Shutdown, blah blah.

The whole web is full of dumbass articles with screenshots of federal agency websites like this:

Due to the US government shutdown, this website has died.

I’m not an expert, but I know a thing or two about websites. For example, I know these bastards don’t rent server space by the day.

I mean, come on! One day without a budget and they can’t leave their fucking websites up? Is this some kind of joke, or are federal government agencies so shite they can’t keep a website running for ONE FUCKING DAY without a budget being passed?

And these are the people who run the free world. Jesus wept.

Ah, those weeks following an American presidential election. Tempers calm, fanaticism wanes, and wishful thinking becomes wistful thinking. The news is all about deconstruction of the results, and peace reigns until next year (when everything ramps up again before the mid-terms).

So what is the deconstruction?

Both sides are postulating the existence of a permanent Democratic majority in the American populace, a turning point reached wherein there are no longer enough people in the country who benefit from Republican policies to be able to elect them. Talk on blogs is of the 47% plus the 1% in permanent coalition (though that still only makes 48%).

Looking at the results on the map, though, I’m not sure I get that. Obama won in the states the Democrats usually win in, and Romney won in the states Republicans usually win in.

Why, then, is there all this talk of Republicans never taking the presidency again? Why is Janet Daley writing in the Telegraph about the Europeanisation of the American electorate when all that happened was that a Democratic incumbent won again? They sometimes do, you know. Clinton did. The pendulum swings back.

Maybe it’s something to do with why people voted the way they did. Election analysis, pre- and post-, loves to delve into “what the election is all about.” I remember in 2004, people were saying the election was being fought on values: patriotism, Jesus, and the American Way. Bush won because Americans were still proud of themselves and thought America was the greatest place on Earth. Kerry lost because he was “too European” and considered a dweeb who had never done an honest day’s work.

That certainly wasn’t what the election in 2008 was about. You don’t vote for hope and change unless you feel hopeless and stuck, so there was something wrong with the brand already.

What happened to the brand? Did people stop believing in the American dream? Is the United States still the land of the free, where an honest day’s work gets you an honest day’s pay?

I’m not sure what people thought in 2008, but I’m pretty sure I know what they think now: the American Way is a clapped-out clunker. If you’re an Average Joe, working in an average job, paying down a modest mortgage, bringing up a modest family, and modest town somewhere, you don’t expect your country to fail you. After all, you’re doing your bit. When, for no reason you can divine, your company goes bust, you lose your job, your house is repossessed, and you have to go on food stamps, you kinda lose that patriotism, don’t you? You definitely lose your pride.

And here comes this Romney guy, talking about how he stands for hard-working Americans and the virtue of honest toil, and you probably hate him just a little bit for it. If his American Way is so great, how come your life sucks so much?

Fundamentally, it doesn’t matter who’s to blame for the economic situation in the US and around the world. What mattered in this election was the number of Americans who knew it wasn’t their fault, and who couldn’t understand this dude effectively telling them to pull themselves up by the bootstraps. If that worked, they might have thought to themselves, they’d have done it already. But just as they clearly had no power to prevent the collapse, neither did they feel like they had the power to recover from it through their own efforts.

And I think that’s basically why Obama won. He acknowledged that these average people were both blameless and powerless, and suggested that as it was the government that got them into this mess, thus it was the government’s duty to get them out of it again.

So all of the chatter in the aftermath that this election was fought on how Americans feel about the role of their government is right; I just think the commentators have it backwards. American voters haven’t embraced big government as the way to a fairer society (although maybe some of them have). They’ve looked big government in the eye and said “You sons of bitches broke it. Now you fucking fix it. We’ll just sit over here and wait until you’re done.”

There’s a degree to which I sympathise with this point of view, but I think a lot of people are going to be disappointed. There’s a reason people say “It doesn’t matter who you vote for, the government always wins.” The solution to the problem isn’t more of the problem, and if you feel like the much-abused little guy getting stomped all over by the powers that be, you’re crazy if you think a nice guy like Obama is going to be able to put a stop to the stomping.

Obama probably is a nice guy, and probably wants to help, but fundamentally he is one guy amongst hundreds of thousands of government apparatchiks, special interest groups, think tanks, and corporate donors. And he is certainly one guy who said he was going to put a stop to the stomping in 2008, and totally failed. But I agree that he probably had more credibility in claiming this than Romney.

There is one outcome from this election that nobody seems to have made much of yet, and that is the announcement of Ron Paul Kenobi’s retirement. Americans, he says, would rather have the Empire than freedom, and least he can retire and not, like Cato Uticensis, feel compelled to put a sword through himself.

This article is not so much Lucas or Plutarch, though, as it is Seuss:

The Lorax said nothing. Just gave me a glance
just gave me a very sad, sad backward glance
as he lifted himself by the seat of his pants.
And I’ll never forget the grim look on his face
when he hoisted himself and took leave of this place
through a hole in the smog, without leaving a trace.
And all that the Lorax left here in this mess
was a small pile of rocks with one word…UNLESS.

Last time we spoke, I had some predictions for ye olde election, and they all came true. Just call me Cassandra. Allow me to refresh your memory.

(1) Obama will win.*

He did.

(2) It won’t matter that Obama has won…Republicans don’t have to vote for Romney to piss in Obama’s cornflakes, they only have to vote for Republican congressional candidates, which they will do.

They did. The Republicans have kept the House. I HOPE Obama is looking FORWARD to the total absence of CHANGE in the House’s attitude toward his policies. It’s going to be a hard four years for the guy, and I hope all of those people who said he would use this second term to really fix his slice on the golf course are right, otherwise we might see the first presidential suicide in history.

If Obama thinks he’s had a hard time up to now, it’s nothing compared to what he’ll suffer when his apologists melt away because they don’t have to care about getting him re-elected any more. They’ll be looking for their 2016 candidate at 8am on 7th November.

Turns out I was late to the party on this one. This New York Times article from 6 September states:

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Whether President Obama wins or loses in November, one thing is certain for Democrats on the morning after Election Day: the 2016 auditions begin.

A buncha people I’ve never heard of are in the running, plus Joe Biden (not fucking likely), Hillary Clinton (okay, maybe) and Andrew Cuomo (he’ll be lucky if he’s even still governor of New York by that point).

Then, the prediction I was most certain would happen:

(3) Paul Ryan’s career in the big-time is over.

He didn’t even carry his home state.

Ryan is toast.

*Looking on the bright side: at least I don’t have to retire my “oops! Obama” tag.

(1) Obama will win.

Not even Romney’s own party likes Romney all that much, so any vote for Romney is essentially a vote against Obama. And while there are a lot of people out there who would enjoy sticking it to Obama, all of the presidential elections I’ve been alive for suggest that “voting against” is vastly inferior to “voting for” as a source of motivation.

Just ask Mondale, George HW Bush, Dole, and Kerry. Especially Kerry.

(2) It won’t matter that Obama has won.

If Obama thinks he’s had a hard time up to now, it’s nothing compared to what he’ll suffer when his apologists melt away because they don’t have to care about getting him re-elected any more. They’ll be looking for their 2016 candidate at 8am on 7th November. Republicans don’t have to vote for Romney to piss in Obama’s cornflakes, they only have to vote for Republican congressional candidates, which they will do.

I think the Republican party knows this, and therefore haven’t really exerted themselves to put up a compelling candidate. As Andy Parsons put it on “Mock the Week” the other night, they’ve decided to run a guy who lost the nomination to the guy who lost the nomination to George W Bush. Many critics from within the Republican camp attribute this to an “it’s his turn” mentality, but I think it’s probably just that the party bigwigs don’t give a crap this time around.

Any Republican who won this year would probably be a one-term president, because the economy is in the shitter and you can bet that the media—who are ignoring this point at the moment to help out Obama—wouldn’t be ignoring it in 2016 if the incumbent were a Republican.

Much better to give Romney his way, shrug sadly when he loses, and proceed to torment the ever-loving shit out of a now-friendless Obama for four years, thus paving the way for a charismatic Republican to win in 2016 and 2020.

(3) Paul Ryan’s career in the big-time is over.

There is nothing more damaging in American politics than being the VP candidate to a guy who loses. I mean, apart from their VP run, do these names mean anything to you?

  • Geraldine Ferraro
  • Lloyd Bentsen
  • Jack Kemp
  • John Edwards

Okay, that last one might mean something to you because he’s now known as the guy who was indicted for using campaign funds to cover up the affair and love child he had while his wife was dying of cancer. But if that hadn’t happened, John Edwards would be a total nobody.

I won’t be voting in this election because I don’t believe in this faux-democratic bullshit and I don’t support either party. But I’m going to give the Republicans the benefit of the doubt and assume they’ve used this presidential election, which it wouldn’t benefit them to win, to purge the lunatics, also-rans, and has-beens from the nomination slate, and are gearing up to stick it to their weakened, herdless prey.

I mean, it’s what they did to Clinton, and that turned out pretty well, no?

I’ve been reading the transcripts of and commentary about the US Supreme Court arguments taking place this week about the constitutionality of the “individual mandate” and associated penalty contained within the provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (2010).

Before I get into any analysis, a seeming triviality: many of the news reports about this case are noting the fact that its opponents refer to the act as “Obamacare,” as if this were some kind of novel piece of slang. It’s not. What’s new is that, ahead of these oral arguments, the Act’s supporters have started embracing the term instead of discouraging its use, as if Barack Obama himself has delivered this manna to the unhealthy. Frankly, I don’t think Obama has even read the full text of this legislation, so I refuse to give him sole credit (or blame) for it, and will refer to it by its acronym PPACA, which is the norm when referring to legislation of the American Congress. (What, did you think PATRIOT Act was capitalised because it’s a big deal? No: it’s because it’s the Uniting (and) Strengthening America (by) Providing Appropriate Tools Required (to) Intercept (and) Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001. American politicians are nothing if not massively cheesy.)

Now let’s address why I’m writing this blog post. This case is an extraordinarily big deal, and you will have a hard time understanding why if all you read is the news media accounts of the arguments. The American media does not want to go into any great analysis of the issue, for fear that you might draw your own conclusions, and the British media does not understand the significance. In the British media in particular, you will find reporters utterly baffled by what appears, to them, to be a sneaky, underhand challenge of the president himself under the pretext of a legal technicality.

Whether or not a law, or a part of a law, is constitutional is simply not a legal technicality. The Constitution is the basis for all federal government in the United States. The federal government simply may not make laws that contravene, or surpass, what the Constitution allows it to do. The law, or the provision within the law, cannot be imposed upon the American people if it is not constitutional. And one of the basic rights Americans have is to challenge the federal government about the constitutionality of its laws. That British journalists don’t seem (or want) to grasp this, simply because they personally think the PPACA is a good thing, makes them shitty journalists.

So. What is the issue at stake?

The challenge to the PPACA is about the provisions in section 5000A, which require Americans to be covered by health insurance (whether purchased individually or through their employer) or incur a penalty. These parts of the law are collectively referred to as the “individual mandate” or the “minimum coverage provision.”

The challengers, in this case, are a number of American states and some associated individuals. Their basic contention is that the US Constitution does not permit the federal government to compel people to purchase health insurance when they are not purchasing health care services.

In this case, you have two participants: the challengers, and the US federal government (as represented by the Solicitor General). This case has gone through the federal courts already, and the Supreme Court agreed at the back end of 2011 to hear it. This is significant: the Supreme Court can choose not to hear cases, so the fact it has chosen to hear this one means the Court believes that there is enough doubt about the matter, or enough importance about the question at hand, to make it an issue worth settling. The Court’s decision is binding and, in this case, may also be precedent-setting. (This is kind of what puzzles me about the position of many British journalists; if the high court of the US thinks it’s important enough to discuss, who are you to call it a trivial technicality?)

But enough about British journalists. Part of the reason reportage about this case is so crappy is that there are lots of different strands of argument involved, not all of which make a lot of sense if you consider them in isolation.

For example, yesterday’s arguments centred around whether or not the Court could even hear the case. Here’s the background: as the case has made its way through the lower levels of courts, the government’s position has been that the penalty for not purchasing health insurance is, effectively, a tax, and taxes do not come under the jurisdiction of any court until the complainant has paid the tax, requested administrative redress, and been refused. Then, and only then, can the complainant bring suit. (Challenges to tax are covered under a law called the Anti-Injunction Act.) The government’s argument has been that, since the mandate and penalty/tax do not come into force until 2014, the law cannot be challenged on those grounds in 2012, because nobody has yet paid the tax and therefore nobody can at this point bring suit.

Interestingly, once the Court agreed to hear the case, the government switched positions, and yesterday argued before the justices that the penalty is not a tax subject to the Anti-Injunction Act. Because the challengers were making the same argument, the Court had to appoint independent counsel (the amicus curiae) to argue that the penalty is a tax. Ultimately, yesterday, the Court appeared to accept that the penalty is not a tax subject to the Anti-Injunction Act. Nobody was surprised by this; why would the Court schedule three days of argument about the matter if it envisioned recusing itself after the first day?

So. We proceed to today’s arguments, which were about the constitutionality of the mandate itself. I have read the transcript, but I am not a lawyer, so take what I am about to describe with the understanding that I am both ignorant and naive to a certain extent. However, you can read the stuff yourself on the SCOTUS website; the arguments were very accessible to the layman.

The government argued as follows. In the Constitution, the federal government is allowed the power to regulate commerce, and issues affecting commerce, between the states (the “Commerce Clause”). There are two commercial markets at issue: one is for health care services, and one is for health insurance. All people in the US are participants in the health care market, because all people in the US will require health care at some point. Health insurance is the method by which people finance their health care in the US, and therefore all people are technically participants in the health insurance market also. Ergo, Congress has the right to regulate both, as both constitute interstate commerce, even to the point of requiring people to purchase health insurance at a given point in time, because their failure to do so is an issue that affects commerce within that market.

(There is also a whole bunch of stuff about how the penalty for not buying is a tax, but I didn’t follow that part too well, and since the government argued yesterday that it is only kind of a tax, I’m not sure how germane the point is anyway.)

What it is important to understand about the government’s position is that, in the US, even if you do not have health insurance, you cannot be refused health care. So what happens is that people without the means to pay for their health care nevertheless receive it, which drives up the cost of care, which in turn drives up premiums for those people who are insured. So the government is arguing that because some people’s failure to insure themselves affects the price of everyone’s health care and insurance, Congress has the right to interfere in the purchasing (or not) of health insurance under the justification of the Commerce Clause.

By compelling people to purchase insurance (and penalising/taxing people if they don’t), the government’s aim is to reduce the free rider problem and thus lower the cost of care and insurance premiums.

If you read the transcript, Solicitor General Verrilli does a lot of waffling about the “40 million Americans who don’t have access to care,” but the upshot of what he’s saying is this: actually, these people can get care, they just don’t pay for it. So in order to cover the cost of people who can’t pay for the care they definitely do get, everyone has to be insured. That way, the insurance companies can use the premiums paid by the healthy to subsidise the cost of the care for unhealthy people who can’t pay for it themselves. Thus, because everybody is affected by this way of ensuring poor people can still get health care, Congress can do what it chooses, including compelling purchase, to deal with the problem.

So far, so clear. The system envisioned in the PPACA is one of the healthy subsidising the unhealthy.

The challengers argument was somewhat more complicated.

First, they disputed the “everybody is a participant” claim. Many of the Americans who do not have health insurance are young, healthy people who choose to spend their money on something else, believing themselves to be at low risk of requiring health care. Thus, these people are not, at a given point in time, participants in either the health care or health insurance market. The Commerce Clause, they say, does not give the government the right to compel people to participate in these markets when they otherwise would not choose to do so.

Second, they disputed that the health care and health insurance markets are so intertwined as make eventual participation in the one the justification for forced participation in the other. There are, they said, other means of subsidising the unhealthy who cannot pay for their care than compelling the purchase of health insurance. Social Security was brought up: a general tax, linked to income, levied on everyone, which the federal government then disburses to those requiring the payments, would be constitutional in a way the mandate is not, because the Constitution does give the federal government the right to levy taxes. (This is, in fact, how Medicare and Medicaid work at the moment.) The challengers also pointed out that the problem the provision is attempting to solve is one created by the government in the first place: namely, the government forces emergency rooms to treat those who cannot pay, and it forces insurance companies to insure high-risk individuals. If it did not do those things, there would not be a free rider problem, and so there are other solutions than the mandate imposed by the PPACA.

During the arguments, the justices focused particularly keenly on two problems with these issues: (1) are the health markets unique, and if so, what specifically is the limiting principle that will stop the federal government from engaging in compulsory purchase in other markets? and (2) if the challengers concede that the federal government can force people to purchase health insurance at the point of purchasing health care itself (which, apparently, they do concede), what is the problem, precisely, with moving that point of compulsion forward in time, when it will have the most beneficial effects?

A lot of today’s commentary was along the lines of “Obamacare in danger of being struck down,” because the justices seemed particularly pointed and hostile in their questioning, but I think this is premature. The mandate may be ideologically horrific to the average American mindset, but that does not mean it is unconstitutional. And the role of the justices is to pick holes in the arguments and expose the weaknesses; that doesn’t mean those weaknesses are fatal. The most aggressive questioning came from Justice Scalia, and I admit the Solicitor General didn’t seem particularly articulate in his answers—at one point, Justice Sotomayor summed up his argument for him much better than he had done, and he didn’t seem to notice—but that doesn’t mean his points are invalid.

There were a lot of other issues and sidelines in the arguments, but there was one point that came out pretty strongly to me, and it was made by Michael Carvin for the challengers. What he argued, in effect, was that the government’s own argument is self-contradicting. At the moment, people with insurance effectively subsidise those without. Under the PPACA, people with insurance will effectively subsidise those without. There is no difference in where the cost is borne; it is always borne by the people with insurance. What the PPACA proposes to do is to increase the pool of insured people to pay the subsidy, thereby spreading the cost over a larger base. The PPACA itself, and the government, admit this is the entire purpose of the mandate: to make healthy people who do not currently purchase health care purchase insurance in order to cover the cost of those people who cannot pay for the health care they purchase.

Therefore, the government is implicitly admitting that there are some people who are outside the market, who need to be drawn into the market in order to spread the cost of subsidy around—and since that is the whole purpose of the mandate, the existence of the mandate demonstrates that not everybody is a participant in these markets, and therefore are not engaging in commerce that can be regulated in this way by Congress.

It’s a neat little argument, and I wish he’d been more explicit about how circular it is. He does call it “bootstrapping,” though, and it’s true. If everyone was a participant in these markets, which is the government’s justification for this falling within the power of the Commerce Clause, there would be no need for the mandate; but because the point of the mandate is to make everyone participate, it is itself an admission that not everyone does, and therefore it can’t be justified by the claim that everyone is already a participant, because if they were, the government wouldn’t need to mandate that they participate.

The only other interesting thing to point out is that, although everyone involved seems keen not to get into the merits of the law as a whole, with the whole, y’know, making sure people don’t bankrupt themselves in order to stay healthy, the people who are most prone to talking about the merits of the law appear to be the justices themselves. This is why I think the commentators are premature: while it’s nice to think that Supreme Court judges are impartial, they’re not. They’re perfectly capable of allowing their approval of the aim of the PPACA to bias their views on its constitutionality—and by the same token, of allowing their repugnance at the methods of the PPACA to affect their judgment of its intention.

And that’s true of a lot of people right now, I think. Health care in the United States is totally fucked up, and I don’t think it’s really possible to dispute that. However, the PPACA is not the only possible solution to the problems, and my personal view is that it’s about the worst one, in fact. But people on the right are in danger of defending a really shitty situation when they attack this law, and people on the left are in danger of defending a really shitty law when they attack the current situation.

This is why, going back to the beginning, the label “Obamacare” is so pernicious. Would people really be as blindly and tribally partisan about this law if it didn’t involve a cult of personality and were, instead, the boring old PPACA?

Read the transcript for Monday’s arguments.

Read the transcript for Tuesday’s arguments.

Somewhat strangely this year, I find myself in possession of a vote of higher value than normal. Allow me to elaborate:

  • In 2008, the presidential popular vote in North Carolina was extremely close. Obama won the state’s electoral college votes by a margin of 0.32%, the equivalent of about 19,000 votes.
  • The current US Senate has 51 Democrats and 47 Republicans. Of these, North Carolina supplies 1 Democrat and 1 Republican.
  • The current US House of Representatives has 193 Democrats and 242 Republicans. Of these, North Carolina supplies 7 Democrats and 6 Republicans.

All of which means that, for the first time I can ever actually remember, North Carolina is an important swing state, where candidates are suddenly bothering to campaign—the Democrats have even chosen North Carolina’s biggest city to host their national convention this year. North Carolina might therefore just become a deciding factor in this year’s federal elections, and my vote, historically puny and pointless, this year carries some weight.

(Although not in the primaries, thanks to the NC General Assembly’s long-standing and well-attested tradition of constant gerrymandering.)

I thought I might bring this up for the purpose of drawing attention to a basic and amusing irony: I, suddenly possessed of an important vote, nevertheless don’t care; while many foreigners, possessed of no votes in the American elections at all, would give their eye-teeth to have it. What the United States political class does, so the argument goes, affects the world, so the world should have a vote. And yet it doesn’t, but I do.

And this is likely to be a dirty-fought and close-won election, in both legislative and executive branches.

I have therefore decided to offer my federal vote to one non-American person who gives a shit that is statistically significant from zero. I will vote the way you want in the presidential and congressional elections, whether it be for specific candidates or a straight-ticket party or not at all, or even spoil my ballot with amusing sayings. I stress that this is a gift, not a trade; I am conversant with North Carolina general statute 163-275 making it a class I felony to accept any thing of value whatsoever in return for my vote.

Therefore, any person who would like to take up this offer of mine must be scrupulously conspicuous in offering me no value for it at all; in fact, it might even be better if such persons were to cause me a loss of value somehow, for example by kicking me in the shins or making me buy them pints.

Takers in the comments, please.

What do you mean, he’s not Richard Petty?

I would totally vote for Richard Petty. I think this nominative confusion, perfectly understandable in all American Southerners, is going to be the cause of a lot of awkwardness between now and November 2012…

It appears that the House of Representatives has voted to repeal last year’s bloated healthcare act and has put committees together to draft new legislation to replace it—without a timetable.

As you will know, the ‘without a timetable’ aspect is something I lean toward favouring, as I criticised the act heavily, in large part for this reason:

Obama and his Congress sure did fuck it up, didn’t they? Instead of doing thorough research, either before the election or after it, and determining the best possible way to ensure universal, affordable healthcare, they cobbled together a travesty of a bill, full of unrelated pork to get various hold-out politicians onside, that when all is said and done, could serve as an exemplar of what every rent-seeker (in this case, the insurance industry) hardly dares even to dream.

But this vote is not a repeal in itself, of course. That whole ‘checks and balances’ thing means that the repeal bill will have to go before the Senate and win passage there, and then go before… the president. And, typically:

Democratic leaders in the Senate have vowed to shelve the repeal bill, and President Obama has said he would veto repeal if it ever reached his desk.

‘Shelving’ essentially means that the Senate Majority Leader, one egregious Harry Reid, can simply refuse to put the House bill onto the Senate’s legislative timetable—more or less indefinitely, if he so chooses. And even if, by some miracle of organised crime, intimidation, and sweet sweet reason, Republicans get the bill put on the Senate timetable and manage to pass it there, Obama can employ a number of veto tactics depending on when over the course of the legislative session the bill is presented to him. (Although he is required to submit his reasons for vetoing in writing; I wonder what boilerplate he’d spew on that occasion?)

The Congress can override the veto, but only with a two-thirds majority vote in both houses. So that’s pretty unlikely unless the Tea Party start getting uppity again.

I’m pleased the Republicans in the House have taken this first step, and they have a backstop in the fact that the healthcare act is being challenged in a number of cases and has already been ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge. (That ruling is under appeal, naturally.)

But they won’t get anywhere in the absence of some serious pressure from the American people, and given how the sheeple are, and how blind the Democrats are to protest and demonstration when it’s against their policies, I think the actual repeal of this hideous act will not occur. It’s more likely to be struck down by the high court, and even that’s pretty pie-in-the-sky.

Still, I wonder if the Democrats will now begin to hyperaccuse themselves of being obstructive, partisan, and resistant to the expressed will of the demos. It’s hard to imagine anything that demonstrates those qualities more than:

Democratic leaders in the Senate have vowed to shelve the repeal bill, and President Obama has said he would veto repeal if it ever reached his desk.

UPDATE: Hmm, seems I forgot about those little things called states…

Guest post by Evander Diarmand

The federal government of the United States is, through a practice of perpetual borrowing, on the verge of financial collapse. This is widely decried in media and among citizens to varying degrees but little is done to waylay the rampant expenditure of borrowed funds. These loans, derived from foreign states and from the banks of the Federal Reserve Board, are currently the primary source of revenue for the federal state. The United States Constitution establishes no clear limit on the purposes for which the federal state may incur such debt nor does it limit the extent thereof. Consequently, the congress has taken advantage of the omission to further its political aims both variously and collectively. This self-perpetuating debt—both a threat to the national security and to the integrity of the federated union—has been a common feature in American politics for decades; to the extent that citizens widely accept it as typical. Despite its ubiquity and the number of people employed by debt-funded government bureaus and agencies, this practice is onerous. It is the primary threat to the republic today and must be stopped even if drastic action is required.

Financial management is widely regarded by contemporary society as drudgery—it is a necessary task but bland and thankless. Most people avoid the subject and procrastinate when they face financial difficulties. The general atmosphere of distaste for accounting is amplified enormously in the public spheres of society: several American states ignored the problem and are on the verge of bankruptcy. By many accounts, attaining solvency for these states cannot be postponed. In the federal government, even this eleventh-hour urgency is nonexistent because the federal government derives its funds in a manner all together obscure; a manner which is certainly extra-legal for any single state to attempt. The federal government did not acquire this ability accidentally. The entire history of central government in America, when examined broadly, is a series of legislation and court decisions which have gradually allowed more varied sources of revenue for the central authority and fewer restrictions thereon. The Articles of Confederation famously established the most restrictive rules for revenue generation and it is widely agreed the founders drafted the US Constitution primarily to remedy this perceived flaw. Under the Constitution, the federal apparatus has grown rapidly as court precedent has become increasingly liberal in judgments addressing federal revenue. The twentieth century has seen the greatest expansion of federal sources of revenue while the infrequent judicial impediments have been superseded either by legislation or constitutional amendment. The federal state, its appetite for money apparently insatiable, has perfected the skill of marketing even the most outrageous proposals for generating revenue—some egregiously unconstitutional—to the American populace.

What is the aim of the congress that they must constantly seek new sources of revenue? The answer is simple: Power. And they never have enough. It is likely not a conscious decision to dominate American society or undermine the republic but rather a collective understanding among federal officials that having power is preferable to sharing it. Power, for a congressman, is in controlling the purse. The more revenue they collect, the more control and popularity they can maintain throughout the various states. For instance, taxation of the states or the people never decreases. This means the federal government increasingly controls the collective income and expenditure of the American people simply because so much of our currency goes through their hands. What they collect is held until the congress finds a political motivation to redistribute it. Obviously, those who benefit from this redistribution will lend aid politicians who willing to enact it. When enough congressmen find it politically advantageous to subsidize an industry, agency, or a state, they make pacts with congressmen (often of the “opposition”) who wish to spend it to further their own careers.* Thus, the money is returned to the economy and artificially adheres to certain regions or economic sectors. This is the nature of the modern tyranny. It is a political culture of patronage, inherently plutocratic: because federal revenue is seemingly endless, begging for a share of that revenue has become a lucrative profession for the silver-tongued** and political power has gravitated to the center rather than being diffused throughout the union. Unsatisfied with controlling the money of the American states and their citizens, the federal government has in recent decades turned to borrowing as their principal monetary leverage.

This represents a terrible danger because, today, congress distributes far more than it collects to a degree unimaginable to most Americans. The imbalance is so severe that borrowing has replaced taxation as the primary source of revenue. Our current political system as it is practiced today can only continue if the government borrows endlessly. This has created a paradox: taxation’s only purpose in this system is the payment of interest on federal debt. To elaborate, the federal government has become so gluttonous for revenue that it borrows against the debt itself and struggles to pay off the interest at all. Raising taxes will only delude congressmen into believing they can maintain charade while lowering them will only deepen the debt. Their hunger for revenue has drained the Treasury, Social Security, and anywhere else money sat unused or in trust. They have borrowed from nations around the world and from the Federal Reserve so much for so long that the books would be incomprehensible to even the most talented accountant. It is dangerous because, if for no other reason, it deludes Americans into believing loans and income are the same thing.

The real danger, however, is the source of the borrowed money. Because the federal government is borrowing against debt (and therefore the American people’s money itself) it has created the possibility of catastrophic “foreclosure.” China (among many others states) and the banks of the Federal Reserve essentially own the federal government. And its net worth does not even come close to what it owes. These are some of the most powerful entities on earth and they have the potential to subjugate our federal government. Further, the economy of our nation, far from recovering after the 2007 decline, is in danger of descending into deepest stagflation. The congress’s heedless borrowing compelled the Federal Reserve to perform the greatest feat of illusion in human history: they have separated currency from any kind of value whatsoever and in so doing have been an example for power-hungry governments worldwide. Their monetary policy defies explanation and justification. When the congress needs money, the Federal Reserve quite literally creates it out of nothing and lends it to our government. These loans are borrowed against debt and must be repaid with interest despite being imaginary money. Income tax exists for no other reason than to prevent the federal government from being sucked into this monetary singularity. All the while, the Federal Reserve buys up more and more of our government with money that never existed.

This is not a clever piece of rhetoric meant to generate support for a party, and ideology, or a philosophy—the situation is truly dire. The US Constitution is consistently ignored and power no long derives from the states or the people. Powers now derives solely from money in the most direct literal sense. Our ideals and the republic created to maintain them are already gone. Elimination of the federal government’s unlimited power to collect and spend revenue is not a risk or gamble; it is a necessity if this union is to survive at all. Financial collapse is imminent—perhaps even with our lifetimes—if we continue to tinker with our tax code and limit ourselves to small spending cuts. Politicians and lobbyists caused the problem and are therefore incapable of solving it.

What is necessary for our prosperity and our security is inevitably painful: the largely idle but extremely expensive bureaucracy must be dismantled; the military empire must end; the power of congress to borrow must be severely limited; and the Constitution must be reinstated and amended to outlaw borrowing and new federal spending during a deficit. Most importantly, we must wrest control of our currency from the hands of the Federal Reserve. The downward spiral must be stopped—partisan elections, regulations, and lobbying will accomplish nothing unless we resign ourselves to the truth. Unfortunately, there is no happy ending. It is too late to solve this problem without damage to our economy and political infrastructure; this is the price of delay. We must accept that we will not always be rich, that we will not always be powerful, and that politics is poison. All we can do now is save our country.

*Believe me, none of them actually wants to prevent the spending all together.

** i.e. those who aren’t politicians.

In all the la-de-da with John Demetriou about my previous post, I totally forgot that I’d read another piece about American rage etc. only recently, one which I found pretty compelling.

It is, of course, the work of the genius Mencius Moldbug, a superior man loftily unaware of the petty squabbles on these here blogs, and in fact he wrote his explanation before either JD or I donned the mantle of trying to address recent developments in the United States. An excerpt:

When gentlemen look at progressivism, they see a movement whose purpose is to help the underclass, those whose plight is no fault of their own. When peasants look at progressivism, they see a movement whose purpose is to employ gentlemen in the business of public policy, by using the peasants’ money to buy votes from varlets. Who, in the peasants’ perception, abuse the patience and generosity of both peasants and gentlemen in almost every imaginable way, and are constantly caressed by every imaginable authority for doing so.

Not only had I read this two weeks ago, I even remarked on it in a discussion with sconzey in the comments to this post. I do urge you to go an read the whole thing, and then read the whole of Moldbug’s blog. It will take a long time, but it’s worth it.

I can only blame this omission of mine on my recent birthday; truly, it seems forgetfulness does come with advancing age…

[I wanted to leave this as a comment over at John Demetriou's original post, but his implementation of Blogger rejects comments of more than 4,096 characters.]

JD, unlike your usual rants, this post is dire. I don’t mean that to be harsh, but you’re coming at this from an angle of misunderstanding that makes your ‘I don’t understand’ claims all too believable.

For one thing, you refer to ‘Americans’ and ‘the American people’ as if there is one collective American mind, and you find its schizophrenia puzzling. Perhaps for the sake of simplicity, it might be better to think of Americans as two collective minds: those who voted for Obama, and those who didn’t. For all sorts of reasons, he is and has been a polarising figure. And so you have two poles, rather than the single mad hive-mind you say is so bizarre. It is one pole that exhibits ‘curious rage’ against Obama, not ‘the American people.’

For another thing, you massively overstate Obama’s popularity during the election and at the beginning of his term. You assert that he ‘won by a landslide’ and was the subject of ‘hero worship,’ ‘hagiography,’ and high approval ratings. In fact, he did not win by anything like a landslide. He won with 53% and 28 states.

By comparison, in 2004, George W Bush won with 51% and 31 states. In 1988, George H W Bush won with 53% and 40 states. And in 1984, Ronald Reagan won with 59% and 49 states. And that wasn’t even as impressive as the 1972 election, when Richard Nixon (Nixon, of all people!) won 49 states and 61% of the vote.

Obama has had nothing like the electoral success other presidents have managed. Your perception of hero-worship and hagiography, just like your perception of rage and hatred, comes from one pole of the American populace.

Furthermore, your understanding of the role of US president is woefully incomplete. You say that ‘Bush inherited an excellent, albeit imperfect, set of books from Clinton and very quickly wrecked it.’ As if either Clinton or Bush had anything whatsoever to do with the books or quality thereof. Congress controls the cash, and the Congress that delivered Clinton a budget surplus was, in composition, almost exactly the same Congress that fucked it all up for Bush. And the Congress Obama has been working with is, in composition, almost exactly the same Congress Bush was working with during his last two years in office. The state of the books in the US is entirely unrelated to the views and actual quality of the president.

You also say that Obama is hated ‘for having the temerity to actually carry out what he proposed to do.’ Again, the president does not ‘do’ things. He does not draft legislation, propose it, debate it, or vote on it. He merely signs it once it’s made its way through Congress. (Or not, as the case may be, but I don’t think Obama’s actually used his veto yet.)

So any carrying out during Obama’s term has been done by Congress. And what they have carried out bears little actual resemblance to the platform on which he campaigned. Sure, the health care bill, but what about everything else? What about the war, the ‘middle-class tax cuts,’ the great repeal of the Bush administration’s incursions on civil liberties? Neither he nor Congress have done any of those things, which were major selling points among Obama’s supportive node. Surely you don’t think the whole election revolved around the question of a healthcare bill?

A healthcare bill which you describe thus: ‘The timing…was perhaps ill-judged, even from a social democrat perspective, but this was one of those once-in-a-thousand-years opportunities, politically, to achieve this ambition.’ For a once-in-a-thousand-years opportunity, Obama and his Congress sure did fuck it up, didn’t they? Instead of doing thorough research, either before the election or after it, and determining the best possible way to ensure universal, affordable healthcare, they cobbled together a travesty of a bill, full of unrelated pork to get various hold-out politicians onside, that when all is said and done, could serve as an exemplar of what every rent-seeker (in this case, the insurance industry) hardly dares even to dream. That’s not even to mention the costs this bill imposes, both to individuals and to the body politic, which have been revised upward continually since the passage of the bill. And the bill fails to achieve even its basic objective, which is to ensure that the poor and low-paid have access to affordable, customised insurance and care.

Is it any wonder that a significant number of Americans are horrified and disgusted by it?

All of this is a far cry from, ‘Hey, you all voted for him, he did what he said he’d do, so what’s the big problem?’

Finally, you assert that les Americains sont fous because ‘their media and overall educational standards are so lacking in substance.’ This is, basically, not true. Unless by ‘their media’ you mean Fox News, and by ‘their overall educational standards’ you mean ‘those five schools in Kansas where they teach intelligent design.’

Or perhaps you just mean the rednecks, Tea Partiers, and Christians are poorly educated. Maybe you can confirm or deny.

What I don’t understand is why you are displaying so much contempt for a bunch of people who, for the most part, share your opinions. These are people who didn’t vote for Obama (as presumably you wouldn’t have, did you have the opportunity) and who loathe what he stands for and what he’s supported as president. Sure, some of them have authoritarian tendencies, but they’re with you on at least 50% of stuff. If you were in their position, wouldn’t you be angry? They didn’t want him, they didn’t vote for him, and his presidency is riding roughshod over their cherished conception of what the United States is.

I never expected you to take this position, I must say. That you would present Americans who disagree with their president and his Congress, and who display that disagreement with words, ideas, and peaceful legitimate protests, as ‘wild, irrational…mad and retarded’ comes as a great surprise to me.

And a serious disappointment.

UPDATE: JD rebuts here.

Via Tim, I see that the United States has leapt into the rabbit hole.

The very same administration-to-be that campaigned on a platform of restoring the civil liberties eroded by Bushitler etc. to Americans and everybody they arrested is now, er, taking more of them away than even Bushitler did.

Several weeks ago I saw a story on a blog somewhere about Obama’s authorising the assassination of an American citizen abroad (sans due process, naturally) because he was suspected of terrorist activity. I didn’t write about it then because I was sure it was a right-wing conspiracy lie.

Apparently it’s not.

Other restorations of our civil liberties include proposals to deny terrorist suspects arrested on US soil their Miranda rights, strip American citizens accused of terrorism of their citizenship, and treating American citizens arrested for terrorism as enemy combatants and barring them from trial in normal American courts.

I’m a bit confused about this, because while I obviously think restoring civil rights is a wonderful thing, these plans all sound to me like stripping Americans of every possible legal and Constitutional protection based solely on an accusation of a particular crime.

Perhaps the definition of ‘civil liberties’ has Changed™ since 2008. Perhaps, as appears to be the case, this legislation has been proposed by eeeevil Republicans. But if the latter is so, why are the good and kind Democrats in charge not screaming bloody murder about it? Why are they not swearing with their every last breath to use their Congressional majority to kill these bills stone dead?

And why, in the name of all that is holy, has the era of Hope and Change not only not reversed any of the rights-abuses perpetrated by the previous administration, as was promised, but perpetrated new ones itself?

Not that I ever expected him to be, but Obama is surely not the saviour he tried to make us all believe he was. And I absolutely do not understand why it is an outrage for Bush to read our emails but it’s fine for Obama to authorise the assassination of an American citizen. I do not understand why it is an outrage for Bush to deny foreign terrorism suspects their rights but it’s fine for Obama to do the same to American citizens on American soil. I do not understand why it was good that Obama was going to try Kalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civil court in Manhattan (where he would never get a fair trial), and now it’s also good that Obama’s not going to try American terrorism suspects in civil courts (where they might just have had a chance at a fair trial). I do not understand how American Congressmen can even propose this sort of thing during the administration of a constitutional lawyer, when the merest idiot can see that it’s plainly unconstitutional. There are no exceptions for terrorism in the Bill of Rights.

Are Americans really that frightened of terrorism, that they’re willing to put up with this stuff? I mean, the last time our government started abusing its own citizens, we had a giant fucking war with it.

And to be fair to him, it’s not just Obama at fault. Given that Republicans (including would-be president John McCain) have proposed a lot of this legislation, I’m afeard for what will happen if they win a majority in the elections later this year.

In fact, I’m afeard, full stop. Maybe it’s time to look into getting British citizenship after all…

American commentary on the UK elections has me practically in stitches from laughter. This might have to become a series.

Take this, for instance, in Slate magazine (emphasis mine):

Our American campaigns have become decadent spectacles of horrifying length and expense characterized by 30-second attack ads, a class of parasitic professionals, and a running media freak show.

By contrast, Britain’s feel pure. They are swift (four weeks!), substantive, and not entirely driven by fundraising. Spouses are treated as human beings and allowed their own lives. The electorate is informed and engaged. The candidates are more spontaneous and accessible.

If there is one thing I’ve noticed about the ‘candidates’ in this election, it’s been their spontaneity and accessibility. Brown, for example, was so spontaneous that he called a little old Labour lady a bigot live on air. My local Labour and Conservative candidates were so ‘accessible’ that, in what was really four months of campaigning, not four weeks as Jacob Weisberg seems to think, I received one leaflet apiece from them. Not a single candidate’s supporters here actually doorstepped us; I only managed to talk to the one Lib Dem guy because I opened the door while he was… delivering a leaflet through the letterbox.

Substance, too, has been a running theme of this election: Brown has it, or so Mandelson would have us believe. But the ‘substance’ has been, more or less: Vote for me, I’m not as bad as the others! Yeah, that’s real substantive.

I don’t know what evidence Weisberg has for thinking that the British electorate is more ‘informed and engaged’ than the American one, especially since he wrote the article before the election and thus before voter turnout was known. American voter turnout in 2008 was about 61%; UK voter turnout this time round was 65%. That’s not a gigantic difference.

Later in the same article, Weisberg admires the intellectualism (he read Waiting for Godot!), atheism (his wife is a man of faith!), and multiculturalism (Dutch father! Spanish wife! Bruges and Brussels!) of Nick Clegg, whom he ‘laid eyes on’ once in Birmingham. On that occasion, Weisberg reports, Clegg failed to answer a direct question from a voter (‘Clegg replies, before going on to rephrase what he’s already said’) because evidently she wasn’t listening hard enough the first time, then ‘patiently tries to bring her around’ when, having been asked what she thinks, she tells him it’s his job to answer the questions, not hers. But that’s all right, because Clegg ‘handled a tough customer well.’ Um, what? Clegg treated her like she was an idiot. No wonder the Lib Dems lost seats.

Weisberg’s attitude toward Cameron, however, is nothing like so enthusiastic:

I’d seen Conservative Party leader David Cameron twice before, both times in off-the-record press conversations, and both times I came away with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I found his case for modernizing the Conservatives well put. In the United States, the Republicans have gone in just the opposite direction, moving closer to the most extreme positions of their base and purging themselves of any sort of moderation. Under Cameron, the Tories acknowledge the value of government and the necessity of taxes, not to mention the threat of climate change and the equality of gay people.

One has to wonder, now the count is in, whether ‘modernizing’ the Conservatives to be left-wing has helped them as much as remaining actual Conservatives might have done. And once again, an American reveals an implicit belief that somehow Conservatives equate to Republicans and Labour equate to Democrats. An American conservative, knowing the legends of Margaret Thatcher, would gasp in outraged horror at Cameron’s free bus pass and eye test guarantee. Weisberg might twig Blue Labour, but he clearly doesn’t understand American conservatives at all – not least because he seems to think that American conservatives are the same thing as Republicans.

On the other hand, I was put off by Cameron’s focus on what historian Daniel Boorstin once described in a visionary book of the 1960s as “The Image.” He seemed more focused on the rebranding of the Conservatives than on the contents of the package.

Weisberg cannot make up his mind: he likes the Tory rebranding (yay, modernizing!), and yet he doesn’t like Cameron’s focus on the Tory rebranding. What, does he think that should have been understated? Does he really believe that a party that wants to get elected should understate the very aspect they reckon is likely to get them elected?

Oh, and also, unlike Nick Clegg whom Weisberg ‘laid eyes on’ once, during his several meetings with Cameron, he felt Cameron was inaccessible. Press access was, apparently, limited – limited to three meetings per random foreign journalist, I suppose. And even though Cameron ‘takes… questions seriously’ and is ‘relaxed, fluent and cogent’ when he speaks to voters, he is somehow less engaging than Nick ‘I Said That Already’ Clegg.

Oh, and also-also, Weisberg gets in a dig about the Contract With On America. Because obviously that worked out so poorly, what with six years of record prosperity following its implementation.

Finally, Weisberg moves on to Brown. Brown reminds Weisberg of a character in a novel who is half blind, angry, and unable to deal with other people. The character turns out to have Asperger’s Syndrome.

At a vast, Andreas Gursky-like Tesco supermarket in Newcastle, I watch [Brown] move briskly down an aisle, bumbling through encounters with people to whom he has nothing to say. Upstairs, in the employees’ lounge, he mistakes me for a Tesco worker and reaches out to shake my hand—even though I’m standing behind a barrier in the press section and had been chatting with him just a few minutes before in the second-class compartment of the train from London.

A second-class carriage? My God, how did they stand it? Folks who ride in standard class are a totally different type of person from them!

But wait, a heckler is yelling something about Gillian Duffy. Amazingly, the Special Branch officers are doing nothing about a possibly unhinged man menacing the prime minister—the luxury of politics in an unarmed country. A woman not more than 5 feet tall tugs at the protester’s sleeve. Eventually, he is dragged out, trailed by the press, as Brown continues his speech as if nothing has happened.

Ah yes – for all his admiration of the British way of doing things, Weisberg still seems to believe that armed bodyguards should be ‘doing something’ about a perfectly legitimate heckler. My God, drag him out of there! Apparently Weisberg remains blissfully ignorant of how that sort of thing went down last time Labour did it. ‘It’s a shouty old man! Quick, beat him up!’ Contrast Weisberg’s attitude toward this random heckler with his description of, quite obviously, another heckler (emphasis mine):

Julian Borthwick, who has blemished yet another day on the campaign trail for Gordon Brown, is an unexpected character. Nicely dressed in a hounds tooth tweed jacket, the 38-year-old academic says he is not a Conservative, not highly political, and not ordinarily given to interrupting politicians. He was having lunch at the museum with his parents when the prime minister interrupted them by arriving with his entourage. After listening to Brown’s speech for a few minutes, he became furious enough to begin shouting. In particular, he was appalled by his promise of subsidized broadband Internet access for the North, which, he says, already has excellent connections. Despite his poor manners, Borthwick has a point: Why is Labor promising new benefits of marginal value when austerity should be the order of the day?

I guess hecklers become a lot less menacing when you know they’re tweedy academic types ‘not ordinarily given’ to heckling. Julian Borthwick has a mild case of the bad manners, rather than being a ‘possibly unhinged’ and working-class trade unionist as mentioned earlier. Weisberg, you snob.

Not to mention the fact that Weisberg’s section on Labour revolves almost entirely around Gordon Brown’s inability to act like a human, mixed with anecdotes about members of his audience and people who chastised Weisberg for getting his press pass from the Grauniad. Julian Borthwick gets more of a hearing than any criticism Weisberg might have of Labour’s policies. Presumably this is because he has no criticisms to offer. After all, Labour are practically the same thing as Democrats, and look how awesome they are!

If this brief, intense visit showed me the pleasures of British politics, it has also underscored the miserable job that the next British prime minister faces. Simply put, he will inherit a government that is much too large in relation to the country’s post-crisis economy. He will have to cut services, reform pensions, and scale back commitments, ultimately reducing spending from current levels by about 12 percent, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. He will literally decimate the government, reducing it by a tenth. America faces a dire fiscal prospect as well, but we have a better chance of solving part of the problem through stronger growth and have more ability to raise taxes.

Ahahahahahaha… oh, sorry. America has a better chance to recover because it has more ability to raise taxes? I beg to differ. Not because Congress couldn’t jack up taxes – they could, obviously – but because America will recover better, not through taxes, but through the fact that its private sector, unlike Britain’s, thriveth mightily.

That’s Weisberg, then: huge admiration for British politics despite its useless and insulting party leaders, its voters who heckle and refuse to listen, and its dire prospects for the future. Yup, there’s loads of stuff there to admire.

And now, of course, I shall make the obligatory defence that, no, I don’t hate Britain and I’m not a racist against the British. There are things I really admire about Britain – why the hell else would I be here? – but its political system is not one of them, except insofar as it provides me with copious entertainment. Oddly, what I like best about Britain is what Weisberg seems to like least: its individuals. Most of the British I know are among the most interesting I have ever encountered. Weisberg’s respect is reserved only for the idea of Britain which exists inside his head. Individuals, where he mentions them at all, Weisberg mocks and derides.

Apart from Julian Borthwick, who presumably is spared this treatment because, at the museum, he had a copy of Waiting for Godot bulging from the pocket of his tweedy jacket.

Stephen Hill at CiF posits some kind of equivalency between Greece’s budget catastrophe, and the ensuing debate about whether the solvent EU countries should bail it out, and California’s budget catastrophe, and the debate about whether the solvent US states should bail it out.

Apparently Greece isn’t that large a proportion of the EU economy, so no big deal – but California represented a whopping 14% of the US economy before it went bust.

California’s situation in some ways is more worrisome than Greece’s. Having a state that is one-seventh of the national economy in dire straits is a threat to the nation’s economic recovery. It is analogous to having Germany struggling instead of Greece, striking at the heart of Europe. California has been shaken by widespread layoffs and furloughs – the city of Los Angeles just laid off 1,000 more workers – and core social programmes have been slashed. Millions of low income children have lost access to meal programmes, and community clinics have been closed. Almost 3 million low income adults have lost important benefits such as dental care, psychological services and mammograms.

In addition, while both California and Greece are in major belt tightening mode, at least in Greece all families and individuals still have access to healthcare and a long menu of other social supports that Europe is known for. In California, even before the crisis millions had no healthcare, and now more have lost their jobs and their health insurance. Unemployment compensation is miserly, as is the overall safety net, which impacts consumer spending and further weakens the economy.

In this case, then, it was terribly mean of the Obama administration to deny California a federal bail-out paid for by the taxes of the other 49 states. That’s, like, super unfair, because:

But ironically California’s current plight may serve as a warning to Germany and France. Over the last several decades, California’s once thriving economy served as a kind of backstop for other American states. California has subsidised low population (and often conservative) states by only receiving back about $.80 for every federal tax dollar it sends to Washington DC. Californians have sent tens of billions of dollars to conservative states such as Mississippi, Alaska and North Dakota, which receive about $1.75 for every dollar sent to Washington.

Yet when Governor Schwarzenegger asked the federal government for a return on that long-term support, the White House shut the door and the Republican states long subsidised by California were unsympathetic. Memories are short, as is gratitude.

Leaving aside the question of optimal single-currency zones – which Hill never addresses – let’s look at this central point about the unfairness of leaving California to its fate.

For years, Hill says, California was the wealthiest state in the country, and the federal taxes its wealthy citizens paid subsidised the poorer, less populous states of the union. Now California has farked itself, allowing and encouraging its legislature to spend the state into massive debt – and wealthy California wants the poorer states to subsidise it!

Surely this is exactly what Guardian writers (and readers) loathe, the idea of the poor subsidising the wealthy? They certainly profess to hate incidences of it in the UK and cry that the transfer of money from poor to rich is a massive injustice (that will, no doubt, be further perpetrated by the Tories if they win the next election). California’s budget crash has not made the poor states it used to subsidise any wealthier; in fact, it’s probably made them poorer. So why in the world should the poor states make themselves even poorer because the people of California were happy to elect legislatures that spend like drunken sailors?

Somebody please explain to me why, suddenly, the Guardian is in favour of the poor subsidising the rich.

… to me. This blog is one year old today.

Via the Croydonian, this.

As bold plans go, this one is tres bold. Now obviously, districts within US states are redrawn after census so that each district contains roughly the same number of people.

But I have never heard anyone suggest that US states themselves should be redrawn after census so that each state contains roughly the same number of people. Considering that state boundaries are essentially arbitrary, I don’t find this particularly unreasonable. And it would certainly solve the problem of overweighted small-population states and overweighted large-population states.

However. For the moment, gerrymandering is limited to the states at the moment. Extending the temptation to gerrymander to the entire country, and putting that temptation squarely in the hands of the US Congress, is a very poor idea.

Additionally, redrawing state boundaries to make federal elections more efficient would play merry hell with state and local governments. In the US, state and local governments do actually do things, and are responsible for a great many competencies that would be sorely affected by altering the geographical perimeters of each state every ten years.

There is also the problem of revenues. Federal taxation would of course remain largely unaffected by this, but much of what state governments do is paid for by state taxation, be it sales, income, property, or some other form of levy. As you might expect, much of the wealth of the US is concentrated in urban areas and centers of high population, or else in areas where wealth-generating industries are located.

Look at the map provided:

redrawn states

This redrawing of states would create, I predict, revenue problems particularly in the South, which is the poorest region of the US already. The states labelled Pamlico, the Delta, Tombigbee, Brownia, and Pecos all represent the poorer areas of North Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, and Texas. At the moment, these areas which generate little public revenue are all effectively subsidised by the wealthier parts of those states. Dallas and Houston especially pay for much of the public services in the rest of Texas. Redraw the boundaries in accordance with this map, and these poorer areas will see a drastic reduction in transport maintenance (roads especially), public education, and other state- and county-provided services such as law enforcement and rubbish removal. That, or they will be themselves subsidised by the federal government, putting them in hock to the rest of the nation like poor cousins fallen on hard times.

Now, one can argue that some of these competencies are things no government needs to provide, and maybe that’s true, but at the moment state governments do provide them, and there is little chance of that changing any time soon. The fact of the matter is that, at the moment, there are concentrations of wealth and population within states that enable those poorer areas to get by. Divide them from the sources of public revenue, and those poorer areas may become even more deprived. There is always a chance, I suppose, that those poorer areas might adopt reforms that would make them extremely attractive to businesses and industries, but experience (and cynicism) suggest that is unlikely.

Essentially, I do not think this is a good plan. It would be nice to have fairer and more efficient federal representation, but not at the cost of disrupting and in some cases even destroying the provision of state services.

Find it here.

Joe Wilson yells something –> Do two shots
Obama yells back –> Finish the bottle

Etc.

From the Telegraph:

Republican leaders in Congress called for a reworking of the bill, which would provide near universal coverage and aimed to bring down long-term costs. But Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House Speaker, argued that because Massachusetts already had near-universal health coverage under a state law, the vote should not be seen as a referendum on the issue.

“We don’t say a state that already has health care should determine whether the rest of the country should. We will get the job done. I’m very confident,” she said.

It’s because Massachusetts already has just such a health care system as the one Pelosi’s Democrats are proposing that the opinion of their citizens is worth more than that of any other state’s.

They know what it’s like. They know what it costs. And they know that if the Democrats get their retarded bill passed, the citizens of Massachusetts will be paying through the nose twice.

That’s one of the great things about the federal system, you see: experiments can be tried in the states that want them, and the results can be judged by the rest of the country as either worth duplicating or worth abandoning. Massachusetts has done the experiment the Democrats would like to foist on the whole country. Not only have the other states looked at Massachusetts and said, ‘Dude, that doesn’t look like it’s working out so well, maybe we’d better not try it here,’ the people of Massachusetts themselves have said, ‘This isn’t going so well for us! Don’t try it at home!’

I reckon Nancy Pelosi should take a long, hard look at what’s happened to the healthcare system in Massachusetts, if for no other reason than because costs there have skyrocketed beyond all expectation, and seriously reconsider whether she wants to push the same money-suck on the entire rest of the nation.

Unless, of course, she wants to go down in history as the Politician Who Bankrupted America. Because you can bet your sweet buttocks it won’t be Obama who gets blamed. A man who can rise to president from two years’ experience of national office and prior experience in a Democrat safe seat and in a Democrat safe state’s legislature is more than canny enough to figure out a way to let some other poor bastard take the fall.

Scott Brown, the Republican candidate, appears to have won the special Senate election in Massachusetts.

Predictably, there is over-hype from the right (‘Healthcare reform is dead! Yay, woo, a victory against creeping socialism!’) and under-hype from the left (‘These things are vastly complicated, the rest of American still wants healthcare reform, this election is not indicative of the true feeling of blah blah blibbity blee.’)

When Scott Brown is seated, the Senate Democrats will no longer have their 60-member supermajority, which as far as I’m aware was what they were counting on to pass their obese and unwieldy healthcare bill. So yeah – maybe that bill is dead.

Unless they decide to hold their vote before Scott Brown is seated. And Harry Reid won’t agree to seat him until the Mass. Secretary of State has certified Brown as the winner. And as we all remember from Election 2000, certifying a winner can be a long and thorny process fraught with much concession and recantation and fro-ing and to-ing and suing and accusations of fraud and faulty paper ballots (paper ballots? really?) and HEY LOOK, it’s the Supreme Court, and Katherine Harris’s political career is over forever, poor woman, through no fault of her own.

So maybe that bill isn’t dead.

The only genuine effect Scott Brown’s victory has had, as far as I can tell, is that it’s been great for morale on the right, and pretty bad for morale on the left (however much they downplay it).

But it’s one Senate seat in a special election won against a dreadfully unpleasant Democrat candidate in a state where they’d had the same self-important blowhard in charge for almost 40 years. While that’s Change the people of Massachusetts Can Believe In, I’m sceptical of claims that it’s a reely reely big deel y’all, TEA PARTY REVOLUTION!

But I’ll happily eat my words if I’m wrong.

P.S. It’s getting harder and harder for me to comment on American politics without descending into silliness.

UPDATE: Lulz.

H/T Hillbuzz.

Let’s talk about Cass Sunstein.

For those of you out of the know, Sunstein is head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, a part of the Executive Office of the president of the US. He is informally known as the Information Czar, roughly equivalent to one of the many, many posts held in the UK by Peter Mandelson. It is a creepy competency, and it is perhaps only fitting that it should be filled by a professor of law at Harvard, which Sunstein also is.

The North West LPUK blog flagged him up today as a dodgy customer, and indeed, it looks as if he is one.

For someone expert in constitutional law, Cass Sunstein is all about some bansturbation that would interfere directly with the rights explicitly protected in that constitution, namely the right of free speech.

According to this post at Infowars, in 2008 he prepared a white paper that outlined the responses government might make to the over-prevalence of conspiracy theories (though, alas, their link to the paper does not work):

On page 14 of Sunstein’s January 2008 white paper entitled “Conspiracy Theories,” the man who is now Obama’s head of information technology in the White House proposed that each of the following measures “will have a place under imaginable conditions” according to the strategy detailed in the essay.

1) Government might ban conspiracy theorizing.

2) Government might impose some kind of tax, financial or otherwise, on those who disseminate such theories.

That’s right, Obama’s information czar wants to tax or ban outright, as in make illegal, political opinions that the government doesn’t approve of. To where would this be extended? A tax or a shut down order on newspapers that print stories critical of our illustrious leaders?

And what does Sunstein define as “conspiracy theories” that should potentially be taxed or outlawed by the government? Opinions held by the majority of Americans, no less.

Among the theories identified in the paper as possible targets for censorship are the beliefs that Oswald did not act alone, that global warming is a deliberate fraud, and that sunlight is good for the body. These are all pretty inoffensive ‘conspiracy’ theories. Most of those suspected of involvement in the Kennedy assassination are now dead (or, in the case of Castro, as near as dammit), and it does not seem reasonable to censor conspiracies regarding an event about which we will likely never know the gospel truth. On the other side of the spectrum, whether or not climate change (global warming) is an immediate threat is something scientists predict we will know within 50 years. Why suggest censoring a conspiracy theory that has a built-in sell-by date? And the benefits of sunlight are backed up by numerous studies which show that sunlight is an excellent source of essential vitamin D. As long as people are equally aware of the dangers of skin cancer due to exposure, why attack this claim? [CORRECTION: Sunstein does say that believing sunlight is healthy is false and dangerous, but he does not class it as a conspiracy theory.]

What possible reason could Sunstein have for advising that such innocuous views be suppressed?

One can only presume that Sunstein is deliberately framing the debate by going to such absurd extremes so as to make any belief whatsoever into a conspiracy theory unless it’s specifically approved by the kind of government thought police system he is pushing for.

That seems plausible to me. If harmless conspiracy theories warrant taxation or bans, what do harmful ones deserve? (Remember, many places still have the death penalty in the US.)

Sunstein is also known to have called for the First Amendment to be re-written, to have advocated internet censorship (beyond what already exists, presumably), and to hold the belief that Americans should celebrate Tax Day. This last was so bizarre to me that I had to search it up for verification. In an article for the Chicago Tribune which Sunstein also published on his website at the University of Chicago, Sunstein wrote:

In what sense is the money in our pockets and bank accounts fully “ours”? Did we earn it by our own autonomous efforts? Could we have inherited it without the assistance of probate courts? Do we save it without support from bank regulators? Could we spend it (say, on the installment plan) if there were no public officials to coordinate the efforts and pool the resources of the community in which we live?

Do not get up tomorrow and drape your house in black! For tax day is not a day of national mourning. Without taxes there would be no liberty.

Without taxes there would be no property. Without taxes, few of us would have any assets worth defending.

It may be reasonable, in some cases, to cut tax rates. What is unreasonable and, in fact, preposterous is the all-too-familiar conservative rhetoric that flatly opposes individual liberty to the government power to tax and spend. You cannot be for rights and against government because rights are meaningless unless enforced by government.

If government could not intervene effectively, none of the individual rights to which Americans have become accustomed could be reliably protected.

Most rights are funded by taxes, not by fees. This is why the overused distinction between “negative” and “positive” rights makes little sense. Rights to private property, freedom of speech, immunity from police abuse, contractual liberty, free exercise of religion–just as much as rights to Social Security, Medicare and food stamps–are taxpayer-funded and government-managed social services designed to improve collective and individual well-being.

This raises some important questions, to be sure. Who decides, in the United States, how to allocate our scarce public resources for the protection of which rights for whom? What principles are commonly invoked to guide these allocations? And can those principles be defended? These questions deserve more discussion than they usually receive, unclouded by the dim fiction that some people enjoy and exercise their rights without placing any burden whatsoever on the public fisc.

In any case, to recognize the dependency of property rights on the contributions of the whole community, managed by the government, is to repel the rhetorical attack on welfare rights as somehow deeply un-American, and totally alien or different in kind from classical or “real” rights. No right can be exercised independently, for every rights-holder has a claim on public resources–on money that has been extracted from citizens at large.

For all rights–call them negative, call them positive–have that effect. There is no liberty without dependency.

‘Without taxes, there would be no liberty.’

‘Rights are meaningless unless enforced by government.’

‘There is no liberty without dependency.’

And there is no tyranny without sophistry. This man is now Obama’s sophist extraordinaire.

Sunstein’s Wikipedia page informs me, as well, that he is ‘known for’ soft paternalism and choice architecture: our old friend libertarian paternalism, advocated in Britain by Sunstein’s counterpart Julian le Grand:

The idea, dubbed “libertarian paternalism”, reverses the traditional government approach that requires individuals to opt in to healthy schemes. Instead, they would have to opt out to make the unhealthy choice, by buying a smoking permit, choosing not to participate in the exercise hour or adding salt at the table.

By preserving individual choice, the approach could be defended against charges of a “nanny state,” he said. “Some people say this is paternalism squared. But at a fundamental level, you are not being made to do anything. It is not like banning something, it is not prohibition. It is a softer form of paternalism.”

Many of Sunstein’s publications appear to have equally sinister connotations:

  • Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech (1995)
  • Free Markets and Social Justice (1997)
  • The Second Bill of Rights: FDR’s Unfinished Revolution and Why We Need It More than Ever (2004)
  • Laws of Fear: Beyond the Precautionary Principle (2005)
  • Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness (2008)

The ‘Second Bill of Rights’ of FDR, by the way, contains the right to education, a home, healthcare, etc: the so-called ‘positive’ rights between which and liberty Sunstein sees no distinction. And according to Wikipedia, another strike against the Tories:

Sunstein co-authored Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness (Yale University Press, 2008) with economist Richard Thaler of the University of Chicago. Nudge discusses how public and private organizations can help people make better choices in their daily lives. Thaler and Sunstein argue that

People often make poor choices – and look back at them with bafflement! We do this because as human beings, we all are susceptible to a wide array of routine biases that can lead to an equally wide array of embarrassing blunders in education, personal finance, health care, mortgages and credit cards, happiness, and even the planet itself.

The ideas in the book proved popular with politicians such as Barack Obama, David Cameron, and the British Conservative Party in general (Cameron is party leader).

I can only assume that Sunstein’s proposed tax on objectionable views is an example of a ‘nudge’ node in his ‘choice architecture.’

Sunstein’s objection to the First Amendment comes as a result of his theory of ‘cyber balkanisation,’ in which growing use of the internet has isolated people from the opinions of those who do not share their views. In his book Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech, he argues:

…in light of astonishing economic and technological changes, we must doubt whether, as interpreted, the constitutional guarantee of free speech is adequately serving democratic goals.

From this it seems clear that Sunstein views freedom of speech not as an end in itself, but as a means to the pursuit of ‘political deliberation and citizenship’.

I would like to note that Sunstein’s calls to ban ‘conspiracy theories’ if necessary are wholly inconsistent with libertarian paternalism, involving as they do not a nudge but an outright prohibition. A tax seems more in agreement with his philosophy of choice architecture, requiring people to ‘opt out’ of not holding objectionable opinions. But one has to wonder: if there is no liberty without taxation, what are we to do about a tax that directly suppresses one of our fundamental freedoms? Is that liberty, too? Is not-liberty liberty?

All of which makes the NW LPUK blog’s opening that much more relevant:

As the LPUK has pointed out to British MPs, George Orwell’s novel 1984 is “…a warning, NOT a blueprint.”

War is Peace. Ignorance is Strength. Freedom is Slavery.

And a tax on freedom is liberty.

UPDATE: A different view of Cass Sunstein and conspiracy theories is presented at the Bleeding Heart Show. I particularly like this analysis:

There are many different explanations for why conspiracy theories form and how they spread, but I think the most important cultural/political aspect is how they’re often reactions from peoples or communities who feel distanced from & distrustful of the establishment. If you reduced that amount of alienation, you’d probably reduce the number and the power of these strange alternate histories. In the end, if you feel so powerless, the government must seem a hell of a lot more powerful than it actually is.

I think this is almost certainly accurate. Reducing alienation, however, involves identifying its source and correcting it. A lot of the distance and distrust Americans have for the establishment, and probably Britons too, is a result of feeling that the establishment is unresponsive to their needs and wishes. Protests and petitions have, most of the time, little effect on what the government does (witness the Iraq war protests here in the UK in 2003 and 2004; millions marched but the armed forces were deployed after shockingly little debate in Parliament).

When elections are won by extremely narrow margins, or fought almost exclusively in swing states or marginal constituencies, that leaves many citizens feeling ignored or effectively disenfranchised. And, of course, everyone who voted for the losing candidate or party is going to feel alienated from the incoming winner. The British also have the EU to contend with, in which many positions of extraordinary power are unelected and, to a large extent, unaccountable. There is also the phenomenon wherein the winning candidate/party fails to fulfill its manifesto, and so even those citizens who supported them become disillusioned and distrustful.

In short, the solution for reducing alienation is more transparency in government and more democratic accountability. But to implement this solution requires that those with power in the establishment acquire a little humility and cease to act as if they believe they are smarter, wiser, and know what’s best for people. Unfortunately, ‘humble and willing to accept his own fallibility’ seems pretty much the complete opposite of Cass Sunstein, so I doubt this is a solution he, in his unelected, unaccountable power, will be pushing for anytime soon.

A thoughtful post from Megan McArdle, in which she ponders Paul Krugman’s assertion that Paris, Frankfurt, and London don’t look poor (which, to be fair, in places they don’t):

But the standard of living in any given profession is much lower. Preserving London’s dazzling antique architecture has meant that most of the people I knew had much longer and more expensive commutes than their American counterparts would. They lived in smaller quarters that were hotter in summer and colder in winter. At any given professional level, you found British people doing things that only much poorer Americans would do, like bringing lunch, hanging their clothes to dry, or going without cable (though the Americans I knew said the cable wasn’t worth it anyway). People in Britain are not poor. But they have a noticeably lower standard of living than Americans do. If they were doing it in 1960′s vintage apartment buildings and tract homes, it would be quite obvious. When I lived there, I literally could not afford to eat meat regularly or take the tube to work, and as a consequence wore holes in my shoes. (In fairness, I was being paid in dollars and the exchange rate was awful–but I wasn’t the only one walking to save money.)

I don’t want to sound as if I’m saying Britain’s a terrible place–it’s lovely, and I miss it. But the amount that people are able to consume is much less than the amount Americans are able to consume, and many of the things they forego make real difference in things like personal comfort.

Leaving aside cable television (I also hear it’s not worth the money) and hanging the clothes to dry (most London flats are probably too small to contain a tumble dryer), on some levels I agree with McArdle, that Americans have in general more personal comfort than the average Londoner. Owning and operating a car is cheaper and more convenient in the US; utilities are cheaper, as are their installation; commutes are shorter for those living in cities with comparable public transport to London; houses and flats are generally cheaper; etc. And that’s only comparing cities to cities. Americans in the suburbs and out in the country pay even less for all of that stuff, and they have roomy houses with all mod cons and big lawns for children to play on.

But this is not to say that living in the US is idyllic. Even though the standard of living I’ve experienced in Britain is a bit lower than how it was in the US, there are certain trade-offs that mean I enjoy living here much more.

The rail network, though many Britons complain about it, is infinitely superior to what exists in the US. For my occasional journeys, I have no trouble getting where I want to go, and most of the time I get to do that travelling in a seat with a nice book. When I was commuting by train, I had the leisure of catching up on my marking with a cup of coffee, something I would never have been able to do if driving. I must also commend the London bus system and the Oyster Card.

High Streets (and their equivalents) are excellent, too. Being able to walk to the bank, the grocery store, the post office, and the corner shop is the height of convenience. I have never been able to do that anywhere I lived in the US; even when I lived in a small university town with a respectable sort of high street, the grocery store was miles away. Pubs, too, are fantastic. Most Americans have no access to anything like a pub; certainly few of them live within walking distance of a drinking establishment. Most of them have to drive if they want to go out for a drink; and in many states, if you want to drink at home, you have to purchase your booze at a state booze-purchasing place. Pennsylvania was particularly bad for this: beer could only be purchased in cases of 24 at the state beer store, and wine and spirits could only be purchased at the (separate, and sometimes all the way across town) state wine and spirits store.

Living spaces are smaller in Britain, of course, but this is not generally a problem for the childless, at least. And if few of your clothes can be put in the tumble dryer anyway, as is the case with mine, you really don’t notice the absence of the dryer.

I’m well aware that many people in London are far less well off than I am (when I’m working), and may have a very different perspective from mine, but quite often I also consider this: without the need for a car, or car insurance, or car payments, or gasoline, or health insurance payments, I already have more disposable income living in Britain. And when I consider as well that I actually pay a smaller proportion of my income in direct taxes here, then those small reductions in standard of living matter a great deal less.

Via CNN I see that President Obama has considerately taken into account the date of the season premiere of LOST in deciding when to hold the annual State of the Union address:

Fear gripped the hearts of fans when it was announced that the president wanted to push back the annual State of the Union address – typically held in late January – to February 2, which everyone should know by now is the premiere of the ABC drama’s final season.

Crazy talk! Doesn’t he know people have been dying to find out what happened to the castaways?

But White House press secretary Robert Gibbs assured viewers Friday he “doesn’t foresee a scenario in which millions of people that hope to finally get some conclusion in ‘Lost’ are preempted by the president.”

This non-news was not, I confess, particularly interesting to me, until I started reading the comments beneath it.

And boy, is America unhappy.

Remarks seem to be conforming to the following general categories:

(1) “Americans are pathetic. I can’t believe LOST is more important to some people than what the president has to say.”

(2) “Obama is pathetic. I can’t believe he’d change the date of his speech to suit a bunch of sheeple LOST fans.”

(3) “Politics and politicians of any stripe are pathetic. LOST will be more interesting and more factual than the heard-it-all-before SOTU.”

(4) “You’re all pathetic. Ever since the SOTU has been televised, presidents have taken into account conflicts with the normal viewing timetable.”

(5) “Everything is pathetic. LOST? State of the Union? Who gives a shit.”

The general malaise and negativity displayed in these 470 (yes, 470 comments) is breathtaking. In full awareness of the fact that this is anecdata, I’m still going to postulate that the Change which Obama hath wrought has been, on the whole, not so good. By far the most illuminating of the comments are the ones that express a deep and weary scepticism about why the date of this regular address is in question in the first place. The State of the Union is traditionally delivered in late January; the suggestion of postponing it until February (and thus creating a conflict with the LOST premiere) has led many people to believe that Obama wishes to be able to extol a successful healthcare reform bill therein. As far as I know, this sort of manoeuvring is rare; the whole point of the SOTU is to describe, duh, the state of the union at regular intervals. It loses much of its impact if the president gets to decide to describe the state of the union whenever he judges that state to be most positive.

Not to mention that Obama has been, not to put too fine a point on it, one of the most speechifying presidents I can remember, having addressed the nation in this way at least three times that I can think of already in his first year of office. I realise these speeches have been topical, rather than holistic, but when you put them all together, we’ve had his words on education, healthcare, and the on-going wars in the Middle East. Possibly the economy as well, though I don’t remember that specifically. I think Americans are pretty up-to-date on the state of their union.

I suspect that much of the negativity and cynicism stems from the fact that Obama has gone about his presidency in entirely back-asswards fashion. Having campaigned on a platform that consisted largely of reversing the mahoosive mistakes of the Bush administration, once in office, he immediately set out to… not reverse any of them. Patriot Act? Still there. Guantanamo? Still there. Wars? Still there. Bailouts and stimuli? Still there. Discontinuing these things, while difficult, would have been popular on both sides of the political divide, as well as with the mythical ‘independent’ voters. Obama would have been seen to be cleaning up the mess and providing himself with a fresh slate, correcting the massive loss of civil liberties and doing his best to get the country back on its economic feet.

Instead of pursuing these popular campaign policies, however, he has spent the vast majority of the last year shilling for his Congressional party members and their ridiculous healthcare reform. A task as huge as the overhaul of the nation’s health infrastructure should have been begun cautiously, slowly, and thoroughly, with cost/benefit analyses, input from providers and consumers, multiple scenarios of best practice, and above all, genuine bi-partisan contribution. What Obama has allowed to happen, however, is the creation of a massive, cobbled-together bill based on the barest minimum of research into the health market, the barest minimum of input from the industry as a whole, and containing almost innumerable lines inserted solely to get this or that special interest group onside, or this or that senator. The legislation is a gigantic fucked-up mess that appears designed, not to represent a unified vision of healthcare or emulate best practice elsewhere in the world, but to prove that the Democrats in Congress have done something, dammit, and it looks plausible if you stand back from it and squint a bit.

And Americans are not impressed. Yes, healthcare needed reform. Yes, Obama promised to do it. But did it have to be done so quickly, and in so slipshod a fashion, and at the expense of so much good he also promised?

Few presidents have had as unsuccessful a first year as Obama; even fewer have been almost the sole authors of their own failure. I do not envy the man, but I do not pity him, either. If Americans are unhappy, it is because Obama misjudged them; it is because he believed his initial popularity meant he didn’t have to conform. Ultimately, I think, Americans do not want a cult of personality. They want what they have always liked best: a competent, steady leader, with a sure hand on the helm and an appropriate sense of solemnity for the huge responsibility he bears. Obama has lurched from crisis to panic to embarrassment, and while he’s handled it with fairly good grace, he may at last be discovering that, to Americans, only Mr President deserves respect and confidence. Barack Obama will receive the same when he remembers that they come, not in response to his personal charms, but by grace of the office he holds.

H.R 808 The ‘Shining City on a Hill with Cuddly Puppies and Unicorns’ Bill is still in committee.

After routing its way through Foreign Affairs and Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, the bill is now being considered by the sub-committee for Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.

You may wonder why the education sub-committee had its furry little paws all over this piece of bogroll; if so, recall that one of its provisions is the establishment of a ‘peace education curriculum’ and a Peace Academy under a special Office of Peace Education and Training.

Every time I glance through this bill, I see something new to horrify me. On my last reading, I somehow managed to miss out on Section 110, Office of Human Rights and Economic Rights. On the ‘human rights’ side, this would somehow involve upholding and promoting the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights. On the ‘economic rights’ side, the secretary of this office would be required to:

(5) conduct economic analyses of the scarcity of human and natural resources as a source of conflict and make recommendations to the Secretary for nonviolent prevention of such scarcity, nonviolent intervention in case of such scarcity, and the development of programs to assist people facing such scarcity, whether due to armed conflict, maldistribution of resources, or natural causes;

(6) assist the Secretary, in cooperation with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of the Treasury, in developing strategies regarding the sustainability and the management of the distribution of funds from international agencies, the conditions regarding the receipt of such funds, and the impact of those conditions on the peace and stability of the recipient nations;

(7) assist the Secretary, in cooperation with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Labor, in developing strategies to promote full compliance with domestic and international labor rights law;

…which is basically international redistribution writ large.

The other piece of insanity I noticed for the first time this evening is the appropriation:

There is authorized to be appropriated to carry out this Act for a fiscal year beginning after the date of the enactment of this Act $10,000,000,000 for each fiscal year. Of the amounts appropriated pursuant to such authorization, at least 85 percent shall be used for domestic peace programs, including administrative costs associated with such programs.

Ten billion squeed a year! Obviously this is but a drop in the bucket compared to the US budget as a whole, but $10 billion is still a lot of money. For purposes of comparison, an American earning $25,000 per year (which, keep in mind, is lower than the median wage in the US) would have to work for 400,000 YEARS to earn ten billion squeed. That’s, like, longer than homo sapiens has existed.

On the other hand, that same American, could he live so long, would get to experience the joys of Peace Day 400,000 times:

The Secretary shall encourage citizens to observe and celebrate the blessings of peace and endeavor to create peace on a Peace Day. Such day shall include discussions of the professional activities and the achievements in the lives of peacemakers.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. Ah, if only $10 billion a year and sponsoring this bill could make one divine!

Alas for Dennis Kucinich, for it is indeed he whose brainchild this is, this bill will not make him a child of God, because it is an abomination unto reasonable people everywhere. I wonder if he ponders the irony of using the coercive power of the overbearing state to fund and promote what is supposed to be the most non-coercive principle on earth.

Via the West Virginia Rebel, I am directed to some commentary about the recent shooting at Ft. Hood.

For those of you perhaps not au fait with this, as it happened on 5 November, a US army psychiatrist recently promoted to the rank of major and about to be deployed to the Middle East entered a building on the base at Ft. Hood and opened fire on the soldiers and civilians there, killing 13 people and injuring at least twice that number. He himself was wounded but not, apparently, killed, and is in hospital.

Mark Noonan, who should himself perhaps consider seeing a psychiatrist, reacts with all the illiberal, childish venom I’ve come to expect from American political discourse:

A terrible event – but I don’t want anyone to call it an “act of violence” or “a terrible tragedy”. It was an attack – one or more men decided with malice to attack a US military base. We need to get right down to the bottom of this – and, liberals, if the stories of accomplices in custody are true, this is where harsh interrogation might be needed: whoever was involved in this most emphatically does not have a right to remain silent.

This shooter, however heinous his crime, is an American citizen and, before two days ago, would have been just as staunchly defended by these types as a patriot to be supported with the ubiquitous yellow ribbon.

Now, apparently, he deserves torture and the loss of his constitutional rights. Why?

Because (a) he shot some soldiers, whose lives are evidently de facto more valuable than anyone else’s, at least when they’re on home soil. And because (b) he happens to be a Muslim.

I’ve read no credible reports to suggest that this shooting was any more a ‘terrorist’ attack or any more religiously or culturally motivated than, for example, the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999. What I have read is that the man is a natural-born American and served his country for decades before choosing this destructive course of action. That he is a Muslim, or the child of immigrant parents, means nothing.

Mark Noonan and his commenters, many of whom are crazier than he is, would deny this man the protections the law gives him because they don’t like what he did or the reason for it which they ascribe to him. Shooting people is a dreadful thing to do – one for which I am hard pressed to express my feelings – but overturning the rule of law because you’re a pissed-off little prick is arguably more dangerous. A gunman can only harm people within the range of his gun; a mockery of a justice system propped up by a democracy that excuses torture harms everybody.

I’ve yet to see any evidence that the American polity is avid for more sophisticated public policy discussion. Frankly, they seem a lot more interested in plausible enemies and improbable free lunches, which is the level on which both parties are mostly campaigning.

Megan McArdle

American political debate consists almost entirely of Us and Them scare tactics in which talk show hosts appear to be the face of party policies more than the politicians themselves. Imagine, if you will, a Britain in which Jeremy Paxman thinks Cameron is Hitler and Melanie Philips thinks Gordon Brown is a Communist, and that is all people know or want to know about either of the main parties. That’s basically America at the moment. Reason does not hold sway, to say the least.

The BBC has posted a link to part of an interview George Stephanopoulos had with Barack Obama in the wake of the Jimmy Carter ‘People oppose Obama because they’re racists’ declaration.

In the bit of the video that you can watch, Obama actually says something that surprises me, not because it’s not correct, but because it is – Obama has demonstrated in under two minutes that not only does he understand why so many people oppose his policies, he’s also willing to say so when it would be easier not to:

Obama:Now, there are some who, setting aside the issue of race, actually I think are more passionate about the idea of whether government can do anything right. And I think that – that’s probably the biggest driver of some of the vitriol –

Stephanopoulos: That, are you going to raise their taxes.

Obama: It – well, it goes beyond taxes. Anytime there is a president who is proposing big changes that seem to implicate the size of government, that gets everybody’s juices flowing.

Leaving aside the indelicacy of mentioning flowing juices – whatever he means by that – it’s quite obvious that Obama understands the conservative position vastly better than his supporters, including Stephanopoulos by the way, who are busy ejaculating accusations of racism and greed all over the place rather than taking issue with the fact that many Americans simply do not agree that the federal government has any legitimate role in the provision of health care, however unfair or unworkable the current system might be. When Stephanopoulos opines that such people are only interested in the number on their tax returns, Obama rightly corrects him. It’s not all about taxes.

Every now and again, Obama says little things that like this which indicate to me that he may actually be willing to engage with the meaningful criticisms of his policies – that he may actually acknowledge that the size of the state, and the extent to which it interferes with people’s activities and behaviour, is a topic worthy of reasonable debate. And I feel a little bit of this much-vaunted ‘hope’ well within my breast, because I very rarely encounter anyone from the other side of the political divide who is willing to debate that without resorting to calling me an anarchist (‘We need government to rein in people’s baser natures! Hobbes said so!’), a hater of democracy (okay, so this one’s kind of true), or a tinfoil-hat-wearing paranoiac (‘Bitch, please – this idea that governments want to turn us all into serfs is just a crazy conspiracy theory. Run off to your log cabin in the mountains with your shotgun, why don’t you’).

Then I remember that Obama said this, too, and the tiny, fragile, puppy-dog-eyed bit of hope curls up and dies.

Obama: But I don’t want the folks who created the mess – I don’t want the folks who created the mess to do a lot of talking. I want them just to get out of the way so we can clean up the mess. I don’t mind cleaning up after them, but don’t do a lot of talking. [crowd cheers madly] Am I wrong, Virginia?

[crowd shouts 'No!']

I’ve read one or two things today indicating that there may have been a march on Washington DC to protest Obama’s healthcare reform. But how many protesters were there?

The BBC says tens of thousands.

The Daily Mail says both one million and two million.

Glancing around other news organs, ‘tens of thousands’ appears to be the consensus, with 75,000 the estimate given by the Wall Street Journal via the DC emergency services.

So where is this Daily Mail number coming from? Were there a million? There’s a world of difference between 75,000 and 1,000,000. Does anybody really know?

And may I also add that even in the American newspapers I checked, in none of them does this protest appear to be on the front page (of their online editions, at least). Why isn’t this bigger news? Everybody knows middle America, bovine herd that they are, never normally protest…

UPDATE: Apparently I’m not the only one wondering what the attendance numbers were…

UPDATE 2: Still nobody seems to know what the numbers were. Google ‘how many people at washington protest’ and you’ll see what I mean. There’s a nasty debate going on, with supporters claiming that national media outlets deliberately underestimated, and opponents claiming not. From what I can tell, there were enough people at the protest to suggest that this should have been a bigger story than it was.

This source offers a nasty little quote (although I can’t speak for its accuracy:

On Sunday, White House senior adviser David Axelrod said of the protests, “I don’t think it’s indicative of the nation’s mood. You know, I don’t think we ought to be distracted by that. My message to them is, they’re wrong.”

I say again: given middle America’s general antipathy toward protesting, David Axelrod et al. could probably stand ‘to be distracted by that.’

Continuing with the recent philosophy that learning has to be justified by national utility, President Obama gave a televised speech this morning aimed at schoolchildren. Most classrooms in American schools have television sets (books? why are you asking about books? this is multi-media learning), and so I reckon, though I cannot be sure, that all state schools were required to show this broadcast, on what is for many children their first day of the school year.

As a teacher, I cannot over-emphasise what a massive pain in the backside I would have found it to spend even fifteen minutes of precious class time on frivolous speeches. The curriculum is too vast, and the school year too short in comparison, to give up even a moment of it. For purposes of comparison, consider that, four years ago when Pope John Paul II died, I was a Catholic teaching in a Catholic school and I still resented the single day the school closed for mourning.

But Obama’s speech was not simply frivolous; it was a collection of egotistical bromides couched in terms no child could fail to understand: if you don’t do well in school, you’ll never have a comfortable life, and the nation will be doomed. How do you mean, egotistical, I hear you ask?

I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn’t have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday – at 4:30 in the morning.

Now I wasn’t too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I’d fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I’d complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, “This is no picnic for me either, buster.”

I get it. I know what that’s like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn’t always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn’t fit in.

So I wasn’t always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I’m not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.

But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams. My wife, our First Lady Michelle Obama, has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn’t have much. But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.

‘I, I, I. I’m you, American schoolchildren. I’m Everyman.’

Except that, of course, if you’re a kid, you’re thinking hmm. The president is telling me he goofed off and got in trouble and wasted time, and yet he still became the president. So clearly there’s no penalty.

And Obama puts the weight of a huge responsibility on these children’s shoulders. They’re not to have an education so they can be open-minded, well-rounded, happy people, oh no. They’re to have it so they can be of economic and civic benefit to the country:

And no matter what you want to do with your life – I guarantee that you’ll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You’re going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.

And this isn’t just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.

You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.

We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.

So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?

‘Your mind exists to serve others. Your talents exist to serve others. Your achievements will go toward serving others. Because the absolute height of existence, the pinnacle of morality, the one necessary and sufficient incentive any human has or should have, is to serve others.’

There is a lot of talk about not ‘quitting on yourself’ in this speech, but no definition, unless it’s that quitting on yourself means you won’t be able to make money (lawyer, architect) or devote yourself to other people’s welfare (doctor, nurse, police officer, scientist, teacher, soldier, job-creator). I’m not saying he’s wrong – it’d be difficult to do any of those things without an education – but there is no talk of the personal satisfaction of setting goals and achieving them; the rewarding of curiosity; the simple joy of learning a skill and putting it to use, whatever the skill, whatever the use; the opening of the mind to ways of finding pleasure in any activity or experience. There is no focus in this speech on how you can use what you learn to give your life meaning – there is only offered the prospect of future usefulness.

And Obama is a bit out of touch with the heroes of today’s youth:

Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, “I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

As much as I might find Michael Jordan impressive, he is not even a hero of my youth, seeing as he had retired from basketball before I left high school. He also – let’s face it – is not really the poster child for education; he dropped out of university to play professional basketball and finished his BA in tiny chunks in the years thereafter, finally ending up with a degree in geography. Funnily enough, this little nugget about Jordan’s perseverance comes right after the part in the speech where Obama says:

I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work — that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things.

Kids are not stupid. They will perceive the contradiction. On the one hand, Obama tells them they’re unlikely to succeed in those professions where an education is not necessary. On the other hand, he uses as an example of success and a role model one of the very people who did just that. Hmm.

That said, Obama does offer one piece of good sense:

No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new.

Unfortunately, he follows it with this:

And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.

The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.

Argh.

Dick Morris on Fox News:

The Democratic Party is composed of building blocks, interest groups. Republicans aren’t. They’re just a group of people who think the same on issues. But Democrats are blacks, plus Hispanics, plus women, plus young people, plus labor unions, plus the elderly. And when one of those blocks turns against what the Democrats are doing, the party gets scared to death.

Ha! Ahahaha!

Democrats = interest groups consisting of blacks, Hispanics, women, young people, old people, and labour unions.

Republicans = a group of people who think the same on issues. But who are neither black, Hispanic, women, young people, old people, or labour unionists. Which leaves middle-aged, white, white-collar men.

‘Cause that’s not a building block or interest group at all. Just a group of people who think the same on issues.

[bella goes away, shaking head in bemusement]

Not too many weeks ago, I ran across a blog, the name of which I cannot now remember, in which the author posted a hypothetical government ban on books – not because of their literary content, but because as old books decay, they could release fibres and other toxins which might be inhaled by the reader, thus damaging the reader’s health. He was using it to illustrate, if I remember correctly, the way the government wishes to restrict or ban anything which gives us pleasure and justifies doing so on rather spurious ‘health’ grounds.

If anybody knows the blogger I mean, do let me know, because I’d like to give him a head’s-up:

Congress to ban sale of children’s books printed before 1985

Why? Because they are hazardous to the health.

UPDATE: Yes, it was Frank Davis.

1. Everything in America is huge.

2. Including the creepy-crawlies.

3. American healthcare costs what it does because of (a) widespread, mild hypochondria and (b) creepy-crawly-borne diseases.

4. American food is now too rich for my palette.

5. Big weddings are more trouble than they’re worth.

6. A supportive family can turn a hell into, if not exactly a paradise, at least a reasonably tolerable purgatory.

7. Virgin Atlantic is my new favourite airline, and I won’t hear a word spoken against Sir Richard ever again.

8. It’s good to be back home in the UK, for another 28 days anyway.

His take on the Waxman-Bullshit Cap and Trade Attainder is absolute class.

H.R. 808 The Fluffy Bunnies, Puppy Dogs, and Hitler Youth Peace Pupils Act remains stagnated in committee.

Fingers crossed, eh?

This act, by the way, is not exactly a shining example of the bipartisan city on a hill that Obama promised to build us: all 70 of Dennis Kucinich’s co-sponsors are fellow Democrats. I guess that means Republicans* are all horrible, partisan meanies who hate peace and worship the incarnation of violent death when they take a break from genuflecting before the BigBusiPharmaCorporatocratic altar of the Almighty Dollar.

*I rather suspect the GOP are digging their heels in like spoiled 6-year-old girls: ‘You’re a poo-head and everything you say is poo!’ Feel the incisive power of the Great American Political Dialogue.

A personal comment from my friend C, worth reproducing in full:

You asked (in your post about your immigration application being denied) “Britain is the home of liberty, modern democracy, and free enterprise: what the hell has happened to this place?”

The same thing that is “about” to happen to America. If you want to escape what’s happening in Britain, and are indeed forced to leave, don’t come back here—you’ll be jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

It’s always been odd to me, that the folks who call themselves “liberal”, and think they therefore stand for “liberty”, somehow don’t realize that the policies they espouse are the ones most directly leading to tyranny. The reason: their solution for all problems, social, economic, political, whatever–is more and more and more power TO government, which of necessity means less and less and less power to the individual. It’s almost comical—an entire party concurring with Groucho Marx: “I love humanity; it’s PEOPLE I can’t stand”. Everyone is (must be) seen not as an individual, but as a member of a “group”; “the poor”, “the less fortunate”, “the minorities”—and everyone is DEFINED by their “group”, not by their individual intelligence, achievements, or abilities.

In fact, we have gone out of our way to educate OUT of our children ANY “differences”; they must blend seamlessly and indistinguishably into society, without any of those inconvenient “differences” sticking out like painful elbows jutting into the ribcage of society. And somehow, while working feverishly to put down “individual” differences, and punishing “individual” achievement, in favor of seeing people only as “groups”, they FAIL to see the blatant FACT that the entity to whom they GIVE all that power, IS going to EXERCISE that power–and HOLD that power–and work to KEEP that power—and set in place restrictions on freedom that will ensure they will INCREASE that power in the future.

I know–I’m a teacher. I’ve been in the classroom. I’m in touch with those still there. It is BY DESIGN that the American educational system is what it is. It is NOT designed to produce excellence. It is designed to produce citizen “widgets” that all conform to the same thought processes, the same social conventions, the same docile submission to government, the same unquestioning wide-eyed acceptance of whatever latest “spin” is being put before them by the eager cooperation of our media as the voice of the government–even if it directly contradicts what they were just told yesterday.

The ONLY, ONLY thing that has ever brought brief periods of freedom — real INDIVIDUAL freedom — to the world, is when that power (of government, of one man or group of men over other men–understand here “men” is used in the traditional sense of “mankind”–I don’t do ‘politically correct’ speech)–is when that power is LIMITED, by force of law, and more power is given back to INDIVIDUAL people. That is what made the Magna Carta so important, and birthed freedom in England. That is what led the American framers of the Constitution to set up a tri-partate government, with the “intention” of keeping the power so diffused no one branch of government could ever dominate the others, nor could the government ever grow so much in power it could oppress the people (they apparently didn’t foresee our “American Idol” popularity-based society that would go drunk on slogans and fill all three parts of government with carbon-copies of one political ideology). What we have now, instead of a balanced tension of 3 different political bodies, is a “China Syndrome” confluence of identical ideologies in all branches of government, and the political atomic reaction that is building (now beyond control) will cause a meltdown (first economic, then—who knows?) as surely as too many rods into the “pile”.

I heard an interesting quote on “Boston Legal” (a show I never watch, but caught the last 10 minutes of two Sundays ago), in which one of the characters sat with the other on a balcony overlooking a nighttime New York skyline, and said, “America is doomed, because she has lost her soul. No one any longer loves liberty–or even understands what liberty is.”

How right he was.

ZOMG, it’s like Israel is Darth Vader and the US is Emperor Palpatine! Only not at the beginning, when he was our loyal slave, but at the end, when the disloyal fucker is about to stab us in the back.

Actually, that’s not a metaphor that works well at all. But goodness – I really, really, truly thought Hillary and Barack would be uniters, not dividers, and that once they put their totally reasonable arguments to the Israelis and the Palestineans, everybody would see that carrying on fighting was really silly and settle down for a shared meal of milk and honey.

I feel so… disillusioned…

When the recent Bush administration rammed the Patriot Act through Congress, ostensibly to deal with cases of suspected terrorism without exposing the public to unnecessary risk, there were those who said, ‘This is horrible. The Patriot Act makes a mockery of due process. Soon, we’ll see Bush’s political enemies languishing without trial in detention centres all over the country!’

Those same people, who tended to count themselves amongst Bush’s political enemies, breathed sighs of relief audible 4,000 miles away when Obama was elected, and then again when Obama took office. ‘Thank God,’ they said to one another gratefully. ‘No need to worry about terrorism gulags any more.’

So Obama and his enlightened government of Solomons wouldn’t superimpose boot on face, is that right?

From my brother, who has not yet defected, comes intelligence of one such imposition. A 16-year-old boy from East Buddhafuckshire in my home state was dragged out of his house by federal officers on 5 March (for allegedly making prank bomb threats over internet telephone) and removed to a juvenile detention centre half a continent away. No explanation has been given; no formal charges have been laid; no evidence has been put before any judicial figure; there is a gag order on the case – and even now, two months later, this child is still in prison under the provisions of the Patriot Act.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFVQ0HZz2mc&hl=en&fs=1]

His mother says she feels like she’s living in a Third World country. She never expected to have to protect her children from her own government.

Well, I have some messages to deliver.

To the child’s mother: If you really believed you were safe from your own government, you’re an idiot. Who the fuck but the US government could get at you in the redneck-infested wasteland that is Granville County?

To those who supported the Patriot Act: You dangerous, self-righteous, hypocritical lunatics. Let’s see how you like it when Obama turns it against you, as he inevitably will. Why do you think his government has been re-labelling libertarians as domestic terrorists? And you’ll have only your stupid selves to blame.

To those who loathed the Patriot Act until their christus gloriosus seized the helm of the ship of state: You spineless, hypocritical maggots. Civil liberties are evidently not so important once the jackboot is on your foot! Where is your fucking freedom crusade now?

More on the Patriot Martyr here.

It’s squillions for the price of one internet connection over on the list of bills currently before the US House Judiciary Committee. There’s some fascinatingly weird stuff in there.

However, Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) wins the biscuit with H.R. 808, the Department of Peace Act.

After a load of waffling on about the great American tradition of peace (wtf? – ed.), the bloody thing kicks off with:

We are in a new millennium, and the time has come to review age-old challenges with new thinking wherein we can conceive of peace as not simply being the absence of violence, but the active presence of the capacity for a higher evolution of the human awareness, of respect, trust, and integrity; wherein we all may tap the infinite capabilities of humanity to transform consciousness and conditions which impel or compel violence at a personal, group, or national level toward developing a new understanding of, and a commitment to, compassion and love, in order to create a ‘shining city on a hill’, the light of which is the light of nations.

Yeah, okay. This sort of cheap-pulpit rhetoric does not belong in a piece of official legislation.

And what, you ask, will this Department of Peace do?

(a) Establishment- There is hereby established a Department of Peace (hereinafter in this Act referred to as the ‘Department’), which shall–

(1) be a cabinet-level department in the executive branch of the Government; and

(2) be dedicated to peacemaking and the study of conditions that are conducive to both domestic and international peace.

If I force my brain through massive self-deception to ignore the heavy, in fact wholly unsubtle, Orwellian connotations of this bill – and even if I approach the idea of ‘peacemaking’ as a worthwhile endeavour on a federal scale – still I can see and hear nothing but (a) the laughter of the rest of the world as life imitates art, and (b) the ever-higher-licking flames of yet more piles of dollars burning on the altar of government expansion.

I mean, a new Cabinet department? Is Dennis on crack? Look what happened that last time we allowed that! Or am I wrong in thinking that the department of Homeland Security has not been a staggering success?

But allow me to suggest you read the full text for yourself. There’s some real gold in there: apparently animal welfare will fall within the Secretary of Peace’s purview, as will twinning US cities with places all over the world ‘for artistic, cultural, economic, educational, and faith-based exchanges.’

I think this bill needs renaming. It ought to be H.R. 808 The ‘Please, Jesus, Come Back and Make the World Happy’ Act of 2009.

UPDATE: Oh my… It gets even more sinister. This clause:

(7) create and establish a Peace Academy, which shall–

(A) be modeled after the military service academies; and

(B) provide a 4-year course of instruction in peace education, after which graduates will be required to serve 5 years in public service in programs dedicated to domestic or international nonviolent conflict resolution

is just the creepy precursor to this insanity:

SEC. 104. OFFICE OF PEACE EDUCATION AND TRAINING.

(a) In General- There shall be in the Department an Office of Peace Education and Training, the head of which shall be the Assistant Secretary for Peace Education and Training. The Assistant Secretary for Peace Education and Training shall carry out those functions of the Department relating to the creation, encouragement, and impact of peace education and training at the elementary, secondary, university, and postgraduate levels, including the development of a Peace Academy.

(b) Peace Curriculum- The Assistant Secretary of Peace Education and Training, in cooperation with the Secretary of Education, shall support the dissemination and development of effective peace curricula and supporting materials for distribution to departments of education in each State and territory of the United States. The peace curriculum shall include the building of communicative peace skills, nonviolent conflict resolution skills, and other objectives to increase the knowledge of peace processes.

My hackles just don’t go any higher. Perhaps I have slipped into a late-night hallucinatory state, and this will all turn out to be a hideous figment of my imagination. I hope the HJC have enough sense to drown this bill like a sack of unwanted kittens.

[shivers with dread]

‘Nothing to hide, nothing to fear’ conservative types in the US get their comeuppance as the Obama administration preserves Bush’s illiberal inroads on Americans’ Constitutional protections and liberties and turns the eye of Homeland Security onto ‘right-wing’ extremists such as anti-abortion campaigners, immigration reform activists, and gun rights advocates.

Where the US leads, Britain often follows – and so I expect to see something of the same here in the not too distant future…

…if you will, a piece of legislation that contains the following provisions:

(a) Prohibited Activities- A participant in an approved national service position under this subtitle may not engage in the following activities:

‘(1) Attempting to influence legislation.

‘(2) Organizing or engaging in protests, petitions, boycotts, or strikes.

‘(3) Assisting, promoting, or deterring union organizing.

‘(4) Impairing existing contracts for services or collective bargaining agreements.

‘(5) Engaging in partisan political activities, or other activities designed to influence the outcome of an election to any public office.

‘(6) Participating in, or endorsing, events or activities that are likely to include advocacy for or against political parties, political platforms, political candidates, proposed legislation, or elected officials.

‘(7) Engaging in religious instruction, conducting worship services, providing instruction as part of a program that includes mandatory religious instruction or worship, constructing or operating facilities devoted to religious instruction or worship, maintaining facilities primarily or inherently devoted to religious instruction or worship, or engaging in any form of religious proselytization.

Pretty fucking horrifying, no? What on earth, I can hear you wondering, is an ‘approved national service position,’ and what about it makes it necessary for law-makers to remove from its holders freedom of association, the right to petition the government, the franchise, and the right to practise a religion?

Well, my dears, I shall tell you: it’s our old friend Compulsory Volunteering, passed in the US House yesterday in a bill called Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act, or, cutely, simply GIVE.

The text of this bill is, like all the pieces of loo roll that pass for legislation in Washington DC, so abstruse that in my current germ-weakened state, I can make neither head nor tail of most of it. The bit quoted above, however, seems pretty straightforward. How, in the name of all that is holy, can Congress justify denying FOUR fundamental, Constitutional rights from people who are taking part in national ‘service’?

And please, no bombarding me with reasonableness. I’m sure that ‘activities designed to influence the outcome of an election to any public office’ isn’t intended to mean voting, but fuck me if I can think of a more archetypal example of an activity designed to influence the outcome of an election.

As it happens, the GIVE Act (what a stupid fucking name) is something of an amendment to other national ‘service’ acts passed in other decades by other asshat Congresses, and there is already an organisation, the Corporation for National and Community Service (its website has a .gov domain and everything!) that administers this crap. They’ve been really quick on the ball to express an opinion of GIVE (something the MSM, I note, have largely overlooked):

The U.S. House of Representatives today passed the most significant overhaul and expansion of national service programs in 16 years, acting on President Obama’s call to increase service opportunities for Americans of all ages to help address the economic crisis and usher in a new era of service and responsibility for our nation.

“Service is a fundamental American value, in every neighborhood and every community,” said U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee and a co-sponsor of the bill. “With President Obama’s leadership and support, today the House took a key step toward launching a new era of service that will rebuild and strengthen our country for years to come.”

“The American spirit is one of giving back – to our neighbors, our communities, and our nation. All across this country, citizens are devoting their time, skills, and resources to make our country a better place. And through the GIVE Act, we can nurture that spirit of selflessness, leveraging both individuals and organizations to achieve national goals,” said Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, the House Education Committee’s Ranking Republican member.

“At this time of economic crisis, there is a convergence of a great need to help our neighbors and a great appetite by Americans to serve,” said the Corporation’s Board Chair Alan Solomont. “Service can be a solution to many of our nation’s toughest challenges. We are grateful to the House for passing this bipartisan legislation to expand high-quality service opportunities for Americans of all ages.”

Is this some kind of bad prank? On the one hand, we’ve got Reps. George Miller and ‘Buck’ McKeon (may their loins rot) claiming service as a fundamental American value (since when?); on the other, we’ve got Alan Solomont praising the House for offering Americans more ‘high-quality service opportunities.’ What the fuck? Replace the words ‘service opportunities’ with the word ‘toaster’ and you get a sentence that makes a hell of a lot more sense.

I suppose my main points are these: (1) this Act has a stupid name, (2) this Act cancels out fundamental freedoms in the name of service to the common good, (3) this never would have passed if it weren’t for the fucking joke of a community organiser running the nation these days, and most importantly (4) what the US does, Britain quickly imitates. We go to war in Iraq – you go to war in Iraq. We pass illiberal laws to ‘deal with’ the ‘terrorist threat’ – you pass illiberal laws to deal with the terrorist threat. We stimulate our economy with fuckloads of debt – you stimulate your economy with fuckloads of debt. Our mad leader thinks he’s the Second Coming – your mad leader thinks he’s the Second Coming. We press our citizens into rightless compulsory voluntary servitude… you get the idea.

I shouldn’t wonder if there’s not something similar knocking around in Parliament right now, waiting for its five minutes’ worth of debate before being rammed into law by a maniacal, overpowerful, unelected, self-important, self-destructive executive.

Harvard’s conference on Law and Mind Sciences, entitled ‘The free market mindset: history, psychology, and consequences.’ Via the Cato Institute. Especially this bit:

• 2:35 – 3:00: Jaime Napier, “ The Palliative Function of Ideology”:
In this research, we drew on system-justification theory and the notion that conservative ideology serves a palliative function to explain why conservatives are happier than liberals. Specifically, in three studies using nationally representative data from the United States and nine additional countries, we found that right-wing (vs. left-wing) orientation is indeed associated with greater subjective well-being and that the relation between political orientation and subjective well-being is mediated by the rationalization of inequality. In our third study, we found that increasing economic inequality (as measured by the Gini index) from 1974 to 2004 has exacerbated the happiness gap between liberals and conservatives, apparently because conservatives (more than liberals) possess an ideological buffer against the negative hedonic effects of economic inequality.

Or maybe it’s because they spend less of their time bitching. *shrug*

H/T Samizdata.net.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this, nor do I know whether it’s any sort of legitimate news article. But let’s assume for the moment that it is:

A North Carolina judge has ordered three children to attend public schools this fall because the homeschooling their mother has provided over the last four years needs to be “challenged.” The children, however, have tested above their grade levels – by as much as two years. The decision is raising eyebrows among homeschooling families, and one friend of the mother has launched a website to publicize the issue. The ruling was made by Judge Ned Mangum of Wake County, who was handling a divorce proceeding for Thomas and Venessa Mills.

Mangum said he made the determination on his guiding principle, “What’s in the best interest of the minor children,” and conceded it was putting his judgment in place of the mother’s.

On her website, family friend Robyn Williams said Mangum stated his decision was not ideologically or religiously motivated but that ordering the children into public schools would “challenge the ideas you’ve taught them.”

According to Williams’ website, the judge also ordered a mental health evaluation for the mother – but not the father – as part of the divorce proceedings, in what Williams described as an attack on the “mother’s conservative Christian beliefs.”

Here’s how I read this tale: mother takes children out of state education because state school is crap. Mother and father get divorced. Father wants children put back into state education. Judge handling divorce proceedings orders children to be put back into state education because ideas learned from mother (amongst them possibly conservative Christianity) need to be ‘challenged’.

This bothers me on multiple levels. On the one hand, I see the dangers inherent in filling children with dogma they’re discouraged from questioning. On the other hand, I see the dangers inherent in filling children with dogma they’re discouraged from questioning. The only difference between homeschooling and state schooling appears to be which dogma the poor creatures are forced to consume.

Not to mention that I thought North Carolina, a place very dear to my heart, was above this sort of stuff. Its judges, among whom I number one of my own family members, are not generally given to illiberal, heavy-handed pronouncements about how parents can and cannot educate their offspring. And this decision is a bit rich coming from this particular judge, whose daughter I used to teach – in a religious private school.

As the Devil would say, fucking hellski…

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