Sunday, August 9, 2009

Last Call

Two things about this Sully column:

1) He's right absolutely right when he says the following...
This is the silly season. But this silly story seems to me an indication of something more ominous. The demographics tell the basic story: a black man is president and a large majority of white southerners cannot accept that, even in 2009. They grasp conspiracy theories to wish Obama — and the America he represents — away. Since white southerners comprise an increasing proportion of the 22% of Americans who still describe themselves as Republican, the GOP can neither dismiss the crankery nor move past it. The fringe defines what’s left of the Republican centre.

The chilling implication is that a large number of Americans believe the president has no right to be in office and has fraudulently manoeuvred himself there.

I hope the secret service is on alert. If we thought racial panic had ended with Obama’s election, the resilience of this story in key parts of the country is a helpful wake-up call.

It's what I've been saying for months now: the logical endpoint of the birth fanaticism is that if you honestly believe Barack Obama is illegally the President of the United States and is using that power of that office illegally, then you also have to believe that he must be removed from that office by any means necessary. So, I ask the Birthers, what's your plan for that?

Which brings us to point The Second:

2) It's pretty meaningless that Sully is right because he basically has no credibility left on conspiracy theories after continually insisting for the better part of the last year that Trig Palin is not Sarah Palin's son, even as recently as six weeks ago.

What really, really bothers me is that Sullivan can clearly see the problem with the Birther stupidity involving Obama and the real reason behind it, but continually pursues what's basically the same story going after Sarah Palin.

Now, Sister Sarah is no saint, her recent usage of Trig as a campaign prop yet again last Friday has earned her my personal scorn. I wasn't fond of her before, but at least I thought she meant well, deranged as she was I never thought her to be heartless. Now even that shred of human decency is apparently beyond her grasp.

But then again, it's the Birthers who apparently are hypocrites for the same reason Sullivan is: If Obama's birth credentials are questionable, then it's open season on the woman who would have been a heartbeat away from the Presidency, yes? Questions must be asked, right?

And the truth is both instances are ludicrous examples of the media frenzy going too far. The Obama birther issue is in my book several orders of magnitude worse for the reasons Sullivan gave, it's cover for planting the nasty seeds of a race war, but it does not justify dragging Trig Palin into this mess. I humbly offer the erstwhile Mr. Sullivan this advice:

Leave dragging an innocent child into politics to the experts like Sarah Palin.

Follow The Leader

It's got to be depressing these days being a conservative pundit. Every time Sarah Palin says something bugnuts crazy heading into a weekend, the Sunday Show bobbleheads either have to agree with her and look like a whackjob to the reality-based community or you really have to gamble and deny whatever she said, risking the wrath of the base as Steve Benen notes:
Newt Gingrich told a national television audience this morning that Sarah Palin's "death panel" argument is fair and legitimate. I should note, in fairness to other conservatives, that others on the right have not been as kind to the former Alaska governor.

On "Meet the Press" this morning, David Brooks called Palin's attack "crazy," adding that "the crazies are attacking the plan because it will cut off granny. That is simply not true, that simply is not going to happen."

Similarly, Rep. Jack Kingston (R) of Georgia, who no one has ever considered a moderate, told Bill Maher there's nothing to Palin's attack. "It's a scare tactic," Kingston said. "No question about it."

Even some political reporters who shy away from drawing firm conclusions have acknowledged the facts. The Washington Post's Dan Balz said this morning, "It's not the way to debate this bill, and it's another example of Sarah Palin having difficulty figuring out how to enter into a serious debate about issues."

And while Steve goes on to posit that Death Squads For Trig may be the bridge too far for Sarah Palin, I'm convinced the opposite is true. I really don't think there's anything that Sarah Palin can say at this point that tens of millions of people won't go "Yeah, I totally believe her on this issue. She wouldn't lie to us like that."

It's indicative of just how far the conservative brand has fallen. There are folks out there that will believe anything at this point just to keep with coming to grips with Barack Obama as President. Their elected GOP leaders have failed them: McConnell, McCain, Cantor, Boehner. Now the non-beltway types are running the show: Limbaugh, Gingrich, Beck and Palin. They control the narrative of the party. The elected leaders react to them now, not the other way around.

The populist anger has gotten out of control. Sarah Palin has now clinched the GOP position on the Obama health care plan as "killing the weak and infirm". Millions are ready to believe that now, even if it isn't the truth. We're going to see this only get worse.

But then again, that's the point. Sarah Palin's not stupid.

The Obvious Question

News today in the NY Times that the drug companies' industry group PhRMA is going to be running $150 million in pro-health care reform ads should be setting off huge alarms for everyone.

The unusually large scale of the industry’s commitment to the cause helps explain some of a contentious back-and-forth playing out in recent days between the odd-couple allies over a deal that the White House struck with the industry in June to secure its support. The terms of the deal were not fully disclosed. Both sides had announced that the drug industry would contribute $80 billion over 10 years to the cost of the health care overhaul without spelling out the details.

With House Democrats moving to extract more than that just as the drug makers finalized their advertising plans, the industry lobbyists pressed the Obama administration for public reassurances that it had agreed to cap the industry’s additional costs at $80 billion. The White House, meanwhile, has struggled to mollify its most pivotal health industry ally without alienating Congressional Democrats who want to demand far more of the drug makers. White House officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Many Democratic lawmakers have railed for years against what they consider the industry’s excessive profits and pointedly insisted in recent days that they do not feel bound by the White House’s commitments.

Sources briefed on the drug industry’s plans, speaking on condition of anonymity because the details remain confidential, say top officials of the industry’s trade group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, are scheduled to meet next week to finalize its fall plans. The final budget could be less or more than what was authorized, the sources said.

By comparison, President Obama’s presidential campaign spent about $236 million on television commercials while the campaign of the Republican candidate, Senator John McCain of Arizona, spent about $126 million. Few expect the opponents of the health care overhaul to muster as much advertising muscle as its backers, including sympathetic business groups, labor unions and ideological allies. The drug makers stand to gain millions of new customers from the expansion of health care coverage.
It takes David Fitzpatrick's article a while to get to the catch, but there it is. Millions, if not tens of millions of new customers for drugs and the government subsidies to pay for them for decades. Of course the drug companies will be falling all over themselves for this. It's trillions in guaranteed new revenue streams for them, in addition to the millions of boomers reaching Medicare age over the next decade or so. Positioning themselves now, locking in laws to be the supplier, is a no-brainer.

Necessary evils abound. The drug companies stand to get theirs. Who's going to pay for it? Either way, it'll be the American taxpayer.

Health Care Reform Is Wingnut Existentialism

The corporate shills and talk radio loudmouths that have convinced the wingers that the health care reform fight is really an existential battle for the very fabric of America must be having a great time watching the chaos unfolding over August.

The millions of folks that believe Obama isn't an American citizen,that believe he isn't even legitimately our President, also seemingly believe he is preparing to euthanize the elderly, weak and infirm in a new genocide. The spread of these beliefs have been wildly successful, fueled by Limbaugh, Beck, Savage and Hannity and FOX News, feeding a segment of the populace simply unable to accept a minority President. But the Village columnists have their part to play too, and that bring me to today's screed by Mark Steyn.
DISSENT IS THE HIGHEST FORM OF PATRIOTI… No, wait, that bumper sticker expired January 20th. Under the stimulus bill, there's a new $1.3 trillion bills-for-bumpers program whereby, if you peel off old slogans now recognized as environmentally harmful ("QUESTION AUTHORITY"), you can trade them in for a new "CELEBRATE CONFORMITY" sticker, complete with a holographic image of President Obama that never takes his eyes off you.

"The right-wing extremist Republican base is back!" warns the Democratic National Committee. These right-wing extremists have been given their marching orders by their masters: They've been directed to show up at "thousands of events," told to "organize," "knock on doors" …

No, wait. My mistake. That's the e-mail I got from Mitch Stewart, Director of "Organizing for America" at But that's the good kind of "organizing." Obama's a community organizer. We're the community. He organizes us. What part of that don't you get?

When the community starts organizing against the organizer, the whole rigmarole goes to hell. Not that these extremists showing up at town hall meetings are real members of the "community." Have you noticed how tailored they are? Dissent is now the haut est form of coutur ism. Senator Barbara Boxer has denounced dissenters from Obama's health care proposals as too "well-dressed" to be genuine. Only the Emperor has new clothes. Everyone knows that.

Steyn goes on like this for another several graphs, describing the Obama administration as a comically bad "kinder, gentler" fascist regime, which is apparently very funny if you're Mark Steyn. You see how silly it is to compare dissent to fascism, libs? Not so funny now, is it?

The funny thing is there are plenty of folks out there who believe that America will soon be at this point, and they're not laughing at all. They're deadly serious.

I wasn’t a proponent of street violence then, nor am I now. I abhor it. And, just let any one of the Democrat thugs try to physically attack me or silence me or anyone nearby and they better stand the f*ck by for a real thumping. At 61, I still fit in my Marine Corps uniform, and know well how to defend myself. I’m just one member of a rapidly expanding, reluctant force of ordinary Americans who will. Those who have spent their lives cloistered in ivy and Congress have never met our resistance before, are shocked, and are in for more rueful surprises if they keep on their vile attacks on our democracy, peace and prosperity.
The problem with this level of manipulation is that the logical endpoint of these beliefs is that Barack Obama must be stopped by any means necessary, legal or otherwise, in order to save the country. "The Tree Of Liberty must be refreshed, from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants." We've been seeing the justification build for this type of action for quite some time now, but it has especially become prevalent in the last month.

They see themselves as the victims here of a coming fascist regime, where the only possible result of a universal coverage health care plan is Obama's secret police kicking down doors to drag conservatives out into the deep night, never to been heard from again. Where the practical upshot of a public health care option is that Americans over 65 will be put to death en masse. Where the promise of affordable health insurance must lead to the eugenic culling of the sick, weak, and infirm.

Barack Obama is apparently an unthinkable monster for trying to reform health care. And why? What is at the heart of this lunacy? Fear of loss of power, as most of these movements are. Fear that America is no longer a center-right country controlled by white men. Fear that thirty years of Reaganism is coming to an end. Fear of change.

For this, the President is demonized, dehumanized, and designated a target. Worse still, those who have empowered Barack Obama are the real traitors to the cause, those who have put Obama in the White House and the hated, evil Liberals into power need to be dealt with, purged, and removed from society.

Very few of these folks believe Mark Steyn's is being absurdist here. They think he is reporting from the grim near future.

Getting A Holder On The Situation

This morning's LA Times has a report that Attorney General Eric Holder is close to naming a special prosecutor focusing on Bush-era torture...kind of. (emphasis mine:)
A senior Justice Department official said that Holder envisioned an inquiry that would be narrow in scope, focusing on "whether people went beyond the techniques that were authorized" in Bush administration memos that liberally interpreted anti-torture laws.

Current and former CIA and Justice Department officials who have firsthand knowledge of the interrogation files contend that criminal convictions will be difficult to obtain because the quality of evidence is poor and the legal underpinnings have never been tested.

Some cases have not previously been disclosed, including an instance in which a CIA operative brought a gun into an interrogation booth to force a detainee to talk, officials said.

Other potentially criminal abuses have already come to light, including the waterboarding of prisoners in excess of Justice Department guidelines, and the deaths of detainees in CIA custody in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2002 and 2003.

Opening a criminal investigation is something Holder "has come reluctantly to consider," the Justice Department official said, emphasizing that Holder had not reached a final decision but noting that, "as attorney general, he has the obligation to follow the law."

Others familiar with Holder's thinking say that such an investigation seems all but certain, and that a prosecutor will probably be selected from a short list that Holder asked subordinates to assemble.
In other words, the investigation would largely be a bogus dog and pony show, only worrying about if CIA interrogators went over the line described in memos by John Yoo, Gonzo and John Ashcroft, and that line pretty much allowed everything. What it does not do is even begin to confront the question that the Bush administration's definition of "enhanced interrogation techniques" was actually torture or not.

And once again, the article is full of warnings to Holder, Obama, and to Democrats not to even think about doing this in any way.
"I don't blame them for wanting to look into it," said a former high-ranking Justice Department official familiar with the details of the program. "But if they appoint a special prosecutor, it would ultimately be unsuccessful, and it would go on forever and cause enormous collateral damage on the way to getting that unsuccessful result."

Bracing for the worst, a small number of CIA officials have put off plans to retire or leave the agency so that they can maintain their access to classified files and be in a better position to defend against a Justice investigation.

"Once you're out, it gets a lot harder," said a retired CIA official who said he had spoken recently with former colleagues. The inquiry would probably also target private contractors who worked for the CIA during the interrogations.

Current and former U.S. officials interviewed for this article spoke on condition of anonymity because of the secrecy that still surrounds Holder's deliberations and the details of the interrogation files.

President Obama has repeatedly expressed reluctance to launch a criminal investigation of the interrogation program, but has left room for the prosecution of individuals who may have broken the law.

Obama and Holder have both said that they believe waterboarding constitutes torture. But an investigation would pose thorny political problems for the administration, and probably draw criticism over questions of fairness.

"An investigation that focuses only on low-ranking operators would be, I think, worse than doing nothing at all," said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.

An inquiry also would probably drive a new wedge between the CIA and the Justice Department, agencies with a fractious history that have struggled to work more closely together since the Sept. 11 attacks.
The Village cautions that the Bushies don't want them to do it, the CIA doesn't want them to do it, even the Dirty F'ckin Hippies don't want them to do it, so why do it?

Remember, just one day after a Newsweek article warning Holder and Obama that such an investigation would cost the President dearly on his domestic agenda, the Senate revolted against passing a bill before the August recess. That warning was repeated ten days later in the NY Times the day of the president's July 22 press conference. After the second warning, the rhetoric against the President's health care agenda was stepped up again to its current level. The Senate and House kicked the can down the road to September, and now there's a long, brutal month of August recess shenanigans to go through.

A third warning has now been delivered. Should Obama and Holder continue to stay silent and refuse to confirm or deny these rumors of an investigation, will there be another escalation against his health care reform agenda, and what will it be?

There are no coincidences in Washington. Not at this level of the game.

Since those two warnings four weeks ago, Obamacare has been brutalized, savaged, and left for dead. The recess PR war is now on, and the Village has at least noted the conservative astroturf thuggery (while condemning both sides of course). If the pattern holds, Obama officials will be asked about this on the Sunday shows, they will say nothing, and the tenor of the media reports on the Town Hall Blitzes will take a decidedly and almost universally anti-Obama tone for the rest of the recess...unless somebody starts assuring the Wise Men of Washington that Eric Holder will not be appointing a special anything to look into torture.

Watch carefully. I've maintained for a while now that the Holder investigation into torture is the real issue, and that Obamacare is just a proxy fight. We'll see if I'm right very soon.
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