House to vote on bailout today; please, God, let the Republicans show that they have a spine!

WASHINGTON — The House braced for a difficult vote set for Monday on a $700 billion rescue of the financial industry after a weekend of tense negotiations produced a plan that Congressional leaders portrayed as greatly strengthened by new taxpayer safeguards.

The 110-page bill, intended to ease a growing credit crisis, came after a frenzied week of political twists and turns that culminated in an agreement between the Bush administration and Congress early Sunday morning.

The measure still faced stiff resistance from Republican and Democratic lawmakers who portrayed it as a rush to economic judgment and an undeserved aid package for high-flying financiers who chased big profits through reckless investments.

The New York Times offers, albeit unintentionally, one more reason why Congress should not permit the tax-payers to provide support to the powers of economic centralization:

“Citigroup Buys Banking Operations of Wachovia”

Citigroup will acquire the banking operations of the Wachovia Corporation, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation said Monday morning, the latest bank to fall victim to the distressed mortgage market.

[. . .]

The sale would further concentrate Americans’ bank deposits in the hands of just three banks: Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup. Together, those three would be so large that they would dominate the industry, with unrivaled power to set prices for their loans and services. Given their size and reach, the institutions would probably come under greater scrutiny from federal regulators. Some small and midsize banks, already under pressure, might have little choice but to seek suitors.

[All emphasis mine. – Nathancontramundi]

Three banks absolutely dominate the banking industry and the sprawling Federal government finds (Constitutional t)reason to exercise even more power. Ladies and gentlemen, sharpen your pitchforks: The troops will be positioning themselves on native soil and our fearless leaders commit acts that may incite uprising, which the troop shall, doubtless, be prepared to defeat. God. Bless. America.

Update: President Bush admonishes Congress to support the bailout, as “difficult” as the vote may be.

Bush acknowledged that the vote will be “difficult” in the face of opposition from taxpayers and voters but necessary to protect the economy.

“A vote for this bill is a vote to prevent economic damage to you and your community” by stabilizing financial markets and renewing the flow of credit, Bush said, attempting to undercut arguments that the proposed legislation bolsters Wall Street at taxpayers’ expense. “This is a bold bill that will keep the crisis in our financial system from spreading through our economy.”

My own two cents: Part of the fundamental problem is that we incline, all too easily, to think in macroeconomic terms, of “the economy”, rather than of our myriad local and regional economies. Daniel noted, a few days ago, that “[s]mall banks are functioning and even thriving as deposits have started flooding into them, and credit from these banks does not seem as if it will be drying up.” I suspect that the owners of First Farmers Bank and Trust and the First National Bank of Monterey, back in North Judson, even if the woes of “the economy” have hit home (actually, at least as of May, they had, for the better), probably have much less to fear than the shareholders of Wachovia had. These small banks, which serve the people who know the owners and employees of the bank, which serve as an important life-blood for countless small businesses across the country, help to drive our economies; the “too big to fail” banks drive — or wreck, as it were –“the economy”. Our purportedly conservative president wishes to “secure the economy” (to employ the present defensive jargon), rather than to allow our economies to function naturally, without fear (Yes, I apologize, I’ve anthropomorphized things as abstract as the economies.) of disaster caused by intervention. This, Mr Bush, is decidedly un-conservative, as has been most of your presidency.

(Hat tip, on the internal occupation: John Schwenkler)

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Minnesota Police State: A reason to be glad it wasn’t Pawlenty?

I mean not at all to suggest even that Pawlenty had anything to do with this, or even that he approves of it (although, as far as I know, he’s not condemned it), but it happened under his nose, so to speak. Palin isn’t without (seeming) scandal, but, as far as I know, police in Alaska have not swooped into homes to arrest would-be protestors because they plan to protest.

Protesters here in Minneapolis have been targeted by a series of highly intimidating, sweeping police raids across the city, involving teams of 25-30 officers in riot gear, with semi-automatic weapons drawn, entering homes of those suspected of planning protests, handcuffing and forcing them to lay on the floor, while law enforcement officers searched the homes, seizing computers, journals, and political pamphlets. Last night, members of the St. Paul police department and the Ramsey County sheriff’s department handcuffed, photographed and detained dozens of people meeting at a public venue to plan a demonstration, charging them with no crime other than “fire code violations,” and early this morning, the Sheriff’s department sent teams of officers into at least four Minneapolis area homes where suspected protesters were staying.

Glenn Greenwald has it here. Scares me to death, what the police do these days.

Thanks to Kelly Vlahos at @TAC for alerting me to this.

Arm your-self: The government is coming to get you.

Courtesy of Will at The Reactionary Epicurean, this terrifying piece in on the Washington Times’ web-log.

According to this promotional video found at the Lamperd Less Lethal website, the bracelet would be worn by all airline passengers.

This bracelet would:

• take the place of an airline boarding pass

• contain personal information about the traveler

• be able to monitor the whereabouts of each passenger and his/her luggage

• shock the wearer on command, completely immobilizing him/her for several minutes

The Electronic ID Bracelet, as it’s referred to as, would be worn by every traveler “until they disembark the flight at their destination.” Yes, you read that correctly. Every airline passenger would be tracked by a government-funded GPS, containing personal, private and confidential information, and that it would shock the customer worse than an electronic dog collar if he/she got out of line?

Maybe we need a Twenty-eighth Amendment, one requiring that all Americans arm them-selves to the teeth in preparation for the impending theft of all liberty in the name of security.

The peculiar — and important — conservatism of Norman Mailer

From the 2 December 2002 issue of The American Conservative, “I Am Not For World Empire” (I include only the introduction; read the interview for your-self: It’s well worth the time.):

A conversation with Norman Mailer about Iraq, Israel, the perils of technology and why he is a Left-Conservative.

On a crystalline day in October, Taki, Kara Hopkins, and Scott McConnell met at Logan Airport and drove up the Cape to Norman Mailer’s home in Provincetown, Mass. Taki is an old friend of Mailer’s; McConnell and Hopkins knew his writing well but had never met the man.

The vagaries of literary reputation are not the main beat of The American Conservative, but we were struck by how many people told us how important Mailer was at a certain time of life and how invariably that time was young adulthood—somewhere between 18 and 21. Perhaps that is the moment in life when readers are most receptive to a certain kind of bold writing.

What follows is a conversation about what most interested the four of us on that day, as well as an addendum Mailer wrote later. We spoke of the present and future more than the past: a mixture of politics (Iraq, the imperial urge, styles of conservatism) and more typically Maileresque themes (the problem of technology). After several hours of talk and the gracious hospitality of Norris Church Mailer we made our way back to normal life, not doubting that we had spent an extraordinary afternoon with the greatest living American writer.

I happened upon this interview a few years after its publication, after I had read Mailer’s The Armies of the Night: History As A Novel, The Novel as History in Steven Affeldt’s Political and Constitutional Theory, a required course in my beloved Program of Liberal Studies, and had become incredibly intrigued by what Mailer called his left-conservatism. Now, in 1999, the editors at ISI, with the assistance of various consultants, compiled lists of the fifty worst and best books of the Twentieth Century; amongst the former, they list Armies, commenting, “Fact or fiction? Not even Mailer knew for sure.” I have no interest in debating the wisdom of this decision; their pithy remark, I think, has some validity. Nevertheless, I disbelieve that we should discount what merits this book possesses. Specifically, I wish to draw attention to a passage, which I many times have re-read, that has profoundly affected me since I first experienced this work in the fall of 2004.

[Mailer] had written for years about American architecture and its functional disease — that one could not tell the new colleges from the new prisons from the new hospitals from the new factories from the new airpots. Separate institutions were being replaced by one institution. Yes, and the irony was that this workhouse at Occoquan happened to be more agreeable architecturally than many a state university he had seen, or junior college. There was probably no impotence in all the world like knowing you were right and the wave of the world was wrong, and yet the wave came on. Floods of totalitarian architecture, totalitarian superhighways, totalitarian smog, totalitarian food (yes, frozen), totalitarian communications — the terror to a man so conservative as Mailer, was that nihilism might be the only answer to totalitarianism.

By happenstance, I found myself reading this passage, to a friend who, last evening, perused my humble book collection, as I’ve taken up reading both Wendell Berry’s The Art of the Commonplace and Wilhelm Röpke’s A Humane Economy. Linking the latter with the Mailer passage may require a bit of effort, but the parallels, I think, between Mailer and Berry’s philosophy are unmistakably clear, and absolutely crucial for us to understand. In short, Berry, I believe, offers, at least partially, a solution to the dis-eases catalogued here by the left-conservative Mailer. This “functional disease” and the totalitarianism arise resultant of our loss of connection with the earth and humanity; losing touch with who we are, losing our understanding of our place, we capitulate to the powers that our materialistic forms of “stress-relief” and contentment, to wit, consumerism and self-interest, create and re-enforce.

And here, I think, Röpke becomes particularly relevant. Government collusion — significant as its role has been — notwithstanding, this materialism, this rampant consumerism, undeniably, has served immeasurably to promote economic concentration. Just how powerful, I’ve pondered, could the Wal*Marts of the world be if no market existed for so many of the mass-produced, ostensibly needless gadgets, gizmos, toys, and whatnot that comprise the artifice wherewith we fill our spiritually drained lives? Drawing a connection between the dis-ease that permeates Berry’s lamentations and the totalitarianism that pressed Mailer toward nihilism, the perspicacious Swiss economist offers the following:

If we want to name a common denominator for the social disease of our times, then it is concentration, and collectivism and totalitarianism are merely the extreme and lethal stages of this disease. [All emphasis mine – NPO.]

What, I think, we ought to gain from these passages specifically, and from the works of these three eminent modern thinkers more broadly, is a more profound cognizance of the relationship that links our own unwillingness to live according to an Aristotelian life of moderation; our “need” to consume, our refusal to plant roots, figuratively speaking, for whatever reason(s) guide us; and the nasty, pernicious results of our waywardness. Seeking solace in things, rather than true happiness in a life of interconnectedness in accord with God, the earth on which He has placed us, and our fellow men (and other aspects of Creation), we enable and perpetuate the Leviathans that control our lives, keep from us our liberty, and push us to the brink of nihilism.