Thursday, February 27, 2014

It's a Nice Day for a Gay Wedding (Cake)

I swear, if I were king (or president – assuming there's a difference) I'd establish a cabinet-level department devoted to clear thinking. It would be staffed by... well, maybe a logician or two, but certainly not any of this motley crew of self-styled “philosophers” that infests our campuses these days. I think I would round it out with stand-up comics – you know, the serious kind, like George Carlin or Jackie Mason. Or Lenny Bruce. Their job would be to cut through all the cant, fog, smog, and obfuscation that characterizes virtually all political (which also means social and economic) discussion in our time. But... wouldn't a government agency devoted to clear thinking be a contradiction in terms? I think it would, since government is so dependent on deceit, dissimulation, and obfuscation as tools with which to get their way and exploit the hapless citizenry.

In any case, a current example of where clear thinking could be of use, but will never be applied, is Arizona's gyrations with regard to whether businesses have a right to discriminate against some (potential) customers based on religious freedom – i.e. the business owner's religious freedom vs. the customer's supposed freedom to purchase goods and services the same as anyone else. (Note, please, that the former freedom is in the Constitution, whereas the latter is not.)

First, let's clarify what is intended here (since no one else will). The issue in question, basically, is whether a merchant or service provider can refuse to deal with a customer whose behavior (known or assumed) would be considered sinful according to the religion of said merchant or service provider. (This is, of course, contingent on said businessman being a member of a recognized religious group with a coherent moral code. That already narrows it down a bit.)

Right? I mean, isn't that what we're talking about? It's not just a matter of like or dislike, or of taste. Now – LGBT customers are low-hanging fruit, if you will (and I really do apologize for that metaphor), since the minute they walk in the door you can assume they are engaged, on a regular basis, in certain, um... “activities” that a traditional religious code would consider sinful, even if they are no longer illegal. (I say “traditional” because this is no longer the case with main-line Protestantism, liberal Catholicism, or most of Judaism, or just about anyone else. The Moslems seem to be holding the fort so far.) But this is an assumption, right? I mean – who's going to ask even the most blatantly gay couple whether they actually “do it”? They might be living under one roof in a state of total chastity, for all I know.

But what about everyone else? Do I have to come up with a questionnaire to administer to everyone who comes in the door? I mean... how about a couple “living in sin”, as they used to say? Are we to deny them a wedding cake? At least a wedding would make them into honest people. Or, what about an adulterer? What if a known mobster, suspected of being involved in any number of cement-bootie operations, walks into your bakery and orders a box of cannoli? What about a sharp businessman, or an evil banker or loan shark? What about a politician? Where does one draw the line? I mean... all they're talking about with this bill is one of the ten commandments. What about the other nine? The LGBT community could claim that they're being picked on – and they would be right, in a way.

That's the logic (or illogic) of the situation. But there's another aspect, at least as important. Any libertarian worth his (or her) salt would say that a private businessman has a perfect right to do business, or refuse to do business, with anyone he pleases – for any reason, or for no reason. Call it “discrimination” if you like, call it arbitrary, but the point is that it's a private business, and is thus – or ought to be – sacrosanct and free from government interference, even with the best intentions. The government itself, on the other hand – meaning its agencies and employees – have no such right, since they are supposed to serve the entire citizenry (and not just the ones who voted for the winner, note). And by extension, any organization that does business with the government, or receives any sort of preferential treatment or subsidy, likewise does not have that right. So a defense contractor would be forbidden to discriminate, but the pizza parlor down the street would not (unless they had a standing order to deliver ten thick 'n' crusties to the local recruiting station every Friday night).

See what I'm getting at? “Private” means private, period. So with that in mind, the governor of Arizona should reject (not veto, just ignore) this bill because – horrors! -- it doesn't go far enough. The problem with that, of course, is her legal team would advise her that any bill that expands the rights of private entrepreneurs to the point of, say, the rights they all had up until the last few decades, would be automatically nullified by any number of existing federal laws, case law, etc. And they would be correct, since decisions of that sort were taken out of the hands of business people long ago.

But what does this all mean? Should religious beliefs, or beliefs of any sort, or mere convictions, prejudices, distastes, etc. all be confined to the private sphere and disallowed in the marketplace? Does the government, in effect, own the marketplace even if it doesn't always operate it? We see in this case, more clearly than in most, how the assertion of one right, or set of rights, on the part of one party invariably means a diminution of a right, or set of rights, for someone else – even if those rights are not considered “equal” in merit by societal consensus or by law. My free speech may mean you don't have a right to perfect peace and quiet, or the serenity of unquestioned opinions. My freedom of religion may mean my rosaries on your ovaries – not in the literal sense but by way of prayer. And so on. The premise has always been that human rights, or civil rights, are morally superior to more parochial, self-centered, bigoted interests, but this is a premise in itself – humanistic enough, but a premise nonetheless, that is typically implemented based on political considerations. The very definition of “rights” -- most of which were unheard of until recently -- is a political process. In fact, the term has been abused to such an extent that we may have find another, just to bring meaning back into the discussion. The main problem is that human rights had, at one time, a moral and ethical basis, whereas these days it's all been reduced to politics. But, a lot of the traditional morally- and ethically-based rights are still hanging around, and are forced to duke it out on a daily basis with the newly-discovered politically-based rights. To give just one example, “freedom of speech”, a presumed basic human right, has run up against laws prohibiting “hate speech”, which is a purely political construct. Et cetera.

So if we have a “wall of separation between church and state”, it also appears that we have a wall, likewise, between church and the marketplace, i.e. business. And anyone of any conviction who chooses to seek his fortune in the marketplace must leave his “personal” (even if shared by millions of others) beliefs behind. This is the plain intent of the law as it is currently applied. The dilemma for a person of faith is this: Do they sin by consenting to this arrangement? It's one thing to pay taxes to a government that does immoral things, because behind every tax form lurks the point of a gun. Filing one's taxes is not voluntary; it's voluntary – or else. Or – turn the problem around and ask what happens when a provider of goods and services is perceived as doing sinful, immoral, or just plain wrong things. (Think of Chick-Fil-A. Think of Dow Chemical of old. Think of all the boycotts you've ever heard of, or participated in.) People certainly have a right to not patronize that business. But the business does not have an equal, or reciprocal, right to “boycott” or refuse to serve a subset of customers. All I'm trying to establish is that it's a matter of politics, not principle.

We pride ourselves in that we honor, most of the time, the concepts of free trade and free association, among others. Add freedom of thought, of which freedom of religion is a subset, into the mix. Then see what happens when the freedoms of thought and of association collide with free trade. This is the problem Arizona and a number of other states are dealing with at present, and I think we can expect, in the long run, that anything remotely resembling states' rights in these cases will be crushed into fine power by the federal courts – or by state courts in anticipation of the federal courts. The pity is that questions like this in our time are not referred to the Constitution or to any venerable moral or ethical code, but to politics – which is to say, to rule by the mob and by emotion.

An added observation – what if the Arizona bill were to be passed, signed into law, and passed scrutiny by the judiciary all the way to, and including, the Supreme Court? I mean, I know this could never happen, but “what if?” Let's say a given business decided to assert itself in some way, against one or more “minorities”. Would they regret their decision? It depends. They would, of course, lose some potential customers automatically... others would quit doing business there out of solidarity... others wouldn't start doing business there for the same reason... etc. But on the other hand, there would be people who would start or keep doing business there out of solidarity with the businessman. So it would be a matter of demographics and, yes, politics – and how strongly people felt about the issue. I've never participated in a boycott, but I have redirected my business when I felt that a given merchant or service provider was “doing the right thing”, and that may have been just because they were locally owned and operated, or small, or independent, or something. But it's a complex world out there, and if you look for a reason to not do businesses somewhere, you'll usually find it. Even the coolest of the cool businesses, like – oh, I don't know – Ben and Jerry's or something, probably have some fatal flaw. So on any given day I'm going to opt for price and convenience and quality, and leave the politics up to someone else. (Call me apathetic, go ahead.)

On the other side of the coin is the fate of the consumer. Would a “freedom of association for businesses”, or FAB (!), bill result in minority members collapsing in the street from hunger or lack of clothing and shelter? Of course not. The beauty of American free enterprise – what's left of it – is that any need is going to be filled in short order, as long as it's up to the private sector and not government. To begin with, the majority of places of business would, almost certainly, ignore their new-found freedom to discriminate and continue to serve all comers. But besides that, new businesses would spring up to fill the gap, catering to whatever niche market had developed. And in fact, those businesses would probably attract non-niche customers as well. I've wandered into plenty of places in all innocence, only to find that I didn't quite fit the demographic they were aiming at. (And I'm not talking about bars; just thought I'd throw that in.) But I was always greeted with courtesy, and more often than not I became a customer – at least on that one occasion. So I imagine that our (also quite recent) infatuation with “diversity” would more than make up for any ill effects of letting businesses do as they please. Of course, the only way to find out for sure is to try it, and that's not gonna happen.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

U So Karzai

“Bad puppet! Bad!” This is the message that Obama and the State Department mob keep trying to convey to our man in Kabul – the guy with the sheepskin hat and the coat of many colors – Hamid Karzai. As far as they're concerned, he owes us, man! We put him into power, we're his sole means of support, and yet he keeps acting like he's his own man. He even says things like “Afghanistan is a sovereign country.” Dude – when you're country is still occupied by foreign troops who invaded it more than 12 years ago, it's not “sovereign”. Get over it.

But what Obama & Co. see as flakiness on the part of Karzai is nothing more than survival tactics. I mean... the guy is not stupid, OK? He knows full well that even though we call him an “ally” he's expected to salute and click his heels every time Obama or some State Department functionary gives an order, er, suggestion. And while the rest of the world (and not a few people in this country) call him a puppet, a goodly portion of his own citizens consider him a collaborator. And as if this weren't enough, he has also seen what a temperamental and unreliable “ally” the U.S. can be. I mean OK, we do have one “eternal ally”, namely Israel, and that would not change if Moloch himself ascended the throne. But otherwise, we're perfectly capable of turning around and walking away, leaving our “friends” behind holding the bag (or their own heads). It happened in Vietnam – though not without ample cause – and, arguably, in Iran and in any number of other marginal, third-world places. Basically, the relationship is over when we say it's over... and Karzai expects that one of these days it will be his turn, so he's trying to make a few friends, and unmake a few enemies, in order to ease his plight when that day arrives. And in that part of the world, the “plight” in question typically involves being separated from one's own head by main force. Anyone remember Najibullah? He was Moscow's man in Kabul, and, according to Wikipedia, he “(was) said to have been castrated by the Taliban, and... was dragged behind a truck in the streets of Kabul before being publicly hanged.” Now there's an attention getter for you! No wonder Karzai is hedging his bets.

The main bone of contention at this time is the question of how long our troops will be permitted to stay, or tolerated, or whatever the euphemism is – and this in itself is remarkable since we certainly didn't ask permission to invade Afghanistan, or cause a regime change, or occupy it for lo these many years. And yet all of sudden we're asking permission to stay. This could, in fact, be a sneaky way of creating an excuse to leave – like, well, we were perfectly willing to hang around until doomsday, but hey, Karzai said no, so we just have to go, too bad so sad. Well, of course that argument would be somewhat novel, and it certainly wouldn't fit into our empire-building model. After all, we still have troops stationed in the Axis powers – Germany, Italy, and Japan – nearly 70 years after the end of World War II. We don't ask their permission, and they don't ask us to leave; don't ask, don't tell.

The other sticky wicket at this time is the release of prisoners – but that's easily explained, once again, by Karzai's need to make friends and unmake enemies.

The reason the “Global War on Terrorism” is a full-employment act for all kinds of people is that there's no criterion for victory – for an end point. How would we ever know that it was over? Because even if you kill or suppress all the “terrorists” in a given area or country, more could come bubbling up at any moment. It's like killing weeds – they're never really dead, they just suffer a momentary setback after which they come back as strong as ever (or stronger, if they learn how to eat the weedkiller). So the “war on terror” is, by definition, a perpetual war; it can be no other. And by the same token, it can occur anywhere in the world, so the choice of where and when to invade, where to station troops, where to direct out intel apparatus, etc., is more or less arbitrary. We could argue that we're fighting terror by spying on Iceland, or parachuting into Tasmania.

But! -- you might say – Afghanistan was run by the Taliban, who were providing a safe haven for terrorists. OK... except most of the 9/11 hijackers (alleged) were Saudis... so why didn't we invade Saudi Arabia and simply keep anyone else from migrating to some terrorist training ground? Et cetera. The point is that the “war on terror” is perpetual and cannot be won. To truly uproot and exterminate all the causes of “terrorism” we would, basically, have to declare war on all of Islam (which we kind of have, come to think about it) and undertake a massive genocide to kill all Moslems (compared to which bombing a few wedding parties seems like rank tokenism).

How does one eliminate conflict, in the most general sense? One can eliminate one (or both) sides of said conflict, or one can eliminate the cause. Killing all Moslems – impractical. Killing all Americans – politically risky. That brings us to the cause, and I'll say it again, along with Ron Paul: “They're over here because we're over there.” Ergo – get us out of the Near East, Middle East, wherever there are Moslems who might be offended by our presence (which means wherever there are Moslems). Get us out of their pants economically, politically, diplomatically... quit trying to force “democracy” down their throats, or American “culture”. Just forget about that part of the world entirely. Easy, right?

Dream on. What's keeping us in that part of the world? Two things, basically – oil and Israel. And even if we achieve self-sufficiency with regard to oil, Israel will still be there, all alone and feeling blue without our 24-7-365 help and vigilance. And what are the chances that we will abandon our “eternal ally”? I would say zero out to the 1000th decimal place, no matter what sorts of paranoid fantasies “Bibi” and his gang come up with, and no matter how badly they treat our leaders with snubs, insults, and campaigning for their opponents. And this, in turn, reflects the fact that we are no longer in control of our own destiny as a nation or as a world power. There are countless people above Obama's pay grade (to use his own words) who make these decisions now, and all we can do is follow orders passed down from our invisible rulers by way of our visible figureheads. And these rulers, by the way, are not opposed to “terrorism” in the slightest – it's a huge moneymaker and power source, not to mention an excuse for ramping up totalitarian activities. They don't want to defeat terrorism any more than the medical profession wants to defeat cancer. Yes, that's right – just like everything else, it's ultimately all about jobs, and the American military and taxpayers are, as usual, no more than cannon fodder and serfs.

So in a funny kind of way, I think we should give Karzai a little respect – a few “ups”. He's a survivor, and ultimately a realist, and he's shown that kowtowing has its limits. Oh sure, he may wind up with his head on a pike, but at least he hasn't been unfailingly obsequious towards people who deserve no respect or honor.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Oh, the Irony!

The mainstream media objecting to the FCC putting political commissars into newsrooms and broadcast studios is like a prostitute complaining because she's been told to have an annual health checkup. The MSM have been abject slaves of the Regime for so long that no one can remember when we had an independent press of any consequence, or independent broadcasters aside from marginal radio stations. The Internet has turned out to be the salvation of free speech, and it has, predictably, come under threat of “regulation”, AKA censorship.

But this gambit by the FCC is beyond rich in irony. Historically, we have never had a free press in wartime (e.g. the Civil War, World War II) for the simple reason that the press is expected to do its patriotic duty and unite the country behind the president, no matter who that happens to be (or from which party). And if it should fail in that duty, or show signs of wandering off the reservation, severe sanctions have, historically, been at hand and have been applied. The first crack in this armor, as far as I can recall, came when “Uncle Walter” Cronkite finally expressed doubts – on the air! -- as to the rationale for the Vietnam War, or at least for its continuance... and LBJ was allegedly fit to be tied, because this was tantamount to treason – to a palace coup, in effect. But even there, did this skepticism persist through the election of Nixon in 1968? As I recall, his enemies in the press were more than happy to criticize just about everything about him, but still pulled their punches when it came to the war – because the war was, after all, about America, and our freedoms, and everything that made us great, and... well, you know, all those things that allegedly make Islamic radicals hate us.

But if the press is subservient during wartime, what about the rest of the time? Ah, there's the rub – because our government has now adopted a position of perpetual war, as of 9/11 – which thus puts foreign policy forever out of the bounds of vigorous debate. So that takes care of half the territory – call it Section A (after the custom of most large newspapers devoting the first section to foreign affairs). Section B (domestic affairs), however, is still fair game... right? Well no, not really. Again, mainstream journalists act as scribes, recording secretaries, propaganda agents... but very seldom as bonafide journalists, which would imply some degree of skepticism and an ability to ask tough questions (of the right people, not just of each other). If you want skepticism and serious questioning, you have to go to the margins – to the outsiders – most of whom (again) are found on the Internet, along with a few small-circulation magazines and newsletters.

Now – and I see you, in the back, waving your hand frantically, trying to get my attention – I am intentionally ignoring the current, and completely bogus, distinction – which is talked about as though it was some kind of great continental rift – between the liberal press (being the majority, whether you're talking about print or broadcast media) and the so-called “conservative” press (being the minority, etc.). It's, you know, the usual suspects – the New York Times, Washington Post, ABC, NBC, and CBS on one side and the Washington Times, Wall Street Journal editorial page, Fox News, and “talk radio” on the other. The problem with that latter group is that they represent what has been termed “the acceptable opposition” -- i.e. people who beg to differ, but typically only at the margins. They never call into question any of the true sacred cows – things like the warfare state, perpetuation of the American Empire, the national debt and deficit spending, free trade, etc. Even the most vigorous – i.e. least pathetically wimpy – debates on social policy and economics are still, in nearly all cases, at the margins... about minuscule differences. No one seriously questions entitlements, for example – just the one or two percentage points that take up most of the time and energy in Washington.

To make a related point – when I refer to the Regime, I'm not talking about Obama and his gang of minions, hangers-on, lackeys, and hacks. They are an essential part of the Regime, certainly – they are its functionaries and tools. But it also includes the Republicans. It includes liberals and mainstream conservatives, AKA neocons. Even the Tea Partiers and the Occupy crowd are considered part of the acceptable, if annoying, opposition; they are acceptable because they accept most of the same premises upon which the Regime bases its policies and actions, even though they can have a different line of reasoning based on those premises. What the Regime most emphatically does not include are the libertarians, anyone who is genuinely anti-war (and not just temporarily for political reasons), anarchists (needless to say), and the not-sold-out portion of the Catholic Church – and as you can see, none of these entities has a voice, or a place at the table. In fact, they are actively resisted, demeaned, and marginalized at every opportunity.

So when Rush Limbaugh says that the whole FCC initiative is aimed at Fox News, and at him in particular... well who was it who said “just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you”. But Fox News is, in the broad scheme of things, as much a part of the Regime as are the (formerly) Big Three – and Rush is as much a part of it as... oh, I don't know... how about Brian Williams? He's kind of the Uncle Walter of our time. Oh sure, Rush may point out any number of inconvenient truths about Obama, the Democrats, and liberals in general, but he has a total blind spot when it comes to the Republicans and mainstream conservatives. Well, why not? He is one. It would be like expecting a fish to discover water, as they say. And if one is blind to half of what is wrong in this country, one may as well be totally blind, for all the good it's going to do. When you start out that compromised you can never be a radical or a revolutionary – just a complainer.

So if the media are already on the side of the Regime, and more explicitly on the side of one of its two heads (the Democrats or the Republicans), why do they need continuous monitoring by the government, like kids in some special needs class? Well... there's always a chance that someone might start getting funny ideas about way this country is run, and we can't have that – especially if their job is to represent the mainstream, i.e. the Truth!! No one in the MSM can ever be allowed to look up from their work like the cow in the classic Gary Larson cartoon who says “Hey guys! This is grass! We're eating grass!” You can marginalize pacifists any day of the week, but you can't marginalize CBS, ABC, and NBC – they are charter members of the propaganda ministry. Even the Associated Press and the Washington Post have started talking back to Obama once in a while – cautiously, of course, lest they get smacked upside the head (or worse, have their front-row seat at White House press conferences taken away). So this is what the FCC has in mind, basically – keep the troops from wandering off the reservation (now there's a mixed metaphor for you). As usual in a totalitarian system it's the inner circle that is held to the highest standards, and is punished most severely for failure; Orwell said this very clearly in “1984” and it was shown time and time again in Soviet Russia.

See, here's the point. Obama and Co. have been going from one victory to another – island-hopping, if you will, like our troops in the Pacific after the war turned around – and the amount of control and influence they had over the media back in 2008, say, is no longer enough. The amount they had a year ago is not enough. Power is like any other addictive substance – it only begets the desire for more of the same. So why not clean up the loose ends... get our own house in order (this is the liberals thinking)... and once we have a sworn loyalty oath from the MSM, and a non-aggression pact with Fox News and other neocon outlets, then we can police up the outliers (this process is already underway with, by the way – but you ain't seen nothin' yet, as they say).

The thing of it is, the totalitarian mindset simply does not tolerate dissent. And it doesn't tolerate any sort of ambivalence, backsliding, doubt, or lukewarmness among its adherents. The notion of the acceptable opposition – well, the Soviets had both Pravda and Izvestia, whoop-te-do. Competition is good, supposedly – but did you ever see the Big Three TV networks of old compete when it came to ideas? No – they were clones of each other – Tweedledee, Tweedledum, and Tweedledumber. All the competition was commercial, based on games and circuses. How about Time vs. Newsweek? Don't make me laugh. It's been pointed out that the total range of acceptable opinion in this country is dwarfed by that in most of Western Europe – and from what I've seen this is totally true. And yet they are supposedly more “socialistic” (implied: collectivist and conformist) than we are. It's getting to the point where we are as phobic and petrified when it comes to the hard questions as people used to be in the Soviet Union or its satellites. The amount of difference that is perceived as a threat grows smaller with each passing day – the squeeze is on. So small wonder that the FCC wants to formalize (and make overt) something that has been informal and not always reliable up to now. The ultimate goal is to put us all into a prison of ideas (or non-ideas) – a conceptual gulag, as air-tight as North Korea. And this, in turn, is based on the premise that a happy serf is a good serf. What is more pathetic and more productive, and less trouble for its master, than a willing slave who is strung out on social brainwashing?

So yeah, MSM – you've been lapdogs for so long you forgot all about this mysterious thing called “journalism”. And every once in a while a lapdog needs to be treated for fleas – and the FCC is up to the task. But frankly, it won't hurt the liberal press all that much, because their model of reality is that everything is political anyway. So if they can be persuaded that one approach or point of view is more politically acceptable than another, they'll latch right on to it, no problem. They never have any original ideas, after all; leave that to the academics. The neocons, on the other hand, for all of their obvious faults do appear to have a lingering notion of principle and of truth (even if their “truths” are frequently dead wrong) – so they will take offense more readily (as they already have) and feel more put upon when all of this becomes a daily fact of life. Or – they will go out of business entirely and leave the field to the political animals; that's a real possibility.

Self-censorship is all kinds of fun. You don't like the real news, you make it up. You stay on the right side of the powers that be. Et cetera. You get perks. You get invited to the White House correspondents' dinner. But when someone decides they can do a better job of censorship than you can – oh, the indignation! I say it's all richly deserved. If the press had maintained their principles and standards all along, this wouldn't be happening because the government would be – guess what – not a little afraid of the press. But no one's afraid of a lapdog. Even if it only takes a playful nip once in a while, that's one nip too much. The press has been toothless for a long time; now even its dentures are about to be confiscated (for its own good, of course – and for ours).