Dave Denison at The Baffler writes—The Abominations of Congress. An excerpt:
MORE THAN TWENTY YEARS AGO Charles Lewis noted in The Buying of the Congress that for most Americans the national legislature is “a distant abomination.” You can put the emphasis on “distant”—fewer than half the citizenry can name their representative and even fewer can name both their senators. Or you can emphasize the “abomination,” since most people are aware that Congress is perennially in the grip of the high-paid influencers who haunt its marbled lobbies and fund congressional campaigns. It’s part of our national folklore to believe, as Mark Twain put it, “There is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.”
In a simpler age it was customary to find humor in the fact that some of the most, um, ordinary intellects stumbled into the august chambers of the United States Congress. Today’s longest-serving House member, Alaska Republican Don Young, is known for sometimes brandishing a penis bone of a walrus—and for once pulling a knife on former Speaker John Boehner. Louisiana Democrat Rep. William Jefferson was indicted in 2007 for taking about a half million dollars in bribes. The FBI found $90,000 in his freezer.
When I was a grade school student, I became aware that there was a man who represented mein Congress, sent to Washington, D.C., from our Second Congressional District in Indiana. His name was Earl Landgrebe, and he was a Republican, as were most people in the district of small towns in Northwest Indiana’s Lake and Porter counties. Yet in the summer of 1974, when I was riveted to the televised Watergate hearings and was becoming aware that the president was corrupt, and that some Republicans were beginning to acknowledge as much, I also learned that my own representative was unable to speak intelligently about the national crisis.
The House had voted earlier that year 410–4 to authorize the Judiciary Committee to start impeachment hearings. Rep. Landgrebe was among the four dissenting voters. He was loyal to Nixon all the way to the end: the day before Nixon resigned Landgrebe made himself famous by telling a reporter, “Don’t confuse me with the facts. I’ve got a closed mind. I will not vote for impeachment. I’m going to stick with my president even if he and I have to be taken out of this building and shot.” That was the year the magazine New Times named Landgrebe to their “Ten Dumbest Congressmen” list.
To be young in America, in every generation, is to become at least vaguely aware that an incompetent and malignant Congress is not entirely funny. These people can get you killed. It was a clear and present danger when neither party was able to put a stop to the Vietnam War, and again when Congress authorized George W. Bush & Co. in 2002 to launch an invasion of Iraq. And it’s true today, as any high school student knows who walks through metal detectors and endures “active shooter” drills at school: Congress, despite its constant protestations, has a long record of negligence when it comes to meaningful national security—especially for young and marginalized people.
Yet it’s a feature of #resistance politics today to focus almost entirely on the abuses of presidential power. We’re stuck in a president-centric political system—and the unlimited goonery of the current president makes it almost impossible to gain perspective on the depth of our democratic dysfunctions. But a corrupt president can be voted out after four years. Congress can be impervious to reform for generations at a time. […]
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On this date at Daily Kos in 2006—More Flu Stories:
It’s interesting that ANY discussion of bird flu engenders a reflex “fear/hype” response amongst some posters, (and the usual media culprits) as if the very existence of the discussion (and the provision of neutral information) is an affront to propriety. For example, here’s a simulation from the Los Alamos National Laboratory on Avian Flu infection dynamics should 10 people be found positive in a major America City like Los Angeles. The low probability, high impact nature of the Quicktime movie simulation speaks for itself. But as the Science editorial goes on to say:
An energetic response to H5N1 does not have to be alarmist. [emphasis mine] We can marshal existing concern about this particular strain of avian influenza to build a long-lasting international infrastructure to monitor and thwart threats from such emerging infections.
And Americans are concerned. They’re a little concerned about bird flu (or the pandemic flu version) and very concerned about the government’s ability to deal.