Baggini’s consolations for a post-truth world
3 hours ago
This is economic madness. It is policy divorced from empirical evidence. It is insanity because the policies are illusory and delusional. The evidence is in, and it shows beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt that the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts failed to achieve the promised goals.Awesome. More media Johnstons, please.
So why in the world is anyone giving any credence to the insistence by Republican leaders that tax cuts, more tax cuts, and deeper tax cuts are the remedy to our economic woes? Why are they not laughingstocks? It is one thing for Fox News to treat these policies as successful, but what of the rest of what Sarah Palin calls with some justification the "lamestream media," who treat these policies as worthy ideas?
The Republican leadership is like the doctors who believed bleeding cured the sick. When physicians bled George Washington, he got worse, so they increased the treatment until they bled him to death. Our government, the basis of our freedoms, is spewing red ink, and the Republican solution is to spill ever more.
Those who ignore evidence and pledge blind faith in policy based on ideological fantasy are little different from the clerics who made Galileo Galilei confess that the sun revolves around the earth. The Capitol Hill and media Republicans differ only in not threatening death to those who deny their dogma.
At 1:03 in the video, one of the panelists on the show criticizes O’Donnell for criticizing Halloween — “Wait a minute, I love this, you’re a witch, you go ‘Halloween is bad,’ I’m not the witch, I mean wait a minute.” She responds by explaining that she opposes witchcraft because she has had first-hand experience with what they do.What Malkin's ignorant little mind is unable to grasp is that people who intellectually inhabit this century are not criticizing O'Donnell for a youthful indiscretion from which she learned a valuable life lesson, they are criticizing her for an obviously bullshit story about Satanic witches that only exist in the imagination of (some) Christian fundamentalists.
So, she tried it. She rejected it. And she learned from it.
If a Democrat becomes president expect to have our public discourse overtaken and overwhelmed with the most extreme, insane, and rotten attacks and smears from the conservative movement that you can possibly imagine.The Backlash presents author Will Bunch's first hand experience of that very rage and paranoia that was unleashed by the election of a Democrat, with the author traveling the country attempting to understand the fury of a right-wing populism which has pretty much made such predictions a reality. The book covers many of the same incidents that have been covered here on this blog, but with Bunch actually tracking down the involved parties and speaking with them. While Bunch provides humanizing portraits of such individuals, he also manages to provide sharp criticism of the predators who have preyed upon economic insecurity and cultural fears to fan the flames of hysteria for profit (both political and economic).
If either Obama or Clinton becomes president look for a resurgence in the patriot movement, with these folks going off into the woods, stockpiling weapons, and preparing to wage war with the anti-Christ.
But excluding some sort of national catastrophe, the real threat is not going to be them. (Although the families of those killed by Timothy McVeigh might beg to differ.) The bigger threat is the one Hofstadter recognized, that this kind of endless mindless drivel that comes from the Drudge-Hannity-Limbaugh axis of misinformation will create a political climate in which rational pursuit of our well-being and safety is impossible.
Republicans were asking the forty-fourth president of the United States the same question they were asking Mexicans with a busted taillight: "Your papers, please."What's more
To modern conservatives, the elevation of a Democrat who was black and a product of the nation's most elite law school at Harvard was not just a political event; it represented the destruction of their elaborate if cheaply constructed conservative temple of belief. The only answer that made any sense to the true believers was total denial.And here I pause the review to take a moment and note my own previous musing on the backlash, reality denial, and the paranoid style as I cannot resist the urge to add my own two cents:
It's difficult to understand how just 6 months into the presidency of Barack Obama, so many self-described "conservatives" have managed to work themselves into an hysterical furor and fear about living under an oppressive, American Nazi regime of Obama. But as I've said many times now on this blog, if you understand the core of these individuals and pundits as being authoritarians with a black/white Manichean world view, it becomes easier to make sense of their behavior.Bunch notes that paranoid, conspiratorial beliefs and smears (e.g. that Obama is not a citizen, that Obama is going to confiscate guns, that FEMA concentration camps are being built, that Obama is a socialist, etc.) that once would have been obscure, fringe crank literature distributed locally as pamphlets now circulates widely on the internet, through the airwaves of talk radio and into the mainstream discourse almost effortlessly and instantly. (See here for an example of this idiot process in action.)
When they lose an election, that means that Evil has come to power. Satan is in control (Figuratively for some, literally for the Christian nationalists.) It is Nazi Germany, Stalin's Russia ... 1984 come to life. This is why the movement's parallel reality seems to lag behind conservative ideology. Once the Other is in power, it is only a matter of time for the leaders of the movement to construct such a reality that fits to their preconceived notions of the evil characteristics of their eternal Enemy. (E.g. President Obama isn't even a citizen! says the Manichean minded psuedo-conservative.)
What is so destructive about this sort of mentality - and especially those who fuel the epistemic fire with non-stop paranoid propaganda - is that it is difficult for democracy to function if you have a core constituency of one of the two viable political parties in your nation which has the belief that either they win an election or it is time to wage a revolutionary war to win back their freedom. This is brand of "democracy" in which the only legitimate outcome is theirs; all of the rest of electorate cease to be Americans and fall into the category of the Other. This is why Glenn Beck can say in all sincerity (after pretending to be President Obama and then setting the American public on fire in effigy) that President Obama is not delivering the change that he and his 9/12 movement voted for, managing not to notice that there are millions of Americans who voted Obama and other Democrats into office precisely because they do want some public form of healthcare. The normal democratic process of election and policy making thus turn into the very definition of tyranny, and mobs of right-wing populist protesters, organized by conservative elites, show up to shut down the democractic process at town hall meetings. Borrowing the Adorno quote that Hofstadter used in his famous essay on the psuedo-conservative revolt, "The pseudo conservative is a man who, in the name of upholding traditional American values and institutions and defending them against more or less fictitious dangers, consciously or unconsciously aims at their abolition.”
Fear.Bunch's reporting took him across the country, from Delaware where he tracked down the "I want my country back!" Youtube birther sensation to Knob Creek where he witnessed first hand the bizarre phenomenon of people convinced that President Obama was going to confiscate their weapons and abridge their Second Amendment rights despite the reality that the president had relaxed gun restrictions with the trend across the nation towards making it easier to carry arms; from talks with devoted fans of Beck to a founder of the ultra-paranoid Oak Keepers; from rural Georgia where Congressman Paul Broun was able to rise from obscurity via extremist anti-Obama rhetoric to Pittburgh where Richard Poplawski, acting out on the conspiratorial, extremist rhetoric that has been normalized by the likes of Broun and Beck and others, killed three police officers out of fear that they were coming to take away his guns.
It was almost as if Beck was the bizarro-world version of Franklin Roosevelt, who in an earlier economic meltdown in 1933 had not only railed against "fear itself" but spoke of "nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." But in 2010, Glenn Beck Incorporated thrived on "nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror," regardless of whether it helped to drive the body politic in the opposite direction of where FDR guided the "Greatest Generation" ... Beck was constantly straining to find the outer limits, exploring both the inner terrors of his audience and their hopes for restoration and a common purpose. And then he was brazen in taking hold of his public and using it to sell them things, with little care over the side effects.
These [Repubican] representatives of 37 percent of teh country wielded unprecedented powers because of something the likes of which this nation had never seen before: their ability to stick together on every single issue with the sole purpose of obstructing Barack Obama and his Democratic allies. It was an "I Hope He Fails" strategy hatched in the ratings-driven studios of talk radio, but now rigid legislative fealty to the on-air musings of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck had ground Washington to a total halt.I must confess that my one disappointment with The Backlash is that Bunch did not manage to work the following Richard Hofstadter quote in, as it seems to describe the Tea Party, 9/12 Beck/Limbaugh backlash so perfectly.
In Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception (Viking, Sept.), New York University’s Charles Seife shows how numbers can be a powerful rhetorical weapon, but warns that “in skillful hands, phony data, bogus statistics, and bad mathematics can make the most fanciful idea, the most outrageous falsehood seem true.”
Seife, a professor in NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, defines “proofiness” as the art of using pure mathematics for impure ends.
“Phony numbers have the appearance of absolute truth, of pure objective fact, so we can use them as a justification to cling to our prejudices,” he writes. “Proofiness is the raw material that arms partisans to fight off the assault of knowledge, to clothe irrationality in the garb of the rational and the scientific.”
From Senator Joseph McCarthy’s claims of exact numbers of communists who had infiltrated the State Department to the misuse of census data to skew the formation of congressional districts to the application of a mathematical formula to falsely accuse the Soviet Union of violating the Threshold Test Ban Treaty in the 1980s, proofiness continues to erode democracy, Seife posits.
“Proofiness is toxic to a democracy, because numbers have a hold on us,” Seife maintains. “They are powerful—almost mystical. Because we think that numbers represent truth, it’s hard for us to imagine that a number can be made to lie. But proofiness is not merely a tool for propaganda as it was for McCarthy—it is much more dangerous than that. Democracy is a system of government based upon numbers, and rotten numbers are eroding the entire edifice from within.”
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Diplomacy, according to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary, is the “patriotic art of lying for one’s country.” A fine example of this comes from the U.S. Department of State’s Report to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Conjunction with the Universal Periodic Review (PDF), submitted at the end of August:Horton goes on to note that contrary to what the United States officially asserts, it in fact does torture when the president feels like authorizing it and it does not hold those who torture accountable.Thus, the United States prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of persons in the custody or control of the U.S. Government, regardless of their nationality or physical location. It takes vigilant action to prevent such conduct and to hold those who commit acts of official cruelty accountable for their wrongful acts. The United States is a party to the Convention Against Torture, and U.S. law prohibits torture at both the federal and state levels. On June 26, 2010, on the anniversary of adoption of the Convention Against Torture, President Obama issued a statement unequivocally reaffirming U.S. support for its principles, and committing the United States to continue to cooperate in international efforts to eradicate torture.
Obama lied, plain and simple. And now it is no exaggeration to say that we are on the cusp of the end of the very notion of constitutional checks and balances. Think for a moment about what Obama's victory in this appeal means. It means that the government can torture people at will -- entirely innocent people -- and the victims of that torture have no ability to seek justice in court. The moment the government says this is a state secret, the case has to be dismissed -- do not pass go, do not even think about demanding due process or justice.Not a dictator, so much as a para-dictator. We still have the institutions of democracy, the hypothetical seperation of powers and such, the laws on paper ... they all just happen to be useless when it comes to doing anything about the monarchical national security state war president. The Obama administration has just helped to transform, further, the Rule of Law, into a vestigial organ of the American political body.
The plaintiffs plan to appeal this ruling to the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court upholds it, the rule of law is a dead letter in this country. It really is that simple. There is no more important issue facing this country. If the executive branch is allowed to violate the constitution, the law and our treaty obligations at will and there is no judicial oversight allowed for those actions, we do not have a president we have a dictator -- and the fact that we are allowed to change dictators every four years does not change that reality one bit.
The cloak of secrecy [Obama] is invoking is not protecting national security but protecting war crimes. And this is now inescapably his cloak. He is therefore a clear and knowing accessory to war crimes, and should at some point face prosecution as well, if the Geneva Conventions mean anything any more. This won't happen in my lifetime, barring a miracle. Because Obama was a test case. If an outsider like him, if a constitutional scholar like him, at a pivotal moment for accountability like the last two years, cannot hold American torturers to account, there is simply no accountability for American torture. When the CIA actually rehires as a contractor someone who held a power-drill against the skull of a prisoner, you know that change from within this system is impossible. The system is too powerful. It protects itself. It makes a mockery of the rule of law. It doesn't only allow torture; it rewards it.
The case yesterday is particularly egregious because it forbade a day in court for torture victims even if only non-classified evidence was used. Think of that for a minute. It shreds any argument that national security is in any way at stake here. It's definitionally not protection of any state secret if all that is relied upon is evidence that is not secret. And so this doctrine has been invoked by Obama not to protect national security but to protect war criminals from the law.
When a new problem arises in society, especially a novel health issue, the response of the political establishment is pretty much as follows:
1. The problem does not exist.
2. The problem is extremely rare and, in any case, is declining. There are more important things to worry about.
3. The problem has been highly exaggerated by irresponsible activists and popular journalists.
4. There is a serious problem, and we have been doing everything possible to deal with it from the very begginning.
Both the American response to the AIDS crisis and the British response to mad cow disease followed these stages.
Melissa Block speaks with Miel Hendrickson, regional coordinator for International Medical Corps in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Hendrickson's team has treated more than 200 women who were raped in rebel attacks a month ago. The area is known for its gold and mineral deposits, and attacks on villages in the area is frequent.While CNN HLN and Nancy Grace are trading on celebrity gossip and individual personal tragedy for profit, there actually is relevant news with important significance out there that goes generally unnoticed.
Cassiterite, wolframite, coltan: they might be the spoiled offspring of celebrity parents, or characters from an unfamiliar fairytale. The truth is much more prosaic. They are the minerals on which laptops and mobiles and even the tin of tomatoes in the cupboard depend. Cassiterite is the main component of tin oxide. Wolframite is a source of tungsten, used in many electrical applications. Coltan makes mobile phones work.Oh, and this, too.
There are two reasons why it is necessary to know about these otherwise apparently esoteric minerals. First, the rich world has a capacious appetite for them, and second, it is fuelling conflict in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The rape of more than 150 [Note - now confirmed at 240] women and children earlier this month in Luvungi, North Kivu, in the DRC's mineral heartland is probably (it is not yet proven) directly connected with the exploitation of the mines from which these minerals come.
Despite the enormity of the crime – and even though it apparently took place over several nights – news of the rapes travelled only slowly into the western media. Even the UN's Monusco stabilisation force, based less than 20kms from the village, claims to have heard nothing. The force, due to leave in a year, has long been accused of spending too long in barracks, failing to patrol on foot, and making too little attempt to listen to the concerns of the people it is supposed to be there to protect. Partly because of its failings, Kivu, geographically and politically remote from Kinshasa, has become the killing field in what is being called Africa's world war. Proportionally, it is a conflict that dwarfs any British war: it has already claimed 5 million lives and cruelly disrupted millions more. Yesterday, a leaked report from the UN accused neighbouring Rwanda of a genocidal spree as its Tutsi-controlled army hunted down Hutu refugees in the late 1990s. Then soldiers of the Lord's Resistance Army, pushed out of Uganda, launched a series of deadly raids.
3 September 2010 – More than two dozen children were among the hundreds of civilians recently raped by members of armed groups active in the far east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the United Nations reported today.You see, this is actually breaking news. It's been breaking for more than a god damned decade.
The UN said today that 27 minors, including one boy, were among those assaulted, with one attempted rape reported as well.
Here's a bit from the latest report on the Democratic Republic of the Congo from the International Rescue Committee:That was written in 2007."It was not uncommon to hear accounts of armed groups seizing young women from farms or water points and enslaving them and raping them for one to three months," says [IRC D. R. Congo Gender Based Violence team coordinator Sarah] Mosely. "Now women in North Kivu talk to me more about gunmen breaking into their homes and brutally raping them in front of their families."
She says the attacks have become so frequent that families in the north cross into Uganda at night to sleep in the forest. It's safer than staying at home.
Democrats in Congress are poised to play a leading role this month in thwarting their party's effort to raise income tax rates on the wealthy.So, let's see, the Bush tax cuts for the rich will stay while Democrats are considering reductions in Social Security benefits. Remembering that taxes on the middle class were raised in the 80s under the pretense of funding Social Security but in reality to finance Reagan tax cuts for the wealthy, it does make a kind of nice symmetry to the whole affair to see Social Security being put on the chopping block in order to further subsidize the transferance of wealth upwards.
Following Robert Gibbs' announcement that liberal Obama critics should be drug tested, and before that, Rahm Emanuel's declaration that the same group is "fucking retarded," a new book by former Obama "car czar" Steven Rattner describes how Emanuel worked to thwart union interests and declared, in the midst of the auto bailouts: "Fuck the UAW."
Air-raid warnings, of which there are now half a dozen or thereabouts every 24 hours, becoming a great bore. Opinion spreading rapidly that one ought simply to disregard the raids except when they are known to be big-scale ones and in one’s own area. Of the people strolling in Regent’s Park, I should say at least half pay no attention to a raid-warning . . . . . Last night just as we were going to bed, a pretty heavy explosion. Later in the night woken up by a tremendous crash, said to be caused by a bomb in Maida Vale. E. and I merely remarked on the loudness and fell asleep again. Falling asleep, with a vague impression of anti-aircraft guns firing, found myself mentally back in the Spanish war, on one of those nights when you had a good straw to sleep on, dry feet, several hours rest ahead of you, and the sound of distant gunfire, which acts as a soporific provided it is distant.