Obamacare Polls a Little Positive

We Heart ObamacareJonathan Bernstein has words of wisdom for us: Ignore Those Polls! Those being the recent CNN poll that show that over half of the people don’t like Obamacare: 43-54. Apparently, Republicans are claiming that the poll proves them right: the people hate Obamacare! But then liberals have pushed back. Of the 54% who don’t like Obamacare, 16 percentage points of them don’t like it because it is not liberal enough. These are people like me who still want Medicare for all but who will take Obamacare over the Republican alternative, which is nothing at all. That means the numbers look more like this: 59-38. Liberals win, hooray!

But Bernstein points out that most people don’t really know what they’re talking about. It isn’t until next year that Obamacare even begins its full implementation. So asking people about Obamacare now probably shows about as much as asking people who they will vote for in 2016. And he’s right. The truth of the matter is after Obamacare is fully implemented, people will start to have real opinions on it—opinions that are based upon their experiences and not the latest talking points they heard on the TV machine.

Still, I think Bernstein is wrong to pooh-pooh the poll all together. After all, a couple of years ago, Obamacare polled far worse. Two years ago, the numbers were 43-48. My guess is that the change is liberals moving from being against Obamacare to being for it. In the end, that 38% is just the Republican base. And they will be against it until they forget it was a Democratic program. We can look forward twenty years from now when Republicans carry signs that say, “Government Hands Off My Obamacare!”

So I wouldn’t go as far as Jonathan Bernstein. The Republicans are kidding themselves if they think that this poll is good news for them. One thing about us liberals: we’re so used to getting nothing that when we get a minor victory like Obamacare, we take it—even if we grumble about it. Democrats do have a reason to be encouraged by this poll. However, Bernstein is right: in the final analysis, it doesn’t matter. Obamacare will prove itself or it will not. But given it only has to complete with the Republican offer of nothing (not even the fee for the gaming license), it looks hopeful.

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring

Rachel CarsonThe writer of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” Julia Ward Howe was born on this day in 1819. She was an interesting woman. I recommend checking out the This American Life episode Lost in America. The third part of it is “Teacher Hit Me with a Ruler,” which is a history of “Battle Hymn” by Sarah Vowell. It’s a lot of fun. The whole episode is.

In 1837, Wild Bill Hickok was born. He didn’t live long. Also that year, the leader the of Russian democratic art movement and great painter Ivan Kramskoi was born. Author Dashiell Hammett was born in 1894. And Vincent Price was born in 1911.

Actor Christopher Lee (who is still working) is 91 today. One of the great villains of the last 20th century, Henry Kissinger is 90. Author John Barth in 83. Science fiction writer Harlan Ellison is 79. And the great Bruce Cockburn is 68. Here he is doing one of my favorite songs:

But the day belongs to biologist Rachel Carson who was born on this day in 1907. In 1962, she published Silent Spring about the dangers of pesticide use. But more important, it is the book that launched the modern environmental movement. Unfortunately, Carson did not live to see much of the effect of her work. She died two years later due to complications from breast cancer.

Happy birthday Rachel Carson!

Remembering On Memorial Day

Memorial DayHappy Memorial Day everyone! I’ve been looking for ways to ruin the holiday (it is the tradition of my people), but it is so hard to do it without offending people. For example, I hate the bumper sticker that reads, “If You Like Your Freedom Thank a Vet.” I agree with the basic sentiment: it really is necessary for a country to have an army to product the nation from marauding hordes. On the other hand, there has not been an existential threat to the United States in about 200 years. Certainly there has not been one in my lifetime. In general, the military is used by countries for immoral purposes, like accumulating resources and providing leaders with glory. Thus, it isn’t the military who we should despise but the country’s generally vile leaders. At the same time, I think it is a major mistake to pretend that we owe the military any greater acknowledgement than other public servants.

But this isn’t Veterans Day, it is Memorial Day. It is the day to honor those who died in our wars. Most of these people (one way or another) had no choice about serving. Regardless, they were all doing what our leaders said was the right thing to do. These people should be honored. My only wish is that we honored them by not thinking that every new war was a great idea. We should honor the dead by limited who we send to die in the future.

Here’s something to think about: did you get a paid holiday today? Did the company that you work for honor our fallen dead by taking a little less in profit by allowing you to get paid while not working? If you get a paid holiday, you are one of the lucky few. On Friday, Rebecca Ray, Milla Sanes, and John Schmitt of the Center for Economic and Policy Research released a new paper, No-Vacation Nation Revisited. In it, they show that of all the rich countries (16 European countries, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and the United States), we are the only country that doesn’t mandate any paid holidays or vacations. It is true that France only gives 1 paid holiday a year, but that’s kind of made up for with the six weeks of paid vacation they provide. The third worst country is Canada with one day short of four weeks. The second worst country is Japan with only two weeks paid vacation. But again, we are the worst. Or as we say in American, “We’re number one!”

No Vacation Nation

But that’s America, right? We honor veterans every day. See all the bumper stickers? But when it comes to actual veterans, not so much. They require us to spend our actual money on the VA and stuff like that. I guess we like the dead veterans more, because they don’t complain. Just the same, our war policies never change:

And when it comes to our people, we don’t provide them with time off—even out of respect for our war dead. If weekends hadn’t been a settled matter for many decades, I’m sure we would be hearing that giving workers two whole days off every week was destroying our business effectiveness. We—and by that I mean our leaders—don’t care about our veterans, our war dead, or even the workers of the nation. And that is something to remember on Memorial Day.

Bush 2.0

Obama NopeIn general, I like caveats. The world is not a simple place. But that can be taken to extremes, especially by supposedly liberal politicians. The best description I’ve ever heard of Obama is by Roger Hodge in The Mendacity of Hope, “Obama presents a dizzying series of hands—on the one and then the other, repeatedly, like some hyper-discursive blue-skinned Hindu deity—in which he discusses the Bill Clinton wing of the Democratic Party (the wing to which he belongs, but he doesn’t really come out and tell us that), which embraces the new economy of advancing pools, even though ‘a sizable chuck’ of the Democratic base resists the agenda.” In other words, Obama is a conservative Democrat but he respects the rest of us who aren’t.

After President Obama’s speech last week, I didn’t know what to make of it. As usual, it sounded very nice. He got all the stuff that I didn’t like out of the way at first so he could provide me with a soft landing. But I’ve been hearing pretty words from Obama for five years and I’ve been disappointed in his actions for four. On economics, I feel more qualified to cut through his bullshit, but I’m none too clear on the War on Terror, regardless of what the current administration wants to call it. So I have to depend upon more knowledgeable people like Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald to clarify what the truth actually is. So I was very eager to hear what Greenwald had to say, especially given his tardiness in weighing in. Finally, his morning he published, Obama’s Terrorism Speech: Seeing What You Want to See.

He started out saying what I’ve long known, although in this case specific to Obama’s speech on Thursday:

If one longed to hear that the end of the “war on terror” is imminent, there are several good passages that will be quite satisfactory. If one wanted to hear that the war will continue indefinitely, perhaps even in expanded form, one could easily have found that. And if one wanted to know that the president who has spent almost five years killing people in multiple countries around the world feels personal “anguish” and moral conflict as he does it, because these issues are so very complicated, this speech will be like a gourmet meal.

He then goes on to point out the fundamental purpose of the speech was to calm progressives. I’m a little more positive than Greenwald. I think it is progress that Obama cares enough to shore up his left flank. Most of his presidency was marked by a total disregard (Or worse!) for his base. Remember Rahm Emanuel calling us “fucking retarded”? That was Obama’s Chief of Staff telling us we were evil and stupid.

But that’s a small advance. There is a fundamental problem with all the plaudits Obama got for claiming the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) should be scaled back and eventually repealed. I don’t read this as, “Obama wants to repeal the AUMF.” I read it as, “Obama wants to tinker with the AUMF while he’s in office and then he’ll be for repeal after it isn’t his to use.” He also said, “Unless we discipline our thinking and our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states.” As far as I can tell, he’s the one with that power and he’s the one who chose to use it so intensely.

And let me be very clear: the attempt to mollify liberals with the speech was offensive. To begin with, it was fundamentally the usual (very successful) appeal that, unlike George W. Bush, we can trust Obama. He only kills innocents all over the world after thinking about all of the complexities. What’s more, he said, “For me, and those in my chain of command, those deaths will haunt us as long as we live.” That’s pure horseshit. Unlike Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, I do not believe that this or any other president loses a moment of sleep over all the killing they do. What’s more, as Norman Solomon writes in War Made Easy, presidents always claim to be very concerned about going to war; it is the last thing they ever want to do. The fact that they don’t end up killing themselves is either a miracle or an indication that they are lying. Which do you think it is?

Glenn Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill, and Michael Hastings all agree on one thing: Obama’s speech put nice sounding words on top of what is George W. Bush 2.0. And so do I.

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More Evidence No IRS Scandal

Steven T. MillerThis morning, the New York Times reported that at least some of those Tea Party groups the IRS targeted were anything but pure. It noted, “But a close examination of these groups and others reveals an array of election activities that tax experts and former IRS officials said would provide a legitimate basis for flagging them for closer review.” For the umpteenth time: the more we know the less there is to the IRS scandal. (The same goes for Benghazi. Of course, it is the opposite for AP associated scandals, but no one cares about that!)

What were these groups doing that might cause the IRS to target them? Just the usual stuff that you would expect Republican groups to do. Also for the umpteenth time: the Tea Party is just the base of the Republican Party. Here are three examples from the Times:

  • CVFC’s “biggest expenditure that year was several thousand dollars in radio ads backing a Republican candidate for Congress.”
  • The Wetumpka Tea Party trained people for GOTV efforts for the (as they put it) “defeat of President Barack Obama.”
  • The Ohio Liberty Coalition “sent out e-mails to members about Mitt Romney campaign events and organized members to distribute Mr. Romney’s presidential campaign literature.”

Again, I don’t see any problem with this stuff as long as it is understood as common partisan Republican campaign activity. The real problem with all of this is that the Tea Party groups really do think that they are something other than Republicans. Half the Republicans in the House of Representatives self-identify as “Tea Party” and yet the Tea Party thinks it is something removed from the Republican Party. It’s ridiculous.

But most of the coverage of the IRS scandal on the left is all about how this has nothing to do with Obama. I agree: this scandal has nothing to do with the president. Or at least it has nothing more to do with him than it had to do with former IRS head Steven T. Miller. Miller was fired from his post, even though he was not in charge when any of this took place. On the left, the reaction has been a great big yawn. The attitude seems to be, “Well, somebody needed to be fired!” If that’s the case—if accountability doesn’t matter—then why don’t we impeach Obama? I know that he had nothing to do with it, but somebody needed to be fired!

So start with an extremely minor scandal regarding IRS agents being politically incorrect in rightly targeting the tidal wave of 501(c)(4) applications from conservative groups. Add to that a right wing that is hysterical about even a hint of scandal. Finally, add a dash of the spineless left wing that cares more about protecting President Obama than any of the millions of other innocent Americans. And what do you have? The fall of a once great nation.

And the la-hand of the Freeeeee!
And the hoooome, of thhhhhe, braaaave!