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“Irrational Fears”: Ebola Shouldn’t Be The New Political Football

A couple of weeks ago, President Obama traveled to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to unveil an ambitious U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak in Africa, including money, materials, and military and health personnel. Almost immediately, the right started complaining bitterly.

“We are sending more soldiers to fight Ebola than we are sending to fight ISIS or other Muslim terrorists,” Rush Limbaugh told his listeners. “I didn’t know you could shoot a virus. Did you?”

Now that an Ebola case has been diagnosed in the United States, the right’s politicization instincts are kicking in once more. Fox News’ Steve Doocy went so far as to suggest the CDC may not be entirely trustworthy – it’s part of the Obama administration, Doocy said, which Fox News viewers believe “has misled a lot of people on a lot of things.”

And then there’s Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who’s worried about Ebola and “political correctness.”

[Paul] on Wednesday questioned President Obama’s decision to dispatch 3,000 U.S. troops to West Africa to help combat the Ebola virus.

“Where is disease most transmittable? When you’re in very close confines on a ship,” Paul said on Laura Ingraham’s radio show. “We all know about cruises and how they get these diarrhea viruses that are transmitted very easily and the whole ship gets sick. Can you imagine if a whole ship full of our soldiers catch Ebola?”

The senator specifically added, “I really think it is being dominated by political correctness.”

Also yesterday, Paul talked about Ebola with Glenn Beck – because, you know, that’s what U.S. senators and prospective presidential candidates do – and argued that the public may not be frightened enough. “I do think you have to be concerned,” the Kentucky Republican told Beck. “It’s an incredibly transmissible disease that everyone is downplaying, saying it’s hard to catch…. I’m very concerned about this. I think at the very least there needs to be a discussion about airline travel between the countries that have the raging disease.”

I’ll assume the senator isn’t recommending a flight ban for Dallas.

Because Rand Paul has a medical background, some may be more inclined to take his concerns seriously on matters of science and public health. With this in mind, it’s probably worth noting that the senator, prior to starting a career in public office four years ago, was a self-accredited ophthalmologist before making the leap to Capitol Hill.

So when Paul compares Ebola to an ailment that is “transmitted very easily,” and describes the virus as “incredibly transmissible,” it’s a mistake to assume the senator knows what he’s talking about. There are actual medical experts and specialists in the field of transmittable diseases – and the junior senator from Kentucky isn’t one of them.

If Paul were just a little more responsible, he wouldn’t make public comments like these at a time when many Americans already have irrational fears.

As for concern for the safety of U.S. troops, CNN reports that the Pentagon does not expect servicemen and women to come in direct contact with Ebola patients as part of the American response to the African outbreak.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 2, 2014

October 3, 2014 Posted by | Politics, Public Health, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A New Round Of Conservative Complaints”: Even A Response To Ebola Can Apparently Be Politicized

President Obama traveled to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta this week to unveil an ambitious U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak in Africa, including money, materials, and military and health personnel.

It’s one of the most aggressive responses in U.S. history to a disease outbreak. Michele Richinick reported that “as many as 3,000 military personnel will assist in training new health care workers and building treatment clinics in the countries affected by the disease,” and some of our financial resources will be used to “construct 17 new treatment centers, each with 100 beds, and 10,000 sets of protective equipment and supplies to help 400,000 families protect themselves from the epidemic that is spreading exponentially.”

A day later, the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, announced plans to establish “a new on-the-ground mission in West Africa to coordinate the struggle against Ebola,” while the World Bank Group issued a report warning of a “potentially catastrophic blow” to the economies of countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.

Given all of this, it seems like an odd time for conservative media to start a new round of complaints.

Right-wing media are using President Obama’s plan to fight the Ebola outbreak in West Africa as another opportunity to attack him. Conservatives are calling the president a “hypocrite” because he’s sending “more soldiers to fight Ebola than we are sending to fight ISIS”; labeling the plan “arrogant” because of problems with HealthCare.gov; and accusing him of trying to “change the subject” by “fighting a really bad flu bug.”

It was former Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) who equated the Ebola virus with a “really bad flu bug.”

Rush Limbaugh added, “We are sending more soldiers to fight Ebola than we are sending to fight ISIS or other Muslim terrorists…. I didn’t know you could shoot a virus. Did you?”

For what it’s worth, there’s a credible argument to explain why a military component should be part of the response to an outbreak like this. Julia Belluz had an interesting piece on this yesterday, noting the larger debate.

Obama has repeatedly referred to the threat of Ebola in security terms, arguing the virus could cripple the already fragile economies in the African region. He’s made the case that this will have consequences for not only the security of countries there, but also for nations around the world – even if the virus doesn’t spread beyond Africa.

For examples of this war-like mentality, look no further than the president’s address, delivered Tuesday from the Centers for Disease Control headquarters in Atlanta: “If the outbreak is not stopped now, we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of people infected, with profound political and economic and security implications for all of us. So this is an epidemic that is not just a threat to regional security – it’s a potential threat to global security if these countries break down, if their economies break down, if people panic. That has profound effects on all of us, even if we are not directly contracting the disease.”

It’s a fairly easy argument to make. There are critics of the “securitization” of these public-health crises, but in countries facing “potentially catastrophic” economic and destabilizing conditions, it’s not hard to imagine unrest and possible violence.

The point is not to “shoot a virus”; it’s to create conditions in which people who contract the virus can receive care.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 18, 2014

September 19, 2014 Posted by | Conservative Media, Public Health, Public Safety | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Continuing Slide Toward Degeneracy”: When Will Ted Cruz Tell His Old Man To Get A Grip?

One of the things that makes U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) fascinating is the lift his career has given to the religio-political stylings of his father, the Rev. Rafael Cruz, director of Purifying Fire Ministeries, a spiritual warfare outfit from suburban Dallas. Now you’d think Cruz the Younger would be sufficiently right-wing to please most conservative palates. But no: he regularly sends the old man out to fire up crowds and say things most Republican orators only hint at. Robert Costa explained their relationship as follows about a year ago:

Cruz has kept his father, a 74-year-old pastor, involved with his political shop, using him not merely as a confidant and stand-in, but as a special envoy. He is Cruz’s preferred introductory speaker, his best messenger with evangelicals, and his favorite on-air sidekick — a presence who softens his edge….

This summer, father and son have also been traveling together throughout the country, speaking to conservatives in Iowa and elsewhere. Their roadshow has enthralled many on the right and startled Cruz’s potential 2016 rivals. No one else in the emerging GOP field has an ally like the charismatic elder Cruz….

There was Rafael Cruz in Des Moines, Iowa, last month, speaking to ministers at the Marriott hotel and collecting business cards in the lobby; a month later, he was in Ames, Iowa, pacing the stage at a conservative summit and drawing cheers for his broadsides against President Obama. His fiery speech at a FreedomWorks event in July drew heavy praise from talk radio.

Rush Limbaugh especially loved how Rafael Cruz compared the president’s “hope and change” message to Fidel Castro’s appeal decades ago. “This guy is knocking it out of the park!” Limbaugh exclaimed.

Conservative leaders agree. Bob Vander Plaats, a top Iowa conservative who hosted the Cruz duo last month, calls Rafael Cruz’s speeches “inspiring” and says the image of a father and son laboring together resonates with values voters. Former senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who now runs the Heritage Foundation, is another admirer. He has worked alongside Rafael Cruz this month to rally against Obamacare.

Trouble is, Rafael Cruz has a tendency to say things many of us consider kinda cray-cray. I first really paid attention to him when he spoke at the 2013 Family Leader Summit in Iowa:

He dated the slide towards national degeneracy to the 1963 Supreme Court decision banning school prayer, the “massacre of 55 million babies” to Roe v. Wade, and the introduction of full-on socialism in America to the administration of Jimmy Carter (!), held in abeyance solely by the mobilization of Christians on behalf of Ronald Reagan.

Soon after that David Corn of MoJo got interested in Rafael Cruz and easily dug up some rich examples of the old man espousing up-front Christian Nationalist Dominionism and calling the President of the United States a Marxist determined to exterminate religious belief. Confronted with the cray-cray, Ted Cruz’s office blandly indicated Rafael didn’t speak for his son. And best I can tell, the Ted ‘n’ Rafael tag team road show went on exactly as before.

Now a new video of Rafael Cruz has popped up wherein he tells a conservative audience in Texas about his encounter with an African-American “Democrat” pastor in Bakersfield, California, as an example of the dreadful ignorance of black folks who–believe it or not–don’t understand that “government handouts” have enslaved them; that legalized abortion is a racist genocidal conspiracy aimed at people of color; and that the Republican Party is responsible for all civil rights legislation. The money quote that’s getting picked up here and there comes from Cruz’ characterization of a book by black conservative journalist Jason Riley:

Jason Riley said in an interview, Did you know before we had minimum wage laws black unemployment and white unemployment were the same? If we increase the minimum wage, black unemployment will skyrocket. See, he understands it, but the average black does not.

Now you might think this doesn’t rank among the top ten most offensive things Pastor Cruz says every time he opens his mouth. But there’s something about the effortless and absolutely self-convinced way he says outrageous things that makes it a bit startling the first time you are exposed to his act.

The funny thing is that you’d figure Rand Paul was the potential 2016 candidate with the most significant Daddy Issues. If Rafael Cruz keeps it up, and there’s zero reason to think a zealot like him won’t, Ted Cruz may have to spend more time defending him than he’d like–or have a quiet son-to-father talk followed by some dog-whistle training for the Reverend.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 3, 2014

September 4, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Missouri Burning”: Why Ferguson’s Inferno Is No Surprise

The past week’s unfolding tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri, with its militarized and overwhelmingly white police force confronting angry and hopeless African-Americans, is not a story unique to that place or moment. Many cities and towns in this country confront the same problems of poverty, alienation, and inequality as metropolitan St. Louis — or even worse.

But beneath the familiar narrative there is a deeper history that reflects the unfinished agenda of race relations  – and the persistence of poisonous prejudice that has never been fully cleansed from the American mainstream.

For decades, Missouri has spawned or attracted many of the nation’s most virulent racists, including neo-Nazis and the remnants of the once-powerful Ku Klux Klan. Associated with violent criminality and crackpot religious extremism, these fringe groups could never wield much influence in the post-civil rights era. Beyond those marginalized outfits, however, exists another white supremacist group whose leaders have long enjoyed the patronage of right-wing Republican politicians.

The Council of Conservative Citizens, headquartered in St. Louis, is a living legacy of Southern “white resistance” to desegregation, with historical roots in the so-called “citizens’ councils” that sprung up during the 1950s as a “respectable” adjunct to the Klan. Its website currently proclaims that the CCC is “the only serious nationwide activist group that sticks up for white rights!” What that means, more specifically, is promoting hatred of blacks, Jews, gays and lesbians, and Latino immigrants, while extolling the virtues of the “Southern way of life,” the Confederacy, and even slavery.

The group’s website goes on to brag that the CCC is the only group promoting “white rights” whose meetings regularly feature “numerous elected officials, important authors, talk-show hosts, active pastors, and other important people” as speakers.

Although that boast may be exaggerated, it isn’t hollow. Founded in 1985 by the ax handle-wielding Georgia segregationist Lester Maddox and a group of white activists, the CCC remained obscure to most Americans until 1998, when media exposure of its ties to prominent congressional Republicans led to the resignation of Mississippi senator Trent Lott as Majority Leader. Six years later, the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit group monitoring racist activity in the United States, reported that the CCC had hosted as many as 38 federal, state, and local officials at its meetings (all of them Republicans except one Democrat) – despite a warning from the Republican National Committee against associating with the hate group.

Over the years, the CCC’s friends in high places included such figures as former Missouri senator John Ashcroft, who shared much of the CCC agenda as governor, when he opposed “forced desegregation” of St. Louis schools – along with the CCC members who served on the city’s school board. When President George W. Bush appointed Ashcroft as U.S. Attorney General, the CCC openly celebrated, declaring in its newsletter that “Our Ship Has Come In.”

Recently, many fewer Republican officials have been willing to associate in public with the CCC’s racist leaders. Then again, however, Ashcroft himself tended to meet secretly with those same bigots, while outwardly shunning them. When asked about his connections with the group during his confirmation hearings in 2001, he swore that he had no inkling of its racist and anti-Semitic propaganda – a very implausible excuse given the CCC’s prominence in St. Louis while he served as governor.

Despite the CCC’s presence, Missouri is home to many fine and decent people, of course – but malignant traces of the group, and the racial animus it represents, have spread far beyond the state’s borders. The most obvious example is Rush Limbaugh, the “conservative” cultural phenomenon who grew up south of St. Louis in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and who has earned a reputation as a racial agitator over many years on talk radio, where he began by doing mocking bits in “black” dialect.

In 1998, the talk jock defended Trent Lott when other conservatives were demanding his resignation over the politician’s CCC connection. Today, Limbaugh echoes the CCC line on the Brown killing, which suggests coldly that the unarmed teenager deserved his fate because he may have been a suspect in shoplifting or smoked marijuana. Why would a young man’s life be worth less than a box of cigars? Back in Rush’s home state, the answer is all too obvious.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, August 19, 2014

August 20, 2014 Posted by | Missouri, Racism, White Supremacists | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Where Are Putin’s American Admirers Now?”: Vlad’s Doting, Adoring Conservative Fans Are Awfully Quiet

It is hard to overstate the damage that the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 over eastern Ukraine has done to Russian President Vladimir Putin. In addition to isolating him further internationally and threatening greater harm to the Russian economy, the killing of 298 people aboard a civilian jetliner, which U.S. officials are increasingly sure was caused by a missile launched by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine, has gravely undermined the aura of competence and tactical brilliance that Putin has cultivated over the years and which helped Russia project outsized influence even in an era of post-Soviet decline and diminishment. As Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo notes, letting powerful Russian-made anti-aircraft weaponry into the hands of pro-Russia fighters who cannot tell the difference between a large passenger airliner and a military plane is “a f’-up on Putin’s part of almost mind-boggling proportions. Yes, a tragedy. Yes, perhaps an atrocity. But almost more threatening, a screw up.”

But we should not just leave it at that. Rather, we should recall all those in recent months who showered awe and praise on Putin for his extreme capability, which was often contrasted unfavorably with the hapless President Obama.

First, there was all the praise for the Russian military itself following the invasion of Crimea. The New York Times, among many others, gave dazzling reviews of the “sleek new vanguard of the Russian military,” soldiers who were “lean and fit,” dressed in uniforms that were “crisp and neat …their new helmets…bedecked with tinted safety goggles,” and outfitted with “compact encrypted radio units distributed at the small-unit level, a telltale sign of a sweeping modernization effort undertaken five years ago by Putin that has revitalized Russia’s conventional military abilities, frightening some of its former vassal states in Eastern Europe and forcing NATO to re-evaluate its longstanding view of post-Soviet Russia as a nuclear power with limited ground muscle.”

This seemed a tad premature and overstated, given that the Russian military was facing virtually no resistance from the outnumbered Ukrainian forces in Crimeait’s easy for soldiers to look sleek and professional when there’s no actual contact with the enemy. But Putin himself basked in the praise, echoing it himself in a ceremony celebrating the invasion: “The recent events in Crimea were a serious test, demonstrating the quality of the new capabilities of our military personnel, as well as the high moral spirit of the staff,” he said.

Once pro-Russian separatists started their uprising in eastern Ukraine, there was a new round of praise for the deviously brilliant strategy Putin was deploying there, sending in personnel and equipment to assist the separatists but making sure that the personnel were unmarked, giving Russia superficially plausible deniability about their activities. Commentators hailed this approachmaskirovka, or masked warfareas the wave of the future in warfare. As one admirer wrote in a column for the Huffington Post:

President Putin’s game plan in Ukraine becomes clearer day by day despite Russia’s excellent, even brilliant, use of its traditional maskirovka. … It stands for deliberately misleading the enemy with regard to own intentions causing the opponent to make wrong decisions thereby playing into your own hand. In today’s world this is mainly done through cunning use of networks to shape perceptions blurring the picture and opening up for world opinion to see your view as the correct one legitimizing policy steps you intend to take.

This “cunning use of networks” is less “excellent, even brilliant” when said networks, as now appears likely, kill nearly 300 innocent civilians, most of them citizens of the nation that is one of your largest trading partners.

Meanwhile, there was all along the more general praise for the prowess and capability of Putin himself from American conservatives. Charles Krauthammer penned a Washington Post op-ed headlined: “Obama vs. Putin, the Mismatch.” Rudy Giuliani’s adulation for Putin surely caused a blush in the Kremlin: “[H]e makes a decision and he executes it, quickly. And then everybody reacts. That’s what you call a leader.” Rush Limbaugh went on a riff about Putin’s superiority to Obama:

In fact, Putinready for this?postponed the Oscar telecast last night. He didn’t want his own population distracted. He wanted his own population knowing full well what he was doing, and he wanted them celebrating him. They weren’t distracted. We were. …

Well, did you hear that the White House put out a photo of Obama talking on the phone with Vlad, and Obama’s sleeves were rolled up?  That was done to make it look like Obama was really working hardI mean, really taking it seriously. His sleeves were rolled up while on the phone with Putin! Putin probably had his shirt off practicing Tai-Chi while he was talking to Obama.

Was Putin also practicing shirtless Tai-Chi when he learned that, in all likelihood, men fighting in Russia’s name and with its backing had downed a passenger airliner and provoked a major international incident? Who knows. Enough, for now, that this awful tragedy provokes a jot of self-reflection on the part of those who were so willing to trumpet Putin’s brilliance these past few months. If Putin’s maskirovka did manage to “shape perceptions blurring the picture,” these admirers were the most susceptible.

 

By: Alec MacGillis, The New Republic, July 18, 2014

July 20, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Ukraine, Vladimir Putin | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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