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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Fixing the US Economy, A Modest Business Plan.

“If I ran my business the way the government runs this country, why, I’d be out of business!”

How many times have you heard that declaration?

Once a week? Once a day? Pretty often lately anyway. 

I hear it on the street. I hear it in casual conversation.  I hear Senators-elect saying it.  I hear it from small business people. I hear it from drunken slobs at parties.  Your business? Really, Mr. Trump? I’m surprised to see you around here. Down in the gutter with us riff raff, I mean.

If I ran my business the way the government runs this country, I’d be out of business.

You hear it so often that a lot of folks have come to believe it. They’ve started to think that statement actually means something. It doesn’t. In fact, it’s a stupid idea. Hell, most businesses don’t run the way people mean when they make that statement.  If you ran your business like the government runs the country, well, sure, of course you’d be out of business –  because if you ran your business like a government, especially ours, you’d have to be a complete imbecile.

Run a business like government?

What kind of business?

The good ones are usually run like dictatorships, widely hated but often very profitable – until the inevitable weak-chinned grandson inherits the organization anyway. The mediocre ones bear a distinct resemblance to socialism, they tend to modest profits, they’re rarely innovators but nobody cares because they offer healthcare and benefits, they have a lot of office parties and at least all the employees are reasonably happy.  And the bad ones look a lot like the old Soviet Union, run by a corrupt bunch of dour incompetents, producing shoddy products built by a sullen slovenly workforce, no toilet paper in the restrooms and about one layoff from revolution. 

Businesses aren’t democracies.

And they’re sure not republics.

Honestly, take a minute and think about it. The closest “business” to a republic would be a Mafia run protection racket – or, if you squint your eyes, an insurance company, which is basically the same thing only more dangerous and obnoxious.

 

But what if government was like a company?

 

What if America really was a business?

What if President Obama decided to take the clamoring politicos, pollsters, pundits, protesters, and Palins up on their advice?  Yes, what if we decided to run America like a business? I mean, they turned GM around, right? They turned Apple around, made it profitable again. Why couldn’t we do the same thing with the United States? The country is full of unemployed MBA’s, I say let’s put those people to work. Get a business plan together, find some investors, infringe on a couple of patents, bribe a few officials. Business. That’s what I’m talking about here. 

You want to fix the economy? Easy, we borrow money from Third World countries and just don’t pay it back. Seriously what are they going to do about it?

What? That’s not really a business plan?  Well, obviously somebody hasn’t been paying attention.  Fine, we’ll call that Plan B.

Seriously, you want to run America like a business? Here’s how we do it:

Branding

No no no, not branding, Branding. I’m not talking about using a red hot iron to sear letters into flesh, that’s further down in the plan (look under the section labeled Guaranteeing Citizen Employee Loyalty). No, what I’m talking about is national Branding. I’m talking about the American Brand. I see people wearing those little Red White and Blue Flag pins all of the time, and they’ve got those Old Glory magnets on their bumpers. I see companies using the image of Uncle Sam, and George Washington and Abraham Lincoln to sell products made in China. Last night on the news there were a bunch of angry people burning the President in effigy.  Seriously, these people are pirating America. They’re using images of America, our America, without paying a cent. Here in Alaska, there’s some outfit that dresses up a kid like the Statue of Liberty and has him stand out on the corner waving a sign for tax return preparation.  Do they pay royalties to America for that?  Hell no they don’t.  That’s exactly like stealing from the Treasury. Coca Cola wouldn’t put up with that kind of crap, they protect their brand. Hell, so does Toy-R-Us.  Why shouldn’t America LLC?  Make Harlan Ellison Attorney General and turn the mean son of a bitch loose, that’s what I’m saying.  Watch the money start flowing in. 

Get rid of the deadwood.

How did GM become profitable again? They sold off underperforming business units and closed outdated factories.  They pared the company down to fighting trim and got rid of the flab that was dragging them back. If we’re going to run America as a business, as a business folks, we need to take heed. It’s time to make some hard choices. For example:  What’s Mississippi done for us lately?  Seriously?  They’re dead last in education. Dead last in science and technology. Dead last in industry and production and tax revenue.  They lead the country in welfare and obesity and they have got shit for natural resources unless you need alligators and humidity. They suck. They dragging us down. Mississippi is nothing but an albatross around our necks and they’re a pain in the ass to spell. Honestly, how many damned ess’s does one state need? They’re a letter hog.  I say, fuck ‘em.  Who’d we buy that shithole from in the first place? The stinking French? Do we still have the receipt? Maybe we can get a refund. Somebody check and see what Mexico would offer us. We do this right and we’ll get rid of a whole bunch of unemployed assholes too.  Who else? How about Guam? What the hell do they do for us? We’ve got one Hawaii, do we really need two? The Virgin Islands? Trust me, folks, that name is nothing but a gimmick cooked up by Marketing.  I’ve been there, they don’t have any virgins.  Connecticut? Do we really need both a North and South Carolina? Can we really afford a North and South Dakota? Not when you’re undercapitalized, folks. And I think we could sell off West Virginia, don’t you? Hell, we’ll throw it in free to whomever buys Texas.

Monetize Waste.

A while back, here in Alaska, there was a guy who stepped into a pile of moose manure and saw dollars.  Yes, you read that right. He stuck a swizzle stick into a turd, dipped that baby in varnish, and started selling them to tourists.  And thus was the billion dollar Moose Nugget industry born. This guy figured out how to literally turn shit into money.  Genius. Today, he’s a gazillionaire who drives around in a customized 24k gold plated Hummer shaped like a moose pellet. True story. That’s what we need here.  We need to stop throwing money away.  What the hell am I talking about? Secrets, of course. Secrets. We just throw them away. Example: some jackass in the State Department just gave a whole boatload of government secrets to Wikileaks for free. For free, folks. Back your truck up to the loading dock and you can haul away as much of this crap as you can carry. We’ve got tons of this shit. But, Jim, I hear you say in that quizzical tone you use when I’m talking about complex economics that are way over your heads, government secrets have always been free, that’s why we have unnamed sources who are not authorized to talk to the press.  Sure, that’s okay when it’s just a Watergate Scandal here and an Iran Contra Affair there. I hear what you’re saying. But you need to stop living in the past. Of course National Secrets couldn’t be recycled profitably back then. But by leveraging evolving technology we can now turn those worthless secrets into a valuable commodity instead of throwing it away like those restaurants that pour their fryer grease down the storm drain instead of selling it as synthetic human blood substitute.  We’ve got centuries of secrets, folks, centuries.  If we charged for them, why we could pay off the debt in no time and maybe even turn a tidy profit. Shit into money folks, genius.

Focus on Core Business.

What do we do best? What is our core product? What do we Americans do better than anybody else? When people think of America, what do they think of?  That’s right, war. Big fucking stormin’ the beach war.  Nobody does it like us.  Let’s focus on that.  Wait, I hear you say, we’re as confused as Sarah Palin when it comes to which one is the good Korea.  War? War isn’t profitable. Well no, not the way we’ve been doing it. Of course not.  We’ve been doing war the way Enron sold energy, which come to think of it was pretty damned profitable for a while, until it wasn’t. Again, you need to think about running government like a real business.  No, no, hear me out.  What’s one of the most successful businesses in the country? Hell, in the world? Who are the most successful business people you know? Right! Drug dealers! How do they do it? Free samples.  That’s it exactly. They give you a free sample and next thing you know, you’re hooked. Then they’ve got themselves a lifetime customer.  That’s brand loyalty right there. That’s good marketing. That’s where the whole “extended warranty” idea came from.  See what we do is offer the invasion part of war for free.  Yep. We’ll invade your country, topple your dictator, destroy your infrastructure, for nothing. Won’t cost you a penny. Hell, this week we’ll even throw in a bonus Predator strike guaranteed to barbeque an entire wedding party, absolutely gratis.  But, see, here’s the cool part: we charge for the extras.  That’s right. Now, after the invasion, would you like order restored?  Not a problem, that’ll be $20 Billion. Per month. Too steep? Well, maybe we can impose martial law in just your capital. I’ll have to talk to my boss, but I think with a trade-in we can do $2 Billion, and $500 million for each additional city up to five.  Yes, that’s right, folks, we pro-rate war.  Who’s turning shit into money now?   Want us to prop up your inept interim government? Make your brother-in-law Minister of Finance? Provide humanitarian aid?  Let’s talk about a payment plan. You know we offer easy financing to qualified buyers, how are your oil reserves looking? Now, have you thought long term? We offer an entire range of options from our Friend of America Basic Corrupt Despot all the way up to our Gold Star Premium Full Western Style Democracy Package.  Which one is right for you? Here take one of our brochures.

Brilliant, I know. Make sure they spell my name right on the Nobel Prize.

What? You there, speak up? What’s your problem? What if they won’t pay after we invade them? Business 101, Folks. A good business plan includes Enterprise Risk Management.  That’s the problem with our current form of government, no backup plan if things go pear shaped. What if they don’t pay? Well, then they’re not return customers are they?  How then, do we recoup our venture capital? One word, pillage.  Worked for Bank of America.

Optimize Efficiencies.

Soylent Green. Feed the homeless to the hungry. Talk about doubling your efficiency, there’s really no downside to this. Well, OK, those pudgy homeless Wall Street executives are a little high in cholesterol, but that’s really about it.

Seek New Revenue Streams.

Cap & Trade. Seriously. It’s brilliant. Now, I know a lot of you hate the idea of Cap & Trade but that’s because you don’t understand business.  See most people are convinced that Cap & Trade is a typical liberal tree-hugging anti-business idea, right? Wrong. Carbon dioxide? Folks we’re talking about an invisible colorless, odorless gas. My God, it’s the perfect product. What? You want to pay us to reduce invisible gas emissions? Sure. Done. When do we see the check? What? What did we do with it? We, uh, sequestered it this Ionized Revitalizing Water! Soothes wrinkles and eliminates embarrassing flatulence. $19.95. But wait! There’s more.  Order now and we’ll not only send you a second bottle absolutely free, we’ll also send you this Magnetized Copper Blood Alignment Bracelet made from genuine recycled environmental carbon! Every one of these you buy, a polar bear gets its wings! Pick up the phone now, for the Earth!

Hidden Fees. No, no! Put down those pitchforks! I’m not talking about sticking it to those poor, poor millionaires who have born an unreasonable percentage of this economic downturn. Of course not, they’ve suffered enough.  No, I’m talking about people who don’t know any better. I’m talking about fleecing the suckers.  I’m talking about stupid people.  Look here, hidden fees are just good business. Stupid people suck up more than their fair share of our resources.  They’re like that guy at the Golden Coral who keeps going back for more – those gluttonous pricks are literally eating into our profit margin. Stupid people have all kinds of money and it just makes good business sense to get a piece of that. How? Well, we could tax them.  Of course you’d have to call it something else, say like a lottery, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  How did the big airlines make themselves profitable?  Baggage fees! $25 for the first checked bag, $35 for the second, $45 for the third, etc. And people pay it. Sure they bitch, but they pay and pay and pay.  What the hell am I talking about? Kid Fees, $25 for the first one, $35 for the second, and so on. Stupid people often have a lot of kids.  Oh, now don’t go getting all pissy, you know it’s true. They even have books for them, Parenting For the Complete Idiot. I mean who did you think was buying those?  Frankly I think there are way too many idiots having kids nowadays and if we’ve got to put up with their screaming carpet monkeys we ought to be clearing some profit, it just stands to reason. Really want to stimulate business? Have Obama casually mention “gun control.”  Every Redneck, Revolutionary, Gun Nut, Lug Nut, and Wing Nut will be out spending their last dime at the local Guns and Ammo. Call it trickle up economics, that huge surge of moola will power our economy well into the 21st Century.

 

Well, there you have it.

If somebody has a better plan, I’d sure like to hear it.

Frankly, I’m not holding my breath.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Socialist

Back when I was in elementary school, the recent American holiday, Thanksgiving, was a whole lot simpler.

In those days, in the 60’s, American school kids dressed up in paper hats – black “construction” paper taped in a cylinder with a yellow paper buckle on the front for the Pilgrims, and paper crowns with a dozen or so colored paper feathers taped to it for the Native Americans (who, back then, were called “Indians”).  We cut out paper pumpkins and turkeys made by tracing around a widespread hand and decorated the classroom with them.  Our textbooks had pictures of happy natives and colonists, smiling earnestly over trestle tables laden with “indian” corn, roasted stuffed turkeys, fresh warm loaves of bread, hot apple pies with tent-like crusts, cranberry sauce, big heaping bowls of mashed potatoes, and baked yellow acorn squash smothered in brown sugar and butter.  Apple cider was the drink of choice, filling the tankards of Pilgrims and natives alike. In those days, it was OK to show pictures of weapons to school kids, bell muzzled blunderbusses for the Europeans and bow, arrow, and spear for the red skinned folks.  We made maps of Plymouth Colony, which I pictured as being near a beach and a big black rock – you know, the place where Christopher Columbus landed … or something. It was all a little confusing and the details weren’t particularly clear.  All we knew was that we would get four days off from school and end up somewhere with lots of noisy cousins and old people who smelled of tobacco products and eggnog. There would be exotic food like Mandarin orange Jell-O mold and black olives. And, of course, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in some magical place called Oz or New York or something.  And, of course, Thanksgiving meant that Christmas was only a month away.

That’s the Thanksgiving image a lot of my generation grew up with.  Same with the generations before us.

That image is ingrained in our collective American psyche.

Unfortunately, as it turns out, it’s all bullshit.

Or sort of anyway.

That myth, that image of the first Pilgrim Thanksgiving, is true only in the broadest of strokes.  It’s been embellished more than a bit in the telling, and the embarrassing and depressing parts have been edited out over the four centuries since that feast on the shores of the New World.

There were a number of harvest celebrations that could be labeled “the first Thanksgiving,” a couple of which pre-dated that iconic Pilgrim meal.  But it’s that one, that celebration at Plymouth Colony in 1621 that became the symbol of America.  Nowadays most Americans would rather believe in an idealized grade school myth instead of the real story. This is unfortunate, because the real story is far more interesting.  The myth doesn’t mention that those colonists didn’t actually call themselves Pilgrims, nor did they wear those funny black clothes very often despite the fact that they were were a bunch of religious extremists – and that they weren’t, in point of fact, actually “Americans.”  The myth often doesn’t mention just how woefully unprepared they were as colonists. They were products of an old European agricultural society, more isolated than most even in their homeland of England, and later their adopted homeland of The Netherlands, due to their religious beliefs.  And in reality, they knew as much about breaking new ground in a new land, establishing a colony whole cloth, as you and I do today - i.e. nothing.  They couldn’t Google the new world, instead they depended on incomplete descriptions and third hand accounts from explorers – much of which turned out to be wrong. The first thing they did in the new world was to disturb native gravesites and steal corn stored there, and when they encountered their first live “Indians” they fired upon them.  Fearing that they screwed up, both by shooting at the natives and by landing in the wrong place, they returned to the Mayflower and moved on down the coast to what would become Plymouth.  Because they’d fooled around, arguing and bickering and generally being disorganized and scared shitless, they didn’t arrive at Plymouth until the end of December, 1620, on the 21st to be precise. 

December. 

December, in Massachusetts. Not what you could call the best timing.

I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the Massachusetts coast in December, but it’s not exactly the Riviera.  I used to live on the New England coast, winters are about as much fun there as they are here in Alaska. Most Americas don’t seem to understand this.  Allow me to illustrate, the pictures of that landing often look like this:

image

But, in reality it looked a lot more like this:

image

Try to imagine it with the cold gray waters of the Atlantic whipped to a froth by frigid winds.  The temperature would have been below freezing with plenty of snow and sleet. The ground was frozen, the forest long barren, the skies dark and stormy.  Spring was more than four months away.  The coast is some of the roughest water in the world, with some of the most treacherous winter weather – it’s legendary among sailors today, sailors who navigate that coast with the greatest of caution and the best instruments our technology can produce. Four hundred years ago, that dark coastline would have been as forbidding as  those terrible Bible passages William Bradford, the  Pilgrim leader, was fond of quoting.

Is it winter where you are? Do you live in a far northern clime?

Step outside. Visit the nearest woods, the trees are bare, the ground covered in snow, the animals are in hibernation.  See anything to eat? How long do you think you’d survive in that woods, in winter, with only the bare minimum of 17th Century technology at your disposal and no knowledge of the local plants or animals? (Yes, I know, you folks in California are now standing outside in your flipflops staring at the avocado trees and wondering what the hell I’m talking about. Winter? What’s the big deal? Oh, as long as I’m out here, I guess I’ll pick some fresh limes for my Mojito. Never mind, just read on and take my word for it).

For the colonists, there were no prefab shelters. No electric heaters. No polar fleece underwear or Gortex jackets or Thinsulate gloves.  There were no thermoses of hot coffee or those instant hand warmers or flashlights at night or even toilet paper (paper was far too expensive and precious to wipe your ass on, and would be until the early part of the 20th Century). The colonists’ clothing wasn’t moisture shedding waterproof synthetics, but sodden lice infested raw wool which couldn’t be washed because there was no hot water and no way to dry the stuff even if they’d had spare duds to wear while waiting.   In fact, their clothing and tools were designed for the mild European climate and not the harsh conditions of the New England coast in winter.  There were no roads in the unfamiliar virgin wilderness, no food, no familiar plants, and little or no edible wildlife in that winter landscape.  Most of what they ate came from their provisions onboard the Mayflower. We’re not talking canned goods here, those were two centuries away. No the colonists’ provision were salted fish, dried and smoked meats, grain mush, and pickled vegetables.  The kind of thing you need to drink a lot of water with. But even getting water was difficult, there were no wells and the colonists weren’t going to dig any in that frozen ground, the lakes and rivers were frozen.  Water came from snow that first winter, melted over fires, but here’s the kicker:  there wasn’t even decent firewood, only the unseasoned green timber and winterfall they could gather with the tools they had – every frozen log cut by primitive saws and split by hand. They were malnourished and dehydrated and freezing and working in conditions that required thousands more calories per day than they were getting.  They intended to build a dozen common buildings and nineteen homes. They managed four common buildings and seven houses after four months of backbreaking labor.  Inside those tiny buildings, the environment was less than ideal, cold, fetid and damp, no plumbing, no sanitation, dirt floors, crowded and smelling of too much unwashed humanity and their beasts in far too little space.  In that environment, relatively minor injuries – and there would have been plenty – became life threatening.  Cuts and scrapes and bruises that would have healed quickly among well fed, rested, and healthy people, didn’t heal at all, instead those wounds often became infected and deadly. Their teeth fell out, their gums and noses bled, they became weak and nauseated, their bones ached and their joints flamed with pain, their kidneys began to shut down – all symptoms of pervasive vitamin C deficiency, or what sailors of the time called Scurvy.   They weren’t getting fresh fruit and Vitamin C in pill form was still many hundreds of years in the future. Scurvy causes foul flatulence and severe diarrhea – which required frequent trips to the outhouse in subzero temperatures. Scurvy also makes it hard to think, makes it hard to reason and concentrate, and it causes extremely emotional irritation and make it very difficult to get along with others. And, of course, there were other vitamin deficiencies, Vitamin D for example, and germs and bacteria and parasites that those European immune systems had never been exposed to.

Try to imagine the hell inside those cabins.

It didn’t take long for the bodies to start piling up – and in fact, people started dying before the colonists ever left the Mayflower. During that first winter forty-three of the original one hundred and two colonists died.  By the time they’d managed to clear a few fields and plant some crops for the next winter, only fifty-three people were left. By the time they got to the harvest there were only four adult women alive.  For those of you not good at math, that’s a mortality rate far in excess of present day Somalia.

Now, despite those smiling pictures we were shown as kids, I strongly suspect that the situation affected the colonists’ morale in a powerfully negative manner.

Imagine what it must have been like for those who survived the winter, family dead, the survivors starving, sick, isolated, watching the Mayflower sail away leaving them stranded and alone on the dark shore of a hostile and alien land.  One suspects that more than a few of the survivors were damned well wishing they were headed back to England with the ship when she left in April.  They’d been in the new world less than half a year, and already more than half of them were dead.

I would hazard to guess that despair was a common emotion, come that spring in 1621.

We’ll come back to that.

Something to note: when Mayflower sailed for England that spring, she was supposed to be carrying the first payment from the colonists to their sponsors.  What? Oh, you thought the colonists paid for their trip themselves? You thought those dirt  poor farmers raised the enormous amount of cash necessary to hire a ship for a year (two ships actually, the Mayflower and the Speedwell – if you’ve never heard of the Speedwell that’s because it didn’t make the voyage, being a leaking unseaworthy piece of crap by one account or deliberately sabotaged by its crew to avoid the dangerous journey according to others).  You thought they bought all those supplies and equipment and a patent of colonization from the King out of their own pockets? You think the church paid for it?

Ha.

You make me snort my beer through my nose.

The colony was financed by an organization of businessmen called Merchant Adventures, who oddly enough, expected to make a profit on their investment.  The colonists were supposed to make payments in furs and hides and metals and other unique things from the New World.  Mayflower was supposed to bring that first payment in furs and hides back on that first return to England.  Needless to say, she didn’t.

However, during the following summer things started to look up. 

The colonists encountered natives on a regular basis and those meetings were reasonably peaceful.  Among others, they met a native American named Squanto, who became their friend and advocate among the native peoples.  Pretty generous for a guy who should have hated the Europeans. Squanto had been kidnapped by the English explorer Thomas Hunt years before and ended up as a slave to Spanish monks for five years in Europe (remember in grade school when they told you how Squanto went to England so he could learn English and be civilized?). Eventually he returned to New England as a slave in the role of native guide for Captain Robert Georges.  The local tribes killed Gorges and his crew after several hostile encounters, and they freed Squanto and took him in. And, in fact, the local natives, the Wampanoag under the leadership of a chief named Massasoit, were quite familiar with European explorers. They’d had numerous encounters prior to the arrival of the colonists, almost all bad.  It was remarkable that the weakened colonists weren’t slaughtered outright, led by Squanto himself. Instead, the Wampanoag, despite their apprehension, cautiously befriended the aliens. During the summer they taught the Europeans about maize, corn not being a familiar food crop in Europe at the time, and about other edible local flora and fauna. Corn was significant. It grew well in the climate and short growing season, it required comparatively little effort on the part of the planter, it’s yield was high, it was fit for both man and beast, and most importantly it could be dried and stored easily.  With the summer warmth, food, water, shelter, and local alliances, the colonist’s situation began to get better. So did their health. As the mortality rate fell, their spirits improved.  As their health and morale improved, so did their productivity. When they gave thanks for a successful, if modest, harvest at the end of that first year their odds of surviving the coming winter had been greatly improved. The event we Americans think of as the first thanksgiving was well documented: the colonist intended a day of prayer and a feast, they invited Massasoit as courtesy, not really expecting him to show up.  But show up he did, and he brought about 90 of his men with him. The colonists were leery of so many indian warriors in their midst, about double the number of surviving colonists, and the Wampanoag were just as cautious in the middle of the strange alien settlement.  The colonists provided fish and lobster and ducks and a few turkeys, the Wampanoag brought five deer. In Europe, deer were a protected species belonging to the royals, venison probably went a long way towards making the colonists feel friendly towards Massasoit and his men. However, there were no loaves of fresh bread or pies, the colonists had used up all their flour by then – not to mention that no apple trees actually yet grew in North America, so much for the cider as well. Sigh. Instead they drank a thick flat and bitter beer.  Mashed potatoes also were not at that first Thanksgiving as Europeans tended to regard the potato plant as poisonous – it is a member of the Deadly Nightshade family after all and back then before centuries of selective breeding, it often was poisonous. There was no cranberry sauce either, and no sugar to sweeten the tart berries anyway. Those wild turkeys would have been lean and tough birds, very unlike the fat domesticated Butterballs you get cleaned, dressed, and conveniently frozen from the supermarket today.

The celebration lasted three days. 

Over the next two years, additional supplies and colonists arrived from Europe and the settlement became a going concern.  They were able to pay down their debt to Merchant Adventures, despite a number of setbacks. Most of those payments consisted of high quality fur, obtained by the colonists from the Native Americans – they never did find any native gold to send back. Morale improved and there was another big celebration in July of 1623 – which was much closer to what we think of as Thanksgiving here in America, by then there were a couple of pies and fresh bread. Still no potatoes though.

Unfortunately, as the colonists’ situation improved, their relations with the native Americans worsened – until eventually a de facto state of war existed.  This situation choked off trade with the natives and the colonists once again fell behind on their payments to Merchant Adventures, which caused them a number of problems with their creditors.

But over time the colony expanded into a permanent settlement, new colonists arrived, industries were established and the population swelled. Eventually, around 1690, the Plymouth Colony was annexed into the much larger Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Historians have made entire careers out of studying just those few decades of our past. Entire courses of study, entire museums, scholarly works, books, and archeological digs have been dedicated to examination of those events. And despite the fact that the real story is both far more, and in some ways far less, heroic than our mythology, we do have a very good understanding of what happened in the early years of Plymouth Colony and the events that led to the first so-called Thanksgiving.

No matter the minor details, one thing is quite certain – without the native Americans, those colonists would most likely have not survived, or at least their odds of survival would have been greatly diminished. Without the native Americans in the early years, it is very likely that Plymouth would have been abandoned like other similar settlements in the new world.  If, instead of bringing friendship and venison, Massasoit and his Wampanoag had showed up in that horrible winter of 1621 and slaughtered the colonists, history would tell a very different story.  History is often achieved by consensus, it often changes as new facts and interpretations come to light – but the one thing all historians agreed on is that Plymouth Colony owed a debt of gratitude to the Native Americans they encountered in those first terrible years.

Well, according to most historians anyway.

See, according to historical expert, Rush Limbaugh, that story too is no more real than the myth we were told about Thanksgiving as elementary school kids.

According to Limbaugh, the real reason the colonists were in such desperate straits originally was because…wait for it…wait for it… because they were socialists! 

Yes, the Pilgrims were socialists. 

See they all had agreed to bear the burden of the colony’s debt to Merchant Adventures equally.  They all agreed to work toward repayment of that debt as a group, before their own interests – and, folks, nothing says socialism like putting the success and very survival of your lazy parasitic friends and family ahead of your own self. Boy Howdy.  We all win, or we all lose – that’s the philosophy of socialists, right there.  And once Rush pointed it out, well, you have to wonder how all those historians missed it.  Four hundred years we’ve studied this period in our history, and only Rush was smart enough to figure out that it was the curse of socialism what laid the Plymouth Colony low. 

Limbaugh was, of course, responding to President Obama’s Thanksgiving address to the nation. He took exception when Obama said:

“This spirit brought together the newly arrived Pilgrims and the Wampanoag, who had been living and thriving around Plymouth for thousands of years.”

Predictably, Rush was outraged:

"So, we were the invaders. The Indians were minding their own business. We were incompetent idiots. We didn't know how to feed ourselves so they came along and showed us how and that's what Thanksgiving is all about."

Well, yes, actually the colonists were invaders. And the Native Americans were minding their own business before the Europeans showed up. And the colonists were actually unprepared for the new world. And the Native Americans did, by the colonists’ own account, show the settlers how to feed themselves. And yes, that is at least partially what Thanksgiving is all about, because you know, you’d have to be a complete and total ass not to thank somebody for helping you out when you’re down on your luck – and in point of fact, that’s the one part of the real story that actually showed through that sanitized elementary school myth even after four hundred years of erasing native Americans from our history. But, I digress.

Quibble: Limbaugh’s use of the word “we.”  Nothing shows a greater manufactured outrage than use of the word “we.”  We? Are we about to find out that Limbaugh’s ancestor, Rysh Lympballs Standish, was a member of the Plymouth Colony? Somehow I have a difficult time imagining Rush Limbaugh being accepted into the Puritan congregation or the Plymouth Colony, he is the very epitome of the things they were attempting to leave behind.  We? We? Hell, the colonists weren’t even Americans, they were EnglishmenAmerica itself wouldn’t exist for another century and a half. We? Where’s the “we?” 

There’s a logical fallacy in there somewhere, I just know it.

Another Quibble:  Why are the Plymouth colonists “we” and modern day immigrants filthy Mexican invaders?  I admit to confusion here, Limbaugh logic makes my brain feel all soggy and hard to light.  But, again I digress.

Limbaugh went on to say:

"The true story of Thanksgiving is how socialism failed, the Indians didn't teach us capitalism. We shared our bounty with them… because we first failed as socialists."

Everybody got that?

No?

Rush explains how the original colony went wrong:

"All of the land they cleared and the houses they built belong to the community as well. They were going to distribute it equally. Nobody owned anything. They just had a share in it. It was a commune, folks. It was the forerunner to the communes we saw in the '60s and '70s out in California – and it was complete with organic vegetables, by the way.”

"That's right. Long before Karl Marx was even born, the Pilgrims had discovered and experimented with what could only be described as socialism. And what happened? “

“It didn't work! Surprise, surprise, huh?”

I bet you didn’t see Karl Marx coming when we started talking about Pilgrims, did you?   Also, organic vegetables are apparently socialist, who knew?

The solution?

Every family was assigned its own plot of land to work and permitted to market its own crops and products. And what was the result?

America! America was the result! Yay! Victory for capitalism, down with socialism!  Success wasn’t assured through sissy communist cooperation and mutual support (well, except that part were they were “assigned” a plot of land and “permitted” to market their own crops, which come to think of it sounds an awful lot like the private plots on those old Soviet Collective farms. But, again, I digress, as is my tendency), nor through peaceful interaction with the natives (who, of course, were actually stealing our land before “we” even got here, the red skinned bastards), nor was success a product of improving morale and health and diet and the arrival of more colonists and supplies. Oh hell, no. Success came because the colonists threw off the shackles of socialism and embraced good old fashioned conservative Tea Party capitalism.

How do we know that Rush’s version of history is the correct one? Well, like any good historian, Rush supplies us with references:

“[T]he real story of Thanksgiving as written by me in my book, See, I Told You So!"

Yes, that’s correct, Rush Limbaugh’s reference, the proof of his version of history, is … Rush Limbaugh. Rush actually referenced himself. He does that a lot actually. I said it, therefore it must be true. Bitches.

Rush goes on, in his Thanksgiving show, to explain that the real reason people are starving in Afghanistan and Africa is not because of a lack of actual fucking food, but rather a lack of capitalism.  The people there don’t work, they’d rather starve, because socialism has ruined their work ethic – just as it did with the Pilgrims. 

The problem with the world is not too few resources. The problem with the world is an insufficient distribution of capitalism.

Yes. Insufficient capitalism is the problem in Somalia - if only there were less people there who were hell bent on seeing all treated equally, why everybody would have enough to eat.  Runaway liberal warlords in Angola, the Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and down the Cote d’Ivoire, fueled by unbridled socialists in Europe and the United States, hacked off the arms of those who wouldn’t give themselves into slavery, raped their wives, and turned their children into soldiers to support the Blood Diamond trade, oh if only there had been sufficient capitalism such things would never have happened!  In lands rich in resources but poor in people, Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Venezuela, it’s an insufficiency of capitalism that keeps the population in poverty and the socialists in the million dollar mansions with the marble floors and solid gold toilets.  Even here in the United States, it’s socialism that keeps millions in poverty and on the verge of hunger – all poor people are socialists, that’s why they’re poor. Quod erat demonstrandum.

It’s so obvious when Rush explains history, isn’t it?

Which, inevitably brings us to the title of this post.

Rush Limbaugh, socialist?

Oh yes.  Yes he is.  It’s obvious. Just like those conservatives who yell the loudest about the sin of homosexuality, and eventually get outted as repressed gays themselves, Rush Limbaugh bellows at length about the evils of socialism – and yet, in his heart, in the only place that matters, he is a secret socialist.

Yes, Rush Limbaugh is a closeted socialist.

Allow me to demonstrate:

Despite a lack of formal education or experience in the specialty in question, Rush Limbaugh declares himself a historian.  An expert in American history.  Rush knows what motived those long dead colonists.  He can see into their very minds.  He has no formal education, certification, or experience in the field of economics, politics, psychology, sociology, government, or even cold weather survival, yet he declares himself an expert in every area.  In fact, according to Rush Limbaugh, Rush Limbaugh is a true polymath, an expert in nearly every facet of human endeavor. Why, he even provides references.

Rush Limbaugh demands that his version of history be given the same weight, if not more, than those of accredited specialists, experts, and degreed historians.

This mindset is an extension of the Creationist worldview, i.e “who really knows what happened back then?”  therefore “my ‘theory’ is just as good as yours,” besides “common sense” and common belief trump actual research and accreditation and validation and correction and decades of experience and expertise every time.

Limbaugh and those of his ilk are the same folks who condemn, florid of face and strident in voice, the socialism of “political correctness”  - and yet they are the first to demand equal respect for their unproven and often ridiculous nonsense without any better support than the kind of “references”given by Rush Limbaugh above.

This is type of thinking - that all views must be given equal merit in the eyes of the world, no matter how unsupported or provably false - is the purest expression of socialism

It is socialism of ideas.

It is socialism of the mind.

Rush Limbaugh is a socialist.  Q.E.D.

 

But wait! As they say, there’s more!

Take socialism far enough, and you end up with communism

Now, I’m not saying Limbaugh is a communist per se, but there are some alarming signs:

- Hatred of gays? Check.  That was pretty big on the old Soviet agenda.

- Incorporation of politics into every single goddamned facet of every goddamned thing – including Thanksgiving?  Check. E.g. according to communist doctrine, the Red Army didn’t defeat the Nazis during the battle of Stalingrad because they outnumbered the Germans, or because they were better prepared to survive the Russian winter, or because the Nazis were at the end of a long and broken supply chain – no, the Soviets beat the fascists because they were good communists.  Note the similarity to to Rush’s version of history, the colonists were successful because they embraced a particular political philosophy. The lesson of history, according to Rush, is to choose the proper political ideology. Back in my Intelligence Officer days I read a number of very similar screeds in Pravda and Red Star, Rush would have loved those, he could have written them.

- A penchant for changing history to support the current political situation and to edit out those who have fallen out of favor? Check. One suspects that in Rush’s Amerika, Squanto would be photoshopped out of those grade school textbooks, like in the old CCCP when the people who pissed off Stalin were blotted out of official photographs.

- Vilification of ethnic populations deemed savage or of a lesser humanity? Eradication of their language, customs, and contribution to history? Check.  One wonders when Rush will begin referring to white Anglo Americans as “Great Americans” … oh, wait. Never mind.

- The tendency to seek ever more money, power, and wealth on the back of the poor, gullible, and deluded? Check.

- The predictable and vitriolic paranoid reaction to anything and everything the American president says? Even something as innocuous as a Holiday greeting? Check.

 

No, I’m not saying Rush Limbaugh is a communist.

Not yet.

Thankfully.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Hiatus

Update:

Note, I am posting updates and snark on Facebook and Twitter. So if you follow me there, well, you can follow me there. And if you don’t follow me there, now’s your opportunity.  Click the Facebook badge over there on the right and beg for my friendship.

For all intents and purposes both of those sites, Facebook especially, have become extensions of Stonekettle Station.

More updates at the end of the post. You know, just in case you feel the compelling need to follow along as I renovate my kitchen.


About the lack of posting:

Not to worry, posting will resume here on Stonekettle Station momentarily.

It’s just that I’m a little busy at the moment.

I’m in the middle of a major kitchen remodel and I’m on a fairly tight timeline. Over the next couple of days I have to a) rip out carpeting (yes, the previous owners carpeted the kitchen), b) rip out the old yellow linoleum that is under the carpet, c) rip out the particle board that’s under the linoleum (honestly, who the hell puts particle board in a kitchen?), d) refurbish, rebuild, and paint the cabinets, e) install the new stove vent hood, f) install the new dishwasher, g) hang French doors, and h) install the new hardwood floor.  Pretty much in that order. 

Then, beginning Monday, I have to prep the plumbing and start pulling the old countertops.

I have to have this project done on time, because the new countertops are currently being made and are scheduled for installation next week (And as a matter of fact, as I write this, the contractor just called with the final measurements and schedule).

This remodel is about four years overdue.

We love this house. It’s a great place. We love the location and the view out over the Matanuska Valley is spectacular. But, the core of the house was built in the 70’s, and then later radically expanded in the late 90’s.  The new portions of the house are built to modern construction standards, but the older parts, including the kitchen, were vintage Partridge Family. Back in the 70’s, there wasn’t much in the way of a building code here in the Alaskan MatSu.  Also, as you’ll recall, back in the 70’s everybody was suffering from a debilitating brain disease that rendered them totally colorblind.  After we bought the place, we spent the first year ripping out bathrooms that were filled with Avocado Green and Harvest Gold fixtures (those bathrooms, all three of them, were also carpeted and floored in particle board. Rotten particle board. The walls had molded and there was extensive water damage. Fun, fun, fun).  I pulled miles of vintage orange, brown, and green shag carpeting out  and replaced it with hardwood flooring. We stripped the walls of dingy faded wallpaper that looked as if it had come from some turn of the century whorehouse on the Klondike.  The monstrous pile of concrete, cast iron, and rock in the living room that purported to be a fireplace was demolished with sledgehammers and replaced with Italian tile.  We painted and painted and painted.  I moved walls.  I build walls.  I finished the unfinished basement, turning it into storage rooms and two rec rooms.  We installed a water filtration system, and new wiring, and lights, and I don’t know what all anymore.  The Kitchen is the last, and most expensive, interior remodel.

As I’ve mentioned on Facebook, the new appliances started arriving last week. The new fridge is larger and more spacious than my first apartment. The new stove is awesome, though the instruction manual is thicker and more complicated than the Space Shuttle User’s Guide.  The rest of the appliances are still crated and waiting in the garage for me to complete the aforementioned work.

So, as I said, I’m likely to be a little scarce around the internets for the next couple of days.  It’s okay though, I really don’t have much to blog about now that the Tea Party and the Conservatives have fixed America. Go USA!

Next spring, we start on the outside.

Back soon.


Update:

The old floor is now out. 

Old carpet removed. Rotten carpet pad ditto. 

Honestly folks, you start pulling carpet and you see the dirt and filth under it and you really, really start to wonder why anybody would have carpet in their house at all.  Gah. The new floor will be a zero maintenance composite hardwood designed for wet applications, kitchens specifically.

I spent eight hours on my hands and knees yesterday, chipping out the Linoleum and particle board that was installed underneath the carpet.  The particle board was extensively water damaged from multiple dishwasher malfunctions over the years. Why in the hell the previous owners put particle board and carpet, neither of which are designed to get wet, in a kitchen is one of the great mysteries of the universe. It was a huge job, but the good news is that the subfloor is undamaged – smooth and level and solid. I won’t have to do any repairs to it, or, worse, lay a new layer of plywood over it.  I can just install the new floor right over top of it. So, I got that going for me.

I’m unbelievably stiff and sore today, but the heavy work is done.  Today I’ll remove the old vent hood and dishwasher, then build a cabinet extension and paint the existing cabinets.  The cabinets will be painted white, the new countertops are a deep marbled blue (a type of Corian called “Elderberry”), giving the kitchen a Dutch Country look – and drastically lightening things up.  Remember, it’s dark here for a significant fraction of the year, lighter is better, the old kitchen was like cooking in a cave.

 

image

Corian Elderberry. It’s like looking at a Hubble Picture, isn’t it?

 

So far, I’m on schedule and things are looking better already.


Update 2:

Honestly, did I really end the last update with “things are looking better already?”

Did I?

Because about an hour after I typed that my phone rang.

It was my teenaged son.

“Dad! I need you to come get me, I think I broke my arm.”

He was calling from the local park where he and some friends had gone to snowboard.  Long story short, we spent the next couple of hours in the MatSu Regional Emergency Room.  Nice people. Excellent ER doctor and nurse.  They cut his ski glove off, but managed to work the expensive snowboarding jacket off over the injured arm without having to cut the sleeve off.  It took a while to get the X-rays, seems we were number three after a skiing accident and some guy who’d run into something immovable with his snow machine (never a good idea, unless you enjoy your face looking like something Picasso should have signed).  The kid was right, he had broken his arm. Right radius, just above the wrist. Classic fall injury.  He’s got a huge padded temporary cast and a prescription for pain killers.  Sometime this week after the swelling goes down, we’ll see the orthopedic doctor and get a permanent cast, hopefully one a bit smaller than the monstrosity he has on now.

Needless to say, I didn’t get the kitchen done.

Not even close.

I’ve got the floor out. I’ve got the old dishwasher and the vent hood out.  I’ve got the cabinets out that I needed to relocate, and I’ve got the new cabinet built and installed. I’ve got the structural and electrical modifications done to hang the new vent hood, and have the hood up and in place temporarily to check fit (we have to install a new hi-capacity hood because the new stove puts out a whole lot more BTU’s than the old unit. Plus, the old vent hood was an ugly piece of shit. The new hood is dead quite, but moves enough air to inflate the Hindenburg in about ten minutes).  I’ve got the new dishwasher in place, but not yet hooked up.

And that’s about it.

I’m going to have to take a couple days off this week to get the painting and flooring done.

And so it goes.


Update 3:

Cabinet renovation is complete.

New floor is in.

New appliances are installed.

The kitchen is now mostly operational again. Thankfully. I’m not sure how much longer I could have gone without a functional kitchen.

I still have a bunch of stuff to do, but at least I’m ready for the counter installation – which should occur in the next couple of days, hopefully before Thanksgiving.  I still have cabinet doors to refinish, and trim work, and the wine glass racks, and some shelving, and a few odds and ends – but the kitchen is looking pretty damned good.  Workspace has been significantly enlarged, so has storage space, and the cooking area is now a perfect diamond design with fridge, stove, sink, and prep counter making up the points.  Lighting is improved and the halogen spots in the new vent hood provide brilliant white light in what used to be the kitchen’s darkest corner.

We are delighted with the new appliances.  We spent a hell of a lot of money on equipment, but you know, you really do get what you pay for. 

Once the new countertops are in, and the finish work is done, I’ll post a full summary of the project.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day

I don’t have much to add that I haven’t said elsewhere.

If you’re an American, you owe your freedom to those who risked their lives in your defense.

But, you know, I doubt that there are many Americans today who don’t realize that.

And whether you agree with the wars we are currently fighting or not, I think most Americans can distinguish between the war and the warrior. As a vet myself, and from where I sit, there is little evidence that the vast majority of Americans don’t appreciate their veterans. I see it every day.  Having grown up in the 60’s, when widespread distaste for the military was common, the difference today is striking – at least to me. Certainly, as I’ve said repeatedly here and elsewhere, I think there’s a hell of a lot more that could be done – but, frankly, compared to how America treated her veterans in the last few decades, I’ll take what I can get.

For those of you who stand the watch in the dark and dangerous corners of the world, thanks.

For those of you who have served, in peace or in war, and like me have now hung up your sword, thanks.

And for those of you who appreciated that sacrifice, who sent your sons and daughters and husbands and wives and fathers and mothers and sisters and brothers off to war, thank you too. Thanks for thinking of us on this day and all the others.

Enjoy the day folks.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Election: What Does It All Mean?

What does it all mean?

Short answer: nothing much.

 

Show of hands.

How many of you are genuinely surprised by the mid-term election results?

Be honest.

If you are surprised, it’s because you haven’t been paying attention.

I saw this coming the day after Obama took the White House.

Frankly, if anything I’m surprised that it’s not a far more dramatic shift.

Today the Left is depressed in defeat and the Right is jubilant in victory. Both sides are busy blathering on about what the “American People” want, and neither side is actually listening to anything but their own agenda. The pundits are all waxing philosophical about the will of the “American People,” while telling those same Americans what to think.

Bah.

They’re all wrong.

They’re all correct.

You pays your money and you takes your pick. 

Those who choose to see the results of this vote as some universal rejection of the current administration and a harbinger of things to come in 2012 have forgotten history. Recent history.  Both the House and Senate shifted from Democrat to Republican majorities at the midterms under Clinton, and then shifted back to Democrat majorities at the midterms under Bush The Lesser. These were huge dramatic shifts – yesterday’s vote is far less dramatic than those previous ones and hardly an overwhelming landslide condemnation of the current administration. Remember, in the previous power shifts, the country wasn’t in the throes of an economic slump and large scale unemployment. The previous shifts demonstrated a far greater degree of dissatisfaction with the White House than yesterday’s election results. Now certainly, the power shift does demonstrate a significant degree of voter dissatisfaction – but the truth of the matter is that the voters are always dissatisfied.  If it wasn’t government spending, it would be something else. If it wasn’t the deficit, it would be something else (hell, most people can’t actually tell you the difference between The Debt and The Deficit other than to make vague hand waving gestures).  If it wasn’t jobs, it would be something else. If it wasn’t illegal aliens, terrorism, or defense of marriage, it would be something else. It’s always something else. Always.  People are always pissed at the guy in charge, especially if he’s from the other party.  People are always disappointed with the guy in charge, especially if he’s from the their party. Barack Obama was swept into office with a level of expectation that no president could have lived up to. Conservatives hated him right from the start and had no intention whatsoever of giving Obama a chance – a sentiment perfectly summed up by Rush Limbaugh who said he hoped more than anything Obama would fail and fail catastrophically. And Liberals put Obama up on a pedestal and demanded that he wave a magic wand and make all their utopian wet dreams a reality. Neither set of expectations came true, and that pissed off Republicans who just can’t stand Obama’s successes, and it disappointed  Democrats who believe that he hasn’t done enough. 

This is pretty normal. Maybe it’s a bit more extreme this time around for a number of factors, but it is pretty normal. And as a mid-term condemnation of the administration, this one is fairly mild as such things go. Conservatives took the House, they didn’t take the Senate. A number of far right Tea Party types won, but a whole bunch of the crazier ones didn’t.  Marco Rubio and Rand Paul are sharpening their knives today in anticipation of their coming power. But Christine O’Donnell, Carl Paladino, Ken Buck, Sharron Angle, and (probably) Joe Miller all went down in flames.  Sarah Palin’s ability to alter elections in the Tea Party’s favor appears to be no better than random chance. And on her home turf where she turned the election into a personal vendetta, she appears to have been handed her ass by a very powerful Republican Senator who is now her unequivocal enemy.  Not a particularly savvy political move.  Even if, when all the votes are tallied here in Alaska, Murkowski is ultimately not triumphant (unlikely at this point), the write-in rebellion itself speaks volumes about Palin’s future as a political powerhouse. I strongly suspect Karl Rove is right, Palin is unelectable and a determent to the GOP’s ambitions in 2012.  I detest Karl Rove to a degree I probably can’t express, but he knows his politics and his politicians.  Time will certainly tell.

No, I found nothing surprising about this election.

This, my friends, is how America works.

All political systems are, by definition, human inventions. All systems have strengths and weaknesses. As such, they are all, each and every one flawed.

Even ours.

Hereditary Monarchies have a kind of a romantic ring to them. Everybody loves those fairytales of kings and princesses and knights errant. Of course, in reality, unless you’re the King, feudalism sucks donkey balls. And the fatal flaw of all monarchies is that after a couple generations of inbreeding you end up with a government composed of self-centered weak-chinned morons. I’m simplifying, of course, but we’ve probably outgrown monarchies as a form of actual government.

Communism looks good on paper. Sure it does. That’s why it’s popular in academia, or used to be anyway. Each according to his ability, each according to his need. Sounds democratic. Sounds fair. Of course in the end you always end up with a committee of ruthless but utterly ineffective bastards controlling everything.  Each according to his ability and need never leads to universal equality and middle class. Never. It always leads to universal poverty and decay.  Always. Eventually there’s a revolution, collapse, chaos, reform, and (unless you’re really lucky) back to some form of authoritarianism. Rinse, repeat.

Dictatorships are fast and effective and responsive to outside threat, and always and inevitably end up with one ruthless son of a bitch oppressing the hell out of everybody else.  Eventually there’s a revolution, collapse, chaos, and (unless you’re really lucky) back to authoritarianism. Rinse, shake, repeat.

Democratic Socialism on the European model is relatively benign.  I strongly suspect that as population densities rise and resources become scarce, socialism is one of the inevitable end states for democratic societies (the other being some form of rigid authoritarianism). The problem, of course, is that socialism tends towards stagnation, increasing loss of individualism (needs of the many increasingly outweigh the needs of the few) and eventual decay, which leads directly to authoritarianism or revolution and social chaos followed by collapse.

I am, of course, generalizing here, try not get too spun up.

Then there’s democracy. For the first time in human history, true democracy is possible on a large scale. Up until very recently, communications lag prevented true democracy on any scale with a population above about three. That’s why all democracies to date, including ours, are representative democracies, i.e. republics.  But, now, for the first time, communications technology allows for each citizen to cast a vote simultaneously with every other citizen. For the first time in history, it is possible to dispense with a formal government and place control of society directly into the hands of the population. There is no, technological, reason why every single issue facing a county today, couldn’t be voted on by the population in real time referendum – via internet or interactive TV or cell phone or any of a dozen forms of instantaneous communications (leaving aside the question of validation of votes, assume for the sake of argument the system can be made foolproof).

It would be a disaster. 

An utter disaster.  There is no way a population could be educated and informed in real time of every issue facing the nation, and then be available to vote continuously. It would be rule by mob. It would be rule by trend. It would be oppression the likes of which would make a dictatorship look good in comparison.  There would have to be systems for dealing with issues, for gathering and disseminating information, for research, for discussion, for compromise, for breaking issues down into national and local concerns. You’d have to have penalties for not participating. You’d have to have safety systems to prevent the mob from reacting to popular hysteria or suppressing the minority or ending up susceptible to manipulation and controlled by a hidden power block. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.  You’d either get uncontrolled anarchy or, well, you’re back to formal government – just on a larger and far, far, far less effective and inefficient scale.  I suppose a system like this, given sufficient safeguards and no outside threat, might lumber along reasonably well – but I strongly suspect that you’d eventually end up with a hidden dictatorship, benign or otherwise, simply because no human system that large and complex could possibly react to a small, effective, dedicated, internal bid for control. Certainly not without some form of rigid incorruptible third party force to prevent it. Good luck with that.

True democracy for any population over about two simply isn’t possible – not without a fundamental change in human nature or the emergence of some heretofore unseen technology.

The people who founded America were well aware of this. They agonized for nearly a decade after Independence over what the new nation’s government should look like. And eventually, after years of heated debate and compromise they hacked out the best solution they could find, the Constitution, which formed the basis for a representative form of democracy, i.e. a republic.

Idealists that they were, the Framers were nonetheless aware of the single fundamental flaw with democracy, which is this: people are, in large part, lazy, selfish, self-centered, egotistical, uneducated, easily manipulated idiots who will vote with their emotions ninety-nine times out of a hundred instead of with their brains.

Oh, save your righteous indignation. 

Despite the chest pounding of dimwitted “patriots” our system isn’t perfect and never was – and we are the fundamental flaw in the system.

For every well educated, informed, conscientious voter who puts the needs of the nation above their own petty concerns (and really, let me know if you find this person), there is one ignorant uninformed moron, one party hack, one perpetually angry asshole whose only goal is to gum up the works, one guy who votes at random, one guy who forgot to vote, one guy who didn’t vote in protest, one guy who didn’t vote because he was stoned, one guy who didn’t vote because he figures it doesn’t matter, one guy who didn’t vote because he was in prison, and one guy who didn’t vote because the space alien Jesus in his head told him voting booths are really experiments by government scientists to steal our precious bodily fluids.

Democracy isn’t perfect.

It’s just the best system we’ve got at the moment.

Here’s the one fundamental truth when it comes to democracy: you win some, you lose some.

If you’re winning all of the time, if you always get your way, you’re not living in a democracy. 

Same if you’re losing all of the time.

There is no reason for Republicans to be jubilant today. They took the House. They didn’t take the Senate. Their victory is hardly an overwhelming mandate. If they don’t compromise, if they spend the next two years working to spite the White House instead of making good on those campaign promises – if they don’t reduce the debt, work together, and restore jobs – then they will have cut their own throat. This morning the number one Republican talking point is “repeal of Obamacare.” That’s exactly what I’m talking about.  It’s not going to happen. They don’t have the Senate. They don’t have the votes to override a presidential veto. It’s not going to happen, not in the next two years. Attempting to repeal Obamacare now is simply tilting at windmills. If they make that their priority for the next two years, they will hand Barack Obama a second term and more over they will have done absolutely nothing to fix the very problems that led to their election. Their position is precarious and what happens in the long run will depend entirely on if they put the good of the nation above their own political ambition. 

They won’t, of course.

There is no reason for the Tea Party to be jubilant today.  They won some significant victories, but they’ve lost some even more significant ones. Harry Reid comes to mind here. And then there is this: Their candidates are about to learn a very hard lesson. They are going to learn the same lesson those leftwing radicals learned the last time a grassroots movement sent reformers to Washington in the 60’s and 70’s: if you want to get things done, you have to become part of the establishment, man.   As outsiders, they will accomplish absolutely nothing.  They will not privatize Social Security or Medicare. They will not repeal Obamacare. They not will significantly decrease government spending or size. Unless they become insiders, unless they become mainstream.  Unless they compromise.

They will, of course.

There is no reason for Democrats to be depressed today.  None. They hold the White House. They hold the Senate.  They have a solid victory over the more extreme elements of the Right.  Yes, they will have to compromise. They will have to work harder. They will have to make a concerted effort to reach across the aisle. They will have to do more than pay lip service to the concerns of many Americans – whether or not they think those concerns are justified. They will have to do a better job of educating the public. For example: despite the fact that federal tax rates are lower now than any time since 1954, and despite the fact that the hated Stimulus actually cut taxes by hundreds of millions of dollars – a number of conservatives’ victory speeches last night made direct reference to cutting the huge taxes supposedly raised by the Obama administration.  Politics is the art of managing perception, Democrats haven’t done a very good job of that for a number of reasons. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, and again, and again: the Democrats’ worst enemy are not Republicans, it’s Democrats.  They’ve got nobody to blame but themselves. It’s the economy, Stupid. The results of this election should emphasize more than anything else that Democrats need to stop bickering among themselves and start working together. 

They won’t, of course.

Founding Father, General of the Revolution, and first President of the United States, George Washington, was adamantly opposed to political parties. He said that political parties only serve to turn citizen against citizen. 

He was absolutely right.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

If The Law Really Was Based on the Ten Commandments

Colorado Tea Party Conservative, Ken Buck, doesn’t believe in the separation of church and state.

During a forum for conservative (who else, right?) Senate candidates last year, Buck said:

“I disagree strongly with the concept of separation of church and state, it was not written into the Constitution.”

Buck went on to explain that what the Separation Clause of the First Amendment really means is that while the government isn’t allowed to force its will upon religion, the converse is not true. I.e. religion should be involved in government.  Buck carefully didn’t say which religion, but then he didn’t have to since the next sentence out of his pious mouth was a condemnation of President Obama’s supposed renaming of the White House Christmas Tree to a “Holiday” tree  (An internet rumor that had been long, long debunked before Buck repeated it. We’ll come back to lying for Jesus later).

Buck, of course, is not alone.

Tea Party Virgin Queen, Christine O’Donnell, said basically the same thing during a debate with her democratic rival Chris Coons. The audience audibly gasped out loud when O’Donnell responded to Coons’ assertion that the Constitution prohibited religion’s integration into government by saying:

“Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?”

She was widely pilloried in the media which reported her statement as a “gaff.” The gaff, actually, of this election season. But I think people misinterpreted what O’Donnell was actually up to. If you watch her in the video you can see the crafty look on her face. (O’Donnell should probably avoid playing poker for money – or sex – just saying).  See, she thought she was springing a trap on Coons, it’s obvious by her manner and voice. She pressed Coon’s to describe exactly where in the Constitution “separation of church and state” appears – and Coons couldn’t. Well, at least not exactly. Because, of course, the phrase “separation of church and state” doesn’t actually appear in the Constitution.

The phrase in question is a misquote of a statement made by President Thomas Jefferson in an 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists.  The Danburys had written to the president not seeking a role for religion in government, but just exactly the opposite.  They were seeking assurances that the US Constitution gave the Federal Government power to prevent the individual states from establishing their own religions. In other words, the Baptists were very much concerned that the federal government wasn’t strong enough, and that the states might have too much power. Jefferson wrote back and assured the Danburys that the Constitution did indeed ensure that a "wall of separation between church and state" existed at both the State and Federal level.

Chris Coons rightly cited the First Amendment as the source of that authority, the so-called “separation clause.”

Then O’Donnell sprang her little trap – she tried to get Coons to say specifically that the words “separation of church and state” are written verbatim in the Amendment. I suspect that Coons didn’t actually understand at the time what O’Donnell was up to – mostly because O’Donnell is utterly inept at such verbal legerdemain. From the derisive laughter, the audience didn’t get what she was up to either, and simply assumed she was an idiot (Hey, sometimes past performance is an indication of future returns). O’Donnell then tried to get Coons to list the other rights contained in the First Amendment. And he couldn’t. I couldn’t find a video to embed here, but proprietary ones are widely available. If you watch it, note the smug look on O’Donnell’s face at this point in the debate.  She thought she’d made her point. She thought she had proven her cleverness with a bit of trivia she looked up on Wikipedia. She thought she had, in fact, won the entire debate. She prepared for one talking point, and she figured that was all she needed.  What she didn’t understand, and still doesn’t seem to understand, is that a public political debate is not the same as “debating” other fundamentalist Christians who already agree with you – and are in fact the ones who put the words in your mouth to begin with. 

After the debate, O’Donnell couldn’t understand why both the media and people in general were making fun of her.

O’Donnell and other Christian fundamentalist candidates insist that the Constitution be interpreted literally as originally written. They insist that it is not, nor has it ever been, a living document – despite the many, many, many words to the contrary written and spoken by the Framers themselves. Say like the afore mentioned Thomas Jefferson,  (Yes, that is correct, Christine O’Donnell, Ken Buck, Sharron Angle, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and etcetera believe they know more about the Constitution than Thomas Jefferson – and they call Democrats arrogant, but I digress, yet again). This literal interpretation is a consistent paradigm. These are the same folks who speak joyously about a Living God and yet profess a worldview based on a selectively literal interpretation of His Word, i.e. the Christian bible.

Both Buck and O’Donnell insist that religion be allowed into government. And not just any religion, of course, but evangelical Christianity.

They are not alone.

Every single Tea Party candidate, and a rather large number of Conservatives have said exactly the same thing. Exactly the same thing, word for word, almost like they’re reading from the same script – not that mavericks would be marching to the same drummer mind you.

They claim Christianity, and specifically the Ten Commandments as basis for both the Constitution and the law here in America.  A number of Conservatives have gone to court over it, attempting to get the Big Ten into those self same court rooms.

On this election day, I wondered what it would be like if these people actually got their way.

What if the Ten Commandments were the basis for American law?

Of course, first you’d have to figure out which set of commandments we’re talking about. See, according to Judeo Christian Muslim text, the commandments were written on a pair of stone tablets by the finger of God and given to Charlton Heston, who then lugged these huge blocks of stone down off Mount Sinai (or was it Mt Horeb? And you know, thanks for that, Big Guy. What? They don’t have huge blocks of heavy ass granite down in the valley? I gotta go all the way to the top of a fucking mountain to get them? No, no. That’s cool. I don’t mind. Jerk). When he got back to camp, Moses found the Israelites hanging out with Charlie Sheen – Moses had been gone for a month and a half after all, the people got bored. Plus, they figured Moses himself had been getting a little burnin’ bush action, so you know, what the hell, right? Moses was not amused, he got all Old Testament and smashed the tablets on the ground and went off to sulk. The people were all chagrined and promised to enter rehab, again (but this time they meant it. Of course, the people had their fingers crossed behind their backs the whole time, what happens in the desert stays in the desert, the Sinai is the Las Vegas of the Holy Land).

Moses tried to superglue the tablets back together, but eventually he had to go back up the mountain and ask God for a reprint. Try to imagine that conversation: YOU DID WHAT? YEAH, I’LL MAKE YOU NEW ONES, BUT THEY’RE GOING TO BE TWICE AS HEAVY AS THE ORIGINALS.

Eventually Moses returned to the Israelites with a copy.

But, and here’s the thing, here may have been a difference between the first and second editions (maybe God added a footnote, “Thou shall not throw a tantrum and smash the Holy Tablets, Dickweed”). Tea Party types are big on originals. So, which version of the Ten Commandments should serve as basis for US law? See, even if they are pretty much the same in intent, it’s the words as written that actually matter – which was Christine O’Donnell’s point in the debate about the Establishment Clause. Also, the Bible makes mention of an owner’s manual, something called the Book of the Covenant, some extra stuff that didn’t appear on the stone tablets as part of the actual Commandments. Some of these items are listed in Exodus, but apparently there was a whole separate book – since lost. Kind of like if you just misplaced the whole Bill of Rights. One wonders what might have been in there? Maybe, Thou shall not act the asstard towards gay people? Thou shall not go door to door with your religion irritating the piss out of people? Thou shall not deny the scientific evidence and act like corporate tools until it’s too late?  I guess we’ll never know.  But the remaining Big Ten aren’t exactly a hell of a lot to base an entire body of law on. The Big Ten first appeared long, long, long before the Bible was penned. They actually appear in the Jewish holy book, the Torah. There’s a version or two in the Dead Sea Scrolls. They appear twice in the Christian bible, in Exodus and Deuteronomy in different forms. And, of course, there are different versions of the Christian bible, depending on which flavor of Christian you are (Flavor. Lions. See what I did there? I love that joke). There are some major differences between these versions, which one is correct? There’s a version in the Quran. And there are, in fact, a dozen different versions that appear in ancient religions texts in one form or another throughout history.

Which one should we use?

Words matter, right? The exact words. That’s the whole argument when it comes to the Establishment Clause, right? The First Amendment doesn’t specifically say “separation of church and state,” it doesn’t specifically say that the church can’t just take over the US government, or teach creationism in the public schools, or burn witches at the stake, or declare Thursdays Federal Jesus Day. So, why can’t Christians do those things since they are not specifically prohibited in the actual wording of the Constitution?

According to the Christian Conservatives, that’s exactly the point. The words matter.

What? Oh, I see. Wording matters in the Constitution, but the Bible, being the literal word of God, is flexible depending what you want it to mean this week. Good basis for law, you think?

You can see why Madison and the rest of the Framers gave up at this point and wrote the Constitution instead, it was just easier.

Wimps.

Me? I’m kind of partial to the Cecil B. DeMille version, it was good enough for Charlton Heston, it’s good enough for me.

1. I am the Lord your God.

Well, OK. Sure.  Insert dubious expression here. Question, got any ID? Look I hate to be this way, but just this morning I got a letter from some guy claiming to be a Nigerian Oil Minister. See my point? I mean, far be it from me not to take the word of some random goat herd who has been dead for about 3000 years.  And seriously folks, is it just me? Stone Tablets? Really? Stone Tablets. With writing on them? See the Israelites had been slaves in Egypt. A lot of them were masons, stone masons actually. Who, you know, built all those stone buildings and made all those stone tablets and did all those stone inscriptions. Moses disappears for a month and reappears with stone tablets. No really, God gave them to me. He did. I swear. See? That’s his signature right there. What’s that behind my back? Nothing. Certainly not my hammer and chisel. Nope.  Now don’t get all pissy, I’m sure Moses was a stand up guy, but if we’re going to use this as a basis for our law, I’m at least going to need to see a driver’s license.  Better yet a birth certificate (wouldn’t that be cool? Name of baby, Jehovah. Name of father: Jehovah. Name of mother: Jehovah. Number of toes: 11. State of Issue: West Virginia). I mean honestly, I am the Lord your God? How do we know this guy isn’t from Kenya or something? Yep, I’m going to need an original vault copy of that birth certificate.

Credentials aside, exactly what laws should be based on the 1st Commandment? One of the planks in the Tea Party platform is a demand that all laws include a specific reference to the Constitutional clause that allows Congress to make such a law in the first place. I assume the Tea Party would have the same requirement if our law was based on the Big Ten. So, for what law does this commandment form the foundation? I am the Lord your God? That’s like saying, I am Larry, your bartender, it’s dollar pitcher night, who’s your god now? Great idea, but not really helpful.  

2a. You shall have no other gods before me.

Way to call Shotgun there, Jehovah. This is apparently the origin of the phrase, “God is my co-pilot.” Notice God doesn’t say there aren’t other Gods, just that He gets head of the line privileges.  No mention of a specific belief system here, but I suppose it could be argued that this Commandment does, in fact, mandate a state religion (though you’ll note it makes no mention of rituals, worship, or the wearing of pointy hats). Unfortunately for Christians it would appear that the state religion in question is, in fact, Judaism. But, hey, at least there’ll be decent food at the Sunday potluck. Be sure not to miss the White House Menorah Lighting, which will kick off the official War on Christmas (The position of Anti-Christmas Czar is still open, get your applications in, Folks). Also, speaking of laws, instead of checking for your immigration papers, cops will now be required to check for circumcision – make sure to have your clean shaven trouser trout on you at all times.

2b. You shall not make for yourself an idol.

Deal.

Wait.

What about American Idol? You know, a lot of people worship that show. Hello? OK, fine, we’ll get rid of it. But Billy Idol, he’s still cool right?

Oh settle down, you’re going to have to expect some flippancy when “No Idols” is at number three. Again, far be it from me to question God’s priorities here, but the idol thing is number three? Three? Rape, murder, arson, child molestation, driving too slow in the fast lane – but graven images, that’s number three. Nice to know what God considers a priority, eh?

3. Do not take the name of the Lord in Vain.

A lot of people seem to think this is the anti-swearing law. It’s not (which is a goddamned good thing, but I digress, try not to look surprised).  This is about lying. This is about swearing an oath with your hand on the holy book and saying “So help me, God” and then not living up to that oath. This is most especially about trying to get your way by claiming it’s what God wants. Say, like when Sarah Palin mentioned that God told her to run for office. Christine O’Donnell made that same statement (As I write this, O’Donnell has definitively lost her bid for the Senate, apparently God was just fucking with her. Run for the Senate, Christine, Ruuuuuuun. Heh heh. No really). Why, so did George Bush (both of them). So did Sharron Angle. Glenn Beck speaks for God all of the time. So does Rush Limbaugh. So does one hell of a lot of people on the Right – especially those Megachurch Pastors that blare from TV sets across the country. Now that the Ten Commandments are law, these folks are going to have to prove those statements in a court.  Does the defendant have any witnesses? Any witnesses at all? I see here you’ve called God. I don’t see him in the court room. Bailiff please round up God and tell him if he doesn’t get his big hindquarters in here right now, it’ll be $50 for contempt of court. What? He’s not in the hall? I’ll give him two minutes to appear or you’re screwed, Glenn.

4. Remember the Sabbath and Keep it Holy.

So much for the Sunday game.

5. Honor your father and mother.

So, what you’re saying here is that the government can mandate Father’s Day and Mother’s Day cards? What the fuck is this? A government bailout of Hallmark?  Whoops, looks like socialism is now required by God.

6. Thou shall not murder

Finally. All the way down here at number six, something practical. No murdering. Got it. That should be easy enough. No murdering.

7. Thou shall not commit adultery

Woot! This is going to be fun. We can send about half the Republican Party to jail right off the bat. They’ll have plenty of company, since a significant number of TV Ministers will be there too. The good news is that at least we’ll finally have something in common with the Iranians. Maybe we can get together for a good stoning.

8. Thou shall not steal

Wait, adultery comes before theft? And, man, Wall Street is going to be screwed.

9. Thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Uh oh. Wouldn’t that be like when Joe Miller claimed Lisa Murkowski voted for the Healthcare Bill, knowing full well that she didn’t? Sharron Angle is sure going to have a hard time explaining those anti-Latino ads. Then there are the Birthers…  You know, Number 9 here is going to be a real headache in general, but the up side is that it basically sounds the death knell for political attack ads. Oh, and Ken? Mr. Buck? Remember that little lie you told about Obama renaming Christmas? Jesus wants to talk to you, and he looks pissed.

10. Thou shall not covet your neighbor’s wife - or anything else  your neighbor has.

What? Oh, you’ve got to be kidding. This is bullshit! No Coveting? Like no coveting at all? But that’s completely unAmerican! What if my neighbor has a bigger TV or a more expensive car? Or a smoking hottie of a wife? Shit, coveting is what drives America!  No coveting, no capitalism! What the hell are we supposed to do now? Wander around with twelve friends sponging off everybody? Yeah, that’ll go over big.

 

Of course, the good news is that pretty much everything else is wide open.

You know, on second thought, maybe the separation of the church and state isn’t such a bad idea after all.

Happy election night folks.