Friday, December 26, 2008

Obama's "Frightening" Nominations

First, a recap of recent market gains in fear futures... 71

Reflecting, not on the passing government, but on ourselves and our own part in the dismal events of the Bush years, we arrive at some unavoidable conclusions. As citizens we had become so softened by years of prosperous security before his terms that we were vulnerable to manipulation by most of his shallow, fabricated new fears.

We were officially frightened by Osama bin Laden after 911, and his imaginary accomplice, Sadam Hussein shortly after that. We were not frightened by Indian and Pakistani H-bomb tests. Perhaps that fright was reserved for later, that is, for some inevitable future moment when it could be exploited with greater results.

We were frightened by North Korea’s H-bomb test. It enjoyed the serendipity of being at just the right moment, maybe a moment when our fear was subsiding to levels no longer blindly supporting some scheme made politically possible only by our manipulation.

We responded well to Iran’s understandable ambition to arm itself. At any time that fear faltered, we increased our not so subtle threats, making some fiery response a virtual certainty, a reaffirmed asset for domestic consumption here and, of course, a good investment of hate.

We weren’t particularly frightened by Katrina, a deadly but largely unusable source of fear due to its lack of a “bomb-able” adversary. The Russians presented a reliable threat, but they apparently frightened our government in return. They were somewhat less usable, perhaps because they could actually “bite back.”

The point? We, unaccustomed to being threatened after such a long hegemony -- real or imagined, were gradually groomed to be frightened on demand. The neo-cons accurately and successfully managed to convince us that leadership required a threat. In the more rational examination of such leadership, that is, when it was examined without the convenient hysteria of the latest calamity, its appearance might become dangerously lack luster.

The "new frighteners."

Now, these weary “old frighteners” are on their way out of town. Troubling "new frighteners” have arrived with the ambition of taking over the franchise. These "new frighteners” are not neo-cons at all. This new batch is from the other end of the spectrum. We seem to be entering into a period of being frightened by the left.

What are the threats being employed? After all, the left has demonstrated an irritable kind of allergic avoidance to the use of foreign machinations to frighten us. The newest, post election tool is, instead, an interesting innuendo indicting the “progressive purity” of Obama's nominations for places of power in the new government.

There was the momentary mention of the “testing” of the new President, but that was no more than a sickening remnant of the old scheme of threats, one based on the same tired ideology of being hopelessly terrified by foreign adversaries, that is, a tiresome repeat of the one used before. These more contemporary “frighteners” are intent on revealing threats to us about cabinet appointments and the possibilities that our accomplishments in the last election would be undercut with a result of reverting the government back to the numbing failure of its predecessor. They seem to have developed an appetite for questioning the new President’s character even after supporting him only a few weeks or months ago.

The threat they endeavor to manufacture now is one of deception and conspiracy. They imply that the changes we sought have not turned out to be changes at all. These folks would like to take up the mantle of being the "new threateners" with their endless assertion that we, as voters, have been deceived. Again.

Clearly, they consider any fear and fright of this sort that they can incite in us to be a valuable asset to prop up their languishing authority as critics and pundits. They believe that these unexamined doubts they might cause will become very useful foundations for later tirades and tantrums which might have, otherwise, been too obviously shallow to provide the impact they crave. Their future dream is to say, credibly, of course, “I told you so.” “I was the one who cried out the early warning, so believe me now!”

If you’re waiting for the next form of being scared, you may be disappointed. You may have to learn a new trick. The world as previously presented as one of endless, hopeless, despair is going to become one of challenges and opportunities. Instead of groveling and trying to simply survive, we will be required to stand up with our eyes forward. Rather than cowering in a sterile ideological wasteland, lamenting on how things should have been, we will now be required to begin all our thoughts with where things are and where we intend to go.

Domestically, Senatorial bigots and military throwbacks have invested heavily in sponsoring our hatred and fear of each other. Their practiced incompetence was the real conspiracy as they trotted out fabricated alternatives with every choice equally depressing and unpalatable. Their old paradigm of no choices other than dominating or surviving the world is becoming the new, brighter question of successfully living in it.

These aging knee jerkers are now exposed much like the new thought-limiting left. Neither group has earned the right to express their foolish purity. Neither group has ever been willing to pay the honest wage of embracing leadership. The wage? To follow, of course. To trust a little. To think of the country beyond one’s immediate personal ambitions.

These "new frighteners” from the left would like for us to faint before the “hodge podge” of conflicting influences in the new government. They would prefer that we were, well, more hopelessly stoic given the rather raw abilities of these nominations by Obama. These "new frighteners” would prefer that we be pessimists about whether or not he can lead with all these conflicting influences. “Who will be in charge?” they wonder.

I predict that none of us will wonder about this for long.

We have elected a leader with, I suspect, a lethal, pragmatic competence coupled with more idealism that most of us think we can afford right now. Of course we are a bit uncomfortable with what we’ve done, but we can certainly claim that we were at our bravest and our best when we did it, inebriated with new hope.

By the way, that hope isn’t all in him. The important part of that hope is in us.

Leadership, after the wasteland we’ve endured, may seem to be measured by astounding solutions to intractable problems. It isn’t. It’s much more like paint, permanently changing the hue of everything it touches.

Get used to it.

No more being directed by fear. The leader we’ve found won’t amount to much without Americans to follow him.

For a very unusual point of view, sample this link:

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Presidential Pardon Party -- Happy Holidays!

The last act of the strange dark drama in the White House?

Don't count on it.

Think of it as a office gift exchange. 74

Two almost identical young men stood waiting outside the Oval Office in a line with several dozen more, every one an almost perfect copy. All aspiring young attorneys from K Street or elsewhere, they seemed to have arrived from a call to central casting. The hair cut of each one was conservative, identically short and stylish. The well scrubbed, boyish faces all emphasized the overpriced, tailored suits and the multi-hundred dollar silk ties. The practiced mood of subdued reverence was one obviously mastered for missions such as this one.

“Are they doing this in alphabetical order?” the younger of the two asked, turning to face the man next to his position in the line.

His slightly older friend whispered an answer. “Sort of alphabetical, I guess. They started at about 10 AM with Jeb, Harriet Meiers and a list of secret pardons from Cheney. A big bound book of Wall Street names took an hour after that -- we’ll never know who was in there. They did Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham early this morning, than a bunch of rapid fire ‘B’s’ -- you know, Bolton, Blackwater, Blackwell, and Brownie, et cetera. Giuliani and Rumsfeld came as twin drag queens.”

“Michael Scanlon and Tom DeLay’s attorney were here early yesterday. But, after those two, they did Bob Ney and Ralph Reed. An attorney even got the gay guy, Gannon, pardoned. His lawyer didn’t have much of a cash bundle, so I figure they must have had a little dirt of some kind. I guess the male prostitution business isn’t so lucrative anymore.” he continued.

The door opened momentarily to discharge a small group of the previous supplicants. The line inched forward as another small group of the young attorneys entered. The younger of the two quietly peeked through the crack for a glimpse at what was awaiting him when his turn arrived.

The scene was a surreal theater.

All the normal furniture of the Oval Office had been removed, replaced with garish things suggesting screen props from an 1950’s version of Alice in Wonderland. The place was filled with potted ferns and roses. Geese, goats and gerbils seemed to be rushing around in the open area, each contributing its voice to the clamor. Providing background music, a quartet costumed as Cheshire Cats with banjos and harps struggled along with a faint timbre of what might have been some cheerful Transylvanian folk dance had it been produced with more suitable instruments.

A single drummer, dressed as the traditional hooded figure of “Death,” beat out a melancholy, yet consolidating rhythm on a solitary snare held by a suspiciously decorated leather strap around his neck and shoulder. His drumming seemed to inspire the animals, at least the geese, to attempt to synchronize their squawking with the beat.

The President was seated at one end of the room on an elaborate sort of medieval chair. He was dressed in a theatrical lime green tuxedo with tails. Obviously inebriated, even though still early morning, he slumped with the detachment of a depressed imperial indifference to the events in the room. He wore a great, green top hat, probably made of foam rubber, adorned with rhinestones and peacock feathers in a long flowing plume.

A troop of immense, bare chested wrestlers had just completed their performance. Staffers were hurriedly ushering them out the far door. A dance team of young women dressed as Vestal Virgins waited impatiently for a signal to begin the next entertainment act. Some had already begun to throw rose petals onto floor at the center of the room.

Several young men from the same waiting line were in the Oval Office moving respectfully around what seemed to be a Bush administration version of the “stations of the cross.”

Wide eyed, the young lobbyist attorney again turned to his more experienced acquaintance, puzzled. “What in God’s name is going on in there?”

His friend answered calmly. “Relax. If you’d been here last time, you would understand everything. I spoke to a guy from the Chief of Staff’s office yesterday. It seems that the Bush wanted to avoid the Berlin Bunker atmosphere for the pardoning ceremony. The President choreographed this whole thing himself.”

Again, the first young lawyer stumbled. “But what does all this mean?”

His acquaintance answered. “In 2004 the motive was the Crusades. This year, it’s the Mad Hatter. Didn’t your boss tell you anything about this?”

The younger man responded, glancing down at the huge suitcase of 1,000 Euro notes handcuffed to his wrist, “All he told me was to make sure that the currency counting machine was stopped after the batch before me before I put all these Euros in it. He said it might not look like it, but that the exact amount of cash was important. He said it was something like a contribution to the Presidential Library Fund or something.”

His friend offered, “Well, it’s good that you’ve got that part straight. What happens in the room is simple enough. You go directly to the Attorney General -- he’s the one dressed in the Supreme Court robes. He will give you a parking ticket with your boss’s name on it.”

“After that, you take the ticket to the tall guy over by the windows. He’s playing the role of the Great Confessor. He’s the one dressed up as a medieval abbot. He’ll ask you if your client wants to voluntarily confess to the charges on the ticket. He means your boss, of course. You raise your hand and say ‘Yes, Great Confessor. My client confesses that he is truly guilty as charged.’ At that point, all the judicial stuff is done.”

“Then put all your Euro’s in the currency counter in front of Paulson.”

He could see Secretary of the Treasury sitting on a great wooden throne, elevated above the remainder of the room. Costumed as an extravagant courtier, he was heavily made up with bizarre cosmetics. Flamboyant lipstick had enlarged the outline of his mouth to reach from ear to ear suggesting a threatening psychopathy. Every detail of the man’s appearance was darkly grotesque.

“Let his little elf there in front of the throne run all the cash through the counting machine. When it’s done, he will whisper the amount in Paulson’s ear. Paulson is the one made up as the Exchequer for the Queen of Hearts. They’ll throw your boss’s, uh, donation in that big pot, and the ‘Exchequer’ will nod at the President.”

Astonished, the first young lawyer asked, “And then?”

His friend answered, “And then the Mad Hatter will wave his hand and the bunch from the Justice Department will issue your boss’s blanket pardon. You want to slowly and reverently back away -- withdraw ceremoniously toward this same door. Bowing subserviently wouldn’t hurt.”

The newer man asked, “What’s the parking ticket’s part in all of this?”

His more experienced associate responded, “That’s important. Blanket pardons can’t be issued without an admission of guilt. Now, we both know that the exact details of the, uh, ‘guilt’ involved here could hardly bear the light of day, so confessing to the parking ticket is a way to cover everything. Think of it as a symbolic act of contrition. Once you confess in your boss’s behalf, the pardon becomes legal. Of course, it centers on the confession to the parking violation, but, once that’s in the bag, the blanket pardon covers everything else. Slick, huh?”

The young man whispered back, “This is nuts. Does anyone on the, I mean, on the outside have any idea what’s going on here?”

His friend answered, also in a low voice, “No, of course not. You’d better believe it’s better that way. This has been going on a for a couple of days now, but the news black out is holding. Murdoch and the rest of the media CEO’s are scheduled for later today.”

He continued, “I plan to record as much as possible on this belt buckle I got through the security screen. I’ll blackmail my boss if his pardon goes through. I’m sure he’s already budgeted enough to pay me off. After all, he is a K Street lobbyist, right?”

“Wow. I work for an investment banker. They’re a little meaner than K Street guys. You know, a little more violent and pragmatic.” He paused for a moment, clearly deep in thought, then continued. “Gosh. All these people getting pardons. They’ve been running everything for eight years.” He mused pensively. “If they’re all gone, you know, pardoned and everything and gone on back to their regular lives, who’s going to run the government?”

This post proves that pardons can be fun! If you'd like to try it yourself -- with just a few actual facts -- link away!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Some Part of the First Amendment

I received a nice email from one of the regular visitors to this blog site. She asked me about the little numbers by the titles of the Short Current Essays. For example, the most recent post, "Pretending It's Just More Politics" has the number "70" at the end of its sub-herald. She compared that "70" to the Blog Archive count of "57," and inquired about the missing posts.

She was, indeed, quite correct about the little "70." I put those numbers on things in my giant blog file (on this end, you know, in the computer) to keep track of everything.

Her question was, also, well founded. There are a number of posts in that file which haven't reached Short Current Essays, yet.

Yeah, Obama won the election.

Yeah, the scoundrels are getting run out of town.

However, there is still the minor problem of a 1st Amendment that isn't yet restored to its full potency. There are still a number of American citizens in prisons without benefit of due process, charges, lawyers, trials or habeas corpus. Yuck. There are probably American citizens in similar straits behind bars in Georgebuckistan waiting for extraordinary rendition.

Maybe when things are a little better those other thirteen posts can emerge. Until then, I suspect I've been as free with this speech as I dare.

Did you figure I was stupid?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Pretending It’s Just More Politics

Cut the drama already! It's just another election.
Right? So, chill. Everything will be back to the way it was in no time.70

Here, in America, we love our politics. We take great pains to say we don't, but we do. These athletic contests we hold periodically allow those of us with an appetite for any channel of respect and superiority to proffer up “the right answer according to me,” along with every manner of dramatic persuasion. It seems that we have an unending ambition to have been the ones with insight or perception remarkable enough to either prognosticate our future dilemmas or offer up spectacular solutions which testify to all who watch of our remarkable savvy or, perhaps, even our startling genetic, intellectual prowess.

We also have an indulgent taste for predicting exaggerated dire adversaries and other threats.

We comfortably perceive our politics as an indulgence directed at “better” or “worse” answers. After all, in the past even our worst decisions have been survivable. So far in our entire national history we’ve sought out every answer by dissecting the more acceptable alternative topics not included in the “burning question of the day.” To date we’ve never paid too great a price for our foolishness or naiveté. We’ve never been successfully invaded, conquered, attacked or damaged -- nationally -- so gravely that we could not endure and recover.

Having never been laid that low, our pretense about politics continually provided the narcotic implication that we dealt with every challenge from a position of strength, that is, strength sufficiently great that we would inevitably emerge to correct our errors. Living in that unlikely fantasy, we encountered no events so troubling that we couldn’t disregard them in favor of debating nuances of our national reality as if they were the substance of everything.

Some of our population saw the contest between the extremely old and the frighteningly new in the last election in just this superficial manner. All the banter seemed quite comfortably moribund, couched in no more than another set of traditionally indulgent details to be chewed as fat by fish wives whose entire universe extended only to the last tents in the market square. We moan and reassure ourselves about our skeptical superiority, romantically akin to desperately swimming to the nearest lifeboat -- or any accessible flotsam -- after a sudden and disastrous capsize, then, once again, devolving into endless arguments of inane ideology before scrambling on board.

The United States is not smoothly dipping through another period of “corrections” for some trivial miscalculation, anticipating a few weeks or months of being denied a few normally available prerogatives. Our descent is suspiciously steeper than that, and deeper. We are apparently dumbfounded at the full scope of the damage now that it is revealed in a more rational light.

We have been, perhaps, mortally injured. We may not survive the damage we’ve suffered. The stakes are that severe.

It seems that not a single tool of our national sustenance remains in tact after the last outrageous subversion. We face the possibility that neither our military, our economy, our Constitution nor our spirit has survived in a form strong enough to hold us together while we frantically rebuild what we have left. The final looting of the treasury might be the bright spot. It suggests that the thieves believe the currency will have value again someday.

Of course there’s still the currency exchange.

Obama might be a solution to this national hemorrhage, or he might be just a hopeful triage or, at least, a soothing first aid placebo able only to comfort us for our final denouement. His election may have harnessed a horse which can pull us through this Bush crisis or maybe offer only a lessor promise, that is, a delay and a respite until its final, inevitable outcome.

A few matters are becoming more clear. Yes, we were stunned at the $700 billion cash affair. Those of us who paid just a little more attention to the news now know that the total is actually approaching $8 trillion and that the credit swaps and other doodad parasites imposed on our economy amount to more than $500 trillion.

By the way, that last figure is more money than there is in the world.

We are led to believe that we dare not simply stop, but that we still need to pay it back. Otherwise, those folks who managed to take it will return and scare us even more.

We are led to believe that it was something ugly that “just happened,” that is, “just happened” like a sudden rain storm or a flood. We are led to believe that those who profited so much cannot really be expected to repay the larceny extracted during their schemes. We are led to believe that the same thing would have happened no matter who was in charge of the country. We are even led to believe that the whole business actually has very little to do with us, that it is a problem inhabited by pain and recovery only for the stratospheric elite.

There is a storm coming.

Remember the endless discussion during the most violent period of the Iraq invasion? "Gosh, is it a civil war or not?" The new version addresses whether or not it is a recession, or, even a depression, as if anyone walking on the earth here could still wonder. We may need a new, even more depressing term to describe what awaits us.

The current job loss figure is around 15,000 per day. The value of trillions of dollars worth of retirement investments is around 40% of what it was a year ago. The individual tax burden of Washington’s most recent largess amounts to around $140,000 for every taxpayer. The ninnies of the far right still explode with fractured indignity at the prospect of talking to the enemies they’ve made for us.

Just another election?

Just another correction?

Imagine holding the 23rd century history book which accounts the story of the world. Perhaps, mid way through there is a chapter describing the period of the democracies, two or three centuries around the second millennium. Place the story of the events of the last eight years toward the end of that chapter.

Now, for the “politics as usual” crowd of cynics, try to ignore it. Convince us that it amounts to no more than a wild, silly exaggeration. Just another election.

So, how are the levees? It's Pearl Harbor Day.

Fill in the holes. Exactly what could this turn into? This is an account of a similar situation as it developed in Argentina (you know, that country in South America where the ruling class were crooks):

Monday, November 24, 2008

Radio Phrases Missed Too Easily

What Will Be The "Tune" For The Last Waltz? 67

A very competent “stand in” for one of my radio favorites made some statements which simply can’t be “left to rest.” Mr. Thom Hartmann, in my opinion a very convincing expert on almost everything, was out of his studio for a well deserved vacation on the Air America cruise. His replacement, Mr. Lee Rayburn (Air America, November 20, 2008, “The Thom Hartmann Radio Show,”, led a bit of a sputtering radio debate concerning population growth and population control.

A zany caller injected the idea of sterilizing immigrants to get the thing going.

As things progressed, Mr. Rayburn added his strongly held view that he didn’t want “government in his bedroom,” implying that limits on birth were unacceptable to him. He followed up with a conditional statement concerning environmental problems, his introduction to the statement being “If population control was really deemed a concern, then ...”

Now, a few clear statements as to why this was troubling.

The current population of the planet, around 7 billion, already sees fully one third extremely hungry every day. Population growth has exploded in the last few decades. When John Kennedy took the oath of office, world population was around 3 billion. Today, fifty years later, it is roughly 7 billion. The following table describes world population growth:

[Google: Wikipedia, World Population, “World Population Estimated at Various Dates”]

If we innocently derive a simple fraction from these statistics, it might be this one: “During a period of population at its current level, that is, 6.5 billion, around 1/3 or, roughly 2 billion, are extremely hungry every day, making the estimate of the planet’s food producing capacity enough to feed around 4 billion.” If population increases at its assumed rate, it will reach around 10 billion by 2020, 14 billion by 2050, and so on. Planetary food production has never increased at the rate that population increases.

Currently, we draw some comfort from the idea that advancements in agricultural technology and improvements in international political situations can mitigate some of this approaching conflict. Although quite possibly true, history strongly suggests that these advancements primarily favor the rich and powerful much more than the hungry.

Exactly what does this mean to us? Exactly what should we expect?

No modern military technology, no matter how violently employed, can make much of a dent in the population curve. For example, a full nuclear exchange between the United States and the old Soviet Union could have produced a net population reduction of about 340 million. The current population increase could replace those lost souls in roughly two years. Chemical and, especially, biological weapons might, ultimately, be more efficient at population reductions, but the “horror gradient” seems to elude calculating long term impact. We can assume, perhaps, a greater “dent” than nuclear war, but in the historical frame, not one with much more of a permanent influence.

What’s left?

The most probable outcome will be something described as a “Malthusian Correction.” When the food, water and living space equation lags too far below the population increase, the system will “correct” itself. The “Managing Global Warming” paper (this blog site: June, 2008) includes a speculative model which suggests a planetary population reduction of roughly 2-3 billion, that is, a reduction from 7 billion to 4 or 5 billion, based primarily on the negative impact of climate change. This view of population “correction” may be expected to draw significant horsepower from the climate change impact, at least as one of several initiating circumstances.

Did we expect a 2 or 3 billion reduction in planetary population to present anything more than a “slightly less than comfortable status quo,” distant foreign relations difficulty?

Now, returning to Mr. Rayburn’s dislike of having the “government in his bedroom,” and his conditional clause, “If population control was really deemed as a concern...,” we arrive at some unlikely answers.

In such a world, we might find the presence of government forces at least nearby to our bedroom quite reassuring. Further, so far as deeming “population control as a concern,” we might, well, actually, really deem it as a concern.

Finally, to bring this entire matter to a sensible, on-the-ground argument, the following facts must also be included.

1. I am not the world’s smartest mathematician.
2. I claim no particular knowledge of complex extrapolative methods to analyze population growth.
3. I have no information about this which is secret or concealed from anyone. If you are reading this blog, you are privy to precisely the same information I have.

Take a moment. Carefully weigh the value you might attach to religious or ideological priorities which have, so far, effectively blocked any serious response to population management.

So, Mr. Rayburn, no matter how inviting it may be, how much longer can we insist upon injecting irrelevant distractions such a abortion, birth control, religion, stem cell research or “too much government intervention in the bedroom” as a rational counter balance to our new job as a participant in a global Malthusian Correction?

Will I still have an AM radio? Will it be the "crank" kind instead of the "plug in" kind?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Collapsing American “Sphere of Influence.”

Pretending Everything Ugly Is Actually Only Temporary 67

A few words of a CNN, sub-editorial news report called for more attention. Among the now well worn list of the new President’s priorities was the inclusion of Chinese and Russian Federation diplomatic and economic entries into the Caribbean and South American countries of Cuba and Venezuela. You know, countries which we are supposed to “own” under the Monroe Doctrine.

The CNN report characterized these incursions as challenges to American leadership. If they weren’t challenges would that mean that we were either so strong or so threatening that we might have avoided them?

Are these incursions challenging our hegemony? Was our idea of a good time to never have any of these subservient Southern nations even so much as flirt with our ideological, international competitors?


We are quite possibly more bankrupt than industrious China or petroleum rich Russia. Any traditional military advantage is now “on the table” with the Russians, that is, no, they can’t take us, but, yes, they can project power pretty convincingly now that George Bush has so savagely consumed our own military pursuing his “oil war” in a devastating leadership vacuum and our infuriated alliances with his cheap, irritating ideology.

We won’t recover from that damage any time soon. We should probably try to get a little more comfortable with photos of the Chinese Premier visiting Fidel Castro or Russian war ships lazing off the coast of Venezuela.

Bush’s childish “cat fight” over his empty scheme for U.S. missiles in Poland reveals a whining, toothless, embarrassing, over weight giant, not a respected leader of the Free World.

We have a new President, but he, and we, still have a terrible reputation. Our toxic debt has fairly thoroughly poisoned the water world wide. We can ponder a graceful approach to our collapsing sphere of influence while we pay down Bush’s ten trillion dollar balance for the next few decades.

What exactly did we buy, again?

Hypocrisy Hunting in the New Obama Cabinet

Undercutting New Possibilities With Old Ideas? 68

The predictable complaints of hypocrisy, or at least, inconsistency, are now rolling in from any ambitious pundit with a microphone. How could such an idealist as Barrack Obama, that is, someone so highly dedicated to changing the government, announce that he intended to do business with Tom Daschle, Hillary Clinton or even John McCain?

By “do business” we mean “give authority and trust.”

The neo-con purists (yes, they still imagine themselves purists after all the soiled things their man committed in the last two terms...) claim that Clinton Cabinet politicos contaminate Obama’s claim to the “high road.” Other hungry commentators dredge relentlessly for contradictions in past positions to compare with what they present as present positions required to fill Obama’s government and support his political philosophy.

Let’s indulge in a fable at this point.

You are a remarkably progressive and idealistic King in a medieval country. You set out to rectify some grave injustices by a military campaign. When it’s time to select generals to conduct this thing you seem to have two choices.

On one side, there is the Abbot, your spiritual advisor, a man with unshakably good, decent ideas about how to improve matters. On the other side, there is General Smith, a ruthlessly successful medieval military strategist with a checkered history of brutality and effectiveness.

If you intend to prevail in this struggle, that is, if you intend to over power the rather impressive and well established enemy who has sponsored these atrocities you find so deplorable, you will select General Smith. Issues such as collateral damage and war crimes associated with the Abbot might be much more palatable than the likely results of General Smith’s campaign, but the results would probably be disappointing.

If you are determined to prevail and advance your cause of decency, General Smith will be your man. First, the war must be won, then your plans can become material. In the meantime, that is, during the conduct of the war, you can insist that General Smith be more decent than he would be normally or than he has been previously, but the necessity of results dictates that you employ his expertise to deliver the possibility of conditions for your own intention.

This progressive King is more armored by his Divine Right than the trust of those who might ultimately benefit from his ideals, but, unlike recent leaders, he will have to trust himself! We have no King. Obama is armored by the trust of those who sent him into this difficult place. His leadership is qualified by his spiritual solidity of trusting himself.

Obama needs a cabinet capable of surviving the inevitable, paralytic aggression of the Republicans. He needs a cabinet which can deliver in Washington politics. The work of these mindless reactionaries has left us a disaster so grave that excuses or near victories, especially when precipitated by the stupid, inexperienced or ineffective application of power, are not an option.

Yes, incorporating individuals with alternative political philosophies may help a little, but the reactionary forces, inflamed as usual by the low road sabotage of hate radio and anti-American Congressional throw backs, have no interest in any solution to our difficult problems. Their cynical interests have nothing to do with America’s future. The entire focus of their babble is directed at maximizing the number of voters in their districts that can they deceive, lie to or frighten into sustaining their offices, reinvigorating their opportunities for looting.

Obama’s ideals will, in fact, make the difference we need. Ideals belong at the top of the pyramid when the ground level is violently contested by well financed cynics and other criminals. Obama’s “ground war” will be conducted by the best he can find, some of the Clinton legacy and other new, competent faces, the 21st century equivalent of that old King’s General Smith.

We trust his idealism, his cabinet selections, his competence, his intellect and his spirit. These vociferous tantrums are to be expected. Neo-cons are allergic to leadership.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Path Forward: Ideology, Philosophy or Revenge?

Taking the philosophy of America to the Revival Tent. 67

It was so nice for your wife’s uncle to offer to look after the kids for the weekend, but the scene on Sunday evening when you return is not quite what you expected. The house has been stripped of everything that could be taken. The family dog, hungry and forlorn, is loose in the alley, staring hopefully at the next door trash can. The children, also hungry and frightened, have locked themselves in the upstairs closet with their empty, terrified faces and a few suspicious bruises. Your horrified neighbors are watching your fence as they finish cleaning their shot guns.

It’s clear that Uncle Harry has already stolen everything that wasn’t bolted down. If our unhappy analogy is about George W. Bush and his government, these last few weeks will see Uncle Harry returning one last time with his wrenches to loot anything he’s missed in his previous larceny.

So, where do we go from here?

Bill Clinton decided soon after his inauguration to let “bygones be bygones” for the good of the nation. The outrages on the dock then were exponentially less then George Bush’s, that is, comfortably survivable. As the new President, Bill Clinton enjoyed many positive alternatives made possible by a damaged but recoverable economy and world image.

Our situation now is a bit different. The outrages of the last eight years have left us dazed, desperate beggars staggering out of a dismal Third World land fill. Of course, fleeting verses from the third act of Les Miserable inhabit the thoughts of those of us old enough to remember when things were not so bad. There is an unsettling appetite for something similar to the uncivilized but highly defining demise of someone such as Romania’s Ceausescu where political grievances were suddenly and violently settled with some grisly, East European style street justice.

So long as the news cameras avoided the details, no one was particularly shocked, given the autocrat’s checkered history of rule. It was an ideological correction cycle. You know, something akin to the “correction cycle” currently afoot in housing prices or something.

What choices do we have?

Ideology has been relegated to a bad definition. Nonetheless, there is an American ideology. For convenience here, let’s call it simply a fluid, cultural pragmatism. Aside from a few embarrassing incidences of Civil War, violent labor suppression and internecine combat to perpetuate the imposition of racial inequality, our national history has been a reassuring stream of “walking away” from our momentarily lapses of civility in favor of some “bright shiny object,” a promise of more prosperous and beneficial new path. Naturally, there have always been those who remained paralyzed, locked in the recently discarded “old ways,” but their numbers always dwindled as the incentives of the “new way” gradually washed clean all the injuries and insults of the “correction.”

Ideology, when expressed as this sort of pragmatic “ism,” is refreshingly less destructive than other styles where pundits are allowed to define more ideatively directed ideas. Ideas such as Stalinism, Communism, Capitalism, and the like. Pragmatism seems to be a glove that, well, fits almost any hand on any given day.

The majority of the American populous sees no particular benefit in the “Ceausescu Treatment” for George and Laura.

That dismissal leaves two further alternatives, the first of which is philosophy. If there is an American philosophy we might categorize it as something such as “The Rule of Law.” Given the historical blessings of both prosperity and our Constitution (they go together...), the “walking away” idea offers itself only as a brief anomaly. Clinton did it.

The question is, “Does pursuing The Rule of Law do more to rehabilitate our social culture than a more compassionate (and, possibly, pragmatic) letting bygones be bygones approach?” Obama has made strong commitment to “bringing us together.” Does that mean adopting the “bygones” approach?

At the counter point, are we, as a nation now divided, going to benefit more by the thorough rectifying of all these corruptions through legal action or by our historical path of simply trying to forget, at least for the moment, everything that isn’t helpful to our recovery. Will it be a domestic judicial version of “scorched earth” or some sort of “Marshall Plan?”

Our philosophy, that is, “The Rule of Law,” implies that we really will have to prosecute all these crimes. Every insult to the Constitution and the Statute of America’s philosophical fabric might have to be illuminated and adjudicated to materially resurrect the essence of our culture. Are we even passively interested in living with such a dangerous example of lawlessness for the sake of national reconciliation? Are we interested in simply embedding such a nasty thing in our history, then bravely turning our ideologically pragmatic faces toward better days?

Are we willing to let these cheap, cowardly hoodlums redefine our nation for all perpetuity? Are we willing to allow the idea that “anything goes so long as you get back to Texas before the blood starts running” become, somehow, acceptable? Will something like this ever be an honorable legacy to leave in place as a possible ambitious temptation for some future American government?

“We can win the election, then loot the treasury just like George W. Bush did in the old days. Only, this time we can do it right. We’ll be rich!”

We don’t put up with car thieves, bank robbers or child abusers running loose in our midst. If we did, we would have to be someone else than who we are if we wanted to make sense out of such a changed cultural philosophy. Simply forgiving criminals such as these and going forward is not consistent with the system we have selected for our society.

Honest, impartial, judicious, judicial, Constitutional American justice has always been the philosophical foundation of our culture. That’s what “The Rule of Law” means. President Obama, among many other things, will reinstate the Justice Department. In January, someone will become the Attorney General, take the oath. Should that person’s first order of business be to “forgive and forget?”

Finally, there is vengeance. Even if neo-con criminals don’t find themselves running cold in the dawn, trying to escape mobs of hungry, bankrupt citizens, this vengeance idea can still find its way into the legislature, military procurement contracts, base closures, new schools and the like.

Believe me, there are liberal equivalents to the outrages of Republican hubris entirely ready to exact every form of “get even” on those swayed to crime by the excesses of the past. Retribution can hardly be considered the herald of the coming good. Our work as good citizens will, indeed include suffering through the reconstruction of what’s left. After all, we will have to pay for all the rebuilding after the looting.

However, Barrack Obama has asked us to give more than money to this repair program. Our patriotism will demand more than placid coexistence with our previous tormentors. They have demonstrated little interest in reconciliation with all their childish tantrums designed to sabotage the new government, but that fact only means that we on the winning side will have to be even more determined to embrace and comfort these now forlorn, defeated fellow citizens.

This means that we will need to find the essential Americanism in ourselves rather than demanding that they find it in themselves. We will need to feed them, comfort their false, hysterical fears and slowly reassure them that we are committed to healing the wounds.

Then, we have to go to work healing them.

Friday, November 7, 2008

”Evil:” New Directions

How a bumbling, ambitious President bamboozled the nation with medieval hobgoblins.
More than an innocent Halloween prank. 65

Semantics tend to remain fairly academic issues until the rifles come out. There is very little particularly troubling when one considers, say, historians debating the specific meaning of a few words they have encountered in some ancient text. During the course of justifying the $700 billion plan, whatever it may turn out to be finally, the term “bailout” was discarded in favor of the term “rescue.” After all, the subtextual implications of the first term contradicted some carefully groomed assets of the word masters concerning, for example, the activity of the morning retrieval of some embarrassing uncle from the local drunk tank.

Unhappily, there have been some incredibly more damaging terms thrown around lately. Perhaps the most sinister will be the disastrous choice of the word “evil.” Its appearance as an “Axis of Evil” in George Bush’s now infamous State of the Union speech was probably no more than an attempt to resurrect a few drops of living blood from Reagan’s memorable “Evil Empire” of the 1980’s.

The textual and conceptual validity of the word is quite parasitic. Preachers and priests have already done all the “heavy lifting” in the matter. “Evil” is a fundamental asset to their franchised “death fear” business. They have been quite successful in devising thousands of various forms, implied meanings and examples for the idea, repeatedly presenting these to their respective “flocks,” and reaping the rewards of their despair based, tax free avarice.

For politicians, the practice apparently “grew legs” as a necessary ingredient to some more modern, neo-con recipes. Always envious of the pedestrian thrall of these dirty shirt evangelicals, the neo-cons presumed that property rights to some of the word’s utility was, somehow, transferred to them. You know. By Divine Right or some grotesque 21st-century fabrication of it. After all, it was certainly consistent with their well-managed and highly propagandized political claims to being the righteous ones among the current choices.

Now, because we seem to have chosen a more rational approach to matters previously defined by the word, “evil,” we must carefully examine both its previous, destructive use and select some more modern concepts for the path forward. Frankly, although momentarily effective in manipulating public opinion, we now face more permanent results not dissimilar from a perpetual, medieval toothache.

First, an ambitious tautology. Let’s conveniently agree that the essential nature of such utterances by politicians bifurcate into two fundamental categories. The first will be that of phenomenology. It will be contrasted by the second which will be categorized as that of the logical proposition. Since such abstractions may appear a bit “scratchy” at first blush, we can immediately introduce some examples.

The phenomenological argument is: “The Iranians are evil. They are a part of the Axis of Evil.”

The logical proposition is: “Iranian ambitions make them our adversaries. Their interests conflict with our interests.”

The “evil” classification, aside from requiring a tacit acceptance of external authority, is based on a judgment beyond question. Copius statements derived from religious mythology imply that “evil is evil,” and further, “one aspect of evil is its interest in convincing the righteous (the non-evil) that it is not actually ‘evil.’” As a consequence, once something has been convincingly called “evil,” any disagreement with such a verdict only implies that one has “been convinced by ‘evil’ that this something is not actually ‘evil.’”

The phenomenological choice at this point is clear. Would you rather agree with God that this something is “evil,” or would you prefer to foolishly question such an argument because you have already been deceived by this “evil? Further, the implied mythological treatment of “evil,” at least for nations beset with either of the most agressive and violent religions -- Christianity or Islam, is that “evil” is an eternal presence which can never be overcome by earthly powers.

That’s right. Both “No Exit” and “No Victory.”

What a wonderful invitation and justification to endless war and other unexamined insanity which simply presents itself without any rational, secular solutions. When one adds the justification of all sorts of specific atrocities, each made necessary by the needs of the moment, a “free pass” is injected into the equation for actions “evil but necessary.” Actions which might have been “evil” if taken against, any other, “less evil” enemies, become both necessary and, well, somehow slightly more justifiable, that is, slightly “less evil” when those actions are our response to these materially “evil” enemies in actual combat, The matter becomes a cosmic tort case for a negotiated divine dispensation.

Can you believe it? We bought this drivel hook, line and sinker.

The propositional alternative is attractive. This would be precisely the alternative which served John Kerry so poorly in the last election. His losing proposition was, simply enough, that our adversaries were exactly that, adversaries. His was the losing argument. The winning argument was, of course, that they were “evil doers,” not simple adversaries.

Adversaries, enemies, even, competitors, can be beaten by effective worldly approaches. Struggles against these worldly opponents can actually result in quite worldly successes. Struggles against “evil,” on the other hand, are only rehabilitated by divine judgment. No matter how ineffective and destructive such “anti-evil” struggles might be on earth, such bothersome details fade in the blinding light of the Savior’s imagined favor for having “fought the good fight.”

Not too troubling so long as one hasn’t had to bury his son as a result.

The “evil” idea progressed nicely to become the concept that these enemies, particularly the ones we “captured or purchased,” you know, the ones in Guantanamo, were criminals not combatants. The suggestion that anyone daring to fight us was “breaking the law,” was almost more convenient and useful than the “evil” designation. Since we were “fighting evil,” no one on the other side could possibly be, honestly, an outright enemy. Because , under this new line of thought, it was “against the law” to oppose us in any way, these “opposers” necessarily became criminals subject to “extraordinary rendition,” apparently President Bush’s contemporary version of the Inquisition. (See note above regarding justifiable “atrocities.”) The unspoken adjunct here was that these "opposers" were actually, of course, "evil-doers" in their day jobs.

The exquisite subtleties of history augmented this madness. Our opponents apparently had decided that we were the “evil” ones! “Egad! How incredibly wrong!” This made it quite important to constantly suggest that this was not simply a modern form of the Crusade. (GWB slipped up on this count in Jordan just before his invasion.) Planetary Muslims seemed remarkably more comfortable with the Inquisition idea than with the Crusade idea. During the Inquisition, the Christians were ripping Christian arms and legs off their Christian brothers.

“Evil” presented as, however unlikely, a feature of some logical proposition is validated by existential falsification, that is, such a position might be debated, and through that debate, disproved. The “ideological or religious underpinnings” of the phenomenological alternative cannot be disproved. In fact, even the most well behaved academic challenge is, frankly, heresy. It is a neo-con axiom that all kinds of good ideas and other advantages emerge when all debate is suppressed. (e.g. “Stay the course.” “Cut and run.” “They hate our freedom.” Did anyone notice actual, rational alternatives to any of these "pop-ups" as they were being discussed?)

It is not the substance of the counter argument these thoroughly modern reactionaries find so troubling. It is, specifically, the counter argument itself as it once again insinuates that old, disruptive existential falsification problem into the mix. If the “burning question of the day” can be transformed into a hysterically persuasive issue of “evil,” so much the better.

The breathlessly anxious introduction of the word “evil” into our national debate has led to nothing positive. George Bush’s choice of such an embarrassing term to validate his, now obviously, ill advised military schemes and his less than patriotic taste for national division to promote his political ambitions has actualized very concrete disasters for us. For you. For me. For our neighbors. For our soldiers. For our elderly. For eveyone who had anything he, or his friends, could take.

His dangerously weird Presidential dream of joining the list of Old Testament “Good Kings” has collapsed into a dreary dust bowl of incompetence and greed. This is, perhaps, and, hopefully, the final episode of this injection of religious mythology into the very real and consequential world of politics or policy. It was trotted out again in the last election, but the legs on the thing were too tired, too road weary to have traction with an exhausted and despairing electorate.

At this point, we have to suppose that fighting “evil” has no future, at least no future for those who would like to win.

"One might say that evil does not exist for subjective man at all, that there exist only different conceptions of good. Nobody ever does anything deliberately in the interests of evil, for the sake of evil. Everybody acts in the interests of good, as he understands it. But everybody understands it in a different way. Consequently, men drown, slay, and kill one another in the interests of good. The reason is again the same, men's ignorance and the deep sleep in which they live."

Ouspensky, P.D., In Search of the Miraculous. Chapter XIII. (quoting George Gurdjieff)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Election Reform Without the Lipstick

Why Finish Open Heart Surgery After We've Made Such a Good Start? 64

I can remember elections through four or five decades. For example, I watched my father hurl a tomato at an Adlai Stevenson poster in the southwestern corner of Kansas. I can also remember ballots I cast which were mistakes, campaigns which were, well, a little deceptive and political attacks sewn without buttons into every rational terror of the Cold War and the Soviets. Just about every politician was "soft on Communism" sooner or later.

However, one specific thing I don’t recall hearing was the phrase “They stole the election.” Even Lyndon Johnson’s success which seemed to ride to victory over the names of gravestones in a Dallas cemetery didn’t really stir much interest.

Elections were a bit different then. Without the narcotic invitation posed by electronic voting machines and less than patriotic secretaries of state here and there, even the most ambitious electoral criminals found only scattered opportunities. Although it was a time with plenty of scandalous politicians, the sheer inertia of hundreds of thousands of citizens counting votes dampened any scheme that dreamed of expanding beyond a single county or a precinct.

Things have changed.

The worst President in United States history, apparently, has yet to actually win an election. At least, not an election similar to the ones that Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson won. What more pregnant hour to consider such things than the evening of November 3, 2008?

Our problems seem to have originated from the Southern interpretation of the Constitution. This interpretation, in just a few words, was that the political control of all those states should perpetually reside with the richest, and least honorable, white men living there. Pretty clearly, it was a predictable response to the Jim Crow days after the Civil War.

Once these enduring memories had become legitimate autocratic traditions these bad ideas were ready for a heady mix with States’ Rights nonsense. The rest is history. The Voting Rights Act presented a bump in the road, but only one for bumpkins. A new generation of creatures injected themselves and their ambitions. Designed and birthed under the protective caress of Attorneys General to protect their crimes, this scourge, inhabited by the likes of Addingtons and Roves, effortlessly attached itself to this new career opportunity. The perfect storm followed these dark crimes to outrageous new heights of hubris and cynicism.

These laments from this brief history are hardly late breaking news on November 3, 2008. Half the registered voters in the country assume that if the UN’s Electoral Assistance Division monitored one of these babies, they would still be laughing hysterically on the eve of the Inauguration in January. The US electorate has learned by this time the same lesson George Bush’s State Department has taught around the world. If there is talk of a democratic election, “Duck!”

Amazingly, we continue to coexist with these parasites. A few folks said something after the Supreme Court appointed the President in 2000. The lonely voices of 2004 were successfully defined as “anarchists,” "conspiracy nuts," “poor losers” and “whiners.”

What in the hell are we doing? Playing endless games of mindless Parcheesi while a few of history's bad actors delete the world’s most famous democracy?

So, election reform. Not the spritzy little analgesic we’ve seen repeatedly so far. Real election reform. Also, not some wimpy, half starved little thing that the southern knuckle draggers will, once again, negotiate into a new chapter in the book of idiocy in the House and Senate, either. You know. Like last time. And, uh, the time before that. Like HAVA (explained later)?

First, dump voter registration. This isn’t 1800. The registration idea has been tenderly preserved under the stink of southern versions of States’ Rights long enough. Aside from the fact that this strange process is the central nest of every kind of fraud and exploitation in elections, it has also, finally, encountered the ultimate sentence in the ashcans of history. It is both irrelevant and unnecessary. A well designed accommodation to replace it is easily within reach.

The new, young voters drawn into this desperate election in 2008 were flabbergasted when they encountered this medieval relic. Democracy suggests that all the citizens should be able to vote during an election. That’s not so tough is it? How about Iraqi ink finger dipping? Come on!

Perhaps 60% of these young ones could rather handily engineer a real time computer system to keep track of every vote cast. At least, every voter who voted. Hell, we could even add a feature that could tell a voter if his vote was going to be counted. What a concept!

Second, dump individual state voter requirements. These dinosaurs might make sense when electing a dog catcher, but every American citizen has a stake in the election of Federal candidates of any rank, House, Senate and President. Sure, those “good ole’ boys” might come from your state, but they go from there to Washington to do things to all the rest of us. If these states really want to send these nasty obstructionists to Washington, it seems like the least they could do is to elect them fair and square.

You know. Democratically.

Why should I accept an election conducted by requirements set out by some semi-literate cracker thirty years ago in the swamps of the Robert E. Lee’s contested constituency? Yeah, southerners, but there’s also folks like Ted Stevens and Duke Cunningham These nervous, irritating, local throwbacks have never had any particular confidence that they could keep winning elections unless they either legislated themselves arcane powers to determine who could vote or whored themselves into the laps of equally crooked contributors. The icky migration from burning crosses to “modern voter eligibility requirements” nestled in connivances such as doctored voter registration laws hasn’t validated their practices or improved the results.

Just go ahead and establish Federal guidelines to define citizens enfranchised with the right to vote. Such a task might represent a break from the looting and ideological nonsense to do some real work in the Congress. Too tough?

Third, make the publicly funded election thing work. Obama took some flak on this count, at least, it seemed like it if one allowed the media slants to paint the picture. There were very few reported details of the GOP scheme to strand him with public money while Republican 527’s thrashed him from the flank. Not the kind of messy details one might expect to encounter on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN or any of the other officially franchised (that is, "bought and paid for...") media corporations.

I assume that the deal presented to Obama by the “Straight Talk Express” had a lot in common to an invitation to spend the night with a rattlesnake. The fact that there was no deal became a hyper-publicity “talking point” and an endlessly repeated “broken agreement” by every dirty shirt pundit with the RNC on his chat list.

Public campaign funding should, somehow, eventually entail making a serious dent in the campaign revenues of the media vampires. Once the crap advertisements entered this world as concrete investments of allocated campaign commercials, some of the outrageous lying might diminish. Voters might enter the polling booth with more than name recognition to guide them.

The cheap clowns peddling misinformation, desperation, liable and fear through literally millions of hours of infantile commercials would have to start earning their keep. This enforced economy might introduce at least the possibility of campaigns actually designed to persuade voters to vote for the candidate.

Fourth, send all voting machines to the junk car crusher. These nasty little, secret devices have the same problem as the crazy registration laws. They are invitations to larceny and they are unnecessary. Those two features should guarantee every one of them an inevitable and unceremonious demise. There are already thousands of these wretched little mousetraps in landfills, sent there by officials with a certain respect for the Federal Election Commission or Grand Juries, both fairly threatening possibilities if there were to ever be an actual Attorney General or Supreme Court.

Finally, Congress needs to establish an Election Court. Anyone who thinks this is a “bit over the line” should review the story of how Carl Rove and a few other crooks extracted Louisiana Governor Siegelman’s election victory and dumped him in a Federal Slammer. These boys were so strident that they didn’t even bother to cloud the evidence of their crime.

If some shade of a capitalistic reincarnation can make WalMart a person, and hence, a plaintiff with protection and redress in one of our courts, then perhaps the same elevation is possible for specific elections. This would mean that an election, say Siegalman's for example, could enjoy both counsel, discovery and justice in a court with jurisdiction. Right now, courts and elections only date, producing a few folks with injuries or a few defendants with criminal infractions. The elections themselves appear only as unattractive waifs, orphans without sufficient sponsorship, much less any loving parents, speaking in their behalf.

Right in line with family courts, real estate courts, labor relations courts and tax courts, an "election court" could embrace an election far more materially than just dating.

“Exaggeration?” “Paranoia?” Once you sober up from the kool aid, just Google it.

It is obvious at this point that the Supreme Court’s 2000 decision in favor of George Bush was devoid of even the appearance of anything judicial. “A recount of the Florida vote would irreparably damage George Bush...” The only ones who got “irreparably damaged” were us!

The 2004 insult of Ohio was hardly cleansed by the deposing of the crooked Secretary of State, Kenneth Blackwell. That stink was so bad, you can still smell it today, four years later. Dead soldiers from an oil war have one odor, destroyed ballots another and, wounded democracy yet another. Ohio’s contribution to the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), Bob Ney is still in prison.

Stopping these cheap shenanigans really is within the reach of our modern technology. As of today, Ohio is still planning to pipe all their election results to some crooked outfit (the same one...) in “the basement of the Old Pioneer Bank Building in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where the servers for the Republican National Committee, and the Bush White House, are also located.”

(Original Content at OpEdNews

So, that’s the picture. Naturally, we are asked to assume that a solution to complicated problems such as these is simply not possible. Not possible while maintaining States’ Rights, Freedom of Speech and the career opportunities of forty or fifty Republican obstructionists in the Senate, not to mention the Supreme Court where it would all inevitably wind up if we were to even attempt such a thing.

Do you believe that?

I don’t.

Gee, is there really going to be another civil war if John McCaine is the, you know, uh, "Oh my God! Surprise-underdog-maverick-coming-from-behind-winner" of this "election?"

If you're reading this tonight, be sure to vote. If you are joining in later, I hope I'm wrong.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Audacity of Hope Ain’t Jest Whistlin’ Dixie

The young ones really do carry our species' life energy. When they come to life, the rest of us live again, the rest of us dare to remember and dare to dream. Again. 64

Barack Obama appeared at a rally in Albuquerque. 45,000 of my fellow New Mexicans attended. Lots of us have been pounding the pavement for this remarkable candidate for months. Many of us have sensed an unsettling wisp of patriotism. This post, however, concerns a far more spectacular phenomenon.

The almost fearful optimism felt by many of the young strikes light through these chilly, fall, high desert nights. At the outset of his campaign, I could see the reluctance in their eyes. Everything they had heard about politics and politicians, all the cynicism of their parents (and, God forbid, me) became a torturous reality during the Bush Autocracy. The seemingly bottomless self-serving of a wretched, neo-con psycopathy had lost even the inclination to deceive us as they increased their insults, and, for the young, the outrages slipped into a dismal, national, hopeless melancholy of realization that we, as citizens, really had lost a class war.

The hubris of an openly opportunistic Congress as it extracted more and more from the country, the silence of a whining, insistent, self-defined media claiming to be relevant and a President who seemed to walk in a mindless, blood-soaked indifference had all gently groomed these young ones for our national descent. A Justice Department openly determined to serve its masters any outrage they ordered and a Supreme Court which almost instantly inaugurated its party choice in the face of what was called an election quietly reinforced the darkest “No Exit” existential numbness for the young ones.

Challenged, frustrated, they found themselves agonizingly unaware. They absolutely felt, but they were blind sided by not knowing. There was the unsettling possibility -- in those young minds -- that they had been bred stupid to be a meaningless sacrifice in Carl Rove’s dreadful abattoirs. Their fate was to be a lifetime of low caste exploitation, the lot, historically, of all who had suffered the loss of their country. Logic was to mean nothing in the face of power. A tawdry innuendo of gutless democracy and bereft freedom continually demanded that it was enough. That it was all there was. That it had always been all there was.

No wonder they narcotized themselves with useless education, distraction, drugs and half hearted attempts to pretend that the future had somehow survived.

Then came the black man.

I had seen it before, long ago. At first no more than furtive, stolen moon light through a cold night’s wind, then that ancient human spark began to reappear, frightened and cowering at first, then, ever so slowly, a bit more courageous. You know, that nasty little spark that has always terrified tyrants.

These young ones who had never been persuaded or convinced before, still refused to listen, but they saw inside themselves. They could see what had been put there. They saw the extremes. They saw, at once, both the soul starving deception of the ones who had frightened all of us so masterfully and the crazy inebriation of every human who had ever finally stood for himself after believing that he couldn’t. Details mattered little. Perhaps it was George Washington sizing up the British Empire with a thought of taking it down. Perhaps it was some nameless, but deadly brave Australopithecine deciding that terrifyingly lethal saber tooth could also bleed.

Thoughts such as these only become material when there also exists the possibility of mortal failure. All new currency to these young ones -- currency with an exchange rate known to none of them.

Could something like this be possible? Possible even to those who weren’t entirely sure they even knew what the “something” was?

They searched their textbooks and computers. Everything they found there seemed to be more of the same dark blanket of hopelessness. They watched the news with a new fervor, but it only told them new versions of the same depressing story of inevitability. They spoke out, a little, and were told that they were foolishly exaggerating, that they were spoiled and indulgently dreaming.

The televisions spoke to them. They listened for a while. Then they quit listening. At least, they quit believing. They were told to have no hope. They were told that things were not really as things were, really. The televisions told them to be calm, to be accepting. The televisions told the young ones that the televisions spoke the truth.

The world encompassing evil slowly emerged, revealing itself to them. They didn’t know enough to be any more than suspicious, but they could feel the hypnotic death grip of this numbing pain slipping. The details of fact, perhaps, continued to elude them, but the fact of anger made its own muscles in their souls. The young ones got mad.

Against the most powerful odds on the planet, the black man was still there, still speaking. The young ones listened because he was speaking to them. Was he the first one who spoke to them?

The rest of this strange, fast tale is history.

If you are a tyrant, hope is a cancer. If you are a tyrant and it becomes audacious hope -- either in perception or material reality -- it is a mortal threat, dulling the psychology of despair, relentlessly charting its course to a painful, unavoidable desolation. No death is more desperate than the one endured alone when all who might wait with you have lost interest.

And, we can see these empty, pompous interlopers, exposed as such false creations, while their machinations and purloined power collapses in the face of hope such as this. They rage, briefly, snarling about in the dust, formulating another of their ravenous schemes to perpetuate control, but then, when lit up fully by this new light, they become eerily passive like the gazelle after the failed escape, calmly grazing for a last moment before the cheetah hits.

The hope of the black man was impressive enough, but alone, hardly historically decisive.

However, once it entered the young ones...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Health Care Without the Lipstick.

Another MeanMesa Lipstick Commentary! This time HealthCare!63

A little history.

As Americans, our intuitive, aggregate concept of “health care” has become, gradually, and perhaps, unavoidably, more and more complicated, more and more unexamined and more and more incomprehensible as it slowly transformed itself to present a new, modern phenomenal definition. Things have been “added” to it.

Entrepreneurial opportunities have been identified, encouraged, injected and groomed in ways which inevitably transformed it by indulgences easily betrayed by modest semantics. Masterful commercial psychology has successfully contaminated both our interest and our expectations in ways that have converted an older, more rational approach to a modern frenzy of insistence, liability and other barely manageable (again, codependent) demands.

Fifty years ago the United States was enjoying the tangible benefits of being a culture which was not burdened with resurrecting itself from recent military destruction. The proletariat economy was literally awash with good paying jobs and a highly visible population, consequently, endowed with remarkable -- at least by global comparisons -- discretionary wealth. Lingering atop this frothy “three tiered wedding cake” was the fairly widely accepted proposition that the system at play here was “the very best in the world” with respect to all sorts of things.

What kinds of things? To name only a few, our new hegemonic military; our ICBM’s, our industrial productivity, the Constitutionally guaranteed rights of our citizens, the proclaimed freedom of religion and the arguably hypnotic luxury of a vast, barbecue pit, martini drenched social extravagance. Naturally, human beings lived a bit longer in such a place. Overlooking clean water, fresh air, plenty of food and even “pretty good shoes,” we quite comfortably attributed that good fortune to our health care. Why not? It was, after all, “the best in the world.”

Doctors here had entered a developmental phase predicated on the idea that going to school longer meant earning more afterward. Hard classes, harder cash. What had previously been best described as a comfortable livelihood was reinventing itself into an economic opportunity able to compete with a new populist conception of the old robber barons.

The religionists had done very well promoting their famous “death fear,” that is, the proposition that one, by willingly servicing religion’s economic avarice in life, might have an edge at the Gates of Judgment. The militarists franchised a bit for themselves as they maximized the contemporary (and well remembered) advantages of war’s horror to extract resources dedicated to Eisenhower’s “military industrial complex.”

Interestingly, the doctors were able to also promote their own, small franchise enabled by the same happy neurosis.

“Death fear.” Our interest in controlling as much of this inevitable calamity as possible began to direct our entire economy and our cultural psychology. The religionists promised intercessionary comfort from the hands of the blindly retributive divinity. The militarists promised protection from premature death resulting from violent military aggression here before more acceptable forms of demise. The doctors promised defense from the risk of premature death resulting from preventable or remedial assault by bacteria, viruses and traditional homo sapien system failures.

Health care was slowly redefined from its original purpose. What had once been the hope of “curing what ailed me” became a promise to “live longer.” Although this change was an undetectable subtlety in any specific visit to the family’s physician, the big picture of medicine was becoming enthralled with the prospect of being able to make much greater promises and, as a result, engorge ever larger amounts of the cultural resources. This was the first new addition.

Likewise, our penchant for controlled results subcontracted a growing part of the promises of the doctors’ new found franchise to the compensatory notion of paying for failed promises. Malpractice, although hardly a medical treatment, injected itself into the already heady brew of unrealistic expectations and codependent demands for controlled outcomes. Previously, the successful treatment of some malady was accepted as a happy serendipity. Aside from outright malfeasance, with this next, new addition, medical success could finally embrace the psychotic notion that recovery was the only “fair” outcome of treatment, moving anything less to a status not dissimilar from “breach of contract.”

A third addition was the new idea of directing research toward the most marketable styles of medical problems. There is no way to speculate if the development of Viagra retarded discovering the cure for skin cancer as it diverted research cash, but Viagra is by no means the only distracted target and skin cancer is, equally, by no means the only possibly neglected, alternate break through.

The social culture had delivered all sorts of drugs and treatment regimes to the doctors as it slowly moved away from the heroin and cocaine saturated elixirs of the early 20th century. Once it became clear that a certain treatment advantage might be gained from a more educated dispensing of, say, antibiotics the die was cast. Another addition. Immediately attached to that treatment advantage came a franchised, statutory and dependable addition to direct income. Big. Direct.

In Tijuana or Juarez anyone with enough pesos can simply purchase antibiotics from a pharmacist. The right pharmacists might even offer a suggestion as to selecting the right one. The statutory self-preservation aspects of the doctor franchise will probably prevent you from legally bringing them back to the United States. Antibiotic outcomes are better here with the statutory insistence that they be dispensed by a medical doctor and blanketed by the liability promises made possible by our appetite for compensated malpractice. Those outcomes falter a bit when they include the outcomes of those who must simply suffer without any unaffordable care.

Perhaps the next addition is the idea that, although prescribing medicine is still left under a doctor’s discretion, commercial advertisements can openly seek to direct a potential patient’s interest toward certain pharmaceuticals. The proposition is that this possible, future patient may not know what to tell his doctor so as to initiate this line of necessary, successful and profitable treatment. The infomercials solve that.

Also added are certain psychological presumptions. Departing briefly from the death fear, the capitalists have managed to successfully suggest to doctors (and insurance companies, and pharmaceutical companies) that any diversion from the current system would inevitably curtail what are presently claimed as reasonable, capitalistic profits. The countering view is that these reasonable, capitalistic profits are actually another one of our famous capitalistic “bubbles,” that is, reasonable, capitalistic profits probably not that reasonable after all. This addition survives on innuendo, but it survives.

Another almost subconscious addition has found its way into the mix. It seems that these highly ethical doctors have a habit of “milking” treatment costs in certain situations. In many cases, this has successfully been blamed on the patients. It turns out that extremely low income and minority patients simply don’t know how to consume health care as cost effectively as more well-to-do sick folks. The concept is not too hard to swallow. If these ne’er do wells were smarter, they would find themselves in the more prosperous category.

The obvious conclusion is that health care for these “lower class” patients is far more likely to be unreasonably expensive. The unreasonably expensive idea arises from several origins. The first is, simply, that the more prosperous are paying for it. From that point of view, any treatment at all may as well be unreasonably expensive. We see that brutally manifested in modern political dogma. It has never been easier to “jerk the knee” of an illiterate neocon with even the most innocent mention of an alternate medical economy.

Another important side effect which must be avoided in that argument is the possibility that less than ethical doctors are encouraged to haul their medical franchises to these, well, less desirable neighborhoods where special opportunities for excessively profitable treatment seem to abound. The down side possibility of this neo-conservative, self-fulfilling prophecy is lubricated by maximum resource extraction until the happy day when that dire prediction becomes fact. Poor people love to consume unnecessary medical care when rich people are forced to pay for it. Unethical, lower class doctors love to bill this into existence so long as they are held harmless from criticism, prosecution or Medicare review. This concept has definitely been added to the mix.

Finally, we arrive at the elephant in the living room. Again. Except in this case, the elephant is better cast as a six hundred pound hog. A hungry one. Not directly attaching Sara Palin to the argument, the lipstick issue rises up front and center. This, of course, is the matter of medical outcomes. The question of medical outcomes, inevitably joined at the hip to the question of medical costs, immediately casts its shadow on the question of medical profits and the comparative value of alternative medical economies, not neglecting the strange taint of medical economic ideology. All the feathers swirling around this headless chicken fly right in the face of the “best in the world” axiom describing our health care.

U.S. health care outcomes suck compared to those of comparably prosperous other countries. U.S. health care costs also suck when compared to the same alternative programs. Pay more. Get less.

It isn’t glorious, expensive new inventions that justify our health care costs. Nor waste. Nor welfare fraud. Nor chiropractors. Nor herbalists, accupuncturists or midwives.

It’s profit. You know, profit like the profit buried in the pharmaceutical bill that was authored by the pharmaceutical lobbyists and passed by the, well, pharmaceutical congress at 3 o’clock in the morning.

"Lawzee! Peddlin' these pills turns a better profit than sellin' whores in a lumbercamp!"

At this juncture, our cultural rip current of Marxist paranoia instantly enters the fray at full power. Who, exactly, is getting all this money? Who, exactly, is convincing us that our meager medical outcomes are actually the “best in the world?” What voice keeps telling us that, if we think a social medicine system is so great, to simply visit Canada? Canada, where everyone hates the national health care? Canada, where hordes of sick people flood into the U.S. every day, trying desperately to save their lives? Canada, where pharmaceuticals exploit the huge, honest investments we make here making their socialized price there attractive enough for elderly Americans to ride buses across the United States for a chance to buy them? With uninsured cash? Please.

If not Canada, then Europe. England. South Korea. Japan.

If the elephant in the living room is hard to ignore, discover the pig. Aside from being huge, it also stinks. Hogs also have a famous insistence on eating everything that isn’t bolted down, and this one is no exception.

Quick! Apply the lipstick! The good old “best in the world” lipstick.

Had enough? Remember this medical-pharmaceutical-insurance monopoly franchise on November 4th. Vote.