Thursday, June 30, 2011

The mindless hysteria of right-wing sheep


Politics makes people stupid even in good times. Fear provokes irrationality. Given the parlous state of the U.S. economy, it's no surprise that the national conversation has grown shrill. Even so, the level of vituperation and unreason comes as a continuing revelation.
Not that I'm complaining. As a native of New Jersey, the Insult State (official motto: "Oh yeah, who says?"), there's no level of invective to which I can't sink. Anybody who writes provocatively shouldn't complain when readers are provoked. Besides, it's less the anger than the sheer, boneheaded illogic that amazes me.
One could compile a textbook on logical fallacies from my email queue. If people used reason in their daily lives as poorly as they do when their political passions are engaged, we'd be in worse shape than we are. Luckily, most don't. Or if they do, civility prevents them from the kind of heedless venting encouraged by Internet anonymity.
A recent blog post by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman set me off. A world-renowned economist by trade, Krugman had posted an item arguing that a Greek bank-debt default might not be a total disaster. He mentioned that Argentina's economy had a strong recovery after it defaulted in 2001 -- stipulating that there are big differences between the two countries.
In a subsequent post, Krugman complained that commenters had leaped, nay vaulted, to absurd conclusions: as if he'd said "everything in Argentina is wonderful to this day"; that "everyone should immediately default"; that default made Argentina's Lionel Messi the world's greatest football player; and that President Obama should force Americans into mandatory, government-paid tango lessons.
OK, so I made up the last two. In politics, many simply can't resist an alluring false dilemma. It's got to be all-A or all-B, all the time. Did I write a column pointing out that President Clinton last balanced the budget as recently as 2001, and that a return to Clinton-era tax policy -- i.e., letting the Bush tax cuts expire on schedule in 2012 -- would greatly improve the nation's balance sheet?
That is, I favor raising marginal income-tax rates on millionaires from 35 to 39.6 percent. Therefore, I must be a communist who advocates the abolition of private enterprise, the confiscation of private property, and the redistribution of wealth to lazy people who won't work.
"Do you get paid under the table by the Democrat Party to spew your hatred of capitalism," asks one fellow, "or is it that you have some deep-seated psychopathic (sic) scars based on the choices you made that limit your economic achievements?"
Thus are joined, in one triumphant flourish, not only the false dilemma, but the argument to (imaginary) motive, and the argumentum ad hominem: attacking the man, not the content of what he said.
Needless to say, this fellow knows nothing of my economic circumstances. He doesn't even appear to grasp that the news media are mostly privately owned, for-profit enterprises.
"Good work, comrade," I responded. "Your regurgitation of party dogma is letter-perfect. In the USSR, they actually got to the point of declaring people who failed to conform 100 percent mentally ill."
The irony was most likely lost on him.
Did I criticize Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck for disguising paid political advertising as editorial content?
Very well then, I must have an unacknowledged Sugar Daddy of my own. "At least now I've figured out who you take your marching orders from: Media Matters and George Soros," another guy wrote. "I know it, you know it, don't try to deny it."
Sorry, but I deny it. Without exception, however, every reader objecting to my criticism of talk-radio ethics mentioned Soros. It was like being scolded by parrots. Most called Soros a commie -- highly unlikely for a billionaire financier and philanthropist -- although I know very little about his views.
It's called the straw man fallacy: refuting arguments nobody's made.
Then there's the argumentum ad populum, another favorite of talk-radio fans: somebody with a big audience must be correct. Furthermore -- motive again -- I must be jealous of their success.
That's pretty much like saying Rush Limbaugh's jealous of President Obama. You buy that?
Look, these guys are playing you for suckers. They're reading scripts written to trick you into believing that the bigger Scrooge McDuck's bullion pile is, the better it is for you. Take away the call screeners and the mute buttons, and most of them wouldn't last two weeks. Talk radio is the political equivalent of wrestling.
Meanwhile, too many Democrats can't get their minds around "some versus all." I recently wasted hours on Facebook trying to persuade passionate Obama supporters that it's self-defeating to accuse everybody who differs with the White House on, say, Libya, of racist motives.
It's false, irrational and politically stupid because ordinary voters -- if not paid controversialists like me -- really resent it.
Needless to say, I got nowhere.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Health Care Law Ruled Constitutional (Again)

ThinkProgress War Room
June 29, 2011

Decision Day: Federal Appeals Court Upholds the Affordable Care Act

In exciting (and hugely important) news that broke earlier this afternoon, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the health care law, including the key individual responsibility provision that requires everyone to purchase health insurance, as constitutional.  Here’s the rundown of everything you need to know to talk about this at dinner tonight.
Who: The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, based in Cincinnati, Ohio. The three judge panel who heard the case included two judges appointed by Republican presidents and one appointed by a Democrat.
In fact, one of the judges who upheld the law, Judge Jeffrey Sutton, is a states’ rights crusader who was appointed by President George W. Bush. Judge Sutton even once clerked for the very conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
What: The first of the circuit courts of appeals (the federal courts just below the Supreme Court) to rule on the health care law today affirmed a lower court’s decision that also found the Affordable Care Act constitutional. Judge Martin wrote, “We find that the minimum coverage provision is a valid exercise of legislative power by Congress under the Commerce Clause and therefore AFFIRM the decision of the district court.” According to  Martin:
By regulating the practice of self-insuring for the cost of health care delivery, the minimum coverage provision is facially constitutional under the Commerce Clause for two independent reasons. First, the provision regulates economic activity that Congress had a rational basis to believe has substantial effects on interstate commerce. In addition, Congress had a rational basis to believe that the provision was essential to its larger economic scheme reforming the interstate markets in health care and health insurance.
This case was brought by the Thomas More Law Center, an Ann Arbor, Michigan-based organization that describes itself as “a not-for-profit public interest law firm dedicated to the defense and promotion of the religious freedom of Christians, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life.” In addition to its role in this case and other cases involving public displays of religion, the Thomas More Law Center also actively promotes the thoroughly-debunked conservative conspiracy theory of “creeping Sharia.” The center even recently defended hate Pastor Terry Jones, whose burning of a Koran touched off riots in Afghanistan that resulted in the deaths of 12 United Nations workers.
Why It Matters: ThinkProgress Justice Editor Ian Milhiser sums up why this decision is so important:
[Judge] Sutton concluded that the heart of the assault on the Affordable Care Act — the claim that a law encouraging people to buy insurance is unconstitutional because Congress cannot compel people to take this unwanted action — has no basis in the “text of the Constitution,” and it rests on a legal distinction that is utterly incoherent. And this comes from one of the most conservative members of the federal bench.
The case against the Affordable Care Act is so weak that one of the court of appeals’ most conservative judges — a judge who devoted much of his life to shrinking federal power — just rejected it. Now would be a good time for the nation to collectively stop pretending that these lawsuits have any merit whatsoever.
What’s Next: There are also decisions pending in three other federal appeals courts: the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals based in Richmond, Virgina (in a case brought by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli) the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals based in Atlanta, Georgia (in case brought by over two dozen GOP state officials), and the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals (in a case brought by several private individuals).
It is widely expected that these cases will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court sometime next year.
The Score: Today’s decision to uphold the act is the first by at the circuit court level. At the federal district court level, three judges have ruled the law to be constitutional, while two other judges have ruled against it. More than a dozen cases against the law have been thrown out on technical grounds.

Evening Brief: Important Stories That You May Have Missed

Kansas’ abortion clinics are suing the state as state regulators prepare to “shut down all three of Kansas’ abortion clinics. The clinics are poised to be closed after they failed to meet ridiculous and overly rigorous new regulations imposed in a law that goes into effect on Friday.
Need more evidence Americans are misinformed about the importance of government? New research shows a huge percentage of Americans do not believe they are receiving any benefits from government programs, even though they really are .
Ohio’s controversial law, SB 5, that significantly weakened all of Ohio public workers rights to collectively bargain may be overturned this fall. Grassroots organizers We Are Ohio announced it has collected almost “1.3 million signatures, which was well more than the 231,000 required to have a ballot referendum.
California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the Fair Treatment for Farm Workers Act, which was the best chance to improve the lives of California’s more than 400,000 farm workers.
In 2001, Rudy Giuliani promised to officiate his gay friends’ wedding if same-sex marriage were ever legalized in New York. In 2011, Giuliani won’t return their calls.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) bought $600,000 in Goldman Sachs stock as he fought to block an SEC investigation into the investment firm last year.
New polling shows Democrats leading in two Wisconsin state Senate recall elections, trailing in a third.
Democratic senators argue that the debt ceiling is an unconstitutional violation of the 14thAmendment.

Notable Quotable: Michele Bachmann Defends Medicaid

In April, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) voted for the GOP’s disastrous budget plan thatslashes Medicaid funding (along with ending Medicare); however, NBC News reported yesterday that a so-called Christian counseling center run by Bachmann’s husband has received $137,000 in federal Medicaid funds over the past five years.  Despite voting to slash the important federal program, Bachmann’s presidential campaign issued a statement today defending the program:
Medicaid is a valuable form of insurance for many Americans and it would be discriminatory not to accept Medicaid as a form of payment. As a state-sponsored counseling service, Bachmann and Associates has a responsibility to provide Medicaid and medical assistance, regardless of a patient’s financial situation.
© 2005-2011 Center for American Progress Action Fund

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

If the Democrats Lose the Senate Our Retirement Is Toast

Jane White

A labor lawyer has a great idea for not only saving Social Security but making it so it's almost as generous as those in other first-world countries.
As Tom Geoghegan recently observed in the New York Times, Americans have two pension problems -- our Social Security System pays one of the paltriest rates in the world and most folks have hardly any money in their 401(k) accounts. The only people for whom Social Security replaces 70% of their wages are those making minimum wage at age 65, or around $15,000. Since the median wage for people in their 60s is around $65,000 and the average American only has around twice that amount in their 401(k) and rollover accounts, attention must be paid, given that you can only withdraw around $400 a month from a $120,000 nest egg without running out of money.
Geoghegan's plan is to boost Social Security payments to they replace half the average workers earnings by lifting the cap on the payroll tax (without paying more benefits to those above it) and raising the payroll tax by roughly 1 percentage point for employees and employers, among other measures.
Former SEIU President and deficit commission member Andy Stern also thinks the Social Security System would be more robust by investing at least some of its assets in stocks, as is the case in Canada. I wholeheartedly agree -- as I pointed out in my book, America, Welcome to the Poorhouse, the long-term performance of stocks is vastly superior to government bonds or Treasury Bills. But rather than "privatize" the system as proposed by Dubya in 2005, which would allow workers to attempt (and fail) to time the market with brokerage accounts, I'd have the funds managed by a government-sponsored enterprise that invests in a mix of stock and money market index funds, as is the case with the Thrift Savings Plan covering many federal workers.
While Geoghegan's proposal is a sound one, I still believe that we need mandates for more generous employer contributions to 401(k) plans, as is the case with most other countries' versions of them, so that they walk and talk like actual pensions. It's not just the middle-class who are at risk but virtually every worker in the private sector who doesn't have "chief" and "executive" in their job title. As I pointed out in an earlier post, the median 401(k) account balance for Fidelity Investments' clients between the ages of 60 and 64 who earn more than $100,000 was less than $275,000, and only 3% of Vanguard's participants have accumulated more than $250,000.
We Boomers are not only pension-poorer than our parents but we' re more likely to still have big expenses, including mortgages, which will lead to the Next Mortgage Meltdown -- somebody paying off a $100,000 mortgage who can only spend $400 a month on living expenses can't afford the $700 a month mortgage payments. More than 50% of Boomers between the ages of 55 and 65 were paying mortgages in 2007 -- on average owing more than $140,000 -- according to the Federal Reserve Board's Survey of Consumer Finances. That amount is nearly three times what was owed by that age group in 1989, when only 34% were still making mortgage payments.
Expect any retirement reform that involves mandates and/or tax hikes to provoke hysteria from the Repubs -- including members of the Supreme Court, as was the case when Labor Secretary Frances Perkins first launched the idea of Social Security when FDR occupied the White House. As observed in the book, The Woman Behind the New Deal, a group of four justices were known as "the battalion of death" against worker-friendly legislation. The business lobby was fiercely opposed as well -- at Congressional hearings on Social Security, the National Association of Manufacturers attacked the bill as the "ultimate socialistic control of life and industry."
At least Social Security ultimately prevailed, unlike today when the Party of No controls the House of Representatives. Anything that involves a tax hike is dead in the water; as BloombergBusinessWeek observed, given that 233 of the 240 House Republicans and 40 of the 47 Republican senators have signed anti-tax activist Grover Norquist's so-called Taxpayer Protection Pledge. That's why Republicans pulled a temper tantrum and stormed out of debt-reduction talks led by VP Joe Biden last Thursday.
While a new group called Priorities USA has been formed to keep Obama in the White House, it's not clear whether their strategy includes maintaining control of the Senate. Frankly, it's not going to matter if Obama keeps his job if he can't do his job. Given that Republicans need 10 seats to win the 51-seat majority in the Senate and six Democrats are scheduled to retire next year, if you count technically Independent Joe Lieberman, things don't bode well. A total of nine seats are "vulnerable" if you include those who are unlikely to get re-elected, according to US News and World Report. If the GOP captures the Senate, they not only control the votes, they get to pick two thirds of the witnesses at any hearings. So we can assume that the likelihood of hearings on remedies to our pension shortfall would be infinitesimal.
Somebody needs to mobilize a group to reverse the bloodless coup on Capitol Hill to ensure these "vulnerable" Democrats keep their jobs and Americans keep their financial futures. With the election only 17 months away, time's a wasting.

Copyright © 2011, Inc

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Waiting for The Miracle

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Baby, I've been waiting, 
I've been waiting night and day. 
I didn't see the time, 
I waited half my life away...

-- Leonard Cohen

Buried deep inside his tragicomic Grand Guignol expose of Our Lady of the Holy Killbot, Matt Taibbi accomplishes something else: The discovery of America.

Not the pastel flyover-country American cartoon that Beltway professionals blur quickly past as they invoke the fiction of th'murricanpipple a thousand times a day, but the real America.

The real, ugly America.

The America that no longer has any functional understanding of this world. The deeply ignorant, deeply angry, deeply paranoid America that has been swallowed whole by Hate Radio. That remakes its own past, present and future into whatever suits today's batshit Two Minutes Hate Fox Special News Alert.

The America where the minds of millions of our fellow citizens have grown so pudding-soft and devolved from crouching in their spider holes and waiting for the Second Coming of The Imaginary Reaganator to save them from their Imaginary Enemies, that they can now effectively be lead any-damn-where by anybody with a Bible, a conspiracy that flatters their psychosis and a big, cheery, teevee smile.

Taibbi explains in autopsic detail why trying to reason with the Pig People is simply impossible, and, I would argue, why trying to hide inside a snuggle sack of Fake Centrism slung between Michele Bachmann and Barack Obama is insane.

Michele Bachmann's Holy War

In her runs for Congress, Bachmann discovered — or perhaps it is more accurate to say we all discovered — that a total absence of legislative accomplishment and a complete inability to tell the truth or even to identify objective reality are no longer hindrances to higher office.

Emboldened by the lack of consequences for her early freakouts, Bachmann's self-mythologizing became more and more overt. In October 2006, she stepped before a packed house at the Living Word Christian Center in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, and told her life story. All of history's great madmen have had that one gorgeous moment where the cackling hairy hunchback that has been gestating within for years finally comes out and shows itself, strutting up and down the catwalk for the world to see. This was Michele's catwalk moment, a lengthy autobiographical speech in which she claimed "callings" from God had pushed her to every major decision in her life — from studying tax law to running for Congress. She even told the congregation that she and hubby Marcus — who by then had opened a Christian counseling center — had been united not by love but by a unique series of divine visions experienced by three people simultaneously.

Bachmann claimed that back in her college days, she was up one night praying with a female friend of hers when "the Lord gave each one of us the same, exact vision... It was a picture of me, marrying this man, in the valley where his parents have a farm in western Wisconsin." Meanwhile, miles away, Marcus "was repairing a fence on the farm where he worked, and the Lord showed him in a vision that he was supposed to marry me." According to Bachmann, Marcus initially complained to God that he wanted to see the world first, and only later relented.

Snickering readers in New York or Los Angeles might be tempted by all of this to conclude that Bachmann is uniquely crazy. But in fact, such tales by Bachmann work precisely because there are a great many people in America just like Bachmann, people who believe that God tells them what condiments to put on their hamburgers, who can't tell the difference between Soviet Communism and a Stafford loan, but can certainly tell the difference between being mocked and being taken seriously. When you laugh at Michele Bachmann for going on MSNBC and blurting out that the moon is made of red communist cheese, these people don't learn that she is wrong. What they learn is that you're a dick, that they hate you more than ever, and that they're even more determined now to support anyone who promises not to laugh at their own visions and fantasies.

Michele Bachmann has found the flaw in the American Death Star.

There is an orc army on the move in America.

And they are coming for us.

© d r i f t g l a s s 2008

Monday, June 20, 2011

Re-Energizing The Progressive Movement

Zaid Jilani
Progress Reports / ThinkProgress
June 20, 2011

This past Thursday, over 2,000 progressives — including the team from ThinkProgress — attended Netroots Nation 2011, where bloggers, elected officials, and activists came together to strategize about how to reinvigorate the progressive movement and more effectively battle the right. During the four-day event, conference-goers attended panels on topics ranging from the Federal Reserve to the Arab Spring, heard speeches from members of Congress, peppered a high-ranking White House official with questions, and strategized with some of the nation’s biggest names in progressive politics. Although the blogosphere has often been derided by traditional media and the political class, Netroots Nation was a clear demonstration of a simple fact: the blogs and social media outlets that make up the netroots are a pivotal part of shaping not only the progressive movement but the very future of America.
MEET THE NETROOTS: Netroots Nation began in 2006 under the label “YearlyKos,” serving as an annual get-together for members of the progressive DailyKos blogging community. Soon, the annual convention was renamed Netroots Nation to reflect the fact that it had become a gathering point for bloggers and social media activists across the nation. This year’s Netroots Nation had a record number of attendees, attracting over 2,000 bloggers and activists, including overseas bloggers from 24 countries. In addition to bloggers and other social media advocates, the conference featured representatives and sponsorships from a wide variety of organizations, ranging from labor unions like the National Education Association to political parties represented by the Democratic National Committee. The broad swath of attendees represents a new truism about American politics: To have influence and truly change the country, you need to reach out to the netroots. Polling agency Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research conducted a straw poll among attendees, and found that 80 percent of attendees said they approved of President Obama’s performance, while two-thirds say they want him to focus on job growth.
A ROBUST AGENDA: The variety of issues represented on panels and presentations demostrated the growing prominence of the netroots in American politics. At a panel titled “Fed Up: Decoding Monetary Policy Matters,” ThinkProgress’s Matt Yglesias discussed Federal Reserve policy with the National Journal’s Tim Fernholz and the Roosevelt Institute’s Mike Konczal. At a panel about the Middle East titled “The Arab Spring: A Case Study for New Media as a Catalyst for Change,” a number of Arab bloggers explained how new media is helping them fight for liberty in their countries. Bahraini blogger Lamees Dhaif explained how her sister had been arrested by Bahraini authorities due to her activism, but that the State Department washesitant to help due to the sensitive relationship with the monarchy. During one particularly emotional moment of a panel titled “What To Do When The President Just Isn’t That Into You,” Lt. Dan Choi — who was discharged from the military for being gay — declared that he would not vote for President Obama in 2012 if he did not endorse marriage equality, ripping up campaign literature he was given by an Obama volunteer in the process. And on the topic of education, the conference also featured a speech by American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten and a number of sessions about the pushback against the school voucher and school privatization movements.
BUILDING A GREATER MOVEMENT: The conference also reflected themes and tensions within the wider progressive movement, and featured speeches by many movement leaders and elected officials. Former Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold delivered the opening keynote speech, where he blasted corporate influence in both major political parties, railed against the Citizens United ruling, and decried efforts by some Democrats to raise unlimited corporate funds for the 2012 presidential election. CAP Senior Fellow and former Obama adviser Van Jones unveiled the “American Dream Movement” where he implored activists to come together and defend the American Dream and fight for the future of the country. Jones said progressives are not just fighting against conservatives like Tea Party members, but also for them because progressives want them to achieve the American Dream as well. He also implored Fox News host Glenn Beck to debate him on Beck’s TV show during his last week on air. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) delivered a rousing closing keynote, calling on the netroots to champion a progressive movement independent of public officials that moves the country forward. He told attendees that when the netroots can “walk with the President, we should walk with him, but when we can’t, we have to walk ahead of him. The movement must inspire the politicians.”
© 2005-2011 Center for American Progress Action Fund