Conversation Starters: Five Questions To Ask
Your Friendly Local Right-Winger
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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
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.
Here you go, question number one:
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.
like lead, mercury, cadmium and arsenic
have been associated with reproductive problems, developmental and learning
disabilities, hormone problems and cancer
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 healthytoys.org
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
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
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:
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
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
I send, and you can send as well if
you like, much prayer, light, love and good vibrations to Paige for a complete
And to all people suffering a lack of
That's my hope and goal.
Is it the right-wing hope and goal as
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
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:
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
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
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
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.
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
[M]any advocates are
atremble with anticipation over Mr. Obama’s espousal of early childhood
“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
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
So here's a good litmus test for
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
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:
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 mediamatters.org, Human Rights Watch, americanrightsatwork.org, 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
[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
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:
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
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.
Here's a fifth question you can toss
out for your right-wing
playmate to catch:
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
George Bush thinks he should have
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.
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
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
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
The New York Times is thankfully
putting the pressure on Obama. It ran as its lead front page story recently the
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
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
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.