Saturday, May 14, 2011

When Tea Partiers Attack -- Each Other: New York Candidates Beat Each Other Up Claiming The Mantle

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

It's always kind of amusing watching Republicans fight over that cherished Tea Party endorsement the way dogs fight over a bone. As they apparently are in upstate New York's congressional District 26 -- the district where Christopher Lee most recently posed as a Republican congressman -- where there's now a disgruntled ex-Republican candidate named Jack Davis running as a third-party Tea Party candidate against a Republican who likewise claims various Tea Party endorsements.

Seems things have gotten down to the usual thuggishness and pettiness:
A 15-second video shows a tea party congressional candidate in New York scuffling with a Republican Party volunteer who questioned his absence from a debate.

The video posted on YouTube shows candidate Jack Davis asking the volunteer Wednesday whether he wants to “punch it out” after a campaign event in Greece, outside Rochester.

Davis was responding to the man’s repeated calls for him to explain why he backed out of a debate held Thursday in Buffalo.

Davis announced Wednesday he’d changed his mind about participating in the debate with the two major party candidates in the May 24 special election for the 26th District seat. Instead, he said he’d speak to voters directly via an electronic town hall meeting May 21.

In the video, the 78-year-old candidate steps toward the volunteer, who was holding a camera and asking, “Why did you back out of the debate? Why did you back out of the debate?”

“Do you want to punch it out?” Davis asks before swiping at the camera with his right hand.

Davis then laughs as he walks to his car while a man who appears to be a Davis campaign aide approaches the cameraman. As the camera shakes, the cameraman groans out of view as if he has been struck and then resumes asking Davis, “Why did you back out of the debate?”
It turns out that the videographer is in fact the chief of staff for the Republican front-runner.

Of course, the national Tea Party organizations are disowning Davis and claiming he's a Democrat in disguise. Even though he in fact ran as a Republican candidate and earned the endorsement of the western New York Tea Partiers.

This should be entertaining to watch, if nothing else.

Remind Us Again Why Anyone Takes The Nutcase Tea Partiers Seriously

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

It's not just the racist outbursts and the intense adoption of bizarre conspiracy theories about the president's birth certificate that pretty clearly identifies the Tea Partiers as truly a bunch of loons. Then there are the costumes.

We got a prime example earlier this week in D.C., when a group of "Tea Party" spokesmen got up in front of reporters dressed in Revolutionary War costumes and intoned a raft of nutty stuff about fomenting a new American revolution.

What they were really on about was their contempt for House Speaker John Boehner as a "Republican In Name Only" who was selling them out on their key monetary issues. The press conference was indeed about attacking Republicans in the House and warning them they face defeat in the 2012 primaries if they fail to live up to their demands. And the key demand this week is that Republicans refuse to raise the limit on the national debt.

The presser seemed to have been organized by WorldNetDaily's Joseph Farah, who spoke second. But it was led off by a Georgia preacher named William Temple, dressed up as a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He explained:
TEMPLE: We do this colonial outfit to remind the current government of the first revolution. And we are in a revolution, the American people, right now.
Temple went on to claim, among other things, that he had led "1.9 million people" in the September 12 "March on Washington" last year that he claimed propelled Republicans to power. Um, right. In the real world, you see, he was one of about 90,000 people who mostly came to hear Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin.

Of course, part of these people's delusion is that they believe they are far more powerful than they really are. So there they were, demanding that Republicans step up and toe their line on raising the debt ceiling -- even, of course, if it means the United States is forced to default on its full faith and credit.

Later, another colonial impersonator -- this time doing George Washington -- stepped up to the podium and made more vague threats against wayward Republicans:

And the funny thing is, Republicans really believe this stuff. They are completely cowed by the Tea Partiers. That's who owns them now.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Right-wingers' Panties Get In A Knot Over Obama Calling Them Out On Immigration -- Especially Because Every Word Was True

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Republicans inside the Beltway were all bent out of shape this week over the fact that President Obama, in his speech on immigration earlier this week, called them out over their absurd gamesmanship on the issue:
PRESIDENT OBAMA: So, here’s the point. I want everybody to listen carefully to this. We have gone above and beyond what was requested by the very Republicans who said they supported broader reform as long as we got serious about enforcement. All the stuff they asked for, we’ve done. But even though we’ve answered these concerns, I’ve got to say I suspect there are still going to be some who are trying to move the goal posts on us one more time.

You know, they said we needed to triple the Border Patrol. Or now they’re going to say we need to quadruple the Border Patrol. Or they’ll want a higher fence. Maybe they’ll need a moat. (Laughter.) Maybe they want alligators in the moat. (Laughter.) They’ll never be satisfied. And I understand that. That’s politics.
This caused quite the huff among Republicans, who have been nothing if not crassly and openly partisan in their handling of immigration issues during Obama's tenure, abandoning all the pretense of bipartisanship they had adopted during the Bush years (see especially John McCain in this regard).

And it gave an excuse for the last of the "bipartisan" crowd, Sen. Richard Lugar, to join the Tea Party element in opposing the DREAM Act:
In a statement, Lugar spokesman Mark Helmke blamed Democrats for turning immigration into a partisan issue.

"President Obama's appearance in Texas framed immigration as a divisive election issue instead of attempting a legitimate debate on comprehensive reform," wrote Helmke. "Ridiculing Republicans was clearly a partisan push that effectively stops a productive discussion about comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act before the 2012 election."
Actually, the shoe is on the other foot: As long as Lugar's fellow Republicans insist on calling the DREAM Act "amnesty for illegals" and denouncing any effort to do something that is so clearly a no-brainer in the Right Thing To Do Department, then it's clear Obama can count on having a productive discussion about these issues from Republicans for the foreseeable future -- that is, until at least sometime after the 2012 elections.

Even more noteworthy is that Obama wasn't really saying anything controversial -- he was pointing out the cold reality on the ground.

There was a remarkable exchange in this regard the other morning on Fox News, when Alisyn Camerota -- filling in Megyn Kelly on America Live -- had a following conversation with reliable RightWingabot Monica Crowley on the subject. And Camerota (uncharacteristically for most Fox hosts) wanted to know exactly how Republicans could respond to Obama's salient points here.

And Crowley sputtered. At first she tried to deflect the answer into the familiar ground of "he's talking up immigration to help his re-election chances," but Camerota kept pushing -- and Crowley pretty much came up blank, sputtering an incoherent garble of whatever fake "facts" she could grasp out of the thin air:
CAMEROTA: OK, so to his point: More deportations, more boots on the ground, reinforcing the fence, and they're never satisfied. What do Republicans want?

CROWLEY: Well, I'm sure that that bit of sarcasm there with that bit about the moat with the alligators will go a long way to getting Republican support for whatever he wants to do. He's looking at his poll numbers, first and foremost, because, as I said, there's no way the the DREAM Act or any comprehensive immigration reform is gonna make it through, certainly before 2012. And what's happening, when he's looking at his core constituency, he's seeing a pretty significant dropoff among Hispanic voters. He won the Hispanic vote by two thirds in 2008. It is now down among Hispanics, his support is down to low to mid-50s, Ali, so what he's seeing is a need to shore up that core constituency, because he cannot win re-election without it.

CAMEROTA: OK, but to his point -- what more do Republicans want than what he has done?

CROWLEY: The ... [sigh] ... He deserves credit for what he has done so far. However, that does not solve the problem. The chaos on the border has actually gotten worse over the last many years than better. And so if you look and you talk to law-enforcement officials, where they're on the front lines, you talk to folks who are living on the front lines in Arizona and New Mexico and Texas -- they will tell you that the violence spillover -- 35,000 people have been killed in recent years over the border -- that violence spillover -- illegals coming across the border still at an unprecedented rate -- a lot needs to be done.
In reality, of course, there has been a sharp decline in border crossings in recent years, particularly as the U.S. economy his spiraled downward in a recession and unemployment has skyrocketed. But then, reality has never stopped people like Crowley from misreporting fake "facts" on Fox. It's a feature, not a bug.

Look, we'll never, NEVER be able to have an honest conversation with right-wingers about immigration, because they refuse to argue it honestly. Their recent tactic has been to demand that "first we secure the border, then we can talk reform." And then when all their demands are met, they just keep changing the goalposts. And then when they get called out on that, they claim we're just being unfair and uncivil.

Screw that. It's time to figure out how to move on without them.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Donald Trump's Unbelievable Candidacy: Its 15 Seconds Are Just About Up

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

It's incredible. Unbelievable. That Trump presidential bid is going big, baby -- as in the biggest, fastest collapse of a candidacy in history. Oh yeah.

From Public Policy Polling
Donald Trump has had one of the quickest rises and falls in the history of Presidential politics. Last month we found him leading the Republican field with 26%. In the space of just four weeks he's dropped all the way down to 8%, putting him in a tie for fifth place with Ron Paul.

Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney are at the top of the GOP race with 19% and 18% respectively. Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin are further back at 13% and 12%, followed by Trump and Paul at 8%, Michele Bachmann at 7%, and Tim Pawlenty at 5%.

As Trump got more and more exposure over the last month Republicans didn't just decide they weren't interested in having him as their nominee- they also decided they flat don't like him. Only 34% of GOP voters now have a favorable opinion of Trump to 53% who view him in a negative light.
Maybe this is why Trump was on Fox last night with Martha MacCallum and complained bitterly about how he's being treated in the press. Apparently, it's bad for the country to criticize great leaders like Donald Trump, even when they make utter buffoons of themselves by trumpeting easily disproven conspiracy theories:
MACCALLUM: ...You know, when you go home at night and you talk to your wife and you think about all this, how does get -- this hammering, in your words, how does that get factored into the decision?

TRUMP: Well, I think it's very bad for the country. And it doesn't affect my decision because I think I have a pretty thick skin. But I think it's very bad for the country because the kind of people -- and I'm not talking about myself, I'm talking about generally speaking. The kind of person you need to run this country has to be somebody that really has accomplished a lot because he's got to accomplish -- he or she has to accomplish a lot for the country.
The guy is so completely out to lunch that his Republican fans are fleeing him in droves. Ah, Donald, we hardly knew ye. Because there was so little to know.

Makes you wonder why the hell Trump got trotted out for public consumption in the first place. And then I remembered: He was always a stalking horse who'd make the rest of the Republican presidential field look sane and intelligent by comparison.

That, and he had one other good use. Eric Boehlert caught this one a couple of weeks ago, when Andrea Tantaros told some accidental truth on O'Reilly's show:

Let the man speak. He's got a bigger megaphone than Romney, Pawlenty, Gingrich, than all of them combined. And you know what; he can drive up Obama's negatives more than any of the other of those GOP candidates.
Sure. He can self-immolate like the flaming gasbag he is on his own good time. But what he may have done instead is accidentally drive up Obama's positives: They got one look at a real comparison between the two men last week, and it wasn't even a contest.

Mississippi Floods Are Already A Slow-mo Disaster -- And It's Going To Get Worse

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Those floods along the Mississippi River that have already displaced thousands of people are predicted to get even worse in the coming weeks:
The swollen Mississippi River carried its dangers of flooding and damage into the Delta on Wednesday morning as residents in three states including Louisiana prepared for weeks of battling the river’s growing energy.

The river crested just inches below its record stage of 48.7 feet in Memphis, Tenn., on Tuesday. But, by Wednesday morning, the river had passed its record in Natchez, Miss., reaching 58 feet and growing, according to the National Weather Service. Forecasters predict the river will crest in Natchez on May 21 at about 64 feet.

At Vicksburg, Miss., the river is expected to crest at 57.5 feet on May 19, about 1.5 feet above the record crest of 1927, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. In Helena, Ark., the river on Wednesday was at more than 56 feet, about 12 feet above flood stage.
“The flood crest along the Mississippi is forecast to move slowly downstream towards New Orleans during the next three weeks,” the weather service said in a posting on its website Wednesday morning.

“The White River, the Arkansas River, Big Black River are just a few major tributaries that may be impacted by the Mississippi main stem flooding. Interstate 40 west of Memphis between Hazen and Brinkley is closed in both directions due to the White River overflowing its banks. At this time there is no anticipated time for reopening the road," the statement said.

The swollen river has forced thousands of people along the watery route to seek higher ground, hundreds going to shelters. Crops have been washed away, hundreds of millions of dollars in damage has already been reported and more is expected. As the floodwater moves south, officials worry about the impact on Mississippi’s casino industry and later on Louisiana’s petroleum facilities.
There's also lots of concern in the Delta, where these waters are headed:
RENA LARA, Miss. (AP) — Crews are working to shore up levees along the swelling Mississippi River, as the crest continues to move south.

Dump trucks have been hauling gravel to a levee in the small Mississippi community of Rena Lara, where people are uneasy. Public officials are assuring them that they expect the levee to hold, and that they will give them plenty of notice if they need to leave.

But one woman there says, "It's getting scary." She says residents aren't being allowed up to the riverbank.

In Louisiana, inmates are filling sandbags to protect Cajun swamp communities. The areas could be flooded if engineers open a spillway to protect the Baton Rouge area.
The river reached its peak yesterday in Memphis, Tenn., just inches short of the record. Some low-lying neighborhoods were inundated, but high levees protected much of the rest of the city.

Officials say the river level has decreased slightly today in Memphis. But some homes were left with polluted floodwaters near their first-floor ceilings, and others are completely submerged.
Here's an excellent explainer from CNN.

And here are some ways you can help flooding and tornado victims:
The Salvation Army continues to provide services across the south. It has served more than 165,000 meals, provided 54 mobile feeding units, and Salvation Army officers, employees and volunteers have served a total of 40,371 hours. Click here for ways to donate.

United Way is working with private, public, faith-based and community partners to assess the long-term recovery needs of each community. It is also helping in the provision of food, shelter, emergency health and transportation for those affected by the floods. The United Way of the Mid-South (Memphis, Tennessee) and United Way of the Capitol Area (Jackson, Mississippi) have each established disaster relief funds.

The American Red Cross is helping flood victims forced from their homes. In Memphis, 400 Red Cross volunteers are helping to run Red Cross shelter and are providing food and water to residents and first responders. In Jackson, Mississippi, more than 50 volunteers gathered to assemble relief kits. Click here to donate to the Red Cross. You can also make a $10 donation by texting the word "REDCROSS" to 90999.

AmeriCares has been delivering medicines, medical supplies and aid to people across the South since the tornadoes struck. Click here to donate.

CNN has compiled a comprehensive list of organizations helping victims across the South. For more information on the organizations and how to donate, click here.
Eventually, climate change is going to be brought into this conversation, because these kinds of floods -- featuring unusual volumes of water being delivered into river systems from the atmosphere -- are in fact exactly what climate-change scientists predicted would occur as a result of global warming. And as sure as night follows day, the right-wing denialists will be attacking any such observations.

Stossel Thinks There Shouldn't Be Any Government Farm Loans -- Then You Wouldn't Have Racist Discrimination

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

John Stossel went on Bill O'Reilly's show last night to discuss his little weekend shoutfest with the would-be victim of Breitbart's long-running "Pigford" smear, attorney Al Pires.

Stossel concluded of course that their intended pinata had been smashed to pieces at his own hand because he had resorted to personal attacks -- this, from a guy who ran a chryon Pires as a "freeloader" throughout his, and who attacked him personally throughout the segment as a "scam" attorney.

On O'Reilly, it was once again a session smearing Pires as a rich, money-grubbing leech lawyer out to rip people off, even though the closest Breitbart and Co. can get to "proving" this characterization is with an endless string of dubious insinuations. Stossel just made it clear that Pires should creep people out -- but he won't suggest there was anything illegal about what Pires did, nor in fact can he even point to any unethical behavior. This kind of sliming of their targets is itself deeply slimy.

And then, almost comically, Stossel admitted that in fact Pires' case in court was sound, and his legal victory was a matter of simple justice. But then he reverted to his libertarian prism and tried arguing that these farmers shouldn't have been in the position of asking the federal government for a loan in the first place -- because, in Stossel Land, there shouldn't be such programs at all!
O'REILLY: Now, in a situation like this, where you have a class-action suit against the federal government, the federal government usually folds. But in this case, you say there was some evidence they denied loans, legitimate government loans, to people based on the color of their skin?

STOSSEL: Yes -- and this is another reason: why is the government giving out farm loans in the first place? OK? They shouldn't, but they are.

O'REILLY: Well, it's affirmative action, isn't it? I mean, to try to help people in certain areas. That's under that banner.

STOSSEL: It's also farm -- Agriculture Department pork. You should go to a private bank and get a loan. Then if a bank is racist, they lose money to a bank that isn't racist, because they get the good business from the minorities. But -- the government was giving out the money, and some of the loan officers were racist.
Apparently Stossel doesn't believe in the Federal Farm Credit system -- which tells you that he's never been a farmer, either. Nor is he even being logical, since the farm-credit system doesn't cost taxpayers a thing. As the FCA's site explains:
All Government financial assistance was repaid, with interest, by 2005. FCA itself does not receive any Government appropriations; rather, FCA operations are funded through assessments paid by FCS institutions.
Y'see, before passage of the Federal Farm Loan Act, farmers were entirely at the mercy of banks when it came to getting loans for their crops or other needs. Since 1908, government loans have been part of American farmers' bedrock, their means for surviving when private banks turned against them. Stossel wants to return us to the good ol' days of Pottersville, evidently.

Similarly, his astonishing assertion that the magic of the banking marketplace would solve any racism issues among private bankers should any discriminate against race is laughable in the context of the historical reality of the old South, where every banker was either an active racist or was cowed into denying loans to black people because they would suffer business losses if they did so. (That was what the White Citizens Councils were about.) Evidently, Stossel is similarly eager to return us to those good ol' days, too.

Even more ironic is that one of the real legacies of that tradition of threatening to destroy successful black people in the South was the decades of discrimination against black farmers, particularly in the South, which kept thousands of people from farming. And Stossel thinks it's a travesty that those people should get remuneration now. Guess we can see which side the "libertarians" fall on, can't we?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Breitbart Gets Pwned By 'Pigford' Attorney, Targeted In His Latest Smear Campaign

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

John Stossel devoted his show this past weekend to an attempt to defend his report on "freeloaders" -- which not only was riddled throughout with false "facts," outright falsehoods, gross distortions, and misleading sound bytes, it was nakedly racist in its depiction of minorities who are the beneficiaries of government largesse as cheaters and chiselers.

So who did he invite on to help make this case? Why, Andrew Breitbart -- liar, prevaricator, and misleader extraordinaire -- of course. Breitbart, you see, was Stossel's chief source for the segment on black farmers who are supposedly ripping off the government in the Pigford case -- the non-story that Breitbart has been assiduously, obsessively pursuing as a way of trying to cover his tracks for his grotesque performance in the Shirley Sherrod matter.

He also invited on Al Pires, one of the lead attorneys for those same farmers, to serve as their pinata for the segment. Except it turned out that this pinata had his own big stick -- and went right after Breitbart for the fact that his reportage on the Pigford case has been a wanton exercise in legal (and agricultural ignorance:
PIRES: I don't know who Mr. Breitbart is. He's obviously not a farmer and he's not a journalist -- none of that's even remotely true.


Who are you? Making fun of people who have the guts to take cases against the government. You don’t know anything about farming and litigation. You’re some gadfly from Hollywood. I looked you up. You’re some guy who didn’t have a job for ten years.


Yeah, I know who you are. You’re some gadfly from Hollywood. You’re the son of a rich family, you never worked for a living in your life. You go around making fun of poor people, you go making fun of Indians and Blacks and Hispanics and women and I’m not putting up with it. I feel bad for you. You’re a sad, sad person. Why don’t you go get a job?
I especially got a kick out of Stossel trying to pretend that no, really, Breitbart is a journalist! Sorry, dude -- you actually have to practice journalism -- which entails a balanced search of facts and truth -- and not thesis-driven propaganda to earn that title.

Mind you, Pires could have been far more effective if he had just started listing the times Breitbart and Co. have been caught deceptively editing videos and lying about their subjects. But that's OK.

Sometimes it's satisfying to just see guys like Breitbart get slapped down on every imaginable basis -- and with this particular lying liar, even personal rips like these are fully deserved. Especially when the entire segment is devoted to an ad-hominem smear of their victim as a rich conniver. Can't blame him for tossing the same game back in their faces.

The Foxheads/Cheneyites Claim That Torture Works, So America Should Become A Torture Nation

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

The right-wingers keep claiming -- contra reality -- that Osama bin Laden's death was made possible by torture, proving that torture works. But even if you ignore reality and admit for argument's sake that it does work, the question then goes begging: Should the United States be doing it?

Following the weekend's steady drumbeat, the meme that "the torture worked" was again the main topic on Fox yesterday, this time bouncing off Chris Wallace's wankery on Sunday. Both Bill O'Reilly (as Karoli notes) and Sean Hannity built their entire shows around this single snippet.

The most appalling performance came from Liz Cheney on Hannity's show:

HANNITY: All right. On the next segment, what I mentioned with Dick Morris, so we are going to play this tape of FOX News' Sunday host Chris Wallace. I thought he asked a really good question of the White House National Security adviser, about, you know, enhanced interrogations are contrary to American values. Well, is that worse than putting a bullet in the brain of bin Laden? I mean, I thought the answer was weak. We'll show in the minute, but go ahead.

CHENEY: Yes, you know, I think you are exactly right. And I thought it was a great question that Chris asked. Because this administration, you know, even before they came into office worked hard to try to score political points by making allegations that simply weren't true about the enhance interrogation program. And trying to act as it though it was somehow counter to American values. Now, I don't think, you know, probably most people watching tonight have no problem at all, I certainly don't, I know you don't, with the fact that the Navy SEALs killed Usama bin Laden. But, if it is OK to go after terrorists to do targeted assassinations, which I believe it is, and the administration seems to believe it is.

Then it is very hard to understand how it is not OK from their perspective to subject terrorists to the very same techniques that our own people have to go through in SEAL training. And a very specific example of this is Chip Burlingame who was the pilot of American airlines flight 77 who was killed by the terrorists exactly. And he himself was subjected to these techniques. So, I think it is pretty appalling that the administration is trying to score political points here, trying to sustain a position that is unsustainable. And frankly, that makes us less safe because it means if we do in fact capture somebody as a result of this treasure trove, there's no really effective way we've got in place right now to interrogate them.
But then we get to what this is all really about: Vindicating the torture conducted under the Bush regime:
HANNITY: Do you believe what happened in the killing of bin Laden vindicates -- your father was a fierce, strong advocate is to this day of enhanced interrogations, black sites, rendition policies, all of the things that President Obama cancelled -- go ahead.

CHENEY: I think that it certainly shows that those programs worked. I think it is one more piece of evidence. We knew that those programs were effective before. We now know that they helped lead us to the information that ultimately led to bin Laden. And I think once again, you know, it shows that the administration, as were you saying in the last segment, they ought to stop this investigation, stop this threat of prosecution of those Americans who in fact, bravely carry out these programs. It is really an abomination that they are continuing to live under the threat of indictment and the threat of prosecution for something that led to the death of bin Laden.
There's only one little problem with Cheney's and Hannity's love of torture: It's illegal, immoral, unethical, and depraved. OK, make that a few little problems.

The most succinct answer to this palpable load of utter rubbish came from Matthew Alexander, the former military-intelligence interrogator who has been a consistent and thoughtful critic of the use of torture. He was on Democracy Now with Amy Goodman a few days ago (via mcjoan) and offered a careful explanation of why torture is never, ever right -- even beyond the fact that it wastes resources and really doesn't work:

ALEXANDER: My argument is pretty simple, Amy. I don’t torture because it doesn’t work. I don’t torture because it’s immoral, and it’s against the law, and it’s inconsistent with my oath of office, in which I swore to defend the Constitution of the United States. And it’s also inconsistent with American principles. So, my primary argument against torture is one of morality, not one of efficacy.

You know, if torture did work and we could say it worked 100 percent of the time, I still wouldn’t use it. The U.S. Army Infantry, when it goes out into battle and it faces resistance, it doesn’t come back and ask for the permission to use chemical weapons. I mean, chemical weapons are extremely effective—we could say almost 100 percent effective. And yet, we don’t use them. But we make this—carve out this special space for interrogators and say that, well, they’re different, so they can violate the laws of war if they face obstacles.

And that’s an insult to American interrogators, who are more than capable of defeating our enemies and al-Qaeda in the battle of wits in the interrogation room. And American interrogators have proven this time and time again, from World War II through Vietnam, through Panama, through the First Gulf War. And let’s go back to the successes of American interrogators. You know, American interrogators found Saddam Hussein without using torture. We found and killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda Iraq, which helped turn the Iraq war, without using torture. And numerous other leaders that we have found and captured—another guy named Zafar, that I describe in my book—all these successes have come without the use of torture.

GOODMAN: You say that the use of torture was al-Qaeda’s number one recruiting tool.

ALEXANDER: Yes. When I was in Iraq, I oversaw the interrogations of foreign fighters. And those foreign fighters, the majority of them, said, time and time again, the reason they had come to Iraq to fight was because of the torture and abuse of detainees at both Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay. And this is not my opinion. The Department of Defense tracked these statistics. And they were briefed, every interrogator who arrived there, that torture and abuse was al-Qaeda’s number one recruiting tool.
That's a simple and unambiguous answer to the Foxheads and Cheneyites out there who want torture to be a legitimate tool of government agencies.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Media Talkers' Favorite False Equivalencies About Extreme Rhetoric Won't Fly On Maher's Show Anymore

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Bill Maher has been on something of a jihad against the growth of false equivalencies in the media narrative, and bless him for that. Friday night on HBO's Real Time, he laid into Irshad Manji and David Frum for playing that game, with an able assist from Michael Eric Dyson.

It started out when Manji tried to claim that vicious demonization is just part of the political game played nowadays:

MANJI: But that's politics, dude! That's politics.

DYSON: Yeah, but that's not politics. Your side is wrong, my side is right is politics. But when you get into demonizing other people and making them monsters, that's a different kind of thing. And don't forget --

MANJI: I agree, and I would have said that to Keith Olbermann, by the way, when he had his, you know, 'Worst Persons of the Day' or night or whatever it was. I mean, he was just as bad as --

MAHER: That was a joke.

MANJI: Oooh, it's just -- of course it was.

MAHER: Stop it.

MANJI: Demonizing? Caricatures?

MAHER: OK. first of all, 'Worst Persons' -- I think we know that that's a joke. That we don't really think that it's the worst person in the world. It's called hyperbole. Satire.

MANJI: But the point is, it's like sex -- everybody does it. Everybody does it. So why the double standard, and, you know, sort of pointing out that one sides does it, but when the other side does it, that just a joke?

DYSON: I don't think it's hyperbole on the side of the folk I would say are the right-wingers who I would say are demonizing people. That's not hyperbole. They actually believe it. With religious fervor, they believe it.

MANJI: My friend, I know so many people on the left who believe their own BS as well. They completely dehumanize people on the right.

MAHER: No one's even arguing that. That the Democrats or the progressives or the liberals are perfect -- they fall way short. But you are professing something that I think is even more dangerous: false equivalency. Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann are not the same thing.

Good for Maher. We've been saying the same thing at this site for a long time.

Then David Frum tried to theorize that the nastiness has just been getting progressively worse since the 1980s -- and bases it on the laughable claim that George W. Bush had it worse than Bill Clinton!
FRUM: I'll concede to you that it's true, that the kind of vitriol that President Obama encounters is worse than what President Bush encountered. That's true. It's also true that what President Bush encountered is worse than what President Clinton encountered. And what President Clinton encountered is worse than what President George H.W. Bush --

MAHER: Bush got worse than Clinton? He got impeached!

FRUM: In terms of the --

MAHER: No seriously.
Evidently, Frum has wiped from his memory cells the wild cottage industry in conspiracy theories that sprang up around Clinton: the he-and-Hillary-killed-Vince Foster theory, the Mena-drug-running-clan theory, the "Clinton Body Count" that was in everyone's e-mail, the "black love child" theory, and of course the many and voluminous "New World Order" theories in which military transport movements were circulated out of fear of an impending United Nations takeover of America. And those are just a few. More to the point, many of them were circulated and promoted by mainstream conservatives in the mainstream media. They weren't merely the work of fringe nutcases.

In contrast, Bush had to put up with relatively little conspiracism during his tenure -- the main example being the 9/11 Truthers, who started out as and have largely remained a symbiotic far-left/far-right conspiracy fringe, with the far right (think Alex Jones) playing by far the dominant role in recent years. But these theories largely remained on the fringe -- and the overwhelming majority of the people who opposed him did not believe them, either. Those people opposed him because they had real-world, rational issues with Bush: his conduct of the wars, his handling of the economy, his very real abuses of the Constitution.

Contrast that, if you will, with the people who hated Bill Clinton and now hate Barack Obama -- because, as Maher points out, they believed them at base to be illegitimate:
FRUM: I don't mean what is said on television, and the talkers and the ranters. But what I worry about is the normalization of paranoid theories in our politics. And that is worse in every cycle. It's true it's worse now than it was then.

MAHER: I fundamentally disagree with that. When Democrats get elected, Clinton and Obama the last two -- there was a view on a lot of people on the right that the election is just illegitimate from the get-go. And that whatever we do to remove this person, whether birth certificate bullshit, or finding him with Monica Lewinsky or Whitewater, is justified, because we know what's right for this country, and therefore any way we can get him out is the right thing. And I do not think that happens on the other side.
The illegitimacy is the key to the puzzle: Because these people are right-wing authoritarians, they are systemically inclined to follow authority, and so literally cannot handle the prospect of a person they see as left wing in such a position. This leads inevitably to a worldview that the left-wing politician in question is a mere interloper, a pretender to authority who must be resisted, not obeyed, and it becomes vital to build a case against their legitimacy. At that point, logic, reason, and factuality become secondary if not entirely disposable altogether -- what matters is proving illegitimacy. So building such a case inevitably entails embracing falsehoods and conspiracy theories -- and these become untouchable truths, the fundaments of their realities, and no amount of reason can dent them.
It is, in other words, a recipe for mass insanity.

Frum and Manji aren't the only people in denial about this. There are all kinds of well-meaning conservatives who want to rescue their movement from the insane Tea Partying populists who have taken over the Right since Obama's election, including David Brooks, who in attacking the Limbaughs and the Becks nonetheless insisted that "everybody does it": "The White House understands, you've got 10 percent of the country over here on the wacky right, 10 percent on the wacky left, that's not what they can pay attention to. And they're not going to pay attention to it."

As we noted at the time:
Brooks' percentages are off -- it's more like about 5 percent on the left and 30 percent on the right side, and this latter fact is actually what he identifies as the problem; the right has been so overwhelmed by its wingnutty elements that they have largely taken over the GOP at this juncture in time. And there's no prospect of the David Brookses ever getting it back -- in no small part because they refuse to acknowledge the magnitude of what they're up against.
Mind you, this is also a major theme of our book, Over the Cliff: How Obama's Election Drove the American Right Insane:

As we observed in the last chapter, describing the descent of conservatism into madness:
It’s particularly ominous for the state of our national discourse. As we have seen through the long and sordid history of right-wing populism in this country—particularly the way it has relied on scapegoating, smears, conspiracy theories, falsehoods, and unhinging rhetoric, all of which inevitably unleash violent, extremist rage—the foundations of democracy suffer at the hands of these movements.

As Democratic representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon observed to PolitiFact in the aftermath of Palin’s “death panels” lie: “It’s a sobering prospect that political discourse is going to resemble hand-to-hand combat for the foreseeable future.”

Blumenauer added that such a prospect bodes ill for involving average citizens in the democratic process: “I think they’re losing their appetite to wade through the vitriol, and I’m in the same boat. We are moving to a point where we drive normal people away, and everybody else gets their news and increasingly opinion prescreened, going for days never hearing an opposing viewpoint. That gives me pause.”
I also tackled the issues of false equivalencies in The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right:
Ironically, Malkin has also been a leader in the contingent of the conservative movement that insists that it is liberals, not conservatives, who have been “unhinged” in their rhetoric and driving the national discourse over a cliff. This retort is standard to any mention of the Right’s proclivity for eliminationist rhetoric. Malkin, in fact, wrote an entire book to support this thesis.

The increasingly nasty tone of liberal rhetoric in recent years, especially on an interpersonal level, is also important to note. Some of the examples Malkin cites are ugly, indeed, as are some of the examples of bile directed toward George W. Bush in recent years.

However, most of the examples Malkin and her fellow conservatives point to involve anger directed at a specific person—most typically, George Bush or Dick Cheney—and often for reasons related to the loss of American and civilian lives in Iraq. Few of them are eliminationist—that is, most do not call for the suppression and eradication of an entire class or bloc of people. Rather, the hatred is focused on a handful of individuals.

In contrast, right-wing rhetoric has been explicitly eliminationist, calling for the infliction of harm on entire blocs of American citizens: liberals, gays and lesbians, Latinos, blacks, Jews, feminists, or whatever target group is the victim du jour of right-wing ire. This vile form of “anti-discourse” has been coming from the most prominent figures of movement conservatism: its most popular pundits and its leading politicians. And the sheer volume and intensity of the rhetoric dwarf whatever ugliness is coming from the liberal side of the debate.