Archive for March, 2012
Thomas Frank: How Americans Have Gotten Played — Over and Over and Over Again
In the 12 hapless years of this millennium, we have looked on as 3 great bubbles have inflated and burst, each with consequences more dire than the last.
The following article is an excerpt of a piece that first appeared in The Baffler. Click here to subscribe to The Baffler and read articles by David Graeber, Barbara Ehrenreich, Chris Lehmann, Jim Newell, Maureen Tkacik, and James K. Galbraith in the current issue.
“The “sound” banker, alas! is not one who sees danger and avoids it, but one who, when he is ruined, is ruined in a conventional and orthodox way along with his fellows so that no one can really blame him.” —John Maynard Keynes
In the twelve hapless years of the present millennium, we have looked on as three great bubbles of consensus vanity have inflated and burst, each with consequences more dire than the last.
First there was the “New Economy,” a millennial fever dream predicated on the twin ideas of a people’s stock market and an eternal silicon prosperity; it collapsed eventually under the weight of its own fatuousness.
Second was the war in Iraq, an endeavor whose launch depended for its success on the turpitude of virtually every class of elite in Washington, particularly the tough-minded men of the media; an enterprise that destroyed the country it aimed to save and that helped to bankrupt our nation as well.
And then, Wall Street blew up the global economy. Empowered by bank deregulation and regulatory capture, Wall Street enlisted those tough-minded men of the media again to sell the world on the idea that financial innovations were making the global economy more stable by the minute. Central banks puffed an asset bubble like the world had never seen before, even if every journalist worth his byline was obliged to deny its existence until it was too late.
These episodes were costly and even disastrous, and after each one had run its course and duly exploded, I expected some sort of day of reckoning for their promoters. And, indeed, the last two disasters combined to force the Republican Party from its stranglehold on American government—for a time.
But what rankles now is our failure, after each of these disasters, to come to terms with how we were played. Each separate catastrophe should have been followed by a wave of apologies and resignations. Taken together— and given that a good percentage of the pundit corps signed on to two or even three of these idiotic storylines—they mandated mass firings in the newsrooms and op-ed pages of the nation. Quicker than you could say “Ahmed Chalabi,” an entire generation of newsroom fools should have lost their jobs.
But that’s not what happened. Plenty of journalists have been pushed out of late, but the ones responsible for deluding the public are not among them. Standard & Poor’s first leads the parade of folly (triple-A’s for everyone!), then decides to downgrade U.S. government debt, and is taken seriously in both endeavors. And the prospect of Fox News or CNBC apologizing for their role in puffing war bubbles and financial bubbles is no better than a punch line: what they do is the opposite, launching new movements that stamp their crumbled fables “true” by popular demand.
The real mistake was my own. I believed that our public intelligentsia had succumbed to an amazing series of cognitive failures; that time after time they had gotten the facts wrong, ignored the clanging bullshit detector, made the sort of mistakes that would disqualify them from publishing in The Baffler, let alone the Washington Post.
What I didn’t understand was that these weren’t cognitive failures at all; they were moral failures, mistakes that were hard-wired into the belief systems of the organizations and professions and social classes in question. As such they were mistakes that— from the point of view of those organizations or professions or classes—shed no discredit on the individual chowderheads who made them. Holding them accountable was out of the question, and it remains off the table today. These people ignored every flashing red signal, refused to listen to the whistleblowers, blew off the obvious screaming indicators that something was going wrong in the boardrooms of the nation, even talked us into an unnecessary war, for chrissake, and the bailout apparatus still stands ready should they fuck things up again.
Keep on Dancing Till the World Ends
My aim here isn’t to take some kind of victory lap or to get in the granite faces of our eternal pundit corps one more time. Nor is it to blame Republicans for our problems. It is true that, from the scandal of CEO pay to the scandal of lobotomized regulators, each of the really monumental mistakes of our time arose from the trademark doctrines of the political right. And, yes, it was the Bush administration that muzzled government scientists and declared war on organized intelligence in a hundred other ways.
But the problem goes far beyond politics. We have become a society that can’t self-correct, that can’t address its obvious problems, thatcan’t pull out of its nosedive. And so to our list of disasters let us add this fourth entry: we have entered an age of folly that—for all our Facebooking and the twittling tweedle-dee-tweets of the twitterati—we can’t wake up from.
Besides, the reign of corruption has taken plenty of right-wing scalps, too. In fact, one of the most interesting comments on the machinery that is making us stupid came from the libertarian Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute, after he had temporarily lost his job (he got it back a little while later, don’t worry) for puffing clients of Jack Abramoff in exchange for the lobbyist’s largesse. But what was the big deal? fumed Bandow in a 2006 cri de coeur called “The Lesson Jack Abramoff Taught Me.” Living in Washington was expensive; and besides, everyone was basically on the take:
Many supposedly “objective” thinkers and “independent” scholar/experts these days have blogs or consulting gigs, or they are starting nonprofit Centers for the Study of… Who funds their books, speeches or other endeavors? Often it’s those with an interest in the outcome of a related debate. The number of folks underwriting the pursuit of pure knowledge can be counted on one hand, if not one finger.
Bandow had been caught, yes, but he wasn’t the only culprit, he insisted—with some accuracy. All opinions are paid for. Everything written in this city—everything in this land that is thought and tweeted and toasted with a hip hip hooray . . . is Abramoffed. We are all slaves to the market; there is no way to stand outside that condition.
I can remember the contempt I felt when I read Bandow’s essay, back in 2006. Of course there was a place where ideas weren’t simply for sale, I thought: the professions. Ethical standards kept professionals independent of their clients’ gross pecuniary interests.
These days, though, I’m not so sure. Money has transformed every watchdog, every independent authority. Medical doctors are increasingly gulled by the lobbying of pharmaceutical salesmen. Accountants were no match for Enron. Corporate boards are rubber stamps. Hospitals break unions, and, with an eye toward future donations, electronically single out rich patients for more luxurious treatment.
And consider the university, the mothership of the professions. For-profit higher education is today a booming industry, feeding on the student loans handed out to the desperate. Even the traditional academy, where free inquiry nominally lives, has become a profit center, a place where exorbitant tuition somehow bypasses the adjuncts who do the teaching but makes for lavish executive salaries; where economists pull in fantastic sums for “consulting”; and where the prospect of launching the next hot Internet startup is a gamble that it is worth bending any rule to take.
Another thing Doug Bandow got right was one of the basic reasons for all this: for most Americans, the building blocks of middle-class life—four years at a good college, for example—are growing ever more expensive and out of reach. For other people and other entities, though, they grow relatively cheaper; they are baubles to be handed out as necessity requires. The result is exactly what our nineteenth-century ancestors would have expected. Think of Jack Grubman, the superstar stock analyst of the nineties, who famously upgraded AT&T’s shares in exchange for getting his children into a ferociously competitive preschool. Or the congressional aides on Capitol Hill, surrounded by the inaccessible luxuries of Washington, D.C., who would do nearly anything for a lobbyist in exchange for a shot at a future job on said lobbyist’s staff. Or the actual members of Congress who sold their votes in exchange for little bits of sushi or a blowout party in Hawaii or good seats at sporting events.
And as we serve money, we find that money wants the same thing from us: to push everyone it beguiles in the same direction. Money never seems to be interested in strengthening regulatory agencies, for example, but always in subverting them, in making them miss the danger signs in coal mines and in derivatives trading and in deep-sea oil wells. You can have a shot at being part of the 1 percent, money tells us, only if you are first committed to making the 1 percent stronger, to defending their piles in some new and imaginative way, to rationalizing and burnishing their glory, to exempting them from regulation or taxation, to bowing down as they pass, and to believing in your heart that their touch will heal scrofula.
So money gives us not only the bond-rating scandal of 2008, in which trash investments were labeled super-wholesome so that the rating agency in question could win more business from the manufacturers of said trash; and not only the Enron scandal of 2001, in which head-spinning conflicts of interest were over- looked by Enron’s accountants in order to preserve the nice ka-ching those conflicts delivered to everyone involved; but also the analyst scandal of 2002, in which Wall Street insiders pushed certain corporate securities on their sappy middle-American clients in order to win those corporations’ business—and then while it is corrupting all the watchmen, money also dashes off an enormous body of literature assuring those sappy middle Americans that they are in fact financial geniuses who can outsmart any possible combination of Wall Street insiders, because together the saps reflect the wisdom of markets or some other such reassuring bullshit. And all of it— the airy populism of the market and its simultaneous complete negation by reality—is as determined by the current distribution of wealth as gravity is by the mass of the planet. Both of them will continue indefinitely regardless of the constant violence the one does to the other simply because that’s the way money wants it, and every dollar in the nation will strain at its leash to ensure that financial naïveté persists on into infinity in complete ignorance of financial fraud.
© 2012, agentleman.
Ron Paul Supporter Wants To ‘Assassinate The F***ing N****r And His Monkey Children’ By Wendy Gittleson
Jules Manson is a former candidate for the Carson, California city council, a Ron Paul supporter and a Facebook user. He recently called for the assassination of the President and his two daughter, with a Facebook post ending in the phrase, “Assassinate The F***ing N****r And His Monkey Children.”
News One goes on to say:
Manson is a Libertarian and a big Ron Paul supporter who would regularly post on Ron Paul’s website and Facebook page. It seems that there has been an effort to take away Manson’s online presence as his Facebook page and posts on Ron Paul’s website have been removed but several screen grabs and a google cache reveal his postings. On this Facebook Post on Ron Paul’s page, Manson says “I may be an atheist but Ron Paul is my God.”
On the site RedpillLibraries, Manson has a picture of Obama dressed like Hitler and rants against the Federal Reserve, a common enemy of Ron Paul. On his LinkedIn Page, Manson list himself as a Mechanical Designer/Engineer and a member of the Libertarian Party. While most of Manson’s Facebook posts have been removed, here is one where he rants once again against the Federal Reserve, a common target of Ron Paul’s.
Perhaps this isn’t that surprising considering that Ron Paul has a long history of racism with ties to white supremacist organizations such as Stormfront. More frightening, at least in my mind, is a new-found societal acceptance of racism, which started with the election of President Obama, but has come to a head since the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. Those on the left are calling for Zimmerman to be investigated and arrested, while those on the right are engaged in a campaign of destroying the reputation of the 17-year-old victim. A browse through comments on sites like the Drudge Report and on Michelle Malkin’s blog show a systemic problem of racism. For every step forward, it seems, we are taking two steps back, and that is frightening me.
© 2012, agentleman.
Diagnosing the Republican Brain —By Chris Mooney
Fact: Conservatives deny science and facts. But there’s a reality check that liberals need too.
We all know that many American conservatives have issues with Charles Darwin, and the theory of evolution. But Albert Einstein, and the theory of relativity?
If you’re surprised, allow me to introduce Conservapedia, the right-wing answer to Wikipedia and ground zero for all that is scientifically and factually inaccurate, for political reasons, on the Internet.
Claiming over 285 million page views since its 2006 inception, Conservapedia is the creation of Andrew Schlafly, a lawyer, engineer, homeschooler, and one of six children of Phyllis Schlafly, the anti-feminist and anti-abortion rights activist who successfully battled the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. In his mother’s heyday, conservative activists were establishing vast mailing lists and newsletters, and rallying the troops. Her son learned that they also had to marshal “truth” to their side, now achieved not through the mail but the Web.
So when Schafly realized that Wikipedia was using BCE (“Before Common Era”) rather than BC (“Before Christ”) to date historical events, he’d had enough. He decided to create his own contrary fact repository, declaring, “It’s impossible for an encyclopedia to be neutral.” Conservapedia definitely isn’t neutral about science. Its 37,000 plus pages of content include items attacking evolution and global warming, wrongly claiming (contrary to psychological consensus) that homosexuality is a choice and tied to mental disorders, and incorrectly asserting (contrary to medical consensus) that abortion causes breast cancer.
The whopper, though, has to be Conservapedia‘s nearly 6,000 word, equation-filled entry on the theory of relativity. It’s accompanied by a long webpage of “counterexamples” to Einstein’s great scientific edifice, which merges insights like E=mc2 (part of the special theory of relativity) with his later account of gravitation (the general theory of relativity).
“Relativity has been met with much resistance in the scientific world,” declares Conservapedia. “To date, a Nobel Prize has never been awarded for Relativity.” The site goes on to catalogue the “political aspects of relativity,” charging that some liberals have “extrapolated the theory” to favor their agendas. That includes President Barack Obama, who (it is claimed) helped published an article applying relativity in the legal sphere while attending Harvard Law School in the late 1980s.
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“Virtually no one who is taught and believes Relativity continues to read the Bible, a book that outsells New York Times bestsellers by a hundred-fold,” Conservapedia continues. But even that’s not the site’s most staggering claim. In its list of “counterexamples” to relativity, Conservapedia provides 36 alleged cases, including: “The action-at-a-distance by Jesus, described in John 4:46–54, Matthew 15:28, and Matthew 27:51.”
IF YOU ARE AN AMERICAN LIBERAL or progressive and you just read the passage above, you are probably about to split your sides—or punch a wall. Sure enough, once liberal and science-focused bloggers caught wind of Conservapedia‘s anti-Einstein sallies, Schlafly was quickly called a “crackpot,” “crazy,” “dishonest,” and so on.
These being liberals and scientists, there were also ample factual refutations. Take Conservapedia’s bizarre claim that relativity hasn’t led to any fruitful technologies. To the contrary, GPS devices rely on an understanding of relativity, as do PET scans and particle accelerators. Relativity works—if it didn’t, we would have noticed by now, and the theory would never have come to enjoy its current scientific status.
It’s not that liberals are never wrong or biased. Nevertheless, politicized wrongness today is clustered among Republicans, conservatives, and especially Tea Partiers.
Little changed at Conservapedia after these errors were dismantled, however (though more anti-relativity “counter-examples” and Bible references were added). For not only does the site embrace a very different firmament of “facts” about the world than modern science, it also employs a different approach to editing than Wikipedia. Schlafly has said of the founding of Conservapedia that it “strengthened my faith. I don’t have to live with what’s printed in the newspaper. I don’t have to take what’s put out by Wikipedia. We’ve got our own way to express knowledge, and the more that we can clear out the liberal bias that erodes our faith, the better.”
You might be thinking that Conservapedia‘s unabashed denial of relativity is an extreme case, located in the same circle of intellectual hell as claims that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS and 9-11 was an inside job. If so, I want to ask you to think again. Structurally, the denial of something so irrefutable, the elaborate rationalization of that denial, and above all the refusal to consider the overwhelming body of counterevidence and modify one’s view, is something we find all around us today.
Every contentious fact- or science-based issue in American politics now plays out just like the conflict between Conservapedia and physicists over relativity. Again and again it’s a fruitless battle between incompatible “truths,” with no progress made and no retractions offered by those who are just plain wrong—and can be shown to be through simple fact checking mechanisms that all good journalists, not to mention open-minded and critically thinking citizens, can employ.
What’s more, no matter how much the fact-checkers strive to remain “bi-partisan,” it is pretty hard to argue that, today, the distribution of falsehoods is politically equal or symmetrical. It’s not that liberals are never wrong or biased; in my new book, The Republican Brain, The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality, from which this essay is excerpted, I go to great lengths to describe and debunk number of liberal errors. Nevertheless, politicized wrongness today is clustered among Republicans, conservatives, and especially Tea Partiers. (Indeed, a new study published in American Sociological Review finds that while overall trust in science has been relatively stable since 1974, among self-identified conservatives it is at an all-time low.)
Their willingness to deny what’s true may seem especially outrageous when it infects scientific topics like evolution or climate change. But the same thing happens with economics, with American history, and with any other factual matter where there’s something ideological—in other words, something emotional and personal—at stake.
As soon as that occurs, today’s conservatives have their own “truth,” their own experts to spout it, and their own communication channels—newspapers, cable networks, talk radio shows, blogs, encyclopedias, think tanks, even universities—to broad- and narrowcast it.
We’ve been trained to equivocate, to not to see this trend toward anti-factualism for what it is—sweeping, systemic. This is particularly true of reporters.
Insanity has been defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome, and that’s precisely where our country stands now with regard to the conservative denial of reality. For a long time, we’ve been trained to equivocate, to not to see it for what it is—sweeping, systemic. This is particularly true of reporters and others trained to think that objectivity will out. Yet the problem is gradually dawning on many of us, particularly as the 2012 election began to unfold and one maverick Republican, Jon Huntsman, put his party’s anti-factual tendencies in focus with a Tweet heard round the world:
To be clear, I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.
The cost of this assault on reality is dramatic. Many of these falsehoods affect lives and have had—or will have—world-changing consequences. And more dangerous than any of them is the utter erosion of a shared sense of what’s true—which they both generate, and perpetuate.
Consider, just briefly, some of the wrong ideas that have taken hold of significant swaths of the conservative population in the U.S:
The Identity of the President of the United States: Many conservatives believe President Obama is a Muslim. A stunning 64 percent of Republican voters in the 2010 election thought it was “not clear” whether he had been born in the United States. These people often think he was born in Kenya, and the birth certificate showing otherwise is bunk, a forgery, etc. They also think this relatively centrist Democrat is a closet—or even overt—socialist. At the extreme, they consider him a “Manchurian candidate” for an international leftist agenda.
Obamacare Many conservatives believe it is a “government takeover of health care.” They also think, as Sarah Palin claimed, that it created government “death panels” to make end-of-life care decisions for the elderly. What’s more, they think it will increase the federal budget deficit (and that most economists agree with this claim), cut benefits to those on Medicare, and subsidize abortions and the health care of illegal immigrants. None of these things are true.
Sexuality and Reproductive Health. Many conservatives—especially on the Christian Right—claim that having an abortion increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer or mental disorders. They claim that fetuses can perceive pain at 20 weeks of gestation, that same-sex parenting is bad for kids, and that homosexuality is a disorder, or a choice, and is curable through therapy. None of this is true.
© 2012, agentleman.
5 Ways Virginia May Be the Worst State in the Nation
It isn’t known for being a bastion of liberalism, but even for a ‘purplish’ state, Virginia has taken extraordinarily conservative actions recently.
Reading the news these days is like going through a time warp. States across the country are racing toward the past. It’s 2012 and we’re still forced to stomach “debates” on birth control and whether we should be teaching science in the classroom. Georgia may pass a law banning protests at or near private homes. In Missouri Republicans are stripping healthcare provisions for the blind. We’ve hit a new low. And one of the states leading this mad dash to the bottom is Virginia.
It isn’t known for being a bastion of liberalism, but even for a “purplish” state, Virginia has taken extraordinarily conservative actions recently. The push has come from the Right — and the perfect storm of a Republican governor with eyes on the vice president’s mansion in Washington: an ultra-conservative attorney general (who thought the goddess on Virginia’s state seal, which dates back to 1776, was dressed inappropriately); and a GOP-controlled state legislature. The combination has been bad news for women, gays and lesbians, the environment, and just about everyone else in the state, too. Here are five recent examples of just how bad things have gotten.
1. The More Guns, the Merrier
On February 27, three students where shot and killed by a fellow classmate wielding a handgun at Chardon High School in Ohio. The next day, in a state scarred by the worst school shooting in the country’s history — at Virginia Tech in April 2007 — Republican Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell signed a new gun law — one that makes it possible to buy more handguns. The law was a repeal of a 1993 law that limited handgun purchases to one per month.
“The  law was intended to stanch the flow of guns from Virginia to New York City and other metropolitan areas in the Northeast,” the AP reported. “In 1991, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms found that 40 percent of the 1,236 guns found at crime scenes in New York had been purchased in Virginia.”
New York’s Mayor Bloomberg told the NY Daily News, “Virginia is the No. 1 out-of-state source of crime guns in New York, and one of the top suppliers of crime guns nationally.”
But the Republican-controlled Virginia state legislature and the state’s governor sided with the gun lobby instead — despite the opinions of a majority of their constituents.
Victims of the Virginia Tech shooting, where 32 peopled were gunned down and 17 others injured, met with Governor McDonnell days before he signed the bill. One student, Chris Goddard, who was shot four times, said McDonnell “offered sympathy, not solutions.”
“McDonnell seems to have learned little since that horrible day about our desire to be safe,” Jim Winkler of the Faiths United Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence wrote in the Richmond-Times Dispatch. “Sixty-six percent of Virginians told the Richmond-Times Dispatch that they wanted the one-handgun restriction to remain in place. Clearly, who has a legitimate need to buy more than one handgun a month? But our governor put the agenda of a lobby ahead of the people he was elected to represent. He put the gun lobby’s agenda ahead of protecting the residents of his state from the life-altering and life-ending horror of gun violence. Innocent lives will be lost as a result. It is not only shameful that the governor did this, it is immoral.”
Virginia is already a gun-friendly state. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence reports that, “Virginia has weak gun laws that help feed the illegal gun market, allow the sale of guns without background checks and put children at risk.” The organization has given the state a dismal ranking of 12 out of 100 points for gun control laws. And now, things may get even worse.
2. Virginia Is for (Straight) Lovers
Virginia is set to join the ranks of North Dakota in July with the passage of recent legislation that would allow private adoption agencies to “deny placements that conflict with their religious or moral beliefs,” according to the AP. The language is essentially cover for being able to turn down gay couples who want to adopt.
The AP reports that the state has 1,600 children who are waiting to be adopted.
Virginia’s U.S. Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat, spoke out against the legislation, which would go into effect this summer. “Republicans in Richmond would rather spend their time defining which families should be allowed to adopt foster children,” Warner told the Washington Blade. “Let me tell you this: As the first Virginia governor to ban discrimination in state government based on sexual orientation — and as a senator who stood up and voted to repeal the military’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy — that is mean-spirited, and that is wrong. It is wrong to deny a foster child the opportunity to belong to a supportive, modern family simply because it is led by a same-sex couple in a loving and committed relationship.”
The most recent crop of Republican leaders in Virginia haven’t been shy about discriminating against LGBT people. In February 2010, shortly after taking office, Governor McDonnell stripped protections for the state’s gay and lesbian workers from Virginia’s anti-discrimination policy. TalkingPoints Memo explains:
McDonnell (R) on Feb. 5 signed an executive order that prohibits discrimination “on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin, religion, age, political affiliation, or against otherwise qualified persons with disabilities,” as well as veterans.
It rescinds the order that Gov. Tim Kaine signed Jan. 14, 2006 as one of his first actions. After promising a “fair and inclusive” administration in his inaugural address, Kaine (D) added veterans to the non-discrimination policy – and sexual orientation.
Shortly following McDonnell’s action, the state’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli told Virginia’s colleges and universities that they had no right to keep any policies that protected queer students from discrimination. He wrote, “It is my advice that the law and public policy of the Commonwealth of Virginia prohibit a college or university from including ‘sexual orientation,’ ‘gender identity,’ ‘gender expression,’ or like classification as a protected class within its non-discrimination policy absent specific authorization from the General Assembly.”
Apparently the governor and attorney general think the job of government is to make sure people like state workers and college students feel less safe.
3. Climate Change Witch Hunt
Attorney General Cuccinelli doesn’t just hate gay people, he also seems to hate science. Cuccinelli launched a two-year witch hunt against former University of Virginia climate scientist Michael Mann. The Union of Concerned Scientists posted a detailed timeline of the harassment. In 2010 Rick Piltz at Climate Science Watch wrote:
Virginia’s combative right-wing state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has issued a “Civil Investigative Demand” calling on the University of Virginia to turn over a large quantity of material about climate scientist Michael Mann, who was at the University during 1999-2005. Among the documents he is demanding are all e-mail and other communications to or from Mann and 39 other scientists, or referencing them. This latest McCarthyite inquisition, by yet another agent of the global warming denial machine, is taking fire even from climate ‘skeptics’ who are no friends of Mann. It sends a chilling message about academic freedom and the freedom of scientists and others to communicate with each other without fear that their communications will be published.
But in March, Cuccinelli’s attack was legally upended (and it wasn’t the first time). On March 2, Virginia’s Supreme Court, upholding lower courts, ruled that the attorney general did not have the authority to demand the release of Mann’s emails and other documents.
“Certainly, I do think that it’s important for the university to be able to protect the privacy of its researchers and the ability of scientists to ask tough questions,” Michael Halpern of the Union of Concerned Scientists told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “This is a victory for science in Virginia.”
Ironically, Cuccinelli based his attack on alleged violations of the Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, and ended up spending many thousands of Virginia taxpayers dollars on his anti-science crusade.
4. Fossil Future
There is nothing that screams “let’s go back in time!” more than embracing 19th-century energy. Despite massive public outcry, Old Dominion Electric Cooperative’s plans to build the state’s biggest coal-burning power plant in Surry County near Williamsburg are moving forward. The environmental and human health costs of the plant are estimated to be quite high. An editorial in the local Virginian-Pilot says:
The Cypress Creek Power Station would also emit — each year — more than 2,000 pounds of arsenic (a poison and carcinogen); almost 7,000 pounds of benzene (carcinogen); 3,700 pounds of benzyl chloride (once used in chemical warfare); 113 pounds of beryllium (heavy metal and carcinogen); 274 pounds of cadmium (heavy metal, carcinogen); 1,390 pounds of chromium (metal, carcinogen); more than 13,000 pounds of cyanide (poison); 356,000 pounds of hydrochloric acid gas; 924 pounds of lead, 2,600 pounds of manganese and 118 pounds of mercury (toxic metals and powerful neurotoxins, especially in children).
And this doesn’t take into account the ill effects of pollution from the sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, as well as the global warming pollution, coal ash waste, and mountaintop removal mining that would help feed it.
Appalachian Voices reports, “It has been predicted (using EPA-approved methodologies) that this coal plant would cause serious health problems for those downwind over the course of its 60-year lifespan. Among other problems, analysts estimate that pollution from the plant would cause over 1,300 asthma ER visits and contribute to over 2,400 heart attacks and 200,000 lost workdays.”
Despite all this, local officials in the town of Dendron where the plant would be built are moving ahead with the project. However, the EPA’s newly announced regulations on coal-plant construction could rain on their parade.
5. Attack on Women
In the beginning of March, Virginia joined a national trend in the “war on women.” Governor McDonald signed a law requiring women to have an ultrasound prior to having an abortion. The final bill that was signed into law removed language from an earlier version that would have required many women to have transvaginal ultrasounds — which, in the uproar over the provision, sparked cries of “state-sanctioned rape.”
Even though the law now does not require transvaginal ultrasounds it is still a bad deal for women. As Maya Dusenbery explained for Mother Jones — it’s medically unnecessary; it costs anywhere from $200 and $1,200 and may not be covered by insurance (because of that whole medically unnecessary part); it requires a 24-hour waiting period between the ultrasound and the abortion, which can be difficult for many women who have to travel for the procedure or have to take time away from work or school; studies show that ultrasounds don’t help “inform” women about their decisions (they already know they’re pregnant!); and most of all — it’s politically motivated.
Dusenbery writes, “As Del. David L. Englin, who voted against the bill, put it, ‘In my view, the true nature of this bill is…to use emotional blackmail, practical logistical barriers and just plain old government bullying to try to prevent women from having abortions.’”
About the only good thing to come out of the ordeal was the hit to McDonnell and friends’ popularity. The Roanoke Times reported last week, “Public support for Gov. Bob McDonnell and the General Assembly has declined in the aftermath of a legislative session that featured divisive debates over abortion restrictions and gun laws, according to a statewide poll.” Let’s just hope they don’t take the whole state down with them.
© 2012, agentleman.
Conservative Bullying Has Made America Into a Broken, Dysfunctional Family: But There Are Ways to Regain Our Well-Being By Sara Robinson
An abusive, out-of-control, rageaholic GOP broke our country by shattering our trust in democracy and in ourselves.
A marriage counselor friend once told me that he almost always knows by the end of the very first session whether he’s being hired to guide a damaged couple back to health, or to help them work toward a divorce — even when the couple doesn’t know the answer to this question themselves.
It’s easy to see, he explained. The relationship’s future success or failure all hinges on one simple thing: How much goodwill and trust they have left. Even if they’ve hurt each other badly, the couples who make it are the ones that still retain a few shreds of faith in each other’s basic good intentions. She didn’t mean to hurt me. He’s not always a bastard. Deep down, she still loves me. Deep down, he really wants things to be better.
These couples are still seeing same future together, and still cling to the tattered memories of why they first fell in love. Just a few frayed threads of trust are all that’s needed — if they’ve got that, the odds are high that with time and work, they can re-weave the fabric of the marriage into something that’s once again strong and good.
On the other hand, the tell-tale sign of a zombie marriage — one that’s already dead, even if the parties involved haven’t yet confronted that fact — is that one or both partners have already given up and checked out. The trust is broken, the dream shattered, the damage just too much to ever repair. Things have been said and done that can’t ever be unsaid or undone. There’s so much bad history that there’s no way a mere human heart can ever forgive it all. It’s so far gone that pain and rage are all that remain — and the longer they stay together, the more brutal it’s likely to get.
If, as George Lakoff says, we tend to think of the nation as a family, then my friend’s approach for identifying salvageable marriages may apply just as well to salvaging our democracy. Because, like all marriages, all democratic governments are founded — first and foremost, above all else — on an essential bedrock of trust and shared vision. We need to trust that our fellow citizens are decent people with good intentions. If we don’t have even that much basic confidence in each other, there’s no way that we can work together to build a society that works. In fact, there’s not really even a reason to try.
Seen this way, “America” is the family name for the 310 million of us bonded together in a covenant that’s very much like the commitment that forms a family. We have come together to build our common wealth, create opportunities for each other that will secure our shared future, raise our children, care for our elderly, protect our assets, look after each other in sickness and in health, and wisely tend our national house and manage our gathered resources so we can hand the increase proudly off to the next generation.
And, like a family, this is a commitment that is entirely grounded in mutual trust — a bone-deep knowledge that we will keep faith and be there for each other; that we will look out for each others’ rights, property, and kids; that we will generously give the family our best whenever possible; and that we also rely on it to be there for us when we need help. For better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness or health, we promise to be there for each other. The true strength and wealth of the country begins with the strength of that commitment.
We cannot do this kind of mutual self-governance well — indeed, we cannot do it at all — unless we fundamentally trust each other’s good intentions and devotion to our shared enterprise. We may disagree on the means, but we share the same vision about what the ends should be. And just like in a marriage, when that trust is damaged, our future viability as a nation becomes a wide-open question.
This is a scary thought, because right now, America is riven by two very different visions of the future, held by two partners who obviously have radically different visions about where we should be going.
On one hand, you’ve got most of the country — center-right, center, center-left, and progressive — which sees us as a family in trouble, but which also believes that if we return to our bedrock agreements, focus on solving our shared problems and fall back on our basic goodwill and common sense, we should be able to sort things out. This is the two-thirds of America that poll after poll shows is ready to move forward on issues like economic transformation, inequality, corruption and corporate overreach, climate change and energy policy, and remaking our infrastructure. There’s a sense that, even though the challenges are big, we can solve them if we can come together, treat each other decently, reaffirm our commitment to the future, and force the democratic process to work again.
On the other hand, there’s another group that has entirely checked out on us, and turned ugly and abusive. The conservative minority is acting like Lakoff’s canonical Strict Father scorned: When the family rejects his leadership and his attempts at authoritarian contol, he sinks into a punitive, bullying rage, lashing out at the rest of us for what he’s come to believe is irredeemable broken faith because we won’t let him be the boss. By his behavior, he is telling us in no uncertain terms that he wants a scorched-earth divorce — the kind that leaves the rest of us broke, ruined, miserable, and utterly at his mercy. He has gone so far as to hire batteries of lawyers and lobbyists to accomplish this, and is taking a bully’s evident glee in his success.
What Democracy Abuse Looks Like
Here are a few broad-brush examples of how this screw-you attitude toward the idea of a balanced, strong, cooperative American family is playing out right now:
Most conservatives now openly reject the very idea of democracy. Whether it’s corporatists seeking to own every branch of government and privatize every public institution, security and intelligence types cracking down on our civil liberties, or Christian nationalists out to turn the country into a theocracy, conservatives are increasingly united by the conviction that Americans cannot be trusted to govern ourselves.
According to Dave Johnson, if you really want to understand just how hostile conservatives are to the very idea of democracy, and how debased their discourse has become on the subject, just take some of their favorite sayings and substitute the word “government” with either “democracy” or “we, the people.”
So: “government is the problem, not the solution” becomes “democracy is the problem” — or, perhaps worse: “we, the people are the problem.” Likewise: “smaller government” becomes “smaller democracy” and a smaller role for we, the people. The idea that “government destroys liberty” is clearly code for “democracy destroys liberty.” And so on. (It’s a great game you can play at home — fun for the whole family!)
Along these same lines — and despite the conspicuous way the Tea Party fetishizes the Constitution — it’s increasingly evident that the future they have in mind very explicitly does not include the Bill of Rights, a people’s Congress, the ability to petition our government, or the right to appeal to the courts for redress. I don’t have to enumerate the violations on this front, but I do encourage progressives to start seeing these assaults on our rights as clear evidence that our opponents fundamentally do not trust democracy, and are very deliberately out to destroy the constitutional rules that ours runs on.
They also don’t trust diversity in any form. They’re actively hostile to the idea of E pluribus unum — out of the many, one. Anybody who’s not white, straight, Christian, conservative, and male is inherently not-American. And the only acceptable function of government is to keep those Others — both here, and abroad — firmly in their place. The nightly news is full of fresh assaults on the rights of those who don’t fit their narrow definition of Real Americans.
They have embraced bullying as a political strategy and an acceptable cultural norm, which has in turn coarsened our civil discourse to the point of democratic breakdown. Rush Limbaugh and his throng of hate-talking imitators have given their listeners wide-open social permission to say ugly things in public that would most assuredly get them fired if they said them at work (check your company handbook, which no doubt has firm guidance on this point), and would probably precipitate an immediate divorce if they said them at home. The tone alone says it all: this is not the way you talk to people you intend to have any kind of future with.
Conservative lawyers and courts are actively carving out a First Amendment right to bully racial and religious minorities, immigrants, gays, and women who won’t stay in their place. Almost every family (including mine, unfortunately) and every workplace has a FOX-trained bully who makes it almost impossible to have simply collegial conversations. Democracy is literally not possible where such bullies exist, because the give-and-take and nuanced discussions that lead to good decision-making simply can’t happen. Instead, all the power goes to the person who’s willing and able to throw the biggest tantrum. That’s not democracy, in any sense of the word.
Our founders understood this all too well, which is why so many of our basic rules of government were explicitly designed to keep bullies in check.
They are systematically destroying Americans’ ability to trust almost every civil institution on the American landscape. The list goes on and on, but here’s a starter collection:
They are strategically undermining our schools by deliberately destroying community trust in them. Like a controlling father, they want the kids at home where they can keep a constant eye on them.
They are attempting to privatize Social Security, prisons, the military, and our infrastructure — all to prove their argument that we are no longer competent to do anything for ourselves through our government. Like an abusive spouse, they want us to feel too demoralized about ourselves to do anything effective to improve our lives, let alone find the courage and resolve to free ourselves from the abuse.
They are bastardizing science and bowdlerizing history — the two fields of academia most essential to developing foresight and understanding the implications of our future choices. And, in the process, they are keeping us from solving problems that threaten the continued existence of the entire human family.
They have demonized and harassed the mainstream media to the point where they can no longer be truly neutral about anything, for fear of exhibiting “liberal bias.”
They repealed the Fairness Doctrine, and took over local radio.
They are infringing on our religious freedoms in the name of extending their own.
They are defunding government (“democracy”) at all levels because they don’t believe that We, the People, can spend the money right. (Again: this is the logic of an abusively controlling spouse.)
They have destroyed our economy to benefit the top .10 percent, which effectively robs the rest of us of much of our cultural, economic and political power as well. And they have done this by telling us that “there is no such thing as society” — a claim that justifies bleeding off the vast and very real mountain of public wealth that this fictitious American society has carefully amassed over the course of its entire history.
All of these efforts, and many more, are rooted in one core fact: America’s conservatives ultimately do not trust other Americans to run their own lives as individuals — let alone govern ourselves as a group. And I’d argue that this mistrust runs so deep that no healing is possible for them. They have reached the point where they very clearly no longer want to be in this family together with us.
The seething, simmering rage and pain are running so deep now that the only thing that will satisfy them is total destruction of everything that puts the “us” in US. In their minds, breaking America as we’ve known it for the past 80 years is the only way they’ll ever be able to adequately punish us, and the only hope they have of someday seizing enough control of the shambles to finally salve their fury and fear.
To Stop A Bully: How to Restore Trust
This kind of dogged will to destroy is inherently pathological, whether it’s happening within a marriage or a nation. There’s no way it can ever be construed as healthy. My friend the marriage counselor would have looked at this situation — one spouse overwhelmed by irrational, abusive, controlling rage and constantly imputing unspeakable motives to the other — and written the marriage off.
But we can’t do that. We are still, for better or for worse, the biggest, richest family on the planet. On one hand, there’s no way for them to leave, because there’s nowhere for them to go, and no legal divorce is possible. On the other, letting them destroy the great house of America, built through generations and centuries to its present stature, is simply not an option.
So what do we do? If these people really don’t want to be in the marriage — if they are, in fact, trying to destroy it by any means possible — how on earth can we continue to function as a family?
We may have to do what families have always done with members who have lost their way, but cannot be abandoned. We need to close ranks around them, building alliances and strategies that will enable us to protect ourselves and each other from their depredations. We cannot change them, but it helps to realize that the faithful and decent members of this family still vastly outnumber those who wish us harm. If we work together closely, we can leverage our numbers and our sanity to arrange things in ways that will minimize the damage our rageaholic members can do.
The most important and critical thing we need to do is to restore trust; trust in each other, and in the idea of ourselves as a good and worthy family. We deserve so much better; and we are capable of so much more than our abusers tell us is possible.
We can refuse to buy into divide-and-conquer strategies, realizing that in this situation, the only distinction that matters at all is the one between those who are rooting for this country to succeed, and those who are out to destroy it. You are either on the side of democracy and the great American family, or you are not.
We can resolve to trust and respect each others’ perceptions and interpretations of events, even when they don’t entirely agree with our own. We can decide that we’re going to stay sane in the face of the craziness — and stand with anybody, regardless of their politics, who is also acting in good faith to stand against the bullies.
We can work to create a consensus vision of the next America we want to become, and form trusting relationships with others to make that happen.
We can refuse to reward bullying behavior with success. (Or, for that matter, with any more attention than it takes to get the bullies out of the room.)
We can stand up before each other and the world and say: “Those people do not speak for us, and their squalid, angry vision is not our vision. We are a better nation than that.”
And we can, simply, continue to come together and govern. Because the specter of citizens civilly and peacefully exercising power is, above everything else, the one thing they fear the most, the biggest threat to the radical anti-democracy agenda.
© 2012, agentleman.
Trayvon Martin, as he appeared on his actual Facebook page
It’s been more than a month since Trayvon Martin was shot dead by George Zimmerman. (Get a full rundown of the facts of the case here.)
While media coverage of the case has been intense, there are several key questions that have yet to be answered about the case. Here are five of the most important:
1. What was the purported “conflict” that required the initial prosecutor to step down? On March 22 — after several weeks on the job — state attorney Norm Wolfinger stepped down from his role as prosecutor in the Trayvon Martin case. Wolfinger relinquished his post after meeting with Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi. He said it was necessary for him to step aside to preserve “the integrity of this investigation,” adding he wanted to avoid “the appearance of a conflict of interest.” He did not explain why his continued involvement would damage the integrity of the case or explain the potential conflict he was seeking to avoid. Did anyone at the prosecutor’s office know Zimmerman or his family? [Orlando Sentinel]
2. Why did the prosecutor ignore the recommendations of the lead homicide investigator? ABC News reported that Chris Serino, the lead homicide investigator on the Trayvon Martin case, recommended that Zimmerman be charged with manslaughter on the night of the shooting. Serino filed an affidavit that night stating “he was unconvinced Zimmerman’s version of events.” As the lead homicide investigator, Serino was: 1. In the best position to evaluate Zimmerman’s credibility, and 2. Intimately familiar with Florida law. Why was he ignored? [ABC News]
3. Why did then-Police Chief Bill Lee make public statements directly contradicting the official recommendations of the police department? On the day the Sanford Police concluded their investigation and handed over the case to the prosecutor, then-Police Chief Bill Lee stated publicly that there was no “probable cause” to arrest or charge Zimmerman. (Lee has subsequently “temporarily” stepped down from his post.) But the Miami Herald reports that on the same day the Sanford Police formally requested that the prosecutor charge Zimmerman, something known as a “capias” request. [ThinkProgress]
4. Who leaked Trayvon Martin’s school records? As public outrage increased, Zimmerman’s sympathizers launched a smear campaign against Trayvon Martin. This included details of several occasions where Martin was suspended for minor infractions (defacing a locker, possessing an empty “marijuana baggie.”) None of the information seemed to have any particular relevance to the night Trayvon Martin was shot to death. Was this a ham-handed attempt by the police or the prosecutor to defend their lack of action against Zimmerman? The Sanford City Manager announced he would launch an independent investigation into the source of the leak. [Miami Herald; NBC12]
5. Why was Trayvon Martin’s body tagged as a John Doe? The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart notes a police report “that was completed at 3:07 a.m. on Feb. 27 lists Trayvon’s full name, city of birth, address and phone number.” But yet, Trayvon’s body was reportedly “tagged as a John Doe” and his father wasn’t informed of his death until after he filed a missing person report later on the 27th. Why weren’t Trayvon Martin’s parents contacted immediately after the police confirmed his identity? [Washington Post]
Special prosecutor Angela Corey has promised to release additional information about the case once she makes a decision about whether to charge Zimmerman, something that could happen at any time.
© 2012, agentleman.