Thoughts on Dr. King's Day - A few more miscellaneous thoughts on Martin Luther King Jr. on this day of remembrance. *One*: King was a troublemaker. In many ways, he became more of a...
19 hours ago
"Like the fundamentalist Muslims, these fundamentalist Christians believe in killing civilians. They don't have any problem with it at all. They just said it! 'We'll kill their families and we'll carpet-bomb their cities.
This is the kind of insane crap that Ann Coulter used to say, to be so over-the-top, to garner attention. Right? Now, it's become mainstream and gets wild applause at a Republican debate. So, understand who you are. You're in league with the terrorists. That's what terrorists do.
Terrorists say, 'We will kill their families and we will bomb them indiscriminately.' Republicans agree."
It's hard to explain exactly why we submit ourselves to this. But in our New York City office we spend most of the day listening to Fox News. In moments of tension and incitement such as these it is difficult to capture the sheer scale and measure of the storm of hate, lies, nonsense and febrile fear that constantly flows out of it, minute by minute and hour after hour. I've become particularly focused in the last couple days on the almost constant stream of often small but highly significant falsehoods which go together to create a frightening and highly distorted image of the world.
Just now we're listening to this show "Outnumbered" where a woman named Andrea Tantaros (who manages to combine in her person in a concentrated form everything that is awful about Fox News) went on a tear about how it was that the San Bernardino shooter's brother was allowed to attend a press conference sponsored by CAIR the day after the attack, 'spouting CAIR talking points' as opposed to being in FBI custody. Why wasn't the whole family in FBI custody, she ranted? Well, as far as I know, the person she's referring to isn't Syed Farook's brother but his brother-in-law. His brother is actually a Navy veteran who lives in a different part of Southern California and, from everything we've heard, had absolutely nothing to do with his brother's crimes. ...
These might seem like small or picayune examples. But they are constant. And they build up to a whole tapestry of falsehoods, that combined with incitement and hysteria create a mental world in which Donald Trump's mounting volume of racist incitement is just not at all surprising. They are the false links that piece together the chain of distortion and lies that would simply collapse without them. You may have noticed that Fox felt compelled to suspend two on-air personalities yesterday because of rants about the President. But they were suspended not because of general tone or extremity but simply because they lapsed into profanity. When I saw this yesterday, it didn't seem surprising because the tone has become so hyperbolic and the climate of outrage and drama against the President not endorsing a military escalation or a clampdown on American Muslims so extreme that it's hardly surprising that a couple of regulars would slip into profanity.
As I wrote last night, this is sort of like a national Milgram Experiment. [Note that my post about that is here.] Are there limits on how far you can go as the possible nominee of a major national party? Seemingly not. ...
But it's not about Trump. It's about his supporters. A big chunk of the Republican base is awash in racism and xenophobic hysteria. And this is the food that they feed on every day. It's a societal sickness and we can't ignore it.
You may think of Donald Trump as a crafty blowhard intuiting the darkest recesses of the American mood and riding that wave into ever-escalating racist incitement, militant derp and extremism. But this evening it occurred to me that it may not be that at all. ... You probably know about the notorious Milgram Experiment, conducted by the late Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram in 1961. In the experiment subjects were tested to see how far they would go in inflicting extreme pain - escalating electric shocks - on other test subjects simply because a figure in authority, the person running the experiment, told them to do so. So how far would the subjects go?
It turns out really, really far. Sometimes they'd keep inducing shocks with a chilling indifference. In other instances it would be clear that the test subject knew what he was doing was wrong. But instructed to continue, in almost every case, that's what they did. (The person on the other side of the glass wasn't really being shocked; they were pretending, but quite convincingly and often begging for mercy and expressing fear of death.)
And here we are, the experiment taken nationwide.
Intended or not, we have a grand national version of something very similar. How far will this go? Donald Trump started calling Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers. Then he called for the rushed expulsion of over 10 million residents of the United States. This was followed by proposals to create a national registry or database of American Muslims. Late last month it was the continued invocation of a lurid racist fantasy of thousands of U.S. Muslims cheering the fall of the Twin Towers from across the river in North Jersey on 9/11 — in many countries something that might be charged as racist incitement to violence. And then today, we have the culmination — or perhaps better to say, since this can't possibly be the end of it, the next massive upping of the ante — which became inevitable in the wake of everything that preceded it: Donald Trump, frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, says Muslims as a religious class should be banned from entering the United States.
(M)otives do not matter to the dead in California, nor did they in Colorado, Oregon, South Carolina, Virginia, Connecticut and far too many other places. The attention and anger of Americans should also be directed at the elected leaders whose job is to keep us safe but who place a higher premium on the money and political power of an industry dedicated to profiting from the unfettered spread of ever more powerful firearms.
It is a moral outrage and a national disgrace that civilians can legally purchase weapons designed specifically to kill people with brutal speed and efficiency. These are weapons of war, barely modified and deliberately marketed as tools of macho vigilantism and even insurrection. America’s elected leaders offer prayers for gun victims and then, callously and without fear of consequence, reject the most basic restrictions on weapons of mass killing, as they did on Thursday. They distract us with arguments about the word terrorism. Let’s be clear: These spree killings are all, in their own ways, acts of terrorism. ...
...politicians abet would-be killers by creating gun markets for them, and voters allow those politicians to keep their jobs. It is past time to stop talking about halting the spread of firearms, and instead to reduce their number drastically — eliminating some large categories of weapons and ammunition.
It is not necessary to debate the peculiar wording of the Second Amendment. No right is unlimited and immune from reasonable regulation. ...
What better time than during a presidential election to show, at long last, that our nation has retained its sense of decency?
Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) pre-filed a bill Tuesday that would restrict access to firearms in the same way her state restricts access to abortion.
Newman's bill includes a 72-hour waiting period for purchasing guns and watching a 30-minute video on firearms fatalities before purchasing. It also requires the firearms dealer be at least 120 miles from the purchaser's residence.
The bill would require that a gun purchaser visit an emergency room at the nearest "urban hospital" on a weekend between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. "when gun violence victims are present."
Within 72 hours of their purchase, the individual also must meet with at least two families who have been victims of firearm violence and two faith leaders who have presided over funerals in the last year of a child gun violence victim.
To wit, conservatives are extremely defensive about the Planned Parenthood shooting, but clearly see it as a political “win” if the San Bernardino shooting was rooted in Islamic terrorism. Even more bizarrely, there’s a sense, particularly in right wing circles, that the opposite is true for liberals: That we somehow have reason to be on the defense if this shooting, as it looks like it will be, is an act of Islamic terrorism. ...
We’ve been down this road before. After the Paris attacks, accusing liberals of somehow being protective of or defensive of the teachings of ISIS became a popular talking point on the right. Republicans harped endlessly on the Democratic candidates for avoiding the inexact and needlessly provocative term “radical Islam.”
It’s part point-scoring, and part projection. After all, conservative Christians continue to blindly endorse radical rhetoric and beliefs that lead to Christian terrorism of the sort that we saw at Planned Parenthood, so they assume that the “other” side has a similar problem, just with Islam instead of Christianity.
Sadly, it’s not just conservatives who make this asinine assumption, either — there’s a certain arrogant, pseudo-liberal type of atheist who also seems to think that liberals are somehow more sympathetic to or protective of Islamic terrorism than Christian terrorism. After the Paris attacks, Bill Maher, while grasping that it’s probably unwise to bomb blindly, still sneered, “It was probably not the Amish,” as if liberals were suggesting otherwise. Sam Harris went even farther, echoing Ted Cruz’s rhetoric about how Christian terrorism isn’t even really a thing, and assuming that the only reason liberals support the Syrian refugees is that we’re blind to the threat of Islamic terrorism.
This has gone on long enough. It’s time to say it straight: Just because conservatives believe there’s some kind of global battle between Christianity and Islam doesn’t mean that liberals have to agree, much less that they take the “Islam” side of that equation. On the contrary, most liberals see fundamentalist Christianity and fundamentalist Islam as categorically the same and categorically illiberal in their shared opposition to feminism and modernity.
This goes double when it comes to the fringe actors in either faith who become radicalized and turn to violence to impose their theocratic views on the unwilling. Liberals understand that there are theological and political differences between the different kinds of radical fundamentalism that lead to terrorism, but we are keenly aware that people who pick up a gun in the name of God have more in common with each other than they do with the rest of us.
What liberals object to is the conservative tendency to erase all distinctions between the relatively few Muslims around the world who have violent views and the majority of Muslims who, whether they are conservative or not, do not agree with ISIS or Al Qaeda’s distortion of Islam. ... Just as it’s important to maintain these distinctions when talking about Christianity, it’s equally important to keep these distinctions in mind when talking about Islam.
There’s nothing in that logic that suggests that liberals have some secret googly-eyes for demagoguing radical Muslim fundamentalists, anymore than we love Pat Robertson. On the contrary, we tend to see them as basically the same kind of misogynist, homophobic authoritarians who hide behind God to get their way. To suggest otherwise is not just dishonest, but irresponsible, since it can hinder the very diplomatic efforts we need to keep people alive.
In the final years of the 18th century and throughout the first two decades of the 19th century, the United States was drawn into multiple, semi-undeclared military conflicts with these Barbary Pirates. The first such Barbary War was conducted by the Jefferson administration against Karamanli’s Tripoli between 1801 and 1805, supported by congressional acts that stopped short of declaring war but authorized activities such as seizing ships and supplies. The Second Barbary War (1815) was fought by the Madison administration (with more overt congressional sanction) a decade later against Algiers, which had sided with England during the recently concluded War of 1812 and was continuing to harass American shipping.
The specific causes and histories of each Barbary War, and of the conflicts that led up to and followed them, were various and complex. Yet from the earliest such conflicts the U.S. government had made one thing very explicit and clear: the battles were not in any way between religions or civilizations. In 1796, the Washington administration sent his old Army colleague David Humphreys and other ambassadors to North Africa to negotiate a treaty with the Barbary States; the resulting document came to be known as the Treaty of Tripoli, and was sent to the Senate by new President John Adams and unanimously ratified in the summer of 1797.
That treaty opened with a clear statement of the goal, “a firm and perpetual Peace and friendship” between the nations. And in Article 11, it addressed directly the issue of religion:
As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion, as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen, and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
Those interruptions, when they arose a few years later, had no more to do with religion or a clash of civilizations than did these late 18th century issues.
The evolving U.S. relationship with the Barbary States didn’t just affect our foreign policy. During the Revolution, the North African nation of Morocco was the first in the world to recognize the new United States (in 1777); the two nations would subsequently sign a Treaty of Friendship in 1786, with John Adams and Thomas Jefferson signing for the United States. Thanks to this enduring relationship, when a number of Moroccan Muslims—“Moors,” as they were known in the language of era—sought to flee the rising power and brutality of the Barbary States, they chose America as their destination. Many of these refugees settled in Charleston, South Carolina, helping comprise the state’s burgeoning Moorish community that would become the subject of one of South Carolina’s first post-Constitution laws, the Moors Sundry Act of 1790.
There are no easy answers to the international issues and conflicts facing the United States and our allies in 2015, nor simple solutions for the communities of refugees fleeing those conflicts. Yet as our histories illustrate, any answers that include either a “war with Islam” or a refusal to accept such refugees in the United States will represent a significant and troubling break from some of our foundational moments and ideals.
So on Monday he's saying he'd "strongly consider" shutting down mosques. And then just a day later he's saying he'd "absolutely" close them down. With his Muslim ID card and database, Wednesday he said he wouldn't rule out creating such a system. By the end of the day he was telling NBC News he would "absolutely" create such a system.
Remember when Cain was peddling the 9/9/9 tax plan that turned out to come from Sim City?
Well Carson's statement about the pyramids being used to store grain is actually true in Civilization II where building the Pyramids wonder gives you a granary in every city.
The GOP frontrunner's theory that archaeologists are wrong and that the Egyptian pyramids were really built by the biblical figure Joseph to store grain wasn't created in a vacuum. In the fringier corners of the Internet, variations of the pyramids-as-grain-storage argument has spawned entire blogs and a 30-minute documentary.
Carson -- who is continuing to defend beliefs that were surfaced this week in video of a 1998 commencement address by the acclaimed neurosurgeon -- joins the ranks of pyramids truthers who believe that, warned by God of an oncoming famine, Joseph built grain storage units that exist today in the form of the ancient pyramids. ...
According to [Richard] Flower, the theory gained traction in Gregory of Tours’ History of the Franks, written in the 6th century, where the bishop wrote about a “city in which Joseph built granaries from squared stones and rubble with marvellous workmanship."
“He made them larger at the base and very much smaller at the top so that wheat could be thrown in there through a tiny hole. These granaries are still visible even today,” Gregory wrote at the time,...
GOP frontrunner Ben Carson, in a 1998 commencement address, floated his own personal theory that the pyramids in Egypt were built by Joseph -- the biblical patriarch known for his coat of many colors -- to store grain, Buzzfeed reported.
In the speech -- given at Andrews University, a school with ties to Carson's Seventh-day Adventist faith -- the neurosurgeon shot down claim that aliens had built the pyramids. But he also disagreed with the archaeological consensus that the pyramids were constructed as tombs for the pharaohs.
“My own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain,” Carson said. “Now all the archaeologists think that they were made for the pharaohs’ graves. But, you know, it would have to be something awfully big if you stop and think about it. And I don’t think it’d just disappear over the course of time to store that much grain.”
In the video surfaced by Buzzfeed Wednesday, Carson goes on to lay out his argument that the pyramids were constructed for grain storage.
“And when you look at the way that the pyramids are made, with many chambers that are hermetically sealed, they’d have to be that way for various reasons," Carson said. "And various of scientists have said, ‘well, you know there were alien beings that came down and they have special knowledge and that’s how-’ you know, it doesn’t require an alien being when God is with you.”
If you remember the plot of Mel Brooks' classic movie, The Producers, the idea was that the scammers set out to produce the worst possible play imaginable to be certain it would close after one night. Yet, they made it so bad it broke through the membrane of awful into the sublime. And they were screwed. Which brings us to the Ben Carson campaign. There is a lot of evidence, coming from a variety of angles, that Carson for President is actually a direct mail scam. Or at least that it started that way. ...
Hucksters and cheats can be found everywhere. But particularly on the right there is a significant layer of people in the business of fleecing outraged and/or low-information conservatives of their money. Some of it you see with those advertisements for buying gold on Fox News. Another is supplements! Supplements, supplements, supplements - a topic we'll get back to, given Carson's controversial relationship with supplement maker Mannatech. But the big thing on the right are various fundraising groups that exist largely to fundraise. So for instance, you'll have Americans Against RINOs which sends out a ton of direct mail, raises lots of money from conservatives who've just had it up to here with RINOs like Boehner and McCain and McConnell selling the country out to Obama. But instead of that money going to fight the RINOs, most of the money goes back into raising more money.
So where's the money going? Well, the direct mail business is very lucrative. And usually you'll find that Americans Against RINOs has a tight relationship with AAR Direct Mail Inc which is making a pretty penny servicing Americans Against RINOs. You get the idea. Obviously there are crooked charities that run this way. But it's a prevalent model on the right.
And Ben Carson's campaign look a bit similar. Ed Kilgore looked at some of the details here. David Graham has more here at The Altantic. ...
There are other versions of this story. Like why is Mike Huckabee running for President? Because he thinks he's going to be president? Or because of the next Fox News gig or to draw a check or just to keep the name out there for the next promotion deal for Golds R' Us or your home bunker and survival kit? There was some hint of this with the Gingrich campaign in 2012 before he improbably took off for his run as the anti-Romney.
In any case, as I said, whatever role Carson did or didn't have with Mannatech, that's a bit of a tell for me since, as I said, 'supplements' are an endemic part of the wingnut fleecing industry.
Last Thursday, the nation watched with a mix of amusement and horror as the House Benghazi committee spent 11 hours grilling Hillary Clinton on a bizarre farrago of issues, many of which bore only tangential connection to the Benghazi attack.
Over the past few weeks, the political narrative seems to have shifted from "Clinton in trouble" to "congressional witch hunt seeks to take down Clinton." Between McCarthy's accidental truth telling, an ex-staffer confirming the worst reports about the committee, and another House Republican conceding the obvious, it has become clear that the Benghazi committee is a thoroughly partisan political endeavor. Opinion has turned, but Republicans are trapped.
The thing is: The Benghazi committee is not even the worst committee in the House. I'd argue that the House science committee, under the chairmanship of Lamar Smith (R-TX), deserves that superlative for its open-ended, Orwellian attempts to intimidate some of the nation's leading scientists and scientific institutions.
The science committee's modus operandi is similar to the Benghazi committee's — sweeping, catchall investigations, with no specific allegations of wrongdoing or clear rationale, searching through private documents for out-of-context bits and pieces to leak to the press, hoping to gain short-term political advantage — but it stands to do more lasting long-term damage.
In both cases, the investigations have continued long after all questions have been answered. (There were half a dozen probes into Benghazi before this one.) In both cases, the chair has drifted from inquiry to inquisition. But with Benghazi, the only threat is to the reputation of Hillary Clinton, who has the resources to defend herself. With the science committee, it is working scientists being intimidated, who often do not have the resources to defend themselves, and the threat is to the integrity of the scientific process in the US. It won't take much for scientists to get the message that research into politically contested topics is more hassle than it's worth.
The science committee, Fox News, the Daily Caller, climate deniers, CEI — at this point, it's all one partisan operation, sharing information and strategies.
Republican radicalization has already laid waste to many of the written and unwritten rules that once governed American politics. The use of congressional committees as tools of partisan intimidation is only a chapter in that grim story.
But the science committee is going after individual scientists, who rarely have the resources on hand to defend themselves from unexpected political attack. It is doing so without any rationale related to the constitutional exercise of its oversight powers — not with a false rationale, but without any stated rationale, no allegations of waste, fraud, or abuse — in service of an effort to suppress inconvenient scientific results and score partisan political points against the executive branch.
The federal government is an enormous supporter of scientific research, to the country's great and enduring benefit, though that support is now under sustained attack. If such funding comes with strings, with the threat that the wrong inquiry or results could bring down a congressional inquisition, researchers are likely to shy away from controversial subjects. The effects on the US scientific community, and on America's reputation as a leader in science, could be dire, lingering on well past the 2016 election.
Mitt Romney is finally ready to take credit for Obamacare.
Speaking to the Boston Globe for their obituary of Staples founder Thomas G. Stemberg, who died Friday, the former Massachusetts praised Stemberg for his involvement in pushing “Romneycare,” which in turn, Romney said, led to Obamacare, giving “a lot of people” health coverage.
“Without Tom pushing it, I don’t think we would have had Romneycare,” Romney said. “Without Romneycare, I don’t think we would have Obamacare. So, without Tom a lot of people wouldn’t have health insurance.”
It’s hard to imagine Romney saying such a thing during the 2012 election cycle. Back then Romney was stumbling and bumbling his way to create some distance between the health care reform he championed as a governor and President Obama’s signature health care law.
The focus by conservatives on Obamacare as the leading example of everything that was wrong with Obama made for some extremely awkward moments for the eventual Republican nominee. The similarities between the Massachusetts and the federal laws even prompted one of Romney’s primary rivals to coin the term “Obamneycare.”
The next day Romney promised to repeal Obamacare if elected and vowed that on his first day in the White House, he would “grant a waiver to all 50 states from Obamacare."
As an active Democrat who has remained, thus far, undecided, her performance here and at the debate have gone a long way toward convincing me to support Clinton instead of Sanders; even though, politically, my ideals line up more closely with Sanders' democratic socialism than Clinton's quasi-third way centrism.
If a Democrat wins the 2016 election, her or his main job as I see it will be defending the achievements of the Obama administration, which will surely be under even more sustained attack once he leaves office. Any major expansion to that legacy will need to be incremental given a hostile, partisan Congress that, at least in the House, is pretty much "locked in" by gerrymandering until the next redistricting cycle.
In that light, I'm increasingly leaning toward Hillary, not so much based on what she believes but on her competence, both as a public official and as a politician who knows how to punch back.
The true meaning is at last revealed. I watched bits and pieces of Clinton’s hearing yesterday, and it all became clear.
Years ago, undercover operatives within the Republican party exploited a tragic, deadly attack in Libya. They stirred up some of the dumbest people in the party with a story: Benghazi is in a foreign country, and everyone knows that the Secretary of State is in charge of the foreigns, and so master manipulator Hillary Clinton must have done sumfin’ to rile up the brown people. And then all the dumb people started howling “Benghazi!”, further derailing their party, and getting the people who howled loudest into prominent positions, and sucking up millions of dollars for an “investigation”.
And then they put a guy with a funny name and an even goofier haircut in charge of the whole thing, and every third-rate sour, bitter Republican they could on the committee, and they staged a show trial in which posturing clowns asked stupid questions and Hillary Clinton could demonstrate god-like patience and look like the only grown-up in Washington DC.
It was brilliant. The Republicans look like twits, while Hillary Clinton looked presidential. It was the Kennedy-Nixon debate all over again, with Clinton as the telegenic, good-looking one, and the entire Republican party looking thuggish.
I heard the siren song. I found myself thinking that maybe I should vote for Clinton, too — never mind that Sanders is closer to me politically, man, I could picture President Hillary Clinton so easily.
And in case you missed it all, here is a most accurately abbreviated transcription of the whole thing.