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“So Many Choices”: Obama Picks His Favorite Conspiracy Theory

The right has come up with more than its share of conspiracy theories related to President Obama. In fact, some of the more nonsensical ideas – he wasn’t born in the United States; he’s secretly non-Christian – began before he was even elected.

Obama sat down with Bill Simmons recently for an interview published by GQ, and Simmons asked a question I’ve wondered about myself.

SIMMONS: What’s the most entertaining conspiracy theory you ever read about yourself?

OBAMA: That military exercises we were doing in Texas were designed to begin martial law so that I could usurp the Constitution and stay in power longer. Anybody who thinks I could get away with telling Michelle I’m going to be president any longer than eight years does not know my wife.

The president didn’t literally use the words “Jade Helm 15,” but I think it’s safe to say that’s what he was referring to.

In case anyone’s forgotten about this one, let’s recap. Earlier this year, the military organized some training exercises for about 1,200 people in areas spanning from Texas to California, which started in mid-July. Somehow, right-wing activists got it in their heads that the exercises, labeled “Jade Helm 15,” were part of an elaborate conspiracy theory involving the Obama administration, the U.S. military, Walmart, and some “secret underground tunnels.”

It all seemed terribly silly – because it was – but several Republican officials, including senators, governors, and House members, at least pretended to take it seriously for a short while. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) even felt the need to order the Texas Guard to “monitor” the military exercises – just in case.

The training exercises wrapped up in September without incident.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 20, 2015

November 22, 2015 Posted by | Conspiracy Theories, Greg Abbott, Jade Helm 15 | , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Congress Complicit In Mass Murders”: Why Not Do The Right Thing”?: Renewed Gun Control Push Targets Firearm Dealers

Faced with little appetite in the US Congress to strengthen federal gun laws, a group of senators on Tuesday called on firearm dealers to help reduce the scourge of gun violence in America by performing more robust background checks, even when it’s not required by the law.

Their mantra: “No background check, no gun.”

Connecticut senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, along with 11 of their Democratic colleagues, sent a letter urging three large firearms dealers – Cabela’s, EZ Pawn and Bass Pro Shops – to stop allowing for “default sales” and refuse to sell guns without a completed background check. Current federal law includes a loophole that allows gun dealers to complete a sale without any background check, if the check takes longer than 72 hours.

Blumenthal and Murphy also made their case at a press conference on Capitol Hill Tuesday morning, where they were joined by New York senator Chuck Schumer, the chamber’s second-ranking Democrat, and relatives who lost loved ones to gun violence. The senators cited the national retailer Walmart as an example of a company that took steps to toughen its requirements for gun transactions.

“For the gun dealers of America, why not do the right thing? Insist that there be a background check before you sell the gun,” Blumenthal said, while also encouraging a ban on illegal trafficking and straw purchases, steps to address mental health, and the enhancement of school safety.

Murphy said there was “absolutely no justification” for retailers not to follow Walmart’s lead, arguing that it caused “no inconvenience to the retailer” to perform safer background checks to ensure that criminals or mentally ill people do not walk out of their stores with a gun.

“The temporary inconvenience to a smidgen of gun purchases is certainly worth the lives that we know we could have saved or can save in the future if retailers make this change,” Murphy said.

For Blumenthal and Murphy, the push on firearm dealers is the latest in a two-year effort to confront gun violence – which personally impacted their constituents in the 2012 elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.

Both senators acknowledged it had been a tough road ever since. The US Senate failed to pass universal background checks in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, which took the lives of 20 children and six educators.

“We were there to see the cries and faces that expressed that grief. We know that we will never be the same because of that experience,” Blumenthal said. “We should take heart that this struggle, this battle, is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Despite a series of high-profile mass shootings since Newtown, Congress hasn’t budged on any proposals to improve America’s gun laws.

Murphy said the lack of even a debate on the issue was “an abomination” while acknowledging that the National Rifle Association had for decades built “one of the most politically powerful forces in the country” and, at least for now, maintained the upper-hand.

Although Murphy said he and Blumenthal would continue to press upon “the consciousness of our colleagues”, Republicans who control both chambers of Congress have shown little indication they will revisit a debate over guns.

West Virginia senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat who co-sponsored a bipartisan bill to expand background checks after Newtown, said the votes for his legislation simply weren’t there.

“That bill’s not going to come up unless Republicans vote for it,” he told reporters Tuesday on Capitol Hill.

Manchin said he still believed that his proposal, which he co-authored with Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey, was “pure, common gun sense”.

“It’s not gun control,” Manchin said. “I don’t think there’s a law-abiding gun owner that doesn’t believe that someone who has been mentally adjudicated or been criminally adjudicated shouldn’t be able to get a gun. I really believe that. And that’s all we’re trying to do.”

An overwhelming majority of Americans support the universal background checks bill, which fell victim to a Republican-led filibuster two years ago. Arizona senator John McCain, one of just four Republicans who voted for the Manchin-Toomey bill after the Newtown shooting, said he didn’t expect to see the background checks bill – or anything else pertaining to guns, for that matter – resurface.

“Frankly, with all the things that are going on right now, I don’t see anything real soon on this issue,” McCain told the Guardian in the Senate hallway.

McCain added, nonetheless, that he still supported the Manchin-Toomey proposal.

“There’s no reason not to,” he said.

Murphy implored lawmakers to do the same, or at the very least to start talking about ways to better protect Americans.

“There is a deafening silence coming from Congress,” he said. “Our silence is becoming complicity in these murders.”

 

By: Sabrina Siddiqui, The Guardian, July 29, 2015

July 31, 2015 Posted by | Background Checks, Congress, Gun Violence, Mass Shootings | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Liberals And Wages”: Public Policy Can Do A Lot To Help Workers Without Bringing Down The Wrath Of The Invisible Hand

Hillary Clinton gave her first big economic speech on Monday, and progressives were by and large gratified. For Mrs. Clinton’s core message was that the federal government can and should use its influence to push for higher wages.

Conservatives, however — at least those who could stop chanting “Benghazi! Benghazi! Benghazi!” long enough to pay attention — seemed bemused. They believe that Ronald Reagan proved that government is the problem, not the solution. So wasn’t Mrs. Clinton just reviving defunct “paleoliberalism”? And don’t we know that government intervention in markets produces terrible side effects?

No, she wasn’t, and no, we don’t. In fact, Mrs. Clinton’s speech reflected major changes, deeply grounded in evidence, in our understanding of what determines wages. And a key implication of that new understanding is that public policy can do a lot to help workers without bringing down the wrath of the invisible hand.

Many economists used to think of the labor market as being pretty much like the market for anything else, with the prices of different kinds of labor — that is, wage rates — fully determined by supply and demand. So if wages for many workers have stagnated or declined, it must be because demand for their services is falling.

In particular, the conventional wisdom attributed rising inequality to technological change, which was raising the demand for highly educated workers while devaluing blue-collar work. And there was nothing much policy could do to change the trend, other than aiding low-wage workers via subsidies like the earned-income tax credit.

You still see commentators who haven’t kept up invoking this story as if it were obviously true. But the case for “skill-biased technological change” as the main driver of wage stagnation has largely fallen apart. Most notably, high levels of education have offered no guarantee of rising incomes — for example, wages of recent college graduates, adjusted for inflation, have been flat for 15 years.

Meanwhile, our understanding of wage determination has been transformed by an intellectual revolution — that’s not too strong a word — brought on by a series of remarkable studies of what happens when governments change the minimum wage.

More than two decades ago the economists David Card and Alan Krueger realized that when an individual state raises its minimum wage rate, it in effect performs an experiment on the labor market. Better still, it’s an experiment that offers a natural control group: neighboring states that don’t raise their minimum wages. Mr. Card and Mr. Krueger applied their insight by looking at what happened to the fast-food sector — which is where the effects of the minimum wage should be most pronounced — after New Jersey hiked its minimum wage but Pennsylvania did not.

Until the Card-Krueger study, most economists, myself included, assumed that raising the minimum wage would have a clear negative effect on employment. But they found, if anything, a positive effect. Their result has since been confirmed using data from many episodes. There’s just no evidence that raising the minimum wage costs jobs, at least when the starting point is as low as it is in modern America.

How can this be? There are several answers, but the most important is probably that the market for labor isn’t like the market for, say, wheat, because workers are people. And because they’re people, there are important benefits, even to the employer, from paying them more: better morale, lower turnover, increased productivity. These benefits largely offset the direct effect of higher labor costs, so that raising the minimum wage needn’t cost jobs after all.

The direct takeaway from this intellectual revolution is, of course, that we should raise minimum wages. But there are broader implications, too: Once you take what we’ve learned from minimum-wage studies seriously, you realize that they’re not relevant just to the lowest-paid workers.

For employers always face a trade-off between low-wage and higher-wage strategies — between, say, the traditional Walmart model of paying as little as possible and accepting high turnover and low morale, and the Costco model of higher pay and benefits leading to a more stable work force. And there’s every reason to believe that public policy can, in a variety of ways — including making it easier for workers to organize — encourage more firms to choose the good-wage strategy.

So there was a lot more behind Hillary’s speech than I suspect most commentators realized. And for those trying to play gotcha by pointing out that some of what she said differed from ideas that prevailed when her husband was president, well, many liberals have changed their views in response to new evidence. It’s an interesting experience; conservatives should try it some time.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, July 17, 2015

July 19, 2015 Posted by | Economic Policy, Hillary Clinton, Minimum Wage | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Strategic Hamlet Of Bastrop, Texas”: Why Did Texas Politicians Cave In To Delusional Paranoia?

The real news isn’t that many Texans seemingly subscribe to an apocalyptic, delusional worldview, one that has them convinced that a U.S Army training exercise called “Jade Helm 15” is the opening wedge of an Obama-led coup d’etat — seizing guns, importing thousands of ISIS fighters to subdue local patriots, and throwing dissenters into FEMA concentration camps.

Because where else would you start a military takeover but the strategic hamlet of Bastrop, Texas, commanding the crucial highway junction between Elgin and LaGrange? Never mind that Fort Hood, the largest U.S. military installation in the world, is maybe 75 miles up the road. Bastrop is the linchpin.

No, the real news is that name-brand Texas politicians such as Gov. Greg Abbott and Sen. Ted Cruz think it’s smart to lend plausibility to what is essentially a mass psychiatric delusion. Did you know that even Walmart’s involved? Rumor says recently closed stores are being refitted as barracks for foreign soldiers.

After a raucous hearing in Bastrop, during which a regular Army colonel who pointed out that he’d served five presidents over 27 years got accused of lying and shouted down, Gov. Abbott ordered the Texas Guard to monitor U.S. Army war games this summer.

This so that “Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed.”

Probably because there’s lithium in the water, stuff like this rarely happens out in El Paso — home of Fort Bliss, the 1,700-square mile HQ of the First Armored Division. But just across the border in Chihuahua, according to the Family Research Council, there’s a secret ISIS base with thousands of terrorists poised to strike. Hundreds of miles of underground tunnels have been dug to facilitate the invasion.

Also lending support to the nutball faction was Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, who expressed support for Abbott’s leadership.

“I understand the concern that’s been raised by a lot of citizens about Jade Helm,” Cruz said. “…I think part of the reason is, we have seen for six years a federal government disrespecting the liberty of the citizens and that produces fear. When you see a federal government that is attacking our free speech rights, our religious liberty rights, our Second Amendment rights,,, That produces distrust as to government.”

Hey Ted, Republicans lost two presidential elections. Grow up. Arkansas’ own Mike Huckabee plays to similar fears with gratuitous twaddle about “criminalizing Christianity.” All this really amounts to, as Paul Krugman puts it, is fear that Obama will “seize control of [Texas] and force its citizens to accept universal health care at gunpoint.”

Look, it’s not just Texas. Mad conspiracy theories are nothing new in American politics. Historian Rick Perlstein’s book Before the Storm describes a similar paranoid outbreak in 1963. A California GOP senator complained about an avalanche of “’fright mail,’ mostly centering on two astonishingly widespread rumors: that Chinese commandos were training in Mexico for an invasion of the United States through San Diego; and that 100,000 UN troops — 16,000 of them ‘African Negro troops, who are cannibals’ [sic] — were secretly rehearsing in the Georgia swamps under the command of a Russian colonel for a UN martial-law takeover of the United States.”

Back then it was President John F. Kennedy, an Irish-Catholic Democrat, who afflicted the John Birch Society with fear of The Other. Today, it’s President Obama scaring an Austin-based talk radio and Internet conspiracy theorist called Alex Jones.

Richard Hofstadter’s classic 1964 essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” explains: “I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind.”

Left-wing paranoia is not unknown. However, in America paranoid mass movements are almost entirely a right-wing phenomenon, partly because they fit so well with the melodramatic themes of Protestant fundamentalism.

“The paranoid spokesman,” Hofstadter added, “sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms — he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization… he does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician. Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish.”

Is that not totally Ted Cruz?

But you know what? Ted Cruz ain’t Texas.

Early indications are that Cruz and Abbott are widely perceived to have made fools of themselves. Coverage in the statewide press has been derisive. A retired GOP legislator, Todd Smith of Euless, wondered if he should be more “horrified that I have to choose between the possibility that my governor actually believes this stuff and the possibility that my governor doesn’t have the backbone to stand up to those who do.”

Good question.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, May 7, 2015

May 9, 2015 Posted by | Conspiracy Theories, Greg Abbott, Texas | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Change Your Stand, Or Shut Your Mouth”: ‘The Culture War’ — A Battle The GOP Can’t Win

The argument is over and conservatives have lost. Some of them just don’t know it yet.

That’s the takeaway from the remarkable events of last week wherein the states of Indiana and Arkansas executed high-speed U-turns — we’re talking skid marks on the tarmac — on the subject of marriage equality. Legislatures in both states, you will recall, had passed so-called “religious freedom” laws designed to allow businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples. In Indiana, the governor had already signed the bill and was happily dissembling about the discriminatory nature and intent of the new law.

Then reality landed like the Marines at Guadalcanal.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence made a fool of himself on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” five times refusing to answer a simple yes or no question about whether the bill would protect a business that refused to serve gay people. Angie’s List, which is headquartered in the state, delayed a planned expansion. NASCAR, the NCAA, the NFL, the NBA, the WNBA, and a host of businesses condemned the law. Conventions pulled out and some states and cities even banned government-funded travel to Indiana.

Down in Arkansas, where similar legislation awaited his signature, Gov. Asa Hutchinson was no doubt watching with interest as Pence was metaphorically shot full of holes. Then he received a tap on the shoulder from a very heavy hand. Walmart, the largest retailer on Earth, born and headquartered in Arkansas, urged a veto, saying the bill “does not reflect the values we proudly uphold.”

Both governors promptly got, ahem, religion. Hutchinson sent the measure back to legislators for revision. Pence signed a measure to “fix” a law whose glories he had spent so much time touting.

And here, a little context might be instructive. Twenty years ago, you recall, we were essentially arguing over the right of gay people to exist. The debate then was over whether they could serve in the military, adopt children, be fired or denied housing because of their sexuality, Ten years ago, public opinion on most of those issues having swung decisively, we were fighting over whether or not they could get married. Ten years later, that point pretty much conceded, we are arguing over who should bake the cake.

The very parameters of the debate have shifted dramatically to the dreaded left. Positions the GOP took proudly just 20 years ago now seem prehistoric and its motivations for doing so, threadbare. This is not about morality, the constitution or faith. It never was.

No, this is about using the law to validate the primal sense of “ick” that still afflicts some heterosexuals at the thought of boys who like boys and girls who like girls. And the solution to their problem is three words long: Get over it.

Or, get left behind. Consider again what happened last week: Put aside NASCAR, the NBA and Angie’s List: Walmart is, for better and for worse, the very embodiment of Middle-American values. To rephrase what Lyndon Johnson said of Walter Cronkite under vastly different circumstances, if you have lost Walmart, you have lost the country.

On gay rights, conservatives just lost Wal-Mart.

The adults on the right (there are some) understand that they are out of step with the mainstream, which is why they’d just as soon call a truce in the so-called “culture wars.” The fanatical, id-driven children on the right (there are far too many) would rather drive the GOP off a cliff than concede. Somebody needs to sit them down and explain that when you have taken an execrable stand and been repudiated for it as decisively as the right has been, you only have two options: Change your stand, or shut your mouth.

At this point, either one will do.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, April 8, 2015

April 9, 2015 Posted by | Culture Wars, GOP, Religious Freedom Restoration Act | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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