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August 2009

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4:59pm Saturday August 15, 2009 (link)

When reading this item about Iraq off Cato -- Time to Leave Iraq -- I had that feeling that the whole country is just a Ship of Fools headed into the rapids and there's nothing I can do about it.

It's not just that I disagree with the neocons -- their values, their goals, their plans and their politics. It's that they don't even seem to care. They don't clarify their goals or strategy, they don't learn from their mistakes and they don't even want to look at whether Iraq is a success or failure. It's as if they don't even believe what they say.

They just want to act out some WWII-inspired fantasy of turning countries into democracies and being the world's policeman. But now Iraq is just "so 2005", so ignore it, wrap it up, and off to Afghanistan! And both wars have so much momentum that even the President can't seem to slow them down or divert them, let alone call them off. He'd rather let both wars be huge failures than take any short-term political heat. Again, it's as if no one, even the other party, cares what we accomplish. Thousands of American soldiers die, tens of thousands of Iraqis die, trillions are spent, and for the politicians, pundits and public, it's just "whatever!"

And it isn't limited to the wars. On health care, the Republicans are patting themselves on the back for derailing ObamaCare, but neither side is facing reality. We can't afford existing Medicare. The baby boomers start hitting 65 in a couple of years. Time is up for dealing with that crisis. Even if the Republicans stop health care legislation, they still have that to deal with. And not in some "future generation", but during their term of office. What can they possibly be thinking?

But what can the Democrats be thinking? It's not as if there's any cost control in the ObamaCare plan. They seem surprised that CBO keeps scoring the plan as expensive. Can't any of them do arithmetic? 45 million uninsured times $2000 a year (a very cheap insurance policy) is $90 billion a year, or about a trillion dollars in ten years. CBO is only scoring the first five years of the plan, since it phases in. Still, any back-of-the-envelope calculation would have told them the tab was going to be in that ballpark. And this is on top of the Medicare problem, Social Security, Cap and Trade, and the financial crisis. How does anyone think we can afford all of that?

In fact, the one thing that does seem to unite both parties is a complete disinterest in what the legislation will actually do. They just want to let the usual special interest groups fight it out, write a thousand pages of incomprehensible regulatory gibberish, and call it done. Just don't ask us to read it!

The same was true during the financial crisis. The whole attitude of Congress was "Keep this away from me! I don't understand any of it! You, Federal Reserve, here's a blank check. Just solve this problem and don't even tell us what you are doing."

Again, this isn't a matter of values or priorities. It's beyond incompetence. It's a complete disinterest in the results of their actions. I would call it panic, but that requires a certain alertness. This is some kind of psychosis.

So I look at the entire political system and I think how unreal it all is, and how tired. Republicans are running on intellectual fumes -- neocons and old warhorses like McCain; anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-trade sentiment and populist know-nothings like Palin. No awareness of where the country is right now, and no willingness to stick to any principles at all.

I still like the libertarian arguments on Reason and Cato, but they have their problems as well. First, they are a tiny minority. Second, they mostly criticize the system without offering practical, politically possible steps in the right direction. And third, they are hopeless nerds. I watch those guys on video and I think "This guy couldn't sell me ice cream on a hot summer day!" And I'm someone who agrees with him!

I could never take the Democrats seriously either. From the various bailouts to all their plans for the economy, health care, environment, it has the same feel of unreality as the Republicans. As if they just don't want to know whether any of these plans can possibly succeed, or whether we can afford to even try. They just want to act out their fantasies, where they save the Earth, bring healing to the poor and end racism.

For example, I wrote to one guy on global warming that the only thing that matters is what gets invented in a lab somewhere. If we can build better batteries or solar panels, do carbon capture or geoengineering, then we can make a difference. But the hair-shirt conservation measures have no real effect. And you can prove that with statistics about efficiency and the savings they could possibly get.

If you actually cared about global warming, you'd want to know what works. (and build nuke plants, which is apparently being shot down by the Obama administration.) But he doesn't even want to talk about that. It's just "if we don't pass cap and trade, the oceans will rise and the Earth is doomed." And if you don't agree with him, you are an evil "denier." It's not even a reasoned argument. Where am I supposed to go with that?

Given that none of the financial system problems, or demographic problems have actually been resolved, I expect the country to fall into crisis mode again. Like California, I expect the federal government will fiddle with its books, borrow more money and deny reality until it all comes crashing down.

So I do expect a train wreck at some point, but I don't expect chaos. Instead, it will just be a hunker-down, "do something, anything!" government-orchestrated mess. More of the same, with increasing instability and poverty.

The thing to remember is that most of the third world has worse governance than we do, worse financial problems, fewer natural resources and a less educated population. Still, from Argentina to Poland to India, they just limp along. Anarchy does not break out. I see no reason for it to do so here either. Things will just suck.

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