Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'

The Health Care Website

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Obama made a speech and the New York Times did an opinion piece about the difficulties the website had in dealing with the initial rush. “Millions,” said the Times, “have been frustrated,” and that this “threatens to undermine the exchanges.” “There’s no excuse for the problems,” Obama apologized. Yeah, okay. So?

Enough with the self-flagellating!

No predictive efforts, private or public, have ever been able to truly deal with the initial rush on a web service. Why? Because the initial rush can be orders of magnitude more pressure than estimated regular levels of access, or even the estimates about the initial rush. As it stands, when it comes to large technological projects, nobody gets it right: About 6.4% of such roll-outs succeed without issue.

But with the majority of technological projetcs, things eventually do calm down. Once people stop humping the servers, the service can actually proceed.

I’ve been spending time reading Robert Caro’s biography of Lyndon Johnson and his many interviews on such, and while he spent a great deal of time rightly singing Obama’s praises, I do kinda wish Obama had that sort of kick-ass damn-the-complainers-we-won attitude to this legislation. isn’t the Affordable Care Act, and even in its compromised state, the Affordable Care Act will soon be unassailable in the public eye. Two months down the line we’ll have forgotten the ugly birthing. After all, that’s how we got Social Security and Medicare. Knowing this, maybe we can pre-empt the next big issue, like how to stop the Republicans from sabotaging the federal government this January.

Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

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I suppose I can’t resent my compatriots when they go on about how disappointing Obama’s vacillations are when it comes to the economy and health care and our foreign wars and blah de blah when all it takes to win them back is saying exactly what needs to be said when it needs to be said.

Quote Obama, “if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.

Trayvon Martin, a unarmed Black teenager, was walking to his father’s girlfriend’s house from a nearby convenience store when he was shot dead on the street by George Zimmerman, a white volunteer for the neighborhood watch. Zimmerman claimed self defense, and police did not charge him because of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which establishes that, in any public area, the person claiming self defense in his use of lethal force need not try to escape the confrontation first.

According to the 911 transcript, Zimmerman said that the kid “looked like he was up to no good, or on drugs” and described his activity as “walking about, looking at houses.” Just about the only description of Trayvon’s appearance offered was that he had his hoodie up, as it was raining. The 911 operator told him to stay in his car, which he ignored to accost him, chase him down when Trayvon ran, and shoot him.

Trayvon was on his cell phone with his girlfriend when Zimmerman accosted him, and according to those transcripts, Trayvon stated he was being followed, and his girlfriend advised him to run. Later, he asked Zimmerman, “Why are you following me?” to which Zimmerman said, “What are you doing around here?” At that point the cell phone was dropped, which implies the Zimmerman had initiated a physical altercation.

Florida passed the Stand Your Ground law in 2005 and had noted that the number of “justified killings” have increased by 36 every year since. Effectively, beyond the license to vigilantism it grants, it also grants the right to escalate any altercation to deadly force, with the ‘victor,’ so to speak, able to claim self defense without counterclaim. State Attorney Willie Meggs pointed out that gang members, for instance, call 911 after shootings with other gang members to claim self defense.

To call the event ‘racially charged’ is patently obvious, and the parallels I’m immediately reminded of are the situation that eventually led to the 1992 Crown Heights riot, where-in posses of Jewish vigilantes under the organization ‘Shmira’ would accost and often beat the Black denizens of the neighborhood as proactive ‘defense’ of their neighborhood. It helped fostered a culture of distrust that allowed a single event to light the tinderbox, and speaks to why vigilantism is and should be viewed with suspicion.

In Defense of Obama

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Cynthia Gordy of The Root has written an article criticizing Obama’s efforts to alleviate the plight of the poor since entering office, in light of the White House’s recent report on the same. Her tone reminds me of myself and most liberals’ complaints about Obama – in short, we think he’s not strong-willed enough – and every topic ends with a quote from somebody making the same “yes, but…” argument. For instance, on Health Care:

Claudia Fegan, a physician serving low-income patients in Chicago and a spokesperson for Physicians for a National Health Program, says that Obama’s initiatives have good intentions. “But the process is too complicated for most poor people, who have fairly chaotic lives, to access,” she said.

Or Welfare:

Economist Malveaux, president of Bennett College for Women, says there’s no doubt that Obama has provided assistance to the poor, but cites challenges. “There are some really good things that the administration has done around poverty, but they have not been proportionate to the extent to which the problem has increased,” she said.

Or Foreclosures:

“The foreclosure crisis hit the African-American and Latino communities in 2002, so we’re talking about a problem that is really entrenched,” said Lisa Rice, vice president of the National Fair Housing Alliance. “I think the administration has done some things well, but we’re playing catch-up to a large degree.”

Each topic reads almost exactly the same: Progress, but not enough. Yeah, okay, okay. We get it. We’ve been steadily edging back from the brink – and dear god, there most certainly was a brink – we haven’t turned around and started walking away from it.

But, honestly, we know that. We knew that implicitly. Making a four-page article about it seems… redundant, especially considering it fails to make a single mention as to why he may have failed to live up to his campaign promises on all these fronts. There’s lip service towards the end of the article that dismisses his “playing politics,” but let’s get real: That 400lb gorilla in the room is an elephant.

It really does take getting all your ducks in a row in order to effect substantive political change. Obama didn’t have much to build upon, so the fact that he made any progress at all – against a party that’s out for his blood, has spent hundreds of millions, if not billions, questioning the legitimacy of his presidency, and has shown an ardent and effusive desire to sabotage the government and the country until he is out of office – is a testament to his ability. But, quite simply, he cannot do it alone, and we don’t have all that many strong leaders in the Democratic party.

As pointed out by Robert Caro, it took nearly ten years of concerted effort to create the sort of situations in which Lyndon Johnson could pressure Congress to pass the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1964. It wasn’t just a rush to curry votes book-ended with a tense face-off against Strom Thurmond. It was the result of a great long deal of “playing politics.”

By contrast, the relatively quick and decisive policy rehauls – to make a grand understatement – during the tenures of Lincoln and both Roosevelts were nothing if not tumultuous, fraught with peril, and very, very illegal, as far as the expansion of executive power went. Their actions saved this country from some horrifying crises, and in some cases were victorious against severe opposition, but I seriously doubt we’d let Obama – to say nothing of the GOP – do anything remotely as bold without metaphorically lynching him.

So, much as I complain about the protesters downtown, and much as I’ve also railed against Obama’s seeming reticence to work the system with some elbow grease, give them credit: At least they’re doing something. But no good deed, however, goes unpunished.


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It’s not going to be a fun two years coming up.

To be fair, Jon Stewart’s rally was great, but even as he pointed out, “it’s not how many people attend, it’s how many people the media says attended.” And, as if on cue, the NYTimes et al barred mention of the rally from the front page, relegating it to two op-ed pieces and a short article that failed to mention any of the pointed criticism Jon Stewart held the rally for in the first place.

But that’s not nearly as insane as the insinuation that, what with Obama declaring himself “humbled” by the political winds changing (and here I was two years ago predicting the end of the Republican party – I may yet not be far off) pundits are claiming that – finally – there may be bipartisanship in Washington. Because, as we all know, Republicans were all simply waiting for the right opportunity to collaborate with their comrades across the aisle.

It’s not a terrible stretch of the imagination to point out that, to a great swath of the political system, all politics is merely campaigning and reality is subservient to the goals, however amorphous as they may be, dictated by the Republican party. In that stead, this election isn’t a mandate for Republican policies – for there are none – but instead a grossly misdirected referendum on Democratic inability.

And while Jon Stewart has attempted to take the moral high ground by having us and them (mostly them) tone down the hyperbole and acidic rhetoric, we may not see the fruits of that for at least another generation to come. Simply put, too many of the American people are too ill-educated, too easily distracted, and too cynically apathetic to allow proper function of this here republic, and education takes at least a generation to fix itself… and we’ve yet to begin to overhaul it.

In a sense, the corrupting of the executive and upper congressional branches – invented largely to temper the hoy polloy through the closest system a representative government can get to an oligarchy – has finally spread to the only direct representation the people have through the House, such that direct representation of a people who have no idea what it is they want is largely useless.

And until they figure that out, our economy will contract, our influence on the world will diminish, and we will become yet another failed empire.

Lemme Break It Down For You,

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Jim Ledbetter: Your article on the economic woes of this country and the economists you quote completely miss the point.

Economists LOVE to make the argument that Americans must retool for a different marketplace because it means that all the blame for the anemic economy can be placed squarely on the shoulders of the working man: He costs too much. He knows too little. He’s not flexible enough. We need him to be fully qualified and experienced in our high-tech position but cheap enough to be competitive against his counterparts in India and flexible enough to work unpaid overtime after moving to a different city. Pardon me while I gag.

For the love of god, employers are not hiring because people aren’t buying their products and services. People aren’t buying their products and services because they, by being un- and under-employed, don’t have the money to.  It’s really as simple as that.

Obama’s problem is not that there is no government solution, as you suggest, but that governance and politics in general is the art of the compromise and as it stands the only thing compromised here was the obvious answer: A large, direct injection of cash into the economy through government works programs. FDR did it. China shrugged off this last economic bust by spending a trillion on infrastructure. But our current circumstance forces half-measures, and even those come at the cost of political expediency: Greasing the right palms, kickbacks to the right subcommittees and special interests, tax cuts for the rich and ever more corporate welfare.

The problem isn’t our stupid workers, it’s our stupid Congress, stupid.

Foreign Policy

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Foreign Policy magazine is coming down on Obama for failing to create much positive headway in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Israel. “Zero for Four.”

To which I ask, who has made headway with them in the last 30 years? Stephen Walt says he’ll be blamed for “losing” our two wars. We knew they would be lost in 2003. There is no other possible outcome. I suppose Obama could have said “damn the consequences,” fallen on the grenade, gotten us out of the wars post-haste, watched the region go to shit and had a world of bad press kill the Democratic party’s mandate as the Republicans mocked him for being a second Carter while secretly thankful that we were out of that mess, but… seriously now.

That said, what I got out of the article – the indictment – was that, by so much as having that byline, he has insinuated that Obama could use an executive mandate to fundamentally alter America’s antagonistic stance towards Iran and chummy relationship with Israel. Arguably, Obama does have more official power as the executive than anybody in this or the last century thanks to Bush’s policies and party, aside from, perhaps, the mandates of FDR. Whether that translates to real power, however, is up for debate.

The anemic ministrations of this current administration can only mean two things:

a) The Democratic party was unwilling to use the mandate it got in 2009

b) The Democratic party was unable to use the mandate it got in 2009

Just so I don’t go mad, I’m going to assume the latter. At which point we have our most damning indictment of democracy – its utter inability to turn the ship around in any time-line remotely necessary to stave off disaster.

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