Thursday, April 22, 2010

BEAR IN A CAN

A photo from Vermont captures it all: a 120-pound bear with its head stuck in a large metal milk can, running around the forest, bumping into rocks and trees.

I had previously described the Beltway as Monty Python’s King Arthur and his knights, pretend-galloping around the Dark Age woods of oulde Britain, faithful servants making clip-clop noises by rhythmically banging hollow coconut halves together.

But the bear-in-the-can takes its place as equally useful. And accurate.

Having gotten its head into the treasure-pot, the creature gorged on the milk or cream, swelling itself in the process until the head could no longer be extracted. Gorged, effectively blinded, and having swollen to the point where it can no longer easily back out of its agenda, the creature agitatedly races around, reduced to increasingly frenzied action.

Humans, of course, are a little higher up the ladder (yes, Virginia, there IS a great Ladder of Being): they are capable of far more evolved levels of behavior and (yes, Virginia, there IS a soul and a Beyond) even sin. Altogether a far more dangerous species.

This is especially so since humans, being social animals themselves, can operate in packs, conceiving and executing their plans – for good or ill – with a level of strategic competence that leaves the tactically marvelous wolves in the dust.

The Beltway has spent the past forty years feasting on a food plan consisting of pandering to Big Pain and Big Money, engorging itself to its current swollen position, and irretrievably stuck inside what is now an empty can – only a Boomer could have sustained such a self-gorging life-plan for so long on the childishly magical assumption that the cream would magically keep replenishing itself (rather a Biblical magic for so secular and ‘liberated’ a bunch).

But the can is empty now, and as any sober human observer might have advised the bear.

But bears don’t often take advice well, especially when they are gorging and being advised to exercise a little self-control.

And, the Beltway being human – although demonstrating that Animal Farm ability to indulge the porcine (and the ursine) – has deeper and more serious problems. Problems which stem from its schemes and from its overall decades-long Strategy: it now has to keep a whole country-full of citizens somehow under the illusion that it knows what it’s doing and has not gotten itself – and them – into one frakking hell of a mess.

Because the can held not just some freebie extra magical milk or cream that happened to be lying around. No, the can held the entire national supply of cream. The Beltway Bear was simply supposed to administer it on behalf of everyone else: the Bear’s authority and position, famously, existed precisely because it was “of the People, by the People, for the People”.

But, human nature being what it is, the Bear convinced itself that what was good for the Bear was good for the People. It had gotten the idea from General Motors, but long after that corporate entity had faded, along with many of its peers, the Bear figured that the business of America was simply paper-shuffling, and since the cream would restore itself magically every night ad infinitum, like the Biblical widow’s grain and oil when blessed by the prophet, the country – with the Bear slurping mightily on its behalf – would retain the favor of a God that officially – alas – could not be acknowledged.

Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! It was a hell of a ride while it lasted.

The business of the country will now consist of telling the young what a Camelot of cream it once was.

Hopefully enough of the Boomers and the Me-generation that followed them were taking notes.

Because now – as was said of the fabled Reich in the early 1940s as the cream ran out and the shrinking remainder curdled – “in Germany in 1943 it was better listening to music than to news”.

I have taken the Dems to task on this site. Not because I am a ‘Republican’ but because I consider it the work of the Citizen to Kick government Tire, just to make sure. And – governments in power being what they are – the task is eternal, so to speak.

And the great Used Car that has slyly been offered to Us for decades is the idea that ‘revolutions’ can be ‘liberal’ and merely reformist and progress-bearing (‘progressive’ is now become a buzz word signifying nothing). Whereas the greatest practitioners of the dark arts of Impatient revolution (not the Patient, Constitutional, American-Founding kind) have always said that “it is not a tea party”, that “eggs must be broken to make the omelette”, and that its power – ultimately – “flows from the barrel of a gun”.

Once Violence and its car-full of colleagues – Untruth, Deceit, Deception, Illusion and Delusion, as well as Wrack and Ruin and those Four Horsemen who for eons have managed to keep professionally employed despite the long-deferral of their marquis and signature Operation, the much-ballyhooed Apocalypse – are unleashed, then the Kicking of the Tire of that awesome Vehicle becomes a moral as well as a political necessity.

Human lives, and lives lived as genuinely human, are – after all – at stake.

But let me offer you a slightly larger and longer focus.

Walter Karp – writing about American domestic politics and foreign policy in the 1970s and 1980s (he died early, in 1989) – went back to the seminal era of the thirty years 1890 to 1920. His 1979 book “The Politics of War” is recently back in print. For anybody with the leisure and the price of it, contemplating a little summer reading (a trope hearking back to the era of solid employment and paid vacation, I admit), the book is an absorbing and lively read. It will repay the effort of reading a hundred-fold.

In those days it was the Republicans who were the national Party in Power. The Democrats had backed the wrong side in the Civil War and lost; worse, their ‘Party’ was simply a congeries of local ‘rings’ and ‘machines’ – often holding position and pursuing plans incompatible with each other when not actually opposed to the agendas of Democratic operatives in other parts of the country.

The Republicans by 1890 had become fat, dumb, and happy merely coasting on the marvelous performance of their forebears of mid-century: under the truly world-historical Lincoln they had held the country together, eliminated slavery (although the thing had been allowed to go to ground and come back as Jim Crow), and furthered the early-19th century American dream of industrialization.

The Democrats, saddled with their lingering but essential connections to the Southern wing of their Party – that former Confederacy that sought to cling to its fabled Old South even more delusionally resolute in defeat than even they had in the salad days of the antebellum era (and those first heady years of the Civil War until Gettysburg and Vicksburg sealed their fate in the space of a July 4th holiday in 1863) – could only hope to keep some semblance of local organizational unity and keep on keeping on.

Consequently, he notes, their basic national ‘plan’ was – candidly – to “do nothing”. The Democratic Party –such as it was – simply sought to preside in tatterly and hardly splendorous stasis over a congeries of sub-groupings far too incompatible to make any workable comprehensive program. Karp quotes Republican House speaker Tom Reed, who opined (in that marvelous 19th century American combination of education and simple shrewdness) that the Democrats were “a party struggling with its own inertia and mistaking it for the Constitution”.

The Republicans would be vigorous and effective. And the Constitution would have to get used to it.

But, Karp notes with shrewd and marvelous acuity, by the late 1870s the young Industrialization of the 1810s and the antebellum era had grown into the monstrously powerful Industrial Era (its passage into awesome adulthood forged in the Civil War’s jaw-dropping exertions and expansions, putting into the field and sustaining armies the size and supply of which the Western world had never before seen).

And the Citizenry was beginning now to notice that the fruits of that Industrialization were not flowing somewhat unvexed to the entire country, but rather were becoming verrrry concentrated in the hands of the great industrial and corporate chieftains. And in the hands of the Republican politicians whose Party dominated the country’s domestic politics.

But in 1890, the State and Congressional elections administered a sharp and shocking rebuke to the Republicans, and with a rather nasty depression in progress, the sharper eyes and minds of the Republican Party realized that something was going to have to be done. The world was changing, the country’s mood was changing – and too many of the citizen-herd were becoming restive.

Questions were being asked, and in all the wrong places ... which is to say, by the citizens: Why did such a vigorous economy have such a deflated currency – of advantage primarily to “New York bankers”? Why did the industrialists benefit from special legislation that enriched them while Midwest farm prices fell? Why were monopolies allowed to continue in existence? Why did a few private banking-houses in New York control the nation’s credit while land (there was not yet an income tax) bore the brunt of taxes? (See Karp at page 7).

It was decided that a little distraction in the form of foreign muscle-flexing would be the very thing to bleed off the excess pressure building up in domestic politics. And also feed the Industrial gentlefolk – the impolitely but accurately named Robber Barons of Twain’s Gilded Age (the First one, that is – We have just recently seen the end of the Second) – by forcibly expanding America’s markets and influence overseas.

And this would have the added third advantage of proving once and for all to everybody that only the Republicans were a truly national Party with a national Program (the Democrats would not achieve this status until FDR’s first administration in 1933).

Hawaii was chosen as the first run-out of the programme. With this relative baby-step the American public would be enticed and lulled into the entirely alien idea of America reaching out into the colonial adventures of the ‘Old World’, subjecting other peoples, taking control of their resources, and subordinating their land and affairs to the requirements of American (or at least Washington’s and the Republicans’) interests.

So much benefit – so little cost. What was not to like?

The Great Powers of Europe realized quickly that something was up – really really up. By the end of 1892, contrary to all historical practice going back to the nation’s Founding, all of the ‘legations’ they maintained in Washington were replaced by full-scale ‘embassies’ and ambassadors.

In January, 1893 Hawaii’s royal government was undermined and overthrown by a coterie of American plantation elements, and the ‘government’ effected by the coup was quickly recognized by Washington.

In 1898, as Spain – its once gloried Empire now in the final stages of decline – was trying to maintain its grip on Cuba , the McKinley Administration, claiming it was merely bowing to the force of events and powerless, really, to do otherwise, intervened by declaring war on Spain in order, ostensibly, to liberate the Cubans from the brutal foreign oppression of Spain.

Take that for what it was worth.

But Karp points out that while the nation’s focus was on Cuba, which had always been of interest to the country since the days when Southerners tried to row those few 90 miles over there to make it another Slave State, the real money (and, if I may, the ‘real men’) were going to the Philippines. It was Spain’s substantial possessions in the far Pacific that made war with her so irresistibly attractive.

The proof of it – and here Karp gives the lie to all the blather about ‘liberation’ – was that when Admiral Dewey defeated the ramshackle Spanish squadron in Manila Bay, thinking that he was in the Philippines merely to help ‘liberate’ them from Spain, he generously provided naval transport to the Philippine rebels over to Manila so they could finish off the now-trapped Spainish military forces and set up their own government.

When McKinley read Dewey’s by-the-by telegram he went through the roof. Because while the country’s attention was focused on Cuba and Teddy Roosevelt’s publicity-gobbling antics, McKinley had quietly embarked a force of 10,000 American troops – the largest overseas force the country had ever dispatched - to the Philippines as a force of occupation. America does not liberate out of charity; and she was coming to the far Pacific to stay. The natives – and the Constitution – would have to get used to it.

Dewey quickly found himself sidetracked; the commander of the troops would be the overall American commander. As far as Washington was concerned, with the defeat of the Spanish there was now no Philippine government, and the US Army would perform the charitable tasks of Christian enlightenment and civilization; the natives – interacting with the Spanish since the height of their imperial power four hundred years before – were presumably un-christianized and un-civilized. *

In the event, the Filipinos were not at all pleased with the Americans’ changing the rules in the middle of the game; it took a frightfully stubborn and vicious jungle war – led on the Filipino side by Emilio Aguinaldo – that lasted for several years, in which the frontier violence of America’s Indian War era – then just over – was intensified exponentially (with indelible experiences imprinted on the Army as an organization and on the troops themselves). And all this long before the full force and authority of the Marine Corps stormed ashore on Red Beach at Da Nang on 8 March 1965 – to be greeted by native females bearing scented leis and a South Vietnamese military brass band.

Also in the event, the light at the end of the tunnel was only reached and the Filipino (pick one: insurrection, resistance, rebellion, insurgency) gutted when its resourceful (pick one: insurgent, patriot, rebel) commander was invited into Army lines for a talk under a flag of truce and forthwith ‘captured’. Huzzah!

One is reminded of Zachary Taylor’s reflections when he was assigned – before his Mexican War victories – to Florida, where the process of ‘pacifying’ the natives was underway: “An officer who has any regard for honesty, truth, or humanity has but little to gain, and everything to lose”.

In those 30 years from 1890-1920, America, fresh from the frontier wars in the West and Southwest, and true to the Republican plans, would continue to engage herself – and distract and entertain her populace – with a series of adventures: excluding the ‘peaceful’ annexation of Hawaii (to the extent that treachery can ever truly be considered not to be an act of violence), America would fight Spain and then Germany and the Central Powers; send Pershing into Mexico; fight the brutal Philippine whatever; come close to war with both Chile and Great Britain (the Anglo-Venezuelan Dispute – google it); and intervene forcibly in Latin America (the Marines again) – and if you add another decade onto the thing, until the early 1930s, the Latin American stuff just kept on keeping on with the Banana Wars.

So I am an equal-opportunity Tire-Kicker, as We should all be.**

And Karp ranks as one of the most accomplished and valuable such folk dedicated to that cause, whose efforts have thus far so nobly advanced it.

A century and a bit later, and We are faced now with the bear with its (not to say ‘his’) head in the can.

The night is moving. And for Us, it will not be funny at all.

And in that regard, let Us pause for a moment of silent reflection on one of the lesser-known (in the West) results of Mao's Great Cultural Revolution, that 10-year orgy (1966-1976) which provided such informative example to American's own 'revolutions' starting in the late 1960s: after a decade of unleashing the youth and the younger, more rabid members of the Chinese Communist Party against not only the whole of Chinese culture (Confucius himself took a major hit) but also against the older and by-then more 'mature' ruling members of the Party itself, Mao died, leaving a government so politically fractured, factionalized, and ideologically paralyzed that the Army - the People's Liberation Army - had to step in to sort out the Party factions and get things back on an even keel (to the extent the phrase can apply).

Take that to prayer, while you're lying on the beach with Karp.

The local fire department and animal control folks tranquilized the bear and helpfully cut the can off, freeing the gorged and dizzy beast to continue his perambulations unhindered and unvexed.

But when a government has gotten itself in such a situation, what 'fire department' or animal-control service can there be?

NOTES

*One cannot help but recall the Israeli pieties, bleated and brayed 50 years later, that they arrived in Palestine to find it, miraculously, empty, uncivilized, and simply begging for somebody to develop it. Funny how it all moves.

**Let me point out what I have often said on this site: the role of feminist-inspired 'victimism' doubly insulates the government from having its Tires Kicked.

First, it is axiomatic in victimist dogma that the victim must be believed and that to question his/her assertions is tantamount to 'denying the victim's pain' and to 're-victimizing the victim'; and this instantly (and so slyly and conveniently) short-circuits any of that skepticism that is utterly essential to political or juridical (as in courts and juries) examination of assertions that may well demand a significant deployment - and often extension - of governments' intrusive power over the lives of Citizens, especially those 'accused' of this or that.

Second, the government - cast in the victimist script as the Hero who will rescue the endangered 'innocent' (as in the old-time silent movies: the girl, the bad guy, tied to the tracks, the train, and so forth) - cannot be questioned skeptically because - well - it's the Hero, and you don't question the Hero (as every movie-goer knoweth full well). You can see immediately how in victimist dogma and scripting the government is directly absolved and protected from any skeptical review at all - you either support the government or, in the childish reasoning of this cartoonish scripting, you are 'for' the bad guy.

In an eerie symmetry, the Republican domestic political strategy of the post-Civil War era mirrors the feminist-victimist strategy of the post-Vietnam era: in the later 1800s the Republicans, whenever challenged, would ‘wave the Bloody Shirt’, i.e. remind the challengers that it was they – the Republicans – who had sustained the War for the Union and that out of respect for the memory of the Civil War dead (drafted in death as Republicans) the Party could not be doubted or challenged.

In the feminist-victimist era – though, tellingly, in not quite so active a mode – the Democratic Party waves the ‘pain of the Victim’, in the face of which it would be disrespectful to doubt or challenge.

The more things change …

And equally ominously, the gelatinous spread of ‘sensitivity protocols’ in speech are now being co-opted to stifle objection to government policies and actions. What started out as a nice enough project to prevent certain minorities from being ‘embarrassed’ and then ‘harassed’ and then ‘oppressed’ and then ‘harmed’ and then ‘assaulted’ by ‘hate speech’ (each step a dangerous extension beyond the previous one). This dynamic would be bad enough when it was confined to citizen-to-citizen interactions.

But when government co-opts the trope to stifle objections to its programs (especially in their more dangerous or negative potentials) you find that what was ‘hate speech’ against individuals can become ‘disloyal’ or ‘terroristical’ or ‘terrorism-supportive’ when such objections or challenges are put to the government.

Somehow, ‘sensitivity’ and ‘empowerment’ have wound up engorging the government and insulating it from skeptical assessment.

That can’t be good.

And it can’t safely be allowed to continue.

ADDENDUM

It occurs to me that folks don’t really grasp the danger of simply accepting ‘ideas’, especially if they are cutely packaged.

Let me offer an example.

William Marshall published a novel in 1989: “New York Detective”, about a New York city police detective in the 1880s and his sidekick, a big Irish cop – Muldoon, of the Strong-Arm Squad, temporarily assigned to keep an eye on the dimunitive (and somewhat idealistic) detective. As you may well imagine, Muldoon is an upstanding fellow, full of sparkling and winsome Irish wit and with a mighty capacity for drink – but as equally dedicated to Justice as his detective boss.

But there is a difference between them.

Muldoon demonstrates it as he discusses a “pinch” he had recently made: the arrestee was a known ‘bad actor’ with a long record; Muldoon happened to have an unsolved case on his hands for which his superiors wanted an arrest forthwith; so he consulted his voluminous mental database of New York’s lowest, found a suitably available ‘suspect’, framed him, arrested him, and testified to all manner of things under oath in order to secure a conviction. Everybody was happy: his bosses, the papers, the judge, and the folks who had originally been held up.

Hearing the story, the detective objects that the man actually sentenced was not guilty of the crime in question.

Which objection Muldoon brushes off cheeribly: the man’s done many bad things in his life, for which we may rest assured he has not been caught or punished; by sending him up the river I’ve removed him and made the City safer for decent folks; with God’s help, someday somewhere some other decent copper will find himself in need of a ‘collar’ and grab the man actually responsible for the crime I had to find a perp for; and that decent copper will frame him for that crime, and so will have done his duty, and the world will be a safer place, and in the end it all balances out.

There’s an indubitable charm to the equation. And not a small amount of sense.

BUT, if you were too busy feeling warm and cuddly to notice, it is hell-and-gone from the Constitutional ethos.

Because to the Framers several things were paramount: 1) all people are ‘sinners’ (or in the Enlightenment version ‘capable of acting irrationally’); and 2) the government police power is the most historically predatory ‘actor’ of all; and so 3) the best way to secure Justice is to make sure that the police power cannot be deployed against any Citizen unless there is solid evidence.
The government police power is the element most potentially dangerous to any true and politically legitimate Justice. And while the police power is a necessary component of government, it is never to be seen as anything better than ‘a necessary evil’.

Contrast this with the Rightist-jingoist idea that the police-power is ‘good’ because it ensures ‘order’ or because it is ‘the power of God working through the American government’. Or with the Leftist-victimist idea that in the script where ‘innocent victims’ are put into pain by ‘evil perpetrators’ then the government-police power is always the white-hatted ‘Hero’ who will save the victim and smite the perp (to which the congregation will respond together: AMEN!).

So before there was the seeming ‘progress’ of a Hero-police power that always saved the pained and (always) ‘innocent’ victim from the evil perp (who, conveniently, is no longer remembered as a Citizen) … before that there was the winsome pre-Constitutional idea that as long as it’s in the right hands, well-intentioned if a little rough, then police power doesn’t need to obstruct itself with such formalities as solid evidence.

Surely you can see the lethal danger to any genuine and actual Constitutionality here. To any genuine and efficacious awareness of just what the Constitutional vision consists of. And what it requires.

The victimist approach simply creates an emotional stampede in which the Script of Victim-Perp-Hero Government overrides the Constitutional vision. The ‘right hands’ approach simply insists that the police power be in the ‘right’ hands and then it can do ‘whatever it takes’.

No wonder the Bush-Cheney years created such an awesome catastrophe, building upon a ‘bipartisan’ (of Left and Right) consensus that as long as it has – or says it has – the ‘right intentions’, then government power –the police domestically or the military in foreign affairs – can do whatever it damn well pleases.

We Citizens can now perhaps see the path of crumbs that has led everybody now deep and deeper into a dark dark forest indeed.

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