Thursday, December 12, 2013

News and Comments

Playing Chicken in Kiev

It doesn't take much reading between the lines to understand the current controversy in Ukraine. One side wants to align itself more closely with the EU – i.e. with the “West”, i.e. with us... and the other side wants to move, at least partly, back under the wing of Mother Russia. Now, there is nothing new about this issue; it's quite ancient, in fact. You can find the issue of “Europhilia” vs. “Slavophilia” -- i.e., do we want to be Europeans or not? -- coming up in 19th-Century Russian novels, and it goes back at least as far as Peter the Great. That's Russia, of course, but Ukraine has its own version of the very same dilemma, and when it looks around at the other former Soviet republics, it can see a full range of solutions, from the enthusiastic embrace of the EU by the Baltic states (which were never Slavic anyway) to a deeper commitment to Islam among the Central Asian “stans”.

To our conventional way of thinking, it seems obvious. After all, Ukraine was horrendously mistreated by the Soviets back in the 1930s, and once pacified became just another one of the gray, nameless, faceless Soviet republics. And now they are free! So why turn around and re-align with their former rulers and persecutors? I mean, OK, because of its size, economy, and culture, Ukraine might wind up as a most favored trading partner of Russia (assuming it's not already), but wouldn't the whole thing be just a bit intimidating – a marriage of non-equals?

On the other hand, is this really the best time for Ukrainian leaders to propose a closer alliance with the West? Maybe it's better to be a second-class citizen within the Russian sphere of influence than a third- or fourth-class citizen with regard to the EU. Plus, what's the EU's trajectory these days? It's basically morphing into the next German Empire. Does Ukraine really want to go the way of Greece and the other insolvent places that were forced to sell themselves down the river to the more sober power north of the Alps? Because, like it or not, this is the sort of thing that's likely to happen when a place that is politically chaotic gets into an economic “arrangement” with a place that's not. We've already seen it any number of times.

And that's just about the EU. An alliance with the EU is also, inevitably, an alliance with the U.S., and one look at our political system these days, where the inmates have clearly taken over the asylum, should be enough to sober anybody up. And besides, the EU or its surrogates have assumed a dominant, if not totally controlling, role over the U.S. banking system and thus its economy. If it can happen to us, it can certainly happen to Ukraine in much less time.

Add to this the unlikely fact that Russia has actually started to assume moral leadership on the world stage, as in the case of Syria. Clearly, the Russian Empire is starting to come back to life and regroup, whereas ours is fragmenting and falling into chaos. Which team is starting to look like the winning team? Where does the future lie? Ukraine is going to have to cast its lot in one direction or another, and I don't envy them their choice.

Can They Hear Me Now?

The award for the funniest news item in ages has to go to the story about the fake “signing” guy at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela. Standing an arm's length from President Obama (and any number of other, ahem, dignitaries) this guy pulled off a coup that would put Sacha Baron Cohen to shame. Apparently he managed to penetrate security and sneak up on stage and start “signing” with absolutely no problem – and those in charge didn't know anything was amiss until it was pointed out, later on, that the guy hadn't been saying, er, signing anything whatsoever but just “moving his hands around”.

But what a beautiful metaphor for Obama and his administration! You can't make this stuff up. Placed on high for no discernible reason – check. Much gesticulating and waving of arms, but totally content-free – check. A total fraud and a hoax – check. Only detected after the fact, once it was too late – check. “An absolute circus” -- check.

Ah yes – this is life in South Africa, where hope and change rule... where an oppressed people finally got their piece of the pie and said “it's our turn”. And hey, there are bound to be missteps now and then – after all, haven't any number of impostors manged to crash White House parties and have their pictures taken with The Anointed One?

And, oh yes, the guy was not taken into custody – at least not right away. And, it turns out, this is not the first time he's played this trick. Yeah... always give someone another chance, that's the American way.

At any rate, it's too funny. Just the thing to liven up the holiday season.

Snakes on a Plane

There's another story that came out of the Mandela pilgrimage, but one that requires a bit of reading between the lines. It seems that the plane that transported Obama & the missus to South Africa was also graced by the presence of George W. Bush (a fellow member of the Regime), Mrs. Bush, and Hillary Clinton (a former political rival of The Anointed One). Conspicuous by their absence from the First Plane were Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, the reason given being “logistical issues”.

Logistical issues, my a**. My guess is that Obama didn't want to be seen spending that much time with Carter; it might have invited unfortunate comparisons. And as to Bill – well, I suppose the prospect of him and Hillary spending an entire flight to South Africa on the same cramped, stuffy airplane didn't appeal to either one of them. It would have been the longest time they spent together since leaving the White House!

Ending With a Whimper

The Pittsburgh Steelers retain an infinitesimal mathematical possibility of making the NFL playoffs – provided a few other teams all come down with herpes or shingles in the meantime. Otherwise, fuhgeddaboutit. On the plus side, it means we can finally relax and just enjoy the game instead of having our intestines tied in knots on every play. After all, somebody has to lose – right? But I guess when most people are “educated” in the public schools, where everyone is a winner each and every day, it's hard to accept that fact of life.

Up the Vigilante

Turns out that George Zimmerman is a badass with a temper after all. Ah well, it's too late now. Maybe Neighborhood Watch can hire more Mister Rogers clones in the future.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Prisoner of Pretense

Of all the perennial jailbird stories that come around on a regular basis – you know, like O.J., Mumia, that “Kennedy cousin”, whatever the hell his name is (who, it now appears, is a free man again, confined to a 100-acre estate somewhere, I'm sure) – the one with the most political significance, therefore with the greatest potential for causing rage and depression, has to be Jonathan Pollard. Now... I won't belabor the sordid details (Google it!); suffice it to say he was tried, convicted, and jailed for spying and for causing grave damage to our national security. OK so far. But who was he spying for? Israel. Oy, there's the rub. He was spying for not just an ally, but an “eternal ally”... a country for which there is no “daylight” between it and the United States... whose foreign policy and ours are synonymous. So, as I've often asked, why did they even need to spy on us? Don't we always give them anything they ask for – whether in terms of money, military support, diplomatic support, propaganda – oops, I mean media – support? Can't they walk into any secure area in Washington, DC and get immediate access to files labeled “Top Secret Crypto/Destroy Self After Reading”? Well... apparently not, unless...

... unless what Pollard did was not so bad, or so unusual, after all, and he's being held for other reasons, as a kind of twisted version of a political prisoner. Now first, as to the “badness” factor, well, he didn't give atomic bomb plans to the Russians like the Rosenbergs did, who wound up getting fried for their trouble. But in any periodic Department of Defense security briefing for the worker bees, Pollard is right up there in the pantheon of spies – as a public enemy and traitor of legendary stature. Make no mistake (say the security guys), Pollard is lower than the do-do of whatever it is that eats snake do-do. And this is part of a litany that is recycled year after year. Of course, never is it mentioned that the Israeli government has been putting crushing pressure on every administration since Pollard was first locked up to set him free so that he can live out his golden years on some kibbutz pitting peaches or something.

So here's a case where Israel is most definitely, thumpingly, not getting what it wants. And the question is why? It's quite simple, really. Even though every administration that comes along stumbles all over itself to be even more accommodating of, and to make even greater sacrifices for, Israel, it has not yet reached the point where we can openly declare ourselves a colony of Israel and proud of it. There has to be at least some appearance, however minimal, of autonomy – that we are still a sovereign nation and that the president (whoever it might be) is his own man.

So here's where Pollard comes in. He's kind of like a scapegoat, but what he actually is is a sign or symbol of the notion that we don't just take orders from Israel... that we can, in fact, even “get tough” with Israel once in a while, and assert ourselves, and declare our independence. To give Pollard up and put him on the next plane to Tel Aviv would be to, once and for all, admit that our sole reason for existing was to support the Zionist project – and that might not go over so well in some quarters (although it would make the Evangelicals and Neocons downright giddy with delight).

What this means, paradoxically, is that if we were ever to admit a bit of “daylight” between us and Israel... and stop calling them out “eternal ally” (the only time in all of history that the word “eternal” has been used in a diplomatic context, note)... we might be able to afford to let Pollard go. But as things stand, he's the one bit of evidence against the argument that we've become a wholly-owned subsidiarity of Israel, so for that reason alone he's going to have to stay in that old jailhouse.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Empire and its Discontents

A correspondent writes, regarding my previous post (Russia Takes Over, Nov. 16):

"I don't agree with you on the part about good and evil.  You seem to be saying that a nation which does any amount of evil cancels out any good which it may do, and should simply be considered to be part of the shit heap of evil nations.  As you state it, there is an assumption that good and evil are easily identifiable, divisible, and quantifiable, in the process of geopolitical power and international score keeping. I'm not sure they are. But assuming we can sort out the good things a nation does, isn't it really more of a net/sum analysis?  Who is generally more good than evil... or, at least more good than the alternatives, even if not all good, which is impossible, or even mostly good, or even occasionally good. In a world which is largely evil, even being a little good, or more good than the others, is good, or as good as it gets. I think the US still has that stature, despite the fact that it may be somewhat like winning the world championship in double amputee cross country foot racing."

My reply:

Well... I don't think "cancels out" is what I had in mind -- at least not directly.  I think the good can stand on its own, as can the evil -- but then right away we get the question of intent.  Is unintentional good as good as intentional good?  If so, then logically, unintentional evil must be as bad as intentional evil.  We can't have it both ways.  We can't get all the credit for the good we do, but then just mumble "shit happens" when we do evil or when evil results from our actions. 

What the good/evil dichotomy really does, IMO, is call into question the basic core premises upon which we established ourselves as a nation.  Were those principles, as noble as they sounded at the time, actually a time bomb?  I think the Civil War was already ample proof that there was something seriously wrong with our world view as a nation -- not that slavery was not evil, but we didn't fight the Civil War to end slavery, as any honest historian will admit.  It was about "preserving the union", which was ideational for some, but which boiled down to political and commercial issues for many, including cynics in the industrial sector.  Freeing the slaves was a bonus (or "collateral damage" if you were in the South).  Not that some in the North would not have been willing to make the same sacrifice just to free the slaves, but they were a minority, and considered "radicals" by the rest.  So, bottom line, the Civil War might have had one positive outcome, but the negative outcomes continue to haunt us right up to today.  The South is still treated like a defeated nation, and Southerners are treated like ignorant, backwards bigots... and all the old resentments are still alive and well.

So, I'm willing to give the US full credit for whatever it has done over the years to enhance the quality of life for the human race in general -- and full discredit for whatever it has done that has had the opposite effect.  That's not the same as saying that it all balances out, and the net sum is zero.  That would be like claiming that some great industrialist -- from Pittsburgh, say -- who oppressed his workers for many decades, but then built fine libraries and museums and concert halls, had a net score of zero.  I'm not enough of a Zoroastrian to claim that good and evil are inextricably linked, and you can't have one without the other.  I don't put them on an equal metaphysical footing.  And besides, one hopes that any good a given nation does will outlast the bad, despite what Shakespeare says about men.  One can certainly see this with ancient Rome, and (I will argue) the British Empire, although there is plenty of debate on that count.  The French Empire, I'm not so sure... and the Soviet Empire I will count as an overall disaster (but they did field some dynamite Olympic teams).  (And yet the worst colonial power was not Russia, but Belgium.  Go figure.)   

This brings us to the American Empire, and has it been of aggregate benefit to the world, or an overall liability, or too close to call?  This depends partly on how much one values democracy (without quotes) as a system, and to what extent our version of democracy -- the kind we export -- is the real thing, and whether it actually does any good.  Now, I include under the heading of democracy things like the rule of law, trial by jury, property rights, etc. -- all the Bill of Rights and related concepts that we always hope we're also exporting along with the basic idea.  And clearly, the success or failure of this enterprise is more dependent on national character than anything else.  I don't claim that some nations or peoples are "not ready" for democracy; this is condescending.  They may simply not be interested -- and I don't take this as an automatic sign of primitive ignorance, or tribalism, or religious dogmatism, etc.  What it means is that democracy, of any variety, is not a universal value -- and I don't think you have to look far to realize this is the case.  Then you add in the aggravating factor that many of the "democracies" we have established around the world are anything but -- thinly-disguised tyrannies, in fact, not a whole lot different from the "people's republics" that the Soviets set up by the score.  It is not enough to have a democratic "form" -- one also has to have a democratic mind set, and leaders who agree with that.  Heaven knows, we have enough trouble with this even within our own borders. 

Does this mean that "exporting democracy" is a farce and a hoax, and we should stop doing it (or trying to)?  If you look at the record, it's a mixed bag.  It does seem to "take" in some cultures, and provide benefits.  In others, it makes little or no difference, and in some it makes things worse.  I think Job One of the State Department should be to try and make these determinations ahead of time, so we can cut down on the waste of time and money (and resentment and hostility).  (The alternative is to forget the whole project, and I would not oppose that either.)  My preference would be that we simply try and set a good example.  The problem with this is that, to anyone looking at our political situation from without, it seems like a circus and a farce.  (Again, was it designed that way, or is it a a sign of degeneration, or are we just having a bad day, or what?)      

But I'm being wildly optimistic even there.  The project of the American Empire as it stands has nothing whatsoever to do with exporting democracy, free and fair elections, promoting human rights, property rights, religious freedom, freedom of speech, etc.  Those are propaganda buzzwords.  What it has everything to do with is economic imperialism, which is supported by political influence (both domestically and internationally).  One only has to ask the question, who is in charge and what's their bottom line?  If the answer is the international banking and financial cartel (which I believe it is), then the bottom line is money, period.  Even political influence and spying are just means to an end.  (Ask yourself this question:  Which happens more frequently, politicians getting rich or the rich getting into politics?  I rest my case.)  Now -- there are political goals embedded within this scenario, and I would characterize them as establishing a one-world secular humanist government.  But you won't be making a mistake by following the money.  (Which is the means and which is the ultimate end may, in fact, be a point of lively discussion when the Regime gets together, e.g. at Bilderburg, Davos, the Bohemian Grove, Mackinac Island, etc.  I'd love to get a transcript of some of those discussions!)

Even then our self interest might have some broader benefits.  I mean, let's say that someone figured out how to make big bucks from the breakup of the Soviet Union, so they did all they could to make that happen.  They wind up rich, but the Soviet Empire goes away, much to the joy and jubilation of all (except for a few million bureaucrats, commissars, police, camp guards, etc.).  It's kind of like that "trickle-down effect" that Reagan's people were so fond of citing -- and that the other side lambastes on a regular basis.  Just as good can, paradoxically, come from evil, so good can also (unintentionally) come from good.  (Our biggest challenge when it comes to military operations is seeing to it that evil does not come from what we consider good -- a task that we've failed on spectacularly of late.)   

The ultimate question for future historians will be, was the world better off because the US existed?  Again, I say that Rome provides a possible precedent.  They did a lot of really bad things, but they also had certain principles of government and law that, in good times, served them (and their subjects) well.  We constantly point to Rome as a foundation for our own system -- not forgetting the high-jinks of such as Caligula and Nero, but consigning them to the ash heap... not allowing them to detract from the larger picture.  (I imagine much the same will eventually happen with regard to characters like Bill Clinton and George W. Bush -- but I digress.) 

One thing's for sure, the world would have been less interesting if the American Experiment hadn't risen up in the midst of it all.  We have at least been a source of ideas, for good or ill -- not to mention technology.  I say this fully cognizant of the fact that the political experiment has clearly run out of energy, and that we are self-destructing as a nation/culture/economy at a rapid rate.  We are a demoralized people, in that we've lost track of basic principles.  We haven't stopped mouthing words about them, but we've lost any comprehension as to what they mean.  Now... was this process inevitable?  Was it the result of an inexorable historical cycle, the inevitable growth/consolidation/decay process of any empire, nation, or political system?  I'm not prepared to say -- only to point out that there have been no exceptions as yet in history, so one is tempted to say yes, it was inevitable.   But is that, in turn, an indictment?  Again, if one does good while one can, this is not a bad thing.  Who would want to judge the worth of a human being based on his last declining days, months, years?  It wouldn't seem fair.  So we could, if we were feeling charitable, apply the same idea to nations.  Even an enterprise that is doomed might nonetheless be worth undertaking; it's a matter of what one values the most.  

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Russia Takes Over

Um... anyone heard anything about Syria lately? You know, that place we were all ready to invade a few weeks back, with warships gathering in the Mediterranean, bombers in the air 24 hours a day, and troops on high alert? It seems like this war, that was so critical to our national interests, has been relegated to the dreaded “page 4, below the fold” section of the paper. And as usual with the crisis of the month (or week, these days) the question arises, could it really have been that important before and this unimportant now? Or, is it still important but no one wants to talk about it? Or, was it unimportant before, and all the excitement was no more than propaganda, fear-mongering, and a downright hoax? I mean... how much do other countries, peoples, tribes... empires, even... change in just a few weeks? And on the other hand, how much does the fickle, gullible, and hysteria-prone American public change in just a few weeks? The answer is obvious.

No, what has happened is a sea change in what we call “foreign relations”, which is the interface between the American Empire and the rest of the world. And do not underestimate the magnitude of this change, or its significance! As tectonic shifts go, it's certainly the equivalent of Pearl Harbor, our ignominious defeat in Vietnam, and 9-11. It's also the latest phase in our unending relationship with Russia – lining up quite nicely with the descent of the Iron Curtain after World War II, the Soviets' acquisition of “the bomb”, Sputnik, the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the breakup of the Soviet Union. If the 20th Century was the American century in some respects (at least beginning with World War I), then it was also the Russian century. After we got together to defeat fascism and make the world safe for communism, they became the anti-us and we became the anti-them -- huffing and puffing like professional wrestlers, pretending to be bitter enemies but actually playing the same game the same way year after year. And so it continued right up until their breakup. The Cold War, so-called, was really a finely-tuned balancing act, and both sides played it cool most of the time, with only an occasional crisis to test the waters. (What we wouldn't give now for having an enemy that's an actual country with borders, and a visible military with uniforms and flags. We didn't know how good we had it!)

What happened next was, for them, a long period of rest from empire building and a chance to get used to an economic system that we had long taken for granted – you know, the kind where there's private ownership, competition, and people are allowed to make money, and so on. Old hat to us, but completely novel to them, with virtually no living memory of how things were pre-Bolshevism. And on the foreign front, they continued to try and exert influence over the newly-liberated, i.e. escaped, former Soviet republics, with varying degrees of success. And the influence they sought was mainly political, and also economic – not military, note, except in the general sense of having a security buffer zone in all directions. No, they left that kind of nonsense to us, fully realizing that the grossly over-extended American Empire would sooner or later start to deteriorate – which it, in fact, has. This is why they didn't put up much of a fuss about our military misadventures – because they knew that it would mean our gradual weakening... militarily, economically, and diplomatically – and that could only be good news for them and their interests. And sure enough, our old alliances decayed to the point where, on a fairly regular basis, a vote at the U.N. would come out with us and Israel voting one way, and the rest of the world voting the other way. And yet, it never occurred to us that there was anything wrong with that -- we, who had everything to do with establishing the U.N. in the first place. Funny how things change.

So they beheld our follies and kept a safe distance. Sure, they had their problems, internally, with Islamic activism and attacks – but nothing on the order of 9-11 (which, as we all know – ahem! -- was an attack from halfway around the world). They saw that, sooner or later, the U.S. and Israel would die in each other's arms, like a couple of characters from some opera – singing, with our last breath, about the awfulness and apathy of the rest of the world, which consists mainly of “haters”, racists, sexists, homophobes, etc. Oh the tragedy! Oh the humanity!

And yet... Russia has its “interests”, just as we do. Isn't that fair? (Apparently not.) It has its sphere of influence... its “turf”, and it turns out (no surprise) that Syria is part of that turf. I mean... as far as Russia is concerned, we can go ahead and nuke Afghanistan; it would serve them right after what they did to our patriotic and heroic boys who wore the red star. And they don't seem to have any great interest in Iraq (Iran being, perhaps, a different matter – which may be why we haven't attacked it yet). But Syria? Um, yeah... too close to home. So it was time to put their foot down. Plus, they sensed a weakness – a number of weaknesses, in fact. This country was in the middle of a civil war of words... a culture war... “occupiers”, “tea partiers”, budget crises, debt crises, a questionable “recovery” from the Great Recession (AKA not-great depression), and a president whose foreign policy is incoherent even on the best days, and whose inner circle consists of a bunch of power-crazed mediocrities. Americans were not “war-weary” (as is often stated by the media) but the military (not to mention the economy) had paid the price for two endless wars. Plus, Israel had ruled the roost in the Middle East for far too long, with us as errand boys, gofers, and cannon fodder. It was a great time to draw a line in the sand, and they did. And in response, we, basically, collapsed. Oh yeah, it was all “we're not giving up, we expect 'progress' or else”, etc. We're still a contender... I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille... and other icons of delusion. But everyone knew that we'd been called out, and had blinked. And Russia, just to rub it in, didn't jump up and down, or shout, or scream – they just very calmly played the part of the older and wiser (and more rational) nation, gently but firmly telling us to stand down and butt out. The message was “we've got this, OK?” And apparently Israel got the message as well – at least well enough not to mount a full-scale attack all by their lonesome (as if!). And.... oh yeah, I almost forgot Britain and France, who headed for the tall grass the first time they made eye contact with Vladimir Putin. “Hey, no problem! No empires for us, thanks – been there, done that. Have a nice day.” At least we still have some small, residual sense of shame.

So... what happens now? Are we just on sick leave, and once we're feeling better we'll jump back into the ring? I don't think so, because Russia is not about to leave. They stepped up, identified themselves as peacemakers (take that, Nobel Prize nerds!), but in the Teddy Roosevelt tradition of speaking softly but carrying a bit stick. We've been displaced, and I don't care how much of the time John Kerry shows his prune face over there, we're now strap hangers and they're driving the train. Israel, of course, must be fit to be tied, but they know better than to show it. Just a temporary setback, you know, and, well, maybe we can get rid of Assad some other way, etc. But they have to be feeling a chill in the air, because it's the first serious setback for them (or us) over there since Israel came to be. And if it can happen with Syria, it can also happen with any number of other places – and thus their isolation (and ours) becomes more profound with each passing day. How long can we expect to be in charge if we're increasingly marginalized? The fact is, we're not in charge – and haven't been for quite a while. We're the big, stupid muscle guy who takes orders from everyone else. And I'm not saying that the Regime (cabal, whatever) has met its match in Russia, but it has certainly taken a shot off the bow, and the effects are clearly sobering. Russia has been gathering its strength all this time, and if it should ever waver, China is not far behind.

It's a new world, and I, for one, can't say that I'm sorry. We may have had some moral superiority at the time of World War II and immediately afterward, but it started to fray with Korea and pretty much vanished without a trace in Vietnam. Everything since has been about empire, pure and simple – not right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, but power... influence... turf. We've become just another country throwing its weight around. This is not the way things were supposed to be... and if less power means less abuse of power, so be it. It is better to be remembered for the good one has done in the past than feared for the evil one is doing in the present.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Four Days in July

This is the time of year when I feel compelled to shed the light of reality on the inevitable nationalistic zeal. After all, in an ideational society, what holiday could be more important than one that celebrates the idea of independence – although true independence, from the follies of other nations and the machinations of the internationalists, is something we haven't experienced in generations. What if, for example, we were to declare independence from the U.N.? Or NATO? Or Israel? Or all of our ill-conceived “mutual defense” treaties? Now that would be something worth celebrating. As it stands, other countries are more likely to want to declare independence from us – and many have tried, with varying degrees of success. And really, the notion that, save the Revolutionary War, we would still be a British colony at this late date is somewhat quaint, to say the least. Something would have set us free, just as something would have ended slavery even without the Civil War.

This year we are experiencing a double dose of the usual fervor – not only Independence Day as usual, but also the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, AKA the “high water mark of the rebellion” (meaning that the Confederacy penetrated the farthest into Union territory at that point). Now... the conventional wisdom, and what is taught in the public schools, is that the Civil War was fought to free the slaves. Well, no. That, at the very most, would be an example of what is now called “mission creep”. At the time, the stated mission was to “preserve the Union” -- although one could question what was so all-fired important about preserving the Union that it merited all that death and destruction. What would have been wrong, for example, with redefining the “Union” as consisting of the Northern states, and letting the Confederacy go on their merry way? And no, Southern slavery would not still exist in the year 2013. In fact, blacks might also be less politically enslaved than they are now, by the liberal establishment and by their own leadership. We'll never know.

But the conventional wisdom is at least turning slightly toward an idea that honest historians have been aware of all along – namely that one of the main motives for the Civil War was profit, pure and simple... on the part of Northern industrialists and merchants. What, you say? “Commercial interests” having had a major hand in our most hallowed and sacred war? Blasphemy! Well yes, children, I'm afraid so – even as they had major hands in all of our other wars, including the first. Now, would the Civil War have been fought only for economic reasons? Or only (as is sometimes alleged) to preserve the Union? Or only to end slavery? What's more likely is that it was another one of those perfect storms – the cards were stacked against the South and sooner or later something had to give. Whether it had to “give” in such a catastrophic manner could still be debated, of course. The main thing is to mature in our thinking – to grow up and admit that wars are seldom, if ever, “pure” -- meaning based solely on sound ideas and principles, or alternatively on genuine defense of home and hearth. The implication, of course, is that few if any wars are truly “just” in the sense of Catholic teaching – and I do not hesitate to assert this. One can argue the righteousness of a cause (anti-slavery, for example) without having to go along with total war as a cure. In fact, a recent example is instructive. Communism of the Soviet kind collapsed of its own weight, as did the Soviet Empire, without a shot having been fired from our side; thus, we see the merits of occasionally waiting for history to happen.

Another thought occurs to me. Even if the Civil War was not “just” in the strict sense, it certainly did accomplish a worthy (if discovered) goal – namely the end of slavery. Was the South punished too much for having had that “peculiar institution” for so many lifetimes? After all, it's not as if slavery was all that rare even in that era, to say nothing of historically. Down through the ages, one people has been subjugated by another, and slavery – or at least serfdom, or second-class citizenship – is often the result (except for outright genocide, which very seldom succeeds anyway). But this is where ideas clash. Slavery in China in 1861 would not have attracted much notice, nor slavery in “black Africa” -- even though Russia did, in fact, eliminate serfdom in that year (an intriguing coincidence, when you think about it). But we had to stand up, every day – or at least the South did – and hold up the founding documents with one hand, and slave ownership on the other, with a big “except” in the middle. And for an ideational people this contradiction was a bit too much to bear. Plus, slavery had, over the years, generated so much bad karma that the South was laboring under that karmic burden, whether they realized it or not (Lincoln did, and said as much more than once, even though no one ever accused him of being a Buddhist). So you have that crushing burden on the one hand, and economic factors on the other, plus this zeal to preserve the Union at all costs... and the fate of the South was sealed before the first shot was fired. So even though the war was not strictly “just”, it may have had cosmic significance that the participants were, by and large, only vaguely aware of. Which is another way of saying that sometimes injustice on the one hand, or on one level, can exact a kind of justice on the other. One could also say that in war, the participants seldom know what they're really fighting for – but neither do the leaders. Lincoln was enough of a thinker to understand the situation, even though he was clearly not above being influenced by baser motives as well. Perhaps he saw the war as a sort of purification exercise – to rid the Republic of its last besetting sin, or major character flaw. If so, he has to be credited with some success, since none of our sins and shortcomings since that time have quite risen to the level of outright enslavement of one race by another on our home soil. Our sins are great and many, to be sure – but at least that one malevolent growth was excised.

So what am I urging here? That we turn our backs on this double dose of patriotism – on these four days? Far from it. The idea is to dig a bit deeper than we typically do, and try to see historic events... well, number one, as people saw them at the time, rather than with the many-layered veneer we insist on applying in order to force them into a preferred ideational box. There are no historic events without ambivalence – without naysayers and outliers. We need to study their points of view as well, because – hey! -- look at what we're going through in our own time. If we could look at an establishment history book 100 years from now, would we agree with what it said about our time – i.e. with the approved narrative? Not likely; we'd probably roll on the floor with laughter. I'm old enough to witness a lot of revisionism about events that happened in my own time, and find it quite refreshing, frankly. The only thing is – it tends to reinforce yesterday's conspiracy theories, and that implies that today's conspiracy theories may, someday, turn into conventional wisdom. It's something to ponder.

So accepting that the Civil War was bigger than any of its participants, with the probable exception of Lincoln, imagined... and that it was corrupted by greed and commercial interests... and that it was not nearly as much about slavery as we would like it to have been... and being willing to debate the question, was preserving the Union really worth all of that sacrifice? -- it's almost a waste of time to ask whether it was a just war, or a necessary war. On some (most, actually) levels it was unjust, and unnecessary. But karmically, it may have been quite necessary, or at least inevitable – the way the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had more karmic than military significance. Just as “ideas have consequences”, bad ideas generate badness – karma or whatever term you want to use – and a price eventually has to be paid. The nearest our government comes to acknowledging this these days is when someone talks about “blowback” -- but they usually talk about it as if it's undeserved, and a surprise, when it may be richly deserved and not the least bit surprising.

Moving on to Independence Day – and I don't want to rain on anyone's parade here. Parades are fine things, after all – if only (1) those fire trucks and rescue vehicles would quit blowing their sirens once in a while; and (2) “marching” units would actually march, rather than walking; and (3) the Boy Scouts would wear complete uniforms, rather than jeans; and (4) we could, once and for all, get rid of all those wizened old Shriners in their stupid red fezzes and three-wheelers; and (5) bands would actually play music rather than stumble along like zombies. But I digress.

Again, whether the Revolutionary War was strictly “just” -- well, I'll leave that to historians and Pat Buchanan. But it did happen, and it was, in fact, fraught with all the usual ambivalences, dissents, doubts, and debates as any other conflict – but we forget all of that, since, as has been often said, the victors write the history books. And if we hadn't outgrown colony status at that point, we certainly would have eventually. Plus, we had our own fortune to seek and our own fate to encounter. We had the American Experiment, which was tried by fire in the Civil War and thus changed irretrievably (and many will say regrettably). But even here there are controversies. Some will say that Progressivism was the beginning of the end of the American Republic with its independent, rugged, self-sufficient citizenry... and others will say that that era was the beginning of the realization of this country's true destiny – to be a humanist Utopia, not just for the elite but for the many. This debate was re-ignited by the New Deal, and again by the Great Society, and now we have Obamacare. The controversy rages on a daily basis – what does it mean to be American, which (by implication) will tell us what constitutes being un-American, or anti-American. And so on. The question still hasn't been settled yet, in all this time – which ought to tell you something about the durability and usefulness of pure ideas.

And then on the foreign policy side, did Manifest Destiny always refer to the American Empire, as opposed to westward settlement? The neocons certainly seem to think so. Were our ideas always meant to be spread world-wide – by military force if need be? But doesn't coercing other countries and peoples to conform (or pretend to) to our ideas and our ways violate our own founding principles? Aren't we chronically caught in a maze of contradictions? Ideas are fine, but when you add “missionary zeal” you start to get into morally questionable territory – not to mention “blowback”.

So the Experiment has run up against sharp rocks of late, and I wish I knew what to make of it in terms of the long view. Does it mean that it was a bad idea, and that it would never have worked? Is democracy a fanciful notion, vague in principle and impossible in practice? Have we, in fact, been held together all these years not by humanistic ideas (as is contended) but by sheer cultural and moral inertia from centuries of Christendom? (In which case, by suppressing religion, as we are now doing, are we not cutting off the branch we are clinging to?) Or – are we victims of some inevitable historical cycle, whereby any idea, no matter how good it was to begin with, is bound to deteriorate and decay and become more of a burden than an asset? In which case, can we at least claim that the American Experiment was good while it lasted, and that it produced more good for a greater number than would otherwise have been the case? Compared to idealism, that's pretty thin gruel, but it may turn out to be all we have. But on the plus side, if we once decide that the American Experiment has run its course, we are perfectly free to jettison it, with all of its accumulated discontents, and start anew. Yes, I really mean it – start over. When what you have has run out of steam, and is no longer an exemplar but is part of the problem, the truly radical, “progressive” thing to do is not to tweeze and tweak away at the margins, but start from scratch. (And here I was starting to worry that I'm not radical enough.)

So in the face of all this ambivalence, and “on-the-other-hand”-ing, and levels of motivation and idealism vs. crass materialism, and a wide array of “truths” (as Bill Clinton might say), is there any possibility of a true patriotism? Or do we just stand on the sidewalk and wave our flags with an air of quiet desperation? I think part of the answer is that our natural patriotic impulses have been, over the years, hijacked and misdirected by people with an agenda – by cynics, power-crazed politicians, and, yes, “commercial interests”. There is a natural kind of patriotism, or pride, which is pretty much universal among the human race (except for intellectuals, internationalists, bankers, industrialists, etc.), and it is based on the ancient verities of blood and soil -- “blood” meaning family, tribe, race, ethnicity, and, by extension, religion... and “soil” meaning, simply, land – the place of one's birth. You will notice that every liberal/socialist/humanist agenda to come down the pike has this in common – that it attempts to separate people from those things that anchor them as individuals and as groups. The “rootless cosmopolites” who run our media and “entertainment” industry, and dominate domestic politics, despise tradition and people of tradition – they demean those who live on, and receive their nourishment from, the land... they talk of “clinging to guns and religion”... and they consider valuing one's own tribe, race, or ethic group to be provincialism, racism, or downright “hate”. They avoid the countryside, AKA “flyover country”, like the plague, preferring cities which are their natural (so to speak) areas of operation. Draw the peasantry off the land and into the cities, with economic incentives (of both the carrot and stick kind) – deracinate them – demoralize them – get them into the matrix (including credit and debt) – get them hooked on “games and circuses” if not actual drugs – demoralize them – make them into unthinking, fear-ridden dependents – and you've got them. You've won! And we see how successful this program has been here – and how assiduously it's being practiced today in China. The common theme is – cut off all roots. Make everyone as rootless as their masters, except without the sustaining program of domination.

So I guess what I'm saying is that if there is any possibility of patriotism in our time, it has to be in the direction of tradition, and back to the land (in spirit if not always in fact). And it has to be unabashed in its regard for heritage – racial, ethnic, tribal, and religious. We have to stop apologizing, in other words – for being real people, as opposed to “metrosexuals” or the political equivalent thereof. And of course, the media will be against us, as will the academy, and the entertainment industry, and commercial interests in general – as well as all liberals, Democrats, humanists, “progressives”.... just about everyone, in other words. So it's not for the faint of heart. And yet if you want to stand up proud on Independence Day, or any other day, and not slumped over like a beaten serf, it's the only option.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Most Boring Job in the World

It’s funny how yesterday’s tinfoil-hat paranoia becomes today’s conventional wisdom.  All of a sudden the political landscape is teeming with people (and not just from the “radical right”) saying “I told you so!”  Yes, the intelligence agencies really are spying on American citizens, and not just on “terrorists” (whatever that might mean any more) -- and great is the outrage and indignation.  But is it really such a surprise?  For one thing, you can count on any technology, once it’s developed, to be abused by people who have nothing better to do than get the “goods” on other people.  It has happened with mail (of the pen-and-paper variety) since time immemorial… it’s happened with the telephone… and now it’s happening with e-mail and the “social media”.  And what are they looking for?  Well, as usual, it’s not always all that well defined.  It could be “terrorist plots”, or any connection thereto, or any tendency in that direction, or any “contact”, however remote or irrelevant, with a person, or persons, who might conceivably have something, directly or indirectly, to do with… just about anything considered dangerous or subversive.  Or any personal weakness or vulnerability (read: potential for blackmail or coercion) that might open them to compromise.  In short, just about anybody.

And there’s nothing new about any of this; the difference is in the tools.  And in the excuses given.  Anybody remember when membership in a certain racial or ethnic or religious group was ample reason to suspect them of being “un-American” or of having un-American tendencies?  We had the “Red Scare” after World War I (once we got over being afraid of German-Americans)… homosexuals were considered particularly vulnerable to blackmail during the Cold War… and now it’s come down to people who identify with the Tea Party, or patriotism, or who are against big government, or who are anti-war (a sure sign of being un-American, for reasons which I won’t belabor at this point).

So… has any significant line been crossed with these latest revelations?  Perhaps it’s that, for the first time, “normal” people, AKA “law-abiding citizens” are included in the dragnet.  It’s no longer the “alien” or the “other”; it’s pretty much everyone.  That’s one difference.  But also, let’s face the fact that we are living in a strange time, where tell-all, public confession, and sharing the most intimate information is the fashion of the day.  Call it the Jerry Springer Syndrome, except it’s no longer limited to trailer trash -- we now have the most revolting stuff being discussed out loud in public via cell phone, and everything else being revealed and paraded on TV and the Internet.  This notion of Americans “valuing their privacy” -- nonsense.  That’s the one thing you can be certain they don’t value.  It’s not just about the sanctity of the confessional any longer, as in days of old… or about things you’ll only tell your doctor, lawyer, or therapist… or, if pressed, the other people in your therapy or encounter group.  That was, apparently, not enough; now it has to be shouted from the rooftops, and it’s interesting to speculate as to why.  No longer do we dwell on the quaint concepts of “family secrets” or “skeletons in the closet”; all the closets (of any type) are open now, and even the government occasionally coughs up tidbits when it comes to big stories, like the JFK assassination, etc.  Once everyone who was involved is dead, things start to leak out, the way they have with the Soviet Union.  Of course, some things really are still kept under lock and key, but in general our lives are an open book, and that is, by and large, because we want it that way.

But again, why?  Why this compulsion to hang out dirty (or even lightly-soiled) laundry?  What deep psychological need is it meant to satisfy?  One possibility is that with the decline in morality, rules, and standards of behavior (not to mention etiquette), we are all looking for some sort of anchor -- for someone to tell us that, in fact, some things are still wrong.  Perhaps by indulging in public confession, and exposing all of our real or imagined offenses to the public eye, we can get the feedback we so desperately want.  Or on the other hand, we could simply be looking for validation; this is what the “gay marriage” thing is all about, in my opinion.  “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.”  But it’s not just about people “getting used to it” -- it’s about them saying it’s OK, it’s not a bad thing, in fact it’s a good thing -- a better thing than what we had before, in fact.

But why should we care?  Because there are lingering doubts, and I believe those are based on that small remnant of Natural Law that we each carry within us -- the notion that somewhere there is a god, or a father figure, or an authority figure who is displeased and has to be placated -- or to be convinced that, in fact, we are right and he is wrong.  So we yearn for two things at once, in effect -- validation (“I’m OK, you’re OK”) and correction (“You’ve been a bad boy and deserve punishment”).  So much for Rousseau!  The notion that once the human race is freed from all of its “hang-ups” a new day will dawn for humanity -- one without the burden of guilt, but only the freedom of unlimited permission… this notion seems to have overlooked something, or a lot of things, about human nature and the human condition.

And in fact, we have not, after all, evolved into a society without rules; quite the opposite.  In place of traditional morality, we have political correctness -- a far more onerous burden than the Ten Commandments ever were.  We have a modern materialist mythology -- Marx, Darwin, Freud, John Dewey, etc. -- that looms over our existence in a far more baleful way than any church doctrine ever did.  And of course we have the government -- not just the “nanny state” but also the “big brother state”, patting us on the head and kicking us in the behind at the same time.  And does it operate through kindness and persuasion?  I invite you to pore over the tax code or Obamacare for that answer.  No, it’s all about threat, coercion, and punishment.  And this is all perfectly understandable.  When the government steps in where all of the more traditional means of controlling behavior have been rendered mute and powerless, what else can we expect?  The Ten Commandments fit onto two stone tablets; how many tens of thousands of pages are in the tax code or Obamacare? 

So yes, we have become slaves… servants… subjects.  But much of it is our own doing.  If we did not consciously volunteer for this situation, then we certainly allowed it to happen by voting for, or tolerating, “leaders” who were consciously aiming at this state of affairs, and who have been consolidating their gains for lo these many decades.  Recent advances in information technology have accelerated the process, certainly -- but in qualitative terms it differs not from the 100-year-old income tax, or “revenooers”, or the draft -- all of which make the town bully or the neighborhood gossip of old seem benign by comparison. 

And another point is that there is always an “enemy” -- an “other” -- which is to be feared, and for the sake of which we have to give up our freedoms.  Just temporarily, of course, until the threat goes away -- except that it never does, it’s just replaced by something else.  Anyone recall the “vacation from history” that the Clinton administration is sometimes called?  Ah yes, that palmy time between the fall of communism and when “terrorism” appeared on radar.  Well, obviously, that would never do -- something had to be done.  The meticulously-constructed “state of fear” would never survive an extended period of non-fear, when all we had to amuse ourselves with was the ongoing soap opera in the White House.  New monsters had to be discovered -- or, if not discovered, then invented.  Make no mistake, 9-11 was the answer to countless prayers -- or the materialist equivalent thereof.  Suddenly we had a new enemy that required our full attention, and sacrifice, and tolerance for pretty much anything the government decided it had to do to “protect our freedoms”.  Not that the mechanisms were not always in place, but they were, by and large, being held in reserve until the next “crisis”.  And so here we are, defending our “freedoms” by giving them all up -- an operation that requires not only government surveillance on all levels, but an impressive propaganda apparatus as well.  (Apparently the Soviet Union served a purpose after all -- it taught plenty of people on this side valuable lessons.) 

But speaking of the Soviet Union… it, as we know, collapsed of its own weight.  But that collapse took 70-plus years -- not an encouraging sign.  And I don’t think it was just about perestroika, or glasnost, or some sort of “spring”, or a “color revolution”.  The Soviet Union was a symptom of one side of human nature -- a dark side, to be sure, but every bit as authentic as what lay behind the American Revolution.  Was communism a more “natural” environment for the human species than what we refer to as democracy and “capitalism”?  Some people persist in thinking it was… but that would be like saying that neurosis is more natural than mental health simply because it’s more common.  On the other hand, the “naturalness” of capitalism, and of the style of democracy that enjoys symbiosis with capitalism, have been called into question as well, of late -- and for good reason.  Where can the “natural man” thrive, then?  Only in primitive settings like the Amazon jungle?  Again, some feel that this is the answer -- smash the state, sabotage the machinery, disavow “progress”, and go back (if it even is “back”) to a Rousseauean paradise.  Unfortunately, that ship seems to have sailed, not the least reason being the overwhelming density of the human population on the globe (a product of technology, please note), which seems to call out for more and more government, more control, and more totalitarianism -- or all is lost.  How does one “return to the land” if there is no land left -- or if what is left is polluted or all owned by Monsanto? 

Now… the preceding was supposed to be only an introduction to the main topic of this post, but you know how that goes.  However, a point still can be made.  If one of the main outcomes of all of the above is the new “surveillance state”, what does it mean to the average citizen -- now or in the future?  To go back to the Soviet Union for a moment -- one could have wondered, all that time, how such a huge country with such abundant natural resources could have yielded up such a low standard of living (for a place not part of the “Third World”).  And yes, it was all about lack of incentive, collectivization, regulations, militarization, and so on.  But it was also the fact that half the population was employed, full-time, in spying on the other half.  How economically sustainable is a situation like that?  We worry about the welfare “burden”, and about tax receivers as opposed to tax payers -- and these are real concerns.  But how about a bureaucracy that our leadership can (so far) only dream of -- a nest of spies, with regular people spying on regular people for no good reason, but just because they can?  When your neighbor can, and will, “drop a dime” on you at the slightest provocation, it tends to put a bit of a chill on your ambition (not to mention creativity and innovation).  Imagine a country where half the population are either IRS agents or social workers, and you get an idea.  In that case, your best bet is to stay home and shut up -- and, if asked, parrot whatever came out of your radio or TV that day.  (And yeah, I know this is starting to sound familiar.)

So if this is where we’re heading, and if it’s largely our own fault, why is everyone getting so upset?  (Everyone, that is, except Obama’s lickspittles in Congress.)  It’s because we’re still sustained by illusion -- by ideas and ideals -- by words and word magic.  Politicians make fun of the people who identify themselves as “reality-based”, as if there were some other, superior, basis on which to formulate foreign policy.  But turn it around for a moment, if you will.  Let’s say that the government, is, in fact, reading all your mail (both electronic and otherwise), monitoring all your Facebook posts and “tweets”, recording your phone calls and casual conversations (even in the sanctity of the bedroom), noting all of your Internet searches, keeping track of your every movement and action through credit card, bank, and tax records, and so on.  What are they getting?  For most of us, the answer is:  Not a whole heck of a lot.  In fact, nothing of any significance -- at least not as things stand at the moment.  And this is not to make excuses for the NSA, CIA, FBI, etc. -- only that they are, 99.99% of the time, wasting their time and our tax money. 

And here’s what’s even more appalling -- everyone involved in these operations is, still, a real person.  These are not jobs that robots can do as yet, since they do involve some modicum of judgment.  So we have this spectacle of a vast army of government agents sitting in windowless buildings wearing headsets and staring at computer screens -- only to spend eight hours a day reading, or listening to, drivel.  I actually feel kind of sorry for these guys (and gals).  I mean… OK, we’ve all been privy to one end of inane and crushingly boring cell phone conversations, right?  It can’t be avoided.  We see the sorts of things people insist on putting up on Facebook or Twitter, and on Internet chat rooms.  (When I was a kid, it was the deadly stuff that one overheard on ham radio when it wound up on the same frequency as Howdy Doody.)  I mean… let’s face it, folks, most people are boring, and most of what they say and do is boring.  And yet we have this vast army of people -- also boring, if I don’t miss my guess -- whose job it is to overhear, record, compile, and summarize all this boringness… and then report it to the higher-ups.  Ever see a spy movie?  I mean a real one, not some James Bond-type fantasy.  These guys would spend weeks at a time wearing earphones and looking through binoculars, sitting in an unfurnished apartment, wearing wrinkled clothes, eating carry-out food and drinking gallons of coffee.  Pretty glamorous, huh?  And I suspect that the lot of our contemporary spies is much the same.  So let’s have a little sympathy, shall we?  If there’s anything more boring than the average person’s everyday life, it’s the life of the person whose job it is to keep track of it. 

And yet… we have all of these “reality shows”, that are full of people who, even though there might be an occasional bit of color to their existence, are, ultimately, boring.  And soap operas… and checkout-line tabloids.  So maybe boring is “in” after all.  And how much different is that from despair?  And once we get to that point, there’s not a whole lot the government can do to make things any worse.       

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Designer Presidency

If there’s one thing that all of the recent scandals in the Obama administration have in common, it’s that the president is always the last to know.  His response in each case has been of the Sgt. Schultz type -- “I know nut-ting!”  Now, the understandable reaction of the Republicans/conservatives to all of this is, “Bull!  Of course the president knows about it, and always knew about it.  After all, isn’t he in charge?”  Et cetera.  And it’s true that what happens in any given administration always reflects the “spirit”, so to speak, of the president, even if it doesn’t reflect his direct intent.  Take a few of the recent examples, for instance:

1.  The IRS harassing conservative groups.  Allegedly the work of “low-level employees” in Cincinnati, of all places.  Or, even better, of “rogue employees”.  OK… (deep sigh)… to begin with, there is no such thing as a “rogue” IRS employee.  These people are rigid, anal, Puritanical, and above all authoritarian.  They don’t move a muscle unless ordered to by someone up the line.  That most that can be said is that low-level bureaucrats love to do things in order to please the boss -- and who, pray tell, is ultimately the boss of every IRS employee?  Obama, who “knows nut-ting”. 

2.  Benghazi -- obviously a political ploy.  I don’t know for sure that those who wound up dead were “set up” in order to make a point, but they were certainly sacrificed after the fact by the blatant ass-covering operation, of which Susan Rice was only a small, if picturesque, part.  In any case, Obama knew nothing, and continues to know nothing -- and his secretary of state didn’t know enough to constitute criminal negligence.  Or so she claims. 

3.  NSA -- The question here is not unlike the question that arose concerning nuclear weapons.  If you’ve got it, you’re going to use it -- eventually.  Now, we somehow (miraculously!) managed to not get into a nuclear war with the Soviet Union or anyone else, but there were those minor incidents in Japan in 1945.  By the same token, information that is gathered will be used, and, likely as not, in an illegal or at least extra-Constitutional way, by someone at some point.  Democrat, Republican, it matters not.  Each administration sets the stage and makes the bed for the one to follow.  Today’s “outrage”, if you’re in the minority, becomes a useful tool once you’re in charge.  And so on.  In any case, the president… well, you know.   

4.  AP phone records etc.  This one has more than a hint of irony, since all of a sudden one of the countless lap-dog media outlets has developed a case of strange new self-respect and integrity, and is objecting to the fact that The Anointed One’s Justice Department is spying on its media allies (as well as the “acceptable opposition”, i.e. Fox News).  It recalls a classic Groucho Marx line, “I’m fighting for this woman’s reputation -- which is more than she ever did.”  Sorry, folks, but I’m not buying it.  You take all the goodies the administration has to offer -- you luxuriate in your front-row seat at White House press conferences -- then you object when they get in your shorts.  Frankly, I wish the government would just establish a Ministry of Propaganda, welcome the mainstream media into its ranks, and proceed as always; at least that would be honest.  And no, there would be no “loyal opposition” -- the opposition would be the real thing, not loyal, not subservient, always questioning, ever skeptical.  In other words, they would be journalists.

And, regarding the collection of information on citizens, any argument that begins “It will only be used for…” has about as much credibility as the original argument regarding the income tax, that it would only apply to the very rich.

5.  Weapons to the Syrian rebels (“This just in”) -- what will trigger the Sgt. Schultz response in this case?  Well, it could be when we find out that we’ve been sending weapons to Islamic militants who then turn around and use them on us -- either in Syria itself or elsewhere in the Middle East.  Or it could be when the “red line” turns out to be as bogus as the Gulf of Tonkin incident or the “babies in incubators” myth in Kuwait.  And that point will come, mark my word; it’s just a matter of time.

OK, so we’ve established a standard operating procedure here -- a meme, if you will… or almost a “tic”, because that’s what seems to afflict Obama every time something like this comes up.  It’s what a group therapist I had referred to as the “innocent and helpless” attitude.  And the Republicans/conservatives are, as I said, skeptical, because they cling to the notion that the president is still in charge.  (They has this odd idea during George W. Bush’s administration as well.)  But I, for one, am coming out in public and saying that I believe Obama.  Yes, I really do believe that when he says he knew nothing, he really means it, and that it’s, in most if not all cases, perfectly true.  But how can this be, you ask?   

The problem is that the president is not in charge -- of much of anything.  And this has been the case since, I would say roughly, the LBJ presidency.  Now there was a guy who really was in charge, and we are still suffering the consequences.  But since then -- not so much.  See, LBJ got put in place through his own efforts and through those of a vast cabal of like-minded folks.  They all had “issues” with JFK but the thing they had in common was that they all wanted him dead -- so dead he became.  So in a sense, LBJ owed them and they owed him -- kind of like some sort of Mafia deal.  But ever since, presidents have been used, abused, manipulated, exploited, scapegoated -- some more than others, certainly, but all to a considerable and conclusive degree.  The main difference among them has been the degree to which they appeared to be in charge.  Nixon was responsible for his own isolation, but was also exploited by the pro-war, pro-empire crowd.  Ford was a placeholder.  Carter was ignored by pretty much everyone, and deservedly so.  Reagan was a kindly avuncular figure rocking on the front porch… Bush I, certainly a member of the ruling elite, but also its servant… Clinton, a face in a suit who took an 8-year paid vacation called his “administration”… Bush II, the guy who gave sock puppets a bad name… and now The Anointed One, who has turned the entire country into Chicago gang turf on one level, but who, on a deeper level, is an abject servant of those who are really in charge. 

What does it all mean?  For one thing, it means that presidents are no longer elected, but appointed.  The two-party system is a sham, and our national elections are a sham.  For another thing, it means that the power is, and remains, in the “right” hands -- not those of any pathetic figurehead.  I mean, really… as I’ve argued before… if you were in charge of pretty much everything that matters, would you leave the fate of any of your empire in the hands of some buffoon who happened to be elected president of the U.S.?  I don’t think so.   

So if the presidency is no longer important, or a factor in what really goes on, why do we even need it?  Well, to keep up appearances.  It’s still a bit too soon in our history for the truth to come out, and it may, in fact, always be too soon.  In an ideational society in particular, the most important thing is to keep up illusions and delusions.  Ignorance is the most valuable tool of the Regime -- bolstered by language manipulation, the propaganda apparatus, and, as ever, games and circuses (literal or figurative). 

So what makes for good “presidential material”?  The answer is simple -- a face in a suit.  (Let’s abbreviate it FIAS.)  The guy (or gal) has to have curb appeal -- to be attractive and have an attractive family -- to be “good on his feet” -- to be a good speaker -- to be, in short, a politician, but nothing more.  “No substance required, or desired” is the watchword.  Wouldn’t want anyone straining against or bucking the reins now, would we? 

So let’s think back once again.  Was LBJ a FIAS?  Far from it.  The guy had all the curb appeal of a rottweiler -- and about the same bedside manner.  But he was the last of his kind, for which we can all be thankful.  Nixon was, likewise, no FIAS, and fatally flawed to boot.  Carter -- well, his presidency was best described as an interregnum, and his face continues to haunt us because he just won‘t leave.  But then we had Reagan, and he was the first bonafide FIAS since Kennedy, albeit he did have some substance and was smarter than his countless enemies gave him credit for.  Bush I, pretty much a FIAS -- basically a stand-in between Reagan and whoever the Regime could come up with next.  Clinton, the greatest FIAS of all time, to give credit where credit is due -- and still the spiritual (if that is the word) head of the Democratic Party.  Bush II -- a FIAS, Republican style (which means he didn’t blab about the kind of underwear he wore).  Obama?  A FIAS second only to Clinton… or third to Clinton and Kennedy.  Or fourth to Clinton, Kennedy, and FDR.  Whatever.  (Notice that all the most successful FIAS’s are Democrats -- obviously a fact requiring further analysis at a later date.)  

Please notice that genuine leadership, substance, ideas, ethics, gravitas, wisdom, etc. have all been relegated to the ash heap of history when it comes to presidents; good teeth and good hair are more important than all of those qualities combined.  Not only are those qualities not desired or needed, they are studiously avoided.  In the early years of the Republic, we had what almost amounted to philosopher kings -- the most obvious example being Jefferson.  But then came the slow deterioration (some would say it began with Jackson and that gigantic cheese), and we wound up where we are today.  It is much easier for the Regime to have placeholders in the White House than people with ideas, and so they have developed a procedure, not unlike that in professional sports, of spotting good prospects early on, cultivating them, shaping them, eliminating the ones who don’t measure up… until we have this quadrennial spectacle of the twin anointed ones -- the Tweedledee and Tweedledum of the hour -- being presented as “the only viable and realistic choices”.  Make no mistake -- if any of the losing candidates over the past 30-odd years had won, the result would be the same.  Do you think Mondale, Dukakis, Dole, Gore, Kerry, McCain, or Romney would have made a difference?  Please.  They would have been sucked into the maw of the Regime just like everyone else -- and, in fact, already had been, or they would never have been allowed to run.  And they were, arguably, also faces in suits -- well, except for Dole and McCain maybe.  The Republicans still haven’t quite figured out the face thing yet -- but they’re making progress (not that it’s not too late).

Is there a "plus side" to all this?  Well, for one thing, we can quit making a fetish out of the presidency, and quit treating the president like a monarch.  Other countries have what we (derisively) call "largely ceremonial offices" and no one has any problem with it.  The problem for us is that the president has served, for so long, as a scapegoat for anything and everything that goes wrong, we would be lost without him.  Who would we then blame?  Congress?  The media?  Or -- perish the thought -- ourselves? 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Meditations in Italy

(Written en route from Florence to Venice, after visiting Rome and Florence for a few days each)

I’ve heard it said that Italy is a museum (implied: and nothing more) -- and that this includes the churches.  What I see is a considerable vitality and an urge to improve… but even more to preserve.  It seems like every other historic building has scaffolding set up against at least one side… and many of them have scaffolding on the interior as well.  If Italy is one of the ill-starred “PIIGS” of the EU, it certainly doesn’t show up in the form of neglect.  Of course, one can argue that tourism is Job One, but one of our drivers, when asked about the economic situation, said that no, Italy has much too much economic depth and diversity to fall into the same trap as Greece and Cyprus.  We’ll see.  It would be a shame if a country that does so many things right should become a charity case (not that there’s any “charity” involved; it’s more like indentured servitude).

What does Italy do right?  Start with the things that are preserved that ought to be -- as opposed to the American fetish for newness and our tendency to neglect or outright destroy our architectural legacy -- although, admittedly, things are better now than they were in the 1950s, perhaps the epitome of American philistinism (or the post-Vatican II era, if you’re talking about vandalism vis-à-vis churches).

Another thing that strikes me about this country is that it has a kind of seamless view of its history and culture.  Ancient, pre-Roman cultures (Greek colonies, the Etruscans) merge into Rome, which merges into the Middle Ages and Christianity, which merges into the Renaissance, and eventually Italian unification… and, yes, even Fascism and the World War II period.  They give Mussolini credit where credit is due… but consider the Nazis to have been invaders and oppressors.  The point is, when it comes to iconography, Greek legends, Roman gods, emperors, kings, dukes, popes, cardinals, saints, etc. -- it’s all mixed up in one big stew.  In any given room of any given museum, you might find a Roman statue, an Etruscan vase, a Renaissance portrait or battle scene, and a Medieval triptych.  And nobody minds!  Because here, history is current events, and national (and regional) identity is perfectly bound up with 2000-plus years.

Now, one might say, isn’t this also a weakness?  Isn’t this fixation on the past a handicap when dealing with the present -- especially the economic present, like the EU, etc.?  Well… it probably is.  But I’m sure the Italians would much rather be themselves than be… oh… Germans, let’s say, or Scandinavians, or Swiss -- you know, all those sober, responsible people.  The mystery (to me) is -- is there some sort of mysterious bond between the Italian aesthetic -- the sense of life -- and Italian chaos?  How many times have I heard -- in a consoling, if not paternalistic, way -- “piano, piano”, which means, basically, “relax, wait a bit, it’s going to be OK”.  Is there a word for that in German?  Highly doubtful.  (At least we have “chill”.) 

Let me put it another way.  Imagine a country, or a culture, that looks, feels, smells, and tastes like Italy but operates like Germany.  Or Switzerland.  Hard to imagine, you say?  Exactly.  But try figuring out why it’s hard.  I can’t -- at least not yet.  (But I promise to keep working on it.) 

Before leaving this topic, let me get down to a few cases.  In the hotels, the plumbing is a bit baffling, as are the thermostats, power outlets, phones, coffee makers, etc.  We're on our third hotel and haven't yet figured out to turn on the TV.  It’s enough to make one feel like a Hottentot who is plunked down in the middle of Los Angeles.  On the other hand, the Italians seem incapable of making or serving bad food, even in the scruffiest, least-likely-looking joints.  The “house wine” here is better than most of what one can buy in bottles in the U.S. -- the preserved meat and cheese are simply better than anything in the U.S., period.  The fruit is fresher, the desserts are tastier, the pastries have a decent texture (as opposed to our “wet cardboard” format), the olive oil is aromatic, and it all gets washed down with generous doses of mineral water “con gas” (which does not refer to one’s digestive system -- in fact it has the opposite effect).

I’m going to go out on a limb here.  The Italians are good at the things that really count -- that are part of what one might call “real life”, as opposed to life confined to paper, the media, digits, automation, technology.  It is life in the direct sense, not at three or four removes… a life of the senses rather than of “good sense”.  Oh, I’m sure there are Italians who worry about their “portfolio”, and about inflation, balance of payments, national debt, etc.  And unemployment is an issue, no doubt.  But for us, these issues are primary; they take the place of real life.  And what that means is that we are easily-manipulated victims of the Regime and the media.  We are sheep on steroids -- easy to panic, to stampede, to persuade to settle for much less than what we are and what we could be.  The Italians don’t worry about “human potential” -- they’re too busy living.  And what is “self-improvement” if you can sit in a café on a sunny day with a glass of chianti and a plate of prosciutto and pecorino?  So they have their priorities straight - which, of course, infuriates the up-tight races who revel in their character armoring (and spend all their time plotting world conquest).

There’s another angle here too -- because there is no objective reason why our food can’t be as good as the food here, or the cheese almost as good, or the wine… well, that’s another matter.  And there’s no reason our cities can’t be allowed to grow and evolve in an organic way that actually invites people to walk the streets -- or rather stroll, of an evening.  Our cities don’t have to be as incredibly noisy as they are; Rome, as big as it is, is, I would estimate, about 1/5 as noisy as New York.   And as to sanitation -- there are street-washing and -cleaning trucks going by every night here.  Not once a month, or once a week, but every 24 hours.  And yes, the streets get littered, but not on the pathological level of most cities in the U.S.  (One thing that helps is that hardly anyone smokes here.  And no one chews gum -- that uniquely disgusting American habit.) (And people who have dogs have small dogs, not monsters that drop a 5-lb. load every five minutes.) 

I’ll say it again -- at the risk of beating a dead (if only!) horse.  We are Puritans -- still.  And what is a Puritan?  It’s someone who feels that every sensory, or sensual, pleasure -- no matter how small or inconsequential -- is a sin.  This doesn’t mean they don’t do it, only that they feel guilty about it.  They treat it as a bad thing -- something that ought to be eradicated.  One senses this undercurrent everywhere in America, on all levels.  But in Italy… well, I doubt if the Italians have a term that matches our “guilty pleasure” or “sinfully rich” (as in desserts, not Wall Street barons -- they’re OK).  The irony is that “eating to live” is one cardinal rule of Puritanism, as opposed to “living to eat” -- and yet by only eating to live, we wind up eating foods that are actually inimical to life… foods that are barely nutritious and lacking in taste (or full of bad taste), and are, besides, full of hormones, toxins, and artificial ingredients of all kinds.  In other words, by denying the senses we wind up denying life itself (and thus committing a great heresy, I might add).

And it becomes a vicious circle.  By denying ourselves natural gratification -- which is, after all, a sign, given by Nature, that we are doing something right (and “adaptive”, for you Darwinians out there) -- we also deny life in general, and our own lives in specific… and become demoralized, and resentful, and paranoid, and insanely jealous of people who are satisfied just to live… and, finally, determined to teach those people the error of their ways and, if they do not repent and reform, to destroy them.  Thus, the Puritan impulse becomes bound up with the American Empire, and we wind up spreading life-hating misery around the world, corrupting people who would otherwise have persisted in their innocent pleasures.  This program goes back at last as far as Woodrow Wilson, and there were precursors even further back. 

So we become the bullies of the world, not only militarily and economically but also morally… metaphysically, if you will.  Our mistaken notions about the nature of man are an essential part of what we attempt to spread through our missionary zeal.  We land on foreign shores with our weapons and suits of armor, behold the natives happily sitting around campfires enjoying food, drink, music, fine cigars (OK, maybe that’s a stretch)... and immediately start plotting ways of “curing” them.  And of course on every foreign shore there are a few wretched souls who, for whatever reason, don’t fit in, and they are the very ones we hire to tyrannize their fellows and become collaborators.

You think this is too much of a stretch?  Too belabored?  Perhaps -- but just try sitting in one of these sidewalk cafes, pick up the vibes, and consider how much different it would be if we were in charge.  The implications are sobering. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Crisis of the Month Club

OK, let's see, I think I've got this right – first there was the “fiscal cliff”, and then the “sequester”, and now we have the “continuing resolution”, to be followed by still another “debt ceiling” crisis. And before the current endless stream of crises, there was the default crisis, and the reduced bond rating crisis... not to mention the budget fights that seem to occur every few weeks, even though, supposedly, budgets are passed on an annual basis.

So what's it all about? Just sheer stupidity and bull-headedness on the part of the administration and Congress? But that's been the case as long as anyone can remember; why is it now taking the form of a monthly (at least) crisis of some sort? Politics? But that's been around forever too. OK then, how about a change in tactics? Like this “fiscal cliff” which supposedly held the defense (AKA war) budget hostage – except that it really didn't – and the sequester, which supposedly involves “draconian” cuts in the defense budget (if only!)... except that it doesn't. If you study the numbers, you quickly realize that there are no “cuts” at all – the only thing even remotely reduced is the rate of increase in the defense budget (and all others as well) – i.e. the percentage by which they go up each year. The so-called “cuts” are not even enough to yield a straight-line budget, to say nothing of a real budget reduction. What it basically means is that every government department and agency will continue to have what it has now; the only thing in question is the amount of additional goodies they'll be awarded. But of course “what you have now” is never enough, any more than it is for an ambitious or greedy individual citizen. Everyone wants to be bigger, better, stronger – the difference being that the government gets that way by making the citizenry smaller, worse off, and weaker. The tumor has now grown to be bigger than the host – a situation that cannot stand if you're talking about biology, and is unsustainable in economics as well, even though the people who voted for Obama all believe that government is the (only) source of wealth and prosperity. If “war is the life of the state”, then it's also the death of the overall economy, and of individual freedom and prosperity. We have seen collectivization reach the breaking point in a number of societies over the past few decades; we know it's unsustainable. The only question is what happens after it collapses of its own weight, and every society seems to have its own answer. The Russians sold everything off to speculators, the Chinese morphed into state capitalism, Cambodia... well, what did Cambodia do? Does the place even still exist?

But even that is giving the powers-that-be too much credit – i.e., for having good, if flawed, intentions. The fact is that the “fiscal cliff” was a hoax. It was a self-inflicted wound that, once the supposed day of reckoning had passed, was quickly forgotten. But the point had been made – Congress and the administration are helpless in the face of blind forces, and they need the unflagging support of the public in order to rescue us from disaster. (Notice how everyone forgot that the “fiscal cliff” was the result of legislation passed by, guess who, Congress, just a few months earlier?) And then the “sequester” -- again, blind, evil forces taking drastic cuts in those very areas that would hurt, or at least annoy, the public the most – except who decided on what those areas were? Men from Mars? Oh, right – it was what we used to call “salami slicing”, where everyone pays their “fair share”. So putting condoms on bananas in public schools gets cut just as much, but no more, than air traffic control. Big Bird takes a hit, but no more of one than artificial limbs for war veterans. But again, someone had to decide this – they had to set up this straw man to, first, scare everyone, and then knock it down, to great relief and rejoicing.

What has changed, more than anything else, is that the public is being dragged into each of these made-up crises, and forced to sit there like people in the front row at a boxing match, getting splashed with blood and sweat... even if they'd rather be just about anywhere else. And what they are mostly forced to do is rise up out of their apathy and worry, fret, and panic. The world is coming to an end (again!), and nothing can save us except – you guessed it – the government. Ah yes, our persecutor and tormentor, and the cause of all of this trouble, and yet they can still save – and will, provided we give undying “support” (usually involving giving up more freedoms and wealth), don't ask questions, and turn our fates over to our betters.

It resembles nothing so much as an old-time protection racket, in which the same mob would either protect you or put you out of business, depending on whether you “cooperated”. This was the kind of thing practiced in places like Chicago, for example, which has the distinction of being the most recent home town of Our President. (Coincidence? I don't think so.)

But I'm going to take this one step further. It's one thing to refer to Obama as a thug, demagogue, and con artist, which he is – but he and his cronies, and Congress, are terrorists as well. How so? Well, what do terrorists do? They cause stress among the populace through random, violent attacks, and then offer to stop if only people will start doing things their way – adhere to Sharia law in the case of the Islamic world, or love Big Brother – i.e., embrace the totalitarian state – in our case. Now, granted, this domestic terrorism is not directly physical (although I'm sure it's caused some heart attacks here and there), but a daily assault on your peace of mind, sense of well-being, security, hope for the future, confidence, morale, and wallet? That adds up to a pretty hefty non-physical cornucopia of offenses. And sure enough, the media are playing their assigned role very effectively – pushing the panic button every hour on the hour, 24-7. And by this I include not only the “mainstream media”, but also the “acceptable opposition”, like Fox News and talk radio. They're all on the same side – the side of panic, terror, and despair. And to all of this you have to add cynicism, as evidenced by the fact that, as each crisis passes without the world actually coming to an end, Obama gets up and jokes about it, like it was really not that big a deal after all. Well, which is it, sir? One minute the very American way of life is at stake, and the next minute we're going to make a few “tweaks” and minor adjustments, and all will be well. (And, by the way, he sits down to dinner with the “opposition” and they have a great evening joking about it all.) 

Do you see the cyclic nature of all this? The current version is as follows: (1) Made-up crisis, for which no one is responsible. (2) Said crisis constitutes an existential threat to the health, safety, well-being, and way of life of every American. (3) Only the government can save us, except that it is being kept from doing so by (a) Republicans, and/or (b) conservatives, and/or (c) an obstreperous public which hasn't yet learned its lesson. (4) As the eleventh hour approaches, tensions mount, and the media are on high alert. There is a run on banks, people are buying gold, guns, and freeze-dried food (as well as the 3 staples -- milk, bread, and gasoline). (5) Finally the moment arrives when a great chasm was to open up and swallow the country whole, but (6) A miracle! Somebody blinked, or there was a last-minute compromise, and the crisis was averted (until next time). The president gets all the credit for saving the day, and the Republicans and shown, once again, to be greedy, selfish, and evil.

Rinse and repeat!

The amazing thing is not so much that this same scenario gets played over and over again – typically engineered by the Democrats but with the full cooperation of the Republicans – but that people keep falling for it. I guess it's better than simply living a life of quiet desperation. A bit of excitement now and then, to make up for the cradle-to-grave state of twilight sleep we exist in most of the time. Maybe it's even a good thing, in a way – serves to thin the herd or something, like swine flu. It is, in a sense, the domestic equivalent of “terrorism” and the “war on terror” -- endless, random, without cause, but the gravest threat in our history, and requiring significant sacrifices of wealth and rights. But the point is that it's a hoax – it's always a hoax, things are never even remotely out of control, and it's all about expanding government power and contracting individual liberties. The goal, of course, is a totalitarian state with a ruling elite and a vast army of slaves – with a “missing middle”, namely the middle class, which has been marked for extermination.

(And as a side note, this outmoded idea that the American middle class and small business are the true sources of the nation's wealth -- well, that premise has clearly been thrown over.  The working classes and socialists never believed it to begin with, and the ruling class has now apparently decided that they can get along without the middle class -- that computers and automation will fill the gap, somehow.  So you can have a society made up of a lower class, most of whom are unemployed, a bunch of robots and computers in the middle, and a ruling elite at the top.  Right out of sci-fi.  But you know how most of those stories end... )

And speaking of... well, this isn't the best segue ever, but I'm going to throw it in. Anyone notice how the Dow is back at record highs? With everything else going terribly wrong with the economy, the Dow is sitting there on a high place, basking in the sun. How can this be? How, for example, can it be that the re-election of a socialist president hasn't been a severe blow to the stock market and to the financial sector in general? Time was – and I can remember – when you could count on the stock market to take a plunge whenever a Democrat was elected (or re-elected) to the presidency, and get a boost whenever a Republican was. And this was simply because the Republicans were on the side of business, and of capitalism, and the Democrats were on the side of labor, and of socialism. Very simple. But these days, those reliable old correlations don't seem to be in effect any longer.

Well, to make a very long story very short, it's because the Democrats have long since given up populist-style socialism (exemplified by the New Deal) and become, for all intents and purposes, fascists – leaving the genuine populism to people out on the street, like the Occupiers. And the Republicans have given up free-market capitalism (of the “old guard” type, or of the paleocon type, or of the libertarian type, or of any other type) and become... fascists. And the people at the top of the financial food chain – large international corporations, banks, and other financial entities, have decided that the political system that best serves their interests in the long run is... fascism. Wow, talk about a meeting of the minds! Finally, everyone agrees on something. But what it means is that elections no longer matter (assuming they ever did) because anyone who is elected (or allowed to be) is going to have the same core agenda, even if their rhetoric seems to indicate otherwise. Which means that the ruling class, or Regime, will prosper no matter what, the lower classes will continue to be hypnotized by games and circuses (and controlled substances), and the middle class (including the few remaining genuine capitalists, i.e. small businessmen) will continue to be led, like sheep, to the slaughter.

But then why should the Dow, or any other economic indicator, go up or down at all? If the sun is always shining on the heights upon which the ruling class dwells, why this constant fluctuation (dutifully described by the media, in their typical hyperbolic way, as “soaring” and “plunging”)? Well, that's because the stock market too is a hoax – what I call a gigantic churn, taking in the hard-earned savings of the unwary and spitting out losses, while those in charge receive a no-risk, guaranteed income. It's a mechanism, OK? -- a mechanism for parting fools from their money. Now, this is not to say that ordinary people can't occasionally make money in investments, but the system was not designed with them in mind. That would be like turning a polo field over to Frisbee players.  No, it was designed as a place for those in charge to stash money, and use it as a kind of bait to get others to “invest”. I put that in quotes because, in fact, to the average investor, buying securities of any sort is not an investment at all, because that implies some modicum of knowledge about what is being invested in, and of the dynamics involved. It's, rather, a gamble, pure and simple. Whereas for those running the show, it's neither an investment nor a gamble, but a sure thing. So in the long run, wealth will tend to “trickle up” from the naïve middle class to the ruling class, and the stock market is one of the main mechanisms by which this occurs – along with things like inflation, taxes, interest (low on savings, high on credit), cost of living (the part that's manipulated, which means most of it), health care, insurance, real estate, etc.

So the stock market goes through cycles too. It has to, because how else are you going to seduce people into gambling there? It's the element of chance – of luck, of unearned wealth – that seduces people, the same way gambling does. The so-called Great Recession, which I call the Great Taking, was the most recent instance of manipulation of the middle class to achieve maximum financial “exposure”. The boom was lowered, and all of that “wealth” (mostly on paper anyway) vanished, and only the international banking/financial cartel knows where it all went. So then the ordinary schmo gets scared, starts hoarding his pitiful stash of cash, and the elite go around and police up the battlefield, picking up assets at bargain prices (and selling them to the government at retail, in the case of real estate). Time passes, and memories grow dim – and then it's time for another Great Taking. I think this is what the current highs in the Dow are all about, more than anything else. Because by any other criterion, it's totally unreasonable; it shouldn't be happening. With a government that is, for all intents and purposes, bankrupt... that is borrowing money up to the level of the GDP each year... that is squandering resources on endless, pointless wars... that is socializing as much of the economy as possible... that is openly persecuting and robbing the middle class... you'd think that the second-to-none economic indicator would reflect all of this. “Except” for what I described above – that's it not an indicator of the overall health of the economy, or of its probable future economic health, or of anything else – it's just that magic moment when the slot machines at the casino seem to be “paying off” and all the knuckle-draggers in town race over to stuff every last dollar they have into those slots, only to be grievously disappointed.

And I guess the saddest thing about the Great Taking is that no one was punished who should have been, and no one learned anything. The stage was immediately set for the next round, and it may now have begun.