Saturday, March 31, 2012

Hunter Hits Another Bulls' Eye

That'd be Hunter over at Daily Kos, and his latest bull's eye is his post about this week's Supreme Court Kabuki Theater job.

You can read it here.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Broccoli, Vile Weed! (And Even Viler Justices)

There's a famed episode of Seinfeld where Jerry, in order to save a friend's job who works at Kenny Rogers' Roasters, accepts to switch apartments with Kramer, who had started a protest against the restaurant in an attempt to put it out of business so he could resume a regular sleeping schedule (the restaurant's red neon sign prevented Kramer from catching a good night's sleep).

Later in the show, though, Jerry discovers that in spite of the protest, Kramer (and Newman) has become addicted to the chicken, and figures out that Kramer would not have the guts to resume his ploy to put the restaurant out of business even if he had to go back to his apartment. Jerry finds out because he meets Newman at Kenny Rogers' and the clerk who hands Newman the order says "Oh, don't forget your broccoli." Jerry says "Broccoli? You wouldn't eat broccoli if it were deep-covered in chocolate sauce!" Newman's half-heartedly responds "I love broccoli!", so Jerry exhorts him to have some broccoli, then. Newman does and proceeds to spit it out after almost choking on it and exclaims "Vile weed!". That's how Jerry uncovers Kramer's ruse and forces Kramer to switch back apartments.

This week's health care arguments in front of the Supreme Court reminded me of that episode, because broccoli was a central plot twist in the Seinfeld episode and was also a central argument in Justice Scalia's opposition to the Affordable Healthcare Act. Scalia, whose antics are legendary and whose intelligence and rhetorical abilities are obviously greatly overrated, contended that allowing one government mandate (the individual mandate to purchase health care or pay a tax penalty) might lead to another (the government's hypothetical mandate to all Americans to purchase broccoli).

Paul Krugman was one of many commentators who pointed out that Scalia's argument is disingenuous because one American's failure to purchase broccoli does not have any effect on another American's ability to purchase the vegetable or on its affordability. Justice Scalia is a sure vote in the pocket of the Act's opponents, no doubt. His clumsy rhetoric and his inability (or unwillingness) to understand the difference that goes between the grocery market and the health care market.

But where Don Verrilli, Solicitor General of the United States, caught a lot of flack in the mainstream media for his fumbling defense of the ACA's individual mandate requirement, Justice Scalia caught almost none for his pedestrian offense against logic and his attack against the Act's pivotal requirement. This difference in treatment is another example, in case one was needed, of the ridiculous job that the MSM does in informing the American public about the content of the issues. No wonder so many Americans are confused and think that both sides are equally guilty for the country's failures.

Perhaps, as Newman says in the Kenny Rogers' Roasters episode, broccoli is a vile weed. There should be no doubt in anyone's mind, however, that Justice Scalia's presumed defense of individual liberty in the name of broccoli is very vile weed.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Now That The Health Care Arguments Have Been Heard, Let The Arguments Begin

For the insatiably masochistic, like me, here are a couple interesting posts about this week's SCOTUS hearings on health care.
The Supreme Court, the Affordable Care Act, and the Slippery Slope (by Geoffrey R. Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law, University of Chicago)
No Surprise: The Supreme Court Is Hostile To Health Care (by Adam Winkler, Professor of Law, UCLA)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Start From Scratch

I said it before and I will say it again: The best thing that the Supreme Court could do for all of us is shoot down the individual mandate that is that foundation of the Affordable Healthcare Act. In saying it I know that I will draw the ire of many, many of whom I sincerely respect.

As you know, I am no libertarian and no conservative, but I do believe that the Affordable Healthcare Act is a total screw up of the promise of health care for all, brought about by a weak President and Democratic majority. It was a half-assed, half-hearted attempt to make health care accessible to all Americans without pissing off the insurance industry and the medical-hospital complex too much. It was never, in spite of the name, an attempt to make health care more affordable. If it had been, cost meaningful controls would have been part of the law. They are not. The closest the law gets to some form of cost control is to mandate that insurance companies must spend 80 cents on the dollar on health care, which is no cost control at all, because it does nothing to prevent costs from rising at the rate they have been and beyond.

At this point, the best thing that can happen is for the Supreme Court to declare the individual mandate unconstitutional. Send the whole law back to the drawing board, and let the states deal with creating a universal health care system for its residents. That's how universal, single-payer health care started in Canada. That's probably what it will take over here.

If Obama and the Democrats had really wanted to make health care affordable and accessible to all Americans, all they had to do was to open enrollment in Medicare to all Americans who wanted to enroll. If you want to achieve the goal of bringing the USA up to the same level of humanization as all advanced countries, it should be a piece of cake to do it for the country that constantly, and unjustifiably, calls itself the number one in the world. If you wanted to have every American citizen and legal resident covered by a universal health care system, do it through taxation: slash the military budget, and redirect that money to provide your people with what most other civilized countries regard as a basic human right.

Anything short of that is a hoax. The President and too many Democrats viewed health care reform not as a goal in itself, but as a means of currying and keeping political favor. Let them deal with the consequences. And apologize to all who will suffer because of their short-sightedness.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Paul Volcker on Obama

Paul Volcker says that claims that Obama is a socialist have "no connection to reality". Of course they don't.

I understand why Repuglycans try to paint President Obama as a socialist. After all, they have also played the "show us the birth certificate" card for three years before finally giving in to being ridiculed for it.

What I don't understand is how anyone who is not a shill for the Repuglycan Party can seriously believe that the president is a socialist. I guess it comes down to most Republican voters holding a Manichaean worldview that divides the world into good ("those who see the world like we do") and evil (everybody else).

I feel sorry for them. And for the rest of us.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Fox Double Standard

Jon Stewart's classic takedown of the douches at Fox News Channel.

Republicans, Full of Gas

So, now that Bin Laden's with the fishes, unemployment is down, and the Dow is up, the talking point du jour is the price of gas. You know, Republicans are full of it, so they know what they are talking about. And since a vast number of Alabama and Mississippi Republicans now believe that Obama is a Muslim (45 and 52% respectively), they might as well keep lying.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Great Teleprompter Crisis

I've heard it said, and seen it written, that Obama is a fraud because he uses teleprompters, without which--his critics say--he would be a bad public speaker. That, of course, is bullshit. The problem with Obama is not that he cannot the talk, with or without technical aids. But Republicans and their shills won't stop at anything to avoid speaking about the country's real problems and they will invent fake problems instead. So you will be likely to hear about the great teleprompter crisis in the next few weeks/months.

But don't let the contemptible stupidity make your blood pressure. Instead, have fun with it and read these two posts from Daily Kos: Teleprompters are stupid ... only when Obama uses them and All other ideas exhausted, Republicans continue attack on TelePrompters.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Good, Necessary Defense of Rep. Kucinich

Salon's Glenn Greenwald published a much-needed defense of exiting Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who lost his seat to Marcy Kaptur after redistricting caused two Ohio districts to be merged.

Game Change: History Changed

I watched Game Change, the much touted HBO original based on the book by the insufferable Mark Halperin and his co-author, John Heilemann. It is entertaining, and Julianne Moore's portrayal of Sarah Palin as good as Meryl Streep's Margaret Thatcher. It is so good that it even redeems one of Ed Harris's worse performances, as John McCain (among other things, Harris fails to deliver his lines with any of the senator's gravelly voice and his physical mannerisms).

I should say that I did not read the book because, as I said above, I find that Mark Halperin insufferable. He is the embodiment of servile, "equidistant" journalism at its worst. Nonetheless, I can confidently say that I found Game Change unsettling in its attempt to portray John McCain more as the victim of a choice that he seconded, but which was made by his top campaign managers, than as the "game caller" he must have been in the process.

I'll say that I never subscribed to the wildly-held belief of the mainstream media that Sen. McCain is a "maverick" who represents a fresh and atypical departure from the world of party loyalism. In the events depicted in the film, either Sen. McCain really had little say in the choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008, and Sarah Palin was so out-of-control that it was impossible for anybody to restrain her in her "mavericky", rogue ways, or--an alternative that I find much more likely--he did not try or was unwilling to control her. Whichever the case, he was highly responsible for approving the choice of an obviously incompetent woman as his VP. If the latter is true, then obviously his judgment was faulty beyond reason and we are very lucky that he was not elected president.

The directors made the decision to portray the Arizona senator as being fairly detached from, and uninvolved in, the whole process of appointing his VP. I must assume that they have stuck fairly faithfully to how the book's authors chose to represent the senator. The problem I have is that there seems to be an obvious attempt to redeem Sen. McCain's poor judgment by showing that his choice may have turned out to be a bad one in retrospect, but that it was a justifiable "hail mary" at the time.

The film also shows Sen. McCain as pushing back against his advisors' judgment that Rev. Wright, the black pastor of the church that the Obama's attended for two decades, and who officiated the Obama's wedding ceremony, should be made into a campaign issue, because he did not want to drag race into the race (if you forgive me the turn of words.) As I remember things, the evolution of McCain's campaign into a series of one vile, baseless attack after another on candidate Obama was not sudden. Sure, it began with Sarah Palin's appearance on the national stage but it went on unchecked for weeks, before Sen. McCain finally started to pull back on the personal attacks. The moment when McCain gently rebukes a woman in the audience at one of his rallies for calling Obama an "Arab" came so late that it could not undo the damage to McCain's campaign image as one of hateful speeches and personal animosity. By then, Gov. Palin's and Sen. McCain's rallies had turned into vitriol-fests in which members of the audience shouted things like "terrorist" and "kill him", directed at candidate Barack Obama.

There is a scene towards the end of the film in which McCain's clan is shown celebrating Palin's performance after the VP debate as one of the greatest in the history of American political debates. Most impartial observers would agree instead that Biden made a meal of Palin, even without ridiculing her. That is the perfect example of what happens "in the bubble", in environments in which group-think and hope prevail over reason that things will turn out fine in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

Certainly, in spite of the film's too generous and empathetic account of the events of the 2008 presidential campaign, Sen. McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008 was one of the lowest points in American political history, perhaps only matched by George H.W. Bush's choice of Dan Quayle as his VP. To paint any other picture of history is not a simple matter of opinion: it is a fictional re-write of history.

No Government Between A Patient And His Doctor

The Republican mantra of the last two three years has been: The government should between doctors and their patients. Unless the patient is a woman and the doctor wields an ultrasound wand before a scheduled abortion.

In the plentiful world of Republican hypocrites, the rationalization is that the sanctity of life trumps the relationship of a woman with her doctor. Unless the life is that of a man on death row for a crime he did not commit, and for whom exculpatory DNA evidence exists. Or unless a Republican governor decides that forgiveness is a Christian duty that trumps the sanctity of the life of a convicted killer's victims.

Really, anyone can be a Republican. It takes no principles, boundless greed, and the ability to renege tomorrow on what you firmly stated today. It also takes no brain, so a good number of Americans voters are well-equipped.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

All You Needed To Know About Rush Limpballs

The fact that Rush Limbpballs said something ugly about Sandra Fluke is no surprise to anyone with half-a-brain (but, apparently, not to the people who worship the man who rants everyday with "half his brain tied behind his back.") I wrote everything that needed to be said about Rush Limpballs, and about his worshippers, here.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Left v. Right: The Worldviews

Hunter at the Daily Kos writes pithy, vivid posts that typically address the hypocrisy of the Right and the completely fantastic picture they paint of the world we live in, which has mighty little to do with the reality of the world we do live in. He writes sharp, scathing posts that connect the dots between seemingly unrelated but deeply interconnected actions and statements that arise on the Right day after day. But his latest post is different. It's not as scathing; it's profound and sad, and it captures better than many of his other excellent posts the nature of the debate that divides the Left from the Right.

Much has been written about how the liberals and conservatives are divided by a failure to communicate effectively using a common language. That is also the contention of Jonathan Haidt, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia who recently appeared on Moyers and Company to discuss his soon-to-be released book titled The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Haidt's book tackles the problem of how different moral intuitions and compasses shape our world view and how the failure to empathize leads to a breakdown in communication between political factions. It all sounds very refined, scholarly, and even convincing.

I like Moyers, and I  usually like the points his guests make. I will probably buy Haidt's book and read it with curiosity, but I suspect that I will be disappointed by its premise, and by its conclusions as well. It seems to me that Hunter does a better job of capturing the essence of the divide that separates the Left from the Right: It's not one about failure to speak a common language, to understand the different but equally valid point of the opposition that causes politics to break down and fail its people. It's really about a battle about disappearing opportunities; about how the America of the present, with all its huffy and haughty pretenses at still being the land of opportunities and just rewards, is a nation that more and more picks winners and losers by birth right, by heritage, and by heirdom. It is a nation where the promise, let alone the achievement, of upward mobility has been on the decline for decades, and where birth places and conditions tend to determine the outcome in life more than anywhere else in the advanced world.

George Will, Thomas Sowell, and all the other conservative pundits that strike a pose of supremacy of knowledge and intellect, cannot explain--as Hunter points out--why there are such disparities in our society if the goal of the Left, with all its assumed power over the ignorant masses, is to create equal outcomes. Ineptitude? Or is it because the premise that the Left is constantly seeking to establish equal outcomes is an invention of those whose mission in life is to conserve and preserve the inequality that has played to their advantage? Hunter's post, in all its quiet desperation, can be summed up in this paragraph (Hunter's):
[...] three stories sit on my computer desktop, all of which were written in the span of a few January days. A story about the damn redistributionists; a story about how America measurably fails its poor; a concrete case around which to question ourselves on what, as a society, we believe equal opportunity to mean. [Emphasis added]
I added emphasis to the sentence "[A] concrete case around which to question ourselves on what, as a society, we believe equal opportunity to mean." because nations are not shaped by debates; they are shaped by how debates are translated (or not) into action. We have a concrete case to deal with. How we deal with it defines not only our idea of what future we want to build, but future itself.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Republican "Strategery"

Grover Norquist recently made the following statement (paraphrased broadly): If we can hold on to the House and turn the Senate, all we need in the White House is a man who can work a ballpoint pen. In other words: Conservatives need not fear a Romney presidency. As long as Obama is out of the picture, game over.

Norquist's argument seems reasonable at first blush, but is typically disingenuous in true Republican fashion. Why? Because it is even better for Republicans if Obama wins a second term, while Republicans reconquer the Senate. Let me explain.

If Romney wins the White House and Republicans gain full control of Congress (and they keep their majority in the Supreme Court even if a Conservative on the court should retire or die), there will be no alibi for them. The failures of politics for middle-class and poor Americans will have a single father, for all to see: Conservatism. If on the other hand Obama retains the presidency for another four years, Republicans will presumably still be able to pass favorable legislation with the consent of a weakened White House, and they will also be able to blame their legislative failures on Obama's unwillingness to compromise (read: cave in to their wet dreams).

Either way you look at it, we're already screwed. Conservatives have already won the economic war. They can still fight the "morality" war, but the economic war is done. Warren Buffet has famously said it: There is a class war in the USA, and his class is winning.

Americans have given up on the reality-based world, where facts matter more than spin; they have come to accept Conservative platitudes, for example that high taxes are killing jobs, as are excessive environmental regulations. It doesn't matter that both are demonstrably false claims. No wealthy American pays anywhere the nominal tax rate. Take Mitt Romney, the would-be next President of the United States of Corporate America: The effective tax rate he paid on his income in recent years has been more or less 15%, not the 35& percent which he should have paid before all deductions and loopholes had been exploited to reduce his tax liability.

It seems to me that it makes much more sense for the Republican National Committee to pour money into electing as many Representatives and Senators as they can: It's cheaper than buying the White House and the return on investment is higher anyway. Much of the president's power is symbolic anyway; the real power rests with a few senators in small swing states. Also, rigging a state election is easier and carries less scrutiny than rigging a presidential election.

Republicans may run despicably (take their war against contraception, the latest example of their willingness to turn every non-issue into a war) but they don't run ineffectively. They are well-funded, better organized, and are more determined than Democrats. They represent the economic interests of a tiny percentage of the population, perhaps 2%, and yet they manage to get half of the votes, give and take a few millions, every four years. They fool us into believing that they don't have their act together by fielding a league of idiots, crooks, and liars for President in 2012, but they are masters of sleight of hand: While you are watching the hand that holds the nomination sideshow, with the other hand, the right hand, they are robbing us blind. In other words, they make strategy look like "strategery". But the joke's on us.
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