Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hearts and Minds

I just watched the 1974 documentary "Hearts and Minds." It is a pretty powerful piece.

By the end, I had realized that there used to be a pretty good working definition of liberal: someone who had learned the lessons of Vietnam. That definition largely fell out of fashion at some point. (To be fair, so did liberalism itself.) In the 1980s, the favored terminology became "Vietnam Syndrome," Reagan's revisionist fiction that the U.S. would have won but for the treason of the DFHs.

As I watch Barack Obama prepare to send tens of thousands more troops to Afghanistan to support a corrupt and unpopular government, in support of vague and unconvincing strategic goals, eight years into a conflict with no end in sight, I feel forced to admit that he is not a liberal.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The key to a bipartisan healthcare solution: adopt the Nixon plan!

When I was a freshman in high school, I joined the debating team. I have no idea if it still works this way, but back then all debate competitions nationally were based on a single question, and teams had to be able to take either side of the issue. And so the issues chosen tended to be live issues in society, and that were likely to find significant numbers of people in real life who would either support or oppose.

The issue that year was, as best as I can recall: resolved, that there should be a guaranteed annual income for every American. In other words, during the last year of the Nixon Administration, people were entertaining the idea of a huge expansion of the welfare state, in a way that seems impossibly socialist by today's standards. And do you know who proposed this idea in real life? Richard Nixon.

(I can't find where I related this story before, though I vaguely remember writing about it.)

If that anecdote doesn't convince you of how dramatically the "center" has shifted in the 3+ decades since, then perhaps this will: Richard Nixon (who, after all, created the EPA, normalized relations with China, and pursued detente with the USSR), also proposed health care reform that we should be thrilled to have now.

Here's how Tricky Dick pitched his plan himself back in 1974:

One of the most cherished goals of our democracy is to assure every American an equal opportunity to lead a full and productive life.

In the last quarter century, we have made remarkable progress toward that goal, opening the doors to millions of our fellow countrymen who were seeking equal opportunities in education, jobs and voting.

Now it is time that we move forward again in still another critical area: health care.
Early last year, I directed the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare to prepare a new and improved plan for comprehensive health insurance. That plan, as I indicated in my State of the Union message, has been developed and I am presenting it to the Congress today. I urge its enactment as soon as possible.

The plan is organized around seven principles:

First, it offers every American an opportunity to obtain a balanced, comprehensive range of health insurance benefits;

Second, it will cost no American more than he can afford to pay;
Third, it builds on the strength and diversity of our existing public and private systems of health financing and harmonizes them into an overall system;

Fourth, it uses public funds only where needed and requires no new Federal taxes;

Fifth, it would maintain freedom of choice by patients and ensure that doctors work for their patient, not for the Federal Government.

Sixth, it encourages more effective use of our health care resources;

Upon adoption of appropriate Federal and State legislation, the Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan would offer to every American the same broad and balanced health protection through one of three major programs:

--Employee Health Insurance, covering most Americans and offered at their place of employment, with the cost to be shared by the employer and employee on a basis which would prevent excessive burdens on either;

--Assisted Health Insurance, covering low-income persons, and persons who would be ineligible for the other two programs, with Federal and State government paying those costs beyond the means of the individual who is insured; and,

--An improved Medicare Plan, covering those 65 and over and offered through a Medicare system that is modified to include additional, needed benefits.
One of these three plans would be available to every American, but for everyone, participation in the program would be voluntary.

The benefits offered by the three plans would be identical for all Americans, regardless of age or income. Benefits would be provided for:
--hospital care;
--physicians' care in and out of the hospital;
--prescription and life-saving drugs;
--laboratory tests and X-rays;
--medical devices;
--ambulance services; and,
--other ancillary health care.

There would be no exclusions of coverage based on the nature of the illness. For example, a person with heart disease would qualify for benefits as would a person with kidney disease.

What Nixon proposed isn't just better than what we have now. It is better than anything today's Republicans have proposed. It is far better than what "Democrat" Max Baucus is now offering. And, if Obama wimps out on Wednesday, it is arguably better than what our "progressive" President will settle for.

Bloggers have been talking about the massive shift of the Overton window since the demonization of the DFHs began decades ago. It is hard to imagine a more effective example of that shift.

The way this story has been touched upon recently has been in connection with the passing of Ted Kennedy, and in the revisionist claim that Teddy's failure to agree to this plan because he was holding out for single payor was his his greatest regret.

My first thought upon seeing Nixon's plan was that it was yet another amusing but useless trivia point. But then I realized how useful it could be to our cause.

When President Obama leans in to the microphone before the Joint Session on Wednesday, he should say something like this:

Ted Kennedy devoted his life to the cause of delivering decent health care to every American regardless of income. The need was there long before he entered Congress in 1962; it is even greater after his passing.

In 1974, Republican Richard Nixon proposed a health care plan that Democrats thought was not good enough. They pushed for a single payor system. In the end, they got nothing.

I want to correct that mistake, and deliver what Ted Kennedy devoted his life to achieving. And so, I propose that we all -- Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate, President and Congress -- do what a Republican President proposed 35 years ago.

I challenge my fellow Democrats -- stand not just with me, but with the Republican President the House nearly impeached in 1974. I challenge Republicans -- do you really want to call what Nixon proposed "communism"?

Here, then, is bi-partisanship: the Nixon-Obama plan.

Would it work? My crystal ball is murky. One downside is that the wingnuts will use this move as an excuse to donate Tricky Dick to us lie-bruls. But c'mon, kids. They've already tried to rebrand another notorious right wing nutjob as one of ours:

If they've turned Hitler into a liberal, how much more damage can they do?

And no less a figure than Noam Chomsky has called Nixon "in many respects the last liberal president." And, of course, there is the fact that while half the wingnutosphere is ready to make Hitler one of us, the other half is busy trying to rehabilitate him.

Back on the debate team, we had a name for a left-field proposal that was calculated to surprise the opposition: a squirrel. Squirrels don't always work, but they can totally disarm a team that can't think on its feet.

So there you go, Mr. President -- your very own squirrel.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The return of Blue Meme's Law

FEMA death camps.
Obama was born in Kenya.
Steven Hawking would be dead if he was British.
The death panels.
Keep the government's grubby hands off of Medicare.

This nonsense has completely taken over -- no one is talking about anything else. And I told you about this kind of thing almost 4 years ago.

A University of Kansas professor who drew criticism for e-mails he wrote deriding Christian fundamentalists over creationism resigned Wednesday as chairman of the Department of Religious Studies.

Paul Mirecki stepped aside on the recommendation of his colleagues, according to Barbara Romzek, interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Mirecki had planned to teach a course in the spring that examined creationism and intelligent design after the State Board of Education adopted science standards treating evolution as a flawed theory. Originally called 'Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies,' the course was canceled last week at Mirecki's request.
On Monday, Mirecki was treated at a Lawrence hospital for head injuries after he said he was beaten by two men on a country road. He said the men referred to the creationism course.
A few years back, while mired in some ugly, painful litigation, I formulated a sort of corollary to Murphy's law: In any situation, the craziest person in the room controls the agenda. Since then, I've seen this rule validated in a wide variety of contexts. Reasonable people tend to try to accommodate, find common ground and compromise. Those with limited capacity for reason tend to take harder and more extreme positions, and take more extreme actions to defend those positions. And, sadly, the dynamics of such a conflict tend to favor the crazy.

Until I read this story, I had not thought about applying the rule to our political situation. But it fits rather well. I sincerely doubt we will ever read reports of Darwinist thugs going after Creationists with tire irons. Anti-war activists are unlikely to gun down even the most flagrant chicken hawks. And the most violence lefties are likely to let loose on the far right is the pie thrown at assclown Ann Coulter.

But the right wing is consistently the craziest person in the room. So we talk about what they want to talk about, we compromise in hopes of bringing the discussion back to the realm of civility. But it never works, because our very approach rewards their misbehavior. Concessions merely move the midpoint, and lead to new and more extreme positions on the right, and further escalations of rhetoric and, cf. Professor Mirecki's hospital bill, actions.

Mirecki's politics provoked a physical response from the crazies. Their thuggery produced the results they wanted. The voice of reason in Kansas is now thoroughly cowed. I am not questioning his decision, but we need to understand that they must see this outcome as a victory, and are likely to be emboldened by it.

The Brownshirts had little trouble controlling the agenda 70 years ago. Their spiritual heirs are well on their way to such control again.

I saw many things back then. But I did not see that electing Obama would be the tipping point, the signal event that sends us the rest of the way to the place Bush and Cheney and Yoo wanted to go, but never quite reached. Read.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Birther defects

One of my ongoing themes has been the oft-supported hypothesis that conservatives tend to have a long distance relationship with reality.  How else do you explain this:

Poll: 28% Of Republican Base Are Birthers 

A new Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll finds that 77% of Americans believe President Obama was Indeed Born in the United States, with only 11% saying he was not -- but there's no clear verdict among Republicans.

Among Republicans, it's a much weaker plurality of only 42% who say Obama was born in the U.S., with 28% saying he was not, with a very high undecided number of 30%. Among Democrats, the number is 93%-4%, and among independents it's 83%-8%.

There really isn't room for on-the-other-hand-ism on this one. Birthers are manifestly several cards short of a full deck. 

I have been critical of the level of press coverage this nonsense has gotten, but the poll suggests that there is some justification for it. And the fact that the coverage has not put out the fire (if I had to bet, I'd say it has actually pushed the birther numbers UP), confirms that we are not dealing with a rational process: at best, evidence and logic are to these folks as a bicycle is to a fish.  At worst, efforts to correct simply hardens their resolve to remain bonkers.

On the one hand, the fact that the numbers are well short of the Bush era insanity is encouraging. On the other:

Birtherism is heavily concentrated in the South. Only 47% of Southerners say Obama was born in the United States, 23% say he was not, and 30% aren't sure.

Which means that Congress will continue to enjoy the contributions of the Inhofe/Shelby variety....    

Friday, July 03, 2009

WaPo: Haggling over the price

I have a pretty good idea of how this happened. Suits with MBAs have some pretty standard questions when trying to generate revenue for a mature company:

(a) can we find new customers for our existing products?

(b) can we sell new products to our existing customers?


(c) are there underexploited assets we can monetize?

Finding new customers for their existing product?  Hah.  They moved online, but (a) the money generated has been minimal, and (b), as the Froomkin saga shows, there are some real incompatibilities between old and new.

Selling new products to existing customers?  Well, that depends on how you define "customer."  If you define it as "subscribers," well, good luck with that.  But I strongly suspect that subscribers are merely tolerated lubricants of the real market -- the Beltway glitterati.  They seem to actually like what the WaPo does.  And by the twisted internal logic we are talking about here, it would make sense to find new ways to do business with them.

But what to sell them? Some very senior people at the Post obviously agreed that their biggest underexploited asset was access.

What is most instructive about this is that they saw nothing objectionable in auctioning off that access in such a direct and explicit way.

And you can look at that as part of another classic MBA move: redefine the market. A high-priced management consultant would challenge them to stop thinking of themselves as being in the newspaper business -- a dying industry. Some brainiac probably asked, "you have easy access to powerful government officials. That access is very valuable. Who makes money selling it?"

Duh.  Lobbyists. So acting like lobbyists, and monetizing the very thing the WaPo has spent decades hording, must have made perfect sense.

Somerby has a slightly different take. He knows his stuff, but -- if the goal of the evening was to impose the establishment line on the WaPo's own reporters, why take the risky step of charging corporations to "Sponsor" (and print up flyers)?

And so, in a more dramatic fashion than I would have ever imagined, they have confirmed every bad thing bloggers believe about them.  Most impressive.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Turd in a Guilded Cage

So HuffPo guy Nico Pitney, who has been jacked into events in Iran while the Washington Press Corpse has been doing its usual fluff, was tabbed to convey a question from Iran at a presser.

Here's Dana Milbank defending his turf:

Newspapermen used to belong to guilds. And the primary purpose of these guilds, which date back more than 1000 years, was to keep competition out. Via wikipedia:

The earliest guilds were formed as confraternities of workers. They were organized in a manner something between a trade union, a cartel and a secret society. They often depended on grants of letters patent by an authority or monarch to enforce the flow of trade to their self-employed members, and to retain ownership of tools and the supply of materials.

And the journamalistic version:

The Newspaper Guild is a labor union founded by newspaper journalists in 1933 who noticed that unionized printers and truck drivers were making more money than they did. In addition to improving wages and working conditions, its constitution says its purpose is to fight for honesty in journalism and the news industry's business practices.

See much honesty in journalism in Milbank's pique?

As Milbank's furious tantrum demonstrates, the quality of the work is irrelevant. The fact that Pitney asked a much better question than 90+% of the drones around him dared to ask is irrelevant. And the fact that Obama wouldn't answer his question (which completely undermines any claim of substantive collusion) is irrelevant. Jeff Gannon is irrelevant, as is the complete indifference of Milbank & Friends to his extended stay in the pressroom. What matters to the Guild is that their ability to protect their turf has suffered another blow.

The end really can't come soon enough for these guys.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Man of Guantanamo

I am a pretty picky consumer of culture these days. One of the forms of entertainment I no longer much care for is musical theater. Andrew Lloyd Webber makes me barf; almost everything else is a revival or otherwise recycled. There are perhaps two shows that I consider worthy of such resurrection: West Side Story and Man of La Mancha. The former is so insanely difficult and demanding that it is virtually never staged (I've only seen the 1961 film); the latter is much easier to find (I've seen at least four stage productions).

One thing they have in common is their centuries-old source material -- Shakespeare and Cervantes are almost perfect contemporaries. (The two Broadway shows launched only a few years apart as well.) Another similarity is the importance of that material: Don Quixote is widely considered the first modern novel. And of course they are both tragedies in which optimism collides with a dark, hostile reality.

An interesting diffference between the works of the two authors is that Shakespeare's plays are often staged in updated contexts (the whole point of West Side Story); La Mancha is almost always staged in its original context. The whole play-within-a-play takes place in a prison where the protagonist awaits his turn before the Spanish Inquisition. That context has seemed sui generis for most of the 40+ years since its first run.

Until now.

And that's why I'm prattling on about Broadway -- I just realized that Man of La Mancha ought to be staged in a new prison with a Spanish name: Gitmo.

(It turns out I am not the first to think of this, and there have been small productions that are explicit, and a more mainstream one that drew explicit parallels in the program without changing the setting. But I think this is a textbook case in which familiar art could make an uncomfortable but needed point to people who might not otherwise hear it. Were I to stage it now, the play would start conventionally during the Inquisition, but when the play-within ends, the scene would be Guantanamo.)

More on La Mancha in context here. If you don't know the show and are tempted, skip the movie and find a stage production.

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