Saturday, January 23, 2010

#199 Bring On the Filibuster II

During the Bush/Cheney hey-days, the freebooters menaced from the other side of the Senate aisle. Whenever the minority Democrats would threaten to hi-jack a bill or a Presidential appointment with the scarifying filibuster, the Republicans would threaten right back with what they dubbed the "nuclear option." It's surely a well-known secret across both aisles that the Cloture Rule can be changed or chucked-out altogether--not by 67 votes, nor, for that matter, 60, but by 51 ... a simple majority of the U.S. Senate. Constitutionally.

Now, the Founding Fathers, in their wisdom, were no great fans of Athenian democracy, or of the popular vote per se, for that matter. It couldn't elect President Gore ten years ago, for instance, thanks to the Electoral College and those wily Framers of the U.S. Constitution in Philadelphia long ago. Moreover, no vote in Congress is cast directly by the People. Of course not, say you: we're a representative democracy. However ... Yes, today both houses are popularly elected, and presumably represent the Will of their constituents, but for most of it's history, the Senate was immune to the popular vote. The Framers really did, bless their 18C hearts, have the British House of Lords in mind--and way back in their minds the life-tenured Roman Senatus of literally "old men" (senex)--when they "constituted" our bicameral legislature's "upper" chamber. As, frankly, another check-within-a-check-and-balance to the not-even-quite-direct voice of the people in the House of Representatives. Senators would be APPOINTED ... by higher powers-that-be in the several states. Most often this was accomplished by state legislatures, up until as late as 1913, when the 17th Amendment mandated popular election for all Senators.

But ... once the vox populi made its sometimes tortuously indirect way to the floors of Congress, the Framers expected it to be acted upon expeditiously, in a timely, and that means majoritarian, manner, as for any other deliberative body. Getting the people's franchise there was tough enough. According to Article I, Section 5, Clause 2: all that's required to to do business is a quorum, 50%+1. Then, a voting majority rules. The only exception in Clause 2--thus "proving" the rule--is the business of expelling a member of either house, which requires two-thirds of those present. QED: the Senate was Constitutionally OKAY in passing by a simple majority its Cloture Rule requiring 60 votes to stop a filibuster, but NOT OKAY in making a rule requiring 67 votes to change the rules. And, speaking of checks and balances, this point of Constitutional law was brought to a test many years ago and affirmed by the Supreme Court:
The constitution provides that "a MAJORITY of each house shall constitute a quorum to do business." In other words, when a MAJORITY are present the house is in a position to do business. Its capacity to transact business is then established, created by the mere presence of a MAJORITY, and does not depend upon the disposition or assent or action of any SINGLE member or FRACTION of the MAJORITY present. (U.S. v. Ballin 1892)
So there it is. The majority Democrats in the Senate can exercise their own "nuclear option" at any time, and throw out the Cloture Rule. Pass whatever @#$ *&%@ Health-Care Reform bill they want, without fear of Captain Filibuster. Will they do it? Doubtful. News reports have it that they're already wimping-out. No, not about the constitutional tactic above--they're way too gutless for that--but rather now they are scheming to somehow get around the filibuster procedurally ... or give up altogether and start over. Bruxism time.

Okay. I say just bring on the filibuster and be done with it. Let the new Republican Senator from Massachusetts gloat on his vote. That would be the magical Vote #41 against closing off debate. Here's how it could play out. Act one: Obama summons the fortitude to stop the House-Senate negotiations on their separate health-care bills. Act two: House submits intact its less-than-perfect-but-with-Public-Option bill to the Senate. Act three: Majority Leader Harry Reid introduces House bill for floor-debate, and then does what he seems to do best: nothing. Act four: hilarity ensues. Good fun is had by all as Republicans and and one or two Blue Dog henchmen extend debate indefinitely, fighting off Cloture votes one-after-the-other, flogging their long-dead hobby-horses unmercifully, exposing themselves as the mottled fools they are in front of the C-Span cameras hour-after-hour. Act five: patience finally exhausted, an angry mob in pirate garb storms the Senate chamber with sword and pistol drawn. Much loss of life ensues.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

#198 Bring On the Filibuster

Tuesday's election of Republican Playgirl-centerfold Scott Something-or-other to the late and sorely lamented Edward Kennedy's Senate seat subtracts by one vote the so-called "super majority" that the Democrats have held in the American House of Lords. So what?! Did it help them at all when they had it for well-nigh a whole %$@ $#@% legislative YEAR? No ... not to mention that they still have the largest majorities in Congress since Jimmy Carter. And along with moderate Republicans, these majorities--reflecting about 75% of the Electorate--want to do the right thing and pass laws insuring that EVERY American has access to adequate health care. Which is the number one Domestic Issue of our time, and one so embarrassingly far behind the times when compared with what other civilized peoples of the Earth have done.

So what has happened? For one thing, Democrats are WIMPS. Or must be, since they can't translate their superior numbers in Congress into laws of the land. That's their JOB, after all. Constitutionally. And they're not doing it. I think this is what the voters in Massachusetts had in mind when they angrily cut-off their normally progressive nose--they have a form of universal health-care--and spited their face with a wing-nut Republican. Who, ironically, promised in his campaign to vote against Reform--thus invoking that ever-menacing monster by the dreaded name of Filibuster.

Second, Obama is a WIMP. Or must be, since the President can't translate the will of the people who elected him and his future-tense Platform of Hope--by a more-than-convincing majority--into some sort of Congressional action. Surely, Obama meant more by "Change You Can Believe In" than the sheets in the Lincoln bedroom. He made a monstrous mistake in effectively handing over primary leadership on health-care reform to the Grafters and Grifters on key Congressional committees. Shouldn't he have known, for instance, that Sen. Max Baucus was a "made" man, by Big-Med?

Third, the U.S. Senate is a WIMPERAGE, to coin a word. Or must be, since it seems powerless to pass laws, or even to advise and consent effectively. I'll leave it in the personified collective singular because as a legislative entity its wimpery is systemic. Built into its current Rules of Order are procedures guaranteed to preserve the the status quo ante, to discourage changing laws and to obstruct making new ones. MAJORITY doesn't quite rule in our Upper House. Funny part is ... it can and should, according to ancient Constitutional principles, backed up by a Supreme Court dictum over a hundred years old.

The elephant in the room is the current Cloture Rule. This allows a Senator to extend deliberation on a bill indefinitely, to presumably "filibuster it to death" unless debate is stopped by a vote of SIXTY of his/her fellows. (A colorful and apt borrowing is "filibuster," first popularized by southern Senators of the the early 19C and meaning essentially "pirate"--descended from Dutch vrijbuiter = "freebooter" and passed through Spanish and French as filibustero and filibustier, respectively, and finally to the folk-etymologized form we have in English today--accidentally appropriate for its "bill-BUSTing" connotations--though I'm sure the original "booty-for-all" implications are not lost on the smarter Grafters in the Senate, who would cut a bill's throat for money. You know the ones, by now). However, just to illustrate just how congenitally LAZY is that Body in every way, the Lords don't even have to bother debating debate. If a poll shows that FORTY-ONE Senators would vote against closing debate, the bill is busted. Hi-jacked, as if by some Somali pirate. Republican Sen. What's-his-name supposedly represents that forty-first vote.

Well, in reality, these aren't magic numbers at all. It's a pernicious meme indeed, bruited even by those politicos who should know better, that the Cloture Rule is somehow sacrosanct. It's not. True, currently it takes SIXTY Senators to close debate, and that's coupled with a seemingly impossible SIXTY-SEVEN to change the rule for closing debate. The latter number is, however, fundamentally unconstitutional, and the minority Republicans in the Senate know it deep down and dirty. For when they were in the majority during the last administration's tenure, and when they were threatened upon occasion with a Democratic filibuster over certain abominations otherwise known as Bush/Cheney appointments, these Republicans in turn threatened to go "nuclear" and revoke the Cloture Rule by simple majority vote--thus making any business before the body subject to simple majority vote, including closing debate. How soon they forget, when the situation is reversed. Oops ... I forgot. They're politicians. (more)

Friday, January 15, 2010

#197 Obama's GPA Slipping into AfPak Hell II

Nothing has changed in the Graveyard Of Empires since Alexander. Though other nations have been fighting over Afghanistan throughout its interesting but bloody history, they never win. The tribes endure ... especially the Pashtuns, forever the largest and most historically hegemonic, who, as Talibans, were once our secret allies against the Russians (see "Charlie Wilson's War" posts DM #24-25, 28). Here we see them, more than a century ago, about to ambush their very own British allies against the Russian imperialist threat of their day! Double-cross and turn-about are always fair play, whether the ancient Zoroastrian kingdom of "Pastunistan" is allied with Mohamet, Genghis Khan, Queen Victoria, Charlie Wilson, or Mullah Omar, leader of the Taliban. The tribes endure.

Because they simply never give up. And won't, as long as the USA is seen as an aggressor/occupier of their homeland. Let them have their beloved Taliban. They get what they deserve--and, after all, once-upon-a-time we were crazy about them! Recruits come easy, and there are enough hiding places in the endless mountains and desert wastes of Afghanistan to harbor the combined forces of the NLF and Viet-Cong. Sorry, nightmare flashback. Now, Gen. Stanley McChrystal--our Gen. Wm. Westmoreland of the moment--would have us believe differently about all this. In an interview with Diane Sawyer, she reminds him that he had said on earlier occasions that "we needed a quantum shift [sic], something dramatic to shift the momentum." Then: "Have you done it," she asks, "have you turned the tide?" Here's his dramatically "shifty" reply:
I believe we are doing that right now. I believe we have changed the way we operate in Afghanistan. Changed some of our structures. We're on the way to convincing the Afghan people that we're here to protect them."
Interesting, because more than one CIA operative in the field says we're virtually "clueless" about how the Afghan people feel about anything. But more of that in a minute. McChrystal is mouthing the same old bullshit that we heard from the U.S. Military for years upon years during Vietnam. "Light at the end of the tunnel" and all that. Can't we learn from history and not repeat it? asketh the tired but true bromide. One of the most disappointing, nay shocking, aspects of the President's Dec. 1 speech justifying his fatal "surge" was Obama the scholar/teacher disavowing any valid connection between Vietnam and AfPak (DM #175). When even a second-rate mind should easily grasp it.

In so many words, a late-December-2009 report by the Deputy Chief Of Military Intelligence in Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, contradicts Obama and McChrystal at every "turn of the tide." Pretty much under the radar of mainstream news, his un-classified (which maybe they'd like to re-think) "State of the Insurgency" concludes most ominously that
The Afghan insurgency could SUSTAIN ITSELF INDEFINITELY. The Taliban retains its original partnerships to sustain support through its legitimacy and military capacity ... and the Taliban is expanding, contesting and controlling additional areas of influence ... The original stability is rapidly decreasing and getting worse.
Maj. Gen. Flynn further points out that "kinetic" events (love the euphemism for murder and mayhem) have increased by 300% since 2007, and another 60% since 2008, with greater frequency of attacks and in more varied areas. The Taliban, in other words, is more organized than ever. Robert Grenier, former CIA chief in Islamabad, says that this state of affairs will always obtain, because "A conventional military force, whatever its strategic intent, is going to look like to the local people a colonizing, occupying army, and is not going to succeed in Afghanistan." (See video of Sawyer, McChrystal, Flynn, Grenier here)

The full intelligence report, picked up and excerpted by the Jan. 5 London Times online (here), blames the problem in large measure on so little "intelligence" in the way our spies have been doing their business in the AfPak regions. Flynn quotes one of his operatives confessing to being "clueless" about the country he's spying on: "We're no more than fingernail deep in our understanding of the environment." Most tellingly, Flynn writes that we've "fallen into the trap" of waging an "anti-insurgency campaign" aimed at capturing or killing mid-to-high-level militants, while remaining oblivious to the people it was supposed to be helping.

Tell you what: How about we just leave the party early? These people aren't worth knowing.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

#196 Obama's GPA Slipping into AfPak Hell

Sure enough, the Associated Press reported yesterday that the President will request $33 billion on top of the already bloated $708 billion "Defense" Department budget for this year. To be wasted on the wasteland at right. After all, he's got to pay for the American troops to be wasted there as well. When will we put it plainly to the mothers of the sons and daughters who will go there to die, that they are throwing away their lives on a lost cause and a lost people? For, as I've said ad nauseum, the un-winnable "hearts and minds" populating these infernal wastes are as irredeemably bleak as the landscape.

Moreover, the Insurgents/Militants/OppositionForces--call them what you will-- amongst those benighted people can hold out forever in that blighted land. And here's the irony: Obama's own men in the field know that ... and have spoken thus. But more of that later.

First, let's follow the money. What's maddening is that the Commander and Chief's cavalry is already out of the barn. After three months of scholarly deliberation, he nonetheless made the retro Bush/Cheney decision to "surge"--how I do hate that lame euphemism--for the fatal second and thus irretrievable time. Congress paid for the first one last March without much of a kerfuffle, because it seemed to go along reasonably with Obama's campaign-promised intentions to clean up the former administration's mess and "re-deploy" from Iraq to Afghanistan--thus to re-focus on rooting out the 9/11 culprits, which, he said, should have been our sole purpose in being over there all along. But as of his November decision, AfPak is now an all-out WAR. Against any and all comers.

At a price tag of $33 billion. Not to mention the tally of thousands upon thousands of human lives. But the money drain is "costing" human lives here at home too. We're not over the Great Recession yet. Folks without jobs or health care will be walking the streets for the foreseeable future. And here we are peremptorily dumping into the AfPak money-pit what can only be a down-payment of billions on the eventual trillions that will be budgeted the next few years--and then only that much only if Obama's plans succeed! Much, much more if they don't.

Here are some dry but dire economic details. Excessive "defense" spending obviously drains the economy in general at a time when we can least afford it. But it's particularly hard on the JOB MARKET--that segment of the Economy that will take the longest to recover. This is just sheer anguish, moment-to-moment panic and despair, on the part of a good 20% of our fellow Americans right now. (Personal example: my ex-girlfriend is now over a year out of work; thus out of unemployment compensation; thus out of the means to afford COBRA ... or any health care at all.) And prodigal defense spending only exacerbates the problem, according to standard economic models developed by CEPR (Center for Economic and Policy Research) just after Obama announced the second AfPak escalation:
In these models, any government measure that interferes with market outcomes almost by definition reduces efficiency, leading to less economic growth fewer jobs.... For example, defense spending means that the government is pulling away resources from the uses determined by the market and instead using them to buy weapons and supplies and to pay for soldiers and other military personnel. In standard economic models, defense spending is a direct drain on the economy, reducing efficiency, slowing growth, and costing jobs. (CEPR 11/10/09 here)
In fact, the job losses from our Middle-East misadventurism are projected to run into the millions, over and above the millions already out of work. This will assuredly happen unless Obama, who Speaker Nancy Pelosi has already said is on his own when it's time to defend the increased funding, or Congress itself does the right thing and Constitutionally puts an end to it. Fat chance. (more)

Monday, January 11, 2010

#195 Obama's Freshman Year Report Card III

But even as the AfPak casualties keep rising, and the body bags keep de-planing and piling-up at Dover AFB and pulling-down this guy's GPA, there is HOPE for "Change You Can Believe In"--because there already has been. More change than I thought, frankly--as evidenced in the last two posts--much of it obfuscated by front-line issues of War and Health Care. Naturally and perhaps rightly so.

The tangibles that follow depend a lot on the intangibles of Obama's character and personality. He is above all, I think, a congenital scholar/teacher (e.g. at Harvard above). First true intellectual since Clinton. Even though the President came to the wrong decision about Afghanistan, in my opinion, it's gratifying that he took three months THINKING it over. Can this man be at any greater distance from the mindless "decidership" of trigger-happy, former First Cowboy G. Dubya Bush, who notoriously relied solely on rumblings of the gut and the voice of God? No, Obama's primary strength is cool, informed deliberation, first and foremost. I trust the President's mind.

III. "OTHER" 20% of Grade: 3.75 = B+

--Judge Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. A very big deal, and very high marks for the President. Against all sorts of racist and reactionary opposition, Obama got his super-qualified first-choice through the House of Lords. A milestone: first Latina, and only the third woman confirmed to that tottering, all-white-male body. Already the new Executive is making his influence felt on the judicial branch of our government.

--Lesser accomplishments--all indicating positive and progressive change in the way the White House does business--include, among other things,

  • Kicking out the Lobbyists--or at least severely limiting their access;
  • Instructing all federal agencies to adopt policies conducive to openness and transparency, and to pay strict attention to the Freedom of Information Act;
  • Being more open to the public generally--as opposed to the insularity of former administration--with more press conferences, FDR-like radio addresses, Town Halls, etc.;
  • Closing loopholes for off-shore corporate tax-havens and Swiss bank accounts;
  • Easing travel restrictions to Cuba, thereby setting the stage for ending our unjust and self-defeating policies toward this long-suffering (at our hands) country in our back-yard;
  • Celebrating the first ever Seder at the White House, which may seem a small thing, but in reality it is writ large symbolically in terms of the new inclusiveness on the part of the Obama administration--i.e. to recognize the diversity of the American people and to tell the world that the Executive Branch is no longer the eminent domain of the Christian Right.
Then there's the old "E" for Effort. And a double "O" for Obama Optimism. These are quantities not be gainsaid in this time of Anxiety and Need for his fellow Americans. In fact, he comes close to exuding the confidence of a JFK or Clinton, such that he seems fully capable of getting all that needs to be done, done. Early on, even his inner-council reputedly advised him to slow down, to take it one thing at a time. Nope. Life is short, and in Presidential as in First-Doggy-Bo years, even shorter. So he has taken on EVERYTHING at a time. And scoring the highest marks for it.

Unfortunately--to play this game but a moment longer--the overall grade point of this clearly A-plus student is being compromised by the Foreign Policy component, involving more specifically the Middle-East War assignment. He'll remain at the "B-minus" level, alas, as long as he's sunk in its bloody slough ... us along with him.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

#194 Obama's Freshman Year Report Card II

Now, Obama's no FDR, but he will turn in his only "Incomplete" next semester. Even if he gets through Congress a less-than-perfect Health-Care Reform bill, it will get through. He will be the first and only of SEVEN Presidents before him to accomplish that way-overdue feat. His overall grade domestically might then be shaved back a bit, but ending up as a good, solid "A"--and maybe higher, if the White House and the less-troglodytic members of the combined legislatures can come up with some sort of Public-Option "wedge," called by any other name, in the final bill. It's the following heavily-weighted area, however, that brings down his final grade.

II. FOREIGN POLICY 40% of Grade: 1.75 = D-plus.

--The Iraq/Afghanistan/Pakistan axis of evil. And Graveyard of Empires, including us, if Obama doesn't re-think, quick. Otherwise, this will remain an F-minus-minus constant on the President's record for some semesters to come, I fear ... but there are some ameliorating factors, like below.

--At least he's got a timetable for ultimate withdrawal. Something too sacrilegious to even contemplate for Bush/Cheney and Company.

--Also totally "foreign" to the former administration is Obama's non-military outreach to the troubled and troublesome Muslim world. He's gonna try to get along. Been to Ankara; been to Cairo. To loud acclaim. It just might work. He's charmed the rest of the world already.

--And that's why he won the Nobel Peace Prize ... against all logic, really. But scoring not insignificant points toward his final grade. For, think about it: he's got a silver-platter platform--however willy-nilly it came to him--to talk Peace. (Just as Al Gore is similarly credentialized to talk global warming.) And the far-more-sophisticated-collectively-than-us culture of northern Europe, represented by the furry-fuzzy Scandians, think Obama can achieve it. For them, his re-starting the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Talks was a very, very big step.

--For, at heart, Obama is a "community organizer," not a willing War President, in decided contrast to his gun-slinging predecessor. And he wants Us and the World to know it. This student would rather sing "ain't gonna study war no more" than a refrain from "Battle Hymn of the Republic." Despite the horrific AfPak quagmire, he's done some things--somewhat obscured by that war--symptomatic of a changed state of mind in the White House. In a complete reversal of what the last aggressivist/militarist administration would ever think of doing, Obama has

  • Phased-out expensive or outdated, and hence "offensively" self-indulgent Weapons of War, like the F-22 war-plane, and other battlefield systems NOT even used or needed in the Middle-East Wars;
  • Cut funding of the essentially sci-fi, Star-Wars-in-the-Sky Missile "Defense" Program by $1.4 billion for 2010;
  • Ended news blackouts on full information about war casualties, and on coverage of fallen soldiers returned to Dover Air Force Base;
  • Initiated an absolute NO-TORTURE policy, bringing us, about-time-wise, into full compliance with Geneva Convention standards;
And managed to bring this grade component close to a "C"--with only 20% to go. (more)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

#193 Obama's Freshman Year Report Card

After two semesters as President, not counting his stealing an occasional smoke in the little boys' room, here it is: Overall GPA: 2.85 = B-minus. Results certified by the accounting team of Funk and Wagnalls and delivered to my front porch in a sealed mayonnaise jar.

The kid's got a lot of potential. Brainy. Could be a straight-A student, but holding him back from the beginning is his flawed and so-far uncorrected view of what needs to be done in the Middle East, WAR-wise. This near-failing grade is offset, though, by a few achievements on the foreign policy front, and by some laudable accomplishments domestically. Further, in regard to the latter area, Mr. Obama has been allowed to take an "I" in Health-Care Reform, since the project is currently "Incomplete" and will have to be carried over to next semester. Not counted.

I. DOMESTIC POLICY 40% of Grade: 4.25 = A-plus.

--When we disallow the health-care debacle, the President gets the very highest scores for saving the American Economy. The various Stimuli worked. The Job-deficit will mend itself slowly, but meanwhile Obama created through Transportation 2500 highway projects that will eventually employ 260,000. Plus some other things. "Cash for Clunkers," for one, was a blockbuster.

--And even though comprehensive Reform is in limbo, Obama could do his Executive thing and expand Health Insurance for Children (SCHIP) to cover thousands of families in need. and an additional 4 million children.

--Education is a gainer with his $2500 tax-credit for qualified families to send their kids off to college. Authorized expansion of student loans overall.

--Women have acquired greater Socio-Economic parity with Obama-sponsored legislation to make it easier to sue their employers for wage-discrimination.

--On the Environmental front he got the (albeit weak) Cap and Trade thing through a reluctant Congress, too, which will green-up our carbon footprint a bit, though much more needs to be done. In this area also--reversing the predatory policies of Bush/Cheney--the President was able to sign into law the Omnibus PUBLIC LAND Management Act, immediately protecting an additional 2 million acres of federal lands, and, in future, more. Working on National Energy Grid to get us ultimately out of the oil business.

--Finally, Obama is rescuing Science from the Luddite idiocracy of the past administration, if only in tone. We all know the White House has taken a quantum leap in overall I.Q. scores. Symptomatic is the dramatic return of federallly-funded stem-cell research. By Executive order. No more demon-haunted restrictions on money for same. High marks here. (more)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

#192 Unhealthy Alliance: Bankers & Health Moguls

And here they were together ... in Raleigh this week. I'm still a bit puzzled about the set-up, PR-wise, but of course these two are not at all strange bedfellows when you think about it. The unconscionable prodigality of Big-Med has been in no way unhelpful with Big-Bank USA's unbridled avarice in pushing this country--individually and collectively--to the brink of BANKruptcy.

The scene Monday at Raleigh's opulent Center for the Performing Arts (?!) was this: The top-billed show was the Annual Economic Forecast Forum, sponsored jointly by the NC Banker's Association and the NC Chamber of Commerce. In the spotlight was Brian Moynihan, newly appointed to replace all-but-disgraced Ken Lewis as CEO of notorious, big-bailout recipient Bank of America. But the opening act for the live and TV audience was a podium-panel discussion about Health-Care Reform, relevance unexplained.

A picture is worth a thousand words, and their video backdrop says it all. Here they were, providers and protectors of our health care system, sitting around discussing and effectively dismissing the vital concerns of millions of Americans, while wall-papered behind them were logos screaming money, money, money. Take a look.

Lanier Cansley, head of the only officially public entity represented, NC Health and Human Services, led off complaining about the length of a 2000 page bill (which really doesn't exist yet in any kind of hard copy), while lamenting on the other side of his mouth that it leaves too many unanswered economic questions! More empty platitudes ensued. Spokeswoman Billie Redmond for Wake-Med, the county hospital system, who we would expect to be more public-consumer oriented, shilled for the Chamber: "There are some very strong unintended consequences to the business community and to its employers that could come from it." The representative from Big-Pharma, Jack Bailey of GlaxoSmithKline, unsurprisingly opposed "the [phantom] bill in its current form" because it does not emphasize wellness and disease prevention enough. What clever misdirection. As if drug companies made money off healthy people.

But I was most impressed by the following piece of brilliantly subversive rhetoric delivered by Dr. William Roper, dean of the Med-School at UNC-Chapel Hill. He and his colleague over at Duke both had "doubts" about "the bill"--everybody conveniently forgetting that the thing is still in process between the House and Senate--but it's Dr. Roper who pulled-off the insidious clincher. You can catch on the video, but I'll highlight it here:
Are we ready ever to have health care in America that is a COMMUNAL ACTIVITY with limits placed that allow us to make better use of dollars so that we can care for everybody? I'm a little worried about that.
He may have had to practice that rather discordant phrase, "communal activity," in front of a mirror to get it just right. Translation: the Public Option is Communism. And good ol' capitalistic "America"--all you Bankers and Chamber-of-Commerce people out there in the audience--will NOT be "ready ever" for such a thing. To "care for everybody" just might not turn a profit.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

#191 Biggest Shock Footnote: the Baucus Circle of Hell

Love it. Reminds me so much of Dante's layered concentricity of moral evil in the Inferno. This cherishable info-graphic is courtesy of the Sunlight Foundation. (To focus in on their story and the fuzzy print click here.) You can see the dollar signs well enough, and the corporate logos. Sunlight's research reveals that these health care giants "bundle" their GRAFT money--into the millions over the years for this powerful "Blue Dog" Democratic Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee --in two ways: direct campaign contributions from the corporation (light blue); and cash donations by their hired lobbyists (dark blue). In Baucus' case, instructively, he gets more pimp money from the guys huddling and schmoozing in the Capitol lobby than from their employers! He's yea verily be-smudged all over with the Lake of Pitch.

Enough said about this. But, my goodness, when I squint my eyes and superimpose Dante's Hell on the graphic above--there it is. Stratified circles of sin spiraling in and down to the center and bottom of all evil: SATAN, frozen in that icy-cold 9th circle of compound betrayal and FRAUD. Sorry, Max. Got carried away.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

#190 Biggest Shock of 2009--Graft in Congress II

This is another of Gustave Dore's etchings from the 8th Circle of Dante's Inferno, FRAUD, depicting the punishment of the simoniacs (after Simon Magus in Acts)--those in the ecclesiastical hierarchy who accept BRIBES for favors in awarding offices and benefices. Because of the Roman Church's exalted influence on the secular world of its time, these crimes for Dante would be as much a betrayal of the public trust as those of the bad civilian politicians in their Lake of Pitch. Here, standing next to his guide, Virgil, Dante bends to get a closer look, obviously satisfied with their suffering. Since they have abused their spiritual offices, turned them upside-down for monetary gain, they are treated to an inverted baptism--head buried in a fiery font-- for eternity. You might say (pace Tarentino) the poet "gets medieval on their ass."

For Dante, these crimes inflicted by folks in positions of public trust are just one circle less nefarious than those of personal betrayal. He puts the likes of Judas and Brutus in the lowest, ice-bound 9th Circle. (But even Brutus' private treachery, we recall, threw Re-public-an Rome into bloody civil war.) We can, I think, be instructed by Dante's moral metrics here. Fuggedabout your sins of passion or self-indulgence--Gluttony and Anger, for example, occupy upper circles of lesser punishments, and Lust gets off easy--the worst crimes are those against humanity, those which threaten society as a whole. You can look to Dante's 8th Circle of FRAUD (fueled by greed) for the cause of the downfall of the American economy in 2008. Fiduciary responsibility gone bad.

As for Congress ... they're on the take. Riddled with GRAFT. Pimped by Lobbyists. Put simply, How can these Republicans and "Blue Dog" Democrats in good conscience VOTE on a Health-Care bill in the public interest when they've been paid-off lavishly by private interests? Well, they can't. And ergo they shouldn't. They should at very least recuse themselves. Judges do it, in cases of conflict of interest. Again, call me naive, but from a moral/ethical standpoint, it all seems so obvious.

To quote myself from last July, here's what they're getting away with:

Big-Med gave nearly $170 million to Congressmen in 2007-2008, and the money keeps flowing to, in particular, those federal lawmakers on key committees who can pull strings on the heath-care debate. Charles Grassley, ranking Republican on the powerful SENATE Finance Committee, has received $2 million from the health and insurance sectors (since 2003). But since the the Democrats took over in 2006, the majority of Big-Med money has shifted to moderate key Democrats (Republicans can be counted on to vote NO on anything Obama, anyway) like HOUSE Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel, who's received $1.6 million over the last two years. Big winner: Democrat Max Baucus, CHAIRMAN of the SENATE Finance Committee. This guy has received over $3 million from such corporate contributors as New York Life, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Schering-Plough and Merck. (Daily Mosteller #133, 7/24/09)
Sure enough, Baucus/Grassley killed the Public Option in the Senate, and it passed only by the tiniest of margins in the House. May the miscreants all be consigned, metaphorically, to the lowest circles of Dante's Hell. They can take their pick of the Fiery Font or the Lake of Pitch. Or ... bring out the tar and feathers, and run 'em outta town.

Friday, January 1, 2010

#189 Biggest Shock of 2009--Graft in Congress

Call it corruption, fraud, and abuse of office; or call it more specifically bribery, barratry, and simony; and also call me naive. Until this year, The BlogMan was simply unaware of the ENORMITY (in all senses) of the problem. The sad facts point to a larcenous gang of grafters and grifters in Congress taking money and making money-tainted laws. Or taking the money for NOT making laws--so much of that went on this last year--all of which profoundly threatens our democratic system of government (DM #133).The righteous amongst them, no matter the party, just can't get anything of good consequence done. The GREED that abounds is astounding.

Nothing new, of course. Back in the 14C, the etching above represents how Dante Alighieri would have dealt with corrupt politicians if he could get hold of them in the afterlife. (Or if he could in real life--his Divina Commedia wouldn't have been written if corrupt Florentine officials hadn't driven the aspiring statesman into exile.) He would give 'em a good ol' tar-and-feathering. Well, tar. That's a lake of black pitch you see above, where Dante condemns the miscreants to eternal punishment beneath the surface. Dante's got a big hate on here. One of them tries to escape, but doesn't get far. He puts these Barrators (civil graft) in Hell's 8th and next-to-deepest circle, FRAUD, along with the Simoniacs (ecclesiastical graft), and the False Counselors--all church and state officials, with differing but symbolically appropriate punishments, who suborn their positions of authority for money or power or both.

When I taught selections from the Inferno in World Lit, I made sure the students realized that the poet's various after-life punishments are allegorically tied to the sinner's crimes in earthly life. And that really they were already being punished in the here and now, conscience-wise. What better metaphor for GRAFT than black tar or pitch? The color is appropriate: political corruption is a dark and secret crime, carried on undercover in the shadows behind the scenes. And its sticky. It smudges and smears willy-nilly all involved with a blackish stain that is not easily wiped clean. And once waded into, that lake of pitch sucks you in and down forever. There's no escape. Just ask the fossils in the La Brea tar pits. Or Br'er Rabbit.

So who in Congress bears that ineradicable, pitch-black stain of GRAFT ... of corruption and fraud? Whose votes for cash threaten our democratic system? Who should be tarred and feathered and run outta town? Alas, too many. (more)