Open Letter to CS Monitor – Tea Party Coverage

Please stop referring to the Tea Party as “grassroots” or “populist”.

The Tea Party exploits populist sentiments – to a degree – and is otherwise the plaything of very wealthy and powerful conservative men.

Writing like this piece by Patrick Johnson at the otherwise excellent CS Monitor is simply negligent:

But the tea party phenomenon teeters at a critical point in its rags-to-riches two-year history.

The Tea Party never had a “rags” moment in its history.

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Exposing Tort Reform as a Sham

It sounds reasonable: “People are suing for crazy-pants reasons!  Its out of control and we all pay for it!”.  Except its all bullshit.

Pajiba is more of a place for excellent movie reviews than politics, but when they do dive in damned if they don’t get it perfect.  On Tort Reform:

Tort reform is a sham, folks. It was something dreamed up by huge billion dollar conglomerates in order to increase their profit margins. Really, all you need to know is that one of the major engineers of tort reform law in the United States during the 1980s and 1990s was Karl Rove. Guess who benefits the most from tort reform? People like Karl Rove. Big oil. Credit card companies, The insurance industry. Tort reform was basically designed to take the jury out of the equation.

Dead on (emphasis mine):

There’s such a huge corporate-funded marketing campaign behind tort reform that few people understand the reality: It mostly benefits corporations at the expense of taking away a jury’s right to make a decision. A jury can still decide if someone can get the death penalty, of course, but apparently, a jury is just too wild and unpredictable to be allowed to decide how much an insurance provider has to pay if 1,000 kids get sick because of lead in toys. They tried to give Stella Liebeck $2.7 million, or two day’s worth of profit on McDonald’s coffee as a message to the restaurant to lower the temperature of its coffee (it has since done so) and to improve the lid design so that even more people don’t end up with severe burns. How unreasonable!

Support for Tort Reform is unapologetic class warfare favoring the corporate class over the rest of us.  So how do you respond when your “reasonable” centrist or republican friend brings up tort reform?  How do you respond when they complain jury awards are “out of control”?

First – make the above point clear – “How are juries responsible enough to determine the death penalty – but not to determine a fit punishment in a “Company poison’s water” case?”.

Next, you have a few options.

Are you dealing with a numbers person?  Go into the incredibly small size of the largest jury awards when compared to actual income for the guilty company. Ask what is going to give a company incentive to stop their criminal behavior if the penalty is small enough to be considered a minor tax increase?

Are they concerned about frequency?  Ask what it means for consumer protection in this country if so many companies are successfully sued?  Just what the hell is going on here?  If they are truly liable for doing this much damage – why the hell aren’t they being regulated more?

Tort Reform opens the discussion to how the American public is largely left unprotected from the abuses of corporations.  This is the corporate world’s attempt to strip away even that last remaining shred of protection.

Tea Party vs Abortion – The New Fight

The exceptions for the health of the mother, rape, and incest are under attack.  As the anti-abortion movement exposes its true face – a theocratic desire to control women’s reproductive options in all circumstances – they are also removing all pretense at compromise.  The newly invigorated anti-abortion movement is going to oppose contraceptions.  They are going to force children to give birth.  They will fight tooth and claw to not only destroy Roe v Wade, but to go further and actively pass legislation making childbirth mandatory for any woman fertilized during sex.

This is the battle we are facing and to win it we need to pull its arguments entirely out of the shadows.  (We also need a new consistent and memorable name for the anti-abortion crowd.  Potentially “forced-birthers?”).  When Republicans argue against contraception they are really saying “Women do not have the right to prevent themselves from being impregnated”.  When they remove or reduce the rape exception they are saying “Women do not have the right to withhold consent from being impregnated”.  A woman who is raped can go to the doctor and get medication to handle any std’s picked up – but will not be able to prevent pregnancy – even if that was the rapists aim.  When conservatives oppose exceptions for the health of the mother they are saying “Women do not have the right to life saving medicine if they are pregnant”.

The right wing’s vicious new hard line on abortion is an assault on more than a woman’s right to choose to give birth or not.  It is an assault on a woman’s right to live and aiding an abetting rapists at inflicting trauma.  If we are going to win we need to tackle this extremism head on and aggressively.

Egypt’s Potential Liberty – Revolution

Egypt’s revolution is under way.  Reports of police officers removing their uniforms and joining the protesters fills me with hope.  My own country’s interest in Egypt and horrifying human rights record when it comes to respecting foreign powers fills me with dread.  The likelihood of their success depends upon a number of factors.  Outside influence is surely one – from the US, from Israel, from nearby Arab nations who fear their own security might be at risk if the flames of revolution spread (cough, Saudi Arabia, cough).  The reaction of the military is also key.  Will they start executing their own citizens, or will they bow to the will of the people and step aside?

Liberty for Egypt would further destabilize an already unstable region – but so would failure.  In their success the message of self-determination and hope they broadcast to the world could spur advancement for human rights.  Their struggle is not disconnected from the rest of the world – no matter how much their government attempts to cut them off.  It resonates and carries with it elements of frustration at rapidly increasing economic and political distance between the haves and the have nots.  That is a universal frustration.

The New Republican Rhetoric and Bachmann

Buzzfeed has a collection of the best (craziest) Michele Bachmann quotes.  So a friend – understandably – posts this on Facebook wondering how someone this stupid is in office.

Stupidity isn’t at play here, malicious intent is.  Michele is lying to push her agenda forward.  One might reasonably presume she is making effective use of the overton window – namely she is pushing an idea further to the extreme than her goal in an effort to move the discourse in her favor.

However this is not the case – I believe she is aiming for what she wants directly.

When I first started this blog I identified a style of discourse currently unique to conservatives in this country – the radical style.  Imagine a royal court.  In American politics most speakers either cast themselves in with the audience as a member, or try to cast themselves as the king speaking down to his subjects.  A radical stylist positions themselves outside the court in an effort to create a new base of authority around themselves.  When I wrote this post I wondered whether a radical style was effective.  Turns out it is, and Bachmann is proof.

Imagine three points along a political spectrum for an issue: health care.  A conservative might want health care entirely privatized but still subsidized by companies.  A progressive might want health care entirely provided by government.  Using the overton window as a progressive I’d argue we need to get rid of all private insurance and only have public insurance, hoping to at least have public insurance available as an option.  A conservative might argue we need to have insurance be bought entirely by individuals – with no obligation at all for corporations to subsidize plans for their employees.  Either approach would in theory push public opinion further towards the extreme, making our actual position as a progressive or conservative more likely (so the theory goes).  (For fun – filter Obama’s approach to health care reform through this lens).

Now let’s apply the radical style.  As a progressive I argue health care is a human right, and having tiers of service is a form of violence we should no longer stand for.  I push whole heartedly for full public health care for all and cast private plans as an attempt by the rich to bribe the medical community.  As a conservative I argue that health insurance itself is outdated and we need to get rid of it – people should simply pay for services rendered directly.  If they can’t afford it – tough.

When you place your interests and your position together there is far more power to your argument.  In other words – applying the radical style of speech to one’s arguments can be more effective than appearing even relatively more conciliatory with an overton approach – and is far more effective than arguing for the middle ground from the get go.  It is precisely like tug of war over a mud pit.  If one team starts in the pit, where do they think the battle will end?  As progressives we are barely able to muster public speakers who can stand far enough from the mud pit to take an overton approach to discourse.  But perhaps we need to aim even higher, and see if we can muster a few folks able to use the radical style.  The question is – would a progressive utilizing a radical style get anywhere near as far as a conservative?  When a radical like Bachmann takes the stage she gets coverage on mainstream networks like CNN.  Did the progressive response to the SOTU get any coverage at all?

Even so, this seems worth looking into.  The new Republican rhetoric is working against astronomical odds (they are successfully pushing the most obvious and odious lies with it), we ought at the least take a look and see if there are techniques worth utilizing.

Thoughts On Tunisia

There’s a lot to process.  In seeing fellow humans push back against tyranny and succeed – even if only for a moment – you are filled with rush of happiness and contentment.  Upon looking closer – other observations present themselves.

The LA Times has a pretty good run down of the run up to revolution.  In essence it is clear much of the pressure came from economic and social inequality.  The corporate elites who truly run this country have noticed (and are concerned).  It is also clear that it was the military that played the deciding role (though the unions helped immensely):

Gen. Rachid Ammar, the army chief of staff, has yet to explain his role in the uprising. But officials and diplomats close to the 45,000-strong force say that he probably feared a rift within the army if the soldiers were ordered to fire on demonstrators.

As the UGTT announced a general strike for Jan. 14 and activists began calling for a massive protest, it may have been the army that called on Ben Ali’s trusted Interior Ministry forces to stand down.

“If the police fired on the people, [Ammar] told them, the army will take up positions against the police,” said a Western source with extensive contacts in the military. He spoke on condition of anonymity.

Had the military been on the side of the government things might have turned out slightly different.

The media has gone into a frenzy over the use of twitter and facebook – as expected.  The internet loves to navel gaze, and media desperate for page views loves to capitalize on that.  It notable, just perhaps not in the causal way that’s being implied.

There is the possibility these protests will spread – but will they have the same impact?  The answer likely lies in the reactions of the military and police forces for the various countries experiencing newly inspired protesters.

Are there any lessons here for us?  Perhaps.  Perhaps the growing distrust of corporations – and resentment at the ability of the ultra rich to enjoy all the fruits of our labor with none of the risks or responsibilities – will lead to social unrest.  We are facing:

  • New norms of high unemployment
  • Employment at lower paying jobs with less necessities (calling “health care” a benefit is a cruel lie)
  • General “austerity” measures force needed government services (police, education, hospitals – all getting hit hard)
  • A society still drifting towards complete police state status
  • Massive amounts of propaganda from news outlets like FOX scape goating liberals and Muslims for everything from national security worries to job losses

This is a recipe for political and social instability on a grand scale.  Whether it might lead to a positive outcome is a depressing thought were it not so darkly amusing.  The lesson from Tunisia is that social and economic distress combined with repression can and will lead to action.  With all the misinformation out there it isn’t encouraging to think what the nature of that action might be, or who might be targeted.

First They Came for the Muslims

And then they stopped, because we said ENOUGH. You come for the Muslims you come for all of us and we will not stand silently by and just let you:

Rep. Peter King (R-NY), the new chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, has promised to launch a series of investigations of Muslim Americans beginning in February. “I’ve made it clear that I’ll focus the committee on counterterrorism and hold hearings on a wide range of issues, including radicalization of the American Muslim community and homegrown terrorism,” he told Newsday. King has repeatedly said that he only wants to single out “Islamic terrorism” in his hearings on domestic security, and has even claimed that there are “too many mosques in this country.”

This man should not be in public office, he belongs in a museum on pre-World War 2 fearmongering in the leadup to the holocaust.  I say that as a Jew who lost a section of his family to the nazis.  How do you think it started?  Launching investigations into the target community, attacking their patriotism, their honor.  Establishing them as a dangerous other.

This is of course utter bullshit, but what else do we expect coming from a Republican like King?

As of 2006, some 212 Muslim-American soldiers had been awarded Combat Action Ribbons for their service in Iraq and Afghanistan, and seven had been killed

Remember the attempted Times Square bombing?  I do.  Foiled by a Muslim.

Why does a man slinging bullshit at the entire Muslim community have any responsibilities regarding our security?  Instead of a phobic hate filled lunatic, a sane, intelligent and experienced person ought to be the chairperson of the Homeland Security Committee.  You know, someone who will go after actual terrorists and not spend his time huddled in a corner asking law enforcement to rough up some Muslims for him.  Is that really too much to ask?  While I’m at it – asking for sensible things – why isn’t a prominent politician on the air right now pointing out that Rep King is a nutjob, unqualified for his position, and utterly full of shit?