Monday, August 31, 2009

Pure Evil is So Polite

Evil, in its purest form, is dispassionate, while evil fired by passion is self limiting because passion, waxes, peaks and then ebbs. This constrains the carnage it can create.

Dispassionate evil has no such constraint. It can go on and on because it is set into motion by bureaucrats, technicians and policymakers.

In the beginning, Hitler’s Final Solution depended on death squads who interacted personally with their victims. The executioners started going psycho on the high command, and they couldn’t produce the numbers. It was deemed too inefficient.

So the technocrats were brought in. They drew up blueprints and let contracts for construction of the death camps; they inked contracts for the delivery of the poison gas and rerouted the trains to deliver their cargo to the camps. It was only when the Holocaust transitioned from passion to policy that it got the numbers it needed.

War increased its viciousness with the entry of technocrats. Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara got his start plotting targets for General Curtis Lemay, the mother of all fire bombers. The technocrats designed new and bigger weapons; it was their genius that gave the world napalm.

During the war, policy wonks reasoned that it could be won by bombing civilians. As a result, World War II became the first war in history in which civilian casualties were greater than military casualties.

Dispassionate evil is perpetrated by the most pleasant of people, many of whom go to church every Sunday and keep their suburban yards immaculate. They love their children and their wives, are civic minded and have never seen a dead body.

By every psychological measurement, they are well-adjusted.

In modern times, the Devil wears Dockers™.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

It's so cathartic!

It’s not just that it’s morally repugnant; torture makes no sense. Judged strictly by its results, it’s a waste of time and money.

Yet, it remains so appealing because nothing is more bracing than burying a person’s humanity beneath a label and having at them, whether it’s torture, area bombing, drone attacks, or gas chambers.

Life is so much easier once you have a workable label in place. You can stop thinking and enjoy the vicarious thrill while other’s do the dirty work. And for those pouring the water or dropping the bombs or guiding the drones or dropping the gas pellets there’s the adrenalin high of engaging is state-sanctioned mayhem.

Torture has been cleverly marketed to the public. It’s a real gas watching Jack Bauer torture a suspect on 24. I mean, hell, if it’s on prime time it must be okay.

There is something in our national psyche that thrills to the efficiency with which violence yields results. Maybe we watched too many westerns as kids and cheered when the mild mannered hero finally exploded and beat the crap out of the villain.

The problem is that the only “result” violence yields is a pissed-off adversary.

It is interesting to compare 9/11 with the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. The only difference between the two is that 9/11 succeeded where the 1993 blast failed. The perpetrators of the 1993 plot placed their van in such a manner that they thought the blast would cause the south tower to collapse and take down the north tower as it fell. They simply didn’t pack enough explosives in the van.

What is instructive about 1993 is that without torture or a Patriot Act of a Military Commissions Act or rendition or black holes, and in an open criminal trial in which all of the rules of evidence and procedure were observed, the perpetrators were tried, convicted and sentenced.

Yet with all the above enacted after 9/11, we haven’t convicted anyone.

So, there must be a reason for torture’s appeal.

The last forty years have not been kind to the Euromerican male, especially those who have entered middle age. Following World War II, they ruled the roost, the world was their oyster and they were loved and admired. Then the rug was pulled out from under them. Their quiet suburban life was shattered by the fires of black anger and the rebellious love-ins of their children. Vietnam took the air out of their hubris, and into the vacuum created by its absence flowed bitterness and anger. Everything pissed them off, be it paying taxes to feed the poor or women burning their bras or their sons burning their draft cards.

Then came Ronnie, riding into the Beltway on his white horse, and all was well again. The white guys were back on top as we regained our national pride with the invasion of Granada. Next, Clinton reformed the welfare system so the poor could once again be the poor.

Then came 9/11 and it was morning in America all over as we became the wronged heroes in the B western that is our nation’s history. Violence regained its respectability.

For the male Euromerican marginalized for so long, torture and violence are soothing palliatives. It’s a feel-good experience to know that some poor native is being made to suffer to we can maintain our hegemonic greatness. And this feel-goodness is egged on by right-wing shock jocks that spew their white rage over the airways, feeding the cathartic anger of their listeners.

It’s no wonder Obama is waffling on torture and rendition. He doesn’t want to roil a bunch of pissed-off white males. They can make for a nasty mob.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Making us safer and safer and safer.

Guess what, folks! We have another gift from those civil libertarians in the Obama administration, part of the change we can believe in. CBS News tells us that since last summer our Department of Homeland Security has been able to seize anyone’s laptop, cell phone or camera at U.S. points of entry and hold them indefinitely.

And don’t think for a minute that you’re excluded if you’re an Euromerican citizen. Nor does DHS need a probable cause to seize your stuff. That silly idea went out with our other civil liberties.

As CBS points out, “The complete contents of a hard drive or memory card can be perused at length for evidence of lawbreaking of any kind, even if it’s underpaying your taxes or not paying parking tickets." So, if you’ve downloaded a few too many songs either stay home or leave your laptop behind, along with your iPhone and your iPod.

But rest assured, the good folks at DHS are discouraging their agents from downloading the nude photos of your girlfriend onto their personal computers, not that they’d even think of it.

So, God bless you, Barack, for adding another knot to our security blanket.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Lively Swamp

The swamp is active. Bubbles of methane float to the surface and pause before popping to release their rankness into the air. There’s the Afghanistan bubble, the bailout bubble, the healthcare non-reform bubble.

And now, a shiny new bubble, the torture bubble. That one is still floating on the surface, but when it finally pops it promises to be the foulest of all. I mean, what’s a nation to do with its torturers? Attorney General Eric Holder finally decides to investigate the worst abusers (low level, as always, the bad apples, the exceptions to the rule) when it suddenly turns out that the whole torture thing was being monitored and controlled by soulless bureaucrats. Soulless bureaucrats are an excellent choice to monitor atrocities. In their minds they are not causing undue suffering and death, they are simply implementing policies, which is what they are paid to do.

Though, in their defense, it must be said that they insisted the torture be humane. For example, a prisoner could only be stuffed in a small box for two hours or a big box for eight hours. I’m sure knowing they wouldn’t be crammed into those boxes forever was a comfort to the prisoners.

However, this bureaucratic oversight presents a dilemma for the Obama administration. Obama has said he didn’t want to investigate Bush’s war crimes because instead of obsessing over the past, he wanted to look forward to the future. This desire to forget the past is the fervent wish of every criminal who has ever stood in every docket in every criminal court in world.

Obama has also said he doesn’t think it fair to prosecute torturers who were, in good faith, only following White House directives. It’s the classic Nuremburg defense, “I was only following orders.” I guess this means we have to go back and pardon all those Nazis. It’s only fair.

So, what is Holder to do? It seems this bureaucratic supervision came right from the White House. What would it do to America’s pristine image if we were to prosecute a former president and vice president? How would our high school history books deal with this stain upon our national honor? Drop the whole incident down Orwell’s memory hole?

But I digress. Back to the swamp.

Progressives circle the swamp crying in alarm and calling attention to each bubble as it surfaces. But no matter how loud their cries, the bubbles still pop and their stench still fill the air. This is because the bubbles are only a symptom. Nobody has thought to dive beneath the surface of the swamp to destroy the beast that is blowing the farts.

The beast is corporatism. Corporatism is capitalism in the advanced stages of syphilis.

Capitalism is dead; it’s been dead for over a century. Old line capitalists were money-grubbing, ruthless sons of bitches who amassed personal fortunes on the backs of workers by kicking ass and busting skulls.

Corporatism is politer. It is the product of soulless bureaucrats who never dirty their hands or get blood under their fingernails. Where the capitalist was driven by greed, the corporatist is driven by policy. Bean counters lay off tens of thousands just to add a half point profit to the bottom line, all to pump up the bonuses of senior managers.

Unless the beast is dragged from its swamp and domesticated, it will continue to fart with impunity, and the tragedy is that no matter how foul the stench, the public will get use to it.

In short, it is time to decorporatize America. Corporations served their purpose; they dd their thing by raising our standard of living. Unfortunately, in the process, they could well wipe us out. So it is time to retire them, and turn them loose in the back forty to wander around the pasture while they clip their cupons.

To paraphrase Michael Ledeen, every seventy years, or so, the American public has to grab big business by the throat, slam it against the wall and teach it some manners.

It’s a pity Obama’s such a nice guy.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Obama's Principles*

Of course the Obama White House has principles. They simply aren’t the principles he campaigned on. They are a new and more efficient set of principles that have little to do with morality and everything to do with the care and feeding of power for power’s sake, a power devoid of decency.

Obama’s pragmatism is the pragmatism of power.

Power’s zookeeper is White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. His appointment should have tipped off Obama’s progressive base that they were about to be screwed to the wall.

Emanuel is a dyed-in-the-wool corporatist who hugs the center like it was a thousand dollar an hour call girl. He has but one guiding principle: to keep the corporate leeches bloated and happy so the bulk of their cash contributions will flow into the coffers of the Democratic Party.

There is much commentary about what Obama has to do to regain his street cred and, once again, win the hearts and minds of his base. There is advice about how he has to frame issues, change his staff, pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and push for a single-payer health plan.

Implied in all of this advice is the assumption that Obama is a victim of his advisers, that Emanuel is his Mephistopheles who grants Obama power in exchange for his soul.

The truth is that Obama knows exactly what he is doing. He is another Clinton who sang sweet ballads to the masses while cutting deals with the powerful. But Obama is going Clinton one better as he morphs into a Bush lite.

Or perhaps he was one from the very beginning.

Moral exhaustion brings down empires, and one of the symptoms of this exhaustion is the pursuit of power for power’s sake.

*Note: This is a riff on a post by Robert S. Becker.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A new gig.

I'm off to jury duty wearing my foil skullcap, ("It keeps the voices out, yer honor.")

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ben Saves the Day

It’s nice to know that in the depth of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, the world’s central bankers can still afford to hold a little soiree amid the luxurious digs of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. One would think they’d be hard pressed to afford a diner in Hoboken, NJ.

Ah, but there is light at the end of the tunnel, an isle of black in a sea of red. At least this is the message from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. According to Saturday’s New York Times, Ben reassured his cohorts that, “The prospects for a return to growth in the near term appear good.”

Okay, so we kind of have to overlook Ben’s announcement of the Great Moderation in his February, 2004 speech in which he declared an end to market volatility. In the context of the day on which he made that speech he was correct. The economy was floating heavenward like a hot air balloon. How was Ben to know the balloon was a fragile bubble?

Granted, “recovery” may seem to be a bizarre concept to an unemployed auto worker or to a family that’s just lost their home and are sleeping in their car. For many, the light at the end of the tunnel is a cop’s flashlight rousting a homeless man sleeping in a doorway.

The problem the poor have is that they simply don’t understand what Ben means when he says “recovery.” It is, after all, a new economy.

Recovery use to mean that the unemployed would get their jobs back. A return to growth meant that factories would start producing and workers would use their newly minted paychecks to buy what they produced.

The problem is that in all this contempory talk of recovery, there is a little adjective attached to the word that puts a nasty backspin on it: “jobless.” There may be a recovery, but the lower classes in this country ain’t going to see it. The factories that start producing are all off shore.

So, whose going to recover? When he speaks of recovery, Ben means an increased flow of pus seeping from America’s running sore, Wall Street.

The banks are thriving; therefore the economy is thriving, regardless of the misery enveloping Main Street. That great economic delusion, the Dow, is up, bonuses are being paid and the banks have cooked their books and are turning a profit.

It makes no difference that it’s all smoke and mirrors as long as Wall Street believes it’s real.

Of course, any recovery has to navigate its way around a landmine so wide and deep that it can’t be avoided—oil. The price of oil is down because demand is down. Once recovery begins, demand will increase and the price of oil will go up. Once price of oil goes up, the landmine explodes and the recovery is no more.

This is why Ben’s reassurances are so important. If we can’t have a recovery, we might as well believe in one. Where the discipline of economics falters, the discipline of theology rushes in to fill the void.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Another Epiphany

The grandkids are up for the week. Yesterday, we took them to New Jersey’s Point Pleasant Beach; a lengthy boardwalk lined with greasy eateries, souvenir shops and numerous games of chance involving water guns and spinning wheels in booths walled with stuffed animals that reek of Third World sweatshops.

It was hot, miserably and wretchedly hot. The sun bore down from a cloudless sky. Because of the currents and rip tides created by Hurricane Bill’s passage off the coast, the red flags were out, which meant no swimming.

We stopped for lunch in a restaurant overlooking the beach. Point Pleasant is a beach where, for seven dollars, an adult can rent a small rectangle of space on a public beach (children five to twelve, two-fifty, under five free because they take up less space).

As I sat munching on my ten-dollar cheeseburger, looking at the greased bodies baking in the sun, I remembered my first “beach epiphany.” It was many years ago when I thought going to the beach was cool because that’s what the TV commercials told me. I was lying on a damp towel beneath an unforgiving sun, slick with oil and sand grinding in my crotch.

As I lay there in my misery, I suddenly remembered that 150 years ago the Apaches staked their prisoners out on the hot sand beneath a blazing sun, and here I was voluntarily doing what the Apaches forced their prisoners to do. I figured, screw the commercials and went home. I’ve never been back.

Looking out over Point Pleasant beach and watching slick bodies roasting in the noon day sun and mothers struggling with strollers heavy with beach towels, inflatable toys, diaper bags, beach chairs and beach umbrellas, I had my second epiphany.

Hell isn’t a pit of fire and brimstone; hell is a beach where sinners are forced to sun bathe 24/7, without sun block and with flapping red flags standing between them and the refreshing coolness of waves breaking on the beach.

Friday, August 21, 2009

What they should have done.

There's much talk of the flaws in the Cash for Clunkers program that is ending Monday. This is the program that gave buyers a rebates up to $4500, each, for trading in their gas guzzlers for fuel efficient models.

While it stimulated sales, the program turned out to be a bureaucratic nightmare. It was underfunded, the paperwork to receive the rebate was too complex, delays in mailing the rebates were painfully slow causing many dealers to drop out and it was underfunded.

All of this could have been avoided. Instead of putting the Department of Transportation in charge, Congress sould have passed it off to a defense contractor. Between sloppy record keeping and cost overruns, cash would have poured into customers pockets.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A sanitized society is a dead society.

There’s a great deal of talk about the left/right split in this country. The right hates the left that views it with distain while both hate the centrists who stand for nothing. This “great divide” occupies our punditocracy as they parse and analyze it. Yet, for all the Sturm und Drang, this controversy is merely the roiled waters on an ocean that is calm and sedate in its depths.

This deep is the corporate mindset designed to turn all of society into mindless proles who will be dedicated employees and who will make nary a squeak when they are laid off or fired. Granted, there are liberal corporatists just as there as there are conservative corporatists. The differences between the two are superficial.

The liberals coo, “There, there. It’s good for you,” as they screw you; conservatives bark, “Bend over!”

In many ways liberals can be more oppressive. They are our great sanitizers whose mission is to scrub society clean of all the grime that contributes to the diversity that makes for a community. Nowhere is this more evident than their gentrification of working class neighborhoods where they take an organic community and reduced it to a fragmented and isolated gaggle of expensive condos, pricy boutiques and tony restaurants.

Often their initiatives are taken in the name of “healthy living” as in the antismoking laws they so favor, or their courageous battle against transfats being served in restaurants.

It is the construction of a sanitary bubble in which nothing can live, let alone thrive. It’s all very corporate with the razing of a community and the construction of a climate controlled world lit by shadowless fluorescent lighting in which silence rules and the only sound is the hum of the air conditioning unit.

Corporatism and community simply cannot coexist. In a community its inhabitants see things they’d rather not see, hear things they’d rather not hear and smell things they’d rather not smell. The strength of a community is in the ability of its inhabitants to coexist with their differences.

But, the most dangerous thing about a community, from the corporatist point of view, is that people bond together and talk, and from this talk may arise movements and agitation. So it is better to neutralize this antisocial tendency by gentrifying the place and make it a haven for self-centered yuppies.

The shame of it is that the angry protesters that have been raising hell at town meetings, for all their misinformation, irrational anger and sheer stupidity, should be in the left’s tent. Instead, they belong to a group Julian Delasantellis calls America’s less informed voter (LIV). He goes on to say:

The left wing’s coping strategy to deal with the LIV is to try to bring the light into the darkness, to educate them as to the errors of their ways, but that is proving to be like a hand grenade tied to a boomerangs coming back to explode in their face. The right, seeing this “education” the left is trying to provide the LIVs whispers this message back into their ears: “They think you’re stupid; that’s why they think you need to be educated. They look down on your trailer parks and country music and stock-car racing and unwed teenaged birth and methamphetamine addictions and say you have to change.

The left’s error is that they fail to understand that education is a byproduct of inspiration. Without it, “education” is weak and ineffectual. Besides, many of these people attended substandard schools where they were constantly told they were lazy and didn’t try hard enough to master information that had no relevance to the struggles of their daily lives.

The left’s idea of education to turn the poor and the working poor into middleclass Euromericans who are polite and obedient.

The tragedy is that with just a little creativity and effort, the left could redirect this anger towards the running sore on Liberty’s face, Wall Street. But before they could do that, the left would have to actually like the sons of bitches, and that isn’t about to happen.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Well, gosh, not really!

We might be pissed, but we shouldn’t be surprised that Obama is waffling on his “public option.” According to Monday’s New York Times, that which was once the cornerstone of his health care reform initiative suddenly is “not the essential element” for reform, according to Kathleen Sebelius, health and human services secretary.

Obama first backed down at a town hall meeting in Grand Junction, Colo., when a university student asked him how private insurers could compete with the public option.

Now, here is a question just begging to be shoved down the questioner’s throat. The answer is simple: they couldn’t compete as now constituted, and that was the idea of the public option; it would force private insurers to cut the fat out of their expenses, and there is ample fat to be cut.

A good place to start would be CEO salaries. Ron Williams at Aetna has a total annual compensation package of $241,300,112. For H. Edward Hanaway of CIGNA, it’s $12,236,740, annually. WellPoint’s Angela Brady is underpaid with a package worth $9,844,212, annually.

Then we have the private companies administrative costs that come to thirty cents on the dollar compared to Medicare’s five cents on the dollar.

Did Obama jump all over the questioner with these facts? Hell no! He downgraded the public option on the spot, reassuring the student that he viewed the option as a small part of an overall initiative to control costs.

Some might claim that Obama is turning out to be a weak, ineffectual leader who folds at the first sign on controversy. They are wrong. The public option was doomed from the moment it was conceived because nobody in the administration was serious about seeing it implemented. From the very beginning it was window dressing designed to divert the public’s attention from a single payer public plan, the one that seventy percent of the American public is in favor of.

By dangling a public option that was never to be before the public’s eyes, the Obama administration defused what our oligarchs dismiss as the whims of the unwashed mob.

Obama is not our president; he is a public relations gimmick who appears to be appealing to the mob while keeping his corporate sponsors happy.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A lie is not a lie when it's the truth. Really!

“Happy Days are Here Again…” and again, and again, and again, as the good news rolls out of the Beltway and Wall Street.

Unemployment fell for the first time in fifteen months, falling from 9.5 percent in June to 9.4 percent in July. Granted, this is good news similar to the good news that I only lost one leg in the explosion, but we gotta keep believing the glass is half full even as the water continues to drain out of it.

And the stock market is humming, driven, as always by a mob psychology that bears little relationship to reality.

Paul Craig Roberts does an admirable job of deconstructing some of the numbers rolling out of Washington.

For example, With GM and Chrysler gutted, how could the auto industry add 28,000 jobs? Simple, you throw in a “seasonal adjustment.” In the past, when America still had an auto industry to brag about, plants shut down in the month of July so the plants could retool for the new models. The BLS figured that the laid off auto workers weren’t really laid off, even though they were, so it arbitrarily added 28,000 phantom jobs, thus pretending that workers who weren’t getting paid were.

It conveniently overlooked the fact that, this year, plants weren’t shuttered to retool; they were shuttered permanently.

Then there’s the infamous “Birth-Death Model.” The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) figures that when a business shuts down, it doesn’t report the lost jobs, nor do the new jobs created by a business just opening find their way into the numbers. So the BLS pulls a number out of the air, one arrived at during a period of economic growth, which never fails to yield an increase in employment.

No doubt more businesses went under in July, but habit is a hard thing to break.

Then there’s the old Clintonian sleight of hand that boots those who have been unemployed for too long off the books. These unemployed are no longer unemployed because they no longer exist.

Before there can be an economic recovery, the public’s confidence must be restored, and Washington will never do that by fudging the numbers. Once one set of books has been cooked, the public will come to the conclusion that all the numbers have been cooked.

Disraeli once said there are lies, damn lies and statistics. What he should have said was that there are lies, damn lies, statistics and the BLS.

But, hey! “Happy Days are Hear Again.”

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Better Living Through Delusion

The reduction of reality to that which can be quantified and the subsequent exclusion of all that can’t are touted as science. In truth, it is scientism, an ideological doctrine that denies existence to all that can’t be quantified.

It is the ideology of the technician who posits that what is, is, and can be no other, and what is, is, and can neither change nor evolve, but, if it does so, it changes along lines that can be quantified and predicted, even though the predictions are often wrong.

Quantification is an attempt to impose a linear matrix on a reality that is essentially nonlinear and contradictory. Linear quantification is a chain forged of numbers and formulae that encourages what Samuel Beckett called that great deadener, habit.

We are told that today’s globalized world calls for creativity, and by creativity we mean adding another link to the chain. When our leaders speak of thinking outside the box, what they mean is stepping out of it long enough to slap on a new coat of paint before climbing back in, convinced it's a new box.

We are a nation of technicians, which is another way of saying we are a nation of intellectual cripples. It’s reflected in our language: one word, one meaning to the exclusion of metaphor, nuance and allusion. We are told as children to say what we mean, to not beat around the bush and to get to the point. For the religious, this means that the Bible is stripped of its poetry and becomes nothing more than a technical manual that instructs us how to live our lives, down to the letter.

Numbers deaden our moral sensibilities. The stench of poverty is buried deep within charts and graphs; we print our spreadsheets on thick paper so the blood of the innocent can’t seep through; numbers proudly proclaim an added point of corporate profit while directing our attention away from the misery created as this point of profit was achieved. And we insist that our language be as value free as our numers.

Quantification is the bastard child of the rational. We are so enthralled by it that we are blinded to the fact that rational is of limited value for it can only allude to reality using words or numbers, but can never capture reality's totality.

Buddhists speak of a finger pointing to the moon and of the error of concentrating on the finger and not the moon. Technicians quibble over the finger, poets and madmen admire the moon.

Poetry occupies the realm of the transrational, that world that rises above the rational and the emotional. It is the world of metaphor and allusion that gives us an intuitive feel for the real that the rational denies us. All great conceptual breakthroughs, even the scientific ones, have resulted from transrational insights. Scientific experimentation works best when it prepares the mind for the “Aha!” moment.

The problem with any earth-shaking cultural breakthrough is that it attracts disciples and followers who proceed to corrupt it by trying to explain it in greater detail.

Christianity is a prime example of this. St. Paul was given the mission of destroying Christianity, and he succeeded by reducing Jesus’ teaching to a matter of personal salvation.

Jesus didn’t die for our sins. He died for preaching a gospel of God’s justice on earth that has been anathema to oligarchs and plutocrats throughout the centuries.

The tragedy of quantification is that whatever can be quantified can be commodified, and if our only reality is quantification, then all of existence becomes a commodity and the beauty is stripped from it. A technician not only ignores the forest for the trees, but he ignores the trees, for board feet of lumber. And if it’s more cost effective to clear cut, he does so.

The quantified life is an empty life, but thank goodness it allows us to count our pills and measure out our booze.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Saving Sarah Palin

I see Sarah is making the rounds of Facebook and Twitter. That’s the New Wave for you. Time was a candidate made the rounds of the television news show, but it looks like Sarah is breaking new ground. Actually, she has to break new ground. The trouble with news shows is that they ask question and answering them is not one of Sarah’s strong skill sets.

She's using Twitter to warn America against Obama’s death panels that will snuff granny and turn her into landfill.

Unfortunately, for Sarah, this is stale news. The dust up over death panels has been around for more than one news cycle, which makes it totally yesterday.

So, I’m going to give Sarah a boost; I’m going to give her a ground-breaking vision that will put here light years ahead of the pack. I’m doing this, not because I agree with her, but because she’s hot.

Sarah! Sarah! Sarah!

Don’t quibble over which health plan is best, or whether Obama is trying to socialize medicine. Go for the gusto. Think boldly and bravely; run ahead of the curve you’re never able to find.

Issue a white paper proposing that instead of reforming health insurance, we do away with it altogether.

I mean, Jesus Christ, look at the numbers! Life expectancy in the United States is 74.37 for men and a shocking 80.06 for women. Do you know what that means? Before long, we’re going to be a nation of doddering, drooling old fools. Hell! We almost elected one president. We’ve simply got to get that life expectancy down to 47, where it was as the nineteenth century drew to a close. We’re a youth culture, and youth has no patience for the elderly. Who needs death panels when we have nature waiting in the wings to do the job for us?

Another problem with health insurance is that everybody gets all fired up over preventative care. Preventive care, my ass! All preventive care does in increase a person’s stress levels.

Look at the suffering caused by the early detection of cancer. The patient’s family is plunged into despair as their love one goes through years of costly chemo, radiation and surgery. And after all that, the poor soul dies anyway.

How much more humane and cost effective it would be to ignore the disease until it is terminal. Then it’s a quick death and exit stage right as the loved one is buried and subsequently forgotten. It’s nice, neat, clean and cheap.

No, Sarah, between health coverage and social security, we’ve become a nation of softies who lack the backbone to shoot wolves from an airplane. Suffering toughens; it builds character; it makes a person mean, and empires, as we all know, are built by bastards. Is it any wonder that ours is on life support

You are our salvation, dear, and it will be your mind and your boobs that will carry us forward into the twenty-first century.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Mother of All Wars

It’s a new war, another in the unbroken string of wars that have captured our collective imagination since the end of World War II.

There was the Cold War, the War on Poverty, the War on Crime, the War on Drugs and the Global War on Terror.

However, this new war is different from the others. Previous “wars” were announced with a great deal of hoopla and spin. We were assured that this war was the beginning of the end for communism, poverty, crime, drugs and terrorism, all of which are still with us.

The new war, the War on Middle Class Prosperity, is an insurgent action, conducted with little fanfare and even less transparency. Its metanarrative is that the many must suffer and sacrifice so the few may prosper.

The unspoken argument goes like this: The postwar prosperity of the fifties and the sixties was a fluke for two reasons. At the end of World War II, the United States was the only industrial power that hadn’t been bombed into oblivion. Coupled with that was the fact that all those workers in the war industry had been earning big bucks and had no place to spend them because of rationing.

With the end of the war, they began to spend, spend, spend. American industry was working 24/7. Everything boomed, everybody prospered, except the poor who didn’t count.

Alas, it has all come to an end. The factories are shuttered, the middle class is tapped out and the party is over. We are in the midst of a great devolution.

There’s one gaping hole in this narrative. If we are going through an economic contraction, then it should be across the board, it should touch all classes, from the richest to the poorest.

Okay, so how many CEOs are selling their villas in the south of France? How many mega yachts are on the block? Instead of an across the board devolution, we are seeing an upward movement of capital to our kleptrocracy, a movement they tell us is necessary to create jobs. And jobs are created—in China, in Mexico, in India and anywhere where the desperate poor are willing to work for pennies.

In the prosperity that followed World War II, our oligarchs made a painful discovery—a viable middle class is a pain in the ass. It agitated for civil rights; it marched against nuclear weapons; it demonstrated against the wars that were so necessary to keep our economy strong; its children gave us the terrors of the sixties with its love, sex and drugs.

How wonderful it would be if that class could only vanish. That proved to be easy enough. Globalize. Send their high paying jobs overseas. Any reform movement is a child of job security. People who live in fear of losing their jobs and their benefits are not going to rock the boat. Instead, they will sit quietly and grasp the gunnels even as the boat nears the falls.

And this silence is enforced by making the poor souls feel guilty for have dared to live so well.

They should have known better.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The BPH Revolution

It seems to be the over sixty crowd that’s really pissed off. They are the demographic that make up the majority of Rush’s audience (The average age of his listeners is 67).

Their clarion cry is, “I want my country back.”

Cenk Uygur tells us that the riotous demonstrations at town hall meetings aren’t about health care reform. “This is about the sinking feeling in their stomach that they are losing power in this country—losing control. That the reins of power are slipping out of their hands and they don’t know what to do about it, except really yell.”

People in their sixties (myself included) were born at an unfortunate period in our history—the euphoria following our victory in World War II. We were born into an age that saw the dawning of an unprecedented period of prosperity as the ranks of the middle class swelled and suburbs sprang up like running sores on a syphilitic whore.

It was an age of illusion when an all-powerful United States appeared to be a bastion of white male Anglo-Saxon protestant unity. (We must remember that from the 1820s on, a male dominated Protestant faith was the de facto state religion of America.)

Then the Sixties broke, the illusion vanished in a puff of smoke and Protestantism fell from its throne.

This is what they want back, the secure cocoon in which they all came to age. This is what they are pissed off about.

Some commentators have argued that the rancor over health reform in, in part, racial, a backlash against having an Afromerican in the White House. They are mistaken. Race is a fiction, a pseudoscientific theory that came into vogue in the eighteenth century as a rationale to justify the exploitation and extermination of non-European peoples.

Rather, it’s about culture, Euromerican culture. The screamers want to return to a time when Time-Life defined America, and three television networks told you all you needed to know about the world. They want to return to a simpler time, forgetting that the simplicity was little more than the blinders they all wore.

Uygur captures the irony of their protests when he points out that:

Some of them are holding up constitution. They finally get them out of the drawer where they were collecting mothballs as the Bush administration ran roughshod over that sacred text. They didn’t seem to demand loyalty to that document as the Bush team eviscerated the Fourth Amendment.

Actually, the Bush crew merely delivered the coup de grace to the document. Sixty years of the increased corporatization of life, coupled with state-inspired paranoia, had put the Constitution on life support. Bush simply pulled the plug, and Obama isn’t even looking for the outlet.

So they scream and cry, unaware in their anger that the America of their dreams died in the slaughter at Wounded Knee, in the firestorm that consumed Dresden, in the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima, in the jungles of Vietnam and in the mountains of Afghanistan.

Dementia is always a problem for us old farts.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Decency is such a drag for an empire.

“The times they are a-changin',” Bob Dylan once sang, and they are, though they are a-changin' in ways that seemed impossible back then. Not that it should come as a surprise. Empire is always a slow slide into brutality that gradually desensitizes its citizens.

Who remembers the outrage that swept the country in 1975 when the Church Committee revealed that the CIA had been involved in a number of assassination plots? The shock and the anger were palapable.

Fast forward thirty-four years and a plan to assassinate Afghan drug lords appears on the front page of The New York Time and causes nary a ripple. It’s just another news story about another dirty little war we can’t seem to win.

The first paragraph spells it out. Fifty Afghan warlords “believed to be drug traffickers with ties to the Taliban have been placed on a Pentagon target list to be killed or captured…”

But rest assured, this isn’t a hit list; it’s a “joint integrated prioritized target list.” Military officials assure us that “the policy is legal under the military’s rules of engagement and international law,”

I guess Jay Beebe wrote another memo.

No doubt the weapon of choice will be the Drone with its production of “collateral damage.” The Afghans will have to start holding their weddings in rented bunkers.

So, The Big Dick won after all. He led us to the “Dark Side” and it looks as if we’re going to stay there.

Of course, you can count on those wimpy Europeans to have qualms about such a policy. One military officer admitted that it was a “hard sell to NATO.”

Jeff Huber writes that, “The Cold War justified defense spending for a half-century. Now, the Pentagon is trying to validate its existence with another long war in the Middle East. “

Huber has sunk his teeth into a half-truth. The other half is that six decades of military Keynesianism has given birth to the delusion that military might is the only solution to policy problems. This is why our leaders believe that they can control Middle East and Central Asian oil militarily, even though the effort will not only be unsuccessful in the long run, but will bankrupt us.

The net outcome of this delusion has us involved in two guerilla wars that cannot be won by military means. Huber points out that a Rand study showed that military force “accounted for a mere 7 percent of success against terrorists.” (Insurgents are now labeled terrorists for marketing purposes.)

Dylan was right about the times a-changin' as America, once again, proves that empires become so blinded by their hubris that they lose every shred of decency in an enterprise that eventually ends in collapse and failure.

We are destroying ourselves for bragging rights, and even those will be denied us in the end.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Silent Roar of the Crowd

The silence is deafening. The crowds that roared their adulations and joy in Chicago’s Lincoln Park last November are quiet. The only noise we hear is that coming from the right. Paul Krugman notes that, “Mr. Obama’s backers seem to lack all conviction, perhaps because the prosaic reality of his administration isn’t living up to their dream of transformation. Meanwhile, the angry right is filled with a passionate intensity.”

Obama ran as a centrist. This was obvious in June of last year when he voted to approve the FISA extension, right after he had waffled on his pledge to reform NAFTA. However, the masses didn’t see it that way. His promises of, “Change you can believe in,” and his chant, “Yes we can!” raised the public’s expectations of a sweeping revolution as soon as he took office.

I suspect a lot of his appeal came from the fact that he had an inarticulate Bush and a doddering McCain as foils.

The public should have realized that the revolution wasn’t going to happen as soon as he started talking about “consensus building.” Revolutions aren’t built on consensus. The idea of a revolution is to radically alter and literally reform an existing structure of power. Yet, it is a fact that those who hold power will not yield it through consensus. There may be a little window dressing, but power clings to itself unless this power is torn from its hands, and the only way to do this is to amputate the hands that hold it.

Attempting to compromise with power is doomed to fail because the compromise is always on power’s terms. We are seeing this with the thousand-page health bill which is a Byzantine exercise in bureaucratic chaos and confusion. Under the guise of providing “public” coverage, the insurance companies will make out like bandits when coverage becomes mandatory. The part that provides for a government sponsored policy will never see the light of day. The Blue Dogs will see to that.

Right now, Obama’s silenced followers fall into two camps: those who are totally disillusioned with him, and those who cling to the belief that it’s only a matter of time before his progressive soul is revealed.

Speaking of FDR’s New Deal, Joe Bageant points out that, “Capitalism is a parasitic disease of human society and the earth to begin with, so it’s rather like giving a dying tapeworm vitamins.” In the tradition of FDR, Obama continues to feed the worm.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Wacky World of Rational Superstition

If you scratch at economic theory long enough, you discover it’s little more than long strings of arcane mathematical formulae grounded in superstition (the Invisible Hand of the Market), platitudes (peaceful competition) and pipe dreams (eternal growth).

This could explain why our economy has made a terminal trip to the outhouse. Future historians will look back and scratch their heads and wonder how so many bright and educated people allowed superstition to drag them around by their collective nose.

Author Richard Heinburg points out that our government has committed $23.7 trillion dollars in “total potential government support” in an attempt to reinflate a new asset bubble. This figure comes from the inspector general of the government’s Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP).

Million, billion, trillion—so what! They all sound the same, so it’s hard to distinguish between them.

…unless you substitute seconds for dollars, and then you get the following relationship between them:

· A million is the equivalent of 11.7 days.
· A billion is the equivalent of 37 years.
· A trillion is the equivalent of 37,000 years.

Yet Obama assure us that the worst is behind us. And he is right. When you fall off a mountain, the fall eventually stops. However, the fall doesn’t kill you; it’s the sudden stop at the end. Prior recessions have been like diving into a body of water. You go under water and then you bob back to the surface. With this meltdown, we fell off the mountain, and it’s doubtful we’ll climb back up again.

According to Heinburg, capitalism’s superstitious beliefin unlimited growth has hit a wall—resource depletion. As could be expected, the mainstream response to this is another platitude, “Man’s” infinite ingenuity, i.e., it’s only a matter of time before we invent ourselves out of the mess we’ve made. The only problem with this is that you can’t invent coal or oil unless you kill a lot of dinosaurs and keep them under heat and pressure for millions of years. And given that oil, coal and natural gas supply 95% of the world’s energy needs, it’s doubtful we’ll come up with an alternative

As Heinburg explains:

If the physical scientists who warn about limits to growth are right, confronting the global economic meltdown implies far more than merely getting the banks and mortgage lenders back on their feet. Indeed, in that case we face a fundamental change in our economy as significant as the advent of the industrial revolution. We are at a historic inflection point—the ending of decades of expansion and the beginning of an inevitable period of contraction that will continue until humanity is once again living within the limits of Earth’s regenerative system.

One could argue that the tremendous technological advances of the past 200 years have been a fluke made possible by an abundance of cheap oil, and that is what is happening now is a restoration of sanity as the Earth forces us to return to a more balanced lifestyle.

Heinburg bases his arguments on science that has not been funded by Big Oil. Counter arguments tend to leave the world of science and wander into the foggy fields of theology. “You gotta believe! We’ll come up with something, so stop being such a heretical naysayer and join the church. God (the Invisible Hand) is in his heaven, and we are his chosen species, so nothing bad can happen to us.”

And witches fly on broom.

There's nothing in the Bible that says the next Messiah can't be a cockroach.

Note: If you want a good read, click on the above link. The article is long, but Heinburg is a fluid writer whose prose carries you along.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Even more change we can believe in.

There it was, right there on page one of Thursday’s New York Times: “White House Affirms Deal on Drug Cost: Will Block Any Move for Added Savings.”

Yessir, those good folks at big Pharma have pledged to cut costs by $80 billion over the next decade, which is chump change to one of the richest industries in the country. That’s $8bn a year, less than one-tenth of the total cost of the proposed healthcare reform.

As always, the details are fuzzy.

What is important is the message the White House has sent: nobody, but nobody, is going to fuck with Obama’s corporate handlers.

It seems that after big Pharma cut their deal with the White House, Congress started making noises about gouging bigger cuts out of the industry. Not that big Pharma had anything to worry about. They are one of Congress’s major shareholders, and congressvolk never bite the hand that feeds them.

But it was the principle of the thing that mattered, so the White House assured them that Obama would block any cuts over and above the $80 billion agreed upon in a closed-door meeting that excluded any of the people’s representatives.

As White House Chief of Staff Jim Messina explained, “The president encouraged this approach. He wanted to bring all the parties to the table to discuss health insurance reform.”

All parties, that is, except the public.

The $80 billion is not really a cut. Rather it’s a marketing expense because any sort of public health plan can only benefit big Pharma. If the forty-plus million individuals now uninsured are given coverage, then it follows that a large percentage of them are going to need the drugs they currently can’t afford, which will translate into more sales and more profits.

Even the industry’s promise to help seniors by cutting the price of brand-name drugs by fifty percent will boost their profits. Their thinking is that this will lure many seniors away from the generic drugs they now buy in order to have enough money to put food on their tables.

So, let’s look at an example of this “benefit.” I have acid reflux. My doctor first prescribed Nexium, which cost me $215 a month. When I complained about the price, he switched me to Omeprazole, which costs me $15 a month.[1]

If big Pharma comes to my rescue and cuts the price of Nexium by fifty percent, that means I’ll be able to get the drug for 107.50 and that will yield me a net loss of $92.50 a month.

Some benefit.

So the spin spins and the dance goes on; sweet songs are sung into the microphones while deals are cut in back rooms.

I guess that’s the change we can believe in.

[1] Consumer Reports. September, 2009.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


There are several things about a fiftieth high school reunion that set it apart from others. First off, you no longer recognize your former classmates. It is amazing how white hair changes a person. Then there is the knowledge that there may not be a sixtieth, and if there is, the number of attendees will be sharply reduced.

The Okemos High School class of 1959 consisted of 74 graduates. When we graduated, Okemos was going through the painful transition from a small farming community to a suburban bedroom for Lansing, Michigan. One building still housed grades K through 12.

Many of us were born in 1940, which makes us neither war babies nor, strictly speaking, Depression babies. I have vague memories of the war—ration cards, my father crushing used tin cans to be used in the war effort, and I vividly remember either V-E day or V-J day as we drove around with hundreds of others honking horns to celebrate the war’s end.

We grew to maturity in the fifties and were called the Silent Generation because we had withdrawn into our private cocoons and desired only marriage and a career. Conformity ruled, and we lived in a middle-class bubble in which both thought and behavior were circumscribed by rules as unwritten as they were inflexible.

Sex was out since it would lead to pregnancy, public disgrace and eternal damnation. Nobody ever discussed sex; it wasn’t necessary because it simply wasn’t done. It was also the age of the synthetic chastity belt—the Playtex panty girdle.

We clung to the cocoons for two reasons: the threat of atomic annihilation and McCarthy. We lived in dread of saying or thinking something that might brand us as a “fellow traveler,” so it was better to focus on the mundane and trivial because too much critical thinking might get you into trouble.

I have always suspected that those of us born in 1940 were the last of the Victorians. By this we have vivid memories of grandparents who grew up at the height of the era. My grandfather, for example, was born in 1873 in Utrecht. I remember that even in retirement he would rise every day and put on a starched white shirt and necktie. (During the years I wandered the valleys of depression and booze it was often the image of that starched shirt and three-piece woolen suit that kept me on this side of sanity.)

At the same time, cracks were beginning to appear in our middle-class bubble. The sixties began in the fifties. Rock ‘n Roll opened the assault. Its raucous beat heralded the arrival of the scourge of “juvenile delinquency” and all the horrors of “The Blackboard Jungle.” Both were simply the intrusion of working class energy into the sedate world of the middle class. This is why both frightened our parents so.

The high school class of 1959 was a watershed class. Many of my classmates took the standard marriage/career route, though most of the marriages ended in divorce. Some took a different path. For at least one, this path was self destructive.

The one thing the reunion brought home to me was that whatever path we took, we were neither labels nor demographics, but a wonderful group of human beings who had survived into our late sixties.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


It’s a simple word—five letters, one syllable. It has multiple meanings, but the one we’re concerned with, here, is “the formation or articulation of words.” It is characterized by compression and evocative imagery.

The word is so simple.

I mean, what part of “frame” don’t Democrats and Progressives understand?

The Right has mastered the art. They’ve had to out of necessity. When your ideology is an exercise in regressive emptiness, you have no choice but to make things up.

Let’s take an example—the debate over health insurance. Seventy percent of Americans want a single payer plan similar to Medicare. But, it’s not going to happen because the Right has reduced the argument to a simple question: “Do you want a government bureaucrat between you and your doctor?”

“Gosh no!” the public responds. “Better to have no coverage or go bankrupt buying it on the free market than having a government bureaucrat telling me what I can or can’t do.”

One of the reasons the Right’s framing is so successful is that it is usually so blatantly wrong that the Left assumes that the public will see through it, so it’s really unnecessary to respond.


What was it Goebbels said about repeating a lie over and over?

Now, if the Left had a lick of sense, they would shove this “government bureaucrat” nonsense up the Right’s ass by saying:

Hello Mr. and Mrs. America, and all the ships at sea. Guess what! A corporate bureaucrat is already standing between you and your doctor. A corporate bureaucrat is already telling you what you can or can’t do.

Let’s go to the videotape and compare the two!

A corporate bureaucrat can deny you coverage; a government bureaucrat can’t.

A corporate bureaucrat tells you which doctor you must see; a government bureaucrat can’t

A corporate bureaucrat can rescind your coverage when you file a claim; a government bureaucrat can’t.

A corporate bureaucrat can refuse a procedure; a government bureaucrat can’t.

A corporate bureaucrat can cancel your coverage; a government bureaucrat can’t.

It’s so simple, so obvious, and so elemental that one wonders why the Left hasn’t figured it out.

Unless they already have…