Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Jeff Greenfield points out something rather remarkable:
... the [Clarence] Thomas nomination was the last time a President of one party offered up a nomination to a Senate controlled by the other party.
That means it's been 23 years since a Senate controlled by one party approved a Supreme Court nominee from the other party's president. (Bill Clinton and George W. Bush seated two justices each before their respective parties lost Congress, and Barack Obama seated two early in his term as well, when Democrats had a larger majority than they do now.)

Is it even possible in the current climate for a Senate to approve a High Court justice across party lines? Or, more specifically, is it possible for a Republican-controlled Senate to approve a Democratic president's pick? Could that even happen in a Democratic Senate in which Republicans have access to the filibuster?

(As Greenfield notes, Republicans can't filibuster lower court nominees anymore, thanks to Harry Reid's filibuster reform, but the filibuster is still available for Supreme Court picks.)

Greenfield notes all this in order to point out that it would have been difficult -- probably impossible -- for President Obama to replace Ruth Bader Ginsberg even now, if she'd chosen to retire early, and it will almost certainly be impossible after this year's midterms, even if Democrats continue to hold a small majority in Senate:
Now ask yourself a question about today's Senate: How many of the 45 Republicans now in the Senate would break with their party and vote to end a filibuster of an Obama Supreme Court appointment? How many would risk a Tea Party primary opponent, or a talk radio onslaught, and step away from a fight to stop Obama from putting a pro-choice, "living Constitution" Justice on the Court for the next generation?

And if that meant leaving the Court with only eight justices -- or seven, should a second vacancy develop -- the Republican minority would be more than happy to live with that. There's nothing that requires the Congress to fill all nine positions on the Court.... Given the zeal with which the Republican base argues that Obama is a lawless, Constitution-shredding chief executive, it is an easy step to argue that we should wait until a new chief executive is chosen in 2016.

If this analysis is correct, then what happens in November almost doesn't matter. Yes, a Republican Senate takeover would give the GOP control of the Judiciary Committee, which means that all federal judicial nominations might die a slow but certain death. But even if the Democrats hold the Senate -- even if, by some hard-to-imagine turns of events they kept their 55-seat majority -- the likeliest outcome of any Supreme Court nomination is a filibuster and a vacancy or two that will endure until the country chooses a new President.
I assume the gap will go beyond that, unless Democrats hold the Senate in 2014 and/or 2016 and the leadership eliminates the filibuster for High Court picks as well. Republicans are going to hate President Hillary Clinton as much as they hate President Obama. They're going to consider her just as radically socialist, just as lawless, just as threatening to Freedom and the American Way Of Life. They'll block her picks -- unless she capitulates and chooses a right-winger or right-centrist. (Would she do that? Would Obama?)

I've said this a lot on this blog: I think there's a fairly strong possibility that a Democratic presidential win in 2016 could mean an eight-, seven-, or even six-member Supreme Court by the end of that president's term. It's going to get uglier. And America is still in denial about the extent of Republican extremism.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Maybe I'm overly pessimistic about Obamacare's fate, but Ezra Klein believes the Supreme Court simply wouldn't use the Halbig case to gut the law, and his argument strikes me as exceedingly naive:
For Halbig to unwind Obamacare the Supreme Court would ultimately have to rule in the plaintiff's favor. And they're not going to do that. By the time SCOTUS even could rule on Halbig the law will have been in place for years. The Court simply isn't going to rip insurance from tens of millions of people due to an uncharitable interpretation of congressional grammar.

For five unelected, Republican-appointed judges to cause that much disruption and pain would put the Court at the center of national politics in 2015 and beyond. It would be a disaster for the institution. Imagine when the first articles come out recounting the story of someone who lost their insurance due to the SCOTUS ruling and then died because they couldn't afford their diabetes or cancer treatment. Imagine when every single Democrat who had any hand at all in authoring the law says the Court is completely wrong about what the law meant. Imagine when every single Democrat runs against the Court.
But Republican governors, especially from the tea party class of 2010, have been harming large numbers of people quite openly -- depriving unionized workers of collective bargaining rights, curtailing voting rights, dismantling democratically elected local governments in Michigan, curbing reproductive rights ... and, apart from Pennsylvania's Tom Corbett, they all have a shot at reelection. Voters who aren't specifically targeted by these governors sure don't seem to be displaying much empathy for those who are.

A lot of the people harmed by a Supreme Court evisceration of Obamacare will be Democratic voters who wouldn't have voted GOP anyway. Others will be the same people who were subjects of the early Obamacare scare stories -- people who had pre-Obamacare insurance and didn't have their policies renewed. If they replaced those old policies with subsidized Obamacare policies and now can't afford those policies, who are they going to blame, over and over and over again in the right-wing media? They're going to blame Obama, accusing him of tyrannically taking away their old policies in the first place and thus being the guy who left them uninsured.

Maybe the Court's Republicans are going to game this out and conclude that a ruling against the law will be too much for the GOP and conservative movement to handle. But I wouldn't bet the rent money on that.

Well, this was completely predictable:
A federal appeals court dealt a huge blow to Obamacare on Tuesday, banning the federal exchange from providing subsidies to residents of the 36 states it serves.

A divided three-judge panel on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the text of the Affordable Care Act restricts the provision of premium tax credits to state-run exchanges. The two Republican appointees on the panel ruled against Obamacare while the one Democratic appointee ruled for the law....
It's likely that this will be reversed on appeal, but don't be too relieved when that happens:
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the Obama administration will "ask for a ruling from the full DC Circuit" which could potentially reverse the result. He stressed that while the case is pending on appeal, the federal exchange will continue to provide subsidies.

The appeal to the full bench, an en banc vote, would be cast by the three judges who heard the case as well as 10 other judges on the active bench, according to the DC Circuit's rules. Such a vote may be friendlier to Obamacare as it would feature 8 Democratic appointees and 5 Republican appointees. Four of the judges on the court were appointed by President Barack Obama, three of them after Senate Democrats eliminated the 60-vote threshold for most nominations in November to overcome Republican obstruction.
But the case is going to the Supreme Court, and it's only a question of when the Court will overturn it, not whether. The case today turned on the IRS's interpretation that contradictory wording in different parts of the law should be resolved in favor of providing insurance subsidies in states that use the federal exchange as well as in states with their own exchanges. Kevin Drum heard from a lawyer friend who explains what the High Court is likely to make of that:
It's long been a fundamental principle in administrative law that an agency's interpretation of a federal statute that they are charged with enforcing is entitled to judicial deference, unless such deference is unreasonable. Conservatives would prefer that courts not defer to the government because #biggovernment. Thus, they want to weaken the deference standard and Halbig gives them basically a two-fer. Or a three-fer since the agency interpreting the statute is the IRS: Take out Obamacare, knock back the deference standard, and punch the IRS.
So insurance subsidies in states that don't have their own exchanges are doomed; the only question is when the Supremes will say that.

My first thought was that they'll wait until 2017 to do it, so their decision won't arouse liberal and moderate anger at Republicans just before the 2016 presidential election.

But I bet they won't wait that long, because voters don't like Obamacare enough to cast a presidential vote against its enemies. I bet the Supremes will rule sometime in 2016, in order to create chaos for Obamacare just as the election approaches, because they'll assume that Democrats will be blamed for that chaos. At that point, citizens in the majority of states will have their subsidies taken away (the current ruling doesn't do that, pending appeal). When the subsidies are gone, premiums will skyrocket -- and I expect the Court to say that the rest of the law must remain in effect as is unless Congress and the president agree to repeal it. That means that if the president tries to relieve citizens of the mandate to buy health care because he knows they now can't afford unsubsidized policies -- via, say, an executive order -- he'll be told that that's a tyrannical abuse of power and be slapped down by the courts.

Democrats, of course, will want to try to suspend the mandate in states without subsidies -- but Republicans in Congress won't go for that. They'll say that if Democrats want to relieve the burden on these citizens, they'll have to go along with a repeal of the entire health care law.

And that's what will happen. The only question is whether the repeal law will be signed by President Obama, President Hillary Clinton, or President Rick Perry.

The humiliation of that repeal process really will the Schoolyard Bully Party grinding the 98-Pound Weakling Party's face in the dirt and ordering it to beg for mercy. But that's the nature of our politics now, isn't it?


Kevin Drum responds to Thomas Frank's assertion that Barack Obama made it his mission as president to saving the economic elite, an effort that prevented transformative progressive change:
Back in 2009, was Obama really the only thing that stood between bankers and the howling mob? Don't be silly. Americans were barely even upset, let alone ready for revolution. Those pathetic demonstrations outside the headquarters of AIG were about a hundredth the size that even a half-ass political organization can muster for a routine anti-abortion rally. After a few days the AIG protestors got bored and went home without so much as throwing a few bottles at cops. Even the Greeks managed that much.

Why were Americans so obviously not enraged? Because -- duh -- the hated neoliberal system worked. We didn't have a second Great Depression. The Fed intervened, the banking system was saved, and a stimulus bill was passed. Did bankers get treated too well? Oh yes indeed. Was the stimulus too small? You bet. Nevertheless, was America saved from an epic collapse? It sure was. Instead of a massive meltdown, we got a really bad recession and a weak recovery, and even that was cushioned by a safety net that, although inadequate, was more than enough to keep the pitchforks off the streets.
Is that what happened? Not exactly. The American people were screwed by the financial meltdown and its aftermath. Americans were upset -- and continue to be upset. But the people who wanted our policies to move in a leftward direction, and who hoped to see more bankers punished, thought they'd already done the work that needed to be done by electing Barack Obama and a Democratic Congress. They didn't understand that they'd need to keep fighting, against both the centrist impulses of prominent Democrats and an organized, well-funded right.

The rank-and-file right avoided a second Great Recession, too, but the right was out in the street with pitchforks anyway. The grabbing of pitchforks isn't strictly a function of the how bad things are in the country. People grab pitchforks because rabble-rousers successfully rouse them. We didn't have any such rabble-rousers. We'd elected Obama. That's all we thought we needed to do.

Drum goes on to acknowledge this; he writes the following, and I don't know if he realizes that he's contradicting the passage I've already quoted:
All of us who do what Thomas Frank does -- what I do -- have failed. Our goal was to persuade the public to move in a liberal direction, and that didn't happen. In the end, we didn't persuade much of anyone. It's natural to want to avoid facing that humiliating truth, and equally natural to look for someone else to blame instead. That's human nature. So fine. Blame Obama if it makes you feel better. That's what we elect presidents for: to take the blame.

But he only deserves his share. The rest of us, who were unable to take advantage of an epic financial collapse to get the public firmly in favor of pitchforks and universal health care, deserve most of it. The mirror doesn't lie.
It isn't just the pundits who are to blame, of course. No activist leaders emerged -- even from Occupy Wall Street, which was pathologically averse to the idea of leadership. And, frankly, there was no money in it -- investing in the tea party seemed shrewd to certain right-wing billionaires (for good reason), and other forms of right-wing demagoguery (e.g., Wayne LaPierre's) fill organizational coffers, but people with money don't have a selfish reason to bankroll progressive change.

We could have taken the streets if we'd really been motivated to do so, but we thought we didn't need to -- and we're not goaded to do so the way right-wingers were in 2009 and 2010.

And Thomas Frank embodies the problem himself -- he thinks Barack Obama should have been able to move the country significantly to the left all by himself. It's that sort of thinking that always lulls us. Starting on Election Night 2008, we should have realized that a new war was just beginning.

(Drum link via Reality Chex.)

Monday, July 21, 2014


At Salon, Thomas Frank, imagining Barack Obama's presidential library denounces the president for being (in Frank's words) "ineffective and gutless." Frank seems to regard Obama's right wing opposition as a paper tiger that easily could have been vanquished, and he sees Obama's failure to do so as proof that Obama never wanted to accomplish much of anything except to help fat cats get fatter:
Why, the visitors to his library will wonder, did the president do so little about rising inequality, the subject on which he gave so many rousing speeches? Why did he do nothing, or next to nothing, about the crazy high price of a college education, the Great Good Thing that he has said, time and again, determines our personal as well as national success? Why didn't he propose a proper healthcare program instead of the confusing jumble we got? Why not a proper stimulus package? Why didn’t he break up the banks? Or the agribusiness giants, for that matter?

Well, duh, his museum will answer: he couldn't do any of those things because of the crazy right-wingers running wild in the land. He couldn't reason with them -- their brains don’t work like ours! He couldn’t defeat them at the polls -- they'd gerrymandered so many states that they couldn't be dislodged! What can a high-minded man of principle do when confronted with such a vast span of bigotry and close-mindedness? The answer toward which the Obama museum will steer the visitor is: Nothing.

In point of fact, there were plenty of things Obama’s Democrats could have done that might have put the right out of business once and for all....
And on and on in this vein. Ed Kilgore responds:
Put side, for the moment, the bizarre and ahistorical assertion that it's possible to "put the right out of business once and for all." Let's look at the claim Obama and his defenders had to inflate the power of the opposition ... to excuse the failure to vanquish it and advance a far more progressive agenda than was actually offered.

There is this institution called the U.S. Senate. Even after two big Democratic cycles in 2006 and 2008, Republicans held 40 seats, enough given absolute unity and a single Democratic defection to thwart anything the majority party attempted, under rules ripe for abuse that neither Barack Obama nor Harry Reid invented or imagined. Just a year after Obama took office, Republicans won a special Senate election and obtained the power to block absolutely any Democratic measure.
Even that understates what Obama was up against. That implies that he had a 60-vote majority in the Senate for a year. He didn't -- he had one for six months.

Recall that Al Franken was elected to the Senate in 2008 by a margin of just over 300 votes; he was declared the winner after a battle that went on for eight months and, of course, included unsubstantiated Republican allegations of Democratic voter fraud. The result was that Franken wasn't sworn in until July 7, 2009 -- six months after the rest of the Senate's freshman class was sworn in.

Democrats had 60 votes for exactly 51 days because Senator Ted Kennedy died on August 26. His replacement, Paul Kirk was sworn in on September 25 and held the seat until February 4, 2010, when Republican Scott Brown officially took his place.

Total number of days with 60 votes: 184.

(And not even 184 consecutive days -- there was a month's gap in there.)

And this was a Democratic Party that included Blue Dogs such as Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson, whereas the GOP imposed rigid party discipline. Frank sneeringly declares that at the Obama library "the terrifying Right-Wing Other will be cast in bronze at twice life-size, and made the excuse for the Administration's every last failure of nerve, imagination and foresight" -- but no major party has acted like this in America in living memory, with no negative consequences except perhaps an inability to win future presidential elections.

The power of organized right-wing opposition is real; Obama has made plenty of mistakes, but his failure to roll over these guys is not his fault.

Thank you, Crank, Tom, and Yastreblyansky, for some great posts while I was gone. And now ... well this, from The Hill, is just silly:
The GOP can't live with Hillary Clinton running for president, but they can't live without her either.

Most Republicans see the former secretary of State as a formidable challenger, albeit a flawed one. Her sheer presence does perhaps more to excite the GOP base than any other Democratic Party figure alive today, aside from President Obama.

It's the Clinton paradox: The candidate they're most worried about beating is also the candidate they may most want to run against in 2016 to both draw out their voters and open up donors' pocketbooks....
Well, maybe now that's true, but it won't be if circumstances change -- the smear machine will fire up just as much hate and anger against Biden or Warren or Sanders or O'Malley or, hell, Amy Klobuchar or Kirsten Gillibrand, or whoever else you might see as a possible Democratic nominee, if Hillary falters or doesn't run. Elizabeth Warren as "Fauxcohontas"? Who saw that coming in 2012? That's how it's done. The opposition research never stops and the noise machine never goes silent.

To Republicans at all times, the most evil person imaginable is whatever Democrat currently has access to the most power. It was Bill Clinton in the 1990s and John Kerry in 2004 (and Howard Dean from a couple of months before that). It was Nancy Pelosi in 2007; it's Barack Obama now, and it'll be whoever emerges as the Democratic front-runner two years from now, even if it's someone who's currently a relative unknown. And if all elected Democrats are even more thoroughly cowed than usual, as they were in 2002 and 2003, it'll be the Dixie Chicks or Barbra Streisand or Sean Penn. Republicans are always primed to hate one or more enemies. They just need Fox and talk radio to tell them which people to hate and why.

So don't take this seriously. The base will be at maximum motivation no matter who tops the Democratic ticket.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

What big, really really big government spending did to the American economy.

Sorry for the posting error, below. It's a computer glitch that I don't have access to fix. (Corrected now. --Steve M.) Here's what I meant to Post:

We’re approaching the 45th anniversary of Americans to be the first people to walk on the moon. The date is July 24. This seems like the perfect time to send a reminder to the nincompoops who want to slash government spending and leave economic development to the so-called “free market.” 

Here’s a partial –very partial – list of some of the profitable products they would have killed if they killed one of the biggest government spending programs in history.
  • Freeze dried food
  • Lightweight film space blankets
  • Cochlear implants
  • The dust buster you use to clean the crap off your car upholstery
  • Infrared ear thermometers – so much easier than the Tea Party temperature taking method of shoving a narrow tube of mercury-filled glass up your butt
  • New kinds of water purification systems.  (Your dentist may be using one to keep from squirting polluted gunk under your gums
  • Collision avoidance systems, soon to be applied to saving your butt when you fall asleep at the wheel
  • Better prosthetic limbs, one of the reason so many of our wondered war vets can walk, or even run, rather than hobble or spend their lives tethered to a wheel chair
  • Automatic insulin pumps, so that fat (and fat-headed) Tea Partiers can complain the gubmint has no business regulating what people put in our food while enjoying the benefits of Obamacare or Medicare

As I said, this was a very partial list.There are at least 1650 other space program spinoffs in the fields of computer technology, environment and agriculture, health and medicine, public safety, transportation, recreation, and industrial productivity. For more of these fascinating spinoffs of space science, go here: 

The cost of the space program? Adjusted for inflation, it came to $851,000,000,000, according to one sourceq. It was money well spent because all the spinoffs not only made life better for Americans, they made jobs, by the hundreds of thousands and pretty much paid for themselves by growing and enriching the economy over time.

It’s time to put the government back in business again, before the tax-cutting, job-killing, progress-killing, technology-hating right wingers do more damage than that they already have turning the United States of America into a banana republic. 

P.S. My pal Garth Hallberg has taken the paranoid fantasies of the right wing – the ones that insist the whole moon shot happened in a TV studio and is part of a left wing plot to uh, you know, kill freedom – and had some fun with it in a delightful book called, “Boon Juster Or The Reason For Everything.” Take it to the beach with you while there’s still some summer left. And when you read it please remember that the numbskulls actually believe this stuff.

Cross-posted at The New York Crank

Six Californias, 40 Million Lab Rats, One Oblivious Narcissist

So bitcoin-addled third-generation venture capitalist Tim Draper might have enough signatures to put his Six Californias initiative on the November 2016 ballot. He claims they do, anyway; I'll believe it when and if the signatures are verified. (There are allegations of petition fraud against the company that collected signatures--a company with a long and sleazy history of decptive practices.)

A perfect storm of arrogance, narcissism, stupidity, self-interest, and more arrogance (San Francisco a part of "Silicon Valley"? Really?), it's a spectacularly bad idea that fails even on its own terms: initially touted as addressing the inequality of Wyoming having as many senators as California, it would create a situation where Jefferson (pop.: 950,000) has as many senators as West California (pop: 11 million).

And then there are, unsurprisingly, a few complications that Draper doesn't appear to have contemplated:
Water agreements, such as the Hetch Hetchy system that serves San Francisco and the Peninsula, would now be between separate states, as would the California State Water Project, which transports water south.

Prisons are not always in the areas where their inmates come from. About 37 percent of the state's prisoners, for example, were convicted in what would be West California, which would include Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties - but those counties have only 7 percent of the state's prison beds.

Fire stations, state parks, office buildings and even state vehicles and other equipment are all spread unevenly across California and would have to be considered in any split of the state.

There's no guarantee this can happen in a hurry. West Virginia seceded from Virginia in 1861, but it wasn't until 1915 that the dispute over who owed what to whom was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In other words, we would still be untangling things when the seventh generation of venture-capitalist Drapers is unleashing its sense of entitlement on the world earning its way through pluck, hard work, and enormous talent.

But of course Draper has a plan to deal with these things, right?
But when pressed on just how a plan that creates six smaller states with huge disparities in population, resources and income would be good for all Californians, Draper was less forthcoming.

Questions, for example, about who would run the labyrinthine network that delivers water to arid regions with millions of people, how California's multibillion-dollar pension obligations would be paid, and how the University of California and state college systems would be divided can all be worked out, Draper said. [emphasis added]
Right. He's been working on this for months and hasn't given any thought at all to how it would work out in practice.

The whole thing is an object lesson in the poverty of libertarianism. Libertarians think governing is easy. They think it's easy because they don't really care about the details, and they don't really care about the details because they think it's easy. (And of course they think it's easy because at heart they're fundamentally anti-democratic, fetishizing the dictatorial rule of all-powerful CEOs as their model for governance.)

And because they think governing is easy, because they don't care about the details, whenever by some hideous mischance one of them is given a position of responsibility, they invariably prove spectacularly inept at governing.

The Six Californias plan isn't going anywhere; the one poll taken so far shows 59% of Californians opposed. Nobody has polled Congress (which would have to approve the split), but preliminary estimates suggest upwards of 100% opposition among non-California Senators.

But the inconsequential, sideshow nature of the thing doesn't mean it should be forgotten. We should hold it up as a perpetual reminder of the kind of aggressive stupidity that that libertarians come up with as 'policy'.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Israel's Pickle

Rafah border crossing. Photo by Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh, Jerusalem Post.
This story, from the Jerusalem Post, with the above illustration, is grotesquely upsetting and yet in a very dark way unspeakably funny:
Terrorists in Gaza attempted to attack IDF soldiers with an explosives-laden donkey on Friday, the military said. 

IDF forces operating in the Rafah area near the Gaza-Egypt border located the donkey suspiciously approaching their position and were forced to open fire at it, causing the explosives to detonate. 

No injuries were sustained to the soldiers. 

The military expressed its regret over the "shocking" incident, and condemned terrorists in Gaza for strapping bombastic devices to innocent animals as a means of attacking Israeli forces. 

"This cruel incident is the most recent attempt by Gaza terror organizations to make such an abominable use of animals as explosives couriers," the IDF said on its website. 
It's partly because of the artlessly bad military-style writing, the way the soldiers "located" the suicide donkey rather than just seeing it, and the way it "suspiciously approached" them instead of ambling, donkey fashion, in their direction, that the picture is so vivid and movie-like: I see the IDF kids sweating and tensing, clutching their Uzis, and the donkey wholly unconcerned, but not turning back, and the kids maybe closing their eyes as they blow it away. And the hilarious misuse of "bombastic".

I'm even a little suspicious myself: How did the terrorists train a donkey to sidle up to the troops? What exactly was the military expressing "regret" over? Are you sure that donkey was armed?

But the other thing is how this story encapsulates what's wrong with the Occupation, where, after what is it, 47 years, young soldiers have to be terrified of an unescorted enemy donkey. They don't even know where they are.

They also blew up the El-Wafa Rehabilitation Hospital for long-term injuries and disabilities the other day, though they knew nobody inside was armed and couldn't explain why they had done it.  Annie Robbins at Mondoweiss was arguing, convincingly to my way of thinking, that that's the reason for the invasion, because they don't know, in spite of the famously fearsome capacities of Mossad, where they're supposed to be bombing:
Israel is likely in a pickle. Its stated goal for this invasion is to stop the missile fire (and dismantle Hamas’s control of the strip). To do that it must locate Hamas’ weapons arsenal and thus far, it appears it is clueless as to where they are. Israel doesn’t know the extent of weaponry Hamas has amassed, either in quality or quantity. All the blowing up of civilian infrastructure, including homes and hospitals, won’t end the rocket fire because it’s extremely unlikely any central stash of weaponry is stored in homes, schools, hospitals or mosques. The weapons are probably underground which is why it requires a ground invasion to find them. This is what “deal with the tunnels” means when Obama says  “the current military ground operations are designed to deal with the tunnels”.
They've managed to become as ignorant of the Occupied Territories as the Blackwater goons were of Iraq. What do they think they're accomplishing? Israel has a "right to defend itself", we are constantly told. Does it have a right to kill hundreds of people, and animals, in a pure panic attack? Shouldn't it try getting some therapy instead?

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Friday, July 18, 2014

I'm out of here for the weekend. There should be some guest posts here, however, so stop by. See you Monday....

David Remnick recently spoke to Gleb Pavlovsky, a onetime Soviet dissident who was later rehabilitated and became a spin doctor for Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin. On The New Yorker's website, Remnick recounts their conversation, which focused on Putin's rabble-rousing and its consequences. As you read this excerpt, think about America's right-wing rabble-rousers -- they're not the propaganda wing of a dictatorship, but, in many ways, the messages they send resemble what's transmitted in the Putin-controlled media.
When I met Pavlovsky in Moscow a couple of weeks ago, he seemed especially concerned about the lack of strategic thinking by Putin, and about the consequences of the feverish anti-Ukrainian, anti-American, and generally xenophobic programming on state television, from which nearly all Russians derive their news and their sense of what is going on in the world....

Since returning to the Presidency, Pavlovsky said, Putin has "created an artificial situation in which a 'pathological minority' -- the protesters on Bolotnaya Square [two years ago], then Pussy Riot, then the liberal 'pedophiles' -- is held up in contrast to a 'healthy majority.' Every time this happens, his ratings go up." The nightly television broadcasts from Ukraine, so full of wild exaggeration about Ukrainian "fascists" and mass carnage, are a Kremlin-produced "spectacle," he said, expertly crafted by the heads of the main state networks.

"Now this has become a problem for Putin, because this system cannot be wholly managed," Pavlovsky said. The news programs have "overheated" public opinion and the collective political imagination.

"How can Putin really manage this?" Pavlovsky went on. "You'd need to be an amazing conductor. Stalin was an amazing conductor in this way. Putin can't quite pull off this trick. The audience is warmed up and ready to go; it is wound up and waiting for more and more conflict. You can't just say, 'Calm down.' It's a dangerous moment. Today, forty per cent of Russia wants real war with Ukraine. Putin himself doesn't want war with Ukraine. But people are responding to this media machine. Putin needs to lower the temperature."
Think of Fox News, talk radio, the Alex Jones media empire, or the speeches of Wayne LaPierre. Does what Pavlovsky describes sound familiar? Propaganda declaring that a "healthy majority" is being oppressed by a "pathological minority"? (In America, perhaps the specific number is 47%.) The focus on one set of Enemies of the People after another?

There are huge differences between Russia and America, of course. We don't have a one-party Putinite government. We have free speech, so this kind of propaganda genuinely competes with other messages. Circumstances would have to change dramatically for America to become like Putin's Russia.

However, in a few pockets of angry red America, where the right really does seem to dominate the transmission of news, you get hints of what Putin has created. You get the armed standoff at the Bundy ranch. You get mobs blocking buses full of immigrant mothers and children in Murrieta, California.

America is too ideologically diverse to be like Putin's Russia. But we seem to have a state within a state that is Putinesque -- one in which, as Remnick writes, "The news programs have 'overheated' public opinion and the collective political imagination," and the anger of the populace has become unquenchable. Here, at least, that just means those people won't coexist or compromise with the rest of us. It's better than what's going on in Russia, but it's absolutely not healthy.

Thursday, July 17, 2014


Hot Air's Noah Rothman and other conservatives (see, e.g., Fox News) are looking at President Obama's response to the shootdown of the Malaysian airliner and finding it lacking -- specifically, they think it falls short of Ronald Reagan's reaction to Russia's shootdown of a Korean passenger jet in 1983.

"Obviously, the world is watching reports of a downed passenger jet near the Russia-Ukraine border," [President Obama] said. "It looks like it may be a terrible tragedy."

The president added that he had directed his national security team to "stay in close contact" with the government in Ukraine, and his government was working to determine whether a report that 23 American citizens were on board that flight was accurate. He offered his prayers for the families of those who lost loved ones. And that was it.

38 seconds. Obama then proceeded to deliver a canned speech....
This, we're told, is in contrast with Reagan:
... 31 years ago, at a time with far less reliable technology or communications capabilities, President Ronald Reagan immediately addressed an eerily similar situation – when Soviet forces shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007 over the Kamchatka Peninsula.

On the day of the attack, calling it an "appalling and wanton misdeed," the president ordered American flags to fly at half-staff at all federal and military installations.

Three days later, Reagan delivered an address to the nation from the Oval Office....
Yes, Reagan delivered a really tough address -- you can watch it at the Rothman link -- but, as Rothman says, that was three days later. In fact, in the immediate aftermath, Reagan didn't call the shootdown an "appalling and wanton misdeed" -- if you look at the link Rothman provides, you'll see that that was a statement the White House issued, and it was read by presidential spokesman Larry Speakes.

I'm not sure -- but I would like to point out that Reagan slept through the shootdown -- and was not awakened.

That was reported in Tip O'Neill's 1987 memoir:
I'll never forget that summer day in 1983 when Flight 007, the Korean airliner, was shot down by the Soviets. I was on Cape Cod, where Secretary of State George Shultz called me at 7 in the morning. After telling me what had happened, he said he was sending down a plane to bring me to Washington for an emergency meeting at the White House.

"I'll be ready," I said. "But what does the President think about this?"

"He's still asleep," said Shultz. "He doesn't know about it yet."

"You've got to be kidding," I said. "You mean you`re calling me before you've even notified the President?"

"We'll tell him when he wakes up," said Shultz.
Larry Speakes, in his memoir, acknowledged that that was true, but said it was a cheap shot because Reagan was vacationing in California, where it was 4:00 A.M. (I guess the notion of a president taking a "3:00 A.M. phone call" didn't apply to Reagan.)

However, Reagan's personal response didn't get much more forceful in the hours after dawn broke. As Paul Slansky noted in his book on the Reagan era, The Clothes Have No Emperor,
Only after CBS shows President Reagan on horseback at his ranch as the crisis unfolds does he reluctantly return to Washington.
And that's true. Watch the clip:

CBS REPORTER DEBORAH POTTER: At the time, officials said, there were no plans for the president to cut short his vacation, and he went for his regular horseback ride on his mountaintop ranch. Aides said that anything he could do at the White House he could do there.
Potter went on to report that Reagan returned to D.C. because "officials here began to worry that, given the circumstances, it wouldn't have looked right for the president to stay on his ranch." So there's your so-called real president, right-wingers.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.)

The first three paragraphs of Joe Klein's column on immigration are actually quite moving -- he describes what he saw and heard recently at a Catholic Charities processing center for undocumented immigrants in Texas. What he writes is a good corrective to the hysteria we're getting from right-wing demagogues.
The woman from Honduras was tiny and extremely pregnant. "When are you due?" asked Sister Norma Pimentel, the director of Catholic Charities in the Rio Grande Valley. "Ya," the woman replied in Spanish: "Already" -- she was past due. She had left Honduras to save her daughter, who is 12 -- peak poaching age for the killer gangs that are wreaking havoc in that country these days. "A man came into our house and tried to kill my girl with a machete," the woman said. "I stopped him." She showed Sister Norma her right hand, which was slashed down the middle and had healed crumpled. The man also slashed her daughter’s arm, but they managed to fend him off...
But after the three opening paragraphs, Klein's column turns blindingly stupid. Emphasis added below:
Barack Obama should see the Catholic Charities mission in McAllen. He should also have a town meeting with the Tea Party nativists who are so angry and threatened by the rush of refugees -- 43,933 unaccompanied children alone since October -- who began to appear from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. His job, after all, is to rise above the rancor and, well, lead. You don't do this by making a speech to a favored audience. You do it by taking action, setting a personal example. All sorts of Protestant congregations are sending volunteers to Sacred Heart -- perhaps he could encourage a Tea Party group to do the same.
Oh, those are great ideas. Yes, let's put the president of the United States in the same room with these people:

I'm sure they'll also be more than willing to send a delegation to the Catholic Charities intake center, in a spirit of love and goodwill. Maybe the ones who like to show up at anti-immigration protests armed with AR-15s and carrying "Second American Revolution" posters will generously agree to leave the firepower at home, out of the deep wells of empathy they so obviously have.

Listen to me, Joe. I'm 55 and I grew up in Boston. You want to do the math on that? In my high school years, my fellow white citizens thought it was perfectly appropriate to throw rocks at buses full of schoolkids and engage in other forms of mob violence:

You think those teabaggers are going to go to that intake center and suddenly be gobsmacked by a feeling of shared humanity with the immigrants? You think it'll happen if the president just leads more? You're living in a dream world.


This is from a New York Times story about towns fighting to exclude young undocumented immigrants:
Some cities have raised health and security concerns. Northeast of Oyster Creek, [Texas,] League City passed a resolution opposing any shelters from opening even though the federal government had no plans to do so. The resolution claimed that "illegal aliens suffering from diseases endemic in their countries of origin are being released into our communities."

The organizations that are hired by federal officials to run some of the emergency shelters housing Central American children dispute claims that the children pose a health threat. Krista Piferrer, a spokeswoman for Baptist Child and Family Services, or B.C.F.S., which runs a shelter for Central American children at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, said there had been 133 cases of lice, 25 cases of scabies, 15 cases of chickenpox and one case of H1N1 flu out of thousands of children who have stayed at the base since May.

"The illnesses that we're seeing at these sites are not unlike what public school nurses see," said Ms. Piferrer, whose organization operates temporary and permanent shelters for the children in California and Oklahoma, as well as Texas. "We do not believe that these children present any public health concern."
So where did people get the notion that these kids are rife with dangerous communicable diseases?

It didn't just happen. To a large extent, the right is responsible for putting this idea out there.

Fox News is deeply involved, of course -- as I noted yesterday, here's a story from Fox's Todd Starnes titled "Immigration Crisis: Tuberculosis Spreading at Camps." And here's another Fox story, from last month, that warns of risks from illegal border crossings:
Since illegal immigrants who enter the U.S. are not prescreened in any way, many carry disease. The Rio Grande Valley Sector of the Border Patrol has detained 150,000 illegal immigrants so far in just this year alone. Eighty thousand children are expected to cross the southern border illegally in 2014. The Border Patrol and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have set up temporary holding centers in southern Texas and Arizona, where conditions are cramped and unsanitary. Ten to 25% of the immigrants in that area are suffering from scabies, a highly contagious intensely itchy rash caused by insect mites.

It is clear that a public health crisis on a grand scale is occurring, and that the Centers for Disease Control needs to be directly involved. When these immigrants leave the camps and get on buses and trains, they spread disease to other states.

Already, drug-resistant tuberculosis is spreading in Texas, with several counties having twice the state average number of cases. Dengue Fever, a viral illness spread by mosquitoes which causes marked bone and muscle pain and fatigue and affects over 100 million people per year, is now spreading from the illegal immigrants into Texas and Arizona as infected mosquitoes begin to breed in the areas by the camps. A vaccine for Dengue is in the works but is not yet available. If this worldwide killer ever gets a mosquito-hold here, it will be a public health disaster.
(That story is by Dr. Marc Siegel, a former liberal who used to write for The Nation before his move to the right.)

Here's a story at Britain's Daily Mail titled "Sickness Spreads Among Immigrant Children at U.S. Border Facility as Fears Grow Over Cramped Conditions." It's co-authored by David Martosko, whom the Mail hired away from Tucker Carlson's Daily Caller a while back, in the hope that Martosko would turn out Web stories with viral appeal on the U.S. right.

Oh, and here's another thread worth following. Remember the warning we got from Congressman Phil Gingrey of Georgia a couple of days ago about the risk of these kids spreading Ebola in the U.S., even though Ebola is found only in Africa, and anyone sick with Ebola couldn't possibly endure the long trek to the U.S. border? Well, I see that a couple of weeks ago this notion was being advanced by a conspiratorialist radio host named Dave Hodges. He said that he learned of the risk for Ebola (as well as other diseases) from a doctor:
On June 30, 2014, I interviewed Dr. Jane Orient, an internal medicine specialist and the Executive Director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS). Dr. Orient stated that by admitting these huge groups of children who come from countries where medical screenings are minimal and hygiene is poor, the United States is at risk for epidemics of serious diseases and viruses that the nation has not seen in years and for which we have no immunity.

The following paragraphs contain the contents and supporting documentation of my phone interview with Dr. Orient....
He quotes a report from Dr. Orient that says, among other things:
Migrants from West Africa and the Middle East, as well and Central and South America are entering through Mexico also -- from areas that have outbreaks of Ebola, Chikungunya, and Dengue fever.
Dr. Orient is an "Expert" at the Heartland Institute, a Koch-financed, ALEC-affiliated junk-science organization for which she has been a tireless Obamacare opponent. And the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, of which she's the executive director, is a free-market group that counts Rand Paul among its members.

Was this Gingrey's source? I'd love to know.

Some of this information is also coming from current and former Border Patrol officers. Chris Cabrera, a Border Patrol agent and union head in the Rio Grande Valley, told a local ABC affiliate that scabies, chicken pox, MRSA, and other diseases were being seen among the children. I don't know whether Cabrera has an ulterior motive -- but I'm deeply skeptical of anything we're told by Zack Taylor, chairman of the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers. What he told Dave Hodges strains credulity:
Taylor ... states that West African illegal immigrants are presently coming into the U.S. through Mexico. These West Africans have been apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley sector in the last few years. Some of these groups speak Spanish in order to infiltrate into the United States posing as Central American immigrants. This speaks to planning and collusion that some of these groups were taught to speak Spanish so they will "blend in" with other illegal immigrant groups.
Hodges adds:
This is another piece of evidence that the coming series of pandemics has some governmental agency fingerprints on this invasion. Smart money would say that the CIA is involved.
Zack Taylor is a go-to interviewee on the right. Here he is telling Townhall's Katie Pavlich that this crisis is
a predictable, orchestrated and contrived assault on the compassionate side of Americans by her political leaders that knowingly puts minor Illegal Alien children at risk for purely political purposes. Certainly, we are not gullible enough to believe that thousands of unaccompanied minor Central American children came to America without the encouragement, aid and assistance of the United States Government.
Here he is in 2012 telling Glenn Beck's Blaze that "A psychological warfare operation being waged against the American people using things to deflect their attention" from illegal immigration. Here's a YouTube clip of a 2012 Glenn Beck interview of Taylor headlined "Holocaust on the Border."

These are the sources of the "diseased immigrant" panic. It didn't just emerge spontaneously.


UPDATE: In comments, flipyrwhig reminds us that Lou Dobbs was scaremongering about immigrants and leprosy in 2007 -- at precisely the time when Congress was considering a bipartisan immigration reform bill -- which, of course, didn't pass.