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A Political Mind - November 2010

On the Tea Party Part 1 of... many

November 30th 2010 20:04
: When Reactionaries Become Populists
Hullo Dear Readers,

I'd like to talk about the Tea Party. Which Tea Party you ask? Well, we could talk about the drinking of hot beverages. Or white Bostonians dressed as native Americans throwing the loose-leaf version of this beverage into the harbor (waste of good tea that). But, as this is a blog about American Politics, I think we'll stick to the currently rampant political movement in the United States named, of all things, the Tea Party. This is not the first time I've written about the Tea Party on this blog, nor will it be the last. This movement represents a confluence of several trends in conservative thought that have been gaining momentum over the course of the last few years, and bears examination over an extended period of time. Though personified by the Tea Party and affiliated groups (although with its anarchic/anti-institutionalist tendencies, these groups are themselves anomalies and more alliances of convenience, as described in this excellent Washington Post canvas of Tea Party affiliated groups and individuals), the overarching philosophies of this movement have long been nipping at the edges of American culture and political and economic thought. I intend to look, over a protracted period, at the confluence of these ideas and how they have come to coalesce into something resembling a cogent movement.

So let's begin. The natural starting point, to my mind, is to look at the current incarnation of this movement and what they say they represent and believe, and then break it down to find the genesis of the ideas and their origins. Work backwards as it were.

What the Tea Party (seems to, basically) Believe In

1. Low (or no) Taxes- In case you, dear reader, have somehow managed to forget (It's ok Sarah Palin did too), this is what puts the Tea in the Tea Party both literally and figuratively. Literally because it is actually an acronym standing for Taxed Enough Already (although that is highly debatable, but that will certainly be discussed in a future post, I promise). Figuratively because the movement has been stylized as a continuation of the American Revolution fighting for the principles of the original revolutionaries (making the name an allusion to the aforementioned waste of tea), several of which appear below in revamped modern form...

2. ...including a distrust of centralized government. Americans, since the Revolution (and probably for a long while before that, as several of those rebel colonies were mainly settled and populated by people who didn't care for the social and/or religious constraints of the mother country) and through numerous incidents of disagreement (see American Civil War, the) have long asserted that governance, rights and freedoms should be approached in a bottom-up fashion (i.e. individual then family then block then city then county then state then country then world then solar system... you get the point). This has translated into a distinct distrust, especially in certain regions of the country whose concerns and cultural values are either in the minority or run contrary to current interpretations of law, of the federal center of power in Washington DC, and those who work out of it.

3. A firm belief in American Exceptionalism- Now, to be fair, this is hardly an original Tea Party (or even right-wing) hang up (although how many of them have been so far... originality is NOT a theme in this movement). What is remarkable is the pervasive, religious extent to which the movement deifies their country and its associated mythology. The Constitution is transformed into a new bible to be carried by all good patriots close to the heart, patriotic cranks (see Beck, Glenn or this kindly colgate spokes-grizzly) are transformed into revivalist preachers and demagogues of the highest order. The President is derided as an apologist and anti-American traitor for alluding to the fact that other nations might in fact believe that they're pretty exceptional as well (mentioning two historical empires, one a traditional ally and the other the supposed grand-daddy of American Democracy), even as in the same breath he went on to proclaim his personal belief that America is the biggest and best kid on the block.

4. Fiscal Conservatism- Stemming from both the anti-tax beliefs (or perhaps vice-versa) and the anti-government attitude, the movement has an abhorrence of deficits, debt, and government program related spending in general (except where the military or national security are concerned). Philosophically based in the Friedman/Hayek school of free-market economic thought, Tea Partiers show a tendency towards a Libertarian approach to governance (read minimalist) and an overt hostility towards federal programs as both wastes of money and annoying attempts by the corrupt liberal elite ruling class to tell them how to live their lives. There is a definitive belief in a market based solution to all problems and that free-market and private industry should be the driving forces in determining the course of action in terms of social and economic policy, without regulation, taxation or other unnecessary government interference.

5. Anti-Elitism (sort of)- This one is kind of ephemeral. The movement makes a constant practice of slamming their critics for being elitist snobs who "don't get" something that they call "real America". They do this while being funded, advised, directed and led by a collection of big business leaders, lobbyists, media personalities and Republican Party operatives (like This Guy). An interesting dichotomy... I'll come back to this later, in much greater detail.

As far as I can tell, these are the basics. I'll be delving into them in more detail in future posts, and attempting to explain why I personally believe that they are, by and large, inherently wrong.
One of the reasons I started this blog is that I believe that the current shift in mainstream political thought and speech to the right, especially in the United States, is detrimental to the world at large. I'll elaborate on my personal beliefs as we go on, but the basic purpose for this blog is to attempt to do my part to enunciate a counter-narrative to the free-market first, society second one that has been the focus of the globalist political discourse since the Washington Consensus was adopted as gospel in the 1970s and '80s. The current state of the global economy and the growing trend towards extremism and fundamentalism are, in my view and those of numerous commentators, linked results of an irresponsible attitude towards governance in many (if not most) democratic nations that must be fundamentally adjusted if we are to prevent vast growth in areas such as unemployment, income inequality, resource based conflicts, and fundamentalist violence. It is my belief that the attitudes espoused by the Tea Party represent a dangerous symptom of a much larger social disease that must be dealt with before the consequences are too grave.

And that's enough for today.

To read what they believe in their own words, you can find the unofficial Tea Party manifesto (the Contract from America) here.
Have a wonderful day.
PSB
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The Wars of Error

November 18th 2010 20:18
: George W. Bush CBS interview segment the third (and fourth)
Hi Again,

So we've reached the midpoint of this interview (and my review thereof). Sorry if this is seeming a little drawn out. If you think it's bad for you, I've been watching this tripe in my spare time for the last week. Think on that.

When we left off last, Matt Lauer had just finished getting George W. to detail his emotional rollercoaster in the immediate of the September 11th attacks. We heard him expressing, if not necessarily in so many words, his move from confusion and a feeling of being overwhelmed to anger and then the aggressive belligerence the world was going to come to know so well. Which brings us to the topics of these next two segments, namely the acting out of that aggression on a grand scale. In specific, this took the manifestation of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the affiliated programs (i.e. illegal wiretapping, rendition, secret prisons, torture, and other assorted civil and human rights violations) known collectively as the War on Terror.

The segment begins with the now frustrating familiar "Bush tells a self serving anecdote while Lauer nods and makes him look presidential" formula. W. tells a story about an alleged video call from Dick Cheney reporting one of the many false terror alarms, and of the impact it had on the several West Wing staff who were traveling with Bush in China at the time. The alert had to do with a possible use of Botulin toxin to poison the White House air supply. The nervous jokes about testing on mice aside, the constant bombardment of Bush with these threats, as he insisted on being kept informed at early stages before the various agencies in charge had time to investigate or put threats or intelligence in perspective (i.e. seeking the raw and unfiltered reports on issues such as Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and cherry picking the results of this raw data search to find facts to suit his purpose.) was to have tumultuous consequences throughout this phase of his presidency in several ways.

First, it created or enhanced the bunker mentality that all Americans were experiencing for the first time. An enemy had revealed itself and shown it was both willing and able to strike at targets on American shores. Suddenly the half baked threats and chatter that previously would have been evaluated and investigated before being brought to the President's attention were now piling up directly on his desk unfiltered. This created the impression (somewhat valid I'm sure, but gravely overblown as well due to the volume of chatter generated by the enthusiasm among Islamic radicals following the temporary success of 9/11, and the anger generated by the events that followed it.) that there were many enemies, all over the place, and they were all hatching viable plans to threaten the nation. This in turn led the President to the knee-jerk reaction that all and any means available needed to be used to seek out and destroy these plots immediately with the greatest expediency possible. Which, in turn, led to the disastrous decision to begin the practice of water-boarding and other acknowledged forms of physically (wall standing, "stress position", sleep deprivation etc.) and psychologically (verbal abuse, humiliation, threats etc.) abusive forms of interrogation which would, by most standards in the world (including those of the United States prior to 9/11) have been considered torture. In the interview, Bush asserts that his greatest fear was of another attack on America, and that the use of these techniques was justified in the fact that such an attack did not occur. I wholeheartedly disagree for the reasons that:
a) It is impossible to prove a negative. It cannot be proven that the information gleaned from the interrogative sessions (183 uses of water-boarding with captured Al Qaeda operative Khalid Sheik Mohammed, 80 with Osama Bin Laden's DRIVER Abu Zubaydah, among numerous other mostly undisclosed uses of the techniques mentioned above, not including the handing over of subjects to pliant allied nations with less concern for civil right under C.I.A. supervision via the practice of extraordinary rendition) revealed details about any imminent plot to attack the United States or anywhere else. However, even if it were possible to prove this, this proof would have to show that it (the information) could not have been obtained in any other way, that the information had to be gathered in such an expedient fashion that no other method could be attempted, that the investigators knew with certainty that the subject had the specific information that they sought (i.e. no fishing expeditions) and that the information definitely halted a credible threat against the U.S. or one of its allies, just for the doctrine of the ends justifying the means to work out. These qualifiers have never been satisfied, to my knowledge, with regards to the use of water-boarding against these subjects. No one has been allowed to know the realities of the use of torture at rendition sites, and their victims are to this day secret.
and
b) After the Nuremburg and Tokyo trials following the Second World War the notion that a domestic legal opinion could invalidate international conventions in regard to the treatment of foreign nationals or to domestic subjects was wholeheartedly rejected by the international community, with Justice Robert Jackson of the United States leading the way. The rejection of the defense that the Nuremburg Laws of 1935 not only permitted but legally required persecution of the Jews forms a clear precedent of this, as does the prosecution of German officers who executed Soviet political officers attached to Soviet military units under the so called "Commissars Order" which declared that these officers were non--military and thus exempt from Geneva protection. The unilateral voiding of these statutes via internal legal opinion is a direct abrogation of a nations treaty obligations under them and should be regarded as what it is. A criminal act (tracing all the way up the chain of command to the man who, willingly and proudly in these interviews, admitted to ordering and justifying them.) committed in the time of war. A War Crime. If the world is serious about prosecuting them anywhere, it must do so at home first, beginning with those responsible. This includes Bush, V.P. Dick Cheney, the C.I.A. officers who oversaw the program, Jay Bybee, John Yoo and the other Justice Department officials who oversaw the program of justification on the legal side, and any others who had official knowledge and were unwilling to put a stop to it. The fact that George W. Bush openly admits in this interview that he would willingly do it again only makes it more imperative that a message on this issue be sent as soon as possible.

Before I move on to a direct discussion of the wars themselves and the part they play in the interview, I just have to say that this may be Matt Lauer's strongest portion of the interview. He pushes Bush at points to justify his decision, and gets him to repeat indefensible statements about doing it again and standing behind torture. He forces Bush to his first major dodge by asking whether he believes that the techniques he approved would be appropriate to use on Americans by foreign nations, eliciting an old-school bush style straw-man deflection, namely that it was a decision and let people make up for themselves, he just wants people to read the book. Lauer gets back some of the respect he's lost to this point as an interviewer.

As I suspected, this post has gone on a little longer than intended. The topic, as I'm sure you noticed, was more than a little tender with me even to this day. The abuse of power and use of torture in the Bush Administration to me represent on of the greatest crimes against humanity so far in the 21st century (how's that for hyperbole... eat your heart out Glenn Beck), and the refusal of the American people and justice system, as well as the international community, to both repudiate and prosecute them represent an embarrassment to the ideals at the foundation of the whole concept of mutual respect, cooperation and security that the Rule of Law and Democracy rest upon. If we cannot recognize and acknowledge these abuses here, we have no right to criticize other nations for committing them. Stones in glass houses. That Is all I'm going to say about it (today) and, as you may have guessed, I'm going to leave the rest of this segment for my next post. Or maybe the post after that. Watching this interview over and over is giving a whole new (and literal) meaning to the phrase ad nauseum.
So maybe I'll right about something else next.
We'll find out together.

PSB
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Under New Mismanagement

November 15th 2010 18:41
: A Very Important Announcement
Good afternoon,

As some of you former readers of this blog (or those observant enough to note the change of topics as you scroll down the page) I am the new (and hopefully improved) host of this blog. The topic will have changed somewhat (office and south-Asian politics are not my forte... just ask anyone who I've ever worked in an office with). But I hope you past readers will continue to check in. And for any new readers, well, scroll down anyways. Variety is the spice of life.

PSB
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Hullo World Wide Web,

Thought I'd make you feel all big and important with that greeting. Welcome back


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George W. Bush CBS interview-Segment 1

November 10th 2010 19:13
Howdy, as the subject of this post would say,

It begins. This post, as well as the next several, will proceed (as promised) to break down the full interview topically and by content. I will try to assess how tough/easy I feel the questions posed were, and how G.W. does in answering (or not answering them). I'll also try to call bull where I see it, and even try to supply references where appropriate


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Good evening dear readers,

I hope there are actually some of you out there, although I will forgive even the most passive of American political junkies for not seeing this post immediately because, as the title alludes to... er states... er makes blatantly obvious, there was a seminal event in network political television this evening from which most of you have probably not yet had a chance to recover. Former President George W. Bush appeared in an hour long interview on CBS. At 8 pm eastern standard time, and for an hour thereafter (or approximately 44 minutes, god bless advertising), Matt Lauer alternated softballs, curveballs and the occasional changeup to the W. And the results were mixed


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It's been... One Week

November 8th 2010 23:16
Alright readers (which at this point, is me, myself and I, and THAT is something we'll have to change... and by we I mean, uh... ok this aside is getting into Hunter S. territory... that's enough of that for now). As a few of you may have heard, last Tuesday there was a small election in the United States. I say small because really very little of consequence happened. I mean it. A meaningful election makes a statement (like, for example, we're finally ready to elect a Black man president. Or after 50 years, it's time for someone other than Democrats to control both houses of congress. Those kind of statements.). Contrary to what Madame Palin, Mr. Boehner and Mssr. McConnell and various hot beverage related groups would have you believe, this was not a transformational election. Whatever you believe the voters may or may not be trying to say through their voting out the Democratic majority in half of a third of the U.S. triumvirate of power (don't make me list the branches please), the net effect is going to be minimal. For now. All the new GOP House majority is going to be able to do is precisely what the Democratic majority has been doing for the last four years, namely squabble internally as the most extreme elements either propose ideas that are out of sync with the majority of Americans (i.e. pulling out of wars immediately, putting out a rationally designed health plan limiting drug costs and featuring a public option in insurance vs. more tax cuts and regulatory neutering as a means of economic stimulus, a slash and burn approach to governance etc.) and the moderate and, well, desirous of reelection majority of congress works on... getting reelected. Where the lack of a super-majority in the Senate somewhat hampered Democratic legislation in the last congress and had a moderating effect on the bills that WERE passed, the splitting of the two houses now will ensure either more gridlock, or more compromise. In other words, more of the same.
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Opening Thoughts

November 8th 2010 22:55
Hello,

My name is Paul and I am a political junkie. There, I admitted it, and they say admitting you have a problem is the first step to... well in the case of politics I guess solving it isn't the right way of putting it. Throwing a lot of money at it while trying to win votes maybe? Or ignoring it despite the fact that it's right in front of your face and cutting taxes instead? I guess it depends on your political leanings. Anyways, I'd like to welcome you to my web-based therapy centre you those of you politics addicts like myself who can't get enough of other peoples opinions, thoughts and views on politics, especially but not exclusively American politics. Please read, enjoy, and feel free to comment. I take criticism well. Honestly... I mean I'm Canadian. I'll probably even thank you for your honesty. And then tell you to screw off. But I digress. Welcome to my blog, and enjoy


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