free agent, loose cannon, pointy stick ... taking an imposing analytic toolkit out of the box, over the wall and into the street ... with callous disregard for accepted wisdom and standard English

reading tea leaves from original angles, we've led with uncannily prescient takes on the federal surplus, the dotcom crash, the "Energy Crisis", the Afghan campaign, the federal deficit.

More where those came from ... stay tuned.

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All "major" articles of older material have now been imported, some with updates worth perusing. We'll keep it all on the main page for a while, will add a few loose pieces of history, will trim the main page and index the archives for convenience later.


free agent, loose cannon, pointy stick ...
... gateway to the next Progressive Era?
Some say it's nothing but a train wreck ... roll in the big cranes, clear the track, see what the crew was smoking. If I thought so, I'd not be writing this ... and if they thought so, they'd not be drumming so hard.

Many thanks to Tony Adragna and Will Vehrs, still shouting 'cross the Potomac at QuasiPundit. Early Camp Enron material can be found in QP's Dispatches department.
Monday, January 20, 2003

--- The Devil's in the Denials ---

Though it recycles interminably in hothead circles, the Patty Murray "Tribute to Osama" hubbub fizzled out quickly in mainstream discourse. Today, of all days, what draws us back to this graffiti-covered eccentric outcrop on the political landscape?

As always, the visible landscape is a superficial projection of underlying geologic formations and processes. Every pebble has a story, and every story has a story, and so on back to the beginning of time.

Context blocks in this case include a rash of astroturf McCarthyism ... an imaginary martyr's bloody shirt ... a reluctant penitent's premature redemption ... a Faustian bargain ... sympathy for the Devil ... a Civil War by other means ... the Great Chain of Denying ... freedom from truth ... a commentariat's toadying antics ... national agendas driven without headlights ... a proscription on painful questions ... and the painful question of how we all ought to behave when this proscription inevitably runs out.

Behind it all, there's a Dark Wizard dazzling us with parlor tricks ... putting notions into our heads and yanking them back out again ... materializing large wild creatures and then rendering them invisible.

For instance, there's this elephant in the sitting room.
The central figure in the Murray flap is none other than Trent Lott. Hothead writers press the explicit parallel, and cry 'foul'; mainstreamers validate it by playing dumb. Both are senators, see ... and both made remarks in informal settings ... "outrage" ensued in both cases ... the inning's over ... and on the level playing field of reputational demolition derby -- the score is tied, sportsfans!

Or is it? Lott never offered a plausible alibi, while the benign take on Murray's remarks -- as discussion of strategic investments on the "hearts and minds" front -- was made explicit in the original appearance. Abundant evidence before and after the fact corroborates Lott's conviction, while nothing else under the sun hints at Murray's "sympathies", much less "loyalties", to Islamic terrorist networks. [TalibanOnline gave the story positive play, but ironically -- I am not making this up -- only when they echoed up a "Senator Praises bin Laden" item from WingNutWorldNetDaily.]

The game is far from over. Expect more "remarks" scandals, with the Right taking scalps where they can and crying "liberal bias" where their rubbery knives fail to draw blood, hoping Lott's political felony record will get lost on a messy desktop strewn with "political incorrectness" citations.

And expect mainstream commentators to politely pretend they don't see the connection.
Next, there's the beached whale behind the elephant.
To buy into Lott-Murray parity theory, you have to think Lott was the victim of unjust, opportunistic, politically motivated attack. You have to think "I'm sorry" was -- or at least should have been -- a false confession, extracted under duress. And to think that, you have to invest in the full panoply of comment-board denials and deflections.

The "Southern Heritage" movement is about history trivia, not racism, right? GOP neocons would still enjoy (marginal) majority status even without a Southern Strategy, which is a thing of the past, though it never really existed ... but if it did exist, it had nothing to do with code-word racism ... which isn't the rotting residue of die-hard segregationism ... which wasn't the last refuge of Jim Crow's "genteel" separatism ... which wasn't a cover for apartheid wage slavery ... which wasn't the vestige of supremacist chattel slavery ... which, after all, was much better for the Negro than "they" would have you believe. But nobody here thinks the wrong side won the Civil War -- which wasn't fought over slavery, mind you!

Either you buy all that, or you really think the wrong side won the Civil War. OK. Let's take a quick side trip to that corner of Fantasy Land.

Suppose the post-war South escapes recolonization. Slavery soon becomes inefficient, but it's still a low-wage, low-skill economy. The Great Migration is blocked. Mobile whites seek opportunity (and liberty) elsewhere. What then ... hobble along with hardcore apartheid? Eradicate the new black majority? Expatriate/subjugate the white minority? Any answer leads to banana republics and police states. Up north, the residual USA is a second-rate power. North-central and northwest territories fall under British rule. Tables are turned in a Spanish-American War that loses California thru Texas. [Students of American Exceptionalism can work out the 20th-century consequences as an exercise.]

Those who imagine a Confederate victory avoiding "all these troubles" might just as well daydream the Stars and Bars flying over something that looks more like today's Cuba. "Northern Aggression" saved the South's bacon, and the South may never forgive 'em.
There's a brontosaurus behind the whale.
The "race problem" shaped our colonial development, nearly deadlocked the Constitutional Convention, nearly destroyed the USA. Everybody -- North and South, black and white -- pitched in to bungle slavery's aftermath, but a sizable faction has always clung to the idea that each step forward is one step too far.

Monumental harm was done. Monumental repairs are warranted -- and would be needed even if that Harm were accidental in nature. Still, any social repair effort attracts a rally squad of code-word cheerleaders to labor against it. ("DEE-fense! DEE-fense! HOLD THAT LINE!")

Make no mistake: secession was all about slavery. Everything since has been all about foot-dragging. Yesteryear's inhumane philosophy gets by the best it can, "living in reduced circumstances", mixed with adolescent resentment at being reminded (time after time) to clean up its room.

It's a resistance movement -- the permanent army of a make-believe Nation. They'd have no place to go if they ever won -- but they proudly give ground as grudgingly as possible ... burning bridges, poisoning wells, sniping from cover. Mostly it's just symbolic acting out -- raising the old battle flag -- but they'll take hostages and extract tribute where they can get away with it. Keeping blacks off voter rolls, behind bars ... seating crypto-Confederate partisans on the bench ... and always, always, always propagating Denialism's richly layered folklore.

It's a mixed rabble -- true believers, outcasts, hustlers, everything in between. All shades of Grey fading together ... when you're in no danger of winning, you have no need to sort out the fine points of collective dogma. Some have no truck with the Old Cause ... just some gripe against the New Order, and a bone to pick with all those who created it, and their friends and allies, and their ilk and their kith and their kin, and anyone who would say a kind word about any of 'em. Many would be "shocked! shocked!" at the explicit racist views of those they make common cause with.

You don't have to believe in Tarot to make a living telling fortunes. You don't have to be a racist to make a political fortune playing to racism. It probably works better (in both cases) if you don't really believe -- it gives you a more flexible batting stance.

Lines of defense change with the times. Contemporary themes include "racism is ancient history", "meddling liberal race pimps are the real racists", and "Martin Luther King would have opposed racial preferences". ["Affirmative action" had not yet entered the lexicon when Dr. King was assassinated, but he spoke clearly -- while others hesitated -- of the need for race-conscious "special compensatory programs".]
We'll take a closer look at the jackals of Southern Strategy (and the hyenas of Southern Strategy Denialism) another time, but look! A herd of yaks grazing near the brontosaurus!
Mainstream editors chided Murray for discounting US aid, even as they pooh-pooh the incident's scandalometer reading. Problem is, Murray has it right. The paucity of US aid is a significant fact about the world we live in. The fact that most editors don't know better is another significant fact.

There's leeway for creative accounting on both sides of the total aid issue, but Murray's civics-lesson topic was what "we" (a democracy) spend, and how we spend it. The matter at hand, therefore, is US government foreign aid -- not charity, not private investment, not export financing.

Nonmilitary foreign aid is roughly 1/1000th of US GDP. Much of that is multilateral aid (World Bank, IMF, UN contributions) where no direct impressionable recipient ever sees the "made in USA" logo. Most bilateral aid goes to a handful of nations, as negotiated quid pro quo for specific military or diplomatic concessions. [Afghanistan and Pakistan were in this select group once, and now they're back -- acutely aware we abandoned them when the USSR folded its hand.] Much of the rest is aimed at (or commandeered by) foreign elites and US corporations. What's left is slanted to "loan a man a fish" programs. Not much grass-roots development.

Half the world's people live on $2 a day or less. Each lucky ducky's US development share adds up to pennies per year. I know it, Murray knows it, area specialists know it, charitable NGO's know it, our astonished friends know it, our astonished enemies know it, the news division usually knows it. Most editorialists -- stewards of conventional wisdom -- conveniently fail to fact-check before sounding off on US generosity.
There's a bunch of drunken chimps swinging from the chandelier.
Editorial boards are the habitat of social climbers -- higher primates in J. Fred Muggs plaid sportcoats and crumpled fedoras. They are self-consciously "even-handed" lest certain readers write off their chatterings as "biased". Most of them felt compelled to slap Murray around a bit before noting that her conservative antagonists have no case. [For an extended example, see the post below.] Here they are caught in the curious stance of bidding for credibility by propagating misinformation.
A troupe of ravening baboons is keeping the chimps away from the buffet table.
If Brand X was eating our lunch in the market for beer or widgets, we'd want to know why. But with national security at stake, 9/11 "rally mode" ruled out after-action review of how the US got blindsided with the key demographic. Self-interested policy adjustments were tabled In the immediate aftermath -- perhaps wisely so at the time -- lest they signal that terrorists can pull our strings.

Cause-and-effect inquiry was pre-emptively driven out of the public square by jungle-noise hoots of "appeasement!", "moral equivalence!", even "treason!". Permissible analysis was stripped to the bare essentials: "They're evil, I tell you! E-E-E-V-I-L-L-L!" [A small irony here: most mainstream commentary concedes Murray's main points, but suggests she should have said something else instead, thus -- blaming the victim -- she "brought this on herself".]

But that was then. This is now. As we did in the face of prior national security shocks, we will come to our senses. It's OK to backtrace the trajectory of what hit us. It's OK to ask "What If?". It's OK to face all the facts, and game out all the scenarios. It's OK to be tough AND smart.

The Murray "scandal" fell flat. That means the post-9/11 norms of discourse are renormalizing, and somebody out in right field didn't get the memo. How do we re-open taboo subjects? Should there be a formal exorcism? Was this it?
Here's the wide shot -- the proverbial Big Picture.
A lot of influential people think two wrongs make a Right.
A lot of influential people think their Lott was wronged.
A lot of influential people think race issues deserve benign neglect.
A lot of influential people think everything after abolition was misguided social engineering.
A lot of influential people think the US is a foreign aid spendthrift.
A lot of influential people think they can buy credibility by spinning tall tales.
A lot of influential people think it's disloyal to ask whether we could have played our hand better.

Each of these is a BIG STORY in its own right. And most people think it's impolite to interrupt our lovely national dialogue by mentioning the elephant (and his friends) in the sitting room.

(P.S. That Dark Wizard may not be who -- or what -- you think. More in future posts.)