Sunday, August 17, 2014

Twitrage Strikes Again

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

The online reaction to couple of recent news items illustrates once again the dangers of what I’ve come to call “Twitrage.”
Twitrage happens when someone sees an item in print or on the Internet, gets offended, then immediately takes to Twitter or other sites on the Web to trumpet their outrage, all before taking a closer look to see if there’s really anything to be offended about.
For our first example, we turn to Amanda Carpenter, whose Twitter feed describes her as a “Speechwriter/senior communications adviser to Ted Cruz.” Sen. Cruz’s designated mouthpiece was mightily incensed over the idea that in these troubled times, President Obama would be frivolous enough to host a concert by teen idol Katy Perry at the White House.
“Do they even care about optics anymore?” she tweeted, before comparing all the important things her boss had been allegedly working on: “Israel, border crisis, Internet taxes, NSA, FAA. Iran. Not Katy Perry concerts.”
Only problem was, Ms. Carpenter had missed the fact that, not only was the president certainly working on all those things as well, but that the concert was a benefit for the Special Olympics. As one of Cruz’s fellow Republicans once famously said, “Oops.”
After this was pointed out to her, with a few questions as to what, exactly, Cruz’s office had against benefit shows for disabled children, she deleted the tweets in question and apologized — not to the president, the person she’d actually insulted, but to her Twitter followers. Obama Derangement Syndrome means never have to say you’re sorry --to the president.
Then there’s the liberal outrage directed against State Sen. Richard Ross of Massachusetts, after The Boston Globe’s website reported the Republican senator was sponsoring a bill to require divorcing couples to get court permission before dating.
It’s pretty much standard language in a custody order that neither party can have “unrelated overnight guests of the opposite sex while the children are in their custody.” The theory, and it’s not an unreasonable one, is that it would be upsetting to children to have someone who’s not Mom or Dad stumble out of the former parental bedroom yawning while the kids are eating their morning Froot Loops.
This bill, however, went even farther than that. It says that in a divorce proceeding “the party remaining in the home shall not conduct a dating or sexual relationship within the home until a divorce is final and all financial and custody issues are resolved, unless the express permission is granted by the courts.”
Got that? For divorcing couples in Massachusetts, the bill as written would require judicial permission to even date until the case is settled.
We should all be pretty outraged about this, right? Sen. Ross is pushing a major invasion of personal privacy and liberty, right? Certainly there’s been much headshaking and finger-wagging on Twitter, as well as on liberal blogs such as Jezebel.com and ThinkProgress.
“Hard to believe a small-government Republican would want to make you check with the government before having sex,” tut-tutted Alan Colmes’ blog Liberaland.
But, as so often happens with Twitrage, there’s less to this story than meets the eye. As reported by Boston Magazine, “the bill has no legislative sponsors, no support, and is in no way under consideration by anybody.”
It seems there’s an old tradition in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts called “the right of free petition,” which allows private citizens to submit just about any bill they want to the legislature for consideration. You want to propose legislation to make putting pineapple on pizza a capital felony in the Commonwealth, you could do it. The only requirement is you’ve got to find an actual member to file the paperwork.
According to Boston Daily reporter David S. Bernstein, “many legislators aren’t even aware that they are allowed to deny a citizen petition request.” Just because a proposed bill gets filed doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, or even that the person who signed off on the petition cares enough about it to bring it to the floor.
As it turns out, this same bill has been proposed by the same guy, an 83-year-old codger named Robert LeClair, for years, and it never gets anywhere. LeClair clearly has an ax to grind, but nobody in the legislature is turning the grindstone for him. So everybody just calm the heck down.
In these times of instantaneous worldwide communication, false or incomplete information can, in the words of the old saying, “be halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.” So can the indignation from the kind of stories that cause both liberals and conservatives to say “isn’t that just like those [insert your favorite bogeyman here]” before they have all the facts.
So let’s be careful out there.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Boehner: PAY NO ATTENTION TO THOSE WINGNUTS BEHIND THE CURTAIN!

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

Will the Republicans in the House actually impeach President Obama? I don’t know, but the recent furor over the question has provided us with the hilarious spectacle of one-half of the party trying desperately to keep people from noticing what the other half is doing.
Some Republicans, of course, have been muttering the “I” word since Mr. Obama’s election. The carping got louder when they found, to their shock, that they couldn’t beat him in 2012. Recently, the issue burst back onto the national conversation as the Queen of Wingnuttia herself, failed vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, wrote an inflammatory op-ed for the current flagship for right-wing lunacy, the website Breitbart.com.
“It’s time to impeach,” the Quitta From Wasilla said flatly. “Enough is enough of the years of abuse from this president. His unsecured border crisis is the last straw that makes the battered wife say, ‘No mas.’”
Well, I guess comparing not getting your political way to being an abused spouse is more classy than their usual complaint of being just like chattel slaves or Holocaust victims, but not by much.
Conservative pundit Smilin’ Bill Kristol, usually a Palin cheerleader, was unequivocal in his rejection of the whole idea of impeachment. He directly responded to Palin’s call on ABC’s “This Week” by flatly declaring, “No responsible elected official has called for impeachment.”
That one had to sting, because Kristol has always pushed Palin’s seriousness as a political voice. Of course, this means that impeachment is inevitable, because, as we all know, Bill Kristol is always, always wrong.
Orange John Boehner was even firmer in his denial, claiming that the “whole talk about impeachment” was a “scam” started by Democratic fundraisers to try to drum up contributions for the upcoming election. It’s all “coming from the president’s own staff and Democrats on Capitol Hill.”
This should come as a surprise to:
— Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who told Breitbart News Saturday, “From my standpoint, if the president [enacts more executive actions], we need to bring impeachment hearings immediately before the House of Representatives. That’s my position, and that’s my prediction.”
— Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who told a radio interviewer: “Not a day goes by when people don’t talk to us about impeachment. I don’t know what rises to that level yet, but I know that there’s a mounting frustration that a lot of people are getting to, and I think Congress is going to start looking at it very seriously.”
— Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), who, according to another story on Breitbart.com, “told colleagues that the House should pass legislation with new steps to secure the border, and tell Obama if he didn’t implement it, they would impeach him.”
— Rep. Marilinda Garcia (R-N.H.), who said she’d vote for impeachment because, according to her, the president “has many, many impeachable offenses, it seems to me, in terms of his disregard for our Constitution alone.”
And of course, no parade of wingnuts would be complete without its grand marshal, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Bedlam), who stopped short of calling for immediate impeachment, then immediately claimed it’s “what the people want.”
“There isn’t a weekend that hasn’t gone by,” she said, “that someone says to me, ‘Michele, what in the world are you all waiting for in Congress? Why aren’t you impeaching the president?”
While it is highly likely that the “someone” she refers to is one of the voices buzzing in her head, she and her pals in the Teahadist Caucus seem awfully fixated on something that their alleged leader says is a Democratic idea.
Did all of these people (and a half-dozen other House Republicans who have either outright called for impeachment or who can’t stop talking about unspecified “impeachable offenses”) join the White House staff or cross the aisle to the Dem side when we weren’t looking?
John Boehner knows the lessons of history. He knows that the doomed impeachment effort against President Bill Clinton caused Clinton’s popularity ratings to skyrocket. He also knows that while impeachment is a big seller among Republicans, less than a third of the general electorate favors it, and 63 percent of independents flat out oppose it.
So, in a weak imitation of the Great and Powerful Oz, Orange John is bellowing for us to “pay no attention to those Republicans behind the curtain!” while pushing his own substitute: a lawsuit against President Obama’s delay in enacting a law the House has tried to repeal so many times I’ve lost count.
Sadly, Boehner is neither great nor powerful. His caucus is out of control and pushing not solutions to problems, but bogus lawsuits and political grandstanding. That’s what the Democrats are raising money to fight. They’re right to do so.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Truth or Parody?

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

Lord, it’s hot out there. It’s hot enough to make a bishop cuss. Birds are pulling worms out of the ground using potholders. I saw a dog chasing a cat and they were both walking.
So, since it’s too hot to go outside, let’s stay inside and play a game. How about one of my favorite games: “Truth or Parody”? I’ll tell you an occurrence and you tell me if it actually happened, or if it’s satire.
Ready? Here we go:
1. A Republican congressman from Florida created a series of awkward moments during a congressional hearing when he warmly welcomed a pair of witnesses with brown skin and East Asian names by talking about how he wanted closer relations with their country and how fond he was of “Bollywood” movies (a genre of musical cinema made in India). Unfortunately, the witnesses were both Americans who are senior officials in the U.S. government.
2.  Ex-Alaska Gov. and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin recently unveiled an online subscription video service where her fans can pay $9.95 a month to watch messages from Palin and hear her commentaries on a variety of issues. Unfortunately, the launch of the service was spoiled by a glitch in which all of the videos quit halfway through playback.
3. Outgoing Minnesota Rep. and potential presidential candidate Michele Bachmann recently proposed solving the problem of unaccompanied immigrant children by creating labor camps, or as she called them, “Americanization facilities.” She said, “We’d get private-sector business leaders to locate to those facilities and give these children low-risk jobs to do. And they’d learn about the American way of life, earn their keep, and everyone wins in the end.”
4. An Arizona state legislator spoke out against national Common Core standards by claiming he’d heard they used “fuzzy math” that “substitutes letters for numbers at some points” — a description of algebra.
And now, the answers:
1.  True. Last Thursday, freshman Rep. Curt Clawson, despite having a list of witnesses to a congressional hearing before him, mistook Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal and Assistant Secretary of Commerce Arun Kumar as representatives of the Indian government.
According to an article in Foreign Policy Magazine, “Although both Biswal and Kumar were introduced as U.S. officials by the chairman of the Asia and Pacific subcommittee, Clawson repeatedly asked them questions about ‘your country’ and ‘your government,’ in reference to the state of India.”
Clawson (the tea party candidate, naturally) later used a basketball metaphor, describing the incident as “throwing an air ball” on his part. I’d say it’s more like he came on the court and tackled one of his assistant coaches after unsuccessfully trying to throw him out at third.
2.  Half true. Sarah Palin’s new Internet subscription website is designed, in her words, to “go beyond the sound bites and cut through the media’s politically correct filter.” And, one suspects, avoid those pesky confrontations with reality that even the formerly fawning Fox News has been forcing on her.
But the part about the videos cutting off halfway through was my little joke. Given half-term governor Palin’s track record in regard to sticking with things, however, I wouldn’t spring for the long-term subscription.
3.  Parody. One that caught quite a few people, because when it comes to Congresswoman Crazy Eyes, no pronouncement seems too bizarre. This is, after all, the woman who recently said that the unaccompanied children flooding the U.S. Southern border came from “Yemen, Iran, Iraq and other terrorist nations,” and that they might be carrying “Ebola and other diseases like that,” even though there is not a shred of evidence for either claim.
4.  True. State Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, told a Senate education committee that he was suspicious of Common Core standards because they’d been “hijacked by Washington.” Asked by another legislator if he’d actually seen the standards, Melvin said he’d been “exposed to them” and that there was “fuzzy math that substitutes letters for numbers.” For God’s sake, let’s not expose the poor man to calculus. Those Greek letters will blow his little mind.
A maxim developed on the Internet, known as Poe’s Law, states that “without a clear indication of the author’s intent, it is difficult or impossible to tell the difference between an expression of sincere extremism and a parody of extremism” (definition via Wikipedia).
Or, as I put it, “The hard part about satire is staying ahead of reality.” This difficulty is particularly pronounced when you’re dealing with the party of proud ignorance, manic xenophobia, and general craziness.
Enjoy your August!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

An Obamacare Challenge for Kay Hagan and Clay Aiken-Show Us Who's Side You're On!

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

“Death Blow Against Obamacare,” The Huffington Post blared. “Big Blow to Obamacare Subsidies,” claimed The Washington Times. As usual, however, the reports of the demise of the Affordable Care Act have been greatly exaggerated.


Here’s what happened: The ACA set up a system of insurance “exchanges,” where people can go online, shop among various insurance plans, and check to see if they qualify for assistance (in the form of tax subsidies regulated by the IRS) to buy them. The law provided that the states could set up their own exchanges, but if for some reason they couldn’t or wouldn’t, then the Feds would do it for them.
Some states, such as California, Kentucky and Minnesota, set up their own exchanges. Those have enrolled lots of people who are getting access to health care that they’d been unable to afford before. Republican-controlled states, however, out of pure spite over the GOP’s loss on Obamacare, refused to cooperate. They turned up their noses and said, “Let the Feds do it.” Which the Feds did.
Now, however, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, in an opinion written by two Bushista judges (one a creature of Bush the Elder, one an appointee of his egregious son Dubbya), ruled that the ACA provided for subsidies only for policies bought on exchanges actually set up by the state, not state exchanges set up by the federal government.
I’m wondering if this ruling will finally get middle-class voters to realize that Republican governments that refused to set up exchanges might end up costing them a boatload of money. Because make no mistake: This decision, if allowed to stand, will end up having serious ill effects, not on the poor (whom the right wing already loathes and despises), but on a substantial percentage of the middle class.
See, the people who qualify for a subsidy, according to the ACA, are people who make between 133 percent and 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. That’s $46,000 for an individual and $94,000 for a family of four.
That’s solidly middle-class, folks. Those subsidies help cover uninsured people who are too well-off for Medicaid, who aren’t covered by their employer, but don’t make enough to buy their own insurance. If that’s you, and your Republican state government refused to set up a state exchange, then they’re trying to yank the rug out from under you.
One study, as reported in The Washington Post, predicts that if the subsidies were withdrawn from federal exchanges, the estimated number of Americans without coverage would increase by 6.5 million.
Another study by consulting firm Avaler Health found that people who’d been getting subsidies would see health care premium costs rise by an average of 76 percent, with some increases in poorer areas going up to 95 percent. People in the Democratic states that set up state exchanges, however, would get to keep the insurance they bargained for.
So I would advise the rabid right not to start doing the Wingnut Monkey Dance of Triumph just yet. 




Yanking away the health insurance that people just got may not be a winning issue for you.
In addition, a mere two hours after the D.C. Circuit made its ruling, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond ruled in exactly the opposite way. It ruled that the ACA says that the Feds are operating the exchanges “within the state,” which makes it ambiguous as to whether they’d be entitled to subsidies.
It’s a long-standing principle that in a case where a law is worded ambiguously, the agency interpreting it has broad leeway. So the IRS (which, remember, regulates the subsidies) can apply it to both kinds of exchanges.
The defendants in the D.C. Circuit case can (and no doubt will) also get the case heard by the entire panel of D.C. Circuit judges, not just the three-judge panel that issued today’s decision. And if that happens, the case will be reviewed by a court made up of a majority of Democratic appointees.
In the meantime, it remains to be seen if weak-kneed Democratic politicians who have been showing lukewarm support for Obamacare have the gumption to stand up for the people they represent and point out that it’s the GOP that’s cheerleading for millions of middle-class people’s health care to be taken away.
It would be a trivially easy flaw in the wording of the statute to fix, and ACA opponents would then be forced to defend their stance that taking health care away from people who just got it is a good thing.
Sen. Hagan, are you listening? You’ve shown vague signs of having a spine on this issue. Will you brace up and make this the middle-class cause it deserves to be? How about you, Mr. Aiken? Mrs. Clinton? Let us hear from you. Loud and clear.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Review: AN APRIL SHROUD by Reginald Hill

An April Shroud (Dalziel & Pascoe, #4)An April Shroud by Reginald Hill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Andy Dalziel, the older, louder, fatter, and cruder member of one of crime fiction's oddest couples, is pretty much on his own for most of this fourth installment in the series, and that's not a bad thing. With his more cerebral and often annoying younger partner off on his honeymoon with his equally annoying spouse, Dalziel finds himself on holiday and at loose ends. When he stumbles across a curiously aquatic funeral procession, Dalziel quickly finds himself drying himself and his rain-soaked belongings in an English country house with an assemblage of incessantly bickering oddballs who seem strangely unaffected by the recent death of one of their own.

Like the other books in the series that I've read up to now, the plot is a little slow and plodding, and it doesn't pack much of an emotional charge. Also, the book was originally published in 1975 and a couple of the characters are seriously dated.

What makes the book (and the series) entertaining is the character of Dalziel himself: acerbic, outspoken, cynical, boorish, drunk a fair amount of the time, and generally not giving a rat's hindquarters about what anyone thinks of him. It's worth a read just to chuckle over his observations on the cast of characters around him and on life in general. I want to party with this guy sometime.

Recommended.


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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Review: N0S4A2, by Joe Hill

NOS4A2NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A great horror novel needs a great villain, and Charlie Manx is one of the greatest: creepy, nearly invincible, with a seductive reasonableness in his alleged motive for doing the horrible things he does. It's all for the sake of the children. Right? RIGHT?

Brrr...

Everybody knows by now that Joe Hill is the son of mega-best-selling horror novelist Stephen King. It's true that Hill uses some of the techniques his old man made famous, most notably the use of cultural icons to tether the fantastic and bizarre plot to the real world (let me just say, you may never hear Christmas music the same way again, and if you hated it before, you'll be terrified by it after this).

All that said, Joe Hill has his own strong, tough, idiosyncratic voice and a real feel for character that makes you ache for the damaged people pitted against the powerful Manx. There were several times in this book when I heard myself whispering, "Oh, no, no, no..." But in a good way.

Pity, fear, and eventual katharsis. You can't ask for more.

Highly recommended.




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