At the Zoo

Something tells me it’s all happening at the Zoo.
I do believe it. I do believe it’s true.
— Paul Simon

No Sift next week, because I’m doing the public-speaking thing in the Raleigh-Durham area next weekend. On Saturday I’m talking to the Conversations Towards a Better World workshop, and on Sunday I’ll be preaching at the Community Church of Chapel Hill. I’ll see that a text gets out somehow.

October 12 is iffy too, for other reasons. I’ll try to do a Sift, but no promises.

This week’s Sift is all notes of one sort or another.

  • Crazy Watch. I go back and forth on the out-and-out lunacy that’s coming from the Right. Some days I think that they should be ignored because our attention just dignifies them. Other days I think we absolutely have to mobilize ourselves to stand up to this nonsense. Today … well, it just seems like such an incredible zoo. How can I not watch?
  • Numbers. There’s a new report from the Census Bureau and some new polls. Digging around in the numbers, you can find all kinds of things: The public option is wildly popular (and Paul Krugman explains why that doesn’t translate into support in Congress). Hardly anybody believed there was a Bush Boom, because unless you were rich there wasn’t. The uninsured aren’t just young people who think they’ll never get sick. And Obama is still in good shape for 2012.
  • Short Notes. Two very funny videos about health care. What I remember most about Forrest Church. If corporations are “persons”, why don’t they face murder charges when they kill people? The foreign plot to take over Iceland and Latvia. Do Dems really want to give health care to illegals? And more.

Crazy Watch

In a radio interview, Rep. Steve King of Iowa discusses same-sex marriage. (It’s now legal in his state and he’s totally ungrateful about how it’s bolstering the local economy by drawing in couples from other states.) He attributes the increasing acceptance of same-sex marriage to “very, very rich homosexual activists” and thinks it’s all part of some big socialist plot. I can’t quite figure out how the plot works, or why very, very rich people would support it, but it involves justifying “group marriage” to “access benefits”. If you can make any more sense out of it than that, let me know.

One solution to the don’t-dignify-them problem is to pay attention in a completely undignified way. In this clip, Michael Moore forms a crack team of gays and lesbians to ride the hot-pink Sodom-mobile, confronting the God-hates-fags forces of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church.

In Rush Limbaugh’s world all racial violence is black-on-white, all black-on-white violence is racially motivated, and it’s Obama’s fault.

The New Republic examines the influence of Ayn Rand, who published her last novel in 1957 but still sells half a million books each year.

In essence, Rand advocated an inverted Marxism. In the Marxist analysis, workers produce all value, and capitalists merely leech off their labor. Rand posited the opposite. In Atlas Shrugged, her hero, John Galt, leads a capitalist strike, in which the brilliant business leaders who drive all progress decide that they will no longer tolerate the parasitic workers exploiting their talent, and so they withdraw from society to create their own capitalistic paradise free of the ungrateful, incompetent masses.

In the sermon (“Who Owns the World?”) I’m giving Sunday in Chapel Hill, I plan to address this point-of-view directly, and contrast it with Thomas Paine’s Agrarian Justice. In a nutshell, the Rand view makes perfect sense if you assume that capitalists are the sole heirs of progress, and that the rest of us inherit the advances of previous generations only through them.

Another influential dead right-wing author is Cleon Skousen, who Glenn Beck is turning into a best-seller again. In his day he was considered a kook, but we’re so short of kooks these days that we have to import them.

Birthers — the folks who think President Obama isn’t really a US citizen because he wasn’t really born in Hawaii — are running a half-hour infomercial on stations in the South. I hope the sheer persistence of these folks won’t eventually convince the general public that there must be some issue here. There isn’t. was all over this back in August 2008.

Just so you understand, here’s how the game works: Imagine we’re in a public place and I ask to see your driver’s license. You show it to me and I say, “This is an obvious forgery! I demand that you show me your real driver’s license!” Then I turn to the other people in the room and say, “Why can’t she produce her real driver’s license? Does she even have a driver’s license? What is she hiding?” Other than continuing to show your “obvious forgery” and pointing out that I’m insane, what can you do?

Actor Chuck Norris:

I suggest you fly some revolutionary flag in lieu of your 50-star flag over the next year. Post the 13-star Betsy Ross flag, Navy Jack or Gadsden flag (“Don’t Tread on Me”) or any representation that tells the story of Old Glory and makes a stand for our Founders’ vision of America. … If you insist on posting a modern USA flag, too, then get one that is tea-stained to show your solidarity with our Founders.

I wonder how Norris would have reacted two years ago if liberal Democrats had suggested staining the American flag to protest against President Bush’s violations of the Bill of Rights.

In the same column, Chuck says that he loved Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project because “it was a nonpolitical, nonpartisan movement” (that just happened to start almost immediately after a Democrat got inaugurated). Norris, if you remember, was the nonpolitical nonpartisan guy who was joined at the hip with Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee during the Iowa caucus campaign. And Huckabee had Chuck on his show just this weekend so that he and his much-younger second wife could denounce health-care reform in a nonpolitical nonpartisan way. (At the end of the segment, Huckabee expressed his good wishes for Norris’ 8-year-old twins. I guess the children from his first marriage are unpersons now.)

Anyway, Chuck’s guy lost, so now he wants to ditch democracy and have a revolution in the name of our Founders. Were the Founders sore losers too? I must have missed that part of my American History class.

At some point you have to wonder if there will be a push-back, a movement of conscience on the Right. What about all the people who just have a conservative philosophy, but aren’t racists or lunatics or deniers-of-obvious-facts? I mean, you could oppose Obama’s health care plan without making stuff up about death panels or posting Obama witch-doctor photos or telling lies about universal health-care systems in other countries. You could want a more hawkish approach to terrorism without claiming Obama is secretly a Muslim. (Not even New York White Pride claims that now.) At some point aren’t the sane conservatives going to want to separate themselves from the crazies?

Yes, apparently. Lefty Coaster on DailyKos says that the owner of the prominent right-wing blog Little Green Footballs is trying to take a stand for right-wing sanity. He’s not turning left, he’s just trying not to go down the rabbit hole.

You too can have a Michelle Bachman action figure. Seriously. I wonder if the head spins all the way around.

Sarah Palin pocketed a six-figure fee to give a speech in Hong Kong, now part of communist China. I wonder how Palin would have reacted in 2005 if defeated VP candidate John Edwards had been paid big bucks to go to a communist country and criticize President Bush. Politicususa has similar thoughts:

I’m sure the Dixie Chicks are shocked to see Palin get away with criticizing our President on foreign soil during war! Head’s up, girls, accusing a President of being a Socialist Commie income redistributing Marxist Hitler is the new definition of patriotism!

Palin’s speech wasn’t open to the press and as far as I know no transcript has appeared, but we do know that she attributed the financial meltdown to too much government regulation rather than too little.

My favorite reaction came from Paul Krugman on Rachel Maddow’s show. On hearing that Palin’s speech had lasted 90 minutes, he quipped: “That’s half a Castro.”

I’m not usually a big Katie Couric fan, but in this clip from her Glenn Beck interview she sets a good example by insisting that Beck either answer the question or openly refuse to answer. She doesn’t get nasty about it, but she doesn’t let go when Beck tries to dodge explaining what he meant by the phrase “white culture”.

If you want to know how Beck came to be who he is, Salon has the story.

Public Eye looks at the activists who would like to create a smaller but more reliably and radically conservative Catholic Church.

Not only reproductive justice and equality issues are at stake. The time-tested Roman Catholic concern for economic justice and the poor, the rights of workers and immigrants, and a responsive government are anathema to the groups pushing for a more traditional church. The Catholic parish as a vital community for immigrants and poor people will be lost.

Last week I almost went with a note about Roy Blunt’s monkey joke at the Values Voters Forum. It was easy to imagine that the monkey was supposed to be Obama, which in my mind would definitely be a racist slur. I pulled the note at the last minute because the clip I saw didn’t have enough context to be sure that’s what Blunt meant. (Let’s face it, there’s enough right-wing racism that you can have high standards about reporting it. Why machine-gun the ocean when there are fish to shoot right here in this barrel?)

I now think Blunt got a raw deal. Conservative blogger Catherine Favazza convinced me by posting a video of Blunt telling the same joke to the Heritage Foundation right after the Republican’s loss of Congress in the 2006 election. (Pre-Obama, in other words.) There, the joke’s punch line (“you have to play the ball where the monkey throws it”) just meant: You have to deal with the situation you’re in, even if it’s not what you planned or what you think you deserve.

So I think the best anti-Blunt clip is still his old-people-don’t-get-hip-replacements-in-Canada lie.

Stephen Colbert defends Beck and Rush Limbaugh from charges of racism:

sadly, any time a racist criticizes the President, someone cries “Racism.”


A NYT/CBS poll has a clear majority (53% vs. 41%) of the public believing that the country is on the wrong track. Bad news for Obama, right? Well, maybe. In mid-October of last year the wrong-track majority was 89% vs. 7%. So about a third of the country used to think we were on the wrong track, but has since changed its mind.

Interesting long-term trend in the same poll: Only 1% describe the economy as very good compared to 28% very bad. Last October, very bad was the choice of 55%. Now here’s the interesting part: All through the supposed “Bush Boom” the percentage saying the economy was very good never made it to double digits. By comparison, the very good percentage went into double digits in July, 1997 and stayed there for the rest of Clinton’s second term, peaking at 29% in May, 2000.

One reason the public was never really taken in by the “Bush Boom” is the increasing disconnection between everyday life and the kinds of statistics economists focus on, particularly the gross domestic product (GDP). Saturday’s NYT noted:

Despite signs that the economy [i.e. GDP] has resumed growing, unemployed Americans now confront a job market that is bleaker than ever in the current recession, and employment prospects are still getting worse. Job seekers now outnumber openings six to one, the worst ratio since the government began tracking open positions in 2000.

Median household income (adjusted for inflation) peaked late in the Clinton administration and was higher in 1998 than in 2008. Liberals and conservatives argue about the significance of that number: Conservatives point to the fact that household size is shrinking, so per capita income of the median household can rise even as median household income shrinks. Liberals point to long-term growth in the number of workers per household, and claim that the median household is only keeping as steady as it is by sending more members into the work force. I don’t have numbers on either of those factors.

If high school was a long time ago: The median is the one in the middle. So the median household is the one where half the household are doing better and half are doing worse. The average household income can go up just because the rich are getting richer, but the median only increases if at least half the country is doing better.

The same Census Bureau report that was the ultimate source of the statistics in the last note also has some interesting things to say about who the uninsured are. Optimists like to think that the people without health insurance are all 20-somethings who believe they’re indestructible. It turns out that about 1 in 4 of the uninsured are between 45 and 64.

In spite of all the shouting against it, the public option has the support of a large (oh, the irony) silent majority. The NYT/CBS poll has the public supporting the public option (Question 57) 65%-26%. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, 62.9% of doctors support it, with the rest split between those who want a purely private insurance system (27.3%) or a totally government-centered single-payer system (9.6%). Even the people in the districts of Blue Dog Democrats support the public option.

And yet, Max Baucus tells us that the public option cannot pass the Senate. Why? Paul Krugman explains:

We tend to think of the way things are now, with a huge army of lobbyists permanently camped in the corridors of power, with corporations prepared to unleash misleading ads and organize fake grass-roots protests against any legislation that threatens their bottom line, as the way it always was. But our corporate-cash-dominated system is a relatively recent creation, dating mainly from the late 1970s.

And now that this system exists, reform of any kind has become extremely difficult. That’s especially true for health care, where growing spending has made the vested interests far more powerful than they were in Nixon’s day. The health insurance industry, in particular, saw its premiums go from 1.5 percent of G.D.P. in 1970 to 5.5 percent in 2007, so that a once minor player has become a political behemoth, one that is currently spending $1.4 million a day lobbying Congress.

That spending fuels debates that otherwise seem incomprehensible. Why are “centrist” Democrats like Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota so opposed to letting a public plan, in which Americans can buy their insurance directly from the government, compete with private insurers? Never mind their often incoherent arguments; what it comes down to is the money.

The “incoherent argument” Krugman refers to is here.

Public Policy Polling has Obama ahead of all prospective Republican candidates for 2012. Huckabee comes closest (losing 41%-48%) and Palin loses worst (38%-53%).

Short Notes

Two must-see videos on health care: Will Farrell assembles an all-star cast to tell us about the real victims are: health insurance executives. And Billionaires for Wealthcare perform a stirring Battle Hymn of the Insurance Companies. (“Let’s save the status quo!”)

Forrest Church, one of the top Unitarian Universalist ministers and authors, died Thursday. I never met Church personally, but at the UU General Assembly in June of 2008 he gave one of the most inspiring talks I’ve ever been to. Church knew he was dying at that point — I think he would have been surprised to find out he would last this long — and he very plainly and calmly discussed his own process of facing death. He was agnostic about the afterlife, so it wasn’t all happy talk about seeing departed loved ones again. The same ideas appear in his book Love and Death.

Oh, if you remember Senator Frank Church of the Church Committee that reined in the abuses of the CIA — that was his Dad.

DailyKos’ Generation 1960 points out how the legal doctrine of corporate personhood is only used when it works to the corporation’s benefit. In particular, corporations that (or who?) break laws are not prosecuted as criminals.

when an individual damages a corporation, we have criminal laws whereby taxpayers finance a criminal justice system that finances the prosecution of these damage claims. When a corporation damages an individual, except in rare cases we require the damaged individual to self-finance a civil claim against the corporation.

Here’s a case-in-point: When Disney failed to pay royalties on ‘Winnie the Pooh’, there were no criminal charges considered against Disney. Instead, the owners of the rights had to self-finance the “prosecution” of a deep-pocketed defendant in civil court. But, if you or I fail to pay royalities on a Disney MP3, Disney can simply call the local prosecutor and have us arrested.

Separate legal systems for two types of persons — sounds a little like colonialism, doesn’t it? (Hint: We’re not the masters.) Or look back at the September 7 Weekly Sift: If the Johns Manville Corporation were really a person and the legal system had done its job, J-M would have been executed as a serial killer.

Anne Trubeck argues that in the Internet Age we may be able to do without publishers, but we need editors more than ever. My own experience with print media leads me to believe that if you can’t get your point across to the editor, you probably would have lost the readers too.

Medicare fraud ought to be a bipartisan issue. I wonder if it will be.

Gays and lesbians can quote the Bible too.

Nathan Lewis, referencing an article by Michael Hudson, uses Iceland and Latvia as examples of how a larger scam works: A country’s banks play a risky game, making big profits off of loans that a sound banker wouldn’t have made. An asset-and-debt bubble results, and eventually the bubble pops, making the banks insolvent. With the country’s economy threatened, the IMF pressures the local government to guarantee the bank’s debts (replacing private debt with public debt) and loans the local government the money it needs.

The government now is supposed to pay its inflated debt by raising taxes and cutting services. But that’s a bit of a shell game, because it doesn’t raise the foreign currency that the government now owes. Unless there’s a major export industry — Iceland and Latvia don’t have one — the only way to raise dollars or euros is ultimately for the government to sell off the national infrastructure to foreign investors.

Prices for assets in a crisis are normally very low. But a government that can be coerced into bailing out the bankers can also usually be coerced into selling off state assets at values that no private owner would accept.

The Republican lawsuit to block Paul Kirk’s appointment to fill Ted Kennedy’s senate seat was denied. Those Republicans … always wanting unelected judges to get into the middle of everything.

Maybe this belongs up in Crazy Watch, but I thought I ought to explain the whole health-care-for-illegal-aliens thing, which is the latest red flag for the Just-Say-No Party to wave. There are two pieces to the part of health-care reform that provides coverage to people who don’t have it now. The first piece is to establish exchanges where for-profit companies (and possibly also a public entity) offer policies to individuals. The second piece is a subsidy you can get if the cost of your purchased-on-the-exchange health insurance policy costs more than a certain percent of your income.

No one advocates giving illegal aliens subsidies. Republicans want a background check when you purchase a policy on the exchange, to make sure that you’re in the country legally. Most Democrats don’t. (For good reason, I might add. We don’t want to do citizenship tests when people show up in emergency rooms — what if your half-dead body got fished out of the ocean, for example, with no ID in your swimsuit pocket? — so illegals are going to get some health care somehow. If they can purchase health insurance, we will get some money back from them in exchange for this care. Otherwise not.)

Republicans are spinning this as Democrats want to give or provide something to illegals. When they’re trying not to lie, they say that Democrats want to give illegals “access” to health insurance — in other words, let them buy it. The Republican alternative? We refuse to take their money. Illegals will just show up in emergency rooms, get care, and then vanish.

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  • kimc  On October 4, 2009 at 5:13 am

    If corporations are persons, why is it legal for them to buy and sell each other? If we did it, it would be considered slavery.

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