Mobs on Medicare

[Updated below.]

A rightie blogger with comments disabled posts photographs to show that “the mob” isn’t scary after all, and writes,

I am the mob. My kids are the mob. My grandma is the mob. My family members did not shed blood for this country so that their elected officials could silence them into shame if they dared to speak out and voice their concerns.

I don’t see anyone in the photographs being silenced. Many of them appear to be old enough for Medicare, however. Are they so committed to “no government-run health care” that they refuse Medicare? I doubt it. It’s fine for them to get their health care paid for by the taxpayer dollars of others, but everyone else can go bleep himself?

And does anyone on the Right have a brain in his or her head? Not that I’m seeing.

Update: Some right-wing blogs are picking up these photographs, repeating the claim that it shows people who are representative of others whose rights to free speech have been curtailed. Not one has noticed the photographs show people calmly participating at a meeting and even speaking into microphones, so certainly the people in the photographs are speaking freely. And not one has noticed that many are old enough for Medicare, which is a government-run health care system very similar to Canada’s.

Update: Via Brian Beutler:

“Based on the news that health care events are edging into violence, an anti-health care reform protester in New Mexico named Scott Oskay is calling on his hundreds of online followers to bring firearms to town halls, and to ‘badly hurt’ SEIU and ACORN counter protesters.”

People are calling SEIU and making not-too-veiled threats of gun violence against Union members.

Threats of violence qualify as terrorism, even if they don’t carry it through.

The GOP Is Going to Get Somebody Killed

Just fistfights, so far.

Police broke up a raucous crowd outside a Tampa, Fla., town hall meeting on healthcare Thursday, and a fistfight broke out inside the meeting, witnesses said.

Hundreds of people turned out for the meeting at the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County, and people on opposing sides yelled and chanted outside, WTSP-TV, Tampa Bay, reported.

From what I can make out from news stories, people who showed up to stop the meeting were outraged that there were people there who actually supported health care reform and who got seats in the hall.

Congratulations, wingnuts. You’ve turned into the new DFHs.

Wingnut Mobs and What to Do About Them

Harold Meyerson writes in his column today:

Judging by the first public meetings on health-care reform that members of Congress have begun convening in their districts, America is in Second Coming time, in the William Butler Yeats sense. The best may or may not lack all conviction, as Yeats wrote in his classic poem, but the worst are sure as hell full of passionate intensity.

Meyerson notes that the forces of progressivism — unions, for example — are not turning out crowds at town meetings to match the mobs. No, they aren’t, but I’m not sure they should. Unless the progressive counter-protesters are able to a person to be as nonviolent as Gandhi, such a confrontation could easily turn into a brawl. People could get hurt, even killed.

Of course, people are likely to be hurt or even killed anyway. I think it’s only a matter of time before somebody in the mob pulls a gun. It’s a wonder it hasn’t happened already.

I say the mobs are a test of my “Bigger Asshole” rule, that I have explained in posts in the past. Basically, the “Bigger Asshole” rule is that public protests work when the people being protested are perceived by the onlooking public to be bigger assholes than the protesters.

See also Sara Robinson, who writes about the importance of trust and inspiration. Mass protests that actually effect positive change tend to be those that inspire, not frighten and intimidate.

However, there have been times when angry mobs did effect change. The storming of the Bastille does come to mind. And where else in history can we find an example of a populist mob manipulated and supported by the conservative, moneyed elite? Hmmm?

Although there are times to step aside and let assholes be assholes, I don’t think ignoring the current organized mayhem is wise. But how should they be handled?

The DNC has put out this video:

I’m not sure this video is as effective as it could be — the scary voice-over is such a cliche — but it could be a step in the right direction.

I think it’s important to emphasize that many of the “mobsters” who attend townhall meetings to disrupt them are from other districts. I’m wondering what would happen if the congresspersons had people screened at the door, admitting only people with a driver’s license or other photo ID proving they live in the district. That’s not necessarily something I would endorse as standard policy, but it would be an interesting experiment.

See also this bit from Think Progress:

During the town hall, one conservative activist turns to his fellow attendees and asks them to raise their hands if they “oppose any form of socialized or government-run health care.” Almost all the hands shot up. Rep Green quickly turned the question on the audience and asked, “How many of you have Medicare?” Nearly half the attendees raised their hands, failing to note the irony.

These are not people who can be reasoned with.


Paul Krugman: “Art Laffer (why is he, of all people, on my TV?) asks what it will be like when the government runs Medicare and Medicaid.”

Really, he said that. Here’s the video.

And the dippy CNN moderator let it slide. Another genius.

In WaPo, John Bolton published a op ed titled “Clinton’s Unwise Trip to North Korea.”

Shortly after, we learned that Big Bill obtained the release of the two American journalists held by North Korea.

The Right Hates You

Click to view larger image.

Click to view larger image.

The cartoon at left is from the cover of the April 2008 issue of Reason magazine. Reason is a libertarian publication with the motto “Free Minds and Free Markets.”

The cartoon, of course, shows three of the front-running presidential candidates pandering to a slob, with John McCain attempting to keep Ron Paul from squeezing into the room. What fascinated me about this cartoon at the time was the slob. The slob represents the American voter.

What does this tell us about the conservative/libertarian worldview? IMO it reveals a mindset that pretends to value freedom but is unconsciously authoritarian and elitist. (Which makes Reason‘s calling Sonia Sotomayor an “authoritarian” especially rich.) How dare the hoi polloi expect government to pay attention to them?

When I heard about Michelle Malkin’s absurd “cheese” comment, the cartoon sprang to mind. Malkin seriously believes that unemployment benefits keep people from going out and finding a job.

If you put enough government cheese in front of people they are just going to keep eating it and you’re just kicking the can down the road and just to hammer this point about the unemployment benefits extension again it was Larry Katz, who’s a chief labor economist under the Clinton labor department who came out with a study and there are a lot of these economists who say this that if you keep extending these “temporary” unemployment benefits you’re just going to extend joblessness even more.

Larry Katz said nothing of the sort, of course, as Paul Krugman explains. I say the Right’s inner elitism also is coming through loud and clear in their condemnation of the “cash for clunkers” program. My favorite criticism of the program comes from Representative Jeb Hensarling, R-TX: “Maybe we should have a ‘Cash for Cluckers’ program and pay people to eat chicken?”

Astroturf Mobs Disrupting Town Hall Meetings

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Here’s the memo that Wolffe and Axelrod discuss in the video. It was leaked by a volunteer for FreedomWorks. Essentially, it’s a plan for manipulating stupid, fearful people to create the appearance of a huge, grassroots opposition to health care reform.

I had read news stories about mobs disrupting the town hall meetings of U.S. representatives, mostly Democrats. But this bit from Countdown last night was the first I’d heard that people were being bused around to disrupt the meetings. I’m not seeing much more about that this morning.

I surfed around this morning, and in a few news stories I found mention of a group called Americans for Prosperity doing at least some of this mob organizing. According to SourceWatch, AFP is an astroturf 501(c) organization established in 2003 and originally affiliated with Citizens for a Sound Economy. Citizens for a Sound Economy is a “think tank” established by the Koch Family Foundations, a major player in the right-wing think tank biz. Koch throws money at most of the big-name think tanks, including the Heritage Foundation, Cato, and the Manhattan Institute.

Citizens for a Sound Economy? According to People for the American Way,

FreedomWorks was formed with the 2004 merger of Citizens for a Sound Economy, headed by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, and Empower America, co-founded by supply-side pioneer Jack Kemp, to push for lower taxes— especially on investment and inheritance— smaller safety-net programs, and fewer regulations on business and industry.

Essentially, in 2004 Citizens for a Sound Economy split into two groups, FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity, and the FreedomWorks part merged with Empower America.

SourceWatch says that FreedomWorks has been accused of being a “mouthpiece for hire,” taking on any cause it is paid to take on.

The smaller spinoff, AFP, does not disclose the identity of corporate donors (wanna bet there’s insurance company money involved?), but SourceWatch says AFP has received substantive grants from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation.

Last year AFP sponsored a hot air balloon cross-country tour with the slogan, “Global Warming Alarmism: Lost Jobs, Higher Taxes, Less Freedom.” Before that, they campaigned to oppose smoke-free workplace bans and cigarette excise tax increases (during which time it was learned AFP was getting money from big tobacco companies). Now it’s organizing protests of Democratic representatives to oppose health care reform and also “cap and trade” energy reform. As part of this, it has begun a “patient’s first” bus tour.

One suspects AFP is an astroturf-organization-for-hire. Special interest groups and corporations can pay them to organize protests against whatever reform they are trying to stop. Interestingly, there may be a connection between AFP and the infamous Mike Castle-birther lunatics episode, according to Think Progress. In that case, it seems the mob was supposed to protest Rep. Castle’s vote in favor of “cap and trade,” and it went off script.

Apparently the meetings are getting frightening. The Associated Press reports that after a recent meeting Rep. Tim Bishop, D-N.Y., needed a police escort to get to his car. If this continues, sooner or later somebody is going to be hurt. I say in the interest of public safety, town hall meetings could be held on the Web.

Update: See also —

FreedomWorks Orchestrates ‘Grassroots’ Movements To Serve Dick Armey’s Corporate Clients

More details on the “bus the mob” effort from Think Progress.

Conserving Rightie Cognitive Resources

I remember many years ago being required to copyedit a study of white racists for a social-psychology journal. We’re talking out-and-out, unreconstructed racists, the kind of people who think watermelon on the White House lawn cartoons are funny. Somewhere among the p values and chi squares I picked up the finding that white racists sincerely believe that all other whites are as racist as they are, and if they don’t act that way they’re just being “politically correct” to conform.

The authors of this study also defined “bias” as a strategy for conserving cognitive resources, which I believe may have been the single most brilliant thing I ever read in a social psychology study. Not that I’ve read a lot of social psychology studies, mind you.

This past week, between the Senate Republicans’ performance in the Sotomayor hearings and the Pat Buchanan-Rachel Baddow exchange on MSNBC, there has been about as much unreconstructed racism on public display as I’ve seen since I moved out of the Ozarks. And when Pat Buchanan made the sexist conflation of Sonia Sotomayor with Harriet Miers one did wonder what century Uncle Pat had time-warped from.

And the thing that’s so glaringly obvious from watching all this is that the whole crew of bigots is utterly unconscious about it. They don’t perceive their biases as biases.

Frank Rich also makes the point that the troglodytes don’t realize the rest of White America doesn’t think the way they do.

The hearings were pure “Alice in Wonderland.” Reality was turned upside down. Southern senators who relate every question to race, ethnicity and gender just assumed that their unreconstructed obsessions are America’s and that the country would find them riveting. Instead the country yawned. The Sotomayor questioners also assumed a Hispanic woman, simply for being a Hispanic woman, could be portrayed as The Other and patronized like a greenhorn unfamiliar with How We Do Things Around Here. The senators seemed to have no idea they were describing themselves when they tried to caricature Sotomayor as an overemotional, biased ideologue.

At this point, the die hards of the Hard Right are reminding me of Joe McCarthy in the Army-McCarthy Hearings. McCarthy’s witch hunts against Communism had made him a hero to many Americans who only read about him in newspapers. But by 1954, the year the hearings were held, most Americans had a television set, and the Senate hearings looking into the Army’s accusations of McCarthy, and vice versa, riveted the nation. And when the nation saw the unvarnished, unedited McCarthy in action, they were shocked.

McCarthy appears to have had no idea how he was coming across on television. They hadn’t invented media consultants yet, I guess. After Joseph N. Welch’s famous “Have you left no sense of decency?” comment, and the audience in the gallery broke into applause, a stunned McCarthy turned to Roy Cohn and stammered, “What happened?”

The past few days we’ve seen a lot of unfiltered and unedited wingnutism. Between the Senate Republicans, the Stanford-Ensign-whoever else got caught recently debacles, and the right-wing freak shows known as “tea parties,” I think most of the country is ready to scream, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

All Liberals Are the Same

Peter Singer is an Australian philosopher with a lot of provocative ideas. I don’t always agree with his ideas, although I don’t always disagree, either. He’s the sort of fellow who generates a perspective that’s interesting to think about, but I think sometimes he likes to say outrageous things just to stir the pot. He is alleged to have postulated that maybe it’s OK to euthanize handicapped infants, for example. I don’t know if that’s exactly what he said, and at the moment I’m not interested enough to check it out. However, one may be grateful he’s an academic and not actually in charge of anything.

Anyway, Singer wrote an op ed for the New York Times titled “Why We Must Ration Health Care.” The op ed is a philosophical exercise, not a policy proposal — Singer’s no economist or policy wonk — and he’s basically saying, here’s another way to think about this. His essential point is that people ought to own up to the reality that health care is a commodity with limits and is rationed. He makes the observation that U.S. health care is rationed now, by ability to pay.

Dr. Art Kellermann, associate dean for public policy at Emory School of Medicine in Atlanta, recently wrote of a woman who came into his emergency room in critical condition because a blood vessel had burst in her brain. She was uninsured and had chosen to buy food for her children instead of spending money on her blood-pressure medicine. In the emergency room, she received excellent high-tech medical care, but by the time she got there, it was too late to save her. …

…When the media feature someone like Bruce Hardy or Jack Rosser, we readily relate to individuals who are harmed by a government agency’s decision to limit the cost of health care. But we tend not to hear about — and thus don’t identify with — the particular individuals who die in emergency rooms because they have no health insurance.

This is an excellent observation. I have quibbles about some of Singer’s reasoning, and how he presents his ideas, but still, it’s thought-provoking. However, my first reaction to his headline was “Why Pete Singer Should Shut Up,” because I knew this would enflame the passions of the Right and throw them into a cage-rattling, feces-throwing fit. We don’t need any more of that now. And sure enough, a number of rightie bloggers are having hysterical fits about the headline, although so far none I have seen seem to have actually read Singer’s op ed.

For example, A.J. Strata writes, “Americans Have Succeeded Without Rationing Health Care.” Singer gave one example after another of the way Americans do ration health care, and in fact, ration it even more than the awful European countries with “government run” health care.

Far more Americans reported forgoing health care because of cost. More than half (54 percent) reported not filling a prescription, not visiting a doctor when sick or not getting recommended care. In comparison, in the United Kingdom the figure was 13 percent, and in the Netherlands, only 7 percent.

I take it A.J. didn’t get that far into the article, as he makes no attempt to address Singer’s point.

My favorite example of teh stupid, however, is American Power, which turned Singer’s headline into “Obama Will Ration Health Care,” because, you know, all liberals think alike. So whatever some Australian philosopher says must be what Barack Obama intends to do. Brilliant.

The Default Norm

I’ve used the phrase “default norm” a number of times, so it was nice to see Michael Tomasky (or at least, the headline writer at Comment Is Free) pick it up. Maybe somebody’s reading The Mahablog?

Tomasky’s headline is “Because ‘white male’ equal default human ‘normal,’ see?” I regret I didn’t have time to watch the Sotomayor hearings yesterday, but from the commentaries and videos I take it that the Senate Republicans made thorough asses of themselves and might as well have grilled Sotomayor wearing Klan hoods.

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Craig Crawford asks, “Does the Republican senator [Lindsey Graham, in this case] think it is amusing that he and his party’s condescending tone toward the Hispanic woman was costing them ethnic votes with each passing hour of Tuesday’s Judiciary Committee hearing?”

I wrote in an earlier post that the old white guys in the Senate consider white maledom to be the default norm, and that in their view “bias” is deviation from the default norm. You get that doubly from conservative old white men, who whine incessantly about “judicial activism,” which they define as judicial rulings based on the judge’s ideology instead of precedent and statutory law. However, one soon understands by paying attention to to the Right that the real definition of “judicial activism” is “any judicial opinion that doesn’t align with right-wing ideology.” If a judge narrowly applies statutory law and comes to a decision they don’t like, it’s “judicial activism.” However, if an opinion breaks all precedent and sits in an entirely different ball park from statutory law, it isn’t “judicial activism” if they agree with it.

Thus, as Dahlia Lithwick writes,

But even when Sotomayor is being questioned about her judicial record, the focus isn’t on her legal approach or process but on the outcomes. So when she talks about her Ricci decision, Jeff Sessions asks her why she didn’t apply affirmative action precedents that had no bearing in a case that was not an affirmative action case. When she speaks about Didden, her eminent domain case, Republican Chuck Grassley asks why she didn’t analyze the Kelo precedent in a case about timely filing. Nobody wants to hear how she got to a result. They want to know why she didn’t get to their result. Time and again she is hectored for deciding the narrow issues before her. It’s like a judicial-activism pep rally in here.

There’s another interesting dynamic going on here. The Los Angeles Times convened a panel of legal scholars to comment on the hearings. Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the UC Irvine School of Law, spoke for the rest of the panel when he said,

She repeated the slogan that “judges apply, not make the law.” Although I understand why this is said, I find it frustrating that nominees find it necessary to say something so clearly incorrect and that gives the public such a misleading picture of what the Supreme Court does. Every first-year law student knows that judges make law. In a common law system, like the United States, most of tort, contract, and property law is judge-made law. Everything the Supreme Court does makes law. To pick an example from a recent Supreme Court case, the Court would have made law whether it allowed or prohibited strip searching of a student suspected of having prescription strength ibuprofen. Whether the Court found a constitutional right to abortion in Roe v. Wade, or rejected such a right, it would have made law.

But, you know, after weeks of hysterical shrieking from the Right about an off-the-cuff comment from Sotomayor on making law, she has to say she won’t make law. Everyone still has to tiptoe around the tender sensibilities of the Right, no matter how ridiculous they are.

Mike Madden writes that Sotomayor said, “I want to state upfront, unequivocally and without doubt, I do not believe that any ethnic, racial or gender group has an advantage in sound judging.”

Nevertheless, barely 10 minutes later, Sessions was asking her this: “Do you think there’s any circumstance in which a judge should allow their prejudices to impact their decision-making?” Sotomayor — who didn’t get to the point where she was virtually assured a seat on the Supreme Court by being born yesterday — knew how to answer that one. “Never their prejudices,” she told Sessions. But he kept at it. “Aren’t you saying there that you expect your background and — and heritage to influence your decision-making?” he asked. “That’s troubling me. That is not impartiality.”

This is rich:

The obvious point — that the background and heritage of old white guys influences their decision-making all the time, too — would not have been the politically sound one to make. So Sotomayor played it cool. “My record shows that at no point or time have I ever permitted my personal views or sympathies to influence an outcome of a case,” she said, and would wind up saying again and again, in more or less the same words, throughout the day. “In every case where I have identified a sympathy, I have articulated it and explained to the litigant why the law requires a different result. I do not permit my sympathies, personal views, or prejudices to influence the outcome of my cases.” A few hours later, Sessions flat-out told reporters he didn’t care what she’d said. “I don’t know — this is the confirmation process, so we got a statement from a day of the confirmation process that contradicts a decade or more of speeches.”

In other words, to Sessions, his biases against Sotomayor speak louder than what she actually said in the hearings. Madden continues,

That was more or less how the whole day went; Republicans hurled increasingly pointed questions at Sotomayor, the nominee calmly parried them, and the Republicans mostly ignored her.

This is old, familiar behavior to me, although not something I’ve had to deal with personally for several years. But I can remember in the 1960s and 1970s, when I was a much younger woman and second-wave feminism was still new, I very often found that men projected opinions and qualities on to me that I did not possess. And it didn’t matter what I said about my opinions or myself. They knew what I thought and who I was because I was female, and those females are all alike. I could say, “I sincerely understand grass is green,” and they’d flash me a condescending smile and continue to lecture me why grass was green and not blue. Their biases overruled what I said. Happened all the time.

As I wrote in an earlier post, we all have biases. Generally being “fair” is not losing one’s biases, but perceiving one’s biases as biases. If you recognize your biases as biases, you are in a position to overrule them as the facts dictate. But if you are so unconscious of yourself that you don’t recognize your biases as biases, then your “thinking” generally amounts to casting around for support for your biases. Then you put the biases and the cobbled-together “support” together and call it “reason.”

The unconscious crew of Senate Republicans who grilled Sotomayor yesterday brought up her “wise Latina” remark several times. It must have struck a nerve. Several of them at various times have said that had they said something like that, it would have been the end of their careers.

We can see plainly from the hearings yesterday that they can put on public displays of flaming racism and still hang on to their jobs, but never mind. As Mo Dowd said, “After all, these guys have never needed to speak inspirational words to others like them, as Sotomayor has done. They’ve had codes, handshakes and clubs to do that.”

Meanwhile, a right-wing group called Committee for Justice has created an ad that ties Sotomayor to Bill Ayers and the support of terrorism. The group is trying to raise money to put the ad on television. If I had any money I’d send it to them. Let the world see the absurdity, I say.

Update: Rush Limbaugh said of Judge Sotomayor, “She doesn’t have any intellectual depth. She’s got a — she’s an angry woman, she’s a bigot. She’s a racist.” That’s got to be an all-time high-water mark of psychological projection.