A famous guest speaker visits the FM site to tell us that we are not weak — we are strong

America faces great perils.  Many posts on this site describe these problems and urge action.  Or anger, a precursor to action.  The comments in reply range from disappointing to craven.  Many people say that we are weak and powerless.  Others urge some form of passivity — such as irony, detachment, or resignation.  For the philosophically inclined there are Stoicism, Epicureanism, Hedonism.  (for examples of these sentiments see the posts listed at the end).

My words have proven inadequate, so I invited a speaker of far greater experience and eloquence about these matters.

Contents

  1. Words from today’s guest speaker at the FM site
  2. Then and now – his time and ours
  3. Craven, cowardly, and lazy — the most popular American responses
  4. Suggestions for reforming America
  5. For more information

(1)  Words from today’s guest speaker at the FM site

His words have been edited — slightly paraphrased and with the noted ellipses– to better fit our current circumstances.

No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the worthy gentlemen who have just commented on this site. But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen if, entertaining as I do opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments freely and without reserve. This is no time for ceremony.

The question before the us is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.

It is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to among those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.

I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the American government for the last forty years to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves and the nation.

Is it that insidious smile with which our election has been lately received? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss. Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our wishes — expressed during the campaign — comports with the Administration’s actions so far.

… They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary as our government. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? … Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot?

We are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. The three hundred millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible. … The conflict is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.

There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the streets of Washington! The conflict is inevitable — and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come. …

This speech was given by Patrick Henry at St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia on 23 March 1775 to the Virginia House of Burgesses. It first appeared in print in 1817 in Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry by William Wirt. 

(2)  Then and now – his time and ours

Patrick Henry wrote about the options available to a people who had exhausted all other political remedies.  Only force remained.  This version edits out that language, leaving the majority of text — suitable for a people at a far earlier stage in their struggle to reclaim their liberty.

The key text excised is this, the foundation for his speech:  “We have no election.”  We have no such excuse.

What remains is a stirring wake-up call.  We have far greater tools available to us than had the Americans of 1775, yet we have made far less use of them.

(3)  Craven, cowardly, and lazy — the most popular American responses

My opinion about our situation is simple.

  1. We are in this together.  Reality/nature/God enforces collectively responsibility.
  2. Individually we are weak.  Collectively we are strong.
  3. Our reluctance to take personal responsibility for the Republic is our greatest problem.  Ingenuity at producing excuses does not substitute for taking action.
  4. What are the odds of success at fixing America?  It does not matter; nobody cares (not our forefathers, not our descendants).

Judging from the comments on this site, mine is a minority view. For examples from today of the attitudes Patrick Henry spoke of in 1775, see these posts.

  1. Fixing America: shall we choose elections, revolt, or passivity?
  2. Fixing American: taking responsibility is the first step
  3. Fixing America: the choices are elections, revolt, or passivity
  4. The intelligentsia takes easy steps to abandoning America

(4)  Suggestions for reforming America

We are wolves on the world stage, boldly invading 3rd world nations — but sheep at home, cowering before our government.  Our President begs Saudi Arabia to pump more cheap oil for us.  Our senior officials plead with China to not only rollover our loans (which we cannot pay) but also lend us more so that we can continue to consume more than our national income.

We elect leaders with vast ambitions, but we cannot afford them — and they make few serious attempts to explain how they will be financed.

I believe that most of us know the dark truth, in one way or another:  America is unstable.  In addition to geopolitical weakness, the result of decades of unsound grand strategy, the economic foundation of the American hegemony has large cracks.   We have a pseudo-equilibrium, vulnerable to a tiny shock initiating a sudden and radical change — with the end result a truly stable condition (such as I described here and here).  America is like a “hanging rock” – a small push can move it to lower but firmer foundation.

Our situation is contemptible because it is unnecessary.  Somewhere along the way we passed a tipping point, after which absurd and even irrational behavior by our governing elites was accepted without outrage.  Massive government borrowing, Ruby Ridge and Waco, the insanity of airport security .. the list goes on and on.  We greet each new indignity or foolishness with shrugs.

We can do better, as we need not accept such things.  When the crunch comes, I believe we will do better.   The longer we wait, the greater the rot, the more extensive the damage, and the more difficult will be our recovery.

  1. Let’s look at America in the mirror, the first step to reform
  2. Sources of inspiration for America’s renewal
  3. How to stage effective protests in the 21st century
  4. The first step on the road to America’s reform

(5)  For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp interest are:

19 thoughts on “A famous guest speaker visits the FM site to tell us that we are not weak — we are strong

  1. By strange coincidence I looked at the exact same speech last night, and probably for the same reasons. I remembered Henry speaking of shutting our eyes against an awful truth and listening to that song of the siren and thought it was just as appropriate today as it was then. I think, however, that the political class needs to read this again at least as much the rest of the country. This business of preaching that the economy is fundamentally sound and a real recovery is just around the corner, coupled with a total lack of providing for the truth seems to me be a psychological exercise, as if the problems can be wished away. I think in the end that they truly believe that.

    As an aside, people consider me extremely negative towards our current predicaments even though I think they can all be solved if we simply become realistic. People prefer the siren’s song and the likelihood of total failure to realism and the work and sacrifice it involves even if it can result in success.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I found this when re-reading “Duffy’s Man” by Louis L’Amour, which features this speech.

  2. FM: I have to compliment the prodigious amount of work you put into these posts at times. It’s one thing to write a lot, but to read everyone’s response, and keep track of it all . . whew! Here’s one I found in a sub-sub topic about “tactics”(from How to stage effective protests in the 21st century)

    “There are, after all, a bunch of other tools (beside public protest) for change: boycotting, voter registration, sit-ins, strikes, pamphleteering, arguing legal cases, creating legal cases, and the successful examples listed above (Gandhi and King both being examples of this), used protests ALONG with a variety of other mechanisms during a long and often frustrating process of change.”

    There are examples of all of these today, but they’re usually limited to specific issues. The Center for Constitutional Rights (Michael Ratner, President) has been litigating issues of torture, ilegalal detention and domestic surveillance for several years now, but few people know about them. Many attempts have been made to boycott Israeli products, or Israeli academics speaking on American campusses (Israel-Palestine being, to my mind, one of the most flagrant and visible scenes of injustice today), but to little effect.

    One reason why broad political issues fail to become general in this country, is that the political parties wisely or cagily keep us distracted with single issues, pitting us against each other over cultural matters like abortion, homosexuality, religion. Republicans have traditionally been cogent critics of excessive government spending, but evidently didn’t believe of it once they got in power under Bush. Maybe this is one of our chief failures — that our political parties are more interested in self-preservation than the well-being of the country.

    You often call me defeatist because I say that democratic activities like those in the comment above won’t work until we agree who the enemy is. I don’t know how to get at GE, or Time-Warner, or Exxon-Mobil, but I do believe that political action without blocking their influence in it will not result in significant change. Our current President is a good example of that. He certainly mobilized a lot of support, and has wound up following exactly the same policies as his predecessor. Why is that, Fabius? Is it just bad luck that we spent all that time and got nothing for it? Is it Obama’s fault? Do we fix the system by making it illegal for politicians to lie? Or do we look behind the scenes to see how he became a candidate in the first place, why he made the cabinet appointments he did, and so on?

    You yourself talk about “ruling elites”. You cite Lewis Lapham’s concept of “real” goverenment versus “provisional” government. If the “real” government is calling the shots, shouldn’t we be going after them?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: There is always a government, or speaking more broadly — rulers. If we are too lazy to rule ourselves, the default condition is not happy sheep grazing in peace.

    “political action without blocking their influence in it will not result in significant change”

    This is a statement of the mindset that is IMO the primary barrier to action. Unless you hope the Blue Fairy will block their influence, you have defined the problem as beyond repair. This statement confuses, indeed reverses, cause and effect. Political action creates change; “blocking their influence” is one effect produced (probably an initial effect, allowing the pace of change to accellerate).

  3. If the problem is one of influence by people and corporations with a monetary interest in the federal government, I wonder if what we need is a three house federal congress? A house of representatives chosen by the people, a senate chosen by the states, and a third house chosen only by people who have received no aid from the federal government either directly, through corporate contracts or through employment or investment in those corporations during the previous election cycle, the purpose of said third house solely being exclusive control over the federal purse. It would be difficult to manage, and charges of racism, sexism, etc. would immediately follow, but it would produce one hell of a different government, and some very different attitudes towards federal spending.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: This confuses cause and effect. Indequate involvement by citizens in the government cannot be fixed by structural change. If citizens become involved, structural changes might be a useful step in the future. But if done with the currently low level of citizen involvement — changes driven by our current ruling elites — structural change will be little more than new fetters welded to our neck. Unless we hope for the Blue Fairy to fix our problems, waving her wand to change the government.

  4. I fail to see how the above quote-mining from Patrick Henry is relevant to the current political situation in the USA. You can always read centuries old polemics of the founders to parallel the modern era just as you might read prophecy from the I-Ching or Nostradamus, but the differences are far too vast for a comparison to be of any use.

    You say that the longer this goes on (whatever *this* is) but you imply that there was ever some sort of golden age that the USA ought to reclaim. Certainly you couldn’t hope for a return to the pre-civil rights era, and certainly you couldn’t be advocating a return to the go-go 80s Regeanonmics that got us into this mess in the first place!

    The fact is we are living in a country exactly as Patrick Henry would have envisioned it, a government of the people. Should they choose to vote themselves bread and circuses this is only natural, and will necessarily lead to problems, and we saw this epitomized in the Bush era where “tax and spend” became “spend and spend.” But when the vultures inevitably come circling, you would have us yield to them rather than resist? If you want to help stabilize this country then throw your support fully behind the reform that is currently taking place, particularly on the civil rights in terms of equal protection in marriage and military service. How can you even think of such base concerns like money when discrimination is still rampant?

    Also, I notice a startling misuse of the the obsolete term “3rd world country.” Faux pas?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: By the numbers.

    (1) “startling misuse of the the obsolete term ‘3rd world country.'”

    Please explain. There is not standard definition of “3rd world”, but the usual current use of the term is to nations currently called either “developing” or “under-developed” by comparison with the OECD nations. See Wikipedia for more detail. We have invaded many 3rd world nations — Latin American nations in the early 20th Century and Afghanistan today.

    “I fail to see how the above quote-mining from Patrick Henry is relevant to the current political situation in the USA. You can always read centuries old polemics of the founders to parallel the modern era just as you might read prophecy from the I-Ching or Nostradamus, but the differences are far too vast for a comparison to be of any use.”

    This is too bizarre to warrent a reply other than “Whatever, Dude.” By the way, your last paragraph shows that you understood neither this post nor the many other posts about this subject on this site.

  5. Strabo is right. We can learn nothing from studying “centuries old polemics.” Truly we are a unique generation with unique problems. Why listen to a dead white male?

    [End sarcasm]

    He is actually on the money when he points to “us” as the problem, although I doubt Patrick Henry would have thought that the permanent interest-group welfare state that we have now is government of the people. The people ceded control long ago by voting in sugar-daddies instead of statesmen.

    As for “base concerns,” money is merely a measure of value, which is in fact, a very important concern. Is discrimination rampant? I hope so. I discriminate every time I buy a product or service hoping that I will get best value. I discriminate between ideas.

    But Strabo is talking about prejudice. I would argue that the victim mentality is as “rampant,” if not more so, as real prejudice. (“I’m oppressed, you’re oppressed,” Times Online, October 9, 2006, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article665791.ece)

    Has the victim culture has contributed to our “sheep-ification?” If you believe you’re helpless, then, of course, you are.

  6. The rhetorical brilliance of Obama was that many of his words touched us on an emotional level which seemed to take us beyond ourselves and beyond our present structue of power. This capacity was a key for him in the building of a political movement that got him elected President.

    The tragedy of Obama is that the policies articulated so far, (particularly in foreign relations and financial/economic reform)reinforce the structure of bureaucratic power which his emotional rhetoric indicated must, of necessity, be transformed.

    The gradual realization of betrayal on an emotional level as well as a power level may initially signal a type of paralysis and passivity because the state of our disintegration is so much more profound than we were willing to admit and the hoped for relatively easy change, through a new elected leadership is now thrown into question.

    We are truly left with ourselves and that is scary.

    I would like to believe that what is now churning inside many of us is the burden of that responsibility and a natural confusion as to what the first steps toward a new self-government must be.

    Political action is necessary but without the most careful reflection on what it is that makes us “stand upright” we only seemed doomed to inevitably repeat the Obama betrayal.

  7. @armsmechant, I am going to be charitable and assume that you didn’t understand my post, because clearly I was not disputing the wisdom of Patrick Henry, but rather the applicability of his words to problems the modern world. As FM rightly pointed out, in Henry’s time there was not a political remedy, only force. That is certainly not the case today. The Republican party has had its chance to persuade the people in the last election and they have failed spectacularly, and that’s really all to the good.

    You can gas on about “victim mentality” all you like, but that doesn’t cancel out the Constitution, which I for one am interested in protecting and upholding. Let me be more clear than I was in my first post, it is the government discrimination against the LGBT community in marriage and military service that is the most pressing problem our society faces right now, not the slow descent into socialism or whatever right-wing alarmists are throwing a hissy fit about. I understand that right-wingers are happy to discard Constitutionally protected liberties when it suits them, but equal protection under the law means just that, and right now government is endorsing discrimination in a way that is blatantly unconstitutional, and that is what is most pressing.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Let’s ponder the following statement, as an example of the startling lack of citizen awareness about out situation.

    ” it is the government discrimination against the LGBT community in marriage and military service that is the most pressing problem our society faces right now.”

    We have most of our armed forces engaged in two ruiniously expensive wars on the other side of the world, which if mishandled (or with misfortune) might explode into widespread and horrific conflicts. We are in what by many measures the worst economic downturn since the 1930’s. A wide range of experts (including the Congressional Budget office, the IMF, and the major rating agencies) warn that the US government faces insolvency during the next 20 years. We face a large number of serious threats of unknown probability (e.g., peak oil, climate change). Now re-read the above statement.

  8. Obama is not the problem, do you believe we would be better off with “drill baby drill”?

    The problem is that the politicians are working for the people who payed to get them elected. The media wants to get that money in political advertising, so they don’t want any change. Whoever raises the most money wins. We need to have publicly funded, shorter elections along with some free TV time.

    I don’t remember the exact quote, something like democracy requires people to do the right thing, and that this can not be legislated. For example, if you are a Judge and a case comes up for someone who has given you large campaign contributions, money or gifts, you recuse yourself. You do not need a law to tell you this, you know it is the right thing to do.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Ah yes, another advocate of the Blue Fairy to solve our problems for us. If only she would use her magic to make the key and vital structural change! By the way, what is the relevance of your opening sentence to this thread?

  9. I posted a sign a few comments up: ‘Don’t feed the troll.’

    Many people propose publicly funded campaigns as a way to break special interest influence over candidates. If we did this, how could we legally discriminate against fringe candidates without violating their rights? Or should we? Should an aryan nations candidate get as much money as a democrat? Should a communist get as much money as a republican?

    I propose we go back to what we had before campaign finance reform started: unlimited contributions from any individual. The money is going to get to the candidate one way or another. Why fight it? At least this way the candidate would owe two or three large favors instead of hundreds of favors to dozens of deceptively named groups. Gov Grey Davis could not govern effectively precisely because he was captured by every special interest group you could name.

  10. I see Obama as a symbol of a possible problem–the belief that electing a new President(with an emotionally persuasive vision) and a new Congress(whether Republican or Democrat) will actually change the structure of power and,in turn, the policies in foreign affairs and in the financial/economic sphere which flow from that power.

    Is the electoral process still an avenue for such change? If it is then strategies having to do with taking over and reforming either or both parties seem sensible as does the attempt to formu new parties.

    If the electoral process is not an avenue for such changes then are visions of alternative political structures (like a radically decentralized federalism or an even more radically centralized state)persuasive when combined with tactics of civil disobediance and mass mobilizations of various types?

    And what of the different cultural critiques presented on this blog, like the “victimization” narrative, the “sugar daddy” narrative and the “passivity” narrative? How exactly do they fit into strategies for reforming power in our country?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: All great questions! I believe that we should try electoral change before declaring it impossible. As for the other narratives, they are IMO just ways to avoid the necessity of action. Aka excuses.

  11. The bottom line for our elected representatives, who are the presumptive agents of popular will in a republic, is doing whatever it takes to get votes. Their susceptibility to corruption in the form of campaign contributions is a symptom of this, since the money is a means to obtain votes through campaign spending. This mechanism is one of the more entrenched anti-democratic forces, and difficult to fight on its own terms, since by definition the game requires large sums of cash to play.

    But like I said, the money, the party machinery, etc. — all the anti-democratic forces of our system are only means to an end. What’s really important are those votes. If enough voters are convinced to vote a certain way, truly convinced, then all the campaign spending in the world is useless to a politician. Present a congresscritter with a credible threat of not being reelected, and they will tapdance naked down the Washington Mall. So . . . the focus should be on organizing the electorate. Of course, this takes money, but if the platform is one that people feel strongly about, it takes orders of magnitude less money than the way politicos go about it; you don’t have to buy endless TV ads to to brainwash them into picking product X over identical product Y (both of which will give you cancer), you just have to get in touch with people who feel strongly the same way and bring them together. To do this, of course, you need a platform that resonates with enough voters, but the huge sense of anger and frustration out there right now means that political apathy might be lower than any time in recent memory. It just needs to coalesce, given a seed crystal.

    Genuine popular pressure has had real, profound effects on the actions of government in the past. It’s the one significant vulnerability of the system from an elite perspective, similar to the ventilation shaft on the Death Star, and hence the enormous efforts to keep people ignorant, confused, apathetic, atomized and obsessed with social “wedge” issues. Divide et impera.

    The mass media are thoroughly compromised, sure, but every day and every election cycle they become less and less relevant and the grassroots potential of the internet grows greater.

    People are apathetic because they are comfortable and alienated. They are starting to become less comfortable and therefore less apathetic. Give them something that speaks to them and they won’t be alienated . . .

  12. I think we are more in agreement than you think with my comment #3, FM. I am proposing structural changes as some of the possibilities of what may replace our current system, not as a means to change. I think change to the federal government itself will eventually come from more citizen involvement in the states.

    Secondly, not all our current problems are the result of a lack of involvement by citizens. Some are the result of the presence of negative incentives in our current system of government, such as the ability of one to vote for themselves now the largesse of future generations. Negative incentives are unlikely to be cured by any amount of citizen involvement.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: My point was the the role of structural factors is significant only for planning. It’s like the terrain. A combat commander can wish that the terrain was different, but must deal with it as it is.

  13. Point taken and agreed. The structural factors that provide disincentives cut both ways, however. As the current financial crisis deepens, we may eventually see some state or states come to Uncle Sam with their hands out. The incentives that exist for Congressmen to print money and divide it amongst themselves do not exist when it is a particular state and its’ citizens that get to do the spending. There will be resistance from within the federal government and the other states to bailing out a particular state, and that in turn may lead to resistance from the states to the habits of the federal government, producing a citizen interest in those habits that did not previously exist.

    A combat commander still gets opportunites to pick his terrain and I would suggest that anything involving the states has promise.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: By the numbers.

    (1) “As the current financial crisis deepens, we may eventually see some state or states come to Uncle Sam with their hands out.”

    Already happening, even to the extent of States (i.e., California) borrowing money with a Federal guarantee.

    (2) “The incentives that exist for Congressmen to print money and divide it amongst themselves”

    Grossly overstated. A Congresscritter hands out hundreds of billions or trillions during his or her career. Inevitably a tiny tiny fraction sticks to their hands. But few retire with wealth like that of a successful 3rd world general — let alone a typical 3rd world ruler.

    (3) “The incentives that exist for Congressmen to print money and divide it amongst themselves do not exist when it is a particular state and its’ citizens that get to do the spending.”

    Congress does not print money. They borrow it, just like representatives in State governments. As California, New York, and many other States show, States can borrow and spend themselves to insolvency just as well as their Federal cousins.

    (4) “A combat commander still gets opportunites to pick his terrain”

    Sometimes. Not always. Often not when he would most like to.

  14. Not “themselves” literally, but as largesse to their constituencies with no personal acquisition implied.

    Congress does indeed print money, and borrows it as well, as they are authorized to do. And when the Federal reserve buys Treasury notes, well that’s an absurdity that would may have produced another speech by Patrick Henry.

    The states have a great deal less power to spend themselves to insolvency if for no other reasons then their debt typically has to be backed by an actual income stream to have value and the states generally do have structural limitations to their debt. There will be resistance from states that have managed their budget problems to bailing out states that have not managed theirs. That is the battle that may offer the best chance of success.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Under our current system the ability to print money (aka monetary poiicy) is vested in the semi-autonomous Federal Reserve. There is nothing absurd about the Federal Reserve buying Tresury Note, given this separation of powers.

    (2) “There will be resistance from states that have managed their budget problems to bailing out states that have not managed theirs. That is the battle that may offer the best chance of success.”The states have a great deal less power to spend themselves to insolvency”‘

    It might be “less power” than the Federal government has, but is its sufficient power. As seen by California.

    (3) “There will be resistance from states that have managed their budget problems to bailing out states that have not managed theirs. That is the battle that may offer the best chance of success.”

    It is a trivial battle. We’ve spent trillions in the current bailout, and one or two trillion more on the Middle East Wars. The funds needed to bailout every deficit State are an order of magnitude less.

  15. It is not a trivial battle, FM. The states are not unarmed against the federal government. They are the potential allies to which your modified Patrick Henry speech would have referred had you not edited that part. Use them. Additionally those states happen to be comprised of the same citizens you seek to change. Is not a change in the citizenry at the state level likely to be reflected in their attitude towards the federal government? If you don’t think you can win over the states how do you propose to win over the citizenry as a whole?

    California is not all states. It is one state. It’s example does not apply to all the states governed as they are by different laws. Those laws do indeed make insolvency unlikely. California is instead a potential catalyst for change by its’ negative example alone.

    You admonish others for adopting a mindset that defines the problems as being beyond repair and then adopt a mindset that precludes any solution other than a single step that may be beyond achievement. The battle, sir, is also to the active and that activity is most easily conducted locally at the states.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I do not understand. I just stated factually that the State deficits are tiny vs. the corporate bailouts already in motion. An order of magnitude smaller. Hence in this sense this is a sideshow, trivial. What is your basis for saying “It is not a trivial battle.”

    “Those laws do indeed make insolvency unlikely.”

    No, since the laws do not differ very greatly between solvent and insolvent States. Hence the laws are not the distinguishing feature between the two sets (or kinds) of States.

  16. Only too happy to startle you FM. I can’t think of a concern that is of greater primacy than liberty, and I can see how that might be shocking to some. Say what you will about peak oil or whatever your pet doomsday may be, without equal justice for all it is all meaningless anyway.

    Let me recall the words of a special celebrity guest of my own: “He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from opposition; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach himself.” ~Thomas Paine
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    Fabius Maximus replies: That is a nice quote, but not relevant. I refer to pressing dangers, the equivalent to the wolf at the door. You discuss the manners we should display inside the house. That is important — not at all trival. But survival — the solvency of the Republic and its safety in time of war — are paramount concerns IMO.

    That is not to say that your concerns should be ignored until some future day of peace and prosperity. No, they deserve attention now. But IMO it seems folly to say that “government discrimination against the LGBT community in marriage and military service that is the most pressing problem our society faces right now.”

  17. The states are not powerless in influencing the events of the country, FM, nor are their citizens. Collectively the states are even more powerful and are quite capable of influencing the federal government. The fact that their budget problems are smaller, and hence more easily solved, is a tremendous advantage, not a trivial point. Better yet, there are only 50 of them. The federal government will be pressed to argue that it cannot right its’ ship when the states have done so. The federal government can be influenced not only by direct citizen participation but by the states. Look at Henry’s speech if you need an example. It was made to Virginia, for the purposes of influencing Virginia, by which which all the colonies might be influenced. It was not made to the Continental Congress.

    State laws influencing fiscal matters vary significantly. Your dislike of structural solutions does not alter that fact.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: This is all fascinating, but I don’t see the relevance to anything previous said in this thread.

    “The states are not powerless in influencing the events of the country, FM, nor are their citizens.”

    Also, the sun rises in the East.

    “The fact that their budget problems are smaller, and hence more easily solved, is a tremendous advantage, not a trivial point.”

    You appear to have missed the point of comment #14 about “states that have managed their budget problems bailing out states that have not managed theirs”. I said this was a trivial battle because of the small size of State deficits vs. the already large and growing corporate bailouts.

    “Look at Henry’s speech if you need an example. It was made to Virginia, for the purposes of influencing Virginia, by which which all the colonies might be influenced. It was not made to the Continental Congress.”

    Yes, and no. No — Things have changed since 1775, which was before the creation of the United States. The Federal government’s power and resources dwarf those of the States, both individually and collectively. Yes — Mobilizing citizens will probably take place on all levels, but be predominently a ground-up operation. Local and State organizations will be important, even vital, for success.

  18. It strikes me that we are nearly a one-party system. Both major parties, although different in rhetoric, have nearly the same effect when in power–ever more encroachments upon liberty, ruinous spending and increasing taxation (but never enough to cover spending). How can the people be the blame for their choices when all of the choices in this “choose your own adventure” book lead to the same page?

    The only hope I see is voting reform. Some form of Instant Runoff Voting would give us another choice, a way to vote for who we really wanted without the feeling that we were “throwing our vote away” or “allowing the guy I really hate to win.” And that, I hope, would break the stranglehold of what I think of as the one-party, two-color system.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I agree about the parties, as in this excerpt from Politics of the FM site: radical leftist reformer or right-wing iconoclast?:

    Choosing a party today is like cattle at the stockyards choosing a pen. They (being smarter than us) don’t bother with party identification. They don’t cheer the “left-side” pen: the virtue of its prisoners, the beauty of the fence, the free food. Those in the “right-side” pen don’t wear logos or bumper-stickers, or trumpet their superior intelligence over those in the other pen.

    (2) As for voting reform, please see the previous comments about structural reform for my view of why that is a chimera.

  19. Here is a more specific look at the issue of elections and the structure of power based on some recent history.

    (1) Private sector derivative players (e.g., Derivative groups at JP Morgan in mid-1980s) took the initiative in creating financial instruments which could get around regulatory loopholes (in a natural search for new profit opportunities). The result in the private sector was bigger and more powerful investment banks and internally within these institutions greater power and income for the trading desks of derivative players.

    (2) Public sector Congresional people through legislative initiatives (from the mid 1980s to the early 2000’s)created a deregulatory environment which allowed both commercial and investment banks to grow larger and more powerful. In the public sector GSE’s also prospered.

    (3) Congress was more and more captured by the financial industry(i.e. new financial income purchased more and more of Congress) and in the financial industry itself certain trading desks become extremely influential as other profit centers were eroded due to deregulation.

    (4) Then housing collapse, financial firm insolvency, TARP and Federal Reserve/Treasury guarantees and bailouts. New President elected.

    (5) Centers of financial power (Citi and BoA as well as Goldman and JPMorgan) remain key players (Too big to Fail narrative). Summers, Geithner, Rubin, Emmanuel and Obama articulate policies to preserve influence of remaing large commercial and investment banks and the GSEs and the influences of certain derivative desks(i.e. credit default swaps were profits are still immense). Taxpayer looting continues. Finicial/Economic crisis continues.

    (6) The election (with rhetorical calls for change) appeared to change little in the structure of power in the financial/economic sphere.

    Will such a result continue to be inevitable in future elections? And if not why not?

    Is the process of recruitment into the elites of a community organizer or Governor of Alaska so inherently corrupting that no indivdual or group of individuals can withstand it?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: That’s a good summary! For a more detailed analysis I recommend reading “The Quiet Coup“, Simon Johnson, The Atlantic, May 2009.

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