Let me tell you now: it is still morning in America. It just happens to be kind of a head-pounding-hung-over-vomiting-for-four-hours kind of morning in America. And it’s shaping up to be kind of a nasty day, but it’s still morning in America.
In this week’s Sift:
- The Health-Care Reform Endgame. Bipartisanship is dead, but the Democrats can pass reform on their own. It gets more complicated than your civics teacher ever described, but it’s possible. Plus: some historical perspective on how this fits into the long-term breakdown of the gentlemen’s agreements that used to keep Congress on track — closing with the image of heads on spikes.
- The Next Time You’re in the Bookstore … look for The Long Descent by John Michael Greer. Because if you can learn to think reasonably about the end of civilization as we have known it, everything else should be a snap.
- Short Notes. Speaking of heads on spikes, Digby starts fantasizing about guillotines. Drinking While Brown is a crime in Texas. Vote Whig! Glenn Beck explains why businessmen deserve our sympathy more than the people they fire, making Bill O’Reilly sound reasonable by comparison. And more.
Here’s where we are on health-care reform: The House and Senate each passed similar bills some while ago, but they’re not identical. In the basic-civics, how-a-bill-becomes-law process, a conference committee with members from both houses would iron out the differences, so that the identical bills could be re-passed in both houses. That course has been blocked by the Scott Brown election, because now the Republicans have the 41 votes they need to support a filibuster if a conference-committee bill comes back to the Senate.
From there it might go like this: The House passes the Senate bill with the promise that the Senate will agree to the fixes outlined in the Obama plan. The Senate bill becomes law, but before it takes effect it is fixed by a second bill.
Using the budget reconciliation procedure to pass health-care reform would be unprecedented because Congress has never used it to adopt major, substantive policy change. The Senate’s health bill is without question such a change: It would fundamentally alter one-fifth of our economy.
Frist ignores one basic fact: The Senate already passed health-care reform without reconciliation. So nobody is talking about “using the budget reconciliation procedure to pass health-care reform.” Reconciliation would just be used for the second bill, the small number of changes necessary to fulfill a deal with the House. And that’s not unprecedented at all.
That’s the legislative nitty-gritty. Now let’s back up and get some context. The bigger picture of what is going on is this: For decades, the conventions, traditions, and gentlemen’s agreements that made Congress work smoothly have been breaking down, with the result that more and more things happen strictly according to the rules — as power plays, in other words.
Reconciliation is an ungentlemanly solution to the filibuster problem, a power play. But again, no rules are being broken. And the alternative is what? To accept that Republicans can do anything within their power, but Democrats have to be good sports?
Most embarrassing line of the health-care summit: Eric Cantor talks about “people who are allegedly wronged by our health-care system”. Allegedly?
Glenn Beck’s CPAC speech is worth a look, if you want to understand where a lot of people are coming from:
We believe in the right of the individual. We believe in the right, you can speak out, you can disagree with me, you can make your own path. But I’m not going to pay for your mistakes, and I don’t expect you to pay for my mistakes. We’re all going to make them, but we all have the right to move down that road. What we don’t have a right to is: health care, housing, or handouts.
Caring for sick people is “paying for their mistakes.” They “make their own path,” so they need to be allowed to fail (and maybe die), so they can learn to do better.
Got the picture? Just because you think we may be headed down the Big Hill, don’t list the good tea set on Ebay just yet. You might get a few more sips in.
This Progress/Apocalypse argument may cloak itself in all sorts of science and pseudoscience, but fundamentally it’s a religious dispute. Things will turn out a particular way because they have to. On the Progress side, science is the superhero who will never fail us. On the Apocalypse side, there’s no way we can get away with all the crap we’ve been doing. (That’s why, if you listen closely to some prophets of Apocalypse, you will hear a perverse joy in their visions of doom. They sound like Jonathan Edwards describing the tortures of Hell.)
How Collapse Works. Not only doesn’t civilization collapse overnight, it also doesn’t go straight downhill. You have a jolt and spiral downward for a while; then society regroups and even rebounds a little until the next jolt.
Compare post-Katrina New Orleans to a rising city, like London was when the Great Fire hit in 1666. For London (and for Chicago after its fire in 1871), the disaster was also an opportunity to rebuild bigger and better. But New Orleans is only sort of rebuilding. The touristy parts are back, but much remains in ruins. Poorly maintained levees caused the Katrina flood, and you have to wonder what long-term maintenance the city’s lower tax base can’t cover now. How will that lead to the next disaster?
Greer promotes the Peak Oil Theory, which I’ve described before. A well-established principle in the oil industry says that an oil field’s production peaks when about half the oil has been pumped out. The geologist M. King Hubbert speculated that the same principle holds on larger scales. He correctly predicted that U.S. oil production would peak in the late 1960s, something none of the other experts expected. Since his Hubbert’s death, people have been using his techniques to predict when global oil production will peak. Estimates range from about now to as late as 2050, and some people reject the theory entirely.
Peak oil fits well with Greer’s long-decline vision, because it’s not as if the pumps all run dry one day with no warning. Instead production peaks, and no matter what new techniques people come up with, they can’t get oil out of the ground as fast as they used to. Over decades, oil becomes increasingly rare and expensive, and all the economic processes that depend on cheap oil work less and less well. (Greer is a little less convincing when he explains why no other form of energy will fill the gap. He’s not obviously wrong, but his conclusions are more speculative.)
Personal strategies. The Myth of Apocalypse leads to the Myth of the Lone Survivor. (Lot escapes from Sodom to live in a cave. Noah and his family survive on the ark. Jor-El saves his infant son from the destruction of Krypton by rocketing him to Earth.) Apply the Lone Survivor myth today and you get survivalist fantasies about cabins in the wilderness stocked with food and gold and weapons. But Greer believes that if you look at things realistically rather than mythically, you’ll picture something completely different.
In short: Learn some useful skills, figure out how to be happy at a lower level of consumption, and develop relationships based on real loyalty rather than expedience. Oh, and try to develop a habit of thinking realistically rather than mythically. That’s not bad advice even if civilization muddles through somehow.
A fascinating example of how different things are considered too risque in different countries: Paris Hilton’s commercial for Devassa beer is too much for Brazil. Brazil? How could anything be too much for Brazil, where bikinis are constructed with nanotech? But it’s not a question of less or more, it’s just different.
This may sound like a clip from Ron White’s “They Call Me Tater Salad” routine, but in Texas a cop can walk into a bar and arrest you for being drunk. No one has to complain and you don’t have to be causing any problems. Giving the police that kind of discretion is bound to lead to abuse, and Mother Jones says it does. Remember the crime of Driving While Black? You can add Drinking While Brown to that list.
When you get Bill O’Reilly off his own show, he almost sounds reasonable. (HuffPost pitches his Palin remarks, but that’s a small part of the interview.)
Another snippit from Beck’s CPAC speech:
Small businessmen who work hard, they put their last dollar into it. And if they succeed, they’re demonized and penalized. Why? … When you’re in a small business you feel it when you have to let Sally go. You feel it when you have to let Bob go. How many small businessmen have look in the eyes of their employees with tears and said, I’m sorry. I’ve tried everything I can. Those are the people that are truly, truly struggling. And those are the people that nobody is even noticing anymore. Right?
So, forget Sally and Bob — the businessman who had to fire them is the one who really deserves our sympathy. And note the delusion of persecution: Who is demonizing successful small businessmen? Anybody?