Based closely on the outstanding 1999 novel that won J.M. Coetzee the Nobel Prize in Literature, the new art house film Disgrace follows August’s District 9 in portraying the ever-growing Afrikaner diaspora’s dire view of black-ruled South Africa. While most reviewers of District 9 were too obtuse to figure out what Neill Blomkamp’s sci-fi movie was about, the portrayal of the fate of South Africa’s white farmers in Disgrace is too starkly horrifying for even journalists to ignore.
Disgrace won”t come within an order of magnitude of District 9‘s $114 million at the U.S. box office. It is the despairing antithesis of Taken, the surprise 2009 hit ($145 million) in which mighty Liam Neeson lays waste to half of Paris to rescue his virgin daughter from Muslim pimps. In Disgrace, however, effete John Malkovich (best known for, well, Being John Malkovich) portrays an ineffectual intellectual who fails to save his daughter from being gang-raped by newly liberated blacks.
I”ve read only one other Coetzee novel, 1980’s Waiting for the Barbarians, a conventional anti-apartheid allegory about the moral costs of imperialism. In Disgrace, however, the barbarians have finally arrived, and with a vengeance.
<object width=“290” height=“180”; style=“FLOAT: left; MARGIN: 10px 10px 10px 10px”><param name=“movie” value=“http://www.youtube.com/v/nqvIssZT6cg&hl=en&fs=1&border=1”><embed src=“http://www.youtube.com/v/nqvIssZT6cg&hl=en&fs=1&border=1” type=“application/x-shockwave-flash” allowscriptaccess=“always” allowfullscreen=“true” width=“290” height=“180”></embed></object><p>I can only vaguely guess how Coetzee’s career has managed to survive over the decade since publication of Disgrace. He remains a favorite of English professors who discourse on topics like “J.M. Coetzee and the Postcolonial Rhetoric of Simultaneity,” even while he radiates contempt for them, such as in this hilariously curt interview. Although the ruling African National Congress has denounced Disgrace as racist, many white literary and film critics have managed to convince themselves that all the really smart people understand that the book must actually be about something other than what it seems to be about. (This is particularly ironic because the concept of rape as an act of political power, the essence of the plot, is a staple of academic feminism.)
Malkovich plays David Lurie, an aging Cape Town Casanova, who, in the usual academic sexual harassment brouhaha familiar from David Mamet’s Oleanna, gets fired from his job trying to explain Lord Byron’s poetry to college students majoring in Communications Studies.
The funny-looking Malkovich, whose affected delivery makes him sound like Liberace’s evil twin brother, has been frequently cast as a Lothario (for example, in Dangerous Liaisons) for reasons I can”t explain. But then, even though I”ve followed his career since his Steppenwolf days in Chicago theatre, I”m not sure why he’s a movie star at all. Force of will, I guess. Daniel Day-Lewis would have been more natural as Dr. Lurie, the olive-skinned Byronic seducer turned creepy middle-aged man. Or, if they had wanted a leading man who rather looks like Coetzee to play the presumably semi-autobiographical role, Jeremy Irons would have fit the bill. Still, Malkovich glowers and whispers his way through well enough.
In disgrace, the former professor retreats to the farm in the Western Cape he had bought Lucy, his blonde lesbian daughter, when her back-to-nature hippie commune broke up. He’s hoping to use the rural peace to write an opera entitled Byron in Italy.
Although the movie is very faithful to the bleakly Malthusian novel, the book is funnier. For example, when the ex-professor wonders whether his daughter truly is a lesbian, he muses, “Sapphic love: an excuse for putting on weight.”
The film suffers from the usual problems with prestige adaptations: a Nobel-level prose style doesn”t automatically mean Oscar-level cinematography and editing.
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Moreover, Coetzee’s tendency toward allegory doesn”t translate all that well to the screen. Disgrace is a parable about the insanity of liberalism in South Africa, as embodied by Lurie’s daughter, Lucy, who passively endures without leaving whatever degradations the New South Africa heaps upon her. In real life, fortunately, most liberals are vastly more hypocritical than poor Lucy. Movies are inherently a more realistic medium than books, so while Lucy’s stand against White Flight has a certain masochistic dignity in Coetzee’s spare prose, on screen it just seems stupid.
Lucy’s farm laborer, Petrus, an industrious Xhosa, has recently bought part of her acreage with a grant from the government, and acquired a second wife. Petrus barges into Lucy’s house to watch soccer on TV whenever he likes.
One day, when Petrus is conveniently away, three young black men walk up to the isolated farmhouse, knock Lurie unconscious, and rape his daughter. When he awakes, the home invaders set him on fire, which he eventually douses by splashing himself from the toilet. They drive off in his car with his books on Byron and the rifle his daughter never learned to shoot:
It happens every day, every hour, every minute, he tells himself, in every quarter of the country. Count yourself lucky to have escaped with your life.
He consoles himself with the explanation that the better sort of white people in South Africa gravitate toward:
A risk to own anything: a car, a pair of shoes, a pack of cigarettes. … Too many people, too few things. What there is must go into circulation, so that everyone can have a chance to be happy for a day. That is the theory; hold to the theory and to the comforts of theory. Not human evil, just a vast circulatory system, to whose workings pity and terror are irrelevant. That is how one must see life in this country; in its schematic aspect. Otherwise one could go mad. Cars, shoes; women, too. There must be some niche in the system for women and what happens to them.
A neighbor, Ettinger, the type of white farmer whom Lurie has always despised for his bigotry, drives them to the hospital. “I never go anywhere without my Beretta,” observes Ettinger, who seems like the most sensible person in the movie.
Lucy refuses to admit that she was raped to the police (not that they would do any good). She asks her father:
What if … what if that is the price one has to pay for staying on? Perhaps that is how they look at it; perhaps that is how I should look at it too. They see me as owing something. They see themselves as debt collectors, tax collectors. Why should I be allowed to live here without paying?
But she fears they will come back:
“I think I am in their territory. They have marked me. They will come back for me.”
Petrus returns after the home invasion with an abundance of building supplies and begins erecting his own house 100 meters away. Lurie starts to suspect that the industrious and shrewd Petrus (“Honest toil and honest cunning”), like the malign French peasants who outwit Gerard Depardieu’s idealistic city dweller in Jean de Florette, is maneuvering to grab Lucy’s land:
Then he would like to have Ettinger’s too … Ettinger will be a harder nut to crack. Lucy is merely a transient; Ettinger is another peasant, a man of the earth, tenacious, eingewurzelt. But Ettinger will die one of these days, and the Ettinger son has fled. In that respect Ettinger has been stupid. A good peasant takes care to have lots of sons.
Then, Lucy reveals she is pregnant by one of the rapists, and will keep the baby. Meanwhile, the youngest of the criminals moves in with Petrus next door; he is some sort of in-law in this proto-Big Man’s rapidly expanding clan. When Lurie confronts Petrus about his sheltering Lucy’s rapist near her house, after some evasions, the black farmer replies:
“You come to look after your child. I also look after my child. … He is my family, my people.”
So that is it. No more lies. My people. As naked an answer as he could wish. Well, Lucy is his people.
Petrus then points out that the rapist is too young to marry Lucy. So, the polygamist gallantly explains:
“I will marry Lucy.”
[Lurie] cannot believe his ears. So this is it, that is what all the shadow-boxing was for: this bid, this blow! …
“You will marry Lucy,” he says carefully. “Explain to me what you mean. No, wait, rather don”t explain. This is not something I want to hear. This is not how we do things.”
We; he is on the point of saying, We Westerners. …
“But here,” says Petrus, “It is dangerous, too dangerous. A woman must be marry.”
Lurie’s daughter explains to him:
“Objectively I am a woman alone. I have no brothers. I have a father, but he is far away and anyhow powerless in the terms that matter here. To whom can I turn for protection, for patronage? To Ettinger? It is just a matter of time before Ettinger is found with a bullet in his back. … Petrus may not be a big man but he is big enough for someone small like me. …
Not long after, Lurie discovers the rapist (who may be the father of his upcoming grandchild) peering in his daughter’s window. Lurie, finally, strikes the youth:
Never has he felt such elemental rage. He would like to give the boy what he deserves: a sound thrashing. Phrases that all his life he has avoided seem suddenly just and right: Teach him a lesson. Show him his place. So this is what it is like, he thinks. This is what it is like to be a savage!
But his daughter rescues her upcoming in-law, and sends her father off, saying:
“I am prepared to do anything, make any sacrifice, for the sake of peace.”
Not surprisingly, Coetzee left South Africa for Australia in 2002.
What does imperialism mean? It means the assertion of absolute force over others.
The G-20 ministers declared their meeting in Pittsburgh a success, but as Rob Kall reports in OpEdNews.com, the meeting’s main success was to turn Pittsburgh into “a ghost town, emptied of workers and the usual pedestrians, but filled to overflowing with over 12,000 SWAT cops from all over the U.S.”
This is “freedom and democracy” at work. The leaders of the G-20 countries, which account for 85 percent of the world’s income, cannot meet in an American city without 12,000 cops outfitted like the emperor’s stormtroopers in Star Wars. And the U.S. government complains about Iran.
The U.S. government’s complaints about Iran have reached a new level of shrillness. On Sept. 25, Obama declared, “Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow.” The heads of America’s British, French, and German puppet states added their two cents’ worth, giving the government of Iran three months to meet the “international community’s demands” to give up its rights as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty to nuclear energy. In case you don’t know, the term “international community” is shorthand for the U.S., Israel and Europe, a handful of arrogant and rich countries that oppress the rest of the world.
Who is breaking the rules? Iran or the United States?
Iran is insisting that the U.S. government abide by the Non-Proliferation Treaty that the U.S. originated and pushed, and that Iran signed. But the U.S. government, which is currently engaged in three wars of aggression and has occupying troops in a number of other countries, insists that Iran, which is invading and occupying no country, cannot be trusted with nuclear energy capability because the capability might in the future lead to nuclear weapon capability, like Israel’s, India’s and Pakistan’s—all non-signatories to the nuclear proliferation treaty, countries that, unlike Iran, have never submitted to IAEA inspections.
Indeed, at this very moment, the Israeli government is screaming and yelling “anti-Semite” to the suggestion that Israel submit to IAEA inspections. Iran has submitted to the IAEA inspections for years.
In keeping with its obligations under the treaty, on Sept. 21, Iran disclosed to the International Atomic Energy Agency that it is constructing another nuclear facility. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown confused Iran’s disclosure with “serial deception” and declared, “We will not let this matter rest.”
What matter? Why does Brown think that Iran’s disclosure to the IAEA is a deception? Does the moronic British prime minister mean that Iran is claiming to be constructing a plant but is not, and thus by claiming one is deceiving the world?
Not to be outdone in idiocy, out of Obama’s mouth jumped Orwellian doublespeak: “The Iranian government must now demonstrate through deeds its peaceful intentions or be held accountable to international standards and international law.”
The incongruity blows the mind. Here is Obama, with troops engaged in wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, demanding that a peaceful nation at war with no one demonstrate “its peaceful intentions or be held accountable to international standards and international law.”
It is the U.S. government and its NATO puppet states, and militarist Israel, of course, that need to be held accountable to international law. Under international law, the U.S., its NATO puppets and Israel are war criminal governments. There is no doubt about it. The record is totally clear.
The U.S., Israel and the NATO puppet states have committed military aggression exactly as did Germany’s Third Reich, and they have murdered large numbers of civilians. Following the FÃ¼hrer‘s script, “the great democratic republics” have justified these acts of lawlessness with lies and deceptions.
Rudy Giuliani, the former U.S. attorney who framed high-profile victims in order to gain name recognition for a political career, keynoted a rally against Iran in New York on Sept. 25. According to Richard Silverstein at AlterNet, the rally was sponsored by an Israeli lobby group and an organization with connections to an Iranian terror organization (probably financed by the U.S. government) that calls for the violent overthrow of the Iranian government.
The efforts to build pressure for acts of war against Iran continue despite the repeated declaration from the IAEA that there is no sign of an Iranian nuclear weapons program, and despite the reaffirmation by U.S. intelligence agencies that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program years ago.
Meanwhile, the U.S. and Israeli governments, who are so solicitous of international law and holding accountable countries that violate it, have moved to prevent the report of Judge Richard Goldstone from reaching the U.N. Security Council. Why?
Judge Goldstone’s report found Israel guilty of war crimes in its massive military assault against civilians and civilian infrastructure in Gaza.
The continuous efforts of the world’s two militarist-aggressor states—the United States and Israel—to demonize Iran was addressed by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 23.
Ahmadinejad spoke of the assault on human dignity and spiritual values by the selfish material interests of the U.S. and its puppet states. Seeking hegemony “under the mantle of freedom,” the U.S. and its puppets use “the ugliest methods of intimidation and deceit” to disguise that they are “the first who violate” the fundamental principles that they espouse and apply to others.
Why, Ahmadinejad asked the U.N. General Assembly, do the countries of the world sit there while Israel murders and dispossesses the Palestinian people?
Why, asked Ahmadinejad, do the countries of the world sit there while the U.S., from thousands of miles away, sends troops to the Middle East, “spreading war, bloodshed, aggression, terror and intimidation in the whole region,” while blaming the countries that are suffering the West’s naked aggression?
Ahmadinejad told the General Assembly what most of the U.N. representatives already know, that “selfishness and insatiable greed have taken the place of such humanitarian concepts as love, sacrifice, dignity and justice. … Lies have taken the place of honesty; hypocrisy has replaced integrity, and selfishness has taken the place of sacrifice. Deception in foreign affairs is called foresight and statesmanship, looting the wealth of other nations is called development efforts; occupation is said to be a gift that promotes freedom and democracy; and defenseless nations are subjected to repression in the name of defending human rights.”
It could not be put any clearer. If Ahmadinejad’s speech is reported by the U.S. print and TV media, however, statements will be taken out of context and used to enrage the conservatives and Christian Zionists in order to unify them behind the Obama-Israeli assault on Iran.
America will not be satisfied until, like Rome, she has more enemies and more wars than she can survive.
A wealth of ideas rushed through my mind the other day as I was watching the production of Nineteen Eighty Four starring Richard Burton and John Hurt, which was released, by no coincidence, in 1984. Like Orwell’s novel, the film emphasizes the use of factual distortions to strengthen political domination, in this case that of Big Brother. In order to keep his subjects behind him in a shifting alliance system characterized by constant warfare all over the Earth, Big Brother empowers propaganda squads to remove “unwords” from conversation and to make the public believe that their current allies were always their friends.
The most interesting part of this plot for me is Orwell’s depiction of the steady purging of “politically incorrect” terms and beliefs. This process is now going on throughout the Western world”with a fury. What we live in today has got to be one of the most servile and crassly hypocritical cultures in the history of Western civilization. As my friend John Frary, who used to publish a satirical magazine mocking PC, pointed out to me about 20 years ago, one could not parody what is even more grotesque than what the satirist is mocking. And John said that well before there were such yap-yap terms as “African-Americans,” “servers” and “gay communities.”
PC is a political religion, to be sure, but the film adaptation of Nineteen Eighty Four made me aware of one critical difference between traditional Christian theology, be it Catholic or Protestant, and the gibberish-laden belief system that now characterizes the Western world. Believing, for example, in the Trinity or the Incarnation does not require someone to deny perceived reality as soon as social or managerial pressure is brought to bear. Accepting the existence of a triune Deity or the idea that a supreme intelligence formed the world is not the same as denying empirical reality for the sake of an evolving (or devolving) party line.
About two years ago, I learned while listening to CNN that sex and race are social constructs and that black women are at particular risk for certain diseases. There is no way I could accept both of these statements without having to embrace a total contradiction. I have also learned from reading papers and speaking to academically successful intellectuals that black males are no more prone than white ones to commit violent acts. We simply imagine the opposite because black crimes are supposedly more widely reported than white ones. In a televised discussion I took part in one time, the dean of “minority affairs” at my college (who later went on to hold the same position at an Ivy League institution) informed me that whites actually commit a higher proportion of violent crime, even relative to their numbers, than blacks or Hispanics. Our beloved dean insisted that the U.S. Bureau of Statistics had cooked up figures to put the “black community” in a bad light. I have also learned from my colleagues that only white, Western Christian societies are to be condemned for slavery, the maintenance of gender roles, and homophobia. Other societies only appear to be engaging in these practices”or else they had these practices inflicted on them by Western imperialists. One or the other.
I”ve also learned from watching television and listening to academics that genes play no role in the success or failure of societies. Such best-selling authorities on this subject as the anthropologist Jared Diamond assure us that only racists would bring up the matter of differential intelligence among various groups. It just so happens that those ethnic groups that seem to exhibit the highest intelligence were fortunate enough to settle in nice geographically advantageous regions (except when they didn”t), while those who score low on intelligence tests were stuck for millennia in cruddy areas (except when they weren”t). Unfortunately for those who deny the obvious, genetics is a science (as opposed to a pseudo-science riddled with ideological presumptions); and the science of genetics (as opposed to Lysenkoist agitprop) reveals significant inherited differences among ethnic groups. Cognitive and motor abilities are among them.
The other aspect of this proclamation of untruth and the listing of “unwords” is that most people accept public orthodoxies out of timidity or lack of reflection. Outside of journalistic and academic elites, adherents of PC don”t seem to show much conviction or consistency of belief. Some of our college students, who are mostly studying social work and primary education, deplore the paucity of inner-city blacks at our institution, even they and their parents selected our lily-white college precisely for its lily-white learning environment. The academics I speak to understand that certain neighborhoods are to be avoided for safety reasons, although the explanation for the high incidence of crime in these places is that “poor people live there.” I like to remind my interlocutors that those of us who grew up in the 1950s had fewer material amenities than those “poor people” whose violence and messiness intellectuals are excusing.
I also suspect that those of a certain age have at least some memory of a list of heroes and victims that is different from the one now in vogue. Until fairly recently Columbus was a genuine hero, and particularly among Italian Americans, buffs of the age of exploration, and collectors of model boats. Now Columbus is known as a crazed Catholic bigot who helped wipe out Amerindian civilization, a civilization that, according to journalists and historians, was far more humane and evolved than the Western world that took its place.
Recently on a visit to Monticello, I discovered that our polymath third president begat entire “communities“ with his black concubine Sally Hemings. Jefferson, it also seems, depended on other members of the Hemings family for guidance and instruction. What I had mistaken for over sixty years as Jefferson’s residence turned out to be the home that Jefferson merely occupied. The maintenance of that residence, including its architectural innovations and French cuisine, required the superior intelligence of the resident blacks, and especially of Sally’s spectacularly brilliant family.
Perhaps next week the Powers That Be will discover that our living Constitution came from black revolutionaries or sensitive gays who had fled German or Russian anti-Semitism. If that narrative does become the approved Truth, I”ve no doubt that most people will say exactly what they are told. (After all, this is a democracy!) By the way, the only people during my recent visit to Monticello who seemed skeptical about the revisionist history were my wife, the Congdons, who brought us there, and I. The other visitors of all ages seemed to be gulping down the new party line without the slightest indigestion.
In a recent column for the Charleston City Paper, I explained how my moniker, the “Southern Avenger,” came from my advocating for states” rights and even secession in my early 20s, a brand of politics I still subscribe to today. Long comfortable with such concepts, it’s easy to forget that plenty of folks are not, and was reminded promptly by a number of readers that very notion of Americans no longer living under the same government is still considered “crazy” by many. Here are a few of those comments:
“Just great! What we need is to divide our country into a Balkanized mish-mash of impotent little “countries.” This is crazy talk, meant only to incite as far as I can see.” Another wrote: “So, are we asking for the idea of 50 individual countries? Talk about a screwed up idea.” A kind critic wrote: “Jack—I’m a big fan … but the secession idea these days is on par with colonizing the moon. It just doesn’t make sense.” And a less kind critic wrote: “You need to broaden your exposure to world ideas. This column shows how narrow your focus is. You haven’t grown much from your early years. You thought you knew it all then and still do.”
While I”m always more fascinated by the amount of stuff I don”t know, than I am the narrow worldview that exists between my two ears, I am quite certain of two things: big government doesn”t work”and yet it is always considered sound, sane and respectable to advocate for it. And the opposite is also true—to advocate for smaller government is acceptable so long as you”re talking about voting Republican or lowering taxes, but the moment you try to actually seek limiting Washington, DC’s jurisdiction; it’s time for a straightjacket.
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Upon his death in 2005, George Kennan was remembered for lots of things, but being crazy wasn”t among them. As a U.S. ambassador, adviser, political scientist and historian, Kennan was known as the “father of containment” and was one of the most influential architects of U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union. Kennan’s New York Times obituary described him as “the American diplomat who did more than any other envoy of his generation to shape United States policy during the cold war,” Gen. Colin Powell described him as “our best tutor” and Foreign Policy magazine declared Kennan “the most influential diplomat of the 20th century.”
But in his later years, Kennan had also become a full-blown secessionist, advocating independence for the state of Vermont and imagining a United States that would break up into “a dozen constituent republics.”
In February, 2010, a group of activists, academics and intellectuals will meet in Charleston, South Carolina, to pick up where Kennan left off. Known as the Abbeville Institute the theme of the conference is “State Nullification, Secession and the Human Scale of Political Order.” Say conference organizers:
George Kennan, author of the Cold War policy to contain the Soviet Union and described by some as the “conscience of America,” taught that a regime can become dysfunctional by simply becoming too large. Near the end of his long career in service to his country, where he stood for moderation and realism in international politics, he judged that the American regime had grown too large for the purposes of self government and that we should begin a public debate on how to divide it in the direction of a more human scale.
The Abbeville Institute’s mission is to kick start Kennan’s desired public debate:
For the first time in 144 years the topics of State nullification and secession have again entered public discourse. Nullification and secession were understood by the Founders as remedies to unconstitutional acts of the central government. Yet over a century of nationalist indoctrination and policy has largely hidden this inheritance from public scrutiny. The aim of the conference is to recover an understanding of that part of the American tradition and to explore its intimations for today.
America’s Founding Fathers were indeed revolutionary, but by no means “crazy.” The same was true of George Kennan and those who will attend the Abbeville Institute this winter in Charleston, who continue to explore his vision of devolving, limiting or breaking-up the modern state.
There is a big distinction to be made between radicalism and insanity. And the admittedly radical idea of states” rights or secession is far more logical than the conventional, popular habit of pretending we still possess the wealth, will or cultural consensus to maintain and expand the American empire forever.
That Iran is building a secret underground facility near the holy city of Qom, under custody of the Revolutionary Guard—too small to be a production center for nuclear fuel, but just right for the enrichment of uranium to weapons grade—is grounds for concern, but not panic.
Heretofore, all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, even the enrichment plant at Natanz—kept secret before exiles blew the whistle in 2002—have been consistent with a peaceful nuclear program.
Iran has also been on solid ground in claiming that, as signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, she has a right to enrich uranium and operate nuclear plants, as long as she complies with treaty obligations.
Under the Safeguard Agreement to the NPT, these include notification, six months before a nuclear facility goes operational.
According to U.S. officials, construction of this site began in 2006 and is only months from completion. And Tehran did not report it to the International Atomic Energy Agency until a week ago, when they were tipped the Americans were onto it and about to go public.
Iran’s explanation: This facility is benign, a backup to Natanz, to enable Iran to continue enriching uranium to fuel grade, should America or Israel bomb Natanz. It is a hedge against attack. And contrary to what Barack Obama implies, the facility is designed to enrich uranium only to the 5 percent needed for nuclear fuel, not the 90 percent needed for nuclear weapons.
Still, the burden of proof is now upon Tehran.
President Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamenei must convince IAEA inspectors this small secret facility that can house only 3,000 centrifuges has the same purpose as Natanz, which can house 58,000. Or they will be exposed as liars—to the West, to the Russians who have served as their defense counsel and to their own people.
For while Iranians are near unanimous in backing their national right to peaceful nuclear power, they do not all want nuclear weapons. And the Ayatollah has declared, ex cathedra, that Iran is not seeking them, and possession or use of such weapons is immoral and contrary to the teachings of Islam.
If Obama is right that the secret facility is “inconsistent with a peaceful program,” but compatible with a weapons program, Ayatollah Khamenei has a credibility problem the size of Andrei Gromyko’s, when he assured President Kennedy there were no Soviet missiles in Cuba. And President Kennedy had the photos in his desk.
Diplomats have been called honest men sent abroad to lie for their country. But ayatollahs, as holy men, are not supposed to be descending to diplomatic duplicity.
Obama’s dramatic announcement represents a coup for U.S. intelligence, but it also raises questions.
Reportedly, we have known of this Qom facility “for several years.” Yet, in late 2007, the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) said that U.S. agencies had “moderate confidence” that Iran had ended any nuclear weapons program in 2003.
In August, Walter Pincus, in a Washington Post story—“Iran Years From Fuel for Bomb, Report Says”—wrote, “Despite Iran’s progress since 2007 toward producing enriched uranium, the State Department intelligence analysts continue to think that Tehran will not be able to produce weapons-grade material before 2013.”
This was the judgment of the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research, based on “Iran’s technical capability.”
Query: If State’s top intelligence analysts, this year, did not think Iran could enrich to weapons grade until 2013, had they been kept in the dark about the secret facility near Qom?
Two weeks ago, in a Web exclusive, Mark Hosenball wrote, “The U.S. intelligence community is reporting to the White House that Iran has not restarted its nuclear weapons development program, two counter-proliferation officials tell Newsweek.”
The officials told the White House the conclusion of the 2007 NIE—i.e., Iran had halted its weapons program in 2003—stood.
Were these two counter-proliferation officials also out of the loop on the secret site? Or did they know of it, but fail to share the sense of alarm and urgency President Obama showed last week?
Despite last week’s revelation, the Obama policy of talking to Tehran makes sense. Whatever the ayatollah’s intentions, IAEA inspectors have his lone ton of low-enriched uranium at Natanz under observation. To enrich it to weapons grade, it must be moved.
America’s twin goals here are correct, compatible and by no means unattainable: no nukes in Iran, no war with Iran.
Bombing would unite that divided country behind a regime whose repressed people detest far more than we, as they have to live under it. Patience and perseverance, as in the Cold War, may be rewarded with the disintegration of a state that is today divided against itself.
We outlasted the Red czars. We will outlast the ayatollahs.
[Editor’s note: see also rounds 1-4 of Takimag’s increasingly acrimonious debate on originalism, interpretation, and whether the Constitution actually means anything at all. Austin Bramwell, “Original Sins”; Kevin R. C. Gutzman, “The Genuine Article”; Bramwell, “Best of Intentions”; Gutzman, “They Really Meant It”]
There isn’t much to say in response to Kevin Gutzman’s latest. He’s had two chances already but still hasn’t addressed my core contentions, namely (to repeat myself)
(i) “The Constitution as written contains barely any restrictions on the power of the Federal government to intrude upon the states” and
(ii) Gutzman can’t satisfactorily “answer the question: why should we follow the Constitution anyway?” At least now he helpfully explains why he won’t rebut me.
First, to my argument that the Fourteenth Amendment gives Congress virtually unlimited powers, Gutzman replies:
I do not waste my time scouting out all of the idiosyncratic justifications for unlimited power, from Caligula to the present. They have contributed nothing to civilization.
In other words, Gutzman refuses even to consider whether the Constitution might not be the libertarian document that he takes it to be. The Constitution simply must limit the powers of the Federal government! Yet somehow, I know not how, Gutzman tirelessly flays his opponents for allegedly subordinating the Constitution to their desired policy outcomes. Ye gad, if there’s anyone in this world who can’t separate his ideology from his interpretation of the Constitution, it’s Kevin Gutzman. Not only, by his own admission, does he reject any reading of the Constitution that doesn’t support his libertarianism, but he writes that I don’t care about “limitations on government authority,” even though I argued only that the Constitution doesn’t impose those limitations, and even though I pledged allegiance to the cause of limited government in both my posts. Gutzman evidently can’t even imagine how anyone could read the Constitution except as support for his ideology. Gutzman is more Brennanist that William Brennan himself.
Anyway, I confess that I don’t find Gutzman’s excuse for not addressing my arguments very credible. Nobody is asking Gutzman to do any “scouting”—all my arguments are sketched out in my posts for him to read. As for wasting Gutzman’s time, he has plenty of it to abuse me at length for having graduated from law school. Could he not have devoted just of bit of the time he has spent attacking me to responding to my actual arguments? Either Gutzman has a rather unscholarly set of priorities or he’s just being disingenuous.
Second, Gutzman continues to insist that his approach to the Constitution follows from the principle of self-government. I noted before that Lysander Spooner has decisively refuted this view. Gutzman now proudly reminds us that knows all about Lysander Spooner already. I’m glad—but will Gutzman do his readers the favor of explaining why he disagrees with Spooner? By no means! Instead, he proclaims, “I have little to say about constitutions to someone [i.e., me] who [doesn’t care] about the consent of the governed.” In other words, Gutzman won’t address any arguments coming from me, even when they’re not even mine, and even when they were devised by a thinker (Spooner) whom Gutzman admires. The name Bramwell has so defiled the sacred purity of Gutzman’s libertarianism as to render him speechless with pious indignation. Perhaps when I’m not around to blaspheme, Gutzman will regain his tongue and explain how he proposes to reconcile his belief in written constitutions with his faith in self-government. I only regret that I won’t be there to witness his performance. I suspect it would be quite entertaining.
Lastly, I have argued that Gutzman’s method of interpreting the Constitution—which favors subjective expectations over the actual text—is flawed. I offered, oh, six or seven objections to intentionalism, each one of which may be taken as fatal. Gutzman’s response is, frankly, puerile: He addresses one objection—namely, that it’s unclear whose intentions we should consult—announces that he’s not going to bother with the others (yet refers his readers to no authority on the subject whatsoever), and then exults at having vindicated intentionalism. I’m sorry, but that just won’t do.
For one thing, Gutzman doesn’t even successfully answer the “whose intentions?” objection.In his view, the only intentions to be consulted are those of the people’s representatives at the state conventions that ratified the Constitution. This argument is presumably based on the actual text of the Constitution, which specifies in Article VII how the Constitution was to be adopted. If it’s the text that controls whose intentions count, however, then why in all other circumstances must intentions control the text? Gutzman’s appeal to the text to define the role of intention is incoherent. Moreover, as I noted already, the Preamble states that the Constitution was adopted by “We the People.” That bit of text suggests we should consult not just the intentions of the people’s representatives at the state ratification conventions but the intentions of the people themselves—namely, all individuals around at the time of ratification, if not all individuals who have ever been governed by the Constitution.
Even if Gutzman can successfully define the class of relevant intentions, he still has to run a gauntlet of five or six more objections to intentionalism. Indeed, the “whose intentions?” objection is probably the easiest one to dispose of. Somehow I don’t think Gutzman is up to solving the problem of, say, generality or aggregation. No other intentionalist, to my knowledge, ever has.
The rest of Gutzman’s reply is peppered with the same sort of shameless misrepresentations that, sadly, one comes to expect of his writings. I did not say, for example, that “the Fourteenth Amendment has no meaning”; I actually said that “the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment is clear.” I did not say that arguments for unlimited power are “worth inventing”; I said, “I am not a devotee of unlimited government.” I did not offer “Brennan-Tribe-Douglas-like excuses for rejecting originalism”; I explained that only by rejecting Gutzman’s intentionalism can one “save originalism” and “fix permanently the proper interpretation of the Constitution.” Gutzman has made no effort to understand my arguments. Instead, he has flatly denied, again and again, that I ever wrote what I wrote—even though it’s all there in the record for any reader to consult.
Gutzman doesn’t want to argue with me. Very well. I regret having wasted his time, and mine.
Addendum 1: Gutzman disagrees with my reading of McCulloch. His reading (which he supports not with citations to Marshall’s opinion but to secondary authorities) is a common one, though one I believe to be mistaken. I am happy to discuss the subject further sometime, preferably with an interlocutor willing to argue in good faith. In the meantime, the proper reading of McColluch is only incidental to my argument that Congress’s powers under the Fourteenth Amendment are virtually unlimited.
Addendum 2: Gutzman now admits that the Supreme Court has not always been guided by the slogan, “evolving standards of decency.” He is unimpressed that I would point this out, since it is so obvious. If it is so obvious, however, then he should have qualified his earlier claims about Supreme Court decision-making. Even now, he says that Supreme Court justices have in many cases “been guided only by their whims.” Only by their whims? One has to point out the obvious, when arguing with a fanatic. Otherwise, he’ll continue to state positions that are laughably overblown.
How states’ rights and secession is far from “crazy” and was a concept fully embraced by celebrated American diplomat and adviser George Kennan and his admirers today at the Abbeville Institute.
One of the wheezes I get from my leftist friends in Berkeley is how highly evolved their sense of morality is, as if 21st-century Berkeley were some New Jerusalem of higher moral thought. These are folks who calibrate their exquisitely sensitive moral barometers with a protractor made from renewable soy plastic, a straight edged icon with Germaine Greer‘s photograph in it, graph paper and a copy of the New York Times Editorial Section. You may get a chuckle out of this, especially after looking at some photographs of the local color, but if you are forced to watch the type of agonies such people have over the purchase of the correct varieties of Free Range Organic Cruelty-Intolerating Pasta the way I have, you might begin to suspect there is something to what they say. Fortunately, I am equipped with a modest education in history which confers immunity to such nonsense.
About 1500 years ago, there was an advanced civilization known as the Sassanid empire. We generally think of them as “Persians” or “Iranians right before Islam.” Of earthly civilizations of their day, they were among the most advanced. Their armies regularly defeated the Romans, Byzantines, Huns, and everyone else they went up against. The empire was much larger than present day Iran, it encompassed much of what we now know as the Middle East, Afghanistan, parts of Turkey, Pakistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, North Africa and even parts of modern Russia.
They had a powerful and helpful civil service. People who lived in the Sassanid Empire enjoyed fruits of prosperity that had been rare in human history before the industrial revolution. By all accounts, the Sassanid Empire was a pleasant, prosperous, tolerant, and wonderful place to live. If I had to choose to live someplace in 500 AD, I’d have to go with the Sassanids. The Western Roman Empire had fallen to the German barbarians, and other than poor Belisarius; the Eastern empire was a wreck, too. China was being invaded by Mongols and was split into a low-level civil war between Buddhist and Taoist camps. Korea divided in one of its interminable civil wars between North and South, and Japan was doing no better. I’m not sure anyone knows what people were up to in the Americas, probably eating each other.
No, I’d take the civilized and decent Sassanids, with their reverence for Greek Philosophy, their multicultural mixture of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and various forms of Christianity, and for their pleasant climate.
The Sassanid empire also had people who believe in the exactly same kind of nonsense that modern Northern Californian buffoons do.
Mazdak is sometimes described as a “reformer.” In reality, he was a cultural revolutionary. Active at the turn of the 6th century, Mazdak preached the virtues of pacifism, though his followers often took part in riots where they’d kill lots of people they didn’t like. And like most “highly evolved” people, Mazdak was a vegetarian. He wore various forms of hair shirts, looking like a slob being seen as a sign of dignity in his faith. His faith also required the total abolition of private property. Mazdak, despite being a sort of priest, was a radical anti-clerical type. His ire was against the dominant Zoroastrian religion of Persia. He managed to have most of the fire temples closed; in this, he was even more effective against the powerful Zoroastrian clerics than the Bolsheviks were against Russian Orthodoxy. Mazdak opened the state granaries to the people so they didn’t have to work: these were store houses against disaster or for military uses. Mazdak even required sexual ethics much like those presently known as Polyamory. Yes, Mazdak was all for free love”especially for himself. At one point, Kavadh I, the soft-hearted (to say nothing of soft-headed) king who allowed this highly evolved nincompoop to ruin his country, was even going to have a go at wife swapping with Mazdak.
Kavadh’s son, Khosarau talked King Nitwit out of prostituting his royal mother to this impostor, which is a pretty good indication of what a simpleton Kavadh was. Mazdak’s followers proceeded to tear the nation apart, destroying and looting as they went. Eventually, thousands would die in a decades-long civil war against these avowed pacifists in a nation that had known internal peace for centuries. Eventually, after years of this, King Kavadh’s eminently sensible son Khosarau managed to put Mazdak and his followers to the sword. Since Mazdakites believed in a complete inversion of Persian society, Khosarau had them buried upside down with their feet in the air.
Really, the whole thing sounded an awful lot like the 1960s in America, or 1919 in Russia, except the Hippies and Bolsheviks mostly won. Khosarau, more or less, ran the place from that day forward, and when he actually achieved the throne, he put his empire into some semblance of order. But the damage to the moral fiber of Persian society was done. When Islam came a few decades later, the Sassanid empire was easy meat.
While this admittedly sounds like an all-too-easy coincidence, it wasn’t the only occurrence of this sort of thing in late civilizations. The late Romans had similar problems with the Gnostic religions, whose adherents believed in much the same grab bag of anti-civilizational garbage. This religious heresy also happened right before Roman civilization fell. You can read about the beliefs of some of the Gnostics in St. Augustine’s Confessions, as he was a member before his career as a Catholic.
The Albigensian or Cathar crusade occurred in a similarly prosperous time: the High Middle Ages. Everyone knows that late Roman times were a nice era to live in, but people don’t realize that the population densities reached in the prosperous High Middle Ages were unequaled until the Industrial Revolution. This was the era that saw the construction of the Gothic cathedrals. I doubt modern day, technological Chartres is capable of building anything like a Gothic cathedral. So, once again, in comfortable times, people get the same stupid idea. As far as we can tell, the Cathars and the Mazdakites had the same bundle of bad ideas that late Roman Gnostics and modern Berkeleyites do. The Cathars didn’t cause the downfall of the High Middle Ages any more than the Gnostics caused the downfall of the Western Roman Empire, but they were a symptom of the disease of over-civilization. The type of society in which such thoughts can flourish simply cannot survive long. I suppose I’m a Spenglerian with my history: this sort of mass mental illness is a disease of too much comfort and insufficient moral fiber in leadership. The Cathars and the Mazdakites are a lot like a shelf mushrooms you might see on a mighty oak tree. The tree must be strong to support the mushroom, but the presence of the mushroom is a sign of internal rot.
The exchanges in the court of Kavadh could be something out of the opinion pages of modern American newspapers if we had more writers with sense (like Pat Buchanan). It doesn’t get much better than this speech from an establishment Zoroastrian priest, addressed to Mazdak:
You are a seeker after knowledge, but the new religion you have made is a pernicious one. If women and wealth are to be held in common, how will a son know his father, or a father his son? If men are to be equal in the world, social distinctions will be unclear: who will want to be a commoner, and how will nobility be recognized? … This talk of yours will ruin the world, and such an evil doctrine should not flourish in Iran. If everyone is a master, who is he to command? Everyone will have a treasure, and who is to be its treasurer? None of those who established religions have talked in this way. You have secretly put together a demonic faith: you are leading everyone to hell and you don’t see your evil acts for what they are!*
Just so, Reverend. So, the next time one of your “highly evolved” friends vomits forth some impossible piffle they’ve acquired from passing the bong ‘round one too many grad school drum circles, remind them of Mazdak, the Gnostics, and the Cathars. They won’t know what you’re talking about, and they may even be flattered to have such hoary historical antecedents, but it’s worth thinking about. Their fashionable ideas are not “highly evolved” at all. The mushrooms are just rediscovering a very old error; one that is only possible in a civilization enfeebled by prosperity.
*Quoted from Sunset of Empire: Stories from the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi, Translated from the Persian by Dick Davis, Mage Publishers, Washington DC, 2004
Be it the “public option” (that”ll eliminate all other options), the co-opting “co-op,” or the make-believe market that is the “insurance exchange”: if implemented, these euphemisms for centrally planned medicine will mean many more bureaucracies manned by plenty of government workers.
Government workers may not always be genial to the public that pays them, but they are generous to a fault with their own. In the course of providing the stellar service for which the United States Postal Service has become famous, they pay themselves sizeable salaries and bountiful benefits, and retire years before the stiffs who support them can afford to.
For the benefit of the philistine forces that religiously pray for the creation of more such bloated behemoths”Rachel Maddow does so nightly on MSNBC”here are some sobering statistics about the price of the parasitical class. They come courtesy of The Free Enterprise Nation & Business Wire:
“¢ On average, the federal civilian wage in 2008 was $79,197, almost 50 percent greater than that of the average private sector employee’s wages of $49,935.
“¢ Pay growth in the public sector has been much higher than growth in the private sector over the years, too. Between 2000 and 2008, wages for federal civilian workers climbed by 53.7 percent, while wages in the private sector went up 28.5 percent over the same time period.
“¢ The average state and local government employee earns 29 percent more than the average private sector employee.
“¢ When wages and benefits are combined, federal civilian workers averaged $119,982 in 2008, twice the average compensation of $59,909 for private sector workers. This places the value of benefits for federal civilian workers at an average of $40,000 a year, four times the value of benefits that the average private sector employee receives.
“¢ The majority of state workers have pension plans that allow them to retire 10 to 25 years earlier than members of the productive sector, and that provide benefits many times the retirement payout that Social Security would provide.
While gathering the data, The Free Enterprise Nation sampled (in the statistical sense) life in the Oink Sector:
“¢ A driver’s education teacher in Illinois gets a $170,000 annual salary and $120,000 annual pension.
“¢ In New York, some city workers amass more than $100,000 in overtime during their last year before retirement to create a monthly pension higher than their salary.
“¢ 420 of Illinois’s physical education teachers, 332 English teachers and 94 driver’s education teachers make more than $100,000 a year, with salaries for each position topping out at more than $160,000 a year.
“¢ A citizen of Houston, Texas, pondering the curious, concomitant rise in crime and taxes, would find that the number of police officers serving the community has remained the same for six years running, despite a 40 percent budget increase to cover higher salaries, pension and healthcare benefits.
“¢ A small business receiving an IOU in California might be surprised to learn that in 2008, 40 percent of Vallejo’s 613 employees had salaries greater than $100,000 a year, the same year the city filed for bankruptcy.
“¢ In Fort Worth, Texas, one police chief recently retired at age 55 with a guaranteed annual pension of $188,692. His successor retired at age 52 with an annual pension of $113,614. Another unremarkable State of California retiree gets an annual pension of $500,000. He was outsmarted by two University of Connecticut professors who are currently collecting six-figure pensions while simultaneously collecting similar salaries.
In another state, Free Enterprise Nation researchers discover that teachers retired at over 100,000 a year after 30 years of employment, with a guaranteed three-percent increase per annum. “Only 12 percent of retirees from the private sector have defined benefit pensions to supplement their Social Security.” The average annual pension of a private-enterprise employee is $13,083. These serfs of the state are not eligible for full Social Security benefits until their late 60s.
Early this year, still in the midst of an economic depression, the federal government awarded a 2.9 percent raise to every federal worker and a 5.9 percent raise to every retiree.
The average worker in the U.S. pays $10,000 in income taxes; enough to keep one federal worker in style for one month! There are upward of 20 million of these pampered pigs, hogging 87,000 different institutions in government and public education, where the payrolls are always lard-laden in comparison to private-economy paysheets.
The number of government workers is increasing and is projected to continue on this trajectory.
As invasive as the Kudzu vine, government added over half a million workers in the second quarter of 2009, as the private sector shed more than a million. Servant of the State Ms. Maddow will have to bear with Barack’s baby steps. Yes, Bush set an ambitious pace for the growth of government, but before she knows it”and well before his term is over”Obama will have bumped up the current federal workforce substantially.
Over and above these mind-numbing numbers, it’s crucial to comprehend the underlying principles that permit in one sphere (the public sector) what they prohibit in the other (the private sector).
In the private sector a worker is paid for his productivity. If he were overpaid”in other words, remunerated more than he produces”the proprietor would go belly up. No business means no jobs.
Set aside the question of whether productivity”output per unit of labor”is the appropriate gauge in an enterprise”government”that confiscates and distributes wealth, but produces nothing.
Understand this: Backed by the power of the State, the sponger sector has unlimited access to income not its own”it has the power to tax, borrow, and mint money out of thin air. With such usurped authority, why would public debt that runs to the trillions deter the ongoing orgy?
By the standards of honest, if unorthodox, accounting, government workers, moreover, don”t pay taxes, but are paid out of taxes. In other words, they pay taxes out of money confiscated from taxpayers, who, in turn, pay taxes twice: on their own income and on the income of members of the bureaucracy.
At the very least, this should disqualify state workers from voting.
In any event, if you are a private-sector sucker plumping for a panoply of new government programs, consider the following: The more of them there are, the fewer of you there will be. Think zero-sum, or parasite vs. host. The first is sucking the lifeblood of the second. The larger the parasite gets, the weaker the host will grow.
As another G20 meeting rolls around, this time on home soil, the time comes once again for the economically curious but politically unconnected to wonder what is really happening behind closed doors. But while admiring the pageantry, chuckling at the awkward group photos, and parsing the joint communiquÃ©s like newly found Dead Sea scrolls, the overwhelming majority of observers will miss the meeting’s dominant theme: hypocrisy.
Everyone agrees that the principal agenda item in Pittsburgh will be the need to rein in the “global imbalances” that created the late economic crisis. Everyone also agrees that these imbalances involve too much spending and borrowing by Americans and too little of both by the Chinese and other developing nations. In his remarks this week at the United Nations, President Obama used his peerless rhetorical skill to frame the issues clearly and plainly. Noting that a return to pre-crisis economics is impossible, the president assured the world that his administration will pursue policies to increase savings and decrease spending at home and challenged his Chinese counterparts to enact measures with the opposite effect in their own country.
While this is roughly what needs to happen, President Obama is actually doing everything in his power to prevent it. In point of fact, every policy move undertaken by his administration has exacerbated the very imbalances he supposedly wants to curtail. To so seamlessly profess one goal while simultaneously undermining it is an impressive piece of political theater. Unfortunately, this particular drama is likely to have an unhappy ending—and the ticket price will be staggering.
What exactly are the federal fiscal stimuli other than deliberate, but clumsy, efforts to get people, companies, and governments to spend money they don’t have? Programs like tax credits for new homebuyers or ‘cash for clunkers’ are intended to encourage consumers to spend money that they otherwise might have saved. Grants to municipalities allow them to hire workers and spend money locally that they otherwise would have forgone.
Federal intervention in the mortgage and credit card debt markets, where they are now nearly the sole buyer, has been specifically undertaken to keep interest rates low and financial firms solvent “ so that Americans can keep buying homes and using their credit cards. While the Fed will continue to hand out free money to any and all borrowers for an “extended period,” the abysmally low interest on deposits that such a policy creates disincentivizes personal savings even further.
In 2009, despite the tilted playing field, the American people have heroically managed to increase their savings (although clearly not as much as they would have in a free market). But President Obama’s runaway deficit spending is undermining their efforts. The simple truth is that government debt is our debt. So if a family manages, at some cost to their lifestyle, to squirrel away an extra $1,000 in saving this year, but the government adds $20,000 in new debt per household (each family’s approximate share of the $1.8 trillion fiscal 2009 deficit), that family ends up owing $19,000 more than they did at the beginning of the year!
So much for our end of the bargain. How about on the other side of the Pacific? Will the Chinese restore balance by increasing their spending? How can they while they are lending us all their money? Remember, any money the Chinese spend is money they cannot loan to us. So, if China really wanted to spur domestic consumption, the best way to do so would be to stop buying our debt. Even better, they could sell Treasuries they already own and distribute the proceeds to their citizens to spend.
However, the Obama administration is heavily lobbying the Chinese to get them to step up to the plate and buy record amounts of new Treasury debt. Obama cannot have it both ways. He cannot claim he wants the Chinese to spend more, but then beg the Chinese government to take money away from Chinese consumers and loan it to the United States Treasury.
In the end, Obama will get precisely what he publicly claims to desire but privately dreads. The Chinese government will come to its senses and stop buying Treasuries. This will cause the U.S. dollar to collapse, but it will also allow Chinese citizens to fully enjoy the fruits of their labor.
Once the Chinese begin consuming more of their own products, those products will no longer be available to Americans. Once they start spending more of their incomes on themselves, those funds will no longer be available for us to borrow. Unfortunately, that is when our real economic crisis will begin. The worst part is that the longer these imbalances are allowed to continue, the larger they grow and the more painful the ultimate adjustment process becomes.
But for now, it’s all pomp, circumstance and hypocrisy in Pittsburgh. Why yes, Madam Finance Minister, I’d love another of those crab cakes!