack at the time. From the Hadith, we know that Muhammad was actually trying to motivate his people into raiding caravans with this verse." (TheReligionofPeace.com)

Matthew (10:34) Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.

Revelation (2:16) Repent; or else I will come into thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

And so on, and so forth. It seems to me that, just as it's easy to make excuses for Obama (evidently), it's easy to make excuses for "holy" scripture. Religious faith runs even deeper than political belief, perhaps.

6:48 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Art-

1st line: is that prescribed or proscribed?

mb

8:28 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Prof. Berman,

"Fighting is prescribed for you." According to that website, alternate translations are "Warfare is ordained for you" and "Fighting is enjoined on you".

Then again, "enjoin" can either mean "to order or command (prescribe)" or "to forbid or prohibit (proscribe)". Open to interpretation, I guess.

6:36 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Michael Ventura lays out the nature & structure of American oligarchy in clear, precise, feudal terms in his latest column:

http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Issue/column?oid=oid%3A990614

And I've just begun reading Theodore Roszak's "World, Beware!" which goes into greater detail on the nature of the current powers that be. Tellingly, though all his other books have been published in America, no American publisher would touch this one; the English language edition comes by way of Canada.

Meanwhile, Obama announces a manned mission to Mars within his lifetime, and promises countless new space-age jobs in a politically advantageous part of Florida. Ever notice that while he calls for more emphasis on education, its always math & science, never literature & history? You know, "practical" stuff. Isn't this what C. Wright Mills once called "crackpot realism," by the way?

2:02 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Art and friends,

I haven't read The Koran and apparently you have. My information was from a Muslim scholar and reading Karen Armstrong's book Mohammed. So I don't know; they both say the violence has to be viewed in the context of history. But I have read The New Testament and the overwhelming message is one of peace and nonviolence and the wisdom of returning good for evil. Revelations has never made any sense to me --- maybe the violence and chaos visited on the human race is more due to our own refusal to give up greed, anger and ignorance and destruction is the culmination of all our bad decisions. But I don't want to be an apologist for ANY religion.

A manned mission to Mars? Poor Obama is already living in an alternative universe if he thinks we can scrounge up the cash and the brains to put that together. Maybe we can outsource it to India.

9:25 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

The Mars thing may not be a bad idea, if Obama goes himself and sets up permanent residence there (condos are currently quite inexpensive, from what I hear). The problem is that it's a Hydra's head: there are so many Obamas around, really.

6:06 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Susan,

I haven't read the Koran either, but a number of books in the last few years quote violent passages in sacred texts. Forgive me for being a little on edge when it comes to organized religion: I was raised Catholic. Recently, I read that "a rising number of Americans today say they're spiritual but not religious. Fifteen percent say they don't identify with any religion--twice that of about two decades ago..." Will a mystical atheism be the next big thing?

1:13 AM  
Blogger Neb said...

If Palin becomes president, you wouldn’t have to worry about money or brains required to do Mars; it just won’t happen. Problem solved.
Am I Sailin for Palin now? Nope. But I did come across a reminder of something I find so hideous in our “ownership society” that if it continues to flourish, I will definitely vote for her. The biotech industry now owns patents on about 10,000 genes. BUT, there was a court case the ACLU won that took away a cancer gene patent from Myriad Genetics Inc (a start). By owning the patent to your genes, they, Myriad, own the blood analysis methods to determine if the person has cancer or not. A woman that had cancer could not get the lab work done because the insurer would not pony up the amount Myriad wanted. The Myriad cost for this lab work was $3.2k, in EU & Canada, much less, where no such patent exists or is respected. Since Myriad owns the gene no other lab in the US can perform the test. Like I said though, the suit against Myriad was won but it’s under appeal. If Myriad succeeds, that would be it; the owning of genes is a deal breaker for me. I don’t know why this issue sickens me more than all the other things going on. Voting for Palin says, it’s bad to the point that whatever good there is, it can’t succeed; a jury of my peers not having a problem with a corporation owning my genes says everything. Despite the comments of “nowhere man” and such about Obama, it’s the people that voted for him and had bought the “hope” line, I think, are redeemable. I think at least under this president there is room for push back against corporate insanity as it creates more personal “game over” situations for folks (despite their recent personhood win) at least in court.
On the original topic, while I agree there should be a fundamental shift in emphasis from math and science to arts and humanities (as a math man I’ll say it is inspiration we need, not dogged calculations) at least there’s formal acknowledgement that the US is lagging educationally as a “1st world” nation.
Reference story: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=6362525n&tag=contentBody;housing
- 60 Minutes, 4/4/2010.

1:16 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Neb, I think you have it reversed. It is precisely the idiocy of a Palin (or Obama) presidency that would spend money on a Mars expedition. If the Oligarchs can profit it will happen.

All the ownership of tech issues depends on a tech infrastructure that won’t be here. Saving a large stash of painkillers is probably more important.

Tim, thanks for the great Ventura article (above). I’m waiting for the next installment.

Susan & Art, one of the last things my mother read was the Koran. Her comment, “that is not a peaceful religion.” Haven’t read it myself but I’ll take her word for it. I’m with Hitchens. “religions poison everything” Also, Irvin Laszlo’s theory that the substance in the Akashic information field is always the same and it is the human expression of it that forms religion and misses the whole point.

Somewhat to the point, the latest issue of Mother Jones is about population, contraception, etc. Jesse Helms, Reagan, the various catholic monsters, right wingnuts, the list is long. The game is over and this disaster cannot be reversed. When my now 46 year old son was about 10 or 12 he told me the world’s problems would never be fixed unless we could reverse the population explosion.

I have acquaintances that are quite proud of themselves for recycling. They also take many transatlantic flights every year. They both have doctorates.

Maybe that Icelandic volcano will keep blowing until we all have to turn on the lights. Perfect. Blow baby, blow.

12:17 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Neb, that's a chilling & sickening -- but all too believable -- story about patented genes. My reading of Roszak has just informed me of corporate proposals to privatize the oceans & somehow brand/tag schools of fish as corporate property. Everything is ultimately reduced to a commodity.

You probably see the same sort of state lottery commercials I do -- someone sleeping & mumbling about the things they'd do if they won -- "diamonds, tropic vacations, luxury car." Which is accepted by all as normal desires. It would indicate a very different culture & direction if those desires were, say, "a year reading the classics, a community arts center, a vegetable garden for everyone," and so on.

But I won't hold my breath.

2:34 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Amigos-

Thank u all for writing, as usual. Good article today on truthdig.com, Chris Hedges on Noam Chomsky. I keep coming back to Toynbee, and the idea that empires always die by suicide. We are castrating ourselves by our own hand, and as Chomsky argues, it is the liberal intellectual class that finally is in the forefront of all this. I cannot imagine a scenario in which things suddenly (or gradually) improve. But at least Chomsky has been willing, all these years, to call a spade a spade; and that certainly counts for something. As the lemmings careen over the cliff, we need at least a few of them to stand aside and say: "Oh look at that; isn't that the damnedest thing?!"

mb

3:09 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Dave,

Michael Ventura is always worth reading! You might appreciate his column from late 1999, "Ranting the Millennium in," where he asks, "What does a Dark Age demand of a good person?"

http://www.weeklywire.com/ww/12-28-99/austin_cols_ventura.html

As for the mission to Mars -- much as I love the romance of exploring other worlds, at the moment it seems more important to preserve this one (if possible). It's an grand, glorious, inspiring vision, all right ... but I'm reminded of a prescient science-fiction novel from the late 1960s, "Lords of the Starship," written by college student Mark Geston. In a war-ravaged future built upon the ruins of countless previous civilizations, a project to build a majestic starship is born. It's a project that will take generations, but which inspires the populace to work hard, grinding hours in utter poverty. Meanwhile, political intrigue & backstabbing continue apace; in the end, the sham of the project literally explodes, another civilization-crushing war breaks out ... but those in power are very secure, ready to play through to the next round of the endless imperial cycle.

I've got a horrible feeling the problem of overpopulation will be resolved in various ghastly, worldwide ways in the coming decades.

3:28 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Tim,

Thanks again. Ventura is something. How did I miss him? That last sentence, "Their collective emptiness will be a force of history, but individually, it will be as though they had never been." ....

Watch out grand kids, grampa Dave has something he wants to share with you!

9:10 PM  
Blogger Neb said...

the links you people put up here leave me speechless. At some point before, I think I found acceptance in understanding the suicidal course the US is on; some equanimity. But every once in a while I fall for the notion that there is the possibility of turn-around. I fall for it because I like to be optimistic. Also, I'm fortunate enough not to yet have a true game-over moment as so many others had.

I'm reaching back to that acceptance, the equanimity... when I see the lemmings go off the cliff, I'll just say "isn't that the damndest thing..." then continue working to preserve the something I love. Thanks all.

11:36 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Neb and friends,

Corporations bought the rights to specific genes starting, if memory serves, about 10 years ago after the completion of the Human Genome Project. Since they don't know which genes do what it's a crap shoot for them but the potential for staggering profits are high. How much would you pay if a company had cracked the code on diabetes and your 6 year old was a brittle diabetic? If they held the key to a cure, let me answer that for you---everything. They're counting on it; in fact, you might say they can take it to the bank. Money, and the power it brings, has done more to distort and poison human life than any religion, yet Christopher Hitchens et al never seem to address or notice this. I was horrified too when I first read about this b/c the implications are devastating. Monsanto has already won a case involving agriculture based on "intellectual property" and aggressively prosecutes anyone who crosses them. Of course it's all peddled as progress and amazing discoveries when it's really nothing more than shrewd investment.

6:32 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Susan,

I could not agree with you more about corporations like Monsanto, ADM, Cargill, etc.,but church history makes them look tame. So far I have not heard of Monsanto execs ordering the murder of thousands of people because they won't buy a farm product.

Having lived in Latin America and worked on a reservation in the U.S. I've spent some time with what remains of the victims. Study the history Susan. For starters check out the Truth Commission in Canada. You'll find it. Have a paper bag handy.

I am pleased that Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins and others are finally calling out religions for the monstrosities they are. I don't think atheists have any obligation to write about, or talk about anything else if they don't want to.

This is not directed at you Susan, but to the point of the stupidity and emptiness of Americans, I was at Wounded Knee one day when some tourists dropped by, laughing, smiling, taking pictures, making jokes. I'll never forget it.

Genocide has consequences and we ALL live with them. There is no closure, ever.

12:52 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dave-

Yer rt abt the church, of course, except that the actual #s (or even percentages) of people dying from corporate policies may be higher, even if unintentional. (Consider policies of dumping nuclear waste or whatever in Third World countries, e.g.--at least semi-intentional.) 'Free'-market capitalist fundamentalism is its own special religion, after all.

As for Hitchens et al.: I have a problem with the fervor of their atheism, which also rises to a religious level, imo. While there may be no god, I'm convinced there is such a thing as sacred experience; and these guys seem blind to it.

abrazos,
mb

mb

4:34 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Dr. Berman,

Yeah...they're all killers. 20 to 80 million the estimate in the Americas. It's a horror show, a meat market. Pin-striped suits, robes and funny hats. Much the same. Ever notice how we always pray just before we're about to do something really bad?

I think I've heard Hitchens say there may be sacred experience. Certainly, to my mind there is, and that is his loss if he can't find it.

I hope Hitch and Dawkins do get the pope arrested in London. Probably won't happen, but good theater if nothing else.

10:09 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Dave, and friends:

Check out the Chris Hedges book, "When Atheism Becomes Religion: America's New Fundamentalists".

An excellent documentary on genocide aired on PBS recently, "Worse Than War". It implicates political factors, rather than religious ones, that lead to "eliminationism".

10:21 AM  
Blogger Neb said...

Sue, well said and "devastating" is a good word. However, it might be euphemistic.

Dave, I certainly feel what you are saying on history and religion (i won't pretend to know the history that well but whenever I've studied some aspect of history, there it is always fking with peoples lives enmass.

Corporations, I believe, are just getting warmed up. In another century there'll be much less of an arguement of which was worse. oh wait, your thoughts might be under license and if you deviate from newspeak, well that's a thoughtcrime.

My belief, not what I know, is that a value system beyond money is what's requried (as Sue implied). Don't think it can happen until it absolutely has to happen.

I think Hitchens feels it's his time. He has to press hard now that he sees the Vatican backs against the wall.

8:05 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

Dave-

Thanks for your comments about religion and I do understand what you're saying. Religion has been the excuse for war and exploitation for centuries ("we're here to save your soul") much as, for example, the Iraq war is marketed as "we're here to provide you with freedom (like it or not)". But underneath both is neither religion nor freedom but land grabs, slavery and theft of others natural resourses. Many people who have supported these wars probably considered their motives admirable and justified. But the bottom line was enrichment whether lead by the Pope or a Supreme Commander. I'm not defending this aspect of religion---using god's authority to justify man's ambition. The Catholic Church (of which I've been a lifelong member) is the perfect example of institutionalized exploitation much as Goldman/Sachs has come represent it in the secular world. But I'm defending religion for this reason: when the distortions are stripped away it has provided many people with a framework to run their lives based on compassion and justice, supportive communities and a belief that there's something larger and better than our petty squabbles and concerns. I don't think Hitchens, Dawkins or Harris either can or are willing to understand this and focus instead on the obvious corruption and stupidity that we can all agree is wrong. God, Freedom, A Worker's Paradise---all have been used as a smoke screen for baser motives.

If the Pope is arrested for enabling pedophiles to ruin childrens lives, well, so be it. Neither the Catholic Church nor predator corporations should be allowed to harm people and walk away with no consequences. I would like The New Atheists to simply recognize that sham religion isn't the only evil in the world and in our new century, it may not even be the worst.

8:52 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Susan,

A friend of mine, a Jewish training analyst and student of Carl Menninger, once told me that without religion humans would slip into total depravity. That was over 20 years ago but it began a discussion with no end. I disagreed with him until he died. We don’t know what a completely secular world would look like. We just don’t know, but it is a fascinating question.

I lean toward the idea that a secular world would be healthier and more peaceful because, aside from some anthropological suggestions, I see no evidence that secular people show less inclination toward the positive attributes you mention. I am hopeful that those attributes are actually inherently human and not learned from a religion. Child development comes to mind, and I think, women's rights.

But, you’re right, a secular ideology can blind, like any other. We gain nothing by being rigid in these matters. I remember a story about a guy working in Appalachia. He was an agnostic but he said something like this: “when they get down on their knees in the kitchen and pray to Jesus, I get down there with em.” My grandfather, also agnostic, built the Methodist church in my hometown. When asked why, he replied that the churches were the only thing in town trying to do something really good.

I have no hope that ideologies will become soft enough to allow for kindness and compassion to thrive, counter to aggression. Unfortunately the world seems to be moving in the opposite direction. On a personal level however, we can do it! Looks like that may be all we will ever have!

12:26 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Computerless for the past few days, returning to find the thoughtful discussion continuing.

I agree, God or no God, there's definitely such a thing as sacred experience. And more often than not, it tends to exist in spite of, not because of, any religious hierarchy & structure. Didn't Jung say that organized religions were created to protect against direct religious experience, thus giving those who supposedly mediate between It & Us all the power?

I've been re-reading some of Thomas Merton's work from the mid-1960s lately. Interesting to read his bitter pages about America, corporate power, and Vietnam; if you substitute Iraq for Vietnam, those pages are still horribly relevant.

He also has a great deal to say about the Catholic hierarchy preserving itself at the expense of genuine sacred experience, which he sees as being feared & distrusted by the churchly powers that be.

Also caught "Food, Inc." last night, and was even more appalled to see just how powerful the corporate grip on food is. I can easily seen agri-business proposing laws passed against private vegetable gardens, or any non-corporate sources of food. Corporations won't be satisfied until they own literally everything on Earth. Could anyone really live "off the grid," a hermit? Would it even be allowed?

Contemplating this sort of future, the downfall of American empire is actually a hopeful thing!

7:04 PM  
Anonymous Someone said...

"How could this be? It was the question that Obama's most fervent supporters had been asking themselves for months, as their candidate discarded almost every vision of a new America"

These people remind me of a dog that always returns to his owner even though it gets kicked around all the time. When I see how people behave like such a dog, I sometimes pity them, sometimes scorn them. It seems as if there has something gone wrong during their upbringing. A conditioned acceptance of Authority maybe, a compulsion to follow someone that knows. The disorientation of a self that seems more and more insignificant as it is buried under a constant barrage of publicity. And the all important view from outside constitutes a shallowness in the inside.

6:21 AM  
Blogger Neb said...

The downfall of the Empire to be replaced by what exactly? I can see the end of institutional church empire if spirituality becomes more real for people. I don't know much about spirituality except that I only believe experiences can happen; however, I am interested in knowing of it directly, not believing.

Extreme individualism and corporatism are big parts of why we are in our dark ages. The end of America empire doesn't end these factors, but! if there's no empire that could mean no insane defense budget (and no police and guns everywhere). I see the fall of the Soviet Union didn't change the more fundamental aspects of the Russian character. The change I think we want is a long way off. However, the change that I can effect, my state of mind, can happen each time I choose to or not to contribute to violence and various forms of negativity, first internally and externally.

11:28 AM  
Anonymous Someone said...

"However, the change that I can effect, my state of mind, can happen each time I choose to or not to contribute to violence and various forms of negativity, first internally and externally."

Neb: That's just what I think. And I see the metaphorical picture of the three wise monkeys before my eyes (the Zen pictorial maxim). I think their meaning is just what you said, if not more thoroughly. The interpretation is, that you should not contribute to bad things in any way. Not by hearing it, not by seeing it, not by saying it. Sometimes a forth monkey is depicted (for not doing it) but probably this is a later addition since the three original monkeys seem to imply, that not seeing, hearing, saying bad things is a precondition of being non-violent in every aspect.

The important part, that somehow is spoiled by the addition of the forth monkey, is, I think, that just not resorting to violence does not do the trick at all, since there is many other forms of participating in violence then to physically do it yourself.

Not very surprisingly western philosophers got it wrong as usual as if it was apologetic of ignorance or something.

2:25 AM  

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