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[…] Obama’s in-your-face attitude seems to have thrown Republicans off their stride. They thought all they had to do was convince everyone they were crazy enough to force an unthinkable default on the nation’s financial obligations. Now they have to wonder if Obama is crazy enough to let them.
He probably isn’t. But the White House has kept up the pressure, asserting that the real deadline for action by Congress to avoid a default isn’t Aug. 2, as the Treasury Department said, but July 22; it takes time to write the needed legislation, officials explained. Tick, tick, tick . . . […]
Obama’s pushing and poking are aimed at Republicans who control the House, and what he wants them to “just do” is abandon the uncompromising position that any debt-ceiling deal has to include big, painful budget cuts but not a single cent of new tax revenue.
The president demands that Congress also eliminate “tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires . . . oil companies and hedge fund managers and corporate jet owners.” Without these modest increases in revenue, he says, the government will have to cut funding for medical research, food inspection and the National Weather Service. Also, presumably, whatever federal support goes to puppies and apple pie.
In truth, some non-millionaires who never fly on corporate jets would also lose tax breaks under the president’s proposal. And it’s hard to believe that the first thing the government would do, if Congress provides no new revenue, is stop testing ground beef for bacteria. But Obama is right that the cuts would be draconian — and he’s right to insist that House Republicans face reality. […]
Even if they move just an inch, the nation’s prospects become much brighter. This fight is that important.
Every independent, bipartisan, blue-ribbon panel that has looked at the deficit problem has reached the same conclusion: The gap between spending and revenue is much too big to be closed by budget cuts alone. With fervent conviction but zero evidence, Tea Party Republicans believe otherwise — and Establishment Republicans, who know better, are afraid to contradict them.
The difficult work of putting the federal government on sound fiscal footing can’t begin as long as a majority in the House rejects simple arithmetic on ideological grounds.
“I’ve met with the leaders multiple times,” Obama said, referring to House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “At a certain point, they need to do their job.” The job he means is welcoming fantasy-loving Republicans to the real world, and it has to be done.
The stakes are perilously high, but Obama does have a doomsday option: If all else fails, he can assert that a section of the 14th Amendment — “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law . . . shall not be questioned” — makes the debt limit unconstitutional and instructs him to take any measures necessary to avoid default.
Maybe that’s why, in this stare-down, the president doesn’t seem inclined to blink.
[…] Last December, after Mr. Obama agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts — a move that many people, myself included, viewed as in effect a concession to Republican blackmail — Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic asked why the deal hadn’t included a rise in the debt limit, so as to forestall another hostage situation (my words, not Mr. Ambinder’s).
The president’s response seemed clueless even then. He asserted that “nobody, Democrat or Republican, is willing to see the full faith and credit of the United States government collapse,” and that he was sure that John Boehner, as speaker of the House, would accept his “responsibilities to govern.”
Well, we’ve seen how that worked out.
Now, Mr. Obama was right about the dangers of failing to raise the debt limit. In fact, he understated the case, by focusing only on financial confidence. […]
But confidence isn’t the only thing at stake. Failure to raise the debt limit would also force the U.S. government to make drastic, immediate spending cuts, on a scale that would dwarf the austerity currently being imposed on Greece. And don’t believe the nonsense about the benefits of spending cuts that has taken over much of our public discourse: slashing spending at a time when the economy is deeply depressed would destroy hundreds of thousands and quite possibly millions of jobs.
So failure to reach a debt deal would have very bad consequences. But here’s the thing: Mr. Obama must be prepared to face those consequences if he wants his presidency to survive. […]
So what’s really going on is extortion pure and simple. As Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute puts it, the G.O.P. has, in effect, come around with baseball bats and declared, “Nice economy you have here. A real shame if something happened to it.”
And the reason Republicans are doing this is because they must believe that it will work: Mr. Obama caved in over tax cuts, and they expect him to cave again. They believe that they have the upper hand, because the public will blame the president for the economic crisis they’re threatening to create. In fact, it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that G.O.P. leaders actually want the economy to perform badly.
Republicans believe, in short, that they’ve got Mr. Obama’s number, that he may still live in the White House but that for practical purposes his presidency is already over. It’s time — indeed, long past time — for him to prove them wrong.
The debt-ceiling crisis is growing into an impending constitutional crisis.
Imagine this scenario:
* House Republicans and the president fail to reach a budget agreement.
* House Republicans refuse to raise the debt ceiling before August 2, July 22, or whenever the real moment of crisis is.
* The federal government runs out of cash to pay its bills.
* Rather than default on obligations, the president announces his opinion that the debt limit is unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment, an argument increasingly heard this past week. He orders the Secretary of the Treasury to continue borrowing anyway.
* Now what?
Obviously there will be financial consequences, because lenders have to worry whether the post-July 22 debt is quite so guaranteed by the full faith and credit of the United States as the pre-July 22 debt.
More serious however are the legal implications.
While the Secretary of the Treasury and the president will rest their borrowing on Section 4 of the Fourteenth Amendment, House Republicans will have a non-trivial argument that the Secretary of the Treasury and the president are emitting debt not only in violation of statute law, but in violation of Congress’ supreme authority over public finances.
With the markets bucking and rearing, and the real economy suddenly convulsed, does this not create a crisis atmosphere in which some House Republicans will begin to talk about the impeachment of an allegedly lawless and unconstitutional president?
If we want to avoid that outcome – and I have to believe we all do! – wouldn’t the best idea for now be: just lift the debt ceiling to give all parties more time to work out their differences?
Despite warnings it will undermine Social Security, House Democratic leaders are lining up behind a White House proposal to extend a payroll-tax cut beyond this year.
Reps. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and John Larson (D-Conn.) both announced Friday that they’ll throw their weight behind the extended payroll-tax holiday, which President Obama and some leading Senate Democrats are prescribing as an economic stimulant.
“Extending the payroll tax cut for another year will help keep our fragile economic recovery moving forward, create jobs, and improve our long-term fiscal outlook,” Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat, has written in a column to be published Tuesday July 5th on the website of the nonprofit Blue Dog Research Forum.
“Allowing this tax holiday to expire would take money out of the pockets of workers in a time of lingering uncertainty putting the brakes on the economy at a time when we can ill afford it.”
Larson, the chairman of the Democratic Caucus, agrees, spokesman Ellis Brachman told The Hill Friday.
“He believes it will ultimately help consumers and the economy,” Brachman wrote in an email.
The comments indicate a growing momentum behind the push to extend the payroll-tax holiday, which was initially crafted by the White House and Senate Republicans as part of a December deal to continue the George W. Bush tax cuts for all Americans. The provision – which has slashed workers’ payroll taxes by 32 percent on 2011 wages – is scheduled to expire at the end of the year.
A number of liberal Democrats had fought the initial tax cut, noting that the payroll tax is the sole funding stream for Social Security, which is already paying out more than it’s taking in. Behind Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), the lawmakers are now continuing that campaign in the face of a proposed extension. […]
Other leading Democrats are keeping their cards closer to their chests. The offices of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) did not respond to requests for comment this week.
Obama on Wednesday renewed his push to extend the payroll-tax cut as a way to stimulate an economy where unemployment remains above 9 percent.
“The American people need to know that we’re focused on jobs and not just on deficit reduction,” Obama said during a press conference at the White House. “I think they want to have some confidence that we’ve got a plan that’s helping right now.”
To make his case, Obama touted the economic benefits of the existing payroll-tax break, arguing “the American people have an extra thousand dollars, on average, in their pockets.”
“That has helped cushion some of the tough stuff that happened in the first six months of this year, including the effects on oil prices as a consequence of what happened in the Middle East, as well as what happened in Japan,” Obama said.
Under current law, workers this year have seen their payroll taxes cut from 6.2 to 4.2 percent. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the provision will reduce federal revenues by $112 billion over the next two years – money the government will have to borrow to fill the resulting hole in the Social Security trust fund.
The existing tax holiday applies only to workers, but Obama has also floated the idea of extending it to employers as well.
In the upper chamber, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is urging similar changes.
Picking up a thread again from last week, Dana Goldstein says there’s a difference between testing and test-based accountability and uses as an example a teacher who constructed a particularly inane-sounding poetry lesson on the theory that this would help kids do well on the Maryland School Assessment. She concludes that “when testing policies are set up to punish adults, educators are incentivized to raise test scores at any cost, not to use tests to help better instruct children.”
Here, again, I run into what I think is a huge consistency problem in the messaging coming out of teachers unions. Sometimes I hear from union-affiliated folks that it’s unfair to attribute differences in student learning to differences in teacher skill, because everyone knows that socioeconomic and home environment factors drive a lot of this. Other times I see the American Federation of Teachers building a messaging program around the idea that its members are Making A Difference Every Day. To me this leads to the obvious conclusion that while socioeconomic and home environment factors do drive a lot of student learning, teachers are also making a difference every day. And it makes a lot of sense to ask which teachers are making the most difference. The teachers who are in the top 20 percent of difference-makers are playing a vital role to the future of America, and we ought to pay them more money and make sure they don’t leave the profession. But the teachers who are in the bottom percent of difference-makers are doing us little good, and we should try to replace them with other people.
Of course to do that, you need to measure student learning and that means tests. But now comes out the worry that educators are now “incentivized to raise test scores at any cost” and will become soulless stat-juking monsters. If this is true, though, then what happens is teachers are given zero financial incentive to perform well on the job. What if the only financial incentives teachers get are to obtain meaningless degrees and stick around long enough for pensions to vest? It’s fun to speculate on the extent to which educators are or aren’t driven by objective financial incentives, but you need a consistent psychological theory of the case. The hypothesis that a teacher who responds to an incentive-free system is going to have a highly effective pedagogical method that he then abandons in favor of pure score-gaming once faced with an incentive to get students to do well on tests doesn’t make sense. Something nice about Bad Teacher is that it portrays this correctly — the teacher disposed to respond badly to test-based incentives is the same person as the person disposed to respond badly to an incentive-free environment.
My own take is that talk of incentives is massively overrated. Baseball teams don’t pay a premium to guys who hit lots of home runs in order to create “incentives” for people to hit home runs. If that worked, we’d all be major league sluggers! Baseball teams pay a premium to guys who lots of home runs because home run hitters are valuable contributors to baseball teams. Hitters who perform worse are less valuable. And hitters who perform very poorly are drummed out of MLB. That’s not really about incentives; it’s about attracting and retaining high performers to your organization.
Catching up to the reality already faced by many of its members, the nation’s largest teachers’ union on Monday affirmed for the first time that evidence of student learning must be considered in the evaluations of school teachers around the country.
Authorities struggled Sunday to gauge the environmental and crop damage from tens of thousands of gallons of oil that spilled into the legendary Yellowstone River, as Montana’s governor criticized Exxon Mobil for downplaying the possible scope of the disaster.
When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, one victim was political scientist Daniel Aldrich. He had just moved to New Orleans. Late one August night, there was a knock on the door.
“It was a neighbor who knew that we had no idea of the realities of the Gulf Coast life,” said Aldrich, who is now a political scientist at Purdue University in Indiana. He “knocked on our door very late at night, around midnight on Saturday night, and said, ‘Look, you’ve got small kids — you should really leave.’ ”
The knock on the door was to prove prophetic. It changed the course of Aldrich’s research and, in turn, is changing the way many experts now think about disaster preparedness.
Officials in New Orleans that Saturday night had not yet ordered an evacuation, but Aldrich trusted the neighbor who knocked on his door. He bundled his family into a car and drove to Houston.
“Without that information we never would’ve left,” Aldrich said. I think we would’ve been trapped.”
In fact, by the time people were told to leave, it was too late and thousands of people got stuck.
Social Connections And Survival: Neighbors Matter
Because of his own experience in Katrina, Aldrich started thinking about how neighbors help one another during disasters. He decided to visit disaster sites around the world, looking for data.
Aldrich’s findings show that ambulances and firetrucks and government aid are not the principal ways most people survive during — and recover after — a disaster. His data suggest that while official help is useful — in clearing the water and getting the power back on in a place such as New Orleans after Katrina, for example — government interventions cannot bring neighborhoods back, and most emergency responders take far too long to get to the scene of a disaster to save many lives. Rather, it is the personal ties among members of a community that determine survival during a disaster, and recovery in its aftermath. […]
Really, at the end of the day, the people who will save you, and the people who will help you, they’re usually neighbors.
[…] It’s safe to assume that John Adams, who was the first Vice President of this country, the 2nd President of this Country, one of the Founding Fathers, and was a key negotiator in the peace treaty between the United States and Britain, had a pretty clear idea of what the Founding Fathers would have been alright with.
The ink was barely dry on the PPACA [Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act] when the first of many lawsuits to block the mandated health insurance provisions of the law was filed in a Florida District Court.
The pleadings, in part, read –
The Constitution nowhere authorizes the United States to mandate, either directly or under threat of penalty, that all citizens and legal residents have qualifying health care coverage.
It turns out, the Founding Fathers would beg to disagree.
In July of 1798, Congress passed – and President John Adams signed –“An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen.” The law authorized the creation of a government operated marine hospital service and mandated that privatelyemployed sailors be required to purchase health care insurance.
Keep in mind that the 5th Congress did not really need to struggle over the intentions of the drafters of the Constitutions in creating this Act as many of its members were the drafters of the Constitution.
And when the Bill came to the desk of President John Adams for signature, I think it’s safe to assume that the man in that chair had a pretty good grasp on what the framers had in mind.
For all the political and economic uncertainties about health reform, at least one thing seems clear: The bill that President Obama signed on Tuesday is the federal government’s biggest attack on economic inequality since inequality began rising more than three decades ago. […]
The pretax incomes of the wealthy have soared since the late 1970s, while their tax rates have fallen more than rates for the middle class and poor.
Nearly every major aspect of the health bill pushes in the other direction. This fact helps explain why Mr. Obama was willing to spend so much political capital on the issue, even though it did not appear to be his top priority as a presidential candidate. Beyond the health reform’s effect on the medical system, it is the centerpiece of his deliberate effort to end what historians have called the age of Reagan.
Speaking to an ebullient audience of Democratic legislators and White House aides at the bill-signing ceremony on Tuesday, Mr. Obama claimed that health reform would “mark a new season in America.” He added, “We have now just enshrined, as soon as I sign this bill, the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health care.” […]
A big chunk of the money to pay for the bill comes from lifting payroll taxes on households making more than $250,000. On average, the annual tax bill for households making more than $1 million a year will rise by $46,000 in 2013, according to the Tax Policy Center, a Washington research group. Another major piece of financing would cut Medicare subsidies for private insurers, ultimately affecting their executives and shareholders.
The benefits, meanwhile, flow mostly to households making less than four times the poverty level — $88,200 for a family of four people. Those without insurance in this group will become eligible to receive subsidies or to join Medicaid. (Many of the poor are already covered by Medicaid.) Insurance costs are also likely to drop for higher-income workers at small companies.
Finally, the bill will also reduce a different kind of inequality. In the broadest sense, insurance is meant to spread the costs of an individual’s misfortune — illness, death, fire, flood — across society. Since the late 1970s, though, the share of Americans with health insurance has shrunk. As a result, the gap between the economic well-being of the sick and the healthy has been growing, at virtually every level of the income distribution.
The health reform bill will reverse that trend.
If you thought the do-it-yourself anti-immigrant schemes couldn’t get any more repellent, you were wrong. New laws in Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina are following — and in some ways outdoing — Arizona’s attempt to engineer the mass expulsion of the undocumented, no matter the damage to the Constitution, public safety, local economies and immigrant families.
The laws vary in their details but share a common strategy: to make it impossible for people without papers to live without fear.
They give new powers to local police untrained in immigration law. They force businesses to purge work forces and schools to check students’ immigration status. And they greatly increase the danger of unreasonable searches, false arrests, racial profiling and other abuses, not just against immigrants, but anyone who may look like some officer’s idea of an illegal immigrant.
The laws empower local police officers to demand the documents of people they meet, and to detain those they suspect are here illegally. That means they can make warrantless arrests for assumed civil immigration violations, a stunning abuse of power.
The laws also make it illegal to give a ride to the undocumented, so a son could land in jail for driving his mother to the supermarket, or a church volunteer for ferrying families to a soup kitchen. They require businesses to check employees against the error-plagued federal E-Verify database, and to fire those who are flagged as unauthorized. Once the purge takes hold in agriculture, there will be no one left to pick onions, peaches and cotton. The immigrant labor shortage is already being felt in Georgia, where crops are rotting and the governor has called for using jobless ex-convicts in the fields.
Alabama’s law is the most extreme. It forces public school districts to determine the immigration status of students and their parents and report the data to the state. Alabama still can’t bar them from enrolling, since the Supreme Court declared in Plyler v. Doe that all children are entitled to a public education. The state’s law seems designed to challenge that ruling, as it turns school officials into de facto immigration agents and impels frightened parents to keep their children home.
It has long been clear that America is suffering for lack of a well-functioning immigration system that better protects workers and families, promotes lawfulness at the border and in the workplace, and gives hardworking people a path to legality.
Congress’s inaction has let the states run amok with their own destructive ideas. Supporters insist they are only trying to enforce the law. But trying to catch and deport 11 million people is lunacy. The damage to this country — its citizens and its laws — is enormous.
Civil rights organizations are suing or threatening to sue to block these noxious state laws. So far federal courts have enjoined parts of bad local laws in Arizona, Georgia, Utah and Indiana. President Obama’s Department of Justice has sued Arizona but not the other states. It needs to fight harder.
[July 1] the U.S. Sentencing Commission unanimously voted to retroactively apply the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, enabling 12,000 prisoners who were convicted under a previous law that applied harsh sentences to minor crack offenders to be released:
“In passing the Fair Sentencing Act, Congress recognized the fundamental unfairness of federal cocaine sentencing policy and ameliorated it through bipartisan legislation,” noted Commission chair, Judge Patti B. Saris. “Today’s action by the Commission ensures that the longstanding injustice recognized by Congress is remedied, and that federal crack cocaine offenders who meet certain criteria established by the Commission and considered by the courts may have their sentences reduced to a level consistent with the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.”
Under previous law, crack offenses led to sentences 100 times more severe than powder cocaine sentences. It took 500 grams of cocaine to trigger a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, but only 5 grams of crack. Because African-American drug users tend are more likely to use crack, while white drug users tend to use powder cocaine, the practical effect of the disparity has been to fill the federal prison system with non-violent African-American offenders. Eighty to 90 percent of defendants convicted of crack offenses are black, while 70 percent of powder cocaine offenders are white or Hispanic. As one federal judge once put it, the disparity “makes the war on drugs look like a ‘war on minorities.’ ”
Last year, Congress passed the Act, substantially lowering the recommended sentences for people convicted of crack cocaine crimes, but it was not applied to people already serving time in prison under the old system. Today the Sentencing Commission ruled that offenders locked up for crack offenses before the new law took effect should also benefit.
[…] Throughout the country people have responded by organizing against “corporate personhood,” a court-created precedent that illegitimately gives corporations rights that were intended for human beings.
The movement is flowering not in the halls of Congress, but at the local level, where all real social movements start. Every day Americans experience the devastation caused by unaccountable corporations. Thanks to the hard work of local organizers, Boulder, CO could become the next community to officially join this growing effort. Councilmember Macon Cowles is proposing to place a measure on the November ballot, giving Boulder voters the opportunity to support an amendment to the U. S. Constitution abolishing corporate personhood and declaring that money is not speech.
At the forefront of this movement is Move to Amend, a national coalition of hundreds of organizations and over 113,000 individuals (and counting). Move to Amend is committed to building a grassroots movement to abolish corporate personhood, to hold corporations accountable to the public, and ultimately to fulfill the promise of an American democratic republic.
Boulder is not alone in this fight, nor is it the first community to consider such a resolution. In April, voters in Madison and Dane County, WI overwhelmingly approved measures calling for an end to corporate personhood and the legal status of money as speech by 84% and 78% respectively. Similar resolutions have been passed in nearly thirty other cities and counties. Resolutions have also been introduced in the state legislatures of both Vermont and Washington.
Despite the momentum, Move to Amend organizers know this won’t be an easy fight. Corporate America controls traditional media, and has invested heavily in politicians, lobbyists, and extremist groups to oppose our efforts. We can’t expect Congress to act, nor can we depend on the courts to solve a problem of their own making. We draw our strategy and inspiration from the great social movements of history.
The abolition of slavery, the struggle for women’s suffrage, trade unions, and the civil rights movement all started with grassroots organizing. The ruling elites denounced these movements as un-American, and they will make the same accusation against this effort. Others claimed that those movements went “too far,” and were unrealistic. Thankfully, folks before us did not quit or give up. They gained traction with solid strategy, unwavering commitment, and moral authority.
Move To Amend proudly identifies with this tradition of engaged citizen participation. Building momentum with local organizing and resolutions is our best chance of driving a constitutional amendment into Congress. Recent events in Boulder provide an example of this strategy in practice. Months of education, organizing, and advocacy by Boulder Move to Amend empowered Councilman Cowles to provide political leadership and prepared the community to respond.
Awareness of corporate personhood in Boulder is now higher than ever before. It is widely viewed as a mainstream issue, having earned the support of local Democratic Party leaders. Answering critics of the measure, Boulder County Democratic Party Chairperson Dan Gould recently told the Daily Camera that corporate personhood is an issue that must be addressed locally. “This is as important as municipalization, this is as important as school bonds,” he said. “This is immediate.”
Move to Amend is gaining momentum rapidly in communities throughout the country precisely because the problems of corporate power are most evident locally. Developers seeking special favors pour money into elections. Big polluters avoid investigations and litigation by hiding behind their illegitimate “rights.” Bad employers lie to the public about unfair labor practices with no legal consequences. People see it every day. They get it and they’re ready to fight back. Move to Amend is here to help them do that with a strategy for long-term success.
Fox News is reeling from an apparent hack of their Twitter account, after messages were posted in the very early a.m. hours purporting to break the (false) news that President Obama had been assassinated.
According to the tweets, Obama had just been shot by an unknown assailant while campaigning at a restaurant in Iowa, and died from the wounds. However, Obama was not in Iowa at all this past weekend, as evidenced by both the White House’s public schedule and an absence of any available news reports showing him in the state — and it would also be odd for him to have been campaigning at an Iowa restaurant after midnight.
Fox News posted a statement on their main web site:
FoxNews.com’s Twitter feed for political news, FoxNewspolitics, was hacked early Monday morning.
Hackers sent out several malicious and false tweets claiming that President Obama had been assassinated. Those reports are incorrect, of course, and the president is spending the July 4 holiday with his family.
The hacking is being investigated, and FoxNews.com regrets any distress the false tweets may have created.
As the Huffington Post has reported, before these messages were posted the alleged hackers appear to have actually marked their work, beginning by replacing the Fox logo with an “SK” logo, and a new account description: “H4CK3D BY TH3 5CR1PT K1DD3S.”
Messages were also posted on the account announcing the hack, but were then taken down and followed by the “news” of Obama’s death.
The tweets in question, as following in chronological order:
Just regained full access to our Twitter and email. Happy 4th
@BarackObama has just passed. The President is dead. A sad 4th of July, indeed. President Barack Obama is dead
@BarackObama has just passed. Nearly 45 minutes ago, he was shot twice in the lower pelvic area and in the neck; shooter unknown. Bled out
@BarackObama shot twice at a Ross’ restaurant in Iowa while campaigning. RIP Obama, best regards to the Obama family.
#ObamaDead, it’s a sad 4th of July. RT to support the late president’s family, and RIP. The shooter will be found
BREAKING NEWS: President @BarackObama assassinated, 2 gunshot wounds have proved too much. It’s a sad 4th for #america. #obamadead RIP
We wish @joebiden the best of luck as our new President of the United States. In such a time of madness, there’s light at the end of tunnel
The Hollywood Reporter:
[…] Another of Sandberg’s challenges is how to enter China, where the government has a particular interest in knowing who your friends are and what they say. “If you want to be connected to the whole world, you can’t be without connecting China,” Sandberg says. Both Sandberg and Zuckerberg extoll a recent article in Foreign Affairs by Clay Shirky, in which he argued that social media creates “a public sphere” that can help authoritarian countries transition to democracy. One Facebook executive said he knows that dissidents who go on the site might be identified by the government and punished. But as long as dissidents aren’t misled by Facebook and know that imprisonment is a risk—and he believes they do—it’s a choice they should be allowed to make.
Dr. Cynthia Boaz, Truthout:
[…] 1. Panic Mongering. This goes one step beyond simple fear mongering. With panic mongering, there is never a break from the fear. The idea is to terrify and terrorize the audience during every waking moment. From Muslims to swine flu to recession to homosexuals to immigrants to the rapture itself, the belief over at Fox seems to be that if your fight-or-flight reflexes aren’t activated, you aren’t alive. This of course raises the question: why terrorize your own audience? Because it is the fastest way to bypasses the rational brain. In other words, when people are afraid, they don’t think rationally. And when they can’t think rationally, they’ll believe anything.
2. Character Assassination/Ad Hominem. Fox does not like to waste time debating the idea. Instead, they prefer a quicker route to dispensing with their opponents: go after the person’s credibility, motives, intelligence, character, or, if necessary, sanity. No category of character assassination is off the table and no offense is beneath them. Fox and like-minded media figures also use ad hominem attacks not just against individuals, but entire categories of people in an effort to discredit the ideas of every person who is seen to fall into that category, e.g. “liberals,” “hippies,” “progressives” etc. This form of argument – if it can be called that – leaves no room for genuine debate over ideas, so by definition, it is undemocratic. Not to mention just plain crass.
3. Projection/Flipping. This one is frustrating for the viewer who is trying to actually follow the argument. It involves taking whatever underhanded tactic you’re using and then accusing your opponent of doing it to you first. We see this frequently in the immigration discussion, where anti-racists are accused of racism, or in the climate change debate, where those who argue for human causes of the phenomenon are accused of not having science or facts on their side. It’s often called upon when the media host finds themselves on the ropes in the debate.
4. Rewriting History. This is another way of saying that propagandists make the facts fit their worldview. The Downing Street Memos on the Iraq war were a classic example of this on a massive scale, but it happens daily and over smaller issues as well. A recent case in point is Palin’s mangling of the Paul Revere ride, which Fox reporters have bent over backward to validate. Why lie about the historical facts, even when they can be demonstrated to be false? Well, because dogmatic minds actually find it easier to reject reality than to update their viewpoints. They will literally rewrite history if it serves their interests. And they’ll often speak with such authority that the casual viewer will be tempted to question what they knew as fact.
5. Scapegoating/Othering. This works best when people feel insecure or scared. It’s technically a form of both fear mongering and diversion, but it is so pervasive that it deserves its own category. The simple idea is that if you can find a group to blame for social or economic problems, you can then go on to a) justify violence/dehumanization of them, and b) subvert responsibility for any harm that may befall them as a result.
6. Conflating Violence With Power and Opposition to Violence With Weakness. This is more of what I’d call a “meta-frame” (a deeply held belief) than a media technique, but it is manifested in the ways news is reported constantly. For example, terms like “show of strength” are often used to describe acts of repression, such as those by the Iranian regime against the protesters in the summer of 2009. There are several concerning consequences of this form of conflation. First, it has the potential to make people feel falsely emboldened by shows of force – it can turn wars into sporting events. Secondly, especially in the context of American politics, displays of violence – whether manifested in war or debates about the Second Amendment – are seen as noble and (in an especially surreal irony) moral. Violence become synonymous with power, patriotism and piety.
7. Bullying. This is a favorite technique of several Fox commentators. That it continues to be employed demonstrates that it seems to have some efficacy. Bullying and yelling works best on people who come to the conversation with a lack of confidence, either in themselves or their grasp of the subject being discussed. The bully exploits this lack of confidence by berating the guest into submission or compliance. Often, less self-possessed people will feel shame and anxiety when being berated and the quickest way to end the immediate discomfort is to cede authority to the bully. The bully is then able to interpret that as a “win.”
8. Confusion. As with the preceding technique, this one works best on an audience that is less confident and self-possessed. The idea is to deliberately confuse the argument, but insist that the logic is airtight and imply that anyone who disagrees is either too dumb or too fanatical to follow along. Less independent minds will interpret the confusion technique as a form of sophisticated thinking, thereby giving the user’s claims veracity in the viewer’s mind.
9. Populism. This is especially popular in election years. The speakers identifies themselves as one of “the people” and the target of their ire as an enemy of the people. The opponent is always “elitist” or a “bureaucrat” or a “government insider” or some other category that is not the people. The idea is to make the opponent harder to relate to and harder to empathize with. It often goes hand in hand with scapegoating. A common logical fallacy with populism bias when used by the right is that accused “elitists” are almost always liberals – a category of political actors who, by definition, advocate for non-elite groups.
10. Invoking the Christian God. This is similar to othering and populism. With morality politics, the idea is to declare yourself and your allies as patriots, Christians and “real Americans” (those are inseparable categories in this line of thinking) and anyone who challenges them as not. Basically, God loves Fox and Republicans and America. And hates taxes and anyone who doesn’t love those other three things. Because the speaker has been benedicted by God to speak on behalf of all Americans, any challenge is perceived as immoral. It’s a cheap and easy technique used by all totalitarian entities from states to cults.
11. Saturation. There are three components to effective saturation: being repetitive, being ubiquitous and being consistent. The message must be repeated cover and over, it must be everywhere and it must be shared across commentators: e.g. “Saddam has WMD.” Veracity and hard data have no relationship to the efficacy of saturation. There is a psychological effect of being exposed to the same message over and over, regardless of whether it’s true or if it even makes sense, e.g., “Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States.” If something is said enough times, by enough people, many will come to accept it as truth. Another example is Fox’s own slogan of “Fair and Balanced.”
12. Disparaging Education. There is an emerging and disturbing lack of reverence for education and intellectualism in many mainstream media discourses. In fact, in some circles (e.g. Fox), higher education is often disparaged as elitist. Having a university credential is perceived by these folks as not a sign of credibility, but of a lack of it. In fact, among some commentators, evidence of intellectual prowess is treated snidely and as anti-American. The disdain for education and other evidence of being trained in critical thinking are direct threats to a hive-mind mentality, which is why they are so viscerally demeaned.
13. Guilt by Association. This is a favorite of Glenn Beck and Andrew Breitbart, both of whom have used it to decimate the careers and lives of many good people. Here’s how it works: if your cousin’s college roommate’s uncle’s ex-wife attended a dinner party back in 1984 with Gorbachev’s niece’s ex-boyfriend’s sister, then you, by extension are a communist set on destroying America. Period.
14. Diversion. This is where, when on the ropes, the media commentator suddenly takes the debate in a weird but predictable direction to avoid accountability. This is the point in the discussion where most Fox anchors start comparing the opponent to Saul Alinsky or invoking ACORN or Media Matters, in a desperate attempt to win through guilt by association. Or they’ll talk about wanting to focus on “moving forward,” as though by analyzing the current state of things or God forbid, how we got to this state of things, you have no regard for the future. Any attempt to bring the discussion back to the issue at hand will likely be called deflection, an ironic use of the technique of projection/flipping.
In debating some of these tactics with colleagues and friends, I have also noticed that the Fox viewership seems to be marked by a sort of collective personality disorder whereby the viewer feels almost as though they’ve been let into a secret society. Something about their affiliation with the network makes them feel privileged and this affinity is likely what drives the viewers to defend the network so vehemently. They seem to identify with it at a core level, because it tells them they are special and privy to something the rest of us don’t have. It’s akin to the loyalty one feels by being let into a private club or a gang. That effect is also likely to make the propaganda more powerful, because it goes mostly unquestioned.
In considering these tactics and their possible effects on American public discourse, it is important to note that historically, those who’ve genuinely accessed truth have never berated those who did not. You don’t get honored by history when you beat up your opponent: look at Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln. These men did not find the need to engage in othering, ad homeinum attacks, guilt by association or bullying. This is because when a person has accessed a truth, they are not threatened by the opposing views of others. This reality reveals the righteous indignation of people like Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity as a symptom of untruth. These individuals are hostile and angry precisely because they don’t feel confident in their own veracity. And in general, the more someone is losing their temper in a debate and the more intolerant they are of listening to others, the more you can be certain they do not know what they’re talking about.
One final observation. Fox audiences, birthers and Tea Partiers often defend their arguments by pointing to the fact that a lot of people share the same perceptions. This is a reasonable point to the extent that Murdoch’s News Corporation reaches a far larger audience than any other single media outlet. But, the fact that a lot of people believe something is not necessarily a sign that it’s true; it’s just a sign that it’s been effectively marketed.
As honest, fair and truly intellectual debate degrades before the eyes of the global media audience, the quality of American democracy degrades along with it.
The Washington Post reports today on a one day walkout by public sector workers:
The strikes are the first major uprising over the Conservative-led government’s ambitious plans to slash $128 billion in spending over the next four years.
I don’t know how one defines “major uprising,” but on March 26 hundreds of thousands hit the streets to protest the government’s austerity plans. The Post didn’t find them terribly newsworthy when they happened, running a brief item alongside other international news.
Updated President Obama on Saturday repeated his challenge to Republicans to accept higher taxes on wealthy people and corporate interests, as part of a plan to reduce the budget deficit.
In remarks prepared for his weekly address, Mr. Obama said that reaching an agreement would demand tough choices of both Democrats and Republicans, and that taxes could not be off limits.
“It would be nice if we could keep every tax break, but we can’t afford them,” he said, reprising a theme he struck in a news conference on Wednesday. “Because if we choose to keep those tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, or for hedge-fund managers and corporate-jet owners, or for oil and gas companies pulling in huge profits without our help — then we’ll have to make even deeper cuts somewhere else.”
Mr. Obama listed college scholarships, medical research and Medicare costs for the elderly as the kinds of programs that would suffer if the White House and Congress could not agree on some tax revenues to be part of the multitrillion-dollar budget package. He noted that in negotiations steered by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the two sides had already identified more than $1 trillion in spending cuts.
But the negotiations have bogged down in recent days, with Republicans flatly rejecting any revenues from tax increases. In the news conference, Mr. Obama chided the lawmakers for leaving a deal until the 11th hour, comparing them unfavorably to his daughters, Malia and Sasha, who he said generally finished their homework a day early.
Senate leaders canceled a planned recess next week to continue negotiating. The Treasury has said the government will reach its debt ceiling on Aug. 2 and that it will no longer be able to borrow to keep operating and repay existing debt. The White House believes that it must have a deal by July 22 to get legislation through both houses and to the president’s desk by that deadline, Democratic officials briefed on the talks said this week.
In the Republican address, Senator Dan Coats of Indiana criticized the president’s handling of the economy and suggested that he looked to Indiana for guidance on solving Washington’s fiscal crisis.
“The Hoosier way is quite simple — we work hard and we live within our means,” Mr. Coats said. “In Indiana, we understand that you cannot spend more money than you take in.”
Indiana officials, he said, had the “political courage and moral sense” to know that they had to “spend less, borrow less and tax less,” to resolve the state’s problems.
“The president and Democrats in Congress must recognize that their game plan is not working,” Mr. Coats said. “It’s time to acknowledge that more government and higher taxes is not the answer to our problem.”
Chicago Tribune: “The 112th Congress is on pace to be one of the least productive in recent memory — as measured by votes taken, bills made into laws, nominees approved. By most of those metrics, this crowd is underperforming even the ‘do-nothing Congress’ of 1948, as Harry Truman dubbed it. The hot-temper era of Clinton impeachment in the 1990s saw more bills become law.”
[…]But then, McConnell doesn’t need to be inspiring or jocular. Shouldn’t be, in fact. What he’s saying isn’t inspirational or funny. It’s grim and divisive. And that’s why it’s so important. In a city split between liars and idealists, McConnell is the rarest of all things: an honest cynic. He’s the only powerful politician in America willing to tell you how Washington actually works, and that’s why he needs to be heard.
McConnell’s first brush with radical truth-telling came in October 2010, when he told National Journal that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” McConnell quickly qualified his remarks, although he never quite apologized for them.
Nor should he have. McConnell wasn’t articulating a radical new theory of politics. He was telling us how he and his party were already voting. Consider the dozens of elected Republicans who, at one time or another, supported an individual mandate for health-care reform, cap-and-trade for carbon emissions and tax cuts for stimulative purposes. Over the past three years, almost all of them have renounced their former views. Unless you understand McConnell’s argument, you can’t understand their actions.
A year ago, I broke down a vote on unemployment benefits by looking at senators from states with higher-than-average and lower-than average jobless rates. It was totally random. Then I reshuffled the votes by party. The randomness disappeared. Senators aren’t voting their consciences or their states. They’re voting their party, which means they’re voting their party’s incentives. Democrats won’t prosper unless Obama prospers. And Republicans can’t succeed unless Obama fails.
But I don’t want to leave you with the impression that McConnell understands only partisanship. He’s a shrewder analyst of bipartisanship than anyone else in Washington.
Many here understand a “bipartisan bill” to mean one with ideas from both parties. On deficit reduction, for instance, it would mean Democrats give in on spending cuts if Republicans give in on tax increases. McConnell understands it to be one with votes from both parties. That’s why he can keep a straight face while saying something like “President Obama needs to decide between his goal of higher taxes, or a bipartisan plan to address our deficit. He can’t have both.”
McConnell is right. Voters don’t spend their time conducting detailed analyses of legislation and neither — let’s be honest — do the media. Instead, both groups take their cues from political leaders. If the Republicans call a bill partisan and refuse to support it, the bill gets reported as partisan no matter its content. […]
The president sold himself as the great post-partisan hope, the leader who could bring comity and peacefulness to a town riven by partisanship and rancor. When McConnell refuses to come to bipartisan agreements with Obama, he damages Obama’s brand. More than anyone else, McConnell has been responsible for his failure, and key in demonstrating how little any one leader can do to change the tone in Washington.
The People’s View:
President Obama’s campaign for re-election closed June with nearly 500,000 donors and just shy of 700,000 donations. And the campaign has barely begun. It’s an answer to cynics, a stunning repudiation of the media narrative, and a devastating rebuke of the purity Left that claims to represent the President’s base. So, let’s review.
NOT the base:
Keeping a promise to the base:
PRESIDENTIAL VOTE 2008:
95% of black voters went to the ballot for Obama and only 4% for McCain.
Obama has succeeded in mobilizing African-American voters who, although strongly Democratic, have in the past been apathetic in turning out to vote.
55% of white votes went to McCain including the notoriously hard-to-win white working class vote, but Obama stunned many by taking an impressive 43% of total white votes, cutting the Republican lead compared with 2004.
66% of Hispanic voters turned out for Obama – the best ever result for a Democrat. McCain only took 31% of the Hispanic vote, despite courting them heavily in his campaign.
63% of Asian voters went to the ballot for Obama and 34% for McCain.
56% of the female vote went to Obama, exceeding the usual Democrat advantage. It should be noted that while Obama won the female vote overall, he lost the battle over white women by 7 points.
66% of under-30’s showed their support for Obama – far higher than in any previous election – compared to 31% for McCain.
A staggering 54% of young white voters also went for Obama.
Overall, this also helped Obama secure a high number of first time voters; 71% of whom voted Democrat.
[…] It should be noted that the union vote on this early endorsement was quite overwhelmingly supportive:
The vote, which came during the annual convention of the National Education Association, was supported by 72 percent of the union’s 9,000-member representative assembly. The assembly is the top decision making body for the union.
It is also worth noting that the largest teacher’s union in the country has NEVER endorsed so early, in their entire history:
The endorsement allows the union, which represents 3.2 million teachers, to start working to help re-elect Mr. Obama.
The NEA has never endorsed a presidential candidate this early in the campaign cycle, instead waiting to make the decision during the election year. But union leaders, anticipating a tough re-election campaign, wanted to bolster support for the president early on.
Only divisions this deep can explain why we are taking risks with our country’s future that we’re usually wise enough to avoid. Arguments over how much government should tax and spend are the very stuff of democracy’s give-and-take. Now, the debate is shadowed by worries that if a willful faction does not get what it wants, it might bring the nation to default.
This is, well, crazy. It makes sense only if politicians believe — or have convinced themselves — that they are fighting over matters of principle so profound that any means to defeat their opponents is defensible…
“The federal government was created by the states to be an agent for the states, not the other way around,” Gov. Rick Perry of Texas said recently.
No, our Constitution begins with the words “We the People” not “We the States.” The Constitution’s Preamble speaks of promoting “a more perfect Union,” “Justice,” “the common defense,” “the general Welfare” and “the Blessings of Liberty.” These were national goals.
While watching TV, an ad came on that sparked the beginning of not only the election cycle but the smear campaigns and misinformation. It’s been played so many times while writing this blog, I’m sure you’ve seen it also.
Crossroads GPS: Shovel Ready
The ad is paid for by Crossroads GPS/American Crossroads. I decided to look them up in OpenSecrets.org and low and behold it’s a SuperPAC that was established in 2010 and raised over $28 million dollars just in that year. They spent $16.7 million of that to campaign against running Democrats. The American Crossroads PAC does list one donar in the amount of $55,000 in one shot by the New Prosperity Foundation (their website you find here. It’s been quiet since October 2010). I don’t know if it’s just me, but whenever I hear “Prosperity” and “Foundation” together I always think of the Koch Brothers. In turn American Crossroads spent $250,000 on New Prosperity Foundation on 9/30/10.
Cenk Uyger lists the billionaire donars for American Crossroads:
Programmer under oath admits computers rig elections
Election fraud and accusations of rigged voting might be as old as US election systems themselves, but some may wonder, if a hacker can gain access to the election voting system, how secure are elections anyway?
The AntiSec movement is definitely rolling along, but Anonymous is pointing to a recent hack that could raise some serious questions over the integrity of voting in Florida. It seems that a hacker who uses Twitter obtained parts of the Florida voting database which has been subsequently posted to Paste2. It appears that the hacker in question wanted to show that voting fraud can easily happen today and dumped parts of the Florida database to prove it. From the comments of the release:
So, this is a little ironic. Here is inside details of florida voting systems. Now.. who still believes voting isn’t rigged? If the United States Government can’t even keep their ballot systems secure, why trust them at all? FAIL!
It’s the latest in a long string of hacks since LulzSec was disbanded. Previously, the Arizona Police Force had details leak about them not not once, not twice, but three times. In another leak, the AntiSec movement leaked details of Viacom and Universal Music along with content from various government servers.
This latest hack clearly demonstrates that Anonymous isn’t the only organization that is doing the hacking these days. One thing is for sure though, it’s hard to imagine that this would not have very big political implications.
From Goldwater to Bachmann, the meaning of one of the right’s favorite terms has evolved considerably
In May 2009, Sam French hit bottom, once again. A relative found him face down in his carport “talking gibberish,” according to court records. He later told medical personnel that he had been conversing with a bear in his backyard and hearing voices. His family figured he had gone off his medication for bipolar disorder, and a judge ordered him involuntarily committed — the fourth time in five years he had been hospitalized by court order.
When Mr. French’s daughter discovered that her father’s commitment meant it was illegal for him to have firearms, she and her husband removed his cache of 15 long guns and three handguns, and kept them after Mr. French was released in January 2010 on a new regime of mood-stabilizing drugs.
Ten months later, he appeared in General District Court — the body that handles small claims and traffic infractions — to ask a judge to restore his gun rights. After a brief hearing, in which Mr. French’s lengthy history of relapses never came up, he walked out with an order reinstating his right to possess firearms.
The next day, Mr. French retrieved his guns.
“The judge didn’t ask me a whole lot,” said Mr. French, now 62. “He just said: ‘How was I doing? Was I taking my medicine like I was supposed to?’ I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ ”
Across the country, states are increasingly allowing people like Mr. French, who lost their firearm rights because of mental illness, to petition to have them restored.
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
In 1971, at Stanford University, a young psychology professor created a simulated prison. Some of the young men playing the guards became sadistic, even violent, and the experiment had to be stopped.
The results of the Stanford Prison Experiment showed that people tend to conform — even when that means otherwise good people doing terrible things. Since then, the experiment has been used to help explain everything from Nazi Germany to Abu Ghraib.
Now, in a new project, Philip Zimbardo, the psychologist who created the prison experiment, is trying to show that people can learn to bring out the best in themselves rather than the worst.
An Unwanted Legacy
Four decades after he created the Stanford Prison Experiment, Zimbardo says he’s still hearing about it.
“I hate the idea that the Stanford prison study is the main thing most people know me for,” he says.
Zimbardo has done many things. He was a professor of psychology at Stanford University for 40 years. He’s been president of the American Psychological Association. He’s written a book about the psychology of time and established a clinic for shy people. But he says his other achievements are often overlooked.
“Soon as people meet me, I go around the world, ‘Oh you’re the prison guy,'” he says.
Here’s how the experiment worked: Zimbardo recruited 24 male college students and paid them $15 a day to spend two weeks in a fake prison in a basement on the Stanford campus. Half the students were assigned to be guards, the others were prisoners.
As an educational video made about the experiment put it, “What happened surprised everyone, including Zimbardo. The illusion became reality. The boundary between the role each person was playing and his real personal identity was erased.” Some of guards in the experiment became abusive, and prisoners showed signs of mental breakdown. After six days, Zimbardo shut the experiment down and sent everyone home.
‘Here I Am, This Evil Scientist’
His reputation was sealed: He was the guy who had revealed that normal people can do very bad things — if you expose them to wrongdoing, even evil, they’ll join in.
“So here I am, this evil scientist, creating this situation where evil is dominating good,” he says.
The problem is, Zimbardo doesn’t see himself that way. He sees himself as a force of good in the world, not evil. And so now, retired from teaching at the age of 78, he has a new project, one that aims to change his legacy in a dramatic way: to turn regular people into heroes.
Not comic book heroes. But, rather, someone who would have helped Jews escape the Holocaust. Or even something more ordinary, like standing up for a classmate who’s being bullied.
“Heroes are not extraordinary people,” he says. “They’re ordinary people who do an extraordinary thing, step out of themselves, put their best self forward in service to humanity. And it starts with internalizing heroic imagination, namely — I could do it.”
We, the People of the United States of America, reject the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, and move to amend our Constitution to:
- Firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.
- Guarantee the right to vote and to participate, and to have our vote and participation count.
- Protect local communities, their economies, and democracies against illegitimate “preemption” actions by global, national, and state governments.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“The function of freedom is to free someone else.”–Toni Morrison