Dissent

I found this video by Penn Jillet very moving. He was clearly very hurt and very rattled by the experience. In the end, however, I don’t think he’ll allow himself to be intimidated by his idol. As he says, the antidote to bad speech is more speech.

I especially like the line about Hitler. Tommy Smothers aksed him, “If Hitler had a talk show, you’d go on that show?”

Penn responded, “Yes, Tommy. Yes I would. And I’d speak the truth.”

I’ve always been a fan of Penn & Teller, but in the last few years I have become ever more impressed with them.

In the Henhouse

Regarding the latest kerfuffle between the White House and Fox News….

First, the mission of Fox News–like every other television news agency in the known universe–is to attract viewers and sell advertising. Journalism is not a mystical calling.  Cable news programs do not provide either their hosts, guests, or viewers mystical enlightenment. CNN, MSNB, FOX, and Al Jazeira do not compete for TRUTH they compete for viewers. If Fox News leans to the right, it’s because that’s the market niche they’ve focused on. Rupert Murdoch is a businessman; if he could make more money by pandering to the left, he would. Why does Fox News lean to the right? Because that’s how they make money. Fox News is winning the competition for ratings. The White House is probably helping.

Second, the White House is behaving boorishly.

As ridiculous and offensive as some Fox “personalities” are, none of them wield a terrible swift sword. Barack Obama commands enormous actual power–he’s Commander in Chief of the U.S. Military. Fox News is a freaking television show. In his capacity as Chief Executive, the President exercises prosecutorial discretion over the entire federal legal apparatus. If you don’t like the President, tough. If you don’t like Fox News, change the channel.

Finally, so what if Fox News is partisan? Are we supposed to imagine that the White House isn’t partisan?

If democracy is ever to work (an open question) it requires vigorous debate. Not more toadying.

In praise of genocide

Interim White House Communications director, Anita Dunn,gave a high school commencement address in June of this year in which she praised Hitler, using him as an example to illustrate a point:

“You don’t have to accept the defintion of how to do things and you don’t have to follow other people’s choices and paths.

Okay? It is about your choices and your paths. You fight your own war.  You lay out your own paths. You figure out what’s right for you. You don’t let any external definition define how good you are internally.”

OK. She didn’t use Hitler as her example. That would have been absurd. Hitler’s government systematically and ruthlessly murdered millions of innocents.

She used Mao Zedong. Mao’s government systematically and ruthlessly murdered more than twice as many innocents as Nazi Germany. (Death by Government, R. J . Rummel)

Maybe the 50 million Chinese dead were just accidental by-products of Mao’s personal ethical journey? Maybe Dunn meant that the kids should follow their own Shining Path?

But wait! She also referenced Mother Theresa! Telling the kids to  “go find your own Calcutta.” Here’s Christopher Hitchens on the sainted lady.

I’ll ignore the Mother Theresa allusion; her name has become, however wrongly, synonymous with passionate service. The Mao Zedong allusion cannot be excused.

Freedom

So Rush Limbaugh has been dropped from the group interested in buying the St. Louis Rams. This has got a lot of people up in arms about supposed discrimination. For example,

Welcome to America circa 2009, where loyalty to the ruling class determines private ownership of assets. Sound more than a bit like Chavez’s Venezuela?

That criticism is misguided. Freedom–political liberty–is at heart, the right to associate with whomever you choose, without fear of retribution by the state, regardless of your reasons.

Whatever any of may think about their decision, Limbaugh’s business parters were free to drop him at any time–for political reasons, because he’s ugly, because they think  he smells, or because he doesn’t wear the right brand of pants.

It’s when the government steps in and dictates salary, compensation and the benefit structure for private employees, or when the government assumes ownership of private corporations, or when the government priviliges some creditors over others (in violation of the law) for purely political reasons that freedom is abridged.

There are many reasons to lament the loss of political freedom in America, but Rush Limbaugh’s failed bid to buy a losing sports franchise is not one of them.

Nobel

So Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize.

On the same day he bombed the Moon! He’s an interplanetary warmonger!

But seriously, from the Times:

The award of this year’s Nobel peace prize to President Obama will be met with widespread incredulity, consternation in many capitals and probably deep embarrassment by the President himself. Rarely has an award had such an obvious political and partisan intent. …

the prize risks looking preposterous in its claims, patronising in its intentions and demeaning in its attempt to build up a man who has barely begun his period in office, let alone achieved any tangible outcome for peace. …

Mr Obama becomes the third sitting US President to receive the prize. The committee said today that he had “captured the world’s attention”. It is certainly true that his energy and aspirations have dazzled many of his supporters. Sadly, it seems they have so bedazzled the Norwegians that they can no longer separate hopes from achievement. The achievements of all previous winners have been diminished.

The Real Cost of the Baucus Bill

From Michael Tanner at Cato:

The CBO scoring makes it clear that the Baucus bill’s reduction in future budget deficits comes not from controlling government spending or reducing health care costs, but because of a rapid escalation in tax revenues. The bill imposes a 40 percent excise tax on health-insurance plans that offer benefits in excess of $8,000 for an individual plan and $21,000 for a family plan. Insurers would almost certainly pass this tax on to consumers via higher premiums. As inflation pushes insurance premiums higher in coming years, more and more middle-class families would find themselves caught up in the tax.

In fact, overall, the tax increases in the bill are more than double the amount of deficit reduction. This isn’t a health care efficiency bill or a cost containment bill. It is a tax and spend bill, pure and simple.

40 percent.

Go check your policy. Does it offer more than $8,000 in benefits? Get health care through your employer? Then bronze the policy, cuz when your company’s premiums jump by 40%, you won’t have that package of benefits any more.

A 40% tax hike. Incredible.

What the #^$@!*?

The Boston Globe reports that the State Department has cut funding for the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center.

For the past five years, researchers in a modest office overlooking the New Haven green have carefully documented cases of assassination and torture of democracy activists in Iran. With more than $3 million in grants from the US State Department, they have pored over thousands of documents and Persian-language press reports and interviewed scores of witnesses and survivors to build dossiers on those they say are Iran’s most infamous human-rights abusers.

But just as the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center was ramping up to investigate abuses of protesters after this summer’s disputed presidential election, the group received word that – for the first time since it was formed – its federal funding request had been denied.

“If there is one time that I expected to get funding, this was it,’’ said Rene Redman, the group’s executive director, who had asked for $2.7 million in funding for the next two years. “I was surprised, because the world was watching human rights violations right there on television.’’ …

“If the rationale is that we are going to stop funding human rights-related work in Iran because we don’t want to provoke the government, it is absolutely the wrong message to send,’’ she said. “That means that we don’t really believe in human rights, that the American government just looks into it when it is convenient.’

Who’s actually making foreign policy decisions in the White House?

Seriously, who?