On Our Own

There are a couple of items in the news today reminding us that the conservative philosophy of government is not to govern at all.

Item one, an editorial in today’s New York Times:

Over the last several years, America’s imbalances in trade and other global transactions have worsened dramatically, requiring the United States to borrow billions of dollars a day from abroad just to balance its books.

The only lasting way to fix the imbalances — and reduce that borrowing — is to increase America’s savings. But the administration has steadfastly rejected that responsible approach since it would require rolling back excessive tax cuts and engaging in government-led health care reform to rein in looming crushing costs– both, anathema to President Bush. It would also require revamping the nation’s tax incentives so that they create new savings by typical families, instead of new shelters for the existing wealth of affluent families — another nonstarter for this White House.

Stymied by what it won’t do, the administration has gone for a quicker fix — letting the dollar slide. A weaker dollar helps to ease the nation’s imbalances by making American exports more affordable, thus narrowing the trade deficit.

But to be truly effective, a weaker dollar must be paired with higher domestic savings. Otherwise, the need to borrow from abroad remains large, even as a weakening currency makes dollar-based debt less attractive. That’s the trap the nation is slipping into today. Among other ills, it could lead to a deterioration in American living standards as money flows abroad to pay foreign creditors, leaving less to spend at home on critical needs. Or, it could lead to abrupt spikes in interest rates as American debtors are forced to pay whatever it takes to get the loans they need.

In volatile economic times like now, leadership is crucial — and notably absent with this administration.

I’d say what we’re really dealing with is not a lack of leadership, but negative leadership. By that I mean a stubborn refusal to deal rationally with the nation’s problems accompanied by an equally stubborn refusal not to let anyone else deal with those problems, either. The Bush Administration accumulates power and won’t share it with anyone, but neither will the Bush Administration use that power to anyone’s benefit but its own.

Item two is an article in today’s Washington Post by Spencer Hsu:

A decision by the Bush administration to rewrite in secret the nation’s emergency response blueprint has angered state and local emergency officials, who worry that Washington is repeating a series of mistakes that contributed to its bungled response to Hurricane Katrina nearly two years ago.

State and local officials in charge of responding to disasters say that their input in shaping the National Response Plan was ignored in recent months by senior White House and Department of Homeland Security officials, despite calls by congressional investigators for a shared overhaul of disaster planning in the United States.

“In my 19 years in emergency management, I have never experienced a more polarized environment between state and federal government,” said Albert Ashwood, Oklahoma’s emergency management chief and president of a national association of state emergency managers.

The national plan is supposed to guide how federal, state and local governments, along with private and nonprofit groups, work together during emergencies. Critics contend that a unilateral approach by Washington produced an ill-advised response plan at the end of 2004 — an unwieldy, 427-page document that emphasized stopping terrorism at the expense of safeguarding against natural disasters. …

…Testifying before a House panel last week, Ashwood and colleagues openly questioned why the draft was revised behind closed doors. The final document was to be released June 1, at the start of this year’s hurricane season.

Federal officials, Ashwood said, appear to be trying to create a legalistic document to shield themselves from responsibility for future disasters and to shift blame to states. “It seems that the Katrina federal legacy is one of minimizing exposure for the next event and ensuring future focus is centered on state and local preparedness,” he said.

We’re approaching the second anniversary of Katrina. Soon there will be a flood of retrospective articles documenting how little has actually been done to put New Orleans and other Gulf Coast communities back on their feet. As I wrote nearly a year ago, Bush said he wanted “local folks” to make decisions about how to proceed with recovery. But along with the fact that most of the big contracts were made between the feds and their pet contractors — local talent need not apply — the Bush Administration overrode many of the decisions those “local folks” made.

A year ago The Center for America’s Future released a report (PDF) documenting the failures of the Bush Administration to respond to Katrina. The Bushies failed to prepare, they failed to respond, and they have failed to rebuild. And behind these failures was more than just sheer incompetence; it was conservative ideology. The disabling factors were rightie disdain for government, their reckless determination to privatize core functions (placing blind faith in the market without oversight or accountability) and their fondness for “pay-to-play” politics, in which money capitalism and personal gain count for more than performance. These three “beliefs,” beloved of the extreme Right, are crippling America.

As I wrote yesterday, the Right was able to “sell” this extremist agenda to America by dominating media and the nation’s political culture, freezing out any point of view but theirs. The Right claimed the center and enforced that claim with bluster and intimidation. And for a time the majority of Americans more or less went along with the Right’s agenda, mostly because that was the only agenda presented to them. Finally people are waking up, but as long as the Bushies and their cronies hang on to power, America will continue to weaken from within and without.

In the last post I wrote that many on the Right Blogosphere sincerely believe America is being weakened by disloyalty to the President. Speaking out against him emboldens the enemy, you know. Never mind that a citizens’ right to speak out against incompetent and mismanaged government is what makes democracy possible. I said, “Right wingers hunger and thirst for authoritarianism, because real freedom scares them witless. They’re happier with a dictator telling them what to do, and they’re too cowardly to admit it.”

Naturally, some brainwashed twit came along and said, “Do you not find anything authoritarian about the Nanny State?”

Let’s think about this, people. In Rightie World, we must not be allowed to have government of the people, by the people, and for the people. We, the People must not elect leaders who will enact government services like Social Security or Medicare or safety net provisions or universal health care. Because, say righties, using elected, representative government to fulfill the mandate of the Constitution — “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” etc. — is totalitarianism.

On the other hand, enforcing knee-jerk loyalty to the President by either law or social pressure is what will safeguard our freedoms.

Can we say, these people are flaming lunatics? I believe so.

I fear that someday Americans will find themselves living in a post-industrial backwater, and our status as the most powerful and prosperous nation on the planet will be a dim memory. Our only hope is to use the representative government established by the Constitution to restore sanity to government. But the right-wing crazies are doing their damnedest to destroy that, too.

25 thoughts on “On Our Own

  1. I think all this scaremongering about “governement intervention” by Righties is simply the refusal to acknowledge that along with freedom comes responsibility.

    There is no such thing as “lassez-faire” capitalism. What matters is exactly what is it that we want the government to be involved in. So, we can spend tax money on waging a war based on lies and to support corporations or we can actually improve living conditions in our own country.

    But the right wing noise machine has got everyone hyperventaling when UHC or any other grovernment programs are brought up. My kiwi girlfriend doesn’t get this kind of scaremongering because in New Zealand, a huge majority WANT these social programs because they are BENEFICIAL to ALL. But many Americans have been brainwashed into thinking this is “un-American.”

    p.s. as an aside, it always strikes me as odd the term “un-American”. is there an equivalent in any other country? “Un-german?” “Un-italian?” “Un-swedish?” “un-French” I don’t think so. It says a lot about the American mentality. When did this term come about? McCarthy era?

  2. Stuff like this also helps lead to that post-industrial backwater status: Some of my European friends have encountered technical problems with their Flickr photostream. Does it have something to do with a spineless Congress that has given Bush an open invitation to drive a truck up to edge of the information highway and start loading it up, indiscriminantly, with bits and bytes from damn near everyone’s e-mail and other Internet communications?

    Soon nobody elsewhere in the world will want to have anything to do with the U.S. electronically, for fear of letting in Uncle Sam’s snoop software.

  3. MG: Something like this came up at a YKos panel — the U.S. is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t have a national broadband policy. We’re falling further and further behind other nations for this reason. So it’s OK to use technology to spy on Americans, and OK for big corporations to usurp public airways and Internet technology to enrich the wealthy, but allowing ordinary people access is bad, because it might lead to socialism. Right.

  4. It just seems so crazy that the country that invented most of the technology is so rapidly falling behind. I sometimes think the ruling elites really would like to see us devolve into a modern version of the “Dark Ages” — as long as they can keep consumers not only ignorant, but also, continuing to consume.

  5. Dark Ages ? Corporate Feudalism ?
    Hell yeah…That what these jokers are ALL about. They want a world of Have’s and Have nots, where everyone but the priviledged few is toiling in the harshest economic environment that can be devised. That’s why they hate the government so much. It is actually trying to help people instead of exploiting them.
    The only Government programs these clowns like are jail or maintaining the resources to blow the living shit out of anyone that gets in their way….

  6. Obstructing the coordination of disaster plans between state and federal government should be a felony, imo it qualifies as a “High Crime” even if it doesn’t qualify as a Clintonian “misdemeanors”.

    I cried when N.O. washed away, and I spent the next week calling office holders and telling them to impeach the bastards.

    Politicians are by nature terrified of any vocal unified public opinion, as few as 2,000 phone calls can make them completely change position.

  7. Hugh G. Rection (love your moniker) #5 is dead on the money:

    This is mostly by design. An updated form of feudalism is what these people want, it’s what they know and trust. They despise democracy, although they shout “Democracy!” from the rooftops at least 50 times a day. They are actively creating a world where the top 1 or 2 % own everything, the next 9 % are their flunkies and retainers, and tough sh$t for everyone else.

    They have absolutely no problem if this means destroying this country as we knew it, in fact they love the term “creative destruction”. They are salivating for the approaching Day of Reckoning when the masses finally wake up from all the Fox News bullshit that’s been pumped into their poorly-educated-by-design heads, and 1) turn against the libruls, the scapegoats who have been set up for this reality adjustment, and 2) who will be happy to work for starvation wages for the real owners of this country (We The People? You’ve gotta be kidding – that was just something to fool these same masses). Happy Days are (almost) here again.

    Sometime ago on the Late Great BopNews, commenter antifa explained this in terms of standard Mafia procedure:

    antifa wrote:

    This method of fiscal mismanagement is known as a ‘blowout’ in Mafia circles.

    – You get into a company by hook or crook,
    – you run up every possible line of credit,
    – you sell all owned, leased and credit-bought assets at fire sale prices,
    – you burn any insured buildings for that money,
    – you watch the business crash and go bankrupt,
    – your pals step in and buy up the few assets remaining — for pennies on the dollar,
    – you go find another company to “invest in.”

    The bankrupting of the USA will not hurt the top 5% of our population in the least — their investments are fungible, and can be moved to any international currency or nation or assets. They can buy up the assets and companies of this nation for pennies on the dollar, and hire some of the hungry residents at slave wages to work them.

    The owners of this nation have no fear whatsoever of running it right off the rails.

    It’s an investment strategy.

    It’s not personal — it’s business.

    moonbat continues:

    Think of the cannibalism that’s occurred on Wall Street from the 80s on – it was not about improving companies or the services or goods delivered, it was all about looting the value that was there. In fact a well run company is a prime target for this form of predatory capitalism, as a well run company has assets that can be stripped and sold off. The exact same thing is happening to our country at large. America is like a huge trust fund, one that no one ever thought would run dry, that’s been grossly, intentionally mismanaged, and sooner or later the bills are going to come due.

    When this day happens, the owners of this country will be looking for greener fields elsewhere, like locusts moving to the next field.

    maha wrote:

    I’d say what we’re really dealing with is not a lack of leadership, but negative leadership. By that I mean a stubborn refusal to deal rationally with the nation’s problems accompanied by an equally stubborn refusal not to let anyone else deal with those problems, either.

    My point is, that this is all very rational, from the perspective of those in the top 1 or 2 percent who could care less about the rest of us. Their desire of having all wealth under their control, by stealing it from the rest of us, leaving everyone else in starvation is perfectly rational to them. “Stealing” has two senses – the present sense where money is simply transfered, and a future sense – where future generations are unable to optimally produce for themselves because their economic/social environment has been so intentionally degraded.

    The issue is not rationality, it’s empathy, and whether you are able to love the entire world and work for its salvation, or whether you only care about yourself.

  8. I’m glad to see you quoting the wonderful Preamble to the Constitution, something we on the left should be doing much more frequently. It’s the most succinct and eloquent argument for affirmative government that I know.

    I’ve been arguing for years that this is what school kids should be reciting instead of that silly Pledge of Allegiance. And it was formulated by the founders of our country, not some dude writing for a magazine.

  9. Republicans WANT the U.S. to be a backwater. Where they rule absolutely from the bible. They are American Taliban. Women will lose rights as will all other minorities. That is what religion does to people. De-evolutionizes them back to the ‘good old days’ of slavery and the ‘right of kings’. Get used to it folks, this ride has a ways to go.

  10. David — as a religious person myself, I disagree that “religion” makes people backward. There’s religion, and there’s religion.

  11. You’re right about this.

    There’s been an idea digging in my brain for a while on a similar kind of issue.

    Think about this: many on the right think that we have to worry about Muslims “outbreeding” folks in Europe and “taking over”.

    Why is that such a cowardly thought?

    Because it’s based on the fear that your ideas are not powerful enough to carry themselves. Muslims born in Europe won’t celebrate freedom or democracy, because freedom and the ideals of democracy won’t won’t carry themselves.

    Note how they conveniently forget this when they want to support war in Iraq… apparently, freedom is more palatable when it comes from people shoving a gun in your face than when it arises from growing up in a free country. Ah, righties… no one said they were consistent.

    Al Gore had it right; “reason” itself is under attack by these kinds of people.

  12. A few years ago Biden said that the Republican goal is to starve the federal government as a way to rid it of regulatory agencies and anything else that threatens the accumulation of private capital. Rather like don’t fetter my greed?

    Of course, should our economy go into the toilet will it affect their economies. Do they even consider the possibility. Louis and Marie didn’t, nor Nicholas, nor George III, nor the six popes pre the Reformation. Peculiar phenomenon that. Relentlessly pursing power, or riches, ignoring the fact that you’re ultimately working against your own self-interest. Is their a psychologist on this site?

  13. …should our economy go into the toilet will it affect their economies. Do they even consider the possibility. Louis and Marie didn’t, nor Nicholas, nor George III, nor the six popes pre the Reformation.

    “Their” economies will likely do just fine. Many wealthy people prospered during the Depression. Money can afford to take the long view, and prepare accordingly. Arguably, this is exactly what the wealthy are doing right now, by effectively shorting America.

    In fact, financial calamities are tremendous windfall opportunities for the prepared, rich or poor. It’s just a matter of knowing how to position yourself to profit from disaster. I’ll go even further and say that the coming financial reckoning for this country is a once-in-several-lifetimes opportunity, that if we cannot stop it, we should at least figure out how to come out on top, instead of being crushed like the masses.

    Frank Zappa said that you have to learn to make stupidity work for you – if you can take this to heart and really put it into practice, you’ll do well. Another adage to put into practice is: Visionaries always thrive.

    What you’re really talking about is the rich losing their heads, literally in violent revolution. The very nature of of those who make it to the top of pile involves domination of everyone else, and a ruthless “doing whatever it takes” to get there and stay there. I suspect they view dodging or supressing revolution as a challenging game, a price well worth paying to be at the top of the pile.

  14. Yeah, I kinda don’t get Bushco’s smash ‘n’ grab mindset, either. Unless they’re planning on leaving the U.S., and they’re sure what’s left of us won’t come after them, don’t they understand that living in New Port-au-Prince will be kinda dangerous to them? There aren’t enough Blackwater thugs to go around, the U.S. military isn’t a sure thing to back them, and the guys with the guns can turn on the rich at any convenient time, a la the Praetorian Guard. And Dick Cheney I really don’t get; he’s gonna keel over at any moment. What does he think he’s going to get out of his nasty little escapades?

  15. I have been interested in the Presidential candidates and what they’ve been saying. Actually, the only one’s that have made it into my vision have been the one’s who’ve opposed the war. So, Rep. Paul and Sen. Gravel.

    I understand that Paul is a Libertarian who’s now running saying he supports policies based on the constitution. He believes by doing this we will avoid several of our problems. He thinks his opposition to the Iraq war is consistent with what the constitution says, and our involvement there, and our Patriot Act, are inconsistent.

    I like the argument that the war is illegal and maybe unconstitutional. So I want to give him that point and find that the other Republicans who oppose him are willing to chuck laws and the constitution for really bad reasons.

    But, as a Libertarian, I wonder whether Paul would want to gut the FEMA plans, the efforts at some health care reform, and Social Security, partly bacause it’s for him unconstitutional and contrary to his minimalist Libertarian commitments.

    I’d like to know what Paul would do to prepare the country for natural disasters. Would he eliminate any kind of national or local health care or education efforts because it fits into his own ideas of what the government should do? What would we then be able to put in their place?

  16. Actually, the only one’s that have made it into my vision have been the one’s who’ve opposed the war. So, Rep. Paul and Sen. Gravel.

    So what’s wrong with Dennis Kucinich and Barack Obama? They were against it before the invasion. All of the Dems say they are opposed to it now, although they aren’t always clear about what they would do to end it.

    Anyway, there’s a site called On the Issues that can give you a quick run down on candidates’ records on the issues. Paul has taken some really bad stands. He voted no on net neutrality, he is opposed to reproductive rights and embryonic stem cell research, and he wants to abolish Medicare. He’s not a serious candidate, in other words. We need this guy as President like we need a boil on our butts.

    I like Gravel’s ideas on most issues, but he wants to eliminate the income tax and replace it with a national sales tax, which I think is absurd.

  17. using elected, representative government to fulfill the mandate of the Constitution — “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” etc. — is “Egalitarianism”

  18. Buy gold and jewels. It’s going to be the only thing that will hold its value when China floods the market with our worthless bonds and causes the dollar to crash.

  19. I like Gravel’s ideas on most issues, but he wants to eliminate the income tax and replace it with a national sales tax, which I think is absurd.

    Interesting. I think consumption should be taxed and saving rewarded, and so some sort of national sales tax, versus the income tax, appeals to me. Of course in its raw form this penalizes the poor the worst, which I’m against.

    Gravel’s endorsement of a national initiative and referendum process is what makes me leery of his platform. We have this in California, and it’s basically a back door for special interests (including our own Governator) to bypass the legislature. CA’s initiative and referendum process originated back in the well-intentioned progressive era, before the telephone was widespread, and before it was practical to simply hire enough people to gather the required quantity of signatures to put a motion on the ballot.

    CA is incredibly hobbled by poorly thought out referendums that passed and became law. I want the legislature to work harder at doing its job, instead of having special interests manipulate the public into stupid, short-sighted legislation at the ballot box.

    It hasn’t all been bad – prop 215 passed which legalized medical marijuana – but in many cases it hamstrings the legislature, eg requiring them to spend x % of tax receipts on pet concern y. Forever and ever, regardless of real world conditions. This is multiplied when you have n such referendums, each requiring their own cut of the tax receipts.

    Another terrible example is Prop 13, which rolled back property taxes, and which has had a powerful and systemic effect on how municipalities fund themselves and on who controls what happens in a municipality, as well on the very physical landscape – it favors the construction of retail over all other kinds of zoning, because retail generates revenue for the municipality. And, munipalities find themselve ceding control of their school district(s) to the state, simply because they lack the revenue to run them properly.

    And of course there are the wingnut initiatives that reliably appear, such as parental notification of teen pregnancy/abortion, or the Sanctity of Marriage proposals which declare the only valid marriages to be those between 1 man and 1 woman. These are really only used to bring out the wingnut vote, to get their numbers behind the more serious stuff or candidates the wingnuts really want to pass. It’s become a well recognized chess move here – to spike the ballot with these far right morality issues in order to draw out the winguts for the serious stuff.

    Sigh. IMO, initiative and referendum – at least as implemented in CA – is well intentioned but practically a disaster. Gravel should know better.

  20. This is so unlike the responsibility that Republicans say they are sole owners of. It’s appalling; I had no idea just how bad things were. Thanks for the report.

  21. Usually shrill Dean Baker had this to say about the NYT piece:
    But, the NYT is right that higher savings can reduce the trade deficit. There are two routes through which higher savings can reduce the deficit. Other things equal, higher savings slow the economy. (If we have less consumption, and no offsetting increase in other demand, then we have a weaker economy.) When the economy weakens, we buy less of everything, including fewer imports. In other words, if we throw the economy into a severe recession, we can move towards balanced trade.

    Is the NYT advocating a severe recession to cure the trade deficit? It seems that they are, because the other mechanism through which increased saving can be expected to reduce the trade deficit is by (drum roll please ……..) yes, A LOWER DOLLAR!

  22. You missed one important aspect of the post-Katrina period, one that hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention IMO. The GOP has POLITICALLY BENEFITED from leaving the NO diaspora scattered among a bunch of intensely red states (e.g. Texas and Mississippi in particular). With all those poor black voters out of LA, LA has gone from a purple to more of a red state. The cynicism here is almost beyond belief, but they’ve been betting that the media won’t call them out on this, and so far that bet has been a good one.

  23. You missed one important aspect of the post-Katrina period, one that hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention IMO.

    I’ve written about that extensively in the past, such as here.

    However, I think it’s too early to say that the GOP will benefit from this long term. Short term, yeah, probably, in Louisiana state and local elections. But long term I think it’s going to come back and bite them.. .

  24. And they continue to fuck us over in brand new ways every day. That lying skank (“It wuz a earthquake”) of a mine owner in Utah, who doesn’t seem all that interested in getting his workers out of the ground alive? Here are his political connections, as if we couldn’t guess:


    Meanwhile, I’m waiting for Halliburton Corp. to announce that it’s in the business of inspecting bridges….

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