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“Indulging The Lunatics On The Right”: What So Many Republicans Do With The Crazies On Their Side

Ask a Republican about the elaborate conspiracy theories that are so popular with many on the far right, and she’s likely to respond that, sure, those people are there, but liberals have their wackos, too. But there is a difference, in not just how far to the center of Republican power the wackos get (consider how many Republican members of Congress still aren’t sure that Barack Obama was born in the United States), but in the way the wackos are treated by the rest of the party. Which brings us to Texas:

Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the Texas Guard to monitor federal military exercises in Texas after some citizens have lit up the Internet saying the maneuvers are actually the prelude to martial law.

The operation causing rampant suspicions is a new kind of exercise involving elite teams such as the SEALs and Green Berets from four military branches training over several states from July 15 to Sept. 15

Called Jade Helm 15, the exercise is one of the largest training operations done by the military in response to what it calls the evolving nature of warfare. About 1,200 special operations personnel will be involved and move covertly among the public. They will use military equipment to travel between seven Southwestern states from Texas to California.

On Monday, command spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria attended a Bastrop County Commissioners Court meeting to answer community questions and was met with hostile fire. Lastoria, in response to some of the questions from the 150 who attended, sought to dispel fears that foreign fighters from the Islamic State were being brought in or that Texans’ guns would be confiscated, according to a report in the Austin American-Statesman.

So in response to the fact that some of Texas’s dumbest citizens emerged from their doomsday prepper shelters long enough to harangue a colonel about their belief that martial law is coming to their state, Governor Abbott issued an order to the National Guard to monitor the movements of the U.S. military just to make sure they aren’t herding citizens into re-education camps or dropping Islamic State infiltrators into Galveston. I guess we’re safe from that, for the moment anyway.

Every politician encounters nutballs from time to time, and it isn’t always easy to figure out how to respond to them. But what’s remarkable about this is that we aren’t talking about an offhand remark Abbott made, or an occasion in which a constituent went on a rant to him and he nodded along to be friendly instead of saying, “You, sir, are out of your mind.” This is an official action the governor is taking. He’s mobilizing state resources, at taxpayer expense, because of a bizarre conspiracy theory that has some of Texas’s more colorful citizens in its grip.

It’s really hard to keep people from believing outlandish things. But you don’t have to indulge them. And that’s what so many Republicans do with the crazies on their side: They indulge them. Doing so doesn’t reassure them or calm them down, it only convinces them that they were right all along and encourages them to believe the next crazy thing they hear.

So please, Republicans, next time you’re tempted to say that extremism and fantastical thinking are just as prevalent and meaningful on the left as on the right, remember this.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, April 30, 2015

May 3, 2015 Posted by | Conspiracy Theories, Greg Abbott, U. S. Military | , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Why Do Political Reporters Refuse To Show Us The Money?”: American Politics Revolves Around Two Mutually Reinforcing Truths

A profound sense of cognitive dissonance lies at the center of American politics: one that even our most elite journalists and pundits refuse to recognize. In virtually all of our political debate and news coverage, the competition between the two parties is treated as one of personalities and ideas. As with any democracy, the guys who are the most popular, whether for reasons of charisma or appealing policy proposals, emerge as the winners. The job of journalists and pundits is to illuminate the candidates’ character and beliefs and track their respective successes, dividing themselves between “substance” and “horse-race” coverage however they see fit.

But this is nonsense. In fact, American political life revolves around two mutually reinforcing truths. The first is that our democracy has been severely corrupted by money; the second is that the conservative movement, and hence the Republican Party, is dominated by ideological extremists who demonstrate zero interest in the problems of actual governance. Taken together, these truths not only define our political debate; they ensure that virtually nothing is decided on its merits — up to and including our national elections.

Catch a bigfoot journalist or pundit at a social event or private gathering, and he or she will likely admit these truths. Scan the editorials and opinion pages of most major newspapers, and you’ll see the power of money decried on a fairly regular basis. But in the news stories, where it matters most, even our best reporters feel the need to put forth a fairy-tale narrative in which the United States enjoys a fully functioning democracy and our elections and laws accurately represent the genuine will of the people.

Media discomfort with reporting the truth about Republican extremism has often been (and will undoubtedly remain) a focus of this column. But today, let’s just look at the money. Take, for example, a recent story by Neil Irwin that appeared in The New York Times’s “Upshot” section, purported to be the paper’s most thoughtful and knowledgeable organ of political analysis. Irwin argues that Americans’ alleged disinclination to “soak the rich” is reflected in “the actual policies espoused by candidates for office and enacted by Congress.” When he notes that taxes on the wealthy have fallen in the past decade, he offers both a “liberal” and a “conservative” explanation for why this happened. Irwin and his editors don’t appear to think it worth mentioning that fewer than 1 percent of Americans contribute more than 80 percent of the campaign funding for the politicians who write these laws. These are, without exception, the wealthiest people in the country: According to statistics compiled by Americans for Campaign Reform, the top five zip codes of Manhattan’s Upper East Side — home to countless Wall Street tycoons — contribute more money than the residents of 39 states combined. And when you consider that far-right billionaires like Sheldon Adelson and Charles and David Koch have the power to demand that presidential aspirants pledge fealty to their ideological preferences and financial interests, the notion that our laws represent the collective will of the American people appears comical at best. Neil Irwin knows this, yet he writes his “Upshot” analysis from the point of view of a naive child who has never heard the words Citizens United or seen an episode of The Daily Show.

A similar game of “Where’s Waldo?” can be played with a recent Times story about the House vote to repeal the estate tax. At this year’s annual White House correspondents’ dinner, the Times’s Peter Baker was honored with the Aldo Beckman Memorial Award, which recognizes repeated excellence in White House coverage. Yet Baker’s reporting on the April 16 vote was miles from excellent.

Baker went on for nine paragraphs of “he said, she said” bickering before mentioning that, for all the crocodile tears spilled by House Speaker John Boehner over forfeited family farms and small businesses, “the federal tax currently applies to estates worth more than $5.43 million for an individual or $10.86 million for a couple. Assets above those levels are taxed at rates up to 40 percent.” In paragraph 11, we learn that the tax applies to just “0.2 percent of the deaths anticipated in the United States.” Additional facts that find no place in Baker’s coverage (but can be found on the website of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities): In general, taxable estates pay less than a sixth of their value in tax, and a significant number of loopholes already enable many of them to avoid all taxes. Also, roughly 20 (!) small businesses and small farms owed any estate taxes in 2013; these were taxed at a level averaging less than 5 percent (most large estates have never been taxed for capital gains, which are also taxed well below the level of workers’ wages).

It should come as no surprise that the beneficiaries of an estate-tax repeal would be the wealthiest 0.1 percent of Americans, whose estates will generate nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars in revenue between 2016 and 2025, according to estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Baker quotes Boehner calling this amount “nothing more than a drop in the bucket to the federal government,” but he fails to note how frequently the Republicans attempt to slash far smaller expenditures when the poor and working class are likely to benefit. Nor does he note that the folks who would benefit most from the estate tax’s repeal are the very same people whose massive donations to the Republican Party, its candidates, its political-action committees, and its alleged educational arms determine its agenda. This is an agenda, one might add, that is exclusively dominated by the interests of the super-wealthy — science, economics and often even reality be damned.

It’s a cliché to note that in politics, “money talks and bulls*** walks.” But too often, thanks to the frequent failures of our media establishment, the walk and the talk are one and the same.

 

By: Eric Alterman, Distinguished Professor of English and Journalism at Brooklyn College, and a Professor of Journalism at the City University of New York; Moyers and Company, May 1, 2015

May 3, 2015 Posted by | Democracy, Journalism, Money in Politics | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Distracting From The Proper Focus Of The Debate”: Drone Strikes Aren’t Any More Immoral Than Manned Airstrikes

While I am a reliable and often radical progressive in most respects, I must admit that there are some shibboleths of the left that make me scratch my head. The most important of these is the insistence that we can somehow go back to the economy of the 1960s but without all the prejudice (we can’t, nor should we really want to), but there are a few others as well.

One of those is the forceful antipathy to drone strikes. Opposition to drones has found its place among a myriad other neo-Luddite positions on the left, ranging from certain aspects of anti-GMO thought to the anti-vax movement to the anti-automation movement. In most of these cases, legitimate opposition (say, concern about Monsanto’s corporate control over seed production) bleeds into anti-science fearmongering (the belief that “frankenfoods” will somehow give us cancer.)

In the case of drones, there is a legitimate antipathy against interventionist airstrikes that all too often have unacceptable collateral damage–or hit the wrong targets entirely. There’s a fair case to be made that no matter how many terrorists we may be killing with the strikes, we’re doing more harm than good by creating more furious people and eventually more terrorists and anti-American governments. And there’s also a Constitutional case to be made when airstrikes hit American citizens without judicial process.

But somehow these fully legitimate grievances have fallen behind a less reasonable concern over “killer robots” and drones. Polling shows that Americans approve the drone strikes overall, so progressives have a tough hill to climb to force opposition on any account. That difficult road makes finding an effective and credible argument all the more important.

The opposition to using drones for airstrikes seems to boil down mostly to two arguments:

1) It’s easier and less psychologically difficult for a drone operator to pull the kill trigger than a manned plane pilot; and

2) The ability to conduct strikes without putting American lives at risk makes it easier for politicians to order the strikes.

There’s precious little evidence for the first argument. For human empathy to trigger a pacifist response, soldiers generally need to view their targets at reasonably close range. Even a simple mask seriously reduces empathy-based trigger withholding. Pilots at airstrike height don’t get close enough to trigger the effect, or to realize when a mistake is potentially being made. Drone operators tend to see pretty much the same visuals as a pilot does, and they undergo the same psychological guilt and aftereffects. And in any case, failure to pull the trigger would violate a direct order and lead to a court martial.

As to the second argument, it’s fairly callous as well as deeply unpopular and unpatriotic to use the potential for dead American pilots as leverage against hawkish politicians. It strains ethical credibility. It’s also a moot point as developed nations increasingly move toward robotic armies not only in the air but on the ground as well. As with the workforce, nation-states have every incentive to achieve their national interests at minimal risk of their service members’ lives and will inevitably do so no matter how progressive activists feel about it.

And while that may scare some people, neither national leaders nor their citizens are going to cry many tears if bad guys ranging from the next Bin Laden to rhino poachers can be dissuaded or neutralized with greater efficiency and zero risk. It’s simply inevitable.

The key argument isn’t the technology being used to make the strikes, but whether the strikes themselves are necessary. The technology will be used and developed whether we like it or not–and in many cases it will be a force for good. It just means we need to be ever more vigilant about how and in what circumstances we use it.

Marshaling Luddite arguments that hint at a desire to put Americans in harm’s way in order to constrain political choices is not only wildly ineffective at moving public opinion away from callous airstrikes, it will distract the proper focus of the debate while marginalizing progressive foreign policy in the process.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 2, 2015

May 3, 2015 Posted by | Drones, Progressives, War Hawks | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Official’s Under Pressure To Confront The Issues”: Did Violence In Baltimore Lead To Cops Being Prosecuted For Freddie Gray’s Death?

This is just extraordinary news out of Baltimore:

The six Baltimore police officers involved in the arrest of Freddie Gray – who died last month after being injured in police custody – have been charged criminally, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced Friday.

Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., 45, who was the driver of a police van that carried Gray through the streets of Baltimore, was charged with second-degree murder, assault, manslaughter, misconduct and other charges.

Officer William Porter, 25, and Lt. Brian Rice, 41, were charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Sgt. Alicia White, 30, was charged with manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter. Officer Edward Nero, 29, and Officer Garrett Miller, 26, were charged with assault and misconduct.

We’re going to learn more in the coming days about what the prosecutors say happened, what the officers say happened, and what evidence there is for each story. But police officers getting charged with murder and manslaughter is an extremely rare occurrence, and it forces us to ask a difficult question:

Would this have happened if the protests in Baltimore hadn’t turned violent? Is that what it takes to get accountability when someone dies at the hands of police?

Before I go any farther, let me make it clear that I’m not arguing in favor of rioting. The destruction that occurred Monday night in Baltimore had real victims, including not only the store owners whose businesses were damaged but also the residents of the affected neighborhoods. But it’s hard to argue that it didn’t have an impact.

We have no way of knowing whether Mosby would have pursued these charges had no one outside of Freddie Gray’s friends and family ever heard of him. But it would be foolish to deny that she was under enormous pressure to make a case against the officers involved.

You may have seen the video from Tuesday of a woman named Danielle Williams, who said to MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts:

“When we were out here protesting all last week for six days straight peacefully, there were no news cameras, there were no helicopters, there was no riot gear, and nobody heard us. So now that we’ve burned down buildings and set businesses on fire and looted buildings, now all of the sudden everybody wants to hear us.”

She was absolutely right. The violence led to a huge increase in media attention, and even if much of that coverage was sensationalistic, there was also a lot of attention paid to the substantive issues involved. Those included the Baltimore police’s record in dealing with the public generally, and in particular the use of “rough rides” as a method of abusing suspects, which is a likely explanation for how Freddie Gray came to have his spine broken in the back of a police ban.

All that national attention put every public official under pressure to not only bring calm but also to confront the issues that have the people of Baltimore so angry: The police commissioner, the mayor, the governor, and yes, the state’s attorney. While every official would like to believe that he or she would make all the same decisions regardless of whether there are people chanting in the streets and news cameras parked outside their office, they can’t possibly be immune.

There are some interesting details that emerged from Mosby’s press conference, including her statement that Gray’s arrest was unlawful in the first place; while it had been reported that Gray was arrested for possessing a switchblade, Mosby said that the knife Gray had in his pocket was not a switchblade and was perfectly legal. We’ll no doubt be learning more. But what matters is that in this case, unlike so many others (Gray wasn’t the first suspect in Baltimore who went into a police van and came out with a fatal spinal injury), there’s going to be a prosecution.

Perhaps this prosecution — and whatever reforms might happen in the near future — would have occurred if the protests had stayed peaceful. There’s no way to know for sure. But you don’t have to approve of rioting to acknowledge that in this case it may well have led to results.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, May 1, 2015

May 3, 2015 Posted by | Baltimore Police Dept, Baltimore Riots, National Media | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Helping To Serve As A Check On Abuse”: New ACLU Cellphone App Automatically Preserves Video Of Police Encounters

The ACLU in California today released a free smart-phone app that allows people to send cellphone videos of police encounters to the ACLU, automatically—and the ACLU will preserve the video footage, even if the cops seize the phone and delete the video or destroy the phone. The app, “Mobile Justice CA,” works for both iPhones and Android users. It’s available at Apple’s App Store and at Google Play.

The app features a large red “Record” button in the middle of the screen. When it’s pressed, the video is recorded on the phone and a duplicate copy is transmitted simultaneously to the ACLU server. When the “stop” button is pressed, a “Report” screen appears, where information about the location of the incident and the people involved can also be transmitted to the ACLU. The video and the information are treated as a request for legal assistance and reviewed by staff members. No action is taken by the ACLU, however, unless an explicit request is made, and the reports are treated as confidential and privileged legal communications. The videos, however, may be shared by the ACLU with the news media, community organizations or the general public to help call attention to police abuse.

The app is available in English and Spanish. It includes a “Know Your Rights” page.

The value of the Mobile Justice app was dramatized this month in the Los Angeles suburb of South Gate, where a bystander taped cops detaining people in her neighborhood. A second person was recording her, and in that video, a lawman rushes at the first woman, grabs her cell phone, and smashes it on the floor. The second video ended up on YouTube. (South Gate police later said the officer was not a local cop but rather a deputy US marshal.)

Meanwhile in Texas, a proposed law would make it a crime for ordinary people to videotape police actions—on the grounds that it was “interference” with police activity. In California, on the other hand, the state senate this month approved legislation providing clear legal protection to people who videotape police activity without interfering with investigations.

“People who historically have had very little power in the face of law enforcement now have this tool to reclaim their power and dignity,” said Patrisse Cullors, director of the Truth and Reinvestment Campaign at the Ella Baker Center, which is working with the ACLU of California to support the launch of the Mobile Justice CA app. “Our vision is that this app will ultimately help community members connect and organize to respond to incidents of law enforcement violence, and then share their experiences and knowledge with others.”

The Mobile Justice CA app complies with California law. ACLU affiliates in other states have developed other versions for use in those states: residents of New York should use the “Stop and Frisk Watch” app; in New Jersey, it’s the “Police Tape” app; in Oregon and Missouri it’s the “Mobile Justice” app. These work in different ways: with the New York app, shaking the phone stops the filming; the New Jersey app does not transmit the video automatically—the user must choose to send it to the ACLU-NJ for backup storage. Not all of them are available on all platforms and not all are available in Spanish, as the California app is. However, video submitted from anywhere via the California app will be stored and available to those who submitted it, an ACLU SoCal official said.

“This app will help serve as a check on abuse,” said Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California (ACLU SoCal), where the app was developed. It will “allow ordinary citizens to record and document any interaction with law enforcement,” he said, including “police officers, sheriff’s deputies, border patrol, or other officials.”

 

By: Jon Wiener, The Nation, May 1, 2015

May 3, 2015 Posted by | ACLU, Cellphone Videos, Police Abuse | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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