Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Wages of Prosperity

Those who care wonder how the United States ended up as a militarized security state. Logic dictates that as soon as the Soviet Union fell, the rationale for our bloated defense establishment was no more and we should have seen a massive demobilization, especially in the wake of the Vietnam debacle. But instead, our military has spread like a cancerous growth across the face of the earth.

This growth has not caused much of a ripple because the Pentagon has, in effect, gone underground with its all-volunteer army and private contractors. Without mandatory military service funneling young men into the military, the military does not cause as much of a stir on Main Street as it once did, nor do unpopular and unnecessary wars generate the same level of passion and protest as Vietnam.

Many reasons have be put forth to explain this, and all of them contain an element of truth. However, there is one factor that has been overlooked.

A bloated military establishment is a product of prosperity. As long as I have a good paying job and the benefits I feel entitled to are not touched I will tolerate such an establishment, especially since our colonial wars carry all the impact of a video game.

But, what will happen with the money begins to dry up, when states face bankruptcy and services are cut?

What happens when jobs and homes are lost?

What happens when our military-industrial complex is finally recognized for what it is: an expensive bauble we can no longer afford?

What happens when the public finally realizes that the Pentagon is little more than the world’s largest pork barrel?

Is it possible that the public will finally ask why in the hell we are spending $57,000 a minute on Afghanistan when schools are being shuttered and the ranks of the unemployed swell?

Of course, it’s a sad commentary on our society that when the public finally turns against the military it will be for economic reasons. It never occurs to anyone that the bombing of women and children just to keep our military-industrial complex solvent is morally abhorrent.

But then, if you give a boy a toy he just has to play with it.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


The rhetoric soared, the air was thick with buzz words and all the right buttons were pressed. The Democrats stood and applauded, the Republicans sat on their hands. Promises were made; programs were announced; initiatives were launched.


From all appearances, action remains mired in partisanship, a partisanship that has nothing to do with ideological differences or political philosophies, and everything to do with power for power’s sake. Obama wants nothing other than to cling to it while Republicans care only about destroying his presidency.

At one point in his State of the Union speech, Obama noted that the American people have lost confidence in their government. This is to be expected when you have a Congress and a White House in which the mentality is that of a gaggle of arrested adolescents.

This goes beyond progressive and liberal carping. Quite frankly, any progressive who expected “change” from the Obama administration wasn’t paying attention during the campaign. The Democrats are doing what they’ve been doing since the end of the nineteenth century, defanging progressive and populist movements. What we have here, is a Democratic Party on the cusp of self destruction because of its deluded belief that it must rule from the center and that the primary duty of any Democratic politician is to keep his or her corporate handlers happy and the hell with what the public wants.

Peter Wallsten has written a piece about the Left’s displeasure with Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, Mr. Corporate Centrist himself, in which Wallsten suggests that Obama is hiding behind Emanuel’s wingtips, which is probably closer to the truth than the progressive belief that Emanuel is sabotaging Obama’s progressive platform.

The idea is to let Emanuel take the fire while Obama spouts his populist rhetoric while both work the corporate center.

Bruce Lee, chief executive of the corporate Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) says, “Rahm’s approach, like the president’s, is not ideological. It’s practical.” In other words, the emphasis is on professionalism, another buzz word that hides a multitude of mischief. It tells us the professionalism is given more credence than principle. Unfortunately, professionalism is a synonym for dehumanization. It has its place, but like any double-edged sword, it must be used with care. (The Holocaust would have gone nowhere without the professionalism and practicality of its managers. Hate inspired it; professionalism made it possible. Not to suggest that there’s any comparison.)
In other words, both Obama and Emanuel are technocrats and technocrats make notoriously poor leaders because they lack the passion leadership requires if it is to be effective.

Wallsten describes one White House meeting with progressive leaders who were urging the Obama administration to reverse the onerous Bush-era antiterrorism policies. According to Wallsten, “Mr. Emanuel was often the loudest voice questioning the wisdom of such changes, according to a participant in the discussion. His concern wasn’t so much the substance of the policy, but the political consequences, this person says.”

Therein we see the priorities of the Beltway: holding on to power is more important than protecting our civil liberties. It’s okay to ignore them as long as the votes are there. Emanuel is reported to be open to any idea that could gain a majority vote. He forgets that a leader doesn’t try to gain a majority, he creates one.

Though how much of a majority Rahm’s approach is gaining is open to question. As Wallsten points out:

The unrest among liberals comes at a perilous political time. Party strategists worry that anger on the left could depress turnout in this year’s midterm elections and cost the party congressional seats and state governorships. The most recent Wall Street Journal/NBC survey found 55% of Republicans “very interested” in the November elections, compared to 38% of the Democrats.

When one stops to think about it, a liberal boycott of the midterms might have some long-term benefits, because only if the Democrats lose both the White House and Congress will there be a chance that they will finally realize just how bankrupt their centerism is. It has always been, a Democratic graveyard. Right now the party is in a casket, ready to be lowered into the hole. A good jolt of electro-defeat might bring it back to life.

Progressives and liberals have fallen into the habit of voting for the lesser evil. Surely eight years of a Clinton administration and one year with Obama must have taught them that there is no “lesser” and there never will be until the Democrats abandon the center.

Rhetoric notwithstanding, just how different would a McCain/Palin administration make other than a notable drop in the collective intelligence of the Beltway, which isn’t breaking any records as it is? The differences between the two have proven to be superficial, because the sad truth is that there is little difference between Republican and Democratic control.

And the idea that progressives could drive a Democratic administration to the left is a pipe dream. It ain’t going to happen as long as lobbyists write the checks.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sanity is too much!

In times like these, sanity is a pain in the ass because all that seems to be coming out of the Beltway these days is madness. Here we are, looking at an indebtedness in the neighborhood of $7 trillion, and Obama announces he is going to cut spending.

On the surface, this seems to be the sensible thing to do. But, as they say, the devil is in the details. According to Tuesday’s New York Times, “The estimated $250 billion in savings over ten years would be less than 3 percent of the roughly $9 trillion in additional deficits the government is expected to accumulate over that time.

(Billion/trillion, they rhyme nicely, but there’s a world of difference. Using seconds instead of dollars, a billion is the equivalent of 37 years while a trillion is 37,000 years.)

However, things really get crazy when we learn that none of these cuts will touch either the Pentagon or the Department of Homeland Security, the two running sores on Liberty’s face.


Here we are pumping $57,000 a minute in to the war in Afghanistan, in what has to be the dumbest military campaign since the French fought tooth and nail to control that vast wasteland known as the Sahara Desert, and Obama won’t touch the Pentagon.

Were a multinational conglomerate to buy out the Pentagon and do a cost-benefit analysis of the Pentagon’s expenditures against its gains, said conglomerate would not hesitate to break the place up, sell the constituent pieces and close it down. We’re looking at a major loss leader that is bleeding the country dry.

Every time I look at the Pentagon I see what could easily be the world’s greatest indoor shopping mall. It has everything a successful mall needs—the square footage and the parking. Instead, it is a rat hole down which our national wealth is being dumped.

Obama’s deficit cutting efforts remind me of the fool who tries to fell a might oak by plucking off a handful of leaves.

Sanity really sucks!

Monday, January 25, 2010

How to boost your anxiety level and live in fear.

I keep no weapon in my house. Never have; never will. Okay, so there’s the chef’s knife in the kitchen drawer, but that doesn’t’ count.

I didn’t even arm myself during the media-hyped “crime wave” of the early seventies when our Euromerican oligarchs decided to neutralize the gains made by the civil rights movement by siphoning as many Afromericans in to jail as they possibly could.

There was one time, though, when I saw an ad for a commando knife and wondered if it might not be a good idea to keep one in my nightstand “just in case.” As soon as that thought crossed my mind, a funny thing happened: my anxiety level rose. That was because just the thought of arming myself brought to mind all of the “possible” situations that might require its use.

And that’s the problem—sweating possibilities instead of probabilities. Anything is possible. Yes, it is “possible” some evil characters may break into my house in the dead of night and murder my wife and me. It’s possible, but not probable, which is why I don’t worry about it unless I start obsessing on the possible. (Probability means having some hard data to work with. It is probably I could be wacked in an automobile accident, but it is highly improbable I’ll ever be murdered in my sleep.)

That was the problem with the knife. As soon as I thought about getting a weapon for security, my anxiety level rose because just having the weapon on the premises shifted my focus from the probable to the possible.

It’s a closed feedback loop. I consider the possible, feel threatened by it and buy a weapon to alleviate the anxiety it creates. Yet, the very possession of the weapon increases my anxiety and prompts me to think about buying a deadlier weapon. Had I purchased the knife it would have been a matter of time before I became so anxious that the knife wouldn’t have been enough. In the end I would have ended up with an assault rifle tucked under the bed.

And this explains how America became a security state. The possibility of Communists, criminals, terrorists or (fill in the blank) worries us, so our leaders churn out weapons and start wars to make us feel secure. But they don’t because we began to obsess on the “possible.” This results in a gaggle of security bureaucrats sitting around table saying “What if…? What if….? What if…”

What if the terrorists develop an effective shoe bomb? (Have airline passengers take off their shoes.) What if an explosive can be poured into a shampoo bottle? (Limit the amount of shampoo that can be carried onto an airliner.) What if the terrorists develop a workable underwear bomb? (Use your imagination on that one.)

And, of course, the more secure we try to become, the more anxious we become, which suits are oligarchs because an anxious people are more willing to surrender their freedoms in exchange for a false sense of security and, as Ben Franklin noted, they end up with neither.

As for me, I think I will remain unarmed; it keeps the anxiety level down. And while I’m at it, I think I’ll hold on to my freedoms. Somewhere it is written that they are inalienable. So, no matter what the government does or what the courts decide, I remain a free citizen of a free country.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Lessons Never Learned

Generals and politicians are notoriously slow in the head when it comes to adapting military tactics to a changing world. And when they do try to adjust, the result is usually disastrous.

Traditional European tactics evolved from the Roman practice of finding an open field with nary a tree for cover , amassing two large bodies of soldiers standing fact to face and marching them towards each other Or, if they were really dumb, they'd march them towards the other’s fortifications

This was all fine and dandy in the age of the sword, spear or musket. However, the Civil War changed all that. It was the world’s first industrial war in which victory was not decided by tactics, courage, valor, glory or es spirit de corp. Victory was determined by who had the biggest industrial plant. An army doesn’t win anymore; it simply out produces the enemy.

And what both sides in the Civil War discovered was that it was downright deadly to move masses of men across an open field in the face of modern weaponry. (Gen. George Pickett learned that painful lesson at the Battle of Gettysburg.)

So, one would think that military leaders across the world would look at the carnage the Civil War produced and rewrite their manuals.

Didn’t happen.

World War I broke out and the fools tried using the same tactics of moving masses of men across open fields. The result was even more disastrous. It wasn’t until World War II that the generals finally caught on, even though a variation of this archaic tactic continued in the form of assorted amphibious landings. A stretch of water offers even less cover than an open field.

It’s a hard and fast rule of military tactics that one never gives up a tactic simply because it doesn’t work. In the face of failure, the response is more of the same.

The atomic bomb pretty much put an end to the age of industrial warfare. There’s not much sense if fighting an industrial style war if you are going to annihilate civilization. But, that didn’t stop leaders from churning out tons of military hardware designed for a form of warfare that had outlived its usefulness. The result was failure in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Fast forward to our Eternal War of the Empty policy in which the United States finds itself mired in two wars of aggression, a new record for America. If Vietnam should have taught our leaders one lesson, it’s that you can’t wage an industrial war against an insurgency. For one thing, most insurgents are bright enough to pass on amassing large bodies of men on an open field in order to march them towards the enemy. Nor does bombing the shit out of them work, as we painfully discovered in Viet Nam. Advanced technology much of an advantage in such a war.

This is a lesson we’re learning big time in Afghanistan. Nick Turse and Tom Engelhardt point out that, counting both active duty and reserve forces, the United States enjoys a 1,286:1 ratio over al Qaeda. However, this doesn’t stop our leaders from repeating over and over that al Qaeda represents a threat to the homeland and to the stability of Afghanistan and the Middle East.

This ignores the hard truth that al Qaeda doesn’t really exist. If two pissed-off Muslims sit down at a table and try to dream up ways of zapping the invading American forces, they are, ipso facto, an al Qaeda cell. As Turse and Engelhardt point out:

The Pentagon with its giant bureaucracy and its miles of offices and corridors, is the headquarters of the U.S. war effort, but there is no central al-Qaeda headquarters, not in Afghanistan or Pakistan—not anywhere. There is probably no longer an “al-Qaeda central.” Osama bin Laden has vanished or, for all we know, may be dead. Think of it, at best, as an open-source organization that is remarkably capable of replicating by a process of self-franchising.

Of course, this assumes that the reason we’re fighting our wars of aggression is to defeat al Qaeda. Not so. al Qaeda is simply a marketing tool to justify the continued existence of America’s number uno White Elephant, the Pentagon. Where once we branded nationalistic guerilla movements “communist,” we now call them “terrorists” or, even better, al Qaeda in (fill in the blank).

Of course, the reverse is true—al Qaeda needs the United States military to justify what remains of its existence.

I don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories, but I have to wonder… Look at how botched recent attempts to blow up airplanes have been. You had Richard Reid with his shoe bomb, the plot to blow up an airplane with a bottle of shampoo and, finally, the exploding underwear. In all three cases, scientist agreed that there was no way in hell the devices could have brought down an airplane.

Some call it stupidity, even though history has taught us that it’s not wise to think of your enemy as stupid. Could it be, instead, an example of tactical brilliance?

I’m sure al Qaeda, or any terrorists with a single cell of grey matter, realizes that to actually bring down an airplane would bring a firestorm of death and destruction down on their homes. One the other hand, al Qaeda wants to keep America’s knickers in a knot so we will continue to ramp up our military presence in the Middle East, thus making it easier to recruit more insurgents.

What better way is there to accomplish this than with botched up bombing attempts. The suicide bombers are thrilled with the idea because it means they avoid a premature death. Our leaders get to spaz out every time an attempt fails and we ramp up our military efforts up another notch. For both al Qaeda and the Pentagon it’s a win-win strategy.

Meanwhile, we are treated to the paradox that with every drone and bomb we explode the Taliban increases their control of the Afghan countryside. But hey! Industrial warfare worked in the past so there is no reason it won’t work in the future.

That’s what the military calls learning from experience.

Friday, January 22, 2010

It's Time!

Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court gave America back to her corporate handlers when it ruled that Congress could not place restrictions on corporate contributions to political campaigns. The argument was the same fallacious argument that has allowed our corporate oligarchs to befoul our democracy—corporations are people and have the same rights under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as human people.

So, it is time to reprise an idea I put forth about a year ago. Then it fell into a sea of silence, but perhaps the court’s decision has made the ground more fertile for its growth

What we need is a 28th Amendment to the Constitution that strips our corporations of their personhood. The net effect would be that our corporations would have no rights; they would only have privileges granted them by the state.

Today, such an amendment stands a snowball’s chance in Hell of passing. However, as our economy continues to tank, and as Wall Street bankers continue to get trillions in bailouts while the disempowered class in America, which increasingly includes the Middle Class, continues to slip down the economic ladder, the temperature in Hell is starting to fall.

Besides, think of the fun we could have with such a movement! We could demonize the hell out of the bastards.

Look at where we are now. In an age when it is not only necessary to think outside the box but to reduce the box to kindling, a paralysis has gripped the Obama administration, which spends all of its time trying to figure out if we’re in a box to begin with, and, if so, how big it is, what color it is and is it really necessary to think outside the box when we could easily build an addition to it, provided they could get the financing.

Meanwhile, the Left loudly proclaims that, “Something must be done! Systemic change is needed; reform is called for!” And, there it ends as the Left fragments into a spray of mini issues--gay rights, women’s rights, peace, the environment, animal liberation, universal health care—each droplet suspended in space independent of the others. Each of these issues is important, but each is made all the more difficult because we are confronting a system that is decayed and corrupt, and until this tottering superstructure is addressed, the above issues will simply limp along without any satisfactory resolutions.

The drive for a 28th Amendment would serve two immediate purposes.

Dissatisfaction in America is badly fragmented. We are too isolated in our discontent, which is why we seek escape in celebrity infidelities and reality television.. The drive for a 28th Amendment could well be the lightening rod that would unify this discontent into a viable movement.

At the same time, the radical left has a millstone hanging around its, neck: a vocabulary straight out of the nineteenth century that, in today’s world, is devoid of both meaning and relevance.
The struggle is no longer between capital and labor.

Capitalism is dead; it’s been dead for decades. A CEO is not a capitalist; he is an employee. A capitalist grew capital by the sweat of his brow and the blackness of his soul. A CEO plays without other people’s capital while absorbing as much of it as he can through executive salaries, bonuses and stock options. The soul of a CEO is a bland beige.

We no longer have a working class; we have a dispossessed class that grows larger every day. It is an inclusive class claiming as it members not only workers but the poor, the working poor, undocumented immigrants, the unemployed, the employed who are squeezed for three hours of productivity for one hour’s pay and, increasingly, the middle class. It is just waiting to be mobilized by the right issue.

If there is to be any systemic change in the country, the corporation must be demonized, and the movement for a 28th Amendment would present the perfect platform from which to do just that. Let’s face it, the corporation is an anachronism, a dinosaur that has outlived its usefulness and is in the process of devouring itself as it takes the country down with it. That is the box that must be reduced to kindling! The corporation served its purpose; it gave us all sorts of nice toys and technological advances (many of which are destroying the earth, but isn’t your iPhone worth it?) but it’s time it was put out to pasture before it ruins us completely.

The amendment would raise the possibility of doing something about our corrupt Congress. Cynics tell us Washington D.C. is an open septic tank overflowing with the raw sewage of corruption. In truth, it is a bit more sophisticated than that.

Granted, raw sewage is pumped into the beltway via open trenches that run from the nation’s power centers. But, instead of pouring into the Capitol, it is first pumped into the K Street Sewage Treatment Plant. There it is sanitized and deodorized before being piped into the Halls of Congress disguised as campaign contributions. It is still sewage, but, it smells sweeter.

The short answer to this mess is public funding of election campaigns. On the surface it seems to offer much. By freeing the congress from the multiple snares of corporate purse strings, Congress might start representing the public interest. As it stands now, every time an elected official speaks of our national interests or national security, “national” is simply a code word for “corporate”. The system is gamed to minimize public influence on policy.

Congress tried to reign in corporate power with the McCain-Feingold Bill. But, before the ink was even dry on the bill, our corporate overlords went weeping to the nearest federal court and claimed that the bill violated its First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Money talks, and if our corporate patrons aren’t allowed to speak through their wallets, they are being unconstitutionally silenced.

And, the Supreme Court agreed with the poor darlings one-hundred percent.

The argument won the day, because under our current system, a corporation is a person.
People assume that corporate personhood was the result of a Supreme Court decision. In truth, the court made no such decision. The question of personhood arose when the court considered an appeal of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. The focus of the case was the taxation of railroad properties.

As the case worked its way through the lower courts, the question of whether corporations were persons protected by the 14th Amendment was argued.

However, before oral arguments began before the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Morrison Remick Waite stated, “The court does not wish to hear argument on the question of whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are of the opinion that it does.”

Because formal arguments had not begun, Waite’s remark was a non-binding obiter dictum that had no bearing on the outcome of the case. The question of corporate personhood was never mentioned in the court’s written decision. The court limited its decision to the question of taxing corporate property.

However, the court clerk, when writing the header, or summary, of the case stated that, “defendant corporations are persons…”

Thus, was corporate personhood born.

The principle is so engrained in legal precedence that a judicial reversal is virtually impossible. That is why only a constitutional amendment could solve the problem.

That our amendment would raise some corporate hackles is an understatement. Already, I hear lamentations about the sanctity of private property, etc. However, a very compelling argument could be made that the ownership of corporate property is so diffused amongst shareholders that it is a misnomer to call it private property. Since corporate property exists at the pleasure of the State through the granting of a corporate charter, it is more akin to quasi-public property than private property.

I admit this is heresy, but given rate at which corporations are eating us alive, I think some healthy heresy is called for.

This brings us back, in a full circle, to our corrupted Congress. If corporations were stripped of their personhood, a campaign finance reform bill that eliminated corporate money from the electoral process would be better protected from a court challenge. There is no guarantee this would clean up the system. All it would do is increase the probability that it would be cleaner than it currently is.

Granted, the idea of a 28th Amendment sits way out there in the foggy fringe, but if our Neocon colleagues taught us anything, it is that today’s fringe is tomorrow’s mainstream.
This is a movement that could cut across class, gender and ethnic divisions because if there is one thing unifying America, it is our economic misery.

And if nothing else, the drive for a 28th Amendment would make our oligarchs and plutocrats sweat. That, alone, would make the effort worthwhile.
Sure, it looks hopeless, but I.F. Stone wrote:

“The only fights worth fighting are those you are going to lose, because somebody has to fight them and lose and lose and lose until someday, somebody who believes as you do wins. In order for somebody to win an important major fight 100 years hence, a lot of other people have got to be willing—for the sheer fun of it—to go right ahead and fight, knowing you’re going to lose. You mustn’t feel like a martyr. You’ve got to enjoy it.”

It’s time to bring back the Merry Pranksters, but instead of promoting psychedelic drugs, they will promote the decorporatization of America.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

It couldn't have happened to a nicer party.

So the Democrats lost what had been a safe Senate seat in Massachusetts. There’s really no surprise there. If anything it was a vote against the feckless Democratic leadership. The center has long been a graveyard for the Democrats. Those who occupy it show the public that they stand for nothing, and that doesn’t sit well with voters.

It doesn’t matter that what Republican Scott Brown stands for—no healthcare reform and forget our legal traditions when dealing with “terrorists”—is onerous. The fact that he stood for something appealed to voters disgusted with vacillating Democratic leadership.

In truth, it’s no big deal that the Senate lost its veto-proof majority. The Senate leadership hadn’t done anything with it except wimp out and compromise on every issue.

If Senate Democratic leaders had any backbone, they’d force the Republicans to filibuster the healthcare reform bill and use the filibuster as a cudgel to beat the Republicans over their Neanderthal skulls when the midterm elections roll around.

That won’t happen, though. The rightwing noise machine kicked the spin out of them years ago, and the poor fools are still trying to find it.

Maybe this will be a wakeup call for Obama to get off his ass and start living up to his campaign promises. I doubt it thought.

A more viable alternative would be a third party because it looks as if the Democrats are ready to follow the Whigs into political oblivion.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Riffs on a Good Read

A good article is one that ends up covered with margin notes after it’s been read. Gaither Stewart’s “Symbolism, Ideology and Revolution” is one such article. I’d highly recommend taking time to read the entire article. That being said, let me begin to quote and riff.

Stewart quotes Umberto Eco who argues that:

[S]ociety…has become a universe devoid of a center. Everything is periphery. There is no longer a heart of anything.

What we have, instead, are faux power centers that are more media creations than reality. It has become clear by now that neither Obama nor any other president has every run the country. What the media calls the most powerful leader in the world is little more than a shill for the dispersed special interests and lobbyists who are the real power, and, as Eco noted, there is no center, no heart through which a sword could be plunged. Rather there is only a toxic mist made up of many discrete particulates that drifts across the land, constantly changing shape as it moves.

Eco goes on to say:

Power is multiple and ubiquitous. It is a network of consensuses that depart from below. Power is plurality. Power is the multiplicity of relationships of strength.

The habituated momentum that makes a society and keeps power in its place also hollows society out as the ideals and ideology that set this momentum into motion gradually fades from memory and only a fragile ideological construct is left tht slowly becomes a parody of itself. We see this is the desperation with which our oligarchs cling to the belief in a self-regulating fee market, which is little more than an empty ideological shell staggering beneath the weight of the global economic meltdown brought about by a “free market” run amok.

Power is neither rational nor planned. It is a convergence of interests by those with the resources to implement them.

Stewart comments that one “notes little solidarity between middleclass and the poor.”

This points to the paradox of class in the United States. Because we cling to the belief that we are a classless society we find ourselves mired in class prejudice. The reason is simple: because we are classless we believe that everyone should be middleclass and those who isn’t well dressed, well behaved, orderly, polite, law abiding and Euromerican are marginalized.

The left castrated itself in the 60s when it turned its back on blue-collar America and, in doing so, lost its base. It has been impotent ever since. As a result, blue-collar America ended up voting for Regan who proceeded to screw them them to the wall.

Speaking of the European bourgeoisie, Stewart says:

Within that class emerge the thinking and movements for drastic social change.

This hints at a major difference between Europe and America. Europe has a history of vibrant social thought that reached down to all classes in a society. America has no such tradition. This is because we are a nation of technicians, not thinkers. For example, the mantras I grew up with were: “Say what you mean!” “Get to the point!” “Don’t beat around the bush!” In other words, we were conditioned to believe in “one word; one meaning.” Consequently, our language lacks depth, nuance and metaphor, without which there can be no poetry, and an ideology without poetry is a flattened balloon. (This explains why America is crawling with fundamentalists and why, when you scratch an atheist, you find a pissed off fundamentalist.)

Stewart argues that America is not bourgeois; it is middle class. And:

Lionel Trilling defined middle class in relations to the government. From the ruling or governing class one scales down to the lowest classes which are cut out totally from any relation with the government. The middle class, situated midway between the two, continues to believe—in its overwhelming false consciousness—that the government exists for it and for its interests.

However, now that the impoverishment of the middle class is underway, it will be interesting to see how it develops. Stewart contends that, “…the major target for proponents of radical change should be precisely those deaf and dumb, ignorant and obtuse, super patriotic middle classes.” We should take a hard look to see what we might have in common with the tea baggers. (Incidentally, an important component of “solidarity” is the willingness to listen.)

Unfortunately, the middle class has always wanted reform, but not too much reform. The reform is seeks is divorced from the structural and systemic changes that would be necessary to evolve into a truly decent society instead of the dog-eat-dog kennel we currently are. As Stewart notes about Liberals:

Liberals can take strong stands on minor community improvements; they can work themselves into a fury and campaign relentlessly and join sit-ins and carry placards concerning, let’s say, how the local school yard is to be used on weekends or about alternate days for trash pick-up, and still ignore the concept of social justice for all. Viewed from a distance, I therefore am dubious about so-called grassroots activities: naturally they are welcome, but I suspect in the long run harmless. No wonder Power as a rule lets them sit-in, sit-out, march and carry little placards. Liberals, at the most only potentially revolutionary, are Power’s ally and stand in the way of drastic social change.

Speaking of artists, Stewart argues that, “To write propaganda or paint conformist art is to succumb to the allures and/or the coercion of the reigning system. For that reason most artists are countercurrent. That is also why artists should stay away from the White House or the Elysees Palace.”

That is also why artists should avoid grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

I disagree with Stewart over how “countercurrent” our artists are. Art seems to have been reduced to arcane installations viewed only by the “creative” clique that clusters round the trendy galleries in the country’s metropolitan centers and what passes for contemporary literature is little more than empty naval gazing.

Articles like Stewart’s are why I prefer reading to television. The tube deadens while the printed page stimulates. The tube produces consumers while the printed page produces citizens. This could explain why there are so few citizens in America.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Serenity of Modern Warfare

The successful execution of America’s Eternal War of the Empty Policy does not require toughness or resolve. All that is needed is for those in charge to achieve a sublime state of moral nihilism that transcends the division between good and evil.

In this elevated state of moral nihilism, consequences no longer exist. The dead are not dead; the maimed are not maimed. It is an ethical void scrubbed clean of the gore that is war’s traditional aftermath. In this netherworld dead children, who really aren’t dead, continue to play in the streets under the loving gazes of their mothers, whose limbs haven’t been blown off. Dead fathers returned from their destroyed factories and the family sits down to its evening meal even though its home has been reduced to rubble. Life goes on, no matter how brutal the bombing.

Slaughter is sanitized. A clean-cut young man sits at his laptop somewhere in Nevada and with his mouse directs the course of an unmanned drone until a collection of hovels is in his sights. He clicks the mouse and in a flash, the hovels are no more. He closes his laptop, goes home to his family and gets a good night’s sleep. He’s put in a good day, and as he sleeps he is blissfully unaware of the death and destruction he has wrought.

Moral nihilism works best in value-free individuals. This emptiness is achieved when the ties that bind an individual to family and community are severed. Into the void that remains pour the facile symbols of the state, symbols that are effective because they have been stripped of their original meaning until they are empty shells that resonate with meaning in individuals who are also empty shells. The best example of this is the flag lapel pin. This once proud symbol of freedom and democracy now signifies the moral void that has made us a hegemonic wonder to behold.

To reach its peak efficiency, moral nihilism requires an environment in which nobody is in charge. Instead of a single evil mastermind, there is a collective mass consensus that is more reminiscent of a pool of toxic sludge than a grand conspiracy. Its driving force is a blind momentum that drifts along more from habit than resolve. Any attempt to think outside the box is thwarted because the box is constantly growing and expanding so the mind is never able to step outside of its confines.

Language, stripped of passion, is the medium of this moral nihilism. The language of the nihilist doesn’t sing, it drones. Here is an example of its poetry:

A cluster bomb delivery will be examined to determine the optimum configuration of bomblets from a maximum probability of destroying the target.

The power of this passage rests in the absence of a child attracted to an unexploded bomblet. Nowhere is there a photograph of the child after the bomblet has exploded. The prose sits in a state of pure innocence which reduces war to little more than a pushing and shoving match.

But, do not think for a minute that our moral nihilists are totally lacking in compassion. Leo Tolstoy had them in mind when he wrote:

I sit on a man’s back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means except by getting off his back. Of course, if the man throws me off his back, I have no choice but to kill him so the contagion of his freedom doesn’t spread to other carriers.

A savage brutality once drove war. Now it is driven by the serene barbarity of the civilized.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Who needs freedom when we are eating right?

Fastidiousness is the midwife of oppression. Authoritarian stats are neat freaks that want their ducks in a row and have a pathological fear of anything that has not been scrubbed clean of all that makes it human and unique. The sophisticated ones are oblique and subtle in their approach. Over time they put together rules and regulations, which, individually, seem so innocuous that people barely notice that the screws are being tightened, but in their totality are oppressive and highly restrictive.

Authoritarian states of old obsessed on what people thought and how they acted. Modern states obsess on what people eat. In this respect, Mike Bloomberg’s New York City is on the cutting edge of contemporary authoritarianism.

When speaking of New York City, a caveat is necessary. In the public’s mind, New York City covers an area roughly from the tip of Manhattan to the borough’s 96th Street, allowing for an margin of error of ten to fifteen blocks in either direction. Most outlanders are unaware that the city has its own flyover land in the form of its outer boroughs.

But getting back to Mike, the man is very concerned that his subjects eat right. First he pushed through legislation regulated the amount of transfats in food. Next, he made restaurants post calorie counts. Now he wants to regulate the salt content in food. I guess he figures the proles don’t know how to eat right so their big brother has to tell them to finish their veggies. All of this was over and above his smoking ban so his subjects’ nostril wouldn’t be violated by the rank odor of cigarette smoke, one tendril of which would be enough to send the victims lungs into a spasm of pulmonary disorder.

The rationale for these rules and regulations is that they saves money by reducing the medical expenses associated with the poster child disorder of the twenty-first century, “obesity.” Mike wants us all svelte, even if it costs us our freedom to eat as we please. It’s so damn sloppy that way. The idea of all that salt and grease ravaging our bodies is too much for Mike to bear.

Of course, the expenses associated with the treatment of obesity pale compared with the expenses associated with old age. It costs an arm and a leg to keep those senior citizens breathing. If Mike was serious about saving money he’d outlaw aging. The old farts are parasites draining assets from the system that would be better used to treat Manhattan’s beautiful people. By caring for the aging we are creating a moral hazard in which citizens are encouraged to age. But, by God, they’d think twice about doing so if they knew they wouldn’t be cared for in their dotage.

But, what can you expect from an administration that banned large demonstrations from Central Park’s Great Lawn because it might hurt the grass. That’s America for you, more concerned about its lawn than its liberty. If the grass is green and the air is fresh and women can slip into a size six, all is well. Fastidiousness rocks!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Bull Guts and Prosperity

Fiat currency is to finance capitalism what lead was to alchemy. Both are base materials their possessors sought to transform into something of value through the muttering of incantations. Only finance capitalism succeeded. Fait currency obtains value when a well-armed bully shakes a dollar bill in a peons face and snarls, “This mother is worth what I say it’s worth!”

I wonder if the alchemist, as he stood over his bubbling cauldron, asked himself, “What if I succeed and turn this lead into gold? What will that do to the price of gold on the open market? Will we not reach the point where it would take a ton of gold to purchase what a pound of gold now purchases?”

One thing we can be certain of, the finance capitalist never asked this question about his fiat currency. Why bother when you can produce value as fast as you can print it.

Finance capitalism is the alchemy of today as it busily produces value out of a base material--paper. It is all fantasy. Fantasy is the hot air that has inflated the multiple bubbles that have maintained the illusion that we are a prosperous nation when, in truth, our economy has stagnated as we shipped our manufacturing base overseas.

Ours has been the prosperity of increased indebtedness as more and more consumers join the ranks of the poor. We need the poor because they debt they piled up during flush times is a major source of revenue for our financial capitalists. They are the vultures who profit every time funny money changes hands.

Their goal is the total economic meltdown that would give them the opportunity to wrap a neoliberal garrote around the neck of what remains of the New Deal and slowly strangle it.

All of this was made possible when the bean counters enticed the virtual economy to pack her bags and leave the real economy. There’s more profit in fanatasy than there is in actually making something or in providing a real service.

The priests of old assessed risk by studying the innards of a gutted bull. The priests of finance capitalism assess risk using “risk assessment models.” I suspect the priests of old had better luck with their bull guts.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Rational Spending

The multiplier effect is an economic tool that measure how much additional economic activity a dollar spent will generate. For example, The New York Times tells us that, “Every dollar of additional infrastructure spending means $1.57 in economic activity.”

The article goes on to list the following multiplier effects for each dollar spent:
· General aid to states: $1.41
· Increases for food stamps: $1.74
· Unemployment checks: $1.61

It would appear that a viable social safety net—unlike the shredded remnant of the one now in place—pays economic dividends.

What is harder to pin down is the multiplier effect of the $57,000 per minute we are blowing in Afghanistan. Like all other concepts in the dismal science, multiplier effects are subject to a great deal of debate. So estimates of the multiplier effect of each dollar of defense spending range from eighty cents to $1.40. The high end figure is misleading because the expense involved in the care and rehabilitation of a young soldier suffering from a terminal brain injury (TBI) is listed as an asset since it adds money to the GDP. It doesn’t subtract the reduced input into the economy the young soldier will be incapable of providing. In light of this, the lower multiplier effect is probably more accurate.

One fact that is indisputable is that defense spending is a drain on the economy. The standard Keynesian approach of using government deficits to stimulate aggregate demand worked during the Great Depression because the country was not saddled with a DOD parasite that was draining its treasury.

As one writer points out:

Defense spending means that the government is pulling away resources from the uses determined by the market and instead using them to buy weapons and supplies and to pay for soldiers and other military personnel. In standard economic models, defense spending is a direct drain on the economy, reducing efficiency, slowing growth and costing jobs.

He goes on to list the number jobs produced by $1 billion in spending in various economic fields:

As we see, defense spending creates 8,555 total jobs with $1 billion in spending. This is the fewest number of jobs of any of the alternative uses that we present. Thus, personal consumption generates 10,779 jobs, 26.2 percent more than defense, health care generates 12,883 jobs, education generates 17,687, mass transit is at 19,795, and construction for weatherization/infrastructure is 12,804. From this list we see that with two of the categories, education and mass transit, the total number of jobs created with $1 billion in spending is more than twice as many as with defense.

The bottom line is that defense spending is a fool’s game characterized by the law of diminishing returns. We are getting nothing in return for the $57,000 a minute we are wasting in Afghanistan.

How many homes could be saved with the money spent over there is an hour, a day or a month? How many struggling states could be bailed out with the money being spent just to satisfy the egos of fools who equate military prowess with potency even though this prowess is slowly rendering us impotent. After all, who got Iraq’s oil and Afghanistan’s copper? It wasn’t us.

The money isn’t making us any safer as it finances the production of even more terrorists.

But when a country’s institutions are corrupt, madness stalks the corridors of power. Lord Acton’s corrupting power does not result in greed or oppression. It’s corrupting influence is brain rot.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Providence Rules!

Divine Providence is to the state what a chef’s knife was to Jack the Ripper, an instrument of policy. The beauty of Devine Providence is its long-term vision. No matter how disastrous the consequences of a given decision, providence promises that all will be well in the end as long as we equate the events with "God's will."

Divine Providence allows the leader who is up to his neck in shit to declare, “I did the right thing.” Alan Hart says of that statement, “In discourse analysis it’s known as the false dilemma. You can’t argue with somebody, particularly a leader who insists he was doing what was right because, implicitly, you invite yourself to be seen as arguing for what is morally wrong.”

The leader who believes that his nation is a manifestation of providence lobotomizes the brain’s feel for decency. As soon as he is convinced that God is behind him, the leader will not shrink from wading through a waist-high lake of blood and viscera because the slaughter his decision causes is justified by the noble end his policy is pursuing.

From whence does this Divine Providence come? It is really quite simple: The ego farts and the soul thinks the breath of the Spirit is upon it.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Buying Ourselves to Death

[W]e no longer have movements; we have thousands of people each clamouring to have their own vision adopted. We might come to together for occasional rallies and marches, but as soon as we start discussing alternatives, solidarity is shattered by possessive individualism. Consumerism has changed all of us. Our challenge is to fight a system we have internalized.
George Monbiot

Monboit’s observation explains a lot. In a society of possessive individualism, the only unifying force is greed, which explains why the Right has maintain its unity and force while the Left is in total disarray with any semblance of solidarity relegated to a footnote in a history book that is never opened. Consumerism has, indeed, “changed all of us.” Yet, consumerism is a word that is bandied about without any sort of understanding of its sordid history.

There was a time when we were a frugal people. The ruling mantra of the day was, “Use it up; wear it out. Make do or do without.” It was a frugality born of necessity. In the absence of an industrial plant, there wasn’t much stuff to go around. If tools and utensils had to be hand crafted by the local blacksmith, people made them last. Clothing was a product of the spinning wheel and hand loom, so people patched rather than replace. (Is there anyone still living who could darn a sock?)

All of this changed towards the end of the nineteenth century as the country’s industrial plant swung into gear. Now goods could be manufactured quickly and cheaply. But capitalism had a problem. It had to cure the public of its frugality. Thus, we saw the birth of the advertising and public relations industry, and the concurrent creation of wants in place of needs. People were encouraged to buy because they wanted, not because they needed.

Our industrialists and marketers made another discovery. Community and family put a damper on consumption. If I “want” a $300 shaving set, complete with a chrome-plated razor, brush and elegant stand to hold both, I am not going to tell my wife because her scornful anger would discourage me from purchasing it. But, if I say nothing, it’s mine.

So it was that we saw the gradual erosion of the family as consumerism replaced community, a process that was speeded up with the introduction of television. Soon, this fragmentation will be carried to a new level as television programs are streamed over people’s smart phones. Now, a family no longer has to gather around a single screen. Each can wander their empty house immersed in the tiny screens they can hold in one hand.

Consumerism built a head of steam during the twenties, only to make a crash landing when the Great Depression hit. Yet, that event was preparing the ground for the advent of consumerism's resurrection in the fifties and its transformation into the feral consumerism that has plunged us into our present economic meltdown.

Poverty is stressful. Never knowing if you’ll have food on the table or a roof over your head is a strain. Worry is your constant companion, a worry goaded by anger and resentment.

With the advent of World War II and the full employment created by the war industries, people once again had money in their pockets and a terrible burden was lifted from their shoulders. People naturally began to assume that money brought happiness, when all it really brought was a release from the stress of poverty, which is not the same thing as happiness. From that assumption came the belief that the more money one had, the happier one would be.

It was this assumption that drove the fifties and sixties. At the end of World War II, America was in the catbird seat. We were the only country in the world whose industrial plant hadn’t been blasted into oblivion. Coupled with that was a public whose savings had been gorged by wartime rationing and in whom memories of the poverty of the Great Depression were fresh.

It was in the sixties that the country started to realize that money doesn’t buy happiness. This was a factor that played into the youth rebellion that sought an alternative to materialism and consumption. Ironically, their mantra of “Do your own thing” was a marketers dream. Consumerism was off to the races.

As our prosperity began to fade in the seventies, consumption became an emotional prop as people tried to conceal their slowly sinking standard of living by plunging into debt to buy the trappings of prosperity to fill the vacuum left by its absence. A series of asset bubbles coupled with low interest rates facilitated this plunge.

Now all we are left with is a hangover, one we suffer in isolation because there isn’t a social movement in sight that we could join to seek redress for our grievances.

History is never stagnant. Out of the rubble of a dying system a new one emerges. This makes the unity of the Right frightening. We saw what happened as Germany plunged into the Great Depression. They turned to Hitler as their savior and the rest is history. Now, instead of Brownshirts, we have tea bags and Bibles.

The left is going to have to lose its ideological fragmentation if it wishes to be any sort of a counterforce to the Right. Right now it is too fragmented as individuals occupy their private ideological castles and refuse to leave them. You can neither organize nor fund-raise from a computer.

We will only cure this fragmentation if we are willing to leave our castles and engage in a political process that has been described as a process of compromise and conciliation between conflicting groups in a pluralistic society. And I’m not talking about compromise and conciliation with the Right; I’m talking about it within the left. Without it, we shall remain fragmented and impotent.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The "Times" strikes another blow for our National Security!

You can always count on The New York Times to fan the flames of war. They did it with Iraq’s WMDs and now they are doing the same with Iran’s nuclear program. The Wednesday edition carried a frightening headline that alerted us to the fact that “Iran Is Shielding Nuclear Efforts in Tunnel Mazes.”

Accompanying the story was an equally frightening photo of Iran’s President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, surrounded by a group of tieless functionaries, all sporting red hardhats, in a tunnel reinforced by a Byzantine network of equally red I-beams. The tunnel had “threat” written all over it—until you read the caption. They were standing in a newly constructed highway tunnel!

Now, there’s a scare.

The story went on to refer to Iran’s “notoriously opaque nuclear effort,” without the quotation marks.

The article highlighted a problem that has been plaguing the Beltway ever since it started grousing about Iran’s nuclear program: The program is perfectly legal under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to which Iran is a signatory.

This has forced the administration to obsess on the “possibility” that Iran is really trying to build a nuclear weapon. It’s Cheney’s old “one percent” doctrine. If there’s a one percent chance that a possibility is real we treat it as real.

In all the coverage the story has received, a few salient facts have been left out. Given the hostility the West has exhibited towards Iran and given an Israeli Air Force just chomping at the bit to bomb the hell out of the country, Iran would have to be brain dead not to bury its nuclear facilities beneath the deepest mountain it could find.

For that matter, Iran would have to be brain dead not to develop a nuclear bomb. Nothing changes a hostile nation’s attitude like a nuclear arsenal, as North Korea discovered.

However, such thinking would require commonsense, and that’s the last thing the Beltway can afford. There’s simply no profit in it.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Dead Past Lives On.

When a country’s past is fable, the present veers towards unreality. The past is not static. It changes as we change, as we become more perceptive with the passage of time. Often times, this change is painful as we are forced to confront the ghosts of the past we have kept hidden.

Fable becomes a refuge from the pain of self discovery. Once we have exchanged the dynamic of an ever-changing past for a static world of make believe, the past ceases to be a source of growth and becomes frozen in amber, thus dooming the present to repeat the sins of the past over and over again.

America’s past became frozen with our victory in World War II, a victory that has turned out to be democracy’s swan song.

America’s past wars saw the mobilization of the citizenry followed by its demobilization once victory was achieved. World War II was different. There was no demobilization as we slowly morphed from a republic to a militarized security state.

Victory in World War II gave rise to the fable that we were a military superpower. From this, it followed that we made the error of equating hardware with strength. (Hardware is okay in an industrial war between two nation states, but it’s meaningless when dealing with an insurgency.) In the process we are slowly spending ourselves in to penury just to keep this fable of the past alive.

In order to keep a dead past alive, the mind needs a constant stream of delusions that protect it from the truth. This is why we need al Qaeda and terrorism. They protect us from the harsh reality that we are a hollowed-out shell. This delusion is abetted by Wall Street with its constant stream of asset bubbles, which maintain the illusion that we are the richest nation on earth when, in fact, we are broke.

We are like the aged dowager, living a life of gentile poverty, who maintains the illusion of wealth by plunging further and further into debt in the belief that her children will deal with it after she is gone.

Now, as we sink even deeper into the quicksand of delusion, we are being told that there is now a link between Columbia’s rebels and al Qaeda to smuggle cocaine into Europe via West Africa.

How wonderful! Now we have more countries we can “intervene” in as we continue with our Eternal War of the Empty Policy. Nothing shores up a bully’s ego like beating up on a kid smaller than he is. Each blow hides his fear and his weakness. His redemption is found in the blood of his victim.

Like the bully, we seek our redemption in the blood of innocent women and children as we continue to beat up on the weak. It’s a feel good thing, especially for the bureaucrat bored to tears by endless meetings and reams of policy papers. What a thrill it is to order wholesale slaughter and destruction with a nod of the head knowing full well that no blood will splatter his wingtips.

This is what happens when our leaders try to drag the past, kicking and screaming, into the present, thus corrupting the future as they do so.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Stoking Anxiety for Fun and Profit

Faced with the threat of exploding underwear, the administration has expanded our “Long War” to include the small country of Yemen. This is encouraging news for our corporate-military infrastructure as Iraq winds down and as we move closer to declaring victory in Afghanistan and splitting, thus threatening two of their revenue streams.

Couple this with increased saber rattling over Iran and it looks like its flush days for the Pentagon for several more decades.

It’s all part of the Beltway’s Terror Feedback policy in which we pick a small, impoverished Muslim country, start bombing it , thus creating another generation of terrorists who will provide the rationale for future military campaigns, though military campaign is a misnomer since you can mount a credible campaign against an elusive insurgency.

But campaign or no campaign, our Empty War provides one additional benefit: it stokes America’s anxiety level and turn flying into an even more wretched experience than it already is.

Even though recent attempts to blow up airplanes have been exercise in ineptitude, the Beltway’s response has been one of studied hysteria in which a remote probability is treated as an imminent threat. Personally, the benchmark I use is to ask if the probability of being blown up in an airplane is greater than the possibility of being wacked in an automobile accident. If the probability of death by airplane is less than death by car, I don’t sweat it.

Of course, Beltway couldn’t afford to take this attitude since it would endanger a very viable profit center.

It would also help if our leaders realized that the most effective way of fighting terrorism is to stop producing terrorists. But that would be too boring. It would mean our leaders would have to give up the adrenalin high that comes with bombing impoverished villages into oblivion.

Then there is the stimulation that comes with playing the Great Game, that nineteenth-century struggle between the White nations to control Central Asia and the Middle East. It’s a replay of an aged geopolitical chess game. What our leaders don’t realize is that the rules have changed. The lowly pawn now carries a Kalashnikov and can move with the same impunity as the queen. Not only that, the pawn can leave the board, hide behind the game box and blow away the queen as she passes.

But then, much of our thinking is mired in the nineteenth century, which was the acme of White male supremacy and we’re loathe to let go of it. So we will continue our march into bankruptcy and oblivion just to pump life into a dead past. It’s the only way to keep our credibility intact. Besides, our corporate-military infrastructure is the only one we have left. We’ve off-shored all the others.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Dubious Decades

Here we are three days into a new “decade” as pundits struggle to hang a name on it. If I took decades seriously, I’d call it the Potty Decade because of all the shit that’s been dumped on us over that last ten years.

But, therein lays the problem. I don’t do decades for the simple reason that they distort the past. The very word implies a discrete unit of time totally unrelated to the decades that preceded it and the ones that will follow. The implication is that when the clock struck twelve on New Year’s Eve, all the evils of the last decade vanished and the new decade would mean a clean slate and a new beginning.

The sad truth is that the old decade is still with us because it is part of a continuum that stretches back into the past. Nothing really new happened in the last ten years. All we saw was the strengthening of trends that run like toxic threads through our history.

Obama is tanking because he stepped into a raging torrent of momentum that quickly swept him away despite his noble and lofty intentions (if they ever existed in the first place.) We made the mistaken assumption that he would represent a clean break with the Bush administration. What we failed to realize was that the Bush administration was simply a farcical extension of a mob paranoia that began with the Cold War mentality of the late forties. And that had its antecedents in the Palmer Raids that followed World War I in which innocent people were swept up in a dragnet driven by hysteria.

It is in the Palmer raids that we find an antecedent for the further degradation of the law that has aided and abetted the erosion of our Constitution. The law is a positive force only when it is kept balanced by an ethical gyroscope that makes of the law a firewall against our baser mob instincts. 9/11 shattered that gyroscope and since then the law has run amok as it tramples over rights that had their birth in English common law.

Nor is there anything new about our paranoia. We have a long history of it. Woodrow Wilson was so frightened of dissent during World War I that Congress passed the Sedition Act of 1918 that made it a crime to protest against the war or to utter any statement that could be construed as a criticism of the United States government. As with the Patriot Act and the Military Commission Act, many an innocent person was jailed.

The law, once our protector, has become an enemy and a threat. But then as the scholar John B. Roche once pointed out, “The first precept of constitutional interpretation is whose ox was gored.” Our Supreme Court is as easily swept along by mob psychology as the Fox News fans.

Our knee-jerk military response to world problems is nothing new. It began with Wilson’s gunboat diplomacy and festered and grew with the birth of a military establishment to fight World War II. The irony is that we haven’t won a war since. (Sorry, Grenada and Panama don’t count,) But that hasn’t stopped us from trying. When you start thinking in decades, the past ceases to exist, so the same mistakes are repeated over and over.

When we view the past as a series of discrete decades, it is easy to convince ourselves that the Great Depression never happened, or that it was a unique phenomenon confined to a specific decade. This made it easier to set ourselves up for our current depression, which our leaders tell us isn’t since a depression is something that happened so far back in the past that it can never happen again because this is a different decade.

Karl Marx once said that history repeats itself—first as tragedy and second as farce. The last decade was the decade when farce came into its own.