Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Putting the Hype into Hypocrisy

Immediately after signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the Founding Fathers began to rancorously bitch at each other and disagree on many a political issue. For instance, Jefferson was a champion of "states rights" while Madison and Hamilton were leading "federalists". Here's the primary difference: State's Rights = the states get to boss the fed around; Federalism = Washington gets to boss the states around. Even today, this argument isn't totally settled but the Feds have had the upper hand ever since that pesky Civil War back in the mid-19th century. The current Supreme Court is trying to re-balance the scales.

From the outset, one of the primary "state's rights" issues was slavery. Jefferson argued that the states should each decide for themselves. At the time, Jefferson was busy making babies with his slave, Sally Hemmings, and probably didn't want the federal government legally messing with a really sweet arrangement. (I'm nearly certain that Miss Hemmings was given a binding "yes-no" vote regarding sleeping with Massah Thomas, but it's just my intuition.)

Well, this slavery argument festered for the better part of 80 years until it was finally settled by force of arms in 1865 (politics at an extreme level). The Federalists won this particular skirmish. If they hadn't--and if you currently live in one of the original Confederate states and you are white--you could own your very own darkie today. Given current demographic realities, however, contemporary slaves would likely be Guatemalans. On second thought, were slavery still legal in the south, there would likely be far fewer Central and South Americans blithely scurrying across the border. I'm sure that some conservative or libertarian talk-show host has already proposed "the slavery solution" as an effective curb on illegal immigration (I'll check Lou Dobb's Twitter posts as he is the most likely candidate).

All of this is to illustrate that early in our Republic, politicians argued, scuffled, occasionally dueled and voted based primarily on contrary beliefs and differences of ideology. Today's politics, although they are often elaborately cloaked in ideology, are really, truly, actually, no kidding about money. I give you, as example number one, the junior Senator from Connecticut, Joseph I. Lieberman. As a observant Jew, Joe would like you to think of him as Joseph I. Liebermensch, a "man" yes, but one who stands out as particularly reliable, stalwart, brave, true and independent in a robust and very self-reliant independent way; sort of an Adult Jewish Eagle Scout.

Joe, having had no chance of being re-elected as the Democratic candidate from Connecticut in 2006 by losing the primary, peeled himself away from the Democratic Mother Ship and ran as a faux independent (actually he called his campaign the "Connecticut for Lieberman" party). It worked and Joe returned to Washington as Senator. His actions chapped off a number of really important Democrats and Joe repaid their bad attitudes by endorsing and campaigning for John McCain and Sarah Barracuda in the 2008 election. Joe can torch a bridge, push come to shove.

Now we come to Joe's most visible, if not shiny, hour since 2000 when he actually made Dick Cheney look good during the V.P. debate.

Health care legislation has returned Joe to center stage. In Joe's hands rests the outcome of the entire nation's dysfunctional health care contraption.

Joe has recently risen up, done an airborne 180 that would make Nureyev proud, and, mid-leap, tossed a wrench directly into the cogs of the Congressional sausage-making apparatus.

Let's keep Joe's stated and actual reasons for his behavior simple.

Joe "Remember, I am an independent and self-reliant mensch in a very independent way" Lieberman's stated reason: The current Senate health care legislation is fiscally irresponsible.

Joe objects to two very specific provisions. First, he opposes the "public option" insurance proposal. Second, he also opposes the "Medicare Buy-In" alternative, an idea that he championed as late as September (not September 2008, this year's September which was, what, less than 90 days ago?). He claims not to recall his recent position. If true, that fact alone should give the citizens of Connecticut a queasy feeling about old Joe's mental faculties.

Both of these insurance alternatives would give people a choice between private insurance coverage and a government version. This, loyal readers, is a key distinction.

Independent Joe represents Connecticut. Hartford is in Connecticut. Hartford is the Valhalla of big insurance. In fact, five times a day, across this great land, insurance agents are required to repair to their prayer mats, face Hartford, kneel and pay homage. This is the reason that your insurance agent is so often "away from (his or her) phone" when you call.

One of the downsides of leaving the Democratic Party was the loss of financial support for campaigning. So, more than ever, Joe really, really needs the $427,894 that the Hartford insurers gave him just this last reporting period. Over his Senate career, big insurance has provided Joe with way north of $1 million. Now, big insurance absolutely, positively wants no provisions in the current health care legislation that would create bona fide competition. The public option or the Medicare Buy-In alternative would certainly do that. Someone probably recently reminded Joe of that, given his memory problems of late.

So, wrapping himself in the tasteful pashmina of "fiscal responsibility", Joe has doubled back on Reid and the rest of those loathsome Democrat/nanny state wimps and stood up for the "58% of Americans who currently oppose the current health care legislation", even though this opposition cannot be based solely on federal deficit concerns.

Besides, as a recovering consumer behavior researcher, I am leery of statistics that claim to represent the feelings of the American people regarding complex issues. The answers to many such questions can be easily manipulated by the way the question is asked or by carefully selecting the group of whom you ask it, or both. This, plus, at least 25% of adult Americans couldn't tell you the difference between a "public option" or a "public restroom" and they get their current and ever-changing political viewpoint from either Old Blevins down at the Neon Angel Lounge or some talk-show entertainer. Subtract that 25% out of the data and the percent of Americans who have some knowledge of the issues yet still oppose modestly modifying health care--for the eventual good of most Americans--is probably 33% which is, coincidentally, about the number of Americans who are insurance agents.

Senator Lieberman (and now we come to the actual reason) has insured that the financial spigot in Hartford will continue to gush lucre his direction. And, even should Joe fail in his 2012 bid to remain a Senator from Connecticut--and it seems highly likely that he will fail--Joe has insured (ahem) that a lucrative lobbying job for the insurance industry awaits. Therefore, supporting the legislation would indeed be fiscally irresponsible, primarily for Saint Joseph his-own-self. So much for ideology. Perhaps Chris Dodd should challenge Joe to a duel related to insurance industry fund-raising since the slavery issue has been settled already.


Observoid of the Day: Can't wait for the Rose Bowl Parade featuring Tiger Wood's All-Ex-Mistresses Marching Band.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Outing the Coca Cola Santa

It's always about this time of December that my thoughts turn to Saint Nicholas.
I can't explain it. You would think that his being such a culturally important figure, Santa would also enter my thoughts in, oh say, July or May, in much the same way that thoughts of the Pope, Augusto Pinochet or Tiger Woods occasionally pop into my head unbidden throughout the year. But, as far as I can recall, that doesn't happen. Nope, on the Santa front, it is just one of those December things.

And, unlike many, I don't conjure up the the Coca Cola version of Santa, the morbidly obese one, a condition caused partly by his habit of chugging sugar-laden Cokes from breakfast until the cocktail hour. This St. Nick would likely have such a caffeine buzz going that Mrs. Saint Nicholas, nee Earlene Goldberg--a long suffering saint in her own right--couldn't get the old boy to calm down and make anything before 2 or 3 every morning. Of course, at the North Pole, it's hard to keep to a regular circadian schedule what with 24 hours of daylight half the year and 24 of dark the other half. Seems to me that Santa ought to relocate to improve the efficiency of his operation. I'd suggest somewhere near the equator in southern Asia, closer to lead paint suppliers and where most of the toys are jobbed out to third-party providers anyway. It would way shorten his supply chain.

No, the St. Nick of whom I think is the one from the Clement Clarke Moore poem, the one that I read to my children so many times that I can still recall it from memory. I sometimes intentionally made mistakes when I read it to my son as a way to determine if he was asleep or just listening with his eyes closed. If it were the latter, he would stop me mid-poem, insist on a correction by reminding me of the right words. He would do this without opening his eyes..."Dad, it's not, Vomit, Stupid, Dagwood and Nixon, it's Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen."....or, "Dad, it's not a 'bowel, foul and smelly' it's a 'bowlful of jelly'". Tykes demand accuracy.

Moore's poem describes Saint Nicholas as a "little old driver so lively and quick", a description that runs quite contrary to the dressed-in-red slab of humanity that I saw today at the Mall, posing stoically with screaming toddlers and greedy pre-teens with lists of "demands" in hand. In fact, later, as I left the mall by my usual side door route, there was "Santa", next to a dumpster, beard hanging from one ear, sucking on a Marlboro Light and looking haggard. I strongly doubt that this was the real Santa. He seemed neither lively nor quick and he was at least 250 lbs. past "little". If this Santa tried to come down our chimney, there would be a prolonged interruption of his intended delivery schedule.

The poem also describes the flying reindeer as "tiny" and the sleigh as "miniature", additional clues that if one were to plop the Mall Santa or the Coca Cola version onto the sleigh, there would likely be some serious issues with The International Brotherhood of Flying Reindeer, Local 001.

Moore was the scion of a prominent New York family. His father, Bishop Benjamin Moore, officiated at the inauguration of George Washington, invented lead paint and was personally responsible for the creation of the accent wall color "Tangy Tangerine" in 1808. But, as so often happens, I digress.

The magical St. Nick in Moore's poem is dressed "all in fur, from his head to his foot", a sartorial decision that has just caught the attention of PETA, an unusually irritating organization that plans to station members with buckets of fake blood on rooftops across the globe this year in hopes of creating a media event. My bet is that they just freeze their butts and get coal in their stockings. I suppose St . Nick could pick out some cold weather gear from REI but then he could easily be mistaken for any number of small, round southerners who pile on the down when the temperature plunges into the 50s.

Clement Moore's Saint Nicholas is my kind of Santa: smokes a pipe (not Marlboro Lights), is a jolly elf, lively, quick, magical, wouldn't think of letting relatively enormous and greedy children sit on his lap, wears leather, knows where all the "bad" girls live, has a license to fly, is droll, has twinkling eyes, merry dimples, rosy cheeks and a red nose. In brief, a very small W.C. Fields. Now we're talking.


Observoid of the Day: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a stop at the ATM.