July 26, 2010

Fighting Wars Won’t Make You a Hero

My father, who proudly served in the military (partially so I would never have to) has said this to me before: that not everyone who dons a uniform is a hero, and not every hero wears a uniform. And that just because someone’s served in the armed forces doesn’t make them a hero or someone automatically worthy of praise and respect – respect has to be earned by anyone to anyone, and the clothes they wear or the life they’ve chosen shouldn’t automatically grant that to anyone.

Part of the issue here is the gradual turn of our armed services into a “hero class,” where the civilian population automatically and immediately bows to any opinion offered by anyone who’s served in the military for any period of time for any reason. And while there is much to respect about someone who’s chosen to serve our country and potentially – at a moment’s call – put their lives on the line for our freedoms and liberties, that doesn’t automatically make them a “hero.”

William Astore describes this incredibly well, while balancing the appropriate respect and appreciation for the men and women of our military and the life that they choose to lead in service of their countrymen, with the immediate refutation of the “I was a soldier so I know how the world works and how things should be” mentality that I for one hear incredibly often from people on the political right.

I can’t count how many times I’ve heard someone claim to have served during wartime as a way to not have to use facts or reality to base their political beliefs; someone who uses the fact that they either are in the service or were in the service as a way to automatically shut down a political debate.

I’ve said as much to people before: that being a solider doesn’t make you any more or less qualified to be a politician or even command a conflict any more than being a police officer makes you qualified to be a state governor or even be the police chief. Sure you have insight into one particular area of importance, but – as my dad would say – being a infantryman on the ground is admirable, but it doesn’t necessarily make you qualified to be a general.

It doesn’t preclude you from it, but it doesn’t automatically make you one – so saying “I know how the war should be fought/I know how all wars should be fought/I know whether war is right or wrong because I was in XXXX conflict” simply isn’t rational, or even remotely true, unless by saying “I was in XXXX conflict” you’re really saying “I was in command.”

Astore goes on though, pointing out that there’s more to the term “hero” than our culture has diluted it to be these days:

In local post offices, as well as on local city streets here in central Pennsylvania, I see many reminders that our troops are “hometown heroes.” Official military photos of these young enlistees catch my eye, a few smiling, most looking into the camera with faces of grim resolve tinged with pride at having completed basic training. Once upon a time, as the military dean of students at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, I looked into such faces in the flesh, congratulating young service members for their effort and spirit.

I was proud of them then; I still am. But here’s a fact I suspect our troops might be among the first to embrace: the act of joining the military does not make you a hero, nor does the act of serving in combat. Whether in the military or in civilian life, heroes are rare — indeed, all-too-rare. Heck, that’s the reason we celebrate them. They’re the very best of us, which means they can’t be all of us.

Still, even if elevating our troops to hero status has become something of a national mania, is there really any harm done? What’s wrong with praising our troops to the rafters? What’s wrong with adding them to our pantheon of heroes?

The short answer is: There’s a good deal wrong, and a good deal of harm done, not so much to them as to us.

To wit:

*By making our military a league of heroes, we ensure that the brutalizing aspects and effects of war will be played down. In celebrating isolated heroic feats, we often forget that war is guaranteed to degrade humanity. “War,” as writer and cultural historian Louis Menand noted, “is specially terrible not because it destroys human beings, who can be destroyed in plenty of other ways, but because it turns human beings into destroyers.”

When we create a legion of heroes in our minds, we blind ourselves to evidence of their destructive, sometimes atrocious, behavior. Heroes, after all, don’t commit atrocities. They don’t, for instance, dig bullets out of pregnant women’s bodies in an attempt to cover up deadly mistakes. They don’t fire on a good Samaritan and his two children as he attempts to aid a grievously wounded civilian. Such atrocities and murderous blunders, so common to war’s brutal chaos, produce cognitive dissonance in the minds of many Americans who simply can’t imagine their “heroes” killing innocents. How much easier it is to see the acts of violence of our troops as necessary, admirable, even noble.

*By making our military generically heroic, we act to prolong our wars.

I couldn’t put it better myself.

[ Fighting Wars Won’t Make You a Hero ]
Source: TomDispatch.com (via AlterNet)

July 19, 2010

The Patient’s Bill of Rights

One of the fabulous side effects of the Health Care Reform legislation that President Obama and Congressional Democrats can take credit for is a new Patient’s Bill of Rights designed to protect patients from mistreatment and abuse not just from the medical community, but from the medical industry, including insurance companies and others looking to make money on the backs of the health of the American people. Here’s what President Obama had to say about it:

“Starting in September, some of the worst abuses will be banned forever. No more discriminating against children with pre-existing conditions. No more retroactively dropping somebody’s policy when they get sick if they made an unintentional mistake on an application. No more lifetime limits or restrictive annual limits on coverage. Those days are over.” – PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA

And here’s the Patient’s Bill of Rights. Make yourself familiar with it, because even if you never voted for Obama and even if you’re one of these tea party nuts out there calling for the repeal of the reform act, these are the rights and privileges you enjoy under the new law – and these are the rights and privileges that Republicans and their far-right allies are looking to take away from us as soon as possible:

The Patient’s Bill of Rights:

  1. Prevents insurance companies from canceling your policy if you get sick. Right now, insurance companies can retroactively cancel your policy when you become sick if you or your employer made an unintentional mistake on your paperwork.
  2. Stops insurance companies from denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions. Beginning in September, discrimination against children with pre-existing conditions will be banned—a protection that will be extended to all Americans in 2014.
  3. Prohibits setting lifetime limits on insurance policies issued or renewed after Sept. 23, 2010. No longer will insurance companies be able to take away coverage at the very moment when patients need it most. More than 100 million Americans have health coverage that imposes lifetime limits on care.
  4. Phases out annual dollar limits on coverage over the next three years. Even more aggressive than lifetime limits are annual dollar limits on what an insurance company will pay for your health care. For the people with medical costs that hit these limits, the consequences can be devastating.
  5. Allows you to designate any available participating primary care doctor as your provider. You’ll be able to keep the primary care doctor or pediatrician you choose, and see an OB-GYN without referral.
  6. Removes insurance company barriers to receiving emergency care and prevents them from charging you more because you’re out of network. You’ll be able to get emergency care at a hospital outside of your plan’s network without facing higher co-pays or deductibles or having to fight to get approval first.

Read the whole thing and a few more details at WhiteHouse.gov, and start to read about how the health care reform law is making a difference in the lives of everyday Americans right now at HealthCare.gov.

[ The Patient’s Bill of Rights ]
Source: Organizing for America

Racists Never Seem to Get a Break

Oh the poor Tea Party – they keep wanting to not be called racists, but they keep acting like racists! That AND their leadership is so busy whining and complaining that they’re being called racist that they can’t take the time to actively denounce racism in their ranks – which would probably go along way to discounting attacks that they’re racist. But then again, they can’t possibly denounce racism, because after all, the truth is? They’re not only racist, but they say and do racist things.

Now I make that distinction on purpose, because it’s critical to be able to tell the difference between someone who just said or did something that’s racist and someone who IS racist. Not everyone who says something that’s racist is a racist person – and it’s those people who can be told “listen, that’s not cool,” and they’ll understand if they’re approached non-defensively. But some people – like the leadership of the Tea Party thuggery – are so busy saying and being racist and then complaining when they’re called out on it that they simply can’t be educated to their own white privilege.

This tidbit by digby at AlterNet had me laughing:

It’s interesting that after the ACORN business and the past year of obnoxious rhetoric on the far right the mainstream media is suddenly waking up to the fact that the Tea Party might just, in fact, have a teensy racist bent.

This is from a well done article on the topic in the Kansas City Star:

For many tea partiers, racism is in the eye of the beholder.

Take Ron Wight, who stood with dozens of tea party activists at the J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain in April, complaining about the Obama administration, its socialist agenda and being called a racist.

Those like him who complain about President Barack Obama are accused of racism, lamented the semi-retired music teacher from Lee’s Summit.

Then he added: “If I was a black man, I’d get down on my knees and thank God for slavery. Otherwise, I could be dying of AIDS now in Africa.”

Wight doesn’t consider that comment to be racist.“I wish slavery had never happened,” he said. “But there are some black people alive today who have never suffered one day what the people who were black went through in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. Has somebody said something stupid or done something stupid? Yes, there have been incidents.

“But with everything that has been done in this country legally and socially for the black man, it’s almost like they’ve been given a great leg up.”

I think that exemplifies the most common modern form of racism — the white victim mentality, whether it means “they’ve been given a great leg up” or “they are all violent criminals and welfare queens,” the point is that racial minorities get all the breaks.

And no, these people don’t admit they are racists. Indeed, they deny it completely and claim that they are, in fact, victims of reverse racism. Just because they say it doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

For an erudite discussion of this topic, I urge you to read this Ta-Nehisi Coates essay here.

That essay at the end goes into fabulous detail on why the NAACP is absolutely correct with regard to calling out the Tea Party for its racist motivations, members, and statements. Meanwhile, people in the Tea Party, like Wight above, claim they’re just exercising their “right to free speech” while spouting hate that’s been sugarcoated in their own white privilege.

On the bright side though, we get to all watch the Tea Partiers self-destruct by doing this.

[ Racists Never Seem to Get a Break ]
Source: AlterNet

Keep in Mind, Republicans Fare Worse Than Obama in Discouraging New Poll

For as much as the media is trumpeting up the standard talking points for a mid-term election; that the party in power generally takes losses and that the party in power is generally the one doing poorly in the polls (both of which are indisputably true) it’s also worth pointing out that even though the Tea Partiers and Republicans are frothing at the mouths about repealing everything the government has done for the American people these past two years, they’re not exactly winning any popularity contests themselves:

There were a couple of trends that jumped out at me, though, beyond the obvious numbers. The first is that the public, while discouraged and pessimistic about the status quo, still doesn’t much care for Republicans.

Respondents were asked, for example, how much confidence they have in various leaders to “make the right decisions for the country’s future.” For Obama, the number is 43%. For congressional Democrats, it’s 32%. Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, is a distant third at 26%. Indeed, while support for Obama’s handling on the economy has fallen quite a bit, the poll asked which political party voters “trust to do a better job handling the economy.” Democrats still lead Republicans by eight points.

Dems aren’t faring well in this political landscape, but it’s not because voters are moving in large numbers to the GOP.

Now that’s a level of analysis you probably won’t find in many media outlets – they’ll stick to the top-level talking points, which are all worth discussing, but they’ll completely avoid digging into the details – it’s not that the voting public prefers Republicans or Tea Partiers, it’s that they’re just unhappy with the pace of the economic recovery and the political process entirely, so much so they’re disenchanted with everyone, not just Democrats in Congress or with President Obama.

This is where campaigning really needs to play a role, and incumbent Democrats and the President need to get out in front of this disillusionment and show the country what they’ve done for them, the good it’s doing, and the fact that voting for Republicans and Tea Partiers will not only take the country back in the wrong direction but will likely have abyssal results for the American people – since neither of those two groups care about the average American nearly as much as they both claim to.

One more tidbit that has to do very much with my last piece on the matter:

There was also this:

“Because of the economic downturn, Congress has extended the period in which people can receive unemployment benefits, and is considering doing so again. Supporters say this will help those who can’t find work. Opponents say this adds too much to the federal budget deficit. Do you think Congress should or should not approve another extension of unemployment benefits?”

It wasn’t even close — 62% want to extend unemployment benefits, 36% are more concerned with the deficit. For those who blocked the Senate from voting on this — three times in three weeks — the argument was that Americans, overcome with deficit-reduction mania, want Congress to stop spending. The evidence to the contrary is pretty clear.

Democrats everywhere – the American people just handed you an ace in the hole. Play it.

[ Keep in Mind, Republicans Fare Worse Than Obama in Discouraging New Poll ]
Source: Washington Monthly

July 12, 2010

The 24 Types of Libertarians

A little humor from Ampersand: Political Cartoons from Barry Deutsch, called The 24 Types of Libertarian.

It’s funny because it’s oh so true – just about every lib I’ve met can be easily pigeonholed into one of these categories, and they’re all just as nonsensical as the next. When I refer to “webertarians,” I’m usually referring to Atlas, with a smattering of Caveat Emptor and a dash of Selectively Frugal – I love Selectively Frugal.

Although I have special place in my heart for The Island – I think he’s the most common of them. Mix up The Island with Whitey and you have my favorites: the harbingers of White privilege.

I admit, I laughed – a lot. And then I spread it around for everyone to see, so now you get the benefit, too!

Jan Brewer’s (and John McCain’s) Immigration Lies Destroyed

This is why I’m absolutely thrilled that Eric Holder is ready to bring the legal smackdown to Arizona’s now-legalized racism and “papers, please” regime – and why I’m equally thrilled that he’s already said that additional legal challenges on additional grounds may be forthcoming against Arizona and its horrific so-called “immigration” law, which really amounts to an “anti-Latino” law.

The problem is that the political right, and people like Arizona governor Jan Brewer (and her patrons, people like John McCain, failed Presidential candidate) insist on believing a series of lies and half-truths about immigration and migration that have been disproven over and over again. Sadly, the right has never needed proof or evidence to back up their beliefs; they’re perfectly happy subsisting on privilege, lies, mistrust, and hatred.

So in an amazing piece at Alternet, Joshua Holland channels Dana Milbank, who both tear some of it apart in glorious fashion:

Dana Milbank can be annoying at times, but his column today is well worth a read.

A sample …

Jan Brewer has lost her head.

The Arizona governor, seemingly determined to repel every last tourist dollar from her pariah state, has sounded a new alarm about border violence. “Our law enforcement agencies have found bodies in the desert either buried or just lying out there that have been beheaded,” she announced on local television.

Ay, caramba! Those dark-skinned foreigners are now severing the heads of fair-haired Americans? Maybe they’re also scalping them or shrinking them or putting them on a spike.

But those in fear of losing parts north of the neckline can relax. There’s not a follicle of evidence to support Brewer’s claim.

The Arizona Guardian Web site checked with medical examiners in Arizona’s border counties and the coroners said they had never seen an immigration-related beheading. I called and e-mailed Brewer’s press office requesting documentation of decapitation; no reply.

Brewer’s mindlessness about headlessness is just one of the immigration falsehoods being spread by Arizona politicians. Border violence on the rise? Phoenix becoming the world’s No. 2 kidnapping capital? Illegal immigrants responsible for most police killings? The majority of those crossing the border are drug mules? All wrong.

This matters, because it means the entire premise of the Arizona immigration law is a fallacy. Arizona officials say they’ve had to step in because federal officials aren’t doing enough to stem increasing border violence. The scary claims of violence, in turn, explain why the American public supports the Arizona crackdown.

Holland and Milbank also refute the so-called criminal concern around immigration – noting that immigration was much higher when the economy was doing better in the late 90s, and yet crime was at its lowest point in decades. Between this and the whining “they’re taking our jobs” privilege argument and the “they’re sucking up our school money/medical services/other social services” privilege argument, both of which have been proven hilariously false (especially considering this is a community that works and pays taxes on benefits they’re not eligable for in numbers that can’t be counter) it’s remarkable that these people are allowed to hold public office while lying through their teeth the way they do.

Still, what did I say about the political right? They’ve never really needed truth or facts in the past – there’s no reason to expect them to start now.

[ Jan Brewer’s (and John McCain’s) Immigration Lies Destroyed ]
Source: AlterNet

GOP Rep. Inglis: Republicans Are “Preying on Fears,” Spreading Messages With Hate Radio

Pay close attention to that headline: this isn’t the normal complaints that progressives have about right-wing talk radio, and this isn’t the normal smackdown that the real media and real journalists levy against the nuts who host these shows, lie on the air, and then complain when they’re called out on their fiction, this is someone in their own corner – someone who would be more likely to be asked on one of these shows than not. Here’s the post:

Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC), who lost recently in his primary run-off for the Republican nomination to keep his seat in Congress, is speaking out about the influence of hate radio and right-wing fear mongering in the Republican Party. In an interview with the AP, Inglis called out reactionaries like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck for spreading “demagoguery” and hatred in society:

– Noting that Palin had spread the “death panel” smear, Inglis said, “there were no death panels in the bill…and to encourage that kind of fear is just the lowest form of political leadership.”

– Inglis slammed GOP leaders for following hate radio talkers, rather than leading on principle: “I think we have a lot of leaders that are following those (television and talk radio) personalities and not leading […] What it takes to lead is to say, ‘You know, that’s just not right.”

– Inglis on the right-wing’s effort to divide America: “It’s a real concern, because I think what we’re doing is dividing the country into partisan camps that really look a lot like Shia and Sunni. It’s very difficult to come together to find solutions.”

– Although Inglis did not hear the racial slurs hurled at Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) at a tea party protest on Capitol Hill during the health reform vote, he did see threatening and abusive behavior. “I caught him at the door and said, ‘John, I guess you’ve been here before,’” said Inglis, referring to Lewis’ role in the Civil Rights movement.

Like Inglis, Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) lost his GOP primary, despite a similarly conservative voting record. Bennett later slammed the GOP for being held captive to far right-tea parties and Fox News, noting, “I find plenty of slogans on the Republican side, but not very many ideas.” Inglis, who stood out as one of the only Republican lawmakers to publicly criticize Glenn Beck, warned that voters eventually will discover that the GOP is “preying on their fears” and turn away.

The thing here is – as simultaneously funny and sad as it truly is – that we’re watching the cannibalization of the Republican party by its far-right, xenophobic, racist, militant elements: you may know them as the Tea Party. The same folks who are short on brains and short on ideas for actually improving the state of the country unless they involve getting everyone on trains gestapo-style and choo-choo-ing us back in time to where their privilege reigned supreme.

Even Republicans I would be more than happy to stand against are calling out the right-wing media for its kowtowing to these same far right elements and legitimizing them through radio and outlets like Faux News.

[ GOP Rep. Inglis: Republicans Are “Preying on Fears,” Spreading Messages With Hate Radio ]
Source: Think Progress (courtesy of AlterNet)

Republicans Just Screwed Over Millions of Jobless Americans — Why Aren’t They Universally Despised?

This amazing piece from my good friends at AlterNet echoes a problem that’s running long and deep in the American body politic in recent weeks. In a heartbreaking move, the GOP blocked efforts by Congressional Democrats to extend jobless benefits to unemployed and struggling Americans in the Senate, whining that because the measure isn’t paid for by cuts somewhere else or new revenue that they simply can’t stand by and watch the national debt increase because of this.

Now while normally I applaud that kind of fiscal prudence, I, like most Americans, have my priorities in order, and those priorities involve not punishing main street while rewarding the right side of the aisle in the Senate. Republicans think that this is a good move for them, and shows that they’re standing up against reckless spending in Congress, and the media has been reporting it as something like that – giving Republicans some leeway because they’re trying to avoid a bloating federal deficit, but the media is summarily (as are the Republicans) ignoring the fact that the money for the unemployment extension would increase the federal deficit by something like less than one percent.

That’s right – so what this boils down to is that the Republican party doesn’t think that a lifeline to the millions of unemployed Americans is worth that less the one percent of the federal debt. They don’t think your mortgage payments are worth it, they don’t think your groceries or your rent are worth it, they don’t think your childrens’ tuition is worth it, and they don’t think your car payments or medical bills are worth it. They don’t think we’re worth it – and that’s what we need to remember when we head to the polls in November. Not the Tea Party pomp and fluff, the fact that when push came to shove and America looked to Congress to make sure our priorities were in order: people before wars, people before wall street, people before corporate tax breaks, the Republicans stood in the way and just decided that not only were the American people not that important, they simply weren’t worth it.

So over at Alternet, there’s an excellent dissertation of why the GOP isn’t universally despised for its effort, and part of it has to do with the media and part of it has to do with the semi-noble desire to keep the federal debt down (although if there’s anything you would want our government to spend money on, it’s the well being of the American people) but that’s worth a read as well. In the interim though, remember that these are the priorities for the Republicans and the Tea Party fanatics, and the well being of the American people, the well being of you and I, simply aren’t on that priority list.

[ Republicans Just Screwed Over Millions of Jobless Americans — Why Aren’t They Universally Despised? ]
Source: AlterNet