The Rand and Rachel Show

American politics continue their plunge into ritual farce. Last week we had the spectacle of progressives rallying to the right-wing Elena Kagan, largely on the grounds that it’s improper of dirty minded Republicans, not to mention Glenn Greenwald, to suggest that sexual identity might be a relevant element in assessing a candidate for the US Supreme Court. In other words, 41 years after Stonewall, long live the closet!

Now we have the uproar over Rand Paul, the libertarian Tea Bagger who just won the Republican primary in Kentucky. His grilling by Rachel Maddow of MSNBC on his lack of commitment to every Title of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is being cast as a political encounter as momentous as that between Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan in the Monkey Trial. Turn on the radio and you’ll hear howls about Rand on every liberal and leftist frequency in execration of the Slouching Beast that is Rand. David Corn herded him into the 9/11 nutball corral, because Paul had gone on the Alex Jones Show (though he’s never endorsed 9/11 conspiracies). By the same token he’s a liberal for having gone on the Maddow Show.

That Maddow-Paul set-to on MSNBC was tragic-comic. As CounterPunch co-editor Jeffrey St Clair remarked, “Maddow and Paul agree on probably 90 per cent of the BIG issues confronting us, from ending the drug and Afghan war, to ending bail outs. But because of their own peculiar prejudices, his doctrinaire libertarian, hers PC progressive, neither of them can talk about anything other than a non-issue such as the Civil Rights Act of 19 — SIXTY-FOUR. It’s like a Dadaist play.”

Start with Rand. Like many libertarians he is never happier than in dashing back through the corridors of history to distant, sometimes obscure champions in the fight for liberty, as construed by libertarians. On the night of the MSNC face-off it was William Lloyd Garrison, founder of the New England Anti-Slavery Society in 1832. When Paul rolled out his name in response to one of her early questions about his posture on the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Maddow blinked in astonishment as though he was mustering to his side the shade of the Venerable Bede. If she’d asked him about his posture on the rights of juries to nullify, to act according to the dictates of conscience and to set the law aside, he’d probably have brought up Edward Bushell and the landmark case against William Penn and William Mead in 1670.

Libertarians are like that. On some big and important things they’re admirable and staunch. Many of them, on some big and important things, are rancid. Half of Rand Paul’s positions are disgusting, like his end-of-week defense of BP. Other libertarians decry him from being evasive on O’Reilly’s Show about opposing war with Iran. Libertarians in the dust and heat of the political arena have no grasp of scale or priority. At heart many of them are nutty, martyrs to their truths, like fourth-century Christian schismatics. Ardent to refute charges that they favor the untrammeled sway of the market, the rejection of all federal intrusion, they dash to Von Mises and kindred heroes with all the childish enthusiasm of Gabriel Betteredge invoking Robinson Crusoe in The Moonstone. They have no sense of timing. Rand Paul, after five minutes of jabbing from Maddow, could have easily swerved the conversation towards issues more congenial to the MSNBC audience than his theoretical take on the Civil Rights Act. He could have denounced the farce of financial “reform”, of Bush’s and Obama’s wars, of constitutional abuses. These are all libertarian positions. But no. He couldn’t stop himself shoving his foot in his mouth. He seems dumb.

It’s the easiest thing in the world for a grandstanding liberal to push a libertarian into a corner. Then they’ll get praise for their unflinching courage, like Morris Dees’ South Poverty Law Center putting another “hate group” in the Index and waiting for the contributions to roll in.

Here’s Maddow, brandishing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as though this is the only matter worth considering in the forthcoming race between Rand Paul and the Democrat, an awful neo-liberal prosecutor, Kentucky’s current attorney general, Jack “I’m a Tough Son-of-a-Bitch” Conway. Between Conway and Paul, which one in the U.S. Senate would more likely be a wild card – which is the best we can hope for these days – likely to filibuster against a bankers’ bailout, against reaffirmation of the Patriot Act, against suppression of the CIA’s full torture history? Paul, one would have to bet, and these are the votes that count, where one uncompromising stand by an outsider can make a difference, unlike the gyrations and last-ditch sell-outs of Blowhard Bernie Sanders. Liberals love grandstanding about what are, in practice, distractions. You think the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is going to come up for review in the U.S. Senate?

If Rand Paul hadn’t been so preoccupied with winding up for what he plainly thought was his knock-out punch, concerning Maddow’s posture on the right to bear arms in every restaurant in America from Joe’s Diner to Le Cirque, he could have turned the tables easily enough, just by saying that this ritual flourishing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act doesn’t have too much to do with what has happened to blacks since that glorious day, from an appalling school system, to blighted housing, constricted employment possibilities, shriveled share of the national income and most recently the greatest transfer in US history of money and assets from African Americans to rich white people by the mortgage speculators, given free rein by Democrats and Republicans.

The truth this year is that liberalism is in awful crisis, symbolized by BP’s broken oil pipe spouting maybe 70,000 barrels a day into the Gulf of Mexico, not on Rand Paul’s say-so but on that of Obama and Interior Secretary Salazar. Obama to Salazar: helluva a job, Kenny! (As a evidence of Rand Paul’s utter insanity he says Obama is being too tough on BP.) Forty–six years after the Civil Rights Act, with its noble liberal principles one can smell not just the nuttiness and often straight-up racism of the Teabaggers but the un-nutty, methodical corruption of liberalism in fifty thousand concrete instances, most of them well known to ordinary Americans.

Nuclear Disarmament: Not What He Promised

It’s been an active year so far  in the rhetoric of nuclear disarmament. First the “nuclear posture statement” of the Obama administration put out in early April. Then the non-proliferation meetings, then the START negotiations. What do they add up to, in terms of significant reduction of the threat of nuclear Armageddon? The answer is: nothing.

Looking back on it, could there ever have been a glimmer of hope that the United States would adopt a “no first use” policy on nuclear weapons; concede that there is zero reason to maintain a full arsenal of strategic missiles and a fleet of bombers, on full alert to repel a Russian invasion of Europe; and start winding down the nuclear-industrial-scientific complex? Not really. It would be like expecting the single-payer approach to healthcare reform or strenuous regulation of the banking industry.

But for those who cheered President Obama’s commitment, made in Prague a year ago and at the UN in September, that “we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy,” the Defense Department’s Nuclear Posture Review, released on April 6, was a savage disappointment. The administration did not merely reassert the essential premises of US nuclear strategy but used the publication of the review and the subsequent Nuclear Security Summit in Washington as occasions to intensify the threats against North Korea and Iran. In the case of North Korea, Obama doomed any positive advances and reminded its leaders that America’s preferred method of negotiation takes the form of eight nuclear submarines in the North Pacific within a twelve-minute range of Pyongyang. The crucial sentence in the review, insistently repeated by Obama, states that “the United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.” This is great news for the Holy See, Venezuela and Yemen, which along with 180-plus other nations have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. And no, the president was not threatening to attack Israel, which has nuclear weapons but has not signed the NPT.

The US position is that the biggest nuclear threat in the world today comes from those who do not have nuclear weapons, or whose nuclear armory is diminutive to the point of invisibility, and that global security is properly vested in the hands of those who have substantial nuclear arsenals, starting with the only country that has actually dropped nuclear bombs—and indeed lost them (eleven in the case of the United States since 1945).

Here’s how the ongoing commitment to “first use” is expressed in the review: “In the case of countries not covered by this assurance—states that possess nuclear weapons and states not in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations—there remains a narrow range of contingencies in which U.S. nuclear weapons may still play a role in deterring a conventional or CBW [chemical or biological weapons] attack against the United States or its allies and partners. The United States is therefore not prepared at the present time to adopt a universal policy that deterring nuclear attack is the sole purpose of nuclear weapons.”

The US strategic nuclear triad will remain on action stations, ready to destroy the planet. The review concluded that “the current alert posture of U.S. strategic forces—with heavy bombers off full-time alert, nearly all ICBMs on alert, and a significant number of SSBNs at sea at any given time—should be maintained for the present.” Forward-deployed US nuclear weapons in Europe will remain. Though Article VI of the NPT famously commits its signatories to “negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament,” heading toward a “Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control,” the United States remains dedicated to “NATO’s unique nuclear sharing arrangements under which non-nuclear members participate in nuclear planning and possess specially configured aircraft capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”

As of 2005, the United States was providing about 180 tactical B61 nuclear bombs for use by Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey under these NATO agreements. Articles I and II of the NPT prohibit the transfer of nuclear weapons to non-nuclear states. So why should countries under threat be asked to surrender the nuclear option when states under no such risk are supplied with nuclear bombs or missiles?

The deals extorted by the nuclear-industrial-scientific- complex are starkly on display: “The U.S. nuclear stockpile must be supported by a modern physical infrastructure—comprised of the national security laboratories and a complex of supporting facilities.… Increased funding is needed for the Chemistry and Metallurgy -Research Replacement Project at Los Alamos National Laboratory to replace the existing 50-year old facility, and to develop a new Uranium Processing Facility…in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.”

What does this bode for START negotiations? The Russians, who are being asked to reduce their nuclear-force levels, point not only to NATO’s ongoing aggressive moves to establish bases surrounding their country but to the fact that this rehabbing of the US processing facilities is enhancing its capacity to produce plutonium and thus swiftly multiply its nuclear arsenal with a change in regime and hence of nuclear posture.

The cause of nuclear disarmament has sustained a very serious, albeit predictable defeat. The news will only get worse. Ahead lies the impending redraft of NATO’s strategic concept, last reformulated in 1999: “The fundamental purpose of the nuclear forces of the Allies is political…to fulfill an essential role by ensuring uncertainty in the mind of any aggressor.… The supreme guarantee of the security of the Allies is provided by the strategic nuclear forces of the Alliance.”

Ironic, is it not, to read these invocations of “security” amid the impending bankruptcies of Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland and the destruction of the euro, and as the unemployment lines grow steadily across the United States and Europe, oh-so-safe beneath the nuclear umbrella?

America’s Fastest Growing Cult: the Confederate Flag

In our latest newsletter, read Kevin Alexander Gray on the folks who REALLY think the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a big mistake. Kevin, who set fire to a confederate flag on the South Carolina Statehouse grounds a few years back, has written a marvelous piece about the comeback of the Confederacy, memorialized in parks, graveyards, front yard flags, gubernatorial tributes, “confederate history months” and a hundred other ways of saying that in the Civil War the wrong side won.

“The perfect moral compass of a climber and a lickspittle” – that’s how Norman Finkelstein describes her in our latest newsletter, looking back on how Elena Kagan covered for Alan Dershowitz during the plagiarism face off. How did she seem at Princeton? Fellow-class member Fritz Neal remembers. Also, Carl Ginsburg on how Wall Street is making billions, betting on national collapse.

I urge you to subscribe now!

ALEXANDER COCKBURN can be reached at


Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.