Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What Taibbi Said

The reason a real health-care bill is not going to get passed is simple: because nobody in Washington really wants it. There is insufficient political will to get it done... It won’t get done, because that’s not the way our government works. Our government doesn’t exist to protect voters from interests, it exists to protect interests from voters. The situation we have here is an angry and desperate population that at long last has voted in a majority that it believes should be able to pass a health care bill. It expects something to be done. The task of the lawmakers on the Hill, at least as they see things, is to create the appearance of having done something. And that’s what they’re doing. Personally, I think they’re doing a lousy job even of that... [Democrats] aren’t even pretending to give a shit, not really. I mean, they’re not even willing to give up their vacations.

This whole business, it was a litmus test for whether or not we even have a functioning government. Here we had a political majority in congress and a popular president armed with oodles of political capital and backed by the overwhelming sentiment of perhaps 150 million Americans, and this government could not bring itself to offend ten thousand insurance men in order to pass a bill that addresses an urgent emergency. What’s left? Third-party politics?

-- Matt Taibbi
If Obama's election was all about hope, his Presidency, so far, has been about hopelessness. It's not because I think Obama is a bad politician; frankly, I remain convinced that he is just about the best we could hope might be elected in our current political climate & system. All we are learning is how little that means.

If Obama gets through a real health care bill -- with a public option, an employer mandate, and ideally a surtax on the rich -- then maybe there will be some hope here. If not, then, as Taibbi says, what's left? Third party politics, the Democratic party -- both seem equally hopeless and useless.

This quote came to me via Ezra Klein, who also has some good things to say about the topic. He compares it to climate change:
Taibbi is right that this, like climate change, is a litmus test for our government. Both are serious, foreseeable and solvable threats to our society. One threatens to bankrupt the country. The other threatens irreversible damage to the planet we live on. Responding to such threats is the test of a political system. And our system will fail it. We will not avert catastrophic climate change. We will not protect ourselves from health-care inflation.
I actually think the two are quite different: on the one hand, you have, as Taibbi says, "an angry and desperate population that at long last has voted in a majority that it believes should be able to pass a health care bill", and the political system is too dysfunctional to respond to what the public wants (and voted for). On the other hand, you have a much worse catastrophe, which is not so strongly felt by the public (certainly not enough to make it a voting priority), but whose danger and immanence make it, in a different way, a test of the system. The one is whether the system can respond to the voting public; the other is whether it can respond to dire threats. So far it's flunking both.

I go back and forth on how much this is Obama's fault. If he'd played his hand better from the get-go -- presented us as in the emergency we were in, and tried to use the direness of the situation to push through climate change legislation and health care legislation along with (better) economic legislation with the force that FDR did in 1933 (for which ignoring the Republican minority, not courting them, would have been necessary if hardly sufficient) -- then we might have done better. Or perhaps the veto points and the inherent foulness of so many democrats is simply too strong, and what Obama is showing is that it simply can't be done.

Because, again, I think Obama is as good as we'll get. Which just means that we're totally fucked, because he ain't doing well enough in at least a half-dozen areas where things are dire and posed to get worse. If he can't do better than this, then...


I wish I had a better answer than: despair, because we're fucked. But that's what I'm feeling right now, today.

Quote of the Day

What is the semiotic iconography of cheese?

-- Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, p. 143

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Today is a Good Day to Remember Self-Evident Truths

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

-- The Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, July 4, 1776

Happy July 4th, everyone!

Friday, July 03, 2009

Thoughts of a Baby Held Up to a Mirror

Who's that baby that I suddenly see?
And if poppa's holding him, who's holding me?

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Updating Humbert Wolfe

You cannot hope
to bribe or twist,
thank God! the
British U.S. journalist.

But, seeing what
the man will do
unbribed, there's
no occasion to.

-- Humbert Wolfe (almost)


PS: On the topic that is the subject of the first stanza's links, I particularly liked this bit from Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth (via):
Weymouth knew of the plans to host small dinners at her home and to charge lobbying and trade organizations for participation. But, one of the executives said, she believed that there would be multiple sponsors, to minimize any appearance of charging for access, and that the newsroom would be in charge of the scope and content of any dinners in which Post reporters and editors participated.
Ah yes, if there are multiple sponsors -- perhaps I should say "sponsors" -- that totally means you're not charging for access. And I love how her concern isn't that they might actually be charging for access, but simply that it might appear that way -- so they need a bit of cover. You can understand the misunderstandings that might result from language like "Underwriting Opportunity: An evening with the right people can alter the debate".

Oh, and the Post's Executive Editor, Marcus Brauchli's line -- "you cannot buy access to a Washington Post journalist" -- is a great example of the genre of lie including such classics as "we don't torture" and "I did not have sex with that woman". Call it the "who are you going to believe, me or your own lying eyes" genre.

But you see? Even as I describe it, I fall into the trap: the outright bribe is so much more outrageous than the pervasive power-worship, excusing the criminal, and so on and so forth that the media does, it's easy to forget the latter is far more important in its effects.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Shoter Michael Scheuer

"I hope we suffer a devastating terrorist attack, since otherwise we might suffer a devastating terrorist attack."

The blogs that I've seen discussing this have focused, reasonably enough, on the moral horror, the nature of (the subset of) right wing "patriotism" that this embodies, the ultimate desire for an autocratic fear-based state, and so forth. But what gets me most is the sheer illogic of it.