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The Once and Future Gilded Age


This country is so weird.

Sometimes exhilarating and sometimes incredibly depressing, the United States is full of paradoxes. This is a tough week for me. There’s one big thing to celebrate–the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, with stronger protections for marginalized groups and pressure that forced the House Republican Troglodyte Caucus to cave.

Yet at the exact same time that a statue of Rosa Parks is being unveiled at the Capitol, Antonin Scalia and John Roberts are fulfilling their lifelong goal of repealing the meaningful clauses of the Voting Rights Act, potentially returning us to a pre-Civil Rights era of voting repression, although likely in more sophisticated ways than the ol’ let’s kill black voters routine of the pre-1965 era.

And now we have the sequester.

It seems to me that people are not taking the sequester seriously enough. There’s a reason for that. It’s March 1 and we woke up and nothing significant was different. It doesn’t fit our 24 hour news cycle. Meanwhile, even outstanding publications are all Bob Woodward, all the time. Look at TPM’s page today. It’s embarrassing. Woodward’s a blowhard and it is a legitimate story. The sequester is about 5000 times more important.

The United States, 1911 and 2013.

The real threat of the sequester is that it takes a big step forward in the Republican goal of returning the U.S. to the Gilded Age. Without doing anything at all, the Republicans force the government cutbacks they’ve been dreaming of. They don’t suffer in any way. The people suffer tremendously, but slowly, over time. This is like the frog in the boiling pot of water analogy (even if frogs don’t actually do that). Very slowly, without us hardly noticing, government services are reduced. People normalize those reduced services. National parks are shut down. Small airports basically stop functioning because of air traffic control reductions. Scientific research grants are reduced. Furloughed federal employees stop buying things, creating negative investment that leads to layoffs through the economy. Health programs are slashed. Adios to environmental protections. These things have a negative effect on people’s lives, but we don’t experience them immediately or every day. Just when we need them. Poor person needs an HIV test? Sorry. And they are gone, unlikely to ever come back.

There’s just no reason for Republicans to cave on this. Obama agreeing to the sequester idea because of his faith that some kind of grand bargain could be struck and his belief that Republicans would never allow this to happen was a gigantic miscalculation. Dave Weigel believes this strengthens Obama and the imperial presidency. And it’s possible we reach a point where the Executive Branch simply rules unilaterally because the legislative branch falls into complete dysfunction. Not only is that a terrible thing in the long-term (who wants to see President Rubio ruling unilaterally?) but that process will be slow and painful to transition to anything like an effective government.

Meanwhile, the drowning of government coincides with the disappearance of government supervision over voter repression. It also happens at the same time that the capitalists are just dying to return to 2007-esque housing bubbles and sketchy profitmaking. Dave Dayen’s piece from a couple of weeks ago on Wall Street investors buying up all the homes they can to rent them out strongly suggests the replacement of home ownership with slumlord rentals as the new housing norm in American society. Without good jobs and access to credit and with ever-increasing student debt loads, how will what used to be the middle-class afford a home? No real interest for Wall Street to see this happen, not when they can profit off rental markets. Suzy Khimm with more on this.

All of this leads the American public to feel hopeless about creating change. Only the Democrats could come up with a terrible name like “sequester” to describe this, obscuring the real and scary meanings of this disaster. We just trudge along, seeing that engaging in politics is hopeless and instead try to make the increasingly frayed ends of our life meet, at least for this week or month.

And we march on, without well-paying work, with huge debt loads, without voter protections for historically oppressed groups, without a functioning National Labor Relations Board, with fewer food safety inspectors, slowly back to the Gilded Age.

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  • c u n d gulag

    “And we march on, without well-paying work, with huge debt loads, without voter protections for historically oppressed groups, without a functioning National Labor Relations Board, with fewer food safety inspectors, slowly back to the Gilded Age.”

    So, basically, Erik, by agreeing with that, since these were their goals from the mid-60’s on, the rest of us have to concede that the Conservatives are either winning big, or already have won.

    Sorry, but I’m just not ready to concede that yet.
    Close – but not yet.
    Liberals and Democrats aren’t the only ones who can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

    • I’m willing to be wrong about this but people need to provide evidence.

      Every dollar cut from federal spending in whatever compromise might theoretically come out of this is still a win for Republicans. Doing nothing is an even greater win for them.

      • c u n d gulag

        Oh, I realize that.

        It’s just that I’m not ready to lay my King down on the chessboard yet.

        That’s whay they hope we’ll do – that people get so frustrated with the whole political system, that they’ll wash their hands of it, and go about trying to survive the best they can…

    • Shakezula

      It would also help if we haven’t danced this dance before. Sorry, I became numb to cries of WERE DOOOOOMED on the 256th day of 2001.

      And we’re not dead yet.

      (And I know different people have been yelling it for different reasons, but still – you can only hear so much before it becomes white noise.)

  • Cody

    There is only one plus side to this, and that’s Republican constituents. They’re furious. The boards are alight with people complaining about Obama cutting defense spending.

    How can Boehner let this happen!? There may quite possibly be a large backlash against Republicans due to the inconsequential military spending cut.

    I’ll concede it’s unlikely any Republican vote would bring themselves to stop voting Republican though. It may lead to more Tea Party support though, which is overall a good thing as it fractures the Right more.

  • Shakezula

    You’re describing the St. Ron Age, which also gave us the term you don’t like

    Only the Democrats could come up with a terrible name like “sequester” to describe this

    But see:

    The term “budget sequestration” was first used to describe a section of Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Deficit Reduction Act of 1985 (GRHDRA). The hard caps were abandoned and replaced with a PAYGO system by the Budget Enforcement Act of 1990, which was in effect until 2002.

  • JKTHs

    I don’t think the sequester is as big a disaster as you think. It is a problem that there are sizeable cuts to the things you talk about and the economic effect that the austerity will have. But…the big social insurance programs and many low-income programs are exempt and it takes a big bite out of defense spending, one bigger than most Democrats were willing to do.

    • Anon21

      Yeah. I see Erik’s post as more useful as a counterweight to the coverage the sequester is receiving elsewhere than straight analysis; it’s not as big a deal as he’s making it out to be. Moreover, he ignores the fact that the budgeting process is about to happen, and we should certainly expect to see some of these indiscriminate cuts restored in whatever budget deal eventually gets reached (after a government shutdown?).

    • I think this is a far too short-term analysis here.

      I see the sequester as the latest step in a 30 year attack everything good developed by the American state since the Progressive Era. It’s part of a stated goal by Republicans to return us back to the Gilded Age. The sequester moves this project forward in significant and very real ways. The fact that we don’t even see it as a disaster is in fact quite a strong sign of how effective the strategy is. Medicare and Social Security are exempt so it’s not even that bad! No, it’s that bad. Pushing government back around the edges as it were (though I would not consider these programs the edges), just makes other programs more vulnerable in the next round.

      • JKTHs

        I think it’s a disaster in an economic sense and in some of what’s cut. I don’t think it’s a disaster in terms of drowning government in a bath tub.

        • Icarus Wright

          Disagree here. I think the bathtub metaphor is a perfect descriptor; that is ultimately the long-term goal of Republican conservatives: destroy government and then corporations will fill the resultant void and privatize everything.

          This is a huge win for Republicans and a harbinger of doom.

          • Data Tutashkhia

            the long-term goal of Republican conservatives: destroy government and then corporations will fill the resultant void and privatize everything

            Actually, it’s quite bipartisan. A big push to privatization was Clinton/Gore’s “reinventing government” initiative. Cutting hundreds of thousands of federal employees from the payroll and privatizing as much as possible; a whole bunch of prisons, for example.

            There is no dichotomy here.

            • Correct.

              And there’s another problem. The majority of some group of people are behind all these bastards.

              You may know them as ‘the electorate.’

      • mpowell

        This is overwrought. You can’t interpret every negative aspect of a policy as part of an inevitable march to doom.

        Half of the cuts in the sequester are defense dollars. That’s awesome. Meanwhile, non-discretionary spending still hasn’t declined in real terms if you pick the right baseline. The cuts just aren’t big enough that we can confidently predict the results will be as bad as you make them out to be. And in a policy with some good and some bad you can’t just take the bad and say: “look this is the wrong direction -> if we go all the way the opposition party wants on this issue it will be terrible!” If you took that approach you would be completely lost in politics.

      • tt

        I’m not sure this is really a trend. Back in the Bush years Republicans were all for new social programs as long as they enriched their own favored groups as well. And PPACA passed, and Roberts declined to overturn it. I don’t have a grand theory to explain all this, but yours doesn’t seem quite right.

        • I don’t see the contradiction. The Republican Party isn’t a monolith and the forces of repealing the state don’t win every time. But they win most of the time. And they have rolled back a good bit of what made the U.S. a great nation. The sequester is part of a larger project to continue this process.

          • tt

            I suppose we don’t really disagree. All Republicans in power want a return to the Gilded Age, but they emphasize different aspects. Some care primarily about invading countries. Some are primarily interested in wealth extraction through the state delivered to their favored interest groups, and don’t care too much if it helps some of the working class along the way. Some seem genuinely interested in destroying the social safety net. But which faction is dominant at any given time I can’t really explain. Drowning the government in a bathtub only helps one of these groups.

            • JoyfulA

              And some want to return to the social mores of that time, particularly for women and people of color.

      • Sly

        Sorry, but I find the notion that Representatives elected to two year terms in office having adopted a generational time frame for thinking about and practicing politics to be highly suspect.

        Occasionally a President will think that way, about certain issues, but only because the President is at the end of their career and is more concerned about how people will remember them, and is no longer preoccupied with kissing ass to get money for their Congressional district.

        Political fights are invariably about turf and power in the present, and rarely about anything that can be credibly called lasting. The patrons of the right are demanding a curtailment of Federal spending authority. They weren’t demanding this ten years ago, when they controlled both houses of Congress and the Executive. Sure, they wanted to privatize Social Security, as they always do, but that’s not about some grand ideological vision; it’s about a very large pool of capital that various investment firms (who are Republican patrons) can’t get their grubby hands around.

        Why are they demanding it now? Because a liberal commands the Executive; worse yet, a liberal technocrat commands the Executive during a time when people are demanding government action on a whole range of issues. Actions that runs counter to the interests of those same patrons.

        • Shakezula

          Especially this cluster of screaming rejects from the freak factory. That is the opposite of organized.

      • xxy

        Medicare is not exempt, actually. It’s cut $11 billion this year. Only Social Security is exempt.

  • Where are we headed and why are we in this hand-basket?

    • DrDick

      Because the GOP is ruled by Satan and the Democratic centrists do not like to make waves (they also buy into a lot of the deficit hysteria).

    • DrDick

      I think that “the American public to feel hopeless about creating change” is central to the long term conservative agenda.

    • wengler


      Also money ruling everything around them.

  • Njorl

    The sequester will really only last 4 weeks. Then the continuing resolution runs out. They will either address the sequester, or the whole government will shut down.

    • Murc

      I will bet ten bucks to the charity of your choice that IF a deal is struck, it merely kicks the can down the road, just like the sequester deal did in the first place.

    • wengler

      It’s kind of amazing that the whole government hasn’t shut down at least once yet. Say what you will about the massively expanded Bush security state, they don’t like missing paychecks.

  • mark

    could you tell me more about the cartoon you posted? i can’t quite make out what the text says… where can i get a higher quality copy of it?

  • DanMulligan

    And then add in that the courts are not there for us either. At all. In addition to that hack Scalia, just listen to Roberts in the American Express arguments. Why do you need class actions? Surely you could just all gather together and organize and then try one case for a gazilion dollar risk and then march along and settle all the rest of the thousands of individual claims. Having been in the business for way too long, all I could think was there’s someone who never had to finance a practice or take a case to trial on the come. It would have been humorous but for the predictable further loss of rights to come.

    I confess that some months now I must restrict my intake of “news” to watching Jon Stewart.

  • Incontinentia Buttocks

    The plus side to the sequester are the defense cuts, which the GOP, and much of the Democratic caucus, most certainly don’t want.

    I agree that this small gain is outweighed by all that’s wrong about the sequester.

    But it’s worth remembering that the sequester was truly a bipartisan creation. Only six Democratic Senators voted against it in 2011.

    And it emerged from a really perfect storm of Republican willingness to sink the economy by playing games with the debt ceiling in the interest of the policy goals outloned in the OP,, the White House’s refusal to use the 14th Amendment or the platinum coin to defuse the situation, and the apparently unquenchable desire among fiscally conservative DC Dems like the President for a Grand Bargain.

    The deficit really doesn’t matter — at least not at its present levels. And in the short run, we need stimulus, not retrenchment. Though the Republicans deserve all the blame you give them for the endless desire to cut taxes for the wealthy and shrink (and drown) government, all packaged as pseudo-fiscal conservatism, they wouldn’t be nearly as successful were it not for the real, and misplaced, fiscal conservatism of the mainstream of today’s Democratic Party.

    • Cody

      Perhaps the worst outcome of this is the condemnation Democratic policies are going to get for our economy.

      “The economy is getting worse, further proof the Democrats stimulus was wasted money!”

      “Didn’t we just do austerity?”


      • Incontinential Buttocks

        I actually think that the Obama administration (and Congressional Democrats) have done a reasonably good job blaming the sequester on the GOP. So I don’t think the scenario you suggest is a foregone conclusion.

        I’m much more worried that the lesson that “serious” people take from the sequester is that the economy needed not the “meat cleaver” of the sequester, but “structural change” (i.e. deep cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid).

        What’s wrong with the sequester is not how it cuts, but that it cuts.

    • FlipYrWhig

      Though the Republicans deserve all the blame you give them for the endless desire to cut taxes for the wealthy and shrink (and drown) government, all packaged as pseudo-fiscal conservatism, they wouldn’t be nearly as successful were it not for the real, and misplaced, fiscal conservatism of the mainstream of today’s Democratic Party.

      I think this is true — there are a lot of “fiscal conservatives” among the Democrats. I feel like moral unease around deficits and debts is always just beneath the surface, and it erupts when the economy is bad… which is dumb. But I think it’s going to keep happening until the Clinton-era Democrats slowly die off, because they’re the ones who believe so steadfastly in the idea that reducing the deficit and improving the economy are two sides of the same (non-platinum) coin.

      • Incontinential Buttocks

        But the Clinton-era Democrats were caused by bigger, structural factors within the party, financial and ideological. It may be possible to take the Democratic Party back. But simply waiting for a generation of politicians to retire won’t do it (nor is this only an American problem; you see similar things in today’s British Labour Party and German SPD).

        • FlipYrWhig

          I agree that “simply waiting” isn’t going to do it, but I was trying instead to highlight that it’s going to take a _colossal_ amount of work retraining and reprogramming a whole party to un-learn the lessons they internalized 15-30 years ago–in this case, about the political and policy benefits of balancing the budget and reducing deficit/debt.

  • FlipYrWhig

    Obama agreeing to the sequester idea because of his faith that some kind of grand bargain could be struck and his belief that Republicans would never allow this to happen was a gigantic miscalculation.

    Doesn’t this raise the question of what you’d’ve preferred Obama to do in lieu of “agreeing to the sequester idea”? All of your analysis about what Republicans want and how letting the sequester happen synchs up neatly with their long-term objectives… well, if those are their long-term objectives, why wouldn’t they simply have stuck to them back then, too? They either agree actively to something stupid and damaging, or they don’t agree and passively let stupid and damaging things happen. What’s the alternative?

    • Antonin Scalia

      In 2011, the alternatives were the 14th Amendment or platinum-coin defusings of the debt ceiling “crisis.”

      • Incontinential Buttocks

        Whoops…that was me! (Need to remember to change name after snarky posts…)

        • JKTHs

          Yes, otherwise that would be a revelation for the viability of the 14th amendment strategy.

          • Incontinential Buttocks

            LOL! (The idea of Nino actually trolling the comment threads of this–or any other–blog is actually really amusing. If he were a couple decades younger, he might actually be doing it; the man seems devoid of shame.)

        • Shakezula

          The magic, it is gone!

    • Die Pedantetroler

      Platinum coin.

      • FlipYrWhig

        Wouldn’t that just push the current quasi-crisis to a different date? Mint the coin[1], no sequester cuts… but then there’s the continuing resolution thing, which Republicans definitely wouldn’t play ball on, and then there’s a government shutdown, because that’s what Republicans want. (We might still get that anyway.) So there’s no good outcome regardless. Which is why I don’t get the “miscalculation” point. If all Republicans want is disaster, we’ll all get disaster as soon as possible.

        [1] IMHO doing this would cause Obama’s popularity to crash completely, which would make already-skittish elected Democrats scatter on other important priorities, but, I’ll leave that aside.

        • JKTHs

          I think he was referring to Obama using the platinum coin to defuse the debt limit hostage-taking that led to the sequester.

          • FlipYrWhig

            Right, but even if there’s never a sequester, that doesn’t prevent Republicans from being destructive nihilists if that’s just their nature. So if that’s all they are, they destroy everything either by sequestration and other things, or just other things. In which case not minting a coin can’t have been a disastrous decision, because coin or no coin, we’re all eating shit.

            • Incontinential Buttocks

              Absolutely. But using perfectly legal means to take away tools that enable their nihilism is helpful. At the very least it makes their nihilism harder to actualize. There’s no reason whatsoever that the GOP should have been–or should be able to–play these games with the debt ceiling.

    • bob mcmanus

      what you’d’ve preferred Obama to do in lieu of “agreeing to the sequester idea”?

      Louis Bonaparte and 1851? Something fucking radical. Something “illegal.”

      This desperate nostalgia for the zombie forms of an utterly bankrupt and co-opted political system is literally gonna kill us all. Note the phrasing, not “might” but “will.” I haven’t much hope that bourgeois liberals will ever care enough about the deaths of millions or the entire species to leave their comfort zones and break their own rules. They will die trying to get a supermajority by means of public reason.

      • Incontinential Buttocks

        Again, there were perfectly legal, and very surgical, forms of executive action that could have defused the phony debt ceiling crisis. No green lantern, let alone man-on-horseback, fantasies needed in this case.

        • gmack

          Quite right. I mean, it’s an old and venerable leftist tradition to hold modern constitutional democracies in contempt, but what the hell is a self-poclaimed leftist doing invoking Louis Bonaparte as the model? Not Lenin, not Robespierre, not Gracchus Babeuf, and not even Mao, but Bonaparte! What is the world coming to?

          • bob mcmanus

            Louis Napoleon built the railroads, industrialized France, yet mollified the bourgeois and rurals enough to get it done.

            We need a green zero-carbon economy even more than socialism, and a socialist revolution inevitably decreases output and efficiency in the near term.

            And I think we have about one generation to save the species.

            Finally, what is most important is to keep the Republicans out of power, forever, no matter the cost.

            • Dave

              Wow you’re a stupid prick. What utter contempt for actual people you demonstrate from the sanctity of your fantasy-world where what everyone needs is so crystal-clear to you and you alone. Fuck off and die, seriously.

              • bob mcmanus

                Post-Democracy in Europe Henry Farrell citing Colin Crouch, with extreme pessimism. Europe understands the bipartisan technocracy better than Americans, who are wholly delusional.

                Hey, I ain’t committed to Bonapartism. Show me something else. Socialist revolution would be fun, and I will join you on the barricades. It won’t work, but party!

                But your old partisan politics is dead, ignorant, and useless, and very boring.

            • Bob Woodward

              Louis Napoleon built the railroads

              But did he make the trains run on time?

              • Origami Isopod


        • FlipYrWhig

          Even if there were ways to defuse the debt ceiling crisis, if all paths still lead to Republicans using any means necessary to eviscerate the government, we’re always on the verge of another intractable crisis anyway, so I don’t see much of a failure there. If you’re in a runaway bus and you try but fail to jump over the unfinished overpass, your miscalculation leads to a crash, but if you don’t try to jump it, you still crash, so singling out the “miscalculation” seems like nitpicking.

          • Incontinential Buttocks

            Even if the GOP’s desire for nihilism is infinite, particular political battles are concrete and finite. Any individual defusing of the GOP’s will-to-nihilism is a small victory, though those victories can be pretty pyrrhic if they come at the price of something like the sequester.

      • anthrofred

        This has got to be the first time I’ve seen the Eighteenth Brumaire referenced in a blog post. Take that, Godwin’s Law. Bam!

        • burritoboy

          It is? You ain’t been going to the right blogs, then.

          • anthrofred

            Obvious truth there.

  • Shakezula

    One thing I don’t understand about the Gilded Age II, Electric Boogaloo series is the underlying belief that there will be no way out this time. That in another 10 or 30 or 50 years, it will be Nazgul and boots stomping human faces, forever.

    I’m not a history major or anything but I’ve read (and seen) enough to know that fucked up and not fucked comes in cycles. What, exactly, do you see as being so unique about this point in history that we’re looking at the clock stopping at fucked up?

    • It’s not that it can’t or won’t change eventually. But the conditions that created the change the first time–working-class people organizing to demand change and putting pressure on politicians to eventually grant that change–have to be recreated from scratch. That’s likely a multi-decade project.

      • Incontinential Buttocks

        And, in the meantime, you get plenty of human suffering (indeed, there’s reason to think that more damage–human and environmental–can be inflicted this time than there was last time).

        • Shakezula

          I won’t argue with that. Which is why I take issue with the sad sighing and throwing up of hands.

          “Oh dear, everything is quite bescrewed. Oh well.”

          No. Not acceptable. Lazy and ultimately careless of the real people who would suffer. It’s like when otherwise well-meaning guys run up and announce “Welp, based on X, I think abortion will be illegal next year. Sorry girls.”

          The hell you say.

        • LeeEsq

          This is the exact worry. We might be able to work ourselves out of the New Gilded Age eventually but hundreds of millions of billions of people are going to suffer a lot in the meantime. Its not an experience that I’d care to inflict on the world.

      • bob mcmanus

        We don’t have decades. Oh hell. Bye.

      • Shakezula

        What from scratch? Are we all going to be zapped with a neuralizer? Will the internet be shut down?

        • The internet is not going to create that kind of social change. And we have to build the sheer idea of class-consciousness again.

          • Shakezula

            So … you posit that events like the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom would not have been easier to organize if the internet had been available.

            Don’t worry, I know you don’t.

            Re class-consciousness: What is going to change in the next [X] years? I’m not talking about society but about basic human nature. Because surely you must know, that while it may take a long time to get ideas into people’s heads and even longer to get them out. (Especially if the idea benefits the person.)

            I guess my ultimate problem is you started by stating that A WILL happen and B WILL happen, and when I ask why or on what you base that statement, you say C and D WILL happen.

          • LeeEsq

            At least in the American experience, was it class-consiousness that got us out of the First Gilded Age? A good percentage of the American working class ostensibly voted against their economic interests and brought whole-heartedly into American capitalism and indivdualism as they do today. In fact the geographic regiones where American working class people had high and low levels of class-consiousness are pretty much the same back then as it was today. Its my undertstanding that Southern mill workers were pretty conservative during the Gilded Age compared to garment workers in New York.

            A lot of the reformers of the Gilded Age, especially those that got things done, came from the middle or upper classes. Part of it was trying to avoid a more radical reform but a lot of it was genuinely wanting to make the system more fair.

            This isn’t to down play the role the working class played but I don’t think that class-consiousness played the exact role in the United States that it did in Europe. The Democratic Party might have generally attracted more lower income voters than the Republicans but neither party had a strict class basis unlike many European parties.

            • anthrofred

              The thing is, the rich are already largely aware of class. It’s only when things fall apart that there’s a possibility of a realization en masse of just how bad everyone else is being screwed. Containing this can involve shaping what class-consciousness looks like from the top – in the south, the issue of race has been especially effective here. See also: the Mexicans are taking our jobs!

              Another way to put this: just because you don’t say it’s about class doesn’t mean that it’s not (at least in part) about class, though you’re right in that you can’t reduce everything to it.

              • JoyfulA

                We have had ourselves some (not enough) Occupy now, and people refer to themselves as the 99% and, thanks to Romney, the 47%. That’s not a lot, but it’s an improvement in class consciousness and the best I’ve seen in my life.

      • UserGoogol

        Politics isn’t just about the brute application of power. The idea of New Deal-style progressive liberalism isn’t going to be wiped off the face of the Earth, and as long as it’s on the historical record as being an idea that works, it’s going to have a serious advantage over back when it was merely a hypothetical system which might potentially be a nice way to run things. At the end of the day, a good idea is a good idea.

  • bob mcmanus

    History doesn’t repeat, but sometimes it rhymes.

    No this is not a return to the Gilded Age, nor will the forms of resistance, Progressivism and Big Labour or a Nth International work again. This is something new, because the technology and social conditions are new, because the Imperialism and War of 1900 are no longer available in the same forms, and because we have an AGW/resource depletion endpoint in plain view. And of course, much more.

    I don’t have the answers, I don’t even have the questions. I think I need to read social theorists rather than historians, and look overseas (although there is no longer a periphery) for insight rather than at the chroniclers of the core.

    • Jameson Quinn

      There’s also unfriendly AI to worry about. I don’t believe it’s likely that AI will take over the world and then game over; but I find it hard to deny that AI in some form (probably not monolithic) could show up one of these days and be used for harmful ends (such as oppresive profits).

      • BigHank53

        D’you know how fragile electronic systems really are? Any AI smart enough to understand self-preservation is going to be even more of a fanatic about climate change and long-term economic stability than Mr. McManus here is. Without some smart monkeys to make spare parts and plug them in and keep the electricity flowing, it’s got a lifespan measurable in months.

    • rea

      History doesn’t repeat, but sometimes it rhymes.

      . . . says the guy who wants to recreate the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon.

      You’re just the kind of farce Marx was warning us about.

    • Shakezula

      Yeah. You know. The exact flavor of technology and social conditions are indeed new. Or at least different. People dealing with new technology and social conditions is anything but.

  • Shakezula

    And another question. Why is the Gilded Age the stopping point for Suck? The return to slavery would be so much better for the new MOU.

  • DC Refugee

    Small airports basically stop functioning because of air traffic control reductions.

    Not really. Most of the the towers on the FAA’s closure/part-time list handle very little scheduled (airliner) traffic. Instead, they primarily serve general aviation.

    The impact of the sequester on aviation, if any, will be reduced efficiency in the system: flights may be delayed at peak times/locations because there won’t be sufficient controllers to handle them in the en route airspace (vs. terminals).

  • Data Tutashkhia

    Contrary to what’s been said here, I believe the military cut is a very big deal. The problem with the US is that the taxes are not all that low, but the return to a taxpayer is virtually non-existent, because about a half of the federal budget is military spending, in one form or another.

    And that’s the reason most of everybody is against taxes. And they do have a point: what do I get for paying my taxes? Do I get free medical care? No. Do I get free higher education? No. Free child care? No. Nothing. Until I’m 65, I get nothing.

    So, cut the military spending by 90%, give people something for the taxes they pay, and then the attitudes will change.

    • Incontinential Buttocks

      I agree that the defense spending cuts are potentially a big deal and deserve to be celebrated. But, in fact, everyone among the “serious” agree that they are a Bad Thing, and any “solution” will undo them.

      • Data Tutashkhia

        Well, that’s the biggest problem with this story, I think. Tragic, really. All the demagoguery will be only about the military cut, how terrible it is. Everyone agrees. And so it goes…

        • Incontinential Buttocks

          I do think that it’s important for progressives, when properly writing about the sequester with righteous indignation, to praise the defense cuts, even if they were a good idea pursued for the wrong reasons. Sometimes one needs to celebrate political spandrels (to steal an evolutionary biological metaphor).

          • RhZ

            I call bullshit on this. First of all, people get lots of things for their tax money. Roads, schools, police, courts, and so on. The idea they get ‘nothing’ for their taxes is a load of unmitigated crap.

            Second, the idea that if taxes were lower people wouldn’t hate taxes is stupid. People. Hate. Taxes.

            Lower their taxes and they will be happy for about one second. Then they will be complaining again, guaranteed. ‘Attitudes will change’ is a crock of high-quality shite. Look at the rich right now, their taxes are at historic lows. How freaking satisfied about that are they now?

            Third, taxes are low in the US now, historically and compared to other advanced countries. To say otherwise is hogwash (yes this is a trend).

            Fourth, while I am all for military spending cuts, these are not intelligent cuts. They might be a ‘big deal’, that doesn’t make them good. If the GOP is wrong to say that lowering taxes is always good, then progressives should be careful to say cutting defense spending is always good.

            Fifth, Mr. Data is a troll, is also known as Trolly McTrollio, and should not be engaged.

            Other then to be told to go eat his damn pancakes.

            His ideas in his original post are all very, very stupid and trollish.

            • Incontinentia Buttocks

              Apologies for troll feeding (seriously!).

              I agree with you entirely about taxes.

              But I think we spend so much more than we should on defense, and our leaders’ willingness to seriously rethink defense spending is so limited, that even these relatively stupid cuts might not be a bad thing.

              • sibusisodan

                I’m pessimistic about people with power drawing sensible conclusions from events.

                The likely response among Persons Of Seriousness to the negative effects of a crude and quite large defense spending cut will not be to say ‘gosh, we should cut more effectively next time’ but ‘we tried cutting defense and it was terrible, so it’s now untouchable.’

                (I also think that the ‘defense spending is good’ crowd will pretty much always win over the ‘govt spending is out of control!’ crowd)

                • RhZ

                  Yeah I agree with both of you, and actually I wonder if part of the reason the Dems are willing to negotiate so tough on this is that they may figure this is the only way to get any defense cuts at all.

                  And defense spending is so out of control that I am close to thinking that any cuts are better than no cuts, its just a political no-no to accept any cuts so it can only happen through some stealth method.

                  But the premise of our friend Trolly are all kinds of wrong, and dammit, that’s the important point :-)

            • Origami Isopod

              It’s true that we do get things for our taxes, and that taxes in the U.S. are extremely low for the developed world, but do we get the same bang for our buck that better-run countries do?

              • RhZ

                Well that may well be true. And we could start by cutting corporate welfare and eliminating loopholes used by the corporations and super-rich, that plus reining in our military would go a long way toward improving the bang-per-buck for people.

                But, that’s not the position of the original commenter, Mr. Trollio, at all. And that’s my point.

      • Well, that may be due in part to the way that military spending is bundled into the economy as a whole. For example Airbus is governmental subsidized aerospace manufacture one way; the other way is to overpay for R&D of military aircraft and use that as a de facto subsidy. Military spending in the US is a form of subsidy for quite a bit, even though nobody says it out loud. What would be the overall economic impact of eliminating a single aircraft carrier? It seems likely that doing that would resonate pretty far down the logistical chain. Bars and tattoo parlors in San Diego would suffer, the crews would return home to Arkansas and compete for jobs in gas stations that are already saturated…. I don’t mean to snark, but the question is far more complex than I think we know.

    • rea

      Defense cuts could be a good thing. Whether these particular defense cuts are a good thing is a different question. I suspect we’re cutting readiness and personnel expenditures rather than weapons systems.

      • JKTHs

        Military personnel spending (I’m not exactly sure what) is exempt. Otherwise just about everything is getting cut until they re-assign things with the CR.

      • Bufflars

        From what I’ve heard, it’s primarily 1) civilian DoD employees getting furloughed, and 2) services (as opposed to weapons or security) contractors who are getting their money cut or taken away. It seems likely the cuts will have little effect on the actual size of the fighting forces or weapons programs, which is where military cuts would ideally go to.

    • ironic irony

      I slightly disagree with you here: there are quite a few people out there that oppose taxes because they don’t want the other guy getting anything in return for paying taxes. They don’t want disadvantaged people to get “something for free that I had to work so hard for,” forgetting that they were already born on 3rd base, whereas their neighbor was born in the stands.

      I do agree with you that I would love it if taxes went to those things you mentioned. I am unfortunately subjected to the Armed Forces Network propaganda, and you should hear them bitch and moan about defense cuts. It’s always programs that help the service member or the family that get cut first- never the wasteful amount of contractors doing jobs soldiers can do, never the amount of money given to groups to pay them not to attack our forces, and never the money used to prop up our dictator friends. Frankly, I have zero fucks to give over their spilled tears.

      The anti-tax crowd is a part of a self-fulfilling prophesy. They see their taxes go to projects that don’t benefit themselves or their communities, therefore don’t want to be taxed. So they vote for Republicans who promise to lower taxes, meaning even less money goes back into their communities, and bitch and complain about the potholes in the road. It’s mind-numbingly stupid.

  • Incontinential Buttocks

    The President just said we need “smart spending cuts” and “entitlement reform” rather than the sequester.

    As I say above, as bad as the Republicans’ nihilism is, the Democrats’ more good-faith fiscal conservatism is also damaging. It’s one of the main reasons we got the sequester and it’s why any “solution” to the sequester problem is likely to be unnecessarily painful for the poor and middle class and continue the New Deal’s death-by-a-thousand-cuts.

    • Incontinential Buttocks

      Obama gets understandably annoyed at media questions that want to hold both sides (i.e. the White House and Republicans in Congress) equally responsible because they’re at an impasse.

      But the President perfectly willing to engage in the same rhetorical trick by saying that both Congressional Republicans and those in his caucus who want no “entitlement reform” are similarly wrong.

      The center is not always right. And if the President wants to make this argument, he shouldn’t be surprised if the media throws it back at him.

    • JKTHs

      Well, the Democrats’ proposals to replace it are fine (farm subsidy cuts plus Buffett Rule) but they’re only for a year replacement. A longer term deal would for sure not go well.

      • Incontinential Buttocks

        That Democratic proposal is certainly preferable to the President’s Grand Bargain.

    • FlipYrWhig

      I still hear those statements not as What We Need in a general sense but with an implicit “IF we’re going to be talking about cuts, we need _smart_ cuts and ‘reforms.'”

      I agree with you that “what should we cut?” is a dumb conversation to be having in the first place. But I believe that they’re not in the spirit of austerity = economic health. They’re all technocrat-wonk stuff about getting started fixing long-term problems like “bending the cost curve” on how to fund health care.

      I would be more confident in this if he said more often — he did once recently, but it was fleeting — that a deficit-reduction plan IS NOT THE SAME THING AS an economic recovery plan.

      • FlipYrWhig

        “But I believe that they’re not” should be “But I believe that Obama’s proposals aren’t.”

        • Incontinentia Buttocks

          But he not only doesn’t say ‘IF we’re going to have cuts,” he’s been actively seeking such cuts since 2009, i.e. even before the GOP took the House.

          • FlipYrWhig

            But those have been “bend the cost curve” kinds of cuts, i.e., ways to deliver services more efficiently and sustainably — not ways to even the score with moochers, and not ways to improve the economy by cutting services. I think they’re consonant with the Al Gore Reinventing Government effort. That’s not “austerity is good for you, so suck it up and quitcher whining, slacker.”

            I think it’s an odd thing to prioritize in a time of sluggish ecnomic performance, but my sense is that it’s meant to be a redirection _from_ austerity, not an embrace of it.

    • wengler

      You can’t make anything these days by lending the federal government money. 0.01s across the board.

      It really is just madness. They want to hurt people.

  • Hugo Torbet

    The mistake people have made over the past several decades is to have allowed themselves to be divided into voting minorities labeled “liberal” and “conservative”. The true dichotomy is big money vs. the common man. However, the common man has allowed himself to be distracted by such ridiculous issues as abortions, homosexual marriage, and private firearm ownership. This has allowed big money the ability to marginalize the things which are actually important and to prevent the people from actually governing their own country as the Constitution envisioned.

    Think about anyone you know of whatever political affiliation.

    I’d bet that he is for a society which is comprised of people who are respectful of one another, which has schools which are good and safe, which provides economic opportunity for everyone willing to work, which has good and affordable health care, and which has a safety net for the disadvantaged. In fact, I’d bet that ninety percent of the people agree on ninety percent of the things subject to political oversight. The people could actually own this country if they would open their eyes and see what is happening — if they could see how they are being played by big money and its propaganda machine. The big obstacle is that they are now vested in nonsense.

    I’ll say this too: The people who self-identify as “liberal” are the easiest ones to fool. That red state, blue state, United States Obama line was not delivered with sincerity. It was delivered to bring the people some truly horrific policies. Of course, McCain probably would have been worse. However, just because Obama calls himself a “Democrat” is no reason to trust him.

    • Origami Isopod

      However, the common man has allowed himself to be distracted by such ridiculous issues as abortions, homosexual marriage, and private firearm ownership.

      Yeah, who cares about all that chick and queer shit? It’s not like real people are losing their rights anyway.

      • LeeEsq

        I’ve never really liked the brand of Leftism that thinks that too much time is spent on “identity” issues like right to an abortion, same-sex marriage, etc. Class and economic issues are important but identity issues aren’t mere diversions. They are very real issues that effect very real people. There are some problems with identity politics and the Right has been skilled at using them to their advantage by getting people to ignore their economic interests in favor of some other identity.

        • Origami Isopod

          “Identity” issues are class and economic issues. Class is certainly an identity issue, in sociological terms. Discrimination hurts the finances of people who are vulnerable to it.

          “Identity politics” is a right-wing catch phrase. The most powerful players of “identity politics” are actually resentful white dudes, mostly but not all straight, and by and large conservative Christians of some kind or another.

          • LeeEsq

            I’d be more open to issues of identity if issues concerning my primary identity weren’t routinely dismissed a lot.

      • Rhino

        It’s hard to be an anti abortion activist, or campaign for lgbt rights if the economy has crashed and the 1% are calling in everybody’s mortgage, and you’re being drafted to go fight brown people in a war for oil.

        ‘Chicks and queers’ are important, but fundamental issues that affect entire societies are more important than issues that affect only a small minority, and solutions that will only benefit that small minority.

        • Women are a small minority? Interesting…..

          • Rhino

            There are only half as many women as ther are people, for starters.

            But the real question is what’s more important, the glass ceiling or planetary extinction?

    • I’d bet that he is for a society which is comprised of people who are respectful of one another, which has schools which are good and safe, which provides economic opportunity for everyone willing to work, which has good and affordable health care, and which has a safety net for the disadvantaged.

      …so you’ve never met any republicans, I take it?

    • Data Tutashkhia

      Hugo Torbet is correct. Identity politics, whether of the right or of the liberals, is the new opium of the masses. Ignore rampant exploitation – look over there: gay marriage! Who the fuck cares about the gay marriage? Or, for that matter, any marriage? Why should the government be concerned about anyone’s marriage?

      • sibusisodan

        Why should the government be concerned about anyone’s marriage?

        Interesting redirect you’ve got going on there.

        Govt, at state & Federal level, _is_ currently concerned about peoples’ marriages. You take the position they shouldn’t be (with which I agree).

        You also take the position that we shouldn’t be concerned about the fact that govt are concerned with peoples’ marriages, with which they should not be concerning themselves.

        Not all of those positions can be held together at the same time.

        On the other hand, it is perfectly possible to care about more than one issue at a time. So do say more about this rampant exploitation which requires our attention…

        • Data Tutashkhia

          Well, like Hugo said, you and someone who is against gay marriage may not be all that far apart on most of the important issues. But since you care a whole lot about gay marriage, and you become an enemy of that guy. It’s the usual thing: divide and rule.

          • sibusisodan

            …that’s a collection of non-sequiturs.

          • Origami Isopod

            “You,” of course, presuming a straight person with no queer folks in their lives they give a fuck about.

            Typical manarchist baloney.

            • Data Tutashkhia

              There are no “queer folks”, that’s the whole point. And there is no need for you to fight your larger-than-life cartoonish fight against your cartoonish bigots for nonsensical marriage. No one should care about marriage, gay or straight.

              But unfortunately you are much more typical than I am, at least in these parts…

      • Shakezula

        Right. Disadvantaged Groups should just wait very quietly until the normal people decide to give them rights. But for now we have more important things to do.

        That ain’t new.

        • Rhino

          No, I don’t think that’s what’s being said. What’s being said is that there are more important things that require attention. Things like global warming, foreign wars of aggression, the collapse of the economy for every one but the top. If we don’t solve those things first, the rest is pretty pointless.

          • Shakezula

            Do try reading what I wrote.

            • Rhino

              I did.

              And what I am saying is that sometimes my issues, or your issues, take back seat to bigger issues. This is why many people who despise many of the things Obama did in his first term nevertheless voted for his second term.

              • Rhino

                To go further, there are opportunity costs at work here. You can dedicate a lot of capital to a health care act, and to an economic stimulus, or you can spend that capital on lgbt rights and legalizing pot.

                All four of those things are important to large numbers of people. Pick the two YOU would have devoted your political clout as a president… Would you have chosen differently? Why? Why not?

                I have causes too, and mine are being largely ignored as well. I feel your pain.

                • Shakezula

                  I can’t tell which is stranger about these two replies. The fact that you equate legalizing pot with things like the right to vote, or that it contradicts what you said a few slots down.


                • Rhino

                  I don’t equalize them, that’s the point. And the fact that I think some issues are more important than others doesn’t keep me from feeling the way I expressed in my reply to that stupid fucking troll.

        • Data Tutashkhia

          There are no “Disadvantaged Groups”, not in the US. There are blacks, women, gays who are very rich and powerful.

          There are, however disadvantaged people, of all kinds. That’s the Group. They need to unite, and make things better for everyone, without paying any attention to anyone’s ‘identities’.

          • Malaclypse

            There are no “Disadvantaged Groups”, not in the US. There are blacks, women, gays who are very rich and powerful.

            I love watching ultra-leftists channel their inner libertarian.

            • Data Tutashkhia

              Yeah, this kinda shit comes easy and naturally to you fellas: identifying ideological heresies.

      • Origami Isopod

        It’s funny how society shoves so many of us into these little boxes. Then, when we try to organize for our rights based on having been shoved into those boxes, we’re declared “divisive” and “distractions.”

        • Data Tutashkhia

          These boxes are just an illusion.

          • Rhino

            What the fuck? Illusions? Yeah, right, the gender gap in wages is an illusion. The overwhelming numbers of women and girls who Re sexually assaulted are illusions. The gay people who can’t have health care for a spouse? Phantoms!

            Stop being an asshole.

            • Data Tutashkhia

              Oh, brother. Everybody should have health care, and a fair wage. No one should be assaulted.

              Try thinking about it this way, and you may find that fewer people will be calling you an asshole. And then things may start happening.

              • Rhino

                You’re a real twit, did you know that? Now kindly go away as adults are discussing things here in the real world, where boxes are real and where you are clueless.

                • Data Tutashkhia

                  You don’t actually sound much like an adult, my friend.

                • Rhino

                  Fresh pancakes, all crispy on the edges with succulent blueberries melting inside. Whipped cream and hot maple syrup. Mmmmmmm

                • Data Tutashkhia


        • Shakezula

          Triply funny since it is agreed The Rich Oppressing Everyone = Bad. Apparently the corollary to Small Group Oppressing The Majority = BAD, is A Majority Oppressing the Minority = OK.

          Yep. A real fucking laugh riot.

      • wengler

        Identity politics aren’t the new anything. They are as American as apple pie.

        This country has a class problem that it fails to address, because the prevailing ideology is that the US is special. It doesn’t have to deal with the same shit as the rest of the world, because in the US you just have to prove you are awesome and you will shoot to the moon. And if you rebel against this notion, you are a commie traitor.

    • Malaclypse
  • Joshua

    Erik is right, in that Republicans have made government a little bit worse, which they will then use to talk about how bad government is. It’s their plan, it has worked beautifully.

    As long as people keep voting for them, this is what will happen. Even taking the gerrymander into account, the GOP gets about 45%-49% of votes. The 2012 election was remarkably transparent – Republicans weren’t wearing tricorner hats or talking aout compassionate conservativism or some nonsense. They went out there and blamed all the problems on greedy poor people and uppity women. They still got 45%-49% of the vote.

    • wengler

      And many of them were touching third rails in SS and Medicare and it didn’t seem to hurt them as much as predicted. They lost the Presidency of course, failed to gain a majority in the Senate, and lost House seats, but they still have enough power to destroy government.

  • James E. Powell

    And we aren’t even talking about the regressive changes at the state level all over the country. Laws that cripple collective bargaining in Michigan. In UAW Michigan?

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