Sunday, April 27, 2008

Let's Hear it for Norway

After years of political debate, the Norwegian parliament has agreed changes to the country’s constitution that weakens the relationship between church and state. Paragraph 2 of the Constitution names the Lutheran Church as the state religion, but this will now be changed to read: "The basic values of our nation shall be our Christian and humanistic heritage." However, in another paragraph of the amended constitution, the Norwegian Lutheran Church will be named as a "folk church". It will also continue to state that the King confesses to the Evangelical Lutheran faith.

In addition, the compromise grants the Church the right to appoint bishops and deans, although they will still be state employees. (In the current selection process, the Church submits candidates to the government, which makes the final decision.)

The compromise also includes provisions for the Church of Norway to carry out a "democratic reform" to give church members more influence in church matters. The constitutional changes require a two-thirds majority in Parliament and are expected to pass in 2012.

Well, it is not the secular government that the USA has etched into our Consitution, but at least they are making some steps in the right direction.


Ceroill said...

Shows also (from the other direction) the way that some want our country to go.

Ceroill said...

Ok, I'm going to do it again, and post the text of a VERY long but good article. It's from Salon, so again, it requires what they call a 'site pass' to read it there.

The Gilded Age, past and present

The titans of Wall Street have failed us like never before. So why does no one care?

By Steve Fraser

April 28, 2008 | Google "second Gilded Age" and you will get ferried to 7,000 possible sites where you can learn more about what you already instinctively know. That we are living through a gilded age has become a journalistic commonplace. The unmistakable drift of all the talk about it is a Yogi Berra-ism: It's a matter of déjá vu all over again. But is it? Is turn-of-the-century America a replica of the world Mark Twain first christened "gilded" in his debut bestseller back in the 1870s?

Certainly, Twain would feel right at home today. Crony capitalism, the main object of his satirical wit in "The Gilded Age," is thriving. Incestuous plots as outsize as the one in which the Union Pacific Railroad's chief investors conspired with a wagon-load of government officials, including Ulysses S. Grant's vice president, to loot the federal Treasury once again lubricate the machinery of public policymaking. A cronyism that would have been familiar to Twain has made the wheels go 'round in these terminal years of the Bush administration. Even the invasion and decimation of Iraq were conceived and carried out as an exercise in grand strategic cronyism; call it cronyism with a vengeance. All of this has been going on since Ronald Reagan brought back morning to America.

Reagan's America was gilded by design. In 1981, when the new rich and the new right paraded in their sumptuous threads in Washington to celebrate at the new president's inaugural ball, it was called a "bacchanalia of the haves." Diana Vreeland, style guru (as well as Nancy Reagan confidante), was stylishly blunt: "Everything is power and money and how to use them both ... We mustn't be afraid of snobbism and luxury."

That's when the division of wealth and income began polarizing so that, by every measure, the country has now exceeded the extremes of inequality achieved during the first Gilded Age; nor are our elites any more embarrassed by their mammon worship than were members of the "leisure class" excoriated a century ago by that take-no-prisoners social critic of American capitalism Thorstein Veblen.

Back then, it was about masquerading as European nobility at lavish balls in elegant hotels like New York's Waldorf-Astoria, locked down to forestall any unpleasantness from the street (where ordinary folk were in a surly mood trying to survive the savage depression of the 1890s). Today's "leisure class" is holed up in gated communities or houseoleums as gargantuan as the imported castles of their Gilded Age forerunners, ready to fly off -- should the natives grow restless -- to private islands aboard their private jets.
At the height of the first Gilded Age, William Graham Sumner, a Yale sociologist and the most famous exponent of Herbert Spencer's theory of dog-eat-dog social Darwinism, asked a good question: What do the social classes owe each other? Virtually nothing was the professor's answer.

As in those days, there is today no end to ideological justifications for an inequality so pervasive that no one can really ignore it entirely. In 1890, reformer Jacob Riis published his book "How the Other Half Lives." Some were moved by his vivid descriptions of destitution. In the late 19th century, however, the preferred way of dismissing that discomfiting reality was to put the blame on a culture of dependency supposedly prevalent among "the lower orders," particularly, of course, among those of certain complexions and ethnic origins; and the logical way to cure that dependency, so the claim went, was to eliminate publicly funded "outdoor relief."

How reminiscent of the "welfare to work" policies cooked up by the Clinton administration, an exchange of one form of dependency -- welfare -- for another -- low-wage labor. Poverty, once turned into the cultural and moral problem of the impoverished, exculpated Gilded Age economics in both the 19th and the 21st centuries (and proved profitable besides).
Even now, there remains a trace of the old social Darwinian rationale -- that the ascendancy of "the fittest" benefits the whole species -- and the accompanying innuendo that those consigned to the bottom of the heap are fated by nature to end up there. To that must be added a reinvigorated belief in the free market as the fairest (not to mention the most efficient) way to allocate wealth. Then, season it all with a bravura elevation of risk taking to the status of spiritual, as well as economic, tonic. What you end up with is an intellectual elixir as self-congratulatory as the conscience-cleansing purgative that made professor Sumner so sure in his coldbloodedness.

Then, as now, hypocrisy and self-delusion were the final ingredients in this ideological brew. When it came to practical matters, neither the business elites of the first Gilded Age nor our own "liquidators," "terminators," and merger and acquisition Machiavellians ever really believed in the free market or the enterprising individual. Then, as now, when push came to shove (and often way earlier), they relied on the government: for political favors, for contracts, for tax advantages, for franchises, for tariffs and subsidies, for public grants of land and natural resources, for financial bailouts when times were tough (see Bear Stearns) and for muscular protection, including the use of armed force, against all those who might interfere with the rights of private property.

So, too, while industrial and financial tycoons liked to imagine themselves as stand-alone heroes, daring cowboys on the urban-industrial-financial frontier, as a matter of fact the first Gilded Age gave birth to the modern, bureaucratic corporation -- and did so at the expense of the lone entrepreneur. To this day, that big-business behemoth remains the defining institution of commercial life. The reigning melodrama may still be about the free market and the audacious individual, but backstage, directing the players, stands the state and the corporation.
Crony capitalism, inequality, extravagance, social Darwinian self-justification, blame-the-victim callousness, free-market hypocrisy: Thus it was, thus it is again!

At the end of the Reagan years, public intellectuals Kevin Phillips and Gary Wills prophesied that this state of affairs was insupportable and would soon end. Phillips, in particular, anticipated a populist rising. It did not happen. Instead, nearly 20 years later, the second Gilded Age is alive, if not so well. Why such longevity? The answer tells us something about how these two epochs, for all their striking similarities, are also profoundly unalike.

As a title, "Apocalypse Now" could easily have been applied to a movie made about late 19th century America. Whichever side you happened to be on, there was an overwhelming dread that the nation was dividing in two and verging on a second civil war, that a final confrontation between the haves and have-nots was unavoidable.
Irate farmers mobilized in cooperative alliances and in the Populist Party. Farmer-labor parties in states and cities from coast to coast challenged the dominion of the two-party system. Rolling waves of strikes, captained by warriors from the Knights of Labor, enveloped whole communities as new allegiances extended across previously unbridgeable barriers of craft, ethnicity, even race and gender.

Legions of small-business men, trade unionists, urban consumers and local politicians raged against monopoly and "the trusts." Armed workers' militias paraded in the streets of many American cities. Business and political elites built massive urban fortresses, public armories equipped with Gatling guns (the machine guns of their day), preparing to crush the insurrections they saw headed their way.

Even today the names of Haymarket (the square in Chicago where, in 1886, a bombing at a rally of rebellious workers led to the legal lynching of anarchist leaders at the most infamous trial of the 19th century), Homestead (where, in 1892, the Monongahela River ran red with the blood of Pinkerton thugs sent by Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick to crush the strike of their steelmaking employees) and Pullman (the company town in Illinois where, in 1894, President Grover Cleveland ordered federal troops to put down the strike of the American Railway Union against the Pullman Palace Car Co.) evoke memories of a whole society living on the edge.

he first Gilded Age was a moment of great fears, but also of great expectations -- a period infatuated with a literature of utopias as well as dystopias. The two most successful novels of the 19th century, after "Uncle Tom's Cabin," were Edward Bellamy's utopian "Looking Backward" and the horrific dystopia "Caesar's Column" by Populist tribune Ignatius Donnelly. The latter reached its denouement when Donnelly's fictional proletarian underground movement, the "Brotherhood of Destruction," marked its "triumph" with the erection of a giant pyramid composed of a quarter-million corpses of its enemy, "the Oligarchy" and its minions, cemented together and laced with explosives so that no one would dare risk removing them and destroying this permanent memorial to the barbarism of American industrial capitalism.

This end-of-days foreboding and the thirst for utopian release were not, moreover, confined to the ranks of agrarian or industrial troublemakers. Before "Pullman" became a word for industrial serfdom and the federal government's bloody-mindedness, it was built by its owner, George Pullman, as a model industrial city, a kind of capitalist utopia of paternal benevolence and confected social harmony.

Everyone was seeking a way out, something wholly new to replace the rancor and incipient violence of Gilded Age capitalism. The Knights of Labor, the Populist Party, the antitrust movement, the cooperative movements of town and country, the nationwide eight-hour day uprisings of 1886 that culminated in the infamy of the Haymarket hangings, all expressed a deep yearning to abolish the prevailing industrial order.

Such groups weren't just angry; they weren't merely resentful -- although they were that, too. They were disturbed enough, naive enough, desperate enough, inventive enough, desiring enough, deluded enough -- some still drawing cultural nourishment from the fading homesteads and workshops of preindustrial America -- to believe that out of all this could come a new way of life, a cooperative commonwealth. No one really knew what exactly that might be. Still, the great expectation of a future no longer subservient to the calculus of the marketplace and the capitalist workshop lent the first Gilded Age its special fission, its high (tragic) drama.
Fast-forward to our second Gilded Age and the stage seems bare indeed. No great fears, no great expectations, no looming social apocalypses, no utopias or dystopias -- just a kind of flat-line sense of the end of history. Where are all the roiling insurgencies, the breakaway political parties, the waves of strikes and boycotts, the infectious communal upheavals, the chronic sense of enough is enough? Where are the earnest efforts to invoke a new order that, no matter how sketchy and full of unanswered questions, now seem as minutely detailed as the blueprints for a Boeing 747 compared with "yes we can"?
What's left of mainstream populism exists on life support in some attic of the Democratic Party. Even the language of our second Gilded Age is hollowed out. In a society saturated in Christian sanctimony, would anyone today describe "mankind crucified on a cross of gold" as William Jennings Bryan once did, or let loose against "mammon worship," condemn aristocratic "parasites" or excommunicate "vampire speculators" and the "devilfish" of Wall Street? If 19th century evangelical preachers once pronounced anathema on capitalist greed, 21st century televangelists deify it. Tempers have cooled, leaving God, like many Americans, with only part-time employment.

I exaggerate, of course. Movements do exist today to confront the inequities and iniquities of our own Gilded Age. Wall Street bandits are, once in a while, arrested by a sheriff. Some ministers, even born-again ones, do still preach the social Gospel. But all this seems a pale shadow of what was. Something fundamental about the metabolism of capitalism has changed.

Perhaps the answer is simple and basic: The first Gilded Age rested on industrialization; the second, on deindustrialization. In our time, a new system of disaccumulation looted American industry, liquidating its assets to reward speculation in "fictitious capital." After all, the rate of investment in new plants, technology, and research and development all declined during the 1980s. For a quarter-century, the fastest-growing part of the economy has been the finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE) sector.

Deindustrialization has set off an avalanche whose impact is still being felt in the economy, in the country's political culture and in everyday life. It laid the industrial working class and the labor movement low, killing it twice over. This, more than anything else, may account for the great silence of the second Gilded Age when measured, at least, against the raucous noise of the first. Labor was mortally wounded by direct assault, beginning with President Reagan's decision in 1981 to fire all the striking air traffic controllers. His draconian act licensed American business to launch its own all-out attack on the right to organize, which continues to this day.
In itself, however, resorting to coercion to deal with the opposition hardly distinguishes our own gilded elite from the first one. If anything, we live in less savage times, at least here at home. More fatal by far was the arrival of a new mode of capital accumulation, starkly different from the one that had prevailed a century ago. It eviscerated towns, cities, regions and whole ways of life. It demoralized people, hollowed out popular institutions that had once offered resistance, and stoked the fires of resentment, racism and national revanchism. Here was the raw material for mean-spirited division, not solidarity.

Disaccumulation transformed the working class into a disaggregated pool of contingent labor, contract labor, temporary labor and part-time labor, all in the interests of a new "flexible capitalism." Ideologues gussied up this floating workforce by anointing it "free agent" labor, a euphemism designed to flatter the free-market homunculus in each of us -- and, for a time, it worked. But the resulting reality has proved a bitter pill to swallow. To be a "free agent" today is to be free of healthcare, pensions, secure jobs, security in every sense. In our gilded era, downward mobility, lasting a quarter-century and still counting, has marked the social trajectory of millions of people living in the American heartland.

Disaccumulating capitalism also undermined the political gravitas of poverty. In the first Gilded Age, poverty was a function of exploitation; in the second, of exclusion or marginalization. When we think about poverty, what come to mind are welfare and race. The first Gilded Age visualized instead coal miners, child labor, tenement workshops and the shantytowns that clustered around the steel mills of Aliquippa and Homestead.

Poverty arising out of exploitation ignited widespread moral revulsion and a robust political assault on the power of the exploiters. The perpetrators of the poverty of exclusion of our own time have been trickier to identify. In his 1962 book, "The Other America," Michael Harrington noted the invisibility of poverty. That was half a century ago and misery still lives in the shadows. Helped along by an ingrained racism, poverty in the second Gilded Age was politically neutered ... or worse.

Decline, dispossession and marginalization: a grim scenario. Yet the new political economy of finance-based disaccumulation also announced itself as the second coming of democratic capitalism. And in the realm of the collective imagination, if not in reality, it convinced millions.

Aristocrats don't exist anymore, but it is remarkable how long they lasted as major actors in the country's political dramaturgy. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was still denouncing "economic royalists" and "Tories of industry" at the height of the New Deal. The struggle against the counterrevolutionary aristocrat, seen to be subverting the institutions of democratic life, piling up unearned riches, supplied the energy powering American reform for generations. In real life, the robber baron industrialists and financiers of Wall Street were no more aristocrats than my grandma from the shtetl. They were parvenus.

For their own good reasons, however, they actively conspired in this popular misperception by playing the aristocratic role for all it was worth. In hindsight, what looks like one of the silliest utopias of the first Gilded Age was enacted by these nouveaux riches, performing in tableaux vivants at gala balls dressed in aristocratic drag, or cavorting in the castles and villas they had transported stone by stone from France and Italy, or showing off at the weddings of their daughters to the offspring of bankrupt European nobility, or parading to New York's Metropolitan Opera in coaches driven by liveried servants and embossed with their family's "coat of arms," complete with hijacked insignia and faked genealogies that concealed their owners' homelier origins.

We may laugh at all this now. Back then, for millions, these aristocratic pretensions confirmed an ancient Jeffersonian suspicion: Capitalists were nothing more or less than camouflaged aristocrats. And mobilizing to rescue the republic and democracy from such a danger was practically an indigenous instinct. However, pushing beyond this horizon of political democracy in the direction of social democracy is a different matter entirely, arousing anxiety about threatening the understructure of private property that is, after all, also part of the American dream. Having an aristocracy to kick around, even an ersatz one, can be politically empowering.

Minus the oddball exception or two, the new tycoonery of the second Gilded Age does not fancy itself an aristocracy. It does not dress up like one or marry off its daughters to fortune-hunting European dukes and earls. On the contrary, its major figures regularly dress down in bluejeans and cowboy hats, affecting a down-home populism or nerdy dishevelment. However addicted to the paraphernalia of flamboyant excess they may be, the new capitalist elite does not pretend these are the insignia of ruling-class entitlement.

Once upon a gilded time, the lower orders aped the fashions and manners of their putative betters; today it's the other way around. Indeed, it is no longer even apt to talk of a "leisure class," since our moguls of the moment are workaholics, Olympians of the merger-and-acquisition all-nighter.

Although the economic and political throw-weight of our gilded elite is at least as great as that of its predecessors in the days of J.P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller, an American fear of a moneyed aristocracy has subsided accordingly. Instead, from the Reagan era on, Americans have been captivated by businessmen who took on the rebel role against a sclerotic corporate order and an ossified government bureaucracy that, together, were said to be blocking access to a democracy of the bold.

Often men from the middling classes, lacking in social pedigree, the overnight elevation of people like Michael Milken, Carl Ichan or "greed is healthy" Ivan Boesky, flattered and confirmed a popular faith in the American dream. These irreverent new "revolutionaries," intent on overthrowing capitalism in the interests of capitalism, made fun of the men in pinstriped suits.

When the captains of industry and finance lorded it over the country in the late 19th century, no one dreamed of calling them rebels against an overweening government bureaucracy or an entrenched set of "interests." There was then no government bureaucracy, and tycoons like Russell Sage and Jay Gould were "the interests." They worried about being overthrown, not overthrowing someone else.

Our corporate elite are much more adept than their Gilded Age predecessors were at playing the democracy game. The old "leisure class" was distinctly averse to politics. If they needed a tariff or tax break, they called up their kept senator. When mortally challenged by the Populists and William Jennings Bryan in 1896, they did get involved; but, by and large, they didn't muck about in mass party politics, which they saw as too full of uncontrollable ethnic machines, angry farmers and the like. They relied instead on the federal judiciary, business-friendly presidents, constitutional lawyers and public and private militias to protect their interests.

Beginning in the 1970s, our age's business elite became acutely politically minded and impressively well organized, penetrating deeply all the pores of party and electoral democracy. They've gone so far as to craft strategic alliances with elements of what their 19th century predecessors -- who might have blanched at the prospect -- would have termed the hoi polloi. Calls to dismantle the federal bureaucracy now carry a certain populist panache, while huffing and puffing about family values has -- so far -- proved a cheap date for a gilded elite that otherwise generally couldn't care less.

Moreover, the ascendancy of our faux revolutionaries has been accompanied by media hosannas to the stock market as an Everyman's Oz. America's long infatuation with its own democratic-egalitarian ethos lent traction to this illusion.

Horace Greeley's inspirational admonition to "go West, young man" echoed through all the channels of popular culture in the 1990s -- from cable TV shows and mass circulation magazines to baseball stadium scoreboards and Internet chat rooms. Only now Greeley's frontier of limitless opportunity had migrated back East to the stock exchange and into the ether of virtual or dot-com reality. The culture of money released from all ancient inhibitions enveloped the commons.

"Shareholder democracy" and the "ownership society" are admittedly more public relations slogans than anything tangible. Nonetheless, you can't ignore the fact that, during the second Gilded Age, half of all American families became investors in the stock market. Dentists and engineers, midlevel bureaucrats and college professors, storekeepers and medical technicians -- people, that is, from the broad spectrum of middle-class life who once would have viewed the New York Stock Exchange with a mixture of awe, trepidation and genuine distaste, and warily kept their distance -- now jumped head first into the marketplace carrying with them all their febrile hopes for social elevation.

As Wall Street suddenly seemed more welcoming, fears about strangulating monopolies died. Dwindling middle-class resistance to big business accounts for the withering away of the old antitrust movement, a telling development in the evolution of our age's particular form of "big-box" capitalism. Once, that movement had expressed the frustrated ambitions not only of smaller businessmen but of all those who felt victimized by monopoly power. It embodied not just the idea of breaking up the trusts, but of competing with or replacing them with public enterprises.

Long before the Reagan counterrevolution defanged the whole regulatory apparatus, however, the "antitrust" movement was over and done with. Its absence from the political landscape during the second Gilded Age marks the demise of an older middle-class world of local producers, merchants and their customers who were once bound together by the ties of commerce and the folk truths of small-town Protestantism.

Big-box capitalism, the capitalism of Wal-Mart, still incites local uproars that carry a hint of that antitrust past, but oppositional forces are divided. The capitalism of which Wal-Mart is emblematic generates a dissonant universe of political and cultural desires. It appeals, first of all, to instincts of individual and family material well-being that may run up against calls for a wider social solidarity. Moreover, in its own everyday way consumer culture -- more far-reaching than anything imaginable a century ago -- channels desire into forms of expressive self-liberation. Grand narratives that tell a story of collective destiny -- redemption, enlightenment and progress, the cooperative commonwealth, proletarian revolution -- don't play well in this refashioned political theater.

However, the wheel turns. The capitalism of the second Gilded Age now faces a systemic crisis and, under the pressure of impending disaster, may be headed back to the future. Old-fashioned poverty is making a comeback. Arguably, the global economy, including its American branch, is increasingly a sweatshop economy. There is no denying that brute fact in Thailand, China, Vietnam, Central America, Bangladesh and dozens of other countries and regions that serve as platforms for primitive accumulation. Hundreds of millions of peasants have become proletarians virtually overnight.

Here at home, something analogous has been happening, but with an ironic difference and bearing within it a new historic opportunity. One might call it the unhorsing of the middle class.

During the first Gilded Age, the sweatshop seemed a noxious aberration. It lawlessly offered irregular employment at substandard wages for interminable hours. It was ordinarily housed helter-skelter in a makeshift workshop that would be here today, gone tomorrow. It was an underground enterprise that regularly absconded with its workers' paychecks and made chiseling them out of their due into an art form.

Today, what once seemed abnormal no longer does. The planet's peak corporations depend on this system. They have thrived on it. True enough, it has also encouraged the proliferation of petty enterprises -- subcontractors, consulting firms, domestic service companies -- fertilizing the soil in which our age of democratic capitalism is rooted. But the ubiquity of the sweated economy promises to alter the nation's political chemistry.

Many of the newly flexible proletarians working for Wal-Mart, for auto parts or construction company subcontractors, on the phones at direct-mail call centers, behind the counters at mass-market retailers, earn a dwindling percentage of what they used to. Even new hires at the Big Three automobile manufacturers will now make a smaller hourly wage than their grandfathers did in 1948. So, too, the relative job security such employees once enjoyed is gone, leaving them vulnerable to the "lean and mean" dictates of the new capitalism: double or triple workloads; or, even worse, part-time work, work always shadowed by indignity and fear; or, worse yet, no work at all.

Meanwhile, the white-collar Tomorrowland of "free agent" techies, software engineers and the like -- not to mention a whole endangered species of middle management -- lives a precarious existence, under intense stress, chronically anticipating the next round of layoffs. Yet many of them were once upon a time members in good standing of the "middle class." Now, they find themselves on the down escalator, descending into a despised state no one could mistake for middle-class life.

"Flexible accumulation" joins this dispossession of the middle class to the super-exploitation of millions who never laid claim to that status. Many of these sweated workers are women, laboring away as home healthcare aides, in the food services industry, in meat-processing plants, at hotels and restaurants and hospitals, because the arithmetic of "flexible accumulation" demands two workers to add up to the livable family wage not so long ago brought home by a single wage earner.

Millions more are immigrants, legal as well as undocumented, from all over the world. They live, virtually defenseless, in a twilight underworld of illegality and prejudice. Thanks to all this, the category of the "working poor" has reentered our public vocabulary. Once again, as during the first Gilded Age, poverty seems a function of exploitation at work, not only the lot of those excluded from work.

Might these developments augur the end of our second Gilded Age or, rather, the end of the age of acquiescence? No one can know. Yet anger and resentment over insecurity, downward mobility, exploitation, second-class citizenship and the ill-gotten gains of our Gilded Age mercenaries and their political enablers already rippled the political waters during the midterm elections of 2006. This primary season has witnessed a discernible leftward shift of the center of gravity within even the cowed leadership ranks of the Democratic Party, a shift driven in large measure by the subprime mortgage collapse and the ominous rumblings of severe recession.

Anger and resentment, however, do not by themselves comprise a visionary alternative. Nor is the Democratic Party, however restive, a likely vehicle of social democratic aspirations. Much more will have to happen outside the precincts of electoral politics by way of mass movement building to translate these smoke signals of resistance into something more muscular and enduring. Moreover, nasty competition over diminishing economic opportunities can just as easily inflame simmering racial and ethnic antagonisms.

Nonetheless, the current breakdown of the financial system is portentous. It threatens a general economic implosion more serious than anyone has witnessed for many decades. Depression, if that is what it turns out to be, together with the agonies of a misbegotten and lost war no one believes in any longer, could undermine whatever is left of the threadbare credibility of our Gilded Age elite.

Legitimacy is a precious possession; once lost it's not easily retrieved. Today, the myth of the "ownership society" confronts the reality of the "foreclosure society." The great silence of the second Gilded Age may give way to the great noise of the first.

derF said...

Thanks for the article, Bob. That Salon site pass process can be an ordeal. So much so, that you might be tempted to take a pass on a valuable essay. Cutting and pasting was the right thing to do.

Ceroill said...

No problem. At least I made sure to include the credits.


Thanks, for the article, Bob. Some thoughts...

I can't help but think the answer is for this country to get back to federalism. The reason the elite can stay the elite is because they have friends in one place...Washington. It happened in the first Gilded Age and it is happening now. Jefferson believed in regionalism and the differences between the colonies and that each one was it's own entity. The same holds true for the states today. None is exactly like the other. Concentrating all the power in one place is a recipe for disaster for all Americans, which leads to my next thought...

The Democrats are not the answer(neither are the Republicans, of course). They can dick around all the want about "the federal gas tax", but that doesn't even come close to the impending wake up call we are gonna get soon. The Chinese and ME countries are propping up our economy, they won't do this for ever. Our military, though the most powerful by far, needs oil to run and the world will end if we are fighting FOR oil(who IS going to use the last drop). Healthcare for all will be a nice little dream but supremely a cipher if unemployment reaches untold heights of 50, 60 or 70%. Finding your next meal will become more important than finding a doctor. And it won't matter how much money you have because actual food and water will become the currency of the future. We will see, I hope, the current "robber barons" planting their own vegetables. And I still don't begrudge anybody for anything they have acquired legally; I just don't see how it will help them when the shit hits the fan.

This is an adjustment for me as my Great Democratizer(the Internet) is run by electricity, which I am beginning to think, will become something grandparents will have to explain to their grandchildren as something which used to be. The Great Democratizer just might be hunger and thirst. This is my current dilemma, listening to these three fuckheads talk about only one or two pixels of the Big Picture. There is no forward thinking. There is no mapping out of any real strategy. Just get fucking elected and things will get sorted out. I believe it is time now to do the opposite of what the article is pining for. I believe it will not be Social Darwinism, it will be just plain old Darwinism. Lately I have kept in the back of my mind the things I will have to accomplish to keep my family viable. This includes food, water and firearms. No kidding.

Ceroill said...

Ok, well here's a speculative history revision question for you. What would you have done in Abe Lincoln's shoes? How would you resolve the issues around the proposed secession?

coreydbarbarian said...

for those with access to video on the net, have you seen the film zeitgeist?

it is 2 hours long, but extremely interesting. be forewarned: the 1st 3 minutes have audio, but very little video. (i thought my pc was screwing up, but it's supposed 2 be like that).

coreydbarbarian said...

also, the video occasionally starts in the middle of the film.
just refresh if that happens 2 you.



The President takes an oath to uphold the Constitution. The Constitution is a document meant to institute individual rights and to limit the power of government concerning those rights. The President is also entrusted to protect the Union. The secession movement was an attempt to destroy the Union. Lincoln attempted to keep this from happening. Later on he brought the individual rights of slaves into it. None of this I see as breaking his oath of office. Habeus corpus, a little different matter, but it was eventually restored. A good man in a good office doing the best he can. Perfect, no, but what is?

Would I have handled the situation in the same manner? Truth be told, I would have probably fucked the whole thing up beyond repair.

Ceroill said...

Thanks. About what I figured. I was also thinking of that prolonged event and the aftermath thereof as being the watershed of establishing the Federal over State authority. I agree Lincoln was a brilliant man, in agonizingly complicated circumstances, who nonetheless managed to achieve what possibly no-one else at the time could have.Perhaps more than anyone of any time could have done in his shoes.

coreydbarbarian said...

can someone explain to me why protecting the union ranks higher than protecting the state's right of secession? the declaration of independence seemed pretty straight-forward to me.

i never could square that with my own ethical system.

Ceroill said...

The cynical answer is economics. The southern states were the only real source of cotton and tobacco, while most of the shipping companies were based/owned in new england states. The North simply didn't want to lose easy access to the South and it's agrarian economy. Of course that's just one thought on the matter.

coreydbarbarian said...

thanks bob. personally, i have often wondered about the civil war.
seems 2 me that most folks attribute it 2 ending slavery (instead of economic), simply because that would be a more "noble" cause 4 war.
in reality, abolition seems 2 have been a corrolary effect, not a cause- a rallying cry towards the end of the movement, but not their most fundamental goal.

also bob, did you catch ironman? i loved it. and yesterday, marvel announced release dates for several new films, including ironman 2, thor, cap america, and the avengers. they also mentioned antman, but no date on that one.

Ceroill said...

corey, you're right about the slavery issue re the civil war. The original problem was the secession, and this was hardly a surprise move. It had been threatened earlier in the century too, but the northerners had made some concessions, and it had died down for a while (someone correct me if I'm in error here). Nor was the tension over slavery new, but it was not the main issue at first.

Some were trying to push it as the primary issue, but Lincoln held off using it until the last moment he could. I seem to recall he said that if he could end the war without freeing a single slave he'd do it.

Iron Man happens to be one of my 3 fave Marvel heroes. The other two are the Silver Surfer (done ok in his one appearance so far), and Doctor Strange (also in the works potentially, with the director who did Pan's Labyrinth slated to do it) Oh, did you stay for the scene after the final credits?



I suspect Lincoln did not want to give up on the experiment called the United States of America. Bob, is right, the South fed the citizens of the country for the most part and I am sure the North didn't look forward to relying on itself for it's foodstuffs. That being said, I believe Lincoln was greatly enamoured by the Founding Documents(and I think this is where the Emancipation came from(as a sidenote, I feel many of our Founding Fathers believed the end of Slavery was only a matter of time, even those who were slave holders)and didn't want to see it go down the toilet.

This brings me to an interesting thought (and I have to believe someone else has expounded on it at some point, I just never have encountered it), if the two sides had held onto their gunpowder a couple three decades longer would technological advances have made slavery uneconomical resulting in no Civil War?

coreydbarbarian said...

ya mean the "i'm nick fury" bonus scene? yep. it's on youtube, too. what fun!

also, have y'all seen these 3 videos?
good stuff, maybe 5 minutes each.

empire strikes barack

bush tape's



Just to get us back to the present with the three knuckleheads, one of which will lead us for the next four years, I offer this from Reason(thanks again, corey):

Are Voters Stupid Enough to Sell Their Votes for Just $27 and Change?
Hillary Clinton is hoping that some are

Ronald Bailey | May 6, 2008

During the 1992 Democratic presidential primaries, former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas denounced rival Gov. Bill Clinton (D-Ark.) as a "pander bear" who "will say anything, do anything to get votes." Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) is clearly following in her husband's electoral footsteps by proposing a "gas tax holiday" for the summer driving season. When primary votes are at stake, who needs to heed the laws of economics or even good sense?

Clinton's idea, which is also endorsed by Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), is to suspend the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax for three months in order to give cash-strapped motorists relief at the pump. Assuming that dropping the tax would actually lower the price per gallon by the full 18.4 cents, how much would this actually save the average family?

Let's make a rough calculation, using an average commute of 20 miles per day in an automobile with a 15 gallon tank getting the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) mileage of 27.5. A commuter would then fill up every 20 days. There are 98 days between Memorial Day and Labor Day, so that means five fill-ups over the summer. Five 15 gallon fill-ups at 18.4 cents per gallon less would mean that motorists would save a total of $13.80 for the summer. Let's double that for vacation driving and shopping and that comes to a grand total of $27.60 in savings. About enough to buy five Big Mac Combos.

But would prices actually go down by 18.4 cents? Not likely. As the Tax Foundation reports, most economists assume "that a temporary gas tax holiday would merely increase the profits of the oil industry due to the inability of domestic supply to respond to increased demand in the short run."

In addition, if the federal gas tax is dropped for the summer, the highway trust fund that pays for the upkeep of our crumbling roads and bridges will be short $10 billion. Not to worry, says Sen. Clinton: We'll make up for that fiscal shortfall by taxing the excess profits of Big Oil.

Clinton clearly hopes that primary voters will want to stick it to the greedy oil companies. After all, Exxon Mobil just announced $10.9 billion in profits for the final quarter of 2007. So Sen. Clinton says she'll take away some of those profits to pay for her gas tax holiday. And Clinton's not alone. Her Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is also calling for a windfall profits tax on oil companies. But will it work?

The last time the United States imposed a windfall profits tax on oil companies was in 1980 and it lasted until 1988. The result, according to a 1990 Congressional Research Service analysis, was that the tax on oil company profits decreased domestic production by 3 percent to 6 percent and increased dependence on foreign oil by 8 percent to 16 percent. Keep in mind that the big private oil companies actually control only about 6 percent of the world's known oil reserves—the rest are owned by gigantic foreign national oil companies. And just where do private oil companies get the billions they invest in projects to increase supplies? That's right; their profits. In other words, Clinton actually ends up sticking it to consumers when she tries to stick it to Big Oil.

Sen. Clinton may be feeling the pain of motorists right now, but once she's in the White House, she plans to inflict more pain at the pump. In fact, all three presidential hopefuls plan to do this. Why? Because Clinton champions "the most aggressive approach to reducing global warming out there." She wants to cut the emissions of greenhouse gases that warm the planet by 80 percent by 2050. To do this she favors a cap-and-trade market on carbon dioxide emissions. The Progressive Policy Institute has calculated that a relatively modest $15 per ton price for carbon dioxide emissions would boost the price of gasoline by 15 cents per gallon. But Sen. Clinton is counting on voters failing to connect the dots between gasoline prices and her global warming policies.

This past weekend, on ABC News' Sunday talk show, "This Week," Sen. Clinton was asked by host (and former Bill Clinton aide) George Stephanopoulos, "Can you name one economist, a credible economist who supports the suspension?" Sen. Clinton replied, "I'm not going to put my lot in with economists." For their part, economists are certainly not putting their lot in with Clinton. According to Bloomberg News, 200 prominent economists, including four Nobelists, have signed a petition denouncing Clinton's gas tax holiday as a "bad idea." Even the New York Times' Clinton votary economist Paul Krugman grumbled that her ploy is "pointless, and disappointing."

We will find out soon if Democratic Party primary voters are really stupid enough buy into this cynical Clinton pander.

"Pander Bear". That is so fucking funny I want to cry.

Ceroill said...

One last note on the past, yes the Founding Fathers were rather conflicted about slavery. Even those who owned slaves saw it as inimical to the principles they were building. I also seem to recall that there was a big dustup between men like Adams and Jefferson, and men like Lee (S. Carolina). Jefferson and company wanted to include language including imported Africans in the "all men" part, but some of the southern reps threatened to completely block ratification of the declaration if it was drafted that way. So they left out passages about slavery to be able to get the document passed and approved.

csm said...

I've never heard that before, Bob, but it wouldn't surprise me. Forward motion is never achieved with one big jump, but with many iterative smaller steps.

Ceroill said...

I think it happened more or less that way. Oh, and R.E. Lee was actually Lincoln's first choice for commander in general of the union forces, but Lee was a loyal Virginia man. Not a Confederate so much, but a Virginian first and foremost. Basically he wasn't much enamored of the politics of the war, or the issues involved other than fighting for his home state.

Anonymous said...

Coreyd, did you notice that the zeitgeist reference pasted largely unobserved? I have a theory about this. I suspect that when paradigms are so foundationally questioned, the question itself short-circuits the ‘rational’ process. Questioning issues rooted in a culture’s foundation threatens all the assumptions that follow.

One might assume, because this site is frequented predominately by ‘atheist/agnostics’ that questioning the presence of a ‘man in the clouds (who loves us)’ wouldn’t ruffle many feathers. Perhaps though, this debate exists largely on the level of a, “Yes, there is!!! No, there isn’t!!!” argument. The debate assumes the existence of the myth. The presence of the myth confirms the debate. Both sides are inextricably bond to the same assumptions.