Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Good Time to Take Up the Fiddle - Casually Documenting Our Collective Descent Into Madness

So despite a vanishingly small signal-to-noise ratio, a couple of things have managed to seep into my consciousness in the last couple weeks that would seem to call for at least a mention.  I suppose if I'd seen either of them discussed in any more general forum I wouldn't feel quite so compelled to bring them up here, but the fact that they are sliding in under the radar causes me to worry that they are being accepted rather than challenged.  I come here today to challenge them.

First, our old friend and everybody's favorite animal loving Mormon, Mitt Romney.  Now, sure, it's not a terribly high bar, but one could easily make the case that Mitt is the smartest and, perhaps more saliently, the least truly foaming-at-the-mouth insane of all the GOP Presidential candidates.  But if this is the case, then it hardly serves as a ringing endorsement, because it demands the conclusion that he is also the most outrageously dishonest among them.  Does anyone, at this point, actually question Rick Santorum's sincerity when he expresses his loathing for human sexual behavior?  After all the books and speeches and a Congressional term that included the Contract on America, the impeachment of a sitting president for getting a blowjob and a full Congressional shutdown of the American Government, can anyone truly question Newt Gingrich's bona fides?  But instead, here we have the establishment Republican party promising everyone that Romney's just saying crazy stuff to get the nomination, he's really not insane.

I dunno.  There's really no place for crazy in a position that includes the power to release nuclear weapons, but if I had to make a choice, I think I actually prefer crazy and honest over some kind of algorithmic calculation of the appropriate application of crazy.

But, as I say, that discussion has played out day in and day out since this Primary campaign began back during the Napoleonic wars.  It has been discussed to the point where nobody on earth is left with a shred of respect for Romney's integrity or dignity.  That's not what I need to speak about today.

Romney's primary campaign message is that he is a Businessman, and as such will do a better job of managing the American economy than Barack Obama.  Well, let's think about that.  Setting aside the KIND of businessman that Romney was, and overlooking the unfortunate fact that it is Congress, not the President who make economic policy, the assumption here is that the economy would be doing better if America was run more like a business and less like a government.  And I wonder: Why do you never see that assumption challenged?

The purpose of the government is to raise revenues and deliver services.  The purpose of a business is to make a profit.  A government should spend all its revenues delivering services, because those revenues were raised from the governed, and there would be no reason for the government just to keep them.  A business, when run properly, should have more money at the end of the fiscal year than it did at the start. I'm not sure how expertise at one translates into competence at the other.  Do we want the US Government to become a for-profit entity?  The only way I can see that working is to start charging market rates for services.  Build roads and bridges on a cost plus basis, and then negotiate a maintenance agreement for them.  Sell citizenship to the highest bidder.  Charge Japan and South Korea market rates for the American Military presence in the Western Pacific.  But then, what would the government DO with those profits?  Would the US acquire Mexico?  Perhaps a hostile takeover of Iraq - oh wait.

This is just silly.  Governance is hard - you know that because you see so few nations doing it well - and the expertise that is necessary to provide effective government services is nothing like the expertise required to buy stuff, add value and sell it at a profit.  What Romney is actually doing is making a powerful case that he is poorly qualified to serve as President, and would very likely make a dog's breakfast out of it.

Ok, we already knew that.  But still...

                    *                    *                    *

Which brings us to our other under-discussed topic.  It's in Paul Ryan's budget.  I know, you're thinking "PAUL RYAN'S BUDGET?  That piece of crap is under-discussed like I'm underweight, fer crissakes."  But bear with me here - this all comes back around to the acceptance in so many circles of basic wingnut doctrine.  One of the details in the newest Ryan budget that gets overlooked is it's caps on revenue.  You see, if you set aside Medicare, Social Security and Debt Service, current US domestic spending is at about 12.5% of GDP.  With the caps on revenue in the Republican budget document, this would be reduced to just 4% of GDP in 2050.  That's everything - defense, education, aid to states, infrastructure, R&D, Law Enforcement - literally everything.

It's actually kind of an interesting exercise to try and imagine the consequences of this kind of radical, draconian spending limitation.  One can easily imagine an urban dystopia, with very little in the way of electricity, people dying in the streets from easily cured diseases and pandemics no longer monitored and managed by a public health infrastructure, sanitation facilities breaking down and going unrepaired as clean drinking water becomes harder and harder to find, gangs in the streets as first responders have to triage the calls they get because of a limit on manpower and fuel, while independent for-profit "security" organizations offer neighborhoods a kind of safety based on frontier justice - for the right price.

Here's the problem.  The American political right loves to frame deficit spending as robbing from the next generation.  But by refusing to pay for necessary government services like energy security, infrastructure maintenance, education and basic R&D, THEY are the ones bequeathing something awful and frightening and unsustainable to the generations to come.  THEY are the ones who are letting personal greed prevent the government from building a nation and protecting its citizens.  And if that's not the role of government, then I'd like to hear them explain what is.


  1. Of course, steps must be taken to prolong his life.

    There are still entire cities to which he has not laid waste, millions he hasn't killed or made homeless.

    So much still to do...

  2. I read this in New Scientist and it seemed to resonate with what I read in your post. (Sorry for the copypasta but it's behind a subscription firewall) The last sentence sums both your and their points. [Emphasis mine.]
    = = = = =
    Your report on climate change sceptics targeting schools in the US (25 February, p 6) shows that we have entered a time of crisis and confusion, with what counts as knowledge seemingly up for grabs, and society's hold on reality looking increasingly shaky.

    Science attempts to understand things in a way that is independent of our thoughts about them. Our social constructions, on the other hand, would not exist outside of our shared web of beliefs, desires, intentions and expectations. We have become so preoccupied playing games with that socially constructed symbol we call money, for example, that we have forgotten the total dependence of the economy upon ecology, and seem to be destabilising the latter upon orders from the former.

    What most conservatives fear is that the public will one day see this, begin to integrate scientific knowledge into their world view, and restore proper dependency relations, changing our social institutions accordingly. What the conservatives want to conserve, in other words, is an abstract conceptual scheme that is out of touch with reality, not the concrete Earth systems that actually support our lives and are now urgently in need of conservation.

    Little wonder that they seek to cast doubt not only on climate change but also on evolution and the origins of life. The battle for humanity's future, therefore, must be recognized as a battle over the nature of reality itself.

  3. The Ryan Budget: "Rats in the streets gnawing at your bones."

    It's going to be hard to determine a winner in the struggle over reality.