Archive for the ‘Videos’ Category

NBC’s Dr. Nancy Defends Doctors in Breast Cancer Debate: “We are on the verge of becoming a scientifically illiterate country”

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

One of the main competitions in our politics, aside from the liberal versus right-wing, and the establishment versus anti-establishment, is the the competition between technocrats and idiocrats. While technocrats may be ascendant in Obama’s Washington, as policy wonks and experts attempt to solve intractable problems with technical solutions and brainpower and science, the idiocrats, who try to get their agenda through by fooling enough of the people enough of the time, still have a solid hold on the political discussion.

Idiocrats take advantage of that old adage, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” and make sure smoke obscures any issue in which they want to get their way. Rather than respond to their opponents on the merits, they simply describe their opponents and their agenda as the fulfillment of the idiocrat’s worst fears: “Nazi!” “Socialist!” “Communist!” Terrorist!” “America-hater!” “Death panels!” “Government-mandated abortion!” “Reparations!” “Secret Muslim!” “Radical!” For those who are not paying enough attention to the issue to sort through all the competing claims, this extremist rhetoric, while not convincing them, causes them to assume something bad is going on, even if it isn’t as bad as is being claimed.

For example, even as the health care plan Obama has proposed is largely based on previous Republican proposals, and seems to take into account conservative critiques of big government while still making progress towards liberal goals, idiocrats have condemned it in the harshest terms possible, raising every possible fear – from government kidnapping your children and indoctrinating them into socialism, to rationing by death panels, to runaway spending bankrupting the country, to abortion mandates, to the destruction of the employer-based health care system, to the destruction of Medicare. It makes little difference that it is hard to imagine a plan that both rations care brutally and leads to runaway spending, or that everyone acknowledges our current system is on an unsustainable course, or that the measures included in the bills under consideration represent the most significant attempt at cost control in a generation.

Last week, as part of a continuing effort to generate smoke to obscure real issues, the Wall Street Journal editorial board started a deliberate lie to undermine the health care reforms in Congress by claiming (without evidence and contrary to news reports as well as the the recommendation itself) that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force – a independent, technocratic organization of doctors started by Ronald Reagan – had changed its recommendations regarding breast cancer prevention as part of Obama’s push to reduce the health care costs. This explosive claim became the focus of the public debate, instead of the recommendations of the report itself and their rationale.

On Sunday, Meet the Press had a typically “even-handed” debate between their own Dr. Nancy Snyderman and Ambassador Nancy Brinker, founder of an organization dedicated to fighting breast cancer. The whole 12 minute segment is worth watching (transcript), as you can see Brinker acknowledging that the task force might be right on the science, but at the same time suggesting that we shouldn’t show any weakness in our war against cancer by suggesting mammograms might not always be a good thing. She made a few valid points, giving certain circumstances in which mammograms would be better than alternatives, but she couldn’t and didn’t dispute the task force’s medical conclusions.

But the piece is truly worth watching for “Dr. Nancy” took on the idiocrats who were muddying the issue and defended the scientific conclusions of the doctors:

DR. SNYDERMAN: [O]ver 1900 women screened over a 10-year period of annual mammograms, one life is saved and there are a thousand false positives, which means ongoing, unnecessary tests.  Now remember, the scientists who did these numbers, their role is, as scientists, to take the anecdotes and the passion and the emotion out of it.  And I recognize that’s hard as part of the message.  But they’re to look at the public health issues of how we screen. And we’ve always known that mammography for women in their 40s has been fraught with problems.  It is not as precise for older women [She meant younger here].  On that Nancy and I have great agreement.  So what their consensus was is that there are a lot of unnecessary screenings for that one life.  Now, if you’re that one life, it’s 100 percent.  I get that.  But their charge as an independent body was to look at the cumulative research as scientists.

Later, as Ambassador Brinker tried to simultaneously politicize the issue while claiming not to be, Dr. Nancy interjected with a righteous defense of science:

The key line that got me:

I would argue that we are on the verge of becoming a scientifically illiterate country if we don’t at times separate [science and politics]…

In a large measure, the promise of Obama, the hope he held out, was to break the hold that idiocrats have over our political debate. Thus far, this is a battle he does not seem to be winning.

Remembering Those Who Were Killed While the Pundits Glorify the Gunman

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

Obama’s speech at Fort Hood on Tuesday didn’t get much coverage. It was lost amidst the constant churning of the news. In it, he said nothing “newsworthy.” But while it was not newsworthy, it was important. Obama focused on those who died that day, rather than the gunman. By his very approach, he made manifest the words of his erstwhile opponent, who in considering what America’s reaction to such threats should be said, “It is not about them; it is about us.” Marc Ambinder called the speech “The Best Speech Obama’s Given Since…Maybe Ever.” John Dickerson called it a “small masterpiece.”

While critics such as Charles Krauthammer may claim that Obama believes America should decline in power and Rush Limbaugh believes that Obama hates America so, Obama himself tells a different story of America:

[A]s we honor the many generations who have served, I think all of us – every single American – must acknowledge that this generation has more than proved itself the equal of those who have come before.

We need not look to the past for greatness, because it is before our very eyes.

This generation of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen have volunteered in a time of certain danger. They are part of the finest fighting force that the world has ever known. They have served tour after tour of duty in distant, different and difficult places. They have stood watch in blinding deserts and on snowy mountains. They have extended the opportunity of self-government to peoples that have suffered tyranny and war. They are man and woman; white, black, and brown; of all faiths and stations – all Americans, serving together to protect our people, while giving others half a world away the chance to lead a better life…

[W]hen today’s servicemen and women are veterans, and their children have grown – it will be said of this generation that they believed under the most trying of tests; that they persevered not just when it was easy, but when it was hard; and that they paid the price and bore the burden to secure this nation, and stood up for the values that live in the hearts of all free peoples.

Do yourself a favor – and as an antidote to the constant media circus of pundits bloviating and focusing their attention on the gunman and the other force that “killed those patriotic Americans at Ft. Hood as surely as the Islamist gunman did” (political correctness) – take a few minutes and pay attention to the story of us, and specifically to remember those who were killed on that day. It is, quite simply, the least we can do – to take a moment to pay attention to their lives instead of to glorify their killer and use their deaths as a cudgel against our domestic opponents.

Limbaugh claims Obama is a radical leftist because he supports programs Republicans proposed a generation ago.

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Charles Krauthammer, and other right wingers have begun to converge on a unified theory of Obama – a systematic critique of who he is, what he stands for, and what he is trying to do. Part of this theory – one of the core themes being developed – is that Obama is the most far left American leader ever. Rush Limbaugh expresses this as well as anyone – and I’ve spliced together two clips from his interview this past Sunday with Fox News. (Full interview here.)

Let’s take two of these quotes out for a moment:

We’ve never seen such radical leadership at such a high level of power…

I don’t know of any Republican who would try to take over one sixth of the U.S. economy. I don’t know one Republican who would put forth this…this…irresponsible cap and trade bill. I don’t know one Republican who would actually do that.

To understand why this is such a bizarre thing to say you need to look at some history.  It illustrates what I mean when I call the Republican Party and the right wing – and much of our public debate as it attempts to find the middle ground between the right and left – unhinged. Take a minute to look at the history of the policy proposals regarding the two examples Limbaugh cites – health care and cap and trade.

Health Care

The plans moving through Congress now have an historical precedent in most of their aspects in the two serious Republican attempts to reform health care after LBJ’s introduction of Medicare and Medicaid – Richard Nixon’s health care proposal in 1974 and the Dole-Chafee bill in 1993. Between the two bills, they contained a technocratic institution to reign in health care spending by looking at medical practices – similar to the IMAC that Sarah Palin called a death panel (Richard Nixon’s proposal); an individual mandate, an extension of Medicaid eligibility (the Dole-Chafee plan); an end to insurance industry abuses – for example, banning people with preexisting conditions, subsidies or vouchers for individuals who couldn’t afford health insurance to purchase it, and the creation of a standard minimum level of benefits for health insurance plans (both plans.)

Those who developed the base model that of health care reform now – used these models as the base onto which they grafted a health insurance exchange and a public option. They combined market forces with decentralized decision-making – the exchange on which private companies would offer health insurance – with a more top-down centralized approach – the public option which would compete with the private companies. Clearly, though the plan is distinctly liberal, it was developed by people who have a deep appreciation for some of the central conservative critiques of government planning and New Deal/Great Society-style liberalism. The plan is also clever politically – as a great majority of the American people, in their wisdom, see great value in having a choice between public option and a private one. Michael F. Cannon of the libertarian Cato Institute accidentally justified the rationale behind this popular sentiment:

Any payment system creates perverse incentives…which is why we need competition between different payment systems to temper the excesses of each.

Unlike the Dole-Chafee bill which sought to undermine the current system with the hope that something else would develop, the plans working through Congress now are more conservative as they seek to preserve the status quo while introducing an alternative model that people could opt into if it works.

You wonder how far to the right the Republican Party Rush imagines is if he claims he doesn’t know any Republican who would propose anything like this.

How about Mitt Romney, Bob Dole (who incidentally endorsed a version of the bill currently moving forward), Richard Nixon?

The one thing that makes this plan distinctly liberal is the public option. Yet, if anyone believes that after dropping it, the Republicans would support a health care bill, they haven’t been paying attention.

(For more on the similarities on health care, see this post from yesterday.)

Cap and Trade

On climate change, the story is even more dramatic.

Cap and trade started out as a hair-brained scheme to solve the problem of acid rain thought up by a Reagan administration lawyer, C. Boyden Gray. Environmentalists and liberals hated the idea. They saw it as a license to pollute, a “morally bankrupt” “license to kill,” or more reasonably as a “scheme for polluters to buy their way our of fixing the problem.” They preferred the more “command-and-control” approach of top-down regulation. Regulators resisted the idea – as it forced them to surrender “regulatory power to the marketplace.” Industry opposed it, claiming it “was going to shut the economy down.”

But George H. W. Bush thought that free market principles could realign the incentives to fix this problem – and he wanted to placate the Canadians who were bearing the brunt of the acid rain.

So he pushed through a cap and trade scheme to eliminate acid rain over these strong objections. It beat all expectations. Eventually environmentalists came around and industry continued to thrive. This Republican success on solving a major environmental issue without top-down regulation made cap and trade a popular, bipartisan idea. Eventually, Bill Clinton saw it as a way to tackle global warming. But as a significant minority of Republicans continued to question whether or not global warming was real and whether or not it was man-made (along with every other scientifically moot question that industries raised) any possible deal was postponed. Still, as late as 2008, the Senate had strong bipartisan support for a cap and trade program – with Joe Lieberman and John McCain taking the lead. Now McCain is a major opponent of the cap and trade legislation, complaining about the lack of support for nuclear reactors in the bill as a reason to oppose it. This when as late as a year ago, he reiterated his statements of the past eight years in saying that global warming demanded “urgent attention” – that we must “act quickly” to “dramatically reduce our carbon emissions” with a “cap-and-trade” program.

As I said regarding health care, if anyone thinks that McCain will come around to support this legislation that is so similar to what he supported as essential a year ago if the Democrats just tossed some more money into nuclear energy, then you haven’t been paying attention. McCain will likely start calling it a “power grab” and a “government takeover” of the world, echoing Cheney and Krauthammer by the time the bill is up for a vote.

Conclusion

In both cases, Republicans proposed ideas based on core conservative principles – on a respect for the free market, on avoiding rapid change, on avoiding top-down regulation. And now Democrats led by Barack Obama have taken up these proposals – amending them somewhat to take into account liberal ideas such as a distrust of large corporations and a concern for community goods – hoping to pass bipartisan legislation.

What they are met with instead is screams of “Socialism!” and “Government takeover!” and “Unprecedented!” “Attacks on liberty!” and “Why do you hate America?”

McCaffrey Caught In Another Lie

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Tim Lynch from Cato@Liberty appeared on CNN with former drug czar Barry McCaffrey and was outraged at the blatant lies he told. Lynch points to two specific lies:

  • that it is a “fantasy” with “zero truth” that “the Drug Enforcement Administration or any other federal law enforcement ever threatened care-givers or individual patients” regarding medicinal marijuana; and
  • that it was “nonsense” that the DEA was “going to threaten doctors simply for discussing the pros and cons of using marijuana with their patients” until the Ninth Circuit held that such a restriction was unconstitutional.

Of course, McCaffrey is no stranger to eliding the truth. I posted a video a while back pointing out another whopper McCaffrey told – this time to an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations:

De facto legalized? Yet McCaffrey himself attacked those politicians who suggested even allowances for medicinal marijuana:

After California passed a compassionate use initiative in 1996, McCaffrey warned doctors in the state that their privileges to prescribe narcotics would be stripped by the DEA if they prescribed or recommended marijuana use. In July 1998, as part of the anti-pot campaign, the drug czar claimed that Holland, a country with liberal drug laws, had a murder rate double that of the United States. In fact, although robberies have increased in the Netherlands since pot was made widely available in the late 1980s, the country’s murder rate is scarcely a quarter of the U.S. rate. McCaffrey never corrected himself. When Gary Johnson, New Mexico’s maverick Republican governor, spoke in favor of decriminalization, McCaffrey flew out to the state and claimed that Johnson had said “heroin is good.” [my emphasis]

If we are to believe his comments now, he apparently secretly did not oppose legalization while he was drug czar – as I reported earlier, he said at the same event as the above:

QUESTIONER: …[W]hy not just legalize drugs?

Former Drug Czar, General BARRY MCCAFFREY (retired): …[S]ince I’m not in public life, [I can say] I actually don’t care.  I care about 6th graders through 12th graders.  If you’re 40 years old, and you’re living in Oregon, and you have 12 giant pot plants in the back of your log cabin, knock yourself out.

Yet despite the fact that he claims marijuana is de facto legalized and that he secretly didn’t care if it was legalized, under his leadership as drug czar continuing through his successor’s term, arrests for mere marijuana possession went way up [pdf] – and not just for large amounts as he suggests here. Yet arrests related to marijuana surpassed that of both heroin and cocaine in McCaffrey’s first year as drug czar – and almost matched that of all non-marijuana-related drug offenses.

According to a study by Ryan S King and Marc Mauer [pdf], “Marijuana arrests increased by 113% between 1990 and 2002, while overall arrests decreased by 3%” – and the bulk of these arrests (over 50%) were of small users.

Under Barry McCaffrey, the War on Drugs became the War on Marijuana – yet he claims marijuana was de facto legalized; Barry McCaffrey himself personally attacked politicians who supported medical marijuana laws, supervised an agency that deliberately went after people following state laws allowing medicinal marijuana, and threatened any doctor who mentioned to a patient that marijuana might help him or her with prosecution – yet any recitation of these facts documented at the time and afterwards, he refers to as “fantasy” and “nonsense.”

On top of it all, he now claims to have not even opposed the legalization of marijuana as he supervised the War on Marijuana.

The Rift Torture Created Between the CIA and FBI Made America Less Safe

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Tom Ridge makes a number of extraordinary statements here, but I want to highlight one:

[The Patriot Act] tore down the wall, the legal barrier, between law enforcement and intelligence. You couldn’t talk to each other. Patriot Act destroyed the wall. Very important. [Threatening to prosecute CIA interrogators now] is almost like putting up a psychological barrier…

What makes this statement so extraordinary is that the torture itself created a psychological barrier – as novice CIA interrogators and independent contractors (with no experience in interrogation) neither of whom were experts in the Arab world, Islam, or Al Qaeda took over interrogations instead of the experienced FBI hands such as Ali Soufan. Not only were the more experienced and knowledgeable interrogators subordinated to novices, but they were eventually forced to withdraw all agents from any interrogation sites due to the torture they witnessed. Soufan explained this in the Times back in April:

One of the worst consequences of the use of these harsh techniques was that it reintroduced the so-called Chinese wall between the C.I.A. and F.B.I., similar to the communications obstacles that prevented us from working together to stop the 9/11 attacks. Because the bureau would not employ these problematic techniques, our agents who knew the most about the terrorists could have no part in the investigation. An F.B.I. colleague of mine who knew more about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed than anyone in the government was not allowed to speak to him. [my emphasis]

In a recent Times op-ed, he sounded almost plaintive as he reflected on the Bush administration decisions that removed him along with all other FBI agents from being able to interrogate the highest level detainees:

Mr. Mohammed knew the location of most, if not all, of the members of Al Qaeda’s leadership council, and possibly of every covert cell around the world. One can only imagine who else we could have captured, or what attacks we might have disrupted, if Mr. Mohammed had been questioned by the experts who knew the most about him.

And as Soufan pointed out in earlier testimony to Congress, the bulk and the most important of the true information derived from Abu Zubaydah came from FBI interrogation techniques. (Soufan himself conducted the interrogations, or attempted to, as conflicting orders from Washington kept putting inexperienced CIA contractors in charge.)

Ridge’s statement is extraordinary then for its ignorance of how torture itself affected the relationship between the FBI and the CIA – how, despite the important provisions of the Patriot Act that allowed sharing of information, CIA torture effectively reinstated the wall. He gets it backwards – it is not the prosecution of torture that is creating the psychological barrier to the sharing of information; it was the the crimes of torture themselves that did.

Senator Grassley Talks Out Of Both Sides of His Mouth On Health Care Reform

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

Watching the above clip on CNN earlier this week, I am amazed at Senator Chuck Grassley’s cojones!

This is the same Chuck Grassley who told MSNBC that he wouldn’t vote for a health care bill that only had items which he agreed with!

And this is the same Chuck Grassley who last week began fundraising against the health care reform he is allegedly negotiating over!

The same Chuck Grassley who fanned the rumors about death panels “pull[ing] the plug on Grandma!” And who then blamed Obama for making him endorse false rumors about health care.

This same guy is now blaming the President for making things “partisan” and for breaking his promise and undermining bipartisan compromise that he thinks is best on MSNBC while he spreads rumors about “death panels” to crowds opposed to the bipartisan reforms he is pushing and fundraises while demonizing the plans he supposedly is working towards.

It seems that this point from last night’s speech could be seen as directed primarily against Grassley – both carrot and stick:

It’s a plan that incorporates ideas from many of the people in this room tonight – Democrats and Republicans. And I will continue to seek common ground in the weeks ahead. If you come to me with a serious set of proposals, I will be there to listen. My door is always open.

But know this: I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it’s better politics to kill this plan than improve it. I will not stand by while the special interests use the same old tactics to keep things exactly the way they are. If you misrepresent what’s in the plan, we will call you out. And I will not accept the status quo as a solution. Not this time. Not now.

Obama’s message to Grassley is: You don’t get to help shape the legislation if you’re demonizing it every time you step away from the negotiating table.

Yet it’s also worth noting that many informed commenators have said that Obama’s proposal last night is closer to the Gang of 6 bill that Grassley has been helping create than the four already finished versions in the House and Senate.

Glenn Beck: God Is An Atheist!

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

Watching this clip from Glenn Beck, I find it hard to understand how his mind works. For some reason, he seems to have attributed the idea of “beating swords into ploughshares” to Communist influence. He clearly knows it is from the Bible – as he reads Bible citation from one of the images (the image actually appears three times in the Bible – in Isaiah, Micah, and Joel.) But the fact that this biblical image inspired a statue that the USSR donated to the United Nations is proof enough to Beck that not only was John Rockefeller a secret Communist, but that as he donated land to the United Nations, the UN must be as well? I think that’s the point he’s making. (Trying to follow Beck’s “reasoning” is like waterboarding my frontal lobe.)

But with that type of association being used as proof, and as the Bible was obviously written by God himself, doesn’t that make God a Communist?

And if God is a Communist, and Communists are atheists, then wouldn’t that mean God is an atheist?

And if God is an atheist, and we are supposed to follow God, shouldn’t we all become atheists as well?

Damn – who would’ve thought that Glenn Beck, darling of the right wing, is actually an atheistic Communist who – it is rumored – raped and murdered a young girl in 1990? I could see some people speculating that he did so because she was a God-fearing Christian who wouldn’t give in to his atheistic advances.

John McCain’s Cowardly Politics

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Senator John McCain established his reputation as a “maverick” in a large part for the bold positions he staked out in the 2000 campaign on long-term problems affecting our nation. That was his trademarked, “Straight Talk.” He was one of the few politicians out there who would tell you how much trouble Social Security and Medicare were in. But under the Obama administration and to a lesser extent throughout his career, McCain has gained great credibility and popularity by taking very strong, responsible positions on long-term issues – while finding some minor excuse to oppose any attempts at reform that cost him politically.

But the Obama administration apparently still continues to hope to meet the McCain who was often invoked, though rarely seen, in the 2008 campaign – the “maverick” with an interest in “bipartisanship” who “puts country first.”*

McCain’s 11th Sunday morning talk show appearance this year occurred this Sunday, as he  appeared on This Week With George Stephanopoulos. Chris Cilizza of theWashington Post said he expected the interview to be “Must Watch TV” – and in fact, it was – as McCain demonstrated a phenomenon I call “the politics of irresponsible responsibility.”

In his interview with Stephanopoulos, McCain talked like a moderate on domestic policy issues – but managed to find a single or dual objection that allowed him to obstruct Obama’s agenda on every issue. The two-step would go like this: “Yes, [fill-in-the-blank] is a serious issue. I am in favor of reform. We need to do something right away. But Obama’s plan is missing [fill-in-another-blank] so I will fight to stop this effort at reform.”

  • On Guantanamo Bay, McCain agrees that the prison should be closed – and soon – but opposes the Obama administration’s attempts to do so because he doesn’t think they “have an overall policy developed.”
  • On the stimulus package, he does not deny that there was a need for government spending to stimulate the economy, but nevertheless opposed it because there was pork spending in it.
  • On cap and trade, he agrees that climate change is real and serious and the government must act – but opposes every action proposed because they don’t include support for nuclear energy (and beyond that, he presumes that the bill must contain large amounts of pork spending).
  • And then on health care, he supports reform – and knows we need it – but he opposes every reform on the table because of the public option.
  • He believes we need to “reform Medicare” to cut trillions in costs, but he demagogues Obama’s proposal to create a board that studies the effectiveness of treatments as a common-sense measure to restrain spending as “not quote death panels” exactly – but certainly something scary.

As George Stephanopoulos pointed out, John McCain – despite his rhetoric – has hewed more closely to partisan positions this year than at any point in his career – even after he called on his supporters to support Obama in his concession speech:

McCain had an explanation for his increasingly partisan record: “It’s been some of the issues.” Though he claims to see the need for reform and take the issues seriously, he’s not willing to pay the political cost of getting serious. In this McCain represents – perhaps better than any politician – the politics of irresponsible responsibility. Like another “respected,” “serious,” “moderate” Republican, Senator Chuck Grassley, McCain will work to get his ideas into legislation, but will demagogue and oppose even a bill he agrees with if he believes if will cost him support among the Republican base.  He talks about serious issues affecting our nation – and boldly states the problems in stark terms. But his boldness evaporates when he is asked to take an immediate position. Guantanamo should be closed, he agrees; but take a step towards doing so, and his long-term conviction does not restrain him from attacking what is being done to close it. Climate change is real and serious – on this he agrees with the Obama administration; but he will oppose any steps towards reform if they don’t include his pet ideas of nuclear energy and pork barrel spending. It’s a low cost way to kneecap reform while maintaining the mantle of a reformer.

This is not a courageous position. And it demonstrates the inadequacy of our current political conversation. When the most powerful people in the Republican Party blatantly lie about issues – and those who are “responsible” and “moderate” find any excuse to avoid dealing with the issues they say are essential, any attempts to deal with the systematic problems facing our nation will falter. And we face no shortage of problems – built up over decades of avoiding them – climate change; economic growth dependent on bubbles; our deteriorating health insurance and transportation  systems; our long-term deficit and the looming entitlement crisis; our economic imbalance with Japan and China – the list goes on.

A courageous politician, a maverick would take a stand in favor of responsible reform – and not seek to obstruct every effort as Senator McCain has done. His actions are not that of a maverick or reformer – but of a coward.

*On one set of issues, McCain has lived up to his reputation. Like most public officials are, McCain is treated as an expert on any policy matter before the Senate – but his interviews and various statements in the past demonstrate that McCain is no expert on foreign policy or domestic policy issues. The area where McCain has shown expertise is the military components of national security. On everything else, he seems a bit lost – jumping from one talking point to another – like a more seasoned version of Sarah Palin.

[Image by marcn licensed under Creative Commons.]

They called Medicare and Social Security “tyranny” too.

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

Of those who are opposing health care reform, there are a few general groups:

  • There are those who are wary of any change in the status quo, even while they realize it is unsustainable;
  • There are those who are misinformed on one aspect of the legislation or another – whether they think the plan is “radical” or that it has “death panels;”
  • There are those who are opposed for partisan reasons – one of these is Senator Chuck Grassley who – though he is the key Republican whose support the Democrats are trying to win – admitted he would not support a bill he agreed with if enough Republicans didn’t support it with him; others in this camp are – of course, Bill Kristol who advised Republicans to “kill” reform and Senator Jim DeMint who said he wanted to make health care reform Obama’s “Waterloo;” and
  • There are those are ideologically opposed – who are inciting much of the most extreme rhetoric about this issue. The leadership promoting this – as Rachel Maddow aptly demonstrates – oppose and want to dismantle the programs most Americans support. They consider Medicare and Social Security to be “tyranny” and “creeping socialism” and all those other buzzwords that they are now using against health care reform. In this clip where Maddow confronts former congressmen, majority leader, and one of the major organizers of the tea parties and the anti-health reform activists , Dick Armey:

As Maddow said – it is a very important point. Many of the Republicans participating in this national “conversation” are hiding their true beliefs.

Most Americans do not consider Medicare and Social Security to be “tyranny.” Those who are inciting fears about health care reform do.

The Maddow-Coburn Debate on Meet the Press; and the Necessity of Violence

Monday, August 17th, 2009

A few observations on watching Meet the Press yesterday. In a lot of ways, I think that show demonstrates the low quality of our political debate today. And yesterday’s show was one of the better, more factually on point, more honest, least full of crap episodes in recent memory. It wasn’t about “gotcha” moments as much as policy and politics. No one there was seriously promoting any of the blatant falsehoods that have determined much of the debate in the rest of the media – the “death panels” and Nazi imagery for example. In many ways, this became a very meta debate about the debate – which is actually a conversation I think we need to have as a country.

David Gregory though seemed determined to take each moment that threatened to lead to acutal honest conflict or insight and “move on” as quickly as possible. With the participants wanting to argue it out, they would talk over him trying to make their point before he ended the game prematurely. Maddow created a few insightful moments with her apparently well-researched appearance. She wasn’t as willing to let the bullshit slide as the others at the table – and she had papers full of research in front of her. Gregory asked some good questions, but let the bull slide. For example, here he asked a serious question of Senator Tom Coburn:

MR. GREGORY: [L]et’s talk about the tone of the debate.  There have been death threats against members of Congress, there are Nazi references to members of Congress and to the president.  Here are some of the images. The president being called a Nazi, his reform effort being called Nazi-like, referring to Nazi Germany, members of Congress being called the same.  And then there was this image this week outside of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a town hall event that the president had, this man with a gun strapped to his leg held that sign, “It is time to water the tree of liberty.” It was a reference to that famous Thomas Jefferson quote, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

That has become a motto for violence against the government.  Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, had that very quote on his shirt the day of the bombing of the Murrah building when 168 people were killed.

Senator Coburn, you are from Oklahoma.  When this element comes out in larger numbers because of this debate, what, what troubles you about that?

SEN. TOM COBURN (R-OK):  Well, I’m, I’m troubled anytime when we, we stop having confidence in, in our government.  But we’ve earned it.  You know, this debate isn’t about health care.  Health care’s the symptom.  The debate is an uncontrolled federal government that’s going to run–50 percent of everything we’re spending this year we’re borrowing from the next generation.  You…

MR. GREGORY:  That’s—but wait, hold on, I want to stop you there.  I’m talking about the tone.  I am talking about violence against the government. That’s what this is synonymous with.

SEN. COBURN:  The, the—but the tone is based on fear of loss of control of their own government.  What, what is the genesis behind people going to such extreme statements?  What is it?  We, we have lost the confidence, to a certain degree, and it’s much worse than when Tom was the, the, the leader of the Senate.  We have, we have raised the question of whether or not we’re legitimately thinking about the American people and their long-term best interests.  And that’s the question.

For me that exchange was a head-turning moment. Asked to confront a man who has adopted the same quote that a terrorist did when attacking a building in his own state, a man who is using extreme rhetoric that suggests he would be in favor of assassination, he refuses to condemn him outright. He hedges; he wants us to understand that man – to see him as responding to a world that’s unfair to him.

Gregory at this point seems to let the matter go – but Maddow takes Coburn on. You can tell she’s taken aback too:

I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that a right wing Republican Senator would plead for “understanding” in quasi-defense of extreme right wing rhetoric and threats of violence. After all – what else can he expect?

I suppose my point is: if any people out there take Sarah Palin’s statement that children will be put to death by “death panels” if Obama’s health care plan succeeds seriously; if any people out there seriously believe a Holocaust is about to take place if this health care reform is passed; if they believe that their children are going to be indoctrinated into an atheistic faith in Obama if health care passes; if they believe that their grandparents of their children are in danger – if someone believes any or all of these things, then violence is justified.

We make heroes out of the men who tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler. If we now say that Obama is another Hitler, aren’t we advocating assasination? If we say our child will be killed by Obama, aren’t we implicitly endorsing violence to protect our children?

How can we – as a society – have an adult conversation about the pros and cons of the specific health reforms being considered with this unhinged debate? We can’t. Instead, we just have to let the unsustainable status quo stay in place.