Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Ongoing Tragedy of the Obama (Energy chapter)

He's done it again.

Politics is the art of the bargain. You start with a strong position, fight for it as hard as you can, and give in a bit toward the end, some magnanimous concession to the other side to secure a compromise. That's what's done by smart politicians who really want to accomplish something.

That's not what Barack Obama does, though.

Instead, every time the Obama launches a new policy initiative, his goal seems to be to achieve some sort of "bipartisanship," rather than to actually do what the initiative was allegedly intended to do. Toward that end, he rushes forward like a blind fool, giving away the store right out of the gate, demanding nothing in return, and clinging to the hope that the other side will recognize his magnanimity, and fall into a skipping, merry line behind him, singing "Kumbaya" all the way.

He's been in office over 14 months, and this has NEVER happened. Not once.

Nor, of course, will it ever happen, because his conservative rivals have adopted, as their official policy, stopping anything and everything he tries to pass. No matter what it is, they're officially against it.

If they hadn't made their intentions very plain in what they said 14 months ago, no one could argue they haven't made it as clear as crystal to the dimmest wit in the village by their actions in the time since.

The Obama proposes a stimulus plan--he lards it up with wasteful, less stimulative tax cuts in order to try to attract some Republican votes. 40% of the bill. At a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars, he gets two. The Republicans' sincerity in opposing the bill can be gauged by the fact that over half of them, after voting against it, then returned home to their states and districts and took credit for all the money the bill is bringing in.

The Obama gets to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. Instead of trying to redress the extreme reactionary tilt of the court, he opts for another conservative to replace the more moderate conservative retiree, driving the court even further right.

The Obama tackles health care, and the first thing he does is cast aside the single-payer approach favored by his base and an overwhelming majority of the public in favor of an industry-friendly, market-based "reform" bill--actually, just a corporate welfare bill--created by Republicans. He initially includes a "public option" component as at least some figment of a bone to the liberals; when it faces criticism, though, he immediately chucks it. He and the Democrats spend the better part of a year watering down the bill in a vain effort to draw Republican votes, and, in the end, have to pass it along party lines anyway--every Republican opposed.

The Obama has even championed their legislative proposals over and over again. The result: They turn against whatever it is, and denounce him as some sort of anti-American sub-man, and the policy as the work of same. The Obama endorses a Republican-authored spending freeze; the Republicans immediately abandon it. The Obama endorses the Republican-authored pay-as-you-go bill; the Republicans immediately abandon it. The Obama endorses the Republican-authored debt commission bill; the Republicans immediately abandon it.

The Republicans have filibustered nearly every piece of legislation, large and small, the Democrats have introduced into congress.

This is the record of the Obama's first 14 months in office. Fourteen months in which the Obama entirely wasted the most significant public mandates given an elected president in the lifetime of most of those reading these words, because instead of pursuing any significant goals, all he seems to want to do is get along with people who have, as official policy, refusing to get along with him under any circumstances.

So now it's time for an energy policy. We're in the opening stage.

Has the Obama FINALLY learned his lesson? Is he introducing bold new initiatives to aggressively develop alternate energy sources, and move away from the dirty, destructive, wasteful energy of the past?

Not a bit of it.

Instead--incredibly enough--he's decided, yet again, to give away the store in search of that fabled "bipartisanship." He recently announced an expansion of nuclear power, and today, he announced an expansion of oil and natural gas drilling in the U.S. A blatant smack in the face of his base (which he proceeded to marginalize via vile Clintonian "triangulation" remarks today), and a reversal of longstanding (and wise) moratoria. The press quotes multiple industry insiders expressing delight at this development. The early Republican response? Surprise, surprise, they're against it! Because, uh,... it doesn't go far enough. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Couldn't he at least have waited until April Fool's Day to announce it, and make it official?


Friday, March 26, 2010

Frum Here To Eternity?

David Frum has been cast out of the American Enterprise Institute for heresy. The conservative poobah published an article that argued Republicans' embrace of no-compromise extremism in fighting the health care bill, instead of working with Democrats to shape it, had made it their "Waterloo." The right-wing funders of the AEI didn't like that very much, so out the door he went.

Today, conservative blogger Rick Moran has a noteworthy piece on Frum's fall, and its implications for conservatism (it's here, too). While I certainly don't want conservatives to rule, I do think the continued degeneration of the American right is a very real cause of concern among liberals, not just thoughtful conservatives, because any political viewpoint, party, perspective, "philosophy" needs a credible, perpetual opposition. Without that, atrophy sets in. Moran has offered up a shout against that degeneration, one I thought was definitely worth a word or two.

While I think the piece pretty good, I do take issue with some of its assertions. To be honest, the words "David Frum" and "intellectual" don't really belong in the same sentence, but the words "intellectual" and "conservatism" certainly doesn't belong in the same sentence these days, and it's for a lot of the reasons Frum outlines, so while I'd contest the depth of Frum's Big Brain-ist credentials, I wouldn't say he shows up to an intellectual debate entirely unarmed.

I would say that about most contemporary conservatives. It's certainly true of most of what Moran calls "movement conservatives," but it's also mostly true of what passes, these days, for "intellectual conservatives" as well.

The only reason it can rarely be said about any conservatives of any stripe is that none of them show up for intellectual debates anymore. They just sit around talking amongst themselves all the time, trading favored myths, heedless of the reality that exists outside of their sealed little world. Conservatism has, indeed, turned into "an echo chamber," as Moran characterizes it--I've always called it a bubble--and the unwillingness to tread beyond its confines "marks one as a philistine," just as Moran says. That's a mark born so broadly by conservatism now that it has become virtually a defining characteristic.

That's where Moran gets one wrong--very wrong--because he argues "It is the antithesis of conservatism to close one’s mind and reject alternative viewpoints based not on their relevancy or reason but rather on the source of the criticism." That's not "the antithesis of conservatism" today; it's standard operating procedure, from which the deviations are so few (and so mild when they do occur) they're barely even worth mentioning.

To be fair, Moran, when he speaks of such things, is talking about conservatism as a theoretical philosophy, rather than using, as a definition of conservatism, that which conservatives actually argue and actually do. In this particular context, though, I don't see that as particularly useful. If theoretical conservatism says one thing but an overwhelming number of conservatives believe the opposite, how can that thing really be said to be a tenet of conservatism? In other contexts, such a question wouldn't matter--in this one, it's critical. When Moran decries the lack of "consistency" in contemporary conservatism, he's arguing that conservatives are, in practice, inconsistent with that theoretical conservatism. That's often true, and it makes them hypocrites and even liars when it is, but when it comes to practical politics, as Moran is discussing, how useful is it to define "conservatism" as a thing with which most conservatives disagree? Moran makes a clear division between "conservatism" and what he calls "emotional partisanship." Conservatives fail to recognize such a division, and Moran's efforts to do so in this context smacks of an effort to isolate conservatism from conservatives.

Moran says there is, on the right, "a lack of confidence in what conservatism as a philosophy should be all about," and, to illustrate, he uses the example of conservatives who decry "activist judges," but are the first in line in seeking out "activist judges" when it comes time to challenge Obama's health care law. Does this show "a lack of confidence in what conservatism as a philosophy should be all about," or does it just mean that "conservatism"--the practical kind--never had any real concern for "activist judges" in the first place? The obvious conclusion is the correct one. The much-expressed conservative concern about "judicial activism" was, for most conservatives, just a way to cloak, in loftier, pseudo-intellectual terms, what was, at heart, merely a raw emotional hatred for certain non-conservative rulings. There isn't a "titanic irony," as Moran says, in conservatives charging into court on this; there is merely hypocrisy and a revealing of conservatives' true colors.

With these and maybe a few other caveats, Moran's critique of conservatism is thoughtful and, at times, remarkably relentless in its rhetoric. I'd almost stopped believing that sort of conservative critique of conservatism was even possible anymore. I suspect it won't prove particularly popular on the righty web. That's unfortunate.



This may be the biggest end-note in history, but it popped into my head when I was reading Moran's piece, so why not throw it in?

Moran makes some comments about the health care bill:

"On health care, it is naive to believe the Democrats were prepared to work with the GOP on anything that would have stopped short of the kind of comprehensive remaking of our health care that eventually passed. This, the GOP could not countenance under any circumstances and remain a viable political party."

But, of course, the GOP did "countenance" what was done. The bill was created by the GOP. It had been a Republican bill, advanced by former Republican Sen. Bob Dole, advanced by Republican Sen. Judd Gregg, advanced by congressional Republicans when they were trying to defeat the Clinton bill way back in the '90s (when--deja vu--Clinton adopted Republican leader Bob Michel's plan as his own and met with the same reaction from Republicans), and advanced and enacted by Republican Gov. Mitt Romney in Massachusetts (which was the explicitly-stated model for the current bill, now law). It's basically the same in every iteration because it was always written by industry lobbyists. Obama's only significant change was to add a public option, which he, of course, almost immediately threw overboard. Except for a few of its reforms which were gutted in the final product (like anti-pre-existing conditions, anti-rescission, etc.), the bill has no history among the liberals at all--it was a Republican project until right up until the Obama adopted it as his own, at which point all the Republicans abandoned it and started screaming "socialism." That's the bill's pedigree.

Moran quotes Bruce Bartlett:

"Since, he is no longer affiliated with AEI, I feel free to say publicly something he told me in private a few months ago. He asked if I had noticed any comments by AEI 'scholars' on the subject of health care reform. I said no and he said that was because they had been ordered not to speak to the media because they agreed with too much of what Obama was trying to do."

Given its pedigree, it is, in fact, very likely that, at some point over the years, the bill passed through the American Enterprise Institute--elements of it probably even originated there. Moran decries the silencing of the AEI "scholars," but doesn't seem to understand the significance of the fact that "they agreed with too much of what Obama was trying to do."

Republicans created that bill, which suggests they didn't find it so inconsistent with their "philosophy" before Obama adopted it as his, and utterly precludes their actually finding it as insanely inconsistent as they pretended it to be. They dug a grave for themselves with their reactionary, no-compromise "emotional partisanship," even maintaining it in the face of a president and party who, contrary to Moran's implication, seemed fully willing to give away just about everything in the name of "bipartisanship." Frum was right about that part of it, and we may all be the worse for it.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Incivility & Its Contents

Having lost the health care vote, congressional Republicans are throwing an extended tantrum this week. They're denying the unanimous consent requests traditionally used to conduct committee hearings, and, as a consequence, most hearings--some of which had been scheduled for months, and featured witnesses pulled in from all over the world--have had to be unceremoniously canceled, the plug pulled on some as they were actually underway. They've been attacking the bill containing health care "fixes," trying to tie it up by plastering it with irrelevant amendments, and the echoes of the announcement that the health care bill had passed hadn't even faded when Rep. Jim DeMint (Clown-SC) called for its repeal. Rep. Randy Neugebauer (Clown-TX) , a reactionary imbecile of the first order, screams "BABY KILLER!" at Bart Stupak while he was speaking on the House floor, then creates a Youtube video attempting to use the notoriety he gained from the incident to raise money.

That sort of thing, you see, is popular with the Republican base. It's the sort of thing that can really bring in the cash. Last year, when Rep. Joe Wilson (Clown-SC) shouted "YOU LIE!" at the Obama, right in the middle of a presidential address to a joint session of congress, he became a right-wing folk hero, and the money rolled in.

Sunday, Republican lawmakers egged on teabaggers protesting the health care bill. In much-reported incidents, teabaggers shouted "nigger" at black Rep. John L. Lewis (D-GA) and "faggot" at homosexual Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA). While congressional Republicans launched daily rhetorical Armageddon against the bill and its supporters, their less stable right-wing followers, who are stupid enough to take their end-of-days rhetoric seriously, launched a campaign of vandalism, death threats, and intimidation against Democratic congressional supporters of the bill and their families. When it had reached the point that the FBI became involved, a handful of Republicans condemned the violence, but, in a manner all too familiar to those of us who have followed the fights over abortion over the years, simultaneously insisted on making excuses for the behavior as something to be expected. The clowns at Fox News took the same approach, taking it a step further in suggesting that Democrats are merely using this to gain political advantage, to smear conservatives, to marginalize opponents of the bill. Glenn Beck told his audience the Democrats are "begging for" violent reactions from opponents.

There are no responsible statesmen on the right anymore. No prominent Republican leader or anyone of any stature among the conservative elite has so far stepped forward to unconditionally condemn this sort of thing, or to do anything to try to defuse the mania driving it. No surprise, really--Republicans hope to benefit from the mania driving it. The right has, in fact, been whipping it up for years, now. They've portrayed the health care bill as a sinister socialist plot hatched by a Muslim socialist/fascist--who isn't even an American citizen--for the purpose of having the government take over health care in order to kill your granny, kill babies, and make you pay to take care of swarthy people with no papers and a shaky command of English. Those on the right stir up the sort of behavior we've seen over the last few days, they make excuses for it, they even justify outright violence, as Rep. Steve King (Clown-IA) did earlier this year when a man flew a plane into an IRS office full of people. When some crazed reactionary "patriot" picks up a rifle and decides to "save" the U.S. from the Kenyan socialist in the White House, the finger of each and every one of the conservatives who have, by words and deeds, brought him to that point will be on the trigger alongside his own.

Too many people, including far too many liberals, become tangled up in the matter of the "incivility" of the Republicans and the larger conservative movement. When it's merited, incivility can be a justifiable and even positive thing. The U.S. doesn't have a monarchy, and I see no reason at all to treat our elected officials with the sort of pompous imitation of reverence afforded to kings and queens. I'm also a firm believer in the idea that people shouldn't fear their government; governments should fear their people. That doesn't mean elected officials should be terrorized. It means they should receive exactly the species and degree of respect they earn. "Incivility" on the right isn't the proper focus for concern. When Joe Wilson shouted "YOU LIE!" at Obama in the midst of a presidential address, the prim and proper pundit class blanched at his lack of manners. Only a very few understood why that behavior was truly objectionable: it was Wilson who was lying. Obama revealed, on national television, that the health care bills didn't cover illegal immigrants. Wilson, like most of his party comrades, had gotten a lot of mileage out of falsely telling his uber-white base that Obama was trying to make them pay for health care for brown people with funny accents, and, seeing that talking point being taken away on nationwide television, he did what he could to buttress the fiction. Wilson's "incivility" wasn't the real issue. If the Obama truly had been lying, Wilson would have been entirely justified, civility or not.

Republican officialdom and the conservative elite aren't damnable because they sew "incivility." That this incivility is usually totally unnecessary makes it a bit of a mark against them, to be sure, but their real "incivility" problem stems from the fact that they've embraced, without reservation, the professional wrestling version of politics offered by Fox News and right-wing talk radio wherein literally everything is a big, loud morality play in which there are no shades of grey, no subtleties, and no honest disagreements, just pristinely good and blackly evil intentions, and no compromise allowed between the two. And certainly no civility. It's nonsense, a simple fairy tale designed to garner ratings by shoveling a certain segment of the population the bullshit it wants to hear. The segment in question is the least stable and most easily frightened--and thus most potentially dangerous--element of the conservative base. The increasingly dangerous atmosphere the conservative elite has created is a direct result of their intentional decision to forgo legitimate discourse in favor of one lie after another calculated to appeal to--and inflame--this element.

I fear these chickens will come home to roost in a savage, tragic, and most uncivil way.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Another Post From Me On Health Care

For a while, now, I've been having a pretty good exchange with Niceguy Eddie, from "In My Humble Opinion," over this health care bill, now law. I'm not a fan of the law. He is, albeit a qualified one. Today, he's put up "One more post on health care, then I'm done," intended as a closing shot on the subject. Eddie offered to let me have the last word, and, while I thought about just posting "Word" and leaving it at that, I decided I'd actually try to hold up my end of things, instead.

To tell the truth, Eddie, I was disappointed to see some of the common misrepresentations of characters like myself--essentially ad hominems--come out again in your post, particularly given the fact that you basically make them the heart of your argument. I'm not some wild-eyed character on an ideological jihad who "puts ideology ahead of pragmatism." I'm sure there are some hardcore single-payer-ites of whom that could be said, but I'm not one of them. My arguments against the new law have always been practical, not ideological. I've always explicitly rejected that notion of making the perfect the enemy of the good, and though I'd prefer single payer, I wouldn't portray it as remotely "perfect." You'd have a better chance of snaring a jackalope in the wild than of finding "perfect" in our politics.

Given this, imagine how disappointing it is to read something like this:

"To say that doing away with the most egregious abuses of the system is not reform is to clearly put ideology ahead of pragmatism, to let the perfect get in the way of the good."

Does the new law do away with the most egregious abuses of the system? That's the question your comment, there, begs. The answer is that it doesn't, and that's one of the major points I've been making against it. The long Rachel Maddow commentary you quote rolls out, at great length, the standard propaganda in favor of the new law. What I've been pointing out is that this propaganda isn't accurate. The new law doesn't do away with pre-existing conditions, it doesn't do away with rescissions, etc. If it did those things, that would be a mark in its favor, but it doesn't, and it isn't. You say "the biggest problems with the for profit system--namely that those profits came from DENYING care, rather than providing it--have been swept away" by the new law, but they haven't, and they won't, under this law, in 2014 or at any other time.

I don't think it's a good idea to base a health insurance system on the profit motive. That isn't because there's something inherently wrong with profit. It's because, with something like health care, people's lives are at stake. Practically speaking, it's always a very bad idea to put lives on a scale vs. profits. That is, in fact, one of the central lesson of human history. With health care, nearly everything that has made the current system monstrous have been a consequence of that profit motive. When you follow, to its source, the trail of whatever outrageous trend, anecdote, pattern of abuse with the current system you can name, you'll almost always find that it tracks back to someone making money. The new law on health care doesn't eliminate that. It doesn't even try to incentivize positive outcomes. It just leaves in place, props up, and makes nearly invincible (by putting their corrupt practices on the public dole) the same rotten interests that brought us to the point of needing reform in the first place.

When it's more cost-effective to deny payment for care than to provide it (as with the case with a lot of the serious pre-existing conditions under the new law), the payment will not be provided. When pay-outs become expensive, premiums will go up. Insurers are not going to eat a loss, particularly for such human considerations as pity or a sense of justice. Those aren't what drive them, and, in fact, are things that play no part in their deliberations.

If such a system could be made to work for people, I'd be all for it, but I'm skeptical that it could, and I know the new law doesn't accomplish it, or anything resembling it.

I've done a lot of ranting about how the new law is going to set up a corrupt triangle of money that will put the insurers' purchase of legislators and manipulation of our electoral process on the public dole, and make real reform impossible. In your post, I find this very important point reduced to this:

"To say this bill is bad because it makes a system you don’t like WORK BETTER, is routing [sic] against the system every bit as much as the Right has been rooting against America since 20 January, 2009. In my opinion the liberal opposition to this bill amounts to no more than: If you make the for profit system work, we’ll never get a ‘single payer’ system. But from my own POV: If the for-profit system can be made to work, WHO CARES?"

No one would. My opposition to the present "reform" effort wasn't driven by the fact that it "makes a system [I] don't like WORK BETTER"; it was driven, in part, by the fact that it won't make it work better, but will make it impossible to fix in the future. That isn't some narrow concern about crushing hopes for single payer in the future; it's about preventing any positive reform. You say "there will inevitably be other issues that come up. We’ll simply deal with them." I find the word "simply" there to be particularly astonishing. You say, of the new law, "This can work. And if it doesn’t? Well… polls show that the American Public will support MORE reforms. So we’ll just keep going until it does, or until we have single payer." Just like the 65+% public support for the public option resulted in its swift-and-easy passage under the current system, right? It was a point repeatedly stressed by supporters of this law to people like me that it represents "progress" and "reform," and that its shortcomings can be fixed later. The truth is that, under this new law, we'll be entirely at the mercy of these government-financed, for-profit entities for the foreseeable future. That is, to put it mildly, not a good place for us to be; any reformer worthy of that title can only view the prospect with abject horror.

That's where I stand, Eddie. While this may signal the end of our back-and-forth on this particular subject, though, I somehow doubt it's going to be the end of this discussion.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

House Passes Turd, Calls It "Reform"

That's the word tonight. On a vote of 219-212, the House of Representatives passed the unfortunate health care bill that's been causing such a fuss for so long. 34 Democrats and every Republican voted against it.

Reader Kevin Kelley asks "Based on your analysis, would you believe that there will be no benefits from this legislation?"

Pretty much. It's very clear there aren't any that even remotely counterbalance the costs. To name but one of the latter, the bill provides for what is, in effect, the public subsidy of industry purchase of legislators. Legitimate reformers will rue the day they allowed that to happen.

The truth is that just over 80% of Americans are already at least partially insured. Their insurance is frequently lousy, but more than 70% of them give their coverage high marks, and for a very simple reason: they rarely ever use it. The only effect that 80+% are going to feel from this reform is ever-escalating premiums for ever-decreasing services, as the industry protects its profit margins. As the bill does nothing to curb costs (once we set aside wishful thinking for what it is), medical bills will continue to be a crippling expense, and will remain the top cause of bankruptcies in the U.S. The billions of dollars--31% of total health expenditures--currently devoted to paperwork as a result of the private health insurance system will continue to rise, as new people enter and add to the workload. Health care spending as a percentage of GDP--already near 20%--will rise to new heights, as those new customers get, at best, the same lousy coverage as who are already covered, and, in general, minimal plans that don't really cover anything. The hardest to ensure--those with pre-existing conditions--will remain the hardest to ensure, as companies dodge covering them--among other shortcomings, the penalty for refusing coverage is often more cost-effective than providing the coverage--and raise premiums across the board to make up for any shortfall in either taking them on or denying them coverage.

In short, all of the problems that form the substance of the arguments for genuine reform are left to fester and worsen.

The problems with the plan all track back to the fact that, instead of reform, it's corporate welfare devoted to propping up a failed, private, for-profit system; as Dennis Kucinich put it (before flip-flopping), it's built on a foundation of sand. Don't ever get any fancy ideas about reforming anything in the future, either, not with those subsidies underwriting the industries' purchase of legislators, and with the Supreme Court just ruling these corporate "persons" can spend unlimited amounts on the candidates of their choice.

It's a bad bill. It shouldn't have been passed.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Yes, the Health Care Bill

Today, Nice Guy Eddie, over at "In My Humble Opinion," jotted out a post on "The Health Care Bill." I started to write a reply, over there, and my comments started to run long, so I decided to turn it into a full-blown posting here:

Those opposing the health care "reform" bill from, broadly speaking, the left are right about it. They aren't opposing the bill out of some blind idealism, as is so often suggested; they're opposing it for very particular reasons, ones they've been articulating in their public remarks on it. In a nutshell, they're against it because it isn't reform. It isn't anything even close to reform. It's a corporate welfare bill, and nothing more. Eddie and some others who've been commenting on it lately have, in my view, missed this entirely, and seem to be functioning under the misimpression that this is, instead, a reform bill. It isn't. It isn't some sort of improvement in the present mess that can be improved even more at some indeterminate point in the future, as it is so often presented. If it was, I’d be supporting it myself. I'm a liberal, but I'm also a pragmatist. The perfect should never be made the enemy of the good, and that isn't how the liberals have approached the current bill.

For all those grating screams of "socialism" from the right, this is, in fact, a conservative Republican bill, written, at various stages, by insurance company lobbyists, pawned off by conservative Republicans as their own, and eventually adopted by Obama as his own (causing all the Republicans to jump ship). That lineage is important, because the bill's conceptual failing is rooted in it.

Eddie asks if the insurance companies make a profit from this and answer "Yes, I'm sure they'll find a way to. They always do." They don't have "find a way," though; the health care bill is the way. Corporate welfare. The bill sets up a corrupt triangle of money. It gives tens-of-billions in government subsidies to low-income people, who, at the point of the government gun, must spend it on private insurance companies, who then route a portion of it into the pockets of politicians in order to keep any positive changes off the table in the future.

Rather than improving anything, the bill makes everything worse. The "public option" was, theoretically, at least, a means of curbing costs by offering serious competition with the private insurers. Without it, there’s absolutely nothing to curb costs. Health care costs rise at many times the rate of inflation every year, and all this bill does is force people into that ever-costlier system on the blind hope that, if more people sign up, costs will go down, because there are more people in the risk pools. This is a "market based" approach, otherwise known as "wishful thinking," the kind we expect to pay off now, though it never has in the past.

The insurers are legally allowed, under the bill, to collude and fix prices. The noxious Slavery Provision forces people to buy private insurance or face a new tax penalty. I can't afford a new tax penalty any more than I can afford private insurance, but that's all the bill offers for someone in my predicament.

Contrary to the false claims of its supporters, this bill does not fix the problem of pre-existing conditions. Companies that continue to refuse to sign up people based on them can, after a lengthy procedure, be fined only $100/day, while those companies that do sign them up, having been barred from charging the individuals whatever exorbitant premium they want, can just raise everyone else’s rates an unlimited amount to make up for the difference, as long as they don't say that's why they're doing it. They're also allowed to continue rescinding policies based on fraud or misrepresentation, entirely defined by them. That's been, for some years, now, their major pretext for rescinding coverage for those who become ill, and, with the current health bill in place as law, we'll simply see the industry miraculously uncover an astonishing epidemic of fraud among those with pre-existing conditions. Another way of getting around it included in the bill: selling those with such conditions only minimal policies.

The bill isn't some "necessary first step" toward reform; it's a huge leap away from reform, and will make it much harder, if not outright impossible, for any real reform to be enacted in the future, because the insurance companies have been given, effectively, a government stipend for their bribery of legislators. The bill doesn't bring us closer to reform--it takes us much further away.

Those among the Democrats who are pushing this seem to have completely lost their minds. They seem totally blind to the mess this monstrosity can create. They don't even demonstrate any rudimentary self-survival instincts--it's very bad politics for the Democrats to pass the bill. It doesn't, in my view, provide for the possibility of any short-term gains--the polling has made it pretty clear that people don't want the bill in its present form. Public reaction is likely to fall somewhere between indifference and outright hostility. Once the bill goes into effect, some years down the road, the Democrats certainly won't be able to bullshit people anymore. They'll be slaughtered at the polls for the mess they’ve made of this--it's why Rahm Emanuel only wanted it to kick in after what he hopes will be the Obama's reelection.

The future, under this bill, is one of premiums that continue to rise for those with insurance, people without the money to buy private insurance being left with even less money, a health insurance industry with federal subsidies, making it even more invincible, and the feds funding, in effect, the campaigns of the politicians the industry chooses to purchase, a job our wonderful Supreme Court has just made a lot easier. It's a bad bill--it needs to die.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Conservatism & What Ails It 2: Textbook Boogaloo

Today comes word that the reactionaries on the Texas Board of Education voted, Friday, to give preliminary approval to a new set of "educational" standards for their state, standards created without any real concern for education, but with a great deal of concern for injecting heaping helpings of the noxious politics of the board majority into the educational process.

Some of the highlights cited by the Associated Press include teachers being "required to cover the Judeo-Christian influences of the nation's Founding Fathers, but not highlight the philosophical rationale for the separation of church and state. Curriculum standards also will describe the U.S. government as a 'constitutional republic,' rather than 'democratic'... " There are "amendments heralding 'American exceptionalism' and the U.S. free enterprise system, suggesting it thrives best absent excessive government intervention."

This has been an ongoing battle in Texas for some time, now. At various stages in the current process, the conservatives have pressed for requiring that students be able "to identify significant conservative advocacy organizations and individuals, such as Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schlafly and the Moral Majority," for injecting global warming denial and creationist rubbish into the standards, for teaching that Sen. Joseph McCarthy had been vindicated. "Experts," such as Peter Marshall, a reactionary fruit-loop preacher from Massachusetts, and David Barton, a Republican party activist, were imported into the process as consultants. While the majority on the board found their politics pleasing, neither has ever had even a minute of formal training as an historian, nor ever demonstrated any genuine grasp of the subject. Barton does, however, seem to have made a comfortable living for himself as a faux historian, publishing right-wing fiction as "history," to the delight of the Religious Right [tm], and a combination of groans and hysterical laughter from everyone with any familiarity with the real thing.

Perhaps most disturbingly, the conservatives have accomplished, or tried to accomplish things like the complete elimination from the standards of any mention of Thurgood Marshall or César Chávez, and the downplaying of the significance of Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement, in favor of portraying their accomplishments as the work of white Republicans. This week, as the board hashed out the standards, "numerous attempts to add the names or references to important Hispanics throughout history also were denied, inducing one amendment that would specify that Tejanos died at the Alamo alongside Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie. Another amendment deleted a requirement that sociology students 'explain how institutional racism is evident in American society'" (Associated Press). One amendment from the conservatives called for declaring that the civil rights movement led to "unrealistic expectations for equal outcomes."

Call the results Aryan History 101.

So it's going to suck to be a student in Texas, right? But why is it a concern for anyone in states not governed by inbred racists and reactionaries?

Glad you asked. Textbook publishers operate on a national basis, but Texas is one of the two biggest textbook markets in the U.S., and to make sales, those publishers have to tailor their product to meet the state standards. Those textbooks--the ones that suit the Texas reactionaries--will then be sold and used all over the U.S. for the next decade (the next time the state will have a curriculum review).

Get the picture?

Ye humble editor is big on education. An uninformed citizen is adrift on a night-shrouded sea of troubles, forever doomed to flail away in the darkness at a world he can never understand. I'm a history buff, myself. More than that, I'm a history fanatic ("buff" is far too soft a word). If someone characterized my view of history as not only a subject of learning, but the subject, it would only be a mild exaggeration. Merely saying American education in history is woefully inadequate is like merely saying Sarah Palin isn't very bright; the phrase "bold understatement" just doesn't begin to cover it. The long series of polls, surveys, studies documenting Americans' profound ignorance of history go back decades.

Back in 1995, James Loewen published "Lies My Teacher Told Me," which is still the definitive popular survey of the inadequacy of historical education in the U.S. Loewen examined 12 of the major U.S. history textbooks, and outlined their failings in painful detail. The books take what should be the most vibrant, debatable, and interesting subject, and drain every bit of the life out of it. They never use the past to illuminate the present, thus severing, for the student, all apparent relevance of the subject to the present and the future. Instead, "history" is presented through a narrative that reduces it to a series of problems that arose from nowhere and were solved long ago, and "learning" it means absorbing a seemingly endless series of names and dates. Errors abound. Historical events and figures are scrubbed in order to eliminate controversial elements, particularly any that, like racism, may be construed as reflecting badly on the U.S., which is the PC problem. It isn't, as conservatives would have it, a problem with liberal "political correctness"--it's a problem with conservative "patriotic correctness," and, as Loewen documents (without calling it that), it renders much of genuine U.S. history inexplicable.

Adopting Big Brother's dictum that he who controls the past controls the future, conservatives have long waged war on history. In the last few decades, an influential and astonishingly ignorant segment--or, to be more precise, particularly virulent strain--of American reactionaries who insist on viewing absolutely everything through the narrow lens of their twisted contemporary political goals have decided the wretchedly inadequate historical education American schools already dish out doesn't go nearly far enough, and they've wormed their way into positions of power wherever they could in order to make it even worse, with the goal of turning out more brain-dead robots like themselves. What's happening in Texas is just a more extreme example of what has always happened. It's also today's example of why conservatives just plain suck.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Conservatism, and What Ails It

Ye humble editor makes no secret of the fact that he's not a fan of conservatism, but he'll freely concede it can, in reasonably measured doses, be, theoretically, not only a benefit but an indispensable asset to the body politic; challenging new ideas, weeding out the clinkers, and giving strength to the more substantial ones that survive the challenge by pointing out shortcomings in them and forcing their advocates to shore them up. Allowing conservatism to rule is never a good idea, but any politics become stale and decadent without the persistent presence of a credible opposition force, and that's what conservatism should be.

That's theory.

In practice, that's... not our conservatism. Not even close.

In practice, traditional conservatism in its various gradations--and, though these comments may equally apply to them, I'm not referring to the plethora of self-styled "conservatisms" like "Libertarianism" that have little real support on the right--has become something more closely analogous to a cancer in the body politic. It hasn't had any real intellectual muscle in quite some time, and has, in fact, largely become an anti-intellectual movement. These days, it doesn't play any substantial constructive social role at all.

It isn't just that it's stupid, backwards, based on fictions, built on faulty premises. Some research in which I don't put much stock has characterized it as an evolutionary throwback. Some other research with a firmer basis has likened it to mental illness. Whatever else it may be, though, what it really is, at heart, is a character flaw. Conservatism doesn't just cling to the past; it clings to the worst elements of it, the bad ol' days, which it perversely regards as the good ol' days. It clings to these things (which may be real or imagined elements of an imagined past), no matter who it has to run over, injure, even kill to maintain them. Challenge one of their sacred cows and far too many conservatives will cast off any hint of the most basic human decency or sense of responsibility in their fight against you. If most conservative causes aren't morally reprehensible from the outset, they quickly become so via the behavior of their advocates. And, perversely, these battles are often waged, by the conservatives, in the name of the very morality they so often abandon as their first step in the process of undertaking them.

The story in today's press that inspired these thoughts offers an example of the latter, a story about conservatism at work that perked up the ears of ye humble editor. It's a relatively minor example, to be sure, but it's one that hits really close to home for me. A high school in the podunk town of Fulton, Mississippi was preparing their senior prom, and Constance McMillen requested that she be able to bring her date, like everyone else. McMillen's date, however, was her girlfriend, and the school board said, as CBS News reported it, that this "violated their policy against same-sex couples at the dance." The existence of that policy, outlined in a memo circulated at the school, was what had led McMillen to inquire about the matter in the first place, and, incredibly, when she pressed the matter, the school actually canceled the event! Called the whole thing off, just so one queer girl wouldn't be able to take her girlfriend to it. CBS reports McMillen "said she's been told by classmates that she's ruined their senior year," which suggests some of Constance's fellow students are just as twisted and misguided as the right-wing trash in officialdom that caused this situation.

In my own senior year of high school, in another of those small southern towns, I saw these same attitudes at work on someone very close to me. I'm not at liberty to offer many details (it's a long story and would probably be boring to anyone else anyway), but what I saw was very, very ugly, and the experience became one of those things that fundamentally shaped my view of life, of the world, of just about everything. This prom cancellation in Asshole-of-the-World, Mississippi all these years later is a lot milder than what I saw, but the attitudes driving both were fundamentally the same--fundamentally abhorrent, fundamentally incompatible with a civilized society, or even a barbarous one that's worth a shit, and, most of all, fundamentally conservative. A perfect nutshell encapsulation of what contemporary conservatism is, at its heart and behind all the incongruous rhetoric, and, if a very minor affair in the larger scheme of things, still a perfect illustration of why it just plain sucks.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Democracy & The Filibuster, Part 2

Nice Guy replied to my initial response in his "comments" section. Here's today's contribution from me:

The reason to do away with the filibuster is that it's anti-democratic. Not every part of a modern liberal democracy is supposed to be entirely democratic but the legislature is, and the filibuster, whether used for good or bad (and, historically speaking, it's almost always for bad), is a cancer on that scheme.

Your argument against the tyranny of the majority is fundamentally (and profoundly) conservative--it's the very reason great effort was originally expended, in the creation of the constitution, to minimize democratic influence. The powdered-wig set was terrified that ordinary joes--flush with the foolish notion that because they were the ones who fought and died to create the country, it was theirs--would take up arms and storm the country clubs, demanding a fair shake. The views of the powdered wigs on this point were fundamentally at odds with both the temperament of the times and of the American culture and character, which were products of that temperament. We never accepted their views, and our history is one of correcting them. We are a liberal democracy, even more so culturally than is reflected in our governing institutions.

That's certainly not to say "the tyranny of the majority" is something toward which I'm indifferent. When it comes to the general public, the ignorance, the educational deficiencies, the fact that it can and often is duped, that it can react like a frightened herd when faced with crisis--these are all undeniable and all undeniably matters of concern. Leaving the general direction of the country to the ballot box, as I suggested earlier, could and would lead to some appalling outcomes. I don't even look upon that as a proposition--I accept it as a fact.

Here's the thing though: I don't think there's any reason to believe those outcomes are any worse than the appalling outcomes we get now. We have most of our history to show for that. Filibuster abuse--if one accepts that any filibuster is not an abuse--is a relatively recent phenomenon. The incredible degree of abuse we see today is, in fact, only 3 years old, with it having become a problem of note less than two decades ago. Launching a filibuster used to be widely considered the legislative equivalent of child molestation. It was practically never done, except in the service of causes like beating back civil rights and the U.S. kept chugging along anyway (the process was formalized way back in 1917, though, in practice, there had been filibusters going back to the 1830s).

It should also be said, though, that allowing one's position on this matter to be driven by concerns for the outcomes we may get should the filibuster be ended is completely inappropriate. That isn't to say we shouldn't have those concerns--we certainly should--but allowing that to drive your ultimate position on the question is to adopt a Machiavellian ends-justify-the-means perspective that is entirely inconsistent with a democracy. One either believes in democracy or one doesn't. If you believe in it, you have to take the good with the bad.

I do believe in democracy. In fact, I've always been one agitating for making things even more democratic. I'm all for proportional representation in congress. I'd completely eliminate the electoral college. If I had my druthers, I'd probably even do away with the Senate itself. I'm not as settled on that one as on the others, but over the years, I keep asking myself if we really need a House of Lords. At the very least, some neutering of Senate power seems appropriate. Consider that, at present population dispersal, just over 5.6% of the U.S. population, residing in the smallest states (which contain 11% of the total U.S. population), can theoretically elect a sufficient number of Senators (41) to filibuster anything everyone else wants to do. It doesn't work out that way in practice[*] but that's obviously an intolerable situation for anyone with any real concern for democracy at all and depending on the forbearance of reptiles is not a sound means of addressing it.

You ask, "Are Supreme Court issues, 'matters for the ballot box?' If you say 'yes' you sound a lot like a Conservative. If you say 'No' then you've undermined a good chunk of your argument." By "Supreme Court issues," I assume you mean things like matters relating to civil liberties. Of course those aren't subject to being eliminated by a majority. Protection of minority rights is an integral feature of a modern liberal democracy, not, as so many conservatives would have it, a deviation from it. My right to free speech can't be legislated away. Well, actually, it can, but that's why we have the courts, to smack down that sort of nonsense. That isn't why we have the filibuster. The filibuster, like the Senate itself, exists to put a stop to change, to short-circuit those durned libruls who are always tryin' ta' make things better fer folks. It's a practice, just as the Senate is an institution, designed to prop up the status quo. The sentiment behind it is consistent with a part of the sentiment that led those powdered wigs to create the Senate in the first place, though the filibuster itself is arguably unconstitutional by the very scheme those powdered wigs established. My failure to submit fundamental rights to a majority rule does nothing at all to undermine my argument, much less "a good chunk" of it. It is, rather, a matter of apples and oranges.

As I said before, if one believes in democracy, one has to take the good with the bad. I don't think the bad would be as bad as you seem to think. I don't think people are as stupid as you seem to think either--most of the time, they're either with the liberals or come around to the liberals' point of view over time and if we accept that as "stupid," we're sort of stupid too! Maybe we shouldn't rule that out! I don't think we should be looking at possible outcomes as the guide in this matter.

The constitution allows the Senate to make its own rules but it provides for a majority vote to pass legislation. The filibuster, as it's presently constituted, makes a supermajority necessary. That's the sort of tinkering with the original design that probably should require a constitutional amendment. Calling out--and defeating--the Republicans who have brought us to this place is a good idea, a good use of democracy, but it doesn't fix the institutional problem. As I see it, one can either stand against the filibuster or accept that the constitution got it wrong and that we really should have to have a supermajority to do anything. I don't see much wiggle-room between the two.



[*] The actual numbers still make the point, if much less dramatically--at present, Democratic Senators represent 74.9% of the population, while Republican Senators represent 48.7% of the population (there being overlap between states that have mixed Senate delegations). The minority is still running everything.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Democracy & The Filibuster, Part 1

This post began as an exchange with Nice Guy Eddie over at "In My Humble Opinion." Any movie buff remembers Nice Guy Eddie Cabot, the lovable gangster boy with the impeccable fashion sense from RESERVOIR DOGS. Eddie appeared to have been shot to death at the end of that opus but his apparent death became one of the great mysteries of cinema because, in that grand showdown that finished off the cast, no one was pointing a gun at Eddie when the bullets started flying. And, as it turns out, Eddie didn't die at all. Instead, he started a blog. He's mellowed a lot in the intervening years--his opinions often do seem humble. Yesterday, he jotted out some thoughts on "Filibuster Reform," and I thought I'd add my two cents (to note the obvious, my reply, recorded below, will probably make a lot more sense if one reads the post to which it is a response):

The reason the Republicans' proposed "nuclear option," during the Bush administration, was so heinous wasn't because it would have limited the filibuster against judicial nominees. It was because they were proposing changing the rules of the Senate on a majority vote. The rules of the Senate can only be changed by a 2/3 majority or more. The idea is to have generally agreed-upon basic rules by which the institution operates. Republicans were proposing to simply ignore that. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), who has tried to essentially repeal the filibuster for at least 15 years, even came out strongly against this, correctly noting the potentially horrendous damage that could be caused if the bodies' basic rules could be changed at any time by majority vote. The situation with the Massachusetts legislature is a rough example of the sort of shenanigans that could become commonplace.

Harkin's initial roll-back of the filibuster died a bloody death back in 1995--as I recall, it only got something like 13 votes [Edit: 19, actually--it died on a vote of 76-19]. He drags out the bill every so often. It has never gone anywhere.

I've been in favor of eliminating the procedure for even longer than that. No one else is, and for the reasons you outline--they all imagine themselves in the minority faction in the future. It's a shortsighted and stupid Machiavellian way of looking at it. The general direction of the country, for better or worse, is, properly, a matter for the ballot box. As the past year has vividly demonstrated, those elections are completely meaningless if the minority party--a minority reduced to one of its lowest levels in decades by the last election--can simply stop everything the majority tries to do. A MOST noxiously reactionary breed of Republican ran the country for 8 years, people threw the bums out and over a year later, they're still running everything.

The Bush years also demonstrated the inverse: the pointlessness of having something like the Senate filibuster without an opposition with any semblance of a spine. Bush and the Republicans steamrolled everything they wanted through congress anyway; it didn't put a stop to a single major piece of Bush-proposed legislation. There was no oversight of what was happening in the executive branch. The filibuster was useless.

It needs to be stopped. I don't know the details of Sen. Bennett's proposal but if it gets rid of the filibuster, more power to him. He's going to need some moral support, because that's the only kind of support he's going to get.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Pressing The Depressing Press For A Little Press

The top political story of the past year is money in politics, but that's the case with every year, and, viewed as mere business-as-usual, it isn't really "news" at all. The details are always different, but the story is always the same. That's how most of those in the corporate press look at it, anyway. Given the weight it merits, it should lead the evening newscasts every night--given the weight they assign it, it's barely even mentioned. U.S. politics are all about money. It overwhelms every other consideration. A lack of understanding of this basic fact precludes any understanding of U.S. politics.

The corporate press tends to present politics as, instead, a battle of personalities and of competing ideologies. It's no easy task. Ignoring a 2,000-lb. gorilla in the room never is, and a 24-hour news cycle makes it that much tougher to pretend it doesn't exist.

Money isn't the only gorilla, though. This particular one has several big gorilla babies the press either entirely ignores or mentions only in passing, and without reference to parentage. The biggest of these babies, for more than a year, has been Republican obstructionism in congress. If you get your news from most of the corporate press, you don't know a lot about it.

Barack Obama won the 2008 election in spectacular fashion, crushing Republican John McCain by nearly 10 million votes. His party, which had already won the congress two years earlier, heftily increased its majorities in both houses, almost achieving, in the Senate, a 60-vote filibuster-proof supermajority. Conventional wisdom held the election to be historic.

What a difference a year makes, eh?

The immediate aftermath, of course, was that Republicans embraced a strategy of obstruction, declared their opposition to anything and everything of any significance that was proposed by Obama and the Democrats, and used and abused every trick in the book to stop it all. Even when Obama and the Democrats adopted Republican proposals as their own, the Republicans who had made the proposals turned against them.

Entire volumes will probably be written about the remarkable opportunity the Obama squandered in his first year. He rode into office via landslide, and his popularity soared to even greater heights as he was sworn in, while public identification with his Republican opposition hit its lowest point in the history of polling. The world was his oyster, and instead of boldly seizing the moment and wringing some progress from it, he embraced the politics of compromise, accommodation, "bipartisanship," seemingly oblivious to the opportunity before him, oblivious to the ugly political reality of the contemporary American right, oblivious to the fact that you can't compromise when there's no one with whom to make a deal. Simply put, Obama blew it. One must judge him, in this monumental failure, as, at best, tragically misguided, and, at worst, utterly contemptible.

It probably isn't any surprise to my regular readers that I've leaned toward the latter conclusion; it's been mine since prior to the Obama's inauguration, when the administration he set about building made plain what was to follow. Everything that eventually did happen was a foregone conclusion. A shame, really.

But my contempt for Obama isn't my subject today. Today, I have some other contempt to spread around. Maybe I'll even offer something that amounts to--gasp!--some serious criticism of a theoretically important institution!

That institution is the press. I've never made any secret of the fact that I am, to put it mildly, not a fan of much of it. In theory, it's indispensable. In practice, it's reprehensible. It's supposed to be a watchdog on the powerful. At this, it fails miserably.

Republican obstructionism, particularly in the U.S. Senate, has been the biggest of that big gorilla's big gorilla babies in the past year. Consider this, for a moment. Why hasn't it been the #1 story on the nightly newscasts every night for most of the past year? I mean, since money-in-politics can't be directly touched. The Demos rode in on that wave of enthusiasm in 2008, but, through the Senate filibuster and various other abuses, Repubs--the losers of the election--have managed to stop just about everything Obama and the Demos have advanced. There were 75 cloture votes in the Senate last year. To put that number in perspective, the 2nd-most-frequent use of cloture in an entire two-year congress in the entire history of the United States was 82 votes. The Republicans nearly tied it in only one year. These same Republicans set the current #1 record for cloture votes in a congress, as well--when they lost both houses in 2006, the next two years saw 139 cloture votes, over double the average of the previous five congresses. They're going to beat that record with this current congress. They're being allowed, by the press, to do so. Their behavior isn't scandalized. It isn't reported in any sort of sustained, systematic way that would inform the public what's happening. For the most part, in fact, it's barely even reported at all in most major media outlets. Repubs obstruct everything, then say the Demos' policies have failed; Obama and the Democrats see their approval ratings tank.

Not that Obama and the Demos aren't mostly to blame for that. If they'd just decided to go through the Republicans right from the beginning, they wouldn't be in this position. Their efforts at accommodation have done them in, and its impossible to have any sympathy for them. I have to believe, though, that if the press was doing its job, and if the public had gotten, from it, a sustained, systematic narrative of this extraordinary campaign of obstructionism, public disapproval would be tilted rather differently.

That sort of sustained work by the press would have also put the just-concluded Jim Bunning situation in its proper perspective. Over the weekend, Sen. Bunning (Clown-KY) decided to launch a one-man crusade against extension of unemployment benefits, holding them up and allowing them to expire. Bunning's behavior has been treated by the press as some sort of anomalous outrage, when, placed in its proper perspective, it's perfectly consistent with his parties' behavior. The press reacted the same way (when reporting the matter at all) when, a few months ago, Sen. Tom "Payola" Coburn (Clown-OK) was holding up veteran's benefits. Anomalous. No sense of context. Sen. Richard Shelby (Clown-AL) blocks over 70 Obama nominees to national security-related posts because he wants a pork project for a foreign-owned company in his state, instead of an American-owned company elsewhere. It was barely reported at all, and when it was, it was the same routine. Anomalous.

Without the proper framing provided by sustained press coverage, something like the fight over health care reform can't even be understood by the broader public. The press aversion to the mother gorilla has already robbed the public of any real opportunity to understand what's driving the debate, but the aversion to the big gorilla baby has also left them mostly in the dark about the mechanics of the debate itself. Repub obstructionism is part of a conscious party strategy to bury anything the Demos try to do, then to try to bury the Demos themselves for being failures at governing, which would be very clear if sustained, systematic reporting on it had started with the obstruction campaign, the day the Obama took the oath of office. For that matter, Repubs, as I said earlier, first amped up the use of the filibuster to insane proportions two years before that, after they lost the congress. Again, this would have been clear, if the press was doing its job. Absent those needed months (and years) of context leading up to the health care debate, the coverage, instead, actually lends credibility to Repub suggestions that there's something terribly wrong with reform efforts, even if the coverage never explicitly says so. Otherwise, why would the Repubs be fighting it so fiercely?

The health care "reform" proposal advanced by Obama is based on several Republican health care "reform" proposals, but, initially, with a public option tacked on for cost-control purposes (something the Obama quickly abandoned when faced with criticism from the right).[*] That's a pretty damn important fact when Republicans start screeching about "socialism" and "government takeover," railing against the Demos exclusion of Repub ideas from the process, and going to such insane lengths to stop anything from passing. Pretty damn important, but good luck in ever hearing about it on the evening news.

Instead, Repub anti-reform propaganda--even blatant lying--is allowed, time and time again, to gain serious traction. When the charge of "death panels" aimed at killing old people was packing the congressional town-hall meetings with ranting idiots, it was almost impossible to get the press to do any significant reporting on the basic fact that there weren't any such "death panels," and that the proposal being used as a basis for the charge was an uncontroversial measure about a totally different matter that had been written by Republicans and had very broad support in congress right up until the point it became more convenient for one side to lie about it. At the height of the hysteria, Media Matters ran a piece aimed at documenting the many times the lie had been debunked in the press, but mostly succeeding in demonstrating what I've been describing about the shallow press coverage. While many major press outlets had, indeed, been critical of the lie, the criticism was relatively rare, and usually limited to a stray comment or two. Very few dedicated stories. No systematic reporting.

Now, Democrats are considering using the congressional reconciliation process to iron out the differences between the House and Senate health care bills. Repubs are behaving as their usual outraged selves, presenting this as some sort of unprecedented use of a procedural gimmick to force health care reform on an unwilling public, and they're getting lots of stenography of these baseless charges in the press. Sen. Orrin Hatch (Clown-UT) just authored a compendium of these lies, and the Washington Post saw fit to publish it. Over at Media Matters, Jamison Foser has just written an illuminating article on the matter, offering, in the process, yet another example of how journalistic failure has impacted the health care debate. Foser examined how the corporate media covered the Repubs' use of the reconciliation process to pass George Bush's 2003 tax cut legislation. Simply stated, they didn't. The reconciliation process was treated as a non-story. It wasn't scandalized. The fact that it was even being used at all was barely even mentioned. Now, though, Repubs are expending a great deal of effort to make it appear a scandal that Democrats are considering doing what they've done. If the press had been providing the proper coverage of Republican obstructionism for the past year (or the past three), the wider public wouldn't even need to know the details--it would immediately recognize the bullshit being shoveled by Republicans over this matter as just the latest from a big pile of bullshit aimed at obstructing Democratic proposals.

If the obstructionist story had ever been given the weight it deserved, the public would be sick of it very quickly, and up in arms about it within a month.

The corporate press simply won't act as an effective watchdog, which is what it's supposed to be, and, more importantly, what we so desperately need it to be. It is, instead, lazy, incompetent, often ill-intentioned, and unaccountable. That's why it needs watchdogs.

Unfortunately, our biggest watchdog, Media Matters, has been dropping the ball a lot lately. Nearly all of its work, for a few months, now, has been devoted to debunking fictions circulated by Fox News. Now, it's true Fox News is a cancer on the U.S., but it's also true that bashing them is like shooting elderly, arthritic fish in a very small barrel. The real problems with the press are found in the sort of deficient coverage I've been outlining, and it's the big news operations that are falling short. Media Matters barely touches them at all anymore.

So what's left are mostly no-name assholes like me, blogging away to little notice.

The corporate press needs its watchdogs. Their mission has to be a hell of a lot larger than just following whatever the idiots on Fox are lying about at any given moment. I went over there for a few days and griped about it, and today's output was an improvement. Foser's piece was a most welcome change. I hope they find their way again.



[*] The reason the "Democratic" proposal for "reform" is identical to those Republican plans is a story in itself--they're both written by industry lobbyists. Good luck seeing that on the evening new, too.