Philosophy Weekend: The Debt Debate

Economics Existential News Politics

As I write these words, the United States Congress is attempting to wrap up one of the most surreal, theatrical and plainly ugly legislative battles in its history. The Republican-majority House of Representatives and the Democratic-majority Senate cannot pass a bill to raise the nation's debt ceiling, putting us days away from defaulting on our own national debt. This would be the equivalent of declaring national bankruptcy within a world economy that has always considered our debt to be completely solid and reliable.

The noisy spectacle aside, most observers are confident that a last minute compromise will be reached. (If it isn't, I trust that the smart and sensible Barack Obama will take steps to ensure the nation's solvency using every resource available to the Executive branch. We are at least a couple of options away from economic catastrophe.)

But what does it all mean? Here's what I think about the bigger issues, and I'd love to hear what you think too. I'll keep this as brief and succinct as I can.

OUT OF CONTROL SPENDING

The budget deficit has gotten out of control, but let's remember that we had a balanced budget in the USA in the 1990s, thanks to the blessedly productive cooperation of liberal President Bill Clinton and conservative Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. A balanced budget is not an impossible dream (and we don't need a balanced budget amendment; we need a balanced budget).

How did we squander our balanced budget? Three ways. First was George W. Bush's overly optimistic tax cuts for the wealthy (I have no problem with tax cuts for middle-class Americans, but tax cuts for the wealthy was a gluttonous concept from the beginning.) Second was George W. Bush's bad habit of imagining himself to be Winston Churchill, inspiring him to lead the nation into two ruinous, pointless, expensive and terribly managed wars. Finally, there was the 2008 failure of the irrational system of "risk-free" high finance, a wealth-generating scam perpetuated by the likes of Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, AIG, Alan Greenspan and the deregulation-happy Republican party, which took our stable economy down with it when it crashed.

Yes, I mainly blame President George W. Bush and the Republicans for today's out of control spending. That's because I like facts. Sometimes when conservatives here me say this they erupt: "stop blaming Bush!". Why should I stop blaming Bush? Why should anyone stop blaming Bush? We had a balanced budget when he took office. His administration completely squandered it.

President Obama also takes some blame for continuing the Bush policies of high-spending stimulus and low taxes for the wealthy. There's no doubt that Obama has heard the message that we need more drastic spending cuts, and both houses of Congress have heard the message too. Let the hard work of cutting continue -- every American should support this. But we don't need a revolution to cut out-of-control spending. Again: we had a balanced budget, only two Presidents ago.

THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENT IN OUR LIVES

I grew up a libertarian hippie kid in the wake of the 1960s and 1970s -- the era of Watergate and the Vietnam War. Back then, it was liberals like me who wanted the Federal government to have a smaller role in our lives. I still feel a warm affection for the basically rebellious and libertarian tendencies of the Tea Party movement, because I tend to like anybody who protests anything. But I think the Tea Party often picks the wrong targets to aim their protests at.

At its worst, what the Tea Party seems to yearn for (besides revenge and the pleasures of a huge public temper tantrum) is a nation less able to support its citizens with education, health care, transportation, infrastructure, scientific research, crime prevention, disaster response. (Revealingly, only a few honest Tea Party politicians like Ron and Rand Paul are willing to declare that the nation should reduce its bloated military budget. I believe we're better off cutting military spending than any of the other areas above.)

What should the role of government be in our lives? Well, tuning in to a conservative talk radio show recently, I heard a caller declare that the economy in the United States has gotten "as bad as it can get". The fact that the host of this show didn't immediately correct and ridicule this statement reveals how silly the hyperbole has become. This is as bad as it can get? 90% employment? Nobody dying in the streets? Vastly comfortable and luxurious lifestyles? Education, poverty relief, emergency services, crime prevention and other essentials of good government all in fairly good shape? Anybody who thinks that this is bad as it can get knows nothing, absolutely nothing, about the reality of our world, and really needs to learn a few things.

The photo at the top of this page shows something closer to "as bad as it can get": the current crisis in the Horn of Africa, particularly Somalia and Ethiopia. Here are a few links about this terrible crisis, which is taking place right now, and getting no major media coverage. (The picture on the page is one of the mildest in the Atlantic photo essay -- most are too horrific for the front page of this literary site.)

America is "as bad as it can get". Heh. Idiots.

THE TONE OF THE DEBATE

We know it's been ugly, but is this the kind of debate we need to be having? Maybe so. Bill Vallicella, who appears to be a proud philosophical conservative in the same sense that I am a proud philosophical liberal, posted this on his Maverick Philosopher blog:

In sum, we Americans are fundamentally divided and in a way that is irreconcilable at the level of ideas. We do not stand on the common ground of shared principles and there is no point in blinking this fact. Left and Right are riven by deep and unbridgeable value differences. And so any compromises that are reached are merely provisional and pro tem, reflecting as they do the fact that neither side has the power to clobber decisively the other and push the nation in the direction in which it thinks it ought to move.

He sums up the tone of the moment pretty well, though I suspect the politics of identity -- ethnic, regional, cultural affinity -- have a lot to do with the fact that conservatives were willing to enthusiastically endorse massive out-of-control debt spending under President Bush and President Reagan, but balk at the same style of government when practiced by President Obama. Regardless of the roots of the battle, though, there is no doubt that our country is currently split on ideological grounds. This is an opportunity for reflection, an opportunity for all of us to look within and aim for greater understanding.

Our country, of course, has been badly split before -- during the Vietnam/Watergate era, during the FDR administration, and 150 years ago during the Civil War. That last reference point is another useful one to keep in mind when we ponder how things could get "as bad as they can get".

That's what I think. Now, I'd like to know what you think.

This article is part of the series Philosophy Weekend. The next post in the series is Philosophy Weekend: Rejecting the Apocalypse. The previous post in the series is Philosophy Weekend: What Is The Object Of Your Desire?.
56 Responses to "Philosophy Weekend: The Debt Debate"

by Nardo on

Although we were divided on Vietnam, I think the closest parallel to what's going on now is the political divide right before the Civil War, when the country began to think of itself in distinctly separate terms, i.e. slave state vs. free state and North vs. South. Now you have Red State and Blue State (despite most of the country being a bruised purple). The trouble is that much of the divide today really is about different philosophies of government, not just about how to implement a shared set of principles. Even if Democrats and Republicans in practice behave much the same way, there is a vast gulf between liberals and conservatives that over time will grow wider. I fear that we will end up with not so much another Civil War but something closer to La Violencia

by Mickey Z. on

Facts?

Neither wing of our (sic) single corporate party will address the FACT that 54% of our tax dollars go to the military (the planet's worst polluter, btw).

Nor will they address the FACT that corporate taxes made up 35-40% of federal income in the 1950s. Today, that number is about 7%.

Cut the military budget by 75-90% and make corporations once again pay taxes and voila...no debt. Still a long way to go before we live in a sane culture but...no debt.

FACT: As long as Americans blindly play along with the two-party farce, we'll continue our spiral into economic, social, and environmental collapse.

Could not have said it in any better myself. The tax cuts to the highest money makers are killing this country, along with the bloated military budget.

by Steve Plonk on

I think we need to immediately raise the "debt ceiling" & take care of the budget needs later. We can't afford to default on
our national financial obligations. Social Security and Medicare & medicaid should be in a locked box and not be touched.
Senior citizens & the poor need the above for their "nest egg" for retirement. We certainly can afford to scale down military
spending. I think we should spend more on NASA.

The rich should be taxed much more fairly and lose their current tax cuts. The meganational corporations should be taxed and pay for the damage they have done to the economy--especially the oil companies, whose greed is well established.

I will continue to vote Democratic because that is where most of the economic sense is these days.

by mtmynd on

U.S. National Debt is approximately $14.6 Trillion. The total U.S. Debt is approximately $54.9 Trillion (includes household, business, state and local governments, financial institutions and the Federal Debt - facts according to the Federal Reserve). Let's take the $14.6 Trillion which looked at in another way is $14,600 Billion. Our entire National Debt is $54,900 Billion.

Who among us can seriously believe there is any way in our lifetime or the lifetimes of our grandchildren and the lifetimes of our great-great grandchildren, this ridiculous amount of monies will EVER be repaid? Seriously. If we as a country began today, in today's political climate, were to pay every penny that we own in wealth, property, investments or what ever means we have to remain as civilized and free as we (think) we are, we, this current generation of adults, could not make a dent in our collective debt without every business and every financial aid from counties, cities, states and/or the Feds coming to an abrupt halt, i.e. cease to exist. Does this sound like anything anyone of us would like to see happen, not only to our country, but to the nations that we deal with daily to provide goods and services that we need?

But yet we actually are under the belief if we bend and capitulate to the grand ideas put forth by our politicians and army of economists, by the leadership of our financial institutions... that we HAVE to pay off our debt or the world as we know it will forever be changed and that change will be for the worst.

IMHO, today after listening for weeks to the National debate over the debt problem, it is the voices of the mega-wealthy, those rascal 2%'ers and their followers who stand the most to lose in the attempt to balance the budget and drive down this unreal debt. Do any of the readers here have as much to financially lose in comparison to the Ultra-Wealthy?

I believe that it is the wealth of the mega-rich, not only in the U.S. but worldwide, are shaking in the Florsheim's (do they still have these?) , worried about their wealth and what is going to happen to it should the reality and truth of the problem come forth - a drastic change in our economic system is in order. We must remember that it is not us, the 95%'ers that lead this country (and world) into the massive debt we are now arguing about. Sure there is the small group of 'us' that made bad decisions to buy homes or other high-priced goods knowing we may not be able to pay the loans off, but I will argue that the problems to that fall square into the laps of the banks/mortgage companies who failed to invest with open eyes in those few borrowers.

We can certainly be suspicious of those same banks and financial institutions to protect their wealth even at the cost of the general public... again should the reality win out (which it will).

There will eventually be some larger social system come into play to keep the millions among us pacified. Whatever the economic system arises to change the old system that we've been used to having throughout our lives, no longer fits the bill. There are far too many people in the U.S. (and globally) for the current economic system to provide for. It is either that or all prices would have to dramatically be reduced which would include all goods and services so there would be enough monies to provide for all to have a civil society, one that is healthy and educated.

Karl Marx, interestingly enough for today's times, stated that there can not be Socialism without Capitalism being the the first step, with pure Communism following Socialism. Whether Marx was a madman or a genius whose time may be coming, I believe many of us (and that would include economists within) certainly see the Debts, both Nationally and globally, are unsustainable utilizing our present day Capitalist system to provide as it once did so well. We are (or have..?) outgrowing that system IF we, the people require a civilization built upon what Capitalism has created.

[enough]

by TKG on

I think this Tea Party sentiment makes sense:

"The fact that we are here today to debate raising America's debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can't pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government's reckless fiscal policies... Increasing America's debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that "the buck stops here." Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better."

Mickey Z,
You are one sweet cool observer!

Levi,
GREAT picture. Thank you.

Seeing all of this play out makes me feel like we are on the same course to the fate of Greece.
Maybe we offended the ok'd gods?
Being an America has now made me want to move back to Australia. Mostly for self preservation instead of site seeing.

by Nimrod on

Lots of accurate salient points raised. I've been wondering lately if we are seeing the ultimate example of the weakness of our constitutional Republic. Lets see: we face an unmovable deadline on raising the debt ceiling, the two parties cannot come to terms to avert a crisis, the theatre is played out for the entire world to watch, and what do they think about our system of government? I don't know, but suspect that some of those within a Parlimentary system (England, et al) must be chuckling about our inability to respond to a clear national problem.

I hope it all turns out for the good (for US) and everyone else.

by mnaz on

Mickey Z.

You nailed it. Military spending is beyond out of control. And that "trickle-down" nonsense, the totally whored-out corporatocracy, failed us. Period. (We should try for a somewhat less whored-out corporatocracy-- a place to start).

I am absolutely convinced, without any threat of hyperbole whatsoever, that the Tea Party movement is equivalent to what would happen if the KKK were allowed to openly practice politics. I have not heard a single Tea Party member speak that I didn't think was openly racist and primarily interested in eliminating government services to non-whites.

I think in times when we have such people entering the federal government we have a very deep and serious problem on our hands that is probably far beyond any hyperbole being used at the moment.

The Tea Party has absolutely no relationship at all to protest movements of the sixties. It is mostly rural middle country white people who are simply not clever enough to use a sewing machine to make a hood.

I think that the slightest sign of give or compromise with these people is incredibly dangerous. They should be met with a fist.

honestly, anyone who would join any american political party, tea or not, should re-evaluate their priorities and find another avenue of influence. american politics is a joke. also, broad brush statements painting millions of people with the same color paint is moronic. sorry alessandro, i must defend the middle country against your comments. ever really seen a white person? ever really seen a black person? i mean lily white and i mean jet black. they don't exist. having said that, i offer a high five, a low ten, a gimme five, a head bump, a nod, a shake, a graceful bow, a merry-go-round ride, and a cut in line. be careful with the fist to the tea party folk. they tend to practice self defense eagerly. even the non-white members....

by TKG on

I read an opinion of the Tea Party by someone I'd never heard of:

To me, the Tea Party really is the punk rock moment of politics – harkening back to simple math – rescuing us from 20 minute organ noodling found on Emerson Lake and Palmer records.
Yep, in a bloated world typified by Yes’s Roundabout on F-M circa 1977, the Tea Party offered “Beat on the Brat,” a jolt of Ramones wisdom that reminded us of what worked before.

Kick out the jams mes amis.

by Levi Asher on

I also agree about the uselessness of political parties. I like Barack Obama a lot, but I don't relate to or trust the Democratic party. Both parties are way too funded by Wall Street and the military-industrial complex (just look at how they behave) to earn my trust.

Given that we're stuck with this political system, though, I think Barack Obama is probably doing a better job riding the "monster" than any other politician would be doing.

by Mickey Z. on

Your willingness to separate Obama from the Democratic Party that created and nurtured him and the larger system that keeps us distracted with false conflicts remains downright shocking to me, Levi.

The Pope of Hope is a product of the exact culture you claim not to trust.

It's like you keep waiting for a basketball player to hit a home run to win a tennis match.

Obama is no better or worse than any other corporate-owned criminal. Accept this reality and it will liberate you.

by mnaz on

scathing commentary, Mickey Z.

no such thing as a "left wing" in america (d.c.)? have we gone completely corporate-right?

by Levi Asher on

Mickey, you keep declaring that Obama is a phony as if you know some secret that isn't common knowledge. I know that he's a slick politician. I know that he's carrying out an agenda that is in line with the country's existing direction, that he's not a revolutionary or a determined progressive. He's a moderate politician, dedicated to working within the boundaries of business-as-usual in America. The only people who think Obama is a progressive liberal (or a "socialist", hah) are conservatives.

But no dedicated progressive liberal has a remote chance of getting elected President of the USA right now. The real issues that a President has to deal with remain important, even as you and I agitate in our own ways (which, in both of our cases involve writing and consciousness-raising) for more significant change. I support Obama even though I know he won't go as far as I would like on most issues, because I like what he is accomplishing in areas like health care and finance reform, and because I find him an inspiring leader and a refreshingly skillful, effective, careful "player" within a political system that likes to grind up well-meaning do-gooders and rip them to shreds (see "Anthony Weiner"). Watching him operate is like watching a great poker player at the World Series final table, or watching Jose Reyes at shortstop. I may not agree with Jose Reyes's politics (I have no idea what Jose Reyes's politics are, actually) but I can still enjoy watching him play the game. I don't understand why you find it "shocking" that I very much like, respect and support Obama even though I know he's a player/politician working within very narrow boundaries of change.

by mtmynd on

Well said, Levi. Mickey continues the easy route - every politician is worthless and there is no two party system. In viewing his remarks his own have become a mantra that he obviously would like every one else to recite, What good that would do in today's political climate? None, other than make the system more available to the Right Wing faction of Elite White Power 2%'ers... who already have a 80%+ hold on our Democracy.

by Levi Asher on

Mickey, mtmynd -- something tells me we've had this exact conversation before (which is not to say it's not worth having again).

Now, knowing how hard Mickey works, I wouldn't say he takes any easy way out. But thanks for the support.

Mickey, another question -- do you consider it even remotely possible that by Obama pushing this country just slightly towards liberalism -- yes, very slightly -- and appointing good Supreme Court justices (this is SO important) and providing a positive role model for young up-and-coming politicians, that he might be planting seeds of positive change for the future, even if the change is coming way too slowly? Because I do believe this to be the case, and this is another reason I am a big supporter of Obama.

Hmm... hypcollector, I'm not buying it. I won't budge on the Tea Party being the white bigot party. Not an inch. It is obvious. I have seen lily white and I've seen it in the Tea Party. Even the KKK can occasionally come up with a non-white supporter to throw out as an example. But it doesn't hold water. The broad brush works very well with this party. It's demographics have been shown over and over again and are common knowledge.

There was a Tea Party congressman arguing with a CNN talk show fellow last night. He looked and acted so thick and brutish that I'd pick up a two by four if I ever encountered him in a parking lot. Just frightening. Really.

We are seeing a very threatening rise of bigots who have been quiet over the past several decades. They are simply trying to circle their wagons and keep all the money. That's it. That's the whole plan.

The fist I mention is metaphorical. Up to a point. But what will you do when these people start rolling back civil rights? They will. Bet on it. Bet your house on it.

by mnaz on

i don't know, Levi. maybe. i remember the list of "240 things obama has accomplished" that circled around cyberspace for awhile, and it's true, obama's team knocked off lots of relatively minor progressive-sounding items in fairly short order. that's of course "better than bush."

but it just seems that on the bigger issues where progressives perhaps expected obama to do some sustained heavy lifting for meaningful change and show strong leadership and a sense of urgency, has he really made a credible attempt to do so? for example, financial reform ... unlike the health care disaster, it was actually good legislation, and overdue, and it got passed. great. but what's happened since?

from a 6/13/11 article in "the curious capitalist" (TIME online):

http://curiouscapitalist.blogs.time.com/2011/06/13/is-obamas-campaign-fu...

"Congress passed the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul bill nearly a year ago, but actual reforms to the financial world are barely in play. most of the 387 mandated rules haven't been squared away by the agencies responsible for fleshing out the specifics; a mere 21 rules are already set. And as of April, not one of the regulators had met its Dodd-Frank-related deadlines scheduled for that month."

"Obama ... seems evermore content to let Republican stallers have their way now that campaign season is in play. The foot-dragging isn't just putting reforms on hold; it's washing them all away. In the absence of strong-willed regulators, lobbyists have been streaming in. ...even the names rumored to be Obama's upcoming regulatory picks are more in Wall Street's camp. Martin Gruenberg, the likely pick as new chair of the FDIC, has been pegged as more "conciliatory" than strong-willed consumer advocate..."

"All this adds up to a much softer approach just as the real moves on financial reform are finally in play. The White House may view the detente with Wall Street as a way to push through stronger reforms in a second term. But feeble rules made now won't be easy to reverse."

we've been pushing other nations to shore up banking regulation. how could this ever happen if we don't follow through on it ourselves?

by Mickey Z. on

Levi, I'll take the "easy way out" and answer briefly: NO.

For the record, the easy way out is buying into the system, accepting the illusion of incremental change, and scoffing at those who say bullshit. The easy way out is to not question whether your own literal lifestyle is contributing to ecocide.

Let me try this yet again: 80% of the forests gone. 94% of the large fish in the ocean gone. More than half of the world's rivers no longer able to sustain life. Each day: 200,000 acres of rain forest destroyed, 200 plant and animal species go extinct, and 45,000 humans starve to death.

Even if any of you could prove (and you haven't done so) that some version of incremental change is happening, how much time do you think we have?

by Levi Asher on

Mnaz, that's an awesome point -- beyond the fact of getting some "progressive" legislation passed, is the substance even there? I am glad you mentioned this. I suspect that Wall Street is finding ways to ignore reforms, and I wonder if the Obama administration is following through on its very important initiatives.

I'm saying this as somebody with many friends on Wall Street, and who once worked there: that place is rotten with mindless greed. That's the monster that drives the monster of government. And Wall Street is not just the New York economy -- it's every company in the world. Oil, defense, banking. This monster is big. (And the tea partiers say it's Obama we should fear!).

Mickey ... I agree with every word you say. But what on Earth gives you the idea that Obama can fix any of these things? He was elected chief executive of a legislative body that he doesn't control. His Supreme Court is packed with stonewalling hard-core Republicans. He is the commander in chief of a gigantic military infrastructure that eats politicians for breakfast. I say give the poor freaking hardworking guy a break, two days before his 50th birthday. America is lucky to have him working so hard, and I'm amazed that he can take so much shit from all sides and keep his cool.

by Mickey Z. on

It's not about whether he can fix those things, Lvei, it's about him being part of the destruction. When Obama was elected, he said: "We will not apologize for our way of life nor will we waver in its defense."

As they say in South Florida: BINGO.

Three years later, the eco-system is that much closer to the point of no return and countless humans and non-humans have been slaughtered in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, etc. in the name of American "self-defense." You can't separate him from these realities.

Obama is the captain of the Titanic. He has no intention of changing course. So, we can debate whether or not he's "cooler" than the previous captain OR we can stage a mutiny. At the very least, we can be building more lifeboats rather then re-arranging the proverbial deck chairs.

by Levi Asher on

Okay, Mickey ... well, I think it's clear (especially from reading his autobiography) that Barack Obama's personally chosen agenda involves social justice and economic justice. I believe that this is the mission that personally drives him, and it's unfortunately true that he is not attentive enough to the urgent need for change in environmental policy, nor military policy. I wish he were more attentive to these emergencies.

But social and economic justice are also important agenda items, and I think he's been pretty aggressive in these areas. Note: health care reform, the continued press to make the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes (this will be a difficult achievement, but he's trying), the excellent Supreme Court appointments. So he's carrying out his agenda, not yours or mine. And, of course, no US President really gets to carry out his own agenda for long -- it's an essentially reactive job.

I hope we're not simply beating this subject to death here -- I actually have more to say on this subject, and hopefully a fresh point of view, and I think I'll write a new blog post on the topic soon.

by Mickey Z. on

Levi, if you and I lived in the same apartment building and that building were being consumed by flames and its foundation was on the verge of collapse, here's how it might play out:

I'd be knocking on doors to alert the tenants.

You'd be telling everyone that the new landlord seems so much cooler than the old landlord.

I'd start a bucket brigade.

You'd sit back and savor the good feeling you got when that cool new landlord told you that he'd give some thought to the idea of a rent freeze - perhaps in a few years.

As the building began crumbling, I'd give up and start beating the shit out of the landlord.

You'd call the cops on me.

by Levi Asher on

Mickey, if that's how you sum this up, then I don't think you're paying attention to anything I've been saying at all.

Here's how I could twist the same scenario around: if we were in a building on fire, I'd be trying to put out the fire. You'd be sitting there complaining that some guy named Barack Obama is supposed to put the fire out.

by Mickey Z. on

Wow...that would require some major twisting, Levi.

I'm wondering if anyone else could read this thread and honestly perceive you as the guy who'd take direct action and me as the guy dealing only in theory.

Here's my conclusion: Anyone who celebrates the rhetoric of a corporate-funded war criminal and gushes over the tiniest hint of a bone being tossed in your direction is probably never gonna grasp the reality that our unsustainable industrial global culture is bringing upon us a social, economic, and environmental collapse.

by Levi Asher on

Well, Mickey, what you wrote pissed me off. You said I would "call the cops on you". Where the hell does that come from? You and I have been in touch a long time. We enjoyed meeting once in person, when I came to your reading. I don't think I've ever done anything to offend you. Where does "you would call the cops on me" come from?

I've carefully read every comment you've posted, and tried to consider your point of view and meet it halfway. I just don't get the feeling that you're giving my words the same consideration that I'm giving to yours.

For instance, I said that it's true that Barack Obama does not seem focused on an environmental or pacifist agenda, but that he does seem focused on a social justice/economic justice agenda, and that's important too. I wish you could have responded in some reasonable way to this point. Instead, you characterize me as liking Obama because he's "cool". Like your comment that I would call the cops on you, I have to wonder, are you even addressing me, or reading anything I'm writing? Or are you just characterizing me as yet another generic "Obama zombie" and serving up your favorite lines?

by Mickey Z. on

I have tried and tried since I first met you to provide evidence that the only agenda Obama follows is the corporate capitalist agenda but you yourself talk about how well he keeps his cool and how smart he is and all these other guesses about his personality.

It's agonizing to witness smart people fall for the Democrat hype over and over - JFK, Carter, Clinton, Obama - as the wealth gap increases, wars spread, animals go extinct, humans starve, and the eco-system begs for mercy.

It's Coke vs. Pepsi and the only (temporary) winners are in the corporate boardrooms.

On that note, Levi, I appreciate having this site on which to post my poems. I really, really do...but I'll stop commenting on the posts.

by Levi Asher on

Well, Mickey, I appreciate your comments (even today) so I hope you don't stop commenting. In fact, I have something new to say about Obama which I'm planning to post this coming weekend, and even though I'm sure you'll disagree with what I'll say, I'll be happy to see you post there too.

Let's get back to the house on fire. You say that you have taken the path of action and I haven't. Well, actually you and I both engage in the same kind of action -- we both write about issues that we consider important. I hope we're both not kidding ourselves that this action can be important. (At least we both have actual readers, which is more than many writers are lucky enough to have.)

But I do think my prescribed path to a better world is more action-oriented than yours, because I am willing to accept small changes and forgive the compromises required for gradual improvement, whereas you seem to be pointing towards apocalyptic or revolutionary paths to change that don't seem to have any current momentum at all. This is why I compare you to somebody sitting there in a burning building complaining about the fire. If you don't think that gradual, compromised change will improve the United States of America, what are you advocating in its place? Armed revolution?

by Mickey Z. on

Let’s say I see you lying on the ground. Standing above you is a large, menacing man with bad intentions and clearly, he has incapacitated you with a surprise blow. Your eyes meet mine and you indicate you need help.

I could pray. I could meditate. I could pass around a petition or organize a candlelight vigil. I could chalk it up to bad karma. I could ask you to recognize that the attacker is a human and tell him that you love him. I could blame patriarchy, the Republicans, or gangsta rap. I could ask myself: What would Jesus do? What would the Dalai Lama do? What would Oprah do? I could try to remember that excellent saying about non-violence I got from my yoga teacher. I could vote for a Democrat.

OR: I could stomp my foot to draw his attention downward and promptly whip out a finger jab to his eyes. When he brings hands up (too late) to protect himself, he leaves his mid-section exposed. I kick him in the balls—doubling him over—then grab him by the hair and bring his face down into a powerful knee blow. Then I’d grab you and get the fuck out of there as fast as we can.

It’s either that or the promise of incremental change. The choice is yours.

"Action" is in the eye of the beholder, I guess.

by Levi Asher on

Well, Mickey, I'll leave you with the last word there.

by mtmynd on

If our entire political system is controlled by the same capitalist, industrial corporacracy, it puzzles me why our elected officials are at each others throats when it would be so much easier for the lot of them to simply agree and have the Corporate Elite run the country instead of fooling around with a President who is only a puppet of the Reich..?

by mnaz on

as yet, i've done far too little to change my impact on the earth for meaningful better, and that really needs to change... people like mickey z., who urge us to take real action, in all of the ways he describes in his writing (many or most which go beyond politics) are actually quite right.

the planet, and life on it, are under siege ... by human pressure. there's been a huge population explosion in the last half-century in particular-- the world's population has doubled to SEVEN + BILLION since 1968 ! obviously this is unsustainable. and the unprecedented planet fouling and resource rape is unsustainable too.

corporatists believe (apparently) that full-scale free-reign to large corporations, especially trans-global behemoths, is ultimately the right way to proceed and "get us through, take care of the most needs in the most efficient (privatized) way" ... but is this true? if it means concentrating too much wealth in the hands of too few greedheads, as the overall system steadily withers from the bottom up? if it means waging endless war on ourselves and the planet to maintain a false ideal or idolization of over-consumption? if it means bought politicians raiding the treasury and bankrupting nations to pay off the megabucks concerns that keep them "in power?"

i've had this debate with others also. is it worth buying into either side of the machine, if they're both corrupted, and the system irreversibly broken? merely two sides of the same ruinous coin?

by catalyst on

I don't have any answers, man. I don't know what to do about any of this, but first you've got to get MAD (c) Howard Beale

by mtmynd on

Mickey: "Let me try this yet again: 80% of the forests gone. 94% of the large fish in the ocean gone. More than half of the world's rivers no longer able to sustain life. Each day: 200,000 acres of rain forest destroyed, 200 plant and animal species go extinct, and 45,000 humans starve to death."

This is a sad commentary on the state of the world and one that "we the people" will have to deal with in the near future. Overpopulation is a bitch and yet I heard a Republican Congressman speaking in the House saying birth control pills will reduce the next generation of Americans thereby weakening our country. Amazing a man with that logic would ever be elected by his constituency, whoever they might be.

The U.S. collectively is unable to correct those horrors you mentioned and it's not because "we the people" don't care. The country simply is unable to afford to add that to the already lengthy list of needs and wants for the country. The radical right wing seems to feel that once the National Debt is paid off (an unlikely scenario in our lifetime or the next) we can that assume some responsibility towards "important" things like where is the food supply when we need it?

With our overpopulation needing basics in order to simply survive is in itself an extremely expensive proposition even if every country on earth all of a sudden became compassionate and caring, fighting hunger, sickness and illiteracy with the same vigor that we now fight wars worldwide. Maybe someday our world will wake up when that urgency is in our faces and not the opinions of talking heads that we hear daily wherever we are... and not knowing whose the keeper of the real Truth.

We are the youngest lifeform on this planet and we are collectively ignorant and, quite frankly, stupid given the amount of knowledge that is available to us to live on this singular spaceship Earth aware that we are sharing life with all the life on this planet and it is NOT ours to do with as we please without the consequences that you have spoken of.

Vote for intelligence and the love of life.

by TKG on

Mickey and Levi, it's funny that there are plenty on the the other side of the aisle who say pretty much exactly what Micky is saying -- that there's not a dime's worth of difference between the two parties. That is all a big charade and they're all just Repuplicrats.

These guys really hate Mitt Romney and think Boehner is a sell out establishment politician and that even the Tea Party 2010 freshman class have already sold out by not stopping the increased debt ceiling.

The idea that those on the other side of the aisle are fascists who want to put the other side in camps or jail is common.

Good times.

by Mickey Z. on

Apparently, most folks here (and just about everywhere) have convinced themselves that we have enough time to wait for the system to right itself, one tiny step at a time.

So, since Levi promised me the last word, I'll leave you with this nugget on the topic of fighting back now:

The Jews who participated in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising had a much higher rate of survival than those who went along.

by TKG on

Do people still really try and sell the overpopulation snake oil?

It's a perennial like Harold Camping or a Y2K/2012.

by Susurra on

This was an incredible whirlwind posting. A lot of feeling here, some real angst. We went from racist tea partiers, to eco-terrorism, to standing up to the man by any means necessary. It was a true reminder as to the way some people think. Thanks.

by TKG on

Mickey and Levi, as this is first and foremost a lit blog, read The Wise Man, the Fool and the Slave by one of the giants of modern literature, Lu Xun.

Mickey's allegory about Levi calling the cops (I don't think Mickey literally meant you'd call the cops on him) reminded me of this mini-story.

by mnaz on

oh no, there's no such thing as a population explosion and human pressure on the planet. what was i thinking? late for work now. lucky to have a job. but i won't have one if those godless socialists raise taxes a little on exxon !! nosiree !!

Mickey, it sounds like you are calling for anarchy.

by Levi Asher on

Great story, TKG! Thanks.

I'm going to write a new blog post about this topic this coming weekend.

by TKG on

Hi Levi, I heartily recommend to you and everybody this collection of Lu Xun's three short story books.

I'm a Kindle convert two and it is available for it. It's a new translation and Penguin finally put out a Lu Xun book a few years ago.

If you don't have much time, plain and simply read the first piece, Nostalgia, to get a feel for Lu Xun.

by finn on

Since this thread began with a post about the role of government in our lives, and how it should prioritize (or just not bother), the following thought:

The "debt crisis" in the U.S. and Europe and/or elsewhere is not really the same phenomenon. I read a wire news piece this morning equating the two in order to explain the current stock market meltdown (aka "turbulence"). Journalists need to be held to account for this kind of lazy analysis. A massive failure of journalistic rigour preceded the invasion of Iraq. Some better quality analysis now, when complex economic issues are pushing people's emotional buttons in a big way, would help bring some clarity to this issue. I realize that in the case of some outlets, yeah, it's corporatist auto-blindness that's the culprit for lack of rigour. But in other cases, it's "the pros" trading in receiving ideas. The crises in Europe are being driven by very different factors than the one in America. It would be helpful to see more of that distinction.

by Mickey Z. on

Catalyst: Some of what that video details is indeed happening but the ridiculous assertion that Britain is run by socialists and that Obama is a socialists undermines a powerful message. Also, I gave up watching by the time he talked about Yugoslavia without including anything about the geo-political aspects of its collapse.

That said, yes, when the US dollar is no longer the preeminent form of currency, well...you can probably guess the rest.

But, like Obama, we'll all just keep on defending and preserving "our way of life."

by mtmynd on

Mickey, your article was written by Bruce A. Dixon, Managing Editor of Black Agenda Report.

"A habitual troublemaker and incorrigible activist, Bruce Dixon has been comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable since 1968.

"As a rank and file member of the Black Panther Party in 1969-1970, a 1970s rank-and-file union activist in a string of factories, plants and workplaces, a 1980s community organizer in what were then some of the nation's poorest neighborhoods, to organizing and consulting through the 1990s Dixon has built an impressive record of service in and to the cause of human liberation."

Freedom of the Press says nothing about Freedom from Opinions, which are a way of life in our media driven society. After all, we must all earn our way regardless of the means, even if that means contributes to confusion and chaos.

by Mickey Z. on

So, rather than address a single fact in the article, you choose to focus on the messenger (as if anything in his bio is cause for concern)?

Good luck with that...

by mtmynd on

It's always good to know the source of criticisms. It can either strengthen or weaken the argument.

In this case, the author of the article makes his living bitching without offering any alternatives.

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