Thursday, July 8

Promises, promises . . .

I will post something on Ep III soon. Really. I promise. Meanwhile, however, I feel compelled to reply to a rant from one of the kind folks who occasionally post comments around here.

This is the rant:

--I just object to being robbed and threatened by people who claim to represent me, and who claim to be doing it for my own good. Government is a racket, and government officials are gangsters with badges. The fact that most of the people around me get offended when I point that out I'm losing at least a quarter of my check a week for roads that don't work, a Ponzi scheme retirement plan that'll be bankrupt before I'm old enought to qualify for it, laws that don't make sense, armies that invade every country on the globe and piss off their inhabitants at me, and a government that no longer even pretends to obey its own laws just aggravates me that much more.
# posted by Joe Crow : 2:42:04 AM --

While Joe is an intelligent and well-spoken fellow, I must intercede here to make a claim that this paragraph represents a particularly pernicious species of bullshit. JC is the last guy I'd expect to spout Reaganista agitprop, and I think this needs a response.

First, taxes are not robbery. Taxation is the foundation of civil society; you can't have the second without the first. Somebody has to pay for the fire department's trucks; somebody has to pay for the cops, and the roads, and the courts of law that are the thin black line between us and the law of vendetta. If the roads where Joe lives don't work, maybe Joe should try petitioning his local government to hire better contractors. The roads where I live work just damn fine. Government is a racket? If so, it is a racket full of people who devote their lives to making sure that we can all live together in something resembling peace; I believe that Joe should focus less on what government "makes" him do, and more on the responsiblities incumbent upon a citizen of a civilized nation. One of those responsiblities is, for example, paying taxes. The threat of sanctions -- what Joe seems to see as extortion -- upon those who refuse to pay such taxes, is nothing more than civil society's attempt (flawed though it may be) at fairness: to prevent anti-social slackers from getting a free ride on the backs of responsible citizens. Joe is not LOSING anything; if he were to stop and calculate the value of the public services financed by that quarter of his paycheck, he will discover (unless he is very, very rich indeed, and paying considerably more in taxes than I make in a year) that he is getting back vastly more than his money's worth.

Second, Social Security is in no danger of going broke, if we can only stop our fucking Congress from sticking its fingers into the pot. This whole "Ponzi scheme" line of horseshit was invented by the Reaganistas as an excuse to privatize Social Security to prop up the NYSE. As long as the Social Security funds are left where they are, and not used as a bottomless purse to fund, oh, say, the occupation of Iraq, there is no danger it will collapse. Even with our current deficits, Social Security is fully funded until 2040. I'd say 35 years is enough time to fix any further problems that might arise. And Social Security is NOT a retirement scheme. Retirement funds are the individual responsibility of all Americans. Social Security is a safety net, intended to ensure that we don't have people in the United States (by reason of age or physical disablity) starving to death. If Joe thinks we'd be better off, as a nation, letting those folks starve, well, he's entitled to that opinion. I, however, disagree.

The hyperbole about invading every country on the globe requires no reply; the final feature of my response to this has to do with the "government that no longer pretends to obey its own laws" business. I'll avoid the rhetorical cheap shot of pointing out that he's already decided those laws don't make sense, and thus hardly has any cause to complain if they are not obeyed (well, okay, I won't avoid it altogether); mostly, I want to emphasize the logical fallacy in referring to "the government" as a whole, as if it were some unified entity, answering to a single will. The simple fact is that in America, at least, one should properly refer to "the governments," in the plural. As we have seen -- with the Supreme Court's recent smackdown of the Bushite enemy-combatants-are-whoever-we-say-they-are horseshit, not to mention the 9/11 commission's smacking around of Rumsfeld and Condoleeza Rice, and the upcoming Senate Intelligence Committee report -- our governments often work at cross-purposes, and the intersection of their often-messy vectors of interest sometimes produces something resembling justice. To pretend that "it's all one thing" is merely agitprop, like I said before, largely invented by the Reaganistas: a bogey on whom to blame all of society's ills.

Not to say all this works perfectly -- i.e. that Senate Intelligence Committee report I mentioned before will focus solely on the failures of the CIA in analyzing pre-war intel on Iraq; the Dems and the GOPs have agreed to leave fallow their findings on all the damn lies of the Bush Administration until after the election.

Which is a giant motherfucking disservice to democracy.

However, we all have a recourse on this: get the hell out and vote. Because once we throw those shitsacks out of office, it won't MATTER how much they lied -- except, perhaps, someday (okay, I'm fantasizing now -- but that's what I do for a living. Sue me.) at their criminal trials . . .

That's MY rant for the day.


Anonymous said...

what i want to know is why all the stories now circulating are claiming that the CIA ignored people who kept telling them that Saddam had no weapons, when during the runup to the war, it was all about how Cheney and the Office of Special Plans kept insisting that the CIA's data needed to be massaged so a better case for war could be presented.

which tale is correct, or does the truth lie somewhere in between or outside?

and here's hoping your fantasy of criminal trials for the lot of them comes true.


Anonymous said...


James Bamford has a book out, called Pretext for War (he was a reporter for ABC, among other places), in which he states that CIA analysts were told to find reasons to go to war with Iraq, and were later visited by Cheney (and I think Tenet too) asking for them to find anything they could, of which there wasn't much they could give him.

This would contradict the White House's current stance of innocence (and by implication, their deflection of responsibility regarding this matter).

And as Northwestern Uni. Prof. Gary Wills said, rather pointedly: Only the winners decide what were war crimes.

Anonymous said...

About the Episode III comments... could you also let us know what you thought of the first two, and how the 3rd compares to them? It would be much appreciated.


Anonymous said...

We live, as the Chinese curse goes, in interesting times. Naturally it's all so unfair. Poor us. How we writhe and moan, tormented as we are in our armchairs.

Mr. Crow, you can sit home and sizzle in silence, in which case you'll develop an ulcer or some mental abberation. You can post your rants on the internet, which as we all know are *so* effective in changing the course of a government, like the rest of the intelluctal herd. You could give up your citizenship and go live in some place like New Zealand, which is like a little like Scotland in the 40's, but with a couple of glaciers and rain forests. And that nasty hole in the ozone. But Kiwis do like sheep.

I'd rather vote, myself.

Mastadge said...

Don’t Blame Me, I Voted For Kodos.

That's kind of how I feel about this election. I mean, yay, vote, vote, vote. But I feel like I'm choosing between Bad Choice A or Worse Choice B.

Anonymous said...

I am mystified by those that hate taxes. It is simply another case of those that want something for nothing, like all of our services materialize out of thin air. I would pay more taxes, happily, if it came with some sort of health care safety net.

Brasidas said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
MWS said...

Canadian prime ministers can afford to go to the front of the line. 44 million Americans can't.

Don't use the railroads as examples of the efficiency of private industry until you understand the history of the railroads. They were private only in the sense that a small group of individuals squeezed millions of dollars out of them. They were fully supported and subsidized by the US government at every step of the way, starting with the seizure of private lands through eminent domain, and finishing with the use of the US Army to defend tracks laid across the West during the Indian Wars. Shit, the rail barons (I believe the technical term is "robber barons") practically OWNED the US Government.

Shit, half the railroads in the Old South were built by the Union friggin' Army to move troops and artillery, for Christ's sake.

MWS said...

Hey, Brasidas? Why'd you take down the post?

I LIKE people who disagree with me.

Anonymous said...

As one of he more brillant government lackeys in our invasion force I can Say I'm not all too proud of our goverments issues here. To me this has just been Bush jr.s way of one upping daddy. Truthfully goverment seems to becoming a new monarchy all over again. We all hail the leader. All must obey the law... as he see's it. In ways it's nice to see GL's involvement of the senate in the prequels. Not only does the backstory come full circle but it's giving us a view into our own government. Truthfully someday some moron could come into office and pull a Palpatine. Ok far fetched but who knows anymore.

Brasidas said...

No Railroads...How About Canals?

I agree that railroads is a pretty loaded example, but I mentioned it because it's a good illustration of the scale of finance available, making government led initiatives into infrastructure pretty questionable on grounds of efficiency. If you want a less controversial case take the canal system built in the antebellum period, marked by the massive bankruptcy of both private and public led initiatives (canals were expensive!), but by far the more pronounced failures were public--which actually led to some states having to declare bankruptcy.

As for government subsidies, I agree that private industry is more than willing to take handouts when they can get them, but the kind of behavior (robber baron) you mentioned strikes me as the result of badly defined property rights. I mean, except for the postal service, railroads gave birth to the first real transcontinental bureaucracy ever. A period of adjustment is to be expected before government gets a handle on how to regulate big business (I'm thinking the Sherman Antitrust Act in early 20th). All this to say that I'm all for the government's role as enforcer of contracts and setting the rules of the game, I just have trouble advocating that government run anything more than it absolutely has to since it has such a lousy track record--pick any government monopoly.

I guess health care is an interesting issue to look at. The Canadian system is marked by massive waiting lines (screwing the poor) where the wealthy can just cross the border or throw a little money under the table and get service. The private system lets rich people go to the head of the line and screws the poor, however, the neat thing about competition is that it drives prices down! And there's an incentive to come up with all sorts of goodies like a cure for cancer (this incentive is sadly absent in Canada where doctors flee to the US where they get paid competitive wages--called "brain drain") etc... So if I'm given the choice between a public system that screws poor people or a private system that screws poor people but helps everyone more in the long run, I gotta go with private. Everytime I think I find an industry that should be government run on moral grounds (Social Security, liquor sales...) I end up running into a civil libertarian/historian who blows my argument to bits, so I'm generally pro private industry unless given a pretty solid reason to decide otherwise.

Sorry for dropping my last post, this is the first time I ever posted anything online and I clicked on the pretty garbage can without thinking.


MWS said...

Nice theory, but it just ain't so.

In the US, competition does NOT drive health care prices down -- no one shops around for a deal on heart surgery.

In fact, due to the incestuous structure of the health care/insurance industry, the exact opposite is true: it is a de facto monopoly. "The market" is a fiction, in health care: prices are set at the top, and the rest of us can either pay up or die.

Brasidas said...

I wonder how much litigation issues drive up insurance premiums.

I can only assume that by '"the market" is a fiction' you mean that premiums are high due to the cost issue, be they risk of litigation or whatever. What's the alternative? You can make everything public, but unless you're willing to change the rules governing physician liability you might end up with similar problems to the private health system--doctor's getting sued, making them unwilling to practice unless they get payed a boatload. So you might end up getting a public system and losing all your doctors to Canada!


MWS said...

Oh, y'know, I missed that part about a civil libertarian blowing to bits the idea that Social Security is a good thing.

How, exactly, does one defend a position that poor people (especially poor disabled people) should be left to starve to death?

Mastadge said...

"I wonder how much litigation issues drive up insurance premiums."

I don't know about insurance, but they drive up medicine A LOT. Medicine's not terribly expensive; what you're paying for is all the $500/hour lawyers the companies are paying for patent litigation and so forth.

Angela said...

Medications can be expensive. Medication is a racket just like the rest. I once got a scrip for allergy meds, and since my insurance didn't cover that particular one, I could have paid $75 for 30 pills. That is, luckily, not a life-saving medication, but there are others that are dear to some people's lives that cost three times as much.

Mastadge said...

"I could have paid $75 for 30 pills."

That's what I'm saying. The 30 pills likely cost very very little to produce. The vast majority of those $75 dollars are going to legal fees for the pharmaceutical giants who are suing and getting sued non-stop.

Cora said...

I've spent most of my life living in a country with compulsory health insurance and the system worked reasonably well, until our politicians insisted on reforming it to death.

But I honestly wonder why the state should have a monopoly on liquor sales. In my opinion it's not a government issue. And since liquor sellers have to be licensed in the US anyway, I'd assume that this ensures that the state retains a modicum of control over liquor sales.

Brasidas said...

By no means do I claim that we let poor and disabled people starve to death on the streets, my disagreement is merely on the best way to help the most people.

Should Social Security be run by the government? Is government good at doing that sort of thing? When I attended a student meeting with one of the chair's of the Fed (in NYC) he said that there are two things that the US has to worry about economically in the future. The first is the trade deficit turning over and the second is the retirement of the baby boomers. Now I read your (MWS) post to Joe Crow about SS' funding till 2040 but the best estimates I can find (the only economist I can find who says otherwise is Paul Krugman from the NYTimes, so maybe I'm off base since he's a superb economist) state that under the pay-as-you-go system within a dozen years the retirement benefits mandated by current law will exceed SS payroll taxes. So we're talking about tax increases within our (or at least my) lifetime (Fortune article called it The $44 Trillion Abyss).

Now, as you mentioned earlier, any serious student of human nature has to look at the world realistically. When you put a social safety net (just like free health care) in place, what's gonna happen? It will be overused...that is human nature unless people are given a clever incentive to do otherwise (I leave wiggle room here in case I’m forced to recant later). People are going to plan on using it, not everybody, not all the time, but those guys on the margin of making a decision on savings will tend to take this retirement benefit into account and, god forbid, plan on it. The system is going to HAVE TO handle the stress from the poor and disabled AS WELL AS the free riders. Now, that's not say that SS is altogether bad, socializing some costs is important, but the pay-as-you-go system is totally ridiculous! You get one guy who knows about accounting and one guy who knows about demographics in a room together and they'll tell you something's got to give: either taxes go up or benefits go down or a little of both. Maybe another variant would work better, but the most libertarians I meet get annoyed when their children’s futures are being taxed away before their eyes.

Sorry about the length—I’m getting my own thoughts in order and I’m not as concise as I’d like.


Brasidas said...

Yeah, the liquor sales thing is weird, that's another Canadian foible (my heritage haunts me). Some people think that its ideal to have government get tax money from things that are "sinful" like liquor sales and cigarettes.


Ben said...

"When you put a social safety net (just like free health care) in place, what's gonna happen? It will be overused..."

I'm not going to dispute you that some people will abuse the system, but the overall good outweighs the bad. So many of my coworkers at the grocery store which I work at part-time have 2 jobs and still need independence cards (food stamps). It's ridiculous.

I suggest reading Nickel and Dimed by Ehrenreich before shooting down systems that benefit the lower class. Sure it's one-sided and I don't agree with a lot of what she says (especially about religion), but it's a different view that deserves to be heard.

Anonymous said...

"That's what I'm saying. The 30 pills likely cost very very little to produce. The vast majority of those $75 dollars are going to legal fees for the pharmaceutical giants who are suing and getting sued non-stop."

They do cost little to produce, but the pharma industry claims that the remainder of the cost goes towards R&D; not acutally true! Part of the cost is R&D, part of it is marketing, part profit. On average, pharm manufacturers are amongst the most profitable industries.

I think the healthcare debate is missing the point somewhat. The overall costs of healthcare are driven up by two things: first) the worship of technology and lopsided reimbursement structure this engenders and two) defensive medicine practiced in a bid to avoid being sued. Its incredible how much extra time and effort I have to put in every day just to "document" things so that "our asses are covered".

Trust me: I know what I'm talking about- a bit at least.


Mastadge said...

So do I, from the other side -- my dad's one of the lawyers doing the suing. . .

Anonymous said...

"Some people think that its ideal to have government get tax money from things that are "sinful" like liquor sales and cigarettes."

Alcohol and cigarettes cause a shitload of health related problems. It's fitting they are sin taxed and that money rolled back into health care to deal with those problems.


Anonymous said...

On an aside: alcoholics and drug addicts seem to be enormous consumers of healthcare resources. It's immensely frustrating to patch someone up, give them a stern lecture and send them out, only for them to return 2 weeks later.