Monday, August 31, 2009

Rendon Group Axed, Journalism Saved Forever

Politico is reporting that the Pentagon has canceled its contract with the Rendon Group, citing that it was becoming a "distraction." From Politico:

"The Pentagon, which first denied that an embed profiling program was used to reject reporters covering the war in Afghanistan, until Stars and Stripes proved otherwise, has now canceled its contract with the controversial Rendon Group.

“The decision to terminate the Rendon contract was mine and mine alone. As the senior U.S. communicator in Afghanistan, it was clear that the issue of Rendon’s support to US forces in Afghanistan had become a distraction from our main mission,” said Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, in an e-mail sent Sunday to Stars and Stripes.

Stars and Stripes first broke the news Monday that the Pentagon hired Rendon -- the firm involved with a PR campaign pushing pre-war intelligence -- to evaluate reporters' work as "positive," "negative," and "neutral.""

I wrote about this story on Thursday, claiming that although it was unfortunate to learn that the Pentagon was analyzing and potentially vetting reporters, it shouldn't strike anyone as surprising. The report from today that the contract was canceled is certainly good news, but we are still a long way from having a properly functioning media.

What this controversy highlighted more than anything else is that in America, we like our censorship subtle. Something that feels like outright censorship can cause a small but powerful outcry from those who oppose it, which is what we saw in this case. Having Rendon rate reporters coverage was too explicitly an attempt to control the message, and the public didn't like it.

What's discouraging is that the implicit relationship between the media elites and the government is virtually identical to the explicit relationship between Rendon and the media. By that, I mean that the corporate media imposes on itself the exact type of vetting process for which Rendon was so resoundingly criticized. The limits of debate are less explicit in the media at large, but they are no less strict.

Where Rendon was explicitly classifying journalists' coverage as "positive," "negative," or "neutral," corporate media similarly implicitly classifies ideas--and those who espouse them--as either "acceptable" or "unacceptable." Noam Chomsky writes about this in Manufacturing Consent:

"The right wing continually claims that the press has a liberal bias, and there's some truth to that, but they don't understand what it means. The liberal bias is extremely important in a system- in a sophisticated system of propaganda. In fact there ought to be a liberal bias. The liberal bias says, thus far and no further, I'm as far as you can go, and look how liberal I am. And of course it turns out that I accept without question all the presuppositions of the propaganda system. Notice that that's a beautiful type of system. You don't ever express the propaganda, that's vulgar and too easy to penetrate, you just presuppose it. Unless you accept the presuppositions, you're not part of the discussion. And the presuppositions are instilled, not by, you know, beating you over the head with them, but just by making them the foundation of discussion. You don't accept them, you're not in the discussion."

That is why we are seeing a backlash against Rendon. Their and the Pentagon's attempt to shape the coverage was too obvious. Those kind of tactics are more likely to fail, because the population can see what is happening. The establishment-worshiping novelty acts on TV are far more subtle.

American media operates from the basic premise that America Is Good, and has Noble Intentions and Good Leaders, and therefore it is crazy and unreasonable to question our country's intentions. What we can question, at most, are the tactics our Good Leaders employ. Chomsky continues:

"So, in the case of the, say, the Vietnam war, which was a major topic of debate, if you look over the media, there was a big debate over the Vietnam war. There were the hawks who said that if we continue to fight harder, if we're more violent, and so on and so forth, then we can achieve the noble end of defending South Vietnam and the free people of South Vietnam from communism. And then there were the doves who said it's probably not going to work, it's probably not going to be too- it's going to be too bloody, and it's going to cost us too much, and therefore we're not going to be able to achieve the noble end of defending the people of South Vietnam from communism.

Now, again, there's another view, and that is that we were attacking South Vietnam. That other view has the merit of being true, obviously true, but it was inexpressible. That's outside the spectrum of debate. You can enter the debate only if you accept the assumption. And if you check the media over the entire period as far as I can see -- I've- Hermann and I in this book review the media from about 1950 to the present on Indochina, and I don't think you can find an exception to this, even statistical error -- that's the spectrum, you've got to accept it."

You can find all sorts of contemporary examples of dialogue being limited like this.

The torture "debate" is a perfect example. Torture is discussed on TV in terms of whether or not it "works," whether or not it "keeps 'us' safe." (It should be noted that the "us" in that last phrase strongly connotes white Christians. Keeping "us" safe has very little to do with keeping Muslims safe, even if they are American citizens.) In terms of whether or not the DOJ should prosecute torturers, the debate consists entirely of whether or not it would be a good idea for Obama politically, or whether it would be a distraction. Virtually no one in the mainstream media says what is undeniably true, namely that torture is a felony--always has been--and that those who participated in it must, BY DEFINITION, be held accountable for their actions to the full extent of the law.

The same can be said of the escalation of troops in Afghanistan. The question is, "Can we achieve our noble goals?", not, "Is this occupation wrong on every fundamental level?"

Or consider Israel. The question must always be, "Are Israel's tactics bringing the country closer to Peace," not, "Is Israel committing war crimes in Gaza?" That idea has been labeled "unacceptable" for discussion. That's why you don't see Norman Finkelstein making the Sunday morning talk show rounds. Indeed, Israeli press is often far more critical of Israel's actions than American press.

Take, for example, Rachel Maddow's truly awful reporting on the massacre of Gaza. (via hawgblawg, who also has a great analysis, highly recommended)

So, in celebrating the cancellation of Rendon's contract, let us remember that ideas and scholars are constantly being ranked and evaluated by the Washington Consensus. Those invisible rankings are, in many ways, more destructive than more obvious methods of debate control.

Friday, August 28, 2009

GOP Nobly Maintains Status As Good Faith Opposition--Wait, No, No. Assclowns. Yeah, That's the Phrase. Assclowns.

America created Democracy in 1776 when they started shootin' Brits for sport, and also to use their (literally) blue blood to make writing more fun for Indian children. Prior to our Grand Invention, Man lived like an Animal, but not even like one of the good animals that has sex for pleasure. More like one of the filthy animals that has sex for money. Truly, they were dark days.

Then, this country taught the world to love. To sing. To LIVE, DAMMIT.

Sadly, this blog just received proof that our Noble Experiment has failed, and is now gasping its last, dying breath. What is our proof? This actual question from the RNC’s “2009 Future of American Health Survey.”

That is a real, actual, honest question, for morons. (via Wonkette, and The Washington Independent) If you have a sock drawer full of hash handy, I suggest taking knife hits and then following that WI link and reading the full survey. WOOOOOOO MAMA!!! Those questions hit you at the base of your skull like a black jack. Here are two (and again, these are real):

3. "Does it concern you that the liberal media has gone to unprecedented levels to only give Obama's views on health care reform and no one else's?"

6. "Do you believe that your health care decisions should be made by you and your doctor, not by government bureaucrats in Washington DC?"

Hey, they're just asking a legitimate question--namely, can the GOP continue to become more and more horrible by the hour? They confidently answer: Yes We Can.

Oh and then there's this (via ThinkProgress):

"The Oklahoma-based Express-Star reports that [Sen. Jim] Inhofe (R-OK) told a town hall crowd yesterday that he will vote against health reform legislation without even reading it or knowing what’s in it:

"At a town hall meeting Wednesday Sen. Jim Inhofe told Chickasha residents he does not need to read the 1,000 page health care reform bill, he will simply vote against it.

"I don’t have to read it, or know what’s in it. I’m going to oppose it anyways,” he said.

He went on to tell the crowd we are “almost reaching a revolution in this country” due to opposition to health reform. Inhofe is not alone in saying he will vote against any health reform bill. Last week Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) told Fox News that he doesn’t think a “single Republican” will vote for health care reform."
Democracy on the march!

So, this is how our country functions now. A major political party wages an aggressive war to keep their constituents misinformed about basic facts, and the leaders of that party explicitly state that they will not even take the time to read the legislation they're going to vote against. Public opinion is not shaped by facts, but by posturing. The media reports on the scandals and controversy and polls, rarely bothering to examine the base claims that cause the controversy in the first place.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, who runs, speaking on Bill Moyers (whose coverage of health care has been absolutely PHENOMENAL), had this to say (from the transcript):

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:...But the nature of public opinion it's [sic] expressed in "USA Today" in-- at a front-page piece that appeared on Thursday of this week which says "Protests Tilt Views on Health Care Bill." Now that's reflecting the results of a poll that asked about people's response not to the health care bill but to the protests about the health care bill.

But the headline leads you to think it's about the health care bill itself. And it suggests that public opinion is now shifting dramatically away from the Obama health care reform efforts.

BILL MOYERS: So the protests seem to be making some people more sympathetic to the protesters?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: And potentially the press then picks that up, polls, finds that sympathy, creates a structure that suggests that health care reform initiatives are losing support. Now polls have driven press coverage which says "Obama on the defensive. Obama struggling to explain. Obama trying," when, in fact, the dynamic under that has been created by a news structure that decided to cover this in a certain way, to do polling in a certain way.[emphasis added]

She's absolutely correct. That is how our media works, and it is structurally broken as an institution. The Republican party, not surprisingly, is doing everything in its power to keep people misinformed. The Democrats, also not surprisingly, are selling out the public to insurance and pharmaceutical corporations in a revolting attempt to simultaneously achieve two ends: they don't want to be painted as too liberal, and, most importantly, they want that corporate money. They know that if they alienate the insurance companies, those companies will not only stop giving to the Democrats, but increase campaign funding for Republicans. If you are a Party concerned only with maintaining power, as the Democrats without question are, then this outcome must be fought against at all costs. The result is--again, unsurprisingly--that the public gets fucked.

August has been a month spent reading tea leaves. Within the next few weeks, in theory, Congress will begin to shape a bill that can be examined and critiqued. I, for one, am ready to see some actual legislation.

Until then, here's something to put a smile on your face. Outside my building, I heard some guy on the phone saying, "I want chicken wings, and fries, and make the fries fresh." That dude knew what he wanted and went the fuck for it. We must elect that dude!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Surprise, Surprise, Pentagon Tries To Shape War Coverage

Stars & Stripes and The New York Times are reporting that the Pentagon has hired The Rendon Group, a DC-based PR firm, to rate journalists' war coverage as positive, negative, or neutral, before they are granted permission to embed themselves with the military. The Rendon Group helped to create the Iraqi National Conference, which in turn helped sell the invasion of Iraq to the American public--a fact that the Times' report leaves out. Apparently that is not relevant information to their readers.

The Pentagon denied these reports, but then Stars & Stripes released this yesterday:

"Contrary to the insistence of Pentagon officials this week that they are not rating the work of reporters covering U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Stars and Stripes has obtained documents that prove that reporters’ coverage is being graded as “positive,” “neutral” or “negative.”

Moreover, the documents — recent confidential profiles of the work of individual reporters prepared by a Pentagon contractor — indicate that the ratings are intended to help Pentagon image-makers manipulate the types of stories that reporters produce while they are embedded with U.S. troops in Afghanistan."

It should not be surprising that the Pentagon would try to shape the coverage of an increasingly unpopular (question 26) occupation. That has happened in the past, and it will continue to happen in the future.

Here are two examples that come to mind immediately. If anyone has any others, please leave them in comments. First, we've recently seen the military parade retired generals around as "independent analysts" on the major news networks to put a pretty face on the occupation of Iraq. Much has already been written about this, and I have nothing to add right now. It's simply worth noting as an example of the military attempting to shape the public discourse.

And, to cite an older example, here's the words of David Halberstam, speaking to students at the Columbia School of Journalism. In this passage, he describes standing up to a Pentagon General in Saigon (via Greenwald):

"Picture if you will rather small room, about the size of a classroom, with about 10 or 12 reporters there in the center of the room. And in the back, and outside, some 40 military officers, all of them big time brass. It was clearly an attempt to intimidate us.

General Stilwell tried to take the intimidation a step further. He began by saying that Neil and I had bothered General Harkins and Ambassador Lodge and other VIPs, and we were not to do it again. Period.

And I stood up, my heart beating wildly -- and told him that we were not his corporals or privates, that we worked for The New York Times and UP and AP and Newsweek, not for the Department of Defense.

I said that we knew that 30 American helicopters and perhaps 150 American soldiers had gone into battle, and the American people had a right to know what happened. I went on to say that we would continue to press to go on missions and call Ambassador Lodge and General Harkins, but he could, if he chose, write to our editors telling them that we were being too aggressive, and were pushing much too hard to go into battle. That was certainly his right."

Again, it's not surprising that the Pentagon would act in these ways. I don't mean to excuse their behavior in any way, but this kind of intimidation should be expected from people who are hired to kill other people. That's why its so important for the media to push back and redouble their efforts to expose that which the military is trying to suppress.

Sadly, examples of the media stepping up to this task are often the exception, not the rule. For some far from conclusive, but interesting nonetheless, evidence, I'll quote Sy Hersh from an episode of Democracy Now! Amy Goodman interviewed him about his initial coverage of the My Lai massacre, and he had this to say:

"I was working in Washington as a freelance writer and began just—I had followed the war and knew what was going on in some visceral way and knew what was—there was something there. And I began—I finally got to the point where I began to find kids in the unit, and I was writing stories. I think I wrote five in five weeks as a freelancer. And it was just as the young boys talking over the weekend were ignored by the press, I had a hell of a time getting the major press to run the stories, for sure. This is always the way it is. You know, there’s always a disconnect between the bad stuff that goes on that everybody knows goes on and what I guess you could call the mainstream press want to write about. I don’t know why, but it’s true, there always is."[emphasis added]

New Huffpo Blog

Huffpo just put something of mine up on their website. The title is: Barack Obama's Disturbing Pattern of Condescension Towards the Left. It can be read here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Torture Program Deviates From History, Oh, Not Really That Much, Sadly

Two events from this week highlight America's staggering willingness to commit violence upon civilians to achieve a military end, whether real or imagined. Coincidentally, both events also showcase America's extreme reluctance to hold high-end government officials accountable for their crimes, an historical trend that is hypocritical in the extreme--considering our country's childish mis-identification as a nation concerned with equality under the law. The release this week of the 2004 Inspector General's report detailing CIA abuses of detainees under the Bush administration, and the recent apology of the only soldier held responsible for the My Lai massacre--both of which took place this week--are but two examples of our country's brutal history towards civilians from other countries. Taken together they paint a gruesome picture of America, both in its execution of various imperialist "wars," and its willingness to grant immunity to those most responsible for the atrocities that are inevitably committed.

The IG report of CIA abuses is simply the most recent example of America's tendency to tolerate violence against civilians in the name of war. That is not to minimize the horrors it describes, or the importance of its release. Far from it. The techniques that were used to intimidate prisoners into believing they were facing imminent death are repulsive. (It should also be noted that many detainees died in US custody, some of which are referred to as murders.) If one actually takes a moment to visualize the terror one would feel if a soldier approached you carrying a power drill while you were hooded, naked, and had literally no idea where you were (city, country, or continent)--well, the desired effect of that torture technique is quite readily apparent. It should also be noted that many of the prisoners, while called "enemy combatants," had never been accused of, much less convicted of, any crime.

The CIA abuse case breaks from history because these atrocities were specifically sanctioned by the highest levels of elected government. That's what makes the prosecution of those responsible for the torture memos so important, and that's why Holder's "narrow focus" on rogue interrogators is discouraging. Simply finding more scapegoats--ie, low level CIA interrogators--won't do anything to prevent actions like this from being taken in the future. (Glenn Greenwald writes extensively about this topic. One of his many relevant pieces can be read here.)

Scapegoats, of course, brings us to My Lai. Four decades after the fact, William Calley apologized for his role in the massacre of a Vietnamese village comprised primarily of women, children, and the elderly. Calley, a former lieutenant, was the only person convicted in the massacre. He was given a life sentence, which was commuted by Richard Nixon. According to the Times' report,

"The governor of Georgia at the time, Jimmy Carter, called Mr. Calley a “scapegoat.”


Calley told the group “I did what they say I did,” but also maintained that he was following orders."

He "maintained that he was following orders," and yet he was the only person convicted of a crime. Ever since Nuremberg, "following orders" has not been a viable defense, and those who commit crimes under that pretense should be punished. The problem is when punishment stops with those at the bottom of the totem pole. We saw this happen already with the tragedy at Abu Ghraib, and, now, it appears that we may see the same thing happen with the CIA abuses.

We must also remember the vast catalogue of American violence against citizens of other countries in the 20th century, and the total lack of legal accountability officials have faced. We remain the only country to have used nuclear weapons, one of our highest officials identified himself as a "war criminal," we waged a war of choice in Vietnam that resulted in the deaths of between 1 and 2 million Vietnamese, and a separate war of choice in Iraq has killed between 92,000 and 101,000 civilian deaths. The CIA alone is responsible for a legacy of failure, death, and intervention in the Middle East, and Latin and South America. Not one high ranking official has spent time behind bars for any of this. In fact, on the rare occasion that a high-level official is even charged with a crime, these sentences are either pardoned, as was the case with Nixon, or commuted, as was the case with I. Lewis Libby.

In presenting this brief list, I don't mean to say necessarily that Truman, or every president who presided over 'Nam, should have faced prison time. I'm simply putting forward the argument that as a nation, we fundamentally don't believe our leaders are capable of acting wrongly. That is the heart of "American Exceptionalism," a doctrine to which every major political and media figure must swear undying, unrelenting allegiance. Our leaders simply can't be evil--we're America! after all--and so holding them accountable to either domestic or international law is the height of unfairness. The USA acts in good faith, the myth goes, so punishment is unneeded and unwarranted.

It is in this context that we must view the crimes of Bush officials. Not as some isolated incident that we can simply "get over" by "looking forward," but as the result of a continuous and implicit policy of this country--namely, that no matter what the crime, those who are most responsible for the deaths of civilians will not be held accountable. Instead, low-level grunts--if anyone at all--will bear the brunt of the law. Holding Jay Bybee, John Yoo, and anyone else who authorized torture accountable is a necessary, and, in fairness, radical step towards a better country.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Democrats Secretly Can't Wait To Be Victims Again

Numbers-pr0nstar Nate Silver has some potentially ominous news for the Democrats:

"After a couple of relatively quiet months, the Senate race rankings have undergone a fairly major shakeup, with 15 distinct contests receiving an upgrade or a downgrade based on a combination of local and national circumstances. Most of these changes favor Republicans -- 7 of the 10 upgrades (meaning that a party switch is now more likely) were made to Democratic-held seats; 4 of the 5 downgrades were made to Republican-held seats. While there are still plenty of opportunities for the Democrats in the Senate, I believe that the Republicans are now slightly more likely to gain seats than to lose them, potentially threatening the Democrats' supposed filibuster-proof majority."[emphasis added]

It's clearly too early to start worrying about 2010, and I'm passing this information along only as an interesting--if potentially unimportant--snapshot of the country right now.

The Democrats won in 2006 and 2008 with overwhelming electoral mandates, yet they've stumbled on major domestic issues (health care) and straight up failed on major international issues (escalation in Afghanistan, continuing rendition, etc.). I wrote at the beginning of this month:

"...Will the country eventually swing "Right" again? History tells us that it will, but, who will actually do that?

The changing demographics in America have rendered the Southern Strategy--in which you use code words to convince scared white southerners that you're on their side--obsolete. Latinos, who traditionally have voted Republican, are moving to the Democratic party in droves. It remains to be seen if the youth vote will remain as strong as it did for Obama in the coming years, but they certainly won't be the ones to give power back to the GOP. The Republican base is shrinking fast, and there's no reason to believe that that trend will reverse itself."

Like I said, it's far too early to know what will happen in 2010, but it appears that my prediction that the GOP might have been gasping its final breath may have been overstated.

That said, here's another interesting poll that argues, "No, no, everyone still hates the Republicans more than the Democrats." From Swamp Politics:

"The poll found that favorable ratings for the Democratic Party have declined since spring. Just 49 percent said they have a favorable view of the Democratic Party, compared to a 59 percent positive rating in April and 62 percent in January.

Opinion of the Republican Party has remained constant, at 40 percent all year."

That's from August 19th, so the numbers might be slightly different now, but that's the gist. Nine percentage points is still quite substantial, but the downward trend makes me a bit nervous. For all the Democrat bashing that happens around here, the idea of the GOP in control of anything beyond a traveling freak show is truly terrifying.

Max Baucus Has Always Loved Public Option Since Yesterday

Turd-whore Max Baucus (D-MT) chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee, the committee that is widely assumed to produce what will eventually become the final Senate health care reform bill. Baucus gets more money from the health care industries than any other member of Congress, a fact that renders anything that comes out of his mouth concerning health care reform completely untrustworthy.

That's why this report (via FireDogLake) leaves me unimpressed. Apparently Max Baucus is now claiming that he honestly LOVES the idea of a public option! Seriously, guys, he really does. He's only been trying to kill any type of substantial reform for the past 8 months, but that's never been his intention! OOOOOO, he wants the public option so bad!

The press release from the Coalition of Montana Democratic Central Committees reads:

"U.S. Senator Max Baucus has finally broken his silence regarding his personal position on including a public option in health care reform legislation. Last Monday night (8/17), in an unprecedented conference call to Montana Democratic central committee chairs, the powerful leader of the Senate Finance Committee told his strongest supporters that he supported a public option.

While discussing the obstacles to getting a public option through the Senate, he assured his forty listeners, "I want a public option too!""[emphasis added.]

Hey, Baucus, way to go. He's got his finger on the pulse, doesn't he? In politics, like in comedy, timing is everything. And to extend the comedy metaphor, Baucus waited about four months between saying, "Take my wife," and "please." Kind of kills the desired effect, Maxy.

Should progressives take this as a good sign? Maybe, but it seems much more likely that Baucus is desperately trying to protect his left flank than he is trying to take on the insurance companies. In fact, imagining Baucus "taking on the insurance companies" is like imagining the military going to war with Lockheed Martin. It is fundamentally impossible to wrap one's head around that possibility.

In theory, I suppose, Baucus might be forced to fight for a public option if there is a large enough outcry from his constituents. More than anything else, the vast majority of Congress-people want simply to get re-elected. That's why they take so much money from lobbyists and special interests. It's not that they're inherently evil (though a strong case could be made that many are), it's that they want to keep their job. Maddeningly, the way that this is accomplished all too often is by pleasing companies who can finance re-election campaigns, not by pleasing the citizens who elected them in the first place.

It remains to be seen whether or not Max the whore will fight for a public option, but we can know for certain that he doesn't actually want one. He's had every, EVERY, fucking opportunity in the world to fight for it over the past several months, and he has done nothing but push policies that are favored by the interests who own him. If he does turn his back on his owners, like a beaten dog who has finally had enough, then it will be as surprising as it will be praise-worthy.

Sadly, there is no reason to expect that to happen, so don't get out your doggy treats just yet.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Murder Mystery Where The Victim Is Us

I'm passing along two articles that I just read and can't recommend highly enough. The first is, big surprise, by Greenwald, and the second is by Jane Hamsher at FireDogLake. Each piece persuasively describes exactly how progressives have been played like suckers for the entire length of the health care debate. Each piece argues that the "public option" was never meant as a serious option; its purpose was to string progressives along until the last moment, when the White House, working in conjunction with conservative Dems in the Senate and the stomach-turning "Blue Dog" coalition, could pull a bait-and-switch. The hope was that by the time the progressives knew what hit them, it would be too late.

Reading these two articles back to back creates a feeling exactly like the end of a mystery novel, where the detective gathers all living parties into the parlor to explain exactly what happened. Point by point, Jane methodically plots out the deception and coercion of which the the WH and its congressional allies have been guilty. I felt like she just as easily could have been saying, "you were meant to THINK the butler was the murderer, but, in fact, it was the heiress the whole time!" And in the same way that a wonderful mystery makes perfect sense and seems wholly inevitable when explained at the end, so too does the likely jettisoning of the "public option." Of course, you think when reading Jane and Glenn. It was a red fucking herring the whole time!

It's a gripping narrative, really. Feel the thrill that comes from reading this passage from Greenwald:

"The attempt to attract GOP support was the pretext which Democrats used to compromise continuously and water down the bill. But -- given the impossibility of achieving that goal -- isn't it fairly obvious that a desire for GOP support wasn't really the reason the Democrats were constantly watering down their own bill? Given the White House's central role in negotiating a secret deal with the pharmaceutical industry, its betrayal of Obama's clear promise to conduct negotiations out in the open (on C-SPAN no less), Rahm's protection of Blue Dogs and accompanying attacks on progressives, and the complete lack of any pressure exerted on allegedly obstructionists "centrists," it seems rather clear that the bill has been watered down, and the "public option" jettisoned, because that's the bill they want -- this was the plan all along."

And from Jane:

"Mike Allen said earlier this week that "this weekend’s comments by White House officials simply acknowledged the long-obvious reality that the idea of a government-run insurance plan was partly a bargaining chip."

If you look at the cat-and-mouse game played between the Democrats and the Republicans, support expressed by the President for a "public plan" meant "don't you dare." A commitment that the bill will be "bipartisan" (since the GOP would never agree to one) was a signal that there would be no public plan.

The White House never cared about getting Republican votes -- it cared about keeping the Republicans from peeling off the dollars of stakeholders like PhRMA. Giving in to "Republican" demands was cover for writing shitty things into the bill that would keep the stakeholders happy. They didn't need Republican votes, they never did, and they never truly cared. As long as the money stayed out of their campaign coffers, it was all good."

Ugh, god, it hurts to read.

If there is any cause for hope here, it's that FDL is raising money to reward and embolden progressive House members, and collecting signatures for a petition for House members to keep their word and only vote for a bill with a public option. You can support that effort here.

If the House can revive the public option, it will be a coup of epic proportions. If not, then let's just say, "It was Rahm Emanuel, in the Oval Office, with the knife."

New Onion Headline And A Few Rejected Ones Too

I have a headline in The Onion this week. Just a one-liner, no story, but I still like it. Here it is.

Attempt To Return Paperclip To Original Shape Proves Daunting

It is quite silly, no? The Onion doesn't provide direct links to one-liners on their website, but I can link to the facebook post they put up for it. The comments, generally speaking, have been positive. I've also seen a lot of commenters sharing strategies for how to re-shape a paperclip, which strikes me as odd.

Just for fun, and since I haven't done it in a while, here are three rejected headlines from this week that I enjoy.

Blog Snob Looking Down At Co-Worker Reading Huffingtonpost

Astronaut’s Wife Sick Of Being Compared With Majesty Of Space

Child Delighted When First Told About Pairing Of Water, Giant Slides

The blog snob one was originally going to take the form of:

Blog Snob Has Been Reading Glenn Greenwald Since Before He Was Even At Salon

But that headline has a very, very limited audience. Ok, back to the newz.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Liberal NPR Wants Guns To Be Bigger, More Powerful, Closer To President

NPR is the famous radio organization that helps old people fall asleep at night and also refuses to call torture torture. They are often called "liberal" because they speak in complete sentences and sometimes play good music. But wait! The most important thing in the world, if you're a media organization, is to prove to everybody that YOU ARE NOT IN FACT LIBERAL AT ALL.

We have that constructive mindset to thank for this wonderful little headline, published on their website today by Frank James.

"Obama Town-Hall Gun Toters May Have An Upside"

Hahahahaha, that's a pretty funny joke. Wait, I'm reading the article right now....oh no.... After describing the half dozen or so armed lunatics at Obama's recent appearances, and how most people find this phenomenon disturbing, James writes:

"But there's another way to look at these gun-toters outside presidential events. They are indeed protected by the Second Amendment and state laws that allow them to carry their weapons.

So there's no constitutional way to ban those who would cling to their guns outside Obama's town halls.

Since metal detectors are used to scan people who actually enter the halls where the president will be, chances are slim that someone could get a gun or knife into a presidential event undetected."

James is quoting the first line of the Constitution, which reads, "If a black man becomes president you have the right to always carry an assault rifle." So, he's got a point there. Certainly, there's never been any responsible legislation introduced to try to reel in the insane guns laws in this country. The article continues:

"By openly carrying their weapons, the gun toters are at least easily identifiable to law enforcement, including Secret Service sharp shooters who, for all we know, are watching them intently through the cross hairs of their scopes."

One thing that is crystal clear from this passage is that James likes to masturbate to Tom Clancy novels, which he's probably quite good at, unlike writing.

The logic, hahahaha, no, um, what's the word...thinking, maybe? The thinking goes: all people who are crazy enough to bring a gun to a presidential event will be sane enough not to conceal it, and then we'll know where all the crazies are.

Certainly it's not a problem that all these people can get their hands on hand guns and assault rifles at the drop of a hat. Why should that concern anybody? And you know what, they're just acting this way to exercise their rights. It's not about intimidation, about creating an atmosphere of fear and danger in which the slightest provocation could set off a deadly string of events. They and their killing machines are peaceful, after all.

James closes with a call to action and sanity!

"So there's an upside to the "open carry" types, even though they cause a lot of other people great unease. Since they can't be prevented from appearing outside the events, the rest of us will just have to learn to live with them."

Haha just kidding, he doesn't. But that sad fatalism is reminiscent of many liberals--resigned to what we must live with, though we know the world could be better--so maybe NPR isn't so bad after all.

Undefeated Never Looked So Bad

The Wall Street Journal is reporting today that the Obama administration is considering changing its tactics to try to increase support for what is still laughably being referred to as "health care reform." From the WSJ:

"President Barack Obama, trying to regain control of the health-care debate, will likely shift his pitch in September, White House and Democratic officials said, as he faces pressure from supporters to talk more about the moral imperative to provide health insurance to all Americans.

The rethinking comes amid a struggle by the White House to clarify its view on a public insurance plan, which liberals see as a critical part of a health overhaul."[emphasis mine.]

To whatever extent one believes that this tactic--ie, appealing to the conscience of the country--will work, we must remember that it is only that, a tactic. We can't know how Obama personally feels about health care reform, but we do know that until at least 2005 he supported a single-payer system, and now he's considering signing a bill that doesn't have a public option. More than anything else, this shows that Obama simply wants to pass something. The administration wants a win, or, rather, they want something that doesn't look like a horrible loss. They need to be able to walk away from this and say "we did it better than Clinton."

One needs no more evidence of how desperate they are for a win, in precisely those terms, than this, from Greg Sarget's blog:

"The Politico’s Jonathan Martin reported this morning that Rahm Emanuel warned leaders of liberal groups in a private meeting this week that it was time to stop running ads attacking Blue Dog and “centrist” Dems on health care.

I’m told, however, that Emanuel went quite a bit further than this.

Sources at the meeting tell me that Emanuel really teed off on the Dem-versus-Dem attacks, calling them “f–king stupid.” This was a direct attack on some of the attendees in the room, who are running ads against Dems right now.

Tellingly, Rahm raised the specter of a loss on health care, sources at the meeting say — which suggests that the White House may be less certain about victory than officials allow publicly.

“He started out with, `We’re 13 and 0 going into health care,’” one source at the meeting said, meaning that Rahm was touting the White House’s string of pre-health care legislative victories."

Others have said all that needs to be said about this repulsive philosophy, so I'll just say instead that, yes, here is how our political elites function. They want a win. If Obama changes tactics and is able to reinvigorate the public option by doing so, that is obviously something to be celebrated. But it's worth remembering that in this debate, the White House wants to get something, anything, passed. As a result, what we may end up getting is a bill that nobody actually believes in, but a few people can tepidly support.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Democratics Maybe Step Closer To Self-Annihilation, Which Is Fine

Though the fate of the public option remains uncertain, this blog has very little faith in the Democrats to come to the rescue at the last minute. Their track record this summer has not been great, and they really have no one to blame but themselves. We are at a time that Rachel Maddow accurately described recently as a

"[O]nce in a lifetime, stars-aligned political shot at fixing the system that accounts for one-sixth of our economy."

She goes on to say, correctly, that "passing health care reform will never be more possible than it is now." And yet, all the signs show that the public option is becoming more and more unlikely. Equally disturbing is the fact that the insurance companies are actually thrilled about this so-called "reform."


Individual mandates. There is a good possibility that the final bill will contain individual mandates, which means that all citizens will be required by law to purchase some kind of health insurance. Failure to do so will be punishable by tax penalty. Originally, these mandates were seen as a good thing by those on the left. They were a tool to ensure universal coverage. Now, however, it looks like they will provide for-profit insurance companies with a captive audience.

The question, then, is: Can the Democrats fail more spectacularly than simply failing to pass a health care reform bill that contains a public option? And the answer, of course, is yes. If the Democrats simultaneously fail to provide an alternative to for-profit insurers, and also demand that everyone purchase insurance (that they probably can't afford in the first place)--well, then, that'll be the end of the Democrats. Such a move would go down in history as a political blunder of biblical proportions.

Though I don't put much past them when it comes to disappointing their constituents, I can't possibly see this outcome coming to pass. Handcuffing every American to insurance companies when premiums are increasing at six to eight times the rate of workers wages is beyond the pale, even for the Democrats. For further reading, I recommend this piece by Timothy Noah.

And yet there's a part of me that almost hopes that this happens. It feels like the natural progression of a for-profit health care system in which the explicit goal is to provide as little care as possible. Obviously, such an outcome would be disastrous for the nation's poor, and should be fought against tooth and nail. But for a country that has always lied to itself, claiming to be a bastion of free markets--while simultaneously providing corporations with tax breaks, legal protections, lemon socialism, lucrative (and sometimes exclusive) government contracts both domestically and abroad--there is a kind of poetry to such an outcome.

Under the worst case scenario that the country is now facing, not only would it be unfortunate to be too poor to afford health care, but it would actually be illegal.

Again, I highly, HIGHLY doubt that the mandates will stand and the public option will fall, but if I'm wrong, 2010 will be very interesting.

Here is Maddow rightly giving the Dems a hard time.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Chart Shows That Yes, GOP Are Bunch Of Shitty People Who Lie About Everything

I found this chart over at the Daily Dish, and it confirms what anyone with half a brain is already well aware of. The GOP will lie about literally anything, at any time, for money or power or fun. Democrats do this too, duh, but, seriously, the GOP would throw their collective mothers under the bus for an expenses-paid golfing trip overseas and some caviar made out of Africans.

From the Dish:

"Politifact evaluated the truthfulness of claims by supporters and opponents of health care reform. John Sides made a provisional graph based upon Politifact's data. Not exactly a scientific chart, but it is telling."

Evidence like this highlights the dangers of stenographer-style journalism--as though those dangers had to be highlighted at all.

On a related note, I just received an e-mail a friend informing me about a website called Young Invincibles that's attempting to mobilize 18-34 years old around the issue of health care. Take a look, and if it looks like something you can get behind, please sign the petition.

By Health Care Reform, Dems Mean Not Reforming Health Care

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post are reporting today that the White House is considering jettisoning the "public option" from its health care reform package due to pressure from anti-reform lobbyists, known in these parts as contract killers.

Though talented op-ed writer and president of the USA Barack Obama has previously stated he would veto any bill that came across his desk that didn't include a robust public plan, he seems to be walking away from that commitment now. According to the Post,

"[T]wo top administration officials signaled Sunday that the White House may be willing to jettison a controversial government-run insurance plan favored by liberals."

And, according to the Times,

"The White House, facing increasing skepticism over President Obama’s call for a public insurance plan to compete with the private sector, signaled Sunday that it was willing to compromise and would consider a proposal for a nonprofit health cooperative being developed in the Senate."

The "public option" was never an ideal plan, but the fact that the insurance companies so opposed it was reason alone to believe it was a step in the right direction.

These two reports from today are horrible signs. Once the smoke signals have been sent out that it's on the chopping block, that's all she wrote, at least this time around. It's difficult to imagine the White House regaining control of the debate in the next few weeks enough to bring the public option back to life.

So, where does this leave progressives? Matt Taibbi is gloomy, Paul Krugman is desperately attempting to clarify the terms of the debate, Nader is as unreasonable--suggesting Medicare for all--as ever, and Allison Kilkenny is skeptical that the WH can provide the country with a coherent message of reform. Nate Silver sees some cause for hope down the road.

The main issue, I believe, is ignorance. Health industry lobbyists, with the implicit help of the mainstream media, have confused and disoriented the citizenry to such an extent that honest debate is really not possible in this country. If we want any hope of passing health care reform in this country, then every report on the issue should contain at least the following facts.

Number 1, from the WHO:
"The U. S. health system spends a higher portion of its gross domestic product than any other country but ranks 37 out of 191 countries according to its performance."

Number 2, from CBS/New York Times:
"A clear majority of Americans -- 72 percent -- support a government-sponsored health care plan to compete with private insurers, a new CBS News/New York Times poll finds."

Number 3:
"Americans are more dissatisfied than citizens of other nations with their basic health care even while paying more of their own money for treatment, a five-nation survey released Thursday notes."

Only if we constantly remind the public how awful our system is will we be able to marshal enough progressive support to withstand the propaganda campaign that the for-profit health industry is waging and will continue to wage.

On a final note, it is--and always has been--absurd to think that any amount of concessions will bring the Republicans on board with real reform, or that including Insurance and Pharmaceutical companies in the process will result in anything other than furthering the status quo. These parties do not operate in good faith, and will fight to the death to continue to make money off of the sick. They are businesses, and to expect them to operate as anything else, especially charities for christssake, is naive and destructive.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Times Grows Balls

To give praise where praise is due, the New York Times today has a good report on what it refers to as,

"The stubborn yet false rumor that President Obama’s health care proposals would create government-sponsored “death panels” to decide which patients were worthy of living...."

Earlier this week I wrote about a truly horrendous piece the Times published about health care, and about the ways in which these vicious rumors start and then spread. This new report calls these lies out for what they are, and is as honest and important as the earlier one was deceitful and lazy.

But in praising the Times, we should remember that they are days, if not weeks, behind the blogosphere on this one. Much of the damage of the "death panel" meme has already been done, and although this kind of reporting is a step in the right direction, brave journalism requires publications to get out in front of these rumors and gossip campaigns before they take root in the national dialogue. The Times is right to publish this piece, but in waiting this long to call a spade a spade, they did the country a fantastic disservice.

All Politics Are Local, About Food

It's been getting a little heavy around here lately, so I figured I had to pass this story along as a Friday afternoon pick-me-up. It was originally posted on Wonkette, and I don't have all that much to add, but it is simply too perfect not to post.

The New York Daily News is reporting today that Congress-person Anthony Weiner (ha!) bravely ventured into a lair of hungry old people to explain the intricacies of health care reform, which is the final level before you can advance to becoming a Wizard Senator. When Weiner (ha!) showed up at the death squad screening center, the Daily News reports,

"What he found was about 60 senior citizens fed up with the confusion surrounding the details of the President's plan to provide affordable health care for all Americans - and eager to eat lunch.

"I came to eat and I came to eat on time," said David Figman, an 84-year-old retired postal worker. "They are having chicken marsala today and the food is good.""[emphasis mine.]

Hahahahahaha, oh man that is funny. It's too bad that the reporter didn't write any more sentences about how hungry all these weird old people are OH WAIT YES HE DID!

"As the meeting went on, many of the seniors began grumbling that Weiner was interrupting their lunch."

YES! This is in a newspaper! It's so funny! Too bad all the jokes about hungry hungry old people are over OH WAIT ONE MINUTE NO THEY'RE NOT!

""I'm just hungry," said 76-year-old Albert Fink. "This is a lot of silliness."

Linda Lefton, 61, stared at the clock.

"Usually our lunch starts at noon," she said. "I think he is going to cause us to delay our lunch. That's no good."

Finally, an announcement was made at 12:22 p.m.:
"Seniors are very hungry and some are diabetic. All media needs to clear out of the room so we can feed them on time.""

I know it's not funny, but for some reason "and some are diabetic," has been making me laugh for the last 5 minutes.

Oh, and also, a lot of the elderlies yelled at Weiner (ha!) about how he's a communist and a socialist and probably gay too or whatever.

"Before lunch was served, Weiner took about a dozen questions from the group, including a heated claim that the plan was "Communist."

"Are we going to have a say in this or are we becoming a Communist country?" demanded a 61-year-old man named Bill.
One elderly man yelled out, "It's a Socialist country!" Others clapped."

Hahahaha, these hungry old people just wanted their free lunch like honest American capitalists. They don't understand irony, because it was invented sometime after 9/11 right around the time humor died and Communism made a comeback.

The Hateful and the Ignorant

I'd like to make a quick point that I think needs to be injected into the health care debate. Watching the footage of the town hall carnage over the past few weeks has been discouraging, to be sure, but we need to remember that although a lot of the people causing the disruptions are AstroTurf fucks, there is also a sizable part of the population that is simply dreadfully misinformed.

The clearest example of our under-education is the unfortunate appearance of the "Keep the government out of my Medicare" meme. All around the country we've seen and heard instances of the elderly or the poor, many of whom receive insurance directly from the government, demanding that Big Government not mess up their Medicare. It's funny, sure, but it's also sad.

To what extent you blame people themselves for their ignorance and to what extent you blame society is a personal choice, but I will say that with a properly functioning media this meme wouldn't have made it past day 1.

This episode reminds me of a poll taken 5 years after 9/11, where 46%, 46%, of the population still believed that Sadaam Hussein played a role in the 9/11 attacks. It is very startling to realize that many people in the country simply have no idea at all about basic facts that relate to their lives. How is this possible?

How, and I'm asking this honestly, is it possible that somebody who receives Medicare doesn't know that it's a government program? How can somebody simultaneously love Medicare but hate the idea of government provided insurance? It boggles the mind.

Is it possible to educate the citizenry in this country? I have no idea, but without a massive campaign to discredit the lies issuing forth from insurance lobbyists, the GOP, the Blue Dogs, and in some instances the White House itself, it will continue to be very difficult to distinguish the hateful from the ignorant.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Palin Making Policy Because Stupidity Must Always Win No Matter What [Bang! Thud.]

If anybody out there thinks that breathing-mannequin Sarah Palin no longer affects the political discourse in this country, then I suggest you begin looking for your ass with both hands right now, because it will take you a long time to complete that mission.

She is changing legislation in the Senate by saying idiotic things, and for some reason the Democrats are allowing this to happen. TPM is reporting that the Senate Finance Committee is now stripping from a bill a provision that would reimburse Medicare doctors who provided end-of-life counseling to dying patients. As TPM notes,

"Until a few days ago, the measure--which is included in House legislation--was completely uncontroversial."

It had been in the bill for a long time, and was not a big deal at all. In fact, Matt Taibii has a fanstasic post here about how Newt Gingrich used to LOVE end-of-life services. But then something hilarious happened. Land-monster Sarah Palin referred to this practice as creating "Death Squads," which is the rhetorical equivalent of a toddler going limp in a super market.

Everybody had a good laugh about this, and sort of haha-ed it away, because it is a very stupid and wrong thing to say. Then a few hours later, a standard right-wing practice began. Gingrich changed his mind and started talking about death squads. The media started talking about death squads. Sen. Chuck Grassly started talking about death squads. None of anything that any of them were saying was honest, or supported by facts, in any way. But, next thing you know, everyone in America is talking about death squads.

Once the seed had been planted, conventional wisdom took hold and began to run its course. Here's how the process works: a right-wing insane person says something so patently false and unsubstantiated that merely repeating the statement in its entirety elicits laughter from any non-child; next, the media says, "is what this insane person said something we should be talking about?"; then the media begins "covering the controversy;" and then the Democrats go on the defensive for some reason and begin compromising left and right like they gettin' paid for it (many of them are).

Watching the Democrats fall for this trap time and time again, I feel like I'm watching a horror film screaming, "Don't go upstairs! They're going to continue to define the fucking debate if you go upstairs!"

So, to sum up, toilet-water-drinker Sarah Palin vomited up "death squad," Gingrich ate it on TV, Grassley shat it out in a Senate committee, and now the Senate's health care bill is weaker. And nobody in Washington, in New York, anywhere, could say with a straight face that this is how our legislative process is supposed to work. And, yet, on some level, it's feels completely unsurprising and natural that our national discourse should follow these despicable tracks.

When corporate lobbyists control Congress people, whose campaigns are funded by those very same special interests, and we count on corporate-owned novelty media acts to serve as watchdog, why should we be surprised when this happens? A better question is: how could it not?

Media Jumps to Moronic Conclusions, Surprises No One

Over the past few days, the corporate-sponsored novelty acts who comprise the American media have been in a tizzy over an outburst by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo. The establishment's interpretation of the event can be stated, roughly, as: "Wow, that wife-lady is pretty angry. She must be on the rag or something, or maybe she's just upset because her dish soap is chapping her hands." I know, I know, it's hard to believe that in AMERICA, Hillary Clinton is getting trivialized by the media.

The worst part is, the most recent development in this story is sure to make absolutely no front pages at all. The Lede, the New York Times' fart-blog, is reporting that, "hey maybe that wife of that president isn't so wrong after all guys!" The Times reports:

"Two days after video of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was pummeled by American commentators from The New York Post to Jon Stewart for getting angry at an apparently rude question from a Congolese student during a forum in Kinshasa on Monday, two reporters who were at the event say that the much-reported idea that the French-speaking student’s question had been mistranslated is incorrect.

In the video of the event embedded below [which I have also embedded below--JK], from Britain’s Channel 4 News, Mrs. Clinton can be seen listening and then responding to a simultaneous translation as the student asked: “We’ve all heard about the Chinese contracts in this country — the interferences from the World Bank against this contract. What does Mr. Clinton think, through the mouth of Mrs. Clinton, and what does Mr. Mutumbo think on this situation?”"

The fact that Clinton was there to bring awareness to the rape epidemic that women face in Congo only heightens the inappropriateness of the question, and further explains Clinton's reaction. The stated purpose of her trip is to seek ways to empower women, yet the media can only focus on idiotic, petty, pop-psycho-drama.

Whatever one thinks about Clinton as a politician, and to whatever extent one believes that this trip actually is about empowering women--not furthering American business opportunities--is irrelevant here. I disagree with Clinton on a host of issues, but that doesn't change the fact that when the media trivializes her, it perpetuates destructive stereotypes about powerful women that have to be challenged. This is true regardless of whether or not one agrees with the woman in question.

Here's the video from the Lede.

This video clearly illustrates that Clinton was not in the wrong, and that this entire controversy is completely fabricated and ridiculous. ComedyandPolitics does NOT recommend holding your breath to see full retractions and apologies from the media stars though. The day the Post runs with the screaming headline: Clinton Right, Post Fucked Up! will be the day that this blog will no longer be needed.

Afterthought: Can you imagine what would've been the reaction if instead of strongly responding to an offensive question, Clinton had held her hand over her mouth and giggled like a school girl? Or if she had said, "oh, here's what my husband might think..."? The television novelty acts would've lost their shit about that too. Questions about her strength, and resolve, and the image that she puts forward to the world would've been bandied about the TV like so many badminton birdies.

Again, there are plenty of policy-based reasons to not like Hillary Clinton. This episode, however, falls squarely outside that category.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

NY Times Phones In Health Care Primer

I know I've been writing about health care a lot lately, but August is, um, how do you say, "a month where absolutely nothing happens"? Case in point, CNN ran with a story about Hillary Clinton reacting "testily" to a mistranslated question in Congo. They report that she was "visibly angry" after a question was mistakenly translated as "what does your husband think?" The subtext of this report, if you can call it that, is "ha ha ha look at that uptight bitch!" which is, I suppose, a story that CNN would run any time of the year, not just the slow news days of August. The Post and the Daily News are all over that earth-shattering scoop too.

Remember how when Sonia Sotomayor was first selected as a nominee to the Supreme Court, the media breathlessly wondered if she had the right "temperament?" You know, because she's [stage-whispered] a Latina! Gender roles and ethnic stereotypes are just falling by the wayside every day. Anyhoo.

So, yeah, fuck CNN! I want REAL news, so I read the New York Times! Haha, just kidding. The Times really outdid itself a few days ago in its attempt to be "objective," by which I mean: misleading and factually dubious. If you want a pitch-perfect example of how the media sets the limits of appropriate dialogue by excluding relevant information that runs contradictory to establishment consensus, and valuing other information that has no factual basis, you won't find a more perfect example than the Health Care Primer they published on the 9th. It just came to my attention today because it's in the "Most Read" sidebar, which is really most unfortunate. Not only does it not provide critical information, it actually denegrates the conversation as a whole.

The piece begins innocently enough, vaguely describing how complicated this whole process is, and how this primer will explain the basic facts to you. Ok, fine.

The disinformation begins at the end of the second paragraph.

"It can be difficult to sort fact from fiction, as angry protesters denounce the legislation at raucous public forums."

Oh man, it sounds like THE PEOPLE are angry. Conveniently absent from this sentence is any mention of the AstroTurf organizations who are paying the stooges to disrupt the town halls. So, a casual reader would be lead to think that these "angry protesters" are a sign that, throughout the country, people are spontaneously organizing against the Democratic proposal. This is just simply not the case.

The third paragraph begins with this substance-free sentence.

"President Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress have made the health care overhaul their top priority, putting their political futures on the line."

OH MY GOD! Between all those protesters, and desperate political situation of the Democrats, it might just be better for everyone if we just kept things just like they are, amIrite?

The paragraph continues, apparently irony free:

"Democrats had hoped to spend the month whipping up support for the legislation, but instead find themselves on the defensive, responding to what Mr. Obama describes as “outlandish rumors” spread by critics."

Rumors! What rumors?! Might it be helpful for the concerned citizen to have these rumors identified and debunked? Well, let's not rush ourselves. The authors do mention one of the most idiotic rumors, concerning forced euthanasia, a mere 25 paragraphs later.

So, as it stands after three paragraphs, the citizenry is appalled, and the Democrats are on the defensive, trying to debunk what they refer to as "rumors." The authors, because they are journalists, can't call a lie a lie. That is simply not their job. They write down what the big fancy people say, and then send it along.

In the interest of time, I'm going to highlight one more passage that deserves special attention, though we could go through the entire piece line by line like this.

The following passage should really be inscribed on a PR Wall-of-Fame somewhere, or circulated to journalism students with a note attached that reads, "stay independent you fucks, or this will be your job." Deep breath, let's go:

"The insurance industry does oppose a government-run insurance plan and could eventually mobilize against the overhaul. But insurers appear to be less of an obstacle than public apprehension over such sweeping change and skittishness among lawmakers, including centrist Democrats from Republican-leaning districts."[don't click that link; it plays into my argument later]

Yeah, thanks New York Times. I had no idea that the fucking INSURERS weren't yet mobilizing, and that, even if they did, they aren't really the main obstacle. That's such fantastic news! I guess the millions of dollars they donate to campaigns and spend on lobbying don't count. I guess it's actually the PEOPLE (remember them from earlier?) who are opposed to all this rig-a-ma-role.

Ok, so that link I told you not to click on. If you had to bet, wouldn't you bet that it would link to, oh, I don't know, a poll about how anxious the people are? Or at least some sort of supporting information to the claim that public apprehension is the main obstacle? You would, but you probably don't work at the Times.

That link, in fact, goes to the general topic of "apprehension." HEY, yeah, real fucking helpful! Man, my levels of anxiety are through the roof right now! Maybe it's because the goddamn paper of record reads like a fucking insurance pamphlet! Someone get me some Xanax! Oh, I bet the company that makes that isn't standing in the way either!

What would be helpful, and, oh, I don't know, informative, is if they linked to a poll like this one, from Nate Silver, that guy who's right about shit all the time.

He describes that how the question of government provided health care is asked can drastically affect the results. He writes:

"It turn out that when you take a poll, most Americans don't want the government to provide health care coverage. But the idea of government providing health care insurance: a lot of folks think that's a pretty swell idea!"

Then he provides this fantastic chart.

If you have a chance, read his whole post.

But hey, remember how Hillary Clinton and that Latina women are bitches?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Public Option Going The Way Of The Electric Car

CNN's strength has always been graphic design, not political reporting, so I'm hesitant to give this latest story too much weight. It is about the Democrats caving to the Right on health care though, so it might be accurate. My thoughts on this subject, namely, how much (read: little) faith we should have in the Democrats to provide the public with substantial reform of the health care industry, can be read here.

As I said, CNN's strength has never been reporting the news, and this body of text is no exception. It contains a proofreading error so embarrassing that one almost blushes at reading it. Come on CNN!

"Both [Democratic Senator Dick] Durbin and Republican Sen. John Cornyn signaled the precarious status of any “public option” in the final version of any health care legislation, with Cornyn calling the idea a deal-breaker [sic] Durbin repeating a reluctant willingness to sacrifice the idea to assure passage of a final bill. The idea is not considered likely to be included in the final Senate version of the bill, although a modified public option remains in the House version of the legislation." [emphasis added]

As near as I can tell, the sentence should read, ", with Durbin..." Even that is kind of a gross construction. Also, the word "modified" in the above passage should be read as "weakened." Now, back to the content, not the delivery.

Despite overwhelming, OVERWHELMING support for a public option, many Democrats refuse to state, unequivocally, that it will be included in the final bill. Obama, rightly, has stated that he won't sign a bill that doesn't include a public option. That is a difficult move to make and it should be praised. Now more Democrats need to get on board with that. Sadly, that's something that Representative Henry Waxman (who, in fairness, is pretty badass about a lot of things, and has previously stated his support of a single-payer system) refused to do last week on Democracy Now:

"AMY GOODMAN: Public plan, the bottom line for you, that there is a public option?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: I want a—I want a public option.
AMY GOODMAN: Will you not accept—like the progressive Democrats have written a letter saying they will not vote for anything but a public option.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: I don’t like drawing lines, but I expect we’re going to have a public option." [emphasis added.]

What the Democrats refuse to acknowledge is that the public WANTS them to draw lines. That's why in both 2006 and 2008 the country handed them substantial electoral victories, and it's why 2010 is shaping up to be the same way. Democrats are secure in their seats specifically, and in their control of congress and the White House generally, yet they still refuse to make and to commit to strict demands, like a public option, that are favored by the population.

Again, we won't know for several weeks what this bill will actually look like once it comes out of the House and Senate joint committee, but the prospects for progressive reform look more and more dim with each passing day.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

"More Birther Coverage," Demands Party Of Racists

I haven't written about the "Birther" phenomenon because it's all so obviously ridiculous that, until now, I didn't think it really deserved any attention whatsoever.

If you're somehow unfamiliar with the "Birther" movement--and, if that's the case, in many ways I envy you--here it is in a nutshell. Some idiots have refused to accept the fact that Obama has provided a perfectly adequate birth certificate showing that he was born to a human woman in Hawaii. They claim that he is not a citizen and therefore can't be president, even though, as I just wrote, he has provided ample documentation to prove that he is, in fact, an American citizen. You might think to yourself, "well, that should settle it, right?" and you'd be right, but you'd also be so wrong. Birthers are everywhere, and they're loud and angry and racist, three qualities that manifest themselves in tandem oh so often.

As a quick side note, noted Mexican-hater Lou Dobbs has joined the proud ranks of the Birther movement. So...if you needed another reason not to watch him, there you go. You probably didn't though, because that guy seriously hates Mexicans.

So, why bother writing about this collection of morons and racists now? Because, it turns out, that is the majority of the Republican party! Alex Koppelman of Salon reports:

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press is out with a new poll that asked, among other things, about media coverage of the Birthers. A plurality of respondents -- 41 percent -- said they believe there's been too much, but 52 percent said either that there's been too little or the right amount. Republicans, unsurprisingly, felt more strongly about that.

39 percent of self-identified Republicans, a plurality, told Pew they believe there hasn't been enough coverage of the debate over President Obama's citizenship and eligibility for the presidency. Another 27 percent said there's been the right amount, while 26 percent said there's been too much coverage.[emphasis added.]

That's right, folks. 66% of Republicans polled believe that the issue of whether or not the president is a citizen, despite that fact that he undeniably is, has gotten either just enough or not enough attention. It's like they're the party of loyal opposition to reason.

Here is an honest question. What happens if the country is unsatisfied with the Democrats and Obama? Can the party of the Birthers really regain power? The Republicans are now best embodied by Palin and the Birthers, which is also the name of a band that Levi Johnson should start. Will the country eventually swing "Right" again? History tells us that it will, but, who will actually do that?

The changing demographics in America have rendered the Southern Strategy--in which you use code words to convince scared white southerners that you're on their side--obsolete. Latinos, who traditionally have voted Republican, are moving to the Democratic party in droves. It remains to be seen if the youth vote will remain as strong as it did for Obama in the coming years, but they certainly won't be the ones to give power back to the GOP. The Republican base is shrinking fast, and there's no reason to believe that that trend will reverse itself.

All that said, I have no faith at all that this country can support a viable, progressive, third-party alternative, though I hope I'm wrong. Corporate media alliances and rigid election laws make meaningful inclusion in the electoral process of anyone but the two major parties very difficult.

So what will happen? Will the Democrats simply retain control of the country for 10 or 15 years? If that is the case, is that something to be praised? Are we now at a time when the country is finally ready to break from two-party politics? And why is Lou Dobbs so fucking crazy?

Learning About Big Pharma Deal Makes Me Want To Eat Vicodin

The New York Times is reporting today that the White House and Congress have promised not to attempt to extract further cost-saving measures for consumers from large drug makers. Progressives have long feared that the Obama administration would go along with this back-room deal, and now it appears that they are. From the Times:

"Pressed by industry lobbyists, White House officials on Wednesday assured drug makers that the administration stood by a behind-the-scenes deal to block any Congressional effort to extract cost savings from them beyond an agreed-upon $80 billion.

Drug industry lobbyists reacted with alarm this week to a House health care overhaul measure that would allow the government to negotiate drug prices and demand additional rebates from drug manufacturers.

In response, the industry successfully demanded that the White House explicitly acknowledge for the first time that it had committed to protect drug makers from bearing further costs in the overhaul."[emphasis mine.]

The article goes on to say that Billy Tauzin, former Republican congress-person and current CEO of PhRMA, a pharmaceutical lobbying group, was promised that the administration wanted this deal with drug makers to go forward. Back to the Times:

A deputy White House chief of staff, Jim Messina, confirmed Mr. Tauzin’s account of the deal in an e-mail message on Wednesday night.

“The president encouraged this approach,” Mr. Messina wrote.

Sigh. By blocking the government from being able to collectively bargain for drug prices, this deal guarantees that prices will continue to rise. Only the government's massive collective purchasing power--since we're talking drugs, think about buying 100 million pounds of weed; you'll get a discount--will be able to bring soaring costs down. Now, it looks like lobbyists have flexed their muscle to stop that from happening.

Scarecrow, over at FireDogLake, has an excellent analysis that can be read here. Scarecrow writes, in part:

"The White House has been telling the American people that we need to have an insurance Public Option to compete against the private, for-profit insurers to encourage price reductions and to keep the insurers honest. But the same arguments apply with at least equal force to the major drug companies, whose record of deceptive advertising, misrepresentation (here and here), corruption and price collusion (more here, here, and here, and here) are every bit as offensive as the mega insurers' practices.

The Times notes the deal was negotiated by Senator Max Baucus, with WH participation and approval. The LA Times version adds the deal was cut in the White House with Rahm Emanuel. So what should we expect from the WH/Baucus' negotiations with Republicans on the rest of the reform package?"

I highly suggest reading the whole article, and following the links that are embedded in the above passage. Even skimming where those links take you will more than prove Scarecrow's point that drug manufactures are "every bit as offensive as the mega insurers' practices."

In somewhat related news, an animal rights group calling itself Militant Forces Against Huntigdon has claimed responsibility for a fire that burned the hunting lodge of Novartis' CEO, Daniel Vassella. European News reports:

"A group called Militant Forces against Huntigdon (MFAH) Austria posted a message on a US website, claiming it started the blaze because of Novartis' alleged cooperation a with British company conducting tests on animals.

'It hasn't been your week has it, Daniel?,' MFAH wrote on the site, 'This will continue until you severe all ties with Huntingdon Life Sciences.'

Novartis does not make its cooperation partners public."

Huntigdon Life Science calls itself a research facility, and has been accused of carrying out cruel and unnecessary experiments against animals.

Authorities previously suspected the group Stop Huntigdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) was behind the attack.

MFAH's claim that, "It hasn't been your week," refers to a separate incident that happened last week when animal rights activists stole an urn filled with the ashes of Vassella's mother, who died in 2001, and sprayed "Drop HLS [Huntigdon Life Sciences] Now," on her gravestone. Novartis claims that they don't have any current connection with HLS, despite claims to the contrary by many animal rights groups. Novartis doesn't disclose their partners to the public, though one would certainly expect them to deny any connection with HLS.

These are the people, along with Billy Tauzin and his revolting lobbying ilk, that the Democrats are cowtowing to. Every day, it looks less and less likely that the final health care bill will contain a robust public option that exists to serve the citizens, not the private interests. We won't know at least until September what the bill will look like, but news like today's is not a cause for optimism.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

David Angelo Radio

I'll be on David Angelo's podcast tonight with the lovely and bearded Dan St. Germain. Listen in or download the podcast later here.

If Gov't Officials Can Swear Then So Can This Blog

It seems that knife-maniac Rahm Emanuel isn't the only potty mouth in the Obama administration after all. According to the Wall Street Journal, King of Money Tim Geitner also likes to use a bit of the ol' sailor-speak if the occasion calls for it. The occasion in this case was a meeting of the nation's top financial regulators, a collection of the fuck-iest shitstains this side of Horsecockville, if this blog may speak frankly. The WSJ reports:

"Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner blasted top U.S. financial regulators in an expletive-laced critique last Friday as frustration grows over the Obama administration's faltering plan to overhaul U.S. financial regulation, according to people familiar with the meeting."[emphasis mine.]

Reason #4,893 for the death of print. WSJ, you HAVE to print that "expletive-laced critique." Seriously guys, I would pay the online subscription fee for that sensitive information alone. Also, I assume that once you pay the online fee, you can tell all the members of the editorial board to get their shit-stained short-pants back to Horsecockville, which is worth the $8 a month or whatever it costs to read the Horsecockville Herald (WSJ).

Monday, August 3, 2009

GE, MSNBC, And a General Summary Of The Ways In Which Our Media Is Broken

The recent revelation that GE and News Corp. privately agreed to stifle reporting is just the latest example of how the national press is failing the country. This episode highlights how increasingly difficult it is to find any news outlet that even deserves one's time, let alone one's trust.

For whatever reason, the country operates under the general assumption that although giant parent corporations own every major TV news outlet, they somehow don't interfere in their reporting or shape their editorial content. After the publication of this story from the New York Times on Friday, that fallacy has been laid as bare as possible.

The Times' report describes how the bitter feud between Bill O'Reilly and Keith Olbermann was ratings gold for both shows, but also that both parent companies, News Corp. and GE, respectively, were getting worried about the fighting. "But wait," you might be thinking, "the feud increases the viewership of both shows, so what's the problem?" Well, in the process of attempting to beat each other bloody, Olbermann, and probably despite himself, O'Reilly, were doing some real reporting. In an attempt to discredit the other, both were going after their competitor's parent company, which was making the corporate overlords very uneasy.

So, as the Times reports,

"At an off-the-record summit meeting for chief executives sponsored by Microsoft in mid-May, the PBS interviewer Charlie Rose asked Jeffrey Immelt, chairman of G.E., and his counterpart at the News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch, about the feud.

Both moguls expressed regret over the venomous culture between the networks and the increasingly personal nature of the barbs. Days later, even though the feud had increased the audience of both programs, their lieutenants arranged a cease-fire, according to four people who work at the companies and have direct knowledge of the deal.
The reconciliation — not acknowledged by the parties until now — showcased how a personal and commercial battle between two men could create real consequences for their parent corporations."[emphasis added.]

This story came to my attention via Glenn Greenwald, who has written two fantastic posts about the subject. The first can be read here, and his latest from today can be read here. I highly recommend reading both in their entirety. The first piece also has the added benefit of highlighting MSNBC's disgraceful use of Richard Wolffe, a PR man they bill as an independent "political analyst." Greenwald discusses Wolffe's many appearances on "Countdown," and the fact that he guest-hosted while Olbermann was away, while never disclosing his eggregious conflict of interest. To quote Greenwald:

"When Olbermann is there, Wolffe is a very frequent guest on Countdown, where he is called an "MSNBC political analyst" and comments on political news. All of this, despite the fact that Wolffe left Newsweek last March in order to join "Public Strategies, Inc.," the corporate communications firm run by former Bush White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett, its President and CEO.
Having Richard Wolffe host an MSNBC program -- or serving as an almost daily "political analyst" -- is exactly tantamount to MSNBC's just turning over an hour every night to a corporate lobbyist. Wolffe's role in life is to advance the P.R. interests of the corporations that pay him, including corporations with substantial interests in virtually every political issue that MSNBC and Countdown cover."

For further reading on the issue, I recommend this post by David Sirota. He provides an excellent history of instances in which parent companies dictate to their media outlets what stories are or are not appropriate on which to report.

If you take this example of GE and News Corp. silencing figures that, for better or worse, are labeled "journalists," mix it in with MSNBC's lack of disclosure of Richard Wolffe's conflict of interests, throw in the Washington Post's recent attempt to whore out its reporters and editors at $25,000 a pop, add to that that Politico (who broke the WaPo story) is in bed with lobbyists as much as anyone, sprinkle on a little program where NBC News (and others) presented retired military generals who were getting paid by companies that stood to earn a shit-ton of money from the war as "independent military analysts" (which the networks still have not disclosed to their viewers), and top it all off with the idiotic stance from NPR that they won't call torture torture, you get a pretty grim image of our media landscape.

Or you draw that same conclusion just by watching Manufacturing Consent.

Really, just think about this list above. It makes you want to just punch a wall or something. That list shows us that a reasonable citizen who spends a few minutes a day trying to keep him or herself informed, is probably being either mislead or lied to from any number of different organizations, regardless of where they are getting their news.

Whether or not these outlets report some accurate stories is beside the point. Once an institution shows that it will sell out for money, or mislead its reading/viewing/listening public out of either cowardice, malice, or incompetence, the whole institution becomes suspect. I'm not arguing that journalists can't be allowed to make errors. That's an insane and unreasonable position. My criticisms, and much of the blogosphere's criticisms, are not about honest mistakes. Rather, the problem arises when these outlets deliberately deceive their audiences for months on end by refusing to disclose conflicts of interest, or by committing any of the other infractions listed above.

I'll leave you with two funny videos concerning this topic. The first is from SNL, and the second is the great David Letterman (thanks to Mike Drucker for the heads up for both).

conspiracy theory rock