Ron Paul Is a Bircher

February 28, 2009

I can’t stand Ron Paul, and I am sick and tired of otherwise quite liberal commentators fawning over his extremist Ayn-Randian nonsense (Bill Maher, I’m looking at you!). The man is completely unhinged, and in a position of real power would drive this country into its grave. But I didn’t know that he was partial to the John Birch Society:

“The factual record on Ron Paul and the John Birch Society is clear, and his association with the fringe organization that made itself famous by alleging that Dwight Eisenhower was ‘a dedicated conscious agent of the communist conspiracy’ cannot be so easily brushed aside. In October, Paul delivered the keynote address at the Society’s 50th anniversary dinner; prior to his speech he released a statement praising the ‘great patriotic organization.’ Nor is his involvement limited to this one address. When I reported my story last year, a Birch Society spokesman told me that Paul had spoken to the group about a half dozen times over the past decade. Sorry, but this is not the stuff of Barack Obama being at a dinner in the presence of Rashid Khalidi.”

Not entirely surprising, of course.

Paul was on Bill Maher’s show the other night, btw, conjuring Herbert Hoover, saying we need to let the who banking and financial systems fail to clear out all the rot and start fresh. Let the market take care of it. Imagine if he were president. We’d be picking out animal skins for our caves by the next election.

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From tristero at Hullabaloo (Digby’s blog):

“In his CPAC speech, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell insisted that conservatives are more ‘interesting’ and ‘fun’ than liberals. Here’s his proof: ‘who wants to hang out with guys like Paul Krugman and Robert Reich when you can be with Rush Limbaugh?’

Me.

This has been another edition of simple answers to simple questions.”

This is really how the wingnuts see the world, isn’t it?

Jindal The Liar

February 27, 2009

That Katrina boat story? Total bullshit.

God Loves His Children

February 27, 2009

This was inevitable. The assault begins – the right wing is going to use the same swift-boat tactics against Ty’Sheoma Bethea, the little girl form Dillon, SC who wrote to President Obama about the deteriorating state of her school, as they did against Graeme Frost and Terry Schiavo’s husband. And wait for them to defend it by pointing to the ‘liberal media’s’ criticism of Joe the Plumber, as if the de facto spokesperson for the McCain campaign and now, apparently, the entire conservative movement is somehow on the same level of a little girl invited to an address before a joint session of Congress. This time the attack comes from the conservative Washington Times, described here by Salon’s Joan Walsh:

“Obama ‘presented’ Bethea ‘as a plucky girl from a hopeless school who took it on herself to write the president and Congress asking for much needed help,’ the Times began, ominously. Wait, she’s not a plucky girl from a hopeless school? The editorial depicts her instead as a player in Obama’s ‘mere political theater’ because the president has been using her school, J.V. Martin, as a ‘political prop’ since he first visited in 2005. Wow. Dastardly. I’m getting the picture: Obama, that slick Democrat opportunist, has repeatedly visited one of the poorest schools in South Carolina, a state that voted for John McCain. You just know he leaves with his pockets stuffed with cash every time he makes the trip.

It gets worse. The Times insists Dillon residents haven’t been callous about conditions at Ty’Sheoma’s school; in fact they passed a 2007 bond measure to reconstruct it. That’s true, but it’s only part of the story: The Chicago Tribune’s Howard Witt reported that the bond measure ‘ran aground of the national credit crisis: No bank will loan the school district the construction funds.’

Facts be damned. To the Times, the plight of J.V. Martin is actually a story of how locals can solve their own problem, but Ty’Sheoma and Obama have hijacked it to make it an example of how only the federal government can help. Obama said Ty’Sheoma’s letter reflected ‘a willingness to take responsibility for our future and for posterity.’ The Times disagrees: ‘What is on display is not responsibility but irresponsibility. This is the new reality in America, that those with political pull will benefit, those without will not … Connections are replacing competence as a measure of a person’s worth.’

Got it? Ty’Sheoma Bethea, she’s no enterprising teen from a broken-down school. She sounds like the new Jack Abramoff, using her “political pull” and “connections” to benefit herself.

Yes, they’re that crazy.”

I know, I’m spending way too much time on this blog criticizing Republican utterances, and it’s way too easy to dismiss it all as me picking out a handful of ill-conceived statements in what may otherwise be a sea of thoughtful conservative speech (I assure you this is not the case!). The reason I focus on things like this, though, is because I believe they are representative of the way the right thinks. Yes, there’s the aspect of it that they’re willing to go after anyone, even poor little kids. But more broadly shared by figures on the right is the belief that private citizens can accomplish on their own nearly anything better than the government. And that’s clearly the case here – the Washington Times apparently believes that what’s irresponsible here is Bethea’s reliance on the government to improve the conditions at her school, when the local adults should pull together and fix the school on their own.

Paul Krugman made the point the other day that in the past even the most conservative members of the right-wing establishment were convinced that the government should be responsible for goods that are both non-rival and non-excludable. Non-rival means that consumption of the good by one person does not prevent consumption by another. Clean air is a textbook example: my enjoyment of clean air does not take away from the ability of others to enjoy the same. Therefore, clean air is a non-rival good. Non-excludable means that it is impossible to exclude those who have not paid for a particular good from enjoying it. Clean air again fits this description: if I were to invest my own money to clean the air, I cannot prevent my neighbor from enjoying the fruits of my expenses, even if my neighbor paid nothing. Another example would be paving roads. If there were 10 houses on a small dead-end street, and three of the families on that street pooled their money to pave the road, they would not be able to prevent the 7 families that did not pay from enjoying the benefits (this would also be a case of non-rivalry, as 3 families enjoying the paved road does not take away the ability of the other 7 from doing the same).

For reasons that should be clear, the free market does a very bad job of providing goods that are non-rival and non-excludable. 10 families on a dead-end street would have a much more difficult time paving their road by relying on the free market than they would by delegating that role to a government that could tax them all and use those funds to provide the good. All of the families on the street, otherwise would have an incentive to free-ride – let any combination of the other families pay for paving the road while they enjoyed the paved road for free. It’s possible that the 10 families would agreeably conspire to pave the road, but the free-rider problem worsens with more people. A town of 2,500 people would have a tough time getting everyone to freely invest in road pavement.

Now, however, the right wing in this country seems to be moving away from this consensus, and, it should be pointed out, further and further away from mainstream economic thought. Bobby Jindal made it clear in his speech the other night that the he thought the government was worse at disaster response than private citizens acting on their own accord. Government bureaucrats complicated the private response to Katrina. By implication, private citizens should be monitoring volcanoes as well (or, volcanoes shouldn’t be monitored – it’s not clear what his problem with “something called ‘volcano monitoring’ is, other than, perhaps, it just sounds funny in a Beavis-and-Butthead sort of way). Disaster response (and prevention) is both non-rival and non-excludable. Warning of an approaching hurricane (or volcano eruption) can be put to good use by all. And, most importantly, it’s easy to free-ride: if I monitor for hurricanes, my warnings can be put to good use by anyone nearby, whether they are contributing to the expense of the monitoring or not. This is why the government is put in charge of things like constructing and maintaining levees in and around New Orleans. This is why the government is charged with disaster warning and response. There are other reasons as well (coordination problems come to mind), but the non-rival and non-excludable nature of these goods are central reasons for government responsibility in these areas.

The Republican Party has now made it clear that they reject this reasoning. It is entirely unclear what reasoning they are using in its place (my guess is none), but they have resoundingly rejected a government role in providing nearly any category of good whatsoever. It begs the question of what, exactly, they think a government is for, apart from providing a large military and intelligence apparatus (there’s no doubt that apart from Ron Paul’s faction in the party, they see these as legitimate government concerns). Grover Norquist famously said that he wants government to be small enough to drag into the bathroom and drown in the bathtub. This thinking does not seem to be restricted to Norquist.

In 21st century America, our lives have become utterly dependent (and greatly enriched) by such non-rival, non-excludable goods as public transport, clean air, clean drinking water, police, national defense, paved roads, the Interstate Highway System, air traffic control, public education, etc. I am saddened and angered by our government’s failure to maintain (or in some cases even provide) these goods. And the right wing is not offering any coherent reason why they should not be provided – only insane platitudes about how Americans can do anything (as Jon Stewart said, does that mean we can eat candy for dinner?) and bizarre conspiracy theories about Obama’s secret Muslim Marxism and claims that the president is really an illegal immigrant.

I’m guessing this is not going to turn out to be a winning formula for the Republicans (although you never know – Bush managed to win an election and tie in another), but it’s going to make life very difficult for all of us.

And, mark my words, the so-called ‘liberal media’ will make sure it is all treated as sane and serious.

Limbaugh On Jindal

February 26, 2009

A Daily Dish “Quote of the Day:”

“‘[T]he people on our side are really making a mistake if they go after Bobby Jindal on the basis of style. Because if you think — people on our side I’m talking to you — those of you who think Jindal was horrible, you think — in fact, I don’t ever want to hear from you ever again. … I’ve spoken to him numerous times, he’s brilliant. He’s the real deal,’ – Rush Limbaugh, the current Republican party leader.”

Speaks for itself.

Cinnamon Girl

February 26, 2009

The Republicans’ self-destruction continues.

I don’t want to spend time talking about Obama’s speech – I thought it was great, btw – because I’m more interested in the frightening debacle of Bobby Jindal’s response, both because of his style (roundly criticized even by conservatives), but even more so because of its content.

So quickly, one small criticism of Obama:

Do we have to claim that the United States invented EVERYTHING? America did not invent the automobile. There were plenty of contributions to the development of the automobile, but the credit for inventing the gasoline-power auto truly has to go to the Germans. Likewise, Americans did not invent solar technology. Sure, Americans invented SOME solar technology, and contributed a great deal to the development of the automobile as well, but to claim we invented them is an outright lie. We invented so many things, do we have to lie about the ones we didn’t?

OK, now onto Jindal. Holy Christ cooking in a pot of gumbo, that guy’s a real piece of work. I’ll quickly get past his comical style – he has already been compared to Kenneth the Page from 30 Rock by countless others on the Inter-Web-Tubes. And, frankly, his I’m-teaching-first-grade way of talking down to the audience was nothing new. After 8 years of Bush, I accept that the Republican lingua franca. What most blew me away was the content. A Republican bringing up Katrina? Really? And using it as an example of TOO MUCH government?! REALLY?! What happened during Katrina was that the government FAILED to respond. Jindal’s interpretation, apparently, is that the government failed simply by getting involved (you know, with all its “bureaucrats”), and everything would’ve been hunky-dory had private citizens been left to organize a response on their own. The stupidity of this is mind-blowing. Here this guy is criticizing a stimulus package that spends billions on infrastructure, and he uses the Katrina example, which was CAUSED(!!) by failing infrastructure, as the key example to support his argument? Wow.

And second, what, in the name of all God’s creatures great and small, is so ridiculous about volcano monitoring? I’m sorry, “something called ‘volcano monitoring,'” as Jindal so mockingly put it. The Republicans are really grasping at straws with their supposed examples of wasteful spending in this bill. First there’s the apocryphal Hollywood-moviestars-ride-the-8-billion-dollar-train-to-Disneyland-and-Caesar’s-Palace story, which is completely fabricated. Then there’s the supposed marsh-mouse funding, which is so exaggerated it can also properly be called an utter fabrication. Now we have volcano monitoring. Let’s put aside for the moment the supreme irony of the governor of Louisiana of all places criticizing spend money on natural disaster prevention (and that’s putting aside quite a bit). Let’s also put aside the fact that the lion’s share of America’s active volcanoes (and the US ranks third in the world for the number of volcano eruptions) are in Sarah Palin’s state of Alaska. Volcano eruptions are serious natural disasters that can cost lives and damage vast amounts of property. Here’s FOX News, of all things, from an article that takes Jindal to task for his comments:

“Volcano monitoring likely saved many lives — and significant money — in the case of the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines (where the United States had military bases at the time), according to the USGS.

The cataclysmic eruption lasted more than 10 hours and sent a cloud of ash as high as 22 miles into the air that grew to more than 300 miles across.

The USGS spent less than $1.5 million monitoring the volcano and was able to warn of the impending eruption, which allowed authorities to evacuate residents, as well as aircraft and other equipment from U.S. bases there.

The USGS estimates that the efforts saved thousands of lives and prevented property losses of at least $250 million (considered a conservative figure).”

The eruption of Mt. St. Helens in Washington took 57 lives and the total could have been significantly higher had there not been ample warning and evacuations. Mt. Redoubt, another active volcano, in Alaska, could erupt in coming months; it has erupted several times already in the past century.

But apparently “something called ‘volcano monitoring'” (unlike something called ‘hurricane monitoring’) just sounds funny, and Jindal is obviously banking on it sounding founding to enough of the teh stoopids out there to win the Republicans some votes.

Maybe Jindal’s problem isn’t with volcano monitoring per se, but, much like hurricane response was best left to a rag-tag band of locals, the government’s role in it. Certainly there are number of Doc Brown independently-wealthy mad-scientist types in this country who could rig together a few garage-made vulcan-meters and take care of this whole “something called ‘volcano monitoring'” business without the interference of evil government bureaucrats from that do-nothing US Geological Survey outfit (damn USGS, always getting in the way of our mad volcano scientists with their rules and regs!).

The $140 million spent on volcano monitoring, btw, represents less than 0.02% of stimulus bill. To put this into perspective, if you had a weekly spending budget of $500, this would be like spending a lot of time worrying about 8 cents of it. In other words, the Republicans have been spending a lot of time trying to come up with a list of the most ridiculous “earmarks” (there are no earmarks in the bill, in fact, but they are obviously using the term to mean, incorrectly, anything they deem ‘wasteful’ spending, which at times seems to mean, simply, spending), and the best they can do is about 10 cents out of every $500 worth of stuff like early warning of serious natural disasters.

These are the super-Serious Adults who are Fiscally Responsible who tell us we should forget about the ruin of the past 8 years and follow them.

Worshipping Bipartisanship

February 24, 2009

Glenn Greenwald has a thought-provoking post today on the Washington Establishment’s bipartisanship fetish. I agree with much of what he is saying. I do think that the media applies the bipartisanship rule in one direction only – when the Democrats are in power. We didn’t hear a lot about bipartisanship when the Republicans were in charge. Democrats should always cater to the Republicans, but never the other way around.

Most importantly, though, I don’t think that the mainstream of the Republican Party, as it is currently constituted, can be usefully engaged. The stimulus package was the perfect example – it is difficult to imagine House Republicans support that bill in any form. Also, I think that the ideas being proffered by the Republicans are nothing short of crazy. It’s like trying to compromise with a lunatic. I want a financial stimulus of about $1 trillion. My adversaries want to boost the economy by employing witch doctors and psychics. Let’s compromise.

And, finally, when the American public just handing you a resounding victory, and poll after poll shows that you are overwhelmingly popular while your adversaries (yes, ADVERSARIES) are not, and your policies are popular while your adversaries’ are not, and you’re acting in good faith trying to help the economy while your adversaries are politically posturing and calling you a “radical Communist,” calling your policies “Socialism,” or even questioning your legitimacy, don’t you have an obligation NOT to compromise?

I have to admit, the Republicans are really starting to scare the hell out of me. First and foremost, there’s this. Sorry, I can’t embed the video, so please follow the link. It’s Genn Beck’s show on FOX, on which he discusses growing civil unrest as the result of the government’s policies (marauding motorcycle gangs in our cities is my favorite). Eventually he predicts, the “Bubbas” are going to form citizen militias and, in an alliance with the military, overthrow the government (which he describes as defending the Constitution). You really need to watch it. And remind yourself that this is network television, watched by countless millions in this country, and considered by a large segment of our population to be journalism.

Then there’s this:

Here Rick Santelli of CNBC tells us, most astonishly, that the trading floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange represents a broad cross-section of Americans. And they’re against government help for the “losers.” Kathryn Jean Lopez later suggested Santelli should be Sarah Palin’s running mate in 2012.

Richard Shelby, meanwhile, isn’t sure whether Obama is actually the President of the United States:

“Another local resident asked [Alabama Senator Richard] Shelby if there was any truth to a rumor that appeared during the presidential campaign concerning Obama’s U.S. citizenship, or lack thereof.

‘Well his father was Kenyan and they said he was born in Hawaii, but I haven’t seen any birth certificate,’ Shelby said. ‘You have to be born in America to be president.'”

Then, Alan Keyes outs Obama the pretender to the presidency, as not just a Communist (we already knew that) but a “radical Communist:”

Alan Keyes, a three-time presidential candidate, called President Obama a “radical communist” and a “usurper” and said with him in charge, America “is going to cease to exist” at a pro-life fundraiser Thursday.

“‘Obama is a radical communist and I think it is becoming clear. That is what I told people in Illinois and now everybody realizes it is coming true,’ said Keyes who ran unsuccessfully against Obama for the Senate in 2004. ‘He is going to destroy this country and we are either going to stop him or the United States of America is going to cease to exist,’ said Keyes.”

Texas Republican Congressman Pete Sessions tells us how the Republicans should take a page out of the Taliban playbook:

“‘Insurgency, we understand perhaps a little bit more because of the Taliban,’ Sessions said during a meeting yesterday with [conservative blog] Hotline editors. ‘And that is that they went about systematically understanding how to disrupt and change a person’s entire processes. And these Taliban — I’m not trying to say the Republican Party is the Taliban. No, that’s not what we’re saying. I’m saying an example of how you go about [sic] is to change a person from their messaging to their operations to their frontline message. And we need to understand that insurgency may be required when the other side, the House leadership, does not follow the same commands, which we entered the game with.’ […]

When pressed to clarify, Sessions said he was not comparing the House Republican caucus to the Taliban, the Muslim fundamentalist group. ‘I simply said one can see that there’s a model out there for insurgency,’ Sessions said before being interrupted by an aide.”

A non-story really – he only said that the Republicans should use the Taliban as a model! You know, in their insurgency against the government of the United States. Nothing extremist there.

And last but not least, there’s this innocent cartoon from the New York Post:
picture-3

Two white cops shooting a monkey. Make of it what you will.

Now, I understand that Alan Keyes is a bit of a fringe figure. Glenn Beck is an extremist imbecile, but he does have a show on a network, and has an enormous audience. Sessions, I’m sure, could argue that he merely misspoke (clearly he did! – but it nonetheless sheds light on his thinking). Shelby claims he was misquoted (yet he doesn’t deny the line about never seeing a birth certificate). I suppose it would be easy enough for the true believer to argue away any one of these things.

But all of them? And all on essentially the same theme?

Now ask yourself, how safe do you feel when the right wing is talking this way? Is it inconceivable that a good number of knuckledraggers out there in Red State America are going to listen to Glenn Beck and Richard Shelby and conclude that Obama is an illegitimate socialist usurper who has to be stopped in order to save America? And that some percentage of them are going to try to act on it?

Those people from the Palin rallies didn’t disappear. And they haven’t gotten any less angry since the election.

Very, very dangerous.