Sunday, February 28, 2010

Quote for the Day

"How much do we really know about the vaults and caverns which lie somewhere under the structure of a great nation -- about these psychic catacombs in which all our concealed desires, our fearful dreams and evil spirits, our vices and our forgotten and unexpiated sins, have been buried for generations?"

Friedrich Percyval Reck-Malleczewen, "Diary of a Man in Despair" (trans. Paul Rubens)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Eee Uuu PIGS!

My first thought, back when they announced that the EU was moving toward a single currency, was -- wait a minute, are you telling me that all these sober, level-headed, thrifty Nordic types in Northern Europe are going to cast their lot, currency-wise, with all those laid back party animals in the south? Sounds kind of like opening a joint bank account (with right of survivorship) with your ne'er-do-well, drunken brother-in-law. And yet, inexplicably, that is precisely what happened, and the inevitable denouement has... well, “denouemented”, or whatever the term is. The guilty parties – at least, the first wave of guilty parties, 'cause we know what happens in a welfare state, sooner or later everybody winds up on welfare – are being referred to as the PIGS, which stands for Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain. And sho' nuff, 3 of the 4 are Mediterranean countries with histories of insolvency and misgovernance that go back decades... and then there's Ireland, which is in a category all its own in this as with everything else.

So what have these warm, sunny, cheerful (again, with the exception of Ireland) places done that have brought things to this point? Why, they have done the same thing that many other places have done down throughout history – spent more than they had, and promised to spend even more than that. The difference – as with American banks and businesses in our time – is that they have done so with the comforting thought that they would be “bailed out” in the event things went badly, because they were a valued part of something larger. And the thing that always amazes me about situations like this – and I admit to not understanding it – is the amount of leverage the small, failed entity seems to have over the larger, not-yet-failed entity that it is a part of. It's a kind of twisted version of David and Goliath, but with finance. Why should the collapse of the Greek economy have as much of a ripple effect throughout the EU (and beyond) as everyone fears? But then, why should the collapse of an American automaker, or bank, or stock brokerage, have as much of a ripple effect through the U.S. as everyone claims (and uses to justify bailouts)? I think there is a lot that no one's telling us about the so-called “global economy” -- but I also think that much of this panic is over-dramatization with a political agenda. It's not so different, really, from all the “domino effect” arguments during the Cold War, many (if not all) of which turned out to be made up out of whole cloth. In fact, almost any sort of propaganda designed to make people panic and turn all of their freedoms over to government should be met with utter skepticism... and yet people are living in a state of perpetual fear, and all it takes is one small jolt to set off another round of rushing to our leaders, crying “Help us! Save us! Protect us! We'll do anything you say!” Thus – mission accomplished, once again, for the Regime.

It is a bit intriguing, in any case, to see the EU as a “distant mirror” for what will surely become our fate in short order. We have bankrupt cities (Pittsburgh being prominent among them)... bankrupt counties... bankrupt states... bankrupt just about everything, in fact, in the public sector, from the largest to the smallest... and they all expect salvation, and bailouts, from the federal government, which is, in fact, more bankrupt than they, except that it can print more money and they can't. If you're the only guy in a downtrodden mining town with a credit card, you can pretend, for a while, that you're the cock of the walk – but you may, in fact, wind up worse off than your neighbors.

So it's going to be very interesting to see what the cooler heads among the EU members decide to do about those other guys. They might, in fact, wind up asking themselves why they even admitted these clowns to the EU to begin with, knowing full well that they would eventually turn into PIGS.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Snippets

How come when Obama likes nuclear power it's a good thing... but when Republicans like it it's bad! Evil! Dangerous! A grave threat to all life on earth! And so forth. Just wondering...

Oh sheesh, Dick Cheney's back – and fighting it out with Joe Biden. Well, at least they each have a worthy opponent...

Looks like China has started to bail out of U.S. Treasury securities. Of course, they're smart enough not to dump them all at once – or, at least, they haven't yet (although they might, if they have some other agenda, like totally trashing the U.S. economy). I mean, can you imagine if Bill Gates sold all his Microsoft stock at the same time? So yeah, these guys aren't fools; anything they need to do to maintain the upper hand, they will do.

So what kind of idiot would climb a volcano in mid-February? Some guy did it out in Washington state. I think the government should make people like this open bank accounts and send one of the debit cards to some central office – that way, when they do something stupid, the central office can swipe their debit card for the cost of the rescue before the rescue operation begins. If there's not enough in the account – hey pal, we'll see you in the spring.

As for that professor who started slinging lead when she failed to get tenure? That's just the upper-crust version of the entitlement mentality in action.

This is great: “...some schools are turning to more unconventional means, such as Pacific Hills School in West Hollywood’s recent threat to turn up the lights and play Burt Bacharach if students started to grind, according to the Los Angeles Times.” Well, that would sure stop me...

A New York Times article posted on MSNBC says the “tea partiers” are “bracing for tyranny”. Well, if that's true they're only about 80 years behind the power curve. But – better late than never, I guess.

The paradox, of course, is how to organize people who are against big government – i.e. who are against large political organizations. This problem is, of course, already being exploited by the liberals and the slavish media. Small political organizations tend to be powerless and nearly invisible... large ones are already in charge... and medium-sized ones are typically co-opted and taken over by the large ones. So it's a real problem.

According to news reports, the heavy snow in Washington, DC led to a drop in crime. I guess that refers to the fact that Congress wasn't in session...

If you want courageous politicians, you must first have courageous voters.

“Cleveland tops list of most miserable U.S. cities”. Aha! I knew it! Whenever someone around here starts complaining about Pittsburgh, someone else is sure to say, “Well, at least this isn't Cleveland.” Yeah, it sounds harsh, but after all, someone has to anchor the scale. (You'll note, by the way, that Cleveland beat out Oakland, Detroit, Youngstown, and Philadelphia – no mean feat.)

Head Start doesn't work and, therefore should be eliminated – say commentators in Sunday's paper. Well... but was it ever, even at the very beginning, intended to “work”? As I recall it was a blatant political ploy, designed to assure blacks that “we're doing something for you”. But, clearly, if it really worked we might expect it to be the seed of a change in the motivational structure of inner-city/lower-class blacks, which might, in turn, cause them to lift themselves out of abject, multi-generational dependency on government. And surely we can't have that. So basically, Head Start does, in fact work – as propaganda. But it also “works” in terms of not making any significant difference in the lot of black Americans.

The death of Rep. Jack Murtha caused the local papers to print a map of his congressional district... and if you thought the days of gerrymandering were over with, you should check out this monstrosity. It looks like the accumulated splash of years of tomato sauce on the wall of the local pizzeria... or a jigsaw puzzle designed by Salvador Dali as interpreted by Alexander McQueen. If a history is ever written on how Congress got to be the way it is, the author could do worse than to start with maps of some of the more ridiculous Congressional districts.

Archaeologists in Israel have discovered a 1,400- year-old wine press that measures – get this – 21 by 54 feet! Wow, those folks must have been the ultimate party animals. Too bad the Moslems had to come along and spoil everything...

Sometimes I really wonder if the president, and Congress, are signing on to this insane, limitless national debt because they know that, really, it'll never come due and never be repaid. More likely, we'll see complete economic collapse, or at least the collapse of the dollar, first. Then that debt will be about as collectible as the dividends on a Bernie Madoff account. If true, it would be the most cynical – or desperate, or both – financial move in history. If not, then all it means is that the next few generations of Americans will be slaves to the international financiers. But then, we already are, so I guess we've gotten used to it.

Rumor has it that, in their attempt to avoid extinction, the Republicans have re-discovered the Constitution. Too little, too late, I say. If you were to poll Republican congressmen on the question, does the Constitution say what it means, and does it mean what it says... and do you agree, 100%, with what it says... you'd get an “affirm” with not much more frequency than if you asked Democrats the same question.

And when it comes to their idolization of Sarah Palin -- “the blunder from the tundra” -- this reflects a death wish almost unmatched in American politics.

And... the real test of the Constitutional seriousness of any Republican would be, what think ye of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan... and the bailouts (started under Bush). If you get the expected answer, i.e. “no problem”, just turn around, and walk away.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

There Is No American Empire

Yes, that's what I said. Oh sure, I use the term a lot, and so do other commentators – but when you get right down to it the “American Empire”, per se, does not exist. There's an empire all right, but it's not American – assuming it ever was. I guess if you go back to those heady post-World War II days, it would be possible to demonstrate a kind of paradoxical American empire, which involved sending out troops to occupy, to a greater or lesser degree, nearly every non-Warsaw Pact country in Europe, as well as good chunks of East Asia and, on occasion, Latin America. And these occupations would invariably be accompanied by overwhelmingly generous donations of food, clothing, shelter, etc. from "the American people" -- although if they ever got a chance to vote on this, I'm not aware of it.

This was followed, all too soon, by the “Ugly American” era, where a world war no longer sufficed as an excuse; now we were all over Latin America and poking around in other parts of Africa and Asia – which, of course, eventuated in the Vietnam war, which I guess was the high water mark of American Empire activity between World War II and now. Not forgetting Korea, of course... and the war there, which technically is still on, at least resulted in a lasting 50-50 split between North and South Korea, unlike Vietnam, which resulted in a 100-0 split.

But are these really the signs of empire in the classical sense? Let's think about this for a moment. If you take the other great empires in history – especially the colonial empires headed up by various European powers – you will find a number of things. For instance:

Does traditional empire-building involve attempts to transplant the colonial power's form of government, intact, to the colony? No – the Europeans knew better. Colonial governments were much more authoritarian than the home government, and what little self-determination was left to the colony was more or less a direct extension of its pre-colonial system – typically a monarchy of some sort. The European powers seldom felt any urge to dethrone the native king, and install a president, premier, prime minister, etc. in his place. They simply left local affairs to the pre-existing local government, and ran the country's foreign affairs (which were 99% about trade and military bases, after all) from the colonial government house, and everyone was happy – more or less. Contrast this with the curious American habit (or at least pretense) of “spreading democracy” -- which either turns out to be impossible, or, when it actually happens, it results in the “wrong” people being elected, at which point we have to go back and start over. So those earmarks of traditional colonization – leaving local governments intact (vs. “regime change”) and ruling the rest at least semi-wisely from the colonial headquarters – are missing for us.

How about on the economic side – i.e., trade? Down through history, the flow of goods between colonizer and colony has been overwhelmingly of one sort – raw materials are shipped from the colony to the colonial power, and finished goods are shipped back. And who winds up with all the profits from this exchange? The colonial power, i.e. its merchants, officials, and politicians – and its people, if they're lucky, through a trickle-down effect. What do _we_ get in exchange for our colonial exertions? Yes, some raw materials... but, more often these days, finished products. But the subject states turn out to be not such a great market for _our_ finished products (the few that remain), and so our empire-like holdings actually wind up constituting a new economic liability (aside from all the expenses associated with invasion and occupation). Now, would a traditional colonial power have tolerated this? Not for a moment! The whole idea of colonialism was to enrich the colonial power, and if it didn't there was something serious wrong. When's the last time we could argue that we were “enriched” through the fruits of empire? Maybe back in the 60s, when we were talking about literal fruits – bananas and such. But ever since, the cost of holding on to these places, with all their revolutions and insurrections... and now terrorist activity... has vastly exceeded the payoff. It's the classic “white elephant” scenario writ larger.

And speaking of the military, what does it take to subdue the country of our choice these days, and keep it subdued? Many men, and much materiel – and you'll notice that these are not one-time costs. We spend just as much to stay in a place as we did to invade and conquer it – all according to plan, of course, since nothing irritates a Pentagon budget planner more than unpredictability in the “out years”. In their ideal world, every budget (or “line”) item extends out into the indefinite future on a level basis... which means that if we need to shift funding from “invasion” costs to “occupation” costs, we will – there is always something that money can be squandered, er, spent, on. (This, by the way, is one of the main rationales for "nation building" -- the fact that _something_ has to be done with all that money; it simply wouldn't do to give it back to the taxpayer.)

And what about that most intangible of all qualities for a nation, respect? And dignity? The old European colonial powers were respected... held in awe... and, yes, feared at times. But they were seldom despised, except in the waning days, and not always even then. But every new venture into foreign entanglements for us involves firing up the Ugly American machinery again... and right now, we're considered an evil empire by the entire Arab/Moslem world, and someone to not turn one's back on in plenty of other places (Eastern Europe, Latin America, etc.). How many times, for example, were the British, or French, ever considered “out of control” in their empire-building efforts – even when they were? We seem to be out of control virtually all the time. Did anyone “non-understand” what the British and the French were doing? Heck no, colonialization is as old as history... it's just about the easiest transaction between countries to understand – more so than war, even (although they certainly overlap). On the other hand, how many people really understand what the U.S. is trying to do in Iraq, or Afghanistan? Foreigners don't... most of our own citizens don't... many of our leaders don't... the president may not even understand. So one of the earmarks of the American Empire at this time, in contrast to other empires throughout history, is its sheer absurdity.

What else can be said? The traditional empires seem to have had the support of most of the citizenry of the colonial power (except for the most hard-core pacifists and indifferentists). They could see the advantages, which were many – and the down side was usually confined to the dusty, flea-bitten, fever-ridden battlefields and outposts of the colony, which were not pictured 24-7 on TV and the Internet. Contrast this with today, when at least a substantial minority of Americans believes that the twin wars are a mistake and a hoax, and want us out of those pestholes ASAP. They can see the advantages – which do not exist for the average person. To paraphrase The Mommas and The Poppas, nobody's gettin' fat except the arms makers and international financiers.

So... when it comes to the empire game, we apparently just can't hack it. It's trashing our economy and our morale, corrupting our politics, and turning us into a rogue state as far as most of the world is concerned. And it's also severely eroding the freedom of American citizens, both at home and abroad. But yet we persist, against all reason. And why? Well, it's because the American Empire really isn't our empire at all – it's the empire of the globalists, the internationalists, the rootless, anti-nationalistic bankers and financiers, the multi-national arms makers... even the Neocons and their counterparts overseas, who, collectively, could not care less about the welfare of the U.S. or its citizens. Oh, they will mouth words to keep people signed on, but when you study their actions, you realize that they are anything but patriots – they use the U.S., and its gullible citizenry, to further their ends... but who benefits? Certainly not the man on the street; all he sees is the current pain and misery. The fact that the economic crisis/recession/what have you is, more and more, showing signs of having been planned, and manipulated, and engineered, from the outset should offer a clue – nations are suffering, people are suffering, but the internationalists are happy as pigs in stuff. The deeper you probe into the cast of characters behind the crisis, the more you find that they are, in fact, enjoying themselves tremendously... and, as far as they're concerned, the “crisis” can go on indefinitely.

So it's really their empire, and the U.S. -- and its government, and the military – are, basically, servants and patsies. The bright line that seems to have been drawn between the U.S. and the Arab/Moslem world, for example, is more a line of convenience for the Regime than the real thing. It pays to set the U.S. up as a scapegoat, but when you see who is profiting, it certainly has nothing to do with the U.S. per se. Now, there is, undoubtedly, a genuine line between the Regime – taken on the international level – and the Arab/Moslem world. There is, likewise, a line between the Regime and Russia, and between it and China – although these are by no means as clear-cut, and there is more room for negotiation. On the world map, the Regime is one nexus, and the Arab/Moslem world another. China and its allies is another, and it overlaps with the Arab/Moslem in the case of Iran, for instance. Then we have Russia, which seems to be operating more or less as a lone wolf these days, although it certainly has plenty of residual “interests” elsewhere. Then we have the places that, apparently, have yet to picked for a team – most of Latin America, most of sub-Saharan Africa, and a few places in Asia. (Japan and South Korea... and, OK, Taiwan... are firmly in our camp). These are the fault lines at present, and of course the “uncommitted” are constantly being wooed, seduced, and fought over – but at least not with the fervor that marked the Cold War. (Heck, we would have gone into Venezuela or Bolivia in a heartbeat as soon as Chavez or Morales got in, in the old days. But maybe this is less a matter of principle than of residual PTSD from Cuba.) And there are, certainly, places in the world that are no longer considered worth fighting over – like most of sub-Saharan Africa – as long as we can bribe a few mercenaries to keep the shipments of strategic raw materials coming.

But again, I keep saying “we” when what I really mean is the Regime. The marching orders come down from high and land on the president's desk every morning... and on the desks of certain key Congressmen. And, since nearly all of them were put in place by the Regime, they don't dare disobey, no matter how obviously damaging the action is going to be. Their main job is to dream up alibis.

What it amounts to is that the U.S., even though it seems, at times, to be a colonial power, is really a higher-order colony itself... the colonial power being the Regime, or whatever you choose to call it. And that Regime knows no loyalty except to itself – and values individual life and liberty not a whit. It is the ultimate faceless organization which, I'm sure, even eats its own at times. And this is not to say that it doesn't have ideals... or even principals of a sort. But those are distorted way beyond what the average person would see as right or desirable – they are, rather, a roadmap to keeping a thing, or entity, alive – not an association of free men.

Monday, February 15, 2010

President Declares War on Supreme Court; Pictures at Eleven

In the annals of hypocrisy, a prominent place has to be given to the indignation on the part of Democrats as to the recent Supreme Court decision having to do with who, or what, is allowed to donate money to political campaigns. To hear them talk, you would think that the fate of the nation had been turned over – lock, stock, and barrel – to massive, faceless multinational corporations. Well, to begin with, my theory is that the fate of the nation already _is_ in the hands of massive, faceless multinational corporations and other related entities. But whether that's true or not, the notion of Democrats objecting to corporate largesse is a bit absurd, since – as we all know by now – the rich donate at least as much money to the Democrats as to the Republicans, if not more. The Democrats are, as I have explained numerous times, the party of the rich and the poor... and it is primarily the contributions of the modestly-endowed that keep the Republicans afloat -- you know, those so-called "values voters" who see the country they grew up in slipping away into dystopian oblivion. And if you want to talk about the Libertarian Party or the Constitution Party, the situation is even more so; I doubt if one rich, or "culturally poor" person has even donated to either one. Corporate America – and, by extension, the corporate world – has, after the early years of struggle, cast its lot with the collectivists for the simple reason that, under socialism, their bottom line is more enhanced that it would be under a decentralized, laissez-faire system. Call this the moral corruption of capitalism, if you like... or the death of true capitalism. The fact remains that the government is a bigger spender than any individual, or any conglomeration of individuals... and the charms of true competition have long since been traded in for the corporate security blanket that government provides -- as vividly illustrated by the recent and ongoing "bailouts". There was a point – and I can't say precisely when it was, but I suspect somewhere in the vicinity of World War II – when the balance shifted from the marketplace to the public trough when it came to the expected source of wealth for big business... not that the marketplace is not still a factor for the “little guys” -- you know, the small businesses that are in the process of being taxed out of existence. See, I don't think the choice between Wal-Mart and, say, Sears, or Target, is a real one, any more than the choice between Chrysler and GM, or between Microsoft and Apple. They are all heads of the same hydra. My idea of competition, and a free market, is the small, independent bookseller vs. Barnes & Noble... or the local coffee shop vs. Starbucks. And I suppose that even among large businesses there are some vestigial remnants of competition where the government doesn't yet have the upper hand; pizza and fast food companies come to mind, for instance. And as for the “competitive bidding” among defense contractors – well! That's about as genuine as professional wrestling. One outfit gets one contract, the other gets another, but all prosper and all stay in business, because, basically, their contracts, and their favored status with the government, are the biggest and longest-running pork barrel in history. And all – please note – donate generously to political campaigns, especially to the Democrats, because, as everyone knows, the road to socialism is the road to prosperity – for the few, that is.

But I suppose that, for all this, the Democrats feel they still have to, from time to time, make noises and mouth words consistent with the myth that they are still “the party of the people”, and the Republicans are “the party of big business”. It's all too pathetic, really. Here, for instance, are Senators Charles Schumer and Chris Van Hollen proposing “a bill that would ban political ads by corporations that have as little as 20 percent foreign ownership”. Heck, that would prevent both the Democratic Party and the Republican party from political advertising! The bottom line is, what difference does it make whether the powers that be are involved in resourcing political campaigns openly or under the table – the outcome is the same. And, since both major parties are firmly in the pockets of the corporations, the outcome remains the same regardless of who wins any given election. But again, in the war of ideas – assuming it isn't already over and done with – it's appearances, and propaganda, that count, not the reality.

But that's not even the most interesting aspect of this controversy. That would be the open challenge delivered by President Obama to a captive audience of Supreme Court justices during his State of the Union address, in which he said, “With all due deference to separation of powers, (the court) reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections." Now, to begin with, when a politician uses the phrase “with all due deference” what he is typically saying is that the person, or people, in question are not due any deference at all. And this would certainly be true of the recent history of the relations between the Executive Branch and the Supreme Court – and I don't care which major party you're talking about. Contrary to the outdated notion that the Executive, or Congress, proposes, and the Supreme Court disposes, recent history has provided one example after another of the other two branches of government basically ignoring the Supreme Court – in spirit for certain, and often in letter as well. The Court hands down a decision having to do with affirmative action, say – and what happens? Is there a flurry of corrective action to declare null and void any law, or regulation, or policy, designed to implement affirmative action? Heck no, they simply ignore it and go on their merry, politically-correct way. I suppose that the greatest example of push-back to date has been FDR's “court packing” attempt... but presidents of a more recent vintage have not done much better. Clinton was notorious for, basically, ignoring Court decisions and encouraging his minions to do the same – the attitude being, to paraphrase Joseph Stalin, “how many divisions does the Supreme Court have?” And it's perfectly true, of course – the supremacy of the Supreme Court is only sustained as long as there is a sense of honor (and deference) among those charged with writing, and enforcing, laws, and that sense of honor has been noticeably missing of late.

Having said that, however, it is still a bit startling to see a president, in the most public of all public forums, getting totally up in the face of the Court while they sit there like mummified Buddhist monks (with the exception of Sam Alito, who apparently couldn't contain himself – but I'm sure he's been severely reprimanded for his expression of skepticism). To say, in so many words, “we don't care what you say, we're going to do it our way”... well, at least now it's out in the open. Which means that, for all intents and purposes the Supreme Court is now an irrelevant and vestigial antique, not unlike Britain's House of Lords. They can sit in judgment all they like, but if they can be ignored with impunity what difference does it make? Might as well make the Supreme Court building into a high-end food court for the convenience of Congressmen who are tired of the navy bean soup in the Senate cafeteria.

But in another sense this sorry situation is largely the Court's fault. They have had, over the years, ample opportunities to defend the Constitution against the inroads of socialists, collectivists, and totalitarians from all across the political spectrum, and have almost invariably failed in that duty. The very fact that, as Joseph Sobran has noted, “anything called a 'program' is unconstitutional” -- and that the vast majority of government agencies likewise have no constitutional basis – reflects a sorry tale of years of neglect on the part of those who should have been the last line of defense. Making the most of the allegedly “ambiguous” parts of the Constitution, and ignoring the parts that are as plain as day, has contributed to the situation as well (think “penumbras” and so on). “Providing for the general welfare” and the commerce clause have been elevated to virtual fetishes, while the Tenth Amendment has been set on the shelf like a dusty World's Fair souvenir. All in the interests of, I suppose, keeping peace in the family... and also political correctness, even though the Court is supposedly the least subject to political pressure of any assembled body in the nation – or so it was intended to be. So after years – decades – of failure in this regard, they can hardly object when a president reads them the riot act. All they can do it sit there in their stoic black robes and sweat it out, waiting for the proceedings to be over with so they can retreat to their Greek temple across 1st Street and go back to pretending they still have some power.

Ah yes, those carefree days of my youth when, thoroughly indoctrinated by my social studies teachers, I still believed that “separation of powers” was a reality. In fact, I even gave a speech on the subject, for the American Legion oratorical contest. (I didn't win, because my presentation was too dry and academic compared to the histrionics of the other speakers. They probably still vote Republican.) But I'm afraid the reality has been somewhat different, and more depressing, than all that. When it comes to waging war, for example, Congress can pretend to offer “advice and consent” but the fact remains that an American president can send any number of troops to any foreign country any time he (or she) pleases, and no one can stop him (or her) (just steeling myself for Hillary's eventual victory). And if Congress should dare pass a law contrary to the wishes of the president, why, there is the ever-popular executive order... or, at worst, a “signing statement” that basically says “I'm going to ignore this law... and, by the way, how many divisions does Congress have?” Now, I suppose the Supreme Court can, on occasion, thwart the wishes of Congress... but they will just turn around, as in this case, and blanket the landscape with such a multitude of new laws amounting to the same thing that the Court will eventually wave the white flag of surrender. (You don't like racial quotas? Well, then we'll just call it affirmative action. And if you don't like that we'll call it something else. We'll never run out of new names for the same old thing.)

Another thing that is oft forgotten in all of this is that the Supreme Court cannot decide on the Constitutional merits of anything unless someone brings a case before it – and this, as we know, is a long, drawn-out process that can take years (unless the case has to do with who the next president will be, and then it's handled with lightning speed). The justices may sit around wishing and hoping that a given question, or issue, will be presented for their consideration... but they cannot originate cases. All they can do is take what bubbles up from the provinces and choose to either hear it or not... and if they choose to hear it, the tattered rag that is all that's left of the Constitution is barely enough to wipe their glasses with. Not that there aren't some Constitutionalists on the Court, but they are vastly outnumbered by “penumbrists” and “general welfare-ists”, and so on, who would have to have a Road to Damascus experience in order to become born-again believers in, and defenders of, the Constitution.

Then there is the perennial dead hand of “settled law”, and the typical justice would consider himself (or herself) a radical bomb-thrower if he or she handed down a verdict contrary to any prior decision going back to the days of John Jay. After all, weren't those men and women every bit as intelligent as we are... and didn't they have the interests of the country and its citizenry in mind every bit as much as we do? Never mind the fact that many of the justices over the years have been nothing more than political hacks and empty suits who happen to have a law degree. They are, after all, appointed by presidents – and what president wants to set up a healthy body of opposition to his ambitions? None that I know of. So the Court tends to wind up being a sheltered workshop for the malleable... not that, again, there aren't some occasional exceptions (the result of some oversight by a president, I'm sure).

So yes, the Court has brought its troubles on itself, to some degree – mostly through neglect and the desire to “go along to get along” (though what the sanctions would be for not doing so escape me). But a civilized republic would respect its supreme court and make up for its ultimate lack of power by way of deference and obedience... the way civilized people respect their physically frail elders. So part of the problem is also the total lack of respect of wisdom which has come to dominate public life. How many times of late has a president, or governor, been characterized as “youthful”, as opposed to “wise”? Solomon himself would wander the streets of Washington for years wondering where all the wisdom went (and why the citizenry allowed it to happen). Well, he might luck out and read some opinions by Antonin Scalia, but other than that...

Well, I don't imagine that Obama, with his State of the Union challenge, struck the final blow. Either it has already been struck, or it has yet to be. But we now know, at least, where he stands on the matter, and we see that he sees no problem with his position. And thus, the slouch towards totalitarianism continues...

The Carterization of Obama Redux

Herewith, a "reprint" of a post from way back in June 2008. Obama at that point -- months before the election -- was already showing signs of being another sheep ready for the shearing, in the Carter tradition -- but a black sheep this time, not the cotton-hued variety represented by "Jimmeh". Now, at long last, many other voices besides mine have joined the chorus, warning (or promising, as the case may be) that Obama is on an unmistakable trajectory towards Carterdom. The evidence is all too clear, and it makes my post... well, with all due modesty... prescient. So read, and be afraid. Or maybe not. After all, a failed liberal presidency should be good news for conservatives, as Rush Limbaugh unsuccessfully tried to point out. It's just that in their failures, liberals tend to drag a lot of people who make an honest living down with them, the way a harpooned whale would. And yet, if one believes in liberty, or even karma, or both, the ongoing descent into chaos, as inconvenient as it may be at times, at least serves as a kind of vindication.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Carterization of Obama

He was elected primarily as a reaction to a previous regime that was considered hopelessly corrupt, if not actually criminal. His level of experience and his aptitude for the job were widely questioned. But he was an honest man... a good man... a man of principal. He was intelligent. He was not a political "insider". He had "values", he was sincere, he stood for change. But when he became president, he brought in, like ships spreading the plague, an army of low-grade political hacks, frauds, and schemers, and as a result his presidency became a total disaster area on all fronts. In addition, his idealism tended to get in the way of clear, level-headed, realistic thinking when it came to domestic and foreign policy questions.

This is the conventional wisdom -- or one version of it -- regarding Jimmy Carter. Now, why am I starting to get the exact same "vibe" from Obama and his campaign, and his many hangers-on... and the new hangers-on he will undoubtedly accumulate between now and election day, all of whom will follow him to Washington (in the event he wins), each with his or her own agenda which has very little to do with the welfare of the country?

The problem with idealists down through history is that they are too easily exploited. Their idealism tends to blind them to the perfidy all around them, and the closer it is the more blinded they are. Unlike the cold, realistic cynic who knows how the game is played because they are masters at it themselves -- a person like Hillary Clinton, for example -- these people have way too much faith in humanity, particularly in other politicians. They are easily duped, easily flattered (because they know how good and pure they are, after all), and easily kept in the dark about what is really going on. This is not the same thing as the Bush II model, in which a dull-witted, clueless blockhead is set on high to be used as a whipping boy and scapegoat for all sorts of treacherous and treasonous activities. No, this is about a person who might really have merit... who might "deserve" the level of power the presidency entails, but who -- because no one can do the job alone -- inevitably has to call on friends and acquaintances, most of whom are totally uninterested in ideals or ideas, for help. The outcome in cases like this is usually farcical and depressing, and creates a "never again" movement while enshrining the president in question as "the worst ever" -- at least until the next one comes along.

I have a definite impression that the Carter model is already being reworked and prepared for implementation in January. Do I claim that it is any worse -- in operation or in outcome -- than the Neocon model that John McCain represents (except with the president really in charge this time)? Not at all. Just that no one should be surprised when it kicks in and we are once more treated to four years of Carterism.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Twilight of the Kennedys

People say there is no good news these days. But I beg to differ! It seems that, sometime this year, we will come to a milestone – namely “Washington without a Kennedy in political office for the first time in more than 60 years.” This is on the occasion of Patrick Kennedy's announcement that he will not seek re-election. I can hardly wait to breathe the clear, crisp air of Washington, DC without the oppressive foetor of the Kennedy myth hanging over it. I cannot imagine America without its myths, but it's easy to imagine America without the myth of “Camelot”. If e'er idols had feet of clay, it was in The Brothers Kennedy, who dominated the nation's capital in one way or the other for, as the article says, 60 years. Of course, the master plan – shown in unabashed detail in an early propaganda piece (which I have a copy of, and I'm sure it's a collector's item) – was for JFK to serve out two terms, followed by two terms for Bobby and two for Teddy... at which point the next generation would have been ready to take over, and we would have had the longest-running royal family since the Plantagenets. But it was not meant to be... because cooler heads prevailed – aided, I'm certain, by a good dose of anti-Catholicism -- ironically, I might add, since I have always considered the Kennedys to have been very bad Catholics, and one of my gripes with the Knights of Columbus -- even though I'm a member -- is that they continue to idolize JFK. So the Kennedys were dethroned, and denied any further opportunities. In the case of JFK and Bobby, this can be attributed to a handful of bullets as the primary cause, but in Teddy's case it was more a matter of multiple and blatant character flaws. And yet this did not keep the people of Massachusetts from re-electing him, generation after generation – but, as I've commented before, the spectacle of American Catholics consistently voting for anti-Catholic (in action if not in name) politicians is a great mystery.

But what, precisely, are my objections to the Kennedys? Am I a “Kennedy hater”? I don't think it's quite that simple. I understand their pretenses to being “America's royalty”, because, after all, people – and a nation – need royalty of some sort; this has been proven time and time again. In other words, someone had to do it, so why not them? What would you prefer, the Bushes? Please. The most royalty-bound nations on earth in the 20th Century were, in fact, communist – regicides in theory, but enamored of royalty, and even hereditary rule (as shown by the Kims in North Korea and the Castros in Cuba). World War II in Europe was, basically, fought among 3 kings – FDR, Hitler, and Stalin... with a couple of dukes (Churchill and Mussolini) thrown in for good measure. The “real” royalty had, basically, nothing to do with it – although Hirohito apparently had a role to play on the Pacific front. So the seeking after emperors, kings, and rulers is a natural human trait, and one that we are unlikely to evolve out of very soon. The question is not “shall we have kings?” but what our criteria should be for deeming a person worthy of the crown. In sub-Saharan Africa, it's generally the biggest, meanest, and most vicious SOB around. In the Arab world, it's whoever promises to do the most damage to Israel... and in Israel, it's whoever promises to do the most damage to the Arabs. And so on. So no, the mere designation of the Kennedys as “American royalty” is not, in and of itself, sufficient grounds for reproach.

Well then, how about the fact that, in some ways, they really aren't snobs at all, despite their legendary wealth (most, if not all, of which was ill-gotten anyway)? I mean, OK, they do live in a “compound” and spend a lot of time sailing, but in the old days they spent at least as much time playing touch football and throwing each other into swimming pools. No one would ever accuse them of being intellectual, or even particularly cultured; they're basically a bunch of jocks (not unlike the British royals, for that matter). And they seem like the sort who would be perfectly comfortable sitting at a bar with ordinary folks – or tending that same bar, for that matter.

Well then, what about their teeth, which are twice the size of anyone else's? Or their wives, who all have the same hairdos and the same pointed chins and stringy necks? Or those impossible accents, that no one else in Massachusetts seems to have? Hey, you'll never catch me “dissing” people just because of their DNA; that's really not at all fair.

Is it the fact that they seem, to all appearances, to be towering hypocrites – living on top of the heap while seeing to it that everyone else has to live in a liberal dystopia? Well yes, that's part of it, for certain, along with the notion that they know better than you do what should be done with your money. Certainly a “Kennedy world”, if we lived in it today, would consist mainly of a controlling elite (with all of the glamor, energy, teeth, etc. of Camelot) and a bunch of happy peasants and laborers. Kind of like what we have now, in fact, but with a more human face. Maybe. But even so, there are liberals leaning against every lamppost in Washington, DC and yet they don't have the power to offend that the Kennedys always seemed to have. I think it's because they were, and are, not only totally convinced of their own superiority, but always tried to combine this with “the common touch”. That, to my way of thinking, only aggravates the offense. I say that if you're going to be an elite snob, at least act like one – that way you can be one of those people that people love to hate, like the villains in the old “Perils of Pauline” films – you know, the guys with the top hats and the thin, curly mustaches. Those were villains worthy of the name. The Kennedy type is more like the beefy, red-faced guy who slaps you on the back in the bar, then leaves before you find out your wallet is missing. He's the “good guy” who leaves a trail of destruction in his wake... the guy who, ultimately, wants you to be part of his world, but as a servant or facilitator, not an equal. And he expects to be thanked, and esteemed, more and more as time goes on, no matter what the record shows. He is, in a way, the prototype alcoholic – not necessarily in the literal sense, but in the transactional sense. He is always there, in your face, asking for another chance to do good -- which means, do good unto others but not unto you. He's the guy we can hardly imagine living without... but when he finally leaves, we heave a great sigh of relief. So if you hear a sigh of this sort emanating out of Washington later this year, that may be the reason.

Location, Location

OK, so here's another in my series on The Most Incomprehensible Things About America. Today's installment has to do with the perennial “venue” controversy, especially when it comes to serious crimes. Like murder, for example. And the scenario is always the same. The “alleged perpetrator” is being held in jail on multiple charges... he (or occasionally she) hires a lawyer, or one is provided through the good offices of the taxpayers... and the question of the place of trial comes up. Now surely, through most of human history, when trials were held at all they were held pretty darned close to the scene of the crime – the same district, town, village, city ward, whatever. It made perfect sense; the local community was the one that suffered the loss, they knew the offended party (or were the offended party) and they should be the ones to see to it that justice is done. Right? Wrong! Now it turns out that any trial can be moved far afield because of “pre-trial publicity” -- presumably biased against the defendant. But wait a minute! Where did all this “pre-trial publicity” come from? Well, it was typically initiated, and perpetuated, by law enforcement officials... who never seem to learn to keep their big mouths shut, because if they don't the trial (and the perp) will be taken totally out of their hands, and out of their sphere of influence, and -- who knows? -- might wind up being tried in some mush-headed liberal community and get off scot-free. But where did we get this idea that suspects had to be tried hundreds of miles from the scene of the crime in order to insure objectivity and impartiality? Are defense lawyers so incompetent that they can't effectively counterbalance the crushing pressure of local media... and the angry crowds assembled outside the courthouse with pitchforks, torches, and nooses? That's the impression one gets. And the issue is similar to, if not exactly the same, as this notion of having to pick a completely “unbiased” jury... which in these times of 24-7 news coverage on radio, TV, the press, and the Internet usually means people who are so clueless and out of touch, or simply idiotic, that they haven't heard anything about the case, or if they have they've been unable to “form an opinion” about it. But I say again, the local community has the right to try wrongdoers who have caused it harm, and it also has the right to form opinions – which are, hopefully, subject to modification through arguments and evidence in court. You show me someone who has no opinions, or is incapable of forming any, and I'll show you someone who should never be on a jury. For one thing, everyone is supposed to be tried by “a jury of his peers”, right? Well then, whose “peers” are they who are only chosen based on their invincible ignorance? Certainly not mine!

A recent example – one of many – from this area will illustrate. A man accused of having killed three Pittsburgh police officers last April must himself be astonished that, of 93 prospective jurors, “10 said they had not read or heard about the case”. This is in the face of continuous news converage in all local media for weeks afterwards. They probably haven't heard about 9-11 yet, either – not to mention who is currently president. Who _are_ these people? Most mental patients have a keener awareness of current events than this. But to go on -- “32 said they could not set aside what they know about the case to be fair and impartial.” OK... but is what they already know going to differ significantly from what they'll find out in the courtroom? Anything they don't already know, they're going to find out there. What sort of magic quality does courtroom testimony have that normal “news” doesn't? When the jury finally retires to the jury room to decide on a verdict, have they been rendered any more “fair and impartial” than they were on the first day of the trial? My suspicion is that just the opposite has happened. So where is the demonstration of damages from pre-trial publicity? Then -- “38 said they have a set opinion about the case.” OK, these might be slightly tougher nuts to crack, but once again, they will, in fact, be present at the trial, and will be privy to all the evidence and testimony that can be brought to bear. So isn't it possible that their “set opinion” might not be so set after all?

Of course, it's also possible that the people in these latter two groups said what they said simply to get out of having to serve on a jury -- in which case, shame on them! But let's give them the benefit of the doubt. And you'll also notice that there are still 13 prospective jurors unaccounted for in all this. They are presumably the golden ones who have read or heard about the case but are perfectly willing and able to set it all aside, and who have formed absolutely no opinion on the matter. In other words, they're crazy people. But they're the ones who are most likely, along with the clueless 10, to be in the final pool.

I just find this insistence on utter ignorance on the part of jurors to be... well, not exactly within the spirit of American justice, as originally intended. There was a time when our leaders valued an informed citizenry, and a time when informed citizens were deemed more fit to perform any functions related to the welfare of the community – including jury duty. Juries in the old movies, you'll notice, are typically composed of fairly intelligent and informed people; they are properly dressed and groomed, and employed... and they speak (and seem to think) like typical middle-class Americans of their time. They are, moreover, charged with protecting, and even embodying, community values. But you can imagine what a car full of circus clowns you'd get if the present-day “ignorance criterion” were universally applied; for all I know it would resemble the demonstrators at an IMF/World Bank conference. And these are the people who we want to decide the fate of the accused – no matter how sordid the crime, or how clear the evidence? It makes a mockery of justice... or, I have to say, just the latest mockery of justice.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Few, the Proud, the Soulless

The parade continues unabated – that is, the parade of CEOs and other members of the rich and powerful financial and business elite, who have found it convenient to appear, from time to time, before various Congressional committees and other bodies of inquiry to answer “tough questions” about their involvement in the recession and its associated enormities, and particularly about their unabashed transfer of wealth from the accounts and portfolios of ordinary people into their own already-bulging portfolios and bank accounts (both domestic and foreign). The scenes remind me of nothing so much as the Nuremberg Trials – except it's as if the Nazis had won. Clearly, any one of the titans of international finance pretending to grovel, and even at times express contrition, is smarter than all of the gathered committee members combined. Or to put it another way – if the share of intelligence, cleverness, and wile were reversed, they would be holding elective office and the politicians would be running corporations. This is why the proceedings are always so farcical – the executives, who are clearly superior in every way, right down to the steely eyes and lantern jaws, the perfect grooming and expensive suits, are expected to make an accounting and explain themselves to a bunch of moderately-intelligent but, by and large, chaotic and impulsive political hacks, with bad hair and rumpled clothing. And this is the price the “masters of space and time” (in Tom Wolfe's words) have to pay for the privilege of -- after the hearings are over with and they jet back to their headquarters -- resuming predatory business as usual. It makes for good theater, no doubt... and some memorable “Kodak moments” -- but what it does to change the power relationships in our economy is, basically, nothing. It has about as much meaning as Bill Clinton attending a prayer breakfast. And yet I suppose that the occasional humiliation – being “tried” by a jury of anything but their peers – is preferable, in a way, to their simply being allowed to run amok with perfect impunity. As I've said before, the day when the ruling elite can do anything they want and never be questioned about it will be a dark day indeed. And yet it must be at least as humiliating for the “Congresspersons”, who invariably voice their frustration and helplessness, and make all sorts of empty threats for the benefit of their constituents – things like, we're going to tax those bonuses at the rate of 99.9%, etc. Frankly, I don't think the government would find anything more worthwhile to do with the money than the rich and powerful do – like, does the government have better taste in architecture than they do? A one-day tour of Washington, DC will settle any doubts you may have on that score. And if you want a measure of the government's “taste” in culture in general, and in journalism, you have only to tune into NPR or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting -- or check out the latest grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. Ultimately, even the most creative, or decadent, billionaire will eventually run out of ideas (I mean, how many boring sweaters can Bill Gates wear, after all? And why can't he get a decent haircut?) and start giving most of it away – in some cases to at least semi-worthy causes. (I know my symphony tickets would cost a lot more if it weren't for the fat cats in the box seats.) And some of them don't even live that high off the hog – they are better at making money than spending it (unlike most of us, I fear). And their mastery is, after all, every bit as mortal as they are; one of these days all that wealth will fall into the hands of those less worthy (at least by their standards). But it isn't as if the games they play in Valhalla do not impact the ordinary lives of ordinary people, because they do... to an extreme degree in many cases. And is this our fault for having put such a large share of our lives and our modest fortunes into their hands? Well, yes it is – at least to some degree. But to “drop out” of the system would involve more of a sacrifice than most people are willing to make. As charming as the notion of a self-sustaining homestead in the Alaskan wilderness might be, or membership in a Minimite community (I borrow the term from Eric Brende, author of “Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology"), most of us would rather live locked into the social, economic, political, and infrastructure grid, even if it ultimately amounts to a glorified form of slavery. So as a result, we find ourselves firmly in the hands of the rich and powerful, who can “flip the switch” on _us_ – at least economically – any time they desire. So as usual, we pay a price for our fancied “security” -- which is another way of describing a world without any serious challenges. Ultimately, everybody wants to live in Sweden.

But another thing occurs to me. Remember the “jet-setters”? (Remember the Concorde, the plane they used to favor taking back and forth to the watering holes of Europe?) The term became more or less synonymous with the “idle rich” who had nothing to do but buy houses, clothes, yachts, jewelry, racehorses, etc., gamble outrageous sums in Monte Carlo, and while away their time in Alpine ski lodges. A glamorous life, no doubt – but it always had an air of restlessness, and of ultimate boredom, purposelessness, and futility. People whose highest value is to acquire “stuff” and amuse themselves paradoxically find that they enjoy that “stuff” and those amusements much less than those for whom it's not the highest value. And if their “stuff” shall lose its savor, whereof shall it be “restuffed”? Of course, if your goal is to always have more, then you'll never reach that goal, and I suppose that can be a source of motivation – as it clearly seems to be for so many of these people. Plus, there is the heady appeal of “the game”, and of competition to see who has the most power, controls the most resources (and lives), has the most toys. And some even have what they fancy to be a "social consciousness" -- you know, that thing that inspires them to support "family planning" programs in the third world.

I always remember the “McMansion” I used to drive past in Great Falls, Virginia. Now, given what this pile undoubtedly cost, they could have bought a few acres out in hunt country and retired to a low-key, unobtrusive, even elegant existence. (And there were some "old money" people who did just that.) But no – this place was right on the main road, on a prominent knoll... the architecture was a hodgepodge of Italianate (think “terraces”, like in “Last Year in Marienbad”) and “rich Arab”... and the driveway (which was about the size of a soccer field) was littered with limousines, SUVs, ATVs, motorcycles, speedboats on trailers, and any other type of vehicle you can imagine, the only common element being that it had to be big, shiny, expensive, and make a lot of noise. I always used to wonder, who _are_ these people, and what is their business so I can boycott it? Of course, in that area they could just as readily have been diplomats, and their wealth all derived from “foreign aid” (from the U.S., of course – which means from you and me).

And, perhaps they were happy with all that crap, who knows? Money does not necessarily create good taste – and there's the tragedy. But to counterbalance that you have to tip your hat to William Randolph Hearst, and other notables like George Vanderbilt. If that money had been distributed to “the people”, what would be their monument? More McMansions, I suspect – or those mini-Mount Vernons that dot the Virginia countryside. Want to see what “the people” do when they get a lot of money? Just check out the lives of lottery winners. It's not a pleasant sight. And I've always said that I'd rather be a poor person in a rich country than a rich person in a poor country – at least from the moral/ethical point of view.

But having said all that, I do wonder whether, in the still of the night, these powerful men – the most high-profile culprits in the current economic crisis – don't have moments of doubt. If all that they worked for – or stole for – all their lives can so quickly pass away... or if they can pass away, leaving it all behind... what does it add up to, after all? Do they protest too much when they contend that they're “entitled” to those $100 million bonuses? Now, I'm not wishing them ill, the way the supermarket tabloids take delight in the troubles of the famous and glamorous. On the contrary! I believe they're fully entitled to every honest dollar they've ever made. But as for the rest, well... I do wish that even one of them, one time, would show true contrition, not just by mouthing words in front of a microphone but in action. But this action would have to be of a very specific type – like the rich man in the Gospels, they would have to give back every bit of their ill-gotten gains, and – as much as possible – to the people from whom it had been gained. I'm still waiting for this to happen; just donating a few million to the opera, or art gallery, or symphony, won't cut it. What I'm looking for, I guess, is a change of heart – real repentance, in the literal sense. But when you're raised a certain way, with a certain set of values (to use the word in the broadest sense), what sort of catastrophe does it take to cast doubt on the whole enterprise? It's much easier, I guess, to just stay in the same running wheel. But when you look at them, they do not appear – by and large – to be happy people. (I always think of those "team owners" who get caught on camera during NFL games, with their trophy wives.) They are clearly driven... frantic... almost in a panic lest they miss an opportunity to make, or extort, another dollar. And then I have to contrast this with people I know who have a very modest income and who live very modestly – or who are downright poor, but nonetheless tranquil, bordering on saintly. Which has chosen the better part? Who is more content? Clearly not the one who is locked into striving. If the highest goal in life is to always have more, when is that ever satisfied? And if there is no possibility of satisfaction, doesn't that imply that there is something wrong with that goal? These people have more “results” to show than any hundred, or thousand, ordinary people... and yet they are, I daresay, less satisfied in many ways. There is never a point at which they can rest at day's end – a privilege that more traditional value systems hold on high. One of the most tranquil faces I've ever seen was that of an ancient Indian man in New Mexico. I imagine he lived in a one-room adobe hut with a dirt floor. But his lack of striving and anxiety would have done credit to an incarnation of the Buddha.

All I'm saying is, don't be too envious of these characters who parade in front of Congress, and wield their power over the world's economy. As Scripture says, the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. Be content with what you have, because you may, in fact, have more than they do.

What Did We Do (or Not Do) to Deserve This?

It's been said, with varying degrees of spite, elitism, and resignation, that people get the government they deserve. Now, I'm not enough of a liberal to believe in collective guilt to that extent. What I say is that, given the wide spectrum of political opinions (and delusions), and the equally wide spectrum of willingness to act on one's opinions (and delusions), that some people do, indeed, get the government they deserve, some get a worse government than they deserve, and some get a better one. I'm not sure, for example, how one can blame people today for the continued and apparently eternal abuses of the New Deal, which their grandparents supported but they didn't, because they weren't alive at the time. And typically the worst abuses of any government program only come to full fruition after those responsible for originating them are long gone. What good does it do to, at this late date, blame FDR for the demonetization of gold, or Nixon for the demonetization of silver? And how about Truman, who got us joined at the hip to Israel? And how about all the architects of the Vietnam war, the effects of which are still with us in the form of thousands of disabled veterans in VA hospitals? Most of “the best and the brightest” have gone on to their reward (or whatever). What today's citizens can be blamed for in these cases is not the original criminal acts, but the fact that they have never been reversed or disavowed since, because there has been no pressure from the citizenry to do so. The American Empire plunges on into ever-greater follies, and the debasement of the currency continues apace. These are things that could be remedied, if there were sufficient political will.

Or could they? The perennial question is whether things have gone so far down the road to totalitarianism that no effort on the part of the citizenry, short of violent revolution, can reverse the trend. The arguments that the Founding Fathers made to declare independence are being revived and refitted to the present situation, but is it too soon for that, or too late? The way human nature tends to work, we look out for “Number One” first... home and hearth... and politics is something we take little note of until the wolf is at the door – by which time it's typically too late. But this is, in fact, what the ruling elite count on – the reliable apathy and distractedness of the public. And, in fact, they do everything they can to aid and abet those processes. If Sy Syms thought that “an educated consumer is our best customer”, then for politicians of today an educated voter is their biggest danger. Much better to administer the soma and the Kool-Aid, beginning with the public schools and then continued by the media and by “games and circuses”. And one can, indeed, argue that falling for all of those things is a big part of what it takes to deserve bad government. And from a strictly libertarian, or Objectivist (a la Ayn Rand) standpoint, this is true – every individual, every citizen, is responsible for staying informed and for all of his actions at all times, and therefore all must equally share in the guilt for bad government. But I'm not sure this is any truer than the Protestant premise that every man should be his own priest and interpreter of Scripture. Shouldn't it be one of the primary functions of government to keep people from having to worry about government -- most of the time, at least? This is not to advocate ignorance, simply a layer of security that any decent government ought to be capable of providing... a layer of protection, if you will, from enemies both domestic and foreign (which, in the present day, would include predatory bankers, stock market operators and real estate combines as well as the highway robbers and card sharps of old). And, of course, Job Number One of government should be to protect people from... the government! And this is done through the self-limitation that the Constitution was supposed to provide a structure for... but which is largely ignored at this point. And this, in turn, is because people, and our leaders in particular, are all too human -- much more human, in fact, than the Founding Fathers may have made allowances for, despite their best efforts. But the truth is, nothing written on parchment, no matter how explicit, is going to stop people who are power-crazed and want only to rule by hook or crook. And honest citizenry with immoral leaders equals an immoral country -- more so, in fact, than honest leaders with an immoral citizenry would (assuming such a thing is even possible).

I'll say this much. Even if it is too late, we cannot act as if it were too late – because we might be wrong. If there is any chance of salvaging liberty before we enter into a new Dark Age, we ought to make our best attempt. That way, at least whoever cares, and tries to do something about it, won't be forced to admit they have the government they deserve – even if everyone else, sadly, does.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Hero Fallacy

It happens with striking regularity. A soldier returned from the Middle East will get up in front of a group – church group, fraternal organization, community service organization, etc. -- and describe the terror and hardships of his tour of duty in Iraq, Afghanistan, or wherever. He will describe the deaths of comrades, the injuries, the plight of the civilians... and, of course, the viciousness of the enemy. He will shrug modestly when the master of ceremonies describes him as a “hero”, the thought – oft expressed – being that “anyone in that situation would have done the same”. (Except that not just anyone would be put in that situation; the military is, as we know, still fairly selective as to who it puts in harm's way. It may not be the best and the brightest, but it's also not the worst and the dumbest.) In any case, there is applause... tears are shed... and one and all agree that they have been fortunate to meet, and speak with, and touch the hem of the garment of, one of our “brave boys” (or girls... I mean “women”). And everyone goes home, happy and secure in the thought that... what? That there are still real heroes in the world? Or that even their modest home town is capable of producing them? That would not be a bad thing to go home with. But it doesn't end there. What they are just as likely to take with them from this encounter is the conviction – firmer than ever – that our military exertions in that particular place were, and are, worthwhile because... well, because they produce heroes! Somehow it is the heroics per se that validate the larger effort... and the heroics are seldom seen as occurring despite the questionable validity of the campaign, or the questionable motives of the national leadership. No, they are used to lend credence and credibility, and to, basically, vindicate whatever machinations the leadership had to go through to get us over there... no matter how sleazy, self-serving, corrupt, or fanatical.

The psychological term for the phenomenon described above is “cognitive dissonance”, which can be described as “an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously” (from Wikipedia). In this case, the notion of a good and brave soldier being forced to fight in a bad, or unjust, or illegal, war would be the source of the mental conflict. So what's the solution? “The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, or by justifying or rationalizing their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors.” (also from Wikipedia) Another way of putting this is that when people are confronted with sufficiently conflicting perceptions, ideas, or concepts, something's gotta give – and what usually “gives” is one of the two opposing ideas. So, when confronted with our home-town hero who came home in one piece (more or less) from a bad, unjust, and illegal war, what is the most likely solution? We could decide that our hero is not a hero after all, but (as was said by many about returning Vietnam veterans) a “baby killer”, “soldier blue” (from the movie), “universal soldier” (from the song), or simply a faceless, mindless, robotic killing machine in the mold of (allegedly) John Demjanjuk. But hey, the guy's standing right there, he was in Boy Scouts with my kids... a great football player... delivered our paper... married a great gal... I've known his dad all my life... and so on. Right out of “Our Town” or “It's a Wonderful Life”. So what has to give, then, is one's opinion of the conflict. Suddenly it seems good, and right... and “OK” after all, despite all of one's former misgivings and despite all the evidence of scheming, corruption, and undue influence. Maybe those were just appearances, or rumors... or hey, what if some people _are_ getting rich? Does that mean the war is wrong? I mean, someone has to make the weapons, right? And are they not worthy of their hire? Isn't it possible also that we (America, that is) occasionally do the right thing for the wrong reasons? I mean, Vietnam may have had its sleazy aspects, but how many cases of communist aggression can you name that started post-Vietnam, huh? Maybe on some level it worked – even if it was a social, moral, and economic disaster for this country (and even if a unified, communist Vietnam has come out smelling like a rose). And by the same token, who is to say that someday we might not look back on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and decide that, well, they were basically for the good as well? Maybe it really is true that any war America undertakes is a good war simply because America undertakes it.

So this is the kind of thinking that follows close upon the heels of our confrontation with our hero. The alternative – living with the contraction – is too difficult, too stressful. And yet, the notion of outstanding heroism in an unjust war is not only not new, but it has been widely accepted in the case of Vietnam, for example. How many Vietnam war movies present evil soldiers fighting an evil war... or good soldiers fighting a good war? (Yeah, I know – John Wayne. But besides that?) No, this is the sort of contradiction that we have come more readily to accept in the post-modern age, when absurdity is more familiar, if no more palatable. And it also reflects our ability to distinguish between the soldier – i.e. the citizen – and the government. They are not the same, assuming they ever were – the government is now an independent, autonomous entity no more answerable to the American people, and no more concerned with their welfare, than is the government of North Korea. If the interests of the power elite and those of the people happen to coincide in a given instance, then the propaganda mill will put a good face on it and say, “look at all we're doing for you”. If those interests don't happen to coincide, it's more like “you have to be willing to make sacrifices”. Or just, “stuff happens” (AKA the "George W. Bush line for all occasions"). Frankly, I cannot think of a single government program at this time that operates unambiguously and consistently in favor of the ordinary citizen... and, in fact, I will argue that the vast majority operate in direct opposition to the interests of the ordinary citizen – and yet we are powerless to do anything about it. (And don't confuse the “right to vote” with power – how much power did you have to determine who ran in the primaries? And how much power do you have if you're a member of a “third party”? Or an independent?)

So the home town hero may, in fact, be a genuine hero – but he is used by the Regime as a propaganda device, just as in wars down through the centuries. Who can forget, for example, Sergeant York, or Audie Murphy? They may have been the real McCoy, but they were used in a shameless way to promote wars, and stifle dissent, as were the countless who did not make it back alive. (“How dare you imply that they died in vain?” -- and so on) You see it in the parents, spouses, and loved ones of the war dead – perhaps the most exploited group of all. “Take the triangle-folded flag, lady, and shut up about whatever misgivings you might have had about him joining the military.” The Regime is never any more despicable than when it exploits the aggrieved in this way – and yet people fall for it (as do the aggrieved, with very few exceptions – and those are made into social and political pariahs by the compliant media). How many will stand up in public and say, no, they _did_ die in vain... they sacrificed themselves for no reason that makes any sense... the price they paid was collected by the war industries, the political operatives, the fanatics, and by foreign interests; the American people profited not one iota, and in fact their losses mount with each passing day.

So have your heroes – but don't make the mistake of “heroizing” that which ought never to have happened... and wouldn't have, if liberty still prevailed.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Sowing the Wind

Now, I'm not one of those people who thinks that a “gay couple” -- of either gender – are, by definition, unfit for parenthood. In my book, Job #1 of parenting is providing a safe, secure, stable (note the word!) environment, along with love, affection, and ample opportunities for enhancement of the child's self-esteem... plus, of course, the basics when it comes to food and clothing (this does not have to include a credit card and weekly excursions to the mall). Gay couples can, and do, provide all of these things to natural and adopted children.

But what about this issue of “role modeling”? Well, that's a problem for single parents too, isn't it – maybe a bigger problem than it might be for gay couples. Parental separation and divorce can't be much help when it comes to role modeling; personally I would prefer a gay-couple household where there are at least two of them and they can model cooperation and division of labor, even if the lines that would distinguish traditional roles are a bit fuzzy. You know, it's amazing what kids can put up with and come out more or less intact; when it comes to “damage” -- I've never heard of anyone “scarred” by growing up in a “gay parent” household (although, admittedly, there can't be all that much data as of yet) – but I've seen plenty of scar tissue resulting from neglect, mistreatment, emotional abuse, and physical abuse (sexual and otherwise). So when it comes to making a choice – well, let's just say that it's OK to have an image of an ideal world, but when you're dealing with actual people you have to try and recognize what works and what doesn't on an everyday basis.

Having said all that, however, it is also true that certain “sexual minorities” have succeeded in politicizing behavior and lifestyles that would have been considered pathological – and been illegal, in some cases – not that far back. Now, aside from the legal issues, where was it ever written that one's sexual proclivities had to form the basis for one's politics, and for demands for certified victim status? Can't people just be the way they are and leave everyone else alone? Ah, but we have this obsession with “rights”, and with everything having to be out in public. All of a sudden it's a matter of “pride” (and parades). So if I can't push my sexuality into everyone else's face (so to speak), I'm failing in my duty as an “agent of change” and political activist. Suddenly tolerance is no longer enough – everything has to be legal, and in fact promoted through grants, subsidies, preferences, affirmative action, etc. (not to mention college and university programs). This, in my opinion, is a corrupting influence – but it's one that minorities have asked for... demanded... so now they get it. But they also forget that there is a price to be paid. If you want the government's seal of approval on your life style, you can expect some government involvement in that life style in return; this makes perfect sense, but no one is willing to face up to it until it's too late.

With that as a preamble, I provide an example, from the recent press, of what I call the “dark side” of the gay marriage, “alternative family structure” issue. As long as everyone is getting along, and the government is considered everyone's friend, and a protector of “minority rights”, things are fine. But what happens when clouds start to gather over GLBT utopia? Then we get things like this -- “Woman won't give up child to ex-lesbian lover.” Strictly speaking, it should have said “ex-lesbian ex-lover”, since the person in question not only split up with her companion but “renounced homosexuality and became an evangelical Christian” (presumably in that order). So I guess the average family court – even in Vermont! -- would find the born-again heterosexual woman's household a more suitable place to raise a child than the still-gay former partner's. No big surprise, except – guess what! -- the child is the natural child of the still-gay former partner, not the born-again heterosexual evangelical. So the state of Vermont -- Howard Dean country – has decided to take a child away from its natural mother and hand it over to... whom? At best a stepmother (of sorts, since there was a “Vermont civil union” involved). And the kid was conceived through artificial insemination, of course... but I don't believe that invalidates the rights of its natural mother. And what do you know, the kid's mother doesn't want to cooperate!

Now, this all happened a while back, and the situation may have morphed somewhat in the meantime. But the fact that something like this could happen – at all, ever! -- indicates how far we've come down the road to perdition. I mean, as mixed up as these people were, this kid does have, in fact, a natural mother, whose only “crime”, apparently, was to deny “access to the girl” on the part of her “ex”, who has absolutely no biological relationship to the child. But she does have a legal relationship, thanks to the People's Republic of Vermont, and that legal relationship is apparently deemed superior to anything as old-fashioned as biological motherhood.

I guess we can be thankful for one thing, at least – it didn't take all that long for the GLBT utopia to turn into a nightmare – at least for these folks. But in principle, it had to happen eventually, because things like this are accidents waiting to happen. I'm not saying these women were unstable because they were gay – or that they should not have contemplated raising a child. But the government takes a look at scenes like that and says, aha, here's an opportunity to make some real mischief – so the next thing you know, we have court verdicts like this one, which – in any other time or place in all of human history – would have been considered totally insane, and grounds for removing the judge and locking him up in an asylum for life. But places like Vermont, as charming as they can be at times, are – socially and morally – far out at sea with no anchor, and when a storm hits, as it must, disaster follows soon after. The mere spectacle of such a thing should make everyone think twice about the new version of “legislating morality” -- but, like any plague or catastrophe, you never think it's going to strike you. You're immune, for some reason, because of your benign will and good intentions. Well, these folks had those things too, and look at them now.

Snow Joke

Pittsburghers are a hardy lot. They work hard, play hard... smoke, overeat, drink... fight... wreck cars with abandon... fire guns randomly at odd hours of the day and night... make “terroristic threats”... and some of them even indulge in that mysterious criminal behavior called “involuntary deviate sexual intercourse” -- a kind of all-purpose, catch-all charge that is tacked onto the end of every other list of offenses. A guy can be arrested for having an expired driver's license, and he'll still wind up also charged with involuntary deviate sexual intercourse – I just don't know how that works, frankly. But it adds to the list of offenses that are so ill-defined that anyone can be charged with them, and how can you argue? It's like the Salem witch trials -- “prove you're not a witch”. Impossible to do.

But in any case, here was a gaggle of my neighbors this morning, up and down the street, trekking to the convenience store for the requisite bread and milk, digging their cars out of snowdrifts, and generally putting a stoic face on things. Ironic that this had to happen on the biggest shopping day of the year. Am I confused? Is it the day before Thanksgiving, or “Black Friday”, or the day before Christmas? Heck no – it's the day before the Super Bowl, and even when the Steelers aren't playing it is tantamount to a national holiday in Steeltown... and predictably, the first products to be completely sold out in the stores yesterday were not bread and milk, after all, but nachos and salsa... and all of the other overly-salted, overly-sugared, trans-fat-laden garbage that gives Pittsburghers their svelte figures and enhances their healthy lifestyles.

Well, I guess I shouldn't complain. I used to live outside Washington, DC, where there are plenty of secret football fans... secret because football, despite being “America's game”, is still considered a bit “blue collar” by snooty suburbanites. So you have the hypocrisy of people stocking up for the Super Bowl, but when you call them on it, they say, “Oh no, this is for the reception following Cameron's ballet recital.” It simply wouldn't do, you see, to admit that one watched football – ugh! Animalistic! “A bunch of sweating gorillas”, etc. Not that the denizens of DC have much to show for their consumption of oxygen – most of them are lawyers, and spend their careers embroiled in cases that the average person cannot begin to understand. The Great Game is played with paper, and briefcases, and tailored suits, in elegant halls lined with mahogany and bedecked with gold leaf – and you and I pay for it all. (Does this make me a “populist”? Maybe so.) So, compared to all that, Pittsburgh is downright refreshing, and I have not regretted, even for an instant, having moved here. And this is despite being called impolite names whenever I venture out onto local roads – or even just while walking down the street. But it makes me feel like I belong. It's like that old exercise called “doing the dozens” that constitutes a major facet of inner-city black ghetto folkways – it's all part of the toughening process. It's a challenge the way a vaccination would be – either deal with or don't, but if you don't you're a wimp. Plus, let's face it – a major snowstorm gets people out of doors, it gets them exercising, and it gets them talking to each other. How many other events can make that claim? Normally, we're all in an autistic state in front of the TV, or sinking into a pool of oblivion at the nearest bar. But something like this happens – kind of like an invasion, if you will – and people get to know each other. It's a fine thing.

The Drive-By Blogger

The military's “Don't ask, don't tell” policy may end not with a bang but a whimper – so to speak. The old “morale” argument starts to wear thin when you have a look at all the heterosexual “fraternization” that goes on constantly – not to mention pregnant naval personnel on board ships, punctured romances in the space program, etc. The end of this particular hypocrisy is one casualty we can afford, it seems to me.

Third-world pride: You mean it's not OK to just spirit kids out of a distressed country like Haiti, regardless of whether they have parents? You mean the blessings of “a new life” in the U.S. aren't the Haitian government's highest priority for its younger citizens? Imagine that. We always make the facile assumption that just because a country is plagued with what we call “poverty” (they call it “the way things are”) everyone in that country is (1) anxious to leave as soon as possible, or (2) failing that, anxious that their children get to leave. But there is, after all, such a thing as racial and ethnic cohesion and, yes, pride – something we are not only completely unfamiliar with up here, but it is actually discouraged by the ruling regime and is, in many cases, against the law. So who has a better chance of surviving when things get really tough – the Haitians, who are used to hard times, or lard-ass Americans, who are paralyzed by political correctness and other delusions? Maybe we'll get a chance to find out before long...

“Scientists have detected glimmers of awareness in some vegetative patients.” Wow – guess there's hope for Robert Byrd yet. And of course we know that Ariel Sharon is still running things in Israel (and in the U.S. State Department) from his hospital bed.

Looks like the high-end art market is rolling again. But why? One possibility is that the good times have returned for the rich, and they aren't “running scared” any longer. And that ought to create some trickle-down prosperity for the rest of us, right? But another possibility is that – according to plan – they are bailing out of traditional securities as well as the dollar, and putting their wealth in even more traditional holding patterns – you know, the same sort of things that everybody buys during wars and depressions. The only thing that can be said for certain is that it's good news for art dealers.

There's a major snow dump going on right now in Pittsburgh, and sure enough, the “quick stop” store down the street was thronged with people buying milk and bread – including, as I always suspect, people who don't normally even use milk and bread. Mass hysteria is a wonder to behold...

Plus – get this – there are no cars on the street, and no one on foot... except the usual crowd of drunks that shows up a half hour after the bars close. These people are tough.

I still don't quite “get” all the problems we seem to have putting up an effective border fence. Why doesn't somebody just go back and study what the Soviets did – not only in Berlin, with the wall, but around the entire Soviet Union? No one got in or out for decades. And how about the Nazis? They managed to keep people from leaving for a few years at least. And how about North Korea? They have all done it successfully – why can't we?

Best way to save money at the Olympics – watch it on TV.

Obama's working on Son of No Child Left Behind. But it won't work either. The only solution? Run the schools like a private, for-profit business. Which means, any teacher can be fired, at any time, for any reason. That would get their attention much better than another lame government program.

If the Tea Partiers want to acquire any credibility and long-term survival potential, they have to distance themselves as much as possible from the likes of Sarah Palin. With her hanging around the neck of “conservatives”, they're never going to regain any sort of power no matter how much Obama & Co. mess up.

So the swine flu came and went, and the Republic remains. Any chance a lot of the panic was intentionally created by that arm of the government in charge of the perpetual “state of fear”?

High school students in nearby Greensburg, PA tipped each other off via cell phone when they spotted “narcs” on the campus. “Police and dogs” gathered outside one of our stellar public schools recently, in that twilight zone that represents the convergence of fascism with the public school debacle. There are no winners here... but at least the kids have a bit of gumption still remaining, despite all the efforts of the public school brainwashing cartel. If our youth cannot escape the machine, at least they can rage against it.

A jail guard trainee “suffered a neurological problem that required hospitalization and surgery” after being exposed to pepper spray as part of a training course. But of course the stuff is perfectly safe for use on ordinary citizens – just like the Taser. Right?

“I am not anticipating, nor do I want to anticipate, life at CBS News without Katie Coric.” So says CBS News and Sports president Sean McManus. Well, that makes one of us, pal. Heck, I'm still enjoying “The CBS Evening News Without Dan Rather” -- the same thing without Katie would be even better.

So now we have the baddest of Obama's bad-asses, Rahm Emanuel, having to apologize for using the word “retarded” during a private meeting? Wow – talk about liberals getting hoisted on their own petard. So now he says “he will join (a) campaign to help end the use of the word.” Fair enough – might I suggest that a good place to start might be to ditch Obama's economic program in its entirety? That would give people much less cause to use the word in everyday conversation.

Among those who chimed in on the Emanuel gaffe was Sarah Palin, who asked, on her Facebook page, “Are you capable of decency, Rahm Emanuel?” Well, the answer, of course, is no. He's fairly typical of the Obama inner claque, in fact – although, arguably, the first among equals... equals in cynicism, hypocrisy, sharp dealing, and plotting against the American people. How did a nice guy like Obama wind up surrounded by so many con artists and sociopaths? One possibility is that he's not a nice guy after all.

“Treating terrorists like civilians damages our ability to gather crucial intelligence” -- says Sen. Jeff Sessions. Well, maybe... but what about treating our civilians like terrorists? What does that damage?

What is it about the “French face”? I started to wonder about this once again when I saw a picture of Sarkozy. You can tell a Frenchman a mile off, and I don't think it's just DNA. I think there's actually something about the French language that results in the kind of muscle development – and “non-verbals” -- that constitute the “French face”. Anyone out there have any theories?

So Obama is going to have a brewski or two with the Dalai Lama, despite the protestations of his masters in Beijing. (Obama's masters, that is – not the Lama's.) And this after going over there a few months ago, and crawling up to The Forbidden City on his hands and knees, and begging them not to quit loaning us money. Plus, he is selling weaponry to Taiwan – which would be roughly the equivalent of China selling weaponry to Puerto Rico. And meanwhile, China continues to stand firmly in Iran's corner. What does it all add up to? What I imagine is that – just with previous administrations – there are certain token expressions of “getting tough” and “declaring independence” that American presidents are permitted to make, as long as there are no tangible consequences. And to save (or retain) face, China has to respond with token objections. But the fix is in, basically. We're not going to mess with their stuff in any serious way – but for some reason, the demands of diplomacy are such that we have to pretend to have principles, and they have to pretend to object to our expressions of pretended principles. And to think that people actually go to universities to get degrees in “diplomacy”!

Wow, Pittsburgh really is the designated “sin eater” for America's diplomatic highjinks, isn't it? First we had the G-20, which should have gotten us “disaster area” designation by the governor, and now they're proposing that the 9-11 trial be moved here because it would be too costly and risky to hold it in Manhattan. Right. But if it's here it'll be free and safe? Please. It's for the same reason no one wants to have to store their own nuclear waste.

You can keep your guns in Cuba – supposedly – provided you pass “aptitude and psychological tests”. This is part of an amnesty program aimed at, I suppose, rooting out all remaining guns in the hands of private citizens. But what will the criteria be – which “aptitudes”, what level of mental health – for being allowed to keep one's weapons? And... more importantly... will anyone from the Obama administration be keeping an eye on the whole business in order to gather “lessons learned” for a similar action here?

In care you're getting too paranoid about the Department of Homeland Security, rest assured that it is every bit as bogged down in paperwork and red tape as any other government agency – which is why there's really very little to worry about. According to a recent column by Arnaud de Borchgrave, “No fewer than 108 congressional committees and subcommittees claim oversight on... DHS... (which) is required to product more than 500 annual reports in addition to more than 6000 individual requests for information per year.” Now – in my time with the government, I experienced plenty of those “requests for information”, AKA “Congressionals”. What happens, basically, is the entire agency has to stand down and “work the action” until “the mail is answered”... and the mission can go to hell, basically. So really, this is good news for lovers of liberty. DHS is, after all the fuss and bother, just another government agency that is, basically, rendered impotent by people on Capitol Hill with an agenda and nothing better to do. (But -- it should be noted -- the IRS and the intelligence agencies are immune from this sort of thing. So you can't totally stop being afraid.)

“Ruling raises fear of foreign money going to elections.” This, regarding the recent Supreme Court decision regarding campaign finance. Now, is anyone out there so na├»ve as to believe that “foreign money” has not, for decades, been a key elements in American elections? We're not the only ones who attempt to influence, by hook or crook, elections overseas – they do it too, 'cause... well... 'cause they stand to lose a lot in foreign aid, trade preferences, etc. if the “wrong” person is elected president, or to Congress. At least, they think they do... but in any case, why take chances? The Chinese have been knee-deep in our election process for years... and don't even get me started on Israel! Maybe the decision will open things up a bit and make the process more obvious... and therefore offer an opportunity for true reform. As it is, keeping it a secret has been singularly ineffective.

Hard to believe, isn't it? Tony Blair actually has the shadow of a noose around his neck as serious discussions are held as to whether to indict him for war crimes – for supporting, and participating in, our invasion of Iraq. Well... there was, after all, “the coalition of the willing” -- which basically meant countries either stupid enough or corrupt enough to join forces (albeit very small ones) with the U.S. in what turned out to be a blatantly illegal and unjustified invasion. And most of them, sure enough, dropped out fairly soon, but not Old Blighty! So here stands Tony, with his twin (“W”) in the dock of world opinion, and it doesn't look good.

So vaccinations don't cause autism? Well... maybe, but then how does one explain the apparent epidemic of what was once considered a very rare condition? I don't think “underdiagnosis in the past” quite fills the bill. I suspect that there are environmental factors involved, even if vaccination is not a big player. After all, we have a plethora of “new diseases” that were unknown up until the last few decades – and most of them seem to be based on environmental contamination by various exotic chemicals, including by-products from high-tech manufacturing (including weapon systems). This may be just another price we pay for “civilization” -- but that's not much consolation for the ones to have to deal with it on a daily basis.

The city of Voronezh in Russia can no longer afford to maintain its large bronze statue of Vladimir Lenin, “in heroic style” -- you know, striding along with one arm stretched out toward the future (which “works”). Well... I have a suggestion. Why not offer it to some place where Lenin is still a hero? I'm not talking about Cuba, or North Korea, or sub-Saharan Africa, either – they might not be able to foot the bill any more readily than Voronezh can. What I have in mind is any one of scores of small liberal arts colleges in the U.S. -- or large universities, for that matter. The statue could be re-erected in front of the “political science” building at Berkeley, for example... or the University of Wisconsin, or Michigan... or any number of other places. Who knows, demand might be so high that the statue might have to be cloned. And as for shipping – well, I'm sure ACORN could handle that, with some of its “walking-around money”.

Wow – now this is some kind of new high in... I don't know what. Masochism, maybe? Or, unsolicited confession? Kinda reminds me of these “self-criticism” sessions that were held all over China during the Cultural Revolution. The IRS now “plans to start requiring large corporations to disclose on their tax returns whether they are taking tax breaks that might be unacceptable to the IRS.” In other words, it's no longer enough to wade through the thousands of pages of tax code and do one's best to come up with a legitimate return – now we have worry about things we think are OK, but the IRS might not. Which means, we all have to become mind readers when it comes to the IRS – an ugly prospect, I'm sure you'll agree. (There are some doors that were never meant to be opened – and among them is “the mind of the IRS”.) But hey – no problemo, since we're only talking about “large corporations” here. Which will be followed, I'm sure, by small corporations, then wealthy individuals, then, finally... you and me, bub. So get out your crystal ball and start getting ready to read the mind of the IRS. (Airsickness medicine recommended.)

“Few school districts apply for federal funds” -- this is in regard to the “economic stimulus plan”, and the naysaying schools are in Ohio. Why turn down all the free cash? Why, “because of concerns about government mandates and the future of such funding”. In other words, if it's not guaranteed income for life, and if there might be strings attached – AKA “standards” -- then no dice. Also, there was concern about “the money's effect on union contracts” -- and, as we well know, the interests of the teachers' unions are paramount. But at least they have principles... sort of.

And here I thought North Korea was a totalitarian dictatorship! It turns out that not only do they have a middle class, but said middle class has started to push back against government restrictions on currency – like, you can only use North Korean currency and you're not allowed to hold more than a certain very small amount of that. So... are we looking into our own far-distant future? In which case, maybe there is hope after all – as long as we're willing to put up with a few decades of unpleasantness in the meantime.

Evo Morales has, just like that, “eradicated colonialism” in Bolivia – or so he claims. I have to admit to having some admiration for Evo, since he did kick the DEA out of the country and expelled our ambassador. Clearly, he sees our insane “war on drugs” as incompatible with traditional Andean values. But to simply eradicate colonialism in one fell swoop? That reminds me of nothing less than the fact that homelessness disappears every time a Democrat is elected president of the U.S.

Oh, darn – just when we thought the “where to put the Guantanamo prisoners” problem was solved, some local yokels out in Illinois have started pushing back against the proposal to house them in their state. Obviously, the attraction of “jobs” wasn't enough to counterbalance the fear of rag-headed, wild-eyed terrorists escaping and then promptly violating the local belles. And this is a state that houses some of the most hardened criminals in the country – former Chicago city officials! You'd think that, after all that, a few jihadists would be a piece of cake (or felafel, whatever). Plus, where's their sense of patriotism? You'd think they'd be more than willing to carry their fair share of the burden.

And so, as we enter the second year of the reign of Barack the Great, we see that, basically, all's right with the world and things are firmly under control. We have the ruling class – most of whom are invisible... their designated highly-paid servants (the president, Congress, etc.) -- and the vast, gray masses of serfs – namely us. We can pretend to be “empowered”, to understand what's going on, to have some “voice”, some “say” in things. We can even vote, on occasion, when we are so moved. But in the quiet hours of the night, we suspect that it's all an illusion... that, really, we have no power whatsoever, and that the only claim we have on the Regime is our ongoing need to be alternately reassured and frightened to death. In other words, they still care what we think – at least on occasion. When the day comes that they no longer care, then the transition to totalitarianism and slavery will be complete. Some of us prefer to cling to our illusions, and others prefer to just leap to the bottom line and declare that all is already lost – that from here on out it's just a matter of policing up the battlefield. I guess, in a way, this is a difference in values. As I pointed out a while back, I would rather know the truth than wallow in either illusions or oblivion – but I recognize that not everyone is like that. If you're a regular reader of this blog, I have to assume you at least have the courage to consider the possibility that I may be right about the way things are – at least some of the time. As to what to “do” about it... my preference is to, basically, stay out of politics but keep on digging for the truth – higher, wider, deeper. I won't claim that this is a “reassuring” process – anything but! But with each insight one gets, many illusions and mistakes can be discarded, and this is actually liberating in a way; at least it saves energy! And this is not to claim that my “model” has hardened into concrete and is no longer subject to modification – just that once we have shoved certain premises aside and become focused on the ones that really seem to bear fruit, we can at least make some progress in our own thinking... and I contend that that is a value in itself, and worth pursuing. The least I can claim is that, no matter how hard one tries, it's impossible to actually stop thinking about these issues, since they present themselves to us anew each day – in our normal lives, in the media, in the lives of others. There is, in other words, no escape – so why not try and learn, and preach, the truth to the extent one can perceive it, or at least speculate on it?