Friday, February 07, 2003

A little more from "Sloan Rules", David Farber's lovely little book on Alfred P. Sloan of GM, and (among other things) his dealings with government. Sloan was an initial supporter of the New Deal, but quickly turned on it, fearing interference with his business in general. And, as an advisory board member of the "Liberty League", that landed him in with some pretty strange bedfellows:

The Liberty League ... raised and spent almost the same amount of money as the national Democratic Party. Of that money, at least $10,000 (about $122,000 in current dollars) came from Alfred Sloan.

...Sloan helped to fund the Liberty League, even as the league's alliances and rhetoric became ever more frantic and fanatical. For example, it helped fund the fascistic, anti-Semitic Sentinels of the Republic ("Every citizen a Sentinel! Every home a sentry box!"). The sentinels believed the New Deal was a "Jew Deal" and that Roosevelt and his minions were part of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy. Sloan sent at least one check for one thousand dollars directly to the Sentinels.

Another Liberty League beneficiary was the Southern Committee to Uphold the Constitution .... This committee and its candidate mixed anti-NewDeal populist diatribes with fervent racism. Infamously, they circulated what they called "nigger pictures": photos of Eleanor Roosevelt with black Americans. Soon after the photos appeared and were nationally publicized, Alfred Sloan sent the committee one thousand dollars.

And then, of course, there was the Ku Klux Klan.

Sloan associated with these unsavory characters because he was desperately trying to find a way, any way, to stop a political juggernaut. In one of his few public statements on politics, Sloan appealed to listeners of the NBC Radio Hour to vote against the New Deal, without quite bringing himself to call it by name:

Help us perpetuate the American way of life --- its free enterprise --- its alertness for the new and better --- its rewards for the deserving... Hold fast on through future years to the American system of industry that has brought us these benefits and is still the envy of the entire world.

In the middle of the Great Depression, the American public somehow didn't think they were getting the rewards they deserved, or that their situation was much for anyone to envy. Roosevelt won by a landslide.

Cut to today, where as David Neiwert notes, we once again have well-endowed businessmen sloshing funds to just about anyone, no matter how extreme, who can be motivated to say a bad thing or two about government regulation:

... during the 1990s, [r]esponding to the serious law-enforcement crackdown on their activities, the white supremacists in the Christian Identity movement -- which was the driving ideology at Hayden Lake -- began morphing in the early part of the decade into the Patriot, or militia, movement. This was essentially an effort by Identity leaders to mainstream their belief system, primarily by locking away or disguising the racial components of their belief systems and instead emphasizing their political and legal agendas, all of which are bound up in the movement's métier, conspiracy theories.

And the Patriot movement has thrived during that period on its mutability, its ability to confront a broad range of issues with its populist appeal, all wrapped in the bright colors of American nationalism. In the Patriot movement, just about any national malady -- unemployment, crime, welfare abuse, drugs, abortion, even natural disasters -- can be blamed on the "un-American" federal government or the New World Order. If you don't like gun control, or the way your kids are being taught in school, or even the way the weather has affected your crops this year, the Patriot movement can tell you who's to blame. ...

... the really interesting -- and equally enigmatic -- meeting-ground between the far right and the apparent mainstream comes in the field of money. Namely, the funding of the far right tends to be relatively mysterious, since many of them work under the aegis of a religious organization and are thus exempt from reporting the identities of contributors. But it was interesting to see the money flowing from ostensibly mainstream rightist organizations into several neo-Patriot outfits who specialized in spreading numerous conspiracy theories that were clearly Patriot in origin. Most noteworthy of these was the Western Journalism Center and WorldNetDaily, originally financed by Scaife. Moreover, there was a lot of Scaife money underwriting publication of the anti-Clinton material I saw distributed at militia meetings.

Scaife was probably the most visible case. Many observers, myself included, suspect strongly that outfits like Militia of Montana and Bo Gritz' operation are being funded by right-wing sugar daddies who make their livings in real estate or development, perhaps manufacturing. Vincent Bertollini, the right-wing Silicon Valley millionaire who underwrote Richard Butler at the Aryan Nations for a number of years, is another such case -- though as it happens, he is currently on the lam from a drunk-driving charge that is likely to land him in the slammer. ...

These likely are people who are not public about their beliefs but are sympathetic to Patriot causes, and more importantly, see right-wing extremists as a useful lever, a threat that helps keep "leftists" in line. As Matthew Lyons of Political Research Associates has often argued (especially in the book he co-wrote with Chip Berlet, the excellent Right Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort ), the extremist right has long been a very useful tool of the corporatist right deployed purposely for precisely this function, as well as to drive wedge issues such as race between labor unions and working-class people.

Neiwert has plenty of other interesting things to say --- about the role of mainstream media, and cable networks like Pat Robertson's, in "transmitting" fringe ideas to the conservative mainstream, and on the willingness of Bush to associate directly with fringe groups, like the "White Pride" group Stormfront, which supplied some of the muscle for the Florida "Bourgeois Riots".

In short, what we have here is a replay of the 1930s attempts to rouse the rabble against government regulation like Roosevelts' --- the shrill rhetoric, and the hidden ties and funding of any group that will say a word against the idea of regulation, no matter how vile their own agenda. The only difference: as we can see everywhere from the environment to telecom, we have an administration that is determined to roll back regulations that its corporate sponsors find inconvenient.

We have the protests, in short --- but no Roosevelt.

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

De l'audace, encore de l'audace, toujours de l'audace!
    --- Georges Danton

Kieran Healy finds Tom Friedman cribbing his rhetoric from the French Revolution. But does it make for much of an argument? He looks and says au... dammit.

A few tidbits and outrages, for those who may have missed them the first time around:
  • Sean-Paul Kelly's interview with an Air Force general, speaking on background: part I and part II. A sample:

    SPK: "Ok, so in summary what you are telling me is that the brass doesn't like Rumsfeld and the idea behind Iraq, that you guys feel Korea is much more urgent from a proliferation standpoint and that life in the Pentagon isn't real rosy under an Administration that was supposed to be 'military' friendly? Does that sum it up about right?"

    GO: "Sure does. Military friendly? That's a joke. Look at how they are treating our veterans. This makes me sick. It's galling. It's unconscionable. But the grunts think these guys are the greatest. The politicians see us as a means to an end. Of course, that is their prerogative. We ARE a means to an end, in a certain twisted sense. That's the role I've chosen for my life. I just think this 'end' isn't so important when there is another huge problem out there. We should be much more concerned about Asia. Much. They are proliferating. They are doing all those things we say we fear Hussein is doing. And we still have time to rememdy the situation in Asia."

    It also features Kissinger's on Rumsfeld ("the most ruthless man he ever met").

  • Matthew Yglesias on the latest escapades of our friends the Saudis, spiriting the wife of a terror suspect out of the country, one step ahead of a grand jury subpoena.

  • Nathan Newman on the administration's plan for "Lifetime Savings Accounts" free of all taxation, which would give a class of wealthy investors a completely free pass on the income tax, and its other plan to convert housing and Medicaid programs to block grants, allowing states to divert the money away from the poor.

    This administration stands opposed to class warfare. They don't want the other side to show up and fight.

  • Brad DeLong on Dubya's accounting:

    The numbers in the back of the 2004 Budget documents project that the budget year that began when Clinton was still President will be America's last surplus year, ever. The policies proposed in the 2004 Budget are projected to see the deficit widen steadily to 17.5 percent of GDP by 2050. By that date debt held by the public is projected to be 229.4 percent of GDP--a debt and deficit level that no economy could possibly sustain.

    What does this mean? It means that the (not very bad) economic news of the past year coupled with the provisions the Bush Administration has put into its 2004 Budget will, if enacted, put the U.S. once more on the path to national bankruptcy. Once again the commitments of the government--to defense, administration of justice, the safety net, and the large elderly programs of Medicare and Social Security--will be far beyond the reach of federal revenues.

  • Tom Spencer on Dubya's assassins.

  • WampumBlog on the current Ivory Coast crisis, and the table-pounding tactics of Glenn Reynolds.

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

The Spanish civil war of the 1930s was like a laboratory of horror --- featuring such curiosities as the use of modern art in the design of torture chambers. In one of the more successful experiments, the city of Guernica was destroyed by aerial bombardment by the Luftwaffe. This was the prototype of bombardments used in several later attacks during World War II, as part of tactics designed to shock and overwhelm the enemy, and break their will to resist. The Germans called it "blitzkreig", or "lightning war"; propaganda was in a separate ministry from the army, or they might have called it "shock and awe".

The bombardment was the inspiration for one of Picasso's great masterpieces, depicting the death of the city. The painting itself is now in Spain, moved there after the Fascist government withered away, as directed in Picasso's will. But there is a full-sized reproduction outside the doors of the Security Council chamber in the UN, as a reminder of what that institution is supposed to be about.

It seems some folks don't like to be reminded. The mural has been covered with a blue curtain, a la John Ashcroft, just in time for the war mongering regarding Iraq. (That's the literal truth; a fishmonger sells fish, and Powell is going in there to sell a war). But so far, they've only been in place when the council was discussing Iraq, and taken down when the topic was, say, the western Sahara. A UN spokesman explains:

"It's only temporary. We're only doing this until the cameras leave," said Abdellatif Kabbaj, the organization's media liaison. He noted that the diplomats' microphone, which usually stands in front of a Security Council sign, had to be moved to accommodate the crowd of camera crews and reporters. With the Picasso as a backdrop, Mr. Kabbaj said, no one would know they were looking at the United Nations.

Which is nonsense. The pictures on CNN say "live from the UN" in perfectly legible print. And indeed, Art Daily quotes an unidentified "diplomat" as saying that "it would not be an appropriate background if the ambassador of the United States at the U.N. John Negroponte, or Powell, talk about war surrounded with women, children and animals shouting with horror and showing the suffering of the bombings."

The worry isn't that people won't know what they're looking at; the worry is that they will.

Yet another item where I've lost track of my source, but the Art Daily quote, a late addition, comes via Unqualified Offerings. Sigh...

Sunday, February 02, 2003

Time moves fast these days. Don't post for a day and you miss a national calamity.

There's already been a great deal of interesting posting and discussion on the destruction of Columbia, and while I'm grieving like anyone else, I have little to add, except a strange personal impression. I remember the Challenger disaster, and feeling more affected somehow --- perhaps because of the news buildup about the "Teacher in Space Program", perhaps just because it all seemed more novel then (though it's hardly gotten less dangerous). The Challenger felt, though, like an unalloyed loss. Mixed in with the other news at about this time, though, like the BBC report on Iraq which our local public radio station cut off for a repeat of the space shuttle coverage, the fall of Columbia in flames feels to me, as apparently to at least a few others, like an omen.

For those who haven't read Tom Friedman's latest column, here's a brief digest of what the Pulitzer Prize-winning leading light of American foreign policy has to say about opinion in Europe, briefly summarized by yours truly:

Some Europeans object to genetically modified food. Other Europeans smoke. Therefore, Europe as a whole has an inconsistent position on matters of personal health. And since this inconsistent position which the whole of Europe has adopted, all at once, is self-contradictory, it must not be based on a rational assessment of things; they're just trying to be something the Americans are not.

Why isn't Europe behaving in this reactionary way? Because they're weak. The United States has a larger army than all of them put together. Military weakness is a terrible thing. It weakens the mind. Robert Kagan said something a little like that, and he's deeply insightful. That's why the "insufferable" European arguments against Dubya's war are "mere cynicism and insecurity, masquerading as moral superiority", and unworthy of serious consideration.

In fact, it has gotten so bad that lingerie stores in Davos are putting signs in their windows expressing sympathy for protesters to keep from getting their windows smashed. That happened on "demonstration day", when protestors are allowed (get this) to express their opinions. How strange.

Now, does this bit about shop windows really have anything to do with the European foreign ministers at the meeting a few miles away? Or am I just filling column inches, because with a war about to start, crises all over Africa, a new administration in China, tensions ratcheting up again between India and Pakistan, plummeting poll ratings for the war in our one serious military ally, and a fifty-year-old alliance structure in the middle of cracking up, I really can't think of anything else that a foreign affairs columnist could use to fill the space? If you can't tell, I won't say. It's just evidence of my superior intellect. I have a Pulitzer, and you don't. Neener neener neener.

I confess I'm being unfair to Friedman in one respect --- I did add the "neener neener" graf. (I felt the need for the silly lingerie shop anecdote to lead somewhere. Friedman didn't). But it is accurate that Friedman doesn't even state, much less respond to, even one European argument against the war, say, from the smorgasbord available in his own paper --- say, that Pakistan is a lot more likely to give weapons of mass destruction to Islamist terrorists than Iraq (since they give conventional weapons to Islamist terrorists all the time). He really does believe that the might puissance of America's huge... army makes it unnecessary to even cite them, much less offer a refutation.

Besides, that would be work, and he's got some important skiing to do.

(via Brad DeLong).

By the way, to followers of Friedman, the only surprise here is his complete ignorance of the case against genetically modified food, which many object to for reasons which have nothing at all to do with the personal health of the people consuming it (the risk of hybridization with native plants producing metabolically souped-up, pesticide resistant weeds for starters). And if you haven't yet read Kagan's actual argument, don't let Friedman scare you off; if you actually read the thing, Kagan's sober consideration of Europe's actual interests will teach you far more than Friedman's sneering contempt.