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July 11, 2010

The Crock of Shit, Lightly Fictionalized

I just saw the movie Green Zone. One part that made me laugh was the shout out to the "crock of shit"—i.e., the claim that Iraq was prepared to attack with WMD within 45 minutes of the order being given—produced by Ayad Allawi's Iraqi National Accord.

The scene where the crock makes its appearance features Greg Kinnear as Clark Poundstone from the Bush administration and Brendan Gleeson as Martin Brown from the CIA. What's also funny is that "Zubaidi" is the stand-in for Ahmed Chalabi. In other words, the movie has the crock of shit being provided by the Chalabi character—the puppet the CIA didn't favor—when in real life it was actually provided by Allawi, the puppet the CIA did want to run Iraq.

POUNDSTONE: Okay, well, let's table that for now. In terms of stabilization, uh—

BROWN: Zubaidi hasn't been here for thirty years.

POUNDSTONE: Well, he's the best bet we have right now for a stable democracy—

BROWN: You find me ten guys in Baghdad who even know who he is.

POUNDSTONE: Well, he's our friend, Marty. He's been very helpful. Our office is extremely satisfied with all the information that we've gotten from him.

BROWN: Zubaidi's been selling us a crock of shit for years. This guy is not reliable. His intelligence is not reliable. His report chain is not reliable.

POUNDSTONE: This is exactly why people are losing confidence in the agency, Marty. You're questioning every single piece of intelligence that's coming in, up to the point where we cannot make any progress.

BROWN: You cannot just hand this country over to an exile no one's ever heard of!

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at July 11, 2010 05:39 PM

Rather than a crock pot, I've always preferred to use a pressure cooker, which seals in the taste better and makes everything easier to cut with your fork -- or even a spoon!

Posted by: darrelplant at July 11, 2010 07:39 PM

Smart post again.

I have the same problem with this movie scene that I had with Barry Eisler's Inside Out, which I recently finished reading and thought extremely good because of its plot and relative sophistication even though it is a book with wooden, stereotypical characters, mostly ordinary ideas pretending to be more profound than they are, bestsellerish writing, and glorified violence and militarism and machoism. There are good reasons to commend Eisler's book for its intelligent treatment of torture and Guantanamo and such, which is why Glenn Greenwald and Andy Worthington and others did commend the book, and I bet the same can be said of Green Zone, but when I finish reading a book in which I have been led to understand and sort of admire a military Special Ops assassin, I feel like I've maybe been part of a different kind of op. And when I find myself nodding my head and thinking those CIA guys were right about Iraq when I watch a movie or clip from a movie, I wonder if maybe I'm being played.

Posted by: N E at July 12, 2010 12:59 AM

the movie has the crock of shit being provided by the Chalabi character—the puppet the CIA didn't favor—when in real life it was actually provided by Allawi, the puppet the CIA did want to run Iraq.

Hmm ... yeah, that is irritating and eyebrow-raising.

Posted by: Cloud at July 12, 2010 03:03 PM

Speaking of handing a country over to an unknown, look at how the populace of the USA handed their nation over to Obama, not realizing his childhood buddy Geithner would gain some real power (Shared with Bernanke.) Now fully 22% of us are unemployed.

Of course, what choice did we really have? It was Obama or McCain.

Posted by: Elise Mattu at July 12, 2010 03:41 PM

Puppet Fight! It goes well with the Iron Law of Institutions and the battle between the Sane and Insane Billionaires. (Especially since Ahmed "George Washington of Iraq" Chalabi provided several crocks of shit himself, that his groupies lapped up eagerly.)

Posted by: Batocchio at July 12, 2010 05:00 PM

"Of course, what choice did we really have?"

Ah yes, that's the magic of James Madison's work, though there have been many subsequent refinements, notably to the banking system (the Fed) and the war/capitalism perpetual motion machine (the National Security State).

What's striking to me is that Bernanke's academic expertise is The Great Depression and therefore what it takes to stimulate the economy more than is being done now. He definitely knows how to do something about high unemployment.

And Obama obviously said he wanted to do numerous things politically that he hasn't done, and not doing those things has naturally had some political cost. Yet those things didn't happen.

So putting people in positions of power who know how to do things different, and want to do things differently--that's obviously not enough to make it happen. What might make it happen?

Imagine publicly financed elections, a unicameral legislature, a Supreme Court without power to overturn acts of that legislature, an opposition party without power to block legislation by filibuster or through any other means short of a majority vote, a President without power to rule by National Security Orders or signing statements, and an accountable National Security bureaucracy unable to cloak everything in secrecy.

All that is unlikely to happen precisely because it would make good government possible.

Posted by: N E at July 12, 2010 05:13 PM

NE, why do you persist in taking these people at their word? All that matters are actions, which speak volumes louder, as they say. If His Potomac Majesty and His Court have been unable to fulfill those many promises and affirmed ideals, isn't it just as likely that they don't want to do any of them? It's a feature, not a bug.

You sound to me like a battered spouse, forever believing the promises never to hit again, to do better, to get counselling. It never works, it's never real, and neither is the Imperial Grand Guignol of US Republicrat politics. If there is a way out of the charnel house that is the American empire, it will have nothing to do with the parties and organizations of that power.

Posted by: RedPhillip at July 12, 2010 05:31 PM


I'm not taking anybody at their word. I said Bernanke and Obama have not done what they could do, though I guess what you're saying is they don't even believe in the goals they profess to hold, so I shouldn't have expected anything different. Well, I didn't really expect anything different, just not for the same reason you didn't.

I don't believe that leaders of higher character would do that much better in these positions as everything is presently constituted. That doesn't mean those guys are of the highest character, and certainly they could be braver, but what I think is wrong is the view that more principled leaders actually could do a lot better without fixing the systemic problems. I'm very skeptical about that.

As for your question about the way out, then what will it have to do with? How can it be accomplished? As for proposals, I showed you mine. So show me yours sometime.

Posted by: N E at July 12, 2010 07:24 PM


Posted by: Mike Meyer at July 12, 2010 08:51 PM

NE- as impotent and ill-conceived as the Constitution is, at least it has provided some obstacle in the onslaught against free speech, and in searching, seizing and all that. Your proposal would eliminate this.

Public funding of elections isn't a change to the system, it's giving a paintjob to a pyramid. Politicians are still chosen via advertising campaigns, a tiny percentage of the population still rules the rest. If you must have government, how about a concept the disappeared Bernie Chazelly mentioned here once, sortition?

Posted by: marcus at July 13, 2010 12:01 AM


You won't find many examples of past instances where the Supreme Court has struck down an act of Congress on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment, with the notable exception of Citizens United and its progenitors, the corporate speech cases. Those cases I assume you aren't too crazy about. The Supreme Court hasn't give we the people of the United States that much protection from Congress with regard to regulation of speech. Same for searching and seizing and other 4th Amendment cases. Don't get me wrong, I am a civil libertarian, but the Supreme Court doesn't often go toe to toe with Congress to protect criminal suspects and ordinary people. Even with regard to the most legally sanctified of rights, habeas corpus, Congress got some deference from the Supreme Court after it passed the military commissions act to respond to Hamdan, and in Bumadiene the vote to strike down the military commissions act as unconstitutional was oh so close, 5-4. I do confess that I'm glad the Supreme Court held, and was able to hold, in Bumadiene that the Military Commissions Act violated the Constitution even though it was an act of Congress. But on balance I think the Supreme Court has nullified more good acts of Congress than bad ones, and striking down federal statutes is unquestionably undemocratic. I have more faith in democracy than elites even though both are imperfect. When the media stops churning out hate and ignorance so effectively, people will improve.

By the way, you don't need to throw out the Constitution to limit the power of the Supreme Court to strike down acts of Congress. In Britain, for example, the courts have no such power to invalidate acts of parliament notwithstanding traditions dating back to Magna Carta.

Sortition? Rule by lottery? I guess that's as likely to happen as my proposal, but it's hard for me to take the idea seriously. It's one thing to have a democracy that permits those who want to be active to have disproportionate influence, quite another to have a system that precludes most people from having any control over their own future. Publicly funding elections is a big and necessary step toward real democracy even if it may not be a sufficient step to get there.

Posted by: N E at July 13, 2010 02:10 AM

The control that "most people from having any control over their own future" is illusory as it pertains to the rule by popularity contest . If people can't be allowed to make decisions about their own lives, which is what representative government posits, how can they be expected to make good choices in choosing who will make good choices? I don't see how intelligence functions that way. The choices are made based on the same principles that make McDonald's so popular, even in countries like the one I live in, where drastically tastier, healthier, and even faster food can be had at any number of restaurants/stores/cafes/bakeries surrounding every McDonald's, for less than half the price, yet McDonald's and the Obomb can pack a room, anywhere, anytime.

Is it possible the Constitution and its alleged enforcement by the SCrOTUS prevents some tyrannical laws from even being passed? And no, I have no problem with Citizens United. I'll defer to Glenn Greenwald's commentary on that. All in all, I'm against people in black robes deciding anything about my life, but in abstracta, I don't think this Citizens United hubbub is a negative.

Sortition, and there wouldn't need be a single Executive God-King, as I can't think of any decisions POTI make that couldn't be voted on - there could be huge, changing, groups of representatives, thousands in each branch, millions, even, in the age of technology - that would verge towards something like....democracy.

But I'm an anarchist. Sortition is the furthest I'd even consider a trial compromise with the reactionary thought known as statism.

Posted by: marcus at July 13, 2010 02:40 AM

My belief is that anyone who wants to be President, or a senator for that matter, is mentally ill to the point of posing a grave public danger. (You have to admit that even our most popular presidents were pretty weird dudes. The worst ones were full-blown psychopaths.) Therefore, sortition is an attractive alternative, particularly in the form of a draft. I think Mark Twain had it right when he suggested that the best president would be someone who would have to be dragged into the White House kicking and screaming.

Posted by: Paul Avery at July 13, 2010 06:38 AM

Paul Avery: My thoughts — for a very long time — precisely.

Posted by: NomadUK at July 13, 2010 06:46 AM

@ NE:

As for your question about the way out, then what will it have to do with?

I'd thought about being more explicit on my own view above, but held off because it's, well, grim.

I no longer believe that any change is possible within the context of the present relationships of power. I believe that the on-going atrocity that is the Empire will continue until everything collapses from its internal corruption, bankruptcy, resource scarcity and climate catastrophe (and I believe that these elements are tightly-bound conditions).

What hope I retain is that out of the calamity to come there may be some small continuity of the best of what our species is capable, that science, learning and art are not lost. That hope is not large. I have no doubt that I will be dead before what is left of humanity emerges from the disaster. I would like to live long enough to see Moloch fall and hope that I might, in my small way, speed the plow.

Posted by: RedPhillip at July 13, 2010 09:31 AM


My feelings and thoughts about humanity's future are equally as grim as your, partly because my analysis is much the same as yours, but I'd say more because at bottom I'm basically an idealist but also a cynical pessimist and also someone who has always been quick to take the side of the weak, because I grew from that soil. That troika isn't the most energizing psychological mix though it does seem to make me able to see some things few people care to see. (Having recently watched Shutter Island, I have to admit that whether I see more accurately, objectively speaking, is no easy question.)

So I share your views, but I think for me it has more to do with me than with the world. The whole of the world and history are too big to see without bias. I have always been willing to conclude that because my father, God bless him, was a child of the depression pessimist's pessimist, yet he always insisted that he was just a realist. I chuckle at that, in much the same way my kids will undoubtedly oneday chuckle when they remember my views about assassinations. (To my amusement, the minister who gave the sermon at his funeral talked about my father's optimism and in so doing captured a microcosm of the power of Truth in the world of flesh.)

Hope for me is a fragile thing too, and I too find it in beauty. I actually don't think Moloch ever really falls, at least not in the way you seem to want, but my conclusion about that is entirely subjective. I guess I'm a bit of a transcendentalist, perhaps because I was infected too young with the idea of Heaven. Or perhaps life made me early on see some things like Nietzsche, who responded when someone said that beauty is truth, 'no, we have beauty to escape truth.' Those kinds of big questions offer great opportunities for intellectual bullshitting, which I love, but the questions are really way too hard for me. I have been wrong about so many things so many times that I have to admit that's true. I can't even tell you what will become of me or my children, let alone humanity. And humanity isn't even the whole story--we're just a dot in the universe. There are several hundred billion stars in our galaxy alone, and in the one next to it, Andromeda, supposedly about a trillion stars. I find those facts humbling, and also a reminder that what I don't understand need not be bad even if I tend to think so because I can't possibly see, let alone understand, the Big Picture. I'm not quite ready to embrace the Buddha, but I do think he was on to something, and I don't even worry much these days about dying before good triumphs over evil. That actually feels indulgent to me. I more or less think of myself as a kind of farmer, planting seeds in an old family tradition, because I want my kids and their kids (and for that matter all the other kids too) to get through the coming winter.

Posted by: N E at July 13, 2010 11:03 AM

Of course, what choice did we really have? It was Obama or McCain.

Yeah, whenever I go to the grocery, the first thing I do is go to the condiments aisle, and ask myself: I can have either DelMonte Catsup, or Heinz Ketchup.

I have to ignore all the other jars and squeeze bottles of other sauces, toppings, dressings, and concoctions. I have to.

Because Elise Mattu says I do.

Posted by: CF Oxtrot at July 13, 2010 12:07 PM

Oh, and I forgot:

N E remains a very very dull, naive and unfunny poster.

Dull, naive, repetitive N E Theme = "it's either Repub or Dem, can't choose any other, and Repub is EVIL"

Unfunny N E tone = "I'm pretending to mock the simpletons with my haughty erudition and profligate use of polysyllablic conundrums and quaerae. Worship me now!"

Posted by: CF Oxtrot at July 13, 2010 12:11 PM

Paul Avery and Nomad UK

The problem is, the kicking and screaming candidates don't run and would never even get into the primaries if they did, let alone have a chance to win. As far as I know, Samuel Clemens never said there was no difference among politicians. If he thought it, it was strange of him to be the Vice President of the Anti-Imperialist League working for some politicians and against others. The 'weird dudes' are preferable to the psychopaths for some obvious reasons, notably casualties. That's also why the Anti-Imperialist League included people like famous Indian-fighting Lieutenant General Nelson Appleton Miles and ex-President Grover Cleveland and industrialist Andrew Carnegie. It was good to have those connected guys, because though they were hardly saintly, they had stature and couldn't be accused of being idealists of no consequence in the real world. Organizations confined to saintliness don't often have much influence, let alone power. It's good to have some Indian-fighting Generals and ex-Presidents and super-rich industrialists on the roster.

It may be rare for Senators and Presidents to be quality people, but it's not impossible. Senator Wellstone was definitely a fine man, and by the time he became a Senator Bobby Kennedy also definitely was, and my fellow South Dakotan George McGovern also was, and I'm pretty sure Tom Harkin is now. That's four off the top of my head. I'm not saying they were perfect, but by human standards those were all admirable men, I'd say each certainly better than me. And I feel sure I'm missing some others. So it can happen, which means the conclusion that men of power can never be decent men and are all mentally ill is empirically wrong.

As for Presidents, that's tougher, because the job amounts to feeding slop to hogs, so they all end up covered in slop and pigshit and they end up smelling like it no matter how much they wash up. But even though none of them have principles all the time, some of them have had principles some of the time, and that seems especially true on the really big questions where they felt most responsible for making a moral decision. A sense of responsibility can work differently with someone who is The Decider. If the buck stops with you, you can't just tell yourself that some General told you you have no choice. Then the effect that Stanley Milgram so brilliantly studied goes away, at least partly. We can be glad that seems to have a sobering effect on some Presidents, even if they would otherwise give the okay to blowing up a village or a wedding party. Better to have someone in power who can rationalize murdering a hundred people than someone who can rationalize murdering a hundred thousand people, even though they're both murderers.

Those are my irritating apologetics for the day.

Posted by: N E at July 13, 2010 03:23 PM

"My belief is that anyone who wants to be President, or a senator for that matter, is mentally ill to the point of posing a grave public danger."

I agree, sociopaths all the one. Even if NE's "definitely" good men really were, you're talking about a negligibly small percentage, especially considering majorities are the name of the game. And, the intoxication of being God-King is something that would corrupt most if not all of even that (probably nonexistent) tiny percentage of decent folk, should they somehow ever slip past the imperial guard into the big temple. And, voters have demonstrated their abilities again and again to be despiccable. Thus, the popularity contest is a sham.

From IOZ

"You know, properly understood, the act of prayer is not an act of will, but an act of submission. Well, so too the vote, which is secular democracy's answer to the prayer. I know the popular civics texts tell us that the bosses work for us, that our little Republic is what you call an employee-owned company, but plainly that's just not case. To vote is not to give an order but to offer acclamation. You're just agreeing, ahead of time and sight unseen, to whatever it is that the bastard says, or does not say, that he's going to do."

Posted by: marcus at July 13, 2010 09:59 PM

Marcus, you wrote:

"The intoxication of being God-King is something that would corrupt most if not all of even that (probably nonexistent) tiny percentage of decent folk, should they somehow ever slip past the imperial guard into the big temple."

That's just an assumption, commonly voiced, and one that appears to me to be wrong when you look at the lives of MOST powerful people. You can confirm that for yourself by reading lots of biographies and memoirs, which as Disraeli said is history without theory, and by that I don't mean just the self-serving statements of people themselves. I mean the record of what those around them observed and did, especially those who opposed them or fell out with them and so were hardly fans. If you don't have the time or inclindation to do that, and I admit it is a big undertaking, you can trust me about this, because I got so pissed and mistrustful that I made that rather exhaustive inquiry to find out what the hell has really been going on. Alternatively, of course, you can just ignore the evidence and believe what you want, which is most people's favored option on all subjects regardless of political persuasion and something I got sick of. And, of course, if you take that last option you will inevitably be manipulated, which I got even sicker of.

What powerful people do generally sucks, but not typically because they have become intoxicated by power. That has struck me as fairly rare, though certainly not unheard of, if you read how the last century of horrific acts of violence and brutality have unfolded. This matters because believing that anyone with power will be corrupted in that way leads people to embrace fatalism and some very vague and ill-conceived forms of anarchism, which in most instances really amounts to doing nothing and accepting political impotence out of despair/disgust. That despair and disgust is a normal response to the atrocities we have to live with, but people still try to put make giving up sound like a principled decision. Well, it's really just giving up no matter how people recharacterize it to feel better about it. Powerful people aren't the only people who rationalize and lie to themselves, even if the reasons the rest of us do it are more sympathetic.

Cultivating an outlook of fatalism and disillusionment on the left is useful politically to those who want to neutralize any sort of progressivism in politics. The attitude as a practical matter encourages people to expect nothing except what they can create on a very small, personal, local level, and it therefore nullifies any sort of large-scale organization that can generate real power. Given the weakened labor movement today, that's a really big deal. Very few people seem to take up the kind of activism that Tony seems to have been committed to for a long time, so you end up with a situation where far too few people vote, believe any kind of change is really possible, or do much of anything politically. In short, apathy and ambivalence keep the rotten system going, and when peole do briefly believe some rhetoric about change, they quickly become disillusioned when it doesn't become a reality simply because the forces against it are extremely powerful, in fact dominant. I can't imagine anyone could persuasively dispute that.

The manufacture of disgust and disillusionment isn't emphasized enough as part of the manufacture of consent, but people can be manipulated by being encouraged to be disappointed too, so if ya'll think nobody is getting paid anywhere to criticize Obama for being just Bush with a different face, I think you're naive. If I could ever live long enough to recover on the bet, I'd bet a vast fortune that will one day be proven in spades, though as usual that will be too late for it to matter. Weakening a political adversaries support can be as important as strengthening your own support, and it can certainly be done, and long has been done, by driving a wedge between pragmatists and idealists, the left and liberals, conservatives and moderates, etc. That is the disgusting game the Roves of the world play, Dems too. Cut a politician off from his base and he is weakened enough to pose no threat, and yet if a Dem pleases his base by a display of principled anti-militarism and opposition to financial abuses he is likely to be destroyed by the forces that hold real power, namely Wall Street, via the MICFiC.

I'm certainly not saying there aren't bad Dems, or that they all should be supported regardless of what they do. Personally, I have been opposing more of the Obama administrations failings recently. So I think that's the right course sometimes, maybe even all the time. But don't think you're not being encouraged and manipulated to believe that power corrupts everyone so nothing will ever be any good and all Presidents are basically all the same. Lots of people believing that makes a pretty sizable contribution to how we have let the system we have continue to endure for so long. All Presidents are sinners, and they have to wield more power than any sinner should, but they are capable of doing the right thing, and if we create structures and systems that make the political risks involved in doing that less severe, Presidents will more and more often surprise you by doing what they should.

Posted by: N E at July 14, 2010 08:53 AM

NE, science disputes your collection of second hand opinions and anecdotes. The person with power always wants the last cookie. A good portion of the Federalist Papers illustrates how some people could understand this aspect of human nature without falling prey to "fatalism and some very vague and ill-conceived forms of anarchism."

But we've been through this before. Have you found the double-blind study that supports your stories?

Posted by: lurking gnome at July 14, 2010 11:46 AM

lurking gnome

No science I am aware of disputes what I said, including that funny column from The WashPost that you quoted last year about the Berkeley social psychologist. I didn't say powerful people won't ever grab more of anything for themselves, cookies or otherwise, though be aware that there have been and are societies much more egalitarian than ours where that wouldn't be so true. And our society has been becoming markedly less egalitarian under the guise of meritocracy, so we have more and more cookie hogs around. You seem to think this has broader implications than I do.

Milgrams views are consistent with what I wrote, and I think even arguably corroborative, because power frees people from deference to authority, the subject of his experiment. The Stanford Prison Experiment shows people adapt to their roles and is also therefore corroborative, because that means people are adaptive, not intrinsically power hungry.

But what I mostly said is that the view you and Marcus hold is enhanced by not actually knowing much about the details of the lives of politically powerful people, including from hostile sources in the form of biographies and memoirs. I stand by that, and you may dismiss it as "anecdoctal," but that's a very narrow and lazy view of knowledge. I can as easily, and with more justification, dismiss your view as inconsistent with the contents of whole libraries available for the reading, which it is. That's quite a lot of 'anecdotes,' even if it would be helpful for science to answer the question definitively so we can all quit filling out heads with so much fuzzy knowledge that can't be put in the form of a table. Maybe somebody as brilliant as Milgram will eventually think of a definitive test for this that is a whole lot better than that cookie test, but I doubt it. Fortunately, reading remains possible.

As for the Federalist papers, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton wer trying to thwart political change, not facilitate it. That was their chief purpose. They would be DELIGHTED that propertyless people who want political change give up and become fatalistic about any kind of organized government or political activity. What Madison understood in terms of power was despotism, the central danger of his age and a danger that certainly still exists, though by no means any longer the principle abuse of power threatening us. Madison devised a pretty good system for preventing despotism in the form of monarchy while also preventing dangerous political change from the mob and men like Franklin or even Jefferson. We don't have despotism, and we may never. Those who exercise power generally aren't trying to draw and quarter their political enemies even if they do occasionally dream about that; it's enough to ruin them politically or perhaps, if absolutely necessary, kill them.

Ruining candidates of "the left" is easy for the right, because the left quickly blows apart and floats away like leaves in the wind any time a harsh gust of reality comes along. Every question of conscience seems to become such a gust, and all those leaves floating away, disunited and helpless, therefore never amount to anything of substance in the political world. That problem has to be recognized and addressed to give us all some chance of avoiding global catastrophe, not that it's easy for me to believe that's possible.

Posted by: N E at July 14, 2010 01:42 PM

N E: But don't think you're not being encouraged and manipulated to believe that power corrupts everyone so nothing will ever be any good and all Presidents are basically all the same. Well, of course we are all helpless in the manipulative clutches of the MiCFIC; we don't really know anything. (It's interesting how easily you forget your own slogans when it suits you.)

But once again, you're being extremely dishonest here. First, no one around here has claimed that "power corrupts everything so nothing will ever be any good" or "all Presidents are basically the same" -- those are your (mis)interpretations of what other people have said. If someone criticizes Obama and JFK, you respond by accusing them of thinking that all Presidents are evil. I wouldn't say that you react this way because you've been brainwashed by the MiCFIC; it's a popular irrational reaction that was around long before there were corporate media. But it's certainly useful to our rulers if their defenders react this way, so you should realize that your words here are Serving Power.

All Presidents are sinners, and they have to wield more power than any sinner should, but they are capable of doing the right thing, and if we create structures and systems that make the political risks involved in doing that less severe, Presidents will more and more often surprise you by doing what they should. I'm not a Christian, so I don't accept your theological explanation -- which in any case has fatalistic consequences: if we're all sinners, then we can't do good and it's useless to try. And I must say I'm bemused by your recommendations for better governance -- public funding of elections, a unicameral legislature, etc., no courts that overturn legislative acts (!), etc. I must say I'm skeptical. How would any of these measures protect us against the MICfic? Other countries which utilize them seem just as prone to corruption and abuse of power. There seems to be some doublethink going on here, between your dark insinuations about the black flag false-flag Intel MICfic that controls our thought (but not yours, apparently) and your sunny optimism about what will make things better.

Posted by: Duncan at July 14, 2010 01:53 PM

The evidence I'm interested in not anecdotes from sycophants and pedants about our nobility, but the actual wars and incarceration that only and always occur under the apparatus of violence known as the State.

That one man should be President of 300 million (plus the other six billion under his nuclear coercion), though you will say he is really so powerful (yet you support the existence of the office) is preposterous and not even vaguely justifiable.

Sure, the powerful can say the right, humble remarks to their friends and hagiographers, for posterity, but their actions, their actual actions, the actual consequences of vesting extreme power in the hands of the few, leave behind mass graves, massive gulags, monopolies on resources, destruction of the ecosystem, etc.

But Hitler was very charming with kids and animals, so say his biographers!

Posted by: marcus at July 14, 2010 02:39 PM

I didn't say powerful people won't ever grab more of anything for themselves, cookies or otherwise, though be aware that there have been and are societies much more egalitarian than ours where that wouldn't be so true.

Nope, you said thinking that power corrupts is "just an assumption, commonly voiced, and one that appears to me to be wrong when you look at the lives of MOST powerful people." I wanted you to know that it's a valid assumption, supported by verifiable experiments, and you shouldn't waste your time arguing against it. Again.

Please don't assume you know what implications I draw from this or how much my views resemble those of Marcus.

The study shows only that nearly all people are inclined to feel selfish when they also feel they have power. There are undoubtedly ways to make this tendency part of an individual's understanding of themselves that would help them avoid the unthinking abuse of power, don't you agree?

Posted by: lurking gnome at July 14, 2010 04:05 PM


You should challenge yourself to not call me dishonest. It would be good for you.

I'm not a Christian either. (I didn't know you were so literal.) But I was a Christian once, and I do know a little theology, and you plainly don't know enough if you believe what you said about the fatalistic implications of sin. Hans Kung or any of the Catholic Liberation Theologians, including those priests murdered in El Salvador, could help you understand better. You might find them inspiring even if you aren't a Christian. The theology of the poor certainly isn't fatalistic. Those were among the least fatalistic believers in sin that you could ever meet.

I have no objection to criticism of Obama or even JFK, about whom you really know so little that if you had any sense you'd just not mention him just in case there is a God listening despite your and my nonbelief in HER. I do object to lies, some especially dumb name-calling, and criticism OF ANYONE that isn't thoughtful. A lot of criticism of Obama is right on the money, and some of it might even be by you, but you waste all your time misstating what I say, which is either because you are pressed for time or don't care or are just not quite getting it. Or all of those.

Congrats on getting the right 'i' small in MICFiC.

I didn't say anyone said what you quoted me saying. That was my sentence, which you didn't fully quote, not a quote of somebody else. You seem to have misunderstood it anyway because you were so busy being sarcastic instead of thinking about it.

It doesn't surprise me that you don't believe you can be manipulated. I get the sense you don't think you've ever been wrong either. Or that you work very hard trying to understand me. I'm just sort of a foil for you.

You say that other countries which have publicly funded elections, unicameral legislatures, legislative supremacy, and no unaccountable National Security State or MICFiC have been just as prone to corruption and abuse of power as the United States. Wow. You're pretty glib and smug about saying I'm a victim of double-think considering you didn't name one such country, and frankly you aren't likely to back that statement up too well. Unless you're going to tell me that Denmark is as corrupt as the US and chock full of abuses of power. Good luck with your research on that point. If I were you, I'd just try to pretend I didn't say that.

I didn't say the MICFiC controls anyones thoughts. That apparatus is set up to manipulate EVERYONE, though different people in different ways, but my point is that idealists seem to feel they are exempt from being manipulated, whereas it seems to me they are perhaps the easiest people to manipulate of all. I could call myself something else and get everyone enraged about Obama in less than five minutes, and if I could, somebody else could too. Believe it or not, people lie like that pretty commonly when it serves their purposes.

By the way Duncan, at least you know what I think might work. I've never heard you say a single thing that might make things better or defend how it would happen. That's a challenge everyone should be able to meet if they're not just venting. Tell me your program. I'd be interested in knowing whether you just think we should try sortition too.

Posted by: N E at July 14, 2010 04:10 PM


You didn't understand what I meant at all. I'm not going to repeat the whole thing, but I was addressing why people possessing power behave as they do, make the decisions they do, with the often staggeringly horrible consequences that have come of it, even the killing of millions of people. It really isn't because they have developed a malignant spirit in many, many cases, though of course Hitler certainly had a malignant spirit and many other powerful people have been malignant too. What I was saying is that's not necessary or even typical. I'm not disputing that people have said repulsive things and done repulsive things. I was addressing why it happens even though most powerful people haven't become that way. Harry Truman really wasn't nearly as personally venomous as Hitler, even though he could be pretty sickening, but dropping atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a Hitlerian act nonetheless. Yet FDR or Henry Wallace without question wouldn't have done it, and they had the same sort of corrupting power. The corrupting influence of power isn't inevitable, and it doesn't work the way you posit with that God-king remark. Not because of hagiography, which is bullshit, but because of real history.

Posted by: N E at July 14, 2010 04:19 PM

Lurking gnome

Sorry I misunderstood you. I agree with that last paragraph you wrote. But I don't think it really contradicts what I said before it, or at least what I meant to say. That quote by me you referred to was an overstatement and not cautious enough, but I'm so damn long-winded as it is. I do think you may be carrying the implications from that research too far into much more complex decision-making areas, and I still think history provides a better guide than research to what causes powerful people to make the decisions they make.

But I absolutely agree that the research is useful and sounds an appropriate caution to anyone who comes into some power that it will likely affect them. But so would watching Trading Places, and that would be more fun.

Posted by: N E at July 14, 2010 04:24 PM

You know from real history that FDR and Henry Wallace never would have done something they never had the chance to do? That's amazing, but I don't think a book can make me psychic like you. There were some other people killed by the orders of FDR in WWII, albeit with smaller, friendlier bombs. That's not an argument, it's gibberish.

Posted by: marcus at July 14, 2010 09:18 PM


Alternative history is always theoretical in the strict sense, and some predictions are daring, but that particular question is not close and it takes no boldness to say what I did. Look up Henry Wallace and the election of 1948. Read James Roosevelt's "novel" named "A Family Matter" about his father and the development of the bomb and other highly interesting matters related thereto. Read Einstein and Szilard on their letters to FDR in 39 and then again in 44. Read Gar Alperovitz's books. Read Harry Goldsmith's book A Conspiracy of Silence to see why Henry Wallace got bumped from the ticket in 44. If you think it's impossible to know whether FDR or Henry Wallace would have nuked a few hundred thousand civilians because they weren't in office when the opportunity arose, you are taking an exceptionally strict view of what it's possible to know about that, a view so strict that it really amounts to little more than willful blindness. Duncan once tried to argue with me about FDR too, without having done a lick of reading or work, and to me it really showed. There was a time I knew nothing about FDR too, and I still don't know a damn thing about many more things than I do know anything about, but I know about that. You seem unlikely to believe me, but what I said is true. And damn near everyone of political consequence back then knew it. That's why Wallace had to leave the ticket and why FDR had more and more trouble with the OSS and the military and the GOP as the end of the war approached.

Your more general point that FDR was President during a World War is true, and lots of people were obviously killed. Worse, FDR had more than a little foreknowledge of Pearl Harbor, and I thought Stinnet's book about that was pretty conclusive. So not making sure Marshall gave Pearl a heads up was murderous. But this buttresses my point. By then, the Nazis had control of Europe and already had killed many millions of people in Eastern Europe, and the Japanese had been killing Chinese like mosquitoes for a few years, so it's pretty easy to armchair quarterback that situation now compared to what was at stake then. FDR didn't need to be power-mad to do anything he did.

Posted by: N E at July 14, 2010 11:33 PM