Archive for August, 2009

government by lobby

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

It looks like health care reform is headed for the rocks. I dunno, maybe they’ll patch some bogus thing together along the lines of the credit card reform bill, and call it a day. It’s disappointing, but sadly enough is to be expected. It doesn’t matter that before the giant Wurlitzer got cranked up fully 76% of the American people thought health care reform was something desirable – or that similar majorities think the war in Iraq was a waste of time, with the war in Afghanistan also following suit.

Both policies continue on unabated by popular public opinion because in both cases, the policies are being legislated not so much by the representatives, but by the lobby industry. Last year alone special interests spent over 3 billion dollars on lobbyists – more than than any year on record. There are currently now over 35,000 lobbyists working in Babylon on the Potomac – more than any year on record. Almost a full half (43%) of legislators that leave government take up employment as lobbyists. Not bad considering that we’re experiencing the worst economic conditions since the great depression, as government service is transformed into into a revolving door business enterprise. That has not only managed to solicit a copious river of money – with over 500 million washing over the capital from the health care industry alone, and over 50 million going directly into their individual campaigns (in 2008) – but have also devised a system insuring future employment working the same set of connections and influence from the other side.

From this perspective, government is simply the facilitator and mediator of the needs of business, industry, and finance who receive legislation pre-conceived and written by them to be worked out in the details of compromise in caucus and committee. For which they are rewarded with money and more money in the future. Where the functional success, benefit to constituents, or moral imperatives of the legislation are simplistic incidentals. It doesn’t matter whether 50 million Americans are at grave risk without access to health care, the local economies are in collapse, or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan go on forever, as long as the people wielding the real power are satisfied.

In the end it doesn’t have to make any sense.

Because it is the project of the spectacle to churn out an endless conveyor belt of neologisms and narratives designed to make it appear to make sense.

Update:

Jane Hamshire at FDL has a health care post that reveals a new AARP poll, that says 78% of Americans would like to be able to purchase health care from the government, should they not be able to afford it from private insurers – the so called “Public Plan”.

The post then goes on to quote parts of a relevant Malcom X speech – “Don’t Be a Chump” – in part:

“…..These Northern Democrats are in cahoots with the Southern Democrats. They’re playing a giant con game, a political con game. You know how it goes. One of them — One of them comes to you and makes believe he’s for you, and he’s in cahoots with the other one that’s not for you. Why? Because neither one of them is for you, but they got to make you go with one of them or the other. So this is a con game. And this is what they’ve been doing with you and me all these years……”

five myths about healthcare from around the world

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Five Myths About Healthcare From Around the World from The Washington Post. Read it and weep.

Bageant & Debord#2

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

In thinking about the Bageant/Debord connection some more, a couple things come to mind. Bageant, following Debord, states that “ideology has utterly triumphed and has built itself a home inside our consciousness whence it operates now as our reality” – as if to explain a failure of American willpower to address the problems it is now faced with. In the Society of Spectacle (SoS) # 6 Debord encapsulates the overview as:

6

Understood in its totality, the spectacle is both the result and the project of the dominant mode of production. It is not a mere decoration added to the real world. It is the very heart of this real society’s unreality. In all of its particular manifestations — news, propaganda, advertising, entertainment — the spectacle represents the dominant model of life. It is the omnipresent affirmation of the choices that have already been made in the sphere of production and in the consumption implied by that production. In both form and content the spectacle serves as a total justification of the conditions and goals of the existing system. The spectacle also represents the constant presence of this justification since it monopolizes the majority of the time spent outside the production process.

It strikes me here, that the notion of a SoS as so condensed, is intrinsically more applicable to American society, even though its origins were in 60’s era Europe, and in spite of the fact that SoS was intended to broad brush all late capitalist states (along with flagging Eastern European communist states). Since the time of publication of SoS, the U.S.A. has come to along way in promoting its role as the dominate mode of production of evolving (or devolving) capitalism – especially with regards to globalization and all its net effects of financial deregulation, offshoring, and wars supporting economic hegemony. And while its particular manifestations – news, propaganda, advertising, and entertainment, have also been cutting edge, its has also appropriated to a large degree the politicization of science, education, and spiritual and family life. In the U.S. the notion of SoS has if anything, become even more pervasive, and more debilitating, than anything imagined in the Europe of 1967.

Why would the overt symptoms of SoS be more prevalent in the U.S. than Europe cica 1967 or even 2009? Because unlike Europe we Americans are exceptional. As I tried to explain in American exceptionalism #6 overlap, it is the whole hearted embrace, across party lines, of the dominance of the economic network that sets the U.S. apart from anyplace else on the planet. We have become the embodiment of the economic network and have absorbed intrinsically its ethos, ethics, and morality down to the personal level – we have been reduced in effect to mini corporations ourselves, where corporate identification has been personified and individualized into a model of life. Where all attempts to normalize real social cohesion and trust have been replaced by competition or anxiety, especially with regards to a profound suspicion of government. The problem of course, is that in a society hallmarked with a winner take all corporate morality (or lack thereof) we’ve all become losers, because, unwittingly we’ve already internalized the possibility that the choices have already been made in the sphere of production and in the consumption implied by that production.

So on the bright side though, in the new feudal society we’ve “innately” and already signed on to, we’ll probably have virtually no government interference in our lives and pay very little in taxes.

It should be no mystery how the Medieval church lured the peasant class into donating, whatever small fortune they managed to accumulate from a life of toil, for an official sanctified place in heaven.

Or to quote Debord #23 once again:

23

The root of the spectacle is that oldest of all social specializations, the specialization of power. The spectacle plays the specialized role of speaking in the name of all the other activities. It is hierarchical society’s ambassador to itself, delivering its official messages at a court where no one else is allowed to speak. The most modern aspect of the spectacle is thus also the most archaic.

joe bageant & guy debord

Friday, August 21st, 2009

One of my favorite cultural sages, Joe Bageant, has a worthy post up on the health care media circus entitled The Entertainment Value of Snuffing Grandma. What caught my attention in this essay, aside from the usual wit and cultural insight, was his open reference to Guy Debord’s 1967 essay, Society of Spectacle. For some time now Bageant has been paralleling a Debordian interpretation in his essays, usually using the “hologram” metaphor in place of spectacle. The above passage here:

To steal a page from Guy Debord, society has become ideology. We live in an antidialectical false consciousness, imposed at every moment on everyday life as spectacle. We are held in thrall. Our faculty of ordinary encounter has been systematically broken down. In its place we now have our unique social hallucination. Never do we encounter anything directly, yet we get the illusion of encounter. This includes encounter with each other. Anyone who lives in meatspace with his or her fellow Americans could not deny 57 million of them health. In this society no one is any longer capable of recognizing anyone else. Instead, we see others as the screamers at the town hall meetings, or as communists who want to give free healthcare to illegals and establish death panels. Or as Christian fundamentalists, or as liberals or conservatives. Or as celebrities or as nobodies.

But most importantly, whenever we must reach any significant agreement as human beings, whether it be about something as globally insignificant as U.S. domestic policy (we are only 6% of the world population, and though it hasn’t soaked in yet to most Americans, we’re also broke and owe the Chinese loan shark a wad) or as significant as global warming, we immediately cede the field to ideology. We simply don’t know how to do anything else.

Ideology has utterly triumphed. It has separated us from ourselves and built itself a home inside our consciousness, from whence it operates now as our reality. There is no going back, only forward. Given that we are a nation of children who prefer to close our eyes and make a hopeful wish with Tinkerbelle, rather than give hope the piss test, then let us hope to high hell. We may as well go for broke. So let us hope that, in going forward, new and unforeseen developments in the national consciousness occur. Developments that offer an escape from this one so deeply colonized by the corpo-political machinery we created — and which in turn recreated us. One that will break us loose from enthrallment.

Of course Debords most important (and amazingly prescient) observation – that “modern society” has evolved away (for specific reasons) from actual experience and actual social interaction which are then replaced with representations, creating in the process what he calls a social culture of “separation” – is taken up by Bageant to explain how we are then so easily manipulated by images and representations, which we have no control over, and have as a consequence, become unable to make proper decisions even when they concern our own practical self interests.

Also: The films by Guy Debord have been recently been released on line HERE, including Society of Spectacle in two parts with English translation.

guns and politics

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

Today in Phoenix Arizona where Barack Obama was to give a speech, there were 12 men sighted in a (protest) crowd that were openly carrying guns, two of which were AR-15 assault rifles. This is the third time in the last week that open carry guns were reported seen in the crowds outside an Obama event. The first time this happened was at a New Hampshire event where the a man was also carrying a sign that referred to to a quote by Jefferson that said the tree of liberty must at times be watered by the blood of tyrants and patriots.

My first impression of that initial event was that it signaled an significant escalation in the trend of vocally disrupting civic meetings between government representatives and their constituents. The point of the disruption is not to express an alternative opinion, but to stop the meetings from developing any coherent consensus between the participants, along with creating a media event over the failure to reach any consensus or agreement.

This is basically an effort to intimidate the participants rather than to inform them. And if the project is intimidation, it’s logical that it will eventually escalate according to its own rules (as opposed to say, devising a more convincing argument) which is to escalate toward violence or the threat of violence. What the gun man in New Hampshire represented was not so much as to pose a threat to the president (although that is part of it) but to present a heightened example of intimidation toward those that might support or seek resolution through normal political process. To show the way.

Make no mistake, this follows only one template in history and that is the politics of brown shirt fascism – the disruption and disabling of normal political process by violence that creates in turn, a dysfunctional government that can be seized upon later in the name of redemption and order.

What happens when the red side of the street attracts not “just” a couple of, but hundreds of gun toting zealots along with every imaginable wacko and loony attracted to, and usually precipitating, a predictable won-ton outbreak of violence?

This possibility is now definitely in the cards.

300 million used car salesmen

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

Via Digby, I see this post from Southern Beale on the pinheaded notion, spread by Sarah Palin, that if we pass health care legislation it will automatically come with bureaucratic “death panels” that will lord over who lives and who dies. SB’s story, apparently rendered from wrenching personal experience, inadvertently makes an analogous point when the issues of government power and taxes are considered in the same light:

You have no idea what it’s like to be called into a sterile conference room with a hospital administrator you’ve never met before and be told that your mother’s insurance policy will only pay for 30 days in ICU. You can’t imagine what it’s like to be advised that you need to “make some decisions,” like whether your mother should be released “HTD” which is hospital parlance for “home to die,” or if you want to pay out of pocket to keep her in the ICU another week. And when you ask how much that would cost you are given a number so impossibly large that you realize there really are no decisions to make. The decision has been made for you. “Living will” or no, it doesn’t matter. The bank account and the insurance policy have trumped any legal document.

If this isn’t a “death panel” I don’t know what is.

The thing is, and for some reason Americans in particular (some might say this is “exceptionally” so) have an overinflated blind spot when the notion of government is concerned. What the story really illustrates is the simple fact that when the role of government power is acquiesced or deferred, other networks of power will fill the void to their advantage, and often to the expense of the others. This case shows quite clearly that when government defers any role in health care delivery, the corporate health care industry itself will determine the standards of how its service is delivered, to whom, and at what price without regulation or oversight. The notion that real and actual death panels (as opposed to fictitious ones) take place in hospital everywhere everyday as a consequence of Wall Street doing business in health care is nothing less than the domestic variant of what Hannah Arendt called the “banality of evil”. Apparently, the morality of the issue becomes a droll non-issue if it should happen as a consequence in the course of doing business. But, should government become involved, then any hair brained fantasy is suddenly invented and trumpeted as a dire (or “gathering”) moral threat to the nation.

This bassackward sort of reasoning should come as no surprise, as it is pervasive in our society. The same thing can be said in virtually every other sector where business comes into contact with government. For instance, many people that hate government intervention in business also hate taxation but have no problem when government fails to regulate regulate commerce and they pay the difference in higher prices. Recently, higher prices of gasoline – at a time when demand is down and supply is up – is the direct result of the governments failure to regulate speculation in the oil markets and prices at the pump are up 50%. For some reason this kind of price gouging is acceptable and people are willing to pay more, but if the government were to add a new gas tax that resulted in a similar inflation in price, people would think that big brother has finally taken over and the end was near.

The point here is that people naturally gravitate their efforts into various social networks that exercise power. The government and it’s ideological slant is one of these (major) networks as is the military complex, the economic infrastructure, and the religious/spiritual network. Ideally, the government should be the mediating force between the other respective networks, and in a democracy, should be responsive above all to the general needs of (all) the people it represents. And it shouldn’t be reduced to a simple facilitator of power to any of the other networks, because when it does it is simply deferring its power to the others, along with the ethics and morality and ledger sheets that characterize them. If you live in a country where religion is the primary power the other networks will likely be subservient and there will be little incentive for either economic growth, military adventure, or liberal culture. If you live in a country where the economic trumps all, look for economic hegemony underwritten by imperial war making facilitated by a corrupt political establishment with a suspicious, contradictory, and corporate sense of morality.

And lower taxes.

League of the Righteous Brothers

Saturday, August 8th, 2009

Gareth Porter has an provocative post up at Antiwar.com in which he views the recent agreement between the Maliki administration and the Shiite insurgent group “League of the Righteous”, that formally ends the groups armed resistance to the regime that:

This deals a final blow to the U.S. military’s narrative of an Iranian “proxy war” in Iraq.

Because:

The U.S. command in Iraq has long argued that Iran was using “special groups” of Shi’a insurgents who had broken away from cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army to destabilize the U.S.-supported Iraqi regime — but pro-Iranian groups were weakened by U.S. military pressures throughout 2007 and defeated by the Maliki regime in 2008.

The history of the new agreement confirms what was evident from existing evidence: the “League of the Righteous” was actually the underground wing of the Mahdi Army all along, and the Sadrist insurgents were secretly working closely with the Maliki regime against the Americans and the British — even as it was at war with armed elements within the regime.

The contradictory nature of the relationship between Maliki and the Sadrists reflects the tensions between pro-Sadrist elements within the regime — including Maliki’s Da’wa Party — and the anti-Sadrist elements led by the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

But more importantly though, he goes on to outline the contradictory nature between the Maliki administration and the U.S. occupation forces during that time, which eventually culminated in first, the SOFA agreement that set a hard deadline for the U.S. withdrawal that then set the stage for the big Maliki win in the subsequent election cycle that recast Maliki as a popular nationalist:

The relationship between Maliki and the U.S. was also marked by contradictions. Even through he was ostensibly cooperating with the U.S. against the Sadrists in 2007 and 2008, the Maliki regime was also cooperating secretly with the Sadrist forces against the Americans. And Maliki — with the encouragement of Iran — was working on a strategy for achieving the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq through diplomatic means, which he did not reveal to the Americans until summer 2008.

While I think Porter’s assertion is fundamentally correct, I think it overlooks some larger implications, which if true, are indicative of how the Maliki administration in coordination with Mqutada al-Sadr, gamed the the Bush administration into a diplomatic victory for Iraq, when a simple insurgent military victory was out of reach given the complicated sectarian context.

As I duly noted in the Iraqi Election Postscript post, was what was rather amazing about that election was, that literally minutes after Maliki’s victory in that election, his administration immediatly formed a political alliance with the Sadr organization. While most ignored this development, or some saw it at best, as a sort of self admission of Sadr’s falling star, following as it did, months of seemingly brutal U.S./ISF coordinated attacks on his organization – it struck me as a particularly suspicious turn of events, but a turn nonetheless had a certain logic in that it also just happened to honor all of Sadr’s basic political demands. Most specifically, the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraqi soil.

As Porter indicates, the release of Sadr’s lieutenants blows away the (U.S.) myth of the so called “special groups” as working for Iranian interests, when in fact, they were connected to the Mahdi Army all along and working it would seem, in some un-official capacity with the Maliki administration that ultimately created a grand illusion that fulfilled the occupations expectations – in order to shatter them at a later date on the diplomatic front with the expulsion of the occupation by decree.

What I’m saying is that throughout the entire roll up of Sadr’s movement there was a tacit/secret agreement between him and Maliki that would both create the appearance of Iranian military influence (and bolster U.S. justifications and confidence in Maliki), that would then lead to a roll up of said Shiite insurgency that would in turn, lay the foundation for the occupations irrelevancy to the security of Iraq (and thus, disarming U.S. justifications), that in turn would permit a stringent SOFA to be negotiated in Maliki/Sadr’s favor, that could be backed up by the Mahdi Army (if need be), that would finally set the stage for Maliki to consolidate power in the election. Power that would in the end, be in total synchrony to Muqtada al-Sadr’s vision of Iraq.

sign of the time

Friday, August 7th, 2009

2009, 20″ x 32″ x 2″, oil paint on wood