I’ve got a new Think Again column called "Mission Accomplished? Really?" and it’s here.

Now here’s Pierce a day early, and some more of the regulars…

More tomorrow, I hope.



Hey Doc:

"And big Jim Dwyer, the man of wire, who was often heard to say/I’m a freeborn man of the USA."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "Irish Blues" (Maura O’Connell) — I love the way the shadows fall between the hills of north Kerry, where my family’s from, but I love New Orleans just as much.

Part The First: Come back, Ted Turner. I’m begging you. What happened here? Did CNN balk at the contract demands of a guy sleeping on a steam grate somewhere? Did they guy who collects tinfoil and makes it into a huge ball have a tough agent? Did the insane cat lady want her own show? Explain yourselves, morons.

Part The Second: This twit is a member of Congress. Vaclav Havel should come to Washington and beat him to death with a copy of The White Album. Alexander Dubcek should come back from the dead and eat his face. Do they really believe this stuff, or do they believe it’s a surefire way to win votes, and which of these two alternatives is worse for the country. Discuss.

Part The Third: I don’t care what you think of the healthcare bill, this is the kind of thing that everyone should applaud. Watching the White House navigate the complete shitstorm that this is going to provoke from the usual shitstorming class is going to be instructive.

Part The Fourth: Oh, no, you’re not. Replacing Moyers with a foof like Parson Meacham? And this makes sense to someone, how? I can hardly wait for the Very Special Episode — Karl Rove: Tears On The Hatchet, or for Newt Gingrich’s weekly spot, Really Smart Stuff I Learned Once. Still, PBS still has marginally better hiring policies than CNN.

Part The Penultimate: No, Kevin. This is really only half an answer, and that’s if I stipulate that, by next fall, the Republicans won’t have the votes to override a veto of their attempts to repeal the oncoming POS. (I make it slightly worse than even-money that they won’t, and that’s if I don’t factor in the number of terrified surviving Democrats.) But, regardless, the "20 or 30 years down the line" argument is still threadbare speculation. Both Social Security/Medicare parallels were federally-operated programs right from jump. In the current POS–which, as I’ve said, I would vote for, and then immediately repair to the Tune Inn for whiskey and self-loathing–the deep involvement of the for-profit insurance industry guarantees has created within the structure of the system being created a powerful constituency that would oppose any moves toward a real public option or, dare to dream, a single-payer system. This is an inherent obstacle that renders the SS/Medicare parallel, at best, inapt. The other night on one of the pundit shows, Ezra Klein, who’s forgotten more about these matters than most of us will ever know, looked a little bumfuzzled on the issue of the ban on pre-existing conditions. The host–O’Donnell, I think, but I could be wrong–asked him whether or not he thought that, banned from denying coverage on that basis, the insurance companies would simply devise another plan by which they would deny coverage to those same people. I have no doubt that they will, since they are the greediest and most soulless bastards on the planet. Give them until 2014 and they’ll come up with something.

Part The Ultimate: This is the real shiz-nit, as Snoop Dogg once said to Herbert Spencer. This is what I’m talking about. (I may have a new conservative crush.) It’s past time for the NYT to send its struggling phenom back down to Double-A for some more seasoning. And this part;

"From Mark Twain’s "Gilded Age" and Robert Penn Warren’s "All the King’s Men" to their more recent imitators, our novelists have never been terribly interested in the actual challenges of political life. Instead, Lehmann suggested, they usually cast the entire mess as "a great ethical contaminant and task their protagonists with escaping its many perils with both their lives and their moral compasses intact."

…is almost perfectly stupid. It is a stupid point, repeated stupidly, in order to make stupidly an even more stupid point. All The King’s Men wasn’t "terribly interested in the actual challenges of political life"? Has Douthat ever read the book? Hell, has he ever met anyone who has? Hell, in his delicate, cosseted young life, has he ever met anyone from Louisiana? Can Douthat’s argument reasonably be said to apply to any of the three greatest political novels of the last century, which would be ATKM, Edwin O’Connor’s The Last Hurrah, and The Gay Place, Billy Lee Brammer’s criminally overlooked fictionalized portrait of LBJ?

(It says something, although I don’t know what, that the politicians fictionalized in the three greatest political novels of the last century are also the subjects of, arguably, three of the greatest political biographies of that same period–T. Harry Williams’s masterpiece on Huey Long, Jack Beatty’s marvelous The Rascal Kingabout James Michael Curley, and Robert Caro’s monumental ongoing achievement on Lyndon Johnson–and that all the characters, fictional and non-fictional, are Democrats.)

Those books reek of the "actual challenges" of the unique political fauna present in, respectively, Louisiana, Irish Catholic Boston, and Texas. That many of those "actual challenges" are venal–and, in the case of The Last Hurrah, almost comically so–is beside the point entirely. And who exactly are "the protagonists" in these novels, anyway? Are they the outside observer/narrators, or the outsized figures being observed? If it is former, then it’s a considerable stretch to say that ATKM‘s Jack Burden, or Adam Caulfield from The Last Hurrah, escape with their ethical compasses intact. And, if it’s the latter, then the argument is self-evidently ludicrous. Good Lord, man, do better than this.

The mail:

Name: Michael Green

Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada

As usual, Brother Pierce provides much food and fodder for thought. Here goes.

On attorneys: I had the privilege of conducting the oral history of a Nevada attorney and politician, Ralph Denton, whom a judge once appointed to represent a man who killed four people in a bank vault. Ralph said as he came into the courtroom, spectators would hiss at him. He wondered how they would feel if THEY needed representation and how they could know so little about our system of justice. In an ideal world, Liz Cheney would be accused of a heinous crime (besides her libel and slander, and what I believe is treason to the ideals of the Founding Fathers) and need an attorney.

On Jane Hamster, as I like to call her: Agreeing or disagreeing with a health care reform bill is fine. But knowing what you are talking about matters far more. I read her commentaries until I realized how little she actually knew about government and politics, and realized that I could better spend my time staring at the wall and watching paint dry. The problem is, she does indeed reflect a view peculiar among the far left and far right that rules and individual opinions don’t matter. Just do what they tell us to do.

On the health care reform bill: Someday, historians will say that the greatest bit of legislative legerdemain by any congressional leader since Lyndon Johnson was when Harry Reid got his entire caucus of 60 senators to back a bill that none of them liked but that improved the nation’s health care system.

Name: Pat Healy

Hometown: Vallejo, CA

As the spouse of a high school teacher (and someone with a long enough memory to recall that I was, in fact, the kind of student teachers dread when I was in high school), I cannot emphasize this enough: Parenting (more specifically, the lack of it in the classical sense) is probably THE major problem in K-12 education today.

I constantly hear stories from my wife about parental behavior (when they are confronted with the fact that their spawn is, in fact, an unmotivated, disruptive, and impertinent piece of shit) that rarely fail to surprise me, even keeping in mind the previous stories from our years together. I am always reminded of the fact that, "in my day," my parents were usually inclined to take the teacher’s word over mine, unless I had sufficient evidence (usually supplied by other students with better reputations) to warrant further investigation. While I cannot say that this approach appealed to me at the time, I must confess that, in hindsight, it was probably correct.

Today’s problem parents, based on my vantage point, seem to regard schools as an all purpose babysitter/custodial guardian, with the alchemical ability to transmogrify lumps of lead into gold, preferably with as little bother and expense to them as possible. No, not all parents act this way; it’s not even a majority. But they are numerous, onerous, and, in their effect on the system, dangerous.

This is, admittedly, a one-sided view of the issue. However, while I can see many problems with the teachers’ unions and the current typical system for hiring and retaining teachers at American schools, teachers and their unions are not any more important a factor in "fixing" schools than are the economic realities that send both parents out to work, thereby, understandably, giving them a greater reliance on schools to provide what they are unable to furnish. And addressing those realities would have far wider-reaching benefits than going after the teachers’ unions could possibly provide.

Name: Thain Marston

Hometown: Des Moines, IA

"Am I to believe that, gifted with a federal mandate requiring people to buy their products, the insurance companies will drop over time their resistance to the kind of health-care system that exists everywhere else in the industrialized world? " Actually, yes. The main type of health-care system used in the developed world is called the Bismarck Plan after the German chancellor who introduced in 1883. It features strongly regulated private-payers and private-providers. In addition to Germany, this type of plan is also used by Japan and France, the latter often considered to have the best health care system in the world. And, of course, it is the kind of system being offered in the Senate HCR bill. So there is no reason based on international experience to think it can’t work. I think the key to getting good, cost effective universal health care is not the kind of system used (there are at least three basic types plus mixtures used in the developed world) but in having good administration and regulation to implement it. For example, single-payer systems are relative rare and as we have seen with our own Medicare can fail to achieve cost control if hampered by the lawmakers.

Name: Dan Garfinkel

Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA

Regarding right-wing radio: one must not underestimate the power of radio hosts who are willing to lie, demonize, and misrepresent our country’s most precious documents. Their success is directly related to the failures of our public school systems to produce educated voters who actually understand the meaning of democracy. The challenge in fighting the extreme right is that they do not play by any rules: Dishonesty and hypocrisy are meaningless terms. It’s just how they roll.

Name: Don Hynes

Hometown: Portland, OR

Charles, you know I love your style, but in the bastardized Nicholson version of Updike’s classic, the Devil asks the duly shocked Sunday wasp congregation: "When God created (health care) did He make a mistake or did He do it on purpose?" He might be asking the same question about no public option to the Dems Congress but Glenn Greenwald says it so much better here:

The Democrats’ scam becomes more transparent.

Name: Robert Moskowitz

Hometown: Santa Monica, CA

I agree that there should be more liberal/progressive talk on the radio. But the problem is literally that the medium is part of the message, and psychological studies have shown that conservative/libertarian points of view and talking points are more likely to find an audience on radio than liberal/progressive POVs and TPs.

Poorly recalled and restated by me, the reasons involve the fact that conservatives are likely to get greater pleasure from hearing their enemies’ arguments belittled, debunked, and refuted — even if the arguments are weak and illogical — compared with liberals/progressives. Both camps like to see their opponents’ strongest arguments defeated by strong rebuttals, but only the conservative/libertarian group gets the same amount of pleasure from the kind of tripe that Limbaugh, Beck, O’Reilly, and the other right-wing noise makers are regularly putting forth.

That’s a big part of the reason why Fox is raking in the big bucks and Air America went belly up.

I remember The Advocates, a PBS TV a series in which actually well-informed left- and right-wing debaters made intelligent points against each other and a slate of partisan witnesses, trying to establish and support their two opposing points of view. The show was very stimulating and educational. But intelligent argument does not attract the kind of multi-million person audiences that a strategy of shouting, insulting, and making fun of others seems to attract.

There may be a format that works for liberal/progressive audiences on for-profit radio stations, but no one has discovered or popularized it yet.

There’s another point: I’m not sure any of the conservative/liberal POVs or TPs contain enough factual content or sensible analysis to stand up in even the simplest and dumbest debating/arguing format. I mean, how hard is it to refute the notion of "death panels" or to call out the Republicans for linking Obama’s policies to the stock market when it went down, but not when it went back up?

In any battle of wits, the Right would basically be unarmed.

So I think you’d have a hard time getting anyone on the Right to agree to participate in a fair fight on a level playing field.

There’s another reason–that I haven’t heard anywhere else before–why lefty talk radio fails: one person brings in some actual, factual information about existing scientific research and what it shows that might be important; after that, everyone totally ignores that input and talks about other stuff, except for those few who respond by offering their own unscientific, unsupported theories.

So there you have it: liberalism and leftist talk radio fails because it’s all about facts, information, and evidence. No one in the audience has much in the way of facts, information, and evidence to contribute. And almost no one in the audience gives a shit about any of that stuff, anyway, and would much rather bloviate about their own anecdotal experiences and personal theories.

This also explains why right-wing talk radio is so popular: it has nothing whatever to do with facts, information, and evidence. The hosts don’t care about that stuff, and neither does the audience. All those righties just get to gas about whatever weird ideas get through their aluminum foil hats and rattle around in their heads. And the other righties love hearing about enemies, and victimization, and the coming apocalypses while waiting for their next turn to gas about their own crazy ideas.

So far, when people have tried to do leftist talk radio, they start off on the wrong foot by concentrating on the issues, and they make it worse by bringing up relevant facts, information and evidence. Boring.

Rachel Maddow is the exception that proves the rule.

Name: Paul-Andre Panon

Hometown: Vancouver, B.C.

Something interesting to ponder is that up to and including the 1st half of the 20th century, it apparently was fairly common for young sons in large families to enter the catholic church as brothers or priests. Now consider the relationship between fraternal birth order and homosexuality and it seems pretty likely that the catholic church had a much high proportion of latent homosexuals in its order as compared to the general population. It’s not inconceivable that the church may have deliberately demonized homosexuality to make the world a more hostile place for that population group so that they would turn to the church to deal with their "inner demons". It’s also interesting that as family sizes in Western democracies have shrunk and homosexuals have been more accepted, the church has had more difficulty recruiting men for the priesthood. Keep in mind that Asia, where large family sizes and homosexual criminalization is still common, is one of the few places where the church isn’t having problems recruiting priests. Now. while homosexuality is not normally associated with predation, it’s quite possible that some of the homosexual men in the church, unable to be honest about their sexual urges, and perhaps psychologically twisted by church doctrine about their "perversion", might succumb to exploiting their position when given clerical authority over younger men. The temptation to give in to their "inner demons" might have been too much.

In addition to the avoidance of scandal, it would certainly explain why the church hierarchy’s private reaction to abuse by priests would have been so different from their public posture: to shuffle the priests around rather than expose and punish the guilty parties. If a substantial part of that hierarchy was homosexual, they would have been fighting their own "demons" and had substantial empathy for those who had lapsed and fallen prey to their "base urges".

I had this thought years ago when the scandals were still limited to North America, and so this comes more as a confirmation than a surprise. I expect that most of the iceberg is still submerged.

Name: Paul Corrigan

Hometown: Lexington, MA

Doc, have you see what’s #1 on the NYT Bestseller list for Hardcover Nonfiction?

NO APOLOGY, by Mitt Romney

One of my neighbors (we live on the most left-wing street in Lexington, MA) was a partner of Romney at Bain. To my horror, when he first ran for Governor of Massachusetts she supported his candidacy and then pleaded ignorance once he showed his true colors.

Bill Maher now refers to Mitt as a "shapeshifter" due to his penchant for changing political positions. Alas, Romney is no myth and his candidacy in 2012 will not be a fantasy. While other Republicans self destruct, Mitt is ready to look good, spend and lie his way to the White House.

Just like the Republicans did to Gore, the time to assassinate Romney’s character is before he even runs for office. We can do it with the truth, and the shapeshifter analogy is the perfect way to expose Romney’s hypocrisy.