Saturday, December 5, 2015

Editorial: Don’t Let GOP Fearmongers Win

(Editor's Note: This is an expanded version of the editorial that was published in the 12/15/15 issue. It was written before authorities reported that the San Bernardino massacre was carried out by a Muslim couple who may have had terrorist motivations, but we believe the editorial still stands.)

When Americans surrender to fear we betray our founding principles. But the economy under President Barack Obama has pulled out of the nosedive that George W. Bush’s “voodoo economics” put it in 2008, so fear is about all the Republican Party has to sell these days, and their unscrupulous leaders are working overtime to scare us about enemies real and imagined, foreign and domestic.

In the US, crime rates rose from the early ’60s through the early ’90s, but have plunged since the mid-’90s (the good old days for Republican fearmongering). But as of 2013, the rate of violent crime, is down 71% from its peak in 1994, Neil Howe reported at Forbes.com (5/28/15). Over this same period, the rate of violent crime by 12- to 24-year-olds—the age bracket most likely to commit crime—fell 78%. But you can’t convince suburban Republicans of that; in every annual Gallup poll since 2003, a majority of American adults said that the number of gun crimes is higher than it was two decades ago, even though gun violence peaked in 1993, Howe noted.

Lately, Republicans have inflated the threat of the Mideast murder gang that calls itself Islamic State (ISIL/ISIS) also known by the Arab acronym “Daesh” (which they apparently don’t like). Their threat is real enough in Iraq and Syria, where they are estimated to have killed more than 100,000 Arabs, mainly Shiite Muslims and Christians, as well as journalists and aid workers, as they have occupied cities and taken over oilfields. But US and allied air forces have reduced IS’s mobility, which has caused them to turn increasingly to remote terrorist attacks in other nations, such as the Nov. 13 attack that killed 130 innocents in Paris and wounded 368 (which overshadowed an attack by suicide bombers in Beirut a day earlier that killed 43 and wounded more than 200).

Republicans responded by mocking President Obama’s handling of IS/Daesh in Iraq and Syria and calling for a blockade of Syrian refugees seeking entry to the US. Obama has wisely resisted Republican calls for large-scale military deployments to Syria and Iraq, but he has proposed accepting 10,000 refugees from Syria. Against that proposal, 31 governors — all Republicans except Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) — said they oppose letting Syrian refugees into their states. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) threatened to cut funding and/or sue social agencies such as the International Rescue Committee that cooperate with the federal government in resettling Syrian refugees.

The Republican panic amplifies the propaganda victory for the Islamist terrorists. Make no mistake: the terrorists would love to strike in the United States and they probably will manage to do it, because we are an open society and — face it — anybody with a few hundred dollars (preferably a white man without an accent) can buy an assault weapon and ammunition at a gun show without showing an ID, much less being subjected to a background check. But the chance of terrorists causing more damage than an average weekend’s worth of shooting by garden-variety American gunslingers is beyond remote.

Ian Millhiser noted at ThinkProgress Nov. 30 that terrorism perpetrated by Muslims receives a disproportionate amount of attention from politicians and reporters, but the reality is that right-wing extremists pose a much greater threat to people in the USA than terrorists connected to IS or similar organizations. As University of North Carolina Professor Charles Kurzman and Duke Professor David Schanzer explained last June in the New York Times, Islam-inspired terror attacks “accounted for 50 fatalities over the past 13 and a half years.” Meanwhile, “right-wing extremists averaged 337 attacks per year in the decade after 9/11, causing a total of 254 fatalities.”

But all forms of terrorism account for only a tiny proportion of violence in America, as there have been more than 215,000 murders in the US since 9/11. For every person killed by Muslim extremists, there have been 4,300 homicides from other threats. And crime statistics show homicides are down over the past 20 years.

Kurzman, a professor of sociology at UNC-Charlotte and author of The Missing Martyrs: Why There are So Few Muslim Terrorists, noted at Islamicommentary.org (11/30) the Islamic State came to realize that even small-scale, low-tech attacks by Muslim extremists — a knifing in Boston, rifle shots in Chattanooga — could attract massive attention and concern. Few Muslims have taken up the call to mayhem, but a few is enough. “Opportunistic politicians will do the Islamic State’s work for it, warning their constituencies that they face an existential threat from ISIS and its supporters.”

Politicians stoke the sense of vulnerability that the Islamic State aims to instill, Kurzman wrote. The Islamic State gloats about the panicky policies of the West, which it views as signs of weakness.

“A nationwide state of emergency was declared as a result of the actions of eight men armed only with assault rifles and explosive belts,” IS’s Dabiq magazine bragged after the Paris attack. “The Islamic State dispatched its brave knights to wage war in the homelands of the wicked crusaders, leaving Paris and its residents ‘shocked and awed.’”

IS is particularly hopeful that Western countries will retaliate against their own Muslim communities, Kurzman noted. Like al-Qaeda before it, IS believes that Muslims in the West will conclude that their faith and identity are incompatible with obedience to the laws of the United States and Europe.
“Muslims in the crusader countries will find themselves driven to abandon their homes for a place to live in the Khilafah [the self-proclaimed caliphate of the Islamic State], as the crusaders increase persecution against Muslims living in Western lands,” Dabiq predicted earlier this year.

The day after Thanksgiving, one week after Republican elected officials all over the country tried to block Syrian refugees from entering their states, a white man in Colorado Springs committed an apparent act of terrorism at a Planned Parenthood clinic.

Though Robert Lewis Dear’s motives for killing three people at the clinic and wounding nine others are still unclear, Millhister noted that Dear reportedly told law enforcement “no more baby parts,” an apparent reference to heavily edited videos produced by the Center for Medical Progress, which numerous politicians have cited to falsely claim that Planned Parenthood sells “aborted baby parts.” Dear’s actions, in other words, appear to be an act of politically motivated terrorism directed against an institution widely reviled by conservatives.

Kurzman and Schanzer’s methodology, moreover, may underestimate the degree to which domestic terrorists in the US are motivated by right-wing views. As they describe the term in their Times piece, the term “right-wing extremist” primarily encompasses anti-government extremists such as members of the sovereign citizen movement, although it also includes racist right-wing groups such as neo-Nazis. Thus, it is not yet clear whether Dear, who made anti-abortion remarks but also reportedly referenced President Obama, was motivated in part by the kind of anti-government views that are the focus of Kurzman and Schanzer’s inquiry.

Kurzman and Schanzer also surveyed hundreds of law enforcement agencies regarding their assessment of various threats. Of the 382 agencies they spoke with, “74% reported anti-government extremism as one of the top three terrorist threats in their jurisdiction,” while only “39% listed extremism connected with Al Qaeda or like-minded terrorist organizations.”

Meanwhile, the percentage of refugees that are connected to terrorist plots is vanishingly small, they noted. Out of 784,000 refugees resettled in the US since 9/11, a grand total of three refugees have been charged with plotting terrorist acts. Two were jailed for plotting to send weapons to terrorist groups in Iraq and one Uzbek man was convicted of terrorism-related charges for possessing explosives and supporting a terrorist group in Uzbekistan.

Refugees go through a vetting process of 18 months to two years before gaining a visa to the US. We think those who make it through that review will be a foe of the sort of extremism that forced them out of their homeland. It would be a lot easier for IS/Daesh to get one of their confederates in France, Belgium or Saudi Arabia to take a flight to New York or Dallas (as the 9/11 conspirators did), than assign an undercover terrorist to spend two years in a refugee camp, waiting for a visa to the US, with the likelihood that the vetting might trip him up.

Obama also should open the gates to the 50,000 men and women who served as interpreters for American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan at great personal risk. As American forces have withdrawn, locals have been left behind to fend for themselves.

Dane Bowker, who served two tours in Afghanistan working with the Afghan army and police as a Department of Defense civil servant, wrote in the Washington Post (Sept. 17) that he worked with countless interpreters who were essential to his work and served at great personal risk. They are targeted by insurgents precisely because they helped the US but they are expected to remain in Iraq or Afghanistan while their application is processed. Just three special immigrant visas were issued to Afghan translators in 2011; 63 were given in 2012; John Kerry overhauled the system when he took over in 2013 and 3,441 visas were issued in 2014, but thousands of men and women are stranded at various points in the process and trying to stay out of Taliban or ISIL gunsights.

It’s bad enough that Islamist terrorists would like to scare the hell out of us. We shouldn’t cooperate in their plans. But we should help those who risked their lives on behalf of our soldiers in foreign wars. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2015

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Selections from the December 15, 2015 issue

COVER/Andrew O’Hehir
The GOP-ISIS nightmare coalition 


EDITORIAL
Don’t let GOP fearmongers win

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Admin changes at Mizzou won’t solve racism


DISPATCHES
GOP ‘establishment’ candidates can’t buy love;
Trump surges, Carson tanks, Dem race static;
Sanders leads top GOP candidates;
Rider killing net neutrality threatens must-pass spending bill;
Deal clears highway bill, 9/11 responders left out;
Hillary and Bernie propose infrastructure spending;
Countrywide Financial execs scatter to other mortgage brokers;
Cops steal more than burglars;
Most Americans want global agreement on climate change;
All but one women Dem senators rally for Hillary;
Supreme Court eyes another swipe at affirmative action ...


DAVE JOHNSON
Vietnam thumbs nose at TPP


BOB BURNETT
Dealing with ISIL/ISIS/Daesh


LES LEOPOLD
Will ISIS trump Sanders’ Populism?


GRASSROOTS/Hank Kalet
Talking back


WENONAH HAUTER
What does Exxon know that it’s not saying?


HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Vaccines: A gift from science


SAM URETSKY
Why are Dems so much better for economy?


WAYNE O’LEARY
The big, red machine bounces back


JOHN BUELL
Paris and the politics of terror


JOHN YOUNG
Behold the energy that made America


N. GUNASEKARAN  
Asia grapples with climate vulnerability

GENE NICHOL
On being ‘academic’


BOOK REVIEW/Seth Sandronsky
Politics of protest


DONALD KAUL
Terrorists are the right wing’s best friends


and more ...

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Ted Cruz takes time from campaigning to hold a Senate hearing for climate change deniers

One day after President Obama returned from a global summit on human-induced climate change attended by nearly 150 world leaders, Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz announced he is holding his own convocation to deny climate change is occurring.

As chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science & Competitiveness Committee’s subcommittee on science and space, the Republican presidential candidate is convening a hearing titled “Data or Dogma? Promoting Open Inquiry in the Debate over the Magnitude of Human Impact on Earth’s Climate” to which he has invited a mere four people to testify.  

All four witnesses are prominent climate change deniers. Not one of the thousands of scientists who believe the earth is warming as a result of fossil fuel emissions is on the list, nor any of the hundreds of economists who have estimated the cost of climate change, nor any of the hundreds of technocrats investigating solutions.

The Republicans are getting good at holding these bogus hearings. There have already been four Congressional hearings on the non-existent sins of Planned Parenthood. I have seen counts of 11 and 14 for the number of hearings and investigations already held to vet the Benghazi incident. And who can forget the House of Representatives hearing on contraception a few years back to which the Republicans forgot to invite any women to testify!

The goal of all these hearings is the same: to throw red meat to the right-wing media and to give Republicans the platform to say bad things about all the right’s bogie men, who, as it turns out, are often mostly women.

A similarity between all these hearings is their dependence on false statements, innuendos and bad science. But that seems to be the case with most of the statements made by all the Republican candidates to for president.

The Republican Party is now the party of liars. Since the New Deal, the Republicans have lied about unions, taxation, the minimum wage, regulation, foreign trade deals and military matters; many Democrats told the same or similar lies. But over the past 15 years, the GOP has added new lies to their message points: denying climate change, misstating the impact of abortion on women’s health, demonizing Planned Parenthood, raising the false specter of voter fraud, and denying the danger that private ownership of guns presents to civil society. They can spend millions of dollars holding hearings on Planned Parenthood and Benghazi, but have outlawed any government support of research into the impact of guns on safety.

The Republicans can attract a lot of votes through the politics of denial and deceit. By playing to the worst instincts, misplaced anger and unrealistic expectations of large number of voters while suppressing the vote of natural Democrats in the name of preventing the nonexistent problem of voter fraud, they can even gain the power to implement policies based on their distortions. But sooner or later, reality will catch up to them—and, unfortunately, the rest of us. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

If Ferdinand Lundberg’s theory is right, we’re witnessing a putsch by wealthy to take over United States

By Marc Jampole

Since the publication of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, the mainstream news media has been paying attention to the impact of the super-rich on the political system. We see a growing number of candidates for major offices who are multi-millionaires and billionaires without elective experience, such as Carly Fiorina, Donald Trump, Matt Bevin, Meg Whitman, Linda McMahon, Rick Scott, Bruce Rauner and probably Ben Carson. Many, though not all, have managed to spend their way into office.

As The New York Times and others have noted, the ultra-rich are also spending more money than ever before to help the candidates they like, thanks to the Supreme Court’s ill-thought decision in Citizens United.  We’ve probably all seen the number 158 a lot over the past few months—it refers to the number of families who all by themselves give half of all campaign contributions, primarily to candidates who oppose unions, government regulation and taxes. The New York Times recently ran a front-page story about a small group of the ultra-wealthy who, led by billionaire hedge fund honcho Kenneth C. Griffin, are remaking Illinois government. They elected fellow rich guy Bruce Rauner as governor and are using their money and influence to aggressively support his plan to cut spending, weaken unions  and restructure (AKA rip off) the state pension system.

Perhaps the most pernicious influence of the ultra-wealthy is their support of bogus research to support their positions, long disproven by responsible research. The ultra-wealthy support the think tanks whose employees crank out the countless articles in the mainstream media denying climate change, advocating lowering taxes on the wealthy, slamming unions and the minimum wage, delinking government policies with growing inequality, telling us how great corporate inversions and carried interest tax rules are, and supporting greater military spending as a means to solve all foreign policies. This investment in propaganda yields an ignorant electorate and an elected class usually focused on the wrong problems and the wrong solutions. Wrong, that is, for everyone other than the wealthy.

Certain of the wealthy such as Griffin, the Koch brothers and Phillip Anschutz have outsized power because of their ability to guide the political ”investments” of their wealthy friends and cronies.

While reading the Times article on the take-over of Illinois, my unconscious memory suddenly spewed out a name I hadn’t encountered in decades: Ferdinand Lundberg, a 20th century journalist who wrote about the rich and the power they hold. I read his major work, The Rich and the Super-Rich soon after it appeared in 1968.

In a nutshell, Lundberg’s theory is that in the United States two groups battle for control of society: the super-rich and the government. He traces the battle from the gilded age through Roosevelt’s reform of capitalism and the post-war era.

Lundberg’s theory was rejected by left and right alike. Critics from the right reject any analysis of power that creates a class of wealthy and pits them against other groups. One basic principle of conservatism is the belief in the wisdom of the marketplace in which everyone presents his goods, services—and in the case of politics, ideas—on a supposedly level playing field.

Those on left like C. Wright Mills and William Domhoff said that the analysis was na├»ve, because, in fact, the super-wealthy have always controlled government and society through a complex web of relationships formed at boards, clubs, private schools, nonprofit organizations and social circles. Domhoff’s model, included in his revision of Who Rules America, depicts wealthy people and corporations forming foundations and financing university research to produce reports advocating policies which filter to the public through the news media and government commissions comprising the very experts whom the wealthy have financed. What’s now becoming increasingly apparent is that over the past 30 years, right-wingers with money have followed the progressive Domhoff’s social policy model to seize and exercise power on such issues as taxation, privatization of government functions, gun control, abortion rights, capital punishment and voting rights.

In his latest book, The Myth of Liberal Ascendancy, I believe Domhoff gets the subtleties of power in America right. His broad history has centrist business leaders cooperating with progressives to shape progressive initiatives to their own ends from the New Deal through the mid-1970s. After that, business centrists increasingly turned their backs on their allies among labor unions and progressive centrists to make truck with the ultra-right, who had always been in bed with the religious right and local real estate interests.

If we take a look at the history of U.S. government action over the past 150 years, however, we could conclude that that the progressive era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the New Deal created a government that could in fact control and compete with the wealthy. To the degree that that government pursued policies that were against the interests of the wealthy, such as unionization, fair trade laws and workplace safety, it acted as a center of power distinct and separate from the wealthy, as opposed to being an instrument of the wealthy.

In the context of Lundberg’s theory, what is happening today is truly alarming. The only institution in American society powerful enough to serve as a counter force to the network of ultra-wealthy described by C. Wright Mills in The Power Elite is rapidly being co-opted and taken over by them. The democratic ideal of government seeking compromise of countervailing forces, which centrist theorists have long postulated, is now transforming to a government for, by and of the wealthy.

A putsch is a secretly planned overthrow of the government. I’m certain that if Lundburg were still alive, he would describe what is happening today as a putsch by the wealthy to overthrow the government and replace it with a facsimile that looks like freedom but delivers a totalitarian oligarchy.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Mainstream media trivializes Paris climate talks by focusing on Obama’s legacy

By Marc Jampole

Have you noticed that most mainstream news media coverage of the climate change summit in France stresses that any agreement will burnish, establish, enhance or cement the legacy of Barack Obama’s presidency?

It’s absurd to conjecture that Obama will be judged by one conference after almost seven tumultuous years in office. He shaped and passed healthcare reform, ended torture, led us in two, and now maybe three wars, had massive budget fights with Republicans, arranged the capture and immediate assassination of than man most responsible for the 9/11 attacks, oversaw an economy that went from 10% unemployment to 5% unemployment, and initiated an immigration plan that the courts may or may not approve as constitutional. Plus he has already made his mark on global warming with his semi-tough regulations and his rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Despite the apparent silliness of the statement, lots of mainstream news media are peddling it, including The New York Times, The Hill, Huffington Post, CNSNews, Washington Examiner, and Politico, among many other media outlets.

What would cause so many editors to pursue what is truly a trivial concern?

 I suspect it’s a combination of reasons, mostly venial, including:

It’s an easy story to write. It’s relatively easy to write a story on a legacy. You can build much of the article on a recap of Obama’s past accomplishments and losses in the environmental area, analyze his statements on climate change, as the polite euphemistically call human-induced global warming, and get some experts to chime in about the President’s legacy. It’s much harder to analyze the technicalities and implications of proposed initiatives or to compare the various climate change and economic impact models.

It’s a personality story. As much as possible, the mainstream news media likes to turn all issues into personality stories: Obama versus Boehner; Marco backstabs Jeb; Bush II motivated by Saddam’s diss of his dad; Reagan and O’Neil govern as pals. Donald Trump received enormous media coverage from the very start of his campaign because his obnoxious personality and personal comments about others enabled the media to write about personality without really touching the issues.

It takes our mind off the problem. Focusing on the legacy issue instigates conversations about what Obama’s legacy should be. Those opposed to actions to slow down and address the ravages of climate change should be delighted. They can no longer call into question the facts of global warming, at least not with a straight face. The latest research puts the lie to their long-time fallacy that transitioning from fossil fuels will hurt the economy. But no matter, the mainstream media helps to distract people from the gloomy facts by creating another controversy: what does a conference on climate change mean to the legacy of the widely if unfairly despised first black president? If the talks fail, Obama has in part failed. If Republicans can block any agreement to which Obama agrees in Paris, they have taken down the man and tattered his legacy. The main attraction is no longer what to do about established facts, but a political cat fight.

There are misinformed voters who don’t want the government to take over Medicare and others who don’t like food stamps and other social welfare programs because they wrongly believe that the money goes almost exclusively to blacks. Similarly benighted individuals who support action to address climate change might root against Obama achieving anything of substance at Paris since what is at issue is not preserving the world as we know it for 7.3 billion human inhabitants and our fellow travelers, but something far more important—the legacy of this one man who has attracted so much unwarranted animosity by virtue of being the first black president.