Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Music Blogging+

It was Christmas Eve babe
In the drunk tank
An old man said to me, won't see another one
And then he sang a song
The Rare Old Mountain Dew
I turned my face away
And dreamed about you

Got on a lucky one
Came in at ten to one
I've got a feeling
This year's for me and you
So Happy Christmas
I love you baby
I can see a better time
When all our dreams come true

They've got cars big as bars
They've got rivers of gold
But the wind goes right through you
It's no place for the old
When you first took my hand
On a cold Christmas Eve
You promised me
Broadway was waiting for me

You were handsome
You were pretty
Queen of New York City
When the band finished playing
They howled out for more
Sinatra was swinging,
All the drunks they were singing
We kissed on a corner
Then danced through the night

The boys of the NYPD choir
Were singing "Galway Bay"
And the bells were ringing out
For Christmas day

You're a bum
You're a punk
You're an old slut on junk
Lying there almost dead on a drip in that bed
You scumbag, you maggot
You cheap lousy faggot
Happy Christmas your arse
I pray God it's our last

The boys of the NYPD choir
Still singing "Galway Bay"
And the bells were ringing out
For Christmas day

I could have been someone
Well so could anyone
You took my dreams from me
When I first found you
I kept them with me babe
I put them with my own
Can't make it all alone
I've built my dreams around you

The boys of the NYPD choir
Still singing "Galway Bay"
And the bells are ringing out
For Christmas Day
Merry Christmas to you, my dear friends and readers. Thank you for making this year better.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

An Outgoing Paean

Y'know, we bitch and moan about Democrats, but compared to Republicans, they can actually get shit done:

The outgoing 111th Congress is among the most productive in history, in spite of its reputation for gridlock and 13 percent approval rating. Democrats controlled the House and the Senate, and used their large majorities to push through landmark legislation with barely any GOP support.

The post-election lame-duck session – typically a mopping-up operation to get out of town – also made history, passing key pieces of legislation, often with greater input from Republicans than had earlier been the case. People can argue the merits of what Congress did, but it’s hard to quibble with the scope of the undertaking. 

Granted, much of the legislation runs antithetical to the interests and values of liberals, and we should note that too. But a lot of what was done was good for a progressive agenda. Let's take a look, in chronologic order:

1) The American Recovery and Re-Investment Act -- Everyone points to the "stimulus" portion of the bill, but the largest part of the bill was a tax cut for you and me. 98% of Americans saw a tax break out of this bill, incremental and therefore obscured by just sloppy minimalism. Too, the roll-out of the spending portion of this bill, which favored pet liberal projects like education, came down the road a bit and the agenda had already been co-opted by Teabaggers. But we ought to make note of the true progressive nature of the stimulus package.

2) Patient Protection And Affordable Care Act -- Healthcare reform. It was nasty, it was ugly, and the ultimate law was a shamble of progressive and conservative philosophies, but it got done and it's a first step in a highly charged and volatile conservative atmosphere.

3) Financial Regulatory Reform -- Want to know how progressive this bill is? It's been priority targeted for budget cuts in the new Republican Congress.

4) Tax Cut Extension Plus Stimulus Spending -- Sadly, when liberals want spending, we usually force ourselves to raise taxes. Here was an instance where the evil of Republicanism, tax cutting, forced liberals to actually borrow to spend. I know, odious, right? But we got the ok to spend to try to get some jobs created, and that's good. It's all about jobs, this economy. We have to get to work on that.

5) DADT -- Nuff said.

6) START Treaty -- This is a great achievement in ratcheting down the threat of mutual annihilation. I don't think anyone...well, after 1962, at any rate...seriously believed any nuclear power would use nukes in any capacity. Until those weapons started to spread to countries who will be less than scrupulous in their use. With both Russia and the US in accord on this issue, we can now turn to those nations and start asking them to dismantle them, with the full authority of speaking on behalf of the rest of the world. What happens then is a different story, but we accomplished a step towards world peace.

Could there have been more? Oh hell yes, and that's where I think most liberals get upset. It took so long to get the modest healthcare reform we did get and that vote alone probably took the wind out of the sails for a true energy policy, for carbon trading, and for any number of other progressive items that we could have easily obtained with supermajorities in both houses.

I blame Obama for not taking the lead on his initiatives, but I also blame Harry Reid for having little stomach for beating up his constituency.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Haunting Specter

I need to digest some of what he said yesterday, but Arlen Specter left a flaming bag of poop on the Senate doorstep:
Partisanship, a quest for ideological purity, and the "abuse" of procedural rules have bled collegiality from the U.S. Senate and mired "the world's greatest deliberative body" in gridlock, Specter said.

This was not the usual flowery goodbye and trip down memory lane.
There's some merit to his point of view, and Specter lays out his case like the prosecutor he was, but is it correct? Is too partisan a bad thing?
Forget the chicken-egg argument. It really doesn't matter who started the partisanship ball rolling. We can track echoes of it back to the McCarthy hearings, to Watergate, to any number of incidents that brought us incrementally to where we are.
Is the legislative process compromised when, well, there is no compromise?
My first observation is that Harry Reid finally seems to have grown a set. So much legislation has been passed in the last few weeks, it's hard to keep track of it all, including the showcase piece, the repeal of DADT. Why he squandered this forcefulness over the past two years will go down in history as one of the greatest blunders a Senate Majority Leader could ever make.
(side note: Imagine if Hillary Clinton had not accepted the Secretary of State post, instead focusing on rallying the troops for the 2006 election and then lobbying for the Senate Majority Leadership job...)
In the next Senate, Reid will have to contend with a Republican House that will have a large element of combativeness in its arsenal. Reid squeaked out a win this year against a nutcase who put her foot in her mouth more times than a yogi with a toe fetish. Reid's Senate may not be so lucky next time around if Reid doesn't carefully extract the good from his dilemma while shirking the bad off onto someone else.
A formidable job even for a deft politician with muscle. For Reid, a real challenge.
The twin questions of ideological purity and abuse of procedural rules seem to go hand in hand, in my opinion, and I delineate them differently from simple party line distinctions. Voting along party lines is expected, which is why I'm not sure the last Congress, or even the Congresses under Bush, were "too partisan".
The difference, noticeable over the past twenty years, but in particular a problem during the Clinton administration, has been the severe punishments proferred to a maverick. It has gone from shunnings over minor quibbles, to outright hostility. I've never seen so many incumbents face primary challenges in which fellow Senators and other national party figures have actively campaigned to remove a fellow party incumbent.
This, in my view, is unhealthy, and guess what? For every Lisa Murkowski in the Republican ranks we have a Joe Lieberman in the Democratic camp. It's not a right wing problem only. There's a bubbling undercurrent in this pressure cooker that threatens to explode the entire process, causing entropy at best and chaos at worst, but of much more impact will be the quiet before the storm. The attempt to keep a lid on it.
It started in the 1990s, of course, when the GOP leadership suddenly decided to put a thumb on the scale of negotiation and compromise, forcing their Senators to toe a party line first, and only clear compromises second. It was aided and abetted by the right wing blast fax/talk radio Golem, which spewed venom left and right...ok, mostly left...and forced legislators to either deal with the voters (and others outside their districts) or deal with the leadership. The only way to keep things quiet was to memorize talking points, spew them on cue, and vote Republican only.
That wasn't enough, even tho Republicans were generally pretty successful with this strategy. As the Congress did nothing through the first Bush administration, and people watched their savings and jobs drift away on this tide or that, Democrats started to put together two and two and actually come up with five when it came to winning an election or two.
The clamps in the GOP tightened. In response, clamps were applied in the Democratic party as well. The Fifty State Strategy of Howard Dean's DNC tenure really had two effects: it welcomed moderates and even conservatives while at the same time tried to get them to come to some consensus on issues so that Democrats could present a unified front on issues that people wouldn't be too embarassed by in Wyoming or Utah.
This pissed off everyone, from conservative Blue Dog Dems to us liberals.
In Congress, procedural rules became a weapon, rather than a tool. The use of the filibuster is the most notable, and both sides have gone to that trough healthily. I include, however, reconciliation votes in this. It was used to shove Bush's tax cuts down our throats, and some aspects of healthcare reform also utilized this. Here, a bill is deemed passed already for purposes of making cosmetic budgetary amendments to it, which only require a 51 vote majority and no filibusters allowed.
I'm sure in caucus, worse abuses of procedures occured.
Specter comes off as a bit of a whiner in his speech, but he does point out the signal changes in protocol and custom over the past thirty years, mourning the loss.
But things change, Arlen. One can't expect the world to freeze just because you're in the Senate. And one might point out that there were plenty of moments when you could have shown great courage, opting instead to hew to the party line.
But among his "why mes?" he has made several very cogent and valid points. Go read his speech.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Waits & Measures

Another year over, another year deeper in debt.
Our lives are a constant stream of measurements, of statistics.
How much do you make? Were you on time? You weigh what? Did you get enough? Twelve inches in a foot. 100 pennies in a dollar. 60 seconds in a minute. Four cups to a quart.
It's funny how we've allowed our world, our culture, to be defined by one measurement after another. It's all weights and measures. We've trivialized measurement so much that, when we really need it, we can't have it.
"Give me the odds, doc? Fifty-fifty? Worse?"
You'll never get a straight answer to that from any doctor who cares about his malpractice insurance premium (yet another measurement derived from the measurement of his vulnerability to a lawsuit). Some court will decide-- will measure-- his judgement and hold him accountable if things don't go the way you want them to.
Our world has become a yardstick. We even measure the unmeasurable: The Beatles are better than Led Zeppellin, but "Stairway To Heaven" is the greatest rock song ever written.
Who the hell decided that? Why was it even necessary? Both bands make great music, and you could stack "Hey Jude" up against "Stairway" anyday and derive enormous pleasure from either or both.
Worse yet is how we measure each other. It's one thing to hold yourself up to a standard of your choosing. That's how we grow and pursue happiness, that delectable intangible that the American Founders thought so important as to enumerate it amongst our God-given rights.
For example, I write better today than I did when I started this blog more than six years ago (!!!) I take better photographs for taking a course, and just shooting photos. These are demonstrable facts in my view. This is growth. I know these are facts because I like my writing and photos better today than I ever have.
It's when we apply these measurements to other people that trouble begins.
Exhibit A -- "You're just like my ex!"
That's your basic unfavorable expression, no matter the context, and serves as a warning.
Exhibit B -- "You should do this."
Friends of mine who've spent any time talking to me will tell you, I think "should" is the most dangerous word in the English language. It's so loaded with value measurements and personal opinion that it ought to be banned, except for parents talking to young children and priests talking to novitiates.
You can try this exercise on your own, I won't bore you with myriad examples.
We hold people up to a light, and look thru them as if they lived in a tiny glass orb and examine them. Instead of accepting them for who they are, we pull out a clipboard and a checklist and begin to tick off measurements: She's hot, he's getting C's, she's Jewish, he's an only child, she has money, he's a gambler. All these are added together and some arbitrary denominator is applied to adjudge good or bad.
None of this is about who that person or those people are, but about how those values fit in with ours.
How they add to our lives.
These can be applied situationally: "I need to get laid," means that "she's hot" can override the fact that she's only sixteen or a crack addict. That one measure derives the most immediate reward.
But in exploiting her, you exploit yourself.
"He's getting C's" means an Ivy League school is probably out of the question, so you lower your sights and adjust your parenting.
Our world isn't full of men and women, our brothers and sisters. It's filled with competitors, all of whom we gauge on a scale, on a ruler, to assess how we're doing. For some weird reason, it matters to us where we are on the ruler, without any consideration given at all to the possibility that maybe we shouldn't even be on the ruler!
Are we happier for this ruler? I think not.
How can you measure the value of a sister or brother? Of the homeless guy down the street? Of the undocumented worker selling portraits in Times Square? All contribute to our lives each day, some in directly noticeable ways, others in ways that filter through to us from a maze of convolutions and twists: six degrees of separation, and all that.
What numerical analysis leads us to the inescapable conclusion that Bill Gates made billions of dollars using the sweat and labor of hundreds of millions of people, who developed and used his products and gave him feedback, thus improving computers? Similarly, what is his responsibility back to society? According to the measurerists, there ought to be some way for him to pay us back beyond the distinctly unmeasurable "he sells us software." And yet, these measurerists are the same folks who bridle at the "death tax", which is really just a way for society to extract from a person's body of work that portion of which can be attributed to the advantages of living in that society.
We can't measure the important things in our lives. What is love? How much did my mother love me? How much do I love my lover? How much do I love ice cream? How happy am I? How happy can I be? How afraid am I? How healthy am I?
We can tally nearly everything in our lives, and still not discover our place on the ruler.
Some would choose to ignore the unmeasurable (helloooooooooooo, conservatives!) If it can't be measured, it doesn't matter. There is no meaning unless we can study, allocate and quantify precisely the effort we need to expend in order to feel comfortable with that unmeasurable. I'd bet that many marriages and relationships fail under the delusion that somehow a husband or wife need only put in de minimis effort and get a satisfactory return.
It is this same pointed choice to ignore the unmeasurable that we fail to act in a timely fashion on a whole raft of problems, from global climate change to foreign relations to the decline of the electric grid, and we chastise those who can logically put two diverse facts together to come to a conclusion that is not readily apparent or immediately measurable.
Jimmy Carter, for example, is reviled by the right as the worst president of the 20th century (on a technicality, it's possible: George Bush the Junior did not serve until the 21st). Yet the man had vision. As an example, he foresaw out of the OPEC crises that America would need a more permanent solution to its energy problems and tried to shift the focus from cheaper oil to learning to live with more expensive oil while working on the technology necessary to solve a vexing problem. He created the Departments of Education and Energy (funny how conservatives howl about the one but embrace the latter). He gave the Panama Canal back to Panama, thus stifling American imperialism in Latin and Central America, and opened the door for democracy in South America.
And now, South America is emerging as a world power in its own right.
All of these looked at the time like bad decisions made by a weak President, but how much would you give to go back to 1977 armed with video of $3 a gallon gasoline, at a time when it retailed for 35 cents a gallon?
We only act when there is demonstrable damage to be done to an objective measurement. This is why so often the arguments for a policy come down to the economic cost/benefit analysis. Those arguments get your attention, when you can show that investing a dollar now can save you a buck three-eighty next year. This is why it took a blackout in 2003 to even start a dailogue about the electric grid. and why it took an attack on the World Trade Center to get us to pay real attention as a people to the plight of the Muslim world and our role in it.
Ironically, that economic argument may get your attention but it never wins the argument. Usually, the unmeasurables win the argument.
Think about it: healthcare ought to be an inalienable right for every American. It's part of that whole delectable intangible in the Declaration I alluded to earlier, the inalienable right of life. Yet the arguments now and have for a while focused on the cost of the program.
Can you measure a life's value? Can you measure the value of good health in leading a productive, happy life? How much freer are we for having good health? I'd argue a lot. Does society have a duty to look after all its people? Does your health affect mine?
Those are winning arguments in any civilized society, it seems to me. Right now, we're not at that stage, but once we get there, we will have healthcare for Americans, of Americans, and by Americans.
We just have to wait.
How long?
How are you measuring time?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Now Is The Winter Of Our Discontent...

The new Congress hasn't been seated yet but signs of a rift are already beginning to emerge between Republican leaders and Tea Party groups who were a driving force propelling many unknown candidates to victory last month.

There are many ways to characterize this. I prefer to think of it as the chickens come home to roost.

The Republicans have had a forty year "Southern Strategy" which has yielded some pretty impressive political victories and some pretty shameful defeats. On the one hand, this strategy was most directly responsible for the election of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, as well as the takeover of Congress in 1994, and the House in 2010.

On the other hand, it was directly responsible for the corrupt Congresses that ensued, the rape of the American budget, the tax hikes needed to compensate for the spending by Republicans on credit, as well as war without end and a terror attack that will go down in history as one of America's weakest moments, bought and paid for by the GOP.

This strategy divided the nation into three groups: economic royalists, socially conservative Christians, and the rest of us. Power within the GOP rested firmly in the economic royalty camp, with the occasional intruder like Pat Robertson allowed a seat at the table primarily because he could speak both lingoes fluently. The Christian Coalition was allowed to rant and rave and was allowed loose in the neighborhood every two years (especially during presidential elections) to foam at the mouth about "teh gehys" or dead pre-babies or "war on Christmas" or what have you.

The Tea Party is a curious admixture of both camps. There's a strain of "I got mine Jack, now you get yours" that economic royalists have attuned to like a 50,000 watt radio station next door, but there's also a deep strain of social conservatism that infests the movement, too.

It's basically the rank-and-file saying "Help us, finally, dammit!" to the powers that be that dictate policy that helps the wealthy without assisting the middle class and poor from losing ground.

Sadly, they still see the "free" market as the solution to the problem, when as I've pointed out consistently, the government is better poised to help them.

Worse for the GOP, there's really no way to placate all forms of the movement:

In a sense, identifying with the Tea Party movement was like catching Beatlemania in the 1960s. People were drawn in for different reasons — the beat, the haircuts, the lyrics — and great gulfs of taste divided the John fans from the Paul fans, the George fans from the Ringo fans.

Smashing success broke the Beatles apart. As 2010 closes, there is no bigger question in U.S. politics than whether the Tea Party will go the same way. The pressures on this already divided movement will be enormous. As long as the far-flung elements of the Tea Party were shoulder to shoulder against Obama, it was easy to keep them together. But now, the party that argued so effectively for smaller government is headed to Washington, where so many other waves have broken and receded. Having remade Congress and with a GOP presidential nomination up for grabs, the Tea Party is about to learn that rallying against its enemies is easier than choosing among its allies.

Effectively, the Tea Party is a movement without a leader and many people vying for that leadership. But it may be too late: success happened so quickly for the chaotic movement that even early adopters like Dick Armey have had trouble herding the kittens.