Lyons: “Paranoia Blooms Whenever Democrats Take Power”

Gene Lyons, one of the few highlights on the Joplin Globe‘s editorial pages these days, expressed an opinion about our fellow citizens that many are afraid to utter:

…much of the electorate is so poorly informed that it’s a wonder our political system works as well as it does, which many think is hardly at all.

Recently, CNN released a poll showing that 86 percent of Americans believe the U.S. government is “broken.” I admit my first reaction was to wonder subversively, “How would they know?” A contemporaneous Pew survey of the public’s “political news IQ” showed that on one of the most heavily reported issues of 2009­-10, only 32 percent knew that the Senate health-care bill passed without a single Republican vote; 26 percent understood that a supermajority of 60 votes is required to break a GOP filibuster. In short, they haven’t got a clue.

Referencing New York Times reporter David Barstow’s article on Tea Party people, in which the reporter interviews disgruntled citizens who make up the anti-government movement, Lyons reminds us that,

Paranoia blooms whenever Democrats take power in Washington. Remember militiamen fearful of U.N. black helicopters during Bill Clinton’s first term?

Yes, I do.  But I think the kind of paranoia that has blossomed under Obama has additional shadings, shall we say, than the Ruby Ridge- and Waco-inspired militia nonsense back then.  Beyond the black helicopter crowd, Clinton was seen as a cunning womanizer and political opportunist, even as a murder-ordering political opportunist, but wasn’t, as far as I remember, seriously charged with wanting to destroy the country, as part of an exotic plot to colonize America for Communism.

Beyond the goofy claims that Obama is a socialist—which don’t just come from marginalized extremists in the GOP, but from what passes for mainstream Republicans these days—Obama has been accused of hating America and wanting it to fail so he can implement his real agenda: a complete overhaul of our political and economic system along Marxist contours. 

I don’t think Bill Clinton was earnestly characterized as an active Communist sympathizer, even when Republicans took a break from fixating on his sex life.  But even if he was, it certainly wasn’t done by serious politicians in the GOP.

And nobody referred to Bill Clinton in mockingly Messianic terms, the way Hannity and Limbaugh refer to Obama—without objection from conservative Christians, by the way.

So, Lyons is right to remark that during times of Democratic ascendancy, the paranoid right-wing manufactures conspiracies about Democratic plans faster than Fox “News” can report them.  But this time, under America’s first African-American president, who has a strange name and a culturally diverse background, things are a little different, if not a lot worse.

Local TV “Journalism” = Campaign Commercial

Just as an example of how poor some local television “journalists” practice their profession, I encourage all to go to KODE-TV’s website here and watch a “report” on Roy Blunt, as he “discusses key topics.” 

The segment is nothing more than a free campaign commercial for Blunt, just one of many he receives every time he comes to J-town.

Just as an example, here is a transcript of the report, and notice how Dustin Lattimer—the alleged journalist—asks Blunt a series of tough follow-up questions:

We sat down with Congressman Roy Blunt to discuss healthcare and many other hot-button issues.

Blunt says healthcare changes need to happen in phases so that the impact on the system can be assessed.

“We can do two or three important things, see what impact they have, and then move onto step and do it in a way that doesn’t cost taxpayers billions of dollars or needlessly complicate the system,” says Blunt.

On the topic of job creation, Congressman Blunt says it’s all about getting the private sector involved.

A fairly simple process if Washington was willing to implement it, he says.

“The first thing I would do is stop spending money on the so called stimulus package. It created huge debt, didn’t create job opportunities and just grew government,” says Blunt.

And on the energy front, Blunt says it’s time we begin to explore all of our options here at home…

Wow!  Dustin sure pressed Blunt, didn’t he?  When our truth-challenged Congressman said the stimulus package “didn’t create job opportunities“—a demonstrable lie—notice how Dustin charged in with the facts and asked him to respond?

You didn’t?  Oh.

I hope KODE reported its in-kind contribution to Blunt’s campaign.  Just how much is two minutes worth of air time on KODE’s “Action [sic] News” worth these days?

UPDATE: Thanks to Jim Lee’s website, I found this short video report from KY3 TV in Springfield that illustrates what local journalists should be doing: pointing out the hypocrisy of our local politicians.  I guess Joplin television journalists aren’t ready for the big time until they can at least do the following:

[Roy Blunt/Jack Abramoff, Roy Blunt/Jack Abramoff, Roy Blunt/Jack Abramoff, Roy Blunt/Jack Abramoff, Roy Blunt/Jack Abramoff]

Republicans, Reconciliation, And The Princes Of Profits

Several times yesterday, while listening to the Republicans during the health care summit, and while listening to the “experts” tell us afterwards what it all meant, I heard the Senate Democrats’ possible use of the reconciliation process characterized as “ramming” through their “big bill,” which is a “government takeover” of “one-sixth” of the economy.

Not so, of course.  The Senate, along with the House, has already passed a version of health care reform.  The bill got 60 votes in the Senate, remember?

And it’s dishonest to characterize, as Obama pointed out, government’s setting a minimum insurance baseline as “taking over” the health care system. But such is the quality of Republican integrity these days.

In any case, all that needs to happen now, is for the House to pass the Senate version of the bill (on faith that the Senate will act), then the Senate can use the reconciliation process to make changes to the existing bill.  There is a question out there as to whether the Senate can use reconciliation before the House passes the bill, but the bottom line is that Democrats control their own destiny on health care reform.  They always have, despite Republican efforts to gum up the works. 

It is simply unacceptable to allow Republicans to claim that they were excluded from the process, when the current bill in the Senate has almost died the death of a thousand compromises in order to get a few Republicans to support it. 

It is also unacceptable to allow Republicans to claim that use of the reconciliation process is somehow unprecedented (the GOP perfected its use) and that using it to modify a bill that has already passed is somehow unseemly, the equivalent of jamming something down the throats of the American people.

It’s not.  Americans favor nearly all the components of the reform bill, despite the demonization of the entire package by deceitful Republicans, who will stop at nothing to protect the principles of profit-making, even when profit-making in the insurance industry is clearly making life unnecessarily difficult for the American people.

The princes of profit shouldn’t control life and death.  Don’t forget the 15 or so 9/11’s that happen every year in America because folks don’t have access to decent and affordable health insurance.

Nice Try, Move On

Much of the health care summit today consisted of Republicans summarizing their objections to the various Democratic plans to reform the system and Democrats defending their plans.  Republicans frequently did try to make the case for “incrementalism,” which is another way of continuing their historic approach to reform: doing nothing.

Obama, gamely, was trying to wrest something resembling cooperation from the Republicans.

Of course, he was doomed to fail.  At the first break today, Congressman Mike Pence, apparently posted strategically outside the room, raced to a camera and began denouncing the whole summit idea.  Okay, we all knew that was going to happen.  Republicans made it clear they want to “scrap the bill” and start over.  Democrats say they won’t do that. And now that it’s over, it is time for Democrats to act, with (insert laugh track here) or without Republican cooperation.  If they don’t, they will suffer more than projected this November.

For those, like Charlie Cook, who think Obama should have abandoned his quest to reform the health care and health insurance system in favor of focusing on the economy, Nate Silver has pointed out something that all of us should keep in mind, even though it has been a year and a half since the last presidential election: Obama ran on the health care issue in the Democratic primary and he campaigned to change the system in the general election.  It would be politically dumb to say the hell with it and give up.

Here is a chart posted on that shows the differential between issues and net points gained for the 2008 presidential election:

Here is the way Nate Silver summed it up:

The 2008 exit poll asked voters about the most important issue behind their vote; although just 9 percent picked health care, those who did went for Obama by a 73-26 margin, adding a net of 4.2 points to his margin of victory over McCain. By contrast, while 63 percent of voters cited the economy, Obama won those voters by only 9 points, adding 5.7 points to his margin — more than health care but not by much.

So, there you have it.  Those who cited health care as their most important issue (9%) provided Obama with 4.2% of his margin of victory and those who cited the economy (63%) gave him a slightly larger 5.7%.  It wouldn’t be very smart to ignore that huge health care 73-26 differential.

And besides all that, Obama’s first major act—and the Democrats first major act—was to address the economic situation by passing the stimulus bill.  No matter what you think of the bill, the first big beast out of the chute was meant to confront the dire economic situation.  It’s not like the health care debate trumped the economy.

Now, Democrats need to finish the job on health care reform and move on.

“The Republican Party Is A Wholly Owned Subsidiary Of The Insurance Industry”

This is how Democrats should fight:

Vodpod videos no longer available.


Reform? Who Needs Reform?

As most know by now, WellPoint Anthem Blue Cross has sought to increase health insurance premiums in California, even in the face of possible health insurance reform.  But a survey conducted by the Center for American Progress Action Fund points out that WellPoint has applied for double-digit premium increases in more states than just California:

The recent news that WellPoint’s Anthem Blue Cross health insurance company in California wanted to increase premiums for individual policyholders as much as 39 percent is further evidence the current health system is not sustainable. And a survey by the Center for American Progress Action Fund found that California isn’t the only state where WellPoint is hiking individual premium rates by double-digit percentages. In fact, double-digit hikes have been implemented or are pending in at least 11 other states among the 14 where WellPoint’s Blue Cross Blue Shield companies are active: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York,Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The survey lists Missouri in the following way:

Missouri: No data available. WellPoint did not respond to CAP Action requests for data.

You have to admire an industry that is so confident in its lobbying power that it can continue its race to bankrupt Americans without fear of anyone stopping it.

The LA Times reported this morning the following:

Congressional Democrats on Wednesday accused the parent company of Anthem Blue Cross of putting profits ahead of policyholders, saying the giant insurer sought to rid itself of costly sick customers to maximize income as it lavished generous salaries and benefits on top executives.

Oh, yeah?  Well, what are you Congressional Democrats going to do about it?

Only Real Americans Can Be President

From the AP:

Nearly half of the Arizona Legislature wants to force President Barack Obama to show his birth certificate to state officials if he runs for re-election.

Imagine that.  The President of the United States must prove he is a citizen of the country he governs.  Who are these people making such a demand?

All 40 co-sponsors are Republicans, comprising 75 percent of the GOP caucus. Two of them have since resigned to run for Congress.

God, I love Republican patriotism.  Just imagine if Obama couldn’t show his birth certificate in 2012: We could get a real American in the White House.

Can’t wait.

Killing Social Security and Medicare, One Speech At A Time

I watched Glenn Beck’s speech at CPAC this past weekend.  I am the first to admit that he is quite good at what he does. The man has talent.  Forever forecasting inevitable tribulation, he is like a gifted evangelist who writes books and sermonizes, warning us of the doom to come.  And like most gifted evangelists, he profits from his prophesying, making God-like money as he points the way through the apocalypse.

His latest speech—a continuation of a theme he has been hawking for a while now—contained his diagnosis of our sickly condition:  “progressivism is the disease in America.”

He preached:

Progressivism is the cancer in America and it is eating our Constitution. And it was designed to eat the Constitution. To progress past the Constitution.

Comparing progressives to Communists, he explained there is a small difference between the two: Communists of old desired revolution; progressives, being more patient, were and continue to be willing to wait for things to evolve.  But the goals are the same: trash the Constitution and turn America into a “big government,” “socialist utopia.”

Okay.  So far, there’s nothing unusual about that pew-stirring rhetoric, sold to acne-tortured, college-age Republicans at CPAC and the more mature, meat-loving mobs that buy Beck’s books and watch his hysterical television show.

But I have begun to notice something happening on the right.  The straw poll at CPAC went this year to Ron Paul, not exactly a friend to some of Beck’s crazy ideas, but certainly a supporter of the anti-government philosophy that serves as a foundation for conservative thought.  Paul, to orgasmic applause, said:

Government is the enemy of liberty!

The fire was barely out at the IRS building in Texas—where Joseph Stack took seriously words like Paul uttered—and speakers at CPAC were using words like “enemy” to describe the government and violent metaphors to describe what Americans should do about its growth. 

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who is moving to the right at brakeless Toyota speed, said Americans should “take a 9 iron and smash the windows out of big government in this country!

Of course, such talk is hyperbole.  I get that.  But what is happening among a growing group on the right is that people are starting to take seriously the idea of dismantling big government programs like Social Security and Medicare. 

Beck said:

It is big government – it’s a socialist utopia. And we need to address it as if it is a cancer. It must be cut out of the system because they cannot co-exist. And you don’t cure cancer by – well, I’m just going to give you a little bit of cancer. You must eradicate it. It cannot co-exist. And we need big thinkers, and brave people with spines who can make the case – that can actually say to Americans: look it’s going to be hard – it’s going to be hard but it’s going to be okay. We’re going to make it.

Now, what could he be talking about?  The subsidy for public television? The Department of Commerce?  No. Big government, especially since most conservatives exclude the Defense Department from budget cuts, has to mean Social Security and Medicare.

He continues:

We believe in the right of the individual. We believe in the right, you can speak out, you can disagree with me, you can make your own path. But I’m not going to pay for your mistakes, and I don’t expect you to pay for my mistakes. We’re all going to make them, but we all have the right to move down that road. What we don’t have a right to is: health care, housing, or handouts. We don’t have those rights.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, another CPAC speaker and trusted ally of Glenn Beck, has advocated “weaning” as a means of reducing the size of government.  A few weeks ago in St. Louis she said:

We’re $14 trillion in debt, but that doesn’t include the unfunded massive liabilities. That’s $107 trillion, and that’s for Social Security and Medicare and all the rest. You add up all those unfunded net liabilities, and all the traps that could go wrong we’re on the hook for, and what it means is what we have to do is a reorganization of all of that, Social Security and all… So, what you have to do, is keep faith with the people that are already in the system, that don’t have any other options, we have to keep faith with them. But basically what we have to do is wean everybody else off. And wean everybody off because we have to take those unfunded net liabilities off our bank sheet, we can’t do it. So we just have to be straight with people.

So, she is saying do away with Social Security and Medicare, after those in the present system are finished.  At least she is being more honest than usual.  And such honesty is being forced upon Republicans, as they are no longer getting away with screaming for deficit reduction and tax cuts without specifying spending reductions.

Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP’s budget guru in the House, has offered a privatization plan for Social Security and Medicare and has at least nine co-sponsors.

One of those co-sponsors, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, appeared on Chris Matthews recently:


It appears that Republicans are becoming so emboldened by the Tea Party movement that some of them are now willing to talk openly about ripping out or seriously reducing the effectiveness of the social safety net that serves so many Americans. 

And if Democrats let them get away with it, then one day Republicans will have their way.

The “K Street Jobs Tour,” Featuring Roy Blunt

You won’t find it anywhere else.  Fired Up! Missouri has “exclusive access” to Roy Blunt’s “K Street Jobs Tour” itinerary, which no doubt served as the model for his recent “Jobs for Missouri’s Future” Bus Tour.

Sean Nicholson has created a virtual tour that features a review of Blunt’s contribution to the culture of “congressional/corporate homology“: 

Discover how Roy Blunt became a leading K Street acolyte and a star pupil of Tom DeLay’s, learning the art of deal-making, back-slapping, and go-along-to-get-along politics that have served him so well for the last 14 years.

The Tour will take you from imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s former restaurant, in which our Congressman was entitled to free food and drink, to Blunt’s newest Georgetown investment, Phillips Park, “a new community of 46 luxury single-family residences of unique design and character,” also billed as Washington D.C.’s “most rarified real estate experience.”  Interested investors in Southwest Missouri can apparently buy in for somewhere around $1.45 million.

Sean has promised more fun in the future, so stay tuned.

[To comply with an earlier promise: Jack Abramoff/Roy Blunt, Jack Abramoff/Roy Blunt, Jack Abramoff/Roy Blunt, Jack Abramoff/Roy Blunt, Jack Abramoff/Roy Blunt, Jack Abramoff/Roy Blunt, Jack Abramoff/Roy Blunt, Jack Abramoff/Roy Blunt, Jack Abramoff/Roy Blunt, Jack Abramoff/Roy Blunt]

Populism And The Cult Of the Ordinary

Now that populism is back in style, if not as the dominant strain of political thinking, at least as the object of attention for television journalists scrambling to fill airtime with something other than the Tiger Woods saga, I wanted to go off the beaten path for a bit, to examine just one odd and odious piece of populism.

George Will, dismissing Sarah Palin as a serious candidate for higher office, recently referred to populism as “a celebration of ordinariness.”  Not long ago, I heard the right-wing talker Dennis Miller pine for an “average” guy or gal to take up residence in the White House, without acknowledging that he probably wouldn’t like an “average” guy or gal taking up residence in the operating room if he needed life-saving surgery.

But another characteristic of populism’s celebration of the ordinary was brought to my attention over the weekend.  In an op-ed piece in USA Today, Tom Kaiden wrote about the tendency of the arts to suffer during times like ours:

Watch any sitcom and you’ll hear the laugh track cranked up when an adult male is trapped into attending a play, visiting an art museum or simply reading a book. Hilarious.

Arts groups — always battling to encourage newer, younger audiences — must now also counter a growing sentiment that arts and culture is an elitist amenity society can no longer afford.

Kaiden continues:

What used to be lukewarm support or benign indifference to culture has turned to open hostility by politicians pandering to narrow constituencies that position the arts as some form of intellectual pretension.

Late last year, for example, Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., were critical of how some of the $787 billion stimulus bill was being spent, including a list of minor grants in support of arts and culture jobs.

Now, I know the winds of scorn are currently howling over such “minor” facets of our collective life.  But the unpleasant truth is that large swaths of our culture aren’t fond of the arts—or sciences—in any environment, let alone the economically challenging times of today. 

There has always been a cult of the ordinary in America, which in its best incarnation celebrates the “common” man as an equal to all.  In its worst manifestation, however, the cult ridicules the arts and sciences, seeing these endeavors as inferior to, say, pursuing capitalist-inspired dreams of making lots and lots of money.

So, just to contradict the notion that ordinary is better, I present the following video, which I found by following a link from a commenter on my blog (Hubert Gaskins). It is an example of the power of art, of the power of an extraordinary human being who is able to touch us in ways we might not expect. Watch in full screen mode:

From the website I learned that the artist, Kseniya Simonova, is a 24-year-old Ukrainian whose demonstration showed “how ordinary people were affected by the German invasion during World War II.”  I also learned that one in four Ukrainians were killed during the war, somewhere between eight to 11 million folks.  The video was shot during a “Ukraine’s Got Talent” episode, thus the reaction of the audience. 

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