Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve

No matter how much I like you in real life, chances are I'm going to hate you tonight, at least a little bit.

It's not your fault. It's just how it is on Amateur Night.

New Year's Eve, St. Patrick's Day, Cinco de Mayo, and a handful of other nationally recognized American Drinking Holidays are a part of our yearly celebratory landscape, nights that we, as a society, grant ourselves as individuals permission to go forth and party like it's 1999. To really cut loose, get wasted, and dance with the proverbial lampshade on our heads, until the party's over and it's time to pass out, get laid, have breakfast, or, if you're very lucky, some combination thereof. For those of us behind the bar, well, it's the job in a nutshell; the night you dread having to work, right up until it's over, when the door is locked and the sidework's done and you're counting the money and, because it's over, it suddenly really wasn't so bad after all.

But it was. And it's going to be.

For those of you with square jobs, or who are, at least, not scheduled tonight, my advice to you is to stay in. Or, better yet, find a house party. Surround yourself with friends and loved ones in a safe and happy environment, and ring in the new year from there. Leave the bars and the clubs to the amateurs, because they'll be out in force tonight and they'll feel even less responsible for their words and actions than they usually do. Which is no good for anybody.

For those who are going out tonight, please try and observe those few simple rules that help make everything go smoothly. Know what you want. Have your money ready. Pay cash, or open a tab. Make eye contact. Have a little patience. Tip. If you want good service, go somewhere where the bartender knows you. If you don't know the bartender, tip well early. We'll remember.

Don't wave money at me. Everybody else has money, too. Don't try and order if it's not your turn. If you're ordering for a group, know what everybody wants before your turn comes up. If you must pay with a card, open a tab and settle at the end of the night. There's nothing more frustrating than having to spend time running someone's card a second or third time when there're fifty people clamoring for drinks. Don't order complicated drinks when the bar is backed up. It's rude to everybody. Don't drive home drunk. Don't be a dick.

And if you, like me, are going to be in the trenches tonight, then I salute you. Rock that shit hard. Because tonight is the crucible, that separates the pros from the wannabes. Be a pro. Keep your cool. Prove your mettle. Show that sea of thirsty mouths how this shit gets done. And don't take any shit, from anybody. Remember, this is your house. Own it.

Like I always say: have fun, get rich, and don't let the fuckers get you down.
This is just all kinds of awesome. And I don't even really drink beer.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Good Point from an Old Friend

As a physician....I appreciate the post on your blog. One huge issue that is missing; is the amount of waste that occurs with defensive medicine and end of life care. I know you have heard this before from physicians. I assure you that from the trenches......10 to 20 times is wasted with defensive medicine compared to ...medical errors etc. In fact many preventable events in health care could be avoided if defensive testing and unwarranted procedures were not performed. The system is broken! Unfortunately many feel that medicare is like a blank check and families request unneccesarry procedures and treatments that do not provide better health and only serve to prolong an inevitable death! When this type of coverage is expanded, without rationing, we are all screwed I assure you!
-George E.
George makes a good point, and one I haven't yet touched on in my ongoing bloviations here at the anticontrarian blog.

It's something of a truism that most of the money spent on any given individual's health care is spent at the end. Grief-stricken families with loved ones on their death beds will often, quite naturally, do just about anything to prolong their lives, even if what they're prolonging is the persistence of a vegetative state or simply unalloyed pain and suffering. The case of Terri Schiavo is a perfect example, where the body was kept alive long after the person inside had gone.

Now, this is some dangerous territory we're entering, as I'm quite well aware. After all, people are rarely rational in the face of death, whether theirs or that of a loved one, and George's point that having a blank check to extend that life, no matter what the quality of it is or will be, will inevitably lead to waste and abuse is a good one. The term 'rationing' is a loaded one, freighted with all manner of unhappy connotations, but it's also something that we, as grown-ups, quite frankly need to face up to.

There is, after all, only so much care to go around. Period. And only so much good that can be done for someone who is going to die. Period. That there will be rationing is inevitable, and even just. It sucks, but there really isn't any way around it, at least until there is more supply than demand when it comes to health care. I don't see that happening. Do you?

This is why end-of-life counseling and directives are so important. 'Death panels' nonsense aside (and it is nonsense, another example of willful misinterpretation in the service of scoring cheap political points, which I will not deign to rebut here), it really is important for everybody, and most especially those who're either sick or getting on in years, to sit down and figure out how they want things to go down when the end is nigh. Nobody wants to think about things like that, of course, but it's one of those things grown-ups have to and ought to do, if for no other reason than to see that their wishes are carried out. After all, when the time comes, you might not be conscious or capable enough to make your own decisions, and I can tell you from personal experience that it's a hell of a thing to put on someone else to decide it for you. The Schiavo family can tell you that, too.

Lucky for me, when my mother began her terminal decline, all of the decisions had been made, and the appropriate legal documents drawn up and notarized. She made her wishes crystal clear, which spared me from having to make that decision. She had long ago made her wishes clear to me verbally, and so I knew what she would've wanted, but it was a great comfort to have it in writing, to know that she'd thought it out and made her decision. Things were difficult enough at the time, and even having had the burden of decision taken off my shoulders it was hard enough to make the decision to move her to hospice and to sign the do-not-resuscitate order.

But it was what she would've wanted. What she always said she wanted. She would've been horrified to spend her last days in an ICU, shot through with tubes and surrounded by beeping machinery that could only stave off the inevitable for so long and at great cost, without changing the inescapable outcome.

Personal stories aside, what pisses me off most about the 'Death Panels' meme is the childishness of it. The unwillingness to face the fact that life ends, and that each of us should be able to decide how we want ours to end, if that choice is given us, and to have those choices respected. Why it should be problematic for any- and everyone to sit down with a medical professional and decide just how far they want things to go to draw just a few more breaths when the end is in sight and inescapable is beyond mysterious to me. That the government would be willing to compensate doctors for their time in doing so seems perfectly reasonable.

That there comes a time when it isn't worth it to do anything else but try and ameliorate the pain and ease a dying person's passage into whatever's on the other side is something we all have to face up to. Better to do it proactively, for ourselves and for the sake of our loved ones.

That it makes sense from a policy perspective, too, well, I suppose that just goes to show that life gets better for everybody when the grown-ups live up to their responsibilities. I, for one, would rather not waste finite medical resources to keep me alive in pain or a vegetative state for a few more hours or days when it's my time, not when they could be better used on someone whose life is still ahead of them. I suspect that most of the grown-ups out there would agree.

Posted Without Comment

Post-Christmas-Ball-Bomber, we can finally shed the Mastermind Meme and—for the time being, at least—point and laugh at the guy who strapped some scary powder to his Scrotal Terror Delivery Apparatus and failed to make his plums go pow.

Merry Christmas, al-Qaeda! You’re doing great!
-Bob Cesca

It's the Unions' Fault

One of the things I've learned in the wake of the failed Christmas airline attack:
An attempt to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day would be all-consuming for the administrator of the Transportation Security Administration — if there were one.
Why, you might ask, does the TSA have no head? Seems like a pretty important job, in our post-9/11 world. The kind of post that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle would move expeditiously to fill, given the dangerous world we live in, now that Terror has declared War on us. Right?

Apparently, not so much.
The post remains vacant because Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., has held up President Barack Obama's nominee in opposition to the prospect of TSA workers joining a labor union.
Yup. A Republican Senator has such a problem with organized labor that he's willing to filibuster the confirmation hearings for one of the most important positions in the Dept. of Homeland Security.

Without collective bargaining, DeMint said, the TSA has "flexibility to make real-time decisions that allowed it to quickly improve security measures in response to this attempted attack."

If organized labor got involved, DeMint said, union bosses would have the power "to veto or delay future security improvements at our airports."

This is not the only important post in the Administration that hasn't been filled, almost a full year into Obama's Presidency. There are numerous positions over at Treasury, where they're also doing some important work, you know, trying to save the economy and stuff, that are also vacant, thanks to the systematic obstructionism of Senate Republicans.

There's a pattern here, one that goes unremarked in these days of three news-cycles a day. Dots to be connected. Put simply, Senate Republicans are using any and every procedural and parliamentary trick they can get ahold of to keep the federal government from doing its job. Why are they doing this? I'm sure it's partly because they want their distrust of government and its efficacy to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, but mostly, they just really hate that Obama guy, who's so darned popular, and they want him to fail, no matter how catastrophic that failure might be for, say, the American people.

It's fucking shameful, is what it is. Erroll Southers, the Administration's nominee, is, by all appearances, eminently qualified for the job. But, because any Senator can put a hold on any political appointee, for any or no reason, we, almost a year into a new Administration, don't have a head of the Transportation Safety Administration, because Jim DeMint would like him to clarify his views on whether or not the people who're paid to keep us safe when we fly should be able to engage in collective bargaining in order to improve their economic lot.

You know, cuz the last thing we would want would be for the people who keep us safe to be happier at their jobs. I'm sure it's much better for them to be able to get screwed over just like Wal-Mart employees. After all, I know I do a way better job when I'm employed by jerks who won't pay me a living wage and don't give a shit what I have to say about improving the workplace. Don't you?

The Ought-Nots

I've noticed, here and there in electronic perambulations, that now that we're to the end of the decade we need a moniker to hang on it for purposes of general referral. So here's my two cents. Given how badly so many things went, and how crazy so many folks went, and how inadvisable it'd be to repeat much of what we did these last ten years, I think the official name of the first decade of the twenty-first century should be the Ought-Nots.

Plus it rhymes.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Good Things the Senate Health Care Bill Does

It's easy to get confused about the health care debate, what with both extremes going to extremes to take it down, and the folks in the middle who are actually trying to solve problems not really articulating the depth and breadth of what they're doing. Even your faithful correspondent here at the anticontrarian blog gets a bit confused here and there.

So mad props to Jonathan Chait at The New Republic for laying it out, debunking some myths, and putting the whole thing in the context of the present fiasco we call Health Care in America.

A few choice quotes:
The salient fact, though, is that the United States currently has, among advanced countries, a uniquely horrible system—twice as costly as the OECD average while producing mediocre results and denying care to millions.
...
Health reform solves the affordability problem by subsidizing insurance coverage, or expanding Medicaid, for low- and moderate-income families. And it solves the pre-existing condition problem by setting up a marketplace, called an exchange, where insurers must sell policies to anybody, at one price, and cover all basic services. In order to prevent people from going uninsured until they get sick, it also requires everybody to purchase insurance, except in limited hardship cases.
...
Employer-sponsored health insurance is tax-deductible, while wages are, of course, taxed. This means an additional dollar of health care benefits costs less than an additional dollar in wages—an anomaly that has contributed to runaway health care costs. Taxing high cost plans, which do not produce better health outcomes, will give employers a strong incentive to shop for cheaper plans. Either way, the government would collect revenue—either directly through the excise tax, or (better still) indirectly when employees start getting less compensation in the form of tax-free health care, and more in the form of taxable wages.
...
Small pockets of high-quality, low-cost care, like the Mayo Clinic, exist throughout the country, but most doctors and hospitals have not embraced the methods that produce this efficiency. Health reform contains a number of pilot programs to encourage more efficient care—such as penalizing hospitals with high infection rates, an easily-preventable failure that causes 20,000 deaths a year, or various provisions to reimburse Medicare providers based on results rather than the number of procedures used. Numerous other experiments abound in the bill.
...
The sum total effect of this legislation is fairly simple. It would redirect a large chunk of the money sloshing around the health care system away from ineffective treatments and toward providing care for the uninsured. On top of that, it would prod the system, in dozens of ways large and small, to adopt cutting edge methods.

I'll spare you all the laundry list of things I'd've liked to see in the bill that aren't there. But anyone who tells you that this bill doesn't do any good is lying, misinformed, or both. To those on the right, this ain't socialism, and even if it was, our most successful health care system here in America, Medicare, is a single-payer system. Just about everybody who's got it thinks it's just great, and you maybe ought to take that into consideration before you keep spouting off about government encroachment on health care. To those on the left, you maybe didn't get everything you wanted this Christmas, but love it or hate it, politics is the art of the possible, and the one thing that was not acceptable was a continuation of the status quo. I'm not fully satisfied either, but the solution is not to take your bat and your ball and go home, thinking that somehow it'll work out better next go 'round. The solution is to keep up the pressure on lawmakers and to keep making the argument that the more Progressive our health care system is, the better the outcomes will be for everybody. That you're probably right should make it easier on you.

I know it was rough in the Bush years, but just cuz Obama got elected doesn't mean the whole game magically changed.

Your iPod is Terrifying

Richard Reid tried to light a bomb in his shoe with a match, and was quickly subdued by other passengers. There was no real indication that the bomb would've even worked had he succeeded, which he didn't. Ever since, we've all taken our shoes off to go through airport security, even if we're wearing flip flops.

Eight British men planned to fill sports drink bottles with concentrated hydrogen peroxide and detonate them in airplanes, hoping to kill some 1500 people. They were caught before they even got to the airport. Ever since, we've all had to limit the liquids we carry onto airplanes to about the size of an airplane liquor bottle, and to present them all in a quart-sized plastic bag.

Now some joker from Nigeria sets his crotch on fire in an almost hilarious attempt to take down a Nothwest Airlines flight over Michigan, a man so inept that he failed to harm anyone at all besides himself, and rumor has it that the TSA's response will include such measures as no getting up or having anything on your lap in the last hour of an international flight into the US, even if you are incontinent or your four-year-old has to go to the bathroom; being limited to one carry-on bag for some reason; and, get this, no electronics of any sort allowed to be used or even powered up during the flight, no matter how long it is or how much work you have to do (hat tip to John Cole at Balloon Juice for the link).

Ladies and gentlemen, we've officially gone off the deep end at this point. The first two measures were ridiculous enough (and they are, truly, ridiculous), but at least they bore some connection to the supposed 'threat.' Shoe bomb? Check everybody's shoes. Liquid explosives? Limit the liquids allowed. Despite the fact that both plots were highly unlikely to succeed, and indeed were not successful, nor even came close, there is always, in times like these, of fear and fearmongering, the need to appear to be doing/have done something. But I defy anyone to explain how some jackass with a condom full of gasoline strapped to his inner thigh setting his junk on fire means that I shouldn't be able to listen to my iPod on a ten-hour flight. Seriously.

I've always had a big problem with the whole 'Terrorists hate our freedom' meme. Sure, there are some radical conservative Muslims that do genuinely hate the freedoms our civilization affords us, much as there are some radical conservative Christians who genuinely hate those freedoms, too. But the September 11 attacks were not motivated by ideology, they were motivated by geopolitics, by the fact that we as a nation feel it is not only our God-given right, but our sacred duty, to project our military might throughout the world and to meddle in the affairs and bomb the shit out of people in faraway lands who would mostly like, just like most of us, to be left alone to live their lives as best they can.

Terrorists do not hate our freedoms, terrorists hate our actions.

But the real problem with the whole 'Terrorists hate our freedom' meme is that we keep thinking that if only we curtail those freedoms, the terrorists will stop hating us. Not only are we wrong about that, but with every incremental step away from those freedoms, we lose the thing that makes our civilization worth fighting for.

It's easy to go to extremes when you're afraid, and there are certainly those who want you to be afraid, who derive advantage from the climate of fear we've been mired in these last eight years. Al Qaeda for one. The Republican party for another (had this attack happened under Bush's watch, we'd have Senior Administration officials on every cable channel telling us to tape up our windows and go shopping). People who, at the end of the day, lack sufficient faith in the strength of America, both as a nation and as an idea. People who forget that the fourth plane that fateful morning was brought down by ordinary Americans who figured out what was happening and decided 'Not if I have anything to do with it.'

So to the folks at Al Qaeda, I say: Fuck you, you fucking jokers. Your attempts to scare us are more pitiful with each try. Go back to your caves and cower, cuz we're gonna find you, and if you're very lucky, we'll just kill you when we do.

And to the folks in-country trying to scare up some panic so they can try and talk us into giving up our freedom for a little bit of illusory security: Unbunch your panties and man the fuck up. Seriously, you're starting to embarass the rest of us.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

On Purity and Purges and the War of Ideas

Not very long after the 2004 elections, a friend of mine, a Progressive to his very core, convinced me to attend a Drinking Liberally event at a pub in town. He knew I kept up on politics and the news, and that I've been known to enjoy the occasional free exchange of ideas among friends and strangers alike. He'd been to a couple such events, and said he'd be interested to see what I'd make of the whole thing. Being a one to enjoy both lively discussion and the tipping back of a pint or two, I was happy to oblige.

Now remember, this happened at a time when George W. Bush had just won reelection and been sworn in for another four years, which led, as you might expect, to a great deal more swearing on the part of nearly everyone to the Left of Center in these United States. The folks at Drinking Liberally, doctrinaire liberals to a one (with the exception of myself) were not happy, and, having done a little liberal drinking, were more than happy to vent.

I won't go too deeply into the discussion, as the details didn't really stick even at the time, but the thing that struck me then, and sticks with me now, was the fervor of the crowd, most especially of the two guys who spoke loudest and most (again, with the exception of myself; I am a well-known loudmouth when it comes to a good argument). To be honest, the whole thing was probably more therapeutic than substantial, and while I understand the value of catharsis, I lose patience when it bleeds over into substantive policy discussion.

What really got to me, in the end, was that the proposal on the table, which almost everybody there seemed to accept as just the most natural and obvious thing, was that what really needed to happen in the wake of such a painful electoral defeat was a purge of the unbelievers, the DINOs of the world, who, though they may have registered or run as Democrats, were not sufficiently fervent in their left-wingitude (anybody who thinks the crazy is confined solely to the right extreme of the spectrum is sadly mistaken, alas) to pass muster, and had muddied up the message. These were the folks who'd come out early and hard for Howard Dean, who'd descended on Iowa in their hundreds and thousands, canvassing door to door, phone-banking, handing out literature, sure in their convictions and their campaign's deep, deep pockets, and delivered their man a singularly unimpressive third place finish in the caucuses, but who still became wild enough at the 'victory' celebration to call forth the famous 'Dean Scream' that doomed Dean to sideshow status.

The logic, and I'm not making this up, was that if only the Democratic party could undertake a massive purge of everyone to the right of, say, Ralph Nader, that the Progressive message, muddied as it had been by the fact that the Democratic party is not made up entirely of Progressives, would be allowed finally to shine through, its self-evident awesomeness immediately and uncritically convincing everyone in the country and possibly even the world of its Truth, Beauty, and total Righteousness, therefore causing a massive swing to the Left of the entire country and possibly even the world.

It's one of those things that might make perfect sense in your head, but when you say it out loud, you (or at least the people around you) realize that, actually, it's not really very smart at all.

For a while, after Barack Obama won the election, you could see the same thing happening on the Right. The Tea Party movement, such as it is, represents exactly the same process as the folks at that Drinking Liberally get-together were espousing. In the case of the Tea Party folks, they've even gone so far as to lose their chosen party a seat that it'd held for more than a century, by endorsing Doug Hoffman over Dede Scozzafava, who was too moderate for their tastes, thus handing the seat to Kirsten Gillibrand [see below]. The folks behind the move, like RedState's Erick Erickson, are so loony as to consider it a victory, since the squishy 'moderate' Republican lost the seat, thus sending a message to the rest of the caucus to pander to the crazies or else beware.

[CORRECTION: As JC pointed out in comments, it was actually Bill Owens who won the NY-23 seat, not Kirsten Gillibrand. That's what I get for not double-checking my all-too-fallible memory. D'oh!]

Now we're seeing it on the Left again. It's gotten so out of hand that there have been calls to oust Bernie Sanders, who is a SOCIALIST, from his Senate seat, because he's endorsed the Senate's Health Care bill. I'm sure from the angry place that such calls originate from, it makes perfect sense, but take a step or two away from the crazy and you have to wonder just what these people are thinking. I realize they're upset because electing Barack Obama did not immediately and magically change the nature and rules of politics in America, which most every sensible and right-thinking person does want, but when a Socialist isn't Progressive enough for you, you have gone off the deep end. For realz.

But what I really want to talk about is this: to issue demands, and to call for purges of the insufficiently ideologically pure misses the point of both Democracy and the Free Marketplace of Ideas. To demand that everybody think like you because of the self-evident awesomeness of your ideas and beliefs is childish. To take your bat and ball and go home because everybody else doesn't want to play the game just like you do is even more so. If you believe your ideas and ideology really are the best of all possible ideas and ideology, then you should have faith of their power to convince others, and you should be willing to engage in the competitive marketplace of ideas on a fair and square, level playing field.

Look, part of the basic respect that you're supposed to have for your fellow travelers through this life and this universe includes allowing them to decide for themselves what they think is right and why they might think that. If what you think is right differs from that, well, then by all means engage them in a free exchange of ideas. Open their minds, if you can, to the virtues of your own beliefs, and, even more importantly, open your own mind to what they have to say. There's not a soul in the world that's got this whole thing figured out, and it is not only possible but almost certainly the case that there's something you haven't thought of that'd be worth your time to figure out and maybe even integrate into your own worldview, something that might expand your horizons and make your own living-world richer and more rewarding.

That said, I am still a firm believer in not arguing with fools, not only because passersby might not be able to tell the difference, but because I think it makes you dumber, and, at least in my case, it sure as hell makes me angrier (I find it difficult to suffer fools gladly, especially when they are so fully convinced of their rightness that they're unwilling to even hear out the other side in a discussion). Opinions are indeed like assholes. Everybody's got one, and they all stink. But if you do really have the courage of your convictions, you owe it to your beliefs to engage with those who don't share them. But the object is to convince, not to demand conformity. If your ideas are robust enough to survive the crucible of the War of Ideas, then you shouldn't have to demand they be uncritically accepted. And if you have to demand that acceptance, well, your ideas are probably not strong enough to survive and triumph on their own merits, and you maybe ought to think about reconsidering them.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Take Your Pick

This is just hilarious.

This is just awful.

Posted Without Comment

[H]ow anyone can call a plan to spend $200 billion a year on Americans in need a defeat for progressives is a mystery.
-Paul Krugman

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Posted Without Comment

Was it really that bad? Pretty much, yes. One barely has to give it much thought to remember what made this decade one Americans don't want to remember: 9/11, the Great Recession, two devastating wars, anthrax, Katrina, Tom DeLay and the culture of corruption, Enron, Madoff, sniper shootings, an explosion of debt, the entire Bush/Cheney presidency. Median incomes went down. Poverty went up. Global warming got worse. Fox yanked "Firefly" after 14 episodes, while "According to Jim" aired 182 episodes.
-Steve Benen, at Political Animal

Monday, December 21, 2009

On Being the Good Guys (1)

[T]here's nothing wrong with taking a tough stand for or against what we believe in. But until we're willing to be as immoral and unreasonable as Joe Lieberman, our leverage will be limited.
-Bob Cesca
If there's one thing we've learned over the last few weeks and months, it's that Joe Lieberman is more interested in smacking back the Left than he is in serving his constituents or in helping the American people. Ben Nelson might have grabbed more headlines, but a case can be made that he was, at least, serving his constituents. Nebraska, after all, seems to have mixed feelings about HCR, and, if nothing else, Nelson secured them some $100 million in savings on the cost of the programs in the bill once it goes into effect. Sure, it ain't fair, or right, but part of what every lawmaker is sent to Congress to do is to bring home the bacon for their fair state, and on that, at least, Nelson delivered. Whether or not he had any actual conscientious objections to reforming Health Care in America is between himself and his God, but there seems, at least, to be some excuse for his holding thirty million uninsured Americans hostage. Excuse may be too generous a term. Reason, maybe, would be more appropriate. At any rate, you get the idea.

Joe Lieberman, not so much. For one thing, some 70% of Connecticutians favored HCR. Parse the numbers how you will, but if seven out of ten people agree on something, then it's probably a good idea to pay attention. I should note that seven out of ten Americans do not agree that the Earth is older than 4000 years, and it's probably a close one as to whether seven out ten believe the Earth revolves around the sun.

Now, some have said, and I think there's something to this, that Lieberman opposed HCR because the DFHs were for it. He sure seems to have taken it pretty personally when the Connecticut Democrats declined to nominate him for Senate back in 2006. I mean, he did campaign with the Republican nominee for President last year. Sure, he and John McCain are total BFFs, but it seems not unreasonable to expect that someone who caucuses with the Democrats ought to campaign for the Democrats. They let him keep his Committee Chairmanship, after all. Seems like it'd be nice if he could've at least just STFU.

I guess the personal really is political. Thank you, '90s. And here I thought we were all just circle-jerking with our postmodernism and identity politics while the bad guys tightened their collective grips on the levers of power.

But as much satisfaction as I'm sure Lieberman derived from bucking his caucus and being showered with attention from the media, the White House, and the office of the Senate Majority Leader, and from sticking it to those no good dirty liberal hippies who never gave him more than single-digit support in the '04 Primaries and then almost succeeded in unseating him in '06, at the end of the day, what it comes down to is that Joe Lieberman's self-interest is best served by doing exactly what he did.

It's a bit of a twofer. First off, you've got to ask yourself, 'If this guy's going to get elected again in '12, who's going to vote for him?' Is it the same people who repudiated him in '06? It is not. The only way this guy holds onto his seat, which is probably more important to him than his grandchildrens' souls, is to hold on to the centrist and conservative voters that put him over the top last time around, and to add whatever he can from voters to the right of them. Will it work? It might. By that point, he might just have drifted far enough to the right to get a Teabagger endorsement (though I, for one, would dearly love to see Lieberman teabagged), capturing the far right while holding on to whatever vestiges of Democratic support remain to him. He probably blew it when he agreed to vote for cloture, but I suppose that time will tell. He can probably make up for some of that loss by voting against the bill itself.

The second, and arguably more important, reason Joe Lieberman's self-interest runs counter to that of the American people he is ostensibly elected to serve (or even just the people of Connecticut) is that Joe Lieberman is the Senator from Hartford, where a large number of nationwide insurance companies are headquartered. Put briefly, they pays the bills when it comes campaign time, and only a fool bites the hand that feeds him.

We've now met the first necessary precondition for evil: the privileging of oneself and one's own personal interests over that of the greater good.

Now, obviously we all look after our own, and that's a good thing, both morally and from an evolutionary/survival standpoint. But the game of life and survival is not a zero-sum game. The skeleton is civilization's closet has always been that there's always been plenty to go around, except that certain segments of the population have essentially hijacked the production surplus that allows for civilization itself, largely through the capacity for organized violence.

But that's a thing to be explored later. Here I'm not so much interested in what evil is (though I am interested in that), but in what evil does. And here's where Joe Lieberman comes in as a useful illustration.

As Steve Benen noted, way back in late October, in the Washington Monthly's Political Animal Blog, Joe Lieberman's opposition to the Public Option had evolved through roughly one rationale per month starting in June. Most recently, he stated his opposition to the Medicare buy-in for people over 55, calling it a deal-breaker even though he had come out in favor of it on a radio call-in show not three weeks before.

Take a step back and what you see is an outcome in search of a reason. That the reasons keep changing, as each is refuted by reality's well-known liberal bias, is a clear indication that the man's mind was made up, and that the only way Joe was going to vote for HCR was if he could be convinced that the reform part was going to be more or less toothless.

And that gets us to the crux of what I'm trying to get at here, however circuitously. The short version is simply this: when you're the good guys, a lot of times you have to fight with one arm tied behind your back. People like Joe Lieberman can successfully hold tens of millions of Americans hostage because, at the end of the day, seeing to the continuation of his own political power and the continued economic well-being of his major campaign contributors is more important to him than seeing to the physical and economic well-being of the American people. Progressives feel betrayed, by their President and their Congressional caucus. They feel like they gave away the store, and the base got sold out again, because, at the end of the day, they were not willing to throw the un- and underinsured under the bus to spite their political opponents. This whole kill the bill movement, foolish as it is, is an expression of that anger. After all, the Left thought it was finally going to get to enact its agenda, because when Arlen Specter crossed over suddenly the Democrats had their 60-seat Supermajority and should have been able to DWTFTW.

But that only works if you're willing to enact your agenda by any means necessary. And here's the problem: only the bad guys are willing to do that. At the end of the day, doing evil in the service of good (or even just perceived good) demeans the good you are trying to do, makes it something other than what it is supposed to be. The good guys are, and will always be, at a competitive disadvantage in the throwdown against evil, because the moment they stop fighting fair they stop being the good guys.

That the proponents of Health Care Reform were unwilling to play fast and loose with so many peoples' lives and well-being speaks to the goodness of the cause as well as its partisans. As I've said before, I think that however imperfect the Senate version of the HCR bill is, it's a start, a step in the right direction, and though I would've liked to see a little more back-room arm-twisting on the part of the President and the Majority Leader, at the very least nobody on that side of the issue lost sight of what it was that was at stake. Sure, they could've played their hand a little better, but when your options are limited by your conscience and your determination to do the right thing in the right way for the right reasons, well, you have to win with the tools at your disposal. When all you care about is winning and getting yours, well, it hardly matters how you get there, or who you fuck over on the way.

It sucks being the good guys sometimes. But being a bad guy, well, fuck that.

Cloture, not Closure

So I see that Health Care Reform finally got its cloture vote, which from what I've read means that it can now be debated and voted on on the Senate floor, and passed with a simple majority. Sure, it's not over then, as it has to be reconciled with the House version, which is probably more in line with what Progressives were hoping for when this whole mess started, and there'll be some tricky procedural bullshit thanks to the Republicans, who would rather that tens of millions of Americans go without health care (not just insurance, but actual care), tens of millions more go broke trying to pay for health care, and tens of thousands die early every year because they have no health care than for President Obama and those damned pesky Democrats to score a legislative victory, because, let's face it, they're just vicious and spiteful like that, and don't much cotton to losing, even when they richly deserve to, which they did after the last decade or so.

And while I've been paying only marginal attention to the blogosphere lately, because, well, I have a life, I'd've had to've been hiding under a rock to miss the howls of outrage from the Left over the various big sellouts and compromises necessary to get us to this point. After all, Progressives really want Single Payer, which wasn't even on the table. But the Pubic Option looked good, until it was a deal-breaker and had to be scrapped. Then there was the Trigger, which was fine with Snowe and Lieberman et al until it looked like the Dems might actually go for it, then it became a deal-breaker. Then the Medicare Buy-in for those 55 and over, which was Joe Lieberman's idea, until he heard that Russ Feingold liked it, and then suddenly he was totally against it and it had to be dropped to get to cloture.

Big shout-out to the voters of Connecticut, by the way, for sending Joe Lieberman back to the Senate. Thanks, guys. That was awesome.

So what we end up with is, charitably put, a mixed bag. Devotees of conventional wisdom will say that something must be right with it, because the radical wings on both sides of the spectrum are livid with outrage. On the one side, the Teabagger Wing on the Right side of the aisle thinks that government is staging a takeover of their lives and their health care, and that soon government bureaucrats will be getting together over lattes and arugula to decide which old folks are worth saving and which ones are gonna get put on an ice floe and set adrift. They cry 'Socialism!' and 'Keep your government hands off my Medicare!' Unaware, apparently, that Medicare, which everybody who has it loves and is one of the single most successful government programs of all time, is, in fact, a single payer system that works pretty good.

On the Left, the Progressive Wing, who in a truly amazing feat of collective hallucination and projection apparently thought Barack Obama was secretly one of them and would reveal his true colors once safely in office, feel shafted because the Health Care Bill they're getting is not the Health Care Bill that they dreamed about. As if the whole edifice could be torn down and rebuilt according to rational first principles. And hey, don't get me wrong, I would love that, because what we got now is the worst of all possible worlds, which is reflected in the fact that we spend twice what any other developed nation does on Health Care (it's something like 16% of the whole economy), but still get consistently worse outcomes than any other (higher infant mortality rates, lower life expectancy: you name it, we're worse at it). They feel particularly sold out when they hear that Rahm Emmanuel told Harry Reid "Everything is on the table. Get the bill."

The worst thing is, like everyone on the far end of either side of the spectrum, they're increasingly likely to stay home in 2010 in a fit of pique, like spoiled children holding their breath, and they'll lose what ground they've gained electorally, while the Teabaggers will pick up a seat or ten in the House, and it'll be that much harder to pass Progressive legislation.

I understand the frustration. Believe me, I'm not all that thrilled with the Health Care Reform bill as it now stands. It's beyond imperfect, and it might in the short run turn out to be a giveaway to the insurance companies, who really don't need any more money, whatever their CEOs and shareholders might think. After all, an individual mandate, with or without subsidies, without a Public Option to drive costs down thanks to the Federal Government's access to economies of scale and lack of a profit motive, could shake out to be an absolute windfall for insurance companies.

But let's step back from the trees for a second, and take a look at the forest.

First off, we were never going to get it right the first time. That's not how America works. America's great innovation, there at the start, was the realization that people only very rarely agree with each other over how they ought to live or how government ought to work, and so the best we could do is to set up a framework for hashing it out without resorting to killing each other. And while each side might see the other as traitorous, or dumb as a box of rocks, everybody gets a chance to have their say, and leverage their numbers, and then what gets hashed out gets tested in the crucible of the real world. I absolutely believe that what we'll get will shortly be revealed to be inadequate, and the necessary improvements will become obvious with time. No, it's not the best possible outcome, but I have a certain faith in America that it seems others lack, because Americans are, at their core, pragmatists. We want shit to work, and so when it doesn't, we fix it.

For those disappointed that the legislation is not Progressive enough, well, I feel your pain. I myself tend to have pretty Progressive policy goals, though I come at them from a more pragmatic point of view. I think certain aspects of public life ought to be outside the realm of profit, because they're too important to leave to capitalists to manage.

But for those who deride the Democrats for having the White House, a majority in the House of Representatives, and a 60-vote majority in the Senate, and still not being able to ram through the totality of the Progressive Agenda in Obama's first year in office, well, all I can say is that thsoe folks don't have a very clear understanding of who's a Democrat and how this works. Democrats have a bigger tent than Republicans, which means a broader range of views, some of which, quite frankly, are way more conservative than the base. Remember, that 60-vote majority in the Senate essentially gives veto power to people like Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman (who seems to be taking his revenge on the Progressives who denied him the Democratic nomination), because the Republicans have been whittled down to the hard-core and pretty much threaten to filibuster just about everything the Senate tries to do, so for anything beyond passing say, the Defense budget, all 60 Senators who caucus with the Democrats have to be united. As you might expect, this is no mean feat.

But the main thing I think Progressives have lost sight of, now that they've gotten all huffy and started in on the whole circular firing squad thing (which is never attractive), is that now, for the first time ever in our nation's history, we have acknowledged that quality health care is a right, something everybody should have as a result of their citizenship. That was the thing the insurance companies didn't want to happen. That was the thing the Republicans were marching in lockstep against. Yeah, the current version sucks, but you know what? The first draft of Social Security wasn't all that awesome either, nor the first draft of Medicare either. There were all sorts of exceptions, and all sorts of true believers who said their elected representatives sold them out. But nobody has ever seriously tried to walk those programs back, and over the years the gaps have been plugged, and improvements made, and these days no American can really even conceive of a world without them.

So take heart, Progressives. No, you didn't get everything you wanted this Christmas (who did, really?). But what you got is something that will never be taken away, that will improve with age and become a natural part of the American political landscape, a foundation upon which can be built a healthier and more just society. Something had to be done. The tide had to be turned. The present arrangement was unsustainable and, more importantly, morally wrong from an outcomes point of view. And, imperfect though it may be, the first step has been taken, and it's in the right direction.

And for those opposed (at least those not in the pockets of the insurance companies, who I could give fuck-all about), take a deep breath and have a little faith in America. Like Winston Churchill said, she can always be counted on to do the right thing, after every other possibility has been exhausted.

The things you fear will not come to pass. Life will get better as a result of this legislation.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Posted Without Comment

The problem is not that they are idiots, although idiots are certainly well-represented in the upper echelons of our lategreat empire, but that they're bastards.
-IOZ

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Posted Without Comment

Honestly. I don’t understand patriotism any longer, and I don’t think I want to. Kicking back a few hundred in tax dollars so your jobless next-door neighbor doesn’t drown in his own lung butter is Socialism, but paying Erik Prince to shoot civilians and skull-fuck the bulletholes is as American as Apple Pie.
-Bob Cesca

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Posted Without Comment

Fiction writers excel at two things: masturbation and lying.
-J.C. Hutchins, writing a The Big Idea at Whatever