2009 - %3, November

Sarah Palin, Children's Book Heroine

| Mon Nov. 30, 2009 12:57 PM EST

One of the unfortunate side effects of being subscribed to as many conservative email lists as I am is that you get subjected to a lot of sales pitches. Stephanie already blogged about some of the more offensive Christmas gifts conservatives are selling to each other this holiday season. But this stuff never stops. On Monday, one conservative mailing list tried to sell me a children's book called Help! Mom! Radicals are Ruining My Country!, which is about how liberals are destroying America (what else?):

In a cameo appearance, "Governor Sarah," a Palin lookalike character, attempts to help two boys with a struggling swingset business hang onto the American Dream despite high taxes, burdensome regulations and 246 czars in the recently released children’s book Help! Mom! Radicals Are Ruining My Country!, by bestselling-author Katharine DeBrecht.

"I am trying to let all Americans know that these radicals are killing the American Dream and I want to stop them from hurting people that produce products and provide jobs," the Palin character consoles the frustrated boys. The book then describes an all-out media assault on the Palin figure based on false rumors which discourages the boys:

Unfortunately later that night, while the boys were still ruffling through their bills, they saw a special report on TV. The TV anchorwoman beamed "We have breaking news just in from a 37 year old man who lives in his parents’ basement that Governor Sarah’s mother is actually an alien."

The anchorwoman excitedly went on, "And from this exclusive source, we can confirm that Governor Sarah feeds her children dog food for breakfast, lunch and dinner."

The sample pages from the book aren't particularly compelling, especially since the central allegory is incredibly heavy handed. There's a place for funny conservative caricatures of liberalism. Unfortunately, Ms. DeBrecht is no Christopher Buckley . But the kids' book is interesting in how it echoes Palin's own story about herself, in which she is a victim who was unfairly smeared by a biased news media.

On a somewhat related note, historian Rick Perlstein has done a lot of work documenting how conservative mailing lists show that conservatives treat their constituents like suckers

I've been on dozens of both right-wing and left-wing mailing lists going back well over a decade. I've never, ever, ever received from the left anything remotely like the snake-oil pitches I receive from Newsmax and Human Events nearly every day.

Digby has more on this subject here.

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Chart of the Day

| Mon Nov. 30, 2009 12:38 PM EST

I think I published an earlier version of this, but here's the latest analysis of the Senate healthcare bill from MIT economist Jonathan Gruber:

Analysis of the non-partisan information from the CBO suggests that for those facing purchase in the non-group market, the [Senate] bill will deliver savings ranging from $200 for singles to $500 for families in today’s dollars — even without subsidies. The savings are much larger for lower income populations that receive premium credits. This is in addition to the higher quality benefits that those in the exchange will receive, with actuarial values for low income populations well above what is typical in the non-group market today. It is also in addition to all the other benefits that this legislation will deliver to those consumers — in particular the guarantee, unavailable in most states, that prices would not be raised or the policy revoked if they became ill.

There are three important things to note about this.  First, the Senate bill lowers the premiums for low-cost plans across the board.  Second, in addition to this reduction, the Senate bill provides subsidies to low- and middle-income familes that makes health insurance even less expensive.  Third, it does this for a plan that covers about 70% of all medical expenses, compared to a non-reform plan that covers only about 60% of all expenses.  On an apples-to-apples basis, the Senate bill lowers premiums by about 20% and then subsidizes that lower price to reduce the cost of coverage even more.

I hardly need to mention what an enormous boon this would be for millions and millions of real flesh-and-blood people, do I?

Palin's Latest Error

| Mon Nov. 30, 2009 12:36 PM EST

Geoffrey Dunn dug up an amusing error in Sarah Palin's Going Rogue.* The epigraph for Chapter Three, "Drill, Baby, Drill," is a quote that Palin attributes to legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden:

Our land is everything to us... I will tell you one of the things we remember on our land. We remember our grandfathers paid for it—with their lives.

Dunn explains what the problem is:

[T]he quote wasn't by John Wooden. It was written by a Native American activist named John Wooden Legs in an essay entitled "Back on the War Ponies," which appeared in a left-wing anthology, We Are the People: Voices from the Other Side of American History, edited by Nathaniel May, Clint Willis, and James W. Loewen.

That's a pretty big mistake. Here's the full quote:

Our land is everything to us. It is the only place in the world where Cheyennes talk the Cheyenne language to each other. It is the only place where Cheyennes remember the same things together. I will tell you one of the things we remember on our land. We remember our grandfathers paid for it—with their life. My people and the Sioux defeated General Custer at the Little Big Horn.

As Dunn notes, that's not quite the message Palin was trying to convey.

*Update, 12/1/09: According to commenters, Lawyers, Guns, and Money had this on Nov. 20. Dunn didn't give anyone credit, so I didn't know. Sorry!

Offensive Xmas Gifts of 2009

| Mon Nov. 30, 2009 12:32 PM EST

Ah, 'tis the season for right-wing nuttiness. Black Friday has unleashed a barrage of racist and homophobic political offerings available to stuff this year's stockings. Today's selections:

The Barney Frank Fruitcake: Offered by a Leesburg, Va.-based conservative group called the Public Advocate of the United States, the fruitcake is a booze-free confection topped with a color photo of the gay congressman. Pubilc Advocate offers the cake in exchange for donations of more than $50. "We accept Speaker Pelosi and the current liberal domination but when lawlessness is rampant we must oppose it, and this Fruitcake distribution represents our marking of another season of protesting a sorrowful spirit of immorality in Washington," says PA president Eugene Delgaudio.

Obozo's America: A board game based on the idea that a socialist clown has become president of the United States, subtitled, "Why bother working for a living?" The low-down:

Get your initial $1,000 cash grant at the First of the Month, then maneuver along Obozo’s Welfare Promenade. Get cash for your out-of-wedlock children. Draw from a stack of Welfare Benefit Cards. Get extra cash from Saturday Night crimes: Gambling, Armed Robbery, Drugs, and Prostitution. Play the lottery and the horses. Get your live-in a job on the Government Cakewalk. Experience the Jail Jaunt. Avoid landing on one of those dreaded “Get a Job” blocks forcing you onto the Working Person’s Rut (Somebody has to pay for Obozo’s Welfare Promenade). 50 Welfare Benefit Cards. 50 Working Person’s Burden Cards. Lots of funny money.

The deluxe version available for just $37.90, plus tax and shipping.

 

Miss Tuvalu Takes on Climate Change

| Mon Nov. 30, 2009 8:01 AM EST

This year's Miss South Pacific pageant isn't just about swim suits—it's taking on climate change. The slogan is "preserving our environment the Pacific way," and several contestants have spoken about the issue. Last Wednesday was  Polynesian Nite for the week-long competition, which means Polynesian nations, including, Tuvalu will be honored. Miss Tuvalu, Akelita Marisa, has been vocal about the threats that climate change poses to her home country—sea level rises, king tides, extreme weather, and erosion. The final crowning of Miss South Pacific happened last weekend, less than two weeks before the international climate talks in Copenhagen kick off.

In the current issue of Mother Jones, Rachel Morris has taken an in-depth look at how Tuvaluans are dealing with the impending threats of climate change. Morris traveled to New Zealand to speak with Tuvaluan immigrants and atoll island experts about how soon Tuvalu could be under water. Check it out here.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 30, 2009

Mon Nov. 30, 2009 7:48 AM EST

Marines with Multi National Force-West circle an empty lot aboard Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, looking for scraps of metal, Nov. 20, 2009. Their base-wide cleanup effort is dubbed Operation Blue Spoon, and the goal is for Marines to leave the base in good order as they wind down their role in Operation Iraqi Freedom. (US Marine Corps photograph by Cpl. Meg Murray)

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Need To Read: November 30, 2009

Mon Nov. 30, 2009 7:38 AM EST

Today's must reads are ready for December:

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Music Monday: Best Punk Rock Vinyl of the 2000s

| Mon Nov. 30, 2009 7:30 AM EST

Picking your 9 or 10 favorite records from the past decade is a tall order for anyone, but especially for someone who consumes music like most people devour TV—headphones constantly plugged in. Get home, throw a record on the turntable. Wake up, do the same. Music all the time.

All this listening and digging and consuming is confined to a relatively narrow focus: pretty much anything guitar-based, but primarily punk, garage rock, hard rock 'n' roll, along with a smattering of country and metal. Throw in various sub-genres (girl groups, rockabilly, new wave, psych, hardcore) and I've got my hands full.

In compiling this list, I broke down and had to come up with two lists—one for albums and one for 7-inch vinyl. That let me slip in more bands and gave me a little wiggle room. I scuttled my plan to include yet another list—of the best reissues of the past decade. Too many, too much.

These are all vinyl releases from small (if not tiny) independent labels. Some are out of print. Many of the bands have long since crashed and burned. But thanks to this modern age, the music can still be easily tracked down somewhere online. I've included links when I could find them. So dig in.

Washington Post Calls for Abolition of Solitary Confinement

| Mon Nov. 30, 2009 4:52 AM EST

An editorial in Saturday's Washington Post, called "Solitary Disgrace," calls for an end to the widespread use of long-term lockdown in America's prisons and jails. The Post's editors write:

At one time shunned in the United States, solitary confinement is becoming a tool increasingly used by corrections officials trying desperately to keep order in grossly overcrowded and sometimes chaotic prisons. These decisions are made even though solitary confinement costs roughly twice as much as keeping an inmate in the general prison population. At any given time, experts estimate that 25,000 to 100,000 prisoners are kept in some sort of "special housing unit" where they are isolated and kept apart from the general prison population. The number changes frequently as new prisoners are sent in and others sent out of solitary....

A short stint in solitary for most does not result in serious or permanent harm. But more prolonged stays of months or years -- a practice not uncommon in many states -- can result in devastating psychological damage, including psychosis and debilitating depression. Studies have also shown that inmates kept in solitary confinement for prolonged periods display higher levels of hostility than those in the general prison population; they tend to carry this hostility with them after they are returned to the general prison population or released back into the community.

Mother Jones has lately been covering the case of the Angola 3, the Louisiana prisoners who have been held in solitary for as long as 37 years. Lawyers for Albert Woodfox, Herman Wallace, and Robert King have for years been working on a case that challenges this kind of long-term solitary confinement on the grounds that it is cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the 8th Amendment to the Constitution. That case is expected to at last come to trial early next year, and should shed additional light on the true toll of life in lockdown.

Ironically, the issue of solitary confinement only becomes more pressing as some states gradually lose their taste for the death penalty, and offenders languish indefinitely in complete isolation, either on death row or in other lockdown units. Yet even among progressives, the practice has never received the same kind of attention or protest as the treatment of terrorism suspects abroad. The fact that this subject even made it onto the editorial pages of one of our so-called newspapers of record suggests some growing recognition that solitary confinement is a form of torture, and that we have our own Guantanamos and Abu Ghraibs to deal with here at home.

Holiday Sales Update

| Mon Nov. 30, 2009 2:38 AM EST

Here are the holiday weekend shopping results for 2009:

Roughly 195 million consumers shopped in stores and online over the Black Friday weekend, up from 172 million last year, according to the National Retail Federation. But average spending dropped to $343.31 per person from $372.57 a year ago. Overall sales for the four-day weekend totaled $41.2 billion, up marginally from $41 billion last year, the NRF estimated.

....November sales were likely boosted by a spate of pre-Black Friday deals. Spending on Black Friday itself rose 0.5%, or $54 million, to $10.7 billion this year from last, according to ShopperTrak RCT Corp.

Everyone is probably tired of hearing this from me, but as usual, these numbers are misleading because they aren't adjusted for inflation.  CPI numbers for this month aren't in yet, but most likely the November-November inflation rate was about 2.0%, which means that sales volume was actually down 1.5% this year in real terms.  That compares to an increase of about 2% last year in real terms.