Some weeks there's so much happening in the news--or we here at TWiA World Headquarters are so long-winded about what is going on, and are worried that amidst the genuine tragedies of missing airplanes, avalanches, and sinking ferries, important stories are slipping by without much attention being paid--that we have to split TWiA into two installments. This was going to be one of those weeks--but the blog site was shut down by a DDOS attack, so the mid-week edition never posted. We worked both installments together, and it's going out on the usual day. Lots of reading and link-clicking here, so we'll let you get to it. Thanks for coming around.
This Week on Earth
We celebrated Earth Day this week, which makes it an appropriate time to point out that organized efforts--mostly funded by the fossil fuels industry--to muddy a fact that should be perfectly clear have succeeded in far too many cases. It’s not just climate change, either, but a variety of truths that science accepts but Americans aren’t so sure about: “About 4 in 10 say they are not too confident or outright disbelieve that the earth is warming, mostly a result of man-made heat-trapping gases, that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old or that life on Earth evolved through a process of natural selection, though most were at least somewhat confident in each of those concepts. But a narrow majority — 51 percent — questions the Big Bang theory.”
And here’s an interesting piece arguing that while “Republican thought leaders and policymakers have abandoned the environment in droves,” since the days when environmentalism wasn’t considered controversial or divisive “a quarter of individuals self-identifying as ‘very conservative’ or ‘conservative’ support environmental regulations, even if they risk harming the economy.” Back in 1989, then-Rep. Newt Gingrich (R/GA) was a co-sponsor of the Global Warming Prevention Act of 1989. Now that the science is even more certain than it was then, of course, Gingrich has done a complete 180.
Rank-and-file Republican support for environmental issues, however, doesn’t translate to those people they vote for. The last Republican to speak the words “Earth Day” into the Congressional Record was Sen. Lamar Alexander (R/TN) in 2010 (and he was trying to justify not-really-Earth-friendly nuclear power). Democrats in Congress have done so 57 times since then.
Unfortunately, the big spenders on the fossil fuels side of the argument haven’t given up, and they’re doing everything they can to squash solar energy and keep warming the Earth.
We need to figure out how to bring environmentalism--and climate reality--back into the bipartisan mainstream, while we still have a planet left to celebrate.
Side Note 1: Here's how much the US has warmed since the first Earth Day, in 1970.
This Week in This Land is Our Land
Maybe Senators Rand Paul (R/KY) and Dean Heller (R/NV), Americans for Prosperity, and Sean Hannity should have picked a different guy to try to turn into a hero. This week we found out that rancher Cliven Bundy, who has been illegally grazing his livestock on land that belongs to all of us and refusing to pay his grazing fees for twenty years, is not only an admitted criminal and freeloader, but also disgustingly racist. From the New York Times:
"I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.
“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”
"Basically on government subsidy?" Really, Mr. Bundy? What the hell do you think you've been living on for the past two decades?
And anybody who thinks that being owned by white people is more free than not being owned by white people is an ignorant fool. You just keep talking, Cliven. Keep showing America what you're made of.
A lot of Bundy's former supporters--the people who made him a media figure--have condemned Bundy's racist talk. Even Americans for Prosperity is backing away, by which I mean they're deleting their social media messages of support for him. They were with him when he was just anti-American, but not when he's demonstrably anti-African American. But Bundy's racism should come as no surprise, particularly to someone like Rand Paul, who, through his associations and his father's history, has had plenty of contact with the white supremacist movement. The language Bundy spouts, about not believing in the government of the United States, and believing that county sheriffs have the authority to disarm federal officials, is straight out of white supremacist/sovereign citizen/posse comitatus propaganda--nonsense that started in the South after Reconstruction, hit its stride in the Jim Crow era, and sadly continues through the present. This is the language of the lynchers and the cross-burners, and those whose hate festers in private, in the kinds of meetings where people cover their faces with white hoods. It's the talk of people who shoot cops--and, today, of people who amass militias ready to do the shooting for them.
Not every conservative or Libertarian is racist. Most aren't. But the vast majority of racists are conservatives/Libertarians. The Republican Party knows that. Instead of telling those people that they don't want racist votes, they pander to that ugly subset of American culture.
When the Supreme Court struck down the part of the Voting Rights Act that required areas that historically had demonstrably racist voting laws to get pre-clearance from the Justice Department before enacting laws that might have discriminatory impact, it was only days before some of those same areas started ramping up new laws that will have discriminatory impact. The Republican Party establishment knows those laws are designed to keep black people away from the polls, but they won't condemn the action. One principled Republican, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R/WI) is working with Democrats to come up with a fix, but he's not getting much support from his own party.
When Paul Ryan talks about an inner-city culture of not working, the racists know he's talking about blacks. Ryan denies it, but he's a smart enough guy to understand the history of those words, and what they mean. The racists understand why he denies it--because no party that wants to win elections outside the South and the Intermountain West can admit that it's racist.
Libertarian darling Rand Paul had a well-known white supremacist, secessionist, neo-Confederate who praised the assassination of Abraham Lincoln working on his Senate staff--being paid, in other words, by our tax dollars. He couldn't pretend he didn't know the guy's history--they went way back, and the racist ghost-wrote Paul's book for him.
[If anything, the link between Libertarianism and racism is even older than that between Republicans and racism (which really only extends to the backlash against the Civil Rights Act of 1964). Some of that history is discussed here and here and here.]
Again, most conservatives and Libertarians are not racists. Many are people of great principle and good will, who find racism repugnant but support the Republican party for various reasons. But every time they vote for a Republican candidate, they're rewarding the party establishment's racist tactics. Unless they object, loudly and strenuously, and refuse to support the party as long as the party pretends it doesn't hear dog-whistles like Ryan's, and stops trying to keep blacks away from the polls and blocking every effort at immigration reform, and stops rushing to defend ignorant moochers like Cliven Bundy, the party will keep doing those things. They don't want to lose the racist vote. Conservatives who aren't racist have to be the ones who stop them--the party won't listen to me.
As a follow-up, we have this: “representatives from Utah, Idaho, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, Oregon, and Washington met for a ‘Legislative Summit on the Transfer of Public Lands.’ ’Those of us who live in the rural areas know how to take care of lands,’ Montana state Sen. Jennifer Fielder said at a news conference. ‘We have to start managing these lands. It's the right thing to do for our people, for our environment, for our economy and for our freedoms.’"
We’re pretty sure freedom used to be used primarily in the singular sense—you enjoyed freedom, or you didn’t, and the concept wasn’t sliced up into a bunch of different, individual freedoms. Be that as it may, Montana state Sen. Jennifer Fielder doesn’t know what she’s talking about. In the Bundy case, none of his “freedoms” were threatened, unless Fielder believes the freedom to break the law is one that needs defending.
He—like all the other ranchers around the west, the ones who operate within the law—knew what the law was. He decided it didn’t apply to him, because he doesn’t recognize the authority of the federal government. That's his problem; the United States is a real thing. The federal government owned most of Nevada long before Bundy was born—it’s not like anybody changed the rules midstream. If he didn’t want to abide by the laws there, he should have ranched somewhere else. He claims "ancestral" rights to public land around a ranch his parents bought in the 1950s. Hardly "ancestral."
And Fielder is way off base when she says people in rural areas know how to take care of “lands,” (again, that should be singular, Ms. Fielder. We guess the people of Montana didn’t elect you on the basis of your grasp of grammar) and that letting the states control the land would be the right thing for the environment.
States have precisely defined borders, established more than a century ago by politicians. Ecosystems do not abide by those borders. Nor do migratory routes. Letting the states control federal land would mean that state A could allow some types of activity on the land, while state B might have an entirely different rule. An ecosystem needs a certain consistency to survive. If you cut a prairie in half, pave over one side of it, and build a mall there, you’ll be affecting the other half, too. (Besides, to tie this in to Earth Day, paving over the land and cutting down forests contribute to global warming, just as pumping carbon into the air does. The actions of any given state can affect us all.)
In addition, states have different financial rules than the federal government. In Arizona recently, the state decided to sell off some of its government buildings, including the state capitol, to meet a budget shortfall.
If there’s anybody in the country who doesn’t think Arizona, and other states, would hesitate to sell off public lands (if they were allowed to) when financial difficulties loomed, they’re as clueless as Cliven Bundy. And while Arizona couldn’t sell the Grand Canyon National Park, for instance, they could sell a whole lot of the land surrounding it. Outlet malls on the South Rim might make some people happy, but they’d be an abomination to us, and a disaster to the park’s ecosystem.
Public lands, by definition, belong to all of us. They should be managed by organizations answerable to all of us. Just because someone lives in Rhode Island doesn’t mean she’s not a part owner of public lands in Oregon. And even if she never goes there, just knowing there are places in the country where wilderness exists, where biodiversity is protected instead of attacked, has value. The people participating in this nonsensical summit would ascribe value to the land only to the extent that it could raise cash for them. That’s short-sighted and the antithesis of the American way. We aren’t a bunch of separate states, each one out for its own good and nothing else. We’re the United States, and it would serve us well to remember that.
Side Note 1: Bundy thinks Nevada, not the federal government, should manage the land he wants to graze cattle on. We wonder if he’s aware that Nevada’s public-lands grazing fee is $15.50 per head, as opposed to the federal rate of $1.35 per head. Maybe his math is just as bad as his understanding of the American system of government.
This Week in Gun Safety
The annual NRA convention opened this week, which means it's time for accessory to thousands of murders Wayne LaPierre to make a speech in which he tries to scare people into buying even more guns, further enriching the firearms industry that has long since bought and paid for him.
"We know, in the world that surrounds us, there are terrorists and home invaders and drug cartels and car-jackers and knock-out gamers and rapers, haters, campus killers, airport killers, shopping mall killers, road-rage killers, and killers who scheme to destroy our country with massive storms of violence against our power grids, or vicious waves of chemicals or disease that could collapse the society that sustains us all."
We also know--at least those of us in the real world know--that we're far more likely to be killed accidentally with our own guns, or to kill someone close to us, or to lose our lives to suicide because a gun is close at hand--than we are to encounter any of those people. We know that Wayne LaPierre and the NRA have the bloodiest hands around.
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal (R) signed a pro-gun death law in that state, loosening restrictions against carrying guns in bars, churches, airports, schools, government buildings, and pretty much everyplace else, while making it harder for police to question whether somebody is licensed to carry, and make it so even felons can use "stand-your-ground" defense without being charged for gun crimes. Since Georgia passed its SYG law in 2007, the number of "justifiable" homicides has been gone up every year. With this new law, expect the number of gun deaths in that state to skyrocket. Law enforcement professionals opposed the bill, but sadly, even State Sen. Jason Carter, the Democrat running against Deal for governor, voted in favor of it. We imagine his grandfather, President Carter, is sorely disappointed.
If it's hard to find out exactly what the result of this new legislation is, that's in part because Republicans in Congress are continuing to block the Centers for Disease Control from getting a single penny to research gun violence as a public health issue. Their position—absolutely indefensible in the face of 31,000 American deaths to gun violence every year—is that research is necessarily “advocacy" or, in the words of Rep. Jack Kingston (R/GA), “propaganda for his [President Obama’s] gun-grabbing initiatives.”
Of course, pro-gun death advocates warned that President Clinton was going to grab our guns, too. He didn’t. President Obama didn’t do it while Democrats briefly controlled both chambers of Congress. There’s not an iota of evidence that he intends to. But maybe they’re right. Maybe knowing the actual facts about gun violence would lead to a public outcry against it. Maybe it would even save some lives. It might—but convinced that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, congressional Republicans don’t want any knowledge at all.
In Arizona, meanwhile, Governor Jan Brewer (R) took a more intelligent course than Gov. Deal, vetoing two pro-gun death bills. We applaud her courage and good sense.
Side Note: Senator Rand Paul appears to have been a bigger fan of President Carter's economic record than of President Reagan's. With good reason--on an annual basis, more jobs were created during Carter's four years in office than during any four of Reagan's. Carter kept domestic spending lower than Reagan did, and under Reagan, the debt and the deficit ballooned. Carter was more fiscally conservative than Reagan, and had better results. Of course, since he's decided to run for president, Paul's tune has changed--you don't win Republican primaries by praising Jimmy Carter, and Paul's principles are decidely, shall we say...flexible. But Mother Jones has the video.
This Week in Billionaires
Senate Democrats must be doing something right, because the Koch brothers, who inherited their vast fossil fuels fortune from their father, have already spent $35 million to influence Senate races that won't even happen until November. That's likely as much as the two major political parties will spend all year on House and Senate races. As we've noted multiple times, the ads the K-bros are running tend to be anti-Affordable Care Act screeds that don't stand up to the most basic fact-checking. Apparently, the K-bros don't mind paying big bucks to lie to Americans, as long as they can protect their right to cook the planet.
This Week in the Middle Class
America's middle class used to be the richest in the world. Not anymore. But our wealthiest are doing just fine.
This Week in Unemployment
How fast are Americans suffering through long-term unemployment losing the benefits that allow them to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table while they look for work? Check the clock.
This Week in the Vast Conspiracy
Back in 1996, First Lady Hillary Clinton talked about a “vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he ran for president.” The right wing, of course, immediately dismissed the notion as ridiculous. The thing is, Ms. Clinton was correct.
This week, the internal White House memo describing how the conspiracy worked was released. Anyone remotely familiar with how the right-wing echo chamber works today will recognize the elements described therein:
“First, well funded right wing think tanks and individuals underwrite conservative newsletters and newspapers such as the Western Journalism Center, the American Spectator and the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. Next, the stories are reprinted on the internet where they are bounced all over the world. From the internet, the stories are bounced into the mainstream media through one of two ways: 1) The story will be picked up by the British tabloids and covered as a major story, from which the American right-of-center mainstream media (i.e. the Wall Street Journal, Washington Times and New York Post) will then pick the story up; or 2) The story will be bounced directly from the internet to the right-of center mainstream American media. After the mainstream right-of-center American media covers the story, Congressional committees will look into the story. After Congress looks into the story, the story now has the legitimacy to be covered by the remainder of the American mainstream press as a ‘real’ story.”
Some of the names and details have changed since the mid-90s, but many haven’t. The memo calls out Richard Mellon Scaife as the mastermind behind a lot of the plots, and he was, but by 2008 he supported Ms. Clinton’s presidential campaign, and contributed to it. Substitute the Koch brothers for Scaife, though, and the rest still holds together remarkably well.
Anyone who’s been following TWiA for long knows that we consider Richard Hofstadter’s essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” absolutely essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how the right-wing machine operates.
Hofstadter wrote his essay in 1964, but he was prescient—and the right wing has adopted techniques that have been around for a long time.
To call it a “conspiracy” might be a little over the top. But it is a process, one that’s been in place for decades, and one that still does the job today. If anything, the intervening years, the growth of right-wing radio and Fox “News” and the importance of the internet have made the echo machine that much more effective.
This Week in School
Speaking of paranoid, it’s almost comical to watch Republican governors who want to run for national office trying to pretend they didn’t endorse Common Core standards, back when just about every Republican governor did. A few still stand by it—former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) being a notable example. But Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal just did a full reversal, as did Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. As reported in the New York Times, Jindal “recently announced his support for a bill that would remove Louisiana from the Common Core, on the same day the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, which supports the program, released a video featuring his earlier endorsement of it.”
The far right likes to call it “ObamaCore,” and claim that it’s part of President Obama’s overreach. That, of course, is to deny the facts. Again, according to the NYT, Common Core is “a once little-known set of national educational standards introduced in 44 states and the District of Columbia with the overwhelming support of Republican governors.” The Times story continues, “The learning benchmarks, intended to raise students’ proficiency in math and English, were adopted as part of a 2010 effort by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to bolster the country’s competitiveness.” The business community, which understands, in a way right-wing paranoids don’t, that an educated workforce is a competitive necessity in the global economy, is strongly in favor of it. But opposition to it is quickly becoming a litmus test for prospective 2016 Republican presidential candidates.
From the left, many teachers (including some who have made similar reversals—supporting it earlier but now changing their collective minds) also oppose Common Core, making for an unlikely alliance with the right. The teachers don’t want any correlation between test results and teacher evaluations or compensation. That’s self-serving, but not quite as insane as objections like those of the increasingly unhinged Glenn Beck (whose photo must surely be in the dictionary as the very definition of “paranoid”). Beck claims Common Core is training us “to be a serf state” to a bizarre global coalition: “Beck prophesied that we will see parts of the country give rise to Nazi control before eventually becoming co-ruled by some combination of Islam and China, in which China uses Islam as its enforcers to subjugate us and ‘get rid of anybody who is standing up.’"
Here in the real world, “Supporters of the Common Core, which outlines skills that students in each grade should master but leaves actual decisions about curriculum to states and districts, say that it was not created by the federal government and that it was up to the states to decide whether to adopt the standards.” Whether those standards are appropriate is open to debate, but the idea that we need our schools to live up to some minimal level of competence shouldn’t be. According to a piece in The Daily Beast this week, “Much has been made of the fact that the English standards encourage more nonfiction reading as students progress through high school. But nonfiction does not mean ‘government manuals,’ as some critics suggest. It means Paine, Thoreau, Emerson, Chesterton, Mencken, Orwell. The standards provide ‘exemplars’—here’s a link (PDF) to 11th grade fiction and nonfiction titles—but only require five readings: the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, Lincoln’s second inaugural address, the Bill of Rights, and one play by Shakespeare. How can anyone argue against that?”
There might well be flaws in the system. They should be addressed. But we’ve hardly had enough time to discover them, much less fix them. States backing out of their commitment are only putting their own children at risk of falling behind. Common Core is not an Obama plot. It’s an honest attempt to deal with declining educational standards that threaten America’s future prosperity.
Once again, the nut cases are playing the tune, and cowards like Jindal and Pence are the organ-grinder monkeys dancing for nickels. It’s really a shame.
Side Note: It’s almost impossible to believe that Beck buys into his own flagrantly insane rantings. If he does, he should be institutionalized, for his own safety as well as that of others. More likely, though, is the probability that he’s trapped in his own propaganda effort. The way it works—and it’s commonplace among the right-wing talking heads—is that Beck, or whoever, puts his or her own spin on the talking points emerging from the think tanks mentioned above. Then he declares that the reason you haven’t heard that spin before is that the mainstream media won’t report it, or it’s being covered up—you can only hear the truth from him. Because you then don’t hear that exact same spin from anywhere else (though you hear the basic message from multiple sources), you’re supposed to think that there must be some truth to the message. After all, it wasn’t just Beck, you heard it from Limbaugh and the Washington Times and WorldNet Daily, so it must be real. But nobody else understands it the way Beck does, or explains its import so clearly. So you tune back into Beck tomorrow, to catch the next bit of truth that only he’s telling. The trouble is, to keep you coming back day after day, he has to keep tweaking the tale, keep telling it in a way that nobody else will. That requires ever-more-outlandish elements being piled on. So Beck becomes a victim of his own success, with his stories now sounding like the lunatic mumblings of the guy you don’t want to sit next to on the bus.
Of course, the real reason you haven’t heard Beck’s BS from the mainstream media is that it’s fiction, pumped out by the think tanks to attack or discredit somebody, usually the president (in Clinton’s time, and today). It might be wrapped around a grain of truth, but the rest of it is artificial embellishments—those less generous than us might call them bald-faced lies. Once these tales have made the rounds, as described in the Clinton memo, legitimate news outlets might well pick up the story, or at least part of it, because if other newspapers are printing it, it must have some basis in reality.
Only it doesn’t. Beck’s no soothsayer, he’s a carnival barker trying to entice the rubes into the tent to see the dog-faced boy or the India rubber lady. He wants you to tune in tomorrow because that’s money in the bank for him. He has no interest in the truth, no concern for what’s best for America. He wants what’s best for Glenn Beck’s bank account. He’s as phony as they come, and the rest of his ilk are no better. To them, we’re the rubes, worthy only of their contempt.
News flash, Mr. Beck: contempt goes both ways.
This Week in Earthly Knowledge
7 things we've learned about Earth since the last Earth Day (including whale earwax), courtesy of Vox.com.
This Week in Explainers
Yet another new media outlet devoted to explaining public policy issues, this one from that old-media bastion the New York Times: The Upshot. Check it out.
This Week in Sport
Though we're not big sports enthusiasts here at TWiA World Headquarters, due to circumstances of birth and early childhood, we've always been fans of the Chicago Cubs (albeit fans who never watch the games or read the stats, and of the legendary Ernie Banks, one of the best the game's ever known. (and it doesn't hurt that their mascot is a bear.) On April 23, Cubs home Wrigley Field celebrated its 100th birthday. The first game played there featured the Cubs vs. the Kansas City Packers. Congratulations to Wrigley Field, and to the Cubs, for 100 good years.
This Week in Bears
A real-life Winnie the Pooh?