Monday, August 31, 2009

"Verschärfte Vernehmung"

From Andrew Sullivan comes this scathing indictment of the neocon position on torture. Max Boot has now taken to calling torture of suspected terrorists "aggressive interrogation of captured terrorists."

This happened in another era, not too long ago. During WWII the Germans had other names for what they did (and what they did served as the model for what we did to detainees under the Bush administration.

Sure there are some who proudly wear their sadism and need for revenge as badges of honor, but really what they are are marks of cowardice.

An artist in Los Angeles recently put a Hitler mustache on Obama during the debate for health-care reform, seemingly to equate the end-of-life counseling language in the Obama bill to something Nazis did to evaluate the worthiness of human life. In response, I present you with Der Tortuhrer.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


Micah Zenko, a fellow in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations, pens an op-ed in today's LA Times in which he argues that Israel, based on previous actions, is most definitely going to attack Iran's nuclear facilities should they fail to meet a late September deadline to halt uranium enrichment.

Logically it all makes sense: they have instigated military action against real or perceived existential threats in the past, including the four instances Zenko mentions, but also every incursion into the West Bank or Gaza to punish Palestinians for rocket attacks from inside the territories.

What raised my eyebrows was this passage about Israel's 2007 attack on a supposed nuclear reactor in Syria:
Four months earlier, Israeli intelligence officials had provided damning evidence to the Bush administration about the reactor, and the Pentagon drew up plans to attack it. Ironically, according to New York Times reporter David Sanger, President Bush ultimately decided the U.S. could not bomb another country for allegedly possessing weapons of mass destruction.
My italics. This is more than four years after Bush ravaged Iraq because he thought they possessed WMDs. Either he learned his lesson and held his fire, or he felt it made little political sense for a lame-duck president to go around making war. I can only assume that Dick Cheney was arguing in favor of attack.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Republicans Want Grandma To Die

Newsweek's Jacob Weisberg reports. Kind of an amusing take, but chilling, nonetheless.
But why would Republicans be trying to kill old people? After all, senior citizens are more likely to vote for the GOP than for Democrats. They were the only substantial demographic segment John McCain won in 2008. You'd think conservatives would want them to hang on as long as possible. The problem is that because of the Democratic programs Social Security and Medicare, the aged are expensive for government to keep around. The writer Jodie T. Allen once explained the reason for the GOP's "pro-death" policies: faced with an unpalatable choice between cutting benefits and raising taxes to pay for the growing costs of entitlement programs, Republicans gravitated toward a third alternative—restraining growth in life expectancy. If you want lower taxes and aren't willing to risk cutting spending, you need fewer beneficiaries.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Do Morals Belong in Government?

I have had some heated discussions with friends and family over the years about the separation of church and state; it has been the foundation of the question of morality mixing with government. If there is to be a wall of separation between a secular government and the many religious institutions free to flourish in this country under our Constitution, how does that jibe with the idea that the decisions our government makes on our behalf -- whether to protect us, tax us, keep us healthy, and spend our tax dollars -- should be rooted in some basic morality? Since for most of us, religion is the cornerstone of any sense of morality, can that wall of separation be porous enough to let government employees be guided by their sense of morality in their work?

Furthermore, it's true that in some ways the government needs to act in ways that are divorced from any sense of morality. We citizens without proper security clearances have little to no idea of the level of shit our various military, intelligence, and diplomatic communities have to deal with on a daily basis. But morality can sometimes make things very cloudy indeed. One hundred people will have one hundred different moral perspectives on any given point. At some point, a question of what to do comes up and we have to divorce ourselves from morality to make sometimes very sober, very difficult decisions.

There's no question that, during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have picked up and detained people with direct knowledge of terrorist activities against the United States and our interests abroad. How do we obtain this information as quickly as possible? How do we factor in the near certainty that some or many of them would resist, perhaps even until death, to avoid disclosing that information? And how reliable would this information be? How much of it would be disinformation intended to throw us off course, chasing the wrong leads?

And how do we get it out of them? Certainly, there are established limits to interrogation, but is there ever a reason to go beyond those limits? Is our safety so critical that we would have to secretly violate our own principles? And of course, someday those secrets would get out; how does that impact us in the future with regard to foreign relations? Do we want to be known in the world as the country that will torture you if we believe you to have information we deem critical to national security? Do we want to be known as the country that pays mere lip service to the rule of law?

Andrew Sullivan today posts some fantastic observations on the role of amorality in government.

[I]t should be possible to debate even torture in amoral terms, in terms of political repercussions, polling, cultural attitudes and so forth. The same can be said of abortion, child abuse, or the death penalty and other horrors. What still stuns me, however, is how supine many on the non-statist right have been in the face of the massive evidence that the US government instituted a systematic, bureaucratized torture-and-abuse program for captured and imprisoned terror suspects (many of whom turned out to be completely innocent). ...

It is not the amoral discussion of torture that appalls me; it's the amoral discussion proffered without any moral discussion ever being offered. (emphasis Andrew)

And to go straight to the amoral argument without dealing with the fact that the government secretly and illegally, walled, froze, beat, contorted, stripped, shaved, near-drowned, near-suffocated, and denied sleep for hundreds of hours to unknown numbers of prisoners and murdered 100 of them that we know of - this befuddles me. It was illegal; it was unethical by any standard of ethics; it was immoral and indecent; it required a conscious subversion of democratic norms to accomplish; and it is a terrifying precedent in a country allegedly founded on the rule of law. I do not understand how a libertarian cannot stand up against this and be counted - for once and for all on the grounds that is remains the greatest violation of individual liberty and dignity and due process in recent times in America.

We cannot be an America that demands laws to ban abortion or gay marriage, while we at the same time dismiss any moral imperatives when torture is the issue. Both abortion and torture of suspects speak to the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Such a dichotomy is schizophrenic -- divorced from reality. We have to have the moral discussion even as we acknowledge that politics can be amoral.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Number 2 Son, Cont.

I meant to upload a picture, but forgot.

This picture was taken at the Montage Resort in Laguna Beach a week or so ago. He's here with his sweet cousin, Olivia, in the kiddie pool.

Number 2 Son

I have on occasion written extensively about my older son, Max, who is seven years old. Today, however, I want to focus on my younger son, Elijah, who is four and a half.

From birth, Eli has been, to be blunt, a significantly challenging boy. The obstetricians had warned that, based on their measurements in ultrasounds, he would be born at about 4 1/2 pounds. Since Lisa had delivered Max via C-section, she would deliver Eli the same way. Well, they made an incision for a four-pound baby, but Eli turned out to be bigger, and the doctors struggled to get him out. I remember seeing Lisa's body, numbed by the epidural, being jostled around and practically being lifted up off the operating table as they worked Eli out. Weight at birth? Six pounds. Already doing things his own way.

He had jaundice at birth and had to spend three days under the bilirubin lights. Then he had colic for the first four months, and God help me, the stress of dealing with that child really got to me. I had every unmentionable thought the father of a challenging newborn could have, and then some. I told Lisa at one unguarded and stressed-to-the-max moment that I hated this kid. Not really, of course, I loved him, but I was really having difficulty connecting with him. He was this crying, shitting, and screaming mass of "no fucking way!"

After the colicky stage, Eli seemed to settle into a routine of pleasantness. Looking back at pictures and video of that time, he was smiling and laughing a lot, particularly at his older brother, who had a knack for knowing what Eli found funny. He was also one tough cookie. We have video of him sitting on the floor in front of Max, lunging for him as if to wrestle Max to the ground.

As Eli has grown, he has proven to be incredibly bright and sunny. And extremely willful. His disobedient stripe is a mile wide. His insistence on doing everything himself is unyielding, and his unwillingness to break from his routines around food and activities is unshakeable at times.

I always thought that such a defiant streak would actually alienate rather than endear him to friends. Well, he has his friends, and he is actually very open and warm with them, not insistent on leading, not bullying, and always engaging with them with ideas on what to do, but never insistent on it. With us, particularly around food, potty training, and bedtime, he fought us on everything. He has also lately been fibbing a bit, not because he really wants to deceive, but mostly because he just wants to get his way.

Funny, but I never thought this aspect of his toughness and resolve would serve him very well.

I was wrong.

Since birth, Eli has had a cyst in the middle of his neck, right on top of his Adam's Apple. He had not a few ear infections, and he has always had large lymph nodes in his neck as well, so we thought all of this was related to the ear infections. The doctors asked us to watch them to see that they didn't grow too big. Well, in the past year it grew fairly large, about the size of a marble. The pediatric ENT we met thought that perhaps Eli had something called a thyroglossal duct cyst. These cysts have a way of coming back after they're removed, so the best way to remove them is to also take a piece of the hyoid bone, which is the anchor bone for the muscles of the floor of the mouth and the tongue, and part of the base of the tongue itself. We're talking millimeters of tissue, so it's not like Eli would be this inarticulate person afterward. However, this was a daunting procedure which would last about two or three hours and require an overnight hospital stay and a week of recovery.

His surgery was just yesterday. We had to get him to Ronald Reagan UCLA Hospital at 4:30 am. Lisa and I woke him up about 20 minutes ahead of time. This was one of the only times in his short life that he has not woken us up first. We dressed him and made the short trip up to Westwood and admitted him. And then we waited. And waited. We broke out the portable DVD player some friends had loaned us and popped in Finding Nemo. Finally, we got to see a nurse at about 6:00 am, who took his blood pressure and other vitals. Eli was most cooperative. He was also pretty tired so that helped. At about 7:00 the surgeon came in and said hello and talked to Eli. He'd already met her and he was totally at ease, but then came about half a dozen other doctors, including residents and students, anesthesiologists, and the like. This is where things got a little scary for Eli. Lots of new faces. I could see in his eyes that he was finally feeling the fear.

We had told him during the weeks leading up to this day that the doctors would give him something to make him sleepy so that he could sleep all through the operation. A doctor came in with a little sip of what we called "silly juice," and this sent Eli over the edge. He'd had the stuff when he went to the dentist last year. The stuff tastes like crap and he knows it. Since he really needs to control his food environment, he pitched a total fit as we tried to get him to take this stuff. We had to hold him down, and he did swallow it, but there was a lot of gagging afterwards. He had some left in his mouth and he spit it out, and he even refused to swallow any saliva after that because it tasted like the medicine.

The medicine did the trick, and before long he was as high as a kite, acting loopy and getting more tired by the minute. At about 7:30 they started to wheel him in and we had to leave him. We made our way downstairs to the waiting room...

At 9:15 the surgeon called down to say she was done, that the cyst was dermoid in nature and came out much more easily. No bone removal, no tongue excision. He would not have to stay overnight after all. We were very relieved to say the least.

In the recovery room, Eli woke up very quickly, but was zonked. He slept lightly until they wheeled him back into a pre-op bed. He slept a little there, but was very active from the start. He had to urinate, eat and drink, which he did like a champ. We got home at 2:30, nearly 10 hours after we arrived.

He spent the rest of the day lounging in front of the TV, eating Cheerios (my friend Steve would appreciate that), and slept all night long. He didn't complain of any pain, but we figured that the anesthesia was still working in him and that he'd start to feel some discomfort today.

Uh, yeah right.

Eli has already returned to his usual self. He's turning cartwheels, getting dirty, and playing baseball in the backyard. No pain, no discomfort, and no sore throat issues. What kind of human being is this who doesn't feel any pain after someone's taken a scalpel to his throat? Today I had visions of him as a Mixed Martials Arts fighter, kicking the shit out of his opponents and laughing when they hit him.

It amazes me how resilient this child is. I'm damn proud of him, love him to bits, and treasure each hug, each kiss, and each "I love you, Daddy" (even the ones where I know he wants something from me).

Monday, August 24, 2009


The last line of this short piece by Chris Bodenner (subbing for a vacationing Andrew Sullivan) appealed to my sarcastic sense of humor, though it was somewhat harsh.

Gotta love that Western Wall!

Friday, August 21, 2009

No Surprise Here, Cont.

So my previous post dealt with Tom Ridge, primarily, but it also covered the party of nihilism that the GOP has become. In answer to Joe Klein's fantastic essay comes this tripe from Matt Welch over at Reason. Welch calls Klein to task by pointing out this tasty bit of logic:

If, as the growing media narrative contends, the Republicans have devolved into a rump party of half-sane white southerners wracked by racial anxiety, why does it keep rewarding anti-racist anti-populists at the top of its presidential ticket (including, notably, the ticket that ran against a liberal Democrat black candidate), while rejecting every dime-store Tancredo with prejudice? When does this allegedly mainstream Republican pathology begin showing up in the numbers, or in the personages of those who lead the party?

The main problem with this thinking, of which there are many, is that it's just made up bullshit. McCain wasn't nominated because he was anti-racist and anti-populist. If ever there was a candidate who engineered his positions to appeal to the base of his party, it was McCain. McCain vigorously opposed torture until he became a candidate. McCain was ambivalent about abortion and gay marriage until he became a candidate. McCain opposed Bush's wartime tax cuts until he became a candidate. McCain even co-sponsored climate change and immigration bills that he then opposed once he became a candidate! Finally, McCain, the victim of Rove/Atwater-style character assassination during the 2000 primary season, hired those same assassins to run his own campaign in 2008.

And I don't need to raise the specter of Palin as a foreigner-hating xenophobe. It's just that self-evident.

The fact that Tom Tancredo didn't get nominated was because no one knew who the fuck he was. He is also a crappy politician who was an ineffective communicator and a one-issue candidate. His views on immigration were shared by the GOP base: "Hate those goddamn furriners, send every last one of 'em back to Meh-hee-co! Them and their babies too!" So if Tancredo had actually been better and had more connections in the party, he might have fared better than as a fringe candidate.

And, from the comments after Welch's piece, comes this typical GOP response from a True Believer:

I'm starting to think that the God's Own Party faith fueled money train is going to roll on into town. Huckabee/Palin or maybe Barbour/ Huckabee in 2012. They are gonna swing hard right in response to the left trying to go hard left. The republicans are going to realize they started getting their asses handed to them when they eased up on the God rules.

This is what the GOP base is thinking. They are such nihilists that they are committed to self-destruction in pursuit of their regressive belief system.

I rest my case.

Que Es Mas Macho, el Presidente o Congress?

Laurie Anderson's "Smoke Rings" posed the question, "que es mas macho" to compare random things like knives, pineapples, smoke rings, and staircases. Today, I pose the question to compare the actions of President Obama and Congress.

I was reading Conor Clarke's analysis of Paul Krugman's excellent column in the NY Times this morning. Krugman laments that Obama has a "trust problem" because of his perceived waffling on the so-called "public option" in his health-care package:

Until the idea of the public option came along, a significant faction within the party rejected anything short of true single-payer, Medicare-for-all reform, viewing anything less as perpetuating the flaws of our current system. The public option, which would force insurance companies to prove their usefulness or fade away, settled some of those qualms.
Clarke makes the point that the president's never made the public option a deal breaker for his package, but has consistently stressed its importance. That he is now willing to compromise and carve it out (presumably to fight the battle another day after the rest of his proposals are actually in force and proving effective) actually adds to his trustworthiness. I do not want my political leaders to be monolithic or hardcore partisan. Since he became president, Obama has shown resolve to work with the Republicans to get things done. This often makes me cringe because I know that a compromise often means a watering down of the best of Obama's plans, but as long as things get done I am willing to suspend my displeasure. I don't believe that what ends up passing Congress with regard to healthcare will be worse without the public option.

In 1996, Congress passed the "Welfare Reform" act working with President Clinton. This was a perfect example of "que es mas macho." Clinton, working with one of the most partisan and intransigent Congresses (pre-Bush43), passed a historic piece of legislation. Should Obama be able to pass healthcare reform, it will be the single greatest piece of legislation since then. Mucho macho, indeed.

Jon Stewart and Some Blonde Moron -- page 432

Jon Stewart had a very probing interview with Betsy McCaughey on The Daily Show yesterday about the House version of the Health Care Bill. He got her to admit that she believes the bill is specifically designed to deny health care benefits to seniors. It just goes to show you that having a PhD after your name doesn't mean that you're intelligent.

There is language in the bill, she claims, on page 432 of the legislation, which makes it mandatory for doctors to have a conversation with people about end-of-life issues. Not that this is anything new, but apparently counseling someone about stopping eating or drinking water as a way to peacefully end one's life is now what's being called a "death panel." Forget the fact that she never got around to actually reading the language on page 432 because she failed to mark the page in the thick binder that she brought with her. She didn't get around to reading it because she would have run across this, which actually begins on page 425:
A consultation between the individual and practitioner...
OK, so this is a one on one, is it? Doesn't sound like a panel to me.
Such consultation shall include the following: (A) An explanation by the practitioner of advance care planning, including key questions and considerations, important steps, and suggested people to talk to...
So the practitioner is going to have a discussion about end of life issues, such as living wills, advance directives, and durable powers of attorney. I had these discussions with my lawyer when Lisa and I planned our living trust. Nothing new here.
An explanation by the practitioner of the continuum of end-of-life services and supports available, including palliative care and hospice, and benefits for such services and supports that are available...
Again, nothing new.

Now, on page 429, the bill goes on to describe "life-sustaining treatment":
The level of treatment indicated under subparagraph (A)(ii) may range from an indication for full treatment to an indication to limit some or all or specified interventions. Such indicated levels of treatment may include indications respecting, among other items—

(i) the intensity of medical intervention if the patient is pulse less, apneic, or has serious cardiac or pulmonary problems;

(ii) the individual’s desire regarding transfer to a hospital or remaining at the current care setting;

(iii) the use of antibiotics; and

(iv) the use of artificially administered nutrition and hydration.

OK, so now this is what has people up in arms, I guess. The bill actually says that doctors can discuss levels of treatment that artificially prolong life. Is it wrong to have this discussion with someone who's not in the heat of the moment,dying in an emergency room, but rather, in a rational space like the doctor's office, when one is fully cognizant of one's options? McCaughey says in the interview that people sometimes change their minds when push comes to shove. Well, I say, that should be a topic of discussion as well: "Mrs. Patient, these are very serious issues we're discussing here. Sometimes it's easier to make these decisions when you're not gravely ill, but once you get to that point you decide to change to your mind and opt for life-sustaining measures. If there is a possibility that you might do this, I strongly suggest you opt for life-sustaining measures now and avoid that decision later on."

See, to me this is no different than "abstinence only" sex education for teens: "Gee, if teenagers were to be educated that one could prevent pregnancy and/or STDs by wearing condoms during sex, or by engaging in sexual acts other than vaginal intercourse, it would encourage teens to be sexually promiscuous." This now becomes: "Gee, if seniors (or parents of gravely ill children) knew that they could plan in advance how their lives would end if they became unable to make decisions about it, that might encourage euthanasia or doctor-assisted suicide." It's so silly, and it reveals, as I see it, yet another moral issue that conservatives will hang their hats on, like abortion or gay marriage.

Another area where McCaughey gets worked up is, in fact, page 432, which reads:
For purposes of reporting data on quality measures for covered professional services furnished during 2011 and any subsequent year, to the extent that measures are available, the Secretary shall include quality measures on end of life care and advanced care planning that have been adopted or endorsed by a consensus-based organization, if appropriate. Such measures shall measure both the creation of and adherence to orders for life-sustaining treatment.
This means that doctors receiving Medicare payments are going to be measured on whether they actually have this "advanced care planning" discussion with their patients when it's relevant. Again, I see nothing here that suggests to me that the government is going to insert itself in end-of-life care. It's merely saying that recipients of government money will adhere to a standard of care that includes having this very beneficial discussion. I see why McCaughey never got to this page, since I don't think she would have survived Stewart's withering take-down. As it is, for him to say, "I like you, but ... I don't understand how your brain works" is bad enough.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Is there nothing that "conservatives" won't do to derail the Obama administration? We've seen the protestors showing up at town hall meetings, with signs, shouting over senators and congressmen, effectively choking any debate on the issues to be discussed at the town hall.

I'd never heard the coined term before -- Astroturfing -- used to describe pseudo-grass roots movements initiated to protest government actions. But this Newsweek story exposes the fact that the anti-health insurance reform movement, as well as the earlier, failed "tea party" movement, were orchestrated and funded by special interests.
The protests and town-hall disruptions for and against health-care reform that have arisen in recent weeks have been linked back to insurance companies and interest groups hoping to shape the debate without appearing like meddlers trying to buy policy with buckets of money.
But of course they're doing this. When you have nothing else to say -- and we've all seen that Republicans today have absolutely nothing substantive to say about the direction of this country -- you resort to attacking those who actually have ideas and create enough noise to suggest that you actually have something so say.

This is America, so free-speech it up, folks! Propagate falsehoods! Carry around assault rifles and handguns at town hall meetings to suggest what might happen if things don't go your way! Deface the president's image with Hitler mustaches! And stay mired in mid-20th century thinking. Meanwhile, we'll be over here, getting things done.

Tragic Story

Mark Kleiman posts a reprint of an email a friend of his sent. It's the story of a person who died after waiting too long to seek medical care after contracting a respiratory infection, which turned out to be H1N1, swine flu. The reason posited for this delay? She didn't have insurance, and couldn't afford COBRA. Money quote:
So. She waits six days before finally dragging herself to an urgent care clinic, but the wait is so long and she feels like shit on a stick so she goes back home. Eventually ends up in ICU with pneumonia, and, as it ends up, tested positive for H1N1. By then the infection had gone too far, her organs started failing, and after a week in the hospital she died this morning, leaving a teenage daughter and a husband who don’t know what hit them.

As tragic as this story really is, the real tragedy is that she waited six days to seek medical care after running a high fever, and then failed to see it through because the wait was too long. I'm all for blaming a terrible health care system for failing to help enough people, but after running a fever for four days she should have hit the emergency room and sat there like everyone else with no insurance and waited all day to get seen. She was presumably a California resident, as she had just come back from Disneyland, so at least there might have been Medi-Cal.

While the system sucks, there was a way for her to get care. The bills could have been negotiated. Doctors and hospitals are not monoliths that have no room for this sort of negotiating. This woman and her husband do bear some responsibility in this case.

That said, an option in place for her to go be part of a government-run system that covers people like her would have been better. For her to forego medical care because she had no money was stupid and short-sighted. When you're that sick, you get help. If your leg is broken you go to the hospital and get a cast and perhaps surgery.

If we're going to argue for the public option in the healthcare insurance reform bill, then let's use strong cases. This is not one of them.

Quote of the Day

"If a man has the sense that God gave a common bivalve—and I often wonder if those clams know something we don’t—he should realize when he’s found a partner who complements him, makes him happy, and vice versa. Because the right person isn’t solely someone who’s happy with you, it’s also someone who’s not afraid to be unhappy with you. There’s no such thing as a perfect couple. Anyone who claims otherwise is either drunk, on ecstasy, lying, or all three, and—bet on it—has at some point imagined crushing his or her spouse with a giant suitcase or some other large, blunt object. But if you can refrain from doing it, and eventually laugh about it, you’re making out okay."

From his essay, "The Not-So-Dolce Vita" by Mark St. Amant

No Surprise Here

Bob Cesca highlights an excerpt from the upcoming book by former Pennsylvania Governor and Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge.

Should we be surprised that GW Bush (and perhaps Cheney) manipulated the terror threat in the weeks leading up to a very close election? Hardly. It has been the hallmark of the GOP since Lee Atwater that dirty tricks are fair game in politics, so long as you win in the end.

Should we be incensed? What, again? As Joe Klein writes today on, the GOP has become the party of nihilism, but this also is nothing new:
There was McCarthyism in the 1950s, the John Birch Society in the 1960s. But there was a difference in those times: the crazies were a faction — often a powerful faction — of the Republican Party, but they didn't run it. The neofascist Father Coughlin had a huge radio audience in the 1930s, but he didn't have the power to control and silence the elected leaders of the party that Limbaugh — who, if not the party's leader, is certainly the most powerful Republican extant — does now. Until recently, the Republican Party contained a strong moderate wing. It was a Republican, the lawyer Joseph Welch, who delivered the coup de grâce to Senator McCarthy when he said, "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?" Where is the Republican who would dare say that to Rush Limbaugh, who has compared the President of the United States to Adolf Hitler?

One hopes that the GOP will eventually collapse under the tremendous weight of its own archaic and dangerously anti-equality platform. We live in a new time. If the GOP doesn't acknowledge this and take a serious step towards reforming itself, they will, as I have repeatedly predicted, the Christianist Party. Christian Nihilism...heh.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Now THIS is how our yellow-bellied, gutless, spineless Congressional representatives ought to respond to the nonsense spewed forth by the frothing right wing. Barney Frank is my hero!

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Whole New Kinda Crazy? Maybe Not...

Via TPM, a very insightful piece by Rick Perlstein about the crazies who have emerged this past month to dominate the news. Everything old is new again...
Conservatives have become adept at playing the media for suckers, getting inside the heads of editors and reporters, haunting them with the thought that maybe they are out-of-touch cosmopolitans and that their duty as tribunes of the people's voices means they should treat Obama's creation of "death panels" as just another justiciable political claim. ... It used to be different. You never heard the late Walter Cronkite taking time on the evening news to "debunk" claims that a proposed mental health clinic in Alaska is actually a dumping ground for right-wing critics of the president's program, or giving the people who made those claims time to explain themselves on the air. The media didn't adjudicate the ever-present underbrush of American paranoia as a set of "conservative claims" to weigh, horse-race-style, against liberal claims. Back then, a more confident media unequivocally labeled the civic outrage represented by such discourse as "extremist" -- out of bounds.
At the heart of this is a public that is addicted to the 24-hour news cycle. If the news is slow, the public will tune out, so the editors exert pressure to blow up even the most mundane of stories (a perfect example is the "beer summit" -- some stories focused on the brands of beer selected by the four men and what those selections said about them. This was a what the fuck? moment for me). Viewership is the most important thing, more than holding off on a story unless it can be corroborated, more important than smearing the good name of an otherwise good person with hearsay or rumor. The celebrity status of the news anchor is more important than the content being delivered. Advertising dollars -- i.e., profit -- trumps all.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Jon Stewart At His Best...

Here's the link to The Daily Show from Thursday, where he roasts Glenn Beck over the hottest possible coals. Really... was it possible for Beck to be any more of a fucking moron before this? Uh, apparently so. Here's the classic line, (delivered at about 3:20 in) about Beck's 2008 surgery for "hemorrhoids, or some other anal procedure":
I’ll tell you what doesn’t really speak well of our healthcare system – that in those 16 months, the hole that they stitched up in Glenn Beck’s ass hasn’t healed enough for him to stop talking out of it.
What makes me smile is that Beck, Hannity, O'Reilly, and the rest of the right-wing nutjob media cabal make it so EASY to call them on their bullshit. All it takes is a couple of interns working at Comedy Central (!) to pore over some old videotape or YouTube videos.

Beck is, of course, wrong that we have the best healthcare system in the world. According to the World Health Organization, in 2000 (the last year for which a ranking could be ascertained), that honor belonged to France. Where was the United States? All the way down at #37. Oh, you say, but the U.S. has the best doctors! The best equipment! If I'm a Canadian and I'm really, really sick, I'm going to America where I can get the best doctors and equipment money can buy. Yes, probably so. But, since your Canadian health insurance won't cover an American doctor, it's 100% your money out of your pocket. So, if you're a filthy rich Canadian who can afford to spend hundreds of thousands on American medical care, you're doing great, but if you're some average Joe in Saskatoon, you're stuck with not-the-best doctors and/or equipment, paid for 100% by your government.

The same is true for Americans, by the way. If you have some rare form of cancer and the best doctor in the world is in America but isn't in your plan's network, maybe you're going off-network and paying for half the cost out of pocket, plus the deductible and annual minimum. And then there's some panel at the insurer looking at your claim to determine if what you had was pre-existing so that they wouldn't have to pay out at all. Meanwhile, the doctor and the anesthesiologist still want to get paid and aren't waiting months for the insurance company to kick in. If you don't pay or work something out, they send you to collections, which messes up your credit rating to the point where then your credit card limits get dropped to nothing and the rate on any outstanding balances goes to 30% because your score dropped below 700. Pretty vicious scenario, and, by the way, not unrealistic.

So, the U.S. was ranked #37 in the world in health care systems, not in quality of actual care. Great doctors and top-notch innovation, strangled by the most inane, inefficient, and health-averse insurance system in the world. This is why the system needs reform, and why the system will be reformed by President Obama in his first term.

Bill Gives Liberals Hell at Netroots

It's a testament to how much more legit liberal blogs have become when Bill Clinton agrees to speak to a convention of them.

Was he all lovey-dovey with them? Not on your life. Here's him discussing the current health-care debate:

The president needs your help and the party needs your help. If you go out there and then you fail, then the victors get to re-write history.

I don't care how low they drive support for this with misinformation. The minute the president signs this bill, his approval will go up. Within a year, when the good things begin to happen, and the bad things they're saying will happen don't happen, approval will explode.

Here's his take on what liberals can look forward to:
All my life I waited for a time [like this]. [The new progressive era] could last 30 years [if liberals smash the conservatives, including the] half of Republicans who don't believe the president was born in the United States.
Of course, he didn't mention how his own failings led to a Democratic loss in 2000, but why should he? Al Gore did win the election, only to have it stolen by the Supreme Court after a highly partisan decision to halt the Florida recount. Had the US been patient the way Minnesota had in their senatorial election, the result would have been different. Of course, Dennis Hastert would have been president during the waiting period. Who knows what mayhem would have ensued?

But my bet is that Clinton is right about a lot of this. We all know that the bad things predicted by the opponents of health-care reform will not happen, and we all know that access to health-care insurance for everyone will have far-reaching effects, including the ability of currently uninsured or under-insured Americans to be more productive at work because they're getting the care they need. And when this happens -- and Obama the long-player is betting conservatively if you ask me -- his approval ratings will jump higher than they were when he was elected. Conversely, Charless Grassley will be looking for a new job, and Sarah Palin, well, let's just say that the former Alaska governor will have some of that tarnish rubbed off. I'll bet she becomes a more popular version of Ann Coulter (hence more disgusting).

Further, I predicted in October that Obama's election would usher in an era of liberalism in America that would last a generation. Given the strong majority the left enjoys among younger Americans, this is almost a given. I know some older Republicans who believe that they've seen the last Republican president of their lifetimes in George W. Bush.

Prius vs. Volt

General Motors unveiled the Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid that they claim will get 230 miles a gallon. Well, check out this article on CNNMoney comparing the cost of a Volt, including the cost of electricity to charge the battery, versus the cost to own and fuel a Toyota Prius. Turns out that, even with a $7,500 tax credit available to Volt buyers, the Volt is more expensive over the long haul.

The article also notes that the Prius is more expensive to own than the average compact gasoline-powered car. But what it doesn't account for is the fact that many Prius (or other hybrid) owners buy their cars not just for the improved mileage, but because it reduces carbon emissions. Volts would do the same thing, but at a cost of about $40,000, it could be a prohibitive factor.

Of course, I'm not ignorant of the fact that manufacturing the Prius batteries have an impact on emissions, but industrial emitters are better equipped (and forced by the government) to control those emissions.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Be Educated

Bruce Bartlett is a respected conservative economist, and one of the originators of supply-side economics, which was the economic hallmark of the Reagan administration. When it comes to recognizing conservative economic policies, this guy knows his shit.

His piece today at The Daily Beast is a must-read for anyone who actually uses his brain (as opposed to those who simply react and/or parrot what they hear on Limbaugh or Glenn Beck or Bill O'Reilly or Hannity). Here is a choice tidbit:

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

But there's a lot more. Here's something comparing Bush to Clinton:

During the Bush years, conservative economists often dismissed the dismal performance of the economy by pointing to a rising stock market. But the stock market was lackluster during the Bush years, especially compared to the previous eight. Between December 1992 and December 2000, the S&P 500 Index more than doubled. Between December 2000 and December 2008, it fell 34 percent. People would have been better off putting all their investments into cash under a mattress the day Bush took office.
My emphasis. Now read what he writes about Reagan:
Conservatives delude themselves that the Bush tax cuts worked and that the best medicine for America’s economic woes is more tax cuts; at a minimum, any tax increase would be economic poison. They forget that Ronald Reagan worked hard to pass one of the largest tax increases in American history in September 1982, the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act, even though the nation was still in a recession that didn’t end until November of that year. Indeed, one could easily argue that the enactment of that legislation was a critical prerequisite to recovery because it led to a decline in interest rates. The same could be said of Clinton’s 1993 tax increase, which many conservatives predicted would cause a recession but led to one of the biggest economic booms in history.
Read that last sentence again. Clinton's tax increase led to one of the biggest economic booms in history. This was not because of what Reagan and Bush 41 did to cut taxes. Both Reagan and Bush 41 raised taxes (remember "Read my lips"?).

Underneath what Bush 43 did to wreck the economy was what he didn't do. When he reformed Medicare by adding the prescription drug benefit (the gargantuan cost for which he lied about repeatedly and which was a form of welfare that undid the fantastic job Clinton did to abolish welfare) he had the chance to reform health care but didn't. He and his advisers -- and every thinking consumer in America -- knew that the current system was unsustainable and needed an overhaul. But instead of proposing workable solutions, Republicans today propose absolutely nothing other than holding to the status quo. Is this a viable economic solution? Of course not. It is a ploy to delay, obfuscate, and undermine the process of political and economic reform, to the point where American voters will blame President Obama for our economic woes and vote Republican in 2010 and 2012. It is an election scam, nothing more. And the thousands of voters currently doing their best to drown out reasonable debate are, once again, proving how ignorant and oblivious they are to their own economic interests. A perfect example was the protester at a recent town hall meeting who shouted, "Get your government hands off my Medicare!"

In much the same way that Obama's victory was assured on the day McCain selected the farcical Palin as his running mate (and perhaps before), reform of the healthcare insurance industry and of the healthcare delivery system is inevitable. The American Medical Association has already put its stamp of approval on the Obama plan. The lobbies for the insurance and pharmaceutical industries are doing their best to emasculate the plan. And conservative media outlets are organizing pitchfork-and-torch mobs to scare every Democratic politician in America that their futures are at stake. Guns have been spotted outside town hall meetings. Swastikas have been associated with the president (a more absurd comparison I have not yet seen). Prominent right wing nutjobs, such as Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, have repeated the term "Death Panels" in an effort to engender fear and panic to drum up more Republican voters. Again, when there's no workable solution offered, it's an obvious election ploy, nothing more.

And it better not work, America. Not if you care about your country.

Mental Health Break

The death of Les Paul has gotten me thinking about guitar players. Here's a long list of guitarists I love (only the top three are in order):
Allan Holdsworth -- the most talented electric guitarist in history
Robert Fripp -- the most innovative and daring guitarist in history
Ralph Towner -- the most talented acoustic guitarist/pianist/flugelhorn player in history
Eric Johnson
Byron Fry -- yeah, that Byron Fry
Steve Morse -- 100% picking
Jeff Buckley -- open tunings and effortless self-accompaniment
Leo Kottke -- 12 string master
Steve Hackett -- the sonic master of Genesis
Rick Dufay -- briefly w/Aerosmith, a blues master
Adrian Belew -- King Crimson, Talking Heads, solo work -- all brilliant
Joe Pass
Wes Montgomery
Larry Coryell
Jimi Hendrix
Kenwood Dennard
James Taylor -- amazing acoustic work his entire career
John Mayer -- have you heard this guy?
Ted Hall -- The Fents
David Torn
Bill Frissell
Pat Metheny
Peter Frampton
John Etheridge -- Soft Machine
Mike Stern
John Scofield
Jay Graydon -- his solo on Steely Dan's "Peg" is a masterpiece
George Harrison
Billy Zoom -- X, best punk guitarist ever
Brian Setzer
David Gilmour
David Cross -- Peter Gabriel's guitarist
Andy Summers
Steve Lukather
John McLaughlin
The Unknown John Clarke -- replaced Holdsworth in Bruford, did Holdsworth w/o a whammy bar
Steve Vai -- phenomenal hard rocker with equally phenomenal knowledge of music

Deliberately omitted because, while many revere them, I think these guys are mediocre to shitty:
Eric Clapton -- the most overrated guitarist in history
Jimmy Page -- most of the time he was too wasted to be good
Steve Howe -- can't play rhythm guitar to save his life
Eddie Van Halen -- used to be good, now just rehashes old licks
Al DiMeola -- speedster, but a single note guitarist only
Yngwie Malmsteen -- all show, no substance

R.I.P. Les Paul

Les Paul, the pioneer of the solid-body electric guitar, multi-tracking, and echo effects for the guitar, has died at 94.

His vintage Les Paul guitars from the 1950s are among the most sought-after for collectors and players alike, and have been known to command six-figure price tags.

Personally, I preferred the twanginess of Fender guitars, but Pauls sounded fat and heavy and were well suited to hard rock and metal, and perfectly complemented a Marshall stack.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Why is Healthcare in Need of Reform?

This story from a Sullivan reader is a good explanation. To have a broken hypodermic needle removed in a simple outpatient procedure that doesn't involve general anesthesia, including an x-ray, possible labs, maybe some antibiotics and/or a tetanus shot, costs $15,000?

My ex-wife got breast implants in 1992 for $4,400 (about $10,000 in today's money) and that included the initial consultation and pre-op screening, plus all post-op follow-ups. Can anyone tell me why this simple outpatient procedure would cost $15,000?

A previous Sullivan reader noted that insurance providers have "usual and customary" costs that they will pay for every single medical procedure, right down to a single aspirin tablet given in a hospital setting. Just because a doctor gets paid by insurance based on usual and customary doesn't mean that the doctor won't bill more to the patient after getting paid by insurance. Does that mean that doctors are greedy? Not necessarily, but surely some are. Does that also mean that a litigious society eager to hit deep pockets if something goes wrong has caused doctors to bill more for every procedure because of ever-increasing malpractice insurance? Probably. Does anyone think that a government-run public option will likely be stripped of any ability to regulate costs for medical procedures as a sop to the medical and insurance lobby? You'd probably be right, but I hope you're wrong.

Even Democrats Can Be Idiots

This from Michigan senator Carl Levin:
We should not be cowed by the terrorists so we don’t even keep them in maximum security prisons in the U.S. We cannot allow the terrorists to be intimidating us from trying them and keeping them in our jails.
The Democratic Governor, Jennifier Granholm, is not quite as confident as Levin.

Many of the people captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere who are held in Guantanamo and Bagram are, in fact, hardened, battle-tested terrorists. These guys received some pretty hard-core training, training that I believe would rival our Army Rangers, Navy Seals, etc. They are trained to seize any opportunity to escape. I'm not trying to characterize the lot of them as super-human villains in the movies. But there have to be enough of them dangerous enough and committed enough through their belief systems that nothing short of supermax incarceration is in order.

Monday, August 10, 2009


In his movie "Doubt," writer/director John Patrick Shanley explored the effects of certainty on the lives of priests and nuns in a Boston Catholic school. The last line of the film, spoken in agony by Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius Beauvier, is "I have doubt." As a nun with absolute certainty -- about her faith, about Father Flynn's behavior with a student, about her certainty -- she suddenly falls to pieces when she steps back and looks at all the facts before her.

In today's Los Angeles Times, Gregory Rodriguez highlights a new book by two sociologists about doubt as an effective weapon against fundamentalism of any kind. Money quote:
The most important core certainty, and one found in most belief systems, is "do unto others ..." -- the Golden Rule. It leaves enough wiggle room for your beliefs, my beliefs and their beliefs to coexist. And what makes it all work is the same thing that burdened us all to begin with: doubt. Berger and Zijderveld believe that doubt can serve as a type of psychic cushion between all our different certainties.
This article has made me take a step back and re-examine what I had believed was my high level of tolerance for other belief systems. I believe that there are spaces in my tolerance for certainty to step in: certainty that I am right and others are wrong. Still, I also believe that I have enough doubt about my own beliefs, about politics or religion or the economy, that keep me open to new ideas. This blog was itself a product of doubt and uncertainty, as I spent a lot of time reading bloggers of different ideologies and hearing some level of truth in all of them. I think that's why I get so riled by the Malkins and Hewitts and other hard-core wing-nuts on the right: because in some ways they make sense to me while they are using language that pushes my buttons. God, I hate that!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Fear is the Fuel

Which keeps alive the incessantly nasty and often vicious actions of the teabaggers at these various town halls across the country. Here are two posts from Sullivan which illustrate these points vividly.

First money quote:
The America which Europe fears is the America of the Reaganites. The America once of the Scopes trial; the America of prohibition; the America of ignorant isolationism. The America then of ‘‘better dead than red’’; the America of McCarthyism; the America of the last fundamentalists of the 1950s. The America now of the new evangelicals; the America of the Moral Majority; the America of a now ignorant interventionism; the America which can see homosexuals as a conspiracy; feminists as a conspiracy; perhaps even women as a conspiracy.
If you'll notice, not one of these movements ever survived past a few years.

Second money quote:
When I tried to reasonably protest [his] statement, he just spewed forth a tirade of vile invectives.

We were outside and there were about 30 people milling about. I was shocked, embarrassed and literally frozen in place. I managed to turn and walk away. This is a man I have known and respected for the entire length of my sobriety. I am fairly certain this friendship is over. Reasonable discourse is over. The lies and hate spread by the right-wing have won.
This woman has given up trying to reason with her friend of 18 years. I can relate to this in a small way, as there are people I have known for a long time with whom I simply don't discuss politics. There is just no point debating someone when they are possessed of a bundle of "facts" culled from media machines that have no interest in disseminating them.

What will soon -- I hope -- hit these irrational people is that their tactics will accomplish nothing. Let them spew, let them cry "socialism" and "death panels" all they want; the healthcare industry in America will undergo a significant change. Even if Obama loses some key provisions of the current program, they will eventually return. What the movement conservatives have not yet realized is that their time in the sun has ended for the next generation. As we have seen repeatedly, younger Americans (and older ones like me who think like them) are sweeping into politics with greater tolerance, greater empathy, and a firm desire to separate from the elders who have held the reins for far too long and who have literally lay waste to both our economy and our environment.

The America of Fear may try to resist change, but change is gonna come.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Reality Check

Sullivan posts a reader's comments about the true nature of the populist right (what I call wing-nuts). Money quote:
They have always been with us, the people who believed in manifest destiny, who delighted in the slaughter of this land's original inhabitants, who cheered a nation into a civil war to support an economic system of slavery that didn't even benefit them. They are the people who bashed the unions and cheered on the anti-sedition laws, who joined the Pinkertons and the No Nothing Party, who beat up Catholic immigrants and occasionally torched the black part of town. They rode through the Southern pine forests at night, they banned non-European immigration, they burned John Rockefeller Jr. in effigy for proposing the Grand Tetons National Park.

These are the folks who drove Teddy Roosevelt out of the Republican Party and called his cousin Franklin a communist, shut their town's borders to the Okies and played the protectionist card right up til Pearl Harbor, when they suddenly had a new foreign enemy to hate. They are with us, the John Birchers, the anti-fluoride and black helicopter nuts, the squirrely commie-hating hysterics who always loved the loyalty oath, the forced confession, the auto-da-fe. Those who await with baited breath the race war, the nuclear holocaust, the cultural jihad, the second coming, they make up much more of America then you would care to think.
Makes you think twice about dismissing that portion of our population, doesn't it? They have a long history, and, while they have won some battles, are pretty much losing the war to progressives.

Change is in the blood of every American, because nearly every one of our forebears arrived here because change was what we wanted. Those who were forced to come here wanted change from their circumstances as well. We are a wandering people, always striving for something new, something more. Those who want things just the way they are have forgotten what it means to be an American. They have become old, they have stopped growing, and they are absolutely terrified. Worst of all, they are bearing children and rearing them with the same backwards, regressive belief systems that they have.

Friday, August 7, 2009

"Great Spirits Have Always Encountered...

...violent opposition from mediocre minds." Albert Einstein said that.

As we bear witness to the insanity of the far right as they try to disrupt Obama's health insurance reform plans, Mark Kleiman over at The Reality-Based Community makes a great observation:

"No doubt it would shock the teabaggers - no doubt most of them churchgoers - who are now chanting slogans to shout down Members of Congress to know that their behavior is rather ... pagan. Notice that the motivations are the same; the mob at Ephesus was organized by the idol-makers, whose lucrative trade was threatned by Christianity, just as the mobs disrupting the town-halls are organized by the health-care industry racketeers."

Source: Acts 23-41.

Plus the public face of the "movement" is the former head of HCA, whose company was hit with a federal fine of $1.7 billion for Medicare fraud. Watch the Rick Sanchez smack down on YouTube to get a load of this guy. What irony!

Fear and Rage

Andrew Sullivan rightly takes Peggy Noonan to task for her commentary ( regarding the Obama health insurance reform plan.

The GOP (and some Dems too) cheerfully enabled eight years of Bush fiscal irresponsibility of massive tax cuts for the wealthy while waging unchecked warfare on two fronts. On top of that, Sullivan notes, they never objected to the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit, which over time will cost $32 trillion. Yes, that's trillion with a "t." And Bush never even bothered discussing how to pay for it.

The Obama plan will cost $1 trillion over 10 years, and there has been much discussion on how to pay for it. Hmmm, maybe that's the problem here. Tell the truth about something and one opens up a can of worms. Deliberately obfuscate and mislead and everything's just fine.

This is GOP fear and rage in action. They lost, they can't stand that their war hero lost to an inexperienced black liberal, and they're acting out. Teabaggers, most of whom are older and most of whom already benefit from a government-run healthcare program that's more efficient than most privately-run programs, stand up and shout down any Congressman who's willing to meet with his/her constituency about it. Cowards, every last one of them.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Second Most Useful Website Ever

Second to my own, of course.

Need to get up during the movie to pee? Want to know when would be the best time to do so? Go to

"With the guards of Magog swarming around..."

Secular Humanist -- and newspaper editor -- James A. Haught details the obsession former President George W. Bush had with going to war in Iraq. Money quote:

For six years, Americans really haven’t known why he launched the unnecessary Iraq attack. Official pretexts turned out to be baseless. Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction after all, and wasn’t in league with terrorists, as the White House alleged. Collapse of his asserted reasons led to speculation about hidden motives: Was the invasion loosed to gain control of Iraq’s oil—or to protect Israel—or to complete Bush’s father’s vendetta against the late dictator Saddam Hussein? Nobody ever found an answer.

Now, added to the other suspicions, comes the goofy possibility that abstruse, supernatural, idiotic, laughable Bible prophecies were a factor. This casts an ominous pall over the needless war that has killed more than four thousand young Americans and cost U.S. taxpayers perhaps $1 trillion.

Truth be told, I'd always suspected that Bush was thinking apocalyptically, and was leading the country into what he perceived was a Christian crusade. With Rumsfeld attaching biblical text to reports on the war that he was providing the president, this all sort of falls neatly into place. Non-Christians on the right might say I'm as bad a conspiracy theorist as the birthers, but here we have the former leader of a major US ally on record with this. As Sullivan remarks, I am agog.

666 is no longer alone
He's getting out the marrow in your backbone
And the seven trumpets blowing sweet rock and roll
Gonna blow right down inside your soul
Pythagoras, with the looking glass, reflects the full moon
In blood, he's writing the lyrics of a brand new tune

(Note: lyric above and in title from "Supper's Ready" by Genesis)

Monday, August 3, 2009

Quid Pro Quo

In a typically stinging piece that is a must-read, Glenn Greenwald posts some very disturbing facts and insights about a recent agreement between General Electric, the parent company of NBC and MSNBC, and News Corporation, the parent company of FOX News. In the piece, G.E. agrees to silence Keith Olbermann, host of MSNBC's Countdown, who has been very critical of Fox News and and Bill O'Reilly, so that O'Reilly and Fox stop reporting on G.E.'s business dealings in Iran, to wit from a NY Times article last Saturday:

In late 2007, Mr. O’Reilly had a young producer, Jesse Watters, ambush [G.E. CEO] Mr. [Jeffrey] Immelt and ask about G.E.'s business in Iran, which is legal, and which includes sales of energy and medical technology. G.E. says it no longer does business in Iran.

Since June 1, Olbermann has not once mentioned Fox News or Bill O. in a single piece, cynically announcing at the end of his show that night that such a "quarantine" would help hasten the demise of O'Reilly's show.

All together now... Uh, yeah right.

As a Greenwald reader points out, whatever objections one has with O'Reilly -- I personally have many of them -- "this was one of the rare useful pieces of information O'Reilly ever presented to his audience, and Olbermann was there to show how lousy the rest of O'Reilly's information was. Though it was in the context of a bitter feud, the two men were actually engaging in real journalism, at least in this case."

"Real journalism" has become a joke in this country. Our major news outlets are owned by some of America's Very Large Corporations -- CBS by Viacom, NBC by G.E., ABC by Disney, and FOX by News Corp., plus CNN by Time Warner -- and the line between the parent corporation's interests and the news has never been blurrier. In fact, several former MSNBC on-air personalities have provided some rare insight into editorial policy:

Last May, CNN's Jessica Yellin said that when she was at MSNBC, "the press corps was under enormous pressure from corporate executives, frankly, to make sure that this [the Iraq War] was a war that was presented in a way that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the nation"; "the higher the president's approval ratings, the more pressure I had from news executives ... to put on positive stories about the president"; and "they would turn down stories that were more critical and try to put on pieces that were more positive."


MSNBC's rising star, Ashleigh Banfield, was demoted and then fired after she criticized news media organizations generally, and Fox News specifically, for distorting their war coverage to appear more pro-government. And, of course, when MSNBC canceled Phil Donahue's show in the run-up to the Iraq war despite its being that network's highest-rated program, a corporate memo surfaced indicating that the company had fears of being associated with an anti-war and anti-government message.

In a sickly ironic twist, the current temporary host of Countdown is Richard Wolffe. Those of you who have watched Olbermann's show know Wolffe as a frequent "political analyst." According to Greenwald, Wolffe left his job at Newsweek last March to join Public Strategies, Inc., a corporate communications firm run by former Bush White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett.

So having this non-journalist, who works as a P.R. man for some of the very corporate clients who own TV networks, be the face of a news show or even a frequent guest on that news show, is about the vilest thing I've ever seen happen in journalism. Public Strategies itself thinks Wolffe's position and access to the airwaves is an asset. From his bio page on the firm's website:

In addition, Wolffe is an NBC political analyst. He provides political commentary on several MSNBC programs, Meet The Press, and TODAY.

But wait, it gets better. Amazingly, Wolffe of course sees no conflict in his dual role as journalist and public relations man. As he said in an interview with Newsweek:

"The idea that journalists are somehow not engaged in corporate activities is not really in touch with what's going on. Every conversation with journalists is about business models and advertisers," he said, recalling that, on the day after the 2008 election, Newsweek sent him to Detroit to deliver a speech to advertisers.

"You tell me where the line is between business and journalism," he said.

Greenwald has some further updates today, including a link to a Talking Points Memo story reporting that MSNBC announces that they should have disclosed Wolffe's other gig and will do so in the future. Don't hold your breath waiting for that disclosure to reveal some of his or his employer's corporate clients.

What blows me away here is that this is all Journalism 101. When I was a novice reporter at the UCLA Daily Bruin in 1984-85, I learned that reporters needed to maintain a significant distance between themselves and those on whom they might be reporting. So, when I became friends with a member of the UCLA Communications Board, which oversaw funding and production for the paper and other campus media, I was moved off that beat to avoid the conflict of interest.

Even in the fantastic film Almost Famous, the character of Lester Bangs, who edited the great magazine Creem, said as he was counseling young journalist William Miller:

My advice to you: I know you think those guys are your friends. You wanna be a true friend to them? Be honest, and unmerciful.

Weeks ago I wrote that I would stop listening to NPR News because of their editorial policy as it related to torture. I see this as no different. I am also on record stating that Keith Olbermann is an American Hero and a patriot. But because he has agreed not to mention Fox and Bill O. on his show because of pressure he's gotten from corporate brass has completely undermined any credibility he had as a journalist. Not only will I stop watching Countdown, I'm also done with MSNBC, including Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews.

Soon I won't even need a TV. My wife will be so happy.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Lifted from HuffPost today

In the comments section of a piece about Bill Maher's show on HBO last night:

I have always made one prayer to God, a very short one. Here it is: "My God, make our enemies very ridiculous!" God has granted it to me. - Voltaire

Whether this is Voltaire or not, it's brilliant, and it represents the fulfillment of my dreams.