Monday, August 17, 2009

Exact Measures

Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them. -- Frederick Douglass
In this week's Sift:
  • Yes, They Did Corrupt the Justice Department. The Judiciary Committee files show that we weren't just making a bogeyman out of Karl Rove.
  • Should You Boycott Whole Foods? Probably not -- no matter what their CEO just said. But you might want to re-examine why you shop there to begin with.
  • Healthcare is About Real People. So much of the debate about healthcare is in some fantasy realm: death panels, what might be happening in other countries, and so on. The best thing liberals can do is get real people to tell their stories.
  • Short Notes. Heckuvajob Brownie brings his heckuva powers to a new job. Joan Baez dialogs with picketers. Rick Perlstein assures us that right-wingers were always crazy. The townhall protesters are fodder for Jon Stewart. And the oil industry plans a new astroturf campaign.

Yes, They Did Corrupt the Justice Department
The major media gave it a big ho-hum, but this week the House Judiciary Committee released thousands of pages of documents from its investigation of the U. S. Attorneys scandal. The upshot is that everything we irrational Bush-haters suspected was true: The Bush administration fired nine U. S. Attorneys not for any reason internal to the Justice Department (as witness after witness tried to imply), but because the White House (i.e. Karl Rove) didn't think they were working hard enough to influence elections by bringing bogus cases against Democrats.

Will anything be done about it? Or is this something else we need to "look forward" from? It's too soon to tell. I will make this prediction: All the second-level people, everyone under 50 whose crimes do not become an indisputable part of the public record, will return to power in the next Republican administration. Don't think there won't be one.

The poster boy in this scandal is David Iglesias, the former U. S. Attorney who (during his time as a Navy JAG) was one of the real-life models for the Tom Cruise character in A Few Good Men. (Maybe it's time to make another movie about him.) As Newsweek puts it, Iglesias was fired
following a barrage of complaints from [New Mexico] Republican Party officials and members of Congress that he was not doing enough to prosecute voter-fraud cases and bring indictments that would hurt Democrats and boost the GOP's prospects in the key swing state.
Iglesias told Newsweek:
This confirms my worst nightmares. There were improper and potentially illegal -- as in criminally illegal -- reasons for my removal.
The Rove connection here is no longer some paranoid liberal fantasy. White House Counsel Harriet Miers (who would be on the Supreme Court now if Bush had had his way)
described getting a phone call from a "very upset" Rove telling her that Iglesias was "a serious problem and he wanted something done about it."
The (Bush) Justice Department Inspector General issued a report on the scandal last September, which Newsweek summarizes like this:
The Justice inspector general, Glenn Fine, said in his report, however, that he could not get to the bottom of the U.S. attorney controversy because key White House players—including Rove and Miers—had refused to be interviewed, citing executive privilege.
The Justice Department currently has a special prosecutor, Nora Dannehy, investigating whether obstruction-of-justice or perjury charges should be filed.

This story has two angles that are hardly being covered. One is the Big Picture: In addition to influencing individual elections, Rove wanted voter-fraud cases filed against Democrats all over the country in order to produce political momentum for state laws making it harder to vote. It's widely believed that marginal voters -- the poor, the uneducated, the old, people who don't speak English well, and so on -- are overwhelmingly Democrats. So Republicans favor laws that scare them away from the polls or make them jump through hoops to vote.

Of course Republicans can't openly say "we want to keep legal voters away from the polls", so they have created the bogus voter fraud issue. Election fraud in this country is virtually never done by having real people show up at the polls and claim to be somebody else, but that is the purported focus of voter-ID laws, like the Indiana law upheld by the Supreme Court last year. The "unintended" consequence is that people people who don't have drivers licenses -- overwhelmingly the marginal voters -- have a much harder time casting a ballot.

The second uncovered angle is: What about the U.S. attorneys who weren't fired? Did they somehow play ball with Rove?

And that brings us to Chris Christie, who kept his job even though his name appeared on some preliminary firing lists. Perhaps coincidentally, within two months of the 2006 election Christie's office leaked to the press that it was investigating Democratic Senate candidate (now Senator) Bob Menendez on a real estate deal -- a move that both damaged Menendez' campaign and helped Republicans make a national both-sides-are-guilty argument to defuse their own corruption scandals. Whether the Menendez investigation was real or not, it did not lead to any charges.

Christie is currently running for governor of New Jersey on an anti-corruption platform.

This Republican talking point shows up in the comment section of nearly every article on this topic: U. S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president, so there's nothing illegal about firing them.

Here's the answer: A lot of otherwise legal things become illegal if they're part of a criminal conspiracy. So there's nothing illegal about picking somebody up in front of a bank and giving them a ride -- unless you're the get-away car in a robbery.

In general, firing U.S. attorneys is legal. But if the firings were part of a conspiracy to harass Democrats and impede legitimate investigations of Republicans, they're illegal.

Republicans pushed a similar point after Bush commuted the sentence of Scooter Libby. Yes, the president has the legal power to commute sentences. But if there was a larger criminal conspiracy -- if the plan was for Libby to obstruct justice and use Bush's commutation as his get-away car -- then it was illegal.

Here's another example of corruption in the Bush Justice Department:
Career federal law enforcement officials who worked directly on a probe of former Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) said they believe that word of the investigation was leaked by senior Bush administration political appointees in the Justice Department in an improper and perhaps illegal effort to affect the outcome of an election.

Matt Yglesias does something here that you rarely see: A flashback to how the press covered something that we're now starting to learn the truth about. He gives us almost 4 minutes of Chris Matthews' Hardball panel discussing (on March 24, 2007) Congress' attempt to get Karl
Rove to testify. In those four minutes, literally no one expressed concern that our justice system might have been seriously compromised. Matt quotes Glenn Greenwald's contemporaneous comment:
Really, is it any wonder at all that our government is so fundamentally corrupt and broken when we have a press like this? Why wouldn’t top government officials lie continuously when our national press corps finds such lying to be such a source of merriment and humor, and can summon the energy only to attack, mock and condemn those who find the lying objectionable, rather than the liars themselves?

Should You Boycott Whole Foods?
Before I get into the details, I have to say that I'm of two minds about boycotts. In the ideal boycott, you temporarily stop doing business with an organization until they change some particular practice. The classic example is the Montgomery Bus Boycott that ended the segregation of city buses.

But a boycott is on shakier ground when you're trying to punish somebody for their personal political beliefs rather than what their organization does. The worst example in recent years was the campaign to get radio stations not to play songs by the Dixie Chicks after one of them told an English audience that she was ashamed of President Bush.

In general, I dislike any step down the road towards apartheid between liberals and conservatives. So, for example, I don't respond to the anti-abortion activities of Domino's Pizza founder Tom Monaghan, because I don't have to agree with you to eat your pizza.

So what did Whole Foods do to arouse the ire of would-be boycotters? Nothing directly, but CEO John Mackey, wrote an editorial in the Wall Street Journal against healthcare reform. Wait, that's unfair: He's only against the kind of reform that keeps sick people out of bankruptcy. But he's for the kind of reform that frees health insurance companies from all oversight. So he wants no state regulation, no federal mandates about coverage, and so on. (I explained last week why this is a bad idea.) This point caps it off:
Many promoters of health-care reform believe that people have an intrinsic ethical right to health care -- to equal access to doctors, medicines and hospitals. While all of us empathize with those who are sick, how can we say that all people have more of an intrinsic right to health care than they have to food or shelter?
It's obvious to Mackey that no one has a right to eat or to come in out of the rain, so of course sick people no right to treatment. But he does show compassion for those without health insurance -- he suggests they be covered by charity. (A similar turn of mind led Scrooge to recommend prisons and workhouses as a solution to the poverty problem.)

Mackey's editorial is no worse than what a lot of conservatives say, but it was a thumb-in-the-eye to Whole Foods' liberal customers. Whole Foods was overwhelmed by callers (512-477-4455) and by protesting commenters on its website -- many of whose comments got removed.

But should we boycott Whole Foods, as some are proposing? As an occasional but not regular Whole Foods shopper, I say no, because there's no goal. I don't see what Whole Foods can do to surrender, so boycotters are mainly just venting.

On the other hand, you might re-examine why you shop at Whole Foods in the first place. If you like their food, don't give it up because Mackey disagrees with you about healthcare. But if you shop at Whole Foods to make the world a better place -- you're not. Just give that idea up. Whole Foods is anti-union, uses harsh tactics against its competitors, and is a major force for corporate rather than local organic farming. Because they charge high prices and only locate in upscale neighborhoods, they point to a future where the rich eat healthy food while the poor consume whatever crap agribusiness wants to produce. You'd do about as much good -- and pay less -- if you bought organic food at WalMart.

The Texas Observer, in an article that was widely quoted, but which I can't find on its website, summed it up:
People shop at Whole Foods not just because it offers organic produce and natural foods, but because it claims to run its business in a way that demonstrates a genuine concern for the community, the environment and the 'whole planet,' in the words of its motto. In reality, Whole Foods has gone on a corporate feeding frenzy in recent years, swallowing rival retailers across the country. ... The expansion is driven by a simple and lucrative business strategy: high prices and low wages.
(It's only fair to point out that another Texas Observer writer likes Whole Foods.) If you want your grocery dollars to improve the world, find a nearby farmers' market or food co-op instead. But keep in mind that green shopping is no substitute for regulation. As Andrew Szasz puts it:
Surveys show that Americans care about the environment, water pollution, and air quality, but there’s a disconnect. Instead of engaging in political action, people go shopping and think they’ve solved the problem. That needs to change.

Another boycott-like action: Since the inauguration, Glenn Beck has been working hard to stir up an misinformed mob. But when Beck said that Obama was a "racist" who had "a deep-seated hatred for white people" that was the final straw for Color of Change, which started pressuring Beck's advertisers.

The campaign is working:
In what is shaping up to be one of the more effective boycott campaigns in years, advertisers are abandoning the "Glenn Beck" show on Fox News following the host's incendiary comments
Advertisers like Procter & Gamble and Geico. A spokesperson for Sargento Cheese said:
We market our products to people regardless of their political affiliations. Yet we do not want to be associated with hateful speech used by either liberal or conservative television hosts.

Healthcare is About Real People
The healthcare debate is a great example of Stephen Colbert's observation that "Reality has a well-known liberal bias." Conservatives do well as long as the debate is about bizarre fantasies like Sarah Palin's "death panels". Conversely, the most persuasive liberal argument is to get real people telling their stories.

So this week, rather than analyze the issue myself, I'm mainly going to link to people telling their own stories in their own words. Basically, the stories fall into two categories: horror stories from the American health care system, and stories that contradict the crazy conservative inventions about what happens in countries with "socialized medicine".

The most hilarious fantasy-versus-reality story is Investor Business Daily's editorial against Obama's healthcare plan, which (until the world exploded in laughter) contained this paragraph:
People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.
Lost in their paranoid fantasy of Obama killing off the cripples, IBD overlooked the well-known fact that Stephen Hawking is British. Hawking felt obligated to comment:
I wouldn't be here today if it were not for the NHS. I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived.

The evils of the British NHS are a staple of Republican attacks -- even though no Democratic proposal is based on or resembles the NHS. Even so, if the NHS were so bad, you'd think that trashing it would be good politics in the UK.

Apparently not. When Daniel Hannan, a Conservative Party member of the European Parliament, went on a series of American TV shows to criticize the NHS, the rest of the Conservative Party ran for cover. Conservative leader David Cameron described Hannan's views as "eccentric" and told BBC News: "The Conservative Party stands four square behind the NHS."

TPM reader JR tells a story of his/her daughter getting better treatment in Scotland that she got in the US.

An American doctor currently living in Germany tells how that country's system works:
People here freely change jobs, careers, and locations without any regard for health insurance, and they are free of the fear of going bankrupt or losing their homes or life’s savings if they were to get seriously ill

Loudmouth Liberal on DailyKos tells about having a baby with American health insurance:

This week, Baby Liberal turned one. It goes without saying that Mr. Liberal and I think our son is absolutely perfect. What he is NOT, however, is priceless.

On the day he arrived, my little darling was worth $56,826.50. By the time we left the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) eight days later, he was worth an additional $21,651.50. Having already met the $6,000.00 maximum out-of-pocket deductible with my prenatal care, my precious bundle of joy had a pricetag of $84,478.00 before we'd purchased the first pack of diapers.

DailyKos' Jerome a Paris described what happened five years ago, when his four-year-old son was diagnosed with a brain tumor in France.
world class treatment was provided immediately, not subject to any "death panel" of any kind, and at no cost to us. In this case, treatment was provided in a public hospital, but if the best solution had been in a private clinic (or even, in some cases, if the only solution was to ship my son to a foreign specialist, something which happens in rare instances), then my son would have been taken there at no cost to us, everything been covered by the "S├ęcu"

A TPM reader recently diagnosed with breast cancer in France tells about the closest thing she has seen to a "death panel":
It makes a decision about a patient's health that does not depend upon considerations like age, income, pre-existing conditions or lifestyle. The council has only one question to answer: does the patient have an illness (or trauma) that requires long term treatment? If the answer to that question is yes, the person is immediately covered at 100 percent for the duration of the illness.

Finally, there's Remote Area Medical Group, which was founded to bring medical care to poor people in third world countries. Now they do 65% of their work in the United States. CBS covered the long line of people waiting to get free care at an RAM event in the L.A. Forum. Joan Walsh comments:
It's a wonderful example of American volunteerism and compassion; it also represents a complete breakdown in our values of fairness and equal rights.
The British, French, or Germans would be ashamed to see their countrymen forced to use a medical service designed for the world's most backward places. Are we?

Short Notes
Here's a moving account of Joan Baez going out to have a conversation with an aging Vietnam vet who was picketing her concert.

Here's how the conservative meritocracy works: They've got a job as a radio host for Mike "HeckuvajobBrownie" Brown. David Sirota comments:
This guy is literally the international posterboy for incompetence - a guy who basically did nothing while an American city drowned. And just four short years later, he's on the airwaves as a serious political/governmental expert

A commenter on a Whole Foods forum gives a long but hilarious response to the point that the government can't do anything right.

Historian Rick Perlstein faces the question of whether right-wing crazies are crazier now than they have been in decades past. The answer is no, they're very similar, but today's media covers them differently.

The astroturf campaign to derail healthcare reform is going so well that the oil industry is planning to run one against climate change.

The town-hall craziness is bringing out the best in Jon Stewart. Check this and this.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I came across your Whole Foods article and thought you might be interested in this. Another article is out there on Whole Foods not monitoring the ingredients being used in the products they sell. This particular issue is over a bait and switch ingredient scandal involving one of their products. You can see the article here

Just thought you may be interested, and might want to get the word out.