October 13, 2009

Obama as our guide to oblivion

A preliminary note from the always entertaining/informative Dmitry Orlov:

I've said it here before: Obama is the new Gorbachev, the smiling face behind the crumbling imperial fa├žade, the personable, non-threatening loser. Gorbachev got his Nobel Consolation Prize in October 1990; a little less than a year later the USSR was no more and he was unemployed.

In awarding him the Peace Prize, the Nobel committee actually did some good: by reaffirming his legitimacy as a leader, it helped to weaken the hand of the conservative forces within Russia, which later staged an unsuccessful coup in an effort to reclaim control of the dissolving empire.

Gorbachev certainly deserves credit for making sure that the USSR disintegrated with a whimper and not a bang. May Barak Obama be just as successful in completing the dissolution of the USA, quietly and without any undue bloodshed. Moving forward, I wish him a long and happy unemployment.

Now is that actually the case? Dmitry likes the analogy between the collapsing Russian state and what he sees as the same inevitable American fate; and I myself have conceded that if there is one polity that springs readily to mind when considering the ossified condition of American politics, it's the old Soviet Union. Congress and the White House are incapable of responding to real problems, and largely this is because of our own superannuated Politburo, which we call the U.S. Senate.

It's a pity that during the expansion of the U.S. westward, with the inclusion of all those new states beyond the original 13, that we simply didn't get rid of the Senate. It's profoundly undemocratic, since very small populations are vastly overrepresented. Those tiny electorates in South and North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana: they all have two Senators, just like California, yet California has a population twelve times the combined population of all those states (about 3 million for them; 36 million for the Golden State- by that logic, shouldn't Los Angeles have 8 Senators all of its own?). What's with the bicameral legislature? Nebraska doesn't have one, and who's got more corn than they do? The bicameral legislature is obviously a kind of vestigial artifact from the Houses of Lords & Commons, and why do we want to be reminded of that?

But the main problem with all those ancient pols in the Senate is that (a) they're a stationary target for lobbyists, and (b) they have that stupid 60-vote rule which they put in place so they would never have to do anything other than approve wars and pass unconstitutional legislation (Telecom immunity, Military Commissions Act, the Patriot Act, etc.). The Senate assures that lobbyists can use their money efficiently to buy votes. A little systems analysis allows the influence peddlers to figure out where the key committees are, how many votes they have to buy, and how to use the 60-vote rule to choke off anything they don't like. The Senate is the choke point for all meaningful reform in this country. Pretty obvious when you think about it. Why is the health care reform bill such a watered-down, soggy piece of nothing? Because it has to get through the lobbyist-infested Senate.

I don't know if Dmitry is right, but the Senate certainly doesn't hurt his case. The U.S. is in a depression and Congress really cannot do much about it because they are institutionally incapable of reordering American spending priorities. Look how much talk is still devoted to this Afghanistan question. 20% unemployment, $1.5 trillion deficits, the states going broke, and the Senate argues endlessly about whether in this 9th year of the Afghan war we should add 20 thousand or maybe 40 thousand more troops.

That's why it doesn't surprise me that the early rumblings about secession have come from large, cash-strapped (there's another kind?) states, such as Texas. You begin to wonder how to make ends meet locally, how to pay for schools, roads, state employees, and you realize that all those federal taxes your citizens pay go into the insatiable maw of the military-industrial complex, which exists not primarily to protect you but to enrich itself with your money, and you think....is there a simpler way to do this? Like just keeping the money here?

As the depression persists, more talk of that sort will surface. Orlov could be right that Obama might be the perfect president, with his fetishistic attachment to mediation and everyone getting along, to oversee the orderly breakup of the U.S. of A. Better him than Bush, that's for sure. Bush would have launched a preemptive strike against the first state that tried it. Not so Barry. It might be change he could believe in.

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