“It’s time for the United States to start thinking of Iraq as a business opportunity.” – Hillary Clinton, 2011
There are apparently some interesting items coming out of Hillary Clinton’s released cache of e-mails.
And they seem to strengthen the notion that, after all, the Iraq War was not primarily fought for noble reasons such as ‘protecting national security’ or ‘promoting democracy.’ While boiling this down to the anti-war slogan ‘No Blood for Oil’ might simplify things a tad bid, this article by David Sirota points out in detail how Corporate America saw it as a way to get richer.
And guess who positioned herself as a champion of those large corporations in Iraq, even a year before publicly declaring the Iraq War as “a mistake?” — Hillary Rodham Clinton.
American voters might want to take note in the upcoming election.
As Americans are voting today, the decline of democracy in America continues. Unfortunately, there is no end in sight for the long trend of the erosion of democratic institutions in the U.S.
American democracy is under fire from several sides.
One factor is directly connected to the Republican Party’s election strategy. As of 2014, it is continuing its attempts at voter disenfranchisement to keep mostly poor people of color from voting, as they tend to vote for Democrats in the majority. In some twisted way, this strategy fits in with the nationalistic fantasy prevalent in some sections of the GOP of going back to an eighteenth-century America overseen by the infallible wisdom of the Founding Fathers. That idealized America of the past was of course the one in which neither black Americans, white women, or poor white men were allowed to participate in the political sphere. So in this regard, the Republican Party of today is the keeper of American traditions in the most horrible way imaginable.
Another factor for which the GOP cannot solely be blamed is the general corrupting role of money in politics which affects both major parties. And unfortunately, the force of the ‘Money Party’ is particularly strong in 2014. A quote from theNation:
This is the year of the mega-donor: just forty-two people are responsible for nearly a third of Super PAC spending in the 2014 election cycle. Super PACs, meanwhile, are outspending the national parties.
On Democracy Now!, The Nation author Lee Fang explains how the 2014 election is fueled by $1bn in anonymous “dark money” campaign donations:
Another example of money in politics:
K Street lobbyists swarm Kentucky to support the reelection campaign of GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. They dress down in jeans and t-shirts, knocking on doors, masquerading as ordinary grassroots campaigners.
Citizens United, our Supreme Court case, leveled the playing field, and we’re very proud of the impact that had in last night’s election.
That ‘leveling’ of the playing field means in practice that large corporations and the aforementioned ‘megadonors’ can buy elections because campaign contributions are legally seen as ‘free speech’ by ‘persons.’
In my opinion, the U.S. needs to restructure its political system in a way that diminishes the ability of the wealthy to buy off elections. Otherwise, it will never get any closer to the textbook fantasy of American democracy which many Americans still hold dearly and which I would also like to see realized.
Technical irregularities with voting machines in early voting
As if the problem with money in politics wasn’t bad enough already, there have been reports of malfunctioning voting machines during early voting periods. In some cases, as in North Carolina, the touchscreen where a voter selected the Democratic candidate jumped to select the Republican candidate instead.
Update [November 5, 2014] The GOP has won the Senate
As was predicted by the forecasts, the GOP took the U.S. Senate in the 2014 midterm elections, winning 10 of 13 close Senate races, and expanded majority in the House by 10 seats.
What contributed to the GOP’s victory this time?
Troubles with the Affordable Care Act, U.S. Obama’s appearance in recent foreign policy, and partisan politics in Wahington.
Obama has seen his image damaged by the bungled launch of his health-care program and by his reactions to crises overseas. [. . .] [P]reliminary exit polls also suggested that Obama had become a symbol of what he once ran against: Washington’s gridlock, and the inability of its leaders to move beyond partisan fighting.
The last point is honestly a bit puzzling to me. After all, the GOP, in my view, has been the main source of intransigence during Obama’s presidency so far. They even made it clear from day one that their strategy was to make Obama’s presidency a failure by obstructing virtually all Democratic policy proposals, out of principle. That is the definition of partisan gridlock in Washington. And while Obama often appeared on the defensive against the GOP’s attack-dog style of political aggression, not really willing to put up a fight, their strategy has worked this time. Obama is now being blamed for the unproductive partisan politics in Washington that Republicans have engaged in since his taking office in 2009.
Al Jazeera America aptly titled an article on the subject “GOP: From shutdown villains to kings of Congress?” and interviewed a political consultant, whose takeaway was that “[t]he biggest lesson for the moment is that Americans have a short memory.” Amen to that.
Bonus fun: crazy campaign ads of 2014
Dirty tricks in the 2014 midterm elections
As if the insanely high amount of dark money pouring into 2014 election campaigns wasn’t enough, some politicos took to really dirty tricks this time. In Iowa, the RNC employed a strategy called vote shaming by promoting Facebook ads that claimed that the ballot was not secret (that is a lie) and that their neighbours would be able to get information on whether they voted Republican. The implication was that people better vote Republican or else an angry mob of conservative neighbours might invade their home in a few months when voting records would supposedly be publicized.
According to Boehner, “[i]t’s all a scam started by the Democrats at the White House.” Boehner wants us to believe that the Democrats cooked up nonsense claims about the GOP trying to impeach Obama to mobilize their own base for the purpose of fundraising for the upcoming midterm elections.
Do you remember the many times that Republicans have tried to impeach Barack Obama since 2008?
The progressive news show TYT certainly does. Here is a compilation of the many calls for the impeachment of Obama by Republican politicians and political commentators:
I would say that these clips speak for themselves.
Do you know what is just like Nazi Germany? Gun safety regulations, of course. Background checks, to be precise. That is according to NRA spokesperson Brian Judy, who presented this gem of historical analogy at a pro-gun rally in the state of Washington last week. It is also factually wrong.
A brief look at the Wikipedia article “Overview of gun laws by nation” reveals that there are many countries around the world with some sort of background check examining mental health required for gun ownership.
Among the countries that have this gun safety regulation in place are Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Israel, and the United Kingdom.
Now that would be quite a lot of countries governed by Neo-Nazis.
This is of course total nonsense and only illustrates that the NRA’s Mr. Judy is not interested in facts but careless hyperbole.
It is but one more ridiculous example of playing the Nazi card, the argumentum ad Hitlerum, because one’s argument is not based on valid facts.
Barack Obama is supposedly giving mobile phones to Central American kids in order to later recruit them as his personal army of child soldiers.
The so-called Obamaphone is actually a program that started under George W. Bush to give low-income households mobile phones for emergency calls. The rest of this claim are the paranoid ravings of the far-right conspiracy fringe. And if you think about it for a moment, the racial undertones become quite clear. In this view, Obama is not the democratically elected POTUS, but only some African warlord. As an interested observer of the American political landscape since Obama’s election in 2008, this claim sounds quite familiar. During the emergence of the Tea Party Movement, the following tropes were a frequent sight on protest signs:
Barack HUSSEIN Obama the Muslim dictator (because Iraqi dictator Saddam HUSSEIN’s last name is the same, there must be a connection)
Obama as an African witch doctor (because the healthcare reform of a primitive ‘savage’ black president could only result in the death of white America)
The whole birther conspiracy theory which claimed that Obama was Kenyan and hence illegally usurping his office
You see where this is going: Obama is not one of us Real Americans™ because deep inside, he is but a primitive African thug.
We need to look into what the ‘desired effects’ are.
“Let me state this in the clearest terms possible: the problem of drug use is not solved with drugs!”
If, as I assume from the above statement, Pope Francis thinks that “the problem of drug use” is that people take drugs, then he is right—but also wrong.
Apparently, humans in all kinds of civilizations, long before the advent of Christianity, have been taking psychoactive substances. There seems to be a basic impulse in humanity to change the perception of reality, be it for the purpose of ritualistic religious practice or much more mundane motives.
Papa don’t preach!
In essence, Pope Francis is making a moralistic argument: drugs are just wrong.
Make no mistake: I am as terrified of the recent reports of flesh-eating ‘bath salts’ zombies, the sight of ‘meth mouths’ with rotting teeth, or the human decay caused by heroin addiction.
These are indeed harmful substances. Hard drugs. Most reasonable persons would agree that it is a bad idea to get involved with them.
In the U.S., the so-called war on drugs has dragged on for decades, and it is clear that it is unwinnable, just like the similarly silly concept of a ‘war’ against terrorism.
Should one not be worried about terrorism and not do anything about it?—absolutely not! Should one abandon the issue of drug addiction and leave addicts to their own devices? No.
What I am getting at here is that the strategy needs to be revised.
Just as much as I see the problem of terrorism rather as a task for police and intelligence services (but without violating everybody’s civil liberties, like the NSA), I think that the problem of drug abuse is more a task for medical professionals and health education.
This approach would also reduce the steady flow of people into the out-of-control American prison-industrial-complex which disproportionately jails young men of color for non-violent drug offenses and puts them in an environment full of violent hardcore criminals. And this is a manifestation of systemic racism, or, as one famous book on the subject calls it “The New Jim Crow.”
Legalize, tax, educate
My policy prescription would involve the legalization of drugs, their subsequent taxation, and the reallocation of funds used for the ‘war on drugs’ to health education and treatment of addicts.
A pope who has built his reputation as an advocate for the poor should understand this.
The fact that increasing numbers of people are speaking out against anti-LGBT discrimination is interpreted by Gohmert as “exactly what we’ve seen [. . .] [in] the days of the Nazi takeover in Europe.”
Twisting the reality of long-standing discrimination against sexual minorities by religious zealots like himself, Gohmert claims that conservative Christians are victimized by being called “‘haters’ and ‘evil’.” Furthermore, in all seriousness, he claims that this increasing resistance religious bullies are facing is just a prelude to book burnings—you know, just like in Nazi Germany.
That is of course nonsense, pure hyperbole.
Being called out on your bigotry does not equal discrimination against you
It is quite telling how the American Christian Right perceives their declining ability to discriminate against LGBT people, or the fact that they get called out on their bigotry these days, makes them feel as if they are being victimized, that their freedom of speech is being taken away.
I obviously interpret freedom of speech very differently. You may be legally free to say whatever you wish (such as nonsensical Nazi comparisons), but you are not guaranteed isolation from any opposing views.
That, my friends, is because freedom of speech also applies to everybody else.
Last time I checked, there were no government-sponsored book burnings in the U.S. Neither should there be. Ideas should debated in the public space.
And in my opinion, the anti-LGBT hatred promoted by religious fundamentalists and other bigots is a bad idea that should go the way of the dodo for the sake of humanity.
By the way, self-proclaimed defenders of ‘Judeo-Christian Biblical marriage’ might want to consider the interesting variety of marriage arrangements in their holy scriptures. They will find that the often-promoted version of ‘one man, one woman’ is one among many.
Explore more visuals like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.
As one can easily discern from a random sample of Robertson’s statements, past and present, he is the very embodiment of the sort of religious extremist that turns off voters who might otherwise be interested in the GOP’s platform.
If a woman has (the right to an abortion), why shouldn’t a man be free to use his superior strength to force himself on a woman? At least the rapist’s pursuit of sexual freedom doesn’t (in most cases) result in anyone’s death.”
In all the horror of this quote, I do not even see any logic (except blatant misogyny).
Oh, and in case you wondered where he goes on about the gays, he thinks that they are committing “a perverted and depraved crime against humanity.” And because the American progressives do not see it that way, they are, in his view, assisting the AIDS epidemic.
Bonus fun fact: According to the article, Lockman at one point during the 1990s
appeared dressed as a vampire [!] outside the Federal Building in Bangor to protest the “vampire-nature” of the IRS and its “police-state” method of collecting taxes.
Rancher refuses to pay grazing fees on federal land, rallies armed militia and drives away federal agents (for now)
In the middle of April of this year, a Nevada rancher and his armed militia supporters went into a standoff with federal officials from the Bureau of Land Management over the removal of his cattle from federal land. For the moment, the agents of the BLM have retreated because they did not want to risk a violent confrontation with the armed anti-government militia.
The rancher in question had been using federal land for letting his cattle graze and had failed to pay the required grazing fees for twenty years. By the way, there are thousands of other ranchers who use federal lands and pay these fees.
He says that he does not recognize the authority of the federal government on the matter and believes it belongs to the state of Nevada. And if federal agents came to take his cattle again, he and his supporters would fight them with their guns.
Wilstein: Fox’s Hannity Stokes Tension Between Harry Reid and Cliven Bundy | Mediaite, April 16, 2014 – http://ow.ly/vTIkO
A conspiracy theory debunked:
Shortly after the standoff, a conspiracy theory made its way on the Internet. It claims that Senator Harry Reid and a Chinese company building a solar plant were behind the standoff between federal agents and the Nevada rancher.
Violent anti-tax protest and race: Who gets away with what?
In Nevada, the heavily-armed militiamen and the rancher in question are white. They managed, for the time being, to drive away federal agents by threatening violence. But violent agitation against taxes and fees does not always turn out that way. In another recent example, a black Chicago man did not like to pay a 22-cent Soda tax and decided to pull out a machine gun, threatening the clerk. The police arrested him.
Man Refuses to Pay 22-Cent Soda Tax, Pulls Out Machine Gun in Response | Mediaite – http://ow.ly/vSyf7
Update (May 2, 2014): Militias set up illegal road ‘checkpoints’
“the armed militia supporting rancher Cliven Bundy have set up checkpoints to verify the residency of anybody passing through [emphasis mine].”
So now there is a situation in Nevada reminiscent of tribal areas in Afghanistan. I am curious as to how long this challenge to the state monopoly on violence will last. After all, just because these men call themselves a militia and are heavily armed, they are neither the police, the military, or anything similar with the authority to randomly inspect other citizens.
My guess is that at some point, these men will either voluntarily remove those illegal checkpoints, or there will be a violent showdown with some federal law enforcement agency—which is what some of these militiamen probably long for anyway.
“[I am beginning to believe that there is] more freedom in North Korea sometimes than there is in the United States.” – Mike Huckabee at the ‘Freedom Summit’ in New Hampshire, complaining about security pat-downs by the TSA
A lot of things can go wrong when states add the profit motive to law enforcement by privatizing prisons. In Idaho, the FBI is currently investigating the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a private prison corporation, for understaffing the biggest prison in the state, according to a report by the Idaho Statesman.
The prison became “so violent that inmates dubbed it ‘Gladiator School’.”
How did the CCA make up for the inadequate number of corrections officers that was cut to maximize their profits from the “about $29 million a year” contract paid by the state of Idaho?
By “ced[ing] control to prison gangs,” as a 2012 lawsuit on behalf on inmates alleged. That resulted in an increase in violence inside the facility.
And there you have it: a perfect example of why certain core functions of government should never be submitted to the market logic of corporate capitalism. Here we see, in all brutality, how humans, both prison inmates and correctional staff, are merely seen as cost factors that need to be minimized in order to maximize profits. If a few prisoners rip each other to pieces, who cares?
The Huffington Post has an interesting set of maps that shows how the U.S. South fares in regards to poverty, minimum wage, economic mobility, health care coverage, health issues, teen pregnancy, and overall happiness.
In comparison to the U.S. overall, the South is at a disadvantage in many of these areas.
It’s not like people are going to be able to write out million-dollar checks to the Republican Party or to an individual candidate.
According to Politico, a single donor can now donate up to $6 million to a candidate or election committee.
And here is more from Priebus:
Look, I don’t disagree with Citizens United, [. . .] I think it’s a good case. I think that we should all be free and exercise our First Amendment rights. But this is a victory today for people who want to see political parties and candidates on the same playing field or a little bit closer to the same playing field as the First Amendment was intended to allow us to be [emphasis mine].
This is an absolutely misleading statement. Average American voters are not on the same playing field as deep-pocketed corporations or individuals such as, for example, Sheldon Adelson or the Koch Brothers.
Update: Newt Gingrich would prefer, as a next step, the legalization of unlimited campaign donations to candidates, which he claims
would overnight equalize the middle class and the rich.
That is obviously one big lie. Why? Because the middle class does not have the money of the rich.
This is no longer government of the people, by the people, for the people. It is the best democracy money can buy.
It is no secret that as part of every American presidential election campaign in recent times, presidential hopefuls seek to court the Jewish vote as part of their coalition. Speeches given by candidates at the usual lobby organizations, such as AIPAC, can typically be summed up like this: “I am the super best friend of Israel, support me!” So far, so good. Support of Israel has been a long-term position of the U.S. which I am generally in favor of. Of course it is a matter of dispute what exactly ‘friendship’ and ‘support’ mean in specific contexts.
This brings us to the long run-up to the 2016 presidential elections
Sin City brings huge GOP campaign donations
Last week, GOP presidential hopefuls traveled to Las Vegas to meet with GOP mega donor Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate, at the Republican Jewish Coalition—an event inofficially dubbed “the Sheldon primary”.
Among them were Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
As far as reports go, all potential candidates voiced their unconditional support for Israel. So far, so predictable. But then something went wrong. In one of those statements, Chris Christie used the phrase “occupied territories.”
I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across and just felt personally how extraordinary that was to understand, the military risk that Israel faces every day.
Adelson is part of a tiny ultra-right Zionist fringe (as opposed to less extreme supporters of Israel) that sees any sort of compromise in the Middle East as betrayal. And from time to time, he does and says some truly ignorant and hateful things.
admitted that he is ignorant of Muslims: “I don’t know the difference between the Shia and the Sunnis.”
argued that Palestinians as a group do not exist: “There’s no such thing as a Palestinian. Do you know what they are? They call themselves southern Syrians.”
According to the New Republic, Adelson also bankrolled some propaganda movies that sought to cause paranoia about Muslims in general, not just religious extremists, and funded a lobby group that attempted to stop a Muslim Indian American nominee for Superior Court judgeship that had been selected by Chris Christie—supposedly because if that happened, Shariah law would take over New Jersey.
Because New Jersey Governor Christie (and the others, too) wants Adelson’s campaign dollars, he apologized for the use of the common term occupied territories in connection to Israel a boot-licking, subservient manner that can only be called a disgrace for American democracy. What matters, apparently, is not any diplomatic consensus, any long-standing U.S. foreign policy position, but the will of just one uber-rich donor who happens to be a bigoted hawkish nutjob. Here we see a politician lying prostrate, saying “Buy me, I will do whatever you please!”
Support for Israel can manifest itself in various forms apart from supporting the ultra-right fringe positions that not even the majority of people in Israel endorse. But the 2014 edition of the GOP thinks otherwise.
My two cents
Since unlike the aforementioned politicians I am not dependent on Mr. Adelson’s campaign donations, I am free to tell him what I think of his antics (although I doubt he reads this or would care). Here are a few suggestions: read more books to educate yourself about the Middle East and its inhabitants, stop funding asinine propaganda demonizing all Muslims, and quit your annihilationist fantasies.
Dreaming about mass murder is no better coming from you than when it is coming from djihadists, Nazis, or other unruly figures.
“‘[T]he hard left, human-hating people that run modern universities,’ especially the women’s studies departments, ‘should all be taken out and shot.'” – Austin Ruse of the ultraconservative Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-Fam) expressing his violent fantasies on American Family Association talk radio
Where to start with this? I do not share the assessment that most American universities are in the business of promoting “human-hating” or that ‘the hard left’ runs them. There are certainly many who are not Christian fundamentalists and socially liberal in higher education. But the idea of a communist takeover of American universities is insane.
And then there is the obvious: Fantasizing about murdering people you disagree with is clearly not the best way to show your own love of humanity. Take note, Catholic fundamentalists!
New study: political polarization in American presidental elections is indeed fueled by the Culture War
As an interested student of American politics, it almost seems like a truism to me that the culture war is driving the current political polarization in American elections. Social liberals usually vote for Democrats while social conservatives usually vote Republican. Yes, there are of course also libertarians who are economically conservative and socially liberal. But they fall somewhere in between the two camps on the simplified left-right one-axis model of the political spectrum.
The wedge issues are well-known: the separation of church and state and the connected conflicts around abortion and LGBTI rights, regulation of firearms, taxes and how they should be spent (healthcare, social safety net in general), but also civil rights and immigration. Or, to put it bluntly, ‘god, guns, and gays’.
But now there is more empirical evidence for this wide-spread assumption of the culture war’s influence on electoral politics. In a recent study, economist Stefan Krasa and economist/political scientist Mattias Polborn—both from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, examined voter behavior since the late 1970s “by combining a theoretical model of voters’ decisions with data from the American National Election Survey.”
Their research confirms that cultural issues are of greater significance in American politics today than they were back in the late 1970s, when Carter campaigned against Ford in 1976.
[i]n 1976 [. . .], a voter’s social liberalism or conservatism played only a minor role for his vote choice [. . .].
Three decades later, a very different picture would emerge:
In 2004, however, [. . .] social and economic preferences play an approximately equal role in determining the vote [emphasis mine].
Krasa and Polborn are also able to assign a number to the growing importance of cultural issues in American electoral politics. And is it quite staggering:
The cultural policy differences between Democratic and Republican are about 300 percent larger for the elections in the 2000s than they were in 1976. In contrast, economic policy differences in the 2000s increased only by between 15 and 45 percent relative to 1976 [emphasis mine].
Who went from voting Democrat to voting Republican since 1980? The Reagan Democrats—”disproportionately white, low-to medium skilled workers, and considerably more religious than the average.”
Vice versa, those who went from voting GOP to voting Democrat were “disproportionately well-educated, secular and non-white.”
Reuters: The Pentagon has “lost” $8.5 trillion of taxpayer money since 1996
An often-repeated mantra in American politics, mostly (but not exclusively) coming from Republicans, is that the U.S. government should stop “wasting” the hard-earned tax dollars of its citizens.
Usually the proposed solution in Washington then involves some cuts to social programs that disproportionately affect the poor and middle classes. Examples of this modus operandi are cuts to food stamp programs as earlier in 2013.
One department to spend it all
But there is one institution that, according to the mainstream consensus in both the GOP and the Democratic Party, can never have enough funding: the Department of Defense.
Massachusetts High Court declares ‘upskirt’ photographs legal, lawmakers react quickly
In what looks like an insane victory for creepy peeping tom types, the Massachusetts High Court has recently ruled that it is not illegal to secretly take pictures up a woman’s skirt, according to a report by Think Progress.
But why in the world would they decide like this, you may ask yourself?
According to the report, the court concluded that
[a] female passenger on a MBTA [Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority] trolley who is wearing a skirt, dress, or the like covering these parts of her body is not a person who is `partially nude,’ no matter what is or is not underneath the skirt by way of underwear or other clothing,
It seems that current laws are not keeping up with developments in technology, above all the ubiquity of camera-equipped smartphones.
Current “Peeping Tom” laws in Massachusetts “only protect women from being photographed in dressing rooms or bathrooms when they are undressed.” And because “upskirt photos are taken of fully clothed women in public, they don’t count,” reasons the Massachusetts court.
I think that it is not ok to take such pictures. I do think that this is a form of sexual harassment.
Update: Massachusetts lawmakers thought so, too, and passed a bill outlawing taking unconsensual upskirt pictures, including people of all genders.
Adolph Reed Junior on the surrender of America’s liberals
If we understand the left to be anchored to our convictions that society can be made better than it actually is, and a commitment to combating economic inequality as a primary one, the left is just gone. – Adolph Reed
There is an interesting recent article (paid subscription at Harper’s magazine) by political scientist Adolph Reed Jr. about the decline of the American Left and the Democratic Party’s embrace of neoliberalism.
Reed argues that the Democratic Party is too fixated on winning elections and appeasing Wall Street and the Right—the Clinton campaign’s triangulation comes to mind.
Reed sees in American politics today a “bipartisan neoliberalism [. . .] at the center of gravity of the American government.” And as its two core components, he identifies two things: a “free market, utopian ideology [a]nd [. . .] a concrete program for intensified upward redistribution.”
Wall Street firms are threatening to cancel GOP fundraising over banking tax proposal
Wall Street firms are threatening to turn off the money hose that fuels Republican election campaigns, according to a recent article in Politico. One GOP lobbyist told Politico that “commitments for big-dollar fundraising have been “canceled for the foreseeable future.”
When I read about reactionary politicians in America, these days it is almost a sure bet that the latest horrible thing uttered about women, LGBTI people, non-white Americans, poor people, foreigners, or anyone who is not of their particular brand of fundamentalist Christianity, comes straight outta GOP. But not this time!
As the Huffington Post reports, Lloyd Oliver, a candidate for District Attorney in Harris County, Texas, frequently says absolutely terrible things when it comes to the issue of domestic abuse.
Maine Governor Paul LePage (R) Wants Heroin Users To Die
How can heroin addicts be helped, according to Maine Governor Paul LePage (R)? By cutting funding for medication that can reverse fatal overdoses. As the Huffington Post reports, fatal heroin overdoses in his state have quadrupled between 2011 and 2012. But LePage, who wants to be seen as tough on drugs, has taken the approach of
cut[ting] funds for substance abuse treatment, limit[ing] the amount of time Mainers can spend on heroin replacement therapies [. . .] , and requested money to add 14 agents to the state Drug Enforcement Agency.
Such replacement drug programs, claims LePage, would not help addicts and give them a “feeling of invincibility.”
Darn you, facts, I am the Governor!
Never mind that public health experts have the following to say, according to the article:
LePage’s assertions are not supported by current medical research.
So instead of relying on research-based medical experts’ suggestions for useful treatments, LePage rather wants to punish drug addicts.
U.S. state life expectancy compared to countries around the world [map]
Over at the Atlantic, there is an interesting map [not the one to the right in this article]. It compares the life expectancy in U.S. states and imposes the the names of countries around the world with a similar life expectancy onto the respective state. Thus, Mississippi becomes Syria (75 years and I am not sure whether this takes into account the ongoing bloody civil there) and California becomes Liechtenstein (81 years).
The best thing about the map: You can go to http://www.measureofamerica.org/maps/, a project of the Social Science Research Council, and see how well individual states fare by a variety of measures, such as the Human Development Index (HDI), education, health, or income.
The aggressive politicization, the racial circling of wagons stoked by polemic media in the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s death now seems to culminate in the ultimate absurdity–a celebrity boxing match based on the premise of symbolically pitting black America in the form a (former) gangsta rapper against Zimmerman, the light-skinned Hispanic defended by a large swathe of trigger-happy conservative white males.
All of the above merely adds insult to injury.
Whereas Zimmerman, now walking as a free man, clearly lacks any tact and tries to make a quick buck off his new-found celebrity paid for by the death of an unarmed black teenager, boxing promoters are circling like vultures over the tragedy in order get theirs, too.
And does rapper DMX think that if he were to knock out Zimmerman, in reality, but at the same time symbolically, like in the cartoonish heroes and villains portrayed in American wrestling, that would counter the black thug stereotype that was at the heart of the developments leading to Trayvon Martin’s death?
I think that this celebrity boxing match, if it actually take place, is death-sploitation of the worst kind.
Politics as smoke and mirrors – ‘Huckabee’ on Fox News
Former Arkansas Governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has been involved in a second career as talk show host on Fox News since leaving active politics in 2008. Apparently it is not that easy to lure in big studio audiences for the recording of that program.
A new video has appeared that clearly reveals how mirrors inside the studio are used to make Huckabee’s audience seem bigger than it really is. Because the mirrors are shaking, that trick is easy to recognize.
Watch a clip from the progressive David Pakman Show explaining the trick here:
I am not sure whether Fox News are the only media outlet guilty of this visual ‘enhancement,’ but it seems to fit right in with a lot of other, more deceptive techniques that can be regularly observed on that network.
Smokes and Mirrors—at least the mirrors—have for once crossed over from the figurative into the literal.
From my point of view, as a strong advocate for civil liberties, it was not at all satisfactory.
What did Obama actually say?
He used to be skeptical of US surveillance programs, but now he generally he sees nothing wrong with them. The logic of the national security state prevails.
He wants more control of the gathered information—inside the US. No blanket surveillance but warrants by a judge of the FISA court.
Close allied leaders (such as Angela Merkel) are not to be spied on, except for “compelling national security purpose[s]”—whatever that means. But nonetheless the US will continue to spy on even allied governments.
We, the U.S. government, are not going after you everyday foreigners, but we will still vacuum up all your data, just in case. – Note how Obama does not say anything about the exposed NSA programs in his speech.
The FiSA court gets one voice for civil liberties.
IT companies who are forced to hand over customer data to US intelligence will get temporary gag orders through National Security Letters instead of indefinite gag orders.
The NSA will continue to weaken cryptographic standards on the Internet – Obama did not say a word about this important reform point proposed by a panel of experts.
There are many issues with Obama’s views on American surveillance, even if we assume that this speech actually reflects his genuine views.
First, Obama seems to have bought into the idea that the American surveillance bureaucracy is different from any other comparable institution in the history of the world. He sounds as if he believes that by the virtue of character of the people working for it, the NSA is free from all the deformities that have been known to exist in other times and places in similar settings.
He wants us to believe that American spooks are so exceptional that they can defy human nature. But the point of the revelations about the NSA’s mass surveillance is not that its employees are evil as individuals. The mere fact that the NSA as an institution has the structural potential for “turnkey totalitarianism,” as one commenter put it, is the alarming fact.
Second, the FISA court has been known to be a rubber stamp court. So far, the U.S. government has almost never been denied a request there.
Third, the term “national security” is so vague that almost anything can be connected to it and hence spying can be justified almost all of the time.
TIME magazine nominates Edward Snowden as runner-up to the ‘Person Of The Year’ 2013.
It is an obvious choice. Time magazine nominated NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as one of the candidates for their person of the year 2013. The winner is Pope Francis, the “people’s pope.” Other runner-ups include LGBT activist Edith Windsor, Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, and GOP Senator Ted Cruz. It is generally a list based on significance, not on sympathy.
TIME magazine calls Snowden the “dark prophet” and the “doomsayer of the information age.”
Being rather skeptical about Pope Francis’s capability to convince the Christian god to intervene on our behalf against the intelligence services (and while at it, why not pray to make terrorism disappear from the earth altogether), I personally would have given the ‘person of the year’ award to Snowden. But perhaps such a choice would have been to controversial for Time magazine.
Independent of what one may think about particular disclosures by Snowden through outlets of investigative journalism, his leaks have arguably been the second defining moment of the information age after the invention of the World Wide Web in the 1990s. Snowden has shown us that even democratic states are working to crush the cyber-libertarian utopia of the early Internet, using our communication infrastructure against us to establish a soft totalitarianism by surveillance.
In the grand scheme of things, we as citizens of the world must be thankful for having at least a discussion about mass surveillance, one that we would not be having at all if the intelligence services that supposedly are there to protect our democracies had had their way.
The NSA goes on CBS’s ’60 Minutes’ to defend its actions
Last weekend, NSA officials went on CBS’s 60 Minutes program to defend their mass surveillance activities and, as one might expect, put up their own ‘reality distortion field.’
The short version of the NSA’s spin goes like this: We don’t do mass surveillance, especially not on Americans, we don’t intend to break any laws, and don’t worry about us collecting ‘just’ metadata.
The task of critical journalism to control the government’s actions was not exactly helped by the ’60 Minutes’ feature. This was mostly due to the fact that host John Miller, who has been moving through the revolving door between journalism and government work throughout his career—which he did disclose—, did not present any opposing views. Miller has been working as a spokesperson for the NYPD, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), and the FBI. One might see the potential for a conflict of interest here.
Or read about the recently revealed Co-Traveller program which is exactly about the worldwide collection of mobile phone metadata in order to determine patterns of social relationships.
Above all, the whole point of the recently revealed ‘full take’ approach in the NSA’s signals intelligence seems to be to store everything in the hope that all that data can later be combed through with the help of computer algorithms, if needed.
Read, hear, and see more:
[Podcast] Unfilter 79: “CBS: The NSA Network.” (Jupiter Broadcasting, 2013/12/18) – “60 Minutes attempts the boldest white wash of the facts and lies surrounding the NSA spying yet.” – Links to more articles can be found in the shownotes.
NSA Leaks: Are there really hundreds of millions of terrorist telephones? (spoiler alert: probably not.)
As the Washington Post reports, documents from Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks reveal that the NSA is collecting 5 billion telephone records daily and uses a suite of tools known as Co-Traveller to track the location and social relationships of “foreign targets.”
The NSA is said to track “at least hundreds of millions of devices [emphasis mine]” and can identify a person’s travels, both present and past, anywhere on the planet.
Notable quote from the end of the article:
“The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.”
That is perhaps because this revelation, like so many about the NSA’S activities since the summer of 2013, are utterly embarrassing for the White House.
Hundreds of millions of foreign terrorists?
So can there be hundreds of millions of (foreign) terrorists? Of course not. On the face of it, that idea is patently absurd. Even if you shrink the number of individuals by assuming that each of the alleged terrorists uses several cell phones. Vastly greater than the number of actual terrorists could ever be are the following groups: radicals, dissenters, third party politicians, or—that is where the money is—(foreign) business leaders.
If, however, the definition of terrorist is widened so far that it becomes to mean “anyone who dares to disagree with anything the (U.S.) government does,” then that would be the antithesis to liberal democracy—it is a characteristic of a totalitarian concept of statehood.
The real threat to liberty is the national security state
The out-of-control national security establishment of the U.S., and by extension that of other states, such as the UK and Germany, and the narrative of the preventive national security state itself, are the real threat to civil liberties in the U.S. and abroad.
As serious a problem and as ghastly as terrorist attacks are, the scope of their detrimental effects on democracy could never dream to be as big as those caused by our own governments’ reactions to them.
Permanent war and liberty cannot coexist
We must recognize that the ugly head of authoritarianism is rising among us, using the phantom of terrorism to scare us into giving up our liberties. As a “War against Terrorism” can by definition never end, because terrorism is a tactic, not a specific enemy, the logical conclusion of such an endless state of emergency must be the permanent destruction of civil liberties.
Do we really want to live in such a world? I certainly do not. If there is no reform of the intelligence services to achieve a balance between the legitimate goal of preventing terrorism and the rights of the individual not to be put under surveillance without reasonable suspicion, like in East Germany during the GDR, then we all lose our freedom.
The NSA , the CIA, and the GCHQ spy on computer games
As ProPublica reports, the American NSA and CIA, and the British GCHQ, or more specifically, private contractors working for them, have run programs looking for the communications of terrorists and criminals in Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games (MMORPG) such as World of Warcraft or Second Life. This new revelation comes from recently released leaks from Edward Snowden.
No terrorists found
But despite high costs paid to these private contractors, no case of terrorist activity has been discovered.
The whole scenario sounds as if it were lifted straight out of an episode of “Twenty-Four” or “Sleeper Cell.” It seems like an interesting idea, even though I doubt (based on pure speculation) that terrorist masterminds would communicate over insecure (read unencrypted) channels such as a game chat.
Slaying orks for national security?
It might also just be a brilliant excuse to play WoW at work for highly-paid security contractors. Who knows. But apparently, private security firms have long been lobbying the intelligence agencies for contracts in this line of work by playing up the threat from terrorism in video games.
A personal note on MMORPGing versus studying
I personally have never really gotten into MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, most of all because when these games became hugely popular, I was in the middle of my university studies. I suspected that if I committed my time to these obviously addictive games, this might seriously sabotage my academic education. So I decided to forgo the WoW phenomenon for the time being. Now I know that not only did that ‘abstinence’ probably save me a lot of juvenile, sexually-laden verbal insults, but also some spies listening to my (boring) chatter.
Read, hear, and see more:
[Podcast] Unfilter 78 “NSA Wargames.” (Jupiter Broadcasting, 2013/12/12) – “[T]he latest [NSA leaks] detail the infiltration of online gaming communities to conduct massive surveillance of gamers.” Plus speculations by a famous FBI officer about Snowden being a double agent for Russia.
“Geheimdienste: Sie hassen unsere Freiheit.” (Sascha Lobo, SPIEGEL ONLINE, 10.12.2013) – Interessanter Punkt von Sascha Lobo: Der Satz “Sie hassen unsere Freiheit” aus einer Rede von George W. Bush nach dem 11. September 2001 trifft nicht nur auf islamistische Terroristen zu, sondern auch ganz besonders auf die totalitären Überwachungspläne der Geheimdienste.
On Twitter, the RNC implies that racism in America “ended” with Rosa Parks, fifty-eight years ago
Fifty-eight years, ago (counted back from 2013), on December 1, 1955, civil rights activist Rosa Parks, a black woman from Montgomery, Alabama, refused to step to the back of a bus to sit down in the ‘colored section,’ marking the beginning of the Montgomery Bus Boycott to end segregationist laws in the U.S.
The Civil Rights Movement according to the RNC
This year, the Republican National Committee sort of stepped in it with a tweet that suggested racism in America ended after Rosa Parks. As Politicususa reports, the tweet said:
Today we remember Rosa Parks’ bold stand and her role in ending racism.
That statement is very questionable, to say the least. The pronouncement of the end of racism in America is premature today, and would have been even more so by orders of magnitude almost sixty years ago.
Racism is alive and well
I would like to mention just a few issues to illustrate this reality: The Trayvon Martin / George Zimmerman case, the level of hostility against President Obama that goes way beyond any reasonable (and deserved!) criticism of his administration’s policies, and countless stories about harassment and excessive use of force by the police, in particular against people of color.
We, ahem, misspoke
The RNC then deleted the tweet above and replaced it with this one:
Previous tweet should have read “Today we remember Rosa Parks’ bold stand and her role in fighting to end racism.”
To be fair, everyone can make mistakes in social media. But the GOP and the RNC are not just “Joe Sixpack” who happens to have a smartphone to tweet from.
Ending racism with voter ID laws?
In the past election cycles, the GOP has been actively working to make voting harder for (poor) people of color and other demographic groups who would likely support Democrats by implementing various voter ID laws (see here, here, and here). In this light, the RNC’s honoring of Rosa Parks and their very loose interpretation of civil rights history might be seen much more cynically.
You can watch a discussion of the issue from the progressive talk show Majority Report with Sam Seder here:
On November 28, 2013, journalist Glenn Greenwald, known for reporting on the NSA leaks by Edward Snowden, gave an interview to BBC HARDtalk, a format known for tough questioning that does not accept standard talking points.
The interview takes place at a time when the UK government, partly under pressure from the U.S., tries to attack the Guardian newspaper, i.e. shoot the messenger, for exposing the NSA’s and GCHQ’s blanket mass surveillance of the world’s citizens.
[Podcast] Dan Carlin Interviews NSA Whistleblower William Binney
You should definitely listen to this. Dan Carlin of the ‘Common Sense’ and ‘Hardcore History’ podcasts recently interviewed NSA whistleblower William Binney.
Before Edward Snowden, Binney and Thomas Drake were among the few former NSA officials to go public about the agency’s activities after 9/11.
Many of the allegations made by these earlier whistleblowers against the NSA’s antidemocratic, totalitarian mass surveillance efforts were confirmed in 2013 by the Snowden leaks.
Some of the interesting aspects touched on in in the interview are
Binney’s estimation that the NSA stores the content of our electronic communication
The disregard of the U.S. Constitution among the leadership of the NSA
How U.S. presidents, once they take office, are “bamboozled” into believing the intelligence services’ narrative that they need to be allowed to break the Constitution in any way they wish in order to protect national security
The subversion of the judiciary process through creeping of NSA data into criminal cases that that do not have anything to do with terrorism and the subsequent cover-up through ‘parallel construction’ of legal cases
Militia Leader Calls For The Assassination Of Obama On Facebook
Whenever I read a new story about some questionable activities on social networking sites, I foolishly believe that now I have heard them all. Once again, I am proven wrong.
Here is an extremely dumb idea that will very likely entail a not-so-friendly visit by the Secret Service. Do not try this at home (or anywhere else):
As John Aravosis at Americablog reports, Everest Wilhelmsen, the leader of group calling itself the Christian American Patriots Militia, has posted a call for President Obama’s assassination on his Facebook page on November 19, 2013.
Wilhelmsen associates himself with the Tea Party Movement, holds Birther beliefs about President Obama not being an American citizen, opposes ‘Obamacare,’ and endorses conspiracy theories about the U.S. government’s handling of the Benghazi incident.
He also threatens violence against Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and Department of Defense General Counsel Jeh Johnson, should they not sign a statement supporting his Birther beliefs.
I think it is noteworthy how safe far-right extremists like this militia leader apparently feel in the age of the first African American president. To think that they can get away with what would certainly be interpreted as terrorist threat, had it come from a non-white Islamist instead of a white self-identified Christian, certainly speaks to the dynamics of race in contemporary America. For all the things that are being overblown and exaggerated by attaching the label ‘terrorism’ to it since 9/11, this here seems to be the real thing.
There are certainly many things to criticize about the Obama administration. One might even be completely opposed to its major policy projects. But calling for an assassination of political leaders is crossing a line into the unacceptable.
NSA Spies On Pornography Consumption To Discredit Islamists
According to a report by the Huffington Post, the Snowden leaks reveal that the NSA attempts to gather data about the pornography consumption habits of radical Islamists. This information is then used as kompromat in order to discredit these actors inside their respective communities.
According to the article, this is seen as a rather benign way of derailing radicalization efforts.
Still, it makes one wonder whether Islamic extremists are the only target of this strategy. My guess is that it is not. I speculate that the whole point of the NSA’s mass surveillance is to gather compromising materials on everybody, just in case.
And the article mentions a historical precedent in this regard, coming from another intelligence agency: the FBI, especially under J. Edgar Hoover. It is noteworthy that by no means were only actual threats to society at the receiving end of this kind of surveillance, but also legitimate emancipatory projects, such as the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
While the NSA’s blanket mass surveillance is a scandal in itself, the potential for repressive action against legitimate democratic forces in society should alert everybody.
While I do not have the slightest bit of sympathy for the religious radicalizers that are discussed in the leaked document, the trajectory of a panoptic state that potentially knows every intimate detail of its citizens’ private lives is undeniably anti-democratic in spirit.
A new report by the ACLU finds that over 3,200 people in the U.S. are serving life sentences in prison without parole for nonviolent offenses.
The report highlights very pronounced racial disparities among that part of the incarcerated population.
Blacks were three times as likely than whites (65 percent vs. 18 percent) to serve life in prison without parole for nonviolent offenses, while Latinos were slightly less likely than whites (16 percent).
Harsh sentences in the Deep South
Overall, the states accounting for the most life sentences for nonviolent offences lie in the Deep South. States like Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, or South Carolina are notable outliers.
Costs, moral and financial
Notwithstanding the human cost and the pressing questions about the morality of such legal designs, the report notes that American taxpayers are paying $1.8 billion to keep these nonviolent offenders in prison.
Corporate lobbyists, who cluster around K Street in Washington, D.C. are approximately as popular as the bubonic plague among Americans. That is, except for the miniscule minority of people who send them to Washington to buy off politicians with potential campaign contributions.
Ok, that might be a little polemic, but you get the picture. In 2011, a Gallup poll found that seven in ten Americans thought that lobbyists had too much influence.
Yes, lobbyists as a group have a huge popularity deficit. And the profession has taken notice of that.
Just put a new label on it, and we’re good to go!
Case in point: In what can only be called a clever public relations maneuver, the umbrella organization of lobbyists in the US is changing its name due to the unpopular image of the profession, as Politico reports.
The American League of Lobbyists will vote to adopt a new name, the Association of Government Relations Professionals.
‘Government relations professionals’ sounds less like ‘lobbyists,’ at least it does not contain the word ‘lobbyist.’ But the general business of this group of professionals in Washington will hardly change because it has a brand new shiny label attached to it.
Will people fall for it? That remains to be seen. But it is quite obvious that after Citizens United (2010) and with the upcoming McCutcheon Supreme Court case on the horizon, corporations and wealthy individuals are working harder than ever to subvert American democracy by funding (re-)election campaigns or sponsoring primary challengers to politicians not working (enough) in their favor.
How Christian Fundamentalism Distracts From Real Political Problems in America
To fundamentalist Christians in America, the government shutdown, a potential debt default, and the destruction of the environment do not matter in the grand scheme of things.
A recent article on AlterNet by Amanda Marcotte highlights how Christian fundamentalists among the Republican party leadership and their base do not care about the actual detrimental real-world effects of their obstructionist policies such as the current (October 2013) government shutdown and the battle over raising the debt ceiling.
Tea Party libertarianism meets Christian fundamentalism
Her conclusion, based on various polls, is that the Tea Party Movement, whose economic libertarian ideology plays out right now in these grand showdowns, is also influenced by Christian fundamentalism more than usually assumed. A Pew poll showed that supporters of the TPM “are likely to cite religious belief as their prime motivation for their political views.”
Obamacare as sign of the end times
One strain of American Christian fundamentalists think that the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, colloquially called Obamacare, will reign in the biblical end times and believe they must do anything in their power to stop it from happening.
Marcotte sums up that perception of reality in these terms:
Sure, crashing stock markets, soaring unemployment, and worldwide economic depression sounds bad, but for the Christian right, the alternative is fire and brimstone and God unleashing all sorts of hell on the world.
Anticipating the end of the world
On the other hand, some Christian fundamentalists with notable Tea Party credentials, including Rep. Michele Bachman, founder of the Tea Party Caucus and one-time presidential contender cheer what they interpret as signs of biblical end times (such as violent conflict in Syria). Bachman wrongly claims that Obama intentionally supports Al Quaeda by providing aid to Syrian rebel groups and opines that the conflict in Syria is indeed a sign of the biblical end times.
This fits neatly with a recent right-wing conspiracy on the Internet claiming that during the government shutdown, President Obama had paid out of his own pocket for a museum of Muslim culture. As it turned out, FOX News had unknowingly, or intentionally ignoring the dubious source, reported a story from satirical news site The National Report. In the past years, numerous baseless allegations have been made from the same general direction (Tea Party Movement) about Obama being a Crypto-Muslim (read terrorist).
A similar line of (un-)reasoning holds true for the issue of climate change. To Christian fundamentalists who intentionally ignore scientific facts, such as the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the human influence on climate change, climate change is not real or no problem. In their view, the world will either not end until Jahweh wills it so, or they do not worry because they believe in the return of Jesus in their lifetime.
Other-worldliness is the problem and offers no solutions to this world
As you might have guessed, I personally consider Rep. Bachmann’s end times beliefs to be dangerous, irrational, and irresponsible delusions, especially regarding US foreign policy in the Middle East.
From a reality-based outlook, the thinking of American fundamentalist Christians is no less scary than that of Iranian mullahs, Afghan taliban, or the Saudi religious police.
True, in America there is still the tiny obstacle of democracy, but it does not take much to observe how fundamentalist Christianity works to subvert it and attempts to transform the US into a theocracy. The school textbook wars, the battle over reproductive choice, or high-level self-styled holy warriors within the US military imagining themselves as Christian bulwark against the ‘Muslim hordes’ are just some of the fronts this confrontation takes place.
More generally, the problem of other-worldliness extends to fundamentalists of all religions, everwhere. In my view, any religious zealot eager to see the end of the world, especially those with (potential) access to nuclear weapons and other WMDs, deserves extremely close scrutiny and must be kept away from the ‘red button’ at all costs (preferably, by not electing them to any meaningful office in the first place).
Even if one discards the horrifying apocalyptic scenario of religious zealots using WMDs to bring about the end times and returns to the mundane issues of government and the economy, the prospects for those of us living in this world do not become brighter in the face of willful indifference.
A prolonged government shutdown will cause continued suffering among the weakest in American society. Representatives and Senators in Congress, most of whom are millionaires, will on the other hand never personally feel the effects of the power play they are engaged in. Even worse, a government default in the US would have detrimental effects on the interconnected economies of the world.
Those who merely look for another world for salvation and are willing to let this one go to pieces are the problem.
The Post-Racial America That Was Not: Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, and the American Justice System
In July 2013, in what might be the most significant court case dealing with race in the US since Rodney King (1992) and O.J. Simpson (1994), George Zimmerman, a twenty-eight-year-old self-styled vigilante neighborhood watchman in Florida of mixed-race Hispanic descent, was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter for shooting and killing Trayvon Martin, a seventeen-year-old unarmed black teenager, in February of 2012.
On July 19, President Obama weighed in on the matter of race relations in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict and talked about the context in which many black Americans see this case. Here is the video recording, from the White House’s official YouTube-channel:
It did not take long, until Obama’s far-right critics lambasted him for speaking out on the case in the context of race relations in America. For instance, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly tried to divert attention from racial profiling in the Zimmerman case by shifting the attention to violent crime within black communities, supposedly caused by “gangsta culture” and “[t]he disintegration of the African-American family.”
So according to O’Reilly, violence against black Americans is black America’s problem. While the issues mentioned are worth discussion elsewhere, and are in fact addressed on a regular basis by organizations within these communities, the case in question has nothing to do with this. To me it appears that O’Reilly is consciously trying to blame the victim here.
The court of public opinion is divided
As a 2012 poll by the Christian Science Monitor highlights, the evaluation of the case among the American public breaks down along color lines, but also age, wealth, and politics.
Racialized clothing and suspicion
Before and during the trial, conservative commentators claimed that a hooded sweatshirt or ‘hoodie’ was suspicious criminal attire and that therefore Trayvon Martin was to blame for being perceived as a thug. This is another example of how race played into the case.
When black Americans wear a hoodie, they are deemed suspicious. When non-black Americans wear it, they are considered perfectly normal. Cenk Uygur, host of progressive talk show ‘The Young Turks’ highlights this racial double standard of clothing with a compilation of American celebrities who all wear hoodies. When non-black celebrities wear a hoodie, it is perceived as a non-threatening sweatshirt. The best part is when he shows images of Fox News hosts Bill O’Reilly and Geraldo Rivera, who blasted hoodies as “thug dress,” wearing hoodies. Of course they, as white and Hispanic males firmly entrenched within the mass media establishment are outside of any racial suspicion. Once again, the boundless hypocrisy of these two Fox News commentators shows. It is one standard for them, and another for ‘those black people.’
Debate over the shooter’s race
Even before the trial, a public debate about whether the shooter George Zimmerman was white, Hispanic, or white Hispanic, unfolded in the media.
Conservative commentators alleged that labeling Zimmerman as white Hispanic served a purpose of perpetuating a narrative of white-on-black crime.
What happened during Trayvon Martin’s last night?
According to police reports, Zimmerman had decided to pursue Trayvon Martin, whom he suspected to be a thug simply for walking down the street in a hoodie in a predominantly white neighborhood while being black. When Zimmerman called the police, they explicitly told him not to pursue the young man. Zimmerman did anyway, after stating “Fucking punks [. . .] These assholes, they always get away.”
When Zimmerman continued to pursue Martin, an altercation arose between the two, likely because Martin noticed he was being tailed by a complete stranger.
From there on, the details are shaky. But the end result is not: George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin in the chest and killed him.
Believing the non-black shooter by default
What followed when the police arrived is a scandal unto itself. After some questioning on the scene of the killing, Zimmerman was free to go home and was not arrested for weeks. That the victim was black and the shooter was not might have played a role in why the police believed the shooter’s version of the event.
During the trial, Zimmerman’s defense team tried to paint a picture of Trayvon Martin as a criminal, implying that he basically deserved to die. Never mind the fact that it was Zimmerman who chased after Martin, was armed with a gun, and killed the young man, when he could have just stayed in his car, as he was told to by the police.
Acquitted by a not-so-diverse jury
Last weekend, a jury consisting of six women, five of them white, and one Latina, acquitted George Zimmerman of all charges. As Janell Ross at The Rootnotes, this is a pattern known to social science researchers.Racially homogenous (white) juries statistically tend to side with non-black defendants when the victim is black.
Members of the jury speak in public after the verdict
After the verdict, Juror B29, the one minority member of the all-female jury gave an interview to ABC News, telling the network that “he [Zimmerman] got away with murder.”
A frightening message to Black America
The effects of the Zimmerman verdict are chilling on Black America. As many commentators have noted  , black Americans, especially male black youth, are under general suspicion. They constantly have to prove to white Americans that they are not the dangerous criminals that the racial stereotype ascribes to them. And as the Trayvon Martin case shows, these racial stereotypes have deadly consequences. Self-styled vigilantes can kill black youth with impunity.
When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, some political writers and cultural critics lauded the dawning of ‘post-racial America,’ a new age wherein the nation would finally transcend its painful history of racist violence and discrimination, especially against black Americans. But as the past five years and the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case in particular highlight, no such thing as ‘post-racial America’ has happened. Race relations may have changed in some respects. But even with a black/mixed-race president and attorney general in office, the realities of daily life still differ along color lines.
Read, listen, and see more:
[I will continue to add more links from time to time.]
“Trayvon Martin: What It’s Like to Be a Problem.” (Melissa Harris-Perry, The Nation, 2012/03/28) – On the parallels between post-Civil War Jim Crow laws and the suspicion of black Americans within public spaces informally designated as white.
[Podcast] “Getting Real On Race After Zimmerman Verdict.” (NPR barbershop, 2013/07/19) – Michel Martin discusses the Zimmerman verdict with writer and culture critic Jimi Izrael, Fernando Vila, director of programming for Fusion, a joint venture between ABC and Univision, sportswriter and professor of journalism Kevin Blackistone, and Mario Loyola of the National Review magazine and the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
[Podcast] “How President Obama ‘Showed His Brother Card.’” (Mark Memmott, NPR, 2013/07/19) – A Detroit radio host argues that the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case is one of the rare occasions where Obama allows himself to show the part of his identity as a black man in America.
The Race Card Project – A project by NPR host Michele Norris (‘All Things Considered’) that seeks to foster an honest conversation about race in America via old-fashioned postcards.
We Are Not Trayvon Martin – A tumblr blog containing stories of white privilege in America. Mostly white people share stories that show how they experienced certain situations different than many black Americans because of their race.
“White Juries and Black Victims.” (Janell Ross, The Root, 2013/07/2013) – Social science research shows that all-white or nearly all-white juries are less empathetic towards the victim when it is black.
“Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins. Republics and limited monarchies derive their strength and vigor from a popular examination into the action of the magistrates.” – Benjamin Franklin, “On Freedom of Speech and the Press”, Pennsylvania Gazette, 17 November 1737.
On June 6, 2013, the British Guardian newspaper, based on information from—as we now know—former NSA analyst Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the agency’s PRISM program. This NSA surveillance program is capable of spying on everybody’s online communications via backdoors/direct access to products and services from Apple, Google/YouTube, Facebook, Microsoft, Skype, Yahoo, AOL, and PalTalk—basically all the big players in today’s digital world that most people are using in some or other form (full disclosure: me, too).
“There is a massive apparatus within the United States government that with complete secrecy has been building this enormous structure that has only one goal, and that is to destroy privacy and anonymity, not just in the United States but around the world. [emphasis mine]” – Glenn Greenwald on CNN, 2013/06/07
Here is the series of articles from the Guardian (watch the dramatic build-up):
On June 25, journalist Glenn Greenwald told the Daily Beast that Snowden had given encrypted documents to several people as an insurance. Should “anything happe[n]” to him—translation: Should the intelligence services murder him—those documents would be released:
On July 1, the Guardian revealed documents showing that the US intelligence services are spying on other state’s embassies, including members of the EU. – This last point I did not find very surprising, as governments want to know what other governments are up to.
It is not just the US spying:
On June 17, the Guardian reveales that the British GCHQ spied on G20 summits by tapping politicians’ phones and setting up fake Internet cafés.
On June 21, the Guardian revealed GCHQ’s “Tempora” program which spies on global Internet communications and shares that information with the NSA, making a mockery of the US government’s claim that US citizens should not worry, because those programs are ‘only’ directed at foreigners. If every allied state ‘only’ surveilles foreigners and then exchanges that information with the others, that is a complete surveillance. To claim otherwise is just semantic games.
In the court of public opinion, a fierce debate over whether whistleblowers like Snowden are heroes or traitors is unfolding.
The government’s apparent strategy so far has been to shift attention from mass surveillance to whistleblower Edward Snowden and his (in their view) wrongdoing.
[Update, June 22, 2013] The Department of Justice charges Snowden with ” espionage and theft of government property.”
“USA: Snowden wird zum Verräter [erklärt].” – (Sabine Muscat, Zeit Online, 26.06.2013) – Die öffentliche Meinung in den USA kippt gegen Edward Snowden, weil er über Staaten geflohen ist, die den USA gegenüber mehr oder weniger feindselig eingestellt sind (Hong Kong/China, Kuba (wohl doch nicht), Russland).
[Update, July 1, 2013] The past two weeks have produced a plethora of stories about the cat and mouse game playing out between a fugitive Edward Snowden and the US government. Unfortunately, this focus on the person of Snowden and a spy-thriller-like chase around the globe along the lines of “Where in the world is Edward Snowden?” has been a distraction from the real issue at hand.
That issue is the blanket surveillance of citizens by their democratically elected governments, who increasingly view their own populations as potential enemies. In the national security state, a mockery is made of the rule of law by turning the long-standing legal principle of the presumption of innocence on its head. But as history has shown over and over, creating secretive, all-powerful, and unaccountable institutions inevitably leads to abuses. That is why President Obama’s message of ‘Trust us, we’re the good guys.’ is in the end meaningless.
And to be clear, the problem here is not just with the US government. At least since 2001, there has been a general trend within Western democracies of justifying all kinds of anti-democratic legal measures with reference to the necessity of fighting terrorism. But as important as that may be—and I do believe that terrorism poses a threat—these efforts are never worth turning our democracies into authoritarian surveillance states.
House Speaker John Boehner (R) called Snowden a “traitor.” Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) lambasted Snowden as “a high-school drop-out who had little maturity [and] had not successfully completed anything he had undertaken.” The point about lack of formal credentials might be true, but until Snowden became a whistleblower, his employers in the intelligence services and defense contractors obviously valued his skills.
On June 16, former Vice President Dick Cheney, unsurprisingly, joined the chorus of those calling Snowden “a traitor” and implied that Snowden might be a Chinese spy.
Independent of how one thinks of Snowden’s leaking in detail, that development is an alarming trend, indicative of a much bigger problem with mainstream media in the US.
The concept of an adversarial press, which is absolutely necessary to keep the government honest, has apparently been long-lost on many established so-called journalists, spoiled by their access and personal wealth. Rather than by default challenging the official statements of the government in search for the truth, these figures have decided to become the American version of Pravda. This is to the detriment of public awareness within a democracy. These parts of the press should remember the great American tradition of muckraking journalism.
Here is Glenn Greenwald’s article about how he is now on the receiving end of personal smears for working with Snowden as a source:
There is also some blatant partisanship going on around the issue. Fox News host Bill O’Reilly supported the NSA’s domestic spying under President Bush and now, under Obama, opposes it. Democratic Senator Al Franken, a harsh critic of the some practices under the Bush administration, now supports similar practices under a Democratic president.
Civil libertarian Senator Obama in 2007 versus national security hawk President Obama in 2013
You might remember a little-known Senator from Chicago who once was big on civil liberties. Here is what he said in 2007 about the massive surveillance put in place by the Bush administration:
“This [Bush’s] administration also puts forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we provide. I will provide our intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to track and take out the terrorists without undermining our Constitution and our freedom. That means no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens. No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime. No more tracking citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war. No more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient. That is not who we are. And it is not what is necessary to defeat the terrorists. The FISA court works. The separation of powers works. Our Constitution works. We will again set an example for the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers, and that justice is not arbitrary. [emphasis mine]”
Against the recent revelations about the scope of the NSA’s mass surveillance, I can think of but two possible conclusions. Either Obama never really believed what he said back then and was just going to cynically exploit the growing public unease about Bush’s post-9/11 surveillance state, or, once elected President, he was swarmed by national security advisors who made him reconsider—everything (Richard A. Clarke seems to confirm the latter below).
Down the memory hole: Change.gov quietly removes pledge to protect whistleblowers
As the Sunlight Foundationreports, a pledge to protect whistleblowers was quietly removed from Change.gov, the website set up by Obama’s transition team, in July 2013. Here is what it said:
“Protect Whistleblowers: Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance.Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process [emphasis mine].”
Unfortunately for the Obama administration, just as the NSA does not ‘forget’ any of our data, the Internet does not forget either. So this likely attempt to sweep an apparent and embarassing broken campaign promise under the rug will not be allowed to succeed.
One excellent resource on Obama’s transformation is http://www.obamatheconservative.com/ , a website by Ilari Kaila and Tim Paige “tracking Obama’s abandoning of the progressive agenda, and the disconnect between his words and deeds.”
Richard A. Clarke, a top counter-terrorism official under Clinton and Bush, Jr., voiced his concerns about government overreach in regards to the general collection of telephone records in an editorial for NYDailyNews.com:
“I am troubled by the precedent of stretching a law on domestic surveillance almost to the breaking point. On issues so fundamental to our civil liberties, elected leaders should not be so needlessly secretive.”
“[Obama] inherited this vacuum cleaner approach to telephone records from Bush. When Obama was briefed on it, there was no forceful and persuasive advocate for changing it. His chief adviser on these things at the time was John Brennan, a life-long CIA officer.”
“[W]e should worry about this program because government agencies, particularly the Federal Bureau of Investigation, have a well-established track record of overreaching, exceeding their authority and abusing the law. The FBI has used provisions of the Patriot Act, intended to combat terrorism, for purposes that greatly exceed congressional intent. [emphasis mine]”
Top spooks in denial mode
Earlier this year, on March 12, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified before Congress and was asked by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) whether the NSA gathered “any type of data at all on millions of Americans.” As is now quite clear, Clapper lied “gave the least untruthful answer possible” when he denied it back then, as he now tells NBC News (June 11, 2013).
[Update] On June 18, NSA chief General Keith Alexander testified before the House Intelligence Committee about the two recently revealed surveillance programs PRISM and Boundless Informant. When asked whether the NSA was technically capable of spying on Americans’ phone calls or emails, he said this:
REPRESENTATIVE MIKE ROGERS: Does the NSA have the ability to listen to Americans’ phone calls or read their emails under these two programs?
ALEXANDER: No, we do not have that authority.
ROGERS: Does the technology exist at the NSA to flip a switch by some analyst to listen to Americans’ phone calls or read their emails?
Did you notice the diversion? Alexander did not reply to the question about capability but said that the NSA did not have the authority to spy on Americans. Technically, the NSA might not have a mechanical switch—that image seems rather anachronistic—but as whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed, it works via software on computers.
[Update] During his visit to Berlin on June 19, 2013, President Obama defended the NSA programs while talking to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, claiming that the NSA would not scan ordinary citizens’ emails at home or abroad:
“This is not a situation in which we are rifling through the ordinary emails of German citizens or American citizens or French citizens or anybody else,” he said. “This is not a situation where we can go on to the internet and start searching any way we want.” – Barack Obama, June 19, 2013
But this does not seem wholly convincing, given that the basic principle of big data analysis on the scale of intelligence services such as the NSA contains the search for patterns in enormous amounts of data.
But there is also keyword analysis. In 2012, the Department of Homeland Security released a list of keywords that it monitored on social media channels—after being sued to release the document.
Corporations like Google already scan all emails for keywords for the commercial purpose of displaying fitting ads to their users.
Taken to its logical conclusion, the only feasible way for intelligence services to check on a broad scale whether Bob is sending dangerous contents to Sally, is to scan emails for keywords. But to do that, they must have access to all those emails.
From this premise it follows that by design, the intelligence services have a vested interest in scanning all email traffic. If they do not bug individual computers in targeted operations, how else should they find out whatever they are looking for? Therefore, the denials of James Clapper, Keith Alexander, and Barack Obama seem rather unbelievable.
What do Americans think about surveillance, according to polls?
Fourty-five percent of Americans, according to a recent poll by the Washington Post and Pew, are willing to be spied on for a false sense of security.
Many think that they personally ‘have nothing to hide’ and that surveillance is thus not detrimental to them. But everybody has something to hide.
If the supposedly benevolent guardians of the NSA decided one day that democracy is, let’s say, a little outdated in a world where capitalism and authoritarianism converge so neatly, there would be big trouble ahead (see the Atlantic piece linked below).
As many historians will tell you, there is really nothing new under the sun. As npr reports, Americans have been ambivalent about the balance between security and privacy since the beginning of the country:
[Op-Ed] “Was Cheney Right About Obama?” (Patrick Radden Keefe, New Yorker, 2013/06/11) – Very interesting point: Former Vice President Dick Cheney, the architect of the Bush administration’s executive power grab, said in an exit interview in 2008 that Obama, or any successor, for that matter, would like the additional powers, once he gets into office. The article argues that Obama, as a candidate in 2008, benefitted massively from leaks which his administration now mercilessly persecutes. “Obama,” Radden Keefe writes, “knew the full extent of [the Bush administration’s] excesses because of unauthorized disclosures to the press. Without leaks, Barack Obama might never have been elected to begin with.”
[Op-Ed] “A Real Debate on Surveillance.” (New York Times Editorial Board, 2013/06/10) – Obama’s new ‘openness’ about surveillance is hypocritical, opines the New York Times.
“Our Reflection in the N.S.A.’s Prism.” (Maria Bustillos, New Yorker, 2013/06/09) – On PRISM, Boundless Informant, tech companies’ denial of their complicity with the NSA, and prior warnings about a growing surveillance state.
[Podcast] unfilter, Episode 64: “75% of the Internet.” (unfilter Episode 64, 2013/08/21) – [Podcast] – “Declassified documents [. . .] reveal the NSA has intentionally abused their surveillance program, and retained data on US citizens despite a court order. [. . .] [T]he NSA collects nearly 75% of all US Internet traffic. David Miranda[,] Glenn Greenwald’s partner was held for nine hours under an Orwellian anti-terrorism law.”
[Podcast] “Die unerwünschte Diskussion – NSA Prism und die deutsche Politik.” (Peter Carstens, Deutschlandfunk, 17.08.2013) – Im deutschen Bundestagswahlkampf 2013 konnte die SPD mit dem Überwachungsskandal bisher kaum Punkte machen, da auch SPD-Politiker maßgeblich an der deutsch-amerikanischen geheimdienstlichen Zusammenarbeit nach 2001 beteiligt waren.
[Podcast] “Geheimdienste – Du warst es. Nein, du!” (Sebastian Sonntag, DRadio Wissen, 08.08.2013) – “Sebastian Sonntag mit der Webschau zum Polittheater um den BND-Skandal.” Über die Rolle der SPD bei der Zusammenarbeit zwischen BND und NSA.
[Podcast] “Spionage im Netz ist Selbstschutz.” – Der Politikwissenschaftler Anthony Glees meint: “Privates wird öffentlich – das ist nicht Folge von Schnüffelei, sondern die Logik des Internet-Zeitalters.” (Anthony Glees, Ortszeit:Politisches Feuilleton, Deutschlandradio Kultur, 08.07.2013) Anmerkung meinerseits: Ich finde, Spionage ist nicht gleich Spionage. Dass sich Regierungen gegenseitig ausspionieren ist etwas völlig anderes als wenn Geheimdienste die verdachtsunabhängige Totalüberwachung ihrer Bürger*innen und der anderer Staaten verfolgen.
[Podcast] unfilter, Episode 58: “Standing with Ed.” (unfilter Episode 58, 2013/07/10) – “New leaks give us a better picture of how the NSA vacuums up your Internet traffic, and leverages their relationships with telecom companies to take what they want. Then Latin America stands with Snowden as multiple offers of asylum come in, we’ll bring you up to date on the hunt for Snowden and discuss his latest revelations.”
[Podcast] “Der NSA-Skandal und die Precrime-Fantasien der Ermittlungsbehörden.” – “Vera Linß diskutiert mit Alexander Markowetz, Ben Kees, Niko Härting und Benedikt Köhler im Online Talk darüber, [. . .] inwieweit sich mithilfe von Algorithmen und anderen Technologien kriminelle oder überhaupt Verhaltensmuster identifizieren und vor allem prognostizieren [lassen].” (NETZ.REPORTER XL, DRadio Wissen Online Talk, 07.07.2013)
[Podcast] breitband “Vergiss’ den Schlüssel nicht!” – Zur digitalen Selbstverteidigung mit Crypto-Tools, Cryptoparties und dem Erfinder der Computermaus, Doug Engelbart. (DRadio breitband, 06.07.2013)
[Podcast] unfilter, Episode 57: “Obama Is Afraid Of You.” (unfilter Episode 57, 2013/07/03) – “Obama shrugged [Snowden] off, calling him some 29 year old hacker. But this week the administration’s actions spoke louder than their words. Their hunt for Edward Snowden intensifies as they twist the arm of Vladimir Putin, ground the jet of the Bolivian president, and placing frantic calls to nation leaders around the world.”
[Podcast] “Bändigt den Geheimdienst!” – Donya Farahani in der Webschau über die Proteste und Aktionen gegen Online-Überwachung. (DRadio WIssen, 28.06.2013)
[Podcast] Logbuch Netzpolitik, Episode 69: “Räume für Spezialbehandlung.” (LNP069, 27.06.2013) – Linus Neumann und Tim Pritlove berichten über Edward Snowdens Flucht und das britische Spionageprogramm “Tempora”.
[Podcast] unfilter, Episode 56: “From Russia With Love.” (unfilter Episode 56, 2013/06/26) – “Edward Snowden [. . .] makes his escape from Hong Kong. We’ll reflect on [the mainstream media’s] continued character assassination [. . .].”; Britain’s GCHQ and the NSA share info [from Internet fiber optic cables], create “world-wide police state.”; the death of American investigative journalist Michael hastings and the technical possibility of hacking car control systems.
[Podcast] Datenkanal, Folge 25: “National Security Agency.” (21.06.2013) – Der Datenkanal-Podcast aus Jena gibt einen ausführlichen Überblick über die Geschichte der NSA.
[Podcast] unfilter, Episode 55: “Snowden is Snowed Under.” (unfilter Episode 55, 2013/06/19) – “In the wake of the NSA leaks we’re being told to trust the government with our simple data, it’s the leaker we need to worry about. Edward Snowden takes to the web to defend his name, while the top officials in US intelligence answer softball questions read from prepared statements.”
[Podcast] unfilter, Episode 54: “The NSA PRISM.” (unfilter Episode 54, 2013/06/12) – “We’ll dig into the new revelations, how this could be technically be done, and then we’ll expose the lapdog media’s attempt manipulate the narrative.”
[Podcast] IQ – Wissenschaft und Forschung: “Spionage.” (IQ – Wissenschaft und Forschung, Bayern 2, 12.06.2013) – Wie die Überwachung des Internet technisch funktioniert.
[Podcast] Logbuch Netzpolitik, Episode 67: “Schon lange nichts mehr auf NSA gepostet.” (LNP067, 11.06.2013) – Linus Neumann und Tim Pritlove berichten über das amerikanische PRISM und die deutsche Variante “Strategische Fernmeldeaufklärung”.
[Podcast] Common Sense with Dan Carlin, Episode 255: “The Big Long Surveillance Show.” (2013/06/10) – Dan Carlin points out the historical irony of the Guardian, a British newspaper, taking on the role of the fourth estate on behalf of American citizens’ civil liberties.
[Podcast] EconTalk “Schneier on Power, the Internet, and Security.” (2013/06/10) – In a recent episode of EconTalk, security expert Bruce Schneier talks, among other things, about the worrying encroachments of the national security state and how the powerful have adapted to use the Internet to solidify their grip.
Other resources about Internet surveillance in general:
http://buggedplanet.info – “A [Wiki] about Signals Intelligence (SIGINT), Communication Intelligence (COMINT), Tactical and Strategical Measures used to intercept Communications and the Vendors and Governmental and Private Operators of this Technology.
As anyone peeking into the current debate on gun control in the US, I have noticed that the NRA even opposes seemingly uncontroversial, mild, dare I say sane limitations on gun ownership, such as background checks for people with mental health issues or criminal records.
As I understand it, the NRA in its current iteration holds that in order to make America safer, all avenues should be explored except for one: stricter regulation of firearms.
Violent Hollywood filth is corrupting America…
So if lax gun regulation is not the culprit, who is to blame? Hollywood, of course!
As Talking Points Memo reports, LaPierre blasted Hollywood as “a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people.” He specifically railed against violent movies as “the filthiest form of pornography.”
…except when we love that Hollywood filth!
One might be tempted to take the NRA seriously, were it not for the following blatant hypocrisy on their part:
The NRA’s publication The American Rifleman recently—after LaPierre’s rant speech against violent movies— published a list of “the coolest gun movies” on their website.
The list includes gems such as the 1980s action flicks The Terminatorstarring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Die Hard starring Bruce Willis, or Delta Force starring Chuck Norris and Lee Marvin, all products of Hollywood’s “corrupting shadow industry.”
Having seen most of those movies myself at one point, I dare to state the obvious: It would be an understatement to say that they all share are a certain aesthetization of violence.
I am not arguing the case that watching violent movies or playing violent video games necessarily makes violent people. In fact I hope that my personal consumption of such entertainment in the past has not had too much of a detrimental effect on my frame of mind.
But if you do, like the NRA, you cannot all of a sudden turn around and tell the world with a straight face how great all of these violent action movies are.
Conveniently applying that double standard makes you unprincipled and hypocritical. Maybe given the twenty-four hour news cycle, people can be forgiven for a short attention span.
But if the NRA calls Hollywood a cesspool and five minutes later jumps in it, I call bullshit.
Consumers in the US (and elsewhere) are facing a dilemma: They may politically disagree with the corporations whose products they buy on a regular basis at their local supermarket. Often they do not know who they are supporting financially, because huge corporations own vast portfolios of consumer brands.
A new app called Buycott, available now for iOS and Android (soon) makes transparent who is behind a certain product that you buy in supermarkets. It helps individuals who want to engage in consumer boycotts.
The targeted corporations currently include Koch Industries, Monsanto, and Johnson & Johnson, but the database is being expanded. These corporations are US-based, but they are all huge multinational conglomerates.
The idea for the app was sparked at last year’s progressive Netroots Nation conference and brought to life by Ivan Pardo, an independent software developer from Los Angeles.
Heritage Foundation Analyst’s Dissertation: Hispanics Have Lower IQ Than Native Whites
The 2009 dissertation of Jason Richwine, a white (I think mentioning that in this context is relevant) (former) senior policy analyst at the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation, claims that Hispanics have a lower IQ than “white natives.”
Richwine concludes that “the low average IQ of Hispanics is effectively permanent” and that “new Hispanic immigrants will have low-IQ children and grandchildren [emphasis mine].”
The Heritage Foundation itself distanced itself from Richwine’s dissertation after the public outrage.
To be fair, I have only read the report from HuffPo. You may read the whole dissertation here. But the gist of it seems to echo debunked theories of race and natural racial hierarchies from the nineteenth century.
In Germany, a similar scandal around concepts of immigration and intelligence was caused in 2010 by Thilo Sarrazin, a politician from the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and former member of the Executive Board of the Deutsche Bundesbank. Sarrazin’s book Deutschland schafft sich ab (“Germany Is Doing Away With Itself”) linked immigration from Muslim-majority countries to Germany to a collective dumbing down of the population.
House Republicans Announce On Twitter To Vote Against Obamacare For The 37th Time
The politics of obstructionism continued (Episode 37)
Because opposing the Obama administration’s Affordable Healthcare Act, better known as Obamacare for thirty-six times was not enough for House Republicans, they recently announced that they would vote to repeal it for the thirty-seventh (!) time.
Twitter battles as a new normal form of political communication
So far, so predictable. But here is where it gets interesting. In this age of ubiquitous social media technologies, leading politicians in the US—years ahead in this regard to, let’s say, German politicians— feel the need to engage in Twitter battles. Sometimes hilarity ensues.
“The House will vote next week for a full repeal of #Obamacare.”
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) then attempted to hype it up a little more with the hashtag #ObamaCareInThreeWords
To which the White House replied:
“It’s. The. Law.”
Well-played, sir. Well-played.
But the fact that large parts of the Affordable Care Act are right now being implemented is not clear to everybody at the moment. According to NPR, a new poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly half of Americans do not currently know that the Affordable Healthcare Act is the law of the land.
Symbolic politics versus the 113th Congress in numbers
Unless Republicans in the Senate can convince a substantial number of Democrats to join them in voting against the Affordable Healthcare Act, the repeal they seek will not happen any time soon. As of May 2013, the distribution of seats in the 113th Congress is as follows: House: 233 (R), 201 (D); Senate: 55 (D) (53 (D)+ 2 (I)), 45 (R)
Maybe in the end, this is much ado about nothing. Still, it gives us an insight into how the new social media technologies are now being put to use for symbolic politics. In a way, they have joined their older peers of AM talk radio and cable television in the US.
According to the Guardian, the Obama administration wanted to find out the source of an “alleged Yemen terrorist plot story.”
Here is a report by Think Progress on the background of the DOJ’s action. According to them, the AP’s reporting on a foiled terrorist plot in Yemen “put AQAP [Al-Quida in the Arabic Peninsula] on notice that the CIA had a window into their activities.”
Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project said the following:
Obtaining a broad range of telephone records in order to ferret out a government leaker is an unacceptable abuse of power. Freedom of the press is a pillar of our democracy, and that freedom often depends on confidential communications between reporters and their sources.
Billionaires Koch Brothers Remodel Dark Money Operations
Billionaires Charles and David Koch, who funded various Tea Party groups throughout the last years, are adjusting their modus operandi.
As the Huffington Post reports, the Kochs have founded a new front group called Association for American Innovation, which is going to give massive amounts of money to other opaque political groups in order to further their agenda of economic deregulation and tax cuts for their class.
Among the groups expected to receive funding are Concerned Women for America and the Libre Initiative, an outfit promoting libertarianism to Hispanics.
The apparent goal of the Kochs’ public relations efforts is to convince middle and working class Americans that their economic interests neatly align with those of the wealthiest members of society. Basically it is the myth of trickle-down economics. Engineering this spin is paramount, from their perspective, to increasing their capital and protecting it from the rest of society.
As unnecessary gun deaths continue to take their toll on American society, one might have hoped that the National Rifle Association would nominate a reasonable person for their president. In the face of the latest series of school shootings and other horrible gun violence, it is quite apparent that there is a demand for somebody who might negotiate a balance between the interests of gun owners and the public’s longing for safety. But moderation of any sort is definitely not where the NRA is going these days.
Jim Porter, a former Alabama lawyer, is the new president of the National Rifle Association. And as you might have suspected, he is as extreme as they come. Judging by his statements, Porter is quite the dog-whistling, Neo-Confederate, conspiracy-mongering nutjob. Hyperbole, you say. Well, read on and see for yourself.
Where to begin? As the New York Times reports, he says that Obama is a “fake president.” His view of American history compels him to call the American Civil War the ‘War of Northern Aggression.’ He peddles conspiracy theories alleging that the Obama administration is conspiring with the UN to take all guns away from Americans. He also says that it is the NRA’s job to train Americans to fight against tyranny from their own government (the video of Porter speaking is linked in the New York Times article).
This strain of the political far-right in America surfaced in parts of the Tea Party Movement throughout the past years. But now the figurehead of America’s powerful gun manufacturers’ lobby is a race-baiter who is apparently driven by paranoid fantasies. Not a wise choice.
Provide wiretapping capabilities to hand over your (customers’) data to the FBI or be fined, Google and Facebook
The Washington Post reports on a government task proposal that aims to punish tech companies for not providing wiretapping capabilities for law enforcement officials. The FBI, which is the driving force behind this push for more more surveillance, justifies its demands with the need to counter a “going dark” problem, a “gap between authority and capability” in regards to online surveillance. The FBI mentions not just terrorism, as might seem likely briefly after the Boston Marathon Bombing, but also transnational narcotrafficking and child prostitution.
If successful, this initiative would not only concern Internet giants such as Google or Facebook, but potentially any tech company that collects user data. And that includes practically any new free-to-use online service.
This initiative by the FBI takes place in the context of a much larger secretive push towards extensive online surveillance (see below).
Reddit Users Edit Logos Of Campaign Donors Onto Politicians
Social news website Reddit comes up with a creative, satirical take on the legal bribery of campaign finance in America.
Money talks in American politics. So much so, that numerous contemporary observers and respondents to polls have described the current form of campaign financing as legal bribery, especially after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling of 2009 has made the system even more obscure.
Many Americans citizens of various political persuasions today see their political system as corrupt, dominated by a small number of large corporations and wealthy individuals who legally buy politicians of both major parties with campaign donations to protect their interests.
However diverse political opinions may be among the larger population, political representatives as a class tend to respond to those who fill their campaign coffers. To a large extent, this also includes the current President Barack Obama, who, despite his progressive campaign rhetoric, has appointed many former corporate executives and lobbyists who have in their interest anything but regulating the industries they themselves are products of.
DIY Transparency on Reddit
On the social news website Reddit, users have come up with an idea to make the influence of money more transparent to the average person. As the Huffington Post reports, they suggest that politicians wear the logos of their corporate campaign donors, just like Nascar race car drivers’ overalls are plastered all over with sponsors’ logos.
Because this is unlikely to happen, the Reddit community has taken to image editing software to create montages of heads of political representatives and overalls full of the logos of campaign donors (images are linked in the Huffington Post article below).
While this may seem like a satirical Internet meme that will never get any traction in the ‘real world,’ the idea behind it is rather serious. If money has such a corrupting influence on the political system, should it not be made transparent whose bidding elected officals will do?
There are websites such as opensecrets.org that attempt to track campaign donations to elected officials. However, these resources are sometimes difficult to navigate for the average person.
Update (March 28, 2013):
A recent example of corporate influence on American politicians, this time on the Democrats’ side: President Obama has signed a spending bill that includes what critics call protection of the genetically modified organism (GMO) manufacturer Monsanto against future litigation in case that GMOs might be proven to contain health risks.
A Video Visualizes Wealth Inequality In The United States
If you have been following domestic politics in the US in recent years, the issue of growing wealth inequality will not have escaped your attention.
Here is an interesting video visualization of how Americans estimate wealth distribution, how they think it should be, and what the reality is really like. As far as I can see, the data is from 2010, but the general picture has remained the same, despite claims to the contrary.
Spoiler Alert: The distribution of wealth is way more skewed than the respondents to a recent large-scale survey thought it to be. Below the video, I linked its sources and further reading material.
Here are the video’s sources for the numbers:
“Wealth Inequality.” (Dan Ariely, behavioral economist, co-author of the study together with Mike Norton, which is linked in his blog post, 2010/09/30)
A Digital Archive Of Letters Expressing Grief Over The 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, Is Being Created.
Ross MacDonald, an author, illustrator, and designer from Newtown, Connecticut, site of the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting, works to create a digital archive of letters that were sent to the school in remembrance of that massacre on December 14, 2012. For this purpose, MacDonald has partnered with Mother Jones magazine and Tumblr. Watch the project’s introductory video below and make sure to read the longer article on the project (linked below).
“Letters to Newtown.” (Ross MacDonald, Mother Jones, 2013/02/06) – Ross MacDonald explains the ‘Letters to Newton’ project.
Conservative Activists/GOP/Fox News Claim That Obama’s Republican Nominee for Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska) Is Funded By Hamas-Affiliated Group.
While there are many legitimate criticisms of the Obama administration, as I mentioned in my earlier posts, the level of absurdity in American political theater is almost always guaranteed to rise to unimagined heights when one turns their attention to today’s GOP and the vocal ultraconservative conspiracy-minded base.
Case in point: President Obama nominates former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska) for Secretary of Defense. Not only does the GOP plan to filibuster Hagel’s nomination, which is unprecedented. [Update]: The Senate GOP did filibuster Hagel’s nomination.
Unfounded Claims Of Links To Hamas
No, some conservative activists try to prevent Hagel’s appointment by linking him to terrorist organization Hamas (!). Seriously.
The absurd claim includes an allegation that Hagel received foreign funding from a group called “Friends of Hamas.” According to the Treasury Department, which monitors charitable groups connected to Hamas, this group does not even exist.
Furthermore, does it sound plausible that an organization trying to funnel money to a terrorist group would include that groups name in its own name? Absolutely not. It would be quite a bad disguise.
[Update (2013/02/17)]: As it turns out, Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), who led the filibustering of Hagel, is quite the massive hypocrite when it comes to accusing Hagel of a friendly stance towards Hamas. As Salon reports, Inhofe’s own words on Hamas from 2006 sound at least as friendly to that organization as what he accused Hagel of. As Alex Seitz-Wald puts it, “using his current standard, Jim Inhofe might have a hard time voting to confirm Jim Inhofe.”
One Probable Reason For The Smear: Hagel’s Harsh Criticism Of ‘Jewish Lobby’
In the past, Hagel had criticized the “influence of the Jewish lobby,” i.e. AIPAC (which, by the way, describes itself as “America’s Pro-Israel Lobby” on its own website) in Washington, and in return received criticism by the above-mentioned and other pro-Israel groups.
And while the legitimacy of Hagel’s comments and the degree of influence in Washington by pro-Israel groups can be a subject of reasonable debate, the unfounded claim that Hagel must be associated with Hamas contains a classic fallacy: the excluded middle.
In my opinion, there are many shades of gray between supporting everything a particular government does and supporting a terrorist group that wishes for the murder of that state’s citizens. Criticizing particular activities of any government, be it the American, German, or Israeli one, does not make one anti-American, anti-German, or anti-semitic. It is the tonality that makes the difference.
One final word on lobbies: By definition, any lobby organization is supposed to represent their constituency’s interests. Despite the fact that there can be several lobbies claiming to represent the interests of any particular group, it is by no means conspiratorial to assume that there is a lobby for virtually any cause. A quick search with your favorite search engine will confirm this. Just read the mission statement of your organization of choice.
Other Probable Reasons Why The GOP Filibustered Hagel’s Appointment
Of course, Hagel’s statements on the ‘Israel Lobby’ are not the only reason why the GOP stonewalls his appointment.
According to Chris Cilizza of the Washington Post, the following reasons might also have factored into the GOP’s decision to filibuster Hagel’s appointment:
Because they can.—This should not be surprising. Since Obama took office, the main GOP tactic was obstructionism.
Some GOP senators believe Hagel to be inexperienced.
Rallying the party.—Romney lost the presidential election, the GOP did not win a majority in the Senate. Therefore, Senate Republicans needed something new to motivate themselves.
In the words of one man who arguably knew a thing or two about theater in the English-speaking world at the time, the great Chuck-Hagel-Hamas-conspiracy is much ado about nothing.
A Tea Party Senator From Texas Opens Another Smear Front: The Communists Are Coming!
In the context of the Chuck Hagel Senate confirmation hearing, Tea Party Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) alleged, without providing evidence, that Chuck Hagel was funded by North Korea. So now it is not only those Islamist terrorists (Hamas) that Hagel is supposedly in bed with, but also those darn commies.
Furthermore, according to Senator Cruz, Harvard Law School was completely infiltrated by communists in the 1990s (!), when he himself studied there. Cruz even claimed, like Joseph McCarthy in his day, to possess a list of said communists, who schemed to overthrow the American government.
And because Harvard Law School was supposedly such a hotbed of communism, Barack Obama must have become a communist there, which totally proves that therefore Chuck Hagel must somehow also be a communist. Of course, Cruz himself was able to resist the influence of marxists and communists.
Even fellow Republicans Lindsey Graham and John McCain thought that this nonsense was a bit too much, and some liberal commentators rightfully noted that Cruz’s mannerisms were indeed quite McCartyite.
“Why John McCain turned on Chuck Hagel.” (David Rogers, Politico, 2013/02/17) – Op-Ed: McCain voted against Chuck Hagel to help make South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham appear more right-wing.
“Lindsey Graham, watching his right flank.” (Dana Milbank, Washington Post, 2013/02/15) – Op-Ed: South Carolina Republican Senator opposes Hagel’s nomination to appear right-wing enough for his own re-election.
“More GOP Hagel hypocrisy.” (Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, 2013/02/15) – Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), who lead the filibuster against Chuck Hagel’s nomination, had some friendly words for Hamas himself in 2006.
He shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.
— Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution
This year, Barack Obama’s State Of The Union Address is also an overture to his second term in office as the 44th President of the United States. Topics addressed in his SOTU include the state of the economy, immigration reform, foreign policy, the use of drones, dealing with gun violence in America, and solutions to climate change. Find my reflection on Obama at the begining of his second term below, the SOTU and more links further below.
Speeches Project Images, Not Realities
Anyone who has observed Obama giving speeches, except perhaps at the beginning of the past televised debates with Mitt Romney, knows that he is a great performer. His speechwriters are incredibly skillful at creating powerful history-laden images and evoking emotions. This is how they work and what they are supposed to do.
But while ritualized political speeches such as the State Of The Union Address do count as symbols, we as observers and students of these texts should try not to let our senses be clouded by those masterful emotional appeals. This is difficult, because as human beings, we are hard-wired to respond emotionally.
Nonetheless, a rational look at the factual first-term record of the Obama administration is much more revealing in regards to its true character. Political speeches, at the end of the day, are rather a reflection of the image that a speaker wants to project of themself than an accurate representation of what they actually do.
Some Social Progress At Home, But No Departure From Neo-conservative Disregard For Civil Liberties
Nobody can seriously expect any politician to fulfill all campaign promises, but watching Obama the vocal liberal-minded critic of Bush’s ‘war on terror’ policies transform into an accomplice and protector of those responsible for the torture architecture, and later granting himself powers to execute even US citizens on a clandestine kill list via the NDAA is quite frightening.
You can read about the discrepancy between the image of 2008 candidate Barack Obama and the actions of President Barack Obama it in my earlier blog posts here and here, or at exhaustive length at Obama the Conservative, a website that chronicles (with sources) how except on some social issues (the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, advocacy for gay marriage), the current POTUS has embraced and in some cases (such as executions by drone) expanded questionable policies of the Bush/Cheney administration.
To be clear: I am not downplaying the threat posed by militant religious extremism in the world today, as no sane observer would. Neither am I denying the necessity of an ideological, sometimes even violent confrontation between liberal democracy as a system and militant theocrats, be they states or non-state actors. But in the pursuit of this objective, the advocates of liberty must not abandon their ideals. Collateral damage tends to create new enemies.
He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, “Beyond Good and Evil“, Aphorism 146 (1886)
In my opinion, the neoconservative dictum of ‘taking off the gloves’—throwing out the rule of law and justifying activities like mass surveillance, kidnapping, torture, and extrajudicial killings—in the name of protecting democracy is not only a farce but destructive to democracy.
Any authoritarian regime in the history of the world has justified similar actions by claiming that it acted for the benefit of its own people. Brought to its logical conclusion, the maintenance of the illusion of total security ultimately brings with it the reality of total surveillance.
The realization of the many continuities in the ‘War on Terror’ between the current and the previous administration is troublesome, especially considering that in 2008, Barack Obama ran as a civil liberties candidate who criticized the Bush administration for its conduct.
A Brand Image Is Not The Actual Product
Despite perhaps the greatest political campaign in recent times (in 2008), the ‘product’ Obama has proven not to be what its packaging promised. And I say this as someone who was, maybe somewhat naively, quite enthusiastic about the election result at the time. Of course, a government is and should be a complex construct with more agents than a head of state influencing the general direction. But to think that Obama had no hand at all in steering the course throughout the past four years would be a misjudgment as well.
Watch Obama’s 2013 State Of The Union Address here:
The Obama Inauguration 2013: Round Two For The 44th POTUS
On January 20, 2013, Barack Obama was sworn in for the second time as President of the United States. Will he change course towards a more progressive political agenda this time, as opposed to the past four years? Naturally, it remains to be seen, but from observing his first term in office, I got the impression that there were many continuities from the previous administration.
[Please note: I will add some sources for various claims that I make in this article later, when I have more time. In the meantime, please confirm any information by doing a news search with your favorite search engine. I will also continuously add more links to news coverage of the inauguration and background information.]
Looking back at Obama’s first election
Like many Europeans—and of course many Americans, for that matter—I was very excited about the first black (biracial, mixed, pick your favorite term) American president four years ago. Any student of American history should be. True, the campaign buzzwords ‘hope’ and ‘change’ were by themselves meaningless appeals to emotion, crafted by brilliant campaign strategists, but candidate Barack Obama also filled them with concrete policy proposals in his campaign speeches.
Obama positioned himself as a unifier, but it is clear that a key selling point was “I am not Bush.” Indeed, Obama was many things that Bush was not: a black man, an intellectual, not a son of privilege, urban, sophisticated, a Christian but not a religious fundamentalist with an eschatological interest in the Middle East. There were high hopes that Obama would act differently and that his administration would repair some of the damage caused by his predecessor.
Obama’s first term and continuities from Bush/Cheney
While Obama is certainly more socially liberal than any of the top Republicans, a substantial departure from neoliberal economic policies and a neoconservative security architecture is barely noticeable, despite any claims of America having fallen to communism on January 20, 2009, available on the usual propaganda channels. Of course an American president is not a dictator and legislation is supposed to go through Congress.
However, from the outside it looked like this: From day one, a Republican front aggressively attacked Obama at every turn while the POTUS offered concession after concession, ultimately in vain. The only times that the soft-spoken Obama did not find it difficult to metaphorically wack political opposition with the big stick that Theodore Roosevelt suggested to carry around at all times (referring to foreign policy) was when his own progressive political base reminded Obama of his campaign promises. So here we are, four years later:
The “War on Terrorism”
The paradigm shift caused by 9/11 still remains, and the behavior of the Obama administration is perhaps a good reminder to take seriously the phrase ‘paradigm shift.’ Osama Bin Laden is dead, even though his death was but a symbol, needed for closure, a counter to the terrorists’ symbol of attacking the World Trade Center. But the confrontation is not over.
The central question for democracies is how to act while engaging in that battle. In retrospect, unfortunately, the Obama administration’s answers sound very similar to those of the Bush administration in many cases. Guantánamo Bay is still open, the practice of kidnapping terrorism suspects, euphemistically called ‘rendition,’ has been increased, the drone killing program has been expanded and raises all kinds of ethical and legal questions, and the National Defense Authorization Acts (NDAA) now allow for worldwide secret arrests and killings on the President’s orders, outside of judicial oversight.
The most severe damage to American democracy, however, has been done by the Obama-Holder Justice Department, shielding the architects and perpetrators of the Bush administration’s torture regime from legal consequences. Here was the opportunity to signal to the world that American exceptionalism also means that the US government is above using the methods of despotic regimes elsewhere. But the message sent was a very different one. As the Obama administration put it, the aim is to look forward, not backwards.
But if these practices are not being punished, the official position that “the US does not torture” is meaningless. If any future administration decides to go down that route again, it can and will point to the precedent set by Bush and Obama. And it is exactly this lending legitimacy to authoritarian tendencies of a transgressive national security state that will tarnish Obama’s place in history. It is particularly bitter that these policies are advanced by a former constitutional law professor.
Regulation of the financial sector:
The Obama administration did not push for legislation ‘with teeth’ for stricter regulations of investment banks after the financial crisis. The Justice Department has not prosecuted top banking executives who have clearly engaged in serious criminal activity. Apparently, the Obama administration believed that this class of people needed to be shielded from legal repercussions in order for the economic recovery to succeed. In addition, many of Obama’s economic advisors are neoliberals with a background in big Wall Street firms. It is difficult to ignore the conflict of interest set up by this dynamic.
The positive changes during Obama’s first term
Admittedly, Obama’s key domestic policy project was a big step within in the American context, and extremely controversial, to be clear. However, a European-model public option, not to speak of a single-payer system, was wiped off the negotiating table very quickly, and from the reports I have read, Obama did not really mind. Insurance companies did not mind, either. That is because they get millions of new customers who are obliged to buy their insurance packages.
The repeal of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’
The Obama administration repealed the Clinton-era policy that allowed gays and lesbians to serve in the military while keeping in the closet. The policy, apart from being discriminatory, established a power dynamic that made LGBT military members vulnerable to blackmail for fear of being outed by colleagues. Contrary to rumors, the American military did not collapse once LGBT soldiers were allowed to express their identity. Interestingly, the military has become a venue of social progress for a second time after the desegregation during World War Two.
Few drastic changes in crucial areas
In sum, the notion of a president who would radically depart from the paths taken since 2001 has evaporated regarding most foreign policy and economic issues. While some symbolic changes were enacted, the big issues seem ‘path dependent,’ to borrow a sociological term. On civil liberties, Obama’s record is rather dim, except for the DADT repeal. Regarding economic policy, the financial sector—investment firms in particular—is back to business as usual, which is great if you happen to be an investment banker. The question remains whether Obama, now that he does not have to worry about reelection, will be a different politician. I am skeptical about that, even though I still have a tiny bit of hope.
What do you think?
[I will update the article from time to time and add more information.]
News coverage of Obama’s second inauguration
[Video] The New York Times has the full inauguration speech:
[Video] Politico’s live video coverage of the 2013 inauguration can be found here.
[Video] The New York Times reports from Washington prior to the presidential inauguration (2013/01/18):
“Obama’s Rorschach.” (John T. Woolley, Professor of political science, UCSB; Co-director, American Presidency Project, Huffington Post, 2013/01/23) – A political scientist explains how people interpret Obama’s inaugural speech according to their own political leanings.
Among the many loathsome things that humans are capable of inflicting upon each other, rape is way up there. That, however, does not stop some politicians from exploiting the issue while demonstrating a complete lack of empathy for rape victims, most of whom are women. In the US, the ultra-conservative wing of the ever more conservative Republican Party has infamously been filling that niche for some time now.
Rape comments were common in the past election season
Throughout the past election season, several GOP politicians have stirred up controversy with insensitive, misogynistic comments about rape. Typical commentary contained elements such as downplaying rape, or arguing for (and proposing bills designed to) limiting women’s access to abortion in the context of rape.
Predictably, remarks of that sort have created a public relations disaster for conservative politicians, as huge chunks of women voters tend not to like being lectured by old men on what constitutes rape and how they should feel and act about it.
Shut up, those pesky TV cameras are pointed at you!
So what is the solution to all that horrible bad press? Well, one anti-abortion group has decided that it is workshops for conservative politicians teaching how to keep their beliefs on rape but tone down the rhetoric just a notch while speaking in public so that nobody will notice. According to that logic, ‘rape culture’ and the underlying desire to control women’s bodies is not the problem, but the public figuring out some politicians’ extreme positions is.
I am not so sure that women in the US will buy into this. Say what you will about people’s short attention spans. On the Internet, all those comments are still accessible. And if the past election season has shown anything, it is that the wackier politicians can’t help themselves but say outrageous things all the time.
American talk radio is a phenomenon of its own with no comparison in the German media landscape. This is likely due to less strict broadcasting regulations on the US side of the Atlantic, especially since the fall of the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine in 1987, a much broader definition of freedom of speech in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution in general, and the comparatively longer distances traveled in cars in the US. All of the above factors into the popularity of AM talk radio, especially political talk formats.
For the past decades, American talk radio has predominantly been the domain of angry white male conservative populist agitators, among them figures like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, who have made a fortune feeding their audiences’ fears of American decline, multiculturalism, and the whole palette of issues subsumed under the term culture wars. A key trope of most far-right talk radio hosts has always been the claim of defending ‘freedom,’ a term so vague in the arsenal of political rhetoric that it can easily be loaded up with the most illiberal ideas, not in the meaning of liberal as in political ideology, but as in the theoretical political concept.
Case in point: Recently, conservative talk radio host Michael Savagehas called for a new “nationalist party” with a “charismatic leader.” Talking about the decline in popularity of the Tea Party Movement, the conservative populist movement that had emerged along with the 2008 election of Barack Obama as president, Savage said that “the rudiment” of that new party might be found among their ranks. Savage, who was born to Russian-Jewish parents, used the analogy of a “King David” that was needed to unite the American Right. Savage, who calls President Obama a “quasi-pseudo-crypto Marxist” thinks that the Tea Party Movement was not right-wing enough and that a new party should challenge the Republican party from the right on a platform of “borders, language, and culture.”
If that sounds eerily authoritarian, it’s because it is!
A severe economic crisis. Extreme nationalism. Calls for a charismatic leader. Writing from Berlin, I hear the jackboots stomping in my head.
Bruce Carlson, producer of the My History Can Beat Up Your Politics podcast has currently released a very entertaining episode about the history of redrawing electoral districts in the US, also known as ‘gerrymandering.’ For anybody who wants to feed their inner political history geek and get to know the ins and outs of winning majorities by changing electoral districts, this is very worthwhile.
Make sure to check out this episode, listen to some other ones as well, and support the podcast if you can.
Barack Obama remains the President of the United States for the next four years. What is on the domestic agenda in American politics next?
The “Fiscal Cliff” and the “Grand Bargain”
Republicans in Congress plan to hold the approval of the federal budget hostage, as they did last time. What do they want? The continuation of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and severe cuts to social programs that benefit the less fortunate in the name of deficit reduction. Most interesting about this is that the freshly reelected president and Democrats have signaled their willingness to largely go along with Republicans.
In what is known as the “Grand Bargain,” Democrats including Obama have proposed to slash programs such as Social Security to decrease the federal deficit, in order to avoid the “fiscal cliff,” i.e. the blockade of the federal budget by the GOP. Other than one might think from the Democrats’ campaign rhetoric, the focus is not on tax increases for corporations and the wealthiest individuals.
To understand why Obama would support policies that seem to run counter to his campaign promises of even a few weeks ago, namely to put his support behind the struggling American middle class, one has to reach back into his not-too-distant past. And there it lies, in the open: Obama is a neoliberal. 123
It is visible in the people he appointed to his economic team during the first term in office, the ways in which the financial industry was not heavily regulated after the financial crisis, and the way a public option was given up on early in favor of an industry-based model during the health care reform negotiations.
The irony of it all is that Obama the neoliberal, who pretends to be an economic progressive (liberal) during election season, is decried as everything from a socialist to a communist by the far-right commentators on talk radio and the Republican propaganda machine of Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch that is Fox News.
Economically, Obama’s current proposals represent but a gradual difference to what a Romney/Ryan presidency would have wrought, but it is not qualitatively different. The interests of the super-wealthy are not touched by Obama and the Democratic Party.
The swift willingness to compromise with a Republican Party that has been playing hardball since day one (of Obama’s first term), combined with the Obama administration’s notable toughness towards its progressive supporters, reoccurring at the beginning of this second term, makes one wonder whether this is after all a game of good cop, bad cop. If Republican proposals seem extreme from a middle class perspective, the Democrats’ slightly less harsh plans all of a sudden look friendly in comparison. But it is a view from within a moving train.
[Update] My judgment of the situation was perhaps a bit too harsh. According to the New York Times (December 2), the Obama administration now forces the GOP to come to the table first with a serious offer, not the other way around like last time. Obama now wants to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans in order to reduce the federal deficit.
“Following the Debt Talks-Interactive Feature.” (Alicia Parlapiano and Josh Keller, New York Times, 2012/12/06) – A nice graphic overview of what Democrats and Republicans each offer in the current talks on the federal debt and budget.
President Barack Obama won his re-election in 2012 with an impressive lead of 332 to 206 electoral college votes after taking the most important swing states inluding Florida, Ohio, and Virginia. The polls pointed towards this outcome, but the race had remained close until the end.
Here is my big list of links to articles about the 2012 presidential election. I will continually update it as I find new material.
Obama’s victory speech:
Romney’s concession speech:
News Coverage of the 2012 Presidential Election Outcome:
Among liberal commentators, but also some conservative voices, a narrative is beginning to emerge that the GOP lost because it kept appealing to racism, religious fundamentalism, and conservative populism among its base, all of which had been culminating in the Tea Party Movement, which had emerged with the 2008 election of Barack Obama. To get a glimpse at the GOP of 2012, and to see the ideological elements mentioned above, one may go to YouTube and re-watch the past primaries, or the video documents of CPAC 2012.
“How President Obama Won a Second Term.” (Tim Dickinson, Rolling Stone, 2012/11/23) – “Political strategist James Carville breaks down where the Republicans went wrong – and what it means for the future.”
“Romney Blames Loss on Obama’s ‘Gifts’ to Minorities and Young Voters.” (Ashley Parker, New York Times, 11/14/2012) – A professional politician complaining about another professional politician for making promises to voters to get elected—now that is quite amusing. As if Mitt Romney’s own party did not try to win the election by promising ‘gifts’ in the form of tax cuts to its one core constituency that really matters, i.e. the class of ultra-wealthy donors.
“Fox station tells Romney supporters how to ‘beat the traffic’ to Canada.” (David Edwards, The Raw Story, 11/08/2012) – Sometimes reality is stranger than fiction, as they say. And for a local Fox News station, the re-election of Barack Obama means that the apocalypse has come. So what is their advice to Romney supporters? Fleeing to Canada, ironically a country with more ‘socialist’ government programs than the US.
[Op-Ed] “Hope and Change: Part 2.” (Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, 11/07//2012) – Friedman says that the GOP lost this time and last time because it moved so far to the right that it lost the political center.
[Kommentar] “Unsere Obama-Liebe ist infantil.” (Jan Fleischhauer, Spiegel Online, 08.11.2012) – Der konservative Kolumnist bei Spiegel Online ist der Meinung, die Deutschen würden die USA gerne “auf den Knien [. . . ] sehen”, seien geradezu besessen von Amerika-Bashing, übertrieben den Niedergang der USA im Allgemeinen maßlos und seien nur deshalb von Obama in den Bann gezogen, weil er vermeintlich das Gegenteil von allem was sie an Amerika schlecht finden verkörpere.
[Kommentar] “Untergang des amerikanischen Imperiums.” (Jakob Augstein, Spiegel Online, 05.11.2012) – Der Verleger des linken Freitag über die Macht des Kapitals in der amerikanischen Politik und das Unvermögen der Obama-Administration, den Kurs ihrer Vorgänger grundlegend zu ändern.
“Obama, Herrscher der Daten.” (Matthias Kolb, Deutschlandfunk Diskurs, 05.11.2012) – Bericht über die entscheidende Bedeutung der genaue Auswertung von Daten über Wählergruppen im Präsidentschaftswahl 2012.
On Tuesday, November 6, the 2012 presidential election will finally be decided. What is the latest state of affairs? The prospects of the incumbent, President Barack Obama, seem to increase towards the finishing line of this election cycle.
How Likely Is It That the Current POTUS (President of the United States) Will Also Be the Next?
The Princeton Election Consortium has calculated a 98.2 percent chance for Obama to be re-elected.
Statistician Nate Silver at the New York Times has calculated a 83.7 percent chance for Obama to win the Electoral College (November 2, 2012).
Nevertheless, polls do not amount to anything if voters do not show up at the voting booth or cast an absentee ballot. So what are the odds here? According to Gallup, voter turnout will be slightly lower than in 2008 and in 2004 (October 30, 2012).
Meanwhile…Robo-Calls, Commies Love Obama, and Voting Machine Software
While the chances of the Romney campaign are decreasing, there is no shortage of election shenanigans that may or may not be directly connected to said campaign (in some cases they are clearly not). Here are some examples of dirty campaign tricks of late:
In Massachusetts, voters reported robo-calls encouraging them to vote on the wrong date, i.e. one day after the election.
Red Cross Annoyed By Romney Disaster Relief Campaign Stunt:
The Red Cross was not amused about the Romney campaign’s window-dressing of a rally as disaster relief effort through busing in canned goods in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy.
Abe Lincoln’s GOP Loves Black Voters:
A recent Super Pac ad tries to persuade African Americans to vote for Romney because the Republican Party freed the slaves—in the nineteenth century. While that is technically correct (Abraham Lincoln was a Republican), a quick glance at a quality American history textbook will reveal the historic realignments that have taken place in the American party system. Especially since the 1960s, the GOP, along with Southern Democrats (Dixiecrats), who soon joined the GOP, has deployed the Southern Strategy: appealing to white racism to peel off voters from Democrats. In short, the Republican Party of 1865 is not the Republican Party of 2012.
(Dead) Latin American Socialists and Communists For Obama:
In Florida, one of the important battleground states, the Romney campaign attempts to appeal to older anti-communist Cuban American voters in a Spanish-language ad by associating Obama with Fidel Castro (via his niece, who says she would vote for Obama), Ché Guevara (via a background picture from an EPA email featuring the famous portrait), and Hugo Chavez (who said that he would vote for Obama if he were American). In reality, the relationship between the actual socialist President of Venezuela, and Obama, who has been called a socialist by political opponents, has never been that cozy. Since July of 2010, there is no US ambassador in Caracas and no Venezuelan ambassador in Washington, respectively, because Chavez did not accept Washington’s appointee, due to his previous anti-Chavez remarks.
Voting Machines Get ‘Experimental Software Patches’:
In Ohio, another important swing state, Secretary of State Jon Husted plans to install “experimental software patches” on voting machines, which, due to a legal loophole, do not have to be certified in any way. Civil rights groups are worried about the potential for manipulation.
Vote For Romney Or Face Eternal Damnation:
All these prior arguments in favor of Romney may or may not help him win against Obama on Tuesday. But if that is not enough, there is still the biggest gun of American politics: the Christian God.
Not associated with the Romney campaign, but in support of him, are some clergymen. Their argument: Vote for Romney or face God’s wrath. Of course, they are not telling their flock whom to vote for—that would, in theory, endanger their tax-exempt status as a church. But their hints are not all that subtle either.
In September, Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of Springfield, IL, wrote in an email to his parishioners that voting for a Democrat might “plac[e] the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.”
In late October, another Roman Catholic Bishop, David L. Ricken of Green Bay, WI, wrote in an email to his parishioners that voting for a party supporting “intrinsically evil actions” including “homosexual ‘marriage'” (which Democrats support) “could put your own soul in jeopardy.”
Also in late October, former Republican presidential candidate and Southern Baptist minister Mike Huckabee narrated an ad framing the upcoming election as a “test of fire” wherein “[y]our vote will affect the future and be recorded in eternity.” You can watch it here:
Desperate times call for desperate measures, I suppose.
You can find more background information on the 2012 presidential election in my previous posts, for instance here.
Tonight (October 22, 2012), President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney hold their third and final debate, this time at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, and with a focus on foreign policy. During the last debate, Romney already attacked Obama’s foreign policy to some extent, for instance by (falsely) claiming that the president had not called the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 an act of terrorism—the respective transcript produced by the debate moderator proved Romney wrong on this allegation.
Topics that will certainly be on the agenda tonight: Iran’s nuclear program and relations with China. Other issues which I assume will not be discussed, even though they merit serious debate: the expanding drone wars under the current administration in the ‘war on terror,’ in particular so-called signature strikes, and the conscious decision of the justice department not to hold accountable the architects and enforcers of the torture regime in said ‘war on terror,’ which sets a precedent for future administrations. So let us see what the two candidates have to say.
[Update: They did talk about drones and Romney agreed with President Obama’s current policy.]
You can watch the debate here:
The complete final debate on YouTube:
The YouTube election hub also has a plethora of political videos here.
You can also watch the complete third Obama-Romney debate at the New York Times, which has a handy running transcript next to the video.
You can also watch the complete third Obama-Romney debate at the Washington Post, which has a handy running transcript next to the video.
2012 Election Central has a schedule of all 2012 debates here.
[Podcast] “Red State Blue State.” (This American Life Episode 478, 11/01/2012) – This episode covers how the current hyperpolarized political climate in the US affects families and friends who find themselves in opposite political camps.
[Podcast] “Das Streben nach Glück – Anspruch und Wirklichkeit: Amerika vor der Wahl.” (Deutschlandradio Kultur Lesart, 28.10.2012) – Die Diskussionsrunde nimmt Bezug auf Mark Twains kürzlich nach hundert Jahren der Geheimhaltung veröffentlichten “Geheimen Biographie” sowie David Remnicks Obama-Biographie “Die Brücke – Barack Obama und die Vollendung der schwarzen Bürgerrechtsbewegung”, im Original “The Bridge – The Life and Rise of Barack Obama” (2010).
[Video/Podcast] “Brennpunkt USA – Eine intellektuelle Spurensuche.” (Schweizer Fernsehen, Sternstunde Philosophie, 24.10.2012) – In der philosophischen Sendung des Schweizer Fernsehens interviewt Barbara Blasch amerikanische Intellektuelle wie Noam Chomsky, Katja Vogt und Michael Walzer zur Lage der Nation kurz vor der Präsidentschaftswahl 2012. Auch als Audioversion im Podcast-Feed der Sendung.
Tonight (October 16, 2012), President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney will have their second debate, this time at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. In their last debate, Romney came across better prepared and ‘won’ on style, not necessarily on substance. The big question concerning this debate is therefore: Can Obama be a match to Romney this time as a performer?
You can watch the debate here:
Here is the debate, courtesy of the YouTube Politics channel:
If you are short on time, here is the debate in 100 seconds, courtesy of Talking Points Memo:
The YouTube election hub has a live stream of the debates here.
You can also watch the complete second Obama-Romney debate at the New York Times, which has a nifty running transcript next to the video.
You can also watch the complete second Obama-Romney debate at the Washington Post, which has a nifty running transcript next to the video.
2012 Election Central has a schedule of all upcoming debates here.
“Das Streben nach Glück – Anspruch und Wirklichkeit: Amerika vor der Wahl.” (Deutschlandradio Kultur, 28.10.2012) – Die Diskussionsrunde nimmt Bezug auf Mark Twains kürzlich nach hundert Jahren der Geheimhaltung veröffentlichten “Geheimen Biographie” sowie David Remnicks Obama-Biographie “Die Brücke – Barack Obama und die Vollendung der schwarzen Bürgerrechtsbewegung”, im Original “The Bridge – The Life and Rise of Barack Obama” (2010).
In the press landscape, the Biden-Ryan debate last week (October 11, 2012) was for the most part counted as a strong comeback for the Obama campaign, following the president’s lackluster performance against Mitt Romney the week before (October 3, 2012). Biden pointed out the glaring factual flaws of his opponents arguments. You can find some links detailing these in my last post here. So what is left for the Romney campaign between now and the second presidential debate tonight in Hempstead, New York (October 16, 2012)? For one thing, it is damage control. In an attempt at portraying himself as a compassionate conservative, as opposed to the long-time follower of Ayn Rand that he is, Paul Ryan went to a soup kitchen in northeast Ohio for a photo op showing him and his family cleaning some dishes. That did not go so well, as the artificiality of the whole maneuver was quite apparent:
The second televised debate of the 2012 presidential elections is scheduled for tonight (Thursday, 11 October, 2012), featuring Vice President Joe Biden and challenger Paul Ryan. After the last debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney, which a majority of commentators from all sides saw as a victory (at least on style) for Romney, it is going to be quite interesting to see, in my opinion, what debate strategy the Obama camp will choose this time around.
“Das Streben nach Glück – Anspruch und Wirklichkeit: Amerika vor der Wahl.” (Deutschlandradio Kultur, 28.10.2012) – Die Diskussionsrunde nimmt Bezug auf Mark Twains kürzlich nach hundert Jahren der Geheimhaltung veröffentlichten “Geheimen Biographie” sowie David Remnicks Obama-Biographie “Die Brücke – Barack Obama und die Vollendung der schwarzen Bürgerrechtsbewegung”, im Original “The Bridge – The Life and Rise of Barack Obama” (2010).
“The Lying Precedent.” (New York Times Editorial Page, 10/10/2012) – Not particularly about fact-checking per se, but a compilation of video clips, including ads from the Obama campaign, illustrating how Mitt Romney changes his political positions opportunistically throughout the campaign, from “severely conservative” to “moderate.”
“Das Streben nach Glück – Anspruch und Wirklichkeit: Amerika vor der Wahl.” (Deutschlandradio Kultur, 28.10.2012) – Die Diskussionsrunde nimmt Bezug auf Mark Twains kürzlich nach hundert Jahren der Geheimhaltung veröffentlichten “Geheimen Biographie” sowie David Remnicks Obama-Biographie “Die Brücke – Barack Obama und die Vollendung der schwarzen Bürgerrechtsbewegung”, im Original “The Bridge – The Life and Rise of Barack Obama” (2010).
With the 2012 Republican and Democratic party conventions behind a few weeks, and still some time to go until the actual presidential elections in November, let’s recapture what happened in the meantime.
After the Democratic National Convention, President Obama’s approval numbers increased slightly, a phenomenon known as the ‘convention bounce’ by pollsters.
Mitt Romney did not reap a convention bounce of that magnitude after the Republican National Convention.
How does the electoral map look after the conventions? Among the important swing states, Virginia and Ohio have become slightly more favorable to Democrats. That means 31 more electoral votes for President Obama.
At the same time, in important swing states like Florida or Ohio, a battle is fought over voter registration, with Republicans framing the issue as preventing voter fraud, while Democrats see it as an attempt at disenfranchising minority voters.
As opposed to the situation in Germany, where there is a mandatory national ID (Personalausweis), which is used for identifying at the polling place, in the American system there is no such mandatory document. Citizens could so far identify with a host of other documents, such as driver’s licenses. Also, German voters do not have to register as supporter of a particular party prior to voting. Instead, they walk into the polling station, identify, and then cast their vote—nobody knows for whom. Thus, in the US, there is an incentive for parties to register as many voters for their side, and potentially to disenfranchise the other side’s supporters.
Here are developments in the Romney campaign, including amusing/worrying bloopers:
During a TV interview with ABC in mid-September, Romney estimated that a household income of $250,000 should be considered a “middle income,” one that would benefit from tax cuts, should he be elected president. In sharp contrast to Romney, the Census Bureau lists as a median income household those in the range of $50,000.
Still, as Gallup reports, one third of lowest income voters support Romney (09/18/2012).
On September 18, a secret recording of Romney at a fundraiser was leaked to Mother Jones magazine, in which Romney characterized 47% of Americans, which he believes are all Obama supporters, as “dependent on the government” and that his job was “not to worry about those people.” The day the recording was released, the Romney campaign put together an emergency press conference at 10:30 pm.
When the US Ambassador to Lybia and several embassy staff were killed in an attack by radical Islamists after an anti-Islam video went viral, Romney used the occasion to blame President Obama.
At a press conference, while discussing alternative energy sources, Romney praised Adolf Hitler’s idea of using liquified coal as a fuel source. This, of course, does not imply that Romney endorses any other of Hitler’s ideas, but might still be a somewhat unfortunate political move.
On September 19, while giving an interview to Spanish-language TV network Univision, Romney appeared to have tanned in order to appeal to Hispanic voters. Also, a Univision anchor stated that the Romney campaign demanded a favorable audience for the occasion.
On September 27, Mother Jones magazine published an old video of Mitt Romney as CEO of Bain Capital. In this flashback to the 1980s, Romney explains how Bain Capital “harvests” companies for profit.
On September 23, Obama claimed in a TV interview that “Over the last four years, the deficit has gone up, but 90 percent of that is as a consequence of” President George W. Bush’s policies and the recession.” Fact-checking website PolitiFact rates this as ‘false.’
Last week, the RNC finished its party convention in Tampa, Florida. Now it is the Democrats’ turn to present themselves to American voters, nominate their presidential candidate (same as the old), and convince them of their agenda. I will update this post as the convention develops.
[Podcast] Common Sense with Dan Carlin #236 – “Trapped by the Inflexible Mind” (9/6/2012)—”Jobs are the main subject of both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, but Dan explains why both parties refuse to discuss the real reason good jobs are in such scarce supply.”
The Republican National Committee just officially nominated Mitt Romney as the Republican presidential candidate. But besides Romney and Paul Ryan, a variety of conservative speakers were trying to get their message across. Here is a selection of speeches, including the big one by Romney. I also collected some commentary and fact-checks of Romney’s and Ryan’s speeches.
Party platforms outline how a political party sees itself at a certain moment in time. They are a document of what the party in question wants to stand for. In the US, political parties publish their platforms every four years prior to the presidential election.
language dropped that says Jerusalem is the capital of Israel (because Palestinians also claim it as future capital)UPDATE (9/5/2012): Democrats put back in the notion that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and a reference to God, after three (!) rounds of not-so-clear voice votes. Watch it here:http://youtu.be/bjdj6K3yoR8
Over at the American Presidency Project, you may read the 2012 party platforms and earlier documents. Here is the 2008 GOP platform, and here is the 2008 Democratic platform. And even though elections mostly come down to a contest between Democrats and Republicans, there are third parties in the US, and they do have platforms, too.
Read the 2012 platforms of the Green Party here, Constitution Party here, and of the Libertarian Party here.
While observers are waiting for Mitt Romney’s big acceptance speech at the GOP convention, here is a flashback to April of this year, when Romney won the Republican primaries:
UPDATE: You can see Romney’s acceptance speech and more on the RNC convention in this blog post.
Fourty-seven years ago, on August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, which strengthened the rights of African Americans to cast their ballot—after highly-visible violent crackdowns on peaceful civil rights activists in Alabama and immense pressure in their aftermath.1 Even though the Fifteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, passed in 1870 as part of the Reconstruction Amendments shortly after the American Civil War, had on paper secured African Americans’ right to vote, the following century was marked by disenfranchisement through both legal tactics, such as literacy tests, but also mob violence, especially in the US South. In recent times, a push for stricter voter identification laws in some places has reignited the debate about voting rights.
Here is an excerpt of Johnson’s speech before Congress on the matter of voting rights in 1965:
Here is the full speech and its transcript at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.
Over at Crash Course World History (Episode #28), the hyperactive John Green presents a humorous look at the American Revolution, including a Monty Phython-esque cut-out Ben Franklin arguing with King George over taxation and representation, all in colorful animation. The most interesting serious point, in my opinion: the Founding fathers made sure that their revolution would not develop like the French Revolution, i.e. become radically democratic.