The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Lessons from the Lies in Afghanistan and Vietnam

So, the news of the day is that reports from Afghanistan were essentially ALL lies, all biased to the upside.

“Every data point was altered to present the best picture possible,” said Col. Bob Crowley. “Surveys, for instance, were totally unreliable but reinforced that everything we were doing was right and we became a self-licking ice cream cone.”

What is surprising about this is…nothing. Absolutely nothing. Only an idiot would have expected anything else. This is news on par with “most people like sex.”

We live in an incredibly stupid age, in which we have to prove the obvious, in tedious detail, over and over again.

For those who don’t remember, the Vietnam war reports were also all lies. All. Every enemy casualty figure, for example.

Let’s simplify this:

Letting people self-report their results when their career depends on getting good results will always lead to wrong numbers.

This is one of the reasons I don’t belong to the cult of measurement and metrics, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” and all that tripe. What you measure is always being manipulated by those you manage. If there’s a way to manipulate it, they do, and those ways are almost always destructive.

But as a very simple, basic thing, the people who measure the numbers and give qualitative feedback (often far more useful, despite our cult of data) must be completely insulated from any career impact except those based on result accuracy.

You cannot have generals in charge of the people doing the number gathering, because generals want people to think they are winning the war.

In general, if I were ever put in charge of a very large organization, including a government or major military, the first thing I would do (and I’ve spent a LOT of time thinking about this) is create an audit department which is not part of the line or staff organization.

Getting accurate feedback is hard. It’s especially hard at the top. It’s why smart leaders maintain a vertical presence: They talk to people in all parts of the organization and they cut past their senior executives. There are a lot of forms of this: Steve Jobs did it by just walking around and asking employees to explain to him what they were doing.

Coming back to the current question: Non-existential wars are hard to get accurate information about. The US is not actually at ANY significant risk if it loses in Afghanistan. Nor was it in Iraq, or Vietnam, or any war it has fought in well over a century (though losing WWII would have had nasty consequences, the US was not going to be invaded and any fantasies otherwise are delusional).

Nor, in most cases, do key decision makers or their children fight on the front lines. The last time the children of the powerful really fought in a war was during WWII. So they don’t actually care, they don’t have pipelines in for information, (because their class are worthless aristocrats who don’t fight, not nobles who do), and in fact, they’re probably making money from the war; transmuting blood into gold, without risking their blood or the blood of anyone they care about.

So who cares if a bunch of poor whites (who make up most of the combat infantry in the US) are getting killed, maimed, and fucked up psychologically for the rest of their lives? Let alone how many foreigners are getting whacked.

Thus, accurate reports generally aren’t wanted. It’s not important to win, it’s only important to look like you’re winning (and be able to claim you won, like in Iraq, even if you lost). Oh, and to keep the military-industrial gold spigot flowing.

Lying is the point. It serves the interests of everyone in power. It’s bad for enlisted folks and the few low-ranking officers who are actually on the pointy end, but otherwise, lies are what is wanted.

You don’t get “it’s ALL lies” unless everyone in power wants or tolerates that.

This is a microcosm of one of the core problems in the US and the West. The numbers are almost all massaged; all wrong. When I looked into labor force, inflation, and employment numbers in the early 2000s, I came to the conclusion they couldn’t be trusted at all (productivity numbers are particularly bullshit). The extreme poverty numbers are absolute bullshit, but even the regular poverty numbers in most countries are garbage, because they haven’t kept up: You can’t actually compare those numbers to the 50s, say, in most cases.

If the feedback you’re getting is incorrect, you will either make wrong decisions, or you want to make wrong decisions which is why you’re falsifying the numbers.

Now, the numbers usually aren’t completely false (except in Afghanistan), but they are false enough that by the time they go really red, you’ve been in trouble for a long time. By the time key numbers of middle class decline went red, for example, the middle class should have already been an operating theatre with a surgeon screaming for electric paddles.

Feedback matters. Data matters. Lying about them kills people–lots of people–and causes even more suffering. This is particularly obvious in a war zone, but it is true in everything of consequence.

So start by not letting people self-evaluate when their careers, money, or prestige depends on it. Because the issue isn’t giving generals or politicians good careers, it’s about winning wars or having an economy which is good for the vast majority of the population.

Some money would be rather useful, as I don’t get paid by the piece. If you want to support my writing, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.



Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – December 8, 2019


Jews to Be a Nationality


  1. V

    Many lessons; from the mid 60’s until now.
    Zero sum learned…
    What’s with that? Stupidity? I don’t think so; so, what is it?
    Another lesson not learned; you’ll never change anything with a vote; period!
    What’s that old saw about insanity? Doing the same thing……..

  2. bruce wilder

    The GFC of 2007-8 was a consequence of lying, and of mainstream economists who talked themselves into believing that lying doesn’t matter, cannot matter. And, after the fact, screwed up the feeble efforts at reform by denying that lies mattered.

    The invasion and occupation of Iraq was a consequence of lies. Nancy Pelosi said recently that she did not think Bush lying the country into war was cause for impeachment.

    The water crisis in Flint, Michigan originated in lies, compounded (as is usually the case) denial that lies were being told.

    As Ian points out, elites have to very careless about consequences to be so tolerant of lies.

  3. Tom

    Sometimes I wonder what the world would be like if the Wilson Administration had been more serious in cracking down on the rampant violations of the neutrality law by US Corporations and Banks? Banks that gave out secured loans to the Aliies should have been closed. Manufacturers who supplied Britain with steel and explosives should have had their charters revoked. And the blatant and illegal blockade of the US Coast by the Entente to prevent trade with the Central Powers should have been challenged with a show of force by the USN and the Army on the Canadian Border.

    Doing one of these steps would have caused France to collapse in 1916. But Wilson was weak willed and lacked the will to see his policy through while hotheads pushed the American Public towards war.

    WW1 was the original sin that saw the rise of the Deep State and its entrenchment.

  4. “We became a self-licking ice cream cone.”

    LOL ~ pretty much sums up the fifty years I’ve been home.

    I am of the growing conviction it is time to trade the ballot for a hammer and a monkey wrench. Almost fifty years of voting not one of them has turned out to my benefit, my children, grand-children. I don’t think there’s a better example of how it’s rigged than the republican media push to run Joe Biden as a democrat, the suggestion Elizabeth Warren can be ‘vice pResident’ a bone tossed to the rubes.

  5. Hugh

    We live in a world where the obvious has no force until it has been stated by some appropriate, credentialed member of the Establishment. The simple fact that the US has been in Afghanistan 18 years is enough to know that US policy, strategy, and tactics have not worked. But it takes some duly christened report to make what was obvious official. There were so many things wrong in so many ways for so long with the whole exercise that this most recent coming to Damascus moment isn’t so much an indictment of a bunch of lying generals but a political system that allowed itself to be so obviously lied to for so long.

    There is no deep state. On the one hand, it is supposed to all powerful, pull all the strings, yet remain completely hidden. At the same time, it seems unable to tie its own shoelaces ad woefully ineffective. Deep state is just the modern incarnation of the bogeyman. Careful! He’s over there, or there, or under your bed. Itis the representation of anything you do not like.

    If you want to know who is really pulling the strings of your life, look to the rich and elites. They don’t hide. They do it out in the open, every damn day. They rub your face in it. And all you can say is “deep state.”

  6. Ché Pasa


    The Generals have no incentive to tell the truth neither to the commander in chief, themselves, nor to the troops committing the atrocities — and make no mistake, war is an atrocity, particularly wars of aggression such as the ones the US and its allies/clients have been engaged in since 2001 and periodically initiated prior to that.

    Lessons are learned, though. The chief one from failure in Vietnam was to make sure the public and all the potentially troublesome elites were kept in the dark about what was going on. It’s not just about promoting lies. It’s fantasy from the get-go. It’s not just fantasy, either. In many cases, it’s no knowledge at all. “Operations” and wars conducted totally out of view of non-victims and participants. It’s not something new, but it is now highly refined to the point where most Americans have no idea how extended the US military and covert operations are, and “Afghanistan” doesn’t even register any more as a place or something to fret over — let alone heaps of corpses.

    It’s brilliant, no?

    That War-Money spigot will keep flowing, too. Nothing can stop it now. Some of the flow might be diverted — into, say, “action on climate change” (ha ha), but it’s not going to stop unless everything comes crashing down and even then, somebody’s going to be making a profit. Oh my, yes.

    And talk about rubbing our faces in it. Huh. Reports like this — and if you’ve been alive long enough, you’ve seen plenty of them — have a message: Suckers! There’s nothing you can do about it!

    Oh yes, there will be some amount of huffing and puffing and plenty of we told you so’s and yadda yaddas, but in the end, what, exactly, will be different? Choice of targets? Further clampdowns on information? What?


  7. bruce wilder

    “Deep state” is just a dramatic way of saying that Michel’s Iron Law of Institutions has been at work for a long time, creating interlocking oligarchies in the military-industrial complex, the news and entertainment media and the financial sector. Whatever the original or nominal social purpose of the organizations, those organizations are now run by and — this is the critical driver of corruption of purpose — for their elite management. The professional managers of the complex network of complex bureaucracies composing these sectors of the political economy form a self-sustaining, self-validating social class in Marx’s sense, and neoliberalism is their rationalizing (class) ideology. (Remember that for Marx, ideology is a phenomenon of self-conscious social class defending its interests without acknowledging that it is doing so.) The personnel in these industries — not just the top management, but deep down the hierarchy — are pursuing well-worn career paths where their advancement and success are tied to both their selection for accepting and leaving unchallenged the narratives (aka lies) that organize their routines, but also on the organization’s continued ability to secure income and resources from what has degenerated into predation or parasitism, as the case may be.

    The capitalist malefactors of great wealth — the “oligarchs” of Russia — the numerous billionaires of America, including the now famous financiers of Cato and George Mason Mercatus and the like, the Kochs, have a role, of course. But, it is important to realize that the capitalist class, tiny as it must always be, stumbled into a critical political innovation when the reduction of marginal taxes on high incomes made it possible and practical to offer huge incomes to corporate CEOs and their equivalents. That shift — and it was a big enough shift to dominate the changing dynamics of national income distribution documented by Piketty and Saez — changed the political position of the technocracy from one of opposition to capitalist greed to at least partial acquiescence and connivance. At the very top, the huge prize for winning the C-suite tournament attracted psychopaths well-equipped to compete and further down the corporate food chain, any policy that fed the professional bureaucracy additional complexity to manage was accepted. So, we got out-sourcing, and financialized “free trade” that sent manufacturing to China and educational institutions with burgeoning administrative ranks, impoverished teachers and students lost to debt peonage. We got media conglomerates and universal banks of enormous size and scope, in which creativity and financial integrity have no place.

    I cannot agree with Hugh. “Deep state” may be a rhetorical fancy, but it also labels a very real albeit complex state of political evolution into the pursuit of “the self-licking ice cream cone” (another expressive phrase with all too much application).

    I read Listen, Liberal as observing the consequences of this evolution for the Democratic Party, which is now very much the Party of banksters and the national security state, not the representatives of the cultural outsiders or the working class. It is not an accident that Nancy Pelosi and company have sought an alliance on many levels with the security state apparatus, seeking out new Representatives with military, police or intelligence backgrounds and pursuing Impeachment of an incompetent President on dubious grounds cordial to the ideology and interests of . . . the very real “Deep State”.


    Here’s a great article from of all publications, The New York Times. It’s an opinion piece and I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    I have to laugh when Trump supporters claim Trump is ending the forever wars or that he hasn’t started a war of his own as though he’s some magnanimous person. Bullshit. He’s pushed every year he’s been in office to substantially increase the military budget and the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives this past year complied with that and approved his military budget.

    But vowing to end America’s interminable military adventures doesn’t make it so. Four years ago, President Barack Obama denounced “the idea of endless war” even as he announced that ground troops would remain in Afghanistan. In his last year in office, the United States dropped an estimated 26,172 bombs on seven countries.

    President Trump, despite criticizing Middle East wars, has intensified existing interventions and threatened to start new ones. He has abetted the Saudi-led war in Yemen, in defiance of Congress. He has put America perpetually on the brink with Iran. And he has lavished billions extra on a Pentagon that already outspends the world’s seven next largest militaries combined.


    Bruce, if a deep state truly exists, and Trump is its numero uno enemy as he and his supporters claim, how do you explain Trump being elected? Surely a deep state worth its salt or at least worth the accolades you and Trump and his supporters give it could have stopped the likes of Donald Trump in his tracks long before election day and yet this deep state couldn’t or didn’t. Surely a deep state that popped JFK’s head open like a ripe melon could have done, and can do, the same to its numero uno enemy Donald Trump. How do you explain this contradiction? If this Kabuki Theater put on by the deep state is choreographed for the most part then that means Trump is also part of that choreography, otherwise he’d be Six Feet Under by now. If that’s the case, for all your grand eloquence and sage wisdom, you’ve been had. They’ve used your hubris against you.

    To test your sincerity, Bruce, please tell us you agree that the American military’s budget, within the span of a decade, should be cut 80% and the myriad bases around the world shuttered as part of a plan to not rollover in capitulation but to serve as an example in a new peace initiative where peace is truly the goal and not lip service to an abstract ideal.


    Here’s Dick Cheney in 1992 on why he and George H. W. Bush didn’t go all the way to Baghdad during the first war with Iraq. He was correct. Their reasoning was sound. And then he betrayed this sound reasoning when he and George W. Bush went all the way to Baghdad in 2003.

    Then-SecDef Dick Cheney explaining why *not* to invade Iraq.

    But let’s assume for the moment that we would have been able to do it — … Then the question comes [of] putting a government in place of the one you’ve just gotten rid of; you can’t just sort of turn around and walk away — you have now accepted the responsibility for what happens in Iraq. What kind of government do you want us to create in place of the old Saddam Hussein government? Do you want a Sunni government, or a Shi’a government or maybe it ought to be a Kurdish government, or maybe one based on the Ba’ath Party or maybe some combination of all of those? How long is that government likely to survive without U.S. military forces there to keep it propped up?

    If you get into the business of committing U.S. forces on the ground in Iraq, to occupy the place, my guess is I’d probably still have people there today instead of having been able to bring them home. … The bottom line question for me was: How many additional American lives is Saddam Hussein worth? The answer: not very damn many.

    Eliminate the AUMF. Institute a ten year plan to cut America’s military budget by 80% and roll up America’s global military footprint. Reverse Citizen’s United. Create new legislation that substantially limits lobbying and all but eliminates lobbyist as a profession. Until then, there will be perpetual war and America will be at the dark heart of it.

  11. bruce wilder

    Ché Pasa:

    . . . it’s not going to stop unless everything comes crashing down and even then, somebody’s going to be making a profit. Oh my, yes.

    And talk about rubbing our faces in it. Huh. Reports like this — and if you’ve been alive long enough, you’ve seen plenty of them — have a message: Suckers! There’s nothing you can do about it!

    Certainly, there’s nothing we are going to do about it — we are not organized and they are, moreover, things are arranged to at least appear as if stopping would bring “everything” crashing down. There is no alternative. Haven’t you heard?

    Of course you have heard. We are drowning in focus-grouped propaganda, which is now trotted out so mechanically and repetitively that I have some hope they may wear it out. Seriously, Ukraine-gate. We are now closing in on 50 years since Nixon’s scandals; who will be left alive to remember anything about the original? Was Eternal Recurrence really about sequels and reboots, forever. (Netflix a reboot stamping on a human story forever!)

    How many times can we be manipulated so shamelessly? R2P. Protecting the rights of women in a modernizing Saudi Arabia. Pay no attention to the bone saw behind the curtain.

    I almost fear what happens when the last tropes of “freedum” and anti-racist cant lose their potency like a drug left in the medicine cabinet unused for years. We are trained now as a People not to react to a leader lying us into war or a leader claiming the right to murder people with drones.

    The faint memory of the New Deal is slandered as hopelessly racist and cruel to African-Americans. Bernie bros. The New York Times is rewriting American history in a bizarre repurposing of Howard Zinn, I suppose to serve the purposes of the complacent rich, their favored audience.

    It seems like an experiment to see if they can run a country and an empire without any moral compass whatsover, the old mechanisms completely ruined by ill-use. If no one believes, if everyone is a complete cynic, what then? Zombie apocalypse?

  12. bruce wilder

    Eyes on the prize, 450, eyes on the prize.

    Trying to get rid of Trump is the task assigned to rubes like you, who can be riled up like a wind-up toy and set to spinning noisily and uselessly.

    The “deep state” is looking to establish control of elections and a veto over who can be President and which factions can be in charge of the rump, civil state. Making an example of Trump serves their purpose. Trump is a weak man and with insufficient depth of political knowledge to exercise much real power, his actual removal would serve no purpose. Much better to keep the fools chattering about non-existant “crimes” and divert what little capacity people like you have for critical moral judgment into useless activism.

  13. bruce wilder

    To test your sincerity, Bruce, please tell us you agree that the American military’s budget, within the span of a decade, should be cut 80% and the myriad bases around the world shuttered as part of a plan to not rollover in capitulation but to serve as an example in a new peace initiative where peace is truly the goal and not lip service to an abstract ideal.

    Sincerity and good intentions are seriously overrated in your deranged philosophy, 450.

    I would reduce America’s military spending, abandon its perpetual wars and its network of bases around the globe and its ridiculously complex hardware, and look to a different strategy: probably something more of an isolationist and fortress strategy to avoid global entanglements and to resist migration as global population crashes and resource wars heat up.

    I think conflict in an overpopulated and disorganized world is inevitable and violence too handy to be putting much faith in peace as either an ideal or an alternative. I am no pacifist. What I object to most in America’s wars though is that they never end. I am enough of a believer in the superiority of peace over violence that i prefer wars that end. To start a war you cannot win is bad; to start a war you cannot and will not end is worse.

  14. Tom

    Deep States can exist and be completely incompetent especially if the De Jure heads of Government are unable or unwilling to reign them in and start firing them.

    Trump is so successfully divisive because he wallows in the mud and parades his skeletons down the street without shame and the Deep State has no real means to control him other than to distract him.

  15. Willy

    The deep state is just the corporate version of “made men” as explained in Goodfellas, playing by similar rules. Instead of getting whacked physically, it happens socially. Been there done that, and seen it many times. It’s not any kind of cohesive gang but a culture of greed and power which cares nothing about the masses or any kind of social ethicality.

    Since it’s so nebulous and powerful, and inherent in the psychology of the winners of power games, it’s hard for the rest of us to fight.

  16. Willy

    bruce wilder, so how does one pithily frame Trump in an honest way which doesn’t ruin “coordinate cooperation with at least some people with whom you disagree “?

    Long, detailed and nuanced explanations may work in here. But Trumpian-style explanations seems to be what works out there.


    Eyes on the prize, 450, eyes on the prize.

    What’s the prize? Faucets where water doesn’t drip out slowly and silently? A world where we don’t have to flush the toilet 10 to 15 times in order to get our quasi-digested big mac and fries to vanish from our sight on its way to the sea like a scene from Finding Nemo? A world where the EPA remedies these water flow issues in the bathroom versus protecting us from chromium and lead in our drinking water and ozone and particle pollution in the air we breath?

  18. I’ve have written of this some time ago, five-oh, though in the context of the changing environment: Of mice and the best laid plans of men …

    It is our great collective misfortune that the scientific community made its decisive diagnosis of the climate threat at the precise moment when an elite minority was enjoying more unfettered political, cultural, and intellectual power than at any point since the 1920s. Naomi Klein

    They won’t enjoy it for much longer. They may have played a long game, quite possibly a thousand years, but they never accounted, never planned, for a changing atmosphere that doesn’t give a flying fuck about mice and the best laid plans of men.

    And came back around to it earlier this year

    Of late I find myself with increasing frequency admonishing folks that while he may indeed have been the worst president ever, Bush’s ‘presidency’ was not a failed presidency. Make no mistake, the Cheney Administration accomplished everything it set out to.

    On a lighter note: as a student of psycho-history, the premise that the greater the size of the population model the more predictable the behavior of the population, be it physical or biological, I tend to view phenomenon as a spherical statistical model – if you can step back far enough you can begin to see the pattern. Mix in a little physics – where a body at rest remains at rest until encountering an external force great enough to overcome the ‘at rest’, and where a body in motion, momentum, will remain in motion along a single path until encountering an external force great enough to overcome the body ‘at motion’, it occurred to me this morning…

    If there were a group of people who have for a thousand or two years, perhaps ten or fifty thousand years, plotted to ‘rule the world’, and if for a thousand or two years, perhaps ten or fifty, held true to the course laid out veering only as political or, as with a flood, external forces disrupted that course until at the moment the Reich realizes fruition, an external force great enough to overcome the body ‘at motion’ rattles it all apart like so many marbles in the mud. Climate Change is that force. Unanticipatable, given the science of the times, in fact the result (cause and effect) of that dogged pursuit, it has lain waste to the best laid plans…

    The ‘deep state’ has always been with us, it’s just not nearly as effective,as it would have us believe. It is my thought drumpf uck is just such an aberration as climate change: something not was paying attention to, or assigned any credibility to, had no plans for… wham, out of nowhere.

  19. anon y'mouse

    trump= that class of looters who enter the store for the TVs and game consoles after fires have been started to divert authorities elsewhere, and someone else has already broken the window for him.

    he occasionally makes accurate observations in order to motivate his actions, but he is out for him&his all the way.

    bruce wilder–bravo!

  20. nihil obstet

    For most white, middle-class Americans, life is not as good now as it was in the late 40s, 50s, and 60s. But it’s still better than it was for most Americans from say 1880 through 1920. Just look at the history of labor and the outright massacres during those years. Ordinary people accepted neoliberalism because they assumed that the victories of the New Deal were permanent and that a little extra effort on their part would get them extra goods, rather than being an acceptance of increased exploitation. Neoliberalism has lasted because powerful men used their power to make government impose it, and propaganda justify a “morality” of cruelty.

    The propaganda is failing now as ordinary people find the conditions of life increasingly inadequate. We still have a lot to do to overcome what seems to be a mass internalization of the police state and the helplessness of individuals. But we’re headed towards the same choice as the country faced in the 30s — making democratic government work for most people or adopting fascism.

    I think we need a new constitution, since the current one has resulted over the last 70 years in an excessively powerful executive, and access to political power controlled by two private entities, both controlled by a moneyed elite. To get there, we need to do politics, not just elections. I’m encouraged by the rise in strikes and what’s looking like a resurgence of unions. But it would be a mistake to withdraw and wait for a collapse that will empower the rise of a better country and governance only if we have engaged people ready for the opportunity.

  21. Mark Pontin

    There’s definitely a Deep State, though it’s far from monolithic as it’s composed of competing factions that often work against each other. I’ve even met some of its lesser members, since I used to work as a journalist on global security issues and go to Washington. And that’s all I’m going to say on the Internet.

    Willy wrote: ‘The deep state is just the corporate version of “made men” as explained in Goodfellas, playing by similar rules. Instead of getting whacked physically, it happens socially.’

    Well, yes. Except that it happens physically too, unless you believe three separate lone gunmen managed to be responsible for both the Kennedy brothers’ and Martin Luther King’s deaths. Or that, more recently, Jeffrey Epstein hung himself.

  22. bob mcmanus

    Wow, come round here and find some peak Bruce Wilder, really cooking today. Great poetic insight. Especially liked the response to che pasa, starting “certainly”

    But with all due respect and admiration, most of the stuff here is just way too top-down, paranoid and granting too much to elites. Just finished another long profile of old literal hippie William Gibson, who diagnoses post-modernity by hitting the streets, observing the new shoes and bomber jackets of precarious bike messengers. It wasn’t bin Laden, but Mohammed Atta that brought down the towers. The oligarchs have no power without an army, they are just funding the catastrophe, not directing it. To hate authority is to worship it.

    Mine’s an incoherent thesis, but could it be otherwise? My materialist inclinations say social connections and even distribution of resources (Koch doesn’t have his money under his mattress) have reached critical mass, as Marx kinda predicted. Socialism and democracy are being enabled by the internet, globalization, money flows. Power is leveling out, the levers and chains are disappearing, the assholes only dream they are in charge. Look for the deer in headlight eyes of Pelosi, the bemused indifference of Boris and Donald, Keanu Reeves looking terrified as a fan hugs him. It’s all outa control, and even representation has become impossible. Too big, too fast, too new.

    Problem is, ordinary working people and petty bourgeois really suck at social revolution. But TINA. And Peak Distraction entertains.

  23. Hugh

    I don’t see deep state as a useful concept. Trump and his supporters use it to refer to anyone who criticizes him. You want to talk about the military industrial complex, then talk about the military industrial complex. Same with the intelligence community. But be aware that we need both a military and an intelligence community to survive in this world. So feel free to criticize their mismanagement and excesses but not their core missions and the vast majority of people who serve in them.

  24. anon y'mouse

    if their “core mission” appears to be destabilizing the entire rest of the world so that we can stay atop the heap, then i can criticize all i want.

    their “core missions” are not necessarily the same as what would be constituted from a true democracy’s desire to continue to exist.

    logical error to conflate the two.

  25. Willy

    I’m not sure if it’s as formal as Henry Hill stating, that:

    “You had to have a sit-down, and you better get an okay, or you’d be the one who got whacked.”

    …but maybe. I know there’s a food chain, or pecking order, or whatever you’d call it, because it seems too human for it to not be so. But for the Kennedy brothers and MLK, has anybody followed the money? Daddy Joe Kennedy himself seemed pretty qualified candidate to be a deep state player. Maybe they do play rough, even with each other. Maybe the Kennedy brothers were like Billy Batts, and they just told the wrong guy to go get his shoeshine box.

  26. Willy

    So “Deep state” might be so vague a term that it can be co-opted by anyone? What’s Trump’s definition? People just like himself but without a very very large brain?

    How can one conflate the health care industry (which is obviously so much more about coin than cures these days that they’re a huge lobby influence), in with the “military-industrial complex” .

    I’m just looking for a catchy phrase that’s accurate.

  27. bruce wilder

    Trumpian-style explanations seems to be what works out there.

    the one thing Trump seems to really understand something about is how television works. some people thinks he watches Fox News and believes it all, like some overgrown child-man and that might be true as far as it goes, but i think he also sees how it works as social mechanics, what kind of thing gets people riled up. this precious knowledge makes him a ratings driver and a twitter troll par excellence, able to roil the cable news cycle with seemingly effortless precision.

    the media environment is owned by and run by one decadent class of parasites for another decadent class, both of whom should be guillotined come the revolution. imho. that a billionaire reality teevee star can manipulate the celebrity talking heads does ordinary people little good, even if they may thrill to hear an occasional intelligible phrase of uncoded opinion or observation from Trump.

    it is just the way things are, that very little gets thru the heavy filters of what is a media environment actively hostile to truth, reason, good will and public responsibility.

    i do not think the fault is with the audience, though I think the audience for cable news is brain-damaged from watching this nonsense all the time and from having very little in the way of alternative models for political opinion. some people have a genuine capacity to stand alone, and to think alone and i admire it. i, myself, am not such. i need people — like Ian, or Atrios, or Lambert Strether — who seem to be able to keep their heads, while all about them . . . (to quote the favorite poet of those with questionable taste).

    during the Democratic Presidential debates, I was actually a little shocked at how brazenly the representatives of the media pressed Sanders and Warren over how much taxes would rise to finance M4all, while riding roughshod over a central argument for M4all — that we need it to control costs, which is to say, reduce costs. but, that’s their job, isn’t it? to produce a soundbite that will sink the aspirations of millions to escape the precarity built into the costly for-profit U.S. health insurance system.

    for the most part, i regard the favored narratives of CNN, Morning Joe, Fox News, the Washington Post and New York Times, the Atlantic, the New Yorker, the Guardian as consisting largely of a cacophony of kayfabe, each narrative line coded in a way, shading the truth, if there is any truth present (and sometimes there is very little). i suppose if you find any of those cordial, you might not grind your teeth so much as i do. i think most people find it at least hard to penetrate; obviously some people learn to incorporate the narrative lines into their personal identities and use Sean Hannity or Rachel Maddow as role models for political attitudes. there should be a vaccine to prevent that.

    i gave up on Crooked Timber about the time they were dumping on Nancy McLean’s Democracy in Chains while praising Jane Mayer’s Dark Money. apparently it is really naughty to slander James M Buchanan as a racist, i guess because he was an academic. (i actually admire Buchanan as an intellect, but i think he was a racist and do not know if it really matters or not for the project McLean documented.) i could not stand Jane Mayer’s book, because of the way she kept writing the narrative as if Obama, the Clintons and the Democrats were innocent, idealistic victims of Dark Money and not fellow pigs at the trough.

    like I said above, i am not one of those people who easily and naturally rises above it all. i resent it so much, because of how easily sucked into it i am.

    i admire Sanders and AOC for their abilities to cut thru the media b.s. flood. it genuinely worries me that they are so rare. truth-telling politicians do not usually survive long, even in safe seats and small, rural states far from corporate business interests. of course, what I hear from Sanders or AOC (or Warren on her best days) or even from people like Buttigieg, who is wonderfully articulate albeit apparently the over-privileged scum of the earth as well, — what I “hear” and what others “hear” (meaning how they respond) may be at considerable variance.

    i appreciate that real politicians live in dire fear of saying something true (or false) that gets a reaction not a response. real political discourse is a conversation, a dialog, an educational venture and it isn’t enough to just break thru once in a while. in our political environment, that may mean turning off the teevee. it certainly requires a larger cadre of politicians willing to be hostile and at odds with the lying and corruption than we have offering themselves for office at every level.

    in our political media environment, too much worrying over what may be practically possible over and against the hostility of the oligarchs is also bad for one’s sanity. i watched Paul Krugman go from clear understanding of the need for single-payer health care to tortured rationales for Obamacare as fourth or fifth-best reform. stupid and stubborn can wear you down. watch what it does to climate change “debates”.

    i am afraid that any realistic political reform can only work to the extent that those backing it are willing to back it with extensive violence against the rich and their neoliberal minions. Ian has made this point many times. fear of conflict, and concomitant fighting (even of a figurative kind) afflicts many people who are mere voters and occasional observers of politics. someone like Sanders has a narrow path to a majority and many attempts will be made to knock him off it based in part on even his mild rhetorical willingness to engage in class warfare from the bottom, something many at the bottom fear instinctively (and not without reason).

  28. Hugh

    I agree with Ian about lies and statistics, as any of you have read my short takes on the monthly jobs report know. Commentators cite them as if biblically true but they don’t know and apparently don’t care what they measure and how they measure it. They don’t know the definitions, the populations covered, or the limits of what is being measured. They just assume the economy is doing well if they are doing well.

    The same happens with Medicare for All. We spend $3.2 trillion on a pretty shitty healthcare system. We could have a good healthcare system covering everybody with better outcomes for between $2.2-$2.5 trillion. So what do our powers that be tell us? It would be too expensive. 160 million people, a number they pull out of their ass, are satisfied with their private healthcare. How do they know this? because the PTB are satisfied with their healthcare. Oh, and you won’t be able to keep your current physician. Not sure where these physicians are supposed to go. Evaporate maybe. Not that many Americans get to pick and choose what physician they have, but our PTB certainly do and will find a way to no matter what system we have. So lies and more lies with the underlying narrative being you can’t have, and don’t deserve, nice things.

  29. bruce wilder

    In the 1950’s and 1960’s, it was said that politics in Washington, D.C. was Hollywood for ugly people. Politicians aspired to be powerful, not model spokespersons for giant corporations. Jack Kennedy, as President, was leading a faction of rich people who genuinely feared Communist Russia and felt authorized to put into place highly capable people to do genuinely good things. Sometimes, the best and the brightest disappointed mightily as we know, but he put some impressive people in place in ambassadorships for example, where Presidents usually place donors only.

    Lots of people suspect that what got him killed was Cuba. Eisenhower, apparently, was just fine with Meyer Lansky as the face of American interests in Cuba. Kennedy suspected that Castro might be more popular and more competent than the vicious elite Castro had overthrown and acted with restraint. Not what the Mafia or the CIA wanted, apparently, selfless patriotic servants of the American ideal that they were.

  30. Hugh

    Thank you, anon y’mouse, for illustrating my point.

  31. bruce wilder

    . . . be aware that we need both a military and an intelligence community to survive in this world. So feel free to criticize their mismanagement and excesses but not their core missions and the vast majority of people who serve in them.

    Oh, yes, we cannot have criticism of the “vast majority of good people who serve”. We cannot have genuine criticism at all because we might hurt their feefees.

    I think the core missions of the military and many of the so-called intelligence agencies, as they are understood in those institutions, are very much at odds with the interests of the country. This is especially true of the CIA and NSA. The apparatus of secrecy by classification and the authority to censor are very dangerous to the Constitution. The CIA’s capacity for covert intervention has led to a string of foreign policy disasters; that’s a core mission they ought to lose, in my opinion. At CIA headquarters they have a memorial wall of people killed in the line of service. They ought to have a memorial wall for the foreigners they induced into betraying their countries and then betrayed in turn, getting them killed. They ought to have a memorial wall to all the people they tortured to death or imprisoned for years on end.

    We don’t have to have a global net of military bases from which to provide mercenary services free to global business corporations — that’s a core mission we could lose. We don’t have to develop insanely costly, fragile and incapable Rube Goldberg military hardware to sell all over the world, draining developing world economies and fueling violent conflicts. That’s another core mission we could lose.

  32. Hugh

    And this is why those on the left have no credibility on defense and foreign policy issues.

  33. bruce wilder

    And this is why those on the left have no credibility on defense and foreign policy issues.

    the role of the left should be to press against the authoritarian impulses disciplined, hierarchical military and police institutions otherwise tend to breed. the left has to be for truth-telling, for ethics and the prosecution of war criminals and torturers. we don’t do any of that. partly because people like Hugh think we are going to hurt someone’s feelings or no one will take us seriously if we do not foam at the mouth whenever Russia is mentioned.

    and failing to play our assigned role from that kind of cowardice, we do indeed lose credibility.

  34. nihil obstet

    Who does have credibility on defense and foreign policy issues? The U.S. hasn’t won a war (well, OK, there was the glorious victory in Grenada) in 70 years, so I don’t know how the left’s opposition to the wars has lost it credibility.

    Foreign policy? Which coup helped or engineered by the CIA has supported the credibility of the U.S. government? The Church Commission compiled a record of CIA assassinations of foreign leaders that was sufficiently appalling to the public that Ford signed an order banning “officially sanctioned” murders by the CIA until Reagan overturned it. And then, the American intelligence establishment completely missed the fall of the Soviet Union. And then there’s the time that Dick Cheney’s mignons published the name of a CIA secret agent to score a political point.

    Maybe I’m short sighted. Which wars, assassinations, meddling in governance of other nations have made the U.S. safer?

    The major newspapers and TV networks have long histories of loving military aggression. But you shouldn’t believe everything the NY Times and CNN tell you.

  35. S Brennan

    Nice post Ian;

    Upon reading this, I have to note, I miss conversations with “Mark from Ireland” on these posts….

    …for the folks that post rabidly here every presidential election, Mark & I used to be at each other but, in the end, sans the now common place polemics, in the spirit of true discourse he moved me and I in turn moved him.

    Merry Christmas Ian…and if you are listening in Mark, you as well!

    S Brennan

  36. realitychecker

    The problems we bemoan all start with lies and deceptions.

    The solution must start with meaningful punishments being put in place for the liars and deceivers.

    That won’t solve everything, but it will start to solve everything. No magic button will do it all at once and so elegantly that every interest is perfectly served in proper balance. Stop trying to be that perfect, posturing and pretending that you could ever be that smart, BECAUSE YOU CAN’T, and pick up a blunt instrument that will start the necessary triage Some pain will have to be inflicted on some bad guys; if you can’t stomach that, shut up and stop expecting to be taken seriously as a political savant. Saying the same obvious thing to the same stupid unicorn worshipers for two decades now, so forgive me if I just feel like pissing on all the reflexive virtue-signalling pacifists that have abused and banned me on lefty sites lo these many years. Your brand of saintly civility was never anything but an infantile pipe dream–the real world is competition and risk and yes, violence. We are the only animals who have decided we should be exempt from such unpleasantries.

    Running out of time, and no Hollywood guarantees of a happy ending. Get serious, or get fucked. And if you get fucked because you refuse to get serious, then you richly deserve the fucking.

    Evolution bites.

  37. Hugh

    I am glad you all agree among yourselves. You comprise what? Maybe 5% of the population? How are you going to appeal to the other 95%? US awful, yeah, that’s a winner. How deluded are you? A lot of American foreign policy sucks, but the idea that there would be this great kumbaya moment around the world if the US suddenly disappeared is beyond stupid. You simply are ignoring a few thousand years of their history and their conflicts that have nothing to do with the US, that pre-date the US, and that a US hegemony for all its problems has for a while suppressed or limited. Other than the virtual signaling, I do not see what you get out of it. When I say you have no credibility, it is because you simply refuse to see, or even try to see, the world as it is, or how power is actually used in the real world. It is all terrible this and terrible that. Great, fine, now give me real policy options. Tell me how the world is really going to work once we are out of it, as if we can actually write ourselves out of it. Don’t worry, aside from doubling down on the virtue signaling, I don’t expect anything real.

  38. Ché Pasa

    Ah, “virtue signaling,” “Deep State,” “swamp,” “The Blob,” tropes one and all, most originating and spreading through rightist wordsmithies and communications networks, and so believed and understood now within them to mean something important that when they occasionally make their way out of the rightist bubble into the real world, they’re met with blank stares, shaken heads, and clucked tongues. WTF is “virtue signaling?” Etc. (And yes, Hugh, I know you’re using it ironically.)

    If by “Deep State” those who use the term mean the permanent government, you best believe there is one, and you best be thankful for it. But often when they yammer about the perfidy of the Deep State, they’re fooling themselves into believing there’s some shadowy cabal that runs things and that Trump, Hero-Clown, is extirpating root and branch. Of course this Shadowy Cabal trope has been around for a very long time and it can be very dangerous when the Cabal’s work is said to be the work of scapegoated minorities. As most often it is.

    Our permanent governments have developed in certain ways through trials and tribulations, and they aren’t perfect, far from it. They are not outside politics and agendas, but their ethic is to soldier on regardless of whose ideology or religion or what have you is on top at any given moment, believing sincerely that “this too shall pass” — but that the government and Constitution they are part of and serve won’t.

    That sincere belief, I think, has been shaken by events of the last few years.

    Indeed, the government and Constitution they are part of and serve may not survive the next few years. And then what?

    Complaints about the operations of this permanent government are generally valid, and making it change its evil ways is often a herculean task, but it can be done. Removing it all, though, leaves a vacuum to be filled by… what? You see, very few think past the destruction-phase. Getting rid of the opposition is about as far as most of the rightist-revolters get. Some sort of paradise is supposed to emerge. But it’s a fantasy.

    No, what they really want is to keep the structure in place — at least to the extent they’re aware of one — but to be able to operate it purely to their benefit and liking alone. Putting their own partisans in power, and having full and unquestioned authority over the entire apparatus.

    They yearn for an end to pluralism and constitutional self-government and the permanent establishment of a theocratic-fascist dictatorship. They see other nations doing it, so why not here? Why not now? Besides, it’s ordained by God, isn’t it? And they can call it Democracy! Who’d know the difference?

    Their Hero-Clown is supposed to bring it forth. He will beat all obstacles and opponents and the New Age will dawn in Glory, and all bad things and liberals will forever be consigned to the fires of hell. Hosanna, Hey Sanna!

    Yeah, no. Not gonna happen. Not like that.

    I see what’s going on as a corporate-Darwinian survival test, to see which fantasy will come out on top and be the dominant paradigm for the next few generations. Will it be reversion, stasis, or a new path forward? Reversion appeals to the old folks, but they’re dying off faster and faster. Stasis is the safe mode, but the system has become so unstable, it’s not really possible to remain set in place any more. The New Path Forward, however, is terra incognita. It is not a defined future, deliberately so. And think for a minute who that benefits.


  39. realitychecker

    Now, that sounds more like the Hugh that I used to admire and respect so much for his honesty and clarity of perception. As exemplified by your various scandal lists. ((Hugh))

    Nice to see you focus on the modern prevalence of virtue-signalling. And the realities of violence in the world.

    Now, can you extend that pragmatism to the issues of personal self-defense as well, or would that be a bridge too far?

    Grateful for any flashes of the old Hugh that I can get. 🙂


    Indeed, the government and Constitution they are part of and serve may not survive the next few years. And then what?

    Then SEAL Team Six and other mercenaries of the same ilk start raiding suburbia after the stock market finally crashes to a values indicative of the assets it reflects. That’s right peeps, those steroidal heroes, high on pain killers and racked with PTSD, you watch on CBS will be coming for you one day soon and there will be no heroes to protect you.


    No, what they really want is to keep the structure in place — at least to the extent they’re aware of one — but to be able to operate it purely to their benefit and liking alone. Putting their own partisans in power, and having full and unquestioned authority over the entire apparatus.

    Exactly, Ché. Here’s an example. All the whining and bemoaning of the impeachment proceedings by Trump and his defenders/supporters is so entirely hypocritical. They’re the other side of the same coin I despise. They were set to impeach Hillary before she even won. I would have supported that impeachment if the case was as solid as the case against Trump is. That’s the difference between me and bruce and brennan and the other cowards around here who hide behind the orange fascist’s apron strings. You support a fascist, or vote for him even, you are one. How many more fascists are laying in wait in the disillusioned liberal ranks? More than we think, apparently.

    Here’s the pedophile Jim Jordan implying impeachment of Hillary Clinton before the election. This guy makes me want to puke.

    GOP Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a leading conservative in the House, said in a statement that regardless of who wins the election, “we need to continue investigating Secretary Clinton’s email scandal, and alleged impropriety between the State Department and Clinton Foundation. We must also move forward with impeaching IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.”

  42. nihil obstet

    To quote that rather famous virtue signaler Dwight Eisenhower, who virtue signaled the invasion of Europe and then virtue signaled about the military-industrial-congressional complex, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

    I can’t speak to thousands of years when the U.S. didn’t exist, but I note that the period when the U.S. was close to being isolationist, say 1814 to 1914, had far less mass violence than the following hundred years. That doesn’t mean we caused all the mass violence, but it also indicates that our enthusiastic embrace of militarism hasn’t ended it.

    I do have to admit that my thinking is probably biassed by growing up in the aftermath of World War II, the “good war.” You’d say that we were all sanctimonious, but we actually believed the things said by the Chief U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremburg trials, Robert Jackson, that aggressive war was the supreme crime and that those sitting in judgment on the German leaders would be revealed as hypocrites if they did not hold themselves to the same standard. Is there such as thing as good and evil? We thought so. I still do.

    You have to get me up to date a step at a time. I need an object of contemplation, so please start by telling me which U.S. military or intelligence intervention into the affairs of other powers has brought about a positive result for the residents or for most Americans.


    I can’t speak to thousands of years when the U.S. didn’t exist, but I note that the period when the U.S. was close to being isolationist, say 1814 to 1914, had far less mass violence than the following hundred years.

    Unless you were black. Perspective’s a bitch and it means EVERYTHING. The Civil War was substantial in regard to mass violence.

    About 625,000 men died in the Civil War. That’s more Americans than died in both World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam combined. This amounted to 2 percent of the population at the time, which would be the equivalent to about 6 million Americans dying today.

    Ironically, or not, the Hamiltonian Federalists were pleased as pie with the Civil War. It consolidated federal power and significantly strengthened the power of the Unitary Executive. Not coincidentally, William Barr (who’s father hired Epstein by the way) is a Hamiltonian Federalist who is an ardent Trump defender precisely because he would like to see an even stronger more fervent Unitary Executive, or, in otherwords, a full-fledged fascist dictatorship. What does Bill Barr say about the Deep State? If he’s not the Deep State, no one is and the Deep State doesn’t exist. And yet he defends and supports Trump. But I thought the Deep State was out to get Trump? Deep State is a lot like the “anti-semitic” label, isn’t it?

  44. StewartM


    If you think the world would have been a better place if the Central Powers would have won WWI, think again. Hitler’s war aims and even ‘Lebensraum’ and ethnic cleansing did not just pop out of nowhere, they had their origins in German WWI policies. While the Allies were far from being good guys both individually and collectively, the Germans were worse.

    The real mistake in WWI was that it wasn’t, as Pershing suggested, fought to Germany’s unconditional surrender, and a saner peace should have been imposed.

  45. nihil obstet

    So we’re fighting them over there so we won’t have to fight ourselves here? Fair enough. Foreign enemies are the best friend of a powerful state. As James Madison noted

    In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people.

    The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manner and of morals, engendered in both.

    No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

  46. Willy

    It’s ironic that Trump, who by some counts has lied over 13,000 times during his presidency, who considers climate change a hoax and gloated over making the rich richer, swampy cabinetmaker, would likely defend his plutocratic buddies in the event of any kind of revolution against them. While taking advantage of the situation to increase his own power.

  47. bruce wilder

    Gary Larson, the cartoonist who drew The Far Side had a trope comparing what we say to dogs with what dogs hear.

    Someone — and it may be a writer more or less on the left though right-wing writers may claim it as a means of self-promotion — will introduce a term with subtle and nuanced meaning and connotations, like “virtue-signalling” or “Deep State” or “The Blob” and then it may migrate the dog pound of the Right with seemingly lightening speed.
    It doesn’t even have to migrate to lose any useful meaning; it just has to encounter someone who refuses to engage with it, refuses to even try to unpack the new term, someone who thinks stupid makes a good argumentative tactic.

    I am not going to apologize for using the leverage of these terms to write short(er) comments that still have some kind of actual argument embedded in them. Yes, if you want to understand the reference to “the Blob”, the reader might have to reference, say,

    Virtue-signalling would be a slightly tougher case as it references concepts from economics and evolutionary biology that lots of people have difficulty grasping the essence of; people easily confuse it with moral hypocrisy and/or moral hectoring and preaching. In a political context, I would say that an defining element of virtue-signalling is that it is an essentially empty act of political activism, to show alignment with a widely shared political creed or outlook without actually acting effectively to achieve a political objective or outcome. The purpose is simply to enhance personal status within some political grouping or culture. Anyone who genuinely wanted to could figure this out quickly enough with a Google Search for the entry in the Urban Dictionary. I say it is a tougher case, only because its meaning is being actively debased on-line by loads of essays that take as a premise a deliberate misunderstanding of the term.

    The concept of Deep State has an ironical connotation, built I suppose on references to movies with a paranoid premise. I like that about it, ymmv, but I am not someone who thinks much of the debating tactic of dismissing pattern recognition as “conspiracy theories”. “Conspiracy” implies a small group deliberately plotting with a self-conscious intent to violate constitutional norms for how decisions can and should be made, and I would not say that is what is happening with neoliberalism (another rich term the meaning of which is often simply denied for tactical advantage by argumentative trolls) or whatever you would call the ideology and shared delusions of the so-called intelligence community or the military-industrial complex. Still, vast bureaucracies are apparently put in motion, coordinated by ideologies impervious to democratic criticism.

    In an earlier comment, very sketchily, I tried to connect “Deep State” with Michel’s Iron Law of Institutions: that the founding purpose of institutions tends to be subverted over time by the emerging of a self-serving oligarchy focused on preserving the institution as a vehicle that serves the interests of its leadership even at the expense of its nominal founding or social purposes. That’s a model that I believe fits the observable case of the military-industrial complex, where outcomes like weapons systems that cost too much and do not work well, or perpetual wars that can never be won or ended, are regularly produced as an epi-phenomenon of people pursuing careers thru the military ranks and into consultancies and massive business corporations acting as contractors.

    The other obvious references for “Deep State” include the conspicuous role of Brennan and Clapper in running the intelligence agencies, but more importantly, misleading the public about lots of things, but including about the nature and weight of Russia’s role in American politics and the 2016 election. Another reference would be Comey’s clumsy and unprofessional (but melodramatically self-justified) participation in keeping alive the allegations of security breaches in Clinton’s use of a private email server and in keeping alive the allegations of collusion of Trump with Russia. (Comey was either a comically bi-partisan incompetent or a figure of Deep State aggression against electoral democracy — I am inclined to say, both.)

  48. bruce wilder

    Ché Pasa:

    Our permanent governments have developed in certain ways through trials and tribulations, and they aren’t perfect, far from it. They are not outside politics and agendas, but their ethic is to soldier on regardless of whose ideology or religion or what have you is on top at any given moment, believing sincerely that “this too shall pass” — but that the government and Constitution they are part of and serve won’t.

    That sincere belief, I think, has been shaken by events of the last few years.

    Indeed, the government and Constitution they are part of and serve may not survive the next few years. And then what?

    The constitution and government of a state is organic in the sense that it is being constantly reproduced with variation as generations pass. The political gamesmanship wears its structures down, subverts them, and either the structure fails as a result or is reformed and renewed. In some countries — say, France — they may sometimes actually trade in their constitution for a new one at points of reinvention. The French have seen five republics, two empires, two kingdoms, and some intervals best not named, since the fall of the ancien regime. The United States, by one account has seen major and minor constitutional (and monetary!) regime change at roughly 30-40 year intervals since its founding as an independent republic: the most dramatic were the reinvention in the crucible of Civil War and the reinvention in the New Deal of the Great Depression and World War II. The U.S. small-c constitution was reinvented again in 2000-8 (and, yes, once again with a new monetary regime, though one without a distinctive name so far).

    Nothing guarantees that the new structures instituted in 2000-8 will prove resilient enough to survive. To my eyes, it was an ugly reinvention. But, I cannot say for sure that it was so poorly architect-ed that it will actually collapse from its own dysfunction. That the economic bases for empire are washing away rapidly — that I am more sure of, but the collapse of empire might be more of a relief for the core than a shock. Maybe, the empire collapses and the republic gets a new lease on life — a bit like the unlikely late triumph of Little England in the 1940s. I would like to believe Bob McManus that social affiliation may surge into a political movement from below. We can hope.

  49. StewartM

    On the trait of institutional self-delusions:

    This can happen even when you’re in an existential war. One of the reasons Germany lost WWII, where Germany *was* fighting for its very continuance, was that they lied to themselves about everything. They lied to themselves about the prowess of their weapons. They lied to themselves about their losses. They lied to themselves about the losses they inflicted upon their enemies.

    Instances of the above:

    The Germans cheated, so to speak, on their antitank gun testing. Everyone–US and British, German, and Soviets–did it differently and so the numbers come out a bit differently, but the US/British and Soviets were consistent with their sampling, while the Germans were not. The US, British, and Soviets when they were testing the antitank capabilities of their guns, of Lend-Lease equipment, or of captured German weapons, simply would open up the ammo boxes and start shooting. The Germans did this as well–for US, British, and Soviet guns–but for *their own guns*, they would carefully screen and cherry-pick the best rounds in the box for testing. Thus German anti-tank guns outperform their peers in, uh, German tests, but when the British or US evaluated captured German anti-tank guns they came up with penetration data ~ 10 % or so less than what the Germans claimed–even though in theory the Germans used a slightly more rigorous test otherwise (ideally, a US test claiming a gun penetrated 100 mm of armor at a given range would result in a 97 mm penetration if German criteria were used, if done fairly).

    Likewise, the Germans lied to themselves about their own losses. I have the November 1944 report compiled by Heinz Guderian on German armor losses by type. In it you notice that on all the Eastern front, the Germans admitted to only 8 King Tiger tanks lost and on the Western front, only 7. However, perusing the diaries of the German heavy tank battalions reveals this to be impossible–the Germans lost 14 King Tigers alone in the fighting around Sandomierz bridgehead (some of these King Tigers made it to the Kubinka for testing, you can see the Soviet test reports and photos of them online), some 7 in the fighting in Gumbinnen East Prussia, and 16 in the fighting in Hungary alone, for a total of 47–which is probably not the complete list. Likewise, some people have detailed the King Tiger losses in France, down to the serial number of each tank, and come up with 45–again, with photographic evidence. Yet the official report claims only “8” and “7” lost, respectively.

    By their very nature, German tank loss claims are misleading. The Germans only counted a tank as “lost” if it was irreparably damaged or it could not be reclaimed off the battlefield. Even if one had to pick up the pieces of the tank and ship them back to the factory to be completely rebuilt, it wasn’t a a loss, only “damaged”. By contrast, the Soviets counted as a “loss” anything that took the tank out of action: irreparable damage, repairable damage, mechanical failure, or mishap. If a T-34 blows a gasket, if an IS-2 rolls off a bridge, if an ISU-152 gets stuck in a bog, it’s a loss by Soviet accounting, even though perhaps in a few hours these vehicles could be back in service. This is why Soviet losses look so extreme when compared to German–say, 2nd Tank Army in Poland in August 1944 at hthe Battle of Radzymin losing some 550 tanks out of 810, when the “irreparable damage” (the same metric as the Germans used) was only 111 of that total.

    By contrast, the German 503rd heavy tank at Kursk only “lost” 6 out of its 45 Tiger tanks; however, when the Soviets counterattacked some three weeks later, the Soviet attack rolled over the 503rd as if it wasn’t there–as indeed, it wasn’t, to a large extent, as its strength even three weeks after the battle was only *6 tanks*–the other 33 being still back at the shops undergoing repairs (which means the repairs aren’t trivial; a road wheel needing replaced or a gun barrel having been blown off would have been fixed in a day or so, cannibalizing parts from another tank if need be). By Soviet standards the 503rd would have been considered almost wiped out, which would have been a far more accurate appraisal. Moreover, one gets the impression that, given the decline in German operational tank strength from mid-43 to the end of the war, these “only damaged” tanks were never being repaired, just being scrapped or cannibalized without ever having been removed from the books. By January 1945, the Germans have something like 5000-6000 “tanks” on the Eastern front on the books, facing some 15,700 Soviet machines, but only like 2500 of those German tanks are listed as operational. One gets the feeling most of the non-operational tanks don’t exist anymore but have been quietly scrapped.

    This, I believe, had a major effect on the decision-making of Germany’s leadership in WWII. Hitler is being told German forces are killing Soviet tanks and men at 4:1 or 5:1 ratios, and he’s not a dummy–he knows the Soviets don’t have 5 times as many men and tanks. Thus Hitler’s “no retreat, stand and fight” orders would actually have made military sense–as the Germans would have been *winning* the war of attrition. Hitler would always say “we must bleed the Soviets white” and I believe he certainly thought his forces were doing so. In the famous conversation in January 1945 with Guderian, when Hitler first compliments Guderian on the strength of the Eastern Front then explodes in anger when Guderian calls the Eastern Front “a house of cards”–I think this is because Hitler believed that he has as many as 6,000 tanks facing 15,700 Soviet, and they have been killing their Soviet counterparts at a ratio of 4:1 or 5:1, so the front should be in ok shape to weather the next Soviet offensive. But if he knew the truth, that there were only like 2500 German tanks facing 15,700 and the true kill ratio through 1944 was more like 3 Soviets for every 2 German instead of 4:1 or 5:1, resulting that the Soviet tank park ballooned up to over 35,000 vehicles because the Soviets were easily building more tanks than the Germans were destroying by a wide margin, his response would have been more like “oh shit…” Likewise, German generals later claiming in their memoirs that Hitler moved around phantom divisions, corps, and armies–well, what do you expect when he’s been told all along these forces are real, because the true extent of their losses have been covered up?

    This lying, BTW, was not limited to just leadership and those doing the bean-counting. It spread down to the ranks and ordinary soldiers participated. The memoirs of SS Tiger tank crews are often fantasy (even the German bean counters didn’t believe them all, and would divide their claims by a factor of two). There are a number of tales told by individual Tiger tanks and their crews who just happened to be conveniently isolated from their mates (and thus no one around to confirm or deny their tales), running into hordes of Soviet tanks and slaughtering them with ease before returning back to their lines. My own favorite is the Tiger tank crew at Kursk who, when isolated, slaughtered dozens of T-34s–my question was “at Kursk one-third of Soviet tank strength was still dinky little unimpressive T-70 light tanks; how come destroying oodles of T-70s never makes it into such reports?”

    Now that the Russian archives have been opened, it’s been possible to cross-check these claims, and they usually turn up bogus. Not only do the units in the area not report the losses the Tiger tankers claimed, in some cases they don’t even have the tank types the Tigers claimed to have destroyed attached to them. Peter Samsonov, who runs the Tank Archives site which is an excellent source of this kind of information, jokes about the Tiger tank battalions typically “entering a battle, claiming dozens or hundreds of Soviet tanks destroyed with only small losses to themselves, then mysteriously having to be pulled out of the front afterwards for an extended period of time for refitting despite those “small losses”.

    This lying is a large part of the myth of the prowess of German WWII arms that has made it to Hollywood, wargaming conventions, and sad to say, TeeVee history. I know there is a political tilt to this as well, as it’s the Right who wants to make champions of ‘lost causes’ such as the Germans and the Confederacy by making inflated claims about the achievements of their arms.

  50. Willy

    In a “low energy Jeb world”, I have nothing against detailed analysis, as long as simple aphorisms might be derived from them, wherever possible. (or in my case, attempted, for further refinement by those lucky enough to have the time. Like most workers, my time is quite limited.)

    The Deep State is nothing more than a culture where the ground is kept fertile for sociopaths. (works for me, until climate changes, jobs disappear, and civil society collapses.)

    Virtue signaling’s practical value is for calling out to ones own species. (nobody wants to feel all alone)

    In an effort to reach different ‘species’, Cambridge Analytica used previously developed psych tactics to try and reach them on an individual basis. (Obama did the same. Whistleblowers may have been right to cry that these developing technologies may be detrimental to liberal democracy)

    Everybody projects onto the world whatever it is that works for them. (Ones own best survival is the primary drive)

    It’s not the authoritarians, but the enablers, stupids. (The mob always did have last say in Rome.)

    Tribalism is a form of social-economic networking. (Shunning works)

    Since experts in agitprop do it to us, why can’t there be an antidote?

    Why not start with simplest-possible easily-repeatable language, with all the detailed facts standing sternly behind like a Luca Brasi, for any individuals inclined to dig deeper? (The “Jesus wasn’t nice” meme got significant traction with conservatives, even when very few of them would ever want their daughters to describe their new boyfriend as “not nice”.)


    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, American Exceptionalism rubs both ways. America isn’t the shining city on the hill it’s been proclaimed to be and it’s not Mumbai either. America shouldn’t by default get the benefit of the doubt and garner all the praise and accolades just as it shouldn’t bear the brunt and entirety of criticism to be doled out to rogue, tyrannical countries. If America contracts domestically and retracts globally per a ten, or twenty even, year plan, that plan must take into account the dirty, under-handed tactics that will be utilized by many of the bad actors on the global stage as they seek to fill the burgeoning power vacuum and shoot America in the back as it withdraws from the imperium. For those of you who say America deserves to be shot in the back on its way out and sabotaged from within by China and Russia, I say go f*ck yourself and I’d ask, why are you even here commenting if that’s your sentiment? Nothing constructive will come of that sentiment. All it will do is inculcate a doubling down of hegemony until the last drop of oil is extracted.

  52. bruce wilder

    I would have thought, naively perhaps, that forever war, at its enormous cost in treasure, blood and honor, would be something we would all agree should end. And, could end by the simple, well-proven expedient of getting out of places where the U.S. has little or no business. Afghanistan for starters. Iraq. Syria! Yemen.

    But, apparently, according to 450 and Hugh, there is no alternative.


    I would have thought, naively perhaps, that forever war, at its enormous cost in treasure, blood and honor, would be something we would all agree should end.

    I agree it should end. There is no disputing that as far as I’m concerned. But it should be done for the right reasons and the right way. This is where you and I differ substantially. For the right reasons and the right way is not the way Russia would do it for America and why Russia would do it or want it for America. That’s your way, not my way. Lavrov in the Oval Office tells me, symbolically at least, that Russia is calling the shots with American foreign policy at the moment and that WILL NOT STAND!!!!!!

    Why we should do it is for the reasons nihil states and plus the implications of climate change and how we should do it is via a well-thought-out, strategic, graduated plan where we wean the world of its inculcated material dependence on America.

    It should not be the end of Statecraft. Statecraft is still vitally important for stability in an increasingly unstable world but it cannot and should not be carrot and stick with the veneer of cheerleading for democracy and human rights as cover for so-called “free-market” crony capitalism which is effectively Neocolonialism.. Diplomacy should replace gunboats. Diplomacy is paramount. Let’s take India and Pakistan as just one example of why diplomacy is vital. If India and Pakistan go to war they will empty their respective nuclear arsenals and consequently promulgate a global nuclear winter that will kill hundreds of millions if not billions. Without SKILLED (The Sondlands of the world need not apply) diplomacy, the probability of this nuclear conflict between Pakistan and India manifesting rises substantially. In this sense, a permanent government that you call the Deep State is paramount. To be a SKILLED diplomat requires many years of training and on the job experience that transcends multiple administrations and partisan politics. It should be renamed The Department of Global Peace and it should replace the abomination that is The Department of Homeland Security.


    The crisis between India and Pakistan in 1990 was so severe that the two states slightly missed a major war which could also result in the nuclear catastrophe. Pakistan less confident of its conventional capabilities found no other option but to go for a nuclear strike if it faced any Indian aggression. The nuclear deterrence was not successful in deterring the two sides from pursuing their war oriented policies. The democracy also failed to avert war between India and Pakistan. The credit only goes to diplomacy which averted war between these two South Asian nuclear weapon states. The United States became the most successful stateto influence the two South Asian nuclear powers not to pursue the path of war. It convinced the two sides that war is not going to benefit any side and will result in major catastrophe. The US assurances to the two sides played a major role to reduce the tension during the times of the crisis. The crisis in 1990 clearly indicated that nuclear deterrence was not workable between the two South Asian nuclear powers. It also portrayed a message to the both sides to have their dependence on other stakes and not the nuclear deterrence.

    Therefore, the diplomacy became more successful in reducing tension between India and Pakistan during 1990 crisis. The nuclear deterrence didn’t work to avert war between India and Pakistan. The crisis of 1990 also portrayed two messages that there is greater role for the United States to play in the future as it has done in the past to avert war between the two South Asian nuclear weapon states and these two states should depend on other stakes such as trade, inter-state diplomacy, democracy, people to people contact and cultural as these stakes will prove helpful in reducing the chances of any war and will lead them to peace.

  54. bruce wilder

    it should be done for the right reasons and the right way.

    that is a philosophy that will leave you prone to lending your support to the paralysis of “trying” rather than doing, or making the perfect the enemy of the good.

    you mention Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, whose performance in Syria has been a tour de force of skillful diplomacy, bringing an incredibly destructive war to an end with the cooperation or acquiescence of several Powers not particularly friendly to one another. and, yes, that includes Trump withdrawing U.S. forces from the frontline of Syrian Kurdistan.

    there is lots for someone who proclaims Abraham Lincoln a proto-fascist enabler to find fault with in the emerging Syrian settlement, beginning with the survival of the Assad regime, who infamously gassed its own people. When Obama and Kerry drew a line in the sand over the poison gas, Lavrov called their bluff and arranged for the disposal of Syrian poison gas weapons stocks, a practical step. Of course, that did not stop later efforts to mobilize western intervention by staging a fake gas attack and subverting the efforts of the international agency tasked with detecting such subterfuge.

    you like to talk “peace”, but do you have the stomach for it? what the Russians have been accomplishing in Syria is to make peace, a peace in their own national interest to be sure, since they are securing a strategic naval base and economic cooperation with Turkey while somehow miraculously maintaining their alliance with Israel and building a working relationship with an otherwise hostile Iran. but that is often what peace looks like, a series of compromises and calculated half-steps, because you make peace with your enemies and you make friends of states with enemies who are necessarily your enemies.

    the U.S. in Syria was its usual palsied, self-destructive self. with Obama lending a weakly restraining hand, the “professionals” in the many disparate agencies of U.S. diplomacy, military forces, and intelligence agencies were backing various and violently opposed factions, including Al Qaeda franchise in Syria, that helpfully promised to rebrand its murderous ideology in exchange for American money and munitions. The U.S. was seeking out “moderate liberal rebels” to train and equip, because that is what we always do no matter how often it fails or how unlikely “moderate liberal” soldiers are in a place like Syria. The U.S. occupied Syrian territory with no colorable excuse under international law, pretty much undermining any basis for diplomatic appeals. The U.S. advised the Turks and the Kurds without doing anything to keep them away from each other or work out a modus viviendi.

    when i ridicule the Blob or express fear of the Deep State, i am referring to very real phenomena in the institutional structure of the American government that drive the U.S. to wasteful and futile activities ultimately destructive of the genuine interests of the country, not to mention the global interest in justice. the Blob and the Deep State are practiced manipulators of public opinion, with focus-grouped “good intentions” for sale and the titular lies of this post at the ready.

    the U.S. blob and deep state are the legacies of the American triumph in WWII and second triumph in the Cold War. they are not inherently evil so much as they are obsolete, but being obsolete and corrupted, they are evil in effect. when i hear people say they hesitate to see them dismantled, i wonder what rock they have been sleeping under for the last twenty to fifty years. their models for the American role in the world are the mythic, self-flattering stories Americans have told themselves while ignoring the corruption and sheer immorality of American policy. when I say, what about the corruption and immorality, you say, whataboutism, this is about Trump. that is a form of insanity that just lends support to the continuation of obsolete structures and modes of thought that are more destructive than Trump’s clown show.

    Trump crassly asking the Ukrainian President for an investigation of the corruption that put Hunter Biden on the board of Burisma is far from a crime of any kind, let alone a “high crime”. It does not make Joe Biden innocent or erase the corruption that put Hunter Biden in that lucrative sinecure, or brought Manafort or Tony Podesta or so many other American masters of the dark arts of electoral propaganda to the very dangerous polarization of Ukrainian politics between the US/EU/NATO and Russia.

    We need to step back and ask whether Victoria Nuland, neocon princess, was doing the right thing for the right reason to pay for overthrowing the elected government twice, putting into power aggressive anti-Russian radicals with genuinely fascist sympathies. Not paint a one-sided picture as Hugh does of unaccountable and unilateral Russian aggression ignorant of all the questionable forces involved, and while denying the deep state is even a useful concept.

  55. bruce wilder

    just a side-note on U.S. diplomatic efforts vis a vis Pakistan: massive military aid from the U.S. underwrote the dominant role of the military in Pakistani politics and economy. Pakistan has been the great font of nuclear proliferation, lending critical technical support to North Korea and Libya. Pakistan has been the base for horrific terrorist attacks on India since 1990 and lends support to Kashmiri militants openly and terrorists with implausible deniability. Pakistan, while working against the U.S. in Afghanistan hosted Osama bin Laden.

    I would not sing kumbaya too loudly on account of a paean to diplomacy without details.


    I would not sing kumbaya too loudly on account of a paean to diplomacy without details.

    Wow, you’re quite the pip, aren’t you? Of course we can scrutinize past diplomatic efforts and separate the wheat from the chaff and develop best practices going forward. If it doesn’t work and various countries are unrelenting and intractable, well, at least we gave it our best shot. I agree buying them off doesn’t work in the long run but neither does isolating ourselves entirely from the rest of the planet work. America can’t mitigate a climate change apocalypse unilaterally. The entire planet must be on board otherwise it’s pissing up a tree for prosperity. There are so many challenges associated with contraction, demobilization and retraction on our reluctant path to an evolved human existence in harmony with the living planet, the least of which is avoiding a nuclear holocaust in a scramble by malevolent tyrants to fill the power vacuum as the plaque of American hegemony is loosened from the artery walls of TRUE societal progress.

    “Kumbaya.” There’s another one of those rightist wordsmithie tropes CP mentioned. I’m not a “Leftist” per se, but I have to laugh at all the things “Leftists” are to “Rightists.” They;re militants and yet they’re kumbaya pacifists. They’re Deep State thugs yet they’re snowflakes.

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