January 18, 2008

What Is It Bush Isn't Telling Us?

Something's happening here,
What it is ain't exactly clear...
-- Buffalo Springfield, "For What It's Worth."

My analysis of anything George W. Bush says or does is guided by certain interpretive principles, or canons of construction. The first of these is that his announced purpose is never the actual purpose. For example, his program to "spread democracy in the Middle East" is a sham. Some of our closest allies are the most repressive police states in the world, and Bush will brook no criticism of these regimes, e.g., Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan. Bush never urges American intervention unless oil lies under the soil of an uncooperative government, for example Iraq and Iran. Quod erat demonstrandum.

Second, Bush never espouses any national policy where the chief purpose is to benefit what you might call the "American common man." Our President has no interest in American citizens per se. His loyalty is vouchsafed first, foremost and only to the high-net-worth investor class, from which he comes and among whom he has lived his life. Why the American booboisie, in its cracker barrel wisdom, would think that such a person would naturally incline toward their interests is one of the wonders of the modern world.

So now Bush is proposing a massive giveaway of about 800 bucks for every American whose name shows up on a tax return as a "short term" stimulus program. Tellingly, Henry Paulson, the fidgety and harried Secretary of Treasury, talked today in terms of refunds to "consumers." The taxpayer moniker is just an ID badge for sending the checks. The idea is to get money out there to the weary American buyers with the hope, the prayer, that they'll run right out to Wal-Mart and buy a Chinese hair dryer and save the U.S. economy. The cavalry has mounted up their Broncos and Mustangs (by Ford) and are attacking the mini-mall! Sound the bugle! We ain't finished yet, Jedediah!

Suspiciously, Bush is in a real hurry to get this done. And get this: he's not even insisting that his cherished tax cuts be made permanent (his absolutely cherished wet dream) in exchange for this populist relief.

Applying the Waldenswimmer Canons, we can deduce the following: first, as suggested by Greg Palast recently, the actual purpose of Bush's trip to the "Middle East" was to see his old pal (and America's arch-enemy) King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. They required a cheek-to-cheek to discuss Bush's great need for lots of petro-cash, like right now, in order to fund this bonanza. I mean, let's face it. Bush can't keep sending money through a fire hose to Baghdad and fund this bribe unless he's sure the King will write the checks. Screw us on the price of oil with your systematic anti-trust violations, King, that just affects my stupid subjects. But I've got to have this cash as bridge financing until January, 2009, because I just can't face another financial meltdown while I'm in charge. You know what I mean: Harken Energy, Spectrum 7, and now the United States of America.

In his press briefing today, Bush looked uncharacteristically worried. Nervous, darting eyes, his head down, with Cheney in the frame just over his right shoulder, a sure sign that things are serious. Cheney was smirking, of course, because none of this is his fault (he's not in the Executive Branch, as he told us) and anyway, his corporate headquarters are already in Dubai, where the money is.

I conclude that Bush knows something he's not telling us, weird as that may seem (knowing something, I mean). Why would he do something as extreme as helping out ordinary Americans? He vetoed medical insurance for sick children, after all. I guess I have to leave it there. I suspect that certain of his friends in the "investment banking" world have gotten to him. They've told him just how close to the line they are. These billions floating in from the "Gulf States" to Merrill Lynch, Citigroup and the rest of them are symptomatic of some profound disturbance, so obvious (once it is drawn in crayon for Bush) that even the Decider gets it. No more horsin' around, George, they tell him. Drop the ideological bullshit and send some good Socialist pay-offs to the people. They can't borrow it anymore, so you're just gonna have to give it to 'em. Because if we start to fail, you're going to wish you'd been impeached three years ago.

January 16, 2008

The Cruelty of King Abdullah

In the course of kissing, hugging, dancing and holding hands with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, President Bush found time to put in a word for justice and decency. Not, this time, on behalf of the young woman who was going to be flogged for the crime of having been gang-raped, abudcted while in the company of a non-relative male (originally her sentence was 90 lashes, but it was increased [before her pardoning after international pressure from New Zealand and elsewhere] to 200 because she attempted to influence the "court" through the media), but on behalf of American SUV drivers. Please oh please, King, for the love of God & Allah, open the Royal Spigot. My people await this supreme act of generosity! Maybe the Minister of Oil had already told us to take a hike, but Bush had a Hail Mary plan (to mix religious orthodoxies) of his own. He's tight with Ab-doo-lah, the House of Saud and the House of Bush go back a long way, and surely the King, whom Bush has tirelessly protected from scurrilous insinuations (okay: factual and accurate allegations) that he rules a land where 78.94736841052631% of the 9/11 hijackers were born and raised, could grant a Royal Solid, don't you think? Bush went so far as to redact from official government reports any evidence that Saudi ministers were involved in financing the plot. All those blacked-out pages, and this is the thanks he gets? We sell them $20 billion worth of our best military toys, let them buy our biggest banks, let it all go that they were one of the few countries to recognize the Taliban, and you're tellin' me King Abdullah won't turn the goddam valve a little counter-clockwise?

Maybe the King is simply performing an intervention. Remember when W himself said we were addicted to fossil fuels? And now he's over in the King's enormous, country-sized sand box begging (like any junkie who's thought through the true consequences of his rash decision to get off the stuff) for petroleum. For our own good, the King is keeping the liquor cabinet locked up. If Bush is too weak to face the inevitable recession his previous bravado has brought on, the King, his goateed, fat, father figure, will be strong for him.

However -- I am reminded that a
Berkeley prof once told us that Saudi Arabia is not so much a nation as a family-owned filling station. We need to remember that oil is what the Saudis do; what's under all that sand is all there is. The famous Ghawar field is sputtering out, they're pumping ever-increasing quantities of seawater into the wells to force the light, sweet (now salty) crude out. By constraining supply, they keep the price way up. What they have left is going to be sold for the highest price possible, because they foresee the day when those thousands of robed playboys, the Princes, who depend on the King's largesse for Monte Carlo condo payments, yacht upkeep, gambling debts, cell phone bills, and all those European whores on retainer -- will have to dip into savings, not income. The Saudis have finagled hard to keep the price in that nice $90-$100/ barrel range, and while they'd like to help you out, Georgie, out of deep respect for all you've meant to each other...

Besides, think it through. They'd just be encouraging us. If we'd gotten realistic a long time ago about mileage standards and had built a decent railroad system, we wouldn't have to import any Saudi oil at all. We have to concede that, as contrary as humility (and intellectual honesty) is to the American ethos. But Bush, that clever poker player, is reminding Abdullah that an
America in recession can't buy as much oil. Ever thought of that, King, huh? (Bush snickered with the cleverness of that ploy - hehhehhehhehhehhehhehheh!) Unfortunately, the King responded by saying "I've got two words for you. China. India."

You have to read your audience, I guess. These could be the wrong people to stir with appeals to conscience. We’ll import as much oil as they’ll let us have, pay their price, and shut up about it. We have no choice. Do we, George?

January 15, 2008

The Narcissists in their Senescence

I'm re-reading Christopher Lasch's The Culture of Narcissism just to check in on the relevance of his ancient (30 years ago) ideas about American society, and to see whether they have any continuing pertinence to America's current travails. I think they do, maybe more than ever. Lasch (a prof at Rochester University at the time he wrote the book) was clearly a polymath and Deep Thinker with a profound interest in Freudian analyses of consciousness-formation, and in particular the role of society vis-a-vis the individual personality. Fascinating stuff. In essence, Lasch described a society in which the individual members were incapable of seeing their lives as part of an historic continuum, devoting their existences not to the creation of a society where general prosperity was enhanced and posterity cared for, but rather to a Hobbesian world of merciless competition and self-aggrandizement, where the only societal "values" were the acquisition of status symbols and the creation of an "image of success." Thus, the "Narcissist" dilemma: a society in which ordinary human connections were shattered in the relentless drive to survive in a heartless world.

Sobering thoughts. I suppose my own consciousness was "formed" during the Fifties, refined during the Sixties and cemented during the Seventies. A not uncommon path for a Boomer. I never experienced that "all for one and one for all" can-do ethos of the World War II generation. Our war was a vastly unpopular exercise in futile madness that galvanized my generation only in the sense that not many of us wanted to fight in it. Along with the Civil Rights Movement (largely the result of black leadership with the assistance of ethical Jewish intellectuals and Lyndon Johnson), the anti-war movement was the main "unifying" cause of the Sixties. Had there been no draft, I'm sure the Boomer generation would have been as indifferent to the killing and dying in far-off Vietnam as America (which includes the Boomers in their narcissistic maturity) is now about Iraq and Afghanistan. No skin in the game, who cares? I've got Porsche payments to make, and what if my kid doesn't get into Hoity-Toity Country Day School?

So it's somewhat amusing to see America in its current throes of recession, unwinnable wars and general ungovernability. We have another election cycle on top of us, and most of the candidates (including, perhaps especially, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama) want to be president because they want to be president. What could be more narcissistic than that? Their bromides and anodyne references to America's golden past are all nice to listen to for a few seconds, but no one is seriously proposing anything which is going to make the slightest bit of difference. As with all once-great empires sliding into decadence, the good folks of America in general do not see that the former wealth of the country was built upon its singular ability to harness a manufacturing and educational base to a world which could be exploited for cheap resources and a ready market for its exports. All of those factors have disappeared, and we're currently consuming our capital in order to maintain the (narcissistic) illusion of prosperity.

It is not that our problems could not be solved, as a matter of abstract empirical science, it's just that this society is not going to do it. To understand why, social psychology is probably the right place to start. Solutions require cooperation and a sense of common purpose, not an aggregation of 300 million special interest groups. On the other hand, Christopher Lasch wrote his book 30 years ago, and did anyone pay attention then?