As we approach another faux money crisis, this time over the debt ceiling, a few thoughts to help people understand what’s going on … and what isn’t going on:
1. Every year, the United States raises X amount of dollars through taxes and other means. At the same time, it places orders for goods and services, ranging from tanks to office supplies to Medicare payments, for Y amount of dollars. If X and Y are equal, the budget is balanced. If X is larger than Y, the budget is in surplus. If Y is larger than X, the budget is in deficit.
2. If the budget is in deficit, the US government has four choices in how to proceed. It can cut its orders (it can buy fewer tanks, office supplies, Medicare payments, etc.). It can raise its taxes to meet its orders. It can borrow money to cover the difference between tax receipts and orders. Or it can do some combination of all four. That’s it.
3. For most of the last 30 years, the budget has been in deficit. For most of that time, the United States has chosen to borrow money to cover the gap between taxes and orders, rather than raising taxes or cutting orders or both.
4. Notably, the United States buys much of what it buys (Y) on what amounts to credit: vendors provide office products and other goods and services to the United States today in return for a US promise to pay for those goods later.
5. The constant borrowing of money year after year after year has left the United States with an accumulated debt of $16+ trillion. Which is a lot of money.
6. Some years ago, in an effort to shame itself into not borrowing money forever and ever amen, Congress passed a law creating something called the “debt ceiling.” This is the maximum amount of money the United States is to be allowed to borrow. The idea was that if the Congress had to explicitly vote to raise the debt ceiling, it would be embarrassed and would choose to cut spending or raise taxes or both in order to bring the United States’ budget into balance.
7. This attempted shaming into good economic behavior has never really worked, regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans are in charge. This is mostly because the programs the US spends its money on are actually pretty popular (for the most part), and so people don’t really want them cut even as they refuse to pay higher taxes to pay for these goods. As a reminder, the United States spends almost 80% of its entire budget on seven (7) things: defense (20%), Social Security (20%), Medicare (13%), Medicaid (7%), “welfare” (12%), retirement benefits for federal workers (5%), and interest on the debt (5%). Everything else—roads, schools, the FAA, the FDA, the National Parks, college loans, everything—comes out of the remainder. Chopping those programs is somewhere between hard and impossible. Rather than raise taxes or cut spending or both, the United States has generally just kept on borrowing and raising the debt ceiling as needed.
8. Recently, Republicans in Congress have decided that the vote to raise the debt ceiling affords them a chance to force the United States to reduce its spending. Essentially, they are refusing to allow the United State to borrow more money (which requires raising the debt ceiling) unless the United States reduces its purchases of goods and services.
9. One problem with this Republican demand is that, per point 4, much of what the United States buys it buys on credit. Accordingly, vendors have already provided various goods and services to the United States and are awaiting payment … payment which will come only if the United States borrows money (and thus necessitates raising the debt ceiling). In other words, the United States has already received the good or service. The question is: will it pay for it? If the US fails to borrow money to pay for goods and services it has already received, no one will provide the US with any goods or services (or loans) on credit … which, given that we borrow 40% of the money we spend these days, means that we’d have to cut 40% of our budget instantly.
10. Another problem with this Republican demand relates to point 7: the programs that would be cut are quite popular, at least for the most part. While everyone imagines someone else’s program will be cut while theirs will be saved, as a practical matter that can’t happen if cutbacks happen in the 40% range.
11. On the other hand, nothing else has worked to force political leaders and all the rest of us to accept that we either have to want less, or pay more taxes, or both.
See? It’s easy. Just square the circle and solve all of America’s budget problems.
Have fun. And if you figure it out, please do let the rest of us know!
It’s been said many times that generals always prepare to fight the last war.
This makes sense when you think about it. “Last war” is a real, tangible thing with knowable problems and knowable achievements. “Next war” is uncertain, filled with unforeseen problems and unassessable risks.
Notably, the “preparing to fight the last war” phenomenon is particularly pronounced on the winning side. After all, “we” won doing things a certain way … why change? All one has to be is “better” at “last war” and you will win “next war” even more easily.
Losers, by contrast, often think creatively about “next war.” They, after all, did not fare well in “last war,” and so need to change the terms of engagement if they have much chance of winning “next war.”
The classic example of this phenomenon can be found in the lead up to the German invasion of France in 1940. Between 1920 and 1940 French military leaders constructed elaborate, complex and powerful defenses against what they perceived would be “next war” against Germany. However, those leaders decided that “next war” (WWII), would be a carbon copy of “last war” (WWI). The Germans, however, had a different idea, and crushed France fairly easily despite France’s profoundly powerful military.
Put another way, France prepared to fight a war its enemy decided not to fight, but failed to prepare for a war its enemy actually chose to fight.
It seems clear that the contemporary Republican Party, like the French between WWI and WWII, has gotten itself stuck in “last war.”
The party has been remarkably successful for the last 30 years in articulating a message grounded on two core principles: lower taxes (as a proxy for smaller government/self-reliance), and the culture war (moralistic claims that some ways of life were wrong or lesser, and that “good” Americans could only live in some ways). However, the tax claim is falling under its own weight: it’s one thing to lower taxes when they’re high, but quite another to lower them when they’re low and when government is out of money. Likewise, the culture war is failing: people are less worried about religiosity and gay marriage and marijuana smoking, to name a few examples, than they used to be.
But what was the very first bill introduced into the House of Representatives this session? Michelle Bachmann’s bill to repeal Obamacare—a version of a bill that passed the House 33 times in the last session of Congress before going precisely nowhere. Which is where this bill is going.
Talk about fighting “last war.” I imagine the birthers and the socialisters and the fascist state worriers about gun control leading to the loss of all human freedom are just waiting their turn to ply their craft on the political stage. (Oops: believers in the gun control equals the end of freedom are already on stage, I see.) Meanwhile, in two presidential elections in a row the electorate has been younger and more diverse than the Republican election model can cope with.
The question is: where is the Republican Party going? Having lost “last war” will they rethink what it takes to win and change the grounds of engagement? Or will they stand at their Maginot Line (look it up!) and keep insisting that the war has to be fought on their terms, even as their opponents sweep to victory after victory?
The future of the Republican Party hangs in the balance of the answer to that question.
So for some reason or another I got to thinking about the chain of wackadoo claims conservatives/radicals have made about Democrats/Progressives over the last 20+ years. Some highlights:
- Bill Clinton had his aide Vince Foster killed to cover up the Whitewater Real Estate “scandal” from his Arkansas days.
- Bill Clinton had the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City destroyed to cover up the Whitewater “scandal” — some of the FBI agents killed in OK City were alleged to have been knowledgable about the “scandal.” Alternatively, the bombing was alleged to have been done to cover up the Clinton administration’s mistakes in Waco, TX, dealing with the Branch Davidians. (There were real mistakes in this confrontation, by the way, which is not an endorsement of this claim.)
- The Clinton administration had purchased “black helicopters” they were using to surveil Westerners in preparation for placing them in UN-run internment camps. (Google the name “Helen Chenoweth.” She was a Congresswoman from Idaho who made Michele Bachmann look like a voice of reason and consideration.)
- During the Clinton Administration, NRA leader Wayne LaPierre described federal agents as “jack booted thugs” (a reference to Nazi SS storm troopers) for enforcing the Brady Bill. Talk show host and former Nixon attorney G. Gordon Liddy, who went to prison for his part in the Watergate scandal, urged his listeners to “aim high” if they were raided by federal agents since—and I am not making this up—federal agents wore body armor, and shots to the body wouldn’t be effective. All of this, of, course, was in the midst of the rise of the militia movement, an incipient armed rebellion against the US government centered in Montana and Idaho and built off the dregs of the survivalist and white supremacist movements.
Skipping forward a few years, we get …
- Claims during the 2008 campaign that Obama was the literal Biblical antichrist.
- The 2008 election was stolen by ACORN.
- Claims that having schoolchildren watch an Obama speech about the importance of education was political indoctrination into the Obama cult of personality.
- Birtherism. ‘Nuff said.
- Muslimism. ‘Nuff said.
- The bailout of the auto industry meant the socialization of the American economy. Which is already a lot socialized. And the auto industry is basically on its own again.
- Obamacare = socialism, despite the fact that it’s based on private insurance and was mostly a windfall for private, for-profit health insurance providers.
- Signing the UN Treaty on the rights of disabled persons would let the UN set rules for American parents in raising their children.
- The 2012 election was stolen by ACORN … which hasn’t existed for several years.
- Any form of gun control is the first step in creating a fascist state under the communist fascist Kenyan Muslim antichrist Obama.
And before anyone starts with the “the Democrats demonized Bush II” too nonsense, let me concede that lots of Democrats accused/implied that Bush had become president through illegitimate means (e.g., a crony Supreme Court). Lots thought he was a terrible president for lots of reasons (Politicalprof among them). But you can show me nothing like this list from Democrats aimed at Republicans, particularly from elected, actual government officials or party leaders. And please note that in my list I cheated in the REPUBLICANS’ favor: I didn’t post anything from the assbags Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage and their ilk. Nothing, despite the millions of people they have in their daily radio audiences (especially Limbaugh).
So forgive me when I roundly mock the next right wing wackadoo who screams the sky is falling. Really: reason, truth, facts, evidence, science … none of these work. Outright mockery is about all we have left to address these loons.
It’s only reasonable.
As I quoted the New York Times in this post in February (when the Republicans failed to reauthorize the act, which has now died), Republicans rejected the Violence Against Women Act because:The main sticking points seemed to be language in the bill to ensure that victims are not denied services because they are gay or transgender and a provision that would modestly expand the availability of special visas for undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic violence — a necessary step to encourage those victims to come forward.So think of this way: the Republicans decided it was better to protect NO women than to ALSO protect gay women, or transgender women, or undocumented women.If we weren’t talking about the contemporary Republican Party, this would be impossible to believe. Now it’s only expected. And vile.
What’s in the fiscal cliff deal? From The National Journal:
- Higher taxes on individuals earning $400,000 and on families making $450,000 or more. Under that threshold, the Bush-era tax cuts will be permanent for all but the wealthiest households. The $450,000 threshold for families is a significant increase from Democrats’ initial proposal to raise taxes on Americans making $250,000 or more, but it is lower than Republicans’ earlier proposal to raise taxes on households making $1 million or more.
- Higher tax rates on capital gains and dividends for wealthier households. Taxes on capital gains and dividends will be held at their current levels of 15 percent for individuals making less than $400,000 and households with income of less than $450,000. They will rise to 20 percent for individual taxpayers and for households above those thresholds.
- Automatic spending cuts delayed for two months. The “sequester,” which would impose steep, across-the-board cuts to domestic and defense programs, will be delayed for two months.
- One-year extension to unemployment insurance. Emergency unemployment benefits will be extended for a year. The extension was a priority for President Obama and congressional Democrats.
- One-year “doc fix.” The measure will put off scheduled cuts in physician payments under Medicare. In the absence of an agreement, the payments were going to be reduced by 27 percent in January.
- Nine-month farm bill extension. Breakfast lovers, rejoice: A much-feared spike in milk prices, dubbed the “dairy cliff” because it was also set to kick in abruptly on Jan. 1, will be averted through a nine-month extension of certain portions of the farm bill.
- Personal exemptions phased out for individuals making over $250,000. Personal exemptions will be phased out and itemized deductions will be limited for taxpayers making over $250,000 and families earning more than $300,000.
- 40 percent estate tax. The estate tax will rise to 40 percent from its current 35 percent level, with the first $5 million in assets exempted. Democrats had earlier sought a higher increase to 45 percent and a lower exemption of $3.5 million.
- Permanent fix to the Alternative Minimum Tax. The alternative minimum tax was levied to ensure the wealthiest Americans paid a fair share of taxes. It was not indexed for inflation but is usually “patched” annually to prevent an increasingly large swath of middle-class Americans from being caught in its net. As part of the fiscal deal, the AMT will be permanently indexed to inflation.
- Tax breaks for working families. The deal includes five-year extensions of the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which can be claimed for college-related expenses; the Child Tax Credit; and the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is a refundable income-tax credit for low- to moderate income working Americans.
- Business tax breaks. The Senate Finance Committee passed a package in August that tackled a variety of routinely expiring tax provisions known as extenders. These popular tax provisions include breaks for research and development. That package passed as part of the broader cliff deal.
- Congressional pay freeze. President Obama recently authorized a congressional pay raise in a move that angered many congressional Republicans. Under the New Year’s cliff measure, members of Congress won’t see their pay increase.
By the way, this pretty much all proves no one’s really serious about “fixing” the debt … and why would they be? “Fixing” the debt means cutting benefits to real people (i.e., voters) TODAY. It means raising taxes on real people (i.e., voters) TODAY. All in return for a “fix” that may or may not happen a LONG TIME FROM NOW.
Does anyone take massive pain today in order to potentially gain something well in the future, especially when the pain you suffer today may well be fatal (to your political career)? At least, does any sane person do this?
Of course they don’t.
This deal almost certainly guarantees increases in the deficit going forward, not paying it off. The Bush tax cuts were, like so much of the Bush presidency, a disaster for America, and the fetishization of them today is moronic. But that didn’t stop lots of people from calling for making them “permanent” (whatever that means in DC) in this deal, did it?
See you at the next crisis (over the debt ceiling) in two months. Not a damn thing got settled with this deal … nor was there any intent to settle anything. The game continues.
So there is a phenomenon in American political and social life that seems to me to need to at least be acknowledged: our relentless urge to pull the ladder up after ourselves.
The ladder, of course, is the ladder of opportunity.
See, the thing is that while we often refuse to acknowledge this, all of us stand on others’ shoulders as we make progress in life. The accomplishments of medicine, the arts, and science, for example, all frame the context in which we live our lives and make our way. I, for one, am utterly blessed to have been born in an era where science can make good and complex eyeglasses: my eyes are lousy, and whatever successes I have had have been in part derived from the fact that I have had good glasses since I was six years old. Had I been born a century ago, my life would be lousy. But I wasn’t, and it isn’t.
In some sense, then, my basically successful life has been utterly dependent on other people’s work—the work that created the glasses that I have used to see my path to some kind of success.
Viewed this way, the plain truth is that all of us benefit from others’ accomplishments. Like antibiotics? Safe drinking water? Electric light (and batteries)? Whatever uses you make of these things, someone else had to make them before you could benefit from them. And those people, in turn, built off others’ accomplishments. it’s just how the world works.
Unfortunately, it is all too easy to forget the socially-connected nature of our lives. It is all too easy to think only of our own — very real — accomplishments, and to imagine our successes are entirely of our own making.
It is likewise easy to imagine that others’ failures are entirely the result of their own flaws and fumbles.
We can see these attitudes in lots of parts of political and social life. To wit:
- Recent immigrants are often the brunt of jokes and disrespect from more established immigrant groups.
- People with jobs often perceive that any form of welfare is little more than coddling the poor—even when, in many cases, the employed have enjoyed government support in the past (like public education, tax breaks for home ownership and, in Mitt Romney’s father’s case, actual welfare when George Romney’s family moved back from Mexico when George was a child).
- There are retirement towns in Arizona that have been exempted from paying that portion of local property taxes that goes to support local schools—an exemption granted on the theory that the retirees’ children didn’t go to school in Arizona, so they shouldn’t have to pay for the educations of current Arizona children.
All of this—and much more—is akin to pulling up the ladder behind you as you climb into a tree house: you got yours, so screw everyone else. Such selfishness is perhaps inevitable given that people seem to imagine our successes as totally ours and thus attribute others’ failings to their personal flaws, but in the end this kind of selfishness is self-defeating: the only way any of us can hope to succeed is to make sure that lots of people have lots of opportunities to succeed, even as we recognize that not everyone will.
An America with strong ladders that can hold a lot of people, even those who sometimes fall off, will be a better America than one where the ladders are reserved to the people with tree houses.
So as people analyze the Democratic wins (and Republican losses) in the 2012 elections, one theme is emerging as a common point of agreement: the changing demographic characteristics of the United States have hurt the too-white, too-male constituency of the current Republican Party.
One hears versions of this everywhere. Paul Ryan emphasized Obama’s “urban” vote — and we know what “urban” signifies. Mitt Romney has talked about Obama’s “gifts” to various groups … gifts taken from, no doubt, Republicans. Examples are easy to find.
As it happens, I agree with these analyses. Republicans are too white and too male. If they continue in this state, the party is in serious trouble in a changing America.
But this demographic analysis lets Republicans off the hook far too easily. It implies that if they change their public face — e.g., run candidates like Marco Rubio for office — they will fix the demographic gap. Toss in some candidates who are female and, well, Shan-gri-la apparently awaits!
What this argument misses, of course, is the answer to the question, “why”? Why have so many different groups of people abandoned a party that, twice in the last 40 years, set all time records for electoral college margins of victory. (521-17 for Nixon in 1972; 525-13 for Reagan in 1984.) Heck, the first President Bush got 426 electoral college votes in 1988. Now they have lost the popular vote in four of the last five presidential elections. How has this happened?
The plain answer is: the leaders of the Republican Party have squandered the party’s advantages by appealing to the worst, basest instincts of a small segment of the electorate:
- Latino/a? The Republican Party’s leaders are virulently anti-immigrant.
- Female? The party’s leaders are happy to legislate your sexuality before you give birth, but is indifferent to you once you give birth.
- Poor? You’re a taker.
- Minority? The party seems convinced your life is little more than drugs, crime, prisons and pathologies.
- Worried about the financial meltdown? Don’t regulate the Masters of the Universe, cut their taxes.
- Health concerns? Go to the emergency room.
- Believe in science? You’re a member of the “reality-based community” that spins lies from hell.
- Like to pay for college? Make sure you pay the bankers their interest.
This list could go on and on.
The Republican Party’s demographic problem is real. But it’s a problem rooted in policy. The Republican Party, which as recently as 2004 seemed poised to achieve the mythical “permanent Republican majority,” now risks falling into history if it can’t articulate a policy agenda that fits the real world of US politics.
There’s nothing like losing to focus the mind. We’ll see how the party makes out.
Is the activist wing of the GOP cynical, or stupid?
See, I have to admit that I’ve been assuming that while the “journalists” at FOX News and their related ilk were peddling political bullshit to their viewers and supporters because peddling nonsense made them rich, the elite activists in the party actually knew what they were peddling was bullshit. It is one thing, after all, to know the emperor has no clothes, and quite another to say it.
Now there has been a burst of analysis that suggests that even the elites drank the Koolaid. Dick Morris claims his “analysis” of the 2012 election was based on his estimate that the electorate in 2012 would be like that in 2004 not 2008 (and hence whiter, maler — more pro-Romney). Karl Rove’s infamous disputation of FOX’s election night call of Ohio for the Democrats fits in this vein as well: it was sincere enough and public enough that I am convinced he actually thought several months’ of polling data was wrong, and his analysis of the likely vote in Ohio was right.
This question—are the elites stupid, too?—is important for the future of the GOP. If the leadership of the GOP drank the Koolaid and actually believed the crap they peddled, then they have a great reckoning to face. If, instead, they are selling the “I was fooled” line to protect their own positions at the top of the party, then the other members of the party need to ask whether having cynical losers willing to say anything to stay in power really is the best idea.
In either case, the question that GOP supporters ought to be asking, “were our leaders stupid or cynical?,” is hardly the most positive one going forward.
What with all the talk of “red lines” out in the political universe, let me offer my own warning about a red line we are at least in sight of, if not quite ready to cross: the line between fighting an election, and delegitimating elections themselves.
Here’s the thing: in our democracy, elections are one of the primary ways we establish the legitimacy of the government. I may not like who wins, but the mere fact that I had the chance to vote (even if I didn’t) is seen to make the outcome legitimate. So long as I was not unfairly denied the chance to vote, and so long as the votes were fairly counted, and so long as I have the fair chance to vote in the future, I’m stuck with the result. The other side won. Get over it, to channel Mr. Justice Scalia.
This three part test—the fair chance to vote, the fair counting of votes, and the fair chance to vote in the future—is a pretty tough, but extremely important, combination to pull off. Citizens of countries that manage this generally trust their governments, believe that they have a real say in shaping the decisions that affect their lives, and otherwise perceive themselves as part of a healthy national community. By contrast, people who live in countries that don’t figure out how to meet the three “fairs” often believe their leaders to be corrupt, their fates to be limited, and their governments bad.
Unfortunately, we seem increasingly hell bent on blowing this. We try to drive voters off voting rolls while claiming that we are really interested in preventing the non-occurring epidemic of in-person vote fraud. We put political hacks in charge of counting the vote and watch as they litigate what is or is not a real vote. We accuse one president of getting in office just because his daddy picked the Supreme Court justices who ruled in his favor (George Bush), and then accuse the next one of being illegitimate because he’s supposedly not an American and/or was elected through voter fraud — or, perhaps more seriously, because he is an Other (black, Muslim, you name it).
While I get how all this works as a short-term political tactic — the politics of corruption and fear are hardly a new phenomenon — I am afraid that we are at risk of crossing the infamous red line: the point of no return. At some point, the endless bombardment of negative ads, of claims that some candidate or another is illegitimate, and of ceaseless assertions that the election’s results were corrupted may well have the effect of convincing large numbers of Americans that their political system is their enemy. Ronald Reagan’s famous quip, that the nine scariest words in the English language are “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help,” speaks exactly to this point. It “works.” But it might not work.
Irony lies in the fact that our strengths are our weaknesses. Winning elections might well destroy the point of elections. It’s something to think about.
Last weekend marked the 26th anniversary of a largely-forgotten event: a summit between US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Iceland in October 1986.
Aimed at negotiating another START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) agreement, the meeting was expected to continue the process through which the US and the USSR had reduced their nuclear arsenals from their Cold War peaks, when the two nations combined had at least 50,000 nuclear weapons of various sizes and delivery mechanisms.
The meeting was notable because President Reagan — the great advocate of military spending who once described the Soviet Union as an “evil empire” — actually proposed that both United States and the Soviet Union ought to reduce their long range nuclear arsenals to 0. As in none. Nada. Nil. Zilch. Premier Gorbachev then suggested going even further, eliminating all nuclear weapons from each nation’s arsenals in 10 years.
Imagine it: the world’s two major superpowers (soon to be only one!) without nuclear weapons.
Some analysts imagined this might have presaged a new era of peace and global freedom from nuclear terror. Others feared that without any nuclear arsenal at all, the US would not be able to deter potential enemies like China, North Korea and, these days, Iran. (Fairly or not.)
But we will never know. Reagan insisted that research on the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), better known as Star Wars, had to continue no matter what; the Soviets refused to agree. So the talks collapsed. And now, 26 years later, we are still researching SDI, and our research on SDI continues to frustrate our relationship with — now — Russia.
We were nearly there. But it was not to be. And, as an aside, the notion that either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama would propose anything so bold is virtually unimaginable: the screaming shriekers at FOX, and on the blogs, would go mad.
We have built a political system that rewards non-creativity and then wonder why people aren’t creative.
The sharks have started to circle.
In this play, the role of the sharks are taken by the conservative punditocracy—those commentators who have pushed the Republican Party to be ever-more vigilant in expressing and defending conservative principles. “AMERICA IS A CONSERVATIVE COUNTRY!” they regularly intone. “BE CONSERVATIVE OR GO HOME.”
Now, however, they seem less sure. As Ross Douthat noted in his NY Times column today, many conservative talking heads are beginning to complain about what they see as an impending Romney loss. George Will, for example, stated: “If the Republican Party cannot win in this environment, it has to get out of politics.” FOX talking head Laura Ingraham commented, “If you can’t beat Barack Obama with this record, then shut down the party.” The American right’s pet academic Britisher, Niall Ferguson, insisted that Obama’s success and Romney’s failure meant “the law of political gravity has been suspended.”
There’s something important going on here: the pundits are working hard to shift the blame for Romney’s seeming inevitable loss.
In the pundits’ growing narrative, their side’s probable loss in 2012 is a result of Romney’s flaws and the party’s incompetence. It’s the result of the failure to be conservative enough. It’s the result of the American people being taken in by Obama’s hypnotic spell.
In other words, IT’S NOT THEIR FAULT.
There’s much wrong in the pundits’ narrative, of course. As it happens, they’re wrong on the nature of American public opinion: Americans are indeed conservative on taxes, but they love government programs like Social Security and Medicare and the military. They’re wrong on Obama’s record, which is much stronger than they imagine it to be.
More, the pundits have conveniently forgotten that the party tossed up an array of nominees to challenge Romney, each seeming more flawed than the one before: the politically damaged Newt Gingrich; the personality challenged Tim Pawlenty; the anti-Republican Ron Paul; the high flying but inexperienced businessman Herman Cain; the right wing red meat of Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann and even befuddled Rick Perry. Romney was the only one with the organization and the money to stagger through—with little help from a punditocracy that didn’t really like him.
Still and all, one of the advantages of buying news ink by the barrel (or driving hits to your website) is that once the campaign ends, the pundits will “explain” the loss—and, magically, it won’t be their fault.
So there’s been a group of people running around the United States for 30 years or so who call themselves Constitutionalists, among other things. They have — shall we say —quirky ideas about the rule of the law, the nature of the US constitution and of citizens’ rights within it.
My personal favorite of their claims is that — in their claiming, not mine — that I (meaning Politicalprof and people like me) are “sovereign citizens.” What this means in practice is that since people like me — white, male and property owning — were legally entitled to be citizens of the US before the US Constitution was created, we are “sovereign” — e.g., superior — to the Constitution. This means that I — meaning Politicalprof and people like me — have the personal right to reject or nullify laws that seem to us to intrude on our freedom since, obviously, we would never have consented to such laws in 1787. I am sovereign over the federal government, which cannot take away my rights as I define them.
Now, many of my sharp and sophisticated readers will be have their brows in a knot, going, “but, Politicalprof, what if you’re NOT a white male property owner? What if you’re a woman? Or a minority? Or an immigrant?” No worries: you are what is known as a “14th Amendment citizen.” That is, you are a citizen, but not a sovereign citizen. (Again, this is their argument, not mine.) Rather, you were granted citizenship by the 14th Amendment.
The distinction here is important: I was a citizen (allegedly) who could have made the Constitution, so my rights and liberties exist independent of the Constitution. Everyone else is a citizen as a result of the Constitution, and is bound therefore by its rules and limitations. In addition, we can take your citizenship and rights away through Constitutional changes, but we can never take mine away — as I define them — because people like me defined them in 1787.
Simple, huh? In any case, such persons are on the loose again. The anti-government fervor of the last years, mixed with the rise of a legalistic strain of libertarianism, has combined to make nonsense sound like Constitutional reasoning.
To wit, the post below. A group calling itself the “Republic for the united States of America” (the lowercase “u” matters) has decided that the United States you and I think of is not the real united States. More, they’ve decided they’ve recreated the real the united States. I am posting their words in full, cause hey: you need the full crazy.
The year 1776 marked America’s victory in the war for independence. The lawful right to re-inhabit is inherent in The Declaration of Independence circa 1776. The Declaration, one of our founding documents, declares our right to change, alter or abolish any system of government that we believe is contrary to the safety and security of the American people.
In concern for all of humanity, “We the People” re-inhabited our lawful de jure (meaning “by right of legal establishment”) government on March 30, 2010, by serving notice on the de facto corporation, known as the “UNITED STATES”. (USC 28 Section 3002, No. 15(a) “United States” means a Federal Corporation.) The United States was incorporated February 21, 1871 (16 Stat. 419, Chap. 62, 41st Congress, 3rd Session), the purpose being “an Act to provide a Government for the District of Columbia, reorganized June 8th, 1878, (20 Stat. 102, Chapter 180, 45th Congress, 2nd Session) as “an Act providing a permanent form of government for the District of Columbia” aka US Inc. Uniform Commercial Code, UCC9-307 (h) states “Location of United States. The United States is located in the District of Columbia. A lawful grand jury in each of the fifty republics created a new Declaration of Independence that was lawfully served on the corporate UNITED STATES informing them that the original de jure government was restored. We have claimed our right to exist as a free and independent people on our land, thus exercising our God-given unalienable rights as defined in our Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
On July 21, 2010 “We the People” of the de jure government proclaimed worldwide and made our “Declaration of Sovereignty for the Republic for the united States of America” to The Hague (a.k.a. the International Court of Justice), the Universal Postal Union (UPU) and the United Nations (UN). On September 23, 2010, the first session of congress was convened by the united free Republics of the re-inhabited united States of America. The seating of the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of the Republic government were successfully established. This was completed by more than the required two-thirds majority vote of “We the People” on the land of the independent Republics. Delegates from more than 42 free Republics (States) attended, and officers for all three branches of our government have been officially sworn into office, lawfully electing interim President James Timothy Turner and interim Vice President Charles Eugene Wright, along with other established cabinet members with a presiding majority vote of 94% approval. Thus, the Republic government is officially re-inhabited and staffed for the first time since 1868 by the will of “We the People”.
The de facto UNITED STATES CORPORATION was unlawfully established by the forty-first congress in 1871 by deceptive means and without proper consent from “We the People”. The American people were placed under involuntary servitude by a “Legal” system of laws that have continually violated the “Constitution for the united States of America”, “Bill of Rights” and the “Declaration of Independence”. The corporate constitution was changed from the original form, wherein Amendments were unlawfully added and removed without the people’s consent. Since 1871, the abuses of this corporation upon both the international community as well as the American people are inestimable and unconscionable. De facto Congress has repeatedly violated their Oaths of Office, fiduciary responsibilities, and in many cases, committed treasonous acts against “We the People” of the united States of America and the world.
We humbly come forward apologizing for the numerous atrocities we have unknowingly allowed the U.S. CORPORATION to carry out upon the international community. It is our mission to establish the American image of truth, honesty, integrity and honor around the world. Our plan is to rebuild our economy and support other economies around the world, fulfilling humanitarian needs. We will allow our military to withdraw from unnecessary conflicts around the world and promote world peace and prosperity. We intend to follow God the Creator’s command to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and care for the sick, irrespective of creed, religion or race. There is no law against these things.
We are calling on the support of all Nations around the world to help us end the tyranny that has been perpetrated by the unlawful actions of the UNITED STATES corporate government. We shall achieve this goal PEACEFULLY AND LAWFULLY, with boldness, integrity and truth, so help us God.
When running for office in 2000, George W. Bush often claimed he was a “compassionate conservative.” While running for the Republican nomination in 2012, Mitt Romney claimed he is an “extreme conservative.”
Well, let’s think about this. A “compassionate conservative” brought us (at the least):
- Karl Rove
- No Child Left Behind
- budget busting tax cuts
- vast increases in domestic spending and the end of “pay as you go” budgeting that had contributed to a relatively balanced budget (under a Republican Congress)
- the horribly run war in Afghanistan
- the monumental mistake of a war in Iraq, which it then utterly bungled
- Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, torture, rendition
- Dick Cheney
- near economic collapse and a huge, largely unregulated bailout of the banks
- the tea party
- Sarah Palin
What in Odin’s name is an “extreme conservative” going to bring us?
So last week my dashboard was lit up with posts and reposts of the same claim: that economic inequality at the time the Declaration of Independence was signed was much less severe than it is today. “Aha!,” the posters seemed to scream: “we’re not living up to the Framers’ legacy!”
At which point my “bad history alarm” started to go off.
Folks, it’s possible that the income differential between highest and lowest earning persons in 1776 was much less profound than it is in 2012. Actually, given the comparative wealth of the two economies (we’re much, much wealthier now), I’d be staggered if 2012 wasn’t more unequal: we have CEOs of global corporations and an information economy that moves at literal light speed. They had, you know, mules. Wider ranges of activity afford opportunities for wider ranges of compensation. Our income differential is a sign of our wealth, not our poverty.
But that isn’t what really bothered me about this “we’re worse off now” thread. No, what bothered me was the casual way the posters and reposters seemed to ignore the obvious: ALMOST NO ONE IN 1776 EARNED AN INCOME. The United States enslaved a third of its population. It disenfranchised and economically dominated half its remaining population (non-slave females). It practiced indentured servitude. And, particularly among the Southern elite, it was a society based on land wealth, not income. For example, George Washington owned a huge portion of what today is West Virginia. What, exactly, was his wealth in 1776? Compared to some dude working in a textile mill? Or a slave working on Washington’s farm? Care to offer a calculated guess, adjusted for 236 years of inflation … and the fact that we now know West Virginia has lots of coal?
At most, 15% of the US population in 1776 was earning an income. It was probably less. So, is it possible that of that tiny fraction of persons earning an income, the income differential between best and worst paid persons was lower than it is today? Absolutely. But given that 85% (or more) of their population was enslaved, disenfranchised or otherwise outside the “income” economy, do you really want to claim things were more economically equal then than they are today?
I didn’t think so.
Well, let’s think about it:
As I recall, the purpose of the “Drug War” and ancillary operations like the “Just Say No” campaign were intended to reduce the use of illegal drugs in the US. In part, this would be through an education process that sought to teach people the evils of illegal drugs, much as happened with tobacco use. The “war” would also contain a militarized intervention wing, the end point of which was to raise the price of drugs by destroying crops overseas or interdicting them in transit. Finally, the penalties for illegal drug use would be raised so high through things like mandatory sentences for drug possession and use that a simple cost-benefit calculation would deter most people from considering drug use.
Basically, the “war” promised lower drug use through education (“only dopes smoke dope!”) penalties (“if you use, you lose”) and economic disincentives (abstinence through high prices).
So how’s it all working out? Let’s take each in turn:
Education: no doubt one could fill the prison system with DARE graduates who have been arrested for drug use. It seems clear that the scare tactics of the drug war have backfired — that education has played only a limited role in curtailing illegal drug use in the United States. More, given the growth in numbers of Americans advocating at least the legalization of marijuana, if not most other drugs, I’d say the education campaign has been a total failure.
Penalties: on this one the US certainly has been “successful.” The United States incarcerates the highest percentage of its population, per capita, of any democracy in the world. Most of those in prison are there for minor, nonviolent drug offenses. However, the very size of the drug-related prison population suggests that prison is not quite the disincentive the planners of the “drug war” imagined: lots of people clearly don’t worry about going to jail when they start dealing with illegal drugs … or else they wouldn’t get arrested for using or possessing illegal drugs.
Prevention/interdiction: This one has been a profound failure. Cocaine is from all accounts plentiful and cheap, as are most illegal drugs. Heroin is apparently really inexpensive. New drugs like meth and even those ridiculous bath salt things are plentiful and apparently fairly easy to make, transport and sell. If anything, America’s interdiction efforts have only fueled a turn to a domestic, chemistry-based drug culture. Which is on the ironic side of consequences of the drug war.
So who’s winning the drug war?
Well, on the government side of the ledger, at least two groups have done pretty well for themselves. One is the prison-industrial complex: private and public prisons and the associated interests that support the prison system in America (courts, communities, prison guard unions, contractors who provide services, etc.). The other is the prosecution industry: police and other departments that have expanded; prosecutors who have parlayed their “get tough on crime” stance into runs for higher office; the hanging judges who do pretty much the same. That seems about it.
On the non-government side of the ledger, it’s pretty clear that the drug gangs, drug dealers and chemists have done really well. They make a broadly desired product that people are willing to face some risk — both legal and personal, up to and including murder by one’s own gang — to buy and consume. Their operations have grown exponentially and, despite even the horrible violence in Mexico, they don’t seem to be on the verge of slowing down.
It seems to me pretty much all the rest of us are losers. We pay vast sums of money to fund efforts that fail to achieve their intended results, and write open-ended checks to put ever more people into prison for drug offenses of all kinds. And then we wonder where the money went.
It’s hard to imagine Americans fighting any other “war” for 40 years with such utterly miserable results. It’s been said — probably too often — that the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. But the fact that the saying has been overused in no way detracts from its truth.
The United States has lost the drug war. It’s time for a change.