Sunday, June 21, 2009

Swiss Miss

This just in! "Swiss Bank Will Open Files to U.S. Authorities." Thus, "the end of an era" -- you know, the era that began when Switzerland became a country and its banks became the capital preservation method of choice for the rich, and tyrants, first in Europe and then around the world. But pardon me if I wax somewhat skeptical about all this. What, to begin with, is compelling these banks to come clean and reveal all to a bunch of green-eyeshaded IRS nerds? Oh yeah -- court cases, and the EU, and all that. But lest we forget, the Swiss banks are, and have been for generations, the treasure house for The Regime -- not just our own (given that it has some autonomy, which is debatable) but that of Europe and, by extension, of the Near East, Africa, and who knows where else. Think of them as the Scrooge McDuck money bin of the world's elite -- the controllers, the exploiters, those who inhabit the rarefied atmosphere far above the grubby details of nations, governments, wars, and so on. For generations, Swiss bank accounts have been marvels of egalitarianism -- they are avaible to capitalists, socialists, fascists, Nazis, oil sheiks, African dictators, communists, military commanders, intelligence agencies, spies, drug barons, bootleggers, art collectors, arms dealers, white slavers... anyone who has a few hundred million can gain entry, no questions asked. And this towering monolith of ill-gotten gains is going to crumble because the IRS is getting anal about the whole thing? I don't think so. What is far more likely is that, as in many other cases, a few token bank employees, clients, and accounts are going to be hung out to dry in order to please the tax guys, and everyone else is going to stay safe, secure, and -- most important of all -- anonymous... and it will be business as usual once again. When we wonder, for example, why Africa, with all of its rich natural resources, remains mired in poverty from one generation to the next, we need seek no further than the Swiss banks, where all the wealth that should have trickled down to the common people has been confiscated by dictators and squirrelled away. And when we wonder "where all the money went" that was recently lifted from the shoulders of American investors... again, seek no further. Every totalitarian government of the 20th Century had, as its main mission, the skimming or outright confiscation of wealth from its citizens, and there is no sign of this changing in the 21st. This wealth wound up in the hands of the "leaders" of said countries, and where do you suppose it went from there? Hint: It was not buried under a mountain or submerged in some Bavarian lake -- at least not typically. It went to the only impregnable fortress on earth when it comes to wealth -- namely Swiss banks. It may have been in the form of literal gold, or in the form of some highly-stable currency (Swiss, most likely), but that's where it wound up. And that wealth, in turn, provides the engine for all of the major political and economic, and many of the social, events that have made up the history of at least half the world... which, in turn, are designed, first and foremost, with the goal of increasing the concentration of wealth even more... and where does that concentration wind up? You guessed it. So these banks are a vital part of the life cycle of the world; they are the loyal and steadfast servants of the ruling elite -- and the notion of them all of a sudden opening their doors, and account books, and letting the sun shine in is wildly delusional. And of course, the system could only survive as long as Switzerland maintained its legendary political and diplomatic neutrality, which is despised by some but admired and envied by many more. And again I ask, what tax agency, or government, is powerful enough to put a crack in the monolith? The fact is that if you "follow the money" that flows through any significant enterprise on earth, you eventually wind up staring at a very large, very locked door in Zurich.

Now, the bank in question when it comes to the current story is UBS -- but count on it, there are many more and, I daresay, many that are so private that even their very existence is open to debate. Peel off one layer of this onion and you'll only find many more underneath -- and you'll never get to the center, or anywhere near it. So yes, some organizations and individuals will be offered up as scapegoats to satisfy the restless masses -- the way the CIA throws people under the bus from time to time -- but the core will remain. How could it be otherwise? Again using the CIA analogy, how does one "investigate" an organization that has greater secret-keeping skills than any other? Clueless legislators and officials "demand answers" -- but those answers have to come from the people being investigated; direct evidence is virtually impossible to come by. So the paradoxical -- and absurd -- result is that the people who everyone feels can't be trusted have to be trusted to provide evidence of their untrustworthiness. Now how easy is that to get around? We already know that outfits like the CIA can run rings around dullards like Nancy Pelosi... and we know that even the most degenerate African dictators have enough primitive, animal cunning to put away ridiculous amounts of cash for their old age (assuming they even get to that point). We know that every time a tyrant of any stripe dies, it turns out that -- surprise! -- they had a few dozen Swiss bank accounts, and gosh, we always wondered what happened to all that yellowcake uranium money, or whatever it was. No, it really is an impossible task, as it was meant to be -- and you can be sure that if any "investigators" ever start getting close to pay dirt, they will be mysteriously diverted from their mission and put to work doing something less meddlesome.

The only thing even remotely new about this situation is that the issue has even come up – and that the powers that be have felt it necessary to put on a show of cooperation. Up until now they have been able to hang tough, and no one has had the courage to object. The Swiss banks do, after all, represent the people who really are in charge... and even the most hard-core populist has to regard this fact with a certain degree of awe and wonder. We always know – or suspect – that there are powers upon the earth that transcend presidents, kings, dictators, political systems, and victors or losers in war... and in an odd kind of way it provides a sort of consolation – there really is someone in charge, and things really are under control... the world is not as chaotic as it appears to be. Of course, to the everyday schmuck caught up in the winds of economic, social, and political strife – or victimized by war and persecution – this is small consolation, if any. The most that can be said is that we all subscribe to a kind of secular deism – that someone out there knows what is going on even if we don't. And in a sense this lets us off the hook when it comes to things like voting – not to mention “patriotism” -- because we realize, or suspect, that those are just scams cooked up to keep the serfs of this world (which includes me, you, and nearly everybody you know or have ever heard of) in line. And it is not to question the ways or motives of the Great and Powerful Wizards of Oz – their ways are not our ways, and, as the saying goes, it's their world and we just live in it. The ultimate consolation, perhaps, is that they, too, are mortal (as far as we know) and they will, sooner or later, have to answer for all of their misdeeds and predations... but, by the same token, they will be replaced by more of their kind and the system will roll on with nary a shudder. And the truth is, most of us live out our entire lives "below radar" as far as the Regime is concerned; they don't know us, and they don't care. And even on those rare occasions where a tiny bit of light is shone on their machinations, it matters little -- might as well catch a powerful politician cruising for hookers in a red light distict. Like the guy says in "Guys and Dolls" -- "So sue me, sue me, what can ya do me?" This, I submit, is the situation when it comes to UBS and the Swiss banks in general. The exertions of outfits like the IRS are just so many gnats in an otherwise cloudless sky -- a minor squall which is very easily weathered by the ultimate ship of state.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Bail Si, Fail No

The headline is “Reins devised for new economy” -- and the wording is apropos, since “reins” are used, traditionally, to keep horses from being all they can be, i.e. from running full-out. Reins are used, rather, to control, direct, and mainly to slow down... which neatly summarizes the Obama economic plan. The basic premise behind the Obama model is, on the one hand, indifference to growth, efficiency, innovation, and leveraging of technology... and outright hostility toward genuine competition. And, on the other hand, the liberal ideal of government being responsible for everything, and creating a risk-free society where all of the rough places are made plain, like the one that is about to come to pass... or so they think.

Now, I will be the first to admit that Obama & Co. inherited a degenerate, corrupt “mixed economy” situation where, as the saying goes, risk was socialized but profit was privatized. They also inherited a system where government is the servant of business and (to some extent) vice versa – AKA “fascism without the black shirts and salutes”. But in inheriting all of this, they took what had up to that point been corruption and turned it into an operating principle. And some will say that this is a good thing, because if government and business are inevitably to be strongly linked due to the complexities of the national and global economies, it is better to have them _all_ linked, equally and for the long term, than linked in a sub rosa, piecemeal way. In other words, if government controls, or at least regulates, everything, there is at least an appearance of fairness, and also an appearance of government protecting the interests of the taxpayers rather than only those of powerful business interests.

And the logic of the government takeovers (which are the “bailouts” grown to maturity) is iron-clad, even if the premises are questionable. If the government is expected to bail out any major business concern that runs the risk of failing, then it not only has the right to supervise, and regulate, the operation of those concerns, but it is morally obligated to do so. That is, any firm that is “too big to fail” must also be too big not to regulate, or even manage. As a taxpayer, I actually agree wholeheartedly with this logic! I am deeply offended by the bailouts, and will support any measure to insure that they never happen again... well, up to a point. Ideally, of course, the government would never have provided even the first bailout, and failing businesses would have been allowed to fail. (Think of amputating a limb that is terminally infected with gangrene and is thus a threat to the survival of the individual.) I can't accept that the “ripple effects” of these failures would have been any worse than the economic consequences of the bailouts – i.e. worse than the gross inefficiency, mismanagement, and outright criminality that will be allowed to persist, rather than being mercifully cut off. (Note that even bankruptcy is far from “the end” these days... but that is seen as the last resort, not only by the businesses in question but by the government.) And to be fair, the bailout idea did not begin with Obama, or even with George W. Bush. We had, for example, the first Chrysler bailout under Carter, and the S&L bailouts under Reagan and Bush I. So the concept is nothing new, and neither, for that matter, is the notion that bailouts lead – or ought to – to tighter regulation and control. The difference this time is in the scope of the problem, as well as its associated global impact. And as I've said before, the timing was perfect. The crisis started at the end of a failed Republican administration, which “reluctantly” started bailout procedures, which involved little or nothing in the way of compensatory regulation – i.e. there was nothing stopping the businesses in question from turning right around and doing the same thing over again. So when Obama & Co. took over the bailout business, all they had to add was a few very minor conditions to each one – you know, stuff like acquiring a controlling interest, and getting to say which executives would be hired and fired. So “capitalism” -- as it was mistakenly called – was set up like a duck in a shooting gallery by the Republicans, and the Democrats cheerfully took up arms and gave it (“capitalism”, that is) the coup de grace. All very ingenious, because this way no one is to blame; it just "happened".

But let's explore a few other angles to all of this. The political fix, for example, was simple enough – again, it was all a matter of timing. The lower classes never had any interest in “capitalism” to begin with – in fact, every time they heard the word all they could think of was a fat guy in striped pants and a top hat stealing candy from a little black girl. So that was a done deal. The middle class, on the other hand, would have been a harder sell, since they considered themselves beneficiaries (albeit in a modest way) of the capitalist system. The ones who did not have direct investments – a “portfolio”, as they would smugly pronounce to the employee lounge denizens – certainly had indirect investments through various savings plans, retirement funds, etc. So what would it take to wean them away from the big boys' game? Try a Dow plunging to about half of its all-time high, and taking everyone's 401(k) along with it. Try the white-collar dude getting the horse laugh from the guys on the loading dock, who knew better than to invest in anything but HDTV, cars, and beer. So the middle class, which was politically apathetic compared to the proletariat, got fighting mad (or as fighting mad as they ever get) and willing to not protest the overt deconstruction of the “capitalist” system. Mission accomplished!

But what about the titans of industry themselves? Well, as I've said, these are not your father's Oldsmobile execs. These guys are scared to death of genuine competition, and are more hooked on government contracts, subsidies, and bailouts than a crack addict is hooked on crack. So when someone – we know not who – told them, “It ain't your night, kid”, and to take a fall, they did so with very little hesitation, because they knew that, the next morning, they could get up, brush themselves off, and take the first corporate jet down to Washington to beg for a bailout, out of which the first “emergency” expenditure -- right off the top -- would be their own salary and benefits. To call these guys whores is a gross insult to ladies of the night. And lest anyone still believe that “mistakes were made”, and that the various business failures were the result of mismanagement and stupidity, please bear in mind that the executive salaries have remained untouched (so far) out of fear of a “brain drain”. No, these failures were planned, programmed, and carried out with the same precision as the successes and capitalist triumphs of yesteryear – but by an entirely different species of people and in an entirely different economic and political environment. It has been repeatedly said, throughout all of this, that the government is “rewarding failure”. What the critics fail to see is that when you reward failure, it's no longer failure. It's success – but of a different, grotesque, and perverse sort. And yet, we could even see this coming, with the spectacle, for many years now, of top executives running companies into the ground then leaving with titanic compensation packages. The correlation between “performance” and reward has been – well, not even neutral. For some time now, it has actually been negative – the biggest “failures” lead to the biggest rewards. What can this possibly be but the people in charge of American business and industry being rewarded (paid off, bribed) for destroying “capitalism” and paving the way for socialism? And this is not just reasoning backwards from results, because there is overwhelming evidence that this is precisely what has been not only allowed to happen, but encouraged to happen – and the Republicans were every bit as involved in the “revolution” as the Democrats.

So the question then becomes, don't Americans “believe in” capitalism any more? But the question actually is, did Americans _ever_ believe in capitalism? In principle, I mean, not just based on whether or not it put money in their pockets. Again, referring to the work of Ayn Rand, people believed in capitalism as long as it “produced” for them – but as to believing in the actual principles of capitalism, which involve serious risk-taking and some chance of financial ruin... well, no. That's the sort of thing that terrifies most Americans, as it does most people around the world... and they are willing to give up most, if not all, of their freedoms to insure that it never becomes the case. Why else would the word “capitalism” be tied, in nearly all instances, to the word “cutthroat”? Why would it be universally described as “ruthless”, “unfeeling”, “brutal”, “greedy”, and so on... not to mention the “fact” that it creates an undesirable meritocracy and mercilessly discriminates against those less able? Do a word association test sometime using the word "Rockefeller" (and in Pittsburgh you can add "Carnegie", "Frick", and "Mellon").

The perennial liberal notion is that all have won and all should receive a prize. The capitalist notion is that, in any line of enterprise, there will be a best, a second best, a third best, and a bunch of also-rans. There will be more failures than successes, more losers than winners, and more Indians than chiefs. (Some would say more serfs than slavemasters.) The problem with all of this is that, in fact, liberalism is every bit as elitist a point of view as capitalism, the difference being the criteria by which the elite are defined, i.e. by political success rather than success in the free market. And it can also be contended that capitalism is more humanitarian than liberalism, because it doesn't put arbitrary rules and regulations in the way of people achieving as much as they are able – given the vast range of human capabilities and motivation (all of which liberals seem to find terribly offensive). And it will inevitably be pointed out that societies built on the capitalist model generally offer more prosperity, more of the time, to more people (through certainly not all), whereas liberal societies feature a great leveling – and it is, most often, a leveling down. But even so, there are many factors that contribute to the overall success, or standard of living, of a society besides its basic economic and political models (for which see P. J. O'Rourke's “Eat the Rich”, as an introductory text).

Nonetheless, the America of right now, today, has apparently (if we listen to our president) grown weary of the empty promises of free enterprise and capitalism, and is ready to consign those outmoded ideas to the dustbin of history, to be replaced by liberal, socialist, millennial, utopian, all-embracing government programs administered by the self-sacrificing likes of Tim Geithner, Ben Bernanke, and Obama himself. Well, this could, at least, be the great cleansing so many of us have been hoping for for so long – you know, that process by which things have to get much worse before they can get better – and mainly before people can be convinced that some ideas really are better than others. Right now, we've decided that capitalism is just too cold and unfeeling, and besides -- says, or thinks, the average American -- all the capitalists I know are criminals, and they stole all my money. Whereas who has not heard, around the fireside, many tales and legends of the New Deal, and the Emperor Franklin, and how he saved the nation, and therefore the whole world, from a return to the economic Stone Age? And everyone knows that the New Deal didn't “fail” -- it just wasn't allowed to have... well, free rein.

The problem with “teaching people a damn good lesson”, though, is they are, by and large, incapable of learning. For each story about a problem the New Deal “solved”, there must be hundred of stories of waste, fraud, abuse, exploitation, resources squandered, opportunities missed, and lives wasted – but Ken Burns is never going to put a winsome PBS series together on any of those. All we see – all we are capable of seeing – is what happened; what didn't, or couldn't, happen simply never enters into the picture – politically or any other way. And the “history” of the present era, in the economic sense – which is already being written – will suffer from the same defects. Obama will be, for the next generation, what FDR is for this generation – a somewhat remote, but nonetheless legendary and all-powerful, savior. His “new economy” will become the standard, and will be taken for granted to the point where no one will be able to imagine things any other way. And no one will miss capitalism – because, frankly, there is no living memory of genuine capitalism anyway, and certainly no one will ever miss this painted-up-pig model we have gotten used to since. So in that sense, the cleansing might do some good – it will at least wean us away from the delusions of a “mixed economy”, which seems to feature the worst of both laissez-faire and socialism. It will force people to, at long last, live with the consequences of their foolish political, social, and economic choices of the last few decades... and it might just spark a new interest in genuine capitalism as well as “third way” models like Catholic social teaching and Distributism.

The funny thing about true liberty, as I've always observed, is that it is the only political, social, and economic model that people have to want for its own sake – i.e. on principle, rather than merely its payoff potential. All other systems can be embraced and exploited for the wrong reasons... but I just can't see this happening with libertarianism. Sure, there are marked differences in concepts of application, as well as how “radical” you want to be, but I don't see a wide divergence on principles or any tendency to violate those principles in favor of other agendas. Libertarians are, of course, human and therefore fallible... but as people of principle (especially compared to the “sheeple” that constitute the vast majority of the populace) they don't come off as irrational, inconsistent, impulsive, roguish, or foolish on a regular basis. Their only failing is that they are simply unable to “sell” their ideas to people who are not, for some reason, predisposed to believe in them – thus the apparently impenetrable “ceiling” when it comes to vote percentages for libertarian, or even paleocon, candidates. But, where principles and ideas fail, actual experience might avail – and this society is about to have an “actual experience” that will make all of those it has had up to now look like daydreams. There is living memory in Europe of hyperinflation, mass persecutions, food riots, martial law, and economic chaos... but we have been sheltered so far. I fear that those days may be over – not that the people in charge will cease being in charge – i.e. we're not talking about revolution here, to say nothing of anarchy. It's more about what the powers that be will allow to happen, for reasons of their own, and the ability of Americans – especially those who have lived their entire lives in a state of smug, complacent bliss – to survive. What appears at the end of the storm will, I suspect, be more different than we even imagine -- more different than the dire pictures painted by Obama's severest critics. We may find ourselves waxing nostalgic about the “good old days” when the government was just starting to take over American businesses and the financial sector, and when most people still had jobs, and income, food, and a roof over their head... and the Dow was above 8000... or there even _was_ a “Dow”. The question then will be, how far down do things have to go before they can go up again? Will it be "creative destruction" or just plain destruction? Will it look like “Blade Runner”, or “Mad Max” -- or more like “The Matrix”? (Or, for the “retro” buffs, maybe like "1984" or “Metropolis”?) And through it all, there will be the chronic, vexing question of – what do those in charge want? How is this all serving their desires? That may be the biggest mystery of all... but that question can already be asked; we don't have to wait until next year, or for ten years. Who, other than the corrupt executives themselves, benefited from the self-immolation of American business? Certainly the people whose goal in life is to control (or appear to control) everything – i.e., anyone on Obama's team. These are not people who thrive on other people's freedom, au contraire! The more stress and chaos, the better for them – because that will cause people who might have been a bit hesitant about turning everything over to the government to go running to them for help (a process which has been underway for generations now, but which has recently received a gigantic boost). But Obama's team -- although the most visible and high-profile of the new generation of commissars -- are not really running the show. They are serfs, and tools, of much higher powers, and it's their motives that I'm interested in.

And of course, there are still people around the world who are making money – hiding money – out of all this. In times of trouble, the leeches and parasites become the privileged class – economic and social cannibals, they cruise through deserted streets in limousines, surveying all that they have made and taking perverse pride in being the king of an ash heap. These are not the capitalists idealized by Ayn Rand; they are a mutation, which – one fervently hopes – is unsustainable and will eventually burn itself out. But in the meantime there is going to be a lot of misery, much of it suffered by – as I've said before – people who always thought “hard times” were what happened to other people.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Nine Irony

These may be the worst of times for sane people who save money, but they are, arguably, the best of times for bloggers, since, with each passing day, more events of note crop up than, in more dull and boring times, would have cropped up in an average month. I have always thought, for example, that the main reason “The Sixties” happened was that the Fifties were so boring – although they are slightly less boring in retrospect, by which I mean that the Fifties make for good nostalgia, but you wouldn't want to actually live there. I imagine much the same will be said, before long, about the Seventies. But in any case, today's news offers a typical fare of the ridiculous and the absurd. To wit:

1. SCHWARTZENEGATORY: California has – thank goodness! -- been told to, basically, blow it out its shorts when it comes to bailouts. Can you imagine if the Obama administration “saved” California from imminent economic disaster? How long would it take for all 49 other states, plus territories, to put in their claim? My estimate is about one nanosecond. It has often been said that “as California goes, so goes the nation” -- culturally, that is. The same may well be true economically, but why accelerate the process by propping up a Scandinavian-style welfare state on the Pacific coast, but without the Scandinavian work ethic? California needs, at long last, a dose of tough love, which means allowing it to, indeed, melt down economically so that a fresh start might be made. Its problems are not unique, of course – it is any of the other states writ large. But decades of humanist/socialist government with virtually no moderating influence from conservatives has taken its toll, and the Obama administration would be absolute idiots to reinforce California's totally non-sustainable economic model.

2. HOLDER OF THE FLAME: Eric Holder, the self-appointed keeper of the Dialogue on Race, has proposed new “hate crime” laws to fill an alleged gap between exising laws and true justice – spurred on, of course, by the “rash” of right-wing, reactionary, hate-filled violence that is stalking the land. He calls it “violence masquerading as political activism” -- as opposed, I guess, to political activism masquerading as violence, a phenomenon which helped to define the 1970s in places like Oakland. To no one's surprise except everyone in the Obama administration, having the first black president (except for Bill Clinton, of course) and the economic crisis (which may have been engineered in order to get the first black president elected) has yielded up a bit of pushback on the part of knuckle-dragging, “Li'l Abner” types across the fruited plain. It is clear that 'tis the season to be hateful... and as I've pointed out before, Obama's election appeared to be the death knell for conservatism and political/social liberty, as well as handwriting on the wall for the right to bear arms, and for many other privileges which are taken for granted, especially in benighted “flyover” parts of the U.S. that are not graced with a Starbucks on every corner. The social and cultural floodwaters are rising – but the Obama people are shocked – shocked! -- that there has been a concomitant rise in “hate crimes”, and are determined to do something about it by adding still another layer of legislation. Now, it's almost a truism that the popularity of hate crimes legislation is a direct result of the impotence of pre-existing laws. When first-degree murderers can be let back out on the streets after a token time in jail, it drives people to distraction, and the only remedy they can think of is to add thought crime (which is what “hate crime” is) to the list of offenses – thus coming up with a more suitable sentence. To which I respond, then why not declare _all_ crimes to be hate crimes? Then we might have a more reasonable justice system. But no, that makes way too much sense. So instead we're going to be treated to the spectacle of a person being sentenced to a fairly lenient term for his (or her) actual crime, but to a longer term because of the “hate” factor, and then an even longer term because of the “enhanced hate”, AKA “hate, Eric Holder-style” factor. Ah, but remember that, nonetheless, justice is still blind, as everyone supporting Judge SoSo's nomination will attest.

3. HAPPY TRAILS: Great is the weeping and hand-wringing among the yuppies at the news that Eddie Bauer has filed for bankruptcy. For the elite subdivision of the middle class for whom risk-free camping, hiking, and “trekking” are the epitome of environmentally-friendly excellence, this has to be an occasion of mortification. To think that the economy can be so bad that even the outfitter to the Starbucks 'n' Sunday Times set can be impacted; oh, the humanity! Of course, in this day and age, bankruptcy is just the beginning of a new lease on life – unless you're General Motors, or Uncle Sam Motors, or Obama Motors, or whatever they're calling themselves these days. For normal people and average citizens, bankruptcy is a death knell for the life they have led up to that time – an invitation to shunning, isolation, and asceticism that would challenge a Carthusian. But to “business”, especially “big business”, it's just another stage in the life cycle and nothing to be ashamed of... and certainly nothing that will seriously alter the cash flow or the “bottom line”. So I would counsel the yuppies and latte addicts not to be too upset – Eddie Bauer will still be around to serve all of your high-end outfitting needs for years to come.

4. CLUB SOSO: And in the ongoing Judge SoSo saga, we have the spectacle of her “defending membership” in an elite, exclusive, all-women's club. You can add this to the long list of things that certified victim groups can get away with, but white male heterosexual Christians can't. Isn't it time that someone in the Obama administration simply came out and admitted that SoSo is a total hack, but dared anyone to vote against her? Let's shuck off this pretense that she is, somehow, “qualified” even though there is scant evidence of the ordinary (vs. political) type. She is two ticket punches in one, and that's enough. The only thing that could improve the situation would be if she were a lesbian paraplegic. Well, she did break her ankle while on the confirmation trail; maybe that counts.

5. THE BRADY BUNCH: John Hinckley? Isn't he the guy who took a shot at President Reagan and a few other people? Now they're going to give him a driver's license. How long until he gets the Congressional Medal of Honor? In fact, why not just let anyone who ever threatened, or attempted to kill, a conservative chief executive out of jail? Wouldn't that be “putting the past behind us”? And isn't all justice based on politics anyway? C'mon Barack, let's go all the way with this.

6. THICK AS A BRIC: A most curious melange of bedfellows -- “four major emerging economies” (but one wonders how long it takes some people to “emerge”) -- namely Brazil, Russia, India, and China (hence the acronym) -- has decided that it's not quite yet time to dethrone the dollar as the world's major reserve currency. I know what they're talking about. It's like, who's going to follow in Al Capone's footsteps, and all the former underlings spend years fighting for first place. China is, of course, sweating bullets that Obama's policies and programs are going to turn the dollar into funny money... so despite Russia's scolding (you remember, Russia is that place where it once cost 100,000 rubles to send a postcard – so you know they are all about sound currency) a full-scale attack on the dollar has been put off for the time being (has anyone told George Soros?). Among the many ironies of this situation is that Nikita Khrushchev's promise (to the U.S.) that “we will bury you” really does seem to be coming to pass – but not militarily, as everyone thought, but economically. (Not socially either, because Russia is in the middle of a population deflation.) And this might upset the advocates of capitalism until they reflect that Russia is now more capitalistic than the United States, and we are more socialist than they have been for decades. So in that sense, capitalism is alive and well – it's just that it's been taken over by other people.

7. SMELLS LIKE “CHANGE” TO ME: I half expected the Obama administration to react to the news that Zicam cold products can permanently damage the sense of smell by requiring that they be administered to all members of Congress every time a spending or bailout bill comes up for a vote.

8. PERPETUAL WAR: And on a related note, funding for both the Iraq war and the Afghanistan war passed the House by a close but hardly “squeaky” vote yesterday – thus laying to final rest one of the main pieces of Obama's campaign platform. I would like someone to tell me which of his promises is still alive and well. I suspect that the ones that haven't already been broken are on intensive life support, and that someone is about to pull the plug. Can a clearer proof possibly be desired that there is only one regime, and that Bush and Obama are equal and comparable members? But it is never presented this way by the media, for some reason – maybe because they too are part of the Regime, i.e. are its mouthpieces. Only a few lone voices, like that of Dennis Kucinich, persist in pointing out the obvious – for example that the twin wars are a gigantic hoax.

9. NASA, which I've always suspected is nothing more than a gigantic government sandbox for otherwise-unemployable scientists and alpha males, is fighting for its life (supposedly) once again, like the hero of some old-time serial who is constantly being assailed by legions of villains with yellow skin and strange accents. The crown jewel of the long-term program seems to be – hold onto your hats! -- a plan to put a man on the Moon by the year 2020. Which reminds me of nothing so much as Dr. Evil in the first “Austin Powers” movie making a demand for “One! Million! Dollars!” The funny thing is, the cost of space travel seems to have the same trajectory as the cost of, e.g., medical care or college – it's fast turning into something that will be impossible at any price. Which makes me wonder how we could _ever_ have afforded it, and maybe the answer is that we couldn't, but we did it anyway – kind of like World Wars I and II, for example... or Medicare... or Social Security... or any of the brand new programs being sold to a brain-dead Congress by Obama & Co. Now, I hate to sound like a total Luddite... and I'm all for science (especially the non-publicly-funded kind)... but at what point to we get the hint that maybe we're not all supposed to live in a Buck Rogers world after all? Sometimes I suspect that the scientific community is holding out for their preteen fantasies of personal rocket ships, Jetsons-style, or rocket belts... not to mention warp drive, time machines, colonies on other planets, and so on. But doggone it, the laws of physics and the laws (sort of) of economics keep thwarting these ambitions. It has often been asked, why do we worry about putting a man on the Moon when we can't even keep guys from peeing in the subways? That question may soon turn out to be more than rhetorical.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Nothing More Than Feelings

The controversy -- which hasn't really come to a head as yet -- over the nomination of Sonia "SoSo" Sotomayor for the upcoming Supreme slot boils down the the usual competing values -- "blind justice" vs. "empathy", AKA "the rule of law" vs. "judicial activism", AKA "equality under the law" vs. affirmative action, reparations, quotas, payback, "it's our turn", etc. etc. And the discussion is being limned as an eternally-recurring theme, predating, even, the founding of the Republic. Of course, the argument will never be settled simply because of the profound difference in premises, the one being that even if justice is not always blind, it ought to be, and the other being that even if justice is not always empathetic and "feeling", it ought to be. And there is simply no way of resolving these points of view, since they originate in sharply distinct logical and metaphysical worlds -- not unlike "pro-life" vs. "pro-choice".

But a more realistic -- if not outright cynical -- approach might be to ask, as a practical matter, whether justice ever _can_ be blind... and to what extent, if any, "blind" justice has existed in this country up to now. The cultural relativist will contend that what has always been paraded as blind justice is, in fact, white man's justice. It can also be pointed out that the very existence of a "black seat" and a "woman's seat" and a "Jewish seat" on the Supreme Court gives the game away -- clearly no one expects justice, as dispensed by the Supremes, to ever be completely objective, which is why a "balance" is needed. We are about to fill a "Hispanic seat" on the court, which makes me wonder how long until there will be a "GLBT seat", and heaven knows what else? We may wind up packing the court, a la FDR, just in order to accommodate all the certified victim groups who demand representation. But in any case, the gross politicization of Supreme Court seats tells us that, in fact, no one believes in "blind justice" anyway, and has not for quite a while (if ever). And in fact, I do not entirely disagree -- I think it can validly be argued that "justice" in the U.S., since the founding, has been, by and large, that of the white male, to which I would hasten to add "middle aged", "establishment", and "Protestant". Courts across the land, at all levels, have been blatantly prejudiced against the non-white, the young, and the non-Protestant... although the case when it comes to gender is a bit more ambiguous. But it can also be argued that minorities, because they have a bone to pick, are more likely, once in power, to adjudicate based on political considerations than are those who are already securely a part of the establishment. I don't know if this is true, but it bears consideration. When's the last time a "militant, activist white male" occupied a prominent place on a high court? But we can name any number of examples of militant blacks and women... and may be about to add a militant Hispanic to the list.

It also bears mentioning -- if only in an anthropological sense -- that our concept of "blind justice" is, in fact, foreign to most legal codes and courts around the globe. For many of them, prejudice is not only taken for granted, it is actually written into the law. And if you want to look into more traditional and/or "primitive" legal codes and courts (or the equivalent thereof), you can find plenty of examples of entire families or groups being held guilty for the offenses of an individual. But to people in that society, this is, in fact, the essence of justice. There are courts all over the world that enforce laws that are blantantly slanted in favor of a given race, ethnic group, creed, gender, sexual identification, and so on. People in those places don't look across the waters in envy at us, wishing that if only they had our enlightened system. They think of us as soft-headed fools! And why, for example, shouldn't the dominant, or conquering, tribe exact vengeance on its foes by any means available -- including the courts? This is certainly standard procedure in Africa, for instance, and no one thinks anything of it. (I mean, they do if they're on the losing side, but in principle, they have no objections, since they would do the exact same thing if they were in power.)

So what are those few Congressmen who are calling for a second look at Judge SoSo really saying? They claim they are all for the rule of law, blind justice, and so forth. But perhaps they're just for business as usual -- which is no more related to "justice" than any other approach. They make claims against things like affirmative action -- but a large percentage of the American populace considers affirmation action consistent with justice. The problem is that it's things like affirmative action, and quotas, and forced busing, et cetera, that have fatally corrupted our system of justice over many decades, and it's really too late to reverse it or correct it now, especially in the context of confirming a single justice. Reform of our legal system -- if even remotely possible -- has to begin not with judges, who are all too human, but with the laws and regulations that are, by and large, based on political rather then objective considerations. Our society has, very gradually, degenerated to the point where politics have almost completely displaced principles -- and that cannot be remedied by spotlighting one judge, even if she is herself a poster child for affirmative action. The rot did not start at the Supreme Court level; it was centered much more in the lawmaking bodies who were aided and abetted by the voters. If the first politicians who had voted for affirmative action or quotas had been thrown out of office in the very next election, I daresay the landscape in which Judge SoSo finds herself would be markedly different. In fact, chances are that there wouldn't even _be_ a Judge SoSo.

The Dick and Leon Show

Wow, this is getting nasty. First Leon Panetta, CIA Figurehead, er, Director, opines that "it's almost as if (Cheney) is wishing that this country would be attacked again in order to make his point" -- i.e. about Obama's policies and statements leaving us wide open to further terrorism. And the Dickster, mild-mannered reporter that he is, responds that he hopes Panetta was misquoted.

This is another of those confrontations that I relish because everyone involved is so completely wrong... which means that no matter who loses, they will have deserved to lose. Another way of looking at it is as "dueling scams". One scam is that the Bush/Cheney administration "kept us safe" ever since 9-11. Well, they didn't catch Osama, but they did inaugurate a police state, and I guess if that qualifies as "keeping us safe" then they deserve full credit. But this all assumes that the "War on Terror" is not a hoax, whereas I contend that it is. And it also assumes that the 9-11 attacks really were a bolt out of the blue, and I contend that they weren't. In other words, the War on Terror and the associated restrictions on liberty stateside were both cooked up as part of a larger plan... and Cheney was one of the principals stirring the fetid broth. Plus, now that he is out of office he does not go gentle into that good night, but hangs around busting everybody's chops and pretending that he really and truly cares about "national security" -- after that disgraceful performance over the past eight years.

But that's just one side of the scam war. The other side is represented by Panetta, who has been installed in a kind of "boys' state" stage set called "CIA Director", when any idiot could tell you that the CIA "lifers" are not about to let some political hack move in and tell them what to do. So Panetta finds himself defending the indefensible, and, because he is so drastically out of his element, saying harsh things about a former vice president whose integrity is beyond doubt (ahem!). So we have a person who had great power, but now doesn't, vs. another person who appears to have great power, but who doesn't -- which is why the whole thing is totally farcical. But for all that, it's still being played out in public, which means on the world stage, and what is everyone else supposed to think about the firmness and reliability of our foreign policy when things like this are going on? What they're probably thinking is that it includes a high chaos factor -- in which case, they're absolutely correct.

Sufferage Succotash

All behold the latest triumph of democracy and "the right to vote", namely the apparent victory of your friend and mine, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in Iran. It's hardly worth commenting on any longer how non-accepting our government is of results they dislike, even when those results are the product of (allegedly) democratic procedures. It happens all the time in Palestine, and now it's happening in Iran. Of course, any result that runs contrary to what the State Department and the CIA want is immediately condemned as "fraudulent", "fixed", and whatever -- never mind that we have, over the years, aided and abetted the defrauding of probably hundreds of elections, national and local, around the globe. But perhaps a new realism is taking over. Voting has been gradually exposed as a fetish and a fraud in this country, with all of its "democratic traditions" -- so how much better can we expect it to perform in countries with _no_ democatic traditions, other than the ones we force down their throats? But at least the era of blatant hypocrisy seems to have passed -- nowadays, when we don't like the results of someone's election, we just bomb them or have one of our allies do so. That's at least honest.

And really, isn't it still true that, after all, people get the governments they deserve -- or the ones they really want (which may be the same thing)? Americans got Obama the last time around because, on some level, nearly everyone wants socialism in some form and to some degree. And we get endless and pointless wars because we care more about "entitlements" than about Just War Theory. The U.S. doesn't have to be a Wilsonian, meddling, interfering country, except that we keep electing Wilsonian, meddling, intefering leaders. And these days, foreign policy "activism" seems to be inextricably wedded to socialism on the domestic side. There is no theoretical reason why this has to be the case; it just is. We could just as readily believe in socialism for ourselves and laissez-faire for others -- but that would require a degree of tolerance and open-mindedness of which we are apparently incapable. What's good for us _has_ to be good for everyone else -- "or else". This is, after all, how empires are built -- not by being tolerant, but by forcing everyone into the same mold. But, in the long run, it's also how empires are lost -- because sooner or later native pride and core cultural habits will overcome the forces of occupation, as they did in Africa, and we will be thrown back on our own resources, as was Great Britain -- and probably the worse off, overall, for the experience. I have always considered the American Empire not worth the candle -- at least not for the average citizen. For the poor schlump who pays his taxes and dutifully trudges off to the voting booth every couple of years, foreign ventures are all on the minus side; it's only the experienced and high-placed exploiters who realize any tangible gains. So we can take this voting and "democracy" fetish as, basically, an expression of empire-building, and the resistance to it as resistance not so much in principle as to empire, i.e. the new colonialism. Even in the most traditional societies, people have ways of making their wishes known to the powers that be. But the voting scams that we are always anxious to encourage move in, like bad money, and drive out the more authentic, organic means of cultural self-expression, and substitute an aped copy of what we have, and -- heaven knows -- what we have is well on the way to collapsing of its own weight. What country in its right mind would want to emulate American elections? What country would want a ruler who had the powers of the American president? What country would want a Congress that had the utter impotence of the American Congress? If you can find a place that's that foolish, maybe they deserve our system -- but it would be far better to just let them find their own way without our "help".

Did Bibi Blink?

The impression -- fully intended, of course -- given by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the other day, in a "groundbreaking statement", was that he would accept a Palestinian state, i.e. some form of the heretofore-derided "two state solution" that has received lip service, of late, from Obama and some of his subordinates. But as I've pointed out before, Netanyahu is, as the good ol' boys from Missouri would say, "slipperier'n greased bear shit on glass". He never makes, or appears to make, a concession without attaching a qualifier onto it that makes it, in truth, no concession at all, but only a re-statement of already-rejected (by the Arabs) demands. This time it's that the Palestinian state would have to be demilitarized, with no rights to air space, and no hope for a "right of return" to Israeli territory (you know -- the "right of return" that Jews born and brought up anywhere in the world enjoy vis-a-vis Israel). And also, "no new settlements", but apparently the existing ones have to stay and, I'm sure, be entitled to expand. So... they're going to have expanding Jewish settlements within a Palestinian state? This gives the whole thing away as basically a scam. And of course there is the additional matter of a "united", i.e. Jewish and non-Arab, Jerusalem. So by the time you're finished with all of these conditions, there's not a whole lot left, which is, of course, the whole idea. And yet by making this bogus offer, Netanyahu manages to defuse the militants in his own country and also -- good of him, what? -- allow Obama to save face. In other words, Obama's recommendations, and Netanyahu's proposals, would have succeeded if it hadn't been for those militant, dogmatic Arab radicals. A brilliant piece of political gamesmanship, really.

So -- bottom line -- we can all relax now and forget about that momentary glimmering of hope that things might be about to change in the Near East. And Obama can relax and give up all hope that anything he says or does is going to cause, or aid and abet, any sort of change over there. The fix is in, as I've said... and all the rhetoric in the world coming out of Washington isn't going to change it. But "face" has been saved, and that, of course, is always the main thing... and usually the only thing.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

When Even the Elect Are Deceived...

As you know, I am a great admirer of Pat Buchanan and consider him one of the best minds out there, i.e. in the "commentariat". So when he goofs, I feel somehow called upon to administer a bit of tough love. In this case, it's a column from last weekend entitled, "Will Barack break Bibi?" This, in my opinion, makes about as much sense as asking "Will Neville break Adolf?" Behind the ongoing kabuki dance -- where the script entails the U.S. pretending to "get tough" with Israel, and Israel pretending to react with shock and dismay -- lies, thinly concealed, the same done deal that every American president has forged with Israel since its founding. Well, maybe "forged" is the wrong word; "forced" would be more appropriate, and Obama is no exception -- middle name or no middle name, black or not black, "reaching out" to the Moslem world or no. Relations with Israel are a matter of absolutes, in the spirit of Scripture where it is said, "Everyone who is not with us is against us", and where "with" implies absolute, undiluted loyalty, devotion, and willingness to sacrifice anything and everything. What it most emphatically does not mean is equivocation, compromise, or -- in particular! -- "historicizing" the Holocaust, which is, as I've pointed out before, an absolute and a cultural myth/icon/fetish that is the foundation for Israeli exceptionalism, and hence for American foreign policy in the Middle East.

And yet Buchanan persists in speculating that "a new day has arrived" in American-Israeli relations... that "the Israel-centric Middle East policy of George W. Bush is dead"... and that "a collision... now appears inevitable and imminent." Now, he is correct that there has been "rhetorical change" -- but he should know that style without substance is of no significance. And he is correct that "Bush... outsourced Mideast policy to Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert". But the outsourcing has continued with nary a transitional bump under Obama; it's just not quite as blatant. Perhaps the Democrats still have a twinge of conscience about permitting another country to determine our foreign policy -- a twinge that was long ago drowned out among the Republicans by the cheers and applause granted to Dick Cheney at AIPAC pep rallies.

But really, Pat -- "Obama has confronted Bibi Netanyahu and handed Israel an ultimatum... Either the president or prime minister is going to have to back down." Well, in the first place, there has been no "ultimatum", because for an ultimatum to have occurred, there has to have been an "or else" clause... and there hasn't been one. Buchanan admits that "Obama's address in Cairo broke no new ground" -- nor was it meant to. An ultimatum would, for example, have something to do with the billions in foreign aid that we have provided to Israel over the years... with weapons and other technology sales and assistance... with intelligence coordination... with not objecting when they attack one of our ships (the USS Liberty)... with allowing their spies into every nook and cranny of our intelligence apparatus and then not prosecuting them when they are caught... with fighting many of Israel's significant battles for them... with being their sole defender when the U.N. rightfully protests some of their actions, especially vis-a-vis the Palestinians... and so on. An "ultimatum" would involve drastically reducing, or eliminating, many or all of these. But we know that our position will not budge on even one -- not under Obama and not under anyone else. Obama got that offer he couldn't refuse way back on the campaign trail, and he is going to make good -- of this there is no doubt.

So, based on all of this, who is going to back down? And who is going to explain, and justify, and euphemize, his backing down with all sorts of lame excuses and rationalizations? (I've already heard "The world is not yet ready for a two-state solution". Actually, the world is good and ready for it; it's just we and Israel who are not ready.)

And besides, what does Buchanan mean when he imagines "a collision that could shatter the coalitions of both Bibi and Barack"? It might be relevant for Bibi, but is there a "coalition" loyal to Obama that is going to be "shattered" by his failure to cause any change in the Near East? I certainly can't think of any. I'm not aware that any of Obama's supporters had any great love for the Palestinians or any great skepticism about Israel. They are, after all, the same people (or the children thereof) who, back in the 60s, couldn't wait for summer to roll around so they could leave their dreary college towns and "goworkonakibbutz" (this was always spoken as one word). They just couldn't wait to get into those funny little hats and those shorts that only came down to crotch level, and get funky with some of those hot Israeli chicks (you know, the ones who keep an Uzi by the side of the bed).

But Buchanan goes on: "In Israel, the betting is that Barack will break Bibi because Israel cannot defy its last great friend, the lone superpower..." The problem with this is that Israel has been defying us ever since its founding, and there has never been even a hint of punishment or sanctions on our part in response. Besides, Israel has forced us into a corner at the U.N. and into diplomatic isolation in general because of its requirement that we defend its every action regardless of international law, laws of war, and the U.N. It would be no less accurate to say that we cannot defy _our_ last great friend, namely Israel, because that would leave us totally isolated on the international front -- assuming we were in no hurry to be rehabilitated, that is.

And the other problem we are dealing with is that the Israelis love war. They love conflict and strife. They love any opportunity to try out their advanced weaponry (admittedly, the world's best, because even though we buy it for them we don't stock it for our own troops). They love setting fire to all the neighboring ragheads and watching them race over the hill trailing smoke, like in an old Fleischer cartoon. But besides this, they are hypersensitive and paranoid to a point that makes the North Koreans look positively phlegmatic. And these are the folks that we have not only established an alliance with, but are determined to follow anywhere, even unto total ruin. The only difference between Obama and his predecessors is that he thinks he can gain some political points by at least appearing to be fair-minded about the whole thing. But when he is bruised and battered and unable to get up off the mat, he'll realize that he has lost much more than he could ever have expected to gain. And at that point he will become the laughingstock of the international community -- and the honeymoon really will be over.

No Free Continental Breakfast

It seems that there is a “taxpayers' revolt” of sorts currently afflicting the liberal/socialist establishment of many countries in Europe, as well as the EU itself. The theme: Pushback against bailouts, stimulus plans, and nationalization, American-style. And this is all being taken by the “conservative” press over here as a warning sign to the Obama administration not to go too far with all of this collectivization business lest it come back in the form of rude rejection in 2010 and 2012. But this argument is way too simplistic and misses a number of points. To begin with, socialism has been an on-again, off-again (but mostly "on") thing in Europe since World War I; it has had ample time to show its strengths (assuming there are any) and weaknesses (which are legion). But in any case, the baseline of socialism in Europe is much higher than it is here, and is likely to stay that way. And I don't see Europeans rejecting socialism per se simply because there is no significant competing ideology – there is no European equivalent of American rugged individualism (vestigial tho' it may be), laissez-faire, vigorous capitalism, “being your own boss”, or genuine risk-taking. (And there is also no fetish for continuous economic "growth", boosterism, or a "frontier mentality".) National government and business have been poodles in each other's laps over there for generations. And Europe also suffers from a lack of American-style icons; is there a European equivalent of John Wayne? Of Gary Cooper? Of Ronald Reagan? Of Rush Limbaugh, even? I doubt it very much. So without examples – even mythical ones – or a coherent ideology of political liberty and economic freedom, the Europeans are unlikely to throw off the shackles of socialism at any time in the foreseeable future; it will be a matter of working at the margins at best.

But there is another angle to all of this, and it is fraught with irony. The Europeans seem to be rejecting bailouts, stimulus plans, and nationalization (which is funny considering how much of their economy has been nationalized for decades), all of which are seen as liberal or left-leaning ideas. But they can just as readily be seen as conservative, right-leaning, and fascist ideas; no one was ever a better friend to big business and industry than Hitler and Mussolini. So are the Europeans rejecting socialism of both the left persuasion and the right persuasion? Again, I doubt it. They are rejecting one narrow band of _application_ of socialist principles of whatever origin, but certainly not the principles per se.

Furthermore, the notion that the pushback in Europe is handwriting on the wall for Obama & Co. entirely misses the point that the world-wide economic crisis started right here, and under a Republican (and allegedly “conservative”) administration. So if the Europeans wanted to package-deal these issues, they could just as credibly reject conservatism, nationalism, and meddling in the affairs of other countries, since these were all earmarks of Bush & Co., on whose watch the whole catastrophe got under way (albeit, aided and abetted by Democrats and liberals). The main thing tying current European regimes with bailouts and so on is the fact that those regimes simply happened to be in office at the time the crisis arose; I daresay any regime of any stripe would have felt compelled to do something similar, as did the Bushites (in order to “save” capitalism, of course).

Plus, there was also the exquisite timing of the meltdown here at home, which I still say was anything but an accident. The situation had been festering for years, but it only came to a head toward the end of an already-failed administration (on the foreign front, I mean), and thus offered ample reason to throw those particular rascals out and install a new set of rascals. People who object to Obama's economic policies and initiatives have amazingly short memories, since most of what he is doing is a direct continuation of what Bush was already doing, and, in fact, if the Republicans had won in November, McCain & Co. would be doing the exact same things (while not bombing Iran and turning Georgia into another Vietnam, that is).

So the bottom line is that very little of what is going on started with Obama, and the rejection of copy-cat policies on the part of European governments is anything but an overall rejection of socialism. And, whatever they are rejecting has no relevance to our situation since liberals and “conservatives” are equally to blame -- except that Obama has the privilege of claiming that none of it is his fault, and that he is just having to deal with the mess dealt by his predecessor. (And he will continue to make this claim right up to Inauguration Day 2017; mark my word. He knows that it worked for FDR.) And in fact, Americans are probably less upset by our government's economic policies than the Europeans are about theirs – probably since we still have plenty of economic “cushion” and a modicum of vigor, whereas Europe has been skating on ever-thinner ice for quite a while, owing in no small part to their pre-existing utopian/socialist/collectivist social and economic infrastructure combined with out-of-control immigration. We have the same exact problem, but not to the same extent (at least not yet). Immigration – invasion, migration, whatever – will still be the economic “game changer” for the U.S.; of this there is no doubt. Any system that rewards people for not working, or for being underemployed, can only survive as long as most people _are_ employed. Beyond that, it's going to collapse from its own weight.

Plus, Americans are still touchingly naive when it comes to the concept of "temporary" or "emergency" measures on the part of the government. Completely forgetting about the New Deal, most of whose main features are still very much in place, they really expect all of the Bush and Obama measures to accomplish their missions and go away eventually. What they fail to see is that, once a given government program or agency is in place, its primary mission changes instantly from the stated one to that of self-preservation. The Europeans at least have the merit of being more realistic, hence more cynical, about government; they know that governments are entities unto themselves, and ravening beasts that are, at best, barely kept under control.

Another inevitability is that our constant meddling overseas, with its accompanying economic and social costs – an ailment _not_ shared by our European “allies”, except in the most desultory fashion – cannot go on forever either. Our entitlement programs, ragged as they are, are all on a timetable to self-destruct, and we don't seem to have the will of even the Europeans to go in and do major surgery. So overall, this “rebellion” on the part of the European voters is, for them, a fairly minor quibble. And its implications for us are not only insignificant, they pale in comparison with our real problems, which transcend presidents, administrations, and specific economic policies.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Obama Weighs In -- As "Flyweight"

One of the more amusing bits of Americana over the past few decades is the ongoing controversy over whether professional wrestling is "a fake". Is all that huffing and puffing, all that rivalry, all those feuds and vendettas... is any of it for real, or is it just showmanship and entertainment? And then there are a few cool, Zen-like heads who say, why ask? Just accept it at face value -- if you like it, fine; if you don't, fine. But enough with this silly debate as to whether it's "real".

Then turn with me now to the recent press coverage of Obama's visit to the Near East, and how he's supposedly "getting tough" with Israel, and being "frank" and "candid", and "reaching out" to the Moslem world. A couple of days ago, the news channels were full of talking heads debating about what Obama meant when he cited the Holocaust but then said "On the other hand..." -- referring to the Palestinian situation. He had committed the cardinal sin of what I call "historicizing" the Holocaust, i.e. placing it on a historical continuum and _daring_ -- mind you -- to juxtapose it with other historical (and current) events. Oh, the horror! But what these people missed is that, if you "parse" what he said in Cairo, he didn't really say anything -- except to make it clear that our "special relationship" with Israel was as strong, and fixed, and immutable, as ever -- which is another way of saying that we will ever view the situation, and the interests, of any Moslems through Israeli eyes. Any Moslem who felt reassured or "recognized" by this speech needs to take a refresher course in logic; Obama offered them nothing, and certaintly promised them nothing. Ultimately, everything he said was fluff and smoke when it comes to the Moslem world, and blood and iron when it comes to Israel -- and yet Israel feigns shock and dismay! Obama is wandering off the reservation! He's not confronting Islam on all fronts the way Bush and Cheney did -- he's actually pretending to respect them as human beings with legitimate grievances! But! -- please note -- Obama did get the Jewish ticket punched with a visit to Buchenwald. That is almost as good as stopping by Israel for a pep rally, isn't it? So really, all is well, and we see that the feigned hysteria on the part of the Israeli press is nothing more than that -- just rooting for the hulking primate of your choice in the wrestling ring, knowing all the time that the fix is in.

Waiting for the Other Two Shoes to Drop

I saw a movie a while back that included a scene of a pig being prepared for slaughter by taking a bullet in the head. But the poor thing didn't just flop down and die, Hollywood-style; instead, it wandered about in a confused way, uttering a few low grunts now and then (no ear-piercing squeals). The scene changed at that point and we weren't provided any further information on the fate of the pig until it was already strung up and being gutted. But the question on my mind was, when did it "know" (assuming a pig can "know" these kinds of things) that its number was up? And how did it "feel" about this knowledge?

Segue now, if you will, to an image of people caught in a hurricane, back in the days before weather satellites and radar. They have experienced terrific high winds and destruction, but have survived. Perhaps the storm is over! Little do they know that they are in the eye of the hurricane, and that before long the other side of the storm will strike, and they will be treated to, perhaps, even stronger, more destructive winds before it is all over.

OK, so... what does all of this have to do with... anything? Simply that, for example, the stock market, AKA "the Dow", has been eerily stable for quite a while. (But note also that a trivial rise or fall -- of one or two points -- still merits "analysis" of why it occurred. Can they say "random"?) Real estate seems to have bottomed out. And guess what, all the banks that absolutely, positively, had to receive a bailout or they would surely go under, and the economy would be ruined as a result, not only the U.S. economy but the world economy, and aliens from outer space would take advantage of this fact to conquer Earth and impose a Taliban-like regime on the entire human race, and... they are already clamoring to pay the money back! Which makes one wonder why they needed it in the first place. Was the entire exercise just a test, if you will, of how gullible the federal government is about these things? Were the bankers just trying to see how much they could get away with? If so, they succeeded admirably -- we now know that if the bankers aren't in charge of everything, they are certainly at the top of the heap of whoever _is_ in charge. But this is good to know... I guess. At least it's good to get it confirmed, once and for all. (This is the kind of thing that turns "conspiracy theories" into accepted facts.)

Now, we are told that the unemployment rate has yet to peak; fair enough. We are also told that there plenty more dominoes to fall in the "subprime" market; fair enough. But! The dollar has, paradoxically, been holding fast against other currencies of late -- by which I mean European currencies, which are the only ones that count outside of the yen and the... whatever they use in China. (too lazy to look it up) What this means, in a nutshell, is that, world economy-wise, when the U.S. sneezes, everyone else catches cold. OK -- this is not too surprising, but I also suspect that, before long, the rules of the game are going to be changed and China will become the first among equals, currency-wise. But that remains to be seen.

In any case, it appears that "someone" has decided that an 8000 floor on the Dow is good enough -- wouldn't do to scare _everyone_ away from the stock market, now would it? And you'll notice not a whole lot is happening with interest rates... and there is strange new respect for financial responsibility in the mortgage industry. People who could have gotten a no-money-down, zero-interest (until it balloons) mortgage a year ago are now being told to take a hike. So one bit of madness has been wiped off the economic map, at least (and no thanks to the likes of Barney Frank).

But! Lest we forget -- the "economic stimulus plan" is just getting off the ground, and the U.S. Treasury has already put the printers of currency on an around-the-clock production schedule to print as much money as fast as possible. This, if I may use a tired analogy, is a tidal wave that appears to be far off and harmless, but which will wash over any and all who are foolish enough to be holding dollars within a few months. If, on the other hand, you're holding stocks, those may inflate as well -- and I admit I don't know enough about these things to predict. All I can say is that dollars are an accident waiting to happen -- not only on the domestic front, with hyperinflation, but on the international front, with currency exchange rates. Hedge your bets if you like (I have) -- but think very seriously about putting some money into currencies of countries that are run by sane people -- like Switzerland, for example. (I hate to say it, but I suspect that the Swiss are high up on the totem pole of the people who run the world economy... in which case their currency will never be in serious jeopardy. Do with that what you will... )

So the first of the "shoes" I'm talking about is the value of the dollar -- both relative to tangible goods and relative to other currencies. (The shoe that already dropped, by the way, is the "investment" shoe, i.e. the fact that securities took a hit of up to 50% in the past year.) And what is the second (or actually third) shoe? Well, it's none other than taxes, which will have to be raised to Swedish levels in order to pay for all of Obama's utopian schemes -- and even that won't be enough. There is literally not enough money in the world to pay for everything he wants to do... and he will discover this eventually, but not before beggaring (vs. "buggering" -- but it will feel about the same) the good old cash-cow American middle class.

So, as the DJs say, the hits just keep coming. First we have the investment hit -- which includes the real estate hit, i.e. people who "invested" in their own residence assuming its market value would never go down. Then the government moves in and, like Mighty Mouse, saves the day, and sure enough, look at the Dow, and look at all the other things that have at least "stabilized" if not "turned the corner". But the very large hammers that are poised to strike the middle class (because who else?) are hyperinflation and taxation -- and I can't see any way around it. It's as basic as the Law of Gravity -- you simply can't print trillions more in currency to pay for bailouts and "stimuli" without turning our currency into funny money... and you can't implement the program without increasing taxes, i.e. taking a share of actual productivity as opposed to simply printing dollar bills. It's possible, of course, to implement schemes like this only through taxation, or only through inflation... but that doesn't seem to be the way the U.S. government works; they prefer a kind of hybrid approach, probably because it's more complicated, hence harder for ordinary people to detect, hence less politically damaging.

But here's the good news -- maybe. The powers that be have clearly decided not to turn the U.S. totally into a "people's republic", a la North Korea -- the middle class is going to be kept alive, if barely (for the time being). The stock market, which is basically a scam, is going to be kept afloat in a kind of Potemkin Village manner. And there are many other signs that, under Obama, it's still going to be "business as usual". (That is assuming that nationalization of banks, the stock market, insurance, real estate, and the auto industry is accepted as "business as usual".) But I don't believe that the saga is over with -- hence the metaphors with which I opened this post. The pig is the American middle class -- dealt a fatal blow by the economic crisis, but still alive and -- more or less -- on its feet... still hoping for salvation and release, either by Obama or by some other messianic figure. Little do they know that their fate is sealed! Because the other two shoes -- hyperinflation and taxation -- will impact them far more than anyone else, and in fact may spell their demise. But in the meantime they wander around in a daze, emitting the occasional plaintive grunt, and not making too much of a fuss about the fact that there's a bullet lodged in their head.

But what about the hurricane? I'm sure you've already guessed. The administration, and the media, are all claiming that the worst is over and that things are easing up, this is not the end of the world, etc. But the truth is, it's just half over (if that) -- and who is to say that the second half of the economic hurricane won't be worse than the first? The people who are in charge of these things may have something in mind that we know not of... something that we don't even have hints of. They may have decided that the American middle class, like the fatted calf, is ripe for the slaughter, and it's only a question of how to get it to quietly march into the pen where the man with the knife awaits. Or... they may have decided that the middle class is too fruitful a resource to simply squander at this time, and that they will permit it to live a bit longer. In any case, I can't imagine that the inflation and taxation bullets can be avoided; even if they are not fatal, they will surely alter the economic and social landscape, and for generations to come. And this is aside from the fact that, when it comes to foreign policy and "Wilsonism", we are just as committed as ever to expanding the American Empire world-wide... even as this country goes down the drain, socially and economically, we are determined to broadcast the blessings of "the American way" far and wide. So why don't we see more overt skepticism about this? Why is Ahmadinejad our most prominent critic? Is it because he has clearer vision than any other world leader? More likely it's because the others are cooling it and just waiting for us to fail, at which point they can move in and fill the gap. Ahmadinejad is foolish enough to point out that the king is naked -- on a daily basis. And for that, he's likely to get nuked by us and/or the Israelis. But he is far from the only skeptic in the Middle East. I think leaders in that part of the world, and elsewhere as well, are starting to "smell blood" when it comes to American hegemony, and will waste no time taking advantage as our grasp grows progressively weaker. In the meantime, Americans will have to learn what it's like being citizens of a failed empire. Who knows? It might not be so bad...

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Tiller, Meet Killer

One of the most evil men on the planet died last Sunday – not in bed, surrounded by friends and family, and consoled by the Church and the Sacraments, but violently, at the hands of a man whose name will, I suppose, ever be linked (by the media at least) to the likes of Timothy McVeigh and the Unabomber.

But who was this notorious, hated individual? Osama bin Laden? Or maybe Kim Jong-Il? How about George Soros? Or even Dick Cheney? No, it was none other than George Tiller, AKA “Killer Tiller”, the mad doctor of Wichita, Kansas, who made a nice living tearing babies from their mothers' wombs and slaughtering them like pigs when they were half born. And furthermore... but wait! This just in! Tiller was, in fact, a great humanitarian... a friend of women... a supporter of “a woman's right to choose”. His patients worshiped and adored him as the man who had rescued them from a life of woe. He was their last, best hope, and he always came through. Women flew thousands of miles to check in at his clinic, in hopes of ridding themselves of an intolerable burden, i.e. an “unwanted child” -- unwanted, in some (but I'm sure not all) cases because said child had been diagnosed as being destined to have “a life not worth living” because of retardation, a physical handicap, or some other problem. So really, Dr. Tiller was a humanitarian in the best tradition of, say, Margaret Sanger, an early advocate of eugenics and an inspiration to the "master race" theorists of the Third Reich. Eliminate the less-than-perfect, the culls, the runts of the litter, because the truth is not in them. The future of the human race depends on perfection, not on hypocritical “charity” toward those who, in a more enlightened (i.e., pagan) era, would not have been allowed to live. Mushy, bleeding-heart Christianity is “out”; cold, hard Nietzschean philosophy is “in”. God obviously has no purpose in mind when the disabled are permitted to walk (or crawl, or slither) the earth. So they should be put out of their misery (and that of their parents) for their own good – and for a hefty fee.

So which is it? Was Tiller doing the Devil's work or was he the avatar of a new age of enlightenment, when man redefines man for the good of man? Was he an angel of mercy or an angel of death? Were his patients among a privileged few to actually live in the New Age, or were they exploited victims? And what about Tiller's murderer? The media had a ready-made cassette tape to plug in on this guy – a “radical”, a nut, a loner – you know the drill. And -- by the way -- no different from the army of pro-lifers who demonstrate at abortion clinics on Saturday morning, or attend the annual March for Life. I have to admit, my second thought on hearing the news of Tiller's demise (my first thought was, “They got him!”) was, oh boy, this is another one of those provocateur stunts the government pulls – like Oklahoma City, or so it's alleged – that they will use as an excuse to come down hard on the pro-life movement. I mean, forget about RICO, this is going to mean that all pro-life literature, Internet content, etc. will be classified as “hate speech” and "terrorism", and "incitement", and therefore illegal – and that all pro-life demonstrations, abortion clinic protests, etc. will be classified as mob actions that have to be suppressed. It could happen! I'm sure that, on some level, this news was music to the liberals' (including the Obama Gang's) ears – this is all we need to take care of those pesky “pro-lifers” once and for all. Let's not forget the Oklahoma City bombing, which was immediately blamed (by Bill Clinton) on... Rush Limbaugh! (who was still on the air, last time I checked)

But in the meantime, we have a wide spectrum of reaction to the event by pro-life groups – mostly very low-key and, you know, “condemning this unlawful act”. And I tend to agree, except that when beasts like Tiller are allowed to – legally – run amok, it's little wonder some people will be driven to direct action, especially now that the Obama Gang are in charge and the pro-life cause seems to be lost for the foreseeable future. It has been said that no one is so dangerous as the person who has nothing to lose – and Tiller's killer may very well have felt that way about himself. And let's face it, Tiller's business would have been grossly illegal in almost any civilized (or even uncivilized) society in history, especially if we're talking about Western civilization. The fact that it is still being debated whether an unborn child is a “person” is a sign of cultural degeneracy – people down through the ages have known damn well that that child is a person... handicapped or no, retarded or no. The Christian point of view – amply supported by Scripture – is that the unborn are known to God and loved by Him. And it doesn't plug in a bunch of qualifiers like, “who have prospects for a life worth living”, or “are wanted”, or “are physically perfect”. And how many stories can one come up with where the handicapped are an occasion of grace for the rest of us? Is there a family with a Down Syndrome child that does not love that child? None that I know of. And of course, a child with “challenges” is a test for everyone else, and requires sacrifices... and I suppose that this is the problem. We're all "media people" now -- perfectionists. Life has to look like, and be, the way it looks in high-end catalogues. Everyone is looking for a “blue ribbon baby” -- assuming they are looking for a baby at all – and anything less simply doesn't compute. We have genetic mutations and congenital malfunctions, for starters. And even a child who is healthy in the womb can suffer birth trauma and wind up with cerebral palsy, for example. But does that make him or her any less a child of God? It is still the only life that child will ever have... the only existence it will ever have on this plain. Is that not worthy of respect? George Tiller apparently didn't think so. And he regularly mocked the people who protested the abominations that were taking place in his “clinic”. He could at the very least have been humble, and regretful, and preached “the lesser of two evils”... and respected their point of view. But no, he paraded his enormities up and down the landscape, and drew government officials and politicians into his demonic web as well. Kansas became “Bloody Kansas” once again under his reign. “Wichita” became synonymous with “Auschwitz”. But! Let us not forget that he was “a family man”... a churchgoer... and a church usher to boot! (But Heaven help the church that would let someone like this be an usher.) It was in this capacity that he met his end, and while he did not die with literal blood on his hands it can certainly be argued that he died in the depths of hypocrisy. And, while the family contended that he died “in a place of peace”, one wonders how much “peace” there was in his abortuary, where many murders were committed daily. I suppose a bit of false peace of mind for the exploited and forever-scarred women who walked out, as the bumper sticker says, mothers of dead babies.

In situations like this, one is always tempted to judge. But, as Scripture has it, “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord; I will repay”. I imagine that, at the very least, the good doctor has a lot of explaining to do. Did he have an opportunity for final repentance? It's unlikely his killer provided him that option. But I doubt he would have taken it anyway. In fact, he actually said, at one point, that “abortion is worth going to Hell for”. Perhaps that intention is all that is required for that wish to be granted.