The Austerity Conspiracy

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger

104248208When I started as a college student about 50 years ago I took the Sociology I course as a required subject. There is little I remember from that course and less I remember about the instructor, except for his introductory words on the first day of class. To paraphrase him he said: “You will be taking a lot of courses in what are called the Social Sciences. Approach them all, including mine, with skepticism because they really aren’t science courses like those you’ve learned as a high school student. They will spend a lot of lecture time though trying to prove they are truly scientific, don’t believe them”. His clear meaning was that although the Social Sciences try to operate as if they are using the scientific method of experiments/research to prove theories, most of the work done is skewed to prove the theory of choice by those doing the research. In the five decades since that lecture my own experience and reading has taught me how true the advice from that long forgotten Sociology instructor is.

The social science that has my attention at the moment is Economics. I’ve read many an economist, from all points on the political spectrum and frankly while I favor those such as Krugman and Baker, I take most of what they say as opinion, rather than scientifically determined truth. Yes I’ve even read “Freakonomics” by Levitt and Dubner and the follow-up “Superfreakonomics” and while they were good reads I see them as not only bad science, but a conflation of economics with other social sciences that is superficial at best. This is really the problem with many economists and their theories. They presume to divine human behavior via the prism of economic theory.  In the end their proofs are merely retrofitting their pre-judgments. That brings me to the “Austerity” movement which has hampered the recovery from the economic “depression” brought on by the wars and tax reductions of the Bush years, while it has also caused a crisis worldwide through its imposition upon many nations. The foundation research that has justified this “Austerity” movement came from two Harvard Professors: Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff.  A University of Massachusetts student Thomas Herndon found that their work was filled with mathematical errors in their research spreadsheets. Their spreadsheets were their “proofs” that economic austerity promotes economic recovery and this theory, long held by many economists, is the basis for the imposition of austerity onto so many Nation’s economies and is the source of bitter national debate in our own. Though I will present some overview and links amplifying “austerity’s” false assumptions, my interest is in presenting my view on why the powers that be have imposed this doctrine, whose effects fall squarely upon 99% of the people of these nations, leaving the wealthiest unscathed.

Thomas Herndon with others published a paper about  Reinhart/Rogoff’s findings stating this:

“ The new paper, by Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash, and Robert Pollin of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, set out to reconstruct the findings of an influential 2010 paper by Reinhart and Rogoff, called “Growth In A Time Of Debt.” Reinhart and Rogoff, both of Harvard, claimed that economic growth slowed fairly dramatically for countries whose public debt crossed a threshold of 90 percent of gross domestic product.

The problem is that other economists have been unable to recreate Reinhart and Rogoff’s findings. Herndon, Ash and Pollin now say they were able to do so — but only by leaving out big, important pieces of data.

Using the same spreadsheet that Reinhart and Rogoff used for their research, Herndon, Ash and Pollin found that “Growth In A Time Of Debt” was built around a handful of significant errors. Correcting for those errors changes the findings dramatically: Average GDP growth for high-debt countries jumps from negative 0.1 percent to 2.2 percent.”

What we see then is that calculation “errors” showed that GDP growth for high debt countries actual increased rather than decreased.  Reinhart and Rogoff (R&R) have been arguing that debt decreases GDP as the rationale for austerity and their argument seems not only unproven, but wrong. It gets worse.

The Harvard economists have argued that mistakes and omissions in their influential research on debt and economic growth don’t change their ultimate austerity-justifying conclusion: That too much debt hurts growth.But even this claim has now been disproved by two new studies, which suggest the opposite might in fact be true: Slow growth leads to higher debt, not the other way around.

In a post at Quartz, University of Michigan economics professor Miles Kimball and University of Michigan undergraduate student Yichuan Wang write that they have crunched Reinhart and Rogoff’s data and found “not even a shred of evidence” that high debt levels lead to slower economic growth. And a new paper by University of Massachusetts professor Arindrajit Dube finds evidence that Reinhart and Rogoff had the relationship between growth and debt backwards: Slow growth appears to cause higher debt, if anything.

As you can see from the chart from Dube’s paper below, growth tends to be slower in the five years before countries have high debt levels. In the five years after they have high debt levels, there is no noticeable difference in growth at all, certainly not at the 90 percent debt-to-GDP level that Reinhart and Rogoff’s 2010 paper made infamous. Kimball and Wang present similar findings in their Quartz piece.

This contradicts the conclusion of Reinhart and Rogoff’s 2010 paper, “Growth in a Time of Debt,” which has been used to justify austerity programs around the world. In that paper, and in many other papers, op-ed pieces and congressional testimony over the years, Reinhart And Rogoff have warned that high debt slows down growth, making it a huge problem to be dealt with immediately. The human costs of this error have been enormous.

Even after University of Massachusetts graduate student Thomas Herndon found Reinhart and Rogoff’s work included errors and that their 2010 paper was missing important data, the researchers stood by their ultimate conclusion: that growth dropped off significantly after debt hit 90 percent of GDP. They claimed that austerity opponents like Paul Krugman have been so so rude to them for no good reason.”

What is so infuriating about R&R is the destruction that follows in the wake of there now debunked theories. The unemployment in Europe is has reached record high levels high levels, countries like Greece and Spain have rioting in the streets and a new neo Nazi movement is gaining popularity throughout Europe. The cost in human suffering is incalculable, but these fatuous academic asses  are not concerned with people, they are concerned with their reputations and they are concerned with catering to wealth.  Their theories, rather than being the result of real research and experiment, are in effect self-fulfilling prophecies. This is NOT science; it is overweening egotism in tandem with uncaring self interest. This tale, however, gets worse. Huffington Pos contributor: Mark Gongloff  wrote this article on Friday: “Austerity Fanatics Won’t Let Mere Economics Stop Them From Thinking They’re Winning” in it he writes:

“Like Hiroo Onoda, the Japanese soldier who hid on an island in the Philippines for 30 years refusing to believe Japan had lost World War II, austerity fanatics are never going to admit their failure. Instead, they are going to keep pushing the policies that are making millions of people in Europe and the United States miserable.

The latest example of their denial is a piece by Michael Rosen of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, entitled “Austerity And Its Discontents.” He declares that, far from being shamed by the recent discovery of errors in influential research by Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, austerity fans have recently gained “the upper hand” in the global argument over austerity.

Rosen argues that Reinhart and Rogoff’s many loud rebuttals to their critics helped give austerians the “intellectual high ground.” He ignores that, in fact, Reinhart and Rogoff’s rebuttals have only compounded their errors. He also ignores that further research has debunked Reinhart and Rogoff utterly, revealing that their biggest mistake was in confusing the cause-effect relationship between high debt and growth. It turns out, contra Reinhart and Rogoff, that there is no evidence that high debt causes slow growth — in fact, the opposite might be true.

But then the austerians have never really needed the intellectual high ground. Their phobia of government debt is based mainly on the idea that debt is just bad because of course it has to be. It is bad when people take on a lot of debt, ipso facto the same thing is bad for government. We must eat our spinach, not our dessert!

Rosen is absolutely right when he points out that Germany, and the American Enterprise Institute, and the Wall Street Journal editorial page, and Michael Kinsley, and the many, many other long-time fans of austerity have only redoubled their efforts to push austerity measures in the wake of the Reinhart-Rogoff debunking and re-debunking.

Now that I’ve presented the situation to you at least from my side of the fence, you can make up your minds about austerity. While I agree with many of the conclusions delivered by the writers quoted above my slant on it all is somewhat different. I believe that all economic theories and political theories, despite their validity, mask what is truly going on in our world today. It is easy of course to compare the call for austerity by conservatives under Democrats and the out of control spending and debt run up in the Reagan, Bush I and Bush II administrations. This comparison would lead one to believe there is fiscal hypocrisy at the bottom of this and that is true. However, the fiscal hypocrisy exist as much among Democrats as Republican’s as Max Baucus proved in his terms as Senator. Bill Clinton cut government to balance the budget. He aided in the erasure of Smoot Hawley and he hurt American jobs by signing NAFTA and CAFTA. President Obama has likewise played the fiscal conservative card, while complaining it has been forced on him. He has even put cuts of Social Security and Medicare on the table, although neither is related to the national debt.

What is happening here is the result of the wealthiest people and the largest corporations becoming international entities. The rise of the multi-national could well herald the decline and fall of the nation state. From the perspective of the “Haves” it makes perfect sense. Why be bound by the laws of a particular nation, when you can break free and roam the world as you please? Truly, to these multi-nationals and the people behind them, the world is their oyster. The only problems they have are government regulation, taxes and those pesky workers who want more wages. The solution is to bring the 99% to a level slightly above starvation. This ensures that they will work for any amount that helps them put some food on the table. It necessitates that social assistance programs be destroyed so the peasants will have no choice but to seek shelter from devastation at some low paying job that keeps them little above subsistence.

Imagine yourself as one of the Super Rich, or as the CEO of a huge multinational corporation. My guess is that most of them see themselves as extraordinary people, chosen by fate or God to be in their exalted positions. They are able to go anywhere in the world on a whim. They don’t have one palatial home they have five, some in the world’s greatest Cities and others in the world’s most beautiful places. They don’t have one luxury car they have twenty collectibles and a fleet of limousines to take them place to place, flanked by bodyguards. While it’s true some wealthy eschew these outward signs, usually it is done as some sort of reverse snobbery, like the Kennedy penchant for driving Oldsmobiles, or J.B. Hunt driving to work every day in an old Chevy, with a paper bag lunch prepared by his wife.

The rich are not like your and me and moreover they know it. The truth is austerity is one more step on the road toward worldwide feudalism. Our wealthy class has helped to plot this out and they are served by people like Reinhart and Rogoff as courtiers and henchmen. They are leading us to a chaos they believe will result in solidifying their hold on the world and their eventual Nobility. However, when chaos descends on society through the discontent of so many, even wealth might not be protection against the violent psychopaths that gain control. That’s what I think about austerity, what do you think?


261 thoughts on “The Austerity Conspiracy”

  1. In response to nobody: I use the term “progressive” to indicate advocacy of policies that I can see will increase fairness (which is generally a reduction in the use of asymmetrical power, influence and money) in human affairs.

    To me, at some point asymmetrical power fades into simple coercion and slavery; specifically when one party cannot really walk away without dire consequences, and therefore has zero negotiating power.

    Policies like those that Bron advocates increase the use of asymmetrical power (by refusing to prohibit it, and seeing asymmetrical power as legitimate “leverage” without limit), policies like the ones I promote tend to do the opposite, reduce the use of asymmetrical power. My ideal is the end of for-profit coercion, world-wide, so that competition can rule the realm of transactions from which people can walk away without suffering significant loss. To me that is the realm within which capitalism should reign, and there are services to be excluded from that realm, such as police protection, national defense, health care, sanitation, routine banking, travel infrastructure and some others.

    I do not want to prevent anybody from getting rich, I want to prevent people from doing that at the expense of making somebody else poor, and I want to prevent people that are rich from coercing others into agreements or contracts they cannot refuse without catastrophic (or even fatal) consequences.

  2. MM: Yet almost immediately, reactionary business interests will counter by speaking of “Climate Change,” because “change” connotes something more abstract and neutral than warming.

    You are factually incorrect. Here is a link:
    Global warming vs climate change.

    Some excerpts:

    Both of the terms in question are used frequently in the scientific literature, because they refer to two different physical phenomena. As the name suggests, ‘global warming’ refers to the long-term trend of a rising average global temperature…

    Global warming vs climate change
    Link to this page
    The skeptic argument…

    They changed the name from global warming to climate change
    What the science says…

    There have long been claims that some unspecificed “they” has “changed the name from ‘global warming’ to ‘climate change'”. In reality, the two terms mean different things, have both been used for decades, and the only individual to have specifically advocated changing the name in this fashion is a global warming ‘skeptic’.

    Global Warming vs. Climate Change

    Both of the terms in question are used frequently in the scientific literature, because they refer to two different physical phenomena. As the name suggests, ‘global warming’ refers to the long-term trend of a rising average global temperature, which you can see here:

    ‘Climate change’, again as the name suggests, refers to the changes in the global climate which result from the increasing average global temperature. For example, changes in precipitation patterns, increased prevalence of droughts, heat waves, and other extreme weather.
    [Including, btw, colder spots that are the result of shifts in ocean currents or air currents brought on by Global Warming; for example England is warmed and wetted by the Gulf Stream, if that stops due to ice cap melting, England will become colder and drier. CC can also include more frequent or stronger hurricanes and tornadoes, heavier snowfalls, greater flooding, stronger winds, etc. TC]

    [More from the article]: The argument “they changed the name” suggests that the term ‘global warming’ was previously the norm, and the widespread use of the term ‘climate change’ is now. However, this is simply untrue. For example, a seminal climate science work is Gilbert Plass’ 1956 study ‘The Carbon Dioxide Theory of Climatic Change’ (which coincidentally estimated the climate sensitivity to a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide at 3.6°C, not far off from today’s widely accepted most likely value of 3°C). Barrett and Gast published a letter in Science in 1971 entitled simply ‘Climate Change’. The journal ‘Climatic Change’ was created in 1977 (and is still published today). The IPCC was formed in 1988, and of course the ‘CC’ is ‘climate change’, not ‘global warming’. There are many, many other examples of the use of the term ‘climate change’ many decades ago. There is nothing new whatsoever about the usage of the term.

    [More from the article] And a Google Scholar search reveals that the term ‘climate change’ was in use before the term ‘global warming’, and has always been the more commonly-used term in scientific literature: [graph, showing dominance of “climate change” term over “global warming” term in peer-reviewed literature since 1940 or so; by a factor of over 4x. TC]

    It is true, as the article says, that “Republican political strategist Frank Luntz in a controversial memo advising conservative politicians on communicating about the environment: It’s time for us to start talking about “climate change” instead of global warming and “conservation” instead of preservation.

    And this was because Luntz found out through focus groups that people were less frightened by “Climate Change” than they were by “Global Warming.”

    But in the scientific community, we have always preferred Climate Change because scientifically it is the more accurate term; and we are in the business of accurately communicating ideas and accurately predicting consequences, not fear mongering or advertising.

    Republicans and business interests did not change the term, they chose to use the term that science, for sixty years, has itself preferred as the most accurate high-level descriptor of what we are studying. If Luntz is right and our term is less frightening to the populace, then fine, science is not out to scare people but to inform them so they can make an intelligent decision.

    Since the earliest days of this science, the practitioners have been, in their writing, about 80% in favor of using the term “climate change” over the term “global warming.” Big Business did not invent “climate change,” and scientists were not oppressed in any way into using it, it has been our choice all along.

  3. Level Playing Field == Eventual Stability
    Favoritism == Turmoil and Politics

    Yes, I am overly simplistic. 🙂

  4. MM,

    Bron is an Objectivist so your policy is wise, but I was cutting him some slack. He’s really not such a bad guy for having a lot of bad ideas that could be fairly characterized as regressive. Unlike a lot of Objectivists, if you corner him, he’s capable of empathy and on occasion even thinks outside the Rand box.

  5. Gene,

    I think I follow you, and thanks for the useful example relevant to this discussion.

    As you postulate: if by a “progressive” we connote “someone who advocates economic and social reforms to the status quo,” then our friend Bron would qualify as a “progressive” on the basis of his advocacy of reform (i.e., change to the status quo). But consider:

    Loading the Language

    The language of the totalist environment is characterized by the thought-terminating cliché. The most far-reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed. These become the start and finish of any ideological analysis. — Robert Jay Lifton, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism

    When scientists warn us of “Global Warming” they use the word “warming” because it clearly connotes “getting warmer.” Yet almost immediately, reactionary business interests will counter by speaking of “Climate Change,” because “change” connotes something more abstract and neutral than warming. After all, the onset of a new ice age would also constitute “climate change,” and global warming does not have anything to do with the world getting colder.

    Also, the word “global” concerns the planet as a whole, while “climate” refers to local weather patterns — something of a much lesser concern to the human race as a whole.

    Consequently, we have here the carefully concocted misnomer “climate change” serving as a thought-terminating cliché, intended not to inform or even misinform, but to un-inform. And every time I hear some self-identified “progressive” babbling the corporate-sponsored Newspeak, “Climate Change,” I literally cringe. Co-opted by corporate word-magicians and (1) either completely clueless about it, or (2) in on the semantic scam and therefore a cynical, duckspeaking hypocrite. “Global Warming” means the over-heating of the earth due to greenhouse gas emissions from human energy-expending activities. “Climate Change” deliberately means something else entirely, if it means anything at all.

    Pardon my going on at such length, but I developed this topic in such a way so that I could address the notion of “reform” as a particular kind of change. “Reform” does mean “change,” but unless one knows the intended direction of the change, then one would not know whether “progressive” (positive connotation) or “regressive” (negative connotation) would best describe the person advocating any particular reform. I have often in my life heard self-described “conservatives” speak of “tax reform” when they meant “radical elimination” of all taxes on the unearned income of the wealthiest 1%. So I know that such persons will use the word “reform” as a thought-terminating cliché to mask their true intentions. Therefore, I might possibly consider our friend Bron a “progressive” for advocating reforms, but until I knew more about his proposed “reforms,” I would hesitate to describe them as “progressive.” Not ruling it out, mind you. Just keeping my semantic powder dry, so to speak.

  6. Bron: I guess we need the big boys but they should not be allowed to purchase favors from DC.

    Why do you think that? I don’t.

    I have some experience in the “big boy” businesses, and I truly think that all economies of scale can be achieved by the time a company hits about $1B in revenue. There is nothing you can do with a hundred billion you couldn’t do with one billion.

    I think when companies hit $2B in revenue, they should be forced to split into two competitors that cannot collaborate. Share all intellectual property and split every share of stock into a share of each. Employees will have to choose a side. Customers can choose whichever they wish.

    We don’t need big boys; they create monopolies and use monopolistic practices. Limiting the size of corporations would not limit the money to be made, but it would create the tough competition that is supposed to be the preventive against monopolistic practice.

  7. Michael M: I think you misunderstand the dynamic between the two sides, or do not fully comprehend the ramifications of their both being owned by the global corporations.

    The Democrats and Republicans (politicians) have struck upon the formula that lets them do anything they want: political polarization. They both want the same thing; which is whatever their corporate masters demand. But by political organization, if they do not do something the masses want, they can always blame it on the other side.

    The Democrats claim the Republicans forced them, and that makes the Republicans look like villains to Democrat voters, and heroes to Republican voters. It makes Democrats look like valiant heroes fighting a lost cause.

    And vice versa. And all along, all we hear through a constant stream of emails, from both sides, is “send us money, if you just give us money we can fix this, but you have to dig deep.”

    That isn’t true, of course, the people demanding money already have the power to change things, they just pretend it is impossible, until their corporate masters actually want something (like bank bailouts or immunity from charges for illegal wiretapping) then they can make it happen overnight, pass a bill bigger than the annual budget.

    The Democrats are not incompetent, and neither are the Republicans. It looks like the Republicans usually win, but that is because the corporate masters mostly want Republican issues passed. The corporate masters are pragmatists; they don’t care which party a politician is, as long as they do as they are told. If the people want to elect Democrats this cycle, they will find their obedient sociopaths wearing a D, if the people want to elect Republicans this cycle, they will find their obedient sociopaths wearing an R. Enough politicians can be bought that, as Gene alluded, you can count the good ones on your fingers.

    There is only one party, and they win about 95% of the seats. It makes no difference which side of the aisle they sit on, they all spend all day, every day, looking to trade power for money.

  8. Gene:

    I like to think of myself as a 19th century liberal. I dont disagree that Vietnam was a bad war and should have never been fought but I disagree that it was fought for big business.

    The problem is government. I am reading Howard Zinn’s book “A People’s History of the US” it is quite good but what he sees as a problem of capitalism, I see as a problem of not enough business so that labor cannot command higher wages.

    I did not know that Andrew Carnegie made some deals when he started his steel business to have congress set a high steel tariff. I think that is objectionable and not in sync with my idea of what capitalism should be. In some respects Zinn is reinforcing my belief that government should stay out of economics. And railroads, oh boy was that a big mess.

    Bush put a tariff on steel to help US Steel and nearly put a bunch of small companies out of business. To be honest with you, the combination of large corporations and big government has been disastrous for our country.

    Our country was built on farmers and small mechanics and merchants. I guess we need the big boys but they should not be allowed to purchase favors from DC. Politics and economics need to be separate. We need freedom in each sphere but politicians and businessmen should be kept apart.

  9. For you, Gene:

    “Imagine a new movement arising in history and as is so often the case with new movements, imagine that it is named by the enemy (as ‘liberalism’ was named by the Jesuits, to convey connotations of ‘licentiousness,’ in contrast to ‘servile,’ to convey connotations of ‘loyal’).” Kenneth Burke,The Philosophy of Literary Form (1941)

  10. Copy most of that, MM. I would differ though on the denotation versus the connotation of the word “progressive” though. The denotation is not so easily changed, semantic drift is a process that usually takes place on the scale of decades at a minimum although faster shifts have been noted. The real danger is in changing connotations by value loading. It’s easier to do by traditional propaganda methods and carries just as much directed inducible error as attempting to change the denotation of a word. Bron is in the grip of connotative value loading of the word “progressive”, unaware that he himself is a progressive by denotative definition.

  11. Bron,

    Thanks for the reply. As Gene H. says, we do not disagree so much about the “bipartisan” nature of United States foreign policy, since both self-styled Democrats and self-styled Republicans pursue it with equal fervor. From my own personal perspective, Presidents Lyndon Johnson (D) and Richard Nixon (R) both did everything they could to wreck my life in vain pursuit of a phony “war” that the American people had soundly rejected as early as the landslide election of 1964. I would piss on both their graves if I didn’t have better use for the waste water.

    Gene also says that we have something of a terminology problem, which means that we do not so much have an argument as a verbal dispute — a disagreement about the names we give things rather than their substantive differences. While I agree with Gene about the origin and derivation of the word “progressive” — which technically refers to domestic issues such as economic and social reform — the term has other denotations and connotations, depending upon who uses the term and for what purposes. After all, meaning exists in people not in words.

    First of all, among Democrats, the term “progressive” constitutes an accolade, while Republicans consider it an epithet. In truth, Democrats used to call themselves “liberal,” as Gene shows by admirable example. But most Democrats today have switched to calling themselves “progressive.” They have done this because the Republicans successfully managed to tag the word “liberal” with scurrilous connotations. Literary critic Kenneth Burke called this semantic technique “naming by the enemy.” The Republicans’ favorite hired-gun word magician, Dr Frank Luntz, calls it “defining” the opposition. In plain speech we call it “smearing.” Same thing.

    But Instead of sticking to their reformist principles and defending their liberal name and its legitimate historical connotations, the Democrats by and large have cravenly accepted their Republican enemy’s misinterpretation of their once honorable name and instead have tried to relabel themselves “progressives.” But since the Republicans know full well how and why they trashed the name “liberal,” it seems only reasonable — smelling the ever present Democratic blood in the water — to expect them to trash the connotations of “progressive” as well. To them, the word means not only “liberal” but “coward” as well. And a great many Americans — unconscious of the semantic tagging (or “loading”) at work here — subconsciously absorb the subliminal message.

    Even worse, from the standpoint of social and economic reform, the Democrats — calling themselves “progressive” — repudiate the anti-war and anti-corporate base of their own party and enthusiastically join the Republicans in waging imperial “war” which benefits only the ruling corporate oligarchy who hate and despise even the hint of social and economic reform. Of course, the Democrats insist that they do “humanitarian intervention” instead of avowedly militaristic corporate imperialism (“We’re an empire now!”) but everyone knows that Presidents Clinton and Obama have bombed and terrorized just as many illiterate foreign peasants as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney so gleefully did. So now the word “progressive” just means another synonym for “imperial militarism that dare not speak its name.”

    In short, the Democrats, by failing to actually stand for any reformist alternative to corporate militaristic imperialism at home and abroad, have willingly cooperated in the semantic trashing of their swell new brand. Republicans should feel ashamed of themselves for making this look so easy. Either they do it to the Democrats or the Democrats do it to themselves. In their shoes, I would taunt President Obama by mocking his signature line: “There are no red states and no blue states but only the United States.” They ought to reply: “There are no blue states, only orange ones.” (orange = red + yellow).

    Don’t worry about the Democrats. When the Republicans win, they gloat: “To the victor belong the spoils.” When the Democrats win, they moan: “To the Republicans belong the spoils.” The ruling corporate oligarchy can always rent a few Democrats like Clinton and Obama when it doesn’t feel like buying any more Republican Bushes.

  12. Bron: Kennedy resolved not to let the same thing happen in Vietnam. He was a firm believer in the domino theory, which held that if one Western-supported country in a region fell, the others would crumble in its wake.

    That is the key right there. It was about Communism. Why would the USA care whether countries succumbed to communism? Partially about invasion, but Mutually Assured Destruction had already produced the necessary standoff. The other part is mercenary capitalism: Western support generally means markets for Western products, and supplies for Western industries (including labor).

    It is good for business to have friendly relations. Being cut off from all relations by a Communist regime is bad for business. Communism in general is bad for business, it makes profits evil.

    You really need to stop taking everything you read at face value, and trusting in authority, and see the underlying patterns of action that are the most probable actual motivations of people. It isn’t that hard, you just need to remember to look for who is making a big profit. Nine times out of ten it is really is just all about the money.

  13. tony c:

    vietnam was not about capitalism, why did we fight that war?

    “Kennedy found himself alone in his criticism of French action in Indochina when General Vo Nguyen Giap’s Viet Minh forces moved against the French army at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. The 15,000-man French garrison was then surrounded, and the United States began serious consideration of sending military aid, including the possibility of using nuclear weapons to support the French. During an impassioned speech before the Senate on April 6, 1954, Kennedy declared: To pour men, material and money into the jungles of Indochina without at least a remote prospect of victory would be dangerously futile…no amount of American military assistance in Indochina can conquer an enemy which is everywhere, an enemy of the people, which had the sympathy and the covert support of the people.

    Despite Kennedy’s forceful remarks, a majority of the Congress sided with the existing American position. The 1954 Geneva accords ended the French–Indochina War, but the United States refused to back the agreement, calling for a new election in 1956 in which both the North and South would vote for their country’s future.

    During the 1960 U.S. election campaign, neither Kennedy nor his Republican opponent, Vice President Richard M. Nixon, paid much attention to Vietnam, concentrating instead on the ever-intensifying military and political situation in Cuba. By 1961, however, with Kennedy in the White House, Vietnam’s problems became his problems. This is the worst one we’ve got, isn’t it? Kennedy asked his national security adviser, Walt Rostow, shortly after assuming office. You know, Eisenhower never mentioned it. He talked at length about Laos, but never uttered the word Vietnam.

    In his thousand days in the White House, Kennedy learned more about Vietnam than he cared to. That remote Southeast Asian country quickly dominated his time as no other foreign problem, and eventually led the United States down a slippery slope of combat and lost lives that would not reach bottom until the mid-1970s.

    Kennedy began to focus more on the situation in Vietnam after the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba in April 1961. Having suffered one humiliation in American foreign policy at the hands of Fidel Castro, Kennedy resolved not to let the same thing happen in Vietnam. He was a firm believer in the domino theory, which held that if one Western-supported country in a region fell, the others would crumble in its wake. Thus Kennedy in early 1961 made certain key decisions regarding further American involvement in Vietnam.

    A National Intelligence Estimate report on South Vietnam’s President Ngo Dinh Diem concluded that Diem’s internal policies were autocratic and that his domestic programs were hindering the war effort. As early as 1961, according to a report in the later-released U.S. Department of Defense study titled United States– Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967 (a k a the Pentagon Papers), the United States was questioning Diem’s long-term ability to remain in power unless he made certain far-reaching changes to improve the lives of his people. The American president hoped that Diem, who was a Catholic like himself, would make the necessary shifts in policies before events began spiraling out of control.

    On May 11, 1961, the president ordered 400 U.S. Special Forces troops into Vietnam, along with an additional 100 military advisers to help train the South Vietnamese military. At the same time, Kennedy ordered the start of a clandestine war against Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces inside South Vietnam, as well as covert missions into North Vietnam by well-trained South Vietnamese troops. These actions elicited a protest from the Hanoi government, which charged that the United States was using South Vietnamese territory to prepare for an invasion of North Vietnam. That October, Kennedy issued an order that sent American military personnel into ground action near the Laotian border.

    Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson visited Vietnam in 1961 and met with Diem, calling him the Churchill of Southeast Asia. But Johnson also reported back to the president that in his opinion, the United States would have to either commit itself to further military actions or throw in the towel as far as Diem was concerned. Diem, in turn, asked Kennedy to commit an additional 100,000 American troops to Vietnam. Kennedy refused the request, but he did agree to provide assistance to train an additional 30,000 ARVN soldiers.

    The initial steps in expanding American involvement in Vietnam caused a rift inside the Kennedy administration. Deputy Undersecretary of State U. Alexis Johnson called for American combat troops. Johnson was supported by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who asked the president to commit 40,000 ground troops to deal with the Viet Cong. Other proponents of committing American forces included administration adviser William Bundy, who urged an early and hard hitting American role in the war; and General Maxwell Taylor, the president’s military aide and trusted adviser. Taylor traveled to Vietnam, where he held talks with Diem. Taylor then urged the commitment of 6,000 to 8,000 U.S. ground troops, but he also warned of possible casualties if they actually went into combat. At a news conference announcing the Taylor mission to Vietnam, the president called it an economic survey. Members of the press, however, wondered why the president’s chief military adviser was going to Vietnam to assess economic conditions.

    Upon Taylor’s arrival in Vietnam, Diem presented him with a statement of national emergency, a call for American air support, and a request for a mutual defense treaty with the United States. Diem also asked for a flood relief program to help the people in the Mekong River delta who were suffering from the effects of torrential rains. Taylor did finally recommend some combat troops, including helicopter-borne units and tactical air support. He also urged approval for the flood relief effort. Taylor’s proposals were supported by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, by Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara, and by Deputy Defense Secretary Roswell Gilpatrick. Secretary of State Dean Rusk opposed them, balking at the thought of American forces fighting on the ground. Others opposed to committing U.S. forces included Ambassador W. Averell Harriman and Undersecretary of State Chester B. Bowles.

    Of all Kennedy’s advisers who urged expanded American involvement in Vietnam, Walt Rostow, deputy to William Bundy, was the most forceful. In the spring of 1961 Rostow put before President Kennedy a detailed series of proposals concerning further American objectives in Vietnam. Rostow was an architect of the counterinsurgency program, through which the United States would use covert operations and irregular warfare to combat the Viet Cong. Among the initiatives recommended by Rostow were the trip to the region by the vice president, the selection of a backstop man in Washington to oversee Vietnam policy, an increase in the number of U.S. forces assigned to MAAG (Military Assis-tance Advisory Group–Vietnam), an increase in the number of Special Forces troops in Vietnam and specific steps to persuade Diem to broaden his regime. After studying Rostow’s report, Kennedy agreed to implement all of the recommendations except the backstop to oversee Vietnam policy. (According to the Pentagon Papers, the person who would have become the backstop was Air Force Brig. Gen. Edward Lansdale, who was attached to the CIA.)

    Kennedy’s second major 1961 decision on Vietnam policy was the rejection of proposals to send large numbers of American combat troops to help fight the Viet Cong. The president told his advisers that he did not want to create a situation in which American forces would have to fight a major land war in Asia. One of the players in the Vietnam debate upon whom the president relied for advice was former General Douglas MacArthur. The old warrior warned the president against allowing American troops to become bogged down in such a land war.

    Instead of sending conventional ground troops, the president ordered the Pentagon to mount a large-scale counterguerrilla program using large numbers of American noncombatant advisers to train the ARVN to defend its own country. Communications equipment and military supplies, including helicopters, were to be sent to the Diem regime, but no combat troops. At the same time, however, the planning was begun in 1961 to commit American troops to Vietnam if necessary.

    Diem reacted swiftly to Kennedy’s policy decisions, insisting that U.S. combat troops were necessary to defeat the Communists. Diem complained so loudly to U.S. Ambassador Frederick Nolting that Nolting cabled Washington reporting that Diem was considering asking the Nationalist Chinese government in Taiwan to supply a division of combat troops. As Diem became more estranged from the United States, he initiated more repressive actions to quell internal dissent at home. Kennedy studied the Taylor report and in the end decided on a middle course of action, recommended by both Rusk and McNamara. The United States would not allow South Vietnam to fall into Communist hands, but American troops would not be sent for the time being. Diem would have to make major internal reforms.

    Despite those lofty goals, the war took its own course. By 1962 11,000 American troops were on the ground in South Vietnam advising and supporting ARVN units. Americans flew helicopter missions, taking fire and suffering 109 casualties in the process through that time. During the same year, McNamara called for the troops’ withdrawal, saying there was tremendous progress being made in the war.

    By October 1963, more than 16,000 American troops were in Vietnam, and the casualties had mounted into the hundreds. That summer the Diem regime was waging an open, hard-hitting war against the Buddhist majority in the country. A campaign to that effect was personally directed by President Diem, his brother Nhu and Diem’s sister-in-law, Ngu Le Xuan — the flamboyant Madame Nhu. They closed Buddhist schools and made random arrests of dissident Buddhist leaders. ARVN elite troops attacked a Buddhist demonstration, arresting hundreds. Then a Buddhist monk named Thich Quang Duc set fire to himself in protest on a crowded Saigon street. The Ngo brothers believed that the Buddhist uprising was Communist inspired, and Madame Nhu, often known as the Dragon Lady, notoriously said that she would enjoy seeing more barbecues of Buddhists.

    Much of the violence perpetrated by the Diem regime against the seemingly peaceful Buddhist majority was seen on American television. Reaction from the White House was swift. President Kennedy condemned the violence and urged Diem to get his house in order. Ambassador Nolting had meanwhile been replaced by Henry Cabot Lodge, who in August 1963 received a message from then acting Secretary of State George Ball, who noted that Diem had to get rid of his corrupt brother and inflammatory sister-in-law if he expected to receive continued U.S. support of his government. Lodge, in a memo to Washington, reported that the chances of Diem going along with the American demands were virtually nil. The fallout from the Buddhist uprisings in the summer of 1963 became the lightning rod for the coup that sealed the fate of both Diem and Nhu.

    The first coup effort against Diem originated in August 1963, when CIA officer Colonel Lucien Conein met secretly with a number of high-ranking South Vietnamese military officers, including Generals Duong Van Big Minh, Tran Van Don, Le Van Kim and Tran Thien Khiem. Conein was a veteran of the World War II Office of Strategic Services and was on good terms with Diem. It was his job to act as an intermediary between the plotters and the U.S. embassy. During the initial meeting, Minh spoke about assassinating both Diem and Nhu. When Ambassador Lodge learned of this he cabled Washington. Upon receiving the report of the clandestine meeting, Kennedy responded by declaring that there was no turning back.”

  14. Bron: Viet Nam was all about the collective, the mighty state over the individual.

    Funny, by all reputable accounts I have read it was meant to prevent the spread of Communism, which really is all about the collective, and (it was thought) threatened American business interests around the world.

    Viet Nam was American blood spilt to protect capitalism. Not “Democracy,” we don’t care much for Democracies unless they are twinned with Capitalism, and we will help protect Capitalists even if they are dictators or monarchies. Our political leaders all use “spreading Democracy” as code for spreading unfettered Capitalism; keep that in mind when you hear it.

    It isn’t about the collective, it is more about corporate pillaging.

  15. Bron,

    Yes. Really.

    The politically relevant definition of “progressive” (@OED) is “(of a person or idea) favouring social reform” with the implicit addition of “for the betterment of society”. Neither the GOP nor the DNC are interested in anything other than maintaining the status quo march headlong into fascism. Contrast that with our respective positions: we both see systemic problems and we both favor change that equates to reform. In that regard, despite the differences in fundamental ideology (you leaning more Libertarian and me leaning more traditional liberal) we are both progressives. You are mistaking the neocons (Bush) and the neolibs (Obama) (both fascists albeit from differing extremities on the spectrum) as true progressives when they are in fact authoritarians working against the common good thus failing the implicit meaning of progressive.

    Wanting change does not equate automatically with “being the bad guys”. That goes to intent. Someone who desires universal health care insurance isn’t the equivalent of someone who back immunity for the telcos.

    It’s not that your criticism of Bush is invalid. Your terminology is off though. He’s many things, including a traitor, but he isn’t progressive in the modern sense of the word. There is almost no one in Washington fitting that label. Maybe Saunders and a couple of others. The rest, from Pelosi to McConnell, have to a one proven themselves to be fascists of one flavor or another.

  16. Still struggling with the meaning of progressive I see, Bron.

    The closest thing this country has to an actual progressive party is the Green Party. Bush? Can’t even spell “progressive”. Neither can Obama. Well, in all fairness, he can spell it, he just doesn’t follow the ideal any better (and probably worse) than Bush did.

  17. michael murry:

    By the way, it was Kennedy and Johnson, those “great” progressives, who sent you “working” class boys to war. Viet Nam was all about the collective, the mighty state over the individual.

    Just like now, Bush, a good progressive, sent us to war to make the middle east democratic. Didnt we hear that from that “liberal” Woodrow Wilson?

    I dont think Americans are exceptional but I do think human beings can accomplish exceptional things if they live in freedom. Which we really dont have anymore.

  18. Oh, yes. And I can’t pass up sharing this classic Thomas Frank observatio from What’s the Matter with Kansas?n:

    “This situation may be paradoxical, but it is also universal. For decades Americans have experienced a popular uprising that only benefits the people it is supposed to be targeting. In Kansas, we merely see an extreme version of this mysterious situation. The angry workers, mighty in their numbers, are marching irresistibly against the arrogant. They are shaking their fists at the sons of privilege. They are laughing at the dainty affectations of the Leawood Toffs. They are massing at the gates of Mission Hills, hoisting the black flag, and while the millionaires tremble in their mansions, they are bellowing out their terrifying demands. ‘We are here,’ they scream, ‘to cut your taxes.'”

    Painful but priceless. How the mighty must quake as those they have robbed threaten to enrich them further. Only in America.

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