The Birth of the United States Parliament: Update

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Update:

October 7, 2013

When I first published this post back in August, I honestly thought that neither a government shutdown nor a Debt Ceiling default was within the realm of possibility in a world of rational people.  After all, I thought, in the end cooler heads would prevail.

I’ll never make that mistake again!

Now with the House of Representatives being held as political prisoners, because the GOP’s super-conservative faction (is cult too strong a term–maybe not! Look up the definition of a cult) has decided that the idea of majority rule as enshrined in the U.S. Constitution no longer applies to them, and therefore, they can stage an ideological and, therefore, legislative coup, violating both the Constitution and their pledge to defend it.  Of course, in their twisted logic, they believe they are defending the Constitution from the rest of us who are…well, just the rest of us.  The notion of majority rule can just go to hell.  They threaten to take the nation over the socioeconomic edge into a pit of unknown calamities, though, the economy crashing down around our heads is likely to be one major consequence.

After the election in fall 2012, I was thinking, ‘Okay, now we can get back to Congress doing some real business.  The next election is a long way off and I’m burned out with the 24-hour election cycle we were subjected to by the media, and anybody else with an axe to grind and a Twitter account.’  Now, I can’t wait for Fall 2014 to get here soon enough, presuming we have some semblance of an electoral process still intact, so through some miracle, this group of constitutional insurgents can get voted out of office.  Way out.  Maybe to be the new boots on the ground in Afghanistan as we pull our troops out.  I’m sure they and the Taliban would have most interesting debates over ideological sledge hammering.  The Taliban are against compromise, too.  Oops, did I just compare the tea party insurgents to the insurgents in Afghanistan?  Well, of course not.  I obviously just used the illustration to highlight the fact the tea party politicians are pathologically opposed to compromise.

Oh, and by the way, for those of you who have been Extreme Thinkover readers since the beginning, The Sniffer and I are very pleased with the Affordable Care Act rollout.  Minute by minute, Americans’ demand for access to health insurance is building as a wave against those who would still deny them that.  And as the Exchanges get the opening kinks worked out, the Whiff’ and I both have this strong feeling the initial registration and enrollment period will exceed the everybody’s predictions, perhaps by the many millions.

And all the Republicans have to present to the nation as their alternative national health care plan remains that one blank piece of paper that Boehner, Cantor, and McConnell were so smug about in January 2010 when they met with the President.  Oh yeah, and then a month and a half later President Obama signed the bill into law on March 23, 2010.  Majority rules.

Now we are closer to devolving into a parliamentary morasse than when I posted this essay:

The Birth of the the United States Parliament

Sometimes you get an insight by reading what is going on someplace else in the world. I’ll admit that’s not a ground-shaking revelation, but the insight can be a point of sudden snap-focus into what is happening right here under your nose.

In my case, this “ah-hah!” moment came from reading a New York Times Op-Ed article by Shmuel Rosner, a Tel Aviv journalist and senior political editor for The Jewish Journal. His piece, titled, “The Tyranny of the Minority” (2 August 2013) discusses changes that are taking place in the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, regarding adjustments to the election laws that determine the threshold percentage needed to win a seat in body.  The specifics are not important to my point (you can read the article if you are interested), but the impact of the changes on how the minority parties will have to negotiate to have a voice caught my attention.

I contend we have in the United States House of Representatives not just the birth, but the rapid evolutionary growth of a parliamentary structure; a structure that, according to my reading of the United States Constitution, should never exist.

For some context, here’s what’s happening in the Knesset.  As the percentage threshold for winning a seat in the assembly is raised, the smaller parties that might have had just one or two seats under the old rule are now unable to win even a single seat.  Since these small parties represent minorities to begin with, such as different Arab groups, and more extreme Jewish conservative and liberal parties, they are faced with a huge dilemma.  How does a single party negotiate with one (or more) of the others to piece together a coalition that might mean compromising with a group they find politically distasteful?  And even worse, from their perspective, what if their only solution was to compromise and attach themselves to one of the mainline “Jewish” parties?

Rosner writes,

Raising the threshold was proposed on the theory that it could help stabilize Israel’s political scene by strengthening the two leading parties.  It may not: Some say it would only create more midsize parties. But at least it would fix the currents system’s main pitfall, which is to discourage compromise among all parties by encouraging the proliferation of small ones.

Huh? An image began to form in my mind sketching out what is happening in the House of Representatives as we observe the growing influence of smaller and smaller groups of politically narrowly-aligned representatives declaring that they are fighting perceived tyranny in the size and function of the Federal Government, but ironically, growing closer to manifesting and exercising a true “tyranny of the minority” over the House.

Rosner’s closing point was my snap-focus realization:

For a country as varied and complicated as Israel, the representation of minorities is crucial.  But for a country as varied and complicated as Israel, learning to compromise is even more important.

Bang! Substitute the words “United States” for “Israel” and what emerges is a powerful statement of what I see is the affliction that is now crippling the House of Representatives, and placing the balance of power of the Legislative Branch outlined in the Constitution in jeopardy.

Read More…

Hey, Mister, Can You Spare a Job?

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A Post in the “A Modern School” Series

The unemployment situation in the United States is dismal.  Take a look at this graphic published in the New York Times September 17, 2011:

Poverty and Unemployment in the United States. Graphic Courtesy The New York Times

To my way of thinking it is incomprehensible that the human suffering caused by this economic nightmare would be considered acceptable by a single individual in Congress, but that indeed appears to be the case.  My motivation for writing this post is, however, not to slam either party for the abdication of their constitutionally sworn sacred trust to govern (although I admit I just did that very thing).

Instead, I want to look at an emerging storm that is the consequence of the situation.  As each month passes, for those who are out of work there is an assumed degradation of their skills, their ability to be “shovel ready” the moment they get that call to show up on Monday for work at their new job.

The impact of this Great Recession, as some call it, is multifaceted. Yes, the facet we hear most about  is the economic impact.  Another facet, however, continues to grow and become increasingly important: how do we reeducate the fourteen million out-of-work individuals whose job skills are either rusty or their job has disappeared altogether?

I suggested in my previous post, “A Modern School” that not only are American schools not prepared for the emerging age of Virtuality in terms of the way we construct our buildings, we are equally unprepared in the way we educate our teachers.

Add to this growing storm fourteen million adults whose job skills are degrading at an incredible rate as they sit idle, who will not just need retooling for the last place they worked, but will need comprehensive educational transformation, something we are not prepared to provide in any meaningful way, and we are in a huge amount of trouble.

Some will say, well, that’s what the community colleges are for.  The answer to that is yes and no.  Community colleges are an invaluable resource for a wide spectrum of jobs, but their ability to meet this demand is limited.  By their very nature they are institutions that are tied to their local constituents and serve often very specific missions within the community where they are located.

It is also reasonable to assume that the network of community colleges cannot absorb even half of the currently long-term unemployed.  Like the public schools, they do not have the resources, faculty, or staff, to admit numbers of that magnitude, let alone be radically restructured, themselves, for teaching these adults how to successfully work in the age of Virtuality.  Even if it were possible to for half the unemployed, 7 million!, to get the financing to enter community colleges, the schools simply could not accept anything close to that number.

America’s education crisis, let’s just be honest and call it what it is, is made far worse by this unemployment disaster, amounting to another sucker punch to the recovery.  I have little confidence that the current political atmosphere has any capacity whatsoever to either comprehend or take the action needed to reverse this rush toward the waterfall of educational disaster.

The great tragedy is that we have in every state the university and college education scholars fully capable of not only figuring out what we need to do, and along with the other professionals working in the schools themselves, equally prepared and willing to do it.  Will they be given the green light?  I’ll keep posting on this topic but I’m not holding my breath.

A Recession Forty Years in the Making–Updated

This Great Recession  Didn’t Happen by Magic…My Rant

The Sniffer Returns. Photo Courtesy: Smith Detection UK

When last the Sniffer’s image appeared here on Extreme Thinkover, he (well, I think he’s a he) was celebrating the passage the the health care reform act, having sniffed out the “radiation” of American Health Insurance Providers and other members of Big Medicine’s failed assault against the legislation, spending undoubtedly hundreds of millions of their subscribers’ dollars in the process.  That money was intended by those who paid it, whether it was the funds directly from the insured or their employers, to pay for health care not to pay lobbyists and advertising to defeat every effort and piece of legislation devised to make it better.  Fortunes spent without consent.  A cruel form of taxation without representation.

We will probably never know how much money Big Medicine squandered in their complete and total defeat, as the benefits of health care for all Americans already taking effect, item by item, promises a future of access to medical care that for over two centuries we have never had the right and many have been denied by sheer accident of their socioeconomic status or a simple preexisting condition.

Now we have the right.  Obviously, we should be celebrating, right?  Right?

Political Memory Distortion

Some of our citizen sisters and brothers continue to snort and paw like an angry bull over the fact that they now have to participate in a society that cares for the medical needs of  all its citizens (joining finally nearly every other First World nation and many others), not just as country that rewards those who would hoard their worldly goods as if none of those around them had any role in the accumulation of that wealth.  In their anger, from distorted recollections of an earlier geopolitical battles, they call it socialism, an incoherent misunderstanding of that term in the history of political systems.  It is not socialism.

A Republic’s Highest Value

To the contrary, it is the highest value of a democratic republic: Sharing.  It is that simple.  In a democratic republic, one of the blessings of liberty is sharing.  To treat another as you would want to be treated.  We are now a large nation, over 300 million people and growing.  The day of a flat birth rate has passed.  It takes a lot of organizational structure to insure that the ideals and the order of a democratic republic are nourished over time.  It cannot be done by stinginess, or by isolationism.  The age of the Rugged Individualist has passed.  We now are connected in ways even those of us in our middle age could not dream of.  We now live in a shared world, a shared connectivity at the speed of light, the evolution of human ingenuity turned up on high, the 20th Century a platform for the 21st.

Equality consists in the same treatment of similar persons–Aristotle, 384-322 BCE.

Most of all it cannot be done by refusing to share in such a way that those with the most are continuously provided with more through no merit of their own, denying the dreams of those in the middle to improve their lot in life, it too a blessing of liberty, and effectively squelching the chance of those at the lowest rungs of life from ever daring to dream that those above them might welcome them to take those steps and dream those dreams out of their poverty.

The right to achieve prosperity in a democratic republic is not the exclusive right of those who have already achieved it through their own effort or inheritance.  At the same time, those who have achieved prosperity have no right to hoard their prosperity so that those who are trying to achieve it as well are denied their right to share in its blessings, regardless of their beginning station in life.  With all due diligence those who are prosperous must ensure that the efforts of those who desire to be so as well are rewarded and their growing prosperity welcomed.  But because human beings all have differing gifts, desires, capacities, and health, a democratic republic can exist living by its highest ideals when the prosperity of the whole also ensures the rights of the whole.

Rant complete.

An Unexpected Proof of Concept: 40 Billionaires’ Pledge

What I wrote in the previous paragraph is not just a flight of fancy or a theoretical construct that never would be tried by the very most prosperous people in our country.  On August 4, 2010, the foundation begun by billionaires Warren Buffet and Bill Gates announced that 40 billionaires have so far pledged to give away at least half of their fortunes during their lives or at their death.  Called The Giving Pledge, the list is available publicly online and, according to Buffet and Gates, this is only the beginning of their project.  For instance, the Wall Street Journal reported one of the pledger’s rational:

In an interview, Tom Steyer, founder of hedge fund Farallon Capital Management LLC in San Francisco, said he and his wife had planned to give away their wealth but decided to go public after Mr. Buffett called.

Mr. Steyer made the pledge to support what he sees as an effort by Mr. Buffett to show how those who profit from capitalism can help improve society.  “We want him to succeed in reshaping the way people think about the private enterprise system,” Mr. Steyer said.

MSNBC reported that the United States has about 400 billionaires, some 40% of the world’s total, and their net worth is estimated at $1.2 trillion.

Some of the billionaires have a very specific goal in mind for their pledge.  George Lucas, filmmaker and creator of the vast Star Wars empire stated,

“My pledge is to the process; as long as I have the resources at my disposal, I will seek to raise the bar for future generations of students of all ages,” filmmaker George Lucas said. “I am dedicating the majority of my wealth to improving education.”

Finally, Warren Buffett co-founder, remains ever the optimistic example for First Citizen in our democratic republic:

“We contacted between 70 and 80 people to get the 40. A few were unavailable. We don’t give up on them. Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future. We’ll keep on working,” Buffett said.

Thank you, Mr. Buffett and Mr. Gates.  You get it.  But we are not done here…

So What Next: A Recession Four Decades in the Making

How bad is it?  Ironically, out of the past a major player has come to the horrified realization that the policies of the past forty years, in which he played a major role, beginning with the disgraced Richard Nixon, set in motion the recessionary calamity we are trying to survive.

David Stockman, who was the director of the Office of Management and Budget under the evangelist of  “trickle down economics” and the fomenter of the doctrine that all government is essentially bad, Ronald Reagan, wrote these words published in the New York Times:

Republican pretense that its new monetarist and supply-side doctrines are rooted in its traditional financial philosophy. Republicans used to believe that prosperity depended upon the regular balancing of accounts — in government, in international trade, on the ledgers of central banks and in the financial affairs of private households and businesses, too. But the new catechism, as practiced by Republican policymakers for decades now, has amounted to little more than money printing and deficit finance — vulgar Keynesianism robed in the ideological vestments of the prosperous classes.

This approach has not simply made a mockery of traditional party ideals. It has also led to the serial financial bubbles and Wall Street depredations that have crippled our economy. More specifically, the new policy doctrines have caused four great deformations of the national economy, and modern Republicans have turned a blind eye to each one.

Although I politely disagree with Mr. Stockman’s criticism of Keynes, arguing as would Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winning economist, that had Keynes’ economics been followed, instead of Reagan’s supply side fantasy, we might have avoided some of the damage Mr. Stockman places right at the door of the Republicans, who claim they want more of the same.

As our nation moves along the unstoppable path of time toward the General Election in November of this year, Mr. Stockman’s accusations against his own party are even more troubling.  He continues:

But in the end it was a new cadre of ideological tax-cutters who killed the Republicans’ fiscal religion.  Through the 1984 election, the old guard earnestly tried to control the deficit, rolling back about 40 percent of the original Reagan tax cuts. But when, in the following years, the Federal Reserve chairman, Paul Volcker, finally crushed inflation, enabling a solid economic rebound, the new tax-cutters not only claimed victory for their supply-side strategy but hooked Republicans for good on the delusion that the economy will outgrow the deficit if plied with enough tax cuts. (Emphasis added)

Delusion or Voodoo Economics: Your Choice

Dr. Krugman, however, agrees with Mr. Stockman on one major point: tax cuts will not help our economy outgrow the deficit now, any more than they did by the time Ronald Reagan left office in 1989.  Earlier this  month, also in the New York Times, Dr. Krugman wrote:

Now there are many things one could call the Bush economy, an economy that, even before recession struck, was characterized by sluggish job growth and stagnant family incomes; “vibrant” isn’t one of them. But the real news here is the confirmation that Republicans remain committed to deep voodoo, the claim that cutting taxes actually increases revenues.

It’s not true, of course. Ronald Reagan said that his tax cuts would reduce deficits, then presided over a near-tripling of federal debt…

But we’re talking about voodoo economics here, so perhaps it’s not surprising that belief in the magical powers of tax cuts is a zombie doctrine: no matter how many times you kill it with facts, it just keeps coming back. And despite repeated failure in practice, it is, more than ever, the official view of the G.O.P. (Emphasis added).

Are we at an impass: Yes.  I have done a lot of counseling during my career and one thing I have seen dozens of times is that a person who is suffering a delusion is not aware of the distortion of reality that is affecting them.  Voodoo, and I will place it squarely in the Hollywood horror genre’ and not the religion of many who live in and around the Caribbean, and the image of zombies, plays on our deep fears of somehow having our dead bodies overtaken and made to do nasty things to, well, anyone, but, in this instance screaming attractive American teenagers.

In terms of economics, the accusation of either, is to say something is deeply wrong, but we know that.  What we are suffering from, is the gathering force of economic distortions that have gathered for forty years.  Forty years.  How many really smart people, in both parties, noticed this, and said exactly nothing?  Was it delusions or voodoo?  How could that be, though?  The delusional cannot recognize their delusions, and the zombie’s revivified by voodoo do not know they aren’t supposed to be in that very state.  Does that mean there are not any really smart people left in either party who can figure it out?  A tantalizing question to ponder, I admit, but the answer is no.

If the Answer is “No,” What was the Question, Again?

The question, in the end, is not whether there were smart people following the economy for the last forty years; there were.  The question is how over forty years did nobody get it?  Since Richard Nixon brought the Union to its knees politically and economically, hundreds of economic models have been built, hundreds rejected because they didn’t work.  Computer modeling has entered the 21st Century–Economists of all stripes have access to these computers and run probably terabits of data through them to test the accuracy of their latest theory.

And yet we wallow in the debris of a Recession still threatening our national prosperity and influence, whose roots are easily traced to forty years ago.  This is a topic that must be more closely examined in the months ahead as the election approaches.  I think the Sniffer has a new assignment.

Landing the Health Care Reform Bill: It Feels Like Apollo 11 Redux

The voyage of the legislation to create a Health Care Reform Bill has all the

Sen. Harry Reid Launches Health Care Reform in U.S. Senate. Photo credit: C-Span

emotional elements of landing Apollo 11 on the Moon in July 1969.  Health Care reform has been a long, complex mission with an uncertain outcome.  Is it an overstatement to say that landing on the Moon and returning to Earth was an easier and safer endeavor than getting the Health Care Reform Bills passed, conferenced and onto the President’s desk for signature?

At this moment, it seems almost to be the case.

When Neil Armstrong took manual control of the lunar lander to find a safe spot to set down, a thousand different things could have gone wrong.  In fact, alarms were going off in the cockpit.

As the Eagle’s landing radar acquired the surface, several computer error alarms appeared. The first was a code 1202 alarm and even with their extensive training Armstrong or Aldrin were not aware of what this code meant. However, they promptly received word from CAPCOM in Houston that the alarms were not a concern. The 1202 and 1201 alarms were caused by a processing overflow in the lunar module computer. As described by Buzz Aldrin in the documentary In the Shadow of the Moon, the overflow condition was caused by his own counter-checklist choice of leaving the docking radar on during the landing process. Aldrin stated that he did so with the objective of facilitating re-docking with the CM should an abort become necessary, not realizing that it would cause the overflow condition.  Source: Wikipedia

Eagle Lunar Lander just seconds after separation, Apollo 11, July 1969, Photo: NASA

It’s one thing to read about it.  As we close this 40th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Landing, it really is much more satisfying to watch it.  This video is one continuous shot of approximately the final 10 minutes of the descent and landing, viewed from the right window of the LEM.  The audio is quite good, as well.  Watching it still stirs in me that sense of excitement I felt as a 16 year old kid glued to the TV set with my family.

[For a similar, but NASA produced video, click HERE.  This is the final approach, and included is an inset window that tracks the Lander’s progress crater by crater.  It provides a sense of perspective for the approach.]

Regarding the impending passage of the Senate bill and then the conference process, if you tend more toward the pessimistic side, you probably agree with Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic:

If your standard for comparison is your ideal health care reform, then of course this will be disappointing. Like every bill that’s moved through Congress, this one would leave millions uninsured even after full implementation–and leave millions with coverage facing substantial, although generally not crippling, financial burdens. It would introduce some reforms to the delivery system and, according to the official cost estimates, generate budget surpluses over time. But it’s not going to radically turn American health care into a paragon of cost efficiency.

If you tend more to the optimistic side, you probably agree with Paul Krugman of The New York Times:

Let me say that I get especially, um, annoyed at people who say that the plan isn’t really covering the uninsured, it’s just forcing them to buy insurance. That’s missing not just the community rating aspect, but even more important, it’s missing the subsidies. And we’re talking about big stuff: between Medicaid expansion and further support for families above the poverty line, we’re looking at around $200 billion a year a decade from now. Yes, a fraction of that will go to insurance industry profits. But the great bulk will go to making health care affordable.

So how anyone can call a plan to spend $200 billion a year on Americans in need a defeat for progressives is a mystery.

I wish there were a public option in there; I wish there were broader access to the exchanges; I wish the subsidies were even bigger. There’s lots of work to be done, work that may eventually culminate in a true, not simulated, single payer system. But even in this form, we’re looking at something that will make America a more just, more secure nation.

If you are a Republican or Tea Party Advocate, you are most likely hoping and praying the Health Care Reform bill will suffer the fate of the Soviet Luna 15 Lunar Lander Probe that was launched three days before Apollo 11:

Luna 15, launched only three days before the historic Apollo 11 mission to the Moon, was the third Soviet attempt to recover and bring lunar soil back to Earth. The spacecraft was capable of studying circumlunar space, the lunar gravitational field, and the chemical composition of lunar rocks… After completing 86 communications sessions and 52 orbits of the Moon at various inclinations and altitudes it began its descent. Astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin had already set foot on the Moon when Luna 15 fired its main retrorocket engine to initiate descent to the surface at 15:47 UT on 21 July 1969. Unfortunately, transmissions ceased only 4 minutes after deorbit at a calculated altitude of 3 kilometers. The spacecraft impacted the lunar surface on July 21, 1969. The spacecraft had probably crashed onto the side of a mountain.   Source: Wikipedia.

Launched 3 days before Apollo 11, the USSR's unmanned Luna 15 crashed onto the Moon's surface just hours after the Eagle had safely landed with Armstrong & Aldrin on board.

I’ll give House Minority Leader, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) the final word…

Photo courtesy Politico.com & BlueStateDigital.com

No, I think I’ll give this Tea Party protester the final word.  Just like the rest of us loyal and patriotic Amurricans, life without spell-check is worse than…oh, wait, he spelled the word right.  In high school he clearly decided to protest which sections of Mrs. Dewey’s English classes were not patriotic enough, because he was getting this way-too-liberal education paid for through public taxation.  And those unacceptable sections happened to include homonyms and writing complete sentences.  I think his pointy hat needs to be cone not a tri-corner.

A Tea Party Protester: The Epitome of the Well-Educated American. Photo: ImageShack

Sniffer Report: The RNC Pulls the Trigger on the Nuclear Option to Oppose Health Care Reform—Or Maybe Not?

Sniffer Report: Revised and Updated:

Cue shrill klaxon.  “Detonation in three…two…one…Click…

If you are reading this post from my New York Times comment, “Majority Rule on Health Care Reform,” my guess is you’re madder than a hornet at my criticism of the Republicans, the Republican National Convention led by Michael Steele, and the entire congressional contingent of the GOP.

Sometimes, you write a brilliant, passionate statement, and, well, it doesn’t make it into the comments section of whatever Op-Ed to which you’re replying.  So, if you are reading this post, you’re, heavy sigh, just reading this post because you decided to visit Extreme Thinkover.  Thanks so much for that!  I also appreciate how many of my comments do get published in the New York Times Op-Ed pieces, as well as those by Paul Krugman, and other columnists.

So read what I wrote by clicking here, and then if you are madder than a hornet, etc.,  the next paragraph will make some degree of sense.

Good.  You should be mad.  Just not at me.  You see, for several months I’ve been following and analyzing the organized opposition to health care reform with a hypothesis.  I called it my “radiation sniffer” and even came up with a somewhat tongue-in-cheek image to accompany it:

The Sniffer: Ever vigilant for the tell-tale radiation signature of the nuclear device designed to kill health care reform in one massive blow.

The Sniffer: Ever vigilant for the tell-tale radiation signature of the nuclear device designed to kill health care reform in one massive blow.

The Opponents were planning to ramp up the rhetoric (little did I know how much shouting, screaming, enraged caterwauling that would really entail), and at some point, detonate the equivalent of a nuclear blast to destroy health care reform once and for all.  I’ve called it the “nuclear option.”   I assumed the GOP, in league with various elements of Big Medicine had a strategic plan, which was confirmed when Wendall Potter, former Cigna executive, described in detail how they developed and implemented exactly that.

I honestly thought finding evidence for the Nuclear Option would be tougher to ferret out.  Silly me.  What helped, however, is the proponents of health care reform are actually organized and have their own strategies for countering what the nay-sayers are putting out there.

The trick, though, has been looking for the trigger.  At first I thought it might be the whole, “killing Granny” gambit, but that had run out of steam by mid-August.  The Death Panels, a la Sarah Palin, was astonishing for the traction it got;  it was fun to say (deeeaaath paannnelll), and made a good chant for the Astro-Turfers, but I didn’t think it was the trigger.  Palin is just too much of a loose cannon to have been a key component in the Nuclear Option plan, though her rants probably helped the Opponents stay under budget on their advertising.  The whole Town Hall disruptor concept was really impressive on one level, because it covered the entire August Recess for Congress, but it got old, too, and with the exception of the wing-nuts carrying guns to presidential appearances (notice how deafeningly quiet the NRA has been on that whole thing????), even the recess-mania would have died out sooner.

The drone of the GOP representatives and senators, except when Sen. Grassley, and now Sen. Enzi, say something really inane, has become so much background noise.  Nobody’s heard anything from Boehner or McConnell in a couple of weeks.  Orrin Hatch and John McCain have been caught off guard because they had such good relationships with Teddy Kennedy, whose death from cancer, and valiant fight for life, has to have really messed up the Opponent’s playbook.  They started whining about “not politicizing” his death for Democratic advantage before the poor man’s body was even cold–that’s a clear sign of desperation.  It’s also not going to work.

Enter Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Convention.  As August has worn on, Steele has been more vocal.  But he’s got a problem.  He kind of talks with a logic that is a combination of George W. Bush and Sarah Palin, which is to say, unless he’s ticking off the predetermined talking points, he just doesn’t make very good sense.

And face it, he has gotten the whole Medicare thing tied into such a crazy knot, nobody knows what he really believes, much less what he means.  Unless the plan is to get everybody to confused: the Republicans can always claim they are right, which is certainly a possibility.  It doesn’t have to make sense, as long as you can talk in circles so circuitous people lose track of what you’re saying.  I think that’s called a shell game.  It’s great if you’re at a Penn and Teller show in Las Vegas, but if it is coming from the senior executive of a political party that can be elected to govern the country, it’s terrifying.

And now to the “Survey.”

Here’s the actual question #4:

The Worst Survey Question in the History of the World.  Courtesy of the RNC Health Reform Questionaire, August 2009.

The Worst Survey Question in the History of the World. Courtesy of the RNC Health Reform Questionnaire, August 2009.

So, is this the trigger to detonate the Nuclear Option?  Or is it a diversion thrown into the public arena by the GOP/Big Medicine operatives to pull our attention away from what really will be the blast to end all blasts?  It, of course, hit all the blogs, as well as John Stewart’s show, so if this is the trigger, whoever wrote the question will be nominated for the “Inartful Nincompoop” award by the National Association of Survey Question Writers.  It has been suggested that the government of Myanmar could use a survey question writer with exactly these skills.

Ah, but the question is: who will be revealed as having “suggested that the government would use voter registration, etc.?”

The drama is beginning to take on the scope of a Cecil B. DeMille film, only this time named “The Ten Survey Questions” with Michael Steele playing the part of Moses (now that Charlton Heston is dead–BTW, did they ever pry his gun from his cold dead hands–Has the National Enquirer cleared that up, yet?), pleading with Pharaoh Obama (this will send the birthers into fits of apoplexy; his forged birth certificate is from KENYA not EGYPT, you idiots!) to let his people go to escape the inglorious servitude and slavery to a world-standard health care, forced onto their backs by their Democratic taskmasters.

I hope they consult Google Earth before they go.  That last 40 years in the wilderness thing was a real drag.  Besides, mass migrations by 30 or 40 million Republicans with lots of guns and a big chip on their shoulders is going to have some logistic problems, let alone getting visas, parade permits for 40 million, all that stuff.  They can’t even go to Texas and secede.  The Constitution won’t allow it (I looked it up).

But here’s an idea.  Maybe the plan by the GOP/Big Medicine is to unleash ten plagues.  H1N1 already has some folks suspicious it’s a manufactured virus.  But that won’t work, because then you’d need lots of access to medical care for your own people so they’ll survive the plague (lamb’s blood over the door-casing isn’t going to work this time), and the government will have to coordinate the emergency care, and, darnit, you just have to stand on principle and oppose that.

The drama continues.  The Sniffer is working around the clock.

“The envelope please, Mr. Steele.  And the winner is…”   Click.

The Public Plan–Is Obama Capitulating or is This a Feint?

The media is all a-twitter (pun intended) over touting the demise of the Public Option in the Health Care Reform legislation, as if it were sliding toward the edge of the negotiating table ready to dribble over like a melted popcicle.  On the news I must have seen the clip where the President calls the plan just a “sliver” of the whole reform effort a dozen times.  Pundits are in full obituary mode.  Even the New York Times, a staunch supporter of the Public Option, is grief stricken.  Bob Herbert, in his column for August 18th, wrote,

The hope of a government-run insurance option is all but gone. So there will be no effective alternative for consumers in the market for health coverage, which means no competitive pressure for private insurers to rein in premiums and other charges. (Forget about the nonprofit cooperatives. That’s like sending peewee footballers up against the Super Bowl champs.)

It’s over.  The insurance companies are laughing all the way to the bank.  The clink of expensive brandy snifters raised in countless boardroom toasts is reverberating across the country.  The corporate jets are warming up on the  tarmac, ’cause it’s fiesta time for Big Medicine!

Have you heard Rep. John Boehner or Sen. Mitch McConnell whine about anything significant this week?  Have the shout-down disrupters in the Town Hall meetings gotten more strident?  Are the “experts” on Fox and CNN actually agreeing?  I even heard a PBS contributor use the term “panic” when referring to the president’s health care strategy.  Is Tom DeLay going to be on Dancing with the Stars?  I mean, if Tom DeLay “The Hammer” who almost certainly has been consulting with his Republican clients about how to kill the Public Option, has time to, well, uh, trip the light fantastic  on national TV, can there be any hope?  UPDATE: Chris Matthews, host of  “Hardball”  just named DeLay, “Twinkle Toes.”  I’m not kidding–check the transcript on MSNBC  for 8/18.

Hmm.   Well, I’m suspicious.  You see, in the days before the election (when Extreme Thinkover was still in its infancy) I posted a blog stating one of the most difficult things Americans would have to come to terms with, if Barack Obama won, would be the presence of a very smart president as president:

Make no mistake, this will be a shock to Americans if Barack Obama is elected, not because he is African-American, a Democrat, a liberal, or in the eyes of some, the Anti-Christ, but because he is smart.  That’s right, I said it plain and simple.  Barack Obama is a smart person, well educated, and has an intrinsic capacity for deep analytical thinking.

Now, I knew this would be a shock to Republicans, who had basked in George Bush’s inability to compose a coherent sentence, and Dick Cheney’s ability to snarl his victims into stone-like fear for the past eight years.  I, however, underestimated how much of a shock this would be to Democrats, who voted for Obama.  But I admit now that the Democrats in Congress are as much in shock.  They can’t seem to figure out to do with their success, AND a president that thinks complex thoughts and speaks, well, college-level English.

Back to health care reform.  I’m just thinking.  Why would a really smart politician like Barack Obama just waffle around on one of the key ideas of his health care plan?  Yes, I know, he can’t control all the political variables, and having majorities in both houses of Congress takes a while to get the kinks worked out.

So, is the dust-up over the Public Option the result of an inexperienced president, a disorganized president, a whatever president–panicked, sold out, capitulating?

Like John Stewart said, “I can’t tell if you’re a Jedi and ten steps ahead of this thing?”

Or maybe is this president well aware of this game of chess played on a shifting, multi-dimensional board, with changing rules and players, and working out his strategies many moves in advance, letting the different gambits and forays play themselves out, knowing full well what his end game will be and when to pull that trigger?

Capitulation or a calculated feint by a very smart man, who happens to hold the highest office in the land and is determined to get what he wants?

My take: Jedi Master and the Public Option: Yes.

Now is the Time: My Message to President Obama

President Obama, as part of his commitment to secure health care reform published an op-ed piece today in the New York Times, “Why We Need Health Care Reform,” laying out for the American people, and perhaps the world, the case for change.  I am a regular comment contributor to New York Times Op-Ed columns and below you will find the text of my comment.

I ended my comment with the statement: “Now is the time.”  There are times in the history of a nation, that certain reforms, regardless of the opposition, and, yes, even despite the fears of some must be overcome and guaranteed for all as part of the Common Good.  One of those times was the Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery.  One of those times was the ratification of the 19th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States granting women the right to vote.  One of those times was Brown v. The Board of Education decision of the United States Supreme Court that revolutionized equality in education for all U. S. citizens.  Many more could be mentioned.

Now is the time for health care to be added to those moments of sublime national change, to join those great reforms, cast as the finest, hardest steel into our Nation of Laws as an inalienable right and an eternal Blessing of Liberty.

Mr. President,

I work in health care, as a hospital chaplain, and I could give you a thousand more stories of real people whose lives have suffered and through their loss of quality of life and productivity America has suffered, simply because they could not afford health care.  I am blessed to work for a non-profit hospital system that treats every person who comes to us, but this is a burden that cannot be sustained.

I support health care reform, universal coverage, and the complete overhaul of our broken and unjust system.  I believe that health care is a constitutional right, just as freedom from slavery, women’s suffrage, and equality in education has become enshrined among the “Blessings of Liberty.”

I urge you to be courageous and strong to fight for every American’s right to medical care, as a blessing of Liberty that will build a foundation for a healthy America into the future.  Now is the time!