Politics News

Neocons never learn: Why their new warmongering is so shameless

Neocons never learn: Why their new warmongering is so shameless

U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) (Credit: Reuters/Samantha Sais)

Salon

The same hawks who suckered us into war with Iraq are at it again. It’s time they be held accountable

This article originally appeared on The Globalist.

In the history books, the U.S. Republicans will never live down the fact that they “Iranified” Iraq, disrupting thousands of years of calibrating regional balance. That country long served as a buffer state for one purpose only — to suppress the implosion of the region. True, the Democrats who backed the invasion aren’t much better, because they were swayed by the idiotic “patriotic” fervor of 2003.

But at least they seem to recognize the error, even if it should have been visible at the time: Any U.S. leaders who take an action that, historically speaking, must inevitably hand Iraq to Iran and restore Iran as the dominant regional power needs to have their heads examined.

It is well known that John McCain, the former U.S. presidential candidate and prisoner of war, likes to pour oil into any fire he sees. It is in his nature to do so. The question is why we let him do so without at least first forcing him to pay penance for his past sins of warmongering.

BOMB, BOMB, BOMB

The senior senator from Arizona now wants to take his pyromaniac style of foreign policy into Iraq once more, echoing his “bomb, bomb, bomb” spirit of a decade ago. In that, he is guided not by any sense of patriotism, but by all the impetuousness of an anarchist that he can muster.

McCain is not only one of the chief propellants of the American pyromania that destroyed Iraq, but also one of the most senior still holding political office.

The most basic fact of the matter is this: Anybody who was out to topple Saddam Hussein — and thereby turn all of Iraq into a powder keg — at best showed complete ignorance of the history of the region.

A deep-seated sense of religiously fueled enmity throughout the ages has shaped life in West Asia for ages. Shiites and Sunnis, when pitted against each other, and then presented with an opportunity, have always been inclined to make a blood sport out of the pursuit of the other.

The crucial role that Iraq has traditionally played in that kind of highly combustible environment was that it served as a satellite buffer state that essentially separated the Levant and Asia Minor from Iran/Persia, providing a check on the expansion of empires from either direction.

Internally divided due to shifting borders and occupiers from repeated conquests, Iraq has often stood at the crossroads between large Western Sunni powers and the Shia Persian power to the east.

Even before the rise of Islam and its factions, the area was the dividing zone between western and eastern empires. Even Rome sometimes held Mesopotamia, during its long-running struggle with what is now Iran.

However, with the Cheney/Bush/McCain clan’s resolutely amateurish move into Iraq, that crucial buffer disappeared and turned itself into a wall of fire.

Their collective amateurishness is only superseded by the ahistorical U.S. foreign policy-making in the region.

THE UK GOVERNMENT FAILED

The whole Iraq episode and the current conundrum also show what a terrible ally the United Kingdom has been for the United States over the past decade or so.

True, the post-Empire UK has long made it a habit of punching above its weight class, usually by acting as America’s sidekick. But for all the immense ambitions that this points to, traditionally the UK government has at least usually been mindful of history.

To be sure, the British Foreign Office had enough smart people who knew about Iraq’s historic role inside the Muslim world as a buffer state — to keep religious emotions from exploding.

Evidently, Tony Blair was so eager to please his American master that this most critical advice was suppressed. Even if the American ally had been unprepared or unwilling to listen, it would have been all the more incumbent on the UK to speak out loud.

That is what good allies do. In fact, that is what Germany and its then-Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, did at the time, when he warned the U.S. government publicly of an ill-advised “adventure.”

Which is exactly how this all turned out to be. But that public courage, of course, didn’t keep Schroeder from becoming the U.S. political establishment’s favorite bête noire. Yes, it is true that once he left office, he made some distasteful career choices.

But that does not in any sense invalidate the character he displayed while in office, when he warned the Americans of the inferno(s) to come.

Tony Blair, meanwhile, the snake-charming, bomb-throwing sidekick to George Bush, is still in the good graces of many Americans. The only promising step of sorts toward penitence that Blair has made since then is that he has converted to Catholicism.

While that is very unusual for a (former) British leader, he is at least on the right track. He has much to atone for. It will take a long line of Catholic priests to hear all the confessions Mr. Blair still needs to make.

On the U.S. side of the disaster initiated in 2003, however, it seems that all such confessions of guilt will go entirely unspoken. If the recent round of cheerleading for re-invasion is any indication, McCain and friends are not only unrepentant but still actively in denial that they ever made any mistake in the first place.

NRA’s “really big problem”: Why it’s dependent on a dwindling fringe

NRA's "really big problem": Why it's dependent on a dwindling fringe

Cliven Bundy, Wayne LaPierre (Credit: Reuters/Steve Marcus/AP/Evan Vucci)

Salon

Gun lobby is now reliant on an increasingly radical right-wing sect — and that spells trouble, an expert explains

During a Tumblr Q&A earlier this week, President Obama said that one of his biggest frustrations since entering the White House has been how “this society has not been willing to take some basic steps” in order to prevent the kinds of mass shootings that have become so horribly prominent as of late. “We’re the only developed country on Earth where this happens,” Obama continued. Speaking of Congress’ inability to buck the NRA and pass even a meager background check bill, Obama said lawmakers should “be ashamed.”

The source of lawmakers’ fear is, of course, the NRA and its massively influential, and feared, lobbying apparatus. Indeed, it’s likely that no organization is as feared in Washington as the NRA, despite the fact that its views — as embodied by the odious Wayne LaPierre — are clearly outside the mainstream and far too close to those usually associated with the kind of right-wing terrorists who recently murdered three people in Las Vegas. Put simply, the NRA is not only abnormally influential, but abnormally extreme, too.

Hoping to learn more about how the NRA has managed to associate itself with dangerous right-wing extremists like the Las Vegas shooters, Salon called up Josh Sugarmann, executive director and founder of the Violence Policy Center, a pro-gun safety nonprofit that has done extensive work toward exposing the NRA’s diseased politics and the cynical business model that undergirds them. Our conversation can be found below, and has been edited for clarity and length.

What’s your reaction to the recent shootings in Las Vegas as well as Oregon?

I think right now we’re living in America that most people really could not imagine, and the fact that what were once rare events in this country — mass shootings in public spaces — are becoming increasingly common. I think when you look at these issues and you look at the gun debate in this country, we’re reaching a tipping point where to remain a civilized society, we have to do something.

Like what?

Well, I think the first thing that has to be done is we have to take a step back, we have to take a long view to see the changes that have occurred in the gun industry, in the NRA, in how guns are used in our country, and not try and fit short-term solutions to specific shootings. We have to take a step back, look at the changes in the gun industry, changes in gun ownership in this country, changes in how guns are marketed, and from that start constructing a policy that really would have a real effect on gun death and injury in this country. One of the most striking things and one of the most unique about the gun industry is that it’s the only manufacturer of consumer products that is not regulated for health and safety by a federal agency.

You say there have been changes in how the NRA and manufacturers are marketing guns. What kind of changes?

All this occurs against a backdrop that, when the industry and the NRA talk amongst themselves, they’re very open about, but rarely do they concede it when making public statements. And that’s a fact that gun ownership in the U.S. is on a steady decline. In 1977, 54 percent of American households had a gun in them. By 2012, that number had dropped to 34 percent. (And this comes from the general social survey that’s done by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. It’s the most cited social survey in the country. It’s the only survey that has consistently looked at this issue.) So what the industry is faced with is the fact that gun owners are aging; they’re dying off. And the constant pressure [the NRA] faces is two-fold. One is, how do you resell current gun owners? And the second is, how do you market to, for lack of a better phrase, “replacement shooters”? Just like the tobacco industry [has "replacement smokers"].

So, for current gun owners, lethality has been the [marketers'] focus. And this starts from marketing high-capacity semi-auto pistols through assault weapons to new-generation what you call “pocket rocket pistols”: smaller in size, greater in capacity to, today, [a] new generation of assault pistols and then literal crossover military technology, like 50 caliber sniper rifles. The other marketing focus today, looking at the current gun-owning population, is concealed carry. The concealed carry wasn’t viewed solely in a political context, but in fact it represents one of the last great marketing efforts by the industry. The fact is that not only can you sell people more handguns; you can sell them all the accessories, the training, everything that goes along with it, down to clothing. There’s a fairly famous quote that Tanya Metaksa, who was the NRA’s former top lobbyist, offered in 1996 in sort of a burst of honesty, when she told the Wall Street Journal as the NRA launched the concealed carry campaign, “The gun industry should send me a basket of fruit” because [she] created a whole new market for them. The other issue is [an] attempt to market to women, [an] attempt to market to young people, including children, and that’s been an ongoing effort…

Do you think the Millers, the couple who killed those people and themselves in Las Vegas — and who reportedly bragged about how many weapons they owned — are the kind of fringier, more radical gun enthusiasts the NRA is now marketing to?

The NRA has a really big problem — and that’s being the NRA. They can no longer rely on increased gun sales [and] increased gun ownership as a whole for new members. So, what we’ve seen is they’ve taken for the most part two approaches. The first is that … they’ve basically cemented their relationship with the gun industry. Back in 1967, in the NRA’s official history, they bragged or just stated that they accepted no money [from and] had no relationship with gun manufacturers, distributors, jobbers. [There] was a complete bright line between the two. By 2013, soon after the Newtown shooting, the president of the NRA, then-president David Keene, said when asked this question about the relationship between NRA and the industry … said, “We get some” — and basically, to paraphrase it — “and we’d like to get more!” [T]he first shift is that the NRA and industry are working together to market guns. If you go to the NRA’s website, it is almost awash in sponsorships from the gun industry, from specific manufacturers … The head of Smith & Wesson, James Debney, basically has said, “The NRA” — this is a quote — “is our voice.”

The second [change] is because of the shift we’ve seen in the demographics of gun ownership, the NRA has reached out, and reached out to a segment of gun owners, they know is very, very engaged, and basically [in order] to engage that segment of gun owners, they’ve relied upon paranoia and fear and [hyping] anti-gun rhetoric. This can be traced back during the Clinton administration to some high-profile events: Waco, Ruby Ridge. But when Clinton came in, the NRA said, this was one of their covers, “The final war has begun.” And there was a complete attack on [the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives], the FBI, and really, putting out there, the idea that the government is the enemy, and not only are you at risk in a political sense from, say, gun laws, but your personal safety is at risk. The thing that’s most important about this is: The NRA plays a validating role for people’s fear and suspicion and anger. You know, they can think the government’s the enemy; they can think law enforcement is the enemy. But it’s the NRA that basically validates it and helps feed this fear and feed this anger … The first time that this kind of broke into the public consciousness was the Oklahoma City bombing, where … the NRA said “The final war has begun” and [Timothy] McVeigh set the date.

After that, the NRA reacted. They basically ratcheted down their rhetoric. They brought on Charlton Heston, whom they viewed as sort of a soft face for the organization, and the final war that had been sort of been the centerpiece under Tanya Metaksa and other NRA leadership members turned into Charlton Heston’s culture war, and that was sort of a softer focus for much of the same language but without the confrontational aspect. Since then, the NRA recognized that they have to appeal to — I mean, hunting, hunting as an activity is fading away — so what you’re finding is that the activists … the NRA relies upon are those who buy into its paranoid language and truly believe the government is the enemy … [W]hen the NRA is criticized for this or confronted with their own language, they fall into this excuse of  ”it’s just direct mail rhetoric; it’s just articles to engage our membership. It really is a risk-free activity,” and what we’re seeing is, that’s not the case. It’s not risk-free activity. The NRA’s validating role cannot be matched by any other organization, and most importantly — and this is where it all comes full circle — the NRA’s the organization assured that those who want to live out these wild fantasies have the exact tools to accomplish it.

And that’s what brings us to the shooting in Las Vegas, where you had a couple that, you know, on their Facebook, liked the NRA, loved guns and hated the government and [reached] the point of draping the Gadsden Flag — which is something the NRA embraced in 2010 — on their victims’ bodies. They brought the Gadsden Flag emblem into their line of clothing to appeal to, at best, Tea Party members; at worst, people like the Las Vegas shooters. And that’s where we are today. [T]he deadly combination of the anger the NRA validates and the ability, and their working to make sure they have the tools to act on it is what many of, is what is leading us down this lethal path.

Besides embracing the Gadsden flag, what are some other dog-whistles and other subtle nods to extremist views that the NRA engages in?

When they talk to this segment of their membership, the cues are the United Nations, the Obama administration, government as a whole, various arms of government (like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), foreign countries, and really, it gets down to you start with that and you work your way down to institutions like the news media, foundations—basically, everybody who’s not the NRA, one or the other ends up on the NRA’s enemies list. It really is a concerted attempt to personalize the threat that you face according to the National Rifle Association, and the answer to whatever the threat is, you know, is going to be a gun. I was doing a presentation the other day, and I was just looking at the NRA’s cover of the Americans’ First Freedom Magazine, and just some examples, sort of, as I mentioned earlier, of fueling the paranoia. There’s a cover with the UN. There’s “Gun Owners Under Siege.” There’s Barack Obama. There’s the state of Connecticut. There’s Michael Bloomberg … [I]t’s this effort to create a world not just that you should be fearful of, but that’s actually out to get you, such as it concerns the federal government.

You mentioned that the NRA announced the launch of the “final” war during the Clinton presidency and that Obama, himself, is a popular hate-figure for NRA members. So how much do partisan politics play into this? Are there more mass shootings under Democratic presidents?

don’t know the answer to that. I’d have to go back and look at the numbers. I mean, overall, we have seen a decrease in gun deaths in this country over the past decade or so. I think certainly — and there are experts in the field who know much more than I do — that we do see a dramatic increase in this anti-government rhetoric, the power of say, the Patriot Movement, the engagement of these groups, when there are Democratic presidents. Certainly the NRA, which is driven not by political need but financial needs, does everything it can to fundraise off of any Democratic president …

I’d like to return to what we spoke of earlier and talk about what specific remedies lawmakers can embrace that would take into consideration how the NRA has changed and how the market for guns has changed.

The first thing that needs to be done is we need to recognize that the common thread that runs through mass shootings and that really shapes gun violence as we know it today is a combination of semi-auto firearms, detachable ammunition magazines, and it ranges from high-capacity pistols to semi-automatic assault rifles. The first thing we have to do is recognize changes we’ve seen in the industry to help feed this violence. The second thing we have to do is bring the industry into the gun debate and basically expose what they’ve become … If you make a gun that’s 50 caliber or less and it’s semi-auto and has a barrel of a certain length, you can make anything you want. And they’ve taken grotesque advantage of that with the application of military technology to the civilian marketplace.

I think most Americans would be shocked at the gun industry has become. I think they view it through this lens of the guns that their parents or their grandparents had. You know, hunting rifles and shotguns and six-shot revolvers. That gun industry doesn’t exist anymore. It’s been replaced by one that embraces lethality as measured by firepower and capacity. The first thing is to bring industry into the debate to reveal what they’ve become. Second, we need to ratchet down the firepower in civilian hands. We need to get assault weapons off our streets and off the gun store shelves … We should ban handguns … if we have the opportunity to do it under the Supreme Court’s rulings, we should look at that issue and have an honest debate about it. And finally, I think that short of that, we need to look at what policy would be put in place that would limit the availability of increased firepower in the civilian population and make sure that, with those who do buy firearms, we do the best that we can to make sure that they fall outside of restricted categories that are contained in federal law.

How optimistic are you that any of this may be accomplished soon? Do you think we’re reaching a kind of tipping point in terms of these spectacular, public acts of gun violence?

I think if we do nothing, we’re going to continue down a path that will change the way we live as a nation. I don’t believe that we’re going to become so numb to gun violence that events that we’ve seen in the past … are going to become acceptable to us. So I think I am optimistic and have the faith in the American people that at some point, parents, employers, communities are going to rise up and say, “Enough is enough.”

 

 

7 worst right-wing moments of the week — Ann Coulter’s climate-change insanity

7 worst right-wing moments of the week — Ann Coulter's climate-change insanity

Ann Coulter (Credit: AP/Jose Luis Magana)

Salon

Coulter claims that solving climate change would cause genocide, while an ex-TV host says Satan’s behind evolution

1. Pat Sajak: Climate scientists are unpatriotic racists. Huh?

Apparently, “Wheel of Fortune” host Pat Sajak is not content with merely solving inane word puzzles and coming out against Obamacare. He also really likes to tweet things. This week, he staked out an absurd position on climate change denialism with this tweet:

“I now believe global warming alarmists are unpatriotic racists knowingly misleading for their own ends. Good night.”

This makes him the first conservative to conflate science with racism. What the hell does patriotism have to do with it? And why the “Good night” at the end of the inexplicably incendiary tweet? Makes no sense. Of course, Sajak never explained what he meant despite a storm of ensuing outrage. The frequent tweeter went mysteriously mute. Two days later he finally claimed he was kidding. It was “hyperbole,” he said. Can’t you people take a joke?

The game show host has a long history of incendiary tweets and conservative stances. Here’s a hilarious one he recently posted to make fun of Michelle Obama’s participation in the #BringBackOurGirls campaign:

“Hard to imagine Eleanor Roosevelt holding a sign reading #Don’tInvadeTheRhineland,Adolph.”

Resorting to Hitler and Nazi imagery is a favorite tactic of right-wingers in this country. So is the use of historical anachronisms.

Tell you what, Pat. No need to buy a vowel, we’ll spell this out: You’re the joke. No hyperbole.

2. Ann Coulter defends Pat Sajak’s right to be an absolute idiot by being an absolute idiot herself.

“Wheel of Fortune” gained a new fan in Ann Coulter, who just couldn’t agree more with Sajak on climate change and liberals being Nazis and to blame for everything. Coulter helpfully pointed out the humor in Sajak’s tweet to CNN’s Erin Burnett and then she upped the ante, because… she was on TV, and saying outrageous things is her brand. “We all have to believe in global warming, we all have to believe in immigration — either lots of immigration or even more immigration,” Coulter said. “We have to believe that Trayvon Martin was killed by a brutal racist, and if you don’t you get called all of these crazy names that Sajak is referring to.”



(Note: Even George Zimmerman’s former neighbor, a longtime white supremacist now admits Zimmerman is a racist.)

But back to Pat and Ann. The liberal thought police, who for some reason believe in science, are so mean, Coulter says. They compare climate change deniers to “Holocaust deniers.” She also, totally inexplicably, said dealing with climate change would lead to genocide.

Here’s where Coulter parts company with Sajak. He should not have said he was “just kidding” in her view. She is not kidding when she asserts her multitude of ignorant positions, nor will you ever catch her being the least bit funny. Or human, for that matter.

h/t Mediaite

3. Canceled HGTV host: Satan is why they teach evolution in schools.

Virulently anti-gay brothers David and Jason Benham, who almost got a show on HGTV before their hateful views were exposed, aren’t merely bigots. They’re also science deniers who see Satan’s work everywhere. They chalked up their firing to “demonic possession,” and this week opined that Satan is behind the teaching of evolution in school. Everything has been going downhill, the brothers wrote in a recent blog post, since the Scopes Trial in 1925, which allowed evolution (science) to be taught in schools. That’s when Satan gained his “toehold” here. A “toehold” that has morphed into a foothold and from there into a stronghold.

An excerpt:

“There are other strongholds in America as well. At first, Satan got a toehold on life in the 1920′s with the Scopes Monkey Trial (evolution can be taught alongside creation). Eventually, of course, this toehold became a stronghold to where creation can no longer be taught at all. And the result, 1973′s Roe v. Wade. Without a Creator we now become the determiners of life instead of God.”

Hoo boy. See how Satan connects all those dots?

h/t Raw Story

4. Duck Bro Phil Robertson talks more shit about gay people.

Enlightenment is a funny thing. For some people, it never comes. Never ever. One such person is Bible-thumping, 68-year-old Phil Robertson, the “Duck Dynasty” star who gained notoriety and numerous right-wing friends by saying racist, anti-Semitic and gay-bashing things, like explaining to men why women’s vaginas are more preferable for screwing than men’s anuses. Thanks, Phil. Needed that.

Now that spouting ignorant things has become so much a part of Robertson’s everyday to-do list, he needs to keep it up. On Thursday, “Radar” revealed a new video of Robertson. In an Easter sermon at his church he referred to the GQ interview that brought him his fame, saying: “Is homosexual behavior a sin? The guy asked me. I said, do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Don’t be deceived.”

Then, mistaking Easter for an Old Testament event, rather than a celebration of Jesus, who preached love and never actually had a bad word to say about same-sex love, Robertson cited Corinthians, or his version of it. “Neither the sexually immoral, nor the idolators nor adulterers nor male prostitutes, nor homosexual offenders, nor thieves, nor greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

5. Rep. Steve King challenges Chuck Schumer to a duel. What’s a duel again?

It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Iowa Tea Partier Steve King, famous for his xenophobic remarks about immigrants having “cantaloupe calves.” Apparently, his reputation for being an all-out lunatic is not sitting well with him. It seems even his fellow Republicans think he’s crazy and are blaming his frothy, racist stance for keeping a GOP “immigration reform” bill from coming to the floor.

So, he did what any reasonable person would do under these circumstances. He challenged pro-immigration Democrat Chuck Schumer to a duel, conjuring up Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, but then apparently thinking better of it and suggesting different weapons.

“If we’re going to have some kind of a challenge of rhetoric bouncing back between the House and Senate, let’s do it face to face,” King speechified on the House floor on Thursday, “Let’s do it eye-to-eye. Let’s have that duel — not like Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton — but… like real men do it today. Not dueling pistols at 50 paces; let’s do this with microphones within arm’s reach.”

Some might call this a debate. Schumer did. Not King, who suffers from the scourges of xenophobia, malapropism and historical anachronicity.

h/t: Salon

6. Ted Cruz: Democratic senators want to ‘repeal the First Amendment.’

Someone get a doctor. Tea Partier Ted Cruz is going into hysterics. Not the laughing kind. He’s having hysterical visions. This week Cruz warned some of his fellow religious nutcases that, “This year, I’m sorry to tell you, the United States Senate is going to be voting on a constitutional amendment to repeal the First Amendment,” at a gathering of pastors called Watchmen on the Wall sponsored by the far-right Family Research Council. Specifically, Cruz said, those big bad Democrats want to “muzzle” pastors.

Oh, no, the crowd gasped audibly. Whatever could the idiot junior senator from Texas mean? Oh, he’s talking about the fact that Senate Democrats are going to try to undo some of the horrific damage wreaked on democracy by the U.S. Supreme Court decisions deregulating campaign financing in the Citizens United and McCutcheon cases, by voting on a bill called Senate Joint Resolution 19. Unfortunately, it stands no chance of passing.

The right (and the Roberts court) has equated money with speech, and more money with more speech. So any attempt to roll back or regulate the amount of big money flowing into candidates’ coffers is then characterized by these absurd ideologues as a full-on assault on free speech.

“I am telling you, I am not making this up,” Cruz said. “Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has announced the Senate Democrats are scheduling a vote on a constitutional amendment to give Congress the authority to regulate political speech, because elected officials have decided they don’t like it when the citizenry has the temerity to criticize what they’ve done.”

What a bunch of hooey!

7. Arizona GOPer: Democrats are usually the shooters in mass shootings.

An Arizona rancher and Republican congressional candidate bizarrely asserted last week that the vast majority of mass shootings in the United States are committed by Democrats.

There is, of course, not a scintilla of evidence for that claim, though when has that ever mattered?

“If you look at all the fiascos that have occurred, 99 percent of them have been by Democrats pulling their guns out and shooting people,” said Gary Kiehne, who hopefully will get nowhere in his quest for a congressional seat, during a GOP primary denate. “So I don’t think you have a problem with the Republicans.”

Then he bragged about all the many guns and ammunition he owns.

Which is fine, because he’s not one of those shoot-em-up Democrats.

Diagnosing Paul Ryan’s psychopathy: Arrogant, manipulative, deceitful, remorseless

Diagnosing Paul Ryan's psychopathy: Arrogant, manipulative, deceitful, remorseless

Paul Ryan (Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

Salon

Paul Krugman revealed Ryan’s big con years ago. It’s gotten worse. Why does anyone take him seriously on policy?

If the GOP as a whole has pretty much given up on the whole “rebranding” thing, their 2012 vice presidential nominee, Congressman Paul Ryan, most definitely has not. In fact, rebranding is pretty much his thing, regardless of how credible — or incredible, actually — his efforts may be.

For years, Ryan touted himself as an avid Ayn Rand disciple, until he didn’t in early 2012, even calling it “an urban legend” that he had anything serious to do with Rand at all. He then tried to present the latest iteration of his draconian soak-the-poor/shower the rich budget proposal as grounded in Catholic social teaching, rather than Rand’s fiercely anti-Christian philosophy, a claim that the conservative U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops soundly rejected, writing that his proposed budget failed to meet certain “moral criteria” by disproportionately cutting programs that “serve poor and vulnerable people.”

Now, seeking to put all memory of the “47 percent” campaign behind him, Ryan’s trying to take that reinvention to a whole new level. He’s still touting a budget that dramatically slashes spending on programs that benefit Americans of limited means — 69 percent of all cuts — including $137 billion from food stamps, 24 percent or $732 billion from Medicaid, and $125 billion from Pell Grants, among others — while giving millionaires an average tax cut of at least $200,000. Yet, at the same time, Ryan is trying to reinvent himself as someone who’s serious about fighting poverty, only from a conservative perspective.



Setting the massive contradictions aside for the moment, it’s not an absurd idea in theory. The modern European welfare state was actually invented by conservatives, beginning in Germany, under the first post-unification chancellor, Otto von Bismarck. But this happened in the face of a powerful socialist movement, amidst tremendous dislocations, as well as international pressures that gave German elites powerful reasons to want to make life in Germany much more tolerable for the German people as a whole. In short, when the real-world political incentives are there, history shows that conservatives really can find effective ways to help fight poverty. The only problem is, the solutions they come up are the very thing that cause conservatives today, like Ryan and his Tea Party brethren, to foam at the mouth, and call “socialism!”

And so he came up with his 204-page report, The War on Poverty: 50 Years Later, a con job, as Paul Krugman called it, but that was hardly a surprise. Con jobs are a Ryan’s specialty, More on that later.

What was a surprise, at least to some, was the utter clumsiness of how Ryan’s new focus on poverty got him into trouble on race. He went onto Bill Bennett’s radio show and channelled Newt Gingrich from the 2012 primaries:

We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.

Ryan also cited Charles Murray, white nationalist author of “The Bell Curve.” While many people took him to be speaking in racial code, it was arguably even worse if he was not, as Brian Beutler pointed out:

But if Ryan genuinely stumbled heedless into a racial tinderbox then it suggests he, and most likely many other conservatives, has fully internalized a framing of social politics that wasdeliberately crafted to appeal to white racists without regressing to the uncouth language of explicit racism, and written its origins out of the history.

Of course, something like this has actually happened repeatedly throughout the history of white supremacy in America: True origins are constantly being erased, nefarious intentions hidden, unspeakable injustices naturalized. But what I find fascinating about Ryan is how self-assuredly he switches from all-knowing to naif, without for a moment even thinking this might tarnish his moral authority in any way. He later said his comments had “nothing to do” with race, and the next day issued a statement saying, “After reading the transcript of yesterday morning’s interview, it is clear that I was inarticulate about the point I was trying to make.” There was no sense of moral responsibility at all, no sense that he owed anyone an apology. (This is all quite typical of a psychopathic personality — as will be touched on below.) But he did have to do something, from a political point of view.

And so he met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus this Wednesday, in order to try to pretend to have a dialogue on poverty. It was not very much of a success. “We didn’t get a whole lot accomplished,” CBC chair Marcia Fudge said to the press afterward, but Ryan found it easy to pretend otherwise. “What is good out of this is that we need to talk about better ideas on getting at the root cause of poverty, to try and break the cycle of poverty.” Ryan also spoke about the need to “improve the tone” in the conversation about poverty — something that he himself might have thought about earlier, no?

Continue reading here…

Paul Krugman slams Wall Street for “undermining our economy and our society”

Paul Krugman slams Wall Street for "undermining our economy and our society"

Paul Krugman (Credit: AP/Lai Seng Sin)

I know this is the second consecutive Salon article, but economist, Paul Krugman has something to say and I wanted to share it…

Salon

The New York Times columnist argues that America’s large financial sector has done more harm than good

In his latest column for the New York Times, best-selling author and award-winning economist Paul Krugman argues that the financial sector of the American economy is not only outsized but that it’s hurting the economy and making Americans’ lives worse.

Citing journalist Michael Lewis’ new book on high-frequency trading — which opens with a story about an expensive tunnel being drilled for fiber-optic cable to cut down the communication time between Chicago’s futures markets and the stock market in NYC by three milliseconds — Krugman argues that American public policy has become overly influenced by high finance, with inequality and economic instability as a result. “[American] society,” Krugman writes, “is devoting an ever-growing share of its resources to financial wheeling and dealing, while getting little or nothing in return.”

After claiming that the large financial sector in the U.S. doesn’t increase overall prosperity and doesn’t promote economic stability, Krugman writes that its primary function seems to be to prey off of less powerful economic actors. “[Wall Street's] playing small investors for suckers,” Krugman says, “causing them to waste huge sums in a vain effort to beat the market.” The result, Krugman posits, is a select few Wall Street players making a lot of private profits while contributing little to the overall public.

Krugman continues:



In short, we’re giving huge sums to the financial industry while receiving little or nothing — maybe less than nothing — in return. [NYU Professor Thomas] Philippon puts the waste at 2 percent of G.D.P. Yet even that figure, I’d argue, understates the true cost of our bloated financial industry. For there is a clear correlation between the rise of modern finance and America’s return to Gilded Age levels of inequality.

So never mind the debate about exactly how much damage high-frequency trading does. It’s the whole financial industry, not just that piece, that’s undermining our economy and our society.

 

America’s next great president: Why Obama’s departure paves the way for the next FDR

America’s next great president: Why Obama’s departure paves the way for the next FDR

Russ Feingold, Sherrod Brown, Elizabeth Warren (Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing/AP/Tony Dejak/Joshua Roberts)

I like the ideas set forth in this piece…

Salon

Why can’t Barack Obama be more like Lyndon Johnson? The fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, commemorated by living presidents at the LBJ School of Public Affairs in Austin, Texas, last week, has renewed interest in comparisons between the two presidents. Critics of Obama complain that he might have been a more effective president had he been less aloof and more willing to bewitch, bully and bribe members of Congress as Johnson did. Defenders of Obama compare the Affordable Care Act to Johnson’s Medicare and Medicaid, and point out that Obama after 2010 had to face a divided Congress, unlike Johnson, with his Democratic supermajorities.

The discussion is superficial, reflecting a focus on personalities and short-term electoral considerations. It’s worth viewing the differences between Johnson and Obama in a broader historical context.

In the 1930s, as a young member of Congress from Texas, Lyndon Johnson became a favorite protégé of President Franklin Roosevelt. On becoming president after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Johnson saw his task in domestic politics as completing the New Deal (even as, in foreign policy, he sought, with disastrous results in Vietnam, to carry out the liberal Cold War containment policy inherited from Harry Truman). From the perspective of 2014, we can view Roosevelt’s New Deal and Johnson’s Great Society as a single era of reform, interrupted by the “conservative coalition” of right-wing Southern Democrats and northern Republicans that dominated Congress in the 1950s. From civil rights to universal health care, most of the programs that Johnson managed to get enacted in the 1960s had been proposed in the 1930s or 1940s, if not earlier. For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to the New Deal-Great Society combination as “the New Deal.”

The New Deal was the American version of the social reforms that transformed other advanced industrial democracies in the twentieth century. All of the other English-speaking countries as well as the democracies of Western Europe at some point adopted worker-protective legislation, social safety nets and — following World War II and the horrors of Nazi racism — the outlawing of white supremacy. In this wave of twentieth-century reform, the U.S. was mostly a laggard, not a leader. In the late nineteenth century, Imperial Germany pioneered workers’ compensation and Social Security, and before World War I Britain adopted many reforms that were delayed in the U.S. until the 1930s.

Continue reading below the fold…

5 things conservatives lie about shamelessly

5 things conservatives lie about shamelessly

Fox News host Bill O’Reilly. (Credit: Wikipedia)

Most of us are not surprised by the following list, it’s just good to know it’s out there for all to see…

Salon

The right still somehow insists that climate change isn’t real and that the ACA will euthanize old people

Mark Twain once famously said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Twain wasn’t praising lies with this comment, of course, but modern-day conservatives seem to think he was dishing out advice instead of damning the practice of dishonesty. Conservatives have figured out a neat little rhetorical trick: One lie is easy for your opponents to debunk. Tell one lie after another, however, and your opponent’s debunkings will never catch up. By the time the liberal opposition has debunked one lie, there’s a dozen more to take its place.

Science educator Eugenie Scott deemed the technique the “Gish Gallop,” named for a notoriously sleazy creationist named Duane Gish. The Urban Dictionary defines the Gish Gallop as a technique that “involves spewing so much bullshit in such a short span on that your opponent can’t address let alone counter all of it.” Often users of the Gish Gallop know their arguments are nonsense or made in bad faith, but don’t particularly care because they are so dead set on advancing their agenda. Unfortunately, the strategy is so effective that it’s been expanding rapidly in right-wing circles. Here are just a few of the most disturbing examples of the Gish Gallop in action.

1. Creationism. It’s no surprise creationists inspired the coining of the term Gish Gallop, as they have perfected the art of making up nonsense faster than scientists can refute it. The list of false or irrelevant claims made by creationists, as chronicled by Talk Origins, numbers in the dozens, perhaps even hundreds, and more are always being spun out. Trying to argue with a creationist, therefore, turns into a hellish game of Whack-A-Mole. Debunk the lie that the speed of light is not constant, and you’ll find he’s already arguing that humans co-existed with dinosaurs. Argue that it’s unconstitutional to put the story of Adam and Eve in the science classroom, and find he’s pretending he was never asking for that and instead wants to “teach the controversy.”



“Teaching the controversy” is a classic Gish Gallop apology. The conservative wants to make it seem like he’s supporting open-minded debate, but instead he just wants an opportunity to dump a bunch of lies on students with the knowledge that they’ll never have the time and attention to carefully parse every debunking.

2. Climate change denialism.This strategy worked so well for creationism it makes perfect sense that it would be imported to the world of climate change denialism. Climate change denialists have many changing excuses for why they reject the science showing that human-caused greenhouse gases are changing the climate, but what all these reasons have in common is they are utter nonsense in service of a predetermined opposition to taking any action to prevent further damage.

Skeptical Science, a website devoted to debunking right-wing lies on this topic, has compiled a dizzying list of 176 common claims by climate denialists and links to why they are false.  Some of these lies directly contradict each other. For instance, it can’t both be true that climate change is “natural” and that it’s not happening at all. No matter, since the point of these lies is not to create a real discussion about the issue, but to confuse the issue so much it’s impossible to get any real momentum behind efforts to stop global warming.

3. The Affordable Care Act. It’s not just science where conservatives have discovered the value in telling lies so fast you simply wear your opposition out. When it comes to healthcare reform, the lying has been relentless. There are the big lies, such as calling Obamacare “socialism,” which implies a single-payer system, when in fact, it’s about connecting the uninsured with private companies and giving consumers of healthcare a basic set of rights. In a sense, even the name “Obamacare” is a lie, as the bill was, per the President’s explicit wishes, written by Congress.

But there are also the small lies: The ACA funds abortionUnder the ACA, old people will be forcibly euthanized.  Obamacare somehow covers undocumented immigrants.  Congress exempted itself from Obamacare (one of the lies that doesn’t even make sense, as it’s not a program you could really get exempted from). Healthcare will add a trillion dollars to the deficit.

The strategy of just lying and lying and lying some more about the ACA has gotten to the point where Fox News is just broadcasting lies accusing the Obama administration of lying. When it was reported that the administration was going to hit its projections for the number of enrollments through healthcare.gov, a subculture of “enrollment truthers”  immediately sprang up to spread a variety of often conflicting lies to deny that these numbers are even real. It started soft, with some conservatives suggesting that some enrollments shouldn’t count or arguing, without a shred of evidence, that huge numbers of new enrollees won’t pay their premiums. Now the lying is blowing up to the shameless level, with “cooking the books” being a common false accusation or, as with Jesse Watters on Fox, straight up accusing the White House of making the number up. Perhaps soon there will be demands to see all these new enrollees’ birth certificates.

4. Contraception mandate.The ACA-based requirement that insurance plans cover contraception without a copay has generated a Gish Gallop so large it deserves its own category. Jodi Jacobson of RH Reality Check chronicled 12 of the biggest lies generated by the right-wing noise machine in just the past couple of years since the mandate was even announced. It is not “free” birth control, nor is it “paid for” by employers. The birth control coverage is paid for by the employees, with benefits they earn by working. The mandate doesn’t cover “abortifacients,” only contraception. No, birth control doesn’t work by killing fertilized eggs, but by preventing fertilization. It’s simply false that the prescriptions in question can all be replaced with a $9-a-month prescription from Walmart, as many women’s prescriptions run into the hundreds and even thousands a year. No, it’s not true that the contraception mandate is about funding women’s “lifestyle”, because statistics show that having sex for fun instead of procreation is a universal human behavior and not a marginal or unusual behavior as the term “lifestyle” implies.

5. Gun safety. The gun lobby is dishonest to its core. Groups like the NRA like to paint themselves like they are human rights organizations, but in fact, they are an industry lobby whose only real goal is to protect the profit margins of gun manufacturers, regardless of the costs to human health and safety. Because their very existence is based on a lie, is it any surprise that gun industry advocates are experts at the Gish Gallop, ready to spring into action at the sign of any school shooting or report on gun violence and dump so many lies on the public that gun safety advocates can never even begin to address them all?

A small sampling of the many, many lies spouted by gun industry advocates: That guns prevent murder, when in fact more guns correlates strongly with more murders. That gun control doesn’t workThat gun control is unpopular.  That any move to make gun ownership safer is a move to take away your guns. That a gun in the home makes you safer when it actually puts your family at more risk. That guns protect against domestic violence, when the truth is that owning a gun makes abuse worse, not better. Even the standard line “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” is a distracting bit of dishonesty, since most gun deaths aren’t murders but suicides.

How do you fight the Gish Gallop, when trying to debunk each and every lie is so overwhelming? There are a few tactics that help, including creating websites and pamphlets where all the lies can be aggregated in one place, for swift debunking. (Bingo cards and drinking games are a humorous version of this strategy.) A critical strategy is to avoid lengthy Lincoln-Douglas-style debates that allow conservatives to lie-dump rapidly during their speaking period, leaving you so busy trying to clean up their mess you have no time for positive points of your own. Better is a looser style of debate where you can interrupt and correct the lies as they come. I’ve also found some luck with setting an explicit “no lies” rule that will be strictly enforced. The first lie receives a warning, and the second lie means that the debate is immediately terminated. This helps prevent you from having to debunk and instead makes the price of participation a strict adherence to facts.

 

Paul Ryan’s race flap even worse than it looks

Paul Ryan's race flap even worse than it looks

Paul Ryan (Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

Salon

The notion that Ryan was dog-whistling to racists is actually the best-case scenario. Here’s the scary alternative

I spent a depressing amount of time this weekend trying to think up a scenario in which someone might say the following without being motivated, to at least some degree, by malign intent.

“We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.”

What I came up with was strained and unlikely, but troubling if true.

In case you slept through last week, the person who said this was congressman and one-time GOP vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan. It ignited a fairly heated debate over whether he was intentionally trafficking in racial code words to pander to white conservatives. Ryan claims he spoke inarticulately and was thus misunderstood. For proponents of the dog-whistle theory, the fact that Ryan cited Charles Murray, author of “The Bell Curve,” was the smoking gun.

For my part, I don’t think they need a smoking gun, because Occam’s razor does all the dirty work. You can take Murray completely out of the equation and the likelihood that Ryan wasn’t at least subconsciously playing to the prejudices of resentful or racist whites is pretty low.

But let’s assume Ryan’s playing it straight, and his defenders, like Slate’s Dave Weigel, are correct when they argue that this is just how Ryan and other conservatives “think about welfare’s effects on social norms.” If that’s true, it’s actually a bigger problem for the right. If Ryan was even a little bit aware of how people would interpret his remarks, or understood the reaction to them when it exploded online, we could just say that some conservatives want to play the Southern Strategy at least one more round, and leave it at that. Close the book on this controversy, without drawing any larger conclusions about the state of conservative self-deception.

But if Ryan genuinely stumbled heedless into a racial tinderbox then it suggests he, and most likely many other conservatives, has fully internalized a framing of social politics that wasdeliberately crafted to appeal to white racists without regressing to the uncouth language of explicit racism, and written its origins out of the history. If that’s the case it augurs poorly for those in the movement who are trying to broaden the Republican Party’s appeal, because it’s easier to convince people to abandon a poor tactic than to unlearn rotten ideology.



In his 1984 book “The Two Party South,” political scientist Alexander Lamis quoted a conservative operative later revealed to be Ronald Reagan confidant Lee Atwater, who traced the evolution.

”You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘N—-r, n—-r, n—-r,’” Atwater explained. “By 1968 you can’t say ‘n—-r’ — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘N—-r, n—-r.”’

Treating intergenerational laziness of inner-city men as established truth, and bemoaning the ways social spending programs supposedly nurture that “culture,” blends seamlessly into Atwater’s framework.

Weigel interprets the fact that Charles Murray has lately softened his claims as exculpation for Ryan and other conservatives who cite him. But Murray’s just following a social Darwinist’s rendition of the trajectory Atwater traced. I suspect both men are wiser to their intentions than their apologists give them credit for. There are ways to promote conservative social policies that aren’t remotely racialized — they just don’t ignite the passions of resentful white people in a politically meaningful way. If I’m wrong, though, conservatives better hope the party doesn’t nominate Ryan or any like-minded thinkers in 2016.

A quick point of trivia: I first learned about Atwater’s comments years ago, in this New York Times column by Bob Herbert questioning why anybody was surprised to hear GOP education secretary-cum-talk radio host Bill Bennett say, “I do know that it’s true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could — if that were your sole purpose — you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down.”

Guess whose program Ryan was a guest on when he stepped in it last week?

Gallup Poll Finds Democrats More Compassionate; Republicans More Psychopathic

According to Gallup, these are not the traits of a Conservatives…

No doubt most Progressives already knew this, but a Gallup poll makes it official…

The Huffington Post

Gallup headlined on 28 January 2014, “Democrats and Republicans Differ on Top Priorities,” and reported that the biggest difference between supporters of the two Parties concerned “The environment,” where 71% of Democrats said it’s important to them, versus only 32% of Republicans who did: a whopping difference of 39%, between the two Parties, considered that issue to be important. The second-biggest difference was on “The distribution of income and wealth”: 72% of Democrats, versus only 38% of Republicans – a 34% difference. Third came “Poverty and homelessness”: 82% of Democrats, versus 53% of Republicans – a 29% difference. Fourth came “Education”: 91% of Democrats, versus 70% of Republicans – a 21% difference.

Here were the four issues on the conservative end, the four issues where Republicans scored the largest amount higher (more concerned) than Democrats: First, “The military and national defense”: 76% of Republicans, versus 61% of Democrats – a 15% difference – considered that issue to be important. Second, “Taxes”: 69% of Republicans, versus 56% of Democrats – a 13% difference. Third, “Terrorism”: 77% of Republicans, versus 68% of Democrats – a 9% difference. Fourth, “Government surveillance of U.S. citizens”: 45% of Republicans, versus 37% of Democrats – an 8% difference (but if the President had been a Republican, Democrats might have been more concerned about that issue than Republicans would have been).

Clearly, selfish fears swept concerns on the Republican side, whereas concerns for others (and especially the weak) swept concerns on the Democratic side.

One can therefore reasonably infer from this survey that the main difference between Democrats and Republicans is the difference between compassion versus psychopathy.

If these findings are accurate, then one will expect that in political primary elections, where candidates make their appeals to members of their own Party, Democratic candidates will compete with one another mainly on the basis of their proposals for improving things for everyone but especially for the most vulnerable; whereas Republican candidates will compete with one another mainly on the basis of their proposals for improving things for their individual voters. And, in the general election, one will expect that the Democratic nominee will have been chosen on the basis of his concern for everyone, while the Republican nominee will have been chosen on the basis of his concern for Republicans.

Tom Coburn To Leave Senate At End Of 113th Congress

tom coburn senate

U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) | Tom Williams via Getty Images

What’s going on in Congress that’s driving so many politicians to end their terms?

The Huffington Post

U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn will finish out the current congressional session and then resign from his seat nearly two years before his term is scheduled to end, he said in a statement released late Thursday.

The 65-year-old Republican said he would give up his seat at the end of the current session in January 2015. His term was scheduled to end in 2016, and Coburn already had vowed not to seek a third.

Coburn, a physician from Muskogee, recently was diagnosed with a recurrence of prostate cancer, but said his decision was not about his health.

“Carolyn and I have been touched by the encouragement we’ve received from people across the state regarding my latest battle against cancer,” Coburn said, referring to his wife. “But this decision isn’t about my health, my prognosis or even my hopes and desires.

“As a citizen, I am now convinced that I can best serve my own children and grandchildren by shifting my focus elsewhere. In the meantime, I look forward to finishing this year strong.”

Known as a conservative maverick during his three terms in the U.S. House in the 1990s, Coburn continued that role after being elected to the Senate in 2004. He was a fierce critic of what he described as excessive government spending, and was most vocal about opposing the earmarking of special projects.

His resignation is certain to draw the interest of a deep bench of ambitious Republicans in Oklahoma. State law requires the governor to call a special election in the case of a vacancy.