Monthly Archives: November 2009

The War on Christmas

Every year we hear the O’Reillys of the world whine about the indignity of having to say “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” (Everyone who insists on saying Merry Christmas is, of course, a huge defender of Israel. lol.) They apparently take offense at the notion that not everyone is wrapped up in their “holiday spirit.”

The spirit—which somehow stems from the date of the birth of Jesus being moved from the spring to the solstice by order of the Roman government, overlaid with pagan images of trees and reindeer and a flying fatman who bears a striking resemblance to a Jew, are used in an idolatrous orgy of consumerism—is, to me, a month or more long annoyance. It seems like the “holiday season” gets longer every year. Costco started carrying Christmas shit in late August.

Of course the “war on christmas” is code language for the culture wars in general. Of course, the irony is, christmas is a terrible proxy for the culture wars since it is almost entirely unhinged from its religious moorings and is in reality a secular phenomenon. Hence the calls for putting “christ back in christmas.”

I really wish everyone would shut up and stop it.

Afghanistan

Just to top off a day of heavy blogging so that I can get all of these thoughts off my chest.

I’m not sure I’m on board with the leave Afghanistan crowd quite yet. That said, I’m not sure I understand what the escalation is for.

I recently learned in Where Men Win Glory that the entire intent behind the 9/11 attacks was to draw the U.S. into a war in Afghanistan so that the same people (more or less) who finished the Soviet Union could do the same thing to us in the same place. While they haven’t been nearly as successful against us so far (mainly because no one is giving them stinger missiles), they’re gaining ground.

The reason for this, as I understand it, is quite simple: they just go hide out in Pakistan. Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world right now and if we destabilize it, we’re opening Pandora’s box. It may fall apart anyway, but I wouldn’t want to be the one who did it. Hundreds of millions of people could die in a nuclear war between India and Pakistan.

Unless the U.S. has a plan to remove the nuclear arsenal from Pakistan and a more general plan to deal with Pakistan, we are probably never going to fix the problem in Afghanistan—unless we send however many hundred thousand troops it would take to absolutely seal the border. Both of these options, it seems, are far more consequential than just an “escalation”—they are opening up a whole new front.

On the other hand, I’m not sure abandoning the place has clear outcomes, either. It seems clear that the Taliban would gain control of much more of the place and it would become another terrorist haven. But the Taliban and other Islamist movements gain power from being an alternative to the suffering brought about indirectly from the west by puppet dictators, and directly in the case of occupations.

There was an early consensus of an Afghan Marshall plan to go along with our war in 2001 that never went anywhere in the Bush years. I think that may be the only hope now. Decrease suffering, increase stability. If that takes more troops, fine. But prove it.

Supermajority Gridlock

James Galbraith says he thinks unemployment will stay high because of gridlock in Washington, specifically the Senate.

Since it now seems to be official policy that it takes 60 yes votes (as opposed to 40 no votes, 59-40 still loses) to pass any legislation through the Senate, this appears to be the case. The GOP was at least willing to threaten the “nuclear option” in 2005. The Dems aren’t even making serious complaints about anything filibuster related.

And why should they? They’re senators too. Look at how powerful Lieberman, Snowe, Collins, Nelson, Landrieu, and Lincoln have become! They more or less are a fourth branch of government at this point. But most senators aren’t going to vote against their own power.

Show me evidence that the Constitution meant for a supermajority vote requirement in Congress. You can’t. The Founders constructed the whole system on the mechanical philosophy of the time and sought to balance things like a watchmaker. They selected the form of government they did because it was a watch they thought you wouldn’t have to wind up so often.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t always proven to be the case, but we do have the second oldest government on earth after the UK. But now it appears that only a crisis can force half-measures to be made. 60 votes.

If you want a preview of how this works, read up on how California has gone over the last few years. It takes supermajorities to do anything here, too.

The Public Option Is Dead

This has been written a hundred times in the past, but it was never clear that this was the case because we needed to be closer to the time that the bill was actually passed in order to know the politics of the situation.

There are not 60 votes for any kind of public option to get cloture. There may be 58 or even 59. Plus, the public option that remains is essentially garbage, and not at all what really is needed. It’s not worth giving away a bunch of junk concessions for. It would be better to instead—at the last moment—trade it away for open access to exchanges for everyone, instead of just a few people, along with better subsidies and revenues elsewhere in the bill.

If I thought the public option in the bill would easily be expanded through a 50-vote reconciliation bill in the future to make it more cost-effective, I wouldn’t support this idea, but at this point, too many senators have gone on the record opposing it and it’s water under the bridge that the strategy should have been gone about differently in the past. Neither this nor things like the Stupak amendment are worth sacrificing 98%–near universal coverage–for.

That would still be a better bill than HillaryCare was and better than the status quo.

What it would ultimately do in the future is not control costs as well as the public option would have, but there aren’t 60 votes for it and there won’t be in 2010, either. Not passing any bill also won’t get 60 votes, and may even endanger Democratic control of Congress.

The smart thing to do at this time is trade away the public option and try to get Snowe and Collins to vote for the rest of the bill and use that accomplishment to brag about in 2010 and 2012. Then, if costs continue to rise, and amendment can be tried.

Conflict Resolution

Conflict resolution is surely an art as much as a science. Some people are better than others.

One axiom of conflict resolution is that unless the parties do want to resolve the problem, outside force is required. In a court case, the parties settle on their own terms most of the time. In rare exceptions, they go to trial and the judge solves the case. Except in the narrow situation where only a single cash payment is at issue, court rulings–as with outside force in general–is usually a blunt instrument by comparison.

Not all situations have outside forces that matter. In the US Senate, the outside check is, realistically, reelection, but popular will is only one factor; contributions and institutional support also matter. It requires 60 senators who are willing to solve a problem for it to be resolved. There may be 61 that even care to see the health care problem solved, and it remains to be seen if there are 60 whose solutions are compatible. There are 40 that are content not to solve the problem, who like the problem, who prefer the problem, or who don’t even see it as a problem, or, if they do, know they are better of in the regime of the problem.

Republicans have convinced themselves that successful government programs are an existential threat. There is some cognitive dissonance there, since the GOP does support military spending. In fact, I think history shows that the GOP has more of a raison d’etre the more government programs there are. They are the check on its excess. The trouble starts when the GOP stops being about fiscal conservatism and more about selfishness. Both elements have been present for a long time, one started winning since Reagan and completely took over in the new opposition of Obama.

Indeed, the real reason the GOP opposes any health care reform is political. If they didn’t like the bill, they were given every opportunity to create something more to their liking in exchange for votes. They oppose the bill because if it passes it will be a huge accomplishment for President Obama. This is also why they are cynically opposed to trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York. The US has tried other terrorists in the federal courts. To this, they respond that it will be a “show trial.” A show trial? First of all, at least it’s a trial. Second, what do they call the military tribunals? They oppose this trial because if Obama executes the 9/11 mastermind, their entire theory of 9/11 and how to respond to it will be undermined and Obama will claim yet another success. If health care reform passes and KSM is given the death penalty, Obama will be well on his way to reelection. Only the economy stands in his way.