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Thursday, October 27, 2005

 

for the prerogatives of the executive


wapo reports that harriet miers has withdrawn her nomination from consideration for the supreme court.

this page, along with the rest of the world knowing precious little about miers, noted that miers' nomination was the product of a secrecy-obsessed and imperiously ideological white house culture that refuses to be subjected to examination or discourse. miers was also a religious fundamentalist, exactly the sort of rootless revolutionist and misguided believer in destructively sacrificial noble heroism that this page believes must be kept from the high offices of this society for its own preservation. as such, it is hard to see her failure as a bad thing.

but this is no victory for the defenders of the rule of law and the enemies of the imperial president. the spotless mind remains intact. from miers' withdrawal letter:

As you know, members of the Senate have indicated their intention to seek documents about my service in the White House in order to judge whether to support me. I have been informed repeatedly that in lieu of records, I would be expected to testify about my service in the White House to demonstrate my experience and judicial philosophy. While I believe that my lengthy career provides sufficient evidence for consideration of my nomination, I am convinced the efforts to obtain Executive Branch materials and information will continue.

As I stated in my acceptance remarks in the Oval Office, the strength and independence of our three branches of government are critical to the continued success of this great Nation. Repeatedly in the course of the process of confirmation for nominees for other positions, I have steadfastly maintained that the independence of the executive Branch be preserved and its confidential documents and information not be released to further a confirmation process. I feel compelled to adhere to this position, especially related to my own nomination. Protection of the prerogatives of the Executive Branch and continued pursuit of my confirmation are in tension. I have decided that seeking my confirmation should yield.
from the president's statement:

I understand and share her concern, however, about the current state of the Supreme Court confirmation process. It is clear that Senators would not be satisfied until they gained access to internal documents concerning advice provided during her tenure at the White House -- disclosures that would undermine a President's ability to receive candid counsel. Harriet Miers' decision demonstrates her deep respect for this essential aspect of the Constitutional separation of powers -- and confirms my deep respect and admiration for her.
the contempt for the legislative body -- indeed, any rival power center and any form of lawful institution that might impede the unfettered presidential will -- that rules this administration is clearly on display here again. bush nominated miers specifically to keep relevant and revealing information about miers' judicial dispositions from appearing before the senate. now, in withdrawing the nomination, the president blames not himself for forcing a conflict he clearly instigated in the hopes of destroying yet another province of senatorial power but any meaningful institutional process of vetting lifetime appointees to the high court. indeed, as the writer of miers' letter notes, "Protection of the prerogatives of the Executive Branch and continued pursuit of my confirmation are in tension" -- and, if both cannot be had so easily, it is the imperial prerogative to be above question that must stand, for the latter was merely a means of expanding the former. such is the manner of constant subversion of the rule of law and separated powers that is not merely the guiding principle of this lawless administration of jacobin revolutionaries but the shining path toward american dictatorship.

that the administration which wrote these letters has the temerity to characterize the senate's request for some kind of meaningful information as some sort of overstep into a "traditional" imperial prerogative is no longer shocking. where the miers letter says that the "independence of the executive Branch [must] be preserved", it begs the questions: in a system of checks and balances, to whom should the emperor be beholden if not the senate? does freeing the executive from the constraints of senatorial review really constitute the preservation of anything?

clearly, when asked the former question, the answer for the jacobin is "the people" -- and, in answering the latter, the jacobin has revised his history sufficiently to see with eyes tainted by the prism of rousseau that the president is and has always been nothing so much as a tribune of popular endorsement -- thus revealing their answer to the former in fact to be "only himself". the further cheekily implied sanction of separated powers ("the strength and independence of our three branches of government") is masterful if rueful irony.

i fear to think what the new nomination will be. while one can all but guarantee that the next will be as much a spear-carrier for the assault on the judiciary as either miers or roberts, much was made of the unrest in the far right ideological wing of the republican camp with the miers' nomination. while religious militants were placated by miers, many among the president's hardcore militants are in their hubris spoiling for a fight, any fight, though the heavens may fall, to the bitter end in an effort to destroy the tattered remains of the modern western liberal tradition that dates back to bentham and mill -- a political prelude of the battle at meggido that so many of them so eagerly anticipate. if the president, in his current weakened state, feels compelled as so many 21st c american politicians have to unify and energize his base with the nominee instead of attempt to govern with respect to the whole of the people, then the united states might be much closer to the ominous return of the political violence that has periodically plagued western societies with ever greater intensity as our civilization trudges toward dissolution.


Do you really think Roberts will be that bad? While I tended to side with you early immediately after he was nominated, I'm not quite sure the evidence of him being alligned with Scalia's originalism is convincing. If he is anything like the judicial minimalist Cass Sunstein has described him as, I think he will be an excellent justice. Bill Kristol even has described him as an establishment conservative, contra the revolutionary conservatism of Scalia, et al.

Of course, this raises the issue of why we can't pigeonhole him at the moment. Is it because he really is a relatively non-ideological justice or is it because his neoconservatism has been muted to get on the bench? Given the ideological nature of the administration, the latter is certainly possible. However, the fact that its incompetence has overcome its ideological aims in numerous cases gives me hope for Roberts.

 
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time will tell, mr anon, but i suspect the reason he was nominated was 1) because he will be a constructionist and 2) he was extremely difficult to question. if the administration has made a mistake vis-a-vis 1), so much the better for us -- but i think it is clearly their intention to place revolutionaries on the court. and while we know very little about him, given roberts long history of involvement with the bush family, going back over 20 years, i doubt they could be so mistaken.

in any case, parties like the christian coalition, tony perkins and james dobson -- people who get their information directly from the white house, admittedly -- applauded him on constructionist grounds.

 
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Why does this all make me so uncomfortable? I want to be happy that the Miers nomination was such a fiasco for Bush, and so it appears, superficially. You're a thoughtful guy. Tell me why the cascade of evangelical appeasement, right wing opposition and finally capitulation seems so...staged. Bush's humiliation seems just a bit too perfect to be real.

Why do I have such a strong sense that there's an alternative story line behind the Miers saga that I can't quite puzzle out?

~

 
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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

 

eve of destruction


with tension mounting in washington as special prosecutor patrick fitzgerald prepares indictments in the valerie plame investigation for release this week, rats are fleeing the sinking ship. other commenters -- including matt welch at reason and justin raimondo at antiwar.com -- are covering the flow of events in what welch neatly analogizes to as the night of the long knives far better than i, so i'll just touch on some points of interest.

  • first, brent scowcroft's wizened realism comes crushing down on the bush administration's highest operators in the new yorker this week. when a man of scowcroft's intelligence and experience is sidelined even from formerly close associates because his answers aren't sufficiently optimistic and ideological, it's a clear confirmation that the white house has become almost entirely detached from reality.


  • second, lawrence wilkerson, former chief of staff to secretary of state colin powell, draws back the curtain to reveal in stark and frightening detail just how the madness of power has bankrupted and neutered the white house, creating something not far from a dictatorship at the head of american government. wilkerson's primary complaints may seem to some petty -- for much of them amount to the indignation of an ignored bureaucracy. but it is central to understand that this is at the deepest crux of what ails the bush administration. the institutional bureaucracy of the american government is not merely a functionless albatross; it is a suicide-prevention device. it is designed to save the people from perpetual revolutionists like rumsfeld and cheney, while saving them from themselves. one can argue about inertia and inefficiency and so forth -- many freemarket religionists will. but inertia and inefficiency are important and positive tools of open government -- the most active and efficient governments are totalitarian monstrosities. inertia forces consideration and discourse before shooting off into a war where the primary cassus bellum doesn't even exist.

    in wilkerson's words:

    IN PRESIDENT BUSH'S first term, some of the most important decisions about U.S. national security — including vital decisions about postwar Iraq — were made by a secretive, little-known cabal. It was made up of a very small group of people led by Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. ... I believe that the decisions of this cabal were sometimes made with the full and witting support of the president and sometimes with something less. ... Its insular and secret workings were efficient and swift — not unlike the decision-making one would associate more with a dictatorship than a democracy. This furtive process was camouflaged neatly by the dysfunction and inefficiency of the formal decision-making process, where decisions, if they were reached at all, had to wend their way through the bureaucracy, with its dissenters, obstructionists and "guardians of the turf."

    ... Why should we care that President Bush gave over much of the critical decision-making to his vice president and his secretary of Defense? ... Discounting the professional experience available within the federal bureaucracy — and ignoring entirely the inevitable but often frustrating dissent that often arises therein — makes for quick and painless decisions. But when government agencies are confronted with decisions in which they did not participate and with which they frequently disagree, their implementation of those decisions is fractured, uncoordinated and inefficient.
    it has to be seen that a state without a preserving institutional bureaucracy is exactly what men like rumsfeld and cheney work toward -- a dictatorial state, lightning quick, being unburdened by inefficiencies like law, discourse and fact-finding. this is why they chose to manufacture evidence to sell the war they ideologically desired, even needed, with no regard for any actual facts -- criminal oversights that will shortly result in indictments. its why they work so hard to undermine and destroy institution on every front.


  • also, it's becoming apparent that, even given the president's naked accomodation of his right-hand-man, karl rove will be indicted and perhaps sacrificed on the altar of the nation, along with vice president cheney's right-hand-man scooter libby and others. we may soon see if indictment is a sufficient political proxy for criminality.


  • and the newest, most shocking news -- the new york times this morning, citing lawyers working on the case, uncovers that libby has fingered (through his notes) vice president cheney as the man who told him of valerie plame's identity -- in contravention to his sworn testimony, as pointed out by steve clemons.

    Notes of the previously undisclosed conversation between Mr. Libby and Mr. Cheney on June 12, 2003, appear to differ from Mr. Libby's testimony to a federal grand jury that he initially learned about the C.I.A. officer, Valerie Wilson, from journalists, the lawyers said.

    The notes, taken by Mr. Libby during the conversation, for the first time place Mr. Cheney in the middle of an effort by the White House to learn about Ms. Wilson's husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, who was questioning the administration's handling of intelligence about Iraq's nuclear program to justify the war.

    Lawyers involved in the case, who described the notes to The New York Times, said they showed that Mr. Cheney knew that Ms. Wilson worked at the C.I.A. more than a month before her identity was made public and her undercover status was disclosed in a syndicated column by Robert D. Novak on July 14, 2003.

    Mr. Libby's notes indicate that Mr. Cheney had gotten his information about Ms. Wilson from George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, in response to questions from the vice president about Mr. Wilson. But they contain no suggestion that either Mr. Cheney or Mr. Libby knew at the time of Ms. Wilson's undercover status or that her identity was classified. Disclosing a covert agent's identity can be a crime, but only if the person who discloses it knows the agent's undercover status.

    It would not be illegal for either Mr. Cheney or Mr. Libby, both of whom are presumably cleared to know the government's deepest secrets, to discuss a C.I.A. officer or her link to a critic of the administration. But any effort by Mr. Libby to steer investigators away from his conversation with Mr. Cheney could be considered by Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special counsel in the case, to be an illegal effort to impede the inquiry.
    while this may not spell indictment for cheney -- whose office has been the criminal driving force behind both the iraq-wmd fraud and the aipac espionage scandal -- it certainly puts the highest circle of the white house on notice. one can only hope that fitzgerald can assemble evidence enough to indict cheney, who has shown himself to be an utterly amoral and lawless tyrant, incapable of even respecting the law he has ostensibly sworn to defend.

    clemons:

    First of all, this means that Vice President Cheney has known all along that he was Scooter Libby's source -- and whether Libby had license from him or not to try and slaughter the reputation of Joe Wilson -- CHENEY KNEW.

    The entire charade of President Bush stating that he wanted to get to the bottom of who leaked Plame's name -- and who was involved -- is no longer believable at any level. Cheney would not have failed to disclose this to Bush, and Bush played along as if none of his staff were involved. They confessed nothing -- accepted no responsibilty -- until forced by Fitzgerald.
    what does that imply about the depth of the knowledge and involvement of the vice president -- to say nothing of the president himself -- in criminal activities sprouting from the office of the vice president?


  • finally -- and most speculatively -- raimondo and kos may have speculatively assembled a credible final cause for why plame was outed -- not solely revenge for husband joe wilson's public attacks on the credibility of the white house regarding the niger-yellowcake document forgery in the runup to the invasion of iraq, but the possible work of plame's own wmd team at cia -- which could have been on the brink of revealing that cheney operative michael ledeen was the forger of the yellowcake documents -- which was subsequently the conclusion of the italian state investigation. raimondo:

    Remember, the forgeries were exposed in early March 2003. The New York Times published Wilson's now famous "What I Didn't Find in Africa" op-ed on July 6, 2003 – and we now know that Scooter and the gang were homing in on Wilson even before his piece appeared. We also know that Ms. Plame wasn't the only deep-cover CIA agent outed by Scooter and the Cheney-ites: she worked through a CIA front company, Brewster Jennings & Associates, engaged in anti-proliferation work, whose activities were aborted by Plame's exposure. In one fell swoop, an entire group of undercover CIA experts on nuclear weapons proliferation was neutralized.

    The CIA, after all, hadn't even gotten their hands on a copy of the forgeries until February 2003 – a year after the administration began citing them as "proof" of Saddam's nuclear ambitions. It would have been well within the purview of Brewster Jennings & Associates to trace the origins of the Niger uranium documents back to the forgers: surely they weren't sitting on their hands in the months before columnist Robert Novak printed Plame's name and sparked a furor.

    Everyone assumes Libby and his co-conspirators were really after Wilson, but this now seems unwarranted, especially in light of Fitzgerald's reported focus on the Niger uranium forgeries. If this question of the forgeries is now within Fitzgerald's purview, it opens up the possibility that the conspirators really were after Plame on her own account. If Plame and her associates were hot on the trail of whoever forged the Niger uranium documents, by neutralizing Brewster Jennings & Associates the Libby cabal closed one possible route to uncovering their schemes – and opened up another one.
    if this is fitzgerald's finding -- and, to be clear, this is speculation -- it would provide a much more pragmatic and believable motive for the actions of cheney and his neoconservative minions like libby than simple revenge.
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    ...and these are the people who were to bring honor and dignity back to the White House.

     
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    Great stuff here...great job mak.

     
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    "something not far from a dictatorship"

    Um, yeah, except that they were elected. Small difference.

    Scowcroft's comments have already been annihilated as the anti-democratic autocrat-coddling nonsense they are by half a dozen neocon intellectuals.

     
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    Tuesday, October 18, 2005

     

    cambodia the model


    via reason, neocon journalist michael young cites a new york times piece.

    The broadening military effort along the border has intensified as the Iraqi constitutional referendum scheduled for Saturday approaches, and as frustration mounts in the Bush administration and among senior American commanders over their inability to prevent foreign radical Islamists from engaging in suicide bombings and other deadly terrorist acts inside Iraq.

    Increasingly, officials say, Syria is to the Iraq war what Cambodia was in the Vietnam War: a sanctuary for fighters, money and supplies to flow over the border and, ultimately, a place for a shadow struggle.

    Covert military operations are among the most closely held of secrets, and planning for them is extremely delicate politically as well, so none of those who discussed the subject would allow themselves to be identified. They included military officers, civilian officials and people who are otherwise actively involved in military operations or have close ties to Special Operations forces.

    In the summer firefight, several Syrian soldiers were killed, leading to a protest from the Syrian government to the United States Embassy in Damascus, according to American and Syrian officials.

    A military official who spoke with some of the Rangers who took part in the incident said they had described it as an intense firefight, although it could not be learned whether there had been any American casualties. Nor could the exact location of the clash, along the porous and poorly marked border, be learned.

    In a meeting at the White House on Oct. 1, senior aides to Mr. Bush considered a variety of options for further actions against Syria, apparently including special operations along with other methods for putting pressure on Mr. Assad in coming weeks.

    American officials say Mr. Bush has not yet signed off on a specific strategy and has no current plan to try to oust Mr. Assad, partly for fear of who might take over. The United States is not planning large-scale military operations inside Syria and the president has not authorized any covert action programs to topple the Assad government, several officials said.

    "There is no finding on Syria," said one senior official, using the term for presidential approval of a covert action program.
    as was noted here last week, the analogy to of iraq and syria to vietnam and cambodia is, on many important (but not all) levels, very real -- and the administration knows it. where we fought ostensibly for a hubristic and false rationalization of events in domino theory then, we fight for a contrived, amoral and misguided empire of liberty now -- a mere extension of the same hubristic american empire building which has run from manifest destiny onward through vietnam to today -- a symptom of the western decline that has been ongoing for all of american history and has accelerated in scope and brashness in the aftermath of the downfall of its primary imperial rival. (indeed, it seems that even domino theory isn't dead as long as it serves to frighten american voters into uncritical obsequity to imperial ascendancy.) so it is wrong in a sense to call what we are engaged in a new cold war, as many american imperialists do, when it is really only the final stage of the old one -- a third punic war -- sowing salt into the fields of carthage as we rise to take the prizes of unfettered ambition in places like iraq and syria as rome did in iberia and north africa.

    young is too hopeful in assessing the possible outcome of a following an example which even he acknowledges to be malignant.

    One reason the North Vietnamese weren't disturbed, but the Cambodians were, is that as American and South Vietnamese forces invaded Cambodia in April 1970, the North Vietnamese simply moved westwards, deeper into Cambodian territory. Such a scenario wouldn't hold in Syria, not least because the insurgents entering Iraq from Syria are not a conventional military force.
    but i think he incorrectly presupposes that such an insurgency can be cornered by removing the syrian government as a source of support. the falsehood of this should be obvious -- young, in typical postmodern style, manages the symptoms without the creative insight to address the root cause, which lies not without but within. such insurgency as we now face in and beyond iraq across the third world -- indeed, the barbarians on our frontiers -- are not limited by resources or boundaries or hardship, as toynbee noted in his famous study of external proletariats. they are driven by a deep grievance with centuries of western manipulation and abuse. they move freely, as has been seen and similarly to the examples of history, and hide effectively beyond the reach of our armies and technologies -- and too often using both against us. having lived in deprivation, often at the doing of western hands, for generations, they have little to lose and everything to gain. knocking away an small element of mere fiscal support here and there -- indeed, even a military conquest of the entire mideast, if it could be achieved -- will be shown not only to be totally inadequate in ending the assault from without but fuel for the fire that burns within the abused enemies of our vulgarizing society.

    as such, expanding the war further will serve primarily to expand, not limit, the potential field of violent action for the global anti-western insurgency, as this page argued was also the case when the united states invaded iraq. iraq has since actually become the playground of disparate but growing antiwestern forces in a way that only the most odious constructions of neoconservative propaganda asserted it had been as a rationalization of a long-desired invasion in 2003. a similar fate would almost certainly loom over syria should american armies yet again cross borders.


    Thursday, October 13, 2005

     

    templeton and kondratieff


    a conversation relating to the housing/debt bubble at reason reminded me again of sir john templeton's famous 2003 interview with equities magazine. the interview itself is proprietary, but the direction of templeton's comments as summarized by bill fleckenstein is crystalline.

    Moving on to housing prices, Sir John comments: "Every previous major bear market has been accompanied by a bear market in home prices. . . . This time, home prices have gone up 20%, and this represents a very dangerous situation. When home prices do start down, they will fall remarkably far. In Japan, home prices are down to less than half what they were at the stock market peak." Sir John adds, "A home price decline of as little as 20% would put a lot of people in bankruptcy."

    Sir John also had a few words about debt -- a four-letter word that folks seem not to care about: "Emphasize in your magazine how big the debt is. . . . The total debt of America is now $31 trillion. That is three times the GNP of the U.S. That is unprecedented in a major nation. No nation has ever had such a big debt as America has, and it's bigger than it was at the peak of the stock market boom. Think of the dangers involved. Almost everyone has a home mortgage, and some are 89% of the value of the home (and yes, some are more). If home prices start down, there will be bankruptcies, and in bankruptcy, houses are sold at lower prices, pushing home prices down further." On that note, he has a word of advice: "After home prices go down to one-tenth of the highest price homeowners paid, then buy."


    it's hard for many to fathom either the boggling extent of the credit bubble in which western economies are now mired or the economic devastation that is in our near future as it resolves itself. the yawning chasm before us reminds me of kondratieff modeling, long waves and the prediction of an eventual economic winter. while social sciences of the kind kondratieff worked in are only charitably called sciences in my estimation, the possibilities of a sort of confirmation of this long-wave theory are disturbing.

    though his string of interviews with john flaherty has ended with the onset of old age, equities magazine reports that templeton has begun shorting the american and japanese markets, while remaining committed to high-growth, low-multiple developing markets in china, russia and india.

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    Because of my ignorance can you explain how the decline in house values directly causes bankruptcy?

     
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    in the individual case of a high debt-to-equity ratio, declining nominal asset value will fall under the amount owed on the loan. when this happens to a significant degree, the capacity for homeowner bankruptcy exists.

    bankruptcies will be forced then when such homeowners then, due to other exigencies, cannot make payments and are forced into foreclosure and personal bankruptcy. the assets are then placed on the market by the foreclosing bank, driving prices down further. eventually, as prices fall, many homeowners, who owe vastly more on their house than the house is worth, can and will simply walk away from the property in despair. this process generally means bank failures.

    this is a phenomena that has been observed on local scales (see texas in the s&l bailout) before; now we'd be facing something much larger.

     
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    so being upside down on the house itself is not really a problem as long as the home owner is patient and waits for the value to appreciate again instead of claiming bankruptcy and walking away.

     
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    if one keeps making payments, mr sulla, i think one would be fine.

    but many won't. such is the nature of recessions -- people get laid off, lose jobs, can't find work.

    but one should be prepared for the possibility that house prices may remain depressed for a decade or more. japan's r/e market is still down by more than half, 11 years removed from their property bubble.

     
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    the difficulty is that the crtedit bubble is much larger than simply housing -- the banking system, under the duress of constant foreclosure losses, will be forced to raise assets and stop lending. this will of course damage the economy severely, putting large numbers out of work -- and putting them into foreclosure, feeding the cycle.

    it's easy to believe, now sitting on the tail end of over two decades of expansion, that one can simply keep making the payments and be fine. but a lot of normal folks who think they will be fine, won't be.

     
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    Tuesday, October 11, 2005

     

    a close call


    via reason, it has become clear through newsweek that the hubristic monsters in the white house recently had to be talked out of invading syria by condoleeza rice, narrowly averting a repeat of the cambodian disaster of april 1970.

    The ambassador says that while Damascus is still detaining jihadists on its own, it got "fed up" with the Bush administration's public al-Assad bashing, even after Washington had privately lauded Syria for handing over Saddam's half brother, Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hasan, earlier in the year. Moustapha also confirmed an account from a U.S. intel official who said Damascus was angered when Washington exposed one of its operatives. "We are willing to re-engage the moment you want—but on one condition," Moustapha says. "You have to acknowledge that we are helping."

    That's not likely to happen. While U.S. officials stop short of accusing al-Assad of actively aiding the insurgency, they say he has permitted jihadist transit and training camps to exist in the open. After the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, warned last month that "time is running out on Damascus," U.S. officials even debated launching military strikes inside the Syrian border against the insurgency. But at an Oct. 1 "principals" meeting, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice successfully opposed such a move, according to two U.S. government sources who are not authorized to speak on the record. Rice argued that diplomatic isolation is working against al-Assad, especially on the eve of a U.N. report that may blame Syria for the murder of Lebanese politician Rafik Hariri.
    the death of rafiq hariri was not enough, it seems, for a bloodthirsty administration to conjure yet another war, despite a massive propaganda effort. their attempts to foment a cedar revolution also appear to have been frustrated, refuting another attempt at regime change, this one along the more subversive lines of indirect ngo financing and the principles of gene sharp that have been employed from venezuela to the former soviet empire. so the next convenient justification -- syrian complicity in the sunni insurgency -- has hit the headlines in the service of neoconservative aims: finally, ultimately, a darkening of the skies all over the world under the horrible and perplexing umbrella of the empire of liberty.

    with american troops facing an unbeatable insurgency in the field within iraq and across the muslim world, it would be foolhardy -- indeed, suicidal -- to yet again expand the field of action by destabilizing yet another middle eastern pocket of order, however recalcitrant. (especially when such a pocket is, from a realist perspective, an eager machiavellian ally against the spread of islamofascism -- as comments quoted above and often cited elsewhere have indicated, much as saddam hussein might have been.)

    however, such is the overwhelming delusion of hubris within the american imperial city, so willfully detached from any concession to material reality, that ignorant calls for global holocaust ring ever louder with every failure. no longer would it be enough, for some, even to limit our imperial sins to punitive airstrikes. we must insist, like a gambling addict, in upping the ante to invasion -- and, in so doing, plunge ourselves into the maelstrom ever deeper, seeking affirmation only in death, until finally we immolate ourselves upon our own swords.


    Thursday, October 06, 2005

     

    projection


    in what may qualify as one of the silliest and most regrettable presidential addresses of recent years, president bush justified continued and even deepening american military involvement in the middle east by attempting to frighten workaday americans with paranoid visions of an islamic empire.

    In this new century, freedom is once again assaulted by enemies determined to roll back generations of democratic progress. ... Some call this evil Islamic radicalism; others, militant Jihadism; still others, Islamo-fascism. Whatever it's called, this ideology is very different from the religion of Islam. This form of radicalism exploits Islam to serve a violent, political vision: the establishment, by terrorism and subversion and insurgency, of a totalitarian empire that denies all political and religious freedom. These extremists distort the idea of jihad into a call for terrorist murder against Christians and Jews and Hindus -- and also against Muslims from other traditions, who they regard as heretics.

    ... the militant network wants to use the vacuum created by an American retreat to gain control of a country, a base from which to launch attacks and conduct their war against non-radical Muslim governments. Over the past few decades, radicals have specifically targeted Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, and Jordan for potential takeover. They achieved their goal, for a time, in Afghanistan. Now they've set their sights on Iraq. Bin Laden has stated: "The whole world is watching this war and the two adversaries. It's either victory and glory, or misery and humiliation." The terrorists regard Iraq as the central front in their war against humanity. And we must recognize Iraq as the central front in our war on terror.

    ... the militants believe that controlling one country will rally the Muslim masses, enabling them to overthrow all moderate governments in the region, and establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia. With greater economic and military and political power, the terrorists would be able to advance their stated agenda: to develop weapons of mass destruction, to destroy Israel, to intimidate Europe, to assault the American people, and to blackmail our government into isolation.

    Over the years these extremists have used a litany of excuses for violence -- the Israeli presence on the West Bank, or the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia, or the defeat of the Taliban, or the Crusades of a thousand years ago. In fact, we're not facing a set of grievances that can be soothed and addressed. We're facing a radical ideology with inalterable objectives: to enslave whole nations and intimidate the world. No act of ours invited the rage of the killers -- and no concession, bribe, or act of appeasement would change or limit their plans for murder.
    never mind, i suppose, that little if anything in the iraqi political regime prior to american invasion had anything to do with propagating an islamist empire -- indeed, secularist pan-arabists like saddam hussein stood precisely against such ridiculous notions, a machiavellian potential ally to the west.

    and never mind that such notions are utterly ridiculous -- even if osama bin laden actually subscribes to such claptrap (which is quite questionable, despite american government assurances), the rebirth of the saracen empire has as much chance of happening as a spontaneous reconstitution of the roman or alexandrian empires. even then, these barbarian war-bands such as al-qaeda represent are focused not on a return to the reign of suleiman but on expelling the cultural invader -- the west.

    never mind these truths for a moment. consider the president's words for what they are -- a statement that says as much or more about himself and his worldview than it does about any externality.

    freudian projection was first explored by the brilliant thinker over a century ago and remains canonical in psychoanalytics. we might define it quickly as when someone is threatened by or afraid of their own impulses so they attribute these impulses to someone else. in greater detail:

    [P]rojection is assuming that others act or perceive similarly – according to this definition it is not necessary for a projected trait to be undesirable or unconscious [as it is in Freudian projection]. Projection is probably inherent in social animals and the single most important psychological mechanism. The following are given as examples:

  • Individual A assumes that B sees the colour red as he does, until informed that B is colour-blind;

  • Someone who never lies is easy to deceive because he projects his truthfulness onto others, assuming that others are honest also;

  • ‘It takes one to know one’;

  • An inept con-man fears that others are trying to cheat him, signals his fear and alerts others;

  • (Freudian) An individual who possesses malicious characteristics, but who is unwilling to perceive himself as a protagonist, convinces himself that his opponent feels and would act the same way.


  • Each of these examples involves an assumption that others exhibit an own trait, but various "defence mechanisms" exist. Counter-strategies for Case 2 include (a) being conscious of a tendency to project and compensating with increased scepticism, testing scientifically, and (b) lying as much as everyone else. Case 3 could occur if an individual is honest about his own characteristics and inhibits his tendency to project, in which case he may accurately recognize his own traits in another without error. Case 4 is an interesting scenario left open for discussion.

    In Case 5, offensive acts may occur when the projector (which may be an individual or a group), erroneously believing that their adversary is about to likewise, pre-empts the opponent – making the player of this so-called defence mechanism into an aggressive protagonist. This illustrates just one of several problems with the orthodox notion of projection. I hope to have demonstrated that the conventional definition of projection, here dubbed Freudian Projection, merely describes a specific instance of a more general, and important, human mechanism. Projection, combined with features such as denial of latent desires, accounts for a great deal of human behaviour and attitudes.
    so what is bush really saying when he spouts this rubric about "intimidating europe" and "enslaving nations"? need it be pointed out that the united states is the best-equipped nation on earth to pursue such ends thanks to decades of military buildup in response to paranoid fantasies? need it be pointed out that american military personnel now span the globe, with more than a millions troops dispersed over six continents and seven seas, manning an indirect global economic and military empire which exceeds in scope any which has come before it? need it be pointed out that the united states alone has embarked, under bush's instruction, on a policy of pre-emptive warfare against concocted false foes -- a classic symptom of a projector?

    this page is not a psychologist, and cannot claim to know what lies in the psychic heart of the administration. but neither are these observations mere coincidence -- projection is a consequence of hubristically assuming that the world shares one's own views, a pitfall into which this administration (and this nation more generally) has been incapable of avoiding from day one, much to its own detrement.


    DJ, I love it when you analyze.

     
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    Actually, Saddam was rebuilding his "empire" when he went ito Kuwait. His claim, that Kuwait was the 19th province back when the Ottoman Empire ran that neck of the woods, seems to indicate that he, the chief political authority in Iraq, thought enough of empire to use it as a reason.

    If you hold that Osama was a nice guy, who only resorted to terrorism when the US had forces in Saudi Arabia, you have to answer the question: Why did the US have forces in Saudi Arabia and/or Kuwait? The answer: To prevent Saddam Husayne from popping over the border and reestablishing his "imperial claims" to those countries.

     
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    If you hold that Osama was a nice guy

    i'll let the comment stand without further reply only after saying that such blanket reductions of complex points to emotionalisms and strawmen is characteristic of a vulgar mind.

     
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    Um.... it's not "paranoid visions" when they constantly assert they really are trying to establish an Islamic Empire. Duh.

    "secularist pan-arabists like saddam hussein stood precisely against such ridiculous notions"

    Wrong again, Saddam had a de facto alliance of convenience with the Islamists, and increasingly played the religious card after 1991.

    "even if osama bin laden actually subscribes to such claptrap"

    As opposed to actually subscribing to what, exactly? Do you even pretend to have a point with this remark?

    "the rebirth of the saracen empire has as much chance of happening as a spontaneous reconstitution of the roman or alexandrian empires"

    They're off and running in Afghanistan and Iran. That's 100 million people. Want to compare the numbers to the saracen empire? (Oops, scratch Afghanistan; we nipped that little Islamist bud.)

    "So what is bush really saying when he spouts this rubric about "intimidating europe" and "enslaving nations"? need it be pointed out that the united states is the best-equipped nation on earth to pursue such ends "

    ROTFLMAO!!! Take about your paranoid visions. Sheesh. You need to read that Freudian projection section again and up the meds, my friend.

    Thanks for the laughs.

     
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    in other words, mr talldave -- trust our government to do what is good and right?

     
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    Trust, but verify. And if they break that trust, throw them out. That's the eseence of republican democracy.

    I think it's great that there are so many liberals out there saying "Iraqis need more rights and better democracy" and "Bush needs to do more to guarantee freedom and democracy survive in Iraq." What I object to is the pessimism, paranoia and naysaying.

     
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    if they break that trust

    and, somehow, they haven't done this yet? in your view?

     
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    perhaps julian sanchez best illustrated how that presumption of trustworthiness can only be a product of blind fealty.

     
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    human shields


    the repulsiveness of what the state of israel has degenerated into under the leadership of likud was sharply delineated again today when the israeli supreme court was actually forced to explicitly tell the israeli army that is was not acceptable to tie palestinian children to their vehicles in an effort to use them as human shields for a second time.

    the moral corruption of the israeli nation in statehood and zionism has been commented on before on this page -- and again, as in evaluating the work of uri blau, americans must understand that what we see in israel is a precursor for where we are going ourselves, as i wrote, "the inevitable loss this abuse of temporal aspiration will force, to become lost in the moral trap marc ellis calls for israel "constantinian judaism" -- the conflation of spiritual and ethical values with state power, serving to misguide and ultimately destroy both."

    the decrepitude of our society is advanced both in what the israeli army is doing to the youth of its culture in palestine and in what the american army does to the youth of ours in iraq. as noble and admirable as it is for the israeli high court to take a stand for morality and civility, and as it is also so of the american senate to do the same, both efforts must be not only sustained but immensely grown if this commenter is to have any belief in the notion that our cultural decline into vulgar barbarism is in any way being mitigated by the shards of morality that may remain within this dessicated society. the fact that the israeli army has repeatedly ignored the court's previous commands bodes very ill for a hopeful vision of our common future.

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    If there's a "cultural decline into vulgar barbarism" it's being spearheaded by people like you who constantly defend tyrants and thugs and denigrate the efforts of others to bring freedom and democracy to the oppressed.

     
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    that may well be what the administration intends to do, mr talldave -- at least, export what we understand to be freedom, in a deteriorated, perverse ideological form.

    but i think it entirely within reason to question the virtue of such an enterprise as much as it is reasonable to question whether robespierre and his follower napoleon were engaged in a virtuous effort -- or simply the bankrupting of western civility.

     
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    It's reasonable to question anything. That's just a truism, and does not advance or justify your arguments.

    Did Robespierre or Napoleon advance freedom? Did they give 50 million people the right to vote for the first time? No, they violated human rights to advance their own interests and consolidate their own power.

     
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    the truth is that they did both, in fact, mr talldave -- advancement in the interests of freedom spread vastly in the aftermath of napoleonic conquest and administration, over vastly greater lands and peoples than any conquest of mesopotamia we've undertaken.

    the point is that one can have high aims-- and even begin to achieve some of them -- and be a despicable monstrosity of evil nonetheless. the two are not exclusive; indeed, high moral aims motivated most every authoritarian terror regime of western civility since the first breakdowns of our society in the fifteenth century. i submit that the current american regine is simply no different from any other.

     
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    Wednesday, October 05, 2005

     

    justice harriet miers


    following on the heels on the confirmation of chief justice john roberts, the white house nominated harriet miers, george bush's personal attorney, to take sandra day o'connor's chair on the supreme court.

    the nomination has been, like so many stories of the bush presidency, a tale of executive impunity. as much as the left objects to the idea of a texan religious fundamentalist (whatever her appropriately unprincipled lawyerly record) being appointed to the high court, the right objects to her lack of track record -- one gets the impression that some believed their backing of roberts would be rewarded with a naked victory in the nomination of a longtime conservative militant. and the cry of cronyism and unqualification has gone up from every quarter -- from george will to the wall street journal. in will's words,

    If 100 such people had been asked to list 100 individuals who have given evidence of the reflectiveness and excellence requisite in a justice, Miers's name probably would not have appeared in any of the 10,000 places on those lists.
    why, it must be asked, is a nominee being forwarded that was so sure to displease so many on both the left and the right?

    the outstanding similarity between roberts and miers is telling. neither have any record in jurisprudence which can be attacked; both are remarkable in managing to have a long careeer as a lawyer without ever having evinced a principle. clearly, this is a quality (so-called) which the administration has sought in its nominees. and why? because it makes them unassailable on grounds of ideology. tony mauro at legal times, writing on now-justice roberts:

    But there is one way in which Roberts stands apart from -- and possibly ahead of -- the others. Luttig, with 13 years on the 4th Circuit, and Wilkinson with 20 have written enough opinions that it is easy to chart how conservative they are. McConnell has only two years on the 10th Circuit, but he has a provocative paper trail from his 17 years as a prolific conservative law school professor.

    By contrast, Roberts, with 20 months on the D.C. Circuit, has few opinions or other writings that have attracted enemies. As a result, some conservatives have made unflattering comparisons between Roberts and Supreme Court Justice David Souter, whose short stint on the 1st Circuit before being appointed in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush failed to reveal Souter's moderate-to-liberal leanings on some issues.

    Yet those who know Roberts say he, unlike Souter, is a reliable conservative who can be counted on to undermine if not immediately overturn liberal landmarks like abortion rights and affirmative action. Indicators of his true stripes cited by friends include: clerking for Rehnquist, membership in the Federalist Society, laboring in the Ronald Reagan White House counsel's office and at the Justice Department into the Bush years, working with Kenneth Starr among others, and even his lunchtime conversations at Hogan & Hartson. "He is as conservative as you can get," one friend puts it. In short, Roberts may combine the stealth appeal of Souter with the unwavering ideology of Scalia and Thomas.

    But this take on Roberts puts some of his biggest boosters in a quandary. They praise Roberts as a brilliant, fair-minded lawyer with a perfect judicial temperament. But can that image as an open-minded jurist co-exist with also being viewed as a predictable conservative?
    counsel is paid not to take moral or principled stands for or against certain issues. it is paid to defend the client as best it can, regardless of and often in contravention to personal principle. as such, counselors can claim to have no particular ideological allegiance even in spite of a resume such as roberts posesses. moreover, the durability of attorney-client priviledge is an iron bulwark against much difficult but important questioning. the administration has selected these candidates without juridicial experience on purpose because they know that the ideology of the nominees has not been exposed by the light of decision and is guarded by priviledge. in this manner, the administration can and has elevated persons of like mind without subjecting that mind to scrutiny. and, as has been said, there is nothing the pure and hubristic mind detests more than scrutiny.

    also similar are backgrounds which make both roberts and miers personally loyal to the bush clan. george will again:

    It is important that Miers not be confirmed unless, in her 61st year, she suddenly and unexpectedly is found to have hitherto undisclosed interests and talents pertinent to the court's role. Otherwise the sound principle of substantial deference to a president's choice of judicial nominees will dissolve into a rationalization for senatorial abdication of the duty to hold presidents to some standards of seriousness that will prevent them from reducing the Supreme Court to a private plaything useful for fulfilling whims on behalf of friends.
    indeed, it is hard to believe that personal loyalty, so important to this president -- vastly more important than accountable and responsible government -- isn't a primary driving force in these nominations. miers has been affiliated with the bush family for more than a decade as their personal attorney, the postmodern equivalent of one's father confessor. more subtle is the relationship of roberts to the bush family, which has sought consistently to forward his career dating back to at least 1982, where he took a position in the reagan/bush administration in associate counsel to the president. he was installed in the politico-judiciary with george h.w. bush's unconfirmed nomination of roberts to the d.c. federal appellate bench in 1992. roberts also advised florida governor jeb bush during the 2000 presidential election recount fiasco and helped construct for the bush family the supreme court case that elevated bush to power. obviously, fealty to the bush family is a central consideration in both cases.

    there is also the matter of who is conspicuously not outraged by miers' nomination -- the religious right. her candidacy, according to the washington post, was run past james dobson, head of protestant fundamentalist political-paramilitary group focus on the family, to his approval. chuck colson was similarly consulted. pat robertson's political propaganda organization, the christian broadcast network, is actively talking up miers in scripted interviews. given the final bankruptcy of western protestantism into mundane cults of political revolutionism, it must be said that her allegiance to bush, who remains a hero of these cults, likely runs into their common goals.

    yet these are but elements of a more troubling broad current.

    Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee, yesterday held a conference call with conservative leaders to address their concerns about Miers. He stressed Bush’s close relationship with Miers and the need to confirm a justice who will not interfere with the administration’s management of the war on terrorism, according to a person who attended the teleconference.
    this page has long observed the onset and progress of revolutionism in the guise of archaism under the rubric of constitutional originalism. this is seen here to be no less than an undermining of the separation of powers in favor of the expansion of a jacobin presidency with unchecked powers of dictatorial scope -- the very slide into tyranny described by plato. roberts and miers compound a philosophy of diminished court authority in deference to the president as tribune of the plebs -- a philosophy which they share with justices scalia and thomas -- with a personal loyalty to the bush family.

    some would say that such loyalty is an ephemeral concern -- after all, george bush will not run for president again. this page would say first that such assumptions can no longer be made in the age of mass politics. but, beyond the potential suspension of balloting, there must be an appreciation of the potential candidacy of jeb bush for the presidency in 2008. should he win, it must be said that some aged sitting justices will likely not outlive his term.

    in light of the already advanced deterioration of separated powers in american government, a block of justices with a philosophical desire to construct an imperial president and deep personal relationships with the first dynastic family of american power is a very serious compromise of already weakened institutions and a possible paving stone on the road to an overtly augustan political system. as was said at the opening, powerful voices on the left and right disapprove of miers nomination -- and yet there is virtually no question of her eventual confirmation. what does that say about the power of the presidency vis-a-vis the legislative and judicial branches in this moment? and how would that balance further deteriorate under the scenario we are here considering?

    while it is impossible to predict the future and nearly as much so to divine the current course of events, the mutation of american government from republican constitutionalism to an augustan presidential autocracy is a clear trend in our development, much commented on here and elsewhere. the nomination of harriet miers represents no watershed event in this evolution but another incremental step toward an unquestionably imperial management. it should be seen -- and lamented -- as such.

    UPDATE: harriet miers is a church-hopper, in perfect conformity with her type as a rootless individualist masquerading as a christian, as this page has previously analyzed.


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