Sunday, April 14, 2024

Israel owes Obama a huge debt of gratitude

While we don't know the outcome of Iran's attack on Israel yet, it appears as though the worst has been avoided. According to reports, Israel's multilayered air defense systems were effective in stopping the barrage of drone/rocket attacks launched by Iran. As a result, Biden has warned Netanyahu that any further attacks against Iran would not be supported by the U.S. At the moment, that warning seems to have been heeded.

The amount of blood and treasure that would have been spent on an outright war between Israel and Iran is impossible to quantify. So it is important for all of us to be clear about the role played by those air defense systems in potentially avoiding a global catastrophe. It might surprise you to know who is responsible for that. So let's take a walk back through some recent history.

The concept of an "Iron Dome" over Israel dates back to 2004, when Brig. Daniel Gold, a mathematician and head of new-weapons research and development for Israel’s Ministry of Defense, invited the country’s defense contractors to propose innovative systems to protect against aerial bombardment. In early 2007, Israel’s Defense Ministry backed the project’s pilot phase with an outlay of $10 million, but then decided that offensive readiness was a higher priority and didn't allocate any more funds. Instead, Israel approached the Bush administration requesting hundreds of millions in additional support to deploy the Iron Dome. Bush said "no."

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama visited Israel. 

All the cameras were on Barack Obama as he gave an emotional speech against the backdrop of the remains of around 100 spent Hamas rockets in Sderot...It was then that he made his memorable statement about someone sending rockets into his house where his daughters were sleeping, and promising that if he were elected, he would do everything in his power to protect Israel from Hamas rockets.

In 2010, President Obama proposed that the U.S. spend $205 million to spur Israel's production of the Iron Dome. Congress complied as part of a package that also included the following:

The Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency has three initiatives with Israel to boost its home-grown capability to defend against short- and medium-range ballistic missiles.

The so-called David's Sling Weapon System is for short-range defense; the Arrow Weapons System targets medium-range missiles; and the Arrow-3 interceptor is an upper-tier system under development.

The United States is also developing interoperability between the U.S. ballistic missile defense system and the Israeli architecture to make sure Israeli systems can be stitched in to a global umbrella.

Those are the systems that were used to deflect all of the drones/rockets that Iran launched against Israel on Saturday. Another middle east (and possibly global) war may have been prevented - all because President Obama had the foresight to take steps to prevent war. We all (including Benjamin Netanyahu and the people of Israel) owe him a huge debt of gratitude. 

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Trump doesn't care about abortions


Natasha Korecki put together a helpful timeline on the way Donald Trump has bobbed and weaved on the issue of abortion. For example:
  • In 1999 - before running for president as a Republican - he said, "I am very pro-choice." 
  • Two years later, (when he was considering the idea of running against Obama in the 2012 election) he claimed to be "pro-life." 
  • By March of 2016, he said that women who have abortions should be punished and vowed to appoint Supreme Court justices that would overturn Roe. 
  • Since that happened in 2022, he has been on-and-off again about a federal ban on abortions.
  • When the so-called "red wave" didn't materialize in the 2022 midterms, Trump blamed it on Republicans who insisted on abortion bans with no exceptions. 
This week, the bobbing and weaving has continued. On Monday, the former president put out a statement claiming strong support for IVF and for leaving the decision on abortion up to the states. He also warned that state and local legislators should keep in mind the need to win elections - telegraphing that he recognizes that a pro-life stand could hurt Republicans. 

Then on Tuesday, the Arizona Supreme Court lifted a ban on an 1864 law that made abortion a felony punishable by two to five years in prison for anyone who performs one or helps a woman obtain one. When asked about that on Wednesday, Trump said that the Arizona law "went too far" and released a video claiming that overturning Roe was the only goal. He said that, from the beginning, it has always been about bringing the issue back to the states - nothing else. 

All of these mixed messages stem from the fact that Trump doesn't really care about the abortion issue. When he decided to run for president as a Republican, he had to take a stand against it - and when it turned out that a majority of his base was made up of Christian nationalists, he catered to what they wanted in order to win/maintain their support. 

But what the former president doesn't seem to understand is that, for the pro-life folks, abortion is murder. And these days, most of them are coalescing around the argument that life begins at conception. So when he says things like "leave it up to the states," they hear him saying that it is OK for blue states to murder children during a pregnancy. 

Here's how Trump's former vice-president responded on Twitter:
President Trump’s retreat on the Right to Life is a slap in the face to the millions of pro-life Americans who voted for him in 2016 and 2020...a majority of Americans long to see minimum national protections for the unborn in federal law. But today, too many Republican politicians are all too ready to wash their hands of the battle for life. Republicans win on life when we speak the truth boldly and stand on the principle that we all know to be true – human life begins at conception and should be defended from womb to tomb.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA Pro-Life America, said that abortion "has always been a human rights issue — not contingent on geography. Where you live shouldn't determine whether you live."

Steve Peace, BlazeTV host, is ready to give up on the whole GOP.

Now that Republicans have a chance to show they are sincerely pro-life, and act on decades of speeches and promises, they are by and large punting and cowering -- starting with the guy responsible for overturning Roe itself. Now plenty of our own teammates are also showing they're fine sacrificing kids on the altar of personal convenience...

What all of this means for Trump (and other Republicans on the ballot in 2024) is that what they want first and foremost is for this issue to quietly go away and get back to talking about the so-called "invasion" at our border. But that's not going to work. If the Christian nationalist base demands a federal ban on abortion - Trump is going to have to give them one. In the process, he loses everyone else.  

Monday, April 8, 2024

Right wingers use racism to deny systemic racism

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 dismantled the Jim Crow laws of the South, but seven years later the Supreme Court made it clear that simply eliminating the "no Negroes need apply" wasn't enough when it came to employment discrimination. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Burger said:

...good intent or absence of discriminatory intent does not redeem employment procedures or testing mechanisms that operate as "built-in headwinds" for minority groups and are unrelated to measuring job capability.
That decision codified "disparate impact" as discriminatory, and therefore illegal.
Disparate impact refers to policies, practices, rules, or other systems that appear to be neutral, but result in a disproportionate impact on protected groups.

For years now I've been writing about the right wing assault on disparate impact being led by none other that Chief Justice John Roberts. If they can remove that standard, victims will be required to prove that the perpetrator intended to discriminate against them - which is almost impossible to do. 

Because of my interest in this topic, I wasn't surprised that - in this era of right wing extremism - Heather Mac Donald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, wrote the quiet parts out loud in a piece titled, "Disparate Impact Thinking is Destroying Our Civilization." 

The most consequential falsehood in American public policy today is the idea that any racial disparity in any institution is by definition the result of racial discrimination...

As a result of this falsehood, we are eviscerating meritocratic and behavioral standards in accordance with what is known as “disparate impact analysis.”

By now you've probably noticed that this is supposed to be the "intellectual" argument behind all of the right wing attacks on systemic racism and "diversity, equity, and inclusion" (DEI) initiatives.

Mac Donald goes on to describe how "disparate impact analysis" is dumbing down the fields of medicine, law, and criminal justice. But the problem she faces (just like all of the other arguments against DEI initiatives) is that when you deny systemic racism, you have to come up with another explanation for all of the racial disparities in medicine, law, education, employment, the criminal justice system, etc. So yes, Mac Donald goes there.

We need to face up to the truth: the reason for racial underrepresentation across a range of meritocratic fields is the academic skills gap. The reason for racial overrepresentation in the criminal justice system is the crime gap. 

In other words, she claims that the disparities experienced by African Americans in this country are because they have an "academic skills gap" (ie, not as intelligent) and are more prone to commit crimes. That, my friends, is the very definition of racism. 

People who know their history will recognize Mac Donald's argument as the same one that was used as the basis for scientific racism. For decades researchers tried to prove scientifically that Black people were biologically inferior to whites in order to justify their racism. That didn't end well.

Disparate impact analysis and DEI measures are an attempt to weed out systemic racism like this:

Numerous formulas or "algorithms" used in medical decisions — treatment guidelines, diagnostic tests, risk calculators — adjust the answers according to race or ethnicity in a way that puts people of color at disadvantage.

Given how embedded these equations are in medical software and electronic records, even doctors may not realize how widely they impact care decisions.

And there's this when it comes to African American boys and the criminal justice system:

Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers, but are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime, according to new research. “Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection. Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent,” said the lead author.

I could go on with other examples of systemic racism, but I'll leave it there for now. My point is that those who are attacking DEI measures and want to do away with disparate impact as the standard for proving discrimination are forced to rely on racism to back up their claims. A clear-eyed view of reality tells a very different story.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Why Christian nationalists fear freedom

For years now a lot of us have been trying to understand why white evangelical voters remain so loyal to Donald Trump. I believe that the answer to that question is complex, but Fareed Zakaria recently added something very important to the discussion. 

Modern societies protect your life and liberty so that you may individually pursue happiness and fulfillment, defining it as you please so long as you do not impinge on anyone else’s ability to do the same.

But constructing one’s own meaning of life is not easy; it is much simpler to consult the Bible or the Quran.

Zakaria goes on to describe the current rise in populism, nationalism, and authoritarianism.

They offer people what the German American scholar Erich Fromm called an “escape from freedom.” A distinguished psychologist who studied the rise of fascism, Fromm argued that once human beings live through the chaos of freedom, they get scared. “The frightened individual seeks for somebody or something to tie his self to; he cannot bear to be his own individual self any longer, and he tries frantically to get rid of it and to feel security again by the elimination of this burden: the self,” he wrote.

As someone who laboriously worked their way out of white fundamentalist Christian authoritarianism, that rings very true. As I came face-to-face with my own individual self, I experienced a moment of pure unadulterated panic. That's because I could no longer lean on the rules handed to me via authoritarians, I had to depend on myself to figure things out. David Whyte captured that moment with his poem titled "Revelation Must Be Terrible." Here's how it starts:

Revelation must be
terrible with no time left
to say goodbye.

Imagine that moment
staring at the still waters
with only the brief tremor

of your body to say
you are leaving everything
and everyone you know behind.

Being far from home is hard, but you know,
at least we are exiled together.
When you open your eyes to the world

you are on your own for
the first time. No one is
even interested in saving you now
Sara Robinson wrote a powerful series of essays about people leaving authoritarian systems. She captured why that kind of revelation can be so terrifying.
We must never, ever underestimate what it costs these people to let go of the beliefs that have sustained them. Leaving the safety of the authoritarian belief system is a three-to-five year process. Externally, it always means the loss of your community; and often the loss of jobs, homes, marriages, and blood relatives as well. Internally, it requires sifting through every assumption you've ever made about how the world works, and your place within it; and demands that you finally take the very emotional and intellectual risks that the entire edifice was designed to protect you from. You have to learn, maybe for the first time, to face down fear and live with ambiguity.

Over the last couple of decades, as we have opened our arms to create a place of belonging for those who have been marginalized, the old systems based on racism/sexism/homophobia have been challenged. All of that posed a threat to the security of a culture/tradition based on those systems. Rather than engage in the difficult task of grappling with those changes, too many white evangelical Christians simply doubled down on authoritarianism because the freedom to chose for themselves was too terrifying. 

 Those fears have been manipulated by politicians like Sen. Josh Hawley, who once said the following:

For decades now our politics and culture have been dominated by a particular philosophy of freedom. It is a philosophy of liberation from family and tradition; of escape from God and community; a philosophy of self-creation and unrestricted, unfettered free choice. 

Just to be clear, for Hawley, that's a bad thing.

The idea that freedom is bad has been fully embraced by the right wingers who are referred to as National Conservatives, the new right, or post-liberals - guys like Hawley, Sen. J.D. Vance, Tucker Carlson, Sohrab Ahmari, and Peter Thiel.

The post-liberals say that freedom has become a destructive end-in-itself. Economic freedom has brought about a global system of trade and finance that has outsourced jobs, shifted resources to the metropolitan coasts, and obscured its self-seeking under the veneer of social justice. Personal freedom has ended up in the mainstreaming of pornography, alcohol, drug, and gambling addiction, abortion, single-parent families, and the repression of orthodox religious practice and conscience.

It is important to wrestle with what that means. For most of us, this democratic republic was founded on the idea of economic and personal freedom. But for these folks, the idea of freedom is terrifying. That's why Katherine Stewart nailed it when she wrote this:

This isn’t the religious right we thought we knew. The Christian nationalist movement today is authoritarian, paranoid and patriarchal at its core. They aren’t fighting a culture war. They’re making a direct attack on democracy itself.

Before closing this one out I'd like to say that, over the last couple of months, I've been immersing myself in music as a way to cope. On this topic of the freedom to find our self, this one by Jacob Collier spoke to me profoundly.  

Saturday, March 16, 2024

"I'd much rather be us than them"

According to the polling aggregate at The Economist, if the 2024 presidential election were held today, it would result in a tie.

There's been a lot of chatter lately about whether these polls are accurate, and we won't know for sure until November. But if we put all of that polling controversy aside (which I am inclined to do), Simon Rosenberg has captured what's really important right now when he says "I'd much rather be us than them." There are several reasons why that statement rings true.

Fundraising

Typically a politician's ability to raise money has been deemed almost as important as their standing in the polls. I'm not totally convinced that's true anymore. But the fact of the matter is that not only is Biden raising more money, a large portion of the funds raised by Trump and the RNC are going to pay the former guy's legal fees. To the extent that money makes a difference in a presidential campaign, the edge on this one goes to Biden.

A GOP in Disarray 

While the mainstream press doesn't write much about it, there are huge battles going on amongst Republicans. We see that in the complete inertia in the Republican-controlled House, where Speaker Johnson can't take a step without pissing off one faction or another. But it is even more pronounced in several swing states like Florida, Michigan, and Nevada. State party leaders are a crucial part of getting out the vote in November, both up and down the ballot. This kind of upheaval will not only hamper those efforts, it could very well spread to other states.

Another way that disarray is affecting the GOP is that there is a contingent of Republicans that is overtly rejecting Trump. As we saw in the early primary states, 1/3 to 1/2 of Haley voters said they would not vote for him in the general election. Here's what they sound like:
Many of the people who served in the Trump administration are saying the same thing.

Conventional wisdom has historically suggested that once a candidate becomes the nominee, they broaden their appeal to reach out to a larger audience for the general election. Given the split inside the GOP, you'd think there would be a massive outreach effort underway right now. But the RNC is doing the exact opposite. 

Issues 

Trump has made it clear that he is proud that the judges he appointed to the Supreme Court overruled Roe v Wade. He has also promised that he will not support any effort to halt gun violence and that he will end efforts to mitigate climate change. On day one he's promised to "drill baby drill."

I've already written that the policies Trump is actually proposing would be a disaster for both the United States and the globe.

As of a few months ago, it looked like the Republican message would be focused on what they defined as Biden's failures: the economy, crime, and the border. The first of those two have been fairly neutralized with slowing inflation and an historic drop in violent crime. But once it became clear that Trump had ordered his minions to kill the bipartisan border bill, that one was neutralized too. 

Of course, Trump and Republicans will continue to lie about those issues. But they've botched things so badly that refuting their claims is not difficult. For example, they are actually attempting to revive the Reagan question about whether or not you're better off than you were four years ago when a pandemic that killed one million Americans was sweeping the country and the economy was in the midst of collapse. 

Trumpism

This one could take a while to type out. So I'm simply going to let Seth Myers do the work.

Beyond all of that, mental health professionals are speaking up to point out that not only is Trump a malignant narcissist, it is becoming increasingly clear that he is showing "unmistakable signs strongly suggesting dementia, based on his public behavior and informant reports that show progressive deterioration in memory, thinking, ability to use language, behavior, and both gross and fine motor skills."

The issue is that, unlike narcissism, dementia is a progressive disease - meaning that it will get worse over time. To the extent that Trump's handlers are trying to cover it up, they're probably just making it worse. In other words, this could be a real powder keg.

A caveat to all of this would be that eight months is a long time. All kinds of things can happen between now and November. Some of them might be good and others catastrophic. That's why I'll never be in the position of predicting outcomes to an election. 

I also suspect that some people might respond to this list by saying that none of the above will affect MAGA voters - and I would agree. The point is to back up what Rosenberg is saying. Polls aren't everything. In the end, I'd much rather be us than them.  

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Right wing disinformation is fodder for fascism

You might recall that it was John Solomon - working at The Hill - who peddled Rudi Giulian's Russian disinformation claims about the Bidens (as well as lies about the Clinton Foundation in 2016). That's why this column by Solomon is likely to break any irony meter that is still functional.  

Americans are being confronted by a painful reality that a Democrat-fed, taxpayer-funded media spin machine is increasingly creating false realities, untrue narratives and outright lies that are putting the country on a whipsaw rollercoaster where truth surfaces long after deceptive narratives or mistruths have affected elections or official actions.

At one point, Solomon writes that "experts" warned that "the deceptions of Democratic Party actors and their allies in media and government will be an issue on the ballot this November" before quoting Newt Gingrich, Kash Patel, and Tom Finton.  

So what we have are several of the biggest purveyors of disinformation claiming that it is Democrats who are running a spin machine that creates false realities, untrue narratives, and outright lies.

To understand why they're doing this, let's take a look at one of the right wing publications that has apparently put Solomon on their payroll - even after he left The Hill in disgrace. That would be RealClearPolitics (RCP), an organization that bills itself as "the only prominent news platform aggregating all serious sides" (emphasis mine).

A quick look under the hood demonstrates that, too, is a lie. For example, RCP recently handed out their new Samizdat Prize to three journalists who "have shown First Amendment courage." Those three people are:

  1. Dr. Jay Bhattacharya - who peddled disinformation about COVID.
  2. Miranda Devine - who peddled disinformation about the Bidens. 
  3. Matt Taibbi - who peddled disinformation about the so-called "Twitter files."
In other words, RCP thinks that "first Amendment courage" is demonstrated by spreading right wing (usually Russian) disinformation. That's not very both sidsy of them, is it?

But that's just one example. For a look at the bigger picture, an organization called Global Disinformation Index analyzes the disinformation risk level in various countries. In December 2022, they published their report on the United States, identifying the news sites with the lowest and highest risk of disinformation. The results are profound.


We can first of all note that ALL of the sites at highest risk are right wing organizations - with RCP right in the middle of the list. You won't find a better example of what Ornstein and Mann described as "asymmetric polarization" than that. 

What's important to note about this analysis is that it is not based on fact-checking for disinformation. Instead, here's what they do:
The GDI methodology looks at over 80 different signals in combination to generate an overall assessment of disinformation risk for a news website as a whole. The resulting score does not determine whether a site or a specific piece of content is disinformation or not. The summation of all the data collected does, however, allow GDI to measure the risk that a given site may disinform its readers.

For example, when analyzing content, they look at whether certain groups are targeted, whether sources are credible and clearly identified, and whether headlines accurately describe the content. 

So of course the publisher of RCP, David DesRosiers, had to lie about GDI's findings.

GDI labeled RealClearPolitics as a high-risk news site for disinformation. All because we include voices they don’t like. That we pair such voices with those they agree with doesn’t seem to matter to them.
What we have is a right wing media complex that is built on disinformation and lies. When they're held accountable, they respond with more lies. 

But leave it to John Solomon to take it even further. The biggest purveyor of (mostly Russian) disinformation accuses Democrats of building a "media spin machine" that is "increasingly creating false realities, untrue narratives and outright lies." That's what those of us in the mental health field call "projection." As Steve Benen pointed out years ago, he seems to have learned this skill from Karl Rove.
More than anyone I’ve ever seen or heard of, Rove identifies some of his own ugliest, most malicious, most pernicious qualities, and then projects them onto those he hates most.

In other words, Solomon says to Rove: "Hold my beer."

The most pernicious effect of all of this is that it undermines the idea that there is any truth to be found (ie, Democrats say this, Republicans say that. Who are you going to believe?). Those who believe THAT lie are simply fodder for the fascists.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Sure, Trump is unfit for office. But his agenda would also be a monumental disaster!

For just a moment, I'd like to back off the fact that Donald Trump is unfit for office, is a serial liar, has been found guilty of rape/fraud, and faces 91 criminal counts in 4 different indictments. Instead, let's take a moment to think about what he and his enablers say he will DO if elected president again. 

Foreign policy

Trump will turn Ukraine over to Putin and is likely to pull the U.S. out of NATO. He's also said that he would encourage Russia to invade any NATO country that doesn't pay up. That is nothing short of an invitation to World War III.

Revenge

Trump has promised that a second term would be all about retribution.

Donald Trump and his allies have begun mapping out specific plans for using the federal government to punish critics and opponents should he win a second term, with the former president naming individuals he wants to investigate or prosecute and his associates drafting plans to potentially invoke the Insurrection Act on his first day in office to allow him to deploy the military against civil demonstrations... 
To facilitate Trump’s ability to direct Justice Department actions, his associates have been drafting plans to dispense with 50 years of policy and practice intended to shield criminal prosecutions from political considerations.  

Immigration

At almost every campaign stop, Trump makes this promise: 

To understand what that means, let's take a look at what Ron Brownstein recently wrote.

Stephen Miller, Trump’s top immigration adviser, has publicly declared that they would pursue such an enormous effort partly by creating a private red-state army under the president’s command. Miller says a reelected Trump intends to requisition National Guard troops from sympathetic Republican-controlled states and then deploy them into Democratic-run states whose governors refuse to cooperate with their deportation drive.

Blue state governors are likely to object to such a move and would have constitutional grounds to do so. At that point, Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act, which would give him almost unlimited authority to use any military asset for his deportation program.

Who would be targeted? Stephen Miller, the white nationalist that Trump would likely put in charge of such an operation, told Charlie Kirk that at minimum, they're talking 10 million people. Included in that number are people who have overstayed their visas and, according to Miller, people who were let in on visas but "whose views, attitudes, and beliefs make them ineligible to stay in the country." That aligns with what Trump said last October (emphasis mine).

“I will implement strong ideological screening of all immigrants,” he said, reading from the teleprompter. “If you hate America, if you want to abolish Israel,” he continued, apparently ad-libbing, “if you don’t like our religion — which a lot of them don’t — if you sympathize with the jihadists, then we don’t want you in our country and you are not getting in. Right?”

Economy

To get some idea of what Trump's deportation operation would mean for our economy, let's take a look at what happened to Postville, Iowa in 2008 when one meatpacking plant was raided and about 400 undocumented immigrants were arrested. 

According to the Des Moines Register, not only were families torn apart, but a quarter of the town disappeared. Those left behind had to "pick up the pieces from an event that hit their town with the sledgehammer effect of a natural disaster." So just imagine that kind of thing happening in communities all over the U.S. - magnified exponentially.

Trump is also promising to escalate the U.S-China trade war he launched during his first term as president.

Trump’s trade war with China cost Americans an estimated $195 billion since 2018, according to the American Action Forum, a conservative think tank. The economic battle also led to the loss of more than 245,000 U.S. jobs, according to the U.S.-China Business Council.

Finally, there will be more tax cuts, which ballooned the deficit during Trump's first term.

Climate change

Trump has promised to once again pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord and roll back as many of Biden's accomplishments as possible.

Trump could slow down the progress of the clean energy transition as president by redrawing the rules for the IRA’s generous tax credits.

He would, his allies say, also scrap government considerations of the damage caused by carbon emissions; compel a diminished EPA to squash pollution rules for cars, trucks and power plants; and symbolically nullify the Paris climate agreement by not only withdrawing the US again but sending it to the Senate for ratification as a treaty, knowing it would fail.

Abortion

While Trump hasn't stated a position on a national abortion ban, he made one thing perfectly clear.

Guns

Trump promised the NRA that if he is elected, "no one will lay a finger on your firearms."

Health care

Even as the rest of his party abandoned the idea, Trump continues his promise to repeal Obamacare.

So there you have it. Even when we ignore the fact that this man is unfit for office, tried to foment an insurrection, and could end up in jail for the crimes he is alleged to have committed, a second term would be a monumental disaster for this country - on every major issue.

Friday, February 16, 2024

The latest right wing conspiracy theory: Trump/Russia was a CIA hoax and Putin actually favored Clinton

There have been a lot of big news stories lately, but a major focus has been on Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. 

  • CNN reported that a 10-inch binder containing highly classified information related to Russian election interference went missing at the end of Donald Trump’s presidency.
  • Tucker Carlson interviewed Putin and is traveling around Russia telling us how everything is so much better there than it is here in the U.S.
  • Donald Trump said that he would encourage Russia to ‘do whatever the hell they want’ to any NATO country that doesn’t pay enough.
  • After the Senate passed the national security supplemental, including funding for Ukraine, Speaker Mike Johnson declared that it was "dead on arrival" in the House and sent representatives home for a couple of weeks.
  • Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny died in prison - with the assumption being that Putin had the 47 year old murdered.
  • Putin said that Russia would prefer to see Biden win a second term, describing him as "more experienced and predictable."
If you believe that last one, then Matt Taibbi, Michael Shellenberger, and Alex Gutentag are in the midst of telling a tall tale that you will love. I'm not going to link to the articles they've published over the last three days because they're behind a paywall and I'm certainly not going to spend any money going after them. 

But these guys are basically saying that the entire Trump/Russia story was a hoax perpetrated by former Obama CIA Director John Brennan - who they accuse of doing two things:
  1. Kicking off the whole "Russia hoax" by asking our allies ("Five Eyes" intelligence services) to spy on 26 Trump associates in early 2016.
  2. Cooking the intelligence behind the January 2017 assessment of Russian activities to suggest that Putin aspired to help Trump when he really favored Hillary Clinton for the "continuity and stability" she would bring.
Here's Shellenberger on point #1:

And here he is on point #2: 

I'm not going to get into the weeds on all of the lies articulated in those two claims. But just to give you one example, in the second video Shellenberg says:

[The CIA] used the Steele memo, the infamous political document commissioned by the Hillary Clinton campaign, to cook the intelligence...for the early January 2017 intelligence community assessment claiming that the Russians favored Trump falsely. That relied on the Steele memo.

As a fact check on that one, let's actually go back and look at what Fox News reported in July 2020. There we learn that, in preparing the January 2017 report, it was Comey and the FBI who wanted the Steele dossier woven in, over objections from Brennan and the CIA. The compromise that they all agreed to was to avoid any use/reference to the dossier and simply attach it as an appendix. 

Shellenberger, Taibbi, and Gutentag didn't produce a single document to corroborate their claims. Instead, on several occasions they refer to their "multiple credible sources," but don't name them. They suggest that these sources are knowledgeable because of their involvement with the investigation done by the House Select Committee on Intelligence - the one that was initially chaired by Devin Nunes and staffed by Kash Patel

To assume that there is any credibility to these claims, all you have to do is take the word of people like that over the following:

The story these guys are trying to sell hasn't made it into the mainstream media. But it's not just showing up on Fox. It's also landed at places like The Federalist, the Washington Times, the Daily Wire, and RealClearPolitics. Apparently, Taibbi will be on Don Trump, Jr's. podcast tonight to talk about it. So of course, Jonathan Turley is also weighing in.

If this nonsense goes the way that other rightwing conspiracies have developed, it is very likely that we'll be hearing it from Republican politicians soon. So the question becomes, why now? I suspect it has something to do with all of those stories I listed at the beginning of this piece up above. So I'll be watching how it plays into all of the other lies Putin/Trump are trying to sell.

Friday, February 9, 2024

What Biden and Democrats learned from Obama

Last October, the Biden administration was in the process of preparing a supplemental funding request for aid to Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan. Here's how Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson responded

What we've said is that if there is to be additional assistance to Ukraine, which most members of Congress believe is important, we have to also work in changing our own border policy.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell echoed that demand, stating that "Legislation that doesn’t include policy changes to secure our borders will not pass the Senate."

In response, the Biden administration released a supplemental funding request that included measures to secure the border. But Republicans rejected that one because they didn't think it "adequately" addressed the border issue.

In response, a bipartisan group of Senators worked on a compromise. This week, they released their bill, which basically embraced a lot of what Republicans have wanted. But once again, Republicans played the role of Lucy pulling the football just as Charlie Brown tried to kick it. Speaker Johnson immediately called it "dead on arrival."

We could stop the story there and have a typical pundit-style conversation about how Democrats continue to be naive in thinking they can negotiate with Republicans - because this is what always happens.

But the truth is that the story is still unfolding. Yesterday this happened in the Senate:

The Senate voted Thursday afternoon to proceed with a stripped-down bill that would provide aid to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, one day after Republicans in the chamber rejected a bipartisan border security and foreign aid bill.

The vote of 67-32 means the Senate can begin consideration of the $95 billion package, although the next steps are uncertain and it’s not yet clear it will have the votes for final passage in the chamber.

You might notice that what is under consideration in the Senate is what Biden initially proposed BEFORE Republicans had their temper tantrum about the border. So in a sense, we've gone full circle back to where this all started.

Commentators are right to suggest that Republicans in general - and Speaker Johnson in particular - blew this one big time. They had leverage (funding for Ukraine and Israel) to get most of what they wanted on border security. But to be successful, they'd have to compromise a bit and risk Trump's ire for taking the issue off the table. So they got nothing.

This whole scenario reminded me that during the Obama administration, Jonathan Chait coined a term for the president's approach to negotiations: "conciliatory rhetoric as ruthless strategy."

This apparent paradox is one reason Obama's political identity has eluded easy definition. On the one hand, you have a disciple of the radical community organizer Saul Alinsky turned ruthless Chicago politician. On the other hand, there is the conciliatory post-partisan idealist. The mistake here is in thinking of these two notions as opposing poles. In reality it's all the same thing. Obama's defining political trait is the belief that conciliatory rhetoric is a ruthless strategy.

Mark Schmitt captured it with this description of Obama's theory of change:

The reason the conservative power structure has been so dangerous, and is especially dangerous in opposition, is that it can operate almost entirely on bad faith. It thrives on protest, complaint, fear: higher taxes, you won't be able to choose your doctor, liberals coddle terrorists, etc. One way to deal with that kind of bad-faith opposition is to draw the person in, treat them as if they were operating in good faith, and draw them into a conversation about how they actually would solve the problem. If they have nothing, it shows. And that's not a tactic of bipartisan Washington idealists -- it's a hard-nosed tactic of community organizers, who are acutely aware of power and conflict.

I'm not suggesting that Biden and Democrats knew all along how this would play out. But they certainly drew Republicans into a conversation about how to solve the "border crisis." In doing so, they demonstrated that all the opposition has is fear-mongering - and they're not willing to give that up by actually solving the problem. 

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Republicans have used obstruction and lies to move the Overton Window rightward on immigration

It's been clear for a while now that, when it comes to the 2024 election, Republicans are determined to make immigration the one and only issue on the table. In doing so, many of their leaders are openly embracing the white nationalist's Great Replacement theory. Trump didn't just say that immigrants are poisoning the blood of our country, he also posted this:

Over the last few days, right wing billionaire Elon Musk has gone all-in on the Great Replacement theory.

Last May, Speaker Mike Johnson said this about the so-called border crisis: "The Biden administration has done this intentionally...For what reason? Everybody asks me all the time. I think that ultimately they hope to turn all these illegals into voters for their side."

The truth is that, spewing white nationalist conspiracy theories about immigrants has become an everyday occurrence for Republicans.

As Josh Marshall pointed out, a decade ago those are the kinds of things you'd have to go to a site like Stormfront to see. Now they're part of everyday political discourse on the right. It's worth taking a moment to think about how we got here.

In 2012, Latinos voted for President Barack Obama over Mitt Romney by 71% to 27%. In response, the RNC performed an autopsy. Included in their report were statements like this:

We are not a policy committee, but among the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community and beyond, must be to embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only...

By the year 2050 we’ll be a majority-minority country and in both 2008 and 2012 President Obama won a combined 80 percent of the votes of all minority groups...The RNC cannot and will not write off any demographic or community or region of this country.
That report was issued in mid-March 2013. By April, a bi-partisan group of Senators introduced comprehensive immigration reform that included a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, along with unprecedented resources for border security. By the end of June, it had passed the Senate by a vote of 68-32. But then-Speaker John Boehner, surrendering to his lunatic caucus, refused to vote on it in the House. They wanted border enforcement, but no pathway to citizenship.

Two years after the Senate passed bipartisan immigration reform, Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president by claiming that immigrants are criminals and rapists. That launched a continuous series of lies, followed by horrific policies (ie, Muslim ban, family separation) once he was elected. The white nationalists in his administration even refused to support the DREAM Act for young people who came here as children.

What concerns me about this trajectory is that all of the obstruction and lies seem to have worked. Ten years ago the bipartisan bargain was to trade border security for a pathway to citizenship. But the current bipartisan Senate agreement doesn't even consider a pathway.

It gets even worse. Great Replacement theorists like Trump, Johnson, and Musk are now suggesting that offering a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is part of the Democratic plot to destroy (white) America. 

It is impossible to ignore the fact that Republicans have been successful in using obstruction and lies to move the Overton Window to the right when it comes to immigration.

Thursday, January 18, 2024

For Republicans, the issue isn't immigration - it's all about racism

According to a recent CBS News poll, 82% of registered Republicans agree with Donald Trump that "illegal" immigrants are "poisoning the blood of our country." Among Iowa Republican caucus-goers, immigration beat out the economy as their number one issue and three quarters of them said that immigrants are a negative for the country.

While the rest of us are focusing on the economy, democracy, and abortion, Republicans and their media propaganda machines are obsessed with fear-mongering about the so-called "border crisis." And from the results up above, it seems to be effectively stirring up the MAGA crowd.

So let's take the least onerous articulation of this fear and examine it. Are immigrants a negative for the country? By now we know that they're not taking our jobs, they don't commit more crimes, and they're not the ones bringing fentanyl into the country. The most ridiculous lie about immigrants is the one put forward by James Varney without a shred of evidence. He suggested that they are responsible for bringing back diseases like polio and the measles - completely ignoring the fact that the whole anti-vax movement might be responsible.

Of course, there's also the more nebulous arguments like the one from Elon Musk, who recently said: "it’s very easy for the United States to get swamped by illegal immigration, just absolutely swamped." I have no idea what he meant by that, but let's take a look at the numbers. During FY2023, roughly 2.1 million migrants crossed the southern border. In a country of 332 million, that is 0.6% of the population. I don't think that qualifies as "swamped."

In the end, all of these lies are simply code for tapping into the underlying racism of those who fear being "replaced" by black/brown immigrants. I am reminded of the fact that even Trump said he wanted more immigrants from [white] countries like Norway after he suggested that we should get rid of those from "shithole countries" like Haiti. In other words, this isn't about immigration - it's all about racism.

The bottom line is that we have nothing to fear when it comes to these migrants. The real problem is that the system we have in place is not capable of handling this refugee crisis - which is why Congress needs to pass legislation to fix it. That is not a call to open our borders, but a pathway towards staffing up to have an orderly and humane process.

The truth is that we are currently in the midst of a labor shortage due to the fact that baby boomers are aging out of the workforce. A well-ordered immigration process could play a part in solving that one. But for Republicans, the solutions are to eliminate child labor laws and/or outlaw abortion  (perhaps even birth control) so that women are forced to have more babies. In other words, they're willing to sacrifice women and children in order to maintain their white privilege. How sick is that?! 

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Next target for white supremacists: the Civil Rights Act of 1964

In the interest of accountability, I need to acknowledge that something I wrote recently wasn't entirely accurate. I suggested that, as we head into Martin Luther King Day, we'd be hearing lots of hypocritical praise of the civil rights leader from voices on the right. While that might still be partially accurate, I wrote that before I saw this

[Charlie Kirk] recently said that he plans to release content to discredit MLK on January 15, King’s birthday, which is a US federal holiday honoring King.

“We're gonna be hitting him next week,” Kirk said on his podcast this week. “Yeah, on the day of the Iowa caucus, it's MLK Day. We're gonna do the thing you're not supposed to do. We're gonna tell the truth about MLK Jr. You better tune in next week. Blake has already been preparing. It's gonna be great.”

"Blake" is a reference to Blake Neff, Kirk's producer who was apparently even too racist for Fox News

But these attacks aren't merely an attempt to discredit Dr. King. 

Kirk argues that the Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination on the basis of race, ushered in a “permanent DEI-type bureaucracy,” referring to diversity, equity, and inclusion...

“The courts have been really weak on this,” Kirk told the America Fest crowd. “Federal courts just yield to the Civil Rights Act as if it's the actual American Constitution.” The law is ultimately a way to “re-found the county” and “a way to get rid of the First Amendment,” according to Kirk.

In other words, an attack on King is the entry point to an attack on one of the singular achievements of the Civil Rights Movement.

That tells us where this whole anti-DEI propaganda is headed. They've successfully launched attacks on affirmative action and the Voting Rights Act, so now they want to do the same thing to the Civil Rights Act - taking us back to the days when the Jim Crow laws of the south were legal. The claim is that the Civil Rights Act nullified the First Amendment rights [of white people].

Simultaneously, it was announced that Charlie Kirk's Turning Point USA will partner with New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) leader Lance Wallnau to help re-elect Trump. Wallnau and NAR are dominionists - “the theocratic idea that … Christians are called by God to exercise dominion over every aspect of society by taking control of political and cultural institutions.” So once again we see Christian Nationalists joining forces with white supremacists to sow division via racism and undermine our democracy.

Friday, January 12, 2024

For Christian Nationalists, it's always been about racism

On Monday we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. Even as Christian Nationalists attempt to dismantle everything he accomplished, we're likely to once again be subject to hypocritical praise of the leader of the Civil Rights Movement. So let's review some history.

We'll start with one of the founders of the current religious right - Jerry Falwell. Following the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, he gave a sermon titled "Segregation or Integration: Which?" and declared:

If Chief Justice Warren and his associates had known God’s word and had desired to do the Lord’s will, I am quite confident that the 1954 decision would never have been made. The facilities should be separate. When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line...

The true Negro does not want integration…. He realizes his potential is far better among his own race.

So according to Falwell, both God and "the true Negro" endorse segregation. 

Then in 1965, Falwell gave another sermon titled "Ministers and Marches" in which he attacked MLK as a communist subversive and claimed that "preachers are not called to be politicians, but soul winners." He went on to blame the "marchers" for instigating hate and violence, saying:

I am fearful that all the rioting and demonstrating has produced a great amount of hate as evidenced through recent murders and other forms of violence.

The date of that sermon is significant. It came on March 21, 1965, a mere two weeks after this happened in Selma, Alabama:


Two days after Bloody Sunday, white supremacists murdered civil rights activist James Reeb, who had come to Selma to participate in subsequent marches. Falwell seemed to suggest that it was non-violent protesters who were responsible for his death.

Finally, Falwell's sermon was delivered on the SAME DAY that Dr.  King joined John Lewis and others in a second march from Selma to Montgomery in the fight for voting rights.

Years later, Falwell had to recant that sermon when he helped found the so-called "Moral Majority," the pre-cursor to Christian Nationalism. By then he was promoting the idea that preachers must involve themselves in politics. But contrary to what we've often been taught, he was NOT motivated by the fight against the Supreme Court's 1973 decision in Roe vs. Wade, but due to the 1971 ruling in Green v. Connally which, based on Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, striped "segregation academies" of their tax exempt status for discrimination. 

Of course, Christian nationalists are free to hypocritically cherry-pick quotes from Dr. King because, as long as we are still a democracy, they have the right to free speech. But the rest of us are also free to remind everyone of their past and current behavior - which is designed to undermine everything the Civil Rights leader stood for. 

Friday, January 5, 2024

Speaker Johnson - who claims to base his political positions on the Bible - just told 7 lies in 4 minutes.

During his photo-op trip to the southern border, Speaker Mike Johnson was interviewed by CNN's Jake Tapper.  

 

In just the first four minutes, Johnson told seven lies.

1. Speaking about President Biden's supplemental $14 billion for border security, Johnson said (emphasis mine) "the White House is proposing more money to process and allow more illegals into the country." As the conversation progressed, it became clear that the Speaker was referring to funding for 1,600 asylum officers that would address the growing backlog of cases. But according to U.S. law, asylum seekers are NOT "illegal."
The right to seek asylum was incorporated into international law following the atrocities of World War II. Congress adopted key provisions of the Geneva Refugee Convention (including the international definition of a refugee) into U.S. immigration law when it passed the Refugee Act of 1980.

2.  In trying to ramp up fear about the number of migrants crossing the border, Johnson said, "We have nearly two million got-aways that we know about, not to mention those who evaded capture." Here's what he's referring to:

Border Patrol refers to detected illegal entrants who it fails to arrest as “gotaways.” Thanks to nearly universal surveillance along the southwest border, successfully entering illegally without detection is very difficult, but Border Patrol often cannot reach the spot where a crossing occurs in time to arrest the person.

As you may know, Trump instituted Title 42 during the pandemic to return border crossers to Mexico. Biden finally ended that policy last May. Here's what happened:

The pattern is unmistakable: Gotaways increased almost continuously in parallel with the use of Title 42 before falling sharply after it ended.

3. "We have...over 300 known terrorists apprehended at the border trying to come in. We don't know how many evaded capture and detection. They're in the country potentially setting up terrorist cells everywhere."

In other words, the Biden administration has apprehended 300 people at the border who are on the terror watch list. The Speaker should be congratulating them for that. Instead, with absolutely zero evidence, he claims that there are others who evaded capture and are "setting up terrorist cells everywhere."

4. "Fentanyl is the number one cause of death for Americans aged 18 to 49 flowing over the border like an open sewer." Here are the facts:

[T]he vast majority of illicit fentanyl — close to 90% — is seized at official border crossings. Immigration authorities say nearly all of that is smuggled by people who are legally authorized to cross the border, and more than half by U.S. citizens...Virtually none is seized from migrants seeking asylum.

5. "[Biden] could issue executive orders and fix this overnight. You could reinstate the remain-in-Mexico policy." Not true. That's because it would require cooperation from Mexico.

Mexico's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Monday it rejects any effort to reimplement the controversial Trump-era policy known as "remain in Mexico" for asylum-seekers...

"Regarding the possible implementation of this policy for the third time, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on behalf of the Government of Mexico, expresses its rejection of the U.S. government's intention to return individuals processed under the program to Mexico," the statement said.

Besides, if Johnson is so worried about the cartels that are profiting off of this crisis, here's a bit about how they terrorized migrants who were "remaining in Mexico" under the previous policy.

I was struck by the level of control that organized crime has over the lives of residents, and especially of migrants...Cold War-era East German officials would be impressed. Nobody is allowed near the Rio Grande: riverfront parks sit empty. Those who try to cross without having paid a fee are beaten, or worse. Those who lack a “password” or other proof that they have paid cartels’ exorbitant fees are kidnapped. Migrants, including parents and children, get held in fetid stash houses, while their captors text terrifying videos to relatives in the United States, instructing them to transfer ransom payments in the thousands of dollars. If nobody pays, they are disappeared, enslaved—forced to perform labor for the cartels—or even killed.

6. "You could stop the catch-and-release policy that the Biden administration insists upon." I suppose this isn't technically a lie because he's referring to migrants who pass the "credible threat assessment" and are released pending their asylum hearing. It is theoretically possible that the U.S. could detain all of them. But where? Perhaps the bigger point is, "why detain them" when 95% attend all of their court hearings.

7. "[W]e have hardened criminals who are coming from all these countries around the world...They're opening prisons and sending them here." This is the most outrageous lie of all. First of all, it's not clear what he's referring to. I doubt it is this from last February:

The Nicaraguan government released more than 200 political prisoners, many of whom arrived in the United States on Thursday, according to officials, following years of repression by the country’s President Daniel Ortega.

The authoritarian leader has jailed dozens of opposition figures and activists, particularly in the lead up to the last elections in November of 2021...

The individuals, who all flew to Dulles International airport, will be granted humanitarian parole for two years, allowing them to remain US and giving them the time to apply for asylum if they wish.

Those are precisely the kind of migrants our asylum laws are meant to protect. So it's more likely that Johnson was referring to this: 

According to fact-checkers, that one comes from an article in Breitbart based on "a source within" Customs and Border Protection who is "not authorized to speak to the media." It was subsequently repeated by Fox News and several other right-wing sites. But...

PolitiFact searched the websites of the DHS Office of the Inspector General, DHS and CBP and found no public reports or mentions of Venezuela’s government releasing prisoners and sending them to the U.S.

So there you have it. The guy who claims to base his political positions on the Bible is perfectly content to tell lies. I'm not sure what Bible he's reading, but it's certainly not the one that says this in Proverbs 12:22: "The Lord detests lying lips."  

Israel owes Obama a huge debt of gratitude

While we don't know the outcome of Iran's attack on Israel yet, it appears as though the worst has been avoided. According to report...