Saturday, May 19, 2018

let Dimitrios Pagourtzis go

The NYT has an editorial headlined, Congress has dithered on gun control. That isn't right. The correct headline should be: congress has abetted the mass killers of children. And they are proud of it.
Cause of course that it what the "failure" to enact gun control comes down to. We all know the consequences by now. Gun control advocates, who are often Dems, have become crackers of jokes and rather cynical users of the gun issue, when it is hot, to accuse the GOP - while of course abetting centrist Dem candidates who, we are assured, are winning back white voters by opposing gun control laws. Like, in fact, the current Democrat running for Ohio governorship.
And then there is the Governor of Texas, the lieutenant governor, the senators, the representatives, who were as much a part of Pagourtzis squeezing the trigger as he was. He killed ten. They've killed hundreds. And they will keep on doing so.
So, if the decision is the blood of school children is no big deal, something we will headline about for a day and forget, let's let Pagourtzis go. He only did what Americans apparently don't mind him doing.
Can a country come down with a sickness unto death? I guess that is the question we are all wrestling with every day.

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Dem legitimacy problem

I feel that there is an important aspect of the Obama era that is slipping away, being forgotten; and in so being, laying the groundwork for a similar mistake.

Let’s go back to the year 2009, when the O. administration decided to go with the most conservative plan for national healthcare, the one made up by the Heritage Foundation and promoted by Newt Gingrich in the 90s.

Much infighting on various progressive blogs ensued. The progressive blog conclusion – expressed most forcefully, I believe, by Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein – was that those who wanted a more radical form of healthcare were politically unrealistic. By this phrase, “politically unrealistic,” they meant – well, they seemed to mean that other legislation couldn’t get passed.
As we now know, if you are in majority, you can change the rules and pass what you like. The GOP suffers from no problems with political realism in that sense. Back in 2009, there was many a valiant single-payer who dashed up to the walls with the same slogan: abolish filibuster, abolish the barriers to passing progressive legislation! And was forced back, as such was the horror of our great institutions that no majority would dare, would ever dare, to touch the sacrosanct rules, which had lent a bipartisan aura to everything from the Fugitive Slave Act to the Great War on Terror.
I sensed, then, and still sense that there was something more behind the political realism slogan. That more was, I felt, a sort of shared but unspoken mood, among both Republicans and Democrats, that Democratic politicians were, to an extent, illegitimate. The legitimate ruling party of the U.S.A. was the GOP. Hence, to legitimate any piece of legislation, you had to get Daddy GOP to sign up for it, or at least one of the “stars” of the party.

This sense of legitimacy is one of the great inheritances of the Reagan era. It haunts Dems. The so-called moderate wing of the Democratic party does pretty much buy the neo-liberal ideal – the era of big gov being over, you gots to pay for your college education, boys and girls, we can’t afford Medicare for all, everything can’t be free free free – but I think that they have been sold this bill of goods under the soothing notion that the old, McGovernite Dems were the ruin of everything, and that we all have to adopt to the idea that the Republicans really represent the establishment, and we want to be part of the establishment in the end, don't we?

If we keep an eye on this sense of latent illegitimacy, we can sort of see what was going on in that fight in 2009. Two politically realistic dimensions seemed, then, to have quite disappeared. The one is that the most politically unrealistic thing you can do is deflate your followers with half-hearted results after promising them something as absolute and sexy as Hope. From birthday parties to elections, this is the recipe for a downer. And if you lose the election, your calculations about political realism go out the door: you will just spend your time in a defensive crouch.
The other dimension concerns acceptance. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid continue to exist because, although they came out of the Democratic Party, they so quickly became part of the social knitting that the GOP couldn’t get rid of them. Political realism, then, consists of making policy that similarly becomes the new normal.

Unfortunately, the Dem strategy from 2009-2016 was based on bipartisanship and executive action. Since there was no bipartisanship, after 2010, Obama’s politics were peculiarly top down. But the major act of the administration, Obamacare, had huge problems politically. It depended for its continuance on a complex mechanism that required legislative input. Social security didn’t fundamentally change until the 1980s – it had a good forty year run – and it changed much for the worse in the 80s, but it is still there. Obamacare, though, unlike, say, Medicare for all, is very much subject to malign neglect. If the Congress can’t get rid of it, they can quickly make it odious to the people it is meant to help by simply not repairing it – and this is what is happening. So, not only did the call for political realism in 2009 not result in a bipartisan vote for the ACA – it resulted in a wounded half system that is very vulnerable to GOP shutdown, in ways that Medicare and the Social Security system is not.

What is funny about the whole 2009 debate is that the “political realist” commentariat were very very smug about what was “realistic” and what was not. It was like they knew all the answers. In fact, they generated that odor of certainty that hung around the Bushites in 2003 about the Iraq invasion – you’d have to be crazy to oppose a cakewalk and the obvious competence of an occupying force directed by the likes of Rumsfeld – who at the time was feted as a reforming genius at the Pentagon. Similarly, Obama’s administration was playing multi-dimensional chess on the ACA thing, and us carping mortals just didn’t understand.

Well, we understood. And if, as might happen, the Dems take over the House, I hope they understand that political realism is not pre-compromising your campaign promises – it is making the other side swallow them. The Ds of 1940, 1950 and 1965 understood this very well.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Overthrowing the CEO mystique: the robot boss

I’m a strong believer that the CEO space – that expensive, padded space that costs fortune 500 companies hundreds of millions per year – could be radically altered and made much less expensive by replacing CEOs with expert systems.
However, my faith in this program isn’t just based on the fact that generally, CEOs don’t provide much of an advantage to the firm – research consistently shows that CEOs who outperform do so in ways that undermine long term performance, and that the company often experiences crises and shock in the wake of CEO hotdogging, as the president of the company leaps to another post in another company. My faith is based in the improvement of expert systems.

A good study of the history of expert systems in law was published last year by Phillip Leith, who in the 90s was a strong critic of basing legal expert systems on Logical programming, under the ideological influence of Hart’s notion that the law can be reduced to rule-based behavior. It is a fascinating read. (The Rise and Fall of the Legal Expert System, in International Review of Law, Computers & Technology, 2016 Vol. 30, No. 3 – for those who want to look it up), and not just because Hart’s theories were put to an unexpected empirical test – not something that often happens in philosophy. It is also because the problem in setting up an expert system in law – how to represent “contextual” knowledge – is also at stake in building a management expert system.

Leith has a nice ability to compress an argument down to its essentials. His summary of what was happening in the 80s and 90s in AI is very deft:

“A relatively simple idea underpins the notion of a legal expert system: that one can take rules of law, mould them into a computer-based formal system, and advice will come out the other end. It was not uncommon to hear funders of research projects in the 1980s assert that to build a legal expert system, one had two basic and essentially simple options:
translate legislation (‘the law’) into some formalism and add a software interpreting mechanism as a front end for the user;
take a group of experts off for a few days and get them to lay out the relevant rules of law which can then be moulded into a formalism by a non-expert and, once again, add the interpreting user interface.
It is as if Occam’s Razor has been applied to the whole confusing business of ‘what is law’ and we are left with an elegant core notion which can be implemented by technicians. The model is thus of a core of rules, and a logical interpreter which parallels legal advice giving. This, I argue, was partly hubristic but is also a relatively accurate description of the non-critical perspectives around law schools during that decade. In fact, such a perspective still demonstrates its attraction to the technician and research funder (The European JURIX community has continued to publish in this research spirit). The promise being made in the 1980s was that cheap, good quality advice would allow us to discard the need for expensive experts or leverage their productivity further than could the traditional ‘fee earner’ basis.”

Leith’s story is, in part, the story of the hyped futurism of the 90s. However, artificial intelligence and expert systems have certainly moved on, tackling just the procedural and representational problems he is talking about. No rule based computer system will take over the upper management position. The recent speech by the head of Alibabi in China, Jack Ma, who predicted that robots would take over from CEOs because they have no emotions, is precisely wrong. Jack Ma’s speech is, in fact, a back to the future creed that must have made AI folks groan.

In fact, unemotional robots would make suck CEOs. That is because emotions are not separate from intelligence, but integral to it – which is the reason that context based AI no longer seeks a Spock like program that “sees through” emotion. Let’s not go into the ethnography of emotions right now – that is a whole other chapter. The fact is that computers are very good at storing cases, segmenting case units according to some principle, surveying large numbers of cases, and establishing patterns. This is essential to representing context – which is not a matter of “logic” so much as a matter of structure. Emotion is great at structure. Realizing that the firm is a unit in which exchanges have to do with status seeking, emotional gratification or its delay, etc., is the necessary preliminary to replacing the CEO with the expert system.

There are a lot of researchers out there working on this. Yet, you read very few academic business profs writing about it. I wonder why? Could it be, uh, $$$$? The inflated status of the CEO was due to many things – the usual Marxist predicted decline of profit in the 70s, the new de-regulating atmosphere of the 80s, the success in overthrowing standards that had been built around the principle-agent problem, etc. But in order to gain public acceptance, business profs played an essential role in shilling for upper management, down to shilling for the absurd takeoff of upper management salaries. The justifications were byzantine, baroque, and resistant to reality. And the culture that this left behind, among economists and business profs, still remains with us, with the incentives really piling up for apologetic academic work – post facto justifications for enormous rent-seeking activities.
Thus, don’t expect IBM to put on-line some CEO Big Blue any time soon. But the theoretical ability to do so is already out there.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The birth of public opinion out of the death of the Little Tradition

In Engel’s introduction to his The Situation of Labor in England, he gives a brief history of the displacement of the old, ‘detached’ rural farming and artisan system brought about by the new system of industrial production:

“The felt comfortable in their quiet plant life, and would never, save for the Industrial revolution, have been taken out of this clearly very romantic-cosy, but yet, for humans, unworthy existence. They were not humans, but simply working machines in the service of the few aristocrats, which up until now have lead history. The Industrial Revolution has thus only carried through the consequence of this when it made the laborers completely into a mere machines and took away the last remnant of independent activity from under their hands; but in doing so drove them to thinking and to the claims of a human situation. What politics effected in France, in England was effected by industry and the movement of bourgeois society overall; it pulled the last classes to be mired in the apathy against universal human interests into the vortex of history.”

Engels had already explained to his readers in the foreword what he means by the bourgeois: 

“…I always used the word Middle Class in the sense of the English middle-class (or as it is almost always said, middle classes) where it means the same as with the French bourgeoisie the possessing class – the class, which in France and England directly, and in Germany as “public opinion” indirectly is in possession of state power.” 

That is a pretty fascinating definition of class, linking it both to economic power and the power of the state even if – in backwards Germany – that power is possessed not by representatives, but by ‘public opinion’. The latter – the power of public opinion – is what fascinates me about the conflicts between ‘freedom’ and ‘the emancipation of the working class’. What, after all, does it mean for the workers to be uprooted from shameful apathy and thrown into the ‘vortex of history’ where they could think about the claims of the human situation except that the working class would have, among other things, an opinion? 

This is the question that became very real to the generation of 1848 after the revolution failed. Herzen’s whole life has often been seen from the perspective of a before and after 1848 – he himself often wrote in those terms. Isaiah Berlin has noted that Herzen’s skepticism – about the people, and especially about progress – preceded the events of 1848. It is a shame that Berlin never really grappled with Lenin’s essay on Herzen, because Lenin makes an acute historical point:

Herzen's spiritual shipwreck, the profound scepticism and pessimism to which he fell prey after 1848, was the shipwreck of the bourgeois illusions of socialism. Herzen's spiritual drama was a product and reflection of that epoch in world history when the revolutionariness of the bourgeois democracy was already passing away (in Europe), and the revolutionariness of the socialist proletariat had not yet ripened. This is something the Russian liberal knights of verbal incontinence, who are now trying to cover up their own counter-revolutionariness by florid phrases about Herzen's scepticism, have not understood and cannot understand. With these knights, who betrayed the Russian Revolution of 1905, and have even forgotten to think of the great calling of a revolutionary, scepticism is a form of transition from democracy to liberalism to that servile, vile, infamous and brutal liberalism which shot down the workers in 1848, restored shattered thrones, applauded Napoleon III and which Herzen cursed, unable to understand its class nature.

Lenin’s notion was that bourgeois skepticism targeted the supposed incapacity of the working class to enjoy the cultural gains of progress. Ripped from their apathy, as Engels puts it, their minds were concentrated by their conditions on the material facts of life, making them great sniffers out of the web of self interest that underlies the industrial system, but contemptuous of the culture of the rentiers of that system. In Tom Stoppard’s Coast of Utopia, this is exactly how Herzen is portrayed:

“Being proved wrong has made them [the revolutionaries] cocky. They’re more certain than ever that the people are natural republicans waiting to be lead out of bondage. But the people are more interested in potatoes than freedom. The people think equality means everyone should be oppressed equally. They love authority. They’re suspicious of talent. They want a government to govern for them and not against them. To govern themselves doesn’t enter their heads. We thought we could educate the people like a horse doctor blowing a pill into a horse. We thought we could set the pace for social change. The emperors did more than keep their thrones, they pushed our faces into the wreck of our belief in the revolutionary instincts of the people.”

The luster and luxury of disillusionment – it has a standing, in the cold war mythology, with the metanoia of Saul in sacred history, except that it is conversion to the God that failed. There is an impulse in Herzen, embodied especially in the middle dialog in From the other shore, between a doctor and his lady companion before the house in which Rousseau wrote... something, which is full of phrases about the precarious civilization of people such as him and her, in the face of the inscrutable masses. Yet Stoppard, oddly for a dramatist, misses the form that Herzen has chosen - dialogue. Of course, there are dialogues in which one viewpoint is clearly the right one, dialogues in which the other is a projection of an obstacle more than a point of view. But Herzen didn't write one of those. He wrote dialog not because he wanted to represent himself in one speaker who cleverly undoes another, but because he felt the clash in himself of views. This, actually, is the liberal intellectual’s highest form of skepticism – the refusal to pretend that the clash has an easy resolution. Like Engels and Marx, Herzen was definitely one of the Ultras in 1848 – and like those two, he wasn’t stupid about it. But he didn’t quite have Marx’s moderation – for Marx was strongly of the opinion that the task at hand was democratic government, at least in Germany and Austria. 

Stoppard’s picture of Herzen the sceptic is, as has been mentioned in many reviews, a bit too reliant on Berlin's picture of Herzen as the disenchanted liberal, kin to John Stuart Mill. Herzen doesn't see some elite, some cultured margin, as separate from and higher than the people and their potatoes. In reality, he was shrewder than this. In his letters to an old comrade [Bakunin] which have been used to make the case that Herzen turned to the right at the end - they were written in the late 1860s - he writes this:

“It is this pattern that the past, which we want now to leave behind, has followed. The forms, aspects, and rites have changed but the essence has remained the same. He who bowed his head before a Capuchin friar bearing a cross is no different from the man who bows his head to a court decision no matter how absurd it is.”

The man who bows his head to the court decision is, of course, the establishment liberal par excellence. He is bowing his head to his own system. It is only in seeing Herzen’s criticisms as total, directed not just at the people but at European society in general, that one understands how the sceptic and the revolutionary were joined.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Our dreams in Iraq come true!

The victory of Sadr's coalition in Iraq reminds me of, well, countless blogposts I writ with my own hand here during the reign of dumb and dumber that was Bush (now we have the re-run, evil and eviler, but it is on the same IQ level).

So I thought I'd just reprint a post from February 23, 2007. Cause it contains a bit of that old prophecy.
good news (again) in Iraq
As LI has said before, there is something curiously hollow about the Bush administration’s policy stated aim of victory in Iraq. On the one hand, we already won – you will remember the Saddam Hussein hanging. On the other hand, we are still there, fighting for something. Often, that something is simply conflated with “defeating Al Qaeda.” It is an interesting policy – one perhaps stemming from Jesus’ Good Samaritan parable - that seeks to protect the Iraqis from Al Qaeda while allowing Al Qaeda to regroup and party in Pakistan. Is this due to the saintliness of our president? Bravely trying to wrestle the control of the White House plane away from the pilot on 9/11/2001 so he could go mano a mano with the terrorist fiends, did Bush’s thoughts drift to the potential danger to the Iraqis – in Kirkuk, Mosul, Basra, Baghdad and all of those cities he had difficulty finding on a map – from an Al Qaeda that didn’t exactly exist in Iraq, but could, if America didn’t challenge them by inviting them in and then fighting them interminably.
Well, that’s our president. Even when he was knee high to a grasshopper, he was always in a sweat about Iraqis. Were they happy? Was their burning yearning for liberty being satisfied? Were there enough of them happily vacationing (in that funny way Iraqis vacation – they bring all their money, as many possessions as they can, and their families) in Jordan and Syria? Even then, he knew that when he grew up, he would protect them against the terrorists that he invited into their country and win a big victory and go down in history as one of our great presidents, like George Washington – except with better teeth.
Now that the British have started to withdraw from Basra, our Vice President has remarked that this is good news. This is all about success in Iraq. So now, at least, we can catch a glimpse of what victory means – what the Iraq of our dreams is going to look like. That’s why readers should go to Patrick Cockburn’s report in the Independent. It is a heady thing, victory, and this is what we are fighting for:
The British forces had a lesson in the dangers of provoking the heavily armed local population when six British military police were killed in Majar al-Kabir on 24 June 2003. During the uprising of Mehdi Army militia of Muqtada al-Sadr in 2004, British units were victorious in several bloody clashes in Amara, the capital of Maysan province.
But in the elections in January 2005, lauded by Mr Blair this week, Sciri became the largest party in Basra followed by Fadhila, followers of the Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, the father of Muqtada al-Sadr. The lat-ter’s supporters became the largest party in Maysan.
Mr Cordesman says the British suffered political defeat in the provincial elections of 2005, and lost at the military level in autumn of the same year when increased attacks meant they they could operate only through armoured patrols. Much-lauded military operations, such as “Corrode” in May 2006, did not alter the balance of forces.
Mr Cordesman’s gloomy conclusions about British defeat are confirmed by a study called “The Calm before the Storm: The British Experience in Southern Iraq” by Michael Knights and Ed Williams, published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Comparing the original British ambitions with present reality the paper concludes that “instead of a stable, united, law-abiding region with a representative government and police primacy, the deep south is unstable, factionalised, lawless, ruled as a kleptocracy and subject to militia primacy”.
Local militias are often not only out of control of the Iraqi government, but of their supposed leaders in Baghdad. The big money earner for local factions is the diversion of oil and oil products, with the profits a continual source of rivalry and a cause of armed clashes. Mr Knights and Mr Williams say that control in the south is with a “well-armed political-criminal Mafiosi [who] have locked both the central government and the people out of power”.
The war’s supporters, of course, have reason to feel smug. Our long nightmare is over. As a people, Americans – rich and poor, black and white – have, for over a decade, been clamoring for an Iraq ruled by Sciri and Sadr. It is all that we talk about. Sometimes we entertain ourselves with a few celebrity deaths or haircuts, but here in the States – I’m writing this down so that readers overseas get a feel for the American reality – conversations about money, sex, jobs invariably drift to that dreamy moment when your average American says, I don’t care how much money it takes or how much blood, I want to see an Shi’a fundamentalism take control in Mesopotamia – it is a long held childhood dream, actually! Then Americans get all misty eyed, thinking about how they can die happy if only things go the right way in Kirkuk.
One thing you have to say about this country – we are willing to sacrifice any amount of Iraqi blood to make our dreams come true. It is the way we are. Morally superior to the rest of the world. Which is why GOD has promised us victory, damn it, and we are going to reach for it!

Monday, May 14, 2018

on shock

“The intentional correlate of living experience has not remained the same. In the nineteenth century it as “the adventure”.In our days it appears as Fate. In fate is hidden the concept of the ‘total living experience’ that is completely mortal. War is its unsurpassed prefiguration. (That I was born German, then I must die for it – the trauma of birth contains already the shock that is mortal. This coincidence defines Fate.”
“That which is “always the same thing” is not the event, but what is new in it, the shock that pertains to it.”
“Empathy comes about through a declic, a kind of gear shift. With it, the interior life erects a pendent to the shock of sense perception. (Empathy is alignment in the intimate sense).” [My own translations]
I take these three comments about shock from Benjamin’s Arcades book. Like so many of Benjamin’s sentences and phrases, they carry a systematic hint, although the system into which they would fit was never constructed. To that extent, they also carry a certain glamour, the glamour of fragments that indicate some fuller but lost revelation. Like the fragments of the pre-Socratic philosophers, one wants to remove the eclipse, find the complete transcript, read the denser text out of which they were seemingly scooped. But in Benjamin’s case, the fragment reproves the desire that everything can be told, that there be some total confession that correlates to the total systems that were in play as he wrote, that the denser text is anything other than an excuse fit for conformists by which is lulled to sleep our sense of an ongoing emergency. As we know, one of those total systems drove him to suicide. Which is another way of eternalizing the fragment.
The Arcades work does not develop the notion of shock the way it develops other themes, such as fashion. Yet, in a sense, it was at the center of these themes, for at the center of the project was Baudelaire, who, Benjamin claimed, based his aesthetic practice on shock. Or based his modernity, his modernism, on shock, and in so doing incorporated it into the genetic structure of modernism. That shock comes up in different disciplines, and constitutes an image in different ways in modernity was to an extent oddly neglected in the Arcades work, which otherwise has a very shrewd dialectical-materialist take on lighting, clothing, urban planning, etc., all passages to the burrow, or rather, passages that make up the burrow of the poetry.
In as much as Benjamin’s view of shock encodes an inability to decide between mechanical movement and animal stimulus, it bears the impress of a certain pre-modern disposition. That is, it bears the element of the invasion of haptic space by the first mass medias. It reflects the Productivist regime of the first half of the 19th, when life crossed with electricity and the crowd was the physical infrastructure of industry and the revolution. But if we take our cue from Gabriel Tarde, the French sociologist of the late 19th century, shock, in the second half of the nineteenth century, is a second degree phenomenon. The crowd becomes merely one extension of the larger public (it is remembered as a sort of phantom limb), and that public receives its shock through the ever more penetrating environment of the visual and press medias. Shock emerges from mechanical collision into the regime of stimulus, which is the way it forms the modern moment, or present. Shock was not only a poetic tool, but a tabloid style. The speed graphic camera of the 1930s, the blinding flare of which became an icon for the sensational story, the shocking event, is an exteriorization of the kind of shock that joined together the animal crowd and the sensation ‘seeking’ public (which is actually sought out, rather than seeking – this is the trick of the media), haptic space and the wired in multitude:
“The flash does far more than merely aid in exposing the negative. Intruding into the cover provided by night or darkness, its scorching light transforms both the space and figures trapped in its glare. Subject matter is vignetted and figures and ground are flattened and abstracted. While flashed compositions have the stark look of a woodcut, it is the faces of the photographer’s subjects that are most affected by the bulb’s blaze. With skin flashed to white as if powdered, mouths locked into grimaces and eyes both black as troughs and glinting like glass, subjects suffer a loss of humanity: faces freeze into crystal masks and individuals metamorphose into freakish ghouls.” [Hauptman, 1998]
Weegee’s flashbulb is the equivalent of the rapid sketching, or caricature, in which Baudelaire saw the lineaments of heroism in modern life. Speed frozen – such is the temporal coordinate towards which the simultaneity of life under capitalism directed itself

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Bad action stems from blinding the imagination: the case of American foreign policy

What would American history look like if the Republican party had been banned in the U.S. in the 1970s, its leaders jailed, or hunted down by the police? What would it look like if certain of them had been tortured or died?
Well, it would look a hell of a lot different.
This is why events like military seizures of power, or CIA supported coups, have had such a devastating effect on the histories of multititudinous countries. The suppression of a political party, or the banning of an ideology, can have major effects. Even after “democratic” procedures are re-applied, the swerve taken by a country, what is allowable, contains a limit, an internal place that can’t be trespassed.
I was catching up with the NYRBs lately – too much to read, the info just floods in! – and I came across a review of a Suzy Hansen’s Notes on a Foreign Country Hansen expatriated to Turkey in the 00s, leaving Bush’s country behind. Gradually she began to see that American foreign policy had left a lot of damage around, for instance in Turkey. For the NYTR critic, a little of this was too much  - it was like “heavy-handed” Noam Chomsky – and he thinks he has a killer argument:
“A more pervasive problem concerns the way Hansen presents people living under American influence in countries such as Turkey. They are not as victimized as Hansen wants us to believe. In every free election held in Turkey since 1950, Turks have elected the party that offers an American-style modernizing agenda that combines capitalist and religious freedoms, even though they are well aware of American intervention during the cold war. Turkey’s Communists and Marxists (many of whom were jailed and killed in the 1970s and 1980s) may have the moral high ground in their critiques of American imperialism, but there is little popular support for them, at least at the ballot box.
The pervasive problem with this paragraph is, of course, that you don’t hold a free election now and then and think, wow, we’ve really surveyed the popular will! If Ronald Reagan had been jailed and killed in the 1970s, to use my example above, he would certainly not have been the people’s choice in 1980. (I’m not going into whether the modernizing agenda chosen by Turkey was American-style or Kemalist – the description of what the ruling parties did in Turkey is at some variance with what we know about the pressure exerted on Turkey after the cold war to privatize and induce what Naomi Klein justly calls the “Shock Doctrine”).
This paragraph, to me, has a value that exceeds its place in a passing review: it really represents the blind spot of the foreign policy consensus in America, the contradiction between the imperialist enterprise and the democratic claim. It is one of the reasons that the #resistance to Trump has fallen back on the most absurd Cold War rhetoric: the “sides” in American foreign policy are all about how America should express its aggression, not whether it should express its aggression.
That can’t go on forever.

olivier blanchard and the free lunch: a comedy of errors

  The neolib economist Oliver Blanchard tweeted a very funny comedy bit, in which he played the part of “social democrat”. And he wrote: “As...