Monday, March 28, 2011


At least Obama's honest – in a way. He hasn't offered an explanation for our attacks on Libya that makes any sense because there is, in fact, no explanation that makes any sense. At least not on the level of public discourse. Of course, there are all kinds of private reasons for the attacks, and they are not unlike the equally private reasons for the attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan. But those are never going to be set out on the table – so we have to be satisfied with a future of non-stop absurdity when it comes to foreign policy. The president will do stuff with or without the advice and consent of Congress, and offer no reasons... and Congress will go along with it, because what choice do they have? The notion of denying the president unlimited war powers died out decades ago. What we have instead is a quasi-democracy when it comes to domestic policy, and a tyranny when it comes to foreign policy... except that the president is not the tyrant. It is, rather, the Regime... the oligarchy... whatever you want to call it. The president is just its servant. This is why the transition from Bush II to Obama was absolutely seamless, foreign policy-wise... because it has nothing to do with politics or political parties. If certain personages want us to go to war, we'll go to war – period. And you can't blame it on the “three witches” in the administration that allegedly slipped something into Obama's mai tai while he was lounging on the beach in Brazil. They're working for the same outfit, and are no more (or less) in charge than he is. What we have in Washington, in the White House, and in the administration is a pseudo-government. The real government is hidden, operated by people who are, by and large, unknown – at least to the vast majority of the American public. This is the only model that makes sense, when we see that nothing will shake our resolve to destroy ourselves militarily and economically by going to purposeless wars at the drop of a hat.

One thing is certain, however – this Libyan excursion has hit the Republicans and mainstream conservatives right where they live. They're all for a “muscular” foreign policy, right? (That's the kind that involves missiles, bombs, and bullets.) They happily pursued it during the Bush II years, so now they can't say a word about Obama's pursuing the same thing. They have to be for it – or, at least, grow strangely silent on the subject. They won't even be able to use it as a talking point for the 2012 election. And yet they claim to want “limited government”. But as I've pointed out before, you can't have a perpetual-war economy and foreign policy, and have limited government at the same time; it's impossible. And they are so enamored of war that they're willing to leave that piece of government alone in their zeal to give power back to “the people”. But if the president has the power to wage war on anyone, at any time, and anywhere, then the notion of returning any power to the people is totally moot. And those who are in charge know this – which is any portion of the current Republican program that might be influenced by paleoconservatism or libertarianism is doomed. You want to cut “wasteful spending” on hopelessly inept and corrupt domestic programs? Fine, then – we'll pull out of North Africa and the Middle East. “Oh no, don't do that! Please!” -- say the Republicans, conservatives, and Evangelicals. Thus the battle is won.

So in the midst of the absurdity of our actions in Libya lies a remarkable political confluence – the liberals/Democrats and the mainstream conservatives/Republicans are in complete agreement without any sensible explanation having been offered. So the absurd has conquered – and, being absurd, is limitless. We could attack another Arab/Islamic nation tomorrow, and there would be no more serious objections than there are now. We could attack two Arab/Islamic nations... or all of them! Because if you accept the argument for what has gone on so far, why would you not accept an argument for limitless escalation? The diplomatic, political, economic, and military arguments have already been made... and soundly rejected by Congress, and by a sizeable portion of the American people. They approve every military spending bill, and at least tacitly approve every military initiative. So if Obama got on TV tomorrow and announced that he had declared war on the entire Moslem world... well, who could object? Certainly the majority of the American people would be all for it – and, as we know, whatever politicians think Americans will be for, they're for it too. Would even one Congressman lose the next election for supporting an all-out war on Islam? I doubt it. But one could lose an election by opposing it. What's amazing is that it hasn't happened yet... but gradual escalation seems to be the preferred strategy, and, sure enough, it seems to be working. The scenario has become drearily familiar: We feign offense at some act of an Islamic regime, we threaten, we attack, we occupy, and then claim that it would be cowardly to “cut and run”. And there we sit, getting picked off. And the president – whoever it is – gets to add another feather to his war bonnet.

Now, you might say, that's way too crude and simplistic. But it really isn't. You add up all that has happened since 9/11, and this is what you get – a crusade, sure enough, but not by believing Christians this time. (Not that believing Christians don't provide plenty of support, but they're just being duped and exploited by people who are anything but.) You see, our irritation with the Arab world has been building up for decades, and it's based on oil, for certain, but also on political and -- shall we say -- aesthetic considerations. We know that they're all “anti-Semitic”... and many of them were Nazi sympathizers in the old days, right? Plus, they're an alien culture with all sorts of disgusting habits and a very spittle-laden, guttural language. They really are a lower life form – lower even than black Africans, and that's saying something. Clearly the planet would be a much more pleasant place without them hanging around. And yet, there's that oil... so we have had to bow and scrape, and kiss Arab butt, for a very long time. But since 9/11, we've discovered the charms of “regime change”, and of “spreading democracy”, and of “nation building”... and if it happens to coincide with our insatiable thirst for oil, well, so be it. Plus, the more of the Arab/Islamic world we control (I use the term loosely) the happier Israel is. And the rest of the world? Well, they're just having the biggest laugh ever at all of our exertions... and the more on-the-ropes we become economically as a result, the better they like it. We're going to wind up like the Ottomans – with a far-flung empire, but fatally weakened, with tyranny and political decadence on the home front. And eventually we'll collapse from the sheer weight of all of our foreign “obligations”. Well – the Ottoman Empire had “foreign obligations” too... until it collapsed. Ditto the Brits, ditto the Soviets. And there was considerable pain involved in all cases; no one gives up empire readily or easily. And yet, it's part of the inevitable cyclic process of history. No empire lasts forever, and the demise of ours is accelerating with each passing day. This will, perhaps, inconvenience some of our “allies”, and require a bit of adjusting on the part of the global Regime, but, by and large, it will be good news – especially for what we have, for many years, condescendingly called “the third world”. (It will also be good news for the “second world”, whose current members include Russia, China, and India. Throw in Brazil if you like.) But just like Norma Desmond, we won't know, or admit, that it's over, even when the proof is right in front of us. We'll just find ourselves isolated, but pretending that we're still in center stage. It will be sad and pathetic... but think, it's inevitable. It will happen. The only question is when.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Neither Dumb Nor Dumberer

There's a person (gender unstated, but I suspect male) who writes a regular column under the pseudonym “Dateline D.C.” His (let's assume) column from last Sunday is worth reading simply because of the extensive laundry list he provides of various CIA mistakes, snafus, screw-ups, and spasms of cluelessness over the years. It can be found at:

After providing the first part of the list, he comments that “this goes from being embarrassing to the disastrous”, and traces many, if not all, of the CIA's problems to the fact that one of the people most influential in its organizational design was a British agent – one Kim Philby, who was later found to be a spy for the Soviets. The implication is that the CIA was designed with intentional flaws, weaknesses, and loopholes that made it vulnerable to exploitation... or to chronic failure. And sure enough, “mission accomplished”, and he observes that “(Philby's) planning for the CIA had stood up to hundreds of inspections and has never been changed.” Implication – even though the CIA knows it was designed to fail, it has spent good money after bad and fortified those failures.

This would all make perfect sense as what I call a Level 1 Analysis (one based on generally-agreed-upon facts) if the mission of the CIA were as stated – the protection of America and America's interests through intelligence gathering and analysis, and, as needed, counter-espionage and covert action. But let's think for a minute. Here is an organization that has had privileged access, since World War II, to the most secret and sensitive information obtainable on all aspects of every foreign country, political body, or activist group – especially information with military, political, social, and economic implications. If any organization were in a position to know what's happening in the world at any given time, or what's about to happen, it would be the CIA. Right? Not only that, but the agency at least claims to be apolitical, so that its judgment cannot be accused of being clouded by partisan or idealistic considerations.

It's worth noting at this point that all of the offenses against reason and sanity listed by DDC should be considered “alleged”, since, to my knowledge, the CIA has never – at least in any public forum – admitted that these mistakes occurred. Oh, they will freely admit to the events in question, no doubt – but then stop short of acknowledging them as “their” mistakes. Presumably the detection and/or prevention of events of that sort does not fall under their mission... and if so, one might well ask, then what does?

Now, one fairly easy explanation for the CIA's failures would be the same as the explanation for the failures of any other government agency – namely that it's little more than a massive jobs program, and the mission (if one even exists) is incidental. In other words, the agency is not really doing its job at all, but just pretending to – or (more likely) pretending to do one thing while actually doing something entirely different. And that might be a tempting model because it does appear, historically, that the CIA, while not necessarily doing the job it's supposed to do, most definitely does _something_ – and a lot of it. So then we have to ask, with all that information at its disposal, and all those resources, and all that apparent power and energy... why does it keep (allegedly) failing?

This is where we get into what I call Level 2 Analysis, which often involves “thinking outside the box”, as they say, or reversing figure and ground. But in order to do this we have to throw out the premise that the CIA's mission is as stated. We have, rather, to ask: What would the real mission be if, with all those resources at its disposal, the CIA nonetheless exhibited what most people would consider a record of stupendous failure? Another way of saying this is, let's say that all of those failures are really successes. What would the mission have to have been for this to be the case?

First of all, it's clear that the reputation of the U.S. -- diplomatically, militarily, intelligence-wise – has nothing to do with it. Whatever the agenda is, it does not involve “saving face”, or avoiding embarrassment – at least not if we're talking about the visible, elected leadership – the president, Congress, the military, and so on. Well then, “image” aside, does it involve the tireless pursuit of the American Empire – something our visible, elected leadership won't admit to in so many words? In other words, is someone intent on empire-building in spite of all public claims to the contrary? True – but not, perhaps, in the way you might think.

If you look at the laundry list of complaints, the vast bulk are incidents that made us look, as a nation, like a bunch of fools, dolts, and clods who were constantly stepping on our schvantz. Well, in whose interest would that sort of image be? Our enemies, certainly – and of those there is an ever-increasing number. But it's also true of our “friends” and “allies”, who always feel a bit crowded and claustrophobic when we're in the room. We're the big kid – but like a lot of big kids, we're hard to control and tend to be a bully. We use up all the oxygen in any meeting with our "allies", and I daresay they wind up feeling somewhat intimidated, and even offended -- for there is no pride like the pride of the little man, fallen from great heights. So it's good to take us down a few pegs once in a while, and what better way to lay a trap for our clueless and deluded politicians that to assign that task to the CIA, which is, after all, part of an even more vast international intelligence network – that is to say an entirely separate world, in which the delusions of nationalism and the petty interests represented by national boundaries are to be despised rather than promoted and defended.

According to this model, the international intelligence community is one arm of the globalist cartel, AKA the Regime. Some would say that it _is_ the globalist cartel. I don't think this particular chicken-and-egg problem is all that vital, as long as we understand that there is an “entity” that cares not for the security, well-being, and prosperity of the U.S. and its citizens per se, but only as an instrument of a larger, more encompassing agenda. And we have to understand that it already controls many of our leaders and politicians, large sectors of our economy, and exerts great influence on our culture. So why would they stop short of infiltrating our intelligence apparatus as well?

So according to his model, the CIA succeeds by appearing to fail – this is if its loyalties are truly on the side of the globalists and in opposition to any kind of patriotism or nationalism. And what this means is that it's an alien force – an invader that has penetrated to the heart of the holy of holies, and is sabotaging things from within – the ultimate “inside job”, if you will.

But this is not the only possibility. There are also ways in which each individual failure can be turned around and counted as a success – but again, we have to allow for a radically different agenda than the one we've become accustomed to. Take communist revolutions, for example – and DDC implies that the CIA has missed them all. But wait! What if it knew about all of them in advance, but held back that knowledge in order to amplify the “shock and awe” effect, and thus make it more likely that their funding and power would actually be increased (by a duped Congress and executive branch)? Don't we have a habit of throwing more money at failed enterprises? Think of the public schools, for instance... or labor regulation... or farm subsidies. Why should intelligence be any different? Plus, think about it – the CIA has certainly done its part to nip plenty of communist and/or popular revolutions in the bud, and once in a while has actually succeeded. The ones they've “missed” have been the bigger ones that are harder, or impossible, to stop – so rather than letting a perfectly good crisis go to waste, they leverage it to their advantage.

He mentions the Bay of Pigs – but if any operation in American history was designed to fail, it was that one. Why? Because it would make Kennedy look bad, and the CIA already had set their sights, ahem, on Kennedy. The chances are that the ill-starred invasion could not have been designed to succeed anyway... so the way to, again, exert the right kind of leverage was to have it fail in the most spectacular way possible.

Vietnam? That was the first of our wars that was designed to fail – the current examples being Iraq and Afghanistan. Or maybe “fail” is the wrong word. “Not succeed” is a better term, since it implies that we would invade, occupy, and then have a continuous fight on our hands for years. But who benefits from that sort of thing? Anyone with a vested interest in the military, that's who – and if you combine them all you have the largest industrial entity in America, which obviously has to exist in a kind of symbiosis with the “intel” community; there is no other possibility. It's no accident that we now speak of the "military-industrial-security complex".

Bombing the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade – I believe I've covered this previously. It was a distorted way for the Clinton administration to show that it wasn't in China's back pocket, despite all the campaign contributions. Crazy, yes – but it worked. We bombed, they protested, we apologized, and the heat was off.

“Total cluelessness about the 9/11 attacks” -- au contraire! But we've covered that ground, including, once again, those who benefited (including the intelligence community, which got its biggest budget boost in history as a result of this so-called “failure”).

Regarding Afghanistan, “Washington did not remotely suspect that it would get bogged down in a decade of war.” Au contraire with earlaps! It had to be obvious to anyone with a grain of sense that this was inevitable – and yet did the intelligence community do anything to discourage George W. Bush? What I suspect is that they fed him precisely what he and his cronies wanted, and egged them on. We've already covered the waterfront in terms of who is benefiting from that war, and why they would just as soon it never ends.

“The CIA has been utterly ineffective in finding Osama bin Laden...” Right, because his continued freedom to oversee “terrorist” operations is the single best piece of pro-war propaganda we have. His is the face we love to hate, and his capture (or confirmed death) would be an absolute catastrophe for the Church of Perpetual War. Bottom line – either they really haven't found him (unlikely) or they have found him and are seeing to it that no one else does... or knows that they have. They're about as likely to bring him in to Guantanamo in shackles as O. J. Simpson is to find “the real killers”.

The current rebellions in the Arab world “took our spooks by surprise” -- no, again not if you figure that the long-term result of those revolutions will be an even stronger mandate for perpetual war, since those countries are likely to become more militantly Islamist, rather than the “cooperative” tyrannies they've been for these many years. (“Cooperative” translating to “willing to leave Israel alone in exchange for billions in foreign aid, i.e. bribes.)

See the pattern here? If it's really all about power, and resources, and enriching those who own and operate the war machine, then these failures actually amount to successes – and a bit of embarrassment during Congressional committee hearings is a small price to pay. After all, someone has to take a hit for the team once in a while – and as we have seen, there is never any permanent damage. I don't think Congress could get anyone in the CIA fired even if they wanted to. All they have to do is eat a bit of crow up on Capitol Hill then scoot back out to Langley and hide where no mere Congressman may enter.

I'm not claiming that I've made an airtight case here. After all, there has to be some room for human error – even in an organization as “perfect” as the CIA claims to be. (They always say that there are perfectly good reasons for their mistakes... but that those reasons are classified. Implication – if we knew the reasons, we'd realize that the mistakes weren't really mistakes at all. And I agree!) But just asking the simple question, “cui bono?” can provide, if not the answer, then certainly a strong clue. Because there is always someone out there who is making money, or increasing in power or status, or gaining some other benefit from any “mistake” on the the part of the CIA or any other government agency. These “mistakes” enrich more people more rapidly than any “success” would – such is the perversity of government programs and their funding. And what this means is that a great many of these so-called mistakes may be quite intentional. Or even institutionalized, as appears to be the case with the CIA.

So, with all due respect to “Dateline D.C.”, which really is a good column, I say that the writer is grossly underestimating his subject, and how clever they are, and how wildly successful they really are when it comes to their true agenda.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Trippin' in Tripoli

Don't get excited, I tell myself... relax... it's no big deal... this time it might be different. But then I think again, and contemplate the drearily-familiar scenario that is unwrapping itself off the “shores of Tripoli”. It always starts the same way, and the “run-up” to the present action has been rehearsed so many times that our leaders and diplomats can do it in their sleep. First, you have to have a real or imagined offense – not by a country as a whole, or its people, or (hopefully) its racial, ethnic, or religious group, but by its leader and his supporting cadre of bodyguards, secret police, and “elite” military units. Then comes the (attempted, and not always successful) process of diplomatic demonization and isolation, for which the U.N. is a far-from-perfect instrument. (Their "condemnations" work about as well as a pesticide that the roaches have gotten so used to that they eat it for dinner.) Then, assuming that doesn't work (and it never does), come boycotts of various sorts (trade, tourism, etc.) as well as sanctions (economic and political). (And let's not forget cancelling our participation in the Olympic Games -- a diplomatic stroke of genius that only a man of Jimmy Carter's caliber would be capable of.) Then when that doesn't work, we've got “freezing overseas bank accounts” to fall back on – and by the way, how come we can always use that tactic against our foes but they can never use it against us? Hmmm? Well, moving right along... then comes the threat of “intervention” of some sort, which means military, which means... well, first there is the relatively clean, sterile, from-a-distance process of lobbing missiles hither and yon, but “only to take out strategic targets”, mind – and any civilians would be well-advised to stay away from any strategic targets. (We used to put Nike missile sites right in the middle of suburban neighborhoods... but surely the Libyans would know better than to do that.) That is the stage we seem to be at as of this writing.

The next stage is typically also mounted from a distance, but consists of missile strikes at non-military targets – preferably government compounds, infrastructure, palaces, etc. This is the “shock and awe” stage that was so vividly portrayed on cable TV when we went into Iraq. These missile strikes may or not be accompanied by actual bombing.

But then comes the moment of truth – you know, that fork in the road where Bush I chose one way and Bush II chose the other (regarding Iraq). Do we send in actual troops -- “boots on the ground” -- along with tanks, field artillery, etc.? And do we, thereby, commit ourselves to “regime change” ('cause that from-a-distance stuff won't do it), “spreading democracy”, “nation-building”, and all those other lovely programs that cost a fortune, never succeed, and make us even more hated around the world?

Obama has “stressed anew that he will not send U.S. ground forces into Libya”. Now, the first thing you have to do when a president says something like that is to head to the nearest betting parlor (you know, one of those kind that takes bets on anything, like how long “Wills” and Kate's marriage will last) and put big money down on a bet that we _will_ be sending ground forces in. 'Cause we always do, sooner or later. And that's because we are (allegedly) fighting for “ideals”, and the ideal of a democratic state, in any part of the world, cannot be realized unless we become (temporarily, of course) occupiers. After all, people have to be taught about democracy, since this is not an impulse that comes naturally to most. And any bad cultural habits that interfere with the formation of an enlightened democratic state have to be suppressed – which is why one of our first acts when we invade any country is to air-drop platoons of social-change specialists into the heart of their barbarity – women's rights advocates, gay rights advocates, anti-Christian agitators, and what not. (Wait, did I say “anti-Christian”? I should have said “anti-Moslem”. But I was right the first time. One of the most reliable outcomes of any of our interventions in the Arab world is an ethnic cleaning of any and all Christains from their midst – which is quite a remarkable paradox considering that the strongest and most consistent supporters of our foreign policy are Protestant Evangelicals. It's clear that the Regime would much rather deal with militant Islamists than with peaceful Christians – and why that is, I'm not prepared to say just now.)

And another pronouncement by our president that just makes me shake my head is: “... we cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people that there will be no mercy, and his forces step up their assaults on cities..." As someone commented at lunch today, if that's the case where were we in Sudan? And where have we been in all the other places where the exact same thing was going on – with the very rare exception of Yugoslavia as it was breaking up? I propose, as an outline for an answer, the following factors: (1) oil; (2) Israel; (3) the fact that while Libya is in Africa, it's in North Africa – i.e. is not “black”. It should be obvious by now that various forms of genocide and ethnic cleansing are looked upon with disfavor wherever in the world they occur... except in black Africa, where they are looked upon with an indifferent shrug. “Well, what can you expect from these people? They're just primitive tribesmen, after all; savages.” And – unstated – what a boon it is to the Zero Population Growth movement. Huh? You don't think this sort of thing occurs to outfits like the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations on a regular basis? Please. There's been a "soft genocide" campaign directed at sub-Saharan Africa for decades now... and there is great rejoicing when the Africans take up the slack by themselves. (And who do you think supplies them with all that weaponry?)

But here's a new twist. In Libya, it's apparently not necessarily about “regime change” after all. Or maybe it is. Well – you have to check what Obama and/or Hillary Clinton said sometime in the last five minutes to be sure. We fall in and out of love with these characters about as fast as Donald Trump falls in and out of love with one of his buxom blondes. If anyone is looking for consistency, predictability, and – heaven forbid! -- principle in our foreign policy these days, they're wasting their time.

I write all of this knowing that it will be out of date the minute it flashes across the Internet. But the depressing repetitiveness of it all will not be – because we'll keep making the same mistakes again and again, until that day comes when we are no longer able to. And that will be a fortunate day, because it will mean that we are unable to add any more to the number of people who hate us. Or – it might simply be because the entire world hates us at that point. Which it will be is hard to predict.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My Own Private Siberia

An extremely senior (age-wise, at least) New Hampshire lawmaker has resigned after having offhandedly suggested (supposedly in jest) that mental patients be shipped to Siberia. Well... the Siberia of today is not the “Siberia” of old, in any case; I understand it can be quite pleasant at certain times of the year – not unlike the Northern Plains of this country, as far as that goes. But as to the suggestion, whether in jest or not – he was clearly and willfully ignoring the far more humane solution that we have to the problem of the mentally ill – namely, to just set them loose in the streets of our large cities. Yes, let them fend for themselves, because they have “rights”, after all – including the right to eat, sleep, urinate, etc. wherever and whenever they please. That's the ticket – treat them as equals, even if they're somewhat challenged when it comes to returning the favor.

And furthermore... well, first let me indulge in a bit of nostalgia. I entered upon formal training in the psychology “biz” at the beginning of the end of an era -- the old institutionalization model for mental patients. There were still, at that time, mental hospitals dotting the landscape... but the bloodless term “mental hospitals” doesn't really do them justice. These were insane asylums, by gosh – nut houses, loony bins... places in which to abandon all hope. They were invariably high on a hill and built like ancient fortresses or castles, complete with towers and crenelations... with ample grounds, ancient trees, pathways, stone walls, the occasional flower garden... but scary in the best of times. They always seemed to be enveloped in the black and white twilight of a “B” movie, with bare, windblown trees and large black birds cawing and cackling in the gnarled branches... with the occasional muffled scream emanating from a high, barred window. Oh yeah – these places were the real thing. And on the inside, they weren't much more warm and fuzzy. High ceilings, everything painted the same color of pale green or yellowish tan... grossly overheated in the winter and stagnant in the summer... questionable odors wafting about... bland food... TV sets blaring... staff and patients shuffling around with equal energy (i.e. not much). And, above all, the resident psychiatrists, who invariably had paneled offices with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, large windows looking out over well-manicured grounds... who smoked a pipe... and wore white coats over their wool three-piece suits. This was their empire, their fiefdom... and they were, by and large, benevolent dictators, who seemed to, at least on occasion, recognize the residual, faintly-glimmering sparks of humanity in their patients. They were, to a man, enlightened humanists, big on “ethics” but indifferent to morals. It was, let's admit, a somewhat patronizing attitude... but on the other hand, when you're the only arguably sane person in a building full of madmen (and women), it's hard not to be a bit patronizing at times. Better to act like the kindly father – who could be stern if absolutely necessary – with the patients as your not-quite-right, perpetually needy children. This was a model that, for good or ill, persisted for many decades. But then came the revolution.

And I don't know exactly how or why it happened, and I don't have time to research it at this point. I suspect the words "lawsuit" and "advocate" would enter in. But it most definitely did happen, and I saw it with my own eyes. Almost overnight, all across the country, mental hospitals flung open their doors and disgorged an army of... former patients, now cured and whole? Well, not exactly. Most of them were no better off than they'd been when they entered. But now the model had changed, and, besides, they had “rights”, just as the homeless who were that way for other than mental health reasons had rights. No more vagrancy laws, no more picking people up off the street just because they were living there and creating an unsanitary condition – no, now they were full-fledged citizens will all of the same rights and privileges as anyone else... whether they wanted them or not.

This was, let's say, “Step Number One” of the “solution”. Step Number Two was to then take the ones who couldn't stay out of trouble and throw them in jail – i.e. the more active, violent, feisty (and probably less insane) types. The more passive, depressed, and plain psychotic were left in the streets, parks, and public places. The result? Our prisons are bursting at the seams, and in many cases it's because they include people who, in the old days, would have been behind other bars – in mental hospitals, with a much lower “unit cost”. And, our cities are graced by the presence of the homeless, with public officials helpless to do anything about it, since those homeless have powerful and politically-active advocates. And let's face it, it's a sign of the times... of the evolving culture... of evolving “values”... of a hesitancy to ever, under any circumstances, “judge” anyone, because “there but for the grace of God go I”, etc.

So yeah, those old red-brick or stone fortresses on the hill are gone – or turned into condos – but the problems they were built to deal with are still with us, and are in fact more immediate, visible, and “in your face” than they were when the mentally disturbed could be locked up, safe and out of sight, and not able to cause scandal, especially when they came from a middle-class background. Ah yes, the “shame” of mental illness – something that seems downright quaint in our day and age, when everyone who is anyone has been through regimens of group therapy, couples therapy, individual therapy, drugs of all sorts (legal and otherwise), New Age gimmicks of all sorts... and when people who are arguably mental cases dominate daytime television (both as hosts and guests). It all started – as so much else did – back in the hippie era, when it was suddenly cool to be crazy. Well, I guess it had some prefigurings in the beatnik era... and the Roaring Twenties... and the Romantic Age... and so on. I mean, it's always been cool to be a little bit crazy, as long as you were also highly verbal, clever, and “artistic”... but the mental patients of the Fifties and early Sixties were anything but fashionable. The notorious “back wards” were places of despair – not so much for the patients, who hardly realized where they were (or even _if_ they were), and were totally drugged up besides, but for anyone witnessing the scene who had a spark of humanity. The word that comes most readily to mind is “waste”. After all, each of these creatures had only one life to live, just as we all do... and this was the way they had to live it? It just seemed to be too bad, even if they were “happy” (or at least “content”... or “cooperative”, as the expression went, which meant too far gone to protest). And who knows, maybe their inner world was glorious beyond compare, and if we only knew we would be insanely (ahem) jealous. But I'll leave that romantic assumption up to the radical fringe of psychiatry, like R. D. Laing.

All I'm saying is that, while it's easy to get all huffy about a jest like that of the New Hampshire lawmaker, at least part of that reaction is sheer defensiveness, and – dare it say it? -- guilt. Because we don't know “what to do about” the mentally ill either. The old fortresses weren't all that great (although they beat the heck out of what came before), but are jail and the street any better? And after all, doesn't it depend to a great extent on how we define mental illness (or whatever we choose to call it), and how we define it in relation to the rest of society? I don't think we've settled on that issue yet either. After all, political parties and politicians are fond of calling their opponents “insane” -- which is not far removed from the familiar tactics of those who were in power in the Soviet Union. And yet, if politics is based on reality, and there is only one reality, then shouldn't there be only one valid political position... all the rest being based on something other than reality, i.e. insane? Is there, in fact, any room for “opinion” at all, or can only one point of view be right? I'm asking these questions without answering them, because I'm not sure I know the answers. Some writers have questioned the very concept of “mental health” -- and yet we remain faced with hordes of people who simply can't function in a “normal” way, i.e. they can't hold their own in society as it is currently configured. Maybe they're all misunderstood saints... but that has yet to be proven. All I can say for certain is that the current model doesn't work, and it's probably because the metaphysical and psychological premises behind it don't work, either because they've been contaminated by politics or because they're just plain wrong.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Clappy the Clown

Among the many buffoons, hacks, incompetents, and shlimazls stumbling across the stage that is the Obama administration – and we have to include its ardent facilitators in the Corporation for Public Broadcasting – one of the more prominent in current news is James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence. Now, I've already commented on what an impossible job – therefore a non-job – this is, back at the time of his confirmation hearings:

And apparently not much has changed, except that LTG (Ret.) Clapper has shown even greater-than-expected ability to step in dog do, wherever and whenever it can be found. And admittedly, life in the civilian, i.e. “public service”, sector is much more demanding in many respects than life in the military. In the military, your job is to follow orders, and the greatest risk you face (besides what happens when you don't follow orders) is getting killed or crippled for life. Compared to that relatively simplistic mode of existence, life in the bureaucracy is raw, nasty, and brutal in the extreme, where the law of the jungle rules. There is nothing like a soft, pink, out-of-shape bureaucrat to wield a knife and thrust it gently between your ribs when you're not looking... and the reason for this is that, in Washington and its outlying extensions, power is not “a” game, it's the _only_ game. Where profit is not a motive, and performance as a basis for promotion is, well, overrated at best... what's left? Raw power – intimidation, social dominance, backbiting, blackmail, character assassination... all sorts of lovely things that take the place of the much purer, more respectable motives of money, sex, and drugs in the private sector.

Now, how that power is expressed is a many-variegated thing. It can be about the number of hapless underlings one supervises – although, to be fair, most of those hapless underlings just thirst for the day when they too will get a chance to wield the whip. It can also be about the amount of resources one controls – real estate, territory, supplies, “materiel”, money. Or, it can be about how close one is to the “flagpole” -- i.e. to the big man, the man in charge. (One common metric in the bureaucracy is how many levels one is below the president – obviously, the smaller the number the more status. The only problem is that you can't get too many levels down before you find that you're only one of about a million people who are all at that same level.)

Oh, and then there are the countless signs and symbols of power. They do not confer power per se, but serve as a kind of sign language as to who's got it and who hasn't. Things like... and I kid you not... the shape of one's wastebasket, and what it's made of (wood vs. metal, round vs. square). The size of one's desk, and what it's made of... and how clean and uncluttered it is. Whether one's furniture is made of wood and leather, or some composite plus Naugahyde... or, worse yet, metal and plastic. How many “direct reports” one has... and how many of them have jobs that, in the private sector, would be called “personal assistant”, “lackey”, or “gofer”. (Does someone else get you your morning coffee? That's huge. And if they also pick up your dry cleaning, well... you are da man, bro!) And then there's the ultimate in bureaucratic status symbols – the hallowed corner office... and it's always been rumored that the Pentagon was built with five sides – i.e. five corners – to increase the number of corner offices available to the god-like beings who sit at the top of the Defense Department heap.

And lest one think that what I'm describing here is strictly a “mano a mano” situation, nothing could be further from the truth. The skirmishes, battles, and outright wars that roil through the bureaucracy on a daily basis are not just between alpha-type individuals; they are also fought between organizational units of all sizes, from the lowliest print shops right up through the directorates of the military services. Everyone's trying, at all times, to get not only their piece of the pie, but the other guy's as well. So a manager or supervisor will enlist his subordinates in a raid upon the territory and resources of some other manager or supervisor, and shamelessly make off with whatever booty is captured. This can include, once again, resources of any sort, including actual human beings – i.e. “personnel slots” and “bodies”.

And one might well ask, where in all of this is the actual prescribed mission? Where does it stand? Well... the first thing that has to be understood is that most of the bureaucracy operates in a mission-free environment. Oh, I suppose that, at one time, there was some mealy-mouthed statement put down on paper about what a given agency or office was supposed to do to earn its keep... but the day when that had any impact on actual behavior is long past. So what you have in Washington, basically, is an entire city populated by people with idle hands – which only aggravates an already-intolerable situation. As I've said quite a few times, every government program is a jobs program – no exceptions! And once those jobs are created and filled, the mission is accomplished. From that point on, the job holders can do pretty much as they see fit... and of course the Internet has been a terrific boon to government workers, vastly outperforming the old water cooler, hiding in a rest-room stall, roaming the corridors, two-hour lunches, shopping trips and other errands, etc. Now, within the cozy confines of his or her own cubicle, a government worker can while away the hours like one of the idle rich lazing about in a summer cottage, and no one is the wiser (or if they are, they don't care).

So... with that as preface, we return to LTG (Ret.) Clapper and his problem. No, not the problem of his “frequent gaffes”, as the media put it – but the problem of how those gaffes come to be. For this is, presumably, not a stupid gentleman. I found, in my experience with the military, that there are no stupid generals. Some may be maniacs... delusional... hyperactive... sociopathic... bullies... but stupid they ain't. The last of the "stupids" usually get sloughed off somewhere between the ranks of lieutenant colonel and colonel (or the Navy or Civil Service equivalents), although on occasion one will occupy a "bird colonel" slot for a short while, on the way out the door. The problem is, the senior guys can only operate on the information they are given by their underlings – since another of the many signs of status in the bureaucracy is that, beyond a certain point, one ceases to gather any of one's data first-hand. You have to rely completely, and totally, on other people – and there's the rub. If they are on your side, that's good news – they will feed you the best, and most complete, and most useful, information they can get their hands on. But if they're in the mood to do a bit of sabotage, subversion, and chops-busting... well! Then you can expect to be set up, on a daily basis, with flawed information that, when you attempt to use it in public, will make you look like an idiot. This, I believe, is what has happened to Clapper. He is being undercut by the very people, agencies, offices, and entities he is supposed to be supervising... or overseeing... or coordinating... or whatever that job description (and where did that piece of paper go, anyway? I haven't seen it in months!) calls for.

So what we've seen for a while now have been some delicious “oops!” and “never mind!” moments... and the general has wound up looking like a fool in some very public forums. But... why would anyone want to treat him this way? Simply because the various entities he is supposed to supervise, oversee, or coordinate don't want to be supervised, overseen, or coordinated. No way, Jose! They want to do as they have always done – have their fiefdom, their rice bowl, their private kingdom... with no accountability, unlimited budgets, and all sorts of magical secret powers granted to them by the dark forces of primal evil. And just the thought – the very thought – that someone would come in and expect them to toe the line – any line – is offensive in the extreme. So how do they fight back? Well, they could pull some dirty tricks on the president, I suppose, since he's the one who appoints the DNI. Or they could pull tricks on Congress, since they approved the creation of the office and approve its funding on an annual basis. But heck, that's no fun... and it might be risky besides. Better to keep the action confined to the home front – keep it “in-house”, as the saying goes. So to prove how silly the whole DNI idea was, and is, they keep setting the poor sap up for failure, hoping that eventually someone in the White House or Congress will get the word and do away with the office, allowing the countless intelligence entities to once again roam wild and free like the mountain gorilla.

It's not Clapper's fault – unless you blame him for having had the poor judgment to accept such a job. But there really are jobs in Washington that are impossible – they cannot be performed well, if at all, by anyone, regardless of qualifications or good intentions.

Actually, the presidency comes to mind as well, now that you mention it...

Monday, March 14, 2011

Libya for Liberals

Well, it is an improvement, at least... of sorts. Or, let's say that if it's not exactly a moral improvement, it's certainly an improvement in terms of consequences.

I'm referring to the relatively tepid response of the administration to events in Libya, where we have – so far, at least – resisted the usual neocon-type temptation to go running in in our ham-handed way and make things worse. Could it be that we have, at last, doffed the mantle of “world policeman”? Well, let's not get too excited – after all, we're still trying to teach the Iraqis and Afghans the meaning of “democracy”, American-style... and we have “listening posts” in virtually every other country on earth, whose main job it is to tell the White House when to send in troops (and to propose, if anyone is interested, some sort of rationale).

So what's going on here? Is it plain cowardice? No – no one can accuse this administration of that, on either the foreign-policy or domestic front. If anything, they seem more to be slaves to impulse and unconsidered action. Well then, is it about money? Not likely, since our national debt climbs to greater heights with each passing day, with winless wars being a primary cause. And of course it can't have anything to do with ancient Cold War distinctions – as if the current administration would have cared about those anyway. And even if it were about principles, which it most assuredly isn't, what clear principle would enable us to distinguish between Gadhafi (the spelling of whose name seems to change every few hours, for reasons unknown) and the rebels? Both sides claim to be faithful to Islam... “revolutionary”... supported by the populace... and it's not unlikely that the rebels might have some sympathies for “terrorism” as well, which would put them in the same camp as Gadhafi.

That is, in fact, part of the problem for our somewhat-dithering White House and State Department – the fact that it's getting harder to tell where “American interests” lie in the various Arab-world disputes. In fact, it's even hard to tell, at times, where Israeli interests lie – and since that is the basis for our foreign policy, it makes things even more muddled.

Time was – and it wasn't that long ago at all – when we would already have landed Marines on the “shores of Tripoli” in order to (pick one) support the Gadhafi regime or facilitate its overthrow. Or, we would have landed Marines in eastern Libya in or to (pick one) support the Gadhafi regime or facilitate its overthrow. And/or, we would have bombed Gadhafi's bases, troops, materiel, and supply lines, or bombed the rebels' equivalent. I mean... can you imagine us just standing by and biding our time during the Eisenhower administration? I don't think any president up to Obama, with the possible exception of Carter, would have adopted the current hands-off approach... and who knows, Obama may crack yet. But the fact that he's held out this long is remarkable.

But as I said, it's not a matter of principle, any more than anything else this administration does. What it is, basically, is a kind of backwards diplomacy, whereby instead of picking the winner and then doing everything we can to make sure they win, we wait until there's a winner then declare our support – not only at that point but in retrospect. “Oh yes, we were on your side all along.” Kind of like what we did in Egypt, in fact. And it's amazing how many of these third-world clowns fall for it – either that or they see it as an easy ticket to foreign aid. You know, always smile at “de massah”, even if you're holding a knife behind your back. Smile and shuffle, because you have nothing to lose and a great deal to gain.

OK now, I'll admit that Obama & Co. have been mouthing words about how Gadhafi has “got to go” -- but those are only words, and they can be taken back, or ignored, or erased from history as the situation demands – unlike actual invasions, which are a bit harder to just wipe off the slate. After all, we continued to deal with the Soviet Union after Reagan called it an “evil empire”, right? That's what diplomacy and diplomats are for – to cool, or ignore, the rhetoric of national leaders in order to keep the peace and not disrupt commercial ties. The unspoken agreement is that leaders can say anything they want, as long as the goods keep coming and going, and the banks and stock exchanges stay open, and so forth. I mean, you wouldn't believe how many “enemy” countries and regimes we have a healthy trading situation with. And this has nothing to do with principles, unless it's the principle of making money. And yet – I hate to say it, because it sounds cynical – this is preferable to the more traditional situation where we send in the Marines, and become first an invading, then occupying, then “nation-building” force – the latter being the mission for which our military is least suited and which is most failure-prone. I mean, it's easy enough to invade one of these places, and set up an occupation of sorts, but when it comes to changing an entire culture – which may go back hundreds or even thousands of years... give me a break! It hasn't happened yet. What we wind up creating is a bunch of Potemkin villages for visiting Congressmen, and the minute we leave they revert to type. The people in those countries who are in the know – who have some historical perspective – realize this, and know that if they are sufficiently patient, their ways will win out in the end. As far as they're concerned, “democracy” is delusional, dangerous, and just plain silly – and when you have a look at our domestic politics, it's hard to disagree.

But listen to this (from Obama): “When it comes to military actions... you've got to balance costs versus benefits.” Can you imagine Bush (the 2nd) ever saying that? Or Dick Cheney? How about LBJ? Impossible! And it's not that it was so much easier to pick sides back then. I mean, admittedly, we always tend to prefer tyrants over “the people”, since the tyrants tend to serve our purposes more reliably. Except when they don't, and then we decide for the people... at least temporarily, until we start to feel the need for a tyrant again, so we pick one and set him on the throne (can you say “Karzai”, class?).

Among the Obama statements that _don't_ count in all this is the one about “slowly tightening the noose”. What noose? And how, pray tell, would it be tightened even if it exists? And: “...the United States is seeking ways to help (Libya's) rebel forces.” Um... well, the usual way is militarily, right? And we're not doing that. So what do we intend to do instead? See – it's all wishy-washy and disgusting... except that, in this instance, they're right. There really are some disputes we should stay out of – for our own sake, and for the sake of the disputants. One thing is certain – no matter which side we take in one of these conflicts, we'll wind up being hated by both sides and exploited by at least one. So we cannot possibly win... and just the thought that maybe, just maybe, someone in the administration is starting to realize this is a sign for wonderment.

Of course, I could be wrong, and by the time you read this we may be carpet-bombing Tripoli. Or some diplomat's daughter might be duping Congress with tales of babies being tossed out of incubators in Benghazi. Or something. It certainly doesn't take much to rile the good ol' USA, as many people and organizations have found out to their dismay. We still believe that it's our way or the highway – in other words, if you don't like democracy, American-style, then kindly get the hell off the planet before we come over there and turn your ass into fine powder.

Interestingly, France has already picked a winner (but won't do anything to support it, of course) by declaring the opposing forces “the legal rulers of Libya”. Hmm... wonder which legal code they referred to for that one? But hey, we're talking about France here, right? And when it comes to governments, and forms of government, it would be hard to find a more impulsive place. These are the people who beheaded a king, then a few years later crowned an emperor. So – their judgment in these matters is always questionable. (Actually, it's not – it's almost always wrong.)

And one additional note: “Obama reiterated his support for the principle (!) that world powers should intervene to stop governments that are killing or brutalizing their own people.” A fine idea, that – but how about if we start stopping governments that are killing or brutalizing other people? That would include... um, let's see... oh yes – us.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Lest I Strike My Foot Against A Stone...

Sometimes, in reading the daily paper, I like to venture out upon the road less traveled, ignoring the big stories (which are usually a hoax) and seeking out hidden truths in the more modest regions. It can be quite rewarding at times, as the following examples attest:

Headline: “Report: $1.1B paid to dead” (referring to farm subsidies). But who cashed the checks? Supposedly someone who was still alive. Thus, once again, one man's “government waste” is another man's windfall... and in most cases the windfall is no less worthy of government funding than the original program was. I mean, gosh, at least the guy got a pickup truck and a weekend in Vegas out of it.

Headline: “Army fitness overhaul to stress 'combat-ready'.” Um... OK, but then what did all the previous fitness programs stress? Something other than combat readiness?

Headline: “Some of Islamic code could be ruled felony.” This in reference to a proposed law in Tennessee (where else?) that would make it “a felony to follow some versions of the Islamic code known as Shariah”. And, “Muslim groups fear the measure would outlaw central tenets of Islam, such as praying five times a day toward Mecca, abstaining from alcohol or fasting for Ramadan.” So, Tennessee – the “buckle of the Bible Belt”, as H. L. Mencken called it -- is about to pass a law prohibiting praying... and prohibiting not drinking... and prohibiting not eating? This ought to be fun.

The Iranian government “objects to the logo for the 2012 London Olympics, contending it is racist because it resembles the word 'Zion'”. Hmmm... chances are they're afraid of what will happen when their team encounters all those Jewish jocks. I mean, we know how much natural athletic ability Jews have, right? Um....

Four Italian troops were killed in attacks in Afghanistan, but Premier Berlusconi says “the mission in Afghanistan must continue”. Why?

A Canadian was arrested for giving a “Heil Hitler” salute in front of the Reichstag in Berlin. Don't the authorities know that he was just being “ironic”? Yes... you know we've passed into a new era when Nazi symbols and paraphernalia become “camp”.

Headline: “Army plans to issue bullet-stopping helmets.” Um... OK, but then what were the helmets previously issued supposed to do? Stop something besides bullets? Or, everything _but_ bullets? Or... oh, never mind.

Can't we just get rid of Charlie Sheen once and for all? I mean, seriously, can't he just be exiled to some island in the South Atlantic? We'd all be better off...

The winds of freedom continue to waft across the Arab/Islamic world... and, as usual, it turns out we're on the wrong side in nearly every case – or were, until Obama & Co. realized which way the winds were blowing. Now it seems we're gearing up to land marines in Libya... which ought to give a new lease on life to the line “... to the shores of Tripoli”. (The “halls of Montezuma” have already been taken care of by the “war on drugs”.)

Hey, wait a minute – I thought “terrorism” was one big, gigantic, monolithic thing. At least that's what the government is always telling us. But now Moammar Gadhafi, a certified supporter of terrorism, has blamed Osama bin Laden, a certified terrorist, for the rebellion in Libya. Seems like there must be some way we could “triangulate” this situation, wouldn't you think?

Headline: “Military accused of mind games; Officer: Specialists tried to influence key U.S. legislators.” This, in reference to alleged attempts to “manipulate visiting U.S. lawmakers into providing additional funding and support for the mission (to train Afghan security forces) there.” Well, that's a shocker, I must say. What else are those “fact-finding visits” to war zones by American politicians about other than an opportunity for the military to put on a “dog and pony show”, indulge in a bit of brainwashing, and blow smoke up everyone's butt? I mean... this is standard procedure. The military sets up a bunch of Potemkin villages, the "suits" get escorted around, they smile approvingly, shake hands, and go home. It's the only reason the military will tolerate politicians flying in and tramping around, drawing off much-needed resources. I mean... they have to be fed, entertained, kept in climate-controlled environments... the whole bit. It's a total pain. But the payoff is that they go back to Washington satisfied that “our boys” are doing a bang-up job of “defending the American way of life”, and before long a nice, fat, multi-billion-dollar check gets written, and everyone is happy. So what's the problem? Oh – the people who were supposed to be doing the entertaining were trained in “psy ops” -- which I guess means they were trying to turn the Congressmen into Manchurian candidates. Well... considering that two of the targets were John McCain and Joe Lieberman, I'd say the Manchurian candidate part had long since been accomplished. These guys are downright robotic and zombie-like in their unquestioning support of whatever woebegone mission the military has had imposed on it – no further persuasion is necessary. But the language was a bit awkward: “What do I have to plant inside their heads?” Frankly, anything would be preferable to what's in there now.

Headline: “Criminal cases mount against Clinton donors.” What? You mean Obama isn't protecting Hillary from all these groundless accusations that some of her 2008 campaign money was acquired under shady circumstances? Imagine that. Well, of course, “none of the cases has revealed wrongdoing by Clinton or her top advisors” -- as you might expect. She was born coated in Teflon, just like her so-called husband. And yet it's interesting that the administration sees nothing amiss in keeping her on the defensive; maybe it's some kind of preemptive strike re: the 2012 election.

“Fan handles loss by going to work” -- this, in reference to the Pittsburgh Steelers' defeat in the Super Bowl. Wow – imagine going to work in order to get over a loss by your favorite sports team. What's this world coming to? Time was when the only correct response would have been to down a six-pack then spend the day in bed in a fetal position. I almost think this is something that could be harnessed in some way – like, create more sports teams that are designed to lose games in order to increase productivity. Or something. Let me work on this a bit more.

A word to the wise from one of the leading anti-Mubarak voices in Egypt, Wael Ghonim: “Anyone with good intentions is the traitor because being evil is the norm.” Seems like we have a few cases in our own country that this statement could apply to.

A state senator in Maryland wants to rename two mountains that are currently named Negro Mountain and Polish Mountain, “citing cultural sensitivities”. Well... other than the complete idiocy that this idea represents, which is nothing new, let me point out that there is still an organization called the United Negro College Fund... and what Polish person would object to having a mountain named after his nation or ethnic group? But here is the senator's claim: “New names are needed to more accurately reflect the history and culture of Maryland's western Appalachian region.” Well... those names were given to those mountains by someone, right? So they must be historic in some sense, and they must reflect the culture in some sense, right? I mean, they weren't just chosen at random. Fortunately, the representatives of the region in question have pointed out that “the bill reflects political correctness taken to an extreme” by the city and suburban folk in the eastern part of the state. Very true – and it does provide proof that, in fact, Maryland, as minuscule as it is, is not all “East Coast” -- it includes a bit of Appalachia as well, for which we can all be grateful. Otherwise it might be titanically boring... like Delaware.

Whatever happened to these iconic images? (1) Dogs playing poker. (2) Guys with a beard made up of swarming bees. (3) Naked babies on white bear rugs (now considered “kiddie porn”, I guess). (4) Women with those pointy bras that could seriously injure a guy if he got too close. (5) Drive-in waitresses on roller skates. (6) Men who actually tipped their hat to ladies on the street. (7) Men with adult hats. (8) Women with stockings and garter belts. (9) Women who wore dresses on weekdays. (10) Executives with striped pants, tailcoats, spats, cigars, and top hats. (11) Station wagons (real ones, I mean -- with wooden paneling on the side). (12) Swimming holes (as opposed to chlorine-laden pools). (13) Cigarette holders. (14) Picture windows. (15) Knotty pine rec rooms. (16) Secretaries taking dictation (in shorthand). (17) An office desk without a computer on it. (18) "Rabbit ears" antennas on TVs (I still have 'em!). (19) Old-maid librarians with a bun on their head. And finally... the most radical of them all... (20) service station attendants (in uniform!).

Words and expressions I'm already sick to death of: (1) “going forward”; (2) “tweens”; (3) “civility” (of course!); (4) “indie” (as in film); (5) “provider” (as in health); (6) “tony” (as in neighborhoods, restaurants, bars, etc.); (7) “foodie”; (8) “metrosexual”; (9) “fusion” (as in food, not atomic energy); (10) “upper brackets” (as in real estate); (11) “issues”; (12) “artisanal” (now being applied to everything not made by General Foods in a factory that covers 50 acres); (13) “green”; (14) “carbon footprint”.

I think there ought to be “death panels” for words that could put these, and others equally annoying, out of their misery on a regular basis. Billionaires in our time talk like hod carriers of 100 years ago.

Trapped in a World They Made

The one thing you can count on when politicians start talking about budgets is that they will all – regardless of party affiliation – come out against “waste”. “Waste” is, apparently, what happens when a government agency winds up paying for goods or services they never intended to pay for... or paying for nothing at all when they were supposed to be paying for (intended) goods and services. That's a good operational definition, but it isn't very useful. It's good when we're talking about outright fraud, theft, and embezzlement, but that's not where most of the “waste” happens. It happens when the government is overcharged... when it is correctly charged but the goods are faulty, or the services are found wanting... or when other scams occur, like the price of goods goes up after the contract is signed, or labor costs go up – in which case the dreaded “best effort” clause is dragged out, by which a contractor (and most of any government's budget is, in fact, spent on contracted services – at least at the federal and state levels) has only to do his best in order to stay out of jail. He doesn't have to deliver all the goods, or provide all the services, that were originally contracted for, because... well, because “stuff happens”, don'tcha know.

Plus, it's also true that one man's (or politician's) "waste" is another's "money well spent" -- especially if it serves to buy votes or some other kind of support (financial, political, etc.). No one minds when money that is "spilled on the floor" winds up making friends.

And then there's that other charming category, called “things that no one wants but that the government buys anyway” because they're the result of some sort of pork-barrel trade-off. Or because the Congressperson behind them has so damn much power that no one dares refuse him anything (can you say “Robert Byrd”, class?). Or – the goods and services are desired by someone for the wrong reason, because whatever is purchased doesn't work, or the services don't produce anything of value (think: "consulting"). Then there are the contract efforts that come a-cropper because of sheer incompetence; what seemed like a good idea was turned over to fools, and the result shows it.

Now, with all this in mind, it's a miracle that government contracts, or government funding in general, ever produce _anything_. In other words, it's amazing that it's not _all_ wasted. But in fact, once in a while, by sheer accident, and as the result of random variations in the contracting process, someone who knows what he's doing receives a government contract and actually delivers the goods and services up to specs. (And you can be sure he won't have that contract for long, once his less-competent competitors get wind of what's going on. Nothing infuriates the vast bulk of government contractors like competence and efficiency. It's just not fair!) So if this is the case, it follows that, in fact, once in a while even the government produces something worthwhile... but that's where the plot thickens.

The problem is, as Joseph Sobran once said, “Everything called a 'program' is unconstitutional” -- meaning that virtually everything the government does, save what is explicitly provided for in the Constitution, is illegal and ought not to be done – at least not by the government. In fact, if you simply eliminated all the unconstitutional agencies and programs from the federal budget, the budget would not only be balanced overnight, but would be showing a huge surplus. The problem is, things like entitlement programs didn't get this way overnight, and they are keystones to gigantic social and economic entities. They are, in other words, “too big to fail”, or to be abolished with the stroke of a pen, even though they are blatantly unconstitutional and wasteful, because of the social and economic chaos that would follow. The same argument would be used as was used to support the recent “bailouts” of private and semi-private business and industry... but actually with more validity. No one seriously expects the U.S. government to make cars, for example – but they do expect it to provide a retirement income for everyone (and now health care).

So, the problem the budget cutters at national and state levels are having is that they are reduced to swinging wildly – like someone trying to hit a pinata while blindfolded – at a virtually infinite number of “line items”, each of which has its beneficiaries, defenders, and in some cases paid lobbyists. None of that stuff got there by accident... and you will find a defender for the most outlandish thing in the budget if only you try and cut it; they will come out of the woodwork.

Another point – returning to the idea of “waste” -- is that, as I've pointed out previously, there is, in fact, no such thing as “government waste”... not really. I mean, while the description provided above is true, it's also true that every dollar... every dime... of “government waste” winds up in someone's pocket. So it's not “waste” as far as they're concerned, is it? And they find ways of defending, and fighting for, government programs that they don't even have any business benefiting from – thus another one of the many miracles of our democratic system. Even the parasites, freeloaders, and fraud artists constitute a powerful lobby and a vested interest.

Also, just because something is unconstitutional doesn't mean it should not be made, or provided... by somebody; just not the government. So the spectacle we are seeing now in Washington, and in state houses across the country, is people fighting like demons to keep things in state and federal budgets that are actually good and worthwhile – but just don't belong in those budgets. Their argument is, because this is a good thing, the government should pay for it, without question. But by that argument, the government should pay for every conceivable good thing – even those that might do better being subject to the market forces of supply and demand. And the consequence of this is that, in the long run, the government would have to have a virtually infinite budget... which means it would have to raise everyone's tax bracket to 100% (or higher, as actually happened during Sweden's golden age of socialism). But even collecting the maximum in taxes from a finite population only gives you a finite amount to work with... which is the point at which governments often try to avoid the issue by hyperinflating the currency. Everyone wants $1 million? No problem – just print up a few hundred million million-dollar bills, and hand them out. Problem solved! And then you get Zimbabwe writ large.

What I'm trying to say here is that the conservative argument that there are plenty of potential budget cuts that won't hurt anyone because if only we can cut the “waste” part... is misguided. And as someone astutely pointed out a few years back, government “waste” is not like the fat on a chicken; you can't just peel it off in one layer. It's “larded through, like in steak”. Very true! Hardly any government programs are 100% “waste” even by the strictest standards, and I'm certain that none is “0% waste”. So when a zealous waste-cutter sallies forth, sword in hand, he immediately comes up against this fact, and is likely to turn around and return home, crestfallen and in despair. He can't just start cutting waste, or "fat" -- he invariably strikes bone no matter where he aims. The waste is more intimately bound up with the worthwhile stuff than the proverbial tares were with the wheat. So rather than tackling “waste” per se – except maybe for some of the horror stories from William Proxmire's old “golden fleece” list (and even those will each have their advocates, never fear) – the more realistic approach is what we used to call (in my government days) “salami slicing”, which means that every program gets the same cut – the same percentage. Across the board, no matter who, or what, gets hurt. Grandmothers, babes in arms, fluffy kittens -- it matters not. They get the same cut as anti-personnel land mines. Which means that the entire population of people dependent on government largess starts screaming all at once – but at least no one can justify screaming any louder than anyone else.

So the message that has to be delivered to the protesters in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and elsewhere is simply this: Just because it looks, feels, and smells like a good thing doesn't mean that the government is obligated to fund it. Alternatives have to be found – preferably on the free market. Either that, or some things simply have to be done without; that's not an impossibility either.

But in all of this, anyone serious about avoiding economic catastrophe is going to come up against that familiar symptom of good, old-fashioned American self-reliance and independence – namely, the entitlement mentality. Americans – some of them, at least – have been accused, of late, of being “entitlement junkies” -- and the expression is quite appropriate. It's not so much that it's in their DNA (we hope) as that it's an acquired habit – acquired over many years, with certain “gateway drugs” (like college loans that are never paid back)... and it gets to the point where a substantial portion of the population doesn't know... can't conceive of... any other way to live except on the government dole. (And I use the term “government dole” broadly to include any beneficiary of an unconstitutional government program – which means that the total runs into the tens of millions... many of whom are unionized, note, and who wield tremendous political power.)

And perhaps the most amazing thing about all of this is that the protesters in Madison and elsewhere seem to expect the state governments to literally create money out of thin air (the way the federal government can, and does, do). Or – they expect it to keep borrowing until it is hopelessly in debt (as many already are)... with no thought of what happens then. In other words, they are not only entitlement junkies, but have absolutely no care for the future... not only their children's but their own, not that far down the line. If the states capitulate to their demands, the eventual, and inevitable, catastrophe will only be worse, and everyone will suffer, including themselves. But again – and this is a classic symptom of the addict – they don't care, and they don't want to be told. A few more years of riding high, and then the deluge – but they would rather have someone else pay if at all possible. And obviously if the federal government opts to bail the states out – which it has already done to some extent – then the catastrophe will be nation-wide, and the misery equally distributed among all the states and all the citizenry – which, I guess, would strike some people as fair, at least.

I guess it's true that, under stress, people are likely to become hysterical, delusional, and self-centered in the extreme. We certainly see this in times of war, strife, and famine... but we're also seeing it in what one would assume were far less stressful times – simply the back end of a major recession, with no insurrections, no revolutions, no plagues, no mass arrests – just a few simple budget-cutting proposals. And yet you would think the Hun was at the gates – which, I guess, shows you how far the American entitlement mentality has progressed since its inception in the New Deal, and how truly decadent we have become as a people. And really, when you think about it, 80 years is plenty of time in which to create a sea change in attitudes – even of an entire nation. If the government “saved” us in the New Deal, well... then it's the job of government to keep on doing so, even unto shielding us from the most minor and trivial discomforts and inconveniences. You say the rate of increase in teachers' salaries is declining by a percentage or two? Take to the streets! What's the government going to do – fire all of us and close the schools? And much the same argument could be made by any category of government employee. They are all vital links – vital cogs – in the vast apparatus. Or at least they think they are. The notion of taking their skills and knowledge and peddling them on the open market is... well, it fills them with horror. A guaranteed job, with a guaranteed income and guaranteed benefits, is simply a “right” these days... and no right-wing, reactionary, conservative “nut” is going to deprive us of it. The problem is, those “nuts” didn't invent the laws of economics. Those laws, while not as iron-clad as those of physics, perhaps (and don't start on me with uncertainty principles and bubble universes, please), nonetheless seem to carry through a wide variety of historical events, political movements, and forms of government. “Supply and demand” may not be quite up to the level of the Periodic Table, but it's a hard thing to defy... as much as collectivist governments might try. Let's just say that governments that try to repeal the laws of economics eventually get repealed themselves. So really, these protesters are not just objecting to a contrary political opinion; they're basically objecting to economic reality. And they can object all they want, but that reality is going to win out in the end – as it already has in some limited and local cases. And at that point, delusions shattered, those who refused to face up to reality will be wandering around in a daze, muttering incoherently like a loyal Nazi in late 1945 – wondering what on earth happened to their perfect world.