Saturday, November 21, 2015

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

The GOP and the New American Fascism

The far right regularly accuses liberals and gays of being fascists and being a threat to "freedom."  The reality is, of course, that it is the far right and today's Republican Party that are the advocates of a new American fascism.  This fascism is dressed up in the guise of patriotism and protecting American values (most often so-called "Judeo-Christian values").  Hitler and the Nazis used similar tactics in the early days of their take over of Germany in the 1930's. Frighteningly, the Republican Party and the ugliest elements of its base want to take America down a similar road.  A column in Salon looks at the disturbing phenomenon championed by those like Ted Cruz and Donald trump.  Here are highlights:
It would appear that our descent into irrationality has not yet hit its limit. Yesterday, Republican frontrunner Donald Trump said that he would consider forcing Muslims to register with the government to be part of a tracking database. Here’s what he said:
MSNBC’s Vaughn Hillyard: Should there be a system a database to track Muslims?

Trump: There should be a lot of systems, beyond databases, we should have a lot of systems, and today you can do it.But right now we have to have order, we have to have strength, we have to have a wall and we cannot let what’s happening to this country happen any longer.

Hillyard: Is that … your White House would…(inaudible)

Trump: I would certainly implement that.
This took place at a ropeline in Iowa where Trump was campaigning. The question didn’t come out of nowhere. Earlier in the day Yahoo News had published an interview in which Trump said that he would deport any Syrian refugees allowed to enter this country under President Obama and didn’t rule out draconian surveillance measures to track American Muslims. He ominously warned:
“We’re going to have to do things that we never did before. And some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule. And certain things will be done that we never thought would happen in this country in terms of information and learning about the enemy. And so we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.”
The MSNBC reporter asked him why Muslims databases would be different than having Jews register in Nazi Germany. He replied, “You tell me.”

So, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination for president has once more upped the ante on the xenophobia that’s been sweeping through the right wing for some time. Mexicans, Muslims, it all the same. Gotta build that wall, track them, deport them, keep ’em out.

Unfortunately, the nervousness coursing though society after the terrorist attack in Paris has made this kind of talk sound less unreasonable to more people, and we had the Congress yesterday struggling to find a way to appease voters who were calling into their offices demanding that refugees be denied entry into the country.
The explanation as to why 47 Democrats would join in this immigrant bashfest is as prosaic as it is depressing. They fear being called “soft on terrorism.” A bunch of hysterical voters who listen to demagogues on cable TV and talk radio called their offices to demand they put a stop to this foreign threat. Rather than be leaders and try to calm the waters, they just went with the flow, knowing that this legislation is unlikely to become law, but wanting to be able to tell their constituents they voted to bar refugees from our shores and keep the children safe. (Well, the good American children anyway. Syrian children will not be so lucky.)

Why they believe this will work for them is unknown. . . . Voters who succumb to xenophobia will likely vote for the Republican alternative. Stoking paranoia is the GOP specialty.
And anyway, this is a soulless sort of politics. This isn’t a highway bill or a tax hike. It’s an issue of life and death. These are votes that should be taken on merit, not political calculation (which very often turn out badly — ask Hillary Clinton). And feeding this xenophobic beast in an environment in which the frontrunner of the Republican Party is endorsing government registration of American Muslims is a very risky business. This kind of thing can get out of hand  quickly.

The public’s fear of Syrian refugees may be understandable but it is nonetheless irrational, and political leaders have a responsibility to be rational at times like these, if for no other reason than to actually protect the nation instead of playing kabuki games for political purposes. 

[E]nabling Islamophobia is one of the most dangerous things our leaders can do:
The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, is pursuing a strategy explicitly designed to provoke hostility toward innocent Muslims in Western society in order to radicalize these communities and recruit them to their cause. Listening to the American political debate in the wake of the tragic terrorist attacks in Paris, that strategy may be working. Islamophobic rants are both morally offensive and factually inaccurate and play right into the hands of our terrorist enemies.
Hopefully, the House will calm down and the Senate will derail this bill. But more importantly, one hopes that Democrats and whatever sane Republicans are left will recognize that every time they feed this xenophobic monster it makes Donald Trump and his ilk stronger. And if they make Donald Trump and his ilk stronger they are also making the ISIS terrorists stronger. That’s a bad policy on every level.

The Civilized and the Damned

Since the terror attacks in Paris a week ago, the Republican presidential candidates have been in overdrive providing propaganda materials to the extremists of ISIS who seek to demonstrate that the West is at war against Islam as a whole rather than the blood thirsty savages of ISIS.  Ted Cruz, Donald Trump (who proposed making Muslims in America wear ID badges akin to Jews in Nazi Germany), Chris Christie and Marco Rubio have provided a cavalcade of video clips and sound bites that must be viewed as gifts by the ISIS hate merchants.  Perhaps most ironic - or, perhaps sick is a better description - is that these Republicans are making their foul statements as they pander to the element base of the GOP that like ISIS cites an supposed holy book to justify hate and misogyny.  Indeed, the Christofascists hate the same things as ISIS: gays, women's equality, science and knowledge, independent thought, and modernity itself.  A piece in the New York Times looks at how fundamentalist religion is the enemy of human rights and  the values of The Enlightenment that built the positive aspects of western civilization:

Earlier this year, before most of us started paying close attention, the death cult of the Islamic State released a video of two men being thrown from the rooftop of a building. They were executed before an approving mob for the crime of being gay — part of a systematic campaign to hunt down and exterminate suspected homosexuals.

At about the same time, a woman accused of committing adultery was stoned to death, an occurrence that rarely draws a second look inside the psychopathic bubble of the Islamic State. For that is a place of brutal, ritualistic rape of children, a place that released a manual explaining that it is permissible, under religious law, to “have intercourse with a female slave who hasn’t reached puberty.” Allah would approve, it claimed.

After this confederacy of killers took credit for the slaughter of innocents in Paris, its reasons were in keeping with the anti-humanist hatred at the core of its beliefs.

The massacre proved Voltaire’s observation — “those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

So when somebody says we’re in the midst of a clash of civilizations — as Senator Marco Rubio did in the days of hysteria following the Paris attack — it’s an insult to the civilized world. Framing it that way gives the barbarians of the Islamic State a narrative for the toxicants they spread in the guise of religion. The Islamic State is not, by any stretch, a civilization.

Civilization is boulevards of people sipping wine in cafes, or listening to secular music — both crimes in Islamic State-controlled territory. “They were trying to kill our very culture,” a young woman in Paris told my colleague Liz Alderman in The Times. “They will not succeed.”

Civilization is defiance, embodied in the words of President François Hollande, directed at people who hate all that France stands for. “The terrorists want to erase everything: culture, youth, life, and also history and memory,” he said. “We will not yield to terrorism by suspending our way of life.”
But that’s what some politicians in the United States are pushing for — discarding the honorable in a tremor of fear.

Civilization does not close its door to an orphaned toddler looking to start a new life in the United States, as Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey has proposed. Civilization does not apply a religious test to victims of religious fanaticism, as Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, wants to do. Only those who pray to Jesus, in his plan, would be allowed to resettle the United States. . . . saying non-Christians are unworthy of being given shelter in our country only feeds an Islamic State recruitment pitch.

A bigger fear than a homeless victim of a savage war is a homegrown crazy with an assault rifle. If only the two-year vetting process now applied to those seeking refuge were used to screen unstable Americans purchasing guns at the mall.

A great crisis can act as a valuable filter, a winnowing that separates true leaders from all the rest, the courageous from the cowards. Hollande, who has been impressive beyond expectations, has also called out the clash-of-worlds fear-mongers.

“We are not committed to a war of civilizations, because these assassins don’t represent any civilization,” he said. “We are at war against terrorism, jihadism, which threatens the whole world.”

The world’s worst terrorists are Muslim in name, and Muslim in warped practice, with Muslims as most of their victims. That truth should not be denied. They cite a holy book to do horrible things. They are damned today by all but a handful of nations. And they are doomed, as all hate ideologies eventually are, because civilization is more sustainable than a cult that worships suicide.

Saudi Arabia - The Other ISIS

With the 24/7 chatter - and in the case of Republicans, verbal diarrhea - about terrorism and the threat of Islamic extremists, there is sadly near total silence on the role that wealthy citizens of Saudi Arabia (and perhaps even the government) have played in funding Islamic extremism around the world.  Similarly, there is very little discussion of the fact that within that country, human rights abuses are rampant and many of the Medieval practices of ISIS are the norm.  In my view, until Saudi Arabia is forced to either join the civilized world, expect the extremism to continue.  Will America and other western nations have the guts to confront Saudi Arabia?  Probably not because of one thing: oil. Energy independence, especially renewable energy sources, should be a national security issue and America and its western allies need to push for the day when the Saudis will be irrelevant and can no longer get a free pass on human rights abuses and other extremist policies.  An op-ed in the New York Times looks at the similarities between Saudi Arabia and ISIS.  Here are highlights:

Black Daesh, white Daesh. The former slits throats, kills, stones, cuts off hands, destroys humanity’s common heritage and despises archaeology, women and non-Muslims. The latter is better dressed and neater but does the same things. The Islamic State; Saudi Arabia. In its struggle against terrorism, the West wages war on one, but shakes hands with the other. This is a mechanism of denial, and denial has a price: preserving the famous strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia at the risk of forgetting that the kingdom also relies on an alliance with a religious clergy that produces, legitimizes, spreads, preaches and defends Wahhabism, the ultra-puritanical form of Islam that Daesh feeds on.

Wahhabism, a messianic radicalism that arose in the 18th century, hopes to restore a fantasized caliphate centered on a desert, a sacred book, and two holy sites, Mecca and Medina. Born in massacre and blood, it manifests itself in a surreal relationship with women, a prohibition against non-Muslims treading on sacred territory, and ferocious religious laws. 

The West’s denial regarding Saudi Arabia is striking: It salutes the theocracy as its ally but pretends not to notice that it is the world’s chief ideological sponsor of Islamist culture. The younger generations of radicals in the so-called Arab world were not born jihadists. They were suckled in the bosom of Fatwa Valley, a kind of Islamist Vatican with a vast industry that produces theologians, religious laws, books, and aggressive editorial policies and media campaigns.

The Saudi royals are caught in a perfect trap: Weakened by succession laws that encourage turnover, they cling to ancestral ties between king and preacher. The Saudi clergy produces Islamism, which both threatens the country and gives legitimacy to the regime.

It is worth reading certain Islamist newspapers to see their reactions to the attacks in Paris. The West is cast as a land of “infidels.” The attacks were the result of the onslaught against Islam. Muslims and Arabs have become the enemies of the secular and the Jews. The Palestinian question is invoked along with the rape of Iraq and the memory of colonial trauma, and packaged into a messianic discourse meant to seduce the masses. Such talk spreads in the social spaces below, while up above, political leaders send their condolences to France and denounce a crime against humanity. This totally schizophrenic situation parallels the West’s denial regarding Saudi Arabia.

All of which leaves one skeptical of Western democracies’ thunderous declarations regarding the necessity of fighting terrorism. Their war can only be myopic, for it targets the effect rather than the cause. Since ISIS is first and foremost a culture, not a militia, how do you prevent future generations from turning to jihadism when the influence of Fatwa Valley and its clerics and its culture and its immense editorial industry remains intact?

Jihadism is denounced as the scourge of the century but no consideration is given to what created it or supports it. This may allow saving face, but not saving lives.  Daesh has a mother: the invasion of Iraq. But it also has a father: Saudi Arabia and its religious-industrial complex. Until that point is understood, battles may be won, but the war will be lost. 

Jihadists will be killed, only to be reborn again in future generations and raised on the same books.  The attacks in Paris have exposed this contradiction again, but as happened after 9/11, it risks being erased from our analyses and our consciences.

Until either (i) Saudi Arabia's oil becomes irrelevant and its power to blackmail is ended, or (ii) that nation is forced into modernity and Islamic extremism condemned and its clerics denied power, don't expect things to get better.  The root of the evil is ignorance embracing and hatred inspiring religion.  Be it fundamentalist Christianity or fundamentalist Islam, both are evils that need  to be eradicated from the face of the earth.  Look across history and there is one constant evil inflaming hate, discrimination and murder: religion.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

The GOP Hates Extremism Except When Endorsing It

With the Republicans whining and shrieking about the dangers of religious extremists (of the Muslim type, of course) in the wake of the Paris attacks, they are conveniently blind to the ugly extremism that permeates much of the GOP base.  In the GOP play book, it is perfectly fine for "conservative Christians" to advocate the murder and execution of gays - just like ISIS, by the way - and somehow there is nothing extremist about it.  Indeed, as we saw Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, and Bobby Jindal all attended a gathering where the execution of gays was repeatedly supported.  Yes, all feign ignorance about the event, even though all received demands that they cancel their appearances because of the extremist position of event organizers (in short, they lied).  Candidly, it is hard for Republicans to credible on the issue of religious extremism when it is now the GOP's stock in trade - along with racism and sexism.  A piece in The Advocate looks at the GOP's hypocrisy.  Here are highlights:
Unless you watch Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show, you probably aren’t aware of the fact that Republican presidential candidates Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, and Bobby Jindal (the latter dropped out of the race on Tuesday) all recently attended a “religious freedom” rally in Iowa hosted by antigay preacher Kevin Swanson, who has repeatedly called for the execution of homosexuals. Unlike the Duggar-styled martyr-complex performance art of Kim Davis, Swanson’s brand of bigotry is overtly bloodthirsty, with rhetoric echoing hateful pastor Scott Lively, a central figure in the persecution of LGBT Ugandans and part of the impetus for their proposed “kill the gays” legislation.

On her show, Maddow showed extensive clips from Swanson, and characterized the event as “a ‘kill-the-gays’ call to arms,” but the rest of the media has by and large ignored the scandal. Huff Po’s Michelangelo Signorile recently noted that The New York Times, The Washington Post and the majority of mainstream outlets either ignored the comments altogether, or focused their attention on the conferences derision of atheists or the Swanson’s outlandish claim that drowning children is preferable to letting them read Harry Potter, and suggested that the media’s tacit acceptance of this rally “suggest we’ve not come as far on LGBT rights as we all like to tell ourselves.”

I believe journalists have a responsibility to report on a group of political candidates’ casual acceptance of murder. Where exactly is the line between a declaration of your backwards belief and an incitement of violence? If the only weapon we have to limit this kind of speech is the court of public opinion, why are journalists allowing Swanson and his political companies to exist in a vacuum?

In a recent interview with Fox and Friends, Cruz stated that the “enemy is radical Islamic terrorism. As long as we have a Commander-in-Chief unwilling to even utter the words radical Islamic terrorism we will not have a concerted effort to defeat these radicals before they murder more and more innocents,” insinuating that the war was not in fact with ISIS, but with an extremist religion. While Cruz may not consider LGBT people ‘innocents,’ it’s still hard to reconcile his affiliation with Swanson with his condemnation of extremism. If your deeply held religious belief is that gay people should be put to death, then you are, categorically, an extremist.

What, exactly, separates Kevin Swanson from the ISIS leaders calling for the execution of homosexuals? 

It seems particularly ironic that the political candidates who are most vocal about barring Syrian refugees from entering this country out of fear of “radical Islam” are fervent advocates of turning this country into a radical Christian theocracy that subjugates women, gays, transgender people and anyone that falls outside of their definition of morality. 

[P]erhaps all of these men are actually committed to rousing as much homophobic, xenophobic, misogynistic sentiment as possible during their time in the political spotlight to ensure a consumer base for their inevitable homophobic, xenophobic, misogynistic book deals and lucrative speaking engagements.

[W]e’re going to see more and more opportunist bigots like Huckabee, Cruz, and Jindal taking advantage of it, and laughing all the way to the bank. If the media won’t speak out on our behalf, we have a responsibility to speak out against the media for enabling this kind of bigotry.   

Republicans Playing to the Terrorists' Script

Passengers aboard the "St. Louis." These refugees from Nazi Germany were forced to return to Europe
While cooler heads argue logic, reason and deliberate screening efforts should prevail in processing refugees fleeing violence in their home countries, many in the Republican Party are doing exactly what ISIS wants and needs for its propaganda efforts.  From John Kasich's idiotic calls for a government agency to promote "Judeo-Christian" values, to Ted Cruz and others' calls to only accept Christian refugees, to efforts to claim that the Koran calls for death and murder while ignoring the horrors advocated in the Old Testament, the Paris attacks are being used to turn the struggle against ISIS into a war of religions.  That, of course is precisely what ISIS wants and needs as a recruiting and propaganda tool.   Sadly, the Republicans eager to prostitute themselves to the ugly, ignorant and extremist elements of the GOP base either do not care about the damage they are doing or are too stupid to grasp it.  A column in the New York Times looks at the sickening conduct and the farce it makes of supposed support of the Gospel message.  Here are excerpts:

Desperate refugees flee persecution and war, but American politicians — worried about security risks — refuse to accept them.
That’s the situation today, but it’s also the shameful way we responded as Jews were fleeing Nazi Germany in the 1930s. In the shadow of one world war, on the eve of another, Americans feared that European Jews might be left-wing security threats.

[I]n January 1939, Americans polled said by a two-to-one majority that the United States should not accept 10,000 mostly Jewish refugee children from Germany. That year, the United States turned away a ship, the St. Louis, with Jewish refugee children; the St. Louis returned to Europe, where some of its passengers [some estimates say half] were murdered by the Nazis.

All the Republican presidential candidates say that we should bar Syrian refugees or apply a religious test and accept only Christians.

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey says we shouldn’t accept Syrians even if they are toddlers and orphans. And the House of Representatives may vote this week on legislation to impede the resettlement of Syrian refugees.

Remember what a Syrian immigrant looks like — the father of Steve Jobs.  

Yes, security is critical, but I’ve known people who have gone through the refugee vetting process, and it’s a painstaking ordeal that lasts two years or more. It’s incomparably more rigorous than other pathways to the United States.

If the Islamic State wanted to dispatch a terrorist to America, it wouldn’t ask a mole to apply for refugee status, but rather to apply for a student visa to study at, say, Indiana University. Hey, governors, are you going to keep out foreign university students?

Or the Islamic State could simply send fighters who are French or Belgian citizens (like some of those behind the Paris attacks) to the U.S. as tourists, no visa required. Governors, are you planning to ban foreign tourists, too?

If Republican governors are concerned about security risks, maybe they should vet who can buy guns. People on terrorism watch lists are legally allowed to buy guns in the United States, and more than 2,000 have done so since 2004. The National Rifle Association has opposed legislation to rectify this.

The Islamic State is trying to create a religious divide and an anti-refugee backlash, so that Muslims will feel alienated and turn to extremism. If so, American and European politicians are following the Islamic State’s script.  Let’s be careful not to follow that script further and stigmatize all Muslims for ISIS terrorism.

The top priority must be making Syria habitable so that refugees need not flee.  

Helping Syrian refugees today doesn’t solve the Middle East mess any more than helping Jewish refugees in 1939 would have toppled Hitler. But it’s the right thing to do. Syrians, no less than those Jewish refugees, no less than my father, are human beings needing help, not flotsam.
Sadly, to much of the GOP base, if one is not a white, heterosexual, conservative Christian, you are flotsam - flotsam to be discarded and deprived of rights and compassion.  So much for  heeding the Gospel message of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving shelter to the homeless and treating others as you would want to be treated.  Thankfully, the younger generations see this hypocrisy and are walking away from religion.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty

GOP Goes Off the Rails After Paris Attack

Since the beginning of the Republican presidential contest we have seen the would be presidential nominees - and many others in the GOP - seeking to play and pander to every prejudice and fear and the religious extremism of the party base.  Much of this effort has involved dog whistle calls supporting white supremacy and the Christofascists' demands for special rights and false claims of persecution and their abject fear of modernity itself and what they perceive to be lost white privilege.  The attacks in Paris last week have sent the party base and the pandering political whores into overdrive.  A piece in Salon looks at the phenomenon as well as the hypocrisy of the supposed "godly folk."  Here are some highlights:

Last week, the biggest story in conservative circles had to do with Starbucks’ decision to issue coffee cups in plain red and green holiday colors rather than festooning them with Christmas-based imagery. This week, conservatives are howling over the potential for Syrian refugees to be granted entry into the United States.

There’s an idea floating around social media that perfectly illustrates how these two stories correlate: Odd how the GOP was so enraged by Starbucks cups that excluded the religious significance of Christmas — a holiday founded on the story of refugees looking for shelter — and yet they don’t mind denying a “room at the inn” for countless other Middle East families. So much for the religious significance of Christmas when there’s inchoate fear to indulge!

[I]n the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, Republicans are further entrenching against admitting refugees into the U.S. because there might — might! — be an ISIS terrorist disguising himself as a Syrian escaping his nation’s civil war.

It’s yet another example of how the GOP almost always drops the ball when it comes to serious solutions to complicated problems. Let’s review:

• Spectacular al-Qaida attacks using airplanes crashing into buildings? Invade and occupy Iraq, even though al-Qaida didn’t operate there — although they sure have done so since the invasion — postwar — and even though Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11.

• A terrorist attack against our consulate in Benghazi resulting in four American deaths? Investigate it with more vigor and outrage than a terrorist attack that resulted in 3,000 American deaths.

• A voter fraud rate of about 0.0002 percent? Disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Americans (mostly Democrats) with Jim Crow-style Voter ID laws.

The list goes on and on.

In this case, Republicans ranging from Fox News demagogues to the governors of Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, . . . . New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin have pledged to disallow Syrian refugees from having a proverbial “room at the inn.”

Of course we learned that governors don’t have the authority to ban refugees from their states. In other words, states have no authority over the federal government when it comes to immigration policy. The Supreme Court ruled in Hines v. Davidowitz: “The supremacy of the national power in the general field of foreign affairs, including power over immigration, naturalization and deportation, is made clear by the Constitution.”

Then again, the GOP is increasingly ruled by states’ rights zealots who routinely posture about ignoring Supreme Court rulings such as the one legalizing same-sex marriage, so it’ll come as no surprise to see Bobby Jindal and Greg Abbott inveighing against admitting refugees, given the opportunity.

The GOP is obviously pandering to the racist tendencies of its base. Like always. And those tendencies demand validation. If the yokels believe the Syrian refugees are harboring ISIS sleeper cells, then they clearly are. Facts be damned.

And while Republicans from Donald Trump to AM radio screechers market in the specious connection between incidents of gun violence or terrorism and locations with strict gun laws, it’s worth noting that between 2004 and 2014, 2,000 terrorists from the FBI’s watch list were able to successfully purchase firearms in the United States, thanks to the GOP and its salacious love affair with the National Rifle Association. . . . . Rep. Tony Dale (R) strongly opposes allowing refugees into his state. Why? Because it’s too easy to buy guns there.

But what about any other would-be terrorists? Texas welcomes you. Thanks, Rep. Dale, for telegraphing Texas’ easy availability of firearms to any terrorist who wants them. Smart. By the way, according to a study by the New America Foundation, most terrorists inside the U.S. are white Americans.
Almost twice as many people have died in attacks by right-wing groups in America than have died in attacks by Muslim extremists. Of the 26 attacks since 9/11 that the group defined as terror, 19 were carried out by non-Muslims.
None of this is to suggest the threat from ISIS should be taken lightly. . . . . there’s a smart way to pursue this goal, and there’s a really dumb, scattershot way of doing it. The GOP is busily showing us the latter by randomly demonizing innocent Syrian refugees, even though 51 percent are children under 17. Someone should find out how many unborn Syrians are among the refugees. Surely if most of the refugees were fetuses under the age of 17 weeks, the GOP would stumble over its own feet to rescue them. The birthed ones are, sadly, on their own.

If the circumstances surrounding Paris weren’t so utterly tragic, the GOP’s flailing, nonsensical reaction to the attack and to the ongoing refugee crisis would be almost as hilarious as its reaction to the stupid Starbucks cup design.

Advisers: Carson Doesn't Understand Foreign Policy Issues

While many of the white Christofascists of the Republican Party base have surprisingly rallied to Ben Carson (surprising because they loath a black man in the White House in general) thanks to Carson insane religiosity, the GOP debates and the growing complexities of foreign affairs issues are exposing Carson's ignorance, especially in the area of foreign policy.  Even his advisers are admitting that Carson is over his head - I'd say WAY over his head - and the question becomes whether his increasingly obvious unfitness and lack of knowledge will finally end his luster with the portion of the GOP base most out of touch from objective reality.  A piece in the New York Times looks at Carson's adviser's efforts to deal with the man's blatant ignorance.  Note that Carson's only paid foreign policy adviser is out of Liberty University, a continual embarrassment to the Commonwealth of Virginia and gathering place for Christofascist nutcases. Here are article excerpts:

Ben Carson’s remarks on foreign policy have repeatedly raised questions about his grasp of the subject, but never more seriously than in the past week, when he wrongly asserted that China had intervened militarily in Syria and then failed, on national television, to name the countries he would call on to form a coalition to fight the Islamic State.
Faced with increasing scrutiny about whether Mr. Carson, who leads in some Republican presidential polls, was capable of leading American foreign policy, two of his top advisers said in interviews that he had struggled to master the intricacies of the Middle East and national security and that intense tutoring was having little effect.

“Nobody has been able to sit down with him and have him get one iota of intelligent information about the Middle East,” said Duane R. Clarridge, a top adviser to Mr. Carson on terrorism and national security. He also said Mr. Carson needed weekly conference calls briefing him on foreign policy so “we can make him smart.”
As the deadly assaults in Paris claimed by the Islamic State reframe the presidential race, the candidates’ foreign policy credentials are suddenly under scrutiny. And Mr. Carson has attracted extra attention because his statements give rise to questions about where, as a retired neurosurgeon without government experience, he turns for information and counsel on complex global issues. 

But the briefings do not always seem to sink in, Mr. Clarridge said. After Mr. Carson struggled on “Fox News Sunday” to say whom he would call first to form a coalition against the Islamic State, Mr. Clarridge called Mr. Williams in frustration. “We need to have a conference call once a week where his guys roll out the subjects they think will be out there, and we can make him smart,” Mr. Clarridge said he told Mr. Williams.

Once written off by political insiders, Mr. Carson has rocketed to the top tier of candidates and has traded off a lead in recent polls with Donald J. Trump.

But the stress of his ascent has revealed an inexperienced political operation and a lack of connections to informed and respected advisers. Whereas Jeb Bush can call on dozens of experts from the foreign policy establishment who once worked for the administrations of his father and brother, Mr. Carson so far has only one paid national security adviser, Robert F. Dees, a retired Army general on the staff of Liberty University in Virginia.

On Facebook, where the campaign connects to its vast grass-roots army, two of his top campaign aides posted a video on Monday highlighting his “Fox News Sunday” interview with no hint of Mr. Carson’s private acknowledgment that he had performed poorly. The Facebook page included what it said was supporting evidence of Mr. Carson’s claim of Chinese involvement in Syria: a satellite image of a purported Chinese-made radar system in Syria, and a Syrian soldier posing on a Chinese-made armored vehicle.

But the effort to claim that Mr. Carson had meant only that there was Chinese-made matériel in Syria, not military personnel, was contradicted by his top Middle East adviser, Mr. Clarridge.

Carson is truly frightening and, in my view, needs a mental health care intervention.  The man is supremely confident that he knows everything and is seemingly unable to recognize his own limitations and shocking ignorance on a host of matters.  We do not need him anywhere near the White House. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

More Tuesday Male Beauty

GOP Fear Mongerers and America's Poor Track Record on Immigrants

One other thing that John Kasich said in the context of whether or not Syrian refugees should be allowed into America was to the effect that "the American public usually gets it right."  Kasich made the statement to justify turning away Syrian refugees.  In point of fact, America has gotten it seriously wrong on immigration many times over the course of the nation's history - especially if the immigrants were of different faiths and darker skin color.  The image above shows how wrong public opinion was in the 1930's in the context of taking in Jewish refugees.  This piece looks at America's less than stellar track record.  Here are some excerpts:

It’s a comforting thought to look at the refugees fleeing ISIS — the same ones to whom Republicans want to deny entry into the United States — and say that we’re better than this, that Americans as a whole will rise up and refuse to be so cold, so heartless. But those of us who are eager to help people in need are truly in the minority, historically speaking.

As World War II approached, Fortune Magazine published the results of a 1938 poll that should serve as a grim reminder that Americans can and will latch on to bigotry in any sense. Today, we pretend that America has always accepted Jewish people. Unfortunately, the poll reveals that the majority — 67 percent — openly rejected taking in Jewish refugees from Germany, Austria, and other countries oppressed by the Nazis “with conditions as they are.” Only 23 percent of Americans, most of whom opposed raising immigration quotas, said that accepting Jewish refugees was a good idea.

2016 Republican presidential hopeful Chris Christie’s opinion that we should not even accept Muslim “5-year-old orphans” is one that should stay buried in our shameful past — but a January 1939 poll heartbreakingly reveals that Americans even opposed taking care of Jewish children.

In September, the Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor reminded us that the bigotry espoused by the Right and the hatred they level at Muslim refugees is exactly like the anti-Semitism of the 1930’s:
No matter the alarming rhetoric of [Adolf] Hitler’s fascist state — and the growing acts of violence against Jews and others — popular sentiment in Western Europe and the United States was largely indifferent to the plight of German Jews.

“Of all the groups in the 20th century,” write the authors of the 1999 book, “Refugees in the Age of Genocide,” “refugees from Nazism are now widely and popularly perceived as ‘genuine’, but at the time German, Austrian and Czechoslovakian Jews were treated with ambivalence and outright hostility as well as sympathy.”
“Part of that hostility was fueled, as some of the European grievances are now, by stereotypes of the refugees as harbingers of a dangerous ideology, in this instance communism and anarchist violence,” Tharoor notes.

If this sounds familiar, it should. Every day, Republicans remind us  — incorrectly — that Muslims are of the devil, that their ways and beliefs are somehow dangerous to the good, pristine America they know and love…and that has not existed since Jim Crow ended.

Kasich Wants a Propaganda Department to Spread "Judeo-Christian Values"

Driving home I heard John Kasich being interviewed and the topic of defeating ISIS and Islamic extremism came up.  In addition to advocating "boots on the ground" (and then evasively  dancing around naming the number of American lives he'd throw away), Kasich shockingly indicated that he would establish a propaganda department to spread "Judeo-Christian values" to win the war of ideas against ISIS.  That statement along proves to my mind that Kasich is unfit for the White House.  If one looks at history, it is the values and ideas of The Enlightenment that moved mankind forward and which are the real basis of modern Western civilization.  Religion and Christianity in particular have a bloody track record of giving the world, hate, bigotry and the murder of those with differing beliefs.  Be it the annihilation of other Christian sects during the early years of Christianity, the Crusades, Europe's wars of religion, the extermination of native peoples in the Americas, Judeo-Christian values have proven deadly.  The Washington Post looks at Kasich's ridiculous proposal.  Here are article highlights: 

During a speech Tuesday at the National Press Club, Ohio Governor and Republican presidential candidate John Kasich offered a litany of ideas meant to broaden the influence of the United States and combat the rise of the Islamic State. Among them was one that, on its face, seemed to contradict the 1st Amendment to the Constitution.

U.S. public diplomacy and international broadcasting have lost their focus on the case for Western values and ideals and effectively countering our opponents' propaganda and disinformation. I will consolidate them into a new agency that has a clear mandate to promote the core, Judeo-Christian Western values that we and our friends and allies share: the values of human rights, the values of democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of association."

Curious about the constitutionality of such a thing, we called New York University civil liberties professor Burt Neuborne, former legal director of the ACLU and founding legal director of the Brennan Center for Justice.

"The 'Judeo-Christian' phrase, my sense is, is an unfortunate phrase by the governor," Neuborne said. "What he really means is historically the values associated with Western culture.

A President Kasich, though, "couldn't create an agency designed to promote strictly religious values," Neuborne said. "To the extent he's insisting in making it a religious institution, he's making it harder on himself. But my bet is that's not what he intended."

Apparently, Kasich failed to notice that Bobby Jindal's self-prostitution to the Christofascists did not save his campaign.  And, as noted above, he is apparently so ignorant of history that he doesn't understand that it was The Enlightenment - which embraced knowledge and reason and rejected religious based ignorance and bigotry - that is the basis of what we now consider to be western values. Sadly, the author of the Post piece is seemingly as ignorant as Kasich on this point.

Bobby Jindal Ends Presidential Run

Personally, I never understood why Bobby Jindal ever thought he was a viable presidential candidate.  He may have won the governorship of Louisiana, but I never saw much of the racist, Christofasist base of the Republican Party voting for someone who was of Hindu descent.  True, Jindal is Christian, but most in the GOP base cannot look beyond skin color - which why I find it so baffling that Ben Carson has done as well as he has in the polls of the GOP base.  Jindal may have recognized this reality and seemingly sought to counter it by shamelessly prostituting himself to the Christofascists and adopted every anti-gay, anti-equality, anti-modernity position popular with the worse knuckle draggers of the far right.  Apparently, shameless misogyny and self-prostitution simply was not enough.  Huffington Post looks at Jindal's decision to end his hopeless campaign.  Here are highlights:
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) ended his presidential campaign on Tuesday.

"I've come to the realization that this is not my time, so I've come here to announce that I am suspending my campaign for president of the United States," he told Fox News' Bret Baier.

Jindal, who entered the presidential race in June, has remained near the back of the Republican pack since then. In recent months, his persistently low polling numbers relegated him to the smaller televised events that preceded each of the main GOP debates.

Jindal has served as Louisiana's governor since 2008, the year he oversaw the mass evacuation of his state's coastal areas during Hurricane Gustav. Since then, he's established himself as a hard-line conservative  . . . . 

Earlier this year, the governor launched an executive order to fulfill the spirit of HB 707, a defeated bill intended to allow Louisiana citizens and businesses to discriminate against same-sex couples without punishment.

During his campaign, like many other GOP candidates, Jindal threw his support behind Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, citing her religious convictions.

Before Jindal exited the race, Willie Robertson, a star of the A&E reality show "Duck Dynasty," appeared to withdraw his support of Jindal and endorse Trump instead. Jindal's campaign denied that Robertson had broken bad on the governor, saying that Robertson simply "admires" Trump's "business acumen."

My view is "good riddance."  Now, Jindal needs to focus on repairing the huge damage that he has done to Louisiana, especially public education and public higher education. 

Tuesday Morning Male Beauty

How the West Created Islamic Extremism

While we hear bellicose statements from Republicans and much scapegoating of refugees in the wake of the Paris attacks last week, there is far too little reflection on how and why ISIS and Islamic extremism has grown and spread.  A book review in the New York Times looks at the rise of ISIS.  A piece in Huffington Post looks at the roots of Islamic extremism in Saudi Arabia and how that country more than any other has exported virulent extremism more than any other, including Iran, the favorite bogey man of Republicans and the far right.  Sadly, much of such analysis ignores the role that the West - translate the United States - has played in creating the conditions for ISIS to flourish not to mention funding some of the early movements that have evolved into Al Quaida and now ISIS.  A piece in Salon looks at America and its allies' role in creating this nightmare.  Here are excerpts:

History takes no prisoners. It shows, with absolutely lucidity, that the Islamic extremism ravaging the world today was borne out of the Western foreign policy of yesteryear.

Gore Vidal famously referred to the USA as the United States of Amnesia. The late Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai put it a little more delicately, quipping, “One of the delightful things about Americans is that they have absolutely no historical memory.”

In order to understand the rise of militant Salafi groups like ISIS and al-Qaida; in order to wrap our minds around their heinous, abominable attacks on civilians in the U.S., France, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Nigeria, Turkey, Yemen, Afghanistan and many, many more countries, we must rekindle this historical memory.

Where did violent Islamic extremism come from? In the wake of the horrific Paris attacks on Friday, November the 13, this is the question no one is asking — yet it is the most important one of all. If one doesn’t know why a problem emerged, if one cannot find its root, one will never be able to solve and uproot it.

[W]e must delve into the history of the Cold War, the historical period lied about in the West perhaps more than any other.

How the West cultivated Osama bin Laden

We needn’t reach back far into history, just a few decades.  A much-circulated photo of an article published in British newspaper the Independent in 1993 exemplifies the West’s twisted hypocrisy. Titled “Anti-Soviet warrior puts his army on the road to peace,” it features a large photo of Osama bin Laden, who, at the time, was a close Western ally.

The newspaper noted that bin Laden organized a militia of thousands of foreign fighters from throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and “supported them with weapons and his own construction equipment” in their fight against the USSR in the 1980s. “We beat the Soviet Union,” bin Laden boasted.

The mujahedin, this international Islamic extremist militia organized and headed by bin Laden, is what eventually morphed into both al-Qaida and the Taliban.

In Greek mythology, Cassandra was blessed with the power of prophecy, but cursed in that no one would ever heed her warnings. Eqbal Ahmad, the late political scientist, historian and expert in the study of terrorism, was a modern-day Cassandra.

In a speech at the University of Colorado, Boulder in October 1998, Ahmad warned that the U.S. policy in Afghanistan would backfire:
“In Islamic history, jihad as an international violent phenomenon had disappeared in the last 400 years, for all practical purposes. It was revived suddenly with American help in the 1980s. When the Soviet Union intervened in Afghanistan, Zia ul-Haq, the [U.S.-backed] military dictator of Pakistan, which borders on Afghanistan, saw an opportunity and launched a jihad there against godless communism. The U.S. saw a God-sent opportunity to mobilize one billion Muslims against what Reagan called the ‘Evil Empire.’

“Money started pouring in. CIA agents starting going all over the Muslim world recruiting people to fight in the great jihad. Bin Laden was one of the early prize recruits. He was not only an Arab. He was also a Saudi.
“Saddam was defeated, but the American troops stayed on in the land of the Ka’aba [the most sacred site of Islam, in Mecca], foreign troops. He wrote letter after letter saying, ‘Why are you here? Get out! You came to help but you have stayed on.’ Finally he started a jihad against the other occupiers. His mission is to get American troops out of Saudi Arabia. His earlier mission was to get Russian troops out of Afghanistan.”
For bin Laden, Ahmad added, “America has broken its word. . . .“They’re going to go for you. They’re going to do a lot more,” Ahmad warned, three years before the 9/11 attacks. “These are the chickens of the Afghanistan war coming home to roost.”
We now know that Ahmad was right. But, like Cassandra, the powerful ignored his sagacious admonition, and suffered the horrific consequences.

Extremist “freedom fighters”

In the 1950s and ’60s, Afghanistan was a somewhat secular country in which women were granted relatively equal rights. What turned Afghanistan into the hotbed for extremism it is today? Decades of Western meddling.

Throughout the 1980s, the U.S. government supported and armed bin Laden and his mujahedin in Afghanistan, in their fight against the Soviet Union. President Ronald Reagan famously met with the mujahedin in the Oval Office in 1983.

Those “freedom fighters” are the forefathers of ISIS and al-Qaida. When the last Soviet troops were withdrawn in 1989, the mujahedin did not simply leave; a civil war of sorts followed, with various Islamist militant groups fighting for control in the power vacuum. The Taliban came out on top, and established a medieval theocratic regime to replace the former “godless” socialist government.  

This Cold War strategy ended up being successful: After the fall of the USSR, the secular socialist groups that dominated the resistance movements of the Middle East were replaced by Islamic extremists ones that had previously been supported by the West.

It is not a coincidence that most of the secular countries in the history of the Middle East have been socialist of some sort. In contrast, the most reactionary countries — the countries where women are not granted equal rights and where the rule of law is based on Sharia — have frequently tended to be close Western allies. Why? The West was much, much more interested in preserving capitalism than it was in allowing secularism, gender equality and relative economic equality to flourish under socialism. 

[T]he reality is the Middle East was significantly more progressive and secular during the height of the Cold War than it is today. That’s not a coincidence. The U.S. and its allies destroyed secularism as part of their larger Cold War strategy.

The Cold War bites back

This Cold War strategy continues to bite back today, and hard. Because of this policy, we have now ended up with capitalist dystopias like those in Saudi Arabia, Qatar or the UAE — filthy rich oil states where businessmen are drowning in money while the migrant modern-day slaves upon which their economies are built die in droves, and theocratic monarchies imprison or even behead anyone who challenges the regime.

The Gulf states remain some of the most reactionary and extremist countries on the planet, and they happen to be close Western allies. Saudi Arabia, in particular, is the fountainhead of militant Sunni Islamism — and yet the Obama administration has done more than $100 billion in arms deals with the Saudi monarchy in just five years.
[M]odern Sunni extremist groups like ISIS and al-Qaida are “a product of Saudi ideals, Saudi money, and Saudi organizational support.” Government cables leaked by WikiLeaks demonstrate that the U.S. is well aware that al-Qaida and other Salafi groups are supported by rich Saudis. 

[I]t is now widely acknowledged that the illegal U.S.-led war in Iraq — a catastrophic occupation that led to the deaths of at least 1 million people — destabilized the entire Middle East, creating the extreme conditions in which militant groups like al-Qaida spread like wildfire, eventually leading to the emergence of ISIS. The former head of intelligence for the U.S. Central Command and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, agrees. U.S. policies in Iraq “absolutely” strengthened Salafi militant groups like al-Qaida, Lt. Gen. Flynn conceded. “We definitely put fuel on a fire,” he lamented. 

Saddam Hussein was the first Frankenstein’s monster U.S. policy created in Iraq, al-Qaida was the second, and now ISIS is the third.

Blaming Islam is projection

The pundits in the West blaming Islam for the rise of extremism are projecting their own countries’ crimes onto the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims.

The kinds of people who blame Islam and Muslims for the spread of extremism are the kinds of people who have utmost faith in Western empire. . . . . they, deep-down, believe Western empire to be fundamentally rooted in good will, in humanitarianism, in progress, in the proselytizing of civilization.
This is the same logic that justified genocidal European colonialism, Western expansionism and Manifest Destiny, and the White Man’s Burden. And it is this same logic that promotes militarist policies and anti-Muslim and anti-refugee bigotries in response to Islamist militants’ attacks — only serving to further fuel the fire of extremism.

“Everybody’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s a really easy way: stop participating in it.”
ISIS needs to be stopped.  But the West needs to defeated it without continuing the very policies that have fueled its rise.