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Book Data

ISBN: 9781933392806
Year Added to Catalog: 2009
Book Format: Paperback
Dimensions: 6 x 9
Number of Pages: 320
Book Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing
Release Date: July 12, 2010
Web Product ID: 503

Also By This Author

Bye Bye, Miss American Empire

Neighborhood Patriots, Backcountry Rebels, and Their Underdog Crusades to Redraw America’s Political Map

by Bill Kauffman

Associated Articles


The Divided States of America

The Olympian - December 06, 2010

A few years ago, the former Education Secretary Bill Bennett said we need to "to find out why the citizens of the world's wealthiest, most envied, most powerful country are so cynical, so distressed, so angry, so ticked off about so many things."

An obvious answer - that people like Bennett construct entire careers out of making Americans mad at one another - is to add fuel to existing levels of aggravation. So, perhaps, would mentioning that the revelation of the moralizing Bennett's gambling problem might have something to do with our cynicism. It probably wouldn't help much, either, to note the fact that this sanctimonious blowhard said what he did while introducing a study of the subject, for which he and his colleagues received a grant for $950,000. (One of its conclusions was that we watch too much TV.)

More than a decade has passed since Bennett's group released its findings, and by every indication, we are even more irritable now than then. Judging from TV, which of course we should not watch, we're a whole lot angrier. Whenever you do give in to weakness and turn the thing on, there's our Diogenes of the slots explaining with characteristic pomposity just how intolerable things are and why we shouldn't put up with it a minute longer. The person Bennett is telling this to - Sean Hannity, maybe, or Glenn Beck - then ups the ante until it is all any red-blooded American can do not to grab a coonskin cap from the Halloween close-out sale and join the tea party.

Even "furriners" have noticed how mad we are, and that's really infuriating. A writer for Australia's The Age (like Australia's so great!) notes "a new class of mad-as-hell Americans," which means no more Bloomin' Onions from the Outback Steakhouse for this patriot. From now on, give me Freedom Fries, or give me death.

Even scholars (Bennett elevates himself to be the status of "philosopher") have observed how furious we've become at one another and asked why. A promising line of inquiry pursued by calm and detached academicians has been to explore the cultural and ethnic divisions of our sprawling and diverse nation and suggest alternative geographical and governmental arrangements.

That saucy Aussie calls us the "divided states of America." Well, that's not news. America has always been composed of cultural groups that have little in common with one another. The divisions - north and south, white and black, urban and rural, red and blue, etc. - have taken different forms through the years, and we have always lived in a state of more or less (often less) peaceful coexistence, if not what the Presbyterian Church refers to as "mutual forbearance." The pot has never really melted, for which there is much to be thankful. Diversity comes at a cost, which is almost always a bargain at twice the price.

What our arrangement has never been is rational. As early as 1991, for example, Joel Garreau looked at the "Nine Nations of North America." Just this November, Dante Chinni and James Gimpel's "Our Patchwork Nation" broke the country's more than 3,000 counties into 12 groups with common interests. Plotted on a map, they would make even Elbridge Gerry of "gerrymander" fame look twice.

The same fissions and fractures making life difficult for the federal government are ripping up the states as well. In "California Crack-Up: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It," also published in 2010, Joe Mathews and Mark Paul argue that the Golden State is too big and diverse to be effectively governed from Sacramento. Today, more than 7,000 separate governments try to tend to Californians' business but operate under such restrictions that the state "is incapable of performing the most basic functions, such as passing a budget, maintaining a water supply, running prisons, and providing public education," as Mathews explained in a recent interview.

Hardly a secessionist, the self-described moderate doesn't even think Californians gain much by remaining part of the United States. "We are ruled not only by Sacramento," Mathews says, "but also by a federal government 3,000 miles away, in which we have the same representation in the Senate as West Virginia. That means West Virginia can block California's efforts to meet its own energy needs by adopting policies not based on coal. I am not a tea partier, but these people are onto something when they talk about the 10th Amendment," which reserves to the states all powers not explicitly granted to the federal government.

"When California came into the union, no one ever expected it to remain one state," says Bill Kauffman, author of "Bye Bye, Miss American Empire: Neighborhood Patriots, Backcountry Rebels, and their Underdog Crusades to Redraw America's Political Map," published in July. "There were serious proposals in the early 1990s to divide California into two or even three states."

Kauffman finds such decentralist impulses encouraging - and deeply American. "What I see in California, in Hawaii, in Vermont, and in my own upstate New York is a desire for finding local solutions to local problems and for protecting local culture against the demands of bigness - big business, big media, and big government," Kauffman says. "There is in all this a love for communities and ways of life that are threatened, but there's anger, too. There's anger at a federal government that is unresponsive to peoples' problems but won't let them solve them on their own."

This was not only predictable but predicted. Ten years after he left the presidency, Thomas Jefferson came to fear for the future of the United States as it expanded westward. The ongoing transfer of power from local governments to the states and from the states to the federal government in Washington, Jefferson feared, would mean the effective end of self government in America. Citizens far removed from the decisions that affected their lives they would no longer feel any responsibility for these decisions, which would be made by a professional class of government agents. The citizens would gradually, almost unknowingly surrender their liberties and, in time, become unfit to govern themselves.

Jefferson's pessimism suggests resignation flecked with anger. Jefferson's resignation can be heard in the left libertarianism of the Second Vermont Republic, but his indignation is echoed in the outcry of tea partyers who want "to take our country back."

Jefferson's remedy was a radical one - divide the entire United States into "ward republics" no larger than six square miles. In these wards, everybody would know one other and their problems could be addressed "by the common reason" of all the participants. The only powers exercised by higher levels of government would be those beyond the wards' abilities, and these would be few and far between - providing for the national defense, for example. The administration of schools would be left entirely to the parents, meaning no Department of Education.

The conventional wisdom holds that polarization creates gridlock, which prevents us from solving our problems, which contributes to greater polarization. In fact, our inability to solve our problems may be the cause of polarization, and that cynicism, distress, and anger - as Bennett put it - is the inevitable result. If people are "ticked off," there just might be a good reason for it.

Read the original article over at The Olympian.

November 2010

Is talk of secession sedition? Arundhati Roy responds to charges
by Rady Ananda

In a speech last week supporting ‘azadi’ — or freedom — for the occupied people of Kashmir, Arundhati Roy won the ire of right wing extremists who started a petition to have her arrested on charges of sedition. Even moderates are shocked by her support of secession. I sit on an Indian listserve, and the comments against her were vicious, with most people supporting prison for this freedom-loving, earth-loving, prolific writer and activist.

Sedition is being openly discussed in several states in the US. Bill Kaufman’s new book, Bye Bye, Miss American Empire, addresses the topic head on (Chelsea Green, 2010):

“Scoff if you will, but by 2012, a decade into a nightmarish ‘War on Terror’ that our rulers have assured us will last our lifetimes, will Americans be content with a status quo of perpetual war and unending empire? … When you consider that in 2008, 77% [of Vermonters] answered yes to ’Has the US government lost its moral authority?’ the savory makings of sedition are there.”

Ron Paul’s frank clarity reminds us, “A free society means you can dissolve it voluntarily.”

Kaufman argues that Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico have the strongest case for secession. Detailing the history of US thought on the issue — starting with the fact the US was born under secession — he also provides current thinking. In another poll, this one in 2008 by Middlebury Institute/Zogby Poll, he reports that researchers “found that 22% of Americans surveyed agreed that ‘any state or region has the right to peaceably secede and become an independent republic.’

“The South (26%) and East (24%) led the way, and among demographic categories Hispanics (43%), African Americans (40%), and eighteen- through twenty-four-year-olds (40%) gave the most support to the proposition. Liberals (32%) were likelier than self-described conservatives (17%) to agree. Hope abides.”

Ordinary people object to Earth-destroying corporate dominion, enforced thru war, here in the States and across the globe. Our cause is their cause. But, as Kaufman notes, “Establishment liberals and empire conservatives.… are the prison guards keeping the rabble from watering the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants.”

Here is Roy’s response to the media furor, which she wrote yesterday, along with a video of the speech that sparked such controversy:

Pity the Nation
By Arundhati Roy

I write this from Srinagar, Kashmir. This morning’s papers say that I may be arrested on charges of sedition for what I have said at recent public meetings on Kashmir. I said what millions of people here say every day. I said what I, as well as other commentators have written and said for years. Anybody who cares to read the transcripts of my speeches will see that they were fundamentally a call for justice. I spoke about justice for the people of Kashmir who live under one of the most brutal military occupations in the world; for Kashmiri Pandits who live out the tragedy of having been driven out of their homeland; for Dalit soldiers killed in Kashmir whose graves I visited on garbage heaps in their villages in Cuddalore; for the Indian poor who pay the price of this occupation in material ways and who are now learning to live in the terror of what is becoming a police state.

Read the full article at


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