Monday, August 25, 2008

The Public Be Damned

Every so often I run across something that reminds me so forcibly, so violently, of the present desuetude of our republic that I lose my wind just for a moment.

Here's Glenn Greenwald describing the scene at the current Democratic National Convention, where the telecom giant AT&T throws an intimate little shindig for the very people - imagine that - who helped them evade lawsuits for their lickspittle subservience to the criminals in the Bush White House and the NSA who believe that the laws of the land are, in the immortal words of Leona Helmsley, "for the little people".

I challenge you to read it and not throw up a little in the back of your mouth. It's sickening. It's the real face of "American politics".

It's not like this is something new in American politics. The rich are always with us, and the only difference between the New Gilded Age and the Old was that back then, a man like Mark Hanna could openly say; "Come on, you've been in politics long enough to know that no man in public life owes the public anything."

Today we have to pretend to "care" about the Great Unwashed, but the reality of America is that unless we're in the top 1% of all American incomes many of us have much of the freedom of a polled Hereford being prodded up the chute towards that dark building where we await our political and economic fate. Are we better off than some Ukrainian peasant or Zimbabwean prole? Sure. Will that mean much when our job is offshored, or we get sick and run through our insurance, or the highway to our parents' falls apart and we have to drive a 40-mile detour to visit?


Here's Andrew Bacevich talking some hard, cold sense that most of us will close our ears to:
"The military-industrial complex will inhibit efforts to curb the Pentagon's penchant for waste. Detroit and Big Oil will conspire to prolong the age of gas guzzling. And the Israel lobby will oppose attempts to chart a new course in the Middle East. The next commander in chief will inherit an intractable troop shortage. The United States today finds itself with too much war and too few warriors. That alone will constrain a president conducting two ongoing conflicts. A looming crisis of debt and dependency will similarly tie the president's hands. Bluntly, the United States has for too long lived beyond its means. With Americans importing more than 60% of the oil they consume, the negative trade balance now about $800 billion annually, the federal deficit at record levels and the national debt approaching $10 trillion, the United States faces an urgent requirement to curb its profligate tendencies. Spending less (and saving more) implies settling for less. Yet among the campaign themes promoted by McCain and Obama alike, calls for national belt-tightening are muted.

Will we listen? Will we act? No.

Because, in the end, short of violent revolution, with the monetary grip on the levers of power, what CAN we do?

And because, in the end, we'd rather pretend that the future holds "freedom" and green pastures and sunny skies and try not to hear the cries of the other steers and the whisper of the killing knife.


Lisa said...

I have always said this: we must reify and recalibrate what constitutes the good life. So many have been comfortable glomming on cheap Chinese goods to cover up for the fact that they are consuming more than they need or can realistically support. Quantity over quality seems our motto, both in material and human relations.

They finance big, cheaply-built houses, with as much square footage as they can get, even though they can't buy furniture and don't inhabit all the rooms. Greed, gluttony, hatred -- this Christian nation is demonstrating many of the deadly sins, and they will do in a nation as surely as its individuals, for how do your separate the two?

As Bacevich said, get your house in order. But who will tell the people?

pluto said...

As you probably know, Fabius Maximus has been hosting a series of short debates on his website about whether the US can be salvaged or not.

He's been doing a fairly good job of whacking down the naysayers such as myself but seems to be unable to coherently answer the primary question of what we can do to turn the country around. I think that he's so wedded to the concepts the US was founded on that he literally can't imagine life without the US, no matter how corrupted it gets.

I stand firmly behind those concepts myself but I can see that the train left the station some time ago and it doesn't seem to be coming back any time soon. Time to start looking out for myself and my region so we can survive the worst if it comes to that.

FDChief said...

Lisa: And if they do, will the people listen?

Jimmy Carter infamously told Americans to turn down their thermostats and they turned him off.

We cannot accept, most of us, that we are in violation of Nature's inescapable Rule: an organism that thinks and grows like it has no limits eventually meets those limits, and the result is usually disastrous. We've been kiting checks. I don't know if the bills will come due today, or next week, or next decade. But they will. And if we are no more prepared mentally and fiscally than we are now, the result will make the Crash of 1929 look like a kid's birthday party.

Pluto: I came away frustrated with Fabius for that very reason. He marshals this towering mass of evidence that our economy is deeply unsound and shortsighted, our public uninformed, venal and stupid and our "leaders" corrupted and dysfunctional and then somehow insists that our nation will slip under this scylla of disaster.

I have no doubt that there will be a thing called the "United States". I'm not so sure we will like it, or possibly even recognize it. More and more I am convinced that the grand bargain forced on the Wealthy by FDR - that they would restrain their rapaciousness in return for labor peace and domestic tranquility- has broken. The rich will soon force the middle class into genteel poverty or economic servitude. The poor (flayed by immigration, crushed by hopelessness) will become little but serfs, in fact if not in name.

In short, we are returning to the U.S. in the 1880s and 1890s.

Fabius denies this, but his arguments boil down to, in essence, "America is stronger than that."


We've been there before and there's no reason we won't return.

pluto said...

In short, we are returning to the U.S. in the 1880s and 1890s.

Fabius denies this, but his arguments boil down to, in essence, "America is stronger than that."

I think his argument is that we can't afford to NOT be stronger than that. That the economics of the 1880's and 1890's were not appropriate for the US then and aren't appropriate for us now. I agree with him on that point but I don't see how we can avoid it.

Do you suppose it would do any good to try to wake Fabius to this? While he's a very smart and knowledgeable person, I find him to be a bit of a snob and to be so tightly bound by his beliefs that he can't seem to think outside of the box.

For example, he very confidently predicts an overwhelming Democratic victory in November at all levels of government. Obama is tied with McCain right now and 25% of Hillary backers have embraced McCain in an effort to punish the Democrats for not choosing her. That doesn't seem to me to be the basis for an overwhelming Democratic victory.

In fact, I suspect that Karl Rove's disciples will make this a very close race and may well win it. If this happens it would be a disaster for the country because it would be a victory for fear over hope that would reverberate in future elections for decades.

Charles Gittings said...

Well the one thing we know for sure is that life goes on. Consider the state of Germany, Japan, China, and India in 1945 relative to where they are now for example.

The only real problem we have is our own collective lack of understanding. The bad news is that's the worst problem of all; the good news is that it's all in our heads.

It's hard for me to look at military or energy situations and see where there's any real problem but our own wastefulness. The political situation is what it is, and all we can do is do the best we can. Obama is an opportunity, and so is McCain for that matter. How either of them will work out if elected is something that cannot be predicted, even though it seems clear that the status quo will be favored more under McCain than Obama, and Obama has a lot more up-side potential.

The only way to solve any problem is by understanding it, and look at history: no one has ever solved anything for very long. all we can do is keep working at it.

sheerakahn said...

"and somehow, it all works out."

Somehow it all works out is a fools wish, and fate/luck favors those who plan accordingly, and prepare for any eventuality.

But Americans as a whole need to know one thing and that is this:
It is ignorant folly to think you can sow your wild oats, and expect a crop failure.
Only a village idiot expects that kind of result.

So either we change our actions to change the results, or else our hard earned results will change our actions.

Personally, I think Americans are going to have to experience the results changing our actions before any serious change will occur in our nation.

FDChief said...

Pluto: While I believe that you can cange an opinion, I think that Fabius' outlook re: the future of our country is a belief, and changing a belief is another nutroll.

Besides, I value the difference between his opinions and mine - he serves as a valuable check on my hubris and self-satisfaction. I don't always agree with him, but I always learn something from disputing issues with the man. His views are usually well supported and cogently argued.

I'm following with interest his latest couterbattery exchange with Pat Lang of "Sic Semper Tyrannis". I think to an extent he's arguing past Lang, whose point has been largely that the current "oil crisis" is predominantly a short-term artifact of speculation and market irrationality, but he has a point - Lang does obliquely insist that there's no "there" there in the talk of peak oil, while I'd argue that geologic reality insists that since it takes somewhere between 500 to 10,000 years to transform biomass into keratin and then petroleum and the petroleum age is less than 300 years old we are by definition buring through petroleum faster than we can replace it.

Yet another issue that our election process effectively avoids.

Charles: True. The problem is that I'd argue that the MOST difficult thing is changing people's minds. And societies from the Anasazi to the Iranians to the Europeans during the Plague years have found that if you wait too long the situation deteriorates past the point of no return. The descent into poverty and disintegration becomes precipitous and societies and nations may fail. Life does go on, for the survivors, and eventually societies rebuild themselves. But the process can range from stressful to horrific DURING the actual collapse. You could argue that all the guys in the Hoovervilles had to do was hang on until the war started for things to get better. But that didn't make 1933 any easier to live through.

I think we're in for a rough first quarter of the 21st Century.

Sheerah: Bingo. We tend to require dimension lumber to the head before we recognize our own responsibility for our own problems.

Lisa said...

Per Charles's fine statement:

"The only real problem we have is our own collective lack of understanding. The bad news is that's the worst problem of all; the good news is that it's all in our heads."

When did we move from, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," to "Fear" as imperative?