No Winners, Only Losers in the Debt Ceiling Train Wreck

I object to “a pox on all their houses” assessments on principle, because it encourages the lack of accountability. If everyone is at fault, nobody is at fault, or at least nobody will be willing to accept responsibility as long as he or she or they can point fingers at someone else. Reading all of the clichéd “Winners and Losers” columns in the media this morning as the debt ceiling crisis winds down, however, convinces me that there were no winners, only losers, in this sorry spectacle. In the latter group I include the writers of the “Winners and Losers” pieces, which are all just spin, obvious and biased attempts to extract a writer’s favorites from the train wreck using the rhetorical Jaws of Life.

They are all losers, all of them, together with the United States of America. The perfect storm of cowardly, irresponsible, reckless, stupid and arrogant leadership weakened the recovery, weakened the economy, weakened foreign faith in American investments, weakened American prestige, split the Republican Party, revealed the Democratic Party as hell-bent on chasing the European-style nanny state even as their model is crumbling abroad, exposed the Tea Party as a unmannerly mess of deluded doctrinaire ideologues with no grasp of political or economic realities, and most disastrously of all, showed the American President to be hopelessly, pathetically, frighteningly weak, devoid of leadership skills and leaderly instincts. Continue reading

Robert E. Lee and the Abuse of Principle

Lee: Use his life as a warning, not an inspiration.

As both political parties and the President of the United States seem to be determined to subject the American people, economy and standing in the world to disaster in the defense of principles, it might be a good time to reflect on the fact that principles detached from reality have little value, and that rigidly adhering to principles to the detriment of the community and civilization is not a virtue.

In the current issue of Humanities, historian James Cobb makes these points vividly, if tangentially, while reflecting on the odd reverence with which Americans, and not just Southerners, regard Robert E. Lee. I am proud to say that the lionization of Lee never made sense to me, not even when I was a small boy. But he is the epitome of someone who is revered as a role model and hero for his supposed character and values rather than what he actually did with them.*

Cobb begins his essay with this anecdote:  Continue reading

Rep. Wu and the Scourge of Government by Ventriloquist Dummies

I have a 90% completed post tentatively entitled “Why We Are Doomed” sitting in my drafts file, and I can’t bring myself to finish or post it. I don’t want to believe we are doomed, so the Golden Rule keeps telling me that I shouldn’t be trying to convince others we are doomed. I believe in hope. I believe that cultures, especially this culture, can do the right thing and still be successful, provided that they can find leaders and role models who represent and encourage ethical values.

On the other hand, I really do believe we, that is to say, the United States of America, are probably doomed.

A story unfolding now, a sad saga that has really been unfolding for a long time, illustrates one of the factors I lament over in my languishing draft. Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.) has been accused of an “unwanted sexual encounter” with the teenage daughter of a longtime friend. We have to be careful here, but there seems to be little doubt that the “encounter” occurred.  The Oregonian has reported that sources aware of the incident say that Congressman Wu, who is 56, “acknowledged a sexual encounter to his senior aides but insisted it was consensual.”

Wu has been a train wreck waiting to happen for a long, long time. Continue reading

A Radical Suggestion to Foster Tax Fairness

Maybe it should be more. But it is far from "unfair." That 99%, however...

The interminable and depressing negotiations over raising the debt limit have recently featured unseemly demagoguery from the President about making “millionaires and billionaires” pay their “fair share” in taxes. I have no ideological objection to raising tax rates on the richest Americans and even Americans like me; after all, as Willy Sutton pointed out when explaining why he robbed banks, “that’s where the money is,” and we have to pay our bills somehow. The fairness argument, however, is dishonest, and blatantly unfair.

It is unfair because the richest 1% of Americans pay close to 40% of the total tax revenue. Now, that 1% also have a lot of money, but they use a lot of that money to run businesses, create new products and services and hire employees. Maybe they should pay even more, and maybe they get too many tax breaks. To say that paying 40% of the total tax revenue is something to be ashamed of, however, is dishonest. Continue reading