New Federalism Revisited

I run an Innovation Lab at USC. It is supported by some of the most innovative companies in the world. I can tell you one thing with certainty—the truly innovative companies have learned to devolve power and flatten organization structures. If the United States is to survive as the design and innovation hub of the digital world, it is going to have to have a government structure designed for a 21st Century World. And that means that power and funding is going to need to devolve from the Federal level to the State and City level. I’ve been writing about this idea for almost five years, but I’m more convinced than ever that some sort of New Federalism is the only way out of the grinding political gridlock that is destroying our country. Democrats cannot fight this notion that power that is closer “to the customer”, is more efficient power.

But the problem with giving the states more responsibility is that you need to encourage mobility in America, not discourage it. If my 2050 version of Social Security is being managed at the state level, it’s just harder to move. The beauty of a Federal social insurance system is that there is never any impediment to get up and move to where the work is. Your social security number is good anywhere.

So let me specify what I think we need a Federal Government for:Departments of Defense, State, Treasury, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security as well as  Social Security and Medicare benefits. Everything else should be a State matter. Certainly law enforcement agencies like the FBI and SEC would operate at the Federal Level to enforce Federal statutes, but the funding and the personnel for the departments of Education, Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Commerce, Transportation and Labor should primarily exist at the State level. Obviously both the Housing and the Agriculture departments in California and Mississippi would be concerned with very different issues. And of course as the Imperial Dreams of America come down to earth, the bloated Defense and Homeland Security budgets would shrink dramatically.

Now of course many of my peers, raised on the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960’s, view the whole idea of Federalism with distaste. Federalism, in their mind means “states rights” and George Wallace standing in the school house door. They say to me, “what is to prevent Kansas from passing draconian laws banning abortion and threatening the freedom of women?” And I reply: “Mobility”. If Kansas wants to go back to the 1950’s then only people who want to live in the 1950’s will stay there. You can go coast to coast on a bus for $200. You can move to the next state for $30. As Richard Florida  has shown, creative people will flee to locations that are open and modern.

This brings us to the last hurdle: taxation. The problem with 50 different tax regimes is that states will have a race to the bottom, based on what can only be called corporate blackmail. When BMW bids four states against each other for the lowest tax rate to bring a new factory to a state, everyone loses. That’s why I was so intrigued by Robert Frank’s solution of a Progressive Consumption Tax.

Under a progressive consumption tax, taxpayers would report their incomes, much as they do now. They’d also report their annual savings, much as they do for tax-exempt retirement accounts. The tax would be based on “taxable consumption” — the difference between their income and annual savings, less a standard deduction of, say, $30,000 for a family of four. Rates on additional expenditures would start low and rise gradually with taxable consumption.

What if this tax was collected nationally by the Internal Revenue Service, but the majority of the receipts were distributed on a per capita basis to the states? This would solve the race to the bottom problem, where states, like Airlines desperate to sell a seat, put themselves into bankruptcy.

As I have noted many times on this blog, I am with Jefferson and not Hamilton in the dispute over Federalism. I want the Federal Government to have less power and less money, so they don’t piss trillions down the drain in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have had promises for 60 years of a “peace dividend” that never materialized. It’s time to change strategy and make this Republic work again.

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51 Responses to New Federalism Revisited

  1. len says:


    The phrase one sees in standards and programming product communities is “the programmers vote with their feet”. At certain points in technical evolution, a solution becomes too hard for various reasons and those seeking a simpler solution to local problems vote with their feet by going to a standard, product or vendor with a solution that more immediately meets their near-term local goals. It is important to understand the temporal locale notion because there can be unintended consequences to ‘the simplest thing that can possibly work’. While yes, our generation will fight the civil rights issues until the day we quit being seminal, relying on the past for guidance is not the only problem.

    And so while it is a good idea to keep as much control as close to any resource affected by such control as possible, it is also important to realize that we can easily be led toward what shines over there but is corrosive over here. This does not argue against your idea; it merely sets up a caution. Don’t overdrive your headlights and where imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, a mini skirt on a maxi mum is self-limiting.

    A problem of defense limits is returning national defense problems back to different locales creates the potential that national systems might be applied to local matters. It is a good thing when the National Guard (a local unit) steps in to help out or enfore only because they are under the authority and budget of the local system. That is a self-limiting system. It is a bad thing when the US Army does it, thus posse commitatus. So far so good. The unforseen is when both levels of power share systems that give locals unprecedented power. I’m probably a little more aware than some of the extent of that for professional reasons (as is JTMc) and yes, this is an extreme example. Let me put it another way, if the Civil War were fought today by the same contenders as the original, the South wins. If it is simply a competition for headphones and music players, California wins.

    And that is the nut: given local controls at heightened strength, how to keep economic warfare among competitors from becoming something worse. Voting with your feet works until you get caught in the pincers of two or more moving grassfires. This is in fact what happened in the web wars.

  2. len says:


    If America wants it’s security of self back, products where the margin for profit approaches zero over time as a function of it’s self-modifying behavior would be a reasonable domain to innovate.

    Even in a world market, toys sold at GeeksRCool get cheap fast. On the other hand, utility systems don’t. Roofs don’t. Cars don’t. We’re too enchanted by software and round edged boxes. Only the highest quality have good market and seriously, how many does that employ? It’s a music business where all gigs are posh and there are no bars to breed talent. Talent is source of innovation.

    Technology is bred. Talent is taught.

  3. Morgan Warstler says:

    Welcome Rick Perr.. er, I mean John Taplin!


    You have officially adopted Rick Perry’s plan for America.

    Welcome. DO NOT TURN BACK.


    Now, fix some things for you… what you call a race to the bottom – is NOT a race to the bottom.

    Two, it will happen anyway.

    The lazy will MOVE to where they the most free shit, forcing the kind and gentle to put up draw bridges to keep the lazy from getting free shit.

    The states that adopt the most business friendly regulations, and have the most PRODUCTIVE (per salary $) public employees) will get the companies moving there.

    This is of course good, if your prison guards are being paid better than your Ruby Rails programmers, Internet start ups will not move there.

    Jon, don’t turn back. Be willing to throw overboard some of your previous positions. When confronted by new information, smart people CHANGE THEIR MIND.

    IF you do this, and stick with it, wherever the logic leads t you… you will be a powerful new voice for the left.

    You ought to do a full hour long video presentation JUST on the topic: MOBILITY is PROGRESSIVE.

  4. rhbee says:

    Plus ca change. See the end of Part Three, Cities in Flight by James Blish. There really isn’t no way out of here.

    And yet here we are. Creating, innovating, perpetually ovulating to gestation, one nation now no matter where we live in it. Why you think the little politicians, the locals who have our villages, towns, and cities locked up in the same battles as the big guys are the solution, I can’t figure out. Is there somewhere outside of the box for us to move?

  5. Jon Wake says:

    What an absolutely terrible idea. Here, lets see if this is a familiar scenario:

    States that provide low services, cut the minimum wage to nothing and tax their corporations little will attract companies fleeing to a new tax shelter. There, they’ll pay the workers as little as possible and work them as hard as possible, crushing any attempt to unionize because, after all, that would drive away business. Environmental protections would go out the window, and because pollution doesn’t give a damn about socio-political borders, everyone would suffer. The workers would be too poor to pack up everything and move to some nice liberal city like Portland, and even if they were, cities would have to institute some kind of strict immigration system to keep refugees from North Carolina or West Virginia from taxing their social services to the limit.

    Meanwhile, those wage slave goods would be sold to the rich, liberal cities and the profits pocketed by the corporations, further strangling the nonexistent social safety net for the poor. Disease and crime runs rampant, entire new criminal enterprises pop up to take advantage of the social decay, and freedom of movement turns into something for upper middle class people in gated communities.

    Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? That’s because it’s just colonialism via interstate. It’s great if you’re rich. Sucks if you can’t afford a car, let alone an entire cross country move.

  6. V says:

    Not so, Mr. Schmidt replied. “I’m not sure Google is a rational business trying to maximize its own profits,” he said.

  7. rhbee says:

    V, That argument and the many many more anti-trust suits over the years is just another reason to believe in the possibility that this time we just might break free of the gridlock John Wake describes. If we could just figure out a way to solidify the internet universe in a way that we could live and work in it, then maybe the weak and greedy side of human nature might finally meet its match.

  8. len says:

    Hard to say, rhbee. Those kids at that sit in on Wall Street look mighty alone out there. Apparently the Mighty Left is leaving them to fend for themselves against the NYPD. So much for the Internet calvary.

    What’s with this country? Why don’t we get to go to the party that we paid for?

  9. Amber in Albuquerque says:

    Education—yeah, more local control seems like a good idea—until it doesn’t. Look, I think ground-up local control efforts can be great for public education, but there are “issues” being handled at the Federal level that, if left to the states, might cause problems. It’s late, and I’ve had a beer, so the best I can do is an example…

    Kids who are protected under the federal “Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act” (IDEA), which mandates that these kids have a legal right to a “free and appropriate public education” (FAPE) in the “least restrictive environment” (LRE) I would expect to get screwed if education is left strictly to the states.

    Mobility? What if you have to choose between moving to a state that meets your child’s educational needs or staying in a state where the education sucks but you have a job?

    Right now the federal rules provide, if not a guarantee that your child gets the education s/he is entitled to as a citizen (because the school thing is compulsory), then at least that you have legal recourse and a solution if you are willing to advocate or hire and advocate (or a lawyer).

    Leave that to the states and it’s suck it up or move. Not a good choice when to get to a good school you might have to give up your groceries.

    That said, I don’t like the current “one size fits all schools” mentality because it doesn’t work. But Federal law and federal funding do a lot of good that goes largely unpublicized in public schools. I’ve been in the trenches a little more on this lately (volunteering in the school library, and working as PTA Treasurer for a group that works their butts off to raise funding to meet needs that go unmet w/state and federal funding). It’s not all bad news, but all local may not be the best solution here. I really don’t know what is.

  10. Amber in Albuquerque says:

    And to address the “let the free market handle the schools” issue…puh leeze. Sure, some school or schools might crop up to fill a need. The thing is education is compulsory and every physically or learning disabled child is different. Yes, they can be grouped, but they still need to be addressed individually. Federal law requires this. I don’t see any for profit entity being able to manage it in a way that works for the children and for parents without the means to pay. Boutique schools that provide the kind of assistance these kids now get via Federal funding will not be affordable for most parents. Additionally, with a law mandating that kids go to school, but nothing to require the schools to meet each child’s needs, well it’s just a recipe for disaster (IMO, obviously).

  11. woodnsoul says:

    It strikes me what you – and a whole lot of other folks are looking for is manageability and control. Being able to control one’s life is pretty essential to happiness in life.

    I, like many others, see some roadblocks in the way of doing what you want, but it is worth the attempt. But the concept is a good one, and those of us living in small communities go a long ways to succeeding – certainly not all the way, we have to deal with wars, the federal and state governments and such – but for the most part, such contacts are kept to a minimum. And the less contact in that arena, the happier most of us are.

  12. Amber in Albuquerque says:

    USDA? OSHA? U.S. DOT? Leave those to the states too? The more I think about this the more runners I see in the race to the bottom.

  13. rhbee says:

    I’m sorry but I want to expand on what I said earlier. I think we all could work for and on the internet. If Google means what it’s said and the Gates Foundation wants to really open up the possibilities for the KIVA generation and Apple really does stand for innovation then they should begin hiring everyone who wants to apply. Education, down with those stupid fenced in buildings and up with one on one real time learning. Drop the whole idea of grades or classes of students and get on with lesarning. Pay us for our useful knowledge. Put us to fucking work.

  14. rhbee says:

    And teach us how to use spell check while you’re at it. Hi, Amber.

  15. Amber in Albuquerque says:

    Hi, rhbee.

  16. Amber in Albuquerque says:

    Take the USDA (please)—while I think it would be great if the States were more responsible for deciding what (if any) agricultural subsidies were provided to farmers in their area, I see huge problems where food safety is concerned. What is to stop a food packer/producer/manufacturer from relocating to a state where the standards are more lax to maximize profits and then trucking their food all over the country (can’t make laws that interfere w/state-to-state commerce & all that)? By the time we find out there is a problem, people are sick or dead. And there’s no accountability. The current federal system is bad enough (so when we’re putting people back to work w/federal funds, I’d rank food inspectors up there w/road crews and engineers) leaving it to the states would seem to be worse.

    Ditto the U.S. DOT. Trucks cross state lines. There is a federal placarding system that is supposed to be followed so when you’re driving behind a truckload of highly flammable or toxic material, you know it. I’m not so sure rules like that should be left up to the states. California might have great regulations, but I could see trucks leaving Nevada and New Mexico full of god knows what and headed who knows where and wrecking. The first responders in the new state wouldn’t know what the rig was hauling because it was licensed in the old state that didn’t have the same placarding requirements. Yucky.

  17. rhbee says:

    One of my most meaningful teaching experiences was the summer I got to teach and learn with a Special Ed class of seven kids. We were one one everyday.

    Meanwhile back to my point. Jon, if you really want to bring the power to the people, then figure out how we can give them, us, the stimulus money.

  18. JTMcPhee says:

    Mobility is a WONDERFUL idea.

    Just $200 for a bus ride across the country!

    Yeah, Joe Buck and Ratso Rizzo,, or maybe the Joads, , or for a lighter touch, the Clampetts, ? The latter being the only ones who, far as I can see, might meet with your meme? Since old Jed, via pure fortuity, had a bankload of Texas Tea Party Money to move them along to the American Dream State?

    I understand that I, too, could have bought original issue MSFT, or Apple in 2001 or 2006 even, so it’s all on me and all the others who were living hand to mouth at the time, and lacked the vision, and “information,” to take advantage of the Next Great Move. Too bad on us, and our miseries and our being ripe for the messages of what we call the Tea Party. It’s on us now, too, to pull on our bootstraps and Rise, right?

    Mobility? WHO is mobile? The lady with custody of 3 kids after a job-loss-induced divorce? The 20-something, living off the fading fiscal momentum of his parents or grandparents, “educated in our fine American schools” but with zero hope of a job and huge investment of time in “Call of Duty” or some Sim?

    Go down your own list of categories, and how many of them are “mobile?” Yeah, the guy with millions in the bank, no sweat, or the person with a current set of coding skills or a Big Idea that actually will get picked up and bought by those who have the wealth in hand. How much stuff can you get on board a Greyhound? A DVD full of family pictures and video of stuff you used to have, title to which was actually held by a lender, and a few changes of clothing?

    WHO can take a flyer, accumulate and spend the $200 to take a suitcase or duct-taped garbage bag, and their person (since that notion pretty much only works for the pure solitary,) across the country, and to WHERE will they go? Alaska, where residents got $1800 in a share of wasting-asset severance taxes this year? Any idea how long it would take to deforest Alaska to heat all those immigrants to the Coldest State, or how small the stipend would end up being before the in-migration died out? Vermont, where there may be enlightened people who may soon have “socialized medicine,” and where there’s talk of putting a wall around the state to keep out the “freeloaders?” Florida, where if you are healthy you can “live on the beach,” if you can find one that is not privatized, and “make a living” cleaning pools?

    The premise is nonsense, as far as I can see. There is no pocket of decency with growing boundaries to which people can “mobilize” without the almost certainty that the greedy few will figure out how to scam the system, Hoover up all the local wealth, and re-institute the kind of pyramid that is crushing the rest of us everywhere.

    I’m down with the idea that there has to be a certain amount of “slack,” of tolerance for baksheesh and the real horrors of little and large human behaviors (“Let ’em die!” kind of stuff, and the huge sucking sound of Financialization and the MIC, and routine bribery of cops and Lawmakers.) Somebody has to be willing (if not particularly “able,” in the sense of doing good,) to exercise power. When that slack exceeds a certain point, where the myths become so patently inconsistent with the realities, when the repressive power of the Few, the Kleptocrats, exceeds a certain quantum level, you get to that Dissolution of All Bonds. There has to be a certain quantum of people, the Boxers and Benjamins and even Clovers, who are about Keeping It All Together, willing to be suckers and givers and able to feed themselves and their families with the scraps, or it’s Ragnarok time. We humans ain’t got the skills to make that work, over time, on anything other than a small-village level. And every devolution to the manor or small village form always carries the seeds within it of another feudalism or warlordism.

    For the notion of devolution of social and political functions to have a prayer of not doing More Of The Same, you would have to come up, in your Innovation Lab, with a virus that infects all humans, gently and precisely “targets” the offending sequences and re-orders and re-twists and re-folds them, and causes what externally would look like some kind of spiritual renascence, the human reborn without the predatory, self-pleasing kinds of “features” that Wargon so cheerfully represents. Is there a “sainthood gene,” I wonder? Unexpressed and recessive in the extreme, if there is.

    Lobbyists, Governators, Murdochs, Cheneys, RickScotts, AllHatAndNoCattles, Mullens, Qaddafis, Netanyahoos, and add in the litany from “We Didn’t Start The Fire.” You tell me HOW, in the name of all that’s holy (and ask the kids who have been fondled and f*cked by Catholic priests over the centuries, and the boys who dance and fell-ate for the nabobs of the “Taliban”, et ceterrrrra, what, exactly that word means), you are going to viralize the kinds of self-reinforcing impulses, complete with the necessary negative-feedbacking, it would take to move enough humans toward that “Everything I Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten” sweetness it would take to keep the species alive?

    There’s two things that do seem to be true to me, out of all the noise: (1) The tautology, of course, that we really are all in this together, and (2) there really is enough of the stuff of life to go around, maybe even sustainably. The downside is that ingenuity and innovation and greed and dominance are right up top, waiting to skim off and then hack off, for the personal pleasure of the Few, all the Real Wealth that gets generated by the sweat and toil of All The Rest. Thus it has always been (yeah, Worgon, that is obvious even to others than yourself and your “meanest understanding”) and likely always to be, up to that point where In The End, There Can Be Only One.

    Got any ideas on that front? This disappointed romantic would sure like to hear them…

  19. Ken Ballweg says:


    Works so well according to history.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Got any ideas on that front? This disappointed romantic would sure like to hear them…

    None, JTMc. Just a lament….

  21. Jon Taplin says:

    OK-I knew I was going to take a lot of flack for this, and I am embarrassed that my major defender is Morgan. However, what I’m trying to propose is more subtle. First, I think that regulation (OSHA, EPA, FCC) are one of the things the Federal Government has to run, for all the reasons Amber cited. Further, I was suggesting that the VAT kind of tax be nationally collected, but locally distributed to the states.

    It may be because California is still prosperous and innovative that I want more of my taxes to go to the state and city than to the Feds and their Military/Medical/Financial Industrial Complexes. I think it would work just as well for Alabama. Why would all those rocket scientists in Huntsville want a race to the bottom in the local school system?

  22. Jon Taplin says:

    @JTM-First off—you are such a good writer it’s scary. I met Hunter Thompson a couple of times and you carry his righteous fury. I’m so honored you share some of it with us.

    I too am a disappointed romantic, and proud to stay that way until things truly change. Personally it could be that your challenge pushes us into the realm of spirituality and The Golden Rule. I think we need to consider what other forces pushed us to believe in interdependence over the centuries.

  23. len says:

    In Huntsville, the rocket scientists (includes a lot of defense contractors and other engineering companies) took over Madison (part of the county system) and separated themselves into a new school system by getting the county to build new high schools and grabbing them as they separated. The problems there are water, roads, etc. It’s a race to annex. The HSV city schools ARE in a race to the bottom.

    Alabama historically relies on four municipalities for the taxes to support the rest of the state systems in the poor counties and yes, the cities complain about that. What is different here is the improbably low property taxes. For that reason among others, Huntsville has a 37% greater than 50 year old population, in other words, it’s become a military retirement destination of choice. Think of a gray haired, church obsessed Eureka without the chicks in tank tops.

  24. Jon Taplin says:

    God len-That’s a pretty depressing image to ponder.

  25. len says:

    Yeah, for such a pretty place, it is.

    The pattern is clear enough. When times get tight, the haves get tighter. From the tinted windows to the gated neighborhoods to the states passing anti-immigration laws to the companies that wall off users, all begin to seek a competitive advantage that keeps their lifestyles intact.

    Meanwhile the American free press (sarcasm dripping) keeps up the media blackout on the kids staging the sit in on Wall Street because we may not be afrraid of alQaeda but we sure as heck are scared of the banks and traders.

  26. John Papola says:

    BRAVO Jon!!!!!

    I too think that Robert Frank’s consumption tax is a big step in the right direction, even if his tortured bias-selected evolution metaphors are more muddle than useful.

    Now start convincing your friends in high places on the political “left” that this is the way forward. Make them see that it’s New Federalism or bust and the Democrats might as well claim it for their own. They can. Andrew Jackson and Grover Cleveland can become the new new left’s heroes. What a great triumph that would be. It would also mirror the left-liberal fiscal revolution in Canada in the 1990s.

  27. JTMcPhee says:

    Did JP actually announce in favor of a TAX? Presumably administered by the National Coercion Government? One has to wonder what paths through the Mindspace of Libertarianland led to that conclusion, and what policy branches are hoped to grow off that little shoot…

    It’s a rain forest out there. All us beetles and grubs and ants, scurrying around in the litter that drops from above, following this or that little scent clue toward one rotting leaf or bird dropping or another, consulting our lights to figure out whether it’s toxic or worth the energy to consume and digest, busily feeding ourselves or the hive organism we got born into, in aid of reproduction and in a constant susurrus of acquisition, resource wars, niche-finding, occasional or innate symbiosis, skirmishing and frontal conflict and predation and parasitication, each little critter doing whatever the divine randomness of folded proteins urges it to do, with enough variation between individuals, enough contention and vagation, to ensure that entropy and apoptosis and extinction apply, eventually, with full terminal force.

    Andrew Jackson and Grover Cleveland as “heroes?” Hey, that’s MY corrupted half of a strangler fig leaf! Go find your own! (What would you call it, the Rand Paul Plant? Ficus galtus?)

    Yeah, Mr. Taplin, carry that seed into the part of the canopy where you live. Sounds like a winner…

    And for dessert, another helping of Grover Clevelandism:

  28. John Papola says:


    I’m not in favor of coercive government of any kind on principle for many reasons. But it’s a principle and I use it to help me judge if the government we DO have is heading in the right or wrong direction.

    So, since I believe that people are productive, creative beings and that any system of taxation should not punish this, I do indeed favor consumption and land taxes if we are going to have taxes. This, ehem, happens to be the Texas Model of taxation. High sales tax. Higher Real Estate taxes. No income tax. Sadly, Perry added a corporate “franchise tax”. That sucks.

    But anyway. I can be an idealist(ologue) AND find was to compromise.

    So, layer on top of that consumption tax a negative income tax which attempts to help fill the gap for those of little means while still letting them strive without seeing that effort countered by two steps back… and you have something pretty serviceable. I dig it.

    If we could have a simple state with a good safety net and little to no central planning and top-down regulation, I would call that a massive win for real liberty and progress.

  29. JTMcPhee says:

    JP — No time right now to do exhaustive research, but first, do you consider Texas a “model” or “simple state”? (I mean, aside from Perry-and-legislature’s gross receipts tax that you object to.) One that provides your notion of “liberty and progress,” or is on track to do so? I wonder how the polls would come out on that notion.

    As to “high” TX sales tax, looks like the max, per their constitution is 8.5%, with lots of exemptions, and the base rate is 6%. . That compares with New York, at 4% base and 8.75% max, and FL at around 6.5 to 7%. FL RE taxes are way up there, and for that we get a lot of wealth being redistributed to “libertarian” developers and Big Sugar and Major League Baseball and NFL team owners and into huge Taj Mahal digs for our corrupt Supreme Court. And a doubling of the Governor’s personal budget (for more PR pros and security persons,) along with the taking away of $170 million from funding for home care of disabled people and a “plan” to force them into privatized facilities at grossly higher taxpayer expense — a guy who kind of exemplifies the archetypical embodiment of John Galt. Not sure where you come out on Marx (Karl, not Harpo) but that sure does not look like the “withering away of the state” into that Productive Persons’ Paradise.

    And as to the claim that TX has “high land taxes,” I offer a single data point and the observation that when I sold my FL house to go live on a boat, ten years ago, my rate was quite a bit higher already than either Austin or Pfleugerville (at 2.50 and 2.90 per thousand of assessed valuation.

    The problem with ideologisticalism is that for there to be any buy-in to any of the “ideals,” there needs to be some quantum of rationality and recognition of reality in the mix. “Winning,” as in finally achieving the version of Hayekianism I believe you are contending for, means finding some sneaky way (like the current crop of Kleptocrats are busily implementing, via ALEC and FOX and the other death-of-a-thousand-cuts stratagems) to get “compromise” on little bits that eventually might somehow add up to a pointillist winner-take-all picture, the true substance of which only becomes apparent when you step back quite a ways.

    How are you going to have a “simple state with a good safety net,” and no central regulatory structure? 9-9-9? Rely on the charitable impulses of your neighbors at the other end of the state?

    What does your Ideal State do with the Undeserving Poor, the ones raised in the climate of ignorant helpless hopelessness that greed and “liberty” (and the Texas School Board) have always fostered? A ‘negative income tax” is going to let them “strive,” down there on the forest basement, without getting squashed or eaten by something larger, or more insidious, or more oblivious, or born with specialized predator’s mouth parts? I don’t see that your system has much of a place or a future for people with mental and physical deficits, unable to “strive,” no matter how much love they can attract and share…

    McPhee Shrugged.

  30. len says:

    Any state that attempts to reward only the ‘productive’ very soon has a very sophisticated, well-funded and powerful police force. See NYPD.

    “The Beasties protect our wealth.”

  31. Morgan Warstler says:

    “There’s two things that do seem to be true to me, out of all the noise: (1) The tautology, of course, that we really are all in this together, and (2) there really is enough of the stuff of life to go around, maybe even sustainably.”

    So says the guy comfy on his boat watching the sun go down on the coast of Florida, who’s not quite share-and-share alike with the life position of Somalian pirates.

    Whatchoo mean we, white man?

    I’ve done OH, CA, FL, NY, and TX. TX by far trumps the others… it is many things, but as simple as the public employees here are made aware the real people working private sector jobs are paying for everything. You never get the sense things have been turned around.

    In CA and then OH (sad as it was) you got that sense in spades.

    Jon, last time I saw HST was at Crazy Girls on La Brea.

  32. JTMcPhee says:

    Worgon, some folks just have to broadcast stuff that gives humanity a deserved bad name.

    Your personal kind of snotty parasitic approach to life is one tiny, perverse part of the reason that Somali pirates zoom over waters stripped of food fish by post-national factory fishing, unconstrained by “government regulation.”, and, and if you want to take the time you can assemble your own search term and find a whole lot more “free market capitalism” reportage on that one little area. That, and by all reports, involvement of various NGOs with Sicilian monikers and nuclear waste to “get rid of,” and folks who “invest” in the “free unregulated piracy market,” and take the male lion’s share of the big paydays.

    And of course there’s the whole MIC schtick, and the big-nation participants in the idiot Game of RISK! that passes for “geopolitics,” which like so many other bits of our common collective culture is driven by “profits” from “growth” in instability and volatility. And a whole long Chinese menu of other dishes of shitinsomeoneelse’snestiness. Guys like this:

    Just what we need: nearly 7 billion of us, making and “growing” some “profitable progress” by “striving,” one pirated ship at a time…

    THAT is what the world that you and Papola and suchlike contend for actually looks like, as we, all of us, in the same ark, wend our self-pleasing, violent way toward whatever cataclysm is up next. “Freedom” and “liberty” and what was that other word that used to get discussed in the same context, “license?” Not to worry, though, YOU at least will likely be comfortable the rest of your life.

    And the chances that any kind of spiritual reformation or transformation might occur that would in any way change the lucrephilia,, that plagues us are zip, zero, and nil. Though when I get home from my stupid, low-paid, nursy day job, to my “comfy” boat there in the municipal marina, I guess I will continue to pray that things might go otherwise. Hope is the triumph of affection over experience.

    If testimonials are, according to you, to be given some kind of special weight here, I’ve “done” TX and WA and RI and MA and IL and OH and IN and now FL. In each of those places, I had reasons to be in close contact with “public employees” in several government agencies. I would never be so bold (boldness being one of your more charming characteristics) as to opine that all of those individuals understood implicitly that their ultimate authority and paycheck derived from the larger community. But pretty uniformly, the ones I interacted with, as a government enforcer and then on the other side and as a plain old private citizen, seemed to have that wisdom pretty clearly in mind. Most of them also understood that, in common with other working people, they were being fucked, one way or another or many ways, by the few who have learned how to “game” the system, the ones who are playing out what seems a wonderfully negative sum game indeed, one that necessarily ends in a singularity. Some have trended Tea Party, others to simple depression and disenchantment, a few to some spurious resistance.

    And of course you have a raft of people floated into government “service” via the Reagan Invasion and subsequent or parallel sieges of the state capitals by the Armies of the Night, and the long, irresistible, positive-feedback process of regulatory capture by wealthy kleptocrats, leading to large cadres of “public employees” who pretty much do believe the job of the private economy working stiff is to make them rich and powerful and agile in their revolving-door career paths. Stuff like this — maybe you remember?

    “The Centipede’s Dilemma”

    A centipede was happy quite,
    Until a frog in fun
    Said, “Pray, which leg comes after which?”
    This raised her mind to such a pitch,
    She lay distracted in the ditch
    Considering how to run.

    — Mrs. Edmund Craster

    And there’s some additional humorous take on that dilemma in the wiki article:

    Be careful what you wish for — you might get what you “want,” instead of what you and your family might actually need…

  33. len says:

    He doesn’t get it, JTMc. He can’t. It appears he has never worked in the “real world” and I say that with the realization the definition depends on what one has done, not where one is right now. If he made his mark as a webHead of any kind, he has likely never been exposed as a minion to the people you are describing. The web was a pile of gold left out in the square for anyone to take who knew how and had few scruples about doing it. His time is passing and the walls around Apple ensure that. Again, the pattern is clear.

    I write this from a chair where I am sitting in a “cage”, a work area that is a very large room divided into “cages” surrounded by chain link topped by barbed wire. This is the world you are describing. All too real. Please keep praying. They figured out I’m a hippie. :)

  34. len says:

    Two visions of the other side of the reg:

    a) Walled cities/states/neighborhoods/companies.

    b) Open decentralized communication system coordination that is self-selected then directed as feedback establishes local patterns of compatibility for sharing resources

    … what would you call it? A social network?


    both? Which is the likely outcome. Decentralization globally emphasizes local centralization. In a social network, you get the same kinds of societies but you increase the strength of the local entities over affiliation.

    States begin to operate more like businesses with heavy tribal habits. Isn’t that pretty much the Republican dream? Lots of little republics?

    The dark horse is increased global centralization. Empire emerges not from a single country but from a self-selected elite by power of concentrated wealth that spans national authorities.

  35. JTMcPhee says:

    len — empire = thiefdom.

    All the empires I have ever had any passing, or deeper, familiarity with are mostly or simply about diddling the pleasure centers of the Kleptocracy. I’m not sure systems approaches can begin to describe or account for what the folks who take the first juiciest least rancid red meat off the carcass do with the usually fairly sudden accession of massive and potent wealth and the ability, sans restraint or recourse, to fuck over other people, take their stuff, and kill their families and traditions.

    I gotta say, much as I personally dislike what I have read about many elements of Pashtun culture, , (including that thing called Pashtunwali,, and as a former GI who watched the full-chat Empire in action and dysfunction, I deplore the idiot waste of GIs and materiel and the whole game our Brass is playing, I do find it fascinating that the Empire I happened to be born into is on the point of “doing a Rome.”

    There’s something to be said for knowing the landscape you live in, and having basic “survivalist” skills, and understanding the real nature, the unidirectional nature, of asymmetric warfare, and knowing how to feed yourself and your family in a sere land.

    A plethora of whirlygigs.

  36. len says:

    With all the blathergog the geeks can sell.

  37. Morgan Warstler says:


    Man if you just focused on cleaning up your side, you’d be amazed how quickly I shut my mealy mouth.

    Here’s the first:

    This can NEVER happen. I don’t care if private business plays favorites and throws work to friends, family and neighbors… they eat their mistakes.

    But if you want GVT to play with tax payer dollars you have to set the damn thing up so the above NEVER happens.

    Meaning, you have to make PROCESS more important than GOALS.

    And sure, you can take the same approach to MIC, but we’re dong all the other shit first.

    Think of it like this:

    If you give me a system where public employees NEVER earn 6 figures, and use 401K’s like everyone else, and pay for health care…

    That’s it, that’s all I want. I go home.

    You can have the gvt. keep doing everything it does right now.

    If you fight to give me a bureaucracy that works like Singapore – and a universal catastrophic HSA system like they have to boot, you don’t even have to let go healthcare.

    All I want is GOV2.0.

    See JTM, if a GVT that is built to keep graft and upside to a warm bucket of spit, the people that run it WILL ALWAYS WORK with the private economy at the forefront of their minds.

    Now yes it is true, that the best and brightest will skip public service, but that is a small price to pay to lock in what you already have and grow and nurture it organically.

    Go read the link on CALI from Michael Lewis in the most recent post, it made my stomach queasy.

  38. JTMcPhee says:

    Worgon, you’re as home as you are going to get, right now and already. Stay there. You still helping Breitbart edit his videos?

  39. len says:

    Meaning, you have to make PROCESS more important than GOALS

    Now I know you’ve never worked with the government. PROCESS IS ALREADY MORE IMPORTANT THAN GOALS. That’s why it’s SNAFU. A bad process produces bad results but a bad process using faulty components simply fails.

    The knowledge in the people are more important than anything else. The case is simple: the majority of civil service is not qualified for the jobs they perform. One can say it is a training issue but that’s too simple. If today’s training does not match tomorrow’s systems AND IT NEVER DOES they are trained to be incompetent. We manage incompetence. Competence doesn’t need management. It simply works. Incompetence needs lots of management and the more of that you have the less work you are actually performing. This is true at every level of the system.

    It’s easy and good politics for your tribe to point to Pelosi’s pecadillo but that is just another form of blame management. You aren’t fixing a problem or even addressing the problem: you are managing blame which means you are the problem.

    Have you ever worked on a project with Government Furnished Information (GFI) such as XSLT Styleheets (XSL-FOs)? Imagine you are in verification phase (follows the validation where the contractor has reviewed the material prior to the government team conducting the verification)? This is PROCESS. It is followed scrupulously. Why? Success in being a civil servant relies entirely on punching the tickets attesting to them having performed some set of tasks ‘successfully’. How is success measured? It is measured as testimonials by those around them at the time. Success is not about competence at the task but convincing those who will testify.

    This should never happen but it is the basis for civil service particularly “insourcing” where a former contractor becomes a member of the other side. This is THE goal of many contractors because once there, all the benefits you allude to kick in. This is the revolving door of MIC/Government/Contractor and it swings both ways and is fast. Those who point out mistakes are trouble makers. Those who can fix systems are “geeks and codeheads” and roundly despised because they can prove one wrong without recourse except political recourse.

    Pelosi is nothing. It is an easy mark for you politically, but it is nothing. Really. Just a prominent example of favoritism. The system that makes all of you crazy is entrenched, defended and impossible to remove with a stroke of a pen. Civil servants can outlast any administration.

    THAT is the mess Obama walked into naively and without enough ground support or air cover from his own party who are so obsessed with their own local problems and requests they can’t help.

  40. len says:

    Missed a point: why is the XSLT example illuminating? I’m guessing as a webhead you understand what happens in a process using this technology. You may not understand the process controls.

    An SOW (Statement of Work) cites deliverable items by citing CDRLs (Contract Data Requirement Lists). The CDRLs cite government specifications for deliverables of those types. The specification depends on the work item, so a document may be delivered, say, in accordance with a standard, itself containing a reference to an item such as a document type definition (assume you know SGML/XML and therefore what that is). The DTD specifies the XML that is to be delivered. At that point another government organization uses the delivered XML to create multiple products such as printed manuals and electronic manuals.

    How? The XSL has to transform it into multiple types of documents. What happens if:

    o The SOW cites the wrong CDRL
    o The CDRL cites the wrong DTD
    o The CDRL cites a DTD that does not have tags for the actual type of content

    The GFI is the XSLT. This is provided to enable the contractor to create formatted copy in PDF. Why PDF? Because Adobe won a battle at NIST over a decade ago that they should not have won. Why? Because the people they had to convince don’t do this work. They manage the specifications and standards. How? They used to work for the people who build the products. See the food chain?

    Now we come down to process. You go into a verification after a validation in which the CDRL calls out a new version of the DTD for which the XSLT that supports it is not fully debugged. The test prints show up with errors, the contractor reports them, the government can’t process those fast enough and now the local project begins to go off schedule. The government beats the contractor, the contractor by dint of initiative figures out what is wrong with the XSLT but can’t actually fix it (GFI remember) and if they do they will be beaten more severely for violating the PROCESS. Meanwhile the verification grinds forward with a government EXPERT (say civil servant wanna be) who needs to show expertise and does that by pointing out all the mistakes except the mistakes being pointed out are being generated by the XSLT with which the EXPERT is neither trained, familiar or able to debug. They simply make marks in a paper copy, a manager counts the marks, declares the work item to have failed, and they all go to a meeting to fight about that.

    Meanwhile, if we are lucky, geeks at the bottom are sending each other mail under the table about the bug.

    And their managers are looking for someone to blame.

    Do you understand how millions are lost one blame game at a time?

    That said, the PDF formatter using the cheap knock-off of an Adobe Publically Available Specification (not open, just implementable to enable Adobe to keep its competitive edge) just finished and I have an email to write.

    So other side of the Reg? So far the pattern is very clear. More and tougher walls, quieter and better equipped whirly gigs.

  41. JTMcPhee says:

    len- does anyone ever ask whether the complexity and multiple failure modes you so artfully describe can be rationalized in any way? In any of the meanings of that word?

    I read what you write, and little islands of potential meaning float past me on a stormy sea of acronyms. That’s it, however. I stopped even trying to do code after discovering I could not keep track of calls in Apple II machine language (I did manage to write some silly stuff in BASIC for my Timex Sinclair, which is still in the storage pile and maybe the tapes still have enough magnetism for the baby-steps code to be resurrected, but is that the stuff of romantic nostalgia?)

    If the task is generating documents (jumping right past the kind of First Question of the actual need for and utility of those documents) and all the little process problems you point out, and I bet there are a zillion more waiting for Murphy to get to them in his queue, stand in the way of actually ever generating a document (printed or bitstream), what the heck is the matter with plain old word processing or, God forbid, Linotype or mimeograph and Wite-Out? Does generating and modifying and maintaining and rendering consistent with current propaganda and doctrine the piece of shit in this link make the world a better place for more than a few MilSpecerheads?

    Processes heavy-laden with proselytes and proponents and pugilists, contending for versions, operated by people who have to be subversives to even get the shit to work at all while pretending that they are “adhering to standards,” all this “stuff” being done and supposedly paid for (and for those of you who hate GVT, gee, I wonder if the same kind of worthless shit goes on in Holy Private Industry, Batman!) and what, “written off?” ( A little “code pun,” there). Yet somewhere in there, Real Wealth is somehow consumed to generate the endpoints you describe. Over and over and over and over and over…

    And somewhere in the bowels of the beast, little wizened bacteria who innately understand their function, to provide enzymes and protein surfaces to facilitate digestion of those tons of Big-Macs-and-you-want-fries-with-thats? delivered to them like those nutted plates delivered to Charlie Chaplin before he “lost it” in “Modern Times”? ( , reduces me to tears every time I see it) by the Mouth That Wants, are busily at work, in an increasingly choked cloaca. Able to converse intra and interspecifically with other bacteria, but unable to nudge, let alone correct, the behavior of the larger organism. (Chaplin was touched by the gods, before he was touched by J. Edgar Closetman — )

    What does all that complexity you have mastered have to do with the survival of the species, versus paychecks and Pop Tarts, and big paydays for “experts” and “contractors” and the manymultimanagers at all levels of the jungle hierarchy? Is there a better mousetrap in there somewhere, or a way to teach the people to catch figurative fish?

    Genesis 11:1-9

    New International Version (NIV)

    The Tower of Babel

    1 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward,[a] they found a plain in Shinar[b] and settled there.

    3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

    5 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

    8 So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel[c]—because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

    “But what does it mean?”

  42. len says:

    does anyone ever ask whether the complexity and multiple failure modes you so artfully describe can be rationalized in any way? In any of the meanings of that word?

    The logies do. OTW, whole industries of specialists like doctors do, each with one answer and one order to send you to the next specialist. It’s the co-pay food chain of modern production systems.

    Yes, people work furiously to avoid the implications of the interdependencies this creates. Thus, Microsoft Word, except Word is a lobster trap that makes everything easy to get into except for the last lobster. In other words, they load it into a lobster trap that is very difficult to get the information out of if anything consumes it except a person who can read it in the language it is written in, meaning, for machines to reprocess, it is worthless and forces some poor son-of-a-bitch (me) to untangle the trap, take out the dead lobsters, and repackage it by hand. The ones that aren’t dead pinch me.

    I’ll return a verse later today. Must go to next crisis.

  43. JTMcPhee says:

    Re “doctors,” one great thing about the life I have fallen into is that the doctors I get to work with are “physiatrists.”,or.r_gc.r_pw.,cf.osb&fp=a271f0478f23d1e9&biw=1280&bih=661 (Us staffers have a playback button, now, so as not to waste wetware processing cycles while responding to all the calls from people seeking bunion- or hysteria-ectomies, who can’t parse the visual divide between “Physiatry,” “Podiatry” and “Psychiatry,” although interestingly enough my docs do a fair amount of both of the other disciplines in doing their healing-touch thing…) There are actually doctors who treat the whole person, and actually do not charge an arm and a leg, or limit their arsenal to “firing a pill at a problem,” or waste a lot of scarce resources moving the sick and wounded and damaged toward as much health and function as they can achieve.

    There’s that other thing you mention out there too, of course — I think the difference in expression is actually spiritual, or at least stems from that place where what many call “spirit” seems to reside. For a person pretty much bereft of any hope for the species, this little corner where I get paid a bit to help these “specialists” (I can’t use the word without a footnote since what they do is in every sense holistic) every weekday do serial kindnesses and beauties, provides a smidgen of anodyne, a few drops of balm, and the exception that proves that the other set of behaviors is not pan-genetic.

    Know the difference between, and relationship between, “yetzer tov” and “yetzer ra?”

    Do you get to at least eat some of those lobsters? With some drawn sweet butter?

  44. JTMcPhee says:

    Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent to extend and revise my remarks. (That’s the Congressional form for a “do-over” coupled with a “cancel-cancel.” Don’t you love where The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body actually lives?) …”do not waste a lot of scarce resources in plying their profession, their metier, their calling, of moving the sick… as they can achieve.”

    The other way could have been interpreted as a Worgonism. Not gonna leave that in the record.

  45. len says:

    Know the difference between, and relationship between, “yetzer tov” and “yetzer ra?”

    Good angel vs bad angel rather than “the devil made me do it”, aka, the acceptance of personal responsibility for controlling one’s own impulses rather than blaming external forces. The verse I promised: not a good recording or worthy of the diners status as media moguls, just folk music against the empire. We have to say something to help those kids in the park in NYC. I guess this is a sit on Jon’s blog. 😉

  46. JTMcPhee says:

    Len – So are we getting into the metaphysics (and presumably ethics and morality) of competence, now?

    To pick a really awful example, how about the Sonderkommando,, who so very competently, and efficiently too, after a little on the job training and suitable mid- and line-level management techniques and application of survival-level incentives, stripped the bodies of the recently gassed of all valuables, including the gold fillings in their teeth, and fed the meat to the crematoria. One has to wonder at the testimony that some of them, mirabile dictu, found the desperate courage to rebel against management, apparently very competent management if you look into the “process” by which the Final Solution wetware was put in place and operated.

    Wiki tells a little dry little version of the Sonderkommando rebellion at Auschwitz. Imagine the drive and the fear that mingled to move those women forced to “competently” build munitions for the Nazis to steal and conceal and amass little grams of gunpowder to arm the feeble against the strength of the camp competence. Just a survival exercise? Unanimated by “spirit?” I wasn’t there.
    Competence ain’t no path to decency or kindness or survival, let alone prospering, of our species, but then I know you were not thinking any such thing in reflecting on your participation as a competent person in the randomness of organizationalism. (For one angels-on-a-pinhead exegesis, lookie here,, and for giggles, lookie here, And for all the unfortunate “christianist” tack-ons, this little bit of the bitstream has some nice syntactical flow too:

    Having a skill set and employing it effectively in one part of an organization or process is no guarantee that either the work itself, the sum of all its parts, or the output, will be anything but ash and bone chips and half-burned teeth. Look at the flood of shit that the MIC in all ITS parts produces, in the way of documentation and death and activity that is “process-“driven in the extreme. (What set of goal statements drives all that activity? “Freedom?”)

    Our host, a couple of years ago, had a little post about one grotesquely expensive little gadget called, as I remember, the “Multiple Kill Vehicle ” (MKV, always have to add the acronym in parentheses for the dysantacronymists to be able to follow.) A couple gillizillion DARPABucks for a thing like the “Death Blossom” that Saved The Galaxy in “The Last Starfighter,” without the inconvenience of having to support some misshapen protoplasm with a middle ear that tends to vomit when given 6 degrees of freedom.

    What that MKV requires, eventually, is an entire planet devoting its wealth and people to the idiotic construction of a Networed Battlespace that extends “ex terra ad astra,” competently, block by line by computer-driven machining, putting into “space” the concretization of the mindless, heedless, competent complexity of the apotheosis of a fist-sized rock or convenient baseball-bat-shaped tree branch or all that has grow from Cain’s first bit of jealous rage.

    And now we have “competent” people managing the messaging from the Koch Bros., and drilling their way down into “profits” from the apparently inevitable extraction of “our lifeblood, oil” from the Alberta tar sands, externalities be damned since they are over the horizon, and on and on. Our ability to procreate so far outstrips our ability to cogitate… and once again, our individual motivations get measured against and moved not by what is good for the many, but against how much personal pleasure we can accumulate in our solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short little individual lives.

    You have to wonder if people like the Kochs or Mullen or even Obama really give a shit about what comes after they die – maybe the accession to great wealth and power has to bring most humans to that Gotterdammerung state: “I die, you all die too.” Hitler in the bunker, Edward Teller…

    My personal little quest is for some kind of insight into what, if anything, would produce an inevitable and pervasive permeation of the human entity with something, revised DNA sequences, some ineluctable new moral statement, who knows what? that neuters all the vicious and selfish and nihilist “humors,” as the physicians of the past would diagnose our malaise. “Religion” ain’t the answer, nor is the mythos of the military, nor any of our political forms or modes of economic interaction. At least, by all the expressions of any of those prodromes of the fatal disease states loose amongst us.

    If only we were as competent as our physiologies (which nonetheless have disease states as possible branches from their main flow of programming,) that manage an almost infinitely complex system, moment to moment, by trending toward a fairly constrained set of standards and rules, making sure our fucking brains get enough nutrition and electrolytes and oxygen and removing the toxic waste products of the citric acid cycle so we can come up with ideas like iWhatever and HTML and systems analysis and, of course, the Final Solution.

    And thank you so much for your art and your talent. A bit of anodyne for melancholy…

  47. len says:

    In reverse order, you’re welcome. It’s the only pallative I have for times like these although a bit like giving a diary to others to read being it is my own means of keeping the membranes refreshed. As someone said, all art is self-administered psychotherapy. I was impressed last weekend with ex-Marines going to the park to protect the kids from NYPD. Now that’s a strange reversal.

    an inevitable and pervasive permeation of the human entity with something, revised DNA sequences, some ineluctable new moral statement, who knows what

    I wish I knew. Jon’s outlaw blues blog is a puzzler. We celebrated a generation of illiterate musicians cum literate poets who were supposed to transform our culture but were seemingly absorbed into the very processes they thought to overturn possibly because Princeton-wizard such as Jon steered them to the money and you can’t accept the potion without becoming a beastie. And it’s hard to see what changed from the perspective of the diseases you write about. If anything it seems worse, yet mirabile dictu, those kids in NYC and elsewhere prove that this side of beastiehood, there is an uneradicatible need to make things right insofar as we can see what that is. It’s Callie’s Flying Fuck at play. Never permanent but if applied often, it does seem to be an anodyne as you say.

    Technology isn’t an answer yet I can watch the YouTube videos they are posting and I know without a doubt that CNN is lieing, the NYT is lieing and we at least aren’t fogged in by the blizzard of media manipulation.

    Religion? Has never been an answer. Church is a place to gather with the questioning to be calmed by the self-appointed dispensers of calm. But six months in a praise band (now resigned) taught me that church politics are just as self-serving, self-selected and more painful precisely because they claim to be above it. Like Obama, extraordinary promises lead to damming failures of morale and support.

    Culture? I’m a hippie that just cut all my hair “high and tight” to keep the noise to a dull roar after going to a music gig last weekend and watching the so-called counter-culture of today playing at American Idol and no more free of the disease than their parents and quite a bit more smug about that. The hair and the clothes are just a style, a uniform of conformity for them acting out as if they are countering but really, simply possessing for themselves.

    It seems the hope is that we remain willing to help the willing to be helped. The kids, the songs, these blogs mean we haven’t stopped looking. Even the lowering of the tinted glass just a bit is a sign that some still feel that internal urge to give a flying fuck. It’s not much and maybe it’s never going to be enough but it remains.

    Some would say that it is not God’s love that transforms us; that it is our willingness to love on faith without proof and sometimes in the face of unspeakable cruelty that is the secret mojo remaking us slowly generation by generation. It makes us work on a bridge over a river we will never cross ourselves, lug the stones up the hill to be writ by the flying fickle finger, and then lug them back down, cry out at the golden idol, smash them and climb back up the hill with more questions. As long as we are willing, at least some, the songs and the art will keep coming and somewhere on the streets of NY, a lone kid with a guitar is singing to his peeps. And God bless him or her while they are willing.

  48. len says:

    So are we getting into the metaphysics (and presumably ethics and morality) of competence, now?

    Of shared incompetence. Competent people don’t need help.

    The tasks and goals are all murky. I can’t explain a Hitler any better than the next guy. I’ve seen the ambitious young trample the old, the treacherous old defeat the idealistic youth and so on. Misery without end and we don’t seem to be able to get out of the trap.

    But the tranformative experience, this: it is always local, personal and one at a time. We like to believe 9/11 transformed our culture. It didn’t. It stimulated atavisms that were there all the time. Osama knew it would. He was counting on that and in our powerful Pavlovian way, we slobbered ourselves into impotence. And so it goes.

    A tranformative experience would have changed us possibly into the kind of people who could have held back, done the minimal, caught the bastard in Tora Bora, called it a day and moved on. So when they tell me Dylan changed a generation, I laugh. He surfed a cultural wave put in place long before he quacked into the mic and to his credit if not to his legions, he knows that. He knows he was lucky enough to catch the bigger wave that starts rolling in long before him, a wave set in motion by the Okies paying their last do-re-mi to cross the border into California, by Woody Guthrie standing on the picket lines with the union organizers getting his ass kicked for the privilege, not collecting royalties and concert fees. He knows it. Woody was transformed by what he saw in the camps. Others in other camps. Sometimes they devolved and became beasties; sometimes they ascended and became angels. Choices do not precede a tranformation; they follow.

    Somewhere in NYC tonight, someone is being made over, overtaken, transformed as they look at that camp in the park. When the NYT pundits and CNN make fun of the kids for not “having a clear statement” they miss the whole point: the event is the statement. It says “we care, we speak truth to power, we are kids but we aren’t fooled yet” and those people looking down from the canyon walls at them might want to start being afraid of them because history shows those kinds of statements have a way of transforming people. And then they choose.

    Some ex-Marines are choosing to stand in front of them and daring the NYPD to make a move. For all the clever punditry here and there most of which makes no difference and transforms no one, it’s happening in that park because they are willing to lay their bodies in front of the powers and history proves that is like water over the falls moving the river bed, transforming the land, making us over.

    Have faith, JTMc. One more time.

  49. Morgan Warstler says:

    Len, imagine there were these two rules:

    1. Tea Partiers (assume they are knowable) have to pay less than they are paying right now… in taxes, fees, and higher costs / regulations.

    2. Public employees cannot earn more than $100K per year including benefits, and pensions are over.

    And I put you in charge of making a more perfect system than we have to day.

    I’m 110% sure you could do it.

    That’s what I mean about process, any old plan is fine as long as it meets the spirit of the above two laws.

    This is really just about how much we’re going to pay the hooker. It isn’t about whether he’ll do the work, or whether he’ll smile while he does it.

    The folks PAYING are gong to get more for their money, and the folks WORKING are going to get less for their labor.

    It is very, very simple.

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