“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

America, the Unsustainable?

SPQR, the symbol of Rome, "Senatus Populusque Romanus", or The Roman Senate and the people, represented the limited but democratic roots of Roman legitimacy. The enduring comparison between the fall of the Roman Empire and the American version endures and is examined in this article. Take heed.

Learn from the fall of Rome, US warned

By Jeremy Grant in Washington FT
Published: August 14 2007 00:06 |

The US government is on a ‘burning platform’ of unsustainable policies and practices with fiscal deficits, chronic healthcare underfunding, immigration and overseas military commitments threatening a crisis if action is not taken soon, the country’s top government inspector has warned.

David Walker, comptroller general of the US, issued the unusually downbeat assessment of his country’s future in a report that lays out what he called “chilling long-term simulations”.

These include “dramatic” tax rises, slashed government services and the large-scale dumping by foreign governments of holdings of US debt.

Drawing parallels with the end of the Roman empire, Mr Walker warned there were “striking similarities” between America’s current situation and the factors that brought down Rome, including “declining moral values and political civility at home, an over-confident and over-extended military in foreign lands and fiscal irresponsibility by the central government”.

“Sound familiar?” Mr Walker said. “In my view, it’s time to learn from history and take steps to ensure the American Republic is the first to stand the test of time.”

Mr Walker’s views carry weight because he is a non-partisan figure in charge of the Government Accountability Office, often described as the investigative arm of the US Congress.

While most of its studies are commissioned by legislators, about 10 per cent – such as the one containing his latest warnings – are initiated by the comptroller general himself.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Walker said he had mentioned some of the issues before but now wanted to “turn up the volume”. Some of them were too sensitive for others in government to “have their name associated with”.

“I’m trying to sound an alarm and issue a wake-up call,” he said. “As comptroller general I’ve got an ability to look longer-range and take on issues that others may be hesitant, and in many cases may not be in a position, to take on.

“One of the concerns is obviously we are a great country but we face major sustainability challenges that we are not taking seriously enough,” said Mr Walker, who was appointed during the Clinton administration to the post, which carries a 15-year term.

The fiscal imbalance meant the US was “on a path toward an explosion of debt”.

“With the looming retirement of baby boomers, spiralling healthcare costs, plummeting savings rates and increasing reliance on foreign lenders, we face unprecedented fiscal risks,” said Mr Walker, a former senior executive at PwC auditing firm.

Current US policy on education, energy, the environment, immigration and Iraq also was on an “unsustainable path”.

“Our very prosperity is placing greater demands on our physical infrastructure. Billions of dollars will be needed to modernise everything from highways and airports to water and sewage systems. The recent bridge collapse in Minneapolis was a sobering wake-up call.”

Mr Walker said he would offer to brief the would-be presidential candidates next spring.

“They need to make fiscal responsibility and inter-generational equity one of their top priorities. If they do, I think we have a chance to turn this around but if they don’t, I think the risk of a serious crisis rises considerably”.


  1. "These include “dramatic” tax rises, slashed government services and the large-scale dumping by foreign governments of holdings of US debt."

    I'd hope the new taxes would send less money to DC and more money to more local governments. I'd like to fix my bridges. Why should I care about someone else's bridge? Is this selfishness indicative of a collapse in civic society, of declining moral values?

    Amidst such a redistribution, DC-provided services would be appropriately slashed. The public will decide what their communities need. No need for DC to dictate that, as far as I can tell.

    What's all this about chronic healthcare underfunding? How oddly vague for something ominous enough to warrant the Rome comparison.

    Are we saying the public is wrong to spend so little (if that's what Walker implies) on healthcare? Or that the public should, for instance, spend it on more R&D and less admin. costs? Or are we saying new players in a socialized medicine scheme are eager to use our prosperity properly and tire of the status quo?

    Look to CA and the proper usage of prosperity to the politically successful stem cell firms. How can every state hope to meet CA's new high standard and avoid becoming a falling Rome? Thank god taxes don't have to stay so miserably low.

  2. I used to get a kick out of allen, and his thoughts on the "eternal" US Marine Corps.

    Seemed to me that the members of the 13th Legion thought that was "eternal" as well. Especially as they crossed the Rubicon.

    The reality of the Bush family dynasty, the prosepect of 24 to 28 yerars of two family rule. Of a 1st Lady becoming President, to circumvent the Constitutional limits on personal power in the Executive, Roman to the core.

    As Roman as it gets, for an analogy.

  3. Mr. Walker doesn't know what he's talking about. The Roman Republic, which had something to recommend it, fell when the farmer/soldiers gave way to a professional military, and boys will be boys, that was that. The Roman Empire, which had nothing to recommend it, being an utter cesspool of inequality, slavery, crucifixtions, aggression, oppression, taxation, prostitution, and killings for sport, was brought down by what? Some blame the Christians. Some the barbarians, some this some that. Maybe God or the gods did it having finally been offended enough. People in trouble often say the lord did it, and turn back to the lord.

    "The judgements of the Lord are righteous altogether."

    I hope and think we have a long run ahead, but we better keep those arrows there in the eagles claws sharp, until a recognition of mutual advantage and sanity take hold in the world.

    If we are brought down it won't be because of some old reason, but something new and unexpected in the world. Let's work together to prevent it.

    One man's view.

  4. Perfect thread for Trish to tout Ron Paul!

  5. Wretch has a thread on British Abandonment of interpreters in Basra, and the futility of moral arguments when aimed a politicians.
    "Other costing methods may occur to accountants. And so they should. Costs on the credibility of future action, the effect on the "loss of prestige". Dollars and cents.

    Ka-chink. Ka-ching. Money is the language of politcians, the media and too many of us.
    Money is something Whitehall and even Brussels might understand.

    But pointing a moral gun at the heart of politicians is worse than useless.

    As Captain Renault in Casablance said,
    "that is my least vulnerable spot."

  6. last i checked romans actually did not work or invent anything...

    america does

  7. Over at westhawk the new thread discusses the economic dislocations in Iran, changes in Ministers and what he percieves as "rot".

    He tells US that the Financial Times reports that ... Deutsche Bank, one of Europe’s largest, has expelled its Iranian clients, another success for U.S. Treasury Secretary Paulson).

    This is a policy, using soft powered economics against the Mullahs, I have long favored. That and fermenting revolution, there.

    In any case, makes one wonder, why does the US continue to subsidize the World Bank's efforts to fund Iranian projects, $260 million USD in '07 and $870 million over the coming three years? Money flowing directly from US taxpayers to the Mullahs of Iran?

  8. Then wi"o", you did not check very hard. Cement, modern Armies, the arch, surveying, road building were practical inventions of the Romans.
    Christianity in Europe, a cultural phenomena whose acceptance and spread can be laid directly at the foot of Emperor Constintime's throne.

  9. Water supplies, sewers, structures like the Coliseum w/ability to set up for Naval Battles!

  10. The early Roman farmers had a hell of good plow, though I don't know if they invented it, though I think they did. It planted as it plowed, kind of one pass operation.

    Ship building.

    The bordello.

  11. Elevators in the Coli, to move the condemned up and down.

  12. "During the Columbia’s final mission, NASA engineers never even knew where the falling foam had hit, and they lacked the ability to do sophisticated simulations to gauge the potential damage and how much heating would occur during re-entry."
    NY Times reporter swallowed a big gulp of NASA BS there:
    People here on Haleakala with the fast-tracking telescope offered to capture the Columbia:
    NASA turned down the offer.

    Even some amateur's snapshot taken in re-entry from Southern Calif clearly showed the damage was on the fragile leading edge of the wing, which was an obvious disaster in waiting.

  13. I think they are OK, tho, Bobal, as far as the gouge goes at least:

    "The gouge is about three inches across. A small part of it, about 0.2 inch by 1 inch, runs through the entire 1.12-inch thickness of the heat tile. "

    Mighty small, and backed up by enough aluminum to prevent a burn-through.

    We hope.

  14. I think the elevators would qualify as extreme mental torture devices!
    ...given their destination.

  15. Yeah, they put on naval battles in the Coliseum. Can't find a picture of the plow that seeds too, but I am almost sure they had it.

  16. I had a cool little handheld seeder for my corn patches.
    About a 10 inch wheel with little tubes to deliver the seed, as I recall.

  17. Is there a technique for measuring "cost performance" of tax dollars?

    Option 1: More of the same until it collapses

    Option 2: Newt's option - reform out institutions so they perform better; a better version of the status quo

    Option 3: Say to hell with the old institutions and build new ones (what principles would guide this?)

  18. 10" Seeders: Go big or go home

  19. Add a plow share, you're a Roman farmer, Doug:)

  20. My Farmall was bigger than yours is!

  21. Makes a persyn wonder why men have seeder tubes rather than seeder wheels down there, doesn't it?

  22. President Bush loves inventions. He uses them when he's clearing mesquite or when he's signing laws.

  23. #1 and #3 are losers.

    Newt's option would work just fine, but all the Political Trolls in DC would have to be given the Roman Treament.

    Both that and Newt's Fed-Ex example are proven techniques.

  24. "seeder wheels"
    Line the B..... up and Roll On!

  25. "How to improve your RPM"

  26. Drink STP
    Andy Granatelli's Finest.

  27. Walker cites another case of the US taxpayer failing his/her loyal government.

  28. “the best Jewish Nascar fan they’ve ever had.”

  29. "“What’s Nascar doing putting a Democrat on TV?”
    Christine Merritt, a fan from the Syracuse area, wondered aloud as the governor glided past her."

  30. Trainer Wheels would be soft electro-sensiant foam jobs that would roll down a line of boobs.

  31. Live The Roman Chariot Race Experience

    Beats NASCAR.

    The one piece toga.

    Gotta go to the Forum. Later.

  32. Cost vs Reward.

    What's the Cost of Expansion vs the Reward. That's the real calculus to be made, and one the Romans failed to make. Btw, it was the Greek mathematician and contemporary of Plato, Eudoxus of Cnidus, that devised the The Method of Exhaustion, a precursor to the Calculus that we need to make.

  33. With China and India coming online, there might be another 30 years before the limit of diminishing returns comes into play.

  34. This guy, mostly, just likes to hear himself talk. He's probably, also, angling for some nice speaking fees when he gets replaced by the next administration.

    Guys like this always use straight line projections aimed squarely at the worst possible outcome.

    In short, "Horsehockey."

  35. Ahem,

    from the article:

    Mr Walker said he would offer to brief the would-be presidential candidates next spring.

    Also; he was appointed by Clinton.

  36. Iraq, the unsustainable.

    In Baghdad, Abdel-Jabar al-Wagaa, the senior assistant to Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani, was spirited away by more than 50 gunmen wearing security forces uniforms and driving what were believed to be military vehicles, said Assem Jihad, the oil ministry spokesman.

    An Interior Minister official, speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to release the information, said a top official in the State Oil Marketing Organization and three directors general in the operation also were kidnapped.

    The official said five bodyguards were wounded in the raid on the State Oil Marketing Organization complex in eastern Baghdad.

    Five Britons were seized May 29 in a similar raid on Iraq's Finance Ministry, not far from the oil marketing office. They were taken by gunmen wearing police uniforms and have not been found.

  37. I buy Newt's arguement that we will see 4-7 times as much scientific/technological development in the next 25 years as in the last.

    There are likely some seriously positive financial consequences to this kind of scientific/technological leap.

    On average according to Newt in order to understand the world 25 years from now in terms of the past you have to go back to about 1880 and imagine the world today.

  38. Jerry Brown's Car Broken Into in San Francisco
    Poor Baby.
    Justice would be Jerry Brown murdered in Oakland.

  39. Pakistan President Seeks Mainstream Taliban

    What's next? Calls for a politically mainstreamed Al-Qaeda?

    This illustrates how imperative it is for America to remember why they are at war and with whom. What is the next step after America's tolerance of the
    September 5, 2006 Waziristan Accord, and yesterday's calls by President Musharraf for a
    mainstreamed Taliban?

    American acceptance of the Taliban as a political ideology?

    Or is the Taliban the enemy, based on the Taliban's role in the 9/11 attacks and enemy status of such groups as defined by the AUMF ?

    Much of the challenge comes back to war strategy and definition of the enemy. Who is America fighting and why?

    On July 15, 2007, the New York Times reported that "United States plans to pour $750 million in aid into Pakistan's tribal areas over the next five years as part of a 'hearts and minds' campaign to win over the lawless region from Al Qaeda and Taliban militants." What hearts and minds, specifically?
    Because, as President Musharraf claims, that the "Taliban are a part of Afghan society"?

  40. "But even before the plan has been fully carried out, documents and officials involved in the planning are warning of the dangers of distributing so much money in an area so hostile that oversight is impossible, even by Pakistan's own government, which faces rising threats from Islamic militants.

    The question of who will be given the aid has quickly become one of the most contentious issues between local officials and American planners concerned that millions might fall into the wrong hands. The local political agents and tribal chiefs in this hinterland on the Afghan border have for years accommodated the very groups the American and Pakistani governments seek to drive out.

  41. Maybe Candy should be required to take her academic credentials there when W's term runs out.

    Great hearts and minds opportunities, ya know.

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  44. John Kerry COULD'T have been as bad!

  45. ...and Algore would have tightened up the border right after 9-11:
    The Pubs and Public would have demanded it.
    ...and he once wrote a better airline security plan than W and Normie put in place.

  46. $150 million USD per year for the Taliban, for the next five years.
    $220 million USD for Iran in 2007 and $870 Million over the next four years, '08-'11, via the US funded World Bank.

    So, tell US, jingoistic drum beaters, who is the "war" against, again?

    That is, what, almost $370 million USD per year to subsidize various forms of jihad, budgeted for the next four years since as we all know,

    As if 100,000 missing weapons in Iraq were not enough, now we're just going to send the Enemy cash. Gotta luv it.

  47. Pay the very people you and I would have had taken out by Air!

  48. Who is it that comes up with these schemes, and who is it that approves them?

  49. Trish has to answer for the CIA:
    I'll give the state department plenty of credit myself.

  50. ""The objective driving this decision is the hope that by bringing the FATA into the mainstream and assuring that basic human services and infrastructure are on par with the rest of Pakistan, the people of FATA would be less likely to welcome the presence of Al Qaeda and Taliban," the draft states."
    Hyperliberalism at work:

    Police Depts across the land should be handing out cash to drug gangs to bring them into the mainstream
    ...just like "us."

    Olmert dies of compassion-envy.

  51. Ultimately the vacuum head in chief is supposed to have the final say, of course.

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  54. Mr Easy Money goes to Washington:

    Corruption is a serious problem: in 2005, Berlin-based Transparency International placed Pakistan 144th out of 158 countries in its annual ranking of world corruption levels.

    U.S. Aid and Congressional Action U.S. Assistance. A total of more than $15 billion in U.S. economic and military assistance went to Pakistan from 1947 through 2005.

    In June 2003, President Bush hosted President Musharraf at Camp David, Maryland, where he
    vowed to work with Congress on establishing a five-year, $3 billion aid package for

    Annual installments of $600 million each, split evenly between military
    and economic aid, began in FY2005.
    The Foreign Operations FY2005 Appropriations bill (P.L. 108-447) established a new base program of $300 million for military assistance for Pakistan.

    When additional funds for development assistance, law enforcement, and other programs are included, the aid allocation for FY2005 was about $688 million (see Table 1).

    Significant increases in economic support, along with earthquake relief funding, may bring the FY2006 total to around $874 million.

    The Bush Administration’s FY2007 request calls for another $739 million in aid to Pakistan although, in H.Rept. 109-486, the House Appropriations
    Committee recommended reducing that amount by $150 million (ostensibly for domestic budgetary reasons unrelated to Pakistan-U.S. relations).

    In S.Rept. 109-277, the Senate Appropriations Committee called for redirecting some of the
    requested FY2007 U.S. economic aid to Pakistan toward development and
    democracy promotion programs.

    Congress also has appropriated billions of dollars to reimburse Pakistan for its
    support of U.S.-led counterterrorism operations.

    As of June 2006, a total of $5.74 billion had been appropriated for supplemental FY2002-FY2006 Defense
    Department spending for coalition support payments to Pakistan and other
    cooperating nations (with the FY2006 emergency supplemental appropriations bill,
    P.L. 109-234, a conference committee authorized that up to $740 million be made
    available for further payments).

    Pentagon documents indicate that Islamabad receives the great majority of these funds: about $3.6 billion for operations from January 2002 through August 2005, an amount roughly equal to one-quarter of
    Pakistan’s total military expenditures during that period.

  55. Pakistani intelligence officers reportedly introduced Bin Ladin to Taliban leaders in Kandahar, their main base of power, to aid his reassertion of control over camps near Khowst, out of an apparent hope that he would now expand the camps and make them available for training Kashmiri militants.

    After flying to Nairobi and bringing home the coffins of the American dead, Secretary Albright increased the department’s focus on counterterrorism.
    According to Ambassador Milam, the bombings were a “wake-up call,” and he soon found himself spending 45 to 50 percent of his time working the Taliban–Bin Ladin portfolio.75

    But Pakistan’s military intelligence service, known as the ISID (Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate), was the Taliban’s primary patron, which made progress difficult.

  56. whiskey_199 said...

    "Desert Rat -- paying factions of your enemies is an old and effective practice. The only question is what is the money buying in terms of access and information?

    I would have no objection to paying Ahamdinejad himself a billion if it got us information we knew was solid.

    Maybe "LSD_199" would be a better nic.

  57. Let's pay Al Q and the Taliban for priceless Intel!

  58. C-4 Unplugged
    And, it's times like this that it is sort of a shame that we can't be a little like Stalin and line up all the Neocons and Open Borders globalists that have betrayed the country against a wall, shoot them, and be done with them.

    8/14/2007 06:51:00 PM

    Cedarford said...
    And as for refugee status for all the noble purple-fingered democracy hungry freedom lovers in the Irqi Gov't who just spent their vacations trying to get refugee Visas in case the Surge fails?

    Fuck them.
    I'd love to shoot their freedom-loving asses myself and make Bush watch.
    Seize back their millions in US taxpayer money.
    Then appoint military strongmen to cleanse, then rule the 3 parts of Iraq.

  59. I always thot Stalin was pretty cool, myself!

  60. The heavily armed soldiers, backed by helicopter gunships, are hunting members of the extremist Abu Sayyaf group, military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Bartolome Bacarro said.

    The Abu Sayyaf has been linked to Al-Qaeda and blamed for some of the worst terrorist attacks in the Philippines.

    One of the group's senior leaders, who called himself "Doctor Abu," had been wounded in a firefight, the military spokesman said.

    Arroyo Meets Advisors

  61. Just another yawn in the Phillipines according to Phillipines Phil, Sam.

    ...even Wretch didn't follow up on it when I posted it there.

    This whole Al Q thing is getting boring.

  62. Maybe Candy should sprinkle some more of that Magic Money Dust tm there to git old Doc back to health, and bring him into the mainstream.
    Via his heart and his mind.

  63. Iran has repeatedly denied all of the U.S. charges to growing irritation in Washington.

    Yet, the preliminary decision to blacklist the Revolutionary Guards also comes as the United States and Iran have begun a tentative, if yet unsuccessful, engagement on Iraqi security issues.

    The U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, has met twice with his Iranian counterpart in recent months for landmark talks at which the two sides agreed to continue discussions although no progress has been discerned by U.S. officials.

    Iranian Corps

  64. Giuliani said in the article that he would not rule out negotiating with Iran, but such negotiations should proceed from "a position of strength.”

    "The theocrats ruling Iran need to understand that we can wield the stick as well as the carrot, by undermining popular support for their regime, damaging the Iranian economy, weakening Iran’s military, and, should all else fail, destroying its nuclear infrastructure,” Giuliani said.

    Bush recently warned Iran of "consequences” if Iran is determined to be assisting the flow of explosive devices into Iraq.

    Strike Iran