News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Dysfunction: oil on water, finger up butt

I sat Tuesday's election out.  I think that this was the first time since I've lived in South Dakota that I have not voted in a primary or general election.  For one thing,  after spending the morning in a dentist's chair, I did want to risk an encounter with the drill-baby-drill crowd.  The only vote that was consequential was the tax opt-out on property taxes so the county could repair some roads.  The roads need repairing,  but the changes in property tax assessments are unfair.  In the  county,  range land is taxed at the same rate as highly productive crop land,  and I left the decision on the opt-out to those who have reason to give a shit.  The opt-out lost, which means that there will be a lot of stupid bitching about bad roads and many suggestions that money should be diverted from education and public payrolls to fill the pot holes and break-ups.  And close the damned public library.  Grind up the bricks and fill pot holes with them.  Use prison labor.  Prisons are one of South Dakota's few growth industries.  In time,  South Dakota's population will be either inmates or those who guard them.

The primaries seem superfluous to anything going on in the world.  The dolts with tea bags hanging from their hat brims offer an alternative only for increased stupidity.   The war in Afghanistan is now the longest war the U.S has ever been in.  And the death toll for American troops has gone over 1,000. Add that to the almost 5,000 killed in Iraq, and you get some hard evidence of how we support our troops--just keep sending them to be killed in wars that cannot be won.  Like some of my fellow veterans,  I think that part of the post traumatic stress syndrome comes from fighting in wars that have become morally and intellectually indefensible and unending.  It is unpatriotic to criticize stupidly motivated and implemented wars, but it is also impossible to escape the implications of being ordered into immoral absurdity.  One wonders how long it will take for the military to break down under the stress of it all.  And by military, I mean the troops who have to follow orders, not the the geniuses who make them up.  Columnist Bob Herbert in The New York Times has the best take on our perennial wars:

The U.S. doesn’t win wars anymore. We just funnel the stressed and underpaid troops in and out of the combat zones, while all the while showering taxpayer billions on the contractors and giant corporations that view the horrors of war as a heaven-sent bonanza. BP, as we’ve been told repeatedly recently, is one of the largest suppliers of fuel to the wartime U.S. military. 
I also find it incomprehensible that those who bitch and whine about the nation's deficits always blame the attempts to restart the economy and never mention those wars.  Why is it that some people feel they are patriotic America-lovers only when they are getting some fellow citizens killed in useless and pointless wars?  One of the reasons I did not vote is the repugnance at participating in a political system that has become a form of madness.  I am among a growing number who are beginning to think that the only way to reform politics is not to participate in them.  To participate is only to continue the absurdity.  You can't have a fight when one side refuses to fight.

And then there is the oil spew in the Gulf.  Obama has tried to approach his political tasks with cool reason.  And that is his big mistake.  His opponents have no interest in addressing real issues faced by real people and finding reasonable solutions for them.    They would rather bring the nation down than solve real problems.  They would rather stand around and say that Obama is not doing enough because he is not throwing temper trantrums.  But the administration is playing along.  It is afraid to mention that the oil spew could be the economic trigger that shoves the recession into a full-scale depression.   Instead, they keep repeating the line that BP will pay for everything.   Those who condemn big government are now complaining that big government has no solutions for the oil spew.  The oil industry has the solutions.   Even the mad generally are not that stupid.  The oil spew was created and is being exacerbated by an unregulated big corporation.  But so it goes.

We have real problems that our current political system cannot fix.  It can only make matters worse.  It is absurd to participate in a system in which one side revers ignorance and stupidity as virtues.  I suppose if you can't fix stupidity you celebrate it.  So, one political party is behind a stupid-pride movement,  Land of the free and home of the duh.  We've been there before.

Back in the 1920s, America's most prominent artists and intellectuals found that American culture was not at all tolerant of brain power in any form.  So, they expatriated. Mostly to Paris.  From the early years of the twentieth century through the Great Depression, American writers wrote a mass of work which examined the culture of America.  It created a huge but incisive criticism of the small-mindedness and petty peevishness that dominated American communities.     But as Germany began to respond to its defeat in World War I and the Nazi movement became a force in Europe, the writers, artists, and other intellectuals drifted back to America--along with those Europeans who sought to escape the growing cancer of Nazism.  America never liked to be criticized for its cultural failings, but its leaders dealt with them rather  than denied them.  It was this willingness to front those factors that detracted from American life that characterized the greatest generation Tom Brokaw wrote about.  The struggle against small-mindedness and its venality is never easy and never-ending.

When liberals grew incensed about the Bush Administration, they had reasons that went far beyond politics of the petty.  After 9/11, the nation gave that administration full support.  In fact, all but a few supported it to the point that they ignored the fact that his agenda moved America into fascist frenzy that jeopardized defining rights and freedoms.  And as it mounted the war on Iraq, it became apparent to a significant minority that the justification for that war was suspect.  Our own people were not finding weapons of mass destruction and links to Al Qaeda.  But a majority of Americans were whipped into a fearful frenzy by the false propaganda.  And so we are stuck in two wars that decimate our troops and drain our resources. And a driving force in American politics to to heap revenge on those who found the Bush administration an intellectual and moral disaster. 

Obama was elected when a majority realized that America was in a hole of moral despair, and seemed able to only keep digging.  Obama promised to stop the digging, but his efforts have seemed feeble because he tried the bipartisan card.  And we know now that his opponents are interested only in defeating him and everything he stands for, not in the problems being faced.  Health care is a case in point.  It has been an issue because it is a problem that 47 million Americans do not have health care coverage, largely because it is beyond their means.  The jobs that once supported the health care system by supplying coverage have been shipped to China and other Pacific Rim countries.   Those jobs no longer carry the benefit of health care.  Opponents of health care reform have defined their attitude.  The people who don't have health care, they contend, don't deserve it.  Giving it to them will socialize medicine, they say, and turn America into all petty and absurd accusations they can muster--at once Nazi, fascist, communist, etc.

Political parties have devolved into juvenile fan clubs.  They will vote for any moron that strikes their fancy and their lust for ignorance.  The discourse, as exemplified by the South Dakota blogosphere, resembles primary and middle school playground taunts.  On the national level, the leading movers of political discourse are Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman,  and the multitude of people who so revere the bliss of ignorance and so hate any use of intellect.  Ignorance and stupidity are a cult.  It has many members.

A brief time of audacious hope has sunk into a reality of hopelessness at the  relentless stupidity that dominates the political landscape.  The oil spew is representative of that landscape in general.  A  churlishness has spread throughout the land from the gushers of ignorance and malice which intend nothing but the suffocation of minds.

In South Dakota, criticism of life in the state is generally met with the invitation to move out if you don't like it.  What the purveyors of that invitation refused to realize is that what the state calls its brain drain of talented and aspiring people is that so many people have accepted the invitation.  The question now is, where to go?  Haiti?  If there is no geographical place of expatriation so that the mental forces may regroup, there is an  intellectual expatriation at least.  It is to stay away from politics in the form it has taken. 

Critics and doubters of America have said from its inception that the masses cannot sustain a viable government.  Their churlish bickering and small-minded resent;ment will obstruct any efforts to make a workable democratic nation.  America has refuted that contention in history.  But now it has reached a point where the ignorant and resentful have found new numbers and demagogues who appeal to their hatred of the thinking class.  They cannot be engaged  in dialogue because they have obstinately inserted their heads into echo-chambers that affirm  their ignorance.

On the South Dakota blogosphere, many bloggers have withdrawn or sharply curtailed their participation.  They are symptomatic of the withdrawal from moronic politics.  It is an intellectual expatriation.  As is true in American  democracy,  the nation is getting what it wants.  War and oil spews.  God bless them.

NOTE:  Tom Friedman gets at the matter more incisively.   

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States