Newt Gingrich, Ever The Optimist

The Republican Party is now at a point of no return.

Either it accepts what the tea-party conservatives did to Dede Scozzafava in upstate New York and thus become the National Conservative Party, or it, through its “leadership,” condemns those Republicans, like Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty and Fred Thompson, who openly and defiantly campaigned against the GOP candidate, and ultimately forced her to quit.

However, it sure doesn’t look like the party is poised to even put up a fight against the tawdry teapartiers, who demand absolute fealty to their particularly doctrinaire version of conservatism.  Such fealty does not allow for even the slightest deviation from the “principles” of the extremists, let alone the relatively wide divergence represented by Ms. Scozzafava.

Here is what the New York Times reported today regarding the Republican moderate’s departure from the NY 23 race:

The Republican National Committee, which had strongly backed Ms. Scozzafava’s candidacy, issued a statement applauding her decision and announcing it was now supporting Mr. Hoffman.

“Effective immediately, the R.N.C. will endorse and support the Conservative candidate in the race, Doug Hoffman,” the party’s national chairman, Michael Steele, said. “Doug’s campaign will receive the financial backing of the R.N.C. and get-out-the-vote efforts to defeat Bill Owens on Tuesday.”

So, it doesn’t appear Michael Steele has any fight in him to maintain some semblance of control over the party he ostensibly heads, and it is quite likely the newly emboldened conservative revolutionaries will run with their success to other parts of the country, demanding obeisance to their philosophy, and commanding Republican attention by their strident, town-hall trained voices.

Oddly, the good news in all of this was expressed by Newt Gingrich, who had supported Scozzafava:

“This makes life more complicated from the standpoint of this: If we get into a cycle where every time one side loses, they run a third-party candidate, we’ll make Pelosi speaker for life and guarantee Obama’s re-election,” said Mr. Gingrich, who had endorsed Ms. Scozzafava.

“I felt very deeply that when you have all 11 county chairman voting for someone, that it wasn’t appropriate for me to come in and render my judgment,” he said. “I think we are going to get into a very difficult environment around the country if suddenly conservative leaders decide they are going to anoint people without regard to local primaries and local choices.”

Gingrich always has a way of finding the silver lining in any ominous dark cloud, doesn’t he?

Jon Stewart Dissects Fox

In case you haven’t seen it yet, Jon Stewart has brilliantly and hilariously demonstrated the phenomenon I alluded to in Sowell Sedition regarding how right-wingers make wild charges, report the charges as genuine news, then use that “news” to demolish President Obama:

 

Pakistani Paranoia

Thursday on MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports, Pervez Hoodbhoy, a prominent Pakistani professor in Islamabad, said a couple of things that Americans should pay attention to, particularly those whose foreign policy philosophy amounts to, “We are Americans, and nothing else matters.”

Travelling with Secretary of State Clinton in Pakistan, Ms. Mitchell was questioning the professor about Clinton’s three-day “charm offensive,” the purpose of which is to improve relations between the U.S. and Pakistan, and to gain some degree of trust among the Pakistani people.  Professor Hoodbhoy, who has previously written, “Pakistan is probably the most anti-American country in the world,” replied to Mitchell’s question:

The purpose of the charm offensive is to reduce the level of anti-Americanism in Pakistan, which is at a very high level.  And one sees all kinds of conspiracy theories.  In fact even the suicide bombings that are carried on—people say, “Ah, it’s really the Americans who are trying to destabilize Pakistan,” and so forth.

On the one hand, it is somewhat comforting to know that the Beck-Hannity-Limbaugh phenomenon isn’t just a distinctly American affliction, and that paranoid conspiracists are not limited to jobs as Fox “News” commentators or bombastic blowhards on American radio. 

On the other hand, it is rather dispiriting that a country—so vital to our success in rooting out and destroying al Qaeda—largely doesn’t trust American intentions.  We must ask ourselves, just what kind of opinion do average Pakistanis hold of Americans, if they can entertain the notion that we are behind the suicide bombings in Pakistan?

Professor Hoodbhoy laments the state of his society:

What we see today in Pakistan is paranoia, and I think that we’ve got to the point where it’s become ridiculous where all of our ills are being blamed on America.

I’m sure the professor would find little solace in the fact that here in America, the right-wing is blaming all of our ills on Barack Hussein Obama, and is steadfastly resisting our president’s efforts to improve our country’s image around the world.

Blunt Weighs In On Tardy Vaccine

In a story about the “regional and national political debate” related to the slow dispersal of the H1N1 flu vaccine, the St. Louis Beacon reveals more hypocrisy from our own Roy Blunt:

 “The onerous regulatory and legal environment in the United States has placed America’s most vulnerable in danger,” Blunt said. “The federal government has clearly failed to meet a basic responsibility to move quickly to ensure the availability of H1N1 vaccines.”

“Congress needs to be asking serious questions about why the vaccine isn’t yet widely available, even though we’ve known for six months that we needed to be fully prepared,” Blunt said.

The state Democratic Party swiftly shot back by noting that Blunt voted in June against a federal spending bill that included close to $8 billion to address the H1N1 vaccine issue. Blunt said at the time — and again this week through a spokesman — that his “no” vote was over other items in the bill.

When your response to any of our nation’s problems is always “no,” followed by a lecture on the virtues of deregulation, then it’s clear you haven’t learned anything from the past year. 

And it’s a bitch that those “no” votes sometimes come back to negate your criticism of people who are trying to solve a thorny problem, particularly one that involves producing and distributing a vaccine in a relatively short period of time. 

Come to think of it, the swine flu threat is one of the only problems not passed down from the previous administration.

Wait.  Where was Dick Cheney when this swine flu thing started?

While Republicans Ruled Missouri

Republicans have ruled Missouri’s legislature for years now, and Republican Matt Blunt was governor from 2005 through 2008.  Given Republican dominance in the state, The Erstwhile Conservative thought it worthwhile to look at a few “fast facts,” provided by the Missouri Budget Project.  Most of the data are prior to the economic collapse last fall.  And remember, I report, you decide (however, the emphasis provided is mine):

  • Between 2007 and 2008, 761,000 Missourians were living in poverty – an increase of 15 percent and 102,000 people over 2006.
  • In 2007/2008 the Median Income in Missouri was $46,906, $6,424 less than it was in 2001 when adjusted for inflation. This was the third largest decline in the nation in median income.
  • 1,071,194 Missourians (372,365 Families) received Food Stamps in June of 2009, an increase of 257 percent since 2000 when 417,000 Missourians (178,465 Families) received Food Stamps.
  • In 2007/2008, at least 734,000 Missourians, one in every eight people, were uninsured.
  • The cost of insurance premiums in Missouri is growing 4.4 times faster than wages.

Hmmmmm.  Since Governor Nixon has been forced to make substantial spending cuts, because of a drop in state revenue, we should look at just where Missouri—largely because of Republican dominance—ranks nationally in per capita revenue and taxes:

State Taxes

  • Missouri ranked 47th lowest in the nation for per capita (per person) state taxes collected at $2,475 in 2006. The National Average was $3,245 per capita.
  • In 2007, Missouri ranked 27th lowest for individual income tax at $822 per capita compared to the national average of $1,003 per capita.
  • In 2007, Missouri ranked 46th lowest for corporate income tax at $66 per capita compared to the national average of $201 per capita.
  • In 2007, Missouri ranked 40th lowest for general revenue sales tax at $557 per capita compared to the national average of $891. 

Notice the ranking for corporate income tax.  Missouri’s rate is a meager 33% that of the national average ($66 to $201). So, if the Republican philosophy of lowering corporate taxes to attract business to the state were valid, we would have businesses and industries occupying every vacant lot in the state.  So, why isn’t that working? 

Hmmmmm. Let us look at the level of investment Missouri makes in education: 

State Spending on Services in 2006

  • Missouri ranked 37th lowest in the nation on per capita state and local investment in Elementary & Secondary Education.
  • Missouri ranked 45th lowest in the nation on per capita state and local investments in Higher Education.

As I say,  I report, you decide.

Sowell Sedition

Thomas Sowell, a national columnist whose corrosive columns are regular features in the Joplin Globe, presented evidence in his column today that his bona fides as a prominent thinker on the right have all but disintegrated.  He is now nothing more than a pseudo-intellectual apologist for the Fox “News” Channel.

The column, titled “Obama is tearing down America,” was a collection of half-truths, quarter-truths, and falsehoods, disguised as a defense of “American values.”

Just one example of the utter dishonesty of this rhetorical assassination of President Obama’s character:

Did you imagine that anyone would even be talking about having a panel of so-called “experts” deciding who could and could not get lifesaving medical treatments?

To present such a question as though it is in any way connected with reality is an example of the truth-defying tactics widely employed by people on the right wing who are out to destroy the presidency of Barack Obama, if not Obama himself.  

It was conservative extremists (that term is fast becoming a redundancy) who did all the talking about “death panels,” in an attempt to scare senior citizens away from supporting health care reform legislation.  And to start such talk and then later use it as the basis for asking, “Does any of this sound like America,” is not just a slippery, sophistical trick, but a shameless appeal to the worst angels of human nature.

It’s as if I began a rumor that Thomas Sowell and Rush Limbaugh were homosexual lovers, and then lamented in print, “Did you imagine a year ago that you would see Thomas and Rush at the gay pride parade dressed as Barney Frank?  Does any of that sound like conservatism?”

Mr. Sowell asks his readers, “How much of America would be left if the federal government continued on this path?”  And later says,

What would be the role of a national police force created by Barack Obama, with all its leaders appointed by him? It would seem more like the brown shirts of dictators than like anything American.

He follows that inflammatory rhetoric with this:

How far the president will go depends, of course, on how much resistance he meets.

It is only fair to ask, after all of this sizzling propaganda, just what kind of resistance is Mr. Sowell advocating?  What kind of subtle message is he sending to people who buy into the ongoing narrative that Obama is not just insufficiently American, but that he is anti-American?

Sowell ends his hate-piece by telling us that President Obama has “contempt for American values,” and wonders whether “enough people will wake up in time to keep America from being dismantled, piece by piece…” 

Wake up and do what, Mr. Sowell?

Missouri Republicans Suggest “Opting Out” of Medicaid

The Joplin Globe published an editorial today that attempted to reveal some of the ideas of our “Republican House leadership” on the issue of pending health care reform legislation and its effects on Missouri.

However, the editorial succeeded only in revealing the idea that our Republican “leadership” is contemplating “opting out” of the Medicaid program.

The editorial began:

Last week, Lt. Gov. Pete Kinder estimated that if national health care reform as currently envisioned in Washington is passed, it will require additional funding from Missouri in the range of $450 million.

During a Globe editorial board meeting Monday with the Republican House leadership, those attending were asked if they thought that was an accurate assessment of potential impact on the state and how it would find the funds to meet that challenge. The answers were startling.

Startling is right.

Among the more startling was the following:

The board was also told that Medicaid is a voluntary program for states and the federal government to “share” costs of health care for the low-income. States have the option to not participate. It was suggested that if federal health care requirements for additional state funding reached unmanageable levels, the state would have to consider “opting out” of Medicaid.

The editorial did not reveal just who made the “suggestion” that opting out of Medicaid was a possibility, nor did the paper indicate that abandoning Medicaid was a consensus view of those legislators present.  And I have not seen a news story account of this “startling” bit of news.  So, we are left to imagine who said what and just what would trigger such a drastic move on the part of our elected leaders. 

Where’s the story?

The Globe needs to report to us the details of the discussion between the editorial board and the legislators who attended the meeting, particularly the details surrounding the fear mongering related to the Medicaid program.  Such reporting would be of major interest around our state, and people need to know just what our “leaders” are thinking.

Since Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder has already suggested that closing prisons and universities were among the possible Republican responses to health care reform legislation, I suppose it’s not so far-fetched to imagine Republicans would now threaten to punish people on Medicaid.

But we at least should know who it was that brought it up, and exactly under what circumstances it might become a reality.

And the Joplin Globe has the responsibility to find out and then inform its readers.

Joltin’ Joe

Democrats are upset that Joe Lieberman is threatening to betray them again by suggesting he may join a Republican filibuster of health care reform legislation.  But it shouldn’t be a surprise that Joltin’ Joe would do his business that way. 

On November 4 of last year, Lieberman appeared on the Glenn Beck show to tell Glenn how “proud” he was of the paranoid broadcaster.  But before he did so, he expressed his “fear” that the Dem’s would have a filibuster-proof majority:

GLENN: Do you agree that with Senator Hatch — I’ve only got a minute before a network break. I hope we can hold you here. But do you agree that Senator Hatch said to me that if we don’t at least have the firewall of the filibuster in the Senate that in many ways America will not survive.

SENATOR LIEBERMAN: Well, I hope it’s not like that, but I fear. And I think for some of us there is a key. You know, it gets a bad name but it was really put there, a 60-vote requirement as somebody said to me when I first came to the Senate, stop the passions of a moment among the people of America from sweeping across the congress, the House, to the Senate and to a like minded President and having us do things that will change America for a long time. So the filibuster is one of the great protections we have. Glenn, I apologize. I’m running to go out with Senator McCain. We’re going to Colorado.

GLENN: Best of luck.

SENATOR LIEBERMAN: I’m real proud of you. I remember you back when.

GLENN: Thanks a lot. Bye-bye.

So, if Joe joins his Republican friends, he is merely ensuring that America “survives” the ravages of the party he used to belong to, and the party that gave him shelter in the form of a committee chairmanship.

Thanks a lot, Joe. Bye-bye.

The Good Shepard

Another example of why Shep Smith is the only tolerable mug on Fox “News”:

The Hatch Act

Rush Limbaugh call your office.  Orrin Hatch is stealing your shtick. 

Today on Morning Meeting with Dylan Ratigan, the senior Republican senator from Utah said the following:

One of the big goals of the whole Democratic Party is to move people into that category—the bottom 50% that basically don’t pay taxes—and a high percentage of them get money from the federal government, who think everything they are or ever hope to be comes from the almighty Democratic Party.

Such disgusting rhetoric usually flows from the mouths of the right-wing talkers, as they perform daily for the 5% of Americans who gather under the circus tent of extremism.

But since the Republican Party has almost totally succumbed to the extremist performance artists, it shouldn’t be surprising that “respected” figures within the party have joined their act, like circus elephants, and dutifully make such offensive—and false—statements about not only Democrats, but about exactly one half of the American people.

Just for the record, everyone pays taxes.  Even if one is part of the 43% who don’t have any federal income tax liability, there are still state income taxes and fees, county taxes, Social Security and Medicare taxes, sales taxes, excise taxes (like on gasoline), and the taxes that are hidden in the price of goods and services.

Orrin HatchSo, not only has Senator Hatch insulted the Democratic Party and the American people by accusing half of them of freeloading and placing “everything they are or ever hope to be” in the hands of the Democrats, he has done so by bearing false witness—which used to be against Mormon sensibilities.

But then, again, so did monogamy.  

Ayn Rand And The Seduction of the New Right

NOTE: The following is a reply to a comment on my post, “Another Ayn Rand Nut For Our Times,” by someone with the moniker, “Wants.”  Those of you not interested in Ayn Rand or political philosophy should skip the following entry.

Wants,

Thanks for that thoughtful response.  And I must say it is refreshing to engage someone who holds the views you do (“I can understand the root of the fear“), yet understands that those who hold a different view are not anti-American or unpatriotic devils.  The following is a rather lengthy response, but your comments allow me to do something I have wanted to do for a while: briefly explore the strange world of those conservatives who seem to have an affection for the once-heretical ideas of the little Russian-American philosopher, Ayn Rand.

To begin, let us move away from a discussion of We the Living to the much more familiar, Atlas Shrugged, about which Glenn Beck said on his radio show several months ago:

Ayn Rand understood and identified the deeper causes of the crisis we’re facing, and she offered in “Atlas Shrugged” the principled and practical solution consistent with American values.

Ayn RandThe core idea of Atlas Shrugged is that, in the words of Whittaker Chambers, “the Children of Light win handily by declaring a general strike of brains, of which they have a monopoly, letting the world go, literally, to smash.

I can’t imagine a more arrogant or elitist conception of life, and it is a weird irony that many of the contemporary proponents of such a view would also see themselves as populists, much like Glenn Beck does.  The idea that without these “brains” (those who “get it”) the rest of us will make a mess of the world is a sentiment echoed (sometimes thunderously, sometimes faintly) throughout the world of right-wing talk radio and television.  

But no matter the intensity, there exists the notion that those of us on the outside—who are “asleep”—cannot  possibly survive without those insightful, productive, clear-eyed egoists leading the way, and it is incumbent upon us to subordinate ourselves, if we wish to have any kind of decent life.  And the grand irony is that they present the necessary subordination of ourselves and our ideas to their views in the language of liberty.

Admittedly, this hybrid philosophy is believed only by a relatively small group of people, but many of its propagandists have a rather large megaphone, sometimes influencing professional politicians who call themselves Republicans.  And I have often argued that they are doing irreparable harm to the Grand Old Party, like Darwin’s parasitic wasp feeding on its host. 

You wrote,

I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with questioning government expansion, but I also don’t agree that it is inherently an irretrievable step closer to totalitarianism.

Now, that is a sensible view, and one that thoughtful people can discuss.

Your most perceptive statement, though, was:

Most people will agree that some form of government is necessary to protect and guarantee the basic rights of individuals in a society, but when it comes to modifying the power and reach of the government it is perfectly viable to question whether an expansion of power is needed and justified or whether it is over-reaching.

There are always legitimate questions about the propriety of government action.  Is the action necessary?  Does it increase or at least preserve the reservoir of liberty?  A quick example would be federal civil rights laws that effectively ended Jim Crow.  Were they an expansion of federal power?  Yes.  But did they serve to increase the reservoir of liberty?  Absolutely.  Thus, such laws were not only justified, they were necessary in order to give to culturally disenfranchised black citizens a degree of liberty enjoyed by whites.

colored signBut a sterile, Randian analysis of such laws these days might suggest something different:  What about the rights of the restaurant owner who doesn’t want black people eating with whites?  What about his rights?  And there is the problem: The contraction of the “liberty” of a proprietor—(“You can’t discriminate against a man because he is black“) is understood as an evil.  And the expansion of the liberty of multitudes of African-Americans is never considered, certainly not considered as a “good.” 

Another discovery, when one mines the rich vein of irony in contemporary (as opposed to the old-line variety represented by William F. Buckley) conservatism’s flirtation with Randian philosophy, is highlighted by Chambers, as he references Karl Marx:

He, too, admired “naked self-interest” (in its time and place), and for much the same reasons as Miss Rand: because, he believed, it cleared away the cobwebs of religion and led to prodigies of industrial and cognate accomplishment. The overlap is not as incongruous as it looks. Atlas Shrugged can be called a novel only by devaluing the term. It is a massive tract for the times. Its story merely serves Miss Rand to get the customers inside the tent, and as a soapbox for delivering her Message. The Message is the thing. It is, in sum, a forthright philosophic materialism.

And there you have it.

In order to attack liberalism, particularly the caricatured liberalism of Barack Obama, contemporary conservatives are willing to put into service a naked materialist like Ayn Rand, if not utilizing the letter of her writings, at least making use of the spirit of them.

chambers1939Chambers, a religious man, was naturally dubious of Rand’s atheism, and he portrayed her philosophy as one in which, “Man becomes merely the most consuming of animals, with glut as the condition of his happiness and its replenishment his foremost activity.

He continues:

Systems of philosophic materialism, so long as they merely circle outside this world’s atmosphere, matter little to most of us. The trouble is that they keep coming down to earth. It is when a system of materialist ideas presumes to give positive answers to real problems of our real life that mischief starts. In an age like ours, in which a highly complex technological society is everywhere in a high state of instability, such answers, however philosophic, translate quickly into political realities. And in the degree to which problems of complexity and instability are most bewildering to masses of men, a temptation sets in to let some species of Big Brother solve and supervise them.

The final irony of the new coalition of conservatism and Randianism is that her “noble” philosophy, predicated on a fierce but false idea of freedom, will inevitably end in a kind of tyranny.  Chambers sees in Rand’s call for “productive achievement” a necessarily “technological achievement,” which can only be supervised by “a managerial political bureau.”  Such a situation, according to Chambers,

…can only head into a dictatorship, however benign, living and acting beyond good and evil, a law unto itself (as Miss Rand believes it should be), and feeling any restraint on itself as, in practice, criminal, and, in morals, vicious (as Miss Rand clearly feels it to be).

Whittaker Chambers, a former communist, had at least some insight into the totalitarian mind.  He wrote of Atlas Shrugged, but really of the Nietzschean Ayn Rand herself:

From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: “To a gas chamber — go!” The same inflexibly self-righteous stance results, too (in the total absence of any saving humor), in odd extravagances of inflection and gesture… At first, we try to tell ourselves that these are just lapses, that this mind has, somehow, mislaid the discriminating knack that most of us pray will warn us in time of the difference between what is effective and firm, and what is wildly grotesque and excessive. Soon we suspect something worse. We suspect that this mind finds, precisely in extravagance, some exalting merit; feels a surging release of power and passion precisely in smashing up the house.

I can’t help but admire the voice of Whittaker Chambers, even as I have moved away from that despairing “man of the right,” and even as his voice is increasingly unfamiliar to a new generation of philosophically deaf conservatives.

But there is no denying that he accurately pegged the little Russian woman, who though he thought her sophistic and egoistic philosophy would have no “lasting ill effects,” nevertheless could not countenance her literary supposition, “that the Hippocratic Oath is a kind of curse.”

If you doubt the influence of Ayn Rand on some of those who are leading the New Right, here is a short video of Glenn Beck conversing with Yaron Brook, Executive Director, The Ayn Rand Center:

Another Ayn Rand Nut For Our Times

Last Monday’s Joplin Globe featured a piece by a guest columnist named Scott Holleran.  The piece was titled, “Another Ayn Rand novel for our times,” which was ostensibly a rather untimely review of Rand’s 73-year-old novel, We the Living.

I am not sure how the column ended up in the Globe because there is no indication that Mr. Holleran has any ties to our community, and he certainly isn’t a nationally syndicated columnist.  But I would like to know.

I’m not going to critique the philosophy of Ayn Rand, since old-style conservatives like William F. Buckley and Whittaker Chambers dismantled it long ago to my satisfaction. But I do want to ask the question, “How the hell did this monstrosity end up in the Joplin Globe?”  I mean, this isn’t Rita Crowell sending in her latest dispatch from Our Father in Heaven. This stuff was imported from California, for God’s sake.

Here is a few paragraphs culled from this stunningly stupid commentary, which shows all the effects of someone infected with ruinous Randian thought: 

Kira’s [the heroine of We the Living] choice is an expression of what Ayn Rand called the virtue of selfishness—an idea scorned by America’s current administration, which has adopted collectivism and self-sacrifice as the nation’s governing principles.

President Obama has intervened in the economy more than any president since the 1930s—while courting catastrophe by incurring astronomical debt. The administration plans to ask Congress to raise taxes, has effectively forced out CEOs and has effectively nationalized some of the nation’s largest banks, insurers and automobile companies. There’s a major step toward an economic dictatorship like Soviet Russia’s every other day.

Intestingly, the version on Mr. Holleran’s Website was different from above, so someone did some editing on the piece, but not enough to save the author from phantasmal folly.

Among other things, Mr. Holleran fails to mention that it was George W. Bush who popularized “compassionate conservatism,” which out of necessity culminated in his action to “effectively nationalize” most of the financial industry last year in order to keep our economic system from collapsing.  In my view, Bush’s intervention would constitute post-1930 unprecedented intervention, since Obama’s actions were essentially just an extension of what Bush began.

And Mr. Holleran is either simply a cultist, hynotized by Ms. Rand’s brilliance, or he is grossly ignorant of history or both, when he writes, “There’s a major step toward an economic dictatorship like Soviet Russia’s every other day.

Anyone who has read three sentences of the history of the defunct Soviet Union would not utter such contemptible nonsense.  But there it was on the editorial page of the Joplin Globe.

But the most offensive and stupid claims awaited us:

The U.S. has been heading toward totalitarianism for a long time. The government controls every aspect of an American’s life, from what car to drive to how much money one can earn. A home may be seized by the state under eminent domain. A radio or television show may be censored. Air travel must be approved by the government. Americans have been incrementally losing their rights for decades; Obama is simply and rapidly hastening the demise.

I’m not sure what state of consciousness Mr. Holleran was in when he wrote this pap, but it undoubtedly is an example of what happens to one’s mind when it falls hopelessly in love with Ms. Rand and her “virtue of selfishness” philosophy.

I just don’t have the slightest idea how it came to be printed on the pages of our local paper, but I’ve had it with the Obama-as-Stalin meme.

Snowe-bound

Claire McCaskill, who acquitted herself well on Sunday during her appearance on This Week, clearly committed to voting for a health reform bill that includes some form of public option, but she was equally clear that she would vote for a watered-down version, something, say, that Olympia Snowe could support. 

It appears certain now that there will not be what liberals have been calling a “robust” public option, which essentially is Medicare plus 5% (over current reimbursement rates), simply because Dem’s don’t have a filibuster-proof majority. 

And I may have been reading her wrong, but it appeared to me that Senator McCaskill is much more politically comfortable with the limited public option alternative, which will likely be in the form of some kind of Snowe-approved “trigger.”

A few statements she made during her interview with George Stephanopoulos:

…as people learn more about what this insurance exchange is and the public option, they begin to realize that this is not an all-encompassing government plan. In fact, the only people, George, that have to participate in the insurance exchange are members of Congress. We have written all the bills that require members of Congress and their staffs to go to the insurance exchange to buy insurance. And that’s where we hope some kind of public alternative will be, in order to bring down costs….

I think what we’re going to end up with is having votes on a number of choices: the ability for states to opt in to some kind of not-for-profit plan; the ability for states to opt out of some kind of not-for-profit plan to compete with the private insurance companies on this exchange; and then the option to trigger a not-for-profit plan if the insurance companies don’t manage to bring down costs within a certain period of time.

I frankly have not drawn a line in the sand. I support the public option. I’ll vote for the public option. But I’m focused on these deficit costs, on how can we reconfigure the way we pay for health care in a way that, long term, will begin to have an impact on these deficits that are really going to threaten the security of our nation in the next 10 to 20 years, if we don’t get serious about it.

In response to Stephanopoulos’ question, “So, bottom line, you believe this does get done this year and it does have a public option?” Senator McCaskill said:

I think it gets done this year and I think we end up with some kind of opportunity to go to a public not-for-profit option among many private options that people that currently don’t have insurance — and keep in mind, not everybody can even go to this exchange and buy insurance with any kind of subsidy. This is going to be a fairly limited number of people — 25 million to 30 million are the estimates — that would even be on this insurance exchange.

By and large, most of this country is going to continue to get their health insurance through their employer.

Like I said, maybe it’s just me, but it certainly sounds like our fair senator, who prides herself on her fiscal hawkishness, doesn’t really want to have to vote on a strong public option.

And given the fact that President Obama himself has not publicly fought for a strong public option (one on which he campaigned), why should Senator McCaskill?

Here is the link to her interview on This Week:

Public Option Revived: What’s Next?.

Social Security: A Success Story

Poor House Poem

Yesterday’s Globe brought us yet another gem from George Will.

The eruditical (neologistic excess—sorry) Mr. Will unwittingly made the case for means-testing Social Security in his column, “Hardest hit? Certainly not seniors.”  social_security_626_article

Will suggested that since our senior citizens were so well off, they don’t need the $250 that Obama and the Democrats (and you can bet most of the Republicans, too) are planning to send to them, in order to, in Will’s words, “assuage the disappointment of having not been injured by inflation.”  (For those of you who don’t know, that’s high-brow comedy.)

The thoughtful conservative columnist bases much of his skepticism about Obama’s attempt to, “purchase the affections of the elderly,”  on the claim that,

…after lifetimes of accumulation, Americans over 60 have the highest net worth of any age cohort.

Now, I’m sure that is true, since it is a stunning example of common sense.

But what does that little factoid really say about whether seniors should get the 250 bucks?

A lot, but not in the way that Will intended.

The fact that as a group, folks over 60 are, relative to the rest of the population, doing okay says a lot about the success of Social Security, a program designed to help augment the economic well-being of the elderly, many of whom used to end up in “almshouses,” which is where many would be today if conservative and Republican philosophy had prevailed last century.

Alms Houses ReportIt also says a lot about why Social Security has fast-approaching fiscal problems.  If, as Will suggests, that it is folly to give all seniors a check because many of them don’t need it, then the logical thing to do would be to means-test the entitlement to the $250, and while we’re at it, the entire Social Security (and Medicare) systems. 

Now, I understand why we don’t do that, or why there isn’t much political will to do that. Because to tax citizens all of their lives for a program they are not then entitled to access, would theoretically undermine support for the program. 

In other words, if the affluent don’t get their checks every month, then affluent families are going to agitate to eliminate the program, and many Republican politicians would be all too eager to kill it.  It seems that the rich have an “entitlement” mentality, too.

When I was very young, I rented an apartment from one of the wealthiest men in my little town.  He was in his late 70s at the time, and went to work every day, selling insurance and managing his considerable rental properties.  He also collected a Social Security check every month.  And it wasn’t like he just took it because he had to; he actually bragged to me one day about how long he had been drawing it, and how he looked forward to getting it each month.  At the time, I was a financially-challenged young lad, and I envied the old geezer (who actually was a pretty nice guy). 

But as I learned more and more about how the Social Security program worked (largely through my parents experience with it), I would often think about the old guy and how obvious it was that he didn’t need his check, and how much my parents did.

Jasper County Poor HouseTo my folks, like so many others, the Social Security check was the only thing—after a lifetime of work—that kept them “out of the poor house,” as my mom used to say.  It was, along with Medicare, essentially a matter of life and death for them.  For my landlord, the check had no measurable financial impact, yet he received it for nearly 30 years (he lived into his 90s).

That situation is simply unsustainable.  Baby boomers are beginning to retire, and demands on the system will grow exponentially.

It’s time politicians in both parties have the courage to do what is right:  Means test Social Security and Medicare, with the basic idea being that for people who enjoy a certain amount of affluence, they should only receive in Social Security and Medicare benefits the money they have paid into the system and nothing more.  

We may even be able to get George Will on board, since he obviously hates to see folks get what they don’t obviously need.

Dithering Dick and the Chicken Hawks

Dick Cheney, safely out of power, wants Obama to fix yet another Republican mistake by escalating the War That Bush Forgot.  After years of neglect, the Republicans have a mysterious sense of urgency about introducing 40,000 or more troops into a war drama that doesn’t seem to have a “THE END” at the end of it.

Saying “President Obama now seems afraid to make a decision,” the former Vice President, who dithered his way through the Vietnam War, has gone too far this time.  I hope the Justice Department goes after the college campus warrior for all of his crimes, large and small.

Here is how the issue was handled on Morning Joe, Thursday morning:

UPDATE:  General Paul Eaton (Ret.) released a statement that included this opening paragraph:

The record is clear: Dick Cheney and the Bush administration were incompetent war fighters. They ignored Afghanistan for 7 years with a crude approach to counter-insurgency warfare best illustrated by: 1. Deny it.  2.  Ignore it. 3. Bomb it. While our intelligence agencies called the region the greatest threat to America, the Bush White House under-resourced our military efforts, shifted attention to Iraq, and failed to bring to justice the masterminds of September 11.

He ended with this:

No human endeavor can be as profound as sending a nation’s youth to war.  I am very happy to see serious men and women working hard to get it right.

Of course, there’s no way that General Eaton knows what the hell he’s talking about.  He only served 30 years in the Army and according to the National Security Network, “oversaw the training of the Iraqi military.”  That’s nothing compared to the military expertise of Dithering Dick.

E-Bama

It is time we framed the issue of how to reform our health care system in moral terms: 

Do we want our health insurance supplied by profit-minded CEO’s, who command huge salaries and bonuses based on their ability to squeeze the life out of the sick, or do we want our health insurance supplied by the same people who supply life-giving health insurance to our senior citizens?

Now that is framing the issue.

Anyway, here is the latest on the Democrats’ sometimes-quixotic effort to bring some morality to our health care system.  Some folks have figured out that Medicare is comfortably popular, and maybe therein lies a way to convince people that the so-called public option is not the death-panel monstrosity that the half-governor Palin said it was.  We can now call it Medicare Part Everybody.  Voila!

The idea that health care reform ought to include a public option, that is, a government-administered insurance program similar to Medicare, has run into stormy seas, and it’s not just Republicans who are weary and seasick, but some Democrats have been queasy over the idea, too.

Now, maybe with the Medicare Part E idea, Democrats can overcome the Palin-Limbaugh-Hannity-Beck-[insert favorite demagogue here]-wing of the Republican Guard and start making some progress in wrestling with the devil of death-bed profiteering.

Look, it’s no secret that the American people generally have a healthy skepticism toward government involvement in the affairs of mankind, preferring the private sector to take care of most of their needs, like supplying Budweiser and bullets.  But what Republicans try to deny, and Democrats often fail to point out, is that when it comes to health insurance, people do want the government involved.  That’s why Medicare is so popular.

It turns out that when it comes to matters of life and death, people who aren’t independently wealthy prefer the discernible hand of government to Adam Smith’s invisible, frequently grifting private hand, which all too often belongs to a health-insurance Artful Dodger, whose focus is on the company’s financial health, not on the health of its clients.

geico-geckoNow, all we need is for President Obama to jump with both feet on the idea of Medicare Part E. 

Who knows, maybe one day Blue Cross will just be a jazzy Christian band gigging at a patriotic Tea Party, protesting government-sponsored auto insurance.

Look out GEICO.

A Kinder, Not Gentler Warning

Peter Kinder, for those of you who may have forgotten, is Missouri’s Missourah’s Lieutenant Governor.  He’s also a Republican.  And he’s also damn mad about what Obama and the Democrats in Congress are going to do to those of us who live in Missourah.

In a video statement, released obviously as a public service to alert us to the otherwise secret plan to destroy Missourah’s economy, Kinder said:

The state of Missourah simply does not have enough money to pay for government run health care without making drastic cuts to fundamental services.

Forget for a moment the fact that there is no plan for the federal government to “run” health care.  Focus instead on Kinder’s implication that health care is not a “fundamental service.”  Think about that, and how revealing it is, as Mr. Kinder allows us this short visit inside his conservative mind.

He tells us that the Dem’s health care reform plan “could not have come at a worse time for our state,” and that it will cost Missourians $450 million every year.  Then the obligatory Republican fear mongering begins:

How much is $450 million dollars? It’s about the same amount we spend annually to run every prison in the state of Missourah.  It’s about half of what we spend every year on higher education.  So how will we pay for this “health care experiment”?  Will we release all the prisoners and fire more than 11,000 correction employees?  Will we close our state’s universities?  Or will you be forced to pay more of your hard earned dollars in higher taxes?  These are exactly the kind of choices we will have to make if congress passes this so-called health care reform. 

So, there you have it. Missourians are impaled on Morton’s Fork: Either we will have to pay for health care reform or we will have to let murderers and rapists and unemployed college professors roam our streets, terrorizing, torturing, and tutoring our children.

All the while, Kinder does not explain exactly what he or his party proposes to do about the escalating costs of health care.  He complains about the alleged cost to Missourians of the Democrats’ plan, but typically, he doesn’t explain the cost of doing nothing.

He finishes with this flourish:

It is simply unconscionable to think that our senator, Claire McCaskill, would support dumping this economic nightmare in the laps of every taxpaying Missourian. Respectfully, I believe it is time for Senator McCaskill and Governor Nixon to fully explain and answer to Missourians where they stand on this proposal.  Because the time for silence is over.

Yes. The time for silence is over.  It’s time for Republicans to tell us what they would do about the increasing costs and declining benefits offered by the profiteering insurance industry, and how Republicans would reform the most expensive health care system in the world.

Here is Kinder’s statement:

He Scared The Beje$u$ Out Of Me

Sadly, David Horowitz has gone from cavorting with Black Panthers in his youth, to cavorting with people who push the idea that our white European cultural inheritance is under attack by America’s latest black revolutionary, Barack Obama.

Horowitz emailIn an e-mail he sent out Tuesday, hot “From The Desk Of David Horowitz,” he is soliciting donation$$$ for his effort to “Expose Obama.” He wrote:

As I’ve said on the Glenn Beck show and places where I’ve spoken in recent months: This isn’t like four bad years of Jimmy Carter or even eight years of Bill Clinton. This is the systematic transformation of our nation from an open, capitalist society, to a Big Brother-type socialist nation. We must stop it. Now. [emphasis, his]

Wow! Barack really is a Magic Negro.

The problem is the things Horowitz cites as Obama’s radical “agenda” could have just as easily applied to Bush-Cheney, but I don’t recall getting these scary e-mails while those two were bankrupting the country, destroying our capitalist economy, and funding a couple of wars on our descendants’ dime, wars that had the enthusiastic approval of Mr. Horowitz. Maybe at the time Horowitz was busy hunting for those elusive WMD’s.

I also don’t recall the Horowitz horror over Bush’s “Czars.”

Or Horowitz labeling the Republicans’ creation of a new prescription drug program for seniors as “a maniacal attempt to socialize our health care!” (His exclamation point.)

He also used the “Post Office,” like so many ignorant conservatives do, as an example of what “government-controlled health care” (itself a false suggestion) will look like. He references logo-usps_1__5rjwthe long lines at post offices, but is so blinded by his present ideology that he can’t see that those lines are the result of the Postal Service acting like a private business, rather than a government agency.

Postal management has cut staffing to save money, and if you wait in line or receive your mail after dark, it is because since 1970, the Postal Service by design and by law is required to operate like a private company.

The fact is that the post office is not subsidized by the government, but is financed by postage purchased by its customers, and the cost of a stamp today is, adjusting for inflation, about the same as it was in the early 1970s, despite the fact that there are tens of millions more delivery points and tens of thousands fewer employees.

And notwithstanding the long lines and sometimes-erratic delivery, USPS maintains consistently high customer satisfaction ratings, and Consumer Reports found last year that the post office outperformed FedEx and UPS in a head-to-head test of services, commenting:

Bottom line, all three delivered as promised…but the good old U.S. Postal Service is often the cheapest by far.

In the mean time, private health insurance costs, like a Bill Ayers-planted bomb, have blown the lid off inflation, and it is hard to find someone who doesn’t have a night’s worth of horror stories about the treatment they or someone they know have received from a private insurer.

Horowitz also cited security lines at airports as an example of government malfeasance. Huh? Those lines are a result of The War On Terror and Homeland Security. Let me see. Whose brainchildren were those? I missed that e-mail, too.

Finally, Mr. Horowitz is outraged that Obama,

…plans to repeal the Bush tax cuts, raise the income taxes, the capital gains tax and block the repeal of the estate tax (death tax) for the sake of “morality” he said. But there is nothing moral about taking more and more of your family’s income to feed his socialist agenda.

Again, such solid waste coming from right-wingers would be funny, if there weren’t so many people who believe it. But here is the skinny:

  • Obama has repeatedly said he is not going to raise income taxes on the middle class (wrongly, in my view).
  • Obama’s 2010 budget actually called for a reduction (!) of the capital gains tax for small businesses. The current capital gains tax rate for taxpayers (15%) is due to expire at the end of next year and return to its previous level of 20%. Obama proposes for 2011 that capital gains be taxed at 20% for only those in the top two tax brackets, and at 15% for those in the middle two brackets, and at 0% for those in the lowest two brackets. What a flaming socialist he is!

I’m not even going to get into the morality of the estate tax, since most people reading this blog will never have to worry about whether their wealthy parents can leave them a billion bucks with impunity.

The bottom line is that David Horowitz, a former left-wing radical and Marxist, who gave aid and comfort to real revolutionaries like Huey Newton, now claims that Barack Obama is attempting to lead a new American revolution.

And such outrageously false claims are made to scare the bejesus out of folks, who are then willing to part with some of their $$$$$$$$$ before Comrade Obama gets a hold of them:

…if you are able to join me in the project with a contribution of $25, $35 $50, $100 or even $1,000 today, I will send you – at no cost – my new booklet detailing the radical transformation Barack Obama and the socialists in Congress are implementing.

I suppose 25 bucks is a small price to pay to keep the country out of the hands of Barack, Michelle, Sasha, and Malia, a veritable cabal of Marxist revolutionaries.

Saint Rachel

George Bush the Elder even had me suckered.  It turns out that he is as sly as a Fox “News” story, masquerading all this time as a nice guy, when he was at heart a Roger Ailes-inspired pit bull. 

Saint RachelLast Friday the ex-CIA director-cum-President of the United States called Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow (“Saint Rachel,” as far as I am concerned) “sick puppies.”  But in doing so, he accidentally triggered something that Ms. Maddow explored in an interview with Ron Suskind. 

She noted ( in the video posted below) that as Fox “News” has gone deeper and deeper into extremism, people often accuse her of growing more extreme, so that there can be a nice and comfortable narrative about what’s happening  on cable television.  In other words, it helps people to understand and deem acceptable the quasi-journalism on the Fox “News” Channel, if it can be shown that the same thing is going on across the cable news street.  But this analysis, claiming that there is “extremist symmetry” between Fox “News” and MSNBC, is flawed, even if it makes some folks feel better.

As I have tried to point out, MSNBC does bend  to the left, but it doesn’t “push” the news like Fox unquestionably does—throughout its broadcast day.  And there is no comparison between what Rachel Maddow does and what Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, or other ringmasters do under the  Fox “News” circus tent. 

One may not like Rachel’s liberalism, or the issues she chooses to highlight each night, but she is very smart (and educated) and painfully fair (for some of us who want her to skewer the “opposition”).  She isn’t paranoid like Beck; she doesn’t talk over her guests or monopolize their air time like Hannity; and she doesn’t yell at her guests or otherwise act like the ego-bloated and insufferable O’Reilly.

Now, granted, Keith Olbermann’s MSNBC program is a bit different.  His show does comes closer to  typical Fox fare, but to insist that he is as much of an extremist as, say, Glenn Beck, is another example of the false symmetry syndrome.  

Watching Glenn Beck is a lot like watching what one might imagine a talented but disturbed patient at the old Nevada State Hospital might have done with a couple of cameras, a blackboard, and an eager research staff.  Or, if Lyndon LaRouche had daily access to a high-tech TV studio, and a case of VapoRub, one imagines that his show would look a lot like GB’s. 

In any case, Olbermann’s show is well within the bounds of civilized commentary, and the idea that Fox “News” Channel is just a mirror image of MSNBC must be challenged, and hopefully that is what is behind the Obama administration’s attempt to expose Fox’s phony claim that it practices authentic journalism.

Here is the segment from the Rachel Maddow show:

How To Make Conservatives Disappear

It is obvious now that Barack Obama is a regular reader of our local paper.  On September 26, 2009, I wrote in the Joplin Globe the following:

Fox “News”…is not just a media company practicing slightly right-of-center journalism. It is consciously a public relations arm of the conservative movement, and by extension, the Republican Party. I submit as evidence for this assertion the fact — yes, fact — that Fox did not just aggressively cover as news the anti-Obama tax protests this year; it openly and shamelessly promoted them. There is no sense in which such advocacy can be considered real journalism, and it is different in kind from anything else on television, including MSNBC.

Last week Anita Dunn, White House communications director, said essentially the same thing, and today Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod have confirmed that the White House does not believe that Fox “News” is really a news organization.  So, using the logic employed routinely by commentators on the right, I will take credit for the Obama administration’s new attitude toward Fox “News.”  Can anyone say “post hoc”?

But seriously, the important thing to realize about the administration’s new strategy of treating Fox “News” like the right-wing opinion factory it is, is that according to Rupert Murdoch,  the strategy is only serving to increase Fox’s viewers. 

Of course it is. That was the plan.

Remember, Obama is not only a brilliant politician; he is also a mad scientist.

You see, a confidential source inside the Obama administration sent me the following Top Secret document, which apparently was a memo dispersed to only a few administration officials.  Because I am a former conservative who still has a few conservative friends left, I am afraid I have to reveal it today, simply because I don’t want to see anybody get hurt:

Obama TOP SECRET memo

Anita Is Dunn

After hearing Glenn Beck yesterday morning promise a jaw-dropping video exposing Anita Dunn, the White House communications director, as a this or that, I waited in agitated suspense until the real One Who Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest revealed on television his smoking gun. 

And I have to admit, the McCarthyite was right this time!  And, along with him, I dropped a few VapoRub-free tears in sadness, reminiscing about the America of old.

Anita Dunn—hold on to your keyboard—Anita Dunn actually—are you holding on?—Anita Dunn actually said that one of her “favorite” political philosophers—I hope you are ready—she actually said that…okay, I’ll just get it out…Mother Teresa…

Yes!  Anita Dunn actually claimed that Mother Teresa was one of her favorite political philosophers.  Un-bleeping-believable. Disgusting. 

Before you absolutely tear your hair out in revulsion, before you grab a placard and begin to misspell “B-A-R-A–K,” please understand that Mother Teresa isn’t as bad as she seems.  History hasn’t been kind to her, that’s all. 

When Christopher Hitchens claimed that she was a fraud, that the real MT was hidden behind the MT of myth, he was just having a bad day.   Or, he was just playing the de facto advocatus diaboli, the devil’s advocate, out of mere obeisance to the Catholic Church, the pope of which beatified her in a moment of weakness.

Mr. Hitchens really didn’t mean this when he challenged her sainthood:

As for the “miracle” that had to be attested, what can one say? Surely any respectable Catholic cringes with shame at the obviousness of the fakery. A Bengali woman named Monica Besra claims that a beam of light emerged from a picture of MT, which she happened to have in her home, and relieved her of a cancerous tumor. Her physician, Dr. Ranjan Mustafi, says that she didn’t have a cancerous tumor in the first place and that the tubercular cyst she did have was cured by a course of prescription medicine. Was he interviewed by the Vatican’s investigators? No.

Christopher, in his zeal, surely was mistaken when he said:

MT was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction. And she was a friend to the worst of the rich, taking misappropriated money from the atrocious Duvalier family in Haiti (whose rule she praised in return) and from Charles Keating of the Lincoln Savings and Loan. Where did that money, and all the other donations, go? The primitive hospice in Calcutta was as run down when she died as it always had been—she preferred California clinics when she got sick herself—and her order always refused to publish any audit. But we have her own claim that she opened 500 convents in more than a hundred countries, all bearing the name of her own order. Excuse me, but this is modesty and humility?

And our advocatus diaboli actually said that in the phenomenon that was Mother Teresa, “we witnessed the elevation and consecration of extreme dogmatism, blinkered faith, and the cult of a mediocre human personality.”

Okay, okay.  I give up.  Glenn was right. I can’t defend MT anymore. Anita Dunn has to go.  Mother Teresa was one of her favorite political philosophers?  No way can we let that stand.  As Hitchens wrote:

Many more people are poor and sick because of the life of MT: Even more will be poor and sick if her example is followed. She was a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud, and a church that officially protects those who violate the innocent has given us another clear sign of where it truly stands on moral and ethical questions.

How can Messiah Obama keep Anita Dunn around after this revelation?

A Hate That Dare Not Speak Its Name?

Juan Don has weighed in on the horrible reality that Rush Limbaugh will not live one of his dreams, owning an NFL team.  Mr. Don, our area’s only worm whisperer, wrote in response to comments I made about Limbaugh:

I’m curious as to whether or not Rush Limbaugh is serious when threatening to take legal action against those he feels have maliciously impugned his reputation. Limbaugh, who has made a fortune under the First Amendment’s wide protective net, is treading on thin ice when accusing critics of crossing the line.

Juan says he finds it “hard to believe that after two decades of broadcasting racially insensitive remarks anyone would need to fabricate evidence of his congenital prejudice against minorities.”

So do I, although I doubt the prejudice is congenital, even assuming it is real and not part of his shtick to attract bubbabots aplenty.

Anyway, Mr. Don continues:

Limbaugh’s defense when cornered on an especially intolerant remark is that he’s first and foremost a satirist. As an acknowledged expert in Limbaughnics, you know he has always played this card if caught exposing too much leg; it’s his perpetual enemies who don’t get the sophisticated drift because they’re blinded by liberal indoctrination. Of course, only like-minded conservatives have evolved beyond identity politics and are freed from bigotries divisive pull. He is merely using ‘humor’ to prove his point that it’s the Democrat Party that is obsessed with race. Why else would liberals bemoan such hilarity as “Barack the Magic Negro?”

200px-Oscar_Wilde_portraitCiting Limbaugh’s “‘satirical’ jibe” about the NFL (“looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons“), Juan compares the potential litigant to Oscar Wilde, who sued the father of one of his lovers—the father having publicly accused Wilde of being a “sodomite”—for criminal libel. 

The problem was the father had plenty of evidence to prove that Wilde had engaged in sex with his son, as well as others.  And through Wilde’s misguided attempt to defend his “name,” his homosexuality became public and thus he was charged with “gross indecency” and spent a couple of years in prison, serving some of his time in Reading Gaol.

Mr. Don concluded in his inimitable style:

Trevor Fisher’s: Oscar and Bosie: A Fatal Passion is a fascinating read detailing the sad consequences when plaintiff becomes respondent. The upshot is that one should never sue when guilty of ‘slanderous’ accusations. Although Limbaugh’s behavior isn’t criminal (neither was Wilde’s: Victoria’s England shares striking similarities to Inhofe’s Oklahoma), losing in court wouldn’t be in the propagandist’s best interest — how can one besmirch a reputation that doesn’t exist?

Here’s a little tribute to Wilde:

Authoritarians And Other Conservatives

FiveThirtyEight.com, Nate Silver’s website, posted a piece on Monday by Tom Schaller that briefly examines a new book by Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler, Authoritarianism & Polarization in American Politics.

Schaller says:

The first point Hetherington and Weiler make is that authoritarianism is really about order–achieving it, maintaining it, and affirming it–and especially when citizens are uncertain or fearful. This, they say, is why authoritarians seek out and elevate, well, authorities–because authorities impose order on an otherwise disordered world. They provide a useful review of the existing literature on authoritarian traits, which have been connected to negative racist stereotyping, a belief in biblical inerrancy, a preference for simple rather than complex problem-solving, and low levels of political information.

The controversial point that Schaller makes about the book is that it reveals just what authoritarians in America tend to look like: “rural, southern, under-educated, evangelical Protestant churchgoers.”

And he says,

… although there is a strong connection between authoritarianism and conservatism (and thus Republicanism), as Hetherington and Weiler caution, authoritarianism is not bounded by party: Among 2008 Democratic primary voters there were significant splits on issues of race and immigration, smacking of authoritarian impulses, that played a role in support for either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.

In this vein, Schaller also mentions Glenn Greenwald’s book, A Tragic Legacy:

Greenwald’s book is a character study of Bush43 and the Bush White House, its Manichean worldview, and what that meant for public policy. But an us-v-them, good-v-evil governing mentality is only possible in a democracy where authoritarian currents run deep enough to sustain (and re-elect) such leadership.

All of this may have some relationship to linguist George Lakoff’s “family” metaphor, which he uses to explain the differences between conservatives and liberals. Highly simplified, if one holds—consciously or unconsciously—to a “strict father morality” then one tends to be a conservative. Liberals tend to hold to a “nurturant parent morality.”

As one quick example, the “strict father” model views “justice” in terms of people getting what they deserve, and that hard times in life function to separate those who deserve good things from those who don’t. The “nurturant parent” concept understands justice in this world as unfinished business, because some people are not treated fairly and we need to work hard to ensure they are.

My own suspicions about the authoritarian nature of conservatism were first confirmed while reading Conservatives Without Conscience, by John Dean, of Watergate fame. In evaluating contemporary conservatism, he wrote:

Both social conservatives and neoconservatism have overwhelmed the conservative movement and the Republican Party, and to gauge their influence, and its consequences, it is essential to understand authoritarian thinking and behavior. Social conservatism and neoconservatism have revived authoritarian conservatism, and not for the better of conservatism or American democracy. True conservatism is cautious and prudent. Authoritarianism is rash and radical. American democracy has benefited from true conservatism, but authoritarianism offers potentially serious trouble for any democracy.

So, the next time you hear a T.V. or radio conservative waxing nasty about liberals or Democrats or Obama, now you know what may be behind their bluster.

[Note: For those seriously interested in a deeper understanding of what makes people choose sides in politics, here is a lecture by George Lakoff in which he discusses the family metaphor. Lakoff is a self-described liberal, but the quality of his analysis is first-class and tends to transcend his politics.]

Men Of Constant Sorrow

Lest anyone think that conservative Republicans have not been consistent in their fear-mongering over the years regarding the encroachment of “socialism,” here are a few selections from Rep. Mike Pence’s article lamenting his own party’s plans to provide a prescription drug benefit to seniors back in 2003:

Not only is the need for a universal public subsidy questionable, adding a universal drug benefit to Medicare may have certain unintended consequences. Namely, seniors with private coverage from a former employer may actually lose their coverage. The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that thousands of seniors could lose coverage they currently enjoy from a former employer if Congress creates this new entitlement.

Mike+PenceSound familiar? How about this:

The final, and most ominous, consequence of a universal drug benefit could be that it will usher in the beginning of socialized medicine in America.

Nobody said conservatives were original. They have been painfully consistent through time in their attempts to scare the dook out of old folks and their claims that government-provided benefits will lead to nasty socialism.

The truth is that Pence did concede in his article that it was okay to provide seniors “near the poverty level with urgent and sufficient prescription coverage.”

The problem is that neither he, nor any conservative, ever makes clear just how the government can do that without being open to the charge of “socialism.”

That’s called having it both ways.

Cardinal Hero: A Tribute To Curt Flood

Growing up a St. Louis Cardinals fan, Lou Brock was my hero—until George Brett and the Royals came along. As a confirmed unionist, though, Curt Flood is my Cardinal Hero now.

curt-flood1October 7th was the 40th anniversary of the baseball trade that would eventually shock the labor-management world. On that date in 1969, the Cardinals traded Flood (along with Tim McCarver, Byron Browne, and Joe Hoerner) to the Philadelphia Phillies for Cookie Rojas, Jerry Johnson, and Dick “Don’t Call Me Richie” Allen—about whom baseball guru Bill James once said, “he did more to keep his teams from winning than anybody else who ever played major league baseball.”

Anyway, Curtis Charles Flood, who at 31 was in the prime of his career, refused to report to the Phillies, at least partly because he considered Philly fans racist (he referred to Philadelphia as “the nation’s northernmost southern city“), but largely because, as he wrote to Commissioner Bowie Kuhn:

After twelve years in the major leagues, I do not feel I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes. I believe that any system which produces that result violates my basic rights as a citizen and is inconsistent with the laws of the United States and of the several States.

The players’ union, under the legendary leadership of Marvin Miller—who probably did more to change professional baseball than any one person and who unquestionably belongs in the Hall of Fame—had told Flood that it would support a lawsuit challenging what was known as baseball’s “reserve clause” and Flood’s desire to be a free agent.

The reserve clause, which had been part of professional baseball contracts since the late 19th century, essentially gave team owners perpetual possession of players, since players were not allowed to negotiate with other teams, even if their original contract had expired. They either could stay with their original team or ask to be released or traded, and if they were traded, they had no voice in the deal. Considering the success of the labor movement in the 20th century, it was amazing that major league baseball was essentially untouched by it.

In conjunction with a 1922 Supreme Court ruling granting baseball owners an exemption from antitrust laws, the reserve clause assured baseball management that players’ salaries would remain relatively low. Players were thus not able to get their fair share of the profits of a burgeoning baseball business, which fortunately for the owners was not recognized as such by its many fans, who tended to romanticize the game.

And the fact that baseball had long been so romanticized by those who loved it, did not help Flood’s cause. Because he avoided the usual pastoral rhetoric associated with baseball—”baseball’s terminology betrays its essential attitudes, which are those of animal husbandry. Baseball regards us as sheep“—most fans did not appreciate his efforts to challenge baseball’s hold on him.

According to The Baseball Reliquary, Flood said this about the social relevance of his “rebellion”:

I guess you really have to understand who that person, who that Curt Flood was. I’m a child of the sixties, I’m a man of the sixties. During that period of time this country was coming apart at the seams. We were in Southeast Asia. Good men were dying for America and for the Constitution. In the southern part of the United States we were marching for civil rights and Dr. King had been assassinated, and we lost the Kennedys. And to think that merely because I was a professional baseball player, I could ignore what was going on outside the walls of Busch Stadium was truly hypocrisy and now I found that all of those rights that these great Americans were dying for, I didn’t have in my own profession.

Of course, Commissioner Kuhn denied Flood’s request for free agency, citing the reserve clause included in Flood’s existing contract with St. Louis, to where he had been traded, after signing—without an agent or attorney to represent him—with the Cincinnati Reds in 1956 at the age of 18.

Flood sued, alleging violation of federal antitrust laws, likening the reserve clause to “slavery,” which to some seemed inappropriate since he was making a substantial $90,000 at the time. However, it was to become clear that money was not the focus of Flood’s challenge. Freedom was. The comparison to slavery was indeed a perfect metaphor for baseball’s reserve system.

Marvin Miller said of him:

At the time Curt Flood decided to challenge baseball’s reserve clause, he was perhaps the sport’s premier center fielder. And yet he chose to fight an injustice, knowing that even if by some miracle he won, his career as a professional player would be over. At no time did he waver in his commitment and determination. He had experienced something that was inherently unfair and was determined to right the wrong, not so Curt Flood and Marvin Millermuch for himself, but for those who would come after him. Few praised him for this, then or now. There is no Hall of Fame for people like Curt.

Interestingly, luminous former players Jackie Robinson and Hank Greenberg, along with flamboyant and innovative owner Bill Veeck—who once said, “baseball must be a great game, because the owners haven’t been able to kill it“—testified in court on behalf of Flood. Also interesting was the fact that not one active player either testified or attended the trial to support him, and reportedly, the active players were divided, many of them openly supporting the owner’s position.

In a 5-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled against Flood, relying largely on its prior 1922 decision. Dissenting, Justice William Douglas criticized his colleagues’ “romantic view of a rather dismal business,” calling baseball “a big business that is packaged with beer, with broadcasting, and with other industries.”

Challenging baseball ownership and its chokehold on player dignity and rights cost Curt Flood the best and likely most productive years of his career. But his challenge and his sacrifice sounded a thunderous warning to owner-bullies in baseball, that the days of their mastership over the players were soon to end.

Only three short years after Flood’s defeat in 1972, free agency became a reality in the big leagues. And the Major League Baseball Players Association is arguably the strongest union in the country.

Flood died of throat cancer in 1997, and as he was memorialized at First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles, former second baseman Tito Fuentes remarked, passing by his casket, “I’m sorry that so many of the young players who made millions, who benefited from his fight, are not here. They should be here.

It is easy to forget the pioneers, those who had the courage to do what others only wished they could do. But for many of us in the labor movement, most of whom will never become millionaires, Curt Flood will not be forgotten.

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