TWiA explores the intersection of policy and politics, and most importantly, how that intersection affects real people. It's dedicated to the proposition that good government is possible, it matters, and taxpayers deserve nothing less. Its starting point is that facts are facts, science is real, data are real, and we can and must learn from history. Below you'll find facts and opinions that derive from fact, informed by a close and careful study of these issues that began in 1968 and has never stopped. Note, when we discuss generic "Democrats" and "Republicans" or "conservatives" and "liberals," etc., we're talking about elected officials, unless otherwise noted. Also, bonus bear news and other awesomeness. We appreciate comments and arguments, so please chime in, and if you like it, spread the word.
This Week in Blame
Senator Lindsey Graham (R/SC) appeared on a Sunday talk show, as he and his pal Sen. John McCain (R/AZ) like to do, and made a remarkable assertion:
"Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, sharply criticized the limited scale of President Obama’s military response to ISIS on Sunday, and called on the president to be clearer about the threat the militants pose to the United States.
“'If he does not go on the offensive against ISIS, ISIL, whatever you guys want to call it, they are coming here,' Mr. Graham said on Fox News Sunday. 'This is just not about Baghdad. This is just not about Syria. And if we do get attacked, then he will have committed a blunder for the ages.'"
By Senator Graham's logic, the 4,000+ Americans who died on September 11, 2001, should not be blamed on George W. Bush, who was president at the time of the attacks, but on his father, George H.W Bush, who was president in 1988-89, when Al Qaeda formed as a response to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. And in addition to blaming President Obama, surely Graham knows that Al Qaeda in Iraq, the group that became ISIS/ISIL, didn't exist until after President George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq and the chaotic power vacuum that ensued. After all, any president who does not put Lindsey Graham's strategies into immediate effect is responsible for any future enemy attacking our shores at any future date.
What does Graham suggest we do? That's a little more difficult to parse. We could, one supposes, have taken a harder line in Syria. Of course, that would have meant fighting alongside the Assad regime and Al Qaeda (who are on opposing sides, united only in their enmity toward ISIS/ISL). Maybe he would rather see us recommit our exhausted military to Iraq for another decade or two (a plan the American public would overwhelmingly oppose). At any rate, whatever influence we once had in the Middle East is largely gone, and our military efforts there tend to create more terrorists than we can manage to kill. Unintended consequences are, by definition, hard to predict and even harder to prevent; President George H.W. Bush's deployment of troops to Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War was one of the factors that turned Osama bin Laden from an ally against the Soviets to an enemy determined to strike inside the US. Graham might serve his country better by staying home on Sunday mornings and reading up on history.
This Week in Race
The events in Ferguson, MO early in the week were disheartening, to say the least. People on both sides of the struggle were making bad choices about how to bring down the tension. Fortunately, progress was eventually made. The line between police and populace in that town has been troubled for a long time, and it didn't take much for the police shooting of Michael Brown to set off a time bomb. We sympathize with the need for police officers to protect themselves against violent acts--they can't protect the rest of us without protecting themselves--but to many, the police are the enemy, not benefactors. And to many cops, the citizens are the enemy, not customers. But we also sympathize with the people of Ferguson who feel their rights have been trampled for too long now, and that change has to happen.
Senator Rand Paul (R/KY) gets things about half-right (which for him is a vast improvement) in an op-ed he wrote on the subject this week. He discusses the over-militarization of our police forces, and the racial discrepancies of our criminal justice system, both of which are real problems. Where he slips, though, is in his failure to honestly address the causes of that militarization. Being Rand Paul, he can't resist the opportunity to blame the federal government for the problem. We here at TWiA contend that antigovernment rhetoric--local, state, federal, you name it--is in large part responsible for the increasingly dangerous job of law enforcement.
Those antigovernment attitudes, once confined to the fringes of the right wing, like the violently anti-police sovereign citizens movement (and 45 years ago, to the fringes of the left wing, where they stayed) have moved ever closer to mainstream conservatism. The Tea Party movement is the most recent example--antigovernment talk is rampant in those circles, and as the excellent blog The Weekly Sift points out this week, Tea Party-linked candidates like Nevada's Sharron Angle make the threat of violence explicit. At deadbeat rancher Cliven Bundy's ranch, militias lined up for the chance to point their weapons at law enforcement officers. And it's been a growing problem; according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks these people, "The number of Patriot groups, including armed militias, skyrocketed following the election of President Obama in 2008 – rising 813 percent, from 149 groups in 2008 to an all-time high of 1,360 in 2012. The number fell to 1,096 in 2013."
With more and more people advocating--and actively participating in--violence against representatives of our own government, and of law enforcement in particular, it's no wonder police officers feel the need for more protection. Before that, the threat came from the "war on drugs," when it turned out that street-corner gangbangers carried more powerful weapons than cops could (and the pro-gun death leadership of the NRA, of course, defended the "right" of those gangbangers to tote any weapons they wanted to). It was during this "war" that the Defense Logistics Agency began providing surplus hardware to police departments, beginning the militarization process.
All these factors--not just the easy availability of military hardware--led to police department militarization. Yes, the military has a lot of equipment it no longer needs, with our two decade-long ground wars winding down. But if police departments around the country hadn't wanted the stuff, the military would have deestroyed it. As it was, the cops were enthusiastic recipients. The federal government responded to the demand that was out there; it didn't create the demand. Police department militarization didn't take place in a vacuum. Should we be surprised that Rand Paul doesn't understand that? We might be if we didn't know Rand Paul's record.
Side Note 1: At any rate, this week brings into stark relief the reason the vast majority of open carry advocates are white. Black people in this country would not, for the most part, dare to carry a gun where people can see it. And with good reason.
Side Note 2: America's criminal justice system is undeniably racist.
Side Note 3: The pro-gun death advocates at the NRA oppose serving alcohol at gun shows. But not because booze+guns=blood all over the floor of your local convention center; rather, they're concerned that allowing alcohol would necessitate safety regulations, among other things.
This Week in Iowa
Speaking of right-wing crazy, candidate Joni Ernst (R/IA) has a legitimate chance of being elected to the US Senate this fall. Which would be tragic, because Ernst believes, among other things, that Agenda 21 is a UN plot to steal our brains, or something.
"The United Nations has imposed this upon us, and as a U.S. senator, I would say, 'No more. No more Agenda 21.' Community planning — to the effect that it is implementing eminent domain and taking away property rights away from individuals — I don’t agree with that. And especially in a place such as Iowa, where we rely heavily upon our agricultural community, our rural communities. We don’t want to see things like eminent domain come into play. We don’t want to see a further push with Agenda 21, where the Agenda 21 and the government telling us that these are the urban centers that you will live in; these are the ways that you will travel to other urban centers. Agenda 21 encompasses so many different aspects of our lives that it’s taking away our individual liberties, our freedoms as United States citizens. So I would adamantly oppose Agenda 21. I don’t believe it is responsible, not for United States citizens.”
Lest we forget, as the Daily Beast reports, "While the name might sound a bit ominous, Agenda 21 is a voluntary action plan that offers suggestions for sustainable ways local, state and national governments can combat poverty and pollution and conserve natural resources in the 21st century. (That’s where the '21’ comes from. Get it?) 178 governments—including the U.S. led by then-President George H.W. Bush—voted to adopt the program which is, again, not legally binding in any way, at the 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro."
Ernst is a nutcase who also believes the states have the power to nullify federal laws they don't agree with. The scary thing is, she could be a sitting senator next year.
This Week in Fake News
House Republicans are indulging in some fake news, and no, we're not talking about Fox. Since even that reliably Republican mouthpiece isn't adequately spreading misinformation, they've created phony news sites at which they can attack their Democratic opponents under the pretense of journalism. Illegal? Probably not. Desperate and smarmy? Absolutely. We have to wonder--once again--about the ethical qualities of politicians who know their policies are broadly unpopular, so stoop to deception and voter disenfranchisement in order to win elections.
This Week in Recovery
When the American economy (along with much of the rest of the world's) collapsed in 2008, there were two trains of thought about how to respond. Presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R/AZ) wanted to freeze all discretionary government spending. Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D/IL) wanted a government stimulus program to spur the economy. We know who won that debate. We should all understand how fortunate we are that he did.
Because in Europe, the other side won. Austerity, not stimulus, became the response of choice. Today, America's economy is growing every quarter, jobs are coming back, and the recovery is real. In Europe today? Not so much.
During a recession, cutting government spending is literally one of the worst possible options. Cutting government jobs is a huge mistake, too, and we did way too much of that, pushing up the unemployment numbers while slowing recovery. And yet, cutting government spending remains a favorite conservative talking point. Their love for it has nothing to do with helping grow the American economy and everything to do with the fact that they simply hate government.
This Week in Charts
The truth about that big spender Barack Obama, in easy-to-understand charts.
This Week in Health Care
Love it or hate it--and a lot of Americans still inexplicably hate it--the Affordable Care Act is already, undeniably, saving the lives of our fellow Americans.
This Week in Thirst
Where does the water in those ubiquitous plastic bottles come from? Turns out, mostly from the places suffering the worst droughts, most notably California. And most of what doesn't come from natural springs (close to half) comes out of the tap.
This Week in RIP
America lost a singular talent when Robin Williams died. Williams was a brilliant actor, an unforgettable comedian, an improvisational genius with very few peers. He was always courageous in his art, never taking the easy path but pushing his limits, stretching his comfort zone. He will be missed greatly by those who knew him and those who only knew his work.
Upon his passing, President Obama issued a statement of condolence, something he rarely does in the case of entertainers (but which he did for Ray Bradbury, Pete Seeger, and Maya Angelou, among others).
This Week in How You Can Help
Some of the most impoverished communities in the country are Native American communities, on or off reservations or tribal lands. Longstanding structural disadvantages limit employment options and keep these people poor. Various charities exist that claim to raise money for them, but sadly, most of those spend more of what they bring in on giveaways intended to sucker more people into donating than they do on the First Americans themselves. Most of the rest goes to administrative costs--in other words, salaries for the people at the top. This is a double disservice--not only are they exploiting Indians to enrich themselves, but when unknowing Americans donate to these charities, they think they've done something to help, and therefore ignore appeals from other groups that might actually be working for good.
The Native American Rights Fund is a non-profit law firm that works on behalf of the rights of Indians at various levels. It is recognized as the most effective Native American-specific charity out there, It does good work that helps real people. If you can give a few bucks to help them do more, please do.
(Thanks to TWiA special tribal consultant Marcy Rockwell for the tip).
This Week in Bears
Coywolves and Pizzly bears. It's a strange new world, and we made it.
If you leave a sandwich in your truck, don't be surprised if a bear helps himself.