RAPID REACTION: JOHN ROBERTS' EXCELLENT ADVENTURE

Posted in Quick Hits on June 29th, 2012 by Ed

NPF is cancelled for reasons that should be obvious.

I have a lot to say about the Supreme Court decision that handed a narrow victory to the proponents of the Affordable Care Act, and a potentially epic rant on it is already brewing for Monday. Nonetheless, while it is still fresh on everyone's mind let's take a quick whack at it. A few things:

1. My insurance provider sent out an email to every member this afternoon noting, and I'm paraphrasing only slightly here, "We know that you've heard a ton about the health care law and the Supreme Court today, and we'd like to remind you that absolutely nothing has changed about your coverage." That is an important point that is rapidly getting lost in the deluge of words in your email inbox and on your social networking sites. For the overwhelming majority of us, nothing is different. All this law really did from day one is create some new rules for insurance companies and require individuals to obtain coverage (with numerous exceptions, subsidies, and so on). One of my friends earnestly emailed me and asked if health care was free now. Lots of right wingers appear to believe that government-run medicine is now a reality. Many people are going to be genuinely surprised to wake up and find out that nothing really happened.

2. That "I have no idea what I'm talking about, but goddammit am I angry" is a common theme among your friends and family right now was predictable, but I am stunned at the number of people who appear to have no earthly idea what "single payer" means. Apparently it is somewhat commonly believed that single payer means that each individual is responsible for his or her own healthcare costs. I don't know whether to laugh or cry, so I do both.

3. Two things about John Roberts and his mysterious motives:

First, the text of the dissent refers to Ginsburg's concurrence as "the dissent" several times. Unless that's some sort of bizarre typo or Freudian slip, I'm pretty sure Kennedy's dissent was written with the understanding that it was the majority. In fact, there are several clues suggesting that Roberts not only switched his vote unexpectedly but did so very late in the game…as in, nearly at the last second.

Second, one of the common criticisms of Roberts upon his appointment was that he is a tool of the healthcare industry. I don't see his decision as pro-ACA or pro-government or pro-Congress so much as it is pro-insurance. It's worth keeping in mind over all the celebrating that the underlying law is a pretty lame excuse for healthcare "reform". While it contains a lot of provisions that will help a lot of people, its primary purpose is to funnel billions of dollars into the insurance industry's coffers. That the individual mandate survived is a splash of perfume on the reality that the individual mandate was and is a pretty stupid way to attempt to achieve near-universal access to healthcare.

That's all for now. More next week, possibly up to and beyond the point at which you will be sick of hearing about it.

SHH!

Posted in Quick Hits on June 28th, 2012 by Ed

If we're all very quiet, you can hear the synchronized pant-shitting of the entire Tea Party.

WORDFLOW

Posted in Uncategorized on June 28th, 2012 by Ed

The three posts this week have been pretty heavy in terms of content and length, and they have spawned some pretty extensive discussions so far. This is a rare occasion on which I have all of the time, energy, and material necessary to post but I will leave today effectively blank.

Lots of incoming traffic this week, so welcome. If you're new, feel free to Like Gin and Tacos on Facebook. As a bonus you can enjoy all the pithy shit I have to say throughout the day.

RETROACTIVELY RIGHT

Posted in Rants on June 27th, 2012 by Ed

His defenders have always described Justice Scalia as someone with whom you will not always agree but who has a deep, abiding commitment to the Constitution and a powerhouse intellect with which to defend it. The man is neither an idiot nor a mere partisan, the argument goes, and therefore he commands the respect of his political opponents. Scalia's detractors have argued that he is a partisan hack who speaks of the Constitution and the intent of its authors but is perfectly willing to go hog wild making things up if it suits his predetermined conclusion. It is possible that both sides are correct here. Let us give him the benefit of doubt and agree, for the sake of argument, that in his younger days the Judge was a crusader for a strict reading of the Constitution. Over time, though, as age and the insulated cocoon of the Supreme Court altered his perspective and aggrandized his self-image, he became exactly what his critics said he was all along.

I believe that Scalia's tipping point was his dissent in Lawrence v. Texas, a patronizing yet still legally grounded slippery slope argument about the validity of laws based on a state interest in "morality". Since then it has been all downhill, with each successive opinion reading more like a letter to the editor written in the voice of Archie Bunker. He invokes bizarrely torturous legal "logic" – as we shall see in a moment – to give the appearance of intellectual weight to what is essentially his opinion. Not his legal opinion, mind you, but his personal convictions about the way society, government, and the political process should be. See some of my previous complaints about the fallacy of "original intent" as a mode of constitutional interpretation in Scalia's hands here and here.

On Monday, Scalia finally jumped the shark. He has become such a naked reactionary and partisan that even mainstream commentators are becoming more reluctant to laud his brilliance and fair-minded approach to jurisprudence. In Arizona v. US – the now-infamous SB1070 immigration law case – Scalia offers an "interpretation" of state and national powers so ridiculous that a college freshman would be forced to re-take Intro to American Government for submitting it as a final exam answer.

Some quick background: the Constitution gives the national government, and specifically Congress, complete power over issues of immigration and citizenship. If Congress wants to pass a law tomorrow sealing our borders completely or throwing them open to grant citizenship to anyone who can get here by Friday, it can do so. As with all laws passed in Congress, enforcement is delegated to the Executive branch. Congress can limit the president's discretion with respect to enforcement, or it may choose not to. And of course the Supremacy Clause guarantees that all conflicts between state and national laws are decided in favor of the latter.

Scalia's argument, however, recognizes none of these Constitution 101 For Dummies facts. He argues, if I understand his gibberish correctly, as follows: Barack Obama is not doing a good enough job of enforcing immigration laws. In fact, he is willfully degrading their enforcement by deferring removal of foreign non-residents detained in the justice system in this country. Therefore the State of Arizona can step in and enforce immigration laws and policies how it chooses, as befits a sovereign state. To deny them that power would be to deny their sovereignty, and there exists some amorphous "threshold" of Executive enforcement at which states can choose to enforce the laws of Congress as they wish. States, being sovereign, can choose to enact more restrictive immigration laws than Congress as long as their laws do not conflict with Federal laws. He uses a plethora of two century old examples to argue that states have precedent to set their own immigration policy and that the power is not exclusively vested in Congress. Forgive me for paraphrasing. If I am being unfair to his argument, please let me know.

The Immigration and Nationality Act gives the president the power to enforce immigration laws – including the canceling or deferral of deportation, which so vexes Scalia – as he chooses based on the resources available to him. No law is enforced with 100% efficiency. More importantly, Congress could have prevented the president from doing these things by limiting his discretion in the legislation…but it didn't. Congress left it essentially open ended. More importantly, however, the three provisions of the Arizona law that were struck down all duplicated an existing Federal law. As the decision reads, Federal law:

specifies categories ofaliens who are ineligible to be admitted to the United States, 8 U. S. C. §1182; requires aliens to register with the Federal Government and to carry proof of status, §§1304(e), 1306(a); imposes sanctions on employers who hire unauthorized workers, §1324a; and specifies which aliens may be removed and the procedures for doing so, see §1227.

While it is clear that something that is against Federal law may also be against a concurrent state law, that logic applies if and only if the relevant power is shared by states and Congress. That Congress has complete and supreme power over issues of immigration and citizenship is made clear in several clauses of the Constitution and 200 years of jurisprudence. The majority opinion does an excellent job of summarizing this. There does not appear to be a vast number of legal scholars aside from Scalia, his buddy Clarence, and Jan Brewer who fail to recognize that, "the States are precluded from regulating conduct in a field that Congress, acting within its proper authority, has determined must be regulated by its exclusive governance."

To Scalia, however, this is all very simple – the President isn't doing a good enough job, according to "the citizens of Arizona." Therefore, screw the Supremacy Clause and the fact that immigration is, outside of the contorted logic in the dissent, an exclusively Federal power not shared with the states. Anton Likes It, therefore somehow it is constitutional. Thousands of words are offered to create the appearance of a complex, reasoned argument (albeit one filled with petty, political potshots at the President) but nowhere does it address the basic reality of the immigration issue except by fiat – sure, the Constitution, precedent, and the laws of Congress make clear that it is an exclusively national issue, but it, like, totally isn't. Because this one time in 1814…..

CODA

Posted in Quick Hits on June 26th, 2012 by Ed

I want to continue to direct your attention to Monday's post and discussion because, for obvious reasons, the radical makeover of higher education is of great importance to me. However, the new issue of the New Yorker has what we might consider a companion piece. Of course higher education's problems run deeper than political appointments and administrative dick-measuring contests; as I've written so many times before (hit the "teaching" tag) the attitudes and expectations of the students are a problem as well. Particularly vexing is this new generation of students who are for all intents and purposes helpless, or led to believe that they are. In "Why Are American Kids So Spoiled?", Elizabeth Kolbert takes a shot at uncovering the roots of the problem.

The discussion, while extremely interesting and more than worth your time, focuses largely on early childhood and parenting. Yet one passage speaks directly to the role of universities and the commodification of education in shaping the way children are raised:

Hara Estroff Marano argues that college rankings are ultimately to blame for what ails the American family. Her argument runs more or less as follows: High-powered parents worry that the economic opportunities for their children are shrinking. They see a degree from a top-tier school as one of the few ways to give their kids a jump on the competition. In order to secure this advantage, they will do pretty much anything, which means not just taking care of all the cooking and cleaning but also helping their children with math homework, hiring them S.A.T. tutors, and, if necessary, suing their high school.

When test scores become the panacea for admitting students to college and sorting them out afterward, parents who have every reason to fear for their children's economic future attempt to eliminate all challenges, distractions, and responsibilities except academics from their lives. I'll take care of everything for you; you just be sure to study a lot. Oh, you don't know how to study? Here's a tutor and three Kaplan courses. In this way, the author argues, parents unintentionally send kids to college who are immature, lazy, and unprepared to do any work (or take care of themselves on the most basic level) even if the urge to do so strikes.

It's not a definitive argument, and I'd like to see more from Marano's book before passing judgment. But it passes the smell test, based on my experiences with undergraduates.

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NEW SOCIALIST MAN

Posted in Rants on June 25th, 2012 by Ed

Any moderately informed history of the decline of the Soviet and Chinese systems of communism in the 20th Century, especially from the right, justifiably emphasizes the folly of replacing cultural institutions with the state-sanctioned, ideologically Correct theory of political economy. A total re-imagining of the world – its history, its culture, its religions, its conflicts, and its societies – was to take place in the framework of a radically ideological system of education with the goal of producing the New Socialist Man. He would understand politics, art, economics, and every other subject from the Correct (i.e. Socialist) perspective. As is the case with every revolution, the Soviets and Mao's China understood that a new culture can only be instituted by destroying the old, and destroying the old can only be accomplished through dictating a new historical reality through re-education. This endeavor on the part of the two most prominent communist countries has been the springboard for 1001 tales of horror from American conservatives, and Right Thinking liberals, for more than 75 years.

So it is with an extra dose of irony that we see the American educational system being remade at the top – at the university level – in the same radically ideological framework. Universities are to be run as businesses, their component parts judged solely by the god of Value Added; if one cannot do work of value to the private sector (measured in grant dollars), then one's continued existence becomes unjustifiable. Now our universities are being placed under the control, along with the rest of our society, of those with Right Thought; that is, rich people. Rich people know what is best in every field and endeavor because they are ideologically Correct. They recognize in ways that the rest of us cannot that value extraction is the sole purpose of any social institution. Accordingly, our university system is being remade slowly to produce not New Socialist Man but the Randian Capitalist, the Uber-Entrepreneur. As the New Socialist Men failed miserably at reviving the moribund Soviet bloc economy, it will take years for Americans to figure out how little these throngs of virtually illiterate MBAs, with their New and Improved version of history firmly entrenched beneath their worldview, have to contribute except to extract wealth from the nation in exchange for a few scraps of the take.

Over the past two weeks a scandal of sorts at the University of Virginia has become fodder for public consumption. As is the case with most state university systems, UVA is overseen by a politically-appointed (usually by the governor) council called the Board of Visitors, which has ousted University President Teresa Sullivan. What used to be largely ceremonial positions on such boards and councils are now being used by New Capitalist Man to re-engineer higher education to reflect Right Thought. Sullivan's ouster was prompted by her "unwillingness to consider dramatic program cuts in the face of dwindling resources and for her perceived reluctance to approach the school with the bottom-line mentality of a corporate chief executive." Specifically, she "lacked the mettle to trim or shut down programs that couldn’t sustain themselves financially, such as obscure academic departments in classics and German."

To recap: She refused to acknowledge that a university is a Business and should be run as such, and she refused to eliminate the Classics department from the school founded by Thomas Jefferson. Other reported philosophical differences included resistance to expanding pedagogically useless but phenomenally profitable "online degree" programs that amount to little more than for-profit scams servicing corporate clients and adult learners who need a rubber stamp in order to advance professionally. For years the Right has decried touchy-feely Multicultural studies displacing the real canon of Western thought – Plato, Aristotle, Shakespeare, Adam Smith, and the like. Now it appears that the Business School and the Continuing Studies Online program are reflections of the true foundation of all Western thought – the Classics be damned.

Extrapolated twenty or thirty years into the future, these trends lead to universities consisting of little more than business, medical, science, and agricultural programs (to produce the next generation of Monsantans to sanction and patent life) offered in convenience formats offering guaranteed protection against having one's preconceived notions challenged. Here's an online course, and here are the readings. Skim them and conclude that whatever you already believe to be true is, in fact, reality. That things like the humanities and social sciences are being placed under the knife is not surprising, as the operation of public (and private) university systems increasingly falls under the sway of political appointees with no background in education and in fact no background in anything relevant at all; no qualifications, in short, except wealth and political connections (read: contributions). Does a millionaire land developer or trucking company executive know how to run a university? Of course they do – they're millionaires. They know everything.

From for-profit online education to Buy Your Own Endowed Faculty programs at public universities, the message is clear: education, like everything else, must be "run like a business." It must be so because the Business, as understood by Right Thinking entrepreneurs, is the final form of human organization much as capitalism is the final secular ideology and neoliberal democracy is the final form of government – the "End of History", so to speak. Who controls the present controls the past, and reshaping our past to produce the desired future is the goal of the current efforts to "reform" education. Inasmuch as re-imagining education through the lens of lemonade stand economics and a Bircher's view of American history and culture counts as reform, it appears to be proceeding apace.

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NPF: FASTER! FASTER!

Posted in No Politics Friday on June 22nd, 2012 by Ed

In 1974 Congress passed the National Maximum Speed Law (NMSL) establishing 55 mph maximum speed limits across the United States in an effort to reduce fuel consumption (that 1973 Oil Embargo done spooked 'em good) and reduce highway deaths (as most modern safety features, from airbags to tempered glass, were not yet in place). Some people argued that the law worked, others argued that it failed, and pretty much everyone agreed that driving long distances on empty country roads or Interstate highways at 55 mph sucked a whole bunch. Furthermore, oil shocks and 1950s Deathmobiles were a thing of the past, so in 1987 the law changed to permit 65 mph limits; in 1995 it was repealed altogether. Since that time, speed limits across the country have been creeping upward. Texas – really, who else? – and Utah currently lead the nation with an 80 mph maximum. Don't worry, though. Texas about to raise it to 85, which would be the highest posted speed limit in the world.

In 2010, the last full year for which data are available, total motor vehicle fatalities in the U.S. were the lowest since 1949. That's incredible if you stop to think about it. We drive a ridiculous amount as a nation and at increasing speeds, yet fatalities are declining sharply. This is evidence that today's new cars, with their dozen airbags, ABS, safety cages, crumple zones, and countless electronic safety features, are clearly capable of handling 65/70 in relative safety (NB: car accidents are still a leading cause of death for every age group under 55).

That said, 80 and 85 mph limits seem to be tempting fate at the point at which the average driver's skills and the physical limits of many of the cars on the road are strained. I'm going to start from the assumption, possibly overweighting my own preferences and experience, that most of us and our vehicles feel comfortable cruising between 70 and 75 mph on the highway in good weather. Since speed limits are neither followed nor enforced strictly, let us assume that posted limits of 80/85 mean that actual traffic will move anywhere between 85 and 90+ mph.

As a parent, child, or both, most of you have said or heard the phrase, "It's not you I'm worried about – it's all of the other drivers" at some point in your life (Is there anything we agree upon so completely in this country as that Other People are terrible drivers?) Simply put, 90 mph is really fast. Probably much too fast for most drivers to do safely. Cars handle much differently at that kind of speed and the time available to react to the road declines precipitously.

The real issue, though, is…well, look around you on the road. Maybe even look at your own car. Lots of us are driving what could charitably be called shitboxes. Unlike motor vehicle fatalities, the average age of vehicles on the road in the U.S. is at a record high of 11.2 years. Remember, that's an average in a year in which new vehicles sales increased sharply. We're talking about a lot of 15+ year old vehicles out there. And I'm sorry to say that your 1990s minivan, compact car, or family sedan is not really in any kind of condition to drive 90 mph. Hop in your 1994 Taurus or 1997 Chevy Cavalier, try going that fast, and tell me that you did not begin to lose faith in the structural integrity of your vehicle (and the validity of your will) beyond 75 mph. I'll wait.

Even with new-ish cars, the safety margins and specifications are for a new vehicle. Even regular age and wear dramatically reduce the car's capabilities in a short time. You might think that your 2008 car is still fairly new, but the shocks are softer, the steering is looser, and the brakes have a lot more play in them compared to when you drove it off the lot. Since most people skimp on or completely ignore regular maintenance on their cars, this is a big issue. But the biggest issue is your tires. Most compact and midsize cars, even brand new ones, have P, Q, or R speed rated tires. This means the design limit of the tire is between 95-105 mph. Consider how many cars are driving around on worn-out tires that should have been replaced years ago. Now consider those same cars being pushed to and beyond their speed ratings. Yeah.

I'm not so comfortable with Other Drivers doing 90. If everyone drove a brand new Volvo and had good driving skills, jacked up speed limits would be irrelevant. Here in the real world, that ding-dong in the 1991 Plymouth Duster (with more Bond-O than metal in the body at this point) going 90 on bald Chinese summer tires that he bought for $19.99 at Tire Barge's 2003 President's Day Blowout sale is probably going to kill someone. A lot of the vehicles on the road are not even safe at 70 or 75, and the danger increases exponentially at higher speeds. Since we seem to be so eager to follow the example of the Red States these days, I'm not looking forward to what another decade of Speed Limit Creep is going to bring.

SORRY! WRONG HOUSE.

Posted in Quick Hits on June 21st, 2012 by Ed

Two quick notes:

1. Shockingly, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals managed to evaluate the circumstances of a 2007 DEA drug raid and determine that holding a gun to an 11 year old girl's head constitutes excessive force:

Next they went to the 11-year-old's room. The girl was sleeping. Agents woke her up by shouting "Get down on the fucking ground." The girl's eyes shot open, but she was, according to her own testimony, "frozen in fear." So the agents dragged her onto the floor. While one agent handcuffed her, another held a gun to her head.

At least the DEA accomplished something in the end, though, despite its casual disregard of the law.

After 30 minutes, the agents removed the children's handcuffs. After two hours, the agents realized they had the wrong house — the product of a sloppy license plate transcription – and left.

Oh. It's a sad commentary on the War on Drugs mentality of militarized law enforcement that we have to take the fact that they managed not to kill anybody as a victory. Did anyone else immediately think of Lard's "Drug Raid at 4 AM" with Jello Biafra's frantic description and killer full-stop ending?

"Sorry! Wrong house."

2. From the archives, elections are pragmatic affairs for most voters. We generally realize that this is an exercise in choosing between the available options rather than clutching to principles and waiting for the perfect candidate. Enjoy one of my favorite FJM-style posts, responding to a Hillary Clinton dead-ender who argued, as many did, that Clinton's supporters would not support Obama. Actually, they seem to have gotten over it pretty quickly. This is worth keeping in mind when someone tells you that Republicans aren't going to vote for Romney. Are they excited about him? Of course not. Will they get over it? For the most part, yes.

LOLOLOL THAT GUY DIED

Posted in Rants on June 19th, 2012 by Ed

We talk all the time about the level of ignorance Americans bring to the table with respect to our major social, political, and economic problems. The problems that result are obvious – we will never find our way toward a sane economic policy when Americans overwhelmingly believe that they are egregiously overtaxed and that 50% of the budget is spent on "welfare" and foreign aid. For the most part, our lack of information is our own fault and stems from a fundamental lack of interest in politics (or, arguably, an inability to tolerate how awful and unrepresentative the political process is). But the media must bear some share of the responsibility, given how hard they work to make sure that you are able to ignore reality even while they're reporting on it.

One of the best examples is a spate of stories in 2003 about the use of the "Barney and Friends" theme song – undoubtedly a most cloying, nerve shattering piece of music – being used by American defense and intelligence services to facilitate the interrogation of detainees and prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. A variety of music, mostly heavy metal but also including poor Barney, would be played continuously and at ear splitting volume to disrupt the sleep and sanity of people housed primarily in cages or metal shipping containers. In the U.S., morning talk shows and evening Talking Head shows alike got several days of cheap laughs out of it. "As all of you parents out there already know," Chip would say to Mindy, "being forced to listen to the Barney song certainly qualifies as torture!" Ha ha ha. Hilarity all around.

The thing is, uninterrupted exposure to music played at jet engine volume for days on end is effectively a form of torture, or at the very least in the gray area between torture and interrogation. It has been proven to have serious short- and long-term psychological effects and should hardly be taken lightly. But the media were more than happy to make a joke out of it for you. The cold reality – "Your government is torturing people." – is glossed over and turned into a throwaway laugh line – "If you had to listen to Barney, you'd go crazy too! Am I right, folks?" No need to think about the issue more seriously, or anymore at all. Here's Tom with Sports.

Over the past two weeks we have seen dozens of stories about the real life "zombie apocalypse", i.e. one guy eating another guy's face off in Miami. The story is presented in flawless Hearst style, blending the man-bites-dog and news-of-the-weird formats. You kids like the zombie and vampire shit, right? You parents are scared of black people and drugs, right? Well then you're gonna love this! This dude got his fuckin' face eaten off! It's like Walking Dead or something! Ha!

Bizarre acts of violence like this, perpetrated by people who are obviously disturbed, speak to the underlying reality that we have a staggering number of mentally ill people wandering around in this society with a deteriorating mental health care system and social safety net in place to deal with them. Since the 1980s, when state mental hospitals were emptied out with patients given little more than a bus ticket to the nearest city with a homeless shelter, we have devoted progressively fewer resources to what should be a very obvious social problem. People getting burned out on hard drugs, sleeping on a bridge in the middle of the afternoon (as the "zombie" victim was), or wandering the streets in a state of psychosis are not laughing matters here in reality. But when something happens to prevent us from completely ignoring these social problems, we have to find some way to make a joke or meme out of them to shield ourselves from having to take it seriously.

OF, BY, AND FOR THE PEOPLE

Posted in Rants on June 18th, 2012 by Ed

Matt Taibbi has a decent write-up of the Senate Banking Committee's mass fellatio testimony from Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, which highlights the continued evolution of our government from a functional if unwieldy public sector to an expensive group of administrative assistants to the financial industry. Dragging some hapless public figure before the Senate to testify uncomfortably for the cameras is a timeless political ritual in the U.S. However, in the past it was done primarily for the purpose of tearing the witness a new asshole with the greatest possible fanfare for political gain – Look at Senator Smith handing it to those crooked fat cats! Look at how he pounded the table and shouted "Sir, I demand answers!" Not even popular public figures were off limits; recall Howard Hughes being dragged before the War Investigating Committee in 1947 to account for the lavish War Department contracts his companies had received over the previous decade. Today our elected officials sit listlessly through such hearings with the Captains of Industry, scarcely able to whimper out a few softball questions before recalling that children are best seen but not heard.

There are two obvious explanations here, both of which reflect a political process so completely broken that we can safely confirm a return to the 1890s at this point. One, quite obviously, is that the Senators have been bought off by the financial interests they are supposed to regulate. Remember, the recent testimony took place before the Senate Banking Committee – a group of people that at least in theory is supposed to have a great interest in the issue. Instead the Senators' intent appeared to be to let Dimon speak virtually unchallenged for over an hour, to pick his mighty brain for ideas on how to do their job of regulating his behemoth company. The second explanation is much more disturbing – that the Senators no longer have any political points to score from a public Asshole Tearing of a man who is the modern textbook definition of a Wall Street Tycoon. In fact I suspect that many of them would suffer political repercussions (GOP primary challengers) if they did anything beyond occasionally glancing up at Dimon and asking him if they're doing it right. Don't worry, Sen. Corker. He'll give you the rhetorical head tap if you're not up to snuff.

I rarely say "I'm surprised" by the political world as anything other than a rhetorical device, but this is the real deal. How can it be unpopular to take rhetorical shots at the 21st Century equivalent of the Monopoly Man or J.P. Morgan? How and to whom is this a sympathetic figure? That the Senators can plausibly think "My constituents are gonna be angry if I'm too hard on this guy" is the least subtle sign that Gilded Age politics have returned in full force. That they don't even put up the pretense of being tough on the cartoon villain banking CEO – reaming him for the cameras and then kissing his ass behind closed doors with hearty backslaps and plenty of winking; "Sorry you had to sit through that song and dance, your majesty!" – reveals that they know exactly who the real "constituents" are. Graft and corruption collapse into themselves when those involved get so brazen that they conduct their crimes out in the open because they no longer fear punishment enough to bother with a cover-up. Yet rather than collapsing under a tidal wave of reform, Congress manages to continue getting worse. Each new election thins out more veterans with half of a brain and brings in more Ron Johnson "pro-business" types who don't know their mouths from their assholes.

That anyone could watch such a spectacle as the Great Dimon Gangbang of '12 and not be disgusted is hard for me to believe. Luckily for the bottoms/Senators involved, most Americans appear to have given up so completely on the idea of a functional government representing their interests that no one really notices anymore. Between the 800 cable channels and the number of Americans working two jobs just to keep afloat, most of us are sufficiently distracted to guarantee the Senators free reign to worship their master on camera.