Saturday, September 12, 2009

Remember what I said about the world not coming to an end? Forget it.

The indomitable Dan Carlin assaulted my ears again today. I have dropped several podcasts (No Agenda, I'm looking at you...) over the years not out of concerns about their content, but out of a general sense that, however true their message, my fragile psyche just couldn't take their message.

Dan Carlin had another whopper that I listened to today, and it has me in a funk.

Dan's theme was about the 60s, and specifically the hoary old cliche, "Turn on, tune in, drop out". Dan asks if you would be better off, given the perilous state of the United States today, simply dropping out-not voting, not paying attention to it. Giving up-live your life, pay your taxes, but otherwise just stay the heck out of things.

George Carlin on voting and civic participation:

If you've read me for any length of time, you probably have guessed that I am a bedwetting liberal. A namby pamby, granola eating, latte drinking, Volvo driving, wine and cheese party neo-Communist socialist Red. You're mostly right about that.

While reading through some of my archives, I realized the startling depths of my antipathy for President Bush. I knew I wasn't fond of him, but golly gee, I REALLY wasn't fond of him. As a consequence, nearly anything Obama does gets 20% of a free pass from me, because at least he's not Bush-I have a baseline assumption of rationality and good sense that I did not have for the actions of the previous president.

I get very defensive about criticisms of the current President. Partially that is due to reflexive "my guy" sympathies, partially it is the unprecedented hurricane of fail he was presented with in January(ie even FDR, Lincoln and Truman working together would be challenged by the current mess) , and partially it is the above assumption of good faith. I'm trying to get over that.

Dan's thesis in this episode was basically that we're all doomed, and, what's worse, there's nothing you can do about it. I am afraid he may have a point.

You don't need me to tell you about the numerous crises-fiscal, and military, and educational, and energy-related, and on, and on, and on...

"Cut taxes and spending", the right cries, while when in office, they actually did one of the two. "Give people a hand up," the left cries, while 40 years of trying has not ended poverty. And, as time goes on, and the problem gets worse, our representatives kick the can down the road, refusing to cut spending or raise taxes, blaming the other guy, running for reelection in the organized system of bribery we call an election.

William Pfaff on elections and money:

"The contributors of money to Senate and House campaigns are dominated by the source of that money, and the source of the money is the United States government, which directs it to them as a result of the contracts awarded to them by the House and Senate members whose election they support. The process is circular."

Exactly. They're never going to do anything unpopular, and the money is going to keep sloshing around and around. The plutocrats will whine that they have to pay any taxes at all, and the lefties will whine that we can't possibly cut THAT program, it is CRITICAL.

When my jovial foe DMarks says something about government being the enemy, or the problem, I usually tell him it's his government, and he should change it. But sometimes I think he's half right. Government isn't the problem. We are.

We are selfish, spoiled children, who want everything in the store but want to pay for none of it. We want to cut government spending, but not for the fighter project that brings jobs to my neighborhood. We want to cut taxes, too, apparently expecting the fighter to be paid for with unicorn hair.


  1. "We want to cut taxes, too, apparently expecting the fighter to be paid for with unicorn hair."

    Well, we could cut a lot of waste and cut taxes. And still pay for the fighter. After all, national defense is one of the legitimate tax expenditures. Unlike fish atlases, official government news organs (NPR), multi-million-dollar yearly federal salaries, and taxpayer-funded sports stadiums.

    As for the "hurricane of fail", Obama sowed this wind also. He approved the no strings attached bailouts while he was in the Senate. The wasteful spending and soaring deficit (4 times the rate Bush increased it) is an example of him making the hurricane blow harder.

  2. DM-

    As I tried to point out on a previous post, no, we can't cut taxes and still pay for the fighter. There isn't enough waste to make up the difference. 20% of the 2008 Federal Budget was discretionary spending-about $500 billion dollars. Cut it all out-all of it-and you're just barely cutting the deficit, making practically no progress on the debt. Do the math-you can't have your tax cuts and your military spending.

    As for the hurricane of fail, that's not only the financial crisis (which I would argue was partially due to Republican anti regulatory sentiment) but two wars, at least one of which was unnecessary, loss of global prestige, crumbling infrastructure, and a morass of other problems.

    I would tie every one of these problems to decisions George W. Bush or his administration made while in office. I am not pleased with Obama either, but I think it is massively unfair to complain about federal spending now, when we are trying to avoid a depression, if you weren't complaining just as loudly about it when Bush was doing it.

  3. The assertion that it was "unnecessary" to fight back against the terrorists is quite debatable. After all, what war is "necessary"? The US could have remained a colony of the UK (no revolutionary war). Half the US could be the slave-owning Confederacy now (no Civil War). Europe could be united under a Thousand Year Reich already 70 years old (the US sits out WW2).

    A lot more of the "mandatory" spending is diescretionalry than you think. In fact, most of it really is. These are the programs that Congress set up, and Congress can change the rules. For example, the social security program pays out a lot of money to the rich and well-off. So it is welfare for the rich. Congress keeps adding new programs to the "mandatory" category, and they have the power to change these programs or even take them out. Mandatory? Not really. Just a little less discretionary than the other programs.

    You can have tax cuts and military spending. Especially since the tax cuts usually result in increases in revenues, which mean more tax money coming in when all is said and done.

    The "hurricane of fail" was triggered by Democratic Party pro-regulatory sentiment in the housing market. Remember Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two government agencies directed by the Democrats in Congress to be black holes of debt, encouraging banks to be very irresponsible. Yes, there is some blame from Bush: he could have tried harder to stop the Democrats.

    I did complain about waste spending and debt under Bush. Bush was too reluctant to veto. However, even when he did veto waste spending, the Democrats objected loudly over it. Now that waste spending and debt is at least 4 times higher under Obama, due to his own direct decisions, I complain 4 times louder.

    I do entirely discount the "global prestige" factor that you mentioned. I don't hold the global popularity/PR contest to be that important. Certainly not important to risk doing the wrong thing in order to merely boost global "popularity" numbers. If people who are ignorant of world affairs and US internal affairs object out of their ignorance, so be it. The US should not be out to make the uninformed or people with ill intent happy.

    As for "trying to avoid a depression" as an excuse for Obama's poorly-thought-out budgets right out the gate, it just doesn't wash. Free government health care for rich people (SCHIP) has nothing to do with preventing a depression in the US. Nor do the foreign aid provisions. But it has everything to do with ramming through wasteful pet projects under the guise of "this is an emergency! Do it right away! And don't dare look at the details!"

  4. Via

    "Mandatory spending, at $2 trillion in FY 2010, is 57% of the U.S. Federal Budget. The largest mandatory spending programs are Social Security and Medicare, as follows: Social Security - $695 billion,Medicare - $453 billion,Medicaid - $290 billion, All other mandatory programs - $571 billion. These programs include Food Stamps, Unemployment Compensation, Child Nutrition, Child Tax Credits, Supplemental Security for the blind and disabled, Student Loans, and Retirement / Disability programs for Civil Servants, the Coast Guard and the Military."

    "Discretionary Spending is that part of the U.S. Federal Budget that is negotiated between the President and Congress each year as part of the budget process. It includes everything that is not in the mandatory budget, which are programs required by law to provide certain benefits, such as Social Security and Medicare...More than what the OMB calls Security spending: the Department of Defense and "overseas contigency programs. The FY 2010 Federal Budget proposes an 7% increase in discretionary spending to $1.37 trillion. This is due to a 13% increase in non-Security spending to $695 billion. This increase does not include the Stimulus Bill funding. Security spending increases 1% to $673 billion. This includes $130 billion for overseas contingency operations, which means increased troops in Afghanistan and a slow wind-down in Iraq. (Source: OMB, Defense Department Budget)"

    That's my point. More than half of the budget is mandated spending-Social Security, Medicare, debt service. Crying about waste, fraud, and abuse is fine, and useful, and true-there is waste, fraud, and abuse, and it should be uprooted, and the people involved should be imprisoned.

    But it doesn't solve the budget problem. Hard choices have to be made. We have to means test Social Security. We have to reduce Medicare and Medicaid spending. We have to cut wasteful Defense programs-we really don't need more fighters.

    But we're never going to do that. Social Security is sacrosanct-because seniors vote, and there is more of them than there are of my generation. Defense is sacrosanct, because anyone who dares cut it will be savaged by the Republicans. Even John McCain, God bless him, backed off his deficit hawkery to run for President.

    We, as a people, really don't want to balance the budget. We want the cookies, and we don't want to pay for the cookie mix.

    It has been forever thus.

  5. "We have to means test Social Security."

    You made the main point I wanted to make about a rather discretionary part of the "mandatory" spending.

    I like means testing on all of these types of programs. I don't think that the government should be giving out welfare to the well off/rich. It should only go to the disabled/indigent/poor/needy.

  6. I agree, and if you and I ran the world, (what a prospect!) they would be means tested. (How socialist-to each according to his need!)

    But we both remember what happened to Bush's privatization idea-doing ANYTHING to Social Security evokes howls of protest, making a tea party look like, well, a tea party.

    So it's NEVER going to happen.

    Hence my cynicism.


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