Monday, August 8, 2011

The End of the Road

I was reading Seydlitz's post below, thinking about what Standard and Poor's said about legislative dysfunction and realized that this Summer, the United States had ceased to be a permanent sovereign entity, and had become just another flash in the pan. All at the hands of the extreme wing of the Republican Party, prodded on by the Tea Party.

For the purpose of domestic political ends, the Right stated, very clearly, that there is no continuity in the Government of the United States. Not only did they threaten to disavow the legally made obligations of previous Sessions of Congress to the American People, but they threatened to welsh out on debts to the entire world. Not because the government is unable to meet it's current debts, but because they wanted to force the government to default on our debts in punishment for not accepting their programs of social engineering. In short, the world has been told that there is a major element in our elected government that sees the "full faith and credit" United States as only from one session of Congress to the next. There is no longer "history", just immediate gratification.

For more than 222 years, Since Rhode Island ratified the Constitution, the Government of the United States has enjoyed continuity in meeting its financial obligations. Indeed, following the Civil War, the 14th Amendment included a provision stating that any and all legally established debts of the US Government ARE NOT TO BE QUESTIONED. Those who wrote the amendment were ensuring that the debt assumed in the conduct of the Civil War would not be disavowed by a subsequent Congress, either through a change on "political winds" or procedural shenanigans (i.e. filibuster and other house rules). In short, the US was and would be an honorable borrower. Back then, of course, they were basically thinking about a political attempt to avoid honoring specific debts. I am willing to bet there was no notion that a general, voluntary default to achieve political aims would ever be considered.

So, S&P, along with the rest of the world that has invested in US debt instruments, now realize that the US has the potential, and in some quarters the desire, to be a deadbeat. Not because the money isn't there, but because the Far Right has no sense of ethics, honor, obligation or duty in regard to the legal debt of previous Congresses. Persons like John Boehner can disavow the debt he supported in the Bush Tax Cuts and Iraq War at will in order to gain political clout, and expect the world at large to carry the burden.

In short, S&P is telling us the obvious. The United States of America is no longer a continuing entity. It is simply the expression of the current power brokers, with no regard for the lawful decisions of the previous power brokers, nor the next. As with so many nations ruled by petty dictators, we now exist in two year intervals. No investment in the US is legitimate for greater than two years, regardless of the nation's ability to technically honor those debts. Rather, your investment will be subject to the whims and fancy of successive governments.

How S&P had the patience to only lower us one notch is beyond me. It's not a matter of whether our debt is sustainable. It's a matter of a proud proclamation that existing debt simply and voluntarily may not be honored at all, regardless of the ability to do so.

We have become an economic rogue nation. S&P was just being polite in how they described it.


  1. Al,

    The tea party is fundamentally a reactionary movement. They wouldn't exist if we had our shit together. If we can get our shit together, they will go away. In other words, the tea party is a symptom, not a cause.

    I'm not hopeful that the necessary changes will happen, so we probably need to get used to the tea party. Not only that, I would expect more reactionary movements to form in the coming years, especially once people realize that their piece of the pie is threatened. I don't think the scope and depth of our problems have sunk into the American psyche yet, but IMO that's only a matter of time. When it does the pitchforks will come out and make the tea party look like a bunch of boy scouts.

  2. Andy-

    John Boehner accepted economic terrorism as a tool to assuage the TeaBaggers. John Boehner is the senior Republican in the Chamber that conducted this attack on the world economic system. He is a 20 year veteran of the House, voted for the Bush tax cuts, all Iraq War appropriations and TARP. Yet, he was willing to disavow responsibility for debts HE approved to curry favor with the TeaBaggers.

    It's not just the "Johnny Come Lately" crowd that changed us into a Banana Republic. The bulk of the GOP was willing to hold the world hostage in this fiasco. Only John McCain spoke out against using the debt ceiling to extort the nation.

    No one was willing to call a spade a shovel. Virtually every actor in DC acquiesced to this buffoonery, and Obama became a joke by not calling out the terrorism or extortion being conducted. If he had invoked the 14th Amendment, it would have been years before the courts might have sorted it out, the threats would have been meaningless and Congress would have had to address the real issue - future revenue and spending.

  3. Virtually every actor in DC acquiesced to this buffoonery, and Obama became a joke by not calling out the terrorism or extortion being conducted.

    And let's not exclude Wall Street and their apologists S&P. As much of a shameful display of stupidity, brinksmanship, and dishonesty as these past months in Congress and the WH was, S&P participated, either out of incompetency or criminal activity, in the destruction of the housing and economic markets just a few years ago. They covered for the criminal behavior of the players in the banks and Wall Street.

    At any rate, our entire structure of society, public and private, is sick.

    And I don't know what it will take to right ourselves. Obama's not the Magic Bullet.

    AFAIC, he's part of the problem.

    I'm hoping the action in Wisonsin tomorrow can provide us with the proper and curative template for future societal action.


  4. I might add, another template to use to find our way ahead, is to look back to find examples from our proud history.

    Some of it proud, anyway. ;)


  5. Al,

    The political reality is that the tea party had Boehner by the short-and-curlies. He couldn't get the votes to get anything passed without them. Boehner, as speaker, is not a King and he can't dictate outcomes to his membership.

    Virtually every actor in DC acquiesced to this buffoonery

    What would you have them do? The reality is that budget legislation must come from the house and the tea party had enough power in the house to make everyone else dance to their tune. Yeah, it sucks, but I don't see what the alternative is unless you're willing to use extra-constitutional measures. Is that a road you are willing to go down? Do you really think the dubious "14th amendment" solution was preferable to the rather lame deal we ended up with?

    I share your frustration about the state of things and if it were up to me there wouldn't even be such a thing as a debt ceiling, but political reality is what it is. The deal that we got isn't terrible considering the alternative and it appears the public is none too happy with how the tea party acted. We'll see how that affects the elections next year.

  6. Andy; The public, as you know as well as I do, is an ass. The sheeple will be told that Obama is coming for their guns, or their Medicare, that scary brown Koran-thumpers want to kill them. Fuck, they'll be told that there are black helicopters waiting to flouridate their water, for all I know.

    Leadership does make a difference. Most of the nation didn't want to emancipate black people in 1963; Lincoln forced them to. Most white Americans didn't want to see their kids marry those Negroes, or sit next to them in church, but the Civil Rights legislators and LBJ forced them to. Most Americans didn't want to fight Hitler; FDR snuck them up close and then rode the Pearl Harbor rage into an Atlantic Charter and an end to isolationism...

    The GOP spent decades growing this mutant, and while I understand that it's now too strong for them to kill outright the grownups in the Party could at least start being open and direct about how moronic it is; instead they choose to become no-tax-fundies and gold bugs.

    The political reality is what we choose to make it. When the politicians and the media choose the "both sides do it" lie and refuse to call out politico-economic insanity for what it is, well, then I'd say Al has the right of it. We've tipped over the imperial max ord and are on the descending branch.

    Now I will disagree only in this; this isn't a death sentence. We're not going to auger in; we're too big and strong, even though our political brains are turning to mush. But I'd argue that this does portend the end to our place as the Global Hegemon; 1945-2011, pretty short run for a great empire, really.

    Simply because there's no other T-rex out there we'll remain the apex predator for a long time. But our walnut political reptile brain is too fucking slow and stupid, and eventually another dino will come along, or perhaps a bunch of fast little mammals will eat our eggs. I'm just hoping to bask in the long imperial twilight for s long as I can.

    My kids? Sorry, guys. I can get you into a Mandarin language class...that might help.

  7. Andy-

    The political reality is that the tea party had Boehner by the short-and-curlies. He couldn't get the votes to get anything passed without them. Boehner, as speaker, is not a King and he can't dictate outcomes to his membership

    And if Boehner called then on using this threat long before we were perched on the brink, what would they be able to do? If he had said, first in private that the Party would not resort to extortion and terrorism, cautioning that if the TeaBaggers persisted, they would be called out for being extortionists and terrorists, what could they have done? He wanted these outliers for the purpose of power, and was willing to throw the country to the dogs to get that power.

  8. Al, we should note that as lame as Boehner's response to his own loonies was, Obama's is, in many ways, worse. Here he is today:

    "What sets us apart is not only that we have the capacity but also the will to act. The determination to shape our future. The willingness in a democracy to work out our differences in a sensible way. And move forward not just for this generation but for the next generation. And we're going to need to summon that spirit today."

    Work out our differences in a sensible way?

    Has this fucker been vacationing...on Mars...for the past month?

    That's not FDR. That's not even Chamberlin. That's Father Coughlin or the American Nazi Party in 1939 talking about what a great leader the German Fuhrer is and how we will be fine if we just work with him on solving the international Jewish Question.

    THAT's what I call the problem. It's one thing for the Party of Lunacy is the New Black to refuse to try and rein in its Teatard Masters. It's entirely another for the other party to refuse to open its eyes and recognize the Lunacy for what it is. THAT's why we're in such deep shit.

  9. Al,

    Yeah, it's all about partisan politics and this is why I don't affiliate with either party.

    I don't like it anymore than you, but to me an executive power grab is not the answer, nor is ignoring the political realities and engage in fantasies where politicians act like they are on an episode of the West Wing. Do I wish Boehner and politicians generally acted differently? Sure, but I understand that they don't and why they don't and I'm way past the point where I'm going to waste time on wishful thinking.

    And I'm sorry, but using "terrorists" to describe political opponents is extremely annoying. I guess "terrorist" is now the new "Nazi?" So overused and diluted in meaning that isn't now a useless term?


    The GOP spent decades growing this mutant

    Umm, ok, so are you saying everything would be spiffy if only the American people had elected Democrats? Like those Democrats who seem to think that increasing taxes on the rich by 50% is going to give us pretty pink ponies? Sorry for the snark, but the party of FDR hasn't exactly been a paragon of responsibility over the years.

    Leadership does make a difference.

    I agree leadership is important - how does that practically translate into action in this instance? What could/should the President have done? Because on budgetary matters the Congress has a lot of clearly defined authority and I don't see too many ways the executive can end-run that with executive orders or whatever - and even if it could, I don't think it's desirable to see more power concentrated in that branch.

    Ultimately the people are responsible - I can only hope that at some point they get fed up and kick the Congress in the ass - hoping a President will show "leadership" and take action to save us from ourselves is a dangerous road IMO, one that should be taken in only the direst circumstances.

  10. It's entirely another for the other party to refuse to open its eyes and recognize the Lunacy for what it is. THAT's why we're in such deep shit.

    Dude, come on! He doesn't really believe that and you know it. He thinks the tea partiers are as crazy as you do. He's acting tactically - coming out with both guns blazing is going to accomplish what exactly? The way to beat the tea partiers is to make them seem crazy and unreasonable and you don't do that by giving the appearance of unreasonableness on your side.

    Besides, there's a time to demagogue and that time is not during a press conference that's mainly about yesterday's helo shootdown.

  11. C'mon, Andy! There is NEVER a wrong time to hammer on the indolent and fundamentally simpleminded U.S. public that there is nothing to be gained in "working things out" with people who will burn the house down to get their way.


    Cato the Elder began and ended every speech - whether it was about foreign policy or rodent control - with the phrase "Carthage MUST be destroyed". He wanted to remind his fellow Senators that regardless of what else they were doing, there was one overarching danger that could destroy the Republic if ignored.

    I'm sure that irked the shit out of the Senate...but in the end, Carthage WAS destroyed.

    "Umm, ok, so are you saying everything would be spiffy if only the American people had elected Democrats? Like those Democrats who seem to think that increasing taxes on the rich by 50% is going to give us pretty pink ponies?"

    Y'know what? This isn't snark, Andy, this is you either mirroring or parodying (I'm not sure which) the fucked-up goddamn fucking attitude that has gotten us so far down this fucking road. I don't care if you elect a fucking Communist or a Green - I don't care if you elect a Republican - but to equate the call-out of these suicidal lunatics with a partisan bunny-hug of their opposition? THAT's the exact fucking problem that pisses me off so much.

    Yes, the Democrats are A problem.

    But right now - right NOW - the fucking Teatards are THE problem.

    And shoving your head down the rabbit hole and bleating "Well the Democrat's suck toooooo..." because the Dems are about 2/3rd as big corporatist stooges as the rest of the GOP who aren't card-carrying members of the Monster Raving Looney Party wing of their organization is the sort of reasoning I'd expect from my eight-year-old son and not a man as intelligent as I know you are.


    I'm sorry, but just like the deficit problem, we can deal with the problem of the lack of a sensible centerist (don't make me laugh by calling the Dem's "liberal") Party platform down the road.

    Right now we have two enormous problems; a pantsload of the country is out of work and looks to be there for a long, long time...and the whiphand on the "conservative" Party is on the end of the arm that belongs to a bunch of fucking looneys that make Ted Kaczynski look like fucking Socrates.

    I expect that level of muddled "centerist" babble when I deal with the average Safeway customer. But you're NOT, goddamn it - you're probably fifty times better informed, more engaged, and more intelligent than the "average American".

    So when you can't point to the monkey flinging poop and say "Damn! That's one poop-flinging monkey!" it just honks me off no end. Because if you can't...what hope the rest of the country - jampacked with those Safeway shoppers and "American Idol" fans - will be willing to publicly reject them as "...crazy and unreasonable..."..?

    Now I'm REALLY depressed.

  12. Al-

    Nice post. Yes, that is exactly what we're signaling to the world. And this bunch call refer to themselves as "conservatives"? I prefer "Right Wing Nihilists", which seems to fit so much better. Even Fabius Maximus mentioned the "diffuse nihilism in US society, yearning for a cathartic collapse and rebuilding".

    Which really seems to be what they want. Trigger a collapse and then start from scratch, with them in the drivers seat doling out what everybody's got coming, good and hard.

  13. Seydlitz: I'm serious; this just depresses the hell out of me. When a smart guy like Andy can't simply say "Yes, the GOP created a monster and has now been devoured by it and we MUST destroy it or be devoured ourselves" then what hope for the Lee-relaxed-fit-jeans-Barcalounger-cash-for-gold fucktard that constitutes 68.5% of the U.S. voting public?

    And I think you give them too much credit (for one thing, they couldn't even SPELL "nihilism" if you spotted them three "i"s, an "n", an "h", an "l", "s" and an "m"). I think they truly believe that all of this will end up with a 10% flat tax rate and this teeny little Federal government what will still steam all the carriers, mend the highways, inspect the hamburger and the airliners. OR not - I don't think these dumb fuckers even think about things like FDA or FAA inspectors other than when their dim hindbrain kicks out a spark; "Gummint. Ooh. Bad."

    I was thinking about this today when I got up and read about Mark Hatfield passing. I was a Republican into the Eighties in large part because of men like him - people I saw as embracing the best part of this country's past while not fearing the future. Economic conservatives and social...well, perhaps not liberals but libertarians. And here's Andy, a guy who knows how this country is supposed to work as well as any of us and better than most, excusing the GOP's legislative leadership craven knuckling under to the lunatic Southern Bircher terrorists...and I could weep to see how far my former Party and the Party of Lincoln has fallen.

    This country cannot exist half-Fox and half-free. If we are going to survive we NEED a functional place for conservatives to gather. But we ain't got that now and I think we will see in 2012 if we have any hopes of getting back there. But I'm dismal - the economy sucks, we WILL see a double-dip recession...and the tragedy is that the fucking Congressional R's are already saying flat out that they intend to ensure the pain continues to help defeat Obama and the D's next year.


  14. Andy-

    A fair number of TeaBaggers stated they wanted a default. The GOP threatened to allow default if their extreme demands were not met. The results of a default would injure the entire world economy. If that isn't extortion or treat of terrorism, what would you call it. "Negotiating"? Even the USCC and NAM called on the GOP to stop using the debt ceiling as a threat. They weren't negotiating, they were threatening severe injury.

    I'm not saying the Dems are the answer to sliced bread. However, they never threatened global damage to win their case. As Warren Buffett described it, the Right was holding a gun to the world's head, and the Pres just pinned a rose on them?

  15. FDChief-

    I was thinking about the MLK quote after reading your comment that I responded "wow" to. Essentially we're talking war and that's what holds people back, makes even the brightest among us hesitate, consider maybe this has all happened before, maybe this is just a phase, like what we've experienced before . . . somewhere, sometime.

    I don't know why you're giving Andy a hard time since I've experienced the same from you. How often have I said that "2000 was the big turn around" and you responded with a history lesson about how this was just a replay of something that had happened in the 19th Century . . . ? No big deal, we'll get through it . . .

    So, why is it so different now?

    Not of course that I don't agree 100%, but where do we go from here?


    Christ, what more can you say about these gomers?

  17. seydlitz: Because people like you and Andy are the living embodiment of the sort of engaged, intelligent, independent SOBs the Framers envisioned as safeguarding our system of government against the lunatics, bomb-throwers, grifters, and savages.

    If Andy can't call a spade a fucking shovel then we're really in deep shit, because now that the Wingnut Cadre of the GOP has proved to their own satisfaction that there is no downside to blowing up the orphanage there is no real limit to what they will do to gain power in the future. Like I said - the Congressional GOP leadership and many of their leading Presidential candidates have openly stated their preference for continuing to inflict economic pain in hopes of dry-gulching Obama in '12.

    It'd be laughable except that for the first time I really DO see this as a game changer; this is really more like the 1850s than any other time in U.S. history. Not a good time, and one I don't want to live through. This time the worst-case isn't actual war, but a federal government meltdown and an effectively headless state. I'm trying to come up with a historical parallel and failing - Italy doesn't really count because government collapse is a way of life in Rome.

    I think we're entering a very weird and dangerous time, and I have no idea what we can do about it. And to hear Andy - one of the most incisive and intelligent people on this forum - dismiss that fear with a "well, neener, neener the Dems eat boogers, too!" comment makes me despair that the U.S. public will wrench the controls back in time...

  18. Chief,

    You've got it all wrong. I'm a practical person. I don't really give a shit about either party - I care about actions that will actually solve real problems and on that score both parties are severely wanting, stuck as they are in tired ideologies that lose relevance with each passing day. Yes, I agree with you (and have said so many times, which you seem to have forgotten) that the GoP is currently much worse than the Democrats, but that is cold comfort. When the plane is on fire and nose-diving toward the earth it may seem like it makes sense to jump out to avoid being burned alive in the plummeting wreckage, but the end result is the same. That isn't centrism in my view (in fact, a lot of my positions are very far from “centrist” positions), rather it is facing cold hard reality that our partisan system is a failure.

    I wrote something on "false equivalence" several months ago and my position is basically unchanged. I'm not keeping score, and if I see something that strikes me as wrong or bogus, then I'm going to point it out and criticize it. That includes the many times you blame this country's problems on Republicans and, it seems to me, only Republicans. Furthermore, I don’t feel any need to make sure I criticize one faction more than another according to someone else’s arbitrary litmus test on apportioning blame. I have no intention of playing such pointless rhetorical games. I will continue to call things as I see them and I will make no apologies in doing so.

    And in my view, Democrats and Republicans ARE the problem. They created this mess. They are not offering viable solutions to the mess they created. The tea party, by contrast, is a reactionary movement that came about as a result of that mess. They may end up making the mess much worse and they may make solutions harder to achieve or something else entirely. Their ideas aren’t viable either. However, attacking them with righteous fury and rage (which is what you seem to want me to do) is, IMO, counterproductive. For one, it's probably going to make them stronger and more resolute. Look at what all the attacks and attention have done for Sara Palin - they've given her a credibility and constituency she wouldn't have otherwise, not to mention near-constant media attention all of which she’s used to her advantage. Secondly, even if the tea party disappears into a black hole tomorrow, none of our problems go with them. So from a practical standpoint, what does engaging in a mud-slinging contest with them actually accomplish? Personally I think a subtle approach where you give them some rope to hang themselves is a better strategy. Polls show the public is pretty unhappy with them and hopefully that will affect the ballot box next year.


  19. Secondly, I'm not giving Boehner a pass. I think you've confused analysis with advocacy. I'm not trying to justify anyone's actions, rather explain why he's acting the way he did. In my mind I am calling a spade a spade and, more than that, explaining why he's a spade. Unfortunately, tribalism runs very strong and deep in our political system. The sad fact is that Boehner is the head of a coalition and he can't arbitrarily ignore part of it, especially the part that came into office on the wave election which made him speaker. Do you think Pelosi would ignore and even threaten a liberal reactionary movement whose election made her speaker again? Of course she would – she couldn’t – it’s not politically possible. If she or Boehner tried, they wouldn’t be speaker anymore and their replacement would be someone who would take the tea party interests into account, at the very least. So there’s no way he can tell them to fuck off - that's how the system of partisan majorities in the Congress is built. Pointing that out shouldn't be taken as an attempt to excuse anything.

    Third, on the President's speech I see it as a question of tactics. You say there is NEVER a wrong time to hammer them? Well, I respectfully disagree. There's a time and a place for everything and IMO this was not the time or place. I don’t want my President making political attacks in one sentence and mourning war dead, or honoring school kids in the next. Doing so would make him look like a complete asshole.


    In my mind terrorists specifically use violent and criminal means to achieve their ends and so far, at least, the tea partiers are working within the existing political system. Extortion? Yes. Threats? Yes. Terrorism? No.

    I had hoped that this incident would cause Congress to reconsider stupid legislation like the debt ceiling - legislation it enacts but never really intends to enforce - but it's all crickets. There are a lot of things that require yearly Congressional action in order to avoid some unpleasant consequences and any could be used as extortion in the future. Now that that particular Rubicon has been crossed, we’ll probably see more extortion in the future.


    MLK is someone we should all emulate and his methods are proven to work. Where do we go from here is the right question - one that is hard to answer, but it seems to me getting into a mud-slinging contest with the tea party is a dead end.

  20. "And in my view, Democrats and Republicans ARE the problem. They created this mess. They are not offering viable solutions to the mess they created."


    Where was the "they" here?

    The "they" who created the welfare state? OK, I'll give you that - the Dems under FDR created it, and the Eisenhower Republicans accepted it. That's a "they" problem, a bipartisan "problem", if you want to call the whole entitlement system a problem.

    But once you get past 1980, though...

    Where are the Dems going all crazy over the past thirty years? Hell, Clinton and his Congresses less the Gingrich Looneys were an Eisenhower Republicans in all but name, Obama and his people have yet to show any sort of the dreaded socialism he's renowned for - the ACA? The too-small stimulus?

    I mean, I still remember when Republicans were supposed to be all about fiscal probity. Where the hell was the fiscal probity in passing NCLB without funding it? Medeicare Part D without funding it? Getting involved in two land wars in Asia whilst cutting taxes? And now this lunacy of "balancing the budget" without taxation as an option? Shutting down the FAA over ideologies? Holding the government hostage?

    I wish there were a Left as looney as the looney-tune Right - then maybe we WOULD be somewhere in the middle discussing middle-of-the-road ideas. But instead we're not debating whether to raise taxes back to the crushing levels of the Clinton Era...we can't even talk about raising taxes at all?

    Where are these Dems you're accusing?

    You mean the ones - like Obama, like the Congressional Dems - trying to compete with the GOP to slash spending in a Not-so-Great Depression?

    THOSE Dems?

    Hey, I'll be the first one to scream with frustration about the modern Democratic Party. But NOT because they have somehow become some sort of nutty socialists. It's because they seem to have decided that if the GOP was gonna go full wingnut that their option was to become half the corporatists the R's could become...

    So if the corporatist Dems ARE "part of the problem"...then...

    What can you do with the real-gone Galts, the bull-goose no-tax loonies?

    ISTM that you want to make nice to them. "what does engaging in a mud-slinging contest with them actually accomplish"? It keeps reminding the public that they ARE the problem, that it is the really far-right that has been driving the corporatist, lets-redistribute-the-wealth-to-the-wealthy bus...and has got us most of the way into this mess.

    Much as I despise them, these people know how to "win the argument". Remember the Iraq War? Remember what a Bad Idea that was? And remember how the Rovians and their media stooges managed to paint everyone who talked sense about the Middle East as a defeatist and a traitor and Saddam's BFF? They did it by attacking everything that moved. Scorching the earth. Hammering everyone who dared question a single utterance from the Decider's mouth with the most damning of contumely.

    Well, if we ever want to back away from this "let's-repeat-the-mistakes-of-1937" cliff, the first thing that HAS to go over the cliff are the Teatards. Once they're gone, the GOP might have some chance of returning to the by-comparison-relatively-benign-Alzheimers of the Reagan era...

  21. "The administration’s own estimates have us running up $9 trillion more in debt over the next ten years."

    I'll see your "Rightwing Nuthouse guy and raise you three Fallows:



    Bottom line: the GOP is driving this nuthouse bus.

    The Dems - wretched as they are - are at least TRYING to wrench the discussion into sane territory where public spending is analyzed not as an existential Evil but as a tradeoff with taxation. Any discussion that includes the phrase "...but the Democrats..." is simply mendacious. The Dems are trying to do their economic masters/donors bidding (preserve the Bush tax cuts, executive pay, weak financial regulation) while trying to pretend to keep from kicking the weak out of the lifeboat.

    The GOP? They seem to have forgotten everything but the need to try and "drown government in the bathtub". Can you honestly name a GOP goal from this last round of "negotiations" that would be considered rational in a sane world?

    Nope. We've got one party determined to jump off the cliff. The tragedy of the Dems is that their response is "Wha...bu...maybe we should find a SMALLER cliff..."

  22. Chief,

    I don't get why you are so interested in keeping score and why you seem so determined to try to get me admit what I've already admitted many times: That the GoP is a lot worse than the Democrats!

    Why is apportioning blame so important to you? Why should I cut the Democrats any slack simply because the GoP is worse? What problem would doing that solve? You claim the Democrats are "trying," but where is the evidence for that? Their plans aren't any more viable than the GoP's. They are just as obstinate on entitlements as the GoP is on taxes. Anyone with brain that hasn't been zombiefied by partisan kool-aid knows the eventual solution is going to have to be both cuts and tax increases.

    When the Democrats got their shot at health care, what did they do? Added onto the existing entitlement with a new one for the uninsured! I guess we'll do health care costs or systemic reform some other decade. They are also selling the public the complete bullshit that taxing rich people and corporate jets a little bit more is going do something. You and I know it' ain't. You'll get maybe $100 billion out of that if we're lucky, $200 billion if we increase taxes on the rich by 50%.

    You bring up Medicare part D. Let's talk about that. The Democrats slam the GoP about that constantly - and for good reason! They are right to point out the GoP's irresponsibility when they created the program. But for me that's not enough. Where's the fix? Where's the solution? The Democrats love bring up Medicare part D as long as you don't ask them how they would pay for it. And that's because they don't want to pay for it - they would rather have the issue as a club to beat the GoP over the head with than to, you know, actually make a proposal. They had a chance with the PPACA and what did the Democrats do? They increased the Medicare part D entitlement! They also reduced copays on low income recipients and paid for that with increased copays on higher income recipients (credit where credit is due). But the benefit itself is still unpaid for. The Democrats decided to use the money they raised and saved through various means to create a new entitlement instead. Want to bet that the Democrats will still use Medicare part D in the upcoming election to beat the GoP yet again?

    Chief, I'm sick and tired of the that kind of crap coming from both parties and I'm sick and tired of the blame game. If you want to pour of the record, catalog all the BS, tally up the total and conclude the Democrats are lesser douchbags than the Republicans, then go right ahead. To me it's all pointless score-keeping that solves nothing and wastes time and energy. I'm done with it. We've got some serious problems in this country and both parties need to put up or shut up or, better yet, move aside and gtfo of the way.

  23. Andy-

    Yup, health care is a cess pool, and will continue to be so. It is not the "government" providing a health care system for the people, but the government funding a profit centered industry. All we can expect is for the bill to increase to keep up with the revenue desires of the health care industry. Short of nationalizing the industry, we will never be able, as a society, to afford universal health care access and treatment. So, in my mind, the sooner the industry collapses, the sooner a rational solution will be put on the table.

    Come on train!

  24. FDChief:

    Let me get this straight: You supply three links -- one to a graph showing joblessness, one to a graph showing tax information, and one to an article saying "Republicans are poopey heads."

    How does that counter the notion that over the next 10 years we will add $9 trillion to the national debt?

    Since I assume you are saying that number is not in dispute, your argument rests on the notion that it doesn't matter right now - joblessness is more important.

    I agree. But cutting $2.7 trillion from more than $40 trillion in government spending over the next decade will not materially effect the unemployment rate today or down the road. And as I mention in my blog post, waiting to cut the budget will be even more painful in a few years. We either raise taxes and cut entitlements now when there will be minimal dislocation or we wait until unemployment drops significantly - 10 years according to some gloomy Guses - and find that the cuts we will have to make to stay solvent are unbearable. That's the choice.

    The discussion is largely irrelevant because little, if anything is going to be cut as a result of the debt limit deal. So in the end, you get your way anyway.


    Some levity to lighten the tone, maybe. :)


  26. Al,

    It seems inevitable so the sooner the train gets here the better I suppose.

  27. On further review...

    It occurs to me that Andy and I may be talking past each other, so I wanted to check what we mean when I say "It's the Republicans" and Andy says "It's both".

    Because I think there are two issues here, and whilst one is bipartisan the other is clearly driven from the Right.

    So: the first governmental problem I see driving this train is...let's call it "process". It's the way "things get done" in D.C. It's the lobbyist lucre/corporate whore/junket/special interest knobbing insider-culture that IMO permeates the Hill and most of the agencies and makes truly rational, "national interest-first" decision making so difficult.

    And here, I agree, the Dems are right there fucking up alongside the R's. Hell, four of the Keating Five were Dems. Pantsloads of blue Congressmen are in the pockets of whatever special interests come meeching around the Hill hoping to slime a buck off the U.S. public. The damn Treasury is practically an arm of Goldman-Sachs. Military procurement? Christ, I can't think of a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. There isn't a sliver of daylight between the parties there.

    If THAT's what you mean by "both sides do it" Andy, I not only retract all my harsh words but apologize profusely. On that score, you're right and more than right. It IS a problem and it's a problem of the entire governmental class.

    But the other issue is policy.

    And HERE I think there's a huge difference.

    In this case the Dems are just adrift. They've lost any interest in defending the Great Society and the social compact of the New Deal. They've forgotten the WHY that these entitlement programs were enacted and settled into a knee-jerk reflex defense of them. They really have no policy, and that's not a good thing...but a lack of policy hasn't really done the harm.

    Right now we're looking at fiscal policy that is way out of whack principally because we have been reducing revenue without reducing expenditure. That's a GOP goal (well, ideally they'd LIKE to reduce entitlements but realize that when too many grannies show up with diverticulitis from a cat food diet that they'll have political problems). We're in trouble because we've refused to undate our infrastructure, because we've allowed the distribution of wealth to shift sideways to a toxic degree, because we've spent ten years pursuing chimeric Islamists in land wars in Asia, because we've done the crony-capitalist bidding of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. We've handed the oversight of public health and safety to the industries who lose money when they spend too much ensuring public health and safety.

    Those are all GOP ideals; flat-tax/untax the rich, cut "onerous" regulation, use military power to project influence abroad...this is at the heart of the most fundamental Republican platforms over the past 30 years...

    The Dems - lacking a genuine spirit to fight for what are supposed to be their ideals - have been Jack Fool and followed along, but the driver of this stuff has been the Reagan Revolution and its successors.

    Drawing parallels between the Ds and Rs here is like comparing an arsonist in a fuel refinery with a kid standing on the streetcorner with a match. There's a "similarity" there...but only symbolically. The policy ideas that have driven us to the precipice we're standing on have come overwhelming from the Right.


  28. (con't from above)

    And the engine of that train right now are the damn Tea Parties.

    And to make myself clear; the reason that these people can ONLY be fought with bile and vituperation is that there is no compromise IN them.

    These guys aren't the kids from Kappa Kappa Gamma out waving signs; they're the hardest-core SDS freaks building bombs in the frat house basement. These folks are the 27-percenters, the people who "strongly approved" of Dick Cheney in 2007. I don't see any evidence that short of a DeTeaPartization program will work to fumigate their irrationally destructive ideas from the national forum. And this debt ceiling nonsense really proves that. I mean, here's one of them (Chaffertz from UT): "We have actually done a lot of compromising," Chaffetz told ABC's Christiane Amanpour Sunday. "Remember, it was the tea party that really spurred -- I was the primary sponsor of 'Cut, Cap and Balance.'"

    "Wait a minute," former Obama administration "Car Czar" Steve Rattner interrupted. "'Cut, Cap and Balance' was not a compromise."

    "Yes, it was," Chaffetz replied. "It was a raising of the debt ceiling by $2.4 trillion. And what is wrong in this country is that we aren't willing to have the discussion about a balanced budget amendment."

    Get it? These freaks got 98% of what they wanted - and then claimed that "compromised" because they didn't get to talk about their whacko conspiracy-theory tinfoil hat budget plan...

    I think a hell of a lot of this has to do with the religious connections. These guys don't see themselves as politicians, as "citizens" in the regular sense. They are crusaders, fighting the Liberal Devil, and while you're right that calling them whackos and wingnuts will just enrage them talking sweetly to them won't make them coo like doves.

    Nope; they can't be defeated, only destroyed; Ceterum censeo Teatards esse delendum.

    So - if you're equating the two sides on POLICY? I stand by my disagreement with you; there's no real equivalence there. One side is clueless...but the other is just destructive, and its farthest outliers are downright nuts. The only hope we have of getting anywhere sane is to crush them, drive them out of politics completely so the sane faction of the GOP can re-emerge.

  29. So to conclude: the point of "apportioning blame" is that if you don't diagnose the disease correctly you can't cure it.

    And the current fashion of trying to analyze this government dysfunction as a "both sides" problem - when the problem is that the Dems are adrift and the Reps are frantically paddling over the falls toward oligarchy - is that the result is that the analysts - you, the media, most of us - end up splitting the difference between the parties' platforms.

    And fifty years ago that might have resulted in a sane solution.

    But with no pull to the Left...and a whacko bunch of goldbugs, anti-taxers, religious fundies and Birchers pulling to the Right...the result is what we have - where a Bush Administration jacks up huge deficits by increasing spending and slashing revenue and then an Obama Administration tries to reduce the deficit by reducing spending...but can't even come close to increasing revenue.

    If the Teatards won't compromise - and they won't, you saw Chaffetz' idea of "compromise" above...then they have GOT to be cut out, excised like the cancer they are, before we can even hope to solve things.

    And if we can't call the cancer a cancer, well...all the chemo in the world won't save us.

  30. Chief,

    You're still trying to keep score?

    Look, on process I think we generally agree and that's a function of the system. But process also affects policy and the outcome of policy. And central to this is the American people, especially the boomer cohort, who like their government benefits but don't like to pay for them and seem perfectly content to ensure they get theirs while transferring trillions is costs to future generations (not that I'm angry or bitter about thator anything). So this public dissonance passes through the process and we get programs that grow faster than inflation along with tax cuts and opposition to any tax increases.

    You say the Democrats have lost interest in defending the social contract? Where is the evidence for that? Take a look at this chart I made for a discussion on another forum. It's based on BEA data available here.

    The blue line shows taxes as a percentage of personal income over time. It includes all taxes including state and local as well as both the employer and employee paid portions of FICA.

    The red line shows transfer payments as a percentage of personal income and like that tax portion, it includes everything: Social security, medicare, medicaid, VA, unemployment, etc. So this is the percentage of an average American's income that comes from the various government programs.

    The green line shows the FICA tax rate over time. It rose steadily from 2% in 1937 until peaked in 1990 at 15.3%

    Now, I made this chart for another purpose, but what does it tell us here? Well, for one thing you can see the peaks and valleys follow the various booms and busts we've had over the years. The Clinton tech bubble is easily visible as is the Bush housing bubble. Obviously in good times, transfer payments trend downwards and taxes trend upwards while the opposite holds during bad times. The peaks and valleys aren't as important as the over-all trends.

    What I don't see is the impending demise of the great society and government social programs. The tax that is supposed to pay for those programs, FICA, has never been reduced. Spending on those program has trended slightly up over the last few decades after rapidly climbing through the 1970's. If the GoP is assaulting these programs and the Democrats have given up, how do you explain the trends?

    More recently in the debt ceiling debate, the Democrats drew a red line at entitlements - ie. the New Deal programs. They held to that line and all those programs were exempted in the deal that increased the debt ceiling (excepting some small-potatoes medicare changes). To me this does not sound like a party that lost interest in defending these programs.

    So perhaps our differences are that I just don't see the problems that you do or I interpret them differently.

    Anyway, policy is definitely where I part ways with both parties and it's policy that is the core of my opposition to both of them. As I said up-thread, they are adhering to ideologies that are no longer relevant which produces policies that don't work and are mostly dishonest. What is there to defend? Obviously on some issues I will agree with one party or another, but generally neither is worth defending.

    If you want to know where I stand on specific policies and understand my views and philosophy in more detail, you can read this.

  31. Chief,

    is that the result is that the analysts - you, the media, most of us - end up splitting the difference between the parties' platforms.

    No, rejecting both platforms is not splitting the difference. This is the argument partisans on both sides make to try to gauge tribal loyalty and it rests on a false assumption that anything that is not in the camp of party A or party B is inevitably in the middle. I reject that assumption.

  32. Hmmm.


    So I guess what I don't understand is - most of the positions you've outlined are fairly "liberal" in the classical sense.

    Most of the positions you've stated are either marginally or directly threatened by what the GOP has stated as its party platform, and historically by the actions they've taken whilst in office.

    I understand your dissatisfaction with the Dems, too - their inability to develop any sort of coherent policy combined with their participation in the corrupt and ridiculous Washington Rules (both for domestic corporatism and foreign adventurism) make them less than attractive given what you've stated as you positions.

    But ISTM that what you want is attainable from a blue starting point albeit with an assload of work.

    But from the Red? How do you get a sensible mix of taxation and spending reductions when the very notion of taxation is an anathema? How do you get a VAT or means-testing when the stated goal is "tax cuts" without any other sort of consideration?

    How do you get a reduction in overseas commitments when your starting point is the thinking that got us into Iraq?

    So how do you get where you want to go by splitting the difference between the current parties..? It seems like you have to walk the Dems about 10% of the way from where they are now to get them close to where you want to be. But the GOP...that's a loooong walk. And the Tea Party...a VAT? Increasing taxes? "Reconfiguring" regulation rather than eliminating it? How are you gonna get them to go there?

    Thing is - if I can't talk you into buying my "To start talking sense we HAVE to start by amputating the whacko wing of the GOP" position - especially given that you are already about where a moderate Republican or a conservative Democrat would have been 30 years ago - then I have to accept that the country has no chance of EVER getting there. And my suspicion would then be that we will continue being pushed further and further down this path where we try and get everything for nothing.

  33. Rick: "How does that counter the notion that over the next 10 years we will add $9 trillion to the national debt?"

    Because like most of the Tea Party arguments on this, it throws out the Big Scary Number without context.

    The elephants in the room here are Medicare PArt D, the Bush tax cuts and the Great Recession. Rewind history, fund the Medicare, lose the cuts, deflate the bubble and we have a deficit problem but not a deficit "crisis".

    So to make any sort of intelligent adjustment to this "crisis" you have got to be able to contemplate doing something to trim the Bush giveaways along with entitlement adjustments. The current political climate won't let us do that, and the primary reason is that the Teabaggers just won't give an inch on taxes. Hell, Obama gave them everything but the entitlements in the debt ceiling deal and I'll bet those go on the table when the SuperCongress gets down to business.

    But Andy's conservative guy tries to make a case for the teabag agenda without putting that scary number in context, hence the Fallows.

  34. Andy-

    "getting into a mud-slinging contest with the tea party is a dead end."

    Agree. But then one has to draw one's own conclusions from their actions. Those do after all have consequences which is what being a conservative (versus currently a "CONSERVATIVE" = Right Wing Nihilist) is all about.

    My only warning, and this is not a criticism, is that one not fall into MLK's "pseudo" category which would be unfortunate for not only the individual, but also the community they are a part of . . . and from what you have commented in the past, are obviously part of a community. MLK was not a radical, but very much a conservative in our sense who wished to retain the good while purging and expelling the bad.

    One must believe there is hope, which is what real conservativism is all about.

  35. Chief Sez:

    "We've tipped over the imperial max ord and are on the descending branch."

    I loves me some Gun bunny analogies. Since I was a mortar mortarboard man meself, I would say that as the latest Imperial shite round fired off all the increments, save one ignited. On its downward axis, this slacker sucker spontaneously combusted, hence, supercharging the process along....Kinda like a surge.....Think "new Dawn."

    CNBC Wags like to point out that our deficit/gdp ratio is lower than that of the European cheese lovers'. What is left out, as one cat said on the news last night is that, trend-wise, ours is surging, whilst theirs, in some instances, is tapering off. Nuriel Roubini, (who I watch) said this a year ago, before all this debt ceiling default horseshit.

  36. I have to chuckle a bit about the attack on "entitlements", which is a method of delivering social services, and a method alone. Funny that all of us here have recognized that "terror" is a tactic, yet have missed the boat in realizing that "entitlements" are the same.

    The question is are the programs using "entitlement" targeting only those who need the social service, or a much wider population. Social Security is a good example. It was never intended to be a "vested pension fund", and as the percentage of our population over age 65 increases, it's time it be funded via a simple flat tax on all income to provide benefits for those who's other sources of retirement income fall under a certain level, say the median wage for the previous year.

    I won't even get into Medicare, as that's simply throwing dollars at a run away industry.

    Andy often mentions military pensions as an "entitlement". Well, if we can't afford the current pension system, then change the system for future entrants, just as the private sector has been phasing out defined benefit pension plans for new hires. If that cripples recruiting and retention, well, we will learn something. You don't have to break faith with past obligations to reduce obligations, as do corporations do in Chap 11. There's is a "legal contract", the government is a "social contract".

    The baby does not have to go out with the bath water.

  37. Clarification:

    You don't have to break faith with past obligations to reduce obligations, as do corporations do in Chap 11. There's is a "legal contract", the government is a "social contract".

    Should read:

    You don't have to break faith with past obligations to reduce obligations, as do corporations do in Chap 11. Their's is a "legal contract", the government is a "social contract".

    My point is that if we think our nation should continue into perpetuity, then social contracts need to be taken seriously. Before and after making them. That the Teabaggers, and the GOP by accommodation, chose to allow default simply because they could, not because it was unavoidable, raises serious questions to their fitness to govern. At least in my view.

  38. Chief,

    Most of the positions you've stated are either marginally or directly threatened by what the GOP has stated as its party platform, and historically by the actions they've taken whilst in office.

    Yeah, when did I ever say I supported the GoP?

    But ISTM that what you want is attainable from a blue starting point albeit with an assload of work.

    I'm a policy guy which means I support policies and not ideologies or parties. If by "blue starting point" you mean the Democratic party, then no. Just because they are less bad than the GoP doesn't mean they can get my support. In order to do that they would have make huge changes and discard entrenched interests which is not anymore likely to happen than the similar changes in the GoP. In short, I've concluded that absent a crisis that fundamentally changes the politics in this country, both parties are unreformable.

    So how do you get where you want to go by splitting the difference between the current parties..?

    I'll say it again: I am not splitting the difference. As long as you continue to view politics as a continuum with the Democrats on one end and the GoP on the other with the unaffiliated in the middle "splitting the difference," then you will never understand where I'm coming from. I'm sorry to say it, but that is the kind of thinking that gives the parties, the "Washington" rules and the oligarchs their sustenance. Don't you see the contradiction in your position? On one hand you admit that the Democratic party is controlled by the Washington rules and the elite moneyed class but at the same time you suggest that they are a starting point? You need to realize the Democrats have been bitten by a zombie and there is not hope for them now.

    Let me try another way of explaining it: In my continuum there is poor, illegitimate governance on one end and good, legitimate governance on the other. Both parties are on the bad end of that continuum since they actively promote bad, unsustainable policies that are contrary to the best interests of the American public. If I had any confidence that either party would move to the "good" end of my continuum, I would support that party. I have no such confidence.

    Thing is - if I can't talk you into buying my "To start talking sense we HAVE to start by amputating the whacko wing of the GOP" position

    What do you mean by "amputating" them? If you mean getting them unelected from Congress then the kind of rhetoric and actions you seem to be advocating for aren't, IMO, going to work. So my disagreement is not one of goals, but one of tactics. The tea party is a reactionary grassroots movement and if you try to go all Conan on them they will only get stronger and be legitimized in the eyes of their supporters. Since you like Roman history, I think Galerius would be a bad example to follow.

    That isn't to say the tea party and their policies shouldn't be criticized - quite the opposite - but tone and method matters a lot and the goal should be to delegitimize them so they lose at the ballot box. You don't do that with wild rhetoric about amputations.

    Of course, I'm not a political strategist so I could be completely wrong, but I think I've seen enough of the politics of destruction over the last couple of decades to be pretty confident that what you're advocating simply won't work and is likely to be counterproductive.

  39. Seydlitz,

    I agree - I'm for small "c" conservatism all the way. For example I want the various social safety net programs to endure but the problem is that they can't endure on their current trajectory and neither party offers a plan for getting them on a sustainable path.

    And yes, I consider myself part of several communities and the most important is the United States of America. You may have noticed that I rarely call the American people stupid or assume foul motives to those factions that I disagree with. The reason is that even though I may disagree they are still my countrymen and they have the right to their views no matter how much I may disagree. I'm a big believer in the necessity of broad political legitimacy. I'm increasingly concerned about the political tactics of the two parties which seem be this: Get a majority by whatever means necessary and then use that majority to cram as many ideological "solutions" as possible down the throat of the American people. That kind of conduct is not only putting faction above nation but it's also foolish.


    Andy often mentions military pensions as an "entitlement".

    If by "often" you mean once or twice, you'd be right! ;)

    Seriously though, I am not predisposed to any "method" used to provide these various social services and benefits as long as the method is sustainable both economically and politically and serves the public's interest.

    The baby does not have to go out with the bath water.

    You're right- however, if we don't change course and institute reforms - especially with respect to health care - then the baby, the bathwater and the whole house will go out the window.

  40. Chief,

    Someone on the left who I respect (but who, ironically, I'm pretty sure doesn't like me much), has thoughts along the lines we're talking about here that I largely agree with.