Archive for March 2010

Go Do Some Post-Health-Care-Vote Reading…

March 22, 2010

And start with Brad Delong’s front page — a bunch of must reads and a delightful sense of history (and literature) to go with it.  I particularly like that item which for now stands at the top of the page in question.

Image:  Vincent van Gogh, “Corridor in the Asylum” 1889.

Health Care Comment-Without-Words (None Needed edition)

March 22, 2010

Everyone Chill The Fuck Out

I Got This.

(h/t John Cole)

Image:  Guess.

Sometimes One Can Rage, Rage at the Dying of the Light…and Sometimes One Must Laugh: Mostly Outsourced McArdle edition

March 21, 2010

John Cole has done all that is necessary to demonstrate the lasting waste of perfectly good bytes that is Megan McArdle.  He merely quotes her accurately, and then stands back and laughs.

There really isn’t anything more that needs to be said, except to note that it is by their behavior in extremis that you get a unique measure of someone’s quality.  (See, e.g. Conrad, Joseph, weighing the effects of a mighty wind on the mettle of a man.)

But, as I while away the time until the various health care votes, a little mischievous fisking seems like a fun idea.

So…how’s this:

Are we now in a world where there is absolutely no recourse to the tyranny of the majority?

Thinking ahead to November 2,2010, that would be a “no.”

Ms. McArdle seems to have forgotten that (a) the House of Representatives is set up to respond to the will of the majority party (as the Senate, as we have learned so well lately, is not) and (b) that the check on that lower chamber is the frequency with which all of its members must face the electorate.  In less than eight months, Ms. McArdle and all those who fear the dimming of American freedom at the hands of a conservative bill retaining the role of every stakeholder in the current public-private health care system, may have at it, and throw the bums out if they can.

Republicans and other opponents of the bill did their job on this; they persuaded the country that they didn’t want this bill.

People often note that McArdle is a bad writer — sloppy in her diction, imprecise in thought and word, and unlovely in the execution (sic!…ed.) of her prose.  This is a mere nibble at what such critics (like me–;) are talking about.  McArdle means that Republicans, et al., persuaded the country that the country didn’t want the bill. What she said was that Republicans, et al., persuaded the country that Republicans (et al., I know) didn’t much care for this legislation.

Ah well.

And then of course, there is the more serious problem that, she is always wrong.  Astonishingly, after a year of disinformation, lies, and truly disgraceful scare tactics (death panels, anyone?) the latest Gallup Poll shows the country almost evenly divided on the reform package being voted on tonight.  That lots of people oppose this bill is true certainly.  The “country,” whatever McArdle thinks she means by that word, does not display any unitary opinion on the matter.

And that mattered basically not at all.

Has she been paying attention these last twelve months and more?  Scratch that — it’s a rhetorical question to which the answer can only be “of course not,” if by attention one means attempting to grasp the meaning of real events happening in determinable space-time coordinates. The bill majorities in the House and Senate sought included, among other things, a public option…itself a relatively mild reform, and one that would reduce the total cost of US medical care and government spending compared with the bill we are actually going to get.

The reason we are getting an inferior and more costly health care reform is precisely because the GOP et al. campaign of lies, misinformation and fear — in which Ms. McArdle took her own, honorable (sic? … ed.) part — along with the craven surrender by key Democratic senators to pressure and precisely weighted rewards (bribes?…ed.), managed to eliminate the public option from consideration.  The efforts of the opponents of the bill did matter a great deal; sadly it was to make the final package, though still worth having, much less so than it should be.

If you don’t find that terrifying, let me suggest that you are a Democrat who has not yet contemplated what Republicans might do under similar circumstances.

Let’s see.  Lots of folks in John’s comment thread have already had their happy whacks at this one. (Careful.  This is a family blog…ed.)

The short form is that we’ve had plenty of time to contemplate the disasters of unchecked majority rule over the eight years prior to January, 2009.

We know what the Republicans did with a much smaller mandate:  wars based on false claims, to be paid for by our children and grandchildren; tax burdens shifted from the rich to the middle; the enshrinement of torture as official policy; assertion of the right to suspend the rule of law at the President’s whim; not to mention economic policy that left us with a decade of wage loss, financial collapse, accelerating dependence on foreign creditors and all the other ways in which American power and autonomy have been eroded..and so on, in a list whose length and consequences are too depressing to ponder.

If McArdle wants to argue that IOKIYAR to wreck the country, but not for Democrats to try to wrestle into some better path the enormous, shrieking tsunami of fail the GOP has left behind it, then that’s her right.  But the point, of course, is that this administration, to the despair of those like me who wanted to take our real majorities out for a spin, attempted for a full year to engage Republicans in a real dialogue on health care.  Instead, we found those across the aisle constantly working to bring us to our Waterloo.  I think we’ve learned our lesson, (and, tonight, that contrary to the expectations of the GOP Elba-ists, it seems that President Obama more closely resembles the Duke of Wellington than the little Corsican.)*

Farewell, social security! Au revoir, Medicare!

Uh.  What can one say. As several noted in the above linked comment thread, Ms. McArdle certainly reads the GOP id correctly. This is what they want to do — as Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP’s latest Brightest Man In Congress™ has kindly made explicit.  He has proposed the destruction of Social Security, and has proved a little less than pleased when that and the general fecklessness of his “plan” was pointed out.  And Medicare too would fall to his knife as part of the GOP’s master plan to transfer yet more wealth from most of us to the wealthiest of us.

But it’s not news that the Republicans loathe the social safety net.  But the striking sound you don’t hear is of the GOP leadership rushing to embrace the man who is not just their alleged best and brightest, but the ranking member on the House budget committee.

Why not?  Well, here McArdle gets something sort of right:

The reason entitlements are hard to repeal is that the Republicans care about getting re-elected.

That’s right.  People without independent means actually like not fearing a diet of dogfood in an untreated-illness and foreshortened old age.  They are likely to vote against those who would wish such fates on them. Who’da thunk it?

But, of course, there is some internal compass within Ms. McArdle that makes sure that momentary glimpses of reality never last too long.  Consider this:

If they didn’t—if they were willing to undertake this sort of suicide mission—then the legislative lock-in you’re counting on wouldn’t exist.

So, let me get this straight.

Barack Obama campaigned on, and won a recent-historically notable victory, and Democratic candidates for the House and Senate achieved victory in dominant numbers while promising their potential voters major health care reform.  They are delivering on that promise.

And what was the alternative?

Failure to do so would, as we have seen over the last few by-election examples, deeply dampen Democratic base voter interest in the political process.  Yet passing the first major overhaul of US health care in a generation is a suicide mission?  I’m not sure what world Ms. McArdle actually inhabits, but I begin to feel it must include a large number of people all of whom are convinced that they are the one true Napoleon (see below) while all those hand-in-coat flaneurs are imposters.

And on the other hand, it seems to me that if there is any party that has talked itself into a suicide pact, it would be the GOP.

Certainly, David Frum seems to think so, and though I think his analysis of the substance of the bill is a joke,  his political point is pretty persuasive: Women who have survived breast cancer who come to realize that not losing health care because of a pre-existing condition is a good thing, or young voters for whom the option of remaining on their parents care is the difference between being able to risk some new venture or not, or seniors for whom drug prices fall under the new legislation are not going to rush to embrace a party that swears it will take all that away.

If the GOP really wants to declare that it is the party of repeal, of the withdrawal not just of goodies, but of provisions that are literally matters of life and death…then go for it, I say, and were they to do so, then I will agree with Ms. McArdle: the GOP will have proved itself willing to undertake a suicide mission.

Which is the point that Ms. McArdle seems to miss in just about everything she writes.  That the GOP, and not the Democrats seems to be on the verge of a suicide run is because in the real world, as opposed to that landscape lit by the endless sunshine of a spotless, glibertarian mind, is that social problems are real.  Attempts to solve them, however imperfect, resonate with voters in ways that attempts to deny their reality (“We have the best healthcare system in the world”), in the end, do not.

Signing off, +2, with 1 more to go with which to toast San Francisco’s favorite daughter, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, the Honorable Nancy Pelosi

Image:  William-Adolphe Bougereau, “The Difficult Lesson,” 1884

*Under the circumstances I may hope to be forgiven if I take the opportunity to suggest that Speaker Pelosi’s role may thus be imperfectly mapped onto that of the Prussian commander, Blücher, whose forces assaulted Napoleon’s right flank in one of the decisive efforts to break the French position near the end of the battle.  While passing over in mild wonder which Republican leader could be serve as the analogue to the perfectly named French Marshal Grouchy, commander of Napoleon’s right wing, I will take the obvious cheap shot, and offer this video to capture the GOP state of fear and loathing as the contemplate the victorious commander whose efforts have produced the wreck of their hopes:

Self Agrandizement Alert, Newton and the Counterfeiter, unexpected praise, (Karl Rove…yes, that Karl Rove edition)

March 20, 2010

I have to admit, I did  not see this coming.  Or rather, I did, but only because Karl Rove…that Karl R., the former senior advisor and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush, showed me the notable courtesy of sending me a personal note to tell me how much he liked Newton and the Counterfeiter. (AmazonPowellsBarnes and NobleIndiebound and  across the pond at Amazon.co.ukWaterstonesBlackwellsBorders, and John Smith & Son — not to mention electronically at Amazon’s Kindle store, and in audiobook form at Audible.com).

I’m not going to repeat the nice things Mr. Rove said in his brief note — when in this age so profligate of bytes someone takes the trouble to send a physical object, on which a human hand has inscribes some private words, it seems right to keep those sentiments private.  But obviously, it’s wonderful to get kind thoughts from readers under any circumstances. Writing is such a solitary act, and the connection between writer and reader so abstract, so distant, most of the time, that when someone does take the trouble to let you know that you’ve connected with another mind, it’s just great. (Keep those cards and letters coming, folks!)

And it’s even better when a reader with unquestioned broader influence chooses to do the unexpected kindness of announcing his or her pleasure in a public way.  So of course, my thanks to Mr. Rove for his positive mention of my story of Newton and his pursuit of criminals amidst economic chaos and opportunity on his website.

But we all know that I’m just dodging around the point here.

Karl Rove?  Karl Rove!

Readers of this blog know that there is not much, probably not anything of consequence on which the two of us would agree.

Until now.

You see:, it turns out, we do come together on at least one issue:  we share his expressed hope for good book sales.  See:  bipartisanship is possible!

Image:  Edouard Manet, “The Reader” 1861.

Quote of the Day: Batsh*t Crazyspeak/GOP Deep Thinker edition

March 14, 2010

On the subject of noted political philosopher and moral exemplar Newt Gingrich, here’s Grover Norquist as quoted in The New York Times. (h/t  Atrios)

“He’s out there working with and building a broader movement,” Mr. Norquist said. “As we know from Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, you don’t have to be president to be part of the conversation in American politics.”

No you don’t.  But it appears you do have to be paranoid, divorced from reality, insurrectionist and unqualified.  (Warning — that last link is in the spirit of rickrolling.)  Which is, I guess, suitable company for you to aspire to, Mr. Disgraced Former Speaker.

Seriously:  this is a measure of how debased the GOP has become, and how nonsensical the whole notion of a “conversation” in American politics now is.  What can you say of a party that is willing to elevate as thought leaders people for whom ideas reduce to this kind of thing on the significance of Cosmo centerfold Scott Brown’s election prop:

“What if I have to haul a moose?” Mr. Gingrich said, to laughter. “You cannot put a gun rack in the back of a Smart car.”

Seriously: This kind of rhetoric is fun, I guess.  But it is designed to make its listeners dumber, less capable of working out what might or might not make sense in a world in which reality is not whatever it is Fox News claims it to be on any given night.  Remember: Gingrich is the man that Republicans turn to for policy ideas.  He sees himself as a visionary and an agent of change, and his friends do him the kindness of taking him at his word.  Hence the impact of his deep conclusion on energy policy: “Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less,” which became the McCain/Palin gamechanger, “Drill, baby, drill!”

And mah point (and I do have one): It is that the impossibility of meaningful bipartisan engagement on actually governing the country  — and making some stab at reversing the catastrophic damage to US wealth and power going forward done by 8 years of Bush misrule — does not rest on the heads of the Congressional GOP alone, not by a long stretch. This isn’t a problem of elected officials pursuing a strategy designed simply for short term electoral advantage.

Rather, what you have is the more-or-less complete capture of the entire party apparatus — the think tanks, the media contacts, the grass roots connections (Gingrich hearts him some teabaggers, by the way) — the whole shooting match (and, yes, I’m looking at you, Dick “Deadeye” Cheney) by people who simply have no interest at all in actually forming and implementing political solutions to the problems that attend either daily life or the long term prospects of the country.

They don’t for two reasons: the first is that true believers think that there are no problems, only obstacles placed in the way of the best of all possible worlds by the interference of government; and the second is that many, even most of the elite players aren’t true believers in much of anything, except the main chance.

That’s where Gingrich lies, on the evidence.  Here are the last relevant quotes from the Times piece:

Like Sarah Palin and others who have discovered that they can command a political platform and a good income without running for office, Mr. Gingrich remains relevant by having built himself into a one-man industry churning out speeches, books, films and policy positions…

…He sits atop an empire of interlocking policy groups, political networks and media enterprises with a total of about 60 employees. His chief vehicle is a policy center calledAmerican Solutions for a Winning Future. It has 1.5 million online members and raised more money ($8.1 million) in the last quarter of last year than Ms. Palin and Mitt Romney, another potential 2012 candidate, combined. His group is a so-called 527, which can accept unlimited donations, while the others have political action committees, which are restricted.

That is:  if you want to understand what motivates the seemingly farcical willingness of people smart enough to know they’re uttering fact-denied nonsense, follow the money.  As Dennis G. is documenting over at Balloon Juice, you have to recognize that much of the modern GOP is simply a con game, populated by familiar American figures, the plausible, smiling, confident/confidence men, spouting rivers of words designed to so thrill their listeners that the audience’s pockets don’t even need to be picked; the marks rise up in ecstasy to empty their wallets on their own.

Nice work if you can get it.

Image: E. W. Kemble:  “Travelling by Rail,” illustration from Adventures of Huckleberry Finn of the King and the Duke being tarred and feathered and ridden on a rail after attempting to perform “The Royal Nonesuch.” 1884

In Which I Talk Bible To Glenn Beck

March 9, 2010

You know, you’d think a simple (and quite minor) member of the blogosphere could take a few days out, hit the hot spots of digital payment think tank prognostication in London (had a nice chat with the innovation/new tech group at Visa Europe at lunch today, talking seventeenth century digital money and the what-was-old-is-new-again reality of globalization whilst looking down at the Paddington Station train yard (no bears, alas)) and just chill.

It’s not really that much to expect, is it?

But then, courtesy of Steve Benen (h/t Mr. GOS himself), I learn that noted theologian Glenn Beck is advising his viewers that the idea of social justice is antithetical to true religion.  As Mr. Beck avers:

…your right to religion and freedom to exercise religion and read all of the passages of the Bible as you want to read them and as your church wants to preach them … are going to come under the ropes in the next year. If it lasts that long it will be the next year. I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words.

I’ve tended to avoid the religion-science kerfluffle, though I have Views, as one may say.  But whatever you may make of the crumbs I’ve dropped about my various allegiances and intellectual commitments, I have enough memory of a pretty serious Hebrew School education to crush this softball.

For example: consider this passage in Isiah, , a Jewish text beloved of many Christians (and Muslims too, of course, Abrahamic as that community of belief is as well) that Jews read each year at the center of the most significant observation of the liturgical calendar, the morning service of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement:

(Chapter 58)

…3 “Why, when we fasted, did You not see?
When we starved our bodies, did You pay no heed?”
Because on your fast day
You see to your business
And oppress all your laborers!
4 Because you fast in strife and contention,
And you strike with a wicked fist!
your fasting today is not such
As to make your voice heard on high.
5 Is such the fast I desire,
A day for men to starve their bodies?
Is it bowing the head like a bulrush
And lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Do you call that a fast,
A day when the Lord is favorable?
6 No, this is the fast I desire:
To unlock the fetters of wickedness,
And untie the cords of the yoke
To let the oppressed go free;
To break off every yoke.
7 It is to share your bread with the hungry,
And to take the wretched poor into your home;
When you see the naked, to clothe him,
And not to ignore your own kin.

8 Then shall your light burst through like the dawn
And your healing spring up quickly;
Your Vindicator shall march before you,
The Presence of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
9 Then, when you call, the Lord will answer;
When you cry, He will say: Here I am.
If you banish the yoke from your midst,
The menacing hand and evil speech,
10 And you offer your compassion to the hungry
And satisfy the famished creature —
The shall your light shine in darkness,
And your gloom shall be like noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
He will slake your thirst in parched places
And give strength to your bones.
You shall be like a watered garden,
Like a spring whose waters do not fail.
12 Men from your midst shall rebuild ancient ruins,
you shall restore foundations laid long ago.
And you shall be called
“Repairer of fallen walls,
Restorer of lanes for habitation.”

Let me not confine this commentary to my own heritage.  To look for another example living in the Boston area I call home, how about that construct of belief that animates our local prince of the Catholic Church, Cardinal and Boston Archbishop Sèan O’Malley.  He is a Capuchin* Friar, a member of that order which, from its founding in the early sixteenth century, sought to take its place within a long series of efforts to restore the identification with poverty, the poor, and unquestionably, justice for the lesser, confronted by the greater that derive in Catholic and early Christian history from identification with Francis and ultimately with Jesus.  The Capuchins declare this commitment today:

Let us show respect for all people and [manifest] a spirit ready for dialogue with them.
Although we prefer the evangelization of the poor according to the example of Christ and SaintFrancis, we should not hesitate to proclaim the message of the conversion to justice and the responsibility of preserving peace to those in positions of power and those ruling others.

There is an encylopedia of disagreements I could find with the constellation of beliefs and requirements Cardinal O’Malley upholds; most are irrelevant, given that I, not a Catholic, do not defer to claims of dogma put forward within the Catholic confession.  Those that are relevant are the ones that the American Catholic Church has advanced as precepts to be enshrined as law of the nation we share…but all that’s an argument for a different venue.

The point here is that outside the Beck alternate reality, there is no way to construct the Jewish tradition and its Christian heirs as indifferent to social and economic justice…unless you are willing to sacrifice the essential core of the revelations to which both Jews and Christians lay claim.  There is no way to imitate God (or the God-Man embodied in the person of the Christian conception of Jesus) unless you do justice to the beings created in the image of divinity.  Do injustice to the least of us, and as is expressed again and again in the Elijah tradition of Jewish story telling, you do damage to the whole of any God-made world.  Alternatively, save a life, and save that world.

That is:  if you take the words of the Bible seriously from any starting point, there is only one conclusion possible here.  Beck is no believer.  He is a deceiver — and if you come from a background that capitalizes such words, then within that tradition, you’ll get no argument from me.**

*Maybe it’s just me, but I find it delightful that the name “Capuchin,” derived from the distinctive hood that Capuchin friars wear, has through a kind of visual rhyming, been  adopted to provide the name for that saving drink of many mornings, my daily cappuchino, and, for Capuchin monkeys as well.

**Please note — I’ve confined this to the specifically religious context of Beck’s demand.  A different post would point out how thoroughly unAmerican Beck’s statement is, if you take the ideas of the founders seriously.  For just one example, here’s John Adams, in his argument in the Amistad case:

In the Declaration of Independence the Laws of Nature are announced and appealed to as identical with the laws of nature’s God, and as the foundation of all obligatory human laws…

…I said, when I began this plea, that my final reliance for success in this case was on this Court as a court of JUSTICE; and in the confidence this fact inspired that, in the administration of justice, in a case of no less importance than the liberty and the life of a large number of persons, this Court would not decide but on a due consideration of all the rights, both natural and social, of every one of these individuals. I have endeavored to show that they are entitled to their liberty from this Court….

….In taking, then, my final leave of this Bar, and of this Honorable Court, I can only ejaculate a fervent petition to Heaven, that every member of it may go to his final account with as little of earthly frailty to answer for as those illustrious dead, and that you may, every one, after the close of a long and virtuous career in this world, be received at the portals of the next with the approving sentence—” Well done, good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”

Image:  Giotto, “Legend of St. Francis — The Renunciation of Wordly Goods.”  before 1332.

RIP Jon Swift

March 4, 2010

By now I’m sure most of those who read this blog will have heard the sad news that one of the best of those who chose to write in this strange new form has died.

Jon Swift, aka Al Weisel, died late last month of complications of an aortic aneurysm.  Tom Watson has a moving tribute here, and there is nothing in my brief and passing blog acquaintence with Mr. Swift that can add to that.

What I can affirm from personal experience is that Jon Swift (the name by which I knew the man we’ve lost) was at once a marvelous, caustic wit who accomplished something very difficult — creating a wholly plausible alternative world in which his views and words became plausible — and hence  hilarious in the one we laughingly (because we’re too big to cry) call “the real world.” And for all of that wit and slash, he was a believer in the idea of community on the blogosphere, and did more than almost anyone to make that easily typed sentiment an actuality.

He put a lot of muscle behind blogroll amnesty day, for example, and it is a sad tribute that Inverse Square got traffic today from his ‘roll, to which it had been added a Feb. 3 or two ago.  And he tried to notice small and new blogs when they were trying to make a move; he did so here, promoting what remains one of my favorite pieces of the last couple of years.   We corresponded a couple of times — I thanked him for that notice, and he wrote back, noting that while he didn’t agree with the piece, he thought it argued its point sharply enough to make it worth pushing into the conversation.

So that’s my story:  this was a generous man, and one who clearly loved both the solitary act of writing and the collective practice of thinking.

The good die to damn young.

Image: Nicholas Poussin, “Les Bergers d’Arcadie (Et in Arcadia ego)” 1637-1638