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10/22/2009
THE PHILISTINES AMONG US

I am in something of a “Lamenting Mood” lately, as I have examined health care reform from the standpoint that it could be better, global warming from the standpoint that it should be less political, and my recent series on intellectual conservatism from the standpoint that it should be, well, more intellectual.

Now comes a truly excellent lament from the pen of Chilton Williamson, first appearing in a 2006 issue of The American Conservative, available today on their website. He writes that we Americans are a bunch of “Philistines” as far as our intellectual life is concerned because we have lost our independence of thought and have given in to a kind of “ideological pragmatism” that is shallow and dishonest.

What makes this article both brilliant and prescient is that he describes to a “T” modern day public intellectuals and how being a slave to conformist thought may make one popular and wealthy, but hardly serves the great cause of “Truth:”

There never was a time in all of history when the reward for propagating one opinion was not greater than that bestowed for disseminating its opposite, when currying favor did not pay off better than ignoring or defying it, when catering to majority taste and sentiment failed to get you further than appealing to minority and private sensibilities, when prostrating yourself before the Great Lie was not, in the worldly sense, a far better bet than standing up for Truth—an act which, in previous times as now, could be positively fatal. That is how the world was, is, and ever shall be.

His diagnosis will be very recognizable to those who read this site, and others like it, where the writer makes an effort to eschew popular themes and attempt - however pitifully in my case - to be honest with oneself regarding their own beliefs and thoughts:

The new, bantam-grade eggheads have been effectively conditioned to reject both the message and the messenger whenever and wherever they fail to match exactly with every received expectation and preconception. For this reason, the pressures exerted upon serious men and women of intellect to conform to the demands made upon them are simply terrific.

Partisans in the so-called Culture War have been insisting for a quarter-century now that every intellectual choose his side, declare himself for Progress or Reaction, Enlightenment or Ignorance, Humanity or Inhumanity, Superstition or Religion, the Glorious Future or the Benighted Past, Freedom or Slavery. In this war, neutrality on the part of any member of the intellectual class has become intolerable. What is more, a general acceptance of the hoary motto of the Left—“Everything is political!”—has resulted in the translation of the cultural conflict into partisan political warfare, setting Democrat against Republican, Blue State against Red State, no matter that the margin of disagreement between them is often very slight, the opposing sides having more in common than not owing to shared fundamental principles underlying the modern project. Society is riven by apocalyptic civil war (so the argument runs), the Forces for Good being pitted once and for all against the Forces of Evil. And so, quaint old rules regulating public discourse in the high bourgeois era, and still quainter standards of thought, logic, knowledge, and truth developed from classical times, are not irrelevant only, they are positively subversive of the war effort.

I don’t think I’ve ever read more insightful thoughts on our political discourse - where objective “truth” is marginalized and, “subversive” to the effort to tear down, demonize, and grind to powder the other side.

Think Coulter. Or Limbaugh. Or Olbermann? Or any of the pop conservatives, or jelly bean liberals who spout exactly what their audience expects - exactly what they want to hear. No deviation is possible without a fall from grace. No independent thinking allowed lest it contaminate the masses they reach and threaten their very livelihood.

Could Obermann get away with saying anything nice at all about the right? Would Beck remain as popular if he began to point out areas of agreement with Obama? Occasional forays into this kind of apostasy would probably be tolerated, but not after stern warnings from the Keepers of the True Faith on the internet and out in Punditland.

So what are the consequences to those who refuse the inducements offered by adherence to dishonesty?

The modern intellectual is encouraged to abandon and dishonor his true metier by temptations of the negative as well as of the positive sort. Either way, they are formidable inducements. On the one hand, there is the nearly certain prospect that the determination to tell the truth as he sees it, always and everywhere, will lose him close and important friends, alienate powerful people, deprive him of influence, put a luxurious and even, perhaps, comfortable life beyond his means, and end by making him a pariah among his fellow men.

For this, think Peggy Noonan, David Brooks, David Frum, and a host of others who make an effort to write honestly about conservatism, about politics and culture - about the world as they see it, regardless of whether their thinking measures up to what everyone expects. While all of the above make a fairly good living, just think of the riches and influence that would be theirs if they were to go the Coulter, or Hannity route? As it is, these conservatives are “pariahs” among many of their fellows, and denied a place of influence at the table.

But suppose they were to abandon any claim to honesty and begin to pander?

On the other, there is the only somewhat less certain chance that a readiness to tell the truth as the world sees it —or wants it seen—will win him fortune, fame, praise, intimacy with the rich and powerful, and, very likely, a degree of power itself. Never have the rewards inherent in the intellectual life loomed so stupendously; never has the failure to acquire them appeared so disappointing and ignominious. Why, in a world that so frankly and shamelessly believes in nothing beyond success, should the man of intellect squander his life in defense of that something in which no one but ignoramuses and hypocrites professes to believe and that has only scorn, contempt, impotence, and relative poverty to offer as reward?

Is it right to accuse cotton candy conservatives like Hannity, or helium liberals like Olbermann of selling out? Damn straight. If they have not, then why do they never seem to deviate from the ideological “truth” espoused by those who are making them rich? Both those gentlemen have reached the apex of the ideological ziggurat and are balanced precariously at the top, knowing that deviation from the “norm” is akin to professional suicide.

This is also part of the phenomenon of having to constantly outdo oneself in outrageous statements and behavior almost on a daily basis in order to maintain one’s position at the top of the pyramid; more hate, more nastiness, more strawmen arguments, more hyperbole is necessary to keep the rabid, slavering “Philistines” who tune in to hear exactly what they want to hear from going elsewhere for their ideological reinforcement.

Finally, Williamson laments the lot of those who seek “Truth and Beauty” instead of wallowing in pseudo-intellectualism:

The pseudo-intellectual, the pandering entertainer passing himself off as an artist, like the rich man gets his reward on earth. We need not concern ourselves here with him. Far more dangerous than temptation to the man of genuine intellect is the threat of demoralization the modern world offers him. Though there is of course no way of knowing, it seems unlikely that even the staunchest and most loyal devotee of Truth and Beauty is utterly impervious to the danger, which implies a further temptation of its own: the fatal despair that produces a sense of intellectual, artistic, and moral failure, the suspicion that one has accomplished nothing, that one has thrown one’s life away and is thereby guilty of mortal sin. The temptation is as natural as it is tragical. It must be resisted, and there is one way, and only one, to do it. That is for the conscientious intellectual to make a serious examination, not of himself alone, but of the nature and meaning of the pursuit to which he has been called.

Been there, done that, although while I have made it plain that the “examined life” is a goal worth pursuing, the thought of exploring the “nature and meaning” of my writing has escaped me. I may be a navel gazer but I stop short of looking for the lint.

I see some of me in this essay, but let me hasten to reiterate that I do not see myself as an intellectual. Williamson solves that dilemma for me by referring to “intellectual workers” who toil in the field of ideas. That’s close enough to what my “calling” may be that I’ll accept that as an identifier.

As luck (or Karma) would have it, Conor Freidersdorf writes along a similar vein here. He bemoans the state of affairs in our commentariat where thoughtfulness is seen as newsworthy, as he comments on a NY Observer article describing a forum where Ross Douthat experienced, according to the reporter, an “uncomfortable moment” when asked a difficult question:

I mean, really? That’s your lead? A guy on a panel was “uncomfortable” for “a moment”? Call Drudge and cue the siren! What kind of weird place have we reached when it’s news that a guy, being peppered with the most difficult questions a roomful of smart people can muster, once during a session displays a moment of discomfort? I’ll tell you what kind. We’ve reached a place where a stunning number of folks you see commenting on television or other public venues care so little about the substance of what they’re saying that even when they and everyone else knows their words are utter idiocy, they still refrain from displaying actual discomfort, because to them it’s all a game, unconnected to any sense that words have consequences, or that integrity is partly a matter of challenging one’s own own ideas out of a lingering sense that commenting on public affairs confers some responsibility, and that it is shameful to frivolously and lightly proffer arguments that one isn’t able to defend.

Only a society that long ago reached that place has gossip sheets writing excited leads about a polished speaker feeling a moment of discomfort when challenged with a difficult question, one that is causing him intellectual ferment. Why look, honey, that man is grappling with his thoughts! Let’s all laugh at his quaint display of intellectual honesty! This is particularly noteworthy because, as The Observer makes clear, after that shocking moment of discomfort, Mr. Douthat gathered his thoughts and cogently addressed the subject at hand.

A society that values intellectual honesty, thoughtfulness, independence, and rigorous self examination would not reward the Coulter’s, the Olbermann’s, the Hannity’s, or the Kos’s by setting them up as the ideal of intellectual attainment to be feted as legitimate doyens of our politics and culture. But that is the world as we find it, and we must embrace it or, as Williamson suggests, offend the sensibilities of the Philistines and toil in the outer darkness, always on the fringe, a stranger in a strange land.

Glad I don’t have to make the choice. The world will not rise or fall by what I write here. I only have to please myself, trying to be true to my beliefs as much as my character and humanity will allow.

Sure would nice to be popular, though…

By: Rick Moran at 9:08 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (12)

10/21/2009
BUCHANAN AND HIS ‘WHITE MAN’S LAMENT’

Is Pat Buchanan a racist? Is Rush Limbaugh?

Am I? Are you?

I discovered after writing my Rush Limbaugh post that there is no set definition for identifying a racist - at least one not fraught with politics, and informed by partisan rancor. “It’s obvious” is not an argument either way. Nor is there much agreement on whether one can be a racist subconsciously. This “all white people are racists and don’t even know it” idea was very popular a couple of decades back. But I don’t think anyone save committed racialists think that way anymore.

But does that mean that there is not a nurtured outlook of white superiority in our society that makes some of us oblivious to our own bigotry?

In the end, it all comes down to perception, and whether one has a decidedly deterministic worldview. How one experiences race in America has an awful lot to do with how low or how high we set the bar that defines for us whether one is a race hater or not.

Attorney General Eric Holder remarked early in Obama’s term that America was “a nation of cowards” because we wouldn’t talk candidly about race. I think he is right we don’t talk candidly about race but he is wrong when he says the reason is cowardice. How can there be a discussion on race when there is no agreement on what actually constitutes racism? Oh, there are “speech codes” and “hate crime legislation” that deal with the most obvious, outward manifestations of racism that help define, in the broadest possible terms, racists.

In fact, I would argue that speech codes and hate crime definitions further muddy the waters with regard to defining racism. In my estimation, such remedies lower the bar on what defines a racist, mixing legitimate free speech issues with racial issues. If one defines racism according to racial sensitivity, simply stepping on someone’s toes verbally can be construed as “hate.” That defeats the purpose of the First Amendment, and I believe is the reason many conservatives reject the idea of speech codes altogether.

(Hate crime legislation is an entirely different matter and goes to “intent” - a tricky legal definition that I wish would be used judiciously but the potential for abuse, and inconsistent application is too great to justify its passage.)

So are all racially insensitive people racists? Does the use of stereotypes automatically make one a racist? If you reject the NAACP position on affirmative action, are you a racist?

Most mindless partisans eschew the questions and simply go for the jugular. But for those interested in exploring these questions, we have an excellent exhibit in the form of an Op-Ed by paleoconservative Pat Buchanan that, on the surface, appears to be something of a “white man’s lament” at the loss of “traditional” America:

In their lifetimes, they have seen their Christian faith purged from schools their taxes paid for, and mocked in movies and on TV. They have seen their factories shuttered in the thousands and their jobs outsourced in the millions to Mexico and China. They have seen trillions of tax dollars go for Great Society programs, but have seen no Great Society, only rising crime, illegitimacy, drug use and dropout rates.

They watch on cable TV as illegal aliens walk into their country, are rewarded with free educations and health care and take jobs at lower pay than American families can live on – then carry Mexican flags in American cities and demand U.S. citizenship.

They see Wall Street banks bailed out as they sweat their next paycheck, then read that bank profits are soaring, and the big bonuses for the brilliant bankers are back. Neither they nor their kids ever benefited from affirmative action, unlike Barack and Michelle Obama.

They see a government in Washington that cannot balance its books, win our wars or protect our borders. The government shovels out trillions to Fortune 500 corporations and banks to rescue the country from a crisis created by the government and Fortune 500 corporations and banks.

America was once their country. They sense they are losing it. And they are right.

Buchanan is not the first conservative to incorporate these concepts in their critique of the Obama administration. But Buchanan scores the trifecta of hyperbole by collating race, class, and fear of “The Other” in his lament.

And he proves himself once again to have the historical sense of a marmoset about America. What is America ever been about but change? I’ve said it many times, and it is born out by even a cursory understanding of the thrust of American history; this is a nation on the move, has been on the move, and will always be on the move as long as we are free.

We stand still for nothing, for nobody - no institution, no philosophy, no group, industry, or movement. To be static in America means that you are already on your way out. We reinvent ourselves at the drop of a hat, with impossible speed. What takes European democracies decades, we do in one or two election cycles. It is frightening. It is marvelous. It is the defining characteristic of this country and it is one of those things that makes us exceptional.

I know what Buchanan is trying to say - he’s not saying it well and he is mixing a witches brew of politics and racial identity in with his critique. What he refers to as “traditional America” is defined by his enemies as white America. But if we are to postulate that Buchanan’s “traditional Americans” are upset because we have an African American president and preferences for minorities, doesn’t that make “traditional Americans” themselves racist by definition?

Beware, a trap Mr. Serwer:

I’d love to just leave this post with snark, but I have to say one last thing. Black Americans have shed blood in every American war since the Revolution. This country, even the very Capitol building in which today’s legislators now demand to see the birth certificate of the first black president, was built on the sweat and sinew of slaves. Before we were people in the eyes of the law, before we had the right to vote, before we had a black president, we were here, helping make this country as it is today. We are as American as it gets. And frankly, the time of people who think otherwise is passing. If that’s the country Buchanan wants to hold onto, well, he’s right, he is losing it.

Did Mr. Serwer not just define “traditional” Americans?” I believe he did. Race, or gender, or sexual orientation has nothing to do with whether one is a “traditional American.” Some may believe that Buchanan is limiting himself to the white race, but his critique echoes in those communities where “traditional American” is broadly defined as anyone who respects and reveres the first principles upon this nation was founded; among them - self reliance, a respect for individual rights, and the investment of the nation’s sovereignty in the Constitution. One doesn’t need to be a conservative to believe in the traditional American values Buchanan believes are disappearing. And it is insulting, as Mr. Serwer points out, to limit the idea of traditional American to one race.

The question then becomes not whether Buchanan is a racist but whether he’s right. As usual, Buchanan overstates the case but hits upon something that critics ignore at their peril.

It is the pace of change that has people of many races, many backgrounds worried. If it were only tea partiers and loudmouths at town hall meetings, the sense of unease that runs the length and breadth of the land would not be so obvious - obvious enough to be reflected in poll numbers and soon, at the ballot box. It is difficult to argue that the pace of change doesn’t matter or that traditional Americans are not worried that the many changes being proposed by the president cannot be shoehorned into their vision of what America is supposed to be all about.

You can argue that African Americans as a group are less critical, or that the Hispanic community may not be as worried about the pace of change as white Americans. But to dismiss this phenomenon as a white only construct is naive. To do so identifies the critic as someone too enamored in viewing the nation’s problems through the prism of race and racism.

This plays to the idea that many whites are subconsciously racist - that when they lament the passing of an America with which they are familiar, what they are really saying is, “I don’t like that black man as president:”

I agree with the substance of Adam’s case against Pat Buchanan; the vision that Buchanan is putting forth of America is both racist and ahistorical, and is genuinely dismissive of the contributions of every non-white American (not to mention women, immigrants, and so forth). At the same time, I think that there’s more going on; Buchanan has always been more willing than most conservative pundits to make forthright, and in some sense honest, defenses of unpalatable elements of the right wing worldview. I recall at some point in the 1990s that Buchanan was asked why the United States was willing to sacrifice treasure for Bosnia and not Rwanda, and he gave the straightforward answer that Rwandans weren’t white enough.

In this case, I think that Buchanan is invoking a genuine sense of loss of entitlement on the part of a substantial portion of white America. This isn’t to defend or justify the white privilege that created this entitlement entailed, or to justify Pat Buchanan’s nostalgia for it. Nevertheless, I think that Buchanan is pointing to something that’s very real, or at least as real as any sociological fact. White America, as the construct exists in the mind of many Americans, is disappearing, even by some objective criteria; it’s retreating deeper into exurban communities, and it’s very, very slowly ceding political and financial power. Moreover, the idea of America is changing; Buchanan has a very definite vision of what America is, and is smart enough to understand that his vision is losing traction. In this context, it’s hardly surprising that the response is a combination of rage and raw panic. That the ideological structure that supports White America is racist and has a disturbing narrative of American history is academically relevant, but it’s also not the central point. Those who hold Buchanan’s vision (and many do, although often not in terms as explicit as Pat is willing to put forth) really do find themselves under siege, and pointing out that these beliefs are both crazy and immoral has very limited effect.

Spoken like a true determinist. Positing the notion that white Americans obsess about race, or their “entitlement” makes sense if you believe the rush to create a different kind of America doesn’t involve a radical movement away from what all races, all creeds who believe in “traditional America” see as fundamentally important to their identity. How do those black and Hispanic veterans who shed blood in our wars view the president’s foreign policy? Or do the black and Hispanic communities march in lockstep with the idea of national health insurance? Bail outs for big banks and corporations? A larger federal role in educating their children? A radical restructuring of our energy policy?

A determinist can ascribe all of this to white racism because looking at the country through the warped vision of racial conflict, everything becomes explainable as “loss” defined as privilege or status. People don’t think that way, have never thought that way, will not act in that fashion as evidenced by the fact that Communism is, for all intents and purposes, dead. This phenomenon resists a deterministic explanation. We must look to history for answers.

It has never been that white America, or traditionalists of any kind have been resistant to all change, everywhere, all the time. There have been pockets of resistance throughout our history to change (some larger than others, as was the case in southern resistance to integration). The social history of America is replete with examples of a “brake” being placed on change that turned out to be both necessary and good.

But unless you are willing to argue that “traditionalists” wish to see Jim Crow reestablished or women denied the right to vote, you must accept the fact that rapid change, while causing some dislocation, is nevertheless accepted by tradtionalists eventually. This does not mean that southern whites were correct in resisting integration, or men were spot on in their opposition to a woman’s right to vote. But in a nation that can alter its political landscape every four years, some anchors must be recognized if change that is proposed is to be folded into our national consciousness and become part of our national character.

Looking at the long view of history, I find it absolutely astonishing that in my youth, a black man couldn’t get a sandwich at a southern coffee shop and yet, I live in a time where an African American received more white votes for president than his party’s predecessor.

Is it the position of critics that this miracle was accomplished without the traditionalists? I beg to differ. I believe it was the traditionalist’s eventual acceptance of racial integration - begrudging though it might have been - that made the election of Barack Obama possible. And the fact that we have gone from Jim Crow to an African American president in less than one human lifetime only points more strongly to the idea of American exceptionalism and the idea that rapid change, when governed by applying first principles - in this case, equality for all - will eventually be accepted even by those who oppose the change in the first place.

Mr. Serwer rejects the findings of the Democracy Corps focus groups that race plays a small part in opposition to the president because it doesn’t feed his thesis that Buchanan (and Limbaugh) are explicitly lamenting a “loss” to white America as the result of the election of a black man.

I don’t doubt that there is an element of racism - clear, nauseating, and shocking - that is a significant part of Obama hate. But limiting one’s critique to a purely racial explanation belies the fact that traditionalists (sometimes incoherently) are more concerned about the president severing connections to the past than any non-acceptance that a black man can be president, or that the very fact that a black man sits in the White House gives them cause to lament their being marginalized in this “new” America.

I am not accusing Mr. Serwer of deliberately misinterpreting Buchanan’s critique. But rejecting out of hand empirical evidence that your own critique is off base smacks of partisanship, not rigorous analysis.

President Obama ran on a platform of change. He is giving his supporters exactly what they voted for. But from recent poll numbers, it is clear that even many of those who voted for Mr. Obama are feeling uneasy about what he is doing, that he is moving too quickly in some areas, without giving proper respect to the principles that America was founded upon or the “traditions” if you will that binds this nation as one. Whether they are white, black, brown, or purple matters not. And those who seek to muddy the waters by making opposition to the president’s idea of change a question of race hate are missing the boat.

By: Rick Moran at 10:38 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (44)

10/20/2009
THE RICK MORAN SHOW: HAVE A LITTLE PORK WITH THAT SAUSAGE

You won’t want to miss tonight’s Rick Moran Show, one of the most popular conservative talk shows on Blog Talk Radio.

Tonight, I welcome Dan Riehl and Fausta Wertz for a discussion of health care, an update on Honduras, and the issue of American Conservative Union chief David Keene’s “pay to play”controversy.

The show will air from 7:00 - 8:00 PM Central time. You can access the live stream here. A podcast will be available for streaming or download shortly after the end of the broadcast.

Click on the stream below and join in on what one wag called a “Wayne’s World for adults.”

The Chat Room will open around 15 minutes before the show opens,

Also, if you’d like to call in and put your two cents in, you can dial (718) 664-9764.

Listen to The Rick Moran Show on internet talk radio

By: Rick Moran at 4:38 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

STOP. THINK. GO BACK.

I support health care reform. Not most of what the Democrats have been pushing as “reform,” but I agree that the system needs serious overhauling.

We need to insure those who want insurance but can’t afford it. We need to insure those who can’t get insurance, who need insurance, but are denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition. We desperately need to put downward pressure on the cost curve for health care, not only for those with private insurance but for those who are in government programs.

And we need to reform Medicare and Medicaid or we will go bankrupt.

The question is, to my mind, how much “reform” should we be attempting at one time, and whether the process we are witnessing now will make things better or make them worse.

It is things like this that have convinced me that we are legislatively overreaching on reform and that it is an impossibility that this process will produce a bill that will make things better:

Democrats on the Finance Committee, citing a Committee precedent, argued that the Baucus bill was more understandable in conceptual language than in legislative language, and pointed out that the Baucus bill was never more than one of two bills informing the final product in the Senate – that new bill, which merges the Finance bill with the more liberal HELP Committee bill, is being written behind closed doors.

Baucus, lead HELP Democrat Chris Dodd and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are set to meet this evening with representatives from the White House to chart their progress.

In other words – the Finance Committee worked for months to create a bill, which was then set aside as Democratic leaders went about writing it all over again.

The fact that the Baucus bill has been shelved as Democrats go about the bill merger process did not keep some poor soul at the Committee office from having to take the Baucus bill’s conceptual language and turn it into legislative language.

The result, with larger font and margins and double spacing, swells the product from 262 pages to 1,502.

As the article points out, the Baucus bill is deader than a mackerel, although I have no doubt some compromises worked out with moderates will survive - at least until conference committee.

But seriously, what can you say about a process that produces such a behemoth? I do not hold out much hope that the final product produced in conference will be much shorter. In fact, I think there’s a great chance that it will be even longer, even more complicated.

The reason for the bill’s length is that so many compromises had to be made and tidbits added to accommodate individual member’s concerns on the committee. What do you think a final bill will look like that will have to accommodate the many factions in the Democratic caucus? Some of the issues will have to be finessed in order to cobble together a majority. The potential for confusion and even contradiction is self evident in this process which leads me to the thrust of my objection.

The Congress is abdicating its legislative responsibility by overreaching on health care reform. There is no possible way that any member will be able to know what exactly is in the final bill, nor can we expect any member to be able to intelligently examine the legislation in order to come to a rational decision on whether they should vote for it or not.

Essentially, the Congress is throwing up its hands and tossing the health care reform bill into the laps of bureaucrats. It is they who will have to take this monstrosity and write the regulations that will govern 1/6 of our economy - all the players, the companies, the boards, agencies, departments, programs, and people who will have to deal in the real world with what Congress has wrought.

Now, to give bureaucrats their due, I’m sure they will do the best job they can, according to their lights, in interpreting whatever mess the Congress throws at them. I have no doubt that most are public spirited folk, patriotic and hard working, and very good at what they do.

But that’s beside the point. We didn’t elect bureaucrats to make law, we elected our representatives to do that. And the process we are witnessing on health care reform is not lawmaking, it is horse trading. The concepts, and mandates, and radical changes being proposed in the insurance industry are absolutely unprecedented and nobody - repeat, nobody - knows how any of it will play out in real life. Nobody knows how these changes will affect individuals. Nobody knows if the bill, in its totality, will help bring down costs or send them skyward.

Given the intimate, vital nature of reforming a system that is responsible for the life and death of 300 million people, don’t we owe it to ourselves to be as careful, and as thoughtful as possible? I challenge anyone to prove that the process we are witnessing now is “careful and thoughtful.” It has become a process not to reform health care as much as it has morphed into a process to get something - anything - passed.

As an historical example, take Reagan’s massive tax bill. That bill also ran over a thousand pages. That bill also became an exercise in vote trolling as member after member put in their little goodies, payoffs to get their votes. “A Christmas tree” was the way it was described. Budget Director David Stockman remarked “the hogs were really feeding.” All that extra horse trading resulted in a massive increase in the budget deficit and a tripling of the federal debt when both Reagan and the Congress refused to make the budget cuts necessary to get spending under control.

But that was just money. Now we’re talking about the quality of ordinary citizen’s lives not to mention actual life and death decisions. This is why the best possible outcome of all this would be failure.

Scrap comprehensive reform and rework a bill that would address some Medicare cost issues as well as perhaps opening insurance exchanges at the state level where risk could be pooled and policies sold at reasonable prices to those who want and need insurance. This could be done by offering everyone the opportunity to purchase bare bones plans that would protect them from catastrophic illness, while also selling more comprehensive plans tailored to specific needs. Perhaps these plans could be subsidized so that their cost was reasonable. Also, the idea of using Medicaid to insure some of the uninsured should be seriously examined - as long as states weren’t left holding the bag on costs.

Since Obamacare sets such a low benchmark for success (CBO says the HELP plan would still see 17 million without insurance in 10 years), such a series of small, but significant reforms would address two vital aspects of the problem while getting the ball rolling on comprehensive Medicare reform.

The state exchanges would not be easy to set up, but much easier than the public option. Medicare reform will be politically tough but its got to be done anyway. Perhaps incremental reform is the answer there as well.

I just can’t see any bill emerging from this process being anything except a real world nightmare for our health care system. That’s why I think it time to…

Stop. Think. Go back. Won’t happen, but it should.

By: Rick Moran at 10:41 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (11)

10/19/2009
THE DEMONS ARE STIRRING AGAIN

How is it possible that in the greatest age of scientific discovery in human history, millions of people believe that something horrible is going to happen to the world on December 21,2012?

I suppose nothing should surprise me given the widespread belief in astrology, the New Age nonsense related to the mystical power of pyramids, and the continued idiotic acceptance of Nostradamus, Edgar Cayce, and other wackos as having knowledge of what is to come.

Otherwise normal, educated people will let drop in casual conversation the most inane stupidities regarding the occult, or the anti-rational rantings of long dead “prophets” whose vague, elliptical “predictions” are accepted as proof of their genius.

In fact, when it comes to believing in the paranormal or psuedoscientific theories, we Americans are spectacularly inept at being able to tell the difference between science, and psuedoscience, and are thus unable to distinguish between fact and fiction.

The last Gallup poll on the subject of belief in the paranormal in 2005 showed that beliefs in such things as ESP, ghosts, astrology, and clairvoyance, had changed little since a similar survey done in 2001.

Here’s are some results from the 2005 poll:

% Believe in

Extrasensory perception, or ESP - 41

That houses can be haunted - 37

Ghosts/that spirits of dead people can come back in certain places/situations - 32

Telepathy/communication between minds without using traditional senses - 31

Clairvoyance/the power of the mind to know the past and predict the future - 26

Astrology, or that the position of the stars and planets can affect people’s lives - 25

That people can communicate mentally with someone who has died - 21

Witches - 21

Reincarnation, that is, the rebirth of the soul in a new body after death - 20

Channeling/allowing a ’spirit-being’ to temporarily assume control of body - 9

Not all those surveyed believed in all 10 of this paranormal nonsense. But you may take no comfort from that.

A special analysis of the data shows that 73% of Americans believe in at least one of the 10 items listed above, while 27% believe in none of them. A Gallup survey in 2001 provided similar results — 76% professed belief in at least one of the 10 items.

The “cumulative percent” column shows that more than one-fifth of all Americans, 22%, believe in five or more items, 32% believe in at least four items, and more than half, 57%, believe in at least two paranormal items. Only 1% believe in all 10 items.

Further breaking down the data another study used the Gallop poll as a baseline to examine what college educated people believed about the paranormal. The results are pretty shocking:

Even though researchers Bryan Farha at Oklahoma City University and Gary Steward of University of Central Oklahoma admitted that they had expectations of finding contrary results, their poll of college students found that seniors and graduate students were more likely to believe in haunted houses, ghosts, telepathy, spirit channeling and other paranormal phenomena than were freshmen.

[...]

Farha’s and Steward’s survey was based on a nationwide Gallup Poll in 2001 that found younger Americans more likely to believe in the paranormal than older respondents. The results of the Farha/Steward poll discovered that gaining more education was not a guarantee of skepticism or disbelief toward the paranormal. While only 23% of the freshman quizzed professed a belief toward paranormal concepts, the figures rose to 31% for college seniors and 34% for graduate students.

Why is it important that belief in the paranormal be attacked, and efforts made to constantly debunk these beliefs? Here’s famous psychic paranormal debunker James Randi who has offered $1,000,000 to anyone who can prove that ESP is real:

According to J. Randi, “acceptance of nonsense as mere harmless aberrations can be dangerous to us. We live in an international society that is enlarging the boundaries of knowledge at an unprecedented rate, and we cannot keep up with much more than a small portion of what is made available to us. To mix our data input with childish notions of magic and fantasy is to cripple our perception of the world around us. We must reach for the truth, not for the ghosts of dead absurdities”

Experts refer to this as “information pollution” where outrageous ideas are interlaced with facts and what emerges is a wholly distorted view of reality.

This leads us directly to the latest manifestation of dangerous thinking with regard to the paranormal; the “End of the World” meme that is starting to really pick up steam and will only become more pronounced the closer we get to 2012.

I love the History Channel, but they seem to have made the decision to be one of the leading promoters of this nonsense, with a weekly series on Nostradamus and predictions about the end of the world from several cultures. For a network that features two of the best science programs on today - The Universe and How the Earth was Made - I find it preposterous that The Nostradamus Effect could be part of its general programming.

What is the show about?

The end is near. At least that’s what the doomsday predictions from Nostradamus, the Book of Revelation, the Mayan “long count” calendar and others would have us believe. Many unsettling forecasts of global destruction even pinpoint the year: 2012. How worried should we be? If these prophecies are accurate and inevitable, is there any way to avoid or at least postpone them from coming true? Michel de Nostradamus was a 16th-century French physician and astrologer whose very name is synonymous with apocalyptic visions of the near and distant future. His ominous writings appear to have accurately anticipated numerous natural disasters, plagues and wars. Nostradamus Effect examines these and other end-of-time predictions from cultures across the globe, from centuries ago, and connects the dots with current global events to separate the prophecies that appear to be inspired visions from those that are merely crackpot conspiracy theory.

By purporting to “separate prophecies” that are “inspired visions (could be true?) from “crackpot conspiracy theories,” the show does an enormous disservice to the truth. A skeptic would immediately identify all of this nonsense as the work of crackpots - as indeed it is. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that “inspired visions” throughout history have been anything but wishful thinking on the part of those who are unwilling to examine such claims with a critical eye. Anyone who believes Nostradamus was anything but a kook needs to look within to find the objectivity to realize that his elliptical and nebulous “quatrains” that supposedly predict the future are nothing more than gibberish.

The History Channel also has broadcast several “specials” on the Mayan Doomsday prophecy that are, if anything, more dishonest than The Nostradamus Effect. They cleverly mix little sprinkles of scientific “fact” about the Mayans and their extraordinary culture in with the false notion that the end of their calendar meant the end of the world, a ridiculous notion long ago debunked by experts in Mayan culture:

But scholars are bristling at attempts to link the ancient Maya with trends in contemporary spirituality. Maya civilization, known for advanced writing, mathematics and astronomy, flourished for centuries in Mesoamerica, especially between A.D. 300 and 900. Its Long Count calendar, which was discontinued under Spanish colonization, tracks more than 5,000 years, then resets at year zero.

“For the ancient Maya, it was a huge celebration to make it to the end of a whole cycle,” says Sandra Noble, executive director of the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies in Crystal River, Fla. To render Dec. 21, 2012, as a doomsday or moment of cosmic shifting, she says, is “a complete fabrication and a chance for a lot of people to cash in.”

“Cash in” - as the History Channel is doing with both fists.

It should be noted that in each of these broadcasts, the producer has included one or more skeptics to provide “balance.” The Skeptic Foundation’s Robert Shermer has been a frequent voice of reason on these shows, but their commentary is far outweighed by “evidence” that points to the destruction of our planet 3 years hence.

Harmless fun? Not hardly:

Specific harms caused by paranormal beliefs have been summarized as:

* a decline in scientific literacy and critical thinking;

* the inability of citizens to make well-informed decisions;

* monetary losses (psychic hotlines, for example, offer little value for the money spent);

* a diversion of resources that might have been spent on more productive and worthwhile activities (for example, solving society’s serious problems);

* the encouragement of a something-for-nothing mentality and that there are easy answers to serious problems, for example, that positive thinking can replace hard work; and

* false hopes and unrealistic expectations

(Beyerstein 1998: “The Sorry State of Scientific Literacy in the Industrialized Democracies.” The Learning Quarterly 2, No. 2:5-11. ).

Also looking to cash in are hucksters who know exactly how to appeal to the sizable segment of our population who finds believing in these end of the world scenarios to be almost like riding a roller coaster - it’s the fun of being scared that is addicting to some. They find the idea of the world suddenly ending both terrifying and exciting. Not knowing how to judge the efficacy of such claims, they veer between acceptance and rejection with their level of acceptance rising the more they watch or read about the subject.

And if it’s reading they want, there are books galore already, not to mention an endless number of websites devoted to the topic. This one takes itself too seriously:

As 2012 approaches we have a growing list of what “experts” feel might occur. Despite the sincerity and long-winded explanations, it’s all just guesswork. There is no scientific evidence that anything untoward will happen in 2012. All we have to suggest that 2012 will be any different to 2011 or 2013 is that the Mayan Long Count calendar ends on Dec 21, 2012. The Mayans themselves had almost nothing to say about what the end of the calendar held for humankind, and this suggests that they merely inherited the calendar from an earlier culture. In deciding which of the many possible calamities are more likely to wipe us out in 2012, the possibility of an ancient culture predicting such for 2012 must be taken into consideration.

The gentleman then goes on to posit 10 calamaties - including a “Religious Apocalypse,” rapture and all, and - one that I’ve never heard of - “Explosion from the black hole at the center of our galaxy.” He repeats speculation that such a “gravity wave” caused the 2005 tsunami and not the massive Pacific Ocean earthquake scientists know was responsible for the disaster.

The site is actually quite reasonable compared to others. But his benchmark that asks if “Ancients could predict” any one of his scenarios is an indicator that the fellow is a couple of shakes short of a good martini.

The ever present danger of cults arising out of this craziness should not be underestimated. Some experts believe that the madness will not be quite as bad as what occurred during the Y2K hysteria:

The buildup to 2012 echoes excitement and fear expressed on the eve of the new millennium, popularly known as Y2K, though on a smaller scale, says Lynn Garrett, senior religion editor at Publishers Weekly. She says publishers seem to be courting readers who believe humanity is creating its own ecological disasters and desperately needs ancient indigenous wisdom.

“The convergence I see here is the apocalyptic expectations, if you will, along with the fact that the environment is in the front of many people’s minds these days,” Garrett says. “Part of the appeal of these earth religions is that notion that we need to reconnect with the Earth in order to save ourselves.”

Scare stories about global warming - exaggerating for effect - as well as the usual environmental disaster predictions play very well to the non-skeptical among us who, if they read it in the newspaper, hear it on the news, or even just read it on the internet, it must be true.

I wrote about this attitude when a study came out showing only Turkey had a higher percentage of citizens who believed evolution was false:

What is it that the rest of the enlightened world knows and we don’t? Are all the technologically advanced peoples on this planet under some magic spell of the evil Darwinists? What are the real world consequences of this kind of scientific ignorance?

There is little doubt that science education in this country is a joke. While American 4th graders score very well on international standardized tests, finishing 3rd in the most recent TIMSS Report (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study), it’s all downhill from there. Our 8th graders finish in the middle of the pack while our seniors in high school are almost dead last.

We have a lack of good science programs in middle and senior high school as well as a dearth of good science teachers. But beyond that, it is the very process of learning that is at fault.

Too much rote learning, too much emphasis on being able to regurgitate facts, and not enough problem solving, or learning the basics of critical thinking. Exercising the mind in this way while developing good habits regarding the process of weighing facts and evidence has never been a strong part of the curriculum in public schools and is even weaker today.

I’m not sure if it is possible to reintegrate these concepts into learning. My understanding of current education theory is that the very idea of critical thinking is seen as perpetrating the white power structure by brainwashing children to think only one way and not put “context” into their thinking. That “context” includes placing witch doctors on the same scientific level with western medical doctors. They aren’t superstitious practioners of pseudo medicine (despite the salutary effects of some herbal applications whose effects they ascribe to the supernatural), but rather they should be viewed as objectively on par with real doctors.

And we wonder why so many believe in ghosts?

The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir. [Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark]

By: Rick Moran at 9:14 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (21)

10/17/2009
THE DIFFERENT REALITY INHABITED BY THE CONSERVATIVE BASE

It may indeed, be a “different reality” that the base inhabits than the rest of us. But it is a reality that will probably spell the salvation of the Republican party.

That’s what I’m getting from the results of this fascinating series of focus groups carried out by Democracy Corps, James Carville’s think tank-polling outfit.

I suppose I should once again point out (if I don’t include this, my righty critics would be disappointed) that not everything that comes from the left is a partisan lie. Only those who see the world through the prism of excessive ideology believe that. I will say that anything one reads from the right or left should be evaluated on its merits, accepting or rejecting information based on its relative truth and honesty. Any other approach to processing information is useless, or worse - deliberately self-deluding.

Now that I have the usual disclaimer out of the way, just what does Democracy Corps mean when they talk about a “different reality” inhabited by the conservative base?

The Republican base voters are not part of the continuum leading to the center of the electorate: they truly stand apart. For additional perspective, Democracy Corps conducted a parallel set of groups in suburban Cleveland. These groups, comprised of older, white, non-college independents and weak partisans, represent some of the most conservative swing voters in the electorate,[1] and they demonstrated a wholly different worldview from Republican base voters by dismissing the fear of “socialism” and evaluating Obama in very different terms. Most importantly, regardless of their personal feelings toward Obama or how they voted in 2008, they very much want to see him succeed because they believe the country desperately needs the change he promised in his campaign. Though we kept discussion points constant between the two sets of groups, on virtually every point of discussion around President Obama and the major issues facing our country, these two audiences simply saw the world in fundamentally different ways – underscoring the extreme disconnect of the conservative Republican base voters.

Just to show that I am not a complete moron, I think Carville et. al are overstating the enthusiasm that independents have for Obama’s agenda. But that doesn’t make their entire analysis untrue. Polls reflect a desire by a substantial majority that Obama “succeed.” They may be opposed to Obamacare, but still wish to see reform. They may oppose cap and trade, but wish to see a coherent energy policy.

The base doesn’t want to see anything done by Obama that would give him a success. Their worldview is so twisted by partisanship and ideology that the real disconnect occurs in viewing what the president is trying to do:

First and foremost, these conservative Republican voters believe Obama is deliberately and ruthlessly advancing a ‘secret agenda’ to bankrupt our country and dramatically expand government control over all aspects of our daily lives. They view this effort in sweeping terms, and cast a successful Obama presidency as the destruction of the United States as it was conceived by our founders and developed over the past 200 years.

This concern combines with a profound sense of collective identity. In our conversations, it was striking how these voters constantly characterized themselves as part of a group of individuals who share a set of beliefs, a unique knowledge, and a commitment of opposition to Obama that sets them apart from the majority of the country. They readily identify themselves as a minority in this country – a minority whose values are mocked and attacked by a liberal media and class of elites. They also believe they possess a level of knowledge and understanding when it comes to politics and current events, one gained from a rejection of the mainstream media and an embrace of conservative media and pundits such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, which sets them apart even more. Further, they believe this position leaves them with a responsibility to spread the word, to educate those who do not share their insights, and to take back the country that they love. Their faith in this country and its ideals leave them confident that their numbers will grow, and that they will ultimately defeat Barack Obama and the shadowy forces driving his hidden agenda.

Anyone who is familiar at all with commenters on the internet and especially, the words and thoughts expressed by Beck and Limbaugh knows that this is 100% true. The thing is, some of what they believe is correct; the mocking of their beliefs and values by elites and liberals is not imagined. Of course, part of the problem is that these beliefs and values are squeezed through a paranoid worldview which is so far beyond reality that it becomes easy to slight them.

But what do conservative, less ideological independents believe?

Looking at the current political debate, it was evident in our focus group discussions that the divide between conservative Republicans and even the most conservative-leaning independents remains very, very wide. Independents like those in our suburban Cleveland groups harbor doubts about Obama’s health care reform but are desperate to see some version of health care reform pass this year; the conservative Republicans view any health care reform as a victory for Obama and are militantly opposed. Asked about the issues of greatest importance to them in choosing a candidate for Congress, health care ranked sixth among the Republicans, below issues such as tax cuts, immigration, and a candidate’s personal values and faith; but for the independents, health care was number one.

The language they use further reflects this divide. Conservative Republicans fully embrace the ‘socialism’ attacks on Obama and believe it is the best, most accurate way to describe him and his agenda. Independents largely dismiss these attacks as partisan rhetoric detracting from a legitimate debate about what many of them do see as excessive government control and spending.

There simply is no way to connect the conservative base with those who see the world in much less partisan, and real terms. Readers of this site know that I have tried to point this out - usually in none-too-gentle terms. But the base dismisses my criticism out of hand. They believe their poisonous worldview will not harm the GOP at the polls and that anyone who doesn’t think in such paranoid terms is not a conservative anyway.

One surprise for my lefty friends; race has little or nothing to do with the hard right’s opposition to Obama:

In the wake of Rep. Joe Wilson’s outburst during the president’s joint session health care address and other strident personal and political attacks against President Obama, many in the media and Democratic circles advanced an explanation that this virulent opposition is rooted in racism and reactions to President Obama as an African American president. With this possibility in mind, we allowed for extended open-ended discussion on Obama (including visuals of him speaking) among voters – older, non-college, white, and conservative – who were most race conscious and score highest on scales measuring racial prejudice. Race was barely raised, certainly not what was bothering them about President Obama.

In fact, some of these voters talked about feeling some pride at his election.

They were conscious of the charge that opposition to Obama is racially motivated and that bothered conservative Republicans and independents alike. They basically could not let it go and returned to this issue again and again throughout our conversations across myriad topics

What then, to make of this disconnect between hard core Obama-hating conservatives and less ideological independent conservatives?

It is heartening that the independent righties are open to valid, substantive critiques of Obama’s agenda. They would almost certainly be open to a candidate who eschewed far right rhetoric about Obama’s agenda and concentrated on promoting positive ideas to address their concerns. As we’ve seen in recent polls, indies are abandoning Obama in large numbers - at least for now. They are upset with his radical spending, and the specifics of health care reform as well as other issues being advanced by the White House.

Of course, the right may give these independents nowhere to go in 2010 and 2012 unless the GOP can show that they are capable of governing rather than simply obstructing. I think independents are sophisticated enough to understand why the GOP cannot go along with Obamacare in its proposed form. But Republicans must present alternatives that are realistic and achievable if they hope to make the kinds of gains necessary to challenge for leadership.

Peggy Noonan has a brilliant column in today’s Wall Street Journal that speaks to the reality the rest of the country lives in:

In the days of the New Deal, in the 1930s, government growth was virgin territory. It was like pushing west through a continent that seemed new and empty. There was plenty of room to move. The federal government was still small and relatively lean, the income tax was still new. America pushed on, creating what it created: federal programs, departments and initiatives, Social Security. In the mid-1960s, with the Great Society, more or less the same thing. Government hadn’t claimed new territory in a generation, and it pushed on—creating Medicare, Medicaid, new domestic programs of all kinds, the expansion of welfare and the safety net.

Now the national terrain is thick with federal programs, and with state, county, city and town entities and programs, from coast to coast. It’s not virgin territory anymore, it’s crowded. We are a nation fully settled by government. We are well into the age of the welfare state, the age of government. We know its weight, heft and demands, know its costs both in terms of money and autonomy, even as we know it has made many of our lives more secure, and helped many to feel encouragement.

But we know the price now. This is the historical context. The White House often seems disappointed that the big center, the voters in the middle of the spectrum, aren’t all that excited about following them on their bold new journey. But it’s a world America has been to. It isn’t new to us. And we don’t have too many illusions about it.

I don’t make this clear enough in my critiques of the base; I sympathize with their desire to vastly shrink the size of government. I think, as they do, that there should be a greater emphasis on federalism, that conservative leadership is needed to get the federal budget under control and that some kind of cost-benefit analysis of federal programs should be undertaken in earnest.

But I don’t think their vision of what government should be is realistic or even desirable. Noonan has articulated a reality that is simply denied by many on the right. A “terrain” that is “thick with federal programs” and includes state and local governmental entities cannot be dismantled without huge dislocations, pain, and catastrophic results.

If one returns to the “original intent” of the Constitution - a document written when the US was a coastal nation of 7 million people - in order to create a “small” government, the result would be devastation. It is better that “original principles” be applied to our current structure in order to rationally address the idea of “smaller” government. Adherence to such principles would logically lead to more federalism, less intrusive government, and a salutary effect on values like self-reliance and membership in a truly “voluntary community.”

I am aware of what Hayek believed that any accommodation with the state was simply delaying the inevitable as far as citizens becoming “serfs.” And I am cognizant of the political argument that sees embracing the welfare state created by the New Deal and the Great Society as merely aping the Democrats and not offering the voter a choice at all.

There may be something to both of those criticisms. But there has to be something better than the skewed reality that most of the base inhabits - many of whom having no trouble with taking a great leap backward and supporting some kind of idealized Jeffersonian government with yeoman farmers and heroic entrepreneurs thriving in a near “state of nature” government. This is what happens when you see government as the enemy. Beyond national defense and a few favored programs, there wouldn’t be any government to speak of at all.

The obvious spin put on some of the conclusions from the Democracy Corps focus groups doesn’t affect their obvious conclusion; there is a great divide in how many in the conservative base see the world and how the rest of us view it. It may mean that it will drag the GOP back toward espousing conservative principles. That might mean the salvation of the party.

But it if also means espousing the paranoid fantasies and bitter partisanship advanced by the hard right, it will spell eventual disaster for the party and make conservatism itself irrelevant in the national conversation.

By: Rick Moran at 8:56 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (60)

10/16/2009
‘WHY DON’T YOU PASS THE TIME BY WRITING ABOUT GLOBAL WARMING?’

TCM just had The Manchurian Candidate on the other night. No, not the Bush bashing, anti-capitalist version. The real one that was made in 1962 and featured really good actors like Laurence Harvey, the lovely Janet Leigh, Frank Sinatra, Angela Landsbury and a particularly good performance by character actor John McGiver as Senator Jordan.

No sense in holding back anything. If you haven’t seen it, shame on you. It is truly one of the finest cold war movies made and one of the best political thrillers of all time. The plot revolves around Korean War vet Raymond Shaw who won a Medal of Honor for saving his company during the war. It turns out, however, that all is not as it appears to be. Shaw and his company were actually captured by the Commies and, through a combination of drugs and psycho-therapy, turned Raymond (played in brilliant understated fashion by Harvey) into the “perfect assassin” - defined as a “mechanism” programmed to kill and not remember anything before or afterwards.

Twists abound as Raymond’s mother (Landsbury was nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal) and step father (James Gregory) - portraying virulent, McCarthy-like anti-Communists - turn out to be Soviet agents who want to use Raymond to kill the party nominee at the convention and sweep the step father into power. Raymond’’s love-hate relationship with his mother includes incest (only hinted at in the film). The “trigger” that hypnotizes Raymond and gets him into his assassin mode is the phrase, “Why not pass the time by playing a little Solitaire?” When a red queen comes up, he gets his orders and goes out to kill.

The scene where we first learn of Raymond’s mother’s true nature as a Communist agent is perhaps one of the greatest screen surprises in history. As she turns to her son and utters the trigger phrase, the entire plot is revealed. Up until that time, the audience was led to believe that she was a strong anti-Communist crusader. There was no inkling whatsoever that she was anything except what she appeared to be. Absolutely unforgettable.

It may have been Ike himself who said that the Communists couldn’t have done any better at destroying the country than creating Joe McCarthy and letting him loose upon America.

The reason for this rather lengthy digression is that if you haven’t heard, today is “Blog Action Day” on global warming. It is a day when lots and lots of bloggers who don’t know any better - and even admit that fact - are posting about the dangers of “Climate Change” or whatever the global warming religionists are calling their quest to radically alter the world’s economy these days.

These kinds of mass activities trigger those who have been brainwashed - either in school or through popular media - into believing that not only is climate change a huge problem that we must solve NOW, but that even questioning some of the conclusions drawn by some scientists is akin to heresy.

I doubt whether there will be a lot of bloggers who actually question the scientific basis for climate change. In truth, I am not necessarily doing that myself. What I question are the motivations of those who are relentlessly pushing the global warming agenda, and their solutions which may or may not bring down CO2 levels, but will almost certainly enrich many advocates and see power - real power to control our lives - devolve into the hands of international bureaucrats.

So, like poor Raymond Shaw, these bloggers are unconsciously doing the bidding of people who do not have their interests at heart. And if we allow them success in their efforts, it would be catastrophic to the idea of the free market and free people.

Readers of this site know that I have taken an agnostic approach to global warming, granting that it may, in fact be happening but that the idea that the science has been so overwhelmingly proven that no counter argument is possible is a crock of baseless nonsense.

I think that reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses is probably not a bad idea at all but the draconian levels to which the UN and the Obama administration wish to reduce them and the speed that reduction will be mandated would destroy western economies. If things are as bad as the global warming supporters are saying, it is probably too late to do anything anyway - unless we simply called a halt to all economic activity that contributes to excess carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere.

Since the strongest advocates of this policy would benefit financially (or aggrandize enormous power unto themselves), I can’t help but be concerned that the driving force behind Climate Change treaties and laws is not related to saving the planet but rather the economic and personal benefits that would accrue to the advocates, as well as protecting the reputations of scientists who have invested enormous personal capital into global warming living up to expectations.

Climate models have largely been debunked by meteorologists who point out that there are just too many variables to feed into the computer -even supercomputers - to come up with anything approaching accuracy.

Models predicting CO2 levels in the atmosphere are a little different. Those have also proved to be wildly inaccurate, but that is probably a result of our not modeling correctly due to our own ignorance. The more failures in prediction in this case, the more we learn. As Edison said about the lightbulb, he didn’t have a thousand failures, he discovered a thousand ways how not to make a lighbulb. I am much more hopeful that they can get CO2 models much better at predicting future levels than I am of scientists modeling the weather 100 years from now.

That said, the global warming literature that I’ve read (and been able to understand) is very dependent on predicting how that excess carbon dioxide will act once its in the upper atmosphere. Far from being settled, this is an open question with still much debate in the scientific community.

Do we look at the example of the planet Venus? What we’ve discovered there is quite chilling. It seems that a sort of feedback loop can get started and once CO2 levels reach a certain point, the atmospheric processes that block sunlight and trap heat reinforces itself and it become irreversible. No one knows when that point will be reached on planet Earth. Some believe we are very close now. Others think we have a few centuries as long as we begin now to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The facts are clear; there is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now than there was a hundred years ago - quite a bit more. A likely villain is us. But the proof that it is anthropomorphic is not iron clad - not by a long shot. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start reducing our CO2 output. But it does mean that attacking capitalist economies in order to get them to reduce CO2 emissions to 1992 levels is absurd.

What I want is science and sanity in public policy - not quasi-religious pronouncements about the “end” of debate or the belief that every hot day signals the end of mankind.

And I would remind my skeptical friends that 11 years of cooling temperatures, or a thickening of Arctic ice does not “debunk” the entire theory. That’s as nonsensical as anything uttered by Al Gore, who would point to a warm spell during the 1990’s as proof that global warming is “real.”

Climate change is upon us. It has been changing for the last 20,000 years and will continue to change forever. That is the nature of our earth and denying it is silly. Over the last 20,000 years - the end of the last ice age - temps have warmed relatively quickly over a century or even a few decades. And then we have had periods for a thousand years or more where the earth cools. Such an interstitial may have killed off Neanderthals in Europe and led to the rise of modern humans.

The point is simple; we don’t know enough to be proposing what the UN is going to talk seriously about in Copenhagen in December. That is, an extraordinary intervention in the private economies of nation states in the name of “climate change:”

A United Nations document on “climate change” that will be distributed to a major environmental conclave next week envisions a huge reordering of the world economy, likely involving trillions of dollars in wealth transfer, millions of job losses and gains, new taxes, industrial relocations, new tariffs and subsidies, and complicated payments for greenhouse gas abatement schemes and carbon taxes — all under the supervision of the world body.

Those and other results are blandly discussed in a discretely worded United Nations “information note” on potential consequences of the measures that industrialized countries will likely have to take to implement the Copenhagen Accord, the successor to the Kyoto Treaty, after it is negotiated and signed by December 2009. The Obama administration has said it supports the treaty process if, in the words of a U.S. State Department spokesman, it can come up with an “effective framework” for dealing with global warming.

Would a treaty that contained provisions that challenged American sovereignty like that get through the Senate? Who knows. I wouldn’t put anything past President Obama or that crew in the Senate when it came to defending American interests in the international arena relating to either climate change or nuclear weapons. One would hope that reason would rule the day and we won’t have to worry about it.

By: Rick Moran at 11:12 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (14)

10/15/2009
THE NFL IS WORRIED ABOUT A ‘RACIST’ OWNER?’

No, Limbaugh is no racist. He’s a blowhard. He’s a conservative poseur. He’s a racial provocateur. He’s a rabble rousing polemicist.

But Rush, God love him, would find no advantage to being a racist and hence, doesn’t even try to play one on the radio. In fact, it is amusing that as always, Limbaugh knows exactly what buttons to push that sends his enemies into orbit.

Now, it is apparent his foes have gone a smear too far and actually invented some “Rushisms” out of whole cloth - with predictable results, as Limbaugh has been able to use the lies about him to both instruct his listeners in media bias (you’d think after 20 years his audience would get it), as well as generate sympathy from people like me who can’t stand him but hate the rank dishonesty and evocation of nauseating racial politics of some on the left even more.

But the real kicker in this brouhaha over Limbaugh’s purported effort to become an NFL owner is the uproariously funny spectacle of NFL owners and players solemnly opining on Limbaugh’s supposed divisive words and bad behavior.

When did the NFL become the gold standard of tolerance and diversity? And since when did the NFL Players Association and its nearly 200 members who have been charged with felonies in the last decade become the arbiter of moral wholesomeness?

The National Football League was the last major professional sports organization to hire a black coach. Art Shell was hired in 1988 to coach the Oakland Raiders. It took them 4 years to hire a second - Dennis Green of the Vikings. All told, there have been 10 African American coaches in the entire history of the league. That compares to 49 black coaches in NBA history and 22 in Major League baseball.

And these guys are worried about Limbaugh?

The NBA and pro baseball had programs in place to seek out minority hires in management about a decade before the NFL even broke the color barrier. It took the league another decade to reluctantly adopt a policy to promote minorities on the field. It was ordered that any head coaching vacancy would require at least one minority candidate to be interviewed. Predictably, there were loud complaints that the whole policy was a dog and pony show because the number of black head coaches never increased.

It was left to individual do gooders - Bill Walsh was prominent in the movement to increase minority hires - to take it upon themselves to do something about this embarrassingly shameful situation. With no help from the owners, black assistant coaches began to slowly fill the ranks of NFL teams and got their shots at the big chair.

So when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell can actually face the cameras with a straight face and say something like this, my hypocrisy meter starts going off the scale:

Commissioner Roger Goodell said here Tuesday that it would be inappropriate for the owner of an NFL franchise to make the sort of controversial statements attributed in the past to conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh.

“I’ve said many times before we’re all held to a high standard here, and I think divisive comments are not what the NFL is all about,” Goodell said at an NFL owners’ meeting. “I would not want to see those comments coming from people who are in a responsible position in the NFL, absolutely not.”

Limbaugh has acknowledged being part of a group bidding for the St. Louis Rams.

Goodell and several owners said Tuesday that the Rams’ sale process is in its early stages and the league is far from considering a potential bid by Limbaugh and Dave Checketts, the chairman of hockey’s St. Louis Blues.

But any proposed franchise sale would have to be approved by three-quarters of the owners, and Goodell’s comments signaled that it perhaps would be unlikely that Limbaugh’s bid would be ratified by the other teams.

“Divisive comments?” How about Falcons owner Arthur Blank on the prospects for the return of convicted dog torturer Michael Vick?

“If Michael makes a mistake and eats fried chicken and French fries in prison every day and comes out at 250 pounds, he’s not going to be able to play football,” Blank said. “

Now, anyone in public life who utters the words “fried chicken” as it relates to a black man is usually skewered over an open spit. The racialists like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton scream bloody murder. But because no one wanted to be in the position of defending the monster Vick, Blank got something of a pass. (As well he should have.)

Well, since he’s part of the club already, Blank doesn’t get called on the carpet. But the fact remains that only liberal universities have a worse record at hiring African American coaches. As of today, there are exactly 4 major college coaches out of 119 schools.

And what of the professional sports criminal element? I’m speaking of the NFL players - 471 and counting have been arrested since 2000. For any of them to open their mouths about Rush Limbaugh and judge him is too absurd for words. The resistance by the NFL Players Association to ferreting out illegal steroid and other drug use puts them in no position to be commenting about anyone’s morals.

Late word is that Limbaugh will apparently be dropped from the Checketts group. Just as well. Limbaugh may very well have embarrassed the league at some point as he pushes the envelope of outrageousness ever farther in search of ratings and ad revenue. But for the hypocrites in the NFL to worry about Limbaugh’s racial agitation when their own sorry ass record is so profoundly disturbing, it gives a whole new meaning to the “pot-kettle” analogy.

By: Rick Moran at 4:28 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (54)

10/14/2009
‘Bottom Rail on Top’

Civil War historian Bruce Catton relates a story in his powerful book Glory Road about Confederate prisoners being marched northward through Virginia, passing a plantation where several slaves had gathered near the road to watch the procession.

One older slave viewed the scene with immense satisfaction, calling out to the dejected southerners, “Bottom rail on top, now.” His reference to the fact that the ante-bellum south had ceased to exist and that the world had turned upside down probably didn’t go over very well with those southern troops.

Nor will the idea that the tables have now turned and Democrats have been handed the ammunition to refer to Republicans as “unpatriotic” and America haters.The liberals must be feeling the same kind of grim satisfaction that old slave felt when they toss around the epithet that conservatives are anti-American, after having endured this calumnious charge for a couple of decades.

What goes around comes around is a cliche that is especially true in politics. And it appears to me that opposition to Obama has so unhinged some on the right that, while the charges are ridiculous on their face, they will probably resonate with some Americans who have had just about enough of this silly, childish gameplaying when it comes to quantifying patriotism.

As the only conservative in a family of 10 children, I have always been comfortable attesting to the fact that liberals love America as much as conservatives do. To me, it was never a question of patriotism, but rather strength vs. weakness, common sense vs. suicidal idealism, and reality vs. wishful thinking. I believe that people like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck - who, along with other pop conservatives, regularly make the point that liberals and Obama hate America - are so besotted with ideological fervor and blinded by unreasoning partisan hate of their opponents that they are unable to think rationally about exactly what liberals are saying when they criticize America.

Is it proof that the left hates America when they opposed the Iraq War? There are genuine pacifists on the left who hate all war. There was also a legitimate case to be made not to go to war with Iraq. I didn’t agree with it then and don’t agree with it now, but Iraq was a war of choice, and to take an honorable disagreement over policy and twist it into a charge of anti-Americanism is a stretch.

Having said that, the left has never been honest enough to admit that some of their opposition to the war was as shallow and dishonest as the right’s opposition to Obama’s failure in Copenhagen and his receiving the peace prize. To deny the element of partisanship - which is just as virulent and hateful as that on the right - inherent in many of the critiques of the war emanating from blogs and other partisan pundits is hypocritical. Wanting Bush to fail was just as prevalent on the left during his term in office as the right wanting Obama to flounder today.

Of course, this is the problem with politics today and anyone who can’t see it is too partisan themselves to admit it. The idea that one side or the other is to blame for this sorry state of affairs is ludicrous on its face.

But I would never say that the rank partisanship demonstrated by the left or right and directed toward the object of their disaffection means that either side is unpatriotic, or hates America. There are certainly some on the fringes of both sides that fit that description, but for the vast majority who allow excessive ideology to dominate their thinking, there is no question of love of country. Nor is there any litmus test that would gauge the depth of one’s devotion to America either. That fantastical notion that you can measure something like patriotism is irrational.

Then what of the idea that the left has now adopted the right’s tactic of accusing the opposition of hating America? The New America Foundation’s Michael Cohen writing in Politico has some thoughts:

Twenty-five years ago, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick famously lambasted Democrats as “blame America firsters” and a party plagued by “self-criticism and self-denigration” of America. It was a speech at pace with an emerging political stereotype that suggested Democrats weren’t quite patriotic enough and didn’t love their country as much as Republicans did. This image of Democratic weakness and self-doubt became one of the most effective attack lines for Republicans — and Democrats’ greatest political liability.

But today the tables are turning. Democrats have narrowed the Republican advantage on national security. They are seen as more effective when it comes to improving global respect for America and working closely with the country’s allies. And in a poll result that would have raised eyebrows only a few years ago, President Barack Obama is more trusted on foreign policy than he is on the economy and health care. Today, more than seven in 10 Americans consider him a strong leader.

A look across the aisle tells a more sobering tale for Republicans. Conservative leaders have been lambasted for cheering America’s defeat for losing the 2016 Olympics and disparaging an American president’s receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. Others can decide whether charges of unpatriotic and un-American behavior launched by the Democratic National Committee against Republicans are appropriate, but the very fact that the DNC felt it had the ammunition to launch such an attack speaks volumes about the changing political dynamics of national security.

I would quibble with Cohen about one thing; Kirkpatrick was not accusing liberals of hating America but of blaming America first for most of the world’s problems. This fits into the idea that liberals criticize America when they believe that the nation is not living up to its high ideals. Kirkpatrick’s critique was that this sensible, patriotic notion had been tossed aside in favor of an ideological, and wholly nonsensical school of thought - advanced by the Communist Euro-left - that tensions in the world were created by American policy and American actions.

The reason it resonated with the voting public was because Kirkpatrick’s charges were true. Ignoring Soviet mischief making around the world to which America was reacting most of the time, while pointing to real or imagined shortcomings in our own policy (or going so far as refusing to delineate a moral difference between the superpowers), was the standard critique on the left until well into the Clinton years. They didn’t love America any less than anyone else. They simply allowed ideology to cloud their judgment.

Sound familiar? It should. It is this same notion that is driving the right over a cliff. Of course they don’t hate America. But in their ideological zeal to lay the president low, they have taken the position that anything bad that happens to Obama - even if it reflects badly on the country - is good.

From a political standpoint, it’s “bottom rail on top” as the Democrats have been handed the ammunition to make conservatives look like they are cheering against America. I would hasten to add that you could easily oppose President Obama’s efforts in Copenhagen by simply pointing out that handing billions to the Chicago political machine to spend is akin to handing the keys to your car and a bottle of Chivas to a drunk teenager. And I have seen several solid criticisms of Obama’s peace prize from the left. You don’t have to hate the president or America for that matter to believe Obama didn’t deserve it.

But many on the right went overboard - way beyond rational criticism and ended up gloating over Obama’s Olympic failure, and trashing the president in a very personal way over the peace prize award.

Cohen cogently points out the danger for the right in this kind of behavior:

The problems for Republicans are threefold: First, many on the right seem overtaken by a visceral dislike of Obama that is faintly reminiscent of Democratic attitudes toward President George W. Bush. This partisanship is manifesting itself in dangerous ways. It’s one thing to oppose Obama’s initiatives; it’s quite another to be seen as rooting against American interests.

Second, Republicans continue to engage in the same sort of knee-jerk attacks on Democratic “weakness” and naked appeals to American militarism that, while once resonant, have lost their political luster.

Third, Bush-administration-era views — and political appeals — on national security continue to dominate the GOP.

“Faintly reminiscent?” Holy Jesus, someone kick Mr. Cohen in the shin and tell him he can wake up now, that a 9 year nap is entirely too long. From where I’m sitting, it is all eerily familiar - down to some of the same language being employed today by the right that was de rigueur on the left during the Bush years.

But Cohen has correctly diagnosed the right’s problem. Quite simply, the country has moved on with the election of Obama. Are we going in a direction the American people support? Evidently so, if polls and surveys can be trusted. Until the president’s policies prove themselves to be as naive and overly idealistic as many critics believe them to be, he will no doubt continue to receive the support of the people.

Conservatives are stuck in a time warp. In many respects, the right has failed to appreciate where the country is today relative to where it was in the Bush years. They have yet to get their legs under them following the Obama tidal wave that rolled over the country last year, and this is reflected in our inability to develop a cohesive strategy to oppose him. The arguments are there - logical, hard hitting critiques of everything the president is trying to do have appeared in all the usual magazines and think tanks.

But as far as translating those arguments into an effective opposition, we have failed. With the movement in full throated howl against anything and everything Obama, fear and loathing have become the right’s strategy du jour.

And the left is finding it easy pickings to turn the tables on their conservative foes and make them appear to hate America as well as the president.

By: Rick Moran at 9:35 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (54)

10/13/2009
THE RICK MORAN SHOW: A NOBEL DESERVED?

You won’t want to miss tonight’s Rick Moran Show, one of the most popular conservative talk shows on Blog Talk Radio.

Tonight, I welcome Cassy Fiano, Melissa Clouthier, and Kim Priestap to discuss Obama’s Nobel, health care reform, and other current issues.

The show will air from 7:00 - 8:00 PM Central time. You can access the live stream here. A podcast will be available for streaming or download shortly after the end of the broadcast.

Click on the stream below and join in on what one wag called a “Wayne’s World for adults.”

The Chat Room will open around 15 minutes before the show opens,

Also, if you’d like to call in and put your two cents in, you can dial (718) 664-9764.

Listen to The Rick Moran Show on internet talk radio

By: Rick Moran at 5:11 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)