Will the Last One to Leave Turn Out the Lights?

Glenn Greenwald has a depressing, but probably prescient, post up called “What collapsing empire looks like.” Among other things, he points to an article in the New York Times about what city and state governments are cutting because they have no money —

Plenty of businesses and governments furloughed workers this year, but Hawaii went further — it furloughed its schoolchildren. Public schools across the state closed on 17 Fridays during the past school year to save money, giving students the shortest academic year in the nation.

Many transit systems have cut service to make ends meet, but Clayton County, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, decided to cut all the way, and shut down its entire public bus system. Its last buses ran on March 31, stranding 8,400 daily riders.

Even public safety has not been immune to the budget ax. In Colorado Springs, the downturn will be remembered, quite literally, as a dark age: the city switched off a third of its 24,512 streetlights to save money on electricity, while trimming its police force and auctioning off its police helicopters.

The United States came into being officially in 1781, with the ratification of the Articles of Confederation, which of course were replaced by the Constitution in 1788. At the time, conventional wisdom in Europe was that republics might work OK in a small country, but U.S. needed the strong hand of a monarch to govern it. There was no way, they thought, that a people scattered over such a large area could govern themselves through elected representation. It wasn’t until after the U.S. successfully pulled itself back together after the Civil War that Europe stopped expecting the U.S. political system to crumble apart at any moment.

In the years after the Civil War, the U.S. enjoyed a remarkable degree of political stability given the diversity of our people and regions. Federal and state governments managed to function more or less as they were designed to, in spite of the usual elements of corruption and idiocy common to all human enterprises.

However, the system does seem to require that some critical mass of elected officials be adults, emotionally as well as physically. Some critical mass has to be able to keep their natural larceny and self-delusion within accepted parameters. Some critical mass has to be observant enough to know chickens from toasters.

What we’re seeing is what happens when we lose that critical mass.

Today the idiot children Republicans are squawking about job losses in June and July. Matt Yglesias writes, —

The new unemployment report highlights the fact that the economy remains lousy and John Boehner is going to be the next Speaker of the House of Representatives. Ironically, it also demonstrates the bankruptcy of Boehner’s way of thinking. The new conservative orthodoxy has been that somehow teachers, police officers, guys who repair street signs, bus drivers, librarians, etc. don’t have “real jobs” and that police departments, roads, trains, buses, libraries, etc. don’t contribute to economic growth. In those terms, the unemployment report was actually fine—the private sector added 71,000 jobs, which isn’t the greatest number in human history but it’s okay.

The big losses were government jobs, and that was both predictable and preventable. We just have to have the will to pay for those jobs. While a big chunk of the job losses were from laying off the temporary census workers, we see that essential jobs, as well as services, are also being cut for lack of money. We’re essentially choking ourselves to death because we’ve developed a phobia about paying taxes.

Republicans seem to think that the money required to run police departments, schools and libraries come from the Good Money Fairy. Or maybe it grows on trees. If we Believe hard enough, the money will just be there, and we can go on as we always have taking a basic level of infrastructure and services for granted. Matt continues,

But because in the Senate a minority of members can get their way, action wasn’t taken. Consequently, we have a horrible jobs number. Which would be bad enough, but the way the American political system works, the minority party that prevented the majority from addressing the crisis will accrue massive political benefits as a result of the collapse.

Conservatives won’t admit it today, but what we’re looking at is a major breakdown of the logic of the American political system.

I’ve said before that America was able to coast for a long time on the investments in people and infrastructure made during the New Deal and during and after World War II. Well, we ain’t coastin’ no more. We have stopped. And we can either find the will to re-invest, or we can let the country rot. It’s our choice.

Righties like to tell us that freedom isn’t free, meaning that they require the blood sacrifice of other people going to war for their freedom from time to time. Well, folks, little about a nation is free. Roads aren’t free. Police cars aren’t free. Armies aren’t free, for that matter. National parks and monuments aren’t free. Schools, from kindergartens to universities, aren’t free.

This nation still has wealth, natural resources (most of ’em, anyway), and a reasonably skilled workforce. There is no natural reason why the economy is this bad. The righties can argue whether nature or mankind causes global warming, but there’s no question nature didn’t screw up the economy. We did this to ourselves, but we did it to ourselves because movement conservatives sold Americans on the fairy tale that we can keep the same prosperous, stable and safe America we’d come to expect in the 20th century but not have to pay for it.

Righties can argue all they like about how their tax-cutting, supply-side economic theories aren’t to blame, and the fault belongs to “tax and spend” liberals. Never mind that the historical evidence says otherwise.

Paul Krugman has a must-read column today on the allegedly innovative economic ideas of Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. However, “Mr. Ryan isn’t offering fresh food for thought; he’s serving up leftovers from the 1990s, drenched in flimflam sauce,” Krugman says. It’s the same old, same old — just relieve the rich of their tax burdens, and everything will work out.

Oh, of course, we’d have to dismantle Medicare, but that’s OK. We’ll give the old folks vouchers they can take to insurance companies to buy their own insurance. Of course, if the health care reform act is repealed the insurance companies will refuse to insure old folks anyway, so the vouchers would be worthless, but at least the old folks will die knowing that their corpses will be buried in a land where the free market prevails.

30 thoughts on “Will the Last One to Leave Turn Out the Lights?

  1. Excellent posting. There was a letter to the editor in the Washington Post pointing out that the tea partiers want to return to an agrarian pre-industrial United States, and their ideal government would work for an agrarian country, but not for an industrial one. We citizens seem to lack the will as a nation and government to make the changes we need to benefit the ordinary citizen. One thing I also see is much commentary about how well-paid public employees are, but not much commentary about how private employees have seen their pay and benefits decline or stagnate.

  2. khughes1963: One thing I also see is much commentary about how well-paid public employees are, but not much commentary about how private employees have seen their pay and benefits decline or stagnate.

    I’ve seen plenty of comments about government employees being paid too much and getting too generous a pension and that they should be brought in line with private sector pay and benefits. I always want to ask :why not bring the private sector up the those higher standards. Of course we know of a group in the private sector who match and exceed these so-called over paid government employees — the CEOs and upper management of corporations who are so busy reducing the salary and benefits of lower employees and driving us to third world status.

  3. Actually, gov’t employees are generally paid LESS than their private industry counterparts, but the benefits and career continuity are more solid. Working for the government, one usually trades money for security, but the security is evaporating.

    I agree with Greenwald, if the funding for these colonial wars continue, as well as aid to contries that can fund their own projects, we will soon resemble the England of Charles Dickens.

  4. Two things: First, overpaid government employees: I sure wasn’t. Few teachers are. It took me over 30 years to hit $50,000, even with a master’s degree. I taught summer school quite a few years, too. Students kept coming back from college and telling me I had prepared them well, and asking why I was still teaching in high school when I belonged at a college. What was that worth? Local government employees here are not overpaid, either. We regularly lose new employees to other counties, just as soon as we are through training them on the job and sending them to workshops, certification classes and testing. What exactly constitutes an overpaid employee? How much money are people supposed to make? What is a degree worth? How much should my deputy neighbor be paid? He is dealing with local thefts, wrecks, drunks, domestic violence and patrol work. That is not easy, and I don’t think you’ll get it done well at minimum wage. Social Security employees I have dealt with during the past few years have been informative, gracious, helpful and efficient. What is that worth? Just asking.

    Second, I wish I had something nice to say about John Boehner. However, I have been unable to catch him doing anything I approve of. He consistently represents the “I’ve got mine” viewpoint, which just happens to include “so screw you, since you are not as American as I am” as a corollary. He and Mitch McConnell must be given credit for the faithful repetition of talking points no matter how contrary to observable facts. I hope he goes to Arizona soon. Being orange, he is close enough to brown that an activist liberal policeman should be able to deport him on suspicion of being a dirty furriner. A Rethuglican friend teases that he i afraid to ride in my car with its Obama sticker for fear of being run off the road by Obama haters. In the back of my mind, it is not a joke. Boehner and McConnell and Cantor and Ryan are part of a lynch mob. They are using the pretense that they have political and constitutional differences. I think they really have a rope behind their backs. Just saying.

    And while we are here, the CNN nitwits (Don Lemon this time) are inviting comments on Michele Obama’s trip to Spain. The ignoranti and trolls are trashing the spending on this trip “at this time”. As if there would ever be a time when they would approve of a black woman flying to Europe with her daughter on a government plane. I know they have lots of air time to fill, but surely there are some old 1950’s educational filmstrips they could run. Then they would have a nice script that the “newsreaders” could alternate reading b
    frame by frame. It would be as close to news as what they’re doing now. I saw somewhere a list of all the vacations and trips W took during his time in office. I seem to remember he was between 1/4 and 1/3 of his term on vacation. I never heard much about that, but then, he was white. Just noticing.

    OK, that was three things. Just liberal, added-value counting.

  5. Government employees are not as well paid as it appears most people think. When I worked for the Government, every year statistics showed that the Government was paying so much less than private, it was ridiculous. Then, for a few months there would be talk about doing something to have Government pay equal the private salaries. But, it never happened. Thus, the good pension and the ability to get minimal health insurance were the things that kept the Government employees from going to private employees. I worked for 31 years for the Federal Government as a GS-4 through GS-8, which were very low wages particularly because I worked in the Washington DC Metropolitan area; and, the cost of living was extraordinarily high. The only Government workers I know of who are overpaid are the members of Congress and the political appointees. I lived from payday to payday just like every one else. Someone might bring up that there are Federal Government unions; but, the Fed unions do not have a true bargaining relationship. There is a statement in the labor law for Federal Government employees that there is a list of management rights, which trump any thing a union in the private arena could do to improve working conditions. Also, I doubt that state and local government employees earn more than minimal salaries.

    With the mess that was made of this country by the Republicans, I do not even remotely understand how any American voter with critical thinking capabilities could vote for a Republilcan for at least the next 10 years. It will be a sad statement of the stupidity of Americans if Republicans regain seats after the next election.

  6. Another common critique I hear is about men standing around with shovels on public jobs.
    Sometimes everyone can’t be digging all at once, some of the guys standing around might be engineers visiting the site, or supervisors directing the work. There is usually more to the work at hand than digging holes.
    It is not uncommon for me to be seen on the side of a road , shovel in hand.
    I need to uncover items that I inspect, and in 95 degree PLUS heat, I jump in and give my assistant a hand.No doubt, I’m viewed by some as a lazy gov’t leach.
    I work for a firm that contracts to tha government, and my government employed counterparts are facing lay-offs and wage freezes; and are paid significantly less for doing the same job.

  7. The insane part is those who would benefit from the public services the most, are voting against them. I live in one of the reddest counties in the country and literally know people who are on public assistance (and one of those who was homeless for awhile last spring) who would never vote for a democrat. Who believe all of the Obama is a Muslim devil. All while benefiting from Medicaid, food stamps and welfare. Part of me wishes that we had actually not had a bail out nor a stimulus package and went into a Depression of sorts so we could hang all of the blame on the republicans, all of it, where it belongs. That said, if the republicans win a house or two I am confident they can screw it up again to make it necessary for the dems to get in and fix the mess again.

  8. Washington Post pointing out that the tea partiers want to return to an agrarian pre-industrial United States, and their ideal government would work for an agrarian country, but not for an industrial one.

    Reminds me of South Park when the internet goes down. “Goin’ out west to look for the internet. I hear there’s internet in California.” These people don’t know what an agrarian society is anymore.

    And I would miss you all.

  9. Part of me wishes that we had actually not had a bail out nor a stimulus package and went into a Depression of sorts so we could hang all of the blame on the republicans, all of it, where it belongs

    I have that same thought! The only thing that I can see of the bailout is that the banks grew larger and consolidated their wealth and power.

  10. A few random thoughts…

    Rome lasted some eight hundred years or so. Fully 200 of those years were the Pax Romana, an unprecedented time of peace and prosperity at the empire’s peak. In the early years, the rich contributed to Rome (for a variety of reasons, often their own gain), building it up. By the empire’s decline, the rich pulled out, finding ways to skirt or avoid their obligations to the declining empire.

    Way back when Ronnie was King, some (former) acquaintances were making the argument for going back to the way things were around the time the Founders wrote the Constitution, same argument the Tea Partiers are making today. I wasn’t quick enough then, but I would now ask them, “oh, so you also want to limit the powers of corporations to those they held around the time of the Constitution?” At that time, kings routinely revoked corporate charters, and there was no such thing as corporate personhood.

    I think we’re finally coming around to the rebuttal to the “Freedom Isn’t Free” folks – the notion that schools, parks, police, street lights and firemen aren’t free either, that it’s patriotic to pay taxes, and it’s unpatriotic to destroy and diminish Our Government.

    Others have said it in different ways, but I’m sadly concluding that Eight Years of Bush/Cheney wasn’t enough for a good sized portion of this country. They want the full, head-on treatment, another heavy round of toxic Republican misrule to destroy things once and for all. The salutory effect of tearing it all down to the ground and starting over.

  11. but I’m sadly concluding that Eight Years of Bush/Cheney wasn’t enough for a good sized portion of this country.

    Well, I for one am screaming… UNCLE!

  12. That column by Krugman is a tour-de-force, memorable both for its analysis and for its turns of phrase, including “the audacity of dopes” and “flim-flam sauce”.

    I really wish you hadn’t repeated the idea of Speaker Boehner… I’ve been trying to live in denial about it, and now I’m all depressed by the likelihood of it. He and his chelonian counterpart McConnell represent all that is morally bankrupt about the modern GOP, and the thought that they might have even more power makes me want to cry.

    I really loved living in the days before the Fall, when we could decide to put a man on the moon, and then do, and we built astonishing public infrastructure like highways and research universities and we had legal, political and industrial systems that were the envy of all humanity. I miss those days.

    Frickin’ Republicans.

  13. Moonbat, I’ve thought about the “patriot card” also.
    One would think it to be patriotic to save one’s country.

    I saw a bumper sticker yesterday on a lawn service truck;
    “I love my country, but fear my government”

    Interesting, but I guess he didn’t fear the govt so much that he’d take off the sticker. I suppose he was more “afeard ” of the uppity negro what’s gonna make him buy INsurance.

    Strange days indeed, most pecular Moma……..

  14. Regarding overpaid government employees – I guess I’m one, a postal employee. The heat index was 102 today – pretty much par for Florida this time of year. The white postal trucks do not have A/C. Every 4 years our contract goes up for renewal, and management wants to cut my pay or withhold more for my benefits. When the conract goes to arbitration, the ‘judge’ looks at what I make compared to Fed Ex & UPS and based on a comparison to the private sector, my pay continues to be decent. And justified based on a comparison to the private sector.

    I expect that’s fairly common throughout government jobs. So why do studies suggest we make more than average. For one thing, you don’t have government employees asking, ‘Would you like to supersize that burger?’ – The guy who ‘greets’ you at a federal building wears a bulletproof vest and carries a 9mm that he’s trained to use.

    The point being there are not a lot of ‘menial’ jobs in government – most have been outsourced – frequently to companies who do not offer medical or retirement benefits. So the ‘core’ government jobs tend to require skills and training that a significant portion of the private sector don’t. This allows the numbers to be skewed.

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  16. Probably weren’t on Journolist, but Ezra Responds:

    “And now let’s get to the paragraph a lot of you will flay me for: I don’t think Ryan is a charlatan or a flim-flam artist. More to the point, I think he’s playing an important role, and one I’m happy to try and help him play: The worlds of liberals and conservatives are increasingly closed loops. Very few politicians from one side are willing to seriously engage with the other side, particularly on substance. Substance is scary. Substance is where you can be made to look bad. And substance has occasionally made Ryan look bad. But the willingness to engage has made him look good. It’s given some people the information they need to decide him a charlatan, and others the information they need to decide him a bright spot. It’s also given Ryan a much deeper understanding of liberal ideas than most conservative politicians have.

    So do Ryan’s arguments persuade me? Not as far as the Roadmap goes. But I’m glad to give him space to try to persuade all of you, so long as he’s willing to let me try and poke holes in his arguments while he’s doing it. That’s an offer I’ve extended to every legislator interested in taking me up on it, and it still stands.”


  17. I really loved living in the days before the Fall, when we could decide to put a man on the moon, and then do, and we built astonishing public infrastructure like highways and research universities and we had legal, political and industrial systems that were the envy of all humanity. I miss those days.

    Ya, me too. I have those thoughts frequently. Some people are now to young to remember it. When we all get together and decide to do something that makes us proud.
    Now it’s just division and shame all around.

  18. Back to the Bikini flap, a woman was arrested in Tavares, FL., after refusing to give a police officer her name, and being asked to “cover up”.
    The woman was at the city’s “splash park” with her 7 yr old son, when her T-shirt and bra got wet. The police told her to cover up.
    She was hand cuffed and taken to jail, arrested for “obstructing an officer without violence”.( I wonder how many cops were needed to “subdue” her…..)
    The 30 yr old homemaker is suing the city for malicious prosecution,false arrest,battery and violation of her civil rights.

  19. I sometimes think that a new spin on feudalism or manorialism will emerge, with corporations taking the place of the manors. But, it is hard to see this as sustainable if the domestic market shrinks to near collapse. I have a lot of neighbors and acquaintances who run small, sole proprietor businesses. All of them suffered from the recession, all of them fundamentalist Christians, socially conservative and Republican. They seem to have engaged magical thinking. Somehow God will take care of them because the are good. They see the wicked and lazy suffering, but not themselves. I don’t know who is going to buy their products or services when everybody’s broke. But, they’re running on faith not economics. Universal healthcare is dangerous socialism, but suspension of habeaus corpus, free speech zones and torture, not so much.

    Regarding being afraid to ride in a car with an Obama bumper sticker. My wife had one and noticed an increase in road rage discurtesy from some of our southern gentlemen, including one where a cretin-American actually said, “I had to tailgate your ass with that damn Obama sticker.” A concerned citizen, took the proactive measure of solving the problem by starting to remove the bumper sticker himself. Now that the sticker is gone, incidents of churlish driving are now diminished. It was all Obama’s fault.

    It is depressing to be getting close to retirement age with a diversity of support structures in place and watching them shrink one by one. Back to the commune discussion anyone?

  20. “Back to the commune discussion anyone?”
    I see it happening my friend.
    There will be a need for living in groups as we get older. With increasing food costs and shrinking incomes, it just makes sense.
    I’m thinking five “jewel box” homes on my 10 acre plot, a big tiliapa pond,hydroponic salad greens,an acre of grain amaranth, blueberries, mulberries, a bamboo forest with mushroom cultivation in the bamboo shade, water chesnuts, and perhaps some goats and a few pigs.
    At the very least, it will keep me busy ’till I croak.

  21. Well, and again, this is all pointing back to the Reagan ideas that it’s good to be greedy and try to make a lot of money, and good to cut expenses and that the free market will work things out in the end.

    So, try to cut expenses – mass layoffs and minimum wages and how can we cut benefits while those dad-blasted *unions* have power? And people warned about this and warned about this, but it happened so slowly and to the least powerful first so now there’s a new normal. Rather than getting a job and working hard and eventually doing okay for yourself, you work until you get laid off and then find another job, possibly doing something else entirely, and start over at the bottom rung.

  22. Make it happen, erinyes. Sounds like a good plan to me. I long ago concluded that one of the reasons why I am alive at this time to assist in building lifeboats. There isn’t a moment to lose.

  23. @khughes1963 :

    There’s a word for “agrarian, pre-industrial” society where people are largely employed tilling the soil for wealthy landowners. It’s called feudalism.

    The extent to which the ultra-rich and the new-rich fail to realize the self-destructiveness of their own policies amazes me. Corporations aren’t going to be able to survive in a society where consumer demand has collapsed from falling wages, benefits, and employment generally. Furthermore, if police departments, prisons, and the military fall apart due to overreach, lack of funding, and sectarian feuds, the rich will suffer quite a lot for it. There’s not much else standing in the way of mass riots and looting during severe times.

    @bill bush :

    Boehner and crew are not a lynch mob, they’re a narrow, goal-oriented and self-reinforcing racket. They’re not accomplishing their goals by violence but by propaganda and lies. If the situation truly collapses, it’s going to be Boehner and a great many of his friends of all political “stripes” at the end of the rope. Anyone with a lot of wealth or power will be at risk, regardless of their policies or intent.

    @moonbat :

    A return to some of the original policies and laws in this country is a good idea. Revoking corporate personhood is an excellent start, but I’d go farther. Return copyright to its original term of 14 years. Reduce the scope of patents and their length. Constrict the size of the military enormously, and rely more on state and local militias to keep the peace and defend the country. Increase the locality of food production. Institute tariffs on goods from hostile countries and those with poor labor standards or other excessive advantages to assist local industries. One could go on; policies, systems, and ideas aren’t bad simply because they are old.

    @goatherd :

    Good points.

  24. It’s easy, to say the least, to agree that Republicans are delusional and leave it at that when actually they have joined the makers of the paper economy as they make the government their helpless junior partner devouring every federal dollar available to recoup their own financial losses. As with any business hierarchy, the junior bows to the senior.

    However, in a sense Republicans are delusional. The mega-irony of the Party is that it should have been able to grasp the dangers of unregulated markets. If big government is susceptible to the abuses of human beings, how much more susceptible is a corporate system that is bigger than any government.

  25. Moonbat, thanks for the link!
    I’m not a doom and gloomer, but after a long stint as a commercial diver, I learned to ALWAYS have a plan “B”,a back way out, and NEVER put your trust completly in the deck crew.
    Plus, I like growing stuff and building things.

  26. erinyes, I bookmarked the aquaponics video (thanks!). There are people around here who raise tropical fish commercially, outdoors, but this is much more what I’m interested in. Great to see that other pioneers have paved the way and are teaching what they know.

  27. Above someone said that Ezra Klein said this: “The worlds of liberals and conservatives are increasingly closed loops. Very few politicians from one side are willing to seriously engage with the other side, particularly on substance. Substance is scary.” What a crock. Who was it that changed the health care reform bill to the point of making it a very shallow bit of work? It was the Democrats trying to find a way to seriously engage the Republicans. And, the reward for that was absolutely NO votes for the bill even with the changes made to please these idiots who are wandering the earth braindead. What a waste of time that was. I think right now that all issues are very one-sided. The Dems and liberals are willing to give the other side opportunities work with them. The President reaches out his hand to the Republicans and they bite it off up to his shoulder. I personally think we should become the people who Ezra Klein and others say we don’t engage the other side with substance; and, just start passing bills the way Bush did with reconciliation as often as possible. We should let the Repugs filibuster so that every one can see who is bogging down Congress. I am sick to death of the Republicans playing these silly games and having writers like Klein say we do the same thing–in effect, covering for the bad faith bargaining the Republicans do. With a press like this, how is any one going to really know the news and the truth? People really need to stop reading the Washington Post. It is a rightwing rag. You need to stop buying it, reading it, and quoting it. Let it die the horrible death it deserves after deserting good journalism to push the Bush Agenda.

  28. In the service of a religious imperative — and marketolatry will do for a religion — people will do all kinds of things that seem from the outside to be delusional.

    In fact, since the greatest faith is needed for believing in the impossible, and the greatest merit comes from giving up the most, what would strike us as misery in a Miesian paradise would for the faithful be preferable to comfort in a Keynsian hell.

  29. Eight Years of Bush/Cheney wasn’t enough for a good sized portion of this country. They want the full, head-on treatment, another heavy round of toxic Republican misrule to destroy things once and for all.

    Mencken said it best, 90 years ago — “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it — good and hard.”

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