Who’s “Anti-American” Now?

On July 15 while visiting Egypt, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had her motorcade pelted by tomatoes and shoes by a mob of angry protestors. You don’t have to be a charter member of the Hillary fan club to be bothered by this. They weren’t just attacking Clinton; they were attacking the U.S. itself, as evidenced by the nature of the signs they bore. And what starts out as footwear and a fruit often mistaken for a vegetable quite easily could develop into shoe bombs and bullets.

But what makes the incident particularly interesting is that — again, as evidenced by the signs — the mob was angered over a mistaken impression that the United States had interfered in Egypt’s elections. Egyptians, it appears, are just as capable of gullibility as Americans.  And they got that false impression from some of Clinton’s fellow Americans — specifically, from several character assassins who are obsessed with bringing down President Obama and anyone connected with him at all costs.

Most conspicuously, the rumor mill was cranked up by some of Clinton’s fellow government officials. Five members of Congress, all Republicans (surprise!) sent letters to intelligence and security officials, warning them of a vast Muslim conspiracy to infiltrate the U.S. government, singling out Clinton aide Huma Abedin, whom they alleged had “ties” to the radical group Muslim Brotherhood.  (Abedin subsequently has fielded death threats.)

Foremost among them was Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann, who has a long history of making batshit loony utterances — and then denying it ever happened when she gets called on it  (As Jon Stewart so hilariously points out, Bachmann’s own “ties” to the Muslim Brotherhood are much more direct than Abedin’s.)

This time, her remarks were so over-the-top that even several of her fellow Republicans chastised her. (If you thought today’s GOP was just one big loony bin, you weren’t entirely correct.)  As Ron Reagan, son of the supposedly quintessential “conservative” put it, “If crazy were people, Michele Bachmann would be China.” Speaker of the House John Boehner at least paid lip service to adulthood, noting that “I think accusations like this being thrown around are pretty dangerous.”  Nonetheless, he declined to consider removing her from the House Intelligence Committee, commenting that “I don’t know that that’s related at all. ” (What the hell’s she doing there in the first place? And if you don’t know a simple thing like that, what the hell are you doing there, John?)

Arizona Senator John McCain was more blunt, and more eloquent:

When anyone, not least a member of Congress, launches specious and degrading attacks against fellow Americans on the basis of nothing more than fear of who they are and ignorance of what they stand for, it defames the spirit of our nation, and we all grow poorer because of it.

Even one of her former advisers urged her to put a sock in it and apologize. Instead, she made another unfounded allegation of terrorist ties against Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim to be elected to Congress. In the eyes of many right-wing extremists, you see, all Muslims are potential terrorists.

But not to worry, Bachmann has plenty of fellow loonies who are willing to back her up. Glenn Beck  even gave her a radio forum to encourage her.  There are lots of people out there who equate (their own) ideology with patriotism and everything else with anti-Americanism. Unable to grasp the fundamental fact that there are other American values besides their own, they conclude that anyone who doesn’t conform to their ideology is hell-bent on bringing down the country.

Just recently I saw a sticker that said “I’m anti-Obama because he’s anti-America”. There may be plenty of good reasons for being anti-Obama, but they do not include regarding him as “anti-America” because his values are different from yours. Actually, most Obama haters really don’t have values that different from Obama’s; they’ve just been conned into believing they do. Many of them spend too much time listening to the likes of the ever-adorable Sarah Palin, who just recently stated:

So if Obama is reelected, well, America, you will no longer recognize the country that today you truly love and can enjoy all of its freedom and prosperity and security if Obama is reelected because this “ObamaCare” is a harbinger of things yet to come.

And the ever-quotable Bachmann has said:

I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out: Are they pro-America or anti-America?

Remember, this woman keeps getting elected, so it appears that someone out there is actually voting for her. She has a support base of people who denounce as anti-American anyone whose principles or policies they don’t like, yet they enthusiastically support someone who actually incites — through dishonest claims — riots against American officials. The irony is so thick you could use it for a hockey puck.

(Incidentally, Rachel Maddow offers a brilliant commentary on this incident, and in the process illustrates the typical difference between left-wing punditry and right-wing punditry — “we love our village idiots” vs. “these scumbags are destroying America”.)

Mass Shootings: Media Rush to Judgment?

After both the Aurora shootings and the Tuscon shootings, some in the media (and elsewhere) immediately wondered whether the gunman was fueled by Tea Party- style rhetoric. It turns out that in both instances he (probably) wasn’t. But this apparent rush to judgment has caused many Tea Party-flavored folks to cry foul. “The media are picking on us”, they insist, ‘without due cause”. Is this claim justified?

That bastion of impeccably fair and balanced journalism The New York Post went even farther, cherry-picking a few incidents to make it appear that shootings are generally carried out by left-wing nuts rather than right-wing nuts. (The Post also published the name and a large photo of the Tuscon shooter. Let’s hear it for The Post and responsible journalism!) And it quotes a single source, ABC, that speculated about Tea Party ties of the Aurora shooter, as proof that the media are unfair and unbalanced against right-wingers. “Media assumptions that violence is right-wing are routine — and routinely wrong”, the writer boldly declares.

There appears to be at least a small amount of truth to the first part of the statement. The second part couldn’t be more mistaken.

We’ve covered this topic before, but in case you slept through that lecture, here are the CliffsNotes. Right-wing extremists like Tea Partiers are very, very fond of their guns. They’re also very, very fond of vitriolic, eliminationist rhetoric that often includes blatant exhortations to violence. This has been accompanied by an unprecedented spike in violent threats against government officials (all of whom, coincidentally, have been Democrats). And it’s entirely possible that some unbalanced individuals who commit violent acts (including those in Tuscon and Aurora), whatever their political leanings if any, have been egged on by this constant bombardment of toxic talk and gun glorification.

But let’s set aside speculation about what might happen, and look at statistics about what has happened.

The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence has compiled an Insurrectionism Timeline covering violent actions, planned actions that were thwarted, threats and incitements of just the past four years. More than 150 of them, virtually all perpetrated by right-wing zealots.

A more extensive chronicle was published a few months ago at Daily Kos, going back 30 years. It notes that since 1980 the body count from left-wing attacks numbers 7, while the body count from right-wing attacks is over 200. This includes the Oklahoma City bombing, which claimed 168 lives; you’d think that, even though it occurred 17 years ago, that alone would be sufficient to warrant misgivings about right-wing violence. But right-wingers, and those in the media (but I repeat myself) often prefer to focus on the actions of The Weathermen (who were not terrorists) 40 years ago.

Note also that the Daily Kos tally includes only attacks motivated solely by ideology, excluding attacks on the basis of, for example, race or sexual orientation — which generally have strong (right-wing) ideological roots.

So then, is it unfair if some journalists display more suspicion of right-wing violence than left-wing violence? Well, let’s see… a huge surge in threats, mostly echoing Tea Party rhetoric and all aimed at Democrats… Tea Partiers toting their guns to rallies and otherwise snuggling up to them… apocalyptic exhortations from right-wing fanatics…  a score of more than 200 to 7… Dang, I can’t figure it out. You be the judge.

(NOTE: It’s common for people to label the Unabomber a leftist. He was anything but.)

(NOTE: Kudos to actor Jason Alexander for providing what may be the most cogent commentary on the Aurora shooting.)

After Aurora: the Good, the Bad and the Predictable

I’d like to propose that a new term be added to the vernacular: The NRA Minute. As you may know, a “New York Minute” is the proverbially brief interval of time between when a stop light turns green and the (allegedly rude and impatient) New York driver behind you honks his or her horn. By the same token, I offer the following definition:

NRA Minute (n) The interval of time between the news of a mass shooting and the gun culture’s response that we shouldn’t “blame the gun”.

Of course, nobody is literally “blaming the gun”; we all know that they don’t just fire themselves. But a lot of people do blame the ready availability of guns. And the gunsters are always eager for an opportunity to shoot down this notion, even on the heels of a massacre like the one in Aurora. (The media always refer to such a massacre, rather euphemistically, as a “tragedy”. Isn’t that a word better reserved for the accidental sinking of a ferry with passengers aboard? As my nephew astutely commented, the tragedy of an incident like Aurora is that nothing will change.) They always insist, while the smoke is still dissipating at the shooting site, that the answer is even more guns. This line of “thinking” is based on three incredibly naive assumptions.

Incredibly Naive Assumption # 1: There is an impermeable line of demarcation between Armed Good Guys and Armed Bad Guys.

The gunsters are quite willing to stake their lives (and yours) on the belief that it’s easy to distinguish one from the other; and that only the latter use their guns for malice, while the former always use them in defense.

Incredibly Naive Assumption # 2: Gun owners will be armed and ready when an attack occurs.

I keep hearing that even in places where concealed carry laws are in effect, many owners often don’t bother, because it’s just so awkward. Do you really want to tote your piece to the beach with you? Or the movie theater? Actually, many people no doubt will be doing the latter for a while, and with any luck none will shoot himself in the foot during a love scene. But it’s a good bet that once the sensation of Aurora fades, the great majority of them will stop babysitting their hardware during a flick.

Incredibly Naive Assumption # 3: The Good Guys will be able to outgun the Bad Guys effectively and efficiently.

The shooting in the movie theater happened quickly and amid a great deal of confusion. Many other shooting incidents happen much more quickly and with even more confusion, leaving little if any time to stop it. Furthermore, there is always the possibility that trying to shoot a gunman will result in shooting innocent people. Just imagine how much worse the scene in a crowded movie theater would have been if, in accordance with NRA objectives, everyone in the theater had been armed! Gunsters seem quite willing to assume that all gun owners (except the bad guys) will be perfectly responsible, perfectly in control, perfectly accurate in their marksmanship, even under the most panicky circumstances. Maybe they’ve spent too much time in movie theaters themselves, watching cops shoot guns out of the hands of criminals — which never, ever happens in real life.

Sure, it’s possible that in some cases an armed citizen can stop an armed criminal without doing more harm than good. Indeed (as no doubt your gun-totin’ friends and relatives have informed you many, many, many times) it happens rather often. But just how often is very much a matter of debate. The million-dollar (or million life) question is whether it happens often enough to justify the consequences of flooding the streets with guns.

If there’s a silver lining to what just happened in Colorado, it’s that at least one news network (MSNBC) made it a policy not to name the shooter except where necessary. And its reporters mentioned that a number of government officials — including President Obama — were following the same policy. I say it’s about time; I’ve been urging this kind of blacklist for years, as I can’t help suspecting that forcing anonymity upon the gunmen would reduce their numbers. And as a bonus, the NRA would bark a little less often.

Obamacare vs. Affordable Care

Make no mistake, Americans absolutely loathe “Obamacare”. Just look at the polls. By an average of nearly 50 percent, and by up to 56 percent in some polls, those surveyed oppose it and want to see it repealed. In virtually every poll, the numbers opposing exceed the numbers supporting. You really have to wonder how the prez ever marshaled enough backing to get the thing passed in the first place. Well… it could be because most Americans are in favor of his healthcare reform.

Huh? How could they be both for it and against it?

For one thing, we should note that, implicit in the Obama Haters’ trumpeting of these poll numbers is the assumption that the disapproval stems from a single cause: i.e., the perception that “Obamacare” is “too radical”.  This ignores other possible grounds for objecting — for example,  that a significant percentage oppose the bill for “not going far enough” or “not being liberal enough”, or some such. Quite the opposite of being “too radical”, if I’m accurately untangling the meanings of these terms from the contemporary semantic thicket.

We also need to note that word Obamacare, which as you hopefully are aware, is not the actual name of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It’s the derogatory label pushed by the sufferers of Obama Derangement Syndrome (frequently characterized by an inability to distinguish Hawaii from Kenya), a label designed by those who want to give the impression that one person has assumed control of the nation’s healthcare system, and who also circulate nutball rumors about “socialized medicine”, and “death panels“.

The latest, straight from the “Are You Fucking Serious?” department, is that the bill “suppresses religious freedom” by regarding contraception as a vital service. For this one we primarily can thank the Catholic Church, which evidently regards birth control as far more morally reprehensible than molesting children. Outraged over the administration’s efforts to give women special treatment, church officials have taken legal action to demand special treatment. “We didn’t start this fight”, they declare, as they draw a line and spit over it.

To hear them tell it, Washington is dispatching its jack-booted thugs to smash in their doors and (shudder) drag them kicking and screaming into the Twenty-First Century. They seem to be overlooking the fact that granting them an exemption from the contraceptive provision could itself be construed as an infringement on religious freedom by offering one religious sector preferential treatment. (We must also note however, that indeed certain religious institutions are exempt from the contraception mandate.) They also seem to be overlooking the fact that nobody is holding a gun to their heads and forcing them to be involved in the medical profession to begin with.

One certainly can debate whether the government should have a dog in this fight at all. Hell, while we’re at it, we can debate whether government should be involved in regulating traffic safety, or should just leave motorists, in Libertarian fashion, to “sort it out for themselves”. But at the moment, the government is taking a stand in a field that is a matter of life and death, and is (for the most part) holding providers of service to the same standards whether they’re administered by religious organizations or not. Religious discrimination? Gimme a break, already.

Yet that is exactly what we keep hearing repeatedly. Even the GOP contender for Obama’s job assailed the contraception requirement as a “direct attack on religious liberty”. Sigh. How quickly we forget when we have self-righteousness to exude. Not only did this politician, as governor of Massachusetts, sign a healthcare reform bill that was the prototype for “Obamacare”, he also signed a contraceptive bill very similar to the one he’s excoriating as an evil “attack on religious liberty”.

In any case, given that it’s virtually impossible to find a discussion of PPACA that does not call it Obamacare and/or does not regurgitate rightwingnutball soundbites, it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that the polls have been so negative. Funny thing, though. On those occasions when the pollsters and the (“liberal”) media temporarily forget about “death panels” and “socialized medicine” and “religious liberty” and just ask people about…um, what the bill actually does, they get a markedly different response.

The provision to prohibit denial due to preexisting conditions? That has an approval rating of at least 70 percent. Tax credits for small businesses? Ditto. Limiting insurance companies’ profit margins? About 56 percent. Research to confirm effectiveness of treatments? About 53 percent. (Oh, and those Catholics who supposedly are so up in arms about the contraception thing? Turns out the vast majority of them couldn’t care less.) It seems the more people actually know about “Obamacare”, the more they like it. Which just might have something to do with why the propagandists do everything in their power to make certain the public does not learn anything about it by burying it beneath an avalanche of nutball rumors.

They’ve said that it amounts to a “government takeover” of medicine. They’ve said that it will increase the deficit. They’ve said that it’s the largest tax hike in history. They’ve said that it will provide free benefits to illegal aliens. They’ve said that it will reduce Medicare benefits. They’ve said it will result in forced vaccinations. They’ve said it won’t take effect until 2014. They’ve said it hurts small businesses. They’ve said it will kill jobs. They’ve said it will result in healthcare rationing. They’ve said it won’t reduce the cost of health insurance. They’ve said it will mandate federal funds for abortion.

False, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false and false.

But my favorite has to be that the bill just has too dang many words in it.  It”s way too lengthy and abstruse for anyone to follow, they claim. Sure, it’s longer than the average bill, but hardly of unprecedented length. At 1018 pages, it’s hardly excessive given the amount of material covered, and it’s about 400 pages shorter, for example, than the 2007 Bush budget. Nor is its language particularly complicated. But Sarah Palin, who always comes through when you need a punchline, put it this way:

Obamacare was dealt in deception and confusion by flooding the public with an overwhelming amount of conflicting “rationale” via thousands of pages of unread legislative detail, which is the radical left’s M.O.

Gasp! Just imagine all of that “unread” detail. What will those socialists inflict on us next? Uncalculated arithmetic? She seems to be echoing the misconception that nobody in Washington read the bill before passing it; but judging by (all of) her comments on the matter, she’s never read a word of it herself.

The one aspect of the new law that Americans do seem to oppose pretty consistently is the mandatory insurance requirement. Hardly surprising, since they’ve been told repeatedly that it’s unconstitutional. Which is going to be a tougher sell now that the Supreme Court (despite being solidly stacked with ideologues) has ruled otherwise. Not to worry, though, there are plenty of other lies and myths to go around. You’ve probably heard that if you don’t purchase insurance, you will be heavily fined, and your assets will be seized, and you’ll be shipped off to a FEMA concentration camp. In fact, the bill specifically prohibits criminal penalties for noncompliance (page 336 — couldn’t you at least make it that far, Sarah?), and the tax penalties will affect only about ONE percent of the population, who will pay a MAXIMUM of ONE percent of their income.

Given the media trend to view “Obamacare” through the psychedelic lenses of malicious rumors spread by people with names like Sarah or Glenn, and given the tendency of the American public to assess such measures by how they fit the Procrustean bed of a prefabricated ideology (notably the die-cast conviction, facts be damned, that government intervention invariably “makes things worse”), the amount of support PPACA has managed to gain is nothing short of miraculous. Particularly since some of its features are just beginning to go into effect. (Despite this, I’ve already known people whose lives and/or nest eggs have been spared by “Obamacare”. But hey,  so what when you have an ideology to promote and a president to hate.)

You often hear left-wingers complain that right-wingers are adept at convincing people to “vote against their own interests”. This Jekyll and Hyde relationship between Obamacare and Affordable Care is an excellent illustration of just how valid that point might be.

(NOTE ADDED 7-11-12: Somehow I neglected to include one of the most notorious lies of all: that “Obamacare” calls for the addition of 16,500 new IRS agents to ensure its enforcement. According to some sources — notably Ron Paul — they’ll all be “armed”. Wow.)

(7-13-12: Oh yes, and there’s the one about it causing most doctors to quit.)