Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday Round Up

It's Friday afternoon and I'm feeling beat after last night's raucous show, so I'm just gonna do a quick round up of a few things that are worth mentioning.

1) Everyone in Congress is completely corrupt. 30 plus congress-people are currently under investigation by the House ethics committee, which is hilarious, because most of the investigators are probably criminals too. Also, considering lobbyists' sole job is to bribe lawmakers, shouldn't the entire congress be convicted of fraud?

2) Charles Krauthammer is such a tool. This Op-Ed of his isn't worth reading or analyzing, so don't bother doing either. I mention it here only because there's this new meme popping up that the media and the Obama administration are being unfairly critical of the Bush administration. Kraphammer (I know, I know, not my best) poses this rhetorical question:

"Is there anything he hasn't blamed George W. Bush for?"

Well, I don't know if "blame," is the right word, but let's just say that, "looking forward, not backward," has effectively immunized dozens of war criminals from any chance of domestic prosecution. So let's not pretend Obama is holding the previous administration's feet to the fire.

3) Read this movie review and see these movies if you get the chance. Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags, and American Casino both deal with the inherent contradictions of Capitalism, and, as such, should be required viewing for anyone who enjoys this blog.

As I've been saying to my friends recently but have yet to write about here, the most important thing about Michael Moore's newest movie Capitalism: A Love Story has nothing to do with the movie itself. The reason that it should be--though most likely won't be--remembered as one of the most important movies of the decade is because Moore has begun the incredibly important task of raising our collective consciousness to a level where we can criticize Capitalism as an institution. Capitalism in America is like air. It seems so natural that to question it is to reveal yourself to the general population as a raving lunatic.

Capitalism is everywhere in this country, constantly pushing you to consume goods as a way of creating an identity. What Moore is trying to do is create a context in which we can criticize Capitalism in America. That's why his new movie is so important, because although the two movies mentioned above are likely superior films, they aren't making the same kind of waves that Moore did. The three taken together, along with Moore's media appearances, movie reviews, etc are a (very) small step towards living in a society where one can claim to be anti-capitalist and not get thrown in the loony bin.

On that note, have a happy Halloween everybody.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Feral Style of American Politics

Other than giving goats the evil eye to try to kill them and making money disappear and then reappear in the pockets of Afghan drug lords, the CIA does not have many super powers. But apparently every once in a while they peek into a crystal ball and somebody from the future sends them a fax about what life is like in 2025. The CIA did this in November 2008, but seeing as that was kind of a busy news month, it passed under my radar. Luckily for me, Michael T. Klare published a quick post about the report on TomDispatch.com last week, so IT SHALL AVOID SCRUTINY NO LONGER.

Klare's post is ominously titled "The Great Superpower Meltdown." GUESS WHAT THE CIA THINKS IS GONNA HAPPEN! According to the CIA--who is wrong about literally everything, all the time, forever, but maybe now they're on to something?--the outlook is not good. Not good, that is, unless you believe that the beginning of the end of the American Empire is something to be cheered on. The report states [via Klare's article]:

"Although the United States is likely to remain the single most powerful actor [in 2025, its] relative strength—-even in the military realm—-will decline and U.S. leverage will become more constrained."

OH SHIT FUCK! Let's use all our bombs now before the Chinese repossess them to pay off our historic debt to them! Also--"will decline"? It turns out NOFX was right!

The CIA's prediction has long been obvious to anyone with a limited sense of history or economics, but also runs contrary to what virtually all American foreign policy post WWII has assumed the world will look like. And nothing exemplified the ahistorical assumption of unending American dominance more than the neocon ideology of the last 10 years.

We are a nation constantly at war, with a military infrastructure so vast it has become self-perpetuating. We have seen the world as our playground from which we can take as we please, but those days are coming to an end. American hegemony is in quick and inevitable decline, but don't expect the blood-thirsty, war-loving media and political classes to go down without a slap-fight.

You can almost see Thomas Friedman's wild eyes desperately searching for a sewer rat to chew on for relaxation. Two days ago, that American Savage rose to new heights of delusional crypto-fascism with this cough-syrup inspired nonsense:

"My last guiding principle: We are the world. A strong, healthy and self-confident America is what holds the world together and on a decent path."

Those two sentences honestly boggle the mind. Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with all reasons why I disagree with that quote as much as is possible to disagree with any series of words in the English language, so there's no need to go into that now. More interesting, and I believe more illustrative of what we'll likely see from the 99% of the Establishment class who adhere to the doctrine of American Exceptionalism, is what Friedman follows the above quote with.

"A weak America would be a disaster for us and the world. China, Russia and Al Qaeda all love the idea of America doing a long, slow bleed in Afghanistan. I don’t."

Think about what's happening here. "China, Russia, and Al Qaeda," are all posited as aggressors of an equal level. They lie in wait for Our Destruction--maybe even together! Oh god! Maybe?! I don't know!

In 1964, Richard Hofstadter published his seminal essay, "The Paranoid Style In American Politics," in which Hofstadter explained his choice of words this way:

"I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind."

My guess is that as time goes on and America's god-given status as The Greatest Nation Ever is shown to be the hideous lie it has always been, this paranoid style will become feral.

You can already sense now in the Teabaggers' movement the faint stench of the cornered dog. Glenn Beck's show-tears are better understood as the foam of a rabid animal, they simply come from a difference facial orifice. Michele Bachmann's bizarre obsession with the global dominance of the US Dollar, as Andrew Leonard has correctly argued, has nothing to do with economic policy, and everything to do with insecurity.

Though it's unlikely any of the Teabaggers have read the CIA's report, the decline it predicts is already creeping into the zeitgeist. It's that creeping insecurity, more than Obama, that has driven the 'baggers and Beck into the feral rage that will only increase over the next two decades. They have been driven out of the domesticated dwelling of rational thought, only to return to the primal forest of superstition and tribalism.

What we're seeing in their "movement" is the failure of nationalism to provide a lasting personal identity. Over the past 80 years, every American has been told for his or her entire life that we are special, we Have God On Our Side, and we will never suffer the fate of every other empire that has ever existed. As that fate becomes more and more clearly inevitable, expect those whose livelihood or identity is tied to American Exceptionalism more and more to resemble the cornered dogs they are.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Scholastic Has Had Just About Enough Of These Offensive "Same Sex" Couples

There's nothing more important in today's America than indoctrinating our nation's children with the steadfast belief that sex is wrong and shameful--especially when that shamey sex is between two monogamous, consenting adults of the same shameful gender. Luckily for Americans, Scholastic, which is the largest publisher of children's books, feels the same way.

Laura Myracle, whose chosen pen name actually makes me want to shove a pencil in my eye, recently wrote a book called "Luv Ya Bunches." It tells the story of 4 girls and probably the shit they all go through or whatever. I haven't read it, I swear. Sounds like it's just a nice lil kids book, right? No, wrong, think again.

Here's where, as they say in the biz, the plot thickens. See, this Myracle (ugh) lady gave one of these little girls in her book two moms. Yeah, you read that right. Two. Moms. I've heard of artistic license, but gimme a break, lady. Save it for your diary. Scholastic blushed and then got a funny feeling in its pants, and then decided all this business was not very proper at all! ThinkProgress reports:

"The company sent a letter to Myracle’s editor asking the author to omit certain words such as “geez,” “crap,” “sucks,” and “God” (as in, “oh my God”) and to alter its plotline to include a heterosexual couple. Myracle agreed to get rid of the offensive language “with the goal—as always—of making the book as available to as many readers as possible,” but the deal breaker was changing Milla’s two moms.

“A child having same-sex parents is not offensive, in my mind, and shouldn’t be ‘cleaned up.’” says Myracle, adding that the book fair subsequently decided not to take on Luv Ya Bunches because they wanted to avoid letters of complaint from parents."[emphasis in original.]

That's right, writer-lady. Look, if you want to be invited to the Scholastic Book Fair, why don't you try writing a book that teaches kids valuable lessons, like this. It's called Video Game Master, and the description is pretty impressive.

"The hottest trend in gaming is Gamerscores‚ a Web site for posting your best scores. But there’s a catch: points must be earned without using cheats or secret codes. This book shows you how to unlock special features in multiple platforms for today’s most popular games."

Cool dude! Kids need to learn at a young age how to sit in front of the TV and consume junk food. Where will they learn this if not at a book fair?

But for all you pervs who want to read your lezzie erotica, there is good news for you. ThinkProgress again:

"Change.org reports that after thousands of people contacted Scholastic to complain, the publisher has decided to offer the book in its spring book fairs."

Be on the lookout for a massive book burning this spring, lead by morons, because of ignorance.

Opium Kingpin USA's Most Valuable Ally

Ho, hum, let's start out the morning with a look at the ol' front page of the New York Times. OK, here we go. So far so good, nothing to see here--OH WAIT A MINUTE! There's this!:

Brother of Afghan Leader Is Said to Be on C.I.A. Payroll

This can't possibly be the same brother of Karzai that we're always hearing about, right? The one with the drugs and the trading of the drugs? No, no, gotta be a different brother. Let's see what the Times has to say:

"Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade, gets regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency, and has for much of the past eight years, according to current and former American officials."

Heh. Heh. OK, then. Well, I'm sure there's a perfectly good explanation for this.

"The agency pays Mr. Karzai for a variety of services, including helping to recruit an Afghan paramilitary force that operates at the C.I.A.’s direction in and around the southern city of Kandahar, Mr. Karzai’s home."

Hmmm. A CIA-backed militia operating out of Afghanistan. I feel like we've been through this before.. And what eventually happened with that? [via Wiki]

"The best-known mujahideen, various loosely-aligned Afghan opposition groups, initially fought against the incumbent pro-Soviet Afghan government during the late 1970s.
...
The mujahideen were significantly financed and armed (and are alleged to have been trained) by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) during the Carter[5] and Reagan administrations.
...
Osama bin Laden, originally from a wealthy family in Saudi Arabia, was a prominent organizer and financier of an all-Arab islamist group of foreign volunteers.
...
This movement [born from the mujahideen] became known as the Taliban."

Sigh.

Here's the thing about all this. The revelation that the CIA is supporting "mafialike" warlord shouldn't surprise anyone in the least. Take a walk through the history of the CIA and you'll find a violently incompetent agency whose history consists of failure, after failure, after failure. In all honesty, the only other institutions that could continue to operate with such a dismal record are the central figures in the global economic meltdown.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

WeatherPocalypse 2009

I've returned from my Appalachian vacation, folks, and it's good to see that very little has changed. I'm of course referring to the fact that most Americans don't really think that the now-certain WeatherPocalypse is that big a deal. And, unsurprisingly and depressingly, as the US-sponsored War on Earth spirals us ever closer to the End of Days, Americans are growing less and less concerned about the issue. Democracy Now! reported on Friday:

"A poll released on Thursday by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that just 57 percent of respondents believe there is solid evidence that the world is getting warmer, down 20 percentage points in just three years. The poll also found only 35 percent of Americans believe global warming is a very serious problem."

Haha! Yeah, screw you Earth. Things are getting worse!? Well, I don't think they are. Sure, three years ago maybe I believed in some of your "facts," but where have they gotten us? Nowhere.

Or, wait, I mean... they've gotten us here. Where things are good. I think. So now we've used up those facts it's time to throw them away like a Styrofoam cup on a tire fire. Your typical anti-corporate, tree-hugging hippies are offering up a conspiracy theory to explain why public opinion has regressed so drastically:

"This downturn in public understanding of the climate crisis confirms that the corporate investment in climate confusion is paying a dividend. The public confusion campaigns launched by ACCCE, the Chamber, National Association of Manufacturers, American Petroleum Institute and a host of others, are all deliberately targeted at moving the dial on public opinion."

That's from Jim Hoggan of DeSmogBlog [via], who has probably never even shot a gun. Look, Jim Hoggan, does a bear shit in the woods? Not anymore, he doesn't.

As is to be expected, the loose confederacy of robber barons and white nationalists (the GOP) is leading the charge towards caveperson-dom.

"The poll highlighted, yet again, the partisan split on climate science, with just 35 percent of Republicans seeing solid evidence of rising temperatures, compared to 75 percent of Democrats."

I'm just going to go ahead and say this now. We NEED to stop using the asinine euphemism "partisan split on climate science," and just say outright what is happening in this country. The GOP, in general, is a collection of either ignorant or greedy sociopaths bent on destroying civilization by any means necessary.

For small dose of optimism, browse around 350.org to see photographs from this past weekend of demonstrations around the world aimed at raising awareness of the dangers of Global Warming.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Uno Tango Mas

The most important thing a United States citizen can do while traveling abroad is make egregious exaggerations about an EXOTIC faraway land based on his or her limited, subjective experience while in said land, all the while maintaining an air of solemnity. It's in that vein that I'll spit some truth at y'all about Buenos Aires, about Argentina, about South America, and about the human condition as a whole. Here we go!

So, first of all, it turns out that Thomas Friedman was right. I know, I know, I hate to say it too, but the man has a point. Not about Globalization, god no. And not about the inherent goodness of US-backed invasions or global financial institutions (IMF, World Bank, etc.). No, no. He is, was, and will remain wrong about all of those things. But he sure is right about how tempting it is to talk to a cabbie and then subscribe that dude's views to an entire country!

That totally happened to us. Leez and I were taking a cab to one of the recovered factories (more to come on those later) and we started talking politics with the driver. I say "we," but it was mostly her. My Spanish limits me to saying things like, "America is very not the best!" and "I am very a leftist!", which in truth is basically all I do here. I just dress it up with some fancy hyperlinks.

The cabbie, and therefore all of BA, told us that he liked the economic policies of Keynes--government spending on social programs, put simply--because it was good for the people. Simple enough! Somebody tell Paul Krugman to keep up the good work.

Today we went to a demonstration to dissolve the UCEP, a paramilitary group that goes out at night to "clean the city" of homeless people. It's not clear to me if the UCEP is government sponsored, or if the government just looks the other way while they go out and beat people. Either way, no me gusta. The march itself was a small one, but there were all sorts of different leftist groups represented, drums and firecrackers and all. Pictures are on the way.

On a personal note, now I'm a master Tango dancer. We've gone to classes the last two nights, and I took to the Tango like a fish to water. I don't at all look like a lost White Dude who doesn't speak the language. Nope, not this guy. Hell, tonight I might teach the lesson, en espanol. When you walk in, the lady at the door says, "bailante!" (you dance!) and I said, "Claro que si, mi amor." (Of course, my love.) Then I went out on that dance floor, and showed these Argentinians how it's done. Yep, that's me all right. I'm also an astronaut, so, you know, no big deal.

My Google Reader has about ten million unread items, and I have the same amount of podcasts I have to listen to to get up to speed with what's happening in Los Estados Unidos. If anything crazy has happened, let me know in comments. If we're still just continuing two occupations and talking about maintaining and strengthening a corrupt health care system, I don't want to know. I'll be back stateside on Tuesday, when normal blogging will resume. Por ahora, adios amigos.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hiking the Appalachian Trail


That's right folks! Like many a great man before me, I'll be spending the next week and a half hiking the Appalachian Trail, by which I of course mean I'm going to Buenos Aires, Argentina to visit a lady-friend. I have asked my staff to keep those vultures in the press at bay in my absence.

As a result, blogging will be spotty until I return on Oct. 26th. I'll try to keep posting updates semi-regularly about US politics while I'm there, and I'll try to throw in some Argentinian stuff as well. If anybody wants to do some extra reading about the region, the lady I'm visiting just started a blog (everybody has one!) that can be found here, and another great blog about workers' struggles in Argentina can be found here. More photos like the one above, taken by said lady, can be seen here, or from one of the links on her blog.

In loosely-related class-consciousness news, there's a fundraiser tomorrow night that I won't be able to go to (see above), but I highly recommend for anyone who's in the New York area. The purpose of the night is to raise money to fund the Campaign to End Capital Punishment. If you have a facebook account, the event can be viewed here. Otherwise, here's the necessary info:

Friday, October 16, 2009
145 W. 122nd St.
Apartment 3
6:30pm - 11:30pm

With hosts:
* Lawrence Hayes, former Black Panther and former New York death row prisoner
* Alan Newton, exonerated in 2006 after 21 years behind bars
* Yusef Salaam, exonerated in the Central Park 5 case

$15-$20 suggested donation at the door – food, wine & beer included in cover. Proceeds go to support the fight against the death penalty.

All welcome!

So, yeah, go party with people who are sick of living in a Punisher-like justice system, during which I'm sure there will be lots of talk about the Murderer of Texas, Rick Perry. He killed an innocent man, folks! Then covered it up! Oh, Texas, will you ever stop killing the innocent and the mentally handicapped? (Answer: no. But maybe if you go to this party?!?!?!?!)

Again, in *maaaaaybe* tangentially related news, I just received an e-mail from my friend Evan with the subject line: Rush Limbaugh = Fat Fucktard. Well, no arguments here. Evan links to a very short article about poor Rush's failed attempt to purchase the St. Louis Rams with his hate-money, which he has a lot of, because he has a lot of hate, which in America makes you very rich. The money quote:

"And [Rush] says he believes what happened to him was an illustration of "Obama's America on full display.""

HA! SO LONG, AMERICA! Good luck with all that. Oh, Rush. I'll not miss you on my travels. Let's just say that I'm going to enjoy not combing through the absolute worst in humanity for LAFFS for a few days. It makes my brain get crazy!

One last thing in the rambling post. I'd just briefly like to say thanks to everybody who has been reading this blog. I enjoy writing it, and it's nice to know that a few people enjoy reading it. Traffic is still modest, but slowly increasing day by day. So if you've ever reposted, retweeted, linked to, or done any other Intraweb thing to one of my posts--thanks!

If you haven't seen it yet, here's a video I did with my sister, Molly. Adios por uno o dos o tres dias, muchachos.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Closed-Door, Health-Care Sauna Extravaganza Gets A New, Horrible Member

Oh what fresh hell is this?!

"Jim Manley, a spokesman for Mr. Reid, said that Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, the lone Republican on the Finance Committee to vote in favor of the bill, would be invited to future sessions. And Mr. Manley said the Democratic leader was prepared to go to substantial lengths to keep Ms. Snowe’s support."[emphasis added.]

Here's what this means. So, the health care bill has been voted out of both the Senate Fiance Committee and the HELP Committee. Now it goes into a super secret phase in which wimpy Harry Reid, shitfacey Max Baucus, questionable-at-best Chris Dodd, and the PhRMA-loving White House are all gonna sit in a sauna, naked, counting their money until New Year's Eve, at which point the country will be told "we have to pass a bill quickly!" and we'll get some real weak-ass sauce called "reform."

BUT NOW it turns out that Olympia Snowe, who overthrew the elected government of the US in a bloodless coup earlier this month, will also be sitting in on these circles jerk sesh-es. For analysis of what that means for YOU, the angry, progressive, blog-reading stoner (probably!), let's turn to Ezra Klein, who blogs for literally 23.5 hours every day. Word has it he only stops to mainline that 6-hour energy stuff and then sing "You Are The Wind Beneath My Wings" to a poster of Peter Orszag. Ez-dog writes:

"This shifts the room's balance of power substantially: The negotiations were previously confined to one liberal Democrat and one centrist Democrat. Now they'll be between one liberal Democrat, one centrist Democrat, and one moderate Republican. In practice, this is likely to mean that Baucus will have something of a trump card against Dodd. If there's a particularly thorny dispute, and Snowe weighs in strongly alongside Baucus, it's hard to imagine Reid siding with Dodd, except in the most extraordinary of cases."

In words more appropriate for this blog: three fucks you can't trust just included a new fuck who's worse than all of them. Perfect!

In what should come as a surprise to nobody, FireDogLake is just goin' NUTS about this. Jon Walker from FDL has started calling Snowe, "The Empress."

"I know many on the left have taken to calling Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, President Snowe. This has been in response to the Democratic party leadership willingness to do almost anything to gain/keep Snowe’s support for health care reform. Frankly, this does not fully encompass just how much power has been handed over to Snowe.
...
After all, many presidents (Nixon, Clinton, Truman, Johnson) have tried and failed to get the health care bill they wanted passed the United States Senate. Snowe is basically being told that she can write whatever health care bill she wants. This is more say than has been offered to any president in the past 100 years.
...
Her sway on the issue of health care reform is closer to that of absolute monarch than of any American president in history. I think Empress Snowe more properly summarizes how completely some in the Democratic leadership are prepared to defer to her."

Perfect!

Also worth briefly mentioning is a bit of boring Parliamentary procedure that makes this sauna fuck-fest so important. Once the Finance bill and the HELP bill get combined in this closed-door meeting, it will take 60 votes on the floor of the Senate to either add or subtract any amendments to or from the new bill. THAT MEANS, in essence, that whatever comes out of the meeting is what the Senate bill will ultimately look like. It's in all likelihood going to be impossible to add a public option amendment to the bill if it doesn't have one. By the same token, if a public option is in the bill, it will not be removed.

What it comes down to is that supporters of the Public Option are now relying on the repulsive Harry Reid to act as their advocate for the most important domestic reform since the Voting Rights Act. Shudder. Already, colleagues are placing the responsibility squarely on Reid. Chuck Shumer was on Maddow last night, and he had this to say [via FDL]:

"Well, first leader Reid has the option of putting [the public option] in the final bill. If he puts it in the final bill, in the combined bill, then you would need 60 votes to remove it, and there are clearly not 60 votes against the public option. And so we’re urging him to do that, and he is seriously considering it. Once it passes the Senate, if that were to happen, it is in the House bill, it is in the Senate bill, and it would have to be in the final product. So, it is very important to see if the public option is in the bill leader Reid puts together. He hasn’t yet made up his mind, but many of us who believe in the public option are urging him to do so. So far, we are getting heard."

Before you get ahead of yourselves, though, Reid and Whores may very well include a "public option" with a "trigger," which, as I've written before, is not a public option. Jonathon Cohn, who writes for the retardo-zine The New Republic, sees this option as quite likely. He writes:

"The most likely scenario, I continue to think, is to arrive at some sort of trigger. But a well-designed trigger might still do some good. The key is designing one that would actually scare insurers, enough to make them provide the kind of affordable coverage we all want."

He is wrong. That outcome will scare nobody--nobody, that is, except future progressive politicians who want to enact reform. The triggers are worse than useless, as Empress Snowe, Rahm the Knife Murderer, and everybody else knows. They will insure that insurance companies profits will continue to rise, as the quality of health care goes down.

One thing we can know for sure is that this latest development--of including Snowe in the meeting--is bad, bad, bad.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

GOP Website As Successful As GOP

“The RNC’s big relaunch of its website has not gone so well today. In the last hour or so, the site has been crashing periodically. The Obama campaign’s former online guru, Joe Rospars, tells TPMDC: ‘You know your web program is in trouble when your site can’t even handle the traffic bump from people making fun of your web program.’”

-TalkingPointMemo

It seems the GOP has redesigned their website, and, well, let's just say it's not pretty. Wonkette has been having quite a time with it, which should come as no surprise, but even fact-bots at ThinkProgress have been leveling some snark.

RNC’s New Website Reflecting Steele’s ‘Urban-Suburban Hip-Hop’ Riddled With Errors, Widely Panned


HA! ThinkProgress has never made a joke in its life! Sure, that headline isn't a joke exactly, but it makes me smile! So--joke!

I'm hesitant to search this Gop dot com virus enabler too much for fear of my computer 'sploding, but, oh, hi there lil guy. What do we have here? This lil nugget shows up in their blog roll.

Feeding the Machine is the more tech-minded blog from New Media

I assume this is the blog that posts the question, "How do you run a website/political party?" Also, "Feeding the Machine"? Come on, Gop dot com, isn't that a little...1990s-ish? And does that mean that the political party behind Gop dot com considers itself "the Machine"? Ha! Losers!

OH AND HEY LOOKS AT THIS REAL QUICK! Hahahaha, this page is fucking great. It's the "jobs" page. I'm looking for the job application for the position to "Crack Olympia Snowe on the base of the skull with a black jack," but I can't find it yet. (Not that I want to do that, but the Gop dot comers don't care for her right now!) So what does it take to get a gob at Gop dot com? Here's one section!

YouTube Video:
You may create a clip on YouTube of why you want to work at the RNC and cut/paste the URL in the box provided

So, hey, all you perverts with a webcam can now sit on the Ways and Means Commission or whatever.

Oh, there's also this:

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:
I agree to the following:*
I certify that all the information provided below is truthful and accurate.

PLEASE DON'T GO TO Gop DOT COM AND FILL OUT FALSE JOB SUBMISSIONS! And don't let me know about it if you do.

Health Care Doomsday Is Here!

Oh man, guys, at 2pm today the horrible Senate goblins will vote on the goddamn Senate Finance Bill, which is exciting for Internet people but not so much for the other 98% of folks. The Democrats are convinced they have the votes to get it out of committee, but all eyes are on President Olympia Snowe to see if she will in fact vote with the Democrats (who cares!?!?!) or if she was lying the whole time (so what?!?!?!)

OH MY GOD THE INTERNET MOVES SO FAST! I was typing that last sentence, and then this happened:

Snowe Will Vote “Yes” on Baucus Bill in Committee

But, she says that her "vote today is only her vote today," so, uh, look for a book of Zen sayings by members of the Senate next Spring. Once the bill gets voted on and such, I'll try to find what smart people are saying about it and report that stuff here.

For now, the fate of the Public Option is still up in the air. I've been arguing for a while now that what the President ultimately signs will contain something called a Public Option, so Rahm could get his "win," but whether or not that "win" was good for anybody other than partisan hacks remained to be seen. As a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, I've learned not to put any faith in a team down the home stretch, so I'll refrain from doing that here.

There are still two very potent weapons that can be leveled against the public option: the state "opt-out" plan, and the even worse Olympia Snowe (Rahm Emmanuel) "trigger" plan.

The trigger plan goes like this. States would have fail safes (triggers) built into their reform plans, so if health coverage got TOO INSANELY AWFUL then a public option would be "triggered." The problems with this plan are obvious and numerous. For one thing, nationwide health coverage has already reached a catastrophic point, so waiting another 5 or so years to create a public option is absurd. For another, no one has clearly defined what the mechanisms would be to create a public option--ie, what exactly would cause the trigger to get pulled, and what would the bullet be aimed at.

The state opt-out plan goes like this. States could, on an individual basis, decide not to participate in a federally provided health care program. In theory, either a Republican Governor, a Republican legislature, or both, would have to decide to opt-out. On the wonkish side of things, this hurts everybody, because if, say, Texas decides to opt-out, then the country loses cost-lowering leverage because it loses all the purchasing power of Texas. More importantly, on a moral level, the goal of universal health coverage is to make it universal, not just for "Blue State" residents.

The opt-out plan would weaken a Public Option immensely. The trigger plan will effectively kill it. The reason that the bill is not worse than it is can be directly linked to the work of progressives putting pressure on the House, and that pressure moving up to the Senate. There is still plenty of time for the insurance companies to kill this thing, though. Updates to come, as they show up.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Thomas Friedman Wants To Give Peace Prize To War People

I'm in the middle of a NyQuil induced mind-slowdown thing right now, but I would be remiss if I didn't fling some poo at Thomas Friedman for his latest brave call for unending war.

The most important thing to remember when reading a Friedman column is that if you find yourself agreeing with him, just keep reading and he'll eventually reveal himself to be the mouth-frothing lunatic that he is. He opens with this passage:

"The Nobel committee did President Obama no favors by prematurely awarding him its peace prize. As he himself acknowledged, he has not done anything yet on the scale that would normally merit such an award — and it dismays me that the most important prize in the world has been devalued in this way."

So far, so good. But then, unprovoked, we are launched into Crazy Town. After claiming that Obama should say, "I can't accept this," Friedman then inexplicably writes that Obama should say the following:

“But I will accept it on behalf of the most important peacekeepers in the world for the last century — the men and women of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps."

Hey now! That's, um, not what I was expecting. So...you're saying that self-identified warriors...should...be awarded the peace prize. Hmmm.

“I will accept this award on behalf of the American soldiers who stand guard today at outposts in the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan to give that country, and particularly its women and girls, a chance to live a decent life free from the Taliban’s religious totalitarianism.

“I will accept this award on behalf of the American men and women who are still on patrol today in Iraq, helping to protect Baghdad’s fledgling government as it tries to organize the rarest of things in that country and that region — another free and fair election."

You have to seriously, seriously love war to take two occupations that virtually every intelligent critic cited as reasons specifically against Obama receiving the Peace prize, and then claim that those occupations actually render our entire war-making apparatus worthy of something called a "Peace prize." Orwell, at least in this case, was right it seems. War is, in fact, Peace--that is, if you're the United States.

Friedman's Op-Ed illustrates as clearly as possible how rampant and internalized the call for unending war is in our punditry class. Even when writing about Peace, there is a call for more war. His jingoistic catalogue of US Military "victories" selectively leaves out any mention of Vietnam, the war of aggression to which both of our current wars of aggression are most often compared.

Furthermore, under Friedman's twisted logic, any wars of future aggression would certainly fall under his rubric of "peace-furthering wars." If Cheney had gotten his way and Bush and Co had bombed Iran, there is no question that Friedman would be nominating those bombs themselves for the Nobel Peace prize. His column might be called, "Nobel Comes Full Circle," and would describe that dynamite-inventing Nobel would want his peace prize to be awarded to literal bombs.

For clarity, it's worth mentioning that this critique of Friedman's column isn't a simultaneous critique of the so-called "troops." I find any use of the phrase "the troops," insulting and reductive, as though there is one "troop" mindset to which all "troops" adhere. Friedman's exploitation of the "troops" in his piece is reminiscent of Bush-era tactics in which pundits would claim to speak for the "troops," only to call for further war. Here, Friedman praises the "troops" as a way to remind his readers how much he loves and appreciates the them, despite his unending desire to put them in situations in which some of them will certainly get killed.

Though individual soldiers may have done things that warrant the awarding of a Peace prize, it takes a truly deranged mindset to believe that an entire war-making infrastructure should be awarded such a prize. My guess is that if the Nobel committee were comprised of 5 Iraqis, one would have a hard time lobbying for an award on behalf of the US Military.

Friedman's logic did inspire me to do one thing though. Next year, I'm nominating him for the Nobel Prize for Intellectual Rigor and Also Bravery on the Battlefield Award (For Being Such A Big Tuff[!] Warrior). I hope he accepts it on my behalf.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Nobel Prize Committee Back From Future, Maybe?

I don't want to spend too much time on this Nobel Prize nonsense, but there are a few points worth mentioning. First of all, the correct response to Obama's winning of the Nobel Peace Prize seems pretty obvious to me. Say, "Congratulations, but this seems kind of premature, doesn't it?" and move on.

That, of course, is not what's happening. Erick Erickson--the son so uninspiring they named him twice--made a hilarious joke about institutional oppression, and how it's not a big deal except to pussy-ass liberals. He made a hilarious and very intelligent joke/point today:

"I did not realize the Nobel Peace Prize had an affirmative action quota for, but that is the only thing I can think of for this news."

Hahaha, oh boy that's rich and smart. You see, Erick(2)son makes the correct point that a black man could never win a Nobel Peace Prize except out of White Pity, which is also true about the accomplishments of oppressed classes in general. Erick(2)son believes what I wrote in that last sentence, and finds it hilarious, because he a hateful, empty man.

Then, on what is aggravatingly called "the other side"--which is to say the Democrats, even though what's on "the other side" of the GOP is something far, far to the Left of the Democratic Party--engaged in some equally idiotic hyperbole. From the War Room:

""The Republican Party has thrown in its lot with the terrorists – the Taliban and Hamas this morning – in criticizing the President for receiving the Nobel Peace prize," DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse said in a statement referring to Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele's criticism of the award."

Come on, now. For one thing, that kind of empty, Bush-era rhetoric doesn't mean anything; it is childish and stupid. Not to mention that simplistically equating Hamas with evil is horribly reductive, which is an ironic thing to do on the day Obama is being honored (rightly or wrongly, which we'll get to in a minute) for working for peace. One can't help but think that referring to the elected government in Gaza as evil and scary isn't doing much to elevate the dialogue in the region.

The reactions aside, bestowing this award upon Obama is completely unwarranted, and I find the Nobel Peace Prize committee's actions both irresponsible and potentially destructive. Though it is true that America is now "the most admired country in the world"--a fact that, frankly, I find astonishing and depressing, to put it mildly--it is also true that we are a country occupying two Muslim countries, participating with eyes wide open in the occupation of a third (Palestine), and reserving our "right" to bomb into oblivion a fourth (Iran). (I stole "right" with quotes from GG--it's just too accurate not to use)

We have no serious plan or motivation to leave Iraq, and this week Obama claimed that an immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan was not even being considered. Though Obama has called for the growing of Israeli settlements to cease, he has not called for the removal of all settlements from Palestine. Despite Israel's continued refusal to follow the wishes of the Obama administration, aid continues to flow there. Recently, Mahmoud Abbas, under heavy pressure from the US and Israel, abandoned the "resolution requesting the Human Rights Council to forward Judge Richard Goldstone's report on war crimes in Gaza to the UN Security Council for further action." This tells Israel, loud and clear, that the Obama administration doesn't want to hold them accountable for the massacre of Gaza that happened last year. Not to mention that the Obama administration hasn't taken the appropriate steps involved in attempting to restore the democratically elected leader of Honduras to his rightful place, as requested by the OAS and the EU. But none of that is being talked about today.

That's the danger in all this hoopla. If the behavior of the Obama administration is rewarded on the global stage, after a week that has delivered horrible news from both Afghanistan and Palestine, then what reason do we have to believe that the continuing aggression and occupations will come to an end? Unmanned drones continue to kill civilians in Pakistan, yet the commander-in-chief gets to play the pacifist. Obama correctly said in his acceptance speech that he,

do[es] not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.

That's fine, but they don't give out the Nobel Prize for Literature based on a promising synopsis. It would be insane to think of an author saying, "this prize will really spur me on to finish my novel." Well, yeah, ok, but I thought that's what the goddamn prize was for in the first place. Why is it less important to have actually accomplished things when we're talking about human lives?

I haven't listened to today's Democracy Now! yet, but my guess is that many of the same sentiments expressed here will show up there. Naomi Klein and Tariq Ali--both of whom are absolutely invaluable as critics--are guests. That can be heard here.

As but one humble suggestion for who the prize could've gone to instead, browse the website for the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. I heard a woman from that organization speak the other night, and it was informative and enlightening. And as far as I know, their organization isn't occupying any sovereign countries.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

30 Senators Disagree With Al Franken That Rape Is A Crime

The proper job of the comedian is to say controversial or unpleasant truths to those in power. This is why Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) was able to stand up to Senate Republicans who don't mind so much when women get gang-raped to tell them that no, wait guys, that is a very bad thing and we shouldn't pay people to do this. Franken's controversial assertion--that gang-rape is a vicious crime and those who engage it in shouldn't be rewarded with lucrative defense contracts--found substantial resistance in the rape-loving Senate though. ThinkProgress reports:

"In 2005, Jamie Leigh Jones was gang-raped by her co-workers while she was working for Halliburton/KBR in Baghdad. She was detained in a shipping container for at least 24 hours without food, water, or a bed, and “warned her that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, she’d be out of a job.” (Jones was not an isolated case.) Jones was prevented from bringing charges in court against KBR because her employment contract stipulated that sexual assault allegations would only be heard in private arbitration.

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) proposed an amendment to the 2010 Defense Appropriations bill that would withhold defense contracts from companies like KBR “if they restrict their employees from taking workplace sexual assault, battery and discrimination cases to court.”
...
His amendment passed by a 68-30 vote..."

That's right folks! Thirty, count 'em, THIRTY Republican senators voted against that amendment. Thirty people, with mothers, and sisters, and daughters, who think contractors should be allowed to "restrict their employees from taking workplace sexual assault, battery and discrimination cases to court."

One would expect that major media outlets would cover this story and report on the fact that 30 elected officials voted not to punish contractors who practice gang rape. Ha! Wrong! As of right now, neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post have informed their readers that 30 elected officials voted not to punish contractors who practice gang rape. (Yes, I just cut and pasted a sentence fragment I used earlier in the paragraph. It's worth repeating.) That, apparently, is not "news worthy," which is too bad, because this story is certainly something I--and, you know, I'm just guessing here--many, many readers would find news worthy.

Also worth noting is that we're in Afghanistan to protect women's rights! I'm sure--in fact I'm positive--that every Republican who voted against Franken's amendment is very, very concerned about the rights of women in Afghanistan. Look, people, the occupation of Afghanistan is just and necessary, just like--according to 30 GOP senators--the rape of women contractors. It's almost like, and call me crazy if I'm wrong here, it's almost like the GOP is simply siding with defense contractors no matter what the issue. I know, I know, shocking. Maybe that's an issue that a reporter could write about for a newspaper.

If this shows up in the MSM, I'll try to catch it and analyze their coverage here. Until then, I don't recommend thinking to much about the vile hypocrisy on display here by the GOP unless you want to be crippled with rage. NO! Stop thinking about it before it's too late!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Women's Sufferage Bad For Society, Claims Man Who Is Bad For Society

John Derbyshire is one of those guys that you don't think about very often, but whenever you do you're filled with a temporary white hot rage that threatens to overwhelm even the most apathetic among us. Then you realize he's simply a meaningless foot soldier in the conservative movement's march towards neo-feudalism, and the world becomes a slightly less daunting place.

To bring you up to speed on Derby, this is what he wrote following the Virgina Tech shooting:

"Where was the spirit of self-defense here? Setting aside the ludicrous campus ban on licensed conceals, why didn't anyone rush the guy? It's not like this was Rambo, hosing the place down with automatic weapons. He had two handguns for goodness' sake—one of them reportedly a .22. At the very least, count the shots and jump him reloading or changing hands. Better yet, just jump him. Handguns aren't very accurate, even at close range. I shoot mine all the time at the range, and I still can't hit squat. I doubt this guy was any better than I am. And even if hit, a .22 needs to find something important to do real damage—your chances aren't bad."

OOOOOO!!!! So brave! Or, maybe: Hahahahahaha! So funny and ironic!

Either way, we should pistol whip The Derb and then blame him for not predicting it like a soldier would have done.

Now he's back in the news after saying society would be better if women didn't vote. A few days ago he told Alan Colmes that he didn't think women should have the right to vote, and then he kind of walked it back, but not really. Here's a transcript from a different radio show he did recently, in which the host, Thom Harman, revisited the issue. Derbs has just admitted that women probably should be allowed to vote.

HARTMANN: Why then is the title called “The Case Against Female Suffrage”?

DERBYSHIRE: Because it is a case against female suffrage. [...]

HARTMANN: Did you not say to, for example, my colleague Alan Colmes that women should not be allowed to vote, that it would be a better country anyway if women were not allowed to vote?

DERBYSHIRE: Well, you know, my mentor Paul Buckley used to say, he who say [sic] a must say b. And the logic of that chapter, that chapter five in my book, rests on the proposition that women voting is bad for conservatism, and as a conservative, of course, I think that’s bad for society.

HARTMANN: So therefore if women were not allowed to vote it would be a better country in your opinion?

DERBYSHIRE: I think as a hypothetical I think that’s arguable, yeah. Yeah, I think so. Yeah.

What a wonderful wit this gentleman displays. OOOOHHHH!!!! He thinks it's so charming and caustic to say offensive things, to make a point, that is offensive and dumb. Great way to spend your time, Derby. The worst part about this is that he's got a book coming out soon, which is why he's on this media tour, and all this nonsense is just drumming up publicity for his idiotic caveman pamphlet.

Neanderthals like this are often better left ignored, but I did want to let everybody know just how tough and funny and provocative this piece of shit is. So...back to other things now.

"Graveyard Of Empires" Living Up To Its Name Quite Nicely

On this, the eighth anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan, we must all remember that to WIN in that country we must STAY THERE FOR SOME REASON. Retreat is failure, surrender is defeat, stay the course, etc. Yes, Obama has now said that there are no immediate plans to draw down troops in that country, and wink wink, hope you guys like the long haul! Fantastic.

For detailed analyses on how limited the scope of the debate is surrounding troop increases/reductions, see Glenn Greenwald and Allison Kilkenny. And for a deconstruction of the "reasons" we are in Afghanistan now, and how we can change the dialogue surrounding the occupation, I recommend rethink Afghanistan, by Robert Greenwald (no relation to Glenn). That documentary can be viewed in full here, and for anybody interested, here is Jeremy Scahill's analysis of the film, as well as the thorough ass-handing he gives to the New York Times' film critic who claimed the movie didn't "have sympathy for the other side."

Glenn Greenwald notes that Harry Reid said congress will basically go along with whatever King Obama (Reid's words, basically) wants, as long as Congress gets to learn some sweet-ass super-secret information along the way, or afterwards, or if they get to dress up like generals. This remarkable admission prompted the ever-sarcastic Wonkette to be sincere for a moment:

"On another note — and one that actually attempts to be a political point (BOOOO) — can you believe that Harry Reid just said, in public, without any shame or whatever, that the Congressional leaders of both parties agreed to fully support whatever decision Obama makes about Afghanistan, whenever he makes it? Why do we even use taxpayer funds to support a legislative branch of the federal government, especially with foreign/military policy? Eh, doubling troops numbers and committing to a 30-year fully-resourced nation-building strategy vs. withdrawing most ground troops but retaining for a small force to kill Al Qaeda people when they find them — six in one, half a dozen in the other."

Though Obama never promised he would draw down the occupational forces in Afghanistan, news that he isn't even seriously considering that as an option--and Congress will just go along with whatever he says because what difference does it make--will likely further demoralize the Left, such as it is in this country (David Sirota doesn't think it exists).

Eight years of Afghanistan, and who knows how many more. A health care bill that the insurance companies will love. No substantial financial reforms. Continued indefinite detention at the president's will. Ugh. You can almost feel the progressive change in the air, can't you?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Children Are Our Future

Expect to see this story in a lot of places this week. NBC News is reporting, seriously (via Wonkette):

NASA to Bomb the Moon Friday

Ah-mare-i-ka, Ah-mare-i-ka, God shed his grace on thee...

Readers will no doubt immediately think of the famous Mr. Show sketch, "Blow up the moon," in which Bob and David satirize America's tendency to, ah, how do I say this...blow things up. Well, folks, the time is now!

The actual goal of this hilarious mission is to get water or something for terrorist astronauts we're sending to Mars because they're toooo dangerous to detain here on Earth. That's my guess, anyway.

What I find particularly engaging about the story is that if you click the link above, you'll see that the website has a side bar asking readers to register their responses to the article. As of this blog's non-existent deadline, here's how the numbers break down.

36% Furious (Don't those fucks hold anything sacred?!)
25% Intrigued (Let's see where this goes)
17% Thrilled (About goddamn time, for fuck's sake!)
13% Laughing (The world has gone MAD! MAD I tell you!)
7% Sad (I kinda liked that ol' dog-eared moon)
1% Bored (Seen it!)

Really, who is bored by a story about bombing the goddamn moon!? What in god's name do you want from a newspaper headline?

"Martians Land, Sleep With Letterman's Staff, Bomb NYC, and Legalize All Forms Of Drugs, Especially New and Awesome Drugs From Their Home Planet"

BORING!

Let me just say one final thing that someone should've told the moon a loooong time ago: So long, asshole!

Parallel Thinking Means This Blog Is Probably Stealing Most of Its Content

There are two matters I wrote about last Friday that I'd like to return to briefly and share some others' thoughts on the matter.

In response to a lecture I attended last Thursday evening featuring Matt Tabbi, Nomi Prins, and David Grossman, I wrote:

"Prins also made the extremely important point that as banks fail and are bought by those few banks who have survived the meltdown--thanks to tax-payer funded bailouts--a tragicomic thing has happened. The surviving banks are actually becoming bigger. Those banks now hold more deposits, have more capital, and, therefore, more power. Though Prins didn't say so explicitly, it also seems to me that the fewer, larger institutions will be more likely to be classified as "too big to fail." So...that fucking sucks. What a wonderful lesson for the country to learn."

Andrew Ross Sorkin, in an interview with Vanity Fair, expresses a slightly different, though related concern (via Ezra Klein):

"The one thing I would say is, to the extent that some of these companies have come out the other side and exist today, many of the executives now consider themselves survivors. That's the word they often use. Like a cancer survivor. Maybe that's deserved for some, but I'm not sure they all appreciate that their survival was in large part paid for by taxpayers. My worry is that, longer-term, some of those who feel like survivors will be emboldened to take on additional risk in the future."

Oh my god, I can't believe these vultures who made all their money swindling the system now consider themselves winners for swindling the system. WHO SAW THAT COMING!? Once again, what a fantastic lesson for the robber barons to learn--if you can steal everything from the public before your competitors can, you get to call the shots and feels like a real tuff guy.

The second post of mine from Friday concerned Sen. Maria Cantwell's (D-WA) proposed "basic health plan." If you don't remember it, her amendment aims to create a health care exchange program which would ensure that all private insurance plans meet a designated level of care and cost, but the amendment does not create a government run insurance program. Yet, Cantwell kept calling it a "public option." At the time, I wrote:

"The danger here is that Senate Democrats will now start calling Cantwell's basic health plan a public option, thereby giving Senate Democrats a political "win" in the eyes of their constituents, while excluding a real mechanism to lower costs, which will keep the insurance companies placated. That is to say, they'll pass a "public option" without actually passing a public option."

FireDogLake is now asking the question that I've wanted to know since last Friday. Their headline reads: Health Care Reform: Did Obama Ask Sen. Cantwell to Mislead You?

Jon Walker (the author of the FDL post) references a Chicago Tribune post that reads:

"When Obama spoke by phone recently with Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., he made a point of the breadth of support for the public option, the senator said in an interview. Cantwell authored a proposal to let states set up public plans that Democrats added to the Senate Finance Committee bill on Wednesday."

Walker's analysis:

"This is very strange. Obama does not need to tell Cantwell that Americans want a public option. Cantwell strongly supports a public option. She voted for both public option amendments in the Senate Finance Committee hearing.

I think the purpose of the call was to ask Cantwell to try to mislead American into thinking her “basic health plan” is a public option. The evidence is that Obama does not plan to fight for a real public option, but only wants some fig leaf so he can tell the base that there is a public option. It sounds like Obama wants to try to use Cantwell's proposal as the newest fig leaf.

Expect to see administration officials soon falsely claim that Cantwell's proposal is a public option."

I tend to agree with Walker. As I've argued before, I don't think it should be taken for granted that Obama really wants a public option, and this whole Cantwell confusion adds more fuel to that fire.

It'll still be weeks, if not months, before the final health care bill starts to take shape. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Walker's prediction--the Obama and Co. start referring to Cantwell's proposal as a public option--comes to pass. Though one could imagine a worse bill, it would hardly herald a sea change in this country's policy of profiting off the sick.

When asked about the Finance Bill that's currently in Congress, and the what the result of failure to pass reforms would be, Mark Warner (D-VA) said, "I think it'd be a travesty."

Too late, buddy! Welcome to America!

This Is Like Writing About Cheech and Chong But Never Mentioning Weed

The New York Times is a very serious paper whose reporters love nothing more than to really tackle the REAL issues, brows furrowed. More than any other media institution, the Times dictates both what issues get talked about, and how issues get talked about. The importance of how that paper's reporters and editors frame a debate cannot be overstated, which is why I was absolutely thrilled to wake up this morning and see this idiotic headline on the Times' website:

In Debate On Health, It's Coverage vs. Cost

The equally disappointing, yet utterly fitting and unsurprising lede reads:

"As Democrats prepare to take up health care legislation on the floor of the Senate and the House, they are facing tough choices about two competing priorities. They want people to pay affordable prices for health insurance policies, but they want those policies to offer comprehensive health benefits."

There you have it, folks. That's the false dichotomy our country has been presented with. Good Care vs Low Cost. These two outcomes, it would seem to the casual reader of the Times, are mutually exclusive--which is too bad, but we must be Adults and balance these competing forces in ways that are Best For Real Americans.

There is no mention in the article about Physicians for a National Health Program, or any of the many other single-payer system advocates out there. The PNHP lists 3 pages of the government's own studies showing how a single-payer system would almost certainly save money on the state and federal level, and, by definition, offer universal coverage. Yet there is no mention of single payer in the Times' piece, and, in a preposterous sin of omission, the public option isn't mentioned either.

Much of the article focuses on the Senate Finance Committee's bill, which will most likely not include a public option, but to write about soaring costs and individual mandates without describing how both Democratic and Republican congress-people--who have been bought by the health insurance companies--have attempted to torpedo an alternative to the for-profit system is simply absurd. I understand that journalists work under time and space constraints, but what the article claims to be about--the challenges of providing universal, low cost insurance--relates directly, in every way possible, to the life and probable death of a robust public option.

Though I enjoy calling David Brooks a sewage facility as much as the next guy, it is this kind of reporting that does the most damage. Brooks, Thomas Friedman, and all the other Iraq/n war cheerleaders out there would be significantly less powerful without the Judy Millers and Michael Gordons--and now William Broads and David Sangers--of the world establishing the terms of the debate on the so-called "objective" side of the paper. The blood-thirsty elites who make their fortunes by advocating for unending war on the poor of this country or the Brown people of another need "respected journalists" to lay the proper foundations upon which they can build their calls for continued occupation/restricted for-profit care.

The issue with this specific article isn't so much that it suffers from Judy Miller-syndrome--as of right now, there's no evidence that the author is in cahoots with the insurance companies or Max Baucus. The issue is that the Times has an institutional blindspot the size of Europe. The debate, as they understand it, is between these narrow, competing interests in a Senate subcommittee. And, in a way, they are correct, but that kind of limited thinking, repeated over and over on a daily basis, is what creates a society in which the only humane response to the crisis--a single-payer system--is virtually stricken from the public record. To rephrase a saying that I'm familiar with because of The Usual Suspects (but it probably goes back farther than that), "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world a better option didn't exist."

Monday, October 5, 2009

Yeah, You're Here Legally, But, You Know, We're Still Not Gonna HELP You

Republicans in this country have a running joke between each other to see who can be the most cartoonishly evil while still keeping a straight face. It looks like we have a new champion, ladies and gents.

Aaron Serwer at American Prospect passes along this murderous little doozy:

"Last week, Mike Lillis caught a remarkable scene during the Senate Finance Committee debate: Republicans attempting to insert amendments that would bar legal immigrants -- you caught that, legal immigrants -- from accessing health-care exchanges, leaving those very immigrants Republicans say they are not hostile to, those who have "played by the rules" so to speak, without access to a reformed health-care system.
...
That would essentially make being in the country illegally a death sentence for someone who gets seriously ill. Kyl also memorably tried to prevent the federal government from requiring insurance companies to offer maternity care, because he himself "didn't need it.""

So, between that and treating spousal abuse as a pre-existing condition, we should all be pretty happy that the Democrats have been so excited to please Republicans and health insurance companies. It's called centrism, people, and it's the name of the game. See, there are two sides to every health care debate. On the one hand, you can treat health care as a human right that all people deserve, and on the other hand you can try to make a profit by denying care to beaten women and immigrants of all varieties. The Serious person, you see, finds the happy middle ground so as to never ever be called a leftist, which is FAR worse than being a xenophobic misogynist (fiscal conservative).

If there were any justos in el mundo, Sen. Kyl would be beaten mas o menos a la muerte with a sock full of pesos, and then denied "you-got-what-was-coming-to-you-because-you're-an-awful-Senator leave," because most Americans don't need that.

Make Them Talk

Reading this latest report from The Hill, one might think that the health care bill that ends up coming out of the Senate will include a public option. I remain skeptical, to say the least. As I wrote here, we might see the Senate include something called a public option, but as far as a robust, government run insurance plan goes, that still seems like a bridge too far for the rotten Senate to cross.

The conventional wisdom states that the Senate Democrats don't have enough votes to overturn a Republican filibuster, even though they have 60 votes, which is what it takes to overturn a filibuster. But they still can't do it, for fear of being correctly identified by the media as liberals. This phenomenon is called: We Need Better Democrats.

But here's the thing. Which Senate Repub will actually filibuster? Has any one of them actually promised that? I think it's just taken as a given that they'll be dicks, which is true, but still, which ones specifically will be dicks? As Atrios tweeted on Sept. 18th, "wonder whatever happened to phrase "up or down vote" media used to love that one."

Remember when the Dems were the minority party, and the question was whether or not they had the balls to be dicks and filibuster? It was never, ever, EVER taken as a given that the Dems had a backbone. If they threatened to filibuster, the Repubs accused them of Communism for denying an up or down vote to whatever-the-fuck was going on. Liberals would've killed for an assumed Dem-lead auto-filibuster.

Make some awful Republican talk and talk and talk, and then accuse them of being obstructionist when YOU, the Democratic Party, is trying to provide, oh, I don't know, affordable, universal health care to the goddamn public. How can Senate leadership not understand that that's a winning script? But, as we've seen, the Dems just give the GOP the auto-filibuster, and it puts THEM, the party with a super majority, on the defensive again, somehow. It's really quite amazing.

The only explanations for this blistering message failure on the part of Senate leadership is either incompetence or malice. I've been saying that a lot lately, I know, but it's true. If the Democrats can't, or won't, make the GOP play by their own vicious rules, when they--the Dems--have a winning issue on their hands, there's no hope for progress in this country. And yes, the public option is a winning issue.

From Kevin Drum, (via Yglesias):

If Democrats really do lose the House next year (about which more later), this will be why. If they don’t pass a healthcare bill at all, they’ll be viewed as terminally lame. If they pass a bill, but it doesn’t contain popular features that people want — like the public option — they’ll be viewed as terminally lame.

And here's a pretty picture that will convince you the Democrats are The Impotents because literally everyone who isn't a comically rich asshole or a moran(!) who's afraid of the ghost of Stalin wants a public option.



Friday, October 2, 2009

What's In A Name?

FireDogLake is an indispensable resource for anyone looking to stay informed about the health care debate, specifically the life and (sadly) likely death of a robust public option. FDL has remained resolutely optimistic throughout this whole process--a Herculean feat, if ever there was one.

They are currently calling on all interested parties to sign their latest petition (they LOVE petitions at FDL) telling members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus,

"that you will stand with these progressives all the way through conference in their commitment to block the passage of any bill that does not include a strong public option."

That petition, which I signed and encourage anyone who enjoys this blog to sign, can be found here. It takes less than a minute, and although it's easy to poo-poo the significance of a petition, it's probably better to sign this than not to. As Jane Hamsher at FDL writes,

"Maxine Waters. Keith Ellison. Jerrold Nadler. Emanuel Cleaver. Lloyd Doggett. Bob Filner. Chellie Pingree. Lynn Woolsey. John Conyers. These are the names we see over and over again, fighting for health care and the environment and worker's rights and civil liberties. For choice and marriage equality and financial regulation and free speech. They are standing up for what we believe in, resisting the influence of lobbyist money and Rahm Emanuel's thuggery, and if we don't support them when everything is on the line, there is no progressive movement in this country -- we're just going through the motions on the way to inevitable defeat."

Too true.

On a related note, FDL has been reporting on the latest, potentially positive development in the health care debate. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) introduced an amendment to some goddamn version of the bill--I can't keep them straight, and for my point it's not important--that calls for a "basic health plan." Jon Walker writes:

"[W]hat Cantwell's amendment would do is allow states to create a much better exchange for those under 200% of FPL [Federal Poverty Line--JK]. It is an exchange with well-defined minimum benefit package with fixed co-pays, out-of-pocket limits, and deductibles. It would allow real economies of scale to affect negotiations, and mandate a minimum medical loss ratio of 85% for participating insurers. Insurers would be required to meet “specific performance measures and standards,” and their performance would be publicly reported. The basic health program must provide a choice of at least two or more similar plans.

This is closer to a Dutch-, Belgian-, Swiss-style, well-regulated, private system. You get to choose from several similar well-defined plans, knowing all of the plans provide sufficient coverage."

This is a positive development, with one exception. Cantwell keeps referring to her plan as a "public option," which it is not at all. Her idea, in fact, would benefit tremendously from the creation of a government run insurance program, which would simply act as another option which people could choose. Calling Cantwell's plan itself a public option is both misleading and possibly destructive. Why?

Because Harry Reid--who has not been an advocate for a public option at all--is now saying the final Senate bill will in fact contain a public option. As is the far better Senator (from Iowa!) Tom Harkin. Even Sex Escort Max Baucus loves Cantwell's proposal.

The danger here is that Senate Democrats will now start calling Cantwell's basic health plan a public option, thereby giving Senate Democrats a political "win" in the eyes of their constituents, while excluding a real mechanism to lower costs, which will keep the insurance companies placated. That is to say, they'll pass a "public option" without actually passing a public option.

All that aside, Cantwell's amendment does seem like a positive development, even if it is a bit like applying a tourniquet to a leg wound while the patient has an axe in his skull.

The Lessons We Learn, Which Is To Say, "None"

Last night I attended a discussion at The New York Society for Ethical Culture featuring Matt Taibbi, Nomi Prins, and Daniel Gross that was fascinating and more than a little depressing, which is true about the act of learning things in general. The talk focused on corruption and manipulation of markets big banks and financial institutions engaged in, including a rare but necessary peek behind the curtain thanks to Nomi Prins. She was a Goldman executive before defecting to the Light side of the Force and becoming a whistleblower and journalist. After hearing her speak, I can't recommend her new book, It Takes A Pillage, highly enough. I want her and Wendell Potter (the invaluable heath insurance whistleblower) to get married. That would be a fun wedding.

The talk was too expansive to summarize here, but the two main takeaways for me came from Prins. First, when asked when we would see major reforms--including reinstating the Glass-Steagall act, which separated Depository banks and Investment banks--she responded, "Oh, I don't know. Maybe after the next serious meltdown. We're certainly not going to see it now." The certainty with which she spoke about another coming catastrophe was disturbing in its clarity. We're not out of the shit yet, it seems. Most of those toxic assets are still out there, and it's not clear that they will ever regain any of their "value" in the future--in part because their "value" never really existed in the first place.

Prins also made the extremely important point that as banks fail and are bought by those few banks who have survived the meltdown--thanks to tax-payer funded bailouts--a tragicomic thing has happened. The surviving banks are actually becoming bigger. Those banks now hold more deposits, have more capital, and, therefore, more power. Though Prins didn't say so explicitly, it also seems to me that the fewer, larger institutions will be more likely to be classified as "too big to fail." So...that fucking sucks. What a wonderful lesson for the country to learn.

On a related note, I think there's a parallel to be drawn between banks accruing more power and health insurance companies accruing more power. If the health care bill doesn't include a robust public option, but does include individual mandates, then Insurance companies will profit from that immensely. I have this crazy fear that after The Great Recession (or Depression if you're a minority) and "health care reform," we will actually see the two most destructive industries in this country--financial institutions and insurance companies--consolidate more wealth, access, power, and institutional inertia, thereby making future reform all the more difficult.

So not only does the government step in to save these massive corporations, we're actually taking steps to allow/encourage them to become MORE powerful. If all this proves to be unwarranted doom-saying, I'll push people over to be the first to apologize. Let's wait and see!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Pigs Got JJ



It seems that 6 Chicagoans were arrested Tuesday night after attempting to burn an Olympic banner after ripping it down from that main Picasso statue downtown. I haven't been able to find much credible reporting about this topic, but one thing that we can be sure of is that Jeremy Sorkin (pictured above) and 5 other protesters were taken into police custody, and today charged with "mob action," according to Chicagobreakingnews.com.

The group isn't believed to be part of No Games Chicago, a group who was also staging a protest that night.

According to Indymedia Chicago, public opinion has turned sharply against hosting the 2016 games. They report:

"The Chicago bid book, which outlines the financial proposal for Chicago's 2016 bid, was written before the recession hit and many of the anticipated funding streams have since dried up. Thus, funding the Olympics could skyrocket into the billions of dollars with the shortfall paid by city residents and from the city's controversial TIF program — an ostensible program to aid development but which has morphed into a mechanism to funnel public funds into unaccountable slush funds controlled by Mayor Daley and approved surrogates."

I haven't been able to find any statements from those arrested, so I don't know what their specific or general goals were. I will say that I went to college with Jeremy, and he's a hell of a good and smart kid. Funny, too. We were in an improv troupe together for a year before he dropped out to travel around Asia. I looked on his facebook page to see if anyone had posted any information, but, alas, no recent activity.

If anyone was there or knows what happened firsthand let me know. Likewise, I'll be checking for updates about their case, but if you have information send it to me at johnknefel@gmail.com.

This Is The Legacy Of Reagan

The New York Times published two Op-Eds this week that both claim to comment on the current state of the country, but completely ignore the role that Ronald Reagan played in pushing it to the wretched place it's in today. Each column--one by David Brooks and the other by Thomas Friedman--examines The State Of Things Today in a very serious way. The furrowed brows leap off the page. But this country forgets its past very quickly, so such glaring displays of stuffing the past down an Orwellian memory hole need to be documented and examined.

The first Op-Ed, written by David Brooks, argues that we've lost our "economic values" as a country. We need to return to our Calvinist roots, etc. I wrote about that here, but left most of the heavy lifting to Andrew Leonard over at Salon, who I quoted as writing,

"Has Brooks somehow forgotten that just nine years ago the U.S. operated under a balanced budget and enjoyed a budget surplus? The explosion of public debt since that point has very little to do with the moral failings of Americans, and everything to do with objective fact. George W. Bush cut taxes, but did not match those cuts with spending cuts."

I agree with his argument, but Paul Krugman, another Times columnist, had something else to add. Yesterday, he wrote:

"David would have you believe that what happened then was a decline in Calvinist virtue. But, um, didn’t something else happen around 1980? Can’t quite remember .. someone whose name begins with the letter “R”?

Yes, Reagan did it.

The turn to budget deficits was a direct result of the new, Irving-Kristol inspired political strategy of pushing tax cuts without worrying about the “accounting deficiencies of government.”

Meanwhile, the surge in household debt can largely be attributed to financial deregulation."

Good for Krugman for saying it. Lots of this country's problems can be attributed to the Bush administration, but to find the causes of the institutional breakdowns, we must return to the Reagan era.

In that spirit, let's move on to [insert blowjob joke] Friedman's column from yesterday. I have to admit--as far as Friedman goes, this wasn't his worst offering, by far. It's still either ignorant or intellectually dishonest, but it doesn't call for the blood of Brown people. I'll take what I can get.

Friedman rightly argues that there is no "we" in America right now. He begins by describing similarities between Israel in '95 (when Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated) and contemporary America. He calls out the far right in this country for engaging in hateful, xenophobic tactics that he feels are corroding the political culture. But in typical pundit style, he must create false equivalencies between the right and the left. He writes:

"Sometimes I wonder whether George H.W. Bush, president “41,” will be remembered as our last “legitimate” president. The right impeached Bill Clinton and hounded him from Day 1 with the bogus Whitewater “scandal.” George W. Bush was elected under a cloud because of the Florida voting mess, and his critics on the left never let him forget it." [emphasis added.]

Yes, quite. Never mind the fact that W. was installed by the Florida supreme court, and that the left was pressured by every single media institution in the country to "get over it and move on."

The most glaring omission from Friedman's analysis, however, is that the tactics he claims to despise are wholly a product of the Right. Beginning with Barry Goldwater, through Nixon, and then perfected by Ronald Reagan, the Right has constantly exploited racial tensions for political gain. You simply could not have "Obama is a socialist" without Reagan's hateful caricature of the "Cadillac-driving welfare queen."

Similarly, you couldn't have the kind of income disparity that we see in America without Reagan's policies of deregulation and union-busting. From crushing the air traffic controllers union to letting Wall Street collect more and more of the national income, it was clear that the 80s were a decade in which the money moved up the ladder, and fuck you if you couldn't fuck somebody else out of it. Reagan left the country atomized and greedy, distrustful of solidarity, with a context of xenophobic paranoia firmly in place.

That is where we stand as a country. Organized labor still exists, barely, but the Democrats are far, far more in line with the corporations that pay for their campaigns than the unions who mobilize to support them. Glenn Beck and the Right have managed to create a kind of Zombie Reaganism, in which the government is the problem and so is that Nazi Commie in the White House. It's amazing to see the white poor in this country embrace an economic philosophy that has decimated the working and middle classes. But we must remember that Reagan gave his party the playbook to exploit the fears of the white poor. But Friedman can't say that, because Globalization and Free Markets will save us all.

Yet Reagan remains the figure to which every major Republican candidate must swear allegiance. He remains untouchable by both conservative politicians and columnists. It's truly remarkable to read Brooks and Friedman lament the direct consequences of Reagan's legacy, yet never even mention him by name, much less assign anything resembling blame. Whether that's because of malice or ignorance is impossible to know, but neither answer is particularly comforting.

The Jeff Farias Show

For anybody who's interested, I was a guest The Jeff Farias Show yesterday evening. We discussed the New York Times' irresponsible Iran coverage, as well as my argument that's beginning to take hold in the blogosphere that David Brooks is in fact a fully operational sewage facility. The truth hurts, people.

The audio can be streamed here, or probably downloaded from itunes by searching "The Jeff Farias Show." I'm on yesterday's episode, Sept. 30th, and my interview starts about a half hour into the show. Our thirty-minute conversation was quite fun. Hope you enjoy.