Tuesday, August 07, 2007

FISA, etc. ad nauseam

I'm very depressed. The Democratic party has shown its true colors with the passage of the FISA amendment, legalizing warrantless wiretapping of everyone on the say-so of the Attorney General. This action is pathetic not just from a progressive, liberal, pro-civil-rights perspective, but also from a partisan political perspective: It actually hurts the short- and long-term prospects of the Democratic party.

The Democratic party simply cannot win as the Republican-lite party. The Democrats will probably take the White House and Congress in 2008 no matter what they do, but they've handed the Republican party enough ammunition and control over the political narrative that the 2008 administration and Congress will be completely ineffectual. The Republicans will take Congress in 2010 and the White House in 2012.

Specifically we will see from the 2008 Democratic government:
  • Continued occupation of Iraq
  • Military hostilities against Iran
  • Corporatist control of the mass media
  • Loss of more primary manufacturing capacity
  • Erosion of the middle class
  • Collapsing housing prices
  • Devaluation of the currency
  • No substantial change to the employer-insurance health care system
  • More working Americans without health insurance or adequate health care
  • More concentration of wealth in the top 1% and even more in the top 0.1%
  • More erosion of basic constitutional civil liberties
  • Update: more erosion of abortion rights
We will not see:
  • Repeal of FISA or its amendments
  • Repeal of the Military Commissions Act
  • Restoration of habeus corpus
  • Universal or even near-universal health care
  • Cessation of torture as military and police policy
  • Any substantial action on global warming
  • Ratification of the Kyoto treaty or any comparable international action
  • Any high-level member of the Bush administration being held to criminal account
I'm not confident enough actually predict it, but I would not be at all surprised if the 2008 Democratic government did something egregiously evil (in addition to war with Iran and Iraq): Perhaps the first use of nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction, some sort of mass detention of undesirables, or maybe outright arrest and imprisonment of progressive political dissenters. Note that Democratic presidents have done all of these things in the past.

Progressives will receive absolutely nothing of value from the 2008 Democratic government. Nothing.

Yes, a concerted progressive mass movement could, in theory, turn things around. However, this progressive mass movement simply does not exist. None of the elements are in place. Even if we knew exactly how to create a mass movement (and no one actually does knows how; mass movements coalesce unpredictably) it's far too late to have any short-term effect from a standing start.

The elements of a mass movement are in place, awaiting only some mysterious trigger to coalesce into a formidable political force. This mass movement is, of course, the extremist Christian conservative movement. They have a well-oiled propaganda machine, a consistent ideology, unfalsifiable hope, depth of leadership, and a dedicated core mass membership. They await, I think, only some severe crisis to galvanize the whole mass to directed activity. The possibility of actual civil war is, while not inevitable as are my predictions above, is anything but remote or unlikely.

We're pretty much doomed. We're too big of a country to even hope for a UK-style graceful decline. It's going to be a catastrophic failure, and our only realistic "hope" is to somehow avoid nuclear Armageddon.

The problem is that the institutions we've built over the past two or three hundred years are all failing. The press, the divided government, the economic elites, the middle class, the courts, everything. Our scientific establishment will be the last to fall, but its present erosion should be obvious.

I suspect that the democratic institutions of the United States never were particularly strong; we have been lulled by two all-too-easy expansionist economic opportunities: The conquest of most of (and the best part of) the North American continent, and our status as the sole colonial and industrial power immediately following WW II. Easy wealth hides a lot of flaws; now that wealth and economic expansion is no longer easy, our institutions are crumbling at the first hint of difficulty, not even true austerity. Our souls have not, like the Europeans, been seared by a millennium of brutal warfare, nor are we small enough to come to anything like a true political consensus.

We're facing either a brutal civil war or a generation-long, hideously painful Soviet Union-style general decline until we collapse into anarchy. And that's the best case scenario. The worst case scenario is that the 2012 Republican president (or some Dr. Strangelovian crazed general) turns out to be an Armageddon-loving Christianist and nukes the world on general principles.

My friends, we are well and truly fucked.

11 comments:

  1. Dude, Larry, take a deep breath. And another. And one more.

    Okay.

    Here's where you're being overly pessimistic: All four top Democratic presidential candidates voted against the FISA extension. But then, they could with plausible deniability, and I for one don't see Hilary Clinton passing up on anything that would expand her power as president. The FISA extension is *only* six months before sunset, and there's already rumblings of a new bill to correct it as soon as Congress gets back in session. This bill was a ridiculous and short-sighted bit of politicking, especially since the same damn fight will occur in February. Pessimism might be appropriate, but doom-and-gloom isn't.

    On Iran: Bleeding-edge military theory holds that any country that is tied into the global economy and/or posesses nuclear weapons is unassailable in state-on-state warfare. Iran is currently the former (lotsa oil there, I've heard) and I would be totally unsurprised if it doesn't have both by the time its developed oil wells run dry mid-next decade. War with Iran is a dream to wank off to for those addicted to warnography, little more.

    Arlen Specter is introducing a bill into committee to restore habeas corpus. Of course, Specter has a track record of being impressive right until he rolls over and plays dead. So we'll see.

    Of course we'll see continued occupation of Iraq. The only two candidates advocating immediate and precipitous withdrawal are Mike Gravel and Ron Paul. But look, in April 2008, there will be no choice. The new Chair of the JCS has flat-out stated that the military simply cannot keep the current force posture going past then. Those troops are going to start coming home by the time a new president is sworn in, if for no other reason than they'll have run out of people and equipment to send.

    As for the economic situation, well, yeah. The damage of the Bush years to government and the economy could take decades to sort out.

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  2. All four top Democratic presidential candidates voted against the FISA extension.

    Of course they did, secure in the knowledge it would pass anyway. This is known in the real world as trying to have your cake and eat it too.

    This bill was a ridiculous and short-sighted bit of politicking

    Indeed. Completely unlike the long-term vision underlying the recent supplemental, the MCA, the refusal to impeach, etc. Watch the amendments be made permanent in February.

    [A]ny country that is tied into the global economy and/or posesses nuclear weapons is unassailable in state-on-state warfare.

    You mean like Iraq?

    Specter has a track record of being impressive right until he rolls over and plays dead.

    Indeed he does.

    The new Chair of the JCS has flat-out stated that the military simply cannot keep the current force posture going past then.

    At least not without a draft.

    As for the economic situation, well, yeah.

    Fundamentally, the economic situation is driving everything else. Remember that every president since Wilson who has faced a stagnant economy has tried to (and often succeeded in) fighting his way out of recession and depression. The only reason Clinton didn't do so (well, except for Somalia and Kosovo) was that the economy was already on the rebound after Bush pere tried to fight his way out of a recession with Iraq-1.

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  3. I could be wrong on the permanence of the FISA amendment; it might have passed only to make impeachment impossible, and will be allowed to quietly fade away in six months.

    Even under this interpretation, it's an act of such pathetic cowardice that I cannot help but completely lose confidence in the Democratic party as a functional institution representing anything like progressive—or even sane conservative—values.

    But I don't think the amendment will be temporary, and I'm willing to stand by that prediction. I expect a lot of posturing in February, with the amendment being either made permanent or further extended.

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  4. You mean like Iraq?

    Actually, Iraq was, thanks to the U.S. sanctions, effectively prevented from integrating with the global economy. The "oil for food" embargo prevented actual market forces from entering the equation. Without posession of nuclear weapons, and without an appreciable economic cost, Iraq was merely "semi-modern" (in the words of John Robb) and therefore open to state-on-state aggression.

    At least not without a draft.

    Never, ever happen. The entire neocon adventure is predicated on many ideas, one of which being that you can engage in open warfare without appreciable cost to the populace at large, thereby retaining moral force for im- or quasi-moral military acts. A draft undermines the entire Republican foreign policy project as envisioned under Bush.

    Somalia and Kosovo -- as well as the initial invasion of Afghanistan and the situation Iraq is in now -- were substantially different from traditional warfare, involving failed or marginal states. War is undoubtedly good for the economy -- or, rather, certain parts of the economy now, as the wide-scale mobilizations of the first half of the twentieth century are no longer necessary.

    You could, ultimately, be right; your predictions are in the cards. But I'll cling to some informed optimism, if you don't mind. It helps me sleep.

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  5. I used the term "military hostilities" instead of "war", by which I mean some overt military action, perhaps (especially under a Democratic president) some form of air strike. That's if Bush doesn't beat Clinton/Obama to it.

    The scenario I foresee is this: The Democratic president reduces our presence in Iraq to ~60K military and some number of "contractors". The sectarian violence heats up, and there is pressure on the president to do something. S/he ties the violence to Iran and wants to kill two birds with one stone, and launches an air strike against Iran's nuclear production. This action will fail, or appear to fail.

    Meanwhile, as the housing market collapses and the depression deepens, the only acceptable way for the government to prop up the economy is to either reinstate the draft or at least greatly accelerate military recruitment.

    I do agree with you that a full-scale Iraq-style invasion of Iran is unlikely. It won't be all-out war with Iran that sinks us. The increased military will be used for domestic security.

    Some congressional Democrats will attempt to repeal FISA, the MCA, etc., but they will be foiled by the Republicans and conservative Democrats. The issue will seem not so urgent because the Democratic president will be seen as unlikely to use (or abuse) these powers.

    Things start to get ugly in 2010. The American people, having profound social amnesia, believe the Republican narrative that the economic and foreign policy ineptitude is the fault of the weakness of the Democratic party. The Republicans take a narrow majority in both houses of Congress in 2010. FISA and the MCA are off the table. With a Democratic president, they spend the next coup

    Whatever sort of campaign the embattled incumbent Democratic president mounts, the media will portray it as inept and unserious; they will portray the Republican candidate as firm but fair, serious, and full of gravitas.

    We will have a Republican government, a conservative Supreme Court, an artificially swelled Army whose rank and file know that they leave the army to face hardship or starvation, and an officer class dominated by Christianists. The Evangelical Christian movement is the only movement offering the people any sort of hope (in the afterlife). This adds up to a military coup or a civil war.

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  6. I used the term "military hostilities" instead of "war", by which I mean some overt military action, perhaps (especially under a Democratic president) some form of air strike.

    So you did. Apologies. I still don't see air strikes as all that viable given the stated goal of regime change. As [W.J.] Clinton learned with Serbia, attacking an enemy's infrastructure without also meaning to actively depose its government with soldiers simply unites that nation's citizens against you.

    The increased military will be used for domestic security.

    Which would require the repeal of posse comitatus; which is fair enough, as Bush tried to back door that one a while ago, but failed. The draft, however, is a very, very poor idea for internal policing. Basic training does not make one well-trained to be a policeman (see "Iraq, Occupation of") and, after Vietnam, the military hierarchy hates the idea of poorly-trained conscripts. This would require that troops raised from, say, Texas, police Massachusetts. This, in a country where gun ownership in order to prevent tyranny is seen as something of a divine right, when the most highly-trained and technologically advanced military in the world can't subjugate a state the size of Texas with one-tenth the U.S. population. The logistics of such an exercise are... well, mind-boggling.

    That said, apparently the U.S. Army has conducted anti-secession exercises. A discussion panel by Harper's and including some of the best minds in military history and theory concluded that a coup d'etat would be impossible because of that very machinery - there are too many cogs in the machine.

    Your larger point should be well taken though: The destruction of America by conquest or armed revolt is impossible. Only a coup d'etat, using the machinery of government, can truly existentially end this country.

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  7. I should point out that I made some sweeping generalizations about that Harper's article and that the participants do raise some concerns about trends whose results could look very much like those Larry enumerates above.

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  8. As [W.J.] Clinton learned with Serbia, attacking an enemy's infrastructure without also meaning to actively depose its government with soldiers simply unites that nation's citizens against you.

    I think this is exactly what will happen in Iran; I think just this sort of blunder will substantially weaken the next Democratic president.

    It's a no-win situation: Do nothing and you're weak. Do something ineffective (*cough* Carter's rescue attempt) and you're weak and stupid. Do something effective (impossible in practice) and you're justly considered a monster.

    Only a coup d'etat, using the machinery of government, can truly existentially end this country.

    There's also the more likely scenario of a long slow grind into increasing authoritarianism.

    I don't think an actual coup or civil war will occur; I fear the grind most. I do think, however, that the Christianist military, and the threat of a coup or civil war, will be a factor in that grind, and I do think a bloated military will be turned to domestic security simply to justify its existence.

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  9. The Democratic party simply cannot win as the Republican-lite party.

    Reminds me of a thought I've had about the ALP in Australia; why have brand-x Liberal Party* when you can have the real Liberal Party* at the same (unacceptable) cost?

    * As in (supposedly) classical liberal; our conservative party.

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  10. Classical liberalism is an eminently respectable political position. Unfortunately for Americans, those folks have become libertarians, and are insane.

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  11. Very well said Sir. As I always say, I am completely amazed at the level of denial the average American Jon Doe lives in.

    There's people screaming their heads off that things are going incredibly wrong and people just shrug it off as inaccurate and turn on FOX news...

    You have intelligent people all over the internet posting similar articles to this and almost immediately you see "American defenders" jump in an call you a conspirator or pessimist or terror-monger or whatnot.

    I am really happy I do not live over there...

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