Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Objectively Anti-Minotaur

Is Using A Minotaur To Gore Detainees A Form Of Torture?

Via John Cole, who correctly notes, "This is depressing because it is such a realistic portrayal of our discourse."

(The right side of the video is clipped slightly here, but you can see the full frame in full screen mode.)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Lisa Gerrard -" Sanvean (I Am Your Shadow)"

This appears to be the official video, but the fan video above is pretty remarkable. I think this is one of Lisa Gerrard's most memorable tunes. A few years back, I saw her do it live on a Dead Can Dance reunion tour. More aging goths than you could shake a stick at...

Eclectic Jukebox

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ted Kennedy (1932-2009)

What a tremendous, sad loss. One of the most influential senators in U.S. history is dead before his time at 77. Here's his family's official statement:

Edward M. Kennedy – the husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle we loved so deeply – died late Tuesday night at home in Hyannis Port. We’ve lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever. We thank everyone who gave him care and support over this last year, and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tireless march for progress toward justice, fairness and opportunity for all. He loved this country and devoted his life to serving it. He always believed that our best days were still ahead, but it’s hard to imagine any of them without him.

Here's the Washington Post and New York Times obituaries. (Their related features should be linked on those pages.) Ted Kennedy's older sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who founded the Special Olympics, died earlier this month on August 11th. The line that's always stuck with me comes from a 2002 interview Ted Kennedy did with Esquire: "There isn't a day that goes by when I don't think about my brothers."

The WaPo has a 5 minute clip of his 1980 concession speech, and via Digby comes this from last year:

Ted Kennedy admitted to his flaws. Politics can and does appeal to egos and vanity, and a healthy self-image is a necessity. But politics can also appeal to those who want to serve. As the obituaries note, Kennedy was tremendously popular in the Senate, and while he was a staunch, proud liberal, he was willing to work with those Republicans interested in practical solutions. Despite being born into privilege, Ted Kennedy was one of Congress' most stalwart champions for the underprivileged. He fought passionately for raising the minimum wage, for health care, and other measures to help average Americans and the poor. I'm hard pressed to think of an American family that has given and sacrificed more for the country than the Kennedys. I'm quite sad Ted Kennedy didn't live to see a good health care bill finally passed, and I wish he had been healthy enough to fight for it in committee. Passing a good bill would be the best and greatest tribute to his life's work. But condolences and best wishes to his family and many friends, and rest in peace.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Investigate, Disclose, Prosecute

With the CIA report on interrogations, prisoner abuses and torture released today, we're bound to see a new flurry of old arguments that the heavens shall fall if anyone dares to prosecute the perpetrators. A Washington Post op-ed today touches on these very issues, although the author is more nuanced and with a more narrow focus than many other WaPo writers on the subject. (I'd be shocked if we didn't get some raving torture apologists shortly.)

I'm not going to recap every argument (and re-use every link) in "Torture Versus Freedom" and other torture pieces here, but there needs to be a full investigation and disclosure of everything possible (the CIA report will help, but may have a more narrow focus). Prosecutions should certainly be brought where appropriate. Granting blanket immunity would be irresponsible before further facts are known, especially given what is already known. We do know over 100 prisoners were killed in detention, that abuse was widespread, and that abuses were the result of deliberate policies from the highest levels versus the work of a few "bad apples." Based on the timeline and narrative currently available, there are CIA agents – and more likely, government contractors – whose offenses were so grotesque they should investigated and probably prosecuted. However, the bigger issue is those higher up who made the decisions. That group would include Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Addington, Yoo, Gonzales and others (Marcy Wheeler's "The 13 people who made torture possible" provides a splendid overview). It would be a travesty if, as with Abu Ghraib, the lower-level personnel got all the blame while the real culprits got away scot-free.

With all this in mind, I wanted to go through "CIA Accountability: 6 Reasons Not to Prosecute Interrogators." I'll go through the whole thing paragraph by paragraph, but it might be better to read the whole thing and form one's own impressions first. The author was general counsel for the CIA from 1995 to 1996.

CIA Accountability
6 Reasons Not to Prosecute Interrogators

By Jeffrey H. Smith
Monday, August 24, 2009

The CIA inspector general's report on "enhanced interrogation techniques," scheduled to be released today, is said to provide disturbing details about interrogations CIA officers conducted from 2002 to 2004. It will be painful reading. Although the Obama administration has banned the techniques, Attorney General Eric Holder is reportedly considering prosecuting some of the officers who conducted the interrogations.

We lost our bearings in the wake of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The United States, long a leader in human rights and the law of war, adopted policies and practices that squandered our credibility. Over time, President George W. Bush recognized that and reversed some of those policies. In one of his first acts, President Obama went further and banned the enhanced techniques, closed the secret CIA prisons and pledged to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

I'm not sure how accurate it is that 9/11 caused a madness that lead to abuses. Meanwhile, Bush "recognized" legal jeopardy more than the obvious immorality and inefficacy of torture and other abuses. "Madness" is probably the best defense, but as I've written before, the timeline doesn't really support a good faith defense (more on this later). The attacks on 9/11 didn't change the thinking of the neocons, imperialists, monarchists and authoritarians inside the Bush administration so much as it gave them more justification for their already existing, radical views.

Have we done enough to restore our credibility and correct past wrongs, or are prosecutions also needed? We don't yet know what has caused the attorney general to consider prosecution. Enforcing the law is an important function of government. But the government also has broader responsibilities. Here are six reasons prosecutions are not in the nation's best interests:

It's nice that Smith admits we don't know everything yet. Conservative torture apologists generally claim, without offering any proof, that torture saved lives. However, in the eyes of the world, there's simply no question we must prosecute to "restore our credibility and correct past wrongs." A significant percentage of the American people feel the same way, and that number would likely rise if the torture story was reported more accurately.

-- First, these techniques were authorized by the president and approved by the Justice Department. The relevant committees of Congress were briefed. Although the Justice Department's initial legal opinions were badly flawed, the fact remains that the agency responsible for interpreting and enforcing the law said the techniques were "legal." That alone will make prosecutions very difficult.

This is mainly an argument not to prosecute lower-level CIA agents. That seems to be Smith's main concern, and his take on prosecuting those higher up is less clear. I suspect that Washington Post op-ed editor Fred Hiatt might not note the distinction. I wish Smith was more forthright on this, since I think this op-ed will generally be flogged to shut down all prosecutions.

The OLC (Office of Legal Counsel) memos supposedly "authorizing" torture were issued as cover-your-ass measures, after torture and other abuse had already started. As it is, the guidelines they outlined, illegal though they were, were exceeded. But the memos also ignored glaringly relevant legal statutes and case law. A lawyer saying "murder is legal" obviously doesn't magically make it so, although this is essentially the Bush administration position – and one Smith voices as well. The torture memos were neither legally sound nor written in good faith.

As for congressional disclosure, as Angler documents and the Pelosi-CIA briefings story earlier this year show, the While House and the CIA both routinely deceived Congress when they told them anything at all. In fact, just today Scott Horton wrote about the role Blackwater played in Cheney's assassination program, which was one of the major stories of the past week. As Horton notes, Cheney ordered that Congress not be briefed on the program, and that part was known months ago even if Blackwater's involvement wasn't. It's hard to believe Smith didn't know about these stories.

-- Second, the CIA provided the inspector general's report to the Justice Department in 2004. Justice has not prosecuted any CIA officers but did successfully prosecute a contractor who beat a detainee to death, an incident that was initially reported to the department by the CIA. What has changed that makes prosecution advisable now? No administration is above the law. But the decision of one administration to prosecute career officers for acts committed under a policy of a previous administration must be taken with the greatest care. Prosecutions would set the dangerous precedent that criminal law can be used to settle policy differences at the expense of career officers.

Torturing and killing prisoners are not mere "policy differences." The Bush Justice Department's refusal to prosecute abuses is further proof of its corruption, not an exoneration of the perpetrators.

-- Third, after Justice declined to prosecute, the CIA took administrative action, including disciplinary action against those officers whose conduct it deemed warranted such responses. This is standard procedure; reports of possible criminal activity must be referred to Justice. If it declines to prosecute, the matter is sent back to the CIA for appropriate administrative action.

Disciplinary action under the corrupt Bush administration isn't necessarily sufficient, especially given the severity of the crimes – torture and death. This should be further investigated and probably decided on a case by case basis, though. The bigger concern is not individual CIA agents, but those higher-up who authorized these policies.

-- Fourth, prosecuting CIA officers risks chilling current intelligence operations. This country faces an array of serious threats. A prosecution or extensive investigation will be an unmanageable expense for most CIA officers. More significant, their colleagues will become reluctant to take risks. What confidence will they have when their senior officers say not to worry, "this has been authorized by the president and approved by Justice"? And such reactions would be magnified if prosecutions focus only on the lower-ranking officers, not those in the chain of command. Such prosecutions are likely to create cynicism in the clandestine service, which is deeply corrosive to any professional service.

Emphasis mine, above. I don't think it takes a high degree of intelligence or conscience to recognize that torture and murder of a prisoner is illegal and immoral, and not just another order to obey. But I agree with Smith on the bolded section. Those lower down should be investigated, partially to further establish the evidence. But those in the chain of command should be the main targets.

-- Fifth, prosecutions could deter cooperation with other nations. It is critical that we have the close cooperation of intelligence services around the world. Nations often work together through their intelligence services on matters of mutual interest, such as combating terrorism, even if political relations are strained or nonexistent. The key to this cooperation is the ability of the United States to be a reliable partner and keep secrets. Prosecuting CIA officers undermines that essential element of successful intelligence liaison.

This argument is largely bullshit. Most other nations aren't happy about the CIA or other American agencies and contractors torturing and killing people. Investigations are proceeding in Spain and other countries. The human rights abuses perpetrated under the Bush administration, and the Obama administration's insistence that it can still hold prisoners indefinitely without trial or evidence, have hurt foreign relations and our national security, not helped it.

-- Sixth, President Obama has decisively changed the policies that caused so much damage. He recognizes that it is vital to our security to have an effective intelligence community that is not distracted by looking backward and coping with congressional investigations and grand jury subpoenas.

The CIA is not a monolithic entity. It has tortured in the past, while others in the CIA have opposed this. Most in the FBI favor rapport-building techniques, as do some military interrogators such as the decorated Major Matthew Alexander. That's why the newly-announced High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG), with different agencies represented but FBI predominance and White House oversight, may prove to be a good idea.

Smith has consistently argued for years that CIA agents need clear guidelines, and he's absolutely right on that. HIG may provide that, and could be a useful buffer against torture apologist bullshit. Smith also has a point about not just going after lower-level CIA operatives. However, yet again, when torture and murder are involved, these are not mere "policy differences." It's pretty damn important for national security and "effective intelligence" that everyone in the CIA to understand that the Nuremberg defense doesn't hold and some orders must be challenged.

If media reports are accurate, the conduct detailed in the inspector general's report was contrary to our values. It caused harm to our nation and cannot be repeated. But prosecuting those who actually carried out that behavior has consequences that could further harm our nation. Even if the attorney general concludes that a criminal charge could be brought, other factors must be considered. Sometimes broader national objectives must be given greater weight.

The writer, a partner at Arnold & Porter, was general counsel of the CIA from 1995 to 1996.

This is more of the same. Again, there should be a full investigation, and some of those "who actually carried out that behavior" probably should be prosecuted. However, the big problem is those who authorized it, and they should remain the main focus. I don't think Smith is necessarily averse to prosecuting the chain of command, although some torture apologists have made similar arguments as a smokescreen to try to protect key members of the Bush administration. It's basically the "Criticize the Bush administration and you hate the troops" bullshit, except adapted to excuse war crimes. Let's also not forget – and the CIA would do well to remember this, too – that the Bushies have shown themselves perfectly happy to trash the CIA repeatedly for their own mistakes, and for doing things that the Bushies told and browbeat the CIA to do. (See these excerpts from The One Percent Doctrine, for example.) I don't blame Smith too much for sticking up for his former colleagues at the CIA in general principle, but I wish he'd recognize that part of the game, and be more forthright about his stance on prosecuting Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Addington, Yoo and the gang.

Based on his past writings and statements, Smith is strongly for clear guidelines for the CIA, army and other government entities, he's for agency coordination, and appears to be anti-torture.

For instance, here's his list of articles.

From mid-September 2001, here's a PBS interview.

He's written other op-eds for The Washington Post on this general subject. From June 2005, there's "Regaining Respect."

From November 2005, there's "Central Torture Agency?: Exempting the CIA From the McCain Amendment Sends the Wrong Signal to Our Officers."

From February 2007, there's "A War Under Law: Congress Must Address U.S. Detainee Policies."

I'm less concerned about Smith specifically, but did want to put his arguments in context.

Currently, the investigation is set to be only of low-level personnel. As Scott Horton and others have pointed out, if the law is followed, such an investigation will necessarily lead upward. The big worry is a whitewash. And Horton today raises serious concerns about Holder not releasing the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) report. (Marcy Wheeler has similar concerns.) It's important because, as Horton writes, that report:

...Could therefore provide ample reason to doubt whether anyone with legal training—or indeed, anyone with a functioning mind and the ability to read—would find the memos to be persuasive statements of the law. That matters, because the law requires someone relying on them to have done so “in good faith.”

Horton, Marcy Wheeler (Emptywheel), Spencer Ackerman and several other blogs will all be useful to read over the next weeks. Here's the Washington Post article on special prosecutor John Durham. Wheeler isn't thrilled about him. Eric Holder's statement can be read here.

From Wheeler, I'd also recommend "Cheney’s Cherry-Pick," "Reposted: The CIA IG Report on the Inefficacy of Torture," and"Reposted: The CIA IG Report’s “Other” Contents."

Ackerman has "Collected Lowlights Of The 2004 CIA IG Report Into Torture" and another look at Cheney.

KCRW radio show To the Point today was on "A New Look for America's Terrorism Interrogations."

I imagine Dan Froomkin will have more in the days to come as well.

There's plenty to sift through, and much more to come out besides that.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Serving King Grassley

Via Sadly, No comes an atrocious Washington Post article on Grassley, Boehner and the Republicans on health care. Check out the whole thing, but this will give you the flavor of the piece:

Key Senator Calls for Narrower Health Reform Measure
Republican Grassley Cites Town Hall Anger

By Lori Montgomery and Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, a key Republican negotiator in the quest for bipartisan health-care reform, said Wednesday that the outpouring of anger at town hall meetings this month has fundamentally altered the nature of the debate and convinced him that lawmakers should consider drastically scaling back the scope of the effort.

After being besieged by protesters at meetings across his home state of Iowa, Grassley said he has concluded that the public has rejected the far-reaching proposals Democrats have put on the table, viewing them as overly expensive precursors to "a government takeover of health care."

Grassley said he remains hopeful that he and five other members of the Senate Finance Committee can draft a better, less costly plan capable of winning broad support from Democrats and Republicans. But as the group, known as the Gang of Six, prepared to continue talking via teleconference late Thursday, Grassley said the members may be forced to reassess the breadth of their efforts in light of public concerns.

"Not just on health care, but on a lot of other things Congress has done this year, people are signaling that we ought to slow up and find out where we are and don't spend so much money and don't get us so far into debt," he said in a telephone interview between stops in Iowa Falls and Ames, where he has been leading foreign diplomats on a week-long tour of the state. The Finance Committee group is still discussing a "comprehensive" plan for extending coverage to millions of uninsured families, he said, but revisiting that approach would be "a natural outcome of what people may be getting from the town hall meetings."

As the senior Republican on the Finance Committee, Grassley has the potential to attract GOP votes by giving his blessing to a bill, and congressional Democrats and the White House consider him the key to winning bipartisan support for President Obama's top domestic priority. In recent days, however, some Democrats have accused Grassley of trying to undermine the reform effort, for example by refusing to debunk rumors that the Democratic health bills would create "death panels" empowered to decide whether the infirm live or die.

On Wednesday, he denied those claims and fired back at Obama, saying the president should publicly state his willingness to sign a bill without a controversial government-run insurance plan. Such a statement, he said, is "pretty important . . . if you're really interested in a bipartisan bill."

"It's not about getting a lot of Republicans. It's about getting a lot of Democrats and Republicans," Grassley said. "We ought to be focusing on getting 80 votes."

On Wednesday, Grassley made clear that he remains committed to pursuing a health-care bill, provided it does not "make things worse" for people who are happy with their insurance or add to swollen budget deficits. His remarks echoed those of other key Republicans -- including Sens. Olympia J. Snowe (Maine) and Mike Enzi (Wyo.), the other GOP negotiators on the finance panel -- as well as some Democrats, who are quietly urging Obama and congressional leaders to lower their expectations for what can be accomplished this year in the interest of building momentum for future reform.

We must give the reasonable Lord Grassley his way! (Later on, Boehner accuses Obama and the Democrats of refusing to work with them.)

Goddam, this article is obtuse and ridiculously credulous. Grassley wasn't just pressed to debunk death panel rumors. He was asked to repudiate them and perhaps apologize. That's because he was spreading them, as in telling his constituents, "…You have every right to fear… . We should not have a government program that determines if you're going to pull the plug on grandma." That was before he called the death panel propaganda he's been pimping "nothing more than a distortion coming from far-left," and pivoted to attack Pelosi and other Democrats. Grassley has said he probably won't support his own bill even if he gets everything he wants from it. Meanwhile, he and other Republicans have floated their 80 vote bullshit earlier in the year – it's funny how the same rules never apply to Republicans in power.

It's appalling that Montgomery and Bacon actually present Grassley, Boehner and the gang as acting in good faith and never question it. If these reporters are too gutless to call them out, they could at least find a Democrat or pundit who isn't. (That's how it's often done.) But at the least, they could note Grassley's many other public statements and how they directly undermine his credibility. By not doing that, they deny their readers essential context. There's plenty to be found from the New York Times, MSNBC, Steve Benen, the Huffington Post, Media Matters and other outlets. (Hell, Doonesbury ran the "distortion of the far left" line as its featured quotation.) Matthew Yglesias comments on the same article and points out the super-supermajority idiocy, but that's but one angle the article could have taken. How about a poll of Grassley's constituents and their views? How about a poll of their views before and after he worked to scare them? How about national polls and support for the public option, or a discussion of what policies might actually work well? How about some recognition that Grassley's one senator in the minority party representing an extremely small state? How about pushing him to defend his claims? What about at least focusing on Grassley himself? The WaPo article is sorta like guilelessly quoting an arsonist who's blaming someone else for burning the house down when he's standing there with an empty gas can and the other news stations have been running footage of him torching the place. Glaring contradictions, hypocrisy, suspect claims and possibly outright lies by the subject of the piece are somehow not relevant, not newsworthy, and don't make a good headline?

It's highly unlikely Montgomery and Bacon were unaware of the high bullshit factor to Grassley's claims. The only values in writing a story like this versus a more accurate and skeptical one are a) not pissing off Republicans, and b) helping sink health care reform. Given the conspicuous omissions, this article doesn't even rise to the level of stenography. It's more of a Republican press release.

My favorite bit is probably their shilling of Grassley's tale of suddenly opposing health care reform based on the feedback of constituents (after he's lied to them). It made me start thinking of analogies:

After consulting with the American people, Joseph McCarthy is convinced Edward Murrow is a dirty commie.

After many town halls, John McCain is convinced that the American people really wanted him to be president last November.

After shilling an argument that has never been made in such detail or with such care, Jonah Goldberg is convinced that liberals are the real fascists. (Also, that he is brilliant.)

After a careful examination of her own butt after tequila shots, Pam Atlas is convinced that Barack Obama is Malcolm X's love child - and born in Kenya.

After an exhaustive search for the real killers, O.J. Simpson is convinced of his own innocence.

Make your own…

As DDay and others have noted, "The only way you can really get to a Max Baucus or a Charles Grassley is by threatening their job security." The Democrats can strip Baucus of his chairmanship, and Grassley is up for re-election next year. A strong Democratic challenger could do for Grassley what conscience and basic shame have not.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ten Years After - "I'm Going Home"

Live at Woodstock, in honor of its anniversary.

Eclectic Jukebox

Born to Run

I found this interview with Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run, particularly interesting because my anthopology teacher did significant field work with the Tarahumara, and told stories about them all the time. It's not encouraging to hear they're being exploited, and I hope McDougall's book helps put a stop to that.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Christopher McDougall
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealthcare Protests

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Welcoming their Hatred

One of many great Franklin Delano Roosevelt lines comes from a 1936 campaign speech:

We have not come this far without a struggle and I assure you we cannot go further without a struggle.

For twelve years this Nation was afflicted with hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing Government. The Nation looked to Government but the Government looked away. Nine mocking years with the golden calf and three long years of the scourge! Nine crazy years at the ticker and three long years in the breadlines! Nine mad years of mirage and three long years of despair! Powerful influences strive today to restore that kind of government with its doctrine that that Government is best which is most indifferent.

For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up.

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace - business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me - and I welcome their hatred.

I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master.

Some of those passages are eerily timely, and "I welcome their hatred" is exactly right. I'm not assured the Democrats in general and Obama specifically have this level of conviction, but it's precisely what's necessary. The public pitch may wind up being different, but this sort of internal fire is essential.

The excuse for not investigating and prosecuting the many shameful and unprecedented abuses of the Bush administration was that it would somehow derail the Obama administration's "agenda." That wasn't a sufficient rationale given the crimes committed and the likelihood of them being repeated, but it wasn't an irrational fear.

On human rights, Obama has made some improvements, but on due process, ongoing detention and state secrets, the Obama administration has actually defended the Bush line far too much. And if Obama's domestic "agenda" winds up being milquetoast, what's the point of sacrificing so much to get it?

On health care, a bill without a robust public option might still do some good (as Paul Krugman recently pointed out). However, a public option was a compromise to begin with from single payer. The only reasons to oppose even a public option seem to be partisan politics and being beholden to insurance companies.

The reality is that the Republicans want health care reform to fail. Chuck Grassley, the scumbag using fear-mongering crap worthy of Joseph McCarthy, is also acting like he's the president. As they've shown before and they've said again this time, even if they're given what they ask for, Republicans will vote against the bill. It's not as if this is a fluke, since the Republicans when in power always catered to a small, rich and powerful minority at the expense of their own constituents. They've been doing this for a decade, if not three or four. On top of that, they want Obama and the Democratic Party to fail. Regardless of how good the health plan works, regardless of how it's constituted, regardless of how bipartisan it is, they will run against it. They will hang it around the Democrats' necks.

Given this, it's idiotic to craft a lousy, weak bill. While some compromises will be necessary, the best politics is for the Democrats to push the best policies. They'll own the results, so they had better be good.

The more liberal Democrats do have conviction, unlike their more corporatist pals. But for the craven and corrupt, political savvy should kick in where principle doesn't. In fact, if health care reform works well, the Democrats could be in a fantastic position politically for a long time. The Republicans could have regained some credibility had they actually tried to work for reform. As it is, they're choosing, as always, to trash the Democrats and try to make them look unreliable. It's been awfully effective for the past 30-some years.

What about basic competition? When a group of dishonest, vile assholes comes after you again and again and again, isn't there a natural instinct to want to kick their asses? They're going to keep coming, no matter what. They don't believe in compromise or "appeasement." FDR knew how to deal with that – he called them out, and he let the American people know he'd fight for them.

There are some signs the Democrats are waking up to reality. The Democrats also could do a much, much better job selling health care reform. Being clear and simple would help, as with this chart:

(Click for a larger view.)

Meanwhile, Rick Perlstein's pitch and challenge is great: "No one should have to go broke because they get sick. Why do you disagree?" The first part is a clear moral argument with an emotional appeal. The second puts reform opponents in a tough spot. Reformers can certainly explain the details of policy, and should, but I'll say it once again – this is a struggle with a human face. Those stories need to presented, and when these obstructionist, callous, lying, partisan scumbags attack yet again as they always will, reformers need to fight back, welcome their hatred and put them on the defensive.

Springtime August for Hitler

Boy, everything's coming up Hitler these days (and will be in at least a couple of later posts).

First, here's one of the teabagger mob (or whatever you want to call them) saying "Heil Hitler" to an Israeli Jew who's expressing pride in his nation's health care:

The teabagger's mock whining at the end is really something, too. Not only do these people not care about reality, they're not very nice (which should come as a shock to absolutely no one).

Next up, here's Barney Frank being awesome:

This is just lovely (hat tip to Blue Gal). Quoth the Tbogg:

Best Wonkette comment:

The “oh shit, I just became a youtube celebrity for the wrong reasons” look on her face was priceless

I think America just had its Joseph Welch vs the Teabaggers moment. Finally.

Finally, via Mike's Blog Roundup, there was a great New York Times article last week calling out the death panel bullshit and naming names. It also noted The Washington Times' Nazi "euthanasia" op-eds. I wrote about this on Sunday, and first learned of The Washington Times pieces through the February Sadly, No post I linked, but I had missed the NYT article. It's nice to see some good mainstream media accounts on this. Now if only this can become the norm. As Matthew Yglesias writes:

It’s days late, but this article from Jim Rutenberg at The New York Times on the “death panel” smear is quite good, and even a strong headline “False ‘Death Panel’ Rumor Has Some Familiar Roots.” Beyond the headline, the article is solid. In particular, it stays appealingly first-order and just explains that this business isn’t true, who started it, who’s spread it, and what they’re trying to achieve.

The real test, however, goes beyond any one article or one reporter. What can be devastating to a person’s national reputation is when a consistent narrative develops around them as being dishonest or ignorant or what have you. Is Chuck Grassley going to be able to run around Iowa telling outrageous lies about an issue he’s allegedly an expert in and maintain his reputation as a serious, sober-minded, centrist dealmaker? If he is, then there’s really no deterrent force to lying.

Exactly. Grassley's shown himself to be a conscienceless scumbag with the death panel crap, but he also has a colossal ego and is one the key opponents to health care reform. He wants to vilify a good provision, important reform and wants to be the center of attention? Fine. Shine the spotlight on him and expose him for what he is.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Deny Me Health Care or Give Me Death

(or, Nazi Commie Illegal Space Aliens are Going to Kill White Grandmas)

(Read the full comic here. Ya can never get too much Tom Tomorrow.)

Angry conservatives are fighting against their own interests, they’re unappeasable, and dishonest politicians are fanning the flames. Yet national Democrats seem terribly shocked by this, as does the media - who then give angry conservatives the microphone. The more liberal perspectives are often lost in the shuffle, of course. We've seen this basic story before, although this time it does seem uglier and more dangerous.

I'm curious as to the exact breakdown – how many of the eager mob are birthers? How many believe in death panels? How about internment camps? Where do they draw the line? How many of them supported Bush to the bitter end? How many would score high for authoritarian traits? I would guess there's significant overlap, but the particulars might be interesting. Is there a guy out there somewhere who's saying, "Whoa, of course Iraq had WMD and Obama's a Muslim born in Kenya, but death panels? That's just crazy!"

During the Bush presidency, some conservatives eventually acknowledged he was a disaster and jumped ship. Others, when pressed, would admit he was horrible, but they remained convinced that those damn Democrats would do far worse. Some conservatives, when pushed, will even admit that Rush Limbaugh exaggerates and sometimes outright lies (Al Franken used to have his childhood friend and dittohead Mark on the radio and present him with Limbaugh's latest BS). On the other hand, some conservatives think Stephen Colbert is a conservative. And authoritarians will often defend directly opposing beliefs, or insist on a belief in the face of strong contradictory evidence, even when a simpler explanation is available (see Bob Altemeyer's The Authoritarians, especially pp.120-121). At least one study found that when conservatives were presented evidence suggesting one of their beliefs was wrong, it actually reinforced their convictions. (Perhaps it's just that social dynamics – the "oh yeah?" reaction – is stronger than empiricism, but conservatives apparently have a stronger affinity for that.)

Social conservatives often put a premium on what they view as the natural social order. Get the right kind of people with the right "values" in charge, and all shall be well (or at least better than it will be otherwise). Authoritarians tend to define right and wrong mainly based on group identity – torture is right when we do it, wrong when done to us, and so on. Re-read Ron Suskind's classic article on "Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush" and you'll see similar dynamics. That approach does make decisions much easier, and absolute certainty is comforting in a way the "reality-based community" may not be.

Rush Limbaugh doesn't provide information as much as flattering confirmation bias for his fans. Most of them probably wouldn't believe - or simply wouldn't care - that he just makes shit up. He offers rituals to share grievance and reaffirm tribal superiority. Limbaugh delivers the psychological equivalent of comfort food to the rabid faithful, only in an extended version of the Two-Minute Hate.

To the conservative, right-wing base, Obama is both a socialist and a fascist, and simultaneously a weak appeaser to foreign rulers but a ruthless dictator domestically. Bush's monarchial power grabs were just fine with them, and anyone who spoke out then was a traitor, but now that Obama's president, America's being ripped asunder. Internment camps were once a swell idea, but not now. Elections have consequences, but for the right-wing, only Republican politicians have legitimacy. There's a range of sincerity to the craziness, of course – Betsy McCaughey's a vile hack, Sarah Palin's more of a demagogue, while many in the rank and file believe every evil tale they're told (and invent new ones). Regardless, they're bad news, and the conservatives trying as usual to blame their own craziness on liberals and Democrats are particulary loathsome. Journalists pretending that "both sides" are somehow equally hostile, irrational and dishonest is sadly not surprising, but it is highly irresponsible. The 'Deny Me Health Care or Give Me Death' movement is fascinating from a psychological standpoint, and may make for good headlines, but oddly enough, the republic doesn't work very well when the stupidest, meanest, greediest and most dishonest citizens get to set the agenda.

Michael Savage and other conservatives of some prominence are shilling conspiracies about internment camps, but I'm more intrigued by an example Sadly, No caught. Go over and read the piece, but basically, on an airplane flight, a right-wing pastor/blogger sees what he thinks are internment camps. He's heard some people say they're for holding illegal immigrants, but he reasons this can't be, because the government has shown it doesn't care about that. "To think that the federal government intends to place thousands of illegal aliens in internment camps borders on lunacy," is probably the best sentence, since the author also imagines the camps may be intended for those the government is suspicious of: "Christians, conservatives, people who support the Second Amendment, people who oppose abortion and homosexual marriage" and so on. Of course he works in a reference to Nazi Germany and concentration camps. At the risk of mischaracterizing his specific flavor of paranoia, I find his assumption about internment camps and illegal immigrants fascinating, and very much in line with many other paranoid right-wingers. I think the mindset is self-feeding, and goes something like this, however unconsciously: Obama can't be trusted because he doesn't hate the right people. And surely Obama must hate us as much as we hate him.

As Digby's pointed out, euthanasia conspiracy theories have been around for some time. Similarly, while I don't want to diminish what a singular piece of counter-factual, idiotic, craven crap Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism is, accusing liberals of being Nazis is also a pretty old game. Another Sadly, No post, "Godwin Shrugged," (Feb. 2009), looked at the The Washington Times' habit of comparing liberals to Nazis. The specific cause was an uncredited op-ed attacking the Democrats. It claimed that efforts to use computers and standardize medical records were really a "chilling" invasion of privacy designed to spy on Americans. (I'll note that editor Tony Blankley penned an op-ed, "Yes, we need censorship," about the dangers of allowing civil liberties – including privacy - the very next goddam day. Yes, they have no coherence, nor shame.) The health care op-ed also suggested that the Democrats were proposing something "fully in the spirit" of the Nazis' "euthanasia" program. I'll get to that in a moment, but Sadly, No's Gavin M. made some excellent observations:

What we learn today from the Washington Times is that medical records must not be digitized as the Obama plan proposes, but can only exist in paper form because YOU KNOW WHO LIKED EFFICIENCY HITLER THAT’S WHO...

But it’s also the case that these tantrums represent something different to the wingnut mind than to the clinically normal one. To the wingnut mind, or according to the wingnut assessment of what would shock and upset liberals (a nearly identical consideration), the notion of the totalitarian dictator naturally refers to Barack Obama, and to a chain of previous images of Obama-as-cult-leader, Obama-as-false-prophet, Obama-as-Manchurian-Candidate, as usurper, as dictator, as “chosen one,” as false Christ. “Imagine,” the editorial is saying, “If Obama could access our medical records. What would stop him from euthanizing the weak, the so-called ‘unfit,’ or the ‘politically incorrect?’”

It’s not that wingnuts literally believe such things (or care what happens to the weak). They don’t really believe anything in the ordinary sense of the term, but rather make instrumental, conditional use of certain kinds of beliefs, much in the way that other kinds of people make use of thrill sports or porn.

The attraction of extremist politics is that it allows its devotees to indulge irrational, basically infantile impulses; and while the American conservative movement has in a sense chained itself to the devil in becoming a willful gratifier of such impulses, it’s also the case that the wingnut type has no fundamental affinity for conservatism per se, and will switch to any flavor of extremism that will cater to its needs. Wingnuts only care about the drama.

The elements of the wingnut drama are outrage, spite, self-pity, and gloating; and any irresistible fact or narrative will hold the possibility of at least two of these, together or in sequence...

I think there's a great deal of truth to this, although I would argue that authoritarianism strongly lends itself to conservatism, and both are reactionary to social and economic change, whereas liberals seek change in the name of a more fair society. Additionally, modern movement conservatism is pretty obsessed with gaining and maintaining power, outward displays of aggression and strength, dominating an unequal socioeconomic structure and attacking even basic diplomacy and cooperation as dangerously feminine. Real men bomb the shit out of brown people in foreign lands, because who can tell them apart anyway, and even if they didn't do anything, they were thinking about it. Plus, surely the ungrateful foreigners we're "liberating" must hate us as much as we hate them. (And one of them somehow got in the White House, in the greatest conspiracy since global warming!) So, yes, there are definitely crazies who aren't conservatives, and conservatives who aren't crazy, although the right-wing political ideology does not have much merit nor integrity. However, especially in contemporary America, it's not accidental that angry zealots trend conservative.

I did want to address the op-ed's specific claims about Democrats, Nazis and health care, especially since we're seeing similar crap these days. Read the whole of "Health 'efficiency' can be deadly," for yourself, but here's the thrilling conclusion:

There is no telling what metrics will be used to define the efficiencies, but it is clear who will bear the brunt of these decisions. Those suffering the infirmities of age, surely, and also the physically and mentally disabled, whose health costs are great and whose ability to work productively in the future are low. And how will premature babies fare under the utilitarian gaze of Washington's health efficiency experts? Will our severely wounded warriors be forced to forgo treatments and therapies based on their inability to be as productive as they once might have been? And will the love between a parent and child have a column on the health bureaucrats' spreadsheets?

Consider the following statement: "It must be made clear to anyone suffering from an incurable disease that the useless dissipation of costly medications drawn from the public store cannot be justified."

This notion is fully in the spirit of the partisans of efficiency but came from a program instituted in Hitler's Germany called Aktion T-4. Under this program, elderly people with incurable diseases, young children who were critically disabled, and others who were deemed non-productive, were euthanized. This was the Nazi version of efficiency, a pitiless expulsion of the "unproductive" members of society in the most expeditious way possible.

The program was publicly denounced in 1941 by Clemens Galen, the Catholic Bishop of Muenster, who said in a sermon, "Here we are dealing with human beings, with our neighbors, brothers and sisters, the poor and invalids ... unproductive - perhaps! But have they, therefore, lost the right to live?"

The efficiency-based approach to health care reform is a betrayal of the compact between those who are most capable of work and those who are least capable of defending themselves. And we have come a long way from what was supposed to be a "targeted, timely and temporary" stimulus bill.

This is shameless fear-mongering, even if The Washington Times portraying itself as the voice of compassion is laughable. Civil rights are very important, but some people don't care about such things only when a Democrat is president, and the day before they argue against rights. Accusing the Democrats of mistreating returning troopers is especially brazen and hypocritical. Of course, those monstrous Democrats will also destroy the bond between "a parent and child." Is nothing sacred? Still, I must say portraying as evil efforts to make our horrible health care system more "efficient" is pretty ingenious propaganda. The Nazi analogies are particularly appalling, though.

It just so happens I have a post on the Nazi T4 "euthanasia" program right over here. (it was for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, 2008.) For the Nazis, euthanasia and "mercy killings" were really murder, of course. They started with sterilization of 'undesirables,' then moved to murder, with the T4 program providing a ghastly test run for the later series of death camps and methods of murder such as gassing. They used propaganda, including a number of films, to try to sell murder to the public (alas, I could only provide two clips). Invoking the Nazis and their "euthanasia" program does not ultimately work in conservatives' favor. For one thing, in their propaganda, the Nazis deliberately conflated voluntary euthanasia (suicide or assisted suicide) with involuntary "euthanasia" (their murder program). For another, they warned of the dangers of "inferior" people out-breeding "higher quality" people. Additionally, they continually expressed outrage over the cost of caring for the supposedly inferior, as in: "60,000 Reichsmarks is what this person suffering from hereditary defects costs the People's community during his lifetime. Fellow German, that is your money too."

Our current political battles are very different, of course. But if we must make comparisons, it's not really a secret which side is conflating personal end-of-life decisions with murder, who's talking about white people being outbred, who's expressing outrage over the cost of providing health care for the uninsured, who's talking about the country being tarnished by the unworthy, who's for letting people die in the street and who's praising Hitler as a role model. Obviously, conservative opponents of health care reform are not Nazis or anywhere near as bad. Screaming that a living will is a murder plot, that some people deserve to die or fighting to deny Americans health care is callous, unconscionable and even evil, but it's nowhere near the evil of state-sponsored murder and genocide. (I've also got an older post about the value and limitations of Godwin's Law, if that's a concern.) Invoking the Nazis shouldn't work in conservatives' favor – but it's not likely it will stop. And as long as that prevails, and the craziness and demagoguery continues, it's important to call it out, from the usual skullduggery to hate speech to proto-fascist stirrings. We might not be "there" yet, but standing up for civil rights, good government and decent treatment of everybody tends to head it off at the pass. The current insanity shouldn't go unchallenged.

The diehard right-wingers view Obama as a dangerous usurper - they can all agree on that. The only real question among themselves is what boxes they check off on their hate list – Democrat, liberal, black, Muslim, foreign-born, socialist, fascist, trying to take your guns, trying to kill grandma, trying to put conservatives in camps, trying to give the unworthy health care on your dime... It's just slightly different flavors of bullshit from the hacks and varying flavors of batshit from the zealots.

However, far more Americans can agree that our current health care system is often atrocious, and many people know someone with a health care horror story, or have their own. Their stories should be told. Every "death panel" lie should be called out, and countered with a piece on Remote Area Medical or something similar. Instead of phantoms and paranoia ruling the day, attention must be paid to this struggle's many human faces.

I don't say he's a great man. Willie Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He's not the finest character that ever lived. But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He's not to be allowed to fall in his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person.

(Cross-posted at Hullabaloo.)


Friday, August 14, 2009

No Fury Like Vice Scorned

If you've missed it, Barton Gellman's latest Cheney article, "Cheney Uncloaks His Frustration With Bush," is worth a read:

In his first few months after leaving office, former vice president Richard B. Cheney threw himself into public combat against the "far left" agenda of the new commander in chief. More private reflections, as his memoir takes shape in slashing longhand on legal pads, have opened a second front against Cheney's White House partner of eight years, George W. Bush.

Cheney's disappointment with the former president surfaced recently in one of the informal conversations he is holding to discuss the book with authors, diplomats, policy experts and past colleagues. By habit, he listens more than he talks, but Cheney broke form when asked about his regrets.

"In the second term, he felt Bush was moving away from him," said a participant in the recent gathering, describing Cheney's reply. "He said Bush was shackled by the public reaction and the criticism he took. Bush was more malleable to that. The implication was that Bush had gone soft on him, or rather Bush had hardened against Cheney's advice. He'd showed an independence that Cheney didn't see coming. It was clear that Cheney's doctrine was cast-iron strength at all times -- never apologize, never explain -- and Bush moved toward the conciliatory."

A president, showing independence from his vice-president? Dangerous stuff. I'd note, though, that this is perfectly in line with the neocon idea that Bush was an empty vessel and Palin was a "blank page" to fill with their ideas. (Hey, ya gotta know your market - no one bright would buy the neocon ideology, all the more so after its huge disasters.)

Back to Gellman, near the end of the piece:

"If he goes out and writes a memoir that spills beans about what took place behind closed doors, that would be out of character," said Ari Fleischer, who served as White House spokesman during Bush's first term.

Yet that appears to be precisely Cheney's intent. Robert Barnett, who negotiated Cheney's book contract, passed word to potential publishers that the memoir would be packed with news, and Cheney himself has said, without explanation, that "the statute of limitations has expired" on many of his secrets. "When the president made decisions that I didn't agree with, I still supported him and didn't go out and undercut him," Cheney said, according to Stephen Hayes, his authorized biographer. "Now we're talking about after we've left office. I have strong feelings about what happened. . . . And I don't have any reason not to forthrightly express those views."

Liz Cheney, whom friends credit with talking her father into writing the book, described the memoir as a record for posterity. "You have to think about his love of history, and when he thinks about this memoir, he thinks about it as a book his grandchildren will read," she said.

I'm sure they'll especially enjoy the torture scenes. Still, amazingly enough, Liz Cheney may have inadvertently done something good (assuming the raw, unvetted-by-criminal-defense-lawyers version can get out).

The Poor Man Institute points out:

...Consider this: By the time Cheney grew disenchanted with his protege, Bush had already started two wars against the dirty Moslem horde, deployed a mercenary army with a twisted religious sadism, authorized widespread torture, sanctioned indefinite detention and kidnapping, implemented a program for illegal wiretaps/surveillance of US citizens, signed-off on illegal settlement expansion in the occupied lands, endorsed an Israeli invasion of Lebanon, supported Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia, stoked a bloody (if unsuccessful) coup to topple Hamas in Gaza, and numerous other atrocities to warm the defective heart of Dick Cheney.

So the question is what, exactly, did Bush refuse to do that led to this increasingly messy divorce?

That is one of several big questions. In late July, after high profile pieces on the Libby pardon and Bush's consideration of deploying the military domestically broke, Digby made a similar point:

Reading this thing about the Tanks of Lackawanna, something has become clear to me that wasn't before: the excesses of the Bush administration, the war, the torture, the wiretapping, were the result of compromises between the sociopathic Cheney faction and the merely dull and incompetent remainder of the administration, including the president.

(The "Tanks" link points to DDay's post on this. If you missed them, I'd also recommend the Glenn Greenwald and Scott Horton posts on the military story, and Emptywheel's post "The Bush Fairy Tale on the Libby Pardon." When it comes to the Bush administration, as horrible as they've often appeared, subsequent revelations have almost always revealed them to be even worse.)

Commenting on the Gellman story and Cheney's plans to write a book, Anne Laurie writes:

Apparently omerta has its limits. I know a lot of us DFHs feared that the horrors of the Cheney Regency would never receive a public airing, if only for fear of the War Crimes Tribunal, but perhaps vanity will achieve what mere human decency and the rule of law never could.

Here's hoping. Still, the rule of law would be nice, if "quaint" in the view of Alberto Gonzales and the rest. I remain a fan of pitching the idea that the only thing that could possibly exonerate Cheney and the gang, and win them the accolades they so clearly deserve, is a full, unfettered investigation into the torture program (and the surveillance program and...).

I keep on plugging it, but Gellman's book Angler is one of the very best on Cheney and the Bush administration out there. As it is, he'll have to update it or write a sequel because some of what's come out since is even more nefarious. But if you're looking for a Cheney primer, you can read Angler excerpts here and here. Gellman's piece on "the Cheney Rules" is also a useful overview, and Scott Horton conducted a good interview with Gellman. Work by Jane Mayer, Ron Suskind and others give a much clearer picture of the Bush administration as well. Meanwhile, the Frontline episode "Cheney's Law" is one of several good pieces they've done on Cheney and the Bush administration.

Ah, the sweet smell of vanity and towering hubris. These guys have a warped view of the world, but their self-images are distorted as well. Remember, back during planning for the Gulf War, Cheney was repeatedly pitching crazy military plans to Norman Schwarzkopf. It's almost impossible to overstate how arrogant Cheney and his gang are (Addington's one of the worst). Cheney's approach showed an utter contempt for the American people, the entirety of Congress (including his own party), and even key members of the Bush administration. As I wrote in an earlier post, Cheney felt he was wiser than the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the Geneva Conventions, the Federalist papers, the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta, the Constitution, and the Boy Scout Oath. In the Scott Horton interview, Gellman describes Cheney as "a rare combination: a zealot in principle and a subtle, skillful tactician in practice." In Cheney's battle over whether to protect his proud legacy versus his instinct for self-preservation from prosecution, I'm hoping he pulls a Libby and the vain, arrogant zealot wins out.

Cheney thinks he's Jack Bauer. Part of him must be itching to go Colonel Jessep and yell the ugly truth at us all.

(Cross-posted at Hullabaloo.)


A Field Guide to Political Creatures

American politics can be better understood by looking at three important political creatures – the wonk, the hack and the zealot. Here's a brief introduction.


Occasionally shy, the wonk may be tracked by following its trail of citations. Quotation droppings can also serve as useful clues. Wonks are especially fond of chewing on obscure policy papers and classic works such as this one (that coincidentally captures the wonk mindset):

Meno: Somehow, Socrates, I think what you say is right.

Socrates: I think so too, Meno. I do not insist that my argument is right in all other respects, but I would contend at all costs both in word and deed as far as I could that we will be better men, braver and less idle, if we believe that one must search for the things one does not know, rather than if we believe that it is not possible to find out what we do not know and that we must not look for it.

Highly inquisitive and giddy over problem-solving, wonks typically possess enormous stamina that aids them in poring over legislative bills, detailed memos and original documents. Many prefer a dry climate. It's not uncommon for male wonks to sport beards, but beware the moustache of understanding. The wonk is most easily found in one of its natural habitats – academic departments, activist meetings, certain blogs, Scandinavian award ceremonies and PBS shows. The wonk responds well to empirical data, geeky humor and sometimes wit, but certain breeds can become confused and flustered by prolonged exposure to bullshit. When provoked, some wonks utter a piercing, shrill cry that petrifies their enemies.


Over the years, once mighty herds of news wonks were hunted mercilessly in the name of profit, contributing to the ascendancy of the hack. Steven Pearlstein describes the devastation after a typical swarm of hacks:

The recent attacks by Republican leaders and their ideological fellow-travelers on the effort to reform the health-care system have been so misleading, so disingenuous, that they could only spring from a cynical effort to gain partisan political advantage. By poisoning the political well, they've given up any pretense of being the loyal opposition. They've become political terrorists, willing to say or do anything to prevent the country from reaching a consensus on one of its most serious domestic problems.

There are lots of valid criticisms that can be made against the health reform plans moving through Congress -- I've made a few myself. But there is no credible way to look at what has been proposed by the president or any congressional committee and conclude that these will result in a government takeover of the health-care system. That is a flat-out lie whose only purpose is to scare the public and stop political conversation…

The hack thrives in moist, damp environments, such as loss-leader magazines, conservative think tanks, political television shows and talk radio cess pools. Hacks display a variety of plumage, often preen and strut, and sometimes can be identified by a sneer or other look of disdain. They play better with their own kind (assuming similar markings), but frequently grow territorial, aggressive and predatory around any other creatures. Some try to disguise themselves as wonks as a hunting technique, with varying degrees of success. They require constant scrutiny, since they tend to steal or destroy anything not firmly secured. Some are quite belligerent, yet prove cowardly when confronted. When pinned down, a hack often flails about wildly, and may bite off its own leg to escape (some instead go very, very still).


Let's move on to our third type of political creature. Noted Zealotologist John Cole writes:

Now- nobody SANE is arguing that the health care reform proposals will include death panels, which is probably why James [Joyner] thinks it is so preposterous. He is sane.

On the other hand, the same crazy people who the right wing has whipped into a froth the past couple of decades sure as hell do believe there are going to be death panels. But then again, they also think a small increase in the top marginal rate is socialism, that Sarah Palin would make a great president, that you can make people ungay with therapy, that the earth is ten thousand years old, that Obama was born in Kenya and doesn’t say the pledge of allegiance and was sworn in on a Quran, that the Clinton death list is real and that Hillary murdered Vince Foster, and on and on and on. And operatives in the Republican party, to include elected officials, have spent decades making people believe this stuff. We didn’t imagine Dan Burton shooting pumpkins in his backyard and we aren’t imagining Richard Shelby and others pushing birther nonsense. There is an entire industry pushing this crap.

While the zealot desires that its perceived enemies huddle in the cold (and die), the zealot itself prefers a hot climate, to match its burning rage. Zealots are fond of rituals of shared grievance and fictional courage. The zealot can found wielding teabags, threatening to "go Galt," bullying politicians and citizens at town hall meetings, agreeing with Bill O'Reilly, and crouching in caves covered in batshit. Zealots are best handled with caution or avoided altogether if possible. Their inscrutable, sphinx-like logic can prove hypnotizing, and even the brave of heart and nimble of mind may find him or herself captivated. Disruptive but normally a limited threat in isolation, zealots in numbers can grow dangerous. When challenged or agitated, the zealot can puff up in size and employ a relentless sonic attack.

It can be difficult at times to distinguish hacks from zealots, and the two often intermingle. In fact, they often can't tell each other apart. Traits of hackery and zealotry may ebb and flow back and forth - or coexist - in the same entity. Field studies have discovered hacks and zealots cavorting together, rolling in tall piles of false talking point papers mixed with fresh batshit. Regardless, for dealing with either type, protective fact-checking and latex gloves are highly recommended. Prolonged exposure is best countered with equal or greater time with basically sane, decent people, wandering in nature, or doing something generally positive. If, after exposure to either type, your annoyance lasts more than four hours, turn off the TV.

There's at least one more important political creature that bears mentioning – the Jester. The most insightful of these can be found on basic cable. Impervious to bullshit, and eager to call it out, they are the only creature hacks fear more than wonks. (They're also an exception to the "turn off the TV" rule.)

In any case, that's a partial field manual to political creatures. Join us next time, when we'll diagram a Glenn Beck monologue with crazy string.

(I've linked it before, but Steve Benen has a better –and more realistic - breakdown on the different types of opponents to health care reform. See also "Bush's War Against Wonks" by Bruce Reed and A Political Bestiary. This post is basically a tongue-in-cheek riff on part of an older, serious and very long post on American politics. And of course Stewart, Colbert and a number of other bloggers do better satire.)

(Cross-posted at Hullabaloo.)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Les Paul and Chet Atkins

RIP. Chicher posted this video for Les Paul's 94th birthday, and also quoted a nice tribute to Les by Gibson guitars. I own a Epiphone Les Paul, and while there are some legendary guitars out there, for electrics the two biggest are probably the Fender Stratocaster and the Gibson Les Paul. It'd be difficult to list how much great music's been made on that style of guitar, and hard to overestimate how influential Les Paul was. Les was still playing away at an advanced age, having fun and entertaining audiences, and that's probably what kept him going. Thanks for the music, and rest in peace, Les.

Eclectic Jukebox

Knowing the Difference

Here's a tale told in three videos. We'll start with some recent town hall furor captured by TPM (via Sadly, No):

I know that years down the road, I don’t want my children coming to me and asking me, ‘Mom, why didn’t you do anything? Why do we have to wait in line for, I don’t know, toilet paper or anything?’ I don’t want to have to tell them I didn’t do anything. As a normal citizen, the most I feel like I can do is come to this town hall meeting.

“The country is slowly being ripped apart,” said Katy Abram, who identified herself as someone who didn’t care about politics until the last few years. “It scares the life out of me.”

Abram was one of 30 people selected to ask a question to Specter. When she got up, she said, in part, “It’s not about health care … It’s about the systematic dismantling of this country … I don’t want this country turning into Russia, turning into a socialized country. I want to restore this country to what it was under the Constitution.”

First they came for the grandmothers, and I did not speak up, for I did not have a grandmother. Then they came for the toilet paper… Those French-loving Democrats start by winning elections, then impose death panels, internment camps, and bidets.

Lawrence O'Donnell had the same woman, Katy Abram, on Hardball (via Brilliant at Breakfast):

On the one hand, they way she talks about war – war, ya know, where people die and little things like that - makes me feel like pounding my head repeatedly against the wall. On the other, I will give her some credit for occasionally admitting that on some matters - well, many - she just doesn't know. She's not an informed citizen, nor has she tried to become informed, and she sure as hell should not be running the country. But Bill Kristol, John Bolton and the gang would never admit that they didn't know what the hell they were talking about, nor are they typically honest about their agendas. (Jezebel has an interesting take on Abram, too, and includes The Daily Show's clip on her.)

Lawrence O'Donnell deals with Abram fairly gently while trying to engage her on the basis for her views, and I think that's the most effective approach, especially since she's not belligerent. In a one-on-one situation with real people versus professional hacks, that seems like the way to go. It's also not a bad idea on the national level. As it turns out, O'Donnell worked with a guy named Aaron Sorkin who wrote a relevant scene:

The bully pulpit is powerful, and using it is a good idea given such a vile misinformation campaign against health care reform. The Sorkin scene expresses a yearning for an informed citizenry. It'd be nice if that could prevail over the loons who think they're in Red Dawn but acting like they're in The Lord of the Flies (or the mob in The Ox-Bow Incident, or The Manchurian Candidate, or…).

Real life is generally more complex than fiction, of course. Steve Benen has a very good post on five basic types of opponents to health care reform. The hacks and zealots aren't reachable, but others are. There are legitimate debates to be had about health care on top of that, and keeping pressure on Grassley, Baucus, Enzi and others is important. Yet currently, it seems like a big fight just to get the public discussion back to the realm of basic sanity. That's not accidental. But having more informed, interested, basically sane people at town hall events would help.

Firedoglake has a search engine for town hall events and a widget for passing the information on.

Update: Via the Hullabaloo comment thread and others, here's the Daily Howler take and a Daily Kos diary on Abram. Make your own call. For what it's worth, I'm less interested in Abram specifically and more concerned generally about the group Benen calls "The Dupes" in his breakdown, the people "who stand to benefit from reform, but are skeptical because they don't know who's telling the truth and who isn't." To my mind, that's a huge problem on a host of issues, although it sure ain't the only one.

(Cross-posted at Hullabaloo.)