Sunday, August 16, 2009

See You In September: The Liberal Curmudgeon Takes A Vacation

I’m taking off for my first vacation in a long time. I’ll be suspending further posts until some time before or after Labor Day. Perhaps by the time I come back, the country will be moving in a completely progressive direction in terms of universal health care, reproductive rights, gay marriage, labor rights, gun control, medical marijuana, the death penalty, the environment and other issues. 

If that’s the case, I’ll hang up the political commentary and just write book, film and music reviews. But that probably won’t be the case, so the political posts will most likely continue when I return.

I wish all my readers an enjoyable rest of the summer. See you in September.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Republican Senator Isakson Calls Palin's "Death Panel" Stance "Nuts"

Besides the "birthers" who cast false doubt about President Obama's American citizenship, there are the "deathers" who state that the administration is intent on setting up "death panels" to decide when seniors will die. This issue is a distortion of the amendment of Republican Senator Johnny Isakson (left) of Georgia, which calls for individuals being allowed "to obtain assistance in formulating their own living will and power of attorney." The legislation would finance optional consultations with medical professionals about hospice care and other end-of-life services. 

Senator Isakson has stated that those, including Sarah Palin, who speak of a "death panel" are "nuts." From an interview with the Washington Post's Ezra Klein:

Klein: How did this become a question of euthanasia?

Isakson: I have no idea. I understand — and you have to check this out — I just had a phone call where someone said Sarah Palin’s web site had talked about the House bill having death panels on it where people would be euthanized. How someone could take an end of life directive or a living will as that is nuts. You’re putting the authority in the individual rather than the government. I don’t know how that got so mixed up. [...] It empowers you to be able to make decisions at a difficult time rather than having the government making them for you.

Palin actually supported the very end-of-life counseling that she now calls euthanasia. On April 16, 2008, then-Governor Palin issued the Proclamation "Healthcare Decisions Day," which advocated that public facilities inform seniors about end-of-life decisions:

WHEREAS, Healthcare Decisions Day is designed to raise public awareness of the need to plan ahead for healthcare decisions, related to end of life care and medical decision-making whenever patients are unable to speak for themselves and to encourage the specific use of advance directives to communicate these important healthcare decisions. [...]

WHEREAS, one of the principal goals of Healthcare Decisions Day is to encourage hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, continuing care retirement communities, and hospices to participate in a statewide effort to provide clear and consistent information to the public about advance directives, as well as to encourage medical professionals and lawyers to volunteer their time and efforts to improve public knowledge and increase the number of Alaska’s citizens with advance directives.

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who now speaks against "death panels," was also for end-of-life counseling in 2003, as were Republicans in general:

Remember the 2003 Medicare prescription drug bill, the one that passed with the votes of 204 GOP House members and 42 GOP Senators? Anyone want to guess what it provided funding for? Did you say counseling for end-of-life issues and care? Ding ding ding!!

So either Republicans were for death panels in 2003 before turning against them now--or they're lying about end-of-life counseling in order to frighten the bejeezus out of their fellow citizens and defeat health reform by any means necessary. Which is it, Mr. Grassley ("Yea," 2003)?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Michele Bachmann's Nightmare: Her Son Joins AmeriCorps, Obama's "Re-Education Camp"

Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN), always on the lookout for subversion, spoke out in April against AmeriCorps, the organization whose stated purpose is to provide opportunities to "apply your skills and ideas toward helping others and meeting critical needs in the community."

Sounds worthwhile, right? Not according to Bachmann, who views these pretty words as a cover-up for the Obama administration's nefarious plans to expand the group to brainwash young people. Listen:

Bachmann: I believe that there is a very strong chance that we will see that young people will be put into mandatory service. And the real concern is that there are provisions for what I would call re-education camps for young people, where young people have to go and get trained in a philosophy that the government puts forward and then they have to go to work in some of these politically-correct forums. As a parent, I would have a very, very difficult time seeing my children do this. (h/t Think Progress)

One can only surmise, then, that Bachmann is having "a very, very difficult time." According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Bachmann's son, Harrison, joined the Teach for America program, which is under the aegis of AmeriCorps. In fact, since the application deadline was in February, her son probably applied by the time Bachmann delivered her warning. Jim Tevlin of the Star Tribune explains the program:

Coincidentally or not, TFA came to Minnesota just this year, exactly because the state's socioeconomic inequalities have grown as the state has retrenched its programs for the poor, disenfranchised and under-educated. For the first time, we have to rely on the charity of good kids like Harrison Bachmann to step up and help out at our schools.

Helping out at schools in impoverished neighborhoods? Why, one has to be the brainwashed product of an American Gulag to do something subversive like that. What's next, community organizing? If you disagree with Harrison Bachmann's involvement, should you scream at his mother like the right-wing mobs do at health care town halls? Tevlin advocates the novel concept of exercising restraint:

I might suggest that if you feel strongly that this is more government control, you should show up at Bachmann's next town hall meeting and scream slogans at her. But that would be rude and, frankly, a little crazy.

Stewart On Mob Strategy: "All We're Doing Is Enraging People With Misleading Information"

Jon Stewart took on the view expressed on Fox–where else?–that “Everybody that I’ve seen in these town hall meetings has been respectful.” After showing examples of right wing mobs in action, he switched to Matt Kibbe, president of the mob-inciting FreedomWorks, complaining about the very term “mobs.” Stewart explained, “I mean, all we’re doing is enraging people with misleading information and then having them show up at meetings with the intent of shouting down the speakers and physically intimidating them. If that’s what you call a mob…”

Stewart then focused on Fox’s Hannity and O’Reilly, who, while they would never criticize today’s angry right, complained in the past about the angry “far left.” He closes with Sarah Palin’s insane warnings about Obama’s “death panel” in which “bureaucrats will decide whether babies and seniors are worthy of health care.” Not only is this “death panel” a figment of Palin’s feverish imagination, but those who believe that private insurance bureaucrats don’t decide whether consumers are worthy of health care should see my post on Stephen Hemsley and United HealthGroup. Without further ado, here's Jon Stewart:

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tea Party Patriots' Goal: Prevent Any Health Care Reform

Recently a leaked memo from Bob MacGuffie of the Tea Party Patriots revealed strategies for supporters at town hall meetings on health care: artificially inflate their numbers, be disruptive early and often, and try to "rattle" Democratic speakers.

Now Plum Line has reported that on a private conference call, Tea Party organizers stated that no health care reform at all is their goal. The source was an organizer with the AFL-CIO; Eddie Vale, AFL-CIO spokesman, provided Plum Line with that organizer's notes. From the Plum Line report:

On a private conference call, a group of top Tea Party and conservative organizers offered a surprisingly frank description of their goal, according to a source on the call: Completely blocking any kind of bipartisan compromise, and completely preventing any type of health care reform bill at all from ever becoming law.

...The call consisted of representatives of top conservative groups, such as the American Liberty Alliance, the “Tea Party Patriots,” and, the AFL-CIO’s notes say.

The moderator on the call, whose name could not immediately be determined, told listeners that bipartisan compromise on the Senate Finance Committee, where senators are holding talks, must be stopped at all costs, AFL-CIO’s notes say. The moderator called on members to pressure GOP Senators seeking compromise with Dems, like Chuck Grassley, Mike Enzi, and Olympia Snowe, to stop the negotiating.

“The goal is not compromise, and ANY bill coming out this year would be a failure for us,” the moderator said, according to AFL-CIO’s notes. The moderator added that “the Democrats will turn even a weak bill from the Senate Finance Committee into Canadian-style single-payer through underhanded implementation.”

Another organizer on the call, according to AFL-CIO, added: “The purpose of Tea Parties is not to find a solution to the health care crisis — it is to stop what is not the solution: Obamacare.”

These are the forces supporting those who shout down speakers at town hall meetings. It's clear that a dialogue on health care is not their agenda. It is to be hoped that the country is seeing through tactics that can only benefit the health insurance industry.

If you visit the Tea Party Patriots web site, you'll find a link, "Watch Video of Town Halls from August 8, 2009." Maybe it was too subtle for the Tea Party members, but the protestors in the following linked video support health care reform. They're posing as rich folks and carrying signs that state, "Survival of the Richest," "Vote No On Single-Payer: Profits Before People," "Privatized Medicare Now," and "Don't Pull the Plug On the Status Quo"–along with pointing out the "socialist" police force. Memo to the Tea Party Patriots: This is satire. They're mocking the status quo that, as revealed by the conference call above, you're fighting so hard to preserve. Watch:

Monday, August 10, 2009

Question For United HealthGroup CEO: "Stephen Hemsley, How Do You Sleep At Night?"

Brave New Films' "Sick For Profit" contrasts the obscene profits made by Stephen Hemsley, CEO of United HealthGroup, with his company's callous denial of treatment to the most vulnerable. The film chronicles the cases of three who were denied despite life-threatening disorders: Isabella Griggs and Dylan Joshua, both children, and Holly Bailey, a young adult. Bailey received the following response when she told a United HealthCare representative that she will die without receiving medication: "OK."

The contrast is made all the more stark when we're told that one-quarter of Hemsley's daily earnings would fully cover Isabella's treatment; two-and-a-half minutes of Hemsley's pay would fully cover Dylan's treatment; and one hour of Hemsley's pay would cover 20 months of Holly's medication. Hemsley's salary is $3.2 million; the total value of his stock options is over $744 million.

United HealthGroup, along with all other private insurance agencies, have a financial interest in denying coverage. That's how the industry's shareholders and CEOs are able to rake in such huge earnings–and why they're lobbying against health care reform. All arguments for the exclusively privatized system we have now are ultimately smokescreens for the industry's sky-rocketing profits. 

Dylan's mother, Joanna Joshua, put it best: "To live in a society that would allow the CEO and higher executives of United HealthCare to make three quarters of a billion in stock–it's disgusting. ...Stephen Hemsley, how do you sleep at night?" Watch:

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Schaeffer And Krugman On Racial Anxiety In The Obama Era

Two commentators recently offered insights about the hatred directed toward Obama by mobs disrupting town hall meetings on healthcare and by the birther movement. Both point toward an attempt to delegitimize an African-American president, to cast him as an alien. 

Frank Schaeffer (left), who has turned away from the religious right, writes that Dick Armey, whose FreedomWorks organizes against healthcare reform, along with other conservatives are reacting against a country that doesn't seem to be "theirs" any more:

I think I know what happened to him, Gingrich and the rest: They can't compute that their white man-led conservative revolution is dead. They can't reconcile their idea of themselves with the fact that white men like them don't run the country any more -- and never will again. To them the black president is leading a column of the "other" into their promised land. Gays, immigrants, blacks, progressives, even a female Hispanic appointed to the Supreme Court... for them this is the Apocalypse.

The last presidential election (to paraphrase Bart Simpson) "broke their brains." What else could explain their embrace of intimidation -- rather than discourse -- over the health care debate and such unsavory moments of madness as the Republicans accusing Obama and Judge Sonia Sotomayor of racism, knowing full well that they'd just destroyed their chances with the Hispanic community forever?

Paul Krugman recalls the cynical use of race by Republican strategists over the past few decades and states that such politics are still part of the national landscape:

...the driving force behind the town hall mobs is probably the same cultural and racial anxiety that’s behind the “birther” movement, which denies Mr. Obama’s citizenship. Senator Dick Durbin has suggested that the birthers and the health care protesters are one and the same; we don’t know how many of the protesters are birthers, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it’s a substantial fraction.

And cynical political operators are exploiting that anxiety to further the economic interests of their backers.

Does this sound familiar? It should: it’s a strategy that has played a central role in American politics ever since Richard Nixon realized that he could advance Republican fortunes by appealing to the racial fears of working-class whites.

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Natalie Merchant And 10,000 Maniacs

The alternative rock band 10,000 Maniacs, named after the low-budget film "Two Thousand Maniacs!," was at their prime when Natalie Merchant was the lead singer. Merchant, who joined at 17 in 1981 and stayed for 12 years before launching a solo career, performs "Like the Weather" with the band:

Here Merchant and David Byrne, formerly of Talking Heads, perform "Let the Mystery Be" in 1993:

Friday, August 7, 2009

American Psychological Association: Therapists Should Stop Trying To "Cure" Gays

The American Psychological Association (APA) urged therapists to stop counseling gay people that they can change their sexual orientation:

The American Psychological Association declared Wednesday that mental health professionals should not tell gay clients they can become straight through therapy or other treatments.

...In a resolution adopted on a 125-to-4 vote by the APA's governing council, and in a comprehensive report based on two years of research, the 150,000-member association put itself firmly on record in opposition of so-called "reparative therapy" which seeks to change sexual orientation.

No solid evidence exists that such change is likely, says the report, and some research suggests that efforts to produce change could be harmful, inducing depression and suicidal tendencies.

Of course, there are those who continue advocating gay-to-straight transformation:

One of the largest organizations promoting the possibility of changing sexual orientation is Exodus International, a network of ministries whose core message is "Freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ." Its president, Alan Chambers, describes himself as someone who "overcame unwanted same-sex attraction."

Regarding the validity of this therapy, I trust the expertise of the American Psychological Association over Chambers (upper left). That's why I find the following testimony compelling:

Wayne Besen, a gay-rights activist who has sought to discredit the so-called "ex-gay" movement, welcomed the APA findings.

"Ex-gay therapy is a profound travesty that has led to pointless tragedies, and we are pleased that the APA has addressed this psychological scourge," Besen said.

If someone told straights that they could become gay through therapy or prayer, would that person be taken seriously? Why, then, are gays subject to this claptrap? The APA's stance is based on the fact that sexuality is an innate orientation, not a "choice" as social conservatives would have it, and that homosexuality is not a deviancy in need of a cure:

The APA task force took as a starting point the belief that homosexuality is a normal variant of human sexuality, not a disorder, and that it nonetheless remains stigmatized in ways that can have negative consequences.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

"Townhalls Gone Wild": Hot New DVD Of Wingnuts In Action

Reports continue to surface about right-wing mobs, backed up by groups such as Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, shouting down Democrats trying to conduct town hall meetings on health care reform. Representatives Betty Reid and Kathy Kastor of Florida dealt with a crowd of over 1,000, many of whom were screaming, banging on windows and refusing to leave when ordered to do so by police with bullhorns. Representative Steve Kagen of Wisconsin was continually interrupted by shrieks and shouts. Representative Steve Driehaus of Ohio was subject to boos, hisses and howls of "move to Europe!"

For those who find wingnuts in action riveting, there's a hot new DVD out: "Townhalls Gone Wild." It's available for "the low price of selling your soul to the health insurance industry." The DVD comes with two limited-time free bonuses: the all-new "Teabaggers Gone Wild" DVD, "jam-packed with incredible birther madness," and "a verified replica of Barack Obama's actual Kenyan birth certificate." Check out this great value:

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Olbermann On Republican And Blue Dog Health Insurance Shills

Keith Olbermann named names–specifically, those who receive generous campaign contributions from, and are shilling for, the health insurance industry. While these bought-off politicians are mostly Republicans, there is a group of Democrats, the Blue Dogs, who are obstructing reform to do the bidding of their corporate paymasters. In Olbermann's words:

PBS pointed out that the health and insurance industries are spending more than $1,400,000 a day just to destroy the public option. …and much of this money is going to and through Republicans. But that’s the real point tonight. Not all of it is going through Republicans. Because the evil truth is the insurance industry, along with the hospitals, HMOs, PhRMA, nursing homes–it owns Democrats, too. Not the whole party. …They call themselves ‘Blue Dogs’ and they are out there hand in hand with the Republicans who they are happy to condemn day and night on everything else, throatily singing ‘Kumbaya’ with the men and women who were bought and sold to defend this con game of an American health care system against the slightest encroachment.

Olbermann specifies the amounts these corrupt officials–who enjoy government health coverage–are receiving from the health insurance industry and the lengths they go to defend its monopoly and profits. His eloquent protest is worthy viewing:

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Right Wing Mobs Shout Down Democratic Officials In Orchestrated Campaign

Democratic officials are increasingly being harassed by right-wing mobs shouting them down during town hall meetings, especially on health care reform:

Screaming constituents, protesters dragged out by the cops, congressmen fearful for their safety — welcome to the new town-hall-style meeting, the once-staid forum that is rapidly turning into a house of horrors for members of Congress.

On the eve of the August recess, members are reporting meetings that have gone terribly awry, marked by angry, sign-carrying mobs and disruptive behavior. In at least one case, a congressman has stopped holding town hall events because the situation has spiraled so far out of control.

“I had felt they would be pointless,” Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) told POLITICO, referring to his recent decision to temporarily suspend the events in his Long Island district. “There is no point in meeting with my constituents and [to] listen to them and have them listen to you if what is basically an unruly mob prevents you from having an intelligent conversation.”

In Bishop’s case, his decision came on the heels of a June 22 event he held in Setauket, N.Y., in which protesters dominated the meeting by shouting criticisms at the congressman for his positions on energy policy, health care and the bailout of the auto industry.

Within an hour of the disruption, police were called in to escort the 59-year-old Democrat — who has held more than 100 town hall meetings since he was elected in 2002 — to his car safely.

One protester expressed pride in the treatment meted out to Representative Lloyd Doggett of Texas:

When she arrived at the store, she said, a large crowd had already surrounded Mr. Doggett. “People were shouting and booing his answers,” she said. “He said, ‘A few angry people won’t change my mind.’ ”

Eventually, Mr. Doggett cut the meeting short and headed for his car. “He jumped in and fled,” Ms. Markley said with a laugh. “It was like he was tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail. It was a beautiful thing.”

Tarring, feathering and riding people out of town. Beautiful traditions to some. Here's Doggett's reception:

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius spoke in Philadelphia. Sebelius said, "We can either stand here and shout at each other...or we can have a conversation." The hecklers were not there to converse:

A crowd waited for Senator Carl Levin of Michigan to leave a Democratic picnic and then shouted out the Pledge of Allegiance–as if the Pledge is theirs alone. Do those who would use it against fellow Americans believe in "liberty and justice for all"?

These disruptions are being orchestrated by anti-Obama groups espousing constant harassment, as a leaked memo revealed:

The lobbyist-run groups Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, which orchestrated the anti-Obama tea parties earlier this year, are now pursuing an aggressive strategy to create an image of mass public opposition to health care and clean energy reform. A leaked memo from Bob MacGuffie, a volunteer with the FreedomWorks website Tea Party Patriots, details how members should be infiltrating town halls and harassing Democratic members of Congress:

– Artificially Inflate Your Numbers: “Spread out in the hall and try to be in the front half. The objective is to put the Rep on the defensive with your questions and follow-up. The Rep should be made to feel that a majority, and if not, a significant portion of at least the audience, opposes the socialist agenda of Washington.”

– Be Disruptive Early And Often: “You need to rock-the-boat early in the Rep’s presentation, Watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the Rep’s statements early.”

– Try To “Rattle Him,” Not Have An Intelligent Debate: “The goal is to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda. If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout out and sit right back down. Look for these opportunities before he even takes questions.”

Byzantium By The Hudson: New York And The Arts In The Fifties And Sixties

New Art City: Manhattan at Mid-Century by Jed Perl. 641 pp. Vintage. $18.95 (paperback)

A renaissance took place during the 1950s in downtown Manhattan, when the abstract expressionists held sway. Jed Perl captures a period when artists painted and exhibited along 10th Street in Greenwich Village; drank at the Cedar Tavern; argued at their forum, The Club; and found success at uptown galleries and the Museum of Modern Art.

Younger painters came to New York to learn from older abstract artists and teachers such as Hans Hoffman and from each other. Painter Willem deKooning said that that New York was “really like a Byzantine city.” Perl describes the atmosphere: “Tenth Street… was a village within the metropolis, and artists and writers… could go for days and weeks without setting foot outside their own sometimes overstimulating neighborhood.”

Perl refers to the artists’ sense of individuality by referring to “the New York ‘No.’ ” They were part of a movement, but they refused “to accept any style… that had been thrust upon them.” These artistic rebels, then, were ambivalent about their eventual commercial success and new public roles. They worried about a loss of independence and wondered if the museums had more influence over the direction of modern art than they did.

Questions about commercialism did not bother the Pop artists who came along in the 1960s. In Andy Warhol’s paintings of celebrities, dollar bills and Campbell’s soup cans, we see not a celebration of American commercialism but a deadpan reflection. Painter Al Held spoke for others when he rejected the earlier painters’ subjectivity: “The Abstract Expressionists covered everything up with this sensibility and feeling…” For Held, there was to be “No spiritual overlay.”

A book of this breadth takes in more than Abstract Expressionism and Pop; there are realists, collagists, minimalists and assemblage sculptors, along with the influential critics Harold Rosenberg and Clement Greenberg. Perl’s emphases are sometimes questionable; he treats Hoffman and deKooning in depth, while giving short shrift to Pollock, Rothko and Kline. The closing chapter on the empiricism of painter Fairfield Porter and minimalist sculptor Donald Judd seems too narrowly focused. These reservations, however, are set against the strength of this study as a whole; in New Art City, Jed Perl fully lives up to his ambitious goal, to depict the artistic excitement, crosscurrents and innovation that made New York the artistic capital of the world for two decades.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

GOP Claims Seniors Will Be "Put To Death By Their Gov't."

Rachel Maddow took on the conspiracy theory promoted by Republicans such as Representative Virginian Foxx of North Carolina, who spoke of "seniors...being put to death by their government." Maddow was joined by Senator Bernie Sanders (Ind.) of Vermont (unfortunately not shown in this clip), who commented, "These guys are talking about Democrats wanting to kill people. The reality is that 18,000 people die every single year in this country because they don't have access to a doctor when they should." Watch:

Paul Krugman countered the argument that government health care is "bad for the old":

As [Matt] Yglesias points out, such arguments weirdly miss the fact that older Americans are covered by Medicare. If you say that American health care works well for the elderly, then the part of our system you’re praising is the “socialized” part.

This is part of a broader phenomenon. Everyone’s favorite story about the evils of socialized medicine is the fact that Canadians wait longer for hip replacements. But who pays for hip replacements in the United States? Medicare, in most cases.

Hannity, Dobbs And Beck Compete On Stewart's "So You Think You Can Douche" Contest

“Any jackass in a suit willing to go on television and criticize the President can make a pretty hefty living,” stated Jon Stewart. Stewart announced three competitors who met that standard for his contest, “So You Think You Can Douche.” 

First, Sean Hannity, whose technique of using grainy footage and frightening music makes “Dora the Explorer” menacing. Second, Lou Dobbs, whose credibility is in shreds after he’s devoted so much time to the “birther” nonsense. Third, Glenn Beck, who called President Obama "a racist" with "a deep seated hatred of white people”–a claim contradicted by his statement, “I’m not saying that he doesn’t like white people.” The winner in this tight competition is the always buffoonish Beck, with his disgraceful and absurd labeling of Obama. Watch:

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: The Dave Brubeck Quartet Takes Five, 1961

Founded in 1951, The Dave Brubeck Quartet established its "Classic Quartet" in 1958, consisting of Brubeck on piano, Paul Desmond on sax, Joe Morello on drums and Eugene Wright on bass. Brubeck was known for compositions in unusual time signatures, including "Take Five," performed above in 1961. Desmond's cool, lyrical alto sax inspired President Clinton to take up the instrument. "Take Five" is on the "Time Out" album, a must for all jazz enthusiasts. One of the highlights of the performance is the dynamic drum solo by Morello, who makes it all look so easy.