Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The End Is Always Nearer on the Right Side of the Street

A friend sent me a link received in one of those multi-forwarded, zombie right-wing chain mails that spammers use for harvesting emails for their lists. The email was headed, "Obama to sign away US freedom in December?"

With the forward came this plaintive request:
Please give me your opinion on this fellow - and give me some material to shoot back to the idiots sending it to me
The link (which I won't bother to embed) is to a YouTube clip of one Lord Christopher Monckton, a former Maggie Thatcher advisor and climate change skeptic, speaking before a Minnesota Free Market Institute meeting in mid-October.

There's a climate change treaty to be signed in Copenhagen this December. "In the next few weeks," says Monckton, "unless you stop it, your president will sign your freedom, your democracy and your prosperity away for ever, and neither you nor any subsequent government you may elect will have any power whatsoever to take it back again."

The end is near. Again.

Exaspberated, I replied (tongue firmly in cheek):
But, but, but ... he's melodramatic. He has a classy British accent. He quoted Churchill. He kisses our American asses and says he "so loves and admires" us. He can't be a kook, can he?

Now, you thought they thought Ronald Reagan won the Cold War and defeated communism, and, being a Thatcherite, surely Monckton does. Au contraire! Monckton said Obama will sign our freedom away to a "communist world government" and once done, it cannot be undone. OMG!

Okay, there is that bit about the Congress having to ratify treaties, what with all their pages and pages of exemptions, but why should we let that minor detail get in the way of some good, old-fashioned conservative red baiting?

I mean, it's like that time in 1988 when that pinko Ronald Reagan sold out the the ol' US of A by signing the UN Convention Against Torture (the one Congress didn't ratify until 1994?). That commie rat bastard Reagan signed away America's sovereign, God-given right to torture people! We could have used torture against those Islamofascist bastards, al Qaida, ya know?

But NOOOOO!!!! The UN stopped us dead in our tracks, didn't it?

I, too, think of the US of A as the beacon of freedom to the world. I'm just relieved, as Monckton must be, that even after all that leftist propaganda about Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, that the world still sees us as he does, as the beacon of freedom. Now if we can only stop those lefties from keeping Miami Beach real estate from slipping beneath the waves like the Hood.

Sorry if I'm just all alarmist-out, but after a decade of the-end-is-near rhetoric from the right, I'm afraid I can hardly muster a yawn.

Do these people bathe in fear because they can't get an erection any more, and a chill up their spines is as good as it gets?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Other than that, she was probably a swell gal

SC Gov. Mark Sanford doesn't know enough to quit while he's behind. He's in Newsweek with a review of some new books about the life of Ayn Rand. Sanford's takeaway? "Government doesn't know best."


Sanford pauses in his paean to Rand long enough to acknowledge that her freedom fetish did not apply to members of her cult:
Ironically, as Heller's biography makes clear, while Rand's philosophy was based on the individual's absolute freedom, Rand herself exercised a dictatorial control over her followers. She would denounce anyone who expressed opinions even slightly diverging from her own... For the leader of a group dedicated to human freedom, Rand didn't allow much of it around her.
Sanford doesn't mention (and may not know) that Rand based one of her early fictional heroes on William Edward Hickman, who author Michael Prescott describes as "a forger, an armed robber, a child kidnapper, and a multiple murderer. Other than that, he was probably a swell guy."

Prescott continues:
According to Rand scholar Chris Matthew Sciabarra, she deliberately modeled Renahan - intended to be her first sketch of her ideal man - after this same William Edward Hickman. Renahan, she enthuses in another journal entry, "is born with a wonderful, free, light consciousness -- [resulting from] the absolute lack of social instinct or herd feeling. He does not understand, because he has no organ for understanding, the necessity, meaning, or importance of other people ... Other people do not exist for him and he does not understand why they should." (Journals, pp. 27, 21-22; emphasis hers.)
The free-spirited Hickman kidnapped, held for ransom and dismembered a twelve year-old girl, after which the throw-social-convention-to-the-wind sprite threw her body parts out the door of his car.

Yeah, he was an axe murderer, but that wasn't what impressed Rand, but his personal credo, "what is good for me is right." As she writes in her journals:
"This is not just the case of a terrible crime. It is not the crime alone that has raised the fury of public hatred. It is the case of a daring challenge to society. It is the fact that a crime has been committed by one man, alone; that this man knew it was against all laws of humanity and intended that way; that he does not want to recognize it as a crime and that he feels superior to all. It is the amazing picture of a man with no regard whatever for all that society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. A man who really stands alone, in action and in soul."
Yes, a real man.

And Rand? Yeah, she was a sociopath, but that's not what impresses Gov. Mark Sanford. Rand's "one more major flaw" was that her sociopathy led her to her reject conventional Christian morality. But interpreting Atlas Shrugged as parable about limited government makes Rand "more relevant than ever."

Thus endeth Sanford's high school book report. A lot of people read Atlas Shrugged in high school. Most of them grow up.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Public Necessity

The health care debate – with its leaks, mixed signals and close-to-the-vest dealing – has reform supporters losing their cool while Obama, infuriatingly, maintains his. The uncertainty has strained the tenuous loyalties of a fickle American left. How much talk about "triggers" is real, how much is process, and how much is rope-a-dope?

David Dayen defines the problem for Firedoglake:

Is the White House “insisting” on triggers to take the heat off of Harry Reid, who is having trouble finding the last votes for cloture? Are they drawing fire away from Senate moderates? Are they doing it to keep Snowe thinking the White House is on her side? Do they want to pull a switcheroo in conference committee? Do they actually think that the public option will need some time to get right, so a trigger might help to aid that delay? Are these the words of one rogue faction in the White House that can’t stand the public option and the “left of the left”?

Reports about Thursday night’s White House meeting between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama suggest that Obama is not prepared to twist the arms of remaining Senate holdouts to secure a bill with a public option (sans “triggers”), even though that goal now seems within reach:

"Everybody knows we're close enough that these guys could be rolled. They just don't want to do it because it makes the politics harder," said a senior Democratic source, saying that Obama is worried about the political fate of Blue Dogs and conservative Senate Democrats if the bill isn't seen as bipartisan. "These last couple folks, they could get them if Obama leaned on them."

Meanwhile, Obama's Organizing for America (OFA) found its legs on October 20th, generating 315,000 phone calls to Capitol Hill in support of health care reform. While the approved script called for supporting the “the President’s plan for health reform” – whatever that is – many OFA volunteers support a “robust public option.” OFA’s back channel exhortations for supporters to increase the pressure and “win this thing” tell a very different story from the media narrative about a reluctant, unengaged president.

After eight years of Bush-Cheney, the left was primed for the change Obama promised – and thoroughly distrustful of Washington politics, even his. The mixed signals have Obama’s base clinging to the hope that their leader is playing rope-a-dope with opponents, while other progressives are already declaring Obama a conservative.

If it makes them dig in and fight harder, fine.

But Thomas P.M. Barnett's warning to the Pentagon is one to which progressives should pay heed: "we field a first-half team in a league that keeps score until the end of the game." Progressives have to maintain focus and momentum if they hope to punch through the insurance industry’s goal-line defense. “Allies” in Congress won’t manage that on their own. One year after November 2008, will voters again rise to the occasion or remain on the sidelines with an “Obama hangover”?

A society accustomed to sitting on the couch and being passively entertained is one more accustomed to being governed rather than to governing. Once the vote-counting is over, many citizens tune out again until the next election. A colleague echoing the familiar FDR “make me do it” anecdote, noted that few realize just how hard it is for even their favorite leaders to change things themselves without being pushed hard by supporters.

Anna Quindlen argues in Newsweek that the founding fathers engineered our system to resist radical changes of direction, that Obama is a process-oriented centrist more than the populist firebrand progressives thought they were electing, and that health reform therefore may be more incremental than sweeping.

Perhaps. But that very system did not inhibit the Bush administration from taking the country in a radical direction overnight, nor did it stop a population alarmed by those radicals from firing them overnight. Obama didn’t do that. We did.

Quindlen concludes by reminding readers that if Americans want change, they had best not sit back and expect someone else to do it for them, because

“... if the American people want the president to be more like the Barack Obama they elected, maybe they should start acting more like the voters who elected him, who forcibly and undeniably moved the political establishment to where it didn't want to go.”

OFA got a taste again of what that's like on October 20th. If the rest of America really believes that the health reform it needs is not just a public option, but a public necessity, more Americans will have to get up off the couch and go get it. Neither Obama nor the Democrats will deliver it to their doorstep like a pizza.

(Cross-posted from Campaign for America's Future.)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Not Exactly the Mercury Theatre on the Air

At least the damage was minimal, Frank Rich suggests in this morning’s New York Times. It’s not as if the “balloon boy” fraud led the country into invading a sovereign country in search of nonexistent WMDs, or into investing in dot-coms with no business plans, or into buying oversized homes with no-income no-asset loans.

But “balloon boy” is this generation’s “War of the Worlds” hoax, Rich believes, “the inevitable product of this reigning culture, where ‘news,’ ‘reality’ television and reality itself are hopelessly scrambled” — a culture in which media snake oil salesmen are as likely to be suckered as their audiences, if not more so.

Rich observes,
As “balloon boy” played out, the White House opened fire on one purveyor of fictional news, Fox News, where “tea party” protests are inflated into a national rebellion rivaling the Civil War and where Glenn Beck routinely claims Obama is perpetrating a conspiracy to bring fascism to America. But the White House’s argument is diluted by the different, if less malevolently partisan, fictions that turn up on Fox’s competitors. On CNN, for instance, Lou Dobbs provided a platform for the nuts questioning Obama’s citizenship. When an ABC News correspondent insisted that Fox was “one of our sister organizations” in an exchange with the president’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, last week, he wasn’t joking.
Not that anyone around him would have gotten it if he were.

(Crossposted from Scrutiny Hooligans)

We’re Number Last! sent out one of its regular e-mail updates this week. They examine the “37th in the world” statistic bandied about in the health reform debate. The 2000 World Health Organization report has not been updated, they note, and has its critics and limitations.

The Annenberg Public Policy Center looks at some more recent figures to put things in perspective:

Among the other stats on how the U.S. health care system and health stacks up internationally: A 2007 Commonwealth Fund report ranked the U.S. last out of six industrialized countries in health system performance, which included measures on quality, access, efficiency, equity of care and healthy lives. “Access” and “equity” measures are affected by the lack of universal health care. On life expectancy, the U.S. ranks 50th and below France, Canada, the U.K. and the European Union average, according to the CIA World Factbook. Infant mortality is also higher in the U.S. than all of those countries and more. A 2006 report on infant mortality by the nonprofit Save the Children showed the U.S. tied for next to last among industrialized countries.

America retains its #1 ranking on health care costs, spending nearly twice as much, on average, as other developed countries. But when it comes to health care, Wal-Mart Nation still pays more and gets less. And for reform opponents, that’s a record worth defending, even if it’s not something to brag about.

(Crossposted from Scrutiny Hooligans)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Debunking the Hissy Fit Du Jour

Glenn Greenwald yesterday noted the hand-wringing and pearl clutching by the press over the White House calling out Fox News as an opinion outlet rather than a news network, and "a wing of the Republican Party." Greenwald lays out a bill of particulars:
All that hand-wringing rhetoric: why? Because the Obama administration threatened to criminally prosecute Fox? Or because the adminstration surveilled its reporters' telephone calls? Or illegally obtained their telephone records? Or shot missiles at hotels in which they were staying? Or dropped bombs on their offices? Or imprisoned them for years without charges? Or barred Fox reporters from riding on administration planes? Or conspired to "weed out" any critical voices from being heard on network and cable news programs? No, those are all things that the Bush administration did to reporters (see the links) -- all well above and beyond the numerous, constant rhetorical attacks from the Bush White House on media organizations they perceived to be hostile. Where was Tucker Carlson when that was happening, or Ruth Marcus, or Anderson Cooper, or David Carr?
And Glenn doesn't even mention getting a gay prostitute/journalist to TASS toss softball questions at White House pressers or paying opinion columnists to publish favorable pieces about them.

Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann further debunk the hissy fit with the TV equivalent of twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossies with circles and arrows, etc. Heaven forbid the right wing should attempt to rewrite history:

Friday, October 23, 2009

Four Point Oh!

WNC Blogapalooza 4.0

Mountain XPress handles the voting here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Projection TV: Real Americans Watch Fox News

A focus-group study by Democracy Corps explains that Republican base voters live in “a world apart from the rest of America.”

The Tea Parties of August already made that pretty clear.

Republican base voters believe themselves an oppressed minority that possesses “knowledge and insight that the majority of Americans – whether too lazy or too misguided to find it for themselves – do not possess.” And – surprise – they get their special knowledge and insight largely from Fox News.

In 1999, Al Franken wrote the same thing. During the Clinton health care debate, the Annenberg School for Communications found that conservative talk radio listeners judged themselves the most informed on the topic. Testing, however, revealed that they were the least informed.

Franken wondered [my edit],
But why would people so woefully lacking in the basic facts of an issue think they were the best informed? Social scientists call the phenomenon "pseudo-certainty." I call it "being a f*#king moron."
A decade later we have Glenn Beck reinforcing his viewers' paranoid proclivities and helping them project their own darkest impulses onto opponents.

According to Democracy Corps, four core beliefs set the Republican base apart:

1. Deception and a Hidden Agenda – “Obama is deliberately and ruthlessly advancing a ‘secret agenda’ to bankrupt our country and dramatically expand government control over all aspects of our daily lives.”

2. Speed – Obama is implementing change rapidly to keep ordinary Americans from knowing what he is doing.

3. Driving Government to the Brink and Total Control – Obama is deliberately trying to burden America with so much debt that citizens will be unable to resist efforts to implement Obama’s ultimate plan ...

4. The Ultimate Goal: Socialism and End to Liberties – Government takeover of health care is just the first step towards a complete suppression of liberty by our inefficient, ineffective and corrupt government.

It is a pretty stunning case of projection, as one of Andrew Sullivan’s readers suggests:
[Obama] is the out of control spender when they sat on their hands through all of Bush's malfeasance. That is why his talking to schoolchildren is dangerous when our government wiretapping its citizens wasn’t. That is why saving the financial system from years of Republican regulation is taking away our future. The more evil revealed about the right’s excesses on torture, or wars of choice, or nearly destroying the economy, the more evil Obama will look in their eyes, as they cannot tolerate owning responsibility, because in their own minds they are only good.
Paul Rosenberg explains the viewpoint in a separate discussion at Open Left:
[T]he disconnect is particularly strikingly. That is, until you take a step back, and see the underlying consistency ... in their minds, they alone are America. If they're not running things, then it's not America... If you are the real America and everyone else is not, well, then, you can do pretty much whatever you want – and do it all in the name of America.
Conservatives and independents in the Democracy Corps focus group were sensitive to charges that racism is behind their criticism of Obama. So much so, that they came back to it “again and again.”

However much it is, their discomfort is not all about race. It’s broader. It’s tribal.

“Real Americans” view those outside their tribe with suspicion, like teenagers in the mall they are convinced are there to shoplift – illigitimate, untrustworthy, low-caste Irresponsibles, bad apples who don’t deserve America. Those outside their tribe don’t deserve to carry the flag, don’t deserve to wear the uniform or to enjoy the blessings of liberty. Especially, they don’t deserve to vote.

“Real Americans” believe America’s bad apples pay no taxes. The “lucky duckies” don’t even pay sales tax, property tax, tax on gasoline, on heating oil, cigarette tax, telephone excise tax, unemployment tax, Social Security tax, Medicare and Medicaid.

“Real Americans” would love to repeal the 16th Amendment, but so long as they pay taxes, they'll be the betters of countrymen they think pay any less. They will rail about how unfairly they’re treated and what a drag on the economy and their fortunes are the great unwashed who have turned this once great country into one "where poor people can put billionaires out of business."

These Atlases see themselves stoically carrying America upon their shoulders while being dragged relentlessly down by the grubby, grasping hands of the less well-born; by people not as honest, upstanding and hard-working as they are; by the parasites of capitalism who contribute nothing; by deadbeats and losers who have structured their lives so they can spend them sucking the teat of real America.

No wonder they feel "a world apart." And Fox News is there to remind them, if they ever have doubts.

(Crossposted from Huffington Post.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What Civilized Country Operates Like This?

You have seen it. The plastic bucket beside the cash register at the convenience store. A photo is taped to it. A child needs an operation. His father lost his job. The family lost its insurance. They are about to lose their home. Can you spare some change?

What civilized country operates like this? In case God-and-country defenders of the status quo need reminding, America’s for-profit health insurance system serves neither.

Reform advocates must hammer away at this relentlessly: health insurance reform is a moral issue more than an economic one.

Nicholas Kristof delivered further proof that the system is morally bankrupt in the October 4 New York Times.

Travis and Michael Waddington hoped to donate a kidney to their father, David, 58, a wine retailer and victim of polycystic kidney disease. PKD had destroyed David’s kidneys. Since the disease is genetic, Travis and Michael needed to be tested for the disease themselves before donating. Yet a positive result might mean the sons might never be able to get insurance. So their doctors advised against getting tested. Another advised getting tested under fictitious names. To protect their sons, husband and wife shot down the idea, even at the risk of David’s life.

Eventually, David received a kidney from a deceased donor, but Michael recently began experiencing PKD symptoms and now faces an insurance nightmare now all too familiar, obtaining affordable insurance – or any insurance – after being diagnosed with a serious illness.

Closer to home, an acquaintance recently donated a kidney to his father under somewhat different circumstances, but with similar risks. Such acts of mercy by organ donors (talk about risky behavior) present insurers with an elective pre-existing condition, and present donors with a moral dilemma. Fortunately, his father’s insurance covered both transplant surgeries. But both the son’s own physician and the transplant surgeons recommended that he say nothing to his insurer. It was illegal to deny coverage or insurance to organ donors, doctors told him. Nonetheless, they often heard of it happening.

Why tempt fate? He told his insurer nothing.

Kristoff calls an insurance system that forces patients into such impossible choices, “the disgrace of the industrialized world.”

But that’s putting it mildly. As T.R. Reid puts it in The Healing of America, our system is virtually a worldwide laughingstock. One thing on which experts at international health care symposia can agree, Reid explains, is that the U.S. for-profit insurance system is a mess. “Bashing the U.S. system is a standard agenda item.”

Joanne Ford, a patient on Social Security disability and wearing Coke-bottle eyeglasses, arrived for a Remote Area Medical free clinic in Knoxville. She came hoping to get a new pair for free. But nearly last in line, she almost missed her chance. Interviewed by 60 Minutes, Ford said tearfully, “I am sad that we are the wealthiest nation in the world and we don’t take care of our own.”

Even the socialist bogeymen of Europe treat their own better.

For-profit insurance can be cruel and capricious, not unlike the age of Dickens that Keith Olbermann invoked in a recent hour-long commentary. America’s uninsured have "a 40 percent higher risk of death than their privately insured counterparts," a new Harvard study finds. Furthermore, 45,000 Americans a year die from lack of health insurance. Like Dickens’ London, America’s working poor too often are either invisible or else blamed as surplus population –– impediments to the economic fortunes of their “betters.”

It is a seasonal tradition to revisit cherished redemption stories during the coming dark nights around the solstice, to refresh human connections not just to family and friends, but to our fellow men. Defenders of the status quo, especially, need to refresh theirs.

America would do well to revisit those redemption stories earlier this year as it considers how best to rehabilitate a business more informed by Wall Street than A Christmas Carol. For-profit health insurance is rare in the civilized world, and rightly so. It is a cold-hearted business more interested in serving the numbers on its balance sheets than the humanity behind the numbers.

That calls into question the humanity of its defenders, like the conservative radio icon who brags about taking on all comers with half his brain tied behind his back. That would be the feeling half. The human half. The half that Messrs. Scrooge and Potter let atrophy as an impediment to being good men of business.

Right now, a popular caterer downtown has posters on her door. A child needs an operation. A strawberry blonde boy in an adult-sized straw hat. He has a severe immune deficiency disease. He is with his parents at Duke University Medical Center for a bone marrow transplant. There's a pancake breakfast to raise money.

You might as well hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.

What civilized country operates like this?

(Cross-posted from Huffington Post.