Night of the Living Dead: The party of Palin
by Jim Chaffee
[ opinion - february 10 ]
"What up?" - Michael Steele
Ever wonder why the scariest caricature of the living dead is a smiling Dick Cheney? Believe me, that is more than a freakish coincidence of genetics.
Ghouls, zombies, vampires and other variants of the undead are the stuff of modern US horror media, threats from within haunting the modern "social psyche." During the so-called Cold War, popular horror genres reflected national paranoia of threat from without: alien invaders and giant bugs. Contemporary psychological horror is more apt to be the homegrown sociopath as superman à la Silence of the Lambs than the externally brainwashed fantasy creature of The Manchurian Candidate.
It is no surprise that the threat is seen as from within when one considers the uncanny resemblance of the modern conservative movement to the soulless, brain-eating undead. As already noted, Cheney's pale visage in its familiar grimace-smile would have made a terrifying poster for yet another remake of The Night of the Living Dead. That was before said countenance became cliché.
Unlike the anxiety of the Cold War years, the current apprehension is not a product of government propaganda. It is a deep shudder from within society of dread felt rather than understood, which cannot be expressed even when understood for reasons we will attempt to lay bare. Worse, it seems the trend is to accept the undead and their variants as normal part of society. Which is no surprise, given the length of time people have had to live with the likes of Antonin Scalia and Pat Robertson, among a host of other superstitious zombies.
The word conservative
The central tenet of modern conservatism is a foreign policy based on aggressive and blatant militarism. Certainly militarism is not something new in the US; witness leaders like Harry Truman, John F Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. The difference was that the US did not consider it part of its national identity to brazenly dictate terms to the rest of the world.
Moreover, following WWII there had been a movement on the part of the Democrats and the Supreme Court to dismantle local versions of apartheid in the Southern US and force upon the rest of the nation a sort of legal racial equality with an attempt to erase white dominance (this push for equality is a significant factor in defining the term "liberal"). Legal racial equality is not social racial equality, however, and this action caused a strong reaction resulting in movements among disgruntled locals who considered the white race to be the one chosen to rule the US. They were joined by superstitious cliques appalled at the freedom of speech given groups they considered immoral, by which they meant not living in accord with their own chosen interpretation of some form of holy writ, most often the Bible. These local movements were eventually fodder for a global marriage fused by the militarist Ronald Reagan, a president who was an essential pivot in the evolution of a new form of governance for the US. But this comes later in the story.
An influential portion of these militarists are of a particular superstitious persuasion, members of religions who worship the genocidal monstrosity of Moses and Joshua (as opposed to those who worship the later "softer" divinity of the New Testament, another demarcation in the boundary separating liberal versus conservative), mythical Jewish leaders of a war of genocide and ethnic cleansing. It is not difficult to fathom that people who believe that anything one does under the orders of God (the titular name they give their supreme monstrosity) is not only just and right, but in fact holy, can believe that their God-chosen nation is now under holy orders to cleanse the earth of "evil" by violent means. Nor is it difficult to fathom that such people believe, for example, that this thing they call God would preserve its chosen during a nuclear conflagration After all, the human primate is not a rational creature, no matter what the formal academic body of knowledge called Economics would have us believe.
Not all these militarists are influenced by Biblical superstition. A significant portion of them have been inculcated into a secular mythology of the US as leader of the free world, conqueror of Hitler's Germany and Hirohito's Japan. That history shows it was actually the Soviet Red Army that defeated Hitler, almost single-handed, is irrelevant. This myth is of particular significance to those who never served their country, patriots like Reagan and Cheney, the latter a draft-dodger. They need no more excuse to force the US's will upon other nations than this one.
Note that these people are not fiscal conservatives; fiscal conservatism is incompatible with militarism. Militarists spend whatever is necessary to build military dominance to terrify other nations. That a significant portion of this spending is for bluster value is evidenced by the lack of US military success in actual warfare. Consider the fact that when the US went to war in Iraq, its too-few troops were poorly equipped despite the billions spent on "defense." The war machine produced by "defense spending"is not of any particular value to the military in fighting wars; much of the product ends up in the desert "bone-yards" of Arizona or in storage facilities for no wars. A significant portion of the billions is for paper. The real purpose of "defense spending" since Reagan's presidency has been jobs: constant fiscal stimulus (with horrendous overhead).
The first serious modern politician at a Presidential level to openly express militarism was Barry Goldwater. He gained support via his focus on the notion of local control, an expression that Southern racists have used as a codeword for re-institution of apartheid. But his expression of militarism ("extremism in defense of liberty is no vice") cost him the election to Johnson. Of course, it was Johnson who escalated the conflict in Vietnam after winning election by implying Goldwater would nuke North Vietnam, among other countries. Perhaps Johnson was not far off, given the nuclear inclinations of Goldwater's incarnation as VP in Bush the Younger's regime. The irony that Goldwater's "liberty" be extended outside the US by the new conservatives who would force freedom and liberty ("Democracy") on other nations at gunpoint would not be lost on Goldwater.
The conservatives who form the militarist movement are mostly called social conservatives. That they sometimes gather into their fold people who consider themselves libertarians or fiscal conservatives is irrational, but few humans are given to or capable of careful logical consideration. (There is also the problem of a "two-party system" which allows little realistic choice.) In fact, many of them are opposed to logic or ratiocination, and openly cry out for what can only be called anti-rationality. This is clear from contemporary confusion of scientific thought with legal thought (there is no court of science) or with religion. Another sort of derangement becoming common, especially in the media, is typified by the megalomania of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia who believes in his Pope-like infallibility as a unique supernatural interpreter of the Constitution guided by the Holy Founding Fathers. (The same phenomenon occurs within elements of the libertarian movement, but unlike Ron Paul, most of the more vocal bozos in the "teabag parties" are ignorant of the Constitution and its history. Their version of this document and their history of its adoption, which denies the myriad compromises required to get it approved, exists only in their imaginations.) This sort of insanity has become an embedded part of the conservative movement's claim to be the only group that can pick truly "unbiased" justices for the Supreme Court. The mania is apparent when one listens to the arguments made by supporters of particular political ideology, no matter what ilk, standing reason on its head to play a game of gotcha. This sophistry is a significant part of the popular media portrayal of legal proceedings. However, it is only the conservatives who claim to be led by supernatural, usually divine, guidance.
Besides the lack of rational argument there is the substitution of ideological belief for factual evidence. History is cast aside as lies or propaganda if it is not in accord with the world-view of the ideologue. This is independent of the persuasion, but it is currently a form of mass hysteria among the so-called social conservatives. In fact, it may be their hallmark. For example, I have an old friend who claims to be a libertarian but who prefers Republicans to Democrats because they spend less money. He disregards the fact that under Reagan the US national debt doubled and the US became a net debtor nation for the first time. He claims that Reagan's tax cuts brought in more revenue, even though the budget deficits under Reagan were the most massive in modern times before Bush the Younger. He denies the reality that Bill Clinton zeroed the budget deficit, since the fact that a Democrat could be more fiscally conservative than a Republican is outside his Weltanschauung. (The proof, for those who understand government finance, is that the Clinton Treasury was able to halt sales of long term paper and considered halting sales of all debt instruments, a move considered unwise for reasons of mechanization should some new administration once again begin printing money, which was exactly what Bush the Younger did. But in other words, Clinton was able to cease printing money.) Nor is such delusion isolated. It is a condition among what one would like to call otherwise reasonable people, but that would be a mistake given the irrational decisions made by these people in their everyday lives.
In fact, what is occurring is that human primates of the US, and perhaps the world, are forming what might be called clots of irrationality in which their collective visions of reality are at odds not only with other clots, but with events occurring around them that are open to objective inspection. For example, my friend stated that all mutual funds are Madoff-schemes; that if the mortgage on your home is higher than the current market value you ought to let it go to foreclosure because you could easily buy a lower priced home with a new loan; that the stock market was still at its lows of March 2009 though the DOW had climbed to 10,000 (not to mention the foreign exchanges like the Bovespa); that if you have a strong legal case against a corporation, no matter the value of the suit settlement, lawyers would line up to take the case because they would be paid their enormous fees as part of the court costs (there is no general legal provision for the court to pay a lawyer's fees for the winner or the loser). Those were among his less absurd assertions. It became pointless to argue with him since he would make any argument, no matter reality. Whether or not that was a conscious decision or due to some external problem like brain damage, since he seemed to be a rational human at one time, is not clear. But it is scary.
Anti-rationality and legal sophistry are apparent when one witnesses people redefining scientific theory to suit their arguments against that theory. A brother-in-law of mine once asked me, If we evolved from apes, why are they still here? Of course, the question makes no sense in terms of evolution. But I have witnessed arguments in which an individual with no idea of what comprises a specific scientific theory tells someone who specializes in that theory and made contributions to that theory, what the theory comprises. When the expert points out the incorrectness of the assumptions regarding the theory, the expert is told that he does not understand the theory. Of course, this allows the people arguing against the theory to reformulate the debate to their advantage. It is the classic straw man argument. This has become the method most used by the conservatives and unfortunately, it will work because few people are able to recognize the fallacy of such arguments. As when someone who knew nothing about mathematics told me that the infinite series with nth term 1/n converges. I gave a proof that it did not, but no one witnessing the argument could determine who was right since they were not capable of the requisite logical thought.
W H McNeill's ambitious history The Rise of the West makes the point that as societies disintegrate they lose faith in their traditional values and their authority figures, seeking out new forms of belief and new authority figures. The human primate is at base a superstitious creature, so this is not unexpected. Clearly it is happening within the West, where dissatisfaction with science has risen to new heights even as the primate love for technological toys grows. I believe that this is part of the phenomenon of the rise of the irrational conservatism discussed above. My friend, trained in mathematics, has turned his back on all scientific and mathematical argument. Nor is he a singleton. I have had similar experiences dating back to the late 1990s with people trained in science or mathematics or both. Some of them were guided by religious superstition, but many of them were guided by secular superstition that is not well-defined. Often it is some belief in ideas of Adam Smith that Smith never voiced, a misunderstanding of Smith, or a belief in Hayek and the Austrian school of economics which is a kind of secular religion. Sometimes it is fundamentalist belief in some sort of rugged individualism or libertarian anarchy (often tied to the Austrian school of economic religion), ironically by people who exist because of social institutions and inventions or who survive on government funding of some kind. My libertarian friends who work for the government fail to see the irony of their positions.
The purpose here is not to attempt to determine why these absurd reactions are occurring now, but instead to take a global view with historical hindsight in order to forecast their potential effects.
Ronald Reagan's social experiment
Ronald Reagan was able to accomplish what Goldwater could not. He merged together disparate political ideologies into a machine that allowed him to win a presidential election and create a mythology that all conservatives adamantly believe, regardless of historical reality. (It is noteworthy that not all libertarians buy the Reagan myth, and this proved costly for Ron Paul in the Republican primary "debates" of 2008.)
One reason for Reagan's success was that he spoke a kind of moralistic language that appealed to the superstitiously motivated social conservatives Goldwater hated. Reagan also extolled the greatness of America, something most citizens hungered to hear after their ignoble defeat in Vietnam; he played up a rosy future of more greatness and wealth in the face of an oil embargo, rising inflation, high unemployment and powerlessness before Muslims in Iran who had taken the US embassy hostage. His platitudes played to Americans' sense of God-entitlement. He recalled glorious WWII heroics, often plucked from motion pictures that he remembered as reality. He attacked a Soviet Union that he thought of as a mighty world power, no matter that it was completely dysfunctional and in economic collapse - a reality that drove Gorbachev to approach Prime Minister Thatcher with surrender terms.
He also played to fiscal conservatives by promising to shrink government and cut taxes. He did cut taxes, but he increased government bureaucracy to record size. He ran massive budget deficits and doubled the national debt, making the US a net debtor nation for the first time in history. He blamed Democrats for the budget growth, but analysis of the budgets he submitted to Congress show the growth came from his own policies. He used the Democrats as whipping fodder for his fiscal excesses while calling for "line-item" control over the budget, something Congress might have done well to give him since he had nothing to cut but his own spending programs. Such an economic policy is called Reaganomics, but might better be termed a Reagan scheme.
It is amazing that people continue to claim Reagan increased revenue by cutting taxes. They forget his budget deficit and doubling of the national debt. In reality, he "borrowed" money to raise revenue. This word "borrow" is a euphemism for print, as Milton Friedman points out in his little book Money Mischief. (Fractional reserve banking is not the same as the "printing" of money, by which is created out of thin air so-called "high-powered money." Friedman's book is worth reading if only for the short discussion of how money is created by interaction between the Treasury and Federal Reserve Bank to give the impression it is borrowed from somewhere; as Friedman points out, printing money is the most popular approach to financing a nation.) Reagan printed a lot of money. The inflation since his time in office, much of it regional in local commodities like real estate, is a major issue now. It is apparent that Reagan's printed money created the internet bubble at the turn of century. The local nature of the inflation is mostly due to the fact that the bulk of Reagan-printed money went to a handful of states.
At any rate, analysis of the budgets of the Reagan years indicates that the small increase in revenue was a percentage of the vast sums of freshly printed money returning to the Treasury and not due to tax cuts.
This provides an important reality check. What Reagan enacted was a new form of social engineering. It had been observed by classical economic thinkers like David Hume that printing money does not raise the wealth of the nation. But it does create individual wealth. When combined with tax cuts that lower the burden on the wealthy while doing little for the middle class and nothing for the poor, it creates a society in which most of the wealth accumulates in a few hands. It creates an upper class of extreme wealth, since not everyone shares in the outpouring of freshly printed money from the government. It is more a lopsided distribution of new money than a redistribution of existing wealth. It also creates lavish resources for lending via monetary expansion from fractional reserve banking, which "raises the standard of living" in exchange for economic servitude.
Most of the new money went into expanding the military apparatus of "defense" contractors and extending clandestine control abroad with the beginning of the paramilitary extension of the CIA. Domestic social control through augmented law enforcement grew with the necessity of controlling the underclasses that grew with the money-printing/tax-cutting social experiment as the middle class dwindled.
Certainly one cannot call this approach capitalism, since it makes the government the prime mover in the financial system of the nation. During this time, Paul Volker extended the powers of the Federal Reserve to keep much of this money from showing up immediately because of the already rampant inflation that had persisted despite an ongoing recession. Entire segments of the "private sector" of the US were essentially joined to the government by control mechanisms, mostly through accounting and technical oversight, though the flow was two-way. This has expanded under all the regimes since Reagan, and is seen most clearly within the "defense" industry. Yet people continue to call Reagan a "free-market" capitalist even though he crafted a monopsony feeding an oligopoly of large corporations. This is a taste of the surreal irreality that persists, in fact has grown, over the decades into reality as denial of what is objectively real - as when Reagan had to admit on prime time television that he traded weapons for hostages in defiance of his own stated principles. His surrealistic speech is worth watching, because he admits that though caught red-handed with incontrovertible evidence and personally implicated, he does not believe it. The man was as out of touch with reality as the nation is now. Is it possible for a nation to have something like Alzheimer's disease, as the late Studs Terkel contended? I have had discussions with people who deny this Reagan speech ever occurred. One of them continued denying it when I showed him a video of the speech.
It is difficult to assign Reagan's economic sleight-of-hand trick a name, though perhaps military Keynsianism could serve. Clearly not a free-market apparatus, given the government intervention with constant stimulus (which was understood as such by many Republican politicians (for example, the Honorable Jerry Lewis who spoke of the jobs the government money created in the "defense" industry and the businesses tied to it); certainly Reagan proved that government is able to create jobs to the satisfaction of the Republican Party as it existed then). But for conservatives the only two forms of "economy" are capitalism and socialism, and in the face of such a dichotomy one must call Reagan's economic policies socialist. Which is not to say that the Reagan socialism spread wealth to all, despite Reagan's repeatedly claiming that a rising tide raises all boats (though it is true if the tide be inflation). In fact, as noted above, Reagan's social engineering created a disparately tiered society closer to what is usually considered Latin American third world.
The fact that the government prints money is acknowledged by most libertarians. It was arguably Ron Paul's bringing this into the Republican primary debates of 2008 that caused Fox News to ignore and eventually eject him. Paul's objection to the militarist agenda in foreign policy was problematic, especially his observation that many of the attacks on the US and its interests are due to our colonialist meddling, but nothing pierced the conservative mythos like the fact of the Republican Party printing money to fuel "economic growth." That is anathema to discuss openly. It also points to a problem with libertarian and anarchist thinking that hinges on the idea that cutting taxes can lead to smaller government. Reagan proved that idea false through the mechanism of creating "high-powered" money out of thin air. It makes the idea of a balance sheet for government as irrelevant as it is meaningless.
Reagan established another keystone: he created a new scapegoat. Scapegoats will prove important in forecasting, and this one will also be important because it helps to define the term "liberal," itself a scapegoat for the conservatives.
Reagan scapegoated the poor. Of course, a large portion of those poor were blacks and Hispanics. When unemployment stubbornly remained high in the face of Reagan's verbal coaxing and fiscal stimulus by "defense" spending, he implied that if one were unemployed or poor, it was one's own fault. After all, the US was a God-given paradise of limitless equal opportunity and the greatest nation on earth, ever. He read want ads from newspapers, often calling for skills like CICS programmer, something I am sure Reagan himself did not understand. It was implied quietly that for a white man to be unemployed in Reagan's America meant the person had no desire to work, since white unemployment was almost impossible.
This brings us to the word "liberal," which, like "conservative" is not uniquely specified but seems to have a core of signification. With the danger of repetition, we can restate that the political core belief of what is herein called conservative (in the sense of Palin or Cheney and their ilk) is aggressive militarism as a national policy. The core of what seems to be referred to as liberal by most of these conservatives, as well as by libertarians and anarchists, is the desire to have an egalitarian society. Of course, that appears to be in accord with the Declaration of Independence, but the US Constitution as originally written was at odds with the Declaration. And there is ideological difficulty between liberals and conservatives regarding this concept, since conservatives espouse a belief that somehow egalitarian society can be brought about with a magical entity called the "Free Market," whatever that is. It was argued for decades (and still is) that slavery was not in itself inegalitarian and would have ended eventually because of Market Forces, but as no Market Mechanism existed to end it, a civil war ensued that did end it. The same arguments were then applied to the apartheid society of the Southern US and also to segregation and enforced inequality in most other states. (For example, it was illegal in sixteen US states - seventeen if Maryland is counted, which changed its law just prior to the ruling - for blacks and whites to marry, until the Supreme Court ruling of Loving versus Virginia in 1967.) These apartheid mechanisms were formally dismantled by the civil rights movement, not by any market mechanisms.
Those called liberals by the conservatives want to extend government enforced egalitarianism by providing social services like medical care to the poor and by redistributing wealth to the poor: They assume society should be more egalitarian in providing services and distributing wealth. Since an important assumption among the conservatives is that the economy is guided by an Invisible Hand of the Free-Market that will take care of the issues of egalitarianism, the reality that the government constantly prints money is anathema, as then the game is seen to be rigged. It kills the myth that there already exists equality and one only needs the ability and drive to take advantage of it, to grab the brass ring, since the brass ring is not equally accessible if the government provides it in controlled circumstances (a fact which Reagan understood given his ironic talk of a rising tide raising all boats, of trickle-down economics). It is for this reason that libertarians like Ron Paul need not apply within the conservative movement, since libertarians know that conservatives are no more free-market capitalists than are the liberals. (However, were Paul to become President, without a doubt the handful of Republican "teabaggers" (like those hijacking the Republican Party in South Carolina) who are Ron Paul supporters would freak out at his policies, particularly the cuts in "defense" spending and the repeal of drug laws.)
The term "liberal" provides yet one more group for conservatives to demonize. And since to the conservative mentality there are only two sorts of "economies," capitalistic and socialistic, and since they are capitalists in their own minds, then the liberals are socialists, which is synonymous with communist. It isn't clear conservatives understand that among Hitler's targets were the communists, because they seem to confuse Hitler with communism via their misunderstanding of the word socialism.
One of the embarrassments for the fiscal conservatives was that a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, was more fiscally conservative then their hero Reagan. No matter how much they deny it, Clinton did balance the budget according to the rules by which conservative Republicans promised to balance it. The proof is in the modified Treasury and Federal Reserve actions. I have argued elsewhere (The Ekonomics of Fantasyland) that a significant boost to this balancing act came from a loosened monetary policy releasing the copious quantities of freshly minted Reagan-currency that before said loosening had been stuck in limbo. It gave the world the internet bubble and a mania perhaps best called New Economy-itis that Fed Chairman Greenspan characterized as irrational exuberance. But Clinton understood the anti-tax conservative bozo mentality and leveraged it into tax revenue by duping (through the Roth IRA) the exuberant into paying taxes on money they would earn in the future. Money they never saw, since their "investments" mostly disappeared. (Note the NASDAQ has not risen much above half the top it hit during the mania, and remains at less than half value, where it has spent most of its time since the bubble burst.)
But it was not as if Clinton was the first fiscally conservative President since before the spendthrift Reagan. Reagan's vice-president Bush Senior won election as President after Reagan left office and was also fiscally conservative in the sense of Adam Smith. He tried to cut government spending, especially in the "defense" sector where he worked at whittling away programs the military itself did not want or need, closing bases the military did not want to remain open, ending programs that did not work and which perpetrated fraud to hide the fact that they did not work, and by raising taxes. The cuts were part of his attempt to cash in what was then termed the "peace dividend" from the end of the "cold war," an absurd idea given that the spending had nothing to do with the cold war but rather was a form of fiscal stimulus and jobs program.
For his trouble, Bush the Elder got a recession, to be expected by anyone with a realistic grasp of the financial structure of the US. For his fiscally conservative tax-raise he was essentially voted out of office by the conservatives, including this time the so-called fiscal conservatives.
But it was the success of Clinton that brought out the vitriolic hatred of all the conservatives, including the militarists and the fiscal conservatives. This galvanized a movement that culminated in the election of a simple-minded unsuccessful Governor of Texas (who had considered the idea of a state income tax to solve school funding problems that continue to dog The Big Stupid, but was stopped before self-immolation by the real power in the state, Lt Governor Bob Bullock), an election not by the citizens of the US but by the Supreme Court. It was only the second time in US history that the winner of the electoral college was not the winner of the popular vote. History, if there is such to come, will acknowledge that the election was likely won by fraud and disenfranchisement of minorities in Florida.
Bush the Younger
When first in office, Bush the Younger acted much as he had when Governor of Texas, accomplishing nothing and proposing less. The amazing turnabout was going from a clueless, shady do-nothing to an aggressively regime-changing hawk. Of course, as it turned out, this was largely the man behind Bush, Dick Cheney. Cheney, who had helped Bush the Elder dismantle much of the military; Cheney, who attacked Clinton for carrying out the policies that Cheney's boss had made law even as Clinton began spending more on new defense programs for application of modern technologies such as GPS-INS guided bombs, missiles and other smart weapons; Cheney, who was known during Bush the Elder's years as a rabid militarist who wanted to nuke enemies with tactical devices. This Cheney, the draft dodger and known coward, became the man behind a virulent face of aggressive militarism that went well beyond Reagan. And all the time he feathered his former corporation's nest with contracts that were never competed or monitored, the military bureaucracy handing out money in paper bags in Baghdad in a willy-nilly unaccounted for fashion that made Reagan's mad attempts to pump money into the economy via "Star Wars" seem financially responsible.
The impetus for this turnabout in Bush the Younger's regime was the mostly successful commando operation staged inside the US by al-Qaeda operatives on September 11 of 2001, now referred to as 9/11. So convenient was this for the imposition of what essentially amounted to a form of martial law in the US, including suspension of free speech rights and attacks on anyone who dared question administration decisions, that many on the right and left saw it as an inside job. For example, Alex Jones (who claims to be neither right or left, but calls himself libertarian or paleoconservative, take your choice) pushed the idea that the Bush administration was behind 9/11, interviewing experts who claimed an aircraft could not have brought down the twin towers, that some flights destroyed in the attack actually landed safely and the passengers disembarked safely, that the supposed hijackers were still alive - at one point interviewing a "government insider" and author with ties to Bob Dole named Stanley Hilton who unsuccessfully attempted to sue Bush the Younger for his role in the attacks. Conservatives have said this mania was a left-wing affliction, the term left-wing likely meaning liberals (who have taken to calling themselves progressives) if it means anything at all, but I heard an interview with Noam Chomsky, clearly an intellectual leader of the left if anyone is, saying that he was certain it was not an inside job but in fact an act of terrorism by al-Qaeda.
That the attack could be believed to have been an inside job might be the historical memory of the burning of the German Reichstag, which in popular memory was a trick of Hitler's to gain control of the state by scapegoating the communists. Perhaps much of that memory comes from the famous book by William L Shirer on the Third Reich, but in reality historians seem to believe that Hitler and the Nazis had nothing to do with it, that it was a lucky coincidence for Hitler. However, conspiracy theorists cannot abide coincidence; nonetheless, there seems more disagreement on this point than on 9/11 being an inside job.
At any rate, the US citizenry loved the Bush regime attacking Baghdad for 9/11, despite the fact that all evidence was against such a conclusion. In typical "You start the trial, I'll get the rope" mentality, US public opinion favored lynching after White House speeches implicating Iraq obliquely. But it was clear from white papers written by so-called neoconservatives working with Cheney that Iraq was a target before Bush became President, and there is some talk that Bush and company had this on the table all the time. There would be a number of reasons for such an attack, most especially the strategic position of Iraq in the region and the false idea that Iraqis would welcome the US as saviors and allow the US to easily establish a satrapy there. They even had their man picked out: Ahmed Chalabi, who had lobbied the US to attack Iraq. The quiet downfall of Chalabi seems to have come after rumors regarding connections to Iranian agents, and some reports indicated that he was or some of his staff were Iranian agents even while schmoozing Cheney and his cohorts for an attack on Iraq. Of course, nothing regarding Iraq can be believed. The important part of the Iraq invasion for purposes of this forecast is that it showed the US had no real interest in capturing those responsible for 9/11 or for making certain that radical staging areas for future attacks were cleansed and secured.
The invasion of Iraq was called Operation Iraqi Freedom. This is significant because it signals a shift in language usage that Reagan had applied successfully, e.g. calling fiscal stimulus through large corporations "defense" spending and renaming the MX ICBM, the Peacekeeper. This is part of the strategy of the militarists to deflect attention from their true purposes, as in the invasion of Iraq and to demonize opposition. It exploits the human primate's weakness in confusing words for things other than what they might mean, if they mean anything at all. Human language is a two-edged sword, as humans tend to believe that words must refer to something. They are unable to understand that words without operational meaning are also without objective significance, and people accept that they understand what a word means when they have no clear idea to what the person using it refers. One must from time to time ask people where the hole in the doughnut goes when the doughnut is eaten.
This technique came into sharp focus during the campaign to reelect Bush the Younger when his rival John Kerry was attacked for his military service in Vietnam though he had been awarded a silver star, a bronze star and three purple hearts for dangerous swift boat duty. For some reason, no one discussed the self-evident fact that such an attack questioned the awards granted and dishonored the military service of all those who had served in Vietnam. In the end, Kerry was branded a coward and his opponent, Bush the Younger, a man whose family influence had gotten him out of military service by dodging the draft within the National Guard, became the war hero. Such surrealism has since become more and more common in national debate.
Bush the Younger's misguided, botched military adventures led the nation into an economic crisis in part because the monopsonistic money feeding tube was diverted abroad. The wars were vastly more expensive than expected, in part because of the difficulty in finding volunteers, which created a need for a highly paid mercenary army to perform the standard garrison and bodyguard duty usually performed by the uniformed military, while the standard soldier and Marine had the job of engaging the enemy. Bush carefully kept these costs off the budget.
But that is a distraction. The main thrust here is to provide a big-picture of the national state and to use it to sketch a forecast of the US future.
Suppose you are driving along in your late-model US-brand automobile and it suddenly goes quiet and rolls to a stop, the engine dead. The car won't start. You have it towed to a mechanic who looks at the brand and then tells you there is nothing wrong with the car. You say to him, If the car is okay, then start it up. No, he says, I have a car, and points to his Toyota. I don't need to drive your car. But, he continues, there can be nothing wrong with your car because it is an American car and they cannot fail.
As you consider your options, the mechanic having returned to his office, a disheveled man sidles up to you, looks around furtively, and says, It's the electronic ignition. Can you fix it? you ask. If you can get the part, he says. They don't make replacements because they can't fail.
Such an absurdist scenario might be taken from Ionesco or early Albee, but it is typical of the situation within the US right now.
George Bush the Younger has said that he was mistaken to provide the fiscal stimulus to the US financial system as it ground to a halt, an act that was probably the only rational decision made by his administration. The financial system itself would fit directly into Ionesco or Becket, and that is where much of the fear comes from, particularly for the clowns who call themselves conservatives. They sense a problem with the rickety structure, but they don't understand it except in partisan visions. They like to think they believe the libertarian dream of Ron Paul which comes out of classical economics and does not fit with the corporation-dominated feudal system held together by individual debt, endlessly printed money and unproductive make-work in a "service" economy that provides few services not forced on citizens. But it is arguable that the classical "economy" would not support the materialism of US society that has become synonymous with freedom.
Conservative reality-denying commentators insist that the US health care system, with one of the highest mortality rates in the world directly attributable to medical fuck-ups, hence simultaneously the most expensive and most dangerous health care system in the world, is in great shape. Is the best in the world except perhaps for some inefficiencies (read, for example, Charles Krauthammer, a commentator with an exceptionally high ceremonially-certified-education-to-sense-ratio, reminiscent of Rachel Maddow on the opposite political side: Krauthammer seems to believe that actuarial skills are objective, as complete a misunderstanding of reality as Maddow's belief that NASA guides satellites). Even as the cost of US healthcare outstrips inflation and the competence of the institutions worsens, the "conservatives" tell the citizenry that it is the best in the world. And to disagree with the claim is to be unpatriotic.
This is to be expected in a nation that ranks among the lowest in reading and problem-solving ability of any but the most third world of nations. That is one reason the US needs to import knowledge workers, particularly in science and engineering and mathematics. Tom Bradley, watching from Japan, believes he sees physical evidence of microcephaly in the US. Being immersed in the conservative heart of one of the least productive areas of the US, I don't see the physical evidence so sharply as I sense it in the discourse which includes television advertising and "news." Bradley's judgment seems extreme until one examines a photo of the likes of Glenn Beck or Charlie Gasparino. It would certainly make sense of their incoherence.
One wonders how often the ding-a-ling Rush Limbaugh accused physicians of practicing junk science while shopping for drug suppliers. The idea that people with no grasp of any scientific theory whatsoever would call a theory junk amazes me. My neighbor told me that climate change was junk science. I certainly am not qualified to judge the complex chemistry and physics involved, though the statistical evidence for the increase of carbon dioxide with the industrial revolution seems incontrovertible (and reasonable, while admitting there are questions regarding the capacity of the planet to absorb carbon dioxide that are beyond my understanding). But I do have the ability to learn the basics of the problem and investigate the arguments from a technical perspective even as I lack the interest to do so. This keeps me from making claims one way or the other. But I asked my neighbor (an MBA, perhaps one of the most vapid of all studies, albeit with high ceremonial and pecuniary value and prized in this economy of workless work) if he had read any of the papers deriving the physical models. He became incensed. Why can't they write that stuff so we laymen can read it? he asked. I didn't ask him to explain in detail how his electronic ignition works, or his GPS receiver, or his cell phone. Or his radio. Or even the banking system or Treasury auctions or Federal Reserve open market actions. But even among some of those who were trained technically it is a sad situation (witness the list of PhDs who sign their names to a statement that global warming is not valid, some of whom I know personally, and know that they have no expertise regarding the technical soundness of the arguments one way or the other). As when an actuary who I assumed understood statistics said climate experts had to explain the unusual cool conditions this summer in certain locales. I didn't bother to ask what he knew about outliers and excursions in the face of averages, but his statement was as idiotic as that of the idiotic global warming naysayer who asked how can theorists predict long term stochastic events when they can't "even" get the short term predictions right? Anyone who understands stochastic processes understands how stupid a question that is; it is why there exists the Allan variance for atomic clocks, for example, with which long term predictions are highly accurate while short term predictions are almost impossible. The predictability of long term averages and unpredictability of short term averages is typical of most random processes. As is the fluctuation about the trend in stochastic dynamical systems. Perhaps a course in the relationship between statistical mechanics and thermodynamics would place this in some perspective, though given the educational system's necessity to replace substance with buzz words in order to "teach" the masses, it probably would be impossible to find such a class outside a graduate program in mathematical physics. I suggest instead reading chapter III of Mark Kac's Probability and Related Topics in Physical Sciences or at least chapter one of Colin J Thompson's Mathematical Statistical Mechanics, with particular attention to sections 1-8 and 1-9. Since these are easy as it gets regarding the statistics of physical systems, if you find you can't understand the material then you ought to stop yapping about global warming and statistics, regardless of your uninformed opinion.
I personally take no side in the debate regarding global warming. The current theories of earth's climate seems to me as primitive as the Ptolemaic theory of the solar system. But I recognize that clowns like Pat Buchanan are talking out their asses, as are those like Al Gore on the other side. However, the argument over global warming is itself insignificant. More dangerous are the pinheads like Senator James Inhofe who base their decisions on superstitions regarding something they call God. Granted that most elected officials don't know shit from Shinola, the superstitious are in a class all their own. It is the propensity of US citizens to elect such superstitious ignoramuses that drives the future of the US. They would do better to elect people who admit what they don't know, but to admit not knowing something in politics is a fast form of political suicide. (I would hazard to guess that a significant factor in the death-box called the US healthcare system is physicians who cannot admit what they don't know.)
People ask how Germany could have fallen into the hands of the Nazis. They've been trained to assume Hitler was so apparently evil in his goal of taking over the nation that it was obvious. Yet Karl Rove expressed just such a goal in his desire to have the US become a one-party system with a Republican takeover. Does that make Rove evil? I don't think so (though the word evil has no objective significance in any case). I think he probably believes, as I am sure Hitler believed, it would be good for the country. And like Hitler, I am sure Rove (and Cheney and Palin and Beck) believe that it would be good for the world if the US took it over. That is the neocon wet dream, forcing what they consider "Democracy" down the throats of everyone.
Consider in this context of forcible Democratization of the world at gunpoint the words of Norman Davies in his monumental and informative Europe: A History. "Democracy has few values of its own: it is as good, or as bad, as the principles of the people who operate it. In the hands of liberal and tolerant people, it will produce a liberal and tolerant government; in the hands of cannibals, a government of cannibals."
The operative word is cannibal. The question is, what are cannibals? Citizens of the US would not consider themselves cannibals; does anyone believe that the residents of Hitler's Germany considered themselves cannibals? Yet it is the very act of voting for superstitious know-nothing pols like Inhofe that brings the cannibals to power.
Clearly Cheney must believe his militarism is good for the US. Palin also espouses militarist goals, though it is not clear that Palin has much idea of what she is talking about given the absurd gaffes she makes when she tries to say something of significance. Anyone who doesn't see this about Palin is either blind or stupid or both. It is the reason so many conservative "wonks" are trying to educate the bimbo. Is she smart? I don't know. I can't tell. But I do sense from the utterances that exit her mouth that she is completely uneducated in the workings of the US government, in the US Constitution, in comparative government, in classical economics, in history, and I would guess she is probably functionally illiterate to boot. There is little doubt to me that most of her conservative mentors are functionally illiterate; the ability to read words does not imply an ability to grasp the significance of strings of words, or more importantly, to perceive when such strings lack objectively verifiable signification. A perfect example is the huge population of morons who use the term "free market" without any idea of what the concatenation of those ten symbols (including the space) signifies. In fact, they signify nothing objective. Free market, like evil, is an emotive expression. There is no operational definition of free market, hence it has no objective significance. For many, it is a variant of the meaningless word God.
But I diverge from the track - which is to arrive at a forecast of the US political future which in part hinges on the difference between conservatives and the liberals they define and demonize: liberals do not seem to believe they need to be the only people in control. Such a belief is a significant part of why it is not the liberals who constitute a danger to the Republic - it's the conservatives. Conservatives believe that they need to gain complete control of the US or it will somehow dissolve into tyranny. Worse, they are too dull-witted to see the irony of such a conviction.
Rove believed that a takeover of the US could be accomplished by purely "democratic" means, mostly by using guile to confuse the electorate into choosing the right people to control them. And though such a thing is possible, as Kurt Gödel is rumored to have whispered to his sponsor Albert Einstein while being lectured during his citizenship award ceremony on how the US Constitution makes such an eventuality impossible (Einstein is said to have pinched the logician to make him shut up), and though the media and many political operatives considered Rove some kind of bogeyman-genius, Rove is no Kurt Gödel. I doubt that a man of such modest intellectual accomplishments as Rove could understand any of Gödel's writing. The problem with the media is that, with few exceptions, it is filled with third-rate intellects. (I can, however, personally attest that Mike Keefe is a smart guy.) Of course, Rove was wrong, as usual.
Does governmental control by a single ideological group imply the end of democracy? Not necessarily, as Rove likely recognized. It can be effected through tyranny of the majority, a condition that Davies certainly included in his governance by cannibals. Clearly during the early years of the Bush regime, after 9/11, there was tyranny of a majority that later lost its faith. That is the fickleness of democracy.
In order for the conservatives to gain control of the US as they believe they must, they need to eliminate any uncertainty offered by fickle voters. And that can be accomplished within the framework of the US Constitution. Nor does it take a Gödel to figure out how to do it, though probably it is beyond the machinations of a Rove. Given the lack of imagination and penetrating insight of the conservatives, the takeover will be more heavy handed than subtle.
Any takeover has prerequisites. I doubt they are sufficient, since when time enters the equation the logic is not so direct and there are more unintended consequences. But one of the requisites is a set of scapegoats and enemies of the state. Hitler had communists and Jews and riffraff like gypsies, homosexuals and Jehovah's witnesses. Conservatives have liberals, Muslims, illegal aliens and riffraff like the incorrigible poor.
Another requisite is a propaganda machine. The use of language to disguise the reality of action has become an art-form in the US through the advertising industry. Of course, television is the perfect venue, and the conservatives have their own propaganda machine, Fox News.
Perhaps the most important requisite is a crisis. Bush and Cheney had the perfect opportunity and blew it, even though they established powerful tools for whoever follows with a desire to take over. But there was another opportunity and that is likely why Bush the Younger regrets addressing the fiscal crisis of his administration's making.
Consider for a moment if Bush the Younger had done nothing about the fiscal crisis with the banks. It is no exaggeration that every major US bank and most of the major European banks were knee-deep in illiquid debt. So apply what some consider free-market mentality and let them fail like dominoes. Suddenly you cannot cash your paycheck, since there is no bank where it can be cashed and no financial institution will cash it, as the bank against which it is written is insolvent. Remember, banks cannot write themselves checks or loan themselves money. Only the government can loan itself money, the modern equivalent of printing money electronically.
Unless your company has stockpiled hordes of cash, an unlikely event given the proclivity to maintain assets in less liquid forms associated with the financial industry, they cannot pay you. Nor can the bank pay you what you have on deposit; it does not have your money, or your company's money. (If you think banks keep your money on hand, you are completely uneducated and need to let someone competent take over your finances. The reason the bank doesn't have your money is because it has loaned out all but a small percentage of the money, a reserve. That is how banks make money in capitalist society: fractional reserve banking. If the banks had to keep all your money on hand at all times, they would have to charge you exorbitant fees to make money and only the wealthiest would use them. Fractional reserve banking is how you and the other peons got a mortgage and a car loan and a credit card.) If the government honors the FDIC pledge and prints money to repay the limited amounts it covers, you will get some money from the bank, most likely all of the paltry sum you have on deposit if you are within statistical limits.
So you get what you had that is covered under deposit insurance, but after that all bets are off. After that run on the banks, they will be shuttered; perhaps National Guard troops will be called out to protect the physical structure. The US becomes a cash and carry society: without cash, no one sells to you (though suddenly cash is more valuable than ever before in your lifetime). No checks from anyone are accepted. No loans. Businesses that rely on loans to make it through pay cycles are out of business. You lose your job, as do most of your neighbors. You cannot pay your mortgage or your car note or any of your credit card or other revolving debt, you cannot sell your house or your car and the banks cannot collect on your debt. Your assets are worthless, and whether or not the holders of those titles are able to confiscate that collateral is anybody's guess. That would be the resulting fiscal crisis resulting from Bush the Younger's fiscal profligacy and would have been the result of his refusal to face reality. If you don't understand this, then you have no grasp of how the US economy actually functions. (Which brings us to the sad reality that the conservatives and the liberals I know share the same delusions vis à vis finance and the economy; only the attitudes differ.)
This could have been a perfect crisis, a time to say it was too dangerous to hand the nation over to an inexperienced liberal who would lead it into socialism. Whether such a move would have worked is also anyone's guess, but there would have been a massive outpouring of vocal conservative noise in its favor. The Supreme Court might have supported the move. Perhaps the real open question is whether the military would have supported such a move made in the name of freedom and liberty and preservation of rights as the nation spiraled into a deep depression, an emergency catalyzing a suspension of the US Constitution to save the US Constitution.
The use of words like liberty and freedom will be essential in a takeover of the US. The reason is that people here think those words mean something and that the US has a limitless quantity of it, whatever it is. It's one reason it will be impossible for the US to prosecute any war crimes it committed during the Bush regime, since the US, the bastion of liberty and justice for all, cannot (by internal definition) commit a war crime.
The concatenation of the symbols e-c-o-n-o-m-i-c and l-i-b-e-r-t-y are now frequently met in discourse and writing, though they have no objective signification. They are primarily the product of the ivory tower economists of the Austrian school. Most notable in popularity is Friedich von Hayek, who seems to be the source of the often espoused concatenation of letters "economic liberty." Usually the terms are tossed into discussion along with the title of his book The Road to Serfdom, part of which argues that Nazism was a form of socialism. (I would present exactly the same argument that Reaganomics was - and remains - a form of socialism.) Hayek was a purely academic thinker with no experience in a functioning economy, much like old Karl Marx, and for this reason had disagreements with Milton Friedman who did have practical experience to temper his utopian thought. But for me, the major point regarding Hayek is that, in an interview he gave, he praised Augusto Pinochet for bringing economic liberty to Chile even as Pinochet ran a brutal dictatorship, often described as fascist, obtained by overthrowing a stable democracy in a bloody coup. Hayek said that this was not significant. I find such a notion of liberty idiotic.
It is useful to pursue briefly the ideas of Hayek regarding liberty, since they are going to be a significant ideological aspect (and already are part of the ravings of the conservatives since the election of Obama) of the transition to permanent despotism (as opposed to the short-term despotism of Bush the Younger).
Here are the words of Hayek from an interview in the Chilean newspaper El Mercurio, April, 1981, (a government newspaper - there were no anti-government newspapers),as translated by L'Instut Hayek. "Well, I would say that, as long-term institutions, I am totally against dictatorships. But a dictatorship may be a necessary system for a transitional period. At times it is necessary for a country to have, for a time, some form or other of dictatorial power. As you will understand, it is possible for a dictator to govern in a liberal way. And it is also possible for a democracy to govern with a total lack of liberalism. Personally I prefer a liberal dictator to democratic government lacking liberalism."
That sums up the attitude of the conservative movement in the US. It is interesting to compare this idea with the notion of a dictatorship of the proletariat. (Perhaps conservatives ought to espouse a dictatorship of the plutocrats.) In fact, many of the economic ideas of the conservatives are Marxist, not capitalist, especially their attitude towards how value is created in society. Examine their words and you find at root a distrust of market mechanisms even while worshiping some god they call The Market.
In the same interview, Hayek talked about Reagan's anti-Keysian policies even as Reagan printed money to pour into the US economy via "defense" spending as a fiscal stimulus, bringing about the greatest debtor status in US history. It is enlightening and prophetic and ironic to read his words about Reagan's coming tax cuts (remember the interview was in 1981, at the beginning of Reagan's time in office) even while admitting that without curbing the government spending Reagan was increasing, it would be necessary to print money. Which is, of course, exactly what Reagan did.
Hayek said in response to a question asking him to name a single significant cause of inflation, "Excess public spending by the state. Unable to raise enough money by taxes, a government pays part of its costs by creating money. And Reagan is right in saying that the huge burden of taxes is perhaps the hardest problem to resolve. It is very difficult, indeed, and very complicated to pare back the plethora of Government entities and services. Very difficult as a political problem, I mean."
The irony was that Reagan avoided the political problem by naming his fiscal stimulus program "defense spending" - paid for with freshly printed money that would balloon the national debt. Conservatives do not consider money disbursed for defense to be spending (note that Bush refused to acknowledge his war spending by leaving it out of the budget) and for conservatives military-industrial bureaucracy is not government. Then the spin that the small fraction of this freshly minted currency that returned was somehow the bounty of tax cuts in the face of creating the largest government bureaucracy since WWII has become an economic myth among not only conservatives but Republicans in general (excepting Republican libertarians). But here Hayek agreed with Friedman: Government spending to finance large government is done by printing money. The only alternative is to borrow, which is not possible on such a scale and is in the end as unpopular as taxes. However, the US has worked out a way for the Fed and the Treasury to cooperate through the "private sector" to create new money, albeit at an extra cost of a commission paid to the primary dealers to make it appear the government is borrowing from the public. Perhaps the proper word for this commission would be seigniorage.
The inability to see the blatant hypocrisy of the conservatives as they speak out of both sides of their mouths is a serious form of what is often termed confirmation bias. I call this asymmetrical logic, in which one applies an argument towards one's opponents but cannot recognize the same argument applied towards those one favors, especially the more applicable is the argument to one's own side. It is like allowing a counterexample to another's mathematical argument while refusing to see it when applied to your own mistaken argument.
The Hayekian argument that personal liberty is irrelevant so long as you can shop where you want to shop is worse than ridiculous (what it comes down to no matter his utopian spinning on his head). It is stupid. I will admit I have trouble reading Hayek since his logic is so sloppy, but the Hayek of this interview is as absurd as any of his writings. He was 82 years old and perhaps in his dotage he had become as delusional as Reagan. Perhaps this came with his stay in the US. But the man tiptoes on eggs in the same way as scholastic philosophers when arguing how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. His ideology is the perfect fit for the militarist takeover of the US in the name of liberty, with its asymmetrical logic and the belief that limited democracy or even dictatorship is the best way to preserve liberty (the militarists already claim that a one-party system dominated by them is the best way to preserve democracy and save the Constitution; some of them apparently believe that 90% or more of the population agrees with their every opinion). Hayek seemed to believe that the only liberty is economic liberty; or perhaps that economic liberty is the sole sufficient condition for all other liberty. Again, the question is what the expression economic liberty might mean, given that the term "free market" has no objective significance whatsoever.
But read the interview yourself. It is as self-deluding a form of utopian nonsense as anything Marx ever dreamed up, and rivals Reagan's apology for the act he could not bring himself to recall:
The bivariate danger of the US two-party system is that citizens do not vote for anything and it is easy for a small group of radicals to gain control of a party during the primary. By not voting for anything is meant the phenomenon seen in voter turnout: Citizens in the US turn out to vote only if they are unhappy with the state of affairs, in which case they vote against the party in power. It is akin to a ceremonial ritual like sacrificing an ox or priest or king at the altar to get change. It harks back to atavistic fears and their superstitious remedies. The fact that a small group can gain control of a party during primaries has been seen repeatedly in US elections. If voter turnout is small, primary turnout is minuscule and can be manipulated at a "grassroots" level. By the time "the people" finally vote to throw the rascals out, they may be left with a choice of a group in power they dislike and a group of cannibals clamoring for power.
Assuming that there will exist historians in the future, one of the important questions they will ask will be when and how did the US transform from oligopolistic "capitalism" to militarism or military socialism. People love to quote Eisenhower's famous warning about the military-industrial complex, but it seems that they have not understood its mechanization in a social context. The rambling discussion of the preceding pages has attempted to give an intuitive picture of what actually occurred and is occurring. I fear that Eisenhower's warning has tricked the populace, who continue to seek a monolith and ignore the core of a government by corporation that has become a synonym for capitalism with none of the classical meaning. (Certainly Adam Smith would find within the current corporate controlled financial and governmental structures a form of the mercantilism to which his own work was a critical reaction.)
The legal superhumans called corporations that grew out of the industrial revolution in the US were not driven by government spending on "defense." The US military was not a massive standing presence before WWII. The US did engage in military adventures, but its reach came almost exclusively from industrial prowess backed by a small military. The corporations have grown into the government, and in reality there is no boundary between public and private sectors and has not been since the late 19th century. Maybe there never was such a boundary. The pervasive control of the financial life of citizens by corporations has grown even as laws have been enacted to limit the brutal oppression of workers. No more legal sweatshops, no more child labor, no more excessive hours for small wages.
Instead, modern US society has become materialistically affluent. Most of its citizens consider the US to be the nation with the highest standard of living in the world. The price they pay for living in it is a form of serfdom in which they are no longer considered citizens but consumers. Their purpose in life is to acquire stuff by incurring debt and hence indenturing themselves to a social system that is in some respects akin to feudalism; they have become cattle for the corporations to graze and milk. They are not bound to the land, to a single fief, but that condition cuts both ways. They must pick some lord to whom to sell their labor or they are not able to gain any of the basic necessities of life. And it is a benefit to the liege lord to be able to unburden itself of commitment to the vassal. So the consumer-cattle dream of being independent, but independence is costly unless one can rise to seigniory. For example, in the US self-employment often means that healthcare becomes a luxury until one attains 65 years of age. And even that concession is considered outrageous to many conservatives, though a significant portion of their number is umbilically attached to the state via this mechanism or others against which they rant.
What is clear with a big-picture overview of the US since WWII is that it is becoming unstable as a society. Despite laws to regulate corporate abuse of their liegemen, the social engineering of Ronald Reagan has guaranteed that the rising materialistic expectations trickle down to the serfs at great cost. The money his administration created out of thin air has caused significant and persistent inflation that is born as a stealth tax by those who have gained less of this freshly printed means of exchange. Meanwhile highly publicized tax cuts have given those receiving the bulk of this nouveau high-powered money far more advantage, allowing them to rise above the inflation. No matter how much the politician yammers about tax cuts putting more money into the pockets of working class Americans, the reality is that when money is created in the quantities of the Reagan years, the tax cuts are less than negligible for all but those amassing the booty. The tax cuts for the average wage earner are more than offset by the loss of purchasing power of the eroding wage. This instability is most apparent during recessions, particularly recessions as serious as that which Obama had to face on coming into office. The difficulty of this recession, as with Bush the Younger's recession after the collapse of the internet bubble and also with Reagan's recession with concomitant inflation in part due to the oil embargo, is the fact that jobs become scarcer. The vassals indentured to the overlords through the debt which becomes ever easier to acquire, debt to finance their pursuit of a steadily more costly American dream coupled with rising expectations for their progeny, become cannibals. They cry out to devour other nations and also their fellow countrymen. "Me," that is the cry of the cannibal.
To borrow a metaphor from mathematics, it is as if the US is on a trajectory oscillating toward an equilibrium with each discrete electoral step. That equilibrium will end with the nation of functional illiterates who are not given to any sort of reasoning voting into power a government of cannibals much to their taste in the moment of that last step.
How does such an event unfold? There are numerous scenarios that might branch out of the current social situation. In fact, there are hordes of commentators, all too ideologically blinded to discern the reality of the situation, who nonetheless sense the danger like wild animals in an approaching fire or flood. Not all of them are lobbyists or entrenched political figures or paid yammerers on television or radio. For example, Jim Rogers, the investor and commodities guru who moved his family to Singapore to escape the cultural influence of the US, is aware of the dangers of the US financial situation. But one must take some care in equating wealth with understanding of financial situations or with intellect of any sort. Most commonly, wealth is acquired by a combination of luck and perseverance in pursuing it as the goal. Sometimes intelligent people gain wealth by accident, but the most intelligent and creative people tend not to pursue riches. Consider Albert Einstein or James Joyce or &EACUTE;lie Cartan or Norbert Wiener or T S Eliot, to name five who did the bulk of their work early in the twentieth century; money was only a concern as it regarded survival. One might, in fact, state a social law that people whose main goal and preoccupation in life is the accumulation of money are never gifted intellectually (and a corollary that people who work only for money provide substandard service). The need for wealth is itself an indicator of modest intellectual means, since the pursuit of wealth is not stimulating enough to captivate the brightest intellects. However, that is fodder for another essay.
There are then two major issues in the discussion above. First is the social condition resulting from the stealth financial engineering of Ronald Reagan that redistributed wealth upward by printing money, thereby creating a stealth tax on the middle class while distributing the great bulk of that wealth to an upper-class who had their taxes reduced relative to that money creation. Then there is the cultural condition in which all underlying values outside of religion, and even often within religion, are replaced by monetary value. We would have to say that someone like Einstein or Wiener were social deviants because their major life goals were irrational, not even hinting at a path to wealth. Along with this new valuation of worth is the reinforcement of wealth as wisdom, which was always present but never as the sole criterion. It goes hand in hand with the circularity that executives who are paid a lot of money are worth the money because they are paid the money (never mind their horrendous fuck-ups.) This has led to CEOs who go from position to position leaving ruin in their wake even as they seldom do little of value, a paradox. They are mostly ceremonial figures, as Veblen pointed out over one hundred years ago, but they do have the power to destroy social organization if they act.
But it goes deeper than that.
A look at television, especially commercials, makes it all too apparent that typical residents of the US are afraid of life. They worry their children will injure themselves on some device that they themselves played with or around as children, that people from other nations do not fear. They go to inordinate lengths to buffer their children from imagined dangers; they go to inordinate lengths to insure themselves against all potential dangers. For example, cell phones are not enough to protect the driver of an automobile. Now navigation devices like GPS must be hooked to a mobile phone system to automatically call for help in case of an accident. Drugs are pushed as ways to fend off the potential dangers of too much cholesterol or to prevent stroke or heart attack, often regardless of whether these are actual problems. Fear sells as well as or better than sex.
Americans are not only cowards, they are superstitious and illiterate. They need government protection against exploitation because they are not able to understand simple contracts or the consequences of contractual commitments they make. So even as people protest legal restrictions they clamor for more regulation of daily life and its dangers. If one really believed in the Free Market, would not regulation of the airline industry be unnecessary? Let The Market take care of it: Airlines that crashed repeatedly would soon find themselves out of business, would they not? How many conservatives would countenance that solution?
Along with the propensity for comic book fears, the US consumer seeks comic book heroes - cartoon characters like Batman, Spiderman, God, god, or Sarah Palin. Or maybe soon Erik Prince. This goes with the cartoon education they receive, ceremonially certified as educated but unable to read or reason, let alone understand technical instructions or arguments. It is part and parcel of the consumer society in which only money matters, in which the citizen is trained to be a consumer who lives in debt for things. And hence lives in fear of losing those things, since they are the only values in life. Of course, there is the blah-blah regarding family and god and other stuff, but the main goal for the family is to ensure the offspring want for nothing and gain more wealth than the parents', while keeping to some form of organized superstition. Religion has become materialistic in any case, since with the Protestant reformation came the idea that not only will God reward the good later, but also now - with stuff. Material prosperity is taken as a sign of God's good graces.
To listen to someone like Jim Rogers preach that a nation cannot spend its way out of a recession raises a number of questions. Probably that is true in the long run, but in the long run we are all dead. That it works in the short run was proven by Reagan, who spent the US out of recession with massive budget deficits and a massive public debt resulting from printing money. It seems that Rogers (along with conservatives) has a dual message embedded within his asymmetrical logic: One is that all the Democratic spending is dangerous (which is likely true in the long run, as is Republican) while the second is that a financial collapse either would not happen because The Market would not allow it (a form of religion or superstition) or would be good since then The Market could take over. Implicit in the second (and perhaps also in the first) assumption is that all those peons out there with their heightened expectations about the future for gaining more stuff and keeping the stuff for which they are already in debt should simply give up their material dreams. Even as the people preaching this are almost invariably super-wealthy. Certainly Rogers is. So are Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. And the peons who ditto this cannot imagine their own pain when they are the losers. The wealthy advocates of other people giving up materialism will not lose. Rogers may have moved to Singapore, but it is doubtful many US consumers would want to live the life of a typical resident of Singapore. So while Rogers sees the surreality of US society, a social structure built on conspicuous consumption financed by debt, an entire nation taught that the only life worth living is that of the rich and famous and that anyone living in the US can attain it, or worse, deserves to attain it, he does not sense that it cannot be put back in the bottle, something Hayek at least acknowledged. So buy now and pay later remains the mantra; printing money has made this material acquisition possible, but has also made it ever more expensive and ever more unattainable in the long run. Not everyone will become a farmer no matter how much Rogers hawks the idea.
In the US, freedom is the ability to acquire things.
The trouble with those like Rogers (for example, John Mackey, according to whose penned portrait by Nick Paumgarten in a recent The New Yorker is a self-righteously superstitious, irrational, incessantly-reading functional illiterate (can't comprehend the grade school sophistry of the ham-fistedly hortative penny-dreadfuls of Ayn Rand) with an infinite ego-to-brain ratio; Mackey is the founder of a politically correct Safeway that peddles herbal remedies, orgone boxes, pyramid power and $30-a-pound Salmon to New-Agers with more money (or credit) than sense) is their own childish belief in comic book capitalism. They cannot understand that it makes no sense to preach to these people to abandon their dreams of and right to the same lifestyle as Rogers'. I think Limbaugh at least understands that much: He would likely be in favor of poor laws or poor houses or debtor's prisons or simply executing the poor. Or letting them die on the streets. But the peons who support this agenda do not understand that they will be among those sacrificed. They cannot understand that all these alarmist messages intersect in the debt load problem; outside of that, the messages are all nonsense scattered across terms and ideas without significance outside the individuals spouting them. And the peons do not realize that they are being told to give up their lavish lifestyles predicated on debt. They have already shown a great propensity to deny what they don't like, no matter how objectively it sits in their faces. The rich who are telling them to let it all go will eat them, not vice versa.
This is the heart of the matter: Take away the dreams of fulfilled rising expectations and you will bring out the cannibal driven by greed and fear. A cannibal nation will emerge that will make Hitler's Germany seem benevolent.
The population of consumers is unconcerned about anything until it affects their personal finances. Then they panic. It is like the decisions of the majority of those who invest with their 401Ks: Buy high and sell low in stampedes of greed followed by panic. So as the US steps along in discrete elections, it will eventually converge to a militarist regime to its liking, one clever enough or forceful enough that the consumer-citizens will not be able to get rid of it, one clever enough to rig the machine, or forceful enough to change the machine, to ensure they are not ever voted out of office. The super-cannibals will have taken over. If they can appeal to a majority of consuming cannibals, the old form of Republic will not be missed, even with more serious recessions and potential financial collapse as the militarists pursue their dreams of world domination. Look to the Soviet Union for an idea of how it will look, though not how it will play out. Militarism is not something that can be supported indefinitely. But the citizen-consumers will choose militarists to lead them beyond unstable equilibrium, to war and collapse. Short term solutions are the hallmark of the US and denial is easier to abide beyond the point of unstable equilibrium.
When will this happen? Will it be by degree? As to the second question, history teaches us that such transitions do not evolve by degree, not continuously, but occur as an essential singularity. Perhaps since there is a bifurcation, a better metaphor might be a catastrophe in the mathematical sense.
Let's get more specific. I believe that within ten years, and possibly beginning as early as 2012, the nation will be in the hands of militarist social conservatives as a single party system. The Republic, such as it is now, will be gone and almost no one will miss it. The White House will be held fixed; Congress will be marginalized, neutered, controlled and perhaps even dismantled; the Supreme Court would be no obstacle since the number of sitting justices is not Constitutionally fixed and can be reduced to one (the President?), and ignored or dissolved in any case. The democracy will become a one-party system.
Already the seeds of such an outcome are latent in the two-party system, as discussed in the early paragraphs of this section. If, for example, the financial condition of the US deteriorates with growing or lingering unemployment, the citizens in their major role as consumers will have become angry enough at the party in power to throw them out. But with the two party system that leaves only one alternative, a party that can easily be taken over in a primary election by a minority of militarist social conservatives. Judicious application of fear and mythology can lead to promises that in essence will require an emergency in which Congress is abolished if necessary, or simply controlled as under Bush the Younger early in his term. For example, the Hayek myth of economic liberty could be invoked to require that the party in power remain in power until such liberty is established. One already hears such a call by the "Tea Party Patriots" who wish to impose their will on the nation and remove by force a popularly elected President, perhaps the first one not elected by fraud since 1996. Listen for the call to save the Constitution by getting rid of opposition parties and suspending the Constitution. The comic book understanding of the Constitution and the inability to recognize contradictions will make such an idea widely popular.
The mythology of the US as the power that has single-handedly defeated evil in the world since WWI would be applied to justify massive military spending which is a form of fiscal stimulus. Already President Obama, as "liberal" as he is, has invoked this very myth with great irony as he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize. He used the word evil just as did his predecessor, a word with no meaning, a word of purely emotive content. He raised the most popular example of an "evil," the man Adolph Hitler, whose armies were defeated by the Soviet Red Army, not by the US and Britain which only helped to mop up. Of course, Obama repeated the myth that it was the US that destroyed the evil of Hitler.
President Obama called for a crusade. He asserted that war could be morally justified, implying that the war ostensibly against al-Qaeda could be morally justified. He did not argue for self-defense, which would be a legal justification though the idea is not well-defined: Witness the trial in Austin, Texas, a few years ago in which a citizen who chased down and shot in the back an unarmed man he found breaking into his car, killing him, was acquitted on the basis of self-defense. Or the police in London who executed a Brazilian man who had done nothing to incite them. But still, at least killing in self-defense is in some sense legally objective and legally justifiable. Killing for moral reasons is not legally justified.
One assumes that a morally justified war would have to be fought against evil. The words morally justified have no more operational significance in a global setting than does the word evil. They are only locally defined terms, and even then not globally within national or cultural boundaries. Mostly they are religious terms, which are never meaningful even within religions. What is morally justified to one is not morally justified to another. Worse, what is moral to one is immoral to another. The word moral has no meaning beyond the person using it. When someone claims that something is morally justified, or moral, you cannot be certain that they intend what you understand unless they delimit the term completely, which is to make it operational. There has been no such delimitation made by the President. In essence, we can assume that morally justified = moral = holy, so that a morally justified war is a holy war. A crusade.
The President would have been more honest had he argued for the need to dominate the Middle East. This would have been true. The invasion of Iraq was to set up a satrapy, and though we are already declaring victory, that outcome is not clear. But it is doubtful that we can establish a satrapy in Afghanistan or Pakistan (or Uzbekistan). Anyway, such an honest admission would be impossible.
Implementation of a militarist government that is not the same kind of Keynsian stimulus program that Reagan implemented, a money-printing regime, will require cuts that Reagan could not make. And Obama cannot make such cuts, either. But the conservatives will likely dismantle any semblance of social welfare, including Social Security, Medicare and even free public education. They can confiscate what remains of the Social Security money, which will stay in the black for ten more years anyway, and they can find creative ways to dispose of the resulting destitute elderly. Perhaps work camps. José Saramago gave a chilling forecast of possibilities in his novel Blindness.
There are other requirements for such a takeover. Scapegoats are critical: As discussed earlier, there are Muslims, illegal immigrants as an excuse to demonize Hispanics, and most importantly, liberals - who, as the Tea Party Patriots rant, must be wiped out. And one must not forget the poor. They are one of the reasons the US has lagged behind: The liberals and the non-whites and the incorrigible poor, especially poor whites who have no viable excuse for being poor. Poor people are perfect fodder for military service, at least the young ones. Instead of public education, have a draft that allows those with money to buy out or hire a replacement. After all, such a draft was established in the Northern states during the US Civil War. (Such a device might avoid the difficulties brought about by the draft during the Vietnam conflict, which was the major impetus for the protests that are the reason the draft is not in effect now (during the Civil War this sort of draft caused riots; see for example, James Ford Rhodes, History of the Civil War, chapter VIII).) Together with a standing military draft there could be poor laws requiring the unemployed to work in public service other than the military for subsistence or other more drastic penalties, and there could be debtor prisons. This would also increase employment opportunities within the ever-expanding security forces. The military elite would be the mercenary forces already brought into service for both logistic, garrison and clandestine duty by Bush the Younger's regime and kept on by Obama's. Perhaps they could be folded into the standing military as advisers, trainers and officers. In this way, the military apparatus and the security apparatus and the espionage machine could grow together to fight not only external enemies, but also internal enemies. After all, unrest could not be countenanced during an emergency. It would be amusing to see those conservatives who believe their guns would stop such tyranny wiped out in the blink of an eye.
A propaganda machine is not a problem. Already there exists the mechanism of Fox News, which declares itself as opposed to all policies of any but the conservative party, and considers that fair and balanced reporting. This includes opposing not only liberals, but all Democrats and also many Republicans, the so-called RINO Republicans, the libertarian Republicans and maybe even the fiscally conservative Republicans, though they might be mollified with an end to taxes. It is entirely possible to deny spending as did Bush the Younger with his military spending kept off the budget. So if the deficit is only determined by budgetary considerations, it is perfectly possible to deny a deficit. Then the budget could always be balanced, even as the government spends more than it takes in by creating money as Hayek and Friedman explain.
News could be controlled more than it already is. This would not be difficult, given how easy most media journalists find it to change their world views as they make careers within new realities. And the Hollywood propaganda machine could be ginned up again, since it has so little trouble inculcating the mythos of the US in WWII or giving us the likes of Rambo or Chuck Norris defeating the enemy to whom we lost in that inconvenient Southeast Asian country. One wonders when we will get a film glorifying the heroes of the US Navy who shot down a commercial Iranian airliner as it took off in July of 1988.
Will the military support such a move? It would be more meaningful to ask if the military would be necessary for such a move. We have seen in recent years within the professional military a distinct distrust of civilian governments that are not blatantly militarist. That is not a surprise. It was always a tension before WWII, but that military was small and ill-equipped. Perhaps the military could be privatized into a force with a highly paid mercenary component that would control a large force of draftees from the poor. That would be similar to the mercantilist policies (and resultant companies with their own military forces) that Adam Smith attacked in Book IV of his classic The Wealth of Nations.
Note that if there were a multiparty system with viable political parties, this would be a more difficult scenario to mechanize, but it would not be impossible. Only perhaps slower to arrive.
I believe that if the US economy does not improve in early 2010, there will be takeover by Republicans controlled by militarists who call themselves conservatives. And I believe that this time, they will make sure that the crisis that sweeps them into power keeps them in. One of the great fallacies of the liberals (who call themselves progressives) is that the nation is becoming more liberal. That would be false. The only reason Obama won election was fear and panic regarding the economy that Bush the Younger fucked up. In four years the citizen-consumer will have forgotten that miserable mistake and could, in the name of freedom and saving the Constitution and taking back the country, end the Republic as we know it.
But as I said, I doubt many citizens would feel a loss. The poor will make the perfect fodder for the military machine. A draft based on a lottery that allows those with means to buy their way out by hiring means-less dupes as stand-ins would mollify the elite. Now there is a true Republican free-market solution for military service, unemployment, and of course the scourge of those fucking poor people who refuse to grab the brass ring.
Remember that the militarist conservatives are not fiscal conservatives. For them, government spending for "defense" is not spending. This is part of the Reagan doctrine, to deny the resultant deficits and debt from defense spending funded by freshly printed money. This was adapted by Bush the Younger who refused to put his war costs into the budget, thereby denying his regime was spending money. To rephrase Goldwater, Printing money in the defense of liberty is not printing money.
The US is in the process of falling into the hands of cannibals. I would say, in fact, that the militaristic movement calling itself conservative is a movement of cannibals. But US consumers are also cannibals, and amongst them are the brainless and soulless living-dead conservatives who will eat your brain and the brains of all your neighbors.
Special thanks to Bob Friend for his many suggestions regarding presentation, a valiant effort to fix my unruly prose.