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While the Truth Puts On Its Boots

March 22nd, 2015

Something that people should be made very well aware of is that one person can quickly shoot out factoids and quips that sound convincing and true, and while what they’re saying is total bullshit, it takes so much effort to show they’re full of it that by the time you get halfway there, nobody is listening to you anymore. That’s why it’s often so easy to lie, and so hard to insist on what’s true.

Here’s a sterling example of that in real time: former Georgia Senator Jack Kingston, a Republican, criticizing Obama, saying that he “is not able to put together an international coalition the way that President Bush did.”

When the person sitting next to him points out how badly that turned out with the Iraq War, Kingston quipped, “You mean the war that Hillary Clinton and John Kerry voted for?”

Watching that exchange—which only took twelve seconds—you would think that Kingston put his opponent to shame, when in fact he was, in fact, selling a line of shit so deep it would be hard to plumb its true depths.

Seriously, saying that Obama is at fault for having trouble putting together a coalition where Bush succeeded is like saying that Obama can’t drive worth a damn because he’s trying to use the same car Bush drove into a brick wall at 80 miles per hour. Bush made a halfway-decent coalition in Afghanistan only because it was right after 9/11 when we had most of the world strongly behind us; a rodeo clown could have done that. Bush then made a bad joke of a coalition to invade Iraq, the “Coalition of the Willing,” as you may recall, one that consisted of countries like Costa Rica, which has no military. Now the entire region is falling to crap and nobody wants to deal with it.

Kingston followed up with the jab about Hillary and Kerry voting for Iraq—as if Clinton or Kerry would have ever started that war if it were up to them. What they did was stupid, but in the context of the time, being piled upon for being anti-American and weak on terror, at a time when being seen as such was considered a political death sentence. Bush made it easier by lying and saying he was only asking for the authorization so he could use it as leverage. They were weak, they caved—but to suggest that Democrats, or even these specific people supported the war, wanted to start it, or were somehow equally responsible for its disaster, based on that vote… it’s pure and utter bullshit.

But the above two paragraphs would take a minute and twenty seconds to try to get out, during which time, someone like Kingston would interrupt, change the subject, and put out six or ten more lines of BS. This is the art of the modern conservative.

People need their own bullshit detectors to combat this, formed with a solid foundation in critical thinking. Which is why it should come as no surprise to anyone that the element of modern education that conservatives hate most is critical thinking skills.

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  1. Troy
    March 22nd, 2015 at 04:19 | #1

    In game theory terms, a Democratic no vote in 2002 was pretty risky.

    The real shock of 2003 was that our troops didn’t find anything to have made the invasion justified on “WMD” grounds.

    That eventuality would have been a political death blow.

    And there was also an outside chance that Bush’s war would have resulted in an actual liberation, that was the original goal after all, “Operation Iraqi Liberation”

    Voting against that would have been bad, too. Kerry voted against the first Gulf War, which turned out to be a big black eye for him after our counter-attack went so well and Bush Sr had the sense to pull back and avoid any attempt at an actual hostile occupation of Iraq.

    The politics of the 2002 vote was that the anti-war folks needed 40 votes in the Senate.

    They had the 23 No voters, they needed 17 more.

    Feinstein (CA), Dodd (CT), Biden (DE), Harkin (IA), Kerry (MA), Cantwell (WA), Rockefeller (WV), and Kohl (WI) were a possible kernel, but only halfway there.

    So a No vote was just an empty protest vote, and a Yes vote was going along with the already clear supermajority.

    But, yeah, 300 words to counter a 2 second bullshit soundbite. This is how the bullshitters win.

  2. Tim
    March 22nd, 2015 at 12:18 | #2

    I teach American Law and Comparative Law to South Korean students. The fact is, there are two secular legal traditions, Civil Code tradition (Franco-Roman/Napoleonic code) and (English) Common Law traditions that are used around the world; 2/3rds the former, 1/3rd the latter. I feel a bit defensive about the fact that both of them have come from the west, so I have devised a method for explaining why this is I call “The Jurisprudence of the Carrot and the Stick.”

    Everybody knows about the Carrot and the stick being about economics and public policy: the use of incentive and punishment to encourage certain kinds of behavior in public policy – essentially that is about the horse, not about the rider. Jurisprudence of the Carrot and the Stick is about the rider and explains why Obama would have trouble assembling a coalition where as Bush did not.

    There are two kind of authority: coercive authority and moral authority/perceived legitimacy. All governing regimes must try to manage both.

    Moral Authority/Perceived legitimacy is inexpensive to use, but it is not expeditious and usually takes a long time to accrue. Because it is inexpensive to wield, it is very sustainable, so a wise prince would attempt to accumulate and use this as much as possible.

    Coercive authority is expeditious to use, but it is also very expensive: you have to buy weapons and men to use them and train them and all of that. Because it is so expensive, too much reliance upon coercive authority is generally speaking unsustainable, so a wise prince should try to use it sparingly.

    There are other characteristics assigned to this.

    The more Moral Authority/Perceived Legitimacy you have, the more potential Coercive Authority you accumulate. This is because if you have Moral Authority/Perceive Legitimacy, people don’t mind giving you or lending you money which you can then use to go buy coercive authority.

    on the other hand, and this is key to our discussion here:

    The more Coercive Authority you wield, the less Moral Authority/Perceive Legitimacy you have, and because of that, the more Coercive Authority you wield, the less Coercive Authority &/or potential Coercive Authority you have.

    In short every time you wield coercive authority your Moral Authority disintegrates to some degree, making it harder to wield either.

    In the real world you have a country like North Korea which is almost totally reliant on Coercive Authority and as a result, in part, it is impoverished. (But even it too tries to manufacture moral authority thru its Juche ideology). At the other end of the spectrum you have the United Nations which is totally reliant upon Moral Authority/Perceived Legitimacy to get things done. The UN lacks the ability to act quickly, decisively and expeditiously.

    Now to the issue at hand. In 2000, the U.S. was in some ways at the peak of its prestige. It had not used substantial coercive force since the Vietnam war. The exception was the 1st Gulf War where it managed the use of Carrot & Stick so judiciously that everyone signed on, every one paid in – the U.S. actually might have made money on the entire operation, and the coercive force used was highly judicious, stopping at liberating Kuwait, leaving Saddam Hussein in power as a check on Iranian intrique in the Middle East. Again, in the late 1990s Clinton’s limited use of Air Power (I call this the Clinton Doctrine) was both limited in its use of coercive power, and it brought about an enduring peace. Clinton also drove the peace process in Northern Ireland. In 2000 then, the U.S. was the hub of a spoke & hub international economic and security system that was at its peak for peace, prosperity, legitimacy and moral authority.

    Things start to unravel almost immediately from there. First there was the election of Bush, who had a negative popular mandate, but in fact was installed by the Supreme Court.

    But when 9/11 happened, as a victim of terrorism, America’s Moral Authority shot through the roof. Even Iran was expressing sympathy to the United States. Bush had no problems gathering a coalition to invade Afghanistan. But Afghanistan was a use of coercive authority. It cost everyone involved lives, material, and money. As a result there was some loss of Moral Authority/Perceived Legitimacy.

    Thus when Bush tried to put together a “coalition of the willing” he had a harder time doing it. On top of that there appeared little strategic or moral reason for doing so. Bush then manufactured a reason for doing it. The entire operation was rife with misuse of coercive force, including torture, so much so that U.S. Moral Authority sank to below any level it would have had during the 20th century. So much for Clinton’s bridge to the 21st century.

    As a result, of this loss of Moral Authority, when Obama went looking for a coalition to go into Syria over the use of chemical weapons, no one wanted to sign on, including the American public. Obama then acted with restraint. This paid off, because it notched up his Moral Authority, which gave him more leverage to use a year or so later when confronting a coordinated response to Putin’s invasion of Crimea.

    This is basically a mechanism in civics. It’s not really a matter of opinion, its a matter of mechanics (on the subject of opinion).

    Now this explains why the two main secular legal systems in the world today arose in the west. Compared to the rest of the Eurasia periphery, asside from the 700 years of Roman hegemony, the West has been dominated by political fragmentation. That means, for a prince to survive, he has to reserve and build up his coercive force capacity for use against external competition. That also means it is wise to foster moral authority within his domains. As a result, western law is more progressive, and it dealt with private law. At the other end of the continent was the gigantic Chinese Empire. It had no viable international competition, most of the time. China therefor developed only public law, and to that extent, it was a most refined public law. The most domestically most progressive era in pre-modern Chinese history was when the Sung dynasty which was under assault by the Mongol Empire for a prolonged period of time (to which it eventually fell), ie. when it had real, external existential threat to deal with it afforded its people with progressive policies. Such policies made that state stronger.

    So, in short, almost everything Bush laid his hands on, he turned to ruin or dust. One was the economy, the other was America’s moral authority/perceived legitimacy.

    If Bush hadn’t destroyed America’s moral authority/perceived legitimacy, Obama wouldn’t have had such a hard time raising coalitions.

    The fact that Bush had an easy time of it was a testimony to Clinton, who not only restrained from using force, using it only limited way in small quantities, but also in a way that brought about a broader peace. Northern Ireland is still at peace, though that could break down. The Balkans are still at peace. Is there anyone who doesn’t have nostalgia for the 1990s?

    The problem with the Republicans is they are addicted to using Coercive Force. They love it. It’s like a drug. Its a high.

    We see that in Netanyahu also.

    This is the real problem with Israel’s right turn this week. Its Moral Authority is in shrink mode. It has a big material advantage over its adversaries, but over the course of time that will shrink along with its Moral Authority/Perceived Legitimacy. Israel may eventually have to become a thorough police state. A population of 6 million Jews exercising coercive authority over 6 million Palestinians (Israeli Arabs + West Bank Arabs + Gaza Arabs). At some point Americans won’t be able to support them. Then they are on their own. Trade sanctions will appear. The economy begin to shrink as cost of coercive force grows, etc… Netanyahu and Israel’s turn to the far right is not sustainable over the long term.

  3. Troy
    March 22nd, 2015 at 12:29 | #3

    Great comment Tim! I felt like my IQ was going up a point per paragraph!

    “almost everything Bush laid his hands on, he turned to ruin or dust”

    it is difficult finding something they didn’t screw up, yes. The one thing I think we can give them credit for is today’s very low oil prices, a result of the US’ surprise escape from Hubbert’s Peak since 2007 or so:


    ‘course, if that comes with us burning up the planet 100 years down the road, oh well!

    Also regarding your comment, the term of art you’re looking for is soft power!


  4. Tim
    March 22nd, 2015 at 12:31 | #4

    By the way, Bush’s own moral authority/perceived legitimacy in international affairs was so poor, compared to Obama’s, that Obama received the Nobel Peace prize for no other reason than for being elected President of the United States and NOT being Bush &/or another reactionary Republican. It was the worlds way of celebrating the end of the night mare that was the Bush administration.

  5. Troy
    March 22nd, 2015 at 12:43 | #5

    Part of Bush’s (and Obama’s) problems in middle east coalition building is that we’re moving in on established economic interests.

    I think we couldn’t get France on board for taking out Saddam because they had pre-sanction economic deals with the Saddam regime, and he/it owed them billions of dollars, money that wasn’t going to be repaid in the event of war.

    Same thing with Russia and Saddam (both France and Russia had supported Saddam in the Iran-Iraq War).

    And same thing with Syria, too. Assad, I gather, is Russia’s client, not ours.

    America’s biggest ‘hard power’ asset is our tens of millions of rather thoroughly indoctrinated and physically able (if not particularly fit anymore) young men able to be inducted and sent off to battle in a year or three if the balloon goes up. That and our massive advantage in military high technology, the true envy of the world since August 6, 1945.

    We sorta broke that element of force in the Vietnam debacle, and Reaganism and four decades only partially restored it.

    Speaking of which, it’s coming up on 40 years since the fall of Saigon already.

  6. Luis
    March 22nd, 2015 at 14:28 | #6

    I agree, incredibly well-put, Tim.

  7. Tim
    March 22nd, 2015 at 18:39 | #7

    Thanks for the positive comments. Actually it is helpful. My colleagues here don’t comment on the validity of this nor do my students. While a vague idea of it existed, the entire concept popped into my head while I was writing my International Organizations/United Nations exam in December 2002, a take home exam which amounts to a paper without having to bother with citations. I invented or introduced a number of mechanism in that paper.

    By the way, I’m trade marking that term, “The Jurisprudence of the Carrot and the Stick” (it is already hanging at the web sites I built for my classes, and am going to write a paper on it. The problem with it is that it is too small.

    I am familiar with the concept of soft power. I do believe that my approach is more succinct and direct, also I think it is helpful to present it as a mechanism, with trade offs if you rely on one more than the other. Essentially soft power is an elaberation on Moral Authority/Percieve legitimacy. I plan on building up an entire curriculum on Mechanism’s in Civics, which will probably also be a big paper, and I would really like it if where ever I’m working would launch a journal on the subject as well. I think it is that important to analytically separate the mechanism in play from the facts/values.

    There are quite a few mechanisms in civics, and they should be taught to all social science students in their first semetser. Then as they go through their courses they can spot when those dynamics go into effect.

    However the most important mechanism to teach is Prisoner’s Dilemma/Evolution of Cooperation per Robert Axelrod’s book “The Evolution of Cooperation” the first chapter, 13 pages is all you need to know. Incidentally, Amazon used to let you “look inside” and see those 13 or so pages. Axelrod sets out the conditions on which cooperation should occur. It explains much of why history evolved the way it did. Cooperation under these circumstances also occur in nature, even between species. An evaluation of Axelrod’s book can make you think differently about events, such as Chamberlain’s appeasement policy at Munich. If you aren’t taught these mechanisms before you study the other topics, you miss out on how they affected history when you study that history. It fundamentally drove the creation of the city of Rome and Rome’s unique constitutional and legal structure and approach to problems.

  8. Tim
    March 22nd, 2015 at 19:25 | #8


    I suppose I can agree somewhat on the energy policy front. This must have been what was taking place in those secret meetings that Cheney was having on the development of energy policy in the early years of Bush’s presidency.

    On the other hand, I question whether it is a good idea of using up all of our (the U.S. &/or World’s) fossil fuels. We should be spending whatever we (the U.S. &/or World)can afford for the development on renewables. But the increase in U.S. production, in conjunction with global slowdown is what has forced the price of fossil fuels down. The situation then went upside down, so that Saudi’s and other low cost producers kept pumping out the oil to maintain revenue flows (but also to force high cost producers out of the game).

    The affect has been to pin Russia, Venezuela and perhaps Nigeria against the wall, metaphorically speaking. I’m sorry for the Nigerians and even the Venezuelans but not so much Putin (although I’m sure many Russian’s don’t deserve this pain).

    If current trends hold out, I think that Obama stands a chance of leaving the Presidency in 2017 having had 10 million jobs created under his tenure – remarkable given the millions lost his first year due to the momentum of the final year of the Bush presidency.

    Some of those jobs are a result of the energy industry investments. Some are indirect: because the price of natural gas in North America is one forth the rest of the planet’s, so industries that have a heavy energy input have had intensives to invest in the United States. Unfortunately I think those are largely in the chemical sector which generally doesn’t rely upon a very heave input from labor. Still it beats a stick in the eye. So I suppose Obama does owe Bush some gratitude for that.

  9. Troy
    March 23rd, 2015 at 02:39 | #9

    I think that Obama stands a chance of leaving the Presidency in 2017 having had 10 million jobs created under his tenure


    is a graph of US jobs.

    blue is all, red is full-time, and green is government (right axis)

    In 1/2009 the crash was about halfway underway.

    In 1/2010 things finally bottomed out and it’s been smooth sailing since then.

    The GOP has been trying its best to hold the economy back, well, half-heartedly I guess, but they did do their deficit fearmonger BS and shutdown theatrics to get spending frozen for Obama’s presidency.

    The economy is a mind-bendingly complex machine, but as long as it has fuel — i.e. consumers have money to spend — it will function and distribute jobs and wealth (new goods and services).

    In the previous decade the Bush crew found the way out of the dotcom recession was massively increasing gov’t spending and the housing boom/bubble:


    shows how spending went from $2B to $3B 2001-2008, and net annual mortgage borrowing went from $400B to $1.2T 2001-2006.

    Along with the Bush tax cuts of 2001-2003, this was significant stimulus to give us the good times of 2005-2007. But when the housing bubble broke in 2008 and the unsustainably high home prices collapsed by half in 2009-2010, the bullshit Potemkin Village nature of the Bush economy became apparent — so much consumerism and outright employment was dependent on the housing bubble and its $100B/month of free money raining on the economy.

    To turn things around we had the ARRA spending, and the Fed willing to throw trillions of new money into the economy:


    or at least at the banks, which apparently saved them.

    Demographically, we have the baby boomer echo hitting age 15 to 33 right now, which is somewhat stimulative as they all need to find work.

    There have been no structural reforms under Obama, other than PPACA — the coverage it extends to millions of people, plus its redistributionary taxation on rich to pay for the subsidies, and also the top bracket tax rise Obama got out of the GOP congress in 2011.

    The GOP is not dead yet, quite the contrary, and if they should take over everything next year they’ll do their damnedest to restructure Federal government in their pro-corporate / anti-worker braindead conservative mentality.

    We may be in the calm before the storm right now.

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