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The Home of the Brave Trembles in Fear »

Huddled Syrians yearning to breathe free must take their yearnings elsewhere Dec 12 2015

It has become routine for America to disgrace itself. Having always been a scold of other nations' human rights abuses, in the panic after the 9/11 attacks we immediately cast aside the values we preach to others by rounding up over a thousand American Muslims for months of detention without cause. We set up secret black sites outside the country to which we "renditioned" captives for torture. We set up an out of Canada Welcomes Syrians : Dec.14: Newly-elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greeted refugees with "You are home" and might as well have been scolding America when he said, "Tonight, they step off the plane as refugees. But they walk out of this terminal as permanent residents of Canada, with social insurance numbers, with health cards, and with an opportunity to become full Canadians."
    

country site for the indefinite detention without trial of "enemy combatants" at Guantánamo. And now, with Europe overwhelmed with refugees and some countries accepting hundreds of thousands, America's Republican leaders hope to slam the door, defying President Obama's intent to place a mere 10,000 Syrian refugees throughout our country, a minuscule number just 1% of what tiny Lebanon has accepted.

To keep them out, the House passed a bill that would place new hurdles in the path of admitting the refugees; state governors — over two dozen, all but one a Republican — vowed to refuse to accept the Syrians; and all Republican candidates for the presidency announced their opposition to admitting them. The three Democratic candidates would allow entry.

That terrorists could pose as refugees and slip into the country is the nominal fear. The actual driver is the spinelessness of politicians who fear that if that happens, and American deaths result, they will be held responsible and voted from office. They are in accord with the 53% of Americans who oppose the admittance of Syrian refugees, which says that Americans reliably fail in practice to follow what they believe they stand for.

ryan's go-along leadership

The bill passed by the House was shepherded by newly elected House Speaker Paul Ryan. "Our nation has always been welcoming. But we
cannot allow terrorists to take advantage of our compassion". So we will abandon this spurious compassion, nowhere in evidence, because "the prudent, the responsible thing" is to pause the refugee program "to verify that terrorists are not trying to infiltrate the refugee program". Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has an alternative simpler than admitting refugees. Instead "what we need is a strategy obviously to give the refugees an opportunity to stay in their own country".

And so, voting 289 to 137, with close to 50 Democrats in support, the House passed a bill that would require the heads of the F.B.I., Homeland Security and national intelligence to attest that each applicant for refugee status from Syria and Iraq poses no threat. Already in place is a rigorous process of background checks first by the U.N. and then multiple U.S. agencies that takes two years. Calling upon three parts of the executive branch to do their own vetting and making individuals responsible is clearly aimed at tying the process in knots so as to shut out the refugees altogether.

Mr. Obama emphasizes that refugees are already subjected to “the most rigorous vetting process that we have for anybody who is admitted”. Lavinia Limon, president of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, affirms that “refugees are the most thoroughly vetted people to enter this country”. Nevertheless, our Congress seems incapable of reasoning that, given the length of time a refugee applicant must wait before gaining entry to the U.S., the refugee path is the least sensible way to infiltrate the country. A terrorist could instead simply fly in on a tourist or student visa and go right to work. “That somehow [refugees] pose a more significant threat than all the tourists who pour into the United States every single day just doesn’t jibe with reality,” Obama said.

home rule

Over two dozen governors — only one a Democrat — intend to set their own rules. They vow they will disallow refugee placement in their states. "I write to inform you that the State of Texas will not accept any refugees from Syria", said Governor Greg Abbott of Texas to the President, and Texas has now gone to federal court to keep Syrian refugees out of the state. Governor Mike Pence of Indiana turned away a Syrian family and when apprised that he had no authority to do so said he would instruct state agencies to refuse assist the refugees. (The family was relocated to Connecticut; the ACLU has filed suit.)

Washington's Democratic governor, Jay Inslee, reminds us that the United States has always been a refuge for the storm-tossed and warns that now "the American character is being tested".

Apart from the hostility and indifference to people in need, are these two dozen governors really unaware that they cannot deny freedom of movement between the 50 states, that they cannot shut out people from their state?

They are mostly the same governors who have lobbied for years to preventing the closing of Guantánamo and the transfer of detainees to their states. Why they are so fearful is baffling, as if they expect the captives will somehow break out of their prisons to wreak havoc. Congressional Republicans have done the governors' bidding by keeping laws in place to thwart Obama's original campaign pledge to close Guantánamo. In reaction to his recently announced intention to close the base anyway, Congress has just passed a military funding bill with provisions tacked on that make it still more difficult to shut down Guantanamo. The bill bans bringing detainees to the United States altogether, even for prosecution, and even bans transfer to other countries.

showing true colors

The conduct of the Republican candidates for the presidency has been uniformly reprehensible, going well beyond simply recommending a pause or a "timeout".

"The fact is that we need for appropriate vetting", said Chris Christie, indicative of several of the candidates hurriedly making statements in the wake of the Paris bombings before informing themselves of the stringent refugee vetting process already in place.

Ben Carson chose an offensive stand-in for Syrians saying we must protect our children from "a rabid dog running around your neighborhood" but that "doesn’t mean that you hate all dogs by any stretch of the imagination”. He wrote House Speaker Paul Ryan urging legislation to cut off funding for settling Syrian refugees.

Bobby Jindal, who has since dropped out of the race, issued an executive order seeking to prevent Syrian refugees from being resettled in his state of Louisiana. John Kasich said he will write to President Obama asking him to stop resettling Syrians in his Ohio and thinks there should be a new government agency to broadcast Judeo-Christian values around the world.

Ted Cruz called it "absolute lunacy" to resettle Syrians in this country. "Who in their right mind would want to bring over tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, when we cannot determine…who is and who isn't a terrorist?", he asks. Marco Rubio concurs. He would be "open" to accepting refugees "if there was a way to ensure they were not being infiltrated by terrorists", a requirement of perfect safety not found elsewhere in the affairs of man.

Cruz expressed astonishment that only 3% of the Syrians who have so far gained entry to the U.S. are Christians. Cruz and Jeb Bush think we should only admit Christian Syrians. "We do not have religious tests for our compassion", Obama reminded them.

Donald Trump said, "I'm putting people on notice that are coming here from Syria as part of this mass migration, that if I win, they're going back", contending that Islamic State militants could be hiding among them. A total of 2,290 Syrian refugees have arrived in the United States over the three years of the Syrian civil war. No terrorists have yet emerged. Former ambassador to Syria Ryan Crocker knows "how highly Syrians value hard work and education". In a Wall Street Journal op-ed he says, "They're precisely the people I'd want living next door to me and attending my children's schools." Moreover, State Department data says 67% of those referred to the U.S. by the U.N. have been children under the age of 12 and women.

That scares Christie. "I don't think that orphans under 5 should be admitted to the United States at this point".

As president, Trump would consider creating a government database to track Muslims in the U.S. Does he perhaps think they should be made to wear yellow armbands embroidered with the star and crescent?

"I cannot think of a more potent recruitment tool for ISIL than some of the rhetoric that has been coming out of here during the course of the debate", was Obama's remonstrance. "Many of these refugees are the victims of terrorism themselves. That's what they are fleeing".

And that's the senseless contradiction. To assure the safety of their constituents, politicians are determined to shut out people fleeing from the horrors of a country filled with death and bombed to rubble who themselves want only to find safety. But that does not register with the best and brightest we send to Washington.

safe space

In a Wall Street Journal symposium, Marco Rubio says, "You cannot accurately do a background check on 10,000 people". True enough. Nor be sure you will never have an auto accident, or fall off a ladder. Guaranteed safety is not available in life. An obsessive quest to make America safe and hermetically sealed by shutting out refugees from fear there might be a needle in the haystack seems to have become the zeitgeist, witness the parallel at universities where students insist that their institutions be cocoons shielding them from the unpleasantness of the world without. South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy summed up a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee that quizzed government officials on safety with, "I haven’t heard a single one of you say there’s no risk". The new demand is for a country so safe as to be risk-free.

That's impossible, of course. There are risks. That's the chance we have to take. For this of all countries to refuse its part in the massive refugee crisis in order to tuck in safe and sound in our homes while others suffer is shameful. The upshot of excluding the 10,000, and the tens of thousands more that this country should bring in, amounts to massive collective punishment of those in desperate straits out of fear for what some one or two of them might do.

Obama tweeted, "Slamming the door in the face of refugees would betray our deepest values". We have been down this road before, to our eternal shame, as when in the 1930s we turned away 10,000 mostly Jewish refugee children from Germany, sending the ship, the "St. Louis", back to Europe where an untold number would meet their death. (Polls were 2-to-1 against accepting them). We then interned somewhere between 110,000 and 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry out of fear some would spy for Tokyo. Those now in government from new generations who no longer learn history are making the same mistake.

Isn't it odd that we celebrate the extraordinary bravery of the "greatest generation", those hundreds of thousands of Americans who died facing the terrible odds of flying the next mission or attacking the next pillbox, yet half of us seem to have become cowards, unrepentant to casting aside what America has always stood for and turn away "the wretched refuse of your teeming shore", choosing instead to become huddled masses yearning to be safe.

Combat Exaggeration — Transcending Partisanship »

Mar 5 2015

By guest columnist Al Rodbell

Yesterday, some friends who get together after tennis were shooting the breeze, which sometimes gets political and has been known to become a bit heated. We got onto the issue of exaggeration of the closeness to combat, recently in the news, first Brian Williams and later accusations against Bill O'Reilly. I shared an insight that this related to "stolen valor," a specific term meaning a 2005 law (ruled unconstitutional) that would have made it a federal crime to claim possession of a given medal of honor for combat service in wartime.

My antagonist, was a Rush Limbaugh fan I'll call Dave. We both were active in getting our city to triple the size of the tennis center that we now enjoy most every morning, and have collaborated on such recreational issues afterwards. I rib him about his reliance on Rush, and once, when I agreed with the celebrity newsman, I told Dave about it and then when he thought I was being converted, I said, "....after his riff about something that was not really political right before he went to commercial, he had to make a connection, to leave the audience with an out of the blue '...And this is why we have to get rid of that guy occupying the oval office.'"

But, he being a retired aeronautical engineer with an interest in the world beyond his partisan indulgences, we have a respectful "tennis friendship." It turns out he hadn't even heard about the O'Reilly accusations, but he did know about the Veterns Administration chief Robert MacDonald's "lie" about serving in special services. Dave didn't care too much about the circumstances, that it was his echoing the words of a homeless veteran, not a prepared public statement. That it was his way of expanding on the common experiences of one whose life had not gone well. But Dave knew all he had to know about that incident, which is that MacDonald was a Obama appointee.

Well, I let it go. I'm writing this essay not to trash conservatives, but to share how it's possible to connect. As we were talking about the newsman's purported exaggerations, something came to me, which is why a simple misstatement about the degree of intensity of one's military experience can be so meaningful. It turned out that Dave knew the incident well — the example of my "stolen valor" connection — including the man's name, Admiral Jeremy Boorda

It was all about an attachment to a ribbon that military persons wear on their vests on formal occasions, each one as evidence of service, courage and awards of acknowledgement thereof. I'll quote from the Wikipedia article linked above to describe it:

The Navy "V" device is a miniature bronze letter V worn on certain medals and service ribbons, indicating valor in combat. Photographs showed him wearing them in the 1980s, but Boorda had stopped wearing the Vs years before, when he was informed that his experience in Vietnam did not qualify him to wear them. Reports at the time of Boorda's suicide indicated that his wearing of the "V" devices had not been intentional deception on his part, but had been an unintentional mistake that resulted from following verbal instructions delivered to commanders by Admiral Zumwalt when he was Chief of Naval Operations, as well as conflicting interpretations of Navy award regulations.

Yes, "at the time of his suicide". This man who was the first to have risen from the lowest enlisted ranks to be the highest ranking naval officer was so affected by the accusation that it, at the very least, contributed to his taking of his own life.

Dave and I had a little bit of a different interpretation of his action, about how clear was Boorda's breach, whether it was a misunderstanding or a brazen case of stolen valor. When I made the former argument, he responded with "it was bad enough that he killed himself". Meaning, if he had a reasonable argument, he would never have done this. But we went on. He described a story told by his older brother who was waiting at the shores of the Rhine to invade Germany, and the troops were firing across the river. His brother told him how how ranking officers from H.Q. were rushing in, grabbing a rife from a grunt, just to get off a few shots, so they will earn that combat V on their ribbons.

A few hours later when I checked my emails, there was one from Dave, "

Al,

We were both right...sorta. I had the name right but Navy is correct. Boorda was chief of Naval Operations. Wikipedia has a good writeup. The medal in question is called the "combat V" which is added to other ribbons but must be officially awarded. Adm. Zumwalt [his boss] had told him to wear them.

I responded with this:

Just read the Wikipedia article. Perhaps this is something we can both agree on — that it was a profound human tragedy.

Which Dave concluded with:

Agree. Particularly because he came up through the ranks to reach the highest level in the Navy.

                                             •           •           •
I am writing this for one reason, which is that too often our media takes sides in our partisan divide. It becomes a challenge, even if the attempt is made to avoid being attributed to one side or the other. Yet, there are events that have been so distorted that can be understood as touching our common humanity. In this case, the conversation caused Dave to learn more about Admiral Boorda, to see how the extremes of vilification can tap into insecurities that can cause, for some, an unbearable pain.

Partisan identification has a value, it provides cohesion to perspectives that their adherents espouse. While it's worse than some utopia of universal agreement, it's a hell of a lot worse than a commonality based on fear of dissent. In the clash of ideas of a free society, anger can escalate — and the vulnerable individuals behind the labels are lost. Sharing our memory of the tragedy of Admiral Jeremy Boorda reminded two opposing political partisans of the humanity that we all share.

the culture

Exceptionalism? Maybe Not So Much »

Other countries must think us delusional Oct 8 2013

America’s claims to exceptionalism broke the surface again with the recent duel of words between Presidents Obama and Putin a month ago. Arguing in a televised speech for a punitive strike against Syria, Obama closed with “I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth”.

Putin bridled at Obama’s hubris. “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional” he wrote in a New York Times” op-ed. “There are countries big and small, rich and poor…but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal”.

Obama at the United Nations then doubled down with “I believe America is exceptional in part because we have shown a willingness through the sacrifice of blood and treasure to stand up not only for our own narrow self-interest but for the interests of all”.

America’s spotty record brings into question just what interests have been served by those sacrifices given its disastrous missteps in Vietnam and Iraq, but, fair enough. It seems, though, that our exceptionalism is defined by our military rather. As he had said earlier, “For more than seven decades America has been the anchor of global security”. It may have peeved Mr. Putin that several of those decades had to do with holding his country in check.

in our dna

America thought itself exceptional early on. The Revolution brought about the world’s first large republic to throw off the yoke of divine right and hereditary ascendancy, installing in its place, in Lincoln’s words, “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. The world was watching this grand experiment, and this was understood from the very first in John Winthrop’s shipboard sermon to his fellow Pilgrims who were about to found the Massachusetts Bay Colony: ”We must consider that we shall be as a city on a hill — the eyes of all people are upon us”. As Tom Paine put it, “The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind”.

That we had landed on these shores, with a giant continent beckoning, inhabited only by those we thought a backward people, seemed to be telling us it was ours to take. It was our Manifest Destiny to do so. What was exceptional was the incredible courage of pioneers moving west into “Indian country” and entering on a perilous, hardscrabble, unforeseeable future. We would then go on to forge the world’s oldest continuous democracy, which could be claimed as the most exceptional accomplishment of all.

But that was then and this is now.

Now we lecture to the world about democracy, free speech, and human rights yet regularly violate our avowed principles at home. The 9/11 attacks caused us immediately to sink into a depravity of torture, rendition and indefinite imprisonment without trial. Racism persists, evidenced particularly by the otherwise inexplicable ratio of prison-incarcerated blacks. Government, this one especially, has increasingly acted to throttle and intimidate journalists and those who leak the truth to the press.

Our democratic structure has suffered erosion. There was a remarkable turning point when the Supreme Court intervened to choose a president. Then came its ruling that corporations and unions are “persons” in the political process and may now spend unlimited amounts in elections. And as this is written the justices seem sympathetic in McCutcheon v. FEC to the argument that there should be no aggregate limit to what a person may contribute to candidates in elections.

With a majority more than accommodating to business, the Court has allowed corporations to gain increasing sway over the populace. The Court has repeatedly restricted who may band together in class action law suits, leaving to the individual the economically impossible task of taking on big corporations. And to do business with those corporations — mortgage lenders, credit card banks, securities brokers, all are grabbing this brass ring — the Court has upheld their right to require you to agree to arbitration if any dispute arises. Which is to say, you, private citizen, have signed away what you might have thought was a fundamental right: your access to the courts.

The Senate has abandoned simple majority rule; a super majority is now required for anything of consequence.

States nationwide are adopting laws to inhibit voting by blacks and students. Gerrymandering after the 2010 census has made it impossible for one party or the other to have any prospect of electing their candidate in districts all over the country.

And now we witness a complete breakdown of government with a faction of Congress able to bring government to a halt to sabotage a duly voted and signed law it dislikes.

societal decline

Americans tell themselves that we have the greatest health care in the world. The truth is far from it. We may spend triple what the average of the 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) spend per patient, but the results are mixed — highly ranked in heart disease and cancer treatment, yet 4th from last in infant mortality, for example.

In the most recent among many reports that compare health results in developed countries, the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine has us dead last among 17 advanced countries in “deaths from all causes” per unit of population. U.S. death rates for 15 of 21 diseases were higher than the average. A major contributor to this dismal statistic, as compared to countries with socialized medicine, is that uninsured low-income persons only see a doctor when a disease has progressed to a life-threatening stage.

We also allow our hospitals to charge whatever staggering amounts they choose to drive some 700,000 families a year to bankruptcy.

Most disturbing for our future is our steep decline in education. Once the pioneer in public education, America now ranks far down the list when measured by results. The OECD began in 2000 to evaluate student achievement at age 15 in 18 advanced countries with its PISA program (Programme for International Student Assessment). By 2009 their analyses placed the U.S. 17th in reading proficiency, 23rd in science and 31st in math. Finland and Singapore lead the list.

A UNICEF study in 2010 compared the well-being of children in 24 developed countries and found that the United States ranked 23rd in educational resources and child living space, 19th in math and science literacy and 22nd in health, including diet and exercise.

Update: Behind in Workplace Skills Also Oct.11: In a report just released, tests administered by the OECD to about 160,000 people of ages 18 to 65 in 23 countries found that Americans are well behind most other countries in basic math skills (3rd from last), literacy (6th from last) and working with technology (2nd from last).
    

Even in higher education, where more than half of the top universities worldwide are American and eight are in the top ten, we rank 14th in the world in the percentage of 25-to-34 year-olds with degrees.

No end of studies have found that the sooner young children are exposed to learning, the better they do in the years following, but we are 28th in the percentage of 4-year-olds enrolled in pre-school, exceeded only by Romania. An Obama proposal in his 2013 State of the Union would provide funds to states to expand early learning, but Republicans viewed it as another entitlement program adding to the deficit rather than an investment in the nation’s future.

Speaking of Romania, at 34th we are exceeded only by that country’s greater proportion of children living in poverty. And for all our prattling about human rights, we were tied at 49th in civil liberties in the "Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index 2008". With the government spying that has been exposed since, it can only be assumed that we are now much deeper on that list. Several countries — Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and Norway — tied for first.

Our land of the free has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of its prisoners, one in every 107 adults.

And for all our emphasis on business, we have been slipping every year in the World Economic Forum’s ranking of how competitive we are in world markets, dropping to 7th in 2012 behind countries such as Switzerland, Singapore and Finland.

Supposedly egalitarian America had the 4th highest measure of income inequality of the 34 OECD countries measured, and that trend has only grown worse in the latest findings of Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty, economists who have regularly reported on this subject. They found that the top 10% took home fully half of all income earned in the United States in 2012. With the bottom tiers of U.S. workers stranded in low-paying jobs offering little opportunity for advancement, this country now ranks below traditionally class-stratified Europe in social mobility.

Put all that together and it is not surprising that the every five year World Happiness Report from the United Nations says Americans' level of happiness declining 4% since 2007.

undiminished self-esteem

Yet despite all that, we are full of ourselves. Pew Research’s Global Attitudes Project conducted a survey in 2011 that asked agreement in whether “our people are not perfect, but our culture is superior”. France must have come out on top in notions of self-esteem one would think, but instead it was the U.S., leading Germany, Spain, Britain and France in that order. When they hear us speaking of our exceptionalism, people in those countries must wonder what on earth we are talking about.

the culture

Moral Decay the Cause of Income Inequality Says Controversial Book »

Feb 15 2012

Just in time to add ammunition to the class wars, along comes a book that says income inequality isn’t caused by Wall Street bonuses, outsized corporate CEO paychecks or even a tax code skewed to the wealthy.

The book is “Coming Apart, The State of White America”, by Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute, who claims it is not the 1% vs. the 99%; rather it is the 20% at the top vs. the 30% at the bottom. The 20% is made up of educated achievers who raise their children to strive for excellence, press them to vie for entrance to the top schools, and see them graduate into the best jobs, marry other smart people, and raise the next batch of bright children to propel the 20% still higher. Meanwhile, the 30% drift ever downward and further apart.

Those in favor of the status quo, eager to deflect Occupiers’ claims that the system is rigged in favor of the wealthy, have embraced Murray’s evaluation of the 30%. Murray says it’s a values thing.

The lower social strata are ordinarily held up as the exemplar of family values, but that’s mythology. Murray says it is the upper stratum that has retained what he calls the key "founding virtues" — industriousness, honesty, marriage and religion — that the lower stratum has forsaken. The latter marry less, have higher divorce rates when they do, and bear far more children out of wedlock. They drop out of high school, are uninvolved with their communities — they even go to church less than the 20%. They lack ambition, they watch television all day, they subsist on one or another welfare program, and fall further behind. They don’t have jobs because they don’t want to work, says Murray.

The cause? He says it was the ‘60s culture and alludes vaguely to “a whole set of reforms” that “élites put in place… which I think fundamentally changed the signals and the incentives facing low-income people and encouraged a variety of trends that soon became self-reinforcing”.

Aha. So it’s not the worsening educational system, outsourced jobs to other countries, the decline in manufacturing, the collapse of unions, the sheer lack of jobs because corporations are not hiring — these are not the reasons for the economic decline of the bottom 30%. No surprise, then, that conservatives, who oppose taking action with fiscal stimulus and social programs, have clambered on board in praise of Murray’s worldview.

Niall Ferguson of Harvard, who writes a column for Newsweek proclaims Murray has come yp with “by far the best available analysis of modern American inequality … a blessed relief”. He even works in the canard that President Obama wants to “make America more like Scandinavia”.

David Brooks, the conservative columnist at The New York Times, gushes in this piece that “I’ll be shocked if there’s another book this year as important as Charles Murray’s ‘Coming Apart’”. He goes so far as to say, “the liberal members of the upper tribe latch onto this top 1% narrative because it excuses them from the central role they themselves are playing in driving inequality and unfairness”, an accusation that we are struggling to make sense of. As a card-carrying member himself of the out of touch élite, he says:

“It’s wrong to describe an America in which the salt of the earth common people are preyed upon by this or that nefarious elite. It’s wrong to tell the familiar underdog morality tale in which the problems of the masses are caused by the élites.”

What's wrong is his determination. The problem of the masses is that they would like to see opportunity restored in this country and instead see a plethora of advantages conferred on the wealthy while their world stagnates. In a final head-scratcher Brooks says what we need is a national service program.

At least David Frum, a conservative once a speechwriter for George W. Bush now writing at The Daily Beast/Newsweek, disagrees. Murray, he says, in a multi-part piece, ignores that the decline in wages and living standards is pervasive in the western countries as jobs have moved to low-paying countries in the East. What sense is it therefore to conclude that, whereas economics is the cause there, moral collapse uniquely is the cause here?

Murray is renowned for deploying reams of data but seems guilty of the sin of twisting them to fit his preconceived beliefs. Much more persuasive is how he marshalls data to present the sweeping social changes that support his “Coming Apart” title.

Whereas once those of different economic levels were commingled in smaller towns, living on the same streets or close by, chatting on the church steps after the Sunday service, the long-term trend has been for people to seek out those of their own economic level and political outlooks and cluster into communities of only their own kind. Murray is not the first to make this observation. Most recently there was “The Big Sort”, the 2008 book by Bill Bishop subtitled, “Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart”.

Murray says we need to merge again if we hope to stem this fragmentation, and has taken that step himself, moving his family to a small, rural Maryland town. Bill Clinton, after reading “The Big Sort”, sounded the same theme, saying, "Some of us are going to have to cross the street, folks". That way the 20% would be in place to transfuse their values to the 30% because “the new upper class just need to start preaching what they practice”, says Murray.

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Climate More Crucial Than ISIS? Fox News Ridicules »

Dec 12 2015

It is not news that supposedly "fair and balanced" Fox News has an agenda. Its loyal viewers will take offense at our saying that, but those who typically get all their news from this one source, where there is a lack of opposing views to bring up a little contrast, tend not to see that agenda.

So it's occasionally useful to demonstrate that the various Fox News readers and opinion purveyors are stage-managed from on high. When in a given day they all say the same thing, it is not a coincidence, and that is made all the more apparent by how often it happens.

Case in point: Obama in Paris at the climate summit. Fox News policy is to ridicule the notion that climate change is a problem and question whether it even exists. So on the first day of the conference, the word came down from on high to go after Obama for spending time on climate change when there are terrorists abroad in the world and for treating climate as the larger problem. Below we offer that one day's example of how Fox orchestrates the news with everyone on the team following conductor Roger Ailes, the head of the Fox News branch of the Rupert Murdoch empire:

Happening Now, a late morning and early afternoon news program. Guest is Gerard Baker, the editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal.

Anchor John Scott, quoting Obama:

"He said, 'It's hard to come up with a bigger problem than climate change', when people are being slaughtered, heads are cut off and so forth. I wonder if the average person out there sees that as the burning issue of the day."

Baker:

"Yeah. It lacks urgency. There's no question … the problem of Islamic terrorism is a much, much more serious and urgent and pressing problem."

Before continuing, our view is that there is always something more pressing, but action to forestall climate change has already been postponed past the point where many are persuaded that we are too late. ISIS is a scourge that must be destroyed, but it is temporal. Just as movements come and go and nations rise and fall and the world moves on, so too will ISIS be defeated or will collapse. Ridding the world of the barbarians will cost time and lives, but ISIS is not permanent.

But climate change is — at least for many human lifetimes to come. So of course climate warming is the far greater threat. Unless deniers can prove it is the hoax they claim, the defensive assumption has to be that it could permanently affect the entire planet with potentially disastrous consequences. But the folks at Fox seem incapable of thinking beyond today, and they want us to go along, near-sighted, fixed on the present, averting our eyes from the future. To continue:

Outnumbered airs at midday. Four women, some permanent, some rotating, play host to a male guest, always right-leaning. Program regular Sandra Smith:

"Speaking just a few miles from the site of the November 13th terrorist attack in the French capital, the President suggesting that climate change is a greater threat than terrorism. Listen."

President Obama:

"The global threat of climate change could define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other."

Smith:

"Well, that lit up the Republican campaign trail where candidates slammed the President."

Clips are shown of Carly Fiorina saying, "Sadly Hillary Clinton and President Obama are both delusional", followed by Chris Christie saying "For the president to be over there" (at a climate change conference, need we mention) "talking about climate change quite frankly is insulting", and Donald Trump on Instagram, "While the world is in turmoil and falling apart in so many different ways, especially with ISIS, our president is worried about global warming. What a ridiculous situation".

Guest panelist Rachel Campos-Duffy, who as a television personality originally from the MTV reality series 'The Real World' qualifies as a climate expert for Fox, gives us her view:

If you are a died-in-the-wool community organizer collectivist, this is the #1 problem, and make no mistake, this whole conference is not about science. It is about big government, giving more power to the U.N. It's about decreasing free enterprise. That's what this is about".

The Five, a late afternoon gabfest co-hosted by Eric Boling and Greg Gutfeld. Boling opened with:

"According to President Obama, we've got ISIS contained, terror isn’t the world's biggest threat, it's climate change, so let's battle the weather with all our might. Our commander-in-chief talking today about a very dangerous enemy we need to slay. Well, the future of the planet is at stake, Mr. President. It's threatened by jihadism, not the weather."

For co-host Gutfeld, the climate issue is even the cause of terrorism. See if you can make sense of the following: Gutfeld:

We should throw it right back at them. Climate hysteria actually causes terror. For example, activism is fueling a war against coal…There are a billion people on this planet who are not on the electrical grid. They are living in poverty burning impure fuels. That makes them vulnerable to the desperate move into cities where they aren't wanted, i.e., they end up becoming fodder for terror machines. By preventing these people from getting cheap fuel, you're actually making them vulnerable to terror, so in a sense it is his climate conference, it is his climate hysteria, that is leading to terrorism…Obsessing over climate change during the time of ISIS is like shaving your legs while you're on the Hindenburg".

Yes, he did say that. The program then showed the President speaking earlier that day at the Paris Climate Conference. Obama:

"This summer, I saw the effects of climate change firsthand in our northernmost state, Alaska, where the sea is already swallowing villages and eroding shorelines; where permafrost thaws and the tundra burns; where glaciers are melting at a pace unprecedented in modern times. And it was a preview of one possible future — a glimpse of our children’s fate if the climate keeps changing faster than our efforts to address it. Submerged countries. Abandoned cities. Fields that no longer grow. Political disruptions that trigger new conflict, and even more floods of desperate peoples seeking the sanctuary of nations not their own".

Boling:

"Sorry Mr. President, arctic ice is not actually melting, it's actually growing, and by the way, how are all those warmers going to explain the 19-year pause in temperatures?"

Spreading falsehoods comes naturally to Boling, as he does as well on his Saturday morning show, "Cashin' In", but that apparently plays to what Fox viewers want to think. First, Obama was not speaking of Arctic ice, he was talking about Alaska — its glaciers and melting permafrost. But as for Arctic ice, in 2014 it had receded to its 6th ost reduced extent in the satellite record. Perhaps Boling's idea of growing is that its extent wasn't as bad as the 5th lowest.

As for "the 19-year pause in temperatures"? Boling was careful to trim two sentences from what the President said leading into the above quote: Obama:

"14 of the 15 warmest years on record have occurred since the year 2000 and 2015 is on pace to be the warmest year of all".

We can add as well that 2014 had set the record. Temperature rises have not "paused".


The Kelly File: She said that because the President characterized the climate summit as an act of defiance just two weeks after the terrorist attacks, Obama's comments have led to questions about his priorities. She shows a clip in which the President's deputy national security adviser was pressed by a reporter to rank the greater threat, terrorism or climate change.

Rhodes:

"They're both critically important and we have to do both at the same time, and they pose different threats. Obviously, there is an immediate threat from terrorism that has to be dealt with to protect the American people. I think over the long term clearly we see the potential for climate change to pose severe risk to the entire world. I'm not going to rank them because they're different."

The camera returned to a look of condescension on the face of Pete Hegseth, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran and CEO of Concerned Veterans for America which for Megyn Kelly equips him to speak about climate change.

Kelly:

"He doesn't wasn’t to rank them, Pete"

Pete speaks about Obama rather than Rhodes. Hegseth:

"He's declined to rank because he knows when it comes off his lips how absurd it sounds. He's already ranked them...Climate change is the perfect enemy for President Obama. There's no face, there's no moral distinction, whether it's hot, it's cold, you're always fighting. No bullets involved and the solution is automatically more big government, big international schemes...They know how absurd it sounds but they're ideologically on the left committed to climate change. "

Kelly:

"He can't rank them. Really? He can't put the importance of defeating ISIS above climate change? The American public is squarely opposed to them on this. Terror is #1 in terms of importance to the American people [24%] and climate change [in a squeaky voice and gesturing] is way down here [3%]".

Ah, yes, those spot-on Americans 42% of whom don't believe in evolution and think God created humans in their present form.

Hannity is Sean Hannity's program that airs at 10pm weekdays. He opened by talking to guest and presidency candidate Mike Huckabee about Obama's "head-turning remarks", referring to this:

Obama:

"I've come here personally as the leader of the world's largest economy and the second largest emitter to say that the United States of America not only recognizes our role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to do something about it"

Hannity:

"It's almost like an obsession this president has with apologizing for the country. When you heard his remarks today, and how out of context they were in terms of the progress we have made in spite of him, what was your reaction?

Huckabee:

You know, Sean, I sometimes wonder, what country did he grow up in? Because the one I grew up in seems like such a different place. When he said that we have contributed to this problem, I think, what problem?

Huckabee then launched into a strangely irrelevant philippic about the jobs mining for coal and drilling for oil and gas have brought about in the U.S. and how much America has contributed to the world. This he evidently meant as justification for our 5% of global population having for decades produced 25% of the carbon pollution.

Mission accomplished after a good day's work of bending the viewers' heads around to the Fox News preferred take on the world.

the culture

The Potent Promise of Freedom of Expression »

Sep 10 2015 By guest columnist Al Rodbell

When we think of someone railing against the use of language that spares discomfort to others, people like Rush Limbaugh and of course that guy (whatshisname) who is leading the polls for the Republican presidential nomination comes to mind. I mean, what could be wrong with getting rid of the term "mental retardation" that is hurtful, and replacing it with "developmental disability"?

I had been a volunteer at our local zoo, a pretty famous one, where I would get great pleasure out of interacting with the people who came from far and wide, often with children or older relatives in tow. It's a confusing place, so I relished the sense of relief when they saw me in my official red shirt and felt help was at hand, that maybe they could find their way to that exhibit they had traveled so far to see. I'm a pretty outgoing guy, and people often respond in kind, and before long there is often a conversation going.

Recently, a woman came over to tell me someone in their party was lost. I had to ascertain first whether it was a child, or if not, whether the person had unusual issues that required my radioing security for an immediate search. When I asked these questions, the woman was uncomfortable, saying "well, it's a difficult situation." After pressing her, she said, "She does have problems, but we never talk about them."

A few months before a mother came up to me saying her child was lost. This is always an emergency, since it could be possible that it is an abduction, so those at the exit need an identification to prevent such an exit. But I was stumped. The mother and the father were of mixed race, and since clothing could be changed I was about to ask the child's race, color of skin, but I hesitated.

While this sounds rare, there are times when precision, whether of a medical condition or of identity, is needed. In both of these cases at the zoo the "crisis" was over quickly before I had to ask further questions, as both lost persons showed up. In the case of the lost adult, I understand why the friend had difficulty with a description. The lost, now found, woman did have a confused demeanor. Now middle aged, I can only guess what her DSM diagnosis would be, but she was not fully functioning. It was great that she was part of a group, maybe a family, maybe something else, and everyone was happy she was back with them.

Yet we need language that is precise, and sometimes have to ask specific questions about mobility, health and other issues to determine what kind of assistance is needed, and this risks possibly offending someone. My pleasure in this gig was that quite the opposite occurs, that people appreciate my concern and there is a connection. But, the fear of offending pervades the complex. We are constantly warned never to have a personal conversation with anyone, as management can't be sure whether there will be emotional harm.

Now a change of scene, from zoos to recreational tennis at public courts, and a conversation today with Jim. Unlike the zoo, at these games there is no one telling anyone what, or what not, to say to anyone else. It's a diverse group of men and women, with a range of ages of over 60 years, I often being the oldest of the twenty or more players on a Tuesday morning. We play doubles, with the winners moving up and the losers down the five courts. We sometimes talk politics during the changeover break, but with care and never too seriously. Everyone knows I'm always ready to hang around afterwards to continue an interesting discussion.

Most of us enjoy winning, but there even more pleasure in a stimulating competitive game with each player raising the other's level. And does Jim ever love to win!. He hustles to make shots like someone in college, not someone on Social Security. Yet, he is never even a bit miffed at his partner when he/she misses a set up, but he will go after that return with his face lighting up when he hits that ball down the line for a winner.

Just today, when time was called and he said, "we won", he caught himself, saying, "I know I should never say that, as we are all winners, and nobody loses." I was taken aback, and asked if he was serious. He was, and then he described his career as a physical education teacher before he retired not that long ago, and that the message was out that instructors should never accentuate winning a tennis game, as that could hurt the loser's feelings.

Now, I have to try to get Jim's nature right for the reader. Jim has never hurt anyone's feelings in the several years we have played together. In fact, he energizes us, his vitality and drive inspiring me to play better and focus on making that point. And being fully in the moment is a rare joy, a relief that, although I often get playing these Tuesday games, is at its best with Jim, whether playing with him or against him.

So, I couldn't imagine anyone telling him not to share his enthusiasm, his pleasure of winning a set, as I've never seen Jim cause anyone discomfort. But, he explained this was the reality, that the message had gone out when he was teaching, that no one was to be a loser. What I had thought was a joke, "you came in first runner up, rather than you lost," was no joke at all. No more of a joke than the head of zoo volunteers telling me, and everyone else, never to have a private conversation when interacting with the visitors. Oh, and with the zoo, it wasn't only the chance of insulting them, but of "harassment" — better safe than sorry.

When the world watches in amazement as whatshisname continues to lead the pack even while he is an obnoxious simplistic blow-hard, there must be be something he is promising. Those volunteers in the zoo, those teachers of phys. ed, and how many others who are told that their conversations, unless vetted by authorities, could harm their organization, are living a diminished life, being denied the very human (actually primate) pleasure of social interaction.

Whatshisname somehow knows that he is popular, not in spite of his obnoxiousness, but because of it. He is free to be who he is, and doesn't give a damn who doesn't like it. For those cowed teachers or volunteers who live in fear of expressing themselves, this is seen as a model of liberation for themselves, a virtual social revolution that is lead by one who shows no fear of castigation for being as crude as he wants to be.

                       Al's other essays can be found at AlRodbell.com.

the culture

After “Obergefell” — Questions for the Era of Marriage Equality »

Jul 8 2015 By guest columnist Al Rodbell

On June 26, 2015 the Supreme Court by a single vote in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges created a new landscape for the meaning of marriage in the United States. We now look back on the time when this was defined not only by law, but by a cultural tradition reinforced over centuries as idealized romantic love between a man and a woman. Now, that is in the past; this part of the culture war having been won by the progressive movement — for lack of a more accurate descriptor. This means consideration of unintended consequences can no longer be dismissed as an argument by conservatives to retain traditional marriage. The war is over, the issue is dealing with the new order.

Marriage, pre Obergefell incorporated a universal ideal of western societies, created and celebrated by innumerable poems, songs, movies and novels. Common courtesy required an assumption that the bride and the groom were marrying for some version of this ideal. "Love" was the exalted poetic expression, sexual gratification and common interests the more prosaic elements of such marriage, literally the merging of two into one.

Of course this was the myth, one not subject to accurate surveys of it's prevalence, but one that we went along with. Over time, laws were enacted that attempted to eliminate those who blatantly deviated from this general idealized institution. If love was essential, and if marriage was an intimate merger then it must be between two people only, so bigamy became universally criminalized. In order that the love be between equals, based on broader principles of family and clan, every state limited the institution by consanguinity, degree of blood relationship. All states prohibit first order relationships, and some second order, between close cousins.

We never did extend this promoting the ideal of marriage to age discrepancy, even though we still have a wide range of minimum ages among the various states. But no state has ever defined maximum age differences between the two parties; so a girl could marry a man three generations older without any legal hindrance. Maybe love had something to do with it, but during the depression those with coveted civil war pensions found many young women whose love may have been for that financial security more than their aged spouse. And, of course, pre-nuptual contracts and no-fault divorce are all deviations from the misty ideals of song and screen.

The Supreme Court can decide a case that earns landmark status, with the name of the plaintiff becoming immortalized in the decision, yet the consequences do not necessarily follow the instructions of the majority. Brown v. Board of Education ostensibly ended school segregation over sixty years ago, yet, based on statistical analysis schools are arguably more divided between blacks and whites than before that decision. Segregation of schools is a product of our racial history and values, with schools being only one component that is dependent on these elements that were not the essence of that 1954 decision.

I would offer that the current decision to legalize same sex marriage is about gender differences as reflected by culture, as such only minimally affected by laws. The broader consequences of this decision have never been part of the national discussion. This Supreme Court decision was based on several simplistic memes that prevailed, like snippets of DNA taken out of the whole tell nothing about the nature of the organism.

This essay is not a brief against same sex marriage, as this is now the law of the land, one that will not be reversed, nor am I convinced that it should be. The arguments why the decision should have been different are stated clearly in the dissents. In this post-Obergefell era, we can engage the meaning of this change of law in a way previously not possible when it was being contested — and thus deeply politicized. It was total war between the two sides, with language being the main order of battle. This is now over, just like on August 15th 1945, Japs became Japanese, and previous enemies joined in a desire to go forward under the new state of affairs. So too, on this day new norms must be addressed, new myths created, and like the end of WWII, the victors have as much investment in mutual accord as the losers.

As I described previously, marriage has long been quite different than the idealized myths accepted by many. Yet, sexual intimacy has long been a continuing element. Only this institution provided religious and legal sanction for this otherwise sinful activity.

If there is to be a celebration of this Supreme Court Decision it should not be cast as a defeat of "homophobes" — an irrational epithet that has been part of the armamentarium used in this war to depict any opposition as a deplorable mental defect. If this barely examined change in our central cultural myth is to be liberating, it can not be to the detriment of those who opposed this, who have been cowed by the current linguistic simplification worthy of Orwell: Discrimination = bad, Equality = good, Bigotry = evil.

Let the winners, those who see gender, as they do race, as a social constructs having no biological reality, while enjoying this victory, return to their roots of rationality. Males and females are different in ways that are verifiable from infancy to death, but also in subtleties we don't fully understand, only some of which are social constructs. Societies do form norms around these, some oppressive and others consistent with viable cultures. This Obergefell decision is historic. Yet, the cheering should be conditional on going beyond the victory. Those who claim that the arc of history bends towards justice have no evidence for this being true, as over the course of civilizations it certainly has gone both ways — the direction only knowable in retrospect.

This battle is over. Marriage as an institution continues to be transformed as reflective of our larger culture — sometimes for the better other times not. War is ugly, whether fought with military weapons or vilification of the enemy, as sides must be taken, with those not with us being deemed against us

The greatest distortion of this entire movement that culminated in this Obergefell decision was that the only opposition was from benighted religious fundamentalists. This deflected the reality that this movement was a classic manifestation of the sociological phenomenon known as the Bandwagon Effect, where an idea takes on a life of its own immune to any other perspectives. Just as no high level law firm would make the case to the Supreme Court, those in the learned social sciences with values built over centuries of objectivity were silenced by the sound of the cheering on the bandwagon for equality and justice. None in this academic community chose to risk all by standing athwart this parade to yell "Stop!"

The decision called "Obergefell" has ended the battle but not the war. It would be a mistake if the process of this victory becomes the norm for resolving social issues, with heated verbiage shutting out enlightened discourse. Our country does not need another divisive wedge that is seen as vindication for one side based on a single vote majority of a non elected body. The question not resolved or even addressed by this decision is whether this country shall descend into being shaped by sound bites or develop a mode of discussion based on candid open mutual respect.

This will determine which way this decision bends the arc of justice.

                       An extended version of Al's essay can be
                       found at AlRodbell.com.

The State Department Explains E-Mail »

Mar 24 2015

With the Hillary Clinton e-mail indiscretion dominating the newscasts, MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell recently interviewed State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki about e-mail at State. Leaving it to you to draw conclusions about our government and who they choose to represent it:

Mitchell: A million emails were sent but only 61,000 in 2011 were archived and two years later only 41,000.

Psaki: Smart [a system] is one of many tools, it's only one tool, used to archve and keep records of our State Department records. Employees can print their records. There are a range of tools that they can use. This is a tool that is traditionally used by overseas posts, but we've also taken a number of steps to upgrade what we do here. Now and today Secretary Kerry's emails are automatically archived, dozens of senior State Department employees' emails are automatically archived, so this is an evolving process, one that we are continuing to strive to do better on and hopefully over the coming months and years we will have a better electronic system in place.

Mitchell: The 2009 upgrade and the foreign policy the manual indicated that people should no longer be printing and filing, they should be computerizing these records. Do you automatically archive your records?

Psaki: The fact is it's about what the technology allows for, and right now there are processes that are underway in the State Department to make it more user friendly, make it possible for all employees to take steps to more easily archive their records but it's been a process that has been ongoing and clearly the use of email, how this has been such a prevalent part of what we do in the federal government, has changed over the course of time and clearly we need to do more to keep up with that changing component.

Mitchell: Part of Hillary Clinton's rationale for not immediately turning over her emails and for using a private system is that any email she sent to a State Department colleague would be automatically kept, but according to this IG report, that wasn't the case.

Psaki: Well, there are many ways of keeping emails and having access to emails so I think his report was referring to one specific program that is a tool that some state dept employees use but many employees use different means of keeping track of and archiving their records, and again this is something that isn't perfect. There are obviously steps that we need to take and are taking and we have taken over the past months and years to upgrade our capabilities here.

In her torrent of nonsense Ms Psaki speaks of "over the past months and years" and "over the coming months and years".

Are we mistaken? Is she talking about the e-mail that the rest of the world mastered long ago or has State embarked on another Manhattan Project?

the culture

Obama Hands ISIS a Propaganda Plum »

Offends Christians with past they'd rather forget Feb 12 2015

Well into a talk at the National Prayer Breakfast that was sprinkled with fellowship and self-effacing humor, President Obama chose a few words that could not have found a more inopportune moment. Just 48 hours after ISIS savages burned a Jordanian pilot alive, Obama thought it appropriate to remind his audience — and the world via the filmed event — that Christians have done evil, too.

True enough, but because few saw or read the rest of his talk, the excerpt fed critics' disdain for his conduct of foreign policy. For almost making allowances for ISIS atrocities, Obama added to the view that he is irresolute in dealing with the chaos in the Middle East.

The repeated Christian barbarities of the Crusades began almost a thousand years ago, the Inquisitions were in the 15th and 16th centuries and American slavery ended 150 years ago. By bringing them forward to the present day, the President should have realized that it could be construed as giving ISIS justification: we did it too, fair enough that they're doing it now. That, of course, was not what he was saying (the full talk can be found here) but when a President speaks, he should know that unguarded candor is what is plucked for broadcasting and the rest is ignored.

OOps

The left was at pains to minimize. We found a short below-the-fold story on page A6 of The New York Times (realizing that downplaying wasn't working, they expanded coverage the following day). The story led with Obama's other comments such as calling the Islamic State "a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism" but made no mention of his references to the Crusades and the Inquisitions. For the left-wing Daily Kos website they were "Obama's nuanced, thoughtful remarks". Bill Maher, always an Obama apologist, insisted that the references to Christian history "are facts, these are just facts". To its credit, The Washington Post didn't shy away. Its headline was "Critics pounce after Obama talks Crusades, slavery at prayer breakfast", calling his remarks all of a piece with "Obama's never [having] been one to go easy on America".

Media on the right was handed more ammunition for its own crusade against a President who sensibly refuses to say "radical Islam", as if that would solve anything and not unwisely insult the 1.8 billion Muslims of the world's largest religion.

Megyn Kelly of Fox News jumped on the story: "The words a president chooses at an event like this matter, and they're carefully thought through...and the President...for some reason thought it was important to remind the world about the evils that Christians committed a thousand years ago". She and others asked whether he was creating a "moral equivalence". Her guest, Marc Thiessen, a former George W Bush speech writer, asked "What kind of person looks at a video of a man being burned alive and his reaction is to say, well let's not forget, we in the West did that too?". He got the ramifications exactly right:

"For the president of the united states to invoke the crusades and the deeds that were done on the name of the Crusades, we have to remember that plays right into Islamist propaganda. They call us the Crusaders. Osama bin Laden, when he issued his fatwa declaring war on the United States called for jihad against Jews and crusaders. The leader of ISIS called our campaign against ISIS the 'crusader campaign'. When the President of the United States steps up in front of the cameras and has film of him saying, talking about the terrible deeds that were done in the name of Christ during the crusades, that is a propaganda gold mine".

christians offended

Where those on the right got it wrong was to take offense as Christians. “The President’s comments...are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime”, fumed former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore. “He has offended every believing Christian in the United States. This goes further to the point that Mr. Obama does not believe in America or the values we all share”. Fox's Eric Bolling, on his Saturday morning show called "Cashin' In", said:

"President Obama did something this week that I believe will follow him, his presidency and legacy...I am sure he will never be able to separate himself from this".

Fox News can be counted to make that a certainty; Obama's remarks have become their new Benghazi. Bolling closed with:

"This is coming from the very core of my Christianity, my humanity, and my civilized self. Mr. President, save your legacy. Apologize to Christians everywhere. After all, you're a Christian too".

(Have they finally decided he's not a Muslim?)

It's not about Christians being offended. That's their true history and we are not to follow Japan's example of denying the massacres of Nanking and the rape of Korean women as "comfort" for occupying Japanese soldiers. Obama's error was one of timing. Just when ISIS revealed itself as sub-humans that we thought no longer existed on Earth, we didn't need to be reminded of long ago history that is no longer the West's code of conduct.

the media

It’s Because Obama Didn’t Attend Intel Briefings, Right? »

Oct 16 2014

The U.S. was taken by surprise when al Qaeda in Iraq, breaking from the founding group based in the tribal areas of Pakistan, metamorphosed into ISIS, which adopted the entirely different strategy of reforming itself into an army bent on taking and holding territory. Terrorist attacks — from suicide bombers in city markets to the suicide attacks of 9/11 — had always been Al Qaeda's modus operandi.

The surprise should have ended in January when… Read More »

the media

Claims of Media Bias Arise in Gaza Coverage »

A pro-Israel slant seems undeniable Aug 6 2014

Coming up with fair and balanced reporting that gives Hamas an equal voice is a tough assignment for the U.S. media. Few would argue that they deserve it, so why try?

But our television media do need to be called out for giving excessive time to Israeli emissaries. They have trooped to network and cable news channels in legions to make Israel’s case. One wag said that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might be mistaken for a news anchor, so often has he appeared to make his claim that Hamas is using civilians as “human shields”. His envoy Ron Dermer… Read More »

the culture

Social Security Out of Money Three Years Sooner »

And it’s no mystery why May 14 2012

We’re living longer and the baby boomers are retiring, but we’ve known these dynamics for years. So how can the Administration explain the sudden discovery that the Social Security trust fund will be exhausted by 2033, three years earlier than was predicted just a year ago.

The answer is something that a Democratic administration doesn’t want to bring up: the surge in disability claims. The fund within Social Security allotted to disability is slated to go broke by 2016.

Most Americans are probably only dimly aware that one can qualify for payments from the Social Security Administration (SSA) beginning at any age if able to prove an inability to earn an income over $1,000 a month. (And after two years under that plan, that person qualifies for Medicare as well, irrespective of age).

Manufacturing has declined and hazardous jobs along with it, there are no genetic defects suddenly manifest that account for increasing infirmities, the cure rate for crippling disease continues to improve, accidents on the highways have declined — what could be the cause?

First the obligatory acknowledgement that disability is real, that society has a moral responsibility to help those dealt the unfair hand of an illness or mishap that can cause a life of possibly unrelenting pain even, and — because the Social Security payments are no bonanza — the prospect of penury.

But those worthy beneficiaries under the social contract are not our subject and their cohort does not account for the Congressional Budget Office telling us that the number of Americans on disability had by 2009 doubled as compared to 1970, whereas the population rose only by half.

One in five dollars paid out by the SSA is now for disability; 8.56 million people and 2 million dependents will received $122 billion this year, and another $90 billion for those who have qualified for Medicare as well.

How has this gone out of control? The first reason is that in the last few decades, the threshold for claiming disability has been defined ever downward. Reasons that never would have qualified in the past — depression or “persistent anxiety” or “chronic fatigue”, for example — are now accepted as reasons for disability awards. None of these were ever acknowledged in times past as reasons not to work; people went to work anyway, and worked their way through them. (“60 Minutes”’ Mike Wallace acknowledged suffering from depression but didn’t quit working until age 90. Or think of Jack Kennedy, who Lyndon Johnson’s biographer Robert Caro describes as strapping “a canvas brace with metal stays tightly around him” to face the day.) These may be real syndromes, but the unscrupulous have caught on to how difficult they are to disprove and have learned to masquerade their way onto the Social Security rolls.

"Congress and, derivatively, the SSA have gradually expanded the availability of entitlements to greater and greater numbers of persons," write SSA administrative judges Jeffrey Wolfe and Dale Glendenning in the Cato Institute’s magazine. The judges further point out that, whereas in 1971, one in five applicants were accompanied by a lawyer, the ratio has since quadrupled, which should tell you that finding and shepherding clients through the process of getting on the dole has become a lucrative practice for the legal profession. The recession is certainly a major factor, as the unemployed feign disability in order to find an income.

Charles Murray would have us understand that it is more than economics. In his widely quoted recent book, “Coming Apart” ( see this related article), Murray marshalls copious data to show that there is now a sub-culture comprising 30% of white Americans who have disengaged from society and its responsibilities. They come from broken marriages, drop out of school, stay single, abandon religion, resort to petty crime, aspire to nothing and, having done little to equip themselves with the skills needed to win what jobs there are, have instead learned how to game the disability system. In this group, the percentage on Social Security disability has quintupled since 1960, rising from 2% to 10%.

On the one hand it speaks of a creeping moral rot that has eaten away at the social fabric, an attitude of taking whatever one can get without concern for the once bedrock principles of honesty and self-reliance. It brings to mind a New York Times investigative report in 2008 which found that virtually every employee of the Long Island Railroad applied to the federal Railroad Retirement Board for disability the moment they retired, and virtually all — 97% in one recent year — were routinely approved, each paid tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars a year in addition to their pensions. The paper “sometimes dozens of them” on the golf course. Somehow, every railroad worker was untroubled by cheating and thought him- or herself entitled to other people’s money.

The announcement by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner that the trust fund would run dry sooner simply acknowledged disability costs as a factor. There was no speculation as to evident fraud. To this, the government turns a blind eye, especially in an election year when votes reliably take precedent over any notion of expanding funding for investigative surveillance to root out disability cheats. So, like so much going wrong, we can expect the problem to grow progressively worth with the future of Social Security at risk for seniors who have paid into the fund all their lives.

the culture

The Campaign to Discredit the Torture Report »

A pushback in the works for months Dec 23 2014

The uproar over the release of the torture report by the Senate Intelligence Committee revealed an America that has lost its way. We are a country that has always liked to think of itself as holding to a
Nothing to hide

higher code of conduct than tyrannical and repressive countries elsewhere in the world, but the pronounced split in the arguments over the report showed that we have no universally held standards or ideals of "who we are as a nation" and such notions of exceptionalism are an illusion.

One thing became clear: there are those who believe that all rule of U.S. law and international laws and conventions should be cast aside to protect this country, and across a wide gap there are others who believe that America should set an example as a paragon of the human rights and moral principles that we had heretofore believed we stood for.

As with every other topic nowadays, the torture issue hews along political lines. A huge campaign had been mounted to counteract the report, Republicans leading the charge. Anchor Dagen McDowell of Fox Business was within 24 hours somehow able to assess the… Read More »

religion

Is the Supreme Court Establishing a Christian Nation? »

It looks that way, judging from these two cases Jun 10 2014

In the endless tug and pull of whether to allow crosses, ten commandment tablets, menorahs and nativity scenes in public spaces, the courts have generally tried to keep church separate from state. But we now have a Supreme Court that is showing a bias toward religion, and that religion is Christianity.

The Court’s surprising ruling May 5th said that beginning a town council meeting with prayer in a New York state town named Greece — and by extension everywhere — was more than acceptable even though those prayers were heavily
infused with Christian liturgical references. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial called it “a good turn for religious freedom” and even said the “disconcerting surprise is that the decision was only 5-4”. The split was the usual right-left clustering with Justice Anthony Kennedy effectively casting the deciding vote and writing the… Read More »

1st amendment

Are We Becoming a Police State? »

Nov 27 2011 Don't Take Our Word for It Dec.4: In our wake The New York Times has now asked "Is this the militarization of the American police? in this article.

Our title sounds alarmist and exaggerated, doesn’t it? But the uniformity of method, the rush to violence by police from New York to Oakland, from Portland to Atlanta to Los Angeles, tell us otherwise.

The Occupy movement told us something we were unsure of, after nearly half a century — that Americans would take to the streets. In 1968 it was primarily the Vietnam War. Today the self-declared 99% are angry at a distorted society that has bestowed too much on too few and left them with dim prospects.

But when they take to the streets, and mayors find reason to shut down the right of  "the people peaceably to assemble" guaranteed by the 1st Amendment, the police quickly resort to violence reminiscent of the “police riots” at the Democratic National Convention of 1968 in Chicago. Evidence of physical provocation by Occupiers are few, non-violence being key to winning public support, but the police in several cities went straight to tear gas, pepper spray and beatings.

So in New York early in the occupation, police attacked protesters and onlookers with pepper spray as seen in the video above, in which we hear women screaming from the burn of the chemical agent.

In another New York incident police used truncheons (now given the gentler name “batons” by the media) to savagely beat the crowd captured on film here. In neither case is there evidence of provocation that justified a violent response.

Ultimately New York City Mayor Bloomberg shut down Zuccotti Park telling us hygiene had suddenly become the problem it had not been for two months. Hundreds of NYPD officers in riot gear swept through the park in early morning hours, rousting campers from sleeping bags and removing and depriving protesters of the tents and gear that had become essential with the change in weather. Police sequestered credentialed reporters two blocks distant where they could not see the action. Bloomberg said this violation of a free press was to “protect the members of the press”. If that truly was the reason, it didn't sound that way when later in a speech he would say, “I have my own army in the N.Y.P.D.”

In Oakland, an Iraq vet suffered a skull fracture and brain function damage when hit by a police projectile thought to be a tear gas canister. Police classify tear gas and other crowd control aids as "non-lethal", but rubber bullets and cans fired from launchers are dangerous at close range and can indeed be lethal. A second Oakland Occupier's spleen was lacerated by a police beating such as seen in this this film clip.

At the University of California, Davis, a campus police officer walked in front of a row of student protesters sitting on the ground with locked arms, thoroughly dousing them with pepper spray, caught in this film:

In Portland, the photo below shows police hitting a young woman directly in the face with pepper spray...


Portland

...with much the same seen in Seattle...


Seattle

...where an 84-year-old woman was a victim of the chemical agent. Pepper spray is derived from the most potent in the spectrum of chili peppers (capsaicin) and causes searing pain and temporary blindness. One student reported that the burn lasted through the night — face, hands — preventing sleep — and into the next day.

In none of these instances caught on film was there any instance of provocation that merited so violent an attack.

In a massive assault, 1,400 police officers, some in riot gear, stormed the Los Angeles Occupier encampment arresting over 200.

“60 Minutes” on November 20th ran a segment on the increasing use by police of Tasers, the brand name for stun guns that shoot into the target’s body a pair of darts at the end of wires, thus closing a circuit for an agonizing electrical shock. The segment shows the unhesitatingly rapid resort to using the weapon on a motorist who is only asking what she had done that called for putting her hands on her car. The weapon has led to heart attacks and death, which, of course, the manufacturer disputes as coincidental. Police, undeterred by its violence toward fellow citizens, seem to gravitate to its use because it is an easy shortcut to bringing a civilian to heel.

american sanctimony

These scenes, uploaded to video sites such as YouTube, show the world that the Mecca of free speech that we fashion the United States to be looks false.

The opposing view was more concerned that the protests were noisy, had inconvenienced civilian activity and might cause property damage. Occupiers were labeled unwashed “hippies” — “lice-infested, shiftless human filth” according to one offended commentator on a right wing website — a view helped along by the media's focus on the bizarre sort that street demonstrations inevitably attract. The objective is to persuade that element of society which values order above all to classify protesters as rabble rather than the jobless young people burdened by student debt who formed the core of the 99% movement. That’s the standard self-preservation tactic adopted by those who hold power to keep the public in its place in order to preserve the status quo.

will protests survive?

The status quo may be with us for good. Glenn Greenwald, writing at Salon offers this troubling assessment:

Despite all the rights of free speech and assembly flamboyantly guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, the reality is that punishing the exercise of those rights with police force and state violence has been the reflexive response in America for quite some time...

The intent and effect of such abuse is that it renders those guaranteed freedoms meaningless. If a population becomes bullied or intimidated out of exercising rights offered on paper, those rights effectively cease to exist. Every time the citizenry watches peaceful protesters getting pepper-sprayed — or hears that an Occupy protester suffered brain damage and almost died after being shot in the skull with a rubber bullet — many become increasingly fearful of participating in this citizen movement, and also become fearful in general of exercising their rights in a way that is bothersome or threatening to those in power. That’s a natural response, and it’s exactly what the climate of fear imposed by all abusive police state actions is intended to achieve: to coerce citizens to “decide” on their own to be passive and compliant — to refrain from exercising their rights — out of fear of what will happen if they don’t.

The genius of this approach is how insidious its effects are: because the rights continue to be offered on paper, the citizenry continues to believe it is free. ... As Rosa Luxemburg so perfectly put it: “Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.” Someone who sits at home and never protests or effectively challenges power factions will not realize that their rights of speech and assembly have been effectively eroded because they never seek to exercise those rights; it’s only when we see steadfast, courageous resistance from the likes of these UC-Davis students is this erosion of rights manifest.

David Frum, a conservative and former Bush speech writer, has more faith in the American people to rebel. He says in this New York Magazine article, an indictment of what the Republican party has become, that “If the social order comes to seem unjust to large numbers of people, what happens next will make Occupy Wall Street look like a street fair”.

Will the police fan the flames or subdue all change?