Monthly Archives: August 2011

The Long Dumb Legacy of the GOP

Recently, I had a discussion with someone who was convinced that the Republicans were the good guys until 1932 or thereabouts. They were the liberal party.

Well, certainly there has been a lot of swapping of issues between the parties. Free trade was a Democratic issue in the era after the Civil War. But the Republican party has always gone where its financial and industrial captains have taken it. At times, this included noble causes like abolition and union. But no sooner than those causes were vindicated, the party began instituting deflationary tight money policies at the behest of its financial mandarins and protective tariffs at the behest of its industrialists (one that went far beyond the leveling one we should, but don’t have today).

The Civil War was the beginning of American Big Government, and, as such it is an invention of the Republican party. The government in this phase had to be big enough to steal land from Indians and develop communications and infrastructure for industry, but no bigger. And the more political participation increased, the more the Republicans sought to kill the federal government, which had begun to rival the oligarchs for power and began to use that power to other ends, such as in support of trade unionism.

The Democrats from the time of Jefferson wanted to limit federal power. This was their excuse for slavery. It was “states rights.” How many of these principled arguers would have voted to abolish slavery in their own states, I cannot say, but doubt the number was larger than the number of “states rights” anti-abortionists that would vote to legalize it in their states.

But soon enough, the Democratic party as the de facto opposition party of the north became the labor party. In the south, it was still the conservative old Jacksonian plantation party, straight through until the last of these left the party in 2000.

Theodore Roosevelt, the next president of stature after Lincoln, also used the power of the state to rival the oligarchs. The knock on him is that he sought to pursue an imperialist agenda.I think this deserves some revision. All of the underdeveloped world was colonized at this time. Isolationism ended up writing some of the great follies of the 20th century. The refusal of the US to enter into the League of Nations, the refusal to enter World War II before it was already armageddon, and the decision by McCarthyite Republicans to be more concerned with alleged communists in the US than the actual communists abroad (no, you can’t have your army Mr. Truman!)

Today, as our country experiences political decay from a civic state to a praetorian state, the masses having become more conservative, more unlearned, isolationism is limited to a cohort of other nitwits who have a fetish for 19th century ideas, like the gold standard. Yet they share in common with mainstream conservatives the desire to eliminate the state and have it replaced with industry. So, both doctrines are fostered by industry and finance.

Republicans use the military to blow shit up, not to enact policy. They don’t even do it for imperial aims. Oh, if only we had invaded Iraq for the oil. We might not be in a recession. If only we had invaded Iraq as a part of some coherent foreign policy. No, neither. It was a war of rage and revenge on a displaced target.

The effective state, Big Government, has solved all of the epoch making problems of the post Civil War era. Big Government ended slavery. Big Government busted the trusts. Big Government ended the depression, ended World War II, made the atomic bomb, and kept half of the world free from dictatorship. Big Government put men on the moon. Big Government invented the Internet.

It is this very efficacy that the oligarchs despise, because their power and their order is dislodged. Ask a Paultard if their original version of the Constitution would have put a man on the moon before the Soviets.

Now they want the effective state to drink hemlock and die. And the Democrats lack the tools to join the battle because they don’t want to argue in favor of big government, except maybe Social Security and the military—the military, somehow the domain of the Republicans in politics these days. They won’t argue in favor of unions, they won’t argue in favor of a equalizing tariff.

We are heading for the Articles of Confederation and a moribund useless federal government. And while this might sound good in some poorly written art deco novel, when the next large crisis confronts us: peak oil, climate change, perhaps a real war—we won’t be able to deal with it. We will lose. Someone else will win. Because someone thinks the commerce clause or the Tenth Amendment, as they read it, is more important than life, liberty, and prosperity.

Texas? No. Utah? Maybe.

The last thing this country needs is more of Texas. More fraudulent student testing programs. More shitkicking cowboy nonsense.

Utah (if we’re discussing red states) has managed to keep its unemployment lower than the national average by about 2 points. Utah is not my ideal of a perfect state, but I’d rather it were copied for all of us than Texas.

Sic Transit TPaw

I know that sacrifice, especially for the benefit of the US government, isn’t in vogue these days. But if TPaw is more concerned with the country than he is with his standing among the people who just dissed him, he should endorse Huntsman or Romney for the GOP nomination.

Unlike a lot of Dems basking in the schadenfreude these days, I know that whoever wins the GOP nomination might be president. I know that the nomination of an extremist like Michelle Bachmann limits those odds. But no matter what they might be, all it takes is one extreme event to change the course of things.

Also, it’s worth pointing out that the same Democratic experts scoffed at the notion of Nixon, Reagan, and George W. Bush ever being elected President. Sure, we avoided Goldwater, Pat Buchanan, and a few other select nuts, but why put someone like Bachmann one disaster away from command?

Huntsman and Romney are the only Republicans that I don’t think will absolutely destroy the country if elected. I don’t think they’ll do better than Obama, especially with the Supreme Court. But I might consider not emigrating if one of those two wins.

Unfortunately at this point, Huntsman is polling extremely low, and Romney’s support is an inch deep and note even a mile wide. At the moment, it’s down to Romney, Perry, and Bachmann. Ugh.

Intervention in Syria.

Syria is another Arab country that has a chance due to its physical location, but is in trouble due to its past. There are, however, a few factors that complicate an intervention in Syria much more than an intervention in Libya. First, Syria has a wee bit of a border problem with Israel. Second, Syria has strong ties with Iran. Third, Syria has a much stronger military than Libya, and, it has a border with Iraq that while not quite as sensitive as the Golan, still puts them right next to American troops.

Syria has tribal and religious cleavages, and that appears to be the source of the underlying tension leading to the uprisings. But to allow Syria to breal up along these lines, and to leave it without a strong central state would completely destabilize the region. People don’t like propping up dictators, but in most cases anarchy and civil war are much more brutal, and, from a foreigner’s perspective, unless that dictator is hostile to other nations, it is a preferable situation.

There are too many moving pieces in this one for me to comment on a strategy—too many that I don’t know anything about. But I am not sure that President Obama, before he has even finished the job against Qadafi, should be staking his credibility on calling for the takedown of Assad.

Having said that, there are murder squads roaming the country killing hundreds. It is a crime against humanity going on.

Counterpoint re: Obama

The polls are showing an over 10 point drop in the Republicans’ favorability rating since the debt ceiling affair (from 44 favorable, 43 unfavorable to 33 approval 59 disapproval—Dems at 47/47 up from , low approval ratings of Congress and a very good set of numbers for Obama in electorally important states.

Assuming the plan to destroy Mitt Romney works out, this is at least evidence that Obama’s advisors have a clue.

Will the activists even matter? Maybe. In taking back Congress.

Were the Bushies Right About a Strong Executive? America as a Failing State

Modern, liberal, representative democracies rely on effective states with accountable governments governed by the rule of law. Since the Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore, all three pillars of the American government have faltered and continue to falter, and threaten to undermine the effectiveness of the state. Political decay in America is a reality that can no longer be ignored. There is an incipient oligarchy—not a conspiracy, mind you—that depends not on law, but on its own patrimony of money.

The American Constitution depends on two levels of government: states with general powers limited only by the federal constitution and a federal government with limited powers only as granted in the federal constitution. The federal government itself consists of the familiar three branches, including the two houses of Congress.

The original American state was dangerously ineffective and failed under the Articles of Confederation. The states were in control, and they were controlled by their own baronial class that while democratic in name and not practice still nevertheless had a decent respect for the rule of law. Accountability was as good as anywhere else in the world at the time. But, again, this American state was ineffective. Only its military success against the British (which was in itself a baronial revolt against a central government resisting the former’s encroachment on Indian territory) indicated any effectiveness. The Articles failed to resolve disputes between states and between citizens of states with much more efficacy than systems of international law do now. If any crisis had befallen the early American republic, it would not have been able to meet the threat.

The Constitution provided for a stronger, but not yet strong, federal government. The federal government was weak. It could not bring about fundamental change in any of the states. States, not people, were given control over the Senate, which had to approve all laws. The Constitution also put its finger on the scale in favor of small states in presidential elections with the electoral college. The work that went unfinished in Philadelphia—on slavery—left America too sectionally divided and weak to meet a severe crisis had it faced one. If America had been a European state in the Napoleonic Wars, it would have been conquered.

The Supreme Court asserted power that was not explicitly granted to it in the period of the early republic—that of interpreting the Constitution. This strengthened the rule of law if it lessened the accountability of the federal government and again strengthened the states’ power through the Senate’s power over Supreme Court nominations. Even while this power that Marshall grabbed in Marbury v. Madison may have strengthened the position of the Court vis-a-vis the other branches of the federal government, it was also the first step of increasing the effectiveness of the federal government.

But it would take the Civil War for the American state to begin to show signs of being a world class state. The post Civil War amendments reshuffled the deck and put more power in the federal government. Of the few powers withheld from the states by the Constitution, most significant was the handling of anything other than the most microscopic instances of commerce. This prevented the states from being able to confront the Great Depression. Yet until FDR (or at least Wilson) the federal government wasn’t powerful or effective enough to do it either. It took an increase both in the power of the executive and of the central government to create the Welfare state that could meet this challenge. America depended on its private industry to bail it out of the Panic of 1907. After FDR, an effective central government was able to handle it.

The US was more effective militarily, but had never met a true world power head on before World War II. In order to muster the war power and resources necessary to take on not one but two such powers, even greater power had to be concentrated in the executive. Thus, the warfare state was born. This later became, under the Truman administration, the National Security State, a compliment to the Welfare state. Regardless of whether or not the text of the Constitution was amended in 1936 or 1947, both the Court, Congress, and the people generally accepted a change in the proper role of the federal government and the executive branch. Congress only plays a follower and oversight role in “declaring war.” Civil libertarians often rue this change. But they can never explain how a more accountable and law abiding decision could be made by Congress in a manner that would not destroy the kind of military effectiveness needed to defend America in the age of the nuclear bomb. Should the filibuster loom over our nuclear strategy? Apparently the US Supreme Court thought so in the Steel Seizure cases, when the Truman administration was attempting to rapidly increase our conventional capability to prevent an over reliance on atomic weapons (see NSC 68). Whose liberty was preserved by letting the shareholders of that steel company charge the government more for war materials?

Throughout these centralizing changes and through the emergence of the “Imperial Presidency” conservative resistance grew. The effective central government that ruled according to law and that was accountable to the people could never stand long in the face of the kinds of racial inequality that still pervaded America. So many challenges had been left unresolved at home that could be confronted with the effectiveness of the federal government.

But in doing so, the privileges of the American baronial class were trampled upon; their power was replaced with the relatively meritocratic central government’s power. They resisted, and they continue to resist.

For a time, their successes were limited to the kinds of issues that found mass support in resisting: turning back the tide of civil rights reforms circa 1970 and lowering taxes.

Through a concerted effort beginning in the 1950s, the modern Conservative movement was able to begin to roll back the efficacy of the central government by defunding its efforts, causing fear, uncertainty, and doubt, about their results, and generally doing whatever it took to prevent government from solving problems anymore.

Eventually, these aims came to line up with the wealthy baronial classes interest. The elite did not need the central government to solve problems it didn’t have. The elite have education, health care, housing, jobs if they need them, and clean healthy places to live with little crime. They have nannies for their children, cars for instead of needing public transportation, and so on. And while their money may come from industries that grow fat off of the federal government’s largesse, either directly through contracts or through the infrastructure development of the past, the elite baronial class certainly doesn’t rely on the efficacy of the central government to solve its problems, other than perhaps on military issues.

Destroying faith in the federal government was created both through misfeasance—Vietnam, Watergate, Iran/Contra, failure to regulate Savings & Loans, just about everything the Bush administration ever did—and through cynical acts of distortion meant to undermine the federal governments’ credibility, such as the Clinton impeachment and the numerous unremitting assaults on the Obama presidency, including the tax cut, budget, and debt ceiling hostage takings.

But conservatives have also undermined the rule of law. By salting the judiciary with movement Conservatives who believed that it was more important to roll back the federal government than it was for the federal government to be effective, corporate interests have been able to create special deals for themselves—Citibank was able to repeal Glass-Stegall for its own merger; no bid contracts for Cheney’s former company; and the series of lawless acts by the Bush administration including torture, holding prisoners without trial in Guantanamo, the use of the justice department to indict political enemies, and the use of classified information to harm political enemies such as Valerie Plame.

But nothing capture the overthrow of Justice Marshall’s dictum that the US was a country of “laws, not of men” more than the Bush v. Gore decision. Not only did it undermine the legitimacy of the Supreme Court—perhaps permanently—but it set the tone for the entire lawless Bush presidency. I believe that was the turning point. The fact that a number of Supreme Court justices—those who we entrust with the sacred protection of our Constitution—would reverse their deeply held beliefs about the role of states and federalism to put their preferred candidate in the White House makes lawlessness the rule, not the exception.

Accountability has also been destroyed. Other than for a short while during the pendency of his pardon, only Scooter Libby has been punished at all for the numerous crimes of the Bush administration. Even political accountability failed, returning the same conservative politicians to substantial power after only a 2 year absence.

In the process, the same conservatives have used the undemocratic filibuster to prevent the federal government from responding to the Great Recession (and prevented the government from preventing it in the first place). This reservoir of power, the U.S. Senate, almost completely immune from democratic accountability in times of rapidly approaching peril has killed not just any progressive or liberal change, but also the effectiveness of the state.

The result of these failures will be ever increasing concentrations of wealth into the oligarchy, who are not protected by the central government headed by the President who must be popularly elected every 4 years. They can man their barricades in the states, the US senate and ideological bastions of the South and Mountain West to prevent much from happening by deepening the Hatfield/McCoy vendetta between the parties.

We are taught that the President is not a king; that the king is bad; that the king tramples on freedom. This is largely the view of the aristocracy throughout history. Monarchs have had to depend on the masses for their legitimacy. This is not to say that dictatorial powers are always—even mostly—used for populist reasons. But it’s not the President/people balance of power that’s out of whack in this country, it’s the President/oligarchy balance of power that’s out of whack.

The US will continue to suffer political decay until we either evaporate into 50 states rule by local baronial elites, or until the accountable and popularly elected leader is given the same kind of economic power that he currently wields over the military—or at least is given more.

The Bushies believed that they were above the law when they were exercising what they claimed were the president’s powers. This only undermined the rule of law and prevented any accountability for it. But Presidents have always tried to accomplish things by getting around Congress. Some of the things the US senate has killed include the League of Nations, civil rights for 80 years, important elements of the New Deal, the public option in the PPACA, and so on—all so that patrician toff senators can preserve their right to unlimited debate, a right enjoyed by no other effective legislature in the world.

The way to improve the effectiveness of the US central government is not to give godlike powers to the president, or exempt him from the law. The way to improve the effectiveness of the government is to give the President more power over areas of policy that require emergency handling the way the National Security state came to give him more power over military matters. One such area—apparent since the Louisiana purchase—has been economic matters.

 

Speaker Pelosi.

I just hope Speaker Pelosi is as tough as I think she is and can stop President Romney from bringing about the end of the Republic.

Thing that worries me is even if the Dems retake the House that they’ll feel that losing the Presidency is a “rebuke” that should “temper” their stance (you know the exact opposite of what the Republicans would do).

 

Update: to be fair, the President is getting good approval ratings in that poll enough to cruise to reelection based on the electoral map.

Drew Westen on Obama

Great piece in the New York Times today. Obama mortgaged all of his political capital passing the health care reform bill to one-up Clinton. But unless HCR was going to be part of our road back from The Great Recession (as it should have been) it was not what history was asking of this President.

To the average American, who was still staring into the abyss, the half-stimulus did nothing but prove that Ronald Reagan was right, that government is the problem. In fact, the average American had no idea what Democrats were trying to accomplish by deficit spending because no one bothered to explain it to them with the repetition and evocative imagery that our brains require to make an idea, particularly a paradoxical one, “stick.” Nor did anyone explain what health care reform was supposed to accomplish (other than the unbelievable and even more uninspiring claim that it would “bend the cost curve”), or why “credit card reform” had led to an increase in the interest rates they were already struggling to pay. Nor did anyone explain why saving the banks was such a priority, when saving the homes the banks were foreclosing didn’t seem to be. All Americans knew, and all they know today, is that they’re still unemployed, they’re still worried about how they’re going to pay their bills at the end of the month and their kids still can’t get a job. And now the Republicans are chipping away at unemployment insurance, and the president is making his usual impotent verbal exhortations after bargaining it away.

Ouch.

So, there’s been a lot of “what if” about Hillary Clinton (whom I supported). Here’s what I’ve said:

I voted for Hillary in the primary. Once the nomination was Obama’s, I became a supporter of his and still am, despite some disappointments with him. In fact, as far as I can tell, I support him a lot more than the people who were throwing pies at me during the primary because I supported a “sold out” DLC moderate.

I think the question of how Hillary would have differed tends to get answered along the axis of would she have been “more liberal” or “less liberal.” I don’t think that’s an answerable question. But I think the answer is probably that we would have had fewer pieces of liberal legislation and legislation that was less liberal. I don’t think she would have spent all of her political capital on health care reform. But, in retrospect it’s not at all clear that that was what America needed to be done in 2009-10. At least not one that made us wait 4 years for the Heritage Institute’s plan. We needed a huge, broad recovery plan.

But Hillary would not have been taken hostage on the Bush tax cuts, the government shutdown, and the debt ceiling. She would also have more skillfully won political battles with the GOP. This seems to matter to liberals as much as progressive legislation. I think it matters personally because of the particular breed of Republican now in office that wants to blow up the system, destroy the President and doesn’t care what it costs.
So, Hillary. No healthcare reform, but also no extension of the Bush tax cuts, no cuts to Medicare and Social Security.

Who Started "It"?

So the Queen of all Wankers thinks that Democrats have a lot of chutzpah to complain about Republican hostage taking, because, you see, the Dems did it first with Bork.

No, the Dems started “it” with Watergate. Bork, for those whose grasp of history goes back further than the Internet, was the guy who finally carried out Nixon’s orders to fire the Special Prosecutor after his bosses resigned. But to Republican partisans, Watergate was a witch hunt. Hillary Clinton being on the committee staff had a lot to do with their later attacks on her. I don’t think it’s controversial that Nixon/Ford staffers Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney believed that Watergate had gone too far in curbing executive power and did everything they could while they were in power to reverse that.

But Watergate only caused a brief interruption in the rightward turn of America. When the Dems tried again with Iran/Contra, most people—or enough people—were “ho, hum” about it that there was no resignation or impeachment, and when Bush Sr. pardoned those involved, it didn’t cost him the way pardoning Nixon cost Ford.

This, I think, is when this Hatfield/McCoy vendetta between the parties really began, because while a lot of liberals thought Watergate was standing up for the Constitution, a lot of Republicans didn’t. They took it as a stunt to be repaid in kind. And that repayment came the next time they got control of the house with the Clinton impeachment. And just to make sure their revenge was complete, we had the situation in Florida in 2000. Later, Karl Rove would put an Alabama governor in jail as part of this.

Other minor skirmishes in this include the Jeffords switch in 2001, the betrayal of the Dems in 2002 after they went along with the AUMF, and so on.

I’m not saying the Democrats haven’t done their fair share. But I don’t really care about all of that. I vote to get my preferred policies enacted and for no other reason.

Balanced Budget Amendment

Here’s a simple way to create a balanced budget (Of course this will never happen because “balanced budget” really means cut, cut, cut.):

Every penny of spending authorized by Congress gives authority to the executive to collect the same in taxes.

The end. Then the executive figures out how to get it. Nothing is unfunded. No deficits*, no problem. Of course then all the polls showing that people want things like Social Security would be all that mattered and you wouldn’t be able to sabotage the process by decoupling how to pay for these things.

 

* I still maintain deficit spending is appropriate in an economy like this one. Some exemption has to be figured out, but good grief, not one that takes a supermajority that can just be held hostage to get other things. Maybe if GDP is negative and/or unemployment is over 7%. whatever. Independent board.

The Great Economic Collapse Continues

Wall Street pays money to make you stupid about economics. It makes money by not being stupid. Hedge fund managers know that contractionary policy is contractionary.

So while our Galtian overlords get to keep their Bush tax cuts, people are going to exit the market with that money for now because the future got a lot clearer with the debt ceiling deal:

  • GOP Senate Minority Leader McConnell has vowed that there won’t be another clean debt ceiling bill. This means that a default is more likely. U.S. Treasuries are the bedrock of the world financial system. Now they are less bedrocky. If the EU wasn’t in crisis, I imagine the dollar would no longer be the reserve currency
  • The US government will not act to increase demand (i.e. decrease unemployment) in the short or medium term. This means less profits for industry. It also means less tax revenues for the federal government, which, again, undermines Treasuries.
  • The US government may have to raise taxes in the medium term. This is contraindicated in this economy and may lead to even further loss of confidence in the dollar, in Treasuries, and in demand.
  • Remember, the Fed is basically out of the game. Monetary policy is, more or less, exhausted at this point.
  • There is no prospect of housing making a comeback.
In normal circumstances, you’d think that the 2012 elections could intervene to resolve some of the issues here. But it’s not clear to me–and I doubt it will be clear to the American public–that punishing the GOP and returning Obama to the White House will end the cutting.

Our failed politics

Obama’s continuing capitulation to hostage takers on the other side leaves little “hope” of anymore “change” during his administration whether it has a second term or not. He is trying to bipartisan himself into the history books. Maybe there are some elites in the DC area that feel like this is what’s called for after so many partisan administrations in a row.

The trouble is people believe Obama is a partisan liberal Democrat. He’s getting no credit for any of this. Oh, and it also happens to be the wrong thing to do.

It has never been the right thing to do to cut spending on raise taxes in an economic situation like this one. Between Obama’s austerity program, the states eliminating everything under the sun, and the private sector’s hoarding of cash, we have exactly the situation that would predict: high unemployment and a stagnant economy.

Our political system somehow let a president be impeached over a blowjob and another one put into power by a few miscounted votes in Florida only to claim a mandate. This system let the latter destroy all of the economic accomplishments of the former, launch a fraudulent war and somehow talked the opposition into taking “impeachment off the table.” Then, a new President comes into power with the largest Congressional majorities in decades and he’s supposed to compromise and be bipartisan. Bush, who had no legitimacy coming into power, was allowed to run roughshod over the opposition, but this President had to compromise.

This is the system that let the Bush administration off with no reckoning for all of their crimes. It demanded that Obama capitulate to the criminal interests on Wall Street that brought on this crisis, both through their drunken stupor selling mortgages and through their no tax orthodoxy that has only concentrated power in their hands. No punishment there either.

Now, the same elites have convinced themselves that nothing is more exciting than playing chicken with a further economic crisis and then reaching that pinnacle of excitement when some “compromise” is hammered out that amounts to nothing less than negotiating with hostage takers. But we’re all so cuddly and bipartisan.

All of this is rooted, somehow, in the elites notion that they shouldn’t export their own coastal values. “Real America” is different. Well, I live on the Pacific coast and I’m a real American and I don’t see those in flyover country lifting a goddamn finger to understand me, and I live in a state where 1 in 8 Americans live. Who’s more real?

It’s getting very hard for me to give a shit anymore. I was dumb enough to believe something was going to happen in 2008. It didn’t. It matters who the president is. It matters who controls Congress, but not as much as it matters who controls the discourse.