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The Obama/Bush Tax-Cuts: Negotiating with Terrorists

December 8th, 2010 No comments

I’m not sure why, but even though everyone expected it, even though I called it a month ago, I’m still extremely angry about Obama’s decision to cave in to the Republicans on the Bush tax-cut issue. Perhaps I’d been holding out some hope until the very end. Perhaps it’s because no matter how angry you anticipate you’ll be when somebody does something you find despicable, you don’t fully feel the anger until they’ve actually done it.

I won’t spend too much time going into all of the reasons why extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans is a bad idea in terms of policy—I think most people already understand that trickle-down economics is bunk and that the more money we borrow from China the worse-off our country is—but it’s a far worse decision in terms of politics. In this case, the politics are more important than the policy because this sets the tone for the next two years and will thus have a significant impact on every policy to be addressed during that time.

First of all, it’s important to know what public opinion is on this issue. In a recent CBS news poll only 26% of responders said they believed the tax-cuts should continue for everyone. 53% said they should only continue for income under $250,000 a year, and 14% said they should all expire. If you add up the last two numbers, that’s 67% of Americans who want the tax-cuts for the wealthy to expire to just 26% who want them to continue. Public opinion is overwhelmingly against extending the tax-cuts for the rich (even just among Republicans, the numbers are 52% opposed to 46% in favor).

There are those who say that making a deal with Republicans was a political necessity. Obama did what he had to do. It was the responsible thing. The Republicans would have blocked unemployment benefits for people badly needing them unless Obama agreed to a two-year extension of the Bush tax-cuts. Obama used an appropriate metaphor, painting the Republicans as terrorists holding the middle class and the unemployed hostage. He said that while you shouldn’t negotiate with terrorists, sometimes it’s necessary to prevent the hostages from being harmed.

But that’s only half the analogy. If you cave in to the terrorists’ demands they may release the hostages this time, but it only encourages more hostage taking in the future. The Republicans know exactly how to manipulate Obama. They’ve been doing it for the last two years and will continue to do it for the next two years unless Obama finally stands up to them. Sometimes you have to let the hostages get hurt to prevent harm to future hostages. Show the terrorists that taking hostages is not a winning strategy, and they’ll have to find a different one.

So what could Obama have done? It’s very simple, and it would have been a far better strategy than caving in:

Call the Republicans’ bluff. Make them filibuster. Make them hold up every single piece of legislation until the 111th Congress expires, and at the beginning of next year all taxes would go up across the board, for the rich and the middle class alike. Make it clear that it is the Republican Party that is responsible for taxes going up, that their obstruction is the reason the unemployed have stopped receiving benefits, that the START treaty hasn’t been ratified, and so on. Make it as clear as possible to the American people (most of whom are already on your side) that the Number One priority of the Republican Party is getting tax cuts for their rich friends, and that they’re willing to let the middle class, the unemployed, and national security suffer just to help out the people who are least in need of help.

At the very beginning of the next legislative session, introduce new tax-cut legislation completely separate from the Bush plan. Cut taxes for the bottom 98% of Americans if you must, but refuse to include any cuts for the top 2%. Include an extension of unemployment benefits along with compensation for whatever the unemployed had been deprived of thanks to Republican obstruction.

Dare the Republicans to filibuster this. They probably will at first. But how long do you think they’d be able to hold out? Every single night, even the least informed Americans will turn on the TV and hear about how their taxes have gone up and the unemployed aren’t getting the money they need to heat their homes because Republicans insist that the rich aren’t rich enough. Do you think the majority of Americans will blame the president for not caving in? Or will they blame the Republican leaders whose shrill cries of “but…but…but the job-creators!” will grow increasingly hollow as this drags on.

The media may even decide to look deeper into the issue—to research the impact of personal income-tax reduction for the wealthiest Americans and actually inform their viewers that it doesn’t create jobs! (Honestly, they’ll still probably be too afraid of accusations of bias that they won’t do it. If the facts come down solely on one side of a political argument, the media’s tendency is not to report those facts.)

But if the Republicans are pressed, they will fold. They’ll see which way the political winds are blowing, they’ll notice their approval ratings plummeting, they’ll hear from their staffers just how many angry calls they’re getting every day from people demanding to know why they can’t feed their children because the rich need more money, and they will end the filibuster and let the bill come to a vote.

Republicans are cowardly politicians just like the Democrats, and if someone stands up to them they will cave in. But Obama has yet to stand up to them.

If he actually did fight back and won this political victory, it would set a great the tone for the next two years. Republicans would know that they can no longer get away with blocking everything, and Democrats would know that if they’re willing to fight they can win.

Furthermore, Obama’s disaffected base would be completely re-energized. Hope would be resurrected. Change would be back on the table. Perhaps now would be the time to bring the public option back up for debate or to impose stricter regulations on Wall Street.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives may uniformly oppose these things, but if the people can clearly see which party is trying to get things done and which party wants to spend all of its time investigating the White House while the economy suffers, they’ll reward the party that’s fighting and punish the one that’s obstructing. Obama will get a second term and fresh congressional majorities in 2012 and he can become the Change president we all hoped he would be.

Oh, but it’s too late. The deal is done. Obama has decided to let the Bush tax-cuts continue, thus empowering the Republicans to get whatever they want for the next two years just by threatening to filibuster.

To make matters worse, the “Bush tax-cuts” will henceforth be known as the “Obama/Bush tax-cuts” and Obama will have no defense against the Republicans howling about the deficit in the next election. The tax-cuts will add an extra $700 billion to the deficit and the Republicans will put the responsibility squarely on Obama’s shoulders in spite of their hand in it.

Obama won’t be able to defend himself, because the responsibility was squarely on his shoulders, and he shirked it. He negotiated with the terrorists, compromised himself and the country, and when the terrorists come back and blame him for the harm to the country that they made him do, he’ll have no excuse. It’s over. The terrorists win.

Obama is dead. Long live Obama.

December 5th, 2010 No comments

For all practical purposes, the Obama presidency is over. I hope I’m way off-base but it seems to be the truth. The weeks following the mid-term elections have been so discouraging that I’ve barely been able to summon the motivation to write about them. After two years in which Change didn’t come fast enough, it now looks as though the plan for the next two years is to slow down significantly, and possibly even move back in the other direction.

In case any of you decided to tune out completely after the election, this is what’s been going on in the wake of the GOP’s electoral victory:

Obama gave up his campaign pledge to let the Bush tax-cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans expire and signaled a willingness to extend them, thus adding hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit and validating the Republicans’ demonstrably false argument (just look at the last ten years) that tax cuts for the wealthy lead to jobs for middle-class Americans.

The Republicans wrote a letter to Obama threatening to filibuster any and all legislation until the tax-cut issue was addressed. Obama is now offering to extend the tax-cuts for the wealthy in exchange for allowing an extension of unemployment benefits. The rich are essentially holding the unemployed hostage, and Obama is playing along.

Some say he’s just doing what he has to. Well how about the bipartisan summit on Tuesday? Obama came out of a meeting with Republicans saying “Today we had the beginning of a new dialogue that I hope — and I’m sure most Americans hope — will help break through the noise and help produce gains.” In spite of all of the obstruction of the past two years and the open admission on the part of the Republican leadership that defeating Obama in 2012 is their Number One goal, Obama still wants to pretend that he can work with them.

Even before the meeting, Obama announced that he would freeze the salaries of federal employees for two years. He did this in exchange for nothing. The only upside was to boost his conservative credibility, the stated reason being that he wants to win back those independent voters who switched to the Republican side this election over concerns about the deficit. More on these elusive independent voters later.

And speaking of the deficit, a bipartisan commission appointed by Obama put forward a proposal to slash the deficit mainly by taking the money from programs that help the middle class such as Medicare and Social Security. Meanwhile they want to give more tax cuts to corporations. It’s less of a deficit-reduction plan than it is a wealth-redistribution plan to accelerate the funneling of money from the bottom to the top. Obama has refused to take a stand on protecting Social Security and he won’t make the argument that perhaps when the wealthy are doing extremely well and the middle class is suffering, it should be the wealthy who take on the larger share of the economic burden.

And as icing on the cake, it looks like the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy of banning gay soldiers from serving openly in the military might actually remain on the books in spite of all of the promises and assurances Obama made that it would be repealed on his watch. Not only has he refused to lead on this issue, but his justice department has been actively fighting to keep the policy in place.

There are still a lot of people out there who will defend Obama no matter what, and while I think it’s necessary to have voices out there defending him (especially considering the volume and viciousness of attacks leveled at him from the right) I just don’t understand how anyone could honestly believe he’s doing the best he can.

To those of you who still support him I just want you to consider this: Is this really the best we could have hoped for?

But even more importantly, should we believe that this is the best we could have hoped for?

I’ve written before about the feeling I often get that what goes on in American politics is all a show that plays out according to a certain script. I’ve expressed my sneaking suspicion that Barack Obama is a part of that script, that he was the answer to the public’s frustration after eight years of blatant hard-right conservatism from the White House and that the power elites who really run the country decided to let him take the reins for a little while in order to pacify progressives.

If that’s the case, they’ve done a superb job of it. By making it look as though Change is practically impossible, he’s got us all convinced that there’s nothing more we can do. The conservative media has worked tirelessly to paint this president as the most far-left ideologue to ever occupy the White House, and even though progressives may not take Fox News seriously it could have had the subconscious effect of making us believe that this is as good a job as a progressive president could possibly do.

But I refuse to believe that’s true. Let me return to this idea of independent voters who supported Obama in 2008 but went to the GOP in 2010. The conventional wisdom is that what these voters most want to see is both parties working together in a bipartisan fashion. These are low-information voters who know only what they see on the nightly news (if they watch it), and in 2012 they’re supposedly going to go to the polls and pick the candidate who looks as centrist and moderate as possible and whose rhetoric of bipartisan cooperation is the most believable.

I don’t think these voters exist. Maybe I just never encounter them because I live overseas, but I just can’t imagine any actual person with a functioning human brain who doesn’t care about particular policies but votes solely based on what kind of happy “let’s all hold hands and sing kumbayaa” feeling they get from a candidate. “I don’t care about unemployment, I just want to see the parties working together.” Sorry, I’m just not buying it.

If Obama really believes that it was his promises of bi-partisan outreach that got him elected in 2008 and that continuing to offer concession after concession to the other side is what will get him re-elected in 2012, he’s either an idiot or just completely out-of-touch. I don’t believe he’s an idiot, so I have to believe his mind is just so full of beltway-media talking points that he can’t think straight. The only other alternative is that he’s completely dishonest

Progressives stayed home in 2010 because they didn’t feel the reforms he got passed in his first two years were strong enough. We can argue all day about whether or not they were, but one thing I think we can agree on is that he never really made a strong case for why these reforms were necessary. Perhaps it was because he knew that if he made people understand just how dire the health care and financial situations were in this country, people would expect far more drastic measures than he thought he’d be able to deliver.

But what we needed from the president was someone willing to aim higher than that, to shoot for more than what he believed he could deliver and only then, after a long and spirited battle to win public opinion, to make whatever compromises necessary to get the legislation passed. Obama’s strategy has been to compromise right at the very beginning, hope for the beltway media to pat him on the back for being such a good centrist, and then let the bill drift as far to the right as necessary for it to pass.

Nowhere in that strategy is there an attempt to make an argument, to shift public opinion in favor of reform and then use that public opinion as leverage to get your political opponents to vote for it.

Instead, Obama validates the opposing side’s dishonest arguments time and time again by attempting to meet them half-way. Everyone paying attention can see that the Republicans have no interest in helping anyone other than their rich friends—that they’re willing to let the unemployed suffer and even jeopardize national security just to fulfill their obligation to their campaign donors, but Obama would never even dream of pointing this out.

After Tuesday’s summit, this is what he said of his political opponents:

We have two parties for a reason. There are real philosophical differences, deeply held principles to which each party holds. Although the atmosphere in today’s meeting was extremely civil, there’s no doubt that those differences are going to remain no matter how many meetings we have…We understand these aren’t times for us to be playing games…I think there was a sincere effort on the part of everybody involved to commit to work together and try to solve the problems.

This is the fundamental problem with Obama and it’s the reason why his presidency is likely to be considered a failure. Obama’s opponents are not honest actors but he continues to treat them that way.

Instead of calling them out for their obstructionism, instead of holding their feet to the fire and demanding that they explain to the American people why they’re going to block an extension of unemployment benefits for those who need it most in order to give tax cuts to those who need it least, he instead just wants to find “common ground.”

Instead of pointing out what corporate shills they are and explaining to the American people how their intentions have nothing to do with benefiting the country as a whole and everything to do with increasing the power of the already-powerful, he chalks up their behavior to honest “philosophical differences.”

This is a war. It’s being fought between the upper class and the middle and lower classes, and we need a general—someone in a position of great power fighting for our side. Barack Obama is not that general. He’s the colonel who always wants to negotiate a cease-fire before the battle is even fought. His dispirited troops left him on the battlefield in the 2010 mid-terms and those that remained weren’t enough to prevent the other side from gaining significant ground. And now instead of trying to reassemble his forces and find a real path to victory, he wants to negotiate a peace treaty on the other side’s terms.

The Obama of Hope and Change is dead. The Obama of appeasing the power-elites is what we’ll have for the remainder of his time in office, whether it’s for two years or six.

At least he won’t do as much damage to the country as someone from the other side. Long live Obama.

The Case for Scrapping the Senate

August 21st, 2010 No comments

My political blog entries generally fall into three broad categories. I mostly argue against other opinions and points of view with varying degrees of snark, but I also like to highlight what I see as the most important underlying problems facing America and the rest of the world today. Finally, I occasionally offer possible solutions to some of these problems.

Today I’m going to make a serious argument for dismantling the U.S. Senate. Yes, I know—it can’t be done. But I’ll explain at the end why even just talking about it could be useful.

The primary flaw of the Senate is the reason it was created in the first place. The framers of the Constitution who represented states with lower populations were reluctant to join a union in which larger states had most of the power. If representation were determined by population alone, high-population states could have too much power over low-population states. For instance, even if every representative of every southern state were in favor of slavery, a simple majority of representatives of northern states could vote to abolish it and the southern states would be powerless to stop them (unless they were to secede).

So they created a bicameral legislature in which one body would distribute representation based on population and the other would evenly distribute representation among each state. Regardless of whether your state’s population was a thousand or a million, you’d get exactly two senators.

Today, Wyoming has just as much representation in the Senate as California, even though Wyoming has only about 500,000 residents while California has about 36.5 million. This means Wyoming residents have roughly 73 times as much political power as California residents when it comes to senatorial representation—completely undermining the principle of one man, one vote.

So even if the majority of Americans are liberal or center-left, as long as the smaller states are mostly conservative the Senate will ensure that Washington governs from the center-right. The government does not accurately reflect the will of the people.

Furthermore, when you have one political party hell-bent on obstructing everything the other party wants to do, the Senate makes it incredibly easy to do so. The whole thing was designed to prevent one politician or party from making too many drastic changes to the law too quickly, and while some mechanism to slow things down is certainly useful, occasionally desperate times call for desperate measures (I’d argue that we’re currently in one of those times) and senatorial gridlock can kill the most essential pieces of legislation.

The biggest culprit is a guy I like to call Philip Uster. Thanks to the filibuster, any party that wishes to obstruct a bill can force the other to obtain 60 votes rather than a simple majority. Even in a body of disproportionate representation, a majority isn’t always enough. 77% of Americans can support something along with 57 out of 100 senators, but it can still fail to pass.

If you don’t think the problem is that serious, consider the fact that 290—yes, two hundred and ninety—bills that were passed in the House of Representatives got stalled in the Senate (and that statistic is from an article written back in February). If we didn’t have a Senate, we would have passed Health Care reform with a public option, along with Climate Change legislation, stronger Financial Reform, and on and on and on.

Now, to get rid of the Senate you’d have to change the Constitution, and that would require a two-thirds majority in the Senate. Obviously, you’ll never get 67 senators to vote themselves out of a job.

However, if the health care debate taught us anything it’s that we should start with a huge demand and then compromise our way down from there. Had we begun by demanding single-payer we might have traded that away for a public option, but instead we began by demanding a public option and traded that away for…Joe Lieberman’s vote.

If there were some kind of organized “Dismantle the Senate” movement out there consistently beating the drum and highlighting what a huge detriment this body is to the country, we might eventually be able to negotiate some real reforms such as the elimination of the filibuster (or at least lowering the bar), term-limits (because 12 years should be enough time for any one person to serve in Congress), and stricter regulations on lobbying your former colleagues after leaving the Senate (i.e. closing the revolving door).

Of course if none of this happens and the American government ends up collapsing under the weight of its own inflexibility, I’d recommend that when we draw up the next Constitution we leave the Senate out altogether.

Thanks for the support, Mr. President

July 21st, 2010 No comments

The general waits in his tent while his soldiers wage war on the battlefield across the river. If things go wrong, he’ll have plenty of time to retreat before the enemy can reach him. But if the battle goes well and victory is secured, he’ll ride out onto the field and fight the retreating army so that it appears he was with his men all along and the triumph belongs to him.

This is Barack Obama’s leadership style. The fight over extending unemployment benefits is only the most recent example, but it’s a clear one:

Today, Barack Obama made a speech in the Rose Garden announcing that he was very disappointed in Congress for not helping people who have no jobs. He called on Congress to fix this. All it took for Obama to act was for a successful vote to already be a foregone conclusion!

That’s right—democrats couldn’t break a republican filibuster to extend unemployment benefits because Ben Nelson (slime) sided with the republicans and Robert Byrd’s senate seat was empty after his passing. Nobody could convince Nelson to switch back, and it took democrats two month to fill Byrd’s seat. All the while, Obama remained relatively quiet about the unemployment issue. The life-line for millions of Americans who depend on unemployment benefits to feed their families had been cut off, and it was treated more or less as an inconvenience.

But once Byrd’s seat was filled, suddenly Obama comes charging onto the field to shame the republicans for blocking the extension. Once it gets passed it’ll look like another great victory for General Obama, champion of the middle class.

But did the White House do anything to help Reid get anything passed before Byrd replacement Carte Goodwin showed up? Obama probably couldn’t have shamed Ben Nelson into supporting an extension of benefits. But he could’ve tried! Obama couldn’t have forced any Republicans not from Maine to vote for an extension of benefits. But he could’ve used his bully pulpit to make it known, repeatedly and forcefully, that Republicans were blocking it!

He did the same thing with health care and financial reform—governing from behind closed doors until the final stretch, at which point he came out with guns blazing, asking his supporters to call their senators and congressmen and urge them to vote for the thing even though their minds were already firmly made up.

Just once, Mr. President, it would be nice if you got involved in the fight before it’s over.

Are Democrats Waving the White Flag?

July 6th, 2010 No comments

I came across a must-read piece by R.J. Eskow on the Huffington Post this morning, essentially claiming that in the battle between corporate and public interests, the Democratic Party has given up the fight.

There’s a new conventional wisdom forming in Washington, DC this July 4th, one that transcends party lines and the usual classifications of “left” and “right” as they’re understood in that city. It’s only being recognized now, because it deals with a number of different economic issues, but the underlying theme is the same: The American dream of financial independence and security is gone. The sooner you accept that and raise the white flag the easier it will be, so stop struggling.

Certainly most democrats gave up that fight a long time ago, but the few honest politicians who remain committed to fighting on behalf of the average person now seem to be folding in the face of too much opposition. The Republican Party is completely owned by corporate America and has no interest in governing–merely blocking everything. The Supreme Court just decided that corporations can spend as much as they want on political ads. Lobbyists made financial reform so weak that Wall Street will barely notice it. And they can’t seem to overcome a filibuster to extend unemployment benefits to those who desperately need them because of the recession.

Due to all of these factors, things that were once believed by only a handful of lawmakers have now become conventional wisdom all throughout Washington:

Here’s what they “know” now: The United States is doomed to a future of staggeringly high unemployment. Social Security is part of our national deficit and, like that notorious village in Vietnam, we need to destroy it in order to save it. And we must face an open-ended future where the public treasury and personal security are held hostage to the whims of a few “too big to fail” banks.

It seems that the entire Democratic Party is following Obama’s example of surrendering to Big Industry right from the get-go and just doing the bare minimum they can do to make it look like they’re doing something. Like Obama, they seem to genuinely believe that they don’t have any real power.

That, I believe, is because sealed inside their Washington bubble the only power they can see and feel is the power of Big Industry. Yet there’s an entire country of people out there willing to fight for the common good, and if that energy could be harnessed they could easily stand up to the giant corporations and win back some of the “American Dream”. If their governing strategy was to go out there and forcefully make their case for things like the public option, re-instating Glass Steagall, moving aggressively on clean energy and so on, they’d find themselves leading a movement with unstoppable momentum.

Instead their strategy is to start from a position of compromise and then engage in back-room negotiations until they’ve got something watered-down and ineffectual enought to muster the 60 votes needed to do anything. Because thanks to Big Industry’s grip on Washington, you now need 60 votes to do anything.

Come on, democrats. All you have to do is grow some fucking spine. Most Americans agree with your policy positions if you just explain it to them. But you don’t bother explaining or trying to influence public opinion. You just accept the conventional bullshit wisdom that Americans are stupid, lazy, or conservative, and you can’t expect them to rally behind a cause.

Put us to the test, democrats. Because if you’re just going to wave the white flag and accept that we’re in for decades of economic decline, we can’t afford to join you–especially if you’re going to give up on umemployment benefits and social security. If you won’t fight for us within the system, we’ll have no choice but to fight for ourselves from outside the system. And that could get very ugly.

Philip Uster Must Die

February 20th, 2010 No comments

It is a common misconception that the U.S. Senate consists of 100 members, with the Vice President as its president and tie-breaking vote. Actually, there is a 101st senator that not many people know about, a senator who actually has the power of nineteen senators, who never has to worry about re-election, who has been around for over two hundred years but who only recently has begun to exercise his true power. That senator’s name is Philip Uster, and it’s time we got rid of him.

For the majority of his two centuries of public service, Senator Philip Uster has laid pretty low (with the exception of a key role in Jimmy Stewart’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington). He would rarely ever show up to Senate debates, called in only when the minority needed his help to defeat a piece of legislation they felt strongly about. He would do this by getting up and speaking continuously against a bill until he could either speak no more or the senators in the majority party would give up on trying to bring the bill to a vote. To get him to stop speaking so that they could vote, two-thirds of all senators would have to vote to make him stop. That meant a minority as small as 34 could call upon him to block legislation that as many as 66 senators supported. Philip Uster, for all practical purposes, had the power of 33 senators, enough to make up the difference between the minority and the majority. That catch, however, was that his power lasted only as long as his vocal chords, stomach, and bladder would allow.

During the Civil Rights movement, Senator Philip Uster was called upon frequently by Republicans to help them prevent black Americans from being granted equal rights. While ultimately unsuccessful, Uster managed to make things so difficult that the Democrats used their huge majority in 1975 to reduce the number of senators needed to stop Mr. Uster from 67 to 60, thus reducing his influence from 33 senators down to 19. The new number a minority would need in order to call upon Philip Uster’s services was 41. Adding Uster’s 19 votes to the 41-vote minority would give them effectively 60 votes, one more than the majority’s 59.

Weakened but not defeated, Philip Uster’s power continued to grow as the country became more and more polarized and the political parties more and more partisan. As long as the gap between the minority and the majority remained within 20 votes, and it almost always did, Uster could be called upon to block any legislation the minority opposed. As the parties increasingly looked out for their own well-being and decreasingly for the well-being of the country as a whole, Mr. Uster was called upon more and more to provide his obstruction services, his power increasing every time his name was invoked. Eventually, his power became so great that he no longer even needed to show up on Capitol Hill. Nowadays, a senator need only threaten to call him and the majority will simply throw up it hands in defeat.

There is always talk among the few who know about Philip Uster as to whether he should be retired. Occasionally, a majority frustrated by Uster’s ability to obstruct their agenda will threaten to reduce his power even further, or to kill him completely. Republicans threatened to kill him in 2005 when the Democratic minority was holding up Bush’s judicial nominees. Today, Republicans are using him to block dozens upon dozens of Obama’s nominees, but there is very little talk among Democrats about going after Philip Uster now. They know that one day (perhaps very soon) they will be in the minority again and they will need his help. This is why he has managed to remain in the Senate for so long—sooner or later somebody is going to want to have him around.

But the current state of affairs is more dire than ever before. The Republican strategy during the Obama administration is extremely simple: obstruct everything. If Obama supports it, oppose it. If Obama opposes it, support it. Even if you once supported it before, even if you proposed it in the first place, you must stop Obama from passing it at all costs. That means you call Senator Philip Uster all the time. And indeed, for nearly every single nomination or piece of proposed legislation since Obama took office, that call has been made. Even during the brief interlude in which Democrats technically held 60 seats, theoretically enough to overcome Uster’s influence, the Republican minority could find one or two of them to join the minority (Lieberman, Nelson, etc.) and thus hold the necessary 41-vote minimum to block legislation. With Scott Brown’s recent election, they no longer need to pull any votes from across the aisle, and can use the power of the 101st senator to block anything and everything the president and the majority party want to do to improve the country. The United States government is effectively being held hostage by Philip Uster and the Republican minority.

If Democrats actually want to get anything done, they have two options. One is to call Philip Uster’s arch-nemises: Rick Unciliation. Mr. Unciliation has the power of ten senators, enough to boost their 59-seat majority to 69, well above the 60 votes the minority has when using Philip Uster. The only problem is that Rick Unciliation is only allowed to participate in budgetary matters, and can only use his ten-vote power if the deficit will be reduced as a result. The other option open to Democrats is to kill Philip Uster, just as the Republicans threatened to do in 2005, through a process known as the ‘nuclear option’ which need not be described in detail here. It’s enough to know that if they wanted to kill him, they have the silver bullet needed to bring him down.

But the real problem, of course, is not Philip Uster himself or the Republican party’s insistence on using him to completely neutralize the ability of the American government to govern America—it is those things, but it’s also something much more insidious: the unwillingness of Democrats to do anything about it, lest they actually accomplish something positive for the American people. Like Republicans, many (if not most) Democrats are owned by the powers-that-be, special interests and giant corporations with armies of lobbyists all over Washington doing everything they can to make sure that the rich continue to get richer at the poor’s expense, that the energy industry continue to burn coal and drill for oil at the planet’s expense, that private companies maintain a monopoly over the health insurance industry at the average citizens’ expense, that the military industrial complex continue to build weapons and fight wars at the world’s expense and the expense of the soldiers, their families, and the countless civilians they kill—neither Republicans nor Democrats actually want to stop any of these things. Democrats have to tell their constituents that they want to change the status quo, but it’s this very status quo that keeps them in their jobs, that gives them an easier time raising money for re-election, and that in many cases guarantees them a lucrative position in one of these industries once they leave Congress.

Democrats can say, “We’re trying to make the changes we promised. We’re trying to bring about real health care reform, to regulate the financial industry, to fight global warming, and to strengthen the middle-class. It’s just that Philip Uster won’t let us!” If something terrible were to happen to Mr. Uster—say, he got into a bad car accident on the way to the Capitol—they would no longer have that excuse. They would either have to vote for a bill that would hurt the industries that fund their campaigns, or expose themselves as the corporate shills they really are.

It’s awkward enough for them to have to feign this absurd interest in bipartisanship. With such a large majority their inability to get anything done makes them look ridiculous. It was even worse when they had 60 votes to 40, rendering even Philip Uster’s 19 votes inconsequential. The only remedy to this problem was to profess a strong desire for bipartisanship, to work with the other party even though they didn’t need any of their votes. Obama and the Senate Democrats worked very hard to undermine their own progressive legislation, particularly with regard to health care and financial reform, to produce bills that were industry-friendly in spite of overwhelming public opposition to those industries. And even after all that unnecessary compromise, Philip Uster is still being called in to prevent even the most modest reforms from going through.

The Senate will never let Philip Uster go. He’s way too valuable to the powers-that-be, and they will protect him with everything they’ve got. The only chance the American people have is to learn his name and speak out against him vigorously and repeatedly. No one senator should have the power of nineteen senators. In a democracy, the will of the majority should prevail, and that majority should be accountable to the people for what it can and cannot do. Philip Uster is too convenient an excuse for the majority to remain weak and ineffectual, and too easy a tool for the corporate-controlled minority to undermine the principle of majority rule that constitutes the very foundation of democracy.

Tell the Tea Parties to step aside for a moment as we march on Washington holding signs of our own: “Philip Uster Must Die”

[Disclaimer: While the characters Philip Uster and Rick Unciliation are based on actual Senate rules, they are entirely fictitious and any similarity to any actual persons living or dead is unintentional. The author of this piece does not advocate violence of any kind directed at anyone with the unfortunate name of Philip Uster.]

Thank You, Massachusetts

January 20th, 2010 No comments

So the tea-party Republican candidate beats the Democratic candidate for the open senate seat in Massachusetts and now the 60-seat “filibuster-proof” majority enjoyed by the democrats in the senate has been reduced to a puny, measley, miserable 59-seats, with which Obama and the democrats can’t possibly get anything done.

Oh wait, they couldn’t get anything done before even with 60 seats. It’s just that now there’s one more person on Capitol Hill to stand up against the Health Care reform bill so they’ll have to make it even less progressive and even more of a gift to the private insurance industry. Huzzah for democracy!

Seriously though, what changed? Not a damned thing except for the political narrative. Those on the right claim that their gain is due to the fact that Obama is too liberal. Those on the left claim that their loss is due to the fact that Obama is too conservative.

Well, anyone paying attention can see that Obama is not “too liberal”. Signing back-room deals with big business, proposing paltry, in-name-only regulations to the financial industry, pressuring democrats to drop the public option in order to win the vote of Joe Lieberman without even attempting to pressure Lieberman—you’d have to be living in an alternate reality to honestly believe that Obama’s problem is that he’s a radical leftist.

But most of the media will probably accept this narrative. It’s much easier than the narrative coming from the left, which is the more reasonable one—disillusioned democrats stayed home in this election because Obama has lost credibility with them by showing too much deference to the powers-that-be that he promised to fight. This narrative is just too complex and nuanced for the mainstream media.

But if somehow you get enough pundits and talking heads to at least acknowledge the possibility that this is a legitimate interpretation of the election results, it could be a blessing in disguise, which is why I’m glad the democrats lost the seat. They’ve been taking way too much for granted so far. Obama has assumed that because his republican opponents are getting crazier and more ridiculous by the minute, the voters will have no choice but to give him and his party their support at the polls because the alternative is obviously so much worse.

Hopefully this election result will be something of a wake-up call. It’s a simple lesson in Game Theory, which I’ve been recently been studying and finding rather fascinating. They did a study in which they had hundreds of people play a simple, two-player “ultimatum game”: Player A and Player B get $10. Player A decides how to split the money between them and Player B either decides to accept the offer or decline, and if he declines, neither player gets any money.

The results of the ultimatum game go right to the heart of what’s happening in the political arena today. When Player A decides to evenly split the money ($5 and $5 or even $6 and $4), Player B almost always accepts the deal. But whenever Player A splits the money too unevenly ($9 and $1 or $9.99 and $0.01), Player B almost always refuses, even to his own detriment. It may be the case that a dollar or even one cent is better than nothing, but it’s more important to Player B to punish unfairness than to accept the paltry offer.

Since he took office, Obama has been offering $1 to his supporters while giving the other $9 to the corporations and other entrenched interests. By staying home, Massachusetts democrats have rejected the dollar, and rightly so.

There are those who say we should just accept whatever compromises the democrats are able to get for us, which may serve everyone best in the short-term. But I’m a long-term guy, and I’d advocate this strategy of “altruistic punishment” whereby we sacrifice a greater payoff for the sake of principle. Adopting this strategy may lead to more republican gains in the short-term, but it’s the only way the democrats will get the message that if they want to keep control, they’d better start offering more.

Joe Lieberman is a Cold-Blooded Murderer

December 16th, 2009 No comments

Somewhere in America today is a man between the age of 55 and 64 who will die next year because he can’t afford health insurance. Actually, there are many men and women in this situation but let’s just focus on one of them. This man has been watching the healthcare reform debate all year very intensely, filled with hope thanks to Obama and a wide democratic majority that promises to make healthcare affordable to everyone. His hopes were originally pinned on the public option, an alternative to private insurance that would have made it possible for him to get the level of care he needed. As the prospects of actually getting this passed have waxed and waned over these last few months he has been riding an emotional roller-coaster. When Joe Lieberman said he would filibuster the bill if it included a public option, things looked very grim. But then it was announced that the compromise would be a Medicare buy-in for those between 55 and 64—something that might not help everyone but would almost certainly be enough to save his life. For a moment, it seemed he had a chance.

But then Joe Lieberman noticed that too many progressives were too happy with the idea of a Medicare buy-in, and decided that he wasn’t going to let the bill pass if this was included either. As a result, this man will die. His wife won’t get to grow old with him. His kids will be robbed of his presence and influence for the rest of their lives. His grandchildren will have no memory of him.

True story. Maybe it’s in the future tense, but we all know something like this will happen. Joe Lieberman knows it too. He knows that thousands of Americans’ lives hang in the balance when it comes to healthcare, and that the weaker the final legislation is, the more people will die.

Joe Lieberman is not the president of the United States. He’s just one of 100 senators. But thanks to a well-intentioned yet disastrous rule of senate procedure known as the filibuster, he now has the entire health-care reform bill in his shameless and corrupt hands. How did this happen?

I think anyone reading this probably knows what a filibuster is, but let’s just review for a moment. Senators can continue debating a piece of legislation endlessly until a “cloture” motion passes and brings the bill up for a final vote. Cloture requires 60 votes. For most of the history of the senate, cloture was a mere matter of procedure and was generally always agreed to unanimously, thus making the threshold to pass legislation 51 votes—a majority. That makes sense. As long as you ignore the fact that every state, no matter how big, gets exactly two senators and we are therefore already unequally represented in our government, you can imagine that we have a majority rule in this country and the basic principle at the heart of democracy is honored.

But ever since the democrats took the majority, the republicans have been using the filibuster not just in extreme cases, but for practically every single piece of legislation that comes through. Which means in order for anything—anything at all—to get passed in the senate, it requires a 60-vote supermajority. That’s right, even if they wanted to pass a bill to give candy to children, it would take 60 votes to do so. Even if 75% of Americans support it, even if 59 senators supported it, the legislation would fail as long as a single senator decided he didn’t like it. Quite a system we’ve got.

So here we are in this insane situation where the Democratic Party, the party in which most of the members actually want to fix the broken healthcare system in this country, has exactly 60 senators in their caucus. Which means that if just one senator decides to hold out, he can basically demand anything he wants in exchange for his cloture vote. And if what he wants is to essentially kill the bill by making it so weak that its only beneficiaries will be the health insurance companies that are already literally making a killing off the misery of the American people, he can do that because the rest of his party can see no better option.

I don’t know if Joe Lieberman was born without the capacity to feel shame, if he lost it somewhere along the way, or if Aetna purchased it from him for a few pieces of silver, but he has decided to be that one senator who kills the bill. And by killing the bill, he is effectively killing hundreds, perhaps thousands of Americans.

And for what? His concern about the deficit? His worry that the national debt will go from eight gazillion to nine gazillion? The idea that it’s unfair to force private insurance companies to compete with any government program? What is it exactly that is more important than saving lives?

Well, when you consider that he’s given a different reason for opposing the legislation every week that goes by, you start to think that maybe he’s not acting in good faith. Actually, it’s obvious that he’s not acting in good faith. All the evidence you need is right here—this video from merely three months ago in which Lieberman endorses the idea of allowing 55-64 year olds to buy-in to Medicare. When he made his bullshit stand against the public option, progressive democrats acquiesced, dropping the public option for a plan that they knew Lieberman had to support because he endorsed it as recently as three months ago.

But surprise surprise—now he’s against it. And the reason he gave, according to his interview in the New York Times, is that he noticed some progressives were “overly enthusiastic” about this new compromise. Liberals like Anthony Wiener and Sherrod Brown were apparently all too happy about the Medicare buy-in deal because it actually was better than the weak, watered-down, toothless public option that had emerged from all those previous compromises. The Medicare buy-in, at that point, seemed like actually gaining ground.

But Joe couldn’t let that happen. He just couldn’t sit back and let progressives feel even the slightest twinge of satisfaction. After all, they didn’t strongly support him when he ran for president in 2004, even though he was next-in-line because he’d been the V.P. pick in 2000. And they didn’t aggressively support him during his senate re-election campaign in 2006 either, forcing him to run as a third-party candidate. Well, now it’s payback time.

And he sure seems to be enjoying it, doesn’t he? Every time you see his smug, sadistic face these days (and it’s everwhere, isn’t it?) he’s wearing a huge smile. He’s just so happy with all the power and attention he’s getting you can tell he’s having the time of his life. Already in the pocket of insurance companies, he now gets to be their Number One guy, their biggest asset in Washington, which means lots and lots of cash when all this is over. Even if he loses his seat in 2012, the puppet-masters at Aetna will make sure he’s well taken care of after all he’s done for them. And the icing on the cake? He gets to watch those damned liberals fuming with frustration, unable to raise a hand against him because they need him, unable to stop him from destroying everything they’ve been working so hard for throughout the year. He seems to feed on their anger, making him stronger and happier, encouraging him to go further and further until there’s nothing left in the bill but a provision forcing everyone to buy completely unregulated private insurance and throwing them in jail if they don’t.

Of course, the democrats would probably still pass that bill and claim victory, and Obama will knock-up his self-given “solid B+” for the year to an A. But ranting against Obama and the democrats is for another time. Right now I want to speak directly to Joe Lieberman:

Joe. Can I call you Joe? Okay, good. Joe—fuck you. Seriously. You are a fucking disgrace, Joe. I want to ask “How do you sleep at night?” but I can tell you sleep quite well. And knowing that you sleep soundly at night keeps me up at night, because if anyone deserves to be tossing and turning and tortured by doubts and moral uncertainties, it’s you. You supported a Medicare buy-in which would have at least done some serious good for people 55-64, but now you oppose it because of your petty personal bullshit?

You are the worst kind of slime in Washington. I thought Dick Cheney was bad, but you might just be worse. At least Dick Cheney had some principles. Totally sick, twisted, evil principles but at least they were something. You, on the other hand, care about nothing and nobody but yourself. Given the choice between doing something good for your country and watching your political opponents squirm purely for your own sick pleasure, you chose the latter. People will die—they will die, Joe—so that you could have a few laughs at your colleagues’ expense. You really sicken me.

I mean, you literally make me sick. Whenever I stop to think about what must be going on in that twisted little brain of yours, I want to vomit in horror. It’s not that you’re the only piece of shit on Capitol Hill that places your own self-interest above the good of the country (there’s an entire party of people like that), it’s that you really seem to take pleasure in it. Every time I see you on the news or online I just want to reach through the screen and knock you hard in the jaw with a pair of brass knuckles. Anything to wipe that demented smile off your face.

Your smile offends me, Joe, because I know what it means. It means you’re getting away with murder. Yes, murder. The taking of another life with malice aforethought. Maybe not directly, but it’s still murder when you display a reckless disregard for human life. And you know, you know damned well, that your filibustering will lead to people’s deaths. Everyone who would have lived because of a public option is already doomed to death because of you. Now everyone who would have lived because of the Medicare buy-in will die because of you. And you know this. You proposed the Medicare buy-in yourself, so you know the good it could do! And you oppose it now because liberals are too enthusiastic about it?

Well, what makes liberals enthusiastic? Legislation that will save lives. Because unlike you, Joe, many people in congress actually are acting in good faith out of a sense of responsibility to the American people. They want health-care reform not purely out of a desire to win political points, but because they’ve talked to people who desperately need it and when it looks like they’re close to getting it, they think of those people who will be helped by it, whose lives may be saved by it, and they get enthusiastic. But Joe can’t have that, can he? If at the end of this process any liberal feels the least bit satisfied with what they’ve done, Joe won’t be happy. He won’t be happy until progressives are completely disgusted with the legislation they’re passing.

How much more damage will you do in the mean-time, Joe? It seems that they’ve already bent over backwards to try and paint this in a positive light. They may be more honest than you, but when it comes down to it they need to be able to claim some kind of victory. So now even those who fought hard for the public option are reduced to hollow talking-points like, “Well, it’s a start. It’s still going to help a lot of people, and we’ll keep fighting” and so on. Worst is, when it comes to you, they still insist that “Joe Lieberman is a good public servant with legitimate concerns about the bill” even though this is completely transparent bullshit.

Now you’re saying you’ll have to take a closer look at the bill to see if there’s anything else you’d like removed before you can agree to vote for it. Which basically means whenever Aetna decides to let you vote for it. And that means we can kiss all our hopes of any kind of positive health-care reform down the drain. And it means that lots and lots of people who would have otherwise lived are going to die.

If only there was anyone in Washington with a spine who would call you out on this. If only anyone at all was willing to stand up and call bullshit, because that’s exactly what this is. Sadly, the democrats are in this position because they’ve let themselves get here, and now they’ve decided that getting anything passed, even something so terrible that it won’t help anyone at all, is better than letting this process drag on into an election year. So they’ve handed you all this power and allowed you to abuse it. They’ve put all these lives in your hands and allowed you to destroy them.

Fuck you, Joe. And fuck this system of government. It’s beyond disgraceful—it’s infuriating. For anyone still hoping for change, it’s looking like torches and pitchforks are the only “public option” we have left.

The Bloody Health-Care Endgame

October 28th, 2009 No comments

It’s been a long, brutal battle that progressives in the United States have been fighting this year to get real, solid health-care reform enacted. These soldiers—the progressives—have fought battle after battle, backing up their commanders on the field—Democratic senators and congressmen—as well as the general himself—President Barack Obama—and in each instance the battle has ended with a cease-fire agreement—a compromise—that the soldiers did not like but decided they “could live with”. Now as we approach the end of the war the soldiers find themselves engaged in a final brawl between a commander they hardly respect—Harry Reid—and a treasonous weasel who should have been hanged long ago—Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticuit, who has vowed to join a Republican filibuster of the Health Care bill if it contains a public option. Lieberman, who has been secretly fighting on the side of the Enemy—private insurance companies—the entire time, can not be punished for his treason, as he knows he will never win back the support of Democrats no matter what he does, and when his term ends he can make his treason official by either earning a fat paycheck on the board of directors of one of these private insurance companies or simply switching sides to join their army—the Republicans, who will welcome him as the Hero who Killed Health Care Reform. The only option for the progressive army now seems to be an attempt to recruit a soldier from the other side—Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine—whom they can only get by making yet another concession, a trigger for the public option designed to never let it be triggered, a concession far too great for them to be willing to make.

And what hangs in the balance anyway? If the progressive army prevails against Lieberman even without recruiting Snowe, what exactly have they achieved? A public health insurance option available only to those currently without insurance and to those living in states in which the political leadership decides not to opt-out of the plan. That’s not what they’ve been fighting for, of course. Many have been fighting for a single-payer system, a health insurance industry free of a profit-motive altogether, in which the government pays for everyone’s medical expenses without regard for increasing the bottom line, satisfying the shareholders, or providing the C.E.O. with a high enough salary to purchase a few extra summer-homes. Most of the soldiers have long-since given up on that idea, and have instead been fighting tooth-and-nail over the past few months for a public option, a government-run insurance company, to merely exist in the marketplace and compete with the private-insurance companies, something available to everyone so that those unhappy with their profit-driven insurance company could switch to the non-profit public option and thus force the private companies to lower their prices in order to compete. These soldiers have one last commander in the field—Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon—who is proposing an amendment which would create just that—a public option available to everyone—but which hardly has a prayer of passing. Instead, the opposition has been so strong that what the progressives are fighting for now so desperately is a public option available to 5% or less of the population—something so watered-down and impotent as to be virtually ineffectual within the broken system they’ve been trying so hard to fix. If the Enemy, the private insurance companies, come out of this war with nothing more than 3% of the market to compete for, it will be almost akin to a victory for them.

The only thing about the Bullshit Public Option that everyone is now pushing so hard for that is the least bit satisfying to progressives is the potential it has to one day grow into something larger—and that’s the only reason the Enemy is still fighting it, now by unleashing Lieberman as the final obstacle in its path. If a government-run insurance company is created to cater to those without health insurance, and those who are lucky enough to be eligible for the public plan like what they have, then what’s to stop a future army of progressives from taking up arms again for the purpose of expanding this program to make it available to all Americans? The Enemy knows that it’s much easier to expand an already existing program than to enact a new one from scratch, which is why they’re fighting so hard to prevent even this compromise-to-end-all-compromises from seeing the light of day.

No, if those who have been fighting for real Health Care reform all year want to see a bill actually get to the floor and receive an up-or-down vote, they’re going to have to watch Commander Reid bend over for either Joe Lieberman or Olympia Snowe, and make yet another concession, this time to kill the public option altogether or impose a trigger-that-will-never-be-triggered, thus destroying the last remaining shred of anything resembling real reform and handing the Enemy a total, blow-out victory. Remember, one of the concessions that has already been made is an Individual Mandate, meaning the Enemy will receive millions of new victims (customers) who will now be required by law to buy their evil product. Without a government-run option available to people without insurance, they will have no choice but to buy their insurance from the private industry, who unfettered by competition will proceed to bleed them dry through insane premiums, and find any possible loophole to deny them coverage when they actually get sick.

How did it come to this? How is it that proponents of Health Care reform are fighting so hard now for this bullshit watered-down pussy-ass public option compromise? And how is it that they might not even get that? Exactly who or what is to blame for all of this? It’s not entirely Joe Lieberman’s responsibility, as if it weren’t him it would be someone else, and if any Republican at all were actually acting on good faith in the best interests of the American people, he wouldn’t even be an issue because then we’d have the 60 votes necessary to move the bill to a vote without him. It’s not all Harry Reid’s fault either because while he may suffer from a complete lack of testicular fortitude, he can’t do anything about these ridiculous rules that say although you only need a majority to pass a bill, you need a super-majority to allow that bill to be voted on in the first place. Nor is it entirely the fault of Max Baucus, the asshole who spent all summer watering-down the health-care reform bill in a faux effort to achieve “bi-partisanship”, nor is it the entirely the fault of Olympia Snow, who very cleverly flirted with the idea of voting for the bill just so that all of this watering-down for the sake of “bi-partisanship” could actually seem justified. Nor is it the fault of the corrupt and spineless Blue Dog Democrats like Ben Nelson, Kent Conrad, Blanche Lincoln, and Mary Landrieu, all of whom oppose the public option in spite of majority support among the people of their own states and overwhelming majority support among Democrats. These are just players in the system—a system that has always rewarded these kinds of players because they’re the ones who are able to sell their votes in behind-closed-doors negotiations, where all the real legislating in this country is done. This is just the way the system works, and no one person within the system has the power to change it.

So what about the general himself—Barack Obama—the man supposed to be leading the charge for real Health Care reform? Well, apparently “real” reform to him is whatever can pass—not necessarily anything that will actually make a difference. He’s been consistent throughout this whole debate in terms of his words—he believes that a public option is the best way to keep insurance companies honest—but his actions have consistently displayed his willingness to throw the public option overboard for the sake of the passage of a bill, any bill, that he could then point to and claim victory. “Look, I got Health Care reform passed!” he can say, and I suppose he genuinely expects to get credit for it.

What he doesn’t seem to realize is that the army that has been fighting his cause all year—with shockingly little actual leadership from him—is not full of blind sheep who worship him as a demi-god. Progressives are not Republicans who just line up behind a charismatic leader-figure and repeat whatever they’re told and excommunicate all who think differently. Progressives follow their ideals, not leaders, and when the leaders they supported for the sake of those ideals wind up betraying those very ideals, they find a new leader. Barack Obama raised a lot of hopes when he took office, particularly with regard to real change in the Health Care system, and if something passes without a public option which he then claims is a victory, those hopes will be dashed and Barack Obama can expect a very tough re-election campaign in 2012 as all his disillusioned followers stay at home, unable to summon the will to go out and cast a vote for this fraud a second time.

The war is almost over, and in its wake lies the blood and corpses of Hope and Change—the Hope that was born and cultivated last year when a young black man with a bold progressive agenda actually managed to rise to the rank of the President of the United States. The general of an army of progressives which had mobilized to put him in that position—a position from which he could continue the fight and make a real difference in the lives of Americans—he would finally bring about the Change the American people were starving for, the Change he promised they “could believe in.” But in taking on the Enemy, the general and his commanders turned and sold out the very soldiers who were fighting for them for the sake of a bullshit Peace Treaty they could call a “victory”.

If the public option passes, it will be a victory, but one so close to a defeat as to make very little difference in terms of the faith that progressives have already lost in Obama. If it fails, it will be a defeat, the progressives will know it’s a defeat, and the moment Obama rises to the podium to declare it a victory, as he inevitably will if any bill whatsoever gets passed, that will be the end of his presidency—the last and largest casualty of this long and bloody war.

This Week In Politics

July 4th, 2009 No comments

Happy 233rd birthday, America. I was going to buy you something really nice, but instead I wrote you this blog entry.

A lot of shit happened this week, but none of it warrants a full-length post, so rather than launch into a lengthy diatribe on one particular issue, I’ll just comment briefly on each of the major stories. I think I might get into the habit of doing this every weekend, but we’ll see. This week I want to touch on Michael Jackson, the Mark Sanford affair, Sarah Palin’s resignation, Al Franken’s arrival in the senate, and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraqi cities.

As for Michael Jackson, I feel that even if I were a big fan of his, which I never was, I would still feel like the coverage was excessive. I completely understand that he was the single biggest celebrity on earth, and I even get the fact that the circumstances surrounding his death are rife with the kind of intrigue and personal conflict that the media thrives on. The fact that there’s been so much coverage is no surprise at all. However, the major news networks still warrant criticism even for doing exactly what you’d expect them to do. One of the jobs of a serious news organisation is to be an information filter, devoting more time to more important stories and less time to less significant things. While the death of the world’s biggest pop star certainly has a lot of cultural significance, it is decidedly unimportant in terms of major world events. While the situation in Iran has slowed down a bit, significant things are still happening there and we’re not hearing about it. The withdrawal from Iraq’s cities, which I’ll comment on at the end of this entry, is also very significant but it’s barely getting covered at all. And the debate over healthcare reform, arguably the most significant piece of legislation to move through congress in the last two decades, is getting almost no attention whatsoever. Instead we’re hearing all about Michael Jackson’s drug problems and the legal battles over his kids and property. Yes, there are plenty of people who find that shit fascinating, but let them get their gossip from the entertainment news, not the major news channels.

Another story that is perhaps getting too much coverage is the Mark Sanford affair. Here I can forgive the media just a little easier because it does have some political significance, and Sanford is bringing it all on himself. He could have, and indeed should have just stepped down and quietly slid into the shadows, but he decided not only to remain governor but to keep talking in extensive detail about his love affair as though his infidelity were the only issue. I couldn’t care less about his infidelity, and I suspect most South Carolinians feel the same way. It’s not the first time a politician has been unfaithful to his wife and it won’t be the last—not even the last time this year. Not only that, but I do feel some genuine empathy for the man on a personal level. By all outward appearances, he really seems to love this woman, which puts him in a very difficult personal situation. When you’re married but you then find a woman who you believe is really your soul-mate, what’s a man to do?

One thing you don’t do, particularly if you’re the chief executive of a state, is to disappear for five days to go see her without telling anyone. That’s what people are pissed about, and that’s why he should resign. Any ordinary person with an ordinary job would get fired for pulling that kind of shit, especially if they’re in a position of responsibility. If a hurricane had hit while he was away, nobody would have been able to reach him so nobody could have legally given the executive order necessary to declare a state of emergency and get those emergency services in gear. Lives could have potentially been lost because of this. And yet he seems to think that the only issue is the infidelity, and the rest of the republican party (with notable exceptions, I’ll admit) seems to think that as long as he can work things out with his wife he can remain governor, as though the sole criterion for public office is adherence to one’s marital vows. How about making sure your staff always knows where you are?

What he did was completely bone-headed and irresponsible and the only honourable thing for him to do is step down, because if he worked in any kind of real job he would have been fired or at least suspended until he could get his act together. Now he wants to stay in office to “learn from his mistakes” and “grow as a person”. Well, that’s really sweet of him, but the people of South Carolina need a governor who actually does his fucking job—not some caricature of a romance-novel protagonist on a deep journey of personal introspection.

The republican party as a whole had a chance to finally draw a line in the sand and call on him to resign, to say that there are certain things that are unacceptable for a person in public office and that no matter what party you belong to you should resign if you cross that line. That might have helped them out a little in the long term when it comes to their credibility, because as of now they have none. Instead they looked at the short-term political calculations and saw that they’d have a better chance in the next election if he stayed on, and so they asked him to stay. The special interests whom he’s serving as governor also wanted him to stay, so he stayed. The people of South Carolina want him to go, but obviously it’s not up to them—this is, after all, the United States of America, where the public doesn’t participate in government but instead merely plays an advisory role every few years.

While Mark Sanford clings to his office for dear life, another republican governor, the last governor I would ever expect to give up power, actually has resigned. I could hardly believe the news that Sarah Palin was stepping down. That’s the most uncharacteristic thing she’s ever done, and she usually never does anything uncharacteristic. She’s a complete caricature—always doing the dumbest, most attention-grabbing ignorant red-necky soccer-mom thing you could possibly do. The only explanation I can think of is that some new scandal, something even worse than any of the hundreds of scandalous news stories that have already broken about her, is about to come out and she knows she can’t survive it. The only thing I’m sure of is that she’s not doing it out of love for the people of Alaska.

I confess that I’m a bit disappointed to see her go. I was really looking forward to her 2012 presidential campaign, which I expected to be the most hilariously entertaining presidential campaign of all time. She represents everything I hate about small-town redneck America, and it’s been quite gratifying to see all of the negative press she’s been getting over the past ten months. She’s been quite fun to hate, and if she finally does slip below the public radar I’m going to miss her. And yet knowing her I just can’t see that happening. She might just be doing this as some kind of tactic to position herself for 2012, or to open herself up to new possibilities like becoming a day-time talk-show host. Either way, she’s such an obvious narcissistic attention hog that I just don’t see her disappearing any time soon.

One person who finally did decide to disappear this week was Norm Coleman, who’d been holding up Al Franken’s confirmation to the senate for over half a year after the election. Now the democrats have 60 senate seats, which means Obama can finally push through his progressive agenda without having to compromise at all to win republican votes…just kidding. Obama and the democrats are too spineless for that. Harry Reid, possibly the biggest pussy ever to walk the face of the earth, has already said that they won’t have 60 votes to pass healthcare reform with a public option. There are a few senators who are democrats in name only, like former republican senator Arlen Specter and the two biggest sacks of shit in the senate: Ben Nelson and Joe “I-fuck-myself-in-my-own-face” Lieberman. They won’t vote for a public option because it’ll hurt the poor struggling health insurance companies (who let people die for profit).

At least that was the republican argument, and we all knew the republicans weren’t going to vote for any Obama legislation anyway. The democrats, also bought and paid for by the health insurance lobby, had the convenient excuse that they might have to get rid of the public option in order to win some republican votes and break a filibuster, but now they’ve got enough votes to break a filibuster and pass the damn legislation even if it’s just with a 51-49 vote. Independent senator Bernie Sanders has made a very good point—if Ben Nelson and Joe fuckface Lieberman want to vote against the final bill, that’s their prerogative, but what excuse could they possibly have for not voting for cloture and blocking a republican filibuster? You don’t need 60 votes to pass a bill, just to end a filibuster, and if any democrat refuses to block a filibuster they ought to be flagged and removed from office at the earliest opportunity because they will have single-handedly killed the public option, thus killing hundreds, perhaps thousands of Americans whose lives might have been saved by that crucial reform. Any democrat who does not vote to block the filibuster is working for the health insurance industry against the American people, and every effort should be made to destroy them as soon as they’re up for re-election.

Finally, I come to the most important and underreported story of the week: the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraqi cities and subsequent escalation in violence. The uptick in violence was fully anticipated by everyone, but that didn’t stop Dick Cheney from warning that this move came too soon and any subsequent violence in Iraq will be all Obama’s fault—conveniently ignoring the fact that it was Bush who signed the order to make this withdrawal at this time.

We don’t know whether the Iraqi army and police forces can handle things on their own, but the experts don’t seem to think that they can. Insurgents who have been laying low and only withholding fire because the Americans have been paying them to do so will probably come back to the surface and the situation will deteriorate once again to the point where the Iraqis—80% of whom want us out of there—have to ask us to come back to the cities and stick around. That’ll cause major problems for Obama and the military, but it may help just slightly in terms of the psychology of the Iraqis. So far we’ve been unwelcome occupiers, but if they have to ask us back to the cities we’ll be necessary peacekeepers. They won’t be able to resent us as much for being there because they asked us to be there. Of course they’ll still be completely justified in resenting us for having invaded in the first place, but since we broke the place it’s our responsibility to stay and fix it. The only worse thing than going in the way we did would be to pull out prematurely and leave the place in chaos. Sorry, troops, but you’re going to be paying for Bush’s mistake for a long long time to come.

Either way, I’ll be happy. If the violence does subside and the Iraqis can govern themselves as a sovereign independent nation—good for them. If insurgents still want to rise up and force Americans to stay—that’s good too because it’ll force the neocons who are already claiming victory to put their feet back in their fucking mouths and shut the hell up. I wrote years ago that anything resembling success in Iraq would be a bad thing because in spite of all the mistakes and unnecessary death the neocons would be able to say, “Hey look, we had a few rough patches but now Saddam is gone and Iraq is a free and democratic society just like we promised it would be—wasn’t invading a great idea? Shouldn’t we do the same thing in Iran, and any other part of the world we don’t like?” At this point, the longer our troops are there, the less chance there’ll be of the neocons successfully campaigning for another invasion in the future.

And that’s it for this week. Tune in next week for more bitching about political bullshit—as long as there’s something to bitch about. I have a feeling there will be.