Transcript #140

Conversation Starters: Five Questions To Ask Your Friendly Local Right-Winger


Partially hyperlinked to sources.  For all sources, see the data resources page.



Perhaps you have a regular debating partner at the water cooler.  And you want to start off 2009 by rocking them back on their heels.


Or maybe there's a right-winger you've been meaning to engage in dialogue, but just haven't had a good ice-breaker for.


Old right-winger, new right-winger, doesn't matter.  Jack to the rescue.


Here are five questions you can pick and choose from, all guaranteed to set you up for a nice argumentation victory over that special person of the rightward persuasion.


The questions encompass the areas of consumer safety, health care, human development, economic power, and the survival of our very democracy.


Sound intriguing?


Here you go, question number one:


Are you happy that one third of the toys sold in the US are contaminated with dangerous chemicals harmful to children?


Your sources for this question are the Environmental News Service, and the New York Times.


Chemicals like lead, mercury, cadmium and arsenic


have been associated with reproductive problems, developmental and learning disabilities, hormone problems and cancer

or have been singled out by regulatory agencies as problematic.


Well, a Michigan non-profit, the Ecology Center, tested 1500 toys this holiday season.  One in three of them  contained "medium" or "high" levels of these chemicals.


The worst product is children's jewelry, especially low cost items.


It's not just toys from China, but from other countries, and even those made in the US.


If you're concerned about something you bought, the Ecology Center's website allows you to check for info on specific toys.


Here's the crux of the matter.  It flows from what an Ecology Center researcher said:


Our hope is that by empowering consumers with this information, manufacturers and lawmakers will feel the pressure to start phasing out the most harmful substances immediately, and to change the nation's laws to protect children from highly toxic chemicals

You see, there are millions of toys on the market.  The Ecology Center could only test a small fraction.


That's why the laws have to be changed, and the regulatory agencies given ample funding to do their job.


The free market just ain't going to do it.  Maybe right-wingers all have chemical testing labs in their homes, but most of us don't.


Unfortunately for the rest of us, here's the right-wing position, as you've heard before, succinctly stated by our friend, Rush Limbaugh:


audio: Rush Limbaugh

Roosevelt is dead.  His policies may live on, but we're in the process of doing something about that as well.

One of Roosevelt's policies that live on is a robust regulatory structure to protect the public's health.  Right-wingers want no part of that.


If you listen to a right-winger, they make it sound like before the New Deal, private industry and groups were handling things just fine.  There were no dangerous toys or other harmful consumer products on the market, due to the most excellent self-regulation of the free market. 


Then the horrible liberals decided that they wanted to run everything, be in charge. So they set up these unnecessary regulatory agencies to take over and shove aside the non-governmental players.


Destroying the regulatory apparatus is therefore a good thing, because then private industry can start doing a good job again protecting the public.


So, it's great that Bush has drastically cut funds for the Consumer Products Safety Commission.  There was at one time, and maybe still is, only one full-time toy inspector for the entire country!


Of course, this right-wing mythology, like virtually everything they say, is totally wrong.  Regulatory agencies arose exactly because the free market and industry self-regulation were not taking care of the problems.  Starting back with the establishment of the Food and Drug Administration to address horrifically unsanitary practices in the meat packing industry, the pattern has been, a problem calling out for a solution, and the public supporting a federal regulatory agency as the answer. 


Denying there's a problem in the first place is a time-honored right-wing tactic.  Recognize it, and counter it with the truth.



Ok, here's a second question you can pose to your acquaintance of the rightward persuasion:


Do you think that one in three Canadians or Frenchmen or Germans are forced to skip doctor visits and medications because they can't afford it?


Your sources for this question include the Associated Press, Reuters, the New York Times, USA Today and Business Week magazine.


The headline and subhead of a recent AP tell you the sad tale:


Sick economy has patients skimping on meds

1 in 3 have put off needed doctor's visits and tests, new poll shows

Here's the lead paragraph:


The ailing economy is leading many Americans to skip doctor visits, skimp on their medicine, and put off mammograms, Pap smears and other tests. And physicians worry the result will be sicker patients who need even more costly treatment in the long run.

In other words, increased human misery, suffering, pain and death. 


So says the poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation.


Things are rapidly getting worse.  As one family physician from Boise, Idaho put it:


The longer it goes and the more skipped visits, the greater the opportunity there will be for bad outcomes.  It's not a matter of if.  It's a matter of when.

Not according to right-wingers.  Problem, who has a problem?


audio: George W. Bush

I mean, people have access to health care in America.  After all, you just go to an emergency room.

Does the right-winger you're speaking to, also believe there's no problem?  If so, then make them aware of these three numbers from various studies.


Tell him or her that 12,000 American babies unnecessarily die every year because our infant mortality rate is so much higher than European countries like France, Germany and Italy -- all of which have national health care systems.


Tell him or her that 18,000 Americans needlessly die every year from late diagnosis or inadequate care due to our not having a national health care system.


Tell him or her that overall, over 100,000 Americans would live, not die, every year, if our health care system performed as well as the top nations.


And as the family physician indicated, these numbers are going to get much worse unless something is done.


If you really want to pulverize your conversational partner, you can make some additional points:


The US is the only developed nation without a guarantee of health care for all of its citizens.


We already spend up to double the amount per person of most other nations on health care.  In other words, they cover everyone for half  the cost.  So we should easily be able to cover everyone here in the US quite nicely at no additional cost beyond what we're already spending.


And, much to the right's chagrin, the public overwhelmingly supports a federal guarantee of health care for every American. 


We're not talking socialized medicine where the government owns the hospitals and employs the doctors. We're talking about single-payer, where you pick the doctor, hospital, etc.  The government pays.


In other words, Medicare for all.


Your right-wing acquaintance may start in with the "Oh, there are long waits for care" etc.  Maybe even give you a horrific anecdote.


Problem is, anecdotes can mislead.


That radical left journal Business Week studied the issue and concluded that waits are no longer in countries with a national health care system, than here in the US.


And if you want an anecdote of your own, here's what Paige from Calgary, Alberta Canada wrote in to tell me.  She was diagnosed with cancer.


My care since diagnosis has been excellent.  I've received prompt follow up and diagnostic exams (CTs, MRIs, PET).  My family doctor and oncologist have been extremely supportive, even calling me after office hours to see how I am doing.  I've had access to provincially covered chemotherapy treatments (although the medication for the side effects, nausea etc, have not been covered) as well as having individual, couple, family and group counseling available at no charge.  Honestly, the biggest challenge has been paying for parking, so I really don't complain.

I send, and you can send as well if you like, much prayer, light, love and good vibrations to Paige for a complete recovery.


And to all people suffering a lack of good health.


That's my hope and goal.


Is it the right-wing hope and goal as well?


If they claim it is, ask what is there specific plan.  We already have a free-market health care system.  We need something better. 


How exactly will what they're suggesting help those who can't afford care?  Right-wing offerings such as tax credits and health savings accounts are irrelevant to such people.  Especially for catastrophic illnesses where expenses can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.


Up next, more of your cavalcade of questions for conservatives.






How about we expand the scope a bit for your third question?  You can ask your conservative comrade:


Do you believe in helping children avoid a life of crime and otherwise becoming a burden on society?


The main source for this question is the New York Times.


There's a body of research showing that


each dollar devoted to the nurturing of young children can eliminate the need for far greater government spending on remedial education, teenage pregnancy and prisons.

In addition to being a good financial investment for society as a whole, quality preschools will obviously also reduce the misery, suffering, pain and death that these young people themselves will experience.


That's what's most important to me, the effect on flesh and blood humans.


Currently, America's early childhood efforts are terribly fragmented and inadequately funded.  The progressive solution is a comprehensive national plan.


Obama seems on board.


His platform endorsed the good investment logic:


For every one dollar invested in high-quality, comprehensive programs supporting children and families from birth, there is a $7-$10 return to society in decreased need for special education services, higher graduation and employment rates, less crime, less use of the public welfare system and better health.

And Obama said he would


establish a Presidential Early Learning Council to coordinate federal, state and local policies;…quadruple financing for Early Head Start;…provide federal challenge grants for states to use for early care and education programs; and…expand home visiting programs for low-income mothers.

The funding?


$10 billion.  That's the largest Federal effort designed to help young children since Head Start was begun in 1965.


Sound good to you? It does to me.


And to those who've devoted their lives to nurturing our deprived little ones?


They're, shall we say, somewhat happy about it


[M]any advocates are atremble with anticipation over Mr. Obama’s espousal of early childhood education….

“People are absolutely ecstatic,” said Cornelia Grumman, executive director of the First Five Years Fund, an advocacy group. “Some people seem to think the Great Society is upon us again.”

Obama's reps have said the nation's financial situation won't result in any major scale back in this arena.


Now right-wing opposition to such efforts goes back to at least Richard Nixon.


In 1971 he vetoed legislation providing for universal child care.  He argued that the bill


would commit the vast moral authority of the national government to the side of communal approaches to child rearing over against the family-centered approach

Right-wingers have since steadfastly opposed such programs.


While Bill Clinton pushed through an Early Head Start program,  federal funding has dropped -- no surprise in this -- while George W. Bush has been president.


So here's a good litmus test for right-wing "hardcore-ness."


Ronald Reagan said:


audio: Ronald Reagan

I've always felt the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help."

Does the right-winger you're speaking with, think that the government providing resources to protect and nurture these little children, is something scary, a thing to be terrified of?


For problems way too large for private charity to ever handle, we need hands joined together in the form of a national, federal effort.  This is the case with early childhood education.



OK, question number four you can put in your arsenal:


Should employers be able to fire workers with virtual impunity just because the workers are trying to organize a union?


Now they can.


Your sources for this question include, Human Rights Watch,, the website of the United Steel Workers union, and the Washington Times.


Technically under current law, employers are forbidden from firing workers for trying to organize a union.  The problem is, the penalties are so small, as to be meaningless.


Can you believe this? The only penalty the employer incurs, is back pay, and maybe not even that.  The employer can subtract from the back pay, any earnings of the worker after they were fired.


As a report from Human Rights Watch put it:


[M]any employers have come to view remedies like back pay for workers fired because of union activity as a routine cost of doing business, well worth it to get rid of organizing leaders and derail workers' organizing efforts. As a result, a culture of near-impunity has taken shape in much of U.S. labor law and practice.

You should know that instead of outright firings, employers sometimes will unilaterally change for the worse wages and benefits of the organizing workers.  Or illegally threaten to close the business or move it out of the country if a union is formed.


There's definitely a climate of fear.  Nearly 8 in 10 workers agreed in a poll that "workers are 'very' or 'somewhat' likely to be fired for trying to organize a union."


The solution to this problem, is found in the Employee Free Choice Act.  You're heard about that bill before on Blast The Right.  That was in the context of right-wingers lying and saying it would eliminate secret ballot elections.  It does not.  It merely takes away from the employer and gives back to the employees, the right to determine whether the union organizing process will be done by secret ballot or by signing of union organizing cards.


This same Employee Free Choice Act addresses the illegal firing issue by increasing the monetary penalty for illegal firings and other mistreatment because of union organizing.  The penalty is raised to three times back pay.


Plus it also provides for civil fines of up to $20,000 for illegal interference with worker's rights to join a union -- for example, threatening to close the business or move, worsening conditions of employment, spying on union organizers, and of course the illegal firings.


And last but not least, the Employee Free Choice Act gives workers the same type of right to seek injunctions against illegal behavior by employers, that employers now enjoy against unions.  So workers will be able to more easily get "cease and desist" orders to stop the illegal employer activity in its tracks, as opposed to having the union organizing efforts destroyed, and then suing afterwards.


Another litmus test for you to employ.  Here's FDR:


audio: FDR

The royalists I have spoken of, the royalists of the economic order, have conceded that political freedom was the business of the Government, but they have maintained that economic slavery was nobody's business. They granted that the Government could rotect the citizen in his right to vote, but they denied that the Government could do anything to protect the citizen in his right to work and his right to live.

Today we stand committed to the proposition that freedom is no half-and-half affair. If the average citizen is guaranteed equal opportunity in the polling place, he must have equal opportunity in the market place.

While you're discussing whether workers should enjoy the protections of the Employee Free Choice Act, quote FDR to your friendly local right-winger.


If they call FDR a commie, a socialist or the like, again, you know you're got a real hard-core right-winger on your hands, their soul probably beyond hope, at least in this lifetime.  For their sake, let's hope that reincarnation is true and that there will be additional lifetimes for that soul to gain its wings.


On that spiritual note, coming up, question number five to ask the regressively thinking.  Stick around.






Here's a fifth question you can toss out for your right-wing

playmate to catch:


Do you think the President should have the power to declare any US legal resident or citizen, including you, an enemy combatant, and hold you forever without bringing charges?


George Bush thinks he should have that power.


Sources for this question are various articles and editorials in the New York Times.


Ali al-Marri is a citizen of Qatar.  He was in the US legally.  The Bush administration declared him an enemy combatant in 2003.  Since then, he's been held in near isolation in a Navy brig.


The issue here isn't his guilt or innocence.   It's whether or not he has to be charged with something and tried, or can just be held forever without charges being brought.


A three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit ruled that the government cannot hold Mr. Marri or any civilian merely at the President's command.  But the full circuit reversed 5-4, and said Mr. Marri could be held indefinitely.


What's at stake here?  As various New York Times editorials put it:


The Bush administration has been a waging a fierce battle for the power to lock people up indefinitely simply on the president’s say-so…

The decision gives the president sweeping power to deprive anyone — citizens as well as noncitizens — of their freedom.

The federal appeals court made clear that its ruling upholding the president’s power to detain enemy combatants applies equally to American citizens. If the ruling stands, presidents would be able to throw out due process, habeas corpus and other basic constitutional and statutory rights for anyone they declared to have terrorist ties.

All the circuit court judges who voted to support the Bush position, were appointed by Republicans.  All who voted against, were appointed by Democrats.


You see how important the lower courts are.  The president picks judges for the lower courts.


And now the Supreme Court will be hearing this case.


You see how important the Supreme Court is?  Picking non-right-wing fanatics to sit on the bench, was one of the most important reasons for voting for Obama.


In fact, even before he picks justices for the Supreme Court or lower courts, this case itself has shaped up as a critical early test for Obama.


His administration's brief in Al-Marri case is due on February 20, less than a month after Obama takes office.


Obama has consistently made broad statements criticizing Bush administration positions on expanded executive powers.


The New York Times is thankfully putting the pressure on Obama. It ran as its lead front page story recently the following:


The new administration’s brief…has the potential to hearten or infuriate Mr. Obama’s supporters, many of whom are looking to him for stark disavowals of the Bush administration’s legal positions on the detention and interrogation of so-called enemy combatants held at Navy facilities on the American mainland or at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The paper's quote of the day, was from New York Law School professor Brandt Goldstein:


If they adopt the Bush administration position, or some version of it, it is going to be a moment of profound disappointment for everyone in the legal community and Americans generally who believe that the Bush administration has tried to turn the presidency into a monarchy.

Do you remember that Bush once joked about being dictator?


audio: George W. Bush

If this were a dictatorship it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator.

You know, I just don't see how anyone, even the most crazed right-winger, could support such a Presidential power.  The court ruling  doesn't say only Republicans can wield it.  It's available for the socialist, palling-around-with-terrorists Obama to use as well.


Before the election, I figured, maybe right-wingers are assuming that with GOP electronic vote cheating, etc., there will never be another Democratic president, so no worries.


But hey, right-wingers, Obama won.


What if Obama thinks, isn't Rush Limbaugh supporting terrorism?  I think he is.  Why don’t I just declare him an enemy combatant, throw him in the cooler, and leave him there forever, with no effective means to challenge his detention.


Well, Mr. or Ms Right-Winger, that could actually happen to you, right now, if the Supreme Court goes the wrong way.


Are you really comfortable having a President you detest, wielding  such undemocratic, monarchical power?


No president should have such power.



So there you have it, questions about five critically important issues  that will be high on the national agenda in 2009.


To review, here are the questions for your friendly local right-winger you just heard:


1 - Are you happy that one third of the toys sold in the US are contaminated with dangerous chemicals harmful to children?


2 - Do you think that one in three Canadians or Frenchmen or Germans are forced to skip doctor visits and medications because they can't afford it?


3 - Do you believe in helping children avoid a life of crime and otherwise being a burden on society?


4- Should employers be able to fire workers with virtual impunity just because the workers are trying  to organize a union?


5 - Do you think the President should have the power to declare any US legal resident or citizen, including you, an enemy combatant, and hold you forever without bringing charges?


Given the current state of affairs in the country and the world, I could come up with a million other questions.


There will be much to talk about in the weeks and months to come.


In the meantime, please continue to do your part in both pushing back against the right, and pushing Obama forward in a progressive direction.



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