Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Goulash of Right, Left and Center

There are many model nations around the world that the United States can be said to be emulating in its slide to statism, in particular to fascism, or national socialism. The least likely one is Hungary. Observed from afar, the politics and turmoil of that former communist nation seem at first glance exotic and bewildering, but not much more than a storm in a teacup. After all, this is an eastern European nation more sinned against than sinner. Remember the Uprising of 1956? But once, willingly or not, it steps into the limelight, the confusion that reigns there points to a very familiar pattern, one that is eminently recognizable and emerging here in America.

The trend is tragically poignant if one recalls that the United States was for a long time the model to admire and emulate to discover, establish, and preserve the freedom of the individual.

Compounding the confusion is the ubiquitous fallacy of “democracy.” The common understanding of the term is that it means “majority rule,” and that whatever the majority wants, is ipso facto good. The will of the people is primary, the end-all and be-all of political action and existence. The Founders, however, more specifically the Framers of the Constitution, distrusted if not abhorred democracy, and designed the Constitution to be as democracy-proof as their informed and received wisdom could make it. Benjamin Franklin’s attributed quip at the close of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 about “A republic, if you can keep it,” was not a throw-away line, but an earnest answer to an earnest question, reflecting a wisdom measured in thousands of fathoms, as opposed to mere inches in the stagnant pools of contemporary political savvy.

The Constitution of this republic was intended to define and limit government force, and to recognize and empower the individual to live his own life without interference from majorities, which could only employ government force to attain their ends. Democracies, regardless of their size, agreed the Framers, inevitably collapsed into tyrannies as factions vied for power over one another. The democratic element in the structure of American government was the franchise or vote for representatives of “the people” in the House of Representatives in Congress.

Representatives were originally intended to defend “the people” from the caprices and machinations of the politically ambitious who sought power and privilege, and not to advance one faction’s special interest or prejudice in contests with that of other factions. Should representatives be elected to the House who were the tools or spokesmen of factions, the Senate was intended to serve as an obstructive, sitting committee of nullification against all plots and conspiracies to abridge or obviate individual freedom and to foil the intentions of leagues of larcenists. It was intended to be a state-seated repository of wisdom as a check against populism, grifters, and mob rule.

As we look at Congress today, we might conclude that the democracy-proofing did not quite work. Democracy seeped in through the insulation and began to rot the institution. Not true. The Constitution, sans the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Amendments, is basically a sound manifesto. Operator error, and not mechanical failure, is at fault. This is chiefly because more and more Americans forgot what the government and the Constitution were for and demanded their particular messes of pottage. Others did not wish to keep the republic at all, but worked to transform it by stealth, populism, and saccharin bombast into a democracy, that is, to establish a legal and self-perpetuating regime of grand larcenists.

So, we have a “democracy.” Emblematic of the confusion of meanings, for example, is an article by The Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum on December 28th, “Jeopardizing democracy in Hungary.” In it she rues recent developments in Hungary, such as the virtual takeover of the government by Viktor Orban. She is worried that Orban’s turn to the “right” bodes ill for Hungary.
Hungary is a fully paid member of NATO and the European Union, a country with functioning political parties and a 20-year history of free elections. Hungary's transition from communism to democracy has been an unmitigated success.

We can agree with that assessment. Orban is very popular in Hungary. He was elected prime minister last April to replace the corrupt socialist government that ruled the country for eight years. In the past, Orban opposed the socialists’ desire to censor newspapers, radio, and television.
If Belarus is cursed with a leader who is not popular enough to stay in power without violence, Hungary is now cursed with a leader who is too popular - or has too large a majority - and who can change his country's laws and constitution to keep himself in power without any violence.

That is democracy at work. What are Applebaum’s reservations?
But victory wasn't enough for Orban, who used his years out of power to plot his revenge against the journalists who didn't support him, against the chattering classes who didn't vote for him, and above all against his corrupt and incompetent opponents. Since taking office he has appointed a council to rewrite the constitution, deprived the national audit office of funding and stripped some of the powers of the country’s supreme court. More recently, his parliament passed a set of laws governing the media….A new, state-run media council, composed entirely of Fidesz [Orban’s political party] appointees, now has the right to impose fines of up to $1 million for journalism it considers "unbalanced," whatever that means.

The council is also tasked with protecting "human dignity," whatever that means. The law seems to aim to control not just Hungarian media but media available to Hungarians on the Internet or anywhere - a task that is impossible…but that will require the creation of a massive system of surveillance and control anyway. There is even a government-mandated cap on "crime-related news," which cannot take more than 20 percent of airtime - though the law does not define "crime" or state whether it includes government corruption.

So, how is “democracy” jeopardized by a popularly elected despot? Is this not democracy at work? Is this not the essence of democracy? Is this not how Hugo Chavez in Venezuela gamed the democratic system there? That “massive system of surveillance and control” – think the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration – and how effective they are, not in “combating terrorism,” but in watching everyone and obstructing Americans in their business and pleasure. It also portends the FCC’s initial steps to regulate the Internet here with so-called “net neutrality,” which, as I remarked in an earlier commentary, is a euphemism for neutering speech and the power of ideas.

Applebaum regards Orban’s actions as typical of “right-wing” fascism. She is worried that such a movement in this country will also have the same consequences. About Orban’s regime, she writes:
In fact, the real problem with this government is not its "fascism" but its uncontrolled contempt for its "liberal elite" and its "mainstream media." This problem is not unique to Hungary. I can imagine plenty of American politicians would love to punish "unbalanced" journalists who oppose "human dignity."

This is a circumspect allusion, not to Hungary’s “liberal elite” and “mainstream media,” but to her own. Is she expecting to be purged, punished, and fined if a Republican wins the White House in 2012 if she presents an “unbalanced” estimate of the candidate and the party’s policies? And her last remark is odd. It is her liberal elite who would love to have the power to punish those who oppose “human dignity” – whatever that means.

But, why the concern about what goes on in Hungary? Two days earlier, the Post featured an editorial about Orban, “The Putinization of Hungary.”
NEXT MONTH many European Union members may be regretting their system of a rotating presidency. That's because the gavel will be handed to Hungary, whose populist and power-hungry government has just adopted a media law more suited to an authoritarian regime than to a Western democracy.

The right-wing Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban won 53 percent of the popular vote in an election this year but gained 66 percent of the seats in parliament - enough to change the constitution. It proceeded to take over or attack the authority of every institution it did not control, including the presidency, the Supreme Court and the state audit office; the central bank is now under its assault.
There must have been a long line of newspaper editors and writers the day truncated minds were being handed out. Never mind the Post’s confusion about what is or is not a “democracy.”

The joker here is that the European Union, governed by a mammoth bureaucracy in Brussels, is already an authoritarian super-government that lords it over Europe and diminishes the sovereignty of its individual members. So, why should anyone object to someone who has experience in authoritarianism to preside over the E.U.?
Meanwhile, Mr. Orban has overseen passage of two media laws that will put Hungary in a league with Russia and Belarus on press freedom. One puts Fidesz in control of state television channels and all other public media outlets. The second, approved by parliament by Tuesday, creates a powerful Media Council with the authority to regulate newspapers, television, radio and the Internet. The council may issue decrees and impose heavy fines - up to $950,000 - for news coverage it considers "unbalanced" or offensive to "human dignity." Journalists can be forced to reveal their sources, and the council can search editorial offices and require that publishers reveal confidential business information.

But, sirs, that is democracy in action. Is it any different from the E.U. passing legislation that trumps the laws and judicial systems of its member nations?

The New York Times agrees with the Post about what the rise of Viktor Orban holds for Europe.
Mr. Orban’s conservative Fidesz Party was swept into power last April after a surge of resentment against the former socialists. He can change several laws and the constitution because his party holds a two-thirds majority in the parliament.

Here Orban has been deemed a “conservative.” Is this the same as being a “centrist”? Somehow, political leaders who virtually take over newspapers and the Internet through censorship are “right-wing” or “conservative,” while liberal/left political leaders who take the same actions are somehow not “left-wing” or “socialist” or even “fascist.” If they are neither left, right, nor center, what are they?

Viktor Orban is not helpful in finding in definition or a distinction. In April, the Times had this brief item on his own confusion:
The incoming prime minister, Viktor Orban, left, vowed Monday to defend Hungary from the ascent of a far-right party and its black-clad paramilitary branch, which have railed against the Roma community and called the capital ''Jewdapest.'' Mr. Orban, 46, the leader of Fidezs, the party that defeated the incumbent Socialists in first-round parliamentary elections on Sunday, said he was unhappy over the rise of the far-right party, Jobbik, which won 16.7 percent of the vote. "No radical party will be allowed to get rid of law and order in this country," he said. "Democracy in this country is strong enough to defend itself."

But not strong enough to defend itself against Mr. Orban, if one accepts the premise that mob rule can defend itself against all comers, especially someone voted into office by a mob. In August of 2002, the prime minister was against government control of the news media.
More than 100,000 supporters of Hungary's former prime minister, Viktor Orban, rallied here today against what they say is a stranglehold on the public news media by the ruling Socialists. Since losing April elections to a center-left coalition of Socialists and liberal Free Democrats, leaders of Mr. Orban's center-right Fidesz alliance have warned against the risk of a Communist-era press monopoly. "Those programs of Hungarian television that conveyed civic and right-wing values have been turned into government loudspeakers, Mr. Orban told the rally, referring to state-owned broadcasters.

So, the socialists having a stranglehold on the public news media is bad. Eight years later, it is good, but please do not call Mr. Orban and his party “socialist” or “fascist.” They are right-of-center. Or left-of-center. Or left. Or right. Perhaps even centrist. Who knows? If you are a Hungarian journalist or TV news reporter, or even a blogger, you may want to think twice before putting any label on Orban and his party. It might be considered “unbalanced” news and offensive to the “dignity” of the regime.

The whole system of judging political ideologies by false criteria can leave one mentally cross-eyed. Indeed, “polarization” is an art of evasion, of verisimilitude, of using both hands to point in opposite directions. It is an old vaudevillian sight-gag, usually applied when the guilty comic is asked by the straight-man who impregnated the farmer’s daughter.

In America, it is practiced mostly by liberals and liberal publications like The New York Times and Washington Post – that is, by “progressives” – who do not wish to draw attention to the fact that they share the same premises, methods, and ends as their enemies – the “right-wingers” – which is the subjugation of the individual to the collective or the state by direct force, by fiat legislation, and by regulatory decree. There is not a syllogism’s worth of difference between them when it comes to initiating and employing government force.

With that observation, I bid adieu to 2010. Happy New Year to one and all.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Perils of a Siege Mentality

What bothers me endlessly about the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is that they operate on the policy that defeat by our enemies is implicitly conceded. That is the policy adopted by our government, and one can trace it all the way back to President Ronald Reagan’s failure to retaliate against the murder of nearly 250 Marines in their bunker-like barracks in Lebanon in 1983 and the policy that sent them there. Instead of striking a mortal blow at Iran and Hezbollah, we indulged in a wave of maudlin mourning and shameful self-pity.

The policy of defeat, however, is made possible by a variety of factors, not least of which are the philosophy of multiculturalism, a refusal to identify and strike against our enemies (that is, a refusal to ascribe evil to the advocates of the philosophy that motivates them), and, in the context of a government dedicated to expanding its powers under both Republican and Democratic administrations, a penchant for control at all costs, including the sacrifice of freedom. Tyrannies, dictatorships, and authoritarian regimes have no concern about the loss of freedom. Freedom is their enemy. It is not on their checklists of things to preserve and protect. Freedom is antithetical to control.

The TSA is deserving of every bit of criticism it has earned, both as a functioning bureaucracy and as a product of government policies. It is staffed by thousands of careless, indiscriminate, prostituting, ignorant drones. I no longer consider them as Americans, but as an alien presence in our midst, as alien as the mindless followers of Islam. So, please, no one remind me or any other liberty-loving American that they are just “doing their job” or that they do not establish policy, or that they are just “following orders.” That’s the Nuremberg trial defense. Every nation at any period of its history has its population of dross and ballast – even during the American Revolution – and the TSA is a natural magnet for the ones in this country.

But the TSA is merely a handmaiden of the DHS, and the DHS is but an ossified expression of a suicidal policy that has been germinating for decades. It is purely reactive in nature. It has accepted the overall policy of a state of siege as a normal, permanent mode of this country’s existence. The government does not bear the burden of such a policy, but rather its citizens. That policy will not strike a mortal blow at our enemies – Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and the lesser regimes – so it must adopt a state of siege mentality. Osama bin Laden knew his enemy, we must credit him with the observation that neither George W. Bush nor Barack Obama would acknowledge and act against Islamic states as the enemy, but instead adopt the futile policy of appeasement and a state of siege.
As part of the "bleed-until-bankruptcy plan," bin Laden cited a British estimate that it cost al Qaeda about $500,000 to carry out the attacks of September 11, 2001, an amount that he said paled in comparison with the costs incurred by the United States. "Every dollar of al Qaeda defeated a million dollars, by the permission of Allah, besides the loss of a huge number of jobs," he said. As for the economic deficit, it has reached record astronomical numbers estimated to total more than a trillion dollars.

The total U.S. national debt is more than $7 trillion. The U.S. federal deficit was $413 billion in 2004, according to the Treasury Department.

A government that will not acknowledge an external enemy of “the people” must regard “the people” as its potential enemy. Its capacity for aggression, if not directed against a legitimate enemy, will be directed against a nation’s civilian population. Witness now the energy it is expending to control the speech of its citizens via the Federal Communications Commission through its incipient control of the Internet. “Net neutrality” is just a euphemism for neutering the power of ideas.

Two consequences are ensured by such a state of siege policy: the establishment of a police state that monitors and regulates every action and thought of the citizens of this country (this is beside the domestic policy of adopting socialized medicine through ObamaCare, and other instances of destructive and parasitical Democratic legislation); and the continued assault on this country by its enemies. A government that will not order its military to open its gates and storm out to assault the besiegers, is doomed to capitulation and defeat.

What is holding us back? In 2002 former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger was interviewed about the Marine barracks massacre. He was asked why President Reagan did not order a military response. He answered, quoting Reagan:
“Almost any target we attack will have huge collateral damage.” Collateral damage is the polite way of phrasing the number of innocent women and children who are killed because you’re engaging in a war, and it was up in the hundreds of thousands.
But a concern about “collateral damage” was not our policy while waging war against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. If it had been, World War II would have lasted decades or even have been lost – just as the current “war against terrorism” has lasted a decade and is being lost. Weinberger also made this revealing observation about Reagan:
He said he simply did not want to trust the future of the world to philosophic assumptions.

There you have it. Philosophical bankruptcy, even “on principle,” necessarily means moral bankruptcy. Instead, Reagan, Bush, and to a lesser extend President Obama, cite “tradition,” God, and other irrelevant issues as reasons to “resist” Islamic jihadists, but not to exterminate their root. That would be “judgmental,” and moral judgments are prohibited in an environment of “moral equivalency.”

So, discussions such as the Washington Post’s cogitations about the efficacy of airport body scanners and intrusive pat-downs are superfluous but indicative of how far this country has declined as a free one, and how far the government is prepared to go to establish a permanent police state. In the broad picture of things, such an article is useless speculation and complicit in a trend to “condition” Americans to being answerable to the state. In the country of the self-blinded, the one-eyed man is king because he has a purpose and an insidious method and can see where he is going.

Reading this cold, dispassionate discussion in the Washington Post of how better to establish a police state, one realizes that this is now a country that would prefer to live in a state of siege, rather than eliminate the countries that sponsor terrorism and that have attacked us by proxy with foreign and American-born or naturalized terrorists.

What bothers me just as much is also the willingness of Americans to tolerate and endure the airport terminal as a police state. There is no fundamental difference between conscientiously filling out a 1099 and an IRS audit, and removing one’s shoes, belts and jewelry and submitting to a body scan or a pat-down, except in its immediacy. Obey, or suffer the consequences. So, let us suggest here that, for example, the omnipotent IRS, as one controlling agency, has conditioned Americans to that kind of treatment, to sanction the hostage-taking of their values and to concede that they are but the wards of a guardian government. The Tea Party movement to the contrary notwithstanding, Americans are behaving more and more like sheep willing to be sheared. They need to be taught that such shearing leaves them naked before the government and all its eager, groping minions, and a laughing stock of our external enemies, who will continue killing us as they snort in triumph.

Sheared, shivering, and going about their government-approved business, laden with computerized ankle or wrist bracelets, too many Americans will assure themselves that they will feel “safe.” They will be told that surrendering their freedom is the “price of freedom.”

Contradictions do not exist in reality, except in human action and within one’s mind. That is a perilous, suicidal mode of existence.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Follow Our Leader

The Muezzin of Pennsylvania Avenue sang in his semi-mellifluous voice. American business leaders answered his call to prayers and bowed to the god of pragmatism.

Like British playwright Terence Rattigan’s infuriatingly unpublished play, Follow My Leader (1940), a satiric attack on Nazi Germany, the true substance of President Barack Obama’s December 15th meeting with twenty American business leaders at Blair House in Washington must remain unknown to most Americans. Aside from what has been reported in newspapers that certain topics were discussed and that attendees “felt good” about the gathering, no one knows what Obama said to these individuals that mattered, or what they said to him. What was the nature of those discussions? Was it an invitation to attend this meeting, or a command? Or do Obama and the attendees treat the terms as synonymous?

The Washington Post reported some significant absentees, major bank executives, with the exception of Robert Wolf, president of the financial services firm UBS. This is the company that cooperated with the Internal Revenue Service to uncover the identities and assets of some 15,000 secret account holders who thought their money was safe from government confiscation.
No major U.S. bank executives came, even though the financial industry has had an especially rocky relationship with the White House after the passage of financial overhaul legislation and the president's criticism of "fat cat" bankers. The administration has tried to build a rapport with executives such as Jamie Dimon of J.P. Morgan Chase and Brian Moynihan of Bank of America, neither of whom attended the meeting.

Also missing was Ivan Seidenberg, chief executive of Verizon, who delivered a stinging speech in June, saying the president's policies hurt economic growth. Seidenberg, who is also chairman of the Business Roundtable, presented a "road map" last week of policies supported by the business community relating to taxes, trade and energy.

Also missing was someone with the capacity for “spontaneous” anger of South Carolina representative Joe Wilson. I am betting that no one at this prayer meeting had the chutzpah to reply to the muezzin, “You lie!”

According to the Los Angeles Times, Wolf said afterward that it was “a very constructive, positive meeting.” Which means nothing. “Constructive,” in what sense? “Positive,” how? You fill in the blanks. Many of the attendees were ardent Obamites.
The group consisted of some strong Obama supporters — Google chief Eric Schmidt, Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr and Chicago billionaire Penny Pritzker — along with such corporate leaders as John Chambers from Cisco, Jeffrey Immelt from GE, Indra Nooyi from PepsiCo Inc., Paul Otellini from Intel Corp. and Brian Roberts from Comcast.

Unless someone releases a transcript of who said what during the meeting, the country must be satisfied with the unfounded assumption that the participants, including the White House, were not discussing how better to further nationalize the economy. The Washington Post’s Perry Bacon wrote:
In a session with 20 chief executives…Obama - whose sharp rhetoric about pay on Wall Street has annoyed some executives - declared, "I want to dispel any notion we want to inhibit your success," according to a source in the room.

Also in attendance at prayers were executives from Honeywell International, United Parcel Service, Eli Lily & Co., Boeing, Comcast, Motorola, Centerbridge Partners, and American Express. Prayer, after all, is nothing more than earnest wishful thinking with a dash of hope, of blanking out reality and squeezing one’s eyes shut, thinking, “Please, let it be! (or not).”

Dana Milbank, a regular columnist for The Washington Post, let the cat out of the bag with the title of his December 15th column, “The socialist president plays host to capitalism.” Writing with an obvious bitter sarcasm directed at Obama, Milbank ascribes the appellation “socialist” to “many Republicans,” but it is an honest appraisal of Obama’s ideological identity and a confession of Milbank’s political persuasion. He, too, wondered what was actually said during the meeting by all the parties.
Whatever Obama said privately to the executives over the next four-plus hours, they must have liked it. When they emerged from Blair House, several of them stopped at the microphones to welcome the president into the club of capitalists. "I think they have a lot of business acumen in the White House," judged UBS's Robert Wolf, an Obama golfing partner.

That was worse than saying nothing. “They” in the White House have the business acumen of Bernie Madoff, now serving a life sentence at the Butner Federal Correctional Complex near Raleigh, North Carolina for his multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme. If that is Wolf’s honest assessment of the Obama administration’s notion of business, it would be advisable to avoid doing business with UBS.

The Blair House meeting is just the latest in a succession of meetings between Obama and business leaders to ease tensions between him and the leaders of our alleged free market system. This one was supposed to help patch things up in the aftermath of the midterm elections. Aside from saying prayers and speaking in tongues (to the press and the public), the business leaders also performed ablutions.
Jim McNerney, president and chief executive of Boeing, said after the meeting, "We have a chance for a new beginning." McNerney later told CNBC: "We all made our apologies and said we wanted to move on."

To what? The president gave little indication.
President Barack Obama said he and 20 company executives made “good progress” during a four and a half hour meeting toward establishing closer cooperation between government and business to accelerate the U.S. economic recovery. “We focused on jobs and investment, and they feel optimistic that by working together we can get some of that cash off the sidelines,” Obama said as he left the session yesterday, referring to the almost $2 trillion that he said companies have amassed.

Cooperation and collaboration to accomplish what? Since when do corporate executives seek the advice of the government on how to invest their companies’ money? One supposes the answer is when private individuals regard the government as the lodestone of their purposes. Since when do presidents feel they have the right to advise private individuals on how to conduct their business? When those individuals grant him the sanction to “guide” them.

Honeywell chairman David Cote said, after the meeting,
Executives at the meeting agreed with the president’s assessment that the two sides made progress. “It’s important for business and government to be able to work together,” Cote said. “I came away feeling very good.”

What can explain this secular version of Islamic submission to the American version of Louis IV, the Sun King? Gerald F. Seib wrote about a similar “rapprochement” between the White House and business last February, in The Wall Street Journal. Commenting on the ablutions performed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce after its previous harsh criticisms of White House economic and social policies, he noted that Obama’s signals of reconciliation were merely rhetorical.
The president who somewhat famously told Republicans earlier in the week, "I am not an ideologue," told his party's senators they shouldn't be ideologues either. "We've got to be nonideological about our approach to these things. We've got to make sure that our party understands that, like it or not, we have to have a financial system that is healthy and functioning, so we can't be demonizing every bank out there," Mr. Obama said.
One would be right to feel a sense of déjà vu, when, on December 7th, he replied to liberal and Democratic critics who upbraided him for “compromising” over extending the Bush tax cuts for two years.
Obama's tone was alternately defensive and fiery. He dismissed his Democratic critics as "sanctimonious" and obsessed with staking out a "purist position." He said they hold views so unrealistic that, by their measure of success, "we will never get anything done."

And what is the difference between an ideologue and an ideological purist? Not a whit.

Clearly, the business leaders who answered the call to prayers are “non-ideological” pragmatists, empty vessels – many of them, except for those committed to the White House agenda. It is their muezzin who, contrary to his assertions notwithstanding, is the purist and ideologue. And yet, critics and congratulators are proclaiming that he is now a “centrist.”

The centrist label is wholly unjustified, warned Charles Krauthammer, the Washington Post columnist who has so often and accurately kenned Obama’s soul, style, and savvy. In his December 17th column, “The new comeback kid,” he notes:
…[S]ome on the right are gloating that Obama had been maneuvered into forfeiting his liberal base. Nonsense. He will never lose his base. Where do they go? Liberals will never have a president as ideologically kindred – and they know it. For the left, Obama is as good as it gets in a country that is barely 20 percent liberal. The conservative gloaters were simply fooled again by the flapping and squawking that liberals ritually engage in before folding at Obama's feet.

American business leaders, most of them, will continue to follow their leader, together with their enemies, the liberals and the left. From this point on, on up through the presidential race of 2012, there will be many more calls to prayer from Pennsylvania Avenue.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Of Mandates and Minarets

On December 13, in Richmond, Virginia, U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson ruled that a key provision of the Patient Protection Affordable Care Act of 2010 (Obamacare or “ACA”) was unconstitutional.

It was purely symbolic, and did not attack the central premise of federal powers. It was tantamount to Switzerland banning further construction of minarets over mosques, or to France banning head and face coverings. Those actions leave Islam untouched. The political/theocratic ideology is still there, undeterred, viral as ever, intent on taking over those countries and converting them to Islamic states.

Likewise, Hudson’s ruling does not fundamentally challenge Obamacare. It does not challenge the power of Congress to propose such a law, let alone leave to pass it and the power of the president to enact it with his signature. It could be interpreted as a mortal blow to Obamacare, that part of it which compels Americans to purchase health care insurance, that is, to “engage in commerce” so that the government may regulate it. Theoretically, the voiding of the mandate could lead to the inevitable unraveling and disintegration of the scheme. Republicans have vowed to have it repealed. But one must not count on any justice or politician setting that phenomenon in motion. The socialists who advocated, wrote, and passed the law still intend to see it implemented. The Washington Post reported:
Hudson sided with Virginia, finding that "an individual's personal decision to purchase - or decline to purchase - health insurance from a private provider is beyond the historical reach of the Commerce Clause" and that the mandate "is neither within the letter nor the spirit of the Constitution." The judge also sided with Virginia on a secondary argument, that the law's fine for people who refuse to buy coverage is a penalty not a tax and thus illegal.

However, the judge did not take two important actions that Virginia had sought. He ruled that the unconstitutionality of the mandate did not spill over to the rest of the law. And he did not grant an injunction, which would have halted the government's work to implement the law, reasoning that none of those steps "are irreversible" because most provisions do not go into effect until 2014.

But neither the Sixteenth nor the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution is within “letter” or the “spirit of the Constitution,” either. The one sanctions the taking by the federal government of private property with commensurate penalties if it is not “voluntarily” surrendered, while the other reduces the Senate to a popularly elected adjunct of the House of Representatives (instead of serving as a buffer against populist or democratic mob rule, as it was originally intended).

If the mandate is considered unconstitutional, then the unconstitutional elements of force and of penalty for not conforming to the ends of that force should naturally “spill over to the rest of the law.” It is illogical to think that the balance of the law remains untouched and sacrosanct, just as it is illogical to contend that removing a man’s heart will not result in his death. Obamacare relies on legalized force. That is the heart of Obamacare.

But Judge Hudson deftly did not “go there,” that is, challenge the police powers which the federal and state governments already employ to raise revenue and regulate property and actions. He did not challenge the “implied powers” of the federal government, which allow it to exercise powers not enumerated in the Constitution, nor the “necessary and proper” clause of Article One, on which Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, defends Obamacare’s alleged constitutionality (as a matter of “tradition”), on three or four other arguments based on the General Welfare and Commerce clauses in her motion to dismiss Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli’s suit, which was filed shortly after in March shortly after President Barack Obama signed it into law.

"Without everyone in the health insurance market, costs will increase, people with preexisting conditions will continue to be shut out of coverage, and insured Americans will continue paying for those who don't get coverage," said Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of health and human services.

This is “spreading the wealth around.” You are your neighbor’s keeper. And it will take force to ensure that you take care of him, preexisting conditions or not.

Was Judge Hudson’s ruling an instance of evading the fundamental argument, or an instance of his not knowing what that argument ought to have been? Either way, his ruling is an instance of not thinking and acting in principles. To wit:

The insurance mandate is central to the law’s mission of covering more than 30 million people who are uninsured. Insurers argue that only by requiring healthy people to have policies can they afford to pay for those with expensive conditions. But Judge Hudson ruled that many of the law’s other provisions could be severed legally and would survive even if the mandate is invalidated [by the Supreme Court].

One cannot count on the Supreme Court to concur with Judge Hudson’s ruling, nor to recognize how inadequate his reasoning is. The Court is not governed by reason, either. Witness its concurrences with the legality of eminent domain in the Kelo case, recently in the Atlantic Yards case, and most recently in the Columbia University case, all of which sanctioned the taking of private property for the benefit of private interests in conjunction with local governments’ claims of reviving “blighted” areas to generate greater tax revenues than they got from existing property owners.

In the latter case, for example, the Empire State Development Corporation coerced or intimidated New York City property owners into selling their economically viable property and then allowed the abandoned property to become “blighted,” in order to compel the last holdouts to sell out or see their property arbitrarily condemned. Columbia University, not a litigant in the case but which wanted the land to expand on, was merely the government’s silent partner in the taking.

Judge Hudson wrote in his ruling that allowing the mandate to stand “would invite unbridled exercise of federal police powers.” But the Supreme Court and lesser courts have not served as a consistent and reliable “bridle” on those powers. The government, especially under Obama’s administration, has run amok. Where has Hudson been while Congress has passed legislation that regulates farms, travel, diet, speech, manufacturing, and so on, all requiring federal “police powers”?

Observe, for example, Obama’s cemented mindset, one that is anchored in force. In a Washington Post article, “Mandatory health insurance now law’s central villain,” Obama’s “contradictory” positions are highlighted:

As a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, Obama insisted that the health-care reform plans of his rivals were misguided, because they envisioned forcing Americans to buy health insurance or risk a fine. Over and over, he said on the campaign trail that such a mandate was unnecessary.

"My belief is - is that if we make [insurance] affordable, if we provide subsidies to those who can't afford it, they will buy it," Obama put it during a January 2008 debate in Los Angeles against fellow candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, who favored a mandate.

Subsidies, provided how and by whom? By the federal government with taxpayer money. That is, by force. Now, after the element of force has been questioned by a federal court, Obama defends the mandate. In fact, he adopted Cllinton’s “It Takes a Village” or “no-uninsured-person-left-behind” policy soon after being sworn into office. “Universal health insurance” means – everyone, with no exceptions (except congressmen and federal employees). That policy requires force. Kathleen Sebelius says so.
Obama embraced the mandate after he moved into the White House and placed an overhaul of the nation's health system at the top of his domestic agenda. Eager to avoid the strategy that had helped doom President Clinton’s health reform efforts of the 1990s, the White House refrained from producing a detailed road map, deferring to Democrats in Congress to write a plan. House and Senate Democrats preferred the idea of an insurance mandate, to take effect in 2014, and the president went along.

No, Obama did not “go along” with the mandate. That was his intention from the beginning. His campaign rhetoric was framed to disguise his socialist agenda and his talent for dissimulation. His past, his political record and his behavior since assuming office confirm it. Only a one-eyed man in a country of the blind would claim that he just “went along.” And Obama is that one-eyed man.

Has it ever occurred to the advocates of mandated health insurance that those who "lack" it do not want it? Or that those who "can't afford" it cannot because they are taxed up to their earlobes? No, these possibilities have not occurred to our "guardians." Choice, volition, values other than insurance, and being impoverished by federal and state taxes are not in the statist manual of “public options.” Universal health insurance and care are “offers” one is not allowed to refuse.

Attorney General Cuccinelli was “elated” with the ruling.

“This case is not about health insurance, it is not about health care,” Mr. Cuccinelli said at a news conference in Richmond. “It is about liberty.”

No, it should be about questioning the government’s power to become master of all it surveys. The force behind the minarets has not been repudiated. The mandate has not been refuted. It has simply been temporarily checked. The principle behind liberty – that one owns one’s own life, and that one’s life is not dependent on the sanction of the government or society – requires that it be applied universally, not on a case-by-case, piecemeal policy that ignores the usurpation of liberty in all other realms.

The absence of minarets does not mean that Muslims have stopped beating their wives or waging jihad.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Obama’s Emerging Enabling Act

Long, long ago, in a world far, far away, philosopher and cultural critic George Santayana in 1905 noted that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”*

Have Americans learned from history? Have they any core knowledge of the past from which to draw wisdom, conclusions, and rational guidance? To judge by the record of the last half century – no. Perhaps a more pertinent question might be: Do they know history? Most Americans are feeble on their own history, having never encountered much of it except for the Howard Ziinn- or Bill Ayers- style of history, or the multiculturalist brand, never mind world history or ancient history. They have been dumbed down and rendered ignorant of their own past. The Punic Wars? The Gates of Vienna? The Council of Nicaea? Kristallnacht? These events may as well have occurred on a distant planet.

Our educational establishment, at great taxpayer and personal cost, has seen to it that most Americans have been enfeebled from K1 up through college commencement, and has performed a pretty thorough and effective job of it. I’ve done enough booksignings to observe that more than one American has had a Jay Leno “man in the street” moment. Who crossed the Delaware? Lincoln. Who is Joe Biden? Isn’t he a quarterback for the New England Patriots? Sharia Law? Wasn’t she one of the Dixie Chicks?

One can only blink in discreet and astonished trepidation.

The “Enablers” in the title of my previous post got me thinking about Adolf Hitler’s Enabling Act of 1933. Its formal name was the Law to Remedy the Distress of the People and the Nation. This was a sweeping, across-the-board repudiation and nullification of what few liberties Germans had in the expiring Weimar Republic, a single, all-encompassing piece of legislation that ushered in the rule of men who subsequently buried the rule of law. Hitler demanded its passage. It would give him unobstructed and unprecedented power to impose his vision of Germany on the country. Many Germans were enamored of that vision. It comported nicely with their shared sense of victimhood. He was their messiah. He had all the answers. He would do something to get them out of their economic rut, to restore the country’s collective self-esteem, and resurrect Germany as a Teutonic power to be reckoned with.

The Act received overwhelming approval by the Reichstag, or the parliament, in March that year. And in approving it, it voted itself out of existence. Perhaps most of the delegates were tired of passing laws that only made things worse. Perhaps they knew their limitations. The man at the podium did not seem to have any limitations. He could probably work miracles.

One impetus for passage of the Enabling Act was the Reichstag Fire of February 1933, a week before the general election that sent veteran and new delegates to the Reichstag. Regardless of who was responsible for the fire, the Communists or the Nazis, it allowed newly appointed Chancellor Hitler to push even more vigorously for passage of the Act. His sole purpose was to increase the number of pro-Act votes in the Reichstag to two-thirds or better, which would ensure passage of the Act. Support came from the Catholic Center Party, whose votes were secured with promises to respect religious freedom. This is somewhat reminiscent of how ObamaCare was passed – with bribes and guarantees of earmarks and not a little support from the American Catholic Church.

Before the fire, the Nazis had polled only twelve percent of the vote. Hitler’s decree of a national emergency pushed that up to about forty-four percent. Blaming the Communists, he issued the Reichstag Fire Decree, which suspended most civil liberties in Germany. It enabled him to ban publications considered hostile to the Nazi cause. It also precipitated a reign of terror and intimidation against anyone who voiced doubt about the wisdom of the Enabling Act. This served to increase the Nazis’ chances of passage, because many deputies and voters abstained or were prevented from voting by Hitler’s paramilitary SA.

(Worried that his hold on the government and the country was being jeopardized by the thuggish SA, whose head, Ernst Rohm, insisted that the SA replace the German army, Hitler in June 1934 launched the bloody “Night of the Long Knives” that resulted in the murders of Rohm and hundreds of SA chiefs. Just as Hitler wished to legalize his dictatorship with the Enabling Act, he wished to soften and legitimize the image of the Nazi Party.)

When the Act became law, Hitler dispensed with the Reichstag, a representative body of the electorate. He would not need to answer to it or to the electorate. It became superfluous, an empty ornament and a semi-respectable podium for his subsequent rantings.

Are Americans condemned to repeat that history? It would be heartening if by that it was meant that Americans were going to finish the American Revolution and roll back government spending, abolish the all the parasitical and regulatory alphabet bureaus, agencies and departments in Washington from A Street S.W. to Z Street N.E., get the government out of our lives, pockets, and pants, off our menus, out of our cars, out of hospitals and doctors’ offices, out of the schools, and reintroduce the idea of inviolate individual rights and the proper role of government. The Tea Party movement had the potential for firing Congress, just as Americans had fired the British Crown.

What we have not witnessed ever since Barack Obama took office in 2009 is anything so arrogant and bold as the kind of “democratic” coup d'état staged by Hitler. The move to the Oval Office was loudly orchestrated, just as Hitler’s move to the Chancellorship was loudly orchestrated. Instead, Obama has been writing his own Enabling Act piecemeal, in installments, as patiently as completing a jigsaw puzzle. This puzzle was begun by the likes of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson long, long ago.

One cannot call it anything but an Enabling Act, because it not so much exclusively bestows the president with plenary powers, as shares those powers with Congress with dependable ideological encouragement from the White House, and opaque (i.e., not transparent) horse-trading and log-rolling between it and Congress, coupled with the White House’s arm-twisting and brow-beating emissaries. It comes slowly into focus as each new government-caused “crisis” is answered with an expansion of controls and as each piece of the puzzle helps to complete a picture of what Obama knows is its final form.

Obama campaigned, after all, on the platform that he, too, had remedies for a distressed people and nation. He was rather vague and equivocal about what he meant. But people who were enamored of his vision of what the country should be voted for him. His rhetoric resonated with their yearning for the unearned and the miraculous. Visions of sugar plum fairies and stockings stuffed with all sorts of redistributed goodies danced in their heads.

His rhetoric and bogus charisma commanded a near-religious devotion among his supporters that has few historic parallels. The power of John F. Kennedy’s appeal and Amiee Semple McPherson’s revival tent and radio style comes to mind. Kennedy and McPherson, too, were faith-healers who spoke in tongues. “By its decision to carry out the political and moral cleansing of our public life, the Government is creating and securing the conditions for a really deep and inner religious life.”

Really deep? Another sloppy Obamaism? No. It was Hitler urging the Reichstag to pass the Enabling Act. But one can easily imagine those words being spoken by Obama. He probably has. I don’t pretend to remember every toxic and rancid drop of dissimulating verbal swill that has been uttered by the man.

I see parallels here between the purge of Rohm and the SA and the announced departures of key Obama appointees. Whether these resignations were voluntary or solicited by Obama is a moot question. Intentional or not, they serve to ameliorate the tangible public hostility to Obama and his administration and create a more conciliatory image of a man unswervingly dedicated to nationwide “community organizing.”

But, what is our Reichstag Fire? On the face of it, the subprime mortgage meltdown in 2008, and everything that followed. To attempt to recount that debacle would be to lose the reader in a labyrinth of Federal frauds, scams, bailout tarpaulins, and malfeasances that would bewilder Theseus. There would not be enough thread for him to go clear back to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s time and then retrace his steps without being assaulted, TSA-style, by Barney Frank’s many Minotaurs.

But the subprime collapse served as the excuse to adopt certain “emergency” confiscatory powers, many already in existence but not fully exploited, others created from whole cloth. Capitalism, Wall Street, and Joe the Plumber were blamed, not Federal policies whose illegitimate economic concoctions had been percolating since at least Bill Clinton’s administration. Beginning with Jimmy Carter’s Community Reinvestment Act, followed by Ronald Reagan and his Alternative Mortgage Transactions Parity Act and the bailouts of the savings and loans under his watch, every president since then has had a hand in stirring the pot in which the frog swims, and both political parties.

Hitler believed in a division of labor. He wanted his devoted cabinet, not the Reichstag, to exercise power and make law. Obama’s cabinet appointments emulate the character and pattern, as well. As Germany’s economy was warped and woofed by government fiscal, regulatory, and taxation policies together with entitlement programs, so was and has been America’s. Obama enlarged his “cabinet” by creating two or so dozen “czars.” They would make law, as well, in their particular satrapies, with the sanction of a complicit and ideologically friendly Congress and to the eager applause of a co-opted press.

In Germany, the Enabling Act allowed Hitler to virtually nationalize key industries – in fact, the whole German economy – allowing owners to “own” them but compelling them to take orders and conform to the government’s statist priorities. What is the difference then and now? Only the venue and the language. We have a government intent on regulating, if not taking over, numerous realms of private productive activity, from travel to toys to tobacco to diets to the Internet to oil drilling and exploration to food and farming to medical care and insurance.

All of this and more represents only a climax of successive waves of growing government controls, but it took an Obama to orchestrate it – to slam-dunk it, in populist parlance – not in the name of fascism (that would be bigoted “profiling”), but of “progressivism.” Also known in certain circles whose members remember the past, have learned from it, and who fear its repetition, as incremental socialism. Call it national socialism, if you will. It still means totalitarianism.

One’s more immediate enemies are not Obama, or Nancy Pelosi, or Harry Reid, or Barney Frank, or Henry Waxman, but rather those countless American manqués who empower them and in turn are patronized by them, who do not mind being fondled and groped and radiated by the TSA in the name of a national security that is not security at all, but control for the sake of control. These are the people who scoffed at the Tea Party movement and now sneer at defenders of the First, Second, and Fourth Amendments. These are also the same happily ignorant and insouciant people who claim that the “price of liberty” is slavery to the IRS, the FDA, the EPA, the FCC, the FEC, the PPACA, the SEC, ad infinitum. Philosophically, morally, they are the original authors of Obama’s Enabling Act. They are card-carrying ciphers of the police state, ready to obey and receive their rewards and enjoy their state-granted privileges. They are the altruist and collectivist dhimmis of a secular Islam.

Will the Republicans check the implementation of Obama’s Enabling Act? I have my doubts, too, that a beaver dam can contain a freshet. Their willingness to “negotiate,” for example, an extension of the Bush tax cuts instills no confidence in me, nor should it in anyone else. As deadly as Obama’s emerging Enabling Act might be, is the anti-principle, anti-morality, anti-philosophy of appeasing pragmatism, of cutting a deal to stave off disaster or to retain power. It sanctions and enables the evil that men can do.

As Ayn Rand famously noted in her novel, Atlas Shrugged, “In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit.”

Will the Republicans be the death of us?

Long live Lady Liberty.

*“Life of Reason," in Reason in Common Sense, Scribner's, 1905, page 284.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The TSA: Enabler of “A Thousand Cuts”

Reading several articles about how the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA’s) full-body scans and pat-down “enhanced” security procedures violate the Fourth Amendment, I was struck by the utter irrelevancy of the argument. Citing that Amendment against unreasonable searches and seizures would indeed present an unarguable efficacy if we lived in a political environment in which the rule of law otherwise prevailed. No court could contradict the argument and still retain any credibility.

But we do not live in such an environment. We are living in a political era of fiat law. The rule of law in the United States has nearly expired. I would not discourage lawsuits based on the Fourth Amendment, but, to judge by the intellectual caliber of most of our jurists, I am not confident these lawsuits will succeed in getting the TSA out of our hair, pants, bras, and pockets.

“Don’t touch my junk”? As far as the TSA and its meat-inspectors are concerned, you the traveler are nothing but a bundle of junk to fondle, probe, grope, examine, and scan at their leisure. Yet, you must respect TSA’s empowered fondlers and be kind to them. They are only doing their job, and do not establish policies. This, however, was a plea heard often during the Nuremberg trials.

I have cited her before, but, as novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand noted, many years ago in a more “civil” and placid era: "We are fast approaching the stage of the ultimate inversion: the stage where the government is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission; which is the stage of the darkest periods of human history, the stage of rule by brute force."

A government that is free to do anything it wishes – provided it has a semi-credible excuse, or even a transparently false one, with which to silence critics and cause the citizenry’s collective eyes to glaze over – is a government that has abandoned the rule of law. This is the environment we are presently living in, and have been long before 9/11 or even the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. I could dwell on such precedents as the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Amendments, which obviate the Bill of Rights, and the myriad federal agencies that have blossomed since 1913 that have contributed to the phenomenon, but that is another issue.

The arguments presented for the continued existence of the TSA and in defense of its “enhanced” but invasive pat-down security procedures and full-body scans have the substance of single-hole Swiss cheese. The TSA has never stopped, foiled, or even detected an attempted airline bombing. It is a purely reactionary organization, as pitifully inept as a “Had I But Known” detective novel. It claims, with a tongue-in-cheek it hopes nobody will notice, that it “knew all along” about incidents after they have happened. If this were true, the incidents would never have occurred, and the American public would never hear the end of it from the TSA’s publicists. It did not foil the Christmas Day bomber of 2009, and it was British security that uncovered the printer-cartridge plot. The Oregon Christmas Tree lighting bomb plot was foiled by the F.B.I. Can the TSA claim an equivalent action? No. The TSA cannot boast of one foiled incidence of terrorism.

The TSA refuses to adopt a more rational security policy, such as the Israeli one, claiming that it would be too expensive, or that Israel’s security conditions are not replicated here. Why is the TSA (indeed, the Department of Homeland Security), so impervious to reason? Any argument for the continuation of arbitrary, police-state power does not hove or defer to reason. Reason is not in the calculations of power-seekers. Reason is their enemy. The TSA seeks to justify its existence, to preserve and perpetuate itself, as any government bureaucracy does that is threatened with redundancy.

The chief reason, a reason which renders specious all arguments for the necessity of the TSA and even for the DHS, is that our government will not eliminate the states that sponsor terrorism – indeed, states that have by proxy declared war on the U.S. At the same time, the U.S. has been engaged in an undeclared, actual combat war for nine years – longer than the Vietnam War, as another article mentioned – and in an undeclared war of intelligence and covert operations ever since the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. This is a state of existential purgatory, in which only the enemy, Islam and its jihadists of all stripes and callings, is comfortable and in which only the enemy prospers, by having not been wiped out, as it deserves to be, and in having been granted the freedom to wage a war of “a thousand cuts.”

The TSA and its futile “preventative” policies conform to that scenario. It is a large, costly knife that inflicts wounds not only on our Fourth Amendment guarantees, but on a bankrupting economy. Jihadists welcome the “enhanced” security, for the TSA forces Americans to endure degradation and violation of their persons and their characters. Their values are held hostage by a government claiming that legalized extortion trumps the Constitution in the name of “national security” and “public safety,” although the nation is less secure and the public is placed at greater risk.

Moreover, the security procedures are egalitarian in nature and treat all travelers as suspects – except Muslims. One could even make an argument that the TSA is also violating the Fifth Amendment, without even affording Americans the benefit of a grand jury. Suspicion of having committed a crime necessarily implies a possible indictment. But who are one’s judges? Rent-a-cops.

This is not the horrible death that jihadists wish upon infidels, but it is the next best thing. Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki, and their ilk (Plague and Misfortune be upon them) are jubilant. Seeing Americans squirm at TSA airport checkpoints must be nearly as satisfying to them as seeing their corpses after a suicide bombing, or their body parts strewn in the wreckage of a downed plane, or as splotches of pulp on the World Trade Center plaza before the towers collapsed. The TSA offers jihadists the spectacle of a literal living hell. They could not have devised a better “revenge” upon Americans they have not yet killed. The federal government has done it for them.

Foreign Policy magazine carried an insightful article that focuses on the costs to the U.S. of trying to maintain the stasis of a besieged nation after every foiled terrorist attempt, costs which the jihadists are well aware of. David Gartenstein-Ross discusses the ruminations of bin Laden, and also cites Inspire, the English-language online magazine produced by al-Qaeda. Bin Laden demonstrates that he knows his enemies, while our government does not wish to identify its enemies.

In his October 2004 address to the American people, bin Laden noted that the 9/11 attacks cost al Qaeda only a fraction of the damage inflicted upon the United States. "Al Qaeda spent $500,000 on the event," he said, "while America in the incident and its aftermath lost -- according to the lowest estimates -- more than $500 billion, meaning that every dollar of al- Qaeda defeated a million dollars."

Gartenstein-Ross opens his article with this revealing paragraph about Inspire:
The cover features a photo of a UPS plane and the striking headline: "$4,200." It is referring to the recent cartridge-bomb plot, and specifically the great disparity between the cost of executing a terrorist attack and the cost to Western countries of defending against asymmetric warfare -- costs now numbering in the billions of dollars a year and climbing. The magazine warns that future attacks will be "smaller, but more frequent" -- an approach that "some may refer to as the strategy of a thousand cuts."

After revealing the nature of the Islamists’ phase of economic (as opposed to violent or stealth jihad) warfare against the West and especially against the U.S., the Foreign Policy article ends with this observation:

The point is clear: Security is expensive, and driving up costs is one way jihadists can wear down Western economies. The writer encourages the United States "not to spare millions of dollars to protect these targets" by increasing the number of guards, searching all who enter those places, and even preventing flying objects from approaching the targets. "Tell them that the life of the American citizen is in danger and that his life is more significant than billions of dollars," he wrote. "Hand in hand, we will be with you until you are bankrupt and your economy collapses."

Jeffrey Rosen, in an article in The Washington Post, “Why the TSA pat-downs and body scans are unconstitutional,” predicts that the TSA’s “enhanced” security measures are probably headed for a Supreme Court ruling.
Although the Supreme Court hasn't evaluated airport screening technology, lower courts have emphasized, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled in 2007, that "a particular airport security screening search is constitutionally reasonable provided that it 'is no more extensive nor intensive than necessary, in the light of current technology, to detect the presence of weapons or explosives.'"

That is the kind of ruling that does not auger well for Fourth Amendment guarantees.
In a 2006 opinion for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, then-Judge Samuel Alito stressed that screening procedures must be both "minimally intrusive" and "effective" - in other words, they must be "well-tailored to protect personal privacy," and they must deliver on their promise of discovering serious threats.
The TSA has not discovered serious threats, nor does it tailor its measures to protect personal privacy. It is above the law and need not promise or deliver anything. Alito’s opinion is simply an instance of judicial waffling.

Rosen also discusses the back-scatter machines (the porn-o-rama ones) and how ineffective they are, the ones in which former Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff has a vested interest in selling to the government.
The backscatter machines seem…to be the antithesis of a reasonable search: They reveal a great deal of innocent but embarrassing information and are remarkably ineffective at revealing low-density contraband.

A World News Daily article, “Shocker: TSA’s nude scans would miss taped-on bombs,” substantiates that claim:
"Even if the [X-ray] exposure were to be increased significantly, normal anatomy would make a dangerous amount of plastic explosive with tapered edges difficult if not impossible to detect," Kaufman and Carlson wrote. A further disadvantage is that the X-ray backscatter units are not effective at detecting explosive packages that are contoured to supplement the natural features of the body, even when the explosive packages are concealed on the front or the back of a person.

Which means, if it absorbs this bit of information, that the TSA will likely initiate a further measure requiring its agents to either bathe travelers with increased dosages of radiation to reveal those contours, or become extra-personal in its pat-downs. Are Americans ready to be “kind” to TSA agents, and allow them to become their “huggy-bears”?

I hope not. The best guarantee of our Fourth Amendment rights would be for our government to eliminate states that sponsor terrorism: Iran, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea. The only alternative is for this self-besieged country, is to bleed to death, to perish from “a thousand cuts,” half of them inflicted by our own government, and the other half by our chortling, snickering killers.

Will we return to the rule of law? We shall see.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Amadeus: A Pinnacle of Cultural Corruption

Many wiser minds have written about the failure of statist economics, the fraud of “social parity,” the scam of anthropogenic climate change, and the injustice and guaranteed poverty inherent in a policy of “spreading the wealth around a little.” But, why does not the wisdom exhibited in these essays circulate as rapidly as does gossip, or hearsay, or scandal? Why is it so difficult to impart a general acceptance that the truisms burst in these essays were indeed lies, frauds, and deceptions?

These and other very old progressive balloons are being burst, or at least they are losing their buoyancy without the slightest prick of the needle. So many were floated with great ballyhoo and celebration, yet when they reach a certain altitude and nearness to the sun of rational scrutiny, they inevitably fall to earth, their fallacies escaping like helium through the expanded pores of the balloons’ material. Their shapeless forms litter the landscape everywhere.

Allied with these phenomena are certain cultural “truisms,” such as the intrinsic value of abstract and anti-art, or the noise and obscenity of rap “music” as legitimate modes of expression, or the semi-literacy that can be had in obtaining a degree in English in a community college. There are certain cinematic icons, also, that stand as truisms, such as Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus. Salieri murdered Mozart, right?

From my childhood through adolescence and well into adulthood, I was moved by film to glean much of my knowledge of history. Having seen a film about some historical person or event, I would repair almost immediately to history books and biographies, to learn the truth. It was not that I doubted the truth of what a film conveyed. It was a hunger or a need for proof of the existence of heroism, of the exceptional, of the grand scale, of the larger-than-life. If a story contained an element of Romanticism in it – that is, a conflict requiring heroism – my disappointment in finding instead a contrary account or record, or a mass of banal irrelevancies, was balanced by the fact that the heroism or the significance of an event remained in the film and could not be altered. It remained an Aristotelian ought. It was of value in the culture and so one could have a kinship with that culture. It was important that I could see evidence of heroism in the real world as well as in the imaginary. It still is.

So, it never mattered to me, for example, that in Michael Curtiz’s 1936 The Charge of the Light Brigade, the Indian Mutiny and the Crimean War were transposed in time, or that George Stevens’s 1939 Gunga Din was a very liberal adaptation of Kipling’s poem. I could cite dozens of instances.
Little did I realize that the benign fiddling with historical facts and literary works was but an innocent overture to the conscious and deliberate abandonment or disparagement of facts, and to the use of past literary and artistic accomplishments to denigrate those very facts and accomplishments in pursuit of a nihilistic agenda. As good-intentioned as they may have been in another era, these little white lies in the following era sanctioned the wholesale commission of big black ones.

As the years passed, the more “realistic” this genre of film became, the less it had to do with fact or even a suggestion of truth. At the same time, heroic spectacles largely devolved into spectacles without heroism (such as HBO’s TV miniseries, John Adams). I noticed how carefully the new generation of movie makers attended to historical minutiæ, regardless of the period – such as clothing styles, etiquette, manners, modes of transportation, and so on – while abandoning, betraying, or omitting the truth. The “realism” hid lies, falsities, fabrications, and literary gerrymandering to accommodate political prejudices and multiculturalism. The kinship I had with the culture waned, grew cold, and finally expired. It grew into revulsion and an intolerance for what was passing for “art.”

I grew to distrust the depiction in film of the life of any historical person and most adaptations of literary works. After all, I reasoned, if one is dramatizing the life of Beethoven, Edison, Patton, or even of Stalin, one must invent actions and dialogue and ascribe them to the subject. This is true even if one’s purpose is benign and one does not intend to demean or whitewash the character of the subject. To present a just depiction of the subject one would need a transcript of every word and action of the person. No such record could exist or even be communicated. All one can rely on are the recorded highlights of a person’s life and trusted biographies and strive for something consistent with the record or reputation. Such depictions can be illuminating if a writer or director is able to discern a person’s fundamental character and possesses the skill to dramatize it. One of the best practitioners of this art was Terence Rattigan, whose dramas about T.E. Lawrence, Alexander the Great, and Lord Nelson are nonpareil delvings into the make-up of exceptional men.

But otherwise, exercising one’s literary imagination in the dramatizations of especially the lives and careers of actual historic persons necessarily involves making things up and is fraught with the risk of error and subjectivism. Literary imagination is more properly applied to Aristotle’s ought, and not to his is.

Aristotle, in The Poetics, noted: “This is why poetry [or fiction] is more philosophical than, and is superior to, history – for poetry tends to speak of universals, but history particulars.” Or, as novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand, put it, in discussing Romanticism in art: “Romanticism is the conceptual school of art. It deals, not with the random trivia of the day, but with the timeless, fundamental, universal problems and values of human existence. It does not record or photograph; it creates and projects. It is concerned—in the words of Aristotle—not with things as they are, but with things as they might be and ought to be.”*

“Everything you’ve heard is true,” ends the narrator of the trailer for Amadeus. Well, not everything. In fact, not much is. I recall hearing the same thing said about Bonnie & Clyde, and any number of other “realist” films. In Amadeus, Shaffer neither recorded nor photographed the “particulars” of recorded history, but made things up to conform to the bile that constitutes his philosophical premises.

I make an example of Amadeus here because, of all the literary and esthetic felonies and larcenies committed by politically-motivated mediocrities in the 20th century in the name of “realism,” Amadeus is by any measure one of the pinnacles of cultural corruption. This particular corruption was consciously instigated, propagated, and legitimized. It is a literary crime. The purpose of this essay is to bring some justice to the subjects of the abomination. It is by no means exhaustive; I may someday turn it into a longer, deeper study in which Amadeus will be but one of many instances. I am no steadfast fan of opera; I can enjoy some parts of it. This essay will focus on the biographical aspects of the composers’ lives and not the esthetic merits of their work.

One need not be a musicologist, or an authority on 18th century music to argue that Amadeus is not a true retelling of the Mozart-Salieri rivalry, because even a cursory investigation of the lives of the two men and their careers would reveal that no such rivalry existed. Peter Shaffer’s play** and film (for which he wrote the screenplay) are fraudulent, untruthful, a disgrace, and an injustice to both men. The truth about Mozart and Salieri was as readily available in the pre-Internet period of 1979 and 1984, when the play and film debuted respectively, as it is now. There was no excuse for the studied literary libel of both composers. The enormity of the lie cannot be excused by “artistic license.”

From a literary standpoint, the problem with dramatizing a historical person or event is that one is limited by fact; one is not in control of what actually happened or what a person actually said or did. So one is faced with a decision: does one exaggerate or fabricate something about the person, or abandon the project? Of course, if the playwright or screenwriter adhered to the record, he would find one of two things: nothing to “dramatize” or to develop; or actions and/or characters whose dramatization is possible but which will be governed by his philosophical premises, the nature of his esthetics, and by his political leanings.

In the critical raves about Amadeus, the story is described as “highly fictionalized” and “loosely based.” Shaffer could very well plead “artistic license” when he wrote the play and screenplay. In no way could he have “fictionalized” the alleged rivalry between the two composers, no way he could take license with what was not there.

Here is a list of all of the principal characters in Amadeus, and brief notations on their actual, historical roles:

Antonio Salieri (1750-1825), like his compatriot and librettist, da Ponte, was born in Venice. Amadeus has been responsible for the resurrection of his reputation as a prolific and more than competent composer of the 18th century. Several biographies of him were inspired as rebuttals to Shaffer’s malign portrayal of him in his play and film, and his works have seen a revival. The lie became a vehicle of justice. Salieri was married in 1774, as well, and fathered eight children, hardly proof of a vow of “chastity” to God in exchange for musical talent to become as famous as Mozart.

Count Franz Xaver Wolfgang von Orsini-Rosenberg (1723-1796), the unofficial director of Hapsburg Emperor Joseph II’s operas, was an early champion of Mozart, and did not try to block Mozart’s appointments in the court or censor his work. He was also a career diplomat. In the film, among other actions he takes, he tears the score of the “ballet” from the sheet music of Figaro during a rehearsal because ballet had been banned by Joseph II. That much was true. Lorenzo da Ponte, Mozart’s librettist, persuaded Joseph to attend the dress rehearsal. Seeing the dancers performing without music, Joseph asked why, and da Ponte explained. Joseph ordered the music restored. So, the conflict was not fundamentally between Rosenberg and Mozart (with Salieri managing it in the background), but between Rosenberg and da Ponte. Other than that episode, Rosenberg was not a mortal enemy of Mozart.

Count Johann Kilian von Strack (no biographical information extant) was a “groom of the chamberlain,” or chamberlain of Joseph II. In short, the emperor’s personal valet. “…. Strack, we are told, was an unofficial but indispensable participant in the daily music sessions as well.” There is evidence that he was a cellist. In the film, he is shown as a toady and hostile to Mozart. Strack’s actual attitude towards Mozart is unknown.

Baron Gottfried van Swieten (1733-1803) throughout the film is depicted as an admirer of Mozart, upbraiding him only once for his choice of Pierre Beaumarchais’s The Marriage of Figaro as the subject of a new opera, and expressing shock at a vulgarism spoken by Mozart in the presence of the emperor. In reality, van Swieten, a diplomat and librarian, was a true friend and patron of Mozart, and there is no evidence that he questioned Mozart’s taste in literature. In the play, Swieten condemns Mozart for revealing and mocking Masonic rituals in The Magic Flute.

Kappelmeister Giuseppe Bonno (1711-1788), in the film, the aged, rotund Italian figure who had difficulty expressing himself, was in fact a friend of the Mozart family, no stranger to Mozart’s abilities, and had been in the imperial court for decades, having composed operas and oratorios. It is presumed that Bonno could speak fluent German. When he died in 1788, Salieri was appointed Kappelmeister to replace him.

The portrayal of Count Hieronymus Joseph Franz de Paula Graf Colloredo von Wallsee und Melz, or the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg (1732-1812), was roughly consistent with the record. He regarded talented musicians appended to his court as mere servants. He disliked Mozart’s independence and ultimately dismissed him, an action Mozart welcomed.

Katerina Cavalieri (1755-1801), an opera singer, is portrayed as a pupil of Salileri’s who somehow contrives to play the lead role of Constanze in Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio. She sang in a number of Mozart’s and Salieri’s operas. There is no evidence that she landed the role of Constanze in Abduction by sleeping with Mozart, a conclusion of Shaffer’s Salieri, though there is strong evidence that she was Salieri’s mistress.

The portrayal of Leopold Mozart (1719-1787), Wolfgang’s father, in the film is barely consistent with the record – he was a “control freak” of his son and his career – although no explanation is given why. He does not appear in the play version of Amadeus, and was written into the film version to lend credibility to Shaffer’s linkage between Don Giovanni, Mozart’s illness, and Salieri’s ruse to drive him to death by secretly commissioning the Requiem Mass in the evocative persona of Mozart’s vengeful father.

Constanze Mozart (1762-1842) hardly resembled the vapid wife of Mozart in Amadeus. In the film she is depicted as the only daughter of Mozart’s landlady, when in fact two of her older sisters were noted opera singers, while her father was a violinist. One of her sisters, Josepha, appeared as the first Queen of the Night in Mozart’s The Magic Flute. She lived for half a century after Mozart’s death in 1791, and promoted his music. She married Georg Nissen, a Danish diplomat, and arranged to have her late husband’s Requiem Mass finished by Franz Xaver Süssmayr, an associate of Mozart’s whose subsequent plan to claim the work as his own was foiled by Constanze. For an excellent recounting of the facts behind the composition of the Requiem and its disposition after Mozart’s death, Wikipedia has a long article on the subject.

Emanuel Schikaneder (1751-1812) was a talented and ambitious impresario, composer, Shakespearean actor, and dramatist. He wrote the libretto for Mozart’s The Magic Flute and appeared in it as Papageno. He built The Theater an der Wien, which still stands. It is not likely that Schikaneder “got physical” with Mozart, as he does in the film, for not having put The Magic Flute on paper. And while his troupe of actors and singers put on farces, it is not it likely, either, that he produced a parody or burlesque of Mozart’s music, as occurs in the film. Nor is it likely that if he had, and Mozart saw it, Mozart would have approved.

Emperor Joseph II (1741-1790) of Austria (his full name and full titles would together occupy half a page) was the “musical king” of Austria, reformist, and enlightened despot. In the film he is portrayed as hesitant, slow-witted and open to influence by his toady entourage. In fact, he could not only read music, but play it as well as the next amateur, and not like an unpromising novice, as he was depicted playing Salieri’s “March of Welcome” to Mozart in the film. Further, the film leaves one with the impression that his chief calling was to attend operas and play favorites among Vienna’s composers. His political life absorbed most of his energies, and other than a brief mention of the alleged danger of staging Mozart’s Figaro, not much of his politics is evident in the film. And, there is no hint that he would predecease Mozart in 1790, exhausted from a failed military campaign against Turkey and resistance to his reforms.

Lorenzo da Ponte (1749-1838) wrote the librettos for three of Mozart’s most famous operas and for a number of Salieri’s. He was a Venetian republican, an admirer of Benjamin Franklin, and much like him in the character of his politics and virtuosity in various realms of culture and science. He fled the Venetian Inquisition and found work as a librettist in Vienna. In 1805, he emigrated from Britain to the United States where he lived a successful and productive life. This remarkable man is not mentioned once in either Shaffer’s play or the film.

Count Franz von Walsegg (1763-1827) does not appear, either, as a character in Amadeus. He was, however, an amateur musician and the actual mysterious commissioner of Mozart’s Requiem Mass. There is evidence that, once the Requiem was finished, he, too, intended to pass it off as his own in honor of his late wife. It appears that this was a regular habit of Walsegg’s. Theft from composers was a common practice in that period. So, it was not Salieri who planned to work Mozart to death composing the Requiem. Shaffer, at the end of the play, through Salieri alludes to the “mysterious” commission to compose it, but does not name Walsegg.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) has been the subject of dozens of biographies and articles. It would be fruitless to cite any one of them for they are of varying merits (and demerits). The biography I relied on most, aside from the vast sources of information on the Internet, was Piero Melograni’s Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: A Biography, translated by Lydia G. Cochrane (University of Chicago Press, 2007).

What was the purpose of mounting such an enormous and complicated lie about historical personages, except to destroy the good?

I can speculate only to a certain point about what moved Shaffer to choose to write about Mozart and Salieri. The subject of their alleged rivalry and poisoning was not original. Alexander Pushkin in 1830 wrote a verse story about it. Another Russian, composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, expanded the story into a one-act play in 1898. As with his imaginary Salieri, Shaffer had no imagination, no genius or creativity, and settled for an apocryphal old wives’ tale to spread an untruth about two genuine creators. It is elevating gossip to the level of historical fact. This is a sign of artistic bankruptcy. But what is worse is a culture that would sanction and reward it. Shaffer simply expanded on Rimsky-Korsakov’s libretto and dialogue. He was a third-hander in the transmutation of back-fence gossip into a grand-scale fraud.

The scam was extremely successful. Today, “everybody knows” that Salieri envied Mozart for his creative genius, and planned and carried out Mozart’s early death. No one disputes the “fact.” What was the purpose of misrepresenting Mozart and Salieri? Surely, neither Shaffer, nor Milos Forman, nor Warner Brothers would have lavished so much in the way of time, sets, cast and expense to perpetrate a lie. So, it must be true.

In Honors Due, a detective novel in which Chess Hanrahan investigates the murder of one of his favorite historians, J. Forbes Munro, and why his name paradoxically appears in the credits of a film farce about Galileo, whom the historian revered, he encounters the man’s philosophy of history and biography:

“…Mine is not a unique approach to writing history and communicating its value. It is, frankly, traditional, but traditional only because I believe it is the single proper and profitable approach. It is at sharp odds with current approaches which, generally, seek to present historical persons and events as either nuggets of predestination or snapshots of some school’s dialectical process. The modern approach denies man one of his most unique assets -- indeed, his sole defining and distinguishing asset -- his volition. And it denies us our critical judgment and even our purpose; it robs an individual of all recognition, of credit, of discredit, of moral approbation, as the case may be. It reduces both subject and historian to the level of programmed ants.

“Galileo was not fated to write The Starry Messenger; nor was Cardinal Bellarmine fated to straddle an ecclesiastical fence. Napoleon need not have decided to escape from Elba; and Gordon need not have elected to remain in Khartoum. Whatever the reasons and reasoning behind it, there is no single major or minor historical event that cannot be ascribed to a conscious decision by an individual. An event, after all, is simply an action….The school that would elevate a single individual as an iconic chalice brimming with mysterious forces, and the school that would reduce him to a nearly insensate drone of a myriad of exocausative urgings, are but two sides of the same coin. I reject both.”

Amadeus is an example of the first school of history disputed by Munro. It elevated Mozart into an “iconic chalice brimming with mysterious forces,” namely the ability to write great music, a phenomenon that drives the Shaffer Salieri mad because he cannot understand it.

In order to destroy the good, it was necessary to introduce a paradox. It would have been difficult for Shaffer to portray Mozart as a genius with no important, exploitable “flaws” and have Salieri envy him to the point when he would plot Mozart’s murder. That would have required that Shaffer portray Salieri as a true villain, contemptible and repulsive to the core. But moral judgments are the bane of ethical relativists. So Mozart had to be portrayed as a fluke, a paradoxical contradiction, and as such earn Salieri’s sanctionable and comprehensible envy and hatred. We are supposed to forgive Salieri because he could not understand why God “blessed” the buffoonish, obnoxious, filthy, vulgar, dissipated Mozart – who somehow has the ability to write “divine” music – but denied that ability to the chaste, mediocre Salieri, who was “implanted” with the desire to honor God with great music, but could never match Mozart’s music. In the film, Salieri winds up blaming and hating God, as well.

The purpose was to present a contradiction that could not be resolved except by reference to the unknown and the unknowable, God and God’s whimsical will: Mozart, the brilliant, creative artist who wrote glorious music, but who is portrayed as a self-absorbed narcissist, a boasting bore concerned with what others think of his work – in other words, a completely shallow vessel of nothing – and God’s joke on Salieri, and, by implication, on the world.

Salieri, on the other hand, is portrayed as a wronged man moved to vengeance not only on Mozart, but on the God who allegedly blessed Mozart with an ability He denied Salieri. As a consequence, we are supposed to sympathize, if not empathize, with Salieri.

The final consensus, then, that is communicated is that both men were contemptible, perhaps even laughably so, leaving the paradox of the source of great music unknowable and unresolved. This non-resolution satisfies only two categories of minds: those who hate greatness, who say, “What’s the big deal about it? It’s a gift no one else has, why credit anyone with it, he didn’t develop the skill, it was given to him” – and those who don’t hate greatness but who wish to apologize for it and grovel before a paradox.

One of those motives was Shaffer’s.

Only one example of Salieri’s work is shown in the film, the finale of Axur, re d’Ormus, which follows after excerpts from Mozart's Figaro. A short excerpt of an aria from it is shown in the beginning when Salieri is reminiscing about his career. This was his Italian rendition of his successful Paris opera, Tarare. Lorenzo da Ponte wrote the librettos for Axur and other of Salieri’s works, as well as for Mozart’s most famous operas. The longer excerpt of Axur in the film demonstrates that the genuine Salieri was certainly capable of composing glorious if not divinely inspired music.

Among the plot anomalies in the film, much is made of Mozart using ballet in Figaro in violation of Joseph II’s ban of ballet in his operas. Yet, in the excerpt of the finale of Abduction from the Seraglio, which precedes the excerpt of Figaro, there is a vigorous, extended dance or ballet of whirling dervishes and couples, choreographed by Twyla Tharp, and in a modern style I do not think was imaginable in Mozart’s time. Yet, in the film, no objection is made to it by Rosenberg or by anyone else.

And in all the film, there is only one potential, dramatic conflict: When Mozart and the Emperor meet onstage after the finale of Abduction, Joseph remarks that there “are too many notes. Just cut a few, and it’ll be perfect.” Mozart, at first eager for the Emperor’s approval, answers petulantly, “Which few did you have in mind, Majesty?” (The question is not asked in the play version.) Shaffer saved himself the bother of a conflict by resorting to a deus ex machina in the form of his future mother-in-law and her pratfall.

If there was a rivalry, it was not a bitter, personal one. It was professional one whose resolution depended on the decisions of Joseph II. But the silliness and vulgarity of Mozart could not be omitted from either the play (which underwent six versions or revisions, including the film version); that silliness and vulgarity (and the whole paradox) were absolutely necessary to Shaffer. Reading some of Mozart's correspondence, even his close-to-death correspondence, and this was hardly a man who lent himself to silliness and vulgarity in his mature years. Shaffer had to have known this.

Another author, in an earlier period, might have made something of Mozart's sanity. But, according to Shaffer's metaphysics and esthetics, there is nothing "dramatic" in sanity. So he had to make Mozart a sphinx, in Salieri's mind and in the minds of Shaffer's audiences.

I think he consciously chose to demean Mozart and Salieri. All of his plays are malevolent. The one he is most famous for after Amadeus is Equus, also made into a film. I remember thinking, when I lived in NYC and it opened on Broadway there, why would anyone want to write a whole play around a disturbed person who blinded a stable of prize horses? Most of his plays have a nihilist theme, saying more or less that without religion, man is a beast, and his "instincts" struggle against the necessity of religion.

In the film, but not in the play, probably the most benevolent character was Baron Swieten (the character with the long black hair). But in the play, he turns against Mozart because he claims Mozart revealed the Masons' “secret” rituals in The Magic Flute and mocked the Freemasons. But in both the play and the movie, his opposition to Mozart's choice of subject in Figaro is interesting. When Mozart protests, "How can we go on forever with these gods and heroes?" Swieten answers in both versions, "Because they go on forever. They represent the eternal in us. Opera is here to ennoble us, you and me just as well as the Emperor. It is an aggrandizing art! It celebrates the eternal in Man and ignores the ephemeral. The goddess in Women and not the laundress."

But, one could take Swieten's answer and position as championing Romantic art and literature (or what passed for it in that period, the Classicist school), and Shaffer choosing to reject it, because, in his eyes, man is a beast and his pursuit of the “noble” and "eternal" is a pretense. In his metaphysics, Mozart the vulgarian is the norm, regardless of the period or era. His only salvation is to accept the will of God, come what may, and to not protest that man is corruptible and mean and small. His only salvation lies in selflessness and sacrifice. Mozart was obnoxiously selfish and greedy. And so in Amadeus, Salieri's fighting God's inexplicable and arbitrary will can only lead to his madness. The sole comprehensible thing is "mediocrity." The "divine" is beyond man's comprehension, and when it occurs in life, such as in a miracle, or exhibits itself in a person like Mozart, it cannot be understood.

I do not think Shaffer is just a "victim" of his education. His literary track record is consistently malevolent. A person who chooses to make a career of mocking man and commiserating in literature about man’s misery and failings is not necessarily a "victim." He must feel at home in the received wisdom he never questioned. He chose to remain in it. Moreover, he was encouraged by the culture. Shaffer has been amply rewarded by it (Oscars, Tonys, the British equivalent of them, and numerous other accolades), and, as Rand put it, when she was criticizing the second-handers who were exploiting Ian Fleming’s Bond novels by turning them into farces, with piles of money.***

And in the film production, Milos Forman is a partner in the libel. He knew as well as did Shaffer what the true story could have been, but chose the old wives' tale to develop and lavish with money and talent. And, as I remarked earlier, if it were not for the old wives' tale, Shaffer probably would not have chosen to write Amadeus. These men are not ignorant. They knew what they were doing.

In the film’s opening dialogue between Salieri and the priest, Salieri asks the priest if he knows who he is. The priest answers that it makes no difference, all men are equal in God's eyes."Are they?" replies Salieri. That establishes the theme for the rest of the story. Salieri was saying, "Well, they aren't all equal in His eyes. He bestows ability to compose great music on some, and not on others, which is unjust. He cheated me, the virtuous man dedicated to His glory, and rewarded 'the creature' who was not dedicated to His glory. But I showed Him. I murdered Mozart. Or, at least, I drove him to his death. The devil didn't make me do it. God himself did by betraying me, mocking me. But, even then, God cheated me, by foiling my plans to be credited with the Requiem that was to be played at Mozart’s funeral.”

And not once, in either any of the play versions or the film version, does Shaffer allow Salieri to say it was true that he murdered Mozart.

Two articles can be found online that address the propagated “truisms” of Amadeus. One is A. Peter
Brown’s “’Amadeus’ and Mozart: Setting the Record Straight,” originally published in The American Scholar in 1992. Brown thoroughly bursts most of the balloons that surround the myth of Mozart, Salieri, and the murder hypothesis. A second article is Albert Borowitz’s “Salieri and the ‘Murder’ of Mozart,” an essay on the Tarlton Law Library Legal Studies Forum site, published in 2006. Among the many conspiracy theories discussed by Borowitz are the 19th century cottage industry of “proving” Salieri’s poisoning of Mozart and the “contract” put out by the Freemasons on a disobedient member, Mozart.

An additional treasure trove of information about Mozart’s relationship with the Viennese court can be found in Dorothea Link’s “Mozart’s Appointment to the Viennese Court.”

Amadeus is the sack into which the reputations of both Mozart and Salieri were sewn by Peter Shaffer and Milos Forman, tossed ingloriously into the common grave of the undifferentiated, and sprinkled with generous shovelfuls of the lime of Critical Theory.

Well – there it is.

*”Introduction to The Fountainhead,” The Objectivist, March 1968, p. 1.
**Amadeus, A Play by Peter Shaffer. 1979. (New York: Harper Perennial, 2001).
***”Bootleg Romanticism,” in The Romantic Manifesto, 1965. (New York: New American Library, 1971), p. 137.

© 2010 by Edward Cline