Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Marjah... NATO in the balance

Rebel without a cause?
David Seaton's News Links
As you probably have read that the Dutch government has fallen over Holland's participation in the Afghan war. German public opinion and that of most Europeans is also solidly against the presence of their troops too.

In the battle over Marjah we may be witnessing what could be the most important battle fought since the Second World War. If it is not a measurable and decisive success, it may signal the end of the "out of theater" role that the United States has envisioned for post-cold war NATO.

Andrew Bacevich describes that role very succinctly in Foreign Policy Magazine:
Washington's aim is this: take a Cold War-inspired organization designed to keep the Germans down, the Russians out, and the Americans in, and transform it into a post-Cold War arrangement in which Europe will help underwrite American globalism without, of course, being permitted any notable say regarding U.S. policy.
Put that way, would you want to send a son of yours to fight for such an arrangement?

European governments are going to have to go to their populations and justify spending huge sums of money on an American led war precisely at a time that they are forced to ask those populations to take very painful cuts in social programs like pensions because of a financial crisis brought on by the American financial sector.

European politicians are just as eager to keep their jobs as their American counterparts so you can imagine how closely they are calculating this thing.

If the economic and especially the job situation in Europe doesn't improve dramatically soon and spectacular progress in Afghanistan is not forthcoming in the next few months, it really is not that far fetched to envision the NATO partners rushing for the doors.

So, the battle of Marjah and Helmand  province may look much bigger in the history books than it looks to us today.

In my opinion it has been the height of frivolous foolishness to pin the credibility of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on a victory in Afghanistan... almost like pinning the future of European and American pensions on Goldman-Sachs. The difference would be that the soldiers who are putting it on the line in Afghanistan are risking their lives and their bodies, not other people's money and if they stop a bullet, they can't hedge it and they wont be "too big to fail" and surviving relatives will sure not get millions of dollars in compensation. Bitter? You betcha.

Certainly if things don't turn out well I won't blame the military. Soldiers are "can do" people: men don't get to be generals by saying, "sorry sir, but that is impossible". The president says, "I want victory in Afghanistan, can you do it?" and the soldiers say, "Yes sir! Yes we can!" The calculation of what can and cannot be done shouldn't be left to soldiers, unless they are more politicians than soldiers, like the ever cautious Colin Powell.

Under the "Powell-Doctrine" American soldiers would never have been committed to Afghanistan for more than a few months and the credibility of NATO would never have been put at risk in a place nobody has ever been able to occupy successfully.

Nobody has a formula for successful counter-insurgency. As the brilliant Israeli military theorist Martin van Creveld has put it in "The Changing Face of War", every book written on the topic of counter-insurgency since the Second World War has been written by the losers and thus they are totally devoid of value. Van Creveld thinks a better tactic would be to bombard the enemy with the useless manuals.

In centuries nobody has ever come up with a strategy for dominating Afghanistan and I don't think General McCrystal is going to do any better than Alexander the Great or the British or the Soviets for that matter. Even with a really committed American electorate and a really committed NATO behind him, something he doesn't have, I see his strategy fatally flawed, frivolous even.

The central fault of America's Afghan strategy is the patronizing attitude they have toward the enemy.

The idea is that they will be able to buy off most of the Taliban with money. Announcing this tactic is a fatal admission of weakness.

We are talking about people whose fathers and older brothers defeated the Soviet Union, which promptly collapsed and ceased to exist. This is quite a morale builder when you come to think of it.

They know that they can win against much more determined opposition than anything the Americans have produced up till now. The Mujaheddin who fought the Russians respected them as brave fighting men, soldiers who often went toe to toe with them. The Taliban view the Americans with their drones as effeminate, fearful. That they would offer them money to stop fighting them only reinforces that impression. That offer of money, as much as the commitment to an early withdrawal, is a clear message that tells the Taliban that they are winning.

Such an offer is also an unforgivable insult to the seriousness of a commitment which has kept them fighting for decades. How can anybody not think that it is perfectly logical that they are fighting to expel foreigners from their land: pork eating unbelievers, girlie men who kill women and children with toy airplanes.

Can you imagine what effect such an offer would have had on the German Wehrmacht or on the Imperial Japanese army in WWII and neither of them had ever defeated the Soviet Union and caused it to collapse.

If Hitler and the Emperor of Japan had offered the American soldiers money to lay down their arms, would that have ended World War Two? McCrystal seems to think so.

There is a wonderful Spanish saying, "cree el ladrón que todos son de su condición", which means "a thief thinks that everyone else is a thief too".

Is that what we have come to? DS 

Friday, February 19, 2010

Paranoia, the default option in interesting times

That until there are no longer/ First class and second class citizens of any nation/ Until the color of a man's skin/Is of no more significance than the color of his eyes/ Me say war. "War/No More Trouble" - Bob Marley
(Bob Marley's lyrics are the "red lines" of left wing populism)

A little light reading to start off with (be prepared to discuss)

So, this is what everyday chaos is like -- a situation that is not predictable in the short run, even less in the middle run. It is therefore a situation in which the economic, political, and cultural fluctuations are large and rapid. And that is frightening for most people. Immanuel Wallerstein

If it persists much longer, this era of high joblessness will likely change the life course and character of a generation of young adults—and quite possibly those of the children behind them as well. It will leave an indelible imprint on many blue-collar white men—and on white culture. It could change the nature of modern marriage, and also cripple marriage as an institution in many communities. It may already be plunging many inner cities into a kind of despair and dysfunction not seen for decades. Ultimately, it is likely to warp our politics, our culture, and the character of our society for years. Dan Peck - The Atlantic

Wired: What happens if we don’t get the growth everyone expects? Peter Thiel: If it doesn’t happen, people will go bankrupt in retirement. There are systemic consequences, too. If we don’t have enough growth, we will see a powerful shift away from capitalism. There are good things and bad things about capitalism, but inequality becomes completely intolerable to society when everything’s static. Wired
Urged on by conservative commentators, waves of newly minted activists are turning to once-obscure books and Web sites and discovering a set of ideas long dismissed as the preserve of conspiracy theorists, interviews conducted across the country over several months show. In this view, Mr. Obama and many of his predecessors (including George W. Bush) have deliberately undermined the Constitution and free enterprise for the benefit of a shadowy international network of wealthy elites.(...) They are frequently led by political neophytes who prize independence and tell strikingly similar stories of having been awakened by the recession. Their families upended by lost jobs, foreclosed homes and depleted retirement funds, they said they wanted to know why it happened and whom to blame.  New York Times
David Seaton's News Links
Below the surface of the seas of finance, the shadowy movements of many enormous predators are dimly perceived... swimmers cry out and are dragged under: who will be next?   What can be done?

The thread that links all the texts above is that we live in a period of crumbling certainties and a growing gap in America between immensely wealthy elites, a struggling middle class that is rapidly being proletarized, and a ballooning, lumpenproletariat-underclass. And history teaches us that persistent, intractable, inequality brings conflict.

Peter Thiel's insight in the Wired interview quoted above is worth underlining, "inequality becomes completely intolerable to society when everything's static."

Americans only tolerate temporary inequality, never permanent inequality.

If Americans can see the clear possibility of their own situation getting better they are not so likely to begrudge the good fortune of others, if not, they might begrudge... big time.

Thiel's viewpoint is quintessentially American, because endless growth, an ever larger pie to share, is the keystone of America's social pact.

However, Theil can only see the American pie growing through some sort of miraculous technological breakthrough: outer space or nanotechnology.

Ah, the future!

Didn't Stanley Kubrick think that by 2001 we would be vacationing in space stations instead of watching the Twin Towers fall in ashes and in flames?

This crisis, if it is structural and not temporary, is of an unimaginable peril to America' future. Economic growth, expansion, personal freedom and the fulfillment of dreams are the glue that holds America together.

White, Black, Asian and Hispanic, Christian and Jew: have we been assembled from the four corners of the earth only to shop together? And if the shelves are empty? And if the shelves are full, but our pockets are empty?

Today, suddenly, many Americans are discovering,for the first time since the legendary 1930s, that capitalism is no longer the large friendly animal that they had always had thought it to be. Here we are in a situation where fraudulent financial products pimped by frivolous criminals have destroyed the future of millions of our not "too big to fail" citizens, who must "save" the malefactors with their tax money and then watch as their education, pensions, medical care and other "entitlements" are shredded in the interest of financial "responsibility".

To explain it simply the American economic system is admittedly very brutal, but traditionally it has usually been so flexible, grown so fast and the chance of both physical and social mobility so real, that most Americans blame themselves when things don't turn out well for them; they direct their frustration inward instead of blaming the system itself. Much of America's culture of violence can be explained by this need to offload anger from the self.

Seen this way, there is a positive side to the flakey-fascist Tea Party movement.  The white middle class, lower and middle-middle class, people who were the heart of the system, its "salt of the earth", now realize that they have been screwed and they are looking for the culprits. Instead of shooting up their workplace and then committing suicide, they are holding meetings, organizing study groups and blaming Wall Street and Washington for their pain. I find some of this truly positive.

Once people start questioning their reality as earnestly as many of the Teabaggers appear to be doing, it quickly becomes habit forming. You can never know where it will finally lead them, how they may finally evolve. Now that Obama appears to have neutered the left, rebellion is apparently up to the wingnuts, but the important thing is to rebel.

This rebellion, as wacky as it seems, appears to be producing results, it is putting the wind up the right people. Here, for example is neocon Michael Gerson writing in The Washington Post 
Opponents are not just wrong; they are secretive, ruthless and demonic. They want to overturn the Constitution, establish a police state, cede American sovereignty to a new world order, fight wars for the sake of Israel, carve out a nation of Aztlan in the American Southwest. The argument of "us against them" is a temptation across the ideological spectrum. But it is intensified by Gnostic insights that pit the children of light against the children of darkness.(...) The "revolution" we are seeing is a metaphor. This is not 1776, in which the avenues of representation were blocked by a distant power. Those who take the revolutionary metaphor too literally are not engaged in politics, they are engaged in sedition.
For the moment there are many, very worrying racist and anti-immigrant overtones to much of what the Tea Party folk are saying, but the US Constitution is a holy document for Teabaggers and no matter how much you bend it out of shape, the Constitution is not Mein Kampf.

If the economy stays stagnant long enough, I predict that it may soon become evident why so many of the parents and grandparents of today's Teabaggers worshiped Franklin Delano Roosevelt and have great grandparents that turned out in their thousands to raptly listen to the speeches of William Jennings Bryan. They have been sold a bill of goods, buyer's remorse may be setting in.

It appears that many of these people are doing the first serious political thinking in their entire lives... let them ferment a bit more.

The Teabaggers aren't really "revolutionary", the idea of a stagnant America, with a permanent underclass is "counterrevolutionary". Everybody should rebel against that.

Stagnation and a permanent underclass directly attack the whole idea of the United States itself... because if the USA is really exceptional in any way, it is that it is an idea before it is anything else and without that idea of growth and possibility of change, of social mobility, the whole thing is in danger of coming apart at the seams.

There are people who compare the fall of Lehman brothers with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Maybe we should be so lucky.

The problem for the United States is that, contrary to the Russians, without their revolution, without their "dream", much of America's national identity simply disappears.

When the USSR went down, the Russians abruptly stopped being soviets and went back to being simply Russians. In fact they had never stopped. Theirs is a culture that goes back centuries before Lenin was even a gleam in his father's eye. A national identity that strong needs no "exceptionalism" to exist, it simply is, was and, presumably, always will be.

There is no "Russian Dream" as there is no "Chinese Dream"... They are just the Russians and the Chinese and as far as they are concerned others are simply defined as "not Russian" or "not Chinese".

Frankly speaking, such knee jerk, ethnic, "us and them", nationalism is offensive to most thinking Americans, because outside of America's "ideals", exactly who is "us" and who is "them"?

Except for Native-Americans all of the rest of "us" are descended from some sort of grab bag of "thems".

What is there outside of this ongoing revolution, exactly, that is going to ever make "E pluribus unum"? Without some idea of limitless horizons of "possibility and transformation": growing prosperity, social mobility etc, what is to keep America from flying apart like some Bosnia Herzegovina on steroids?

In the end the Teabagger's anti-tax, anti-government movement is not going anywhere. The real story is how the government, the state, which belongs to all its citizens, can be regenerated and regain its power over multinational corporate and special interests.

Every problem we are facing, from Wall Street to the climate is calling out for more regulation, more control and more taxes; this at a moment when both left and right are in agreement that the political system is paralyzed and and the people who run it are corrupt. As professor Wallerstein would say: this is a recipe for chaos. This is a time when paranoia is the default option. The Teabaggers are at least lucid to the point of being paranoiac. DS

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Notes on the great Afghan offensive

David Seaton's News Links
The stated strategic idea behind NATO's Moshtarak offensive in Helmand province, the world's opium capital, is for western forces to clear the area of Taliban, hoist the Afghan flag, occupy it with recently trained Afghan troops and police and install an Afghan government provided by Afghan president Karzai and to move from thence to aid and "reconstruction". This master plan is being touted as a "game changer", something that will win over the hearts and minds of the Afghan population.

There must be something important that I have missed as I seem to recall that until very recently the general opinion was that the Karzai government was hopelessly corrupt, dominated by warlords and drug dealers and that the government's army and police forces were illiterate, underpaid, under trained and also corrupt and inept in the extreme.

It would seem obvious to me that the final outcome of this offensive will be that as soon as the Marines hoist the flag and let the Afghan army and police take control, they will begin to pillage, extort and rape the citizens in their care and take over the heroin trade.

Given their form up till now, is there any reason that this evaluation of the Afghan government, army and police should be considered extreme or overly pessimistic?

Therefore, it seems to me that we are looking at a public relations operation to give the momentary appearance of the allies having taken the initiative in Afghanistan, of some "turning the tide", the appearance of a something winnable, something done with a view to creating a temporary increase in American public morale and support for the war, thus dispelling the impression of American war weariness, something which might be considered useful in the context of upping the pressure on Iran.

Certainly the stated objectives of the offensive don't seem to fit with any Afghan reality that I have heard about in the last thirty years or so. DS

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Populism: riding the Scotch-Irish tiger

Below is an example of good populism


This is an example of bad populism

David Seaton's News Links
The Tea Party Convention is over and any amateur anthropologist who treasures our folkways, folklore and the cultural artifacts known as "Americana" will have found much to enjoy.

So much has changed in America over the centuries since it was first colonized by settlers from the British Isles that in many ways the country is hardly recognizable from what it was in say, the early 19th century. But the Scotch-Irish, who with the Native-Americans and the African-Americans are one of America's founding tribes and who make up the cultural backbone, the soul, if you will, of the Tea Party movement are still perfectly recognizable.

Their ancestors came to colonial America from the anus mundi of an orangeman's Ulster, hungry for land and hungry for work and they had to fight the Indians for the land and compete with the slave labor of the African-Americans for wages. These struggles did nothing to soothe their irritable natures, sweeten the sourness of their Calvinism or give them a sunny view of life or a charitable view of those of their brethren of duskier complexion. In short this is a breed or a caste that treasures its resentment and nurtures the adrenaline of its explosions of violence as a miser would old coins, knowing where each one came from and what it cost. The often poetic self pity of country-western lyrics, set to the warrior dissonances of Celtic music give a bay window into the bitterness and disappointment of a race of hard fighting, hard working, losers.

They also make up the backbone of America's military caste and any military prestige that such a hedonistic country as United States has is probably due to disciplining and directing the pent up rage of the Scotch-Irish.

The Scotch-Irish  also provide a ready made cultural context for any more recent arrival that has less hereditary claim on such thin-lipped acrimony. That might explain where somebody with a name like "Tancredo" gets off spouting nativist crap like he was a "McTancredo".

The Scotch-Irish have been used as the right wing's rottweiler ever since Nixon weaned them from the bosom of FDR and transformed the party of Lincoln into the party of "state's rights" and discovered that the horror of even a nickel of their tax money being spent on black people was greater than their desire for health or an education for their own children. AIPAC even convinced these natural haters of all that is scholarly or cosmopolitan that their starring role in the Apocalypse depended on the existence of the state of Israel. Obviously an African-American, with a middle name like "Hussein" in the White House is a rank provocation to the racist traditions and phobias of this tribe, but that Obama may be turning out to be completely ineffectual is like pointing a cap pistol into a mafia soldato's face and crying, "bang you're dead".

With the bailout of Wall Street something snapped. The right has feasted on their resentment for years... The waiter has just arrived with the check.

Suddenly corporate America's rottweiler's has a strange glint in its eye and is emitting a low, throaty, growl.   The conservative movement has been cultivating the resentment of this tribe for many years, but now with their homes and retirement in jeopardy  they appear to be turning on bankers and Wall Street.

The rottweiler is off his chain.

If corporate power thinks they can ride to safety on the back of the Scotch-Irish they may find themselves on the back of a tiger... These spawn of Oliver Cromwell are what is left of the America of Andrew Jackson and along with the Pashtun of Afghanistan, a badder-assed tribe than America's Scotch-Irish would be hard to find... You'd have to go back to Ulster to even get close.

The people like Rupert Murdoch and Sarah Palin who are pimping the hurt and resentment of this tribe are taking their lives in their hands. If you don't believe me, whip out your Ouija board and channel Timmy McVeigh. It is nowhere written in heaven that this tribe is wedded eternally to shareholder capitalism. Leave the teabag in the hot water a bit longer and the descendants of Jackson, Bryant and Huey Long could give you quite a surprise.

What can progressives do with this, besides fueling more of its rage with their ridicule and condescension?

It is important to take Tom Tancredo's nauseating speech and, like a neurosurgeon winkling out a brain tumor without trashing the piano lessons, find what emotional levers there are in this speech that could be put to better use.

For example, if the Teabaggers want "Judeo-Christianity" give it to them till they choke on it. I would take the bible and apply it to them like a red hot iron.

Here, for example are some choice bits  from the book of Deuteronomy - 14 -22:
Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren, or of thy strangers that are in thy land within thy gates: At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it: lest he cry against thee unto the LORD, and it be sin unto thee.(...)Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor of the fatherless; nor take a widow's raiment to pledge: But thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee thence: therefore I command thee to do this thing.  When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hands. When thou beatest thine olive tree, thou shalt not go over the boughs again: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.  When thou gatherest the grapes of thy vineyard, thou shalt not glean it afterward: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow. And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt: therefore I command thee to do this thing. - Quoted by Socialist Spanish president, José Luis Rodriquez Zapatero, at the recent Washington "National Prayer Breakfast".
If they are so serious in all their Bible thumping and pumping, that business about "Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren, or of thy strangers that are in thy land within thy gates", more or less ties it up on hassling immigrants doesn't it?

You betcha.

And how about the Beatitudes: they like Jesus? Hit them with Luke 6:20-26: 
And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh. Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man's sake. Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets. But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep. Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.
That "woe unto you that are rich" is not exactly Gordon Gecko, is it?

These texts, and others like them from the world's great religions, are the earliest expressions of the universal human hatred of oppression and thirst for social justice. As such they help give shape and a common, deeply rooted, electrifying language to express a growing consciousness that things are not as they should be.

They are also a barrier against the taking out of frustrations on those  that are even more vulnerable and weaker than we are, which is as workmanlike description of fascism as I can think of.

Trying to make the Teabaggers square their program with the Holy Bible might short circuit the whole business.

All of this is about building consciousness and directing it into positive and effective channels. That is the political task facing progressives today. I am not totally pessimistic that this is impossible. As I keep repeating: the natives are restless.

In short there must be a progressive "tea party" movement... come to think of it, the civil rights struggle and the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations were progressive "tea parties".

I think consciousness is growing exponentially these days. When people got so starry eyed about Barack Obama they were expecting him to be the solution to any number of specific problems. His supporters had correctly identified the problems, although by now it seems that they erred as to the solution.

To save the situation we must look to the impulse that caused people to support Barack Obama in the first place rather than looking to Obama himself. That impulse is what must be cultivated. To Obama goes the credit for discovering how deep, how resonant and how strong the chords he was playing on are.

Now that it is getting increasingly obvious that Obama "can't" or "wont" play the instrument he discovered, progressives themselves should again proclaim: "Yes we can!" and organize accordingly. DS

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Problems with moving on and turning the page

David Seaton's News Links
I haven't blogged for several days, in great part because on one hand I have been curing a horrible flu-type cold and was reserving my energy, I must confess, for things I get paid for; and on the other hand because the Supreme Court decision that I have devoted my last posts to, depresses me so much.

Between the cold and the black dog. I haven't written anything at all.

"Turn the page", some will say, "move on", others will say and "suck it up" or "get a life", might also be typical pieces of advice in such circumstances. I would like to take that advice, but I'm having trouble doing so.

I can't stop thinking about it. The United States' policies and politics are not just an American problem, they are a world problem: read this little snippet:
Republicans already counting the seats they will pick up this fall should keep in mind Obama has a big card yet to play. Should the president declare he has gone the last mile for a negotiated end to Iran's nuclear program and impose the "crippling" sanctions he promised in 2008, America would be on an escalator to confrontation that could lead straight to war. And should war come, that would be the end of GOP dreams of adding three-dozen seats in the House and half a dozen in the Senate. Pat Buchanan
I chose that comment because of its "in a nutshell" brevity, but I could easily quote dozens of articles any day of the year from the left or the right that would illustrate the point as well if not as quickly. The American political process has a direct and immediate effect on the lives of  every living creature on the face of the earth. That process is in the hands of a very few men and women who get elected to that position in extraordinarily expensive campaigns.  The Supremes have just handed that process, lock, stock and barrel to the world's multinational corporations and their bottomless pockets. Who exactly are these people that will control public opinion and the lawmakers, even at a local level?

The skinny is that the future of the United States, the fate of its people and peace and welfare of the peoples of all the rest of world hinges on the opacity of American campaign financing and the falsifying of public opinion known as "AstroTurfing".

In a sense what is hanging in the balance is the mental health of the American public, subjected to an endless and Orwellian flood of spurious news, reports, rumors, slander and false issues that will make clear thinking and policy making next to impossible... if they aren't already.

Unless something happens to change this ruling every political decision that will be taken by the United States in the future will be molded by it. Nothing less than government: of the people, by the people, for the people will have perished in the United States, if, hopefully, not the earth.

I can't think of anything that represented such a defining, yet unnecessary, political moment since Weimar Germany's chancellor, Franz Von Papen empowered Adolph Hitler.

I'm sorry, but I find all the other news I'm reading these days just so much background static to this breathtaking ruling. The only other commentator that seems to have his knickers in as much of twist as I do is Michael Moore. The newspaper "opinion makers" appear to have "moved on".

The way I feel reminds me of something I wrote awhile back:

I remember once many years ago sitting on the terrace of a bar overlooking the rugged coast of Spain. I was nursing a drink and watching the tiny cars miles away as they zipped around the hairpin turns on the cliffhanging coastal highway... the others at the table were engrossed in conversation with their backs to the sea and I was the only one watching the distant road. My attention was drawn to a small Mini Cooper that was coming down the mountain, way too fast... my friends were all looking in my direction and talking as the tiny car, miles away, crashed through a guard rail and hurtled some 500 feet into the Mediterranean... I was the only one who saw them die... all my friends suddenly were staring at me as I vomited all over the table. I feel a bit like that now.

Monday, February 01, 2010

American rebellion: Hey you get offah mah cloud...

Not the "American Way"
Alas and alack, the peasants will never really revolt in this country. We shall have our terrorists in Texas and Utah and such; armed groups who go nuts once in awhile. But the strikes are gone, the unions are dead, and people are drugged by their tvs, pcs, and other toys. (reader comment to my previous post).
David Seaton's News Links
The opinion above is one that I am tempted to agree with: that the American way of life with its peculiar mixture of anxiety and banality, has the US population politically gelded. However any temptation to agree dissolves when confronted with the Supreme Court decision to remove all restrictions to corporate "investment" in political campaigns. Obviously our good and the great are sufficiently worried about the temper of the population to take such a drastic step.

Why the fuss?

As I said before "the natives are restless".

When I was a kid I worked for some time as a gofer in the movie business and one of my jobs was to handle crowds of extras. I remember one cool trick that I think was invented in the Cinecittá in Rome. It goes like this:  If you have a bunch of extras suited up to play a disgruntled crowd of peasants, you have them all mutter simultaneously the words, "gravel, gravel". It sounds like this:
gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel 
And since it's impossible for them to synchronize their gravels, they finally  all sound  mad as hell. Neat huh? I think that is the sound the leadership cadres of our regime are hearing and they want to drown this disturbing noise in corporate money. I can't overemphasize how valuable it is to watch the film of the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu's last speech: what you'll see there is every leader's worst nightmare... in fact, I'm sure that many very highly respected world leaders have broken into a cold sweat when they watched it.

Losing the crowd and having it turn on him is a leader's greatest fear. Leaders are like lion tamers and in democracy the media are their chair and whip.

However, the USA is a very original country and does everything "the American way". The SCOTUS decision, for example, is in reality a coup d'etat, but the US is not Honduras or even Argentina, so it was done without the circus atmosphere of military intervention, without disappearing anyone.

The "rebellion" of the American people is also sui generis, its "streets" are electronic, (blogspot is one of them). In these streets opinion is being formed without much official "guidance". We could call this "cloud rebellion" and the consensus, both on the left and on the right, is that the people that are running the show, the economy, the wars... (fill in the blanks you want) are a bunch of incompetent thieves. The country is headed in "the wrong direction" and is in "decline". I think that what has the wind up the powers that be is that public opinion is creating itself by itself, with less and less help from them.

The fundamental change has been the sudden loss of the "gatekeeper" function that the great corporate media has had for generations.

There used to be three major networks and everybody watched them, now there are hundreds of channels. These days with TV a la carte, a Walter Cronkite father-figure to guide the masses would be impossible.

With the TV and radio networks, the great metropolitan newspapers supplied the rest of opinion and they published, as the New York Times puts it on their masthead, only "the news that is fit to print": what is fit or not to print being their decision. The symbol of that falling apart was when Matt Drudge broke the Monica Lewinsky scandal in his funky little blog, a story which the Washington Post was sitting on because they thought it wasn't "fit to print".

Between the blogs, Google and Craig's List the newspapers are dying and probably even Steve Job's pocket Segway wont be able to save them.  They have lost the people's trust. Today, opinion, barring terrorist attacks on the scale of 9/11, is practically uncontrollable: gravel, gravel, gravel.

Where this will lead nobody can tell and as good business is based on predictable outcomes (ask Dick Fuld), America's good and the great would like to reduce the variables and plan to do so by investing billions of dollars in AstroTurfing this discontent so that it does them the least damage possible. The SCOTUS decision paves the way for that.

You may think this is a bit exaggerated on my part, that the establishment doesn't have that much to worry about, but at the heart of the discontent and the power structure's reaction to it, as expressed by SCOTUS's ruling, is a much more fundamental problem, one that might even justify what I perceive as their panic.

The problem is this: genuine liberal democracy is simply incompatible with certain levels of inequality and America is getting more unequal by the day. If the inequality reaches a certain level the democracy has to be decontented or Doctor Frankenstein's castle gets stormed with torches and pitchforks and that  sort of thing usually leads to an old fashioned coup d' etat... and those carry the risk of even more unpredictable outcomes.

I repeat: genuine liberal democracy is simply incompatible with certain levels of inequality.

When Thomas Jefferson said that "all men are created equal", he didn't mean women and he didn't mean blacks (his only direct descendants) and he certainly didn't mean the Indians. He meant white men of property. In colonial America if you ignored the suffering of human beings of African heritage and the Native-Americans -- at that time not considered  fully adult human beings -- then America was a place where white men were reasonably equal.

Recently stolen from the Indians, land was cheap and opportunities to prosper were many and any local inequality was not much of a problem: if you didn't like the deal where you lived, you pulled up stakes and moved west.

America's institutions date from that period.

These days the frontier is somewhere in China and the US economy has become a game of musical chairs, where every time the music stops they take away more chairs.

The tinder is dry and sparks come when you least expect them. Just like Smokey the Bear preventing forest fires, the trick in governance is to clear the underbrush and keep things from getting too dry.

This is getting extremely difficult in the new environment.  This from the New York Times:
Lots of the bloodletting we’ve seen in the labor market has probably been permanent, not just cyclical. Many employers have taken Rahm Emanuel’s famed advice — never waste a crisis — to heart, and have used this recession as an excuse to make layoffs that they would have eventually done anyway.(...) There are multiple ways to explain why permanent job-losers represent a higher share of the unemployed this time around. Maybe, as others have suggested, many of the jobs gained in the boom years were built on phantom wealth.(...) in addition to obtaining new degrees or training, some workers may need to move to new places in order to start a different career. But sharp declines in housing prices, plus high loan-to-value ratios on many mortgages before the downturn, will make that transition harder. Homeowners who are “underwater” — that is, who owe more in mortgage payments than their house is actually worth — may not be able to sell their house for enough money to enable them to buy a home in a new area. All of which is to say that many of the Americans who are already out of work are likely to stay in that miserable state for a long, long time. And the longer they stay unemployed, the harder it will be for them to transition back into the work force, further adding to America’s growing underclass.
Try to visualize the anger, frustration, the disappointment of the people described in the snippet above and you'll see that my Ceaușescu metaphor has its merits. Gravel, gravel, gravel.

The major difference is that the wealth and the sophistication of America's power elite is infinitely, incomparably, more complex, layered and suffocatingly powerful than the worn out, broken down Communist Party and security services of Ceaușescu's Romania.

However, with the SCOTUS decision America's power structure is beginning to eat its own seed corn, it is beginning to cannibalize it's principal asset, the innermost secret of its power: the prestige of America's fundamental institutions. This is a very, very slippery slope that they have chosen to walk upon.