“The Long Telegram” by George F. Kennan

“In atmosphere of oriental secretiveness and conspiracy which pervades this government, possibilities for distorting or poisoning sources and currents of information are infinite. The very disrespect of Russians for objective truth–indeed their disbelief in its existence–leads them to view all stated facts as instruments for furtherance of one ulterior purpose or another. There is good reason to suspect that this government is actually a conspiracy within a conspiracy, and I for one am reluctant to believe that Stalin himself receives anything like an objective picture of [the] outside world. Here there is ample scope for the type of subtle intrigue for which Russians are past masters. Inability of foreign governments to place their place squarely before Russian policy makers–extent to which they are delivered up in their relations with Russia to good graces of obscure and unknown advisers whom they will never see and cannot influence–this to my mind is the most disquieting feature of diplomacy in Moscow, and one which western statesman would do well to keep in mind if they would understand the nature of difficulties encountered here…

…We must see that our public is educated to realities of Russian situation. I cannot over-emphasize importance of this. Press cannot do this alone. It must be done mainly by Government, which is necessarily more experienced and better informed on practical problems involved. In this we need not be deterred by [ugliness?] of picture. I am convinced that there would be far less hysterical anti-Sovietism in our country today if realities of this situation were better understood by our people. There is nothing as dangerous or as terrifying as the unknown. It may also be argued that to reveal more information on our difficulties with Russia would reflect unfavorably on Russian-American relations. I feel that if there is any real risk here involved, it is one which we should have courage to face, and sooner the better. But I cannot see what we would be risking. Our stake in this country, even coming on heels of tremendous demonstrations of our friendship for Russian people, is remarkably small. We have here no investments to guard, no actual trade to lose, virtually no citizens to protect, few cultural contacts to preserve. Our only stake lies in what we hope rather than what we have; and I am convinced we have better chance of realizing those hopes if our public is enlightened and if our dealings with Russians are placed entirely on realistic and matter-of-fact basis.”

George K. Kennan, “The Long Telegram.” wilsoncenter.org. February 22, 1946

The United States, Incorporated

“I propose we do so by creating two positions within the executive branch that operate in tension with each other. The first would be the chief operating officer, charged with managing the administrative agencies. The second would be the chief auditor, charged with leading a watchdog agency that monitors the administrative state for effectiveness and abuses of authority. Both the president and Congress would oversee the balance of power between the two positions…

…With a COO in charge of managing government agencies, the roles of Congress and the president would adjust accordingly. Congress would act more like a board of directors with respect to the agencies, and the president would act more like a board chairman. The COO would assume the responsibility of presenting a plan and budget to Congress for approval, while the president would have the authority to hire and fire the COO at will. In a spirit of conservative incrementalism, we could first apply the COO model to one functional domain, such as domestic infrastructure, before extending it to the others.

The second new position — the chief auditor (CA) — would lead a powerful audit agency that provides independent evaluations of agency performance. One might think of this agency as a bulked-up version of the existing Government Accountability Office.”

-Arnold Kling, “Designing a Better Regulatory State.” National Affairs. Winter 2022.

What could possibly go wrong?

Let’s abstract out most of the power of the President and Cabinet into one unelected position and give them a free hand to reorganize the government as they see fit. Further, let’s abstract out the oversight function on Congress to a single auditor. The President turns into a figurehead. Congress can pass bills, but it has no power to determine whether those bills are being implemented according to their intent.

Presumably, to extend the metaphor, citizens would become the equivalent of stockholders, but they never have the opportunity to sell their stock and buy another. They have the power to elect the board, who can pass legislation, but who are not accountable for the results. What happens when the federal government starts doing something people don’t like? They can vote someone in that will appoint another COO? Without any input on who this person is? They can elect someone who will pass different bills? What exactly will the President and Congress do?

If it made sense to run government in this way, wouldn’t these kinds of qualities already be important for running for President or being appointed to the cabinet? I’d imagine positions like Deputy Secretary are filled with people with years of experience in the federal agency they are part of. Would it make sense to replace these people with other people with broad “industry” experience?

Is the organization of government the same as organization of corporations? Is it even the same skill set?

Some obvious problems. What happens when the COO and Auditor positions collude? What happens if the COO position is so powerful a President is unable to fire her? For example, it’s a billionaire that paid to get the President elected and act as a figurehead and now the billionaire plans to run the country?

The least of your problems is the government gaming the auditor’s metrics. But, it’s also not an insignificant problem.

There are so many reasons the argument provided in this article is bad. As bad as “democracy” or “representative democracy” is, the hot mess of it is surely better than this idea.

The New York Times Problem, Exhibit: Abortion

“The Supreme Court seems all but certain to rewrite the country’s abortion laws when it rules in coming months on a case from Mississippi. But the real-world effects of that ruling will differ enormously depending on how far the justices go.

In one scenario, only a small share of abortions now being conducted in the U.S. — less than 2 percent, perhaps — would become illegal. In another scenario, the ruling could lead to sweeping changes in abortion access and a large decline in abortions.

-David Leonhardt, “A Portrait of Abortion.” The New York Times: The Morning Newsletter. December 14, 2021https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2021/12/the-fda-just-made-medication-abortions-a-whole-lot-easier-to-get/

Every weekday morning and Sunday, I read David Leonhardt’s The Morning Newsletter to my wife. Her politics are Democratic Party liberal politics, and The New York Times is the paper of record for liberals in the United States. So, this newsletter explains the thinking of that demographic.

While I enjoy talking to my wife about the issues of the day, I find the framing of these issues by the The Morning Newsletter bordering on incompetence. As you can see from the quote above, the framing of the issue is a false dichotomy, between less or more restriction, with an understanding that abortion is some surgical procedure done by a doctor, or by some illegal clinic harkening back to Prohibition. But, I’d say there’s a key element missing in The New York Times discussion. There are modern medical abortifacients, i.e., mifepristone and misoprostol, that can end a pregnancy. Together, they are an “abortion pill”. Here’s Planned Parenthood providing an overview:

“Abortion pill” is the common name for using two different medicines to end a pregnancy: mifepristone and misoprostol.

First, you take a pill called mifepristone. Pregnancy needs a hormone called progesterone to grow normally. Mifepristone blocks your body’s own progesterone, stopping the pregnancy from growing.

Then you take the second medicine, misoprostol, either right away or up to 48 hours later. This medicine causes cramping and bleeding to empty your uterus. It’s kind of like having a really heavy, crampy period, and the process is very similar to an early miscarriage. If you don’t have any bleeding within 24 hours after taking the second medicine, call your nurse or doctor.

-“The Abortion Pill.” Planned Parenthood.

So, you no longer have to have a surgical procedure to have an abortion. You simply have to take two medications, within 48 hours of one another.

Now, the implications of that fact are profound. This means that stopping abortions is as practical as stopping people from taking drugs or drinking alcohol. Decades of a U.S. “Drug War” and the experiment of Prohibition illustrates a simple fact. The minute you prohibit a legal means of getting something done, you create an illegal market for it.

The implications are obvious. The level of restrictions that the Supreme Court allows and individual states implement will create illegal markets in mifepristone and misoprostol. As with other drugs, it will be impossible to prevent these drugs from reaching the people that want them.

So,, prohibiting surgical abortion might have the counter-intuitive effect of creating a illegal market for abortion drugs that will make abortion more accessible, not less. And, when the Pro-Life movement understands this fact, they will then try to go after women using these medications, except instead of draconian drug laws, they’ll create abortion specific laws or try to make using these medications an action that can be charged as murder.

Action, reaction. All very predictable, and all not even hinted at in the The New York Times dichotomy of more restrictive and less restrictive options.

Perhaps, we should give David and the other writers at The Times the benefit of the doubt. It is a daily, and they are limited in the amount of detail they can put in. However, this doesn’t change the fact that their efforts are more likely to misinform people than provide them with a useful framework for understanding the world.

Fake news is everywhere because most of the thinking presented in mass media is bad, top to bottom. It’s not a problem of a particular political point of view. It’s a problem across the board. The real question one should be asking is: who benefits from viewing the abortion issue as a dichotomy hinged on the decisions on The Supreme Court? A question left as an exercise for the reader.

Update: Not even two days after writing this Mother Jones reports:

“The Food and Drug Administration announced on Thursday that it will loosen restrictions on the abortion pill mifepristone, allowing people to receive the pill via mail or pharmacy instead of having to appear in person at a clinic or hospital.” 

-Lil Kalish, “The FDA Just Made Medication Abortions a Whole Lot Easier to Get.” Mother Jones. December 16, 2021.

Action, reaction.

Sotomayor Spits Fire in a Dissenting Opinion in Whole Women’s Health v. Jackson

“This is a brazen challenge to our federal structure. It echoes the philosophy of John C. Calhoun, a virulent defender of the slaveholding South who insisted that States had the right to “veto” or “nullif[y]” any federal law with which they disagreed. Address of J. Calhoun, Speeches of John C. Calhoun 17–43 (1843). Lest the parallel be lost on the Court, analogous sentiments were expressed in this case’s companion: “The Supreme Court’s interpretations of the Constitution are not the Constitution itself —they are, after all, called opinions.”

The Nation fought a Civil War over that proposition, but Calhoun’s theories were not extinguished. They experienced a revival in the post-war South, and the violence that ensued led Congress to enact Rev. Stat. §1979, 42 U. S. C. §1983. “Proponents of the legislation noted that state courts were being used to harass and injure individuals, either because the state courts were powerless to stop deprivations or were in league with those who were bent upon abrogation of federally protected rights.” Mitchum , 407 U. S., at 240. Thus, §1983’s “very purpose,” consonant with the values that motivated the Young Court some decades later, was “to protect the people from unconstitutional action under color of state law, ‘whether that action be executive, legislative, or judicial.’ ” Mitchum, 407 U. S., at 242 (quoting Ex parte Virginia, 100 U. S. 339, 346 (1880)).

S. B. 8 raises another challenge to federal supremacy, and by blessing significant portions of the law’s effort to evade review, the Court comes far short of meeting the moment. The Court’s delay in allowing this case to proceed has had catastrophic consequences for women seeking to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion in Texas.

These consequences have only rewarded the State’s effort at nullification. Worse, by foreclosing suit against state-court officials and the state attorney general, the Court clears the way for States to reprise and perfect Texas’ scheme in the future to target the exercise of any right recognized by this Court with which they disagree.

This is no hypothetical. New permutations of S. B. 8 are coming. In the months since this Court failed to enjoin the law, legislators in several States have discussed or introduced legislation that replicates its scheme to target locally disfavored rights.5 What are federal courts to do if, for example, a State effectively prohibits worship by a disfavored religious minority through crushing “private” litigation burdens amplified by skewed court procedures, but does a better job than Texas of disclaiming all enforcement by state officials? Perhaps nothing at all, says this Court.6

Although some path to relief not recognized today may yet exist, the Court has now foreclosed the most straightforward route under its precedents. I fear the Court, and the country, will come to regret that choice.”

Sotomayor, J., “WHOLE WOMAN’S HEALTH ET AL. v. JACKSON,
JUDGE, DISTRICT COURT OF TEXAS, 114TH
DISTRICT, ET AL
.” No. 21-463, December 10, 2021

The Attack: Before, During and After

“President Donald Trump’s assault on American democracy began in the spring of 2020, when he issued a flurry of preemptive attacks on the integrity of the country’s voting systems. The doubts he cultivated ultimately led to a rampage inside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, when a pro-Trump mob came within seconds of encountering Vice President Mike Pence, trapped lawmakers and vandalized the home of Congress in the worst desecration of the complex since British forces burned it in 1814. Five people died in the Jan. 6 attack or in the immediate aftermath, and 140 police officers were assaulted…

…This project is based on interviews with more than 230 people and thousands of pages of court documents and internal law enforcement reports, as well as hundreds of videos, photographs and audio clips.”

-Jacqueline Alemany, Hannah Allam, et al.” The Attack: Before, During and After.” The Washington Post. October 31, 2021.

Read this The Washington Post series along with this fact from a recent Marist poll:

“Looking ahead to 2024, 36% of Democrats and Democratic leaning independents say their party will have a better chance winning the White House with Biden at the top of the ticket. 44% want someone else, and 20% are unsure.

In contrast, asked the same question about Trump, 50% of Republicans and GOP leaning independents say a Trump ticket has the best chance of recapturing the presidency. 35% want someone else, and 14% say they are unsure.”

NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist National Poll: Trust in Elections, Threat to Democracy, Biden Approval, November 2021.” Marist Poll. November 1, 2021.

If you are one of 50% of Republicans on Team Trump, fuck you.

Mass Movements & Affinity Groups

“You don’t have to have a deep and intimate knowledge of the left or any of its manifestations to be part of its future. If you disagree with my values, if you think the left should change from what it has been, the path is simple: do the work. Convince people. Convince me. Organize. Get off of social media and into real-world spaces, otherwise known as your actual community. Do the shitty grunt work that real activism entails, the boring, dispiriting, exhausting trudge to slowly winning over one convert at a time. Lose and actually experience losing, by which I mean experience the pain and humiliation without dulling it with the numbing poison of irony. Organize with people who are not like you, people who you have fundamental disagreements with, passionate disagreements with, but who you recognize as sharing a significant degree of self-interest with you. Articulate your values and why they’re superior. But don’t show up online, sneering at everyone else as a way to hide your lack of confidence, and snidely make assertions about a history you know nothing about. And stop fucking asking “what happened to you?” like you know or care how people used to be. That’s just bullshit internet social control and I have no patience for it.

I love newcomers to socialism and organizing. I always have. But I also know my history, and ours, and will not let myself or my movement be defined by anyone else. Sorry. Not here, not about this. I am a leftist, a socialist, a Marxist, and will remain so. I was born here, and I’ll die here.”

-Freddie deBoer, “I’m Still Here.” freddiedeboer.substack.com. November 1, 2021.

I enjoy Freddie deBoer’s writing, and I’ve been thinking about this piece for a bit since I read it. The conclusion I’ve come to is that it’s not my job to convince you. I’m not interested in a mass movement, where we all collectively convince each other on some course of action and take it. Ultimately, I think that’s what’s wrong with leftist politics.

If you want to change the world, you start on the ground you are on and find fellow travelers. You find people that, in the main, agree with your political point of view. In anarchist circles, these are called affinity groups:

“An affinity group is a small group of 5 to 20 people who work together autonomously on direct actions or other projects. You can form an affinity group with your friends, people from your community, workplace, or organization.

Affinity groups challenge top-down decision-making and organizing, and empower those involved to take creative direct action. Affinity groups allow people to “be” the action they want to see by giving complete freedom and decision-making power to the affinity group. Affinity groups by nature are decentralized and non-hierarchical, two important principles of anarchist organizing and action. The affinity group model was first used by anarchists in Spain in the late 19th and early 20th century, and was re-introduced to radical direct action by anti-nuclear activists during the 1970s, who used decentralized non-violent direct action to blockade roads, occupy spaces and disrupt “business as usual” for the nuclear and war makers of the US. Affinity groups have a long and interesting past, owing much to the anarchists and workers of Spain and the anarchists and radicals today who use affinity groups, non-hierarchical structures, and consensus decision making in direct action and organizing.”

-Shawn Ewald, “Affinity Groups.” The Anarchist Library. 2008.

Affinity Groups are a completely different model from major party, first past the post politics of liberal “democracies” that impose various forms of tyranny of the majority on the world they inhabit or the communism with its vanguards, opening the path for the hoi polloi.

I don’t have any illusions that there is anyone on this planet that is going to agree with my politics. But, there are enough people that might get close, who believe in decentralized organization, home rule, direct action and who have views that large governments, on balance and looked at over the course of their entire histories, are probably more a force for harm than for help for the vast majority of people. Say this to any person that identifies as Democrat / Liberal / Labour or what have you, and you’ll immediately get labeled as some variety of conservative. Maybe, but not the kind you are thinking of.

If you are busy, like Freddie, trying to convince Trump supporters and people like me to join your political cause, whether that cause is socialism, party politics, abortion or your political action of choice, then it’s unlikely you’ll spend a lot of time developing an affinity group because you are looking to be part of something larger.

This is why affinity groups aren’t more common. The politics of the day are designed to suck out the energy that would go into creating small groups and forming the bonds where the politics we wish to see in the world manifest and can be used to create real change for the people in those affinity groups. It’s not dependent on the will of Congress or your local politician, who are beholden to moneyed interests that fund their campaigns and get them elected.

When’s the last time you’ve seen a political argument that you should focus on the 5 to 20 people nearest and dearest to you and try to remake the world in some small way with them? We don’t because our lives have been atomized to the point that most of us probably don’t have five people in our lives we would want to form an affinity group with. That’s not an accident.

Too Far Left, or What Does It Mean to Be “Radical”

“On Tuesday, a Florida judge sentenced Daniel Baker, an anti-fascist activist, to 44 months in federal prison for social media posts that called for armed defense against possible far-right attacks on the state’s Capitol in the wake of the January 6 riots. Baker, a 34-year-old yoga teacher and emergency medical technician trainee, had no previous criminal convictions and has already been held for 10 months of harsh pretrial detention, including seven months in solitary confinement. He never brought a weapon near a government building; he amassed no armed anti-fascist forces; he made no threats on a single individual.

Baker will, nonetheless, face considerably more prison time than most January 6 defendants, including those who crossed state lines, small arsenals in tow, with the aim of overturning a presidential election…

…Baker was convicted at trial earlier this year on two counts of “transmitting a communication in interstate commerce containing a threat to kidnap or injure another person.” The threat of kidnapping charge stemmed from a feverish public Facebook post in which Baker put out a general call for anti-racists and anti-fascists to encircle the state Capitol, should far-right groups attack it “on or around inauguration day,” and “trap” right-wingers inside with cops. In the very next sentence, though, he wrote, “we will drive them out of Tallahassee with every caliber available!” The right wing militiae were thus to be trapped in and driven out at once, on an unspecified day, by an unnamed collaboration of counterprotesters.”

-Natasha Lennard, “A Florida Anarchist Will Spend Years in Prison for Online Posts Prompted by Jan. 6 Riot.The Intercept. October 16, 2021.

I find this interesting on two levels.

One, there’s a saying: “The e in email is for evidence.” Same is true of Facebook and other social media. Using Facebook to advocate for any kind of radical societal change is an exercise in trying to use a tool of totalitarianism against itself. It’s unlikely to work, and very likely to land you in prison.

Two, the advantage that the right have is that they, on the surface, support the institutions of the state. Many are police officers, served in the military and so forth. However, the January 6th riots show that if any of those institutions get in the way, they are more than happy to push them aside. Radical leftists are more obviously against the state and its institutions. So, the state is also more obviously against them.

In fact, this brings us to a helpful definition to determine who is and is not a radical. Ask yourself: does this person think that the state is the solution to many of the problems of society or the cause of many of the problems? If they believe it is the cause of the problems of society, do they believe the state can be reformed to address those problems? If the state is the solution, then you are dealing with a traditional leftist, liberal or conservative in their political opinions.

If a “leftist” supports state solutions, whether Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Dennis Kucinch, George McGovern, or whomever, then there is nothing radical about their position. They are only “radical” in so far as they are leftists in a fundamentally and moderately conservative society, where radical is defined as anyone to the left (or occasionally, the right) of the majority or more often, the person making the judgment.

Leftists are advocating to use the government outside of the limited government fiction and the great lie of conservativism that you can have a global war-fighting capability and still maintain a small government with low taxes. The true goal of the limited government lie is to prevent the government from being repurposed to leftist goals, i.e., serving the citizenry rather than elite interests (or at least different elites). From the perspective of someone that believes the lie of limited government, this position is radical.

However, it’s also not radical because much of the justification for modern government is that it protects the citizenry, from providing clean water, consumer protections, national security and so forth. So, it’s clear that limited government, Originalism, and some of the modern tenets of conservativism are actually a reframing of the debate. Calling traditional liberals “radical leftists” is just another way to put them on the defensive and of closing the Overton window around these new conservative ideas.

But, the framing that Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders and so forth are radical leftists, “socialists”, and so forth are relativistic arguments. Better to have a clear definition of what makes someone radical that works across both right and left perspectives than define radical relativistically. Being against the state serves that function rather well.

NativeLand.ca

“Our Mission

We strive to map Indigenous lands in a way that changes, challenges, and improves the way people see the history of their countries and peoples. We hope to strengthen the spiritual bonds that people have with the land, its people, and its meaning.

We strive to map Indigenous territories, treaties, and languages across the world in a way that goes beyond colonial ways of thinking in order to better represent how Indigenous people want to see themselves.”

NativeLand.ca

I tried searching my area and learned I knew next to nothing of the native people who live in the region. Recommended.