Thursday, November 12, 2009

Broken Contract?

Tim Egan has a fairly vituperative post up over at the NYT.

I don't agree with his conclusions: I think the American public, left, right and center, are too complacent, too stupified and too cowed to do any "raging" at anyone. Look at the peasant mentality of the "teabaggers" - ramping and stamping about "government interference" in their sorry little lives while the limos of the wealthy glide by toasting the largesse they are receiving from that government. Look at the way the rest of us - all of us - are willing to stand by and let a minority of fanatics insist that our supposedly nondenominational governments hold up a monotheist religious standard for who gets to form a domestic contract with whom.

No. We are, by and large, sheep for the slaughter.

But I do agree that our ruling class has largely become the wholly owned subsidiary of the rentier and corporate classes. If we're going to be outraged about something, why aren't we outraged that 44% of our congresscritters are millionaires?

We rebelled against a king and his aristocratic cronies for that?

And I loved his snarky comparison between the Bull Moose Republicans of yore and the RoboGOP and RoboDems of today.

Anyone with any other thoughts?

32 comments:

  1. Chief,

    Government is at least as responsible as anyone. Government makes the rules and government is supposed to enforce the rules. "Markets" are a creation of government action and government policy is tremendously influential in those markets. Government is too frequently unable to foresee second and third order effects of policy (just look at medicare or those 29% credit card rates (which I'm a victim of, btw)). Government is to easily influenced by faction - and not just oligarchical elites (look at the California prison workers union, for example).

    I think the "teabaggers" have a point. The more powerful and influential our central government becomes, especially relative to state and local government, the more that interest groups will want to control and influence it, especially groups that care little for republicanism or local concerns that communities care about. The larger government becomes the bigger a prize it is. The reality is that government has steadily grown since the national income tax was introduced regardless of which party controlled the Presidency or Congress. When will it end? Congress seems to think the commerce clause gives it virtually unlimited authority, yet Congress is, at the same time, willing to cede or delegate authority to the executive. Congress has organized itself on a completely partisan model where the various leadership positions control the agenda and gerrymandering ensures seats are filled with loyal party apparatchiks. The current crop of Congressional leaders is almost completely filled with progressive liberals, who only represent the views of about 20% of Americans. That's pretty typical - when the GoP takes over (probably in 2010 if trends continue), the levers of Congress will be controlled by an equally factional and entrenched minority.

    There is a lot of discussion on this site portending the end of our Republic. Well, one might argue that the seemingly endless growth of government is going to make that possible since despotism requires central control. Add in the problems with Congress as the weakest (IMO) branch of government and things don't look so good.

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  2. Andy: No, the point is that the teabaggers DON'T have a point.

    The financial and social elites that control the Democratic Party and outright OWN the GOP have managed to delude these poor fools into mistaking the puppet for the hand inside it. To say that teabaggers have a point would be like agreeing with the people who think that Lambchop writes the dialogue for Sheree North.

    The teabaggers and their peasant ilk are part of the problem; conditioned by the steady drumbeat of the likes of Coulter and Limbaugh into not looking for the Man Behind the Curtain, they drum their little feet at the activities of their government (so long as that government isn't run by an open corporatist stooge like the Messrs. Bush!) while failing to connect the dots between the ruinous policies of their elected leaders and the benefits those policies shower on the elites that ensured their election rather than the sheeple that filled in the ballots.

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  3. "The current crop of Congressional leaders is almost completely filled with progressive liberals..."

    I would laugh except this makes me want to weep. Progressive liberals? And who with a functioning hindbrain would believe this? Where's the liberal steamroller, then? Where's single payer? Where's the breakup of the too-big-to-fail Wall Street corporations? Where's the retreat from Kabul? Equal partnership rights for all? An end to the "greed is good" deregulation?

    WTF?

    I don't know where these "progressive liberals" have been hiding, but if the policies enacted over the past 12 months are the product of "progressive liberals" then I need to become a goddam Communist, because there is nothing progressive or liberal about what's coming out of Capitol Hill.

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  4. Chief,

    I don't agree with the teabaggers about a lot of things, but your characature of them is cartoonish and wrong.

    As for Congress, look who controls the relevant committees. That's what I'm talking about when I say Congressional leadership. They pursued a bill that would get the absolute minumum number of votes required for passage (and achieved that. Compare the health care vote with the votes for medicare and social security) and they've even come out and plainly said they plan to take care of some of the compromises they were "forced" to make in conference. Congress has what, something like an 18% approval rating? Why do you think that is? It's because of crap like that. It's because the Congresscritters represent ideology, faction or special interest and not the people they were elected to represent - and not just the people that voted for them, but ALL the people.

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  5. And really, do you think the size and power of the federal government is irrelevant? I think it's completely relevant.

    You like Roman history so let's look there at the patronage systems that grew up and expanded under the republic which turned into tools of control and authority under the empire. In a republic the people should not be dependent upon central government yet it seems to me an argument can be made that we're on the road to such dependency.

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  6. Andy: In a nation of our size and diversity the system we have makes it nearly impossible to represent "all" the people. I would opine that in this case, rather, the "ideology, faction or special interest" that Congress represents is slanted towards the ideology of the australopitocene Right (your teabaggers), the faction is the conservative wing of the GOP and the special interests are the wealthy players in our political system: the big corporations, wealthy financiers, to a much lesser extent the big unions.

    After the unusual centerist/bipartisanship of the postwar era the nation has reverted more to type, with the hard Right taking the GOP. I'd love it if the hard Left took the Dems, but you notice that the donkeys WERE "forced" into conference (even though something like 50-60& of the country wanted something very like the healthcare plan the Congressional Dems originally proposed). Why? Because the Blue Dogs still have enough pull in the Blue Party to yank it to the right. What the hell does the GOP have - Olympia Snowe?

    You talk about Medicare and Social Security - the GOP has made no bones about disliking them and wanting to eliminate them, turning the bulk of the systems over to the kind of private investment schemes the like of which that have given my 401K it's conge' recently. Can you imagine this Congress PROPOSING such radical, socialist schemes?

    I would argue with you that one of the huge reasons that Congress' approval rating is as low as it is because it is acting substantially MORE conservative, more plutocratic, more in line with the kinds of values cherished by Fortune 500 than with working people like me.

    The size of the government DOES matter, but I notice that when all those small-government conservatives were in power we saw no signs that anyone was drowning the fucker in the bathtub. There does not appear to be a constituency in Washington that believes in "small government", either.

    As far as our Roman predecessors went, the real change in the Roman system came, not so much as a matter of patronage - Roman civil life began and ended as a nepotistic system slanted towards the benefit of the senatorial class - but as a matter of profit and privlege. The patrician class, which had, up to a point, watched out for the welfare of their clients, found that profit, particularly in the form of slave-farming and the establishment of the large latifunda were too profitable to resist. More and more Romans what had hung on to tribal status fell into the capti censi, the landless poor whose votes were counted only in job lots. Discontent with the increasing social and economic distress of the populares eventually resulted in the rent in the social contract we now call the "revolt of the Gracchi". The ruthless suppression of that revolt, and the several wars (Social, Jugurthine) that followed, made the need for soldiers and the Marian "reforms" inevitable.

    Once the precedent for using dependent mobs (dependent not on the "government" but, rather, on political factions - i.e. the dependent people you refer to were the 1st Century BC equivalent of the teabaggers) and the displacement of citizen-soldiers by professional long-service men dependent on their general/patrons had been established it was these, rather than the size, power or patronage of the "federal government", that enabled Caesar to establish caesarianism.

    Size and power are important, but I would argue that the size problem is inherant in our country's size. I'm starting to think that Goldman Sachs isn't the only thing that is "too big to fail"...

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  7. Let me apologize for simplifying about 100 years of Roman history; the subject of the Fall of the Republic is and has been worthy of entire lifetimes of study in its own right.

    But I do stand by the general conclusion that "dependence on the government" played a minor, if any, role in the replacement of Republic by Empire.

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  8. Andy is absolutely right that as the government continues to grow it will become more desirable to control. And right now the federal government controls somewhere around 55% of the economy between the direct budget, deficit spending, various companies (like BofA, Citi, Chrysler, GM, and AIG to name just a few), and the various powers that the Federal Reserve has granted itself.

    FDC is correct that on the surface it appears that the Progressive Liberals are in control but they aren't. Congress isn't about passing legislation anymore, it is about entertainment and handing out patronage and money.

    Let's look at the healthcare bill, for example, it isn't going anywhere in spite of appearances. the House bill got the bare minimum number of votes to pass after considerable. The Senate bill is in major trouble and will be very lucky to get to the floor, much less passed. Even if it gets passed, the hybrid bill isn't going to make either house happy and that will result in more defections.

    I don't blame the teabaggers for being scared and upset. We had a similar situation during the Gilded Age but back then the rich were only interested in making sure government stayed out of their way. This time around the rich want to use a much larger government to ensure that they stay wealthy. But the teabaggers haven't figured out yet that all of their fury and noise signifies nothing and they are wasting their time and energy.

    The Chief's quote "Winter is coming" is quite accurate (and I'm not saying that because I live in Minnesota and it's November).

    But I don't think the rich will have it all their way. What they have forgotten is that a nation with a large healthy middle class is much more profitable than a nation that has 2/3rd of its people living in continual debt and fighting to stay out of poverty.

    One of the reasons that European wars became so formal and stylized during the 1700's was that the Europeans had learned during the 30 Years War just how bad things can get if there are no rules. I fear we in the US are going to relearn that lesson in the next 30 years.

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  9. Chief,

    I'm sorry but it seems pretty obvious you've formed your view on the "teabaggers" based on something other than the actual positions and statements of teabaggers themselves.

    The "teabaggers" are primarily composed of libertarians and limited government small-c conservatives who don't have a home in either party these days. They are anti-establishment people who were NOT happy with Bush and they are firmly against the bailouts of the banks, GM, the establishment of the national security state under Bush, the corporate largesse, etc.

    The GoP right-wingers you mistake for the tea party people are absconders trying to regain some legitimacy after getting their asses beat in the last election and it looks like they've been partially successful. They've been helped, no doubt, by both parties and the media who all have incentives to trace the narrative and tie the religious-right, big government Bush-loving conservatives with the anti-establishment tea party people.

    You can also read the comment thread here, particularly Jeff Medcalf:

    The point I’m making with all this is that you are looking for a single message, a single theme, essentially for a hierarchical organization and a standard political message campaign. This is not that kind of animal. The tea party movement is an emergent movement. We don’t have any real leaders, any real organizing force. It’s an accumulation of lots of small actions, rather than a directed political movement, and you can’t think of it hierarchically if you want to understand it. This might or might not coalesce around any kind of political party; the Republicans have already tried to co-opt the movement and have failed at it. A third party is more likely, I suspect. It might or might not coalesce around a specific set of proposals. But for now, the only thing uniting all this is the strong sense that the government was barely tolerable before, and beginning in the middle of Bush’s second term, began to be intolerable. (I did in fact see an “intolerable acts” sign listing legislation over the past year that has been particularly egregious.)

    If McCain were elected, or if Bush were still in office, I suspect that we would be seeing exactly the same kind of movement. The difference would be that the media would be cheering us on, and the Democrats would be trying to co-opt us.


    Read the whole thing. That's just one guy, but he's typical of the tea party people I've read.

    My point on medicare and social security is that both passed with the majority of Republicans voting FOR the legislation along with almost all Democrats. Yet somehow we are to believe that Pelosi and the other ideologues in control of the relevant committees can't get a bill with similar support. I think in a republic there is a substantive difference between a bill that barely passes and one that passes by a wide margin for something as encompassing and important as health-care reform. This legislation is going to affect all Americans and our representatives shouldn't be trying to do the absolute minimum necessary to get passage.

    That 50-60% support you cite is actually highly variable depending on the particulars of the "public option," (which itself was a term chosen based on focus-group polling) along with the wording and context of the question. The polling on the actual plans being considered in Congress isn't that good:

    http://www.pollster.com/polls/us/healthplan.php

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  10. The size of the government DOES matter, but I notice that when all those small-government conservatives were in power we saw no signs that anyone was drowning the fucker in the bathtub. There does not appear to be a constituency in Washington that believes in "small government", either.

    Small government conservatives haven't ever really been in power, IMO, at least recently. Small-government conservatives have had a voice and substantive input from time to time, the most recent is probably the GoP Congress under Clinton. Bush certainly wasn't and he essentially threw that arm of the party out:

    "Look, I know this probably sounds arrogant to say," the president said, "but I redefined the Republican Party."

    I would argue with you that one of the huge reasons that Congress' approval rating is as low as it is because it is acting substantially MORE conservative, more plutocratic, more in line with the kinds of values cherished by Fortune 500 than with working people like me.

    I agree except that I think you and I define "conservative" differently. Congress is not acting as a small "c" conservative at all and it's interesting to point out that most people in this country self-identify as conservative. The "Fortune 500" and plutocracy don't automatically equate to conservatism.

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  11. "The "teabaggers" are primarily composed of libertarians and limited government small-c conservatives who don't have a home in either party these days. They are anti-establishment people who were NOT happy with Bush and they are firmly against the bailouts of the banks, GM, the establishment of the national security state under Bush, the corporate largesse, etc."

    This simply isn't true. You're the one projecting. I know a lot of neuvo teabaggers, and they all voted for GW to a person. Most of them think Hayek is an actress. They supported the wars, and they were Republicans until it was embarrasing to be one. Old white folks and college boys running around waving Atlas Shrugged does not a libertarian make.

    Every teabag event I've been to, you could not swing a sign without hitting someone who had a socialist medicare and tricare card in their pocket. Not a "get our troops out", "support the EFF" sign to be found, anywhere, anytime.

    These people talk the talk, they have never walked the walk.

    Real libertarians, like Ron Paul, have kept the teabag movement at arms length, because they know what a bunch of complete hypocrites these people are.

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  12. I have no idea who this Medcalf represents. Certainly not the teabaggers here in Portland or Salem, with their Obama=Hitler signs and their insistence that the Democrats were going to bring back the 90% marginal tax rate. The ones I saw and talked to were merely fools, and the "GOP right-wingers" were the ones they were fooling for. Like I said: I didn't see these dumb bastards flocking to the Capital Mall to protest Dick Cheney saying that deficits didn't matter as he and his cronies sold the nation's finances to Goldman Sachs. The "tea party movement" will exist exactly as long as it benefits the oligarchs and not a moment more - the Ross Perot of the 21st Century.

    And I laugh when I hear the "small-c" conservatives talk about how they never had a chance. And why was that? Could it be because they were also fools, and were played for fools? Or was it, perhaps, when their darling, Newt Gingrich, had his little hissy and shut down the government back in the 1990s, they found out that the People Didn't Like That.

    There may have been a time when "conservative" wasn't the semantic equivalent of "whore for the Fortune 500", but that time was long ago and far away in a land where President Barry Goldwater signed the bill dismantling the New Deal - including social security and Medicare. Yes, the GOP signed on to those pieces of legislation - back when half of the GOP was what were called "Rockefeller Republicans" and would now be called "Blue Dog Democrats" - and when it was patently obvious that the alternative was to have raging citizens string them up from lamp-posts. Remember, the example of the Soviet Union was never far from their minds - they knew they had to throw the proles a sop or face the rope themselves. Our modern solons could care less - let them eat cake, where else can they go?

    And as far as libertarians go, pshaw. Give them the reins of power. When the plutocrats have finished raping them, the con artists sucking them dry, and the anarchists have stripped the bodies, perhaps the charitable among us will throw them in a cart for a trip to Potter's Field.

    Libertarianism is an arrant fantasy of someone who has lived all their life in a comfortable welfare state. The real libertarians, the real beneficiaries of a weak state were everyone gets to fend for themselves - the warlords, the bandit chieftans, the pirate kings - would lick their chops with delight at the thought that a rich, sedentary state like ours would actually adopt the silly lassiez faire ideals of libertarianism.

    There's a reason that libertarian ideas have never been more than just that.

    Nope. We're down here looking up at our new alien masters. Let's hope that their cookbook is vegetarian.

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  13. Among the comments to Egan's post was:

    Chief executives who denounce the lousy education of American workers, but demand property tax breaks from local schools before building any new factory.

    Which captures the essentials of where we are and want to go. It's always the other guy's fault, and all benefits should be cost free or at least slyly shifted to someone else. Thus we end up with manufacturing facilities being lured by mega tax breaks to "create jobs" for people who will either have to pay those deferred taxes themselves or do without the benefits those waived taxes would have funded. Of course, whether or not the taxes are waived, the shareholders will see the corporate profits. Regardless of the way we do business, the interests of the top 10% are served. Sadly, it is done by such a blurred mechanism of linkages that the other 90% are oblivious.

    The "libertarians" simply thing that if we officially cease regulating what we have de facto left unregulated since Ronnie R, this will be a better world.

    My fellow Medicare recipients provide the most amazing example of the stupidity of the population. There they are, screaming that any and all government health insurance is the work of the Devil, yet I would challenge them to find a private sector replacement of equal coverage for about $100 per month. Hell, many of them pay more than that for private sector SUPPLEMENTAL insurance to pick up the 20-25% Medicare may not pay.

    Science has been able to identify the limits of man's intelligence. Sadly, nothing can plumb the depth of our stupidity.

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  14. Chief,

    As I'm sure you know, protests always bring out the fringe movements and sometimes it isn't easy to tell who is who from signs. There are certainly whackos who've associated themselves with the tea party people, just the same as you saw a lot of fringe leftists (including communists) at Iraq war protests. Whether you choose to believe it or not, the tea party movement isn't monolithic and, based on my research, isn't the Obama=Nazi narrative the media have gone out of their way to portray.

    Ultimately though, it's probably not going to go anywhere and will succumb to inertia of our present course.

    Regardless, I do think government is a problem but my principle concern is the looming anvil over our heads that is likely to fall in my lifetime - namely that we're heading toward national insolvency, which is a road we've been on my whole life. We can't continue to give ourselves benefits on financial backs of our children.

    Al,

    they are, screaming that any and all government health insurance is the work of the Devil, yet I would challenge them to find a private sector replacement of equal coverage for about $100 per month.

    Why is medicare able to provide such a great deal? Because it is insolvent and borrowing money to subsidize those low premiums. That's a big advantage that government has over the private sector, but the downside, of course, is that someone, down the road, will be paying for that subsidized premium. Is it stupid to be against expanding that model to all of health-care, particularly when no effort is made to conrol costs that are rising 2-3 times inflation? I don't know, obviously, if that is the reason your fellow medicare recipients are screaming, but it is the reason I am screaming.

    There's also a difference, I think, between providing a safety net for vulnerable populations (in this case, the elderly) and providing the same benefit to everyone, particularly when that benefit is highly subsidized. There's a difference between providing assistance to people who need assistance and providing a blanket benefit for everyone. Subsidizing benefits for some people is also fiscally much more doable than it is for the entire population, assuming costs can be conrolled.

    rdless of the way we do business, the interests of the top 10% are served.

    I live near Wilmington, Ohio which is one of the worst-affected communities in the country because the primary employer, DHL, closed its facility there and 9500 jobs were lost. I think the people of that community would be more than happy to offer a tax break to get another employer to come to town. That doesn't look likely in the current environement, but I don't see how doing so only serves the interests of the top 10% - at least not in every case.

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  15. Andy-

    Most medicare recipients protesting "guvment" health programs are not addressing whether or not Medicare is subsidized. As one fool shouted at a televised congressman's "town hall" that was rebroadcast here in Greece, "We don't want the government involved in our health insurance, and we don't want it to get involved in our Medicare." It was rebroadcast here as an example of how irrational the debate in the US has become.

    As to state and local governments use tax breaks to entice plants to locate or more typically re-locate, if you look at the long term results, you will find that it's a net-sum-loss. First, when you bring a new form of industry into an area, most of the higher paying jobs are filled by people brought in with the skills to fill them, not locals. Second, the original locale loses tax revenue so that the people in the new locale can bring in disproportionately less tax revenue in an attempt to "get new jobs". If our federal form of government exists to foster destructive competition between states, we all lose in the end. That's why there was an "Interstate Commerce Clause" in the first place.

    It all boils down to the fact that as Americans, we are NOT "all in this together". So Carolina doesn't give a shit about Michigan and Wall Street financial geniuses don't give a shit about you.

    It is not "E Pluribus Unum" but "E Pluribus ad Pauci"

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  16. "It all boils down to the fact that as Americans, we are NOT "all in this together."

    Al gets to something I was alluding to above; which is that if you want to talk seriously about the sheer size of government as a threat to liberty, then you have to talk about size and population.

    I would posit several things:

    1. The post-WW2 metastasizing of the federal government is a done deal. There is no realistic way to reduce the sheer size of the government without reducing the size of the country. And

    2. That's not that bad an idea from the standpoint of personal liberty and political coherence.

    One of the reasons - perhaps the main reason - that the federal government is so freaking huge is that the nation is huge. And extremely complex. And highly variable.

    I don't think that at any point anyone sat down and thought "Hmmm...I really think we ought to have 200% more generals." or "We really need 15 agencies regulating interstate commerce." What happened is that some damn thing occurred in California and the resulting mess was so great that it affected Nevada and Oregon as well. So the Commerce Department (or the FHWA or the Department of the Interior) created a new agency to deal with it.

    And so on. And so on.

    And once created, there's almost no way that an agency goes away. And, to an extent, that's reasonable; there's too much chaos still out there.

    Ironically, I would argue that in some areas there's to LITTLE federal regulation. Banking and credit card practices are a shame and a hissing, with predatory banks seeking the most inert states to base their little scams out of. There really are too few inspectors for everything from meat to kids' toys. The feds have been throwing tons of regulatory functions back on the states who then, having no way to run a deficit, have to cut the positions to stay afloat.

    But the primary reason I think that the feds have stayed so big is that WE are big. Maine had very little in common with Georgia other than some fast food restaurants. California has huge differences from Texas.

    Hell, here in Oregon the People's Republic of Portland might just as well be another country compared to Gilliam or Malheur Counties. We are so different, our lives and attitudes and priorities are so different from the people living in Burns or Scio or Gold Beach...we are barely held together by the folks in Salem, but its an uneasy and often dysfunctional system.

    And Al points out one of the huge systemic problems; none of these little polities has the economic power of a single large corporation.

    About which I'll talk in Part 2...

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  17. "none of these little polities has the economic power of a single large corporation."

    Just wait until the Supreme Court frees all those poor corporations from campaign finance laws next year.

    You can pretty much kiss whatever shred of representative democracy is left away at that point.

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  18. So. We're this huge, interconnected country but with enormous differences; economic, political, social...and we've erected this immense federal bureaucracy to get involved in trying to standardize, oversee, regulate and mediate all of these differences.

    But all of this falls apart when confronted by corporate entities that are vastly better funded and much more monolithic than our governments, up to and even superceding the federal government.

    So you end up with Al's scenario, where a corporation shops tax breaks, settles on the most generous one, and sticks the taxpayers with the bill. Or an immense bank makes foolish "investments", threatens the entire economy as it teeters and is propped up with tax dollars rather than allowed to crater.

    Part of this, frankly, I think has to do with the immensity of the nation. WE have become "too big to fail". The national meetinghouse has been deluged in voices, all wanting different things, all demanding that someone else give up THEIR thing, in sizes and ways that the Framers never conceived. Add to that the immense power of large commercial organizations (from interest groups to corporations to unions).

    It's almost preordained that the result would be gridlock.

    Honestly? I think that our nation may be getting to the point where it is too large, too inchoate, too wealthy to rule. We've gotten so interconnected - and yet so DISconnected - that we're risking a cascading failure that will drag the nation down shockingly far.

    John Robb over at Global Guerillas talks a lot about this and I'm starting to see his point. Winter IS coming - and by that I mean the tipping point where our population and industrial civilization is going to overwhelm our natural resources. Water, petroleum, food...we're all interconnected. A failure in one location could be catastrophic.

    To give you an example, here we are in some of the richest farmland in the continental U.S. Americans struggled and died to emigrate here in the 19th Century just because of that. And yet, what is our #1 crop (assuming you don't count marijuana?)

    Grass seed.

    We don't feed ourselves. We import cabbage from California, grapes from Argentina, asparagus from Mexico.

    What happens when oil peaks, in 50 or 100 or 200 years and that diesel-fueled food becomes too expensive for anyone but Phil Knight to afford?

    Especially since - land use planning or no - we're paving farmland at a hectic pace? We have all these farmers tooled up to use LOTS of petroleum to grow...grass. And you can't even smoke it. (Well, most of it...)

    And the thing is, it wouldn't really make a difference how many people here in Oregon started to get worried about this and wanted to make some changes. We could make a start...but our agriculture policy is dominated by Monsanto and Kroger and big corn belt producers with clout in DC. Our transportation policy and our tariff policy and our national construction standards...

    You get the idea.

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  19. Christ, I really am running on!

    Anyway, the problem in 1790 was that federalism was too loose, and the states weren't willing to work together. So we had to write a Constitution, and then spend 150 years amending and developing administrative rules and new agencies, that would force the states to work together.

    But now I think we've grown TOO straitlaced, too unified. We've lost the ability to innovate, to respond to local conditions with local solutions. We've become like the electrical grid we depend on: big, powerful, capable of producing tremendous power...but also fragile. One downed tower, one overloaded transformer...and we could see a frighteningly destructive rolling blackout.

    I'm not sure where this leads. Robb would take it to the ultimate conclusion; a disintegration of federal authority and a rise of local and regional communities. I don't know that I'm willing to go there...yet. But we need to do something to stop the kind of political prostitution we're seeing at all levels of government. And I'm not sure that that's possible without some radical changes in our very form of government itself.

    And THAT may not be possible without reshaping the NATION itself.

    Thoughts?

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  20. Chief,

    I was actually thinking about this a few days ago after watching the healthcare debate. Not to rehash what has been well said above, but the issues of personal interest, state interest, corporate interest seem deeply ingrained in our politics (with State interest by design).

    I was always under the assumption that the reason we had a bicameral legislature was because it was part of the Great Compromise, where you have one house that is elected based on population, and one house elected with equal representation. But what I found interesting in my research was that the original intent was for the Senate to be non-elected representatives, but instead, appointed by elected house reps (similar to executive cabinet postings), a Senatorial Elite. I had NO idea that this is how Senators were "elected" until the 17th Amendment in 1913.

    So, with the precedent of a constitutional amendment set, we can, hypothetically make some drastic changes to our government (if the government allows it to happen, hence the real issue). Back to my point about States' interest, I find it redundant that both houses are by design driven by State's interest. It seems to me, if one house is looking out solely for their district, their constituents (namely the local cash donors), why not have the other house whose primary focus is to focus on National interests?

    How could we go about electing/appointing 50 Senators that have no link to a State(and the influences that are inherit)? I imagine a house of congress whose sole purpose is to consider what is best for the nation, not for their state/district (and all of the undue influences that exist in today's congress)?

    Maybe a pipe dream, but here is a more realistic and possible recommendation often discussed, but never taken seriously. What are everyone's thoughts on term limits for congress people? Perhaps 3 terms for the House, and 2 terms for the Senate. Would this has positive or negative consequences for our nation? And why has this never happened?

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  21. What Arthur Jensen said:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BVqIjKyJh0

    But the rest of the world knows that they can't let white men on Wall Street remain in the control - not without getting themselves a seat at the table.

    Until then, as we slouch towards corporate authoritarianism, WS and the Nat'l Security State will use all the dials and levers to forestall ceding power. But it will come. Once that has been achieved, the economic basis for carving up God's country may provide some deliverance.

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  22. Chief
    I'm not sure where this leads. Robb would take it to the ultimate conclusion; a disintegration of federal authority and a rise of local and regional communities. I don't know that I'm willing to go there...yet. But we need to do something to stop the kind of political prostitution we're seeing at all levels of government. And I'm not sure that that's possible without some radical changes in our very form of government itself.

    And THAT may not be possible without reshaping the NATION itself.

    Thoughts?


    Only two.
    1. The black helicopters are going to take you away someday ;-)

    2. More seriously, my turn to get up on the soapbox.

    John Robb is correct that the current system is unsustainable. We've discussed the reasons many times here. Political prostitution is the logical, inevitable, and unstoppable result of the current situation. But there's two more elements at work here that Robb touches on but I believe doesn't give proper emphasis.

    a) A lot of countries have been getting smaller in a reasonably peaceful way recently. East Timor finally won its independence after a long and very low key war. The Czechs and the Slovaks split apart without any bloodshed. Yugoslavia was mostly dismembered peacefully (although there were quite a few instances of violence, the Bosnians and the Croats really having to fight for their independence). So this doesn't all have to end in warfare.

    I suspect that there's some currently unrecognized social dynamic at work here that causing people to slice their national identities smaller and smaller. This is probably a good thing and is likely to spill over into business at some point (especially when my second point is taken into account).

    b) Larger and larger corporations are more and more efficient up to a point and then they tend to become bloated entities that are ripe for social and physical sabotage.

    (1 of 2)

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  23. (2 of 2)

    Yes, we are in an era that is "slouching towards corporate authoritarianism," the corporations seem to be getting drawn into the vaccuum left by the slow death of the nation-state. But it doesn't have to end that way.

    Yes, I know the dangers of letting the inmates run the prison and I suspect this country is about to get yet another lesson in why that is a bad idea when the corporate governance doesn't work (this will be at least the third time we've learned this lesson, perhaps it will be the last).

    But, in this era when corporations are increasingly relying on centrlized cheap (or free) public infrastructure for their basic method of doing business, the mad bad individual wields increasing power. A single technician flipping the wrong switch can deprive Amazon.Com (for example) of hundreds of thousands of dollars, either intentionally or by accident, and there's nothing Amazon.Com can do about it.

    Robb emphasizes this as Global Guerrillas and Open Source Warfare, but it doesn't have to be either political or warfare. Dilbert, for example, mentions improving the quality of life through stealing office supplies.

    The movie "Office Space" presents quite a few examples of how disfunctional corporations can accidentally spawn circumstances that make the employees lives better (at least temporarily) while frustrating the corporate bosses. Remember the old Soviet-era Russian joke, "They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work?" That will be a truism for more and more companies in the next 20 years as they become as fragile and arthritic as the governments they are replacing.

    Although corporations are getting increasingly arrogant, they shouldn't. Basic economics and sociology will only allow them to go so far (and as nearly as I can tell, they've nearly used up all of the slack in the rope) and then the "Dismal Science" will wreak its own very special form of Hell upon the guilty and their supporters.

    And then lots of things (both good and bad) will start breaking loose. It's our job as both citizens and human beings to keep an eye on the situation, keep our powder dry, and try to improve our own and our neighbors lot in life when push comes to shove. Very little is impossible during these periods of dislocation and we, the citizens of the US (or perhaps ex-citizens if things get bad enough) and members of the human race can set our own destiny.

    When will this occur? I don't know but my best guess is that it will start sometime in the next 20 years or so and could start as soon as 2012.

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  24. Chief, Pluto et al...

    Great post, wonderful dialogue.

    Chief, I am there with you and understand EXACTLY what you are saying. There was a book published not so long ago called Imperial Life in the Emerald City (describing the absolute incoherence, incompetence and chaos of Baghdad after April 2003. NOTHING WORKED! Whether by design (as I often wonder) or not, NOTHING WORKED. And the lid came off. Then comes New Orleans 2005 -- an object example of NOTHING WORKING right here in the USA. I watched that disaster from my perch overseas, aghast at what was happening in real time to a great, historic American city. What was let happen to that city. No question the past 8-9 years have begun stripping bare the bone and exposing the Citizen to the reality of the nation they live within (and whose course they purport to direct). And today, NOTHING WORKS in the Imperial City on the Potomac.

    Is it any wonder then that the dazed and confused can be corralled by the cynical, wealthy powerful interests into inchoate peasant mobs??

    As Pluto sez: It's our job as both citizens and human beings to keep an eye on the situation, keep our powder dry, and try to improve our own and our neighbors lot in life when push comes to shove. Very little is impossible during these periods of dislocation and we, the citizens of the US (or perhaps ex-citizens if things get bad enough) and members of the human race can set our own destiny. I am with you. Now is the time to till those fields together. We need to remember our principles, teach our principles, and prepare ourselves, families, friends and neighbors for the storm. I still have great faith in the Citizen of the United States. Our nation is and remains an exceptional (better description is UNIQUE), dynamic and (often) rightly guided nation. But, as the Teabagger Movement (wholly funded by Freedomworks TM) illustrates, many of our fellow citizens are already being prepared to a new set of (me-first) principles and the scales will be hard to rip from their eyes. This is why they are dangerous and one of the reasons why I fear that the American Experience is nearing its end.

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  25. Obviously, we are graced with elected critters who cannot think for themselves and aren't even bright enough to obscure their lack of original thought!

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/15/us/politics/15health.html?_r=1&hpw

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  26. The teabaggers I've seen have seemed to be pretty rednecky and way too uncool for the likes of me. But, then, it does occur to me that a lot of Americans—especially those who've got some pretty pieces of paper with old English script hanging on the wall—wish to be cool above all else. Oh, no, we won't let it all hang out. No, we won't get passionate about anything other than a football game (then we can go crazy). We need to emulate the government and corporate rich folk who've taught us all too well that the tight-assed WASP is the preferred self-image.

    Many of the teabaggers are indeed fools, no more than tools for cynical rich right-wingers. But many of them aren't. Many are genuinely fed up. I'm about ready to join them. Nope, you won't see me at any rallies (see cool, above), but the fact is, I'm fast becoming detached from my own government. I don't want the nation to be next. Being an American has always been very important to me, and I've always been able to differentiate between the nation and the government, but that's getting more difficult each day.

    It's odd, but I've developed the same sense of cynicism about my government that I used to see in Russians. Everybody loved Mother Russia, but everybody also despised the government. Not like we've always been with our government, but a sense of true loathing and disgust. Many of us are getting there. We're already seeing it with politicians and with millions of ordinary folk: true questioning of the legitimacy of our government. Yeah, it's a cynical ploy with Republicans, but it won't be any different next time they're in charge.

    The U.S. Government is losing its legitimacy with its own citizens. The next step is acceleration of the already ongoing societal breakdown. And just wait until the true tax revolts begin. They won't be able to jail millions.

    Most of us won't ever see it, but IMO the likelihood that this nation will break apart into its constituent parts is increasing. Once the social compact is dead, what will be the use in sending tribute to Washington?

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  27. "Many of the teabaggers are indeed fools, no more than tools for cynical rich right-wingers. But many of them aren't. Many are genuinely fed up."

    I won't argue that they're "fed up". But were they "fed up" with the notion that Wall Street businesses were running the Fed and the FDIC, Fannie and Freddie back when Allen Greenspan was telling them that Greed was Good and Dick Cheney was saying that Deficits Didn't Matter?

    The ones I met in Salem weren't.

    Are they "fed up" only because they think that all those handouts are coming from a Black Man and going to lazy black men?

    The ones I talked to in Portland sure did.

    My respect for the teabaggers is inversely proportionally to the length of time between today the the date of their "revelation" that government handouts to Big Business were Bad. Far too many of them seem to have discovered this Eternal Truth only since a Democrat moved into the White House.

    "And just wait until the true tax revolts begin. They won't be able to jail millions."

    The teabag (and beyond) fascination with "Devil Taxes" fascinates me. We live in a nation that is, at the moment, less taxed than at almost any point since the New Deal. Throw in things like the ridiculously low tariffs and our actual tax bite is a fraction of what most citizens in most industrialized states pay.

    I don't like a lot of what our government DOES with my taxes, but I don't feel like rebelling BECAUSE I pay taxes or how MUCH I pay.

    My irritation (I've not gotten to anger or outrage yet) is with the way that our "leadership" has so clearly sold themselves to the highest bidder(s).

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  28. Chief,

    We live in a nation that is, at the moment, less taxed than at almost any point since the New Deal. Throw in things like the ridiculously low tariffs and our actual tax bite is a fraction of what most citizens in most industrialized states pay.

    And we get the government we pay (and borrow) for...

    After 30+ years of this "government is the problem" nonsense, is it any wonder that good citizens like Publius feels detached, cynical and alienated? Not to mention the scared and (increasingly) hungry masses (aka Tea Baggers)?

    What I am interested is HOW we begin to steer the tanker of state away from the shoals. 'Cause from where I sit, I cannot see anyhting being done to do so.

    And that worries me.

    SP

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  29. SP -
    What I am interested is HOW we begin to steer the tanker of state away from the shoals.

    Sorry, but I don't think we can. There is a combination of too much of the Titantic (unsinkable ship of state) thinking combined with too little appreciation for what the ship of state can provide (peace, justice, infrastructure, education, etc.).

    At best we'll graze the shoals again (last year's financial meltdown was a BIG warning and was ignored) and we'll get some really brilliant game-changer who has the country's best interests at heart (as opposed to his own best interests) and we'll get enough reform to push us back out to sea for a little while.

    I had hoped that Obama would show some FDR-like qualities but unfortunately, his role model seems to be Herbert Hoover instead. I suspect his problem is that he's got too many old Kennedy and Clinton staffers who help create the problems and can't see beyond them.

    It is probably wisest to plan for the worst (which actually is a whole set of potential problems ranging from the social to the economic to the military) and hope for the best. John Robb's mistake is that he takes the logical failings of our government and society today and projects them to their logical conclusion. History doesn't usually work that way, people get hit by unexpected shocks and rally in unexpected ways that usually prevent the logical conclusion from being the correct one.

    It is impossible to predict with any degree of accuracy what will happen next but we can see the broad outlines already. The current unpleasant situation is the new norm (or perhaps the new best case) for the next 3-30 years. Things are going to predictably slowly deteriorate until some triggering event either makes things much better or pushes the public beyond endurance and it takes action (which can be both good and bad).

    The Great Depression caused both FDR and Hitler to be elected by increasingly desperate populations who were willing to gamble on vast changes. Hitler's legacy has already been resolved. FDR's is very much up in the air yet.

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  30. @Pluto,

    There's a lot I think we agree on, for instance: I had hoped that Obama would show some FDR-like qualities but unfortunately, his role model seems to be Herbert Hoover instead.

    I blogged this very point a couple months back by riffing on an article in Harper's . Surely the many ex-Clintonites in today's Administration cannot help, but I also suspect Obama is much more philosophically aligned to Hoover than to FDR.

    ...people get hit by unexpected shocks and rally in unexpected ways that usually prevent the logical conclusion from being the correct one.

    Absolutely concur. And if this Titanic cannot be saved, we must think through our core principles NOW, put them into action at whatever level we can NOW, and begin building the lifeboats in a way that best preserves the best of our country.

    Will we ever fall to the desperate levels of The Postman or Jericho? I surely hope not. But the terrifying aspect of today's America is there are plenty of folks around that look forward to building their petty local empires upon the ashes of the Republic. These folks must be opposed and cowed before they can gain any power. Otherwise, I fear we could tip over fully into the dark side experienced by Central Europe.

    SP

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  31. SP -
    But the terrifying aspect of today's America is there are plenty of folks around that look forward to building their petty local empires upon the ashes of the Republic. These folks must be opposed and cowed before they can gain any power.

    I agree that there are a lot of groups and individuals out there that are looking forward to an apocalyptic future. I've noticed that history tends to take unexpected roads which probably means that their petty dreams of dictatorship are useless. Or at least I hope so because I've been preparing for a completely different future and my family and I would be dead in short order if they prevail.

    Sven Ortman has an excellent post over at "Defence and Freedom" on the topic of worst-case expectations and preparations and I recommend that you check it out.

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  32. Pluto,

    thanks for the tip. Will do.

    SP

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