February 04, 2010

Congressional Clown College, Cont.

To amend and extend my remarks: actually (and I of all people should remember this, since I acted as counsel for Friends of the Earth on more than one occasion) Congress did pass the Clean Air and Water Acts and the Endangered Species Act in the early 1970's, and created the Environmental Protection Agency to oversee it all. Those statutory enactments had actual, tangible results that are still everywhere around us, the completely degraded state of our environment notwithstanding. I mean, it's all relative, and you have to put up with minor inconveniences like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, that roiling gyre of plastic soup just west of here (twice the size of Texas, in fact). And the impending demise of life on Earth because of climate change, which Congress cannot get it together to deal with. Stuff happens.

You might also include the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, although that was remedial, simply designed to stop thugs like Nixon from spying on the American people without a warrant, which Bush II resumed doing anyway, and now Congress has given the whole Fourth Amendment repeal its imprimatur. Telecom immunity, as you'll recall, and the assorted crap that came with it, which Barack Obama was against before he became a Republican (no doubt to balance Arlen Specter's move the other way) and is now all for. Well, things change. Certainly no one can accuse our President of a mind hobgoblined by a foolish inconsistency. There is, indeed, no consistency whatsoever, other than consistently being all things to all people and hoping no one notices. (Nota bene, Prez: they have.)

Anyway, so I think Alan Brinkley has it right after all: Congress put the alarm clock on snooze somewhere there in the 1970's and the buzzer simply never went off again. With the advent of the Reagan Regency, Congress began the systematic process of bankrupting the country which has been ongoing ever since. They "fixed" Social Security by raising FICA taxes in the early 1980's to create a "surplus," which they then appropriated for war & materiel, year after year, in a clever scheme to bankrupt the Soviets by daring them to imitate our folly. We can say with confidence that we forced the Soviets to dissolve first; having succeeded in that epic struggle, we decided it was so much fun to go bust we simply kept it up, long past the point where there was any credible threat, spending almost as much on defense as the rest of the world combined. The Social Security "surplus," meanwhile, is about $2.5 trillion now, but unfortunately it is part of the national debt, the ceiling for which was just raised by Congress to $14 trillion. Now that the Social Security system is beginning to crack, it would be nice to tap into that rainy day fund, but it's already been dispensed to Boeing and Northrop and Martin Marietta and Halliburton and our brigades of mercenaries, all representing Congressional appropriations down through the years. But if we hadn't gone bankrupt, think how safe we'd be! Other than having the southern part of our largest city knocked down by 19 guys armed with Exact-O knives and our own airplanes.

Still, no other nation would dare invade us with a real army. Not that they were going to do that anyway. The countries that might be interested in doing that are too busy building the things we used to build, selling them to us and using our money to develop their own countries.

It's becoming apparent that Washington's chronic indolence and short-sightedness are exacting a very high price. The unemployment funds of half the states are now bankrupt (with 18 more soon to follow) and reliant upon the Feds to simply ship back money they received from the citizens of the same states in the first place (those states now in penury). Not on a dollar for dollar basis, of course; Washington has expenses which must be deducted as part of the laundering process, and without the federal system, how would any of us ever feel safe? I mean, we're constantly reminded now that we're not really safe, and that's with the full panoply of nuclear and conventional weapons and the largest defense establishment in the world, all kept afloat by the contributions of those same (largely unemployed) citizens of the several states (well, half of it, anyway - the other half is borrowed or conjured out of thin air). The pension funds in many states are also reeling, of course, with massive losses in the equities and real estate markets, a lot of it caused by investments in the crooked scams of Wall Street enabled by Congress's refusal to regulate derivatives and its repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. So I guess it's not quite fair to call it a "do-nothing" Congress. They do stuff, it's just mostly idiotic and destructive.

I think we're up to date now. Credit where credit is due. Congress had a pretty good run between 1789 and 1978, almost two hundred years of occasionally brilliant legislation and accomplishment, mixed in with periodic lapses such as the House Un-American Activities Committee, which, in retrospect, seems actually pretty tame.

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