Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Monday, September 30, 2013 7:46 pm

Oh, yes, he did: Sen. Angus King calls Obamacare opposition “tantamount to murder.”

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Sen. Angus King, the Maine Independent who caucuses with the Democrats. But he has one quality that I do not: He is treated as a Very Serious Person by the mainstream media. And here’s what this Very Serious Person has to say:

Tuesday begins a 6-month race to enroll as many uninsured people as possible in the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges. For the markets to be effective, they need millions of customers, and for elderly participants not to vastly outnumber younger ones.

It’s in this context that well-heeled conservative groups are appealing to uninsured young people to remain uninsured — part of a backdoor effort to undermine the structural integrity of the health care law.

Their efforts have attracted the attention of one senator who recounts how being insured saved his life when he was a young adult, and who has since then watched others die due to lack of coverage. And he doesn’t mince words with those who’d take risks with other people’s health security.

“That’s a scandal — those people are guilty of murder in my opinion,” Sen. Angus King, a Maine Independent who caucuses with Democrats, told me in a Friday interview. “Some of those people they persuade are going to end up dying because they don’t have health insurance. For people who do that to other people in the name of some obscure political ideology is one of the grossest violations of our humanity I can think of. This absolutely drives me crazy.”

Murder. Yeah, I’ve gone there before, but now a Very Serious Person has gone there, too.

I do not think for one second that this will change the behavior of the Crazy Caucus. But it might change the  worldviews of a few of the reporters in the mainstream media who are so convinced that “both sides do it” and that this fight is merely a “political stalemate.” It is unprecedented in postbellum American history, it is being caused by one faction of one party (and not by both parties equally), and, given what we know about the connection between lack of health insurance and premature death, roughly 10,000 American lives per year hang in the balance. For comparison, King notes, the events of 9/11 killed only 3,000 people but sparked a far more expensive and long-lasting response.

Journalists have let Obamacare opponents off the moral hook as well as the political one (it was approved by Congress, signed by the President, upheld in almost its entirety by the Supreme Court, and effectively ratified in 2012 by the re-election of the president and most of the Democratic congresscritters who supported it). It’s time journalists started asking the hard moral questions, too.

 

Shutdown primer

James Fallows at The Atlantic explains the only parts that really matter:

  • As a matter of substance, constant-shutdown, permanent-emergency governance is so destructive that no other serious country engages in or could tolerate it. The United States can afford it only because we are — still — so rich, with so much margin for waste and error. Details on this and other items below.*
  • As a matter of politics, this is different from anything we learned about in classrooms or expected until the past few years. We’re used to thinking that the most important disagreements are between the major parties, not within one party; and that disagreements over policies, goals, tactics can be addressed by negotiation or compromise.This time, the fight that matters is within the Republican party, and that fight is over whether compromise itself is legitimate.** Outsiders to this struggle — the president and his administration, Democratic legislators as a group, voters or “opinion leaders” outside the generally safe districts that elected the new House majority — have essentially no leverage over the outcome. I can’t recall any situation like this in my own experience, and the only even-approximate historic parallel (with obvious differences) is the inability of Northern/free-state opinion to affect the debate within the slave-state South from the 1840s onward. Nor is there a conceivable “compromise” the Democrats could offer that would placate the other side.
  • As a matter of journalism, any story that presents the disagreements as a “standoff,” a “showdown,” a “failure of leadership,” a sign of “partisan gridlock,” or any of the other usual terms for political disagreement,represents a failure of journalism*** and an inability to see or describe what is going on. …This isn’t “gridlock.” It is a ferocious struggle within one party, between its traditionalists and its radical factions, with results that unfortunately can harm all the rest of us — and, should there be a debt default, could harm the rest of the world too. …

* The FAA, the FDA, our research organizations, all other public programs from monitoring air quality to modernizing computer systems to staffing the military — they’re all wasting time and money now because of indiscriminate “sequester” cuts and preparations for possible shut-down. For the foreseeable future, the air traffic will keep moving and other functions will go on — just more stupidly and wastefully. We have that much social capital still to burn. …

** The debt-ceiling vote, of course, is not about future spending decisions. It is about whether to cover expenditures the Congress has already authorized. There is no sane reason for subjecting this to a repeated vote. … [And] in case the point is not clear yet: there is no post-Civil War precedent for what the House GOP is doing now. …

*** For examples of coverage that plainly states what is going on, here is a small sampling: Greg SargentDerek ThompsonJohn Gilmour (on why Ronald Reagan believed in compromise), Jonathan RauchBrian BeutlerJonathan ChaitAndrew Sullivan (also here), Ezra Klein and Evan SoltasDan Froomkin.

The failure of mainstream media to report accurately on this subject is perhaps its biggest fail since its coverage of the runup to the Iraq invasion in 2003. And although the number of lives immediately at risk is far lower, the worldwide economic damage that could result is far higher.

As for what actually will happen, I don’t have any insider knowledge. But I do know that the Tea Party wing of the House GOP (egged on by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas) is full-throttle, turn-it-up-to-11 crazy. The reason the GOP is split is because they think House Speaker John Boehner and his allies aren’t being conservative enough. They have learned nothing from their recent failures, and they think the biggest problem with the government shutdown that resulted from disputes between Democratic President Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich’s Republicans in Congress was that the Republicans, who finally caved after about three weeks, gave in too soon. So I’m projecting a 95% chance of a government shutdown, an 80% chance that the shutdown will last more than two weeks, and at least a 40% chance that they will force the U.S., for the first time in history, to default on its debt.

They just want to blow government up. They don’t care about collateral damage — the millions, here and abroad, who would be harmed if the full faith and credit of the United States were to be called into question. But the only way for that NOT to happen is for the Crazy Caucus to suddenly start acting less crazy. And there’s nothing in the caucus’s history to suggest the slightest likelihood that that will happen.

But the Internet is killing journalism, CNN/Newt Gingrich edition

Filed under: Journalism — Lex @ 7:22 pm
Tags: , ,

When CNN learned, just weeks into former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s stint as co-host of the reanimated corpse of “Crossfire,” that Gingrich was breaking the network’s ethics rules with regard to disclosure, did it punish Gingrich? No, it just changed the rules.

But, remember, it’s the Internet that’s killing journalism.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013 8:58 pm

There is a different, and much lower, bar for conservatives

After pseudohistorian David Barton, who has been making money for more than two decades now by telling bald-faced lies about the Founding Fathers, published a “nonfiction” book so bad that it was repudiated by its own publisher, you would think that no one in conservative political circles would want to be caught dead next to him. He’d been called a liar by secular historians, evangelical historians, and his own publisher. Did I mention that his own publisher said his book was a pack of lies? Next to that, having your book voted “least credible history book in print” by readers of History News Network is nothing.

But you have to remember that Barton’s market is the same people who think Jesus rode dinosaurs, as Politico — and God forgive me for linking to it — explains:

Barton has huge standing among “social conservatives that make up a significant base of a caucus electorate,” said Craig Robinson, editor of The Iowa Republican website. “You want to appeal to those people if you’re a Ted Cruz or a Rand Paul.” …

But to his critics’ astonishment, Barton has bounced back. He has retained his popular following and his political appeal — in large part, analysts say, because he brings an air of sober-minded scholarship to the culture wars, framing the modern-day agenda of the religious right as a return to the Founding Fathers’ vision for America.

“It has been shocking how much resistance there is to critically examining what Barton says,” said Scott Culpepper, an associate professor of history at Dordt College who has critiqued Barton’s scholarship. “I really underestimated the power of the political element in evangelicalism.”

In March, Barton gave his presentation on America’s biblical heritage to dozens of state legislators in Kansas. In May, he spoke at the official National Day of Prayer breakfast at the Fort Leonard Wood Army base in Missouri. He rallied activists at the National Right to Life Convention in June with a rousing speech drawing on the Declaration of Independence to make the case for abortion restrictions. Cruz followed Barton in the program and echoed his analysis to thunderous applause.

“I’m not in a position to opine on academic disputes between historians, but I can tell you that David Barton is a good man, a courageous leader and a friend,” Cruz told POLITICO. “David’s historical research has helped millions rediscover the founding principles of our nation and the incredible sacrifices that men and women of faith made to bequeath to us the freest and most prosperous nation in the world.”

This fall, Barton will share that message before audiences in Oklahoma, Nebraska and Kansas. He also continues to travel to Washington to lead his signature Capitol tours — sponsored and often attended by members of Congress — at which he expounds on America’s Christian roots.

Radio host Glenn Beck’s publishing company, Mercury Ink, has even announced plans to republish “The Jefferson Lies,” although a spokesman would give no details about timing, print run or whether the manuscript would be edited to address the criticism. [I just bet — Lex.]

Barton’s enduring popularity “embarrasses the academic community,” Throckmorton said. But, he added, no matter how loud the scholarly chorus, Barton has a trump card: His message “is useful politically.”

Indeed, political strategists say Republican candidates are wise to consult Barton and hitch their wagon to his star.

Your Republican Party, America. Be proud. And ask yourself: If they’re willing to lie about the Founding Fathers, what else are they willing to lie about? An easier question might be: What are they not willing to lie about?

Hypothesis testing, lynching-Robert-Benmosche edition

Filed under: Evil,I want my money back. — Lex @ 7:17 pm
Tags: ,

Never, ever underestimate the capacity of rich douchebags to be rich douchebags.

Today’s example is Robert Benmosche, who took over as CEO of insurance giant AIG (which has a subsidiary here in Greensboro) after 2008, when only about a billion metric assloads of taxpayer money kept AIG from going bankrupt. Here’s what The Wall Street Journal quotes him as saying:

The uproar over bonuses “was intended to stir public anger, to get everybody out there with their pitchforks and their hangman nooses, and all that — sort of like what we did in the Deep South [decades ago]. And I think it was just as bad and just as wrong.”

OK, let’s test that hypothesis. Our null hypothesis is that if we got out our hangman’s nooses and pitchforks and took Robert Benmosche out and bound him hand and foot and gave him a bilateral orchiectomy (which was a pretty common feature of lynchings in the Deep South) and then put the noose around Benmosche’s neck and hauled him up high enough to do the air dance (perhaps waiting until he was already dead to set him afire, or perhaps not), he would actually think that lynching was quite a bit worse than taking grief from ordinary taxpayers who are watching him stuff himself in a way that could only have been made possible with the money of said taxpayers, while their own incomes drop year after year after year.

Our alternative hypothesis, the one we’re testing here, the one that Benmosche is propounding, is that we’d do all these things to Benmosche and he would notice no difference. None. Both experiences would seem equally awful to him.

So, Robert, want to put your alternative hypothesis to the test? I’ll be happy to write up the results for an academic journal.

Now, some of you, probably white guys my age or older, are saying, c’mon, that’s not all that bad. I’m tired, so I’ll let Alex Pareene school you:

Aggrieved white men of America, here’s a little tip from your old pal “historical consciousness”: People being mean to you is not remotely equivalent to genocidal violence. You are not at any risk of ever facing anything close to an actual lynching. It is not effectively legal for people to murder you. If someone did murder you, the state would attempt to arrest and punish them. If you wouldn’t claim to be the victim of a “genocide,” don’t claim to be the victim of a lynch mob.

Words have meanings. The era of lynchings is one of the darkest points in American history. The Tuskegee Institute, one of a few organizations that attempted to count all documented American lynchings, lists 3,445 black victims of lynch mobs between 1882 and 1968. Almost 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced in Congress during those years. Three passed the House. None passed the Senate. Lynchings were effectively state-sanctioned and they continued happening well into the 20th century. The last known survivor of a lynching attempt only just died in 2006 — one month after Richard Cohen’s column about his mean emails.

To compare being the target of protest or criticism to the shameful, horrific, common practice of lynching — or to think you can append some idiotic modifier like “digital” and use the phrase to mean whatever you want — isn’t just ignorant. It cheapens the phrase, strips it of meaning, and dilutes the awfulness, and the appalling recentness, of a great generational crime against black Americans.

I’m in a bad mood, so if you try to argue with this, I might just delete the comment and block your ass.

Friday, September 13, 2013 7:10 pm

Dean Baker on why the Wall Street criminals walked

Shorter Dean: Because the Justice Department let them:

[In a real investigation] [t]he people who put together some of the worst mortgage backed securities would be asked if they were really dumber than rocks and had no idea that many of the mortgages being put into the packages were fraudulent. If the prosecutors could demonstrate evidence of intelligent life at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley they would then ask the lower level people whether they wanted to spend years in jail or would rather explain why they thought it was a good idea to put tens of millions of dollars of fraudulent mortgages into mortgage backed securities. This would presumably lead to testimony against higher ups at these investment banks. …

There is no guarantee that these sorts of efforts would have landed top executives of financial firms behind bars. However there is no evidence that the Justice Department even began this sort of investigation. At the least, such an investigation would have resulted in prosecutions of lower level actors who clearly violated the law in issuing and passing on fraudulent mortgages.

As [Neil] Irwin said [link added — Lex], bad business judgement is not a crime. However, it is a crime to allow bad business judgement to lead to fraud. Clearly fraudulent mortgages were a major factor in propping up the housing bubble. No one went to jail for this crime.

Thursday, September 12, 2013 6:20 am

What’s hippie punching, you ask? Or, Cleekian conservatism

Balloon Juice commenter Cleek, unbeknownst to me, laid out this most basic of conservative philosophies some time back:

Today’s conservatism is the opposite of what liberals want today: updated daily.

I hearby dub this school of thought Cleekian conservatism. Now that you have a name for it, see how often you find it popping up.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013 9:19 am

Looking back through the dust cloud

Filed under: Sad — Lex @ 9:19 am
Tags: , ,

My last big post on the anniversary of 9/11 was in 2010, and I really have little to add to that, other than deep gratitude that we might be getting an indication in the case of Syria that things don’t always have to be like this. Instead, I’m going back, as I do every year, to read Sarah “Sars” Bunting’s post-9/11 essay, “For Thou Art With Us,” and I strongly urge you to do the same.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013 7:08 pm

Seinfeldian Christianity; or, Jesus without Christ, “Jesus plus nothing”

Jeff Sharlet, whose essay for Harper’s more than a decade ago led to the best-selling book “The Family,” about secretive, conservative Christians in the halls of military and civilian power in the U.S., has visited a college from which many members of The Family have come. What he finds is no more or less than a cult, utterly divorced from Christ’s divinity and His great commandments:

Then [Ronald] Enroth turned his methodology inward, toward mainstream evangelicalism itself. Churches That Abuse, as he titled one book, became his obsession, and the phrase “spiritual abuse” his contribution to modern American theology not just as studied in academia but also in popular magazines and on talk shows. Like the discovery of a disease long suspected but ill-defined, the words “spiritual abuse” gave a form and a name to what had until then been just a feeling. A bad one. …

Jesus without Christ. It haunted me more than Jesus plus nothing. It positively buzzed, or maybe that was the wind—I couldn’t say. Whatever the noise that phrase generated in my skull was, it scared me. Scared me stupid, literally. There was this dumb idea that bothered me at times, usually late at night, driving up the spine of California in the pitch black, or lying in the dark in a blank, empty apartment in Wheaton. I think the first time the idea crossed my mind was under a streetlight in Arlington, three in the morning, I’d been up late reading some documents a member of the Fellowship named Josh Drexler had given me. That was the first time I read the word invisible, this invisible organization, the odd allusion to conspiracy without the actual trappings of conspiracy. It was a theology that wanted to be invisible to the world and wanted insiders to know that it was invisible to the world. To them—to me, since I had for the time being become one of them—invisibility hinted at power.  That’s when this dumb idea, the one bothering me as I drove through the California night came to me. Or maybe it was the time David Coe, Doug Coe’s son, came round to lecture the young members of the Fellowship I was living with on Genghis Khan as some kind of metaphor for Jesus, the purity of destroying one’s enemies absolutely, and David smiled and flirted with the boys. I excused myself and crossed the street to the park and made for trees down the hill and once I was out of sight I shivered, and said aloud, “What if this shit’s real?”

Not just the politics and the cultishness, but all of it—the hard, bland Jesus of whom they spoke, the Jesus plus nothing, not even “Christ.” Which would make this god what? The devil? That’s what I thought. David Coe grinning at me all bright white teeth against perfect skin, Ron Enroth’s weak, frightened heart beating time against the hum of the highway. The bleating horn squealing from the speakers, “an emphasis on nothing” in front and behind me. Jesus without Christ and I’d signed up to, what, “investigate” him? What if I was asking questions and all around me there really was a spiritual war raging? Worse, what if I was on the wrong side? Even worse yet, what if I wasn’t?

 

 

Monday, September 9, 2013 7:21 pm

In which Betty Cracker whips Glenn Reynolds like a rented mule in front of God and the whole Internetz

Glenn:

Say what you will about George W. Bush’s diplomacy, but he nurtured relationships with our most important allies — like Britain — and managed to put together a huge multinational coalition for his own foray against an Arab dictator suspected of having chemical weapons. Obama’s diplomatic efforts — championed by Hillary Clinton and, now, John Kerry — are looking more and more inept by comparison: So far, our only ally in the proposed Syria venture is France, maybe.

Betty:

I can say what I will about George W. Bush’s diplomacy? Good, here goes: He lied us into a ruinous, catastrophic war that killed tens of thousands of people, bankrupted America while enriching his cronies, burned our allies and tanked our global prestige so badly that it’s nothing short of a [expletive] miracle that any subsequent American president, including Barack Obama, could get the French on board for a resolution to discourage tourists at the Louvre from defacing the Mona Lisa with a Sharpie.

Glenn:

But that’s what happens when your diplomacy is a failure.

Betty:

No, that’s what happens when the president’s immediate predecessor was an unindicted, unconvicted [expletive] war criminal, Glenn. It means we can’t have nice things, like broad international coalitions and federal budget surpluses.

Game, set, match and tournament to Ms. Cracker. Someone please pick up the mic Ms. Cracker dropped, and can we get a doctor to grab the remove the tennis racket from Professor Reynolds? Because I don’t think God intended for him to be holding it that way.

 

 

Sunday, September 8, 2013 9:44 am

N.C.’s Jens Kruger wins Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass

Filed under: Cool!,Salute! — Lex @ 9:44 am
Tags: , ,

Well, THIS is kind of cool. Jens Kruger, a banjoist and member of the Kruger Brothers band, has won the above-named prize, which comes with $50,000 in cash and the opportunity to appear onstage and on TV with Martin. The band’s PR is handled by my friend and classmate Julie Macie, whose job, I suspect, just got both harder and more rewarding. Here’s the news release:

NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. — Jens Kruger has been named as the fourth recipient of the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass Music. Kruger is known for his innovative banjo composition and performance that integrates folk music with European classical music. Kruger is the first North Carolina resident and first winner that born outside of the United States.

Kruger is known for his inventive, hard to categorize musical style of composition and performance, which can be described as thoughtful and lyrical.  His virtuosic playing style ranges from the very complex to the simple and profound. Jens Kruger and The Kruger Brothers have raised awareness about bluegrass music by writing and performing classical pieces that incorporate the instrumentation of banjo, guitar and bass. The Kruger Brothers consist of Jens Kruger (banjo, harmony vocals), Uwe Kruger (guitar, lead and harmony vocals) and Joel Landsberg (bass, harmony vocals).

Born in Switzerland, Kruger and his brother Uwe left home to become street musicians. As adults they were billed as the Kruger Brothers, adding the third “brother,” Joel Landsberg, from New York City. Their interest in the music of Doc Watson motivated them to relocate near where near Doc’s home in North Wilkesboro, NC in 2003. They had the honor often playing with Doc.

The Steve Martin Prize, created and endowed by Martin, includes a $50,000 honorarium and recognizes an individual or group for “outstanding accomplishments in the field of five-string banjo or bluegrass music.” Each year’s winner is selected by a committee of noted banjo players, including Martin, Pete Wernick, Béla Fleck, Alison Brown, J.D. Crowe and others.

Regarding the award, Kruger said, “Coming to this country as an immigrant and to be accepted so warmly is amazing, and quite humbling.”

Friday, September 6, 2013 7:01 pm

Quote of the day, Fed chair edition

From Dean Baker at the Council for Economic and Policy Research:

If one were to list the people most responsible for the country’s dismal economic state few people other than Alan Greenspan and Robert Rubin would rank higher than Larry Summers. After all, Summers was a huge proponent of financial deregulation in the 1990s and the last decade. He was a cheerleader for the stock bubble and never expressed any concerns about the housing bubble. He thought the over-valued dollar was good policy (and therefore also the enormous trade deficit that inevitably follows), and he was unconcerned that an inadequate stimulus would lead to a dismal employment picture long into the future.

If you think high unemployment is a good thing that ought to continue, then support Larry Summers. If you don’t, contact your senators and tell them not just no, but hell, no. The last person you want in charge of the economy is one of the miscreants who blew it up in the first place.

(h/t: Fec)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013 6:11 pm

Peace

Filed under: Y'all go read this — Lex @ 6:11 pm
Tags: , ,

My college friend Whit Trumbull has begun blogging at Spreading Shalom. She’s Christian, but Rosh Hoshana, the Jewish New Year, seems as good a time as any to start a new blog, particularly one that I presume will be, like Whit herself, focused on matters of the spirit.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

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