Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Lesser of Two Weevils

To give credit where credit is due, Mitt Romney's selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate is the best choice he could have made out of the field of eligibles. Ryan has proposed the least insane budget to come down the pike in many a decade... this, assuming that Job One for America is still empire-building, which it should not be, because empire-building, besides being unconstitutional, immoral, and unjust, also eats into the body politic and into our wealth and well-being more than any New Deal or Great Society program ever could. And, as has already been pointed out, Ryan is by no means a “budget conservative” -- he is, in fact, a hard-core neocon, as is Romney. But at least Romney had the sense not to choose a fanatic or a nut case, so I guess back-handed compliments are in order. What we have now is twin Mr. Cleans – both whiter than white. So yes, it's a choice, all right – but mostly an illusory one.

Even Pat Buchanan admits (in Wednesday's column) that the choice of Ryan is “gutsy” -- a way to “convert this dismal campaign into a stark choice of philosophies and policies”. Well... I don't know how “stark” the choice is, because, as I've pointed out before, when it comes down to actual cases a Romney/Ryan foreign policy would be identical to Obama's, and domestically it would amount to no more than tweaking at the margins. The problem is that nearly everything in the budget has become “non-discretionary”, which means that even the president can do little to stop, or even mildly divert, the juggernaut that is the national drive toward economic catastrophe. The Ryan budget, if ever enacted, would be akin to, as the expression goes, rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Again, I say that every time someone comes along promising to “throw the rascals out”, all we wind up with is a new set of rascals. I'm not going to go so far as to say this was inevitable all along – i.e. from the very beginning – but, given the structure of our government, it was the most likely result of 200+ years of gradual erosion.

A related issue, which we have already seen discussed at length, is the preservation of “capitalism”. Obama, the Democrats, and liberals in general have been trying to do away with this dreaded monstrosity for generations now, and Republicans and conservatives have been holding the line, or so they contend, or believe. My point has always been that capitalism – the pure form, or as pure as it gets – is alive, if not well, in the small business sector (i.e., what the middle class does), whereas what big business (the ruling elite) does is more like corporate socialism, AKA fascism. So Obama and crew are at least half right on that count – although it does appear that Romney has been less guilty of this offense than most. It remains the case, however, that small business and the middle class are, and have been, punished for the sins of big business and the ruling elite; and this has been true for, again, many generations. (This is even true within the halls of government, by the way. Small and “innocent” agencies are regularly punished for the sins and offenses of large, powerful, and guilty agencies, which get off scot-free. It's good to be king, in other words – as long as there are plenty of scapegoats to go around.)

And this is not to say that capitalism, and capitalists, have not contributed greatly to the overall wealth and prosperity of society. Anything one compares this system with falls woefully short. The political issue, as always, is not one of aggregate wealth or prosperity, but of that will-o-the-wisp called “fairness”. In the name of fairness, liberal/collectivist/totalitarian regimes have, for nearly 100 years now, leveled the playing field by making everyone poor – except, of course, the ruling elite. But given a choice between a two-class system (controllers and proletariat) and a three-class system (rich, middle class, and poor), liberals and “theoreticians” will choose the two-class model every time. And in fact, it seems that now, no matter which side of the usual political divide one is on, one is working toward a two-class system – as the “Great Recession” and its aftermath demonstrate. Suddenly the middle class is everyone's enemy, not just the elite's – although Romney and his ilk will never admit it, and even Obama finds it convenient to mouth words about the middle class, which he clearly despises.

So Buchanan applauds the choice while not raining on their parade by mentioning that, as he said in a previous column, a vote for the Republicans is a vote for war -- not that a vote for the Democrats isn't – but with Romney in charge we would likely get more and bigger wars sooner. I mean... gosh, people, the guy has already as much as promised to attack Iran the first day he's in office. How much more do you need to know?

But there is another angle to all this. I heard an argument over the weekend that, given the frontal attacks Obama is making on the Catholic Church, electing Romney would at least put off disaster for a while longer, and not because Ryan is Catholic ('cause so is Joe Biden, and look at all the good that has done!). As a Mormon, Romney presumably believes in the rights of religious minorities, whereas in Obama's book religion always has to defer to government in all matters. So now we're supposed to go to the polls with the question foremost in our minds, “Is it good for the Catholic Church?” -- which reminds me of the oft-cited criterion “Is it good for the Jews?” Well, yes – this is what it's come to, when the culture wars come up to our very doorstep. No one can complain about a “sharply divided electorate” when the government itself is the aggressor.

But even the argument “other things being equal”, while valid on its face (given the lack of significant policy differences between Obama and Romney), is not good enough, and I'll tell you why. While one can debate endlessly as to the constitutionality of any given domestic program or policy, the situation with regard to foreign policy, i.e. war, is quite clear. It's contained in “just war doctrine”, and according to this, none of the wars we are fighting at this point qualify – and this holds true at least as far back as World War II. So if unjust wars are immoral, then a vote to continue unjust wars, or initiate new ones, is a vote in support of an immoral act. So even if one votes for Romney based on his supposed more tolerant attitude toward the Catholic Church, one would still be voting, and supporting, immoral acts. And we also know (or should know) that it's wrong to commit sin so that some good may come of it. So this is the answer to that argument, even if said argument is – as was pointed out – much more nuanced than the usual “lesser of two evils” argument. Catholics might not be sorry if Romney won, but a vote for him would be just as wrong as a vote for Obama.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

You Are a Conspiracy Theorist

Well, OK, I can't say that for certain. You might be a Buddhist monk, for instance. But, chances are, if you're even remotely like a normal American, you're a conspiracy theorist. “But! But!” -- you'll say -- “I'm not a 'truther' or a 'birther'... I still believe JFK was killed by a lone nut with a gun... I couldn't care less about contrails, alien autopsies, the CIA, the Bohemian Grove, the Council on Foreign Relations, etc. etc...”

Well, OK then – but are you also saying that you believe everything any politician says? No? OK... then, do you think it's possible that politicians get together now and then to compare notes, and to decide what particular kinds of mild deceit they're going to foist off on the American public next? Yes? Maybe? Bingo! You're a conspiracy theorist. Not a big one, perhaps... mild, low-key... but one nonetheless.

See, it isn't that hard to fall into this mindset. All you have to do is consider that those in power don't always tell the truth, and that they are not all acting as independent, free agents in this matter. So welcome to the club. But... wait... I know, you aren't about to go out and have yourself fitted for a tinfoil hat... or start hoarding gold bars... or storing up freeze-dried food. You still think that things are basically “OK” with this society, and that our leaders still have our best interests are heart, even if they show occasional signs of being fallen human beings. In other words, even if political games are being played pretty much all the time, there are no systematic conspiracies against the American people or their interests. Right? Except that the Tea Partiers, who represent a considerable chunk of the “conservative” portion of the populace, do seem to think that there are systematic, long-term conspiracies against the American people, on the part of liberals, “agents of change”, culture warriors, socialists, communists, collectivists of all stripes, Keynesians, the Fed, and so on. And the Tea Partiers are not even the most conservative or “right-wing” group among the populace; far from it. They are, in a sense, the newest addition to the political landscape – the people who have just awakened from their slumbers of many decades, called to attention by the cries of the mob for the heads of the middle class.

Then on the other side you have liberals, socialists, collectivists, etc. for whom paranoia is a way of life, since they have been, from the very cradle, engaged in a constant battle against “the man” -- against “fascism”, and big business, and law enforcement, and the military, and so on. And for every skirmish in the culture wars, there is a script that goes along with it, which is typically of the conspiracy theory type. It's always about those in power having ulterior motives... an unspoken agenda... goals that have nothing to do with their stated mission... etc.

Then we have the libertarians, who... well, basically, they agree with both sides, in terms of who is out to get them... or where the conspiracies are. Another way of putting it is, as I frequently think, the Left is correct about the Right and the Right is correct about the Left. Everything the Tea Partiers think is wrong with the country is, and everything the Occupy crowd thinks is wrong also is. Where their reality testing breaks down is in the area of insight, or self-knowledge. The Left talks about “rights” but advocates totalitarianism... and the Right talks about “small government” but advocates perpetual war. And so on. And the things each side proposes as cures for the situation are certain to lead to even greater catastrophes. For example, both sides in the current landscape of protest and debate think that government is the answer – even though, for the Tea Partiers, government is also the problem (and it is for the Left as well, but they'll never admit it). Both sides believe in some form of totalitarian oppression – the difference being in who is oppressed, and for what reason, and by whom. The option of just leaving people the hell alone never occurs to anyone – except the libertarians, who are considered beyond the pale. Believing in liberty, and individual rights, is considered “unrealistic” in this day and age – that is, if you accept the Regime's definition of what is or is not realistic.

So if all these people, according to my broad definition, are conspiracy theorists, who is left? Or, it might be of more interest to ask, if all of these people are, technically, conspiracy theorists, then what is it that differs them from the people they call conspiracy theorists? Is it a matter of degree, or of kind? If the pot is calling the kettle black, then are we, in fact, dealing with two shades of black? One variable that might shed light on the issue is the age-old question, who is really in charge? Now we know that politicians, on all levels, receive plenty of support from a great variety of individuals and organizations, all of which can be assumed to have a vested interest in the outcome of elections, and in the activities of the politicians they support. But this still assumes that it's the politicians who have the power, as supposedly granted to them by the people. They are still, ultimately, the “deciders”. But what if it turned out that the politicians were just “suits” -- just front men – sock puppets – and that the real power resided in not only their known supporters, but even more behind the scenes? There are certainly plenty of precedents for this point of view, and no, it wasn't just in the “bad old days” that things of this sort occurred. Things may have been cruder and more blatant then, but the only change between then and now is the subtlety of the process. We may not see the power behind the throne, but it's there.

But where, then, is the evidence? Well, where would you expect it to be – mainly in the sorts of programs, policies, and legislation sponsored and supported by the politicians in question. Are they in the interests of the American people, or of special interest groups, or in no one's interest, as far as can be determined? There is plenty of unexplained and senseless legislation and regulation out there, and the question in those cases is our old favorite, “cui bono?” -- who benefits? If we consider the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – arguably a fairly large chunk of our national budget – do they confer any discernible benefit on the American people? Not that I can tell. So then, we have to look to financial and political benefit to special interest groups – or to other nations. But what makes an elected official act in a way that is systematically against the interests of his own constituents? Clearly, a desire to remain in office and to increase in power and wealth... or, on the other side of the coin, good, old-fashioned fear. Fear of what? Disgrace, loss of reputation... things determined by the media (and who do they work for, by the way?)... even, in extreme cases, assassination (including “making it look like an accident” -- and there is a whole subset of conspiracy theory on this topic). Our politicians – our leaders – live in a bizarro world where all the promises they made on the way to the top have to be not only broken, but actually turned into their opposites. And there is nothing new about this. (Remember Woodrow Wilson, who was re-elected in 1916 because “he kept us out of war”?)

Another way of putting this is that all politicians, when seeking office, claim to be working for “the will of the people”. Once in office, they wind up working for the will of some of the people – usually those with power and influence. And the day may come when they don't seem to be working for the will of any of the people. This is the point at which one would think they would be removed from office, except few ever are. Sometimes we have to dig deep to answer the question, “cui bono?” -- but the answer always comes up eventually. And it's not always about money! And it's not always about overt power – given that money and power are fungible to a great extent. It may actually be about ideas – but not ones that the average person subscribes to, or even thinks about. And it may be about religion, despite our reverenced “wall of separation”. What is adds up to is that “the people” are deceived – chronically, profoundly, and repeatedly. The political world is kept alive for them by the use of word magic, superficial ideas, memes, promises of a better tomorrow, etc. And no amount of evidence that politicians are master deceivers and exploiters can sway the ignorant masses. Even the ones who don't vote are living according to the ideas that some politician, at some point, implanted in their skulls – either directly or via the media, public schools, or churches.

Now, the enlightened among our ruling elite – the subscribers to the Leviathan theory of government, if you will... or the Machiavellian theory – will say (in private) that it's actually better for the people if they are deceived, if they believe in anything rather than nothing, even if it's totally false. Because they are like so many sheep, and they need guidance lest they plunge headlong off a cliff. And besides, they are consumers, and sources of cheap labor, and where would our military be without them? This is, of course, an elitist and anti-democratic point of view, and yet I daresay that it lies at the heart of nearly all politicians' actions, and even more so at the heart of the actions of those who control our politicians. Everyone wants to consider themselves part of the elite – part of the 1% -- and our politicians are more deceived than most in this matter. They can be wined and dined at the tables of the ruling elite for a season, but when their time in the sun is over with, they are easily discarded – and deservedly so. The only thing they have of value, to offer their masters, is their face – their curb appeal. Once that is tarnished, they are of no further use and are treated as such.

But hold on – we were talking about conspiracy theories here, and now we're talking about deception. But isn't it the same thing? Don't we see, basically, a united front among our politicians and the media when it comes to most of the really important issues? For every question that is permitted to be asked, there are ten that are not – ten that are “begged”. Budget “debates” are typically about no more than 2% or 3% of the total – or (even more trivially) about minuscule “rates of increase”. Contrast the discussion of the defense budget, for instance, with Ron Paul's recommendations. Contrast just about anything with Ron Paul's recommendations, and you'll see what I mean – it's twiddling at the margins versus real change. And so the twiddlers exert themselves, and turn beet-red, and shout and rave on the floors of Congress... over, basically, nothing. But they have to keep up appearances, because one of the core memes of our society is that we have a “two-party system” and that those parties actually mean something.

So far, I've just been laying the groundwork – a baseline of competing conspiracy theories – the top layer, if you will -- that roughly correspond with political parties, “visions” of America, race, social class, etc. -- the everyday stuff of politics, in other words. We are, you might say, at the top of the bell curve – the “fat” part, where most of the data are located. At the low end are those Candide-esque oddballs who persist in believing that the government has our best interests at heart, and that politicians are engaged in an honest effort to actualize those interests. (I don't know who those people are – I've never met any myself – but I assume they exist.) But now we must take a long, slow slide – with great fear and trembling – down the other side, and try, along the way, to define the major bumps in the road.

On the “who's in charge” dimension, for example, we can pause to acknowledge the respective theories of Right and Left. The Right thinks that, any time there is a Democratic president, he (or she, theoretically) represents the forces of collectivism, totalitarianism, socialism, and the remnants, newly-shape-shifted, of communism. Which means, in turn, that that president answers not to the American people but to an international globalist, socialist, collectivist cabal that is the modern-day successor to the international communist conspiracy of old. Far-fetched? Well, isn't that what many people think about Obama? I mean, they may not always say it, but it's inherent in what they do say. And isn't that what most critiques of the U.N. were about, at least up until the “War on Terror”?

The Left, on the other hand, ever eager to burnish their paranoid armor, blames it all (whatever “it” is) on Big Business, and Wall Street, and racism/sexism/homophobia, and “hate”, and religion in general, and on the South, and on Chick-fil-A... and so on. Their theory typically doesn't extend to the international level, since they believe (a legacy of communism) that “if only we could be more like other countries” in terms of health care, tolerance, culture, wine and cheese, etc. Their answer to everything that is wrong with America is that America should be less like itself and more like other places – which explains their reverence for the U.N. and other international groups. The only way for the U.S. to vindicate itself for all past sins and offenses is to throw itself on some kind of cosmic funeral pyre and be reabsorbed into the great Nothingness that is global politics and the global economy. For this reason, we should go around the world “supporting” things – just about anything you can name – up to the point where we'll collapse from all this “supporting”. (And isn't this exactly what we see in our foreign policy, which is a creation, by and large, of liberals, even though it winds up being exploited by the Right as well?)

So the first major conceptual, or metaphysical, bump in the road is the notion that Americans are no longer (assuming they ever were) masters of their own fate – economically, militarily, culturally, and in every other way. And there is, in fact, plenty of evidence for this view. We are, militarily, at the beck and call of any other country we have a “mutual defense agreement” with – which is another way of saying that we'll defend them, but if someone ever attacks us they won't answer the phone. Economically, consider that we are on the hook to bail out Europe, not vice-versa. Consider also that many “domestic” banks are not domestic at all; if you get high enough up in the chain of command you find yourself in Europe. The top of many American pyramids (if not pyramid schemes), corporate and financial, is in Europe these days, which means that we are becoming more and more of a colony and less self-governing.

Now, you might say, but isn't the European economy in deep trouble? And isn't the euro on the ropes? And how about all those “PIIGS” that are leeching resources away from the productive, solvent countries? Well... frankly, I think a lot of that is just play-acting... a hoax, in fact, to draw us in and get us to commit resources (more “support”). I mean, look at the scam they played on us to get us into World War I. If it worked nearly 100 years ago, why can't it work now, when we are much more severely entangled in the European economy and when our own banks and other businesses so often answer to European masters?

Plus, frankly, we have troubles the Europeans don't have – have never dreamed of, in fact. Foremost is our insane military commitments and involvements. We have a race problem, and they have an immigrant problem which we also have. We're exhausting ourselves fighting a War on Drugs and a War on Terror, and wars on just about everything else you can imagine, while they just sit back and enjoy the show. What they are waiting for, basically, is for us to collapse of our own weight and our own folly, at which point they will move in and deal the final blow to our sovereignty. We have been good and faithful servants for, again, 100-odd years, and now it's time to put us out to pasture. The American experiment, about which they were always skeptical, has run aground... and more realistic, cynical minds are waiting to install their vision in its place. I see this as just another example of the cycles of history – you can hate it, you can regret it, but you really can't do anything about it; it seems to be the product of unwritten laws. The Europeans too will have their comeuppance – perhaps sooner than they would like. After all, China is near.

OK, so that's one bump in the road. The average American persists in believing that we remain masters of our own fate, but the conspiracy theorist knows better. Whether the true masters are nonetheless American, or European, matters little since they answer only to their own globalist agenda and priorities, and national ties mean little or nothing... and forget about “patriotism” in any real sense.

Another question is “what is behind certain key events” -- especially the “history-changing” kind? The most recent example is, of course, 9/11... but there is also the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the JFK assassination, Pearl Harbor, and so on. We like to put events like these on a kind of pedestal, and declare them extra-historical... i.e., unique and “defining”, and, in a sense, pure. It seems to sully things if we start speculating that these events are simply highlights in the same old endless, dreary tale that we have – note! -- already agreed on. If government is truly as corrupt as we think it is, and if our fate has long since not been in our own hands, than what makes us think that these events are not also part of that narrative? We believe in dark and unseen forces when we're talking about organized crime, for instance – but seem willing to let government, or international cartels, off the hook, especially when it comes to major catastrophes. Again, it's that sentimental thing: Foreign governments and entities may wish us harm, or be indifferent to our welfare, but our own government must – simply must! -- ultimately be acting in our interests, or at least not blatantly against them. But we've already talked about unwinnable wars... and what about all the economic manipulations that we see going on daily among the Fed, the Treasury Department, Wall Street, big business, and international finance? Are you going to tell me that that's all intended to benefit the average American? Pass me that joint, dude.

And as far as getting us into war, were the Gulf of Tonkin or Pearl Harbor any worse than the mythological WMDs that got us to attack Iraq? We now know that those in power at the time knew that there were no WMDs, and that the whole thing was a hoax. At least the Japanese really did attack Pearl Harbor, even if we knew it was coming and intentionally did nothing about it.

It's all about consciousness-raising, really. It's not just about getting people to hate or distrust the government; it's about getting them to realize what the government has become. It is, at most times and in most cases, the enemy of the people – or at least of their best interests. And this too may be part of a historical cycle, as depressing as that idea is. Things that are “too big to fail” will eventually fail anyway – but the failure will be more painful and destructive because they weren't allowed to fail at the appropriate time. How do we get our own government to “fail” -- in the areas where it should, i.e. that are corrupt or unconstitutional? One idea – simply vote against all incumbents. Get rid of seniority, and of career politicians. Enforce term limits in the voting booth. Another idea – vote against war... consistently and without fail. Vote against follies like the War on Drugs. Vote against foreign aid – period. “Vote” our military home from all of its overseas adventures. “Vote” the intelligence community down to... oh, let's say, 1/10 the size it is now. Vote against subsidies – period. And so on.

Yeah, I know, I'm asking people to try and turn this country into what it's not, and never was. And what I suspect is that if people started taking these things seriously, our politicians would figure out a way around it, as they have so many times. If your vote doesn't count now, the day may come when we'll do away with the electoral process altogether, as just being too much trouble. (And the half of the populace that doesn't vote won't care a bit.)

But here's the point. If Iraqi WMDs were a scam, and the Gulf of Tonkin was a scam – not too hard to accept in either case – then Pearl Harbor could have been a scam as well. “But oh, in that case, we had a demigod on the throne in the form of FDR, and a man of that stature and vision could never have...” you know the rest. But then what about 9/11? -- the real litmus test of conspiracy theories in our time. We had George W. Bush, a known blockhead, surrounded by evil men, and an attack that played right into their hands and the hands of their supporters and cronies, both foreign and domestic. “But oh my, they couldn't possibly have had anything to do with it, because... well... because it's just too horrible to contemplate. Besides, they seem so normal in other respects – well-dressed, well-groomed... no, it's simply impossible.” Uh huh. Well, the Nazis were well-dressed and well-groomed too... and family men, by and large... and nice to their household pets... See, as much as we talk about “the banality of evil” we still don't accept it. Evil men have to be blood-red, with horns, and spouting sulfuric smoke from their nostrils – or at least have a tall hat and a pencil-thin mustache like Snidely Whipsnade. These pink, balding guys in the power suits... well, they aren't exactly warm and fuzzy, but... to stoop to this level of pure evil? Unthinkable. But that's precisely the point. That's the point at which we are all made to suspend disbelief and become unquestioning, shuffling serfs. Confronted with the Big Lie, the event that is outside of history, our brains turn to mush and we run for the nearest comfort station. But the powers that be know this, and use it, because their lust for power is greater than all of their other motivations – both good and bad – combined. It's greater than anything the average person can imagine. So no price is too great – but it's the average schmo who has to pay that price.

Prior to 9/11 there was, of course, the JFK assassination – that other litmus test. And there the divide was even more sharply defined – by the government itself and its media servants. It had to be “a lone nut with a gun”, period. Nothing else was possible, or permissible – because once any other idea entered your head, all was lost. Then it became a conspiracy, and the government became, at least, part of a cover-up, or perhaps an actual part of the conspiracy. Oswald did it, he got killed, case closed. It seldom gets cleaner than that. Except that it wasn't. There were hundreds, thousands, of contradictions, loose ends... witnesses of all sorts... revelations... Sound familiar? Yeah – 9/11 is turning out the same way. The best, most air-tight conspiracies in the world are still devised and implemented by imperfect people, and sooner or later it starts to show. But again, if you don't accept the government's version of events, than all is lost. Start asking questions... even just one question... and you're challenging all of the most treasured and fervently-held-to scripts and memes of our time. The government may not be perfect, and it may be full of crooks and incompetents, but gosh, surely.... etc. Again, they've got you, and it's because of what you value (and they don't) that you're unwilling to consider the alternatives. People down through the ages have known darn well that there's a difference between them and their rulers... but we seem to have lost sight of the fact. For us, because we're Americans living in a “democracy”, there is no gulf, no divide, between the rulers and the ruled; in fact, we rule ourselves! So any threat against the government, and against the popular myths it promotes, is a threat against ourselves, and therefore can't be tolerated.

So yeah, I would say that JFK and 9/11 are the major bumps in the road in our lifetime – the twin acid tests when it comes to conspiracy theories, and the “great divide” when it comes to our most deeply-held ideas about ourselves and the government. Everyone has to decide where they will stand along this continuum, and I guess it's based on pre-existing attitudes as well as on what information they are willing to attend to, and accept. Am I any more “objective” or “reality-based” than the chucklehead who saunters down to the polls every two (or four) years and thinks he's really “making a difference” -- who, basically, believes everything the government and the media tell him? I'd like to think so, but how to prove it? Is it just his belief system against mine? Surely he doesn't have access to one world of facts and I to another – that's just plain metaphysical anarchy (the kind Bill Clinton embraced when he talked about “which truth” one adheres to). And even if one is an unabashed “conspiracy theorist”, one doesn't have to believe every one that comes down the pike. Lines can still be drawn, but then the question is, what are the criteria for drawing those lines, and how valid are they? All anyone can do is establish a value system, choose a place to stand, but remain open to, or at least tolerant of, other possibilities.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Why Your Vote Means Nothing -- But Go Ahead, It Couldn't Hurt

As the election season goes into “full swing”... well, we tend to forget that there is always a campaign going on, the same way there are always wars going on. Perpetual campaigns and perpetual wars – that's America in our era, and we have become so inured to it that no one seems to mind, or to remember when it was any other way. In fact, it would seem strange if it were any other way. So, Obama's 2012 campaign began, roughly, on Inauguration Day of 2009, with barely a beat having been missed between the 2008 election and that fateful day.

We are being treated to what are referred to as widely differing “visions” of America – what it is and what it should be. And these differences, while in some cases genuine (in terms of rhetoric), will be of little consequence no matter who gets elected. (Think "discretionary" vs. "non-discretionary" budget items -- all the big and important stuff is "non-discretionary".)  But the most prominent, and consequential, vision of all – namely that of the U.S. as the world's policeman – is never questioned, and never debated. It is axiomatic – an assumption requiring no proof... a meme, if you will. It can, in fact, be said to be the one vision that completely unites the two candidates... and the one that will not be altered in the slightest by the outcome of the election. Oh, sure – there are murmurings now and then about Obama being less than enthusiastic about asserting America's world dominance, but actions speak louder than words, and when we have troops stationed in nearly every country on earth, private armies at work in nearly as many places, and are fighting a “war on terror” that is, in fact, a war on Islam... well, it seems to be stretching it a bit to call Obama weak in any way military.

Besides, we are treated, on a regular basis, to the spectacle of both Obama and Romney going over to Israel to prostrate themselves before the throne of Zionism, kiss the feet of Netanyahu and his cronies, and declare our “eternal” bond with Israel and our willingness – nay, zeal – to pay any price, and make any sacrifice, in order to fight the various “existential threats” that Israel claims are directed at it daily. (And BTW, why is it that our politicians never use the word “eternal” in any other context but this? Think about it.) It seems that just declaring war on Islam isn't enough – our politicians also have to report in to the head office to reassure our overseers that we aren't about to wander off the reservation. (Now, why this sort of thing doesn't result in an instant, and violent, rebellion on the part of the taxpayers and voters... well, that's another question.)

The recent campaign stop in Jerusalem on the part of Mitt Romney is illustrative. He did the usual kowtowing, and donned the yarmulke, and did that thing where you stick a little piece of paper into a crack in the Wailing Wall (I suspect that at least half of them are Chinese fortune cookie fortunes)... and then proceeded to suggest that, compared to the Palestinians, the Israelis have “a superior culture” and enjoy “the hand of providence”. Well... at least he's honest. I mean, in the sense that this has always been the neoconservative position and Romney is nothing if not a neocon. The Evangelicals, in fact, seem to believe that Israel is superior to the United States, and that Judaism is a superior belief system to Christianity, and that the Jews are – dare I use the term in this context? -- the master race. And, that it is the ordained task of the United States to be on Israel's side through thick and thin, so that we will be found worthy as the end times approach and the final judgment is laid down. In other words, America is fated to be the servant of Israel, and Americans are... not fated, but privileged, to be the slaves of Israel. So what Romney said is perfectly consistent with all of this, and I have to admire his – perhaps na├»ve – honesty on the matter. I'm not sure Obama would have been quite this open and unabashed about it, although he certainly acts as though he agrees with it all when it comes to policy.

And lest you think I exaggerate about these issues, there are scores of books on the subject that support this model... and all you have to do is look at our electoral process and our foreign policy to see that there is absolutely no doubt. And when it comes to our politicians, the Republicans are, almost to a man, completely dedicated to this world view, and the Democrats... well, again, they are not as blatant about expressing it, but they never do anything to contradict it. The only bind Obama is in – if it even is a bind – is that slight awkwardness of having had a Moslem father, and having a Moslem middle name, and having Moslems among his black constituency. But these things are easily smoothed over, as he has done with signal success so far.

But none of these trivial differences between the candidates has stopped the captive media from favoring Obama at every turn. You'll notice, for instance, that every other word coming out of Romney's mouth is termed a “gaffe” -- and the pathetic thing is that the Romney campaign doesn't argue! They as much as admit that it was a gaffe by either retracting or “clarifying” -- which means that, basically, they are admitting that the Democrats have made up all the rules and are in charge of enforcing them.

Obama, on the other hand, is never allowed to mis-speak by the media. And whenever he's accused of having said something controversial, the media rush to his defense, claiming that he was “misunderstood”, or that “paranoid, right-wing haters” are twisting his words. And again, no one argues.  And he never has to take anything back, or explain, or apologize.   

This is another reason why Romney's campaign is doomed, in my opinion – and watch him pick someone for his running mate who is either a fanatic, a nut, or an airhead. The Republicans remain the “stupid party”, even as they have pretty much caught up with the Democrats in the “evil” category. 

But let's get back to the real issues. If Israel is the “driver” for our foreign policy – which it is – and our foreign policy, including military interventions, wars, covert operations, etc., is the biggest single piece of our economy, then it can be said that Israel is the driver for our economy (aside from any links they may have to banks and international financial markets). So any economic woes we suffer can, to some degree, be traced back to Israel. I know, this seems simplistic... not to mention “paranoid” and “anti-Semitic” and all that crap... but I challenge you to show me an exception, the way I challenged anyone, a while back, to show me a single government program that is not, at heart, a jobs program.

Look at it another way. What if we were not stuck on Israel the way Br'er Rabbit was stuck on the Tar-Baby? Well, it would have saved us billions in direct foreign aid, for one thing – and I don't mean just to Israel, but to all the countries surrounding it, as bribes to keep them from attacking Israel. And if we hadn't been meddling in the Middle East all these many decades, we would not have suffered the “blowback” that came in the form of 9-11 (regardless of which model you adopt as to what really happened that day). As Ron Paul memorably said, “They're over here because we're over there” -- and the fact that Rudy Giuliani nearly had a stoke upon hearing that proved that Paul was right on target.

So... take us out of the Middle East (military, if not in terms of trade), and you avoid 9-11, which, in turn, avoids the “War on Terror” and the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. It also avoids abominations like the Patriot Act, the TSA, and all the other totalitarian measures that have been enthusiastically adopted by the regime since 9-11.

The bottom line is that the “Israel bill” for us amounts to... well, not just billions, but trillions... and the rate of expenditure simply continues to accelerate. (I say “expenditure” but I should really say “borrowing”, since that's what's necessary to keep the whole enterprise afloat.) And yet, in the long run, has it made Israel's future secure (even as it has threatened our own future in nearly every respect)? Can even the most hardened, fanatical “Christian Zionists” turn their gaze toward the Promised Land and pronounce it a place of peace? No – and my personal feeling is that this is at least partly because Israel, i.e. the State of Israel, is a gigantic mistake – the biggest political mistake of the 20th Century, in fact. (And there are, by the way, Jewish groups that agree with this, so it's not just about race or ethnicity or religion.)

Setting aside the suicidal folly of establishing a Jewish state smack in the middle of its age-old enemies... and the folly of the U.S. promising to provide any and every kind of support in perpetuity... is the State of Israel really what the Bible is referring to in the various end-times prophesies? The Evangelicals seem to think so... but pardon me, I'm skeptical. For one thing, the State of Israel is secular. It may be Jewish in the racial/ethnic sense, but it's not any more religious than the U.S., and probably less so. Not only that, but Christians are treated as second-class citizens in Israel, because they happen to also be Arabs... and they are treated as downright non-persons or subhumans in the West Bank and Gaza. How do the Evangelicals come around to thinking that this sort of thing is consistent with New Testament prophesy and teachings? Well... I won't attempt to analyze what's going through their heads; that has already been done quite competently by any number of writers. But it's a bit ironic to see American politicians – nearly all at least nominal Christians -- repeatedly going over to the Middle East and embracing people who think their messiah was a fraud and their religion an abomination. Do I detect a hint of masochism and a lack of self-worth and self-esteem on the part of the Evangelicals in this matter? Um... yeah. Do I detect a desire to wind up on the winning side of world history, even if that side represents materialism as opposed to core Christian beliefs? Yes again. It seems to me that real faith would want to reject the glamor and superficial success of the powers of this world, in favor of the eternal verities... but that doesn't seem to have occurred to the Evangelicals... or to the Mormons either, if Romney is any example. They still cling, if you will, to shopworn and failed notions of manifest destiny, American exceptionalism, and all the rest. We will unite and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel to smite the filthy Arabs, Islamists, and “terrorists”... and once they are conquered, the new age – heaven on Earth – will commence. This is their core vision. The core vision of the Zionists, on the other hand, is to restore the kingdom, which includes much of what is now the Islamic Middle East. (Don't believe me? Look at their maps some time.) And as far as the Zionists are concerned, if all the Christians on earth dry up and blow away, so much the better – as long as they have served as cannon fodder and a source of raw materials in the meantime. And I suppose the Evangelicals believe that, by that time, they will have been welcomed into the Jewish/Zionist world as full-fledged members, and thus be immune from any chastisement. But – as Mr. T would say – I pity the fools. I think they are the object of the greatest con game of all time. Unfortunately, the rest of us are all caught up in the same con game. The America we thought we knew has turned out to be something strange, and alien, and rare, if not unique, in history – but for all the wrong reasons.

But it would also a mistake to claim that our politicians are all sociopaths and fanatics who spend all their time preying on innocent citizens. Even given the relative meaninglessness of our elections, it remains true that we are the ones who put these clowns into office. We're the facilitators; we're the ones who support them in their delusions (or their cold cynicism). We could do better, but we won't, and it's because we are prey to the same delusions. Either that, or we are so fear-ridden and hobbled by political correctness and the propaganda apparatus that we don't dare do otherwise. Even during the primaries, there were people who said they agreed with what Ron Paul was saying, but they wouldn't vote for him because... um... well, they weren't sure. That's fear talking, folks. That's a cowed, fearful, cowardly populace made up of “free” Americans, and it's what we've become. The few who stand up and speak the truth are mocked and ridiculed, and pronounced beyond the pale by the media (including the so-called “conservative” media).

So... if we have a country ruled by people who are committing what amounts to treason, then aren't the people who vote for them also traitors, or at least delusional and brainwashed? So it would seem... and we have only to seek precedents in history to see how this works. The Germans did not all of a sudden become insane, as an entire people, the minute Hitler took office... and they didn't all turn sane again the day he died by his own hand. Things are seldom that simple. Yes, there has to be a core of insanity, and it has to be powerful. And it also has to be able to control, or at least influence, the thinking of everyone else through the propaganda apparatus, AKA the media. Or failing that, it has to be able to exert absolute control, through intimidation and brute force; this is the time-honored formula of all totalitarian regimes past and present.

And then there are the outliers, who rebel either openly (a risky business) or in secret. I suppose it's like the ubiquitous bell curve, with the fat middle consisting of people with no absolute principles, who are generally good-intended, but who can be influenced by an unending barrage of propaganda. On the other end is the fanatical core – the SS in the case of Germany – opposite the people of principle who won't budge no matter how much pressure they feel, or how unpopular their views are. The wishy-washy middle can be convinced, on one day, that it's perfectly OK to haul Jews off to the crematoria... and then on another day, that killing babies in the womb is just jolly... or even that having some consideration for others – some non-Darwinian feelings of charity – is a good thing. They can be made, in other words, to think, and do, the right thing for the right reasons... or for the wrong reasons. And they can be made to think, and do, the wrong thing for... any reason at all, or no reason. They are, in other words, political. They subscribe to what Ayn Rand called “social metaphysics” -- that the will, and the “mind”, of the group – the collective – is the source of all truth. Those on the fanatical end of the curve at least believe in something, even if they're badly mistaken. In this they are the true flip side of those on the other end who cling to the truth. I can't get too perturbed at “true believers” in other religions, for example, because I understand their mind set. They believe in absolutes, as do I. There is a point beyond which politics and relativism fade away, and what remains is, for the philosopher, pure ideas, and for the believer, articles of faith. I have no problem with anyone's faith – i.e. with the phenomenon; it's how they act on it that can become problematic. I'm not against the “terrorists” because of their faith (the way the Evangelicals and the U.S. military would be), but because of their implementation of it – and I can't even object to that on all counts. Since when, for example, is defense of one's homeland considered “terrorism”? And yet that is the term we are fed, day after day, by the propaganda apparatus. We invade a country, the natives fight back, and that makes them “terrorists”. Seems like we've regressed a bit in our thinking over the last couple of centuries. At least at one time we accepted that other peoples' nationalism, and loyalty, and love of homeland, were mirror images of our own, and thus had innate validity, even if we wound up in conflict. Nowadays, anyone who believes or adheres to anything but the American “script” is considered deluded, crazy, or a “terrorist”.

But now we have to dial back the argument a bit, because there is a great hue and cry, especially among libertarians, that the United States has, through some subversive, gradual process, “become” what it is today, through the machinations of cynical politicians and other people of ill will. The notion is that “the real America” actually did exist at some time in the past – and you have to choose the point at which things began to slide. Some will say as recently as 9-11... others will say Vietnam... still others the New Deal, or World War I, or the Progressive Era, or the Civil War... right back to the point when the ink was not yet dry on the Declaration of Independence. And if only we could “return” to those halcyon days, before FDR, before Wilson, before Teddy Roosevelt... to those sepia-toned times when America really meant something, e.g. rugged individualism, independence, freedom, etc. (The implication also is that there was a time when this was truly a “Christian nation”, untroubled by the egalitarian politics of minorities, victim groups, religious and cultural “sensitivities”, etc.) However, an argument can, and has, been made that our very founding was the work of not only humanists and Deists, but also people who would today be called “Christian Zionists”. The American experiment, in other words, was not so much about “rights” and “freedoms” as it was about a political program with a strong eschatological component. The very energy that fueled colonization, and westward expansion, and manifest destiny, and America-as-cop, had, as its source, an overarching religious, or pseudo-religious, vision... and what we are seeing now is the reductio ad absurdum of that vision – perhaps the final stage. Because, after all, if we take on hopeless debt in the interest of “ideas” as manifested in foreign policy and military adventures... and if we are forced to become what we behold elsewhere in the world – i.e. collectivists and totalitarians – in order to fight against it... then doesn't that pretty much spell the end of the American experiment? Doesn't it, in fact, indicate that there were fatal flaws from the beginning that are only now fully manifesting themselves?

Now granted, this experiment, if you will, has had a good, long run of it – longer than any comparable experiment in philosophically-based government. Compare the French, for example, who killed a king then wound up with an emperor a few short years later... or the Soviet Republic and all of its clones... or Nazi Germany. The landscape is littered with the broken, rusted remains of failed utopias. So whatever we did, and whatever our reasons were, it did work... not for a while, but for many generations. Not as long as Rome, certainly, or the Chinese Empire, but long enough by modern standards, when all historical processes seem to operate in fast forward. Nikita Khrushchev promised that the Soviets would “bury” us – i.e. that the day would come when we would fall and they would remain standing. Well, it didn't work out quite that way, and I suppose that the survivability of any modern system is a direct function of the degree to which it's totalitarian – i.e., the more totalitarian the lower the life expectancy. (Extreme cases like Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, or Afghanistan under the Taliban, certainly add to the accumulated evidence, even if they are not conclusive.) Of course, the standard liberal argument is that the Soviet system would have held on longer “if only we'd given it a chance”. Yeah, right. The fact is, we did give it a chance – all the way from the Russian Revolution up to the early 1950s. No, their destruction was of their own making, and the fatal flaws in their system were much more fatal – more virulent – than the fatal flaws in ours have proven to be. But fatal they are, nonetheless... and I don't think the process could have been altered, turned back, or reversed by any trivial machinations of political parties, or even by charismatic leaders. It is, in that sense, an inexorable part of the repeated cycles of history – of human fallibility and concupiscence being projected onto the political system. No political system can alter or “fix” human nature, as the Soviets found out; all a political system can do is provide us with more or less protection against each other – i.e. against human nature in all of its less-desirable aspects. A system that brings out the worst in people – again, as all totalitarian systems have done – is, it seems to me, less desirable than one that serves to ameliorate things and lessen the pain... and our system, to give credit where credit is due, succeeded in that better than most others. And yet, eventually human nature will catch up with political programs, and we see evidence for this each day. The politicians of old might have been gentleman farmers who spent a season in office, then returned to their real occupations... whereas today, we have the spectacle of politicians who know no other way of life, and would, in fact, be incompetent in any other. If “those who can't do, teach” (a bit cynical even for me), then those who can't earn an honest living go into politics. Well, it's not hard to imagine the eroding effect this is going to have in the long run – and it's not at all hard to see it in action in our time. Romney is, in this sense, a throwback, since he has had considerable success on the “outside” -- in the (so-called) free market... whereas Obama was, apparently, born with a campaign button in his mouth, as was Clinton and so many others. What can we expect, then, from lifetime politicians other than more politics? And if politics has become totally corrupt, as I believe it has, then what can we expect other than more corruption, and the moral and spiritual decay that goes along with it?

So, one might ask, what is to be done? Put up with it? Accept that we are living in a fading, failing empire which will eventually be overrun by – who knows? Hispanic hordes from south of the border? The Chinese? I mean, who is in the batter's box now, even as we strike out? Who will inherit our mantle as “the” superpower? Or will it be more a matter of warring states, with no one totally dominating, far into the future? Or – is the age of nations, and nationhood, coming to a close, to be followed by an age of financial powers that have no use for borders, race, ethnicity, language, or any of the other traditional sources of cohesiveness, pride, and self-esteem? But won't that system be just as contrary to human nature as the communist systems were, and thus lead to the same result? I fear that we will not see the answer in our time. All we can see, and that vaguely, are trends – and they do not look at all promising. It seems we are regressing to a new dark age, “where ignorant armies clash by night”, and all is overseen by evil men in dark, brooding castles. If so, our only hope is in the human spirit – not flawed human nature in its entirety, but that faint glimmer of hope that was placed in all of us by an unseen hand.