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“GOP Has An Interest In Everyone Being As Afraid As Possible”: The Islamic State Isn’t Actually Much Of A Threat To The United States

If I asked you to define what it means for a terrorist group to be a “threat” to the United States, what specifically would you say? If it seems like a strange question, that’s only because nobody ever asks it. But when we say that the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, is a threat to us, what do we mean? Keep that question in mind as we look at this new CNN poll:

Americans have grown increasingly wary of ISIS over the past six months, but their confidence in the U.S.’ ability to combat the extremist group is waning, according to a new CNN/ORC poll.

The poll finds fully 80% of Americans say ISIS poses a serious threat to the United States — a steady increase from September, when 63% said the same.

Only 6% of respondents in the new poll say ISIS isn’t a serious threat. A large majority (56%) characterize the group as a “very serious” threat to the U.S., while one-quarter say the threat posed by ISIS is “fairly serious,” and 14% say it’s “somewhat serious.”

So 94 percent of Americans think that the Islamic State is at least a somewhat serious threat. Now to return to our question: What does that mean? Does that mean that there is a real possibility that the Islamic State will a) launch attacks on the United States that b) kill large numbers of us? Their interest in and ability to do that, we should be clear, have no relationship whatsoever to how grisly the acts they now commit in Iraq and Syria are.

It isn’t hard to figure out why so many people think the Islamic State threatens the United States. When you see horrifying descriptions and pictures of beheadings, your emotional response can overwhelm any kind of rational reaction. To many people, there’s a large undifferentiated mass of scary foreigners out there, and any news related to terrorism or war anywhere means that we’re more endangered than we were. And then, of course, we have politicians who go around telling any camera they can that we’re all about to die; give props to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) for telling a three-year-old girl, “Your world is on fire.”

But guess what: Our world isn’t on fire. Yet it’s almost impossible to say in our contemporary debates that a hostile country or terrorist group isn’t a threat, especially if you’re a politician. Claim that the Islamic State — horrible though it may be — isn’t much of a threat to us, and you’ll be branded naïve at best, a terrorist sympathizer at worst.

Now, let’s entertain a truly radical notion: Even if the Islamic State could launch a successful terrorist attack in the United States, that still wouldn’t make them much of a threat. How many Americans could they kill? A dozen? A hundred? That would be horrible. But car accidents kill almost a hundred Americans each and every day.

It’s easy to see why Republicans would want to make Americans as afraid as possible of the Islamic State: The emotional state of fear creates support for more belligerent policies and more use of military force, which are the things Republicans favor. So whatever they actually believe about the Islamic State, they have an interest in everyone being as afraid as possible. And the creation of that fear is, of course, what terrorism is all about: The spectacle and the reaction it produces are the whole point.

For their part, Democrats may argue that a different set of policies is more likely to defeat the Islamic State, but you won’t hear them say that the group doesn’t actually threaten the United States in any meaningful way — not when 94 percent of Americans are convinced otherwise. But we should try to see if we can simultaneously hold three separate thoughts in our heads:

  1. The Islamic State has done ghastly things.
  2. We should work to eliminate them in any way we can.
  3. Even so, they are not actually much of a threat to the United States.

The same people who want everyone to constantly proclaim the United States’ awesomeness often act as though we’re a nation on the verge of destruction, so weak and vulnerable are we in the face of knife-wielding masked men thousands of miles away. But we aren’t on the verge of destruction. The Islamic State presents a profound challenge, because they are bringing misery wherever they go and uprooting them will be difficult and complex. But that isn’t the same as saying that we here in the United States should live in a state of fear.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, March 20, 2015

March 23, 2015 Posted by | ISIS, Republicans, Terrorism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Tom Cotton And The GOP’s Wimpy Fear Of Iran”: The Republican Party’s Judgment Has Been Grossly Distorted By Fear

When did the Republican Party become such a bastion of cowards?

That’s what I wondered the moment I heard about the letter to the Iranian government, signed by 47 Republican senators, that aims to scuttle U.S.-led negotiations over the country’s nuclear program.

Oh, of course the letter is meant to look like the opposite of cowardly. It’s supposed to serve as the latest evidence of the GOP’s singularly manly swagger, which the party has burnished non-stop since George W. Bush first promised to track down Osama bin Laden “dead or alive.” (Or maybe it goes back to Ronald Reagan insinuating that Jimmy Carter lacked the resolve to stand up to Leonid Brezhnev. Or to Barry Goldwater indicating that he alone had the guts to use atomic weapons against the godless Commies of North Vietnam.)

But it’s actually a sign that the Republican Party’s judgment has been grossly distorted by fear. That’s why critics who are railing against the letter for its supposedly unconstitutional subversion of diplomatic protocol miss the point. The problem with the letter isn’t that it broke the rules. The problem with the letter is that it’s gutless.

The ringleader of the senatorial troublemakers, freshman Tom Cotton of Arkansas, wants us to believe he and his colleagues have seen through Barack Obama’s dangerous willingness to capitulate to the mullahs in Tehran, and that they alone are tough enough to derail the bad deal the president is prepared, and even eager, to make.

But really, who’s wimpier? A party so terrified by the prospect of normalizing relations with a vastly less formidable foreign power after 36 years of rancor and distrust that it engages in unprecedented acts of diplomatic sabotage, thereby crippling the president’s ability to conduct foreign policy? Or that president himself, who believes that after those 36 years of rancor and distrust this vastly less formidable foreign power can be negotiated into delaying its nuclear ambitions for a decade?

I think the answer is obvious.

As The Week‘s Ryan Cooper has cogently argued, the GOP’s position seems to be based on the assumption that if Iran produced one nuclear device or a handful of them, it would launch them at the United States. I’ll admit, that’s a scary thought. But it’s also completely deranged. In the time it would take for an Iranian nuclear missile to reach its target, the United States could launch dozens if not hundreds of vastly more powerful and accurate retaliatory strikes that would leave Persian civilization in ruins.

Actually, that’s not true. There would be no ruins. Just uninhabitable, radioactive dust.

And here’s the thing: Iran’s leaders know this.

It’s one thing for a single terrorist to embrace suicide for what he takes to be a noble ideological goal and the promise of heavenly reward. It’s quite another for the leaders of a nation of 77 million people to act in such a way that every last inhabitant of the country and every product of its culture would be instantly incinerated. That, quite simply, isn’t going to happen.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fears about Iran’s intentions aren’t quite as pusillanimous as Tom Cotton’s. Iran, for one thing, is much closer to Israel than the U.S., which means that it can be targeted with much less sophisticated rockets that would reach their destination much more quickly. Moreover, one or two nukes is all it would take to wipe out Israel’s major population centers, making the country far more existentially vulnerable. And then there’s the burden of Jewish history, which understandably inspires more than a little paranoia.

But just because something is understandable doesn’t make it sensible. Paranoia, after all, is an irrational fear — and reason tells us that while Iran would very much like some day to succeed in building a single nuclear device, Israel already possesses dozens of nuclear warheads, as well as something even more valuable: its status as a staunch ally of the United States. Iran has every reason to believe we would respond to a nuclear strike on Israel just as severely as we would respond to an attack launched against us. That means that no such suicidal assault against Israel is going to happen either.

As usual, The Onion may have conveyed the absurdity of the situation more effectively than anyone, in a satirical headline from 2012 that’s gotten renewed play in recent weeks: “Iran Worried U.S. Might Be Building 8,500th Nuclear Weapon.”

When leading politicians in the most militarily powerful nation on the planet believe they see a mortal threat in a country with a GDP roughly the size of Maryland’s and lacking even a single bomb — well, that’s a sign of world-historical spinelessness.

Democrats should be saying so. Loudly and repeatedly.

 

By: Damon Linker, The Week, March 11, 2015

March 23, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Israel, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Defending Unions Against The Haters”: Right-To-Work Laws Are Intended To Limit Union Growth

Joining a union is the best investment a worker can make.

Unions need defending, maybe more than ever, because of the attacks they face. The passage of a right-to-work law in Wisconsin and Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s proposal for union-free zones show how distorted the lens is when the focus turns to organized labor.

Right-to-work laws are intended to limit union growth, but advocates never cite political motives or antipathy for working people. Instead, their calls for reducing labor market protections are based on the claim that unions restrain personal liberty and restrict economic development.

Nothing is further from the truth.

The “labor hater,” as Martin Luther King Jr. once called the corporate and political conservatives who mobilize against organized labor, argues that if you reduce unionization, economic prosperity will be unleashed. Yes, but for whom? Restricting union growth has always been bad for workers’ economic and political freedom. The cumulative weight of decades of social science has unquestionably demonstrated that union-bargained contracts provide workers with higher incomes, more and better benefits, and a stronger “voice” in the workplace.

Implementing a statewide right-to-work law in Illinois would be punitive for working men and women. According to a 2013 University of Illinois study that I co-authored, workers would suffer an income loss of 5.7 percent to 7.3 percent. Additionally, fewer workers would have health and retirement benefits, and with workers earning less, poverty would likely rise by 1 percent.

As King warned in the 1960s, after mostly Southern states moved to adopt right-to-work, the losses would be particularly harsh on people of color. Per-hour work incomes are at least $2.49 lower in right-to-work states for African-American, Latino, and Asian workers, compared with their wages in collective bargaining states. With lower earnings, annual state income tax revenues in Illinois would shrink by $1.5 billion.

To be fair, Rauner has not called for a statewide law. So what would the effects of a more limited local jurisdiction approach be on Illinois workers?

The premise of the local zones is that unionization suppresses job growth. But like so many claims for opposing policies that protect workers, the criticism doesn’t hold up.

A look at recent data for the Chicago area suggests that union membership levels have no direct correlation to higher unemployment. The opposite’s true, in fact. Around Chicago in 2013, the county with the fewest union members had the six-county area’s highest unemployment rate.

When you look more broadly, you find that the average unemployment rate for all eastern Illinois counties bordering right-to-work Indiana was 5.7 percent, compared with 7.6 percent for those Indiana counties just across the border. And while right-to-work prophets predict a paradise of unparalleled job creation, in 2014, Illinois added 103,000 jobs (fourth highest in the nation), compared with Indiana’s 89,000.

Union defenders should never suggest that collective bargaining is either the primary or sole driver of job creation; nor should right-to-work supporters argue that limiting union dues is a sure-fire way to put people to work.

What is assured is that the loss of income that would result from a reduction of union members will exacerbate existing income disparities. If just half of Illinois’ counties transitioned into “union free zones,” total employee compensation would drop an estimated $1.2 billion.

It’s also possible that with or without right-to-work, employment could spike in Illinois. For example, the state could take up large-scale hydraulic fracturing. But no matter the reasons that jobs appear, what is important is how the workers are valued.

 

By:Robert Bruno, Professor of Labor and Employment Relations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; The National Memo, March 20, 2015

March 23, 2015 Posted by | Illinois, Right To Work Laws, Unions | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Open Letters Without Envelopes Don’t Count”: The Worst Excuse Yet For The Senate Republicans’ Iran Letter

As last week progressed, and the scope of the fiasco surrounding the Senate Republicans’ letter to Iran became more obvious, many GOP officials on Capitol Hill furiously tried to think of excuses. The scramble was understandable: Republicans had tried to sabotage American foreign policy, and the stunt hadn’t gone well.

Over the course of three days, congressional Republicans came up with at least four different excuses, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) blaming a D.C.-area snowstorm the week before. None of the arguments was particularly persuasive.

But National Review’s Deroy Murdock yesterday presented the most amazing excuse yet: the 47 Senate Republicans shouldn’t be criticized for sending a letter to Iran since they didn’t literally, physically “send” anything.

Before U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) and 46 of his GOP colleagues are frog-marched to the gallows and hanged for treason, one vital point of confusion must be cleared up. Say what you will about the Republicans’ open letter “to the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” The Cotton/GOP letter regarding Tehran’s atom-bomb talks with Obama was not sent to the ayatollahs.

Had Cotton & Co. actually delivered their communique to Iran’s mullahs – perhaps via a Swiss diplomatic pouch or something even more cloak and dagger – their critics would be on less swampy ground in calling them “traitors,” as the New York Daily News screamed.

The National Review piece added that “the Cotton Club” – Tom Cotton and his 46 GOP cohorts – “did not send its letter anywhere.” Murdock added, “Cotton & Co. never even dropped an envelope in the mail.”

How do we know for sure this is an unpersuasive argument? Because Tom Cotton himself says so.

The National Review argument emphasizes the fact that the Republicans message was an “open letter,” published online. As such, if we parse the meaning of the word “send” in the most charitable way possible, then maybe the GOP senators didn’t actually communicate with Iranian officials, at least not directly, during sensitive international talks.

Indeed, the National Review piece said those who claim the Republicans “sent” a letter are guilty of spreading a “gross inaccuracy.”

Does the argument have merit? Actually, no, it doesn’t. Tom Cotton himself, presumably well positioned to speak on behalf of the “Cotton Club” given his role as ringleader, specifically said he and his Republican partners “sent a letter to Iranian leaders.”

Or put another way, if the Republicans involved in this ridiculous stunt themselves say they “sent” a letter, it’s not unreasonable to think the rest of us can make the same claim.

I can appreciate the creativity behind the defense. In fact, it almost brings me back to an undergraduate course on metaphysics – if someone publishes a letter but doesn’t send it, does it really reach its destination?

But this is the wrong way to resolve the fiasco. The letter was specifically addressed “to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Officials in Tehran noticed, read the message, and responded. The GOP signatories themselves acknowledge that they “sent” a letter intended to derail American foreign policy.

The right may find this embarrassing a week later, but arguing that open letters without envelopes don’t count is the wrong way to go.

On the contrary, the National Review piece arguably makes matters worse for its allies. Murdock wrote that if “Cotton & Co.” had “actually” sent a letter to Iran, the left would be more justified questioning the Republicans’ patriotism.

But according to Cotton, he and his colleagues did send a letter to Iran, which leads to a conclusion National Review may not like.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 17, 2015

March 23, 2015 Posted by | 47 Traitors, Iran, Tom Cotton | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Doing Real Vetting Should Be Part Of The Job”: Why Conservative Media Should Be Tough On Republican Candidates

When the RNC announced a few weeks ago that conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt was going to moderate a primary debate, many liberals ridiculed it as evidence that they wanted to shield their candidates from anything but softball questions. I argued that it was a good thing, first because the journalists (mostly from TV) who have moderated primary debates in the past have done such a terrible job, and second because primaries should be about what people within the party think. Someone with an interest in picking the best nominee might actually be tougher on the candidates, and would certainly have a better sense of what will matter to primary voters.

I don’t listen to Hugh Hewitt, so I can’t make any detailed assessment of his oeuvre, but though he’s certainly a partisan Republican he has a reputation as one of the better interviewers on the right. Yesterday, he interviewed Ben Carson and seemed to expose some gaps in Carson’s knowledge. This is being touted in some quarters as Carson showing his ignorance, but I actually think it’s an example of what partisan media ought to do during a primary.

I don’t know if Hewitt thinks of his mission this way, but if I were a conservative media figure like him, the last thing I’d want is a repeat of the nincompoop parade that was the 2012 GOP primaries. So doing some real vetting should be part of the job: asking difficult questions, exposing the areas of weakness that will eventually come up anyway, not to mention illuminating the real areas of distinctions that separate the candidates.

So did Hewitt ambush Carson? Maybe a bit, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with what he asked. In this case, it was about what might draw us into a war with Russia. Yes, Carson displayed some momentary confusion about NATO and the Baltic states, but candidates have done far worse (see here, for instance). And running for president ought to be hard. The job is hard. If we’re going to give someone that kind of power, there’s almost no question too tricky or detailed for them to be asked.

Now I’m no fan of Ben Carson, not by a long shot. But Hewitt asks him exactly the right question about being an amateur in politics, and Carson’s answer isn’t so terrible. Here’s the exchange:

HH: And so what I worry about as a Republican, as a conservative, is that because you’ve been being a great neurosurgeon all these years, you haven’t been deep into geopolitics, and that the same kind of questions that tripped up Sarah Palin early in her campaign are going to trip you up when, for example, the gotcha question, does she believe in the Bush doctrine when it depends on how you define the Bush doctrine. And so how are you going to navigate that, because I mean, you’ve only, have you been doing geopolitics? Do you read this stuff? Do you immerse yourself in it?

BC: I ‘ve read a lot in the last six months, no question about that. There’s a lot of material to learn. There’s no question about that. But again, I have to go back to something that I feel is a fundamental problem, and that is we spend too much time trying to get into these little details that are easily within the purview of the experts that you have available to you. And I think where we get lost is not being able to define what our real mission is, and not being able to strategize in terms of how do we defeat our enemies, how do we support our allies? I could spend, you know, the next six years learning all the details of all the SALT treaties and every other treaty that’s ever been done and completely miss the boat.

HH: Well, that’s possible, and I want to be respectful in posing this. But I mean, you wouldn’t expect me to become a neurosurgeon in a couple of years. And I wouldn’t expect you to be able to access and understand and collate the information necessary to be a global strategist in a couple of years. Is it fair for people to worry that you just haven’t been in the world strategy long enough to be competent to imagine you in the Oval Office deciding these things? I mean, we’ve tried an amateur for the last six years and look what it got us.

BC: Well, if you go to, let’s say, a very well-run hospital, you’re going to have a president of the hospital or chief administrator. He probably doesn’t know a whole lot about cardiac surgery, probably doesn’t know a whole lot about neurosurgery or pediatric infectious disease. But he knows how to put together a structure where the strength of all those departments work effectively. And as far as having an amateur in the Oval Office in the last six years, I would take issue with that. I would say that this man has been able to accomplish a great deal. It’s maybe not the things that you and I want accomplished, but in terms of fundamentally changing this nation and putting it on a different footing? I think he’s done quite a masterful job.

Ben Carson obviously isn’t going to be the GOP nominee; his run for the White House is part of a media strategy whose end point is a Fox gig or a talk radio show, supplemented by revenue from books revealing the shocking story of how liberals are destroying America. But you have to give him credit for pushing back on the idea so common in conservative circles that Barack Obama is some kind of incompetent dolt (he can’t give a speech without a teleprompter, ha ha!).

In any case, this is how interviews from conservative talk show hosts ought to go. Carson can go on Sean Hannity’s show and get a bunch of softball questions, and the answers will make the viewers nod their heads in agreement. But that doesn’t do them any good. They’ll be much better served if all their candidates get the toughest interviews possible now, and conservatives are the ones to do it.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, March 19, 2015

March 23, 2015 Posted by | Conservative Media, GOP Presidential Candidates, Media | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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