When I worked in collections we had a series of increasingly threatening letters we'd send to insurance companies in an effort to get them to pay up, starting from "We believe there has been an error and you have underpaid. Kindly correct this honest mistake" and ranging up to a letter we liked to call the "Fuck you, pay me" (borrowed from Goodfellas). By the time an insurer or, more rarely, an individual recieved the FYPM letter, it could safely be assumed that we were no longer dicking around and were about to break it off in their ass. Methaphorically.

I get the distinct sense that the Obama administration has just sent GM and Chrysler the FYPM, what with its 30/60 day ultimatums. I get the even more distinct sense that they'd love to force them into bankruptcy right now but can't muster the political will – or perhaps the government needs a couple weeks to figure out how Debtor-in-Posession financing will work for such behemoth bankruptcies given the ailing banking system. Ostensibly they are being given 30/60 days to find a buyer or "restructure", which we all know is ridiculous. If the companies could do either they'd have done so already. So this amounts to political theater, giving a very public One Last Chance while behind the scenes the automakers, administration, and bankruptcy courts have started a countdown and have been given fair warning: "The hammer falls in 30 days. Whatever you need to do to get ready, do it."


There are a lot of people in the political world with whom I disagree. If I was locked in a room for several hours with Richard Shelby or Bob Corker, for example, we'd probably argue when the conversation turned to politics. I think they are wrong about most things political. Fundamentally, though, I doubt there's anything wrong with them as people. They're of average or better intelligence, sane, and probably pretty nice to people who know them well. They're normal people; they're just wrong about a lot of things.

In a second category are the profiteers, the people in the political world whose primary interest is padding their own bank accounts. They're performers. They know what to say to get their mug on TV, land that precious talk radio gig, or become the next wingnut best-selling author. Sean Hannity, for example, was a garden variety, bland media conservative for many years before he figured out a few things about showmanship. He knows that people pay to see over-the-top, hyperbolic entertainment and angry catharsis, so he delivers. He knows which buttons to push, how, and when. As hard as it is to believe, Hannity probably isn't much like his TV character in private. He may still be a douchebag and an idiot, but I bet that one could have a normal conversation with him about fine Italian restaurants in New York or baseball or the iPhone or something.

Then there is a third category – the elected officials and pundits who, in all seriousness, appear to be categorically out of their fucking minds. Not "crazy" in the colloquial sense ("Man, Sean Hannity is crazy. Did you hear that bullshit he said yesterday?"). Not "crazy" because he or she makes shit up or is wrong about everything. I mean legitimately mentally ill and in need of professional help. While it's very Republican (or at least Bill Frist-ian) to attempt to diagnose medical conditions from afar, I cannot shake the feeling when watching some of these people that I am watching a person of tremendous power and influence whom a competent psychiatrist would consider unfit to be in society unsupervised.

Take Glenn Beck, for example. There are lots of right-wing talking heads on radio and TV. And I find nearly all of them to be complete jackasses. Beck, though…there's something wrong with that guy. Accuse me of whatever nefarious motive you prefer, but I have seen and heard enough legitimately mentally ill people in my life to suspect that he and reality have a strained relationship. Among the semicoherent rambling, the baseless and readily disproven paranoia, the increasing overlap with lunatic fringe fascist ideology, with and the bug-eyed thousand yard stare of the cult leader dousing the compound in kerosene while distributing the grape Flavor Aid, it's very difficult to imagine a psychologist or psychiatrist having anything but a field day with this guy. Telling the truth is one thing, being wrong is another and being wrong on purpose (i.e., lying) is yet another. Being unable to tell the difference is cause for medical intervention.

Beck is not alone. I'd add Michelle Bachmann (no, seriously), Helen "Black Helicopters are an important issue to my constituents" Chenoweth, B-1 Bob Dornan, and Jim Bunning among others. It's not that I think people with whom I disagree are insane; I think that people who regularly display multiple symptoms of mental illness are insane. I suppose this would be irrelevant (but fucked up) if people were only tuning in to Beck to mock him or if Michelle Bachmann was the kind of third party candidate whose repeated campaigning is encouraged for comedy value (a la Alan Keyes or Lyndon LaRouche). But listening to Beck and Bachmann talk about the impending One World Government it is important to bear in mind that he is a famous talk show host on a major network and she is in Congress. Their supporters represent a large group of Americans, Americans who either cannot tell the difference between sane and insane or can but don't care. Either reflects poorly on the health of our political culture.