Friday, February 27, 2009
This is a true story about a guy who for many years, as law enforcement busied themselves with other things, was allowed to get away with shoving knives into the bellies of literally thousands of people. Many were hospitalized for several days afterward. Some died. And yet, while Bill Clinton was in office, this person ran free. Not only ran free: actually increased the number of people whom he remorselessly cut open, watching coolly as their guts, shockingly often, spilled out of the holes he made. It was public knowledge, yet the entire Clinton administration looked the other way.
Oh wait. That was me. Never mind.
Blissfully unaware of the stench of flop-sweat around them, Republican leaders and their usual enablers are sifting through Obama's proposals, looking for ideas to ridicule. Reduced mostly to making stuff up, they seem to be having a hard time finding actual items. Now, it seems, they've got one, and it's a doozy: tattoo removal. Barack Obama wants us taxpayers to pay for tattoo removal! The bastard.
I know what I see: buncha skinny Hollywood types, fancy boob-jobs, lining up for a freebie, on our dime. Changing tattoos every year like they change their Ferraris. It's outrageous!!
Oh wait. The money is for a program hailed by liberals and conservatives alike. Helping people get out of gangs. Reducing crime. Improving lives, finding jobs. Never mind.
Meanwhile, CPAC meets and Republicans fawn, as they parade to the podium and cheer for people who call for nuking Chicago, and who question Obama's birthplace. Again. This is who they've become; the only ones left.
They say sunlight is cleansing. You'd think, like Bavarian bloodsuckers (taking territorial liberties for alliterative reasons), Republicans like this would prefer the shadows. Yet, under pressure from a President who appeals so broadly, they keep exposing themselves, willingly, in panic. Michael Steele, Michelle Bachmann. Newt, Sean. On it goes. A parade of pathetic and pallid promoters, proudly producing pitiful and pusillanimous pronouncements and putrid punditry, proclaiming pork in purple prose, plainly projecting their party on a perplexingly purposeful path to political poverty.
Really, can't they see how silly they look? As the public rallies around Obama and his agenda in ever-increasing numbers, do Republican leaders actually think it's a winning strategy to oppose him so reflexively, without providing anything positive? Just the same ideas that have been shown to have failed, and have been rejected? To be seen only as nay-sayers, and to do so so laughably?
But, hey, who am I to tell them to wise up? If they want to keep digging, I guess the bipartisan thing is to hand them their shovels.
During the interminable presidential campaign, John McCain was fond of saying, "I know how to get Osama bin Laden." Now that it's over, and in deference to those on the right who are demanding more bipartisanship, I think it's time for President Obama to reach out once again.
In the name of national security, and in the spirit of selflessness, Barack Obama must publicly announce that he is inviting John McCain to share his knowledge (privately, of course, so he won't "telegraph his punches") with the military. The announcement should include the statement that when the information has been provided, and when bin Laden is caught, McCain will deserve -- and receive -- all the credit.
I'll start holding my breath.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Contrary to the accusations of detractors, I don't believe Barack Obama is god, or even god-like. I do, however, find him to be unlike any politician in recent memory, and closer to what I'd consider ideal than any I've lately seen.
Which is not to say I agree with everything he says or does. Particularly his plan for more troops in Afghanistan, and, to a lesser extent (because I don't really understand banking), his reluctance to put some banks in receivership. Is it because he thinks his plan is better, or because he's afraid of the politics? I don't know. But some economists argue in ways I find compelling; particularly Paul Krugman.
But the ideal politician is not one with whom I universally agree. It's one who is intelligent and thoughtful, who understands the arguments, and can make a case for his. Who addresses constituents as if they are adults. Who speaks well, and can mix inspiration, humor, and reality. Who doesn't need notes all the time to form a sentence. Who is truthful. Who seems more concerned with solutions than the next election. In all of these, Barack Obama comes closer than any I can name.
Which is exactly the problem. LT couldn't score if his offensive line were from a Pop Warner team. Likewise, Magic Johnson made Larry Bird better, and vice versa. As I watched Obama's speech to Congress, and observed the people in the audience; as I listened to Bobby Jindal's response, and as I've heard commentary from the likes of Tom Delay, it seems clear: what's missing is more people like Obama on his side, and across the line of scrimmage. And there are none. It bodes ill.
The good news is that the vast majority of people seem, to a greater or lesser extent, to share my feeling about the president. So even if the politicians around him are, variously, stupid, incompetent, hide-bound, narrow, incapable of forward-thinking, if it's clear that Obama has support from the electorate, the rest of Washington might be expected, in spite of themselves and their limitations, to get the message. In the referenced poll, 92% of people had a favorable view of the speech.
Amazing, isn't it? During the campaign, Obama said it wasn't about him, it was about us. He couldn't do it alone. Change comes from the bottom up. It's what energized the people (myself included) who worked for and donated to him: the idea that democracy could, after years of disbelief, actually be made to work. I'm not yet close to convinced that it's true. But given the mediocrity of most of our leaders, the only real hope is that the people make it clear what they want. If they want enough of what Obama wants, and if they continue to make themselves heard, it's conceivable he could accomplish things in spite of Congress. It would be the opposite of what's been the norm for years: politicians saying one thing and doing another, while voters eventually tuned it all out, disillusioned, convinced they didn't matter.
This would be a new (or maybe a very old) paradigm: a president demanding that the electorate stayed actively tuned in, letting Congress know what they think, believing it makes a difference. And actually making a difference. This is the power that Obama has, and I think he knows it. I believe the rest of our national politicians know it, too. Some are excited, some are scared. But maybe they'll all be listening. His budget should be a real test; Congressional Republicans are already screaming bloody murder.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
On a more serious note, I think the essential point of Obama's speech is one that has, as far as I can tell, gotten less coverage and thought than it deserves:
"...In other words, we have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election. A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future. Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn't afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day.
Well that day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here..."
That's the whole deal, the truth, the reality of what we've been fed for the past four decades (with one eight-year exception), the price to be paid for it: the false economy of Reagan/Bush/Bush, with the last Bush having taken it to an extreme the failure to rail against which by Republicans is to their eternal shame. And our eternal catastrophe.
It's been obvious for a long time: the economy under Republicans has been like the hole in a doughnut. It's been a credit card. Go forth and spend, we were told. And we did. Lookie here, things are great, they told us, and we agreed. That we were running up debt on the card, and that we'd be the ones to have to pay it off -- well, we were told and we agreed, nothing to worry about. Chickens? Roost? Won't happen.
Well, it has. There was always going to be a heavy price to pay. Massive debt, ignoring fundamental needs, greed, partying on. There was a reckoning coming back at us, and here it is. That's the essence of what Obama said last night. And it's the undeniable truth.
And here's the thing: with winks and nods and short-term thinking, with scaring enough people into reelecting George Bush, with robbing the store before our very eyes and calling it patriotism, the Republican party and those who bought its paper promises are to blame. As are well all. It's hard to resist the seduction: lower taxes, ignore societal needs, let someone else worry about it, rock on.
Well that day of reckoning has arrived. It's not a message those who got us here want to hear. They're doing everything they can to deny it, to continue the party into the darkest of night.
In self-righteous fury we hear them say: it was those people who bought houses they couldn't afford. Spending money they didn't have. How awful, how disgraceful, how unAmerican. Can they not see the irony? That the economic policy we've been sold since Reagan was exactly that? Spending money we didn't have, buying things we couldn't afford, ignoring the leaky roof?
Shame on those homeowners, they say, while trying to bring down the man who says it's time to face the music.
The day of reckoning has arrived.
When will they say shame on us?
[Updated answer: never, evidently, as long as they continue to think like this.]
I was at a lecture series last night, so I watched Barack and Bobby online. I have a few thoughts.
It's incredibly distracting to have to watch Nancy Pelosi pistoning up and down like a crazed crankshaft. Her thighs must be throbbing, and that's not an image I wanted to take away when I clicked on. In fact, the whole bobbing spectacle of congressfolk thrusting themselves in and out of their chairs in some sort of parapatriotic dance-off with the other side is a perfect image of their collective vacuity.
On the other hand, our president was in fine form, saying things that both sides needed to hear. I'm certain that if the author was unknown to them, most on the right would have said they agreed with most of his words. In some alternate universe -- one doing much better at the moment than ours -- it might have happened. I'm looking for a wormhole as we speak.
I figured it would be strange the minute I saw Bobby Jindal appear in a setting meant to evoke a president walking down that White House hall to a podium. Except that he came only half-way, and from the right, bouncing boyishly with a silly grin on his face. Uncaring of the irony, he declaimed as if he'd not even heard what Obama said, which happened to have contradicted most of his points. And he used Katrina as an example of why we shouldn't trust Obama!! OUCH. Guess he missed the point of the election: the people voted out BAD government, in the hope for and belief in GOOD government.
When you get dumped on by Charles Krauthammer, who could -- and did -- rationalize every failure of the Bush administration and who has never found a worthy molecule in Barack Obama's body and never will, I'd say the great hope and future of the Republican party failed to measure up. But he didn't have much to work with. As one of my mentors liked to say, you can't shine a turd. I give him credit for trying. Too bad he sounded like this.
Of the disasters George Bush left to us, the worst is the so-called "war on terror." Couple dozen guys with box-cutters have, it turns out, brought us to our knees. Three trillion dollars, exhausted military, failing economy, inability properly to react to the real threats, stuck in two interminable wars. The word "overreaction" has been redefined for all time.
I'm mindful of two things: first, there is a real threat from terrorists, mainly of the radical Islamic type (give or take a few home-grown crazies like Timothy McVey and Eric Rudolph.) Second, having recklessly invaded Iraq and abandoning Afghanistan at a time when keeping up the pressure likely would have seen a finished job by now, we have to address our obligations there. Which is why what Bush did is so awful: he's left a problem with no obvious solution. Like the economy, but with more death.
Invading countries was never going to wipe out terrorism or terrorists. The Afghanistan war, however, had other justifications, not the least of which was retribution. Iraq, not so much. Whatever the reason for that one -- and I still have no idea what it was -- fighting terrorism was never even remotely credible. Terrorism isn't a place or an army. The invasion was, to put it as kindly as possible, woefully ill-conceived as a response to terrorism.
So what do we do?
The main arguments for staying in Iraq are that if we leave, it will get worse. It will have been for nothing. It will become a haven for terrorists. There will be slaughter. All, really, say pretty much the same thing. But what's the end-point? Is there one? Must we continue the literal and figurative bleeding because of already spilt blood? As much as I agree that having broken the country we have an obligation to repair it, I think it's obvious by now that we've done all we can and more, that our presence is only prolonging the inevitable, whatever the inevitable is. Under Saddam, they had no choice in their future. Now they do. It's time to leave their future to them. It will be what it was always going to be, the minute we invaded. They can choose to cooperate among themselves, or kill each other off. As cold as that seems, the time and blood and treasure we've spent there hasn't altered the need for Iraqis (who never were a natural fit with one another, in a country that was imposed on rather than created by them) finally to figure it out for themselves, whatever "it" is.
If Afghanistan is a different country -- with ancient borders and perpetual tribalism and wars -- the gist is the same: we can't ultimately expect to alter their future, which, in their case, means prevent terrorists from encamping in that region. Contrary to mythology, it was Afghanistan, not Ronald Reagan, that brought down the Soviet Union. Which is why I think Barack Obama is making a mistake sending more troops there.
In the end, it's about protecting ourselves, and whereas there's only a few things over which we have complete control, they are critically important. George Bush got it entirely backwards. And I think it's time for Barack Obama to be as truthful about that as he has been about the economic wreckage.
"War on Terror" was and is a misnomer, a blatant misunderstanding of what we face and what we can do. Terrorism is not an army, and it can't be ended with war. Given what a handful of zealots did on 9/11, and given the catastrophically wrong response which has done more damage by a factor of a billion, it should be obvious. Invading where, fighting whom, could prevent another 9/11? If it were possible -- and the opposite is true, as we've seen -- to eliminate 99% of terrorists with the methods employed by George Bush, we'd still be at roughly equal risk as we were on 9/10/01. The greatest need, then, is not to send in armies; it's to shore up our defenses at home, an approach almost entirely neglected in response to 9/11, except for airport security. Which, it is to be recalled, was royally botched at first as Bush insisted on privatizing it, while resisting the idea of a department of homeland security (which, to my ear, sounds a little too much like "fatherland") and fighting the idea of a 9/11 commission.
Protecting ourselves against terrorism requires a much greater effort at security, of ports, plants, dams. And it requires intelligence gathering. It is, as John Kerry said while the Republicans scoffed, a law enforcement issue. The successes we've had (questionable as they've turned out to be, in many cases) have come from police work. Which is why I happen to have no problem at all with various forms of electronic surveillance; but I see no reason why it can't be done legally. Is our Constitution really that flawed?
Equally important is seeking and getting cooperation from the rest of the world, the likelihood of which increases in proportion to the esteem in which we're held around the world. You're less likely to help someone you hate than someone you respect, whom you see as sharing your goals. Which is perhaps the most devastatingly negative consequence of the Cheney/Bush approach.
So what is there to do? Admit reality. Make the case that we've done it wrong up until now. Keep enough troops in Iraq as is necessary to continue training theirs and to protect ours. In Afghanistan, offer as much humanitarian assistance as is wanted and provide the protection it requires. Continue diplomatic efforts in the region, encourage help from the rest of the world. But recognize that the only people who can stop the Taliban are the Afghans and Pakistanis themselves. Keep up surveillance, fire off a predator missile prn, and fall the hell back. Because it will never end by force; not our force, anyway.
With a tenth of the money spent on the wars, and without the loss of life, we could have beefed up our ability to protect ourselves and be much safer. It's a tragedy that that wasn't our approach from the beginning, but that's not a reason to keep compounding the error.
Speaking that kind of truth would make the response from the right to his economic realism look like a love-fest. And it would take a literal willingness on Obama's part to die for it; because the veiled threats we've seen for months would become overt, and there'd be thousands willing to carry it out. If I have no certainty of the right approach to the impossible problems we've inherited, of that I have no doubt.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
My god. The hero is a liberal???
"Sullenberger, a 58-year-old who joined a US Airways predecessor in 1980, told the House aviation subcommittee that his pay has been cut 40 percent in recent years and his pension has been terminated and replaced with a promise "worth pennies on the dollar" from the federally created Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. These cuts followed a wave of airline bankruptcies after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks compounded by the current recession, he said. "The bankruptcies were used by some as a fishing expedition to get what they could not get in normal times," Sullenberger said of the airlines. He said the problems began with the deregulation of the industry in the 1970s." (emphasis mine.)
Will conservatives have nothing left? (emphasis mining.)
Yeah, so I watch "24," the TV show for torture-lovers. Whaddya gonna do about it?
Here's my point: last night, for the million and twelfth time, Hollywood has resorted to a death cliché that has no anatomic basis. I speak as a surgeon.
If you are shot in the gut, blood will not immediately ooze from your mouth. Nor, if it did -- from a highly unlikely rending of stomach and aorta in such a way as to rapidly fill the stomach -- would it be that sad little half-mouthful of maroon that materializes on cue, every time, as the eyes glaze over.
Same is true for a shot to the chest, from which, if there were blood at all, it would be in the form of fitful coughing, hardly lending itself to the sad music and doleful close-up.
That mouth thing? Dramatically dribbling dollop of damask drool? Complete bullsh*t.
Had to get it off my chest. Thanks. I feel better.
I find the above (and I've seen such data before) interesting. It demonstrates what I've been saying here, and against which Republican apologists argue in the same way some believers argue the age of the earth. Reaganesque tax cuts don't work the way Republicans claim, and never have. Yet the dead-enders that are the elected representatives of that party offer up only more of the same, while doing their best to derail and discredit those who want to do things differently.
It's amazing to me, nearly unbelievable. Elected Republicans, and too many of those who sent them there, appear more than willing -- anxious!! -- to be known as the party that denies facts. They actually seem to believe the public, whom they've so easily fooled for most of the last forty years, will forever, even now, buy what they're selling. And bring them back to power. To have it done to themselves all again. Like some sort of unholy Stockholm syndrome.
I'm not convinced Obama can change as much as he thinks. He certainly can't ever get the current crop of Congressional Republicans to act responsibly -- no one could. But, light-hearted and silly optimist that readers will recognize in me, I think maybe he's done this much: he's convinced a majority of the country that they've been deeply mislead and mortally damaged by Republican catechism. The question is whether the minority who still want to believe are enough to prevent the damage from being undone.
The need to believe the unbelieveable, after all, is powerful; and it runs deep and to the right.
Monday, February 23, 2009
Some might call it a small point: Barack Obama, in his budget projections, has rejected the Bushian accounting tricks used to make deficits look smaller than they really were. It's something that always bugged me, that shameless sleight-of-hand, winked at by everyone in Congress.
The effect, of course, is that the deficits in the Obama budget, in their unprecedented honesty, will look larger than they would have, had the old flim-flam been carried forward. Including, as never before, the cost of the wars, Medicare payments, AMT effects, it adds nearly three trillion over ten years, just by honest accounting. You can be sure the right-wing screamers will holler at the numbers without ever mentioning what has changed.
Meanwhile, as he has always said, and by the methods on which he campaigned and was elected, the President has announced his intention to bring deficits under better control, cutting it by half in his first term. Wise or not, possible or not, it's a bold goal, under present conditions. That his plan includes (in addition to spending cuts) raising taxes on the wealthy will be decried far and wide; already I can hear the shrieks. But, assuming those Republican values of patriotism, sacrifice, and fairness actually mean something, it's hard to argue against the need. Income disparity under Bush grew to unprecedented levels, as did the national debt, in large measure because of his untimely and overly generous tax cuts.* In a time of such crisis, can those who benefited disproportionately from the free-for-all that led to our downfall not now see the need to give something back, at least until the leaks are plugged? To save the country? Eventually, one can hope (this one anyway) that Obama will be willing to go all Willie Sutton (snopes be damned!) and aim where the real money is: entitlements, and military spending in areas other than the wars.
Clinging, as is their wont, to the same ideas they've had for decades, it's apparent to me that many on the right, and most especially their elected representatives, simply can't or refuse to see how dire the world economy is, how unprecedented is the breadth and speed of the downfall. Nor, of course, are they where they are (in Congress, on the radio and at Fox) because of their ability rationally to approach a crisis. Quite the contrary. To them, change is impossible. If they saw it, they'd be unable to recognize it, any more than a line can recognize a cube. They were elected, or hired, to reinforce the beliefs of those who made up their minds long ago, or had them made up for them, not to create new thoughts. Most certainly, not to seek new truths. That's, well, almost like thinking. Like open-mindedness. (If you question the certainty that Republican leaders are elected specifically and only because of their close-minded stupidity, read this.)
Following the examples of a generation of leaders, when facts appear that contradict, they have only one reaction: ignore. Cleave to the old comforts. Things are fine. Deregulate, cut taxes, blame someone else. People who point out it's never worked are haters. Communists. Radical communists. Possibly even -- the horror! -- realists.
Until Republicans start electing people willing to open eyes, ears and brains, to define common ground as something other than complete acceptance of their sodden ideas, bipartisanship is not only impossible. It's unthinkable.
* I recognize the arguments that over-taxation can stifle growth, and I agree. I don't pretend to know the sweet spot. But I do know there was enormous growth, strength of the dollar, and elimination of deficits with the rates in place before the Bush cuts, and to which Obama is likely to propose returning. If not perfect, they seem to have worked pretty damn well. It's not as if something doesn't need to change.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
In a recent New Yorker magazine issue (Feb 9) was a quote from John Updike which perfectly frames the problem with science for those who prefer belief over reason:
"The non-scientist's relation to modern science is basically craven: we look to its discoveries and technology to save us from disease, to give us a faster ride and a softer life, and at the same time we shrink from what it has to tell us of our perilous and insignificant place in the cosmos. Not that threats to our safety and significance were absent from the pre-scientific world, or that arguments against a God-bestowed human grandeur were lacking before Darwin. But our century's revelations of unthinkable largeness and unimaginable smallness, of abysmal stretches of geological time when we were nothing, of supernumerary galaxies and indeterminate subatomic behavior, of a kind of mad mathematical violence at the heart of matter have scorched us deeper than we know."
The fundamental needs of the human mind to avoid certain kinds of discordance are so great as to lead it away from itself. It's built in. Humans, in their self-awareness (and, paradoxically, in their lack of it) are able to ask questions the answers to which most simply can't handle. Nor recognize or admit it.
Once again we see the relationship between some kinds of blind belief and a large number of conservatives: they are of a piece. Inquiry is not part of the equation, except as it reinforces the need to believe certain things for one's own comfort, explicitly at the expense of reality. Their leaders are chosen specifically for that trait.
Liberalism is another thing altogether. One can only wonder why they coexist, and which form of human thinking is the more evolved. Given the direction one moves based on one or the other, the answer seems obvious.
Friday, February 20, 2009
Well, I guess I do have another thing to say, and it's at the center of the crisis in which our country finds itself. Watching the situation unfold, and the responses to it, it strikes me that it's almost as if the Republican party has deliberately and systematically destroyed every aspect of our ability to right the ship. I'd not (quite) go so far as to say that was their intent. But it doesn't matter: whatever the reason, their fingerprints are on every single failure, the causes of the fall, and the prevention of recovery. To me, it's undeniable.
For years we've heard from the Republican party that government is the enemy, that it must not be trusted. And for the past eight years, they proved it, beyond doubt. That's the first, and maybe the most central nail. Meanwhile, they've said that our most important business is business, that there's no higher goal than to unburden all business from the constraints of regulation and taxation. Making vast wealth at the top of society should be our over-riding ethic and the sole purpose of government; for then it will trickle down to the rest of us. That that is the central economic philosophy has been stated by virtually every Republican at least since Ronald Reagan. And finally, with the rise of fundamentalist religious influence in the party, there's been the steady erosion of intellectualism. Derided as elitist, overtly denigrated as unBiblical, the process of scientific inquiry has been equated with everything evil. Quite literally, we are losing the ability to think and to reason critically. Reduced by their own actions to a regional and furiously ideological party, few Republicans remain in Congress willing or able to compromise or coöperate, much less to think beyond their reflexive inculcations.
Whether the first were simply unhappy consequences of empty ideology, or part of a cynical attempt to plunder the country, I can't speculate. But the last -- the attempted replacement of education with indoctrination, the clear disdain for scientific method (which is our most powerful tool for evaluating and advancing understanding of our world) -- that, I'm quite sure, has been entirely deliberate: the less educated a populace, the more easily manipulated to vote against its own interest. And what more perfect example of mass manipulation is there than organized religion? How better to prevent questions than to substitute religion for reason in our schools, carefully eliminating the ability to assemble and judge information?
Meanwhile, as all this was taking place, there has been the rise of right-wing media, changing the very nature of civil discourse and honest opposition into a screaming and hate-filled force of destruction. Once again, I mean that quite literally. Nor do I believe it's accidental. The concerted efforts of talk-radio and Fox News to cheer-lead the craziest of the right wing and to destroy all credibility of the left, using distortion and lies as easily as they empty their colons, can't be accidental. There is no line of civility that can't be crossed, no untruth that can't be told. The insanity spewing forth, after only a month of Obama's presidency, ought to be frightening to anyone who thinks our problems are serious enough to require all oars in the water. Honest criticism, putting forth other ideas: simply not in their lexicon. How do people with talent for talking but with no actual ideas and zero command of facts become influential spokespeople, favor curried by politicians? There simply are no counterparts on the left: even Olbermann feels the need to have facts on his side.
So, to use a worn-out cliché, we have a perfect storm of failure. We're foundering on the resulting rocks of Republican reactionaries. Gone is the ethic of shared sacrifice, of common purpose; replaced by a desire for wealth and things. Gone is confidence that businesses are trustworthy, or that government is a proper source of support. In steep decline are the engines of creativity that come from critical thinking. And all the while, the right wing scream machine absolutely demands that we remain poles apart. From the right there is literally no ability to flex; so successfully have they been propagandized, there's not even a thought that these are unique times calling for unique solutions, and unique cooperation. The only arrows in the quiver are polemics, and tired ones at that. And it's left us wounded; the party of "values" has convinced us that money is the over-riding objective, that it's every man for himself.
It's hard to believe it's come to this. There was a time -- many times -- when this country faced huge crises and faced them with a measure of unity, with common effort, with a sense that we could do anything if we did it together. I think that's literally impossible now. To listen to the venom spewed by Limbaugh, Hannity, O'Reilly, Coulter; to hear Alan Keyes speak from his crazed world and all but call for Obama's assassination in the name of saving our country, is to have the end well in sight. To read of the innovations in energy being developed in India and China, to witness China, still flush with cash, on a buying spree around the world, is to see the US slipping into irrelevance.
Maybe it's okay. Maybe the world is better off not relying on US any more, for innovation, for moral clarity, for competence of any sort. Okay or not, it is the way it is and will be for a long time. Maybe forever. Barack Obama can only do so much. He can hit the right notes, make the right calls; but if enough people are too ideologically hidebound to hear it, if they prefer to listen to falsehoods in order to cleave to discredited beliefs, if the foundations for recovery have been brought down by years of narrow politics, it won't matter.
If it weren't so sad to see, there'd be humor: it's Pythonesque. Insisting the parrot isn't dead, that the knight isn't mortally wounded, the Republicans say the same things they've been saying for decades, as if they haven't failed, as if they haven't brought us to where we are (and no, ss, it doesn't wash to claim George tried to warn us of the mortgage problems: he bragged continually about the rise of homeownership under his watch, fuelled by disregarding the actual warnings delivered, among others, by Barack Obama four years ago). All they have is to insist Obama is a communist, that he isn't really president, that government spending is always wrong, no matter how unique the economic challenge, no matter that there's no other source of spending left. Run up all the debt you want in tax breaks for wealthy people, bail out big business; cry moral depravity if you lend a hand to the poor in the worst of times. While their media lead them happily over the brink.
Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, Tom Delay had a vision of a permanent majority, fueled by religious fervor, abetted by ignorance, distracted by a coördinated and dishonest media effort. Certain they could bamboozle enough people, they set about doing it. And it worked. Their followers are no more able to reassess the data than they are to relinquish their faith that they're right, against all evidence.
They got something permanent, all right: unprecedented and wide-ranging destruction of everything we need to find our way back. Nice work.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
It might be over: I'm starting to bore myself.
It's not as if I don't care anymore. Quite the contrary. I worry, I read, I puzzle over everything that's going on, now as much as ever. But I'm not sure there's much gained by writing it down. Other than the momentary relief derived from the pleasure of words, this sort of blog is, compared to my previous one, useless. I don't think I have anything to say that isn't being said elsewhere, and generally better. Simply linking, as I've done a few times of late, to something I find provocative, is hardly a value-added proposition.
Recreation for a couple of trolls. I guess that's something, and I'm glad to have provided amusement to guys who clearly need it. But it's beginning to seem like self-indulgence. Mine, not theirs. To act as if mundane thoughts deserve to be shared is seriously to overestimate oneself. Surgeonsblog was different: I'm proud of some of the things I wrote, and I'm certain I provided information and insight and even inspiration over there. If I say so myself, some of it was fresh and original and, maybe more than randomly, well-written. This here thing: altogether different. Exactly as useful whether it was written or not; cosmically as important were it read, or not.
So why bother? I have no answer. And absent an answer, there's an answer.
Admittedly I'm a little downer than usual. Looking around and seeing nothing but fear, hatred, and pain in the world (and idiocy in Congress) will do that, at least to me. Worrying about the future, narrow and wide, does it, too.
If honesty were required (the nice thing about blogging is that it isn't), I'd confess that the last year or so has made me see myself as a failure. I worked hard in a hard job, did it pretty well. But I allowed myself to burn out too young. I was never profligate with money, keep cars till they stop running, wear the same clothes beyond useful life, have a cheap watch. Avoided the dotcom boom/bust, never did fancy tax-shelters, by most standards have been very conservative with my money. Having managed some of it myself, I came recently to believe -- following a tenet of my surgical practice that if there were others who can do a thing better than I, I should defer to them -- that it would be wise to let professionals handle it all. The new guy to whom I turned it over, I checked out for a year. Gave him some, kicked the tires, as it were. I was impressed. And then "we" rode the crash to the bottom and beyond.
The worst thing about it is feeling constrained about helping people close to me that until now we were able to do, happily. I've let people down.
I wrote something like this a while back and didn't post it. I must be feeling even sorrier for myself now. But at some level there's clarity in that. This has been an indulgence of some kind, which, like self-pity, is unworthy.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Yeah, I know this is pissy, but it's something that bugs me. Besides, I'm getting kinda tired of the whole political scene (not to mention the same old, same old from a couple of useless trolls who refuse to say anything interesting or thoughtful or even entertaining.) So here it is:
My best blog, Surgeonsblog, despite lying fallow, still gets comments and questions. Likewise, I volunteer a little help on a couple of online medical fora; so I get requests for medical information or advice not rarely. I like it, in general, because (as opposed to this blog) it makes me feel useful.
More often than not, a perfectly reasonable question -- or even one that goes on too long or requests a diagnosis or advice based on no information at all -- ends with the phrase, "Please help." I know it speaks ill of me, but I find that very annoying. Is it that it's pathetic? Or manipulative? I'm not sure. After all, I wouldn't be there if I weren't willing to help. Is it emotional blackmail? Whatever it is, it grates. And it grates that it grates.
Of course I never say anything about it; I just do what I can (or can't) to help, and come over here and gripe.
Monday, February 16, 2009
An article like this strikes a certain chord. Unlike me and my more billious and frankly blinded observers, Barack Obama keeps his eyes on the prize and on how to get there. Nor does he fail to notice that his idea of the prize differs from that of his opponents in fundamental ways; there's no pie in his sky.
The idea that forward motion comes finally and fundamentally from the will of the people is one that has been ignored for many years, and is clearly one that has informed his view for a long time. How novel: in the most enduring democracy in the galaxy (as far as we know), a president who sees his power and powers as deriving from those that elected him.
Why isn't that an idea Republicans, the guardians of law and family values, can get behind? Oh, yeah, I forgot. Democracy -- like bipartisanship -- only applies when you can get YOUR way.
What's that called, anyway?
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Friday, February 13, 2009
It's more than clear that Congressional Republicans have come to the conclusion that if President Obama succeeds, their party fails. Their only hope -- as a party! -- is if it is he that fails. And so it is that they have most undeniably placed party (and, of course, their personal fortunes) above country.
Obama's words in the above speech, reflective of what he's said ever since entering political life, would be welcomed by any Republican, had they been spoken by a Republican. What is there with which to disagree? And yet we find ourselves, in these critical times, more fractured than ever. When the President reached out as promised, it was taken as an opportunity for destruction by the Republicans.
Clearly they've made the following calculation: if the economy recovers under the stimulus plans, the Republican party becomes irrelevant, whether or not Republicans were seen as signing on. So economic recovery is to be hoped against, worked against, despite the tragic consequences for millions of Americans. Failure is their only option. From which, they hope, they can regain standing by saying "we told you so." It's only in disaster that they see a way back to power. So the party that claims a monopoly on patriots, of "real" Americans, is unashamedly working against all attempts to rescue the economy.
What's even more amazing than the conclusion they've drawn is the glee with which they are pursuing it. We can only win by bringing the country down, and we're happy to be seen as doing it.
They seem oblivious to the flaw in the argument.
[Above image from Daily Kos.]
Thursday, February 12, 2009
What do global warming and our economic crisis have in common? Probably much more than the word "meltdown." But for my purposes, it's this: Republican denialism. Confronted with compelling data and a great preponderance of expert opinion, they have a predictable and nearly unanimous response: say "no," do nothing, dig in. One can only wonder what it is about data, reality, and rejection by the conservative mind.* And, it's pretty obvious, fundamentalist religion and conservatism. It can't be coincidence that the bonds are so strong.
It's hard to be a meta-thinker: sensing from a distance one's own thought processes, it seems to me, requires a kind of effort of which many may be incapable, and others simply unwilling. Inside our heads, we are held captive by our personal neural pathways, unable to think beyond how we're wired. Nor able to see the diagram. To the extent that who we are is determined by our unique electrophysiology -- more than any of us would like to believe, I'd say -- we can see only so much of ourselves. If I'm pre-programmed to think in certain ways, it follows that I may not only be unable to change it, but even fully to witness it. I see you; I don't see me.
I read an article the other day that touches on it all, and rings true. A few key points: in troubled economic times, religiosity increases; the "religious impusle" appears in-born, and there are reasons why it may be so, evolutionarily; lots of four-year-olds have invisible friends; meta-thinking might be disadvantageous, if quick action is needed. Stuff like that.
The article isn't fully persuasive: it leaves open the question as to, for example, if kids get imaginary friends independent of religious indoctrination from parents. Still, I've found evolutionary explanations compelling. Unlike those who say you can't have a moral center without God, I say there are moral "truths" that are evident from the need to bind together to survive.
I sort of understand why it is that we deny -- or fail to recognize -- our own narrowness. We're led around by our brains, obedient and blinkered. But why is it, I wonder, that there are (at least) two such different ways of human data processing? I've referred elsewhere to studies that show repeatable and predictable differences in the makeup of "liberal" and "conservative" brains, and of how the two differ when presented with facts. Reading comments on this, or pretty much any political blog, one is convinced in a millisecond: produce data, discuss. Some will see black, some will see white, and there will be no common ground, nor any admission of the slightest possibility of misapprehension.
(Actually, that's not entirely true: liberals are much more inclined to allow for opposing views. Which goes a long way toward explaining how the "bailout bill" includes so much in the way of tax-cuts, and not enough in the way of spending. And why the Republicans are still complaining.)
It's not hard to understand how humankind benefits from an ability to assemble data and draw logical conclusions. It's less easy to comprehend the value of the opposite. Presenting alternative ideas and explanations: I get that. Spirituality: I get that, too. Have it, even. But seeing a herd of mastadons coming at full gallop and saying they're mice, or arguing that those aren't hoof-beats, they're the sound of gods chuckling: I haven't figured out how that wiring made it past the primordial ooze.
And, since this is Darwin Day, I should add the obvious: why is it that evolution denialism is the exclusive province of the right-wing brain? If you need religion, fine. Have it. But why select one that requires you to deny what is known and demonstrable? Why can't belief supplement and augment our ability to live in the world as it is? Why the need to remake it as it's not? Where's the additive value of that? It's almost enough to make a guy question evolution.
* Yes, yes, I know: there are economists who think there's no crisis, and there are scientists (although a great many of them really aren't) who deny anthropogenic climate change. And (liberal mind, here) I admit I'm neither an economist nor a climate scientist. But I can count, and I can evaluate many, if not all, arguments. There are people out there happily saying things which are indisputably false. For that matter, there are still people who think the moon landing was faked, and that Saddam Hussein planned 9/11.
Went to hear Mose Allison last night. Been listening to him for over forty years, have seen him several times in the last twenty. I like his noodling keyboard style, I like how he grunts when he's not singing, pushes the mike away so you can't hear it. Mostly, I like his fusion of jazz and blues, his cynical and wry lyrics, and the fact that he still cranks them out as he morphs to the person seen above, having been older when he was younger.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Ramesh Ponnuru, one of the most idiotic and repulsive "conservatives" out there, who wrote a book referring to Democrats as "The Party of Death," lets slip a bit of reason he'll surely find a way to retract. Could it be that we liberals who've been known to criticize this country do so out of love? Could it be that he, in an inexplicable lapse, agrees?
Stay tuned for the backing and filling.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
The amazing part of the above starts around 2:25. Hadn't heard about it.
Moreover, I infer from the way the market tanked during Timothy Geithner's speech this morning that there's not a lot of confidence in what he said. Or didn't say. This is disturbing, too. I suppose by "legacy assets" they're trying to distinguish the problems they inherited. But it sounds too much like the Bush-speak to which we'd been subjected for what seems like eternity: "Clear skies" inititiative. "Enhanced interrogation."
Too soon to say. Not thrilled, yet.
Not spending money, either.
The amazing part of the above starts around 2:25. Hadn't heard about it.
Moreover, I infer from the way the market tanked during Timothy Geithner's speech this morning that there's not a lot of confidence in what he said. Or didn't say. This is disturbing, too. I suppose by "legacy assets" they're trying to distinguish the problems they inherited. But it sounds too much like the Bush-speak to which we'd been subjected for what seems like eternity: "Clear skies" inititiative. "Enhanced interrogation."
Too soon to say. Not thrilled, yet.
Not spending money, either.
Monday, February 9, 2009
To those interested in the debate over torture, I recommend this brief article, by a man who was "...national security adviser to Vice President George H. W. Bush from 1982 to 1988 and ambassador to Korea from 1989 to 1993, worked for the C.I.A. for 30 years..." It includes these paragraphs:
In regard to a Vietnamese officer who liked to torture prisoners:
This colonel routinely tortured prisoners, producing a flood of information, much of it totally false... The colonel finally relented and turned over a battered prisoner to me, saying, “This man knows a lot but he will not talk to me.” We treated the prisoner’s wounds, reunited him with his family and allowed him to make his first visit to Saigon. Surprised by the city’s affluence, he said he would tell us anything we asked. The result was a flood of actionable intelligence that allowed us to disrupt planned operations, including rocket attacks against Saigon.
And this, referring to Dick Cheney's recent worries:
There’s a sad twist here. Mr. Cheney forgets that the Bush administration followed this approach with some success. A high-value prisoner subjected to patient interrogation by an Arabic-speaking F.B.I. agent yielded highly useful information, including the final word on Iraq’s weapons programs.
His name was Saddam Hussein.
The author acknowledges that a couple of anecdotes don't make a case. But it's not as if he doesn't know what he's talking about.
The scene: In scrub clothes, a surgeon is addressing elected representatives. Stage left, curtained off and visible only to the audience, a patient lies gravely ill, attended by two nurses. The surgeon clears his throat a couple of times, taps on the microphone. The assemblage continues to talk amongst themselves, or move aimlessly in and out of the room. Some are sleeping, others flipping through press releases.
Surgeon: "Ladies and gentlemen, please. I have urgent business. [Taps again, clears throat.] Pursuant to articles eleven through nine hundred thirty one, I stand before you again to profess the immediate need of, and to obtain permission for operating on Patient X, who, we now know, has free perforation of a diverticulum of the sigmoid colon, with generalized peritonitis. I cannot overemphasize the importance of immediate intervention. The patient could die, and will surely do so if we don't proceed. As required, I seek your permission, and, with respect, I need it now."
A Senator, leaning to a colleague: "What did he just say? Perferdiversigmo? What the fuck is that? It's free?"
The colleague: "Damned if I know. I'm hungry. Are you hungry? I'm really hungry. Is the dining room still open? Are you hungry? I'm starving."
Surgeon: "If you will all have a look at this Xray you'll see what we call "free air" ...."
Another senator: "Sir, I rise to point out that all air is free."
Surgeon: "Senator, it's a matter of terminology here... See, what I'm saying is..."
Senator: "Well, that's just silly. If you look at my chart, you'll see the amount of air available in the last eight years, and you'll notice it's no less than now. I've always been for air. Always."
Surgeon: "Sir, I think that's a little off point. What I'm trying to say is that stool is leaking and infection is spreading throughout..."
Senator: "Who do you think you are, doctor? First of all, shame on you for saying "stool." And "leaking." You nasty man. And all that urgency stuff. It's scare tactics, just scare tactics."
Another Senator: "From what I hear, when you operate it just makes things worse. My naturopath says high fiber."
Stage left, more people enter and look worriedly at the patient.
Another: "Chiropractors are really great. Got one works on my grand kids, none of them has diculums."
Another: "Homey-pathy. That's the stuff. I use a homey-path. Water has memory. Did you know that? Memory. More'n I can say for my staff. Har har."
Still another: "When I had that tickleitis thing they gave me antibiotics, and it worked just fine."
Surgeon: "We're giving antibiotics, maximum doses, and sometimes that's enough. But this isn't that kind of case. We need to operate, because there's a hole in his bowel. If we don't address that, he'll die. I've seen many, many.... Here's the data. His white count..."
Senator: "That's just scare tactics. I thought you were against scare tactics. That's just scare tactics. Aren't you against that? Scare tactics, I mean."
Surgeon: "It's not scare tactics when it's true, Senator. Go look at him. The man is sick as hell. Anyone can see it."
Stage left, someone grabs a phone off the wall and starts gesturing excitedly.
Senator: "Well, you listen to me, sonny boy. I don't need to look at him. Don't go telling me what I should be looking at. Shameful. I may not be a doctor, but I watch "House." Good show, by the way. They try all sorts of stuff. Never works the first time, take 'em off this, give 'em that. Those doctors do everything, surgery, xray thingies, bust into homes, don't ask permission. That House guy. Real American. Rush Limbaugh kind of American, way he talks, pills and everything. Har. Sorry, Rush."
Surgeon: "Excuse me, Senator. That show bears no relation to medical reality. We have..."
Senator: "Dockie, it looks real enough to me. Plenty real. Popular show where I come from. More damn popular than you are, I'm here to say. By the way, what about alternatives? Have you tried Head-On? I've seen commercials for it, and it looks damn good. Easy. I move that Head-On be tried first."
Stage left, an emergency cart is wheeled into the area.
Clerk: "It has been moved and seconded..."
The vote proceeds, and the motion fails with 41 yes votes, all from the same side of the aisle. Stage left, a person enters with more Xrays and papers.
Surgeon: "People, listen to me. This is a very serious situation. I've just been told the patient has a positive blood culture and is going into septic shock. There's only one..."
Senator: "Oh, well, listen to the hoidy-toidy doctor, going all med school on us. Positive. Culture. Shock. Elitist, anyone? Doctor, I may not have gone to medical school but I know about culture, and I WILL be heard."
Another senator: "What, exactly, do you propose to do in this operation?"
Surgeon: "I'm glad you asked, sir, because that's the real issue. We'll be putting him to sleep, opening his abdomen, washing out his belly with liters [A senator snorts: liters? What's wrong with quarts? This is America!] of fluids, removing part of the colon. Almost certainly we'll need to give him a temporary colostomy...."
Senator: "Whoa, whoa, whoa. Putting him to sleep? What's wrong with hypnosis? Or that acupuncture?"
Surgeon: "Senator, I really think...."
Senator: "Wait just a minute, sonny. Acupuncture works. I saw a Youtube... Fifty needles, or I'm saying no to the operation."
Surgeon: "Well, after he's asleep I suppose we could..."
Senator: "And I don't like the idea of a colostomy. No colostomy. I knew a guy...."
Surgeon: "Senator, it's pretty dangerous not to do one if the patient is in shock...."
Senator: "Don't like 'em, wouldn't have one. Not doing one today. They stink. Ronald Reagan never had one. No colostomy."
Stage left, a medical student faints.
Another Senator rises: "Ladies and gentlemen, I think we need to listen to the doctor. He's an expert. None of us has gone to medical school, none of us knows how to operate. I've talked to the surgeon, and he seems to know what he's doing. Other surgeons agree with him. The patient trusts him, and wants to go ahead. So does his wife, and some kid that was in there. Let's just...."
Another: "Oh no you don't. I got me elected here, my people don't much like all this surgery stuff. Lots of prayin' folks in my district, prayin' and singin' and asking the Lord for help. That's what we... Besides, the doc already did an operation today. People get all perforated, what we need is cutting back on surgery. Pretty soon they'll be operating on everyone. Telling us all we have to have one. Communists."
Surgeon: "If I may, Senators, this really is critical. It's real. We won't have a do-over. My patient will die..."
Another Senator: "Sorry, mister fancy doctor and your fifty nine senators, you aren't steamrolling us. This isn't bipartisan what you're doing. Not bipartisan. We get our say, you said we would. You say the guy is sick, gonna die. Well, maybe yes and maybe no. But just because you're a doctor [making air-quotes], with all that knowledge [double air-quotes]... We got us forty one votes over here, and until we get forty one percent of the operation, you're getting zilch. That's the way it works. We get our votes, textbooks or not. "
Surgeon: "But this patient is one hundred percent sick. You can't divvy up the cure. Only some things will work. If I may, sir, your ideas have been tried. They didn't work. Not enough saline. Wrong antibiotics, wrong operation. It's all been tried. There are papers..."
Senator: "Doctor, doctor, doctor. If God had wanted experts making decisions, he wouldn't have invented Congress. And he sure as hell wouldn't have invented filibusters. But here we are, you knife-happy know-it-all. Let's have another vote."
Slow fade to black....
The curtain rises. We see the patient surrounded by doctors and nurses, students, pharmacists. A woman weeping. Tilted head down, the gurney is in the shock position. Several IVs are running wide open. One doctor is holding defibrillator paddles. The surgeon enters and speaks:
Surgeon: "Okay, well, we just got permission to proceed. We can make six tenths of an incision, wash him out, but with no more than two quarts of saline..."
Surgeon: "Don't ask. And if we resect, we have to anastomose. But we can do a loop colostomy, just not over a rod."
Assistant: "But isn't that..."
Surgeon: "I tried. It's the best I could get. And stop all the other antibiotics, hang a million units of penicillin. Only penicillin."
Surgeon: "I know, I know..." [sighs heavily, turns away, rubbing Head-On onto his forehead.]
Anesthesiologist: "Guys. I don't think it matters anymore." Squirts goo on the paddles, rubs them together. "CLEAR!!"
Before the lights go up, from backstage the sound of an electrical zap, heels pounding the end of the gurney, and, again,
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Friday, February 6, 2009
A Texas teacher suspended indefinitely because someone thinks he's a liberal, and an atheist.
The Republican war on science continues.
Dress code, schmess code; or, Andy Card is full of sh*t.
Bipartisanship means working with these people.
Among all of the above, the lesson seems to be this: elections DON'T matter. Overwhelmingly, voters went for a person calling for bipartisanship and for working together to solve problems. But between arcane Senate rules, which have been bastardized to require 60 votes for anything to pass, and the fact that the Republican party has descended into regionalism that assures the reëlection of entrenched idiots, voted for by witch-hunters, nothing has actually changed. A 59 - 41 election would be a landslide. In the Senate, it means "failure," the thwarting of the will of the electorate, the braying of failed politicians as if they'd actually won.
Indeed, the blood boils. I gotta stop reading.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Dick Cheney is worried.
“When we get people who are more concerned about reading the rights to an Al Qaeda terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans, then I worry,” Cheney said.
This comes from an interview yesterday. It's hard to wrestle one's thoughts into some sort of organized stream after reading something like that.
First of all, I'd be worried, too, if it were anywhere close to the truth. Second of all -- and much more venal -- is the idea that the next guy to hold office is responsible for the failure of the previous guy to tamp down the threat. Or, more accurately, for having raised the threat exponentially and diminished by the same amount -- by virtue of bringing our country to its economic and defensive knees -- our ability to protect ourselves.
I'm trying to make any sense of it: it's as if you move into a home and do everything you can to make your neighbors hate you. Call them names, toss shit onto their lawns, kick in a couple of doors. Meanwhile you install an alarm system in your house that goes off at all the wrong times. Then you move out. A new family moves in, tries to calm the neighbors down, and attempts to fix the alarm system so it goes off less erratically. As the new family struggles to make way, you say to anyone who'll listen, "If someone lobs a firebomb at them, it's their fault."
Or this: You're the conductor of a train. You take it down the wrong track, head it downhill, damage the brakes, and then jump off. If it crashes, from the safety of your home you say it's the fault of the people you left on board.
But it's really even worse than that. Because what's really going on is that Cheney is setting Obama up, joining the rest of the crowd who all but call for Obama's failure. It's just that most aren't quite as gleeful or evil; Limbaugh et al are (overtly, anyway) only hoping for economic calamity to justify their failed catechisms. Cheney is less bashful: he hopes a few thousand -- heck, why not a couple million? -- Americans will DIE. And in the twisted logic that only he and people as similarly sickened can render, it will justify everything he did in the last eight years.
Only the most pollyannish among us thinks there are no threats out there. Only the most partisan hacks think the new administration is unaware nor doing everything they can about it. Closing Gitmo, per se, has nothing to do with future risk, but everything to do with future improvement in coöperation from other countries. (In the interview above-linked, Cheney continues to cite discredited data about Gitmo recidivism. Moreover, it was HIS administration that let them go, not Obama's!!! Closing Gitmo does not equate to releasing prisoners. Restoring a lawful way of dealing with enemies makes us all safer. But it's hard for some minds to get themselves around that idea.)
Like Cheney and Limbaugh, Osama bin Laden would love nothing more than to see Obama fail. Surely he hopes for a return to the Cheney/Bush policies that have been so good to him, and for continuation of the financial failure that leaves us so vulnerable to collapse. Of that, I have no doubt. I can only hope my vision of Cheney welcoming Osama in the back door is completely crazy. In reality, probably so; metaphorically, not so much.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Today two people are dis-appointed (Daschle and Killefer), the Senate is debating the stimulus bill in very discordant terms, and I'm left -- I admit it -- disheartened, dispirited, disillusioned, disgruntled, discouraged, dismayed.
Surely at some point Obama knew the trouble his appointees had, before he actually nominated them. And whereas I think each of them indeed had impressive credentials and were -- problems aside -- excellent choices, there must have been people similarly ready for the job but less encumbered. Or is it that in Washington everybody is dirty, and it's just a matter of relative spoilage? Failure to pay unemployment tax for domestic employees hardly seems fatal compared to the Daschled doings, but the timing was unfortunate. Is the best one can say.
This stuff is bad, but what bothers me far more are the troubles of the "Recovery and Reinvestment Act," the stimulus package. During the transition period, I was under the impression -- because Obama said his team would be working with Congress to have a bill ready to sign on that fabled "Day One" -- that there'd be some sort of working group, inclusive, business-like, able, coming up with a sensible and smart plan capable of bipartisan support. Instead, what seems to have happened is that the House bill was produced nearly single-handedly by David Obey, Chair of Appropriations. I don't know a thing about him, really; but for whatever reason he saw fit to fill the bill with complexities and pet projects.
In a charged political climate -- or even in a level-headed one -- there will never be common ground in all matters: Republicans think tax cuts are the one and only solution for any problem, and Democrats want spending programs. Never mind that the tax cuts of Reagan, Bush, and Bush all led to economic calamity and that the Clinton tax hikes led to balanced budget and soaring economy. Some things will never change.
Still, it's my impression that the Obama team has been much more hands-off than it ought to have been. It's surprising and even shocking to me that there is so much chaff in the stimulus bills and so little consensus. To me, it speaks of hypomanagement.
Before my more oppositional readers (two among, what, ten?) get a four-hour problem and have to seek medical attention, let me say I think the Republican leaders and followers in Congress are a pathetic bunch of losers who see a chance to bring down Obama's approval numbers and will stop at nothing -- not even the collapse of the economy -- to achieve it. They push the same tired tax cuts with no basis for belief they'll work -- since they never have. Their delight in gumming up the works knows no bounds. It's not as if I think they deserve much credence.
But surely there was a way to have avoided the current stalemate. Or to have made the plan so clearly smart that the Republicans -- many of whom would vote against anything -- would simply look like idiots in opposition. With active leadership the bills could have been far more streamlined, comprehensible, and defensible. President Obama is heading to the airways tonight to drum up support. I hope he makes the case. Meanwhile, what I really hope is that behind the scenes he'll get in there and get dirty: it's less about accomodating the tired Republicans than it is about getting the Democrats to slim down and wise up.
Monday, February 2, 2009
Think the Senate Republicans might filibuster the stimulus bill? A part of me hopes they do; assuming, were it so, that the Democrats would have the guts to make them actually do the thing. Bring in the cots, the Jimmy Stewart impressions, and carry on day and night, round the clock. Let them read the phone book. Let the data roll daily, about layoffs, economy shrinkage, let the President fire up a little of his patented rhetoric and call them out.
I can only assume the reason the dangerously daunted Dems have let bill after bill fail over the mere threat of filibuster is that they figure sooner or later they'll be in the minority again and would have to go to the mattresses themselves.
Because this is real. This is fly or fail for the economy. If they can't find a way far enough to the middle, and if the Republicans won't go past -- or, as it turns out, anywhere near -- the middle (given the recent failures of everything of which they're demanding more), then let it rip. See who the voters side with, those who put forth a bill or those who reject it.
Fair is fair. Elections have consequences. Country first. That sort of thing.
[As to fixing the stimulus package: Here's an opinion piece by a conservative (but Harvard!) economist that makes a lot of sense to me, especially his comments about what sort of tax breaks might actually work. He seems more enamored of defense spending than I am, but much of it rings true. I wonder if our esteemed Senators read it.]
Sunday, February 1, 2009
Andy Card, Bush's chief of staff, thinks Barack Obama is disrespecting the office. It's about dress code, evidently. (Parenthetically, it also seems Barack doesn't require the piping of "Hail To The Chief" every time he enters a room; I just read that today, and now I can't find the link!) Like Bush, he starts on time. Unlike Bush, he works as long as it takes.
So George Bush, by virtue of wearing a coat and tie and demanding same of his staff, and despite making a mockery of The Constitution, ruining the economy, ignoring Congressional law, starting ill-advised wars, "respects" the office, even as he tried to make it into a monarchy.
And Barack Obama, who sometimes eschews the coat and doesn't demand bowing and scraping, who shows nothing but seriousness of purpose, doesn't.
Really, Bush apologists live in another dimension. It's about the clothes. Guess my mother was right.