Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Myth and Supermyth

There's a story about a guy from out in the country who leaves home, stays away for a few years, and then comes back for a visit. Not a whole lot has changed, except he notices that the rickety old roadside farm stand where his family used to buy vegetables and fruit has changed a bit. “They still sell produce (but indoors, with air conditioning), but there is now a gift shop, and they also have hayrides, a maze, a haunted house (on Halloween), mystery weekends, music festivals, and a Holocaust museum.” Thus, many signs of the times rolled into one.

I thought of this last month when Americans were, once again, expected – or at least strongly encouraged -- to stand down and observe Holocaust Remembrance Day. And I asked myself at the time how much more “Holocaust remembrance” we could come up with on that day than on any other day, since our culture is already saturated with the Holocaust narrative, and has been for quite a while. It seems that there can never be too many books, magazine articles, TV programs, movies, conferences, college courses, panel discussions, museums, exhibits, plays, musical compositions, art works, statues, murals, and every other conceivable commemorative device to not only keep the narrative alive but right before everyone's eyes, and in everyone's ears, and in everyone's consciousness, at every waking moment. And one wonders, not only “why?” but “why here?” Was America responsible for those events in Europe in the late 1930s and early 1940s? Hardly. Were Americans (at the time) victims? Possibly, in some cases... but to a significant degree? Did America in any way aid or abet the efforts of the Nazis and their allies? Quite the contrary. So why are we the ones who have to have our noses rubbed in it time after time, and undoubtedly still will even after all living memory of those events is gone? Why is it so important to make Americans feel guilty.... or to at least make certain they “never forget”? Are we the last, best hope of the world's Jews, and is the constant beat of the Holocaust drum the only thing that will keep us from going to sleep at the switch? Sometimes it seems as if that's the intent. But one would think that simply making sure that the history of that era was taught properly in our schools would be sufficient; why do the “lessons” of the Holocaust have to be repeated, ad infinitum, in every conceivable public forum? We certainly don't do this with other important “lessons”, like the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution... or whatever might be gained from studies of the Civil War, and the labor movement, and women's rights, and racial strife, and so on. Those subjects all have their place, but they are seldom the occasion for the elaborate displays and the downright browbeating that the Holocaust seems to require. So I ask again, why is it the particular burden of Americans to do most, if not all, of the “remembering”? Why are we expected to gird our loins on a daily basis and, with sword in hand, utter the cry “Never again!”... while the rest of the world goes on about its merry business with nary a thought?

The first thing to understand in talking about all of this is that the Holocaust is a myth. Now, wait a minute! Put down that phone! Let me explain what I mean by that before you hotline me to the EU Holocaust Denial Police. When I say that the Holocaust is a myth, I don't mean, by that, to say that it didn't happen. The idea that “myths” are, by definition, fiction is... well, a myth. A myth can be, or at least be based upon, real events, but it's much more than that. It has significance, and is dealt with, in a way that is, to some extent at least, out of proportion to the actual events, because there is an agenda involved that is much greater than mere historical awareness. So, for example, the fact that Americans are expected to feel guilty, and don sackcloth and ashes once a year, because of the Holocaust, gives it away as a myth. No one expects Americans to do this in observance of the Armenian genocide, or the planned starvation in Ukraine, or more recent events such as the Cultural Revolution in China, the Khmer Rouge era in Cambodia, or the Rwanda massacres, Darfur, and so on. As terrible as those events were (and are), they are generally treated in a proportionate way... based on geographical proximity or remoteness, time passed, and even things like cultural empathy, religious ties, family ties, and so on. (And yes, elements of racism creep in as well, as in: “Well, that's just the way things are in Africa” -- or “in Asia”-- or wherever.) So, admittedly, a recent Jewish immigrant living in New York City in the late 1930s would have kept very careful track of the news out of Germany. But would a farmer in West Virginia? And if so, why? And even if “no man is an island”, shouldn't we be every bit as “observant” when it comes to the above-listed genocides and massacres as we are of the Holocaust? And yet this is clearly not the way things are. Those other events were, and still are, basically considered the problem of the people involved (despite the occasional dithering by the U.N.), whereas the Holocaust is considered a problem for the world in general -- and an unresolved one at that; a "why" question to which there will never be a sufficient answer but which is fated to be raised again and again. That is one difference, and one reason why the Holocaust can be considered a myth in addition to its status as a historical event. Another reason is the core function of a myth – it serves as a means of self-definition for the group (tribe, race, ethnic group, nation, etc.) in question. The mythical event defines – not only at the time but once and for all – the group's identity, its historical significance, its mission, and its place in the worldwide social/political/power structure. Golda Meir is supposed to have said that, because of the Holocaust, “Now we (the Jews) can do anything.” This is taking the mythical event as a license, or imprimatur, or basis for some unique privilege that can never be rescinded.

A lot of the above ideas can be found in any anthropology textbook. But what makes the Holocaust myth unique is that it is not confined to the group in question but is expected to be agreed to, and adopted, by the world in general – by all of humanity, in fact. This goes significantly beyond the usual function of myth and comes very close to one group imposing its very metaphysics – its concept of reality – on others. And again, why this is considered necessary is a good question, when one thinks about it. The tendency is to take it for granted, because the Holocaust narrative has been adopted, wholesale, as an essential part of not only the historical baseline but also the worldview of most Americans. But what comparable phenomenon can one point to in history? I can't think of even one other, as a matter of fact, except possibly for some mass religious conversions. Down through the ages, myths have been confined to the group for whom they were created, and generally regarded as curiosities (or dangerous delusions, even) by everyone else. But the, what I will call “metaphysical conquest” that the Holocaust narrative represents is so complete that no one ever stops to consider how unique it is – not to mention whether it's advisable that it be universally adopted. Clearly, the recovery of the Jews from the Holocaust has to rank as one of the great historical miracles of all time, especially when one considers that their political power is probably greater now, world-wide, than it has ever been in history. And it is that seemingly-miraculous recovery that has, undoubtedly, inspired a lot of the “Christian Zionists” to jump on the Israeli bandwagon, quite certain that they are thereby putting themselves on the winning side (of all of history). Furthermore, when one contemplates the survival and persistence of the Jews in all of the centuries since Biblical times, against tremendous odds, it really does seem as if God might have something in mind. (A cynic or anti-Semite might say He is playing a cat-and-mouse game with them, but I'm quite sure it's much more than that.) But whether that master plan has to do with the “end times” as the Evangelicals and Fundamentalists imagine them, and whether it requires the American government to support Israel, without question, and at all costs, is another matter entirely. However, to the extent that there is a pragmatic agenda behind the continual promotion of the Holocaust narrative, I imagine that a large piece of it involves keeping this level of support secure – as the recent meetings between Obama and Netanyahu have once again confirmed.

There are many other interesting observations that could be made in this regard. One is that the Holocaust myth, or narrative, has been incorporated in its entirety, albeit implicitly, into America's own myths and narratives. Suddenly, to the ever-lengthening list of America's significant and unique qualities, and the various elements of its mission (or burden) to the rest of the world, was added the role and the mission of not only aiding the Jews, but playing a key role in the establishment and perpetuation of the State of Israel. One can only think that by allowing this to occur, we have become Jews by adoption – i.e. the old shoot has been grafted onto the new vine, to reverse the Biblical imagery. And again, if the Evangelicals are right and the Jews are the key to history, this can only be a good thing. But if Israel is a terrible mistake and a dead end – as even some devout Jews believe – then it can only spell destruction for both them and us. At the very least, it is one of the most remarkable phenomena of our time that the Holocaust narrative has come to completely dominate American foreign policy – and this is true whether or not the Evangelicals, and/or “Neocons”, are in or out of power in Washington, as recent events make quite clear.

Another observation for which living memory is fading fast is that the Holocaust was not even _part_ of Jewish history until less than 70 years ago. Jewish identity since that time is so inextricably bound up with the Holocaust that one tends to wonder what basis it even _had_ up to that time. Well, of course, there was ample basis for Jewish identity up to that point, and perhaps the most relevant to the present discussion is that of the Jews as the “chosen people”. Understandably, many Jews, as a result of the Holocaust, decided that the Jews weren't “chosen” after all... or, if they were, they were chosen more for suffering (of a mysterious, absurd, and totally undeserved sort) than for anything else... or that they can hardly have been chosen by God if God does not exist. So to fill this, let's say, metaphysical gap, a new idea came about, which is that the Jews are _self-chosen_. But every other human group is self-chosen as well, so the narrative had to be expanded to incorporate a choice for the Jews on the part of all other peoples as well... or as many as possible. But what is the basis for this? How can one group possibly talk other groups into considering them not only their equals, but their superiors? (This attitude is nowhere more clearly manifest than among the “Christian Zionists”, who have a chronic inferiority complex when it comes to the Jews – even completely secular ones, like the ones who run Israel.) Well, again I say, this is one of the political and social miracles of all time. One can point to relentless propaganda and “P.R.”... to academics and the media... to “political correctness”... to the shunning and isolation of anyone considered “anti-Semitic”... to “hate crime” legislation... and so on. These are all part of the practical means of perpetuating not only the Holocaust narrative but the related myths of Jewish exceptionalism and superiority; but is that explanation enough? We also have to take a serious look at the failures of many Christians, and of their designated shepherds, over the years. Wherever spiritual and moral weakness is found, something will move in to fill the gap – it has always been this way. We have the spectacle of guilt-ridden Christians apologizing about everything at every turn, the way American presidents continue to apologize for slavery nearly 150 years after the fact. And yet is this based on moral strength, and the courage of their convictions? No – it is, rather, based on uncertainty, insecurity, and relativism on all levels. The paradox is that, in this day and age of relativism and “tolerance” it remains true that nothing is more inspiring, or intimidating, than self-assured absolutism and dogmatism – hence the rapid rise of Islamic radicalism and militarism (AKA “terror”). And the Jews have succeeded in promoting a “secular dogma” that, nonetheless, shares an all-important quality with more traditional dogmas, i.e. that it cannot be questioned at any time, by anyone, under pain of being shunned by the “international community”.

So am I saying that Judaism can only triumph where Christianity is weak? Or that the only way for Christianity to triumph is for the Jews to be oppressed? It certainly does appear that the history of Europe, at least, has been a sort of see-saw affair with Christians and Jews constantly pitted against one another, and one group being dominant for a while only to be overthrown, and the cycles just repeating themselves over the centuries. And note that we're not talking just about religious conflicts in the historical sense; we're also talking about conflicts between what E. Michael Jones calls “revolutionary Judaism” -- which is secular and materialistic – and Christianity, as exemplified foremost by the Bolshevik Revolution, but by many other revolutions and conflicts besides. And yet, I cannot give up the belief that Jews and Christians can live side-by-side in peace... even if Christians persist in praying for the conversion of the Jews, an act which – as we know – is considered downright scandalous these days, even if it's only done once a year on Good Friday.

Then there is another idea which feeds into, and is symbiotic with, the Holocaust narrative, and that is what I call the “myth of Jewish innocence”. This is, if you will, the opposite side of the coin from the traditional anti-Semitic premise that the Jews are responsible for all the troubles in the world, and that if we could only get rid of them – through whatever means – Valhalla would be ours. The counterargument to this position is, of course, the one that says that Jews are always victims, are always innocent, and have never done anything to provoke the wrath of the “goyim”. But realistically, what are the chances that any group, tribe, people, or race on earth has persisted, since its origins, in lily-white innocence and purity? Has any group been without sin? Has any group been only the victims and never the victimizers? And yet we see this facet of the myth promoted on a daily basis when it comes to Israel's policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians: Since Israel can do no wrong, then any conflict or disagreement that occurs must be the result of wrongdoing on the part of the Palestinians or their Arab sympathizers. But historically as well, this idea has always been presented – by the Jews about themselves -- as axiomatic and obvious. But we conveniently forget that, for example, at the time of the accelerated persecution of Jews by the Nazis, the Bolshevik Revolution, in which Jews played a key role, was only twenty years old, and the engineered famine in Ukraine was recent history. Plus, there had been brief, Jewish-led communist takeovers in places like Bavaria and Hungary after World War I. And let's not forget Spain! So to say that, at the time of Kristallnacht, for example, there was already a bit of “scar tissue” concerning the role of the Jews in recent European history would be to grossly understate the case. And yet the notion that the victims of the Holocaust were all, without exception, innocent and helpless is a key piece of the narrative.

Now, this is not to say that it's OK to persecute Person B for the crimes of Person A, simply because they belong to the same religious, ethnic, or racial group – but that is not what the Holocaust narrative says either. What it says, or implies, is that European hostility toward Jews in the 1930s was the result of centuries of anti-Semitism aggravated by the outcome of World War I, but that – at the same time, mysteriously – it came as a bolt out of the blue, which is why so many Jews were trapped and unable to escape. And this is, in fact, one of the abiding mysteries connected to the Holocaust; there were ample warning signs... ample reasons to fear gentile hostility... political movements springing up all over the place that had Jews as their targets. So why the delay? Why the failure, in most cases, of self-defense? Why were Jews, in so many instances, simply led to the slaughter with hardly a word of protest? I think some of the reason, at least, is that same presumption of total innocence – the fact that the pre-Holocaust Jewish narrative, for centuries, had been that they are always victims, always innocent, always the “done to” rather than the “doers to”. People who meet their foes on equal terms tend to be a bit more realistic about things like this. They recognize that, while they have been in the right on occasion, they have also been in the wrong often enough – especially in the eyes of others. No Russian is surprised or shocked when he gets an icy stare from a Ukrainian. When an Armenian looks daggers at a Turk, the Turk would be a bit na├»ve not to know why. But the Jews, again -- “Why do they hate us? What have we done to deserve this?” (implication: nothing) (And you'll notice how closely this pleading parallels that of American politicians and the media after 9-11. Coincidence? I don't think so.)

So – this is my theory, at least – it is this universal, age-old presumption of innocence that has, in so many cases, failed to fortify the Jews against attacks from without. This is not to say that to put up decent self-defense there has to be an acute awareness of all of the reasons why someone might want to attack and do you in. But there at least has to be a modicum of awareness of how you appear in the eyes of the outsider... how you might have offended, wittingly or otherwise. And at least the Israelis have “gotten real” on this count, since it's all too obvious what the Palestinians and the neighboring Arab states might have in the way of grievances. The Israelis know, in other words, that they have stepped on more than a few toes -- even though they feel completely justified in having done so. So Israel, unlike the European Jews in the 1930s, has its defenses in good order, and its retaliatory capabilities fully developed and ready at a moment's notice. But the old-time European Jews, because of this presumption of innocence, and despite a long history of persecutions and pogroms, simply could not imagine the extent or depth of hostility they might encounter, especially in places like Germany, where they had been welcomed and highly integrated into the larger society for centuries.

Now, I don't want to leave this topic without talking about the strange phenomenon of what is called “Holocaust denial”. The first thing to get straight is that Holocaust denial is not the same thing as “anti-Semitism”; logically, there is no need for them to be one and the same, or to be held by the same people. A person can certainly be an anti-Semite without being a Holocaust denier. In fact, I imagine the average “neo-Nazi” thinks the Holocaust was just groovy, and wishes that the Nazis had been allowed to finish the job. And I'm sure there are a few Holocaust deniers out there who have nothing against the Jews but simply can't imagine that an event of that magnitude ever happened – or could have happened (especially in a “civilized” place like Europe). Maybe they consider it an insult to the highly-advanced German culture to even imagine that such a thing could have originated there; who knows? But here's the point. Just as – as I've said, with qualifications – the Holocaust is a myth, “Holocaust denial” is, more than anything else, a counter-myth. It is, if you will, a reaction or “push-back” to the endless, day-and-night stream of what appears to be propaganda aggressively thrust into everyone's face by all the aforementioned parties. Another way of putting it is that it is not the Holocaust per se that has led to Holocaust denial, but its mythologizing. This is because the mythologizing and “absolutizing” process has taken the Holocaust out of all historical context – out of any continuous, objective narrative of war and peace, societies, power, and economics, and elevated it to a status that rivals Wagner's Ring Cycle. Putting the Holocaust into a historical context, then, is considered relativistic and thus treated as heresy. So Holocaust denial is, in a sense, a protest movement against this extreme, over-the-top mythologizing... it's an attempt to fight back, if you will, on the metaphysical level, as if to say: “Yes, as terrible as this was, it was nonetheless part of history. It was on the historical continuum. It was not unique, and many comparable things have happened, particularly over the past 100 years, and with an even greater loss of life.” It is also a way of saying “There is nothing so special or unique about the Jews that it requires me, personally, to make reparations into the indefinite future, nor does it require my race, ethnic group, or nation to make reparations.” This, of course, is anathema to anyone promoting the Holocaust narrative, since it challenges all of its core premises. Thus the battle lines are drawn. And the people who deride the “Holocaust deniers” and accuse them of being anti-Semites, bigots, and ignoramuses are totally missing the point. And yes, it's true that some of these deniers make fools of themselves on a regular basis by, for example, saying that 6 million is much too high a number, that there couldn't possibly have been more than ... (some other huge number), and that poison gas wasn't really used, etc. What on earth difference any of that makes in principle, I don't know. If even one Jew was arbitrarily killed, by any means, that is one too many and a violation of all standards of civilization. (Don't forget that it was Stalin who pointed out that if you add up enough individual tragedies they eventually turn into statistics, and hence are easier to deal with.)

So... what we have at present is a world that is expected to pay homage to the Holocaust myth (as defined above), and, at the same time, an absurd battle between those promoting the Holocaust narrative – which includes many national governments – and the “deniers”, who are not so much promoting an alternative myth as simply saying “Not!” lest they be overwhelmed by the daily fare of the post-Holocaust world. And please note, both positions are anti-historical, simplistic, irrational, and “faith-based” in a sense. We might as well be talking about... well, about communism vs. fascism, for instance. There is not a grain of sense to either position. And yet this bogus conflict has come to dominate European politics, and it is starting to corrupt public discourse over here as well. And this is unlikely to change given the great asymmetries in the discussion and among the people involved... and the fact that even reasonable discourse is reliably condemned as an example of “hate”, bigotry, and anti-Semitism. So it appears that the Jews – and particularly the Israelis – have put themselves on a pedestal and then raised the ladder up so that no one else can approach their lofty position (and the more reasonable among them can't ever come down and mingle with the unwashed). Many movements over the years have accomplished the same thing, at least in the short run – i.e. establishing an unassailable position and then calling anyone who questions any aspect of it a fool. But in the case of Israel, we're no longer just talking theory here... or remote history, or sociology, or anything else; we're talking about a real, tangible place with real people living in it, who are constantly at knifepoints with their neighbors and their captive minorities, and are thus creating an impossible dilemma for the rest of the world – or at least that portion of the world that cares, or is expected to care, and that certainly includes Europe and the U.S. on one side and the Arab world on the other, with the rest looking on more bemused than anything else, and seeking an advantage out of all the strife, as China is clearly doing. One might have hoped, at one time, that reasonable discourse would serve to defuse the situation to some degree, but it now appears that continued strife is inevitable, and that new wars are highly likely. For the U.S. to have tied itself to this situation may someday be regarded as the ultimate folly, and the beginning of the end of the American system.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Oh Promise Me

Wow, what a pleasant surprise! President Obama has said that he's pulling all of our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. And he said this in front of a military audience, no less!

Um, well... he didn't actually say that in so many words, but what he did say is: "I will only send you into harm's way when it is absolutely necessary, and with the strategy, the well-defined goals, the equipment and the support that you need to get the job done." But is there any doubt that the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns fail all of these criteria? "Absolutely necessary?" Clearly not, since both invasions were based on completely false and ginned-up pretexts. "Strategy?" I have yet to see any evidence of "strategy" in the case of either Iraq or Afghanistan. The plan was to invade; the current plan is to stay forever. This should not be confused with a "strategy". "Well-defined goals?" Same problem. Our original "goals" in invading Iraq and Afghanistan have proven to be delusional fantasies. Our current "goals" are... well, there really aren't any. "Establishing and maintaining peace in the region" is not a goal because it's completely delusional. OK, then how about "equipment"? Can you say "hillbilly armor"? That point is beyond laughable. And as to "support" -- can you say "KBR"? 'Nuff said.

So -- bottom line -- Obama has promised to get us out of Iraq and Afghanistan, since those conflicts meet none of his stated criteria for "absolute necessity". I can't wait for someone to challenge him to keep this promise -- one of the Democratic lefties, maybe? Or Ron Paul? Surely someone besides me has to have noticed...

Dick in a Wringer

The lead story in today's paper is "Obama, Cheney clash on terror". And no, it doesn't mean that one is "pro" and the other is "con". But wait! Don't pass this headline by without considering its significance. What it's saying is that the president of the United States is having a feud with the former _vice_ president of the United States -- whose party was deservedly crushed in the last election, and who, at this point, is the boss of precisely squat -- over foreign policy, past and present. This, as far as I know, is unprecedented... a former vice president, whose party is in disgrace, having a public feud with a sitting president -- and not being completely ignored? This demands further study.

So what are the issues behind this so-called "clash"? Well, one is the use of "enhanced" interrogation techniques, kind of like the kind they use in Chicago, so I wonder why Obama is pretending to be so scandalized. Another is the case of the prison at Guantanamo -- also known as a Geneva Convention-free zone. (No one has yet managed to untangle the "controlling legal authority" when it comes to a prison on property that the U.S. is occupying in a country that we don't even have diplomatic relations with.) And aggravating the issue is a mutiny by Senate Democrats on the issue of transferring the prisoners to locations in the U.S. (Apparently they saw "The Shawshank Redemption" one too many times.)

So what is the Dickster's point? On Guantanamo, it's that a decision to "bring the worst of the worst terrorists inside the United States would be cause for great danger and regret in the years to come." Danger to whom, and by what means, I'd like to know? Are we going to see a bunch of rag-headed Willie Hortons scattering across the Fruited Plain? If anything has been a "cause for great danger and regret" it's the Bush/Cheney foreign policy debacles and the accompanying Patriot Act.

On interrogation, the Dickster falls back on -- believe it or not -- "moral value(s) held dear by the American people". This is the uber-cynic talking, folks. And again, what "moral values" did the invasion of Iraq manifest?

In both cases, it's all about "justice and national security" -- you know, that same "justice" and "national security" that were severely damaged by our exertions in Afghanistan and Iraq that Cheney played a key role in initiating and sustaining -- and by "martial law lite" on the domestic front. So what we're seeing here is, basically, the rantings and ravings of... a lunatic? Well, not really. Lunatics at least have the quality of idealism, even if it is a bit distorted. Is he stupid, or insane? Negatory. What he is is, basically, trying to cover his flabby pink ass. And how does this work? If he can -- or so he thinks -- convince enough people that the policies he conjured up were, in fact, justifiable and legal (or at least not blatantly illegal) he can keep himself out of jail.

Far-fetched? Possibly. But the "paranoid style in American politics" was the M.O. of the Bush administration throughout its catastropic run. I think the Dickster is genuinely running scared. He has whiffed the scent of the unwashed bodies of the up-in-arms peasantry at the portcullis... he has seen the burning torches by night, and heard the clang of pitchforks by day. And unlike the classic defense, "I was only following orders", which actually seems to work now and then, no one has ever gotten off the hook by saying, "I was only giving orders". The buck really does stop at the Naval Observatory (and its underground bunker) -- and scapegoating a bunch of lawyers for rubber-stamping procedures that were, undoubtely, already in place just isn't going to cut it.

Now, of course, the left wing of the Democratic Party has been waiting for Obama to bring out the long knives ever since the inauguration -- not realizing, as I've said before, that both Cheney and Obama are equally creatures of The Regime, and that The Regime gets to say who gets to investigate whom, or put whom on trial or in jail. And so far, we have seen a remarkably forgiving attitude on the part of Obama & Co. "Mistakes were made" -- but really, nothing that would, for example, keep you from welcoming the other guy into your golf foursome. And yet, despite everyone's best efforts, the waters continue to rise around Cheney's rowboat, and he just makes things worse by standing up, shouting, and waving his arms. Sooner or later the powers that be might just decide that he has to go; he's just making too much of a racket about all the wrong things. But in the meantime, it's all making for very entertaining viewing.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Who Put the Guano in Guantanamo?

Suddenly, the Democrats have developed a strange new respect for the "NIMBY" concept when it comes to relocating "terrorists" now being held at Guantanamo, and they have rudely rebuffed Obama by voting against funds for closing the Guantanamo prison. Well, to begin with, please note the price tag for the relocation: $80 million to move 240 detainees. That's an average of $333,333 per each! Hell, I'd just buy each of them a waterfront condo in Ft. Lauderdale; that'll take the "terrorist" out of them fast! But don't you get the feeling that _everything_ the government buys, or does, is comparably overpriced? I sure do. In any case, it now appears that these persons without a country are going to be left in limbo for a while longer -- maybe for years. Because, after all, what would be the criterion for their ultimate release? Winning the "War on Terror", of course. But the "War on Terror" is unwinnable, mainly because it's a piece of pure fiction. So these guys are going to have to stay locked up in Guantanamo indefinitely for the sake of a popular delusion. I guess they can at least feel some sense of solidarity with the thousands of non-violent drug offenders who are locked up on the mainland -- they are all, ultimately, political prisoners, i.e. prisoners of politics.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

As Unsharp as Steele

Next in line for the Clueless Star Search is Michael Steele, GOP chairman, who accuses Obama of "fraud" for spending the country into massive, unending debt. Well, OK. But where was he -- in fact, where was the GOP in general -- when Bush started racking up massive debt with the twin debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan? Did we hear a hue and cry from the GOP when independent analysts pronounced the real cost of those wars to be many times the Bush adminisration's projections? And I'm convinced that it was those wars, and those expenditures, that had as much as anything else to do with initiating the economic meltdown. Yeah, the subprime mortgages were a factor, but would they have done as much damage if the economy had not already been badly weakened by the Bushite wars? I doubt it. But now that it's all in Obama's hands, the GOP leadership feels free to start taking potshots. It would be better if they would do some real soul searching as to why they willingly and enthusiastically became the war party.

Oh Come On, Ralph!

So here's Ralph Nader -- traditionally Public Enemy Number One of the American auto industry -- griping about the dealership and factory closings by Chrysler and General Motors. He contends that "Congress has ceded oversight of the automakers' restructuring to a task force of presidential advisers." But... does Congress have any more business overseeing automakers' restructuring than the White House does? Or overseeing anything else about the auto industry, for that matter? Notice that the basic premise -- that it's the government's business to run American business -- is never questioned; it just a matter of who in government ought to do it, and I suppose that Nader prefers Congress because, unlike advisers, they are elected by the people and are thus, supposedly, more subject to "accountability". That's a nice idealistic concept, but when's the last time any Congressman did anything in the interests of the American people in general? It's always about them and their constituents, cronies, and pet rocks -- and that applies to the bailouts and economic "stimulation" as well. If the aggregate interests of the citizenry had been considered, we wouldn't be in the economic fix we're in; what has happened is a product of the dominance of special interests over many years.

News From Hooverville

Someone -- I think P.J. O'Rourke -- once offered a classic definition of the difference between human beings and animals. He said, "They don't appreciate scenery, and we're not afraid of vacuum cleaners." And the thing is, this difference can have serious -- or even fatal -- results at times. According to today's paper, a Pennsylvania man was attacked by his own pit bull when the guy's girlfriend started up a vacuum cleaner. First the dog attacked the vacuum cleaner, and when the owner tried to intervene it attacked him as well. Net result: One badly torn-up dog owner, and one dead dog (shot by police). So if you have one of these sketchy dogs you might want to lock it in the basement the next time housecleaning day rolls around. Why they get so upset by vacuum cleaners is an abiding mystery -- must have something to do with evolution or something. After all, doesn't nature abhor a vacuum?

Benny the Nat's Big Sting

There is a marvelous scene late in the film “The Score” -- a confrontation, over the phone, between the two heist artists. The younger guy thinks he's pulled a fast one on the older one by making off with a priceless antique. At one point the older guy says, “Whadda ya got?” The younger guy starts getting a really bad feeling, looks into his sack, and finds a pile of scrap metal instead of the antique, which the older guy has, of course, had all along. “Goodbye.” (click)

I think that Obama might be feeling a bit like the younger heist artist about now – outfoxed, way outclassed, and generally made a fool of. He has had what countless other American officials over the years have had, namely The Benny the Nat Experience. But really, what did Obama expect from his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? “Progress?” When you're sitting across the table from a guy who holds all the cards, you're lucky to walk away with your shirt. It is interesting, however, that Obama has at least implied that American interests are not always, in every way, identical to Israeli interests – but he never provides much detail as to what those differences might be, probably because he is reserving the right to change his mind, which seems to be a bad habit that he has developed of late. I'd like to know, for example, what's so important about "peace in the Near East". No one else seems to want it, so why do we? I guess he thinks it's obvious, but it really isn't. What, precisely, do we have to gain from peace in that benighted part of the world? If you talk to our war industries, the Neocons, and the Evangelicals, we actually have much more to gain from perpetual war over there. This is something Obama has to think about, since he inherited twin wars from people who all thought that way.

In any case, Benny the Nat never gave an inch, and one is tempted to say that his visit to our shores was a complete farce. But this is certainly not true from the Israeli perspective. Obama now has a very large Israeli ring in his nose – the initial fitting was months ago, during the campaign, but now the deed is done, still another American president is humbled, and we won't see any more “change” in this department than we've seen in all the preceding administrations. Benny the Nat sailed the ocean blue all armed and ready for a showdown, and encountered a president with a glass jaw. So much the better. "Mission accomplished."

The funny thing about Netanyahu's “negotiating” style is that he frequently seems to give up some ground – lots of it, in fact. But then there's always the added – almost as an afterthought – phrase, “on one condition”. Just one, mind you! Nothing big, or unreasonable. This time around it's that the Palestinians have to “accept Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state”. This “right to exist” thing is, and has been, the shibboleth to end all shibboleths when it comes to Israel. But in fact, as a concept, it is, as far as I know, something brand new. Up until the modern era, no one ever talked about any country's “right to exist” -- it either existed or it didn't. But Israel is, as in all other things, an exception. For one thing, it's a completely artificial country; it has no more conventional legitimacy than the colonies the European powers created when they carved up Africa. And I think it's the awareness of this awkward fact that has the Israelis obsessed with the “right to exist” idea. They know, deep down, that they are usurpers, occupiers, and on very shaky ground over there -- and of course the Arabs are not remiss in reminding them of that fact on a daily basis.

On the other hand, it can be argued that Israel has precisely the same “right to exist” as any other country, and that this is based on the “right of conquest”. Now we're in much more familiar territory – more “realpolitik”, more pragmatic. Because, in fact, every country on earth, as far as I know, is the product of one or more conquests at some point in history... and it has always been accepted that whoever takes over is, in fact, the legitimate ruler of that territory... until someone else comes along and re-conquers. This is axiomatic in the diplomacy business, for example, and it's only the Puritan absolutism of the United States that causes us to “sever diplomatic ties” with countries just because we don't like their new governments. I mean, the essence of diplomacy is not the art of dealing with people who do things the way you do them, and think the way you do; it's dealing with people who do things wildly differently, and think in a wildly different way. Otherwise, there's no skill involved, and, in fact, no need for diplomacy at all. This is something that has escaped the notice of so many of our administrations over the years. You don't have to “like” someone in order to have diplomatic relations with them; in fact, “diplomatic relations” are designed for the express purpose of dealing with people we _don't_ like. So, to this extent, the Obama administration seems to have a slightly better grasp of reality than any of its predecessors (except for – guess who – Nixon, who opened up China).

So how does the “right of conquest” apply to Israel? Pretty simple, really. Israel was established on conquered territory – i.e. territory held by the European powers based on their defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I. And in order to establish the State of Israel, Western Palestine had to be doubly conquered, again with the help of the European powers and the U.S., and the Palestinians thrown out. This is something that has happened time and time again over the eons, and is nothing the least bit unusual, except for the fact that the conquering was done by Party A on behalf of Party B. But I'm sure there are even historical precedents for that -- you know, the establishment of "buffer states" and so on. I guess what freaks people out is that it was done within living memory, and by people who were supposed to be – well, you know -- “civilized”. Yeah, well... Germany was supposed to be civilized too, but look at the stunts they pulled between 1933 and 1945. So I think we can safely set aside this “civilized” business. (And what's keeping the Brits in Northern Ireland, for that matter? And what's keeping us in... just about everywhere on earth?)

So really, if I were a Palestinian leader or diplomat, say, I think I'd take Benny the Nat up on his offer. I'd say something like “Sure, we recognize Israel's right to exist. It has the same right to exist that any other country does. And if it's ever taken over, or conquered, by someone else, then _they_ will have that very same right to exist – no more and no less. Your move.” That would be an interesting challenge for Israeli doublethink. “The same right to exist? But no, that's no good, we have to have an _extraordinary_ right to exist, for all time, based on the Holocaust and... just because we're us. Only when that extraordinary right to exist is accepted by all parties will we consent to start negotiations on the Palestinian question.” I'm sure that the response would be something along those lines. So again, it's always that one small step further than anyone is willing to go, that is Israel's non-negotiable position – which means that it has no interest in negotiating, and no real interest in peace. All of their "negotiating" over the decades has been nothing more than a means to get Europe and the U.S. to shut the hell up and get off their case. And the sooner Obama and his crew recognize this, the sooner they can stop wasting time trying to make things any other way.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Curse on All Their Houses!

It's refreshing, in a twisted kind of way, to encounter a news story where everyone involved is wrong – or at least _in_ the wrong. It offers some relief from the usual – especially in these times – black-and-white-with-no-shades-of-gray situation, where the heroes and villains stand out in sharp relief, are dressed to match their assigned roles, and the villains snarl like Dick Cheney while the heroes talk like Dudley Do-Right. Such a case is the ongoing – apparently for want of a more important story, which beggars belief right there – saga of Nancy Pelosi – the Maven of Miscue and Guru of Gaffe – and her alleged brainwashing about waterboarding at the hands of the CIA -- or was it the Bush administration? -- and that's one of the key points of the story. Since it's clear that she's not even sure who briefed her, anything else she says about the matter is suspect. One minute it was the CIA, and the next minute it was the Busheviks. I'm sure that, at the time, the distinction was considered – by her and by virtually anyone else – somewhat trivial. After all, doesn't the CIA work for whatever administration is in power at the time? Well, maybe. Or – as any good conspiracy theorist will tell you – it's more likely that the reverse is true, i.e. that the CIA is the actual power center of the government, and any given president and his administration are just front men (and women). My personal theory is – as I'm sure you've come to expect – off at an angle from either of those. It is, basically, that the CIA is, in effect, a parallel and autonomous government that, like any other governmental entity, has, as it's first priority, self preservation. So anything that it does is aimed at that goal, and everything else is a side effect. But what makes the CIA somewhat unusual, if not unique, is its complete lack of accountability – budget-wise and mission-wise – to anyone, or anything, except itself. Its budget and personnel structure are so secret that I'll bet even most of the people who work there don't know anything about it. Plus, it has its own private army (and navy, and air force) and secrets and deception are its stock in trade – which makes it just slightly hilarious that Our Gal Nancy alleged that she'd been deceived. Well, duh! When you're dealing with professional deceivers – the best of the best – and you're also asking them silly-assed questions about their tactics, and when they suspect that you're not exactly on their side, how surprised can you be when they proceed to blow smoke up your butt? And if they accidentally, or randomly, or even intentionally, tell the truth now and then, how would you know? What data base would you call upon to compare it to? So really, our esteemed elected representatives are putty – Silly Putty, in fact -- in the hands of the intel types; always have been, always will be. (Who, for instance, provided the "data" that served as the rationale for invading Iraq? And who fell for it? I rest my case.)

Another amusing facet to all this is Leon Panetta's rush to the defense of an organization that he was just now put in charge of (or so he thinks). Pelosi was “briefed truthfully”, he says. How does he know? I guess the first thing he did upon moving into his office in Langley was to get briefed on all of the briefings up to that time that the agency had ever provided to Congress since the days of Wild Bill Donovan. Or, when Pelosi started kicking up a fuss, he got briefed on just the briefings that she allegedly attended (“attended” naturally also implying “listened” and “understood” -- both of which are stretches in her case). But in any case, he wasn't there, so he has to rely on his underlings for an accurate picture of what was said and to whom. And that problem with that is... well, you know.

And who else feels compelled to wade into this fetid broth? Why, House Republican leader John Boehner, of course – who feels that Nancy ought to put up or shut up, i.e. either provide evidence of deception or apologize to our brave boys in the CIA. To say that he misses the point would be to understate the situation by a light year or two. When it comes to information – useful or otherwise – Congress, not to mention the American public overall, is totally at the mercy of the intelligence agencies and their mouthpieces. Ultimately, for any issue being discussed, they have to take their word for it because... well, just because, OK? There is a point, in all of these briefings – and you know darned well this applies to the “behind-closed-doors” type in particular – when the briefer falls back on the tried-and-true “national security” argument and refuses to say more. What's a Congressperson to do? Say “prove it”? But if the intel type provided sufficient data to “prove it”, they would be forced to reveal facts that would cause critical harm to American interests should they ever be revealed outside this room, etc., and we know that in any given Congressional committee room there are at least two or three left-wing radicals from California, or Massachusetts, or somewhere like that, sitting there just waiting for the opportunity to spill the beans on the CIA (or the administration, if it happens to be Republican at the time), compromise national security, and generally ruin everything. So it really is a hopeless case.

And then there's Pelosi herself, who has had to eat at least a few bites of crow, like referring to “the dedicated men and women of the intelligence community”. Gee, where was all this generosity back when the intel people were all working for the Eeeevil George Bush? Back then, they were all his slaves... mindless robots programmed to do only his will, and none other... lawless... inhuman... and so on. Now they're hard-working, loyal patriots – now that they work for Obama, that is. And if any of them went so far as to lie to her, that's only because there was some Bushite breathing down their neck, threatening them with termination if they didn't maintain the party line.

So, to sum up: Pelosi says she's been fooled by the master foolers. They say no, they told her the truth -- which is, of course, exactly what you'd expect them to say if they'd fooled her. But the implication is that she was fooled by someone else, i.e. their ex-bosses in the Bush administration. Either that or she's mistaken and wasn't fooled after all. And so she admits that she wasn't fooled by the foolers but by the Bush people. But Boehner misses that part of it and tells her that she'd better prove that she was fooled or apologize to the foolers who she already said didn't fool her after all. But Boehner's party has less power than a Palestinian at an AIPAC meeting, so there's nothing keeping her from telling him to get stuffed.

Well... frankly, I don't buy any of it. Assuming that Pelosi was ever briefed, I'll bet the briefing was full of euphemisms and reassurances along the lines of, “leave the details to us”. But on the other hand, I'm sure that she knew more then than she now admits to having known, but she decided to go along to get along. And the CIA is perfectly aware that it provided her with the semi-cleaned-up version of things that is used when the people being briefed are seen as less than totally “reliable”. And Panetta is finding out what it's like being a figurehead who's out of the loop -- all you can do is parrot the party line and hope for the best. And Boehner is being, under that veneer of naivete, both hypocritical and opportunistic. And Pelosi is scrambling to figure out which “position” is going to lose her the least amount of support. And the Bushites are beside themselves with laughter... wherever they are (mostly retired to their respective ranches, I figure). And everybody else sees it for the farce that it is.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Cat O' Nine Tales

1. So what's up with the media printing every word that comes out of Dick Cheney's mouth these days -- plus a photo that invariably shows him smiling like some cheery senior citizen in a liniment ad, instead of one of the "Satan's spawn" poses that they've been using for the last 8 years? Why aren't they ignoring him? I mean, they're sure ignoring Bush. Oh, wait -- that's because Bush hasn't said anything lately. About anything. To anyone. Which, I guess, hints at the truth about who was running the show during his administration.

2. A local Chrysler dealer whose franchise is being shut down calls it "the most un-American thing I've ever witnessed in my life." Actually, chum, it's the probably the most _American_ -- in the traditional sense -- thing you've ever witnessed. It's called "competition" and "survival of the fittest", and yes, it is the American way of business... or was, until the government waded in with both feet. Call these closings the last gasp of free enterprise. If the government already ran the auto industry, these dealerships would stay open, even if they never sold any cars.

3. "What did she know and when did she know it?" This is the question enquiring minds are all asking about Nancy Pelosi. Frankly, I don't think it makes much difference -- facts and logic are as foreign to this woman as icebergs are to Vietnam. I say, better to just let her continue to rant, and dither, and act out until someone puts her out of our misery.

4. "That's an order, Pope!" So after the... "lukewarm" reception Pope Benedict got in Israel, he has now been directed, by Benny Netanyahu, to "turn his moral authority against Iran". This is from a guy, and a country, and an entire race, that doesn't believe the pope _has_ any moral authority! Either that, or they think he'll get a sympathetic ear in Iran because of his "Nazi past". I mean, isn't "Islamofascism" the very same thing as Nazism? And not only that, but he's really expected to work his magic in a militantly Islamic country? Do we need any further evidence that Benny the Nat is insane? But he's still in charge of our foreign policy.

5. Back in the headlines is Norman Hsu, who is on trial for campaign finance fraud, which included generous donations to Hillary Clintons' campaign. Please note, he has not been pardoned by Obama. Maybe this is Mr. O's way of keeping Hillary on the defensive... if so, it's a wise plan.

6. A "rare display of bipartisanship" was demonstrated yesterday when House Republicans helped pass a bill to keep our troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Pakistan as well, for all eternity. So it wasn't just because it was Bush's war -- they really believe in all this crap. Wouldn't it be nice if partisanship had reared its ugly head this time around? Too much to ask, I guess. But on the bright side, the "Democrats on the left" are all alone and feeling sad, realizing they've been taken for a ride again. That's some consolation, at least.

7. Never let it be said that the "science" behind "global warming" is anything but precise. Now predictions of a rise in sea level due to the impending collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet have been halved, down to 10 feet. Maybe tomorrow they'll re-revise the estimate even lower. But we're supposed to believe them when they pronounce doomsday scenarios for 20, 30, or 40 years out.

8. The new "drug czar" (and note how that term is used -- the last czar to walk the earth was not only feckless, but wound up killed and thrown down a well) is edging away from the inflammatory term, "war on drugs", preferring to see it as a public health issue. This is only what sane people have been recommending since the glory days of Harry Anslinger. But better late than never. Said “czar” also states, “Regardless of how you try to explain to people that it's a 'war on drugs' or a 'war on a product', people see a war as a war on them.” No shit, Sherlock! The “war on drugs” _has_ been a war on people for decades now, especially the young, the powerless, and minorities – and the blatantly racist aspect of it – i.e. the “adverse impact” on blacks – has been commented on innumerable times (even if the “black leadership” prefers to ignore the issue). Could it be that the drug Puritans have finally been bound, gagged, and locked in the attic? Let's keep on hoping.

9. I love this headline (over a small item): “Economist charged with attempted robbery”. My first thought was, it looks like they're starting to round up Obama's “economic recovery team” -- but no, it was just some poor schlump on leave from – I assume, since it didn't say – the FDIC. But think about it. Before long, whenever a government employee robs a bank, it will be referred to as “an inside job”.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Silly Questions

1. Who the heck keeps yanking Obama's chain? It seems like the average half-life of his policy statements has shrunk to under 24 hours. The latest about-face is, as you all know, his statement of intent to release the "interrogation" photos, which was quickly followed by his statment of intent to _not_ release said photos, on grounds of -- what else? -- "national security". Now... either someone is trying -- and succeeding -- to make Obama look like a fool, or these are all self-inflicted wounds (which are having the same effect). Well hey, when a guy is single-handedly reshaping the world economy, it's understandable that a few details get neglected now and then. But still, this is starting to get ridiculous.

2. What makes people think administration-imposed executive pay caps are going to cause a "brain drain"? That assumes there are any brains _to_ drain. If you follow the conventional wisdom, the economic meltdown is the result of years of the most blockheaded, moronic decisions ever made in the business world, by the biggest blockheads and morons to ever inhabit that world. So again -- what "brains" are people worried about? There are fears these characters might decide to seek employment elsewhere than in the American economic sector. Well great, let them! May I suggest, for example, that they apply to the Iranian government? Or maybe that would be taken as an act of war...

3. And along the same lines, what is this "entrepreneurial spirit" that is threatened by government meddling in the rarefied world of business executives? Would that be the same "entrepreneurial spirit" that has caused most large businesses in the U.S. to, over the years, become, for all intents and purposes, new branches of government -- and now wards of the state? The "entrepreneurial spirit" that depends on no-bid contracts and government-granted monopolies to stay in business? The one that requires businesses to set aside hefty pieces of their annual budgets for bribes, er, I mean, "campaign contributions"? The one that is so petrified of competition that it buys legislation to discourage, or outright prohibit, anyone else from offering the same goods and services? The one that engages in price-fixing right under the always-sleeping eye of the regulators? Yeah... this kind of "entrepreneurial spirit" is one we can do without, it seems to me.

4. And again along the same lines, has anyone noticed that the administration wants to start regulating executive pay for _all_ businesses, not just the ones receiving bailouts? Benito, can you hear me now?

5. Is it any accident that there is an epidemic of mental health problems among U.S. military personnel stationed in Iraq? I've said it before -- it's not just about combat conditions, nutrition, climate, or anything of the sort -- it's because the entire operation is a fraud, and without meaning -- and sooner or later that fact is going to sink into the skull of even the most dull-witted troop. And the natural human response to chronic absurdity is to go a little bit nuts.

6. Well, thank goodness! I feel a whole lot better now. It turns out that the Social Security and Medicare "trust funds" haven't disappeared after all. They've been located, and are being safely stored "in a filing cabinet in Parkersburg, W. Va." Can you imagine? Not one, but two, vast trust funds that every American depends, or will soon depend, on can actually fit into a single filing cabinet -- in West Virginia, no less. The marvels of miniaturization never cease to amaze. Of course, the cynic and the naysayer will scoff and say, well, that just reflects the drastic shrinkage in those funds, and the fact that they are about to disappear altogether. But I say, look on the bright side. Are there any records of what has been done with the "bailout" money -- in West Virginia or anywhere else? No. Will there be any records of what is done with the "economic stimulus" money? No. So let's be thankful that these venerable legacy funds, at least, do have some sort of physical representation somewhere on the planet, and are not just totally abstract.

7. I've always considered NASA to be, basically, the world's biggest sandbox, and its employees a bunch of overgrown geeks with bad haircuts and rumpled clothes who can't get dates. But doggone it, I do hope they manage to fix the Hubble telescope. I love those pictures. They are inspiring. They even -- dare I say it? -- seem to lend support to the traditional "proof from design" of the existence of God. Now just wait, the next thing you know the ACLU will sue NASA for violating the "wall of separation of church and state".

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Of Rulers and Ruled

The May 2009 issue of Chronicles features a round table discussion (in print) on the topic, “Can the Republic Be Restored?” One of the discussants is Chilton Williamson, Jr. who writes on “The Classless Republic – An Impossible Society”. He makes a number of good points in a short (one page) entry – enough so I can quibble with a few of them while leaving the rest undisturbed. To begin with, he despairs of actually restoring the Republic or what he terms the “elite republican class”. He says, “Classical republicanism cannot survive a modern social and political anomaly that no political tradition before the postmodern era could possibly have envisioned. That is the rise of an elite that is revolutionary...” In other words, if the radicals and revolutionaries are at the top, the republic that they are at the top of is not long for this world -- as a republic, that is. Fair enough, but this does not mean that a _nation_ cannot survive – and quite readily, in fact – having a revolutionary elite at the top of the heap. This is precisely what characterizes all communist societies, past and present, of which the longest-lived to date was the Soviet Union. In fact, it is probably axiomatic that if the top layer of a communist society ceases to be revolutionary in its outlook, that society is no longer communist, by definition – regardless of how much they may protest that it still is; China is surely the most outstanding example of this at present. And in fact, even a revolutionary elite may become so impacted and “establishment” that all of its truly revolutionary impulses become vestigial – except for the impulse to propagandize. This would apply to North Korea and Cuba, for example. What could be more firmly “established” than those two governments... what could be more firmly against change, or even evolution? If you want to find true ossification in government, forget about monarchies – the few that are left tend to be fairly vigorous, in fact. You have to look at communist societies run by aging revolutionaries – or at American colleges and universities, for that matter, many of which are being run by the same “coat and tie radicals” that carried protest signs around the campus back in the 1960s. They have now become sheltered workshops for academic hacks and mediocrities, and the strongest redoubts of censorship in the land. They fancy themselves radical, but in fact are the most conservative, in the literal sense, of all institutions on the planet.

But to get back to Williamson, this time referring to Tocqueville's statement that “a true aristocracy must be based on land ownership”. By “true”, the implication is “worthy”, or “deserving of the name”. This is set in contrast to what he (CW) calls the “industrial wealth” of the 19th and 20th centuries and the “abstract wealth” of today. And I can agree up to a point, but what if we decided to go back to the land-based system of aristocracy? Who would wind up being king? Ted Turner? No thanks. I think some accommodation to the evolved nature of wealth is in order. If it were all about land, and nothing else, Russia would be the wealthiest country on earth – with Kazakhstan the 9th wealthiest, Sudan 10th, Algeria 11th, and Democratic Republic of the Congo 12th. Clearly, this criterion gets us nowhere fast. (Plus, there is also the reverse argument – what about places like Japan and Switzerland? Or Luxembourg? Or Liechtenstein? In this day and age, you can be a billionaire even if you live on a rock in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.) But the general principle that Williamson is trying to promote – that the criterion for wealth should be, in some way or other, organic to the country itself, is commendable. Why, for instance, do we refer to someone as a “wealthy American” when most of his assets lie overseas? And why do we seem so helpless in the face of aggressive overseas investments in our land and manufacturing capability – things that most other societies, historically, would have considered almost sacred and not to be sullied by the unclean hands of a foreigner?

Williamson then goes on to criticize the “meritocracy” idea as producing a relatively ephemeral ruling class that is replaced on a regular basis. This is where we have to part company, since I don't agree that this country is any more of a “meritocracy” than the Ottoman Empire was. To begin with, what, precisely, in the way of “merit” do most of our elected officials possess – other than the uncanny ability to get elected to office, in the complete absence of any demonstrated competence? Or maybe he's talking about the world of music, the arts, literature, entertainment, sports, etc., where, on occasion, one can see signs that the person who is better at the craft earns more of a reward. But no, he really is talking about government here. And I have to add that, in my opinion, even the people who rise to the top, who I guess he would consider meritocrats by definition if nothing else, aren't really running things anyway. They are working for others, who remain behind the scenes. So how did _those_ people get to where they are? Is that a meritocracy too, but of a higher order? It's possible... but what is more possible is that it is, after all, a matter of family connections, just like in the old days – the days that Williamson seems to long for. Curiously, another contributor to the same round table provides a list. Clyde Wilson says that “As with Rome, candidates for the American emperor [he means “president”] are sometimes selected by heredity, from the decayed descendants of powerful families: Roosevelts, Bushes, Rockefellers, Kennedys, Romneys, Gores.” If you add the words “or by” -- as in “from, or by, the decayed, etc.” you've pretty much covered the waterfront, in my opinion -- at least for elected positions that really count. I don't think anyone moves into the White House without the full approval of the Regime... and this is true even when the “establishment” person is the loser, as was the case with Bush I in 1992. The upstart, the “new face”, the populist – they are all thoroughly absorbed into the beast, like into The Blob, before they take office. They all become, as I have called them on other occasions, “pod people” -- and Obama is just the most recent. Do you really think his revolution is going to cut deep enough to impact the Regime – nay, to even disturb one hair on their silvered heads? Dream on. His revolution will impact whom it impacts – some for good, some for ill... but the people who are really in charge, and their favored courtiers (think: Wall Street) will sail through untouched.

But now, you might say, is this always the way it is... and was? Is there a power behind every throne (or commissar's leather chair)? Not necessarily. I think that the people who wound up in charge of the Soviet Union, for example, really were in charge – I don't think they were working for anyone else, even though the revolution itself had been aided and abetted by any number of “interested parties”. And I'll say the same thing about the communist revolution in China. Even though Mao was very much a creature of the Soviet Union, once the country was in his hands no one tried to interfere with the self-destruction and carnage that followed. (For one thing, it played too nicely into their hands, as did the earlier agonies of the Soviet Union.) No, communism is a curious thing. It seems that everyone is interested while events are unfolding, and while the revolution is going on... and for a while afterwards. Then things are left pretty much to their own devices – to “work themselves out”, as the saying goes (you know, through things like engineered famines, gulags, and so on). Democracies of the “capitalist” sort, on the other hand, remain under siege for the entire course of their existence – i.e. until the revolutionaries, either imported or home-grown, take over. This is not to say that, on rare occasions, anti-communist uprisings don't occur or are not successful – we have Spain and Chile, and a few others, to offer as evidence on that score. But overall, revolution is what it is – it's an uprising of secularism, materialism, atheism, collectivism, and modernism against church, property, family, tradition, and to some extent (but seldom completely) hereditary power and wealth. In fact, revolutions over the centuries have been characterized by a sort of ambivalence toward things like nobility and titles, France being an excellent example; but what they are invariably hostile toward is the middle class and bourgeois “values”. Those will suffer no matter what the other specifics of a given revolution happen to be... and this is particularly true in the case of “revolution from above”, which is what Williamson was talking about to begin with. For example, if you look, right now, at all of the various targets the Obama administration has picked out to aim its wrath at, you have to admit that “the rich” are pretty much getting off the hook. The targets of opportunity are, rather, the middle class, its priorities, its life style, and its values. These are what the Regime, and its servants in the administration, are already chipping away at, and starting to erode (with no small thanks to the running start it got from its predecessor... you know, the “non-revolutionary” George Bush & Co.).

So, as far as Williamson is concerned, maybe things aren't, ultimately, as radical or revolutionary as he thinks. Maybe behind the apparent power is the _real_ power, and that is constituted in the same manner as it has always been. But because it's at so many degrees of removal from ordinary people and their concerns... and because it's so well insulated from the vagaries of things like “the economy” (which is, itself, just the tip of a much larger iceberg)... it can afford to let the revolutionaries of the Obama stripe have their day, and pursue the hapless middle class up hill and down dale, the way hounds pursue a bedraggled, exhausted fox. Ultimately, the revolutionaries will begin to consume their own – as they always do – then the few remaining can be dispatched, or put out to pasture, while the inner workings of the system hum on as always. For Obama in particular, the Ash Wednesday liturgy puts it best: “Remember, O man, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.”

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Oy Vey, Another Pope!

Jews are not happy people. They just aren't. They don't “do” happy. With them, it's all gloom and doom, 24-7. While the rest of us go around dressed up like Bozo the Clown, or wearing “happy face” masks, they slouch along, with stooped shoulders and a sad-eyed, hang-dog look, mumbling “Oy!” into their unkempt beards.

Stereotype? Unfair? Certainly. But you'd never know it from the reaction of Jewish leaders and commentators in Israel to Pope Benedict's visit. And why, for that matter, does there always have to be a “reaction”? Any other country would simply treat him as a guest. But that's not good enough for Israel; there has to be a “reaction” -- a public display, a debate, a circus. This, of course, is because there is an eternal and unending agenda – an acid test – a shibboleth – by which the relative merits of any visiting dignitary (or even non-dignitary) are measured, namely: What think ye of the Holocaust? The purpose of the visit is of no import; all of the person's previous statements – oral or written -- on the matter are of no import. All that counts is -- once again, right now today, and for all the world to hear, and for the 1000th time if need be -- “What think ye of the Holocaust?” Because the answer to that question will settle all other questions on the spot. It will settle the question of the person's merit; their moral standing; their “sensitivity”; their historical consciousness; and – above all – the extent to which they have signed on to the Holocaust meme, i.e. the premise that it is not only the most important event of all time for Jews, but for the rest of the world as well, and that said event provides the final and everlasting building block in the edifice of Jewish exceptionalism (and therefore, in the case of Israel, Israeli exceptionalism).

So we have been treated, over the past few days, to the spectacle of, once again, the Holy Father having to run the gauntlet of “reaction” and disapproval among our so-called “elder brothers in the faith” (a term which was invented for the sole purpose of avoiding this sort of nonsense, by the way). And what were the pope's great and many offenses this time around? Well, he visited Yad Vashem – where an exhibit makes it quite clear that Pope Pius XII was grossly at fault for not protesting the Nazis' mistreatment of the Jews – and “missed an opportunity to express regret for his country's central role in the extermination of 6 million Jews.” OK – to begin with, the pope's “country” is Vatican City, in case no one noticed. But yeah, I know, they're talking about Germany – and of course, every German of any age is liable to have their nose rubbed in the Holocaust for the next 1000 years. And what if the pope had “expressed regret” on behalf of Germany? Is he the German ambassador to Israel? (Is there one?) Wouldn't that have been going a bit beyond his authority? Or maybe he could have simply expressed personal regret for having aided and abetted the Nazi cause by being a member of the Hitler Youth in his, um, youth. But I doubt that would have filled the bill either. And what if he'd pointed out that Pius XII having been “Hitler's pope” is one of the great myths of our time? Not helpful. And especially not helpful is his attempt to meddle in Near Eastern politics by expressing support for an independent Palestinian homeland alongside Israel. The pope rushes in where American officials fear to tread!

No, it really is true that you can't win if you're the pope dealing with the Israelis, or with the Jews in general – and one wonders why they continue to try. But this periodic dry martyrdom is their way of reaching out and trying to make peace – to _be_ peace, in fact. If they do not receive a welcoming hand in return, it is certainly not their fault, nor the Church's. But to not even try would go against the dictates of charity. Thank goodness there are a few saintly men left in the world! Any of the rest of us would have given up long ago.

Monday, May 11, 2009

If This Be Treason, Let's Par-Tay !

Oh boy, this is gonna be fun. A comedienne named Wanda Sykes -- who had to give up her regular gig at the Moline, Illinois Red Roof Inn breakfast room for the occasion -- acted as "mistress of ceremonies" for the White House Correspondents' Association dinner the other night, and, standing two heartbeats from the prez himself, called Rush Limbaugh a "traitor" and a terrorist for opposing Obama's programs. OK -- get ready for a tsunami from the "dittoheads", who, undoubtedly, outnumber Sykes' fan base by about 1000 to 1. And also get ready for... but we already have it! "Comments" from the White House, that is. And they were -- well, there weren't any, at least not from Mr. O himself. I imagine that, already, on some instinctive level, Obama is thinking -- let's see, there were nearly 60 million votes for McCain, and despite Limbaugh's opposition to McCain, there couldn't possibly have been fewer than, oh, 25 million Limbaugh fans among the McCain voters... so this bit... I mean, "lady", has just called 25 million Americans "traitors", for all intents and purposes. Way to go, "uniting the country"-wise. (Of course, Janet Napolitano has already gotten non-fired for calling all of our returning service personnel "potential terrorists", so maybe he wasn't actually all that upset... )

Now, to be fair, Sykes also took a well-deserved shot at Dick Cheney, and some at least semi-deserved shots at lesser lights... and at Obama himself. (But she had nothing but good things to say about Michelle's arms. Do we really want to go there?) In any case, the next sound you hear (or have already heard) will be Rushbo thundering across the airwaves in indignation -- and I'm 100% on this side on this one, especially since I imagine Sykes was just helping to soften up the battlefield for the resuscitation of the Fairness Doctrine. I don't know about you, but I'm glad to be living at a time when the culture wars are being fought right out in the open, instead of just in academic journals... even though the real issues are still banished from public discourse. At least it's a start. Plus, it also exposes -- as if it needed any more exposure -- the utter lameness of the Obama administration. In addition to "no comment" from the president, a "presidential spokesman" said "I don’t know how guests get booked... that’s a White House Correspondents' Association thing." EXCUSE ME?? Has the Secret Service signed off on that cop-out? What if Sykes had turned out to be a terrorist? For that matter, what if she'd only turned out to be an "angry white male"? I don't believe this for an instant. No one gets within shoe-throwing distance of the president without the Secret Service having their entire rap sheet in hand. In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised to find out that her comments had been thoroughly "vetted" with the White House prior to the dinner -- maybe to the same idiot who arranged that flyover photo op that terrorized lower Manhattan.

You know, it's too bad in a way when an administration sets up such easy targets. Don't they ever learn from human disaster areas like Joycelyn Elders and James Watt? I mean, Obama could have picked respectable economists and non-tax evaders to head up his recovery team, but "noooo", he had to provide a juicy array of low-hanging fruit for his critics. He could have hired someone other than Janet Napolitano, who appears to be a reincarnation of Janet Reno, but "noooo". Or how about just firing the people who keep humiliating him and his administration? But I guess that would be kind of like starting over from scratch. And in the meantime, Rush is having a field day, just like when the Clintons were in the White House, except without the sleazy soap-opera angle. And when you're "the last man standing", as Rush styles himself, you're going to get called some names. But he's a big man (amen!); he can take it. But they're getting themselves further into his trap every time they screw up this way. So -- let the good times roll while they may!

A Nancy Drool Mystery

Then we have – if you've been following today's posts so far – the spectacle (for could it be any other, considering who's involved) of Nancy Pelosi visiting Baghdad “to cement intelligence ties”. OK – as soon as you've stopped laughing about this contradiction in terms, I'll go on. Apparently, the conventional wisdom on Capitol Hill is that, as our actual physical presence in Iraq diminishes, our intelligence presence has to, somehow, mysteriously, increase. This, in turn, is based on... well, on a number of premises. One is that we can “do” intelligence by remote control, i.e. by relying on “allies” like the Iraqis (OK – have your laugh, I can wait), just as readily as by having “boots on the ground”. Another is that we even _need_ “intelligence” about Iraq once we've supposedly left those stygian shores and shaken the toxic dust from our boots. I mean, if we're leaving, let's just _leave_, OK? No “trainers” left behind, no “liaisons”, no “intel”, no nothing. Of course, the truth is, we're _not_ leaving – not now, not ever. Even if we pull every uniformed person out of Iraq, we'll still leave behind “contractors” and “advisors” by the tens of thousands... and of course we'll need all the “intel” we can get in order to insure that the basic mission, i.e. the reason we went over there in first place, is kept on track – namely protecting Israel's interests, and, secondarily I guess, ensuring continued access to Middle East oil. (The last person who thought it had anything to do with "terrorism" just died, leaving behind their passbook savings account and their Yugo.) But of course, none of this is ever voiced in public, by anyone with any sense – or by Pelosi either. She is also under the impression that, once we withdraw our forces from Iraq, we can somehow continue to “fight political corruption” over there. I would say that has as much of a chance for success as fighting political corruption in Illinois, say. And please note, Pelosi made it clear – lest anyone forget – that she “opposed the initiation of hostilities in Iraq and the war in general”. But now that we're over there she is absolutely certain that we need to maintain some sort of presence to gather reliable intelligence and fight political corruption. Is it any wonder Ann Coulter referred to her as “a retarded woman”? It would all be too funny if she weren't just a couple of heartbeats away from the presidency... not that fools at least as grand haven't occupied that office in the past.

Wandering Off the Reservation

Well, maybe there's hope for the “print media” after all. According to the on-line version of an article from the May 7 issue of Snoozeweek (well, that's what Limbaugh calls it – most people refer to it as Newsweek), the Israelis are getting just a little bit antsy about the Obama administration's position on things like who's going to bell the Iranian cat. And here I thought – like any good conspiracy theorist – that Israel had such a vise grip on U.S. foreign policy that things like this simply never came up – that, like Lola Lola in “The Blue Angel”, whatever Israel wants, Israel gets. And this has yet to be disproven, by the way – all of the current anxieties are based purely on... well, on anxiety. And paranoia. You know, those two superfoods that nourish the Israeli state like the manna of old. But the very fact that anyone over there is even considering the possibility that maybe – just maybe – they could do something that would result in less than 100%, unconditional “support” (think of a billion-dollar truss that has to be changed daily)... this is significant, because it means that they aren't all that certain of their grip on our foreign policy, or on our politicians, or on our president, who happens to be black and has a suspiciously Moslem-sounding middle name.

The article, by the way, is found at: And you'd better read it fast, before AIPAC gets it suppressed. And frankly, I think it's all a bit much to do about nothing. As I've said before, I fully expect the U.S. to willingly follow Israel into whatever final conflagration they manage to create for themselves (with our without our direct participation). This seems to be the intended destiny of this country – to put its fate (military, social, economic, political) entirely into the hands of a tiny sliver of a country in the Near East. And there are ample historical reasons why this may actually be the case – it's far from random or accidental. And yet, there are apparently people who think – fear – that things might be different, and that includes Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's answer to Rambo. Surely they should know by now that nothing they do could ever alienate the good old, reliable, stupid, U.S. But... “what if?” So that's why they occasionally soft-pedal things and play the diplomacy game – to fool us into thinking, for example, that we control our own foreign policy.

The latest position, as expressed by Netanyahu, is that “any peace with the Palestinians will have to await a resolution of the Iran nuclear issue.” So he is, basically, holding the Palestinians – as powerless a group of people as has ever walked the earth – hostage until either we subdue the Iranians, or “allow” Israel to do so. And this might be a clever ploy if the U.S. government had ever expressed the slightest concern about the Palestinians – but since we haven't, it's a bit ridiculous. Taking the lead from Israel, we have agreed, for decades, that the Palestinians are not only sub-human, but that they don't even exist. Now, all of a sudden, we're supposed to care enough about them to start a war with Iran on their behalf – yes, on _their_ behalf, not Israel's! Do you get the impression that the Israelis are grasping at straws on this one? I hope someone in the Obama administration has the guts to tell them so.

The odd and ironic thing is that, although Israel is completely dependent on us for its survival from day to day, our relationship with Israel has done more to damage our own security than any other single factor since the end of the Cold War. You would think... but of course, I always wonder what tumors are “thinking” when they kill their host. And that's the problem – maybe the Israelis _aren't_ thinking – or at least aren't thinking clearly. Because if they were, it might occur to them that it's not their mere presence in the Near East that has the Arab/Moslem world up in arms, but their life-long mistreatment of the Palestinians. And that is something they can actually do something about – right now! Today! It would at least be worth a try, don't you think? But instead, Netanyahu and his ilk hang tough, and put out ridiculous threats that are the equivalent of that old National Lampoon ad that said, “Buy this magazine or we'll kill this dog” (with a photo of a dog with a gun pointed at its head). I just hope there are enough level-headed (if not about economics, then about something, at least) people in the Obama administration to pronounce this all a load of bullshit.

The real problem – as many people are starting to realize – is that the Israelis don't really want peace at all – any more than the Islamic militants do. Each side is dedicated to the total destruction of the other... and the Palestinians are just getting in the way, caught in the cross-fire. Yes, they make handy hostages and provide plenty of “bloody shirts” for the militants, but ultimately they don't matter. (If they did, wouldn't the Islamic countries that surround Israel have willingly absorbed them decades ago, rather than allow them to live out their lives in those camps?) But does this mean that _we_ don't want peace in the Near East? We certainly claim that we do... but almost always add (explicitly or otherwise) “on Israeli terms”. Why do we want peace in that part of the world any more than in Africa, say? Does it, by any chance, have something to do with oil? Could be, Sherlock. So we have to keep up our own balancing act... the problem being, we're keeping a bunch of ping-pong balls in the air plus one bowling ball called Israel. I'm sure Obama is no happier with this task than Bush, or whoever, was – but he has no choice; he has to do it, because... well, just “because”. But even so, one significant thing is that the Obama administration is not owned outright by a bunch of “Christian Zionist” fanatics, as the Bush administration was... so that could be an aid to sanity at some point. And the Neocons, though far from out of power, are certainly no longer part of the inner circle. Then there's the little matter of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which we have always allowed Israel to be exempt from – even though every falafel stand in the country can be converted into a launch site in five minutes. But don't expect that to change any faster than the rate at which we release Israeli spies – namely, once for each one the FBI rounds up (and don't you know they must be getting pretty damn frustrated about this by now?).

This “special relationship” is not going to end in any way other than catastrophe. The question is not “if” but “when”. All we can do in the meantime is try and sit back in a disinterested way and watch the show.

Gay Is Just a Day Away

Next on the “Trail of Tears” -- i.e. Obama promises that seem to have come a-cropper – but wait! Speaking of which, whatever happened to the Kyoto Protocol – you know, that document that was supposed to save the world from global warming, except that the United States, out of every country on Earth, has failed to ratify it? Why hasn't Obama just pushed it through Congress like everything else? Why the delay? Why is it not the #1 priority it always was during the reign of the Eeeevil George W. Bush? Is this another one of those things like the “homeless problem”, which vanished, like magic, on January 20, just like it always does whenever we have a Democratic president, only to reappear the minute a Republican gets in office? Oh, but wait – we still do have a homeless problem, but it's only because of the way the Eeeevil George W. Bush mismanaged the economy. So that comes under the heading of an “allowable homeless problem”.

But I digress. I don't want to talk about global warming right now – at least not directly. Or about homelessness either. The topic at hand is that of “gays in the military”, and the “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” policy that was a creature of the Clinton administration, but, strangely, left intact by Bush & Co. -- and – horror of horrors! -- left intact, so far, by the Obama administration... when all it would have taken is a quick flick of the wrist (if that is the term), and Obama could have opened the welcoming arms of the military to any and all GLBT (and add any other initials you deem appropriate) citizens. So again, why the delay? Or, as Robert Byrd would say, where is the outrage? These folks gave Obama their unconditional support throughout the election process, and now what does he do? He holds “preliminary discussions”. Yeah. That's the same thing we do on things like the “two-state solution” for Israel – you know, things we know damn well are never going to happen. Plus, what's to discuss? The administration has claimed that there are more important things to deal with right now – like the economy, the twin wars, etc. But hey – they have time to plant arugula in the White House garden, so why can't they fix the military's policy on gays? I just don't get it at all. You don't suppose... oh wait, I forgot, the president is commander-in-chief, right? So whatever he says, the military has to do – click heels, snappy salute, turn and go. Well, that's what Bill Clinton thought too, but someone advised him, behind closed doors I'm sure, that the military has ways of pushing back, and that the gay thing – while no longer even an issue (supposedly) for society at large – is still a bit of a sore point for the military (who have clearly never studied up on the ancient Greeks, or they would see it as the answer to the “unit cohesion” problem). Plus, the fact always comes up, at the most inconvenient times, that a huge proportion of members of Congress is ex-military... ex-Marine, even! And they just aren't all that excited by the notion of Judy Garland festivals (including karaoke and look-alike contests) at the post theater. Ah, but that generation will pass away before long... and the new enlightenment will dawn in all of its glory, beaming light into even the most dismal of our cultural caves... maybe, who knows, even including the military.

Pulling His Cheney

Next on the docket from today's news is an opinion from former pres... er, vice-president... Dick Cheney – who is pictured smiling, for the first time in 8 years. Do you suppose it was only biliousness after all? In any case – and obviously, anyone who asks for the Dickster's opinion on anything, ever again, is making A Big Mistake – but whatever, he thinks that Rush Limbaugh makes a better role model for the Republicans than does Colin Powell – which I guess is a way of saying that having a position, and having firm opinions, still counts for something in this world. And in this, I agree with him – even though his own opinions and positions over the past 8 years have invariably been wrong. But Rush's track record is a bit better; at least he has always had the liberals' number, even if he has a chronic blind spot when it comes to foreign policy. The only problem with nominating Rush as the Republican standard-bearer is that his on-air days are numbered. If you think the Democrats have forgotten all about the “Fairness Doctrine” in their hurry to salvage the economy and the whole world, think again. Their positions are ever vulnerable to rational analysis, realism, and logic -- not to mention plain old memory, AKA "history" -- and they are ever paranoid and thin-skinned, and downright phobic about dissent and opposing points of view. So once Obama saves the day, they'll get back to the business at hand, which is pushing dissent and opposition underground (or, actually, more underground than it already is).

Cheney – who is certainly no dummy – also seems to have no problem with Limbaugh's alleged (by the liberal establishment and the MSM) racism, sexism, homophobia, and heresy when it comes to treasured liberal ideas like global warming. Gosh, who knows, the Dickster could become a leader again himself, if he would only repent of his follies in Iraq and Afghanistan, and disown the Evangelicals, the Neocons, and AIPAC. And what, after all, would he have to lose at this late date? Well, maybe that's asking too much. But he is right on one count, at least – Republican me-too-ism is not a survival skill; it's a form of suicide. Limbaugh is strong medicine (but not the strongest – for that you have to go see Dr. Ron Paul) but at least he represents something that can never be confused with liberalism... and after a period of exile, who knows, that might just come in handy sometime down the road.

No Bitter Pills Here

It's amazing how one day's news can offer a deep mine of riches to be commented on... and it's usually because what's being “reported” isn't the real story at all... but pieces, at least, of the real story can be discerned, or confirmed, by reading whatever the “spin doctors” have come up with. Thus we have, from today's paper alone, the following, for starters:

The “medical industry” has – generously, and out of the infinite goodness of their collective hearts – “offered $2 Trillion in spending reductions over 10 years to help pay for the program” -- i.e. for President Obama's health care program – call it “Obamacare” to distinguish it from “Hillarycare”. And these spending reductions are... well, hold on. They are not actually “reductions”, as it turns out. What they are is “slower rate increases”. So right away the question arises, “slower” compared to what? Is it like the sharp businessman who marks everything up 50% so he can advertise a 30% discount and still come out ahead? Who's going to monitor, or audit, the “medical industry” regarding all of these notional rates that they, mercifully, condescended to increase less rapidly?

But here's the key sentence: “With this move, Obama picks up key private-sector allies [here comes Il Duce again] that fought former President Bill Clinton's [read: Hillary Clinton's] effort to overhaul health care.” Also key: “And it puts the private-sector groups in a good position to influence the bill Congress is writing.” Yeah -- “influence” is the word for it – the way the medical industry “influences” the FDA, for instance. So – to the grotesque, unnatural marriage of government to the stock market, banking, insurance, and automobile manufacturing you can add one to the medical industry as well. Who knew that Obama was that big on polygamy?

But wait a minute – you'll say – why didn't anyone come up with this idea the first time around... you know, back when Hillary was conducting top-secret meetings in order to plan how to take over the medical industry? Why did they fight like demons then, and are now rushing to join the Obama administration, with tongues lolling and tails wagging? What I imagine is something like why Libya decided to give up its habit of not working and playing well with others – they saw what happens when the U.S. gets teed off at someone. In this case, the medical industry has only to look upon the grisly spectacle of the banking, securities, insurance, and auto industries lying, like beached whales, along the shores of the Potomac. Did the Clintons ever make them an offer they couldn't refuse? Apparently not. Has Obama shown them, in no uncertain terms, what happens when you don't “cooperate”? Damn straight. So really, it has nothing whatsoever to do with trying to be generous and helpful – it's all about salvaging their butt. And frankly, the sooner they join the parade the better their chances will be of accomplishing that salvage operation, and staying "profitable" to boot.

Now, will the medical industry folks figure out a way to co-opt, corrupt, and subvert whatever the administration comes up with? Of course! They're just as wily, in their way, as the bankers, stockbrokers, and all the other characters who are already on the receiving end of the new “partnership” between business and government. A guy who earned straight C's in business school is still going to be smarter, on any given day, than the highest-rated bureaucrat or regulator in Washington (who was, almost invariably, a liberal-arts major). Plus, they have been in training for this moment all of their adult lives... whereas, let's admit, the Washington types really haven't. It's one thing to regulate, but it's a totally different thing to run – i.e. a business, an industry, a market, whatever. The two things involve different skill sets... different priorities... different motivations... different brain types, even. There is a business “personality”. I remember, on any number of occasions, seeing a group of people in the lobby of my (government-rented) building, or on the elevator. You could tell the government types from the business types as readily as you could tell sheep from goats (never mind which was which!). The government types were conventional, unimaginative, complacent, stodgy, anal, and obsessed with rules, regulations, and detail. They were also disinclined to “make waves” or give any sort of impression other than blandness – and their dress, grooming, and demeanor all reflected this. (You know the bit – barber-shop haircuts and off-the-rack-at-Marshall's business attire. And they spent most of their time looking down at their shoes.) The business types, on the other hand, were sharp-eyed... focused like hawks... smiling and joking like game-show hosts... constantly looking for a lead or advantage. They were sharp, creative, aggressive... and not all that concerned about rules, regulations, or the law. And man, were they ever dressed, and groomed! Salon hair, and they each had an open account and their own “advisor” at Brooks Brothers. (Frankly, they looked as out of place in that tacky building as Cary Grant would look in a Trailways station. But that's where the money was, so they had to put up with it.)

And make no mistake – the “medical industry” is a business, not just a friendly fraternal society made up of a few hundred thousand Dr. Welbys. And because of the kind of business it is – i.e., already thoroughly corrupted by its “relationship” with the government, it's also a racket. So, is this new “partnership” going to make it any less of a racket? Surely you jest. And mind you, I would be the first to say that we should not deny profits and prosperity to anyone in exchange for a job well done – if only the entire industry wasn't a government-granted monopoly, with prices that reflect... well, certainly not supply and demand, but whatever the market will bear. And with government picking up the tab – i.e. with government as the sole “market” -- is whatever the market will bear ever going to go down, or will it continue its climb into the stratosphere? I'll give you one guess. When's the last time, for example, that one of the Defense Department's notorious “no-bid”, or non-competitive, contracts actually saved the taxpayers any money? Yeah, they might save some paperwork (but no government employees will be laid off as a result, so what's the difference?)... and you might even, by sheer accident, get a better product once in a while. But as far as saving money is concerned – no way.

But, well... it can't be too bad an idea, since AARP is all for it. I've always wondered why, given how enamored they all are with socialism, the AARP membership doesn't just move, en masse, to Scandinavia or Great Britain, where everything they say they want is already firmly in place -- and, supposely, working just fine.