Friday, July 30, 2010

The Silly Season

Newt Gingrich has weighed in on the “Ground Zero mosque” controversy with this tidbit: “Double standards... allow Islamists to behave aggressively toward us while they demand... our submission.” Gee, that's funny – it's also a perfect description of Israel. I guess maybe a certain amount of symmetry could be a good thing...

“Suicides among Army and Air Force Guard and Reserve troops have spiked this year, and the military is at a loss to explain why.” Well, of _course_ they're at a loss, because they don't understand the significance of meaning as a motivator and consolation, especially in times of war and strife. The military establishment is groping around for “answers” and wondering about things like long deployments, multiple deployments, separation from families, finances, the “macho culture”, and so on. But I don't believe any of those things provides a sufficient explanation. And all of them combined would not either. People just don't commit suicide over things like that – or, at least not at the rates in question. No, it has to be – as I've said on a number of other occasions – the futility factor... the fact that our troops are sent to countries they've barely even heard of, told to destroy things and kill people... and for what? Any idiot (and our troops are not idiots, even though the elite thinks they are) can see that it has nothing to do with “America's security” or our way of life. And if it were really about “empire” we would expect to see some return on investment... but all we see is ever-deepening debt and desperation. I think that, eventually, the absurdity starts to sink in... and yes, some of the troops might be rendered particularly vulnerable to despair by other problems, but the sheer insanity of the situation is what tips the balance. But is this obvious (to me) explanation even being considered by those manning the personnel “support structure”? My sense is, not at all.

And on that same topic...

“Four more years!” No, not for Obama (I hope) but for our troops in Afghanistan. That's the cheery news that came out of the recent “Kabul Conference” -- but of course it's predicated on the notion that “Afghan national security forces” will be willing and able to pick up the slack. How likely is that, considering that a goodly number of them already work for the other side... and the rest are about as competent as Inspector Clouseau? But despite all that, some members of the “coalition of the willing” are taking our word for it and planning on shaking the Afghan dust from their feet not later than 2014 – which would leave us kind of all along and feeling blue over there, wouldn't it? But hey, it was our idea in the first place; they joined in, thinking that we knew what we were doing (foolish of them, what?)... and now they're starting to realize that they've apprenticed themselves to Captain Ahab. The point is that no one deadline or “target date” is more valid than any other. Either we should be over there or we shouldn't, and if we shouldn't, then we should leave immediately. (And if anyone thinks we should, they owe the American people a much better explanation than any that has been provided to date.)

I wonder how many of the “global warming” advocates have started drinking heavily? I mean, it's stuff like this that has to stress them out: On the one hand, this last May has been pronounced the hottest on record, and it was also “the 303rd consecutive month that a month was warmer than its 20th-century average” -- if you can follow that. But then on the other hand, a different agency warns that North America, eastern Asia and Europe can expect more harsh winters in the future – i.e. more winters like the winter of 2009-2010. So let's see... warmer months, colder winters... sheesh, pass the margaritas. Or hot toddys. Or both.

Well, it's happening again. The government is evicting citizens from their homes in order to seize the property and turn it over to developers. And it's happening all over... China, that is. And guess what sorts of “development” have necessitated the expropriation of private property: A Disneyland theme park, the 2008 Olympics, and the Shanghai World Expo. But hey, in principle this is no different from what is happening here, as the Kelo vs. City of New London case dramatically showed. If the government decides there is a better use for your land than you living on it (not too hard to prove, in fact, according to their value system), then you're out on your ear. And since China is following suit with a vengeance, one might almost think this was a universal trait of “capitalistic” societies with huge, overbearing governments. Ironic also in that, not all that long ago, there was no such thing as private property in China. But now there's so much that the government has to take some of it back. Why can't they make up their minds?

The Canadian health care system may be the punch line for conservative commentators, but it turns out that there is one area where Canada is infinitely superior to the U.S. It has to do with the banking industry... and the fact that Canada's banks didn't dive headlong into politically-correct subprime mortgages, they kept reserves high, and they did all sorts of other sensible and healthy things connected with real estate – unlike our own bankers, who basically committed financial suicide on our behalf. And what's especially remarkable is that none of these level-headed measures was forced down anyone's throat by the government; the banks simply decided, on their own, to keep making “responsible choices”. (And by the same token, the Canadian government didn't force them to make _irresponsible_ choices – again unlike the situation here.) So, bottom line, Canada's banks “largely avoided the economic fallout of the U.S. housing bust.” They are also getting kudos from the IMF and the World Economic Forum, which is kind of remarkable since the IMF has been latched onto the veins of the American taxpayers for decades now. Maybe it's the kind of grudging respect you get from someone whose advice you had the good sense not to take.

I just put up a post on the public schools, but here's another tidbit. This is unbelievable (in a good way). “The D.C. Public Schools are firing 241 teachers and warning more than 700 other employees that they could be fired in the next year if their performance doesn't improve. The firings... total 302 school system employees.” And this is all – or mostly – based on what, pray tell? “A new teacher evaluation system” that includes classroom observations and – drum roll, please – students' standardized test scores. Don't tell me “No Child Left Behind” is actually working! Well, I don't know if there's a connection; all I know is that, when it comes to the utter incompetence and corruption of the public school system, the D.C. public schools are the belly of the beast. They are Patient #1. They are the heart of darkness (no pun intended, please!). And if something like this can happen there, well... it really and truly can happen anywhere. I'm not getting my hopes up, but even this much is more than I had ever expected to see.

Well, it's all over for Hugo Chavez. How do I know? Because he has done the truly unthinkable, namely “ordered the military to crack down on businesses selling beer on the streets or after legal hours”. Granted, it's not the same as Prohibition – the madness that overtook this country for a time early in the 20th Century – but it should be enough to topple his regime, it seems to me. The article says that “Venezuelans' taste for beer and Scotch whisky is an irritation to the leftist president” -- they should have said “Puritan”. It's amazing how much of a nexus there is between communism and Puritanism; they really do seem to be operating on many of the same premises (and through many of the same means as well). Chavez says the transition toward socialism “requires a moral crusade to change Venezuelans' values.” Sound familiar? I'm amazed that he and Obama don't get along better – or maybe they do, and what we hear is just posturing.

I have this great old Russian postcard that shows an illustration – probably from a novel – of a wedding ceremony. The bride is a pale, innocent young girl and the groom is a crabbed, wizened (and probably rich) old geezer. It's creepy, needless to say... and so is the grotesque courtship that is going on between the Republican Party and the “tea partiers”. I'm not saying this marriage has been finalized (or consummated) as yet, but a milestone was reached recently with the establishment, by a group of House Republicans led by Michele Bachmann, of something called the Tea Party Caucus. According to the article, “Bachmann's move to create this caucus formalizes their [i.e., the tea partiers'] relationship with the GOP.” Getting creeped out yet? Much of what the tea partiers object to is just as much the fault of the Republicans as of the Democrats; it's like getting off heroin by making friends with the crack dealer. No, when it comes to the tea partiers' complaints, the Republicans are not the answer and never will be, no matter how many cockamamie “caucuses” they come up with. It's just a ploy to co-opt the tea party movement and maybe slice off a few more votes in November, at which time the tea partiers will be relieved of their courtesy cards and told, basically, that no one ever promised them they could play with the big dogs. And there's the door. So sad... so predictable. They will just be the next group to be exploited by the powers that be (on both sides of the bogus left-right divide), and I'm afraid they won't learn their lesson any more readily than the others did.

Schools, Houses, and Liberal Utopias

A recent headline had me rubbing my eyes in disbelief: “Schools test idea of grouping by abilities” -- as opposed to rigid and regimented grade levels. A miracle, I calls it! The educational establishment has finally rediscovered what the school marms in the little one-room red schoolhouses knew 100 years ago – that giving students materials based on their abilities rather than their age is a great help when it comes to motivation and achievement. Of course, like any other promising change in public education, we can expect the teachers' unions to fight like demons against it. But at least they'll be forced to prove that their way works better... or provide some other argument, like ability grouping is “unfair” to lower-ability students and might hurt their feelings. You know, something like that. Well, it's always worked in the past, so don't be surprise if it's dragged out on this occasion as well.

And speaking of our marvelous public schools, it now turns out that there is a phenomenon called “resegregation”. No, Orval Faubus hasn't come back to life; it's just that when all the non-whites flee for their lives (and livelihoods) from a given (usually urban) neighborhood, the public schools in said neighborhood tend to become more and more black. Big surprise! And in fact, what is called “white flight” -- deeply regretted by liberals (you know, the ones who didn't live in those neighborhoods in the first place so they didn't have to worry) – was, according to my theory and that of many others, not an unintended consequence, but was fully intended. That is, the aim all along was to drive whites, especially “ethnic” white Catholics, out of the cities and make them preserves of (1) reliable Democratic voters (as if the white Catholics weren't!); and (2) social and economic chaos and despair, which would justify massive government programs, even more power to liberal politicians and activists, etc. Nothing new about any of this – but what is new is that anyone is acting surprised that the schools in these areas -- that were ethnically cleansed of whites -- are becoming totally black. I mean, who did they expect would take the place of all the white kids -- Martians? And if you'll recall, an interim measure that was a low point in the history of race relations – namely forced busing – was instituted in order to enforce quota systems across school districts. But this only accelerated the “flight” to the point where white people refused to live anywhere within the city limits, and all wound up in the suburbs. Again, this was a totally non-unintentional consequence.

And speaking of mush-brained thinking about racial issues, here was Julian Bond recently... and let's face it, this is one guy who has stayed around way past his pull date... but in any case, he came to a conference here in Pittsburgh and pronounced that one of the next major civil rights battles will be... are you ready for this? ... the effort to end housing segregation. To which any sane person would have to say “HUH??” This is like NASA making a big deal about going to the Moon someday – hey guys, we already did that, remember? And housing segregation was terminated, by brute force, many decades ago. Or was it? Well, it's certainly true that there is no longer any such thing as legal segregation in housing, so what Mr. Bond is clearly talking about is the same thing the school people are talking about, which is results. Like for instance, the result of white flight and housing subsidies for “minorities” (i.e. blacks) is that blacks tend to live in some areas, and whites tend to live in other areas. So here is a direct quote from Mr. B.: “If you're segregated to one part of town, you're away from the best jobs, the best schools, the best opportunities.” Now let me freely translate that. What he means is that ethnic cleansing of whites combined with housing subsidies for blacks tended to concentrate black populations in certain areas of cities. The result of this was, predictably, a degradation in the quality of the schools based primarily on the degradation of the quality of the pupils (or their attitudes about education). And, just like “white flight”, you also had the flight of businesses that could no longer afford the risks (and loss of trade) that doing business in those neighborhoods entailed. And with the businesses went the jobs; again -- big surprise. So -- “urban renewal” and “desegration” resulted in white flight, business flight, and school degradation, all of which led to what Mr. Bond calls “segregation”. And segregation it is – but not of the old-South variety. This is the kind dreamed up and mercilessly implemented by liberals, of which Mr. Bond is one of the most prominent – and now he's complaining about the result. And, oh yes, the same conference tackled – head-on! -- questions like “minorities' overrepresentation in the criminal justice system.” Right – another unfathomable mystery. But when your entire world view is based on outcomes, rather than what it takes to achieve those outcomes, is it any wonder you're still talking nonsense after all these years? That's Mr. Bond's problem, and the problem of a huge portion of the so-called black leadership.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

When Shame is Not Enough

In case there were any lingering doubts as to who owns the Obama administration – lock, stock, and barrel – Kenneth Feinberg, the departing “pay czar”, has set the record straight. The answer, of course, is the banks... and the evidence is that, after months of huffing and puffing, executive compensation for the banks who were bailed out by the taxpayers is going to remain untouched. Suddenly executive pay doesn't seem so “excessive” after all, apparently; I guess it's all relative. But here's the real kicker. Quoth Feinberg: “Shaming them was punishment enough.” To which the immediate response ought to be, you can only shame people who _have_ a sense of shame, and these people don't. I mean, they already demonstrated that to the satisfaction of nearly everyone when they even accepted those compensation packages after driving their own firms into bankruptcy. This, of course, has been the behavior pattern for corporate warlords for quite some time now, but the new twist is that it now triggers bailouts by the government. In the old days it was the stockholders who suffered, and hey, if you invest in an outfit like that you take your chances, right? But now it's no longer a gamble, since the government promises to cover all losses, but leave profits alone. It's a pretty good deal if you're already on top of the heap.

Plus, what's to be ashamed of? It was really a brilliant move -- maximum pay, a revival of profits (post-bailout, that is), and getting the government to cover all your losses? And they all thought of it at the same time, which kind of makes you wonder. In any case, these guys should be raised on high and worshipped as gods in their respective boardrooms and stockholders' meetings (in fact, they probably are even as we speak).

Oh, and BTW, this pillar of wisdom – i.e. Feinberg – is now heading up the compensation fund for the Gulf oil spill. I guess we can expect the same “shame was punishment enough” line to be trotted out there too – with about the same degree of justification.

I suppose I should feel a certain degree of satisfaction about this, since I've been saying from the beginning that what is now termed the Great Recession was, in fact, entirely intentional, and meticulously programmed from the start. And events have pretty consistently supported this theory – like the fact that the organizations most responsible are not only back on their feet, but are prospering... making more money than ever in many cases, which includes their top officers. And yes, I know it's risky to judge intent according to results – sometimes good things happen to bad people for no particular reason. But this “meltdown”, and the resulting bailouts, and the stimulus program, have “hoax” and “scam” written all over them. I think what we've seen is, basically, a huge wealth transfer where business and government are co-conspirators, and where all the “crisis” talk is no more than a cover story. It is, I grant you, a new and somewhat novel model compared to the crude pillage of old, but it's ultimately the same thing and it's having more or less the same results... with one critical difference, which is that the American public has, by and large, bought into the propaganda package. Sure, there is some skepticism and there are a few “conspiracy theorists” (ahem!) running around – but overall, it's just like all the other government-sponsored hoaxes in our history. People are so upset and disoriented, and panicked, by not only the “crisis” itself but what is said about it (by the government via the captive media) that they don't have the time or energy for skepticism – in addition to which, the level of fear is such that no one wants to “rock the boat”. Just at the point when the system is most vulnerable – i.e. the immediate cover-up stage – the people are also the most fearful and the most anxious to run and hide under the wing of mother hen. That chick who's too slow might get left behind, and eaten by the Big Bad Wolf. Problem is, it's the wolves who are running things – but they are clothed in the garb of the Nanny State, so it's the rare person who sees them for what they are.

For instance, who was about to question the official line as to what happened on 9-11, on 9-12? A few lone voices, whom the media were ready to discount as "nut cases". You'll notice that in "crises" of this sort the media are always primed to shut down dissent. It's almost as if they knew in advance... but that's just crazy talk, right?

My question, as always, is how many times can an exercise like this be performed before there are no victims left? I mean, sooner or later we're going to have a system where the rich and powerful rule over a vast army of slaves. Well, we have that now, but eventually the slaves are going to live like the slaves of old, and probably look (and smell) like them as well. And what happens then? Can we find, anywhere in history, a comparable situation? One could point to any number of ancient empires, but I think the Soviet Union and China under Mao – and North Korea under Kim – are maybe more perfect examples. What happened in the case of the Soviets and the Chinese is that the ruling class started to die out, their heirs didn't have the same political will or sheer viciousness, and at the same time the ordinary people started to wake from their slumbers and dream that there might be a better way. In the case of North Korea, of course, we're still all waiting for this to happen; and in Cuba, the process is just getting under way. So yes, there is life after the death of freedom – but who wants to have to live through the dark times? I think we're going to get a chance to find out, since they've already begun.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Greatness Tour 2009-2010

I have to admit, he's making his mark – Obama, I mean. He managed to get Congress to pass, in quick succession, a 2000-plus-page health care reform bill which will not solve any of our most basic health care issues... and a 2000-plus-page financial reform bill which will not solve any of our core financial issues, and will probably make some of them even worse. And not to forget the “economic stimulus plan”, which stimulated, basically, squat. In addition to which, he seems totally incapable of figuring out how to disengage from Iraq and Afghanistan – mainly because he has no intention of disengaging. “But wait, there's more!” -- as they say on late-night TV ads for the latest gadget. In line with Obama's urge to climb every mountain, we still have the main event in store, namely legislation designed to reshape and renew the Earth itself by stopping “global warming” in its tracks. If we think that what has happened so far has been a death blow to liberty, those things will turn out to be minor irritants compared to what we will have to give up to keep the Earth from turning into one big backyard barbecue.

So the hits just keep coming, and so far his record is one of 100% success... if you're a member of the ruling elite, that is. If you're an average American citizen he's an unmitigated disaster... but, really, no worse than a third Bush term would have been (talking strictly theoretically here), and probably better than a first McCain/Palin term would have been, since in that case we would still have health care issues, economic issues, financial issues, and the two wars, and would probably by this time have landed the Marines on the shores of Georgia (the one on the Black Sea) in order to back them up in their struggle with Russia. And let's not forget that China has always been on better terms with the Democrats than with the Republicans (wonder why?), which may be why they're holding on to all our debt rather than cashing it all in at once and trashing our economy. Say what you like, they always know who their friends are. And when it comes to foreign affairs, why... even that very brief awkwardness with Israel has now been consigned to history... or rather the memory hole. So all is well, and you'd hardly know you were on board the Titanic except for that slight listing of the deck and the nervous expressions on the faces of the lounge band members.

History will show that Obama had greatness thrust upon him – and turned it down cold. Instead, he opted for the liberal/socialist/collectivist, and – I might add – Regime-friendly solution to all of his challenges... which is, in truth, an expression of despair rather than hope and of stagnation rather than change. But the despair will not belong to him and his cronies (and his overlords), but to his victims – namely the American people, whose political discernment has once again failed, with disastrous consequences.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Apocalypse Later

There is one thing that conservatives and liberals can agree on, and that is the need – the burning desire – for something called “justice” (or, at the very least, that watered-down thing the liberals call “fairness”, which even Jimmy Carter advised against counting on). The main difference is that conservatives see justice as an infinite, eternal, and divine quality, and thus rely on God to (1) know what it is and (2) deliver it at the proper time, whereas liberals see it as something that we – i.e. mankind – have to discern and come up with, and the sooner the better – hopefully within the lifetime of all liberals now walking the earth. To a liberal, the greatest tragedy is to go to the grave without having seen justice in his lifetime... whereas to a conservative, the notion of humankind as the (only) source of justice is absurd on its face – and any pretense as to whether justice has been, or can ever be, achieved on this plain is the utmost in presumption. And yet many conservatives – e.g. the “tea partiers” -- have been caught up in the political trap of striving, with the greatest urgency, to achieve justice – hopefully within the duration of the current political or election cycle. So the conservatives are now taking to the streets the way the liberals used to do before they took over all of the political and cultural power centers... and the spectacle is no less absurd. But neither side wants to give up on this vision, because it is so central to the character and the strivings of those strange people called “Americans”. This country – and its predecessor colonies, in fact – was founded on the notion of no less than paradise on earth... and it is the very last delusion that will ever be given up, no matter where one stands on the political spectrum. Because to give it up would mean surrender to all of the apparent irrationality and chaos of the world... to the forces of tyranny and oppression (if you're a conservative), or to “superstition”, unreason, and “hate” (if you're a liberal). In other words, neither side is willing to accept the world as it is – and this, I suppose, is commendable enough, except for the vast differences in focus. Liberals want to re-mold, and re-form, the human race, i.e. society, or the “collective”, in their own image – whereas conservatives want to reform individuals in the image of God. And much of the political strife and controversy in our time is based on this primary distinction.

The thing is, the salvation of any one individual is, in fact, a problem – _the_ problem, if you will – that adheres to that individual. And in fact, an individual can seek, and hopefully attain, salvation with or without the help of the “society” in which he happens to live. There have been righteous men in even the worst of times throughout history... and the unrighteous were raising their voices in protest even in the most secure heart of Christendom. In other words, it all boils down to, not only human nature, but to each individual person and their reaction to their lot – to their state of being. But even here we find that the divergence has already occurred – the believing Christian believes himself to be a created being, and part of the created order... whereas the unbeliever, especially in our time – with his arms full of the works of the finest minds of the past 200 years – people like Marx, Darwin, and Freud – believes himself to be the result of nothing more than a series of random (one might say “unfortunate”) events. To the liberal humanist, a man is simply a list of “nothing mores” -- nothing more than an economic being, nothing more than an animal, nothing more than an unwieldy pile of neuroses, obsessions, and superstitions. So this basic metaphysical difference is going to greatly condition the kind of “cure” that is proposed, by the different sides, for the human lot. And the aggregate of various proposed “cures” will constitute one's politics – which is why we see so much “misunderstanding” in our day and age. The two sides are starting with drastically differing, and irreconcilable, views of human nature – and therefore of the significance (if any) of the individual, and of society, and of the individual's place in society. And these are not superficial differences that can be ironed out in a Congressional committee room; they are profound, and they will not simply go away with the next law that is passed, or the next regulation enacted.

If you accept the above premises, you have to agree that the miracle is not that there is so much political strife in this country, but that there is not more. A nation with as wide a range of metaphysical positions (of which religious creeds are a subset) would, at most times and in most places in history, have erupted in civil war and sectarian strife ages ago. It would have been like the Moslem vs. Hindu wars in India after it gained independence from Britain – totally irreconcilable beliefs worth dying for, as many millions did. But we have somehow held together through all of this, despite dire predictions to the contrary (and I don't consider our own Civil War to be an exception – that was one Christian nation against another, and more's the tragedy). But is it just a matter of sitting back and saying “let the best belief system win”? I'm not aware of anyone who takes that position; I know I don't. What's more likely, I think, is that each side is willing – up to a point -- to give things time to sort themselves out. For example, as aggressive as the Progressives, liberals, humanists, and secularists have been to eliminate any influence of religion on “public life”, they have stopped short (to date) of totally suppressing organized religion – even though they have done an excellent job of harassment and persecution. And that, in turn, is based on another curious American belief, which – strangely – seems inconsistent at times with the concept of justice, and that is the concept of tolerance. But “tolerance”, American-style, is not the expression of indifferentism that some claim; it's more like an attitude of “You're wrong, but I'm willing to allow you to continue to be wrong.” In other words, it's a bit patronizing... but it's still preferable to fire and the sword, which is the usual response to that situation. And I suppose that if there's anything this society will be remembered for in the far-distant future, it's that brand of tolerance, which, while humane in one sense, nonetheless had an edge to it. And maybe this brand of tolerance is the best we can suspect in any nation as a whole; we are not, after all, one gigantic Buddhist monastery.

The problem is, tolerance works just fine if all we're talking about is belief, or faith, or creed – qualities that seem somewhat abstract when it comes to everyday life. But here's the rub. This country is also, I would say, a uniquely “political” entity – which means that, precisely because of our notions about democracy, everything eventually becomes political... which means that everything becomes subject to our various metaphysics, belief systems, and so on... which means that these “abstract” things don't stay abstract for long. They become, in fact, vital forces when it comes to public life – and the increasing role of government in the lives of the people just aggravates that fact. I cannot walk out my door and out onto the street without becoming immediately subject to the aggregated belief systems of other people – hundreds, thousands, even millions. I become involved in politics, whether I want to be or not. And it's no longer “let the best belief system win” -- but the fact that there already is a winner, namely the collectivist, totalitarian mindset that has overtaken our politics and our life as a people. Of course, this in itself is “a matter of opinion”, since for many, the bigger and more overbearing government becomes, the better they like it.

So I wind up living in a world I never made – but which was made for me, to serve what were claimed to be my best interests, namely to exist as an unquestioning serf of the Regime, i.e. the “system”. And as long as I make the proper noises in that regard, I'm reasonably secure (in my serfdom). But try coming up with a radically different opinion, and see how far this “tolerance” goes. A cynic would say that “tolerance” is simply a strategy used by those in power until they obtain total power – at which point tolerance vanishes. And there is plenty of evidence for this! We have passed the point at which tolerance serves as a useful tool; it is now morphing either into oppression or into that thing called “diversity”, which is a total fraud that pretends to be tolerance, but is nothing of the kind. If you want to be “diverse”, you still have to be diverse in politically-correct, socially-acceptable ways – otherwise you might as well be living under the Taliban. What if, for example, a black intellectual or academician decides to “out” the liberal establishment for having maintained the black community in a state of at least moral and psychological slavery – a less tangible version of the plantation system before emancipation? You think he's going to get a fair hearing? All you have to do is read the paper in order to realize that he's not; in fact, he's going to be declared persona non grata and, basically, drummed out of his race the way Thomas Sowell and Clarence Thomas have been.

So yes, tolerance has its limits (due to human nature) and I think we're seeing them in our time. We have the media going after the Catholic Church with all the fury of Attila's hordes... the liberal elite denigrating Christian believers in general and allowing all sorts of blasphemies, many with public funding... elected officials responding “Are you kidding?” when asked if their favored programs are consistent with the Constitution... and all the various instruments of false humanism and “diversity” being used against ordinary, law-abiding citizens (well, they _thought_ they were law-abiding, until Title IX and affirmative action came along...). So the flood waters are rising, and the country the tea partiers thought they were born and grew up in has vanished like the morning fog under a burning sun – and all that is left is a glorified concentration camp. And so they protest – which is only right, and natural – but the way the “agents of change” operate is that, by the time their victims realize anything is wrong, it's too late... and as I've said, I really do think it's too late, despite the exertions of the tea partiers, the Ron (and Rand) Paul crowd, “talk radio”, the paleocons, the libertarians, and so on. You know that the oppressor has the upper hand when he no longer cares what anyone thinks – and we are seeing this now, on a daily basis. “Public opinion” really means nothing to the ruling elite – and one reason is that our true masters are not elected, and are, by and large, unknown. They will offer up the occasional elected official as a sacrificial lamb to appease the wrath of the public – think George W. Bush, for example, or Jimmy Carter – but that's only in order to make their job easier. They job will be done, in any case.

And yet, through all of this, the quest for “justice” continues – while at the same time frustration and despair at its lack only grow more intense. And what do people do in response to this frustration? Why, they do what prophets both true and false have always done – call down the powers of the Almighty upon the heads of the offenders. If they can't have justice, they will have destruction, on the same scale as the Flood or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The problem for liberals, of course, is that there _is_ no Almighty – so they have to call down the wrath of something else, and that something else is usually the Earth itself. “Mother Nature's gonna get you for that.” The Earth will, somehow, figure out a way to extract “payback” for the great and many offenses of mankind – and if you keep up with “Steve Newman's Earthweek”, this process is already well underway and is, in fact, “irreversible” (despite the pleadings of Al Gore et al). Even if we stopped using fossil fuels today, the Earth would still turn into a lifeless cinder well within the lifetimes of many living today – and that's a promise! Even the Gaia principle is not enough to turn back the clock on global destruction and mass extermination – because, as always, by the time we managed to define the problem it was too late to do anything about it.

And I must say, it is bizarre, to say the least, to have oil companies trying (and failing) to drill wells a mile under water... or gas companies using this “fracking” technique to squeeze the – absolutely, positively! -- last drop (or whatever the gaseous equivalent is) of natural gas out of the Marcellus shale. These are actions that say more about sheer desperation than about technology... about man's “conquest of nature” (and how long has it been since you heard that term?). And when the last molecule of fossil fuel is forced out of the ground and burned... what then? Of course, we've only been using oil for less than 200 years... and natural gas for not much more than 100. Coal is a different matter, of course, having been in use somewhere in the world since ancient times. But in any case, it's not hard to project, based on population trends, technology, and known resources, a point in the future when this stuff is going to be just plain gone. And what then? Well – we won't have to worry about “carbon footprints” any longer; that's for sure. But are we really going to have a billion or so windmills, or solar collectors, at that point? Or nuclear reactors? Or geothermal plants? And how about “harnessing the tides”? (It hasn't worked yet.) What I'm getting at is if the Earth itself is the “enforcer”, this collapse may fall under the heading of “the apocalypse” -- you know, that event which all the faithful (whether religious or otherwise) anticipate with fear and trembling.

But there's so much that could happen in the meantime that would render all of this moot – like the _real_ Apocalypse, for example – you know, the one in the Book of Revelation. After all, don't forget that James Watt, Reagan's secretary of the interior, said – right out loud, in front of Congress! -- “I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns, whatever it is we have to manage with a skill to leave the resources needed for future generations." Of course, the media had a field day with this statement, and (after they had picked themselves up off the floor from laughing) called it a half-cynical, half-insane way of making excuses for the pillaging of our natural resources. But what if he was right? I mean... that would be, let's say, an alternative plan for the Apocalypse – rather than the Earth saying “I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it any more”, God would be saying that (or words to that effect). And in fact, this is one element of the “end times” zeal on the part of our fundamentalist brethren – that God has just about had it, and that He will not stay His hand much longer. But again, isn't this just another version of the yearning for justice? And isn't it an attempt to force God's ways to be, or become, our ways? Their fond hope is that, any day now, God will look down upon “the mess that humankind has made of things” and say, well, it might be time for another flood... or for more fire and brimstone... or for something totally unexpected (and there are plenty of candidates for that alternative, from all across the political spectrum). But is this really in God's plan – to conform His sense of justice to match ours (even that of fervent believers)? One Gospel quote that must cause endless annoyance to the end-times buffs is “No man knoweth the day or the hour” -- since many of them are convinced that they, indeed, know both of those things – with absolute precision and assurance. (How many times have you heard, or read, that “the end of the world will come on (date) at (time)”? And the “global warming” zealots have their own version of this, needless to say.) Again, it's trying to tell God what His policies and priorities should be. Plus, it calls into question another quality of God that is as important as His justice – namely mercy. For what else is it but mercy that causes God to be “long-suffering” -- much longer-suffering and patient, in fact, than any of His created beings are? Now the cynic, or unbeliever, might (for the sake of argument) claim that God is playing a cat-and-mouse game – just keeping the human race around so He can play with it a bit longer. But this is not the theme that runs throughout the entire Old Testament, or that has been restated so many times by the Church. It's really about giving individuals – and the human race in general – more time to repent and amend. And yes, another day of “parole” means another day of suffering for many – but this “statistical” approach is that of materialists, secularists, and “experts” -- and has never been properly attributed to God. If He, and His purposes, exist outside of time and space, they must also exist outside of mere numbers as well, and the quantity of physical, or material, suffering is of little ultimate importance compared to that which will count in eternity. And in fact, this impatience and striving for justice “now” might fall under the heading of a besetting sin – in that it represents a failure of faith... or a process of putting a distorted form of hope before faith.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


We are barely into the “Dog Days” -- depending on one's definition thereof – and Pittsburgh is suffering its longest and most intense heat wave since I was privileged to set up shop in these parts. Why, just yesterday the high temperature was – hold on to your hats! -- 93 degrees! Yes! Stifling, scorching heat! The hottest temperature here in nearly five years, according to the National Weather Service. Of course, anyone in the Washington, DC area, where I was privileged (?) to live for all of 33 years, would laugh heartily at this. We're talking about a place where a week-long stretch of 100+ degree highs is not unusual... and where, if any summer went by with no temperatures higher than 93, people would be panicking about “global cooling”. Truly, the Washington area has some of the worst weather in the country... which some might say is poetic justice, considering that Washington is where all the people who want to tell the rest of us how to live live. So let 'em roast! That's my philosophy.

But let's also admit that most Washingtonians, even though they represent the power elite, are, basically, slaves and serfs. They live, and exist, to do the bidding of their betters – which usually means politicians, political appointees, bureaucrats, and the entirety of the hidden Washington, DC power structure. And there are many ironies to life in that region. For example, Washington, DC – i.e. the city – is run by blacks. Period. No one who is white, unless they're a self-hating white person, has a chance when it comes to the power structure of the DC government. And yet, in theory, the DC government is overseen by Congress – which is hardly any consolation. How would you like to live in a city that was subject to the whims of the United States Congress? No thank you! And yet, DC is also the home of some of the most prominent members of the ruling elite – those people without whose consent nothing is done, either in Congress, or by any administration... or even, I suspect, by the Supreme Court. These people may not be at the very top of the heap, but they are pretty damn far up the totem pole. I'm talking about people who own entire blocks in Georgetown – do you know what that means? It means they have a few tens of millions of real estate under their control. (Theresa Heinz Kerry is one example – or at least she was back in the mid 70s when she was just Theresa Heinz. I was part of the entertainment at a birthday party she threw for her husband, Sen. John Heinz. They had a very nice 3-story, plus two basement levels, manse right in the heart of Georgetown. I got a tour of the place from one of the boys. The point is, they were owners of one of the prime properties in a city where using the word "niggardly" can get you tossed off the city council for being a racist.)

So there are manifest absurdities connected with even the ruling elite. They can only venture so far out of their “gated communities” before they come face-to-face with the real people of this country – the homeless, the psychotic, and the average working stiffs. And I suppose this is the way it has always been – I mean, even the most exclusive redoubts of the rich, famous, and powerful have to include ample servants' quarters. The elite cannot help but cross paths with the “plain people” once in a while – and the National Enquirer proves it! Famous people – people worth millions – are caught, red-handed, walking out of a 7-11 with a Slushie. So yeah, forget about the elite being able to totally insulate themselves from the rest of us; it just can't be done. I've always said that I'd rather be a poor person in a rich country than a rich person in a poor country. And this is because there are always – intended or otherwise -- “trickle-down effects” from the rich... whereas if you're at the top of the heap in a place like Haiti, you have to spend all your time worrying about getting your throat cut. I just don't think that's a very relaxing way to live – I mean, call me crazy, but...

But to return to my main point, whatever it is – you would think, given the revolutionary actions of the Obama administration to date, that we would be experiencing a period of – at the very least – euphoria by now, similar to that which overtook the country during Franklin Roosevelt's “Hundred Days”, or JFK's foreshortened administration. Why don't we see students marching in the streets, with accordions, a la Mao's Cultural Revolution? Granted, the newest generation of leeches and parasites is converging on Washington, DC to “help” with the Obama revolution, and real estate in that area is experiencing another boom -- unique considering that the rest of the country is on the ropes... but I just don't sense the same esprit de corps... the same jubilation. After all, the draft is no longer in force, unlike the 1960s... and the economy, while on its knees, has not yet received a knock-out punch... and we are, it is argued, on the verge of – finally! After all these years! -- achieving that cynosure of all righteous societies, namely “fairness”. So why is there no jubilation in the streets? Why no mass rallies, North Korea-style? After all, we have a leader who has promised to mend all wounds, and cure all ills – and he is (or so he says) well on the way to doing both. And yeah, a few million people's hopes and dreams have been dashed by the economic collapse – but this is just a temporary condition, understand? And what comes out of it will be better than anything we've ever dreamed of – a society where “fairness” rules and “privilege” is smashed to smithereens. Except for one awkward fact, which is that “privilege” is the word that describes the entire governing class at this point – Obama and his crew, Congress, the courts, the bureaucracy, the media, and everyone else in positions of power. Whether they “deserve” the privileges they have is not to be questioned by the unwashed – the point is, they are who they are, and they are occupying positions of power... and the rest of us should be thankful that we've managed to stay out of jail for one more day. That is, in a nutshell, the core position of our rulers at this point. So it's hardly surprising that the frisson of populism that accompanied the New Deal... or the Fair Deal... or the New Frontier... is missing in this case. No one is celebrating! What's happening is that people are hunkering down, expecting that the worst is yet to come... and they are not counting on our leaders to do much of anything about it. Oh yes, they may twiddle away at the margins a bit – as with the tax code – but they'll do nothing about the core problems. And that's because, to them, the core problems are not problems at all – they're a way of life. The many predations of places like AIG and Goldman Sachs – the millions of people that they've crushed underfoot – are small considerations compared to the consolidation of power that has occurred.

A great divide has opened up – and I can't help thinking of those special effects – remarkable for their time – in which the seas parted at Moses' command, or other equally remarkable things happened. But the divide now is between the ruling elite and their servants (after all, the servants spend more time in the “big house” than the master, right?), and the slave or serf class – which means, basically, you and me – the un-privileged, the un-anointed, the done-to. For example, our taxes will go up next year based on decisions we had absolutely nothing to do with. And this is about as good a definition of tyranny as I can come up with: We pay while they play. And this is happening in an alleged democracy! With elections! You can only imagine what it would be like in an open, unabashed dictatorship (it might be better, actually).

So, under these conditions, is the average citizen – who has started, finally, to see the light – expected to evince any enthusiasm for a process, and a system, that he now knows is operating totally against his interests? I don't think so. As bovine and comatose as the American public is, there has to be a limit to their tolerance, and I think it has been reached. And yet, they are so unused to protest, and to activism – after all, those have always been the province of the leftists, who are now in charge – that the best they can come up with – and a small number it is at that – is the “tea parties”. And the ruling elite sees the tea parties on about the same level as the proverbial “little old lady in tennis shoes” -- annoying but basically harmless.

So what do you do then, in the face of monolithic, all-powerful government and its media allies? Well, you could do as so many of the citizens of the Soviet Union did – just get drunk and stay that way. Or you could become an expatriate – and live in some enlightened place like France, for instance... or just become a “world traveler” with no mailing address. But after all, you do have some loyalty to place – to family – to the land, if you're from the country... and damn it, no pontificating liberal in the White House is going to make you pull up stakes and leave without a fight! So we have the groundwork for the next civil war – maybe. But so far, all of the contenders – like the Michigan Militia – have shown themselves to be uniquely unqualified for the job. And don't forget, in the first civil war, the Southerners were defending home and hearth – and states, which they identified with much more than the federal government. Can you imagine anyone going out now and fighting for Pennsylvania? I can't. If anything, state governments in our time are even more corrupt, venal, and incompetent than the federal government. So they are hardly worth fighting for. Well then, how about fighting for one's county... or town... or village... or farm? That is at least more traditional, and more compelling in its way. But ten thousand men fighting for ten thousand farms does not exactly an army make; there has to be a higher-order idea, and what does the Obama administration have to offer in this regard? Basically nothing. And this is what takes all the energy out of the populace, and why we are all suffering, to one degree or another, from fatigue. There is no hope in Washington, and no hope for change... and we have lost sight of basic philosophical concepts and values to the degree that we can't imagine any alternatives. The tea partiers are, like so many protest movements, high on the “agin” scale and low on the “for” scale – if you asked them to lay out alternatives to what we have now, on any level, they'd be stumped. It would be something like, “Well, go back to where we were... let's see...before the New Deal. Or actually, before Wilson. No, before Lincoln! Oh hell, let's just go back to July 5, 1776 and start over.” And that would be from the ones with insight. The rest would be waving flags in a desultory way and mumbling something about “not cutting and running” from Iraq and Afghanistan – which basically means they have already drunk deeply of the Regime's Kool-Aid.

The first agenda item of any even remotely “radical” movement has to be to stop whatever wars are being fought at the time dead in their tracks – but we don't see this from the tea partiers, au contraire! They want us to “commit sufficient resources to win”. The problem is, those resources don't exist, and they never will. We simply cannot win against true believers on their own turf – and that's because we are not true believers any longer. It could almost be argued that the “boys” we sent “over there” in World War I really believed they were fighting for something called “democracy” -- whereas, in fact, what they were mostly fighting for was to dethrone a bunch of somewhat addlepated monarchs and clear the way for both communism and fascism. Then when World War II rolled around – well, then the government had to convince people that Hitler, Tojo, and Mussolini had designs on their farms in Kansas. Not that much of a stretch, really. Then with Korea – well, you know, if we let the commies take over South Korea, the next thing you know they'll be in Ontario, and ready to speed across Lake Erie in U-boats and start shelling Cleveland (which wouldn't have done any more damage than “urban renewal” did, frankly). And the same argument applied to Vietnam; why, you don't want Uncle Ho turning your daughters into “ho's”, do you? And so on. The only reason Iraq and Afghanistan work is 9-11, which is this era's USS Maine, or Pearl Harbor, or Gulf of Tonkin. And as such, it's a hoax – even though it actually happened. It really doesn't take much to cause the American people to go to war... and as much as they seem to enjoy peacetime, there is a sense of restlessness until the next war comes along. This, I guess, is one of the many fatal flaws in Americans and Americanism – the fact that we thrive on war but barely eke out an existence on peace. And the problem is, we're competing on the world stage with scores of other countries, and cultures, that think the same way – war is the path to glory, and peace is for wimps, losers, cowards, and fags. Am I exaggerating? No – this is, basically, what all the propaganda is all about, year after year. Why is the U.N. so despised? Because it stands for “peace” -- whatever the hell that is. No man with the proper masculine equipment has any use for peace. Even the “Nobel Peace Prize” is typically given to warriors – and that's because there are no peacemakers to be found. No, peace is definitely not in the human makeup; it's not in our DNA.

So, the cynic might say, what we need is a real war – not these anemic exercises in Iraq and Afghanistan. And FDR would have agreed – as would Wilson, and LBJ. Say what you want, these were real, bonafide “warrior presidents”, and that is the way they chose to define their legacy. By comparison, Obama is more in league with Carter or McGovern (in the dreadful event he had become president). We do what we have to do, but we're not really into it – really not committed. And the military has to deal with this ambivalence, which explains what happened to McChrystal (and what won't happen to Petraeus, because he is, among other things, the bureaucrat's bureaucrat).

What I'm getting at is that our greatest tyrants, for all of their flaws, at least knew how to inspire. Consider Lincoln, Wilson, and FDR. Consider even a tyrant manque, like JFK – he too knew how to inspire, even though his successor, a real tyrant, didn't. And then we have Obama, who I don't think ever fancied that he could become a real tyrant; he had already had too many “talks” with the people who really run things. And in a way, this is good – we are no longer subject to the whims of a single demagogue with delusions of grandeur. Level heads have prevailed – at last! The only problem is, what those “level heads” want may have nothing whatsoever to do with the general welfare, or with the hopes and dreams of the average citizen. We are, truly, living in a strangely abstract time, where we pursue our modest goals on one level and the rich and powerful pursue theirs on an entirely different level – and ne'er the twain shall meet. If a man can be born, live, and die in our time without experiencing any serious rebuffs to any of his ambitions and plans, well... lucky for him. (He must have had pretty low expectations!) But it had nothing to do with anyone wanting to protect his “rights” -- it's just that what he wanted was of little or no interest to those in charge. If he had wanted, on the other hand, true liberty... true freedom of speech... true property rights... he would have run headlong into the machine, and been pulverized thereby. This is the core fact of life in the America of our time – that the only people who consider themselves “free” are the ones who haven't tested their freedoms. The others – the minority – know better. And it is that minority that is forever protesting – in person and via the Internet – and feeling a bit of solidarity, perhaps, with the “summertime soldiers” like the tea partiers... even though they know that when the harsh winds start to blow, the tea partiers will scatter and disappear. But even then, these are the people who retain some degree of awareness; the rest are in a state of terminal despair, and self-imposed exile from the political process. They may retain some sense of morality, but it is only applied to their own limited sphere; the notion of trying to apply it to society is so overwhelming that it is never allowed to enter their consciousness. So this is what constitutes what I call “fatigue” -- a combination of having given up in despair after considering the state of the world... and having given up _before_ considering the state of the world, because just the consideration process was way too threatening. And when enough people have this attitude, the Regime has, in effect, carte blanche – it can do anything it wants, at anytime, to anyone, and pretty much get away with it. So when those caught up in the machine ask “Why?”, the answer is that they have permitted it – they have allowed it, by forgetting that, in the words of Wendell Phillips, “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Health is the War of the State

In all of the discussion swirling around ObamaCare – as with its ill-starred predecessor, HillaryCare – one seldom sees any serious consideration of the problem of limits – i.e. limits in the quality or quantity of care that must sooner or later be imposed, either willingly or otherwise. And it's not that this issue has been totally ignored by the health care commissars – it's just that it never comes up in general discussion. The only exception to date has been Sarah Palin and some of the “tea partiers” who started worrying out loud, a while back, about “death panels”. Well, this was based on a real provision in the legislation – only the name was changed to make it a better political hook. But the point, again, is that either we put some limits on health care or those limits are imposed on us – by reality. Whoever deals life, and health, ultimately has to deal death as well – that's what socialized medicine is all about. Decisions that have been made by patients and families for eons will now be made by the state – and its considerations will be remarkably non-sentimental. And yet that is the reality of the situation. You won't have a group of your friends and neighbors standing around your bed deciding whether you should live or die, like in some Shirley Jackson novel; instead it will be a bureaucrat you've never met, in a place you've never heard of, who will make the decision. Some might find this comforting, but I get a distinct “Brave New World” feeling out of the whole thing. For one thing, who, besides myself and a few people who know me well, are qualified to make judgments about my “quality of life”? Yet you can be sure that this will all be boiled down to metrics, in a thick manual, that said bureaucrat will keep on his or her desk for ready reference.

Now, as to how we came to this sorry pass, it's all based on the premise that it's the government's job (among many) to see to it that every citizen receives the best available health care throughout their entire life, regardless of cost. (Once they've managed to avoid being aborted, that is.) That's really it in a nutshell. Now, to say this is nowhere in the Constitution would be the understatement of the century – which is why Nancy Pelosi had a hissy fit in public when she was asked that question. Of _course_ it's not in the Constitution – but that's not going to stop us from making it into the law of the land. The only problems with the premise of “the best available health care for all for life” are (1) it's impossible; (2) just the attempt will bankrupt the country and the citizenry; and (3) it's based on the most costly medical model there is.

Why is it impossible? Well, health care, like every other human activity in the material realm, is based not only on laws of supply and demand, but on a sort of pyramid with the best care (Mayo Clinic level) at the top – high expense, and therefore low demand, and therefore low supply – and the most rudimentary care (DC General ER level) at the bottom – low expense, high demand, high supply. What is proposed now is to flatten that pyramid so that all that is left is the very top, which has to grow to accommodate the entire population – and while this could be done in theory (every hospital, clinic, and ER a Mayo Clinic) I doubt if we could ever find the personnel suitable to man it, at any price... and it might not even be possible to acquire that much exotic and specialized equipment, again at any price. And we would already be talking about more money than there is in the entire country – and this for what the “reformers” call “basic health care that everyone is entitled to”, by which they mean the very best for everyone... or at least giving everyone the same level of health care, even if it's not the best. (Sort of like the radical bumper sticker that says, “No one gets two houses until everyone has one.”) (I wonder what Ted Kennedy, John McCain, and John Kerry thought of that one.) So rather than being left with the gleaming, golden top of the pyramid, which miraculously grows to cover the entire landscape, we are more likely to wind up with only the bottom layer – every hospital, clinic, and ER a DC General, just like in England or Canada.

Now, the medical model issue just aggravates the situation. The model universally favored by nearly all health plans, and therefore by the government, is what's called the “standard” or “conventional medicine” model – AKA allopathic medicine, symptom-oriented, disease-oriented, and so on. This is the model that the AMA represents, and that has dominated American medicine for at least a century now – and it stands in stark contrast to “alternative”, “holistic”, or “natural” models, which include things like naturopathy, chiropractic, homeopathy, herbal, acupuncture/acupressure, and so on – all those things that just about died out, but were revived, thanks in large part to the hippies (and, I admit with head hung low, to some of the more sincere liberals). One of the more striking things about the world of holistic medicine is that it treats underlying causes rather than just symptoms – and it is just as concerned with keeping people healthy (through nutrition, exercise, etc.) as with treating sickness. Another striking thing is that it's relatively inexpensive. But here's the rub. With a typical American “health plan”, you can either go to a holistic practitioner and get a $50 treatment that will not be covered, or to an M.D., clinic, or hospital for a $1000 treatment (for the exact same ailment or symptoms – and no more effective, maybe less) that will be covered. So which do you think most people will choose? Plus – and I see this in Pittsburgh all the time – patients of M.D.s wait until they're really sick, or feel lousy, or are injured, before they go to the doctor... and the chances are he won't “get on their case” about the unfortunate life style choices that led them to their current ill state – after all, diseases “just happen”, right? They just attack, out of the blue, like “heterosexual AIDS” was supposed to do. And aren't we bombarded, every day, with messages from the MSM debunking everything we thought we knew about nutrition, exercise, and supplements? It's all part of the same plan to get us to ignore our bodily needs – a sort of modern-day Manichaeism. Just leave it to the experts (or bureaucrats) and all will be well. And ignore those cranks who try telling you that you're only living half a life, that you're satisfied with being, basically, sick all the time. The attitude partakes of the longing for arbitrary but all-powerful authority that seems to have infected Americans over the last few decades – a wish to return to infantile dependency and non-responsibility, and leave it all up to the “nanny state” (as exemplified by Hillary Clinton... brrrrr...).

What I'm saying is that health care in America is a government-supported (by both money and law) monopoly, and, in many respects, a racket. And this does not mean that it has no worth – far from it. Our emergency medical technology is the envy of the world (even though much of it was developed as a result of wars we shouldn't have been fighting). But it's as if the government supported and subsidized Chrysler and GM and let Ford sink or swim on its own. (oops... )

But politics and social history aside, the fact remains that the species of health care that is envisioned in the ObamaCare package is the most expensive of all the possible choices – and yet it is the only one that is “approved”, without reservation, by massive bureaucracies like the Department of Health and Human Services and the VA. And there is, of course, much money to be made by providing those particular types of goods and services – which is why they are preferred by the business community, and therefore by their servants in the government. You see this with every battle that breaks out between “conventional medicine” and its alternatives – despite all the propaganda, it ultimately boils down to money. That, and power – over the lives of the citizenry. The sine qua non of the collectivist state is its control of health care; they have all done it, and done it as soon and as thoroughly as possible, going back at least as far as the Bolshevik Revolution. Our own Progressives, so-called, had health care high on their list of things about America that needed to be reformed – and the funny thing is, health care in America has been “reformed” any number of times, but apparently none of that was enough, and we need to go at it again (just as with the public schools, which can never be given enough money to succeed even though they've been in business since the days of Horace Mann).

And I daresay that even ObamaCare, with all the cynicism and back-room dealing and threats that have accompanied its formulation, contains within it the occasional dollop of genuine charity – or at least humanism. (There are, apparently, a few liberals out there who actually think this stuff works. They're the ones who think Nina Totenberg is a reincarnation of the goddess Isis.) But it is, by and large, a massive power (and money) grab... but the good news is, it can't possibly work. There is literally not enough money in the United States to pay for everything ObamaCare intends to pay for. (I mean, prior medical history not relevant? Please. So I'm going to be in the same insurance pool as someone who had their first heart attack at age 18.) Now, if they were willing to envision a much broader concept as to what constituted health care, it might be possible to actually make some substantial improvements at a relatively low cost. Consider pre-natal care, for instance (or the lack thereof, which may explain the problems of our “inner cities” and other “poverty pockets” better than any other single factor). So much can be done for so little cost – but again, that's precisely the point. Nothing is going to be written into law that does not also add up to massive profits for one or more of the preferred industries that have been so generous with their campaign contributions. And our farmers are too busy growing corn for ethanol to worry about what's good for human consumption.

So what I'm saying is that collective health care where the government is the single payer is, actually, impossible (not only as envisioned, but as already written into law and passed by Congress) – but it's more impossible given the medical model behind it than it would be otherwise. Not only that, but guess what – the cutting edge of this impossibility is going to be what is euphemistically termed “end-of-life care”. As the plan is being presented now, Joe Snuffy, the retired pipe fitter, is going to enjoy just as many drips, tubes, scanners, pumps, and other gadgets during his last days as Ted Kennedy did. All I have to say is, “Lots of luck, Joe!” What will – what must, inevitably – happen is that, at some point, a “cost-benefit analysis” will be done as to the advantages vs. disadvantages (to the system, not to Joe Snuffy or his family) of keeping Joe alive – and the decision will determine whether or not the “plug” is pulled. (But wait, what if this had been applied to Ted Kennedy? Or Robert Byrd? Maybe I should quit talking right now.)

And please note that – in line with the above discussion of medical models vs. health care costs – the vast majority of “end-of-life decisions” would not have been available up until quite recently. The Progressives, who were so concerned with public health, would never have heard of them (because they didn't exist), and neither would the New Dealers, by and large. I can remember when it was the usual thing for people over 80 to die of “old age” -- unlike now where there always has to be an expensively-treated cause. It has only been in the last decade or two that there was a real, tangible choice between letting someone die a (relatively) natural death and keeping them hooked up to machines costing $10,000 a day in order to extend their lives 10 days (mostly in a coma) and racking up a cool $100,000 in medical bills. Now, doesn't this strike you as the sort of thing that could be abused – that, in fact, veritably invites abuse? It is, and it has. How many women have spent the family's life savings in the last two weeks of their husband's life, just in order to keep Old Fred around a bit longer (even though he was about as conscious and lively as a Halloween pumpkin in mid-November)? And there is no one around to tell her that that's a bad idea; even Old Fred would be appalled – but he doesn't have a whole lot to say at that point. Now, under ObamaCare, this problem will be solved, in short order, by the “death panels that aren't called that”. (Sort of like “The Knights Who No Longer Say 'Nee!'” or “The Rock Star Formerly Known as Prince”.) Since it's the government's money we're talking about, and since the system is going to be bankrupt about 5 minutes into implementation, they're going to sit down – and not with Old Fred's wife, either – and come up with something, and fast. And ironically, that “something” may turn out to be a return to a more natural way of death for more people than what we have now – i.e. something like palliative or hospice care, rather than having people live their last days as part of a machine, like some hapless blob out of a science fiction movie. This would, truly, be an unanticipated consequence – a small dose of humanity in an otherwise humanity-crushing system.

But the main point is that none of these very real possibilities is open for discussion by the health-care bureaucracy, Congress and all its committees, or the administration. It's being handled like a dirty secret that everyone knows but no one wants to talk about – kind of like the way cancer used to be handled in the old days. The problem is, if they came out and admitted that this was a real issue, the public's shock and horror at the realization might cause a backlash against ObamaCare – or let's say, more of one than there is already. And surely we can't have that. So the legislation gets passed and a vast bureaucracy starts to form, like an oil blob in the Gulf – and sooner or later, mark my word, we are in fact going to have “death panels”, or whatever they'll be called... and everyone will be dismayed, but if they had thought about it more at this point it could all have been avoided – not death per se, of course, but the bizarre spectacle of paper-pushers in Washington getting to determine when your number is up. And better still, the fond illusion of “the best health care in the world for every citizen throughout their life” would be exposed for the delusion that it is.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Too Much, Too Fast

I've always thought it interesting how you can see certain processes much more clearly when the action is either sped up or slowed down – as with time-lapse or “stop-action” photography. You can see things happening that you might otherwise have missed – or that would have failed to reach your threshold of perception. And every species – every life-form in fact – seems to have it's own “preferred rate of change” or rhythm – things that fall within that perceptual range are perceived, and constitute useful information, and things that don't are not, and in fact may as well not be there at all. Even within a species, there are differences; we use terms like “slow learner”, “hyperactive”, “short attention span”, etc., but to the people in question the rate at which they're dealing with the world seems “right”, and everyone else must strike them as odd – either frenetic or sluggish.

And so it is in societies, when it comes to changes in the political landscape... economics... religion... customs and habits... and so on. Each generation is able to tolerate a certain amount of change, and then the next generation takes over and proceeds to make (or experience) changes at its own pace, etc. So we can wind up with quite dramatic changes over time, but typically within any one generation the rate and type of change was at least tolerable – i.e. not overly traumatic or disorienting. But this is... um... changing – i.e. the rate of change is accelerating – due, as the conventional wisdom goes, primarily to technology, communications, and so on – technology and communications being the primary instruments of change, whereas the more traditional forces that have been aligned against change have grown weaker, or have at least been overpowered by the more “modern” media. This is, of course, not entirely bad news, if the change in question represents real progress – e.g. improvements in medical care, public health, environmental protection, etc. But change, especially of the kind Obama made into a mantra, also has a natural tendency to be aligned with dissatisfaction... with revolution and rebellion (not only against governments and systems, but against God) – and just like mutations in evolution, most changes are not for the better. They may represent something new, novel, and perhaps amusing – but in the long (or even short) run they are likely to be more destructive than constructive. And the main point, when it comes to human nature, is that accelerated change, even for the better, goes against the grain for most people – it is experienced as a stress or trauma. And even that can be tolerated if there is an occasional period of rest – but in our time even that is lacking. There is no rest for the “news-weary” -- not with a 24-7-365 news cycle and hundreds of cable channels and thousands of Internet news sites. No sooner is one new idea in place, and being implemented, than a new one comes along and the process begins all over again. The cycles are getting shorter, almost to the point where the beginning and the end seem to converge. This is fairly harmless when it comes to things like fashion, for instance – and we can view with amusement things like wildly vacillating hemlines and the like. The only thing impacted in that case is one's pocketbook, if one is foolish enough to want always to be “up to the minute”.

But politics, government, the economy, and society in general are a different matter. In those areas, there is a pitched battle on – and has been for quite a while – between the “agents of change” (as they proudly deem themselves) and the rest of us – you know, the “folks”, the stuck-in-the-muds. The latter are ever being goaded and harassed by the former, and told that change is “in”, and perfectly natural, and that skepticism is bad (and bad manners, besides). Of course, to people who have a burning desire to change the world – and, along with it, human nature – change is our only hope (Obama again). The worst thing would be to just sit back and let things stay as they are – to, for instance, tell Congress to go home and take a few years off from “law making”. That would be anathema to those who feel that some level of “continuous revolution” (Mao's term) is the only way to improve the human lot, and to achieve – finally! At long last! -- justice (or at least “fairness”). And yet smart politicians – and even smart tyrants – know that you can accomplish more in the long run by gradually turning up the heat (under the pot of water with the proverbial frog in it) than by causing, or aiding and abetting, overt and obvious strife. Violent revolutions, while they represent sudden change, are useful primarily in that they set the stage for subsequent, more gradual change. Consider, for instance, the stereotyped “banana republic” which has a revolution of some sort just like clockwork, every year or two. But nothing really changes! Yes, the people at the top do – and the uniforms might – but the standard and style of living for the average person slouches along just like always... and the more perceptive ones wonder what all the fuss was about.

Consider now the changes wrought by recent events in this country – mostly economic, but also political and social. As I said before, each generation has been given, in most cases, no more than they could handle – even though there have been notable exceptions, like the Civil War and the Depression, and – on a less traumatic level – things like the automobile, air travel, the telephone, etc. All of which give the older generation at any given time the chance to say, “Well, when I was a boy (or girl), etc.” The point is, they lived through it and survived, and if you pressed them on the point they might have to agree that, on balance, the positive changes generally balanced out the negative – although there will always be a longing for “the good old days” and “simpler times”, even when those simpler times involved things like polio, tuberculosis, cholera, etc. People do, in fact, tend to forget what was bad about the “good old days”; that's just human nature. I grew up in a town where dogs ran loose and where the brook running through the center of town was an open sewer... but I doubt if one in a hundred of the old timers remembers that. They are much more likely to think about the stores on Main Street (now mostly gone, courtesy of Wal-Mart), and the soda fountain, and the parades and carnivals (which still go on, at least). The past acquires a kind of golden (or sepia) glow, like a scene out of “It's a Wonderful Life” -- with all of the drudgery and hardship somehow photoshopped out. And yes, there were “welfare families” then, but there are welfare families now too... and cancer hasn't yet been “conquered”... and cars were much more fun back then, but less reliable (and “gas guzzlers” as well). And there was still an aura of romance about air travel (can you imagine?). And passenger trains were still a meaningful sector of the economy (ditto). But now we have the Interstates, and gigantic cruise ships, and Disney World, and... well, you get my point.

And I'm going to claim that, even back then, many of the changes that ordinary people experienced were administered from on high. It was the work of master manipulators and propagandists, for example, that got us into the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, the two World Wars, and the war in Vietnam. And how did we come to give up so much locally-grown food in favor of canned or frozen goods shipped from half a continent away? And why did we trade in so many finely-made pieces of craftsmanship for things made of plastic and particle board? And why were home remedies suppressed in favor of the dictates of allopathic medicine? And why, for that matter, did small-town women feel a need to discard their cotton-print dresses and sensible shoes in favor of imitations of the stuff coming out of Paris, Milan, and New York? (After all, they weren't going anywhere that would require them to actually wear those things – sadly, perhaps.) And at what point did the middle class acquire upper-class pretentions (AKA “etiquette”) and the lower class acquire middle class pretentions (Martha Stewart and her ilk)? Why were the small-town opera houses torn down and replaced by radio, TV, and movies? Why did, in other words, the residents of certain well-defined, tangible places become “citizens of the world” (and thus of nowhere)? So yes, there is a natural desire for change – for “evolution” -- and it is easily manipulated and exploited by those in power (or by those who want to be). 'Twas ever thus.

But, as I said, the “smart” leader, or ruler, or dictator, or government, or regime, knows when to cool it – when to put the brakes on and assure people that, indeed, all is not lost – i.e. not all that they value (even if they are despised for valuing it). The “agents of change” may laugh at what my father called “flag-waving patriots” but they are not about to take the flags away, or prohibit their use. This is only good strategy – cynical and manipulative perhaps – but good in its way. What we seem to have now, however, is a different animal, and a different philosophy – the agents of change have let out all the stops in the political and social realms, and the Money Power has apparently decided that it's time to cash in and liquidate the middle class, once and for all. And we are expected to welcome all of this (if political and social), or at least put up with it with an attitude of serf-like resignation (if economic). The Regime has, in other words, laid its cards on the table. Our hallowed “right to vote” is now seen, more and more, as meaningless – and no one even tries to argue. The candidates of the major parties are “faces”, and nothing more – chosen in smoke-filled rooms, based solely on their willingness to follow orders. Congress has been reduced to a gaggle of cup-bearers and spittoon-emptiers. The curtain has been torn away, and the man behind it is... well, not a man at all, but a Thing – the Money Power, the Regime, the ruling elite, whatever you want to call it. And they no longer fear exposure, because they have decided – and rightly so, by and large – that the citizenry are too beaten down, too fatigued, too much in despair to care, or to react in any significant way. So yesterday's gradualism has turned into today's monster bursting out of the birthday cake – but we are too powerless to resist (or so they believe). And I suppose that you can hardly blame them, when they see what the American public (and the public in many other places in the world) has put up with so far, with barely a whimper. Whether it's taxes, or social legislation, or the decadent media, or economic pillage – things have gotten to the point where, with just a few minor adjustments here and there, the job can be called complete. But as we all know from experience, it's always that last one or two percent that's the hardest to deal with, and so some “push back” has begun, and the Regime is, I'm sure, at least a bit startled. They were expecting a cake walk – you know, like the one we were supposed to enjoy when we invaded Iraq. But guess what, there are pockets of resistance, and from some unexpected quarters at that. And I'm not talking about the paleocons or the libertarians, who have been dissatisfied for many generations now; I'm talking about “Main Street America”, that – if not exactly up in arms – has started to wake up to the fact that they, and their way of life, are considered expendable. This is exemplified, most noticeably, by the “tea party” movement... which is, as I've said before, more than likely too little, too late. I mean, you can't turn the bourgeoisie into a band of revolutionaries overnight – or in any amount of time, for that matter. But the fact that it's happening at all is noteworthy, and judging by the way it's freaking out the media and the other servants of the Regime, it clearly has them genuinely upset (and I don't think they're just pretending). And this is because, as much as they rely on raw power and intimidation, there is still the residual notion that pulling off a master con job is much more elegant – that it's better to let people dig their own graves based on ideas and delusions than to apply brute force. After all, even the most abject dictators in history didn't rely entirely on violence – there was always a considerable dose of propaganda, designed to change “hearts and minds”. It just makes the job easier. I mean, if Hitler, Stalin, and Mao thought it was necessary why should governments in our time think any different? The old totalitarian ideal of an enslaved public marching in lock-step, dressed in gray uniforms, through the driving snow – that does have its appeal and is an important part of what I'll call “totalitarian iconography” (both pro and con) --- but when it comes down to cases, there is still the nub of a carrot, even when the stick is extremely large. And look at how our own politicians – up to and including the president – scatter to the four winds at the slightest provocation, making excuses for Wall Street and the international financial cartel, and for our foreign policy, and drumming up support for the latest (and there is a new one every day) collectivist scheme. Yes, the people have no choice... and yes, whatever is done will be imposed on us, with stiff penalties for resistance – but there is still that perceived need to convince. And I don't even know whether this is a good or a bad thing. At least there is a cold, clear honesty about plain brute force, but this endless stream of propaganda and BS is wearying in the extreme. I have to say, the most honest agency in the government these days is probably the IRS; they make no bones about it, and don't try to be “nice” -- it's just, pay up or else. At least with them you know where you stand (or lie, more likely). And it's odd living in a police state where the police are the least of our worries – where persons unseen and unknown can do anything they want with your bank account (and your bank) any time they please. We have, truly, moved from a military/police model of tyranny to an economic one (with the social meddling thrown in for good measure). But that, again, is – or was, up until recently – a measure of the cleverness and wile of our rulers. Economic things are more abstract, more difficult to gauge, until the bottom line hits you in the face – and then it's too late. Dictatorships of old, with a guy holding a machine gun standing on every corner – that was too obvious, too primitive. What we have now is a much more refined version – but the ultimate effect is the same, i.e. the total subjugation of the individual to the whims and purposes of the state, or of its rulers and controllers.

At this point, I'm going to inject a brief discussion of terminology, which might also contain some insights. Many of the protesters of our time (tea partiers and others) style themselves “revolutionaries”. There was the “Ron Paul Revolution”, for example. And granted, what they are doing _feels_ like a revolution, since what they are protesting is a system that has been in place for a lifetime. But the truth is, their uprising (non-bloody so far, and unlikely to change) can be better characterized as a counter-revolution. This is because what they are “rebelling” against is itself a revolution – albeit a “revolution within the form”, as it has been put. It has often been pointed out that if the Founding Fathers were to come back to life and walk the earth today, they would not recognize the United States as being the country that they founded; in fact, they would get violently ill. This is perfectly true, even though the technical, formal structure of the country as laid out in the Constitution has not changed – hence the term “revolution within the form”. What has changed, of course, is the scope as well as the intentions and agenda of government – rather than enforcing a minimum of laws designed to protect basic rights, it has now charged itself with making every human activity subject to legal sanctions, for good or ill. But this has been done within the basic structural matrix laid out in the Constitution – which may say more about human nature than about any innate flaws in that document. But the fact remains that the real revolution against the intent of the Founders started at least as far back as the Civil War, and was greatly accelerated by the New Deal (itself a lifetime ago) – but by the practice, in most cases, of gradualism, the ruling elite managed to convince the citizenry, with each new abomination, that it was, in fact, perfectly consistent with the intentions of the Founding Fathers – and was, in fact, what they would have wanted (if they had witnessed the changes the world has gone through since 1776, etc.). So what feels to us like a revolution is, in fact, a claim that somewhere along the way we digressed from what should have been our proper path – and the right thing to do now is to return to that fork in the road, and this time take the “road less taken”, i.e. the one that preserves liberty and human freedom and self-respect. The establishment of our time, of course, takes this as revolution – as rebellion, sedition, treason! -- but they are so transparently protecting their own interests and their power structure that we can safely ignore them, knowing that they do not act according to any known set or principles other than the most self-serving.

Now, as I said, in our time things are happening too fast for people not to take notice – hence things like the tea party movement and “talk radio” (which is overwhelmingly conservative, i.e. just the opposite of “talk TV”). And one could say that the Regime has slipped up – that by going too far, too fast, it has over-exposed itself and its agenda. I don't think that's true, because I don't think anything is going to come of the “tea parties” and suchlike. Oh, they may swing a few elections here and there... but as we all know, no one who has not been vetted by the Regime has any chance of attaining a position with any real power. So the “tea parties” may, in fact, be both the first and last gasp of the dying middle class. And yet it's noteworthy in that, even though the government has not trusted the people for a very long time, what we now have is a substantial portion of the citizenry coming right out and saying they don't trust the government. People have finally awakened to the fact that there is, in fact, a ruling elite, and that they aren't part of it... and that its ways are not their ways... and that it, in fact, cares not a whit for their well-being or for their opinions. This, again, is not unlike the last words of a dying gunfighter in a “B” western – when he realizes his most trusted partner has turned against him. “Bill, you mean you... you... (gasp, gurgle, head rolls to the side).” The end. Roll the credits! It is, in short, a key and defining moment in our history – and maybe the end of it, i.e. the end of the United States as a democracy even vaguely worthy of the name. But wouldn't it be worse if no one saw, and no one raised a voice in protest?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

What's Their Deal?

I have to admit, I never thought I'd see another “Red Scare” in this country – especially with the Soviet Union long out of business and the current administration being, probably, more collectivist in many ways than the Soviets ever were. But here we are with these dozen-odd “Russian spies” who were living a suburban life right out of “Life With Father” until the FBI knocked on their door. But here's what funny. So far, I haven't heard or read about anything they did that was all that spy-ish, to say nothing of downright espionage. I mean, what they're accused of doesn't sound much different from what lobbyists do. Oh, I suppose it's true that they “failed to register as foreign agents” -- but did the Clintons register as foreign agents when they were getting campaign money from China? And how about all those people with dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship? Are they registered as foreign agents? They were supposedly trying to "infiltrate United States policy-making circles." Yeah -- well, so is every large business, political organization, non-profit, NGO, and political action committee in the country. Are we going to arrest all million of them as well?

What I'm saying is not only is all of this likely to be nothing more than a tempest in a teapot, it's highly ironic. Lest we forget, the spiritual forebears of the Obama administration were, if not committed, card-carrying communists, then certainly sympathizers and “fellow travelers” -- and many of them are alive and well, even unto this day, in various political science departments in colleges and universities across the land. But of course, the Russia of today is not your father's Soviet Union, and the main reason the Obama administration is not larded through with Soviet agents the way the Roosevelt and Truman administrations were is simple: There are no more Soviet agents. The Russia of today is not communistic, despite the lingering nostalgia for Joseph Stalin... it's no more socialistic than any other part of Europe... and it's basically oligarchic in terms of politics and the economy. But worse, I suppose, is that it's been acting like a lone wolf of late... not invited (nor wanting to be) to the EU or NATO parties, having a hard time pursuing hegemony in some of the former Soviet republics, and having to look on while China prepares to swallow the U.S. whole economically. That must be kind of frustrating after all those decades of promising that they would “bury” us. They certainly don't have much of an empire left, having had to part company with Africa and Latin America as well as Eastern Europe. (Note that the new communistic governments in Latin America are doing it pretty much on their own, without much more than encouragement from the Russians.)

In other words, after the great post-Soviet shakedown, Russia has wound up being the odd man out, despite its size and natural resources. It has become, in fact, what it most likely would have become by now if there had not been a revolution – large, part European and part Asian, somewhat chaotic, full of potential but having a hard time getting its act together. Not a bad place by any means, but just a bit volatile and unstable... a bit too wedded to the idea of the “strong man” at the top... and thus a bit challenged when it comes to full participation in international affairs.

Wait, I was talking about Russia just then, and not the U.S.! But the resemblances kind of make you think. There could be a lot more symmetry there than there is now, if Russia would just make a few more changes, and loosen up a bit. But as I always say, national character has more to do with the success or failure of any political system than the merits, or lack thereof, of that system. There are people who can almost make communism work... and people who can make capitalism seem to work... and others who fail miserably at one or the other, or both. (This is something like what P. J. O'Rourke points out in his economic masterpiece, “Eat the Rich”.)

But let's back to the irony, and a mystery. The irony is that one of the most left-wing administrations in the history of the U.S. has decided to “out” a bunch of alleged Russian spies. These are the same people whose parents and grandparents took to the streets when the Rosenbergs were arrested, tried, convicted, and executed for being atomic spies for the Soviets. OK? These are people whose grandparents, back in the 1930s, had to make the required pilgrimage to Russia as part of the army of “useful idiots” so that, after a couple of weeks of being shown Potemkin villages and fed ice cream, they could come back here and join Alger Hiss in trying to bring down the U.S. government and install a people's republic in its place. And I could go on and on about this, but you get the point.

But as to the mystery – clearly, any administration has plenty of choices when it comes to which suspected spies to investigate, pursue, arrest, indict, etc. Do you think that everyone who could, or should, be arrested is actuallly arrested? Or that everyone who is arrested is guilty? Please. You don't have to be a cynic to realize that this is highly conditioned by politics -- by the "needs" of the moment, which means political (domestic and international). These people seem about as dangerous as that White House party-crashing couple – I mean, they are certainly nothing on the order of Robert Hanssen or Aldrich Ames. They could have been left alone and ignored – which they probably would have been by most previous administrations, who had much bigger fish to fry. But now they're being arrested and dragged into court, causing a great deal of awkwardness between us and the Russians, who – or so we thought – were finally starting to learn to work and play well with others. So why are we setting things back like this, for reasons which, though they may not be trivial, certainly don't loom large in the scheme of things? I mean, Israel could pull the same stunts a hundred times over and get a complete pass; it already has, in fact. The European powers, if they had the inclination, could pull the same stunts and no one would even notice. And as for the Chinese – they don't need to spy on us, since we give them everything they want before they even realize they want it.

And this, I suppose, is the key – you know, “two's company and three's a crowd”? The solution to that three-body problem that is the U.S., Russia, and China seems to be – or let's say, the powers that be have decided that it is – for us to get closer to China and more distanced from Russia. But to achieve that, there must be a reason to get more distanced – an excuse, basically. So we pick up a few hapless “spies” on their way out of the Dollar Store and parade them before the world, bemoaning the fact that, after all these years, the Russians still seem to think it necessary to commit espionage – when, really, there is little or nothing to commit espionage for, or about. World history has moved beyond that stage at this point, and now everything is economics and religion (as in, Islam vs. all other). No one has any secrets worth keeping any longer – at least none of the old, traditional sort. The secrets now are all of the economic sort – and I suppose that could give rise to a new form of espionage, but I'm not aware that many attempts have been made as yet. Surely penetrating the upper reaches of the world Money Power would be every bit as difficult as penetrating the Atomic Energy Commission... but if it's being done, I'm not aware of it. All we see in the media is fairly low-level puzzlement, indignation, and panic – but that doesn't explain anything. At least atomic weapons had a comforting tangibleness about them.

In sum, what this half-assed (if that) spy case represents – to all appearances so far – is us pushing the Russians off the world political (and therefore economic) stage – or trying to. And we may, in fact, be doing this at the behest of China... or Israel... or both at once (even though their respective interests are anything but complementary). And Russia could fight back, of course – but with what? How much sanctioning power does it have at this point? They did manage to keep our missiles out of some parts of Eastern Europe, but their influence in most of the former Soviet republics is something we've chosen to more or less ignore (even though we gave plenty of support, both covert and overt, to the so-called “color revolutions”). What I'm saying is in the post-Cold War maneuvering for influence, the game stands at pretty much of a draw at this point – which is apparently fine with both us and them, but maybe not so fine with China. And they (China) may have just, at some point recently, told Obama & Co. that they had to make a choice – just like 3rd-grade girls on the school playground – we could either be friends with Russia or with them, but not both. And if we chose Russia, well... you know the rest. It was an offer Obama could not refuse, so he gives the green light to the FBI to round up these mini-Maxwell Smarts and Agents 99, and now we have to sit through, probably, months of hearings, trials, accusations, counter-accusations, denials, etc. while Russia sits over there, all alone and feeling blue. But it will be “mission accomplished” for China, and that's all that counts.