Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Today's Lesson on the Concept of Irony

The NFL recently voted to change its overtime rules for playoff games, but leave the existing rule in place for regular season games. Mark Maske reports in today's Washington Post:

Competition committee members have said they didn't propose the new system for regular season games in part because of wariness that the possibility of longer games would increase the risk of injuries being suffered by players.

The NFL seems intent on adding at least one, possibly two games to the regular season, which would increase the number of plays by approximately 150 per game, yet is worried an extra dozen or two plays a year (few teams play more than one overtime game each season) will be too risky.

Of course, they can charge for the two extra games; overtime is free football, and, in the NFL, ain't nothing free.

Misdirected Outrage

Bob Herbert of the New York Times made the same points in today’s column as I made in yesterday’s post, though Mr. Herbert was far more eloquent. He also raised an interesting point I wish I had thought of:

It is 2010, which means it is way past time for decent Americans to rise up against this kind of garbage, to fight it aggressively wherever it appears. And it is time for every American of good will to hold the Republican Party accountable for its role in tolerating, shielding and encouraging foul, mean-spirited and bigoted behavior in its ranks and among its strongest supporters.

For years now we’ve listened to people hurl insults at Muslims in general because of terrorist attacks. The justification has always been that reasonable Muslims don’t speak out enough about the terrorists in their midst, and are therefore somehow culpable themselves.

Same rules apply. If you’re a conservative, Republican, or tea partier of good conscience, where’s your outrage? Where were you when John Lewis was spat upon and called names you’ll swear never pass your lips? Where were you when Barney Frank had to walk the gauntlet over the weekend? Based on conservative Republican principles, silence is approval; if you’re not calling them out, you must agree with them. Instead, Republican “leaders” stand on the Capitol balcony and encourage more of the same, even indulge it themselves on the floor of the House.

The lack of civility in public discourse is breathtaking and alarming, and the bulk of the blame belongs to conservatives and Republicans. It wasn’t Pat Leahy who said, “go fuck yourself” to Dick Cheney; it was Cheney speaking to Leahy. (And don’t even mention what Joe Biden said to Obama yesterday as being in the same league. A personal comment inadvertently caught by an open microphone is nothing like shouting it across the floor of the Senate.) Racial and gay slurs. Spit. Demeaning the sick. Allegedly good Christians calling the president the anti-Christ.

Where’s your sense of outrage, Republicans? Conservatives? If you’re good with this, then keep quiet. Just don’t complain about being tarred with the same brush. Anyone who takes even vicarious pride in these actions has no shame.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Not a Proud Day

Michelle Obama got a lot of flak in 2008 for saying, ""For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback." It was, at best, poorly phrased; at worst, stupid. The immediate Conservative reaction, expressed within seconds by Cindy McCain, was, "I have and always will be proud of my country."

Let's not get carried away with that "always" business.

The United States and its citizens are not immune from doing things that should inspire any emotion but pride. The end game of the recent health insurance reform legislation offers many examples where nothing but shame should be applied.

How about the protesters taunting the Parkinson's victim as a freeloader? The racial, gay, and female epithets hurled at House members as they came and went? Even worse, the actions of some--some--Republican representatives to rile the crowd up more than they already were, instead of acting like the mature, cooler heads leaders are supposed to me.

As an American, I'm proud to see this nation accept some responsibilities toward its citizens the rest of the "advanced" world took on decades ago. (And without falling into totalitarianism or communism or having death panels, unless Great Britain, Germany, Canada, and many other industrial nations are hiding it awfully damn well.) I am also ashamed to live in a country where people not only condone, but take pride in the actions described in the previous paragraph.

Considering how often we like to call ourselves a Christian nation, we sure have a lot to learn about treating our fellow man.

The United States Joins the Industrial World

President Obama signed the health insurance reform bill today. My friend Charlie Stella will disagree with me, but I think this is the most significant piece of legislation to be enacted during my adult life. (I was none when Medicare passed.)

The bill doesn't go far enough, but it's a start. History has shown what was enacted today is more likely to be added to than to be repealed. (Good luck trying to take its beneficial provisions away from people once they actually get to experience those benefits.) The public option was lost, but that was a big step for a country as polarized as we are right now. I truly believe we will have a single payer system--or exchanges that closely mimic one--possibly in my lifetime.

There are key provisions we must not forget when lamenting what could have been accomplished. Once it's fully implemented, people should no longer have to worry about losing their homes or forfeiting their children's education because they got sick. They won't have to worry about an insurance provider arbitrarily denying them coverage because of a pre-existing condition. They won't have to worry about losing their coverage because it looks like their care is going to get expensive, or because they lost their job and can't afford the COBRA payments.

Systemically, this law should start to put the brakes on the unchecked growth of health care spending. Rather than Republicans crying doom because the government is taking over 1/6 of the economy--which it isn't--they should be happy that this bill may help to make health care only 1/7 of the economy some day. Payments will be made on the efficacy of care, not the frequency.

A flawed bill? Of course; in someone's eyes, every bill is flawed. The perfect legislation has yet to be conceived. Still, it's a good start, and it's only fair for critics such as I to give due credit to Barack Obama, Harry Reid, and, maybe most, Nancy Pelosi for getting it done.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

True Story

Questions that should have gone to the Help Desk here at [agency name redacted] sometimes come to me. Yesterday a woman called with a request to change her password. She didn't remember the old password, nor could she remember the name of her favorite TV show, which was the security question she chose to allow the system to reset the password without human intervention.

I referred her to the Help Desk. In retrospect, what I should have done was offer to help her.

"What night is it on?"

"Who's in it?"

"What channel is it on?"

Seen how long it would take her to decide it would be easier to call the Help Desk in the first place, like she was supposed to.

Why Politicians Aren't Trusted

Ezra Klein interviewed retiring Indiana Senator Evan Bayh over the weekend. While discussing the importance of interpersonal relationships among senators in both parties, and how this can create the comity necessary for consensus, Bayh made the following comment:

My father [the late Indiana Senator Birch Bayh] was on the Judiciary Committee all 18 years. He had a good personal relationship with Jim Eastland. They probably didn't agree on practically anything, or very little, from a public policy standpoint. But they were willing to work through that to see what they could get done just because they knew each other and liked each other. Eastland was a strident anti-Communist and would routinely denounce Castro on the floor of the Senate, and called my dad in one day, sat down, and he's got this humidor and says, "Birch, can I offer you one of these fine Havana cigars?" So there was an example of even Senator Eastland putting pragmatism ahead of ideology.

James Eastland was not a pragmatist; he was a hypocrit and criminal. For someone to "routinely denounce Castro on the floor of the Senate" while violating the embargo on Cuban goods is prima facie evidence of both. (We'll leave aside the fact that Eastland was an ardent racist for a different discussion.)

Congress has long made itself above the people it has sworn to govern; laws that apply to the rest of us don't apply to them. That's not whining about their sense of entitlement; the laws are actually writtne that way. The next time a congressman or senator laments the low esteem in which the public holds our government institutions, hand him a mirror. The clean-up can start there.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Give 'em Hell, Harry

I have been (justifiably) harsh in my comments about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for his unwillingness to stand up to Republicans and use the authority vested in the majority by the Constitution and voters. Therefore, it is only fair and right to give credit when Harry gets one right.

Today he sent a letter to Minority leader Mitch McConnell. The jist of it is below, taken from Ezra Klein's blog on the Washington Post website:

Though we have tried to engage in a serious discussion, our efforts have been met by repeatedly debunked myths and outright lies. At the same time, Republicans have resorted to extraordinary legislative maneuvers in an effort not to improve the bill, but to delay and kill it. After watching these tactics for nearly a year, there is only one conclusion an objective observer could make: these Republican maneuvers are rooted less in substantive policy concerns and more in a partisan desire to discredit Democrats, bolster Republicans, and protect the status quo on behalf of the insurance industry.[...]

60 Senators voted to pass historic reform that will make health insurance more affordable, make health insurance companies more accountable and reduce our deficit by roughly a trillion dollars. The House passed a similar bill. However, many Republicans now are demanding that we simply ignore the progress we’ve made, the extensive debate and negotiations we’ve held, the amendments we’ve added (including more than 100 from Republicans) and the votes of a supermajority in favor of a bill whose contents the American people unambiguously support. We will not. We will finish the job. We will do so by revising individual elements of the bills both Houses of Congress passed last year, and we plan to use the regular budget reconciliation process that the Republican caucus has used many times.

I know that many Republicans have expressed concerns with our use of the existing Senate rules, but their argument is unjustified. There is nothing unusual or extraordinary about the use of reconciliation. As one of the most senior Senators in your caucus, Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, said in explaining the use of this very same option, “Is there something wrong with majority rules? I don’t think so.” Similarly, as non-partisan congressional scholars Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein said in this Sunday’s New York Times, our proposal is “compatible with the law, Senate rules and the framers’ intent.”

Reconciliation is designed to deal with budget-related matters, and some have expressed doubt that it could be used for comprehensive health care reform that includes many policies with no budget implications. But the reconciliation bill now under consideration would not be the vehicle for comprehensive reform – that bill already passed outside of reconciliation with 60 votes. Instead, reconciliation would be used to make a modest number of changes to the original legislation, all of which would be budget-related. There is nothing inappropriate about this. Reconciliation has been used many times for a variety of health-related matters, including the establishment of the Children’s Health Insurance Program and COBRA benefits, and many changes to Medicare and Medicaid.

As you know, the vast majority of bills developed through reconciliation were passed by Republican Congresses and signed into law by Republican Presidents – including President Bush’s massive, budget-busting tax breaks for multi-millionaires. Given this history, one might conclude that Republicans believe a majority vote is sufficient to increase the deficit and benefit the super-rich, but not to reduce the deficit and benefit the middle class. Alternatively, perhaps Republicans believe a majority vote is appropriate only when Republicans are in the majority. Either way, we disagree. Keep in mind that reconciliation will not exclude Republicans from the legislative process. You will continue to have an opportunity to offer amendments and change the shape of the legislation. In addition, at the end of the process, the bill can pass only if it wins a democratic, up-or-down majority vote. If Republicans want to vote against a bill that reduces health care costs, fills the prescription drug “donut hole” for seniors and reduces the deficit, you will have every right to do so.

That's about as close to "We're going to shove this bill up your ass if we have to" as any letter between senators is likely to get.

International Hypocrisy

Congress doesn't own the franchise on hypocrisy. Take Japan, for example. The rest of the world can get together on not hunting whales or fishing bluefin tuna. Not them. "It's part of our culture," they say.

Isn't it also part of Japanese culture to commit ritual suicide when they fuck up? Yet I've seen no reports of Toyota executives disemboweling themselves.

Show us some blood-stained daggers and we'll reconsider the fishing ban.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Matter of Perspective

Michael Shear had an interesting and entertaining chat in Today's Washington Post. The last question and answer deserves notice:

Dale City, VA: There were over a thousand protesters marching in SUPPORT of the health care bill in Washington yesterday. Why wasn't that on the front page of the Post the same way as the Tea Party protests were? The Tea Party fringe seem to get a lot more coverage than the left gets.

Michael D. Shear: These things are a day-to-day decision (and not mine.) But keep in mind, we put the president on the front page virtually every day, including, as I recall, just two days ago giving a blistering speech in favor of health reform.

Shear's right: the President is on the front page stumping for health care daily. That's not the essense of the question. When a Tea party demonstration, however small, is covered, the implied message is it is the voice of the people. When a pro-health care demonstration is ignored because the President has already received the daily allotment of health care ink, the impression created is that politicians are cramming this down people's throats. That's not true; there is genune disagreement about the bill, but there are a lot of citizens who are strongly in favor of it.

The Post should be more careful in the context of its coverage; merely equalizing the number of pro and con inches devoted to any issue doesn't serve its readership well.

Why I Don't Watch TV News

Because of bullshit like this.

Why People Oppose Health Care Reform

The polling on health care reform is somewhat confusing and misleading. A recent Gallup poll shows a small plurality are against the bill's passage, though sizable majorities are in favor of the individual components.

Among the reasons cited for not wanting the bill to pass:
- Insurance premiums will go up. (based on the Congressional Budget Office's scoring, premium costs will actually decrease.)
- They don't want the government deciding what health care they can have. (This isn't in the bill.)
- They're against the public option. (Also not in the bill.)

Left out of most discussions is the real reason why most people who oppose health care reform are against it.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Happy Birthdays to You

Happy Birthdays to you,
Happy Birthdays to you,
Happy Birthdays dear Beloved Spouse and Sole Heir,
Happy Birhtdays to you.

Among the many serendipitous occurrences of my life, the two best reasons I have for getting out of bed in the morning share a birthday. Today's the day. How cool is that?