Political Eschatology

Advisory: Coarse language.  I’m tired of mincing words. Sometimes “excrement” just lacks a certain rhetorical punch.

Midnight Sunday night.  I just got home from a late dessert with a friend out on the “payment,” as they call it here in Philadelphia.  (That’s a sidewalk in standard parlance.)  This is a relative luxury, something there may not be much more of when the politicians in Washington get done with us, a subject that came up over carrot cake tonight.

Before I started this rant, I checked to see if any deal had been reached in the debt crisis.  Alas, none.  I feel quite strange about all this.  You know the world is screwed up when a philosophical anarchist is thinking in more practical terms than the politicians. Blame ought to be shared all around, but most infuriating to me is the smug self-righteousness of the Republican Party.  Cut, Cap and Balance should be renamed Sit Down and Shut Up.  This piece of hypocritical legislation is, alas, off the table.

The details of this particular story and of the past several generations are many and hard to keep track of.  I speak under correction, but indignantly nonetheless; we all know that this situation didn’t need to come to pass.  Here goes nothin’.

The Republican Party wants you to believe that it is now and has for a long time been the party of fiscal responsibility, “conservatism,” family values, and all that horse crap.  This is the party whose leadership, namely Richard M. Nixon, cut all ties between the dollar and gold on August 15, 1971, touching off one of the worst inflationary periods this country has seen.  “We’re all Keynesians now,” quipped Tricky Dick, describing a most unfortunate turn of events that set the game clock on the middle class in America.

In the late 1970’s, Jimmy Carter, in a now infamous speech, warned the country that it needed to start living within its means, or there would be trouble.  Ronald Reagan, Boobus Americanus Secundus, came along, using what a late friend of mine called “verbal jujitsu” and said that Jimmy Carter didn’t want America to be great.  Reagan seemed to think that the laws of economics didn’t apply to us, that our Miltonesque shining city on a dunghill covered with snow had a birthright to greatness, and that we knew this was true, because, well, damnit, we say so.  And our military budget was the largest in the world.  And we spent God knows how much money on a stupid war against drugs. Etc.

But Reagan is hailed as a “conservative,” even a “libertarian,” which I find to be horrific, though to his credit, he does deserve polite applause for keeping his illegal wars of foreign aggression under a week in duration. The conservative movement of the 1970’s, a reaction against Lyndon Johnson’s soft socialism, culminated in one of the most financially disastrous presidencies up to that time.  I have to wonder if it was even necessary to outspend the Soviets in the arms race, as the conventional wisdom had it.  A sharp statesman would have found a way to make the Soviets think we were spending more than we were.  But you know damn well that some defense contractors were happier than pigs in shit with the way things were going.

Even when it came to monetary policy, the Reagan administration was a band of thieves.  Keep the interest rates low—that’s all they cared about.  The story is told—I believe it’s in Bob Woodward’s book on Alan Greenspan, called Maestro—about Fed chairman Paul Volcker, a Carter appointee, being pressed by the president and a close aide to keep rates low, i.e. pump more money into the system.  Volcker, in a testament to his character, resisted.  He was quickly replaced at the end of his term with Captain Printing Press.  Low rates stimulate the economy, said the administration.  Here’s the dirty little secret: the higher supply of money can also be used to pay for pet projects that no sane citizen would tolerate paying for with his taxes.  Inflation is an insidious, silent tax, levied on every dollar earned, spent, and saved in this country—and it is a regressive tax at that, because it affects the lower income levels the most.  But most people simply treat it as a fact of life rather than a factor of policy.

Skip ahead a generation, and we’ve got W. in the White House, the biggest megalomaniac since FDR. He made the Reagan and Johnson presidencies look like exercises in restraint, singing loud Te Deums of Why don’t we just bomb the sunsabitches?  Self-described fiscal conservatives credit him with cutting taxes, but again, the unpopular projects were paid for through monetary inflation.  And how much has that Medicare reform cost us? And the Every Child Left in the Dust Act? Bush II was a naive Wilsonian ideologue who rode the coat tails of the evangelists, the conservative Catholics, and the xenophobes (I use this last term in an unconventional, all-encompassing sort of way) into the White House. Or at least his close advisors were.  One wonders how we got from “No nation building” in the 2000 campaign to making the Middle East safe for dumbocracy.  These are expensive propositions, paid for by your retirement fund.  The tribal leaders in Afghanistan and Iraq thank you very much.

And here we are now, with a debt crisis, a Democrat sitting in the White House, and the GOP running the House of Representatives. This crop of elephants promised us in 2010 that they really meant it this time—they really were conservatives.  Small government this, fiscal responsibility that.  But even in the midst of this debt crisis, there are programs, sacred cows, that they refuse to touch.  Sure, Barack Obama, though he has compromised more than many thought he would, might be playing the same game, and we all know how expensive Obamacare will be, but he didn’t yammer on about small government in his campaign—quite the opposite, as we know.  What I wish to point out here is less the policy and more the hypocrisy of the Republican Party.  The GOP favors small government.  Ok, cut every non-essential, outdated portion of the defense budget.  Fat chance.  Stop chasing down drug users who are not committing violent crimes.  Ohhh but there might be something against that somewhere in the Bible.  Maybe it’s in Matthew 24. Et cetera, ad nauseam.

This is all a dog-and-pony show, my friends.  The Republicans don’t want a small government any more than I want to go country line dancing.  Their libertarian-flavored stance is a self-contradiction: If they believed government to be evil, they wouldn’t be so eager to exercise power when they can get it, and they wouldn’t so gladly be generous to fat cat contractors with the tax money of us mere proles.  I am reminded of the two-part question that Satan, as narrator, asks repeatedly in Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses (a fantastic book not so beloved by certain governments): 1) What kind of idea are you, one that compromises or holds firm when you lose? and, more importantly, 2) How do you act when you win?

Well, we have seen how the Republicans act when they win, and it can hardly be described as fiscally conservative.  If we could say otherwise, the present behavior of the Republicans might be defensible, even heroic.  But after years of pleading that politics is the art of compromise—and therefore we can’t be as conservative as we’d like—they have chosen the worst possible moment to pose as principled people.  I’m not convinced that John Boehner is the problem here; he may well have unenviable realities within his caucus to deal with.  But some people somewhere in the Republican party have chosen to thump their chests instead of beat their breasts, which is what they, along with the Democrats, should be doing.  They have both screwed us over, and—shame on us—most of us are dumb enough to believe it’s all one side or the other. The politicians feed on this Super Bowl mentality and use dire situations like this to score points with their base.

Compromise is a dirty word.  I myself hate it.  But someone needs to face up to the fact that this moment was arrived at through decisions that were made years ago.  If you dance with the devil, you have to pay the fiddler.  Well, dear reader, the violin case has been opened.  The real options here are limited, and all of them involve the implication that the political leadership of this country has been an abysmal failure. Wanna take bets on that happening?

To create electoral theatre, the leaders in Washington are playing with the future of this country. A default would send the dollar tumbling.  How far?  I doubt anyone knows, but in the inflationary days of the Weimar Republic, wheelbarrows full of Marks were required to buy a loaf of bread. Do you think the workers’ salaries rose at the same rate?  Hardly.  That spells destitution.  I’m no fan of social security, but why should old folks who have nothing left pay for this bumbling around?  I’m convinced that, from a practical perspective, it is an injustice. Starving welfare recipients with stubbornness is not the way back to Thomas Paine and John Locke.

Am I saying, “Raise, the debt limit?” Well, yes, if it’s what it takes to buy the time necessary to crash land rather than plunge directly into the ocean. We shouldn’t be in this mess, but we are.  The time for principle was eighty years ago, but every self-described fiscal conservative since Hoover has failed in this regard.  That milk has been spilled, the fat lady has sung, and it’s time to own up to it all. If the libertarian right insists on being brittle now, it will be broken forever. (Bulls of Excommunication from fellow libertarians can be sent to me via email. The tendency to orthodoxy is an affliction of the entire human race, even of the most freedom-loving.)

I get the impression that many on the libertarian right think that this is the dawning of a new age.  Good luck with that.  As much as I have advocated a stateless society, I have always felt that such an order would have to come from a foundation of ideas—a gargantuan task (laughably so, some smaller minds would argue), but all successful revolutions have been ones of thought and not of arms.  Violence and catastrophe only breed chaos, and more states. The dollar collapses and people live happily ever after in their little Agorist paradises? Uh huh.  I got some bridges for sale.  This week’s special: The Walt Whitman for two Diet Pepsis and cheesesteak.

Chaos breeds tyranny.  Always.  The nationalists will be whipping up fascist plans, and the Left Wing will be dreaming up socialist plans, and certain religious types will be chanting their epistles of theocracy from beyond the moat.  Who wins is anyone’s guess. Reason, surely, will not prevail; bread will decide the victor.  I forget who said that a hungry man has no principles.  “We hold these truths to be….”  And the mob yells, Oh, shut up!

You think I’m over-reacting; I know you do.  When we read history books about the decline of civilizations, it’s easy to see the unhappy ending from afar.  Hindsight is a great benefit, and it also affects the imagination.  Look around.  The utilities still work. There are no ruins (except for the inner cities…).  Everything seems so normal.  I suspect that on the precipice of collapse many former societies thought everything was okay, too.  But ruin, like many fallings-out, comes both gradually and all at once.  Its approach becomes apparent, but the exact moment of its arrival is never certain, until it’s too late.

An important implication: This means that no one is in as much control over this as anyone might think.  More reason for the pols to stop fiddling. This, of course, assumes that they give a damn about us.

A revolution?

The elated and the dejected have now offered their initial reactions to the election.  One wonders what everyone is getting all excited about.  What election has ever really changed much in this country?  Forget the rhetoric; study the implementation of policy, which is where the real answer to this question lies.  Even FDR continued many of the policies of Herbert Hoover, who, contrary to popular belief, got the whole business of economic interventionism started.

I got home from work last night after changing a flat tire, turned on the television, and there was Wolf Blitzer interviewing Eric Cantor, a Republican congressman.  Blitzer gave Cantor two opportunities to enumerate areas in which the Republicans would propose spending cuts.  Cantor demurred both times, and offered the exceedingly timid suggestion that spending be returned to 2008 levels.  The GOP has been campaigning on this promise of faint hope.  Shame on the American people that it worked; after all, George W. Bush outspent Lyndon Johnson, so returning to 2008 spending levels isn’t exactly the dawning of a libertarian Utopia.  I heard from one Democrat who hyperbolically called himself “suicidal” at the election results.  Seriously?  A group of candidates is elected that only wants to rollback spending to levels from two years ago, and this is considered a threat?  Take out health care, and much of the other spending can be chalked up as continuations of monsters that the Republicans created, like stimulus packages and illegal wars of foreign aggression, which Obama has happily continued, although under a euphemism in the case of Iraq.  At what level does this represent a fundamental rejection of the policies that have been going on?  Most of this strikes me as being noise.

Based on his comments during his press conference, Barack Obama doesn’t seem to think that this election represents a rejection of his ideas, and he may be right.  After all, the Republicans can’t really get serious about ways to make government smaller; they were, in the main, elected on broad platitudes, which I grant is nothing unusual.  Oh, and by the way, they apparently mean it this time, just like they did in 1980 and 1994, and we all know what happened then.  But this time they really mean it.  Obama rightly remarked that most people are not ideological.  I quite agree, though I would go further and say that most people haven’t the will to be literate in the exchange of fundamental ideas, and this would seem to me to lead to a more volatile electorate in general.  He who cannot grasp ideas will cling to a personality, and if things don’t go well, he’ll dump that personality for another.  Place not thy trust in princes.  Stupidity creates instability.  People may reject Obama’s policies in many instances, but I’m not sure they could say why they feel the Republicans have better ideas.  I fear there’s just a feeling that it was time for someone else to win.  It’s the American way of guarding the shallow mainstream, the much-hallowed middle.  Or shall I call it the muddle?

There is nothing in polite conversation these days that can offend people more certainly than the articulation of a discernible idea.  You’d be better off using the several forbidden early Anglo-Saxon words than expressing any worldview whatsoever.  American politicians, being in the business of guarding their positions, know this, and so I don’t expect anything to change much soon.  At the same time, while I have no love for any politician, I don’t allow my heart to be troubled at movement this way or that.  Life will go on, and when it comes to the doomsday scenarios such as a possible dollar collapse, I am at peace with the fact that both parties have contributed and will continue to contribute to this eventuality.  Fatalism isn’t as scary as it might seem from the outside; I sleep perfectly well at night.  It seems to me that the really important things in life are not the grandstanding of politicians, but the unassuming work that most people do day in and day out  so that they can support their families (and the people living on the dole).  I’m thinking of people like the guys who just fixed my tire and got me new windshield wipers.  They’re the real problem solvers of the world.

Is the Obama administration looking to raze parts of shrinking American cities?

Via Matt Drudge comes this interesting story.  Dan Kildee, treasurer of Genesee County, Michigan, has developed a plan to level acres of abandoned land in Flint in order to make the city more viable.  There is merit to this thinking, and I can go along with it as long as private property rights are respected:  The land being considered consists mostly in abandoned properties.  According to the Rothbardian theory of private property rights, abandoned land is up for grabs, so this can hardly be considered the worst public works project that a bureaucrat has ever dreamed up.  It would be nice, however, to see all this done through means of private exchange rather than through civic planning.  But I don’t want to cavil about that today, not too much, anyhow.

What bothers me about this story is that Mr. Kildee has been consulted by the Obama administration.  Why?  If a local community wants to drastically alter its landscape, so be it.  But why is the Federal government getting involved?  Do they want to “help”?  And how long will it take before the offer of “help” becomes a mandated change?  

One more random thought:  I just can’t shake the image of General Sherman terrorizing Atlanta.

Just a thought…

Hillary Clinton threatens new orgy of war crimes in Iran

Some of us listened to Barack Obama pull back from his dovish stance during the general election, and we are not surprised that his administration has taken on more martial tones than expected.  Many, however, are surely taken aback by some of the hawkish declarations coming out of the new administration, and certainly many more still haven’t caught on.  These developments were all but a guarantee, given the appointments of people like Hillary Clinton and Rahm Emmanuel.  

The latest installment in America’s long nightmare of death and destruction comes from Hillary Clinton, who indicated a strong possibility that Iran could be attacked if it fails to dismantle what it says is a peaceful nuclear energy program.  Anti-war has the story.  

There is a grave error in the thinking of the Americanist war machine rhetoric, and that is that since “we” are “good,” we can have nuclear weapons, and that since “they” are “bad,” they cannot.  (This assumes, of course, that this is what they’re really doing with their nuclear energy.)  There is in this, of course, mountainous dungheaps of hubris.  More relevant, however, is the complete blindness to human nature in general, the idea that somehow “we,” the “good guys,” know how to handle our deadly weapons and will never make a tactical or ethical blunder (cough, cough), but “they”, the “bad guys,” would be so much worse than we are.  Human error applies to the enemy, but it does not apply to us.  Evil is in our enemy, but it is not in us.  This kind of Americanist fundamentalism keeps the world sufficiently stirred up so that politicians and weapons makers never have to worry about genuine peace and happiness putting them out of business.  

Near the end of this blog, Jason Ditz rightly asks how the Obama Administration thinks it could possibly handle yet another war with two already going on.  I must wonder:  Will the American government count on Israel to take care of Iran?  Won’t that spark a regional war, and won’t that make our situation even far more precarious than it is now?  Or will the collectivists on the Left and the Fascists on the Right get together and reinstitute the draft, stealing baby-faced young men from their mothers in order to go die in a desert while doing the bidding of a couple of greedy oligarchs?  

Why can’t the government just admit that for a century it has been screwing up the world, making the world safe for tyranny (Hitler, Stalin, the Ayatollah, Hussein) with its wars of foreign aggression?  The world would be much safer if the American Empire admitted its mistakes and vowed to work toward employing a new grand discourse.  The position of governments, however, would be much more precarious, since the State thrives on making people fearful, which convinces them that they need a paternal protector.  As Randolph Bourne said, “War is the health of the State.”  We could turn that around and say that peace is the health of humanity.

The “Peace President” proposes an increase of $225 million in military aid to Israel

According to the principles of homesteading, the land which is now known as the State of Israel was stolen and should be returned to those who occupied it before the Western Allies moved in to establish a new State.  A few things should be borne in mind:

1.  The holocaust was a dreadful thing, but two wrongs don’t make a right.  Stealing land only creates more strife.

2.  There was actually quite the fierce debate which raged among Jews about whether or not a new Israel should be established through secular means.  The orthodox rabbis, by and large, insisted that a return to the promised land needed to be effected by God rather than by democratic imperialism. 

3.  Before the expulsion of Palestinians from their land, Jews and Arabs lived side by side in relative (at least by today’s standards) peace and unity.  (Ecce quam bonum, et quam jucundum habitare fratres in unum!)  Jews moved in through the peaceful means of mutual economic exchange:  they bought and rented properties like everyone else.  Thoughtful friends of the Jews will advocate this form of peaceful coexistence, rather than the coercive use of State power to confiscate land.  

The injustices which take place in the Holy Land benefit no one, and the money that the American government throws at the situation only makes it worse.  Barack Obama—in yet another installment in change in pennies, or perhaps, in this case, out and out change for the worse—has proposed an increase of $225 million in military aid to the State of Israel. If you wish to register your disapproval of this policy which only begs for more needless bloodshed, go here.  

Hat tips to Serge and Miguel.

Brian Williams bowing to Barack Obama?

From Matt Drudge’s Irrelevant News Story Department:  Did Brian Williams bow to Barack Obama when he took leave from the White House?  Besides the proper response of “Who cares?” it pays to watch the video and see just how exaggerated this “story” is. People nod their heads all the time.  This is so ridiculous, and it shows just how desperate the Republican wing of Modern Liberalism is to get traction on anything at all.

The Obama Administration: Change in pennies, part 6,437

“This time, it’s different.”

How many times have we heard this before?  Oh yes, the mainstreamers say, all those other decisions—Vietnam, Korea, the Bay of Pigs, Iraq II, etc.—were mistakes, and the United States should never have stuck its nose into those situations.  But this time, it’s different.

In the video below, Congressman Ron Paul explodes U.S. foreign policy in front of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who, having listened—or at least remained silent—during Paul’s remarks, says, “Afghanistan is not Iraq.”  Then he pulls one of Dick Cheney’s rabbits out of his hat:  “September 11, 2001…..”

This man works for the administration of Barack Obama, the candidate of “change.”  Before the election, I warned people not to expect any real change from Obama.  “Oh, you’re being pessimistic,” I was told.  “Yes, every other president in the past two generations has backed away from his campaign promises, but…….(drumroll, please)……this time, it’s different.”

So much for that.  

Such lunacy will continue to the end of the world, so long as people allow themselves to be hypnotized by these mountebanks each time the olympiad rolls around.  It could change, but I doubt it ever will.  Human nature is flawed, and one of those flaws is gullibility.  One of the evils of the State is that the gullible, who elect these clowns, bring down the rest of us with them.  Maybe someday this will be different, but it doesn’t seem likely.

Hat tip to LRC.