Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Health Care Charade Almost Done

Well, the health care charade is almost over. Now that the Senate has voted for no public option, the two parties can rest easy - the status quo will be preserved or, as some argue, the insurance companies will actually make out better, that is, earn more profit, under our "reformed" health insurance system. For anyone who doubts that (a) our political system is oligarchic and (b) that the two parties collude to maintain the oligarchy, an explanation of this outcome is necessary. But at least as important is the explanation for why the public option was dumped: Because, Baucus said, we were powerless to do otherwise. Doing otherwise would doom the "reform." So, I might paraphrase Baucus' thinking here: "Let us doom reform and pretend that we were, we mighty U.S. Senators, overwhelmed by forces much stronger than we! This is all we could do!" Is there a more pathetic sight than powerless Senators? Believe that and I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. And, of course, where was Obama in all of this? Where was the man who put together such a powerful election machine, who mobilized all those people to vote for him, to vote for "change?" Amazing, is it not, how incompetent, how indecisive Obama became? Again, for those who think the two party system is actually a two party system, Obama's disappearance needs an explanation.

Now for those who were opposed to a public option or to genuine health insurance reform, please take note: The outcome had nothing to do with what you wanted done even though it coincides with what you wanted done. The outcome was dictated by the needs of the oligarchy, especially the need to preserve their status quo. The point is this: You may want to think that you had an impact on the final outcome of the health insurance debate, but you did not. So, take heed, when another issue comes down the pike, the outcome might or might not what you want. But whether it is or not has nothing or very little to do with the fact you wanted it. Such is life in an oligarchy disguised as a "republic."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Afghanistan, Imperialism, and the Republic

Well, the imperial "republic" that the Anti-Federalists warned would follow the ratification of the Constitution is about to re-launch another ill-fated military adventure, this time in Afghanistan. The NY Times gave the game away in an article on Sunday, September 27, when it wrote that Obama was facing a choice between continuing his agenda of fighting on in Afghanistan or "drastically changing course" and ending US involvement. [Don't you just love the euphemisms we use to disguise what is actually going on? Military engagements are wars, not "involvements." I get "involved" with the NY Times Sunday crossword puzzle, not with enemy soldiers. If I were mugged at gun point, I would not say that the mugger and I were "involved." Oh, where is George Orwell when we need him? As Orwell said: "Political designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind." Indeed.]

The "drastic course" is continuing our military adventure in Afghanistan, not ending them. And drastic for two reasons. First, because it is almost certain that the adventure will fail. But, second, and let this be clear: Because it is another imperialistic adventure and republics and an imperialistic foreign policy are incompatible. Perhaps success in Afghanistan would be worse than failure because then the militarization of American society and politics would be strengthened and "the military-industrial complex," that that "radical" President Eisenhower warned us about, would also be strengthened. Another "radical," George Washington knew that an imperialistic foreign policy was incompatible with a republic as evidence by his farewell address. Is it not amazing how "change" can be made to seem identical to "continuity?"


The imperial "republic," which the Anti-Federalists predicted would be the result of ratifying the proposed constitution in 1788, is about to launch or re-launch yet another ill-fated military adventure, this time in Afghanistan. The NY Times gave the game away on Sunday, September 27, in an article which said, about half way through, that Obama could continue to pursue his announced agenda to fight on in Afghanistan or could "drastically change course" and end US "involvement." [Don't you just love the euphemisms used to disguise what is actually going on. Military adventures, often called "wars," now are called "involvements." No, I don't think so. I am "involved" on Sundays with the NY Times crossword puzzle! If I am mugged at gun point I don't say that the mugger and I were "involved." Get real!]

The "drastic course" is not withdrawing but making war in Afghanistan. Once again, the US is out to prove out tough it is and will only end up proving how delusional our politics have become. Isn't it amazing how "change" can be defined so as to make it seem indistinguishable from "continuity?" Ah, George Orwell, where are you when we need you? As Orwell said: "political designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind...."

But let me make it clear that I object to this military adventure not simply because it will fail but, more importantly, because it is imperialistic and a republic cannot survive an imperialistic foreign policy. Thus, it might actually be worse for our republic were this adventure to succeed. Were such to be the outcome, the militarization of our society and politics would be reinforced and the "military-industrial complex," that that "radical" President Eisenhower warned us of, would be strengthened. Another "radical," George Washington, also understood that a republic and an imperialistic foreign policy were incompatible, as evidenced by his farewell address. These warnings give a new spin, a more ominous spin to the comment reputedly made by Ben Franklin when the constitutional convention of 1787 adjourned when he was asked what kind of government was created: "A republic - if you can keep it."

Saturday, September 26, 2009

And another post with some "drug facts," which are, generally, interesting insofar as the "pictures in our heads" almost never reflect reality. Rather, they reflect the propaganda that the government and others - see below - have spread, like horse manure, among us. Another drug fact: When Richard Nixon declared "war on drugs" in 1969, more Americans died falling down stairs than died from the ingestion of both legal and illegal drugs. Why a "war on drugs?" Because Nixon had promised "law and order" and he discovered that a "war on drugs" was one of the best ways to fulfill that promise, even though drugs represented almost no threat at all to either the law or to order. Such is the state of our politics, a politics based on fears, even on irrational fears. But then what better way to maintain in society a sense of impending doom which allows those in power to exercise that power as they see fit.

And another reason for a war on drugs? Consider the following quote about Richard Nixon from the diary of H.R. Haldeman, one of Nixon's confidants:

“’[President Nixon] emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.’” H.R. Haldeman to his diary. [Smoke and Mirrors, 13]

“By 1989 scientists had had four years to study the phenomenon of ‘crack babies’ and some were backing off from their initially alarming reports. Ira Chasnoff, the Chicago doctor whose 1985 article in The New England Journal of Medicine started the crack-baby panic, now cautioned that crack was only a small part of the problem for small, undernourished, and sickly babies. Pregnant women were sixteen times more likely to use alcohol than crack, and unlike cocaine, alcohol has proven fetus-damaging effects. Chasnoff and other researchers cautioned that the lives of poor, crack-using women were bad for babies in so many ways that there was no way to isolate crack as the primary cause of their infants’ health problems. . . . Prenatal care – and the insurance to pay for it – was and is a better predictor of a newborn’s health than whether the mother smokes crack. ‘In the end,’ Florida health officials concluded in 1985, ‘it is safer for a baby to be born to a drug-abusing, anemic, or a diabetic mother who visits the doctor throughout her pregnancy than to be born to a normal woman who does not.’ . . . Researchers of human ‘crack babies’ furthermore found that the effects of cocaine wore off within a few months and that such babies who were well fed, loved, and properly stimulated could recover completely.
“Yet the myth of the ‘crack baby’ grew ever larger. Syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer dismissed ‘crack babies’ in 1988 as a ‘biological underclass who biological inferiority is stamped at birth.’ Boston University president John Silber criticized ‘spending immense amounts on crack babies who won’t ever achieve the intellectual development to have consciousness of God.’ The New York Times declared ‘crack babies’ unable to ‘make friends, knowing right from wrong, control their impulses, gain insight, concentrate on tasks, and feel and return love.’ Even Rolling Stone condemned ‘crack babies’ as ‘like no others, brain damaged in ways yet unknown, oblivious to any affection.’” [Smoke and Mirrors, 267-68]
I will post some facts every so often that strike me as interesting, primarily because they either (a) seem contrary to what we might be "thinking" or (b) because they illuminate our situation or condition. Here are some facts on terrorism and how it stacks up against other dangers, like accidentally suffocating in bed or drowning in swimming pools.

“According to the RAND-MIPT terrorism database – the most comprehensive available – there were 10,119 international terrorist incidents worldwide between 1968 and April 2007. These attacks took the lives of 14, 790 people, an average annual worldwide death toll of 379. Clearly, what the world saw that September morning was completely out of line with everything that went before or since. But still, 379 deaths worldwide annually is a very small number. In 2003, in the United States alone, 497 people accidentally suffocated in bed; 396 were unintentionally electrocuted; 515 drowned in swimming pools; 347 were killed by police officers. And 16,503 Americans were murdered by garden-variety criminals.
“And the 379 figure actually overstates the toll inflicted on Americans, Britons, and other residents of the Western world because most deaths caused by international terrorism happen in distant, tumultuous regions like Kashmir. In North America, between 1968 and 2007, all international terrorist incidents combined – including 9/11 – killed 3.765 people. That is only slightly more than the number of Americans killed while riding a motorcycle in the single year of 2003. In Western Europe, the death toll due to international terrorism between 1968 and April 2007 was 1.233. That is 6 percent of the number of lives believed lost every year in Europe to the naturally occurring radon gas that few people pay the slightest attention to.” [Source: The Science of Fear, p.250]

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Establishment and the Press

The following relies on the book, Tragedy and Farce: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy, by John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney.
Questions: "But since Karl Rove isn't supposed to be in charge of picking George W. Bush's opponents, how was it that he got exactly what he wanted?" That is, how is it that Karl Rove wanted and got John Kerry as the Democratic nominee for president in 2004? That he did want Kerry is evident because John Dean, presented as a sure loser, was anything but because he, Dean, was campaigning against the war in Iraq and could do so because, unlike Kerry, he had not supported it. Rove knew, as almost everyone in the Establishment must have known, that opposition to the war would play well, very well, with the American people. As reported by Bob Woodward in the epilogue to his book, Plan of Attack: "What did Rove have to say about this development [that Kerry was headed for the nomination]? 'The good news for us is that Dean is not the nominee,' Rove...argued to an associate in his...West Wing office. Dean's unconditional opposition to the Iraq War could have been potent in a face-off with Bush. One of Dean's strengths was he could say, 'I am not part of that crowd down there.' But Kerry was very much a part of the Washington crowd and he had voted in favor of the resolution for war. Rove got out his two-inch-thick loose-leaf binder titled 'Bring It On.' It consisted of research into Kerry's 19 year record in the Senate. Most relevant were pages 9-20 of the section on Iraq.'" [p. 90, Tragedy and Farce]

"How was it that John Kerry, the Hamlet of American politics, ended up carrying the Democratic banner against Bush, as opposed to the Democrat that Rove and other Republicans feared?" Well, despite what Nichols and McChesney argue, there was more at play here than the press, which does play a gate-keeper role in our political system. It does help to maintain our two party system, treating some "Democrats and Republicans as the only political players who matter." [p. 91] But the Democratic party was also in on undermining Dean's candidacy and for a simple reason: They saw "Dean as interloper from the la-la land of Vermont" who like Ralph Nader in 2000 was viewed as a "spoiler at best, [a] nuisance and [a] crank in general, and downright un-American at worst."

The "system" is a SYSTEM. It functions to preserve itself which means that the two parties collude to maintain their power, the privileges and perks that are theirs by virtue of the SYSTEM. Of course the press plays its part in maintaining the SYSTEM, the Establishment, but it is the politicians who are most powerful and who are most invested in preserving this SYSTEM. It is also true that these same politicians like to present themselves as relatively powerless against forces stronger than they. Nothing serves their system-maintainance functions than the illusion, an illusion they love to reinforce, that they are, as politicians, all-too-often overwhelmed by forces stronger than they, forces like corporations or the media. It is for our politicians a self-serving illusion and one that is even reinforced by those who are labeled, like myself, "political scientists." But these "scientists" ignore the "political" in most of what they write, which is like real scientists ignoring the laws of gravity or the power of genes in their work! And we wonder why half of registered voters don't vote!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Republic and Political Scientists

By trade, I am labeled a "political scientist." I am currently teaching a course labeled "public policy." In one book I am using, as is typical of political scientists, the author can write about "politics" without once mentioning what politics is actually about - guaranteeing the rule, the power of the people. So it has been since Aristotle wrote a long, long time ago in his book, The Politics. Unlike Aristotle, political scientists these days argue that politics is all about or should be about "solving problems," problems like "health care," like "Afghanistan," like "the Middle East," like "terror," like "drugs," etc., etc., etc. Of course, this approach serves the interests of the Oligarchy, the Establishment, because it distracts the people from their own dis-empowerment. Moreover, it also reinforces the Oligarchy's power by representing "politics" as "policy-making," which should be done by "the experts." And then, when the problems are not solved - as they cannot be because they are not "problems" at all - the myth of the futility of politics and politicians is reinforced. And, slowly, the republic dies. Even now this is happening with the help of a black man as President. Ironic given that blacks should, more than others, know that politics is not futile, that politics is the key to guaranteeing that "government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth."

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Republics and Civility

There has arisen concern about the lack of "civility" in our political discourse of late. And a lot of people, it seems at times virtually everyone, deems the cause of "civility" to be a standard that is not controversial. But in a republic, it would seem that this standard is, at the very least, controversial.

"Civility" as in "civil speech" is a way on controlling the debate. Example: In the 60s or 70s a young man entered a California court house with the words "Fuck the Draft" written on his jacket. He was arrested for "disturbing the peace," even though no disturbance, other than his jacket, was apparent. He was convicted and eventually appealed to the Supreme Court which overturned his conviction, holding that it violated the first amendment's guarantee of free speech/expression. Now, consider how a debate about the draft would be affected if it were forbidden to say, "Fuck the draft." What are the alternatives? "The draft is wrong." "The draft constitutes involuntary servitude." These alternatives just don't have the punch, the power of "Fuck the draft" and, hence, don't have the capacity to create a full bodied, full throated debate about the draft.

But there is another dimension to this as well. Namely, that the lack of civility today reflects a fact of life that needs to be recognized and acknowledged, that the people are angry, deeply angry at the Establishment, at those who wield power in our nation's capital. This anger cuts across the alleged "natural" party lines, Republican v. Democrat or liberal v. conservative. It is, literally, all over the place. Why is this the case? Because the people, ordinary people feel that the powers that be have not and do not represent them. They wanted us out of Iraq and said so in 2006. What happened when the Democrats won Congress? Nothing! They voted for Republicans and their agenda in the 90s, an agenda which included a proposal for term limits. What happened when the Republicans won Congress? Right, nothing! The people were not enamored of the bail out, which seemed to favor at least some of those who were responsible for or at least benefited from the "recession." Did the Obama administration listen? No it did not. Hence, anger, even rage, at the machine we might say because the set up in Washington these days is a machine and, as noted some time ago by a shrewd and genuinely republican [small "r" is right here] senator from Wisconsin, "machine politics is always bipartisan." Why? Because if it were not, then the non-machine party need only point out the machine and its days are numbered.

And, finally, I am tired of hearing that the Democrats/liberals do not act uncivilly because, somehow, someway they are less brutish than the Republicans. They, the Democrats, need to get off their high horses and (a) address the people's anger by acknowledging it and responding to it by deeds and not by manipulative politics and (b) recognize that their alleged "high mindedness" is little more than self-interest because they remain the party of the Establishment, more so than the Republicans. Of course, I would also point out that the Republicans are not genuine insurgents either, that they are looking merely to win back power rather than realigning the power structure in Washington and throughout the nation. That is, as in the 90s, the Republicans will talk a good game, pretending to be insurgents, pretending to be responsive to the people, but if elected, like the Bush Administration, they will govern as they see fit and not as the people see fit.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Health Care Charade

The Republicans and Democrats are only playing games with us. The debate about Health Care is, for all practical purposes, over and has been over since some Republicans have raised clearly trumped up arguments about such fantasies as "death panels." Parodies are not serious arguments and these claims illustrated the absence of any real opposition by Republicans to what Obama and the Dems were proposing. All the Republicans are doing now is presenting some "opposition" to make it look like there is disagreement about the most important parts of the coming health care package when there really isn't and hasn't been since the single payer idea was shelved and now that the public option, at least in any significant sense, loks like it has been shelved as well. Why would the Republicans do this? Well, it makes it seem that they are acting for the best interests of the American people as they conceive those interests while actually playing ball with the Democrats to draft a health care policy that will not upset the power centers in D.C. and in the states. Also, it allows the Democrats to claim that they are fighting for "real health care reform" when in fact that is not the case. What will emerge as a result is a health care package that satisfies the powers that be in Washington [the two parties] rather than satisfying the American people.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Health Care Dance

On yes, the health care dance goes on, and "dancing with the Stars" has nothing on this. The president gave his "SPEECH" which of course was supposed to arouse all to fight on for health care. However, he also seemed to be preparing people for the ditching of the public option, which was the replacement for a single payer system, which of course never had a chance of becoming law! Health care is being whittled down, just as some suspected it would be, piece by piece, even as the president pretends he is fighting for comprehensive health care. But then why be surprised because as Robert Reich wrote in the N.Y. Times Book Review section last Sunday [9/6/09], "health care has bedeviled, eluded, and defeated presidents for the past 75 years." Oh, our helpless presidents! Take us to war against popular opinion? No problem. Give us health care with popular opinion? No can do. The charade goes on and on and on.

Monday, September 7, 2009

75 Years of No Health Care

Here is the best explanation for why for 75 years presidents have been "unable" to pass health care for Americans:

"The usurped power of the party oligarchs, perpetually threatened by political liberty, can only be maintained through a ceaseless effort to discourage the exercise of that liberty. The party oligarchs must perpetually try to demonstrate anew that politics is futile, that politicians are powerless, that public hope is public folly, that whatever is must be, that whatever happens is inevitable, that every citizen's real enemy is the citizen next door. That is why the opportunity to spend billions of dollars yearly on improvements of benefit to all is not an opportunity but a peril to the oligarchs."

Walter Karp, Indispensable Enemies, p. 281.