Why Are Conservatives More Susceptible to Believing Lies?

Fox News believers

Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo. Photos by FoxNews and FoxNews.com.

 

By John Ehrenreich/ Slate/ November 9, 2017

Many conservatives have a loose relationship with facts. The right-wing denial of what most people think of as accepted reality starts with political issues: As recently as 2016, 45 percent of Republicans still believed that the Affordable Care Act included “death panels” (it doesn’t). A 2015 poll found that 54 percent of GOP primary voters believed then-President Obama to be a Muslim (…he isn’t).

Then there are the false beliefs about generally accepted science. Only 25 percent of self-proclaimed Trump voters agree that climate change is caused by human activities. Only 43 percent of Republicans overall believe that humans have evolved over time.

And then it gets really crazy. Almost 1 in 6 Trump voters, while simultaneously viewing photographs of the crowds at the 2016 inauguration of Donald Trump and at the 2012 inauguration of Barack Obama , insisted that the former were larger. Sixty-six percent of self-described “very conservative” Americans seriously believe that “Muslims are covertly implementing Sharia law in American courts.” Forty-six percent of Trump voters polled just after the 2016 election either thought that Hillary Clinton was connected to a child sex trafficking ring run out of the basement of a pizzeria in Washington, D.C., or weren’t sure if it was true.

 

If “truth” is judged on the basis of Enlightenment ideas of reason and more or less objective “evidence,” many of the substantive positions common on the right seem to border on delusional. The left is certainly not immune to credulity (most commonly about the safety of vaccines, GMO foods, and fracking), but the right seems to specialize in it. “Misinformation is currently predominantly a pathology of the right,” concluded a team of scholars from the Harvard Kennedy School and Northeastern University at a February 2017 conference. A BuzzFeed analysis found that three main hyperconservative Facebook pages were roughly twice as likely as three leading ultraliberal Facebook pages to publish fake or misleading information.

Why are conservatives so susceptible to misinformation? The right wing’s disregard for facts and reasoning is not a matter of stupidity or lack of education. College-educated Republicans are actually more likely than less-educated Republicans to have believed that Barack Obama was a Muslim and that “death panels” were part of the ACA. And for political conservatives, but not for liberals, greater knowledge of science and math is associated with a greater likelihood of dismissing what almost all scientists believe about the human causation of global warming.

 

Part of the problem is widespread suspicion of facts—any facts. Both mistrust of scientists and other “experts” and mistrust of the mass media that reports what scientists and experts believe have increased among conservatives (but not among liberals) since the early ’80s. The mistrust has in part, at least, been deliberately inculcated. The fossil fuel industry publicizes studies to confuse the climate change debate; Big Pharma hides unfavorable information on drug safety and efficacy; and many schools in conservative areas teach students that evolution is “just a theory.” The public is understandably confused about both the findings and methods of science. “Fake news” deliberately created for political or economic gain and Donald Trump’s claims that media sites that disagree with him are “fake news” add to the mistrust.

 

But, the gullibility of many on the right seems to have deeper roots even than this. That may be because at the most basic level, conservatives and liberals seem to hold different beliefs about what constitutes “truth.” Finding facts and pursuing evidence and trusting science is part of liberal ideology itself. For many conservatives, faith and intuition and trust in revealed truth appear as equally valid sources of truth.

To understand how these differences manifest and what we might do about them, it helps to understand how all humans reason and rationalize: In other words, let’s take a detour into psychology. Freud distinguished between“errors” on the one hand, “illusions” and “delusions” on the other. Errors, he argued, simply reflect lack of knowledge or poor logic; Aristotle’s belief that vermin form out of dung was an error. But illusions and delusions are based on conscious or unconscious wishes; Columbus’s belief that he had found a new route to the Indies was a delusion based on his wish that he had done so.

 

Although Freud is out of favor with many contemporary psychologists, modern cognitive psychology suggests that he was on the right track. The tenacity of many of the right’s beliefs in the face of evidence, rational arguments, and common sense suggest that these beliefs are not merely alternate interpretations of facts but are instead illusions rooted in unconscious wishes.

This is a very human thing to do. As popular writers such as Daniel Kahneman, Cass Sunstein, and Richard Thaler have pointed out, we often use shortcuts when we reason, shortcuts that enable us to make decisions quickly and with little expenditure of mental energy. But they also often lead us astray—we underestimate the risks of events that unfold slowly and whose consequences are felt only over the long term (think global warming) and overestimate the likelihood of events that unfold rapidly and have immediate consequences (think terrorist attacks).

Our reasoning is also influenced(motivated, psychologists would say) by our emotions and instincts. This manifests in all kinds of ways: We need to maintain a positive self-image, to stave off anxiety and guilt, and to preserve social relationships. We also seek to maintain consistency in our beliefs, meaning that when people simultaneously hold two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values, one or the other must go. And so we pay more attention and give more credence to information and assertions that confirm what we already believe: Liberals enthusiastically recount even the most tenuous circumstantial evidence of Trump campaign collusion with the Russians, and dyed-in-the-wool Trump supporters happily believe that the crowd really was bigger at his candidate’s inauguration.

 


 

 

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From Russia With Love

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The Billionaires Won. The Rest of Us Lost.

By Arlen Grossman

It’s not your grandfather’s America anymore.

Democracy in the United States has failed. So we shouldn’t be surprised when tax cuts favor the wealthy, and we see the rich growing richer and the poor losing ground. In addition, climate change is worsening, health care is ignored, the military keeps overextending itself, and there is inaction on gun control. And we shouldn’t expect justice to be blind. Not when the poor and people of color crowd our prisons, while the rich and powerful never see the inside of a cell (prime example: the Wall Street bankers who caused the 2008 Great Recession).

We shouldn’t be surprised at the myriad other shameful government policies that benefit the rich and powerful, and hurt the rest of us. Regressive policies are the norm and will undoubtedly get worse. Democracy is but a faded dream.

Why? Because Billionaires and Big Corporations own this country. Period. Lock, stock and bonds.

Billionaires and Big Corporations control our political system, which explains why Republicans keep winning elections even when there are more Democratic voters. They control our economic system, too, which explains why the richest 1 percent in the United States now own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent, and according to the Urban Institute, almost 40 percent of American children spend at least one year in poverty before they turn 18. It explains why the average American almost never gets what he or she wants from government.

A 2014 study by two Princeton academics, Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, concluded that “In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule—at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover … even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.”

Clearly, Oligarchs and Plutocrats are in charge of this country, with no intention of giving back their power.

The Billionaires and Big Corporations control American politicians with lobbying and campaign contributions (legalized bribery), and happily reap the benefits. The rest of us go through the motions of democracy. We work to change policies through petitions, contacting our representatives, sending money, and voting for our favorite politicians. But all of that is futile. We’ve long lost our Democracy, and it’s not coming back anytime soon.

Sure, they’ll throw liberals a few bones, like gay rights and legalized marijuana, but when it comes to economic issues, the rich and powerful always win and the rest of us always lose. George Carlin understood: “The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don’t. You have no choice. You have owners. They own you. They own everything.”

How did this happen? After the Great Depression the average worker was doing well, the American Dream was accessible, and each subsequent generation in the 1950s and 1960s did better. In the 1970s, feeling overwhelmed by Great Society and other liberal programs, the business community and other conservatives decided to fight back.

Some attribute this newfound assertiveness to a memo from future Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell to a friend affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which laid the groundwork for an aggressive pro-business, anti-liberal attack. The “American economic system is under broad attack,” wrote Powell. “Business must learn the lesson . . . that political power is necessary…”

Soon, right-wing think tanks, like the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, sprung up. Then came Ronald Reagan, the Moral Majority, the decline of labor unions, right-wing radio and television, and the Tea Party. The biggest boon for wealthy Republicans was the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010, which allowed billionaires like the Koch Brothers to spend as much as they want, i.e. to essentially buy elections.

It is painful to acknowledge our lost democracy. But reality is hard to deny. We can hope the American people will rise up and take back the country from the Billionaires and Big Corporations. Just don’t expect it in the near future. The odds are too much stacked against the average citizen. Good luck, fellow American, eventually the pendulum might begin to swing back the other way. Just don’t be surprised if it’s not in your lifetime.

Billiionaire

**published in OpEdNews, October 26, 2017

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172 Countries and Territories?!!

AMERICA’S FORGOTTEN WARS

New York Times Editorial/ October 23, 2017

The United States has been at war continuously since the attacks of 9/11 and now has just over 240,000 active-duty and reserve troops in at least 172 countries and territories. While the number of men and women deployed overseas has shrunk considerably over the past 60 years, the military’s reach has not. American forces are actively engaged not only in the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen that have dominated the news, but also in Niger and Somalia, both recently the scene of deadly attacks, as well as Jordan, Thailand and elsewhere.

An additional 37,813 troops serve on presumably secret assignment in places listed simply as “unknown.” The Pentagon provided no further explanation.

There are traditional deployments in Japan (39,980 troops) and South Korea (23,591) to defend against North Korea and China, if needed, along with 36,034 troops in Germany, 8,286 in Britain and 1,364 in Turkey — all NATO allies. There are 6,524 troops in Bahrain and 3,055 in Qatar, where the United States has naval bases.

The U.S. Has Troops in Nearly Every Country

Active and reserve service members stationed overseas

JAPAN: 39,980

More troops reside here than in any foreign country

AFGHANISTAN: 11,965

One of the few large countries without any active or reserve troops

America’s operations in conflict zones like Africa are expanding: 400 American Special Forces personnel in Somalia train local troops fighting the Shabab Islamist group, providing intelligence and sometimes going into battle with them. One member of the Navy SEALs was killed there in a mission in May. On Oct. 14, a massive attack widely attributed to the Shabab on a Mogadishu street killed more than 270 people, which would show the group’s increased reach. About 800 troops are based in Niger, where four Green Berets died on Oct. 4.

Many of these forces are engaged in counterterrorism operations — against the Taliban in Afghanistan, for instance; against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria; against an affiliate of Al Qaeda in Yemen. So far, Americans seem to accept that these missions and the deployments they require will continue indefinitely. Still, it’s a very real question whether, in addition to endorsing these commitments, which have cost trillions of dollars and many lives over 16 years, they will embrace new entanglements of the sort President Trump has seemed to portend with his rash threats and questionable decisions on North Korea and Iran.

Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel who lost a son in Iraq and is a critic of military operations, says that “a collective indifference to war has become an emblem of contemporary America.” The idea that Americans could be inured to war and all its horrors is chilling, and it’s a recipe for dangerous decisions with far-reaching ramifications. There are many factors contributing to this trend:

During earlier wars, including Vietnam, the draft put most families at risk of having a loved one go to war, but now America has all-volunteer armed forces. Less than 1 percent of the population now serves in the military, compared with more than 12 percent in World War II. Most people simply do not have a family member in harm’s way.

American casualty rates have been relatively low, especially in more recent years after the bulk of American troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan and Iraq. Also, the United States has shifted to a strategy in which Americans provide air power and intelligence, and train and assist local troops who then do most of the fighting and most of the dying. This year, for instance, 11 American service members died in Afghanistan and 14 in Iraq. By comparison, 6,785 Afghan security force members died in 2016 and 2,531 died in the first five months this year, according to the United States and Afghan governments. Tens of thousands of civilians also perished at the hands of various combatants, including in 2017, but the figures get little publicity. Most Americans tend not to think about them.

Since 9/11, American leaders have defined the fight against terrorism as a permanent struggle against a permanent threat. Mr. Obama withdrew significant forces from Afghanistan and Iraq. But the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan led to renewed engagement, though at lower troop levels. Terror attacks here and in Europe, and Mr. Trump’s scaremongering, have reinforced the public’s sense of siege.

The military is essential to national security, but it is not the only thing keeping America safe. So do robust diplomacy and America’s engagement in multilateral institutions, both of which we have faulted Mr. Trump for ignoring or undercutting. The Pentagon, by contrast, thrives. After some belt-tightening during the financial crisis, it has a receptive audience in Congress and the White House as it pushes for more money to improve readiness and modernize weapons. Senators who balk at paying for health care and the basic diplomatic missions of the State Department approved a $700 billion defense budget for 2017-18, far more than Mr. Trump even requested.

Whether this largess will continue is unclear. But the larger question involves the American public and how many new military adventures, if any, it is prepared to tolerate.

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Frank Zappa: Fascist Theocracy

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Sensible Gun Laws Needed

Letter to the Editor/ Monterey Herald/ October 12, 2017

The media is trying hard to figure out the motive for the Las Vegas shooter’s massacre of so many innocent people. Interesting for sure, but far less important than figuring out what laws are needed to prevent a monster like him from acquiring the dangerous weapons he used. That is where our attention should be focused. The gun lobby has gotten what they want for long enough. Sensible gun laws are long overdue.

Arlen Grossman

guns

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TRUMP: WHAT CAN WE DO?

Our Democracy Could Be Sunk By a President Adrift

By Eugene Robinson/ Arcamax/ October 10, 2017

WASHINGTON — The truth can no longer be ignored: Donald Trump is dangerously unfit to be president and could lead the nation to unthinkable disaster. So what are we going to do about it?

The White House “has become an adult day care center,” where the president’s senior aides spend “every single day … trying to contain him.” That terrifying bit of information was disclosed Sunday by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., whose decision not to run for re-election has freed him to point out that the emperor is indeed naked.

“Look, except for a few people, the vast majority of our caucus understands what we’re dealing with here,” Corker told The New York Times. His colleagues in the GOP Senate majority “understand the volatility that we’re dealing with and the tremendous amount of work that it takes by people around [Trump] to keep him in the middle of the road.” Trump treats the presidency as if it were “a reality show” and is so erratic that he could put us “on the path to World War III.”

The shocking thing is that Corker is merely saying out loud what many others say in private. Trump is not qualified, by temperament or character, to exercise the awesome powers of the presidency. A man who acts like a bratty, vindictive child has been given the power to launch nuclear weapons.

He has three years and three months remaining in his presidential term. What are we going to do?

Trump

Corker counts on “those people who are closely working with him, what I would call the good guys” — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and chief of staff John Kelly — to keep the apocalypse at bay. But no one can prevent all potential damage. Trump petulantly sabotages the health care system because it bears his predecessor’s name. He cynically amplifies white racial grievance for political gain. He unnerves our longtime allies and recklessly goads our adversaries. He lies so shamelessly that he defiles the honor of the office held by Washington and Lincoln.

The alarming problem isn’t Trump’s policies, to the extent he has any coherent set of policy positions. This crisis isn’t about conservative governance versus progressive governance. It’s about soundness of mind and judgment.

The Constitution does not offer much of a playbook for the situation we find ourselves in. Impeachment is reserved for “high crimes and misdemeanors” — a phrase that means anything Congress wants it to mean. Assume special counsel Robert Mueller eventually concludes that Trump obstructed justice or even participated in a collusion scheme with the Russians. Would Speaker Paul Ryan and the Republican majority in the House actually move to impeach the president? Or would they be too fearful of the wrath of the GOP base? Unless the evidence were overwhelming, would there really be enough votes in the Senate to remove Trump from office?

I’m skeptical on all counts. Impeachment is, and will remain, a very long shot.

 

The 25th Amendment allows the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet to relieve Trump of his powers, with Congress the ultimate arbiter if Trump were to protest. But this procedure — intended for when a president suffers, for example, a debilitating stroke — looks plausible only as a fail-safe mechanism if the president literally starts howling at the moon and trying to launch nuclear missiles. Let’s pray it doesn’t come to that.

Our most likely course of action is containment. The generals who play nanny at the “adult day care center” are already acting as the first line of defense. Corker and his colleagues in Congress must begin acting as the second.

Congress has great powers of investigation and oversight. The House has primacy in exercising the power of the purse; the Senate has the responsibility to advise and grant — or withhold — consent. Back in January, Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell might have dreamed that Trump, whatever his failings, would at least allow them to implement an orthodox GOP agenda. By now they must realize how wrong they were.

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WARS: WHO KNEW?

How We Learned Not To Care About America’s Wars

 By Andrew Bacevich/ TomDispatch/ October 5, 2017

wars

Consider, if you will, these two indisputable facts.  First, the United States is today more or less permanently engaged in hostilities in not one faraway place, but at least seven.  Second, the vast majority of the American people could not care less.

Nor can it be said that we don’t care because we don’t know.  True, government authorities withhold certain aspects of ongoing military operations or release only details that they find convenient.  Yet information describing what U.S. forces are doing (and where) is readily available, even if buried in recent months by barrages of presidential tweets.  Here, for anyone interested, are press releases issued by United States Central Command for just one recent week:

September 19: Military airstrikes continue against ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq

September 20: Military airstrikes continue against ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq

Iraqi Security Forces begin Hawijah offensive

September 21: Military airstrikes continue against ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq

September 22: Military airstrikes continue against ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq

September 23: Military airstrikes continue against ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq

Operation Inherent Resolve Casualty

September 25: Military airstrikes continue against ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq

September 26: Military airstrikes continue against ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq

Ever since the United States launched its war on terror, oceans of military press releases have poured forth.  And those are just for starters.  To provide updates on the U.S. military’s various ongoing campaigns, generals, admirals, and high-ranking defense officials regularly testify before congressional committees or brief members of the press.  From the field, journalists offer updates that fill in at least some of the details — on civilian casualties, for example — that government authorities prefer not to disclose.  Contributors to newspaper op-ed pages and “experts” booked by network and cable TV news shows, including passels of retired military officers, provide analysis.  Trailing behind come books and documentaries that put things in a broader perspective.

But here’s the truth of it.  None of it matters.

Like traffic jams or robocalls, war has fallen into the category of things that Americans may not welcome, but have learned to live with.  In twenty-first-century America, war is not that big a deal.

While serving as defense secretary in the 1960s, Robert McNamara once mused that the “greatest contribution” of the Vietnam War might have been to make it possible for the United States “to go to war without the necessity of arousing the public ire.” With regard to the conflict once widely referred to as McNamara’s War, his claim proved grotesquely premature.  Yet a half-century later, his wish has become reality.

Why do Americans today show so little interest in the wars waged in their name and at least nominally on their behalf?  Why, as our wars drag on and on, doesn’t the disparity between effort expended and benefits accrued arouse more than passing curiosity or mild expressions of dismay? Why, in short, don’t we give a [expletive deleted]? 

Perhaps just posing such a question propels us instantly into the realm of the unanswerable, like trying to figure out why people idolize Justin Bieber, shoot birds, or watch golf on television. 

Without any expectation of actually piercing our collective ennui, let me take a stab at explaining why we don’t give a @#$%&!  Here are eight distinctive but mutually reinforcing explanations, offered in a sequence that begins with the blindingly obvious and ends with the more speculative.  

Americans don’t attend all that much to ongoing American wars because:

1. U.S. casualty rates are low. By using proxies and contractors, and relying heavily on airpower, America’s war managers have been able to keep a tight lid on the number of U.S. troops being killed and wounded.  In all of 2017, for example, a grand total of 11 Americansoldiers have been lost in Afghanistan — about equal to the number of shooting deaths in Chicago over the course of a typical week. True, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries where the U.S. is engaged in hostilities, whether directly or indirectly, plenty of people who are not Americans are being killed and maimed.  (The estimated number of Iraqi civilians killed this year alone exceeds 12,000.) But those casualties have next to no political salience as far as the United States is concerned.  As long as they don’t impede U.S. militaryoperations, they literally don’t count (and generally aren’t counted).

2. The true costs of Washington’s wars go untabulated.  In a famous speech, dating from early in his presidency, Dwight D. Eisenhower said that “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”  Dollars spent on weaponry, Ike insisted, translated directly into schools, hospitals, homes, highways, and power plants that would go unbuilt.  “This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense,” he continued.  “[I]t is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.” More than six decades later, Americans have long since accommodated themselves to that cross of iron.  Many actually see it as a boon, a source of corporate profits, jobs, and, of course, campaign contributions.  As such, they avert their eyes from the opportunity costs of our never-ending wars.  The dollars expended pursuant to our post-9/11 conflicts will ultimately number in the multi-trillions.  Imagine the benefits of investing such sumsin upgrading the nation’s aging infrastructure.  Yet don’t count on Congressional leaders, other politicians, or just about anyone else to pursue that connection.

3. On matters related to war, American citizens have opted out.  Others have made the point so frequently that it’s the equivalent of hearing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” at Christmastime.  Even so, it bears repeating: the American people have defined their obligation to “support the troops” in the narrowest imaginable terms, ensuring above all that such support requires absolutely no sacrifice on their part.  Members of Congress abet this civic apathy, while also taking steps to insulate themselves from responsibility.  In effect, citizens and their elected representatives in Washington agree: supporting the troops means deferring to the commander in chief, without inquiring about whether what he has the troops doing makes the slightest sense.  Yes, we set down our beers long enough to applaud those in uniform and boo those who decline to participate in mandatory rituals of patriotism.  What we don’t do is demand anything remotely approximating actual accountability.

4. Terrorism gets hyped and hyped and hyped some more. While international terrorism isn’t a trivial problem (and wasn’t for decades before 9/11), it comes nowhere close to posing an existential threat to the United States.  Indeed, other threats, notably the impact of climate change, constitute a far greater danger to the wellbeing of Americans.  Worried about the safety of your children or grandchildren?  The opioid epidemic constitutes an infinitely greater danger than “Islamic radicalism.”  Yet having been sold a bill of goods about a “war on terror” that is essential for “keeping America safe,” mere citizens are easily persuaded that scattering U.S. troops throughout the Islamic world while dropping bombs on designated evildoers is helping win the former while guaranteeing the latter.  To question that proposition becomes tantamount to suggesting that God might not have given Moses two stone tablets after all.

5. Blather crowds out substance. When it comes to foreign policy, American public discourse is — not to put too fine a point on it — vacuous, insipid, and mindlessly repetitive.  William Safire of the New York Times once characterized American political rhetoric as BOMFOG, with those running for high office relentlessly touting the Brotherhood of Man and the Fatherhood of God.  Ask a politician, Republican or Democrat, to expound on this country’s role in the world, and then brace yourself for some variant of WOSFAD, as the speaker insists that it is incumbent upon the World’s Only Superpower to spread Freedom and Democracy.  Terms like leadership and indispensable are introduced, along with warnings about the dangers of isolationism and appeasement, embellished with ominous references to Munich.  Such grandiose posturing makes it unnecessary to probe too deeply into the actual origins and purposes of American wars, past or present, or assess the likelihood of ongoing wars ending in some approximation of actual success. Cheerleading displaces serious thought.

6. Besides, we’re too busy.  Think of this as a corollary to point five.  Even if the present-day American political scene included figures like Senators Robert La Follette or J. William Fulbright, who long ago warned against the dangers of militarizing U.S. policy, Americans may not retain a capacity to attend to such critiques.  Responding to the demands of the Information Age is not, it turns out, conducive to deep reflection.  We live in an era (so we are told) when frantic multitasking has become a sort of duty and when being overscheduled is almost obligatory.  Our attention span shrinks and with it our time horizon.  The matters we attend to are those that happened just hours or minutes ago.  Yet like the great solar eclipse of 2017 — hugely significant and instantly forgotten — those matters will, within another few minutes or hours, be superseded by some other development that briefly captures our attention.  As a result, a dwindling number of Americans — those not compulsively checking Facebook pages and Twitter accounts — have the time or inclination to ponder questions like: When will the Afghanistan War end?  Why has it lasted almost 16 years?  Why doesn’t the finest fighting force in history actually win?  Can’t package an answer in 140 characters or a 30-second made-for-TV sound bite?  Well, then, slowpoke, don’t expect anyone to attend to what you have to say.

7. Anyway, the next president will save us.  At regular intervals, Americans indulge in the fantasy that, if we just install the right person in the White House, all will be well.  Ambitious politicians are quick to exploit this expectation.  Presidential candidates struggle to differentiate themselves from their competitors, but all of them promise in one way or another to wipe the slate clean and Make America Great Again.  Ignoring the historical record of promises broken or unfulfilled, and presidents who turn out not to be deities but flawed human beings, Americans — members of the media above all — pretend to take all this seriously.  Campaigns become longer, more expensive, more circus-like, and ever less substantial.  One might think that the election of Donald Trump would prompt a downward revision in the exalted expectations of presidents putting things right.  Instead, especially in the anti-Trump camp, getting rid of Trump himself (Collusion!  Corruption!  Obstruction!  Impeachment!) has become the overriding imperative, with little attention given to restoring the balance intended by the framers of the Constitution.  The irony of Trump perpetuating wars that he once roundly criticized and then handing the conduct of those wars to generals devoid of ideas for ending them almost entirely escapes notice.

8. Our culturally progressive military has largely immunized itself from criticism.  As recently as the 1990s, the U.S. military establishment aligned itself with the retrograde side of the culture wars.  Who can forget the gays-in-the-military controversy that rocked Bill Clinton’s administration during his first weeks in office, as senior military leaders publicly denounced their commander-in-chief?  Those days are long gone.  Culturally, the armed forces have moved left.  Today, the services go out of their way to project an image of tolerance and a commitment to equality on all matters related to race, gender, and sexuality.  So when President Trump announced his opposition to transgendered persons serving in the armed forces, tweeting that the military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail,” senior officers politely but firmly disagreed and pushed back.  Given the ascendency of cultural issues near the top of the U.S. political agenda, the military’s embrace of diversity helps to insulate it from criticism and from being called to account for a less than sterling performance in waging wars.  Put simply, critics who in an earlier day might have blasted military leaders for their inability to bring wars to a successful conclusion hold their fire.  Having women graduate from Ranger School or command Marines in combat more than compensates for not winning.

A collective indifference to war has become an emblem of contemporary America.  But don’t expect your neighbors down the street or the editors of the New York Times to lose any sleep over that fact.  Even to notice it would require them — and us — to care.

Nor can it be said that we don’t care because we don’t know.  True, government authorities withhold certain aspects of ongoing military operations or release only details that they find convenient.  Yet information describing what U.S. forces are doing (and where) is readily available, even if buried in recent months by barrages of presidential tweets.  Here, for anyone interested, are press releases issued by United States Central Command for just one recent week:

September 19: Military airstrikes continue against ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq

September 20: Military airstrikes continue against ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq

Iraqi Security Forces begin Hawijah offensive

September 21: Military airstrikes continue against ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq

September 22: Military airstrikes continue against ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq

September 23: Military airstrikes continue against ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq

Operation Inherent Resolve Casualty

September 25: Military airstrikes continue against ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq

September 26: Military airstrikes continue against ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq

Ever since the United States launched its war on terror, oceans of military press releases have poured forth.  And those are just for starters.  To provide updates on the U.S. military’s various ongoing campaigns, generals, admirals, and high-ranking defense officials regularly testify before congressional committees or brief members of the press.  From the field, journalists offer updates that fill in at least some of the details — on civilian casualties, for example — that government authorities prefer not to disclose.  Contributors to newspaper op-ed pages and “experts” booked by network and cable TV news shows, including passels of retired military officers, provide analysis.  Trailing behind come books and documentaries that put things in a broader perspective.

But here’s the truth of it.  None of it matters.

Like traffic jams or robocalls, war has fallen into the category of things that Americans may not welcome, but have learned to live with.  In twenty-first-century America, war is not that big a deal.

While serving as defense secretary in the 1960s, Robert McNamara once mused that the “greatest contribution” of the Vietnam War might have been to make it possible for the United States “to go to war without the necessity of arousing the public ire.” With regard to the conflict once widely referred to as McNamara’s War, his claim proved grotesquely premature.  Yet a half-century later, his wish has become reality.

Why do Americans today show so little interest in the wars waged in their name and at least nominally on their behalf?  Why, as our wars drag on and on, doesn’t the disparity between effort expended and benefits accrued arouse more than passing curiosity or mild expressions of dismay? Why, in short, don’t we give a [expletive deleted]? 

Perhaps just posing such a question propels us instantly into the realm of the unanswerable, like trying to figure out why people idolize Justin Bieber, shoot birds, or watch golf on television. 

Without any expectation of actually piercing our collective ennui, let me take a stab at explaining why we don’t give a @#$%&!  Here are eight distinctive but mutually reinforcing explanations, offered in a sequence that begins with the blindingly obvious and ends with the more speculative.  

Americans don’t attend all that much to ongoing American wars because:

1. U.S. casualty rates are low. By using proxies and contractors, and relying heavily on airpower, America’s war managers have been able to keep a tight lid on the number of U.S. troops being killed and wounded.  In all of 2017, for example, a grand total of 11 Americansoldiers have been lost in Afghanistan — about equal to the number of shooting deaths in Chicago over the course of a typical week. True, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries where the U.S. is engaged in hostilities, whether directly or indirectly, plenty of people who are not Americans are being killed and maimed.  (The estimated number of Iraqi civilians killed this year alone exceeds 12,000.) But those casualties have next to no political salience as far as the United States is concerned.  As long as they don’t impede U.S. militaryoperations, they literally don’t count (and generally aren’t counted).

2. The true costs of Washington’s wars go untabulated.  In a famous speech, dating from early in his presidency, Dwight D. Eisenhower said that “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”  Dollars spent on weaponry, Ike insisted, translated directly into schools, hospitals, homes, highways, and power plants that would go unbuilt.  “This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense,” he continued.  “[I]t is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.” More than six decades later, Americans have long since accommodated themselves to that cross of iron.  Many actually see it as a boon, a source of corporate profits, jobs, and, of course, campaign contributions.  As such, they avert their eyes from the opportunity costs of our never-ending wars.  The dollars expended pursuant to our post-9/11 conflicts will ultimately number in the multi-trillions.  Imagine the benefits of investing such sumsin upgrading the nation’s aging infrastructure.  Yet don’t count on Congressional leaders, other politicians, or just about anyone else to pursue that connection.

3. On matters related to war, American citizens have opted out.  Others have made the point so frequently that it’s the equivalent of hearing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” at Christmastime.  Even so, it bears repeating: the American people have defined their obligation to “support the troops” in the narrowest imaginable terms, ensuring above all that such support requires absolutely no sacrifice on their part.  Members of Congress abet this civic apathy, while also taking steps to insulate themselves from responsibility.  In effect, citizens and their elected representatives in Washington agree: supporting the troops means deferring to the commander in chief, without inquiring about whether what he has the troops doing makes the slightest sense.  Yes, we set down our beers long enough to applaud those in uniform and boo those who decline to participate in mandatory rituals of patriotism.  What we don’t do is demand anything remotely approximating actual accountability.

4. Terrorism gets hyped and hyped and hyped some more. While international terrorism isn’t a trivial problem (and wasn’t for decades before 9/11), it comes nowhere close to posing an existential threat to the United States.  Indeed, other threats, notably the impact of climate change, constitute a far greater danger to the wellbeing of Americans.  Worried about the safety of your children or grandchildren?  The opioid epidemic constitutes an infinitely greater danger than “Islamic radicalism.”  Yet having been sold a bill of goods about a “war on terror” that is essential for “keeping America safe,” mere citizens are easily persuaded that scattering U.S. troops throughout the Islamic world while dropping bombs on designated evildoers is helping win the former while guaranteeing the latter.  To question that proposition becomes tantamount to suggesting that God might not have given Moses two stone tablets after all.

5. Blather crowds out substance. When it comes to foreign policy, American public discourse is — not to put too fine a point on it — vacuous, insipid, and mindlessly repetitive.  William Safire of the New York Times once characterized American political rhetoric as BOMFOG, with those running for high office relentlessly touting the Brotherhood of Man and the Fatherhood of God.  Ask a politician, Republican or Democrat, to expound on this country’s role in the world, and then brace yourself for some variant of WOSFAD, as the speaker insists that it is incumbent upon the World’s Only Superpower to spread Freedom and Democracy.  Terms like leadership and indispensable are introduced, along with warnings about the dangers of isolationism and appeasement, embellished with ominous references to Munich.  Such grandiose posturing makes it unnecessary to probe too deeply into the actual origins and purposes of American wars, past or present, or assess the likelihood of ongoing wars ending in some approximation of actual success. Cheerleading displaces serious thought.

6. Besides, we’re too busy.  Think of this as a corollary to point five.  Even if the present-day American political scene included figures like Senators Robert La Follette or J. William Fulbright, who long ago warned against the dangers of militarizing U.S. policy, Americans may not retain a capacity to attend to such critiques.  Responding to the demands of the Information Age is not, it turns out, conducive to deep reflection.  We live in an era (so we are told) when frantic multitasking has become a sort of duty and when being overscheduled is almost obligatory.  Our attention span shrinks and with it our time horizon.  The matters we attend to are those that happened just hours or minutes ago.  Yet like the great solar eclipse of 2017 — hugely significant and instantly forgotten — those matters will, within another few minutes or hours, be superseded by some other development that briefly captures our attention.  As a result, a dwindling number of Americans — those not compulsively checking Facebook pages and Twitter accounts — have the time or inclination to ponder questions like: When will the Afghanistan War end?  Why has it lasted almost 16 years?  Why doesn’t the finest fighting force in history actually win?  Can’t package an answer in 140 characters or a 30-second made-for-TV sound bite?  Well, then, slowpoke, don’t expect anyone to attend to what you have to say.

7. Anyway, the next president will save us.  At regular intervals, Americans indulge in the fantasy that, if we just install the right person in the White House, all will be well.  Ambitious politicians are quick to exploit this expectation.  Presidential candidates struggle to differentiate themselves from their competitors, but all of them promise in one way or another to wipe the slate clean and Make America Great Again.  Ignoring the historical record of promises broken or unfulfilled, and presidents who turn out not to be deities but flawed human beings, Americans — members of the media above all — pretend to take all this seriously.  Campaigns become longer, more expensive, more circus-like, and ever less substantial.  One might think that the election of Donald Trump would prompt a downward revision in the exalted expectations of presidents putting things right.  Instead, especially in the anti-Trump camp, getting rid of Trump himself (Collusion!  Corruption!  Obstruction!  Impeachment!) has become the overriding imperative, with little attention given to restoring the balance intended by the framers of the Constitution.  The irony of Trump perpetuating wars that he once roundly criticized and then handing the conduct of those wars to generals devoid of ideas for ending them almost entirely escapes notice.

8. Our culturally progressive military has largely immunized itself from criticism.  As recently as the 1990s, the U.S. military establishment aligned itself with the retrograde side of the culture wars.  Who can forget the gays-in-the-military controversy that rocked Bill Clinton’s administration during his first weeks in office, as senior military leaders publicly denounced their commander-in-chief?  Those days are long gone.  Culturally, the armed forces have moved left.  Today, the services go out of their way to project an image of tolerance and a commitment to equality on all matters related to race, gender, and sexuality.  So when President Trump announced his opposition to transgendered persons serving in the armed forces, tweeting that the military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail,” senior officers politely but firmly disagreed and pushed back.  Given the ascendency of cultural issues near the top of the U.S. political agenda, the military’s embrace of diversity helps to insulate it from criticism and from being called to account for a less than sterling performance in waging wars.  Put simply, critics who in an earlier day might have blasted military leaders for their inability to bring wars to a successful conclusion hold their fire.  Having women graduate from Ranger School or command Marines in combat more than compensates for not winning.

A collective indifference to war has become an emblem of contemporary America.  But don’t expect your neighbors down the street or the editors of the New York Times to lose any sleep over that fact.  Even to notice it would require them — and us — to care.

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Random Musings

When we don’t get health care, tax reform, gun control or any of the myriad things that the majority of American citizens want, many people are puzzled and ask, “Why is that?” The answer should be obvious. Billionaires and Big Corporations own this country. It’s that simple. Somewhere in the 1970’s (see Powell Memo), we lost our democracy and became an oligarchy (or if you prefer, a plutocracy). We can do our best to hold back the tide, but ultimately, in the near term, it will probably be futile. I hate to say it and sound so pessimistic, but it is the truth as I see it. They won. We lost. It’s going to get worse for at least a while.

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When did they take the words “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State” out of the 2nd Amendment? I must have missed that.

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President Trump plays with fire when threatening to scrap the Iran nuclear accord. If Congress were to reject the agreement, trouble would follow. Iran would surely start rebuilding their nuclear weapons program. President Trump would never stand for that and would likely bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities. Iran would respond in some way militarily and a new war might erupt. North Korea is not the only country to worry about.

 **                                          **

How important is it that we find out the motive of the Las Vegas shooter? Whatever the reason, it wouldn’t justify what he did.  More importantl: that he was able to accumulate such an arsenal of weapons that allowed him to do it. That is where our country needs to turn its attention.

 **                                              **

Recommended reading: Project Censored’s Top 25 Censored Stories 2016-2017. If you have the time check the stories from previous years.

shooter

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WHY THE SUPREME COURT IS WRONG ABOUT THE 2ND AMENDMENT

So Few Americans Understand What the Second Amendment Is Really About—or Its Dark History

By Thom Hartmann/ AlterNet/ October 2, 2017

 

second-amendment-on-parchment

With the crazed assault in Las Vegas that killed over 50 and wounded hundreds as only the most recent example, America’s gun violence problem has reached a breaking point. While we can talk all we want about assault weapons bans, universal background checks and terror watch lists, there’s only one real solution to this problem: We need to repeal the Second Amendment.

This, of course, is completely unacceptable to Republicans, but that’s because they don’t know the real history of the Second Amendment, and the real history of the Second Amendment is as ugly as it gets.

Thanks to corporate media’s unquestioning regurgitation of right-wing talking points, most Americans think that Second Amendment is in the Constitution to protect the rights of individual gun owners from the government.

But that’s not even remotely true.

The “Second Amendment” as we know it today is a legal fiction invented by the gun industry and their buddies on the Supreme Court [3] and sold to Americans by an expensive multi-decade-long PR campaign. 

Despite what you might hear on Fox So-Called news, there actually was no “individual right to own a gun” until 2008, when the Supreme Court said there was in its decision in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller.

That decision, which struck down Washington, D.C.’s handgun ban, was the culmination of a decades-long push by the gun industry to twist the Second Amendment into something that would help it sell more weapons, and it had zero basis in real Constitutional history.

It’s what former Chief Justice Warren Burger called a “fraud on the American public,” and it’s a fraud that now makes it very, very hard to put in place sensible gun control laws.

So, if the Second Amendment wasn’t originally about protecting gun rights, why is it in the U.S. Constitution? What were the Founders thinking?

Well, the first and most obvious answer, and the one accepted by most historians, is that they were trying to prevent the existence of a standing army during times of peace.

The Founders were scholars of classical history, and they knew that history teaches that when given too much power, armies, repeatedly and throughout history, would overthrow democracy and put in place a military dictatorship. There’s even a phrase to describe it: a military coup.

As James Madison told the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention in 1787,

“A standing military force… will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defense against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.”

With this situation in mind, the Founders wrote the Second Amendment, which says that, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The key word here is “Militia.”

At the time the Bill of Rights was written, America had no real professional army, and what military it did have was in the form of 13 separate state militias.

The Founders saw these militias as the best check against the rise of the standing army, and so they wrote the Second Amendment to make sure that they were always protected. But that’s only part of the story.

By protecting the militias, the Founders weren’t just preventing or trying to prevent the rise of mischief by a standing army; they were also protecting the institution of slavery that was the key to the southern economy. In states like Georgia, Virginia and the Carolinas, militias were also known as slave patrols.

And after the Constitution was written, southern slave-owners, led by Patrick Henry (Virginia’s biggest slave owner) started freaking out [4] that their slaves could be constitutionally freed and then drafted by the federal government, which was given the power under Article 1, Section 8 to raise a national militia.

The slave-owners worried that this national militia would eventually be used by Northern anti-slavery types to destroy the slave patrols and maybe even the institution of slavery itself. So what did those slave-owners do?

They had the Founders write into the Second Amendment specific protections for slave patrols.

These protections aren’t obvious, but they’re there, and we know this because of the difference between James Madison’s original draft of the Second Amendment and the final version included in the Bill of Rights. Madison’s original version of the Second Amendment reads as follows:

“The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed, and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person.”

This version of the Second Amendment didn’t fit well with slave-owners because it included words like “country,” words they felt could be used to justify the creation of a national militia that would include freed slaves—a backdoor way for a Northern president to free Southern slaves. And so Patrick Henry lobbied James Madison to rewrite the Second Amendment into the version we know today.

He spoke passionately at the Virginia Ratifying Convention:

“If the country be invaded, a state may go to war,” Henry said, “but cannot suppress [slave] insurrections [under this new Constitution]. If there should happen an insurrection of slaves, the country cannot be said to be invaded. They cannot, therefore, suppress it without the interposition of Congress … Congress, and Congress only [under this new Constitution], can call forth the militia.”

He added:

“In this state [of Virginia], there are two hundred and thirty-six thousand blacks, and there are many in several other states. But there are few or none in the Northern States … May Congress not say, that every black man must fight? Did we not see a little of this last war? We were not so hard pushed as to make emancipation general; but acts of Assembly passed that every slave who would go to the army should be free.”

As Michael R. Burch wrote [5], “Henry was obviously convinced that the power granted the federal government in the new Constitution could be used to strip the slave states of their slave control militias. He anticipated exactly what Abraham Lincoln would end up doing:

“‘They will search that paper [the Constitution],’ Henry said, ‘and see if they have power of manumission. And have they not, sir? Have they not power to provide for the general defence and welfare? May they not think that these call for the abolition of slavery?

“May they not pronounce all slaves free, and will they not be warranted by that power? This is no ambiguous implication or logical deduction. The paper speaks to the point: they have the power in clear, unequivocal terms, and will clearly and certainly exercise it. This [slavery] is a local matter, and I can see no propriety in subjecting it to Congress.'”

To satisfy Henry, James Madison changed the word “country” to the word “state,” a change Patrick Henry demanded to make it explicitly clear that the Constitution protected the state militia (aka slave patrol) in Virginia.

The big picture here isn’t a pretty one: The Second Amendment, which is now used by the weapons industry to justify selling weapons of war to civilians, was originally created, at least in part, to help preserve slavery in the South. You really couldn’t ask for a better metaphor for everything that’s challenging about America and its history.

But here’s the thing: we don’t need to be trapped by that history.

Ever since it was ratified, Americans have repeatedly changed parts of the Constitution that don’t match up with the times. We’ve changed electoral rules so that the person who comes in second place in a presidential race no longer becomes vice president, we’ve given women the right to vote; we’ve given black people full citizenship; we made alcohol illegal, and then re-amended the Constitution to make it legal. These are just a few examples of ways in which we’ve broken with our past and moved toward a better future.

It’s time we did the same with the Second Amendment.

At its best, the Second Amendment is an anachronism that’s no longer relevant in an era in which the United States has a standing army but remains a democracy. At its worst, it’s a tool for slave-owners that’s now being used by the weapons industry to prevent any and all sensible gun laws.

There’s only one way out of this mess: it’s time to repeal the Second Amendment.

Thom Hartmann is a talk-show host and author of over 25 books in print [6]

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