Monday, August 24, 2009

Injustice in the Name of Compassion

Scotland has temporarily given compassion a bad name, and in this author's humble opinion, done a disservice to the concepts of trial and justice, and perhaps as some have opined, rewarded terrorism.

In 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people, including 189 Americans. In January 2001, a Scottish court convicted one man, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, for his complicity in this atrocious act. Mr. al-Megrahi was feted to a fair trial, with all opportunities to avail himself of any defense in the evidence. He was justifiably sentenced to 27 years in prison for mass murder.

If anything, his sentence was too short. Yet, due to a diagnosis of terminal prostate cancer, the justice secretary of Scotland, Kenny MacAskill decided and announced last week that, for humanitarian and compassionate reasons, he was releasing al-Megrahi. This was misplaced compassion.

It was enough compassion for a monster the likes of al-Megrahi to have been fairly tried and permitted to live his life behind bars. He was not threatened with torture or execution, notwithstanding he might have deserved such punishment. Nor was he treated with the same dearth of compassion his home country of Libya is well known for.

So it was too much for MacAskill to grant al-Megrahi his freedom; his freedom to die on his own terms, in his own bed, among his own family. All these things al-Megrahi evilly worked to deny hundreds of innocent people of, and thousands of their surviving family members. And the reports that he was greeted in Tripoli with a hero's welcome only turns the stomach that much more, twists the screws into the minds of right thinking people, and stands the concepts of humanitarian and compassion on their heads.

So, Mr. al-Megrahi, may you soon touch the face of Satan, and may he chew your foetid soul with dull teeth for an eternity, liKe a cow chews their cud. And to Mr. MacAskill: may you lose your job and think better the next time you want to reward a convicted terrorist and mass murderer with overwhelming and undeserved compassion.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Phenomenon of Right Wing Patriotism

As a caveat beforehand, the following diatribe does not apply to all Republicans or conservatives. But the blather and lather of the recent weeks has gotten my dander up. For now in these hot days is the mad blood stirring.............

Can you remember those halcyon days of the Bush Administration, when anyone questioning the President was someone who was a traitor, unAmerican, or was giving "aid and comfort" to our national enemies? When Ari Fleischer said that Americans had to watch what they said and did? When people in powerful positions equated supporting the President and his policies with supporting troops in the field, as if they were one in the same, and that policy decisions could not be seriously discussed because it might damage the military's morale, and therefore lead to our inexorable defeat in a fight against a foe that was out to destroy the very fabric of the nation?

Have we come a long way, baby.

Back then people were using inflammatory language to describe our President. This much is true. Hey, it wasn't like he was actually elected or anything when the decision came to invade a sovereign nation posing no threat to us. But those of us even somewhat left of Barry Goldwater were routinely smeared as traitors, and it was a dark time for those of us who did not think the invasion of Iraq was so dandy. Family events were not a lot of fun, let me tell you.

But now we have a President who was elected by near landslide, carrying states no one thought in their wildest or worst dreams he would, who ran on a ticket of, among other things, health care reform, and he is now being compared to Hitler on a routine basis for trying to change the way health care is handled.

His life is threatened regularly, explicitly and implicitly. People show up to rallies over health care openly carrying weapons, as if there is some dovetail betwixt the divergent issues of gun rights and health care, and they act as if they are making some sort of valid point. There was a man with an AR-15 slung over his shoulder in a crowd, which is not very responsible handling of that weapon. We see a man sloppily carrying a handgun in a haphazard fashion, his holster flopping all over, holding a [seemingly professionally made] sign reading "It is time to water the tree of liberty." I am as big a proponent of the Second Amendment as there is, but these yahoos make the rest of us look really bad.

Water the tree of liberty? With what, sir? The blood of tyrants? Or patriots? It is not as if the President is proposing legislation to permit the FBI to rifle your personal belongings without a warrant, or to detain American citizens indefinitely without charges or trial. The last one did, though.

Right wingers have openly cursed [Old Testament style] their elected leaders over fictitious fears, such as these inane "death panels." A woman actually asked a gay Jew why he supports "Nazi policies," just like the mixed race President "expressly" does. It makes me wish there were actual Nazi policies being proposed so I could get mad at them. Something like raising the terrorist threat level three days before an election for none other than political purposes. But I digress.

So where is all that right wing patriotism, that jingoistic fervor to support the elected President? It is not as if there aren't nearly 200,000 American troops afield in combat zones. It is not as if there is not a wider war not being fought in the original battleground against Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan, as well as a war now being fought openly for the first time in Pakistan against those same fundamentalist Islamic groups.

So what gives?

Some might say it has to do with bailouts, or government control of this or that industry, or Federal spending. Hogwash. Nobody minded when the government was tapping phones without a warrant, [and not catching anybody engaging in international terrorist plots, I might add]. Nobody minded when the government decided to open a prison for the express purpose of circumventing the Constitution. Nobody seemed to mind the trillion dollar layout for the invasion of Iraq, nor that its full financial effect was kept off the balance sheet by funding it through supplemental spending bills outside of the astronomical defense budget [already 1/6-1/4 of the Federal budget]. Nobody minded when billions in cash went missing and unaccounted for. No one minded when cronies enriched cronies on the taxpayer's dime. No one on the right cried foul when the President sought to privatize Social Security, shunting trillions to private investment firms to handle, and none of them have wiped their brow and said we dodged that bullet. And no one screamed bloody murder when the Medicare Part-D plan came out and it was legislated that the Federal government, then wholly run by the GOP, would not use its massive leverage and negotiate lower prices for pharmaceuticals.

And no one thought that the Veterans Administration [Walter Reed aside], or Medicare, or Medicaid was run so bad before this. There are plenty of vets and pensioners who do alright, and will continue to do alright. They see their doctors of choice, get the care they want, and are happy about. But then they show up to town hall meetings and scream that government run health care is unAmerican socialism.

So what gives?

I am loathe to say it. Perhaps this has to do with less of the content of a man's character..........

But I won't finish the sentence. I want to believe that there is a good faith basis behind all this screaming and jumping up and down. I want to give my fellow American the benefit of the doubt, even though he didn't give it to me 6 years ago. I want to think we have become a better nation over the decades, notwithstanding how the electoral map is conveniently colored to reflect not this century, but the century before last.

But to be fair to me I want conservatives to take a minute, or ten, or an hour, and search their hearts. Find out what is at their core; what is driving them to these extremes. Why are they willing to believe the absolute worst. To examine the content of their own character, and their recent past, and what is at the center of their beliefs.

Because I cannot believe all this anger is about universal health care, public options, or potential tax increases.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

........As Teats on a Boar

That's what the Democratic Party often is as useful as. They are, at times like this, completely useless. Like a teenager on drugs in August. Sometimes I wonder why I [sometimes] vote for them. Then the Republicans do something stupid, like compare anything to Nazis. But this isn't about Republicans.

The Democrats took two national elections because people were sick of the Republicans, their illegal war in Iraq, their thumbing their nose at the rest of the world, their trampling on the Constitution. They were elected by a various coalition of minorities, educated young whites, gays, and blue collar folk who had realized they were getting the GOP shaft. So what do the Dems do? Nuttin', I tells ya.

Part of the reason why the Dems do nothing is that they are terrified of the Republicans. A minority party, completely cutting itself off from every constituency except rural gun owning Bible thumpers has more influence than the party with 60 votes in the Senate and a sizable majority in the House. Why? I think this has something to do with flashbacks of Jimmy Carter, the nicest guy who should never have been President.

But seriously, what is the deal? The deal is is that Americans, collectively, are stupid, and both parties know it. Sorry, my fellow Americans, you can be mad, but I will lay out the proofs. Exhibit 1: Death Panels. 'Nuff said. Exhibit 2: reelecting George W. Bush. After the guy literally stole his first election, why would anyone vote for him on the basis of their values? Exhibit 3: Americans believe that you can stop criminals from using guns with gun control. Self explanatory. Exhibit 4: after about 8 decades of locking up Americans, and ratcheting up police authority to search and seize, we are still four-square into the War on Drugs, notwithstanding the human and monetary cost. You would figure we would have learned by now that punitive measures are not any boon. Exhibit 5: the debate of gay rights and gay marriage. As if anyone should care. Exhibit 6: roomfuls of people on Medicare protesting government run health care. Really?

Much of the time, the Democrats have been useless to their constituencies. Take gay rights, for example. Bill Clinton attempted to roll back the odious and self defeating ban on gays in the military, and yet we still have "Don't Ask Don't Tell," which is just as bad. On top of that, he signed the probably unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act. Go figure.

More recently: few votes against the PATRIOT Act; few votes against the authorization to go to war in Iraq; little defense of the FISA Act; belated rage against the excesses at Guantanamo Bay; wholesale failure to stand up to the revision in the Medicare Bill which prevented the Federal Government from negotiating prices for pharmaceuticals; failure to properly vet Bush's nominees to the Supreme Court.

Barack Obama was elected, in part, by the same gay constituency. To date: lip service.

This is the same dynamic of Democratic Party weak-knees that lead John Kerry to get defeated on the issue of his heroic military service, rather than his opponent's actually avoidance of going to war by going AWOL. At least his loss gave us the phrase "Swift Boating."

And to the singular issue of the moment, health care reform, what does the party with overwhelming votes in both houses do? Start to cave at the first sign that there won't be any bipartisan support. Ooooh, the Public Option is dead on arrival because Chuck Grassley won't support it. Well, let me tell you one thing: Chuck Grassley is dead to me, and the Dems better start thinking that way, too.

And you Blue Dogs: what the hell were you elected for? To be a bunch of weenies at the first sign of a GOP putsch? Tell your constituents, red and blue, to stop being a bunch of stupid sheep, that there are no "Death Panels," and that if Norway and France and all these other countries we think of as weaker than us or beneath us can provide health care for all their citizens, then it is a mark of shame that we don't do it for our people. Then club them over the head with facts: single payer systems are a fraction of the cost of our "free market" system, mostly because of the overhead in administration and executive pay and the need to turn a profit.

And if they are so bent on the free market, well tell them that the Public Option is the free market in operation, with the government competing alongside industry. If the insurance industry can't compete - too bad, so sad, that's the breaks.

So, Democrats, stop being such a bunch of lilly livered, yellow bellied, cowardly, craven little fraidy cats and stand up to John Boehner, aka Tan Man, and Eric Cantor, and Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the hateful right wing set, and set it to a vote. With the goshdarn Public Option in the bill.

And if they aren't going to get it done, well, President Obama, get in there and bust some kneecaps Chicago style. If you aren't going to win, at least go down standing up with your boots on. Sound off like you got a pair.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Some Thoughts on Single Payer Health Care

Just a few thoughts on the advantages of a single payer system, which seems to be the intellectual version of kryptonite to many left of center thinkers these days. In the interests of full disclosure, I am in favor of a single payer, government run health care system and not afraid to say it.

To come out swinging, I would just like to immediately dismiss any thoughts that "the government" can't do anything. For perpetuating this myth I would like to thank Ronald Reagan, and state he has done his fellow Americans a terrible disservice with his quip that the most terrifying thing is to hear "I'm from the government and I'm here to help." What a champ.

Anyway, if the government can't do anything, I guess landing on the Moon's surface was a fluke. And defeating those nasty fascists in the 40's. And staving off national collapse during the Great Depression. By the way, the Second World War was an enormous socialist undertaking, with everyone pitching in, saving, being paid by and resources rationed through the government. Who paid for all those refrigerator factories to produce propeller heads? Government bonds, that's who. Maybe private enterprise could have done it quicker. Or maybe we'd be speaking a mishmash of Japanese and German.

Can anyone seriously argue with a straight face that capitalism was responsible for the Normandy D-Day landings or the manufacturing of the atom bomb? Please. In fact, some might argue that the Second World War was a fight between national socialism, aka fascism, international socialism, aka soviet style communism, and democratic socialism, aka the U.S.A., U.K. and Canada.

Anyway, consider these advantages to a single payer system that no one is speaking about: first, there would be no need to purchase certain types of mandated insurance, like we have these days. If you want to drive a car, you have to have no-fault insurance in case someone gets hurt in connection with the operation of that automobile. In a single payer system, no-fault insurance is wholly obviated, at least when it comes to providing medical care [I suppose it would not cover lost earnings as a result of an accident]. Inasmuch as there are tens of millions of cars on the road, all of which are supposed to have no-fault insurance, this would save Americans somewhere in the hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars. This is one way to offset any increased taxes needed to pay for a single payer system.

The same could be said for mandatory workmen's compensation insurance. In most locales companies with more than a certain number of non-owner employees are mandated to carry workmen's compensation to cover work related accidents. To the extent that a single payer system would cover the medical costs of workers injured on the job, again mandated workmen's compensation would be obviated. Though I do not know the hard numbers, I am guessing that would be a savings of many billions of dollars a year, and would especially help small businesses whose bottom lines are tighter.

The same would be true for big businesses, like General Motors, especially in the union retirement packages which cover retired employees until they are dead. In fact, it has been this kind of massive overhead which has destroyed much of the financial strength of GM, as well as the other Detroit Big Three.

In fact, all union health plans would be obviated.

And here's one for the right wing: inasmuch as any lawsuit for medical malpractice or personal injury would no longer have to include the costs of passed and future medical expenses, the single payer system is de facto tort reform. Bam! Suddenly, those liability insurance premiums for Ob-Gyns plummet, all because of a single payer system.

So there we have it: the single payer system would give us many advantages that are not being spoken out loud.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Lesson in History, Vocabulary and Orwellian Irony

"He who controls the past, controls the future." - Ministry of Truth, aka Minitrue, 1984, George Orwell
The clocks have been striking thirteen around the United States. Amid the unfortunate return of Harry & Louise, the pernicious hyperbole swirling around the hypercritical issue of health care reform has hit a pitch, crossed a line, sunk to a new low, and begun to be dangerous. This danger issues forth in form of arguments which are of a semantic nature, which twist important historical facts for instant gratification, and which reveal something about the so-called 'loyal opposition' that make it seem less and less loyal, if not to their elected president, then at least to American ideals.

First up is vocabulary. Lately there has been a concerted effort by right wing pundits, Jonah Goldberg and Rush Limbaugh in particular, to color the Nazi Party as a creature of liberal thought, and therefore to associate present liberal policies, in particular the Obama Administration's push for a comprehensive reform of the health insurance industry.

I suppose to those unfamiliar with the rise of Nazism in Germany might get a pass, supposing they failed to actually read up on the subject. The National Socialist German Workers' Party, NSDAP or "Nazi" for short, could be confused with socialism, which is a creature of left wing politics, due to the fact that "socialist" is a word contained in both political systems. However, if one but delved a tad deeper than just the names, one would realize that the word "national,"as in "nationalist," modifies the word "socialist."

"Nationalist" is defined by Webster's thusly: loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interest as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.

Therefore, inasmuch as the same crowd attempting to conflate Obama and Hitler also variously called Obama unpatriotic for failing to wear a flag pin or being a natural born American citizen, it would be a touch disingenuous to now say he is a nationalist, at least a hyper nationalist as is required by modern Nazis. Especially since he's half black. Check them out at:

Actually, it is a little more than revolting, considering the whole "White Power" thing. So, don't jump at the "s" word when trying to compare socialism and national socialism.

Now, let us move on to a lesson in history. In so doing, I shall cite to an actual Nazi, a contemporary of Adolph Hitler, and a higher up in the party before and during the Fascist takeover of Germany, Albert Speer, and his "Inside the Third Reich," Avon Books, 1970.

Nazi idealogy decried urban centers and promoted the uncultured rural peasantry for their simplicity. p. 43. Speer himself felt that his joining of the Nazi party was a frivolous move, and he inculpated his own failure to investigate and question the ideologies of the party, regretting it later in life. p. 48. This was notwithstanding the anti-semitism and anti-intellectualism of Hitler's rhetoric, which he rationalized would need to be moderated. p. 49. Hitler utilized the various Christian Churches to his own ends, maintained his own association with the Catholic Church, and demanded other party higher ups maintained theirs. p. 142. Among others, Jews, Socialists, Communists and Jehovah's Witnesses were persecuted. p. 68. Nearly all high up Nazi leaders were unschooled, without "cosmopolitan experience" and had rarely left the country, and anyone who had gone to Italy for a long weekend was instantly a foreign policy expert. p. 173. These are the descriptions of Nazis by a Nazi member inside Hitler's inner circle.

Not for nothing, but some of this sounds strangely familiar, like when someone without a passport posited that there were more "Pro-American" parts of the country............. but I'm not going out and calling anyone a Nazi. However, people in glass houses...............

Furthermore, there has been some talk these days about "brownshirts," which is an allusion to Hitler's SA [Sturmabteilung] or Stormtroopers. This was an early paramilitary wing of the Nazi party which was used as a parade instrument to impress people, but also as a gang of thugs, and relevantly for today's discussion, to shout support for Hitler and drown out any hecklers and dissent.

I will not compare present day American conservatives and Republicans to Nazis. It is unfair to them, and more importantly, it cheapens the global disaster wrought by the Nazi party. Nazism is a disgusting, evil, and horrible ideology, a gross distortion of ethics, and is rightly detested by everyone. But when Americans are organized by interested and monied parties to not debate at but disrupt in total town hall meetings, to shut them down, to shout down elected representatives and their fellow Americans, this is something that gives me pause.

When those same monied and interested parties stoke what is irrational and otherwise unfocused anger at their elected representatives to the point that it has been said that if they can't get their way via the First Amendment, they'll do it with the Second Amendment, this is getting scary. And when people on Medicare or get their healthcare from the Veteran's Administration, decry government run healthcare, suddenly realization dawns that these people are angry, consciously or not, about something other than healthcare.

Personally, I believe we are witnessing the ideological heirs of that white haired kook who took the microphone at a John McCain rally and said she couldn't trust Obama because he's an Arab. This is the same train of thought underlying that angry lady at the Rep. Mike Castle's town hall meeting screaming "I want my country back" because Obama "is not an American citizen."

The birther movement, headed by the illustrious Orly Taitz, gave birth to the deather movement, which is headed by the illustrious Sarah Palin. Former Gov. Palin recently said that "The American I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Downs Syndrome will have to stand up in front of Obama's death panel so his bureaucrats can decide based on subjective judgment of their level of productivity in society whether they are worthy of healthcare. Such a system is downright evil."

Of course such a thing would be evil, and more importantly, it is outright false, and actually is tantamount to slander. This is dreadful misinformation, and Mrs. Palin has done her supporters a disservice in that 1) she has told them false information, and 2) she has acted like they do not have their own mind and cannot check the facts for themselves.

But Palin and the other "deathers" out there, like Rep. Virginia Fox [NC] and Rep. Paul Broun [GA] have said the same crap. And that's what this whole euthanasia fear mongery amounts to: a pile of crap.

But what this is a symptom of is framing President Obama as "the other," an alien, a person trying to rob good Americans of their entitled largesse. Why? This is because the GOP and their paymasters, the insurance industry and big pharma, are unable to debate the merits of maintaining the present system where tens of millions are uninsured and corporate profits are massive, if not record.

So they form their own "mob" [their words], to shout down the President, the Democratic Congressmen and Senators, and squelch debate. And such matters have become increasingly violent in tenor, purposefully seeking to intimidate supporters and elected officials alike. This cynical twisting of the town hall meetings to fit such a narrow agenda, to pit American against American, is not only a terrible thing, it is dangerous. Because when irrational anger is stoked and stroked and built up and upon, at some point push is going to come to shove. And someone is going to get killed.

So it is ironic that past totalitarian regimes are being redefined to smear the present leadership, and people are buying it. And it is ironic that proposals to pay for end-of-life counseling like living wills and health care proxies is equated with euthanizing the disabled and elderly for the sake of brief political gain. And it is ironic that the ones accusing the President of being a Nazi are the ones acting like the SA. And it is ironic that we see charges of racism against those who actually succeeded despite real racism, namely President Obama and Justice Sotomayor, coming uniformly from privileged white accusers. It is ironic because this is the essence of what George Orwell termed "doublespeak," the verbal accompaniment to "doublethink," the concept that 2+2=5 when Big Brother says it need be so.

Some have argued that universal healthcare is something Orwellian. However, Healthcare is not a subject touched on in Orwell's writings. Rather, government lies, rewriting history, constant war, ignorance as strength, political cognitive dissonance and state sponsored torture are his subjects. To think that a single payer system, or Obama's multi-payer system with a government option, is similar to any of this has not read Orwell, and should do so as soon as possible for their own sake.

What we are seeing is that we are not a post racial nation. We are seeing that people do need to read more books and less bumper stickers. We are seeing that people need to understand what is in their own best interests and to fight for that, not a CEO's big bonus. We are seeing that people are resting on the laurels of the sacrifices of their fathers and grandfathers who fought in the Second World War, and do not understand that we need to continue to make America great over and over. We are seeing that we do not understand shared sacrifice one whit, unlike the so-called "Greatest Generation," who did it all with an American form of socialism.

In parting for this post, I would like to address something that was forwarded to me from a conservative friend. It was a website set up by the White House seeking emails and websites that contain misinformation regarding the healthcare debate. The friend sneered he would like to see me defend it, as it is something that passed totalitarian regimes had done - that is, asked citizens to inform on their fellows. Here it is:

And to tell you the truth, I was taken aback. This is scary, whether it is from the left, right, center, or from on high.

Then I thought about it. On the site it requests: "If you see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to"

One thing you are not protected from is having your email or website kept private. You send it, you own it. You put it up on the 'net, you are responsible for its content. And any argument this might chill free speech is vitiated by the fact that there is no protected right to misinform your fellow American.

And while this is still a bit scary, I will not entertain any baloney arguments that this is "Big Brother" from conservatives, friend or otherwise, who think that unfettered government surveillance, lying to Americans to illegally invade non-threatening nations, paying private contractors to torture people, and creating prisons in Cuba for the express purposes of circumventing the Constitution while never intending on going to trial are still okay.

Obviously, they haven't read the book.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Ling and Lee Freed

Greetings and salutations of the highest order. RayRay has been on a bit of hiatus lately, and for being remiss during such incredibly moving stories like the birthers, the deathers, and Gatesgate, I humbly apologize.

Back to some witch hunting:

Wonderful news from The Hermit Kingdom, the inaptly named Democractic People's Republic of Korea, aka North Korea, aka The Living Orwellian Nightmare: the two American journalists from Current TV who were captured at or near the Chinese/North Korean border, tried in a kangaroo court, and sentenced to twelve years of hard labor, were freed yesterday.

All it took apparently, was a little ego massaging of the little tyrant, the so called Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il, by former President, Bill Clinton.

Now, you can love ol' Willy Jeff or hate him, but as Americans we can all get behind this one situation and applaud when the innocent are freed. Of course, this little situation wasn't all win-win for the United States; the Dear Leader had to "pardon" Ling and Lee, and therefore the aforementioned ego massage. That is, he was permited to act [as in "pretend"] that there is a viable system of justice in his well armed but not well fed little fiefdom, and that Lee and Ling actually broke laws, and that they were actually convicted of anything remotely like the charges read.

Then maybe it wasn't such a bad thing to have former POTUS Clinton mouth an apology for the sake of rescuing these two earnest and erudite journalists from what are literally the bowels of hell on this green earth. Let there be no misunderstanding: the 12 years sentence to hard labor was tantamount to a death sentence. A long, slow, painful death sentence.

So Big Bill patted Little Kim on his fluffy head, had dinner, maybe rubbed his despotic tummy, and got out of Dodge, err, uh, Pyonyang. Proabably before they turned the electricity off for the night.

Ahh, and this is all reminiscent of another recent run in with a former member of that short lived death metal band, The Axis of Evil, Iran, who had arrested, tried, sentenced and then released journalist Roxana Saberi. You can read about that episode in my May 11, 2009 post.

So for now, here is to Ms. Lee and Ms. Ling; glad they are free; and next time - don't get too close to the closest thing to that nation-sized nightmare we call North Korea.