June 23, 2009

Needle Hits "E"

Seriously, it is often hard to find anything new to say. This is bound to happen from time to time. Frequently, the most fun is just thinking up titles. E.g., I see where John Yoo was named as a defendant in a lawsuit brought by Jose Padilla (and his mother) arising from his torture and incarceration without due process, on the basis of Yoo's role in providing legal cover for violations of the Bill of Rights (I mean, what's a law professor for if not that?), and it survived a motion to dismiss under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. By an opinion written by a conservative federal judge in San Francisco (not an oxymoron - I'm familiar with the jurist in question). So I thought of a blog title: "Fairy Tales Can Come True, It Can Happen to Yoo," and then I went blank. I mean, what's the point? So a private litigant can bring one lawsuit against one minor player in the Bush War Crime Spree while the entire Justice Department sits with its collective thumb up its collective ass - is this actually a victory or a measure of how rotten things are?

Congress can't write a meaningful health care reform bill; can't regulate systemic fraud; can't deal with global warming; can't get out of Afghanistan and will take forever to get out of Iraq; can't ensure healthy food; can't do squat except give money it doesn't have to Wall Street. The government's bankrupt. California is bankrupt. The world's fisheries are 90% dead. Species are dropping like flies, except flies are thriving because species are dropping like....even your logic gets circular after a while.

Obama's a major disappointment. I'm tired of his war of adjectives against the Iranian government already. I know he's outraged, aghast, shocked, dismayed, incensed, concerned, heartbroken, bummed out and nonplussed by the violence in the streets. I know he's watching along with the world. I know we're bearing witness. We'll probably bear witness to Kim Jong-Il's missile attack on Kauai too, and be outraged, aghast, shocked, dismayed, incensed, concerned and probably irradiated.

I feel like Paul Simon must have felt when he wrote his Simple Desultory Philippic:
I been Norman Mailered,
Maxwell Taylored.
I been John O'Hara'd,
I been Rolling Stoned and
Beatled till I'm blind.
I been Ayn Randed,
nearly branded Communist,
'cause I'm left-handed.
That's the hand I use, well,
never mind.

The best writer I know on the general subject of systemic breakdown in Washington is Glenn Greenwald, who writes a blog for Salon (it's linked to the right). To summarize his central thesis, the "elites" of the Beltway (which the blogger Digby calls The Village - a nice touch, reminiscent of the old Patrick McGoohan surreality) operate within a reality bubble (as in The Village of "The Prisoner"). The Bubble Elites conform their opinions and behavior to certain conventional views shared among themselves. The Elites include not only Congress members but also the Mainstream Media - the writers for the Washington Post and New York Times (George Will, Krauthammer, David Broder, Tom Friedman, David Brooks et alia) and the cable and network newsies - Blitzer, Matthews, and the rest. Obama has obviously been sucked into that vortex, and he now talks and acts like one of them.

The Elites maintain "access" to each other (Biden on Matthews' "Hardball," Newt Gingrich on everyone's show, even though, as far as I can tell, he doesn't actually hold office), they return each other's phone calls, and they all make a very nice living with all their worldly cares taken care of and with immense power at their disposal. As C. Wright Mills taught us in The Power Elite, it is the natural inclination of those with power to take those actions which perpetuate their power. In The Village, this takes the form of "go along to get along." Thus, the Washington Post will not use the word "torture" to describe the Bush Administration's program of torture; it is always "enhanced interrogation techniques." Calling something "torture" in The Village is rude and unseemly; Obama, a quick learner, picked up on this point and decided that no one in the Bush Administration would ever pay a price for torturing human beings, because the maintenance of a prim, polite veneer of "bipartisanship" was more important to the general conspiracy against the American People which is our representative government. Patrick Buchanan, clearly an anti-Semite and a racist, is permitted easy access to all the big talk shows, as is Ann Coulter, whose stock in trade is a kind of depraved cruelty and adolescent name-calling. Such people have "visibility," and thus are Certified Villagers. Respect must be paid, because mutual regard keeps the game going, and why would someone allow ethics or humanity to interfere with such a profitable enterprise?

Glenn points out that national polls demonstrate over and over again that the American people are considerably more progressive than their elected representatives. In general, about 60% of the American populace is ready for all kinds of salutary changes which their elected "representatives" will not permit. A reduction in military spending in favor of domestic needs; reduction of the huge deficits; a move toward renewable energy; single payer health care; the legalization of gay marriage; legalization of marijuana and a cessation of the war on drugs; ending the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan. These are facts, or at least as factual as rigorously designed opinion polls can prove. Thus, when Mitch McConnell stands up in the Old White Men's Club (the Senate) and drones on about what "the American people want," his mental referent is a whites-only country club in suburban Kentucky circa 1955, with 95% Protestants, three Catholics and no Jews. He is not actually talking about "America."

When speaking to each other, the Village Elites reassure themselves that the American People want us to remain for years and years in Iraq & Afghanistan, to "support the troops," so that when Nancy Pelosi (recruiting remote skull muscularity to overcome chemically-induced facial paralysis) tells us the American People expect "us" (Villagers) to "support the troops" by voting another hundred bil to last through September, she is really saying that the Democrats are in charge now, the wars belong to them, and the Dems need the money. On virtually every issue the Village Elites talk the same way: things cannot be done because the American People won't stand for it, etc., even though this is blatantly, demonstrably false.

Glenn makes these points cogently and, I think, irrefutably. The question is: how could things have come to such a pass? This is more complicated, and is the result of a bias in favor of the status quo resulting from (a) the sheer cost of unseating an existing Villager in Congress, (b) in the McLuhanesque Age, the enormous advantages one's simple celebrity and familiarity convey, and (c) the complexity of the issues involved, which makes it difficult for a member of the American populace to follow the bouncing ball and determine, on a precise issue, whether their elected solon is actually representing his/her interests. These three factors make longevity in Congress a pretty simple matter: don't screw up, don't draw negative attention to yourself, vote like everybody else (unless your shtick is being a Certified Maverick: Ron Paul, e.g.). The fact that you're there practically guarantees that you'll stay there because people see you, hear about you, and when they go in the voting booth they see your name and punch the ballot next to it. To overcome this huge advantage of incumbency, a challenger has to go broke to raise his visibility to that of a Villager. And the Villager can match whatever sums the challenger can put up by the Villager's built-in advantage: he's in Congress and is already on the take from his true constituency: Big Business.

Thus, Joe Biden is celebrated as a champion of the little guy, even though he was a champion of one of the most oppressively anti-little-guy pieces of legislation in recent years, the bankruptcy reform bill, which was written by credit card companies (many based in Biden's home state of Delaware, the low-tax "Reno" for corporations), who contribute a lot of money to Biden's war chest. Or did, until this faux "populist" became the VP of the faux-populist Obama. Chuck Schumer does not want to disturb the absurd loophole in the tax code which allows hedge fund managers to pay capital gains rates on their billions in income, instead of ordinary income rates the way their secretaries must. As long as Schumer plays ball with the New York-based hedge funds, his coffers will always be full. This loophole costs the federal government enormous sums of money every year. But Chuckie's "fun" and "liberal," so no problem.

On and on. Defense contracting. Big Pharma. They've all got their designated Errand Boys & Girls in Congress. Do these people want campaign finance reform? Hell, no. They're there, and they intend to stay forever. Arlen Specter switched parties to ensure his reelection, brazenly admitting that was the only reason. The Democrats (particularly Obama) welcomed him with open arms. And really, what the hell is the difference? Wasn't Obama saying to Specter, "We know your 'positions' were just stuff you had to say to get elected as a Republican from Pennsylvania, but that state is so much in the crapper now there are a lot of Democrats so you'll say stuff now to get elected as a Democrat. Hey - it's all good."

How did the Obama - Clinton two-person race happen in the first place? The Big Media selected them. They were the best story line. I didn't want either one of them at the outset. Obama plainly lacked sufficient experience; Hillary was a quintessential Triangulating Villager. But at the "debates," Barack and Hillary got 15 questions each, to one for each of the others (who were also far from exhilarating, truth be told). The visibility of the two media-selected candidates rose to the point that the selection of one of them was inevitable. The Republicans decided to let McCain run once in a year they knew they were going to lose, and that was it. "The Electoral Process in America." But let's lecture Iran on how it's done, or send our own Ayatollah, Justice Antonin Scalia, to Tehran to act as an observer for the recount.

Can the inertia of such a decadent system be overcome by the populace? No. There is no way. In 6 years, using the 535 Plan for Complete Congressional Replacement, we could break the bonds between every legislator, lobbyist and media pundit. But we're not going to do that; it violates the rules of the McLuhanesque Trance. That flow of history called Reality, however, will bring about its own changes, and those will be profound. Vandals & Visigoths for one empire, bankruptcy for another.

I've been Ann Coultered, cold shouldered
John Boltoned, it's revoltin
George Bushed, Cheneyed too
Condoleezaed, Moon Face Yoo,
Mississippied, Alabamaed
Orange Boehnered, Barack Obamaed,
Mumbles Reided, Max Baucased
Republican National Party caucused,
Sean Hannityed, lost my sanity,
Druggie Limbaugh high on vanity,
George Willed, Brooks the shill,
Lindsey Graham take a pill.
Arlen Spectered, resurrected,
As a Dem and who expected
Any difference?

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