Let’s Agree

Let’s stop subsidizing the wealthy. Stop crony capitalism. Stop corporate welfare. Means-test our entitlement programs.”

The above quote was not said by some wild- or starry-eyed liberal. It was said by the Buddha of budgetary knowledge on the right, Paul Ryan, on ABC’s This Week last Sunday. 

In the spirit of the New Year and New Beginnings, let us end this year with a note of agreement. I agree with Mr. Ryan that we should stop crony capitalism—the only kind there will ever be without adequate public attention—and stop corporate welfare—corporations are doing just fine, thank you—and we should means-test our entitlement programs—especially Medicare, which is, as Paul Ryan knows very well, the biggest driver of our long-term debt problem. 

And Paul Ryan also knows very well that the plan he advanced earlier this year—which nearly every Republican this side of the Asteroid Belt voted for—would end the system created in 1965, even if the name would live on. (No matter what Politifact says.) Let’s all at least agree on that. 

And let us agree that the current Medicare system, which took more than 50 years to bring into reality, should be preserved. After all, it was signed into law by a Texan, Lyndon Johnson, and was supported by almost half of the Republicans in Congress at the time. 

So sensitive are Americans to perceived government interference, that even the sainted FDR dared not force the issue of public health insurance—which he supported—before the enactment of his social security bill was assured in 1935. And despite Missourian Harry Truman’s efforts to get the job done—President Johnson would eventually credit “the man from Independence” for those efforts and make the 81-year-old fighter the program’s first enrollee— it took another generation before folks without means could rest a little easier knowing they had at least basic health insurance they could afford, when they were on the unprofitable side of life. 

And among those who could rest a little easier were my parents. My dad, who was 56 years old when Medicare was passed, worked all of his pre-heart attack life. My mom worked full-time at home and part-time at what she called the “dime store.” Were it not for Medicare, well, the alternative for them would have been and, for me, remains, unthinkable.  Let’s agree that, for them and millions of  people like them, access to affordable government health insurance made—and for now, still makes—America a better place in which to live.

Truman, in a special message to Congress in November of 1945—1945!—said there were “certain rights which ought to be assured to every American citizen.” One of them, he said, was “the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.” What a shame, more than 65 years later, we are fighting over The Affordable Care Act, which guarantees Americans, sick or well, rich or poor, the right to health insurance, or rather the right to purchase health insurance from profit-minded private insurers. It is, by no means, a fulfillment of the vision of liberals, old or new. But it ain’t nothing. 

And yet we fight. Let’s agree to stop fighting about something so necessary. 

Truman said: 

In the past, the benefits of modern medical science have not been enjoyed by our citizens with any degree of equality. Nor are they today. Nor will they be in the future—unless government is bold enough to do something about it. 

People with low or moderate incomes do not get the same medical attention as those with high incomes. The poor have more sickness, but they get less medical care. 

He didn’t must make that statement in 1945 without evidence to back it up. And he had plenty: 

The people of the United States received a shock when the medical examinations conducted by the Selective Service System revealed the widespread physical and mental incapacity among the young people of our nation… 

As of April of 1945, nearly 5,000,000 male registrants between the ages of 18 and 37 had been examined and classified as unfit for military service. The number of those rejected for military service was about 30 percent of all those examined. The percentage of rejection was lower in the younger age groups, and higher in the higher age groups, reaching as high as 49 percent for registrants between the ages of 34 and 37. 

Think about that. And think about the health of those back then who were in their forties and fifties and sixties and beyond. Truman, understanding that the child is father of the adult, said that it is “important to resolve now that no American child shall come to adult life with diseases or defects which can be prevented or corrected at an early age.” 

Let’s agree that health care involves inter-generational agreements. Old folks, let’s make sure the young are cared for, even if their parents are not rich. Young folks, let’s make sure the old are cared for, even if they lack wealth. All of us are either young or getting old. The Affordable Care Act is simply a part of these inter-generational agreements—without which any modern and civilized society cannot continue to be modern and civilized. It ought to be without controversy, or at least without animus. 

But it’s not. We have folks around the country, and folks in Congress, who are fighting for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act with a kind of religious zeal, as if to lose the battle would mean the end of a God-blessed America. There are even some radicals who would move us back to not only 1964, before Medicare, but to 1934, before Social Security. They would leave the non-rich at the mercy of charities or family and friends, of whatever means. 

But if we can’t finally agree, as Paul Ryan seemed to suggest last Sunday, that entitlements—Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—are a permanent part of our social fabric and that in order to afford them we may need to, among other things, means-test them, then I’m not sure there is anything we can agree on as a civilized nation.

As Harry Truman said so long ago, our government needs to be “bold enough” to do something about inadequate health care in our country.  All he was really saying was we-the-people need to be bold enough.

Bold enough to agree.

Domesticating The Dogs

I don’t think there should be a profit motive in health care. I think all the health care dollars should go to care.”

—Elsa Stone, a North Haven, Connecticut, pediatrician

Well, what do you know.  The universe is starting to make sense. 

From Thursday’s USA Today:

HARTFORD, Conn. – In the past decade, most states have turned Medicaid over to private insurance plans, hoping they could control costs and improve care. Nearly half of the 60 million people in the government program for the poor are in managed-care plans run by insurance giants such as UnitedHealthcare and Aetna. 

Connecticut, the “insurance capital of the world,” is bucking the trend.

Beginning Sunday, Connecticut will jettison its private health plans from Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program. Instead of paying the companies a set monthly fee to cover the health costs of more than 400,000 children and parents, the state will assume financial responsibility.

Why?

Glad you asked:

State officials say the companies, including Hartford-based Aetna, did not fulfill their promise of lower costs and better care.

Take that all of you private-insurance lovers out there.

Notably, our neighbor to the West, Oklahoma, one of the reddest states in the Milky Way, doesn’t trust the private insurers either, and hasn’t for a while:

Oklahoma moved away from private plans in 2005, and officials there say they have no regrets. “While achieving very encouraging marks in both member satisfaction and quality, the cost per member has grown at a very low average annual rate of 1.2% over the last five years,” says Mike Fogarty, Oklahoma’s Medicaid director.

It appears that in Connecticut (and elsewhere, of course) too much money is being spent on things that have nothing to do with health—like, say, profits. The USA Today story cited,

a 2009 state-commissioned report showing Connecticut was overpaying insurers by nearly $50 million a year–about 6% of total expenses.

Other state reports found the plans were spending too little on health services and published networks of doctors that were misleading because many doctors refused to accept Medicaid patients when “secret shoppers” called for appointments.

And, thus, the story touches, albeit indirectly, on a major problem with the very conservative Affordable Care Act:

Many doctors are happy to see the state’s experiment with managed-care plans end. Many had been frustrated with having to follow different rules for different plans. They also complained about payment delays and problems referring patients to some specialists.

You see, because too much worry is exhausted on who gets paid, the folks in the middle—doctors and patients—tend to suffer. The ACA, while guaranteeing everyone health insurance, still keeps in place that profit-minded system.  In fact, Paul Ryan’s budget plan—fully embraced by the Republican Party—would essentially do for older folks, who would have a hard time getting health care, what the ACA does for younger folks, who can’t afford or aren’t able to get health care. 

Yes, it’s true.

An important but little noticed point made in the recent controversial Politifact article, “Lie of the Year 2011,” explains:

Under the current Medicare system, the government pays the health care bills for Americans over age 65. Under the Ryan plan, future beneficiaries would be given a credit and invited to shop for an approved plan on a Medicare health insurance exchange…Ryan’s plan requires private insurers to accept all applicants and to charge the same rate for people who are the same age…

“Ryan basically proposed the Affordable Care Act for future seniors,” said Jonathan Gruber, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who advised both President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney on health care. “I don’t understand how you can like it for future seniors but not like it for today’s needy uninsured. That doesn’t make any sense.”

Of course, it also doesn’t make sense how most people in the country can like Medicare for seniors and not like Medicare for everyone, but Republicans have done such a darn good job of demonizing everything that comes in contact with government that it  is somewhat understandable why there is such cognitive dissonance out there.

Fortunately, some states, most recently Connecticut, are coming to their senses about how health care is delivered in this country, and it’s not through motivating private insurers with profits. And that, despite all the Republican criticism of it, is what is wrong with the Affordable Care Act.  It is an improvement over the dog-eat-dog insurance system we have now, but the dogs are still out there.

Beyond A Doubt?

I want to connect two issues, recently in the news, that may not seem related. 

In a piece in Tuesday’s USA Today, “When will USA get over breastfeeding hang-ups?,” Katherine Chretien hopes that one day, “breastfeeding in public will be seen as nothing out of the ordinary”: 

Let’s face it, we live in a society that has sexualized breasts so much that any display (even in its primary, all-business function) is seen as indecent, allowing the hardy vestiges of American Puritanism to place shame-hexes on nursing moms.

Now, I have never understood the hang-up about breastfeeding, in public or private, but I do understand “the hardy vestiges of American Puritanism,” the unrelenting bigotry of which is able to survive in our otherwise permissive culture.

There is another form of puritanical bigotry increasing in this country, almost unnoticed by the mainstream press, that also has to do with women: the harsh, inflexible anti-choice movement. Here is a story from CNN that illustrates the point:

(CNN) – Texas Gov. Rick Perry revealed a hardening in his stance on abortion Tuesday, telling a crowd in Iowa that he opposed abortions in all cases, including when a woman had been raped or the victim of incest.

Previously, Perry had not opposed the procedure in cases of rape or incest, or when the mother’s life was threatened.

Perry claims that his just-in-time-for-the-Iowa-caucuses “transformation” happened after watching a propaganda film produced by Southern Baptist preacher and Fox “News” host Mike Huckabee, who was the former governor of Arkansas and a former presidential candidate who won the Iowa caucuses in 2008.

From the CNN story:

“…I really started giving some thought about the issue of rape and incest. And some powerful, some powerful stories in that DVD.”

Perry said a woman who appeared in the movie who said she was a product of rape moved him to change his mind about abortion.

“She said, ‘My life has worth.’ It was a powerful moment for me,” Perry said.

I find it interesting that men like Rick Perry and Mike Huckabee and many leaders in the anti-choice movement, a movement that has been very effective in limiting the choices women can make, will never be victims of rape or incest, but feel comfortable forcing women to have children under such circumstances. More than interesting, I find it appalling.

But Rick Perry—who earlier this year signed a bill in Texas forcing women seeking abortions to undergo sonograms and forcing doctors to tell those women the size of their fetuses’ body parts—isn’t the only GOP candidate/extremist against abortion rights. Oddly, the man most people identify as a libertarian, Ron Paul, is staunchly anti-choice. He said in 2005:

I believe beyond a doubt that a fetus is a human life deserving of legal protection, and that the right to life is the foundation of any moral society.

“Beyond a doubt?” That man is expected to finish first or second in Iowa next week. He also said that,

Abortion on demand is the ultimate State tyranny; the State simply declares that certain classes of human beings are not persons, and therefore not entitled to the protection of the law…the new regime has enlisted the assistance of millions of people to act as its agents in carrying out a program of mass murder.

Again, that is a so-called libertarian running for the GOP nomination speaking.

Mitt Romney, whom the mainstream media treat as a “moderate” and whose evolving-devolving position on abortion is legendary, has essentially confessed—to none other than Mike Huckabee himself—that he is an extremist on the “life begins at conception” issue. The two former governors were discussing Romney’s now-controversial health care plan in Massachusetts, which Romney claimed the courts determined must provide the right to an abortion:

Mike Huckabee: “Was there any way that you could have blocked [Romney’s health care plan paying for abortion] administratively or through forcing the legislature to have created enabling legislation before it went into effect?”

Romney: “This was something which existed exactly even before our bill was passed. They said people who are receiving care in that was in any way subsidized by government had the right to get abortions as part of that care. And they said that was constitutionally required. So the only way to we could have changed that would be to carry out a constitutional amendment to block the Supreme Court’s decision.”

Mike Huckabee: “Would you have supported the constitutional amendment that would have established the definition of life at conception?”

Mitt Romney: “Absolutely.”

It is true that the Romney campaign disputes the claim that he is in favor of so-called “personhood amendments,” which would grant political rights to minutes-old fertilized eggs, but even in the context of Massachusetts politics, how can a man say he would be in favor of a constitutional amendment that would establish “life at conception,” if that didn’t also mean granting that “life” political rights, most notably the right to be born? If it doesn’t mean that, then just what does it mean?

And remember, Romney made his statement about the constitutional amendment establishing life at conception in the context of restricting “the right to get abortions.” Clearly, he is willing to support measures that would prohibit women from controlling their reproductive decisions.

When Romney vetoed a bill in Massachusetts in 2005 that would have expanded access to emergency contraception, known as the “morning after” pill, he explained his veto by saying this:

The bill does not involve only the prevention of conception: The drug it authorizes would also terminate life after conception…I have spoken with medical professionals to determine whether the drug contemplated under the bill would simply prevent conception or whether it would also terminate a living embryo after conception. Once it became clear that the latter was the case, my decision was straightforward.

Romney tried to hide his extremist position by saying that his decision was based on the “promise” he made to “the citizens of Massachusetts” that he would “not change our abortion laws either to restrict abortion or to facilitate it.” Similarly, he tries to hide his extremism by claiming that such things should be left in state hands. His spokeswoman, Gail Gitcho said,

Mitt Romney is pro-life, and as he has said previously, he is supportive of efforts to ensure recognition that life begins at conception. He believes these matters should be left up to states to decide.

That, in perfect Romney style, is trying to have it both ways. He wants to send the message to the anti-choice community that he is committed to their extremist views, while sending the message to the rest of America that he will not change, as a federal official, the status quo. He wants to send Rick Perry’s and Ron Paul’s message without actually sounding like Rick Perry and Ron Paul.

But who can believe a man who has been a true-believing bishop in the ultra-conservative Mormon church and who once was thrown out of the house of a man who lived in a Boston suburb for insisting that the man not allow his daughter to have an abortion. According to a  report, the man was “appalled at the arrogance of Romney.

Bigotry is a form of arrogance, of course. And whether it is the comparatively trivial impulse to stop women from breastfeeding in public or whether it is the profoundly important matter of trying to restrict a woman’s right to choose to become a mother, the bigotry that goes with the  “hardy vestiges of American Puritanism” is evident, particularly in the politics surrounding abortion in the Republican Party.

Even if the mainstream media largely ignore it.

Off My Chest

What’s wrong with this picture:

Answer: Not a damn thing. 

What you see is an American family headed to church on a Sunday, which happens to be Christmas. 

Over that same Christmas weekend, I received an email from someone containing some nonsense with the title, 

WHERE ARE THE GIRLFRIENDS of OBAMA? 

It began: 

I hadn’t thought about this—but where are O’s past girlfriends—surely he had a least one? No past girl friends popping up anywhere? Strange—strange to the point of being downright weird! 

Now, understandably, since this email is usually passed around by Republicans, they find it “strange” and “weird” that President Obama’s past is not replete with relationship scandals, since relationship scandals have plagued folks like, say, Newt Gingrich for years now. 

But the real point of this disgusting email is expressed in this line: 

…none of us know [sic] one single humanizing fact about the history of our own president. 

You see? The idea is that Mr. Obama is not one of us; he’s an outsider, a stranger. The same old stuff that has been around since before the 2008 election: 

Does this make any of you wonder? Ever wonder why no one ever came forward from Obama’s past, saying they knew him, attended school with him, was his friend etc.? Not one person has ever come forward from his past.

This should really be a cause for great concern. Did you see the movie titled, The Manchurian Candidate

In case you needed some evidence for your concerns that Mr. Obama might be a brainwashed son of right-wingers who is part of a Communist conspiracy (the plot of the movie, “The Manchurian Candidate”) Fox “News” is cited. That should settle it. 

In any case, this stuff (the email is full of other lies, as well) has been debunked time and again, but without much success against those who believe that something in their Inbox, sent by like-minded Republican friends, must have at least a grain of truth to it. 

The end of the email, which may have been written by someone just wanting a long and satisfying laugh at the expense of gullible Republican Obama-haters, must ring true to the conspiracy nuts on the right-wing: 

One of the biggest CONS this country has ever seen, and they are getting away with it. 

I, for one, have had enough of it, holiday season or not.  I returned the following message:

Why don’t you and those others out there who think this crap is worthy of attention go see a bleeping doctor. There is something seriously wrong with this fixation on the imaginary “otherness” of Mr. Obama. Do you think he was beamed here from outer bleeping space? Was he hatched in a bleeping laboratory? Was he put together in the basement of some communist Frankenstein?

Seriously, folks. The man is President of the United States, for God’s sake. Deal with it and vote for one of your right-wing nuts for President, as you please. But this stuff should embarrass you all.

Of course, I know that it won’t embarrass people who propagate this awfulness, but it helps a little to get it off my chest.

Christmas Cheer

Now that the two-by-four of public opinion has knocked some sense into House Republicans on the payroll tax cut and unemployment extension issues, there is other good news this Christmas season, courtesy of USA Today:

♦  “The number of people applying for unemployment benefits dropped last week to its lowest level since April 2008, extending a downward trend that shows the job market strengthening.”

♦  “In another encouraging report Thursday, the Conference Board’s index of leading economic indicators rose strongly in November for the second month in a row suggesting that the risks of another recession are receding…The index puts the economy on track to grow at a 4% annual rate in the fourth quarter…”

♦  “Some 1.4 million jobs have been created this year, and the unemployment rate has dropped from 9.4% at the end of last year to 8.6% in November, according to the Labor Department. Last month the jobless rate declined in 43 states.” 

♦  “According to data compiled by the Peace Research Institute Oslo, 55,000 people a year have been dying in war since the dawn of the new millennium. That’s a little more than half of the rate during the 1990s, a third of the rate during the Cold War and one hundredth the rate during World War II.”

♦  Once there were about 160,000 troops in Iraq. Most are now home. 

♦  “Net oil imports have dropped from more than 12 million barrels a day in 2005 to 8.8 million today, according to the Energy Department…This makes the United States less dependent on imports from unstable or unfriendly nations.” (Note: Part of the reason for this good news is “more efficient cars,” which the government—the government!—has had a major hand in demanding.) 

♦  Traffic fatalities last year were “the lowest level ever recorded,” in terms of deaths per miles traveled. (Note: Government involvement helped here also, as “safer cars, with airbags and rollover protections, combined with improved driver awareness about the dangers of driving while intoxicated or without buckling up, are main factors.”) 

♦  “Violent crime fell 6.4% during the first six months of this year, according to the latest FBI report, defying hard economic times and continuing a trend dating to the 1990s.” 

And finally, instead of mixing their religion with right-wing politics and instead of getting their marching orders from GOP Jesus, some Christians are forsaking politics and following the more traditional Christ of the Gospels: 

Clean, accessible water for the world’s poor is one of the hottest causes of the season…The water cause has ridden three major currents in the past decade: a boom in ordinary churchgoers taking short mission trips to the Third World to see needs firsthand; the explosion of social media multiplying vivid images of the needs; and a raft of celebrities attaching their names and energies to it…

The Christian connection is a strong component for most of the U.S.-based water charities…giving to water causes rose 36% from 2009 to 2010. 

Christians root their ties to water in Jesus’ life and words, says theologian and writer Colin Hansen. “Water is imbued with powerful spiritual significance” from Jesus’ baptism to biblical teaching that Christ himself is the water of life. 

Now, doesn’t helping 900 million poor folks without clean water sound better than having conservative Christians tell us how much GOP Jesus likes tax cuts? 

Merry Christmas!

The Shade Tree

Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

—Genesis 2:8,9

 

At the end of ABC’s This Week last Sunday, which was a “Great American Debate” with the resolution that “There’s Too Much Government In My Life,” George Will summed up his case in favor of the resolution: 

…I think big government harms prosperity. It harms prosperity by allocating resources not in terms of efficiency, but in terms of political power that directs the allocation. I think big government harms freedom, because it is an enormous tree in the shade of which the smaller institutions of civil society cannot prosper. And most of all, big government today harms equality. It harms equality because, by concentrating power in Washington, in big government, it makes itself susceptible to the rent-seeking by big, muscular interest groups. The only people who can come to Washington and bend the government to private purposes.

Get the government out of our lives more and more, and you’ll find that freedom and the market allocations of wealth and opportunity prevails.

Jefferson understood—Jefferson understood that you can have a government with minimal attention to the absolute essentials we have talked about. Of course, we want government to build roads, we want government to defend the shores, we want the government to deliver the mail. But after it does the essentials, understand what Ronald Reagan did. When Ronald Reagan said we’re going to have less government—under Reagan, respect for government, something we all want, respect for government rose as government’s role declined.

Now, there are several things wrong with what Will said (especially that erroneous claim about Ronald Reagan), even as he expressed very well the traditional, mainstream conservative arguments against big government, which contradict some of the extremists in the Tea Party and elsewherethat don’t necessarily even want the government to build roads or deliver the mail. 

But I want to focus on what appears to be the heart of his argument, as expressed by his shade tree metaphor, which does echo much of what teapartiers say today about Barack Obama and his mythical attack on our liberties: 

I think big government harms freedom, because it is an enormous tree in the shade of which the smaller institutions of civil society cannot prosper. 

Let’s look at that metaphor a little more closely because it illustrates the difference between conservatives and liberals quite well. 

I write this in the middle of the Arizona desert, where the sun in all its glory can be quite harmful, not to mention deadly. In the summertime, without shade, it is relentlessly efficient in its ability to scorch skin and earth. And there is a relentless efficiency in the laissez-faire approach that, much like the desert sun, would harm its potential beneficiaries, if there is no relief, no shade tree to thwart that sometimes destructive efficiency.

And that is what government does, or at least should do: Provide some shade from a relentless and necessary power source, a source without which we can’t live but with which we must take precautions to keep it from wilting us, or worse, from searing our civilization. So, there are those of us who welcome such a large shade tree, and we know there are species—”smaller institutions of civil society“— that can thrive—indeed, can only thrive—under its beneficence. 

Obviously, there are activities that can only be done in the sun, out from under the blessings of government’s penumbra. But in order to fully enjoy and benefit from those activities, we need to know that the tree of government—of “we the people”—is there when we, the people, need some civilization-saving relief from a withering sun. 

And that is, thanks to George Wills’ metaphor, a good accounting of the difference between those of us who call ourselves liberals, who see the value in a big shade tree, and those who call themselves conservatives, who do not. 

Good News Means Bad News For Some

Maybe the reason House Republicans put the kibosh on extending the payroll tax cuts for middle-class folks is because there are continuing positive signs that the economy is getting better and extending those cuts would only keep the improvements coming. 

In yesterday’s USA Today for instance, we find: 

Home Building increases in November 

Builders broke ground on a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 685,000 homes in November, up 9.3% from October, the government said. It’s the highest since April 2010. 

Shoppers in the stores, report says 

Compared with a year ago, sales for the week rose 4.6%. 

Strategists predict a glowing 2012 

In what could be a prelude to what Wall Street pros say will be a better year for investors in 2012, stocks rose nearly 3% Tuesday amid better news on housing construction in the USA and some positive headlines out of Europe. 

Jobless rates decline in 43 states in November 

The number of states showing a drop in unemployment rates, at 43, was the most since October 2003. 

With all that good news, it is necessary, of course, to inject some uncertainty into the mix, since good news for the economy means not-so-good news for anti-Obama Republicans.

 

Iraq And Iran, Truth And Consequences

Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski was asked this morning on MSNBC what he thought about the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Here is his reply:

We are beginning to face the reality of what we have accomplished, namely, that we have destabilized Iraq; we have destroyed it as a state; we have reignited sectarian conflicts; we have contributed to ethnic distinctions between the Kurds and the Iraqis. 

We have a problem on our hands, which we didn’t solve by war, and which we cannot resolve anymore because we can’t continue to war indefinitely. It is a contribution to greater middle-eastern instability. 

Even as we see that sectarian violence has increased since we left Iraq, Mr. Brzezinski notes that, 

There are some people who are overtly arguing now—overtly!—that we should start a war with Iran. I don’t think that’s going to be exactly a very constructive contribution to greater middle-east instability…starting wars in the Middle East was not the solution ten years ago and it is not a solution two or three years hence… 

If Republicans want to make Iran an election issue, Democrats should welcome it. If Republicans don’t want to make it an issue, Democrats should insist on it. If there ever is a war with Iran, it should be because we are forced into it, not because conservatives talk us into another foolish preemptive act.

How Anti-Obama Memes Are Made

Yesterday on Morning Joe, and throughout the goofy right-wing blogosphere and on the even goofier Wall Street Journal editorial page, much was made of an excerpt, apparently not originally aired by CBS’s 60 Minutes, from an interview of President Obama, who uttered a fairly standard defense of his accomplishments so far, saying they would compare favorably with other presidents at the same point into their terms.

Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman who never tires of telling us how awesome he was in Congress, was beside himself that Mr.Obama would be so uppity as to say he was “the fourth best president.”  Here was the graphic displayed on MSNBC while the discussion over the remarks took place:

Image

PRES. OBAMA COMPARES HIS RECORD TO LINCOLN & FDR” and “4th Best President?” Wow, what an uppity guy who sits in the White’s House. Here’s the Wall Street Journal’s header:

Image

Whenever the right-wing gets all nasty with Big O like this, trying to create yet another anti-Obama meme that supports the weird conservative critique of the President, it becomes necessary to look at what actually was said. Here is the complete question and answer from the interview:

KROFT: Tell me, what do you consider your major accomplishments? If this is your last speech. What have you accomplished?  

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, we’re not done yet. I’ve got five more years of stuff to do. But not only saving this country from a great depression. Not only saving the auto industry. But putting in place a system in which we’re gonna start lowering health care costs and you’re never gonna go bankrupt because you get sick or somebody in your family gets sick. Making sure that we have reformed the financial system, so we never again have taxpayer-funded bailouts, and the system is more stable and secure. Making sure that we’ve got millions of kids out here who are able to go to college because we’ve expanded student loans and made college more affordable. Ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Decimating al Qaeda, including Bin Laden being taken off the field. Restoring America’s respect around the world.  

The issue here is not gonna be a list of accomplishments. As you said yourself, Steve, you know, I would put our legislative and foreign policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president — with the possible exceptions of Johnson, F.D.R., and Lincoln — just in terms of what we’ve gotten done in modern history. But, you know, but when it comes to the economy, we’ve got a lot more work to do. And we’re gonna keep on at it.

First, note that he was actually asked about his accomplishments, which he did a decent job of listing. But then notice the offending sentence:

I would put our legislative and foreign policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president — with the possible exceptions of Johnson, F.D.R., and Lincoln — just in terms of what we’ve gotten done in modern history.

Where in there did he say he was “the fourth best president“? Where in there did he say he was better than any president? No where, that’s where. To put something up “against” something else is to say that a favorable comparison can be made, and naturally Mr. Obama, like any leader, believes some of the gargantuan things he has done will be viewed kindly by history.

But he was only talking about “our“—our!—”first two years” in office, not an entire presidency. The Wall Street Journal wrote:

Perhaps President Obama has been taking history lessons at the knee of Newt Gingrich. His recent self-assessment of his tenure rivals any historical analogy that the former Speaker and college professor has come up with…

Newt Gingrich? They are comparing Obama to Newt Gingrich, whose appetite for self-aggrandizement is just slightly smaller than his appetite for waste-aggrandizement? Huh? Newt thinks he is the savior of Western civilization, for God’s sake. Not only has he compared himself to Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and Henry Clay and Woodrow Wilson and Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln and both Roosevelts, he has compared himself to Sam Walton and Ray Kroc!

In any case, that is how it happens these days. Obama says something rather normal for a man in his position—running for another term and thus necessarily talking up his accomplishments—and his uppityness so outrages folks on the right that they have to say nasty things about him.

Like comparing him to Newt Gingrich.

Silence Of The Fact Checkers

The left is rightfully outraged over Politifact’s designation as “Lie of the Year” Democratic claims that Republicans, when voting on Paul Ryan’s budget plan, voted to end Medicare.

Politifact was wrong and Democrats are right.

Even if Politifact and FactCheck.org are technically correct that the program “would not end” under the Republican proposal, that is a distinction without a difference. Voucherizing the program for all people under 55 would completely change it from its original conception by inventing a new system to take its place. Republicans weren’t so dumb that they would actually change the name of the program, but they would completely change its nature and its name would mean something totally different from what it means today.

What Republicans would actually do—we know this because almost all of them in the House and Senate voted to do it—is kill Medicare for those under 55, skin its corpse like Buffalo Bill did his victims in “Silence of the Lambs,” and dress up their new program in Medicare’s pelt. 

Now, if Politifact and other fact-checking organizations still think it is fair to call what’s underneath that layer of skin “Medicare,” then they are doing their readers a great disservice and it is up to Democrats to educate people before it is too late and the program is in the morgue—where many conservatives have wanted to put it since it was born.

Václav Havel, R.I.P.

His peaceful resistance shook the foundations of an empire, exposed the emptiness of a repressive ideology, and proved that moral leadership is more powerful than any weapon.”

—Barack Obama on the death of Václav Havel

 

Long before there was an Arab Spring, there was a Prague Spring. 

Communist Czechoslovakia in 1968 began a series of democratic and economic reforms that ended beneath the tracks of Soviet tanks. These days, many folks under 30 don’t even know what “Soviet” tanks are, much less know about the Prague Spring. But it inspired artists such as Václav Havel, a Prague-born playwright who would spend years in jail for daring to use his pen to expose the soul-killing darkness of communism, but who would eventually—via the Velvet Revolution—become the last president of a Soviet-free Czechoslovakia and the first president of the Czech Republic. 

In a very real sense, Havel’s lovely and famous phrase, “Truth and love will prevail over lies and hate,” helped bring down a once-mighty empire, and Havel, along with other great historical figures who preferred peaceful revolutions over violent ones, will stand as a testimony, hopefully without future rebuttal, that words—yes, words—in the hands of a bold and talented writer have a kind of power that tyrants will never know. 

In our time and in our country, our President is sometimes smeared with language that in a saner world would be confined to real despots, not mere political opponents. We have all heard that language in one form or another. A popular talk radio host refers to the Obama Administration as a “regime.” Placards at rallies portray the President as Hitler or Stalin. 

But Václav Havel wrote of real despotism, of a society controlled by a rigid and devilish ideology, an ideology that can wash away, but not completely, human dignity. Permit me to quote at length a passage from Havel’s famous essay, “The Power of the Powerless,” written in 1978, a passage which illustrates how a man might lose his soul to a genuine dictatorship and how he might recover it: 

The manager of a fruit-and-vegetable shop places in his window, among the onions and carrots, the slogan: “Workers of the world, unite!” Why does he do it? What is he trying to communicate to the world? Is he genuinely enthusiastic about the idea of unity among the workers of the world? Is his enthusiasm so great that he feels an irrepressible impulse to acquaint the public with his ideals? Has he really given more than a moment’s thought to how such a unification might occur and what it would mean?

I think it can safely be assumed that the overwhelming majority of shopkeepers never think about the slogans they put in their windows, nor do they use them to express their real opinions. That poster was delivered to our greengrocer from the enterprise headquarters along with the onions and carrots. He put them all into the window simply because it has been done that way for years, because everyone does it, and because that is the way it has to be… 

Let us take note: if the greengrocer had been instructed to display the slogan “I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient,” he would not be nearly as indifferent to its semantics, even though the statement would reflect the truth. The greengrocer would be embarrassed and ashamed to put such an unequivocal statement of his own degradation in the shop window, and quite naturally so, for he is a human being and thus has a sense of his own dignity. To overcome this complication, his expression of loyalty must take the form of a sign which, at least on its textual surface, indicates a level of disinterested conviction… 

We have seen that the real meaning of the greengrocer’s slogan has nothing to do with what the text of the slogan actually says. Even so, this real meaning is quite clear and generally comprehensible because the code is so familiar: the greengrocer declares his loyalty (and he can do no other if his declaration is to be accepted) in the only way the regime is capable of hearing; that is, by accepting the prescribed ritual, by accepting appearances as reality, by accepting the given rules of the game. In doing so, however, he has himself become a player in the game, thus making it possible for the game to go on, for it to exist in the first place… 

Let us now imagine that one day something in our greengrocer snaps and he stops putting up the slogans merely to ingratiate himself. He stops voting in elections he knows are a farce. He begins to say what he really thinks at political meetings. And he even finds the strength in himself to express solidarity with those whom his conscience commands him to support. In this revolt the greengrocer steps out of living within the lie. He rejects the ritual and breaks the rules of the game. He discovers once more his suppressed identity and dignity. He gives his freedom a concrete significance. His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth… 

Václav Havel knew that living “within the truth” was not without its costs, but he was willing to pay them. And it was such willingness that eventually helped rend the Iron Curtain and, as Mr. Obama said, “helped unleash tides of history that led to a united and democratic Europe.”

Remarks And Asides

First, the good news: Kim Jong Il is dead. Now, the bad news: He had kids.

____________________________________

Speaking of troubling empires, Rupert Murdoch and his son are now facing suggestions that not only was their former paper, News of the World, illegally and routinely intercepting voicemails and tracking cell phones and hacking into computers and bribing cops, another Murdoch paper, The Sun, was too. 

However, it’s not clear to me that any of that stuff is worse than what Fox “News” does to Americans each and every day.

____________________________________

Finally, I can agree with Newt Gingrich. 

He said he would be willing, as president, to send the Capitol Hill cops after judges he doesn’t like. “Or you would instruct the Justice Department to send the U.S. Marshal,” he offered as an alternative. 

He told Bob Scheiffer on Face the Nation this: 

You have an increasingly arrogant judiciary. The question is: Is there anything we the American people can do? The standard answer has been eventually we’ll appoint good judges. I think that’s inadequate.

I sure hope Mr. Obama is listening. What would Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas look like in orange jumpsuits? What wonderful jailhouse lawyers they would make.

_________________________________________

Speaking of things Newt got right, the one thing he really did get partially right was his critique of the Paul Ryan plan to throw Medicare and future mamas from the train. And, of course, the so-called moderate in the GOP race is rushing in to make sure voters know just how immoderate he is by bashing Gingrich for his once-sensible remarks.

During his first appearance on a Sunday talk show in 18 months, Mitt Romney said on, where else, Fox:

Are we going to deal with entitlement reform or not? Republicans came together, Paul Ryan was the author of the plan. But almost every single Republican voted for it, and the Speaker said this is ‘right-wing social engineering.’

Romney did offer some consolation to those without Romneyesque financial means:

Cutting welfare spending dramatically, I don’t think will hurt the poor.

Of course not, Mr. Moderate!

Romney, obviously, knows something about being poor. The New York Times reported today that Romney’s final deal with Bain Capital keeps giving and giving and giving: 

…he negotiated a retirement agreement with his former partners that has paid him a share of Bain’s profits ever since, bringing the Romney family millions of dollars in income each year and bolstering the fortune that has helped finance Mr. Romney’s political aspirations…In the process, Bain continued to buy and restructure companies, potentially leaving Mr. Romney exposed to further criticism that he has grown wealthier over the last decade partly as a result of layoffs.

My logic here is plain: Romney knows about layoffs and layoffs tend to make people poor, therefore Romney knows something about being poor.

_________________________________________

Speaking of moderate Republicans who are not, John Boehner said on Sunday that he opposes the just-passed bipartisan Senate bill to extend the payroll-tax cut and unemployment benefits for a couple of months. 

You see, those pesky teapartiers in the House don’t want to play nice and Mr. Boehner isn’t going to make them. They are in a hostage-taking mood—again.

After years of telling us how effective tax cuts on the wealthy are in creating jobs, we now know that real Republicans believe cutting taxes on the non-wealthy does not create jobs. They also believe that the unemployment benefits are just too generous, what with all those jobs out there that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy created and are creating still. 

If you are confused by all this, here’s some help: Tax cuts are good except when they may help middle-class Americans recover from Republican economics, and unemployment benefits are good except when they help people who don’t have jobs due to Republican economics.

I hope that helps.

Does MSNBC Live In Fear?

The controversy over the Romney phrase, “Keep America American,” caused MSNBC, which essentially made the issue national after a liberal blog mentioned it, to apologize last week.  I want to reproduce a comment I received on this blog for a post I made on the issue:

To compare a legitimate GOP candidate for high office to the KKK is obnoxious race baiting in my view. I know of NOTHING in Mitt’s background that aligns him with ANYTHING the KKK might espouse. I would say the same for every GOP candidate for the GOP nomination as well.

Now, if one actually reads what I posted, one cannot conclude that I compared “a legitimate GOP candidate for high office to the KKK.” In fact, I went out of my way not to:

A campaign video with the phrase, which no one seriously believes Romney knew was tied to the KKK, appeared last year, and Mr. Romney was quoted in The Los Angeles Times recently as saying…

Which no one seriously believes Romney knew was tied to the KKK.”  I don’t know how I could have been clearer than that. What I did do, though, was rebuke Romney for his efforts to,

tap into the weird angst out there coming from folks who write for sites like The New American (Thomas Sowell, who regularly appears in the Joplin Globe, has his name on the site’s front page), which yesterday tried to connect Obama’s Osawatomie speech to—I’m not making this up—Ho Chi Minh, the former Vietnamese communist leader.

As for MSNBC’s very brief apology, it is not clear to me what the network is apologizing for. Thomas Roberts reportedly said this on air originally:

So you may not hear Mitt Romney say “Keep America American” anymore, because it was a rallying cry for the KKK group, and intimidation against blacks, gays and Jews. The Progressive American blog was the first to catch on to that.

Later in the day, Chris Matthews said the story was “irresponsible and incendiary” and “showed an appalling lack of judgment.”  But he didn’t explain how.

Now, if MSNBC has anything to apologize for, it is the use of a chyron that ran with the short story that read: “Romney’s KKK slogan?” If MSNBC had apologized for that Fox-like tactic, I would have been the first to congratulate the network. MSNBC shouldn’t stoop so low as Fox “News” does by placing provocative but misleading messages on the screen without explaining the context of those messages. That is a Fox speciality. But imitating Fox is not what MSNBC apologized for. 

Or, I would congratulate MSNBC if it had apologized for not digging deeper into the story and showing that Romney has tried to have it both ways by pretending to be a nice guy by not calling Obama names like “socialist,” but then saying things like this:

We have on one side a president who wants to transform America into a European-style nation, and you have on other hand someone like myself that wants to turn around America and keep America American…

Yes, I suppose MSNBC should have apologized for not pointing out, in the context of the “keep America American” phrase controversy (or, as the Romney campaign would have it, the “keep America America” phrase controversy), Mitt’s appeal to the baser instincts of xenophobic Americans by his use of such language, but, again, that’s not what the network apologized for. 

Essentially, MSNBC apologized for just bringing the matter up.

I want to quote Paul Waldman at The American Prospect , who points out a depressing fact about the so-called liberal media:

While it’s often said that MSNBC has moved to become the left’s version of Fox News, try for a moment to imagine Fox apologizing to a Democratic candidate for some incendiary rhetoric that found its way onto their air. Ha! Far worse things are said about Barack Obama every day on Fox—hell, every hour—and if you were to charge them with conservative bias, their response would essentially be to tell you where you can cram it. The point isn’t that MSNBC isn’t trying to appeal to a liberal audience, because they are. Nevertheless, they still obviously live in fear: fear of being criticized, fear of being called biased, fear of having their professionalism called into question. They may have a bunch of liberal on-air personalities, but they still plainly believe in the idea of objective journalism, even if that belief can manifest itself in things like craven apologies to Republican campaigns when they didn’t actually do anything wrong.

Amen.

Older-Than-The-Constitution Institution

For any of you interested in the fate of the Postal Service, MSNBC’s Up with Chris Hayes devoted a couple of segments to it Saturday morning (a little over 16 minutes). Although it doesn’t happen that often on television, most of the discussion involved an accurate portrayal of the pre-national institution’s problems as well as a good presentation of the pre-funding issue that is crippling its finances.

As you watch, you can easily pick out the conservative on the panel, although for a conservative, Josh Barro of National Review and the Manhattan-Institute, is somewhat sympathetic to (and knowledgeable of) USPS:

Obama Created The Financial Crisis, Says The Stanford Man

Thomas Sowell is a regular columnist appearing in the Joplin Globe. Thus, the locals are exposed to his, uh, erudite opinions. Here is one that appeared in Wednesday’s paper: 

Washington gridlock may turn out to be the salvation of the Obama administration.

Not only does gridlock allow the president to blame Republicans for not solving the financial crisis that his own runaway spending created, the inability to carry out as much government intervention in the economy as when the Democrats controlled both Houses of Congress means that the market can now recover on its own to some visible extent before the next election.

Rarely have I read such breathtaking foolishness from the mind of an educated man, and a man who is a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. 

Obama “created” the financial crisis with his “runaway spending”? Is Thomas Sowell and Rush Limbaugh sharing the same warped brain? Are you kidding me?

Where do you go after reading something like that except to scientific journals to see if we have all been ushered into a parallel universe where white is black and black is white and Thomas Sowell is a genius? It is hard to come to grips with something so appalling, written by a nationally syndicated columnist and author of multiple books. 

That one subordinate clause, “Not only does gridlock allow the president to blame Republicans for not solving the financial crisis that his own runaway spending created…,” should disqualify Mr. Sowell from any consideration as anything other than a print version of Sean Hannity. 

And isn’t it convenient that a columnist has set himself up for a later column or two or three where he can say, if the economy turns around significantly, that Obama’s policies had nothing to do with it? And if it doesn’t turn around he can say it was, after all, Obama’s policies that kept it from performing. That’s job security, I suppose.

Later in the column he writes, incredibly: 

First of all, this country existed for a century and a half without the federal government intervening to save the economy.

Yes, and the country existed for a century and a half without the federal government intervening to insist on clear air and clean water and food that doesn’t poison us and air traffic controllers and on and on. Surely, even a Stanford fellow can understand that the complex economy of our times is a little different from the one in which our forefathers lived and moved and had their being, as an old Greek poet might say. 

All of which makes the point that the financial crisis was a crisis that could only have been realized in our time, in our complicated time, when banksters on Wall Street and beyond had the technological capacity to put the world’s financial system in unspeakable jeopardy. 

And make no mistake about it: The financial crisis was averted by the intervention of the government, ours and governments elsewhere.

And apparently it takes more, or less, than a Stanford man to figure that out.

 

Christopher Hitchens, R.I.P.

 “Religion was the race’s first (and worst) attempt to make sense of reality.” 

—Christopher Hitchens

 

Everyone who reads or thinks or thinks they read and think could not out-read or out-think Christopher Hitchens, who has finally succumbed to cancer at 62. 

Love him, yes; hate him, yes; treat him with indifference? No. He was particularly polarizing with his anti-religious stance, a stance he took with him to his grave, defiantly—although to him there was No One to defy. 

I read his excellent book on Orwell and his anti-Clinton book and his anti-God book, and I am still poking around in the anthology he edited, The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever. In that volume’s introduction, he wrote: 

One is continually told, as an unbeliever, that it is old-fashioned to rail against the primitive stupidities and cruelties of religion because after all, in these enlightened times, the old superstitions have died away. Nine times out of ten, in debate with a cleric, one will be told not of some dogma of religious certitude but of some instance of charitable or humanitarian work undertaken by a religious person. Of course, this says nothing about the belief system involved: it may be true that Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam succeeds in weaning young black men off narcotics, but this would not alter the fact that the NoI is a racist crackpot organization. 

That was Hitchens. He continued: 

My own response has been to to issue a challenge: name me an ethical statement made or an action performed by a believer that could not have been made or performed by a non-believer. As yet, I have had no takers. 

Whether he entered into eternal and unconscious rest or whether he entered into eternal and conscious torment or whether he entered into eternal and conscious bliss, we know he entered without any takers of his challenge. 

And perhaps that is a clue as to his denouement.

A Night With Newt, Or What It Means To Be Rich In America

 Stating the obvious, Dennis Jacobe, Gallup’s chief economist, said, 

Rich is a relative term. People’s perception of who is rich depends on where they sit economically and in society. 

Gallup’s recent survey found these facts about the way folks think about what it means to be rich: 

♦ “While men put the wealthy level at $150,000, women said it’s $100,000. College graduates and city dwellers view $200,000 as the threshold, while non-graduates and country dwellers would feel rich with half that income. People 49 or younger target $160,000, while those 50 or over would say they’re rich with annual incomes of $100,000.”

♦ “Fifteen percent of those surveyed said they would need to make $1 million or more a year to feel wealthy, while 32 percent chose a figure between $150,000 and $1 million, the survey showed. Twenty-three percent said $100,000 to $150,000 would be enough.”

♦ “Less than $100,000 a year would be enough to make 30 percent of those surveyed feel rich. That group includes 18 percent of Americans who said they would consider themselves wealthy if they made less than $60,000 a year, Gallup said.”

That last finding, that “18 percent of Americans…said they would consider themselves wealthy if they made less than $60,000 a year,” is rather stunning to me.

Almost one in five Americans would feel wealthy if they earned less in one year than what Newt Gingrich earns in about an hour for moving his lips in front of a small crowd.

If that doesn’t speak volumes about what is wrong with both income disparity in the United States and the Republican Party, then nothing does.

“Keep America American” And Get Obama Out Of The White’s House

Mitt Romney’s adoption of an old KKK slogan—”Keep America American“—is offensive not just because it was used by a white-supremacist hate group, but because it reinforces the meme propagated by some on the right-wing that Mr. Obama is some kind of outsider, a foreigner, an exotic and Scary Negro.

A campaign video with the phrase, which no one seriously believes Romney knew was tied to the KKK, appeared last year, and Mr. Romney was quoted in The Los Angeles Times recently as saying:

There are people in this room who are informed and who care about this election, who recognize that this is a defining time for America. We have on one side a president who wants to transform America into a European-style nation, and you have on other hand someone like myself that wants to turn around America and keep America American with the principals [sic] that made us the greatest nation on Earth. And I will do that with your help.

Now, the issue here is this: Can anyone  imagine that if Mr. Romney were running against, say, Hillary Clinton, would he use the words, “Let’s Keep America American“?

Nope.

Mr. Romney has been given much credit in the media for being a moderate and for refusing to use the S word—socialism—when speaking about the President. But what else can the phrase, “a president who wants to transform America into a European-style nation,” mean?

Romney obviously wants to tap into the weird angst out there coming from folks who write for sites like The New American (Thomas Sowell, who regularly appears in the Joplin Globe, has his name on the site’s front page), which yesterday tried to connect Obama’s Osawatomie speech to—I’m not making this up—Ho Chi Minh, the former Vietnamese communist leader.

First, the writer of the strange piece lied about what Obama actually said in Osawatomie. He wrote:

Obama claimed in Osawatomie that our relatively free market system not only “doesn’t work,” “it has never worked.”

Mr. Obama actually said “that the free market is the greatest force for economic progress in human history.” What doesn’t work, the President said, is the old trickle-down economics. That’s kind of different, don’t you think?

In any case, the writer posted an old Weather Underground newsletter cover:

And then wrote:

Was there an extra layer of symbolism in his choice of speech venue, one of which only the “initiated” and those shouting in the wilderness would be aware?

Was the President sending a message to his long-time socialist allies?

Appealing to the kind of disturbed and disturbing voter who believes this pap is what makes Romney’s “Keep America American” phrase so disgusting. 

And it means that Mitt Romney is anything but a moderate Republican.

A Day In The Life Of The GOP

From HuffPo, we can see things are looking up for Democrats:

Roy Blunt Is Back In The Saddle Again

Roy Blunt, the ultimate Washington insider who was elected overwhelmingly and hypocritically by allegedly insider-hating Missouri Republicans, is now back on the inside.

He will now be the Vice Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, beating out hyper-teapartier Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. While the slot isn’t exactly top billing (it’s #5 in the pecking order), it does show Blunt, who was an early backer of Mitt Romney, is set to throw his weight around should Romney come to sit in the White’s House.

In what can only be considered an understatement, given Roy Blunt’s mucky history with felonious lobbyists and his penchant for marrying and producing them, Politico noted:

K Street certainly has big ties to Blunt, the former House majority whip. Former aides include: Gregg Hartley of Cassidy & Associates; Joe Wall of Goldman Sachs; Sam Geduldig of Clark, Lytle Geduldig & Cranston; Brian Gaston of Glover Park Group; Amos Snead of Story Partners; Jay Perron of IFA; and Samantha Cook of SMC Consulting.

Here is how plugged into the system are Mr. Blunt and his clan:

Mitt Needs Help And Help Is On The Way

Mitt Romney’s chances of winning the GOP primary are still pretty good and the smart money—especially the establishment money—is on him.

But if he keeps this kind of stuff up he may be finished:

Romney vows not to say “incendiary” things about Obama

The story quotes him:

“I know that among some folks just saying outrageous an incendiary things will get you kudos and drive your number up, but it’s not going to win you the White House and it’s not going to win us the respect of people on the other side of the aisle that we have to bring together,” Romney said. The way to win the White House, he said, is to go after President Obama as “an extraordinary failure” – not “an evil person.”

What passes for moderation among Republicans these days is having the discipline to not call your opponent “an evil person.”  And while that is a fairly low bar, it is still way too high for a lot of those folks who have put Newt Gingrich at the top of a very malodorous heap.

It’s funny how falsely “moderate” Republicans like Romney can claim on one hand that they will not say “outrageous” things about Obama and then in the same inhalation utter that the President is “an extraordinary failure.”  That, by any non-Republican standard, is outrageous.

Given what the state of the economy was when last a Republican president was in charge, Mr. Obama has been anything but a failure, not to mention an extraordinary one. But Romney has to say something outrageous about the President because many of the folks who vote in GOP primaries demand it.

Mr. Romney has also said that Mr. Obama is “in over his head,” which certainly implies that his intelligence and natural ability are suspect, something which any thinking American can discern as false upon listening to the President talk for, say, five minutes. Again, this is Romney’s way of getting at that strong anti-Obama vote.

But that kind of well-bred belittlement is not satisfying the teapartiers, although there are some signs that a few of the more rabid right-wingers are reluctantly climbing in bed with the GOP establishment and beginning to see Mitt as the only viable option to beat the evil Obama.

Stuff like this may ultimately and ironically may save Romney:

Michael Savage, a radio guy who lives up to his name when it comes to his hatred for the President, has “enumerated the reasons why Gingrich cannot succeed in an election against Obama.Among them (caps, of course, are in the original because that’s the way Savage talks):

  • HE MADE ADS WITH NANCY PELOSI PROMOTING THE FALSE THEORY OF GLOBAL WARMING.
  • HE’S IN FAVOR OF AMNESTY FOR ILLEGAL ALIENS.
  • HE’S TAKEN HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS FROM FANNIE MAE AND FREDDIE MAC, TWO OF THE MOST CORRUPT FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS IN HISTORY.
  • HE’S CHEATED ON TWO WIVES AND LEFT BOTH OF THEM WHILE THEY WERE BOTH SERIOUSLY ILL, WHICH WILL DESTROY HIS CHANCES AMONG FEMALE VOTERS.
  • HE CALLED THE REPUBLICAN PLAN TO REFORM MEDICARE “RIGHT WING SOCIAL ENGINEERING.”
  • IN A PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE AGAINST OBAMA, REGARDLESS OF HOW WELL HE DOES, ON TELEVISION, HE WILL COME OFF BADLY COMPARED TO OBAMA AND LOOK LIKE NOTHING MORE THAN WHAT HE IS: A FAT, OLD, WHITE MAN.

NEWT GINRICH [sic] IS UNELECTABLE. MITT ROMNEY IS THE ONLY CANDIDATE WITH A CHANCE OF DEFEATING BARACK OBAMA, AND THERE IS NOTHING MORE IMPORTANT THAN THAT FOR FUTURE HEALTH, SAFETY, AND SECURITY OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. THEREFORE, I AM OFFERING NEWT GINGRICH ONE MILLION DOLLARS TO DROP OUT OF THE PRESIDENTIAL RACE FOR THE SAKE OF THE NATION.

Romney had better hope there is more anti-Newt sentiment like this coming from out there on the wing-nut right. Glenn Beck thinks Gingrich is some kind of Teddy Roosevelt progressive and has suggested he would “consider” Ron Paul as a third-party candidate, should Newt Gingrich get the GOP nod.  That kind of talk puts the fear of Allah in a lot of conservatives, as that would certainly mean an Obama electoral college landslide.

These criticisms may create a powerful Newt-can’t-win narrative as time goes by and, along with establishment money and establishment politicians supporting Romney and bad-mouthing Gingrich, Mitt may just pull off the nomination without calling Barack Obama a communist devil.

The Fox Effect

Everyone knows that Obama’s policies, including the stimulus plan I discussed in the previous post, as well as saving the auto industry from collapse, have had a positive impact on the economy and kept things from being much worse.

Everyone except talk radio listeners and Fox viewers, that is. Those folks have assimilated the Obama-made-it-worse meme promoted by Republicans and conservative pundits, and what an effective lie it has been:

To the extent the poll is accurate, about half the country believes a falsehood. That falsehood is easily rebuttable, but its propagation is crucial to Republican success next year, which is why they endlessly and shamelessly promote it.  One of the effects of that promotion: The same CBS poll found that 54% of Americans don’t think Mr. Obama “deserves” a second term, whatever that could possibly mean next November.

The reason I know that most of those folks who believe the falsehood about the effectiveness of Obama’s policies are radio listeners and Fox watchers is because I have a PhD in Limbaugnics and talk radio and I have heard the misinformation and distortions first hand. Hour after hour, day after day.

As for Fox, a recent study done by the University of Maryland (“Misinformation and the 2010 Election: A Study of the US Electorate“) found that the more exposed to Fox “News” one is, the more likely it is that one will believe falsehoods about the issues.

Even Democrats who watch Fox are victims, willing or otherwise, of the Fox effect, according to the study.

There is a lot of misinformation out there and both sides believe more than their rightful share. But this finding is stunning:

Those who watched Fox News almost daily were significantly more likely than those who never watched it to believe that:

♦ most economists estimate the stimulus caused job losses (12 points more likely)
♦ most economists have estimated the health care law will worsen the deficit (31 points)
♦ the economy is getting worse (26 points)
♦ most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring (30 points)
♦ the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts (14 points)
♦ their own income taxes have gone up (14 points)
♦ the auto bailout only occurred under Obama (13 points)
♦ when TARP came up for a vote most Republicans opposed it (12 points)
♦ and that it is not clear that Obama was born in the United States (31 points)

These effects increased incrementally with increasing levels of exposure and all were statistically significant.

As you can see if you read the study, while there is much misinformation traveling around the country at the still-intact speed of light, a big hunk of it comes straight from Fox.

And we are a worse country because of it, and if it leads to a Republican president and Congress, worse still.

Socrates They Are Not

Senator McCain’s campaign actually said, and I quote, ‘If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.”

—President Obama during 2008 campaign

 

Although it will be lost on the general public, and on many of those in the general public who will vote next year, it is important nonetheless to understand the reality behind the Democrat’s original stimulus package in early 2009, which Republicans never tire of telling us—falsely—was a failure. 

It is clear that whoever the Republican nominee will be, he—yes, he—will say loudly and often that Mr. Obama “made the economy worse” or “spent a trillion dollars on a stimulus that failed.”

We have discussed this several times over the last year or so: the $800 billion stimulus package was too small to do the job the way it was designed because the way it was designed was based on incomplete data.  Ezra Klein put it succinctly:

The Bureau of Economic Analysis, the agency charged with measuring the size and growth of the U.S. economy, initially projected that the economy shrank at an annual rate of 3.8 percent in the last quarter of 2008. Months later, the bureau almost doubled that estimate, saying the number was 6.2 percent. Then it was revised to 6.3 percent. But it wasn’t until this year that the actual number was revealed: 8.9 percent. That makes it one of the worst quarters in American history.

This reality is stunningly important in trying to understand the dynamics behind the early days of the Obama Administration as it grappled with what to do to stop the bleeding of millions of jobs. Even though the last quarter of 2008 was one of the worst quarters in history, the folks advising Mr. Obama on what to do about the collapsing economy didn’t know just how bad it was.

Now, it may be true, as some on the left argue, that the Obama Administration’s efforts were based on too-rosy scenarios and wishful thinking. But imagine if the Democrats had proposed a trillion-plus package.  As it was, Mr. Obama was attacked ruthlessly by Republicans, even before it became clear that the stimulus was too small to do the job the Administration said it would do.

If the stimulus package had been commensurate with the job that needed to be done, not only would Republicans have attacked it even more rabidly, some Democrats would have fallen away and not supported it.  It’s likely that the Administration got all it could get at the time, and unfortunately all it could get wasn’t enough.

But what’s not true, and never will be true no matter how many times you hear it from the lips of Republicans, is that the stimulus did nothing or made things worse. Klein quotes Doug Holtz-Eakin, John McCain’s “top economic adviser during the 2008 presidential campaign” and “no fan of the stimulus”:

The argument that the stimulus had zero impact and we shouldn’t have done it is intellectually dishonest or wrong. If you throw a trillion dollars at the economy, it has an impact. I would have preferred to do it differently, but they needed to do something.

No doubt that phrase “needed to do something” is pregnant with all kinds of “could haves” and “should haves,” now that we can better see how big the initial problem was.  There are plenty of Monday-morning economists who have plenty of ideas about what could have and should have been done. (There were, to be fair, folks like Paul Krugman who did seem to understand how bad things were at the time, but they were in a minority.)   

But the truth is, as far as the politics of 2012 are concerned, that most voters who are not committed to one party or the other don’t really care about an academic debate over the depth of the economic crisis or the size of the stimulus presented to help alleviate that crisis.  They see persistent unemployment, growing economic disparity, and millions of vacant homes and millions more to come through foreclosure.

And Mr. Obama sits at the top of what voters see. That’s what makes it so easy for Republicans—who have done absolutely nothing to fix the mess their policies largely helped to create—to demagogue the stimulus issue and blame the President for the slow recovery and for racking up unnecessary debt.  It’s not fair, of course, but it’s reality.

The President’s reelection is in serious doubt.  Most of the uncommitted voting public will not pay any attention to a rational discussion of how we got here and what the alternatives were based on what was known at the time.

They will listen to, and then ignore, his perfectly reasonable argument that things would have been much worse if it weren’t for his leadership on the economy.

They will hear, but not really absorb, his arguments about a “do nothing” Congress and Republican’s gridlock-creating obstinacy.

They will not, like pupils of Socrates, reason their way into voting for him like that.

Fortunately for Mr. Obama , he will be facing a radical Republican, no matter who survives the often ridiculous GOP primary process. With Mitt Romney fully embracing the Ryan plan to kill Medicare, with Newt Gingrich fashioning himself as the savior of Western civilization by putting kids to work as janitors, the President will have plenty of opportunities next year to force the public to think about what putting the Tea Party in charge will mean.

And if that doesn’t take their minds off the too-slow recovery, nothing will.

Nothing’s The Matter With Kansas

As a former Kansas boy, this doesn’t embarrass me at all:

SALINA — A Kansas man said officials should have helped him arrest President Barack Obama instead of seizing the handcuffs he planned to use to restrain the commander-in-chief.

Neil Jednoralski, 65, of Salina, claims that President Obama has British and Indonesian citizenship and is committing fraud by impersonating a person eligible to be president. Obama has repeatedly refuted such claims.

No, it’s not odd that a man thinks he can channel Gomer Pyle and make a citizen’s arrest of the President of the United States. There’s nothing strange about that.

Not in Kansas, at least.

Mr. Jednoralski, according to the AP, is “a business owner, self-proclaimed tea party member and former candidate for state representative.”  Who could have guessed that?

And who could have guessed this:

Jednoralski said officials confiscated a warrant he created for the arrest of Obama. He said they also took a pair of handcuffs he bought specifically to arrest Obama, along with four guns.

Guns? Four guns? Of course there had to be guns. Guns and hatred of Barack Obama sort of go to together, like Dorothy and Toto, like Albert Pujols and St. Louis Anaheim.

Jednoralski said he has planned for a year to arrest Obama under a Kansas law that allows a person to make an arrest.

“The law says if the person has probable cause to believe a person is guilty of a felony,” Jednoralski said. “‘Cause to believe’ is pretty wide.”

Mr. Jed apparently planned on traveling to Osawatomie to make the arrest, but the Secret Service sort of encouraged him to change his plans. I suggest he follow through and go to Osawatomie today, and make  a stop—a long stop—at the state mental hospital located there.

I hear they are housing a guy who thinks he is the President of the United States, and I am sure arresting him would be a piece of cake.

Remarks And Asides

Rick Perry has a new ad out that exhumes the freshly-buried issue of gays in the military and says, “As president, I will end Obama’s war on religion.”  Obama, being a clever fellow, is conducting his war in the privacy of his prayer closet.

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Not only are blacks brainwashed to vote for Democrats, but according to Fox Bidness Channel, the Muppets are brainwashing our children against corporations and capitalism. Not true, not true. I happen to know that one important Muppet, Gonzo the Great, has been revamped to appear as a tribute to free-market lover Newt Gingrich. Can you guess who said this:

I shall now defuse this highly explosive bomb while simultaneously, and at the same time, reciting from the works of Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Yep, you guessed right. Oh, yeah. Gonzo has been in hot pursuit of Camilla the Chicken, whom he began courting while Speaker of the House.  Or something like that.

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Speaking of Newt Gingrich, Wonkette says Newt should be “a forgotten nightmare that not even a bad acid trip can rouse from the depths of half-memory.”  She was commenting on an old story that revealed Mr. Gingrich, who obviously cares about children or else he wouldn’t be a Muppet, used a children’s literacy charity he set up to pay an old friend more than 90% of the money raised one year.

That’s one way to teach the kids Republican values.

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Speaking of Republican values toilets, according to Politico, when Newt went to Missouri Western last year, he requested a couple of fancy thunder mugs to deposit his waste. I, for one, don’t find it all that unusual that a man so obviously full of Georgia mud might need two potties to park it.

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Until Congress passes a bill to extend the payroll tax cut, Senate Majority Honcho Harry Reid said:

We are not going to go home to vacations. Does this mean embarrassing Republicans, humiliating them? Probably—as it should.

Is he kidding? Embarrass Republicans? Has Mr. Reid been on vacation for the last three years?

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Romney and his team are now dropping negative nukes on Newt, calling him not a conservative but a Gingrichite.  The unforgivable sin, according to the Romneyites, is that Gingrich is, get this, not conservative enough because he does not, get this, support the Ryan plan that, get this, destroys the current Medicare system.  And that is coming from, get this, the “moderate” Mitt Romney.  What a party!

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Speaking of Mitt Romney, he and other Republicans have been attacking President Obama for his “appeasement” foreign policy. The President, not one to brag, responded this way:

Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top al-Qaida leaders who have been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement. Or whoever is left out there, ask them about that.

Governor Rick Perry, who thinks we are at war with Iran, heard about this controversy and allegedly responded: “Gahhhly, why doesn’t someone just ask bin Laden about it and settle the matter?

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Hillary Clinton has not only been annoying the Russians, she  told the world on International Human Rights Day that gay rights are also human rights and that the Administration is undertaking a “comprehensive human rights policy” to defend the rights of LGBT folks.  She said in Geneva:

Progress starts with honest discussion. Now, there are some who say and believe that all gay people are pedophiles, that homosexuality is a disease that can be caught or cured, or that gays recruit others to become gay.

Republicans have yet to respond to that vicious attack.

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Speaking of homophobic Republicans, Tony Perkins of the ultra-ungodly Family Research Council, is very upset over a repeal of an unconstitutional sodomy provision in the Uniform Code of Military Justice:

Now, in its rush to accommodate the left, Congress may have inadvertently opened the door to even more perversion. As part of the defense authorization bill, liberals are pushing to make sodomy a legal activity under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. In its haste to make gay sex an official part of military life, the left could be unintentionally repealing the ban on bestiality too.

Hillary has a lot of work to do.

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Another sterling example of Republican logic, also known as hypocrisy:  North Dakota’s attorney general is currently engaged in a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act, arguing that the Commerce Clause doesn’t allow the government to force folks to purchase insurance they don’t want.  A very principled stand, right? The same guy is also suing the state of Minnesota over lignite coal, arguing that the Commerce Clause permits the federal government to force Minnesota folks to purchase North Dakota’s lignite coal-fired energy, even if they don’t want to.

And that, my friends, is how the GOP philosophy works: They hate big government except when they don’t.

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Finally, in case you missed it, Dan Quayle has taken all the fun and suspense out of the GOP primary by endorsing Mitt Romney, which gives me an opportunity to pay tribute to the former vice president by presenting a few of his famous nuggets of wisdom that just never get old:

I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy—but that could change.

The future will be better tomorrow.

What a waste it is to lose one’s mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is.

By the way, has anyone ever seen Dan Quayle and Rick Perry together?

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