Month: March 2013

An Alert Update Plus Some Thoughts on Fear

UPDATE

Another friend, not the one who sent me the original ALERTS TO THREATS IN EUROPE I posted yesterday, decided to update the list to include America.

The Americans are on “Be Alert for Unspecified Awful Things”  a status they have maintained since, well, forever. This is frequently raised to “The Sky Is Falling” just to justify their insane arms expenditures. When concern over dwindling oil supplies threatens the alert level becomes “Lets Attack”  eventually followed by the highest level which is “We Need To Rebuild The Country We Just Destroyed.”  Rumor has it that there is a level called “Let’s Try Peace “but it has never been considered.

I think you will agree it is at least as clever as the Cleese original. But, after chuckling over it  for a few minutes, I started to think about the deeper truth. It really does describe the political process that has dominated America at least since 9/11. American politics is dominated by a “Culture of Fear”. We are asked to be on constant alert for any number of awful things. The media, of course, is implicated in the whole process.

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It is a mistake to think the manipulation of fear for political purposes is new in American politics, however. It is probably more accurate to say it has been the norm for most of our history. Noam Chomsky has explored what he calls the, “…resort to fear by systems of power to discipline the domestic population” and traces the American version back, at least, to John Quincy Adams. Chomsky uses historian William Earl Weeks to make his point.

Weeks describes in lurid detail what Jackson was doing in the “exhibition of murder and plunder known as the First Seminole War,” which was just another phase in his project of “removing or eliminating native Americans from the southeast,” underway long before 1814. Florida was a problem both because it had not yet been incorporated in the expanding American empire and because it was a “haven for Indians and runaway slaves… fleeing the wrath of Jackson or slavery”.

There was in fact an Indian attack, which Jackson and Adams used as a pretext: US forces drove a band of Seminoles off their lands, killing several of them and burning their village to the ground. The Seminoles retaliated by attacking a supply boat under military command. Seizing the opportunity, Jackson “embarked on a campaign of terror, devastation, and intimidation,” destroying villages and “sources of food in a calculated effort to inflict starvation on the tribes, who sought refuge from his wrath in the swamps”. So matters continued, leading to Adams’ highly regarded State paper, which endorsed Jackson’s unprovoked aggression to establish in Florida “the dominion of this republic upon the odious basis of violence and bloodshed”.

These are the words of the Spanish ambassador, a “painfully precise description,” Weeks writes. Adams “had consciously distorted, dissembled, and lied about the goals and conduct of American foreign policy to both Congress and the public,” Weeks continues, grossly violating his proclaimed moral principles, “implicitly defending Indian removal, and slavery”. The crimes of Jackson and Adams “proved but a prelude to a second war of extermination against (the Seminoles),” in which the remnants either fled to the West, to enjoy the same fate later, “or were killed or forced to take refuge in the dense swamps of Florida”. Today, Weeks concludes, “the Seminoles survive in the national consciousness as the mascot of Florida State University” — a typical and instructive case…

…The rhetorical framework rests on three pillars (Weeks): “the assumption of the unique moral virtue of the United States, the assertion of its mission to redeem the world” by spreading its professed ideals and the ‘American way of life,’ and the faith in the nation’s “divinely ordained destiny”. The theological framework undercuts reasoned debate, and reduces policy issues to a choice between Good and Evil, thus reducing the threat of democracy. Critics can be dismissed as “anti-American,” an interesting concept borrowed from the lexicon of totalitarianism. And the population must huddle under the umbrella of power, in fear that its way of life and destiny are under imminent threat…

The main difference between then and now is that the powers that be are more sophisticated in manipulation. Below is the trailer to a documentary, “Culture of Fear” that features interviews with Chomsky and other experts.

Here is the link to the full documentary  http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/culture-of-fear

As we mark the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq,  it is critical that we remember exactly how Bush, Cheney and the rest of the neoconservative cabal played the politics of fear to get the war they wanted.  Over the last week or so we have been subjected to a series of mea culpa apologies from media pundits and so-called journalists rationalizing away their role in cheerleading the invasion. Everyone from David Frum, author of the “axis of evil” phrase, and Andrew Suulivan on the right, to Jonathan Chait and Ezra Klein on the left have offered “yes, but” apologies. Quite honestly, I am not interested. I agree with Charlie Pierce, they should all just go away. They really have lost all credibility for me.

As long as I am talking about documentaries, I have to include the BBC series, The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear. It explores the history and background of both radical Islam and the Neo-Conservatives. Originally produced in 2004, it was never broadcast in the United States. Fortunately, it is now available on You Tube. Here is part one with links to parts two and three below.

The Power of Nightmares Part Two

The Power of Nightmares Part Three

Friday Comedy Relief

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All and all, this has been a pretty depressing week. Continuing stupidity from the State Legislature- see here, here, here, and here. Continuing bad news like this. Never ending evidence that big banks are corrupt- that Catholic clergy are corrupt- and that wingnut Republicans are both corrupt and jaw-dropping stupid.

So, given that it is Friday and the great world keeps spinning no matter what we do or say, we might as well have a laugh.

I received the following in an email from a friend. A quick Google search shows that it has been popping up all over the internet so, if you have not yet seen it, I can claim you saw it here first. It is attributed to John Cleese, that former Monty Pithon and self described “British writer, actor and tall person”

Because I don’t like to post anything if I can’t verify the source, I tried to determine if John Cleese was, in fact, the author and it appears that he was not according to the John Cleese Forum and Snopes.com.

So, by John Cleese or not, jam packed with every possible stereotype, it is still pretty funny and a good way to end the week.

ALERTS TO THREATS IN EUROPE

The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent events in Syria and have therefore raised their security level from “Miffed” to “Peeved.” Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to “Irritated” or even “A Bit Cross.” The English have not been “A Bit Cross” since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies nearly ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from “Tiresome” to “A Bloody Nuisance.” The last time the British issued a “Bloody Nuisance” warning level was in 1588, when threatened by the Spanish Armada.

The Scots have raised their threat level from “Pissed Off” to “Let’s get the Bastards.” They don’t have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line of the British army for the last 300 years.

The French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from “Run” to “Hide.” The only two higher levels in France are “Collaborate” and “Surrender.” The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France ‘s white flag factory, effectively paralysing the country’s military capability.

Italy has increased the alert level from “Shout Loudly and Excitedly” to “Elaborate Military Posturing.” Two more levels remain: “Ineffective Combat Operations” and “Change Sides.”

The Germans have increased their alert state from “Disdainful Arrogance” to “Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs.” They also have two higher levels: “Invade a Neighbour” and “Lose.”

Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual; the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels.

The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy.

Australia, meanwhile, has raised its security level from “No worries” to “She’ll be alright, Mate.” Two more escalation levels remain: “Crikey! I think we’ll need to cancel the barbie this weekend!” and “The barbie is cancelled.” So far no situation has ever warranted use of the last final escalation level.

A final thought -“ Greece is collapsing, the Iranians are getting aggressive, and Rome is in disarray. Welcome back to 430 BC.”

Dim Bulb Award for March

dim-bulb Sometimes I have to hunt around a bit to find a candidate for the Dim Bulb Award. Other times, it just falls into my lap. Such is the case with The Award for March. One simple criteria for the award is when a particular display of dimness attract national attention.

Brent Crane’s ignorance in using the example of Rosa Parks to champion states rights serves as more evidence to the rest of the country that elected Idaho politicians are a collection of rubes who have recently fallen off the turnip truck. Here, for example, is the response from Wonkette under the headline,  Hero GOP Idaho Legislator Will Sit At Front Of Bus For States Rights and Freedom From Healthcare

Oh, state legislature debates in Idaho must be veritable Lincoln-Douglas dialogues, right? They’re likely all super-erudite and engage in thoughtful research before….fuck, we can’t even keep up this pretense for the rest of this sentence. We are totally gonna generalize and say that on the basis of this one GOP guy in Idaho, their GOP is mindnumbingly dumb. How dumb, you ask breathlessly? Dumb enough to use Rosa Parks as an example of why states rights matter.

The No. 3 Republican leader in the Idaho House says he made a “slight mistake” when he described Rosa Parks as a champion of states’ rights.

“One little lady got tired of the federal government telling her what to do,” Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane of Nampa said during Wednesday’s debate on Gov. Butch Otter’s bill establishing a state-run health insurance exchange. “I’ve reached that point, Mr. Speaker, that I’m tired of giving in to the federal government.”

What is this we don’t even…Did the number 3 Republican Leader in the Idaho House, a position that no doubt brings with it an unlimited amount of hookers, blow, potatoes, and militias, ever actually, you know, pay attention in school? Did he absorb even the tinest idea about how the civil rights movement worked and that it was actually a challenge to the horror of states’ rights and created a federal superstructure that actually trumped the racist fuckwit ideas of individual states? Nope!

Crane told me he received no feedback about his error until I inquired Thursday. “I had people say, ‘You did a great job in your debate.’ People understood the point I was trying to make. And I’m sorry if it was an oversight. Obviously, I didn’t do my research.”

Did Crane know the historical context before he Googled “Rosa Parks” on the House floor in preparation for his debate?

“I’m sure we went over that in history class in high school and possibly in history in college, possibly,” said Crane, who graduated from Nampa Christian High School and has a bachelor’s in political science from BSU.

Possible in history in college, possibly. Well-spoken AND on top of his facts. We could go on AND ON AND ON about how dumb this is, but seriously? It isn’t like you Wonklanders need an explanation of 8th grade civics to know this is jaw-droppingly dumb. You Wonklanders may, however, appreciate some friendly advice that perhaps political science at BSU should not be your major if you actually would like to learn some political science.

Hats off to you, though, Mr./Ms. Idaho Statesman reporter who has to cover this jerkwad. We’d advise you, in the future, to make good use of the Molly Ivins quote about a Texas legislator in reference this human pile of derp: “If his IQ slips any lower, we’ll have to water him twice a day.”

This was not the first time Crane let loose a jaw-dropping quote making him the object of national derision. In 2011, while debating a bill outlawing abortion after 20 weeks,

The Idaho bill’s House sponsor, state Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, told legislators that the “hand of the Almighty” was at work. “His ways are higher than our ways,” Crane said. “He has the ability to take difficult, tragic, horrific circumstances and then turn them into wonderful examples.”

Focus for a moment on where Crane received his education in civil rights and American history, Nampa Christian High School. Then consider a bill just passed by the Idaho legislature today.

The House is now debating HB 286, the bill to give $10 million in tax credits for donations to scholarships to send Idaho kids to private schools, with the idea that the state would save millions if kids dropped out of public schools to enroll in private schools instead. Rep. Mark Patterson, R-Boise, told the House that his children attend private schools. “This levels the playing field and it’s a great step in the right direction,” he said.

Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, countered, “I think the issue is not whether private schools are good for children in this state, because they are. I think the issue is this is policy that siphons money away from public and charter schools to be used for private schools. … We don’t give tax credits to adults who have no children, nor should we be giving tuition tax credits to those who have chosen an alternative to public education. It is their right and their choice, but the state should not subsidize that choice. We do not have enough money for public schools and public charter schools right now.”

Any question as to how Crane voted on the bill?  I didn’t think so.

crane vote

The Crane/Rosa Parks story gets a bit funnier (in a sad, pathetic way). In the Idaho Statesman article initially pointing out Crane’s flub, Dan Popkey included the photo below.

crane labrador

Who is that somewhat blurry figure in back of Crane, you may ask? Yes, it is Congressman Raul Labrador. According to Popkey, Raul was less than pleased to be connected in any way with Crane.

Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador’s spokesman asked that a photo including Labrador alongside Idaho House Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane, R-Nampa, be replaced on the Statesman’s website.

Crane, a top prospect for Labrador’s congressional seat should Labrador decided to run for governor against Otter in the 2014 Republican primary, is among Labrador’s closest friends. The photo was taken when Labrador was in the Idaho House in 2010. Also pictured is then-Rep. and now state Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian.

Shortly after 5 p.m. Friday, Labrador’s spokesman in Washington, D.C., Michael Tate, sent me the following brief email:  “I noticed an article from you today featured a photo of Congressman Labrador in a story not about him. Politely wondering if you are able to use a photo in the story without my boss?”

Ups and Downs and Ups

The economy gained 236,000 jobs in February, well above what had been expected, while the unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent, its lowest level since December 2008.

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 236,000 in February, with  job gains in professional and business services, construction, and health care.

Professional and business services added 73,000 jobs in February; employment in the industry had changed little (+16,000) in January. In February, employment in administrative and support services, which includes employment services and services to buildings, rose by 44,000. Accounting and bookkeeping services added 11,000 jobs, and growth continued in computer systems design and in management and technical consulting services.

In February, employment in construction increased by 48,000. Since September, construction employment has risen by 151,000. In February, job growth occurred in specialty trade contractors, with this gain about equally split between residential (+17,000) and nonresidential specialty trade contractors (+15,000). Nonresidential building construction also added jobs (+6,000).

The health care industry continued to add jobs in February (+32,000). Within health care, there was a job gain of 14,000 in ambulatory health care services, which includes doctors’ offices and outpatient care centers. Employment also increased over the month in nursing and residential care facilities (+9,000) and hospitals (+9,000).

Employment in the information industry increased over the month (+20,000), lifted by a large job gain in the motion picture and sound recording industry. Employment continued to trend up in retail trade in February (+24,000). Retail trade has added 252,000 jobs over the past 12 months. Employment also continued to trend up over the month in food services and drinking places and in wholesale trade. Employment in other major industries showed little change over the month.

The numbers would have been even better if not for the continuing cuts in public sector jobs.

Public-sector employment continued to shrink, however, as the number of government employees nationwide fell by 10,000.

Unfortunately, something else has gone up at an unprecedented rate, average global temperature. Unlike it’s obsession with business numbers, the main stream media doesn’t seem to be overly concerned with this much scarier statistic.

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According to Tim McDonnell, the real concern is not just that the average global temperature is higher than any time in the last 11,300 years; it is the amazing current rate of change.

Back in 1999, Penn State University climate scientist Michael Mann released the climate change movement’s most potent symbol: The “hockey stick,” a line graph of global temperature over the last 1,500 years that shows an unmistakable, massive uptick in the 20th century, when humans began to dump large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It’s among the most compelling bits of proof out there that human beings are behind global warming, and as such has become a target on Mann’s back for climate denialists looking to draw a bead on scientists.

Today, it’s getting a makeover: A study published in Science reconstructs global temperatures further back than ever before—a full 11,300 years. The new analysis finds that the only problem with Mann’s hockey stick was that its handle was about 9,000 years too short. The rate of warming over the last 100 years hasn’t been seen for as far back as the advent of agriculture.

“Under all plausible greenhouse gas emission scenarios,” the world is on track to surpass temperatures not seen since the dawn of civilization, according to the study. In 100 years, we’ve gone from the cold end of the spectrum to the warm end of the spectrum,” said climatologist Shaun Marcott, lead author of the study. “We’ve never seen something this rapid. Even in the ice age the global temperature never changed this quickly.”

Marcott said that current “global temperatures are warmer than about 75 percent of anything we’ve seen over the last 11,000 years or so.” By 2100, he said, global temperatures will be “well above anything we’ve ever seen in the last 11,000 years.”

The 1913 Women’s Suffrage Parade

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Exactly one century ago, March 3, 1913, a massive parade took place in Washington, D.C., one day before the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson. Although women had been struggling for the right to vote for more than 60 years, the Woman Suffrage Procession was the opening volley in a new major national effort toward women’s suffrage that resulted in women getting the vote seven years later.

The Atlantic provides some details.

Organized by Alice Paul for the National American Woman Suffrage Association, the parade, calling for a constitutional amendment, featured 8,000 marchers, including nine bands, four mounted brigades, 20 floats, and an allegorical performance near the Treasury Building. Though the parade began late, it appeared to be off to a good start until the route along Pennsylvania Avenue became choked with tens of thousands of spectators — mostly men in town for the inauguration. Marchers were jostled and ridiculed by many in the crowd. Some were tripped, others assaulted. Policemen appeared to be either indifferent to the struggling paraders, or sympathetic to the mob. Before the day was out, one hundred marchers had been hospitalized. The mistreatment of the marchers amplified the event — and the cause — into a major news story and led to congressional hearings, where the D.C. superintendent of police lost his job. What began in 1913 took another seven years to make it through Congress. In 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment secured the vote for women.

The Library of Congress’ wonderful American Memory site has some fascinating accounts of the event and the amazing women who led the suffrage fight.