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Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Gambler

Let's talk about Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D - NV).

Harry Reid is like a character from a Martin Scorcese movie. Actually, he's LITERALLY a character from a Scorcese movie. Remember that scene in Casino when the gaming board deny Robert De Niro his gaming license and he flips the fuck out and starts calling them out on taking advantage of all kinds of star treatment (hookers, free rooms, etc, etc) and now not wanting to play? Yeah, well when that hearing happened in real life, Reid was the chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission (1977-81).

Of course that's not to say the part about the bribes was necessarily about him... There's only one big story about someone trying to bribe the most powerful Democrat in the Senate, and it reads a little differently. In '78, a man named Jack Gordon offered him $12,000 to approve some new type of slot machines, and he reported him to the FBI. When the Feds set up a sting, and he was supposed to clue them in to raid the room with the phrase "Is this the money?" he instead lost his shit, jumped over the table and tried to throttle the guy while yelling, "You tried to bribe me, you son of a bitch!"

He has a history of taking things personally. In fact, as far as I can tell Harry Reid is the kind of politician I would end up being if I wasn't so decidedly unelectable. By many accounts, he's an a bit of asshole. He hangs up on people on the phone without saying goodbye, he calls out even his own party members on their bullshit, and is willing to use language supposedly unbecoming of his position to describe his opinion of some of his colleagues, like "embarrassment," "political hack," and "liar."

He's been in Congress since 1983 (2 terms in the House of Representatives and 5 and counting in the Senate), and is up for re-election next year. There's some debate as to whether or not he's going to run again, considering his advancing years and a recent exercise accident that may lead to him losing his left eye. For those of you who haven't put two and two together yet, I'm going to spell it out. The Senate Minority Leader, a man who once had a bomb attached to the bottom of his car by mobsters, and takes no shit from anyone, may soon be permanently clad in an eyepatch. That's some James Bond villain shit.

He doesn't get much love from either side of the ideological aisle. He opposes Roe v. Wade, was against gay marriage until he realized it was an inevitable development, is for the death penalty, and supported a proposed amendment to prevent flag-desecration despite saying it was merely a "pet issue" of the right wing only 2 months earlier. At the same time, he's a huge environmental proponent, helping Nevada become one of the country's leading producer of solar energy, and pushing a bill to cut $15 billion of oil subsidies and putting that into renewable energy. In 2007 (the last time his side was outnumbered by Republicans) he brought to a vote an ethics bill that barred members of the Senate from accepting gifts, meals, and trips from lobbyists and organizations employing them, and borrowing corporate jets for travel, among other things. On the flip side, he also regularly votes against gun control and voted for a measure preventing people from suing gun companies when their products are "misused." Then again, he was instrumental in pushing through the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare for those who listen to the talking heads to much [not the band]).

All that said, everyone who knows him personally seems to love him. And because of that, he's been able to - more effectively than most - keep his caucus together and somewhat effective despite being in the minority. It makes sense to me, that, since he himself straddles the traditional political platform affiliations, he'd be able to pull stragglers in line with what needs to happen politically at any given moment.

See, Reid is a leftover of the old school of politics, when it was exclusively a boys club, and deals were carried out in dark, smoke-filled rooms. He knows the system and how to bend it to his will. He came up dealing with criminals (that's what we used to call organizations that were hurting and robbing people while throwing money at politicians). Most of the politicians in office when he took power only supported civil rights reform because they knew their jobs depended on it. Shit, this dude took office during the Reagan administration; he knows everything there is to know about being surrounded by Republicans running wild.

It's probably obvious to anyone who's familiar with me or my writing that I'm being much more positive in my analysis of this guy than I've ever been of another politician (except for Bernie Sanders, whom I'm gonna hold out on writing about for as long as I can because it's basically just gonna be a puff piece). Part of that likely has to do with the fact that he's an asshole, and I have a soft spot in my heart for assholes. Thing is, disagree as I might with about half of his policy, reading up on him, I've realized that if you're a liberal, this is EXACTLY the dude you want in your corner. He's a shark. He's a cutthroat bastard if he needs to be. He may not be terribly progressive, but he consistently votes for what he believes is in the best interests of his constituents (even when that goes against his personal beliefs), and more importantly, he knows how to bend the political machine he's a part of to actually accomplish those goals.

I don't know if Harry Reid is a good man. I can't honestly say I'd vote for him. But there's a part of me that's glad he's in the position he's in right now. Like a necessary evil, without a guy like Harry Reid, the Democrats would truly be a bunch of idealistic morons lost in the woods without a chance in hell of stopping the march of religious extremists, bigots, and corporate shills that is the GOP.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Take Me to Your Leaders

I haven't written much lately. I tried to write down why, but it sounded whiny and trite, which is coincidentally how I feel about most of what I write lately, and that's probably why I haven't been writing.

So I'm going to try a different tack. I'm sad because I'm bored and I'm bored because I'm apathetic. If I become interested in something, I will hopefully have something interesting to say eventually.

Chris has suggested politics. I like that idea. If anything is going to light a fire under my ass it's going to be researching and finally understanding the insane bullshit the people we pay to lead us do and get away with.

See, I know very little about the nuts and bolts of the American political machine. I know that I disapprove of 85% of what comes out of both partisan ends, but I don't always understand the mechanisms by which these charades come to pass. That's why I haven't written about it, because I don't think I have anything intelligent to add to the conversation. And that's what needs to change.

Even Jon Stewart probably didn't know much about the specifics of the nation's political machine when he started on his way to becoming my generation's Walter Cronkite. Paying attention to current events, though, has a way of turning thinking people into politics junkies. And I believe, as did Uncle Hunter, that there is no better way to approach a subject than complete immersion and attachment.

Step one, therefor, is going to be familiarizing myself with the abominable cast of the soap opera that dictates our country's public policy, one member at a time. If you're interested, I'd like to welcome all of you to follow me down this rabbit-hole of horrible bummers. Maybe we'll find a few decent souls among them. Maybe, together, we'll both give a little bit more of a shit the next time these assholes run for re-election, and we'll be better informed on how to tell them to fuck themselves. Maybe that'll make a difference. Or maybe I'll go down in flames of rage and eat myself alive if I spend as much time as I'm likely to reading about what these sociopaths are up to.

And so we begin. I've arbitrated to start with the Senate party leaders and committee chairmen, and kind of skip around as people find themselves in the news. We'll see how this goes. Hopefully I keep it up and by next year, I'll have enough information and context to start commenting on the people who hope to run.

President pro tempore: Orrin Hatch

Started with this guy because I honestly had no idea what the position was. I'm sure my high school
Government teacher tried to implant the information in my brain, but somewhere between the Federalist Papers and the New Deal I must have stopped paying attention. And I'd wager many of you did the same. The President pro tempore is the man who runs the Senate when the Vice President isn't around. He's forth in line for succession of the Presidency, after the Speaker of the House, and he's elected by the Senate itself.

In fact, that's one thing I noticed just glancing at the list of committee chairmen: They're all Republicans. And if there was a Democratic majority, they'd all be Democrats. So regardless of how slim a majority either of these biased, insane, groups of ideologues have, every few years, the entire energy of America's political engine is redirected in line with the contrarian policies of one or the other - like some doomed cruise ship, doing donuts in the middle of an ocean, while the belligerently drunk passengers scream at a terrified, hostage crew how to most quickly find land. Maybe that's just my perspective. I just started learning this stuff. I could be wrong. Maybe everything's fine.

Senator Orrin Hatch (R - UT), by all indication, seems to think things are working OK on Capitol Hill. In fact, everything he does seems to be the kind of contradiction that makes me foam at the mouth when I realize that thousands of people voted for someone who thinks like this.

Hatch was first elected in 1976, when his basic platform was that his predecessor had been in office for 18 years, and this was a long time to spend away from one's constituents. He argued that Frank Moss, in his nearly 2 decades in office, had grown out of touch with the people he was elected to represent. Hatch himself has now been in that position for over twice as long, and won't be up for re-election until 2018. I'm just gonna let that sentence sit there.

Hatch's main problem with Obamacare was that he felt the insurance mandate was unconstitutional. This of course didn't stop him from favoring such a measure 20 years earlier, when Republicans proposed the same thing in the process of torpedoing the Clinton health care plan in 1993. None of these people believe in anything unless it's winning the sick game of monopoly they've started with the elected positions we pay them to execute.

The man is a polarizing belligerent. The speech he gave in response to Obama's request for Authorization of Use of Military Force was essentially just further fear mongering of the sort that keeps stupid people voting for whoever promises to keep them safe from enemies they themselves actively go into the world seeking. Throughout his time on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Hatch has taken pride in the fact that he has dedicated himself to advancing the selection of judges that in his own words, "counteract President Obama’s aggressive efforts to stack the federal courts in favor of his party’s ideological agenda." ... by stacking the federal courts in favor of his party's ideological agenda... He even told the guy who authorized torture in Guantanamo Bay, "I've seen a lot of people around and a lot of judges and I don't know of anybody who has any greater qualifications or any greater ability in the law than you have." He voted against limiting (and later for reinstating) filibusters during judicial confirmation hearings, which is the political equivalent of taking your ball home because you don't want to play any more.

Hatch is now the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, and he's devoted much of his career to keeping the government from collecting and spending tax money. It's one of the few aspects of his platform that Hatch seems to genuinely believe in. Over the course of his first decade and a half in office, he also went to great lengths to secure compensation to citizens of his state who were affected by radiation poisoning from government testing of nuclear weapons in Nevada. However in order to secure those funds, he held hostage a treaty that would have promised $100 million in similar reparations to residents of the Marshall Islands that exhibited similar (much more extreme) symptoms.

And that's the basic conclusion that I fear I'm going to come to a lot over the course of my investigation into the gears of our government, regardless of the party affiliation or tenure of the subject: These people basically only care about twisting the system to give them what they want. They want to keep their jobs. They all want to stay on the public teat as long as Senator Hatch (currently the most senior Republican in the Senate) has. He's proof that it can be done.

The irony that this man got in the Senate by pointing out that only a bullshit system allows politicians multi-decade terms is horrifyingly tragic. Orrin Hatch is a classic example of someone who perhaps at one point believed in things like small government, helping business develop (and not just consolidate wealth), and the convictions he learned from a silly book of superstitions, but the only thing he believes in now is the game he's playing with his colleagues, at our expense.

This is obvious when you look at his connection to the pharmaceutical lobby; his son working for a major lobby firm, founded by two of his closest friends and former political associates. Money is pumped into Hatch's pet charities and the regulations and red tape new drugs have to go through to be approved are cut.

But that's business as usual. And Orrin Hatch and friends would like to keep it that way.

Up next, I pick on a Democrat: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.