The U.S. as a Failed State

The often-brilliant George Monbiot asks at The Guardian, “Why do we allow the US to act like a failed state on climate change?” Following a useful analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the Waxman-Markey climate bill, he says,

Even so, I would like to see the bill passed, as it at least provides a framework for future improvements. But why do we expect so little from the US? Why do we treat the world’s most powerful and innovative nation as if it were a failed state, rejoicing at even the faintest suggestion of common sense?

And then he says,

You have only to read the comments that follow this article to find out.

Bravo, Mr. Monbiot! He correctly anticipated that the comments would feature some prime American wingnut apologia.

Thanks to the lobbying work of the coal and oil companies, and the vast army of thinktanks, PR consultants and astroturfers they have sponsored, thanks too to the domination of the airwaves by loony right shock jocks, the debate over issues like this has become so mad that any progress at all is little short of a miracle. The ranking Republican on the House energy and commerce committee is Joe Barton, the man who in 2005 launched a congressional investigation of three US scientists whose work reveals the historical pattern of climate change. Like those of many of his peers, his political career is kept on life support by the fossil fuel and electricity companies. He returns the favour by vociferously denying that manmade climate change exists.

A combination of corporate money and an unregulated corporate media keeps America in the dark ages. This bill is the best we’re going to get for now because the corruption of public life in the United States has not been addressed. Whether he is seeking environmental reforms, health reforms or any other improvement in the life of the American people, this is Obama’s real challenge.

Also at The Guardian, Michael Tomasky writes,

You might wonder, as many American liberals wonder: OK, we’ve elected probably the most progressive president in decades, and Democrats have big majorities in both houses of Congress. In addition, the Republican party is at a historic low point. So why can’t the Democrats get more done? Why is Barack Obama so timid?

I’m not sure I agree with his answer:

The answer has less to do with Obama’s DNA than with our constitution’s. The GOP may be a laughing stock nationally, the last redoubt of high-profile mistress-shaggers and witless pit bulls with lipstick, but that has absolutely no bearing on its level of power in Washington. Congress was designed so that minorities can wield power well out of proportion to their number if they stick together.

We’ve been through times in the fading, distant past in which the federal government accomplished remarkable things done in spite of itself. Speaking as a history nerd, I don’t know when Washington has been more helplessly dysfunctional than it is now, except maybe for the stretch of years just before the Civil War. Not a cheerful thought.

As Tomasky says, the federal government was set up the way it was with the prevention of tyranny in mind.

Our founders were concerned first and foremost with the potential for authoritarian tyranny, since there was a lot of that afoot in those days. So they built a system of divided government, compulsively concerned with checks and balances so that few actions could be taken quickly.

True. But the terrible irony that you will never ever not in a million years get a conservative or libertarian to admit is that this very weakness now is allowing a different sort of tyranny to emerge. We, the People, no longer have anything to say about our own country. It’s all in the hands of corporations and lobbyists. The result is a loss of genuine political liberty, the loss of government by the consent of the governed, as surely as if Congress had been taken over by a military junta.

Tomasky concludes:

Today’s liberals need to give more thought and devote more energy to this problem than they do. When progressive legislation is weakened, as the emissions bill was last week, most people just reflexively chalk it up to a presidential failure of will. And sure, to some extent, Obama is perhaps too quick to seek compromise.

But the more pressing issue — and the hidden one that most big-time pundits don’t write about — is how messed up Congress has become. This is on the brink of becoming a disaster for this country. Reforming Congress, something we call a “process” reform rather than an actual matter of “substance”, is something most liberal interest groups don’t give much thought to. But today, process is substance — or is killing it. Obama and the advocacy groups that support his goals need to grasp this and do something about it, or the whole agenda will sink into the quicksand down the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

I think this is exactly right. Although I agree that President Obama is too quick to seek compromise, he’s not the real problem. The real problem is that the U.S. really is on the brink of being a new kind of failed state.

15 thoughts on “The U.S. as a Failed State

  1. Reforming congress starts with public financing. Until that happens, the corporate lobbyists will forever have one hand on the throat of (and the other in the pants of) our elected officials.

  2. I agree abuot public financing. It’s critical to out future, because right now, our country is being run by corporate junta’s.
    We’ve got the worst government money can buy.

  3. A most excellent post, Maha. I have been following George Monbiot for several years, much of what he writes scares the crap out of me.
    I also visit daily, mostly because I believe in the Libertarian code of non-intervention in foreign affairs. Some opinions at his site regarding climate change and economics are in my opinion “dead wrong”.

    Today’s word on the MSM was about Iraq….. the U.S. troop pull back from Iraq’s cities, and the opening of Iraq’s oil fields to foreign oil companies. “Mission Accomplished”. Yesterday on NPR, there was a segment about the building boom in (I believe it was) Mazar-e-sharif, Afghanistan. TAPI is getting up and running.
    Several months ago, when I visited my local Bank of America to set up an account for my deceased brother’s pitiful estate, the bank dude’s computer monitor had “Afghanistan” listed as a place code. We can be sure there is the hand of B of A as well as other high profile financial institutions, petro chemical corporations, and high ranking construction/ engineering firms manipulating and profiting from both wars. These fuckers don’t want to change the program to alternative energy, and they want to control the world through usury.
    When the common man wakes up to see how badly he has been manipulated and duped by these corporate creeps, there will be blood in the streets. That day grows near…………….

  4. We need public financing, but more than that we need to rein in corporations, which have no constitutional rights that ought to be respected, since they are creatures of the state.

  5. Very good post as usual Maha (Barbara). I think an issue that deserves examination is the manufactured “cultural war.” This cultural war has put those who disagree with one another in an eternal stalemate. To give you an example look at the Vanity Fair article about Sarah Palin: intelligent people (with no political axe to grind) said she is unstable, very ambitious, and doesn’t know anything (she was quoted to ask her opponent in the Alaska Governor campaign if any of the information he knew “really mattered”). We can all predict the inevitable response to this article by the Palin supporters, “the big bad liberal media is picking on us folksy conservatives because they don’t like us…” Therefore, rather than learning something about Sarah Palin and choosing not to support her any longer they will feel vilified and grow entrenched (no, more entrenched) in their “conservative” position.

    What is the answer to this? I think the moneyed media elite have created a “cultural war” because wars always bring advertising revenue. They will never kill a cash cow. Therefore, before anything will change we will need publicly financed campaigns.

  6. Crazy: Somebody else said this here recently, and I think it’s all we have to know about the no-brain set: arguing with these people is like the “Argument Sketch” on Monty Python. “Sara Palin is an idiot because…” “No she’s not!” Unproductive and pointless.

  7. “We, the People, no longer have anything to say about our own country.”

    Well, yes and no. The reason corporations and the moneyed oligarchy have taken over has to do with the money spent on elections. But the reason that money is as successful as it is has a lot to do with the fact that barely half of people elidgible to vote do so, and of those who vote a great number do so with very little effort at becoming informed, simply accepting whateverpap is fed to them by the corporate media.

    In the movie “An American President” Michael Douglas makes a great speech to the effect of “Democracy is hard work. If you want it you have to work at it. If you sit on your tail and don’t work at it then someone will come along and take it away from you, and when that happens you have no one but yourselves to blame.”

    The American people are sitting on their tails and the moneyed oligarchy is taking government of the people away from the people. That is what happens when the people sit on their tails and do not exercise their franchise.

  8. My unintentional irony meter exploded when I read this comment on Monbiot’s blog:

    26 Jun 09, 1:10pm
    What exactly would George prefer?

    I suspect what he’d really like is rule by an elite or aristocracy that could make decisions and commitments on behalf of the whole country without the citizens having the opportunity to have their interests represented.

    Isn’t that style of government what the founding fathers wanted to get away from?

    Yeah, numbnuts, they’re called lobbyists.

  9. Until we rid ourselves of the Presidential System, which, by the way, we’ve exported to about 30 different countries, which when put into practice has had disastrous results, our downhill trajectory isn’t going to end.

    Isn’t there something wrong with a system that allowed Reagan/Gingrich/Bush to turn the world’s richest, freest country into a decaying, plutocratic, militarized rogue state?

    Careful reading of the Declaration of Independence reveals that it depicts government as an alien force making rebellion against it a natural act. At this point in time, that ‘alien force’ can best be described as a prime example of institutionalized arrogance.

  10. First rate, Maha. Really good.

    Bill H, what troubles me is not only that we’re letting corporations take our self-determination away, but that we’re paying them to take it away. Pretty much very cent we spend goes into their pockets. They’ve turned voters into enablers — and we’ve accepted the role quite willingly.

  11. I disagree about Obama not being the problem. George Bush got massive tax cuts for the rich, two wars, and gutted the constitution with out a fillabuster proof majority. Obama is not a liberal he is a center right Pol from Chicago. To ascribe anything else to him is mistaken.

  12. It is going to be a big disappointment to all when the true change and reform does not arrive. The fact is a corrupt political system will not be able to heal itself unless people keep up a relentless pressure up to make the necessary corrections to the system so it can’t be bought off for the price off a few (or the usual MANY) congress members. Besides the corruption in politics, there is corrupt media/news, corrupt financial sector, and our epically badly managed industrial sector. Its like we are living in the second half of the 5th century. Wheel goes round.

  13. “True. But the terrible irony that you will never ever not in a million years get a conservative or libertarian to admit is that this very weakness now is allowing a different sort of tyranny to emerge. We, the People, no longer have anything to say about our own country. It’s all in the hands of corporations and lobbyists. The result is a loss of genuine political liberty, the loss of government by the consent of the governed, as surely as if Congress had been taken over by a military junta.” – maha

    Epic nonsense. Obama was elected by 53% of the electorate. That means that 47% of the electorate did not vote for him. Most objective analysts will say his margin of victory was inflated by a significant percentage that were not voting for Obama and his agenda so much as they were voting against the disastrous Bush administration. Obama and Axelrod were very effective at painting McCain as an extension of the Bush administration and using that tactic won a a decisive election, but by no means a mandate for the far left agenda advocated by the author. To conclude that the views of the author are in fact the views of “We, the people” and the failure to steamroll those policies over those who opposed them (regardless of whether they voted for or against Obama) is somehow evidence of the US being a “failed state” is a display of arrogance on a monumental scale. Our system was designed to protect the minority from being run roughshod by the majority, and in particular to protect individual civil and property rights from being violated by the government, even if the majority wants them violated. I am not sanguine that our system will hold up under the breakdown of those protections we are seeing with Single Party Control (both the R version and D verrsion), but at least it is slowing down the continuing erosion of our freedoms. Thank FSM for small favors.

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