Monday, August 31, 2009

Quote of the day

'“Eat not of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” It is not easy to conceive that there ever existed a tree which could teach good and evil, as there are trees that bear pears and apricots. And besides the question is asked, why is God unwilling that man should know good and evil? Would not his free access to this knowledge, on the contrary, appear—if we may venture to use such language—more worthy of God, and far more necessary to man? To our weak reason it would seem more natural and proper for God to command him to eat largely of such fruit; but we must bring our reason under subjection, and acquiesce with humility and simplicity in the conclusion that God is to be obeyed.' - Voltaire, "Genesis," Philosophical Dictionary

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Jesus Christ, Fuehrer?

While Glenn Beck and pretty much the entire AM radio world have been busy imagining that Barack Obama is the second coming of Hitler, Jeff Sharlet has quietly been reporting on an organization that has a good deal of influence on Washington politics and actually does explicitly seek to emulate fascist dictatorships. See, for example, Sharlet's talk with Democracy Now about his book The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.

The Family started in the 1930s as a "union-busting organization."

JEFF SHARLET: The Family began as this domestic organization way back in the 1930s, a union-busting organization. But by the ’50s, they—

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, union-busting organization?

JEFF SHARLET: Oh, they—it’s part of that invisible hand of the market. They believe that organized labor is ungodly, to put it mildly, perhaps Satanic. It began with this vision in 1935 that the New Deal and organized labor were literally a Satanic conspiracy they had to fight back.

In the 1950s, in the Cold War, they started moving overseas and identifying strongmen, dictators, who they thought were effective in the fight against communism, who they thought were effective in the fight for free markets.
And its current leader - Doug Coe - likes to give various dictators as examples of what a Christian totalitarianism might model itself after

AMY GOODMAN: I want to read the full quote of Doug Coe—

JEFF SHARLET: Please, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —counseling Congressman Tiahrt, which you quote. “You know Jesus said ‘You got to put Him before mother-father-brother sister’? Hitler, Lenin, Mao, that’s what they taught the kids. Mao even had the kids killing their own mother and father. But it wasn’t murder. It was for building the new nation. The new kingdom." That’s Doug Coe. And where did you get this?

JEFF SHARLET: That is actually available on an audio sermon that you can find on the website of another Christian right group called the Navigators, with which the Family has always worked for decades.

You can also find online video of Coe talking about the model of fellowship that he wants politicians to follow. He says, “Look at Hitler, Goebbels and Himmler, these three nobodies who get together, and look at all they were able to accomplish.” Now, he’ll be quick to say they’re evil men. This is not some neo-Nazi, you know, kind of conspiracy. It’s a sort of a fetish for power and strength. That’s the model. That’s why he says Hitler, Lenin, Mao.

He’s also fond of saying to congressmen, “Who were the three men in the twentieth century who best understood the New Testament?” And it’s sort of a trick question, because maybe you say Martin Luther King, or maybe, if you’re conservative, you say Billy Graham. And again, it’s Hitler, Stalin and Mao. These are not aberrations in his speech. This is the core of his teaching, that the New Testament is about power and strength.

AMY GOODMAN: He talks about Pol Pot—


AMY GOODMAN: —and talks about Osama bin Laden.

JEFF SHARLET: Yeah, yeah. There’s nobody who is—you know, there is no sort of strongman killer that they’re not interested in. Going back to the group’s early roots, they began with the idea that democracy was done, that democracy couldn’t compete with fascism or communism. They didn’t want to be communists. Fascism was OK, except that it had this cult of personality: where Jesus was supposed to be, you’d find a Hitler, a Mussolini. And so, they came up with this idea of totalitarianism for Christ, but they illustrate it with these awful models from history.
For more on the Family, see Sharlet's Harper's article, "Jesus plus nothing: Undercover among America's secret theocrats."

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Stupid law helps kill teen

A seventeen year old died from an untreated ruptured appendix (h/t Butterflies and Wheels). He and his family are Christian Scientists members of Church of the First Born, a faith-healing Christian sect.

Most states, including Washington, have child abuse laws that allow some religious exemptions for parents who do not seek medical treatment when their children are sick.

Washington's law specifies that a person treated through faith healing "by a duly accredited Christian Science practitioner in lieu of medical care is not considered deprived of medically necessary health care or abandoned." Other religions are not mentioned.
Blogger's Note: Due to a quick and careless reading, I had initially understood the news article to be suggesting the family are Christian Scientists, but on second reading, that appears to be incorrect. I still maintain that the law helped to contribute to the teen's death by legitimizing the notion that faith-healing can substitute for actual medical treatment. As the article notes, Washington law makes the exemption for Christian Scientists because their church has the legal muscle which smaller Pentecostal groups do not; this might lead such groups to believe that they should have the same right as the Christian Scientists (although I would maintain the obvious and correct conclusion is that no one should have such a right.)

Indeed, in 1997, a girl whose family were members of the Colorado branch of the Church of the First Born, died from untreated diabetes. As in the case above, the law in Colorado made an exemption for withholding medical treatment, but the girl's case didn't technically fall under the exemption.

For more on the Christian Scientist led national movement (spearheaded by two Republican members of Congress*) to allow parents to withhold medical treatment from their children on First Amendment grounds, see this article from the Humanist.

*With one of them being a member of The Family.

Unconditional hatred

From Roger Ebert's essay "Death Panels. A most excellent term."

The notion of "universal health care" does not mean "socialized medicine." It means just what it seems to mean. America is the only developed nation on earth that does not provide it. Why does it inspire such virulent opposition? Who is behind it? It is opposed mostly from the far right, whose enthusiasm seems to be encouraged by financial support from some (not all) insurance companies. Those companies have priced American insurance out of the reach of millions.

One result has been that our national life expectancy ranks 42nd among all developed nations. We spend more on medical care than any other nation, and get less than 41 of them. These figures are pretty clear.

I don't pretend to know if this information is available to the angry people who have shouted down their representatives at town hall meetings. I think I do know where their anger is fed. The drumbeat of far-right commentators fuels it. Their agenda is not health care, but opposition to the Obama administration. It takes the form of demonizing Obama. It uses the tactic of the Big Lie to defame him. An example of this is the fiction, "he wants to kill your grandmother." Another is the outrageous statement that he is a racist who hates white people. A person capable of saying that is clearly unhinged and in the grip of unconditional hatred.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Who said it: a white supremacist or Glenn Beck?

From Dave Neiwert

[I]f you watch what [Beck's] been doing so far, what seems to be emerging is that he is basically building a case justifying his declaration that Obama is a racist who hates white people.

This became crystal-clear midway through his Fox News program Thursday night, during a segment featuring ex-Democrat now complete loser Patrick Caddell and the ever-vivacious Michelle Malkin to heartily agree with whatever craziness came burbling out of his mouth.

They were all gathered to talk about the "army" of "thugs" that President Obama is planning to gather under the combined umbrellas of ACORN, SEIU, Color of Change and whatever other insidious "radicals" Beck believes he's uncovered.

And what does this "army" of "thugs" look like?

Why, they're all black people, of course.

Watch the segment and observe the examples he offers of the kinds of "thugs" he says Obama intends to incorporate into his army: some gun-toting Black Panthers, a shot from a Louis Farrakhan sermon before a Nation of Islam gathering, and a group of young black men doing military-style exercises.

This, as he explained earlier in the show, will be "Obama's SS."

So we now can see the arc of Beck's thesis this week: He was right to call President Obama an anti-white racist because he is this very moment forming an army of militant black thugs to take over your white neighborhoods and threaten your children and impose a liberal fascist state.
Glenn Beck may not himself be racist, but he's certainly playing to racist paranoia. This is exactly the sort of stuff you can find or hear from white supremacists, with the possible exception that they tend to not conflate fascism and Marxism.

Meanwhile, a GOP candidate for governor of Idaho joked twice about getting a licence to hunt Obama like a wolf. To their credit, Idaho Republican leaders are denouncing this "joke."

Update: Surprise, surprise. The man - Rex Rammell - who joked about killing the President is a Manichean supply-side Christian. (h/t to Dave Neiwert for the link to Randy Stapulas) This is from Rammell's book

In the beginning there were socialists and capitalists. The socialists said “let us force our neighbors to be charitable that all mankind may be equal.” The capitalists said “let us give our neighbors freedom that they may choose to be charitable for charity freely given is true charity.” But the socialists disagreed that man could ever rise to be charitable; he must be forced. The capitalists disagreed. And henceforth the war for freedom began. And men made themselves kings and rulers. And despotism and tyranny abounded. And man lost his freedom. And the capitalists fought back as blood covered the earth. And the great Father who sits on his throne in the heavens watched and wept as man fought for his freedom. But man was not worthy of freedom. And more blood covered the earth. Then a righteous people arose and the Father said it is time for man to be free. And the people fought against the King and the Father sent his angels. And the people won their freedom. And the people knew they must bind the ambitions of men. So they assembled their wisest and counseled together and asked the Father to help them create a Constitution. But men’s thirst for power continued. And the Constitution was argued and its meaning distorted. And men began again to lose their freedom…

…And the capitalists fought back for their freedom and vowed to save the Constitution. And God was on their side. And the armies of socialism led by Satan began to fear. And good men and women rallied to the cause. And the Constitution’s original meaning was accepted. And America reset her course. And she returned to her glory. And freedom and happiness were once again found in America!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Another Christian nationalist endorses conservative supremacism

From Steve Benen at The Washington Montly

INHOFE RAISES PROSPECT OF 'REVOLUTION'.... One of these days, it sure would be nice if Republicans felt the need to denounce this kind of radical, vile rhetoric.

At a town hall Wednesday night, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) told constituents, "We're almost reaching a revolution in this country."

Inhofe also said he doesn't need to know what's in a health care reform bill to 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 at the event in Chickasha, Okla.

The senator was in good company, with most of the audience agreeing with him and expressing their disdain for big government and Democrats. One man said, "No more compromise. We're losing our country."
I can't begin to understand why Inhofe and his like-minded extremists are so angry. But for an elected member of the United States Senate to speak publicly about the possibility of a "revolution" is deeply frightening.
Here is the comment I left over there

Let's start calling this what it is: conservative supremacism.

The belief that only "conservatives" can legitimately be elected. This form of supremacism has a strong overlap with Christian Nationalism (witness Inhofe's associations with The Family) but is not limited to it.

Conservative supremacists are willing to wage "revolution" over routine policy matters like a top tax rate change of a few percentage points or expanded health care coverage, yet are perfectly willing to invest their Leaders with the power to inprison persons without charge and torture them, to void the 4th amendment and to generally trample the Constitution.

As a society we need to recognize that an ability to believe that Democrats want to kill old people and babies reflects a prejudice on the part of the believer comparable to other forms of prejudice, e.g believing Jews want to control the world or blacks are dumber than whites. It is a bigotry that is fomented not just by fringe extremists like Steve Anderson or Randall Terry, but at a mainstream level by Sean Hannity, Limbaugh, Beck, Coulter and the rest of their ilk.
See here to make sense of the The Family reference.

The Family likes to call itself a "Christian Mafia," but it began 74 years ago as an anti-New Deal coalition of businessmen convinced that organized labor was under the sway of Satan. The Great Depression, they believed, was a punishment from God for what they viewed as FDR's socialism. The Family's goal was the "consecration" of America to God, first through the repeal of New Deal reforms, then through the aggressive expansion of American power during the Cold War. They called this a "Worldwide Spiritual Offensive," but in Washington, it amounted to the nation's first fundamentalist lobby. Early participants included Southern Sens. Strom Thurmond, Herman Talmadge and Absalom Willis Robertson -- Pat Robertson's father. Membership lists stored in the Family's archive at the Billy Graham Center at evangelical Wheaton College in Illinois show active participation at any given time over the years by dozens of congressmen.

Today's roll call is just as impressive: Men under the Family's religio-political counsel include, in addition to Ensign, Coburn and Pickering, Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham, both R-S.C.; James Inhofe, R-Okla., John Thune, R-S.D., and recent senators and high officials such as John Ashcroft, Ed Meese, Pete Domenici and Don Nickles. Over in the House there's Joe Pitts, R-Penn., Frank Wolf, R-Va., Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., and John R. Carter, R-Texas. Historically, the Family has been strongly Republican, but it includes Democrats, too. There's Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, for instance, a vocal defender of putting the Ten Commandments in public places, and Sen. Mark Pryor, the pro-war Arkansas Democrat responsible for scuttling Obama's labor agenda. Sen. Pryor explained to me the meaning of bipartisanship he'd learned through the Family: "Jesus didn't come to take sides. He came to take over." And by Jesus, the Family means the Family.

Glenn Beck's descent into madness quickens

There you have it. Glenn Beck can't tell the difference between the Peace Corps and Nazi SS and Brownshirts. See here for my previous post on Beck's deranged belief that President Obama's call for using groups like the Peace Corps and Americorps to serve our foreign policy goals rather than just bombing countries with our military means Obama is creating a secret, shadow fascist army to overthrow American democracy and install some sort of 1984ish government.

I have pretty low expectations of Fox News, but I still find it unbelievable that the executives and other employees aren't embarassed to be associated with this lunacy. Nevermind the fact that Beck's fear-mongering is helping to unleash violent, undemocratic passions.

Cheney is so predictable

Back in April I wrote

During a hard hitting and highly critical interview from ace investigative journalist Sean Hannity, Dick Cheney asserted that he has "formally asked" the CIA to declassify memos revealing all the important information that the United States got from torturing prisoners.


My guess is that if there is anything to be released, it will be more of the sort of bogus and selective claims about the effectiveness of "enhanced interrogation" that the administration has previously made.

During the debate over torture this spring, Cheney claimed that CIA memos, which he had asked to be declassified, would prove that torture proved effective in obtaining actionable intelligence.

Well, yesterday, those memos were released, along with the CIA inspector general's report. And, surprise surprise, they don't begin to show what Cheney said they did.

The memos, from 2004 and 2005, do say that some detainees, particularly Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, gave up useful information during debriefing sessions. But nowhere do they suggest that that information was gleaned through torture.

Indeed, as Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent shows, most of the evidence suggests they came through traditional interrogation techniques. As Spencer puts it: "Cheney's public account of these documents have conflated the difference between information acquired from detainees, which the documents present, and information acquired from detainees through the enhanced interrogation program, which they don't."
Update: It appears that one of the documents released was not actually the document Cheney had requested. (Although it doesn't appear that there will be all the much difference between this document and other other.)

Now he tells us

By now I'm assuming that you've heard the news that in Tom Ridge's book, he suggests that he was pushed to raise terror alerts for political reasons prior to the 2004 election. Glenn Greenwald has already covered the failure of our press to take allegations of political manipulation of the Department of Homeland Security seriously quite adequately, noting that I noted that Ridge had already made similar allegations back in 2005, yet the story failed to make waves while it could make a difference.

So I'd like to focus on a different point raised by Ed Brayton.

Rather than resigning immediately and going public in order to alert voters to the nature of the administration they ended up returning to office, Ridge waited until after the election. And he gives himself quite a pat on the back for that:

"I believe our strong interventions had pulled the 'go-up' advocates back from the brink," Ridge writes. "But I consider the episode to be not only a dramatic moment in Washington's recent history, but another illustration of the intersection of politics, fear, credibility and security."

"After that episode, I knew I had to follow through with my plans to leave the federal government for the private sector," Ridge, who resigned soon after the election where Bush defeated Democrat John F. Kerry, writes in "The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege ... And How We Can Be Safe Again."
In other words, he waited until it was far too late to actually do anything about this.
Right. This reminds of something Daniel Ellsberg wrote for Harper's a few years ago.

One insider aware of the Iraq plans, and knowledgeable about the inevitably disastrous result of executing those plans, was Richard Clarke, chief of counterterrorism for George W. Bush and adviser to three presidents before him. He had spent September 11, 2001, in the White House, coordinating the nation’s response to the attacks. He reports in his memoir, Against All Enemies, discovering the next morning, to his amazement, that most discussions there were about attacking Iraq.

Clarke told Bush and Rumsfeld that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, or with its perpetrator, Al Qaeda. As Clarke said to Secretary of State Colin Powell that afternoon, “Having been attacked by al Qaeda, for us now to go bombing Iraq in response”—which Rumsfeld was already urging—“would be like our invading Mexico after the Japanese attacked us at Pearl Harbor.”

Actually, Clarke foresaw that it would be much worse than that. Attacking Iraq not only would be a crippling distraction from the task of pursuing the real enemy but would in fact aid that enemy: “Nothing America could have done would have provided al Qaeda and its new generation of cloned groups a better recruitment device than our unprovoked invasion of an oil-rich Arab country.”

I single out Clarke—by all accounts among the best of the best of public servants—only because of his unique role in counterterrorism and because, thanks to his illuminating 2004 memoir, we know his thoughts at that time, and, in particular, the intensity of his anguish and frustration. Such a memoir allows us, as we read each new revelation, to ask a simple question: What difference might it have made to events if he had told us this at the time?

What is Fox News going to say when someone (else) gets killed?

Yesterday morning I flipped on Fox and Friends - the most attrocious, mindless propaganda that has possibly ever existed in the history of US television, in my humble opinion - to catch the end of a segment described as town hall meeting turns violent. At least that's what I think it said, I can't find a transcript of the show or the clip.

Regardless, the clip showed footage of shouting and general chaos at a townhall event which I now realize was hosted by Howard Dean and Rep. John Moran, and that the disruptors were led by anti-abortion extremist Randall Terry. (In other words, they were not constituents of Moran, but Christian supremacists who showed up at the event with the express intention of shutting down a democratic forum.)

Then mayhem erupted. A clutch of opponents, led by Randall Terry, the anti-abortion activist and founder of Operation Rescue, chanted as Dr. Dean tried to speak, prompting Mr. Moran to try to have Mr. Terry and his followers ejected.

“They don’t belong here and I’m going to ask them to leave,” Mr. Moran said into the microphone, as the crowd started cross-chanting. Mr. Moran said he considered Mr. Terry to be “a bit of a radical” who came with the express purpose of disrupting the meeting. (Mr. Terry has actually been appearing at several town hall-style meetings lately, sometimes wearing a doctor’s outfit and stabbing a baby doll to show what would happen if a health bill were to pass.)

When Mr. Terry did not leave, Mr. Moran reversed himself and tried to negotiate with him. “Rather than being escorted out, you can have the option of having the first question and five minutes of saying whatever you want, then it would be restricted,” Mr. Moran said. “Otherwise you need to leave.”

Mr. Terry rejected the proposal as he and his band of supporters yelled, “Dean is a baby killer!” They were finally escorted out. One man remained, yelling, “We won’t pay for murder! Don’t let him speak!” Cameras surrounded him but as he continued to chant, they drifted away.
It gets worse but more on that in a second.

I didn't catch any of this info from the Fox and Friends segment. After the bit of chaos I viewed was shown, they went back to commentary from the Stepford hosts. At which point I heard an unidentified guest host - whom I think is one of the anchors from the Fox business channel - saying that Democrats don't get it. At which point I flipped the channel, realizing that Fox and the Stepford hosts were going to blame Democrats for not respecting the opinions and civic engagement of patriotic Americans and what not ... and if I didn't imagine the "town hall turns violent" graphic, I have to wonder if Fox was saying that it was violence directed against Terry or other protesters ... I wish I'd taped it or paid closer attention. Overall, it was the typical Fox propaganda narrative.

I see that News Hounds got generally the same impression.

The kids then showed a video of Member of Congress John Moran’s “wild” town hall, in Reston Va, when Moran, after being heckled, turned the mik over to Howard Dean who shot back with a good question (asked who wanted to give up Medicare). Kilmeade said that protestors shouldn’t be “marginalized” by politicians. Unidentified guy said that town halls aren’t about “the process” but rather people airing their grievances. It was a short piece but noteworthy in its exclusion of some key details.
Yes, some key details.

Last month, Randall Terry, founder of the right-wing extremist group Operation Rescue, warned that his supporters might engage in violent acts of terrorism unless Congress prohibits abortion services from being covered in the new health reform legislation ...

In Virginia last night, Terry was kicked out of a town hall held by Rep. James Moran (D-VA) and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean after he interrupted and accused Democrats of murdering babies. The Hill reports on Terry’s extreme protest last night:

The Moran town hall was the last stop on a 10-city tour for Randall Terry, the anti-abortion activist known for his extreme tactics.

Terry’s colleagues put on a skit with a man in an Obama mask pretending to whip a bloodied woman, who kept saying, “Massa, don’t hit me no more. I got the money to kill the babies.”

Terry himself dressed in a doctor’s lab coat and pretended to stab a woman in a gray wig.

“There’s no way to pay for this thing without killing granny,” Terry explained.
This is the same sort of defamation, demonization, and malicious hate-based lies that when directed for years at Dr. George Tiller ended up with him being murdered in cold blood while he was attending church. This is racist propaganda on a scale equivalent to Nazi demonization of Jews, KKK demonization of blacks. It is evil and the sort of Christian Nationalism that Chris Hedges wrote about in American Fascists. (You can watch an hour plus discussion of the book below.)*

What will it take for Fox News to denounce such abominable behavior as Terry's? Terry has threatened terrorist violence, yet Fox still tacitly encourages his extremism.

Dave Neiwert points out that the man who went to a town hall with a gun on his hip and an assault rifle on his shoulder, promising to "forcefully resist" if health care reform happens, is a member of an extremist pastor's church (Steve Anderson's) which preaches eliminationist hate.

Let me tell you something: Barack Obama has wrought lewdness in America. America has become lewd. What does lewd mean? L-E-W-D? [Pause] Obscene. Right? Dirty. Filthy. Homosexuality. Promiscuity. All of the -- everything that's on the billboard, the TV. Sensuality. Lewdness! We don't even know what lewdness means anymore! We're just surrounded by it, inundated with it!

... And yet you're going to tell me that I'm supposed to pray for the socialist devil, murderer, infanticide, who wants to see young children and he wants to see babies killed through abortion and partial-birth abortion and all these different things -- you're gonna tell me I'm supposed to pray for God to give him a good lunch tomorrow while he's in Phoenix, Arizona.

Nope. I'm not gonna pray for his good. I'm going to pray that he dies and goes to hell. When I go to bed tonight, that's what I'm going to pray. And you say, 'Are you just saying that?' No. When I go to bed tonight, Steven L. Anderson is going to pray for Barack Obama to die and go to hell.

You say, 'Why would you do that?' That our country could be saved.
This is the sort of hate and bigotry that fuels the prejudice that allows conservative supremacists to believe that Obama and Democrats are Nazis who are taking over health care to kill babies and old people.

Only one step removed from this fringe pastor's "Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?" style rhetoric is Rush Limbaugh, the intellectual leader of the Republican party. Who on a daily basis demonizes Obama, Democrats, and "liberals" as totalitarian enemies of the United States who have stabbed the nation in the back.

[Limbaugh] added: "The Obama administration sees its job as protecting those who have and will wage war against American citizens. That's his view. That's the way this administration is acting -- protect those who have and will wage war against innocent American citizens."

After the break, Rush took a caller who was at last night's town hall with Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) and Howard Dean. The caller claimed that Dean was unable to speak because the caller and others booed and heckled him. Rush applauded this, and played a few audio bites of the shouting that took place.
That is the same sort of belief that motivated Jim Adkisson's murderous church shooting. And notice Limbaugh endorsing the efforts of Terry to prevent the democratic process from taking place.

*I do not agree with or support -at all - Hedges' call to criminalize "incitement to intolerance" (I think he means passing hate speech laws) but do agree with his analysis of Christian nationalism as being a proto-totalitarian movement.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Renditions to continue

The New York Times reports that the Obama administration will be continuing the practice of "extraordinary rendition" which began during the Clinton adminstration and then expanded during the Bush administration to become a means of outsourcing torture.

The Obama administration will continue the Bush administration’s practice of sending terrorism suspects to third countries for detention and interrogation, but pledges to closely monitor their treatment to ensure that they are not tortured, administration officials said Monday.
Swell. Just like the Bush administration got promises (wink, wink) that the prisoners sent to such countries wouldn't get tortured or abused. I have a simple proposal: we don't send detained persons extra-legally to countries that torture or treat prisoners inhumanely. Problem solved (and this has the added benefit of not putting other world democracies in the position of having to denounce US counter-terrorism practices.)

This is another instance of the Obama administration walking back from the campaign rhetoric of President Obama.

Though the Obama administration previously signaled that it would continue the use of renditions, some civil liberties groups were disappointed because, as a presidential candidate, Mr. Obama had strongly suggested he might end the practice. In an article in Foreign Affairs in the summer of 2007, Mr. Obama wrote, “To build a better, freer world, we must first behave in ways that reflect the decency and aspirations of the American people.”

Mr. Obama continued, “This means ending the practices of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries, of detaining thousands without charge or trial, of maintaining a network of secret prisons to jail people beyond the reach of the law.” In January, the president ordered secret prisons run by the C.I.A. to be shut down.
The Obama administration has made some important steps in the right direction (like shutting down the black sites) but hasn't done enough yet.

Update: I was remiss in not pointing out that the Obama administration's policy of rendition has already yielded allegations of torture. (h/t Dissenting Justice)

Things that are only true inside Rush Limbaugh's radio booth

I just listened to another one of Rush Limbaugh's fact-detached incoherent rants about President Obama bringing fascism to America via expanded health insurance coverage. He continued on, explaining how the Marxists and fascists in the Obama administration are working towards this goal.

Right, because we know how Marxists and fascists historically loved to collaborate. Like when the Marxists and Communists in Nazi Germany "collaborated" with the Nazis by getting killed by them (and/or sent to concentration camps.)

Update: Here's the transcript

You know, President Obama is preparing to pass an extinguished torch to future generations of Americans. Remember President Kennedy? (JFK impression) "The torch has been passed to a new generation." Obama is going to pass a torch only the torch he passes is going to be extinguished. The torch he's going to pass is one of fascism.
And here comes the unintelligble rant I referenced

You know, something else that McCain did yesterday, and this is really so tired and worn out. At this town meeting, he said, "We have to take Washington back from the special interests." Folks, that is just vacuous psychobabble, in my humble opinion. We need to take this country back from the liberal Marxists that have taken over! The special interest that we need to fear is fascism! These special interests are all over Barack Obama's administration. After telling us they wouldn't be, they're all over the place.

The people that work for him are enriching themselves at the public trough like never before. And that's something people thought was going to change, but it hasn't changed. The fascists, the Marxists in this administration, they're working with the special interests.
And this is someone who is for all intents and purposes the intellectual leader of the Republican party. There is no reality in that rant, no substance. The only thing there - and its essentially the only thing that is ever present in Rush's rants - is the general message that "liberals" are anti-American monsters, hence them being equated with both Marxists and fascists at the same time. This makes absolutely no sense - at all - unless you divide your world into Good and Evil. With "Conservatives" being Good and everything else being Evil.

Of course, we know that Rush Limbaugh does in fact divide his world into Good and Evil. It's why he's the leading voice of conservative supremacism.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

More scribbled madness

I previously wrote

The rub is seeing Beck - in what has become pretty much a daily occurrence - standing at a chalkboard/markerboard in front of some scribbled madness, pontificating as if he's some sort of professor lecturing an auditorium of students (as opposed to his audience members who are invited at the start of each episode to "follow me.") I can't help but recall Richard Hofstadter writing, "The enemy may be the cosmopolitan intellectual, but the paranoid will outdo him in the apparatus of scholarship, even of pedantry."
And provided this as an example of Beck's "scribbled madness."

I see that I'm not the only one who is noticing this ... Media Matters provides the video below with the heading "Glenn Beck scrawls wild conspiracy theories on a chalk board"

Monday, August 24, 2009

Quote of the day

"Personally, I think government is a tool, like a hammer. You can use a hammer to build or you can use a hammer to destroy; there is nothing intrinsically good or evil about the hammer itself. It is the purposes to which it is put and the skill with which it is used that determine whether the hammer's work is good or bad. If hammers were cussed as often and as vigorously as government, no doubt some Timothy McVeigh would have parked a loaded Ryder truck outside some hammer factory by now. Cussing government in a democracy is a peculiar thing to do: it is, after all, us." - Molly Ivins, You Got to Dance with Them What Brung You

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Useful health care links

- The Mahablog has a round-up of articles on health care that help to debunk various misconceptions about reform.

- Neal Gabler's "'Truth' vs. Facts' from America's Media"

Yet the danger of not insisting on the truth in a brave new world of constant lies is that it subjects our policies to whichever side shouts the loudest or has the most money to spend to mislead us. That is likely to lead to disastrous governance: a needless war, a great recession, a continuation of a failing healthcare system.

What it comes down to is that sometimes the media have to tell the truth not because anyone really wants them to but because it is the right thing to do -- the essential thing to do -- for the sake of our democracy.
- George Lakoff on how to frame the health care debate (h/t BlastFromGlast)

- Glenn Greenwald on how the mainstream Washington press is framing the potential failure to pass health care reform as being the fault of leftist ideologues.

Man tilts at windmill, crowd cheers

Here's the synopsis: disabled veteran who likely has health insurance through the VA says that government needs to stay away from health care; insinuates his representative is a domestic enemy of the United States that as a marine he swore to fight and states counter-factually that the Nazis were leftists because they were National Socialists (which is kind of like arguing Congo is a Democratic Republic.)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

They tried to do the right thing

This is the PBS Now episode "Gambling with Health Care."

Here's a particularly relevant passage, that our "public health care is for Nazis" crowd might benefit from paying attention to: it's about a family that represents everything conservatives profess to be about getting screwed by our current health care system.

BRANCACCIO: But Nevada is a long way from Vermont in many ways, including health coverage. Meet Heather and Logan Murray. They never thought they would need help covering their two girls. Until now.

HEATHER MURRAY: The power bill, that we're behind on. That's a red bill, means it's close to being disconnected.

BRANCACCIO: This is a family that has tried to do the right thing. For years, Logan Murray had a well-paying job in the construction industry. They bought a house within their means and sold it before the real estate market tanked. They also made sure to set something aside each paycheck to build a modest nest egg.

But then last April, Logan got downsized from his job and that left the family struggling to come up with a way to replace their health insurance. COBRA proved to be too expensive to cover the whole family for long. It was $1,500 a month. Now think about it: you could make the payments on four new Toyota Corollas for that amount of money. So Heather shopped around for the cheapest private plan she could find. But with less money coming in and those bills piling up, even that plan may soon be out of reach. How long can you hold on with the insurance payments that you're paying now?

HEATHER MURRAY: Maybe about a couple weeks. I mean, I could—I may have to let go of the insurance. Just can't hold on any longer. We've tried—to save and pay it and it's just getting too expensive. So, it could be any day.

BRANCACCIO: So if you get to the point in just a couple weeks, as you are telling us, that you might not be able to—

HEATHER MURRAY: I might have to drop it.

BRANCACCIO: That's not a decision that's gonna come lightly—


BRANCACCIO: —for you.

HEATHER MURRAY: Not at all. It's gonna bring many sleepless nights, many worries, lots of stress.

BRANCACCIO: The Murray's want to apply for what's called Nevada check up—that's the state health insurance plan for kids. But the program may not take ten-year old Priscilla and three-year old Alexis. Why? Well, Nevada's governor—Republican Jim Gibbons —has proposed a cap on the number of kids who can join Nevada check up—no matter what the need. Heather Murray finds that shocking.

HEATHER MURRAY: There shouldn't be a cap. Most families who have children, who have a family and know how hard it is to struggle and to keep health care insurance, we wouldn't even think about putting a cap on these programs. They don't need a cap.

BRANCACCIO: So, are you disappointed with the health care system? Because—

HEATHER MURRAY: I'm very disappointed. You struggle. You pay everything you should. You do everything you should. And at the end it doesn't work out that way because our government and our system doesn't fight for families like ours. We're the middle class, and we pay the majority of the taxes and we don't get the right coverage and health care programs out there for us.
While she's not exactly correct that the middle class pay "the majority of taxes," her general sentiment is correct.

What's the matter with Kansas her?

Remember the woman who yelled "Heil, Hitler!" at a Jewish man because he's proud of Israel's national health service and then openly mocked him when he got emotional talking about having to pay 8,000 dollars for 2 hours in an emergency room without health insurance? It turns out that just prior to that she had been interviewed by a local news station.

She's a perfect example of the sort of phenomenon Thomas Franks wrote about in What's the Matter with Kansas?: middle class Americans voting against their economic interests because they've bought into conservative populism which blames supposedly-atheistic liberalism for social and political ills.

She identifies herself as a conservative Republican who believes in "biblical values." She says that healthcare needs to be reformed, but the government doesn't need to take over health care (a nationalized health care system isn't being proposed) and that health care for illegal immigrants should not be funded (it's not). So right out the gate, two of the reasons that she gave to oppose health care reform are fictions - fictions which happen to be heavily subsidized by the insurance industry.

Following up on why immigrants shouldn't have health care, she explains that while she herself has health insurance, her husband, who works "2.5" jobs, does not. She mentions this to point out that no one is obligated to give anyone else health care, or, for that matter, anything. "There is no natural born right" to it, she says.

First of all, while I myself am not a Christian, nor someone who subscribes to "biblical values," it's my understanding that Jesus wasn't exactly a Randian libertarian, and was kinda big on being charitable to those who are less fortunate than you. The Old Testament's got some stuff in it that would seem to frown on making fun of someone on the verge of tears because he had difficulty paying a health care bill. Like Proverbs 21:13, for instance: "If you close your ear to the cry of the poor, you will cry out and not be heard."

That aside, saying that no one has a right to health care or that anyone is obligated to give it makes as much sense to me as saying no one has a right not to get robbed or have their house burn down; or that anyone is obligated to protect you from theft or to prevent your home from burning to the ground. It's like saying no one has a right to be able to check out a book in a public library, or a right to have buses that will take your child to a public school.

We pool our resources as a society to provide such things because it helps to engender a democratic society where not just the rich and powerful have access to health, education, safety, and the general benefits of living in a wealthy nation; and because it reflects common values we share as a society: compassion for the sick, poor, weak, and unfortunate.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Who said it: a LaRouche cultist or a Fox News viewer?

I previously had noted that rhetoric one can typically hear on Fox News (or AM radio) comparing Democrats to Nazis is virtually indistinguishable from the sort of extremist rhetoric that you might read in a Lyndon LaRouche publication.

It's fairly disturbing that on first glance it's difficult to tell a difference between the insane ranting of a Lyndon LaRouche publication (LaRouche is an extremist par excellence, seeming to have mixed some of the worst aspect of various extremist ideologies from across the political spectrum) and the sort of thing you can hear on Fox News from Glenn Beck or Jonah Goldberg on any given day.
Dave Weigel has noticed the same thing.

After noting that the disturbed woman who accused Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) of supporting a “Nazi policy” was a LaRouche cultist, I checked out the trove of videos that LaRouche’s Virginia-based organization has made available since the health care debate began; they upload new ones at least once daily at their YouTube channel. And comparing their rhetoric to the rhetoric of mainstream Republicans is downright eerie.
What is really disturbing is that in LaRouche you have someone who has been involved in extremist politics across the political spectrum. And yet the tactics he and his followers use to demonize political opponents are now identical tactics that mainstream Republicans and pseudo-conservative propagandists in the media use on a regular basis.

When a mainstream political party is pandering to the same passions as someone like LaRouche, and using the same tactics, that is not a good sign. It demonstrates quite clearly that the Republican party is mainstreaming extremist villainy.

Can Rush Limbaugh say anything too stupid for his audience to accept?

Digby notes that the sort of idiocy that Rush Limbaugh and his imitators promote on a daily basis is one of the leading causes of so many Americans being so grossly misinformed about the issues of the day. Digby quotes Limbaugh telling his audience this

LIMBAUGH: I love it when the global warmers -- and I think they're -- you know, you people run around and you talk about the birthers and how irresponsible and off their rockers they are. The global warming believers are just as wacko as the birthers if you want to look at them as wacko. I mean, if there is a leftist equivalent of the birthers out there, it is the global warmers.
Ok, let's say you're a member of Limbaugh's audience and you're a global warming denier and are somehow capable of believing that World Net Daily (or any other fringe movement conservative website that promoters birtherism) and Scientific American (or any other scientific magazine/journal) have the same level of credibility. Even if that's the case this still makes no sense given the tiny inconvenient fact that Limbaugh is a birther!

He's been promoting birther conspiracy theory for months now on his show. Yet he's now using birther conspiracy to suggest that the people who recognize the reality of anthropogenic global warming are conspiracy theorists. This is completely incoherent.

What it indicates is that for Limbaugh - and his audience - "facts" aren't tethered to reality but to what use they can serve ideologically.

Does President Obama read Atheist Ethicist?

From the New York Times

President Obama sought Wednesday to reframe the health care debate as “a core ethical and moral obligation,” imploring a coalition of religious leaders to help promote the plan to lower costs and expand insurance coverage for all Americans.

“I know there’s been a lot of misinformation in this debate, and there are some folks out there who are frankly bearing false witness,” Mr. Obama told a multidenominational group of pastors, rabbis and other religious leaders who support his goal to remake the nation’s health care system.
The part I bolded is what led me to write the tongue-in-cheek post title, as one of the themes that Alonzo Fyfe has repeteadly written about on his blog is the failure of so many figures (many of them self-professed Christians) to live up to the basic moral principle that one should not bear false witness against others.

One moral principle that transcends almost all moral systems (and all moral systems of merit) is the principle that it is wrong to "bear false witness against thy neighbor." Whenever a person speaks about his neighbor, he should make sure that his statements are true and accurate.

Speaking dishonestly about a neighbor leads to injustice. Unjust treatment is treatment that cannot be justified. Any treatment grounded on the words of those who bear false witness is, by that fact alone, unjustified in the same way that convicting an accused criminal based on lies is an unjust conviction. Civil society requires that its citizens have a respect for the truth if they are to prevent the misery and injustice of actions grounded on error.
And in addition to leading to injustice, bearing false witness leads to the subversion of the democratic process because it leads people to act on false beliefs. Which is why I'm glad to see President Obama calling out the bearers of false witness for doing exactly that. It's well past time to call out liars for their morally bankrupt and democracy disrupting behavior.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Lanny Davis uses Fox News tactics to smear Democracy Now

In my post on the "centrism" of Fox News Democrat Lanny Davis I said this about him

Lanny Davis is one of the Democrats who frequently appears on Fox, his role being to make it seem like only shrill, "far left" ideologues (correctly) believe Fox News to be a Republican propaganda organ and that someone like Sean Hannity is a despicable fool who systematically spreads malicious misinformation.
And I went on to link to a Democracy Now segment where Ken Silverstein excoriated Davis for lobbying on behalf of the Honduran military coup which deposed democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya.

On the Aug. 7 edition of Democracy Now, Davis came on to debate the coup with Latin American historian Greg Grandin, with Amy Goodman moderating. Davis did Fox News proud, using the same tactics that the Republican Noise Machine has used for decades to discredit journalists and shift the range of acceptable political discourse ever to the "right."

He came right out the gate accusing Amy Goodman of not being a neutral moderator because she opened up with an "ideological rant that distorts the facts." After listening to the entire debate, I came away with the strong suspicion that making such an accusation was part of the game plan all along, because Davis makes that accusation over and over again, accusing both Goodman and Grandin of lacking facts and of "ideologically ranting." Further evidence that this may have been a disingenuous strategy is the nature of what Davis considers "ideological": he accused Grandin of being ideological and using an ad hominem attack for recognizing the fact that President Zelaya was removed by a military coup backed by the Honduran business elite (a fact generally uncontroversial outside of people paid by the Honduran business elite to call it controversial) and Goodman too for accurately stating that Zelaya accepted the mediation proposal of Oscar Arias while the coup leader, Micheletti, did not.

Davis employs other Sean Hannity style tactics in the debate, including the loaded gotcha question with dubious "facts" that are difficult to respond to without first fact-checking them, repeatedly demanding an answer to the gotcha question, interrupting and talking over the other speaker while getting indignant when interrupted himself, and distorting his opponents words. And Davis concludes the debate the way he started it, characterizing Goodman as being a dishonest ideologue for not letting him introduce a red herring into the discussion.

You can see some brief fact-checking of Davis' performance here; Grandin did his own fact-checking at Huffington Post and systematically picked apart Davis using the Democracy Now transcript. The whole thing is worth reading, but here is a typical example of Davis in action:

#12: Davis contested my claim that the U.S. State Department, prior to the coup, criticized the Honduran Supreme Court for corruption and for being controlled by political elites. This charge got Lanny particularly agitated: "I challenge that statement," he said.

Fact Check: The State Department's 2008 human rights report writes: "Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judicial system was poorly funded and staffed, inadequately equipped, often ineffective, and subject to patronage, corruption, and political influence.... Low wages and lack of internal controls rendered judicial officials susceptible to bribery, and powerful special interests exercised influence in the outcomes of court proceedings. There are 12 appeals courts, 77 courts of first instance with general jurisdiction, and 330 justice of the peace courts with limited jurisdiction. The Supreme Court of Justice names all lower court judges. The media and various civil society groups continued to express concern that the eight-to-seven split between the National and Liberal parties in the Supreme Court of Justice resulted in politicized rulings and contributed to corruption in public and private institutions."

Quote of the day

"The discoveries of healing science must be the inheritance of all. That is clear. Disease must be attacked, whether it occurs in the poorest or the richest man or woman simply on the ground that it is the enemy; and it must be attacked just in the same way as the fire brigade will give its full assistance to the humblest cottage as readily as to the most important mansion. Our policy is to create a national health service in order to ensure that everybody in the country, irrespective of means, age, sex, or occupation, shall have equal opportunities to benefit from the best and most up-to-date medical and allied services available." - Winston Churchill, March 2, 1944 address to the Royal College of Physicians

Via Joe Conason's article "Winston Churchill was a Bolshevik."

I'm a bit skeptical about exactly how sincere Churchill may have been, given his having made the now demonstrably false F.A. Hayek argument that the welfare state ideas of Labour would lead inevitably to serfdom, but I think Conason's general point holds, and that its pretty clear you can support the creation of a public health care system without being a commie.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

More on the "centrism" of Lanny Davis

Glenn Greenwald has a written a post excoriating Lanny Davis for the sort of behavior that I criticized not to long ago. The whole thing is worth reading, but the essential point is summed aptly by Greenwald, here:

Lanny Davis is just a face that reflects the grime and sleaze that lies at the core of our political culture. But it's a rather vivid face for what is typically meant by Centrism (i.e., it's shrill and irresponsible to suggest there's anything fundamentally wrong with our political culture); Civility (it's rude and disrespectful to highlight the oozing conflicts of interests and paid whoredom which animate our leading political luminaries); and Bipartisanship (the same narrow set of corporate forces always prevail no matter which party is in "control" by constantly paying those who control those parties). As unpleasant as it is, that's why there's value in casting one's eyes on how Lanny Davis functions.

Nothing more democratic than promising to "forcefully resist" the democratic process with an assault rifle

Here's Rick Perlstein from his Washington Post chat. I've edited together a few of his answers I want to spotlight

Carrying a gun to a political meeting is an obscenity. Anyone who does it, even if they are within their legal rights, should be ashamed. Our founders fought a revolution (and, yes, took up arms) to build a society where political disputes are not settled through force or intimidation--and that's the only purpose of bringing a weapon to a political discussion: to intimidate.

It is utterly unacceptable, and every politician should have the guts to say so. What worries me is that the people bringing weapons are hoping to have their weapons taken away, forcing a confrontation that will escalate; many of them, after all, quite frankly proclaim them "revolutionaries."


I worry about people bringing guns to political meetings because some time soon a law enforcement officer will responsibly attempt to disarm them, and the person disarmed (if they don't shoot first) will be turned into a martyr, exponentially increasing the danger of insurrectionist political activity.
This is the reality that responsible members of the press are going to have to confront: these protesters showing up to townhall events with guns (about twelve showed up at Obama's latest) are anti-democratic extremists who are making an implicit threat of violence if the democratic process does not yield the result they favor.*

Journalists don't even have to speculate since they openly explain that they are threatening to "forcefully resist" if their fellow citizens do not vote the outcome that they desire.

Gotta love our mirror version of the Communist ideologue: the Rand-bot libertarians unable to recognize a distinction between taxation with and without representation.

I consider such behavior to be early stage brownshirtism. Ironic, given many of the Townhall protesters consider the Obama administration itself to be "fascist," but when you show up at events with guns threatening to kill your fellow citizens and elected officials if they don't do what you want, you are behaving like a brownshirt. As Pearlstein put it (again, I'm editing together different responses)

Rick Perlstein: The point I would make to Blitzer, Andrea Mitchell, and Chuck Todd is that authoritarian takeovers of nations happen, they happen slowly, and it's a process. I would ask them, if they were reporters in Weimar Germany when Nazi street thugs starting using violence as a way to settle political disputes, when would you begin to report--not opine, report--that democracy was under threat? (Because that is the definition of democracy: the ability to settle political questions without violence.) How far down the road to authoritarianism does a nation have to get before you drop the he-said, she-said paradigm?


Godwin's Law: Got to smack that one on you, Rick. You simply can't equate town hall protests to the brownshirts running amok in Weimar Germany. For you to do so delegitimizes your case -- the same for the people equating Obama with Hitler. For you to do that is just as much of an obscenity as those you call out for bearing arms in THMs.

Rick Perlstein: Brownshirts weren't brownshirts at first. They were just angry people who felt dispossessed by the course Germany took after World War I. This kind of entropy--angry people exploited by elites--is a pattern in history, and it shouldn't be denied. We all have to draw the line as to what kinds of expression of dispossession are illegitimate. People who believed in democracy in Germany didn't have "Godwin's Law" to throw at each other in 1925, and 1928, and 1930. They just had to figure out for themselves when things were getting out of hand. We share that same responsibility. I intend a historical parallel to the 1920s in Germany--not a claim that my political adversaries "are" Nazis. They aren't. But they are beginning to violate the bonds of civility that hold a healthy democracy together.

Bringing guns to political meetings is where I draw that line.
It's also fairly disturbing when Republicans rationalize and legitimize this sort behavior, white-washing out the extremism or outright depicting it as patriotic, civic engagement. And when a Republican senator starts saying that Congress has "earned" proto-fascist armed protesters threatening revolutionary war, we're dangerously close to the sort of dynamic that Robert Paxton warned is one of the steps that is necessary for a fascist movement to start taking hold in a society.

I'd also like to note something that I received some criticism for arguing back during the '08 presidential campaign: that Ron Paul's campaign provided a platform for extremist white nationalist interests to be presented in a more palatable and more generic form, where libertarian ideology substituted for outright racism. In essence, despite Paul having some genuinely important views on Constitutional issues, his campaign served as kind of a springboard for proto-fascist political elements.

I bring this up because we've now seen at least two showing up with guns at these protests being Paul supporters. I also suspect that a good deal of these armed protesters are on the fringes of proto-fascist groups like the Constitution Party and/or the white patriot movement. We know that William Kostric was an admirer of Randy Weaver, for example. And yet as you saw in the video, one of the two men carrying an assault rifle at the Obama townhall is a black man spouting Randian dogma about all taxation being theft that he is willing to fight with arms.

Nothing warms the heart like seeing black libertarians and white supremacist sympathists uniting with guns to fight the socialist Marxist liberal fascism of the Obama administration that irresponsible media figures like Glenn Beck, inadvertently through his promotion of the Tea Parties, helped bring them together to resist.

*Pearlstein makes a very important point. If violence happens to break out at one of these events and one of these armed "revolutionaries" gets shot or assaulted by law enforcement, extremists and many in the conservative movement are going to spiral into hysteria about persecution. They will interpret it as a new Boston Massacre type event, and will continue their self-fullfilling fantasy of re-living their version of the American revolution, reinterpreted through the prism of movement ideology, in order to rebirth the nation, saving it from the alien, "liberal" forces which they perceive to be ruining the country.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Liberal fascism" versus reality

Via Think Progress

And there you have it. A Jewish man, talking about how much he loves the national health care in Israel, being told that he's worshipping "Hitler" (i.e. Obama) because he favors public health care, because, as Glenn Beck and Jonah Goldberg and Rush Limbaugh have no doubt told that woman, public health care is "liberal fascism."

Watch the end where she mocks the man for being upset about having to pay 8,000 dollars for two hours in an Emergeny Room (if you pay careful attention to the clip, her face is actually deranged with hate at that point.) That basic lack of decency and respect is a direct result of the dehumanizing, extremist rhetoric that is promoted on a daily basis in America on Fox News, AM radio, and throughout the "liberal media" which gives voice to conservative supremacists who equate "liberals" with Evil.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Member of Congress rationalizes proto-fascism

From Bill Moyers Journal

I'm okay with protest. Sometimes I wish I'd done more of it myself when I was young.

But it's hard to reason with someone who's packing a gun. That's why I found so menacing that photograph of the fellow standing outside President Obama's town hall meeting on health care in New Hampshire this week with a 9mm pistol strapped to his thigh and a sign quoting Thomas Jefferson on watering the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants and patriots.

Knowing from his MySpace profile that he admires white supremacists, it made me queasy to see that man standing there, pistol at his side. Of course he's exercising his Second Amendment rights under the Constitution and he has a carry permit. But still…
Via Crooks and Liars, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma on Meet the Press
MR. GREGORY: All right. But let’s talk about the tone of the debate. There have been death threats against members of Congress, there are Nazi references to members of Congress and to the president. Here are some of the images. The president being called a Nazi, his reform effort being called Nazi-like, referring to Nazi Germany, members of Congress being called the same. And then there was this image this week outside of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a town hall event that the president had, this man with a gun strapped to his leg held that sign, “It is time to water the tree of liberty.” It was a reference to that famous Thomas Jefferson quote, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” That has become a motto for violence against the government. Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, had that very quote on his shirt the day of the bombing of the Murrah building when 168 people were killed.

Senator Coburn, you are from Oklahoma. When this element comes out in larger numbers because of this debate, what, what troubles you about that?

SEN. TOM COBURN (R-OK): Well, I’m, I’m troubled anytime when we, we stop having confidence in, in our government. But we’ve earned it. You know, this debate isn’t about health care. Health care’s the symptom. The debate is an uncontrolled federal government that’s going to run--50 percent of everything we’re spending this year we’re borrowing from the next generation.
There you have it. A Senator from Oklahoma, being reminded that the last time we heard this type of anti-government rhetoric from extremists hundreds of his constituents were killed, and he answers that the hatred that fueled that attack is legitimate. Words fail me.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Ostracized conservative says conservatives need to stop scape-goating

Remember Bruce Bartlett?

What happens if you're a Republican commentator and you write a book critical of President Bush that gets you fired from your job at a conservative think tank?

For starters, no other conservative institution rushes in with an offer for your analytical skills.
He's still voicing opinions that put him at odds with popular sentiment of the conservative movement.

In January, the Congressional Budget Office projected a deficit this year of $1.2 trillion before Obama took office, with no estimate for actions he might take. To a large extent, the CBO’s estimate simply represented the $482 billion deficit projected by the Bush administration in last summer’s budget review, plus the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, which George W. Bush rammed through Congress in September over strenuous conservative objections. Thus the vast bulk of this year’s currently estimated $1.8 trillion deficit was determined by Bush’s policies, not Obama’s.

I think conservative anger is misplaced. To a large extent, Obama is only cleaning up messes created by Bush. This is not to say Obama hasn’t made mistakes himself, but even they can be blamed on Bush insofar as Bush’s incompetence led to the election of a Democrat. If he had done half as good a job as most Republicans have talked themselves into believing he did, McCain would have won easily.

Conservative protesters should remember that the recession, which led to so many of the policies they oppose, is almost entirely the result of Bush’s policies. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the recession began in December 2007—long before Obama was even nominated. And the previous recession ended in November 2001, so the current recession cannot be blamed on cyclical forces that Bush inherited.
And here's the essential point

In my opinion, conservative activists, who seem to believe that the louder they shout the more correct their beliefs must be, are less angry about Obama’s policies than they are about having lost the White House in 2008. They are primarily Republican Party hacks trying to overturn the election results, not representatives of a true grassroots revolt against liberal policies. If that were the case they would have been out demonstrating against the Medicare drug benefit, the Sarbanes-Oxley bill, and all the pork-barrel spending that Bush refused to veto.

Until conservatives once again hold Republicans to the same standard they hold Democrats, they will have no credibility and deserve no respect. They can start building some by admitting to themselves that Bush caused many of the problems they are protesting.
I disagree slightly in that I think that it's a combination of cynical party hacks (like Newt Gingrich) who are willing to lie to exploit popular sentiment and conservative ideologues who have a dualistic worldview in which they attribute all evils to Democrats. In other words, their perception of reality is warped by their prejudices. The clearest indication of this phenomenon, to me at least, was the tax day Tea Party protests. How else can you explain these conservatives comparing themselves to the American Revolutionaries, protesting the unjust socialist taxation of Obama on tax day, managing not to notice the small, inconvenient fact that the tax rates they paid this year were set by President Bush. President Obama's tax rates don't kick in until next year, at which point many of these protesters should see their taxes decline.

That aside, I see, via Steve Benen, that Bartlett has also raised the same point I made about the seeming inability for a movement conservative to do anything that would discredit that individual. (The quoted quote is Bartlett, the commentary is Benen)

I believe that political parties should do penance for their mistakes and just losing power is not enough. Part of that involves understanding why those mistakes were made and how to prevent them from happening again. Republicans, however, have done no penance. They just pretend that they did nothing wrong. But until they do penance they don't deserve any credibility and should be ignored until they do. That's what my attacks on Bush are all about. I want Republicans to admit they were wrong about him, accept blame for his mistakes, and take some meaningful action to keep them from happening again. Bush should be treated as a pariah, as Richard Nixon was for many years until he rebuilt his credibility by more or less coming clean about Watergate with David Frost and writing a number of thoughtful books.

One reason this isn't happening is because the media don't treat Republicans as if they are discredited. On the contrary, they often seem to be treated as if they have more credibility than the administration. Just look at the silly issue of death panels. The media should have laughed it out the window, ridiculed it or at least ignored it once it was determined that there was no basis to the charge. Instead, those making the most outlandish charges are treated with deference and respect, while those that actually have credibility on the subject are treated as equals at best and often with deep skepticism, as if they are the ones with an ax to grind.

I am truly baffled by this situation, as I'm sure you are.
As regular readers may imagine, I find this overwhelmingly persuasive. Bush/Cheney policies failed so spectacularly, Republican candidates and officeholders are generally reluctant to associate themselves with the tarnished name of the previous administration. But Bush/Cheney policies are still those of the contemporary Republican Party. Nothing has changed. Failure and defeat haven't chastened the GOP at all, and if given a chance to govern again, Republican leaders are quite anxious to return to the exact same agenda they embraced when they were in the majority.

And the political mainstream seems to think this is sane.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The consistency of crazy

Rick Perlstein, a historian who has been specializing in the history of the conservative movement, has an op-ed in the Washington Post explaining that the type of anti-Obama paranoia we're seeing now is part of an American tradition: paranoid backlash at moments of liberal ascendency manipulated cynically by conservative elites.

In the early 1950s, Republicans referred to the presidencies of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman as "20 years of treason" and accused the men who led the fight against fascism of deliberately surrendering the free world to communism. Mainline Protestants published a new translation of the Bible in the 1950s that properly rendered the Greek as connoting a more ambiguous theological status for the Virgin Mary; right-wingers attributed that to, yes, the hand of Soviet agents. And Vice President Richard Nixon claimed that the new Republicans arriving in the White House "found in the files a blueprint for socializing America."

When John F. Kennedy entered the White House, his proposals to anchor America's nuclear defense in intercontinental ballistic missiles -- instead of long-range bombers -- and form closer ties with Eastern Bloc outliers such as Yugoslavia were taken as evidence that the young president was secretly disarming the United States. Thousands of delegates from 90 cities packed a National Indignation Convention in Dallas, a 1961 version of today's tea parties; a keynote speaker turned to the master of ceremonies after his introduction and remarked as the audience roared: "Tom Anderson here has turned moderate! All he wants to do is impeach [Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl] Warren. I'm for hanging him!"

Before the "black helicopters" of the 1990s, there were right-wingers claiming access to secret documents from the 1920s proving that the entire concept of a "civil rights movement" had been hatched in the Soviet Union; when the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act was introduced, one frequently read in the South that it would "enslave" whites. And back before there were Bolsheviks to blame, paranoids didn't lack for subversives -- anti-Catholic conspiracy theorists even had their own powerful political party in the 1840s and '50s.
Perlstein then goes on to ask if it was crazier then or now, and finds that the similarity in paranoia is pretty remarkable. The difference, according to him, is in the way the media treats the crazy.

Conservatives have become adept at playing the media for suckers, getting inside the heads of editors and reporters, haunting them with the thought that maybe they are out-of-touch cosmopolitans and that their duty as tribunes of the people's voices means they should treat Obama's creation of "death panels" as just another justiciable political claim. If 1963 were 2009, the woman who assaulted Adlai Stevenson would be getting time on cable news to explain herself. That, not the paranoia itself, makes our present moment uniquely disturbing.

It used to be different. You never heard the late Walter Cronkite taking time on the evening news to "debunk" claims that a proposed mental health clinic in Alaska is actually a dumping ground for right-wing critics of the president's program, or giving the people who made those claims time to explain themselves on the air. The media didn't adjudicate the ever-present underbrush of American paranoia as a set of "conservative claims" to weigh, horse-race-style, against liberal claims. Back then, a more confident media unequivocally labeled the civic outrage represented by such discourse as "extremist" -- out of bounds.
This is sort of the point I was making the other day about truth needing an advocate for democracy to properly work, and that meaning that journalists need to quit treating lies and misinformation as anything other than that.*

*Actually, it's exactly the same point. Perlstein goes on in the conclusion of the piece to lament how sad it is that the media is treating "death panels" as a he said/she said matter and that our political leaders lack the courage to stand up against such ridiculous charges.

Is Keith Olbermann a four year old?

One of the primary tactics that Rush Limbaugh uses to demonize people is to use some kind of disparaging voice when imitating a particular group. It is a propaganda tactic, meant to discredit someone by trying to associate them with derogatory physical characterstics. For example, Rush Limbaugh likes to characterize "liberal" males as "new castrati," effiminate, sissy gays who have lost their manhood because they don't stand up to feminists. Here he is at CPAC

I find this detestable. And when I noticed that Keith Olbermann has developed the same nasty habit, my opinion of the tactic didn't change.

It's not just Dobbs that Olbermann does this to. It's become pretty standard for him to do some idiotic voice for any of the people that end up in the Worst Persons segment. (In fact, I've heard Olbermann use the exact same lispy voice to mock someone that Limbaugh used in the clip above.) If you want to mock someone for stupid and/or dishonest things they say, fine, I'm all for that. But attempting to discredit someone by physically degrading them is crossing the line, as far as I'm concerned.

What's more, it's incredibly obnoxious and makes Olbermann look like a fool. The same way Glenn Beck looks like a fool when he's attempting to mock someone by making stupid faces or doing whatever stunt of the moment.

Additionally, I happened to catch a bit of the final segment from Friday night's show. Some stand up comic was holding a puppet, doing a back and forth with the puppet while making fun of Karl Rove. Apparently this was supposed to have something to do with Rove and Limbaugh being scheduled to a guest spot on Family Guy next season. I've said this before, but I'll say it again: with great power comes great responsibility. Being the host of primetime network program gives Olbermann a great deal of ability to influence public opinion, and with that power comes the responsibility to use his time on the air to promote the public good. That's supposed to be his job as a journalist.

Almost every single night on Countdown the #1 segment is a complete waste of time. Silly nonsense with no journalistic value. This is time that could be devoted to covering serious issues, news that isn't getting the coverage it deserves.

At a time when a majority of whites in the state of North Carolina aren't sure their president is a US citizen, do we really have time for our supposed news programs to gossip about asininine infotainment matters?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Today's discount book purchase

Today I bought The Politics of Rich and Poor: Wealth and the American Electorate in the Reagan Aftermath (hc) by Kevin Phillips for 1 dollar.

The book was published in '90 and helped Bill Clinton win the '92 presidential election. I'll quote from this review to give you an idea of what it's about.

The Politics of Rich and Poor is a well-written, extensively documented, and easily understood portrayal of fundamental changes in the internal financial make-up and external standing of the United States due to political decisions made during the Reagan years. Phillips has provided both hard data and anecdotal evidence to confirm what many may not know or have perhaps only suspected. Internally, wealth has become more and more concentrated at the upper end of the economic spectrum, especially for the wealthiest one percent or so of U.S. taxpayers, while middle and lower income Americans now hold a much smaller share of the nation's total wealth. Externally, the United States has become a net debtor nation for the first time since World War I and has first mortgaged, then sold large amounts of the nation's assets to foreign investors. The net effect is that for most measures of wealth from the individual level (say, the number of billionaires per capita relative to total population) to the international level (like international bank assets) the United States has surrendered its position of economic leadership while decreasing the economic opportunities of most of its own citizens.
And wealth has continued to concentrate up until today, where levels of income inequality are now estimated by economist Emmanuel Saez to be greater than at anytime in the history of the nation.