Sunday, December 27, 2009

An Appendix For Boehlert on "Liberal Media Bias"

Earlier this week, Eric Boehlert had a noteworthy piece over at Media Matters, bidding "farewell to another decade of 'liberal media bias.'" In the real world, of course, there isn't any such creature when it comes to the corporate press, and Boehlert assembles an impressive little catalog of information aimed at setting the record straight on the point. Such a catalog can never be thorough enough, though, particularly in the space of a mere column, and, given the significance of the subject, I thought I'd add to it.

Boehlert begins at the dawn of the decade:
"The orgy of resentment that erupted toward Gore during the 2000 campaign season was likely unprecedented in American politics, as media elites did very little to hide their disdain for Gore. For years, they mocked him, bad-mouthed him, and made up nasty stories about him. (Hint: Inventing the Internet.)"
Fairly strong wording, but not strong enough, in my view, not by half. Not for what was happening at the time. Boehlert uses quotes from media figures about the hatred of the press for Gore, but, back in 2000, I focused on the actual results of this hatred, and provided more than a "hint" of the stories that were, indeed, being routinely fabricated from whole cloth, then repeated ad infinitum in an all-out effort to personally destroy the Democratic candidate. Assembled a catalog of my own about the extensive--and intensive--press efforts, and I'd offer it (and a brief follow-up I assembled, as well) as an appendix to Boehlert's piece.

"And how did the same press corps spend the years between Gore and Obama?" asks Boehlert. "Lying down for Bush, of course." I wouldn't characterize what occurred as "lying down," as that implies passivity, when, in fact, the press corps was largely an active, enthusiastic advocate for Bush for nearly the entirety of his time in the White House.

Specific examples of what Boehlert calls "lying down" are, as Boehlert notes, "too many to count." I would note that the press hatred of Gore in his contest against Bush continued into the ugly post-election dispute in Florida, where the press was in-the-tank for Bush, offering daily news "reports" that were essentially thinly re-written press-releases from the Bush campaign and the RNC, with no effort to correct the ludicrously false claims and implications contained therein. The corporate press was largely responsible for Bush's "victory," in Florida and thus nationally, just as it had been largely responsible for the closeness of the election in the first place. Months later, when a press consortium completed their recount of the Florida ballots and found that Gore had, in fact, won the state by every available counting standard, the story was buried--mostly ignored, or reported under blatantly misleading headlines that falsely suggested Bush had actually won. No one noticed, in any case.

The election aftermath was, of course, nothing compared to how deeply the press embedded itself in Bush's orifices in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S.. To get some idea of how bad this became, I'd quote right-wing activist/liar/fraud/clown Brent Bozell. Bozell's Media Research Center devotes itself to bitching about alleged "liberal bias" in the corporate press, a breed of bitching in which any hint of less-than-absolute-true-believer devotion to right-wing causes is written up as a sign of hopeless media dedication to heathen liberalism. That doesn't leave Bozell and co. with much to write about, of course, so they often just have to lie, mischaracterize, and misrepresent in order to have anything to sell. They can find "liberal bias" in a facial tic. After the terror attack, Bozell defined the mission of the MRC as open propagandist for the state:
"We are training our guns on any media outlet or any reporter interfering with America's war on terrorism or trying to undermine the authority of President Bush."
With all of that as prologue, here's how Bozell characterized the performance of the press after the terror attacks:

" the unforgettable present, as now our own land has come under attack, as our own citizens have died needlessly in collapsing heaps of metal and cement, as the crushing reality hits that our very freedom is now imperiled, our national press corps has responded, showing that in a real crisis, they are the best of the best. I know I speak for millions when I offer a heartfelt thank you to our entire national media for their sobriety, their sincerity and their refreshing sense of national purpose. Like all our leaders, they have responded to tragedy by showing us how to display the best of ourselves when we're feeling the worst."
--MRC head Brent Bozell (9/17/01)

Over the next few weeks, Bozell would, from time to time, use his column as an opportunity to slander a few critics of the "War On Terrorism," but his position on the press remained unchanged:

"Surely, the media are doing something right when this Blame America First crowd accuses them of 'pandering to the public's appetite for revenge.' In this conflict so far, our media have not succumbed to the above-America lobby, that the high calling of journalism is all about alienated 'independence,' somehow above being a neighbor or a citizen. They have suffered with all of us, and they are welcome in our saddened homes."
--Bozell (9/21/01)

"Much has been written about the terrific job done by so many in the wake of the Sept. 11 horror. Now Hollywood is weighing in, and it's played it well so far."
--Bozell (9/26/01)

This continued for months:

" this struggle, the far left is all alone, thoroughly out of the mainstream of political thought. As America struggled to process the toll of death and destruction, even the media elite cast aside their usual usual wartime cynicism. In the days following Sept 11, there was no wave of obnoxious claims that this President Bush had something to prove about his manhood or his military record. There was no declaration that this was somehow a conflict masking greedy designs for oil or other resources. There were no breast-beating demands for a reporter on every secret mission. As the war began, there was very little liberal bias, and conservative critics could only respond by thanking the media for the sobriety of their coverage. This must be driving [liberal columnist] Norman Solomon nuts."
--Bozell (1/3/02)

The assessment of one of the most rabid partisans in the business, an open propagandist for the state who feigns the ability to spot "liberal bias" in a reporter's cough.

With regard to press coverage of the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, Boehlert notes:
"A survey conducted by the liberal media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, which focused on the first two weeks of February 2003, found that of 393 people interviewed on-camera for network news reports about the war, just 17 percent of them expressed skepticism about the looming invasion."
Unmentioned is that FAIR followed up on that survey, beginning the day Bush launched the war, and continuing for three weeks. This one cast an even wider net--it examined the Iraq coverage of the three networks, PBS Newshour, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Reports, and Fox’s Special Report with Brit Hume. In this period, there were 1,617 sources appearing, but the results were even worse than before:
"Nearly two thirds of all sources, 64 percent, were pro-war, while 71 percent of U.S. guests favored the war. Anti-war voices were 10 percent of all sources, but just 6 percent of non-Iraqi sources and 3 percent of U.S. sources. Thus viewers were more than six times as likely to see a pro-war source as one who was anti-war; with U.S. guests alone, the ratio increases to 25 to 1... While the percentage of Americans opposing the war was about 10 times higher in the real world as they were on the nightly news (27 percent versus 3 percent), their proportion of the guestlist may still overstate the degree to which they were able to present their views on U.S. television. Guests with anti-war viewpoints were almost universally allowed one-sentence soundbites taken from interviews conducted on the street. Not a single show in the study conducted a sit-down interview with a person identified as being against the war."
Boehlert covers the pro-war position of the New York Times, but, remarkably, fails to mention one of the most important aspects of it; the dismal "work" of Judith Miller, who, in a series of "scoops" in the Times, acted as a stenographer for phony administration claims (often provided by phony "defectors") about Iraqi WMD programs. Though these stories wouldn't have held up under even minimal editorial scrutiny, they were approved and even placed on the front page of the Times. They became national news, picked up throughout the corporate press, and helped sell the public the administration's lies about Iraq. Miller was allowed to continue her streak for more than a year (after it became apparent there had been no Iraqi WMDs for years, she pimped the completely baseless "theory" that they'd existed, but had been moved to Syria before the invasion).

This wasn't the Times' only service to Bush. When, in 2005, it reported that Bush had been running a completely illegal surveillance operation, this uncharacteristic effort at legitimate reportage led right-wing critics to call for the prosecution of those at the Times. Unfortunately, just when it looked as if the Times had done something right, it emerged that the paper had actually uncovered the story during the 2004 presidential campaign, and had sat on it for a year instead of reporting it, thus helping ensure Bush re-election.

The best one can say is that it eventually did get reported. In a period of years when virtually nothing coming out of the administration bore any resemblance to the truth, it was difficult to find stories critical of Bush anywhere. Boehlert mentions the complete failure to report on the Downing Street memo, and while that is certainly one of the most egregious examples of the utterly broken nature of the corporate press, it's only one of enough examples to fill an encyclopedia. For 8 years, Bush was allowed to sit in governance over "the land of the free" and establish the framework for a monstrous dictatorship while the press cheered him on and left the public, which it's supposed to inform, almost entirely unaware of what was really happening. It's still mostly unaware, and that--the measurable results--is really the final nail in the coffin of right-wing nonsense about "liberal media bias."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dawn of the Pre-Fab Pols?

"I think this is a referendum on a lot of what's been going on in the country, which is moving radically to the left."
--Sean Hannity (2 Nov., 2009)

"This is where conservative Americans are drawing the line. New York-23. This is where we are fighting, this is where we will take a stand against both the liberal wing of the Republican Party and Obama and the Democrat [sic] party."
--Rush Limbaugh (3 Nov., 2009)

The battle over New York's 23rd congressional district easily made for the top sideshow of this off-off-year election season. It's a very strong Republican district but it's a moderate Republican one, and when DeDe Scozzafava, a moderate Republican, was chosen as the party candidate, the ideological jihadists that have come to dominate the American right --the teabaggers, the Fox News crowd, right-wing talk-radio, etc.--drew their long knives and went for the kill. Scozzafava was angrily denounced as a RINO (Republican In Name Only), a "liberal," a "Democrat-lite" candidate--not conservative enough, and completely unacceptable because of it. The righties chose, as their alternative champion, Doug Hoffman, a bookish, clueless and extremely conservative candidate from the state's Conservative party, and threw their full and considerable weight behind making him the next congressman from NY23. As Newt Gingrich, John Boehner, and other establishment elements of the Republican party saw the disaster that was in the making and moved in to advise against it, the Hoffman-ites elevated the importance of the contest to a referendum on the future and the very soul of the conservative movement. Scozzafava, demonized and low on funds, withdrew from the race and endorsed the Democratic candidate Bill Owens. Last week, on election day, Owens destroyed Hoffman, becoming the first Democrat to represent the region in congress since 1857.

No, 1857 is not a misprint. And the district has been in Republican hands since 1871.

The conservatives pimping Hoffman were right about his candidacy being significant, perhaps even of major significance; they just completely missed the mark on why. Hoffman didn't even live in the district he sought to represent--he hadn't lived there in nearly a decade, in fact. While refusing to speak in anything more than vague generalities about national issues, he demonstrated a complete lack of knowledge of the issues of local concern he would have to address as a member of congress if elected.[1] He ducked the candidates' debate and mostly stuck to "campaigning" via appearances in national right-wing media outlets. Unable to raise money in "his" district, he had to depend, for funding, on his own personal wealth and on massive donations from the conservative forces backing his candidacy, all of them outside both his district and the state. And they spent a bloody fortune (final figures won't be available until the next filing but just one of Hoffman's benefactors--the Club For Growth--ponied up in excess of $1 million).

All of this points to Hoffman's real significance: he was, like the teabagger "movement," a fiction. A fabrication. A made-up candidate, built from huge injections of right-wing money, free access to a massive propaganda outlet in the form of the right-wing press, and endorsements by such figures as teabagger darling Sarah Palin and teabagger inventor Dick Armey (who took his FreedomWorks astroturf outfit to the district to stump for Hoffman). He was put together like a dummy corporation in the Bahamas and wheeled out to read his lines. He was astroturf.

Eric Boehlert has a column over at Media Matters today that posits the notion of Hoffman as a "media candidate," a creation of right-wing media. The contribution of the right-wing media to creating Hoffman is indisputable but I think Boehlert focuses too narrowly on it to the exclusion of everything else I've just been outlining.

The teabagger "movement" has been waging ideological jihad against Republicans and that's what Hoffman was created to do, so much so that the rightist elements who backed him declared his loss a moral "victory." The reason the party backed a moderate Republican in NY23, of course, is because NY23 is a moderate Republican district and the party establishment didn't think a hardcore rightist could win it (a notion that now has the election results to support it). This pragmatism certainly isn't representative of the Republicans' standard operating procedure, particularly in recent years. Reading through the fever swamp that is the right-wing blogosphere though, the portrait of the Republican party offered by the purists is one of an entrenched, overly moderate, even "liberal" party establishment that throws its support behind like-minded candidates, rather than conservatives. The purists are furious over this. They want the party to move radically to the right and adopt an unwavering purist line, unattenuated by pragmatic considerations.

That's a narrative straight from the moon. Where, after all, is this wave of "moderates" and "liberals" in the Republican party? You certainly don't find them in congress. The Obama's stupid "stimulus" plan got the votes of a grand total of 2 Senate Republicans. One (Arlen Specter), was then driven out of the party by the purists. The other (Olympia Snowe) became the sole Republican in congress to date to sign on to any iteration of health-care reform at any stage of the process (and even then, she said she was only doing it to keep her hands in the process).

So where are they? I read and sometimes participate in a conservative site called "The Next Right." A few days ago, I asked that question of the many teabagger jihadists there. None of them had good answers. Some threw out names like John McCain, Lindsey Graham, even George W. Bush!

Yes, George W. Bush, who enjoyed the fanatical devotion of the American right throughout his term--probably the most popular president among conservatives in the history of polling. The ABC/Washington Post poll asked respondents in January, as Bush was leaving office, to offer an overall rating of his administration: A whopping 82% of conservative Republicans rated him a success; 53% "strongly." If Bush was anything other than a devout conservative, it would come as a complete shock to the American right.

John McCain was crushed in last year's presidential election in large part because he was a Bush clone. He had a lifetime rating of 82.3% from the ACU (American Conservative Union),[2] and, as Congressional Quarterly pointed out, McCain voted for Bush's position 90% of the time during Bush's first 7 1/2 years in office. In the year leading into the election, he was with Bush 95% of the time, making him Bush's top ally in the congress. In the first half of 2008, he had voted with Bush 100% of the time.

It wasn't a surprise to me that Lindsey Graham's name was thrown out. He became a target of the purists earlier this year, as teabaggers appeared at his "townhall meeting" to heckle him, denigrate his conservatism, ask him when he planned to switch parties. In the real world, Graham is even more conservative than McCain. The reactionary Family Research Council granted him their "True Blue Award," Americans for Tax Reform has named him "Hero of the Taxpayer," Graham has an 89.79% rating by the American Conservative Union, and is persistently ranked among their "Senate Standouts" (made up of the 20 most conservative Senators). He has more "honors" from similar right-wing orgs than can be easily counted. The notion that Lindsey Graham is some sort of RINO or moderate or "liberal" or anything other than a very rock-solidly conservative Republican says nothing about Graham and everything about the reactionary idiots who make such claims.

And these were the examples I was given. Even if we ignored reality and pretended as if every one of them was legitimate, does such a small number really justify the ludicrous narrative we've been given by the purists? Is it worth the amount of rage we've seen or the remarkable degree of it or the extraordinary expenditure in time, effort and money advanced to combat it? I can see no case for it, even if we ignored the fact that these are all extremely conservative politicians, and if we aren't willing to ignore that--as there's absolutely no reason to do so--there's certainly no case for it.

What really places the teabagger narrative in a realm of fantasy that, in any other context, would earn its purveyors a slot in a mental health facility is the fact that in the real world, the Republican party, which has been driving out its moderates for years now, is, today, as far to the right as it has been in the lifetime of anyone reading these words. One of the simple souls who threw out McCain as an example of a mushy moderate Republican inadvertently demonstrated this when he pointed out that John McCain's 82.3% conservative rating from the ACU only made him the 39th most conservative Senator by the ACU's estimation. McCain only disagreed with the ACU--hardcore conservatives--17.7% of the time, and even that only puts him as high as #39.

The purists present themselves as great knights on white horses waging the Good Fight against an implacable Dragon, that being Republican heresy. The astroturfers behind the teabagger contingent know better but seem to have concluded that whatever can drag the Republicans even further to the right will serve their ends. They've had great success this year in manufacturing a "movement." Doug Hoffman was an experiment, an attempt to do the same thing with a candidate. He failed but I doubt he's going to be the last. The astroturfers have already told their minions his loss was a "moral victory." As one who doesn't want the right to rule, I can only hope they continue with such "victories" but as one who sees the need for an effective, credible opposition, I must concede this has been an unfortunate turn of events.



[1]Asked questions about these subjects by the editorial board of the local Waterton Daily Times, Hoffman, lost at sea, became quite frustrated--"flustered and ill-at-ease"--and angrily complained that he should have been given such questions beforehand.

[2] The ACU ratings aren't comprehensive--like most orgs that offer such ratings, it cherry-picks issues in order to put its favored politicians on top. Still, their lifetime ratings do represent a far broader cross-section of a politicians' career than the ravings of the clown who wanted to make a fight of this--like any purist, he picked out three or four examples of non-conservative "heresies"--several of which weren't non-conservative heresies--and rested his entire case for the apostasy of pols like McCain on them.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Astroturfed Sound & Fury on the Capitol Steps

A little over a week ago, the psychotic Rep. Michelle Bachmann (Clown-MN) teamed with the astroturfers behind the teabagger "movement" (she's one of their darlings) to call for a big rally against offering affordable health care to the public. It all came together Thursday in a comedy of errors on the steps of the Capitol.

The teabaggers displayed their usual charm, waving signs promoting "birther"-ism, comparing health care reform to Dachau, and denouncing the Obama as a rank socialist. The latter sentiment was offered by most of the large number of speakers who took a turn at the mic. Mark Levin, brainless reactionary talk-show host, even said the Obama was looking to overturn the American Revolution.

House Republican leader John Boehner makes a poor imitation of a fiery orator--he has one of the most monotonous monotones in D.C., and perpetually bears the stiff, uncomfortable expression of a man trapped on a long elevator ride with someone suffering extreme outbursts of flatulence--but, for this occasion, he gave it has best shot, and with some amusing results. Ever suspect Boehner wouldn't know the Constitution if he was looking right at it? If so, then Thursday's little event was tailor made for you. In the middle of his remarks, he whipped out what he said was his personal copy of the U.S. Constitution, and, sternly waving it as a voodoo fetish against the evils of health care reform, proceeded to recite what he called its "preamble." What he actually recited was the preamble to the Declaration of Independence.

Somehow, "doh!" just doesn't sufficiently cover that one.

Perhaps even more amusing is the fact that, if any of the assembled teabaggers recognized the gaffe, they didn't bother to react to it.

Boehner was only one of perhaps two-dozen Republican members of congress who decided it was more important to make asses of themselves before a bank of cameras and a crowd of like-minded idiots than to actually do the job they were elected to do. One of the most amusing footnotes to this whole affair, in fact, was how a large number of Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee blew off a hearing on the reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act to attend, and, as a consequence, several Republican-sponsored measures strengthening that act were narrowly defeated.

So at least something good came out of all of this.

In the afterglow of the event, Bachmann appeared on Sean Hannity's Fox News show to offer the astroturf version of the final analysis of the day's events. Today's rally, she delightedly exclaimed, "was totally word of mouth. This was nothing that we organized, nothing that we planned. We didn't order one bus, one carload. Nothing. Complete word of mouth." This is an important point, when it comes to astroturf--it needs to be made to look real, instead of like astroturf. But, of course, it was astroturf; for a week before the "spontaneous" rally, the event was heavily promoted on Fox News and by the two main teabagger astroturf orgs, FreedomWorks (whose president even spoke at the rally) and Americans For Prosperity. The latter even provided a lot of the crowd, offering an unknown number of free bus rides for "spontaneous" demonstrators from all over the country (an AFP coordinator was caught on camera saying they had at least 40 buses bringing in people). Fortunately for the astroturfers, much of the press followed its usual pattern of "reporting" on the event without going into what was behind it, so the astroturfers mostly succeeded again. The only possible positive spin on the horrific, kill-crazy rampage that happened in Texas that same day is that at least it kicked this sorry sound-and-fury out of the top news-story slot that day.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Conservative America?

An August Gallup poll yielded up an intriguing result: nationally, self-identified conservatives outnumbered self-identified liberals by a margin of 2-to-1, and outnumbered them in all 50 states as well, usually by large margins. This led to much back-slapping in conservative circles in the days and weeks after the poll's release. Right-wing talk radio offered "told you so"s. The conservative blogosphere rubbed its belly with a contented sigh. The Media Research Center whined about the lack of press coverage given the finding. The results played into a well-worn conservative narrative spun over the decades about the U.S. being, at heart, a conservative nation and hyping the results was, it seems, a handy way to bolster morale at a time when conservatives seem to be on the ropes. Unsurprisingly, there wasn't a great deal of attention given to what the poll really meant.

The hard, cold political reality facing the right today--the one that's still there after the poll results, and after all that back-slapping--is that the U.S. isn't a conservative nation. What's more, that conclusion isn't even particularly controversial for anyone who has examined the matter in any detail; for the most part, it isn't even close. Public opinion is more heavily polled in the U.S. than in any other country on earth. On issue after issue, Americans are not only with the liberals but with them overwhelmingly.

A few Google searches offer a glimpse of the polling this year:

--An AP/Roper poll from October showed that 64% of Americans oppose the war in Iraq. 67% told the CBS/New York Times poll in September that the war wasn't even worth fighting. Though conservatives have been utterly opposed to setting a timetable for withdrawal, the public has supported doing so for quite some time. A Newsweek/Princeton poll from April asked about Obama's then-proposed timetable for withdrawal by 2010 and found that 74% said that was either "about right" or wanted to withdraw even sooner.

--On the matter of health care, Americans have favored a single-payer plan, wherein the government provides health insurance for all, by about 60%, a number which has been stable for years. This is well to the left of any of the health care "reform" measures presently being debated in congress.

--66% told the CBS/New York Times poll in June they favored either gay marriage or gay civil unions. More importantly, opposition to such arrangements are centered in older adults (those over 40) and heavily concentrated in the elderly (those over 65)--the younger generations to whom the future belongs have adopted the more liberal views.

--The polling on global warming has shown huge majorities (over 60%) concerned about the problem for the last 11 years (and probably further back--that's the info I was able to track down with a Google search). The number, as measured by Gallup in May, had dropped from the year before (down to 57%), but it has briefly gone down before, and the long-term polling is very clear on the point. The boilerplate conservative position, on the other hand, is, of course, that global warming is either "exaggerated" or an outright hoax (the same Gallup poll showed that 66% of Republicans held to that view).

--A long-running majority of Americans favor abortion rights and have for decades. The Republican party platform position--a blanket ban on abortions without exception--polls at 6%-11%. A CBS/New York Times poll in June asked "in general, do you think the Court's decision [in Roe v. Wade] was a good thing or a bad thing?" 62% said it was a good thing vs. 32% bad. An interesting finding from that same poll is that, while (unsurprisingly) 74% of Democrats said it was a good thing, 40% of Republicans also said it was a good thing vs. 51% bad.

--In January, the ABC/Washington Post poll found that, while 55% of Republicans opposed loosening Bush-era restrictions on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, 59% of Americans favored doing so. Support has generally hovered around that level for a few years, now, and a more recent Pew Research Center poll in July found no change--support still at 58%.

And so on. One is hard pressed to find a single major public policy issue on which the liberals don't hold an overwhelming advantage in public sentiment.

Conservatives hold a different kind of advantage though, that of money. Lots and lots of money, which is made available to them because they're the natural allies of the Establishment.

Any liberal movement has to start from nothing or virtually nothing and build itself the hard way, from the ground up. They are grassroots efforts that have virtually nothing in the way of resources, are generally marginalized, often feared and despised, even criminalized and have to fight like hell, often for decades, to get anything at all. Look at the movement for extending marriage benefits to homosexuals. Twenty-five years ago, it was the pipe-dream of a hated micro-minority and probably wouldn't have polled out of single digits. Today, it's not only a majority position, it's an overwhelmingly majority one.

Conservatives, on the other hand, rarely have to build anything. They find millions of dollars available to them on the first day they launch a "movement." Money from powerful interests looking to maintain their prerogatives or looking to keep the general public fighting amongst itself over hot-button wedge issues in order to keep it from challenging those prerogatives. If one is a conservative, that must feel great but that money is as dirty as an old carburetor, and conscientious conservatives--if the breed isn't entirely extinct by now--haven't really come to terms with that. Their vastly superior monetary resources have meant conservatives are grossly overrepresented in just about every major institution. It also seems to generate a significant disconnect between the conservatives and the general public. Because they can call upon such vast resources at the drop of a hat, the conservatives are insulated from the concerns of the very real people they claim to represent, rather than being born of those concerns. Because they can so easily appear to have a significant advantage by virtue of their greater visibility, they believe they do have that significant an advantage. This gives them a warm security blanket beneath which they can proclaim America The Conservative.

It just isn't there in the public opinion data though. Self-identification as "conservative" outscores self-identification as "liberal" only because the omnipresent American conservative machine has spent decades of time and a kingdom's fortune demonizing the word "liberal." Most people aren't ideologues or policy-wonks and don't give a great deal of thought to what catch-all word may most precisely describe their politics. "Liberal" is, for them, only a word they perceive as having acquired some sort of negative taint in political discourse. They shy away from applying it to themselves. But for all that conservative money and noise and all the advantages it appears to give the right, the people are still with the liberals--and with them overwhelmingly--on the issues.

Just ask them.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Money isn’t "an issue" in U.S. politics. It’s virtually the only issue. If given even half the weight it merited, it would lead the news almost every night. Instead, it's something on which the press simply doesn't report at all. Stray stories, here and there. It's sometimes scandalized, but the very little reporting that does appear occurs in a vacuum. No consistent narrative. No follow-up. Certainly never anything remotely approximating the sort of feeding frenzy that regularly accompanies stories about sex, crime, or, more recently, dead pop stars.[1]

Without the money angle, most political stories become inexplicable. The “mainstream” corporate press largely portrayed the teabagger phenomenon, to name one of the prominent recent examples, as a genuine “movement,” instead of what it actually is, a 100% corporate-invented astroturf campaign fueled by nonsense spread by right-wing media outlets (themselves huge corporate interests). The facts about the actual forces behind the "movement" are readily available. On the internet, they're literally only a quick Google search away. But someone who stuck to most “mainstream” corporate press outlets would know virtually nothing about it, except that there was this sudden, loud uprising of angry, anti-Obama mobs. The goal of astroturf is to give the impression of a genuine grassroots campaign--when, as has happened here, the press treats it as one, the campaign has succeeded.

The Center for Responsive Politics calls their website The information they collect isn't really "secret." It's all publicly available. It's "secret" because, among other things, the press, which is supposed to be a watchdog about such things, won’t, as a rule, touch such information with a 10-foot pole. Common Cause issued one of their "Legislating While Under the Influence" reports on health care industry contributions to congress, and you’ll learn more about health care reform by reading its relatively few pages than you’d learn from the combination of every report of every network newscast on the subject.

One "secret" kept by the press is that Sen. Max Baucus, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, is the top recipient of health-care industry donations in the congress.

An even better-kept secret is that Baucus allowed the former Vice President of Wellpoint to write "his" bill. Everywhere in the press, it's just "the Baucus bill." And, since it's the most conservative health care bill in congress (and the one that offers no real reform), it's more often than not being treated, by the press, as the only one. There are actually four others that long ago passed out of the relevant committees of both houses--the ones dealing with health care--whereas the Wellpoint bill is being hashed out in the Finance Committee.

The health care industry spent a fortune getting politicians (including the Obama) to support provisions mandating that everyone carry health insurance. Wellpoi… er… Baucus included a provision making health coverage mandatory, and imposing a tax penalty on anyone who fails to comply.[2] This sets up a dynamic one would think our watchdog press would find interesting: The Wellpoint plan publicly subsidizes Americans' purchase of health care. It also creates, at the point of a gun, millions of mandatory new clients for the current nightmare of a health insurance industry. The government subsidies to those new clients go, of course, to those insurance companies, who, in turn, spend millions of dollars purchasing politicians like Max Baucus.

What a deal!

If the press would report ANY of this, the “Baucus” bill would have been dead before it ever began, but that would require abandoning the fairy-tale narrative of American politics as a battle of competing ideologies and dealing with what actually makes the trains run on time.



[1] The reasons for this are many and varied. Among a great many other things, the media orgs are, themselves, huge corporate interests with their own chunk invested in the process Their even-bigger-money ownership has even more money in it.

[2] That wasn't strong enough for the industry, which wanted criminal penalties--jail time--for those who failed to carry health insurance. The failure of the bill to include this is largely responsible for the last-minute industry push against reform which has so befuddled the corporate press this week--again, if you don't follow the money, the story is inexplicable.

Friday, September 18, 2009

ACORN, American Politics, & the Conservatives Who Make 'Em That Way

One of American conservatism's favorite targets, in recent years, has been the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN. ACORN is, as it describes itself, "the nation’s largest grassroots community organization of low- and moderate-income people." They help poor people. They've been doing it for nearly 40 years now. Some of their work has received federal funding. One aspect of their activities--their voter registration efforts--has become a flashpoint for right-wing ire in more recent years, particularly in the last two, as those efforts are, like everything else ACORN does, aimed at those of moderate income, who, of course, tend to vote Democratic.

The conservative critics have drawn from their usual playbook in smearing the organization, layering lies upon lies in the hope that they can bury ACORN before any glimmer of the truth is able to penetrate. Alleged involvement of a dozen ACORN volunteers in voter registration fraud--fraud committed against ACORN--is used as "evidence" of the corruption of the entire enterprise. ACORN's forwarding of phony registrations to state governments is used in the same way. Omitted from the conservative accounts: the fact that those states legally require ACORN to do this and the fact that ACORN does make efforts to flag, for those states, registrations they believe phony. "ACORN" has been adopted by internet conservatives as shorthand for "voter fraud,"intentionally conflating registration fraud (the actual charge falsely imputed to ACORN) with vote fraud.

Right-wing activists recently set up a "sting" against ACORN. On the pretense of posing as a hooker and her pimp, they entered various ACORN offices seeking tax advice on how to set up a brothel staffed by underage girls. They carried hidden cameras, recorded the whole thing and, a week ago, released edited versions of their work to various right-wing outlets. This has caused a sustained furor on the right, with the standard ever-escalating rhetoric. This "proves" the irredeemable corruption of everything ACORN touches, proves that everything its right-wing critics have said about it is true, etc.

Despite worming its way into the mainstream press, a lot of this story has fallen apart in the last few days. The activists involved, who have appeared regularly in conservative press outlets, have studiously avoided any appearances in non-conservative forums. They've failed to release complete videos. They've claimed the four ACORN offices at which they allegedly succeeded were the first ones they visited and that they'd never been turned away by any office. When an ACORN official disputed that, saying they'd approached her in Philadelphia and she'd sent them packing, they went on Fox News to call this a lie and to demand ACORN apologize. As it turns out, the official in question had actually called the police after her encounter with them; she's now released the police report on the incident for all to see.[1]

That's funny.

What isn't funny is that the Senate, a few days ago, reacted to the story of the "sting" by voting to cut off federal funding of ACORN.

Now, ACORN, in spite of some insane conservative claims to the contrary[2], never got much from the feds and a loss of those funds probably won't make that big a difference to the organization but the whole affair is illustrative of the Alice-in-Wonderland nature of contemporary American conservatism and points to some larger fundamental problems with American politics.

Rock-solid Glenn Greenwald wrote about this yesterday:
"ACORN has received a grand total of $53 million in federal funds over the last 15 years--an average of $3.1 million per year. Meanwhile, not millions, not billions, but trillions of dollars of public funds have been, in the last year alone, transferred to or otherwise used for the benefit of Wall Street. Billions of dollars in American taxpayer money vanished into thin air, eaten by private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, led by Halliburton subsidiary KBR. All of those corporate interests employ armies of lobbyists and bottomless donor activities that ensure they dominate our legislative and regulatory processes, and to be extra certain, the revolving door between industry and government is more prolific than ever, with key corporate officials constantly ending up occupying the government positions with the most influence over those industries.

"So with this massive pillaging of America's economic security and its control of American government by its richest and most powerful factions growing by the day, to whom is America's intense economic anxiety being directed? To a non-profit group that devotes itself to providing minute benefits to people who live under America's poverty line, and which is so powerless in Washington that virtually the entire U.S. Senate just voted to cut off its funding at the first sign of real controversy--could anyone imagine that happening to a key player in the banking or defense industry?"
Stirring up anger against some powerless, relatively insignificant entity like ACORN is a standard practice of the American conservative elite It's a tactic and it's no accident that it keeps people battling among themselves in order to prevent them from uniting and presenting a potential threat the the prerogatives of the wealthy, the powerful, the corporate interests who actually control the U.S.

Nearly every "issue" that has made conservatism a mass movement in the U.S. is of this nature. Some enemy is identified, usually something or someone of no real consequence, and the full venom of the right is unleashed against it. We're told the real problem with America is illegal immigrants with brown skin and a different language, baby-killing abortionists, pointy-headed intellectuals at colleges, hedonistic homosexuals, welfare recipients, godless heathens who remove prayer from schools, socialist would-be dictators, liberals and the Hollywood "elite." At this rhetoric's most extreme, we're told there is, being waged against the U.S., a "culture war," a phrase and concept lifted directly from the Third Reich.

The effectiveness of those who respond to this sort of rhetoric is usually minimal, insofar as the phony "issues" they've adopted are concerned. Abortion remains legal, government continues to stay out of the business of endorsing religion, homosexuals are not officially condemned by the State, etc.

Organization around these issues is, however, remarkably effective at implementing policies that are to the benefit of the, broadly speaking, money elite in the U.S.. Vote for a candidate who promises to ban abortion, all you get is an elected official who votes for trade policies that deindustrialize the country to the benefit of that elite. Vote for someone who promises to keep the homos in line, all you get is an elected official who votes for tax cuts for the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us. Vote for the candidate who promises to ban flag burning, all you get is an elected official who votes to take away your right to sue your doctor when he goes into surgery drunk and leaves you a quadriplegic. And so on. Often the populations affected the worst by these policies are the very ones that react most strongly to the wedge issues and empower these policies' implementation.

The conservatives go after ACORN because ACORN's voter registration efforts are aimed at demographic groups who tend to vote Democratic but liberals and the left in general are challenged by them much more broadly--to the point that words like "liberal" and "socialist" have become curses--because the left is seen as a potential challenge to the prerogatives of the money elite. The economy is said to function like a force of nature. Deindustrialization is, in this view, like a flood or a hurricane or an earthquake, rather than a predictable consequence of entirely intentional right-wing policy. Worse, any sort of progressive policy proposals are presented as "socialist" intrusions, the actions of a Bolshevist state. When the U.S. government began its run of massive bailouts of failed businesses last year, there was public anger. When it turned out the executives at AIG were getting huge bonuses, even while being bailed out, there was even more anger. The conservatives have worked tirelessly to harness this anger and redirect it away from businesses and toward the government, constructing a scenario wherein the bailouts aren't a consequence of the total domination of Washington by business interests but are, instead, a socialistic power-grab by the would-be Bolshevist in the White House (and that all of these bailouts were actually undertaken by Obama's conservative Republican predecessor is quietly buried).

These aren't insignificant matters. The intensity of the conservatives' focus on ACORN in recent days and the remarkable degree of hatred and bile poured upon what is, in the end, a small, relatively insignificant entity is inexplicable without an understanding of them. American conservatism itself is inexplicable without that understanding.



[1] The ACORN employee they caught on camera at one of their "successes" said she saw through their ruse immediately, didn't take anything they said seriously and plied them with ridiculous comments. She told them she'd murdered her husband and this was picked up by those pimping the story as a shocking revelation and actually spurred an investigation by law enforcement. As it turns out, her ex-husbands are all alive and well.

[2] Sean Hannity put the amount in the "trillions." The actual amount is a little over $3 million/year for the last 15 years.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

"Grassroots" Astroturf

This past weekend, a gaggle of demonstrators descended on the nation's capitol to protest... something. They'd been organized by the same well-financed astroturf orgs that have been behind pretty much all of the major anti-Obama demonstrations to date, and, during the proceedings, Matt Kibbe, the president of Freedom Works (the major astroturfer involved), took to the stage to proclaim that, according to ABC News, the rally had drawn 1.5 million people. Within a short period, right-wing Twits and creatures like Michelle Malkin had escalated that figure to 2 million, and it had circulated around the world. As it turned out, of course, Kibbe had lied. There was no such ABC News report. There was no such estimate. Malkin, the Twits, and the rest had taken Kibbe's lie--an astroturf lie--and inflated it by another half a million. The actual turnout for the event was a modest 60,000-70,000. Amusingly enough, the buzz, throughout this week, has been a sustained whine from the right about how the corporate press didn't take this event seriously enough.[*]

These astroturf "protests" are culturally significant, just not in the way the complainers would have you believe. They're noteworthy because they point to the social cancer that is the Bubble People phenomenon on the right. They also point to the fact that this--a very large segment of the population--can be organized relatively easily by well-financed astroturf groups and made to look, on the surface, a lot like a real grassroots mass movement. That's what astroturf movements exist to do. This has been perhaps the biggest success story of their history.

Those on the right, even some otherwise thoughtful voices, have tended to defend the protests as legitimate expressions of grassroots unrest, either setting aside their artificial origins or arguing those origins are irrelevant. Such arguments aren't even close to sustainable, though. This illusion of a movement lacks anything that would remotely resemble a program, above and beyond "WE HATE BARACK OBAMA!", screamed to the heavens with equal measures of vigor and froth. The tea-baggers, the townhall disrupters, the capitol marchers--what exactly is their program? That they're furious about "death panels" and illegal alien coverage in the health care bill? That they're furious a man who isn't a U.S. citizen, and probably even a Muslim, is being allowed to be President? That the administration is trying to implement socialism or fascism or some other black -ism? It's all just nonsense, a tapestry of falsehood spun for the purposes of organizing those who have been conditioned in such a way as to remove their capacity for critical thought, when it comes to the voices inside their closed bubble. This illusion of a movement has no goals, it has no program, it doesn't even have a central organizing principle other than irrational Obama hatred. And, of course, the further implication of this is that, as a "grassroots" movement, it can't really lead to anything, either, except maybe getting Barack Obama shot by some unhinged right-wing nutcase "patriot" who thinks he's saving us all from the next Hitler.

That isn't to say the astroturfers behind all of this don't have very definite goals. As they've stated, their big one, at present, is to defeat any health care reform. Create the illusion of a mass movement to scare those in congress and get lots of press doing it, which provides an ever-expanding platform for spreading further misinformation that turns public sentiment. This is what they're paid to do. This is what they've proven remarkably effective at doing this year.

This is what the "protests" are, what's behind them, why they're significant. This is not, however, how they're covered by the corporate press. If anyone has cause to complain about that coverage, it isn't those who have been doing the complaining this week.



[*] In a related story, the Wall Street Journal reported that Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) has just "released a letter he sent to Washington’s Metro system complaining that the taxpayer-funded subway system was unable to properly transport protesters to the rally to protest government spending and expansion." As it that wasn't enough, Brady, himself, voted against funding for the Metro system earlier this year.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sept. 11th & Its Discontents

Eight years ago today, terrorists hijacked a series of aircraft and flew them into New York's World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. Yes, this is That Day, and elements of our mass media never fail to make it a point to wallow in the event. "Our top story tonight: The people killed by terrorists 8 years ago are still dead." The History Channel, particularly egregious, has offered a veritable misery-fest dedicated to reliving the event, second by second, over and over again, all day long.

I'm rather tired of this sort of thing. Truth be told, I've been rather tired of it since not long after the actual event occurred. At some point, one simply wants to say "get over it, people." Obviously, that's an emotional response. 9/11 is very good at eliciting those. Wearying under the lash of 9/11 fatigue in the years immediately following the attacks, I wrote a short piece putting the event in context, comparing the number of deaths to any number of things that kill us in far greater numbers and that are much bigger problems but that we don't choose to dwell upon, either with fanfare or with anything else, much less direct the insane amount of resources to combating. I've written a few versions of it over the years--I drag it out every so often, rework it and repost it in various places. In the early years after the event, it probably drew more negative responses than anything I've ever written. In more recent years though, it has seemed to get a more balanced response. People have come to see the logic of it. The logic hasn't changed, mind you--it's as unassailable now as when I originally wrote it. It's just that distance seems to be allowing people to come to their senses about it, to face that logic and not react so emotionally.

...which was sort of the point of the piece in the first place.

I don't want to seem unkind or uncaring. 9/11 was a terrible moment. There's still unfinished business related to it as well. Thanks to George Bush's incompetence, his decision to divert available resources to a dead end in Iraq and his eventually falling into what looked like a comfortable, mutually beneficial love affair with al Qaida, we still don't have the head of the bastard bin Laden, who masterminded the attack. We aren't going to get it by reliving the attack itself either. I just don't see any point in that particular exercise, and that's all the many "remembrances" of it that have come to us through our media do. They have no higher aim. They accomplish nothing more. We need to move beyond that.

The difficulty in moving beyond it begins with the existence of so much footage of it. Giving television people good footage is like giving them the opportunity to say "penis" on the air--they're all over it. It's also something that can be milked as a simple, emotional "human interest" story, which the corporate press always prefers to serious news of any complexity. It's also a fact that those in the Bush administration worked tirelessly to keep the event as close to an open wound in the public consciousness as possible, so they could hitch their political fortunes to it and milk it for every vote it was worth.

These--the things that have kept it alive--are also some of the best reasons this constant "wallow in 9/11" mill needs to stop. Don't forget what's happened, but stop dwelling upon it. Let the dead rest.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Ongoing Tragedy of the Obama (Health Care Chapter) (Updated below)

Tonight, the Obama went before a joint session of congress to try to sell his version of health care reform. His speech had some good moments, as speeches go, and if being President of the United States required little more than giving speeches, I have no doubt the Obama would be remembered as one of the greats.

Unfortunately for the Obama, the job requires something a great deal more than words, and tonight's speech is primarily of interest as a monument to how very little the Obama seems to have learned in his time in office.

The thrust of the Obama's speech is, as usual, the same Rodney King-ism ye humble editor spends so much time excoriating on this blog. Instead of solidly embracing a liberal policy and fighting for it, the Obama is once again stuck on "Can't we all just get along?" He's still trying to find compromise with those who don't want any reform, cooperation with those who have spent weeks accusing him of wanting to allow federal bureaucrats to kill the elderly, the infirm, the "unproductive," still looking for some mythical common ground, the warm-and-fuzzy concept so beloved of the pundit class, "bipartisanship."[1]

The Obama was elected in a landslide that also brought a large majority for his party in the House of Representatives and a fillibuster-proof supermajority in the Senate. What part of that suggests to him a public mandate for "bipartisanship" I can't even imagine. Time and time again, though, that's where he goes, and it's where he went tonight, throwing in a heaping helping of the vile triangulation of Bill Clinton, a tactic which draws a false equivalence between the liberals and the conservatives and rhetorically marginalizes both.

Given this, a few moments stood out. It was actually refreshing to see the Obama finally take on the "death panels" charge that has been leveled at health care reform for weeks. With a candor almost entirely absent from politicians at such events, he skipped any euphemism and called it exactly what it is: a lie. The Democratic members in the chamber erupted into applause at that moment. The Republicans, who have always known the charge was a lie, sat on their hands and looked as disgusted as if they'd just been served a shit sandwich. Immediately after that, when the Obama correctly pointed out that the health care bill didn't, as so many of its opponents had alleged, cover illegal aliens, Republicans, who knew what the Obama said was the truth, began to bark objections, and Rep. Joe Wilson, Republican and first-rate scumbag from South Carolina, loudly shouted "You lie!"

These moments made for quite a contrast. The Obama calls, at great length, for cooperation and bipartisanship; those in the other party sit on their hands looking disgusted when he calls a vicious lie what it is, then call him a liar for telling what every one of them knew to be the truth. It makes Republicans look bad. It makes the Obama look even worse.

To handle the Republican response, the Republicans chose Rep. Charles Boustany of Louisiana. Boustany was appropriate for a number of reasons. First, he is, like most Republicans now, a crackpot who dabbles in "birther" conspiracy theories about the Obama not even being a U.S. citizen. Next, he's an exceedingly stupid man, who had apparently written his "response" before having read the Obama speech; what little of his rambling that was comprehensible was nonsensical, and the entirety of it was badly read, in a monotone, from a cue card the congressman seemed barely able to read. Boustany rolled out the tired Republican mantra of malpractice tort "reform," and that's the other part of what made him a perfect messenger for the Republicans--before coming to congress, Boustany had been a surgeon, and had been repeatedly sued for malpractice. His patients/victims had won millions.

One expects this sort of thing from conservative Republicans.

One doesn't expect it from more responsible elected officials, though, and that's why the Obama's can't-we-all-just-get-along call, in his own speech, for allowing states to begin experimenting with malpractice tort "reform"--measures aimed at preventing us from suing butchers like Boustany--was particularly depressing.[2]

As all two or three of my regular readers have probably guessed, I'm quite tired of this administration. I've been tired of it since before it took office, actually. I really do think Obama had a spark within him, a little glowing ember that could have flared up into his becoming something akin to a great president, as such things are usually judged. It has always been there. I even saw it in parts of his speech tonight. He's wasted his chance, though. He wasted it before he was even sworn in. Barring some horrendous catastrophe or scandal in the years ahead, he's limited his place in the history books to being the first person elected to the presidency who wasn't entirely white. A few centuries from now, that won't be impressive enough to make him more than a footnote. His complete failure to seize the opportunity open to him is a genuine tragedy. Probably not one that should seem unexpected in this day and age, but a tragedy no less.



[1] And his plan has gotten worse. Tonight, he pooh-poohs the importance of the "public option," while embracing the idea of a legal mandate that everyone carry health insurance (a notion he'd previously rejected).

[2] Malpractice suits account for only between 0.46% and 2% of total health outlays--completely eliminating all malpractice suits would do nothing to reduce health care costs. Attacking our ability to sue serves only the conservative interest in creating an overclass that is impervious to any public accountability.

UPDATE (10 Sept., 2009) -- "Bipartisanship"--the thing the Obama seems to worship above all other things--requires two parties. The conservative base position is opposition to any real health care reform, anything that curbs the prerogatives of their corporate paymasters. Multiply anything by zero, and you still end up with zero. You can’t “compromise” with people who will not compromise. Obama has made a big, grand speech where he’s all about compromise, cooperation, bipartisanship, and the response of the other side was to sit on their hands and look absolutely disgusted when he called the “death panels” lie what it was, then to actually call him a liar for telling the truth about the health plan not applying to illegal immigrants.

Obama began the health care debate with his usual massive concessions to the other side--in an attempt to curry favor with the conservatives, he threw out the single-payer approach favored by the liberals (and the sane) in favor of yet another byzantine plan that preserves the failed private insurance industry. And after that HUGE concession, he comes to the liberals again and says “you have to compromise more.” The conservatives call him a liar, tell the public he wants to kill old people, don’t give up a damn thing, or even indicate that they’re willing to give up anything, and he’s telling the liberals “you have to give more,” and even engages in vile Clintonian triangulation in order to marginalize them, the very people who elected him.

It’s a crock. Obama wasn’t elected to behave like this. The public didn’t elect a candidate on a liberal ticket and huge majorities for his party in both houses of congress so conservative Republicans could continue to run everything.

It’s also worth noting--indeed, it’s a matter of critical importance to this discussion--that, if the goal of health care reform is to come up with something that works, the idea that this sort of continual compromise is what will produce that result (particularly when it’s only being done by one side) is an entirely fallacious assumption. All health care reform ideas are NOT equal. The status quo is unsustainable. That can be documented with hard numbers. The conservative preference for maintaining the status quo with very few real changes--their “reform” idea--merely continues an unsustainable course. Stitching bad ideas to good ones only makes the good ones less good.

That could be seen as an argument against any effort at compromise, but that isn't why I offer it. I offer it because it's worth a thought, in light of the political reality on the ground (as I've just outlined). Attenuating a great idea until it's just a good one (or merely a workable one) can be justified if the compromise will work, and if embracing it will build a broad base of support for it. In my view, there's no indication that either is the case, here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Rodney King vs. Healthcare Reform

I launched this blog in its original form just after Barack Obama's election, and, in that time, the single topic I've probably covered more than anything is the Obama’s Rodney-King-ist politics. Instead of adopting a position of strength and fighting from it, Obama says “can’t we all just get along?” He begins by giving all sorts of concessions to the other side right up front in the hope that this will bring them over to his side. In a world in which there existed a reasonable, responsible opposition party, this sort of thing may inspire that opposition to be magnanimous and work toward a compromise. The practical reality of the present, though, is that no such reasonable, responsible opposition exists. If the Clinton years taught the Demos anything, it should have taught them that. Obama is a Democrat. If he was to adopt outright Republican policies (as did Clinton), the right would still try to crush him. Not just to beat him but to destroy him (as they did with Clinton).

Obama's Rodney-King-ism has been devastating to his effectiveness. It wrecked the “stimulus” bill. He gave up nearly half of that in wasteful, less stimulative tax cuts in the hope of getting Republican votes. At a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars, he got two such votes. And he didn’t learn from that. That failure to learn has, in all likelihood, now done in much hope for real health-care reform.

A single-payer plan is the best available option for reform, but the Obama refused to even consider it. The single-payer advocates weren't even allowed a seat at the table. To garner favor with those whose favor he will never win, the Obama shunted single-payer aside and tried to weasel and kowtow to the right by cooking up another damned "reform" plan that preserves a private insurance system that doesn't work, is doomed to eventual collapse, and that is bleeding the country dry as it dies. Faced with reactionary rent-a-mobs organized by corporate interests trying to defeat ALL reform, those in the White House spent this past weekend backing away from even the meager "public option" element of their initial plan, even as scumbag Sen. Charles Grassley, the Repub point-man on negotiating with the Demos, publicly admitted he'll probably vote against whatever compromise he works out anyway.

The Repubs are quite Machiavellian on the matter--with a Rodney-King-ist, they can afford to be. With Obama’s help, they’ve set it up so they win either way. Here’s what they want to happen next:

a) Nothing at all, which is their preference, and which would significantly weaken the Obama, or

b) for something to pass that’s watered down, industry-dictated crap that does nothing to control costs, and will only make the situation worse, but that will be labeled “health care reform.” It will fail, and the right will blame its failure on government, and use it against Democrats.

It's a win-win situation for them, a lose-lose situation for the public. Did that public hand the Democrats such an overwhelming electoral victory last year for this?


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Attack of the Bubble People

Of all the political problems that plague the United States, there is one that is potentially more serious than the combination of all the others, one with which I've been gravely concerned and about which I've written for a good many years. Simply stated, there is a large and growing segment of the population on the political right that has increasingly opted to seal itself in what amounts to an alternate universe and never have any more than superficial commerce with reality. They exist, more and more, in a bubble of their own puerile political fantasies. I call them the Bubble People.

Obviously, there have always been people who would, for one reason or another, behave in this manner and they’ve always existed across the full range of the political spectrum. Today, for example, we see some simple souls on the left who, in alliance with like-minded people on the far right, suggest George Bush Jr. was responsible for the Sept. 11th attacks. Such people have usually been a relatively small portion of the population and have rightly been regarded as the fringe nuts they are. Today’s conservative Bubble People are just as nutty as any of the Bubble People of the past but they’re now a huge segment of the population, to the degree that they’ve more-or-less managed to go mainstream.

These Bubble People are, in part, an outgrowth of our drone culture but they’re primarily a side-effect of a massive, well-funded effort, operating within that culture for decades, to create a reliable constituency for the right. Millions of dollars have gone into constructing the bubble, which includes right-wing radio, the Fox News Channel, a huge network of think-tanks, publications, internet sites and so on, and a great deal of time and effort has been spent conditioning the Bubble People to believe only the voices forever echoing within the bubble, primarily those of the American conservative elite. Those voices are the source of The Truth. Anything outside those voices is to be distrusted and anything sourced to someone of any other political orientation is to be dismissed outright, without regard to any fact other than their political orientation.

When you see the current waves of drones who are turning up, on command, at the congressional townhall meetings about health care across the country, you’re seeing the Bubble People. They’ve been told by the conservative elite that they should be terrified of health care reform and that elite has used, as a rallying cry, the idea that the health-care proposal includes “death panels,” bureaucrats who will be empowered to decide to pull the plug on the elderly and the infirm.

If a reasonable person heard such a thing, his instinct would immediately be to dismiss it as balderdash, even if he knew nothing more of it. The concept of "reasonable" doesn't exist in the bubble though. It's absurd to have to point out that no such provision exists in the bill. It isn’t in it. It has never been in it. No one has ever even suggested such a thing, not once. Nor would they. But hundreds of people turn up, on command, at these townhall meetings to scream, cry, rant, threaten, and employ violence in order to shut down any discussion of healthcare reform based on their heartfelt--and entirely manufactured--belief that the socialist in the White House wants to pull the plug on granny. In a rare bout of responsible journalism, the corporate press has reported, umpteen times, that no such provision exists. These screaming mobs have remained completely impervious to this. They’re being told by the conservative elite--the only voices allowed in their bubble--that it does and to them, that’s The Truth. Reality never penetrates.[1]

That they would so passionately believe and never question the notion that their political opponents would craft such a grisly provision says everything about what they've been conditioned, within the bubble, to think of those with different points of view.[2]

When one sees the signs and banners waved by demonstrators at these events that say things like “Keep your grubby government hands off my Medicare,” it becomes obvious something has gone terribly wrong.

The decade+ campaign, through the '90s and beyond, to destroy Bill Clinton was the first indication that the Bubble People were getting completely out of hand but even the impeachment fiasco--essentially an attempted coup against an elected government, with all the attendant implications--didn’t have even remotely as wide-ranging an effect as the Iraq misadventure. The Bubblers were the backbone of the support for that insane policy and it's probably the most obvious and visible sign of the very real danger presented by them, danger not only to the United States but to the rest of the world.

I like to use the 2004 presidential election as a stock example of the trouble with the Bubblers. Consider these facts about that election, courtesy of the University of Maryland:

“…72% of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq had actual WMD (47%) or a major program for developing them (25%). Fifty-six percent assume that most experts believe Iraq had actual WMD and 57% also assume, incorrectly, that [Bush weapons inspector Charles] Duelfer concluded Iraq had at least a major WMD program.”

“…75% of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda, and 63% believe that clear evidence of this support has been found. Sixty percent of Bush supporters assume that this is also the conclusion of most experts, and 55% assume, incorrectly, that this was the conclusion of the 9/11 Commission.”

And so on. There’s more. This was, by far, the single most important issue of that campaign and Bush’s supporters were wildly misinformed about every significant point of it. The President of the most powerful nation in the history of the world was sent back into office by an electorate that based its decision on pure fantasy.

That's a problem.



[1] The Bubble People are appearing at these events at the behest of organizers who openly avow they want no healthcare reform at all. The Bubbler's tactics, fed them by these handlers, has been to shut down discussion. This, alone, bespeaks a serious disconnect from reality. Healthcare in the U.S. is on an unsustainable course, at present. This can be demonstrated in any one of dozens of ways, without resorting to any sort of shaky speculation. Something has to be done. That doesn’t mean the current proposal is what should be done--I certainly don't think it is--but that’s the beginning of a discussion. The Bubble's handlers don't want a discussion and the Bubblers, completely oblivious to the reality of the health care crisis, are working to prevent one from taking place.

[2] The Bubble People would be a problem even if those who constructed their bubble were honest. There's little honesty in the American conservative elite. The image of the liberal Democrat as the evil socialist who would kill old people, adopted by the Bubblers as reality without a moment's hesitation, is just one of the vile creations of that worthless yet omnipresent elite.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The American Right Tries To Arrange For Obama's Murder

They want him dead. That's the only explanation left open to us. Not politically "dead" either but literally dead. Gunned down by some reactionary half-wit who, in his insanity-clogged brain, believes himself to be saving the U.S. from a new Hitler.

That's just about the only conclusion one can draw from the present right-wing campaign against health care reform. They aren't trying to beat back a policy they oppose--the policies they claim to oppose don't even exist. They began by dusting off the playbook used to defeat reform during the Clinton administration--the charge of "socialism" has become omnipresent, without regard to the fact that the "reform" plans in congress aren't socialist. If that was the whole of their "argument" though, they wouldn't have gotten very far--they've simply screamed "socialism" too often--so they switched gears into something much more hideous: They've spent weeks telling Americans the health care reform plan contains a provision to create "death panels," groups of bureaucrats who could decide to pull the plug on old people and the sick when they become too expensive to keep alive.

No such provision either exists or has ever existed in any version of any health plan in congress but they've told everyone it's there and even the "mainstream" elements of the Republican party have used it to rally the dimmer--and most unstable--elements of their base. The industry-funded astroturf groups behind the teabagger gatherings earlier this year have once again teamed with reactionary outlets like talk radio and Fox News to spread the misinformation and to tell everyone they should be afraid, be very afraid. The most visible project of these interests, who have said they oppose any health care reform, has been to use the "death panel" lie (among others) to send mobs of their brainwashed followers to townhall meetings held by members of congress on the subject of health care, where these mobs shout, scream, cry, threaten and rant as a means of shutting down any reasonable discussion of health care.[1]

America's conservative elite have banged these drums mercilessly and in a manner no amount of spin could portray as responsible. Comparisons of Obama to Hitler and Democrats to Nazis have abounded. The "birther" movement, which holds to the insane myth that Obama wasn't even born in the U.S., isn't a U.S. citizen and thus isn't legitimately president, is being mainstreamed. Even Republican members of congress who had previously behaved as "honest brokers" have openly adopted the insane lies of the kookiest of the kooks in the mix.[2] The crazed fanatics who make up the lunatic fringe right have now begun to turn up at the townhall meetings with weapons and carrying signs and banners calling for killing Obama and other supporters of health care reform.

It seems like only a matter of time before one of the right's many crackpots, worked to a fever pitch, finally decides to obey the voices in his head--coming from the American conservative elite, not from any self-originating hallucination--and act on this rhetoric. On that dark day, it will be the finger of everyone who has stoked this fire on the trigger alongside his own.



[1] And despite that fact that this is all being done more or less in the open, the corporate press has largely refused to cover the interests behind these "protests," choosing, instead, to present them as genuine spontaneous outpourings of anger. MSBNC's Rachel Maddow is one of the very few exceptions and deserves a great deal of praise for her work in trying to get out the word on the subject.

[2] Sen. Charles Grassley(R-Iowa) was praised by Obama for being such an honest broker. Only days ago, he turned around and went to a townhall meeting to tell the assembled that the health care plan contained the "death panels" and that they "have every right to fear" the proposal because of it.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Cheney: Deploy the U.S. Military Against U.S. Citizens on U.S. Soil (update below)

A new tale from the Bush administration, as chilling as it is unsurprising. The New York Times reports today that
"Top Bush administration officials in 2002 debated testing the Constitution by sending American troops into the suburbs of Buffalo to arrest a group of men suspected of plotting with al Qaeda, according to former administration officials."
Such an operation would, of course, be completely illegal. Those who worked on the report seemed to realize the significance of it:
"A decision to dispatch troops into the streets to make arrests has few precedents in American history, as both the Constitution and subsequent laws restrict the military from being used to conduct domestic raids and seize property."
The debate inside the administration grew out of Bush's position that he had the fascistic ability to operate entirely outside of constitutional and legal restraints, as documented in memos released earlier this year.

Among those urging Bush to use the military was Vice President Dick Cheney. In the Times' reconstruction of the debate, the Justice Department was concerned that it may have insufficient evidence to successfully prosecute a legal case against the suspects, so Cheney advocated sending in the military, on the grounds that "the administration would need a lower threshold of evidence to declare them enemy combatants and keep them in military custody." This is the Times obfuscating the fact that the "enemy combatant" designation invented by the Bush administration required no evidence and wasn't subject to any oversight. As those in the administration asserted the power, they could so designate anyone they wanted and hold them forever. That Cheney explicitly argued for this approach based on a concern that there may not be enough evidence to show that the individuals in question were guilty of anything points directly to why this dictatorial "power" was explicitly banned by the Constitution and U.S. law in the first place.

The plan to use the military never went forward; Bush opted to send in the FBI and all of the suspects in the case eventually pleaded guilty. From the Times recounting of the debate, the decision to use the FBI was made because, on the one hand, the Justice Department, which considered such matters their turf, resented and argued against encroachment into it and, on the other, some officials thought it would be bad public relations to send tanks into an American suburb. There seems to have been no concern at all with the matter of constitutionality or legality. If it even came up, no one who described the debate to the Times seems to have mentioned it.

These days, Cheney is the loudest voice crowing about how Obama's abandonment of Bush policies would put the country at risk but as this revelation demonstrates yet again, Cheney and his ilk are a far greater threat to the U.S. than al Qaida could ever be.


UPDATE -- Glenn Greenwald is all over this story, and, as usual, demonstrates why he's the best political blogger on the internet:

"All of this underscores why it is so important to vigorously oppose the efforts of the Obama administration (a) to continue many of the radical Bush/Cheney Terrorism programs and even to implement new ones (preventive detention, military commissions, extreme secrecy policies, warrantless surveillance, denial of habeas corpus) and (b) to endorse the core Orwellian premise that enables all of that (i.e., the 'battlefield' is anywhere and everywhere; the battle against Terrorism is a 'War' like the Civil War or World War II and justifies the same powers)... It's the nature of governments that powers of this type, once vested, rarely remain confined to their original purpose. They inevitably and invariably expand far beyond that. Powers that are endowed to address a limited and supposedly temporary circumstance almost always endure for years if not decades... Worse still, if--after eight years of Yoo memos and theories of presidential omnipotence and denial of habeas corpus--a Democratic President with a Democratic Congress implements his own kinder, gentler version of such programs, then they will cease to be a twisted aberration from the post-9/11 Bush era and will instead become the new bipartisan, American consensus approach to justice. We'll have a national (rather than right-wing) endorsement of the 'principle' that national security threats justify denial of the most basic rights when it comes to detention and imprisonment."

Friday, July 17, 2009

Sotomayor Hearings Dull, Just Like The Nominee

The current U.S. Supreme Court lineup features four reactionaries, three conservatives and two liberals--by party, 7 Republicans, 2 Democrats. And their rulings have born out this imbalance for years. When a slot opened, the post clearly called for a flaming liberal, or as close to one as could be managed. Instead, we got another conservative. Not a "moderate," as everyone is so quick to say. A conservative. If the White House and the Senate Democrats are to be believed, this is someone who votes with the Republican-appointed of her fellow judges judges 95-97% of the time and a few days ago, I quoted info that suggests she's not terribly big on the First Amendment, support for which is probably the best litmus test, as far as liberalism goes.

Rather than being overjoyed by this nomination (which could have just as easily come from one of their own presidents)[1], Repulbcans decided to launch a smear campaign. They had their own reasons for doing so, and had made them plain before the nominee had even been announced. As Media Matters noted at the time,
"According to reports in The New York Times and Politico, conservatives and Republicans have said they intend to use the confirmation process to 'help refill depleted coffers and galvanize a movement demoralized by Republican electoral defeats'; 'build the conservative movement'; provide 'a massive teaching moment for America'; 'prepare the great debate with a view toward Senate elections in 2010 and the presidency'; and 'hurt conservative Democrats'--all motivations that have nothing to do with criteria senators should consider in exercising their constitutional responsibility to provide 'advice and consent' on judicial nominations. Indeed, conservative activist and law professor Robert George reportedly acknowledged, 'For [the conservative base], this is about the future of the Republican Party, not who is going to sit on the Supreme Court,' and another conservative activist, Manuel Miranda, reportedly said of the confirmation process: 'It isn't just about the nominee.'"
The Republicans were trying to use it to rally their troops and the mission was to label Sotomayor as some kind of wild-eyed radical.

The problem they ran into, of course, is that Sotomayor isn't some kind of wild-eyed radical whose record can be used to rally their troops. Indeed, the biggest argument one can muster against her is the one they can't touch--that she's just like them and is being nominated to a court that is already just like them and has been for years. With Sotomayor, they had one of the longest records as a judge of any Supreme Court nominee in recent memory--literally thousands of cases on which she's sat. The strategy that emerged was to portray her as an Hispanic-supremacist racist. With such a massive record from which to choose, the full extent of their "evidence" for this was a single court case--one relating to a test for firefighters in New Haven that excluded racial minorities--and a tiny handful of comments Sotomayor had made in speeches outside of court, comments they'd taken out of context in order to make them sound like exactly the opposite of what she'd actually said.[2]

It would be difficult to understate how excruciating this became--the same small set of questions from practically every Republican present. The committee's chief Republican, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, emerged as Sotomayor's loudest interrogator, the racist charge being his line of attack. Unmentioned in virtually any press report was the fact that this forthright stand against the racism of the first Hispanic Supreme Court nominee in U.S. history was being staged by a man who was, himself, denied a slot on the judiciary two decades ago because of his own racism.[3]

Sotomayor herself proved to be a very dull witness; bloodless, unemotional and patient to the point of being rather boring. The hearings passed without a single spark to make it stick in the brain in the years and decades to come. It's difficult to believe the conservatives got much use of the hearings. It's also difficult to believe the country will get much use of the nominee when she's confirmed.



[1] And, in fact, it had; Sotomayor began her rise through the federal judiciary with an appointment by George Bush the Senior.

[2] Nevertheless, the U.S. conservative elite fell in lockstep in echoing the "racist" charges--it could be heard everywhere from Glenn Beck to the Buchanan siblings (Pat Buchanan being one of the worst racists among that elite)

[3] Also left on the cutting-room floor is the fact that Sessions had, some years ago, voted to confirm Sotomayor, this dreadful racist, to the federal bench.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

"The Crown Jewel of the United States National Security Administration"

Today's San Francisco Chronicle has a brief news story on the Obama administration's effort to undermine and destroy an attempt to sue the government over the Bush administration's illegal wiretapping program:

"Obama 'does not intend to use the state-secrets privilege to cover up illegal activities,' said Justice Department attorney Anthony Coppolino. But in exceptional circumstances, he said, the president will invoke secrecy to protect 'the sources and methods of detecting terrorist attacks... the crown jewel of the United States national security administration.'

"Coppolino said the administration will cite national security in seeking dismissal of a lawsuit by telephone customers accusing the government of illegally intercepting phone calls and obtaining phone company records."
And we get this, a little later:
"The Justice Department lawyer replied that the plaintiffs will have to air classified information in court about 'the nature and scope of the government's surveillance program' to prove their case, and the government will have to do the same to defend itself. That "would risk exceptional harm to the national security," Coppolino said."
It would be bad enough that The Obama, who vigorously condemned the behavior of the Bush administration on such matters right up until he was elected, has shown absolutely no inclination toward any effort to bring to justice those in the previous administration but he's done far worse--he's actively obstructed every effort by anyone else to try to do so. It's becoming a depressingly familiar story. In this case, the surveillance program in question was both 100% illegal and 100% unconstitutional, a top-to-bottom criminal enterprise operating out of the White House. That, alone, should strip away any pretense that revealing information about it could endanger "sources and methods" relating to "national security" (a nonsense concept in the first place). Instead, we get a representative of the Obama administration branding these sources and methods "the crown jewel of the United States national security administration."

I get a peculiar smell from that crown--somehow, I don't think it's gold.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

More Sotomayor

"Of the many responsibilities granted to a President by our Constitution, few are more serious or more consequential than selecting a Supreme Court Justice."
--The Obama, 26 May, 2009

And lo, the Obama didst nominate Sonia Sotomayor to fill the latest vacancy on the Supreme Court.

Submitted for what it's worth, the Center For Individual Freedom, a right-wing think-tank (if such a thing can rightly be said to exist) offers the following assessment of Sotomayor's rulings in First Amendment cases:
"While Sotomayor has been involved in hundreds of First Amendment cases since her appointment to the federal bench, a review by the Center for Individual Freedom found that she has personally authored only nineteen cases that bear directly on issues of free speech and association, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press. Of those nineteen cases, Sotomayor sided with the individual (the First Amendment) only five times, or a mere 26.3 percent."
To be fair, the Center is a right-wing organization and one of the cases on which they claim Sotomayor ruled against speech (Landell v. Sorrell) was in upholding Vermont's limitations on campaign donations, which is very questionable as a "speech" matter. A lot creepier is another case cited by the Center (Doninger v. Niehoff), in which she ruled that "students could be subject to school sanctions for off-campus speech that 'would foreseeably create a risk of substantial disruption within the school environment,'" in that case, a student who had criticized school officials in a personal blog!

Meanwhile, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee held a press conference today to argue that Sotomayor was "moderate" on criminal cases. His evidence is that a review of Sotomayor's decisions in more than 800 criminal cases prepared by the Democratic staff of the committee showed that she ruled with her Republican-appointed colleagues 97% of the time.

Leahy cites this approvingly.

Sort of says something about what's considered "moderate" these days, eh?


Monday, July 6, 2009

Palin Addio

Only days after I raked over the coals former Republican VP wannabe Sarah Palin for her remarkably stupid public behavior, she comes out and trumps even my low estimation of her, announcing in a rambling, incoherent mess of a speech--a mess even by her standards--that not only is she declining to seek re-election, she's actually resigning from the governorship entirely. Not even finishing her term.

Everyone has been speculating about why--her babbling dissertation certainly did absolutely nothing to clarify the matter. Her Republican fans among the punditry are actually portraying this as some sort of brilliant first step toward a presidential race! Palin has already been established as an erratic imbecile. Somehow, I can't see this--quitting the only substantial government post she's ever held in the middle of the first term--adding much of a positive spin to her resume, even if we are talking about the Republican party.[*]

No, the much more likely scenario is that she's leaving office ahead of some looming scandal that would have driven her from it anyway in order to pursue a more lucrative career as right-wing pundit before her 15 minutes of fame expire. As if to bolster this speculation, Palin has now issued a public warning to those in the press who may report negative--or, as she calls it, "defamatory"--stories about her, threatening lawsuits. Good luck on that.



[*] A party whose unofficial voice (Rush Limbaugh) said today of the military coup in Honduras that just ousted the elected government, "If we had any good luck, Honduras would send some people here and help us get our government back."

Saturday, June 20, 2009

That Stuff Happening in Iran Just Now

I've been rather excited by what's happening in Iran in the wake of its rigged election. This is really the continuation of the process that was well underway before Bush's attack on Iraq interrupted it. Iranians had grown weary of rule by the mullahs and their sycophants for years, and various shades of "reformers" had swept the last several elections before the Iraq war. "Reformers" belongs in quotes because the Supreme Leader still vets the candidates who are allowed to run. He'd been bowing to public pressure for a few years and allowing less reactionary candidates. Even the hardliners were adopting reformist slogans.

Unfortunately, then came Bush and all of that went away. Ahmadinejad was the candidate of the most reactionary elements inside Iran, an excrescence of the mullahs given power solely by Bush's decision to go play Army in the desert next door. The same dissatisfaction still existed though, and it has been brewing there ever since.

The mullahs still vet the candidates. Mousavi is portrayed as a "reformer" in a lot of the press coverage here and during the campaign, he adopted a lot of the reformist talk, as had other conservatives, pre-war, but before that, he has always been, himself, a conservative, and except for his transformation during the campaign (which could just be political rhetoric, rather than a genuine change of heart), he's representative of the narrow perspective that has traditionally been allowed by the mullahs to take part in the "democratic" process. But for the rhetoric, it's like having a choice between Augusto Pinochet and Rick Warren.

What makes the Iranian situation really exciting is the stupid, clumsy response of the mullahs and their Revolutionary Guards. Fixing an election for their boy in such a transparently obvious way then falling back on the old methods of repression to keep people in line in an age of technology that just goes around their efforts, an age that has totally passed them by and made their reaction look, to all of Iran, to be as outrageous as it is. By their behavior, they've radically escalated the situation and set into motion something that, before it ends, could be their undoing.

Predictably, John McCain, Sean Hannity and a number of other righties in the U.S. are bitching about Barack Obama's very measured comments on these developments. Their criticism is, as is so often the case, deplorable. To state the obvious, if the President of the Great Satan was to come out with a strong condemnation of the election or the mullahs or an endorsement of Mousavi's efforts, it would doom those efforts utterly and completely. The reactionaries in Iran have, from the beginning, put the blame for the "unrest" on agitation from the U.S. Any word Obama may breath in support of the reformers or against the current regime would be used a confirmation of that allegation inside Iran and the reformers would be completely discredited. A Sean Hannity probably doesn't know that--he probably thinks Iran is run by some strongman and couldn't find it on a map--but a John McCain does know these things, and had he been elected president, he'd be behaving exactly as is Obama. His public performance amounts to a lie. He's playing to the base of his party, the people who think the cretinous Sarah Palin falls just after sliced bread in the realm of inventions.

If the hardliners in Iran decide they want to fight about it, we could be looking at another revolution. The youth of Iran, who have emerged in huge numbers and coalesced around Mousavi, seem ready to shrug off the old guard. Mousavi himself probably couldn't contain them now. It's an exciting time.