Midnight ramblings … moving to the middle-left

by Pete Talbot

Nothing like a trip to the Magic City of Billings to put things in perspective: where an in-law tells me about his buddy who’s making $2000 a week welding on a pipeline in the Williston Basin, where I meet a man who runs a big (I mean really big) shovel at Colstrip, where my sister-in-law’s new boyfriend is working maintenance at the Stillwater palladium mine south of Columbus. All these guys are bucking the recession.

They don’t give a sh*t about DADT or DREAM. “It’s the economy, stupid.” (A quote attributed to James Carville during Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign.) Which is why, even though at some point in their lives, the workers mentioned above belonged to a union, they voted Republican in the 2010 midterm election.

Shortsighted? Without a doubt. These guys aren’t millionaires and the Republican Party doesn’t represent them. But they think it does.

So, when my progressive cohorts rail against Sen. Jon Tester on the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, and DREAM, I have to do a little reality check. You see, I agree wholeheartedly with the progressives but after living in Montana for 45 years, I like to think I have some insight into the Montanan mind set. And Billings is about as Montanan as you can get.

At this point, these Billings workers aren’t going to vote for someone to the left of Jon Tester. Hell, Tester barely won his seat in 2006 against a corrupt incumbent who had insulted women, firefighters and most minorities. And you’d have been hard pressed to find a better candidate to go up against Republican Conrad Burns than that big Montana dry-land farmer with a flattop and missing fingers.

It isn’t about the lesser of two evils. It’s about pure evil versus a mainstream Democrat; like Denny Rehberg v. Jon Tester in the 2012 U.S. Senate election or any Democrat against Rick Hill/Cory Stapleton/Ken Miller for Montana Governor.

It isn’t easy for me to write this post. Having been called a Socialist, a Communist and a red scurvy dog, I figure I’ve earned my progressive credentials. But sometimes one has to step back and look at the world, the country and Montana the way it is.

I’m not going to quit pushing my elected Democratic officials to be as progressive as they can be. And I’ll continue to critique their bad votes as I’ve done in the past; particularly Sen. Max Baucus but also Sen. Tester and Gov. Schweitzer. And to quote Jim Hightower, “I’ll keep agitatin’.”

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  1. ~applause~

    I have argued for some time that one can recognize reality without agreeing with the opposition. In fact, if one wishes to avoid becoming the opposition, that recognition is really very necessary.

    Along those lines, I remain unconvinced that Dennis will run for the Senate against Tester. The reasons are too many to list here. But if he does, it will be because he was convinced to do so by Democrats and the left, not Republicans. And if you really want to see evil against a mainstream democrat, wait until you get a load of Steve Daines. (That is assuming that you ever will. Very much like Dennis Rehberg, I expect that he will avoid Missoula like the plague.)

  2. lizard19

    this post makes me think of Thomas Frank’s book What’s The Matter With Kansas

    here’s a snip from wikipedia:

    According to his analysis, the political discourse of recent decades has dramatically shifted from the class animus of traditional leftism to one in which “explosive” cultural issues, such as abortion and gay marriage, are used to redirect anger towards “liberal elites.”

    Against this backdrop, Frank describes the rise of conservatism and the far right in the social and political landscape of Kansas. He finds it difficult to understand the overwhelming support for Republican party politicians, given his belief that the economic policies of the Republican party do not benefit the majority of people in the State. He also claimed that the party fails to deliver on the “moral” issues (such as abortion and gay rights) which brought the support of cultural conservatives in the first place—in his view deepening a cycle of frustration aimed at cultural liberalism.

    i don’t understand how any self-respecting republican supporter can think Bush did anything good for this country during his eight year debacle. but then again, i also don’t understand how Clinton supporters can ignore his role in selling out the democratic party to big money corporate interests.

    personally, at this point, i don’t care if Jon Tester gets reelected or not. i am so fucking tired of politicians saying one thing, then doing another, why the hell should i believe anything a politician says?

    It isn’t about the lesser of two evils. It’s about pure evil versus a mainstream Democrat

    i would be careful here, Pete. an otherwise thoughtful post will more than likely get mired by your inaccurately ascribing evil to just one party.

    from where i’m standing, both parties are firmly rooted in the darkside, and your failure to acknowledge that means you have a giant blind spot in your political thinking.

    Obama is setting up a shadowy judicial realm to continue indefinite detention. i consider that evil, like torture and assassination by executive decree. this is what dictators get away with, and we are letting Obama get away with it, and it’s happening because party faithful, like you, Pete, ascribe “pure evil” to just one party.

  3. Obama is setting up a shadowy judicial realm to continue indefinite detention. i consider that evil, like torture and assassination by executive decree. this is what dictators get away with, and we are letting Obama get away with it, and it’s happening because party faithful, like you, Pete, ascribe “pure evil” to just one party.

    Bullshit. Do you actually pay attention, Liz, or are you just enraptured with what Jane Hamsher tells you to believe? Here’s that reality creeping back to bite you in the ass.

    Last year, Obama attempted an executive order to close the detention facility at Gitmo and move the detainees to America for federal prosecution. The reaction from Congress was one of the best examples of NIMBY ever seen in history. “You ain’t movin’ ’em here.” That even came from liberal hero Feingold. Late this year, Obama attempted again to close Gitmo and move the detainees to a facility where they could be prosecuted. Presidents Boehner and McConnell have promised to pass legislation that would not only prohibit the movement of detainees to American soil, but prohibit the repatriation of them as well. Look for it early next year.

    Obama has derailed that effort by attempting to rewrite the rules of indefinite detainment. And you’re all about the Obama betrayal and completely clueless about why it’s happening. And yet somehow, to you, it’s all the fault of the “party faithful”, (Democratic party only, of course.) You might want to pull your head out of your poetry every now and again and actually pay attention to what’s happening.

    When I put up a post angry as hell at Tester and Baucus for their NIMBYism about closing Gitmo, the response from the right was animated in agreement with those Senators, and total ~crickets~ from the left. And now you’re going to fuss with Pete because the consequences of your ignorance and inaction have lead to their logical conclusion? And that’s Pete’s fault?

    I write again. Bullshit.

    • lizard19

      i commend the passion, rob, but question your faith.

      from some rag called the washington post:

      President Obama acknowledged publicly for the first time yesterday that some detainees at Guantanamo Bay may have to be held without trial indefinitely, siding with conservative national security advocates on one of the most contentious issues raised by the closing of the military prison in Cuba.

      “We are going to exhaust every avenue that we have to prosecute those at Guantanamo who pose a danger to our country,” Obama said. “But even when this process is complete, there may be a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States.”

      of course, that was over a year ago. maybe there’s more recent cover for him to say it’s all about congress slapping his executive hands, while those same hands bitch slap habeas corpus and order an extrajudicial hit. try and fantasize your way out of that one, rob.

      there are going to be a lot of trumpets blaring the lame duck christmas miracle successes of the dem agenda as we finish off this dismal year.

      and for those who have discarded the blue-tinted party shades, it’s clear the crumbs of reform in health and finance won’t be enough to counter the tides of corruption that will continue to reek havoc on average Americans.

      as for poetry, you better watch yourself. there is a long proud history of poets putting their ideals on the line and suffering the consequences, especially in other countries.

      wait for my next post, rob.

      and don’t you for one second turn your back on the power of language to shake lose your presumed platitudes of righteousness.

      • and don’t you for one second turn your back on the power of language to shake lose your presumed platitudes of righteousness.

        “Shake lose”? Power of language? Okay then.

        You have no position to stand on in questioning my “faith”. You have no idea what my “faith” is. You’ve assumed it. And because of that, you’ve not responded to any of my complaints against your comment ‘refuting’ Pete Talbot. You continue to blame Obama for what rightly is not his effect, but rather what has been foist upon him. And you still have nothing to say about Pete’s post, save that Pete is beneath your higher understanding.

        Keep in mind. There’s a long proud history of journalists putting their ideals on the line as well. And some have suffered the consequences. Are you challenging me to accept your bogus defenses of those? Would you have me defend Aaron Flint, simply on your say so?

        Oh certainly I will await your next post.

        • lizard19

          you questioned Obama’s support of indefinite detention. i provided a Washington Post grade refutation.

          your denial of reality here makes you no better than the rightwing boogeymen you so vehemently crusade against.

          i will restate my contention with Pete’s post as simply as possible: “pure evil” is not the sole domain of the right, and saying that is not productive.

          but rob, i must say, i am not merely “assuming” you have faith, i am inferring that from your inability to admit when i make valid points which i substantiate at your request.

          i have done so, and yet you say i have not. what’s up with that?

        • lizard19

          and speaking of journalists, doesn’t it make you squirm when they get arrested, like Amy Goodman did at the RNC, under provisions of a Patriot Act that Obama keeps supporting? does that make you squirm, rob, or is it ok because Obama would do the right thing if only his hands weren’t tied by ______________.

    • I’m quite certain that no one in this administration, or in the prior administration for that matter, ever thought that more that 40 or 50 of the men held at GTMO were going to be tried. And not because the evidence that they’d committed a crime was tainted by torture. No, they had no reason to believe that most of the men had committed any kind of crime at all.

      Let’s look for a minute at the numbers: there have been nearly 800 men at the prison, and were something like 550 at the beginning of 2005. There were some 240 when Obama took office, and are 174 or so right now. In the prior administration, I don’t think more than 25 men were indicted, and not many more had the step before indictment. Currently, I think there are very few indictments — fewer than 10, I think. That’s out of 36 men (plus or minus) that were referred by the Obama task force for possible prosecution.

      I’ve no doubt that the administration hoped, in January 2009, to be able to prosecute the 9/11 plotters in the US. Why shouldn’t we try people who conspire, successfully, to bring about the deaths of thousands. And I know that the President planned to allow some very few of the prisoners to resettle in the United States: a precondition to getting other countries to take men who could not simply be sent home was that the US do so as well.

      That policy ran into NIMBY arguments — particularly from Rep. Wolf (as men would have been settled in or near his district) by April 2009. This was around the same time that the WH counsel — who was, I think, the principal author of the GTMO EOs — seems to have had a showdown of some kind with the top brass over some additional Abu Ghraib photos. The President chose one side over the other in these battles. I think he had not only the legal authority, but also the moral authority, to take what I consider the proper course with respect to both the particular prisoners to be resettled, and the Abu Ghraib pictures. He chose to side with the people arguing the other way. The principal internal advocate of the position I agree with — the architect of the policy on GTMO — was out of a job within weeks. And the people who won the argument have no idea what they want to do; no principles and no strategy, other than don’t get blamed if something goes wrong. Hence, a policy that is in complete shambles.

      I suppose that the security oriented folks in the administration thought they could ride the tiger. They could pander to NIMBYism on resettling a couple of guys, but would still be able to call the shots on where trials would be held, and on how resettlements would take place. As it turns out, it’s not that simple. Let the NIMBY people know they can roll you, and they’ll work overtime to get it done. And the NIMBY riders have gotten more and more onerous over the past 18 months — and only the latest has gotten much push back from the administration, lame though it is.

      Anyway, I think the President had choices to make, and made them, and I don’t have any trouble finding him accountable for that.

      On Hardin, and Thompson, there has never been any chance that prisoners not planned for prosecution would be brought to the United States. Whatever rights they have in GTMO — and this is a subject of hot dispute — there’s no doubt that once they arrived in the United States, the full weight of the due process clause would come into play. There are practical issues as well. When a court finds that a prisoner is held in the United States unlawfully, it can and does order the person released. One of the great virtues of GTMO, from the government’s perspective, is that it is a military base. Courts don’t have the authority to order the military to allow particular civilians to wander about a military base. A court can’t order Cuba, or Yemen, to take someone. Whether it can order the government to bring an illegally detained person into the United States is currently before the Supreme Court. (District judge said yes, and ordered it. Circuit court said no, and stopped the order. Gov’t has been desperately trying to get these particular men out of the prison ever since.) Anyway, bring the men to Hardin, or Leavenworth, and if they get an order directing their release (highly likely, one would think, for at least some of the 90 men out of 174 that have already been cleared) and they get let out. At the gates of the prison. This is not what the city council of Hardin had in mind, and I’m not surprised that our senators, who do understand what is happening here, were quick to nip the whole thing in the bud.

      I’m more pessimistic about the new review policy that Rob seems to be. I don’t think it’ll have judicial review built in, and without any accountability, you get people more or less running wild. As we’ve seen in previous administrative processes designed for the prisoners at GTMO.

      Sorry for the long digression.

      • Actually, the new review will resolve at least something. Some 48 of the 174 prisoners have been tagged for indefinite detention.* But the government refuses to reveal which prisoners they are, not to the public, not to the prisoners, not to the prisoners’ lawyers. Presumably, the review process will inform the prisoner that he is in this category, and even tell him what the basis for the decision is.

        * One should really add most of the men referred for prosecution to this number, since the government has decided — now that they know that they might lose — that prosecution isn’t such a hot idea.

  4. JC

    I’ve been thinking about this whole left/right thing a bit lately. Rob has been taking us to task for our expectations. But I think there’s a whole lot of sumptin’ else going on.

    Pete, I’ve got 10 years in Montana on ya, but you’ve been into politics more than I have. But I’ve been into policy heavy for 30 years.

    Used to be a time when the media–tv radio and print–would do a fairly good job of reporting the news, and how it related to policy and events. Politics was reported a bit, but there was always an understanding that “it’s just politics” referred to the style of discourse that politicians used to get elected, or get their way with policy in the legislative process. Most intelligent people recognized politics for what it was, and pooh-poohed it when it came time to look at policy initiatives and candidates.

    Today though, with the rise of the 24 hour news cycle and the internet replete with an arsenal of pundits, things have changed. Many more people are paying attention to the “news.” But the news has changed its focus from policy and the events surrounding its developments to one of a focus on politics. For a huge new group of people (most likely including the people you refer to out east) politics has become a substitute for good journalism with its focus on policy, and its investigative side.

    So today, we are seeing so much of public opinion being influenced to a much larger degree by “politics” than it used to be. And we are seeing the results with how our policy is formulated and pushed through Congress. Always through a political lens of the media.

    See, for the media, politics has become the focus: let’s focus on the controversy, instead of on the substance.

    I don’t really give a rats ass about the left right continuum. It is an artifice that allows the media to pigeon hole a story into a convenient telling. It amplifies the noise and allows the politics to rule. And to be honest, if you take a sample of Montanans and poll them about a whole lot of issues outside of loud political ones, you’ll find that the agreements and disagreements transcend typical right/left posturing.

    SO instead of any of us thinking about our place on some artificial left/right continuum, we should be concerned about how we can get the media to begin to focus on what is real, and what is important. And how to again teach people how to discern politics from policy and process.

    If we can’t do this, then the stage is already set for the next round of actors, who have been taught to not improvise, and for an audience that is willing to watch reruns of last season’s greatest hits. Which is to say, democracy in America has jumped the shark.

  5. The Polish Wolf

    Look at the paper today – Obama signs into law the end of DADT. The Senate approves the new arms treaty with Russia. New benefits are passed for 9/11 first responders. Tester was a vote in favor of getting these things accomplished – Rehberg would have been one more Senator standing in the way. So, it would seem the sentiment “i don’t care if Jon Tester gets reelected or not.” suggests a deep apathy for gay rights and a responsible foreign policy.

    • lizard19

      don’t get me wrong, wolf, i am very happy gay men and women can kill muslims in perpetuation of our lovely and very helpful imperialism, and it’s too bad young aspiring immigrants can’t do the same.

      • YOU GAVE ME PIE BUT YOU DIDN”T GIVE ME CAKE!!!!

        • lizard19

          it goes a bit deeper than that. and please, take off the caps lock.

        • Yes, there is a pie, but we got it in the face. Millionaires and their ‘b’ cousins above have the most to celebrate this Christmas. Meanwhile, The One raised taxes on our lowest 45 million households.

          Unspeakable, quisling. Unspeakable.

        • It doesn’t go deeper than that at all, Liz. An inordinate amount of Arabic translators have been booted from the military because of DADT. With them in place, we might actually be able to deal with Muslims without having to kill them. But no, that’s not enough, because you’ve made up your mind that all good things must be counterbalanced by what good things you haven’t gotten yet, and if it’s good, then it must *really* be bad. That’s a fairly standard form among the angry (depressive?) progressive left of moving the goal posts.

          “The little lights aren’t twinkling …”

  6. you are so right pete…. thanks for reminding me of reality. nobody gives a damn about anything but survival right now….

    sometimes all i need to tame me is a little candygram every now and then…

  7. The Polish Wolf

    Lizard –

    You lambaste my positions on imperialism as described by you, but fail to respond to them when I actually describe them in detail.

    On Intelligent Discontent, my sole foreign policy assertion was that involvement was superior to isolationism. You failed to prove the contrary, and instead merely talked about how the United States foreign policy was bad, a position I have never disputed.

    On this blog, I have laid out my vision of what American foreign policy should be: active interventionism in support of majority human rights over the interests of national governments. You have never responded thereto.

    Yes, I support the rights of gay men and women to kill terrorists and Taliban members in Afghanistan. Why? Because by the time of the invasion, the Taliban was composed of largely foreign fighters, with foreign funding, that both before and after our invasion of Afghanistan killed civilians at a higher rate than our soldiers and air strikes.

    I do not, nor have I ever, supported the war in Iraq. I would have supported, on the other hand, using soldiers – gay or straight, immigrant or native-born – to try to save some of the 900,000 victims of the Rwandan genocide, or some of the 200,000 victims in Darfur. But hey, that’s just my imperialism speaking.

    The most curious thing, however, is that to avoid conceding that it matters that Tester is re-elected, you trivialized both DADT and the DREAM act. So if these two votes don’t matter for you, I have to ask – are you cynical because of the politics we live in, or do you choose your political positions to maximize opportunities for cynicism?

    • lizard19

      we have different world views. i present different points of view to bolster my opinions, and you do the same. i am never going to “prove” anything to you, just as you can’t “prove” your position that our imperial interventions are better than us not “intervening.”

      as for DADT, i did actually have a strong emotional response to footage of Reid giving back the ring to Lt. Dan Choi.

      but what did Dan say in response? something to the effect that the next time he gets a ring from a man, it better be with marital rights.

      translation: the fight continues.

      • The Polish Wolf

        Ok, still don’t understand, pa. DADT alone ought to be enough of a reason to re-elect Tester. Yet you claim not to care one minute, and the next are impassioned about the fight for gay rights the next. In every vote on gay rights, would you rather have Tester in the senate, or Rehberg?

        Also, I think the last time we didn’t ‘intervene’, we set the world up for the worst atrocities in history. Indeed, I not only think that, but I provided proof for it. When genocide and democide have occurred, it is largely due to US uninvolvement or ‘looking the other way’. If as a country we refused and insisted on looking at Darfur, at Rwanda, etc., who knows the lives that could have been saved?

        And yes, the fight continues. Roughly one half to two thirds of the world lives under democratic states depending on your definition. This is a higher percentage than ever in history. In the next hundred years, the US can choose to kill our experiment in revolutionary liberty or to spread it to the world. I think Senator Tester is the better figure to accomplish the latter, and I’ve given reasons why. You seem to think there is no significant difference between Sen. Tester or a Sen. Rehberg, and it is there I must disagree with you.

        • lizard19

          i am not rehashing this crap with you, wolf. just keep telling yourself we are “spreading democracy” and that all those uncomfortable instances of the US supporting dictators and arming death squads are just little mistakes.

        • JC

          “I think the last time we didn’t ‘intervene’, we set the world up for the worst atrocities in history.”

          No, we didn’t “set the world up” for anything. The U.S. isn’t responsible every time some dictator or rogue state gets all crazy.

          And as far as atrocities go, where would you rank Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

          I put them at the top of my list. But keep that exceptionalist filter on, PO. It assuages your guilt quite well.

  8. Chuck

    Good realty check Pete. That’s the real world.

    • JC

      NO Chuck, eastern Montana isn’t the real world. It is one small microcosm of the “real” world, no more or no less so that Missoula, or the slums–or Timbuktu for that matter.

      All this talk about “the real world” and “real Americans” makes me sick. It only serves to belittle people who choose (or who have no choice) to live their life differently than in the eyes of the perfectionist beholder.

  9. I can care about jobs, and gays, at the same time, and I’m sorry you’re in-laws aren’t capable of that.

    I respect ya Pete, I do. But I can’t abide by your logic. People cannot continue this idea of voting for one person because the other guy is the bad one. We can’t keep two parties around who desperately pander to the middle. (And pander they do. Dems are waiting on our healthcare; Reps are waiting on that abortion ban.)

    There are no perfect candidates, I know that (I’ve been watching the political game from here in Montana for 20 years, not that that means anything). And we can sit here and say the Schwietzer is better than Martz, or Tester is better than Burns… but where does that leave us? Holding a bag of broken promises that we’ll never get filled until we stop voting for the evil of two lessers.

    • Turner

      How does not voting for the lesser of two evils allow us to fill our bag of broken promises? The metaphor falls apart, obviously, but the point you’re trying to make, if large numbers of people were to accept it, would lead to the unchallenged ascendency of worse and even worse candidates to office.

      I don’t think the choice (if, say, Tester were to be challenged by Rehberg) is between two evils. I think it’s between someone with democratic values who sometimes disappoints us and a crypto-fascist.

      • What a nasty thing to say about Jon!

        Your first paragraph is prophetic, and as Tester shows us, we do indeed get “worse and even worse” candidates for office. There’s a huge array of power at play in DC, most of it private. Senators, even the president, have less power than the groups represented by the lobbyists. Anyone who runs afoul of that power can quickly be turned out of office, either by a well-financed opponent, or entrapment and scandal, or other means.

        When Tester went to DC he may not have understood how the place works. Now that he does, he has two choices – to be a good Senator for his remaining term and then step down, or embrace power and continue to hold office.

        It’s apparent he has done the latter. He is, therefore, a second-rate man, and fulfills your prophecy,.

      • I said the “evil of two lessers.” We’re a people who vote for folks nothing like us. We vote for millionaire business men, and millionaire lawyers. We put our greatest investment — taxes — in the hands of people who will filibuster to the detriment of 9/11 responders so that they get over $200,000 in return. The tax game wasn’t just Reps. Dems were hesitant to return to the Clinton tax days. And so while we celebrate our meager returns from Uncle Sam, they’ll get back nearly seven times the median wage of Missoula. That’s their return, not just their gross for the year. Fucking staggering to me that we’re allowing that.

        Not playing the two-party game, or allowing ourselves to think that a vote for one party cancels out the other party, allows us the freedom to move on from the current system. We can be free of voting for Option1 or Option2–hell, even a game show give you three.

        The dichotomy of “my party is better,” vs “no, my party is better,” is killing us. If we continue, well then goodnight democracy. Because these men aren’t fighting for your vote, or Pete’s vote, or Lizard’s vote, they’re fighting for the vote of the ho-hum, mushball middle–the folks who are kind enough to wake up every other October and remember they live in a democratic republic. They figure they’ve got my vote, just like the Reps always knew the TesPartiers would come crawling back.

        “…[I]f large numbers of people were to accept [your point] it, would lead to the unchallenged ascendency of worse and even worse candidates to office.”

        Quite the opposite. If more people starting voting for other options, we’d see a light at the end of the hellscape.

        And I’m not trying to say Sen. Tester is an awful guy, far from it. I like the guy on a person-to-person level. But I can disagree. I can hope for (and vote for) a better candidate should that happen. And should it happen, well I don’t have to answer to you about voting for my ideals over voting for the idea that that guy — over there — is bad.

        We live in a divided state, and I’m not sure that’ll get us anywhere. If you do, by all means jump on that boat.

  10. Mr. Talbot: You so perfectly describe the nature of triangulation that words cannot be added except the word “triangulation” itself. As you say, the function of the Democrats is to give the appearance of saving us from something worse while actually giving us something worse. (Hint: FJRA” was a Burns bill reincarnate.”)

    Later in the thread the Polish Wolf talked about interventionism without mentioning the real reason for interventionism: To make the world safe for multinational corporations to extract wealth. There are no good intentions there, nor any chance that good will flow out of evil.

    JC and Lizard have transcended all of this and get to comment in their own names, as they are not as big an affront to me to hypocrisy.

    Hi Rod.

  11. Ingemar Johansson

    Interesting nocturnal posting.

    I’ve often wondered if the real reason that the “progressives” didn’t want high paying union natural resource jobs was the fact that high income earners were harder to gather than a field of cats. I’ve always known that the “copper kings” were easy prey, that is-deflect with wealth envy class warfare knowing full well that without them there is no $20/hr maintenance workers or pipe line welders.

    You mentioned millionaires. Couldn’t you say that a lifetime of welding or even sweeping floors at a mine or in the oil fields render a million dollar estate combining a decent home with a fat pension/profit sharing?

    The left needs the needy, when the needy get jobs especially high paying ones, loyalties change.

  12. I’m new to this site and am enjoying the discussion. Howard Zinn said
    “We who protest the war are not politicians. We are citizens. Whatever politicians may do, let them first feel the full force of citizens who speak for what is right, not for what is winnable…Except for the rare few, our representatives are politicians, and will surrender their integrity, claiming to be ‘realistic’. We are not politicians, but citizens. We have no office to hold on to, only our consciences, which insist on telling the truth. That, history, suggests, is the most realistic thing a citizen can do.”

    The people in Eastern Montana Pete is talking about along with Kansans and Clevelandites became fed up with the Democrats back when the party started its wooing of corporate money in the late 1970s. Because the Democrats have failed to protect manufacturing jobs and continue to approve of costly and foolish imperial misadventures all over the world, the middle class drifted over to a party that gave them people to hate and blame things on.

    So our jobs as citizens is keep telling truth to power and to keep asking our neighbors to think for themselves instead of being spoon fed propaganda from either party.

    • Feral Cat, I couldn’t agree more. I would only add that we need to recognize when we’re being fed propaganda from outside either party as well. All propaganda is a mythology which appeals to the individual identity such that they *feel* (an important word for Lizard) more like they belong with something. That’s hardly the sole domain of Republicrats or Democans. (See the Tea Party, John Edwards, Ralph Nader …)

      • I don’t really think you understand propaganda. Mythology might be used – certainly American history as reconstructed serves that purpose, as in all countries. Without mythology we do not have countries. (Saying that Democrats and Republicans and Nader all used propaganda is a bit like saying that Russia and the U.S. and Micronesia all have standing armies.)

        But truth and lies have very little to do with it, in fact, truth is more useful as propaganda than lies. The idea that anyone cares what we think is hardly important so long as we cannot act on our more dangerous thoughts. The purpose of propaganda is more to control behavior than thoughts.

        Example: We can all look around us and see that our government serves wealth. Every two years we are given an opportunity to vote for one of two parties, neither of which has any intention of changing taht fact. We all think something is wrong, but cannot act on changing it.

        Nice system, eh? You are unknowingly part of it. Of course, knowing you, you’ll say not only do you know it, but have always known it.

        • I don’t really think you understand propaganda.

          No, you really don’t. That’s most likely your problem, Mark. You *think* that others don’t understand propaganda because they *think* propaganda is about *thinking*. You *think* that, because, in a remarkably ironic and condescending way, YOU *think* of propaganda that way. Propaganda isn’t about nullifying action by passivising reason into inaction. It isn’t even about distraction of thought or behavioral modification. It’s about enabling the emotive nature to embrace particular action as a form of identity. Witness the Tea Party. That’s why truth is a better salve for control than lies. People FEEL better about it. People under the influence still act; they just behave in proscribed ways.

          And here’s where you miss the point. Someone behaving in a manner you see as one of the proscribed ways causes your propaganda riddled brainyworks to scream with cries of “quisling”. People you see as unworthy, given the propaganda you’ve swallowed, who benefit from a policy simply must be helped by the ignorant masses controlled and programmed. You want those unworthy punished, dammit, and you’ll engage in any rationalization or vomit purist trope to see it happen. That’s your conditioning and soft smooze of identity. YOU are the iconoclast, and damnable hells if everyone else can adopt your identity. That was the message of Nader. Emo Would-be President. Yes, our government serves wealth. You want wealth so punished that you weep and wail and forget that our government also serves you, if you have the sack to make it so. Funny how I doubt you do. Black and white. It’s all you’re allowed to see, and accuse others off.

          You are unknowingly part of it.

          No Mark, I’m not. Again, that’s the point that escapes you completely. I am a part of it, knowingly and (this will screw you up completely) willingly. I’m a part of it because I made a choice to be part of it. I actually do *think* about things, and I’ll bet that most folk here do as well. And part of that thinking is not letting a fairy tail of slavery, Parties, step-mother plutocrats and candy houses control whether I think you’re full of it or not. You are. Propaganda has lead you to believe thats a good thing. But hey, at least you *feel* better, amirite!

        • Really, really tedious. This inability to think and speak clearly defines you as much as anything. And by the way, “quisling” is a term I reserve for you alone, as I think it can be pretty well concluded from this tedious post above that you take personal validation in going along with actions that will in the end bear no fruit.

          If there is nothing to be had from the action, then I suspect that status has more to do with it. And that is the nature of a quisling – to knowingly conspire with the enemy for the sake of status.

          I take form your words above that you haven’t a clue about things, as you cannot clearly express your thoughts.

          • I take form your words above … you cannot clearly express your thoughts.

            Okay then.

          • Listen, Monty – scientists excepted, as they really do have to deal in their own jargon, intelligent people don’t have trouble putting difficult concepts into easily understood terms. Your words above (and may times in the past) are indicative of a mind that can’t quite make its way through the muddle and express itself with clarity.

            Terms like “propaganda” and “terrorism” get muddled because we ourselves are the prime practitioners, and so have to come up with complex definitions that somehow exclude our behavior. It’s that simple.

            And I have for decades now typed the word “form” instead of “from”, and it is a mistake that spell-check does not catch. But then, you knew that, and found a convenient excuse to vamoose, exposed once again for the intellectual fraud that you are.

  13. Ingemar Johansson

    Back at ya Mark.

  14. The Polish Wolf

    See JC, you’re defining ‘responsible’ in a way that clearly favors isolation. If I, armed with a pistol, see someone getting stabbed with a knife and do nothing, I may not be ‘responsible’, as you put it, but the effect is the same as if I shot the victim myself. Given the massive difference between US power and the rest of the world, the analogy is apt. Our current policy is that we will intervene unless the killer is only killing his own family – nations are allowed to kill their own citizens so long as they leave other governments alone.

    As for atrocities – it is my opinion that the use of nuclear weapons was the best option, but that’s a hypothetical question of counter-factual history. I’d be happy to hear what you would have done instead, but most people find the debate over whether Truman made the right choice a tiresome one. Pogie and I once had a week long discussion of it reaching no conclusions. Either way, that was a question of strategy, not foreign policy. Do you argue with the initial decision to cut off Japanese war supplies that provoked our conflict with them? When I read about what happened in Taiwan, in Korea, and in China under imperial occupation, I’m inclined to say we made the right call.

    As to your not rehashing this, lizard: you don’t want to rehash it because ‘hashing’ it involves bringing up facts again, and you’d prefer to simply make snarky comments. If you keep doing that, I’ll keep questioning the basis for them. I never called American support for dictatorships little mistakes – I called them immoral, shortsighted, and ineffective. I will add now that they were incredibly foolish miscalculations that critically weakened America’s foreign power and continue to cost us. What would you call them if not that?

    Happy holidays!

    • JC

      I don’t want to argue anything about our country’s use of nuclear weapons on innocent people. I find it abhorrent, an atrocity. Period. Even moreso that it was done by a so-called “enlightened” and “benevolent” exceptionalist state. Our use of nuclear weapons as a first strike reinvigorated Manifest Destiny, and expanded it to a global purchase.

      You see, I view that moment as the point where American Imperialism began its long march to building today’s global empire. Which is to say that if Truman had made a different decision, the world most likely would be a far different place.

      We talk about turning points. The decision to use nukes was the largest one of the last century, in my opinion.

    • Lizard

      you’re right, all i make are snarky comments. your amazing facts scare me, and that’s why i’m avoiding another lengthy back and forth with you. you have so overwhelmingly proven that American interventions across the globe have been to promote human rights, and without America people everywhere wouldn’t be enjoying the standard of living and prosperity they are currently experiencing.

      I never called American support for dictatorships little mistakes – I called them immoral, shortsighted, and ineffective. I will add now that they were incredibly foolish miscalculations that critically weakened America’s foreign power and continue to cost us. What would you call them if not that?

      i would call them business as usual.

      • The Polish Wolf

        JC –

        That is an interesting theory, and I’m interested to hear why you would label that as a turning point. I don’t doubt that Truman could have handled nuclear weapons better, but the fact is this: we used the most effective weapons we had in the most effective way possible. The effect, destroying cities and killing civilians, was no different than strategic bombing with conventional weapons. The rationale was simple: more people on both sides would die if we didn’t use this weapon. Imagine an invasion of Japan – if the memories of the invasion of Okinawa were fresh in your mind, how is an invasion of Japan worth that risk?

        Lizard – I have argued for nothing that I haven’t proven. I have never argued that American interventions across the globe have been to promote human rights. Find any place I ascribe that motive to them and I’ll concede it. Some interventions have had the effect of spreading or protecting human rights, and the potential for those interventions has certainly had the effect of protecting states, though no necessarily their citizens.

        I made two basic claims: 1. American interventionism, whatever its myriad failings, has on balance led to a better world than American isolationism would have, and 2. American interventionism CAN and OUGHT to be used to further human rights; when it does not, it does not further American security or ‘imperial’ power.

        I am surprised you do not agree with these positions, but I am curious as to your reasoning. Instead, rather than facts or reasoning regarding my claim, all I get from you are refutations (quite impassioned and well argued) of things I haven’t said. I think we have genuine disagreements, but we’ve not even gotten to those (much less rehashed them) because every time I post I am apparently in support of invading Iraq and toppling Allende. I realize those positions are easy to refute, but they are not mine.

        • JC

          PW, not a theory. An opinion.

          I’m not willing to argue my opinion based on other people’s theories about how many people may or may not have been killed if decision a, b, or c had been followed instead of Truman’s decision to use nukes.

          Truman let the nuclear genie out of the bottle. It changed the world. It was no less an atrocity than any other committed by the world’s worst dictators.

          Trying to whitewash the nature of the atrocity with “what if” theories and comparative morality are hideous in my mind.

          Our country killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people. We either accept that and deal with it, or we will live as a nation in denial or our atrocities until our fall.

          • The Polish Wolf

            We committed an atrocity with no better options available to us. A deed cannot be separated from its context. Killing in self defense is not the same as killing for pleasure or greed. Killing to save others is not the same as killing to make money. A partisan killing a Nazi officer to try to drive them out of his country is not morally equivalent to that officer executing a Jew for merely being a Jew. Do you deny the preceding?

            It is no different for states. How can you argue that the millions of German soldiers killed by the Soviets defending their Rodina was morally equivalent to the millions of Soviet soldiers killed by the Germans for the purpose of national aggrandizement?

            Then how is the United States killing a quarter million Japanese civilians in a bid to end the bloodiest war in history morally equivalent to the Japanese killing a quarter million Chinese citizens in revenge for resisting their own conquest?

            You are putting forth an opinion, that’s true. But then you make a demand – that we view a wartime atrocity that ultimately saved lives as equal to wartime atrocities with the goal of mass murder. That’s an illogical and morally repugnant position. Not making the comparisons may feel better in your mind, but it doesn’t make any more people alive, and sets the stage for seeing quite a few more dead.

          • JC

            There were other options. Dropping nuclear bombs on innocent people is not self defense.

            And many people did take pleasure and made fortunes off of what we did to the people of Japan.

            Our military treated the Japanese people no differently than the Germans treated the Jews. Do not try to argue moral equivalency with me.

            Killing innocent people is as morally abhorrent whether it is done by the Germans of the Jews or the Americans of the Japanese.

            And I make no demands of you. You are the victim of your own attempts to assuage guilt through false moral equivalencies and building theories to mask reality–or to mask what may have been had Truman made a different decision.

            You deceive yourself when you say that our nuclear bombs were set off to save people. They were detonated with the express purpose of causing the death and suffering and fear that they were designed to cause.

            And sets the stage…??? Sets the stage for what? You think that our nuclear deterrence and the threat of using them again keeps the world safe? And for just how long may that hold true? What happens when the inevitable happens and a rogue state or a terrorist organization uses a bomb because they believe we set the moral standard of killing innocents when desirable, therefore they also can kill innocents in order to prevent the killing of many more of their people.

            If Saddam Hussein could have used nukes on Washington D.C. to prevent the killing of innocent Iraqis in our illegal war on Iraq, would he have been morally justified to do so? Apparently he would have, according to your moral equivalencies.

            Everything is fine in your world as long as we are the exceptionalists with the biggest army, and the most nukes. But that situation cannot–will not–hold forever.

            And one day our chickens will come home to roost. Again. Innocent people will die in our country because american exceptionalism can create moral equivalencies that allow them to nuke or go to war when it pleases them. Not when it is just. One day there will be a greater country with greater weapons. And innocent americans will pay for the arrogance of the exceptionalists.

            • The Polish Wolf

              “There were other options.”

              You refuse to suggest any, because you know they all involve an invasion, and any invasion would have killed more people than the bombs.

              “You deceive yourself when you say that our nuclear bombs were set off to save people.”

              Nope. That is exactly why they were used. Yes, in order to save people they did have to substantially horrify Hirohito to defy his own generals and surrender, and that involved killing hundreds of thousands. But like I said, every other option projected more deaths.

              “What happens when the inevitable happens and a rogue state or a terrorist organization uses a bomb because they believe we set the moral standard of killing innocents when desirable,”

              That precedent was set well before 1945. WE violated it before then, and that was in response to atrocities committed even before the war ‘officially’ started, that is to say, before the war started killing white people. By the way, it isn’t as if the precedent of widespread atrocities ever stopped existing – there were just a few centuries where white people agreed not to wholesale slaughter other white people. This ‘rule’ never applied to anyone outside Europe and North America.

              “If Saddam Hussein could have used nukes on Washington D.C. to prevent the killing of innocent Iraqis in our illegal war on Iraq, would he have been morally justified to do so? Apparently he would have, according to your moral equivalencies.”

              Two responses: 1. He couldn’t have – using nuclear weapons on us would have involved a nuclear response, killing probably millions of Iraqis. 2. If he could have in some way killed say 50,000 Americans to save 100,000 Iraqis, yes, that would have been entirely justifiable. As Americans, we don’t want anyone doing that, so we make sure that the response to an American death is at least a dozen foreign deaths. But if it were possible to save your own people by killing a smaller number of foreigners, what world leader wouldn’t do it?

              “american exceptionalism can create moral equivalencies that allow them to nuke or go to war when it pleases them. ”

              That doesn’t make any sense. If everyone used the system I am here using for deciding morality, offensive war would only be justified to remove a democidal government. If everyone actually analyzed the numbers they would realize that while some wars increase living standards and thus may justify the deaths associated with them, most do not. They would also realize that revolutions almost never do, and they would stop starting them. Sadly, no one stops to look at the facts, and so they do what feels right and don’t do what feels wrong , even when its what they need to do to save lives.

            • Just FYI, the bombs were dropped on Japan 1) to end the war before the entry of the Soviets, and the U.S. did not want them to be part of the Pacific settlement; and 2) to demonstrate to the Soviets that we had the bomb and would use it, and 3) because there was no chance of retaliation at that time.

              Considerations of number of lives (Japanese or American) that would have been lost had the bomb not been used were not much discussed. There was general agreement that Japan was beaten, had no fuel, could not mount a defense against invasion, had already announced to its own population and to the world that it was going to surrender, and only sought some face-saving measures in the formal surrender process.

              The USSR was the reason for the bombs. There is nothing on record to support your opinion.

              • Recognizing that there’s plenty of room to dispute minutiae, this wiki entry strikes me as a pretty good summary.

              • Well, it’s not exactly minutia. Historians must rely on contemporaneous documentation of events, and the U.S. Government has always, until Bush 43, been good at releasing it after 25-30 years. The historical record, thus constructed, does not support contentions made after-the-fact that the U.S. was intent on saving lives. The discussions at Potsdam were about post-war Europe, and Stalin’s plans for the Pacific theater. When he said he would cords into Manchuria around August 15, the fate of Hiroshima was sealed. Nagasaki was done just to drive home the point.

              • I certainly agree that saving American lives wasn’t the only consideration. I do not agree that preventing Soviet occupation of the home islands was the only reason.

                I personally think that the evidence for Japanese surrender, absent the atomic bombs, is thin enough on the ground — there was real resistance to surrender even after the bombs were dropped — that one should add ‘this is the only way to get them to quit’ to the list of reasons. Truman certainly had reason to believe that this was true.

                So, imo, lots of reasons to do it. Not much reason, in the context of the war (where things like Hamburg and Dresden had already taken place), not to do it.

                You can say that Hiroshima’s fate was sealed when Stalin set his date for invading Manchuria. It would have been saved, though, had the Japanese not rejected the Potsdam declaration, although they were clearly going to lose the war.

              • The Polish Wolf

                Mark –

                I’ve read the relevant documents. Yes, the USSR was a major consideration, second was the American deaths inevitable in such an invasion, lastly was the reality of how many Japanese people would have died.
                Japanese high command had already decided to sacrifice the Japanese population (great quote in the wiki article Charley linked).

                Even if the Soviets were the only consideration, imagine an invasion by the Soviet Union of Japan. If it helps, read about the Soviet invasion of Germany and the pacification of Easter Europe. Even if the goal was only to prevent that potential invasion, it was a worthwhile decision.

              • So then, from the documents, can you give me the estimated deaths from an American land invasion of Japan in 1945?

              • Or more to the point, Mark. Can you give us the actual numbers killed in the invasion? No?

              • Dumb question.

                There are numbers floating around of the estimate of U.S. deaths in a Japanese land invasion. None, to my knowledge, are contemporaneous, which would be the only significant numbers – no doubt they exist, but I have not seen them.

                You must understand that Japan was at the point where they were making gasoline out of pine trees, and their vehicles could hardly run on it. They were out of oil. Even had they wanted to put up fierce resistance to a land invasion, they had to 1) get there, and 2) have supply lines behind them.

                They were toast. They knew it, we knew it.

              • That’s the whole point point, Mark. There are no real numbers. Yes, Japan would likely have surrendered. When? They were out of oil, but were they out of bullets? Were we? We killed over 10,000 innocents (probably more like 20) in the invasion of Okinawa. How many would have died, on either side in invading the Japanese homeland? You seem to know why we dropped Fat Man and Little Boy. Certainly you must know alternative realities …

              • There is much to know about this time, but also much that is known. We know very little about history, and must always keep that in mind. But the records that we have are very clear that the Truman people were concerned about the Soviets, that the Cold War was underway.

                Were there contemporaneous estimates of the cost of a Japanese invasion? Of course! They exist, but I do not know what they say. I am only saying that those who say that the high cost of an American land invasion of Japan was the reason for the bombs simply have no references and are speaking out their hind ends. There’s no record to support them.

              • Yes, Nagasaki was done to drive home the point, save that Nagasaki was the alternate target since Tokyo was covered by cloud. Now who were we aiming the point at?

                The whole point of positing alternative realities is that there were viable reasons that the alternative came about. Yes, dropping the atomic bomb on Japan may have been avoided had we chosen to keep our super weapon secret and invade, instead. That alternate may have led to dropping multiple nuclear bombs on Russia, with much greater loss of life. As indicated before, I don’t have a great deal of use for alternate histories, because, as you admit, we simply don’t know. And that’s a pretty poor basis for claims of the beginning of empire.

              • MT, you might see if someone with JSTOR access can send you this: http://www.jstor.org/pss/3642102

                Pretty strong contemporaneous support, from May June July 1945, for Truamn’s post-war claim that estimates ran to 1 million casualties.

              • What you refer to as “alternate” history is real history as shown by available documentation, which I am using to replace the standard (and undocumented) refrain that the bombs were dropped to save lives. that is not supported in the records.

                It is pointless to map out alternative courses as you have – what I am is simply making clear the reason for the decision to use the bomb. That needs to go on record – too many people reflexively assume high motives for this low act.

                Worth noting – Tokyo had been firebombed, Dresden-style, and was not considered a worthy target for that reason. Sec of War Stimson argued in a cabinet meeting in early August that conventional bombing be stopped,for “humane reasons.” Truman and James Byrnes wanted to drop a second bomb to demonstrate to the world our intentions and resolve.

                The beginnings of empire post WWII is massively supported by anyone from any planet observing the aftermath of that war. The bombs are merely an exclamation point.

        • lizard19

          I made two basic claims: 1. American interventionism, whatever its myriad failings, has on balance led to a better world than American isolationism would have, and 2. American interventionism CAN and OUGHT to be used to further human rights; when it does not, it does not further American security or ‘imperial’ power.

          your “claims” are a joke.

          here’s a partial list of military/CIA “interventions” post WWII:

          1948-1954: CIA operating in Philippines

          1950-1953: Korean War

          1953: CIA overthrows Mossedegh in Iran

          1954: CIA overthrows president Guzman in Guatemala

          1958: Marine/Army invasion of Lebanon

          1959: Marine invasion of Haiti

          1960: CIA-backed assassination of Prime Minister Lumumba in Congo

          1963: CIA backs overthrow of President Ibarra in Ecuador

          1964: CIA-backed military coup in Brazil

          1965-1975: Vietnam

          1965: military invasion of Dominican Republic

          1966: CIA-backed military coup in Ghana

          1973: CIA-backed military coup against Allende in Chile

          1976-1992: military and CIA operations in Angola

          1981-1990: CIA support of Contra death squads in Nicaragua

          1981-1992: CIA counterinsurgency campaign in El Salvador

          1982-1984: Marine and Navy invasion of Lebanon

          1983: Invasion and seizure of Grenada

          1986: Counterinsurgency operations in Bolivia

          1989-1990: Invasion of Panama

          1990-1991: Gulf War against Iraq

          1991: CIA-backed military coup against Aristide in Haiti

          1992-1994: Special Forces operating in Somalia

          1993-1999: Air Force and Army invades former Yugoslavia

          2001-present: Afghanistan

          2003-present: Iraq

          • The Polish Wolf

            Not really a response, lizard. You fail to condemn any of the actions as bad for the countries involved; you merely list actions. This is why you need to get out more, talk to people like me – you list areas where the US is involved and you assume all of them are bad. But you ignore the fact that the Korean war led to the establishment of a Democratic and prosperous South Korea, that the 1958 ‘invasion’ of Lebanon was to support an existing government against the encroachment of its neighbors, etc.

            But that’s not really the point. The point is – we have two ‘control periods’ of American isolationism – between Roosevelt and 1918, and between Wilson’s stroke and 1941. Both ended disastrously. I agree with you that the US could have done a better job in handling its actions in during its period of interventionism – we’ve discussed that already. But the alternative of removing ourselves from foreign policy entirely has proven its uselessness. Thus, my first contention stands, and my second remains unchallenged.

            • lizard19

              jesus, you’re like the goddamn energizer bunny aren’t you.

              this is why arguing with you is a waste of time.

              your first contention is not provable, and carries with it the assumption that “a better world” is what our country is trying to achieve with its foreign policy. that is utter bullshit.

              fighting communism, then fighting terrorism, has provided cover for what is essentially a fight to control global resources. our leaders destroy democracies when it suits their purposes, and the net effect has NOT BEEN the creation of a better world.

              your second contention is just ridiculous. our imperial power is supported by fear of attack/invasion/military coups. human rights, when that is the justification used, is cover for the previously stated aims of controlling global resources.

              • The Polish Wolf

                Arguing with me is a waste of time because I keep responding? I’m sorry you feel that way, because I’ve learned a lot so far discussing this with you – when else would I have had occasion to learn as much as I have about the 1958 ‘invasion’ of Lebanon? And when else would you learn about human development patterns in Colombia and Afghanistan? We will never change each others minds, that’s true. But I agree with John Stuart Mill – “He who knows only his side of a case knows little of that.”

                “your first contention is not provable, and carries with it the assumption that “a better world” is what our country is trying to achieve with its foreign policy. that is utter bullshit.”

                Little in the realm of social sciences is provable beyond all doubt, but it can be shown to be more likely than the alternative. As far as any assumption about our intentions, you’re STILL missing the point. Elk have a tendency to eat young aspen shoots; wolves eat elk and reduce their numbers; therefore wolves in an ecosystem is better for aspen although that is not their intention by eating the elk.

                As to the second contention: You describe accurately the truth about what American foreign policy is, but imagine what it could be.

                When we operate through coups and invasions that are not in defense of human rights or have the secondary effect of improving the lives of the people in the target country, we decrease our access to global resources. When our actions have the effect or apparent effect of improving the lives of the population they are aimed at, we make resources easier to get in the long term.

                Again, our position in Europe compared to our position in Latin America and Africa – in which region do we have the best access to resources?

  15. America’s imperialism wouldn’t be so bad if we were any good at it. The British at least tried to build up industry. Cambodia, Colombia, Vietnam, North Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan–we suck at imperialism in a big way. We’re really good at blowing things up, but rebuilding it? Not so much. That’s why our imperialism is so sad: it damages, and then deems it “Mission Accomplished.”

    • You’ve been reading the British accounts of British imperialism? You missed the footnotes – millions upon millions dead in Indian famines (which oddly, ceased to occur after 1949). The Brits were the first narco-terrorists, flooding China with Opium as a hammer to force the Chinese to open up their markets to British manufactured goods.

      True enough, the Brits were mild with us here in the colonies – we were, after all, mostly British settlers. But I have wondered now and then if part of the impetus for our desire to separate from the mother country was the 1772 Somerset case that ruled slavery illegal. But I don’t find any support for that idea in formal history.

      But we don’t even know the present, thanks to the absence of journalism, so that we probably don’t know the past either, except through the lens of American journalists and historians, who weren’t any better in the past than they are now.

      Anyway, if you want to know British imperialism, read the records of those who suffered it and not those who wrote it. Just as with American history, if we wrote it, it’s probalby not accurate.

      • I’m well aware of British imperialism leading to the death of millions. That’s not news there Mark. I am saying that we do the same amount of killing, but then we don’t bother helping build anything (save for cemeteries). We’re saying the EXACT same thing.

        • You’re not very precise in saying the things you said you said. I got the distinct flavor that you had absorbed the common notion that the Brits were good overlords. Re-reading it, I still get that flavor.

    • Odd footnote to history – more people died in Indian famines under British rule (60 million) than under Chairman Mao in the Great Leap Forward (14 million), yet we hear that “the British at least tried.” If Mao was a wretched tyrant, what does that make the Brits?

      • The Polish Wolf

        To be fair, you have to compare time periods here – British rule lasted much longer than the Great Leap Forward. Moreover, while both cases exacerbated famines, famines were a natural part of life prior to the advent of commercialized agriculture, and so it’s difficult to pin it directly on a country’s political leadership.

        Nonetheless, you make a good point, and I think one of the least appreciated elements of WWII was the number of Indians who starved to feed Britain’s brave stand against fascism – it’s in the millions. It is interesting and incredible that German and Japanese efforts to turn their loyalty against the British empire weren’t more successful than they were.

        • Interesting indeed that famines were not “a natural part of life” when they happened under Chairman Mao. That chapter (which was crude monkeying with the machinery of agriculture with disastrous consequences – Mao did not set out to kill 14 million) is a key part of Stéphane Courtois Black Book of Communism by which he sought by less-than-scholarly means to arrive at the number 100,000,000 dead due to communism.

          Using the same techniques, one has a head start in counting dead bodies due to European/American imperialism – 60 million alone during British rule in India, by Courtois standards.

          I make no case for Mao and am no fool regarding life under his regime – I only note that as someone once said, “everything is projection.”

          • The Polish Wolf

            I agree – the numbers given for the deaths caused by communism tend to focus too much on famines, as if famines never took place in Imperial China or Czarist Russia. Like I said, in both cases they were made much worse by the poor government policies, but its not as if famines were caused only by communist governments – or as if Communists invented famine as a weapon. Starving a people has always been one of the easiest ways to subdue them, because its very hard to fortify ones food supply.

          • I need to know how to distinguish the “poor government policies” of Stalin and Mao so that I can distinguish them from the better(?) policies of the British?

            And while it is widely assumed that Stalin especially used famine as a governing tool, I’ve yet to hear anyone suggest the same about the Brits until your paragraph above.

            Careful – you’ll be labeled revisionist.

            • The Polish Wolf

              The policies of the British, of Stalin and of Mao generally performed the same way and with the same purpose – allow the agricultural sector to starve to feed the favored industrial sector.

              The potato famine worked the same way – it critically weakened the Irish population (which never recovered) while keeping the wheat and other agricultural goods in British, not Irish, hands. But if that’s too revisionist, you need look no further than how the British and Americans conquered the plains Indians in America and Canada to see how starving your enemies is the easiest way to break their resistance. The highly illegal British North Sea blockade during WWI is another example.

              • JC

                Starving? How about intentionally introducing smallpox? The nuclear bomb of the 19th century.

                Some things never change.

              • The Polish Wolf

                There was some intentional introduction of smallpox, but far and away most deaths from disease occurred before significant white settlement even arrived – the widespread belief that the continent was mostly empty was a result of the fact that most of the original inhabitants were already dead by the time they met white people.

                By the time the US government was fighting the Sioux and their allies, most deaths caused by smallpox had already occurred, but even the smaller numbers of Indians were a difficult challenge for the army. So we turned to killing their bison, chasing them off hunting grounds and burning their supplies in the winter. Ultimately, may starving tribes had to switch allegiance to feed their children. That’s what I was referring to.

  16. The Polish Wolf

    Duganz –

    You make an interesting point – that the US in its imperialism has not tried to build up nations but merely destroy them. But your examples are imperfect.

    We never controlled Cambodia, Vietnam, or North Korea. They are some of the strongest holdouts against American hegemony. Hmm, what are three countries America did exercise substantial control of that would be comparable? Lets say, the Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan. Admittedly, Vietnam has also done alright for itself ever since it joined the WTO.

    On the other hand, the US has exercised some kind of control or influence over the other three – Colombia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. I encourage you to look at life expectancy in Colombia, which has increased by nearly 20 years since the sixties and six years since 1980. Since 1996, GDP per capita has increased by a quarter.

    Iraq is a bleaker story – the invasion of Iraq actually decreased life expectancy and GDP has barely grown past its pre-invasion high. While both are ‘projected’ to grow, the fact of the matter is that Iraq functions less well in an economic sense than it did under Saddam.

    Looking at Afghanistan – although all we do there is destroy, apparently, their GDP per capita has tripled since 2001, as has industrial production. Admittedly, life expectancy has only increased by about 2 years since the invasion, but after eight years of no increase at all, that’s not bad.

    So your contention, while novel, doesn’t really hold water. The US, where it has had extended influence in a country, has generally served to support growth and an improvement in living standards. This has been most effective when US influence in a country has been accomplished with minimal physical force, that is true. But countries that choose to embrace the US sphere of influence & connection to US dominated international systems do better than those who actively resist it.

    • Counterfactuals are always a difficult business, and very nearly always a waste of time. I’ll jump into this conversation, though, to make a point or two. First, I agree that military intervention is sometimes necessary, and that it can have some positive side effects. I supported the first Gulf War at the time, and, 20 years on, have not changed my view on that.

      I’m very concerned, though, by your willingness to allow the side effects to drive the debate about the policy. This is exactly how the Iraq war got going: folks at the top had arrived at WMD as the justification, as Dep Sec Wolfowitz said, because it was one justification that everyone could agree on. Now they learned before the invasion that the WMD claim was a complete fraud: the Blix team had followed the leads, and shown conclusively that the intelligence was completely wrong. The US plowed ahead with the invasion, though, confident that the side effects would be so great that no one would care about the fraudulent premises.

      The other major flaw in your first point, in my view, is that the counterfactual to which you are comparing US action, is designed to give you the result you want. I don’t think either world war was caused by US isolationism. I don’t think that the US could have headed off WWI by greater or earlier involvement. I don’t think WWII could have been avoided either — and anyway, the US became involved not because it was pursuing isolation, but the exact opposite: Japan attacked the US in response to US actions designed to sanction Japan’s ongoing war effort.

      Your second point reminds me of GWB’s statement that a dictatorship would be good, if you got to be the dictator. It’s true that power *can* be used in a non-corrupt fashion. Human experience, though, tells us that this is the tiny exception. The genius of our own constitutional system is that power is diffused: sure it’s inefficient, and maddeningly so, but it’s the price we’ve been willing to pay to avoid undue concentration of power. So too with armed intervention abroad. It might work out for the best for some people. It’s not going to work out for the best for any of the collateral casualties, and, as we’ve seen over the centuries, probably isn’t going to work out all that well for a whole bunch of people living at the time.

      My own pet theory on Bush v Gore is that the SC (specifically the ‘centrists,’ not Scalia and Thomas) thought they would be greeted as liberators, that resolution of the constitutional crisis would be seen as so important that no one would look too closely at the patent flaws in the reasoning to get there. It didn’t work out that way: partisans of the winning side were happy to win, those on the losing side know they were robbed, and no one thinks the result was legitimate.

      I can cite a million examples where self-delusion, in the form of reliance on your second point substituted for honest reflection on one’s own fallibility, leads to disaster. Hubris sometimes works out, in the short run. A lot more has been lost betting on it, though, than I’d care to think about.

    • “[C]ountries that choose to embrace the US sphere of influence & connection to US dominated international systems do better than those who actively resist it”

      That’s not a good thing.

      And out lack of “control” in Vietnam, North Korea, and Cambodia doesn’t do well for your argument as our intervention in those countries killed thousands, and, after failing to “win,” left them like pigs to the slaughter.

      And Columbia? My god. The “War on Drugs” anyone? That’s somehow a good thing? We arm paramilitaries that round up and execute people. Sure it’s great that the survivors are living longer, but, my god…

      • The Polish Wolf

        I wasn’t arguing about our intervention being positive. You said we didn’t build up countries, unlike the British. In areas we exercise control, we tend to exert a positive influence on key factors in human development. The only we could have built anything in Vietnam, North Korea, or Cambodia would be to have won those wars decisively. Neither you nor I would have supported the effort and violence necessary to do that.

        Regarding Colombia – First of all, it is not as if atrocities and civil war started in Colombia with our war on drugs. Far from it – Colombian history is full of violent civil conflict stemming from fundamental disagreements over the distribution of wealth, the influence of religion in public life, etc. The drug funded part of those conflicts, those of the last few decades, is indeed a result of the United States, but primarily due to short – sighted US domestic drug policy and our own shamefully insatiable appetite for cocaine.

        You can argue on whether the US should have intervened in Colombia, but there was already a civil war, and if the US hadn’t aided the Colombian government I’m not sure anyone can confidently say that the situation would be any better.

        None of this is relevant to what I was trying to say – in the examples you provided, in most cases there has been far more concrete development than under a typical direct empire.

  17. The Polish Wolf

    Charley – thank you for contributing, I’m always glad to read your thoughts because they are often more nuanced than mine or lizards.

    Obviously it’s impossible to prove that we could have prevented World War II by involving ourselves sooner. But I think its likely – imagine if we had responded to the invasion of Ethiopia or the invasion of China the same way we involved ourselves in the invasion of Kuwait – first demanded withdrawal and then intervened if our demands weren’t met. It seems to me that had the war started at one of these points, ’31, ’35, or even ’37, we would have been in a much better position to end it quickly or end it in such a way that we didn’t leave Eastern Europe or China in enemy hands for the majority of the war, thus averting the bulk of the civilian deaths.

    World War I is even harder to theorize about, but I think US actions could have helped in two ways – first of all, were we a part of the entente from the beginning, Germany & Austria may have been more cautious about starting a war. Secondly, it seems almost assured that Germany would have collapsed faster if it had to face US and Russian pressure simultaneously, rather than the US joining after Russia was already incapacitated. Furthermore, a greater US role in the war would have given us more leverage to come to an equitable peace that could have prevented Nazism before it was even conceived.

    I am curious what your ideas are as to what principles US foreign policy ought to be guided by. We are fallible, as you say, but I think that setting our goal at bettering human rights worldwide, and denouncing actions to the contrary as counter to our national interest, is more reasonable and more conducive to self reflection that lizard’s position. If I understand lizard correctly, that position is that our immoral actions do in fact serve to benefit our empire and spring naturally from the maintenance thereof. Such a position seems to suggest that only through abandoning our interests overseas and to a certain extent our access to resources can we conduct a moral foreign policy. Given the evidence I’ve provided, this seems unlikely to be actually more moral or even remotely plausible.

    • I can’t agree with your world war hypotheticals. We could not have responded to the Italian invasion of Ethiopia (or the Spanish Civil War) more forcefully, even if we’d wanted to, since we didn’t have the army. (Our performance in North Africa in WWII — up to Kasserine, anyway — shows how little ability had carried over. We learn was as we go, sometimes learning that we can’t/won’t win.) You can say we should have, that we should have been a different people — ok, if we had ham, we could have ham and eggs. If we had eggs.

      I hate to say it, but I think the first principles have to be the Powell/Weinberger doctrine: achievable goal in the direct national interest, clear exit strategy, overwhelming force. I think GWI was executed on these principles and was not only morally acceptable (to the extent any war is — I recognize and respect pacifists, although I am not one) but correctly executed. The aftermath was a little messy, where the principles were abandoned: calling for Kurds and Shia to rise up didn’t fit any criteria other than moral.

      I don’t think there was a clear Powell/Weinberger path forward in Rwanda or Darfur, and do not think we should have attempted humanitarian military intervantions there. This, I would guess, conflicts with your ideal-based foreign policy preference. The involvement in Somalia (like our upcoming escalating involvement in Yemen) failed on these elements as well, with predictable consequences.

      I supported what I thought would be a Panama-like incursion into Afghanistan — send enough guys in to get UBL and the 2d through 5th guys in UBL’s organization, then get out — and was shocked when GWB started to apply what he’d announced in his September joint address to Congress: an attempt to rid the world of “evil.” No amount of force will let you do that, nor, even, in the absence of special circumstances (ie, complete social annihilation), allow you to remake a society. Attempts to do so will fail.

      In sum, an attempt that fails, fails your second factor. Because most efforts will fail unless very narrowly tailored, I think your second factor ought to be considered a severe limit rather than, as you present it, a license.

      And when someone says, to get over the Powell/Weinberger factors, that we’ll be greeted as liberators, run. Just run. Kuwait 1991 and France 1944 on the one hand, Philippines 1898 and Iraq 2003 on the other. What kind of moron can’t tell the difference?

      • I recognize that ‘direct national interest’ is a somewhat flexible category. I would include protection of the integrity of economically valuable states, and prevention of genocide. I would not include friendly forces winning domestic non-genocidal civil wars, where the non-friendly isn’t likely to do the kinds of harm above. I think defense of South Korea was colorably in the national interest (so, I’m sort of ok with the first third of that war), I do not think Grenada qualifies. (Nor Nicaragua 1970s/1980s).

        • The Polish Wolf

          Well, there’s no real way to tell regarding my world war hypotheses. But considering that the Italians could scarcely take on the Greeks even several years later, I don’t think it would have taken much to make them back down. The point was, we didn’t want to. Also, lets not forget that they couldn’t operate in East Africa at all without freedom of naval movement, so we wouldn’t have even needed the army, and our navy was already right up to the edge of what was legally allowable. Even providing the Ethiopians with machine guns could have given them a chance – given proper support they largely liberated themselves once the war got started.

          You mentioned Rwanda and Darfur. Rwanda would have taken relatively little effort to save hundreds of thousands of people – the Hutu genocidaires only had free reign for about a hundred days before they were driven out by the Tutsi army arriving from Kigali. We could have ended the genocide without even engaging the civilian mobs that perpetrated much of it, simply by providing support to the Tutsis and aiding their re-conquest of Rwanda. What could the Hutu army have had to stand up against a few gunships and airborne troops if they couldn’t even hold against the RPF? Even electronic warfare against the radio stations spreading the call for genocide (whose operators have been successfully convicted of crimes against humanity) could have done some good with absolutely no risk to our interests.

          Darfur is a harder story only because of supplies – you’d need Chadian permission to do anything. If you got that, however, its not as if we were up against an unstoppable military foe – the Sudanese military wasn’t even ‘officially’ involved. Set up a no fly zone for the Sudanese air force and target known janjaweed groups – no need to conquer anything or even win hearts and minds, just give the Janjaweed a reason to think twice about attacking refugee camps. The real problem of course would be not imperiling the Naivasha agreements that ended the other Sudanese civil war. In a few months here we’ll see how strong that is, anyway; sadly I fear the US won’t be ready to do anything about it.

          • It’s easy to Monday morning quarterback a thing like Rwanda. I don’t think the exit strategy was clear at the time, nor that simply supporting one faction against the other wouldn’t embroil us in more of the same.*

            We’re not involved in any overt way on the Congo, for the same reason. Could our army accomplish something? I suppose it could. But at what cost , and with what sort of end point? These are too uncertain to justify involvement. Even though the loss of innocent life in that ongoing struggle is beyond tragic.

            * I’ll digress here with a thought about alliances, or supporting some faction or other. When you decide to support someone, or work through a proxy, you end up adopting (to a very considerable extent) their war aims as your own. This was a problem in Iraq, and continues to be a problem in Afghanistan: our success isn’t just tied to the success of our allies, it is defined by it. And what is success to them? Maybe something other than what we are fighting for. One war aim of our allies in Iraq was the creation of an Iran-friendly state. Our ally Pakistan wants the creation and maintenance of an India-unfriendly Afghanistan. Who knows what our Rwandan or Congolese allies would want.

            • The Polish Wolf

              Your point about allies is well taken. I think the biggest obstacle to doing anything in Rwanda was time – trying to realize the problem, gain public awareness for it, and mount some sort of intervention, and do it all in less than a hundred days. Nonetheless, Rwanda, unlike the Congo, was relatively open-and-shut. You had no likable allies, but you had one side not committing a genocide and the other side doing so. Moreover, the RPF had very clear war aims – regain control of the country. That was something that was achievable and, moreover, was nearly inevitable – the problem is that every day they were delayed, more Tutsis died.

              Moreover, look at what happened in the Balkans. Whether you think US intervention there was a humanitarian effort or a cynical plot to gain control of Caspian oil reserves over a thousand miles away, US air power succeeded in pacifying Kosovo (Bosnia we were a little slow on the uptake) and forcing a regime change in Serbia, all without minimal risk. Moreover, we are not entangled in the region – regional bodies successful picked up where we left off, and as angry as Serbia is at us they are unlikely to do anything about it.

              Because it was relatively simply to choose sides and our side was capable of accomplishing their war aims and sustaining themselves without our help, I think we ought to have intervened in Rwanda, as well; however, I can’t really fault Clinton for not doing so because it was over and done with well before anybody could have gotten Americans to care about a situation in Africa.

              That’s part of the reason I disagree with Lizard’s conceptualization of the American Empire – I think the biggest obstacle to constructive US actions is the belief that US foreign policy can never act in the interest of human rights. This belief cripples our ability to react except in very limited circumstances, like the Gulf War, where our interests are clearly threatened and the situation is slow developing or reversible.

              • lizard19

                hilarious. you say: “the biggest obstacle to constructive US action is the belief that US foreign policy can never act in the interest of human rights.”

                no, the biggest obstacle to constructive US action is THE REALITY that the people shaping our foreign policy DO NOT GIVE A SHIT about human rights.

                take for instance the flag waving you do for our intervention in the balkans. try reading a critical account of how a POS diplomat like the recently deceased Holbrooke fuck shit up to score a few hegemonic power poionts.

                keep dreaming, wolf.

            • As Johnny Carson used to say of comedy, “buy the premise,buy the bit.” On Kosovo, you bought the premise. NATO bombing exacerbated tensions and led to more violence – the great migrations to camps were caused not by Serbs, but by NATO bombs. Search as they have, they still haven’t found a big enough grave to begin to justify the violence done to Serbia.

              Other things going on at the time-you mention Caspian oil, a thousand miles away, but fail to note the Trans-Balkan oil pipeline through there now guarded by the military base built after the Kosovo attack, Camp Bondsteel.

              And still other matters -Milosevic was demonized by the US propaganda machine, but was just a leader in the wrong place, and standing up to the wrong forces at the wrong time. Serbia was standing in the way of post Cold War capital penetration of Eastern Europe by (mostly) American companies. That was the real invasion that Clinton was pushing. Remember when Ron Brown’s aircraft crashed? Who was on board with him? Corporate executives.

              And, we’ll never know, but I suspect that Milosevic was murdered in prison, “Jack Ruby style,” as a conviction for crimes was looking more and more unlikely. He was very ably defending himself in court.

              There’s always more than meets the eye, and I always remember, “They lie, they lie, they lie.”

              • The Polish Wolf

                Both you and Lizard:

                It is absolutely hilarious how you both race to defend Milosevic, merely because to do so is to disagree with US foreign policy. Why did the US intervene in Kosovo? Because we were late in Bosnia and didn’t want to take the chance again.

                The fact is that Milosevic was trying to hold together a Yugoslavia that no one else wanted to stay in. If you read anything from an intellectually honest commentator on what happened in the Balkans, they will tell you that neither Croatian nor Serbian leadership did anything to mitigate civilian casualties in their respective power plays. However, the situation in Bosnia, where the worst of the violence occurred, clearly showed the Serbian forces to be the primary perpetrators of ethnic cleansing. Also, they were the primary forces violating UN safety zones, hence the reason they were targeted by NATO.

                On Kosovo – Like I said, it was perhaps a premature action inspired by our having allowed Bosnia to progress as far as it did. Nonetheless, the alternative was to leave another ethnic and religious minority under the administration of the Serbian government in a period of civil conflict. To anyone with any aptitude for pattern recognition, this is troubling.

                This is probably why most international organizations and all the states in the Balkans, save Serbia, generally agree with Kosovar independence. But even that is besides the point – my main point is, when crimes against humanity are in progress, it is quite possible to end them and change the leadership of a country through power projection that does not present the same difficulties of entanglement or exit strategies that a full scale invasion does.

              • lizard19

                why was the article i linked to “intellectually dishonest?” why do you automatically assume my criticism of US policy means i support Milosevic? what sources can you provide that we intervened “Because we were late in Bosnia and didn’t want to take the chance again.”?

              • As the old saying goes, give a dog a bad name, then you can beat him. The U.S. supports far worse tyrants than Milosevik, and has participated and sponsored and committed far worse atrocities. So set that aside. He was not the reason, nor were the killings, which were few. That is actually absurd.

                The U.S., from appearances, actually did some good in Bosnia, but in return has permanent bases. The Serbs are the dog with a bad name in that conflict, but much of the violence was carried out by Muslims against Serbs, including terrorist bombings. So set the Serbs aside as a reason for the attack on Kosovo.

                There was very little violence or perceivable ethnic cleansing in Kosovo prior to the NATO attack. As I said, they are yet to produce mass graves or corpses – maybe a couple of hundred dead. So set that aside.

                The actual violence that did occur in massive displays occurred after the bombing started. So set aside reduction of violence as a reason.

                What is left? The U.S. seized a large tract of land and built a military base house 7,000 soldiers in Kosovo. The base guards the Trans-Balkan pipeline. That is a change, before/after.

                U.S. corporations now operate freely in Serbia, and are encouraged to do so. That is a change, before/after.

                All you have done here, Wolf, is repeat to us the official U.S. government justification for the action. You bought the bit, forgetting that they lie, they lie, they lie.

                And being presented with raw data contrary to your position, I suspect it is time to dig in your heels. But spare us. All we need to is go to U.S. Government talking points.com to hear what you are saying again.

    • Just as I cannot get by the so-called “magic bullet” in the Kennedy Assassination, I cannot get by evidence of Japan’s intent to surrender, announced prior to the bombs dropping, Stimson’s belief that they were finished, the stated opposition of a wide array of military people at the time opposed to use of the bomb, including Nimitz, LeMay, King and Eisenhower, the fact that Japan was out of fuel to run their army (the whole of the Pacific War centered around access to oil) … the language of the piece you cite, with its certain language about absolute delegitimizing of “revisionists” has all the flavor of a subsidized piece of work with predictable reviews from predictable sources. This sort of scholarship goes on all the time in empires with naked emperors. I’m not saying it’s wrong, just that the wording of the piece causes me great discomfort.

      And even if correct, which I doubt, it might explain Hiroshima, but not Nagasaki. At best, we can find evidence to support many theories, but again, there are no extant high casualty estimates. Hasegawa’s supposed new evidence of Japanese “intent” (but not actual ability) to fight to the death on Kyushu carries little weight if they cannot actually mount a credible force complete with equipment and supply lines. But he uses this to negate the existence of low casualty estimates that the military did at that time regarding an invasion. And again, he uses post facto evidence to negate extant evidence. Suspicious.

      Sounds like confirmation bias on steroids, writing a book that pleases the empire, and then citing good reviews by the empire as a reason why the book should be trusted.

      I could be wrong, do course. Just remember that we always know all the details of crimes committed by our enemies, but few if any of our own.




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