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August 14, 2005

When the levee breaks
Posted by Patrick at 10:22 AM *

If you read a lot of political blogs, you’ll have been hard-pressed not to run across links to these three recent articles, but if you don’t, you’ll find they provide a synoptic look at just how thoroughly we are, not to put too fine a point on it, screwed.

Comments on When the levee breaks:
#1 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2005, 11:29 AM:

I think the Taibbi article makes a good case for gutting the power and spending of the Federal government, and shifting things to state and local control.

#2 ::: Jim Parish ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2005, 11:33 AM:

There's a minor error, I think, in the Taibbi article. He claims that "Sanders is expected to become the first Independent ever elected to the U.S. Senate next year." If I recall correctly, Harry Byrd Jr. of Virginia was elected as an Independent in 1970. (Until that time, he had served as a Democrat, but was considering switching to the Republicans if they came within striking distance of control of the Senate.)

#3 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2005, 01:15 PM:

I tend to be -- generally, overall, in the main -- a glass-is-half-full (-even-if-there's-something-weird-floating-in-it) person. And as I've become more and more a politics junkie, reasonably well-read and informed and rounded in my solidly Demo-ideal views, that glass has still tended to remain my norm despite the past set of national elections and the grotesque venality on display in D.C. and across the world stage. But Jesus M. Cohan, that Taibbi article just depresses the hell out of me. I've been aware for decades that "representative democracy" is a term possessing roughly as much connection to objective reality as "pre-war intelligence" does nowadays, though after reading that piece the popping sound you hear is the last of my hopeful, this-too-shall-pass naivete going up. Political good in this country is no more "two steps forward, one step back." Now it's apparently "one step forward, one Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter zooming overhead in the opposite direction." Makes me even more eager to vote in 2006 and '08, but still. Christ.

(The Rich article, as usual, does provide a certain satisfying Schadenfreude lift, however.)

#4 ::: Grant ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2005, 01:57 PM:

A less snarky, but equally devastating peek at Congress: Closed, for Business

#5 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2005, 02:29 PM:

Ah, the best government that money can buy. And it has.

(From California, where the legislature has trouble passing anything - and in the late lamented recall one candidate's boast was that he hadn't voted for a budget in (mumble) years. That's one reason I keep voting against these guys. And I wouldn't want to bet that Arnold's redistricting proposal will do anything to improve the situation - I've also seen bipartisan gerrymanders: 1972, Pete McCloskey's district, is the one which comes immediately to mind.)

#6 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2005, 03:20 PM:

Grant's URL didn't work; I've fixed it.

#7 ::: Stuart ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2005, 08:49 PM:

Josh,

If you think state control would be an improvement I suggest you follow Molly Ivins advice and come down here to Texas and watch the state lege in action.

The state legislature is controlled by the Republicans and they can't agree among themselves sufficiently to pass a school finance bill. This despite two special sessions called by the governor to address the issue.

After all, Texas is the prototype for the future of America.

#8 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2005, 08:51 PM:

I've been taking an ostrich break. The democratic leadership's reaction to the Robert's nomination is just toooo depressing. So no, I hadn't seen any of this. Thanks.

#9 ::: Metal Fatigue ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2005, 10:37 PM:

I couldn't even read all the way through the Taibbi article; I became physically ill after the first few screenfuls.

Gods help us all.

#11 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2005, 09:31 AM:

Duh. Right. Fixed.

#12 ::: Ali al-Supreemo ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2005, 12:07 PM:

Quoting Josh Jasper,

"I think the Taibbi article makes a good case for gutting the power and spending of the Federal government, and shifting things to state and local control."

Another example of the Left trying in vain to catch up to the right--this is an old, old, old Republican idea, which might have done some good had it ever been implemented. Jasper may think he has discovered the basis of democracy, but his idea is old as the nation. Having invented big, lame, stupid government, the Left disavows it upon discovering that the NeoCons have appropriated it.

And Taibbi is 15 years behind the curve. Another Rolling Stone reporter wrote this story years ago, and was so apalled by what he found that he wrote a book. "A Parliament of Whores" published in 1992. You never read it because P. J. O'Rourke called himself a Republican at the time.

#13 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2005, 12:55 PM:

State and local control - we tried that one too. It's called the Articles of Confederation. Came before the Constitution. Didn't work; too much state and local control ("Gee, these are going from Connecticut to New Jersey? Sorry, New York charges customs duty on these.").

One of my friends (minor in Constitutional law) says that part of the problem is that the neocons think that the Constitution was created by the government (and thus can be interpreted by the government to/for its own ends), and the rest of us believe it's the other way around (and the Constitution should limit what the government can do). Witness the "Justice Sunday" wingdings, where the conservatives complain about the courts "making law" instead of "interpreting the constitution"...when this is what the courts do all the time. And that the law "is based on the ten commandments": I think these people are failing American history, since they seem to have missed the whole concept of common law and precedent.

#14 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2005, 08:44 PM:

Ali, I've had a copy of that O'Rourke book on my shelves since it made it to paperback. It's funny and depressing no matter which side of the aisle one finds oneself on.

#15 ::: vetiver ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2005, 12:29 AM:

Maybe the democratic experiment is in its "final throes." Maybe it's impossible for millions of humans, scattered across a continental expanse, to cohere around a single documented philosophy. There's always that slippage between the word and the meaning, which allows for all kinds of interpretations.

#16 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2005, 12:52 AM:

Hey, Ali, I'm another "example of the Left" here who's read P. J. O'Rourke. Don't pre-judge us.

In fact, stick around, you might learn a thing or two.

#17 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2005, 01:16 AM:

Actually, Ali, for myself, I don't read P.J. O'Rourke because he's a self-righteous nitwit, not because he's a Republican.

A Republican who has more to say than "I like it this way because I'm personally the benificiary and it allows me to express all the contempt I feel for lesser beings" might attract my attention. But P.J. O'Rourke thinks that it's amusing just to repeat endlessly that the working class is composed of losers and only winners like him deserve any notice.

#18 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2005, 01:34 AM:

Lucy: well, yes, there is that. But I will admit to having read him.

Besides, I think Mark Twain was a good century ahead of both P.J. O'Rourke and Taibbi in heaping ridicule upon the more disgusting aspects of the U.S. Congress. It's not a stance that our current crop of "conservatives" invented.

#19 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2005, 01:37 AM:

Back to the beginning topic. There is a lot of anlaysis out there as to how there's no will, organization, or resources to effectively counter the Republican totalitarianism. But I think that while it's useful to look at the stupidhead behavior of the Democratic party, so that people can try to get a handle on how to change it, it's also useful to look at where there's energy, wisdom, and action going on: you could do worse than to start with Barbara Boxer's website.

I got to vote for her, and Nancy Pelosi too, and it makes me almost happy enough to make up for Dianne Feinstein.

#20 ::: Hal O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2005, 07:43 PM:

* The first article is not a bad example of why only one Senator has been elected President in the last 100 years, while four of our last five Presidents have been Governors. I don't care which party -- to be a Senator who thinks they have a realistic chance at the Presidency, you have to be at least mildly delusional. Clinton, Biden, McCain, Frist... It hardly matters (insert your own Bentsen paraphrase here). Which means, of course, that by far our most likely next President will come from the pools of either Democratic governors, or Republican governors. Now, who in the pools will climb the stairs, I have no idea -- I'm just saying it's the bet the odds overwhelmingly favor.

* The Rolling Stone article is yet another of what I call "Don't worry your pretty little head," pieces. As in, "Aw, honey, polly-tics is full of nuthin' but filth and corruption -- don't worry your pretty little head about that." And, like the sub-species of spouse who would resort to such rhetoric, it's the kind of thing mostly driven by fear that Someone is going to wake up one day.

* OTOH, I loved the Frank Rich piece when it came out, and still do.

#21 ::: Mina W ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2005, 01:22 AM:

In the Frank Rich piece, he mentions "19 marine reservists from a single suburban Cleveland battalion slaughtered in just three days at the start of this month".

This is reminiscent of the WWI British neighborhood battalions who signed up together at the beginnning of the war and were slaughtered together, wiping out whole neighborhoods of men. Except, of course, these reservists were conscripted to this war, not volunteers.

Have there been other instances of this kind of local area concentration of soldiers and therefore casualties between now and then?

#22 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2005, 03:43 AM:

The Pals Battalions in WW1 are pretty extreme instances. The Accrington Pals, 11th (Service) Battalion (Accrington) East Lancashire Regiment, sent 720 officers and men into the attack on the First Day of the Somme, and lost 584 killed, wounded, and missing. Evem so, a few soldiers survived the machineguns, got through the barbed wire, and got into the German frontline trench.

About half the battalion came from Accrington itself, the rest from neighbouring Lancashire towns, including Burnley, Chorley, and Blackburn. Including a reserve company, some 1200 troops were recruited, mostly in the first weeks of the War.

I've been trying to come up with a population figure for the area, without much luck. It should be remembered that recruits were supposed to be between the ages of 18 and 35, though some were older, so maybe 80% of the local population were excluded.

Also, by the time the formation of the battalion started, about 250 local men had already volunteered for other units.


Even without the Pals battalions, the structure of the British Army put soldiers from the same area in the same battalion. My Grandfather served in the Lincolnshire Regiment, and the solicitor we employed when we moved house was a descendant of one of the officers he served with.

And 241339 Cpl. Bell, C. of the 7th Battalion was one of those who came home.


But 19 soldiers from one locality, or even the 235 dead from the Accrington Pals, are pretty minor, compared to the 60,000 total casualties on the First Day of the Somme, or 610,000 for the whole battle, just from the British and French armies.

Still, if you want an image of what the fighting in Iraq can be like, go to the Wikipedia entry on Johnson Beharry, and from there to the London Gazette. And remember that the British Army, in these things, tends towards a laconic style of reporting.


#23 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2005, 07:47 PM:

Mina, yes, in Virginia, a group of men (all the young men in that town) were all killed together in WWII.

#24 ::: Elaine ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2005, 09:12 PM:

Wow, this title seems a little spooky now.

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