Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Debt Ceiling Fatigue

As the endless debate concerning the national debt plods on in Washington, I'm starting to detect, especially in the last couple of days, definite signs of fatigue – or maybe it's apathy – on the part of the public. And not only the public, but entities like the stock market, which normally reacts to financial-type woes in the capital the way elephants are said to react to mice. And yes, the American public and the media they feed on (or maybe it's the other way around) do have a notoriously short attention span, no doubt. But this is more than that – there seems to be a growing skepticism as to the truth of government, and media, pronouncements about all the horrible things that will happen if some settlement is not reached before that magical, mystical, Armageddon-like date of August 2. Why, it will be as if Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, and Gamera held a cage fight with the entire country as the arena! It will be the economic equivalent of Pearl Harbor, 9/11, and Elvis's first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, all rolled into one!

But even the worst “news” (even if nothing has actually happened as yet) gets tiring after a while. People are starting to speak up, albeit in a tentative way, and propose that the world might not come crashing down on August 2 even if Congress and the White House are still locked in debate at that point. The government will not be flat broke (even if it is already bankrupt) and a lot of bills will still get paid – maybe not all, and maybe not 100% right away... but this is apparently not good enough for the perfectionists out there, who claim that a “default” would be the worst thing to ever happen to the economy. Frankly, I think our inability to borrow more money would be the _best_ thing to ever happen to the economy... but let that go for now. The point is that the steady drumbeat of horror stories is starting to fall on deaf ears... and who knows, there might be some out there who, like me, consider the whole thing a hoax. What I think is that it's another excuse, like the Great Recession, for those in control to conduct another raid on the middle class – given that there is any middle class left, which means that they didn't do a sufficiently thorough job the first time around. And what makes me think this? Simply that the Great Recession, so-called, was only a recession if you were middle or lower class. If you were one of those in charge, it was the greatest get-rich-quick scheme ever devised. It was, in other words, a massive redistribution of wealth in an upward direction; those at the top of the totem pole stayed as fat as ever, and many got even fatter (have you checked out the high-end art market lately?). But of course the caper could not be pulled off in broad daylight... actually it was, but it was disguised as something else. We've all heard the litany a thousand times, and I quote from a recent article on the new “consumer watchdog agency” (you know, the one where the watchdog is comatose and has no teeth):

“Congress created that agency in response to the subprime mortgage scandal that crashed the housing market, sank the economy and cost millions of Americans their homes.”

See how easily that rolls off the tongue, and into the brain? You can say it in one breath. And this has already been put in place as the core myth behind the Great Recession – it was all the fault of... well, somebody... but that person, or those persons, are never named. And what made it a “scandal”? Even if it's true, the mortgage market was just responding to pressure from the government – and to the realization that any defaults would be generously covered by additional government programs, which they, in fact, were. And the process is still going on, so it clearly can't have been a “scandal” -- it was just business as usual. But the subprime mortgage market, which was suspect from the start, did serve as a convenient scapegoat for all that has happened since – the first domino to fall, if you will, which should have immediately raised questions as to why the system – all the other dominoes – was so fragile and out of control. But of course it was neither; the whole operation was meticulously planned from the beginning. At least that's my theory, and I have yet to see any evidence to refute it.

So the people who lost ground during the Great Recession, and who continue to lose ground, should at least be glad that somebody benefited from it all – I mean, all that “lost wealth” had to go somewhere; it didn't just slip into a hole in the ground. If I “packaged” a bunch of subprime mortgages and sold them to someone else, I wound up with the cash, right? A lot of people walked away very rich from that scam... but even so, I refuse to believe that the subprime market was the “shot heard 'round the world” on which all else depended. That just strains credulity to the breaking point. I'm sorry, but the system is simply too big, and it's a lot more solid than they want you to believe. This is more like the discount joints that have a “fire sale” every week or two, whether there's been a fire or not... or the rug dealers who are forever going out of business. In other words, it's a con. And in fact, the stock market has basically recovered – this began the minute the ordinary investors all panicked and sold at, um, fire sale prices to the people in the know. The time-honored notion of a “shared sacrifice” simply did not apply in this case; as usual, the ones making the sacrifice were the outsiders, and the ones benefiting were the insiders.

And so it is – or will be – regardless of how the current debt limit debate turns out. And I think that people are finally starting to catch on – to government scams, to the fact that the media are nothing more than government mouthpieces, to the technique of keeping everyone in a state of fear and panic while the “fat cats” puff away on their cigars as usual (not that I have anything against cigars, mind). So people are starting to ask what, precisely, does this “default” entail, and who, precisely, is going to be hurt by it (if the answer is China, it's no wonder people are becoming indifferent). And what they should be asking is, who will benefit? But I guess that will have to come later.

And you can be sure that if all is not resolved in another week, the Regime will orchestrate some sort of economic rolling blackout, just to convince people that all they said was true – and that will, in turn, stimulate the electorate to hand over even more power to the government, which is, after all, one of the goals of the exercise, just as it was one of the goals of the Great Recession. And we will have been pillaged again, in the manner of the classic and picturesque raids by the Huns, Vandals, Visigoths, etc. But let's not confuse that degree and type of badness with things being out of control; au contraire, things will be very much under control, just as they are now.

Norway Loses Its Nordic Cool

All you have to know about Norway is the fact that even if the bomber/shooter is convicted on all counts (by no means a foregone conclusion) he can only be imprisoned for 21 years at the most. This, to me, is the triumph of that peculiar variety of secular humanism that manifests itself in the Nordic countries as a kind of stolid optimism combined with naivete – not only about themselves but about people in general. The notion that “This could never happen here because we're too nice (and/or boring).” So theory overcomes reality when it comes to the vagaries of human nature, and when confronted with real evil, or insanity, or both, no one knows how to cope, because, as it turns out, there are more things in heaven (and hell) and earth than are dreamt of in their philosophy. It's as if you had a whole country made up of NPR devotees... kind of like if Vermont were a country, say.

Now, I've made a few observations about what one might call "the paranoid style in American law enforcement”, where every crossroads hamlet has a SWAT team, and (in Pennsylvania at least) some guy mouthing off to his neighbor can be charged with “making terroristic threats”. And I suppose that the U.S. does look like a police state compared to any place in Scandinavia... or the Netherlands... or probably a few other places here and there. On the other hand, I daresay that at the first sounds of gunfire on that island, if it had been in the U.S., we would have had a dozen or so different law enforcement agencies in boats, helicopters, hovercraft, rafts, etc. pouring in there within a few minutes. Yeah... I hate to admit it, but sometimes paranoia pays off because it really is the right attitude. And dare I say that it would probably have been illegal for anyone on that island to be carrying a gun? What if only two or three people there had been armed? Things might have turned out quite differently.

And then we have the interesting phenomenon of people saying “At least it wasn't...” and you can name just about any group you like – a foreigner, a Moslem, and an Arab being the most often mentioned. Right – at least it was a native Norwegian – thank goodness! One of our own! Which means that no awkward questions of race, ethnicity, or religion have to be dragged out in court. Except that they do, because what apparently motivated the “suspect” was Norway's having jumped enthusiastically onto the multiculturalism bandwagon. (And it is striking, you must admit, how many of the people appearing in the newsreels are anything but Nordic-looking. Who knew?) Now... how one wages jihad against multiculturalism and Islam by killing fellow Norwegians is a good question, and I think “insanity” might qualify as a reason – although that carries the risk of the guy being transferred immediately to a group home, with no actual time behind bars at all.

But that's not the only intriguing thing about the whole affair. The immediate assumption on the part of everyone in Norway, and the world press, and our own press, was that of course the culprit(s) had to be jihadists/terrorists/Al Qaeda/Arabs/whatever. And why did that immediately come to mind? Isn't Norway, after all, one of those cool, enlightened, non-warlike Scandinavian countries that the rest of us all admire? Well, yes and no. They have pretenses to cool, no doubt – but guess who is right up there among the “coalition of the willing” when it comes to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the bombing campaign in Libya. Right – good old “neutral”, nice-guy Norway. So if I'm a jihadist, I'm going to see Norway through the same color glasses as I see the U.S. -- no “nuance” required, thank you. And I suspect that the Norwegians, if not their government, have been feeling a bit awkward about this whole situation for some time now – just waiting for the day when the “terrorists” would decide to bring the war home and exact a bit of payback, the way they have elsewhere in Europe. So the minute things start going wrong, there is this kind of “I knew it” feeling – it had to happen eventually. What a, um, pleasant surprise, then, when it turned out it had nothing to do with “terrorism” -- unless this tall, blond, Nordic guy is really a jihadist in disguise, or a convert, or something... which he apparently is not.

So places like Norway are carrying a burden of guilt – if seldom expressed by anyone – because, on some level, they may not really believe in what we are doing and what they are helping us do, but they go along with it for... well, for any number of reasons. For one thing, everyone wants to play with the big dogs, and no one wants to be left out. And after all, didn't the Vikings come from Norway, and weren't they the baddest of the bad? Plus, peace is a fine thing, but it gets boring after a while. And what better way to enhance one's “street creds” with the U.S. (and the EU) than to tag along on all of the various U.S. and NATO wars and military actions (and military actions disguised as humanitarian efforts)? So places like Norway get suckered in – and they're never quite comfortable with the situation, and feel like someone, or something, is going to get even some day... and they're right just often enough that the feeling never quite goes away.

And just to show how strong this feeling was, please recall that even after the perp was caught, people continued, for a while, to believe that they had been under attack from foreign, Islamic terrorists. Here was this tall, blond, Nordic guy – a life-long citizen – being led away, but the news was still all about the likelihood of Islamic terrorism. Clearly, people's brains (and whatever the media have that stands in for brains) couldn't catch up with the reality; it had to be terrorism, no matter who the apparent perpetrator was. You can add this to the corpus of case histories of mass hysteria combined with denial.

Yes, it's all very curious. And don't think the world of Islamic militancy has failed to notice any of this, right down to the smallest detail. They have seen, for example, how paltry security was in Oslo... how slow and awkward the response was to the island shootings... how defenseless and helpless a disarmed populace can be... and, as I've discussed, how readily the attacks were attributed to Islamic terrorism. Why – they must be reasoning – we might as well have actually done it, because in some remote part of the brain of every Norwegian, a part that is impervious to additional information, we did do it. To paraphrase Rush Limbaugh, what actually happened is not as important as what should have happened.

And then there's the feature of the perp having identified himself as a “Christian conservative” -- and oh, what a field day our Democrats/liberals would have with that. In fact, they did have a field day with it when the Oklahoma City bombing occurred; it took Bill Clinton about five minutes to blame Rush Limbaugh. Do they even have “talk radio” in Norway? I doubt it. But clearly, conservatives and Christians of all stripes will be on the defensive throughout the EU for a long time to come – which is a fine gift the perpetrator gave to the Regime. You see, there is such a thing as healthy, natural love of country – it's called patriotism. Then there's that aggressive, empire-building, neocon attitude that defines our foreign policy (and, by implication, the foreign policy of any country that joins us in our escapades) – that's called nationalism. So while Norwegians may yet retain a small, glimmering spark of patriotism amidst all of the multiculturalism and “diversity”, they have also signed on to our nationalism and empire-building. So in that sense they have sold their birthright for a mess of pottage, both on the domestic and international front. And what have they gotten in return? A reputation for hypocrisy, for one thing... but also one very big case of push-back from one of their citizens, who may be a nutball but much of what he's reacting to is for real. But it matters not; Norway has their Timothy McVeigh now, and it will be interesting to see what use they make of him.

And then! How about the fact that this guy identifies himself as a Knight Templar, and posts a photo of himself in a Freemason's getup? Whoa – that could keep the conspiracy mills grinding for months, if not years! Of course, the modern-day Knights Templar (yes, there is such an organization) are undoubtedly a spin-off or component group of the Freemasons – so that much makes sense. But the last time I checked, the Freemasons were, among their countless other causes and programs, totally dedicated to the notions of “diversity”, multiculturalism, deracination, watering-down, etc. -- anything, in other words, to weaken and eliminate the influence of race, ethnicity, and religion and increase the influence of empires – especially of the multi-national sort. So it is a bit curious that the guy would view his warped patriotism as being consistent with Freemasonry – but hey, he is a nut, after all.

So anyway... we haven't heard the last of all the potential fallout from these events. Will Norway or the EU start clamping down on “extreme right-wing Christian conservatives”? Are they really that much of a threat? From what I gather, they have marginal political influence in the countries where they exist at all, and zero political influence at the EU level. (How could it be otherwise, since the EU clearly represents everything they stand against.) Besides, if anything, the European media have been more thorough in their demonization of right-wingers, Christians, and conservatives than our media have – and that's saying something. But still, these events could be the final nail in the coffin... and no one will dare utter a peep against multiculturalism, or “diversity”, in the EU for years to come. And this, it seems to me, is a small matter, since Europe is already a terminal case when it comes to these issues – which is to say it's beyond rescuing. The U.S. isn't far behind, to be sure, but I don't think things are quite as bad over here as yet. And in any case, the real power in Europe does not lie with the people, or with any new immigrant group; the real power could not care less what happens to the demographics of Europe, as long as they continue to rule. Would they mind ruling over an entire continent of immigrants, with most of the bloodlines of the common people having become extinct? I don't think they'd mind at all. One of these days we may wake up to discover that there is nothing left of Europe at all – but that the European colonies are thriving, having taken its place on the map.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Ultimate Extreme Makeover

Have you noticed a subtle change in the depiction of Hillary Clinton of late? Every article I've seen recently that includes her picture has her smiling – and not just that phony, tight-ass conference-room smile, but a broad grin. This is in stark contrast to what we've seen for years now – what one observer called her “class warfare face”. So... what is going on here? The secretary of state is not the job one normally associates with Bozo-type grins. I say it's the beginning of a subtle remake in anticipation of next year's election – but the question then becomes, what's the agenda? Is she going to enter the primaries against Obama? No. More likely, she's going to get back into the elective office biz, either as a candidate for vice president (ever notice how totally dispensable Biden has become – if not a downright liability?) or to go back to the Senate... or something. To somehow expand her empire, in other words – which means to me that she has been thoroughly approved by, and granted a lifetime membership in, the Regime – perhaps at a higher rank than her husband, even. Who knows, it could even be the start of the 2016 campaign. In any case, it's interesting... and all I can say is, watch this space (and that face).


I want you to take a gander at an excerpt from an msnbc article about the bomb blast in Norway:

Olaf Furniss, a freelance journalist in Oslo, told BBC News that people he had spoken to feared it was a terrorist attack.

The BBC reported residents as saying there was a smell of sulfur in the air and asked Furniss about this.

"I was in New York three weeks after 9/11, there was still a lingering smell [and] I would compare it to that, it's very similar to that," he replied.


Oh, but hold on there, pardner. Don't forget that what brought the twin towers down was two airplanes and their load of fuel, and stuff that was burnable in the buildings – and nothing more. How could you have smelled sulfur in the air of New York City if 9/11 had nothing to do with bombs, hmmm?

Wonder how many others smelled sulfur in the days and weeks following 9/11, and failed to report it. Or -- if they did report it, why wasn't it considered newsworthy?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Advantage: Evil

My impression of the current political scene is that... well, for one thing, it's – as one might expect – all about next year's election. Which is to say, there are no challenges or issues before Congress, or being dealt with by the administration, that are not already influenced, overshadowed, and – I'll say – corrupted by the prospect of the 2012 presidential election. One doesn't have to read far between the lines to realize that this is the only real issue at hand, no matter what the nominal issues are. Whether it's immigration, the economy, deficit spending, the national debt, health care, entitlements... you name it, the bottom line is the election, and it's a pity that everything has to be thoroughly contaminated in this way so far in advance of November 2012. But that's the way our system is set up – and always has been, in fact – but the effect is more aggravated than ever by the hyperactive media and the Internet. Suddenly everything has “implications” for who gets to be (or remain) president next – not principle, not sound judgment, just this single consideration of who gets to sit in that one chair in that one office for four years. And this in the face of the growing realization that the president has no real power... that he is, rather, only a figurehead, and a tool of even higher powers, and nothing more. And what's really pathetic is that he wields more power as a tool than Congress or the courts do whether they are tools or not.

So we have, in the White House, an empty suit simply going through the motions of leadership... and, of course, enjoying all the perks and privileges of a temporary king. Such is the sorry state of affairs things have become... and yet there are men, and women, by the score aspiring to this office. Are they stupid, na├»ve, delusional? Do they believe that sitting on that throne, even if it is made of papier-mache, is preferable to holding down an at least semi-respectable job? Apparently so... and it's this, as much as anything, that should serve to automatically disqualify anyone trying to become president. In other words, it is an office not worthy of a normal human being with even a modicum of principles. The American president in our time is nothing more than a glorified servant – not of the people, which would be appropriate, but of powers unelected and unseen – but very much felt by all, at every stratum of society. It is an office, in other words, designed for failure... designed to make its occupant a scapegoat for everything that could possibly go wrong in a four-year term (and much that could go wrong afterwards, as witness the continuing “blame Bush” industry – not that that's entirely inappropriate, mind). So we have a score of people out there who want nothing more than to occupy an office where they will be guaranteed – absolutely! -- humiliation, defeat, absurdity, and irrelevance. Can it possibly be that the title, and the thin veneer of prestige that goes with the office, are worth all that? Again I say, this is in itself evidence of unsuitability. Someone has said that anyone who wants to be president should not be – the implication being that the people who should be president wouldn't consider running under any circumstances... and I think that's pretty much on target. So whoever wins is, by definition, delusional to the extent that, in a lesser venue, would justify having them committed and either locked up or subjected to very intensive therapy... and kept a close eye on for the rest of their days.

And I don't claim that the system was designed this way. If anything, the flaw in the system is that it does nothing to prevent it. The Constitution, for all of its faults, does not, as far as I know, provide for the election of a king (or queen) every four years... nor does it give all the power inherent in that office, not to mention all of the assumed powers that have accumulated through the years, over to unseen forces that exist in an international shadow world. But to be fair, could the Founding Fathers have realistically contemplated such a possibility? Certainly there was a shadow world of sorts that was behind the Revolution... and there is a power behind every throne. But I submit that America's splendid isolation, which lasted for more than a century after the Constitution was written, combined with our (originally) agrarian, pioneer nature, combined with our phobia when it came to the evil ways of the Old World, kept the forces of darkness at bay, and moderated, at least for a time, our worst impulses. But we did have an Achilles heel from the beginning, and that was what has lately been called secular humanism – the notion that ideas, pure ideas, suffice to change human nature, and enable men of good will to create a paradise on earth. This noble but flawed premise served, increasingly over time, as the breeding ground for bad ideas as well as good... and a curious failure on the part of the citizenry to distinguish between the two.

For evidence of this, we need seek no further than the bruised and battered Constitution, and what has become of it after two-plus centuries of implications, interpretations, “penumbras”, and the like. We take great pride in having had no revolutions since that of 1776 – and yet we have had many. But they have all been what are called “revolutions within the form”, and these were made possible by the infinite flexibility – not of the Constitution, but of people's interpretation of it. As long as we can claim that whatever we do is consistent with that moldering document in the National Archives, we are on firm ground (or so we think), and our consciences are clear. Would that the rest of the world saw things our way! But they see through all the falsehoods, rationalizations, and outright scams... and so their respect for us, and our “system”, has dwindled almost to naught. Those who do arrive on our shores are no longer seeking “ideas”, or even freedom in the abstract, but only a way to escape their old life and a way to make money to send back to friends and relatives who have not yet escaped. So America has become a sort of cafeteria for the world, offering nutrition sufficient for survival, but not much else. Is it any wonder that so many of our new immigrants (legal and otherwise) are so unwilling to give up their old ways – traditions, customs, language, etc.? They see what has become of us, having done all of that (or having ancestors who did), and they want no part of it. The “deal” of old that was presented to the immigrants sailing into New York harbor was, you give up “A” and you get “B” in return... and most of them were only too glad to give up “A”, since they were convinced that was the source of all their woes. But over the years, second thoughts have crept in, and now people aren't so sure they want to give up “A” for the simple reason that there's not a whole lot left of “B”. Sure, they come here for jobs, or to get on the welfare rolls, or to get free education for their children... they come to escape the bullets, bombs, and swords (including ours!) that were aimed in their direction wherever they came from... but as far as embracing the founding principles and entering into the American experiment – well, how many of our “native” citizens are interested in any of that? Politicians mouth words about it all the time, but I don't think they believe any of it either – their behavior gives it away. So we have a nation led by hypocrites and overrun by people who just want to get to the ever-shrinking trough... and yet the ideas of old continue to circle around, like birds around the beacon on the Empire State Building, with no firm foundation and no rational basis. They are free floating, and have very little to do with the “ground truth”, which is that we are all floundering in a vast sea of politics and economics, and anyone talking in Utopian terms is deemed a fool (or should be).

So with all of that in mind, let us consider, for a moment, the dazzling array of aspirants to the presidency – by which I mean the Republicans, since no Democrat is showing any signs of wanting to challenge the Chicago Messiah. It's hard to even remember, or believe, that Obama had any opposition from other Democrats back in 2008, since all of their criticisms have gone conveniently down the memory hole. His main rival, namely Hillary Clinton, was granted the State Department as a consolation prize, and I have to admit that she has shown herself fit for that office, with its unplumbed depths of moral corruption. Certainly she has not allowed herself to be humiliated on a regular basis the way Joe Biden has... nor has she turned into the administration's court jester, like Eric Holder. No, to give credit where credit is due, I believe that she and the office she occupies were made for each other. Even her well-developed delusional system and acute class-warfare mentality serve her well in that capacity. And her visibility has, paradoxically perhaps, served to remove her unspeakable husband from the news almost entirely – a great blessing to be sure. And we all know that she has already focused, like a laser, on the election of 2016 – but hey, a lot can happen in five years, and we may yet be spared the privilege of having, as president, the American version of Elena Ceausescu.

So Obama will not be challenged from within his own party, because when you have campaigned, and won, on the platform of being The One Who Is To Come, not even the most foolish of your facilitators will turn against you in this time of need and great crisis. Obama is enjoying the untouchability that comes with being a president engaged in multiple wars, both of the conventional sort and of the social/economic sort – not unlike his predecessor FDR, who is still held on high as the very embodiment of Democratic/liberal ideals. And he has been a good student; he remains aloof nearly all the time... never shows more than slight irritation... keeps smiling... speaks with consummate confidence in all matters. The man who believes in himself even when nothing is going right can be only one of two things... or maybe three: A saint, a genius, or a madman. At least that is the almost-universal premise by which we operate. And since no one considers Obama a madman (except in the generic sense that applies to all presidents, as discussed above), then he must be either a saint or a genius – or both! If he is a saint, it's because he is in touch with a higher wisdom, compared to which all of our petty concerns about things like the economy are mere trivia – and yes, he does project that impression on a regular basis. And if a genius, it's because he is prepared to, at a moment's notice, call upon all the higher powers at his disposal to wipe the slate clean, and dab the tear from every eye. Can anyone deny that this is the image he is trying to project, and that his loyal followers fully subscribe to? He may not enjoy the blatant and overt personality cult of someone like Stalin, Hitler, Chairman Mao, or Kim Jong-Il, but it amounts to the same thing... and the American version ain't half bad, let's admit. FDR was worshiped in his time, and continues to be so – and every president since has, perhaps secretly, kept that vision close to his heart. “Maybe I can be another FDR! Maybe I can be installed in the pantheon of the greatest leaders of... well, of all time! Or at least of the century, or something.” Don't tell me this doesn't occur to them on a daily basis! After all, one of the minimum qualifications for any candidate for president is delusions of grandeur, right? With delusions of omniscience and of omnipotence a close second.

But this is no time to be prattling on about mental illness; I'd rather talk about the Republicans. (Well, OK, maybe it's the same thing... ) When we survey the vast field of contenders for the Republican nomination, we find a common theme, which is... um... well, actually there is no common theme. Well, there is one, and that's “ABO” -- Anyone But Obama. And this strategy does work, on occasion. Reagan won in 1980 based on an Anyone But Carter platform, although Reagan was, I believe, worthy in his own right. And how about Carter himself, who won on an Anyone But Nixon/Ford/the Republicans/Watergate platform? And unlike Reagan, he had nothing else to offer, as we found out to our dismay.

But! -- you'll say, if you're a member of the opposition – the Republicans do have a platform, which is “conservatism”, and “hate”, and “turning back the clock”, and so forth. Or, on the more optimistic side, aren't they all about “family values”, and a sound economy, and a “vigorous” foreign policy? Well... as much as I dislike shooting fish in a barrel, I have to reiterate that the Republicans represent none of these things; not really. They are certainly not about a sound economy, and I have yet to see them put their money where their mouths are when it comes to “family values”. And as to foreign policy – Obama's is indistinguishable from Bush's, so forget about that. And Republicans certainly don't have a monopoly on “hate”, whatever that is (all it really means is that your idea of social policy is different from mine). Republicans are not “conservative” in any meaningful sense of the word... and as far as “turning back the clock” is concerned, isn't wanting to put a new New Deal into place an example of turning back the clock? To take something we already know is guaranteed to fail, and put booster rockets on it, and place it back over the heads, and on the backs, of the citizenry? Might as well have a candidate for president of Russia who is a committed Bolshevik (there probably are some), or try and get the leaders of China to quit wearing power suits and go back to Mao jackets.

But don't just listen to me – listen to the Republican contenders themselves. Listen to their debates. They can't agree on anything (except “ABO”) -- not on priorities, not on how to handle any given issue or crisis, not on what they are supposed to represent to the American people... not, in other words, on anything impacting the American people directly. What they do seem to agree on is foreign policy, which, as I said, is no different with Obama than it was with Bush... so as far as the next election is concerned, foreign policy is basically off the table except for some trivial details that are hardly worth mentioning.

So the Republicans are in disarray, and they have ceased being the party of principle, assuming they ever were. And this is where the Democrats have a built-in advantage, because their platform and their programs constitute a more or less seamless garment. Say what you will, they're consistent, energetic, tough, ruthless, and determined. They lie, cheat, and steal – which is considered perfectly OK, since their goals are so noble and humanitarian. They all believe in big government, socialism, collectivism, and totalitarianism of some sort, and it all fits together beautifully. They have no problem with deficit spending, the national debt, “industrial policy”, socialized medicine, welfare, entitlements... the entire array of policies and programs that have served Europe so well, ahem, since World War II. And as to war, their position is plain – any war that a Democratic president is engaged in is a good war. By definition. And this set of positions is, compared to what the Republicans have, a monolith. It may be evil, wrong-headed, delusional, and guaranteed to fail – but the unity and consistency override all that, or at least seem to as far as the media and much of the public are concerned. And of course they do have the full support of the mainstream media, who take great delight in pointing out all the inconsistencies, fumblings, and false starts of the Republicans. And I won't even bother mentioning academia, where if you're not a card-carrying liberal, you're cast into the outer darkness where there is wailing, gnashing of teeth, and lack of tenure.

Someone once offered a thumbnail definition of the Republicans and he Democrats as “the stupid party and the evil party”. Well, at this point, the Republicans have caught up in the evil department – no small thanks to the triumvirate of Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld – but they're still, most of the time, stupid. Or if not totally stupid, at least not agile – not fast on their feet when it comes to dealing with the issues of our time, and particularly with the Democrats, and particularly with a Democratic president. And of course their biggest inconsistency is that they believe in, and want, both big war and small government – a wish that is delusional in the extreme. So whenever they are given the choice of reducing the size of government and ending the wars, they invariably decide to keep fighting the wars and leave the size of government as is – or make it bigger. But when the core component of your political belief system is itself a blatant contradiction, this is going to weaken you in all other areas – and it's this debilitating effect of their inconsistency that has the Republicans on the constant defensive.

And this is not to claim that the Democrats are invulnerable, at all times and in all places. After all, Reagan did manage to snatch the presidency from Carter's cold, dead hand... and Bush II was shoved out on stage by his handlers to satisfy people weary of the non-stop soap opera that was the Clinton administration. But in the long run, I claim that the Democrats have an advantage – not deserved, but frankly no less deserved than if the Republicans had it. To a people that still believes in ideas, no matter how dog-eared or shopworn, the liberal vision persists in emitting a dim light – the way the Sun must look when you live on Pluto. The Republicans, on the other hand, are full of indignation, but when you get down to cases you find that they're no better at supporting, and preserving, values that “regular, ordinary” Americans believe in than the Democrats are; they're just better at talking about them. And in most cases, they've even given up trying. So... keep this in mind as you watch the dreary “star search” over the next 15 months. The people who stand for something wrong have an advantage over those who, on occasion, seem to stand for something right, but can't assemble it into anything coherent or convincing. Add to this the perpetual crisis mode that we're in, and let's face it, the Democrats have no peer when it comes to handling crises – especially ones they had a hand in creating. It's not that they ever solve anything, but they have the propaganda part down pat – again just as FDR did. See, it's the faint, residual, occasional search for a principled basis for things that has turned into a weakness for the Republicans. They are politicians, but they don't believe in politics – not the way the Democrats do, for whom politics is the be-all and end-all of existence. The typical Republican would like nothing more than to serve his time in office, then retire to his country estate like Thomas Jefferson... whereas the Democrats, political junkies that they are, would prefer to live out their days on Capitol Hill. That's the difference, and that is the Democrats' – to borrow a term from C. S. Lewis – hideous strength.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Moratorium on Brains

The current kerfuffle between Congress and President Obama with regard to the budget, taxes, and the national debt is amazing not so much for what is happening – the usual posturing and bluffing – but for the fact that very few people see, or want to acknowledge, the total insanity of the situation. The full story of how, and why, our economy was brought to this sorry state has yet to be written – and I think it's at least partly because of the sheer enormity of the problem. But it's also because, beyond a certain point, people simply can't perceive things of this magnitude – they are not equipped to do so, and any feeble attempts invariably result in bafflement, if not despair. And yet this is not all that exceptional in our time; the most superficial perusal of current events reveals any number of equally insane things that, it would seem, add up to a “perfect storm” for our society... the economy... the American system. Consider, if you will, just a preliminary list of the most obvious bits of craziness which confront us on a daily basis:

o The economy in general, but in particular the national debt and deficit spending
o The endless and rapidly-multiplying wars we seem helpless to avoid starting or becoming embroiled in
o The “war on drugs”, with all of its colossal failures and terrible side effects
o The balance of trade, and the mass exodus of industries from our shores
o “Gay marriage”
o Abortion
o The outsized role that the mainstream media have acquired
o The ceaseless attacks by the media and the “entertainment” industry on the values held by average, normal people
o The marginalization of religion, and its virtual banishment from public life
o The perpetual “energy crisis”, and some of its delightful side effects – like nuclear waste, “fracking”, oil spills, etc.
o The death grip that Wall Street, the banks, and international finance have on our economy, and therefore on our life, and very existence, as a society
o Our grotesque subservience to Israel when it comes to foreign policy
o Environmental crises, man-made disasters, and the war of ideas regarding “global warming”
o Intractable racial tension and strife, and the terminal condition of our “inner cities”
o Paralysis and total lack of principles in our court system
o The cowardice of Congress whenever it is forced to confront the president on any issue, large or small
o The rule of the country by various rotating gangs, rather than by men of merit and virtue
o Parallel governments based in the “intelligence” services
o The many and varied tyrannies of “big agriculture”, “big pharma”, and the medical establishment
o Our continued reliance on the internal combustion engine, and the bankruptcy of the rail system
o (you can fill in your personal favorites here)

The point I'm trying to make is that these are not just minor irritations, or natural processes that are part of the evolution of society, or part of some sort of dialectic. They are, singly and in the aggregate, symptoms of collective insanity. Any one of these would have been, in an earlier time, ample justification for revolt and revolution... and yet all we see are feeble protests, if even that. Can it be that we are, as a people, so used to this level of madness that we fail to see it for what it is? And if so, is that not a reason to consider ourselves mad as well?

The situation is not unlike that in overwhelmingly large, totalitarian societies throughout history – and it seems to me that the sheer size of government causes a kind of alienation and numbness among the people. We wake up one day and find that we're helpless... and no one can figure out exactly why, or how it happened, or whose fault it is. All we know is that we are living in a bizarro world, where everything is upside-down and inside-out... and that collective madness and massive denial are the norm. And it is certainly not beyond the capacity or willingness of government to capitalize on this – to repeat the Big Lie and all of its component lies until we find ourselves cognitively and emotionally burned out. Dictators down throughout the ages have known that a big lie is much more effective than many little lies, because the big lie is beyond people's comprehension – it short-circuits the natural ability we all have (or should have) to discern right from wrong. It is, in other words, a metaphysical assault on our senses and on our thinking – and when combined with the perpetual State of Fear renders us confused and helpless. So we see all of the things listed above – and many more – on a daily basis, but we don't really SEE them. Understand? We become like people in shock from too much stress – paralyzed and, basically, blank and unthinking. Whatever inkling people might have that something is terribly wrong typically takes the form of pathetic and half-hearted protests, because we can't, or won't, wrap our brains around how bad the situation really is. So when we hear talk about a national debt in the trillions of dollars, and increasing every day, it's like trying to visualize a light year... or the number of atoms in the ocean. We didn't evolve with the ability to consider things of that sort, so they become abstractions – and this, also, is something the Regime takes advantage of to the fullest extent. The human tendency is to see that which is visible and right under our nose, and we can handle multiple problems up to a point, but beyond that point we turn into zombies.

I used to hear stories about primitive tribes whose counting system went as follows: “1-2-3-many”. That was it. Any more than 3 was “many”. This may have been apocryphal, or an exaggeration, but the principle is valid – and it's clear that as societies and governments become overwhelmingly large, more and more things will fall into the “many” category, and will therefore be beyond the ken of most people, who will gladly retreat to what they know – what they can see and touch, without the aid of statistics, charts, projections, and government pronouncements. So in this sense, “small” is not only beautiful, it's an absolute necessity if we are to live as human beings rather than as very small cogs in a very large machine. The forces of tyranny will always try to overwhelm us with numbers, and with crises, and with fear – these are their stock in trade.

So we look upon the insanity in all of its myriad facets, and rather than risk becoming insane ourselves, roll up in a ball (figuratively at least) and turn all the decision-making and power over to someone else – which is exactly what they want. And yet the magnitude of this offense against nature – against the human person – is itself rarely acknowledged. Is not the natural state of man to be able to return home when the day's work is done, and sit under one's own vine and fig tree? Is this not a worthy aspiration – something that man naturally evolved to do? And is it not also the basis for civilization, properly defined? But that is the one thing that is not allowed. No, we must be troubled all of our waking hours, and in our sleep as well, by fears, problems, and “issues” that we can do absolutely nothing about – nothing, that is, except to demand that government become ever bigger and more powerful so that it can “make it all go away”. But it will not go away, and government will certainly not make it go away because government is the source. So we take refuge in the crude and the carnal... in games and circuses... and become “cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs” while the people who are running the show sit back and relax, and enjoy the fruits of their labors.

I should mention that I took the title of this post from a chapter title in Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged". She was referring to something else, namely a boycott of a terminally corrupt and degenerate society by the producers -- the creative people. But I think it's appropriate here as well, especially as we seem to be living very much in a pre-"Atlas Shrugged" time in history.

The first and foremost insight that should be gained from all this is that there is a limit to the size of human organizations, human society, and government... and that we have exceeded those limits by many quanta at this point. “More” will not take care of the problem; only “less” will – but “more” is what those in charge want. (It would be good, for example, if people would become re-acquainted with the venerable Catholic social teachings of distributism and subsidiarity.) So the situation seems hopeless – except that we can at least cling, as an article of faith, to the notion that there are historical cycles, and that the biggest empires (including those of the mind) inevitably fall. It just takes time – more time than any one of us has. Are we seeing the beginning of the next great fall? Can it happen in our lifetimes? It's hard to say. Right now it seems like one of those fevers, that reaches a peak just before it breaks. Certainly this is the case when it comes to the national debt and deficit spending. We are running out of options, and even the great and powerful are being forced to dig deeper into their bag of tricks. And the Regime, of which I have had much to say, is, after all, made up of people, ultimately – not space aliens (not that I know, at least). Their sheer power serves to mask their failures... propaganda masks tyranny... “word smithing” and “spin” mask massive deceit. How long the charade can be maintained is anyone's guess. By any reasonable criteria, it has become an insane world... and our society seems to be at the heart of the insanity. How much is planned... how much is accidental... how much is based on the unwritten laws of history and of the evolution of human societies... these are all questions worth pondering. My counsel would be to simply remain awake and aware. And try to stay sane. Despair might make sense in the short term, or the medium term – but I say again, as an article of faith, that this too shall pass, as it must.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

They Had Liftoff

It seems that the American space program is ending with a whimper, not a bang – ironic considering how, um, incendiary their operations are. Of course, the program is not really ending, any more than any other government program ends – but it is being “redirected”, and the piece that really does seem to be in its final days is the space shuttle program. In fact, immediately after the final shuttle launch, space industry employees started receiving pink slips... which puts into my head visions of unemployment offices in Florida being flooded by guys with white shirts, skinny black ties, pocket protectors, and brush cuts.

Now, I have, on at least one other occasion, referred to the space program as “the world's biggest sandbox” -- which it demonstrably is, or was. Never before have so many paid so much to so few just so those few could pursue their space cadet-esque hobby. And its not even as if certain technological advances haven't spun off the program; they have – but at what price? Could the same technologies have been developed by private industry under market conditions? We'll never know. Is/was the space program just too big to expect any private enterprise, or even a large consortium of private enterprises, to undertake it? Well – that has always been the conventional wisdom, and yet it's funny how space travel has started to pique the interest of private firms, and even of private (if somewhat eccentric) individuals. But even then, one could argue that they are profiting from the technology developed with government funding, without which the technology would not exist and there would be no new-found advantages worthy of private investment.

But all of this may be beside the point, which is that, from a strictly libertarian point of view, the government has no business having a space program, or having any scientific or engineering programs at all, unless they relate directly to national defense. And in fact, the rationale for the space program at the beginning was precisely that – that it was an urgent matter of national defense, and did we really want the Russians setting up missile bases on the Moon, from which they could shoot at American baseball games and backyard barbecues at will? Whether our politicians really believed any of that is another question... and were they in fact repeating what the missile geeks told them? And if so, did the missile geeks really believe it? Again, we'll probably never know. But, as was the case with the interstate highway system, all one had to do was mention the word “defense” and the carte blanche was issued, with no limit on funds or time. So the guys who grew up reading about, and watching the exploits of, Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon now had their own luxuriously-appointed sandbox to play in – for decades! -- courtesy of the American taxpayer.

So, to back up a bit, all it took was Sputnik and the “space race” was on. The fact that no one ever defined precisely what the space race was a race to didn't matter. It was a race to space, that's all. And if you didn't like it, you could go live somewhere else. It was, in many ways, the most American of all adventures – and it didn't even have the usual irritating quality of requiring that we conquer other people or nations in the process. No, space was virgin territory... unsullied... pure... not unlike North America at the time of the early explorers. Except for the Indians, I guess, but they're getting rich off all those casinos now, so they've got no complaint.

But then a funny thing happened on the way to the stars. It turns out that Earth's gravity really is a big deal, and not something that pipe-puffing theorists can turn on and off at will (or politicians either -- and thank goodness for that!). It takes a lot of very serious energy to escape the bounds of Earth – which inevitably means a lot of money. There were more problems to be solved than anyone could have imagined, and the solutions often seemed more ridiculous than sublime. Instead of the sleek, needle-nosed spaceships of the old serials, we got the clunky-looking space shuttle. And instead of a shiny metal skin, it was covered in tiles like some sort of giant inside-out restroom. And yet, that turned out to be the best solution to the problem of re-entry – far from the movie visions of rockets gently easing themselves down onto landing platforms on a tail of fire. (I think we actually did something like that on the Moon, but the craft looked more like one of the critters in “Space Invaders” than something out of a sci-fi mag. And the Moon's force of gravity is but a fraction of ours.) (Which reminds me – could there be any more macho display than hitting a golf ball on the Moon? I guess they could have brought a deer along and shot it in front of a picturesque crater. Sheesh... )

And who knew that astronauts would wind up looking more like the Michelin man than like the space heroes of fiction with their skin-tight outfits? And hey – did any of those old space shows ever deal with the problems of garbage and “human waste”? Not that I'm aware. We all know that those fictitious characters had no bodily functions, right? I remember the first movie I ever saw where someone actually went to the bathroom; it was a shock! (I wonder if they really “went” or if they were just acting? Guess we'll never know... )

And how about "space junk"? Did anyone anticipate a time when there would be a ring of debris like some dump in Manila around the Earth?

Oh, and does anyone remember when we had to delay a launch because some woodpecker was pecking the insulation off one of our launch rockets? It was a protected species, as I recall...

Well, enough of that. It's easy to make fun – especially of the contrast between the armies of geeks manning mission control stations in Houston and the maniacs who were actually picked to go into space – you know, those guys with names like Buzz, Buck, Duke, Deke (real men all have one-syllable names, we know that)... oh, and then PC took over, and we had to have women in space... and blacks... and Orientals... and lesbian albino paraplegics. Oy... anything to keep the victim advocacy groups happy. But I mean, so what? If the whole thing was a game... a playground exercise... what did it matter who went along? The more the merrier. And the program even offered – albeit unplanned (I think) – opportunities to indulge in our favorite national pastime, namely the mourning of “national heroes” who die in the line of duty, or just happen to be in the wrong place at the very wrong time. Yes, it turned out that space travel – especially the getting up there and getting back part – is damned dangerous! Who knew? Again, we all had visions of Start Trek in our heads, with roomy staterooms where Kirk and the crew could sit back, relax, and pour a little bubbly at the end of a long day on the bridge. But the reality, let's say, slightly diverges from that image.

But I'm not so crabby as to deny the huge propaganda value of our having been the first (and last) to put a man on the Moon. Why, it actually balanced out the negative propaganda value of the war in Vietnam for a couple of weeks – quite an achievement, I must say. And it did give Americans something to rally around when everything else was going to hell -- in which case, why was the program so rudely slashed by Obama & Co.? Don't they appreciate the morale-boosting value of space exploration? Well, apparently they do – but not of anything so mundane and commonplace as the shuttle program has become. (Ever notice how almost everything we do up there is referred to as “maintenance”? How inspiring is that? Plus, what is it that's being maintained? Maintenance facilities, I guess.) No – now we're setting our sights on not just Mars, which was an idea that someone managed to put into George W. Bush's head, but – are you ready for this? -- landing on an asteroid. Yep, that's right, an asteroid – which one not specified, but the date has been penciled in: 2025. Yes, that's right, in only 14 years we might – if all goes well – have men on an asteroid. Um... hello? We might not have an _economy_ by then, to say nothing of being able to send people into space. We might not have a _country_ by then! And, BTW, where, pray tell, is the “defense” value in landing on an asteroid (or on Mars)? But oh, I forgot, that old defense argument went out the window with the end of the Cold War. Ever since, it's been more like the Mt. Everest argument -- “because it's there”.

Plus, check it out, “most Americans consider it 'essential' for the United States to remain a world leader in human spaceflight”. This is according to a recent national poll. But why is it “essential”? Apparently that question wasn't asked (and it's just as well, because few would have had a coherent answer). But at least it's a “good investment”, according to the same poll. But how is it a good investment? Again, not asked. And there is no shortage of retired astronauts willing to get up in front of Congress and the media and testify as to the absolute, indispensable, critical, not-to-be-denied value of the space program... and to wax highly indignant at any talk of cuts. Why, it's downright unpatriotic! (And that's the essense of so much special pleading, as we all know.) Well yes, if your entire career, and life, are defined by a single government program, you might have a tendency to support it for that reason alone. Who expects these guys to be objective? I sure don't.

But after all of this, I have to make a confession. I am one of the countless fans of the Hubble space telescope and of the fantastic pictures it's always relaying down to us Earthlings. Call me a hypocrite, go ahead. Yes, it has nothing to do with defense, but who can fail to be unmoved? Why, some of those pictures even have theological implications – an obvious fact which is always vigorously denied by the scientific establishment. And again, I suppose that the Hubble could have been designed, built, launched, and maintained by private industry – but would it? Given private industry's record when it comes to the aesthetically appealing regardless of the “bottom line”, I would say no. Again, we have this dilemma that the public will choose, and support, one sort of thing on the market level, based on supply and demand, but demand that government do other things that have no market significance, or even contradict it. Or, in the case of the Hubble, they can't demand things that they can't even imagine – but once something is in place, they have no problem demanding that it stay there. (See what happens when government subsidizes professional sports teams and facilities, for example, like in Pittsburgh. It's not even a one-time investment, but continues to drain public funds in perpetuity.)

But aside from the Hubble... well, I have to admit, I've never been fond of all the testosterone-laden astronaut iconography -- “The Right Stuff” and all that. But I guess this is the sort of thing every civilization needs – from the seafarers of ancient times through the Marco Polo types of the Middle Ages and the ocean-crossing explorers, up to our time. We need rough, buff, loud-talking, deeply-tanned guys to go “to infinity and beyond”, and to bring back tales to tell around the primitive fireside, with an ox haunch roasting on a spit. It speaks to the caveman in us – the people who held the one in awe who separated himself from their number and actually ventured over the hill to see what was in the next valley... and lived to tell about it. And who among the select few who have been to the Moon has not come back pronouncing himself as “changed”? Well, yes... but changed into what? Maybe just a lunatic.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

We're All in Their Debt

Isn't it fun living in a State of Fear? Every day some new bogeyman comes lurching down the street and starts banging on our windows – and they are all in the employ of the government, which has decided that a terrified populace is a compliant populace... one that will put up with any type or degree of erosion of basic rights, as long as they are assured of “protection” from all the scary, bump-in-the-night things that the world contains. And the question occurs to one, were our ancestors – those hardy pioneers – plagued with terrors about just about everything? If they had been, they would never have traveled more than 5 miles from the East Coast. The “Wild West” would have been East Orange, New Jersey (I have Bob Dylan to thank for that reference).

The latest in the endless string of fearsome things is, of course, the “debt ceiling” -- and how come this has never been an issue before? How did it get raised so high without anyone knowing? I suppose it's because, up to now, every Congress, of either party, has been complicit with every president, of either party, in committing future generations to crushing debt. But in fact, the current crop of cowards, wimps, and pushovers in Congress is no less willing to lay a curse on Americans for generations to come; they have just decided that some token protest is good politics. Up until recently, in fact, Americans in general have been strikingly unconcerned about the national debt – because, they all believe, “we owe it to ourselves” -- kind of like taking money out of the cookie jar on the kitchen counter and leaving an I.O.U. If it's never paid back, who's to know? But more recently, it has come to some people's attention that we do not, in fact, “owe it to ourselves”, but to places like China. Then it becomes an issue. Then this endless borrowing suddenly looks like a bad idea – as if your ne'er-do-well brother-in-law stopped borrowing money from you and started borrowing it from his bookie. Bad idea, right? How many of us remember when China was such a horrible place – such an implacable enemy – that we didn't even have diplomatic relations with them? (And this was, I might add, despite the fact of our having handed China over to Mao on a silver platter – but that's another story.) But then came “ping-pong diplomacy”, Nixon in China, and the rest is history... or current events, actually. So... you borrow money from a former enemy, and not even an enemy that has undergone “regime change”. No, the beaming face of Chairman Mao still looks out on Tiananmen Square.

It's hard to decide whether we're talking about evil intent here, or plain incompetence and stupidity – although, all things considered, evil intent usually gets my vote. If, as I have argued, our economy is in the hands of Europeans, and our debt is in the hands of China, and the two are regularly getting together to decide their next move against the United States... well, it certainly isn't “evil” for them, it's just good business. But what of our own leaders and politicians, who have encouraged, facilitated, collaborated in, and profited by the situation? Shouldn't they be staring at the shadow of a noose atop a gallows? Well, no – as long as “the people” tacitly approve, they can do anything they please.

So with that as background, let's take a look at this “debt crisis”. The fact is, it's not a crisis at all. Number one, Obama can raise the national debt whether Congress “approves” or not. I mean, hey, he does all kinds of other things without Congressional approval, why not this? What is it, for example, compared to starting wars that kill thousands of people and cost a trillion dollars?

Number two, it's not as if, on that fateful day (Aug. 2, according to the current trope) the U.S. suddenly becomes insolvent. We can refinance, roll over, put off, and delay as we please – or in the very worst case pay a fraction and write I.O.U.'s for the rest. Hey, it's been done countless times throughout history, and what makes us think we're so squeaky clean that we can't, or shouldn't, do the same?

Number three, what is it that the powers that be are trying to protect? Their own assets, of course, not ours. It's all about our ability to borrow even more (certainly not in the interests of the American citizen), our "credit rating" (and frankly, the worse that gets, the better off the average citizen becomes), and "international financial markets" (which they own). I actually suspect that if the United States did "default" on its "obligations" (which is not going to happen) it would be the best thing that could possibly happen to the average citizen. Who knows, it might be a real opportunity for a fresh start -- unlike this game that's being played right now in Washington, which will amount to more of the same, no matter who "wins".

But actually, it's not going to come to this, for the simple reason that someone's going to blink in this great game of chicken. Someone's going to crank the “suicide knob” and avoid annihilation... and I think I know who. Yep, the good ol' Republicans, who are no more the “party of principle” than the Democrats are – less, actually, since the Democrats are at least still devoted to socialism and collectivism, whereas it's hard to discern what the Republicans are devoted to, if anything. Heck, they don't even enjoy the support of big business any longer – those guys have shifted their resources to the Democrats, because the Democrats are much better at the “state socialism” business, from which big business these days derives most of its power and profit. No, the Republicans are, more than ever, the party of the folks who still watch Lawrence Welk re-runs, wax nostalgic about Guy Lombardo on New Year's Eve, and actually buy stuff in the Cracker Barrel gift shop. It's the party of – as I've said before – people who long for an America that no longer exists, and in fact never did... the Norman Rockwell America, with an upper class firmly in control, the middle class on thin ice (not that they knew it), and the lower classes those people we simply don't talk about in polite society... or invite to our backyard barbecues and pool parties.

So the Republicans are going to blink, inevitably – and the reason, as always, is that it would be “political suicide” to do otherwise, which amounts to saying that near-term gains, which are always of paramount importance to politicians (as well as most other people) are vastly preferable to long-term sanity. They will sacrifice anything in the long run in order to avoid rocking the boat in the near term. And as to the issues – well, there are three, basically – the debt, taxes, and the budget, AKA “entitlements” and the military. And here's what I like – Obama keeps challenging the Republicans to step up to the plate and play ball when it comes to the debt ceiling and the budget. If I were a Republican Congressman, I'd accept his challenge, and tell him this: “Mr. President, I fully agree that the debt ceiling needs to be raised and that certain tax breaks need to be eliminated. And I will vote for those measures, provided you, in the next 24 hours, sign an order to bring all U.S. military personnel and military contractors, except for those on embassy duty, back to the United States. In other words, pull all U.S. military personnel out of Iraq and Afghanistan; cease military operations in Libya and Yemen; close all of our bases in Germany, Japan, Korea, and elsewhere, and bring them all home. Then you'll have my vote.”

Wouldn't that be beautiful? But of course it will never happen, because even the Congressman's constituents would be against it. We have become so used to war as a way of life that we cannot conceive of ourselves, and our country, without it. To go on living without having any wars to fight would be wrong, somehow... unmanly... un-American... something shameful. Certainly nothing to be tolerated! So a position like this would really be political suicide – and that's why no one will take it.

So how is it going to break down, between now and that fateful day? Most likely – the Republicans will blink on the debt ceiling and tax breaks, and the Democrats will blink on entitlements – but not much. But no one will dare touch the real “third rail” of American politics, which is not Social Security but the military... because the military is all about America's self-image, of which all Americans fancy they have a part, and a vital interest. To be humiliated by a bunch of Afghan goatherds! Why, that is simply intolerable! And we will hold to that position no matter how much we get into debt or how much we suffer economically or freedom-wise on the domestic front. And this, in turn, is a testimony to the skill and persistence of the government's propaganda apparatus, sometimes referred to as “the mainstream media”. They have people convinced that what happens halfway around the world is more important than what happens down the street, or in their own household... and this, in turn, is a sign of just how far the deracination and demoralization of Americans has progressed. We are no longer capable of defending anything that is truly ours – anything of value. Instead, we defend vaporous “ideas” that serve no other function than to maintain an elite group in power... an elite that cares absolutely nothing about the hopes, dreams, and priorities of normal people. In fact, so far is this elite above the common man that they care nothing about... well, let's make up a list of things they care nothing about. It would have to include at least the following:

1.Who's president, as long as it's one of their hand-picked candidates (which it always is)
2.Which political party is “in power”, since, in fact, neither party is ever really in power
3.The fact that we're engaged in a war or multiple wars
4.Who wins (or whether anyone wins) any war that we're engaged in
5.What happens to the American economy (since they will reap profits no matter what)
6.What happens to American industry (for the same reason)
7.What happens to the U.S. dollar (for the same reason)
8.How we're viewed on the “international stage” (because they have no sense of loyalty to this country)
9.How the illegal immigration issue is settled or not settled
10.How the “balance of trade” issue is settled or not settled

And so on. But there are things they are interested in, and those pretty much add up to power and money. (I would add “sex”, but when you have enough power and money, the sex issue pretty much takes care of itself.) So, for instance, they are interested in our national debt – mainly that it grows, and becomes more intractable, which means that they are interested in our continuing to engage in deficit spending. And why is this? It's because they are the ones who hold much of our debt -- and they can at least continue to collect interest on it, and use it as a lever with which to achieve other goals.

They are interested in our military commitments and multiple wars, because those are a source of immense profit. They enjoy aiding and abetting a false sense of patriotism (the kind that gets us into shitholes like Afghanistan) but not a true sense (the kind that would get us out). They are all in favor of deracination and other forms of demoralization, because those render people weak, depressed, and less resistant to tyranny, more compliant, and more despairing when it comes to anything ever changing. And they are all in favor of anything that erodes moral fiber, which explains the “media”, “the arts”, and "entertainment". And, just as a side line, they appreciate the psychological, sociological, and political value of maintaining a permanent, violent, drug-addicted underclass.

So when it comes to things like The Great Debt Limit Scare, all I can say is “relax”! Things are completely and totally under control. Congress will come up with something, Obama will be pleased, and life will go on... and our march toward slavery will proceed without the slightest bump in the road. Because despite all the claims to the contrary, all of these people are working for the same boss, or bosses... they are all fatally compromised, and have been ever since they got into politics... so what's going to change anything at this point? A few of them may talk themselves into thinking that they are still free agents, and still serving the interests of their constituents – but this is nothing more than a sad delusion. The fact is, they are tools – and the main difference among them is that some of them realize this, and some don't. Your guess is as good as mine as to which group is better off.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Why People (Don't) Like Democracy

Another topic that bears re-consideration this time of year is democracy – not so much whether it is a valid concept, about which there is a great amount of historical and ongoing debate, but about – whether valid or not – it can be described as a universal, yearning desire of all peoples. This notion – that democracy is what everyone really wants – is, of course, one of the pillars of our foreign policy, and therefore of our military strategy, and therefore of our “defense” budget, and so on... the notion being that the more like us the rest of the world becomes, the safer we will be... which is an amusing concept considering that our defense budget is equal to those of all other countries combined. If everyone else spent as much on defense as we do, the vast bulk of the world's populace would have to relocate to another planet, because Earth would be entirely covered with military bases.

In any case, because it constitutes such a vested interest, the question of the universal applicability of democracy is unlikely to ever come up in any discussions among those in charge. Of _course_ everyone wants democracy, and of _course_ we have to give it to them, by hook or crook, because if we don't, who will? That is the premise, and a driving force in our foreign policy, and the primary raison d'etre of the State Department. Without it, we might have to withdraw to within our own borders, and start minding our own business instead of everyone else's – and surely we can't have that! So you will never hear a sound argument in a public forum – like Congress, for example – regarding the question of the universal applicability of democracy; it's simply accepted as a fact, and as an article of (secular) faith.

But our zeal for spreading democracy does not depend only on it as a free-standing idea, that has somehow won the war of ideas and been declared the victor. It is also tied to the whole notion of American exceptionalism – a complex of ideas, memes, and historical facts and interpretations that add up to the notion that we are not just another place on the map, or another place with a flag. And there is a grain of validity to the notion, as I've discussed previously, that one's homeland ought to be – and, in most cases, is – considered to be exceptional, special, and unique in some way. It's true that everybody's homeland is exceptional, special, and unique – for them, at least. There is nothing wrong with this idea as long as we understand it in the anthropological sense, and it's ironic that one of the most avid “patriot” contingents in this country, namely the neoconservatives, shows little interest in, or respect for, local and regional loyalties. For what is loyalty to a nation, after all, than an extension – conceptual and emotional – of loyalty to “place” -- to one house, one farmstead, one village... but also to one race, one religion, one ethnic group? Ah, but there's the rub – Americans are expected to be loyal to ideas, and to ideas alone – not to anything tangible, not to anything that might tie us down and dampen our willingness to make sacrifices. So “democracy” is expected to trump all other considerations – the problem being that there are as many definitions of “democracy” as there are textbook writers, college professors, and politicians. Does “democracy”, for example, necessarily include affirmative action – an abomination that is still very much with us? Does it require any question of importance to be submitted to the direct vote of the populace? Or does it allow for a many-layered and highly-corruptible representational system? And what of minority rights? We tend to forget that the downside of democracy in the strict sense is that, in theory, the majority can do anything it pleases. And this, as much as anything, is democracy's fatal flaw – often overlooked in, again, the zeal for founding society on ideas alone rather than tempering them with what we know (or should, if “common sense” were more common) about human nature.

So the question becomes -- can, and should, one judge the validity of a person's dedication to “democracy” based on his equal regard for minority rights? Does one necessarily imply the other? I think one would have to look back at the ancient origins of the concept of democracy in order to come up with an answer. What I suspect is that, in most cases historically, the question of minority rights seldom came up because, within a political unit that might have entertained democratic notions, the culture was fairly uniform. In other words, if everyone is the same race, religion, ethnic group... add sexual tendency if you like... there is no “minority rights” problem because there are no minorities. On the other hand, even in a monarchy like pre-revolutionary Russia, there were energetic controversies having to do with minority issues – as there are today in China, for instance. (But it can also be argued that most of those problems can be traced to the unnaturally large size of those countries.) Our own attitudes toward minorities have evolved from minimal tolerance through acceptance to affirmative action and “celebrating diversity”. American intolerance these days is not directed at racial, religious, or ethnic groups so much as political minorities, first and foremost being paleoconservatives and libertarians... although it must be said that the mainstream media have an animus toward the Catholic Church that recalls the Know Nothings of old, and people have developed a new-found suspicion of Moslems in the wake of 9/11.

Aside from definitional problems, we ought to explore the motivational issue – why do people desire, or prefer, democracy (of whatever variety) over the alternatives? It is a matter of principle? Our leadership, in their endless bloviations and propaganda wars, like to pretend that it is – yesterday, today, tomorrow, and always. But pardon me if I adopt an attitude of skepticism. All one has to do is see what happens in other parts of the world as the result of “free elections” -- even ones given the Jimmy Carter Seal of Approval. Too often, the long knives come out, and the former ruling group, now in the minority, is dealt a bit of due diligence. Or, a minority that was powerless before, and is still powerless, suddenly winds up in the crosshairs since they are no longer under the protection of an autocrat. So “democracy” is more likely to be seen as an opportunity for vengeance, payback, and settling scores than for erecting a principled foundation. What difference is there, in principle, between a ruling elite that can do anything it wants and a ruling majority that can do the same – and probably will?

All I'm saying is that if you take all the “fans” of democracy – world-wide – and put them to the test, you will find that in most cases it has nothing to do with principle, but with either personal gain or the perceived good of one's own racial/ethnic/religious/tribal group. In other words, it reverts to the much older, more organic, more “natural” array of motivations that determine the behavior of people in groups – and more valid ones, I might add... ones more suited to the way people are really made up, psychologically and perceptually. There are very few people in the world who can follow an idea, or abstraction, for long. They will follow it – or pretend to – as long as it's in their interests, but after an initial shakedown period there will be a reversion to the old values. I suppose in a sense that the U.S. probably holds the world's record for clinging to the same (secular political) idea for the longest time – longer than communism, fascism, or Nazism... and certainly longer than the French clung to “liberte, egalite, fraternite”.

Religious ideas – articles of faith – are another story, obviously. They may seem abstract and other-worldly at times, but they are actually more rooted in the realities of everyday life than political ideas are – add to which, they appeal to the human consciousness on many more levels. University eggheads, philosophers, and the rare politician can cling to a pure, unsullied idea for a long time – a lifetime, even. (They share this trait with those who are certified as insane; just thought I'd toss that in for what it's worth.) But the man on the street doth not live by ideas alone... and in fact, most doth not live by ideas at all, only by needs, desires, and impulses for which the ideas are a convenient excuse and an acceptable cover. You will find the biggest blockheads mouthing words like “defending our freedoms” and “spreading democracy” on a regular basis – but five minutes of questioning will reveal that the person has only the vaguest idea of what those terms imply, and an even vaguer idea of how his actions, or the actions he favors, support them. I mean, if the president of the U.S. can't explain it to anyone's satisfaction, how can an ordinary citizen? And yet we spend our resources, and give up our lives, in pursuit of what amounts to a will-o-the-wisp. And not even on our own behalf, for which there might be some excuse – but on behalf of others, who couldn't care less, and who are, more often than not, hostile to the whole idea.

You see, the idea that eludes people who grow up in a ideational culture, where it's best not to be too openly religious, or to show ethnic pride, or to show racial pride (unless you're in a certified victim group), or to show gender pride (ditto), is that, for most people on the globe, these are not only still important factors in their self-awareness and important drivers of behavior... they are, in many cases, the only significant factors. Try separating an Afghan from the “tribal areas” from his religion, race, ethnic group, tribe, village, family – impossible! Yet Americans put up with the same treatment all the time – from the government and the media. In fact, most Americans don't know what it's like growing up in a unified, organic culture – they have been “diversified” out of existence, partly simply because of where they were born and grew up, but partly because deracination has been official government policy since the beginning – with the public schools being on the cutting edge. Immigrate to the U.S. and you agree to cooperate in your own cultural genocide; that's the price one pays for being allowed to step upon these shores. And as I've pointed out, even the racial and cultural manifestations that are tolerated under the umbrella of “diversity” are sanitized for public consumption... rendered sterile, artificial, and an obvious put-on. (Can you say, or spell, “Kwanzaa”, class?) The point is that – human psychology being what it is, for good or ill – identification with one's race tends to make one prejudiced against other races, AKA “racism”. Identification with one's ethnic group tends to make one skeptical as to the value and validity of other ethnic groups. And so on. (And let's not even get into self-identification when it comes to sexual preference!) These are all perfectly understandable things, but the deracination process, AKA democracy run amok, sets as its primary goal their eradication. We have, in this country, the equivalent of the “New Soviet Man”, and that is the person with no racial, ethnic, or gender consciousness (unless certified as OK by the government) – which means no pride... which means nothing to stand in the way of him becoming a blank slate – a mindless, compliant citizen of the Servile State. And what is this, after all, but the prime goal of any government program that has to do with social policy? What is it, for that matter, but the prime goal of the public education system? You think their Job One is education? Well, it is in a way, but it's not what most people think of as education; it's more like brainwashing, and neutralization of any atavistic, troublesome tendencies... especially ones children might have picked up from their parents. The ideal is to have a nation of compliant slaves, marching blank-faced in a long, gray line like in “Metropolis” -- good workers, good citizens, good cannon fodder... and good voters! Because voting will still be alive and well as a ritual, and “democracy” still alive and well as an idea, long after the noble impulses from which it grew – flawed as they may have been – are long extinct.

And there is another psychological factor that mitigates against the notion of democracy, aside from the obvious stumbling blocks of race, ethnicity, religion, and gender – and that is that, at heart, people rarely yearn for complete freedom. Yes, they might want freedom, or at least options, within a certain limited scope, but complete liberty frightens them to death – as witness the reactions to libertarian arguments in our country. (The only thing more scary is the idea of letting other people be not like us.) There is a broad spectrum of response to this dilemma, which also correlates with political persuasion, as one might expect. People who want to be their own boss, and who want to let other people be their own boss – an important caveat! -- tend to be libertarian. People who want to be their own boss while sharply defining the restrictions placed on the behavior (if not the thinking) of others tend to be mainstream conservatives. And people who want to be their own boss, and boss everyone else as well, tend to be liberals. But the problem is that both conservatives and liberals suffer from a lack of self-confidence – liberals in particular. They aren't sure they're strong enough, or smart enough, to create their ideal world on their own, so they crave a Strong Man – someone much stronger and smarter than they – to do it for them. In the conservative mind, this strong man would be a benign, laissez-faire ruler on the domestic front when it comes to economics... a stern parent when it comes to social and moral issues... and something like Genghis Khan when it comes to foreign policy. In the liberal mind, this strong man would be a collectivist dictator when it comes to economics... a whorehouse madam when it comes to social and moral issues... and something like Jimmy Carter when it comes to foreign policy – unless we're talking about a Democratic “war president”, of course, in which case anything goes.

So with this in mind, let's think about what happens even when a country is founded as a democracy by people who are principled and sincere. Before long, abuses will creep in – the tyranny of the majority, wheeling and dealing, corruption, an ever-growing non-elected sector of government... and the people's thinking will degenerate to the point where they are pursuing the same old self-centered goals, and only mouthing words when it comes to principles. This is where we are today, and the situation is aggravated by the deracination process I described above. For this process has been, by and large, successful – so we have, basically, a nation of lost sheep, and the only person they are capable of seeing as the shepherd is the president, who tends to be himself deracinated, not to mention opportunistic, venal, and amoral. In other words, we have nothing to fall back on as a people. We have traded our birthright as members of the human race for a mess of “democratic” pottage – and discovered that it provides nourishment to neither mind nor spirit. And what's even more interesting is that people who still "cling" to notions like race, ethnicity, religion, and clearly-defined gender roles turn out to have a sort of strength that we no longer have -- a "home field advantage" because they are, in many ways, more "natural" people than we have become. And I number among these those people we refer to as "terrorists".

When a small and traditionally-minded group can fight a deracinated (and therefore demoralized) people with overwhelming firepower to a draw, it makes one seriously think about the long-term survival value of ideas... including that of "democracy".

Friday, July 8, 2011

No-Case Casey

I normally try to avoid paddling about in the fetid pool that is American “justice” -- having eschewed, for instance, piling on when it comes to “O.J.”, JonBenet, and other cases whose sheer squalor would make Jerry Springer blush with shame. But I have to say, in the case of Casey Anthony, that – contrary to conventional wisdom, AKA “mob psychology” -- the prosecution simply failed to make its case. And this is just based on the most superficial reading of the non-stop bulletins that have been gushing forth for... weeks? Months? Years? Who can keep track?

Now, it is obvious that something went very wrong – a major “parenting fail” -- when it comes to Anthony and her daughter. Somewhere out there is a case of gross neglect, if nothing else. But hey, that is not as yet a capital crime – although the social work establishment would make it so. And when it comes to the defense's swimming pool argument, well fine – but why were neither of Anthony's parents called upon to testify regarding this theory? Nowhere in the news reports is there any evidence of either grandparent saying “yea” or “nay” to the swimming pool theory. And why is this? Were they not even called on to testify, and if so why? No, there are more holes in the defense than in a hunk of mouse-ravaged Swiss cheese. But guess what – unlike the situation in France, and in many other equally sorry places, the burden of proof is not on the defense! And I imagine that this, more than any other single thing, is the one remaining saving grace of the American justice system. The prosecution can gin up as many “statements” as it likes, and drive the media into a state of hysteria... but in the end, the burden of proof is theirs and no one else's. And we tend to underestimate the extent to which hysteria and mob psychology are, in fact, the main features of the justice system of most other countries – the ones that even have a functioning justice system, that is, which means a small minority of the total. In most cases, it's the mob out on the street – the potential lynch mob – that has the final say. Or, the judges are totally corrupt and under the thumb of politicians.

And this is not to say that there is nothing wrong with our system of “trial by jury”. Clearly, juries are composed of all-too-human individuals, plagued with the same flaws and foibles as the rest of us... except perhaps more so, because they don't have a good excuse for avoiding jury duty! Sometimes it seems that American juries are composed of the same people one sees wandering the streets during the day on weekdays; they have nothing better to do. But once in a while, even from that unpromising baseline, a jury comes up with the right decision, as in this case. They discerned – by whatever means – that despite all the bluster on the part of the prosecution, and all the claims based on circumstantial evidence, and very thin evidence at that – that there was insufficient evidence to convict Anthony “beyond the shadow of a doubt” -- which is the gold standard in American justice, and – as I said – a rare one at that. Most other countries rely on pure feelings and emotion, not to mention politics, in order to get “justice” done – the result of which is they have no claim to justice at all.

And then there is the question of which is worse – setting a guilty person free, or incarcerating, or even executing, an innocent. Again, our system leans toward the defendant in most cases... and yes, the result is that, on occasion, an extremely guilty person will go free. But the saving grace is the minimization, if not total elimination, of punishment of the innocent. Frankly, I would prefer the system as it stands, rather than one based on rumor, fear, and hysteria. If, for example, Anthony really is guilty – well, what then? Is she likely to “re-offend”? I mean... is any guy in his right mind going to take up with a woman accused of murdering her own child? And even if he does, is he going to take any chances on making her pregnant? The alternative is to keep her in jail for life, at an extravagant cost to the taxpayers. All I'm trying to say here is that the prospect of setting her free, even if she did the terrible deed, is not an unmitigated negativity. She will, in fact, suffer – rightly or wrongly – for a very long time. People will be keeping an eye on her. And if she should, in fact, ever bear another child, you can bet that an army of social workers will be assigned to do nothing but keep an eye on her, 24-7-365. That's the American way.

So... to sum up, for the benefit of the court... if the prosecution had had a case, they would have made it. Right? Unless they're a bunch of total incompetents. But their case had gaps, and holes, and unanswered questions... as did the defense. But again, a mediocre defense does not constitute an argument for conviction. The fact that the defense won with such a mediocre set of arguments shows us just how weak the prosecution's arguments were. And the day is long past when simple character assassination – even if justified – is enough to sway a jury. I honestly think that American juries are better than they used to be, and this is an example. Long-gone is the day when someone could be put away just because they were black, or gay – in other words, because they were the wrong kind of people. Now, we still have a huge way to go, and I'm thinking mainly of the spectacularly-failed “war on drugs”. Never has the “return on investment” of a government program been so non-existent as in this case. In fact, the ROI of the “war on drugs” has been negative – and resoundingly so. But then, one suspects that it was never really intended to succeed – rather that it was intended, like the wars we are currently engaged in, to go on forever, in which case “mission accomplished!”

But what about those vehemently protesting the verdict in the Anthony case? Obviously, their feeling is that there's something wrong with a system of “justice” that lets someone go who “obviously” did what they're accused of having done. But how did that idea get into their heads? Via the media, of course – and the media are out to make money. This fact alone should form the basis for serious skepticism... but people, perverse as they are, prefer to assume the worst. In fact, what they prefer is to assume that other people are worse off than they are, which makes them feel better. Of all the human traits, this has been among the most consistent down through the ages. And it's not even the relatively humble “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” No, these days it's more like “I'm sure glad I'm not that poor chump.” No principles... no morals... just a raw, crude, primitive model of the world by which I cannot rise unless someone else falls. But even so, this attitude has a hard time penetrating the walls of courtrooms across the land. Vengeance... the lynch mob... and all those old-time urges that made America's frontier great... these are diminishing in power. Not extinct, by any means, but not at the top of the list of motives... at least not in well-run courts.

Regrets? We should have a few. Whatever happened to Caylee should simply not happen – to anyone. As to the “why” and the “how” -- clearly these are symptoms of, at the very least, gross neglect and/or family dysfunction. Casey Anthony may, in fact, be a psychopath -- but again, that is not, per se, a capital offense. The approved solution is, of course, to put a social worker in every home – but as with evil in general, if we do not allow free will to operate, then we are not a free people. Free will means that, almost inevitably, some will choose evil, or at the very least “less than good”. And society will have to gaze upon, and grudgingly accept, the consequences. Otherwise, we have a situation “that makes martial law look like anarchy” -- to quote a memorable line from “The Manchurian Candidate”. If God chooses to create creatures with free will – i.e. us – and then chooses to allow them to exercise it, then who are we to cavil, and pass laws designed to thwart His plan? This is what it boils down to, ultimately – what it is that free will implies, and what that, in turn, demands of the rest of us. Because free will, once created, cannot be blotted out – and any attempt is bound to end in frustration (on the part of rulers) and oppression (on the part of their subjects). It really constitutes a test of tolerance and strength of character – the realization that everything cannot ever be totally controlled, and that perfect justice is an impossible goal. The totalitarian mindset rebels against this, and claims that “if only” we had more laws, and regulations, and controls... and had more citizens paid to spy on other citizens... that we would eventually have a perfect world. This is the triumph of “theory”, and theoreticians, over human nature – but this triumph can only last so long, as witness the Soviet Union, for example. And yet, even in the face of an example of that magnitude, hope springs eternal in the totalitarian heart -- “if we can just...”, etc. And it's that type of “thinker”, and theorist, and politician, that we need to get rid of – to expel them from our midst. And yet it's that type that seems to be gaining ground with each passing day, using every available crisis as a rationale – and receiving, in return, the (at least tacit) consent of the “governed”. The citizenry needs to rise up as one man and say, to hell with your “crises”! They are offenses against normalcy, and nought but an excuse for even more stringent controls and tyranny. But how many of the citizenry are willing or able to see through the scam? Precious few, I would say. And then when they turn around and realize that all their rights, their prosperity, and their future are up in smoke – what then? Well, the Regime will conveniently provide them with someone, or something, to blame it on, and the con game will continue unabated.