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1. The Crisis of Profligacy 
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Post 1. The Crisis of Profligacy
I was glad to see someone give Jimmy Carter his due (34-39). He really tried in 1979 to take the country in a more rational directiion with regard to energy; he wasn't afraid to tell Amercians used to no limits that there had to be some, though he must have sensed this could be political death for him. People like Carter, warning about our mania for consumption, are accused of being Puritanical and pessimistic; they are always shouted down, in his case especially by so-called conservatives. Bacevich is known for being fairly conservative, but his is a much different, truer, kind of conservativism than was Reagan's.



Thu Oct 16, 2008 4:05 pm
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Reagan won his Presidency (in some ways) on the terribly irresponsible delusion that Americans deserved infinite reserves of whatever they desired: which was precisely what Carter was arguing against. Reagan, as Bacevich distinguishes, represented the America of quantitative freedoms: the more stuff to satisfy narrow self interests and self-indulgences the better; whereas Carter represents the America of qualitative freedom: freedom requires self-discipline, sacrifice, consideration of the public good and reverence for lasting, permanent ideals.

Reagan could also thank the long-held fantasies of American innocence, moral superiority and American exceptionalism...dangerous attitudes unable to sustain critical examination of our collective history of violence, subjugation and empire...as well as our personal indulgences of irrational consumerism and the "cult of more" where we have sacrificed generations past, present and future.



Thu Oct 16, 2008 4:33 pm
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With regard to Jimmy Carter, one hand giveth and.... Bacevich tags him with establishing the policy of ensuring our energy supplies by military power if necessary in the Persian Gulf (Carter Doctrine). Bacevich contends that the policy exists to keep Americn consumerism going at full steam.



Fri Oct 17, 2008 8:39 am
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This is only peripherally related to this chapter, but I thought it was apropros to post it here.

It seems to me that we've increasingly become indentured servants to our own economy. After the 9/11 attacks, our president encouraged us to keep doing what we've always done, travel, shop, etc. More recently we've been given cold hard cash with the economic stimulus package, which is supposed to keep the engine of our economy running smoothly. Above all, feed the beast.

Anyway, last night I was listening to an old episode of Suspense from 1942. And at the end, Orson Welles came on and gave this appeal for Americans to buy war bonds. What an interesting contrast. I especially like the last line about Axis bonds . . .

Quote:
Help wanted: men, women and children. Nature of work: hard, monotonous, back-breaking labor. Hours: 75 a week minimum. Pay: a few cents an hour. Added inducement: two meals a day, including several ounces of bad bread and a cup of thin soup. Don't delay, apply at once.

How would you respond to a want ad like that, Mr. and Mrs. American Working Man and Woman? You'd laugh, wouldn't you, throw the paper in the trash basket. Dismiss the whole advertisement as some kind of joke, but believe me it's no joke. It's a simple statement of the working conditions that exist today in Nazi Germany and the conquered countries under Nazi rule. It's also an exact statement of the working conditions that will be imposed on you and every member of your family if the Nazis win this war. You yourself personally can stop them from winning as you know. You don't have to give up your well-paying job to do it, you needn't have to be a soldier or a sailor or an airman or a nurse or a war worker to ensure American victory. Uncle Sam doesn't ask plain, ordinary, hard-working citizens like you to give him anything. All he asks, very seriously and very urgently, is that you loan him 10 cents out of every dollar you make, that's all it is. Lend Uncle Sam a dime to win this war and he'll pay you back with interest when he's won it. The easiest, most convenient way to lend him these dimes is to enroll in the Payroll Savings Plan. Just tell your boss to deduct 10 cents from every dollar he pays you and lend it to Uncle Sam in your name. Sign up for this simple savings plan today and when victory comes you'll have war bonds in your pocket instead of Axis bonds on your wrists.


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Tue Oct 28, 2008 8:11 pm
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Post geo: I don't think you are at all off topic
I think you have pointed out a main theme of the author's point in that things have changed. Before, the government asked you to sacrifice. Perhaps buying war bonds with 10% of your salary is a big or small sacrifice, I'm not sure. But today, the government does NOT ask you to sacrifice. Not at all.

In listening to the concession/victory speech of McCain/Obama, I heard the same themes. 'Anything can happen', 'This is America'. Obama did hint at possible sacrifice when he said we have tough times ahead, but he did not come out and ask for sacrifice. These are two different things: acknowledging there is difficulty and asking people to do something about it. Today we don't need war bonds. Instead we just print the money. But the need for sacrifice is probably greatest on the consumer. How many are going to be willing to go back to smaller cars with less horsepower? Our need for oil is pushing us to send a lot of money to a lot of people who only marginally like us, if at all. Today, we have an additional $1/gallon gas tax in the US. Only it has not been passed as a tax. Instead, it's off budget spending for the Iraq war. This is on top of $4/gallon gas.

But the price is back down under $3 (in San Francisco Bay Area), and consumers will forget the high prices. We always seem to do so. People have stopped buying bigger trucks, but that's because they aren't buying ANY cars or trucks. A little turnaround in the economy and the Chevy Suburban will by flying off the assembly line again. No geo, I don't think you are off topic. We treat driving gas guzzlers, consuming everything in sight, going into hoc with credit card debt and second mortgages like it's a part of the Bill of Rights instead of a privilege. If the US Dollar wasn't the defacto currency for global transactions, we would already be done for (Can you imagine the US forced to buy oil in Euro's?). Just like during the internet bubble, the laws of finance were not repealed, just temporarily ignored. Obama would burn through a lot of political capital trying to get people to sacrifice, and the result would probably be like Carter. There are too many other fish to fry (balance of power between President/Congress, undoing Iraq, etc) to have him focus on this, with it's low probability of success.


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Thu Nov 06, 2008 8:41 am
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Post I was glad to see Carter get his due, too
If I recall correctly, I was one of those laughing at him at the time. My conservative suburbia upbringing did not want to hear what he had said. I was in high school and my civics classes only told me how great America was. I wasn't ready to listen to a 'prophet' telling me that we needed to change. So I ended up voting for Anderson in 1980.

As I've gotten older, I've gotten more liberal in my thinking. Unfortunately, I think Carter was the last president to call a spade a spade. He continues to do this, for example, his thoughts on the middle east seem to ring spot on.

But the sales guy in me tells me he might have picked a better way to 'sell' the message. It's too hard to get a high speed train to turn 180 degrees. He should have tried to get us to 'wake up' before hitting us all in the head with a stick. Even if you have the right message, you still need to sell it the right way. We should all know that just by watching political campaigns!


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Thu Nov 06, 2008 8:51 am
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Post Re: I was glad to see Carter get his due, too
ginof wrote:
So I ended up voting for Anderson in 1980...
But the sales guy in me tells me he might have picked a better way to 'sell' the message. It's too hard to get a high speed train to turn 180 degrees. He should have tried to get us to 'wake up' before hitting us all in the head with a stick. Even if you have the right message, you still need to sell it the right way. We should all know that just by watching political campaigns!

So you're the other one who voted for Anderson! I like your two posts. Do you think that Obama could be the salesman needed? If he could be, I agree, he'd justify all the hopes being placed in him. The hardest thing for him will be to realize that to take us in the direction of sensible consumption, he's going to have to avoid over-compromising, and that will be hard for a guy like him. Right now, he has no focus at all, just fairly gauzy campaign promises that are all over the place. He's going to need to get a focus pretty quickly or he'll be swamped.



Thu Nov 06, 2008 9:48 am
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Post Re: geo: I don't think you are at all off topic
ginof wrote:
I think you have pointed out a main theme of the author's point in that things have changed. Before, the government asked you to sacrifice. Perhaps buying war bonds with 10% of your salary is a big or small sacrifice, I'm not sure. But today, the government does NOT ask you to sacrifice. Not at all.

In listening to the concession/victory speech of McCain/Obama, I heard the same themes. 'Anything can happen', 'This is America'. Obama did hint at possible sacrifice when he said we have tough times ahead, but he did not come out and ask for sacrifice. These are two different things: acknowledging there is difficulty and asking people to do something about it. Today we don't need war bonds. Instead we just print the money. But the need for sacrifice is probably greatest on the consumer. How many are going to be willing to go back to smaller cars with less horsepower? Our need for oil is pushing us to send a lot of money to a lot of people who only marginally like us, if at all. Today, we have an additional $1/gallon gas tax in the US. Only it has not been passed as a tax. Instead, it's off budget spending for the Iraq war. This is on top of $4/gallon gas.


We don't just print more money. We borrow it.

I know nothing about economics, but I think deficit spending is the most serious issue facing America today. We simply have to stop living beyond our means. And while one can expect to have to borrow money during wartime, I submit that the Iraq War is not really a war. Remember, there was no direct threat on American soil, despite the Bush Administration's insistence of weapons of mass destruction that didn't really exist, and the occasional insinuation of an Al Qaeda presence in Iraq, which is spurious at best. Our military presence in Iraq is more accurately an occupation that has so far cost 568 billion dollars, though who knows what the final tally will be, including what interest gets doled out to Chinese investors.

If the U.S. needs to put on a good military show every once in a while, fine. But I think if they have to borrow money to do this, something is seriously wrong. And to pretend that Americans don't have to sacrifice anything is just pure folly.


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Post Re: geo: I don't think you are at all off topic
ginof wrote:
But the price is back down under $3 (in San Francisco Bay Area), and consumers will forget the high prices. We always seem to do so. People have stopped buying bigger trucks, but that's because they aren't buying ANY cars or trucks. A little turnaround in the economy and the Chevy Suburban will by flying off the assembly line again. No geo, I don't think you are off topic. We treat driving gas guzzlers, consuming everything in sight, going into hoc with credit card debt and second mortgages like it's a part of the Bill of Rights instead of a privilege.


Very well said.

Again, I know nothing about economics, and I know this is not the time to do it, but what this country needs is a hefty tax on gasoline. Yes, you heard me right. Knock that price up to $6 or $7/gallon and you'll see a remarkable transformation in America's driving habits and in advancement of fuel-efficient technology. Unfortunately, any politician who gets behind it is committing political hari kari.


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Post Re: geo: I don't think you are at all off topic
geo wrote:
ginof wrote:
Again, I know nothing about economics, and I know this is not the time to do it, but what this country needs is a hefty tax on gasoline. Yes, you heard me right. Knock that price up to $6 or $7/gallon and you'll see a remarkable transformation in America's driving habits and in advancement of fuel-efficient technology. Unfortunately, any politician who gets behind it is committing political hari kari.


I used to work for an oil company in the early 90's. I was saying that then, and I agree with you now. Imagine the revenue to pay off the debt! Alas, I can see Rush Limbauh exploding at the idea (If he really did explode, that alone might make it worth it :bananadance: ) and the hate mongers having a field day.


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Sat Nov 08, 2008 11:20 am
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Post Do I think that Obama is the salesman we need?
I don't think it's possible for anyone to actually be that salesman, at least right now. We are talking about generational type shifts.

I remember (and paid attention) to Ford (remember WIN?) and Carter and always turn off the lights. My wife won't turn off a light to save her life. We are on a big boat and it turns slowly. Obama might be the guy to at least stop going full speed ahead to ruin.


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After reading the first half of the chapter, I agreed with most of the points Bacevich made.

Our society is focused on material consumption, and that attitude really took off in the Reagan administration. (However, it's important to note that the material well-being of the bottom 80% of the population been stagnant over the last few decades.) One major objective of US policy, domestic and foreign, has been to acquire the resources that are necessary to provide a higher standard of living, or maintain the existing living standards.

Over the same time period, Americans have received more freedoms, such as more rights for minorities, women, gays, and other groups. That progress towards universal citizenship is one of the great moral achievements in history, and it's good that Bacevich recognized that. However, I don't see the connection Bacevich raises between increased freedom and increased wealth.

Carter's so-called malaise speech is quite impressive; you should read it. Just think about how much better things would be today had we gone that route, aside from the added benefit nobody knew about in the 70's: preventing global warming.



Sat Nov 08, 2008 9:18 pm
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Throughout the second half of this chapter, Bacevich's depiction was completely consistent with my liberal and pacifist views.

Both Democrats and Republicans pursued a aggressive strategy towards the Middle East that was immoral and strategically unwise. Meanwhile, the US economy became increasing precarious, as a result of the increasing reliance on foreign oil, massive deficits, and lack of savings.

It was very disappointing that the political parties and the mainstream media hardly ever consider the issues Bacevich raises. There was haredly any public debate, for example, about Clinton's policy of bombing Iraq and maintain brutal sanctions. Publications on the Left brought up such issues, but nobody else did. Most people weren't aware of the sanctions that killed half a million Iraqi children or contemplated the morality of dropping bombs on a population that the US wasn't at war with.

Bacevich's explanation of the continuity of US Middle East policy, from involvement in the Iran/Iraq war in the 1980's to the current war in Iraq, was very coherent, in addition to being depressing.



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Post Ronald Wilson Reagan and the United States Dollar
Quote:
"A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship."
Ronald Reagan may have been the first to cite this theory about the collapse of the Athenian Empire in a speech in 1964. How ironic that Bacevich describes Ronald Reagan as the central figure of the 'more' generation. Reagan was the icon for American freedom, interpreted as cutting loose from the bounds of reality, and the spiritual founder of the false Bush Doctrine that the USA can create reality. How long until collapse and dictatorship? RT



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Post Re: 1. The Crisis of Profligacy
The thread on consumerism reminds me of Bacevich:
DWill wrote:
I was glad to see someone give Jimmy Carter his due (34-39). He really tried in 1979 to take the country in a more rational direction with regard to energy; he wasn't afraid to tell Americans used to no limits that there had to be some, though he must have sensed this could be political death for him. People like Carter, warning about our mania for consumption, are accused of being Puritanical and pessimistic; they are always shouted down, in his case especially by so-called conservatives. Bacevich is known for being fairly conservative, but his is a much different, truer, kind of conservativism than was Reagan's.
Yes, a great point about Carter, a great American president, and interesting in light of the recent financial crash. Here is Bacevich's quote from Jimmy Carter's so-called malaise speech (p33)
Quote:
In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we've discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We've learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.


And then came 'Morning in America'. As Bacevich describes it (p36-43):

Quote:
Ronald Reagan ... the modern prophet of profligacy, the politician who gave moral sanction to the empire of consumption... His real gift was telling Americans what most of them wanted to hear...Above all, he assured his countrymen that they could have more. Throughout his campaign this remained a key theme.... During the Carter years, the federal deficit had averaged $54.5 billion annually. During the Reagan era, deficits skyrocketed, averaging $210.6 billion over the course of Reagan's two terms... Far more accurately than Jimmy Carter, Reagan understood what made Americans tick: they wanted self-gratification, not self denial... Reagan's two terms in office became an era of gaudy prosperity and excess. Tax cuts and the largest increase to date in peacetime military spending formed the twin centerpieces... US security now required...permanent global military supremacy... Confidence that a high-quality military establishment...could enable the United States...to organise the world...in this malignant expectation... lies the essence of the Reagan legacy.


This is certainly a tough assessment, and malignant is a harsh word. I wonder what Barack Obama would think of it?



Sat Nov 22, 2008 5:21 am
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