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“Long Past Time We Got A Hold Of Ourselves”: Why Do We Freak Out About Terrorism, Anyway? Here’s Why We Shouldn’t

There’s a new poll out today from the Public Religion Research Institute showing that nearly half of Americans say they’re either very worried or somewhat worried that they or a member of their family will be a victim of terrorism.

You might say that’s understandable, given how much terrorism has dominated the news recently. But the truth is, they’re wrong. On a national scale, terrorism isn’t a threat, it’s a nuisance. We’re having a collective freakout about it right now, and that freakout serves the interests of those who are encouraging it. But we need to take a step back and look at just how dangerous terrorism really is.

Here’s a question we all ought to ask ourselves: When it comes to terrorism, what exactly are we afraid of? I know it seems self-evident — terrorism is scary! — but what exactly is it? If you try to articulate an answer, you quickly realize how infrequently we actually ask the question.

The simplest answer, of course, is that we’re afraid that terrorists will kill people. Okay, so how many people? According to the New America Foundation, since 9/11 there have been 45 Americans killed in jihadist terrorist attacks, and 48 Americans killed in right-wing terrorist attacks. Let’s put aside for the moment the fact that even though these two numbers are comparable, we don’t treat right-wing terrorism as something that requires any kind of policy response or even sustained attention. But you can’t argue that jihadi terrorism is something to be concerned about and afraid of because of the damage it’s been doing. An average of about three people killed per year in a country of 320 million is next to nothing.

So if it’s not because terrorists have managed to kill a lot of people in the last few years, are we petrified of terrorism because terrorists could kill lots of people in the near future? That’s possible. But how many could they kill? Another dozen, like in the San Bernardino shooting? A hundred? Five hundred? Since September 11 we’ve made it much harder to pull off a large-scale, spectacular attack. Terrorists aren’t going to be able to hijack airplanes and use them as missiles. It’s possible that there could be repeats  of the San Bernardino shootings, and that’s something to be concerned about. But we have mass shootings in America all the time. Why — again exactly — should we be more concerned about a repeat of San Bernardino than a repeat of Aurora, where nearly the same number of people (12) were killed?

Both were terrible, and both could happen again. But only in the case of San Bernardino does the event cause large portions of the public and elected officials to contemplate sweeping policy change, even up to and including the idea of starting another full-scale Middle East war because we’re so frightened. (Anytime there’s a mass shooting, Democrats push for gun control measures; but Republicans only call for a major policy response when it’s terrorism.)

There are some people who would argue that even if terrorists haven’t killed a lot of Americans lately, and even if it’s unlikely they’d be able to kill truly large numbers of Americans in the future, we still need to freak out about terrorism because a group like the Islamic State represents an “existential threat” to America. But if you get specific in the questions you ask, it becomes obvious that this idea is utterly deranged.

Back in the Cold War, the Soviet Union presented a true existential threat to the United States. It had enough nuclear missiles pointed at us to kill every man, woman, and child in America (and on the rest of the planet to boot). The Islamic State has no such capability. Is the Islamic State going to launch an invasion of the United States, sweep through the nation from Manhattan all the way to Seattle, take control of the whole country, and force America to live under its brutal rule? Of course not. Is it going to launch a coup from inside our government and raise its flag over the White House? No.

So what exactly is it we’re afraid the Islamic State will do to America? Right now I’m not talking about what it could do to Iraq or Syria, because that’s a very different question. What could it do to America? The absolute worst it could do is launch some successful attacks that might kill a dozen or even a hundred of us. And that would be awful. But about thirty Americans are murdered every day with guns, and a hundred die every day in car accidents. Eighty-three Americans die every day in falls, but we haven’t declared a “War on Falling,” and nobody tells pollsters that their biggest fear is that someone in their family will suffer a fatal fall.

If you actually force yourself to think in specific terms about the substance of the threat the Islamic State poses to us, you have to admit that the actual threat is miniscule. So why are we having a national freakout about it now? The answer, I think, lies in the presidential campaign, particularly in the Republican primary. You have a bunch of news organizations following around a bunch of candidates who know that the way to gain the support of their base is to prey on that base’s fears and prejudices. Add in the fact that the front-runner is a demagogic bigot, and you quickly get into a cycle of hysteria: a terrorist attack happens, it’s extensively covered in the media, the candidates seize on it to propose ever more radical policy changes (Keep out refugees! Put troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria! Keep out all the Muslims!) all the while proclaiming that the threat from terrorism is horrifyingly large and growing larger. The media report on their statements, voters get more nervous, and the candidates respond by feeding the panic.

Even outside their campaign coverage, the media give enormous attention to an event like San Bernardino, spending weeks analyzing not just the occurrence itself but who the perpetrators were, what motivated them, what they had for breakfast on the day of the attack, and everything else that can be uncovered. This coverage isn’t problematic in and of itself, but its sheer volume serves to reinforce the idea that terrorism is a huge threat that we all need to be terribly afraid of.

But it isn’t, and we don’t. We should be concerned, and we should take reasonable steps to minimize the risk we face from terrorism, just as we do with all the other risks we face. But right now we’re acting like a bunch of cowards. It’s long past time we got a hold of ourselves.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, December 10, 2015

December 15, 2015 Posted by | Fearmongering, GOP Presidential Candidates, Terrorism | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Beyond Trump; The Politics Of Courage”: Cracking Open The Locked Vault Of American Politics

If Donald Trump can thrive politically by throwing meat to the American id, what else is possible? How about the opposite?

Trump’s most recent attempt to reclaim poll supremacy — his call for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our representatives can figure out what’s going on” — is not simply reckless and dangerous, but also starkly clarifying. America’s bully billionaire, so rich he doesn’t have to heed the niceties of political correctness, is channeling old-time American racism, as mean and ugly and self-righteous as it’s ever been. Jim Crow is still with us. “The only good Indian is a dead Indian” is still with us.

Americans — at least a certain percentage of them — like their racism straight up, untampered with code language, unmodified by counter-values. Come on! An enemy’s an enemy. A scapegoat’s a scapegoat. Don’t we have the freedom in this country to dehumanize and persecute whomever we want?

The unfolding Trump phenomenon is stunning to behold because there’s no telling how far — or where — it will go. Following his latest reckless “proposals,” which include mandatory IDs for Muslims, he’s being compared with Adolf Hitler. He’s also being called the best friend ISIS could have, as he spreads outrage and hatred across the globe and, in the process, helps foment the same war they’re attempting to engage.

Fascinatingly, some of Trump’s biggest critics are neocons and fellow Republicans, who, though not that far away from him politically, feel threatened by his reckless candor. The conservative strategy, at least since the Nixon era, has been to use and manipulate American racism rather than directly rouse it to a fever pitch. That sort of volatility isn’t so easy to control and could be counterproductive to the economic and geopolitical interests of the stewards of American empire.

For all the baseness of Trump’s scapegoat politics, he’s doing, it seems, one thing right, which is what makes him unacceptable as the Republican presidential nominee. He’s speechifying as though values matter, as though they supersede market and strategic interests. The danger Trump represents cuts in multiple directions.

All of which makes me wonder whether American democracy is, in spite of itself, at a transition point. I mean, it’s been decades, from my point of view, since real, society-changing values have been on the line in a presidential election. Questions of war and peace, among much else, have been utterly off the table, with any serious questioning of U.S. militarism ignored and belittled by the mainstream media and completely excluded from the corridors of national decision-making.

The Republicrats rule and war is no longer merely inevitable but eternal. At the same time, the security state has grown like cancer and the prison-industrial complex has expanded exponentially. America in its exceptionalism is the world’s largest arms dealer, snoop, jailer and hell raiser. We destabilize the planet in the interests of the corporate few and call it exporting democracy.

And none of this is Donald Trump’s doing.

But the fact that he’s a threat to this status quo raises some interesting questions. Trump is a dangerous idiot, but perhaps as he pursues his own interests he is also, unintentionally, helping to crack open the locked vault of American politics.

“He’s essentially the American id,” writes Glenn Greenwald, “simply channeling pervasive sentiments unadorned with the typical diplomatic and PR niceties designed to prettify the prevailing mentality.”

The challenge Trump poses, it seems to me, is this: If the basest of human instincts — fear and revenge and the hunger to blame our troubles on a scapegoat — can enter, or re-enter, American politics, can the best of human nature enter as well and, in the process, challenge the prevailing status quo more deeply and profoundly than Trump could ever imagine?

Let me put it another way. “In the practice of tolerance,” said the Dalai Lama, “one’s enemy is the best teacher.”

Such a statement poses a serious challenge, of course, on the order of a quote I heard several years ago from a seatmate on a transatlantic airplane flight: You’re as close to God as you are to the person you like the least.

What if such ideas had political resonance? What if — even in the face of tragedy, even in the face of murder — we lived within a social and political structure that was committed not to dehumanizing and destroying a designated enemy but to understanding that enemy and, my God, looking inward for the cause of problems, not simply flailing outward with high-tech weaponry? What if human compassion, soul deep and without strings attached, played a role in international relations?

Believe me, I’m not asking these questions simplistically, with some pat belief that the answers are obvious. Rather, I’m pressing forward into a dark unknown, or so it seems.

“It is terrifying that on the one hand there is more and more impunity for those starting conflicts, and on the other there is seeming utter inability of the international community to work together to stop wars and build and preserve peace,” Antonio Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said earlier this year, in the context of a global refugee crisis staggering beyond belief.

To grow spiritually is to begin to realize how little one knows and practice reaching out not with aggression but with humility. This is what takes courage. Can we begin creating nations with this kind of courage, whose “interests” embrace the welfare of the whole planet?


By: Robert Koehler, an Award-Winning, Chicago-based Journalist and nationally syndicated writer; The National Memo, December 13, 2015

December 15, 2015 Posted by | American Exceptionalism, Democracy, Donald Trump, Racism | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Rubio’s ‘Pioneer’ Boasts Crumble Under Scrutiny”: In Living Up To His Own Hype, Rubio Has A Lot Of Work To Do

When Marco Rubio recently spoke to the Jewish Republican Coalition’s presidential forum, he joined all of his GOP rivals in saying nice things about Israel. But the Florida Republican went a little further than most, making a specific claim about his state legislative record. The Tampa Bay Times took a closer look.

“As Speaker of the Florida House,” he said, “I pioneered what became a national effort by requiring the Florida pension program to divest from companies linked to Iran’s terrorist regime.”

It was groundbreaking, but Rubio had nothing to do with creation of the legislation.

There was, in fact, a divestment bill that passed Florida’s legislature, but it was written by a Democrat before passing unanimously. Rubio, as the Republican leader in the House, allowed the bill to come to the floor, but he didn’t “pioneer” the policy. He doesn’t appear to have had anything to do with its creation at all.

Whether the Florida Republican was trying to deceive his audience or whether Rubio simply exaggerated the story in his mind is unclear. But errors like these are emblematic of two problems that represent a distraction for the senator’s presidential campaign.

The first is that Rubio, despite his background as a career politician – he won his sixth election the year he turned 40 – has no real accomplishments to his name. This creates an awkward dynamic in which the GOP lawmaker struggles to brag about his own record, and in the case of the Jewish Republican Coalition’s event, it apparently led him to embellish that record with an accomplishment that was not his own.

The second problem is that this is not the first time Rubio delivered a speech in which he flubbed substantive details in a brazenly misleading way. The week before his “pioneering” fib, for example, Rubio misled an audience about the scope of U.S. surveillance powers.

Around the same time, he misstated his record on “killing Obamacare” and misstated some key details about national security. A month prior, Rubio was caught making claims about his economic plan that were simply untrue.

I don’t know whether this is the result of sloppiness, laziness, or a deliberate attempt to mislead, but Rubio wants to be perceived as some kind of wonky expert who not only speaks the truth, but also understands policy matters in great detail.

If he’s going to start living up to his own hype, Rubio has a lot of work to do.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 14, 2015

December 15, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Jewish Republicans Coalition, Marco Rubio | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Bane Of Many Politicians’ Existence”: Senate GOP Solution To Super PAC Rivals; More Money In Politics

This may sound odd, but it rings true amongst Republicans and Democrats alike: The only people who loathe Super PACs more than voters forced to sit through an onslaught of their bullshit ads, are politicians themselves.

Don’t get me wrong, at first many Republicans loved the new, post-Citizen United world of PACs (a.k.a. Political Action Committees who act any way they want). But those powerful outside groups have become the bane of many politicians’ existence—even GOP lawmakers who oppose overturning the Supreme Court ruling.

“We’re at a point where the outside groups have so much more flexibility than the parties do that there’s nothing wrong with giving both political parties a little more flexibility in how they work with candidates,” said Roy Blunt (R-MO), a member of the GOP leadership team in the Senate.

As Congress scrambles to avoid a year end government shutdown, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is quietly trying to include a provision to dismantle any limitations remaining on what the parties in Washington can spend coordinating with their candidates. Both parties bemoan that their candidates have lost control of their own campaigns.

Currently GOP and Democratic leaders can only spend about $50,000 to assist House candidates and around $3 million working with Senate campaigns. But for Super PACs the sky is the limit on what they can raise and spend, thus neutering the parties and politicians alike.

“You notice that the political parties are now being shunted aside, because he who pays the pipers calls the tune,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) who doesn’t think McConnell’s latest attempt is all that significant. “It’s the outside money, particularly in the Republican sphere, that is funding elections. And it’s all this undisclosed, unlimited money uncontrolled by the campaign finance law. So until we can stop the outside money you can tinker here and tinker there, and it doesn’t make any difference.”

PACs have complicated everything for today’s political class. Yes, candidates are still the central component of any campaign, but all the campaign cash has eclipsed many candidates’ messages in recent elections. That’s because it’s easier for PACs to rake in millions than it is for candidates and their party to take in similar rolls of dollar bills. Candidates and parties also have to play by different rules.

“The candidates we have to disclose everything and I have to put my name on it,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) told The Daily Beast. She’s facing a bruising reelection battle and thinks the Citizens United ruling has unleashed a double standard.

“The parties also, they have to say ‘from the party’ and be able to do that, but you know there are a lot of outside groups, they have different names and it’s tough to know where they’re coming from.”

While candidates want to exert more control over their own campaigns, so do party leaders. In recent years Tea Party challengers have embarrassed themselves and the Republican Party in Senate races from Delaware to Nevada. That made the GOP establishment bristle, and seems to be behind McConnell’s latest move to strengthen the parties.

“McConnell is a party man,” said Kyle Kondik, a campaign analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “He probably believes that if the parties are stronger they can exert more control over who gets the nomination. You make the party stronger the individual candidates get weaker.”

That’s why the Tea Party wing of the GOP is opposed to McConnell’s latest move.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the head of the House Freedom Caucus, said the changes on coordination should also be extended to Super PACs who currently are forbidden from coordinating with campaigns.

“What’s good for the goose should be good for the gander,” Jordan told The Daily Beast. “So if it’s good for the parties, it should be good for outside groups who are involved in politics and have a big influence on politics as well. I mean free speech is free speech. So either don’t do it at all, or if you’re going to do it, do it in an equal fashion.”

This isn’t the first time McConnell has stealthily tried to unwind election law. As the legislative clock wound down at the end of last year, he worked with then Speaker John Boehner to lift the cap on what party committees could solicit from donors. The provision hiked the rate from just under $100,000 to nearly $800,000. It was barely noticed, but critics argue the new provision will be felt.

“It will basically turn the parties into another apparatus that’s owned by the big money crowd,” said Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), an advocate for public financing of campaigns. “In a sense it would allow big donors to become benefactors of specific candidates, using the parties to do it. They would kind of go through the parties to become the sugar daddy of this candidate or that candidate. So the parties lose all independence; they just become the tool of the big money crowd.”

Then there’s the whole presidential scramble going on. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham has proven to be a lackluster fundraiser in his #YOLOrace for the White House, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been carefully watching his opponents and their Super PACs. He predicts something will give when the new Congress convenes at the start of 2017.

“I think there is going to be a scandal about money coming in the 2016 cycle from unsavory sources,” Graham to The Daily Beast. “That’s what it’s going to take to spur discussion. So I don’t really care about moving the caps as long as it’s transparent.”


By; Matt Laslo, The Daily Beast, December 14, 2015

December 15, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Citizens United, Mitch Mc Connell, Super PAC's | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“GOP: A Neo-Fascist White-Identity Party?”: In Trump’s GOP, It’s Not So Fringe Anymore

I’ve been reading recently about Bill Clinton’s presidency for a project I’m working on, and I just got to the part about the Oklahoma City bombing. What stood out to me, reading over this material in the Era of Trump, is the way a number of congressional Republicans at the time played footsie with the then-burgeoning far-right militia movements in the run-up to the bombing itself.

If you have no memory of that time, here’s what happened in a nutshell. Right-wing militia movements started growing in the late 1980s. In August 1992, federal agents shot and killed a survivalist in Idaho named Randy Weaver, and his wife and son, after a months-long standoff after Weaver had missed a court date (it was on a weapons charge, but the government really wanted him to flip and become an informant on Aryan Nations, and he said no). It became an iconic moment in those circles.

UPDATE: Randy Weaver survived the raid. His wife and a son were killed, along with a federal agent. He went on to stand trial and was acquitted of most charges; others were laid aside by a judge.

When the dreaded son of the 60s Clinton was elected, membership in such groups spiked further. Then just three months into Clinton’s term came the FBI storming of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, resulting in 76 deaths. The next year Clinton and Congress passed, over the NRA’s objections (yes, this was possible, although it did help lose the Democrats their House majority in 1994), an assault-weapons ban. Finally, in April 1995, on the second anniversary of the Waco siege, Timothy McVeigh exploded his truck bomb in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people.

What’s relevant to us today is the way Republicans and the mainstream conservative movement pandered to these militant far-right groups. Many didn’t merely criticize the ATF and the FBI, which was entirely reasonable under the circumstances, but went beyond that to stoke these peoples’ paranoia about government and suggest/not suggest, in that same way we’re familiar with on those non-answer/answers about Obama’s citizenship, that armed resistance was acceptable. Texas Senator Phil Gramm, who was prominent and respected and at one point a plausible presidential candidate, was probably the highest-profile pol to use such rhetoric, arguably aside from Newt Gingrich himself. And of course Republican and conservative movement stoking of fears about immigrants has been constant.

This was also the time when right-wing talk radio was just exploding (there was no Fox News just yet). Aside from all the normal racial and xenophobic ranting, the AM airwaves were also full of defenses of these movements. G. Gordon Liddy, of Watergate infamy, once advised his listeners that if they saw an ATF man approaching, “Go for a head shot; they’re going to be wearing bulletproof vests.”

There’s no serious counterpart to this on the liberal left. You could compare it I guess to Leonard Bernstein’s radical chic back in the day, but unlike Phil Gramm, Bernstein wasn’t a United States senator whose presidential candidacy was being taken seriously by serious people. The difference may simply stem from the fact that radical left-wingers don’t typically vote in our corrupt capitalist system, while radical right-wingers more typically do. But whatever the reason, the difference is there and has been for a good 20 years at least.

The line from all this to the rise of Donald Trump, based wholly on his immigrant-bashing rhetoric, is direct and indisputable. Back in August, in The New Yorker, Evan Osnos went out and spoke to white nationalists and far-right figures who were enthusiastic about Trump. One, a man named Jared Taylor, who edits a white nationalist magazine, told Osnos: “I’m sure he would repudiate any association with people like me, but his support comes from people who are more like me than he might like to admit.”

Trump thus culminates a process that’s been going on in the Republican Party for two generations now. Fringe elements never properly denounced then are now, under Trump, becoming an in-broad-daylight part of the Republican coalition. But now, since all this has been going on so long, are they even fringe elements? When 65 percent of Republicans tell a pollster they support Trump’s poisonous call to ban Muslims from the country, it’s hard to call that fringe. A more recent poll puts that support level at “only” 42 percent, but that’s still higher than the percentage who opposed it (36). That sure isn’t fringe either.

The Republican Party of Trump is becoming a white-identity party, like the far-right parties of Europe. Yes, it includes token members of other races, which accounts for Ben Carson, who’s just a political idiot, whatever his skills in the operating theater. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are in a different category as Cubans; in our political discourse, we throw them into the mix as Latino, but of course Cubans are very different culturally and politically from other Latinos; and besides, there are certainly racial categories among Cubans themselves, and Afro-Cubans these two are not.

But whatever one wants to say about those three and others like them, they’re part of a tiny minority in a party that’s probably 97 percent white people, a significant percentage of whom are now openly embracing their racial identity; that is, they’re supporting Trump as white people, because they feel he will protect their white privilege. And yes, this is very different from why black people voted for Obama as black people, and if you even need me to explain that, you’re totally lost.

What is the Republican Party going to do about this? So far it sure hasn’t done much. Denunciations of Trump by Reince Priebus and most others are mechanical and pro forma. You can find headlines blaring that all of them “denounced” Trump, but if you actually read the quotes and tweets, they’re mostly worded pretty gingerly. Jeb Bush did call him “unhinged,” but that sounded like sour grapes from Mr. 3 Percent. The only one who for my money sounds genuinely shocked and saddened by this situation is Lindsey Graham. The rest of them are basically ducking the historical moment and hoping it passes.

Maybe it will pass. In the latest Iowa poll, Cruz now leads Trump by 10 points. But Trump still leads by a mile in New Hampshire and nationally. So there’s a strong chance all of this won’t just go away on its own.

Then the Republican Party will have a choice, a choice it really has to make already, about whether it is collectively willing to stand up and say no, we don’t want to become to neo-fascist, white-identity party. Of course if the party’s leaders do that, they are thwarting, potentially, the will of their voters. It’s quite a bind to be in. And it’s one they created, starting at least 20 years ago.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, December 14, 2015

December 15, 2015 Posted by | Conservative Media, GOP Presidential Candidates, Militia Movement, White Nationalists | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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