Browsing the archives for the Obama Administration category.


John Oliver Wins the Internet

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Obama Administration

This is brilliant:

And here is the raw footage made available for future use in SCOTUS coverage.

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Because Scarey Things Scare Us

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Obama Administration

What’s really more likely to getcha, Ebola or the flu? Max Fisher has an article at Vox that simply points out some facts, such as the fact that the flu kills thousands of Americans every year. In 2004, a particularly bad year, 48,000 Americans died of the flu. We’ve had one death from Ebola and the nation is freaking out, but how many of those freaking out about Ebola have bothered to get a flu shot?

I got my flu shot a few days ago, by the way. Go thou and do likewise.

In fact, at the moment you are in greater danger of being crushed to death by your own furniture than of dying of Ebola. About 30 Americans die every year when a bookcase or other heavy furniture tips over on them, Fisher says. About 40,000 people suffer serious injuries from their own furniture every year. This is not to say Ebola should be ignored, but it shouldn’t be that hard to contain here even given the, um, quality of hospital management.

What about ISIS? “Presently, the threat to Americans outside of Iraq and Syria is extremely low,” Fisher writes, “as ISIS has no demonstrated intent or capability to launch such an attack. And since 2001, the US has gotten much, much better at preventing terror plots.”

However, the Right is obsessed with the idea that ISIS terrorists are in Mexico and trying to get across the border. Huh? Even PolitiFact, generously giving these claims many benefits of doubts, labeled this one “mostly false.” PolitiFact traced claims that “we know” ISIS is in Mexico, spouted by several Republican politicians, to the right-wing organization Judicial Watch. “Without knowing anything about Judicial Watch’s sources — such as rank or agency — it’s hard for us to assess the article’s credibility,” PolitiFact said. Indeed. It appears that all the “reports” of ISIS in Mexico are wingnuts quoting each other. There is no source.

Not only did independent experts consulted by PolitiFact say that it’s really unlikely ISIS is planning to cross the Mexican border, if they were planning to come to the U.S. they’d probably just take a plane.

“There is big difference between a theoretical risk or a risk that is worth worrying about,” said David Schanzer, director of Duke University’s Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security.

The general sentiment among experts was: It’s possible that ISIS could sneak through the border — illegal immigrants do it every day. But why would they?

Schanzer noted that ISIS members who have U.S. passports or visas could enter the country legally via plane. (The 9/11 hijackers had U.S. visas.) Whereas if they crossed the border illegally, they would run the risk of getting caught.

Things a lot more likely to kill you than Ebola and ISIS include (in ascending order) a thermonuclear World War III breaking out in the Balkans (unlikely but not impossible); climate change, guns, and traffic accidents. Heart disease and cancer tied for the number one spot. And if you are a reasonably well educated and well read person, I shouldn’t need to look up the data for you.

On the Right, it is not acceptable that we should not be terrified of Ebola or ISIS. One wingnut raged,

Shockingly, he finds global climate change to be a greater “threat” than ISIS or Ebola. Household furniture, televisions, and driving a car he deems to be more dangerous than ISIS or Ebola. 2nd Amendment rights are more dangerous than Ebola or ISIS. It is odd how he lumps Cancer and heart disease together.

It is abundantly clear that Max does not know the difference between a list of causes of death and an actual threat analysis.

Except the wingnut in question offered no argument or data to explain why we should be more afraid of Ebola and ISIS than of the flu and being killed in traffic. And, frankly, it seemed to me Fisher’s “threat analysis” was pretty good. He was not analyzing how dangerous a thing is in the abstract but how dangerous a thing is to someone within the United States. Of course an ISIS terrorist is very, very dangerous, but only to those in the vicinity of one. If you are in Peoria you really are more likely to be killed because some Second Amendment absolutist leaves a loaded gun unattended than by an ISIS terrorist in Syria somewhere. And flu will kill many more of us this year than are likely to die from Ebola. That’s just a plain fact. For that matter, more American men have accidentally shot themselves in the genitals than have died of Ebola. Seriously.

The Right gets furious at the rest of us because we’re not perpetually afraid of things. Righties have a proclivity of working themselves up into a frenzy of fear all the time, but they are only afraid of exotic things, not the everyday things that kill most of us. It fascinates me how their fear of undocumented Latinos, Islamist terrorists and Ebola have all congealed into One Big Boogeyman in their simple little brains, and they fear Ebola-infested terrorists crossing the border from Mexico, and they are all certain they heard some official source say this, although the actual source can never be found. Social psychologists, take note.

Back in 2007 I wrote a response to one of Little Lulu’s hissy fits about New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg not taking some ridiculous terror plot (to blow up JFK airport) seriously. Lulu’s position was that if one is not living in a constant state of terror, one is an ostrich. One is in denial of all the scarey things one must be afraid of. And I wrote that people can’t live their lives that way.  Not in New York City, anyway. I wrote,

I’ve got news for you, toots: People can’t live that way. And some of us, you know, live here. And if we choose to stay here, we must expose our precious flesh to the dangers of subways and tunnels and bridges and high-rise office buildings and Muslim taxi drivers every single damn day.

But just because we are not in a constant state of mind-numbing, inchoate fear, does not mean we are not mindful of what can happen. A whole lot of of watched the worst that terrorism can do with our own eyes. We were not sitting safely in our living rooms watching a little picture on a television. We were there. We lived with it. And we lived with the shrines and the smell and the sorrow for weeks after.

Believe me, you don’t forget something like that.

And the fact is, fear doesn’t make you safer. Not a bit. It doesn’t wrap you in a cloak of invincibility or put out death rays to kill your attackers. It does, however, interfere with rational thinking and cause you to make rash decisions. And constant stress increases the risk of heart disease, I’m told.

There’s your threat assessment, dude.

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The Christian Right’s Pitiful Rearguard Action

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Obama Administration

The cause du jour among some conservative Christians is maintaining their sacred entitlement to discriminate against people of unauthorized sexual orientation — LGBT — in public matters. And if they aren’t allowed to discriminate as they please, they honestly believe this amounts to discrimination against them.

Let us be clear, much hysterical rhetoric to the contrary, that no one is proposing churches must perform same-sex marriages or accept homosexual congregants. But in the public realm, in business and housing and employment, no one gets to discriminate against other citizens. Period.

As Eliel Cruz wrote,

You can’t victimize yourself in a situation you started in the first place. Christians, in general, have a hard time remembering that as we choose to oppress, due to our sincerely held religious beliefs, yet cry “discrimination” when we feel a push back. This is especially true when those people are queer. Within the Christian community, there are those who believe we are being discriminated against. However, no one is pushing legislation that excludes Christians from basic legal rights in the U.S. (such as job protection and marriage). Nor is anyone physically assaulting Christians due to their religious beliefs or advocacy. Christians are not facing actual tribulations, rather, the “discrimination” they cry comes from not being allowed to discriminate [against] others. It’s a double standard and they keep crying wolf. Or we, I should say, since, like many other LGBT people, I am also a Christian.

In this and many other “culture war” matters, the Christian Right wants to frame the issue as Christians versus non-Christians, but that isn’t accurate. It’s really cultural reactionaries, some of whom are Christian but some not, versus everybody else, including other Christians.

The most recent example of attempted religious overreach involves a fight over anti-LGBT discrimination laws in Houston. A new city ordinance bans anti-gay discrimination among businesses that serve the public, in private and public employment, in city contracting and in housing. The ordinance also exempted religious institutions from having to comply.

In spite of the exemption, several churches gathered signatures to get the ordinance recalled. They thought they had enough signatures to put the repeal on the November ballot, but the city attorney disqualified many of the signatures, so the petition drive fell short. Some of the Christians sued the city. The city attorney subpoenaed documents related to the signature gathering effort from five pastors not involved in the lawsuit but who were thought to be involved in the ballot petitions. Apparently the point of this was to find out what instructions the pastors had given people regarding how they would collect signatures.

According to several news stories the original subpoena mentioned sermons, although this has since been revised. Nevertheless the usual howlers on Fox News and elsewhere began to howl about the subpoenaing of sermons — leaving out the details, of course — and holding this up as an example of the abuse of innocent Christians at the hands of godless unbelievers. For example, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, got on Fox News and flat-out lied about the fact of the situation, falsely claiming that the city was trying to “dictate what pastors preach.” The commandment about “bearing false witness” seems often overlooked.

A theology professor from Georgia named Dr. Joel McDurmon, writing for a Christian “Biblical worldview ministry” website, pointed out that Christians cannot file lawsuits and expect to be treated differently from anyone else filing lawsuits.

The headlines read as if the city has made some move to start monitoring all pastors’ sermons, and this simply is not the case. It also gives the impression that this is some out-of-the-blue, general attack tactic by the activists upon the pulpit. It is not. It is not out-of-the-blue, it is not broad and general as far as the implicated pastors goes, and it should not be a surprise at all.

The City is not making a move to monitor sermons. The city is merely responding to a lawsuit against it and using standard powers of discovery in regard to a handful of pastors who are implicated as relevant to the lawsuit. The issue is here: once you file a lawsuit, you open up yourself and potentially your friends and acquaintances to discovery. This is the aspect that has not been reported, but it is an important part of the context.

A commenter to Dr. McDurmon wrote,

Thanks Dr for the very needed trusting-in-Christ reasonableness.

What I’m always mystified by, is one: how we evangelicals/christians think we can have (or demand) a laundry list of special privileges/exemptions etc, yet we are a minority who claim to follow a faith/religion that is so at odds (or should be) with the society we live in – yet we expect to carry on as before, unmolested in anyway whatsoever? That’s illogical. That’s never happened before in the history of humankind – yet we act as if it’s our right to be otherwise! If we have any understanding of church history or Scriptures we should know better…and be a lot more grateful about what we do have and less complaining about the few annoyances that come our way…

Second: How we think we can keep getting away with over-hyping and misrepresenting/mischaracterizing (and nearly lying sometimes – a la “death panels”) situations like this and not pay a price? When you cry wolf or in this case “persecution” over and over again; when in relative terms compared to real persecution; it is anything but persecution… Then how do we expect to be taken seriously, EVER!

I point this out to make it clear that some Christian conservatives get it, and understand that they actually have to recognize they live in a pluralistic society.

However, the other conservative Christians are thumping their chests and declaring they are doing God’s work by trying to stop civil rights protections for LGBT folks. But, y’know, they said exactly the same thing when the issue was race, not that many years ago. And they said the same thing when the issue was equal rights for women. What we’re looking at here isn’t so much a slippery slope as it is, in Freud’s words, a “pitiful rearguard action.”

In the past conservative Christian groups in the U.S. not only defended slavery, they also opposed such things as Catholicism, women’s suffrage and allowing women to have anesthesia during childbirth. This list is far from complete. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries American Christians were active on both sides of many social issues, including such matters as prohibiting child labor, and both sides claimed a mandate from the Bible for their position.  The progressives won many of the battles, but one could argue they lost the war. These days conservative Christians have managed to persuade much of the public — and much of news media — that they alone speak for Christianity.

But they don’t.

And there is no doubt in my mind that if people were allowed a dispensation to discriminate against whomever because of religious convictions, large parts of the country would revert to Jim Crow laws and male-only professions before the next “war on Christmas” season.

This isn’t just the Golden Rule; it’s acknowledging that we live in an enormously diverse country, and if everyone were given carte blanche to discriminate as he liked there would be chaos. And I have no doubt if conservative Christians ever get the discrimination permission slip they are demanding, new religions would suddenly appear whose core belief is that Christians are evil and must be discriminated against.

Is this a slippery slope argument? Consider that recently some groups identifying themselves as Satanists have demanding that if Christian symbols are displayed in public buildings, Satanic symbols must be displayed also. One suspects this effort is less about devotion to Satan than it is about pushing back against right-wing Christian tribal dominance in America.

Must Satanists be recognized as a religion? The government is loathe to get into the business of determining what is a religion and what isn’t, mostly because most religions look ridiculous to outsiders who aren’t used to them, and such determination would no doubt freeze out many legitimate minority religions. So, recently a few people have insisted on wearing pasta strainers on their heads for their official driver’s license photos, saying they are “Pastafarians” and followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and the government can’t say they aren’t. 

Can of worms, folks? Do we really want to have the government regulate and license what religion is supposed to be? I certainly don’t.

We have a reasonably clear, bright line that says government can’t go into churches and temples and determine who can be married and receive communion. But in the public sphere citizens don’t get to discriminate against other citizens. This is workable. It is the least government-intrusive solution to our problem of respecting both religious freedom and civil rights. No one is saying you can’t believe as you choose, but if your religious beliefs say you cannot do business with LGBT customers, don’t go into the wedding catering business.

Weirdly, the conservative Christians barred from exercising exclusive discrimination privileges complain that they are victims of government overreach.  They are too myopic to see that the same policies actually protect them from government overreach.

Ultimately, if you can’t handle life in a socially, religiously and culturally diverse nation, buy an island and live as you like. There is also an old and time-honored American tradition of allowing religious groups such as the Amish or Hasidic Jews  to build exclusive communities and more or less operate as laws unto themselves. But you can’t live among people who don’t believe as you do and carve out privileges for yourself that don’t apply to everyone else.

Why is this so difficult to understand?

Read more about religious/political conflict America in Rethinking Religion: Finding a Place for Religion in a Modern, Tolerant, Progressive, Peaceful and Science-affirming World. Cross-posted at Rethinking Religion.

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When Capitalism Kills

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disasters, natural and unnatural, Obama Administration, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

Republicans blame President Obama for letting Ebola cross the border, because Presidents are supposed to be able to stop such things with their magical brain waves, apparently.  Others are calling for the head of the CDC to resign, or perhaps to commit ritual suicide. But the picture that is emerging just about everywhere but on Fox News is that Ebola spread to two nurses (so far) largely because of really bad hospital management.

Which takes us to our next installment of “When Capitalism Kills.” I’m not sure when the last one was, but I’m sure I’ve written on this general theme before.

The husband of an ER nurse at a Florida hospital formerly owned by Gov. Rick “ball fan envy” Scott  writes at TPM that his wife’s place of employment is run like most large companies/corporations in America. That is, the people at the top have no background or interest in how the products or services their companies provide actually happen. They are strictly money guys who have backgrounds in finance or something related but couldn’t manage production of their own products if you put a gun to their heads and threatened to shoot them if they don’t get that toothpaste into the tube.

Further, they have no respect for the expertise of the people who really are somehow making the products or services happen and would no more think to consult them about how to run the company better than they’d try to fly off the roof of corporate headquarters. Instead, if they decide something is amiss they hire outside consultants who will spend a few days having lunches with upper management and who will provide recommendations that, if implemented,  would make everything worse. Just about anyone who has ever worked in the trenches of production or engineering departments of large companies/corporations will tell you this.

If you are such a person, read this and tell me how familiar it sounds —

… it is obvious to those who work there that the combination of lax training and toxic labor relations ‘leaders’ like him have brought to the company are emblematic of a big problem for US hospitals if a major outbreak of ebola or other infectious disease occurs. My wife’s ER has an ‘ebola cart’ with some lightweight protective gear and written instructions for putting on a PPE, but the instructions are a loose bundle of papers and the pictures don’t match the gear in the cart and has inaccuracies that put them at serious risk. It’s an object of gallows humor for the staff. That’s the totality of their training or preparedness so far. As we all now know, PPEs are not easy to put on and take off correctly. Even though nurses all have experience with standard droplet control (they see TB and HIV all the time), ebola is a special case. They have gone months and months without a nurse education director because no one wants to deal with their management and take the position. Her coworkers are clear that they will refuse to treat an ebola patient because they have woefully inadequate training in the correct procedures and lack proper gear.

And yet the head of infectious disease at this hospital went on the local news to proclaim the hospital was ready to receive ebola patients safely. They obviously didn’t bother to speak to a single nurse on the front lines. I’m not particularly panic-y about ebola, even though obviously the family members of ER personnel have a lot at stake in ebola preparedness. But I think that this situation will be the weak link in any major national response. So many of our hospitals are run by lunatics like Rick Scott who seek only the highest profit margin. They do not invest in training, they build charting mechanisms that are good for billing but not treating patients, they constantly fight with their unionized employees, they lie to the public, etc, etc. We like to imagine that competent, highly-skilled medical institutions like Emory will save us, but we have way more Dallas Presbyterians in this country than we have Emorys. You can see exactly this managerial incompetence—and toxic labor relations—woven through the statement released by the nurses at Dallas Presbyterian today. Also see the head of National Nurses United on All In With Chris Hayes for a similar perspective.

To put it bluntly: we’ve entrusted our national medical system to the managerial competence and goodwill of the Rick Scotts of the world, and that is much scarier than a podium fan.

One of the nurses at the Texas hospital said that in the second week of the Ebola crisis at her hospital she was provided insufficient protective gear that left her neck exposed. Meanwhile the hospital was releasing statements to the press saying they were taking every precaution and going beyond CDC recommendations.

In other words, standard corporate bullshit.

Meanwhile, many politicians of both parties are babbling about hiring an “Ebola czar,” who no doubt would end up being the public sector equivalent of private sector consultants — some Very Important Person who will perform public “we’re doing something about this” theater.  And nothing any VIP does will ever trickle down  to the level of the people directly confronting Ebola in hospitals, working with inadequate direction and protection because management doesn’t know the difference between a virus and vichyssoise.

Because here in America, that’s how we roll.

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Wrong About Rights

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Obama Administration

The concept of human rights is one of the most significant achievements of civilization. I believe I speak for liberals generally when I say that. But I also think the concept of “rights” generally has been considerably degraded.

Awhile back the the late Ronald Dworkin, who was a professor of philosophy at New York University, compared the exercise of individual rights to playing a trump card. “Individual rights are political trumps held by the individuals,” he said. “Individuals have rights when, for some reason, a collective goal is not a sufficient justification for denying them what they wish, as individuals, to have or to do, or not a sufficient justification for imposing some loss or injury upon them.”

The problem is that we seem to have assigned trump status to some rights even when a greater good would be served by denying them. And here’s an example.

Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist and gaming critic, pulled out of a speech she was going to give at the University of Utah. She had received threats of a “Montreal Massacre style attack” if her speech wasn’t canceled. The anonymous email continued, “feminists have ruined my life and I will have my revenge, for my sake and the sake of all the others they’ve wronged.”

The University and law enforcement decided the threat wasn’t serious enough to cancel the speech. Sarkeesian insisted on heavy security, including metal detectors at the doors.

But here’s the kicker: The University decided that people could carry a firearm into the auditorium as long as they had a permit for it. In other words, the right to carry trumped the safety of the speaker and the audience. Sarkeesian not unreasonably refused to give the speech.

Yesterday I ran into an argument over a right to health care. Naturally some guy trotted out his libertarian trump card, saying he had a right to not be obligated to pay for somebody else’s health care.

Where health care is concerned I am less interested in theories about rights than the practical matter that (a) getting more people insured really is controlling cost (b) providing access to health care is part of a reasonable national strategy for controlling infectious disease. In other words, somehow providing health care to most citizens is a positive for everybody. If we make it an argument about rights, however, we just have people slapping down their cards and arguing about which one trumps the other.

And a “right” to liberty doesn’t mean much if you are incapacitated with untreated medical problems.

Lately we’ve had some disagreements over the “right” of individuals to keep loaded assault weapons strapped to themselves everywhere they go. You’ll remember there was an episode in which restaurant staff and patrons hid in the cooler because they couldn’t tell if the men with guns were criminals or just gun nuts. In Georgia awhile back, a man waving a firearm around in a public park caused Little League parents to hide their children in a dugout while the parents stood guard and called the police. But the police didn’t arrest the guy, because he had a “right” to wave his gun around in a public park. Guns trump children.

Around the country the Fetus People are still pushing “personhood amendments” which amounts to assigning trump cards to fertilized eggs. In Alabama, a pregnant minor who can’t get permission for an abortion from her parents must go to court, where the fetus (but not the minor) may be represented by a court-appointed lawyer. A fetus trumps the minor child.

Our assignments of “trump” values increasingly is just about which interest groups are most persistently belligerent and whose lobbyists get the ears of politicians; any sense of “greater good” is left out of the conversation.

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Bernie Says It

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Obama Administration

Sen. Sanders on CNN:

Asked about military action against ISIS, Sen. Sanders said,

 

It’s a problem for the international community, and you asked me a moment ago why aren’t other countries more deeply involved? I will tell you why. Because they believe that the American taxpayers are going to do it, and American soldiers are ultimately going to do it. And as long as that signal is out there, that’s what’s going to happen. I want the Saudi Arabian government to be actively involved. I want their troops to be on the ground. I don’t want them to believe that we’re going to do it for them. So yes, I think we have to play a very strong and supportive role with the UK, with France, with Canada, with other countries. It can not and should not be the United States alone.

….

It is very easy to criticize the president, but this is an enormously complicated issue. We are here today because of the disastrous blunder of the Bush/Cheney era that got us into the war in Iraq in the first place. Which then developed the can of worms that we are trying to deal with right now.

Do watch the videol

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How Saul Alinsky Became the Bogeyman

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American History, Obama Administration, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

The rightie noise machine is pushing a story about a “close relationship” between the dreaded Hillary Clinton and the dreaded Saul Alinsky. Apparently some ancient correspondence between them has been published, proof of the evilness of the Evil Clinton Agenda.

Here’s typical commentary from a rightie blogger:

Alinsky’s chilling rules outlined in Rules for Radicals can be found here. Alinsky’s theories espouse Marxist and socialist ideologies, and this is the man on whom Hillary Clinton wrote her Wellesley College thesis. While writing her thesis at Wellesley on Alinsky’s theory of community organizing, Clinton met with Alinsky to have what she would later refer to as “biennial conversations.”

In her thesis, Hillary attempted to portray Alinsky as a mainstream American icon, writing, “His are the words used in our schools and churches, by our parents and their friends, by our peers. The difference is that Alinsky really believes in them.”

The real Alinsky was neither a Marxist nor a socialist, of course. This is from that radical e-rag, the Christian Science Monitor:

While he has become associated with radical left-wing politics in current political thought, it’s an association that’s largely misplaced, says Mark Santow, associate professor of history at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth and the author of a forthcoming book on Alinsky.

Professor Santow says Alinsky’s philosophy did not have a political persuasion. Rather, he was “relentlessly non-ideological.” In fact, Santow says parts of Alinsky’s thinking could be found in elements of today’s Democrat and Republican Parties.

“He basically believed that American society was increasingly dominated by large institutions, governments, corporations,” he says. “He thought that ordinary Americans had lost citizenship.”

He adds: “He bears some resemblance to libertarians like William Buckley … but he also bears resemblance to green, new left politics on the other side as well.”

This article also points out that Clinton’s senior thesis was critical of Alinsky in several respects.

Dylan Matthews has a longer article at Vox examining the relationship between Alinsky and Clinton in more detail, and in the context of the times, and of course what is revealed is neither communist nor Marxist but more along the lines of traditional American leftie-progressive populism.

Matthews’s article is titled Who is Saul Alinsky, and why does the right hate him so much? He answers the first question pretty well — ironically noting that something like Alinsky’s methodology was used to organize the Tea Party — but I don’t think he answers the second one.

I doubt very much of your average rightie has more than a vague idea who Saul Alinsky actually was, what he actually proposed, what he actually did. I think the name has come to represent something dark and nasty from deep beneath the subconscious of the rightie hive mind that has little to do with the real Saul Alinsky. I sincerely believe the straw-man Alinsky is the Right’s Emmanuel Goldstein, the possibly fabricated enemy of the state from Orwell’s 1984.

And let me also say that if Alinsky actually had been named William Thompson or John White we wouldn’t be hearing about him now. The name itself, IMO, stirs up nameless fears of a foreign “other” in our midst. For all their celebrated support of the state of Israel, the U.S. right-wing base is an overwhelmingly Christian crew representing a portion of our population long associated with antisemitism. As much as they may support Israel, Jewishness may be something else to them.

Alinsky’s most famous work is a book titled Rules for Radicals. Even though they are radicals themselves, the word radical makes righties nervous. They associate it with the Left, I believe; “right-wing radicalism” is an oxymoron to them. The word radicalism seems to stir up fears of chaos and civil disorder, which they don’t like unless they are causing it. Then it’s okay.

Saul Alinsky, then, makes a first-rate right-wing bogeyman who sends chills up the spines of the faithful even if they couldn’t tell you who he actually was, beyond some guy who did community organizing.

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Politics and Panic

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Obama Administration, Republican Party

Jon Stewart last night:

People are going freaking nuts over one Ebola patient in Texas. Cause for concern, yes, but in first-world conditions it shouldn’t be that hard to keep the infection contained. The CDC says that Ebola is only contagious while an infected person has active symptoms. Where the disease is raging in Africa it has been impossible to quarantine infected people.

It doesn’t help that the CDC’s budget was cut, because Republicans, eroding its ability to deal with things like contagious disease. To be a Republican is to be too dim to connect cause and effect. How many times in the past few years have Republicans gone on a rampage about poor government response to some situation, and then we learn that the agency responsible for the poor response had had its budget cut by Republicans?

Some parts of news media (guess which!) seem to be going out of their way to spread panic. And guess who is being called out for particular blame for one Ebola patient? In the Republican imagination POTUS is something like Professor X in X-men, and he can sit in his Cerebro chamber controlling all things with his mind. Laura Ingraham, at least, seems to think this.

As Stewart points out, we put up with a lot of preventable death in this country without blinking an eye. We can quibble with how much of our out-of-control gun violence rates are preventable, but if we compare U.S. rates of gun deaths to that of other countries it’s obvious that tens of thousands of people die in the U.S. every year who would not have died if they had been somewhere else. Our infant mortality rates have been a disgrace for decades, and Republicans find no end of creative ways to explain this away — nothing to see here, folks, move along. In some cases there’s only so much public policy can do, but earlier this year the CDC released its findings of a study of what it called “preventable deaths,” nothing that rates of these preventable deaths tend to be higher in the southeast states.  Hmmm.

But these deaths are somehow tolerable. One Ebola patient and the country has a meltdown. You don’t need a degree in Freudian analysis to suspect that much of the panic is coming from the Id, from fear of the unknown awful ( and nonwhite) things that  scare us. We’re supposed to tolerate stranger-men with assault rifles in restaurants, but some communities have pushed themselves to the brink of riot at the thought of Guatemalan children being housed in their midst.

And, of course, political operatives are milking this for all its worth, because you know that all over America there are living rooms full of extremely stupid people watching their televisions and saying, yeah, we’re all going to die of Ebola and its Obama’s fault. And maybe those people will go to the polls in November to vote Republican.

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The Kansas Experiment

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Obama Administration

While I’m cranking out some stuff to meet a deadline, do read “This Is What’s the Matter With Kansas: Sam Brownback tried to create a conservative utopia. He created a conservative hell instead.”

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We’re Crazy Enough Already, Ross, Thanks

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Obama Administration

Channeling his inner David Brooks, Ross Douthat has cranked out a column notably clueless even by David Brooks standards. Douthat has decided we have a deficit of whackjob religious cults.

LIKE most children of the Reagan era, I grew up with a steady diet of media warnings about the perils of religious cults — the gurus who lurked in wait for the unwary and confused, offering absolute certainty with the aftertaste of poisoned Kool-Aid. From the 1970s through the 1990s, from Jonestown to Heaven’s Gate, frightening fringe groups and their charismatic leaders seemed like an essential element of the American religious landscape.

Yet we don’t hear nearly as much about them anymore, and it isn’t just that the media have moved on.

Douthat notes that today’s “cult” leaders are a far more innocuous crew — instead of David Koresh, we get Joel Olsteen — and he thinks this is a bad thing.

The decline of cults, while good news for anxious parents of potential devotees, might actually be a worrying sign for Western culture, an indicator not only of religious stagnation but of declining creativity writ large.

The Branch Davidians were many things, but I never thought of them as creative. Anyway, Douthat quotes a couple of guys, one of which says that a wild religious fringe is a sign of a healthy center, and “a religious culture that lacks for charismatic weirdos may lack ‘a solid core of spiritual activism and inquiry’ as well.” Another guy says that “fewer crazy cults” are a sign that “we have given up our sense of wonder at secrets left to be discovered.”

If it’s creativity Douthat is worried about, he should rest assured there’s plenty of it out there, and most of it is in his party. Consider such creative folks as Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Laura Ingraham, who on Friday told her radio audience that President Obama plans to expose our troops to Ebola to make up for colonialism. David Koresh was a slacker compared to such as these.

You don’t hear a lot about people being abducted by aliens any more, either, but when you’ve got a President exposing troops to ebola and crazed jihadi prayer mats / soccer jerseys mysteriously turning up in Texas, who needs UFOs?

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