Most Congressional hearings are now “kabuki”

Click here to watch some wrinkled political blowhard casually dismiss an entire branch of government with our favorite tired cliche:

(The BP hearings are) not a forum where we can expect answers. It’s kind of a “kabuki drama” if you will, like most congressional hearings.

You can leave comments on the BP oil spill under this post. Bill Maher said that even he is too depressed to read the news these days, and I agree. It seems like such devastation for so much of the gulf I am tempted to block it out of my mind, which is the kind of tactic I usually reserve for the suffering in third world countries.

(Borrowed the fun image from Google. Bloomberg’s Youtube channel doesn’t allow embedding)

19 thoughts on “Most Congressional hearings are now “kabuki””

  1. It’s unfortunate, but you’re totally right – it’s easy (and fun) to complain and argue and fret over relatively small issues, particularly since most of such issues eventually get resolved and one side is happy, and another side is driven to be even more passionate in whatever they’re fighting for.

    However with something like the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, everyone loses, and I don’t think anyone wants to really fret about it because as you said, doing so would only make an issue we all wish didn’t exist even more stark.

    I’ve found though for some reason, that reading the newspapers here every day, compared with the local paper in my hometown in Canada, news-borne melancholy feelings are at an all time low.

  2. There’s really two major kinds of Congressional committees, those involved in passing laws, and those that are involved in passing appropriations bills. Often, only hearings held by the second kind are considered important. The first kind is open to all kinds of grandstanding and posturing and usually doesn’t result in any significant changes. I think they are often compared to kabuki because everyone already knows the story, what the actors, will say, and what the outcome will be. Money, however, is important. When the first kind of committee votes on a budget issue, all they are doing is defining the size of the box that will hold the money. It’s the appropriations committees that decide how full the box will be.

  3. I’m not even sure who I should be mad at.

    BP obviously. (Although Toyota must love them)

    The politicians who are now demanding seppuku are the same ones who pushed or allowed a drilling agenda with inadequate oversight. How much do you want to bet that Congressman Coa took oil money and lobbied for more oil jobs at some point?

    The media – the Holloway case returns just in time to remind us what a crap job they do of identifying the really important issues and disseminating information about them before they turn critical instead of gawking at one bloodstain after another.

  4. Obama - “Abroad, our brave men and women in uniform are taking the fight to al-Qaida, and tonight, I’ve returned from a trip to the Gulf Coast to speak with you about the battle we’re waging against an oil spill that is assaulting our shores and our citizens.”

  5. It’s funny, there are certain areas of the business world that are deemed so dangerous everyone knows we need to keep them tightly regulated – nuclear, industrial runoff, etc.

    But when it comes to oil, it’s something so central to our lives that there’s no public perception that it’s as dangerous as a nuclear meltdown, even though in this case it’s possibly rendering significant portions of the US unlivable/unusable.

    What I don’t understand is why BP tried to cut corners like this when it knew the potential consequences far outweighed the short term benefit.

    When I worked at Pizza Hut in CT, no one including me gave a crap if pizzas were late because we were getting paid anyway and there are always jobs out there. Is that how the BP executives think, just with actual consequences when they mess up?

  6. BP are claiming that they didn’t try to cut corners; they said the US-designed and made blow-out regulator didn’t do what it was supposed to.

    But they would, wouldn’t they.

    In any case, BP executives almost certainly didn’t believe that there could be a spill this big, because when was the last one? Just like the executives of Lehman Brothers and various other banks didn’t believe that the whole credit default swaps market would implode, because it never had, at least not within their memory. People even, if you can believe this, live in Tokyo, because, hey, it’s pushing 90 years since an earthquake last demolished the entire city. It’s not like it’ll ever happen again.

    Basically, when people assess the risk of a major disaster, and compare it to the current benefits of taking that risk, they often decide the risk is worth it. Maybe they’re right. Maybe the BP engineers were right. Maybe, for this accident to have a 50% chance of happening, you would need to operate the well for one million years. They might just have been really, really unlucky.

  7. Eadwacer makes an excellent point, but it points up a parellel between Congress and the Japanese Diet.

    Congress is currently important in the American system because it passes the budget, so most of the activities outside of Ways and Means/ Finance and Appropriations (and to some extent, Rules), is “Kabuki”, really bad theater put on for I don’t know what purpose. But this is because over time, much of Congress’ law making powers have been transferred to executive and judicial officials. The transfers to the executive branch have come through explicit delegation of Congressional authority to regulators to to this that, the transfer to the judicial branch comes more from writing laws so vague that judges have to fill in the gaps (and this is mostly deliberate).

    Under LDP rule, most of the actual government in Japan was handled by civil servants, and much of what the Diet did was also, well, “kabuki”. The DPJ has been trying to change that by at least building up the policy making ability of the Cabinet. With the U.S., this isn’t the option because the Cabinet is not responsible to Congress. But there is noticably no central policy making body connected to the House of Representatives (the U.S. one), which is supposed to initiate most legislation, and the creation of one is on no one’s agenda. Legislation is instead drafted by executive branch officials or even by lobbyists and passed to friendly Congressmen.

    You may not like the Kabuki metaphor, but the functions of Congress and the Diet in their respective systems are well known, and the shoe fits.

  8. You don’t know why they cut corners?


    Halliburton (yes, THAT Halliburton) was the one who convinced BP to not install a $500,000 accoustic switch that could have prevented this catastrophy.

    They were also rushing the process to cut costs.

    Greed. It all comes down to greed.

  9. “You may not like the Kabuki metaphor, but the functions of Congress and the Diet in their respective systems are well known, and the shoe fits.”

    Except it’s a terrible and overused metaphor, especially when the less-exotic but perfectly good phrase “political theatre” exists.

  10. “Under LDP rule, most of the actual government in Japan was handled by civil servants, and much of what the Diet did was also, well, “kabuki”. The DPJ has been trying to change that by at least building up the policy making ability of the Cabinet. With the U.S., this isn’t the option because the Cabinet is not responsible to Congress.”

    While this is a difference between the LDP and DPJ, I think the partisan aspect has been exaggerated. I don’t recall the exact numbers or where they are, but I’ve seen a chart that showed the relative and absolute numbers of Diet bills that had been introduced by the ministries and the parliamentarians for every year from 1946 until a few years ago, and despite continuous LDP rule, there was a significant trend away from ministry-produced legislation starting in, I think, the late 70s or early 80s, even though the vast majority of bills were still coming from the ministries throughout the 90s (and beyond?). So, the DPJ may be accelerating the transition, but they didn’t start it.

  11. Taibbi doesn’t invoke the kabuki cliche, true, but he did go here:

    If 716 goes through, it would be a veritable Hiroshima to the era of greed.

    I’m of the opinion that comparisons of just about anything to actual atomic bomb droppings are bad form. Take it from Blackstone head Stephen Schwarzman, who remarked in 2008:

    “Trying to buy a mortgage bank in the midst of the subprime crisis was the equivalent of being a noodle salesman in Nagasaki when the atomic bomb went off. Not a lot of noodles left, or even a person, and that’s what happened to us on this deal.”

  12. War memory in the US can show appallingly bad form.

    My Lai, Mai Lay, and various other forms of it are apparently being used as stage names by some “Asian” strippers and at “massage parlours” and that type of thing.

    The “me so horny” thing from Full Metal Jacket was supposed to be a condemnation of American behaviour and it’s been turned into a common rap sample.

    Those Hiroshima and Nagasaki quotes are worse because they take something that should, at the very least, be considered solemnly, and turn it into silly (even fist pumping- let’s lay a Hiroshima on Wall Street!) metaphors.

    Spike Lee also compared Katrina to Hiroshima….

  13. OK, I get it – you don’t like white people saying kabuki. Stop being such a pedantic snob. What is this, your 10th post about this? Grow a pair already.

  14. Shultz, why are you claiming that Seventeen is banned in Japan? It’s been in print in this collection for 40 years 性的人間 (新潮文庫) (文庫) .

    Furyuu Mutan is also published in a couple of collections – most recently スキャンダル大戦争2 and isn’t “banned” either.

    When someone pointed out that you are wrong, you called them a “pedantic twit”.

    Clear the BS off your own blog before bringing that tone to anyone else’s.

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