The Sage Grouse

History: Condemned Over and Over

An old friend dropped in last week, after vanishing for four years. In his former life, he was a prominent Nevada silver miner, but he relocated to Wyoming to enjoy some good years and some not so good years.

Trading silver came up. Talking about silver and gold leads to discussions of stocks and bonds and big banks and Obama and shorting the market and repetition of mistakes over and over.

Which led to a discussion of why people do not learn from mistakes. I heard in high school that those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. I thought that this meant that if we did not study Greek and Roman history we might repeat their mistakes. No, no, no, the cycle of mistake perpetuation is much shorter, much more modern, like several times within a human lifetime.

The invention of writing, much ballyhooed,  has not improved our recall of historical boners. Maybe YouTube will.

The French suffered terrible losses in Indochina and went home in the early 1960s. John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson eagerly volunteered to take their place as a punching bag for the China-energized Viet Cong. This was only fifteen years after a China-energized North Korean army caused a great deal of death and destruction. Is it inevitable that Presidents are so charged up with testosterone upon taking the oath and descending into the Situation Room that they can’t resist pulling the trigger?

Next the U.S. military kicked the snot out of beach-going tourists and bystanders in Grenada and Panama. Way to go big military! Reagan, teething on the Big Stick approach.

Russia takes the big hosing in Afghanistan. Do we learn? No, we go in and get buried in the same sandstorm. One primitive rocket grenade takes out a $200 million helicopter and the best of the elite. Just like Osama bin Laden, equipped by the U.S. military, shot down Russian helicopters using U.S. supplied shoulder fired missiles. Why should we be surprised that simple weapons that we supplied to the Afghan rebels in the 1980s would also work against us? Pause for a moment;  this was a terrible tragedy for untold numbers of friends and families.

The economy. Wasn’t there a huge scandal in the 1980s about Savings and Loans loaning money on marginal deals and inflated appraisals, resulting in Keating and others going down in flames? The ensuing Congressional investigations, all dust and no traction, were about as useful as lobbing water balloons at a horseshoe tournament.

The late 1980s and early 1990s would have been quiet but for the stock market meltdown in 1987 (under Reagan) and the dotcom bubble burst in 2000 (maybe too early to blame Clinton).

There was a book about how merging regular banks and investment banks would crash the economy; I read it with interest in the early 1990s and then lost it. The author was right. The merged banks, hemorrhaging cash in 2008 only to miss out on TARP to then scramble to be reclassified as “banks” when Bush W. and then Obama posted the “bank” bailouts. Cynical I am, but our society would be like Mad Max if the banks had all cratered. They deserved no help, but their depositors and investors did not deserve to be living like homeless beggars if they all collapsed.

Hello, Michele and Rick? It’s so facile to say that bank bailouts were an abuse of big government and a waste of taxpayer money. You, children, were not there making the hard decisions demanded on a moment’s notice. You, children, didn’t have to look into the abyss; but you can now, in the luxury of living in a society which did not collapse into anarchy, pretend there was no abyss. Three-year-olds are not expected to demonstrate a lot of responsibility; but, Michele and Rick, you should.

Fairness Time: Let’s pick on Democrats for a while. LBJ invented the concept of Big Government will Pay Your Bills, even if you are irresponsible. Bill Clinton tried to clean this up while his spouse was being the poster child for Government Health Care. It tanked, perhaps  unfortunately. Next came the big push to empower poor people to own homes. Nice idea conceptually. Big mess in the execution. Sub-prime = sub-sewage. Wait, this ain’t new. This is the same nonsense which occurred with the S&L Keating debacle in the early ‘80s. Except this time AIG and others guaranteed the bad bets and had to pay, which is why the U.S. government poured $180 billion through AIG like a gardener pours water through a sprinkler can.

Can anyone think up a practical difference in the definitions of “fertilizer” and “bullshit”?  I didn’t think so.

Late Breaking Footnote: Dick Cheney, after shooting his best friend in the face, now publishes a book in which he shoots Colin Powell and Condi Rice in the ass. Wasn’t Powell the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman when Cheney was SecDef during the first Gulf  “War”; weren’t those dudes in lockstep with Jim Baker, patriots all? Why did it come to pass that Cheney and Bush pushed poor Colin Powell out in front to present to the United Nations the transparently empty case for invading Iraq, then when the UN did not buy it the US invaded Iraq anyway and threw General Powell under the bus?

Why learn from history when you can daily invent it? People who try to learn from others might exhibit humility as part of their personality. People who invent history are egotists. Belief in infallibility is a flaw which prevents learning from history.

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  1. Hey, you of course want some rationality in the world but Fox, Beck, and Rush have made facts and history irrelevant. Facts sometimes still apply at the local level, but in presidential politics? Nah.