The Real State Of The Union

As the captain gave his State Of The Union address, he was standing on an unsteady deck.

I had the opportunity this week to speak with a federal employee recently retired after 40 years with the U.S. government.

Federal workers’ morale is not good, he said. For a long time the government has pursued a policy of converting federal employee positions to contract positions. I presume the goal is to save money and to relieve government of responsibility for employees, and it’s working.

Federal employees idled during the month-long government shutdown will receive back pay, the retiree explained. Contract employees who work alongside federal employees in the same buildings will NOT be paid.

The numbers:

Approximately 800,000 federal employees will be paid; approximately 1 million contract federal workers will not be paid.

You might say it’s a dirty little secret. But it’s not a well-kept secret. I read the same information in a newspaper. However, most Americans are unaware that 1 million workers will not be paid. Or they simply don’t care.

The U.S. is fighting wars (sometimes secret wars) with mercenaries paid by private contractors, instead of soldiers paid by the U.S. Army. And the civilian government is staffed by contract workers, instead of official federal employees.

Morale is horrible among both official employees and their contract fellow workers, said the long-time employee. Contract workers are leaving the government in droves, he said. Departing workers are taking years of experience and irreplaceable skills with them, said another man at the table. The government is being weakened, and possibly wrecked.

I suppressed the image of rats leaving a sinking ship. It’s not the right image.

I summoned a vision of contract sailors, classified as “non-essential” and deemed not worth paying. They are disembarking from a stricken ship, with unseen damage below the waterline. A skeleton crew remains aboard.

Sailors are manning the lifeboats in orderly fashion. Meanwhile, a proud and inattentive captain is on deck reading a speech. Assembled officers applaud dutifully. The captain is unaware that the deck beneath his feet is unsteady and the ship is listing.

sunset ship boat sea

Photo by Pixabay on

— John Hayden



Donald Trump’s Complex Cabinet

Didn’t President Eisenhower warn us about this?

Eisenhower coined the term Military-Industrial Complex in his 1961 farewell address. In 2017, maybe the Military-Industrial Complex will rule America.

President-elect Donald Trump’s most notable Cabinet appointments so far divide about equally into military leaders and captains of industry and finance. Does a general outrank a captain of industry, or vice versa? Continue reading

Political Apartheid In America


IT’S NO SECRET.  America has devolved into Red State/Blue State political apartheid. It’s based on geography, lifestyle and issues, not on race or color.

The Northeast and Pacific coast are Democratic Blue. The South, Great Plaines and Rocky Mountains are Republican Red. The problem is abetted within states by gerrymandering.

Development of political apartheid in America was accompanied by the hollowing out of the American industrial base, the demise of labor unions, and growth of the financial sector. A deepening divide between rich and poor is salt in the wound.

Red/Blue apartheid is largely responsible for gridlocking the government in Washington. Some states and cities are also experiencing gridlock and financial trouble. If not for the Great Recession and continuing economic decline, perhaps political dysfunction by itself would not be serious.

Now, the sputtering engine of taxation and government finance is running out of gas, as many American corporations scurry to abandon the sinking  ship. The technical term for this particular form of treason is “corporate inversion.”

Bill Clinton, campaigning this week with Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky, a Red state, made the following comment, as reported by The Washington Post.

“It would be wrong to try and build a future for America that leaves rural America and small-town America out.”

That’s an understatement. If we Americans allow the pathology of political apartheid/ government dysfunction/ economic decline to fester, we will be inviting collapse of democratic government.

Remember, In our hyper-complex world, the speed of change is balls to the wall. We’re constantly vulnerable to black swans. Or if you prefer, Murphy’s Law.

“Whatever can go wrong will go wrong.”

Exactly what would replace democratic government, I do not know. I don’t want to think about it, but the words “fascism” and “communism” come too readily to mind.

In the next post, I’ll consider Red/Blue political apartheid in my own home state, Maryland.

John Hayden

What do you think about political apartheid? Your comments are welcome below.

The Next Big Thing: CORRUPTION

English: President George W. Bush and Presiden...

President George W. Bush and President-elect Barack Obama meet in the Oval Office of the White House  Nov. 10, 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

People are looking for a scapegoat, and for once they’re looking in the right place. Corruption in government.

The book that everyone is talking about, inside the beltway, at least, is “This Town,” by Mark Leibovich. Here’s a comment on the book by Fareed Zakaria:

“It’s a vivid, detailed picture of the country’s ruling elite, filled with tales of ruthless networking, fake friendships and a sensationalist media. But beneath the juicy anecdotes is a depressing message about corruption and dysfunction.” Continue reading

Small States Dominate U.S. Senate

“The power of the smaller states is large and growing. Political scientists call it a striking exception to the democratic principle of ‘one person, one vote.’ Indeed, they say, the Senate may be the least democratic legislative chamber in any developed nation.”

New York Times reporter Adam Liptak reports on the well-known but confounding political power of small states in the U.S. Senate and the Electoral College under the headline, Smaller States Find Outsize Clout Growing in Senate.”

English: Electoral college map for the 2012, 2...

Electoral college map for the 2012, 2016 and 2020 United States presidential elections, based on apportionment data from the US Census Bureau. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Under the U.S. Constitution, Wyoming, the state with the smallest population in America, has two U.S. senators. So does California, the state with the largest population. The stunning result in the U.S. Senate is shown in this striking NY Times graphic.

One obvious result is that small states receive much more Federal money, per capita, than large states. A look at the map also shows that most of the smaller states are conservative, Republican-voting, Red states. The small states have many more votes in the Senate than the large states.

Small states also have an advantage in the Electoral College, though not as great as their advantage in the Senate. For this reason, the Electoral College has chosen a president who did not receive a majority of the popular vote. It will undoubtedly happen again, and it could call into question the very legitimacy of a U.S. president.

“In 2000, had electoral votes been allocated by population, without the two-vote bonuses, Al Gore would have prevailed over George W. Bush. Alexander Keyssar, a historian of democracy at Harvard, said he would not be surprised if another Republican candidate won the presidency while losing the popular vote in coming decades, given the structure of the Electoral College.”

Is it any wonder that democracy in America appears to be broken?

— John Hayden

The Truth About Sequestration And Democracy, According to One Humble American

“Sequestration” went into effect in America this week, reducing U.S. government spending by $85 billion.

What does it mean? It means that the United States has accepted “Austerity.” 

It’s not the end of the world. The vast majority of U.S. government spending will continue as usual. The government will not grind to a halt, at least not because of sequestration. It’s still possible that Congress could force a shut-down of government sometime in the future, but not likely this year.

Failure of Government Decision-making

Most interestingly, Austerity was NOT imposed by the normal processes of legislative or executive action.  Continue reading

Mitt Romney and WaWa: “Amazing”

Mitt Romney’s reaction to WaWa is, in his own words, “Amazing!” The part about WaWa is near the beginning of this three-minute video, and especially at the end. You have to endure a fascinating anecdote about a dentist and government bureaucracy in between, but it’s  worth it.

Mitt Romney appears to be a very knowledgeable CEO in the high-finance business, owner of many mansions and cars, a man who loves dogs and so on.   Continue reading

Wildcat Debt Strike in Autumn of 2011

At rock bottom, the interlocking political and financial structures of the U.S. are based on trust. Recently, a string of financial failures has shaken the credibility of the U.S. political-financial-industrial complex, resulting in a rapidly spreading failure of trust.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, Wikimedia Commons photo

Trust is frayed to the point where, at the end of this week, Speaker John Boehner severed negotiations with President Barack Obama on raising the U.S. debt ceiling and averting financial crisis. At this point, you really couldn’t call the Tea Party a party of “loyal opposition.”

Question:  What do you think will happen when the government is forced, starting August 2, to choose which bills to pay and which bills to default on — which promises to keep and which promises to break?

Answer:  I wouldn’t be surprised if a Wildcat Debt Strike sweeps across the U.S. like a prairie fire in the fall.

Consider the events that brought us to this convergence:

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER, Wikimedia Commons photo

  • Strike One — The financial bubble burst, and Wall Street persuaded the pillars of the U.S. government — the Treasury Department, the President, the Congress — that the world economy would collapse without a sudden government bailout. (Presidential candidates of both parties endorsed the bailout in 2008.) Wall Street extorted billions under TARP, but continued to pay bonuses as usual to Wall Street executives.  In 2009, billions more were spent in a giant stimulus package, propping up the profits and cash reserves of corporations and the compensation packages for CEOs.
  • Strike Two — The real estate bubble burst, and banks throughout the U.S. foreclosed on mortgages, further driving down the value of houses. As people found their mortgages underwater (that is, the mortgage is worth more than the house), they considered whether or not to continue making the monthly payment. Some homeowners lost jobs and were unable to pay; some calculated that it made no sense to throw good money after a bad house. It is now widely accepted that people can and will walk away from a mortgage.  Banks are not willing to modify impossible mortgages, and debtors are not willing to pay impossible mortgages.
  • Strike ThreeThe debt bubble bursts. That comes in August, if the U.S. government decides not to pay its bills, especially its obligations to individual American citizens.

It’s all reciprocal, isn’t it? I’ll play fair with you as long as you play fair with me. As long as my house has value, I’ll continue to pay my mortgage. As long as you pay me, I’ll pay my debts.

Everything depends on our belief in the myths that George Washington will own up to cutting down the cherry tree; and that Abe Lincoln will walk six miles to return a penny.

The entire system could come undone in a cascade of individual decisions to hoard cash and ignore debts. When the government refuses to pay someone — whether it be a Social Security beneficiary, a veteran, a bureaucrat, a soldier, or a Medicare bill to a hospital — that someone will in turn refuse to pay an obligation.

The autumn of 2011 might deteriorate into a general Wildcat Debt  Strike, with individuals following the government into spontaneous default on taxes, mortgages, car payments, and most of all, credit card bills.

— John Hayden

American Debt Crisis: The Black Swan Is Circling Washington

Another update on the Debt Crisis of 2011.

An ominous Black Swan is circling Washington, D.C., like a vulture, watching and waiting as the wise men and women of Congress argue over whether to resolve the Debt Crisis of 2011. Or not.

This is the most dangerous situation in Washington since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. I was in Washington on the weekend of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and I remember it well. We didn’t know how close we came to the brink, until it was all over.

This Debt Crisis is surreal. The Cuban Missile Crisis was loaded with live ammunition. The Debt Crisis is loaded with stocks and bonds and hundred-dollar bills. No one knows what will happen if we pile up a lot of stocks and bonds and bills, and set off an uncontrollable chain reaction of unpaid debt. Never been done before. But we are about to go there.

There are three major schools of thought regarding the resolution of this debt crisis. You have your big fix, valued at around $4 trillions, and your little fix, $1.5 trillions to $2 trillions, give or take. (Or is it billions? I can never remember.)

And defying all logic, there is the “no fix” option, supported by the gentlemen and gentleladies from the Tea Party. (What kind of tea are they smoking at that party? Can I get some?)

Translation: Some folks want to fix the debt crisis for the long-term, so Congress can get on to other business.  Some folks will settle for a short-term solution. And some want to commit economic suicide on Aug. 2, rather than risk the chance of possibly serious complications down the road.

Hoo-boy! You think the rich and powerful are anxious about a little economic uncertainty? How are they going to respond to total economic chaos?

Remember the Black Swan? It’s a highly improbable disaster, resulting in unpredictable consequences of a catastrophic nature.  Have a nice weekend.

— John Hayden

American Debt Crisis: Children Playing With Dynamite

The words and events of the past few days give me the gut feeling that too many of America’s current political and business leaders are not mature adults, not capable of being serious or working responsibly.

Too many members of Congress seem to think the U.S. government is all a big game, and the winners are the ones who get the most political contributions, and the ones re-elected the most times. They don’t act as if they understand that the government and the economy of the United States are matters of real importance. Instead, they act as if they’re in a reality show on a fictional island, where there are no serious consequences, and the only goal is forming alliances, talking with bravado, and gaining fame.

Too many politicians appear childish, not mature, focusing only on themselves, like a two-year-old would, and on the interest groups that pull their strings. They don’t appear to have developed the capacity to care about the needs of  others, and by others I mean the millions of real people scratching every day to earn a living, support their families, cope with illnesses.

Too many politicians seem always to put themselves and their special interests first; the needs of the larger community are of no interest to them. The needs of others be damned, the needs of the nation be damned. It’s all a game. It’s all about me and my little circle of friends.