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Dancing with the devil while whistling past the graveyard

2009 October 27
by Ian Welsh

The immediate pushback on my last post was “Rasmussen?  They’re a joke.”  Now there’s a lot of truth to that, Rasmussen leans heavily Republican.  But even they haven’t had results leaning towards Republicans like that in years.  In other words, think of them as a canary in the coalmine.  It’s not as bad as they say yet, but it’s heading there.

Too many folks are dancing with the Devil, because he or she is a Democrat.  Let me repeat one more time, Barack Obama and this Democratic Congress have given the richest people and corporations in America trillions of dollars, have packed the administration with neo-liberals and Goldman Sachs cronies, and are on track to pass a health care bill, which, whether it has a “public option” in it or not, is a regressive tax on the middle class, which will directly be handed over to the health industry.

By the time the 2010 elections roll around, although there will have been a “recovery” of sorts, the majority of people who lost jobs will not have gotten them back, and Americans will feel worse off than they have.  Guaran-fucking-teed.  I may be wrong about many things, but I am not going to be wrong about this basic economic fact.

Democrats in general, and Barack Obama in particular, have betrayed the principles they claimed to stand for.  Trillions for the rich, a few hundred billion for the middle class and the poor while civil rights continue to be trampled.   Anyone who thinks otherwise, anyone who tries to cover for them, is dancing with the Devil while whistling past the graveyard.

I didn’t get into blogging in 2003 to be a partisan Democrat.  I’m not even an American.  I got into it to tell the truths that Americans needed to hear if they were going to save their souls and the bodies that house those souls, and if it’s my friends I have to tell unwelcome truths to now, so be it, and be damned.

27 Responses
  1. October 27, 2009

    Well, i don’t count for much…but i’d rather read someone able and willing to tell the truth than read partisan flag waving any day. In fact, i’ve had it up to my ears with partisan flag waving on both sides of the aisle.

  2. Ian Welsh permalink
    October 27, 2009

    I don’t necessarily mind partisanship, but only in service to a higher cause. Making the rich even more powerful isn’t a cause I want to sign up for.

  3. October 27, 2009

    I think we’re doomed as a country. I’m not sure what’s going to be left afterward, but this situation isn’t sustainable. We effectively pay a huge tax on our GDP to the insurance industry parasites while Goldman Sachs games our economy into the ground and the big polluters get off scot-free thanks to toothless climate change legislation. Our people are less competitive, less educated and far sicker than other nations in the developed world and it’s only getting worse.

    Quite frankly it’s nice to read someone who isn’t trying to find the rosy interpretation all the time, so please keep it up. I get enough pro-Obama spin in my email inbox as it is.

  4. October 27, 2009

    I think it’s premature to predict a Republican comeback. I live deep in the heart of Texas, so my perspective is almost as unreliable as yours (you live outside the US, I live outside reality, even further outside than the rest of America, waaaay outside). But I think there is definitely a sense that the Vichy Dems don’t have what it takes to fix things any more than the implacable Republikans. On the other hand people (especially those enthusiastic Obama supporters, and the clap-harder-so-Tinkerbell-won’t-die financial press) seem to be pretending that things can go back to normal without any radical change to how we are governed, or how we pay taxes or who runs the economy and how. On the third hand, I don’t think there is anyone of prominence that people feel they can get behind to lead change, even if they could agree to what needs to be changed. Last year’s misplaced enthusiasm for Obama will no doubt harden into cynicism at some point. At this point I would predict record apathy for both parties next year. But depending on when and how fast things turn to shit, that could change. I honestly don’t think America can change its ways until we are in much worse straights than we are now. Until that happens the media and politicians will just point to the status quo as proof that we’re all just a bunch of Chicken Littles. And after that point all bets are off.

  5. October 27, 2009

    If i saw an higher cause than personal/party power and getting rich, i wouldn’t mind the partisanship. But where it really counts, both US parties look like they’re on the same team…and it ain’t mine.

  6. Samuel permalink
    October 27, 2009

    Why not suggest massive general strikes.
    That’s about the only nonviolent thing ordinary citizens can do to slow down this runaway train.

  7. Howard permalink
    October 27, 2009

    There was a great post by Stirling Newberry back in July (http://www.correntewire.com/three_polar_politics_post_petroleum_america) in which he detailed the three sided shape of American politics. With that as background the breakup of the banks (as a rejection of TARP would have succeeded in doing for Obama last September-October) would help to reforge the old Confederate – Progressive consensus that was the basis for FDR’s political power.

    I was afraid last Fall that Obama was either missing or choosing not to take this enormous political opportunity and have become convinced since that it was a matter of choice that he won’t back down from.

    Again opportunities lost but picked up on by the Republican play with teabaggers and the Ron Paul -Grayson populist play.

  8. October 27, 2009

    Silly Ian.

    I started posting on the internet in 2000, before blogging was invented, to try to get the truth to people who were bedazzled by Bushlove.

    Then I tried to tell so-called progressives that Obama was no liberal and no FDR, but a cautious, dithering, incrementalist, corporatist. Those bedazzled by Obamalove called me a stupid dead ender racist.

    My conclusion is that most of the people want to be fooled and bedazzled most of the time, it’s only a question of which bedazzler has the momentum at the moment.

    I have never had such a low opinion of my fellow citizens.

    Carolyn Kay
    MakeThemAccountable.com

  9. October 27, 2009

    @John J Sears:

    As I commented to the other post, the rot goes deep enough that “doomed” is a very realistic assessment.

  10. Jeff W permalink
    October 27, 2009

    The only bit of hope I have is that the multiple crises (in the financial, automotive, and health care sectors) and the various “solutions” have made the realization inescapable to just about everyone, even establishment types like Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur and IMF economist Simon Johnson, one that, even a short while ago, might have been consigned to loony conspiracism—that the government is completely captured by corporate interests. (I’m sort of partial to the “inverted totalitarianism” theory as a way of explaining the methodology.) While, in the short term, yeah, I agree with tc that that sounds like a recipe for apathy and staying home at the polls and with Curmudgeon that “doomed” seems like a realistic assessment at the moment, in the slightly longer run, that realization might lead to some much-needed action. One can hope, anyway.

  11. Brother Jim permalink
    October 27, 2009

    Inverted totalitarianism? Three sided shape? Rethug comeback?
    The only one that rectifies this reality is Carolyn Kay’s post.
    Obama may have been playing 10-dimensional chess, but he was playing to bamboozle the voters, not to do their bidding or serve their best interests.
    Obama is a Chicago School neoliberal definitive Fascist.
    Look up fascist and you’ll see that it doesn’t favor the left or the right; corporatist is the kinder, gentler, Obama Way of saying Fascist.
    Truman was one, Reagan was one, Bush One was one, Clinton was one, Bush Two was one. Fascists all, just a smoother American version. (The banksters even owned Jimmy Carter. Thank him for the massive 401(k) scam …)
    Say it with me folks, “The United States is a Fascist nation.”
    Homeland Security? Twenty-five percent of the world’s incarcerated people in prisons? One percent owning 90 percent of the wealth? A military engaged in a perpetual global war on everyone whose looks we don’t like and no end in sight? Have you considered stopping paying your taxes lately?
    You people need to wake the eff up.

  12. October 27, 2009

    Samuel PERMALINK
    Why not suggest massive general strikes.
    That’s about the only nonviolent thing ordinary citizens can do to slow down this runaway train.

    Why not indeed? Well first off, as to the nonviolence, you should read Digby’s continuing coverage of the advances in taser devices and other crowd control technology. It might be intended to be nonviolent, but the police will definitely escalate it to violence. When was the last time there was a general strike in America? Has there ever been one?

    But mostly this is a nation of sheep. We might muster a demonstration on the Mall on a weekend, and then quibble about the numbers in attendance for a few days (if it’s teabaggers or some such rightwingers demonstrating – if it’s DFHs, like the huge antiwar rallies that were practically ignored by the TV and print media, that’s a different story). They outright stole the presidency for four years (maybe eight), they started 2 wars, one of them massively unpopular (until we got won over by shock and awe). There’s not much “they” can’t get away with when it comes to the American populace.

    Right now, nobody is going to take off work to go downtown and face tear gas, billy clubs, horses, rubber bullets, taser bombs , and most of all a criminal record, the moment the whole crowd gets punished and slandered for the reckless few, or just because the cops were itching to break some heads. Maybe a few years of high youth unemployment will change that. I wouldn’t even count on it then.

  13. October 27, 2009

    Like I said about health care, especially now: the gazillion-sized unemployment numbers may look enormous to *us*, but you still have a good majority of the people believing that they have something invested in the system as it stands. This is what I see around me and the way it is panning out.

    We don’t *know* the point at which people will lose faith in the system.

  14. October 27, 2009

    There is something about the situation that is unprecedented, and is also happening in the UK.

    You supposedly have two parties. One party is in power and pursues a set of policies, and eventually the public has enough. They elect the other party, which then pursues the same policies as the previous incumbents. So you have a situation where you simply can not affect policy by voting. Vote in the Republicans, they transfer billions of dollars to the banks. Vote in the Democrats, they transfer billions of dollars to the banks.

    Both parties seem equally committed to increasing income inequality. To what end? To the point where we repeal the 13th Amendment and relegalize slavery?

    I’m not sure what the mechanism is for how this happened. I suspect a mixture of bribery and blackmail of the political class. But you basically got a situation where you have elections, sometimes they are quite competitive, but it just doesn’t matter who wins because both candidates will do the same thing once in office.

  15. October 27, 2009

    @Ed:

    In the American case, traditional liberal democratic politics has been quietly replaced with a system roughly similar to neopatrimonialism. Government is not seen as a tool to serve the public interest but rather as a tool to enrich the well connected through a cyclic system of bribes, kickbacks, tailor-made laws, and giveaways of public resources. The only difference between the two parties is which group of patrimonial interests are allowed to feast on public funds. Interests–such as the financial sector–that are connected to both parties get special treatment from government regardless of who is in power.

    Neopatrimonialism is perhaps one of the most stable political equilibriums. Once established, this system of government can survive for decades in the face of both concerted domestic and external pressure. It is quite able to outlast elections, revolutions, and civil wars. Neopatrimonial arrangements in Africa have outlasted every effort at reform. There’s nothing to say the American neopatrimonial system will be any more amenable to change than the Nigerian system has proved to be.

    Reform, if it is possible, will take decades if not centuries.

  16. October 27, 2009

    The system in Africa has survived because the efforts at reform have largely sucked. Why have they largely sucked? Because of exterior/colonial interests whose direct presence was removed only relatively recently. I would not give it special resilience over other systems.

    In the American case, I would wait until the failure of the system has become apparent to all before making too many pronouncements. As I said, in Real Life, it doesn’t appear to be the case that the awareness is widespread. On the other hand, awareness is growing. Perhaps the weird ambivalence of polls giving us seemingly contradictory results heralds a transition?

  17. October 27, 2009

    Ian,
    “I didn’t get into blogging in 2003 to be a partisan Democrat. I’m not even an American. I got into it to tell the truths that Americans needed to hear if they were going to save their souls and the bodies that house those souls, and if it’s my friends I have to tell unwelcome truths to now, so be it, and be damned.”

    I’m relatively new to blogging/posting (2006) and I’m fading out of the scene because posting has been mistaken for action. Civil disobedience has gone from the street to the internet in the form of flame wars and shameful behavior in ways that would never happen in face to face dialog. The internet; instead of bringing us together is further isolating us and leaving a fragmented society in it’s wake. Further; our government, with it’s citizens compliance, has crossed over into a form of fascism. There has been no effective response to this.
    This is one of the more civil sites along with The Agonist (on which I post as Celsius 233) I left the U.S. in 2003 and have only been reinforced that I made the right decision in the ensuing 7 years and it leaves me sickened and sad. Keep up the good fight.

  18. jo6pac permalink
    October 28, 2009

    Big O has made uncle milton friedmans dream come true only this time it’s not offshore. Welcome to the new Amerika.
    Everything is on schedule, please move along.

  19. October 28, 2009

    @Mandos:

    Neopatrimonialism is extremely stable because it can very effectively capture and corrupt systemic actors that could bring about reforms. Efforts to end African neopatrimonialism have sucked precisely because neopatrimonial states have adapted to buy off pro-reform factions (both domestic and international) in ways that take serious reform off the table.

  20. October 28, 2009

    Check out this piece from News from the Zona: http://newsfromthezona.blogspot.com/2009/10/republican-virtue-and-equality.html.

    I agree. What we are looking at is a takeover and undermining of small-r republican instutions by the rich. It happened all the time in the ancient world.

    Mandos’ analysis is good as well. I would also cite Latin America as well as Africa. Latin American countries actually copied the US consitution, and many evolved imitation two party systems where the two parties did essentially the same thing while in office. The one thing different was a willingness to use death squads to simply kill genuine dissidents.

    The situation in Latin America has actually improved slightlyin recent decades, but it took military rule and a good dose of neo-fascism to break the logjam.

  21. Ian Welsh permalink
    October 28, 2009

    The Zona article linked by Ed is excellent, very much worth reading. This in particular struck home:

    Thus, the first duty of the state is to exercise violence against the most powerful private parties. To put it in plain English, we do not tax the rich at a higher rate because we want to use that money for social welfare, or for the poor – we do it firstly in order to make the rich less rich. This, I think is always true. Rawls’ Theory assumes that we have passed a historical point where Republics could be threatened by private parties in this way. The whole of the last thirty years, I think, proves he was wrong.

  22. zot23 permalink
    October 28, 2009

    Stirling Newberry had a great post that has been illuminating for me all summer/fall:

    http://www.correntewire.com/three_polar_politics_post_petroleum_america

    He basically intones that there are three political factions/parties in America today: the Confederates, the Moderates, and the Progressives. Most of the Republicans are the Confederates straight up (40 votes in Senate), Moderates are Blue Dog type democrats (40 votes), with Progressives coming up on the fringe of the Dems (with 20 votes.)

    His overarching point being that Obama is the leader of the Moderates, not the Progressives. So to say he leads the entire Democratic party (and that party is in solidarity) isn’t accurately. He spearheads the moderate party, the progressives are left just as far out in the cold as the republicans. Stirling’s endgame to this is a loss of the Presidency to the Confederates (Repubs) in 2012 (if they can find someone non-toxic), who will actually break down the banks/govt spending/etc and crash the economy into Hooverism. With progressives having the muscle to come back in say 2016 or so and actually take the office of president and do what really needs to be done.

    Seems like a long ass time to wait for soem sanity in DC, but ever since I read that post, it’s been hard to not see the evidence piling up day after day. Obama will fail, he just doesn’t have it in him to make the changes he promised. We wanted a revolutionary level of changes, what we got is a carefully managed breakdown of the same type that was uncontrolled under GWB. He simply cna’t dot he job that needs to be done, he won’t make it past 2012.

    Honestly, I’m a progressive and I’m ready to see him go. I don’t want Sarah Palin, but I would seriously consider a Ron Paul type if they ran on a platform of shrinking: the Fed, runaway deficit spending, stopping the wars, and shrinking exectutive powers. It would eventually be a disaster, but at least someone would be doing something.

  23. October 28, 2009

    Neopatrimonialism is extremely stable because it can very effectively capture and corrupt systemic actors that could bring about reforms. Efforts to end African neopatrimonialism have sucked precisely because neopatrimonial states have adapted to buy off pro-reform factions (both domestic and international) in ways that take serious reform off the table.

    See, I’m not sure I agree with this characterization, because it puts too much agency in local forces in Africa. *Why* are they able to buy off international reform factions? Because they are largely seemless with international forces.

  24. October 28, 2009

    While a general strike might not be possible, I’m partial to Theodore Roosevelt’s remedy for curbing the power of the speculators in an economy. The supreme result of Roosevelt’s populism – which went beyond anything else proposed in the U.S. in the 20th century – was a bill , S232, that passed the House in 1911. Here is how it is described by Lawrence Mitchell in the Speculation Economy:

    “It would have replaced traditional state corporate finance law by preventing companies from issuing “new stock” for more than the cash value of their assets, addressing both traditional antitrust concerns and newer worries about the stability of the stock market by preventing overcapitalization. But it would have done much more.

    S. 232 was designed to restore industry to its primary role in American business, subjugating finance to its service. It would have directed the proceeds of securities issues to industrial progress by preventing corporations from issuing stock except “for the purpose of enlarging or extending the business of such corporation or for improvements or betterments”, and only with the permission of the Secretary of Commerce and Labor. Corporations would only be permitted to issue stock to finance revenue-generating industrial activities rather than finance the ambitions of sellers and promoters. … S. 232 would have restored the industrial business model to American corporate capitalism and prevented the spread of the finance combination from continuing it dominance of American industry.” (137) In Sklar’s account of the Roosevelt era draft, ‘whenever the amount of outstanding stock should exceed the value of assets, the secretary would require the corporation to call in all staock and issue new stock in lieu thereof in an amount not exceeding the value of assets, and each stockholder would be required to surrender the old stock and receive the new issue in an amount proportionate to the old holdings.”

    We didn’t put these curbs in place in 1911. Since then, Speculation has become dominant in the U.S. economy. The whole trick of neo-liberalism is to extrude the old social insurance net, which was the great product of the progressive and new deal eras, into the private sphere. In essence, crush the bargaining power of labor, loosen restraints on credit, and tie the median income class directly to the speculative markets.

    This has had the effect of creating a politics that is basically about pampering the speculative sector. It is, of course, a disaster for the vast majority of people. And that there was a lively discussion about speculation at all once upon a time – from 1890 to 1914 – has been utterly forgotten. You rarely ever hear a radical nowadays say, why don’t we simply end the system of watered stock? Which, in effect, would mean that if you owned stock in a company, you really owned the company, rather than a financial instrument whose value was solely determined in a secondary market. The simple genius of requiring that the stock would have to equal the outstanding assets, and no more, would shatter the whole system.

    I’d like to see that discussion restart.

  25. Howard permalink
    October 28, 2009

    Wow to roger’s post. I don’t think it is implementable for practical reasons, however, it is exactly the right discussion to be having. How precisely do we reorder our society so that the speculators are driven out and our economy once more reflects the labor that goes in and the products that come out?

    All the talk in a previous thread about neoliberalism and economic theory on the creation of money is simply a waste of time. The economy cannot and will not be put in order until society is. The money supply and its value will, theories be damned, simply reflect the imperatives of the structure of society. If you value and encourage speculation over production I guarantee that you will have the sort of macro consequences that we see in every variable of the economy.

    The point of talking about things like taxation, for example, or the sort of regulation Roosevelt proposed for securities, is that these are the primary means for reordering our society. Because until we do that all the economic theory in the world will not restore our economy. It will only obfuscate what needs to be done in the rigamarole of the impact of taxes on money supply etc. etc ad nauseum until the will to actually act is lost and we hand it all over to the bankers and economists besotted with and confused by all of their gibberish.

    You don’t and probably can’t manage economies you can and probably must manage the relations between citizens, the state and the various means of production. The more we think, or are convinced to think that we can do the former, the less will and energy is available for the latter.

  26. Howard permalink
    October 28, 2009

    Break up the banks. Shoot the economists.

  27. October 28, 2009

    Production is sovereignty.

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