Monday, December 2, 2013

Irrepressible Conflict, Redux?

Americans have been complaining—impotently—about the “gridlock” and polarization gripping Washington for the past decade or more.  This is reflected in the steep decline in so-called “purple” states where the two major parties are more or less competitive. In the meantime, the number of independent voters has grown to unprecedented proportions.

The Democrats’ decision to implement Obamacare without a single Republican vote is a key driver in the escalation of the partisan war.  This has resulted in arbitrary and unlawful delays in implementation, and on November 21 the Democrats, again without a single Republican vote, changed the Senate rules governing the rights of the minority by terminating the right to filibuster judicial deliberations.

Are these just typical political bumps and bruises, or is there something much more fundamental and ominous brewing?  We can look to our own American history for some clues

Monday, April 30, 1860, dawned breezy and cloudless in Charleston, South Carolina.  Delegates to the Democratic national convention gathered again at the Institute Hall, having experienced a long and boisterous week since the meeting had first been gaveled to order.

Delegates supporting the presidential candidacy of Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois were pushing for adoption of a platform plank that would—once again—paper over the divide between north and south on the slavery issue.  Those opposing Douglas, although in the minority, had already decided to force the matter.  They were supporting a platform plank that positively affirmed that neither Congress nor any territorial legislature had the authority to prohibit slavery in the western territories.

This was not only a slap at Douglas and his popular sovereignty doctrine established in the Kansas-Nebraska Act six years earlier, it was a direct challenge to the eventual nominee of the Republican Party which came into existence in large part because of northern opposition to the extension of slavery.

The southern faction was led by such “fire eaters” as William L. Yancey of Alabama and political connivers like James Slidell of Louisiana.  These men and their caucus had already decided to trigger the nuclear option and cause a split in the Democratic Party that would lead to both election of a Republican president and secession of the slave states from the union.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Guest Blog: Today's Tyrannies and the Declaration of Independence

Guest blog from a Frustrated Entrepreneur:

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

1) He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

The President Who Ignores the Law -- Again

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Neoliberal Advice to Conservatives: Surrender, Dorothy!

The Recovering Bureaucrat enjoys the various forms of lunacy emanating from the many adherents to the Church of the All Powerful State; it unfortunately keeps him from the comic pages of the daily newspapers but probably provides more robust laughter.

The latest Church lunacy (keeping up with all of it is, of course, an endless task) comes from a 28-year old Harvard psychology major named Josh Barro, who has appointed himself the Savonarola of the Republican Party.  Church acolytes at the Business Insider web site have provided him a soapbox, and eager true believer that he is, he doesn't waste his shot at his 15 minutes of fame.

His most recent side-slapper, entitled “I'm Not A Conservative And You Shouldn't Be One Either,” sets forth the head-scratching but thoroughly unoriginal proposition that conservatives need to become liberals in order for the Republican Party to win elections again.

He claims that he himself used to be conservative philosophically, but “now I'm a neoliberal, and I particularly favor redistributive taxes and transfers to reduce inequality.” 

(The RB notes that the concept of “neoliberalism” is a bit of a mash-up; as the authors of the Wikipedia article on it note,
The meaning of neoliberalism has changed over time and come to mean different things to different groups. As a result, it is very hard to define. This is seen by the fact that authoritative sources on neoliberalism, such as Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, David Harvey, and Noam Chomsky do not agree about the meaning of neoliberalism. This lack of agreement creates major problems in creating an unbiased and unambiguous definition of neoliberalism.
Hayek and Chomsky, fellow neoliberals; now that spices up the stew!  The absurdity of this contributes to the RB's disdain for Mr. Barro’s self-label here.  But he does appreciate his rookie error of immediately clearing up the ambiguity by proclaiming his blind faith in social engineering.  Ah, neoliberalism is just another word for statism.)

Thus the lunacy and non sequiturs begin early.  “All fiscal policy is redistributive,” he writes, “in that it involves collecting taxes from someone and spending money on programs that benefit someone else.”  This preposterous claim ignores that, until the “progressives” invented the Great Society in the Johnson administration, most taxes went to programs that benefited everyone, such as police and fire, highways and defense.  It took the odious combination of the rent-seeking redistributionist policies of the Johnson era with the New Left takeover of the Democratic Party in 1972 to elevate leftist liberal love of other people's money into the tenet of faith propping up the social engineering Mr. Barro is so enamored of.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Invisible Propaganda, Continued (Endlessly)

In his last post, the Recovering Bureaucrat took on the tedious task of fisking just one day’s editorial page liberal-left propagandizing at the medium-market Sacramento Bee.  As a brief follow-up, the RB notes that today’s opinion section offers yet another example of the way the scribes of the Church of the All Powerful State presume that their point of view is the only correct one.

The lead editorial by conventional liberal Dan Morain presents the Church’s position on California’s “green chemistry” regulatory adventure, just the latest paternalistic intervention into the private lives of the citizenry by our state’s ruling nomenklatura.  The very label “green chemistry” is another Orwellian linguistic syrup designed to help the progressive agenda go down smoother.  The ostensible aim of the initiative is to force “manufacturers of consumer products find alternatives to ingredients that are linked to cancer, are reproductive toxins or otherwise despoil the planet.”

The assumption is that all those evil chemicals (some 84,000, according to Mr. Morain) inundating us can be transformed into benign and “eco-friendly” compounds without pain.  Unfortunately, greedy and callous capitalists who use the bad ones, fronted by such nasty organizations like the American Chemistry Council, will have to be forced to make that happen.

The good guys, supported by the Democrats in the state legislature and green poseur former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, offer the standard progressive formula: give power to regulate chemical usage and rearrange this sector of the state’s economy to another unelected body of “experts,” in this case the Department of Toxic Substances Control along with Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Invisible Propaganda

The Editorial Board of the New York Times-wannabe Sacramento Bee offers in its most recent Sunday edition yet another course on the leftist credo of the Church of the All Powerful State. 

Its “California Forum” section front page is dominated by a huge story and editorial cartoon on “Why we need food stamps,” occupying 2/3 of the front page.  (It’s humorously disguised as “Views on food: an occasional series.”)  Inside we find an opinion piece from Leonard Pitts, Jr., of the Miami Herald, entitled “At Easter, heed call to save the children.”  The “Viewpoints” page carries an article by Ann Notthoff, California advocacy director for the National Resources Defense Council, called “Senate set to gut nation’s key law that safeguards the environment.” On the back page, the Editorial Board itself posts an editorial opining that “Sequester cuts could add to homelessness.”  And finally, not to be out-libbed by the writers, the editorial cartoonist Jack Ohman draws up a cartoon entitled “New York Stockton Exchange” blaming Wall Street bankers for Stockton’s looming bankruptcy.

The rest of the section is filled with fluff pieces and anodyne exhortations for better public behavior (e.g., “California must vet various operating models for its struggling state parks”).  Nowhere will you find a single article, opinion piece, editorial, or cartoon speaking for our founding American principles.  Dissent is airbrushed out behind an avalanche of politically correct posturing.

The Recovering Bureaucrat occasionally takes on the tedious task of fisking these assaults on careful thinking and analysis because it is the relentless and ubiquitous nature of these statist opinions that have over the past forty years helped shape public hostility to our founding American principles of limited government, individual freedom, and consent of the governed. 

Multiply this single editorial section of a single newspaper in a medium-sized market by 52 weeks a year and by all the media markets in the country; add in the worldview of the major television networks and their endless propagandizing; and finally figure in forty years of the dumbing down of academia and you arrive at a mass culture that assumes that the belief system of the Church of the All Powerful State is the only appropriate one.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Why the Constitution Matters

In the endless name-calling and emotionalism that characterize our national “conversation” about the role of guns in our culture, we generally seem to be talking past one another.  Those horrified by the outbursts of mass murder like those at Newtown and Aurora are motivated by a determination to eliminate future incidents like these.  Those defending gun ownership rights are motivated by a determination to prevent an erosion of constitutional guarantees.  These differing points of view were on display in the recent exchange between Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) regarding Sen. Feinstein’s proposal to ban “assault weapons.”

Here Sen. Cruz focuses on constitutional rights, while Sen. Feinstein focuses on the human cost of murderous gun users.  Those proposing tighter gun controls administered by the state always pay homage to the Constitution; those resisting these proposals always acknowledge the bloody toll guns can levy.

What drives both positions is respectable and defensible.  But as a matter of public policy they are not both based upon our founding principles, and that is all the difference.

Liberals and other adherents to the Church of the All Powerful State no longer subscribe to those founding principles, which are stated in the Declaration of Independence and enacted with respect to the institutions of government in the Constitution.  Instead they have come to believe that the purpose of government is to “help people,” and so they seek to make the words and articles of the Constitution conform to this heterodox philosophy.

The founders believed that God, not man, was the source of all human rights and responsibilities.  Thus “all men are created equal . . . endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, [which include] Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  Because each human is equal in God’s eyes, no one of us can have more or less sovereignty as citizens.  Government’s role is to “secure these rights,” and it can only “deriv[e] [its] just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Establishing such a government took two tries.  The first, set up under the Articles of Confederation, was crafted to drastically limit its powers to preclude a return to the tyranny the Americans had just thrown off; it turned out to be too weak to actually secure the natural rights of the citizens.  So we tried again, and with the ratification of the Constitution between 1787 and 1790, we founded a government with the right balance of powers to “form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

The Constitution was carefully designed to grant the federal government only those powers explicitly spelled out in its pages.  The 9th and 10th amendments—key elements of the Bill of Rights—emphasized this.  “Enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people,” and “powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Our Reactionary Progressives

One of the few nice things about the Left and its current tribune President Barack Obama is the dependable sameness of their worldview and the arguments they use to defend it.  Mr. Obama’s recent Inaugural Address, while bringing absolutely nothing new to either his ideology or his rhetoric, at least had the virtue of being forthright, unabashed, and honest.

All of the progressive misunderstanding of America’s founding principles and of market economies were repeated again.  All of the conflation of the radical power of individual rights and responsibilities with social democratic communitarian longing was reliably restated.  All of the fear of unregulated creativity and trade by people pursuing their happiness was disguised by a prescription for coercing the commons.  All of the unwillingness to face, much less address, unpleasant truths was again airbrushed with lofty, vapid appeals to brotherhood and egalitarianism—all a veritable Idem Ordo Sinister Seclorum.  While we aren’t quite courageous enough to lip-sync The Internationale, we can certainly hum it softly.

Several thousand miles to the west and three days later, a wilier and craftier exponent of the same progressive creed, California Governor Jerry Brown, delivered another apologia in his State of the State address.  In line with the President’s in-your-face leftist triumphalism, Mr. Brown crowed that his policies of defending the blue social model have “once again confounded our critics” so that now “California is back, its budget is balanced, and we are on the move.”  But Mr. Brown, unlike Mr. Obama, has no Republican opposition to deal with; on the other hand Mr. Brown, unlike Mr. Obama, has an awareness of the danger of hubris.

Given the dynamics and direction of the world political economy, the Left and the MSM—which constitute the Church of the All Powerful State (CAPS)—have ironically become the home of reactionary political power.  The Democratic Party leadership under Mr. Obama, with no visible dissent anywhere in its ranks, stands athwart history and defiantly yells “No!” to reforming, much less replacing, the blue social model.  And their enablers in the MSM do the relentless flack work necessary to rally the troops and demoralize the opposition.

As the Recovering Bureaucrat, along with countless others, has stubbornly chronicled, this bizarre state of affairs is the culmination of 140 years of organized “progressive” politics.  This arose out of long-standing Jacksonian suspicion of big institutions as a reaction to the rapid industrialization of the United States after the Civil War, but only gained permanence in American governance after the election of Franklin Roosevelt led to the New Deal.  For almost four decades, like a series of hurricanes FDR and his Democrats so thoroughly transformed the country’s political landscape that neither the founders nor Andrew Jackson would recognize their own work. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Election Aftermath, Part Two

[This is the second of a brief series of posts analyzing where we are in the run-up to and aftermath of America’s recent elections.  Humanity is in the midst of such a profound transformation that very few epochs in our evolution can serve as markers.  American politics are a useful but very incomplete reflection of the dynamics driving this change.  The fiscal cliffs, debt ceilings, budget food fights, and gun control fantasies are simply flimsy camouflage for deep and profound currents at loose across the planet.]

In his last post, the Recovering Bureaucrat looked at the divergence between our human evolutionary trajectory toward greater connectivity and accountability at the collective level, and the severe strain of narcissism preventing this development at the leading edge in the Advanced Sector.

The founding of the United States represented a quantum leap in the human condition by establishing a home for exploration of true self government.  The people of England’s American colonies were the first to act upon several centuries of the maturing revolutionary thought that the individual has supreme authority and autonomy, not tribes or their aristocracies.  They were committed to establish and perfect what Lincoln later called “a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

The Founding Fathers understood that the success of this experiment would ultimately require that an ongoing majority of Americans master personal self government, for only a citizenry capable of measuring happiness in the context of both personal and social wellbeing could govern itself wisely.  They called this capacity virtue.  "We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion,” John Adams famously announced in 1798. “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

The leaders of the founding generation had few illusions about human nature, the commitment to individual liberty notwithstanding.  The failure of the Articles of Confederation and the vigorous debate about the Constitution were rooted in the quandary of how to establish a government with sufficient safeguards against what these men understood to be a natural human tendency toward tyranny.  “All men having power,” James Madison argued in 1787, “ought to be distrusted to a certain degree.”

The challenge was—and is—that a nation of equal citizens is a nation of men having power of themselves, and the understanding and application of that power is definitely not the same from person to person.  Some people have superbly mastered themselves and behave with great enlightenment in their civic duties, while others have barely left the narcissism of childhood.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Election Aftermath

[This is the first of a brief series of posts analyzing where we are in the run-up to and aftermath of America’s recent elections.  Humanity is in the midst of such a profound transformation that very few epochs in our evolution can serve as markers.  American politics are a useful but very incomplete reflection of the dynamics driving this change.  The fiscal cliffs, debt ceilings, budget food fights, and trillion dollar coin fantasies are simply flimsy camouflage for deep and profound currents at loose across the planet.]

This meta-narrative is about the superiority of America’s founding principles as a way to organize human society, and the on-going rejection of these principles by an increasing number of Americans.

As we saw in commenting several months ago on Robert Bidinotto’s superb essay “Election 2012 and the Clash of Narratives,” humanity is engaged in a long-term struggle to evolve to ever-higher stages of consciousness, connection, and creativity.  Bidinotto shows how our evolution from hunter-gatherer clans to agricultural tribes to empowered individuals in industrial nation-states has included expansions of consciousness to accommodate the emerging circumstances.  This expansion has also generated exponential increases in the material circumstances of life, including not just standards of living but magnitudes of health and life expectancy.

Students of Ken Wilber will find this well-trodden ground, for Wilber has done ground-breaking work documenting this journey from a global perspective.  His most important contribution is the development of what he calls the Integral Model, which makes room for not only our interior and exterior realities, but for the evolutionary trajectory along which we have been moving since the Big Bang.

The insights offered in the Integral Model are essential to not only leaders but to the American (and, more difficult, the Advanced Sector at large) citizenry.  Huge global upheavals in our spiritual, psychological, economic, and political conditions are driving unprecedented changes in how we make, exchange, and apply wealth—both material and spiritual.  Without a comprehensive view of how all these dynamics arise and interact, our understanding of today’s world is woefully partial and inadequate.  This limitation of awareness also constrains the effectiveness of our response.

If one focused only on the recent sorry American presidential campaign, one would have no idea of the titanic nature of what is happening worldwide, much less where the opportunities to create a better future might lie.  (To be fair, one would glean nothing of this from political campaigns in any other country either.)

The Recovering Bureaucrat insists that this shallowness is more the result of our collective American consciousness than of any particular qualities Mr. Obama or Mr. Romney.  The truth we regularly avoid is that our political leadership and dynamics are a highly accurate representation of our collective desires and attitudes.  This is a logical consequence of our mature democratic republic.  All blather about “the 99%” aside, everything happening in our polity is the direct result of our collective, albeit unconscious, agreement.  In a true democracy, the citizenry at large bears the sole and direct responsibility for the condition of society.  There is no king, no aristocracy, no dictator, no politburo, no oligarchy—no extra-terrestrials—to blame for the world we have created.