Bi-Weekly Public Opinion Roundup

The sheer amount of perseverance shown by New Orleans residents in the face of disasters – first Hurricane Katrina, then the great economic recession, and now the Gulf of Mexico’s Deep Water Horizon oil spill – demonstrates how unique and precious this city is to the greater United States.  No other US city has known such repeated devastation, or has demonstrated such noble resistance to defeat, such an immense capacity to endure.  Although the city and its residents have not been broken by the continued assaults, many are still picking up the pieces.  

In the midst of recovery, NOLA residents are hopeful but scars from the hurricane are still visible, according to a new survey by Kaiser Family Foundation, “New Orleans Five Years After the Storm.”  Read more in the August Public Opinion Monthly.

Going through all these things twice

Krugman as Cassandra, Obama as echo:

It’s Witch-Hunt Season


The last time a Democrat sat in the White House, he faced a nonstop witch hunt by his political opponents. Prominent figures on the right accused Bill and Hillary Clinton of everything from drug smuggling to murder. And once Republicans took control of Congress, they subjected the Clinton administration to unrelenting harassment – at one point taking 140 hours of sworn testimony over accusations that the White House had misused its Christmas card list.

Now it’s happening again – except that this time it’s even worse. Let’s turn the floor over to Rush Limbaugh: “Imam Hussein Obama,” he recently declared, is “probably the best anti-American president we’ve ever had.”

To get a sense of how much it matters when people like Mr. Limbaugh talk like this, bear in mind that he’s an utterly mainstream figure within the Republican Party; bear in mind, too, that unless something changes the political dynamics, Republicans will soon control at least one house of Congress. This is going to be very, very ugly.

So where is this rage coming from? Why is it flourishing? What will it do to America?

Anyone who remembered the 1990s could have predicted something like the current political craziness. What we learned from the Clinton years is that a significant number of Americans just don’t consider government by liberals – even very moderate liberals – legitimate. Mr. Obama’s election would have enraged those people even if he were white. Of course, the fact that he isn’t, and has an alien-sounding name, adds to the rage.

By the way, I’m not talking about the rage of the excluded and the dispossessed: Tea Partiers are relatively affluent, and nobody is angrier these days than the very, very rich….

If I were President Obama, I’d be doing all I could to head off this prospect, offering some major new initiatives on the economic front in particular, if only to shake up the political dynamic. But my guess is that the president will continue to play it safe, all the way into catastrophe.

The maddening thing is that absolutely none of this should come as any kind of surprise.  In 1993, Clinton took office, and tried to make nice with Republicans in an effort to build a spirit of bipartisanship.  He attacked the left  (his infamous “Sister Souljah moment”) to show them how much he thought like them.  He ignored the late-breaking information–in a pre-election indictment of Cap Weinberger–that Bush I had been totally in the loop on Iran/Contra, He ignored a whole raft of other outstanding scandals (some of which, lile BCCI, also involved wealthy Democratic elites).  He got NAFTA passed, when no Republican President could possibly have pulled it off.  And for all this placating and more–including a wholesale change of tone that prevented Democrative Congressional leaders from moving aggressively as well–what did Clinton get as his reward?  An endless stream of wild-eyed accusations, half-baked investigations, and de facto all-out war.

There is one thing Krugman said that I’d like to correct, though:

What we learned from the Clinton years is that a significant number of Americans just don’t consider government by liberals – even very moderate liberals – legitimate.

We didn’t just learn that from the Clinton years.  That’s an eternal truth of conservatism.  It’s hard-wired into both rightwing authoritarianism, and social dominance orientation.  You can find it in the refined prose of Edmund Burke, as well as the bloody battlefields of the Civil War.  And you can find it in the hidden history of the 1980s that Clinton & company helped bury in the utterly delusional belief that doing so would buy some sort of political peace.

The most open outrage was that Special Counsel Lawrence Walsh–a life-long Republican–uncovered evidence that George H.W. Bush had lied when he claimed to be “out of the loop” about the Iran/Contra scandal.  As investigative reporter Robert Parry wrote in his review of Walsh’s book, Firewall: The Iran-Contra Conspiracy and Cover-up:

The Republican independent counsel also infuriated the GOP when he submitted a second indictment of Weinberger on the Friday before the 1992 elections. The indictment contained documents revealing that President Bush had been lying for years with his claim that he was “out of the loop” on the Iran-contra decisions. The ensuing furor dominated the last several days of the campaign and sealed Bush’s defeat at the hands of Bill Clinton.

Walsh had discovered, too, that Bush had withheld his own notes about the Iran-contra affair, a discovery that elevated the president to a possible criminal subject of the investigation. But Bush had one more weapon in his arsenal. On Christmas Eve 1992, Bush destroyed the Iran-contra probe once and for all by pardoning Weinberger and five other convicted or indicted defendants.

“George Bush’s misuse of the pardon power made the cover-up complete,” Walsh wrote. “What set Iran-contra apart from previous political scandals was the fact that a cover-up engineered in the White House of one president and completed by his successor prevented the rule of law from being applied to the perpetrators of criminal activity of constitutional dimension.”

But the cover-up likely could not have worked if the other institutions of Washington — Congress, the courts and the press — had not helped. Those institutions aided and abetted the White House both directly, through decisions that undermined the cases or reversed convictions, or indirectly, through incessant heckling of Walsh’s investigators over trivial complaints.

Like the cover-up, the historic reversal — from the constitutional protections of Watergate to the flouting of law in Iran-contra — was complete.

Because this happened long before most of the current crop of online progressive activists were politically active, there is virtually no recollection of it.  Yet, this must rank as one of the most blatant and audacious sanctioning of high-level criminality in American history. One cannot help but think that one of the reasons the Republicans came after Clinton with such a vengeance was that one of their own had been so publicly exposed as a high criminal, and the mere fact that Clinton had publicly chosen to look away and ignore that fact did nothing to assuage their rage.

Is it any wonder that, given Obama’s refusal to learn from history, he seems poised to repeat it?

But that’s only half the story here.  Because there was a second, more hidden outrage, concerning high crimes–potentially including treason–and the theft of the 1980 election, a scandal known as “The October Surprise”.  Parry, who broke the first stories around the Iran/Contra scandal, was even more closely tied to this second outrage, since he was the one who discovered damning evidence of the Bush/Reagan campaign negotiations with Iran to delay the hostage release that had been buried by the House investigative committee headed up by Lee Hamilton.  I’ve written about this before, but in recent months Perry has discovered that Hamilton was probably ignorant of the report from Russian intelligence, which it now appears was buried by the chief investigator, E. Lawrence Barcella.

Here is a key part of that report, though hardly all of its most damining information:

On the supply of American arms to Iran according to available information, the Chairman of the R. Reagan election campaign, William Casey, in 1980 met three times with representatives of the Iranian leadership, in particular with the arms dealers Djamshed and Kurosh Hashemi.

How You Know the Anti-Tax Ideology Still Exists In Both Party Establishments

How can you tell the virulent anti-tax fervor still dominates American politics in genuinely a bipartisan way? Look no further than Colorado. In a state facing a historic budget deficit – a state that now ranks 40th out of 50 in its funding of education – we get this from the Democratic Party’s standard-bearer:

Hick: No new money for education

Education funding will remain tight, Democrat John Hickenlooper warned today as he unveiled his plans for education if he’s elected governor.

“We’re not going to throw money at the problem,” the Denver mayor said during a news conference at Arapahoe Community College in Littleton with running mate Joe Garcia, president of Colorado State University-Pueblo. “There is no appetite” among the public for new taxes, Hickenlooper said.

Remember, Hickenlooper effectively faces token opposition in his run for governor, thanks to the Republican vote being split by GOP nominee Dan Maes and Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo. So he is saying this in a political vacuum – that is, he’s saying this on his own with no real external political/electoral pressure.

Knowing that – knowing that this is an unvarnished, pure expression of principle rather than forced political calculation – only reiterates the fact that the anti-tax, anti-government ideology is alive and well in both parties, especially when you consider the abrasive “throwing money at the problem” language being employed.

It would be one thing to use that kind of rhetoric in a state that was at the top of the heap in education funding. At least then a politician could claim that a state had already been spending lots on education. But to use that kind of language in a state near the bottom suggests – well, it shows that this is a matter of deep conviction at least for Hickenlooper, if not for the larger national conservative faction that still calls the shots in the Democratic Party.

As I’ve said before, it’s particularly sad to watch Hickenlooper engage in this kind of campaign, considering his previous admirable record of leveling with voters on tax and budget questions. This is a guy who deserves a lot of credit for going to Denver voters and requesting some pragmatic tax increases to preserve some basic public priorities. However, now that he’s running statewide and is surrounded by national Democratic Party hacks, he’s turned into a rather typical Republican-parroting conservadem on economics.

That might not be such a big idea if this was some kind of anomaly. But, as anyone who follows politics knows, Hickenlooper’s trajectory on economics is far more the rule than the exception in modern Democratic politics. And in representing that rule, Hickenlooper proves that the anti-tax, anti-government zeitgeist is still alive and well – even at a time of a historic budget crisis.  

Glenn Beck’s world

Ironically, I was down south in Glen Beck’s part of the world (politically) for a wedding and other family stuff this weekend during the big Beck bacchanalia in DC. On my travels, I drove through parts of Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama, and came within a few miles of North Carolina. We drove by lots of gun shops and churches, and nostalgia-drenched Civil War battlefields. We saw the elegant plantation-style homes of the folks who were doing well (all the rich people down south seem to like imagining themselves as plantation owners), and deteriorating homes in poor neighborhoods. Much to my delight, we had lunch one day in a small town Alabama caf

Congressional Candidates’ Views on Clean Energy, Climate Change: PA-11

Originally posted on The Mark Up.

This is the seventh in a continuing series by the NRDC Action Fund on the environmental stances of candidates in key races around the country.  

Northeast Pennsylvania’s 11th Congressional District, including Scranton, Wilkes-Barres and the Poconos resorts, flourished in the 19th century after the discovery of anthracite coal – the highest carbon type of coal available. Coal mining drove development in the region until the 1940s, when demand shifted to cheaper alternatives like oil and natural gas. Today, coal mines are more of a tourist attraction than an economic driver, and Scranton is best known as the setting for NBC’s The Office.

For the past 25 years, the 11th district has been represented in the U.S. House by Democrat Paul Kanjorski. Throughout his time in Congress, Rep. Kanjorski has typically voted the right way on environmental issues. Last year, for example, he received a perfect score from the League of Conservation Votes, which means that he voted for the environment at every opportunity. This includes voting for the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), the first climate bill to pass a chamber in Congress. After the vote he said, “We need to begin the process of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, creating clean energy jobs in America, and reducing our dependence on foreign oil.”

In November, Kanjorski will be challenged for the third time by Republican Lou Barletta, the mayor of Hazleton. The Cook Report ranks this race as a “Tossup.” Barletta gained notoriety in 2006 when, as Hazleton’s mayor, he passed one of the nation’s most sweeping anti-immigration laws. He’s had little to say about environmental issues, however, during his multiple Congressional runs, and what he has said is less than encouraging. He wrongly claims that ACES will “stifl[e] the economic recovery and jeopardiz[e] millions of jobs.” The truth is quite the opposite. According to in-depth modeling built on collaborative research by the University of Illinois, Yale University and the University of California, ACES has the potential to boost GDP by more than $100 billion, and create 1.9 million jobs.

Barletta has also been a steadfast proponent of offshore drilling and dirty fuels, like liquid coal. And, after the BP blowout, he posted on his blog that “[a] leaking oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico does not justify the sinking of billions of dollars in a cap-and-tax scheme…” Actually, putting a price on carbon pollution is critical toward breaking our dependence on oil. We need to recognize that it is because we have not engaged in a serious effort to reduce our oil use that we’ve been forced to pursue petroleum products in sensitive areas like the Gulf’s deep waters. Whoever wins this race needs to help lead eastern PA into a new energy future.

The NRDC Action Fund believes that it is important for the public in general, and the voters of specific Congressional districts, be aware of this information as they weigh their choices for November.

The time machines of George Soros

At first I had no idea what Glenn Beck was talking about (From the August 23 edition of Premiere Radio Networks’ The Glenn Beck Program):

“We’re being pitted against each other again.  We’re being pitted against each other on religion. And I want you to know this is, this is part of the strategy.

This is why we brought up Soujourners, and Jim Wallis, and Reverand Wright, and I told you about social justice.  I told you that our religions are being hijkacked.

Religion plays a huge role in the progressive movement.  You must have religion. If you can beat down re–… Why do you think they chased God out of the public square? And now Nancy Pelosi’s talking about God all the time.  That you have the President talking about…bashing the Bible ‘Oh, well, who’s Bible are we going to listen to now?’ And then talking about faith and religion. Why do you think this is all happening?

It’s critical.  It’s critical.  And these people Let me say this.  When you pervert the founding documents. I think you’re a pretty bad dude.  But when you pervert the Gospel of Jesus Christ, you are evil.

And when you know. And when you are intentionally doing it for power and control and money and a hidden agenda. And you lie, cheat and steal every step of the way to do it, you are evil.

Now let me show you Jim Wallis. Jim Wallis is a guy from Sojourners who has lead a campaign against me.  They are trying to pit our religions against each other.  They are trying to… I stood at the feet of Abraham Lincoln yesterday.  ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ They must have us at each other’s throats.

I’ve told you before that this is George Soros money. That this is nothing but a hidden progressive agenda.  That social justice as understood by Jim Wallis and Jeremiah Wright and people like him.  It is evil. He claims that there’s no money coming Soros. If I saw my name smeared on the internet one more time on th… I mean it’s become laughable. Because people actually believe George Soros isn’t involved in this?  

Okay, okay.  So I get that he’s projecting wildly all over the place. But even knowing that I was terribly confused–and not just because he’s a paranoid freak with the attention span of a gnat with ADD.

On the projection side:

(1) He says the left is trying to divide us with religion, because, of course, that’s the right’s whole game plan.  But it’s not just the use of wedge issues, and usurpation of individual conscience–stuff that anyone can see with their own two eyes.  No, there’s an entire hidden battlefield that’s the exact mirror image of what Beck is talking about. The right has been involved in a decades-long war against the mainstream Protestant establishment that supported the civil rights movement out of its commitment to social justice. (Talk2Action has tons of material on this, this piece by Bruce Wilson is as good a place as any to jump into the middle of it–lots of links to different facets of it.)

(2) He talks about perverting founding documents, as if someone else is the one who’s doing that. Government getting involved in healthcare is tyranny! Like the Nazis!  

Er, not so much:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

(3) And that whole

But when you pervert the Gospel of Jesus Christ, you are evil.

Well, I already did a whole diary on Matthew 25 about that.

(4) And getting bent out of shape when other people talk about God and religion?  What’s up with that?

But just when I thought he was going to give us the real lowdown on the evils of social justice (Take that! Matthew!  And that Mark!) he goes off on this George SOros kick (Hell-oh!  Like no one’s ever heard of Olin, Bradly, Melon-Scaife, much less the Koch boys?) that doesn’t even have a scintilla of phony evidence to support it!

And he’s so darned wound up and excited that he’s interrupting himself not just mid-sentence but mid-syllable!

What gives?




But then I realized.  It really was all George Soros after all.  

Georgre Soros and his time machines.

That’s what he’s been doing with all his hidden money.

It was Soros who sent the Pledge of Allegience back in a time machine to Christian Socialist minister Francis Bellamy–with “under God” deleted, of course!

And it was Soros who sent that version of the Preamble back to Madison, too.

And all that stuff in the Gospels about caring for the sick and the poor, and stranger?  All of if–straight from George Soros and his time machines.

And the Hebrew prophets before that?  And the Jubilee?  Where all the wealth gets redistributed?  You know that part of the Bible, right?

Like In Leviticus 25:

8 “‘Count off seven sabbaths of years-seven times seven years-so that the seven sabbaths of years amount to a period of forty-nine years. 9  Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. 10 Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clan. 11 The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. 12 For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields.

13 ” ‘In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to his own property.

14 ” ‘If you sell land to one of your countrymen or buy any from him, do not take advantage of each other. 15 You are to buy from your countryman on the basis of the number of years since the Jubilee. And he is to sell to you on the basis of the number of years left for harvesting crops. 16 When the years are many, you are to increase the price, and when the years are few, you are to decrease the price, because what he is really selling you is the number of crops. 17 Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am the LORD your God.

18 ” ‘Follow my decrees and be careful to obey my laws, and you will live safely in the land. 19 Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and live there in safety. 20 You may ask, “What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops?” 21 I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years. 22 While you plant during the eighth year, you will eat from the old crop and will continue to eat from it until the harvest of the ninth year comes in.

23 ” ‘The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants. 24 Throughout the country that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land.

25 ” ‘If one of your countrymen becomes poor and sells some of his property, his nearest relative is to come and redeem what his countryman has sold. 26 If, however, a man has no one to redeem it for him but he himself prospers and acquires sufficient means to redeem it, 27 he is to determine the value for the years since he sold it and refund the balance to the man to whom he sold it; he can then go back to his own property. 28 But if he does not acquire the means to repay him, what he sold will remain in the possession of the buyer until the Year of Jubilee. It will be returned in the Jubilee, and he can then go back to his property.

All that socialist stuff in the Bible–all of it!  George Soros and his time machines!

And when Beck seems to start babbling?  Interrupting himself mid-syllable?  That’s Soros and his time machines as well. Stealing Beck and sending him back to ancoent Babylon or God knows where, only to pop back again due to some obscure quirk in the laws of qunatum temporal mechanics that Data and Wesley Crusher haven’t quite figured out just yet.

So that’s it boys and girls!  Glenn Beck is not insane.  He just looks that way because none of us suspect the almost limitless powers of George Soros and his legions of time machines that are constahntly re-arranging history just to make it look like Glenn Beck is the biggest fool who ever lived!

p.s.  Before Soros and his time machines got to him, Martin Luther King was a bad-ass killing machine. The original Rambo was based on him.  And Indiana Jones was his sidekick!

Weekly Audit: Why Do Deficit Hawks Hate Social Security?

by Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

Last week, Social Security advocates learned something they had long suspected. Arguments for cutting Social Security aren’t really about economics or the deficit. They’re all about waging war on social services.


In short, some very prominent policymakers are out to dismantle Social Security on ideological grounds. The most recent example of this view comes from Alan Simpson, a former Republican Senator from Wyoming who now serves as co-Chair of President Barack Obama’s Federal Debt Commission. Earlier this summer, Simpson was caught on video spreading absurd lies about Social Security, but his latest outburst explains why he’s been so willing to distort the facts. Simpson simply hates Social Security.

As Joshua Holland highlights for AlterNet, Simpson fired off a nasty email to Ashley Carson, who advocates for elderly women, in which he referred to the most successful social program in U.S. history as “a milk cow with 310 million tits.”

Social Security is doing just fine

But Simpson has a lot of power on the Debt Commission, which is expected to recommend that Congress reduce the deficit by cutting social programs in a report this year. But as Holland notes, Social Security isn’t in trouble:

Social Security is in fine shape. It’s got a surplus that will run out in 2037, but even if nothing were to change by then, it could still continue to pay out 75 percent of scheduled benefits seventy-five years from now, long after the surplus disappears, and those benefits would still be higher than what retirees receive today.

What’s more, as William Greider notes for The Nation, Social Security has never added one cent to the federal budget deficit. According to the law that created the program, Social Security never can. Targeting Social Security in order to fix the deficit is like invading Iraq to fight Al-Qaeda. The issues are not related.

Raising the retirement age robs workers

The Debt Commission is likely to recommend raising the retirement age-the age at which Social Security benefits begin to be paid out. But as Martha C. White notes for The Washington Independent, it’s a “solution” that simply robs low-income workers of their tax money. Everybody pay Social Security taxes when they work, and when they retire, they receive federal support. If you don’t live long enough to actually retire, you don’t get any benefit from Social Security.

“The hardship of raising the retirement age falls disproportionately on low-income workers who work in physically demanding professions, jobs they may not be able to continue through their seventh decade. … Moreover, though the average lifespan has increased since Social Security’s creation, those extra years aren’t enjoyed equally by all Americans. Overall, Americans are living about 7 years longer. But the poorest 20 percent of Americans are living just two years longer.”

Raising the retirement age, in other words, disproportionately hurts the poor-the very people Social Security is supposed to help most.

Subprime scandal 2.0

So who would pick up the slack if Social Security were to be cut? The same crooked Wall Street scoundrels who brought us the financial crisis. If the government cuts back on retirement benefits, the financial establishment can step in and manage a bigger piece of the retirement pie.  The more we learn about the financial mess, the less we should want to see our retirement money controlled by bigwig financiers. Truthout carries a blockbuster new investigative report by ProPublica’s Jake Bernstein and Jesse Eisinger that reveals a new, multi-billion-dollar subprime scam engineered by the financial elite.

We’ve known about Wall Street’s subprime shenanigans for some time, but the report reveals that banks were essentially selling their own products to themselves in order to create the illusion that people really wanted lousy mortgages. It’s called “self-dealing,” and it’s supposed to be illegal.

Subprime Disaster, meet Mortgage Nightmare

Here’s how the scam worked: Wall Street crammed thousands of mortgages into securities, then sliced and diced those securities into new products called CDOs. Those CDOs, in turn, were divided into different “buckets” and sold to investors. The riskiest buckets paid out the most money to investors, but were the most likely to take losses if the underlying mortgages ever went bad. As the housing bubble grew more and more out-of-control, investors became wary of these risky buckets, and stopped buying them.

Wall Street banks were still making a killing from the packaging and sale of everything else, though, so they devised a plan to get rid of some risky bits: they’d buy them up themselves, without telling anybody. A bank would create a CDO called, say, Mortgage Nightmare CDO. Then it would create a separate CDO, called, say, Subprime Disaster CDO. Subprime Disaster would buy up a risky bucket from Mortgage Nightmare, creating the illusion to the market that banks were still able to sell off risky mortgage assets without any trouble, even though the bank was basically just selling garbage to itself.

That illusion propped up the prices of these risky assets and created more revenue for the tricky bankers who sold them, and plump, short-term profits for the banks. It also strongly encouraged other bankers to issue lousy mortgages to the public, since those loans could be packaged into lousy CDOs and score short-term profits for Wall Street’s schemers.

Ultimately, this scheming resulted in a multi-billion-dollar disaster for Wall Street, which taxpayers ended up footing the bill for. Anybody want to see that happen with Social Security?

Social programs did not cause the deficit

As Seth Freed Wessler notes for ColorLines, deficit hawks’ emphasis on social programs is at odds with the factors that actually created the deficit. The Bush tax cuts, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the bank bailouts are the big-ticket items when it comes to government revenues and expenses. Yet deficit hawks in Congress have been refusing to extend paltry unemployment benefits or food stamps to the people hit hardest by the recession. And pretty soon they’re going to go after Social Security too.

In reality, the deficit is only a problem if investors are afraid that the government will default on its debt. Markets measure this worry with interest rates-high rates mean investors are worried, low rates mean they are not. Right now, interest rates on government bonds are at their lowest in decades. With the recession dragging on and the recovery weakening, now would be a great time for the government to spend more money to create jobs and help those knocked out of work.

Instead, the policy debate features cranky old men whining about 310-million-titted cows.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members  of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Terrorism 101: Mosque-hating Islamaphobes fight fire with gasoline

From Newsweek:

The Taliban vs. the Mosque

by Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau

August 30, 2010

Taliban officials know it’s sacrilegious to hope a mosque will not be built, but that’s exactly what they’re wishing for: the success of the fiery campaign to block the proposed Islamic cultural center and prayer room near the site of the Twin Towers in lower Manhattan. “By preventing this mosque from being built, America is doing us a big favor,” Taliban operative Zabihullah tells NEWSWEEK. (Like many Afghans, he uses a single name.) “It’s providing us with more recruits, donations, and popular support.”

America’s enemies in Afghanistan are delighted by the vehement public opposition to the proposed “Ground Zero mosque.” The backlash against the project has drawn the heaviest e-mail response ever on jihadi Web sites, Zabihullah claims-far bigger even than France’s ban on burqas earlier this year. (That was big, he recalls: “We received many e-mails asking for advice on how Muslims should react to the hijab ban, and how they can punish France.”) This time the target is America itself. “We are getting even more messages of support and solidarity on the mosque issue and questions about how to fight back against this outrage.”

Zabihullah also claims that the issue is such a propaganda windfall-so tailor-made to show how “anti-Islamic” America is-that it now heads the list of talking points in Taliban meetings with fighters, villagers, and potential recruits. “We talk about how America tortures with waterboarding, about the cruel confinement of Muslims in wire cages in Guant

Return of the “Bitch-Slap Theory”–bigtime!

Pardon my French, but sometimes crude and offensive language is inextricably part of the subject

Six years ago, Josh Marshall wrote a landmark diary of sorts. On August 19, 2004, after weeks of unanswered scurrilous attacks by the “Swiftboat Veterans” John Kerry belatedly–and, if I must say so, somewhat lamely–struck back,  leading to Josh’s post, which first quoted Kerry’s statement and then continued [emphasis added]:

This is a good thing — and not simply because Kerry has to respond to the president’s surrogates who are trying (and, to an extent, succeeding) in damaging his candidacy with scurrilous and discredited attacks.

There is a meta-debate going on here, one that I’m not sure even the practitioners fully articulate to themselves and one that I’m painfully aware the victims don’t fully understand.

Let’s call it the Republicans’ Bitch-Slap theory of electoral politics.

It goes something like this.

On one level, of course, the aim behind these attacks is to cast suspicion upon Kerry’s military service record and label him a liar. But that’s only part of what’s going on.

Consider for a moment what the big game is here. This is a battle between two candidates to demonstrate toughness on national security. Toughness is a unitary quality, really — a personal, characterological quality rather than one rooted in policy or divisible in any real way. So both sides are trying to prove to undecided voters either that they’re tougher than the other guy or at least tough enough for the job.

In a post-9/11 environment, obviously, this question of strength, toughness or resolve is particularly salient. That, of course, is why so much of this debate is about war and military service in the first place.

One way — perhaps the best way — to demonstrate someone’s lack of toughness or strength is to attack them and show they are either unwilling or unable to defend themselves — thus the rough slang I used above. And that I think is a big part of what is happening here. Someone who can’t or won’t defend themselves certainly isn’t someone you can depend upon to defend you.

Demonstrating Kerry’s unwillingness to defend himself (if Bush can do that) is a far more tangible sign of what he’s made of than wartime experiences of thirty years ago.

Hitting someone and not having them hit back hurts the morale of that person’s supporters, buoys the confidence of your own backers (particularly if many tend toward an authoritarian mindset) and tends to make the person who’s receiving the hits into an object of contempt (even if also possibly also one of sympathy) in the eyes of the uncommitted.

Now, to my mind, Josh was exactly right in what he wrote.  The only problem was, he didn’t realize how right, because he’s just too genteel.

In the same way that he didn’t realize that Kerry’s push-back was lame (it was “push-back” not punch-back), he failed to realize that there was a level of insult and attack deeper than the level he articulated.  Just like on a schoolyard, the less rational an attack it, the more ludicrous, absurd, and over-the-top it is, the more damaging it is-unless, of course, one has the rare skill of turning it back against itself and making the accusers look like pathetic fools.  No politician I can think of has that skill (except, of course, Al Franken, who for that very reason may yet turn out to be the most formidable progressive politician of our time).  And so the only option is to hit back hard–indeed, to go nuclear.

Last Semptember 10, Olliver Willis wrote an incredibly hopeful-but at the time quite credible piece, “The Bitch Slap Theory As Applied To Barack Obama”.  He cited Josh’s original, then wrote:

This has traditionally been a way for Republicans to attack Democrats, but while it remains to be seen how the string plays out, its also a good way to look at how President Obama is trying to set up the GOP via his speech last night.

Republicans have an inane ability to create noise over made up things, ie. “lipstick on a pig” or “death panels”. But in combat versus the President they seem to do pretty poorly when pressed into combat in the reality based community.

Last night the President said directly to the Republicans that he’s willing to work with them on these issues as long as they check the crazy at the door and come at the issues realistically. As we’ve seen for the last, oh, 40 years the GOP is tragically incapable of doing so. In fact, their base – unlike the liberal base – rewards them in proportion to how stupid they are. The Republicans still don’t see how acting the fool doesn’t work with the rest of normal America (they don’t laugh people like Sarah Palin out of the room, they think she’s a legit contender for not for assistant dog catcher but for the presidency).

That gives the President room to tell America “sensible solutions to grand national problems sold here”. And right about now America is well aware that we have some big national problems that need fixing.


Now, I have to say that I never agreed with this assessment. I certainly hoped it was true, and at the time I had to admit that it was at least a plausible read of the situation.  I could point to all sorts of examples of Obama caving in needlessly, but one could just as well argue that he wasn’t caving, he was simply a good deal more conservative than me-which I knew going in-and a good deal more conservative than I took him to be–which was really saying something, at least I thought.

Well, here we are almost a full year later, and it really hurts me to say that Willis was mistaken. But nothing could be clearer at this point in time.  The Republicans by now have dropped all pretense of sanity.  More of them than ever now say that Obama is a Muslim, and/or foreign-born.  They are committed to cutting the deficit in the midst of epic recession-and doing so by granting massive, budget-busting tax-cuts for the super-rich.  The crazier their ideas are, the more fiercely and loudly they proclaim them.  Hitler was a progressive!  Martin Luther King was a white Morman conservative and Glenn Beck is here to reclaim his dream for the people who invented it!

Of course, I really wish Olliver Willis had been right.  If Obama had been able to cooly stand his ground and stare down the crazy Republicans like they were a pack of gutless 6-year olds, or like they were the lumberjack in “The Reverent Mr. Black,” nothing would have pleased me more.

But it was never in the cards.  Obama had run on compromise as a principle.  And compromise is not a principle.  Compromise is what happens to principle when you don’t have any.  And Republicans know that.  Because they don’t have any principles, either–but in an entire different sort of way.

Which is why Republicans just kept hitting Obama over, and over, and over again, regardless of whatever else was going on.  The only reality for them, 24/7, was attacking Obama.  Did the economy need to be destroyed in order to take him down?  Fine, they were dedicated to destroying the economy–and we’re secretely thankful that he’d done so much to help them on that score.  Did the unemployed need to starve in order to take Obama down?  Fine, they would starve.  Would a terrorist attack undo his Presidency?  They were not-so-secretly rooting for the terrorists.

This past weekend should have represented a sort of nadir for the Republicans.  The Beckathon was an incoherent joke.  Beck himself seemed totally incapable of communicating anything coherent.  Anything, that is, except incoherent rage.  And that, of course, was all that was needed.

What Obama really doesn’t seem to get–just like Carter, just like Dukakis, just like Gore, just like Kerry, is no one really cares how smart you are.  In fact, on average, they’ll hold it against you. But if things really go bad when you’re around–or even anywhere close–then they will turn on you with a purple fury.  Because, God damn it, you’re smart, and you should have seen it coming and done something about it.

And you know what?

They’re right.

Even if the Republicans are bitch-slap insane.

The FDA’s Egg inspections: Rivers of manure and flies beyond count

Following up on the largest egg recall in history, the FDA has issued inspection reports for the two farms (so far) involved; the Decoster family’s Wright County Eggs and Orland Bethel’s Hillandale Farms.

The results are an echo of Upton Sinclair’s 1906 book, The Jungle on horrid and unsafe conditions in the meat packing industry.  America, 104 years later:

# Manure piled so high (4 to 8 feet) that it forced open doors to manure pits under the hens, allowing “open access to wildlife or domesticated animals.”

# Live mice in many of the egg-laying houses.

# Flies, both “live and dead” that were “too numerous to count,” as well as “live and dead maggots” beyond counting.

Of the two, to my layman eyes, Decoster’s factory appears much worse as there aren’t nearly as many violations cited for Bethel’s operation, but the bit near the end about a flowing river of chicken feces certainly indicates they’re not getting an unfair deal being mixed up in this.

One other thing that makes me feel like it is not a coincidence that the two operations suffered this outbreak was this interesting link from 2006, where a farm co-owned by Bethel and an “anonymous” investor lost its permits after it turned out that the investor was Decoster:

Farm and Dairy reported more than a year ago that egg farm owner-managers Don Hershey and Orland Bethel told ODA an anonymous investor held an option to purchase the company.

They maintained the investor provided only financial backing for the farm’s purchase and operation.

That anonymous investor turned out to be Austin “Jack” DeCoster, a farm operator labeled a “habitual” and “chronic” violator of Iowa’s environmental laws.

Investigation also showed DeCoster was involved in daily farm operations, and should have been identified on the farm’s permitting paperwork.

DeCoster’s name appearing on permit applications would have made the state run a background check on him and think twice before granting the permits.


Funding. Hershey testified that DeCoster had provided all funds for the purchase of Buckeye Egg Farm.

He estimated DeCoster had invested $126 million to date, and both he and Orland Bethel said there is no promissory note and no schedule of repayment between the egg farm and DeCoster.

According to state records, Hershey testified neither he nor Bethel were willing to assume any personal financial risk in the farm’s purchase. Both men offered up only $10,000 as an initial investment.

Even with that said, Hershey said he owns 30 percent of Ohio Fresh Eggs and Orland Bethel owns 70 percent.

From other details in the article, you learn that Decoster, having earned his official status as a “habitual violator” in running his Iowa hog operations, sold them, and in order to avoid capital gains tax, invests the money in this operation as a silent partner to the two other men.  The three are apparently on close enough terms to run a deal this big with no paperwork.  

Apparently a House subcommittee will investigate and will seek the testimony of Decoster and Bethel in September.  Hopefully they do their homework.  

As this timeline shows, egg safety has been a decades running sleeper timebomb of e.coli conservativism, and it was just a matter of time before it went off.  Ironically the Obama administration did finally implement new egg safety rules in July, I have no idea if they go far enough on the narrow subject of egg safety, but if anyone is looking for a lead in to take on the general issue of factory farm abuses, here it is.  Countless flies, and rivers of shit.  The chickens don’t deserve to live like that, the workers shouldn’t have to endure it, and humans shouldn’t be eating what comes of such places.  There is a food safety bill, sounds like it’s overdue.

h/t to this diary for the FDA links.