Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Servile Nation

Time to even things up: Advocates of universal enslavement are planning to hold a "National Service Summit" in New York City this September. In anticipation of the advent of St. Barack's Millennial Kingdom, advocates of state-mandated "service" will push for enactment of legislation requiring all 18-26 year olds waste at least two years of their lives in government-imposed slavery.

Service is a pervasive blessing of a free-market society -- or even a society as cankered with collectivism as ours has become.

Every second of each day, countless acts of service are being rendered. They are performed by auto mechanics and attorneys, doctors and dog groomers, musicians and manicurists; service is given by "sales" associates in our much-maligned retail superstores, by taxi drivers, by convenience store clerks.

Those services are offered in voluntary exchange for money (well, the government-issued simulacrum of the same) on terms that are mutually beneficial to the buyer and seller.

Altruistic service likewise abounds in the United States. It takes place in families, religious communities, private clubs and fraternal organizations, and in the form of spontaneous individual acts of conscience.

To an advocate of "National Service," however, none of these activities are innately worthwhile. They haven't been mandated or certified by the State. Thus they are missing the magic ingredient that supposedly makes government "service" morally superior to the private variety: Coercion.

From that perspective, the janitor who cleans up a shopping mall in exchange for a paycheck is to be disdained as someone seeking his own economic benefit, while an AmeriCorps "volunteer" who cleans up a public park in exchange for money extorted from taxpayers at gunpoint is to be celebrated as the embodiment of the Common Good. Yes, they both perform the same function, but only the labor of the latter has been consecrated through the exercise of government coercion.

Contemporary advocates of National Service, whether they admit it or not, seek to install coercion -- not commerce or contract -- as the organizing principle of the economy. They likewise seek to indoctrinate young Americans in the idea that human needs are best met through social regimentation administered by a supervisory elite. And behind the conceit expressed in the common refrain that National Service teaches a person to serve something "larger than himself" looms the murderous assumption that the individual exists to serve the pleasure of the State.

All of this explains why modern collectivists, from the Jacobins to the Bolsheviks to their disavowed but unmistakable kindred, the Fascists and National Socialists, have made compulsory universal "service" a central pillar of their totalitarian platforms.

"The Youth belong to the Leader": The Nazi vision of "National Service."

The Jacobins fought a civil war against the heroic Vendeans in the effort to impose conscription -- for both military service and forced labor -- on a recalcitrant population. Decades later, the demand for universal, state-mandated labor and the conscription of "industrial armies" was the eighth plank of the Communist Manifesto.

After the founding of the Soviet regime, Vladimir Lenin insisted that each of its subjects consider himself part of a "great army of free labor" to be used as the Bolshevik oligarchy saw fit. "The generation that is now 15 years old ... must arrange all the tasks of their education in such a way that every day, in every city, the young people shall engage in the practical solution of the problems of common labor, even of the smallest, most simple kind," declared the founding Soviet dictator.

A nearly identical ethic of common servitude was championed by the Fascist regime founded by Benito Mussolini. Fascist theoretician Alfredo Rocco declared: "For Fascism, society is the end, individuals the means, and its whole life consists in using individuals as instruments for its social ends."

In his 1936 book The Philosophy of Fascism, Mario Palmieri explained that under Mussolini's variant of quasi-socialist collectivism, "a true, a great spiritual life cannot take place unless the State has risen to a position of pre-eminence in the world of man. The curtailment of liberty thus becomes justified ... with this need of raising the State to its rightful position."

The "rightful position" Palmieri alludes to, of course, is master.

Not many people realize that nearly two decades before Mussolini's ideological priesthood taught those tenets in Italy, the same gospel of collectivism was being preached in the United States under the reign of the despicable Woodrow Wilson. In fact, there's a strong case to be made that fascism and national socialism were invented by American collectivists, rather than their counterparts in Italy or Germany.

Bernard Baruch, chairman of Wilson's War Industries Board (and the son of a German who fled that country to avoid conscription) unflinchingly espoused the concept of state ownership of its subjects in an August 7, 1918 newspaper editorial:

"Every man's life is at the call of the nation and so must be every man's property. We are living today in a highly organized state of socialism. The state is all; the individual is of importance only as he contributes to the welfare of the state. His property is his only as the state does not need it. He must hold his life and possessions at the call of the state."

Responding to those who condemned conscription as a form of impermissible enforced servitude, Baruch assumed that there is some ineffable quality of government that elevates and purifies officially sanctioned slavery.

"Enforced and involuntary service for a private master," Baruch insisted, "is and has been clearly and repeatedly defined by our Supreme Court as slavery." But this wasn't true of those drafted into the military, or into industrial armies through the Wilson regime's "Work or Fight" program: "A soldier serves the nation directly. There is but one master in the case and that master is America. He serves to profit no one but the country as a whole" -- or, more honestly stated, the government ruling the country.

As someone who lusted to impose an austere uniformity upon irrepressibly individualistic Americans, Baruch was sorely disappointed when World War I ended so quickly.

"Had the war gone on another year, our whole civil population would have gradually emerged (as wardrobes and inventories became exhausted) in cheap but serviceable uniform," he wrote wistfully in his book American Industry in the War, published in 1941 as the Regime in Washington geared up for a second mass bloodletting. "Types of shoes were to be reduced to two or three. The manufacture of pleasure automobiles was to cease."

The authentic face of American fascism:
Bernard Baruch, as he appeared while directing the Wilson Regime's War Industries Board.

Although Baruch and his comrades failed to consummate their desire to transform America into a dull gray collectivist monolith, the former War Commissar could take some satisfaction in knowing that his work was appreciated abroad.

Writing of Germany's National Socialist regime, Baruch proudly noted:
"German military experts have said, ‘Except for a few minor changes, the German economic mobilization system was conscientiously built in imitation of the similar American system.'"

Let me repeat, and italicize, that admission:

Bernard Baruch, the architect of Wilson's wartime collectivist state, was proud that the Nazi regime was using his program of universal conscription as the blueprint for their own totalitarian order

A few years before Baruch the Malignant was put in charge of the American economy, social philosopher and psychologist William James devised a slightly different framework for universal slavery. In a 1910 essay of the same name, James introduced a concept that has since become an exceptionally tiresome rhetorical trope: "The Moral Equivalent of War."

As a self-described pacifist, James sought to extract "the higher aspects of military sentiment" from the "bestial side of the war-regime." Like many social engineers who write with extended pinky fingers, James found that there was something about the regimentation and pageantry of militarism that stirred his loins. He mused that there must be some way to preserve the collectivist advantages of war, without all of that icky bloodshed.

Why not have "a conscription of the whole youthful [male] population to form for a certain number of years a part of the army enlisted against Nature," wrote James, using the term to describe both the physical challenges of a country that was still part wilderness, and those elements of youthful human nature James found disagreeable.

"To coal and iron mines, to freight trains, to fishing fleets in December, to dish-washing, clothes-washing, and window-washing, to road-building and tunnel-making, to foundries and stoke-holes, and to the frames of skyscrapers, would our gilded youths be drafted off, according to their choice, to get the childishness knocked out of them, and to come back into society with healthier sympathies and soberer ideas," wrote James. "They would have paid their blood-tax*.... Such a conscription, with the state of public opinion that would have required it, and the many moral fruits it would bear, would preserve in the midst of a pacific civilization the manly virtues which the military party is so afraid of seeing disappear in peace."

Once again, young men perform all of the various kinds of "service" referred to by James -- as employees or even as business owners.

But this won't do. Only conscripted service will accomplish what he, like other statists, desired: Teach the youngster to put the State at the center of his life, impressing upon him the idea that he belongs to the State, and that anything he has can be demanded of him by the State at any time. Just as importantly, it would preserve the chief "benefit" of war by imposing quasi-military regimentation on young Americans during peacetime.

Epicene collectivist Richard Stengel, who doesn't look like somebody familiar with the proper use of either a shovel or a rifle, seeks to re-institute slavery in the form of mandatory "National Service."

Roughly a century later, Time's Richard Stengel dumbed down and reheated William James's proposal in "A Time to Serve," an essay he published in his little magazine roughly a year ago.

"It may seem like a strange moment to make the case for national service for young Americans when so many are already doing so much," writes Stengel. "Young men and women have made their patriotism all to real by volunteering to fight two wars on foreign soil. But we have battlefields in America, too -- particularly in education and health care -- and the commitment of soldiers abroad has left others yearning to make a parallel commitment here at home."

Two elements of this paragraph shriek out for a response.

First, Stengel identifies education and health care as two areas desperately in need of help. This isn't surprising, given the amount of government involvement in those two fields. This illustrates one of the nastiest hidden aspects of the "National Service" concept: Government creates or exacerbates social problems through corrupt intervention, and then forces people to work for free on behalf of a government-mandated "solution."

Secondly, young people face no impediments should they feel a calling to help clean up the government-created messes in education or health care, or to offer uncompensated service for any other cause. Stengel's disingenuous language about a national service program being a boon to those who want to make a "commitment" of that kind is a variant on a familiar theme -- the idea that conscription would "give youngsters an opportunity to serve," as if such opportunities didn't exist.

Young people face no shortage of opportunities to enlist in the military, or in any of the numerous government-created "service" organizations. The real intent is to reduce their opportunities by forcing them to serve.

Stengel, a co-chairman of the elitist pro-servitude lobby Service Nation, proposes that Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 be required to spend at least one year in "national or military service." This wouldn't be "mandatory," he insists, because in his scheme it would be the taxpayers who are coerced: "Every time an American baby is born, the Federal Government would invest $5,000 in that child's name in a 529-type fund [a college savings account].... At a rate of return of 7% -- the historic return for equities -- that money would total roughly $19,000 by the time that baby reaches age 19." The money would be released after the youngster has paid the "blood tax" of national service.

Stengel's proposal is just one version of what has become the semi-official template for a new conscription program: Various proposals are circulating in which a year or more of "national or military service" would be required of young Americans as a condition of college admission, or financial aid for college.

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-New York), who has sponsored legislation to reinstate the military draft based on that concept, has pointed out that although young people could request domestic assignments of various kinds, the final decision as to where the subjects would serve would be made by their masters:
"[I]t would seem to me that … you bring everybody in, and then you determine what can you do with them, what contribution can they make?... We can train people to do these non-military jobs. They can go overseas. They can stay here. They could be the eyes and ears."

Those who volunteer for military service today have no control over how or where they serve, and find that the government reserves the power to redefine its service contract at whim. Why should we believe that a universal mandatory service program would operate any differently?

This September 11-12, Service Nation will hold a two-day summit in New York City to inaugurate a year-long campaign to enact a mandatory universal service program. Organizers anticipate the involvement of both John McCain and Barack Obama, who represent complementary halves of the mandatory service concept.

The notoriously bellicose McCain lusts for the manpower necessary to carry out various wars and foreign occupations that would last for generations.

Barack the Blessed (we pause now for a moment of chastened reverence) has proposed the creation of a "civilian national security force" that would be "just as powerful, just as strong" as the military. And like all advocates of government-administered "service," Obama believes that "volunteering" works best when it is mandatory under penalty of law.

His wife Michelle -- who once ordered people in an economically depressed Ohio community to eschew lucrative corporate employment and instead serve as instruments of the State -- has predicted that as ruler Obama will
"demand that you shed your cynicism . . . That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual ....."(Emphasis added.)

Whether it takes the form of a military draft, or the creation of huge armies of state-supervised "free labor," National Service is designed to make the State the central focus in the life of every individual. It is a perverse political sacrament intended to compel subjects to seek first the good of the State and its supposed righteousness.

Rather than catechizing them in collectivism, young people desperately need to be taught that the only genuine public service is that which takes place through commerce and contract, rather than coercion. They should be helped to understand that a youngster who flips hamburgers or mows laws in exchange for a private paycheck is performing a socially useful service immeasurably superior to the purported "service" performed by tax-subsidized drones.

They should be instructed to despise the State and oppose all of its works and pomps -- its fraudulent currency, its fictional reserve banking system, its wars both domestic and foreign. They should be raised to see the State for what it is: The grand impediment to all genuine social progress and the greatest source of needless death and misery in human history.

To put it in a single phrase: Young people must be taught to shun the State as their mortal enemy, rather than to embrace it as their redeemer.

*To anyone possessed of so much as a whisper of historical perspective, the phrase "blood tax" has a chilling resonance: That expression originally referred to the practice of the Ottoman Turks of stealing young Christian boys, forcibly indoctrinating them in Islam, and deploying them as Janissaries -- occupation forces and tax collectors for the Sultan.

Available now!

Dum spiro, pugno!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Big Bailout: America as a Full-Spectrum Kleptocracy

Where this is headed: Eventually the thieves will turn on each other. In fact, it's happening right now.

Its name somewhat anachronistically means "assembly of old men." George Washington famously -- and, it must now be admitted, with excessive optimism -- characterized it as an institutional saucer intended to cool legislation passed in the intemperate heat of the moment. Its members demand, with entirely unwarranted self-approval, to be called, collectively, the World's Greatest Deliberative Body.

Sober observers understand it to be the most corrupt legislative assembly in human history.
To those characterizations of the United States Senate we must now add another, perhaps the final one: Gravedigger of the republic.

the Senate's passage of the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac bailout last Saturday (July 26), the United States of America has now become the world's first full-service kleptocracy, a form of government described earlier in this space as a government of, by, and for the robbers.

We are supposed to pretend to believe that the Senate, so great was its anxiety over the nation's economically distressed homeowners, met in a rare Saturday session for the sole purpose of administering the balm of Gilead on hardworking families who confront the bleak prospect of foreclosure.

There may be people who believe such a thing, or at least profess to do so. They are pretty much the kind of people who believe that
peace, prosperity, and progress will magically ensue after next January 20, when the Holy One, Barack Obama (peace be upon him) ascends to the presidency, not astride a White Horse, but rather mounted upon a flying unicorn that emits healing rainbows from its butt.

No, it's not the travails of the productive that would earn such attention from the Senate. When the Senate sacrifices so much as a minute of its down time, it does so not to
relieve our burdens, but to add to them in the interest of their fellow parasites.

Thieves in suits, the private sector version....

When Congress created the Federal Reserve in 1913, it did so in a lame-duck session. The Fed's proponents described its handiwork as an independent entity that would prevent "panics" and maintain the integrity of our currency and financial system.

The Fed was presented to the public in pseudo-populist drag: It was supposedly the bane of the big banking interests.
This was, in every particular, a conscious inversion of the truth. The Fed was, is, and every shall be a product and protector of those interests. It has practically destroyed the value of US currency, and engineered numerous financial crises, including the one currently unfolding.

The measure passed last Saturday is being
described to the public as a "homeowner" bailout. It is nothing of the sort. It supposedly creates an independent oversight mechanism to rein in the excesses of Fannie and Freddie. This, too, is an unalloyed falsehood.

Let us disambiguate the key issue right now. This is a measure to
nationalize Fannie and Freddie, plundering the population at large -- through direct taxation, the more insidious tax called inflation, or both -- to bail out two fascist entities that have been used to enrich the politically connected super-rich through the most corrupt means imaginable.

Furthermore, this measure
prefigures the eventual nationalization of the entire financial system under the supervision of an executive branch official with practically unlimited power to appropriate and allocate funds without congressional action. OK, sure, he has to file a report with Congress regarding his expenditures. But this takes place after the fact, and Congress will be able to do nothing but complain, if it can bestir itself even to that extent.

Thieves in more expensive suits, the public sector version: The Senate Democratic leadership. The Republicans, of course, are just as bad, if not worse.

Congress has yielded its war powers to the executive branch. It has now effectively surrendered the power of the purse, as well. What, then, remains by way of the legislative branch's ability to check the executive?

Nobody responsible for this is willing to admit that truth; they're too busy taking refuge in contrived ambiguities.

The figure sent out to pollute headlines and palliate a nervous public last week was that fixing Fannie and Freddie will cost "at least" $25 billion. That's a bit like saying there are "at least" 25 gallons of water in Lake Michigan.

The Congressional Budget Office, in an artful display of tactical equivocation, said that the bailout could cost anything from $100 billion down to "nothing." That latter estimate would be dismissed as magic thinking were it not a transparent and cynical effort to propagate such delusion among that part of the public paying attention to the ongoing economic collapse.

As the Wall Street Journal summarized, the $25 billion figure was arrived by following a time-honored government accounting algorithm: Some accountant at the CBO threw a dart at the wall. In fact, the bailout measure places in the hands of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson the discretionary authority to pour as much money into Fannie and Freddie as he deems necessary. He can extend an unlimited credit line to either or both of those government-chartered companies; he can use federal funds to buy shares in either, or both.

There is no limit to what can be spent on the bailout, or the extent of government involvement it will entail.
In his efforts to lobby congressional Republicans on behalf of the bailout, Paulson reportedly assured them that he has "no intention" of using those extraordinary powers. This means, of course, that they will be used immediately. It also means, inevitably, that Fannie and Freddie will be nationalized, and that taxpayers will pay the full burden of the bailout.

Senate Republicans -- clap-torn whores, every one of them -- put up a show of reluctance, perhaps because the White House likes a little role-playing action of that sort. This meant that Treasury Secretary Paulson had to convene several meetings with Republicans in order to pretend to overcome their reluctance to support a measure that will impecuniate their constituents in order to pay off the imponderably huge bad debts assumed by politically protected thieves.

The Fannie/Freddie bailout is another example of the familiar equation behind corporatism (or, to use the more loaded synonym, fascism): The risks are subsidized, the losses are socialized, and the profits are privatized.

There are former corporate executives who spend their days looking at striped sunlight and showing with their backs to the wall for crimes identical to those of former Fannie CEO Franklin D. Raines and his comrades. But because Raines and his posse used a Government-Sponsored Entity to commit their crimes, they're free to enjoy nearly all the fruits of their

The Great Poker Face, he ain't: Paulson looks on in visible alarm as his dimwitted boss pontificates on the supposed health of the US economy.

I find it remarkable that next to nothing has been said by way of condemning Raines and his fellow corporatist thieves.

Doing so is nearly as unthinkable as permitting those two government-sponsored companies to fail, as they should.

According to former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, the bailout wouldn't be necessary if people were willing to do their part by throwing their money away without the government forcing them to do so: "Emergency legislation was necessary because market participants were unwilling to buy Fannie and Freddie's debt; investors doubted that the government-sponsored enterprises were healthy enough to repay it and did not draw sufficient reassurance from the implicit guarantee of federal support." This is why, according to Summers, "Anyone who cares about the health of the US economy should welcome the ... rescue plan for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac...."

Quick quiz: What's the difference between a common armed robber (such as this convenience store bandit), and the Federal Reserve? The first steals money from the cash register; the second steals the value of the money in the cash register.

Imagine an armed robber lecturing his victim that it wouldn't have been "necessary" to threaten the victim's life, and the lives of his family, if they had simply handed over their money on demand, and you'll have a suitable moral parallel to the statement above. Eventually -- and for that, read "pretty damn soon" -- the entire daisy-chain of fraud we call our financial system will devolve into a scene of violent chaos akin to the denouement of Reservoir Dogs, only immeasurably bigger and unimaginably bloodier.

Already, the robber's pact holding the system together is starting to fray, as fractional reserve banks start gagging on each other's IOUs. Witness the fact that cashier's checks being issued by California's newly federalized IndyMac bank aren't being honored by other banks: Customers who cash out of IndyMac are finding that they won't be able to access their funds for up to two months. It's not difficult to imagine the impact this will have on households who expected to use those funds to make mortgage or tax payments, or have other irrepressible financial needs.

It took roughly a tithe of FDIC's deposit insurance fund to bail out IndyMac.
Last week's bank failures -- First National Bank of Nevada and Arizona's First Heritage Bank -- involved combined assets of about $3.6 billion.

With Wachovia, Washington Mutual, and many other major banks primed to blow, the day will soon come when -- in the words of James Kunstler -- the FDIC will simply "choke and croak on this wad of losses.... When American depositors get screwed out of their deposits" -- as they already are; vide the observation above regarding IndyMac's dodgy cashier's checks -- "the full force of the fiasco will drag the dollar underwater like the legendary Kraken of old preying on a babe thrown overboard. Then the forces of darkness will really be loosed."

Last week, Congress went on record regarding its priorities: With a handful of noble exceptions (conspicuous among them the stalwart Rep. Ron Paul of Texas), they demonstrated a willingness to ruin what remains of the dollar and destroy the Middle Class in order to rescue -- temporarily -- the uber-rich Robber Class.

The people responsible for this betrayal will be campaigning in their districts during the coming weeks. It would be instructive to them, and may be heartening to their victims, to see at least a few of them on the receiving end of timely and forceful rebukes, delivered in language -- and other expressive conduct -- appropriate to the occasion, and prevailing security environment.

On sale now!

Dum spiro, pugno!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Abetting Police Aggression: The "COPS Effect"

Publicly funded poseurs: The tax-funded cast of the "reality" TV program Dallas SWAT, who -- unlike other television performers -- have official permission to shoot some of their co-stars.

They really didn't have to wreck the house, but they did it anyway.

There was no tactical advantage to be gained by perforating the house with tear gas grenades (one of which remained, for a long time, embedded in an attic vent), blowing out five windows, leaving part of the ceiling collapsed and the whole house uninhabitable because of the suffocating residue left by the gas attack.

As the residents of the home on South Oak Cliff drive in Dallas insisted, the murder suspect sought by the SWAT team -- 18-year-old Cristobal Jaimes -- wasn't there. As Cristobal's father Francisco pointed out to the local ABC affiliate, the family cooperated fully with the SWAT team, consenting to a search of the home and staying out of the way.

For their part, the SWAT operators followed established procedures. This meant that, despite being clad in body armor, carrying high-performance weapons, and dramatically outnumbering their quarry, the officers proceeded at a glacial pace. For more than a half hour, they ran remote cameras into several rooms of the house and otherwise took care to avoid a direct confrontation with an individual they believed to be armed and potentially dangerous.

It was only after they had established, to something approximating a moral certainty, that Cristobal wasn't in the home, that the SWAT team began the tear gas fusillade. When that failed to flush out the suspect, the officers gathered their gear and drove away, leaving the Jaimes family with a devastated and uninhabitable home and without a word of apology.

Aftermath: Cristobal Jaimes' mother examines a bedroom left wrecked by the SWAT assault on their home. The persistent odor of tear gas made most of the house uninhabitable.

As far as the Dallas PD was concerned, the department had no moral or ethical responsibility to repair the damage done to an innocent family's home. That is -- cue voice of chastened reverence -- Official Policy. Accordingly, the SWAT team, after thrashing the Jaimes' home, simply gave the family the equivalent of a High School bully's distracted shrug and left in search of the nearest donut emporium.

Between January 1, 2007 and late June of this year, when the raid took place on the Jaimes' residence, "ten other property owners filed similar claims against the city for SWAT damage," reported WFAA-TV. "But Dallas has never paid a dime for the kicked in doors and other property damage. It likely won't go back and pay it now, either."

However, in a minuscule concession to public outrage provoked by media coverage of the Jaimes raid, "SWAT officers will at least let victims like the Jaimes know where to turn for help to decontaminate after [a] tear gas [assault]. It's a small gesture no other department in the state has done. In fact, DPD said it only found two other departments in the nation with similar programs"-- one in Detroit, the other in Las Vegas.

So if your house is needlessly trashed in a SWAT raid, it's all but certain that the people responsible for leaving your abode a smoking, choking ruin won't even condescend to tell you the name of a local company that can clean up the mess.

The Dallas Police, seeking to contain the PR damage, referred the Jaimes to a local non-profit called Victim Relief, which offered to clean up the house at its expense. The group's founder, an apparently decent man named Gene Grounds, tried to depict the Police Department's actions in the best possible light: "We understand that [the police] have a job and their job ends when they complete their assignment," he observed.

The "assignment" here, recall, was to arrest 18-year-old murder suspect Cristobal Jaimes. One would expect this to be a matter of some urgency, given that a SWAT team was dispatched to take him into custody.

But oddly enough, within a few days of the assault on the Jaimes residence, the police blew an opportunity to arrest Jaimes without violence: When the young man called 911 in an attempt to turn himself in, he was told by the operator that he would have to arrange for his own transportation. "[T]ake a car, bus whatever ... but [the police] won't come and pick you up," the operator told a no doubt puzzled and frustrated murder suspect, who reacted by calling 911 again, getting a second operator, and eventually arranging for his own arrest.*

So ... arresting this murder suspect wasn't a sufficiently high priority to warrant the dispatch of a regular black-and-white, but at the same time it was urgent enough to justify a paramilitary assault on the home of his innocent family?

Behind that contradiction lurks another important question: What effort, if any, was made to find and arrest Cristobal through conventional police methods? I suspect the answers would run the spectrum from "very little" to "none at all."

For decades prior to the introduction of the militarized police units called SWAT teams forty years ago, street officers and detectives routinely tracked down and arrested dangerous murder suspects, and I'm sure that this is still done today, at least in some jurisdictions. But now that practically every community is occupied by a federally subsidized SWAT outfit, it has become common to use those teams for routine missions -- not just arresting potentially violent suspects, but serving warrants and other non-crisis situations.

In the case of the Dallas SWAT team, the apparently irresistible temptation for the promiscuous use of SWAT teams is exacerbated by the distorting influence of "reality" television. The Dallas SWAT team, after all, isn't just a law enforcement agency. Its members are also television stars in search of the proper setting in which to display themselves.

In physics, the phrase "Observer Effect" refers to the way in which the act of observing something changes the behavior of the object under observation. A similar phenomenon can be found in the entertainment genre called "reality" television. No intelligent person can believe that human interactions caught on a less-than-candid camera are spontaneous and unaffected.

The worst and most troubling version of "reality" television programs are those chronicling the experiences of law enforcement agencies -- the decades-old Fox program "COPS" and its imitators, one of which is Dallas SWAT (which has engendered its own regional spin-offs, as well).

Police work is carried out by armed people invested with the power to commit discretionary lethal violence; it's a monumentally bad idea to appeal to the vanity of such people and to encourage them to act in ways calculated to enhance their image.

"Reality" programs involving police tend to emphasize photogeneity over professionalism, not only in terms of the personnel chosen to represent a given department but also in terms of the decisions made in a given situation. Chases and confrontations make for dramatic television; patient de-escalation does not.

Perhaps this is why Dallas SWAT -- which lost one of its cast members when he was found consorting with a groupie who turned out to be a prostitute -- seems to favor high-publicity operations of exceptionally dubious merit, such as raiding underground poker games.

Yes, these armored paladins of public order are bold as Achilles when storming a card game -- but timid as church mice when surrounding the home of a teenager believed to be armed and dangerous. That contrast, I think, throws into sharp relief the priorities of a law enforcement body that is also -- or perhaps primarily -- a propaganda instrument.

A legitimate documentary featuring the work of genuine peace officers would yield little of the adrenalized melodrama peddled by Fox and its imitators. Showing the routine arrest of Cristobal Jaimes on the streets, or his booking after the young man turned himself in, wouldn't play on the Idiot Box. Showing him being dragged out of a house by an amped-up SWAT team, on the other hand, is Good Television.

What we might call the "COPS Effect" is intimately related to the mindset I call the "Showtime Syndrome, which manifests itself whenever a police officer threatens, or indulges in, unnecessary violence. But this lethal mimicry isn't limited to law enforcement.

Private sector thugs watch the same "reality" programs, after all, and it's becoming increasingly common for criminals to stage home invasion robberies while disguised as SWAT operators or other police personnel carrying out armed raids.

In fact, Dallas police just recently broke up an urban gang that specialized in home invasion robberies of that kind. For more than two years, that gang rampaged across several counties, stealing enough to branch out into the nightclub business and real estate ventures (including mortgage fraud -- of the unofficial variety, that is). The crooks often posed as SWAT operators; on a few occasions, following the Bush Regime's lead, they used "enhanced interrogation techniques" such as waterboarding to break down the resistance of victims trying to conceal the location of cash and other valuables.

They took their cues from the police (left to right): Davin Stephens, Courtney Farmer, Earnest Ross, William Autrey.

Home invasions of that variety work best when they're carried out without resort to gunplay, which can attract the attention of neighbors and passersby. This leads me to wonder if some of those robberies could be thwarted if people weren't indoctrinated to see armed assaults as an increasingly routine form of police work. Again, we see evidence of the distorting influence of the "COPS Effect" at work.

Commentator Charles Featherstone describes COPS and its offspring as "the perfect morality tale for the evolving American police state.... It's 30 minutes – minus commercials – of moral superiority and vicarious entertainment at the expense of people who won't amount to much anyway."

That "morality play" is lethal, as it cultivates within the viewer a sense of identification with armed agents of State power and a sense of distance from the unsavory criminal suspects on the receiving end of State-sanctioned violence.

Officer Friendly, he ain't: The face of contemporary law enforcement, as depicted in the A&E series Dallas SWAT. Does this really look like something we'd expect to see in a genuinely free society?

"The watcher of COPS gets to marvel at the stupidity of everyone detained, the pettiness of their crimes, and more importantly – the fact that we are watching, which means we aren't being apprehended ourselves," continues Featherstone. "In fact, we're quite convinced we're not the kind of people who would ever wind up on the wrong side of a loaded police officer, and can laugh and shake our heads at the pathetic folks who are."

Of course, police work is hardly the incessantly dangerous occupation depicted on television. And thanks in some considerable measure to the attitudes cultivated by Police State Television, the odds are improving that each of us, no matter how hard we try to avoid it, will find ourselves on the "wrong side of a loaded police officer" at some time in our lives.

*A few years ago, a 911 dispatcher in Watuga -- a suburb of Ft. Worth -- reacted to an anguished mother's call describing a destructive tantrum by a 12-year-old child by sneering: "OK -- do you want us to come over and shoot her?" I don't think the intent here was to underscore to the mother that all police interactions involve the implicit threat of lethal violence.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Palace Prophets

A King's fatal folly: Assured by his palace prophets that his sneak attack on Ramoth-Gilead would succeed, Ahab, ruler of Israel, leads both his army and Jehosaphat's army of Judah to a crushing defeat.
(See the editorial note at the bottom of this essay.)

A wary and uneasy peace had prevailed for three years between Syria and Israel when Jehoshaphat, ruler of Judah, held a summit in Samaria with Ahab, who reigned over the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

“Hey, you know what?” Ahab asked Jehoshaphat, nudging his counterpart in the ribs. “We really ought to hook up and snatch Ramoth in Gilead away from Syria. Whadd'ya say?”

“I'm down with that,” Jehoshaphat replied, “and so are my subjects and my military – but we might want to ask what God thinks of the idea.”

Rolling his eyes in disgust, Ahab summoned his posse of prophets – all four hundred of them, who were kept on retainer by his administration. Solely for the benefit of his would-be ally, Ahab -- in a voice well-seasoned with weary indifference -- posed the question to them: “So, should I attack Ramoth-Gilead, or what?”

“Yeah, go ahead,” the court prophets replied. “God will be on your side, and stuff.”

Not surprisingly, this performance failed to convince Jehoshaphat, who was as cynical and opportunistic as the next ruler but retained a residue of genuine piety. As he examined the collection of Hierophants for hire masquerading as men of God, the King of Judah probably reflected on some version of the following thought: Take the King's shekel, follow the king's script.

“Isn't there an actual prophet of the Lord around here somewhere whom we could consult about the wisdom of going to war?” Jehoshaphat asked. This request prompted another bout of eye-rolling from Ahab.

“Well, there is this one guy, but he's not a team player,” Ahab complained. “He's such a defeatist and nay-sayer. He never says anything good about my administration, and he's outside the mainstream of prophetic thought. It's always `The Lord is displeased with your greed and corruption,' and `You are condemned by the Lord for your idolatry,' and things like that. He just dwells on the negative; he doesn't give people any hope. But I'll summon him, if you insist.”

Turning to a military aide, Ahab said: “Bring me Micaiah the son of Imlah.”

While the messenger was out fetching the prophet of the Lord, the court prophets put on a show for the amusement of Ahab and his guest, regaling them with tales of their impending military conquest. It would be a “cakewalk,” they insisted; the Syrians would be wiped out and the allied forces of Judah and Israel would hardly break a sweat.

When Micaiah was found, the royal messenger took him aside and tried to prompt him as to the message “the Lord” would offer through him.

“Look, Ahab called out the prophets, and they've reached a consensus,” the messenger explained. “They've all agreed that the war is going to be successful. So the war is going to happen; you can't change that, so you might as well try to influence the policy for good, rather than opposing it, which would just leave you marginalized anyway. This is just one of those times you have to choose the lesser of the available evils. You don't have to say exactly what the court prophets have said, but you really should let your message harmonize with theirs.”

“You don't understand, do you?” said Micaiah. “I'm not in the business of saying what the King wants to hear, or swaddling the King's policies in pious language. I'm just a messenger, like you, but my messages come from the Lord, rather than the King – and He requires that I speak only what He tells me to.”

After expelling a heavy sigh and shaking his head in resignation, the royal messenger took Micaiah back to King Ahab – and then promptly made himself scarce.

This is what all the fuss was about?! Ramoth-Gilead today.

“So, Micaiah,” Ahab said, treating him to what he thought was an intimidating look, “Should we attack Ramoth-Gilead?”

He's already made up his mind, Micaiah thought in disgust.

“Yeah, go ahead,” he said disdainfully, casting a contemptuous glance at the court prophets, who were clinging to the shadows in anticipation of a very unpleasant confrontation. “Go to war, and may the Lord prosper you.” He turned to leave, only to be find his exit blocked by the King's palace guards.

Ahab was many contemptible things, but he was not a fool, and he could recognize when he was being patronized.

“Look, why don't you tell me what the Lord says about the matter?” he said defiantly, expecting that through the force of his royal bombast he could compel the stubborn prophet to trim his sails.

“Very well,” Micaiah said, squaring his shoulders as the court prophets dove for cover. “The Lord has shown me the armies of Israel scattered in the hills, fleeing in a leaderless retreat, with every man withdrawing to his own house.”

Throwing up his hands in frustration, Ahab turned to Jehoshaphat. “Y'see? What did I tell you? He's a defeatist.”

Emboldened by the King's complaint and the fact that Michaiah was surrounded by armed guards, some of the salaried seers were able to summon a bully's simulacrum of courage. A few of them audibly rebuked Micaiah for defying the prophetic consensus.

“I mean, who is this guy to say that he's right, and we're wrong?” one of the pink-slip prophets protested, his elongated sibilants testifying of both the softness of his lifestyle and the dubiousness of his masculinity.

Boldly approaching the King, Michaiah prophesied:

“The ... men you hired didn't ask God about the truth," Michaiah declared. "They wanted to enlist Him to support their ruler's ambitions. God doesn't lie, but sometimes, after we persist in lying long enough He simply lets us live with the consequences of our deceit."

"As for me," Michaiah continued, pausing to shoot a look at the cringing "prophets" before resuming, "I
saw the Lord in vision on his throne, surrounded by the host of heaven. The Lord permitted a lying spirit to work through Ahab's prophets to persuade the king to embark on this stupid war."

At this, Zedekiah – the royal prophet who had complained about Michaiah's presumption – strode up to the Lord's prophet and hit him flush on the jaw. The result was more of an insult than an injury.

“So, was it a lying spirit from the Lord that made me deliver that message to you?” Zedekiah sneered, only to feel every particle of boldness leave him as Michaiah's eyes, radiating the composed courage of a man who knows the truth and is at peace with it, pierced the poseur's pretenses.

Truth vs. "Consensus": Michaiah boldly prophesies against the aggressive war being plotted by Ahab and Jehosaphat.

“You're brave enough when the King and his bodyguards have your back,” Michaiah told Zedekiah, his voice the quiet but penetrating rumble of a distant, fast-approaching thunderstorm. “But I can see a day when you'll be cowering in a corner, whimpering in fear.”

“Take this guy and throw him in prison, until I return victorious!” Ahab commanded.

As a brace of bodyguards started to march Michaiah out of the throne room, the Lord's prophet shrugged his arms free and turned to utter one final warning.

“You won't return at all from this war,” he told Ahab. “If you do, you'll know that the Lord had nothing to do with my prophecy.”

Shortly thereafter, Ahab and Jehoshaphat struck out for Ramoth-Gilead.

Before the assault began, Ahab – perhaps haunted by Michaiah's prophecy – decided to hedge his bets. “You know what -- I've got an idea,” Ahab told his ally. “I'm going to disguise myself as a common soldier. Why don't you make yourself a more conspicuous target by parading around in your royal finery.”

We're not told what Jehoshaphat's reaction was to this self-serving proposal (I'd wager it involved the ancient equivalent of a barnyard epithet), but he did as he asked – with predictable consequences.

The Syrian king had told his military leaders to ignore the rank and file and concentrate on finding Ahab. In short order Jehoshaphat was swarmed by the Syrian hosts.

“Hey, I'm not the guy you're looking for!” Jehosaphat yelped.

The Syrian charioteers, seeing that this was true, wheeled about and resumed their pursuit of the disguised Ahab.

Meanwhile, some undistinguished Syrian conscript drew back on his bow and let fly at random. “I shot an arrow into the air,” as it were – and the deadly projectile hit the disguised Ahab in a seam of his armor, mortally wounding him.

With Ahab dead and Jehoshaphat's battlefield leadership compromised, the Israelite army fell apart, each man retreating to the security of his home, just as Micaiah had prophesied.

The object of sharing this rather emancipated paraphrase of I Kings 22 is to underscore the moral and practical futility of seeking wisdom from religious leaders who are on the state's payroll, or who covet the power that comes from proximity to the politically powerful.

I do not intend to interpolate my own views into the Scripture, but from what I know of human nature it seems likely that many of the payola prophets who took part in Ahab's “Faith-Based Initiative” probably believed that their compromises were necessary in order to advance some worthwhile objective or another. After all, working in partnership with the government is the key to getting things done, isn't it?

Here's a critically important principle: In any “public/private partnership,” the state is always the senior partner. When Christian leaders are on Caesar's payroll, they have to render to him things to which he is not entitled. And when Caesar's tactical priorities change, those religious leaders who thought they could co-opt the power of the state to do good will discover, to their dismay, that the state has co-opted them, leaving it stronger and more hostile toward the values those leaders supposedly served.

Opportunistic parasites: If this shark makes a meal of these helpless scuba divers, the remora it hosts will feed well, too.

For a generation, the putatively Christian Right has attached itself to the Republican Party like a remora on a Great White. During the reign of King George the Dimmer, tens of millions of dollars taxpayer money was lavished on various "Christian" groups run by religious allies of the GOP.

In many instances, the grants display every appearance of being vulgar pay-outs to shepherds more interested in herding their flocks to the polls on behalf of Republicans, rather than speaking the truth and tending to the needs of wounded souls.

Doubtless groups of this sort consider flatter themselves by thinking that they are “light and salt” to the world. But Christians who develop a taste for the state's subsidy are salt that will soon lose its savor.

Consider the fact that Bush was able to mislead the United States into a patently unjust and undeniably evil war in Iraq without provoking a protest from so much as a single significant Evangelical leader. Indeed, the conduct of major Evangelical figures in conferring their benediction on the Iraq war was more than a little reminiscent of the behavior of Ahab's palace prophets.

Chief among the GOP's Palace Prophets is Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family.

A bespectacled, middle-aged man with a Dick Van Patten comb-over and the adenoidal whine of a natural-born scold, Dr. Dobson commands a large and vastly influential media empire headquartered in Colorado Springs.

A decade ago, Dobson declared that he was finished with the Republican Party, citing efforts by the GOP to built a "Big Tent" with socially liberal politicians and activists. Yet after the Bushling was installed as ruler, Dobson managed to cut and stitch his convictions to meet the prevailing fashion.

One key example was Dobson's rationalization for Bush's executive order of July 2001 authorizing limited federal funding of embryonic stem cell experimentation -- a decision condemned by many pro-life figures, but supported by Dobson.

Like many of his comrades, Dobson endorsed the war of choice in Iraq. In a letter responding to one of his critics, Dobson permitted a
spokesman to explain on his behalf that while the war wasn't strictly defensive, "this may be one of those moments in history when we are forced to settle for a trade-off: the lives of the few in exchange for the lives of the many. This is always tragic in the extreme; and yet we must face the fact that even more deaths and greater sufferings would probably have ensued if Saddam had been allowed to pursue his mad course of oppression, aggression, and self-aggrandizement."

This isn't a statement growing out of Christian ethics; it's a rationalization rooted in utilitarianism, and nourished by unadulterated falsehood. Saddam's regime, evil as it was, committed not a single act of international aggression without either the active support, or knowing permission, of Washington. How a fifth-rate dictatorship penned inside two no-fly zones -- a regime that didn't even control all of its own territory for a dozen years -- could be described as pursuing a course of "aggression ... and self-aggrandizement" isn't obvious to un-Hannitized minds.

Last year, Dobson was conspicuous among the Christian leaders summoned to a White House strategy session to help plan for another war of aggression in the Middle East, this one targeting Iran.

One would think that Dobson, given his, ahem, focus on the family, would take issue with the damage the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are doing to families -- children left fatherless, motherless, or orphaned outright; women being deployed in combat roles; husbands and wives deployed simultaneously; the financial burdens of prolonged overseas service, and the resulting disruption of marriages and families; the maimed and mangled young bodies, the invisible but just as grievous injury to thousands of traumatized minds....

As I said, one would think that Dobson would take issue with at least some of this. One would be wrong.

Given his incontinent zeal to support war and bloodshed abroad, Dobson would seem to be a natural supporter of John McCain. Yes, there are some disagreements between them regarding gay "marriage," the McCain-Feingold restrictions on campaign speech, and other matters.

But, hey -- Pat Robertson, the only serious competition Dobson faces for primacy among the GOP's Palace Prophets, managed to choke down his bile and support Rudolph Giuliani, who not only supports the social agenda of left-wing hedonism, he lives it. Robertson's excuse, of course, was that the "war on terror" trumps all other issues.

But Dobson was different where McCain was concerned. Dobson was resolute -- immovable as the Himalayas, as fixed as the Northern Star:
"I would not vote for John McCain under any circumstances," Dobson declared during a January 2007 radio interview.

Well, guess what?

Mountains, like the continents themselves, can move. The "fixed" stars are nothing of the sort. And Dobson's position on McCain has, ah, evolved. 'Course, it takes millennia for those natural changes to take place. Dobson's position on McCain changed in about a year and a half.

"I never thought I would hear myself saying this," Dobson said in a radio program broadcast just days ago (Monday, July 21). "While I am not endorsing Senator John McCain, the possibility is there that I might."

"There's nothing dishonorable in a person rethinking his or her positions, especially in a constantly changing political context," Dobson rationalized in a statement given to the Associated Press. "Barack Obama contradicts and threatens everything I believe about the institution of the family and what is best for the nation. His radical positions on life, marriage and national security force me to reevaluate the candidacy of our only other choice, John McCain."

Rather than telling the truth without fear or favor, we see Dobson embracing the role rejected by the prophet Michaiah in the midrash examined earlier: He's choosing what he believes to be the lesser of the available evils, as dictated by the prevailing consensus.

Actually, as I've pointed out before, the "lesser" evil isn't; when it is chosen it is
always the greater evil, because it's the one that is actually done, rather than serving as a convenient rhetorical device.

Regarding every matter of public consequence, John McCain and Barack Obama -- for all their differences in style (Obama actually has one; McCain does not) are entirely fungible. They are both products of the bipartisan corporatist consensus, surrounded by retainers from the Power Elite and devoted to enhancing the Welfare/Warfare/Homeland Security State. Neither poses any threat to the existing architecture of power.

Whichever is elected will become the latest in a long line of presidential perjurers when he takes the oath of office next January.

Perhaps the only substantive difference between them is that one is a sleeper agent for the Jihad, the other for the Vietnamese. I'm only kidding. I hope.

Innocent blood: What do "pro-lifers" like James Dobson say about the death and mutilation of these Iraqi children as a result of Mr. Bush's war of choice?

But I suspect that Dobson's chief complaint against Obama is that his election would result in the installation of a different cohort of Palace Prophets.

Many of Obama's critics believe that the much-criticized Jeremiah Wright would be prominent in that group. I suspect the opposite would be the case: For all of his theological errors and misguided political views, Rev. Wright did give voice to unpopular but sound criticisms of Washington's imperialist foreign policy.

Genuine, principled critics of political corruption aren't welcome in the Emperor's court, and they usually have more integrity than to seek a position of that sort in the first place.

The first part of this essay is adapted from an earlier version published on March 23, 2006 in the old Birch Blog. I wish to emphasize that the style in which the first section is written is in no way intended to convey disrespect for its Source, and any embellishments that appear in this version are not to be taken literally – although the story, in its original form, is the literal truth.

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