America’s Friday Night

Not everyone has a name and a reputation, so there’s an art to naming restaurants something other than Joe’s Place. Not everyone is Michael Jordan or Bobby Flay, so the issue is finding something impersonal that will still draw a crowd. There’s the regional – the Olive Garden or the Fig and Olive, or Tuscan Dreams or whatever, and any random French adjective and noun will do just fine – the Pamplemousse Mystérieux perhaps – or there’s the ironic. Out here, the restaurant on the ground floor of the Culver Hotel, across the street from the old MGM soundstages where they filmed the Wizard of Oz, is Munchkins. That hotel is where MGM put up all the young midgets and dwarves when they were filming that Oz thing, and the name of the hotel’s restaurant makes people smile. The food’s not all that good but the hook is – and the best hook in the business has to be TGIF – the rather pedestrian casual-dining chain that tapped into the national psyche. Thank God it’s Friday! Who hasn’t muttered those words? Who wouldn’t want every night to be Friday night? That’s what they’re selling – the experience, as they say in the trade. It was never about the food. It never is.

That’s a fine experience to sell, however. Friday night is when Americans walk away from all the crap of the week, from all that happened at work or school. It’s a time to drink heavily, to celebrate, or to forget. Most folks feel as if they’ve weathered some storm and found a safe harbor of sorts. It’s a time to savor the week’s triumphs, or to forget the week’s humiliations. Things were resolved one way or the other, for better or worse – or they weren’t, but then Monday morning is a long way away. There’s no need to think of that, except Monday morning will roll around soon enough and it will be more of the same. There’s never closure in life. That highly-successful restaurant chain is selling an illusion. There a lot of money in that.

Sometimes illusion isn’t enough. Here, now, it’s another Friday evening in Los Angeles, at the very end of the month too, and it’s safe to say that no one is looking back on this week, or this month, as a month where anything was resolved in America, one way or the other. In Washington, unless Obama agrees to defund and dismantle all of the Affordable Care Act the Republicans will shut down the government at midnight on Monday. The Republican House passed their version of a continuing resolution that funds everything but Obamacare, keeping the government running for a few more months, and on Friday, in spite of Ted Cruz, the Senate amended that bill, taking out the bit about defunding Obamacare, and sent the amended bill back to the House.

The House will not pass that. They’re locked into their position on this, and the government will shut down, until House Speaker John Boehner eats crow, because Obama isn’t going to agree to any such thing – the Affordable Care Act was passed fair and square, long ago, by both houses of Congress, and survived a Supreme Court challenge too. The rules of the system were followed, scrupulously, and there are explicit rules for repealing a law. You find the votes to pass something else in its place. If you don’t have the votes, you don’t have the votes – but the Republicans don’t care. They can shut down the government, crippling the economy, or a few weeks later they can refuse to raise the debt limit, having us default on all our debts, collapsing the world’s economy. Without the authority so borrow a little more to cover at least the interest payments on what we owe the rest of the world, all of our treasury bonds, held by all the nations of the world, the one fixed benchmark in the world’s financial system, will be of indeterminate value – no one will quite know what they’re worth, if anything. This is parallel to what happened with all the mortgage-backed securities back in 2008, when no one knew what anything was worth and the entire financial system seized up – but it will be far worse. The Republicans see this as real leverage, and as discussed previously, they are coming to realize that they can now demand everything Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan ran on in 2012 – when they lost by five million votes. It’s a bit of a coup d’état – through threats of real and substantial damage, bypass the legislative process and the courts and all that who-actually-got-elected nonsense.

That’s how the week ended, and with this:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told congressional Republicans Friday to give up their campaign to stop Obamacare and pass a government spending bill that funds the law.

“They need to accept what we just passed,” Reid told reporters after the Senate stripped defund Obamacare language from the spending bill and then approved the bill in final passage. “Let’s be absolutely clear: We are going to accept nothing that relates to Obamacare. There’s a time and place for everything, and this is not that time or place.”

“Obamacare has been the law for four years,” Reid added. “Why don’t they get a life and talk about something else?”

There was also this report from the National Review’s Robert Costa:

On a Thursday conference call, a group of House conservatives consulted with Senator Ted Cruz of Texas about how to respond to the leadership’s fiscal strategy. Sources who were on the call say Cruz strongly advised them to oppose it, and hours later, Speaker John Boehner’s plan fizzled.

It’s the latest example of Cruz leading the House’s right flank.

This is a massive breach of congressional etiquette, as House and Senate members rarely deal with each other directly, if at all, and it’s nothing but trouble:

Leadership sources, for their part, are startled by Cruz’s attempt to shape House strategy and work against the speaker. They knew he’d oppose Boehner’s playbook, but they didn’t expect him to huddle with conservatives and ask them to ignore it. So, Cruz’s meetings have made him a key House player, but they’ve worsened his already-fraught relationship with the leadership.

This is also a bit of a coup d’état, within the Republican Party. Ted Cruz is taking over, and James Fallows at the Atlantic says all the rest of us can do it sit back and watch:

As a matter of politics, this is different from anything we learned about in classrooms or expected until the past few years. We’re used to thinking that the most important disagreements are between the major parties, not within one party; and that disagreements over policies, goals, tactics can be addressed by negotiation or compromise.

This time, the fight that matters is within the Republican Party, and that fight is over whether compromise itself is legitimate. Outsiders to this struggle – the president and his administration, Democratic legislators as a group, voters or “opinion leaders” outside the generally safe districts that elected the new House majority – have essentially no leverage over the outcome. I can’t recall any situation like this in my own experience, and the only even-approximate historic parallel (with obvious differences) is the inability of Northern/free-state opinion to affect the debate within the slave-state South from the 1840s onward. Nor is there a conceivable “compromise” the Democrats could offer that would placate the other side.

James Fallows is not alone:

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) on Friday said that the Tea Party movement is just as dangerous for America as the Civil War.

“A small group of willful men and women who have a certain ideology about how our country should run and what we should do cannot get their way in a normal discourse and votes,” Harkin said. “Since they can’t get their way, they’re going to create this confusion and discourse and hope the public is so mixed up in who to blame for this that perhaps they’ll blame both sides.”

“That is the path they see for taking over the government. It’s dangerous, very dangerous – every bit as dangerous as the break up and the Civil War.”

No one should be thinking of the Civil War on a Friday night, but James Fallows sees more:

As a matter of substance, constant-shutdown, permanent-emergency governance is so destructive that no other serious country engages in or could tolerate it. The United States can afford it only because we are – still – so rich.

He says that gives us a margin for waste and error, but not that much of a margin:

The FAA, the FDA, our research organizations, all other public programs from monitoring air quality to modernizing computer systems to staffing the military – they’re all wasting time and money now because of indiscriminate “sequester” cuts and preparations for possible shut-down. For the foreseeable future, the air traffic will keep moving and other functions will go on – just more stupidly and wastefully. We have that much social capital still to burn.

But as the Washington Post points out, flood relief for Colorado is already being delayed because of shutdown threats. Just within the past week I’ve heard from people in the scientific establishment about researchers they’ve had to lay off because of stop-and-start funding; from people in the aviation world about safety upgrades that are being delayed; from someone working with the IRS about a postponed computer upgrade; from diplomats about delayed visa processing; and on through a long list. It’s survivable, but it’s stupid, and eventually we use the margin up.

As for the other matter, there’s this:

The debt-ceiling vote, of course, is not about future spending decisions. It is about whether to cover expenditures the Congress has already authorized. There is no sane reason for subjecting this to a repeated vote. And there is no precedent for serious threats not to honor federal debt – as opposed to symbolic anti-Administration protest votes, which both parties have cast over the years – or for demanding the reversal of major legislation as a condition for routine government operations.

In case the point is not clear yet: there is no post-Civil War precedent for what the House GOP is doing now. It is radical, and dangerous for the economy and our process of government, and its departure from past political disagreements can’t be buffed away or ignored.

As radical and dangerous for the economy and our process of government as this is, at least support for the massive new list is not going anywhere, as Salon’s Brian Beutler reports:

The House proposal (at least as originally conceived) is a grab bag of GOP goodies, most of which were bullet points in Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign platform. But it lacks the most controversial elements of the GOP agenda – Medicare privatization, Medicaid devolution – and as such doesn’t cut enough spending for some of the most hardline conservatives in the House Republican conference. It also doesn’t include any abortion restrictions.

As such, Boehner and his leadership team can’t whip up 217 Republicans (the current threshold for passage) to back it, and since zero Democrats will support their crazy plan, it’s dead – at least as currently written.

The House Republicans cannot get it together, but Jonathan Chait understands why they can’t:

Why would the most conservative Republicans settle for forcing Obama to implement Mitt Romney’s platform? They thought Romney’s platform was too timid in the first place! They were willing to vote for figures like Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, not to mention Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann, as an expression of their dismay with Romney.

Now, it may seem a little silly to insist that Obama accept an agenda that was too extreme to prevail in a Republican primary. But if you’re already insisting that Obama accede to an agenda that was too right wing to win a general election last November, at this point, what’s the difference?

There will be a disaster Monday, but not a planned one, as Stan Collender notes here:

At this very late point in the debate, it’s hard to discern even a hint of a strategy among House Republicans about what to do and how to get it done. The GOP plan that seemed to be emerging, to vote this week on a debt ceiling extension that included tea party legislative priorities and punt on the CR, was abandoned yesterday when the leadership realized it didn’t have the votes from its own caucus to pass that bill.

This makes any counterstrategy impossible, and Todd Purdum at Politico offers this suggestion:

Like an insistent teenage driver, determined to see how fast he can take that blind curve on a rainy road at night, the GOP seems unwilling to abandon its particular brand of brinkmanship until it winds up in the emergency room. If that’s the case, mightn’t it be better to let the crash happen, if only so the reconstruction can start?

In a Washington in which serial crisis over basic business has become the new norm – and the Republicans’ default negotiating posture has all the bluster of the Cowardly Lion’s “Put ’em uuup! Put ’em uuup!” – perhaps the thing to do is accept the worst. If the latest go-round is simply another ritualized prelude to a temporary solution, another melodramatic installment of “As the World Turns,” then what’s the point? Won’t the same cast be back next month, or next year, battling the same problem?

This recent pattern creates an atmosphere not of crisis but of ennui – even boredom – and lost credibility. Be sensible, or have the courage to follow through on your heated threats, but the nation is done waiting for you to decide.

Get it out of your system, but remember this:

Holding the debt limit hostage to a president’s signature policy priority and principal legislative accomplishment is a novel approach. Yes, Obama’s health care plan passed narrowly, with only Democratic votes. And yes, public opinion over its benefits remains sharply divided. But it did pass, and its central provision – the requirement for individuals to buy insurance – has been upheld by a Republican-dominated Supreme Court.

“Think about this,” Obama himself said on Thursday. “Shutting down the government just because you don’t like a law that was passed and found constitutional, and because you don’t like the idea of giving people new access to affordable health care – what kind of idea is that?”

It’s worth remembering that Senator Richard Russell of Georgia spent decades defending segregation, but when Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he was among the first to insist, “These statutes are now on the books and it becomes our duty as good citizens to live with them.”

Purdum is telling Republicans they’ll get there too, one way or the other. In the meantime, the rest of us are bored. All this is tiresome, and it’s Friday night. Why are you making everyone worry about Monday?

At least some things went right on Friday, and there was a bit of closure:

The diplomatic drive to purge Syria of its chemical weapons accelerated Friday, as the full 15-member United Nations Security Council approved a breakthrough resolution to ensure Syrian compliance, and the organization responsible for carrying out the destruction of those munitions announced a timetable that starts Tuesday, sooner than some had expected.

The Security Council resolution is aimed at coercing the government of President Bashar al-Assad to honor a pledge to give up its chemical weapons, which have been used at least once in Syria’s civil war with horrific effects. The measure was a compromise completed Thursday night by the Council’s five permanent members: Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.

Although the resolution does not automatically threaten the use of force if Syria reneges – a Western concession granted to Russia – it nonetheless represents the Security Council’s most significant action to date on the Syria conflict. Approval by all 15 members came swiftly Friday night.

Yes, getting here was messy, and John McCain and everyone on Fox News and at the Weekly Standard is appalled that we let Russia take the lead on this, but others see that we stuck the Russians with the problem of getting their client-state in line. It became their problem, not ours, but it doesn’t matter. The chemical weapons will be gone. It doesn’t matter unless the real aim was get rid of that Assad fellow, and then spend a few years ridding Syria of the wrong sort of rebels, those jihadist assholes, who seem to be most of the rebels now. That might well take eight or ten years, but John McCain and the rest are still arguing Obama missed the main point – the whole idea always was to go in and install the right sort of government in Syria and keep it there, no matter what it took. Obama said his intention was merely to rid the place of those chemical weapons, and he did just that, even if not very elegantly.

Who won here? That depends on who decides what the game is – but at least the chemical weapons matter is settled. It’s time for a beer at the TGIF bar. John McCain and the rest can cry in their beer. We’re not going to war.

Something else went right on Friday:

The long-fractured relationship between the United States and Iran took a significant turn on Friday when President Obama and President Hassan Rouhani became the first leaders of their countries to speak since the Tehran hostage crisis more than three decades ago.

In a hurriedly arranged telephone call, Mr. Obama reached Mr. Rouhani as the Iranian leader was headed to the airport to leave New York after a whirlwind news media and diplomatic blitz. The two agreed to accelerate talks aimed at defusing the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program and afterward expressed optimism at the prospect of a rapprochement that would transform the Middle East.

“Resolving this issue, obviously, could also serve as a major step forward in a new relationship between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran, one based on mutual interests and mutual respect,” Mr. Obama, referring to Tehran’s nuclear program, told reporters at the White House after the 15-minute phone call. “It would also help facilitate a better relationship between Iran and the international community, as well as others in the region.”

This was a major diplomatic breakthrough. The last phone call was in 1979 – Jimmy Carter chatted with Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who was gone soon enough. Right after that they had their Islamic revolution, with the seizure of our embassy and that year-and-a-half hostage crisis, and then all the years of dead silence. Now they say they really don’t want to develop nuclear weapons, and they’re willing to talk about it. They started those talks at the United Nations this week. They might allow inspections and everything, if we’ll start to ease up on the crippling economic sanctions – both sides could win here, even if the details and timing will be difficult:

Before leaving New York, Mr. Rouhani said his government would present a plan in three weeks on how to resolve the nuclear standoff. “I expect this trip will be the first step and the beginning of constructive relations with countries of the world,” he said at a news conference.

He went on to say that he hoped the visit would also improve relations “between two great nations, Iran and the United States,” adding that the trip had exceeded his expectations.

John McCain and everyone on Fox News and at the Weekly Standard will be crying in the beer over this too. We don’t negotiate with rogue regimes, we remove them, damn it. Obama is missing the whole point! The nukes were only a minor matter – and of course the contrast here was stark. Congressional Republicans were in disarray, if not all-out civil war among themselves – but they were sure they could cripple the economy, or destroy it, to get their way, completely outside the democratic process, if they could ever decide on what it is that they actually want. At the same time Obama scored two diplomatic triumphs unlike anything anyone has seen in the last several decades.

Well, thank God it’s Friday. Everyone has a reason to drink heavily. Here it’s scotch, by the way.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to America’s Friday Night

  1. Rick says:

    The National Review’s Robert Costa reports on a Thursday night conference call between House conservatives and Ted Cruz, regarding John Boehner’s “fiscal plan”:

    “Sources who were on the call say Cruz strongly advised them to oppose it, and hours later, Speaker John Boehner’s plan fizzled. It’s the latest example of Cruz leading the House’s right flank.”

    Geez Mabeez, is there any chance Cruz will run as Speaker of the House, to replace Boehner? I’ve heard the Speaker doesn’t have to be a member of the House, but I don’t know if it could be a U.S. Senator! Although given that we seem to be heading for extra-Constitutional governance in this country, I guess I shouldn’t be all that surprised.

    But, wondering precisely what “fiscal plan” of Boehner’s they were talking about, I followed that National Review Link further. I discovered it was the one about them all taking a pass, so to speak, on the CR, and focusing instead on nailing Obama on the upcoming debt limit fight, complete with that laundry list of other demands tacked on.

    This is exactly what I described yesterday in my comment, as being a “Republican Grand Plan”, part of a radical conservative blueprint for scrapping American representative government altogether — a plan I assumed was tea-party driven. Turns out I was wrong. Although much more insidious than anything the ultra-conservatives had been contemplating, it was apparently hatched nowhere else but inside the skull of John Boehner, maybe with the intention of out-flanking his conservative base to the right, maybe to prove to them he can be just as squirrelly as they are.

    But it appears I’ve been giving the Republicans too much credit for working together and thinking ahead. (What was I thinking! Up to now, I’ve been calling them the Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight!) But I don’t think any of this necessarily precludes the good possibility that the Republicans will still refuse to raise the debt limit, when and if it comes to a showdown. And if that happens, they will, as I said yesterday, have once again won, just as they did with the sequester.

    If so, it will be a case of the Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight accidentally hitting its target.


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