Tuesday, October 22, 2013

How Would We Report on the Shutdown if It Happened in Another Country?

Well, after a (thankfully) paid vacation of uncertain duration thanks to Congress's foolishness, I'm happily back to work. I've got one more post about the shutdown I want to share before turning to other things.

Namely, an awesome piece by Joshua Keating at Slate, which I'll post in full here, because it is just that awesome:
WASHINGTON, United States—The typical signs of state failure aren’t evident on the streets of this sleepy capital city. Beret-wearing colonels have not yet taken to the airwaves to declare martial law. Money-changers are not yet buying stacks of useless greenbacks on the street.
But the pleasant autumn weather disguises a government teetering on the brink. Because, at midnight Monday night, the government of this intensely proud and nationalistic people will shut down, a drastic sign of political dysfunction in this moribund republic.
The capital’s rival clans find themselves at an impasse, unable to agree on a measure that will allow the American state to carry out its most basic functions. While the factions have come close to such a shutdown before, opponents of President Barack Obama’s embattled regime now appear prepared to allow the government to be shuttered over opposition to a controversial plan intended to bring the nation’s health care system in line with international standards.
Six years into his rule, Obama’s position can appear confusing, even contradictory. Though the executive retains control of the country’s powerful intelligence service, capable of the extrajudicial execution of the regime’s opponents half a world away, the president’s efforts to govern domestically have been stymied in the legislature by an extremist rump faction of the main opposition party.
The current rebellion has been led by Sen. Ted Cruz, a young fundamentalist lawmaker from the restive Texas region, known in the past as a hotbed of separatist activity. Activity in the legislature ground to a halt last week for a full day as Cruz insisted on performing a time-honored American demonstration of stamina and self-denial, which involved speaking for 21 hours, quoting liberally from science fiction films and children’s books. The gesture drew wide media attention, though its political purpose was unclear to outsiders.
With hours remaining until the government of the world’s richest nation runs out of money, attention now focuses on longtime opposition leader John Boehner, under pressure from both the regime and the radical elements of his own movement, who may be the only political figure with the standing needed to end the standoff.
While the country’s most recent elections were generally considered to be free and fair (despite threats against international observers), the current crisis has raised questions in the international community about the regime’s ability to govern this complex nation of 300 million people, not to mention its vast stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.
Americans themselves are starting to ask difficult questions as well. As this correspondent’s cab driver put it, while driving down the poorly maintained roads that lead from the airport, “Do these guys have any idea what they’re doing to the country?”
No, rhetorical taxi cab driver - unfortunately, the radical faction in the Republican party doesn't have any idea about anything.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Modern Republican Party Isn't Conservative; It's a Pack of Vandals

Whelp, I'm still furloughed, but at least I'm getting out of DC for a few days. Best of luck to all of you staying in DC in the unlikely event that DC is blockaded by crazy right-wing truckers - thank God I'm flying out of town.

Anyway, to the meat of today's post:

This piece by Andrew Sullivan is one of the better pieces I've read that calls the extremism of today's Republican party what it is - constitutional vandalism, not conservatism. I recommend reading the whole piece, but here's the central part:
Even though [Obamacare] is almost identical to that of their last presidential nominee’s in Massachusetts, the GOP is prepared to destroy both the American government and the global economy to stop it. They see it, it seems to me, as both some kind of profound attack on the Constitution (something even Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts viewed as a step too far) and, in some inchoate way, as a racial hand-out, however preposterous that is. And that is at the core of the recklessness behind this attack on the US – or at least my best attempt to understand something that has long since gone beyond reason. This is the point of no return – a black president doing something for black citizens (even though the vast majority of beneficiaries of Obamacare will be non-black).
I regard this development as one of the more insidious and anti-constitutional acts of racist vandalism against the American republic in my adult lifetime. Those who keep talking as if there are two sides to this, when there are not, are as much a part of the vandalism as Ted Cruz. Obama has played punctiliously by the constitutional rules – two elections, one court case – while the GOP has decided that the rules are for dummies and suckers, and throws over the board game as soon as it looks as if it is going to lose by the rules as they have always applied.
The president must therefore hold absolutely firm. This time, there can be no compromise because the GOP isn’t offering any. They’re offering the kind of constitutional surrender that would effectively end any routine operation of the American government. If we cave to their madness, we may unravel our system of government, something one might have thought conservatives would have opposed. Except these people are not conservatives. They’re vandals.
This time, the elephant must go down. And if possible, it must be so wounded it does not get up for a long time to come.
Indeed - today's Republican Party may be lots of things, but it's certainly not conservative - true conservatives don't shut down the government, they don't try to vandalize the ideals of the Constitution, and they don't risk the full faith and credit of the United States to try to undo a law passed by Congress, signed by the President, affirmed by a Presidential election, and upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court.

That's not conservative - that's dangerously radical extremism. It is, quite literally, an attempt to dismantle majority rule in this country - an attempt that is an existential threat to the functioning of our democracy. If anyone tries to tell you anything differently, they're either knowingly lying to you, or they have no idea what they're talking about.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Nobody Cares That 12 People Were Murdered In My Neighborhood 3 Weeks Ago

Oh, suck it up, you crybabies - nobody gives a shit about your murdered mom, dad,
brother, sister, or whoever it was. Get over it, already - the rest of us certainly have!

I just figured I should remind everyone out there that, three weeks ago today, 12 people were murdered in my neighborhood over at the Navy Yard.

You've probably forgotten, but a crazy dude who worked as a government security contractor used his security credentials to get into the building and started shooting people. A lot of people. Just a few blocks from my house.

I was in Toronto at the time, so I didn't live through all of the (astoundingly short-lived) insanity that followed. I have been rather shocked, however, at how quickly everyone seems to have forgotten about such a high-profile mass shooting in the nation's capital, less than 2 miles from the Capitol Building.

Have we really become so desensitized to the spectacle of mass shootings that we just don't care anymore? That we expect them to happen?

Perhaps we are - after all, depending on how one counts, the US might experience as many as one mass shooting PER DAY. Obviously, not all of those can make the national news - otherwise, there would be almost no time for anything but mass shootings on the news, and the news simply must make adequate room for celebrity gossip, mindlessly talking heads, and pointless back-and-forth between partisan hacks.

Furthermore, the US is alone in the number of mass shootings it experiences. 15 of the 25 worst mass shootings in the past 50 years have happened in the United States (although that list was before Navy Yard, so we're almost certainly up to at least 16 of 25); Finland is in second place with 2.

This blog has also been guilty of growing weary of mass shootings - I didn't even bother to write about the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in Newtown, CT, in which 20 children were killed. I was tired about writing about mass killings myself - after all, I blogged about the Tuscon shooting (twice), about the Batman movie massacre, and about the Sikh temple massacre - and I just didn't have it in me to write yet another "I told you so" post about mass shootings in 2012.

If 20 dead kids aren't enough to make the US get serious about decreasing the number of gun deaths, 12 murdered adult federal employees certainly won't move the needle of public or Congressional opinion.

There have been plenty of mass shootings in 2013 to write about, but I haven't written about any of those either. However, since this mass shooting happened just a few blocks away, I figured I'd break out my old explanation of why we will continue to see more and more mass shootings - it's inevitable, and it's just a matter of time.

Mass shootings like this are inevitable in the United States due to the combination of two simple facts:
  • the mental health system in this country sucks. The Navy Yard shooter was obviously seriously disturbed, but for some reason, he didn't get the help he needed - in fact, he even secured employment with a federal security contractor.
  • as a country, we have decided that citizens should have access to practically unlimited quantities of assault weapons and ammunition. We don't even regulate guns as seriously as we regulate toys.
If you combine those two facts, it is not hard to conclude that massacres like the Navy Yard shooting, the Sandy Hook massacre, the Batman Movie Massacre, Tuscon, etc. are inevitable. We are a big country with lots of people, and a tiny fraction of those people are batsh*t crazy. If you give batsh*t crazy people access to assault weapons, this country will occasionally face massacres like this one in the Navy Yard - it's a statistical inevitability. So, unless the U.S. wants to completely change its approach to mental health and/or assault weapons in the hands of citizens, we are just going to have to get used to paying the price of the semi-regular massacre. Since the U.S. is a pretty violent society, I'm guessing that we'll just stick with the status quo and act "shocked, shocked I tell you" when things like this happen, even though a quick statistical analysis demonstrates that massacres like this are inevitable.

The shooting in the Navy Yard, was a definitely a senseless tragedy, but I'm not shocked now, and I'm not going to be shocked when this happens again somewhere else in the U.S. None of these mass shooters are special or unique - I'm sure there are many (hundreds? thousands?) of people alarmingly similar to them out there. As mentioned above, mass shootings are becoming horrifically banal - the U.S. has averaged at least one high-profile mass shooting each year since 2005, while the US might experience as many as one mass shooting PER DAY - it's just that only one per year usually becomes a media sensation.

You heard it here first, folks - more mass shootings are coming. They're a statistical inevitability, unless the U.S. decides that it wants to do something about preventing its citizens from owning semiautomatic assault weapons and about providing effective mental health care to all its citizens. So, to all you future mass murders out there - you're not going to shock and surprise me, as sad as that sounds.

Oh, and we the public don't care about the mass shootings or mass shooting victims either - unless it happens to us or someone we know, of course. So suck it up and shut up, you friends and family of people killed in mass shootings, and you'd sure as hell not suggest that we need to change our approach to either mental health or gun control. That's just playing politics with a tragedy, don't you know? Just ask the Republicans - they'll explain it all to you.

Sigh ... I just hope that neither I nor anyone I know have the rotten luck to be caught in any of your upcoming massacres. What rotten luck that would be.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Mainstream Media Coverage of the Shutdown Is Predictably Moronic and Terrible

James Fallows over at The Atlantic has an excellent take-down of the predictably moronic and terrible coverage of the shutdown by the mainstream media.

Much of the mainstream media coverage of the shutdown is the stupid "he-said, she-said" coverage that the media has offered for the past ... couple of decades. Unfortunately, what the Republican Party has said over the past couple of decades has become increasingly unhinged from reality, with the mainstream media seemingly incapable of calling out the Republicans out on their blatant falsehoods.

So it goes again with the shutdown, which is not "Washington gridlock," "dysfunction," or anything else like that. Rather,
we have a faction making historically unprecedented demands -- give us everything, or we stop the government and potentially renege on the national debt. And it is doing so less than a year after its party lost the presidency, lost the Senate (and lost ground there), and held onto the House in part because of rotten-borough distortions [i.e., vicious gerrymandering].

You can call this a lot of things, but "gridlock" should not be one of them. And you can fault many aspects of the President's response -- when it comes to debt-default, I think he has to stick to the "no negotiations with terrorists" hard line. But you shouldn't pretend that if he had been more "reasonable" or charming he could placate a group whose goal is the undoing of his time in office.
The real question now is what Boehner, McConnell, et al. can do about their hard-liners. A lot depends, for Americans and many others, on their success or failure.
Yes - unfortunately, a lot depends on Boehner and McConnell being able to reign in the Republican crazies, which they have not yet proven able to do.

And subsequently, the Republican Party has not proven that it is able to govern a country. We'll hope that the voters remember this in 2014.

Post-draft addendum: Also from James Fallows, we have a guide on recognizing and criticizing false equivalence in the mainstream media in the days (I hope not weeks and months) ahead:
Two big examples of problematic self-government are upon us. They are of course the possible partial shutdown of the federal government, following the long-running hamstringing of public functions via "the sequester"; and a possible vote not to raise the federal debt ceiling, which would create the prospect of a default on U.S. Treasury debt.

The details are complicated, but please don't lose sight of these three essential points:
  • As a matter of substance, constant-shutdown, permanent-emergency governance is so destructive that no other serious country engages in or could tolerate it. The United States can afford it only because we are -- still -- so rich, with so much margin for waste and error. Details on this and other items below.*
  • As a matter of politics, this is different from anything we learned about in classrooms or expected until the past few years. We're used to thinking that the most important disagreements are between the major parties, not within one party; and that disagreements over policies, goals, tactics can be addressed by negotiation or compromise.

    This time, the fight that matters is within the Republican party, and that fight is over whether compromise itself is legitimate.** Outsiders to this struggle -- the president and his administration, Democratic legislators as a group, voters or "opinion leaders" outside the generally safe districts that elected the new House majority -- have essentially no leverage over the outcome. I can't recall any situation like this in my own experience, and the only even-approximate historic parallel (with obvious differences) is the inability of Northern/free-state opinion to affect the debate within the slave-state South from the 1840s onward. Nor is there a conceivable "compromise" the Democrats could offer that would placate the other side.
  • As a matter of journalism, any story that presents the disagreements as a "standoff," a "showdown," a "failure of leadership," a sign of "partisan gridlock," or any of the other usual terms for political disagreement, represents a failure of journalism*** and an inability to see or describe what is going on. For instance: the "dig in their heels" headline you see below, which is from a proprietary newsletter I read this morning, and about which I am leaving off the identifying details.

    This isn't "gridlock." It is a ferocious struggle within one party, between its traditionalists and its radical factions, with results that unfortunately can harm all the rest of us -- and, should there be a debt default, could harm the rest of the world too. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Republicans In Congress Are Literally Killing Children Who Have Cancer

It used to be that Congress just killed children through inaction on guns. Now, the Republicans in Congress
have decided to start killing children more directly.

Sure, there have already been a lot of consequences to the government shut down:
  • Yours Truly is furloughed without pay, along with 800,000 of my best federal government employee friends
  • The National Zoo Pandacam is down
  • National parks, monuments, and museums are closed (WILL NO ONE THINK OF THE TOURISTS?!?)
But this tidbit (from the Wall Street Journal, of all places) might be the worst consequence of the shutdown I've yet come across, however:
At the National Institutes of Health, nearly three-quarters of the staff was furloughed. One result: director Francis Collins said about 200 patients who otherwise would be admitted to the NIH Clinical Center into clinical trials each week will be turned away. This includes about 30 children, most of them cancer patients, he said.
Yup - the Republicans in Congress are now killing children who have cancer, in order to try to prevent poor people from getting health care coverage (i.e., "defund Obamacare").

Way to go, guys and (few) gals - hope you're proud of yourselves.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

F#@k Congress. Specifically, F#@k Republicans in Congress. Every Single One.

This is me, today.

Well, it happened - Congress, specifically the Republican fuck-nuts in Congress, have proven themselves utterly unfit to govern and have forced the government to shut down.

Fuck them, the fuckers.

After spending a rather bizarre morning doing my part to shut down the largest organization on the planet, I'm now one of the approximately 800,000 federal government employees who were sent home today, to sit around with my hands in my pants, waiting for Congress to deign to do their jobs and pass some sort of spending resolution.

On the bright side, this means that I have some extra time on my hands - so, I'll be looking to catch up on a few projects around the house and in the Interwebz, catch up on my TV show backlog (I still have a few episodes of Dexter and Breaking Bad to watch before I get to the finales), and catch up on blogging a bit.

Speaking of, I apologize for the saltiness of this post - I just needed to rant a bit. I promise that subsequent posts will return to my usual level of refinement and thoughtfulness. I also apologize for the blogging break I've been on - I took a family vacation to Toronto, and I then came back to a 4-6 month promotion at work, so I had to seriously hit the ground running ... for a week. Then the past couple days have been full of shutting down the government. I guess the Republicans were so terrified at the prospect of me being a middle manager in the federal government that they couldn't tolerate the thought of it for more than a week.

Such idiocy - but that's Congress. Specifically, the Republicans in Congress.

Anyway, more thoughts (and more intelligent thoughts) tomorrow.