Saturday, March 2, 2013

It's a jungle out there

With Randy Newman on the piano.

Is there still time to tell your reps to support Conyers' bill to repeal the sequester bill?

Steven Brill's cover story in Time, "Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us" pretty much tells the story, although not as well as we might like - but the gist is that medical bills really are too high, thanks to a friendly little racket our bought-and-paid-for political class has allowed the insurance companies and hospitals to run against Americans. Nicole Sandler calls that scam "Government Sanctioned Extortion" and interviewed Wendell Potter (author of Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans) to discuss the article, the scam, and the process that's killing more Americans than Osama bin Laden ever dreamed of.

"40% of Americans Now Make Less Than 1968 Minimum Wage had the minimum wage kept pace with productivity gains."

Long-time Republican Bob Woodward, who refused to tell the truth about Bush's phony war until long after it was too late, instead choosing to try to make Bush look like a hero in his real-time reporting, decided not to do the same for Obama and the "sequestration" crises he invented, thus creating an interesting reaction from the right. You see, they are confused about Woodward's credentials since, a long, long time ago, Woodward worked with another reporter on articles that helped bring down Richard M. Nixon's presidency. His co-author, a guy called Carl Bernstein, was the one who pushed Woodward into doing the story, as people who followed the Watergate investigation probably already know - but like so much else, it is forgotten history. The fact that Woodward eventually released a book about Bush that told a more realistic story about Bush's White House and push for war has helped burnish (in the eyes of right-wingers) Woodward's supposedly "liberal" standing. And yet, to their utter surprise and delight, this member of our "liberal media" has spilled the beans on Obama. But anyway, despite the "defense" of Obama that flutters around in the comment thread at Politico, the simple fact remains, as Glen Ford points out, that we should "Remember: Sequestration was Obama's Idea." (But it is never a good idea to forget what Woodward really is - and he hasn't stopped reminding us.)

Don't kid yourself that Jonathan Alter's pernicious twaddle isn't precisely in line with what the White House wants to hear. The whole pre-K offer is just more hostage taking - you're not gonna let granny eat steak and deprive little kids of pre-K, are you? If these people were actually serious about improving things for kids and for the economy, they'd be talking about lowering the retirement age, not cutting benefits.

Does Mitch McConnell work for the Chinese?

Dean Baker: "This is the reason that we saw White House spokesman Jay Carney tell a press conference last week that Barack Obama is a macho man. He told the reporters that President Obama is still willing to cut Social Security benefits by using the Chained CPI as the basis for the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). This willingness to cut the benefits of retirees establishes President Obama as a serious person in elite Washington circles."

"Deficit Is Falling Dramatically, But Only 6% Know That."

In my experience, when Michael Moore gets called a liar by a "professional" journalist, it's not Michael Moore who is lying. (More here from MM.) It's not just racial profiling, though - journalists and artists have been getting a hostile reception from TSA for years, now, even if they're lily-white.

C. Everett Koop, Forceful U.S. Surgeon General, Dies at 96 - Believe it or not, he got a positive name-check from me in one of my books because he rather bravely admitted there was no support for certain Meese Commission claims about pornography. And I don't mean just any claims - I mean claims that even most pro-porn people assume to be true. Because he actually did the research - which, of course, was buried. (You'll notice there is no mention of pornography or the Meese Commission in his Wikipedia entry.)

Remember when Richard Nixon ignored the protests and watched a football game? Somehow, this feels even worse.

Watch Obey: Film Based on Chris Hedges' Death of the Liberal Class

It's amazing how much this simple phototoon says about what's happened to democracy in the "free world".

Our founding fathers never dreamed that a member of Congress would be "representing" hundreds of thousands of constituents. George Washington reckoned it should be no more than 30,000. That would make sense - you might just be able to speak at enough block parties and picnics and town hall meetings to reach them all without buying ads on TV. You might even have time to personally meet with the ones who really want to talk to you (what real "lobbying" is supposed to be about). It's amazing to me that people spend more time talking about the Senate and the Electoral College and Citizens United than they do about this. The House is supposed to be where the real action is, where representation is assured. Well, it isn't. It isn't even close. Not when you have 700,000 constituents and you have to raise millions or even billions of dollars to have a prayer of talking to enough people in your own district to even know what's going on in it.

Inside The Hostess Bakery The Movie

Dylan Ryan: "How I Became A Feminist Porn Star"

"The One Where A Creationist Picks A Fight And Loses To A Priest"

Plato and Aristotle in three minutes

One baby band

Fun: Evolution
Smashing! Sirius and Orion over Brecon Beacons, Wales


  1. The phototoon elicited a wry grimace. There's a reason I refuse to do Facebook. (You do know that Bradley Manning pleaded guilty and agreed to serve 20 years on about half the charges and still faces Leavenworth on the rest?)

    I think I'll just go back to bed now...

  2. Good to hear someone else say that the House districts are far too large. This is a point that has been made numerous times by George Kenney, at Electric Politics, who has also called for eliminating the Senate - another good move toward democracy.

    1. Charles D,

      By what means would you or Kenney propose to eliminate the Senate?

    2. Too large indeed but the House itself has become so large as to be unmanagable. That in and of itself is a reflection on the experiment as a whole (or a nod to Hari Seldon): the population, not the people but the statistical population of variables that impact the people has grown so large, so diverse that it has reached a point of statistical saturation, of the perpetual motion machine bound by the laws of physics to implode, to fail, and to fail spectacularly. It's a Zen thing (or not, as it may, or may not, be): action and reaction, cause and affect, a body at rest...

      "Wheels coming off" imply momentum. Momementum implies an anticipation of where the wheels will go.

      No fear...

  3. I don't think it's possible to enlarge the House. The real solution is to remove power from Washington and center it either in the states, the localities, or the individual.

    The individual? Yes: laws related to private behavior, like drug use, are a good example of power that belonged in the hands of individuals being delegated to the federal government.

    Federal power needs to be used for a limited number of purposes, such as for national defense, and to enforce the basic human rights that the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments describe. In the 20th century, the federal government was enlarged mostly to balance the power of large corporations. It is becoming clear that a better solution would be to make the corporations smaller. Then the federal government could also be smaller.

    There are different ways to improve the quality of representation. One way is to reduce the number of functions of the federal government and to move the power down the ladder.

    1. The above comment would be me.

    2. I don't see why it's impossible to enlarge the house. Our representatives spend too much time in Washington and not enough in their constituencies. Forcing them to campaign back home and win their constituents votes by facing them would do us all a world of good and keep enough of them out of the Capitol at any one time to remove any worries about overcrowding. They've been voting electronically for years, now, there's no problem having them push the button from Oklahoma rather than from the House itself.

    3. Careful, that might turn into another bullet point for internet voting generally. :) But that's a quibble, I think you've got a good point. Charles, are you talking about physical constraints, constitutional ones, political ones? By my math, that would be about 10000 delegates, so build a suitable arena. I also think a lot of the benefits would come at even smaller multipliers -- say 2 or 3000 representatives, i.e., CDs a quarter to an eighth the size they are now. That would result in state legislative district-like sizes, which start to be feasible for a single candidate to get one on one with a substantial percentage of voters.

    4. Charles says:

      [Indent]>>>I don't think it's possible to enlarge the House. The real solution is to remove power from Washington and center it either in the states, the localities, or the individual.<<<[End indent]

      A return to "states rights" with some neo-Jacksonian democracy on the side is the solution? Stunning stuff from a progressive, well maybe not so stunning but it's as if that model didn't end up crashed and burning the first time around.


    5. [Indent]>>>[3:50] Richard White [LINK]: Although I'm going to spend my twenty-five minutes [LINK to video] filling in the details, my thesis tonight is fairly simple: During the Gilded Age most Americans thought of wealth as the cause of poverty in the sense that the conditions that produce great fortunes were the same conditions that generated large numbers of poor.These conditions, encapsulated in the corporation, distorted the economy whose legitimate purpose was to produce republican citizens.

      Basically, all I'm doing is giving you captions for many of the slides I'm going to show you.

      [4:25] There was a great deal of consensus on this basic view across the political spectrum because both conservatives and radicals derived their views from small "L" liberalism with its belief in contract freedom, individualism, [a] minimal state, and laissez faire.

      What I mean by liberals is best illustrated by Ron Paul and his followers. They are almost literal descendants of nineteenth century American liberals. In the nineteenth century these liberals packed considerable cultural punch. When the Northern commercial elite went to their Congregationalist, Presbyterian, Unitarian, or Universalist churches their preachers were liberals. When their children attended universities and took classes their professors were liberals. When they read the elite journals of the day, such as E. L. Godkin's The Nation, they read the writings of liberals. Liberalism provided the central point of reference on thinking about wealth and poverty. The most influential thinkers were all either liberals or lapsed liberals.

      [5:42] Liberalism in the United States began as a radical democratic doctrine adopted by Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson and their followers. This [referencing a slide on the screen] is Jackson opposing the [Second] Bank [of the United States], this is precisely the kind of attack liberalism was designed to undertake. It aimed at overthrowing privilege, hierarchy, and inherited authority.

      It ended up as a conservative doctrine aimed at protecting property. How that happened is an interesting story but it's not the one I'm going to talk about tonight. Instead, I want to begin at the moment, the end of the Civil War when it seemed that liberal ideas for the society, based on contracts between autonomous individuals, would reach fruition in the United States and it would be defined by an absence of extremes between great wealth and poverty....<<<[End indent]

      [I'll tack on the rest of the transcript including some from the Q&A after The Sideshow is on to another thread.]

    6. CMike, sometimes you're more of an ass than usual.

      This is one of those times.

      I have not suggested returning to laissez faire or some libertarian dystopia. The very point that we should make sure that one of the primary functions of the federal government is to enforce human rights is very much not a states' rights position.

      The Mondragon cooperative is an example of a system where power has been returned to the individual and the locality. But you assume that I must be some sort of fake progressive, and so your facts lead you to the conclusion you wish to reach.

      What your potage of history is missing is a sense of why people were so powerless in the 19th century and why the New Deal reforms so greatly empowered people. In addition to the fact that well over 50% of the adult population was disenfranchised either outright or through illiteracy, the answer is concentration of wealth, particularly in corporate hands. The reforms of the Progressive Era, but most especially the New Deal reforms created government power to balance corporate power. The New Deal also served to reduce wealth inequality.

      And it has not worked, because corporations have become so large. Corporations are an essential part of the toxicity of wealth concentration. Without giant corporations, it is far more difficult for wealthy people to manage their money or focus its influence.

      I have given a substantive answer to your usual ad hominem/extended quote from some random text. Some day, I hope you grow up enough to reciprocate.

    7. Today is not that day, of course, but I take it you wake up feeling greatly empowered what with Barack Obama in the White House, the New Deal having dealt with the long ago problem of nineteenth century wealth inequality, and with human rights on the march except in matters of due process, privacy, and the state's use of the cruelest, if not the most unusual, methods. I'll go back and look for any substance I might have missed on the first read through of your answer Charles but let me, straight off, commend you for elevating the discussion by avoiding any of that ad hominem stuff.

    8. CMike, when you start giving me s--t, you better be able to finish it.

      Once again you invent beliefs for me, and then try to make me out to be a bad person.

      There's a name for that kind of person: liar. That's what you are.

  4. Interestingly, the first proposed amendment to the Constitution, included in the Bill of Rights but never ratified, was intended to number of persons per Congressional representative at 50,000 - which would mean the House would have more than 6,000 representatives. Actually, I have no problem with this - in theory, I think it would result in a house that is more representative of the views of the people. For example, the inherent bias in favor of rural communities I think would be mitigated quite a bit if there was a larger number of representatives.

    Technically, this amendment is still pending - it contains no outside date for ratification. The 27th Amendment, which was originally proposed in 1789 as part of the Bill of Rights as well, was not ratified 1992.

  5. When George Washington suggested 30,000 people per congressman, he was, I expect, thinking about men only. So double that, and you're in the territory of a UK Parliamentary Constituency.

    I think what might be more inmportant is the size of the Assembly, and both the USA and the UK are at around the size of a tribe. There are smaller sub-groups, but in the end the tribe sticks together against enemies.

    The European Parliament isn't that much bigger, at 754 members, but doesn't seem quite so "beige". Of course, the parties really only exist at national level and what the EP has are multi-national coalitions. But a bigger Assembly seems to allow more than two significant parties, and the smaller parties can exploit any tendency to the beige coalition by the large parties.

  6. Thomas says, Charles, are you talking about physical constraints, constitutional ones, political ones? By my math, that would be about 10000 delegates, so build a suitable arena.

    Yes, precisely, Thomas [and Avedon], and thanks for making this good point. The House is already unwieldy, and part of the reason is simply size. A 10,000 member House would have all kinds of foreseeable problems (How to allow everyone a chance to speak on a bill? How to allow all members of a 500-member committee to interview witnesses? How to vet 500 members of the Intelligence Committee and their staffs?) Maybe technology will make it possible some day, but that day is not today.

    Avedon says, They've been voting electronically for years, now, there's no problem having them push the button from Oklahoma rather than from the House itself.

    I think there's a lot of merit to that. But for committee functions, it's a lot better for it to be done in person, with everyone in the same time zone and able to speak privately if they need to. I think the main problem in terms of dealing with constituents is how much time gets spent on fundraising--and how much focus is directed toward wealthy donors. If we had public financing, I think we'd find our representatives were in much better touch with the average constituent.

    Another point that I think we should consider is adding regional councils to our system of government. These could handle some currently federal function like interstate highways, rapid transit, as well as some functions currently done by state governments.