Thursday, April 22, 2010

A political "growl"

Yes, a growl. This author is, at the best of times, a bit of a growly bear; recent political trends are more than enough to bring out the full enraged Grizzly mood.

Here's a political "growl" aimed at the political machinations in three countries that would otherwise have my whole-hearted support and hope for.

The targets of ire, ranked from least to most:

((small growl))
The U.S.A.'s Republican Party ~ besides the water-under-the-bridge that when they were in power they did bugger all of any effect to take on social and economic challenges that clearly were heading things toward the cliff, it is worth mentioning that *now* that they are in the opposition there is still the self-sabotaging conduct of various of the politicians who still have seats in government to undermine a unified effort at holding the fort. To their credit, they did manage to keep party unity in both houses of the legislature when confronted with the masterwork of political malfeasance that was Health Care Reform - Obama/Reed/Pelosi version. But... it sure would be nice if they'd show similar unity of purpose on the rest of the load of crap coming down the pike administration's agenda because almost to the item that is worthy of opposition.

((not really hostile yet growl))
What on God's Green Earth are the U.K. Conservatives thinking? Yes, they got smeared the last few elections by the Blair machine and its staggering remnant and Yes, they got smeared because they got stuck with "The Nasty Party" label... which is a much meaner labeling in British politics than it may sound to people in other countries. But to build the Tory Renaissance on a massive move to (perhaps past) Center by David Cameron and his "new" leadership at a time when Labour has clearly shown that after Tony Blair took his retirement, he took every single brain cell in that party with him... the grand old Conservative and Unionist Party had no need to take a lurch to the left. To do so at a time when the entire economic fortune of the future of the U.K. is on the line *and* while Defence has been asked to be at war for the better part of a decade with no meaningful budget to speak of, well, that's just silly. Great Britain needs the Tories now, and by that I mean the real Tories; anything less may well mean Labour giving way to... The Social Democrats. Doom. Doom, I tell you, if that were to come to pass. *Those* clowns make Gordon Brown almost appear fit for the premiership.

((little louder growl))
The Party Formerly Known as jiyuu minshutou (Liberal-Democratic Party of Japan; LDP). Gee Whiz, guys, you lose one election (and not for the first time; cf. 1993~1994) and panic strikes. It looks like it is a race to see how *many* blocks of five elected officials can cobble together and split off into a "new party". We're on about number three in the factional fallout right now, and the number of players scheming for an out that would separate them from the woefully mislead LDP-as-it-remains. (see these political cartoons and select Dahl's Japan for April 18th 2010 for a superb summary of the reaction to current LDP chief Tanigaki Sadakazu (S. Tanigaki)'s ability to mobilize the opposition.) This is, to put it mildly, lunacy. A fragmented, self-interested and only-able-to-see-as-far-as-the-boundary-of-their-electoral-district opposition is no real opposition. The only thing that might save this current crop of LDP and former LDP politicians is the incompetence being demonstrated by the party in power (see below).

((now we get more growly))
Gordon Brown.

Anything Gordon Brown tries to do politically.

Anything Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his fellow-travelers like Lord Mandelson set to doing.

Dear Grace. Perhaps never, in a developed country, have I ever seen a lot like this.

May they be gone and quickly before they do any more damage.

((serious growl))
Folks here, even very reasonable folks here, voted in a way far contrary to their best interests by giving Hatoyama Yukio (Y. Hatoyama)'s minshutou (Democratic Party of Japan; DPJ) a shot at running things after three pathetically bad LDP administrations had used up all the good done in the days of Koizumi. What they didn't realize, even when it was explained to them *before the election* was that it was not the best of ideas to give power to a bunch who were (a) a throw-together of populists, urban interests, labor union representatives and rank opportunists; (b) dependent on some far-left allies to hold control of the Upper House; (c) basing their entire party political machinery on one man who while legendarily successful at keeping himself in politics is also successful *because* he commands the personal loyalty of a faction of lawmakers who got where they are because of him, and he knows it; oh, and add in (d) they had zip zero nada experience in leading the bureaucracy-driven creature that is the Government of Japan. What could possibly go wrong, eh? OK, now they are the in-party... and we get a massive tangle of contradictions and confusion. "We'll target 25% CO2 reductions" (maybe more) *and* "We'll drop toll-road fees and lower the gasoline tax". "We'll cut tuition costs at High School to near nothing" plus "We'll grant a gift to every family with children every year" *and* "We'll cut Government borrowing". "We'll restore the relationship with the U.S.A." plus "We'll organize an East Asian Community to rival other major political blocs" *and* "We'll renegotiate almost every agreement (including Defense matters) that we think we can improve (or make our Socialist allies happier by doing so)". There is a reason a Washington Post columnist called Hatoyama: "...hapless and (in the opinion of some Obama administration officials) increasingly loopy..." and it's not entirely unwarranted for him to have said so. There are about a handful of competent people in the DPJ and none of them are being allowed to do what they are good at. This is a train wreck waiting to happen.

((full-throated hostility))
The American government is being run by the reincarnation of every bad memory one might have of the Carter administration, but with all the "improvements" John Podesta's Center for American Progress (emphasis on the "progress" part) can contribute and a National Security Council staffed by a bunch with a view of international policy that would have made Carter's U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young wish he was one of them. Don't even mention the current policy goals for economic and social "reform" inside the country. It is not at all clear that the legislative elections coming in November will be enough to undo the harm already done, which leaves a Constitutional Crisis on the horizon when test cases make it to the Supreme Court. Way to go, Arsenal of Democracy and Leader of the Free World... you've been on the wrong side of way too many international issues the last 15 months and all signs are that trend will continue in the short term. At the rate things are going, a 1% of GDP for Defense is in the cards not too long from now, as that's all a developed country with massive national debt can afford. Japan gets away with that because (politically) they are under a restrictive constitutional structure and (functionally) protected by the greatest one-way alliance in history. Europe, in the main, gets away with it by a combination of barely-enough collective capability and an alliance that while occasionally encumbering (cf. War in Afghanistan) provides massive expeditionary capabilities to come to their aid and a huge reserve. Oh, and both sit under an American nuclear umbrella... even the U.K. and France benefit by the strategic depth and deterrence that comes with that as a compliment to their own capabilities. If the Americans abdicate their place at the fore, there is no other country in the world one would want to depend on to provide the means for military action. Period. Given the unchanging fact that the world is a dangerous place, a nation that forgets that the major task of government is national security is a collective fool. Given that it takes between five and twenty years to rebuild a national military capability, once lost, (this isn't the 1930's folks; you can't rebuild an army, navy, or especially an air force in just a couple of years any more) is functionally gone. Saying that one will come back in a decade or two and avenge the defeats of today is.not.a.viable.deterrence.strategy.

Here's hoping that all of these growls will prove in the end to be warning, not biting growls. Here are the best ways to make that so:

The U.K. general election is May 6th, 2010

The Japan House of Councillors (Upper House) election is July 11th, 2010

The U.S. Congressional (House and 1/3 Senate) election is November 2nd, 2010


But before you do, make your voice heard. Tell the candidate you support why you support them, and tell other voters as socially appropriate. If you're feeling up to it, join a public demonstration. But always, always, say why. It matters.


Mr. Bill said...

At the rate things are going, a 1% of GDP for Defense is in the cards not too long from now, as that's all a developed country with massive national debt can afford.

This single point might make me as angry as you apparently are until I remember that this administration started with recession and a $10.7 trillion national debt.

I know the debt has increased since then, and the administration is spending money on things that had been ignored or shunted aside during the previous 8 years in favor of other things. But this administration also got to pick up the pieces from the bank bailout, and often gets blamed for the money-shoveling that was going on months before the election.

This administration got to make the decisions necessary to keep us out of a Depression. In doing so, this administration cut taxes and infused money across the country to keep us from crashing and burning.

So, without taking us further into debt faster than we're already going, I'm wondering where the funds are supposed to come from. Sure, the administration has made cuts. Maybe too deeply. But we sure couldn't afford to keep doing what we were doing. What should we abandon or ignore?

L.Douglas Garrett said...

@Mr. Bill

"...until I remember..." ~ correct; also utterly nongermane. See below.

"...spending money on things that..." ~ incorrect; the guns-vs-butter debate never happened under Bush the Younger. Look at the spending track minus defense and special war appropriations.

"" ~ correct, but a scale error; The debt increase in the first 12 months of the Obama Administration (*not FY2010, the actual calendar months Feb to Feb) roughly equalled the red ink of 8 years under BtY, and that 8 year number includes the FNMA FHLMC bailouts and the 2008 stimulus package. You have a course of deficits running between 10 and 14% of GDP for the next ten years according to the best estimates. Don't ask what happens when tax revenues don't come back up next year.

" to make the decisions necessary to keep us out of a Depression..." ~ bullshit. plain and simple. on all counts. You know better than that, Mr. Bill.

"I'm wondering where the funds are supposed to come from." ~ That's the question that really underlies this, and Bravo for asking it.

(more next)

L.Douglas Garrett said...


Here's the old answer couched in the terms of modern government revenue collection (noting that if you have other priorities, you'd best get to writing that new Constitution):

First, restrict the needed funding choices by setting aside only a limited number of government functions as necessary. Baseline Defense, Justice and Commerce and inflation adjust that every year, expressly noting that those are merely non-emergency baselines. Fund the three branches of government administration, but not necessarily the programs administered by them. As needed, consolidate those functions of D, J and C that ended up in other parts of the bureaucracy back in their appropriate homes (some of Energy back into Defense, some of Labor back into Justice, Elections independent but in the Executive, etc.)

Next, outside those functions, *nothing else* in the federal government gets guaranteed funding. None of it. Make them fight over every penny in Congress, and make Congress pass a budget every year on pain of loss of office.

Now, with that in hand, you can talk to me about setting a Fair Tax/Flat Tax/VAT-without-Income-Tax threshold that funds that baseline level of government activity. Heave out any Federal level Property/CapGains/Estate taxes forever, and make damn sure that some forms of Income that had been wrongfully classed as CapGains get rolled back into the Income classification. *This is your baseline tax revenue stream.*

Given the debt problem, add an amount to that on a limited-term basis to buy down the national debt to a sustainable target (less than 10% GDP would likely be sustainable, for example).

Now, *obviously there is more*. That's fine. This is where you can have your Progressive Playground; any Constitutionally allowable program one would like, from social welfare to retirement security to medical security to education promotion to national public works. This is also where War funding and any emergency funding goes. They would all be fine, but...

They are all to be funded on a program-linked line-item tax.

You've got two choices there: an upward adjustment to the consumption/or/Flat tax mentioned above; or a seperate income tax. The former is simpler, and might be more politically doable, but is regressive. The latter would require a very simple tax code to not become a political football of preferences (cf. current income tax code in the U.S.) but it could be make with progressive rates.

self-criticism: that the "old answer" (a.k.a. severely limited government) may be a good idea, even an essential idea, *but* that it may not be politically do-able. Hell, it would be suicide to most Socialist or Democratic parties to go along with such, and it would be just as bad for Statist traditional-Liberal or Conservative parties.

If it can't be policy, it should be (IMO) a declared ideal and objective. Maybe that's all one can hope for from a government dependent upon election by universal sufferage.

counter-point: Screw this limited government stuff. A solid dictatorship with sufficient will to maintain the ruling elite needs not worry about national debt or any other funding shortfalls, so long as there remain assets within the nation (or without) available to be seized in the name of national need. It works just as well if said dictatorship is left- or right-wing. It only fails when there is nothing left to take, or no one left to take from, and that problem in the ideal is self-correcting.


OK, if you've read this far, thank you. Over to you, Mr. Bill and others. Your push now.