An echo

I write, or at least I start to write, lots more blog posts than I ever publish. The paragraph below is from a post I began over the summer during the debt ceiling fracas. Intellectually, I did not consider gratuitous default on US debt to be wise policy. But throughout the period, I felt a strange sympathy for the people who were, very clearly, gunning for default. I was trying to articulate why.

For some reason, today seems like a good day to publish this.

I no longer trust my own government to be the provider of a civilized society. No government is perfect or without corruptions. But in 2007, I thought I lived in a remarkably well-governed nation that had gone off-kilter under a small and mean administration. In 2011, I view my government as the sharp edge of an entrenched kleptocracy, engaged in ever more expansive schemes of surveillance and arrogating powers of ever less restrained brutality. At a visceral level, I dislike President Obama more than I have disliked any politician in my lifetime, not because he is objectively worse than most of the others — he is not — but because he disproved my hypothesis that we are a country with basically good institutions brought low by poor quality leadership. Whenever I hear the President speak and am impressed by the quality of his intellect, by his instinct towards diplomacy and finding common ground and rising above petty struggles, I despair more deeply. Not just because a leader of high quality failed to restore passably clean and beneficient government. It is worse than that. The kleptocracy has harnassed this man’s most admirable qualities and made them a powerful weapon for its own ends. He has rebranded as “moderate”, “adult”, “reasonable”, practices such as unaccountable assassination lists and Orwellian nonhostilities. He has demostrated that the way grown-ups get things done in Washington is by continually paying off thieves in suits. Perhaps it is unfair to blame Barack Obama for all this. Maybe he has done the very best a person could do under our present institutions. But then it is not unfair to detest the institutions, to wish to see them clipped, contained, or starved.

FD: I am not an innocent. To my discredit, from September 11 until Abu Ghraib, I was a fellow traveler of the Bush administration, and actively supported the Iraq war.


37 Responses to “An echo”

  1. Foppe writes:

    Not to nitpick needlessly, but what do you mean by “the kleptocracy has harnassed this man’s most admirable qualities”? That Obama is a puppet caught in a web far greater than him, and that he has no choice but to move forward? Because that seems far too charitable towards a (from where I’m sitting) remarkably unprincipled politician.
    As for the default issue: it was never going to happen anyway.. It was just a ploy to create a crisis situation in which gutting Social security/medicare would suddenly seem “reasonable” and “adult”. Neoliberals have been doing that stuff for ages.

    Anyway, the problem with the anti-government narrative such as espoused by the Tea-Party/libertarians is not so much that it encourages people to be skeptical of people in positions of power (which is fine), but that they come to believe that the institutions themselves are necessarily corrupt. Because although there is a legitimate case to be made that too much misbehavior is ignored or shoved under the rug that shouldn’t have been, the solution is not to dissolve the institutions (because it has obviously been much better than it has been for the past 10-30 years, so ideology and personality must make a difference), but rather to make them more democratic. (For instance by publicly funding elections while banning any kind of corporate and large-scale private funding, as well as most forms of institutionalized monetary/intellectual corruption that is generally called lobbying.)

  2. Tom Hickey writes:

    Until the US gets the money out of politics and locks the revolving door, the military-corporate-financial-government complex, i.e., the ruling elite along with its cronies and minions, will continue to dominate.

  3. John Hempton writes:

    True hatred is for splitters on your own side.


  4. KH writes:

    My wife and I – Obama donors and voters in 2008 – agree 100%. Obama is evil. Banally evil in his cold, technocratic way, but evil nonetheless.

  5. I remember having a conversation with my (dear departed) brother, the conversation after he told me he didn’t want me to every make any more predictions (after I told him the Fed/Treasury would blow $13 trillion on the banks). The dude on the TV said a month later that the Fed and Treasury had blown $14 trillion on the bankzzz.

    I said that Obama would be the worst president in the history of the country, much worse than Bush(s) and probably worse than Hoover. Of course, he didn’t buy it, “Obama is going to be a great president!” I voted for Barr, I couldn’t bring myself to waste a vote for John ‘Sarah’s friend’ McCain. What Obama was could be determined by looking at his Senate record: ‘Mr Present’ as well as ‘Mr Oil Company Friend’ and ‘Mr Banker’s Friend’. He was and is a typical crooked, venal Chicago Daley Machine politician.

    It turns out Obama is on the way to being a terrible president, and he came close to a default. I don’t buy the ‘theater’ argument because it implies that someone in Washington has the ability to plan competently and carry out that plan. This is impossible, there are no realists in the capital, all are living in the past, looking/waiting for that ‘Rosey Scenario’ that never arrives.

    Look at where we are as a country after thirty years of non-stop waste? People are protesting in the streets of Washington and New York and Boston. What do they want? An abstraction or something concrete like jobs for themselves? How are these demonstators any different from the ‘dudes on the inside’ who want the same thing, albeit with better success?

    Nobody faces the facts: Obama, Congress, Big Business, Finance ‘industries’ or the other governments in the world, the wannabes, the Chinas and Japans and Brazils all looking to reinvent the Good Ol’ USA in miniature (or not so miniature) with the cars, the freeways, the traffic jams, the gigantic concrete towers everywhere, the dope the speedboats, the suburbs, the hookers and Godfather fantasies … As Seen On TV.

    All falling apart: the gas gauge sez ‘E’ and the enterprise that Mr Obama stands for along with his friends cannot function (profitably) unless there is a large surplus of ‘gas’: gasoline, diesel, coal, crude oil … the breakdowns follow a tightening of supply that is unrelenting, what goes first is jobs for young people, pensions, debt service, banking and business profits, jobs for not-so-young people. Out the window go morale and honesty, decency and courage. We are what we guzzle, without our SUVs and gigantic, bloated pickup trucks we are nothing.

    Nobody pays attention: in the interim the vice tightens. Default in the energy/resource ambit is inevitable, even though the establishment can print all the money it needs. Our money printers are laughingstocks! The Fed cannot print crude oil, it cannot print jobs that can only exist when there are jobs for all the machines first. Without oil the machines cannot run, our unemployment does not go away, we have no customers, our businesses fail and the banks cannot be repaid. The consequence is default and more default, private sector default which is where we are now … Bank of America!

    We have consumed ourselves to the very edge of oblivion. Watch to see what happens to Greece, then Portugal and Ireland after their defaults. They won’t be able to buy fuel, their new currencies will be useless in Saudia or Iran or Nigeria. These countries will demand euros or dollars or gold. The ex-EU states’ mafias will buy euros by selling heroin and whores and machine guns and African ‘immigrants’. Europe will be flooded with crime and gas will sell in black markets in dark alleys for $50 per gallon. The world is being de-automobiled. A jobless worker at a time, a country at a time.

    Obama is despised because he lacks the courage to tell the truth.

    Up to you: drive a car or have something to eat. The easy choices like drive a car or have a job, drive a car or have a decent government have already been wrongly made.

  6. Joe Smith writes:

    Default would have been an act of pure nihilism – harming primarily the middle class and probably making the politics of the United States even worse.

    The worst thing that Obama has done is to open the door to changing the age of eligibility for medicare. The stupidest thing he has done is to believe that the current recession is a business cycle when in fact it is the system breaking under the weight of fundamental national and international imbalances. His biggest weakness is his assumptions that the Republicans are acting in good faith – he needs to get over that.

    The thing I like least about him is his smirk which grates every time I see him on TV but I still think he is a better president than any of the Republicans would be.

  7. Foppe writes:

    Joe: why do you assume Obama is acting in good faith? Simply because he’s a Democrat (who, after first hosting the best-orchestrated media campaign in history seen, suddenly became utterly unable to dominate the debate)? There’s a nice documentary called “lifting the veil” (see google`) that should help remind everyone of the astounding number of the promises he made during the campaign season..

  8. mattski writes:

    Foppe, if you think Obama has a hidden agenda why don’t you say what you think that agenda is.

  9. Joe Smith writes:

    Foppe: the reasons that I believe that Obama is acting in good faith are basically two: he has not demonstrated bad faith the way the Republicans did over the debt limit (walking out on negotiations with the President and threatening to destroy the country are not good faith in any sane world); and he has made proposals which are contrary to the views of many of his core supporters – ironically I think that means he genuinely thinks he is doing the right thing even if I happen to disagree with the specifics.

  10. mattski writes:

    But throughout the period, I felt a strange sympathy for the people who were, very clearly, gunning for default.

    This baffles me. Sympathy for the Tea Party lunatics??

    I am extremely disappointed in Obama for reasons Krugman has articulated very well. President Pushover. But to fail to distinguish between reckless, ignorant malefactors and a president clearly in denial about the nature of his political opposition… Not to defend every instance where Obama has kept Bush war policy in place, but I think we have to make an allowance for the possibility of targeting a US citizen who is openly organizing and advocating killing innocents on behalf of an extremist religious ideology.

  11. Indy writes:

    One has to visualize how things like this happen, which is somewhat on autopilot. It is fundamentally about avoiding an effectively politically exploitable blame scenario.

    It works like this:

    1. President Prudent is informed about Risk A and Mitigation Capability B.
    2. The President, perhaps even on the basis of a solid cost-benefit economic analysis, perhaps combined with an equally likely (though never certain) Constitutional legal analysis, decides against the implementation of B – Decision C.
    3. A happens.
    4. The process by which C came about is leaked to the press.
    5. The Opposition Party has their equally predictable and productive field day. “The President was told and knew about A! He did nothing, even though he was *also* told we could do B, which *would have stopped* A!. He hates America/Labor and/or is unworthy to lead our great nation because you cannot trust him to protect your loved ones/save the economy through bail-outs.”
    6. President Prudent gets the thumpin’ shellacking of a lifetime, along with his entire party.

    Everyone around the President deeply understands and perpetually fears the unfolding of such a scenario and the extent to which decision-making is constrained by it is greatly under-appreciated. Oftentimes a hostile press tried to generate these tendentious “he knew and did nothing!” narratives post-hoc regardless of the paucity of the evidence. Going a step further, the bureaucrats of all departments who present the A’s and B’s to the President also understand how much (rare) courage is required by him to reject such recommendations.

    The very nature and rules of the Bureaucracy (upon which the leadership often has no choice but to rely) requires the presentation of several, purportedly neutral, objective, and equally feasible courses of action, but most of the time one stands out as the obvious “choice”. Sometimes it becomes clear who is really directing policy, and other times is becomes equally clear that no one, is, in fact, walking the sleepwalker. The automatic institution. Rules go in, the actors play their parts from which they are hardly free to deviate or to “take a stand” against, and events and history comes out the end of the great machine.

    One might then say it doesn’t matter who we elect, but the irony is that it does, but in exactly the opposite way you might expect. What is politically exploitable by your opposition differs by party. Such is the nature of our contemporary form of Democracy and is why a supposedly majoritarian institution manages to puzzle and dissatisfy the great bulk of our population. I’m pessimistic as to whether we’ll remedy this problem before it gets much worse.

  12. AMR writes:

    Why jump from the governmental institutions directly to the politicians who nominally steer them? What about the *parties*? They are not of the Constitution. The drama they inspire is fundamentally false and misleading, as far from a workable equation of real life as any one-dimensional mathematics. And yet they persist, invisibly transforming every potentially competent member into someone who must at all costs promote the private interests each party serves, just as they attempt to describe all manner of disagreement as if it could be placed upon a line between poles.

    They get away with it. Hell, we even pay taxes to support their foolish intramural elections, as if these were somehow part of the Republic. Most people act as if these private institutions are not two sides of the same misleading narrative. But they are, and they cannot ever be defined apart from each other. Together they are the over-arching trance that moves the ship of state even while blinding it.

    Obama? He is a Democrat, a member of the trance keepers, just as are his Republican “foes”. By that self-chosen definition, he is a keeper of the myth. He and all the rest are content to encourage us, the people, to act as if our world can be defined within a single dimension. No wonder both parties promote war and violence–they are blind to the options.

    Perhaps before the age of mass literacy, before the advent of instant global communications,such devices as political parties were a reasonable substitute for an informed electorate,(although George Washington did not think so.) But now? No way. The people do not need parties. The parties are more of the problem than nearly anyone realizes. We need better ways to choose our representatives than two completing private parties can possibly provide. Moreover, we need to be rid of the false equation that they present to us as the source of solutions in governance.

    No, you and I cannot trust our government to provide civilized society. But, in a democratic Republic, you and I must *be* the government. I suggest to you that we are thwarted in large measure by the parties. We should find ways to move beyond them.

  13. […] An echo Steve Waldman […]

  14. […] An echo Steve Waldman […]

  15. […] interfluidity » An echo […]

  16. nowhereman writes:

    Indy writes that,”The very nature and rules of the Bureaucracy (upon which the leadership often has no choice but to rely) requires the presentation of several, purportedly neutral, objective, and equally feasible courses of action, but most of the time one stands out as the obvious “choice”.”
    I knew Obama was a failure as soon as he announced who would be in his cabinet. Geithner, Rubin, Summers, and the renomination of Bernanke. We were doomed because we knew who’s advice he’d be taking, and we knew what that advice would be, and we knew we had no “hope” of ever seeing him do the right thing for the people of the United States.
    We all bought into the greatest marketing campaign ever instituted. We bought into “Hope and Change” and “Yes We Can”, but instead got the same old wine in a brand new bottle. He had a majority in the House and Senate, he could have done anything he wanted, he had the backing of the people.
    Look what transpired instead. He is a pathetic, lying, opportunist who grovels at the feet of the kleptocracy. He has no shame.

  17. Anonymous writes:

    The President is a creature of the technocracy. The technocracy has been captured by kleptocrats. The kleptocrats have achieved this through campaign finance; the revolving door; hostage-taking of the economy; and, lastly, intellectual affinity. That affinity comes from the belief among technocrats in analysis and against intuition. Intuition allows actors to form heuristics such as “too much debt is bad.” This process of heuristic formation, by definition, occurs precisely to avoid thorough thinking. That fact drives people like Brad DeLong mad. He is a good example of a unlikely, but real, kleptocratic fellow-traveller.

  18. Lord writes:

    In the end, it won’t matter. The kleptocracy will have to do what is best for the country or sink below the waves with it. My bet is on sinking.

  19. Lanco Yokel writes:

    Of course you’re not an innocent. You’re a fucking moron. How can you fail to notice the absolute dominance of moneyed elites in this system? Obama is just another half-wit lawyer who gave a better speech than most but had no idea how to be a grown-up.

  20. Frank in midtown writes:

    I agree with Lanco. It’s like a giardia infection makes you lactose intolerant and you choose to blame the milk.

  21. RN writes:

    I heartily second Frank and Lanco.

  22. davver writes:

    “FD: I am not an innocent. To my discredit, from September 11 until Abu Ghraib, I was a fellow traveler of the Bush administration, and actively supported the Iraq war.”

    You and me both. In my case I never trusted Bush, but I did trust Colin Powell. I hesitentely supported Iraq after reading his presentation to the UN and basically trusting him. Cut an 18 year old some slack. By the time Obama came around I had sufficient cynicism for charismatic black guys to know it was a scam.

  23. […] Steve Waldman — a “a fellow traveler of the Bush administration” and onetime Iraq War supporter — writes:1 I no longer trust my own government to be the provider of a civilized society. No government is perfect or without corruptions. But in 2007, I thought I lived in a remarkably well-governed nation that had gone off-kilter under a small and mean administration. In 2011, I view my government as the sharp edge of an entrenched kleptocracy, engaged in ever more expansive schemes of surveillance and arrogating powers of ever less restrained brutality. […]

  24. Jack Skelton writes:

    I think everybody here is really naive. Given the rules of the road, the role of money in the system (uh, the financial lobby dwarfs all others, folks), the undemocratic nature of the US Senate, it is not surprising we don’t get good policy that reflects the desires of a majority of citizens….or that we don’t get fearless politicians, or that politicians can’t be derailed by large expenditures if what they propose clashes with the kleptocracy.

    Given that, I’m quite satisfied with Obama. Because I know any other likely President (i.e. Republican) would be far, far worse, in every dimension – just like George W. Bush was.

    Yes. This is a lesser of two evils argument. That’s life.

  25. wafranklin writes:

    Well, it is absolutely clear that no one on this comment list has a clue about the real
    problems much less any real solutions. You can curse Obama all you like, and I certainly
    have been less than courteous towards him these past two and a half years. The issue is not
    right or left, although there is some residue of that crap. The real issue is the very
    small number of “have gots vs the very large number of “have nots” with a pie that is
    shrinking. Worst of all, the “have gots” have bought the damned place, including government
    and parties for a song and seem not to want to give it up. To make matters worse, a
    nontrivial number of the “have nots” are doing the work of the “have gots” gratuitously,
    simple fools and tools. The rule of law has been damaged, perhaps permanently first and
    foremost by Bushit, but then Obama allowed the crimes to ride. The lack of prosecutions
    on Wall Street has significantly damaged the reputation and image of the government in
    general. The multinational elite and their corporations have brought workers to their
    knees after years of wage suppression and arbitrage globally — then are surprised
    when their is greatly diminished demand for the crap they make, if they make anything.

    It is going to take blood in the streets to rectify this situation and then it may just
    not turn out well for the good guys. But then, none of you has an answer concerning how
    to sustain 7.5 billion people on a world which might house 3 billion people reasonably
    well if we did not use up all the critical resources. Lot of unneeded people. The real
    elephant in the room. Starvation, deprivation, decimation and destruction face us on
    a global scale, and then we have the phenomena of the climate deniers. Maybe this is
    a good time to hope for the raptures sooner than later. It is perhaps no more delusional
    than current thinking on our mutual predicament is now.

  26. […] a pretty good amount of twitter chatter and blog posts on these thoughts at interfluidity by steve randy waldman. I understand the draw because I’ve had very similar thoughts and expressed many of them […]

  27. Foppe writes:

    Mattski: “Not to defend every instance where Obama has kept Bush war policy in place, but I think we have to make an allowance for the possibility of targeting a US citizen who is openly organizing and advocating killing innocents on behalf of an extremist religious ideology.”

    Under that definition, do you also propose the US should take out Pat Robertson and the like?
    Anyway, I think I’ve been clear enough already on what his (hidden) agenda might be: more neoliberal class warfare, such as exemplified by his 2009 promise to “reform” SocSec/Medicare.

    For another example, see this splendid discussion of the newly-proposed National Infrastructure Bank, or AIFA:

    The legislation seems to require public-private partnerships for funding. In the bill’s criteria for loan approval, there’s a preference for those projects which maximize private investment (page 41):

    the extent to which the provision of assistance by AIFA maximizes the level of private investment in the infrastructure project or supports a public-private partnership, while providing a significant public benefit

    The essence of the American Infrastructure Financing Authority is to use the full faith and credit of the U.S. government to loan funds at below-market rates to public-private partnerships — in other words, to privatize the cash flows from public assets.
    When you read the congressional testimony and materials about the proposed bank you always hear about the vast sums of private money waiting in the wings to be invested. When Robert Wolf, Chairman and CEO of UBS Americas and close confidant of President Obama, testified to the Senate Banking Committee last year he said:

    Preqin, a private equity industry consultant, estimates that there is over $180 billion dollars of private equity and pension fund capital focused on infrastructure equity investments. This capital can play an important role in bridging state and local budget gaps.

    There is no question that private money is interested in being used for loans to infrastructure projects and guaranteed by the federal government and taxpayers. It’s almost identical to senior bondholders who loaned money to too-big-to-fail banks. It’s the best setup for private money because there is no loss.

    What more proof do you want about where his interests lie?

  28. mattski writes:

    Under that definition, do you also propose the US should take out Pat Robertson and the like?

    I wasn’t aware that Pat Robertson “and the like” was openly organizing and advocating killing innocent people!

    Look, accusing Obama of buying into a Larry Summers/Robert Rubin worldview is a far cry from accusing him of concealing his real purposes. As I said, I’m extremely disappointed in Obama for lacking the balls to push back firmly against big-money interests. But I think there’s a tinge of paranoia in what you’re putting out, and I think your use of the term “neoliberal” is unhelpful and obfuscatory.

  29. winterspeak writes:

    srw: i don’t know why you’re laying the blame on any aspect of Washington DC.

    The failure lies entirely in the real of academic economists. It is Harvard and Princeton that are the problem here, not K Street.

    The President beleives that he does not have certain choices because he does not understand how this modern, monetary system of ours works. He does not understand the monetary system because his advisors do not understand the monetary system. His advisors do not understand the monetary system because their teachers, at Harvard and Princeton, do not understand the monetary system.

    The President cannot sack Larry Summers as his economic advisor and source a candidate who is currently living in BVI making race cars not because it is not in his Power, but because he will be the laughing stock in the New York Times. And in the Greenhouse Cafe.

  30. Foppe writes:

    Right, let’s start at the top: have you read these three articles by Glenn Greenwald? From #3:

    A major legal challenge to one of the Obama administration’s most radical assertions of executive power began this morning in a federal courthouse in Washington, DC. Early last month, the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights were retained by Nasser al-Awlaki, the father of Obama assassination target (and U.S. citizen) Anwar al-Awlaki, to seek a federal court order restraining the Obama administration from killing his son without due process of law. But then, a significant and extraordinary problem arose: regulations promulgated several years ago by the Treasury Department prohibit U.S. persons from engaging in any transactions with individuals labeled by the Government as a ”Specially Designated Global Terrorist,” and those regulations specifically bar lawyers from providing legal services to such individuals without a special “license” from the Treasury Department specifically allowing such representation.
    On July 16 — roughly two weeks after Awlaki’s father retained the ACLU and CCR to file suit — the Treasury Department slapped that label on Awlaki. That action would have made it a criminal offense for those organizations to file suit on behalf of Awlaki or otherwise provide legal representation to him without express permission from the U.S. Government.

    And from 2:

    Now that hordes of Obama defenders are running around justifying the President’s due-process-free assassination of U.S. citizen Anwar Awlaki based on exactly the same claim and mindset — our President targeted a Very Bad Terrorist, so no due process or disclosure of evidence was needed — the same question obviously arises: if there’s so much evidence showing that Awlaki was involved in plotting Terrorist attacks on the U.S. (as opposed merely to delivering anti-U.S. sermons protected by the First Amendment), isn’t that even more of a reason to have indicted him and charged him with crimes before killing him? Please watch this amazing video of ABC News‘ Jake Tapper persistently questioning a stonewalling, imperious White House spokesman Jay Carney about this issue; remember: he’s asking the White House what evidence justified the U.S Government’s targeting of its own citizen for assassination with no due process, and the White House is telling him: we have it in secret but don’t need to show anyone

    As for ‘neoliberal’ being obfuscatory: could you please offer arguments why, rather than saying something ‘is’ obfuscatory? Because what seems to me obfuscatory is the idea that the differences in policy proposals (talk being rather cheap) are larger than the similarities. Because they aren’t, at least not from where I’m sitting. Both the GOP and the democratic party are neoliberal, whereas the only difference is in the rate at which they propose to break down the welfare state (and in their cultural politics, which are largely economically neutral). For the rest — on tax policy, on the outsourcing (at a premium) of government functions to private industry, as well as on the front of regulation (do you still remember the gulf oil catastrophe, and have you been following the issues associated with groundwater pollution due to fracking?) — they are basically the same party.
    Again, consider the example of the infrastructure bank that you for some reason chose to ignore in your attempt to defend obama as the lesser evil: even now that election season is coming up again, and Obama finally proposes something that might influence the unemployment figures, the one thing he proposes is basically to subsidize the banks some more, by allowing them to front money that the government could borrow much more cheaply itself.

    So no, I do not believe that he ‘lacks the balls;’ it is much more likely that he simply has no desire to do anything. He has the best spinmeisters in the world at his disposal, and he knew exactly what needed to be done during election season, yet we have to believe that once he was elected he suddenly realized: wait, I’m the most powerful guy in the world right now, so I can’t do it?

  31. Foppe writes:

    The fact that you immediately resort to cheap personal attacks on my character — “touch of paranoia”, “obfuscatory behavior” — while you are unwilling (or is it unable?) to engage with the content of what I’m saying (and referring to) substantively, speaks volumes. The Democratic party — just like the GOP, but actually going one step further by openly killing American citizens — is playing judge, jury and executioner, and stomping on your constitution; something you allow to happen (“disappointed” though you may be) because that someone was alleged to be a “terrorist”. Regardless of whether Al-Awlaki “incited violence” (in people living far away), he deserved a trial.
    But to say that you are “disappointed” in Obama means simply that the policies both parties push do not affect you personally, but that this only bothers you a bit intellectually.

    Apropos of nothing, I shall end with a quote from a book I’m currently reading. David Graeber, Debt: The First 5000 years:

    The logic of hierarchy, then, is the opposite of reciprocity. Whenever the lines of superiority and inferiority are clearly drawn and accepted by all parties and relations involve more than arbitrary force, they will be regulated by a web of habit or custom. Sometimes the situation originated in a founding act of conquest. Or it might be seen as an ancestral custom for which there is no need of explanation. Xenophon claims that in the early days of the Persian Empire each province vied to send the Great King gifts of unique and valuable products of their country. This became the basis of a tribute system, since they were soon expected to provide the same “gifts” every year. In other words, any gift to a feudal superior was likely to be treated as a precedent, added to the web of custom and as such expected to be repeated each year in perpetuity.
    The formula goes: an action, repeated, becomes customary; it then comes to define the actor’s identity, their essential nature. It might reflect how others have acted in the past. An aristocrat insists on being treated as one, as in the past. The art of being such a person consists in treating oneself as you expect others to treat you: a king covers himself with gold so that others will do likewise. At the other end of the scale, this is how abuse becomes self-legitimating. In the US, if a middle-class 13-year-old girl is kidnapped, raped, and killed, this is considered a major national news story, a moral crisis for everyone with a television set. A girl of lower class who gets the same treatment is considered unremarkable, no more than one might expect.

  32. mattski writes:

    The fact that you immediately resort to cheap personal attacks on my character

    It wasn’t a cheap personal attack, nor was it immediate. You seem distraught. Sorry to have bothered you.

  33. beowulf writes:

    Robert Rubin needed Larry Summers and Tim Geithner running the railroad to keep his Citi shares from being wiped out by Sheila Bair. That meant, first and last, that Paul Volcker be kept the hell away from Treasury. Once that was locked in, there’s probably nothing Obama could have done after that to save his Administration.

  34. Foppe writes:

    Oh, how lovely, more unsubstantiated assertions, ending with “concern for my emotional well-being”. I suppose you won’t bother to back up your “neither cheap, nor immediate” assessment either? It strikes me as being both a rather dubious gloss of the content of your own post, as well as an oddly convenient way to again cop out of engaging substantively.

  35. wallpapers writes:


    […]interfluidity » An echo[…]…

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