Friday, January 16, 2009

SOME SHORT THOUGHTS

I came across several small but not insignificant points in the past couple of days. I’m lumping them together here, since they don’t support a full-sized Post individually. If I don’t have a hyperlink for the reference, I’ll give it the old-fashioned way.

In the February 2009 issue ’Reason’ magazine (p.7), a sidebar contains an interesting comment. One Kate Gordon, co-director of the advocacy group Apollo Alliance was asked where she came up with the number of 5 million as the number of green jobs that would appear under Obama. She refused. Instead she simply blapped: “Honestly, it’s just to inspire people”.

Ah. In case anybody still thought that when public or quasi-public or self-declared public figures publicly assert a fact in support of a position, some effort thad gone into ensuring that the fact or number was accurate. Y’know – so as to give The People accurate information.

Nah. This advocate’s got something better in mind, I guess she’d want to say: instead of trying to inform Us, she’s trying to inspire Us. Sigh. Like the guy on Oprah a couple of weeks ago whose dead mother came to him in a vision and told him to share a story that never quite happened, that is from the realm of ‘memory’ rather than ‘fact’. Not quite a repressed memory, but closely related to it, and both from the clan Spectral Evidence, and so easily asserted as ‘truth’, as long as nobody can prove otherwise.

We were in enough trouble when Truman decided that he needed to scare the hell out of Us in order to wage the Cold War. And when Pentagoon contractors began lowballing bids in order to win them, secure in the knowledge that they could later add-on and inflate and extend and otherwise multiply their charges. And then it spread to the civilian sector – and who can forget the famous Massachusetts Big Dig, accepted as a bid at 2 billion, and coming in at 16 billion, with significant and lethal structural deficiencies to boot.

Along came the Advocacies and decided to take the same tack. Forget trying to ‘inform’ The People; just ‘inspire’ them. And upon such bases, rather significant public policies were hastily conceived and even more hastily enacted and clumsily implemented without taking into account consequences and informed public deliberation.

And who can now trust figures from the government or from ‘advocates’, trying to lull Us into complacency or frighten Us into concurrence?

Upon them all, turn a gimlet eye, and don’t be afraid to pull out your own pocket calculator.

***
On page 9 of the same issue, another sidebar article reports that a study accepted for publication in the Journal of the American Medical Association has concluded after a substantive review of the literature and reports that “available date do not support assumptions that uninsured patients are a primary cause of overcrowding” in Emergency Rooms. This is ‘off’ (in NYPD lingo) the recent spate of state initiatives requiring all citizens to carry health insurance under pain of financial penalty, because – the sweet irony! – of the ‘emergency’ of Emergency Room overcrowding. You could make a good case that this was actually a ‘tax’, since the state was looking for ways to fund health insurance for those who don’t have it – but since it was an ‘emergency’, it has passed in several states, and may ‘go national’.

Actually, the JAMA report goes on to say, it’s not persons with no health insurance who come to the Emergency Room and tie it up, it’s persons with subsidized insurance who do – and that’s precisely the population the state plans seek to increase by forcing everybody to pay in. It started, you may recall, with motor-cycle helmet laws.

***
On the Counterpunch site, in the article “The Dershowitz Check-Up Continues”, dated January 8, 2009, Franklin Lamb goes to some length to critique the stylings of one Alan Dershowitz, tenured professor and attorney extraordinaire, who describes himself as being “Of Counsel to the Government of Israel”.

The Dersh, as one of his students describes it, advises Israel “how to appear to be acting legally in the eyes of the American public”. From the mouths of babes {not to be taken as a denigrating gender reference but rather as the classic translation of the Latin ex ore infantium}.

This, I think, is one of the major problems with the lawyerization of the government in the past 40 years. It’s not about the substance of your actions as they relate to legality; it’s all about and only about the appearance of your actions.

It’s grossly insulting to Us, whose tax dollars are paying for and supplying so much blood-shed around the planet, and certainly in the case of Dersh’s client, the aforesaid Government of Israel, to which he appears to be playing the combined roles of Tom Hagen’s consiglieri in ‘The Godfather’ and the Yoo-Bybee team of Presidential legal counsel who found torture OK, so long as nobody got caught.

And isn’t The Dershster also acting as an advocate? And don’t We all know what those numbers and assertions are worth. Too bad he didn’t advise the Israelis to just claim they were doing it for ‘the children’, or produce a ‘study’ that said that Gaza had the highest concentration of unregistered sex offenders in the Mideast. He might have saved the Israelis a lot of inconvenience; the method, certainly, is well-tested and capable of dissipating substantial chunks of truth and reality. Just what the aforesaid Government needs, especially now.

***
Over on Salon, Camille Paglia writes in her January 14, 2009 column that – har de har – she isn’t afraid of death since “It must be like a long sleep – delicious!”. How many times have We seen this played out: the callow and the cocky go out into the deep water beyond the warning-floats, and you’re a fuddy-duddy and ‘you just don’t get it’, right up until the moment when you absolutely must effect a rescue right this minute. Between the National Security State’s adventures in war-making and the National Nanny State’s adventures in remaking the whole culture overnight … it’s no wonder there’s a bit of rescue fatigue among the citizenry.
But, perversely, it’s precisely that fear that drives the original adventurers to keep up both the in-your-face attitude and the ‘emergency-rescue’ alarm.

It’s a wonder any of Us have any time to think about deeper things – like, say, death and the afterlife. Paglia has written herself a pass – it will be a long sleep. No need to wonder if her self-authorized pass will get by the gate-guards; there’s nothing but sleep on the other side. Over the millennia, a few have sensed otherwise.

There was a Judgment and then perhaps a stretch in some form of atonement mode, and then eternal consciousness in Heaven. Or, on the other hand … eternal consciousness elsewhere. But sleep? As if beyond this life it’s just one long Saturday morning sleep-in?

Them Kathliks figured that having made so wondrous a creature as man – human being – then God would want the individual’s consciousness, self, soul, to remain in existence (and awake) forever. That being the case, there was a powerful motivation for doing the right thing (as often as you could manage), and a powerful consolation for those days when you didn’t think you could put up with leading a decent life in this Vale of Tears.

If there’s nothing but sleep afterwards – if, as students say, ‘there won’t be a test on this’ – then just how much serious application and performance can We expect in the great High School of life?

I wonder: Washington, Lincoln, and a host of other national politicians, had a double reinforcement for conscientious and principles performance in the offices to which they had been elected. They of course were answerable to The People, but they were also – and they very much were aware of it – answerable to God (in some form or another). And when in those cozy dark corners of the Beltway (or Washington City, or whatever their era called it) it happened – as it so often does in government service – that none of The People were around at the moment, they were still held to their sworn duty and their integrity by the inescapable Presence of God.

Conceptually, it’s a pretty significant factor in sustaining a ‘decent and upright’ government in all of the Branches. Curiously, in the past forty years of de-Godding the whole shop, government and its elected officials have clearly been unable to sustain ‘decency and integrity’ merely on the one engine of respect for their sworn oath to The People and to the Constitution. The national Aircraft has lost altitude and speed, and ain’t quite able to stay on the level. And it seems it won’t be much longer before she’s sucking squirrels into the nacelles. Welcome to the new New World Order: otherwise known as Treetop Airways.

You’d think this would scare the pols, but No. They rest in the sure and certain belief that you can fool some of the people some of the time, and that’s usually good enough. And that God protects drunks, idiots, and the denizens of the Beltway.

And perhaps they figure that on the other side there’s only Ms. Paglia’s eternal “It’s Saturday morning” (which were the lyrics to a goo-goo Sixties song the rest of which I forget). Or perhaps they figure that they’ll find a Politician, like unto themselves only bigger, and they’ll be able to strike a confidential deal. Or perhaps they keep in their back pocket (or purse) the napkin from the last Congressional Prayer Breakfast, autographed (and dated) with an indulgent guffaw or chuckle by some slick Fundamentalist big-hair or the Cardinal-Archbishop of wherever.

I think somewhere they are being laughed to scorn. But that’s for them to find out.

Our job, I would think, is to try not to wind up in the same situation.

***
In ‘The New York Times’ edition of January 12, 2009, David Johnston and Charlie Savage report that “Obama Reluctant to Look Into Bush Programs”.

What caught my eye was a by-the-by to the effect that there is “a need to establish trust among the country’s intelligence agencies”. Well, that may indeed by an issue. But I don’t think it’s the core problem. The core problem is re-establishing trustworthiness there inside the Beltway. The problem with this government isn’t that The People don’t trust it (so The People simply need to be somehow persuaded to invest their ‘trust’ again). No, the problem is that The People don’t trust government, or its figures or its ‘stories’ or all of its pomps and works, and that the government needs to start behaving itself.

But that’s what the younger Luther figured he could convince the Papal Curia to do, back when he still figured everything was either on the level, or that the ‘elites’ basically wanted to conduct affairs on the level and just needed a little reminding. That didn’t turn out so well.

Yes, the reporters go on to note that the intelligence community would like to not have to be constantly “looking over its shoulders”. Well, one very tried and true way of not living your life constantly looking out for police cars is to not commit any crimes that would attract the attention of the law. Or is that too ‘quaint’? Or too ‘pre-postmodern’? Or too ‘judgmental’? Or too ‘conventional’. Or ‘just the same old thing’ and not sufficiently ‘creative’ and ‘innovative’?
We have been treated to far too many (safely) retired generals and admirals and assorted civilian biggies who only came out against the profound outrages of the past decade when they were no longer in a position to influence events (Major General Antonio Taguba is most honorably excepted here, among a few others). Former JAGs who are now ‘shocked, shocked’ although they gamed everything well when they were in their bespangled uniforms – these people must think We are complete imbeciles. If so, We must ask Ourselves where they might have formed that opinion – for whatever else a general officer is, he is a shrewd sizer-upper of odds and probabilities when maturing his little plans.

***
On Truthout, under date of January 14, 2009, Maya Schenwar reports that “Congress Aims to Take Back Constitutional War Powers”.

Well, from her mouth to God’s ear. Although after what We’ve seen in this Gaza debacle, and after decades of just about every serving Congressperson giving away every bit of responsibility s/he could like it was a chunk of kryptonite, and after what We saw following the 2006 elections, I’m not going to break out the champagne yet [it is said that on the day Generalissimo Franco died, Spain ran out of champagne].

Perhaps Congress would like to take back its power over the currency, which in 1913 it gave to the newly-assembled Federal Reserve Board, a ‘delegation’ of its Constitutional power which it quite possibly did not have the authority to make. And while in the mood, it might take back the authority for the Executive Branch (through the military) to conduct criminal justicial process, a ‘delegation’ which it not only colorably didn’t have the authority to make, but which on its very face contradicts the very core principles of the Founders’ vision in the matter of keeping the Courts and the Executive separate. Very little good has come out of either ‘delegation’: We are going broke under the auspices of the Federal Reserve and Our civilian justice system is becoming increasingly militarized under the aura of the military justice system.

***
Last but not least, Helen Thomas reports, again on Truthout, under date of January 9, 2009, that in response to a question from ABC News as to how history will judge his stewardship of the past 8 years, the Adult-In-Chief said flatly that he “won’t be around to read it”.

Now, you don’t have to have a Ph.D. in anything to start unpacking that queasy comment.

This is the quintessential Bush: an unripe who’s only concern about his performance is that History (and The People) ain’t gonna catch him, because he’ll have gotten out of town before anybody can figure out all the stuff he’s done. Ruined lives, aggressive wars, the economy gone beyond any hope of recovering its pre-Bush dimensions … hey, he’s gettin’ outta town.

This specimen got to the Presidency. That is not a really strong advertisement for the state of Our politics. Sure, there were some lesser lights back in the days when the President had an army and navy of less than fifty thousand members combined, when you could walk up to the White House and bang on the door and get an answer. But this guy made it to the top when this country was at the zenith of its power and influence. There’s a fair chance that ‘they’ out there in the world don’t hate Us; they’re laughing at Us.

Except that if We (or the Beltway denizens) feel like it, death-dealing military force can be dispatched to any place on the planet to whack enough locals so everybody will wipe that smile off their face.

But they’re probably wondering why We should be taken seriously at all. If We can elect – or at least pretend to have elected – this guy, then just how ready for prime time are We? World power? Model and beacon of Democracy to the world? If Ben Cartwright and his boys had carried on like this, the Ponderosa would have been taken by eminent domain and broken up into development lots. Ben, Ben, We hardly knew ye. Forget Joe DiMaggio, sportsfans – it’s Ben Cartwright who was the greatest loss. And it’s not “lonely eyes” that We need to be turning; it’s “unserious eyes” that have gotten used to looking upon wayyyyy too much dreck and calling it ‘good’.

Too many folks are going to be using the Obama Inauguration as a quick and easy way to blame it all on Bush, simultaneously absolving themselves and reassuring themselves that everything will get back to ‘normal’ now, everything will get better. Bush was some sort of mysterious freak of political nature, that’s all.

Not hardly. We did this to Ourselves. And We inflicted this weasel on the rest of the world. Nobody’s going to forget that, except too many of Us.

Cocky and crapulous to the last, he’ll swagger off campus – having never done any homework, having never passed a test. He caused more damage than the Russkies ever dreamed of (name one US city that was lost to the USSR; Bush lost New Orleans) and though Khruschev didn’t bury Us, it seems that We are almost buried nonetheless, just a few years beyond what Nikita predicted. Mikhail Gorbachev recently mused that the US now has capitalism for the poor and Communism for the rich – have We, in the end, no shame?

Maybe Bush expects that when he’ll be ‘not-around’, he’ll be sleeping Paglia’s Saturday morning sleep. Or maybe he figures that God fell for all his feculent fraudities. Or maybe he really does believe that the Sacred and Patriotic Moon-pie Heaven of the Fundamentalist Ascendancy is exactly what he’s going to find, where he’ll be once again cheered as he lands on the flight deck, with St. Peter obediently waiting to strike up Hail to the Chief and God saluting him as a fellow Chief Executive. Do you think Bush isn’t that far gone? Do you think he ever wasn’t that far gone?

As far as he’s concerned, that for Us to find out.

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