Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Nationally Interesting

Poked my head in a little while ago to see what was going on and noted that the bulk of the commentatorship appears to be feeding one of the usual "OMFG taxation is theft!!!" trolls, which in my biased opinion is like try to teach German irregular verbs to a cat. The effort is infuriating and the cat has no intention of doing anything but licking its ass.

If you think that your government is "wasting" your tax dollars you seriously need to spend a year or two working for a national corporation. Fraud, waste, and abuse? Those people pretty much invented the notion. Not to mention greed, vanity, short-sightedness, venality, nepotism, and credulous stupidity.

Just sayin'.

Anyway, I wanted to offer up another topic for discussion. Specifically:

"If the United States had some concrete "national interests", what would you consider them to be?"

For example, in the previous post, jim asks several questions along the lines of:
"Do U.S. and Saudi interests intersect? Did they ever?", "Has Saudi Arabia split off from U.S. policy by supporting an invasion army in Iraq? If so, how does this differ from previous U.S. actions which sought to create buffer zones a la the Monroe Doctrine?", and "Why does the U.S. need allies like S.A., Pakistan and all the rest of the jokers we call "NATO allies"?
All worthwhile questions, IMO, but still short of the larger question which would be;

"What are these 'national interests' of the United States, and how would acting towards them look (fill in the blank; in the U.S., in Eastern Europe, in Asia, in the Middle East)?"

Let me offer up just one example of something I think falls under this question.

One of the most salient features of the United States that I grew up in - that is, the U.S. of the Sixties and Seventies - was the widespread availability of semi-middle class/living-wage jobs that didn't require 1) an advanced degree or similar specialized training, or 2) some sort of personal "pull" or nepotism. This had the effect of producing a fairly broad swathe of Americans that lived as, thought of themselves as, and voted as "middle class". A shit-ton of government programs like the GI Bill and similar educational loans, and the mortgage-interest deduction helped that happen, too.

And, I should add, so did some fairly hefty tariffs. For most of U.S. history tariff rates have averaged in the teens, with highs as much as 44% (1870) and lows in the high single digits (about 8% in 1917 and 1946). Since 1970 tariffs on imported goods have fallen off the table - the average tariff rate in 2010 was 1.3%.

Now...in my unscientific, openly biased opinion it is in the U.S.'s best interest to have widespread economic "comfort"; that is, that the bulk of the citizenry should be neither so massively wealthy so as to become in essence a nation in themselves nor so poor as to be economically and socially fraught 24/7. IMO the political system set up in the late 18th Century doesn't work well with a small elite and a vast peasantry.

So it would seem to me that this, in turn would dictate some fairly obvious economic and social policies for the U.S. to further this "interest". Limit capital mobility so that corporations cannot flee overseas. Ameliorate techological change so as to find work for people unemployed when buggy whips become obsolescent. Provide tax and tariff incentives to prevent the destruction of domestic industries.

And that, in turn, leads to some - to me, at least - foreign policy imperatives. Don't provide incentives for foreign trade partners to undercut U.S. business. Don't subsidize subsidized foreign industries (i.e. China's...). Don't blunder around knocking over foreign governments and destabilizing other parts of the world, creating refugees (who become cheap labor pools for foreign competition) and impoverishing those who remain behind (ditto).

And that's just me, and that's just one issue.

So; here's the question for the readership.

What, in your opinion, should are U.S.' (or the EU, or whatever your polity of choice is - mine's the U.S. just because I live here...) "national interests"? And, given them (or the one you choose) what sorts of actual national behaviors, economic, political, and social acts should that polity take to address them.

Remember; we're talking purely about broad interests here, not those of any particular group. And we're also talking interests and not fantasies, interests and not dogmas; the teahadis may not believe in "anthropogenic global warming" or that "taxes are the price we pay for civilization" but that's beside the point - I don't believe in "arena football" and, yet, there it is.

So; let's talk about "national interests". What are they? What sorts of things could or should nations do to further those interests? Are there some that conflict with others? Which are "big" interests central to a people's welfare and which can be negotiated or compromised or amended?

Have at it, ladies and gentlemen.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Misreading? Before I wrote the post I was a little worried that I might have been to hard on your anti-tax, anti-government screed. Now I realize that I was attributing too MUCH intellect to the whole cat-ass-licking thing.

      I thought about just deleting this incoherent screed - you come to my house, you don't get to talk smack unless you can back it up - but on further review decided to keep it as a classic example of the Perfect Shitstorm; the sort of person who, multiplied by thousands and millions, helps make the rational assessment of things like "national interest" damn near impossible.

      Note the combination of unsupported (and unsupportable) assertions ("I am already heavily taxed") that have been publicly refuted (in this case by Al over at the preceding post comment thread) but persist combined with nonsequiturs ("I have potholes in front of my drive and we're standing in long lines at the VA") (since the potholes are a local, municipal, or county issue and the VA is a federal agency) and a flying leap into complete nonsense (the Islamic idiots and their trillions of U.S. dollars).

      And then the assumption that because I have correctly identified the massive JDAM-like crater in this troll's logic, the furious assertion that I am advocating more taxation because federal military service has somehow warped my brain.

      So...rather than a rational conversation we have a long round of "Oh, yeah?" "Yeah!"

      Which was my point. Al tried to engage this mook in discussion. He doesn't want "discussion" because it might point out that the intellectual underpinnings of his position are a combination of anger, greed, and resentment. That he doesn't want ideas or solutions, just wants his taxes to go down and "those people" to go away. That he's pretending that his outhouse is a castle and the flies are pigeons.

      And the U.S. has millions of these people. They vote to cut taxes that hand millionaires millions so they get to keep half a slug and vote against regulations that help keep corporations from adulterating their food and poisoning their air and water. Their "national interests" are that of enormous six-year-olds; "Mine! Mine! Gimme! Gimme!"

      So it's worth looking at this joker as an object lesson in how hard it is to formulate any sort of sensible national policy when a large portion of your population doesn't believe in things like "the common defense" and "the general welfare".

    2. "the asshats in DC that caused the whole debacle"

      Remember how "the asshats in DC that caused the whole debacle" are from the "small government" party.

    3. And the "asshats in DC" are elected by asshats like THIS asshat. Kinda makes it HIS problem and his problem OUR problem - none of which he's willing to man up to. Which was kinda my point.

  2. Since the blog text here is mostly about tariffs...

    There are three sectors of the society of interest:
    (a) Production of exportable (and thus importable) goods and services (= in competition with foreigners)
    (b) Production of other goods
    (c) services

    a+b is what defines a country's wealth; c follows them in price level. A haircut in India is worth little because there's little a+b in India per capita. China's wages rise rapidly because a+b grow rapidly.

    The only sector in competition with low wage countries is (a), and (a) defines whether trade is sustainable (balanced) or not. Too little of it (less than the country needs itself) is no good, so competitiveness of this sector is of great interest.
    As a first approximation, theory could advise to grant tax exemptions to sector (a), even subsidise its labour force - or protect it with tariffs if the country is large enough (not a sensible course of action for Denmark, for example). Note that some imports are necessary (raw materials), and thus some of (a) needs to be competitive in order to create the balancing exports. So tariffs alone don't suffice.
    The best way to go is apparently to make sure R&D, education and regulation create a a large-enough high tech sector (a), this is the German model (though Germany added some wage growth suppression since 2003 because of industry association propaganda throughout the 90's).

    (b) and (c) are not in competition with foreigners, and should thus under no circumstances 'benefit' by suppression of labour's interests. No suppression of wages, no blackmail by high unemployment rates, good security for workers, labour unions, fair wage negotiations - all this can be had in sectors (b) and (c) without real "international competitiveness" issues.

    The Western world is lacking this differentiation of economic policies between a and b/c, we don't even notice properly the difference between a/b and c; (c) business owners can still pretend they're important without being laughed at (nobody should care about their feelings; their services will be provided anyway, and the value thereof is set by industrial productivity, not by the services sector itself).

    All those great power games for "national interests" are ant's shit in comparison to the question of getting the domestic economic policy grand strategy right.

    1. Well, just a couple of thoughts.

      1. I'm not sure that in the present transportation and communications world that your "a" and "b" categories are really supportable. I mean, it's kind of ridiculous how few commodities and products CAN'T be outsourced and offshored. The handful of "safe" commercial and industrial fields are things like chemical and pharmaceutical products (but I note that a lot of the U.S. pharma products are actually compounded in Mexico, South America, or parts of Asia).

      And if BOTH "a" and "b" labor pools are are vulnerable to both offshore competition and technological displacement then pretty soon you're going to have a serious problem, because all those people are going to be shifted into "c" which - as you point out - isn't really sustainable if you lose enough of your primary industries and wages drop low enough.

      2. Your sector "c" is really two sectors; a "high-end" service industry that involves things like financial "services" and consulting, and a low-end service industry that involves everything from cooking and serving food to child-care to escort services.

      The former ARE fungible and have proved to be so; for example, many technical jobs in the medical fields have proved to be vulnerable to lower-cost competition. A radiologist in Mumbai or Dacca can read an x-ray and provide a report more cheaply than one in Detroit or Los Angeles, and do, and so U.S. hospitals cut their diagnostic imaging staff...

      Now I agree that your waitress or hooker can't be outsourced. But an economy based on hooking and food service seems...unsound.

      So what I'm saying is that domestic economic policy IS a "national interest" and, if thought out and applied will result in a connected web of domestic and foreign policies. That's what I'm getting at here. What ARE those broad national interests, and how could or should they influence policy.

    2. "...R&D, education and regulation create a a large-enough high tech sector"

      The high-tech thing, IMO, is far from a major solution. First, there is no real "high-tech" below the tiny handful of people who can do things like write computer code, develop chemical compounds, and engineer buildings. Most people who work in "high-tech" are drones; CAD operators, chip makers, concrete-and-steel inspectors. Many of those jobs can be offshored. Many more can be made redundant by increased technologic advances.

      And, second, as we're finding; even nations with relatively low overall national educational and technological levels such as India and China can develop small tech sectors to compete with the developed world.

      So while I agree that this is a good idea, there are other ideas that I think have to go with it to make enough economic difference to further high-tech as an economic engine.

      So I'd argue that

    3. Construction cannot be outsourced to China, nor the production of cement or electricity, for example. The supply of some raw materials (such as wood) is such that giving up domestic production would be no good business idea either.
      A great many goods would be too expensive to transport or simply unacceptable if not fresh. Custom metal spiral stairs, eggs, windows (amazingly, not a standardized product even in Germany).

      Few consumer services and little consulting can be outsourced - insurances didn't even succeed to replace their insurance agents networks with mere websites. Tax advisors need to sign the papers they worked on in Germany, and can be held responsible - there's no reason why the German state would recognize outsourced (non-EU) tax advisors - and unrecognized ones would be too risky for the clients.
      As a rule of thumb, most jobs in the Western world are in the Western world because there are powerful reasons against outsourcing.

      Most countries in the world have unique-enough languages that you cannot outsource call centres; practically nobody in Pakistan speaks German or Hungarian, for example. Only English, Spanish and French are really widespread (and Brazil is already at half of Portugal's GDP per capita).

    4. No, but many of the materials USED in construction can. Cement and electricity are increasingly digitized; it takes a handful of people to run a concrete batch plant where it used to take dozens, and power plants are much the same.

      Many people in the U.S. use on-line services such as esurance and do their taxes through applications like Turbo tax; far more than did in the past.

      I agree that many industries cannot or will not relocate to lower-wage areas...but many are, and have, to the point where it appears pretty obvious that something like 6-7% unemployment (which translates to probably closer to 10-12% when you factor in the people who are underemployed or have stopped even lookingfor work) is going to be the new baseline for the U.S. economy unless and until a Fifth Wave of innovation arrives that produces more rather than less employment...

      I don't want to get sidetracked arguing economics, but only want to emphasize that if a nation decides that having a broad-based living wage economy is in it's "national interests" that in turn entails a whole bunch of policy and politics decisions...

    5. In macroeconomics it matters little whether you automatize a power plant or not - assuming the released work force doesn't get hired by other industries, it's all about distribution (and a bit about depreciation).

      The key is to reach and maintain the desired level of material consumption with a balanced trade. This is fairly easy with a sophisticated society (high education, infrastructure, institutions, organisation).

      The foreign competition really only affects a small fraction of the economy, and a government could reallocate resources to cheapen this small sector's operations instead of letting it operate on the same level as the rest of the country.

  3. Well, I'll go with an obvious one.

    It is in our national (and global) interest to not foul our nests.
    It is really important that we breath clean air, drink and wash in clean water,
    and eat sufficient and balanced food which don't contain toxins.

    Alas, for something so obvious, it can be tricky to arrange.

    1. That was kind of where I was going with this; while it's easy for us to come here and slap our politicians and our peers for their boneheaded, shortsighted stupidity (as I did with numbnuts at the top of the comment thread) it's actually damn deadly difficult to 1) get a critical mass of people to agree on what's in their best interest and 2) get them to actually agree on what they should so about it.

      So, yes - reducing things like emissions of aerosol, solid, and liquid toxins would be a damn good idea, and ensuring things like the cleanliness of industrial food production would be a damn good idea. But then what do you DO? Who gets to make the rules, what rules, who gets to enforce them, and how.

  4. Not fond of the term ’National Interests’. Too often it is invoked by charlatans to advance their own group interests – or by idiots who mistakenly make things worse. And that applies to both left and right.

    But if there is such a thing then I believe it should include not just the economic interests that you mention, but also defense interests, scientific interests, and social or cultural interests. Although I concede that the most important is probably economic.

    Our primo economic goal should be the rebirth of American manufacturing. There are lots of ideas around on how to do that. I agree with all you listed chief. But I had a moment of unease regarding ’ameliorate technological change’ that you mention, although I admire the goal behind it. Depends on the details as always. The only things I would add are: 1] Turn the tables on trade partners that manipulate their currency, or put up non-tariff trade barriers, or subsidize to give themselves unfair advantage. 2] Expand the federal R&D tax credit for small companies and start-ups, and make it permanent instead of having to be renewed by congress every other year or so. 3] Enforce existing federal government procurement laws (i.e. Buy American), our tax dollars should not be used to enrich foreign economies. 4] Fill the pothole in the road in front of Anon1’s house. Transportation is critical to industry.

    Our defense goals should be America first, the western hemisphere second, and existing military alliances third (and those should be renewed by the Senate periodically). Nuclear non-proliferation is important as long as it does not entail another Cheney brain-furz ala Saddam’s WMDs – do it diplomatically, not by invasion.

    Our scientific goals should be education, education, education. Also more basic research (non-applied) by the National Science Foundation is needed. And more applied research by the EPA, NOAA, NIH, ERDA (formerly the AEC) is also needed. NASA maybe, but I personally am not sympathetic to searching for alien life forms.

    As far as cultural goals, I know I am probably p!ssen into the wind. I do love those public murals painted during the great depression by starving artists hired by the WPA. And the majority of the public buildings built during that timeframe by the WPA were architectural wonders. It will probably never happen again. But Roosevelt’s genius was not for the federal government to do it, he gave the seed money to states, counties and some cities and let them build to suit their own tastes. NPR is good, but why do they consistently show British mystery/detective stories borrowed from BBC, or 1950s doo-wop music festivals which only I and a few other old cronies watch, or big bird type shows for the tiny tots? Why not do cultural programming for younger adults. Why let mass culture be put in the hands of the media elite in Hollywood and Manhatten?

    1. rereading this I should have said "Why let mass culture be put entirely in the hands of the media elite in Hollywood and Manhatten?

    2. Well, that one is easy: economies of scale. Mass culture (like music and movies) is easily replicated. Make it once and distribute to everyone is the most efficient economically. In a world with copyright laws, you will tend towards central hubs for mass culture.

    3. Regardless of the term every individual - and, thus, every polity, which is made up of individuals - has "interests". You can change the term "national" to "collective" or "the interests of most of us" if you want, but we all have them, whether it's monetary profit, or power, or wholesome food, or love, or...well, you get the idea.

      So the real question to me is; CAN we even begin to come up with some broad notions of things that are in the "best interests" of most of the people here in the U.S. You've mentioned several you see as such:

      - a manufacturing component to the U.S. economy
      - an "America First" defense
      - increased committment to (and, presumably, funding of) all forms of scientific investigation
      - some sort of increased attention to and production of "mass culture" (outside of that created for profit)

      And you mention some what seem to me good ideas for pursuing three of those four.

      How about the second? Because, clearly, with our armed forces, intelligence, and covert activity people strewn all across the globe we're not concentrated - physically, at least - in this hemisphere, let alone in the close proximity to our borders. How would you change things; in politics, in economics, in the armed forces...to change the focus of the U.S. public and the U.S. government to an "America First-centric" defense posture?

    4. FDChief: "Regardless of the term every individual - and, thus, every polity, which is made up of individuals - has "interests". You can change the term "national" to "collective" or "the interests of most of us" if you want, but we all have them, whether it's monetary profit, or power, or wholesome food, or love, or...well, you get the idea."

      Whenever a topic like this comes up, my mind always goes back to the writings of Canadian historian Pierre Burton. The "birthing document" of the US says that government exists to ensure the unalienable right to "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". Effectively, the individual's aspirations trump the collective well being. Thus, the "interests" at the heart of US culture are individual interests, and on a competitive basis - I have no interest in your interests, except where they may conflict with mine and thus your interest must be suppressed. We are a nation of competing, not cooperating special interests.

      One can postulate theoretical national interests, but unless the cultural imperatives are congruent with a particular national interest, theory just won't become practice. Collective well being depends upon burden sharing, something which is alien to American culture. Politicians have learned that as long as something is not overly burdensome to the general population, it will rarely be opposed. It is when then demand for public funds becomes significant that we have a battle royal. Thus, funding for the arts, for example, becomes "wasteful" in certain quarters when it threatens military spending, especially should the full funding of both would require higher taxation.

      I'm not sure the focus of the American public toward the burden of the collective well being can be changed without a serious and clear threat, such as the Great Depression. Other than a couple of short term, exceptional incidents, we have experienced nearly two and a half centuries where the individual's self interest has trumped the collective well being. That's a hell of a lot of momentum to overcome. And now with corporations achieving the equivalent of personhood, it gets more murky.

  5. @FDChief: "How would you change things; in politics, in economics, in the armed forces...to change the focus of the U.S. public and the U.S. government to an "America First-centric" defense posture?"

    If you recall I did not call for an American-First defense only. I also mentioned other priorities i.e. nuclear non-prolif, honor existing alliances, and a focal point on the western hemisphere (a re-pivot to our historical defense interests you might call it.
    In politics? I'm the wrong guy to explain that. My political savvy is approximately 100 mils off (in both directions). I voted for Goldwater in 64, McGovern in 72, Ford in 76, Carter in 80, all losers, you get the picture.
    In economics? If you rebuild American industry you rebuild our defenses. Logistics is the true King of Battle despite Field Artillery claims - and the best Clausewitzian strategy is toast without it. Without industry there is no logistics.

    In the Armed Forces? Seems we have had this conversation before. We do it the same way it was done in the 20s and 30s after WW1, and something similar to but smarter than what we did in the late 40s and the late 70s. Put some regular units into cadre status: for example one third of battalions/squadrons are ready and deployable, one third in a build-up training status, one third at drastically reduced manning with mainly mechanics/technicians/armorers to maintain equipment. Rotate these units on a regular basis. In addition to that, full manning and better training opportunities for the Coast Guard and the National Guard. For the National Guard it would be a good idea to make Inspector/Instructor duty by regulars a plum assignment to attract the best candidates. More joint Navy/Coast Guard exercises. Reverse the BRAC - do not put all your eggs in just a dozen baskets that are easily targeted, especially for Naval Bases and Air Force fields. May not be as easy for ground units due to the limitation on training areas. Outside of the Armed Forces the CIA needs to get back into the HUMINT business bigtime and stop depending on high tech via the NSA, NRO, and DIA. On the diplomatic front boost our efforts in Central America - why is there no USAID presence in Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua and only a bare minimum in El Salvador?

  6. Mike,
    Why should we honor alliances?
    Why can't we be neutral? Next month is the 100th anniversary of ww1 , and that should teach us about entangling alliances. Do we want to go to war for Slovakia(my homeland)or Lithuania, or even Belgium etc....???
    Why not cut to the chase with the NG/Rserve force structure, and just have a for real full time Army? If we are gonna play Army then do it right. The Reserve forces are supposed to be just that-they are not active soldiers, and we need to quit treating them as such. There is no such thing as "war on the cheap".
    Two world wars, and countless military adventures have taught us nothing.
    We need to learn to mind our own defense and let the rest of the world do the same.
    We are not responsible for ........
    jim hruska

  7. Jim - "We need to learn to mind our own defense and let the rest of the world do the same"


    As I mentioned above, all military alliances should be reviewed by the Senate, hopefully one or two smart Senators could deep six some of those alliances if they are no longer to our benefit. And either formalize or cancel unwritten alliances (you know where I am going with that one)

    You are right that there is no such thing as war on the cheap. But we cannot afford a wartime sized Army/AF/Navy/USMC during peacetime. So without the NG/Reserves we would need some other source of readily available manpower that is already trained.

  8. I'm gonna offer up a couple of what I see as "national interests" and some suggestions of what we might do in terms of politics and policies about them.

    1. Peace.

    It is in the national interest of the bulk of the populace of the U.S. that the nation not only BE at peace but THINK of itself as at peace.

    Simply put, war and the kind of public mindset that develops during war, is harmful to any public but especially the public in a democracy. It justifies "public safety" measures that inevitably involve restricting public liberties and empowering secrecy and autocracy. It puts a premium on force and makes commonplace actions and mindsets that treat every potential danger and threat as a LIKELY danger and existential threat.

    At the moment the U.S. public has been acclimated to the idea that "we are at war" with a bunch of raggedy ass theocrats living in mud huts in Central Asia. This has produced a series of political and foreign policy fuckups that continue to this day. As much as the Cold War produced much of the infrastructure of the surveillance state the War on Terror has mobilized it in ways that I find extremely ominous.

    The AUMF needs to be repealed. Immediately. As jim and mike point out, the U.S. military and intelligence force structure needs to be rebuilt to bulwark the defense (naval and air forces, HUMINT, hemispheric deployment) and away from settings that provide increased opportunities for expeditions (global forward deployment, large active land and SOF forces, SIGINT). But more to the point, the public, the press, and the political elites need to be slapped vigorously every time they suggest that we need to go abroad looking for Islamic - or any other - dragons to slay. The next Sunday Show booker that books a Cheney, or Wolfowotz, or a Kagan, or any of the other stupid sonsofbitches that has been arguing for a Greater America through military force should be fired, impoverished, executed, his corpse burned and the ashes scattered over the faceless ocean. There should be no greater sin that advocating military adventurism.

    2. Economic equity

    We've been talking about this; the U.S. works best for Americans when the wealth and hence political power is as widespread as possible. There a numerous ways to accomplish this.

    One thing that I'd consider fairly critical is "doing something" about the problem of poverty in the Western hemisphere. This is not just critical - because instability and poverty in places like Mexico, Honduras, and Costa Rica drive refugees north to the U.S. and, in turn, drives an engine of wage-suppression and social and economic instability in this country. The problem for me is figuring out "what is "something"". The situation of the modern U.S. and its Latin neighbors is one I honestly can't think of a historical parallel. Historically wealthy nations have been separated from impoverished neighbors by militarized borders and/or an apron of intermediate buffer states AND have had a relatively homogeneous internal population that forces the immigrants into a permanent or semi-permanent ghettoization. All of these conditions do not exist for the modern U.S., and I will be the first one to admit that I have no idea if the resulting situation is resolveable and, if so, how to resolve it.

    Fundamentally what needs to happen is that the Latin countries need to become stable and prosperous enough (and egalitarian enough) to provide the opportunities for their people that many of them are now seeing in El Norte. How the hell you do that - or that the U.S. government helps with that - I have no effing idea.

    So...there's a couple of ideas. Have at me.

  9. AUMF-II is moot so I assume you are referring to AUMF-I. But that passed the House with only one dissenting vote and passed the Senate with no dissents. So how do you repeal it?

    Economic equity in Central America? A grand dream I think. Our bigger problem may be keeping the oligarchs in our own country from turning us into another third world shantytown.

  10. mike: Our bigger problem may be keeping the oligarchs in our own country from turning us into another third world shantytown.

    This is a significant point. In the US, corporate profits as a % of GDP are at historic highs, while wages as a % of GDP are at historic lows. What keeps the societal engine running? Household debt, which, as a % of GDP, is also at historic highs. With a population that is earning less, yet spending more, is the economy sustainable?

  11. How can there really be "national interests" when special interests tend to have more influence ($$$$$) on public policy? CLICKY

  12. Al and Mike,
    i often wonder if we really are a democracy.

  13. Well, a purist would not call our form of government a "democracy", but even at that, the Constitutionally defined "Legislative Branch" has ceased to even legislate. The 112th Congress (Jan 2011 - Jan 2013) passed a record low of 284 pieces of legislation. 20% of these biils were to rename various Post Office and other federal buildings. Glad to know that our elected reps put so much time into who's name is on a building.

    Not to be outdone, it looks like the 113th Congress will be even less productive. 75% through their term, with 124 bills passed. But at least they are continuing to look after building names at the same rate as the 112th.

    Thus, it would seem that Congress does, indeed, have a clear notion of what is a "national interest" - the name given to a Post Office.

  14. In a sense, guys, what you're saying is as valuable as data as actually defining "national interests"; that is, that the United States has become, or is becoming, so dysfunctional as a political society that "We, the People" is no longer a term with any meaning. There IS no "we", there is no longer (to the extent that there ever has been) any sort of consensus on what is in "our interests".

    Of course, this has been the national condition before. I'm thinking specifically of the period roughly between 1880 and 1930, when the nation was fractured in so many ways; socially, ethnically, sectarian-ly, economically, and politically. One signifier of that is that it was one of the tiny handful of periods in our history when we actually supported viable third parties; Socialists, the Bull Moose/Progressives...not to mention the multiple internal divisions in the major parties such as the "Dixiecrats" in the Dems and the conservative versus "liberal" Republican factions...

    Seydlitz in his farewell post says that the political landscape has changed all out of recognition, which is in its way true. But my thought is that it hasn't changed into terra incognita but, rather, closer to the way it was during the "Progressive" period...with all that implies.