Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Going Home to Zion

I have to admit, there's not much that surprises me any more. I mean, you live through Clinton, and George W. Bush, and now Obama, and come out with your sanity relatively intact, but you're about as likely to be surprised – by anything – as a three-toed sloth. And, the very last place I would expect to be a source of surprise is my home town newspaper.

Now, let me set the context. My home town and its weekly paper – both of which shall remain nameless to protect the innocent – are both paragons of predictability. The town had a population of 4000-plus according to the 2000 census, and I don't expect it to have grown a whole lot since. And the paper? Well... if you have any experience with small-town newspapers, you know that they are basically a combination of pennysaver and bulletin board. I mean, a story about a guy pulling a stump out of his back yard can make the front page, OK? We're talking small here. Local news? No problem. County news (that's not as local as local news), mostly OK. State? A bit remote. National? N'existe pas. And this is all well and good; it serves an important purpose. It serves to bolster the image of the town as a real place, and its citizens as people who still count (despite Obama's statements to the contrary). And the “columns” that are included seem to be a more or less random selection from the offerings of what, I'm sure, is some sort of small town newspaper syndicate. And in general, the contents are no more controversial than how to raise prize-winning rhubarb.

With that as background, imagine my astonishment when I opened the latest issue to find a column entitled “Israel is a true friend to the United States”! Not only is this a national-level issue, but it has to do with foreign affairs! (Unheard of!) And it's controversial (or should be) to boot! (The dam's broke! Head for the hills!) Oh, the loss of innocence! The sleaze and ruination of the world has penetrated even unto the Norman Rockwell-esque provinces!

This column is by a guy named Dr. Robert L. Heichberger, who is apparently an academician of note in the New York State hinterlands. His thumbnail picture makes him look like a basically affable type – sort of a cross between Andy Griffith and Alfred E. Newman. But what's his point? Well, it's the same point (or lack thereof) that I discussed just the other day when I described Ed Koch's rant (“Mayoral Deficiency”, April 19). He cites “the recent fierce denunciation of Israel by the administration in Washington”, which has “ignited a fire storm in Congress”. And, he refers to “the administration's decision to publicly condemn Israel for its announcement of new Jewish housing in east Jerusalem”. And then – to add insult to injury! -- the president visited the Middle East last spring and did not make a stop in Israel – an act which Dr. H refers to as “a deliberate slap in the face of Jerusalem”. (I wasn't aware that Jerusalem had a face to slap – I've been there, and there was no city-level face in sight. But I digress.) Oh, and then he expresses a fear that “America's pro-Israel policy is changing”. Then comes a quote – attributed to Obama, who “appeared outraged at 'those horrible Israeli settlements'”. That's right! Obama called the settlements “horrible”. Well – I couldn't resist Googling this particular gem, and as it turns out the quote was not from Obama but from Dick Morris, who used the phrase (in an ironic way) in a 2 June 2009 column. In fact, in that same column, Morris also makes the very same “slap in the face” statement as Dr. H – but nearly two years earlier. The exact same words! Ah, ah, Dr. H – aren't we flirting a bit with plagarism here? And just down the page, he refers to “those terrible Israeli settlements” -- and this version does not Google.

And on top of all this, “the current administration in Washington is turning America against Israel”. How, pray tell? I don't recall Obama, in any speech given to date, counseling us to start disliking Israel; on the contrary, he goes out of his way to state that the “relationship” is as strong and enduring – and eternal – as ever.

But regardless of who said what and when, I make the same point I made re: Ed Koch. What “fierce denunciation”? What “fire storm”? What public condemnation? And what change in policy? None of these things has happened, and none is about to. It's all just a case of a kid running through the house yelling “Ma! He hit me!” when, in fact, nothing of the sort occurred. But as if that weren't enough, Dr. H then joins George Will in a bit of historical misrepresentation, as follows: “How many Americans understand that when Israel was founded in 1948, no Palestinian state was invaded, no Palestinian state destroyed?” Well... I guess, technically, there was no invasion, at least not at that exact moment – but there had, very definitely, been a place called Palestine, a “British mandate” since 1923. So is a “mandate” a state? Darned if I know. But it did have people living in it – approximately 1.6 million (so much for the myth of “a land without a people”). And was it destroyed? Well, it was replaced by Israel – at least the portion of the British mandate actually called “Palestine”, as opposed to the portion called “Transjordan”, which became Jordan. And if one wanted to quibble, one could contend that Palestine was indeed “invaded”, over a protracted period of time, by the Zionists... and that it was, for all intents and purposes, “destroyed” by the founding of the State of Israel. But Dr. H is apparently not interested in all of these subtleties. All he knows is that “Israel is a true friend” -- you know, the kind of friend that commits espionage against us, attacks our warships, and humiliates our leaders at every opportunity. Too bad Vlad the Impaler isn't still around – we could “friend” him too (on Facebook maybe, just to be safe).

So I have to put Dr. H in the same hysterical and possibly senile category as Ed Koch. But the real question is, how did any of this wind up in a small-town newspaper in upstate New York – especially one that, last time I checked, had a grand total of three Jewish families living there (none of which seemed militantly Zionist, as I recall)? Who makes that call? And why? Is it really all that important to win the hearts and minds of small-town America when it comes to the Israel question – especially when Israel already has a death grip on our foreign policy, our military, and our elected officials? And consider the timing – Koch one week, then this character the next. From the biggest to the smallest – they've got the waterfront covered. But really, they don't have to worry about Washington in the slightest, since that city is in their hands in every way. But small-town America? Maybe not quite such a cake walk. Of course, there are the Evangelicals – and my town had its share, but nowhere near to the extent of any place in the South – who are reliable, nay fanatical, supporters of Israel... so their loyalty is certainly not in question. But not everyone is an Evangelical – even in small towns. Maybe what they're afraid of is a new grass-roots movement – one even more radical than the “tea parties” -- called “why the hell are we still supporting Israel”? Now this would be something to be feared... because, in the long run, today's grass roots can turn into tomorrow's elected officials, and then some real damage can be done.

So am I saying that some vast Zionist conspiracy put Dr. H up to writing this column, and then proceeded to disseminate it even unto the fastnesses of very un-Jewish small town America? Not necessarily. But the timing is curious indeed. And the strength of the arguments – namely none whatsoever – is equally curious. This seems to reflect, as I've already implied, some sort of hysteria... some dark fear that the next pogrom is just around the corner. Or, if not an actual pogrom, then a massive wandering off the reservation on the part of ordinary Americans, who might just be tired of the con game Israel has been playing on them for.... well, two generations at least. Now, this is not to say, or even imply, that the Israel question has risen to the surface among ordinary conservatives or even “tea partiers”. As far as they're concerned, Israel is a sacred cow, and our support is never to be questioned. But who knows, maybe not everyone down at the grass roots feels that way. Maybe, on occasion, the scales fall from their eyes and they see the absurdity of the situation for what it is. And those may be the target audience for presentations like Dr. H's. No matter how small that hole in the dike is, is has to be patched at once! The slightest whisper of dissent has to be squelched! No one must dare breathe a word against Israel – not even in the “sanctity of the bedroom”, as LBJ so memorably put it (you notice he didn't mention who else was in the bed).

Now, before closing on this topic, I have to mention another factor that just might be entering into all of this. The liberals are always accusing the “tea partiers” and suchlike of “racism” because they are protesting Obama's policies, and Obama is “black” (although not “black” in the same way regular black Americans are “black”), therefore any protest of his policies is, by definition, racist. (And I guess blacks who protest his policies are “self-hating blacks” the way Jews who protest Israeli policies are “self-hating Jews”.) But the problem is not limited to white supremacists and their fellow travelers. The relations between blacks and Jews in America have been fraught with ambivalence almost from the beginning. On the one hand, Jews were the most steadfast and reliable – and most activist, among whites – supporters of civil rights. (It was all about "Go Down, Moses" and "let my people go" -- remember?) But on the other hand, the cultural experience of blacks with Jews included some very large and very negative factors -- Jewish slumlords and Jewish merchants (who were always being accused of hiking up prices, because there was little or no competition in those inner-city areas). And some of the more perceptive blacks might even have felt that Jewish support for civil rights – and also for black artists, etc. -- was a bit paternalistic and condescending at times. And of course, there is the stereotype – but very true nonetheless – of the black maid commuting out to Westchester County every morning to her job in a manor-like Jewish home. Not at all unfair – but certain to cause resentment, especially among a group with paranoid tendencies. Plus -- guess what! -- some of the more militant blacks wound up converting to Islam, of all things.

So the bottom line is that Jews have always been ambivalent about blacks, and vice versa. So now comes a black president, who has to deal with a Jewish country, namely Israel. Any chance that some of that same ambivalence and tension might come into play in this transaction? And how about the Israel lobby, which is, relatively, home-grown? “Oy, now we got a shvartzer in the White House.” That's both good news and bad news. Good, because blacks ought to be better able to emphasize with the perennial Jewish dilemma than white gentiles; bad because blacks occasionally get feisty and even violent, and start blaming Jews for things – as witness the riots in Brooklyn a few years back. So, while white gentile presidents – including Evangelicals – don't put the Israeli lobby on edge (except maybe aesthetically), it's possible that a black president might. Which means that the propaganda machine has to be shifted into higher gear than usual, including a trickle-down effect to small-town newspapers... just to make sure everyone is covered, and that everyone stays on board. Paranoid? Yes. Over-reacting? Absolutely. But when you're Israel, or an Israel supporter, and see the most trivial things as part of a life-and-death struggle, no precaution is too absurd to take.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Next Time Send an Obama-Gram

I have to admit it – I enjoy watching a true master practicing his craft... even when the craft is politics. Now, your initial response to this statement might be, “What's so special about politics? Anyone can lie – and isn't politics basically the art of deception?” Very true. And the standard response to this objection would be, “But it's not just lying that counts, but lying convincingly.” But my response, in turn, would be: Not true! In fact, it's just the opposite. The true art – the sign of a “natural” politician -- is not his ability to lie convincingly, but his ability to make people want to _believe_ his lies, even when they are blatantly untrue. Take Bill Clinton, for example – the “liar-in-chief” -- or, as someone said about him and his wife, “They lie even when they don't have to.” But his genius (if not hers) was to say things that people wished were true – that they wanted, with all their heart, to be true... so it didn't matter that they weren't true, just as long as they ought to be. Now, to pull this off successfully requires brilliance on many levels. To begin with, you have to be able to discern what people really want – as opposed to what they say they want, or even think they want. And then you have to be able to choose just the right words (and choreography, and timing, etc.) to optimally answer that need. And you have to be willing to take advantage of any situation, in a completely shameless way, to pursue this agenda. And then when those few malcontents pipe up and accuse you of gross deception, you have to be able to hang tough, and basically ignore them – i.e. never argue, and never -- never, ever -- apologize. (And this takes considerable will power, you must admit.) So the bottom line is that you create, for all intents and purposes, reality out of thin air – what should be true somehow, almost magically, becomes true simply because you have said it and people agree. This is the art of politics brought to fine perfection – and Bill Clinton is without peer in our generation in this regard. He took full advantage of what I call the 3-day news phenomenon. On Day One, you make your headline-grabbing (but completely untrue) statement. On Day Two, the media broadcast it to the ends of the earth, representing it as The Truth, like unto the tablets Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai. Then on Day Three, a few troublemakers start to pick apart this fragment of holy writ, pointing out the gross errors and untruths within. They are, of course, totally ignored by the media (not to mention by the perpetrator) and their objections are soon forgotten, whereas the original statement stands as strong and tall as ever. Or – worst case – a few isolated media outlets deal with the objections in a desultory fashion by putting in a tiny item, buried somewhere within the paper and below the fold so that no one ever reads it.

And this is how we, as a society, handle “truth” in the political arena – which is to say, we don't handle truth at all; in fact we treat it like nuclear waste. But let's return to Bill Clinton, who has now -- taking a hint from Rachel Maddow -- identified the “tea partiers” with domestic terrorists of the Timothy McVeigh persuasion. It's a load of crap, of course – but because, to many people, it “ought” to be true, it is therefore accepted as the truth... and the rest are too intimidated to speak up. And, in fact, the ploy works – since you can expect the tea partiers and other protesters and dissenters to feel a chill on their efforts. I mean, it's one thing to trot down to the National Mall on a bright spring day with a sign in your hand – and quite another to feel that you've been added to a list of suspected or potential terrorists. What happens the next time you try to get on a plane? Or get a job requiring security clearance? And so on. That's the sort of thing that would intimidate any middle-class person, and a good many other people besides. Only the perennial radical would see this categorization as a badge of honor – not that he accepted it as the truth, but that it proves his point about the government... the system... the Regime... however he puts it to himself and others.

(And by the way, how is it that anti-big-government people are always being referred to, by liberals, as “Nazis” and “fascists” -- as if there was anything in Nazism or fascism that was opposed to big government? Just asking... )

But now let us turn to the new, young master of all of the arts political – namely our current president. He has shown skills in this area nearly on the level of Mr. Clinton, although I suspect he's operating at a distinct disadvantage because he still has a functioning conscience. But that is an ailment that is easily cured – and Obama is showing himself to be a cooperative patient. This last Sunday, he showed up at the mountain retreat of none other than the Rev. Billy Graham, for a spontaneous and unrehearsed chat with Graham and his son Franklin. (The AP referred to it as a “pilgrimage”. No “wall of separation” around here, folks!) Now, as you'll recall and as I described just the other day (“Graham Crackers”, posted on April 23), Franklin Graham is the guy who was disinvited from speaking at a Pentagon prayer service because he had referred to Islam as “evil”. And our military – for whom Job One is killing as many Moslems as possible in the shortest amount of time – decided that his remarks were “not appropriate”. What I imagine happened then was that someone in the White House said, “oops!!” -- fully realizing that the Pentagon had just alienated a few million Evangelicals. And this is not because Obama is depending on Evangelical votes, but because they are the most hard-core supporters of the multiple and endless wars he is taking such delight in waging. And somehow, mysteriously, as I've said before, the Evangelicals still wield tremendous clout in Washington. So obviously, there were some fences that needed mending... and, the next thing you know, shazam! -- Obama shows up on Billy Graham's doorstep and, I'm sure (although the article didn't say a word about this – wonder why), commiserates with his son over the latter's shabby treatment by the Pentagon. What were those strutting, huffing and puffing, uniformed clowns thinking, anyway? To blackball a patriotic American!

Well – as Michelle Malkin puts it, “there are no coincidences in the perpetually orchestrated Age of O” -- and I'm sure that even fire-breathers like Rahm Emanuel – Obama's James Carville and Paul Begala combined – advised Obama to go down and make nice with the good Reverends, even though their followers are all Bible-clinging, gun-toting, slack-jawed, snaggle-toothed, inbred, racist, homophobic morons. 'Cause who knows, they might “need” these people some day – especially since so many of the middle class have started wandering off the reservation. But the bottom line is – as in Clinton's case – everyone will see this “pilgrimage” for what it was, namely a total scam... but they will believe it, or let's say believe “in” it, because it fits their vision of the world as it ought to be.

And thus, Obama takes his place as the most skilled politician since Bill Clinton... and who knows, with nearly three years to go (not even including re-election) he might surpass him yet. He might, in fact, turn out to be the Tiger Woods of 21st-Century politics. (Um... there might be some problems with that comparison, but I can't think of a better one right at the moment.)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

No Pat Answers

Once again I find myself in the position of having to reply to a Pat Buchanan column with Charlie Chan's famous expression, “collection prease”. He's talking (in Saturday's paper) about the overall decline of America – economically, politically (internally and on the world scene as well), militarily... in terms of trade, industry, and infrastructure... and so on. All true! But then he proceeds, in the last paragraph, to blame it on “a utopian ideology that is becoming perilous to the republic”. The utopian delusions he mentions in the column are: limitations on oil and gas drilling, refusal to build any more nuclear power plants, global warming in general, free trade, and – vaguely -- “intervention”, which I take to refer to “spreading democracy”, but which is more accurately described as empire building. But of course there are many more utopian delusions in our history, as well as in the present day... and any number of variations on the ones listed. At the core of all of them is the premise that the world ought to see itself the way we do... and if it doesn't, it's our job to correct its errors. And this, in turn, is based on the premise – the philosophical premise, if you will -- that there is, in fact, only one way to see the world, and that is with the, basically, Puritan/Protestant eyes of the early colonists, with an overlay of classical liberalism contributed by the Founding Fathers. We were, after all, the most successful society to grow out of the Enlightenment, were we not? The purest and best example? The “peaceable kingdom”, and all that? And really, when you get right down to it, it was fairly easy to be utopian here back in 1800, when the rest of the world was a perilous sea journey away. It's easy to be the shining city on the hill when there are no other cities (and no other hills). And of course what we had broken away from – declared independence from – in Europe was kings, established churches, oppression, intolerance... not to mention “superstition”, which has been the liberal (classical or modern, take your pick) euphemism for the Catholic Church for centuries. But unfortunately, much of Europe eventually followed us over here – the newly-oppressed, the unwashed, “yearning to breathe free” and all that... and they, in many cases, brought their “superstitions” with them. So what were “real Americans” to do, except hunker down in their small New England villages and take Masonic oaths to defend “their” country against the papist rabble that was crawling up out of Boston harbor? So the battle ever since has been, basically, between the utopian legacy and the much more gritty, “diverse”, material reality. In the South, this took the form of the Ku Klux Klan and Confederate nostalgia... more recently, in various rural areas (mostly in the Middle South and the Northern Rockies), it has taken the form of the “militia movement”... and even more recently it has manifested itself in the “tea party” rallies. They are all longing for a time in the past when things were immeasurably better... a time that, in my opinion, is largely fictitious.

And this is my beef with Buchanan. He objects to a “utopian ideology that is becoming perilous to the republic” -- as if this is the first time a utopian ideology has imperiled the republic... whereas, in fact, utopian ideologies have always been around, and, in fact, this country (and its predecessor colonies) was founded largely by utopian ideologues. For them, America _was_ utopia – and they exerted every effort to affirm that and make it more of a reality. And when they ran out of utopian ideals to apply domestically, they decided – with missionary zeal – to spread them worldwide, backed up by military force if need be... because, after all, what were a few thousand, or million, lives (especially if the dead were all yellow or brown or black in hue) if the outcome was heaven on earth? And of course their delusions fit in perfectly with the agendas of power-crazed politicians and armaments manufacturers. So we fought World War I “to make the world safe for democracy”... then fought World War II to make the world safe for communism. (Well, that's not how it was advertised, but that was, in fact, the only significant outcome.)

Here's my point. It's not as if the country was founded on one set of premises, then “utopian ideology” came along, subverted the original intent, and took over. No – utopianism _was_ the original intent, and continues to drive many aspects of our domestic and foreign policy to this day. We wouldn't know how to live without it; we'd be lost. And this is a point Buchanan seems to miss. He is, arguably, a nationalist – but he seems to see nationalism from a level-headed point of view – a paleoconservative point of view, which is very close to libertarianism. We should retain (I would say “regain”) our identity as a stronghold of liberty and free enterprise... provide for political and economic freedom... and mind our own business abroad. Let's hear it for Calvin Coolidge! But the problem is, this is not the American way, and never has been. The main reason we were able to avoid “foreign entanglements” for so long was that “foreign” meant “across the ocean”. The minute we were able to steam across the oceans (in either direction) and start throwing our weight around, we did so, and without the slightest hesitation. After all, we were secure in our democratic principles and in our success and prosperity – so, after all, wasn't it our duty to spread the blessings (if not the actual wealth) to the impoverished, benighted peoples elsewhere on the planet? Or even to the relatively civilized Europeans, who had grown tired and cynical after so many centuries of war and strife? Couldn't they use some inspiration – a breath of fresh air to refresh their jaded brows? So off we went – rifles in hand. And this is not to say that more cynical elements – arms makers in particular – were not at work, at all times and in all places. There will always be people who "follow the money", and when "the money" is in war they will pursue war. But would their efforts, and the efforts of the jingoistic press, have been sufficient to get us steaming over to Europe in 1917 (and suspend all civil rights for the duration)? And what role did some form of utopianism play in the enactment of Prohibition? The question answers itself. Even World War II, which was, arguably, more cynical than World War I (at least for us), required us to put our full support and strength behind one set of ideas – actually two sets, democracy and communism – and in opposition to another set of ideas, i.e. fascism or national socialism. What was our involvement in both of these wars based on, if not ideas – and ideas with a strong utopian flavor?

Then, of course, after handing half of Europe over to the Soviets and standing by benignly while Mao conquered China, we decided to fight communism in Korea and Vietnam – again based, allegedly, on ideas – or the “idea” that some ideas are preferable to others, not only in practical terms but in theory as well. And it is true, after all, that communism as an ideology is based on a horribly distorted vision of human nature (and, therefore, the nature of societies, economies, etc.) -- but was it really our job to “prove” that fact by, again and again, acting as the “lone gun” in a struggle (AKA the Cold War) that the jaded, decadent Europeans had, once again, decided was not worth the effort? The French sipped wine and nibbled on cheese while we tried to clean up the mess they had made in Vietnam – and we failed just as dramatically as they did! But by that time they could not have cared less; they just made one of those French gestures of dismissal and said something like “alors!” or “zut!” And can anyone deny that West Germany was much more interested in reunification with East Germany than we were to see them reunified? (How many American politicians woke up screaming, with the Horst Wessel Song echoing in their heads, the day after “the wall” came down?) I even suspect that the Koreans would like to reunite more than we would like to see them reunite. And don't even get me started on Cuba!

And haven't our “enemies” -- and our “allies”! -- taken full advantage of our utopianism and naivete over the years? Isn't that what was happening all during the Cold War, when some third-world tyrant would play alternating footsie with us and the Soviets until he figured out which side was prepared to give him the biggest bribe? And can it really be true that every single ruler or regime that the Soviets supported had to be opposed by someone we supported? Every last one? No exceptions? All it took was for some guy with a bone in his nose to say “I'm against communism” for our government to suck the life blood out of American taxpayers to keep him in wives and limousines. (And notice, this particular species of folly persists to this day.)

The ultimate example, of course, is Israel, which – by appealing to the Evangelicals, millennium and end-times buffs who (inexplicably) have enormous political power, no matter who is president or which party is in control of Congress – has managed to convince us to cripple our economy and our military – and to offend nearly everyone else on the planet – in order to serve their interests. And again, it's not as if the cynics and elitists and power-crazed politicians have not been involved – not to mention the arms makers. But again, “ideas”, when added to the mix, often seem to make the difference between – well, not between success and failure in the usual sense, since the effort is clearly a failure by any reasonable criterion – but between the agenda moving forward at top speed and it having to be moderated a bit by reality.

So when it comes to Pat Buchanan's complaint, I have to ask, what is his alternative to “utopian ideology”, since it has always been with us, and America would not be the place it is without it. In fact, America would not even _exist_ without it. Has he all of a sudden decided it's a bad idea, now that it's so clearly not working? Surely this is not the first time utopian ideology has become “perilous to the republic”. It has always been so – or let's say that the history of this republic has been one of constant and ongoing tension between ideology (utopian and otherwise) and the pragmatic. At any given time, one or the other is in ascendence – unless we're talking about some sort of hybridization where the pragmatists take it upon themselves to implement utopian ideals, but for their own sakes rather than those of the ideals. This certainly seems true of the arms makers throughout our history, for example, who thrive on war and hate peace. But peace, as an ideal, has nothing on war – at least in the American tradition. (How many “peace monuments” does one find on town squares – other than in Vermont?) And I suppose that one could argue all day as to which motive is predominant at any given time. But there has to be some reason that we have military bases in nearly every country on earth – and I don't think it's all the fault of defense contractors. We have decided that being the world's policeman is a worthy calling – based on all the successes we've had with that mission, starting with World War I (which saw Germany go from a belligerent monarchy to an enlightened democracy... right up to Hitler's election, that is).

So – take utopian ideology out of America, and what do you have left? Not America, that's for sure. So the real quibble is not one of ideology vs. non-ideology, but whether or not it “works”... and for Buchanan and the “tea partiers”, it has apparently worked well enough, right up to recently – right up to now, in fact. Suddenly the lights come on and we find out that we're the world's dupe, and have been for quite some time – and yet this revelation doesn't change anything, because there are still too many vested interests. Reputation and shame are no longer deterrents – only short-term profits (for the arms makers) and victory at all costs (for Israel and its supporters). And yes, you could call it a sadly degenerate version of the idealism that motivated the Founding Fathers – but idealism it is, and if we were ever able to shrug it off our overburdened shoulders, we would have to quite literally start over again.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Graham Crackers

It's ironic. Here we're fighting, basically, a war against Islam... well, I know that our civilian and military leaders always say no, that's not it at all, we're really fighting “terrorism”, or “terror”, or “Islamofasicm”, or "militant Islam" (as opposed to the "religion of peace") -- but let's face it, what it amounts to, on any given day, is a war on Islam. We know it, and -- more importantly -- they know it. And our defense “contractors”, in particular, all know this (you know, outfits like Blackwater or whatever it's called these days) – they freely admit it, not only to each other but to anyone who asks. And, in fact, if you ask people on the other side of the conflict if America is fighting a war on Islam – i.e. a new Crusade – they'll say, of course; isn't it obvious? And when you look at who got us into this mess in the first place – namely Israel – they would obviously be a lot happier if Islam were wiped off the map (even though the Near East was “a land without a people” before they showed up). So let's not quibble about this any more, shall we?

But here's the irony. An evangelist named Franklin Graham – Billy Graham's son, named after the new $100 bill – has been disinvited to speak at a Pentagon prayer service because he has described Islam as “evil”. According to an AP article, “Army spokesman Col. Tom Collins [named after the cocktail] said Graham's remarks were 'not appropriate.'” Not appropriate for what? And at what point after inviting Rev. Graham did they figure this out? (And why don't they care about the feelings of Evangelicals all of a sudden, since they are the Pentagon's biggest supporters?)

Well... OK, I guess, in theory, we could be waging war on Islam even if we didn't regard it as evil; I'll grant that much. But I also have to point out the ongoing absurdity of the Pentagon – or any other government entity, for that matter – holding “prayer services”. Not that there aren't plenty of believers among our military personnel – but let's face it, they are on the front lines in the business of empire building, and can we really pray for success in that endeavor with a straight face? Apparently some of us can. Historically, nearly every warring party in any war involving the English-speaking world or most of Europe has had God on its side – allegedly. Which, I guess, means that He only answers prayers for victory about half the time, which, you would think, would be enough of a discouragement to put an end to Pentagon prayer services and White House “prayer breakfasts” -- but no such luck; the hypocritical beat goes on.

And I'm not making this argument from the point of view of the “wall of separation” buffs – simply because they're dead wrong as to what “establishment” means. They obviously have little or no experience with the rest of the world, where established churches, or religions, are a common thing. And "establishment" in those places doesn't just involve mouthing words -- it involves legal support and preferences, and money. The U.S. has no established churches – at least not officially – and it would be a stretch to even claim that it had an established religion – i.e. Christianity. What it does have is a sort of established religious baseline, or reference to religion, in the public sphere – but when it comes down to cases, it means little or nothing, although it may have meant more at the time of the founding.

And in fact, public prayer received another blow last week when a federal judge in Wisconsin (where else?) ruled that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional because it amounts to a call for religious action (kind of like a crusade, I guess). Well, if that's a “call for religious action” -- and if that, in turn, is unconstitutional – what about the inscription “In God We Trust” on American currency? Should non-believers stop using money? (They'd be way ahead of the rest of us if they did.)

Sometimes I think the best thing would be to call the bluff of all of these critics and simply remove all references to God, religion, and faith of any sort from all public buildings, ceremonies, observances, documents, you name it. Do what the Soviets did, in other words. Because then there would be no more easy outs – religion would, once again, be strictly a matter of individual choice and no one could pretend that the government had anything to do with it one way or the other.

Of course this would still leave plenty of issues open to contention – like taxation of churches, Congressional and military chaplains, and so on. So maybe the battle would just shift into new venues. But at least the tiresome level of controversy that we've been forced to dwell at for decades now would finally be a thing of the past.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Today's Menu of Indigestibles

Well, the ObamaCare tsunami has washed over the land, and the warring parties have already moved on to more current, no-less-urgent issues... like who's going to replace Justice Stevens? (I understand there's an overripe rutabaga looking for work... ) And of course, there's a great flurry of activity centered around the need to “clamp down” on Wall Street. I'll have more to say about this in a later post, but right now it looks like nothing so much as a butterfly who is already pinned to a cork board talking about clamping down on butterfly collecting.

And, after a brief respite, the waters of absurdity are rising again, threatening to engulf all sane living and rational discourse. And, as usual, I choose, as an act of defiance, to point out the most obvious examples, as a remedy against complacency and the mistaken notion – that even overtakes me at times, when I'm not yet fully awake – that everything might be OK after all.

O The Bureau of Engraving and Printing today trotted out the new, high-tech $100 bill, designed to thwart counterfeiting. Ironically, the presentation was witnessed by Timothy Geithner and Ben Bernanke, who some might say are the two worst enemies of the sound dollar – in any denomination. Which, in fact, raises the question – why bother to make the $100 bill counterfeit-proof, since the policies of the Treasury and of the Fed are such that, before long, it won't be worth counterfeiting?

O On the local scene, “Big Ben” Roethlisberger has been slapped with a 6-game sideline penalty – that's 38% of the entire season, for those of you in Rio Linda. And whaddaya know, the Steelers have just bolstered their quarterback roster. And there are rumors flying around that Big Ben might even be traded. Lo, how the mighty have fallen! But frankly, I'm not sure I understand why people keep getting surprised by things like this. Football, while not unique in this respect among team sports, seems to be unusually high on the testosterone scale – it thrives on guys who are barely under control, and in fact reinforces the fact. Guys who qualify as hotheads off the field are called “aggressive (i.e., good) players” on the field. Constantly flirting with disaster off the field? That's “determination” on the field. Frequent brushes with the law? That's “worth taking the penalty” on the field. A guy leaves the stadium when the game is over, but he takes the game with him wherever he goes and no matter who he's with. That's just the way things are. No one questions it when soldiers develop “post-traumatic stress disorder” months or years after they finish combat duty – but an athlete who has comparable issues? “Giving the game (team, city, whatever) a bad name.” Either there's a lot of hypocrisy floating around out there... or a lot of naivete... or both.

O How soon are on-line dictionaries going to add, to the definition of “Nazi”, “someone who doesn't agree with liberals”? This has become standard usage, so I expect the word experts to get caught up as soon as possible.

O A funny thing happened on the way to that filibuster-proof Democratic majority. Now a cause near and dear to the hearts of Democrats – for decades! -- has received another setback... namely full voting rights in Congress for the District of Columbia. The fly in the ointment? A threat to weaken D.C.'s gun control laws, which now limit gun ownership to criminals only. But who was making the threat? Republicans? But that should not have mattered . (Filibuster-proof majority, remember?) Gee, I'll bet there are days when the Democrats wish they were still in the minority... at least back then they didn't have to take any responsibility.

O The Securities and Exchange Commission gets tough! Yeah, this time it's for real. According to an article in Wednesday's paper, “the agency has sent letters to 19 banks seeking information about whether they are using accounting tricks that a bankruptcy examiner said masked (Lehman Brothers') precarious financial condition.” Now, class, what do suppose these 19 banks are going to say in reply? “No tricks here, ma'am, nosiree... we just be honest folks, yep. No precarious financial conditions around here.” And this, mind you, is what the SEC calls “more vigorous oversight”. Makes you wonder what they were doing before. (Well, we already know – nothing.) But really, perhaps I'm being too harsh. The perennial problem with regulatory agencies – especially when it comes to matters of high finance – is that the smartest person at the SEC, for example, is still dumber than the dumbest person at Goldman Sachs. So it really doesn't matter that they are charged with oversight, and with enforcing a vast array of laws and regulations – the private sector folks will be way ahead of them no matter what. This has a lot to do with how the “Great Recession” got started, in fact – these firms were either dealing in non-regulated securities or they were staying one step ahead of the sheriff the whole time. The people in charge made their pile and headed for the tall grass, and the taxpayers were left holding the bag – as planned. And now a gaggle of government bureaucrats think they're going to change this? Lots of luck. As long as the bailout model is in force, the financial sector is going to respond accordingly – by doing exactly what it has already done. In this case, the definition of “sanity” is “doing the same thing over and over, and expecting the same results”.

O Now, on this next item... I have to say, I'm not making it up, and I can prove it. Believe it or not, a guy on death row in Ohio objected to the drug intended for use in his execution on the grounds that “he might be violently allergic” to it. I mean... what?? Was he afraid he might sneeze to death? Well, to give credit to the great state of Ohio, they weren't having any of it, and this character was dealt with as intended on Tuesday – with, as it turned out, absolutely no sign of needing a dose of “the nighttime, sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching, stuffy-head, fever, so you can rest medicine.”

O Meantime, a strike by New York City doormen was narrowly averted. Did you even know that doormen had a union? I sure didn't. But this is New York City, after all. I suspect that even the homeless have a union in the Big Apple.

O And now the military has added a phrase to its recruiting message: “No fatties, please.” It turns out that 27 percent of all Americans ages 17 to 24 are too fat to join the military. (Funny, it sure wasn't that way during Vietnam – or we'd have all made pigs of ourselves.) And the culprit, if you please? School lunches! You know, those sugar, salt, starch, and trans-fat-laden piles of refined dreck that have been prescribed, and overseen – for decades now – by... the federal government! So yep, it has happened again – two government programs have come into direct conflict... the one promising to feed America's youth at all costs (but never mind with what) and the other promising to defend America, with the help of those same youth – also at all costs. So something's gonna have to give -- but what? Either the public schools start serving the same stuff as the Whole Foods cafe... or the Army turns itself into a fat farm. Stay tuned.

O And finally... it seems that a woman in England (and again, I'm not making this up) started speaking with a Chinese accent after suffering a severe migraine “that reportedly left her with a form of brain damage.” Well, for one thing, isn't this an insult to the Chinese? “Brain damage” indeed! But sure enough, in our Age of Illness, this sort of thing even has a name. It's called Foreign Accent Syndrome. Wow – that explains a lot, doesn't it? The same way all the other ailments called “Something Something Syndrome” are explained by their name. But what they don't mention is that she also developed an uncontrollable urge to do laundry, take carry-out orders, and buy U.S. Treasury securities. (OK, I made that last part up. But who could resist?)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mayoral Deficiency

It's too bad, really. I always liked Ed Koch (mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1989) – he was smart, quick-witted, blunt, and said whatever he liked and to heck with anyone who was offended. Thus he was the epitome of the New Yorker – the real deal. And, I hasten to add, he's still around... but... his article in Sunday's paper makes it sound like senility is setting in, big-time. The title is “Obama slanders, abandons Israel” -- and certain parties might cheer, if it were true. But it's not -- not in the slightest. We've talked about this pro wrestling-style farce that characterizes current U.S.-Israeli relations before, so I won't repeat myself on that score. But what is Koch seeing that the rest of us are not seeing? “Outrageous verbal attacks”... “verbal assaults and distortions”... orchestrated by no less than President Obama. OK Ed, so... let's see some examples. Oh, but first he has to compare Israel's shabby treatment by Obama to the Romans' treatment of the Jewish rebels in the year 70 A.D. Oh yeah, that's an apt analogy, all right – right on target. Obama is most definitely destroying the temple and committing genocide on the Jewish race, and kicking them out of their ancestral homeland. Uh huh. (See what I mean about the “senility” part?)

But he goes on. Koch cites the 1948 war (which was a response to the establishment of the State of Israel forced on the Palestinians by the European powers – but he doesn't mention that aspect), in which Jordan committed ethnic cleansing of the old walled city of Jerusalem as well as East Jerusalem and other parts of the re-occupied West Bank. OK, fair enough – that's what tends to happen when wars are fought over territory. But most of Israel was still in Israeli hands. And so it remains... but now comes Obama, whose administration has a higher percentage of Jewish members than the Knesset... and Koch throws a fit, because... he (Obama) has “in a few weeks... changed the relationship between the U.S. and Israel”. And how has he accomplished this? But wait -- first we have to read about how Obama indulges in lavishly benign treatment of Afghanistan's Karzai. Well, yeah... we're trying to convince him to keep supporting our war on his countrymen. That takes a bit of bribery and persuasion. Whereas we're not trying to convince Israel of anything – just trying to get them to quit busting our chops, and to show a little appreciation once in a while.

But to get back to Ed – Israel “has been demeaned and slandered and held responsible by the administration for our problems in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.” OK, Ed... but once again, let's see some evidence. We're supposedly doing this in order to “weaken the resolve of the Jewish state” and make it more amenable to our “plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”. And! We might even be fixing to “create a whole new relationship” with Arab states neighboring Israel. Well, imagine that -- us trying to get along better with Israel's neighbors. Oh, the treachery! And, says Ed, we might feel a need to accomplish this by “throwing Israel under the bus”. But the last time I looked, Israel was driving said bus.

Then he calls on AIPAC to get tough with Obama. What are they supposed to do, waterboard him? That would be the only way to get discernibly tougher than they already are. And for Hillary to quite harassing Netanyahu. And for Congress to protest Obama's “mistreatment of Israel”. Oh, what a world, what a world!

By now, you've probably noticed something. Yep, there is absolutely no evidence provided of any of these alleged “verbal attacks”, “assaults”, “distortions”, demeanings, or slanders. And how, exactly, has the administration held Israel responsible for our troubles in Iraq and Afghanistan? I mean – they are responsible, of that there is no doubt – because if it weren't for them we wouldn't be over there at all. Or, as Ron Paul might put it, we're over there because they're over here because we're over there – and that's because we were invited by Israel, and dared not refuse.

The only failing Koch can even cite is the alleged browbeating Hillary Clinton gave Benjamin Netanyahu. Does this quite come up to the events of 70 A.D.? Hillary – to give her credit – was only responding to the latest of the countless tricks and insults we have borne at the hands of Israel; the offense, I suppose, was that she actually responded rather than rolling over and playing dead, as our State Department usually does. In any case, other than this single incident – which would have justified far more than a 43-minute “hectoring”, Koch supplies no other evidence of what, precisely, has him so upset – which leads me to believe that there is, in fact, nothing more... which, in turn, leads me to think he is either mad or senile, and given his age I suspect the latter.

And as to the notion of our having “abandoned” Israel -- has as much as one dollar been excised from our multi-billion-dollar annual “foreign aid” gift to Israel? No. Have we withheld any of the expensive and exotic weapon systems – in many cases, better equipment than our own troops have – from export to Israel? No. Are we still in Iraq and Afghanistan, and saber-rattling at Iran on a daily basis? Yes. Plus -- have we changed our tolerant and benign position when it comes to Israeli espionage -- i.e. against us? Not in the slightest. So -- we have “abandoned” Israel about as much as one of two twins joined at the hip can abandon the other. So what on earth is Koch talking about? I have no idea... and I suspect he doesn't either.

You know, it's just possible that my local paper – known for its conservative, and even at times libertarian, leanings – published Koch's Lear-like rant on purpose, just to show how divorced from reality Israel and the Israel lobby can be at times. But then again, maybe they just saw it as a chance to provide “fair and balanced” reporting... but when one side of the scale is occupied by a lunatic, it hardly qualifies as “fair and balanced”.

So I will have to, regretfully, pronounce a “R.I.P.” for Ed Koch – at least for the brain part, which was always the most interesting.

Unhappy Anniversary

Today is the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, and we are being regaled, this evening, with a special presentation on MSNBC, hosted by Rachel Maddow, entitled “The McVeigh Tapes: Confessions of an American Terrorist”. I'm not going to watch the show; I can't, because I don't have cable. But I will make a prediction, which is that a fairly large, thick, bright line will be drawn, by Ms. Maddow, between McVeigh -- and home-grown terrorists in general (not that there are all that many to date) -- and the “militia movement”, and from there an equally large, thick, bright line to “tea partiers”, people opposed to ObamaCare and illegal immigration, bailouts, et cetera. She may not name names, but that will be the implication. The average tea partier is driving around with his car trunk full of fertilizer, just waiting for an opportunity to blow something up – anything, really, as long as it has some connection to the federal government. After all, hasn't the Obama administration already warned all government workers that they are in the crosshairs of domestic terrorists? And what is the answer to this threat – clearly, pre-emptive strikes are in order, by law enforcement as well as by the media... and as we see, this process is already well underway. Hey – if pre-emptive strikes on foreign countries are good enough in the face of “WMDs”, they should certainly be good enough on the domestic side. Didn't FDR do the right thing by rounding up all the Japanese-Americans? (He would have rounded up all the German-Americans and Italian-Americans too, but there were just too darned many, and they blended in too readily with “real Americans”.)

Listen to – I mean read – the conversation between Maddow and TODAY's Matt Lauer (excerpts thereof):

RM: He (McVeigh) saw himself as part of a movement – a gun rights-based, anti-government, so-called patriot movement...

ML: This movement you talk about, there were arrests recently in Michigan, militia members plotting anti-government activities... do we know, have any idea how widespread this movement is right now?

RM: It's hard to quantify, but when you talk to law enforcement sources -- I spoke with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano about this last week on my show – it does seem like there's a sort of a resurgence of those movements in general...

ML: Fueled by what?

RM: Fueled by the same things that fueled them in the 90s, fueled a lot by economic dislocation – that doesn't get enough credit as a cause. Also by alienation from the government -- feel that the government is on the other side, not on your side. And it's the sort of movement that ebbs and flows over American history; right now it's flowing. And it doesn't mean that anybody who's in the movement right now is the next Timothy McVeigh, but it does mean that we ought to pay attention to the risks.

You see the lines being drawn already? “Gun rights” equals terrorism; “anti-government” equals terrorism. “Patriot” equals terrorism! And of course the current crop of “militia” organizations are direct descendants of McVeigh, and likely to do the same thing. And what, after all, does “plotting anti-government activities” include? Well, the tea party protests are most definitely anti-government activities, so I guess anyone involved in planning those protests is engaged in “plotting”. Which means it would be perfectly within the scope of the anti-terrorist mandate to stop them.

And as far as “economic dislocation” goes, no one seemed all that upset when economic dislocation caused all the urban riots of the 1960s and 1970s; back then, it was perfectly understandable.

Who out there expects the liberal media to carefully distinguish between bonafide terrorists and these “militias” that are mostly just a bunch of yokels tromping through the woods on weekends playing soldier? And who expects them to, likewise, carefully distinguish between the militias and ordinary people protesting out-of-control government? I sure don't. It's all a matter of building up the case for suppression of protest and dissent, and pre-emptive arrest, detention, and trumped-up charges. At least that's how it looks to me.

And of course, Maddow delivers the usual disclaimer: “It doesn't mean that anybody who's in the movement right now is the next Timothy McVeigh.” Right. But what are the chances that there aren't hundreds, or even thousands, of mini-McVeighs lurking in the ranks of the militias, and attending tea party rallies, just waiting for a chance to strike back? Yeah – it's time to stoke up the fires of fear again, now that we (i.e., liberals) are in charge.

Well – if you decide to watch the show tonight, please take notes. I'd like to know how close to the target I've managed to come.

A Tax By Any Other Name

Now that most of us have been moved out of intensive care after our annual encounter with the tax man, it might be a good time to go over a few, let's say, basic parameters of the situation. The IRS and the system it oversees have become synonymous with all that is mean, cruel, and heartless about the government – and for good reason. Other than on April 15, most citizens of the self-supporting and law-abiding class enjoy precious few direct encounters with the bureaucracy – mostly limited, on any given day, to the post office and, on the odd unlucky occasion, the DMV (which is at state level anyway). Direct encounters with local government are few and far between – although one can very easily feel the pressure and the oppression by simply reading the daily paper or watching the news. There is always some poor schmuck getting ground up in the machinery – and the dominant feeling on the part of those witnessing the spectacle is invariably, “Better him than me.” But then once in a while someone who shouldn't be entangled in the mechanism of totalitarian bureaucracy winds up a victim... and that makes the rest of us feel that the floodwaters are rising, that it's no longer just a matter of the underclass, or what Tom Wolfe called “the chow” (in “The Bonfire of the Vanities”), being in a constant struggle with the authorities, but, potentially, all of us.

So the income tax system is, for all intents and purposes, the main component, for most of us, of the line of battle between freedom, liberty, and self-determination on the one hand, and oppression, extortion, intimidation, and serfdom on the other. And yet, supposedly, the system expresses the will of the people, since it was duly enacted by the people's representatives. And even today, there is a substantial portion of the populace that sees taxation of income as the most efficient way to extract funding for government programs from the pockets and bank accounts of the citizenry – programs which, again, they have supposedly all approved by virtue of having voted for the representatives who, in turn, voted them into law. In other words, if we get the government we deserve, then we also get the tax system we deserve. And the tax system should, in fact, be the ultimate reality check – a reminder of exactly how much all of these “programs” that sounded so good when they were proposed cost. There is a saying, “if you can't do the time, don't do the crime”. Likewise, it could be said, “if you're not willing to pay for it, don't ask the government to do it.” The argument against this is, of course, that very little of what the government does these days is something it was directly “asked” to do by the citizenry. And yet, for every program, every expenditure, no matter how great or how small, one can identify at least one – and usually way more than one – citizen/voter who fervently wanted it, and who believes in it, and who would be unhappy indeed if it were terminated.

But let's go back a bit in history and recall how the whole thing got started. The income tax was, at first, not a big money maker. It was, in fact, designed to extract just a token amount of wealth from the very rich, in order to, I suppose, stave off violent revolution. Actually, we can be more precise than that. It was designed to relieve John D. Rockefeller of some chump change. His level of wealth, in 2010 dollars, would be sufficient to render Bill Gates his cup-bearer and Warren Buffet his valet. So he was, let's say, a prime target for not only the rabble, but the progressives, who were in full cry at that time. So, to throw them a bone, the income tax was appended to the Constitution... and, as far as I know, John D. Rockefeller was the only person wealthy enough to actually pay it for the first few years. But eventually, with the successive raising of tax rates, combined with “bracket creep” (which is, in turn, a product of inflation – which is, in turn, engineered by the government, i.e. the Federal Reserve) nearly everyone wound up paying taxes, right down to the drayman and the washerwoman. But at the same time, the proliferation of deductions, exemptions, credits, deferrals, rollovers, preferences, amortizations, etc., made it gradually easier for those in the upper reaches of the income scale to avoid paying -- at least to avoid paying anywhere near as much as was originally intended. In fact, it became a constant battle between the “progressive tax tables” and the layer upon layer of deductions – a battle which is still going on, and which, by and large, explains why the tax code is thousands of pages long and a veritable thicket of complexity. And, like any other tax system down through the ages, it's designed to tax people who are smart enough to earn money but not smart enough to avoid having it taxed – i.e. the middle class.

Given that all of this is true – which I contend that it is – what are we to make of the proposals of libertarians and some conservatives that the income tax system be abolished and replaced with something “simpler”? Or the even more radical proposals of anarcho-libertarians (but no conservatives) that it be abolished and not replaced with anything? Ah yes, a new day of freedom would dawn in America if only it weren't for that nasty, oppressive income tax. But how many are willing to argue that none – absolutely none – of the goods and services currently provided by the government would, in some form, be needed, whether the income tax existed or not? Yes, the anarcho-libertarians would argue just that; that all goods and services that were really needed, and that are now provided in a collectivist manner, would remain available and affordable in the post-income tax age, but now subject to strictly free-market choices and supply and demand? And yes, their argument is not only about things like schools and the post office; it extends to roads, public utilities, the police, the military... you name it. There might even be a space program, if you could get enough “Trekkies” to support it. What would be less likely is perpetual wars, entitlements, welfare, subsidies, government-supported and funded monopolies... the entire array of corrupt practices that authority with neither responsibility nor accountability have yielded in the nearly 100 years since the 16th Amendment was ratified. But! Not to forget – the Civil War was fought without benefit of the income tax, as was the Spanish-American War. There had been monopolies... oppression... bottomless corruption... all of the ills of democracy, American-style, long before that fateful day (February 25, 1913). So the notion that a sudden lifting of this burden would solve all of our problems is wishful thinking, to say the least.

But the other point was -- assuming the income tax no longer looms large, and the anarcho-libertarian model is not embraced by the body politic -- how are the goods and services still deemed necessary to be paid for? So the question is not “tax” vs. “no tax” -- it's more like “tax model A” vs. “tax model B”. And since it would still be the government who was doing the collecting, is there any guaranteed the new system would be any less corrupt, oppressive, or fraudulent than the one we have now? I'd like to see some evidence for that; pardon me if I'm skeptical. Local governments all over the country collect property and sales taxes, for example; are they known for their wisdom, efficiency, and lack of corruption? If Pittsburgh is any sort of example, the situation is actually worse than that at state level – which is, in turn, worse than that at the federal level. If you want to see really rank corruption in its rawest form, forget about Congress – just have a look in any city hall or mayor's office window in the land. (And is this, by the way, one possible argument against distributism? It could very well be – I hate to admit it, though.) Are local governments more responsive to the people than state and federal governments? Not that I've noticed. But they may be much more responsive to special interests.

So what does this all add up to? A continued presence of government at the federal level, providing goods and services through various programs – and supported by... what? Some form of tax; what else? Sales, “value added”, tariffs, taxes and fees on transportation, roads, utilities... taxes that we have now, and others that we haven't yet imagined. And would those taxes be “progressive”, which is the shibboleth of any liberal tax program? Not necessarily. If I want to further impoverish inner-city dwellers, I'm going to tax cigarettes, alcohol, (legal) drugs, fast food, and gasoline. This is the Bizarro version of the so-called “luxury tax” (which translates to – a tax on things most people wish they had, but don't; call it an “envy tax” if you like), and, in fact, has a lot in common with “sin taxes” (which translates to – a tax on things most people would like to do but can't, for some reason).

In any case, would the new system be any more “fair” than the one we have now? Would it encourage any more frugality in government than what we have now – i.e. none? Would it have any impact on class warfare or the politics of race? It might make them worse. Plus – all of the same people who are now favored in some way by the current system would have to start all over again, pressing for a renewal of their favored treatment. It might not be long until the tax code would be just as long and Byzantine as it is now, and for the exact same reasons.

So... all I'm saying is that, yes, the income tax and the IRS are easy targets... but they are really just stand-ins for what should be the real target, i.e. government oppression and exploitation of the citizenry. But no one wants to tackle that, because it's too big, too pervasive, too scary... and, to tell the truth, no one wants to admit just how bad it's gotten. The IRS is a convenient villain, like the guy in the old serials with the curly mustache and the top hat. But really, the IRS is just a tool of much higher powers... and the tax code is their Bible and gun combined. And whoever wants to eliminate, or reduce, taxes has to be honest with themselves as to, again, what goods and services currently supplied by government they are willing to get along without. Ask the “tea partiers”, for example, if we should bring the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan – right now, today. Then you'll find out how serious they really are about cutting down the size and cost of government. Everyone has their pet program... their cause... their rice bowl. No one who profits from the tax code wants to see it go away – not one jot nor one tittle. And as to those who do not profit, even they probably have that one favored program that they would just as soon be kept on the books. So add it all up, and you have a recipe for no change whatsoever. But as I've tried to show, even the most radical change might not improve our existence as much as some people want to think.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Problem With Materialism

It's ironic, in a way, that the bulk of the “tea party” protesters seem to be Christians -- even Christians of the Evangelical stripe. In other words, these are people for whom – supposedly -- ultimate values lie in the spiritual realm, vs. the material one. In theory, if they were truly radical followers of the Gospel, they would “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's” and care not a whit about the Fed, the bailouts, the economic stimulus plan, the stock market, the real estate market, the trade deficit, inflation, taxation... and so on. Because these are all artifacts of the money system, i.e. the system that substitutes “currency” -- which is only paper with certain things printed on it – for that which has real value. The money system is, in fact, a trap – it's a sucker's game, designed to tempt everyone into accepting it as the sole standard of value, but also into converting all of their assets – material and labor – into currency-denominated abstractions, i.e. into even more paper. So I trade that which has actual value into “notes”. But those notes are not mine; they belong to the “money power” and their value and disposition are determined by that same power. Even if I own – i.e. have title to – something of tangible value, like a house, it is only worth what the “real estate market” says it is, and that market is, in turn, manipulated down to the nth degree by the financial powers that be. How can it be a matter of pure supply and demand – an allegedly free-market characteristic – when its value can rise or fall sharply on the whims of the “market”? Does supply and demand really fluctuate that wildly from one month/week/day to the next? Of course not. What fluctuates is the intensity of speculation in the market – something actual homeowners have absolutely no voice in. And for things less tangible than real estate – securities, for example – those values are determined exclusively by forces that the average person is totally unaware of. And yet these are the indicators of “wealth” that we all rely on; this is what constitutes our “portfolio” -- a bunch of paper whose value is entirely determined by people we've never met, don't know, and never will.

And yet I daresay that the majority of “tea partiers” are also homeowners and have money in the bank, and that a substantial number own stocks, or at least have a share in a mutual fund of some sort. So they have, perhaps unknowingly or naively, bought off on the basic structure underpinning the money power – that same power that they are now marching and protesting against in a fit of futile rage. But if they took the Gospel seriously, they would “render unto Caesar” by ridding themselves of the trappings of materialism – or, should I say, the traps thereof. Trade your labor for tangible goods if you like... try to engage in barter rather than currency exchange as much as possible... join co-ops... become a tiny bit more self-sufficient (even a city apartment dweller can manage this to some degree). Don't sink your money into things you don't understand and have no control over (like the stock market). And when it comes to “home ownership”, how about _real_ home ownership, i.e. no mortgage? How many can manage to pull that off? That way, even if the market value of your home declines, at least there's no way you can ever be “under water” -- unless, of course, you borrow against equity, but I'm assuming that you wouldn't do that unless your life literally depended on it.

In other words, if the tea partiers wanted to “live out the Gospel”, they would spend more time figuring out how to separate themselves from the money power and less time attending rallies. Because, frankly, folks, things have gone way too far for your protests to do any good. It would be like demonstrating for nuclear disarmament once the bomb has been dropped and is halfway to the ground. The economic fate of this country has been sealed – with the help of its “leaders”. The only question now is, exactly what is this intended fate? Bankruptcy? Well... that ship has already sailed; not only is the the federal budget in a state of chronic deficit, but it only accounts for interest on the national debt. The principal, i.e. the national debt itself, is not on track to be repaid, ever. Add these two facts together and you have a good operational definition of bankruptcy. Ah, but! -- you might say – how about productivity? How about the GNP? Well, yes... but even the massive portion of the GNP that now goes directly into government accounts is insufficient to remedy the situation... and if you recall the Laffer curve, you'll realize that no amount of increased taxation – right up to 100% -- is going to help; in fact, it would only make things worse. So the paradox, in the face of the argument (re: the national debt) that “we owe it to ourselves” (and the Chinese), is that even to the extent that's true, it still can never be paid back; the taxes required to substantially reduce the national debt would more than counterbalance the positive effects of putting those funds back into the economy. So – bottom line – the situation is as hopeless as it can be, save the obvious trick of drastically inflating the currency... or repudiating the debt, the first of which measures would render the U.S. economy (temporarily, at least) nonexistent, and the second of which would make us a pariah in the world economy for many generations to come. (And, truth be told, there are arguments out there – on the libertarian-anarchist side, to be sure – that one or both of these possibilities might actually be beneficial in the long run. But the selling that idea to the American public would be about as easy as selling the idea of amputation without anesthetic.)

The real question in all of this, of course, is what does the money power, AKA the Regime, want – and how does it seek to best achieve this? Clearly, severe economic distress in the U.S., or anywhere else in the world, is of no concern, since it does, after all, have a cause, and that cause entails some people accumulating all the wealth that everyone else has lost. This is not to deny that there have been substantial world-wide losses over the past couple of years, but one must remember that those have been almost exclusively paper losses; the amount of actual wealth (material and human capital) has not diminished at all – only its “value” according to the “market”, and as measured by its value in various denominations of “currency” -- all bogus to one degree or another (except maybe for the perennial Swiss franc – which, you'll notice, is the real “currency of choice” for the international smart set, who avoid the dollar like the plague). (And how do the Swiss do it, by the way? Simple. They stay out of wars.) (And, oh yes, their citizens are willing to work for a living.) (And do they ever know how to control illegal immigration!)

But if severe economic distress in the U.S., or anywhere else, is of little or no concern to the Regime, I can't imagine that total economic collapse (here or anywhere else that counts – Iceland being a good example of “not counting”) is something they desire. After all, productivity has to be maintained at a certain level, combined with a certain level of “law and order”, for wealth to keep percolating upward from the ordinary workers (blue collar, white collar, whatever) to the controlling class. It does no good to have slaves if your slaves are all sick or crippled... or so demoralized that they simply refuse to work. (The perpetuation of the non-working underclass is a different matter, and I don't want to get into that now... but even in that case there has to be an optimum level of total dependence on government – neither too much nor too little. And we see that so-called “social legislation” is designed to keep refining things in order to maintain that optimum level.)

I think that it would be safe to say that a chronically-sick, chronically-distressed economy – in the U.S. and elsewhere – serves the purposes of the Regime best. So while we are unlikely to see any total “meltdowns”, we will also never see a full recovery; the way things are now is just about right, I suspect. It's the right balance of dependency and productivity -- of initiative and passivity -- of fear and resignation -- of delusion and everyday semi-sanity. It is, in other words, a wartime economy designed for perpetual war without and perpetual strife and class war within. And this is not to say that there won't still be “cycles” of various kinds – in the stock market, trade, currency, and what not. These “cycles” are a vital part of the engine that keeps wealth percolating up into the right hands. With each turn of the wheel, the “surplus earnings” of the working class (the ones who actually work, I mean) and the middle class are siphoned off and sent on their way. We're talking about taxes and inflation here – the usual suspects – but also about the cost of government regulation and law enforcement, as well as the cost of having an ever-increasing portion of the populace engaged in non-productive “work”, e.g. government “jobs”. What I'm saying is that the percentage of real producers continues to fall... and this is enabled at least partly by technology and the economies of scale (e.g. agribusiness), as well as the fact that, over time, people become willing to accept less, both in terms of quantity and quality. (And, in a sense, the government “produces” as well – and its “products” (goods and services) drive out the better, market-based stuff. This is another thing that people tend to get used to over time and come to take for granted, forgetting that there was ever anything better.)

You could think of the system as a gigantic machine, designed to absorb human effort, keep the vast majority on a subsistence diet, and enrich the power elite beyond the wildest dreams of any ordinary person. We're basically all cows lined up in milking stalls; our basic needs are met, we're fed, housed, and we're about to be cared for when sick by no less a personage than the president himself! (The First Lady will mop our fevered brows while her offspring sing lively pop tunes to aid our recuperation.) And we don't even know how much of the value of our labor is being siphoned off, because we've never known a time when it wasn't. All we know is that a few people at the top are getting very rich (albeit with dollar-denominated riches -- at least until they can convert it into something better), but we don't draw a line between our state of life and theirs. But the truth is, the cause-and-effect relationship is like unto a rod of iron; it could hardly be more tangible or easier to demonstrate. But, again, wedded as we are to the currency hoax and the “money economy”, we either can not or will not see the connection. And of course it was designed to be at least opaque, if not actually invisible in many cases – so one can hardly blame people for being ignorant.

But, again, I say that the “tea partiers” and those of like mind are much too wedded to the Regime – to the establishment just as it is – to have any real impact. They are too easily bought off, bribed, and mainly frightened to death. When it comes down to it, all of their professed ideals wouldn't stand a chance against a threat to their homes, cars, appliances, motor boats, barbecue grills, pathetic bank accounts, and so on – all those things so dear to the bourgeois heart. The riots of the 1960s and 1970s ended when the lumpen proletariat – who had nothing to lose -- were either bought off by “equal opportunity” and “affirmative action” or rendered impotent by sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. (Throw in partial genocide through abortion if you like.) The “riots” (which hardly deserve the name, even if the media pretend to be shaking in their boots) of today – i.e. the “tea parties” -- will be suppressed by fear, i.e. the fear of losing what they have. “Even what little they have will be taken away.” (This was a statement against poor stewardship – but it can also be applied to foolish political activity.)

Now, on the other side of this very large coin are the people who, you would think, would have the most to fear – i.e. the most to be upset about, and to protest – namely the materialists (those of the atheist stripe, that is – not just the Protestants who subscribe to the “prosperity gospel”). For if they lose their “stuff”, there is nothing to back them up – no consolation. And I suppose that some libertarians could fit this description, since libertarians do tend, as a group, to be non-religious and pro-property rights. So when they get out there with protest signs, at least they're being honest, and not “schitzy” about the whole issue. But a materialist who is also a socialist, or a communist, and therefore in favor of the government confiscating all private property? I never could figure that type out. Maybe they think that if all they have left is their “ideals”, that will be enough. The funny thing is that, every time this has been tried, it has turned out that it isn't enough – they really do miss their “stuff”, and try every hypocritical ruse and con game in the world to get at least some of it back. So we can place them firmly in the category of hard-core hypocrites. Those rare people in the world who really are satisfied with poverty – who seek it out, in fact – tend to be fervently-believing Christians (or, to be fair, true believers in other faiths – but it has to be a faith, not just politics). And this too makes perfect sense. And, of course, the materialists at the top – the successful ones – aren't hypocrites either; they are unabashed in their limitless greed, and see no reason to fear, since they hold all of the strings in their hands. Of course, they are still all mortal (as far as we know), so they cannot be fully at ease. But do they fear judgment? I imagine not, since if they did, they would not have ventured even a small fraction as far as they've managed to go. So they have their particular species of contentment, and those vowed to poverty have theirs. It's only those in between – those of two (or more) minds – who are chronically infected with unease and anxiety. But it's that very unease and anxiety that renders their protests and their efforts ineffective. They have neither material power nor purified (as much as is possible on this plane) spiritual power. Instead, they are full of half-baked ideas, most of which are newly-born out of desperation, but at the same time they are ruled by fear, lest they lose their “stuff”. So, as a result, they are easily dealt with by the ruling power, or by their surrogates in the media. And this is the point at which their defenses break down. They fill the National Mall with protest signs, but as evening approaches they retire to their beds at the Red Roof Inn out in Annandale, leaving the homeless sleeping on park benches amidst discarded protest signs. Who has the real power here?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Mister Dithers

I don't know about you, but one-plus years after Obama's inauguration, I'm already suffering from “Eric Holder fatigue”. Every time I see this guy's name at the top of a news item, I'm like, “Oh man, what's this clown up to now?” And I suppose that every administration has to have its court jester – you know, that unofficial office that James Watt held under Reagan, or that Joycelyn Elders held under Clinton. These are people who manage to walk around with one foot in their mouth and their head firmly wedged up their butt – a feat that would defy the talents of even the most highly-trained Chinese contortionist.

The problem comes when the court jester – unlike the vice president, for example, who has no authority or power, and who really is the official fool in most administrations – holds an office that actually carries some clout. And in the law-obsessed society of today, no office is more threatening, or more dangerous, than that of attorney general. That's why this post is normally given to only the most upstanding, righteous, honest, intelligent, and rational people available – people like John Mitchell, Ed Meese, Janet Reno, John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales, and... oy, pardon me while I barf. So yeah, maybe the office is a sheltered workshop after all. But that shouldn't keep us from protesting when it's abused. In the current situation, it's not so much a matter of danger to the citizenry as the endless dithering about where to try the 9/11 conspirators, chief among them (but not the only one, contrary to most news reports) being the dude known only as KSM. Will it be a military trial, or a civilian one? Will it be held at the scene of the crime, or as far from there as possible? Is it a breath mint, or a candy mint? No one seems to know – least of all the attorney general, who is supposedly in charge of this whole thing. So he continues to play games with the tender feelings of the likes of Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani. Obviously, there's going to be a “security problem” no matter where the trial is held – unless, of course, they hold it in Guantanamo, which is pretty much what should have been decided eons ago.

Of course, another thing impacting on this decision is the question, what, exactly, did these guys do that was so wrong? Crazy, you say? Well, think about it. The Obama administration represents the triumph of liberalism, which, among other things, entails a completely relativistic world view, in which there is no such thing as evil, "bad" and "good" are just "social constructs" and matters of opinion, and wrongdoers are typically considered to be suffering from no more than a “social disease” (as the song from “West Side Story” says). And part of this mind set – a key part, I would say – is the by-now-familiar process of blaming the victim and coddling the “perp”. The instant a suspect is apprehended the legal figure-ground relationship reverses itself, and we find out that the criminal has all the rights, and the victims have next to none. And this is the way things ought to be, according to liberals – it's a sort of affirmative action, “leveling the playing field”, giving everyone “a piece of the pie”, and so on. Criminals become celebrities, as in the days of Prohibition... and victims become... well, just losers, basically. They should have known better than to get in the way of that bullet (which the gun fired all by itself, of course). So now, all of a sudden, we expect people brought up on a steady diet of moral relativism to get “absolute” and develop a strange new respect for law and order, and universal standards of behavior. (Let's not go so far as to talk about Natural Law – you know, that thing that scuttled Robert Bork's Supreme Court nomination, courtesy of Ted Kennedy.) Among the “extenuating circumstances” for KSM & Co. might be that they had a “deprived childhood” (even though most of the terrorists were solidly middle-class) – or that they suffered “childhood abuse” -- which would certainly gain traction considering they were all brought up in a “theocracy”. There could be any number of perfectly good reasons why they did what they did – except for the one Ron Paul cited, namely “They're over here because we're over there” -- the only reason that makes any sense. But hey, what if they took him seriously? Then they would have to blame every past administration all the way back to when oil was discovered in Saudi Arabia (predating the founding of the State of Israel by a mile, I might add). But even that's not too far-fetched, since we're still apologizing for slavery and for mistreatment of the Indians, women, gays, the handicapped, and so on. (Hell, we spent all of 1992 apologizing for Columbus' discovery of America!) What it ultimately boils down to is, “stuff happens”, and I would expect KSM's defense team to consider that a key element in their pleading. They know, after all, to whom they are speaking, since they are part of the system. And yet Holder, on other occasions, has assured us that the defendants will, without a doubt, be found guilty, because... well, just because, that's all. I wonder how much money he bet that O.J. would be acquitted? Clearly the whole idea of a trial is nothing more than an annoyance – and yet one must keep up appearances. It surely wouldn't do to be like China, where “a prompt and speedy trial” is still very much a reality – as is the execution that follows soon after. No, in our system of justice dithering is Job One. After all, isn't Michael Skakel, the black sheep of the extended Kennedy clan (assuming that's not a redundancy) still filing appeals, a good 35 years after his alleged crime? In our enlightened system, it's not over until its over – which means, until the accused dies a natural death. And even then it's not over, as witness the string of posthumous pardons that are constantly being sought after. I guess ultimately, in the longest of long runs, everyone will be pardoned and set free – except for Confederates, “racists”, and “fascists”. And this ought to be some comfort to KSM... except, wait, he actually _wants_ to be tried, convicted, and executed, thereby qualifying as a martyr in the jihad pantheon. I guess Holder can't win after all -- he's trapped in a world he helped make.

Brownie, You're Doing a Heck of a Job

Under the heading of “subtle indicators”, I offer this recent news item: Newly-elected Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown did not attend Wednesday's “tea party” rally on Boston Commons to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Sarah Palin – preferring instead to get a haircut, or get his shoes shined, or something. One comment was, “He must be wary of appearing too closely affiliated with groups that could damage his 2012 re-election bid.” Yeah. That's putting it mildly. Now, there's no doubt that he's a hero for having wrested the “Kennedy Senate seat” out of the sweaty, fevered, booze-laden hands of the Kennedy clan; he deserves full credit for that. But to immediately jump across the Republican political spectrum (and yes, that party is not monolithic any more than the Democrats are) and join what is basically a populist movement... well, that would be asking a bit much. The chances are that Brown has already figured out one thing – populism is, in the long run, a non-starter in America, and the “tea party” movement is no exception. To begin with, as I've commented before, it's always a case of “too little, too late”. Where were these tea partiers when Bush was invading Iraq and Afghanistan, and initiating the bailout and economic stimulus programs? Where were they when the Patriot Act was passed? And so on. These are the perennial frogs in the boiling water – by the time they realize they're being cooked, they _are_ cooked. So they let out a few plaintive bleats, stage a few rallies with their chosen demagogue du jour, and then fade into the woodwork. They are, ultimately, the powerless... and they have no way to change that sad fact. They think they can do it by means of the ballot box, but any candidate they ever get a chance to vote for has already been thoroughly vetted by the regime – and that includes Sarah Palin, the Wonder Woman of the tea partiers. If she ever got into office, she would either be sold out or rendered impotent – or some combination thereof. “Hope and change” are really not on the agenda – and haven't been for quite some time. Now, you might say, “But aren't things a whole lot different with Obama in office than they would have been with McCain in office?” And the answer is no – obviously not. They would be no more different than Obama is from George W. Bush. In anything that counts, the Regime gets its way – no matter who the figurehead is. (And the answer to your next question is, I don't think they care one way or the other about “health care” -- for one thing, it's a domestic issue, and for another, it won't make the country bankrupt any faster than the sum total of all the other programs that are already in place.)

Maybe I'm making Scott Brown out to be smarter than he is. Maybe he really did have pressing business elsewhere. But even the most superficial look at the political landscape will tell you that the tea partiers, besides being powerless, are the perpetual outsiders... the “done to”, rather than the “doers to”... the people who are on the losing end of every government program and every social change movement. They are the people who are losing their country – although it can be argued that the country was never actually theirs to lose. But the point is, no one – especially not a politician – wants to be seen with losers, to associate with them, or to depend on them for his advancement. The only reason the tea partiers are even in the news at all is that they represent, by and large, a group of people that is normally mute, like sheep before their shearers. It's like the old joke about the kid who never says a word until he's five years old, and when he finally does and is asked why, he says “Up to now, everything's been OK.” Of course, in the case of the tea partiers, everything has _not_ been OK up to now... in fact things haven't been “OK” since at least as far back as the New Deal. So something must have happened to finally get their attention, and actually get them to spend money to get to rallies, and hold up signs, and be conspicuous (the bane of middle-class existence). Part of it, I suppose, was the apparent differences between Bush and Obama, which were amplified with just as much vigor by the liberal press as by conservative commentators and talking heads. And, yeah, I suppose there is an element of... not racism exactly, but race anxiety. Even though Obama didn't rise up out of the ghetto, he has adopted that mind set – for political purposes at least, but maybe he actually believes in it as well. And then you have the economic crisis, which no one really understands – at least no one who is willing to go on the public record with their theories. But this notion, overall, that government has suddenly gotten too big – overnight! -- that has more to do with demagoguery than with the actual facts. Government was too big 70 years ago. The Regime, as it is currently constituted, has been in charge at least since the end of World War II. The “wartime economy” has become just “the economy”. And the American equivalent of games and circuses has been to live far beyond our means for decades – on the theory that “in the long run we're all dead” (that's from John Maynard Keynes, every liberal's hero) and, in the short run, to keep political incumbents in office until they decide to either die or retire. As I've said before, short-sightedness and lack of a sense of history (real history, that is, as opposed to myth and fairy tales) are among the many besetting sins of Americans. So the result is that we do, in fact, get the government we deserve – or let's say, so as not to indulge too much in collective blame, we all get the government that most of us deserve. And this includes the tea partiers! They are, by and large, no less culpable than the most abject collectivist liberal – you know, the kind that thinks tax rates are still not high enough (even if his own are). So to start crying at this point is like a girl who went through 13 years of “sex ed” and wound up pregnant anyway – where was she while everyone else was in class? These people have obviously not been paying attention – and this is why their bleatings at this late date seem so pathetic and loser-ish. This is why they're mocked and derided by the likes of Keith Olbermann -- not because they're a threat but because they're such an obvious non-threat. And this is why their “movement” will go the way of all populist movements – not only because they are powerless, but because their emphasis is ever on all the things they're “agin”. It's sad to say, because in these times it actually makes sense to be “agin” nearly everything the government is, and does – but that never creates change, to say nothing of revolution. It barely garners any votes, as we can see by looking at the history of populist movements. One has to give the liberals, “reformers”, and “progressives” credit – they're always “for” something. In fact they're “for” a whole lot of things -- most of which are dead wrong, if not actually evil. The liberals play on people's dissatisfaction every bit as much as the tea partiers -- the difference being that they have firm answers -- programs! And they radiate the kind of energy that tends to attract support and votes, whereas populists really don't, especially when they make heroes out of accidental public figures, mediocrities, and hypocrites. I mean, look at the sorts of characters from the “conservative” side who are currently playing footsie with the tea partiers – some of the most hard-core insiders, cynics, hacks, and opportunists out there. The tea partiers are, basically, being slickered by a bunch of three-card monte artists. But if their support should actually lead to one of these shysters being elected, well... they'll find out how betrayal feels about as fast as the anti-war left is now finding it out. The pity is, the powerless are easily conned and misled – and as dense as politicians can be at times, they're all smarter than the tea partiers (except maybe for Sarah Palin). But the Regime is smarter than any politician, and since what they say goes... well, none of it really matters anyway. But as spectacle, it is amusing to watch.

The Ministry of Absurdity

A number of years ago, National Lampoon – one of the best humor magazines ever, IMHO – put out what they called a “humor issue”. The joke, of course, was -- “But aren't they _all_ humor issues?” Well, in the same spirit, I'm going to style this post the “Absurdity Post”, knowing full well that, with my emphasis on politics and current events, the vast bulk of my posts could be placed in the “absurd” category. But for some reason, the news of the past week or two has provided an unusually rich helping of the bizarre, grotesque, and unusual – maybe it's the post-Obama, post-nationalized health care malaise already setting in, I don't know. It seems like we're long overdue an era corresponding to the Weimar Republic in Germany, with all of its decadence, its live-for-today (even if totally debilitated by sex, drugs, and alcohol) attitude, its refusal to think about... well, just about anything (a state of mind which Adolf Hitler took full advantage of, note). And yes, I supposed it would be picturesque, in a way; at least Weimar Germany had good poster art and interesting films. And Bertolt Brecht.

In any case, I present, for your edification, a carefully-selected assortment of current insanity – i.e., what passes for sanity in our time -- what is reported on with a straight face and without a hint of sarcasm or irony. It's an auslese of the absurd... a banquet of the banal... a deep draught of the daft... and guess what, it's the world we actually live in. Welcome to the national nightmare, from which there will be no awakening for many years to come...

O For starters, I note the juxtaposition by only a day or two of two survey findings: (1) Nearly half – 47% -- of American citizens will pay no income taxes for 2009; and (2) 66% of Americans think we're overtaxed. Now – unless you're young enough to have been exposed to “the new math”, you should be able to figure out that 53% will pay income taxes... which means that, at minimum, 13% of Americans think we're overtaxed even though they don't pay income taxes. Now, wouldn't you love to know who these people are? To meet them, talk to them? It could be a grassroots movement among those who are favored by the system – AKA “tax receivers” -- but whose sympathies nonetheless lie with the poor schmucks who are actual tax payers. Call them the “conservative poor”? But this is impossible – liberal theory forbids it. And yet, they must be out there – survey data don't lie.

O There are plenty of valid arguments against No Child Left Behind. But, on the other hand, take a look at the alternative. Teachers in Miami/Dade County went out on strike (“were absent from classes” is how it's put) to protest “a proposed law that would establish a merit pay system and do away with tenure for new teachers”. This is the educational grass roots speaking... and this is what any attempt at education reform is up against. Imagine -- instant tenture, and generous pay without regard for performance. That's even better than most other government jobs -- but the teachers' unions have a chokehold on the government, the media, and the education system... and until that is broken, all the idealistic "programs" Washington can come up with are just so much delusion and waste.

O And speaking of schools – in Wisconsin, teachers of “sex education” are being warned that teaching minors about contraceptive use could be interpreted as “contributing to the delinquency of minors”, and even “sexual assault”. Well... people have been arguing for at least two generations now that “sex ed” is a form of assault on children by adults, so maybe its just as well that the rubber has finally hit the road (so to speak...).

O And speaking of sex – sometimes you just can't avoid your karma. About a year and a half ago, a young Army soldier murdered an elderly rich man, right here in Southwestern Pennsylvania, supposedly in response to having been sexually propositioned or some form of sexual aggression. Apparently the two had a “prior relationship” of some sort, although there is never any indication of precisely what that may have entailed. But now this same soldier wants to take a paternity test to determine whether he is the father of an infant boy, in response to the mother's putting the child out for adoption by... a gay couple. And, oh yes, the two (the soldier and the mother, also a soldier) were stationed together at Fort Hood, Texas – a known karmic hotbed! Man... I'll bet this guy wishes life came with a “restart” button...

O And before we move on from the gay issue, it should be noted that California, of all places, still has, on its books, a law that classifies homosexuals as “sexual deviants” and requires the state government to conduct research “to find causes of and cures for homosexuality” -- because, among other things, it is a “deviation conducive to sex crimes against children”. And! “The research would be used to help identify potential sex offenders.” So much for objective, detached science. Please fill out this survey form – you may be hotlined depending on your answers. Well... didn't I just go over this in my discussion of “pedophile priests”? And didn't I just say, in an earlier post, that the law – federal, state, and local – is basically a landfill of the outdated, irrelevant, and ignored... but that it's far easier to pass new laws than to rescind old ones? And haven't I claimed that the goal of the Regime is to, one way or the other, turn everyone into a lawbreaker? QED on all counts.

O Which segues directly into the next item, which is – one more time – the “don't ask, don't tell” policy, which virtually everyone in Washington and the military – except a few bullet-headed Marine generals and a few closet cases in Congress – wants to change. But we can't just change it with the stroke of a pen, oh no (even though that was the way it was put in place). First there has to be a survey. And the survey, to be at all relevant, has to include questions as to the service member's sexual orientation. But guess what – if they admit to being gay, they aren't off the hook; it's not like a guarantee of immunity. They can still be thrown out. But be honest now! Don't hold back! (And do I have to mention that this Gordian knot can be cut, indeed with the stoke of a pen, by Obama, using an executive order – but this will, of course, simply not occur to him, or to anyone else in the administration.)

O OK, this really is the last “don't ask, don't tell” item. A lesbian Air Force sergeant was playing strictly by the rules and everything was fine. But when the police showed up to arrest her partner on a theft charge, “they spotted (a) marriage certificate on the kitchen table through a window”-- and the jig was up! The cops hotlined her to the Air Force base where she was stationed. Now – aside from the fact that the police were, to put it mildly, overfunctioning... and, note, this happened in South Dakota, and the lady is black... think that has anything to do with it?... you kind of have to wonder what she was thinking leaving a marriage certificate, especially one of that persuasion, on the kitchen table. Is this where you keep valuable documents of this sort? Seems like it should at least have been framed and hung in the rec room next to the Keene painting. Or better still, kept in a lock box. But no, here it is on the kitchen table, right next to the Sweet 'n' Low, and some cop with itchy eyes has to come along, just looking for trouble – well, you see what happened. So who is to blame? Can I nominate... everybody?

O Well, guess what – Cuba, the envy of liberals the world over, and especially of Hillary Clinton, has actually come out and admitted that it has over one million excess workers on the government payroll – which means “the payroll”, since there is only one. And who admits this? Some disgruntled low-level bureaucrat, who is already on his way to prison? Nay – it is none other than Raul Castro himself. And these excess workers are actually being called “unproductive” -- which, in a communist country, is really saying something. It reminds me of the old line about the driver who was so slow you had to back up to pass him. In any case, one of the few remaining people's paradises seems to have rediscovered the value of actual work, as opposed to “employment” or “jobs” -- which puts it ahead of anyone in the liberal and/or government sector in this country. What is to be done is, of course, another question – since if you fire all the freeloaders, you immediately inflate the unemployment rolls... and unemployment is at least as costly as non-productivity (at least it is for us; I can't vouch for the system in Cuba). So one might assume that, eventually, harsher measures would be in order – like the dictum, “he who does not work, neither shall he eat”, which Lenin stole from the Bible. Hmmm... well, according to liberals (and, let's assume, Castro) anything Lenin says is holy writ... but anything actually contained in holy writ is “myth and superstition”. It'll be interesting to see how this gets worked out...

O But wait, there's more! Cuba's nearby neighbor, namely Puerto Rico, which is part of the U.S., kind of, but not really, and... oh hell, who can figure it out? But at any rate, they have just decided to reduce seats in their legislature by 30%. Talk about non-productivity! State governments virtually invented the concept – and Pennsylvania, as always, leads the way. But lots of luck trying to get Pennsylvania to follow Puerto Rico's fine example. I mean, if you throw 30% of Pennsylvania state legislators out of Harrisburg, they might become homeless. They might freeze! After all, it gets cold here in the winter. That wouldn't happen in Puerto Rico. I guess we could ship them down there... for a modest fee.

O On the lighter side, a jury in Virginia has found that being naked in one's own home is not a violation of the law – at least not yet. This has to be a welcome relief for the bathroom plumbing industry, I imagine – as well as the clothing and laundry industries. Imagine if we were never allowed to expose ourselves – even to the cat – in the process of tending to personal needs or changing clothes. It's good to see that the courts have, at least on this occasion, resisted the temptation to, once and for all, declare all American citizens to be lawbreakers by definition.

O And we think we have problems with political correctness! Not only is Spain – in a kind of revisionist fury – erasing all memory of Franco from its history and its public displays, but a judge who has been investigating atrocities committed by the Republicans – you know, the “good guys”, according to liberals everywhere and Ernest Hemingway – has been indicted. This, in the face of recent Russian frankness concerning the Katyn Forest massacres. Obviously, someone in Spain is feeling awfully threatened by any threat to the popular myth surrounding the Spanish Civil War. Well, we all know that myth because we were all taught it in school, and it has been drummed into our heads ever since by the media, second only in overkill to the Holocaust narrative. (Well, OK, third. I forgot about the Inquisition.) For a curative, I recommend “The Last Crusade” by Warren Carroll; it does a good job of setting the record straight (although I wouldn't take it along as reading material on a trip to Spain, since it's probably banned over there).

O And speaking of Nazis – now it's Ukraine's turn to experience a bout of political correctness. It seems that, during World War II, there was a military organization – one of many “legions” in various countries occupied by Germany – that fought on the German side. Funny how anyone in Ukraine would have thought siding with Germany was a good idea; after all, Stalin had only managed to starve half the Ukrainians to death just a few years before. In any case, one of the leaders of this Ukrainian nationalist movement was recently awarded (posthumously, as you might expect) a Hero of Ukraine award. “Oops!” Someone obviously forgot that his brother-in-law's second cousin once served a glass of slivovitz to an SS officer. See, it's not enough to have been a nationalist – or to have been opposed to the Soviets, arguably Ukraine's biggest enemies of all time. You also had to be as far from the Germans as the east is from the west, or the long arm of the Holocaust industry will reach out, over the decades, and with willful ignorance of the realities at the time, and smack you down, even (or especially) postmortem. It must be nice to live in a mythical, fantasy world where most of your declared enemies are dead and can't fight (or talk) back, and where you can ignore and demean everyone's history but your own.

O And in another triumph for political correctness, the governor of Virginia has been roundly condemned for having attempted to revive an observance called Confederate History Month – clearly the equivalent of an “SS Recognition Month” in Germany, or “Franco's Birthday” in Spain. He apparently not only forgot that slavery was part and parcel of the Confederate system, but even that the Civil War was fought to free the slaves. Well, wasn't it? That's what we were all taught in school. So... the governor has to don sackcloth and ashes and go crawling on his hands and knees to... oh, I don't know, probably the NAACP and ACLU, and the ADL and SPLC for good measure. And of course, the guy has to be a Republican – hey, the hits just keep coming for these folks. But at least there's one person we can already count out for the 2012 presidential race. Only a few thousand to go...

O I've talked before about “locus of control”, and that it's a psychological issue that is key to defining the mind set of the underclass. In brief, it's the notion that “everything happens to me”, and that “it's not my fault”. It's not fatalism in the classic sense, just a total abrogation of responsibility. And I can think of no better illustration than this quote, from a woman who shot and killed a female relative when the latter showed up for Easter dinner in what the shooter considered improper attire: “I didn't mean to do it... we was arguing, I tried to get my gun to prove a point, they got the rifle with me and it went off.” Now, aside from the partial incoherence of this statement, note the play on the popular bumper sticker, “Guns don't kill people; people do”. But this woman begs to differ. In her book, people don't kill people; guns do. And who will argue? Certainly not the gun-control lobby or any other enemies of the Second Amendment. Clearly, this woman, and her attitude, are part of the wave of the future.

O And by the way, there seems to be no basis for the rumor that some rogue tea partiers have volunteered to donate a Tupolev 154 to the government, as a replacement for Air Force One. Just wanted to clear that up...

So there you have it. And this is only, mind you, a few days' worth. We are caught up in a perfect storm of ignorance, back-stabbing, and hostility; in the behavioral literature it's called "elicited aggression", and I sincerely believe that it's a symptom of the growing helplessness we are all feeling – the lack of control over our lives – the feeling that everything that counts is in the hands of a few unseeing, uncaring individuals. I'll bet if you looked into the everyday life of people under any mindless authoritarian/totalitarian society you'd find the same thing. The human psyche was simply not wired to tolerate this level of helplessness and meaninglessness. Better to venture out, take chances, make your own mistakes, and maybe die trying, than to live in this gray, faceless mass – because if human nature is not allowed to express itself in positive ways, it will go negative... and the violent and absurd will take over, and become a way of life. We already find this in certain pockets of society – the “inner cities”, prisons, and so on... but it's leaking out and becoming much more the common lot. If it gets to the point where people can't tell the difference between being in jail and not being in jail, is it any surprise when everyone starts acting like a prisoner?