Her? Oh, That’s Just Crazy Old Aunt Peg

Posted October 12, 2009 by barbel
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Peggy Noonan, in defiance of all normal expectations, keeps getting more embarrassing. It’s one thing to think outside the box. When the box is your head, you get this:

It was a good thing, the Nobel Peace Prize. Every year the giving of it was a matter of note throughout the world, almost a matter of state.

Don’t you love the reflective tone of pipe-puffing wisdom in the first sentence? No, you don’t. You find it phony and insufferable. As for, “Every year the giving of it…” well, you feel (as I do) that it displays all the homespun authenticity of a Quaker Oats commercial. The bad ones, without that fun mumbly music they’ve had recently.

So much for style. What about the writer’s substance?

Briefly: Obama doesn’t deserve the Nobel Peace Prize because he’s not Mother (“You’re so good, it’s SCARY!”) Teresa. Neither is he Nelson Mandela, Woodrow Wilson or “Ferocious Teddy Roosevelt.” Fair enough, in its whiny way. Then, alas, the crazy takes over, and Peggy “The Ophelia of the Right” comes into her nudnik own.

More deeply into the political life of the 20th Century, there were Jimmy Carter and Al Gore, and their Peace Prizes were what they were.

Can’t argue with that. Who, other than the right-wing fantasists whose divorce from reality has proven anything but amicable, would dare argue that they weren’t what they were? But get this:

It was always absurd that Ronald Reagan, whose political project led to the end of the gulag and the fall of the Berlin Wall, and who gambled his personal standing in the world for a system that would protect the common man from annihilation in a nuclear missile attack, could not win it.

This is the Republican creation myth, and so it deserves exactly as much respect, free of literal agreement or belief, that one would show a Hopi legend about the origin of the world (“So Tawa divided himself and there came Muiyinwuh, God of All Life Germs; Spider Woman also divide(d) herself so that there was Huzruiwuhti, Woman of the Hard Substances, the Goddess of all hard ornaments of wealth such as coral, turquoise, silver and shell…”).

Note, to your queasy disbelief, that the words following “Berlin Wall” refer — [in addition to Ronnie’s “personal standing,” as if that a) means anything when you’re acting as President, and b) means anything to a man decreasingly able to distinguish between life and movies — to the “Star Wars” missile defense system.

Yes, that missile defense system — the one whose components could never be shown to actually work, the one whose field tests required foreknowledge of where, when, and along what trajectory the targets were to be launched, the one that (at a cost of tens of billions) would at best have been destabilizing and would have brought anxiety to the trigger fingers in the USSR, the Warsaw Pact, and the general vicinity even though everyone would know that it didn’t work.

To sum up: Ronald Reagan deserved the Nobel Peace Prize because he failed to waste a fortune on a boondoggle that would have made the world less safe. That he failed to win it was “absurd.”

Oh, Peg, how can you possibly top that?

But nobody wept over it, and for one reason: because everyone, every sentient adult who cared to know about such things, knew that the Nobel Peace Prize is, when awarded to a political figure, a great and prestigious award given by liberals to liberals. NCNA–no conservatives need apply. This is the way of the world, and so what? Life isn’t for prizes.

Never mind the nausea lurking in the prospect of learning what Peggy Noonan thinks “life” is “for,” or that the final lines are a crabby old schoolmarm’s idea of “consolation.” What we want to know is, what about Andre Sakharov (1975)? What about those liberal scalawags, Anwar al-Sadat and Menachem Begin (1978)? What about Lech Walesa (1983)? Why does Peggy Noonan hate freedom?

And what about Henry Kissinger? Because, as every sentient adult knows, “Along with North Vietnamese Politburo Member Le Duc Tho, Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 1973, for their work in negotiating the ceasefires contained in the Paris Peace Accords…”

Next!

This is an award for not being George W. Bush. This is an award for not making the world nervous. This is an award for sharing the basic political sentiments and assumptions of the members of the committee. It is for what Barack Obama may do, not what he has done. He hasn’t done anything.

Actually, dear, no. This is an award for having traveled more than any other president in the first year of a term specifically and explicitly to repair the damage done by the man and the administration you spent eight years defending and praising. This damage was done to the very possibility of world peace, to the legitimacy of diplomacy, to the idea of respecting international law, to the reputation of the United States as an honorable member of the community of nations, and to the hopes of every “common man” around the world whom people like you, Peggy Noonan, and your right-wing propagandist colleagues, take such pleasure in bleating admiration for until it comes time to hold them indefinitely, torture them, or blow them into protoplasm as “collateral damage” in wars you promote against people who are no threat to us.

Go watch the video, again, of the exultation around the world when Obama was elected. That sound you’ll hear is of the human race breathing a sigh of relief. You want the United States to be the leader of the world? Once again, finally, you’ve got it. Now choke on it.

Oh, wait. One more thing. Please, please grace us with more rants like this:

America hasn’t just helped the world, it literally lit the world with its inventions, which are the product of its freedoms. The lights under which the Peace Prize judges read, and rejected, the worthy nominations? Why, those lights were invented by an American. The emails the committee members sent to each other, sharing their banal insights on leadership? They came through the Internet. Who invented the Internet? It was a Norwegian bureaucrat with a long face and hair on his nose and little plastic geometric eyeglasses? Oh wait, it was Americans. The members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee are healthy because they have been inoculated against diseases such as polio. Who invented the polio vaccine, an enfeebled old leftist academic in Oslo? Nah, it was a man named Jonas Salk. He was an American.

It doesn’t get any more jejune than this, from the Cowardly Lion recitation of accomplishments (“Who invented the electric light/So you can see in the dark and put your pj’s on right?/Who is the guy who invented email/For every computerized male and female?” etc.) to the teen sarcasm of “oh, wait” to the thick-as-a-brick obliviousness of the fact that, e.g., “Sir Timothy John ‘Tim’ Berners-Lee, OM, KBE, FRS, FREeng, FRSA (born 8 June 1955), is a British engineer and computer scientist and MIT professor credited with inventing the World Wide Web, making the first proposal for it in March 1989.”

Face it, Peg. Reagan is dead and W is in permanent, well-deserved disgrace. Join him there or, like that other Scandinavian said, Get thee to a nunnery.

The Way He Douthat Thing He Do

Posted September 21, 2009 by barbel
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When Bill “I Have Been and Will Continue to Be Wrong About Everything” Kristol departed the Op-Ed pages of the New York Times, a great cry was heard throughout the land.

“With whom will the Times replace him?” we wondered. “Oh, sure, we still have David Brooks. At least he’ll be around, defending conservative lies, chiding our contemporary foibles and follies with his head-firmly-up-ass sociological observations, and drawing bogus equivalencies between ‘the far left’ and ‘the far right.’ But what if we need more?”

Then our prayers were answered. Not long after Kristol packed up his wrongness and cleared out his locker, he was replaced by a screwball-throwing rightie out of The Atlantic’s farm team named Ross Douthat. And, while he’s needed a couple months to hit stride in the Bigs, Douthat weighs in today with a column of such dazzling falseness and bad faith, it’ll have us thinking “Bill ‘Deeply, Deeply Wrong About Everything’ Kristol WHO?”

Today’s homily concerns George W. Bush. You may remember him from such political events as “the presidency of the United States, 2001-2009.” I say “may,” because as far as his fellow Republicans go, Bush is The Forgotten Man. They don’t mention him. They don’t name airports or schools after him. They don’t seek his counsel. They don’t appoint him to post-presidential committees or send him on diplomatic missions. It’s like the GOP is Stalinist Russia and W has been declared an un-person. He never existed and Republicans from sea to fuckin’ sea never heard of the guy.

But Ross Douthat…well, god damn it, Ross Douthat remembers:

America has had its share of disastrous chief executives. But few have gone as far as Bush did in trying to repair their worst mistakes.

Sure, he just made up that last sentence in the hopes that no one will bother to refute it. “Few have gone as far…” Is that remotely true? Say it with me now: Who cares!? We’re off to a great start. And it gets better.

Those mistakes were the Iraq war — both the decision to invade and the conduct of the occupation — and the irrational exuberance that stoked the housing bubble.

Yes, “the irrational exuberance that stoked the housing bubble” was Bush’s mistake. By “yes” I mean no, that doesn’t make sense. Clearly, this youngster can bring it. Sloppy thinking? Check. Bogus generalizations? Done and done. False premise on which to then base a faulty conclusion? Ask for it by name.

Besides, which of us hasn’t made “mistakes”? Which of us hasn’t ignored urgent intelligence concerning terrorists because we were too busy promoting a tax cut for rich people (and then vacationing on our “ranch”), allowing jets to smash into the World Trade Center? Which of us hasn’t promoted, through fear-mongering, manipulation of evidence, and outright lying, a war against someone who was of no threat to us? And–come on; be honest–who hasn’t dawdled and dicked around while a major American city is allowed to drown?

Mistakes happen, and it’s all water over the levee. What matters, Douthat says, is that Bush tried to fix things.

The repairs were the surge, undertaken at a time when the political class was ready to abandon Iraq to the furies, and last fall’s unprecedented economic bailout.

Both fixes remain controversial. But for the moment, both look like the sort of disaster-averting interventions for which presidents get canonized. It’s just that in Bush’s case, the disasters he averted were created on his watch.

Never mind that the last sentence above is incoherent, since a disaster is not “averted” if it has already been “created.” Because the young man has his work cut out for him. A Times column runs around 800 words, and for a weekly column that averages out to more than 100 words a day.

What matters is that Douthat is trying (very! LOL) just as Bush tried.

It’s true that Bush didn’t personally formulate the surge, or craft the bailout. But he was, well, the decider, and if he takes the blame — rightly — for what Donald Rumsfeld wrought, then he should get credit for Gen. David Petraeus’s successes in Iraq, and for blessing the sweeping decisions that Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke made in last September’s desperate weeks.

The toner on the first printouts of history is barely dry, and already we get revisionism: Iraq was Rumsfeld’s fault. Bush “takes the blame,” yes, but only because he happened to be President at the time. And (having been entirely marginalized by his party during the election campaign of last year, his policies and decider-y achievements ignored by everyone from John McCain to Trig Palin, a duck not only lame but whose legs had been amputated) Bush is now applauded for not standing in the way of a measure that, in the end, seems mainly to have benefited his own best friends within the filthy-rich class.

And if we give Bush credit on these fronts, it’s worth reassessing one of the major critiques of his presidency — that it was fatally insulated, by ideology and personality, from both the wisdom of the Washington elite and the desires of the broader public.

This is–talk about recombinant genetics–a straw man entirely made of baloney. It was not “the wisdom of the Washington elite” that Bush was–and is, and forever will be–insulated from. He was insulated from the truth. He was insulated from knowledge. He was insulated from the advice of experts not pre-vetted to tell him what he wanted to hear. He was insulated from CIA professionals who had actual data from the field. He was insulated from intelligent people not as committed to the cause of the Republican Party as Karl Rove preferred. He was insulated, by his own fundamental combination of resentment, insecurity, and unexamined anger, from anyone to whom he–rightly–felt inferior.

In reality, many of the Bush-era ventures that look worst in hindsight were either popular with the public at the time or blessed by the elite consensus. Voters liked the budget-busting tax cuts and entitlement expansions. The Iraq war’s cheering section included prominent Democrats and scores of liberal pundits. And save for a few prescient souls, everybody — right and left, on Wall Street and Main Street — was happy to board the real-estate express and ride it off an economic cliff.

In reality, this is worthy of Brooks himself. Yes, the Iraq invasion was “popular with the public at the time.” But when a sizable percentage of the credulous, frightened public (not to mention prominent Democrats and scores of liberal pundits) based that support on a falsehood (that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9-11 attacks), and when that and other falsehoods originated with Bush and his administration, just how valid is that popularity? Douthat, good little conservative apologist that he is, somehow overlooks that aspect of things.

This is not a blueprint that future presidents will want to follow. But the next time an Oval Office occupant sees his popularity dissolve and his ambitions turn to dust, he can take comfort from Bush’s example. It suggests that it’s possible to become a good president even — or especially — when you can no longer hope to be a great one.

And there you have it: a little parallel-universe re-telling of the facts; a self-serving and selective account of what happened; a white-washing absolution of sins and crimes to be blamed on others; and some circus clown tears over “mistakes.” Put them all together and you achieve the impossible: Bush as a “good president.” Bill “Always, Always in Error” Kristol’s position has been well and truly filled.

Welcome to The Show, kid. Now you have to work on your clichés.

Half-Assed from Whole Foods

Posted August 14, 2009 by barbel
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Writing–where else?–on the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal, Whole Foods C.E.O. John Mackey presents the non-ignoramus’s argument against what he calls “ObamaCare.” This, in contrast to the all-ignoramus’s arguments lately heard at town halls/brawls/mauls across the length and br. of the land. Let’s see what he recommends.

After the usual throat-clearing about the projected deficit, Medicare and Social Security and Baby Boomers and etc., he lays on us his overall theme: “…we should be trying to achieve reforms by moving in the opposite direction–toward less government control and more individual empowerment.”

When a C.E.O. trumpets “individual empowerment,” watch your wallet, warm up your lie detector, and keep an eye out for someone–usually a non-union “team member”–tasked with clobbering you over the head with a copy of Atlas Shrugged. Here are Mackey’s eight proposals:

Remove the legal obstacles that slow the creation of high-deductible health insurance plans and health savings accounts (HSAs). The combination of high-deductible health insurance and HSAs is one solution that could solve many of our health-care problems. For example, Whole Foods Market pays 100% of the premiums for all our team members who work 30 hours or more per week (about 89% of all team members) for our high-deductible health-insurance plan. We also provide up to $1,800 per year in additional health-care dollars through deposits into employees’ Personal Wellness Accounts to spend as they choose on their own health and wellness.

This sounds nice, but does that mean that Whole Foods is offering employment to those Americans–let’s use the conservative figure of 40 million–who have no insurance? Or the Christ-knows-how-many-millions who pay for their own insurance? Bragging about how Whole Foods’ “team members” have health insurance paid for by the company seems not germane to a discussion centered on the health insurance of people who have none, whose employers provide none, or who pay for their own, retail.

Equalize the tax laws so that that employer-provided health insurance and individually owned health insurance have the same tax benefits. Now employer health insurance benefits are fully tax deductible, but individual health insurance is not. This is unfair.

Sold. Let’s stop here! No? Oh all right…

Repeal all state laws which prevent insurance companies from competing across state lines. We should all have the legal right to purchase health insurance from any insurance company in any state and we should be able use that insurance wherever we live. Health insurance should be portable.

Well. As I recall David Caruso saying in the pilot of NYPD Blue, “now we’re getting into a bad area.” I foresee this as leading to insurance companies at each other’s throats (in the “conservative”ly approved manner), resulting in predatory pricing, increasing concentration, and the eventual creation of regional or national monopolies. Or, if that’s too violent and upsetting for you, arranging nice, amicable cartels. Eventually we would have a “single-payer system,” with the single payer being a private corporation beholden only to its (institutional, secretive) shareholders (if there are any), its bonus-grubbing executives, and its almost-certain-to-be-corrupt board of directors. With Grandpa’s (i.e., my, soon enough) hip replacement at stake! Because I’m not as hip as I used to be.

Repeal government mandates regarding what insurance companies must cover. These mandates have increased the cost of health insurance by billions of dollars. What is insured and what is not insured should be determined by individual customer preferences and not through special-interest lobbying.

This is hallucinatory. Does Mackey imagine that “what is insured and what is not insured” would ever be determined, in private health insurance, by “individual customer preferences”? Is he unfamiliar with the term “pre-existing conditions”?

Enact tort reform to end the ruinous lawsuits that force doctors to pay insurance costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. These costs are passed back to us through much higher prices for health care.

Yeah, this old wheeze. Actually Claire McCaskill (D., MO) put paid to this myth at a recent town hall. She pointed out that several states, including Texas, have indeed enacted tort reform, that medical lawsuits have indeed diminished in number and in awards in those states, and that, as a result, exactly no one’s health insurance premiums have been reduced.

Make costs transparent so that consumers understand what health-care treatments cost. How many people know the total cost of their last doctor’s visit and how that total breaks down? What other goods or services do we buy without knowing how much they will cost us?

This is beyond hilarious. As if knowing that you are–or someone is–being charged $11 for the box of Kleenex ™ used in your hospital stay, qualifies as “transparency.” Mack seems to think that the charges and costs are valid; it’s just that we’re not being smart shoppers.

What he can solve in his next op-ed, then, is this brain teaser: Last year my daughter had to go to (the hilariously named) “urgent care” for a bad stomach ache. She saw a doc there we like and who was simpatico and attentive, but he couldn’t figure it out. He sent us to the E.R. across the street, where we spent six hours. The patient had an x-ray, an ultra-sound, an MRI, and other procedures. By the end of the day they had no idea what the problem was. They gave her a scrip for Vicodin and sent her home. (She was better the next day, thanks.)

We got a bill for $12,000. Because of stupidity on my part, I had allowed her insurance to lapse. When the hospital learned of this, they immediately cut the bill literally in half. About which I was, like, “Thanks,” and all, but here’s the puzzler: What happened to the missing $6 K? Is it how the hospital bilks the insurer? Who, in turn, raises premiums?

That’s the problem. Not assuring that we get itemized bills.

Enact Medicare reform. We need to face up to the actuarial fact that Medicare is heading towards bankruptcy and enact reforms that create greater patient empowerment, choice and responsibility.

Baloney. Terms like “greater patient empowerment” and “responsibility” are always, when brandished in a WSJ op-ed, code words for “stick it to the customers and defend the corporations.” Implicit in this discussion (and in his rhetorical question above, “What other goods and services do we buy…”) is the insidious assumption that “buying health care” is just one more consumer act, no different from “buying snow tires.” You read the reviews, you compare prices, you talk to the guy at Pep Boys, and you buys your chemo.

People like John Mackey should acknowledge that spending money on health care is unlike spending money on anything else in the world. You are entirely at the mercy of your medical professionals. No amount of Consumer Reports printouts or Epinions can be applied to the topic of your own–or, worse, your child’s–body. And you are not competent to judge the correctness of what you’re told. Oh, and: everything is at stake. Exercising “choice” and accepting “responsibility” are right-wing flash grenades meant to impair or halt the discussion. They’re meaningless in this context.

Finally, revise tax forms to make it easier for individuals to make a voluntary, tax-deductible donation to help the millions of people who have no insurance and aren’t covered by Medicare, Medicaid or the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Excellent: forty million people dependant on the kindness of strangers. Spoken like a naïve Christian, an aristocratic reactionary, or a blinkered libertarian, none of which are meant to be terms of admiration.

He goes on:

Many promoters of health-care reform believe that people have an intrinsic ethical right to health care–to equal access to doctors, medicines and hospitals. While all of us empathize with those who are sick, how can we say that all people have more of an intrinsic right to health care than they have to food or shelter?

Health care is a service that we all need, but just like food and shelter it is best provided through voluntary and mutually beneficial market exchanges. A careful reading of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal any intrinsic right to health care, food or shelter. That’s because there isn’t any. This “right” has never existed in America.

Yes it does. It says in the Preamble to the Constitution, “Look, don’t worry. As long as you have your health, you have everything.” No, wait, I’m thinking of a different document. The Preamble says, “…in order to…promote the general welfare…” If John Mackey doesn’t think that health, food, and shelter promote the general welfare, he should go live in Soviet Union, where general welfare promotes you.

In other words, just as patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, so “a careful reading of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution” is the last, and sometimes first, refuge of the wing-nut. These people must be told, over and over (although they already know it; it’s not as though they’re arguing in good faith) that we can have the kind of society we choose to have.

If the Constitution permits slavery, and we decide our society shouldn’t condone it, we change the document and improve the society. If the Constitution does not allow women to vote, and we want a society in which women do vote, we change the document and create that improved society. If the majority of us agree that the basic hallmark of a civilized society is that every member of it deserves to be as healthy as possible, we can create that society.

Mackey then includes some debate-society nerd-points (“Even in countries like Canada and the U.K., there is no intrinsic right to health care. Rather, citizens in these countries are told by government bureaucrats what health-care treatments they are eligible to receive and when they can receive them.”) which beg every significant question, beginning with why forty-nine countries–including Wallis and Futuna, which I always thought were two claymation characters– have longer life expectancies than the U.S. (Source: The fucking CIA, okay? http://tinyurl.com/yrq7l8.) He cites some supposed-to-be-horrifying statistic (“Although Canada has a population smaller than California, 830,000 Canadians are currently waiting to be admitted to a hospital or to get treatment, according to a report last month in Investor’s Business Daily.”). That’s 2.5% of the Canadian population. What are they waiting for? Elective procedures? Are there no Americans “waiting to be admitted to a hospital or to get treatment” for similar reasons?

He clouds the issue with this bit of squid ink:

At Whole Foods we allow our team members to vote on what benefits they most want the company to fund. Our Canadian and British employees express their benefit preferences very clearly–they want supplemental health-care dollars that they can control and spend themselves without permission from their governments. Why would they want such additional health-care benefit dollars if they already have an “intrinsic right to health care”? The answer is clear–no such right truly exists in either Canada or the U.K.–or in any other country.

Does this make sense? He seems to be asking, “Why would Brit and Canadian employees want ‘supplemental health-care dollars’ they can spend anyway they like?” To which the next question is: Who wouldn’t? The answer is clear.

Then comes some summing-up lecture about obesity, diet, and a disingenuous little suggestion about “a diet consisting of foods that are plant-based, nutrient dense and low-fat.”

But enough already. If you secretly felt that you “should” really shop at Whole Foods, because they’re “whole” and they’re “foods,” you now have your reason to go elsewhere–both for food, and for arguments about health care.

Life in These Untied States

Posted April 16, 2009 by barbel
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So, to sum up:

1. People who make far less than 250K per year, whose tax rates will be cut, spent yesterday out in public demanding that Obama stop increasing their taxes. They proudly marched and defiantly yelled and etc., etc., insisting with waved signs and shaken fists on their opposition to something that is not the case. They have made it their business to prevent something from happening that was never going to happen in the first place–and they mean it!

2. These same people, whose economic and physical well-being are a matter of supreme indifference to the richest families in America, have been persuaded to insist on policies that will only benefit the richest families in America. There is a term for these people, and it isn’t “right-wing” or “conservative” or “patriotic” or even “Republicans.” The term is “sucker.” These people are suckers. They have been tricked and manipulated into working against their own interests and for the interests of people who could literally not care less about them. Their patron saint isn’t Barry Goldwater or Thomas Paine or Ronald Reagan or Jesus H. Christ. It’s P.T. Barnum.

3. People who would be forced into bankruptcy by an attack of appendicitis, who have no idea what “socialism” is or how it differs from “communism” or “fascism,” were to be seen yesterday out in force, self-righteously pissed off and calling Obama a socialist, a communist, and a fascist, often interchangeably. And what are their ideas about how to deal with the worst economic crisis in eighty years? “Let them go bankrupt!” Ignorance and indignation: it doesn’t get any more American than that. Each of them–proud, free, unafraid to speak stupidity to power–is like a homeowner whose house is on fire and yet who refuses to let the fire fighters turn a hose on the flames because “it’ll get my stuff all wet.” And when the fire chief ventures the suggestion that the fire is a) going to destroy their stuff anyway, and then b) spread to other homes, he gets shut down with such wised-up, common-man arguments as, “I pay your salary!”

4. Glenn Beck–a prancing, sobbing, gibbering buffoon who will say literally anything to keep his audience’s attention–has become the new spokesperson for the right. Yes, just when you thought Sean Hannity was, not only as bad as it got, but as bad as it could get, here comes the next level in televised right-wing demagoguery. Glenn Beck–whom Dickens himself would delete from a novel as being “too obvious”–is a star. As a consequence of this…

5. Rush Limbaugh has become the “de facto leader” of the right. Think about it–if you dare! Glenn Beck has accomplished the impossible. This is science fact, not science fiction: He’s somehow managed to make the country’s most famous sex-tourist drug-addict saloon-loudmouth hate-mongering hypocrite seem dignified and thoughtful. Glenn Beck has succeeded in bestowing gravitas on Rush Limbaugh. Still, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. When the spotlight is grabbed by the dancing monkey, the rhinoceros in the background starts to look downright serious and thoughtful.

6. Fox News, a factory of propaganda and lies on the best of days, has decided “the hell with it” and become an outright partisan fomenter of “revolution.” While formerly (as a study showed during the Bush years), watching Fox News actually made one stupider, now watching it (as a follow-up will surely prove) makes one insane. During Bush, Fox News merely promulgated falsehoods. Now, during Obama, its function is to corrode its viewers’ very understanding of reality itself. But what else can it do, since…

7. The devolution of the Republican Party (for which Fox News serves as Pravda) proceeds apace. The GOP, fifty years ago the Cotillion Party, is now the Toga Party Party. Newt Gingrich–hippie-dippy marital history, ethics charges and all–is newly converted to Catholicism and plotting his return. (Who said there are no third–or is it fourth?–acts in American lives?) The governor of Texas threatens to secede. (Memo to Gov. Perry: Here’s your Stetson; what’s your hurry? Just leave us Austin as your going-away present to us.) A senator openly talks about advising his wife to hurry down to the ATM and withdraw all their money, suggesting what in the good old days we used to call “a run on the bank.” Libertarians (which is a fancy poli-sci term for “adolescents with firm political opinions about an imaginary society”) threaten to “go Galt” but then somehow can’t follow through. Whither the courage of the Randroids? And no one in the party of Wm. F. Buckley and Norman Podhoretz seems to know that the term “tea-bag” refers to dangling a man’s genitals into someone’s mouth.

This is not “the loyal opposition.” This is Animal House. Every week brings a new hit single from the demonstrably unhinged Michelle Bachmann. And talk about legislation–what do these frat rats do? They release–get this–a budget with no numbers. What a goof!

8. The right-wing blogs, from the most crayon-on-paper-bags illiterate to the airy summit of the National Review, from obscure typists like Pastor Grant Swank (Google it; you’ll be amazed) to the preening elite like Jonah Goldberg and Michele Malkin, have heard that funky jungle beat and formed a great writhing conga line of lunacy: having turned their brains inside-out defending the indefensible Bush (never mind Cheney) for eight years, now they say anything that comes to their fevered minds just to keep the gig and not actually have to work for a living. “Where is Obama’s birth certificate?” “The Navy shot those pirates but Obama had nothing to do with it.” “This tea-bag revolution–” (well-documented as having been conceived, directed, funded, and scripted by right-wing foundations) “–is a marvel of spontaneous grass-roots populist grass-rootsy spontaneity!”

What does it all mean? I’m asking, reader. Is this widespread madness fun? Is it business and politics as usual? Should we derive from it nothing more than good old fashioned schadenfreude, and just pass the popcorn while watching the people who created and supported the catastrophes of the past eight years as they now wallow in their impotence and irrelevance? Or is all this manipulated, phony “grass-roots” outrage fated to lead to some serious danger to innocent people? For every thousand citizens who gather in public to scream idiotic slogans and proudly flaunt their ignorance, how many more are laboring away in basements and garages, building bombs or assembling arsenals? How many does it take to lead to disaster?

The anger and fear of these people are real and, probably in most cases, justified, however much they misidentify their causes. That’s what the Limbaughs and Hannitys and Becks depend on exploiting in order to make themselves rich and famous. But this entire cycle (rage; exploitation; more rage) seems to me worse than usual, as does its manipulation by the wealthy and their servants. Is it? Or is all this just more publicized than it used to be? Doesn’t publicizing it make it grow, and therefore make it worse? Or is it a relatively minor, if lurid, sideshow?

Should I be worried, indifferent, or vastly amused? What does it all mean?

Going Galt A-Go-Go

Posted March 5, 2009 by barbel
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The right-wing, who have no trouble telling the difference between fantasy and reality because they ignore reality completely, have an adorable new daydream. They’re going “go Galt.”

You will recall (having read, if nothing else, this) that the reference is to the character John Galt, from the beloved-by-idiots masterpiece of third-rate science fiction, Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand, a one-time movie extra who possessed all the novelistic skills for which that profession is known. Rand (nee Alysa Rosenbaum–shanda fer de Goyyim!) used every inch of more than a thousand pages to tell the mind- and soul-crushing story of Dagny Taggart, the beautiful and willful railroad heiress who blah blah blah never mind.

Central to the novel’s amusing conceit, apart from that of its literary quality and intellectual merit, is that, at some time in our near future, society’s “productive” members, its “creative” “achievers,” go on strike. They withdraw their genius from the corrupted, quasi-socialized world (“The People’s State of France,” “The People’s State of Norway,” etc.) that Rand, in her keen-eyed, visionary lunacy, saw coming.

Monstrous? Unthinkable? Unthink again. They stop producing and creatively achieving, yes–but only for us. Instead, led by lean, implacable John Galt, a man who cannot light a cigarette without smiling cruelly and lecturing for twenty pages on reality (“Rationality is the recognition of the fact that existence exists…” *) they retreat to some mountains in Colorado, where they mint their own coins and coin their own mints and create a Special Person’s utopian community that any unfairly punished twelve-year-old, brooding in his bedroom, would be happy to call his own.

Yes, it’s all good silly, operatically pretentious, proudly immoral and turgidly unreadable fun–or is it? Apparently not. Because, ever since Obama’s victory, wing nuts of various specs have been openly musing about actually doing it.

Go Google “going Galt” and read, with continually-dropping jaw, the blog posts in which the squawking heads of the right fantasize about deliberately reducing their income so as to stick it to The Man. Then read the even-more-courageously-and-proudly-cretinous comments in the Comments. Or don’t bother. Instead, just get a load of what an actual Congressman has to say on the matter.

From the Washington Independent, in a piece by David Weigel:

Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.), who gives his departing interns copies of Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged,” told me today that the response to President Obama’s economic policies reminded him of what happened in the 51-year-old novel.

“People are starting to feel like we’re living through the scenario that happened in ‘Atlas Shrugged,'” said Campbell. “The achievers, the people who create all the things that benefit rest of us, are going on strike. I’m seeing, at a small level, a kind of protest from the people who create jobs, the people who create wealth, who are pulling back from their ambitions because they see how they’ll be punished for them.”

There are three appropriate responses to this (apart from “Oh my god, those poor interns”), so take your pick:

APPROPRIATE RESPONSE NUMBER ONE: Baloney. You’re not seeing any such thing, at either a small level or a large level. The “achievers” you cite are, like most Republicans who honor principle by foisting it on anyone but themselves and then announcing “other priorities,” all talk. You’re making this up and assuming or hoping that it’s true. As is the case with other conservatives, reading Atlas Shrugged has destroyed the segment of your brain that deals with ethics, morality, and good taste in literature.

APPROPRIATE RESPONSE NUMBER TWO: Isn’t that just like a Republican? To promote policies and laws that lead to disaster, and then run and hide, leaving it to the liberals to clean up your mess? And feeling–or trying to feel, pretending to feel–superior about it. What a pathetic excuse for a political party which bleats constantly about “ideas” and “values” and “responsibility.” No wonder your candidates are a joke, your rank and file among the most ignorant people in the U.S. of A., and your spokespeople so repellent.

APPROPRIATE RESPONSE NUMBER THREE: Do it! Take your most creative achievers and achieving creators and go live in a valley somewhere and refuse to gift us with the gift of your intellectual and artistic gifts! For once in your hypocritical lives, live in accordance with your announced values! Or at least have Rush Limbaugh command his seething horde of zombies, undeads, and orcs to voluntarily make less money. He won’t, of course, but maybe they will! Please?

But you know what? You won’t. Because you don’t have the stones. You don’t have the guts. You don’t have the cojones. You don’t have the balls. You don’t have the jelly beans. You don’t have the Titleists. You don’t have the little clicky things that Humphrey Bogart rolls in his hand in The Caine Mutiny. You don’t have the Malted Milk Whoppers ™. You don’t have the gulab jamun. You don’t have the (other things suggesting testicles). You don’t have the intellectual honesty. You don’t have the personal integrity. So just sit down, and keep your hands to yourself, and let people with some basic, adult sense of what a decent, modern “society” is try to bail your sorry asses out again. Believe me, we’re not doing it for you. We’re doing it for ourselves, and our children, and our children’s selves. Isn’t that what you admire? “Selfishness”? Then just bugger off and objectively, rationally shut up.

(Can you tell which one I prefer?)

We conclude with a vision of a possible future:

In Rand’s novel, creative people (the “Atlases” of the title) are hounded and punished for their labor by an oppressive, socialistic state. In response, they retreat from society to a hidden enclave where they watch civilization’s slow collapse. How far, I asked Campbell, are we from the final chapters of the novel? “We’re still a ways away,” he said. “That will happen when people expect that there ought to be a recovery going on, and it isn’t going on.”

So speaks a man who, out of all the books in all of history, foists upon our impressionable young people one of the worst things ever published. Congressman, why do you hate America?

* Actually, this is not correct. I’m no philosopher–well, not professionally–but I would suggest that existence does not exist. Existence is the ontological condition of everything else–things, ideas, persons, animals, the hilariousness of Ayn Rand’s reputation as a “thinker,” etc.–that exists. Saying “existence exists” is like saying “blue is colored blue.” This assertion, by John Galt, is part of an extended diatribe (delivered over the radio) that runs, uninterrupted (“The mind is impotent, you say?”), for fifty-six pages. And no, John, no one says the mind is impotent. Rand made that up, too.

GOP Squad ’09!

Posted March 1, 2009 by barbel
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They’re young. They’re hip. They’re “bad.” They’ve got conservative vibes and a with-it vocabulary full of talking points and “buzz words” and they really know what’s happening, baby. They can bum out the seniors with some hairy entitlement alarmism, and then hang loose with the Jesus Freaks by coming on all traditional-values and stuff. And they can rap with the kids, too, tweeting their wiki down the google tubes and blogging their browsers in high-def in your facebook, luv. They work for The Man and even sometimes for The Woman. They function within the System, because they do their own thing, and the System is their thing.

If it feels good, they tell you not to do it and then they do it. If it sounds good, they say it. If it polls good, they support it–or they say they do, or they say they did whether they did or not and hey: If it doesn’t add up, make sense, or prove true; if the scene goes bad or the vibe gets bummed, that’s your hang-up. They’re not “escaping Reality.” They’re building their own Reality. And they’ve been brought together by one man who believes they can get down, get funky, and get votes all at the same time.

They call themselves the GOP Squad. Check out their happening thing:

SARAH!–She’s young. She’s fine. She’s a mom and a governor and a rising star of the far right and a stone cold double-talking wolf-shooting fox. Her old man’s a hunk who used to want to secede from the Union, ’cause Alaska is outta sight. You know Sarah’s hip to the environment, ’cause she’s got a dead crab on her coffee table the size of a schnauzer. She blows off global warming, too, because it snowed somewhere last week and the chick is cool. Brains? She’s reads so many newspapers she can’t remember any of them.

And feature this: the lady lobbies for scratch (for a bridge to, like, Nowhere, man) and then she hears it’s not groovy? She says she didn’t want it from Jump Street. And then cops it anyway! That’s ’cause she doesn’t dig the whole Socialism thing, and every time she lays some bread on her constituents via their annual share of the income realized from investing the royalty revenue from the oil companies’ exploitation of the Prudhoe Bay oil reserves, she hips them to it, and it’s beautiful. She talks the talk even when she’s too busy laying the groundwork for the 2012 campaign to walk the walk. So ask her anything. She’ll be lip-flappin’ and jive-talkin’ ’til you wig out bad, baby.

MIKE!–What if they gave a Republican Party and everybody came? That’s Mike, Chairman-With-No-Hair-Man of the GOP. But hey. Never you mind that chrome dome, Jerome–Mike is five freaking months younger than Dem Chair Tim Kaine and that, in essence, is what-it-is. He’s black, you understand, so the brother possesses what most people can agree is a reasonable quantity of soul. The cat knows how The Machine works ’cause he was part of it–in state Government, that whole trip. Now he’s laying down some righteous riffs.

Says government jobs aren’t jobs, they’re “work.” Says the Party needs to let the sunshine out with a boss and groovy Hip-Hop-type packaging approach of marketing and “branding” and so forth. Says the way to bring power to the People is to let Republicans lead ’em out of the Big Economic Muddy they got us into because they got us into it. Says jobs that go away “come back.”

You tell him: Hey, man. But that’s like a cop-out. Big banks are crashing and don’t know how to value their assets from a hole in the ground, and the Dow is barely more than half of what it was, and this bad trip is global. What does Mike say? He says, “Small businesses will get us out of this.” You say: Oh wow. The small businesses that are going bankrupt? The ones that need credit and can’t get it? The ones that only exist thanks to contracts with big businesses, as GM goes belly-up and CitiCorp gets nationalized? He says, There it is.

That’s Mike’s bag. It’s a backwards-upside down-trickle up-psychedelic freakout. It’ll do a number on your head ’cause it’s got levels. Because everything is everything and This Is It. Far fucking out.

BOBBY!–He’s young. He’s smooth. His ancestors were Indian and he looks kinda black and his parents were Hindu–like Ghandi. But there is no need to flip out or become up-tight. When Bobby speaks he sounds more like Mister Rogers than Mister Nehru, and he converted to Catholicism. Which is cool, and fab, and very, very gear, our-Judeo-Christian-heritage-wise. Meanwhile, are you interested in heavy? Bobby took part in an actual, somewhat documented, super-tuff exorcism. Not only can he talk to political conservatives, and to religious conservatives, he can talk to demons, okay?

But that’s not the limit of the extent to which he is with-it. Bobby is an Intelligent Design head. The cat is a Rhodes Scholar and has a degree in Bio from Brown, so he can get down with the brainiacs. But folks who think the Earth is 6,000 years old and that God produced the beetles dig him, too. Accident? Hang in there, baby–it’s politics. There are no accidents. Contradiction? There are no contradictions, although sometimes there are. Schizophrenic? Yes and no. When it comes to irreducible complexity, Bobby’s as irreducible and complex as they come.

Like Sarah, he can tell a story: Said he was there, when Katrina went down, in a sheriff’s office as the fuzz got righteously P.O.’d at a Fed bureaucrat for withholding boats to rescue folks from their flood-imperiled pads. Then it turned out he wasn’t there, only heard the pig yakkity-yakking about it on the phone days later.

Like Mike, he has a mantra: “Americans can do anything.” It’s “Om mani padme hum” Looziana-style. Say it long enough and it changes the universe. Or at least folks think it does. Or at least Bobby thinks folks think it does. Because it’s all in your head.

CAPTAIN RUSH: A gentle giant who’s only giant horizontally and is anything but gentle. Irascible-but-lovable-but-obnoxious-but-loud, with a crusty exterior concealing a heart of soft, warm hate, he’s the one in charge, the grown-up, the boss. This was his idea, to bring together these three non-conformist rebel-hot-heads-patriots-symbols-of-conservative-resurgence-with-racial-ethnic-and-gender-crossover-appeal. Of course he can’t do it alone. He’s got help. That’s where Joe “My Name Isn’t Joe And I’m Not a Plumber” The Plumber fits in.

Rush knows that war is not unhealthy for defense contractors and other Republican things. He knows that reality is for people who can’t face drugs–and he faces drugs every day. He knows that if Obama fails to solve the problems created by Republican policies, then they weren’t created by Republican policies–and if he does solve them, then they weren’t problems. Like the I Ching says, you’re either on the bus or off the bus; well, dig–Rush is the bus. And he wants to throw America under it every day, in the name of “conservative principles.”

If Sarah’s finances look hinky, Rush is there to blame everything on Clinton. If Mike goes off-message, Rush is there to call Harry Reid a socialist. If Bobby’s speech is a turn-off and a bring-down, with a come-on like a come-down you can put down as a put-on, Rush is there to dub him “the next Ronald Reagan.”

The GOP Squad: Three misfits of gender and color, ready to take it to the streets and make the Party happening again. With Michele Bachmann as “Michele, The Embarrassing Secretary” and Mitch McConnell as “The Crypt-keeper.”

Can you dig it? Peace out.

Steele Crazy After All This Year

Posted February 8, 2009 by barbel
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First they came for me, because I had made fun of Sarah Palin. And they said, “Well, yeah, she’s a congenital liar who can’t give a coherent answer to a simple question even with the aid of a TelePrompter and a ventriloquist–but she’s not representative of the new era of Republican leadership.”

And then I said, “Oh, yeah? Well, how about Michael Steele, the new GOP chairman, who believes that ‘work’ for the government isn’t ‘a job’ (even though it rewards labor with wages, which are spent by the worker on food, clothing, shelter, and health, which payments go back out into the private economy and provide income for fooders, clothers, shelterers, and healthers), plus this clown Steele says that, while government contracts are temporary, private sector jobs (for some magical reason) aren’t.”

And they said, “Oh, yeah? Well who is more likely to pay taxes: a private business owner, or the government?”

And I said, “Oh, yeah? Well who is more likely to be in business a year from now: most new private business owners, or the government?”

And they said, “Shut up.”

Then they came for me because I reminded them that this Michael Steele, who proves you don’t have to be a rich white man to be an idiot Republican, said, “a job is something a business-owner creates, it’s going to be long-term,” but when told that private sector jobs have disappeared in the millions, replied “But they come back, though, George. That’s the point. They’ve gone away before, but they come back!” (Exclamation point added.)

And they said, “What’s wrong with coming back? Jesus is going to come back. And when he does he’ll be a small business owner, a one-(Son of) Man entrepreneur employing himself as Messiah looking to grow his business and thrive the economy and flourish the righteous.”

So I said, “Okay, but wait. That’s when the private sector jobs are going to come back? With the Second Coming, as thoroughly described in a highly amusing manner here? What if he never comes? And even if he does, eventually, what if The American People can’t wait that long?”

And they said, “He’ll come. He has to come, and he’ll bring those jobs back with him. This is a Judeo-Christian nation. The Founding Fathers were all Judeo-Christians and the Founding Mothers were all virgins before they were married. The American People will wait as long as the Republican Party tells them they have to.”

Watch Steele’s interview with George Stephanopoulos, from which one emerges as from a dream, with two questions:

1. What’s with George’s hair? Is he auditioning to be Treat Williams’ stand-in? (You Want: Kurt Russell. You’ll Take: Treat Williams. You Get: George Stephanopoulos.)

2. That’s it? That’s the wisdom of the new (and black!) leader of the GOP? Some yakkity-yak double-talk about “work” vs. “jobs,” and a plea–as though this were 1993–to eliminate rules which “have hindered and frustrated the banking process”? When everyone, from Judeos to Christians, agrees that the banking process hasn’t been hindered and frustrated enough, that it’s been the lack of rules (or of their enforcement) that led us to the edge of this economic cliff?

And then I asked them, “Hey. Where does Michael Steele think the Interstate Highway System, the TVA, NASA, and the beloved sex education film Where The Girls Are: VD in Southeast Asia came from? Didn’t the poor shmucks who built, engineered, key-gripped and associate-produced those projects have ‘jobs’?”

And they said, “Shut up” again and left me alone. For now.

We are witnessing, not so much the collapse of the Republican Party, as its slide into insanity. Granted, some (like my wife) believe it’s already collapsed. Now that the Democrats have stopped shooting themselves in their various feet, it’s the Republicans’ turn, and they’re going after all pedal extremities with every available sidearm–as exemplified by the appointment of Steele, for whom a chair is still a chair, even when there’s no one sitting there, but chair is not a house, and a house is not a home, and “work” is not “a job.”

Collapse, or craziness? I have my personal opinion. For truly: What was the GOP’s great accomplishment last week, about which they openly admitted they felt good? A show of “unity” enough to block the first stimulus package. That’s what put a spring back in their step: obstructing a desperately-needed solution to a problem rooted in their political philosophy. “Yes, we helped cover your house with gasoline, and we paid private contractors to shoot flaming arrows at it, yes. But we don’t believe in Socialism, so we got the gang together–which wasn’t easy!–and had everyone stand in the street to keep the fire trucks away. Yay us! We feel good!”

There are now articles seriously discussing whether–or even why–Rush “America’s Favorite Saloon Loudmouth” Limbaugh is the most influential Republican gracing us with his wisdom (“I hope Obama fails”) here in Freedom’s land. Meanwhile, back at the turkey ranch, “a majority (55%) of Republicans and a plurality (46%) of unaffiliated voters think the GOP should follow Alaska Governor Sarah Palin in the future.” (Cf., to your disbelief, here. )

What can that mean, apart from reading “all” newspapers, shoving $160,000 worth of couture into garbage bags, and looking to Joe The Plumber, whose name isn’t Joe and who isn’t a plumber, for advice? We don’t know. We can’t know. For all of our personal and political failings, we are still blessed with half a brain, ten percent of which we proudly use on a daily basis. We simply cannot conceive of what the world looks like to whomever is left still calling themselves a Republican.

Sadly, if hilariously, it may be that the usual modalities–psychoanalysis; pharmaceuticals; electro-convulsive therapy; imprisonment in the public stockade subject to shaming, shunning, and the throwing of vegetables–will prove to be of only partial efficacy. In the end, or by this Wednesday, the Republican Party may very well have become an out-and-out cult: self-fulfillingly isolated in its delusions; self-defeatingly exclusive in its narrow insistence on ideological purity; increasingly cut off from the most generous conceptions of reality; and swellingly fervid in its members’ imagined threats and grandiose in their fantasy accomplishments. Don’t believe me? Read their blogs. Can we bear to witness such a metamorphosis?

You bet. With popcorn. And when even Michael Steele is purged as not being krazee enough for the Sarah-Palinized party, and returns to government employment in the state of Maryland, we’ll have just one piece of advice for him: “Dude–enough with the work. Get a job.”