Monday, August 31, 2009

Kristof on "Medical Bill Divorce"

This is nauseating.
My friend M. — you’ll understand in a moment why she’s terrified of my using her name — had to make a searing decision a year ago. She was married to a sweet, gentle man whom she loved, but who had become increasingly absent-minded. Finally, he was diagnosed with early-onset dementia.

The disease is degenerative, and he will become steadily less able to care for himself. At some point, as his medical needs multiply, he will probably need to be institutionalized.

The hospital arranged a conference call with a social worker, who outlined how the dementia and its financial toll on the family would progress, and then added, out of the blue: “Maybe you should divorce.”

“I was blown away,” M. told me. But, she said, the hospital staff members explained that they had seen it all before, many times. If M.’s husband required long-term care, the costs would be catastrophic even for a middle-class family with savings.

Eventually, after the expenses whittled away their combined assets, her husband could go on Medicaid — but by then their children’s nest egg would be gone, along with her 401(k) plan. She would face a bleak retirement with neither her husband nor her savings.

A complicating factor was that this was a second marriage. M.’s first husband had died, leaving an inheritance that he had intended for their children. She and her second husband had a prenuptial agreement, but that would not protect her assets from his medical expenses.

The hospital told M. not to waste time in dissolving the marriage. For five years after any divorce, her assets could be seized — precisely because the government knows that people sometimes divorce husbands or wives to escape their medical bills.

“How could I divorce him? I loved him,” she told me.

“I explored a lot of options with an attorney here in town,” she added. “The attorney said, ‘I don’t see any other options for you.’ It took about a year for me to do the divorce, it was so hard.”

So M. divorced the man she loves. I asked him what he thought of this. He can still speak, albeit not always coherently, and he paused a long, long time. All he could manage was: “It’s hard to say.”

Long-term care constitutes a difficult and expensive challenge in any health system. But the American patchwork, full of cracks through which people fall, has a special problem with medical expenses of all kinds bankrupting couples.

A study reported in The American Journal of Medicine this month found that 62 percent of American bankruptcies are linked to medical bills. These medical bankruptcies had increased nearly 50 percent in just six years. Astonishingly, 78 percent of these people actually had health insurance, but the gaps and inadequacies left them unprotected when they were hit by devastating bills.

M. still helps her husband and, quietly, continues to live with him and care for him. But she worries that the authorities will come after her if they realize that they divorced not because of irreconcilable differences but because of irreconcilable medical bills. There were awkward questions from friends who saw the divorce announcement in the newspaper.

“It’s just crazy,” she said. “It twists people like pretzels.”

The existing system doesn’t just break up families, it also costs lives. A 2004 study by the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, found that lack of health insurance causes 18,000 unnecessary deaths a year. That’s one person slipping through the cracks and dying every half an hour.

In short, it’s a good bet that our existing dysfunctional health system knocks off far more people than an army of “death panels” could — even if they existed, worked 24/7 and got around in a fleet of black helicopters.

So, for those of you inclined to believe the worst about President Obama, think it through. Suppose he is indeed a secret, foreign-born Muslim agent who is scheming to undermine American family values while killing off as many grandmothers as possible.

If all that were true, why on earth would he be trying so hard to reform our health care system? We already know how to prod families into divorce and take a life unnecessarily every 30 minutes — all we need to do is reject reform and stick with exactly what we have.
This isn't an excuse for a gang-of-six bill, mind you. Further enriching the insurance industry CEOs isn't sensible behavior, and forcing to people to buy terrible, gap-ridden insurance isn't a solution. It's more proof that America needs real reform, and real improvement.

Wal-Mart Sues Union Organizers for "Trademark Infringement" on free speech

I'm wondering if whatzisname is going to applaud this little SLAPP suit:

Fast forward to 2009, where we now have Wal-Mart seeking an injunction on the same basis, trademark infringement, in an attempt to have a union dismantle its website,

The order sought by Wal-Mart would require that the union not use the words "Wal-Mart" or "Wal-Mart Workers," not make fun of the Wal-Mart slogan "Save Money. Live Better," not use oval signs similar to Wal-Mart signs, etc.

If successful, the scope of this injunction order could easily have the effect of silencing Wal-Mart's opponents. In response, the union is challenging this use of trademark protection by Wal-Mart – as well it should.

In seeking an injunction, Wal-Mart is misusing intellectual property laws. Trademark and copyright protections exist to prevent commercial free-riders from exploiting the investments that businesses make in their products and marketing.

These protections are not designed to insulate corporations from public criticism. The union is obviously not trying to pass itself off as a Wal-Mart store; rather, it is criticizing Wal-Mart's employment practices.

Trademark and copyright protections should be interpreted to allow exceptions for political speech, parody and satire. Freedom of expression should permit parodies on political leaders, such as Pierre Eh!, which is indeed a legal development that has taken place in many other countries.

But trademark and copyright protections should also permit public criticism of corporate actors. Political speech is not only speech about governmental actions.

At a time when the private sector is under the microscope for having mismanaged risks in the market, citizens should be entitled to express their concerns regarding the ways in which corporate actors behave.

In a neo-liberal economy, corporations are powerful actors. Wal-Mart, for example, advertises average net sales of $100 billion per quarter – which makes it bigger than many governments.

It makes no sense that citizens would be allowed to criticize fully their municipal, provincial and national leaders, using parody and humour, but be prevented from using humour to oppose Wal-Mart's practices.

As with any powerful corporate citizen or public figure, Wal-Mart has to accept that with fame comes criticism. A responsible corporate citizen does not seek to silence its critics, but to engage in the debate.

It is time for our law to recognize and interpret trademark and copyright protection in light of the Charter guarantees of freedom of expression, and to allow exceptions for parody and political speech.

The Wal-Mart case provides an opportunity for the courts to advance the law in that direction and balance commercial protection with free expression.

Ultimately, the federal government must also review its legislation and clearly protect parody, satire and political speech. The review of the Copyright Act announced for this fall represents such an occasion, and, along with other intervenors, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association will be pushing for modifications to the Copyright Act consistent with our evolving understanding of freedom of expression.

The federal government has recently unveiled the Investigative Powers for the 21st Century bill. It is time, however, that it propose A Freedom of Expression for the 21st Century agenda, and provide protection for individuals who want to criticize not only governments, but also the corporate actors who shape their environment and society.

Nothing less is required in a country committed to free expression.

This is terrifying. Political speech can't even use the name of the party that it's criticizing? Never mind how this is (as I said) an obvious SLAPP suit: it shows just how bad trademark and copyright claims can get if the laws aren't made with the public interest in mind.

Gigantic Win for DPJ in Japan

Yes, the Democratic Party of Japan has finally upended the Liberal Democrats' long-standing dominance in the Lower House of the Diet. From the BBC:
The DPJ has won 300 seats in the 480-seat lower house, ending 50 years of almost unbroken rule by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), NHK TV says.

DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama hailed the win as a revolution and said people were "fed up" with the governing party.

Prime Minister Taro Aso has said he will resign as head of the LDP, taking responsibility for the defeat.

Japan is suffering record unemployment and its economy is struggling to emerge from a bruising recession.

The DPJ has said it will shift the focus of government from supporting corporations to helping consumers and workers.
This is a significant move to the left for an until-now-notoriously-conservative country. It's also a major vote against the old "Japan Inc" model of close corporate, bureaucratic and political cooperation—Hatoyama's passing shot at "supporting corporations" is clear enough on that.

The size of that win, though—it's truly shocking. Japan has been governed by coalitions for most of living memory, which limited the power of anybody in the party to actually govern the country. It likely had a lot to do with Japan's infamously powerful bureaucracy. Yet now, assuming that they hold the Upper House, the DPJ can run the country as a straight majority. They've already pledged to appoint top-level Ministry supervisors, to ban amakudari (the practice of giving retiring bureaucrats lucrative jobs at companies they once "supervised") and to cut the size of the civil service. I find the latter a bit unlikely, but the rest are long overdue changes that I'm sure the public would support.

The relationship with the United States is likely to change too. Traditional LDP-style American alignment is probably gone, and with it certain unspoken agreements on American basing in Japan and Japanese support of American foreign policy. Ichiro Ozawa is one of the most powerful men in the DPJ, and an outspoken supporter of Japanese international interventionism, but since he's not its titular head it's hard to say whether the DPJ will embrace it. They may not have the option: I wouldn't expect peace constitution reform under the DPJ any time soon.

What may make the most difference for ordinary Japanese is the changes to social welfare. There will be a minimum guaranteed pension, a minimum wage, and a child welfare stipend. All are long overdue, and almost certainly intended to deal with Japan's savings/consumption imbalance, horrific gini index, low birth rate, and other socioeconomic problems.

It's a positive change, and I think it'll have positive effects throughout the region.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Dowd: Still Terrible

Whatzisname was gabbling on about how amazing this one piece by Maureen Dowd, she of the famed Clenis obsession, was on the nature of the Internet. So I gave MoDo a read, against my better judgment, hoping against hope that it wasn't just due to his apparent desire to drop SLAPP suits on everybody in sight.

No such luck.

The column is about that model who sued a blogger for calling her a skank. Seems a bit of an overreaction: I got called a megalomaniac once, and I hadn't even dreamed sued anybody, but MoDo was inspired by it. Why? Well, for the same reason anybody with a bully pulpit gets inspired by unmasking bloggers: because they want to bully, and they've got the money, connections, and power to do it.

(Whatzisname himself loved this one line about how the Internet is full of angry drunks, but screwed up the attribution. He handed credit to MoDo when she was pretty clearly quoting Leon Wieseltier. Leon is an editor at The New Republic—that's the "liberal" publication notorious for shouting down Iraq-war-reluctant liberals and progressives. Leon himself is one of those I-supported-the-Iraq-war-but-not-Bush types. So take it for what it's worth.)

The column itself is incoherent, though. Take a look at this bit:

Pseudonyms have a noble history. Revolutionaries in France, founding fathers and Soviet dissidents used them. The great poet Fernando Pessoa used heteronyms to write in different styles and even to review the work composed under his other names.

As Hugo Black wrote in 1960, “It is plain that anonymity has sometimes been assumed for the most constructive purposes.”
Absolutely! Well put!

But look what preceded it:
The Internet was supposed to be the prolix paradise where there would be no more gatekeepers and everyone would finally have their say. We would express ourselves freely at any level, high or low, with no inhibitions.

Yet in this infinite realm of truth-telling, many want to hide. Who are these people prepared to tell you what they think, but not who they are? What is the mentality that lets them get in our face while wearing a mask? Shredding somebody’s character before the entire world and not being held accountable seems like the perfect sting.
And what follows it:
But on the Internet, it’s often less about being constructive and more about being cowardly.
What the hell is she on about? She answered her own question. What is the "mentality" of the pseudonymous? The same "mentality" of those people she named. Were people like the Federalists and revolutionaries and dissidents "shredding somebody's character...and not being held accountable?" Yes, but they did it for reasons that she herself found laudible! So clearly she thinks that it must be valid some of the time. What's the dividing line? When are we being "constructive" and when are we being "cowardly"?

She doesn't say. She probably doesn't know. Even if she did, who is she to tell the rest of us? The rights of privacy and expression that she (and whatzisname) hold in contempt are not intended to protect her. She has lots of well-paid people to do that for her. They're for everybody else. They're for the people without high-priced lawyers, or independent wealth, or powerful allies.

They aren't for modern nomenklatura like MoDo, or whatzisname, or Wieseltier. They're for us. They're to protect us. That's probably a idealistic attitude, but it bears repeating.

The threat is not those who would exercise their rights. The threat is those who would take them away.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

"Liberalism without Unions"? Yep, it'd suck.

Here's Salon on the modern, labor-free conception of "liberalism":

Looking back, we can see that the history of American liberalism since the Depression falls into two periods: the New Deal up until the 1970s, when industrial labor provided the muscle of the reform coalition, and the neoliberal period, when unions have been eclipsed in the alliance by the black civil rights movement and other social movements: consumerism, environmentalism, feminism and gay rights. Necessary and important as they are, there are two problems with these liberal social movements as the base of a progressive party.

First, unlike unions, they are not membership organizations funded by dues from their members. They are mostly AstroTurf movements that depend on their funding and strategic direction on a handful of progressive foundations, and their leaders are appointed by donors and board members, not elected by followers. The work they do is valuable, but they cannot be substitutes for genuinely popular organizations.

Second, the members of most of these nonprofit movements are drawn disproportionately from the white college-educated professional class; their self-assignment to one or another single-issue movement does not disguise the fact that they tend to belong to the same social elite. Like the progressivism of the 1900s, but unlike the labor movement and agrarian populism, the progressivism of the 2000s is a movement of haves motivated by pity for the have-littles and have-nots, rather than a movement of have-littles and have-nots motivated by self-interest. And because they are, or believe themselves to be, motivated by philanthropy, the progressive haves are less interested in the economic struggles of the have-littles of the broad working class than in rescuing a far smaller number of have-nots from dire poverty. And even those elite progressives who are concerned about the working class are motivated by noblesse oblige: "We're from Washington, and we're here to help!"
This is a point that's often overlooked in discussions of progressive movements. It is often elite-driven.

I don't believe that this is an accident, though. It's always been elites:

In my darker moments, I sometimes wonder whether the relatively brief influence of labor unions in the Democratic Party in the mid-20th century was not an exception to the rule of elitism in American politics. You can write a narrative of American history in which, first, agrarian populism and 19th-century labor movements are crushed by repression and bloodshed by the 1900s. Then organized labor, after a brief, unforeseen period of influence from the 1930s to the 1960s, is crushed a second time by neoliberal Democrats and conservative Republicans alike, leaving an America in which the only significant conflicts are those within the economic elite. In such a political order, the only left that counts will be the left based on money rather than votes or members. Progressivism becomes a movement of the privileged and charitable who are interested in doing good to other Americans rather than with other Americans.
You don't need to equivocate: elite-driven politics are the rule in America and have been for a long, long time. I'd be very cautious about claiming that things changed that much during the labor-dominated period, either, though it did change. And, remember, the reasons why it changed wasn't because of anything labor did per se, but because of the threat that a radicalized working class presented and the backdrop of depression and world war, and the great compression to a broad middle class during the 1940s/1950s.

Even from a simple political economic point of view, this shift is easily understood. The wealthy make [i]orders of magnitude[/i] more money than workers, and therefore have incredible, unbelievable resources. Not all of them are going to be bastards, but even the ones that aren't are going to marshal resources that worker-driven organizations like unions simply can't. Dominance by "benign" elites is inevitable.

In such a system, it is hard to speak of a politics of the left at all, inasmuch as politics is a matter of popular participation. To be sure, before elections various non-elite groups must be mobilized to vote for the reformist party. But between elections, there is no need to consult the majority, although pollsters may take its temperature now and then. There is no need to for consultation because public policy is something that should be devised by experts, many of them in interest-group organizations, who study issues, come to their conclusions and propose plans. Why involve the public in devising the plans? Why even explain the plans? It's easier for the experts simply to work with the elected representatives, who can then hire other experts – consultants – to learn how to sell the policies to voters. And if the elected representatives fail in their task of winning a legislative majority and passing legislation – well, since the 1970s liberals have shown that they are willing to rely on unelected federal judges and federal agencies to push unpopular progressive reforms through, when they can't get the votes.
That last bit is a bit unfair—-the reason why liberals rely on such things is because of the structure of American governance, the rise of the conservative movement as an agent in itself, and the importance of the Bill of Rights in American jurisprudence. Conservatives are even more likely to resort to the Constitution to get their way; they simply have a weaker legal case and always have.

As for the rest... it could be worse. A lot of other democracies—like Canada, the UK and Japan—have more powerful, less accountable civil servants that really do make all the important decisions. In America elected officials are a fair bit more powerful than the norm, and the public more powerful in turn. Since voting is rarely (read: never) based on a politician's policy positions, but instead based on their temperament, beliefs and personality, voters already make a key decision on what kind of policies they want when they choose the person to represent them. It's a valid concern, but it's not solely an American concern.

Can parties or partylike organizations play the role once played in part by labor unions? During the New Deal era, the political parties still represented popular interests and values, even in areas of the country like the South and much of the West where unions had been defeated. The old kind of party machine is dead forever, but while the conservative movement had some success with direct mail campaigns, neither national party has seriously tried to mobilize ordinary Americans according to a partisan public philosophy, as distinct from manipulating particular groups of voters on the basis of single issues. A few years ago there was talk of the "netroots" as a new constituency, but Internet campaigns in practice seem to have mobilized liberals rather than to have converted voters to liberalism.

In the 47 years of my life I have received only one piece of mail from the Democratic Party – a letter inviting me to pay $1,500 to buy a seat at a table at a fundraiser. I don't receive any e-mails from the Democrats at all. At the same time, I am battered by direct mail from various single-issue liberal constituencies, seeking not my vote but my money. Because I am neither a big donor nor a reliable foot soldier for this or that single-issue movement, but merely a citizen, the Democratic Party as an organization evidently has no interest in me.

The labor movement, as a basis for a liberal politics, is unlikely to revive. But surely the Democrats – or better yet, a liberal movement distinct from the Democrats – could try to use modern communications techniques to try to mobilize voters in places outside affluent neighborhoods and college towns. The objective is not to sell Americans on poll-tested talking points, but to inspire them with a coherent vision of the past, present and future of the country. The effort would be difficult and divisive, and it might fail. But the alternative is more of what we see in the politics of healthcare and energy reform: a politics motivated by a mixture of philanthropy and profit and carried out by means of incremental insider corporatist negotiations, a politics that most Americans watch in frustration from a distance.
I don't buy that the labor movement is dead, nor that it's dead as a basis for liberal politics. The greatest change between now and the 1990s is that people are more aware than ever of the distinction between the grand economic elites and the rest of us, and people are more aware than ever of how tenuous their jobs are. If the stories are true of a permanent movement away from good-paying, middle-class work, it's even more likely that unions will make a comeback, if only because people will no longer have that sense of smug security in their stocks or home equity that kept them from paying attention to the way things really were out there. And, though Obama's certainly not helping, the conservative movement is still a shadow of what it once was. Crazy, sure, but nowhere near as powerful.

As for visions...well, that's a problem, yes. That's been a problem with the various liberal factions for a long time. They fight, but they don't have any vision of what they're fighting for. At best they're preserving the past. The closest thing to a vision is the green movement, and that's probably why it's been more successful at binding groups together than anything else.

The irony is that the vision could become a stronger, better, fairer and more effective labor organization movement.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Senator Edward Kennedy Dead at 77

Sadly, his cancer finally claimed him.

He was a great man, a strong progressive, an honest-to-goodness liberal who helped its cause, and as Meteor Blades said on Kos:

Kennedy was a liberal fighter in the old mold. The plethora of legislation he helped pass made life better for children, for the poor, for African-Americans, for immigrants, for workers. He didn't just give lip service to the rights of workers, he stood in their corner. He fought for access to health care and for quality education. And he opposed the likes of Robert Bork and others who wanted to trash the gains American women, workers and minorities had made over the years.
Yes, he will be missed. But so will his contribution, unless the rest of us have the courage to take up his torch.

Monday, August 24, 2009

"The flattery that you're 'connected' can bring out the late Bob Novak in anyone"

That quote is from a very interesting, if dispiriting, piece from Harry Shearer on how the Obama White House isn't doing enough for New Orleans.
I say I might try one more time to reach out to Axelrod himself. "Don't bother with Rahm Emanuel or Axelrod," he advised. Why? "Their only interest in all of this is destroying Bobby" -- a reference to the state's fast-talking Republican governor and possible 2012 Presidential candidate Bobby Jindal.

"You mean, the same way that the Bush crowd only cared about destroying Kathleen Blanco?" I asked. His smile was part-rueful, part-"It's never too late to get wise, bud".

On Sunday, six days before the fourth anniversary of the catastrophe that almost drowned New Orleans, President Obama gave an "exclusive" interview to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. If you want to hear it for yourself, go here. Along the way, he dropped a little message: Janet Woodka's office would be allowed to expire at the end of next month.

Experiment officially over. To be clear, I'm not upset I wasn't treated like a celebrity or given ego-satisfying access. Frankly, the inside game creeps me out, the flattery that you're "connected" can bring out the late Bob Novak in anyone. I'm just angry that New Orleans, which did not bring about its own disaster, is watching a second consecutive president trash his glib promises to "rebuild it better".

Not exactly heartwarming stuff. But that bit about access says a lot.

See, Tom Ridge revealed a little while ago that the Department of Homeland Security had been manipulating its "terrorism level" system for political ends. That's caused a firestorm of controversy, because a lot of us had been shouting from the rooftops about how that was happening, and were either ignored or mocked for being "Bush haters". Vindication! Surely, now, the media would relent!

Not so much. No, here's how Marc Ambinder, proud avatar of the Washington consensus reacted:

Journalists, including myself, were very skeptical when anti-Bush liberals insisted that what Ridge now says is true, was true. We were wrong. Our skepticism about the activists' conclusions was warranted because these folks based their assumption on gut hatred for President Bush, and not on any evaluation of the raw intelligence.
This bought him a withering response from the people who had called it. All of them asked "why is it that journalists are so willing to make the ridiculous 'right for the wrong reasons' argument about their opponents and defend themselves as 'wrong for the right reasons'"? Even people who are reasonably progressive fall into this trap. Glenn says it's about access, and certainly that's a part of it.

But I think the quote from Shearer above has a role to play too. People are never quite sure whether they're right or wrong. You define "right" and "wrong" within a social environment. But journalists want to be listened to. They want to be 'connected'. They want to be, well, popular. Even if you're quite cognizant of all this, you can still be affected by it. If you're surrounded by people who manifestly know more about the issues than you do—the lot of any Washington journalist these days—then why not defer to them? They're "connected". You're "connected". You're part of their tribe. They're part of your tribe. That is what's important. Not "right" or "wrong"; that's just a matter of opinion.

(You don't even have to be a bad person. Shearer is a great man. He's fighting for a great cause. But even he is tempted to trade on his celebrity to gain inside access.)

So people like Krugman and Greenwald aren't being attacked because they were right, any more than they were being attacked for being wrong. Those things are irrelevant. They're being attacked because their arguments signify that they are Other. They aren't part of your little family. They aren't connected. Like the "gamma girls" that Media Whores Online wrote about so long ago, they don't even necessarily want to be. So they're fair game, and people like Ambinder will call them names in order to show just how loyal they are.

Even when they apologize, though, as Ambinder eventually did, the bits that aren't rescinded still show what's going on:
And yet -- we, too, weren't privy to the intelligence. Information asymmetry is always going to exist, and, living as we do in a Democratic system, most journalists are going to give the government the benefit of some doubt, even having learned lessons about giving the government that benefit.
This is just ridiculous. As Paul Krugman pointed out, he had every reason to doubt the Bush administration's pronouncements. In fact, he had very little reason to defer to them. But defer he does, because he is surrounded by "experts" that he's evidently too ignorant to question, in a community he desperately, desperately wants to belong to.

When he apologizes for that, I'll pay attention.

Edit: You should observe the latest apology, and what follows it. He's not really sorry for his description of the left. He's sorry he got caught out on it, and about "using the wrong words", as if there were right ones to express that ridiculous train of thought.

But look at this:

Both Glenn Greenwald and Marcy Wheeler have written posts eviscerating me for contending that Bush-hatred, not anything else, drove skepticism among liberals about the terrorist threat warnings. They've both written good posts, really; lawyerly, passionate and persuasive, over the top, at times, but they've given me a lot to think about. (One post is better than the other, but I won't say which one.)

They haven't changed my mind, but they've certainly modified my conclusion. I didn't spend enough time thinking about what I wanted to say. Incidentally, if I am a symbol of everything that is wrong in journalism, then I suggest they are both giving me WAY too much credit.
The bolded bit is mine, and it raises a simple question. Why, in an apology of all things, does Ambinder think that he's in any position to determine what is a "good" post and what isn't? He's apologizing for being a terrible writer! Why would a terrible writers think he gets to play judge and jury on the works of good writers like Greenwald and Wheeler!

Because he thinks of them as Outsiders, thinks of himself as an Insider, and believes that it's the Insiders that get to judge. That's why his "apology" is utterly meaningless. He'll talk about the past failings of "journalists", seeking safety in numbers and in the passage of time. And he'll admit to saying what he thinks badly. But he's never, ever going to admit that he came to the wrong conclusion. That might threaten his status.

As for that following post... look at this snippet:

The White House seems to have a back-up strategy and is openly embracing budget reconciliation. What Jay Rosen calls the Church of the Savvy -- that is, us media elite types -- say that reconciliation isn't possible, likely, or feasible.
Oh, Ambinder wants so badly to be one of the "savvy elites". Look beyond the watery veneer of irony, and you actually see the desperation there. He wants it so bad he can practically taste it. He wants it so bad that we can taste it.

I don't buy that Ambinder's sorry for a damned thing. He won't change his thoughts, won't change his actions, and has already gone back to the standard fare of vaguely-hidden shots at Those Filthy Hippies who said his Washington buddies were full of it.

Fear not, O Republican Elites. Robert Novak may be gone, but clearly a bumper crop of Douchebags For Liberty are jostling to take his place.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Reproduced, Verbatim, from No More Mister Nice Blog

Last week I went to a cookout on the beach here with some old friends (Sausages and seafood, but no cocktail weenies!) Every year they do a cookout, and then a birthday party, and for years I've known that one of their guests was Joe Klein. I never mixed it up with him because, after all, well...the opportunity never presented itself and while I'm pretty aggressive in print no one really goes up to someone and picks a quarrel with them, do they?

Or maybe they do. Yes, I guess they do. I was standing at the cookout minding my own business when Klein started pontificating for the rubes on how “surprising” and “shocking” it was that Grassley, of all people, should have come out and endorsed the “death panels” lie. I walked up and said “why are you surprised?” [edited to remove typo] to which he, in best pundit debater fashion (never allow yourself to admit you were just posing!), shot back “who says I'm surprised?” I said “well, you did. You just started your lecture saying “Its surprising.”” Its not surprising, the republicans have nothing left to lose and nothing left to gain at this point outside of pleasing the crazy base and attacking Obama and the dems.”

We were off and running. He then said that its true the fringe republicans were “crazy” but perhaps no crazier than the “crazy left” under Bush. I thought he meant the “truthers” so I said “name me one person in congress or the Senate who was as crazy on any topic as these Republican senators and Congressmen who sign on to the birther and deather stuff are now?” Evading this question he said “well, Glenn Greenwald is crazy—he's a civil liberties absolutist.” Now, me, I come from a long line of civil liberties absolutists so I said “I admire Glenn Greenwald's work immensley but it must be very embarrassing for you, of course, because he's been eating your lunch for years.” (!) I think this must be something of a sore point for him. He began shrieking “Glenn Greenwald is EVIL! EVILl! you know what he did? He “sicced” his blog readers on my EDITOR and she was going through a DIVORCE at the time.” Really? I said, politely, that was very wrong, if it happened.
“We kept it very quiet” he said, backing off the claim of any real harm and, as a twofer, managing to imply that only those "in the know" had been kept informed.

People around us were clamoring to know what the debate was about so I laid it out, chapter and verse: I explained the Klein was upset because he had been caught out shilling for the Republicans on National Security Matters and on the FISA court legislation in particular and that he was still upset because he'd been held up for ridicule for his absurd statement that there was no problem with the secret Bush programs although he didn't know anything about them. And that this extended to the actual retroactive FISA legislation, which he also said was fine but didn't know anything about. This seemed to inflame things somewhat. Can't see why. He began shrieking at me that he hadn't been wrong, he'd been misled by a “democratic staffer” but really, I just began laughing at that point because “I didn't read the legislation” like “the dog ate my homework” is rather a lame explanation for a grown man, let alone a self described journalist.

I re-iterated that I was a big admirer of Glenn's work and that he had just received the I.F. Stone award for his excellence. That really got Klein's goat and he started screaming that he had been one of Izzy's readers for years and that Glenn was no Izzy, that he was crazily anti-national security which Izzy wouldn't have been, and at any rate I shouldn't talk about things I don't understand and I should realize that Klein has been on the right side of every argument since the Vietnam war. Yes! I should read his stuff on the Vietnam war!”

I said that I was, in fact, one of his readers—that I read his column and his blog and that it was precisely because I did know his history, in detail, that I accepted Glenn's critique of him, which of course has always been extensively documented and linked. And then, in what might be the piece de resistance of this little interaction, he screamed “you don't read me! You read WIKIPEDIA! AND THAT'S LEFTIST.” He then added that he had always been anti war and that I should “read his [Klein's] stuff from 1993." Hmm....1993, were we at war with Iraq then? I rather thought that was a different time, and even a different president. I take it that the rationale behind that bizarre interjection is that, as far as Klein is concerned, most of this is really old history at this point and what he really wants to be talking about is health care reform.

After this the e discussion, such as it was, devolved into the usual journalistic posturing and ranting against “those bloggers” who “don't do research” and who “don't have editors.” (There were many other well respected journalists at this dinner but they don't deserve to be dragged in here) to which I responded “jeezus christ on toast points you can say that to me after it came out today that John Solomon, then of the Washington Post, was writing fawning letters to the White House explaining to them how he could spin the US attorney scandal anyway they wanted? And hellooooo? Judy Miller?” Klein actually backed down on this topic and we agreed that McClatchey had done very good reporting but the main thing I took away from the discussion is that for journalists like Klein the world is divided into practitioners/insiders and totally ignorant outsiders. He was surprised that I brought up the Solomon story, or that I took seriously the Judy Miller issue, because in his world that's really inside baseball. In fact when I pointed out how abysmal the Washington Post's editorial page had been, under Fred Hiatt's tenure, he and another Journalist standing nearby assured me that Fred is an “editorialist” so the ordinary rules don't apply and I don't need to tar the whole paper with his sins. Its as thought they imagine that each story is a stand alone piece and that there's a hard and fast line between opinion and “fact” when every day, and every way, we've seen any pretense to that distinction run right into the ground. Has any adult person thought that since Media Whores Online (of sainted memory?).

[Edited to remove two embarrassingly inaccurate French terms which I will replace with an apparently better chosen Yiddish word that makes me feel more like S.J. Perleman.] There's a term "Trepvorder" or things you wish you'd said after a conversation is over. Klein actually used a different strategy, more akin to anger sex--he stalked off to find someone at the party who would let him market himself as a great liberal spokesman with lots of friends in the bloggosphere that he'd just spent a good ten minutes attacking. (You have to understand it was a really small barbecue, maybe thirty people in all, so he stalked just two feet away from me and my supporters in order to find someone who isn't an American citizen and who doesn't read his blog. )

So what was his strategy to recoup the manhood he felt he'd lost in our argument? He told them that just that day he had received an obscene email from a right winger on the death panels issue. In retaliation for this he had “posted the entire email, with the guys name and email address” on his blog at Swampland so that his loyal readers could attack and destroy this poor, moronic, foul mouthed schnook. “So you see,” he said happily (and this is pretty much what he posted on his blog) “Attack this man for me! I'm really a liberal, if the right wingers hate me. And I do too have friends. I think.” Best moment of all was when our English friend rolled over on the sand and said, blandly and gently “oh, are you a liberal?”

This is a real life story, so it doesn't exactly have a point, or a moral, or even a conclusion except to say that the most striking thing of all about Klein's attitude towards me and presumably to his other readers was his assumption that although he's famous, and important, and people read his work that we read it as though it were a continually scrolling chyron at the bottom of a busy news screen and that we have no memory of what he has said, or done, or stood for. He was talking to a reader who actually reads him but he thought he could get away with bluffing me on a history which I actually share with him. He thought he could tell me that his argument with Glenn was something other than it was and that I couldn't go back, for myself, and review the evidence. Klein's Klein-line is that the parts of his past where he shilled for the Iraq war, where he covered for the excesses and abuses of the Bush Administration, where he played Hugh Hewitt's favorite “I ustabee a liberal but these dudes are crazee” guest can be forgotten because today he wrote something supportive about Obama's health care plan.

But as Athenae points out he is still hedging his bets. As long as there is money to be made or friendships to be maintained on the right side of the aisle he will continue to write these “on the one hand/on the other hand” pieces so in six or seven years he can point to whichever part is more convenient to him. And woe betide the reader who takes what he writes seriously--we're just crazy, leftist, wikipedia reading hysterics.
You know, you always read about how screwed up politicians are. And, yes, they usually deserve it.

But you rarely read about just how screwed up the guys who comment on them are. Or how disingenuous they are. Or how plain-old-batshit-crazy they are. And you won't, because the guys who are supposed to be pointing that out are part of the same tribe, with the same hangups.

That's why they fear bloggers so much. That's why people like whatzisname are desperate to find ways to sue them, and the rest are desperate to find ways to discredit them. Bloggers aren't part of the tribe—and after reading things like this, we don't necessarily want to be.

Tip to digby.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Simple Health Care Simile

Calling a plan to force people to buy terrible, overpriced private insurance a"solution" to the problem of uninsured Americans is about as smart as tossing people in prison for homelessness.

Sure, you've "solved" the problem. There are no homeless. They've got somewhere to sleep. But it's simultaneously stupid and a ridiculous misuse of the power of the state—just like individual mandates without a public option.

It's really, really sad that only Matt Taibbi seems to get that, and too many people that I used to respect don't.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

White House Official (Apparently) Hates Liberals

No, you aren't in the archives. It's 2009. It's the Obama Administration. And at least one of its officials is saying this:

In case progressives were beginning to feel as if the Obama administration doesn't really care what they think, they can rest assured: the White House hears them loud and clear. It just doesn't like the message.

"I don't understand why the left of the left has decided that this is their Waterloo," an anonymous senior White House adviserWashington Post. "We've gotten to this point where health care on the left is determined by the breadth of the public option. I don't understand how that has become the measure of whether what we achieve is health-care reform."

That's probably not a characterization--"left of the left"--liberals would have chosen for more than five dozen members of the Democratic caucus. And it doesn't exactly inspire faith that the White House sees the public option as more than a sliver of reform. But it also doesn't suggest they're expecting House progressives to fold.

And, in a bit of good news for progressives, it comes just as White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel--who could even be the Post's anonymous official--tells theNew York Times that the GOP "has made a strategic decision that defeating President Obama's health care proposal is more important for their political goals than solving the health insurance problems that Americans face every day."
People who believe that at least including a public option is necessary for health care reform are the—apparently quixotic—"left of the left"? Official-Who-Is-Definitely-Not-Rahm, the "left of the left" wants single payer. They always have. If you had had the political sense of a gerbil, you would have used that to set a left boundary that you could then negotiate down to what you have now.

No, a public option is what anybody more progressive than Max Baucus (D-Insurance Industry) is willing to settle for, because it's the only way to stop the insurance companies from taking their new windfall of economic rents and building a cosy little price-fixing cartel with it. They know that, as it stands, this scheme would be worse than the status quo without a public option. They aren't willing to sacrifice their nation's physical and financial health to prop up your little giveaway to the only group of people who deserve it less than, say, Goldman-Sachs.

(Whom you also propped up. Fancy that.)

It's the sheer contempt that really angers me. What the hell is this "left of the left" crap? Some kind of ridiculous "Sista Soulja" moment, as if that were necessary in 2009, from an anonymous official? Obama's already rejected his own base enough. He doesn't need you to do it for him. He at least doesn't say it, which is nice, but anybody who's paid attention to the rendition and transparency issues knows the score. Even Kos has had enough, and that's saying something. If he, or his officials, had any respect at all, this wouldn't be the case.

But if they can't respect you, perhaps they should fear you. They shouldn't fear violence—that's the tool of Republicans and dullards. They should fear your activism. They should fear your passion. That's how you win.

Remember the mantra: "If you vote for a health care bill without a public option, I will devote every spare moment and every spare dollar to your primary opponent".

Say it. Mean it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Threaten Them.

Firedoglake points out that you " Can’t Pass Health Care Bill Without A Public Option". The votes aren't there in the House.

There are 435 seats on the House. Of those, 257 are filled by Democrats and 178 by Republicans. Which means a majority is 218. The Republicans have vowed to vote against health care, period. The Democrats can pass health care on their own, but if they lose 40 of their own, they only have 217 votes.

There are 57 Democrats who signed the July 30 letter saying that they "simply cannot vote" for a bill that "at minimum" does not have a public plan (PDF). There are 7 more not listed on the letter who have pledged to vote against any bill that does not have a robust public plan. That makes 64 Democrats who won't vote for the "co-ops" that both Kathleen Sibelius and Robert Gibbs say the White House is "open" to.

Do the math: 257 - 64 = 193. They need 218 to pass the bill.

True. But that's assuming that the pro-Public Dems hold true. That's not guaranteed.

So this is what you need to do, folks. If you live in any of the districts posted on FDL and reproduced here, you have a job to do.

Member Name PVI District
Corrine Brown D+18 FL-03
Albio Sires D+21 NJ-13
Alcee Hastings D+28 FL-23
Andre Carson D+14 IN-07
Barbara Lee D+37 CA-09
Barney Frank D+14 MA-14
Bennie Thompson D+12 MS-02
Bill Delahunt D+9 MA-10
Bill Pascrell D+12 NJ-08
Bob Filner D+8 CA-51
Carolyn Kilpatrick D+31 MI-13
Carolyn Maloney D+26 NY-14
Chaka Fattah D+38 PA-02
Chellie Pingree D+8 MN-01
Dennis Kucinich D+8 OH-10
Diane Watson D+35 CA-33
Donald Payne D+33 NJ-10
Donna Edwards D+31 MD-04
Earl Blumenauer D+19 OR-03
Ed Towns D+38 NY-10
Eddie Bernice Johnson D+27 TX-30
Elijah Cummings D+25 MD-07
Emanuel Cleaver D+10 MO-05
Eric Massa R+5 NY-29
Pete Stark D+22 CA-13
Grace Napolitano D+18 CA-38
Gwen Moore D+22 WI-04
Hank Johnson D+24 GA-04
Jackie Spier D+23 CA-12
Jerry Nadler D+22 NY-08
Jesse Jackson, Jr. D+36 IL-02
Jim McDermott D+31 WA-07
Jim McGovern D+9 MA-03
John Conyers D+34 MI-14
John Olver D+14 MA-01
John Tierney D+7 MA-06
John Yarmuth D+2 KY-03
Jose Serrano D+41 NY-16
Judy Chu D+15 CA-32
Keith Ellison D_23 MN-05
Laura Richardson D+26 CA-37
Linda Sanchez D+12 CA-39
Lloyd Doggett D+6 TX-25
Lucille Roybal-Alard D+22 CA-34
Luis Gutierrez D+32 IL-04
Lynn Woolsey D+38 CA-06
Marcia Fudge D+32 OH-11
Marcy Kaptur D+10 OH-09
Maurice Hinchey D+6 NY-22
Maxine Waters D+31 CA-35
Mazie Hirono D+14 HI-02
Mel Watts D+16 NC-12
Michael Honda D+15 CA-15
Mike Capuano D+32 MA-08
Nydia Valezquez D+33 NY-12
Peter DeFazio D+2 OR-04
Phil Hare D+3 IL-17
Raul Grijalva D+6 AZ-07
Robert Wexler D+15 FL-19
Rush Holt D+5 NJ-12
Sam Farr D+19 CA-17
Sheila Jackson Lee D+24 TX-18
William Lacy Clay D+27 M0-01
Yvette Clarke D+38 NY-11
The job is simple. Either phone or write your Congressional Rep (NOT email) and tell them "if you vote for a health care bill without a strong public option, I will pour every dollar and minute I have to spare into your primary opponent's campaign."

That's it. No equivocation. No explanation. No rationalization. If they try to appeal to your identity as a Democrat, ignore them. If they try to appeal to your desire for health care reform, ignore them—the bill without a public option does little more than build an insurance cartel. Ignore whatever they say, and just repeat what I wrote above. You can switch around the words. Just keep the same message.

If you live in any Democrat-held district, this is a good idea. But if you live in any of the above districts, it is vital, since they already promised to defend the public option. If they turn, they'll already be losing anybody who dislikes milquetoast, power-seeking, industry-bought 'flip-floppers'. They'll need you. Badly.

So you have to scare them. They must remember that "safe" Democratic seats are not safe, because they're vulnerable to primary challenges. They must remember that a relatively small but committed number of angry citizens can sway a primary. And you don't scare them by being reasonable and amenable to compromise. You scare them by being implacable zealots who are willing to watch the world burn before they compromise.

Get to it.

The Democrats Are Terrible at Politics

Sorry, Nate, but that's the only real lesson of the "Death of the Public Option". Republicans are good at politics, Democrats are terrible at politics. It doesn't really matter how charismatic the Dems are, they're still terrible at politics.

Fucking step aside and let the Greens have a go.

Edit: Upon more thoroughly reading that piece, Nate comes across as a better Sabremetrician than political analyst. The death of the public option will majorly anger progressives, who will see it (quite rightly) as the death of Obama as any sort of transformative figure and as a gigantic handout to the insurance industry.

The bill will not accomplish what it sets out to do. The insurance industry will almost certainly recalibrate its pricing and business models to take into account the captive nature of the American public, and will probably coalesce into a rather tidy cartel—the usual way to get around government-imposed "competition" when a government-granted monopoly is in the offing. Any savings from bargaining power with suppliers will go entirely to shareholders and executive compensation. So will the increased revenues from Americans who have, quite literally, no choice.

Think about it. An America where health care is about as competitive as Broadband Service Providers. Does anybody think the Dems will be lionized for that? Nate claims that in the near-term it will be "almost certain." I don't buy it. That near-term will be a few months at best, before the Dems start getting savaged for something else.

And that's the big issue that Nate keeps avoiding: the Republicans are not going to stop here. Climbing down on the public option and turning Health Care reform into an industry handout is going to light a fire under the Republicans. They're going to smell blood, are going to know that the bill is terrible—since they damned well ensured it—and are going to do whatever they can to water down or destroy any other progressive legislation from Obama.

High-speed rail? Forget it.

Environmental reform? Not a chance.

Banking regulation? Was unlikely to begin with, but will be impossible.

And then, after the Dems have caved over, and over, and over again: what will happen? The same thing that always happens. The Republicans will turn around, call them "weak" on some irrelevant foreign policy issue. the public will understand what they're really saying, and the spinelessness of the Dems will get them kicked right out of power.

Then the Republicans will gain the throne again. The new, crazy Republicans. They'll crow about mandates, they'll gut any protections that might be left for consumers, they'll leave in the handouts to the new insurance oligopoly, they'll probably go invade Burma, and the whole merry-go-round will start over again.

Except, because progressives will be thoroughly disgusted with politics (another factor Nate does not consider), there won't be another Obama. Nobody will buy it. The only people energized by American governance will be Glenn Beck's psychotic minions. Progressives and liberals will do what they always do: retreat to civil society organizations and try to mitigate the damage. It won't work. The damage is already severe.

Yes, Nate, progressives in the Democratic party need to draw a line in the sand. Your perfunctory nod towards the Overton Window would have showed why, had you let it. Saying "no, we will NOT move" is exactly how you keep it from shifting to your opponent's side when they bust out the crazy. You threaten primary challenges even in districts where the Rep or Senator is in line with the district as a whole, you threaten to ensure that the other guy wins, and show that you're willing to pull down the whole damned temple around your ears.

To hell with the stats, to hell with incrementalism, and to hell with salvaging some miserable little cartel-building bill to try to make 2010 less of a bloodbath. LET it be a bloodbath.

They deserve nothing less.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Layton, Harper More Popular Than Ignatieff

At least according to an EKOS poll of Canadians. Since the Iggy thing is a bit of hobbyhorse of mine:
Job Approval Ratings
¤ 73% Barack Obama
¤ 36% Stephen Harper
¤ 34% Jack Layton
¤ 29% Michael Ignatieff
The numbers for the parties?
¤ 32.7% CPC
¤ 31.0% LPC
¤ 16.5% NDP
¤ 10.1% Green
¤ 9.7% BQ
For readers who aren't familiar with Canadian politics: Harper leads the "CPC", Ignatieff the "LPC", Layton the "NDP", and Obama leads "A Spineless Pack of Senators".

So, Harper's numbers are higher than his party. No surprise there, he's the reason his party has any appeal at all. But look at Ignatieff: his numbers trail his party's numbers, and trails Jack Layton, who leads the third-place NDP.

That isn't how it was supposed to be. Dion was the one who trailed his party, and thus—due to his incompetence and lack of charisma, natch—dragging his party down. Ignatieff was supposed to inspire Canadians. He's the guy who was on the BBC and taught at Harvard. He was the returning prodigal whose worldly expertise and television-forged speaking skills was going to entrance Canadians and help them forget all about how milquetoast and policy-free his party had become.

He was going to lift up his party through the sheer power of his own blinding intellect.

Yet what do we see here? Another Liberal leader trailing his own party. A leader trailing that mean ol' Stephen Harper. A leader trailing Jack Layton, the unreconstructed "socialist" whose party is supposedly out of touch with the Canadian masses. A leader being absolutely trounced by the American president, a man who has been going through a rather rough patch of late. So what's going on here?

Why was this guy installed at the head of the table, exactly? His foreign policy experience is something you'd want to avoid mentioning in Canada, what with the whole "defending neocons" thing. Besides, Bob Rae is ably handling that file. His domestic policy knowledge is limited to laudable comments about high-speed trains and quickly-renounced calls for EI equity. He gave an admittedly great speech about liberal democracy in England, but hasn't touched the subject since, in a country desperate for a Liberal leader who believes in something.

He isn't exactly charming the press, either. The desperate blogging campaign to convince the press that he's doing something this summer speaks volumes. I admire the loyalty, but wasn't the press supposed to like him?

Makes you wonder if maybe Rae should have been given the job after all.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Huge Car Bomb in Afghanistan


A suicide car bomb exploded near the main gate of NATO's headquarters in the Afghan capital early Saturday, killing and wounding an unknown number of people, an official said.

Bloodied and dazed Afghans wandered the street after the massive blast. Children — many of whom congregate outside the NATO gate to sell gum to Westerners, were among the wounded.

NATO's headquarters is on the same street as the U.S. Embassy and presidential palace. Afghanistan's Transportation Ministry lies across the street.
Capt. Elizabeth Mathias, a U.S. spokeswoman for the NATO-led mission, said the explosion occurred near the gate of NATO's International Security Assistance Force.
Several vehicles were destroyed at the site of the blast, said Mohammad Zahir Azimi, spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense. He said an unknown number of people were killed and wounded, adding he feared the toll would be high.

NATO headquarters has several large, cement blocks and steel gates that prevent anyone from reaching the entrance. It appeared the bomber was not able to breach those barriers, and the damage to NATO headquarters may have been minimized, an Associated Press reporter at the scene said.

The blast rattled the capital and sent a black plume of smoke skyward.
The attack of a high-profile, international target in Kabul comes less than a week before Afghans around the country are to vote for president and provincial councils.
Afghanistan has braced for attacks because of the election, which the Taliban have warned people not to participate in. International workers in the country planned to work from home over the next week, and some were encouraged to leave the country.
There was another bombing less than 48 hours prior to this one. The AP's right, that does suggest a likely bombing campaign leading up to the elections next week. NATO HQ may be well-protected, but as we've seen before, frustrated attacks on outsiders are quickly reoriented towards perceived "traitors" within. That's been a part of the Afghanistan conflict since the beginning; I see no reason why it will not escalate.

That last part is dismaying, though. Not only for the international workers—but for Afghans, who can't escape this sort of violence, and will have to endure the attacks on the "traitors" to come. It serves the idea that the country is fundamentally ungovernable. That's what the Taliban want people to think, and I fear they're succeeding.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Netroots Nation

I'm not at Netroots Nation-

(well, as far as any of you know)

...but I do support their aims and goals. And I do look forward to the video coverage.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Could CNBC have said "If You Could Start a Nice Little Riot For Us, That'd Be Greeaaaat" to the Teabaggers?

Or at least according to TPM, anyway. Shurely they must be wrong, though! No way could CNBC do such a thing...
CNBC approached Tea Party activists, looking for angry protest events that would make good television, according to a leaked email from a Tea Party discussion group. And one Tea Bagger responded by flagging an upcoming event that, he said, "should be a riot ... literally."

Yesterday, Tea Party Patriots national coordinator Jenny Beth Martin sent an email, obtained by TPMmuckraker, to a Tea Party google group. Martin told the group: "We have a media request for an event this week that will have lots of energy and lots of anger. This is for CNBC."

She then asked: "So, where are the big events this week and where can TPP best be represented on the news?"

Later that day, a Tea Bagger named Pat Wayman responded with a suggestion, also obtained by TPMmuckraker: "This one should be a riot! literally...." he wrote.

Wayman then posted information for an upcoming "health fair" hosted by Rep. David Scott (D-GA), at which the uninsured will receive free medical coverage*.

As Wayman noted, "[t]his is the Congressman who got a swastika painted on his office sign last night."

Wayman also included a link to a far-right website which lists the Scott event.

You can see both the Martin and Wayman emails here.

So, at least in Martin's telling, the pro-business CNBC was specifically looking for an event with "lots of energy and lots of anger." (Earlier this year, they just relied on their own correspondents for that.)

And of course, some Tea Baggers were only to happy to try to provide that anger.

Late Update: Martin tells TPMmuckraker that she did not forward the Scott event -- or, in fact, any event -- on to CNBC as a candidate for coverage. She stressed that her group "does not endorse anything that incites violence of any kind," adding that the email list is un-moderated. "I can't moderate every single comment," she said.

Asked whether CNBC had specifically told her they were looking for an event with "lots of energy and lots of anger," Martin replied: "That was the impression that I received from them." She declined to elaborate."


Well, it's at least theoretically possible that CNBC didn't actively encourage this person, at least according to the update. Maybe she "declined to elaborate" because she knew she was overstating the case, not because she didn't want to burn a high-profile contact.

After all, it's not like CNBC could have a stake in killing health care reform, right? You'd have to catch them publishing pieces talking about endangered profits from the reform, and there's no way they'd do that...

Healthcare Reform: A Potential Profit Disaster

Well, hey, he's mostly laying out the pros and cons for investors. Sure, the bill as written is actually a winner for insurance and pharma corps. And sure, he doesn't acknowledge that. But, hey, it's at least moderately balanced. You'd really have to have someone from CNBC going to bat for these private companies to make the case that they're against reform. And I doubt an objective news organization would stoop to...


Well then.

Hell with 'em.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Find Your Own Damned Pony

Canadian opinion journalism is almost universally terrible.

No, sorry, it is. There are exceptions, but by and large they're buried under a feculant mound of blowhards, faux-populists, "political strategists" who do little more than copy ancient American talking points, and Christie Blatchfords.

There's a reason I rarely bother quoting them. For all that I castigate whatzisname—and justifiably so, considering his apparent adoration of British libel law of all things—at least he's vaguely engaging, and counts himself among their bloggers, who are actually a fair bit more interesting. (James Curran's brand of somewhat disillusioned Liberalism come to mind. As does Jen Smith. Or Calgrit, but that's obvious.)

But man, sometimes you read something from an opinion journalist that just blows your head off:

[I]n certain quarters of the progressive media, commentators are bruiting over the possibility of Fascism in America. One thing about the Yankee left — no matter how hard they dig there is never a pony hiding under their particular pile of shit. Eight months after electing the most progressive candidate to even think about the White House since George McGovern, suddenly Fascism is on the march. And the Republicans are just discombobulated enough to provide fuel for the phony fire.
You be a bit confused. See, nobody who had actually read Sara Robinson's magisterial article on fascism would say this. They'd know that she was drawing on impeccable sources, made logical analogies, and had been published on a site that is absolutely authoritative on the subject among American liberals and progressives. If it's on Orcinus, you can take it seriously.

Even if it weren't on Orcinus, you could also look at how it was posted on the website of the Campaign for America's Future. Which makes sense, as she's a Fellow there. Yet here's Mr. Bell, citing "certain quarters" and linking to Truthout, in a brazen and obvious attempt to paint Ms. Robinson as a nutter.

Perhaps he might be justified if he could point to anything in the substance of the post. But he didn't. He didn't quote Robinson, as I did him. He didn't summarize Robinson. He didn't rebut Robinson, because rebuttal requires that you demonstrate the vaguest familiarity with the subject.

In fact, Douglas Bell has given us absolutely no reason to believe he read word ONE of what Robinson wrote.

You may ask "why on earth wouldn't he?" You may ask "why on earth would he pull such a dishonest ploy"? You may ask "why on earth would he spend the rest of the article taking shots at Americans that care about their politics, instead of babbling about 'silly seasons'"?

You may ask "why on earth would he possibly think he could get away with this?"


Canadian opinion journalism is almost universally terrible.

"I Am An American Conservative"

From a comment by "gizmo" on Digby's blog:

Edit: The original source appears to be, of all things, the Something Awful forums. They're the ones who created "all your base" and trolled the holy hell out of Sarah Palin a little while back.


This morning I was awoken by my alarm clock powered by electricity generated by the public power monopoly regulated by the U.S. Department of Energy.

I then took a shower in the clean water provided by a municipal water utility.

After that, I turned on the TV to one of the FCC-regulated channels to see what the National Weather Service of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration determined the weather was going to be like, using satellites designed, built, and launched by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

I watched this while eating my breakfast of U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected food and taking the drugs which have been determined as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

At the appropriate time, as regulated by the U.S. Congress and kept accurate by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the U.S. Naval Observatory, I get into my National Highway Traffic Safety Administration-approved automobile and set out to work on the roads build by the local, state, and federal Departments of Transportation, possibly stopping to purchase additional fuel of a quality level
determined by the Environmental Protection Agency, using legal tender issued by the Federal Reserve Bank.

On the way out the door I deposit any mail I have to be sent out via the U.S. Postal Service and drop the kids off at the public school.

After spending another day not being maimed or killed at work thanks to the workplace regulations imposed by the Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health administration, enjoying another two meals which again do not kill me because of the USDA, I drive my NHTSA car back home on the DOT roads, to my house which has not burned down in my absence because of the state and local building codes and Fire Marshal's inspection, and which has not been plundered of all its
valuables thanks to the local police department.

And then I log on to the internet -- which was developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration -- and post on and Fox News forums about how SOCIALISM in medicine is BAD because the government can't do anything right.
Not much to add there. Except that Robert Samuelson is an entitled idiot too.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

"Yes, Kids: We Are There Now"

Tristero quotes Sara Robinson about the slide into fascism. We're at "stage 3" of the five stages in that slide:
Now, the guessing game is over. We know beyond doubt that the Teabag movement was created out of whole cloth by astroturf groups like Dick Armey's FreedomWorks and Tim Phillips' Americans for Prosperity, with massive media help from FOX News. We see the Birther fracas -- the kind of urban myth-making that should have never made it out of the pages of the National Enquirer -- being openly ratified by Congressional Republicans. We've seen Armey's own professionally-produced field manual that carefully instructs conservative goon squads in the fine art of disrupting the democratic governing process -- and the film of public officials being terrorized and threatened to the point where some of them required armed escorts to leave the building. We've seen Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner applauding and promoting a video of the disruptions and looking forward to "a long, hot August for Democrats in Congress."

This is the sign we [scholarly experts who track the growth of fascism] were waiting for -- the one that tells us that yes, kids: we are there now. America's conservative elites have openly thrown in with the country's legions of discontented far right thugs. They have explicitly deputized them and empowered them to act as their enforcement arm on America's streets, sanctioning the physical harassment and intimidation of workers, liberals, and public officials who won't do their political or economic bidding.

This is the catalyzing moment at which honest-to-Hitler fascism begins. It's also our very last chance to stop it.
What this quote doesn't say is that there is an element of historical awareness here. You may have noticed that the thugs have been quick to label people who are trying to keep meetings from devolving into fistfights 'thugs' and 'brownshirts'. Why? Because they know damned well that the best insulation is projection. You use their accusation first, so that when they make it, it seems like a reaction to what you said. Sure, their complaint is more valid than yours, but the media has no interest and no skills in discering validity or accuracy.

Hell, they'll muzzle you if you actually do make accurate accusations, because the other side knows who owns you and knows how to lean on them. Nothing Olbermann said about O'Reilley was wrong or inappropriate, but neither "Bill-O" nor his employers could stand the spectacle of a loudmouth who wasn't apologizing for their wealth and power.

Those are the "traditional elites" you see in Robert Paxton's authoritative definition of "fascism", as quoted by Robinson:
"a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion."
Community decline? Victimhood? Mass-based party of committed nationalist militants? Sound familiar? Does it bring up Glenn Beck weeping on television about how much he "loves his country" and hates the people who are defiling it? Or the nativism aimed at immigrants? Or the anti-Islamic fervor? It does to me.

Sara points out the "stages" involved in fascism. We saw stage 3 above, the one we're at now. This is stage two, which is just closing up:
In the second stage, fascist movements take root, turn into real political parties, and seize their seat at the table of power....Paxton wrote that succeeding at the second stage "depends on certain relatively precise conditions: the weakness of a liberal state, whose inadequacies condemn the nation to disorder, decline, or humiliation; and political deadlock because the Right, the heir to power but unable to continue to wield it alone, refuses to accept a growing Left as a legitimate governing partner." He further noted that Hitler and Mussolini both took power under these same circumstances: "deadlock of constitutional government (produced in part by the polarization that the fascists abetted); conservative leaders who felt threatened by the loss of their capacity to keep the population under control at a moment of massive popular mobilization; an advancing Left; and conservative leaders who refused to work with that Left and who felt unable to continue to govern against the Left without further reinforcement."

And more ominously: "The most important variables...are the conservative elites' willingness to work with the fascists (along with a reciprocal flexibility on the part of the fascist leaders) and the depth of the crisis that induces them to cooperate."

That description sounds eerily like the dire straits our Congressional Republicans find themselves in right now. Though the GOP has been humiliated, rejected, and reduced to rump status by a series of epic national catastrophes mostly of its own making, its leadership can't even imagine governing cooperatively with the newly mobilized and ascendant Democrats. Lacking legitimate routes back to power, their last hope is to invest the hardcore remainder of their base with an undeserved legitimacy, recruit them as shock troops, and overthrow American democracy by force. If they can't win elections or policy fights, they're more than willing to take it to the streets, and seize power by bullying Americans into silence and complicity.
I slightly disagree with a bit of this; while the mobs are unseemly, they don't strike me as quite like the Brownshirts of old to me. Too old, for one thing. But the rest is spot-on. The alliance between the "center-right" and the absolute crazies has been going on for a while now, but the grievances of the latter have been embraced as the cause of the former, now that they've been largely rejected by the public at large.
Where's the danger line? Paxton offers three quick questions that point us straight at it:
1. Are [neo- or protofascisms] becoming rooted as parties that represent major interests and feelings and wield major influence on the political scene?

2. Is the economic or constitutional system in a state of blockage apparently insoluble by existing authorities?

3. Is a rapid political mobilization threatening to escape the control of traditional elites, to the point where they would be tempted to look for tough helpers in order to stay in charge?

By my reckoning, we're three for three. That's too close. Way too close.
Stage four is a conflict between the traditional right and the hard right; the shape of the future government depends on who wins. If the tradcoms win, it's a dictatorship, theocracy, or corporatist system; if the crazies win, it's the "f" word.

But we already know who wins that fight, don't we? We've seen it before. Thomas Frank wrote a rather nice book about it, and about how the economic elites get rolled when confronted with the crazier wing. How could they not? The crazies are committed.

And, naturally, stage five is "radicalization". The new regime gets a victory of some kind—usually military—and uses it to start consolidating. The really disturbing social engineering starts. So does the expansion.

Sara goes on:

It's so easy right now to look at the melee on the right and discount it as pure political theater of the most absurdly ridiculous kind. It's a freaking puppet show. These people can't be serious. Sure, they're angry -- but they're also a minority, out of power and reduced to throwing tantrums. Grown-ups need to worry about them about as much as you'd worry about a furious five-year-old threatening to hold her breath until she turned blue.

Unfortunately, all the noise and bluster actually obscures the danger. These people are as serious as a lynch mob, and have already taken the first steps toward becoming one. And they're going to walk taller and louder and prouder now that their bumbling efforts at civil disobedience are being committed with the full sanction and support of the country's most powerful people, who are cynically using them in a last-ditch effort to save their own places of profit and prestige.

We've arrived. We are now parked on the exact spot where our best experts tell us full-blown fascism is born. Every day that the conservatives in Congress, the right-wing talking heads, and their noisy minions are allowed to hold up our ability to govern the country is another day we're slowly creeping across the final line beyond which, history tells us, no country has ever been able to return.

How do we pull back? That's my next post.
I await it with baited breath, Sara.

But this is the key take-away here. People are still thinking that this whole thing can be pushed aside by saying "these people are a minority". What they forget is that, for all its bluster about unity, fascism is ultimately driven by a committed minority. The public gets swept up in it, and that's happing right now; but the National Socialists were a tiny joke of a party for most of their existence. They are convinced that the majority has been hoodwinked or perverted in some way, and will only see appeals to majority opinion as a form of oppression and victimization.

Even if this isn't part of some slide towards fascism, remember that. The fact that they're a minority makes them more dangerous. Not less.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Falling Action

It's amazing. Watch this video:

and you can actually see the conservative movement ruining America: one obnoxious, blaring, entitled asshole at a time.

Edit: And here they are threatening to shoot union workers for "violence".


Thursday, August 06, 2009

"Jane Galt" Truly Revealed!

HAH! Oh boy is this too good.

Mark Ames just penned an expose on Megan McArdle, my old "friend" "Jane Galt". Far from the Libertarian hero she's portrayed herself as, it turns out that Ames has revealed a person who has benefited, from beginning to end, from public largess. Why? Well, meet her dad:

Megan McArdle is the daughter of one Francis X. McArdle, who built his career as a public servant in the New York City administration, then moved over to the private side, where he could leverage his contacts with the government -- and finally moved back onto the public payroll in 2006, when Mr. McArdle was appointed by then-Sen. Hillary Clinton to advise the federal government how public funds should be spent, and on whom. Earlier this year, Mr. McArdle was reportedly in Albany lobbying the New York state government for a job as the "stimulus czar," appropriating President Obama's federal spending money.

Megan was born in 1973, a few years after Francis got his big fat job on the public payroll in the New York City administration, where he stayed for 11 years. Among the first big jobs Megan's daddy took while climbing up the public payroll career ladder were jobs as Inspector General for the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, and Director of Program Budget for the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation.

So Megan McArdle's entry into this world was literally greased by taxpayer funds. But of course, it wouldn't stop there.

Francis McArdle, rose up the Big Government ranks in the New York city. His public-funded career reached its peak in 1978 when then-Mayor Ed Koch named him as Commissioner of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, where he served until 1981. That job put McArdle in control of all sorts of public works: water supply, waste water, sewage infrastructure. It's kind of fitting that McArdle's privileged childhood was funded by taxpayer's shit and urine -- a Freudian might say that this is the source of her inexplicable hatred of the same Big Government that pissed dollars and shat gold on the McArdle household.

Megan's dad moved from the public sector overseeing public works to a job with real estate developer Olympia & York -- just in time to take advantage of the huge Battery Park City project that Olympia & York was developing under contract. The success of the project relied on huge taxpayer subsidies -- at least $65 million in 1981 dollars -- as well as major public works projects to make the development attractive, including the disastrous Westway road project, which drained at least $85 million of federal subsidies until it was finally mothballed in the mid-80s, due to environmental concerns and public protests -- the kinds of protesters whom grown-up Megan McArdle would later attack. No matter, though, because by the time the Westway was canceled and all that public money was wasted, Olympia & York, Megan's daddy's company, had catapulted into one of the top real estate moguls in the world, and Megan's daddy was ready to move on to even bigger things.

In 1985, F. X. McArdle had moved from the private sector to a position that Megan understands better than any other: a lobbyist who manipulates Big Government on behalf of private companies. Francis X. McArdle was named to head the General Contractor's Association of New York. He stayed in that lucrative position for the next 20 years.
So. Her dad was a public servant who cashed in on the private side, and then made even bigger bucks as a lobbyist. Our heroic libertarian individualist is the daughter of a wealthy lobbyist.

It doesn't stop there, though:

Megan showed how much she owes to her dad's way of doing business when she admitted in a blog post that she owes her success to personal contacts "I sent out about 1400 resumes blind after my firm failed. I got not one response. All the jobs I interviewed for came from personal contacts."

We learn just how useful these personal contacts are for Megan McArdle thanks to a gushing profile on her published in early 2007 in a rightwing magazine called "Doublethink" -- put out by a corporate-funded advocacy group with ties to Tom Delay and Cato, whose mission is to "identify and develop future conservative and libertarian leaders." In the profile, we learn that Megan's first job in 2001, after graduating from the University of Chicago's graduate business program as a committed Ayn Rand libertarian, was canceled due to the market drop in 2001. So instead of flipping burgers to make ends meet, the libertarian moved back home into her parents' Upper West Side digs -- a home that taxpayer money helped to fund. There, in the hard knocks of the Upper West Side, the 28-year-old MBA seethed in libertarian anger at all the welfare queens and wasteful government spending programs she saw all around her. But it wasn't until bin Laden created an opportunity that Megan finally got a job -- as an "executive copy girl" for a post-9/11 cleanup crew near the site of the WTC. It was exactly the sort of job that those "personal contacts" can help you get in the "byzantine" world of construction in NYC.

It was at this time, living in her parent's swank Manhattan pad and working a job in her daddy's line of business, that Megan McArdle's blogging career as a right-wing libertarian crusader was born.

Instead of admitting that she got her first job thanks to daddy's shady connections with the corrupt construction trades, Megan pretended that she took the WTC-cleanup job as a sort of personal penance, a gift to the people of her stricken city: "[I}t was easier to bear it all than it would be working somewhere else, and worrying, and unable to do anything about it." Really Megan, you shouldn't have born that cross for us.
There's a lot more there about the Atlantic Monthly, which I'll leave aside, since it is the former employer of Matthew Yglesias, a blogger I still respect.

And, honestly, the quality of an argument is not dependent on the identity and nature of the author. This whole enterprise of mine here would be somewhat silly if I didn't believe that. I could have just gone eponymous like the aforementioned Yglesias. I didn't, and that was for a reason.

So, instead, I'll say that this is more instructive than anything else. it's about a key problem with modern opinion journalism, which is that far, far too many people in that business are in it because of being born to the right people and belonging to the right class, instead of due to skill, talent, and insight. They are wealthy and secure enough that they don't have to worry about the economic repercussions of what they have to say; yet somehow almost inevitably spout conclusions that support the wealthy and powerful, because that's who they identify with.

And, yes, the "libertarians" tend to be the worst, because they don't understand and don't recognize the structures that placed them where they are. They want to think the best of themselves, they want to think that they're responsible for their success, so they adopt an ideology that lets them do that. It's understandable, sure, but that doesn't mean the rest of us should fall sway to that same ideology. Yet precisely because it's so convenient, they're the ones with the bullhorns, at least on "economic" issues.

I see this in a number of the defences out there, too. John Carney's rant about how "ugly" the Ames piece is ignores the privilege that he enjoyed as the son of a successful antitrust lawyer. (I have little sympathy for it anyway, considering how "ugly" the results of the policies both Carney and McArdle advocate, but regardless.) Ezra Klein posted a more thoughtful response, but again misses the point that it's McArdle's privilege that is the point here, and the incoherence of her ideological advocacy in light of that privilege.

And that's all assuming that she makes utterly impersonal, completely logical and rational arguments. But she doesn't. Her blogs have always been peppered with autobiographical details that are supposed to support her claims, and I remember "Jane Galt" constantly appealing to her authority as some kind of economic expert. She isn't, and has been roundly castigated for that already- but if you want to appeal to your personal authority, you're fair game, because it's your credibility that's at question here.

(That's also not getting into the hypocrisy of the right complaining about personal attacks. Seen her birth certificate lately?)

For all that his column may be uncomfortably personal, Ames has delivered an explosive broadside to McArdle's credibility. And considering how much he's written on privilege in America, it makes a lot of sense. "Ugly" or no.