Lazy Caturday Reads

Pierre Bonnard and his cat

Artist Pierre Bonnard and his cat

Happy Caturday!!

Today’s top story is the Democrats’ historic climate/health-care/tax bill.

The bill can be passed through reconciliation, after the Senate parliamentarian approved most of the bill’s provisions. One portion of the Medicare drug portion of the bill was disallowed.

The Guardian: Senate Democrats given green light to vote on $430bn climate and tax bill.

US Senate Democrats on Saturday were set to push ahead on a bill that would address key elements of President Joe Biden’s agenda, tackling climate change, lowering the cost of energy and senior citizens’ drugs and forcing the wealthy to pay more taxes.

A Senate rulemaker determined that the lion’s share of the $430bn bill could be passed with only a simple majority, bypassing a filibuster rule requiring 60 votes in the 100-seat chamber to advance most legislation and enabling Democrats to pass it over Republican objections, majority leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement….

“Democrats have received extremely good news,” Schumer said in the statement. “Medicare will finally be allowed to negotiate drug prices … This is a major victory for the American people.“ [….]

There are three main parts to the bill: a 15% minimum tax on corporations, tougher IRS enforcement and a new excise tax on stock buybacks. The legislation has $430 billion in new spending along with raising more than $740 billion in new revenues.

Beside billions of dollars to encourage the production and purchase of more electric vehicles and foster clean energy, the bill would set $4 billion in new federal drought relief funds. The latter is a move that could help the re-election campaigns of Democratic Senators Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada and Mark Kelly in Arizona….

One provision cut from the bill would have forced drug companies to refund money to both government and private health plans if drug prices rise more quickly than inflation. The Senate arbiter, known as the parliamentarian, ruled that measure could not apply to private industry.

Frida Kahlo's cat feeling shunned as she cuddles a monkey

Frida Kahlo’s cat feeling shunned as she cuddles a monkey

Before they can vote on the bill, Democrats will have to endure a “vote-a-rama,” in which Republicans will try to weaken the bill with votes on proposed amendments. They may also face a fight with good old Bernie Sanders.

USA Today: Senate preps for grueling weekend ‘vote-a-rama’ as Democrats push sweeping climate, health care bill.

In a vote-a-rama, senators can offer up an unlimited amount of amendments to a bill but the process is expedited.

There is only one minute allocated for debate, equally divided between both sides. Then, senators are given 10 minutes to vote. This process repeats for every single amendment.

In a vote-a-rama, senators can offer up an unlimited amount of amendments to a bill but the process is expedited.

There is only one minute allocated for debate, equally divided between both sides. Then, senators are given 10 minutes to vote. This process repeats for every single amendment.

The last time the Senate held a vote-a-rama was when it adopted a budget resolution for fiscal year 2022 last August. Senators offered up 43 amendments for a vote, leading to a session that lasted around 14 hours.  

What’s the point of this nonsense?

Most amendments are expected to come from Republicans, who are furious over the deal which was negotiated without their input.

Republican-proposed amendments are expected to fail. But the vote-a-rama will allow Republicans to make Democrats vote on tough issues that could be used for ads on the campaign trail this fall.

The deal also incited the anger of some on the left, who have criticized the bill’s investment in new fossil fuel development – likely due to the importance natural gas and coal are to the economy of Manchin’s home state.

Progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on the Senate floor Wednesday,urged lawmakers “to do everything possible to take on the greed of the fossil fuel industry,” and promised to offer an amendment nixing fossil fuel investments in the bill.

Sanders’ amendment is expected to fail as the bill is contingent on Manchin’s support.

Senate rules are truly insane.

Photographer Margaret Bourke-White with her kitten in 1944

Photographer Margaret Bourke-White with her kitten in 1944

John Nichols at The Nation: Schumer’s Inflation Reduction Act Includes a Smart Tax on Corporations.

The Inflation Reduction Act that is poised for votes in the US Senate is far from perfect. A scaled-down version of the ambitious plans that President Joe Biden and Senate Budget Committee chair Bernie Sanders framed last summer as the “Build Back Better” agenda, it’s the latest step in the series of compromises that’s been referred to as “Build Back Smaller.”

Yet the $740 billion budget reconciliation package  worked out by Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has ambitions that ought not be underestimated—especially as it arrives at a point when many Democrats had given up hope on getting another omnibus bill enacted before the November midterm elections. As it stands now, according to Politico, the measure “would spend $369 billion on energy and climate change, extend Obamacare subsidies through 2024, direct Medicare to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs and send an estimated $300 billion to deficit reduction. It would be funded, in part, by a 15 percent corporate minimum tax on big companies and increased IRS enforcement.”

And it looks as if it will include a 1 percent excise tax on stock buybacks, which is actually a very big deal. The tax, which would raise $73 billion for climate and health care initiatives, cracks down on some of the ugliest abuses by multinational corporations.

Read all the details at The Nation.

Also in the news: the fight for women’s personhood as Republicans try to turn women into broodmares.

The Washington Post: Indiana passes near-total abortion ban, the first state to do so post-Roe.

Indiana became the first state in the country after the fall of Roe v. Wade to pass sweeping limits on abortion access, after Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) signed into law Friday a bill that constitutes a near-total ban 0n the procedure.

The Republican-dominated state Senate approved the legislation 28-19 on Friday in a vote that came just hours after it passed Indiana’s lower chamber. The bill, which will go into effect Sept. 15, allows abortion only in cases of rape, incest, lethal fetal abnormality or when the procedure is necessary to prevent severe health risks or death.

Paul Klee with cat Bimbo

Paul Klee with his cat Bimbo

Supporters of abortion rights crowded into the corridors of the Indiana Statehouse throughout the day as lawmakers cast their votes, some holding signs that read “You can only ban safe abortions” and “Abortion is health care.” Moments after the vote, some protesters hugged and others stood stunned before the crowd broke out into chants of “We will not stop.”c

In a statement released after signing the bill, Holcomb said he had “stated clearly” following the overturn of Roe that he would be willing to support antiabortion legislation. He also highlighted the “carefully negotiated” exceptions in the law, which he said address “some of the unthinkable circumstances a woman or unborn child might face.”

Note he said “some of.” There are bound to be many “unthinkable circumstances” that Indiana state legislators are ignorant about.

The vote followed days of testimony from citizens and a debate that grew heated at times. “Sir, I am not a murderer,” state Rep. Renee Pack (D) said in the chamber after state Rep. John Jacob (R), a staunch abortion opponent who wanted exceptions for rape removed, described the procedure as murder.

Abortion rights organizations quickly rebuked Friday’s decision. Alexis McGill Johnson, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the vote “was cruel and will prove devastating for pregnant people and their families in Indiana and across the whole region.” “Hoosiers didn’t want this,” Johnson said.

In a statement, antiabortion group Indiana Right to Life opposed the exceptions and said the new law did not go far enough in cutting abortion access.

Dana Goldstein at The New York Times writes about what some anti-abortion fanatics are offering as a cruel “solution” to unwanted pregnancies: Drop Box for Babies: Conservatives Promote a Way to Give Up Newborns Anonymously.

The Safe Haven Baby Box at a firehouse in Carmel, Ind., looked like a library book drop. It had been available for three years for anyone who wanted to surrender a baby anonymously.

Ai Weiwei with Lai Lai — one of his 40 cats

Ai Weiwei with Lai Lai — one of his 40 cats

No one had ever used it, though, until early April. When its alarm went off, Victor Andres, a firefighter, opened the box and found, to his disbelief, a newborn boy wrapped in towels.

The discovery made the local TV news, which praised the courage of the mother, calling it “a time for celebration.” Later that month, Mr. Andres pulled another newborn, a girl, from the box. In May, a third baby appeared. By summer, three more infants were left at baby box locations throughout the state.

The baby boxes are part of the safe haven movement, which has long been closely tied to anti-abortion activism. Safe havens offer desperate mothers a way to surrender their newborns anonymously for adoption, and, advocates say, avoid hurting, abandoning or even killing them. The havens can be boxes, which allow parents to avoid speaking to anyone or even being seen when surrendering their babies. More traditionally, the havens are locations such as hospitals and fire stations, where staff members are trained to accept a face-to-face handoff from a parent in crisis.

So a child will never know who her parents are unless they can find a way to locate them through on-line DNA matching.

But for many experts in adoption and women’s health, safe havens are hardly a panacea.

To them, a safe haven surrender is a sign that a woman fell through the cracks of existing systems. They may have concealed their pregnancies and given birth without prenatal care, or they may suffer from domestic violence, drug addiction, homelessness or mental illness.

The adoptions themselves could also be problematic, with women potentially unaware that they are terminating parental rights, and children left with little information about their origins.

Read more at the NYT.

From the great Jane Mayer at The New Yorker: State Legislatures Are Torching Democracy.

As the Supreme Court anticipated when it overturned Roe v. Wade, the battle over abortion rights is now being waged state by state. Nowhere is the fight more intense than in Ohio, which has long been considered a national bellwether. The state helped secure the Presidential victories of Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, then went for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020. Its residents tend to be politically moderate, and polls consistently show that a majority of Ohio voters support legal access to abortion, particularly for victims of rape and incest. Yet, as the recent ordeal of a pregnant ten-year-old rape victim has illustrated, Ohio’s state legislature has become radically out of synch with its constituents. In June, the state’s General Assembly instituted an abortion ban so extreme that the girl was forced to travel to Indiana to terminate her pregnancy. In early July, Dr. Caitlin Bernard, the Indiana obstetrician who treated the child, told me that she had a message for Ohio’s legislature: “This is your fault!”

Gustav Klimt with his cat Katz

Gustav Klimt with his cat Katz

Longtime Ohio politicians have been shocked by the state’s transformation into a center of extremist legislation, not just on abortion but on such divisive issues as guns and transgender rights. Ted Strickland, a Democrat who served as governor between 2007 and 2011, told me, “The legislature is as barbaric, primitive, and Neanderthal as any in the country. It’s really troubling.” When he was governor, he recalled, the two parties worked reasonably well together, but politics in Ohio “has changed.” The story is similar in several other states with reputations for being moderate, such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania: their legislatures have also begun proposing laws so far to the right that they could never be passed in the U.S. Congress.

Ohio’s law prohibits abortion after six weeks—or even earlier, if doctors can detect fetal cardiac activity—unless the mother is at risk of death or serious permanent injury. Dr. Bernard noted that the bill’s opponents had warned about the proposed restrictions’ potential effect on underage rape victims. “It was literally a hypothetical that was discussed,” she told me. Indeed, at a hearing on April 27th, a Democrat in the Ohio House, Richard Brown, declared that if a thirteen-year-old girl “was raped by a serial rapist . . . this bill would require this thirteen-year-old to carry this felon’s fetus.”

It’s a long read, so please check it out at The New Yorker if you’re interested.

Alex Jones is screwed and I couldn’t be happier.

The Washington Post: Alex Jones ordered to pay $45.2 million more in punitive damages to Sandy Hook parents.

A Texas jury has determined Infowars host Alex Jones must pay the parents of a Sandy Hook school shooting victim $45.2 million in punitive damages. The Friday decision comes a day after the same jury awarded the plaintiffs $4.1 million in compensatory damages, culminating the final phase of a defamation case first brought in 2018 over Jones’s repeated false claims that the deadliest elementary school shooting in U.S. history was a hoax.

Jones was not in court as the jury read the unanimous verdict.

The damages phase of the trial that ended Friday marks the first time Jones, an influential purveyor of far-right conspiracy theories, has faced financial repercussions in court for the outlandish lies he told via his Infowars broadcast about the shooting. Since the early days that followed the 2012 shooting that killed 26 people, including 20 young children, Jones said on his program that “no one died” at Sandy Hook and that the attack was a ruse “staged” by gun-control advocates to manufacture anti-gun sentiment.

In the case brought by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the parents of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, the damages hint at what Jones could face in the months ahead in his additional Sandy Hook defamation cases in Texas and Connecticut.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

Suzanne Valadon with her cat

Suzanne Valadon with her cat

Shannon Bond at NPR: How Alex Jones helped mainstream conspiracy theories become part of American life.

Name a traumatic news event in recent decades, and it’s almost certain Alex Jones has claimed it didn’t happen — or not the way you think it did.

The Boston Marathon bombing in 2013? Staged by the FBI.

The shooting of Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords in 2011? A government mind control operation.

The September 11th terrorist attacks? An inside job.

All lies.

The conspiracy theorist and radio host was confronted with his track record of fabulism this week in an Austin, Texas, courtroom. He was on trial to determine how much he should pay for defaming the parents of a first grader killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, after years of falsely claiming that no children died and the families were “crisis actors” in a “giant hoax” designed to take away guns….

Jones got his start in public access broadcasting in Austin, Texas, in the 1990s. From his early days on air, he spouted conspiracy theories about the siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, and the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

When his wild claims got him fired from a local radio station, he founded Infowars in 1999 and started broadcasting over the internet and in radio syndication.

After the September 11th attacks, Jones surged to fame as a “truther,” claiming the Bush administration was behind the tragedy.

As his audience grew, Jones popularized a vocabulary for pernicious doubt: not just that officials and media are hiding the truth, but that tragic events are being engineered for nefarious purposes.

“He’s at least a catalyst of those prevailing narratives that follow almost every newsworthy tragedy, whether it’s a mass shooting or otherwise,” said Sara Aniano, a disinformation researcher at the Anti-Defamation League.

Read more or listen at NPR.

That’s it for me today. I hope you’re all having a great weekend!


Tuesday Reads: When Will There Be Good News?

Tuesday Morning Rant:

1d810814-7c26-4a14-b67b-00ac04998422Once again,  I’ve reached the point where I can’t bring myself to watch the news on TV. I check Twitter a few times a day and end up frightened and depressed. On the days I write posts, I read a number of articles, but then I need hours of down time to decompress. When will there be some good news for those of us who want the U.S. to be a democracy?

When will Democratic leaders understand that we are facing the strong possibility of losing the House and Senate in November? When will the House January 6 Committee begin the promised public hearings? When will the Justice Department prosecute the powerful people who planned the Capitol insurrection?

How can the pandemic end when the GOP has become the party of removing all restrictions designed to reduce the spread of the virus?

And that’s just the domestic situation. When will the U.S. and NATO deal with Putin’s genocide in Ukraine? When will they face the fact that the genocide continues, no matter how many weapons we provide?

I don’t know the answers to these questions; I only know that, in terms of democracy, our country has been losing ground since 2016 and–even with a Democratic president–we are still in grave danger from Trump and his GOP sycophants who are still trying to overturn the 2020 election.

From yesterday’s New York Times: Trump Allies Continue Legal Drive to Erase His Loss, Stoking Election Doubts.

In statehouses and courtrooms across the country, as well as on right-wing news outlets, allies of Mr. Trump — including the lawyer John Eastman — are pressing for states to pass resolutions rescinding Electoral College votes for President Biden and to bring lawsuits that seek to prove baseless claims of large-scale voter fraud. Some of those allies are casting their work as a precursor to reinstating the former president.

The efforts have failed to change any statewide outcomes or uncover mass election fraud. Legal experts dismiss them as preposterous, noting that there is no plausible scenario under the Constitution for returning Mr. Trump to office.

John Eastman

John Eastman

But just as Mr. Eastman’s original plan to use Congress’s final count of electoral votes on Jan. 6, 2021, to overturn the election was seen as far-fetched in the run-up to the deadly Capitol riot, the continued efforts are fueling a false narrative that has resonated with Mr. Trump’s supporters and stoked their grievances. They are keeping alive the same combustible stew of conspiracy theory and misinformation that threatens to undermine faith in democracy by nurturing the lie that the election was corrupt.

The efforts have fed a cottage industry of podcasts and television appearances centered around not only false claims of widespread election fraud in 2020, but the notion that the results can still be altered after the fact — and Mr. Trump returned to power, an idea that he continues to push privately as he looks toward a probable re-election run in 2024.

Democrats and some Republicans have raised deep concerns about the impact of the decertification efforts. They warn of unintended consequences, including the potential to incite violence of the sort that erupted on Jan. 6, when a mob of Mr. Trump’s supporters — convinced that he could still be declared the winner of the 2020 election — stormed the Capitol. Legal experts worry that the focus on decertifying the last election could pave the way for more aggressive — and earlier — legislative intervention the next time around.

The article quotes Michael Luttig, a prominent conservative lawyer who was consulted by Mike Pence when Trump was pushing him to refuse to certify the 2020 Electoral College results:

“At the moment, there is no other way to say it: This is the clearest and most present danger to our democracy,” said J. Michael Luttig, a leading conservative lawyer and former appeals court judge, for whom Mr. Eastman clerked and whom President George W. Bush considered as a nominee to be the chief justice of the United States. “Trump and his supporters in Congress and in the states are preparing now to lay the groundwork to overturn the election in 2024 were Trump, or his designee, to lose the vote for the presidency.”

Eastman’s latest effort in Wisconsin:

And then there’s this:

A former lawyer for Donald Trump has claimed attorney-client privilege over 37,000 pages of emails related to his dealings with the then-president, he revealed in a court filing Monday night. John Eastman, known for penning a memo outlining how Team Trump might overturn the 2020 election, was ordered by a judge in January to review and turn over more than 90,000 pages of emails to the House select panel probing the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. After reviewing a reported 1,000 to 1,500 pages per day for three months, Eastman made no claims over 25,000 other records, according to Politico. However, after his Monday filing, the House committee said it objected to “every claim” of privilege. All 37,000 pages will now be sent to U.S. District Judge David Carter, who in March called Eastman and Trump’s post-election activities “a coup in search of a legal theory,” for him to rule individually on each of them.

Fortunately, Judge Carter is unlikely to have any sympathy for Eastman and his privilege claims. Read Kyle Cheney’s original story at Politico: Eastman shielding 37,000 pages of Trump-related email from Jan. 6 committee.

More January 6 news from Raw Story: GOP’s Ronny Jackson may have been communicating with Oath Keepers during Jan. 6 riot: court documents.

Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-TX) may have been in contact with Oath Keepers members during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

A newly released trove of text messages shows members of the right-wing militia discussing security for some top Donald Trump allies ahead of the congressional certification of Joe Biden’s election win, and Oath Keepers co-founder Stewart Rhodes asked an associate for Jackson’s cell phone number, reported Politico.

“Dr. Ronnie Jackson — on the move,” wrote an unidentified person. “Needs protection. If anyone inside cover him. He has critical data to protect.”

“Help with what?” Rhodes replied. “Give him my cell.” [….]

Kelly Meggs, an Oath Keepers member among six indicted on seditious conspiracy charges, mentioned on Jan. 3, 2021, that allies had discussed militia members “on the call with congressmen” and “wanted to say thank you all for providing and protecting us.”

What kind of data was Jackson trying to “protect?”

In pandemic news, yesterday a Trump-appointed judge struck down the mask mandate for airline passengers and crew.

Lawrence O. Gostin at The Daily Beast: Trump’s Worst Judge Just Made Travel a MAGA Nightmare.

The coronavirus pandemic may feel like a past-tense phenomenon for many Americans, even though the dangers are real and ongoing. But a federal judge appointed by Donald Trump just did everything she could to send the nation back into chaos.

On Monday, Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Florida threw out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s mask mandate for air travel and other forms of mass transportation. Deaths from COVID-19—and the mask mandates intended to prevent them—may be on the wane nationwide, but whatever you think about such policies, this is the latest and most egregious example of a judge acting as a partisan warrior in the COVID-19 culture wars.

Mizelle was appointed to the federal bench by President Trump in 2020. She was 33, and had been practicing law for only 8 years. She had never tried a case as a lead attorney. The Senate confirmed her even though the American Bar Association gave her a rating of “not qualified.” This nominee should have been rejected by the Senate not because of her judicial philosophy and not because of her age, but because she simply didn’t have the credentials and experience to be a federal judge with lifetime tenure.

Now she is substituting her opinion for that of scientific professionals at the CDC, and dictating health policy in America. The outcome could be disastrous, only serving to further embolden the right-wing activists who dispute the reality of this horrifically lethal pandemic.

Click the link to read the rest.

This could be a bit of good news:

The Washington Post: Infowars, run by Alex Jones, files for bankruptcy protection.

The conspiracy website Infowars has filed for bankruptcy protection as founder Alex Jones faces multiple defamation lawsuits tied to his false claims that the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a “giant hoax.”

According to documents filed Sunday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas, three companies owned by Jones are seeking Chapter 11 protection, which would put civil litigation on hold while they restructure their finances.

Jones is being sued by the families of several victims of the 2012 attack that left 26 people dead, including 20 young children, in Newtown, in western Connecticut. It remains the deadliest elementary school shooting in U.S. history. The 20-year-old gunman died by suicide.

But Jones falsely claimed the massacre was fabricated by gun control advocates and the mainstream media, who he said pursued a “false flag” operation staged by “crisis actors.”

The families accused him of grifting off those false claims while defaming their loved ones. Some said they were harassed and threatened after Jones ran online segments accusing them of being a part of a hoax, with one receiving hate mail referencing the Second Amendment, according to a 2018 CBS news segment. They rejected settlement offers from Jones….

Jones has been found liable in two separate cases, one in Texas, where he and Infowars are based, and another in Connecticut where the mass shooting occurred. Damages have not yet been decided in either case, but an initial amount of $725,000 has been paid into a bankruptcy trust managed by two retired judges, court records show, with an expected $2 million to be funded at a later date. The Texas court is expected to determine damages first, with jury selection scheduled for April 25.

Or maybe not so good news?

Finally, I’ll share just one Ukraine story from David Rothkopf at The Daily Beast: Even if Russia Uses a Nuke, We Probably Won’t—but Putin Would Still Pay Dearly.

If Russia were to use a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine it would, as CIA Director William Burns put it in public remarks last week, “change the world in a flash.” It might not, however, according to several experts, result in the direct military involvement of the west or a broader nuclear war.

That is not to say that such an attack would not produce devastating consequences beyond those related to the attack itself. There are a wide range of options that NATO would consider—many of which would produce lasting, disastrous consequences for Russia. Further, there is a clear sense among current and former U.S. government officials that Western leaders’ disinclination to take the bait and trigger a global war would and should be seen as a sign of strength. Finally, for all these reasons, such an act of Russian desperation is likely to be yet another huge miscalculation on the part of Vladimir Putin.

Although nuclear weapons have not been used since the American attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the late summer of 1945, concerns about their use are higher than they have been in decades. CIA Director Burns, in remarks at the Georgia Institute of Technology last Thursday, said, “Given the potential desperation of President Putin and the Russian leadership…none of us can take lightly the threat posed by a potential resort to tactical nuclear weapons or low-yield nuclear weapons.” On Friday, Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy echoed this warning saying that the international community should be concerned about Russian use of nuclear or chemical weapons, saying, “We should… not be afraid but be ready.”

Senior U.S. officials with whom I spoke emphasized that Burns was not basing his comments on any new intelligence or other evidence that Russia was preparing to use nuclear weapons, but rather on a prudent analysis of Russia’s situation. They mentioned that Russian doctrine had a “lower threshold” for the use of nuclear weapons than other nations, but that it was “still pretty high.” According to that doctrine, there were two kinds of events that would warrant consideration of the use of nuclear weapons. One was if the Russian military was facing a massive defeat that threatened its ability to further defend its country. The other was if there was a direct threat to the regime in Moscow.

Read the rest at the Daily Beast link.

That’s it for me today. Now I need to decompress with an escapist novel. I hope you are all well and taking care not to overdose on the news.


Lazy Caturday Reads

images

Good Morning!!

We’ve reached the end of another week in the post-Trump era, and we continue to deal with crises that developed and worsened during the monster’s regime. It’s clear that it will take a long time to recover–if recovery is even possible. On the plus side, it’s great to have a normal president again–a person with empathy and compassion–and a caring, engaged first lady, and White House pets!

Biden’s Covid relief package appears to be on track for passage, despite the efforts of Republicans in Congress. The New York Times: Republicans Struggle to Derail Increasingly Popular Stimulus Package.

Republicans are struggling to persuade voters to oppose President Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic rescue plan, which enjoys strong, bipartisan support nationwide even as it is moving through Congress with just Democratic backing.

Democrats who control the House are preparing to approve the package by the end of next week, with the Senate aiming to soon follow with its own party-line vote before unemployment benefits are set to lapse in mid-March. On Friday, the House Budget Committee unveiled the nearly 600-page text for the proposal, which includes billions of dollars for unemployment benefits, small businesses and stimulus checks.

Republican leaders, searching for a way to derail the proposal, on Friday led a final attempt to tarnish the package, labeling it a “payoff to progressives.” The bill, they said, spends too much and includes a liberal wish list of programs like aid to state and local governments — which they call a “blue state bailout,” though many states facing shortfalls are controlled by Republicans — and increased benefits for the unemployed, which they argued would discourage people from looking for work.

f41e011b0d7776d62868846f4192e37dOut in the real world, even Republican voters support the relief bill.

More than 7 in 10 Americans now back Mr. Biden’s aid package, according to new polling from the online research firm SurveyMonkey for The New York Times. That includes support from three-quarters of independent voters, 2 in 5 Republicans and nearly all Democrats. The overall support for the bill is even larger than the substantial majority of voters who said in January that they favored an end-of-year economic aid bill signed into law by President Donald J. Trump.

While Mr. Biden has encouraged Republican lawmakers to get on board with his package, Democrats are moving their bill through Congress using a parliamentary process that will allow them to pass it with only Democratic votes.

“Critics say my plan is too big, that it cost $1.9 trillion dollars; that’s too much,” Mr. Biden said at an event on Friday. “Let me ask them, what would they have me cut?”

House Republican leaders on Friday urged their rank-and-file members to vote against the plan, billing it as Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California’s “Payoff to Progressives Act.” They detailed more than a dozen objections to the bill, including “a third round of stimulus checks costing more than $422 billion, which will include households that have experienced little or no financial loss during the pandemic.” Ms. Pelosi’s office issued its own rebuttal soon after, declaring “Americans need help. House Republicans don’t care.”

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office is moving forward with it’s investigation of Trump’s finances. Reuters: Exclusive: New York City tax agency subpoenaed in Trump criminal probe.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has subpoenaed a New York City property tax agency as part of a criminal investigation into Donald Trump’s company, the agency confirmed on Friday, suggesting prosecutors are examining the former president’s efforts to reduce his commercial real-estate taxes for possible evidence of fraud.

The subpoena issued to the New York City Tax Commission is the latest indication that Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. is looking at the values Trump assigned to some commercial properties in tax filings and loan documents.

photo-of-snow-catAlong with information already subpoenaed from creditors, the tax agency documents would help investigators determine whether Trump’s business inflated the value of his properties to secure favorable terms on loans while deflating those values to lower tax bills for those same properties….

The subpoena likely would compel the agency to provide detailed income and expense statements the Trump Organization would have filed as part of an effort to lower tax assessments on some of its commercial properties, according to people familiar with the commission’s operations. Trump’s holdings include Trump Tower and Trump Plaza.

Those filings typically would include valuations submitted by the company to challenge the market values assigned to Trump’s property by the city’s tax assessors, they added.

Subpoenas also have been issued to at least two creditors that helped finance Trump’s real-estate holdings, Deutsche Bank AG and Ladder Capital Finance LLC, Reuters has previously reported.

The Federal investigation into the January 6 insurrection is continuing to heat up. 

The Washington Post: U.S. investigating possible ties between Roger Stone, Alex Jones and Capitol rioters.

The Justice Department and FBI are investigating whether high-profile right-wing figures — including Roger Stone and Alex Jones — may have played a role in the Jan. 6 Capitol breach as part of a broader look into the mind-set of those who committed violence and their apparent paths to radicalization, according to people familiar with the investigation.

The investigation into potential ties between key figures in the riot and those who promoted former president Donald Trump’s false assertions that the election was stolen from him does not mean those who may have influenced rioters will face criminal charges, particularly given U.S. case law surrounding incitement and free speech, the people said. Officials at this stage said they are principally seeking to understand what the rioters were thinking — and who may have influenced beliefs — which could be critical to showing their intentions at trial.

769e257ae7490ca39b79e8e4d1bbe242However, investigators also want to determine whether anyone who influenced them bears enough responsibility to justify potential criminal charges, such as conspiracy or aiding the effort, the officials said. That prospect is still distant and uncertain, they emphasized.

Nevertheless, while Trump’s impeachment trial focused on the degree of his culpability for the violence, this facet of the case shows investigators’ ongoing interest in other individuals who never set foot in the Capitol but may have played an outsized role in what happened there through their influence, networks or action.

“We are investigating potential ties between those physically involved in the attack on the Capitol and individuals who may have influenced them, such as Roger Stone, Alex Jones and [Stop the Steal organizer] Ali Alexander,” said a U.S. official, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a pending matter.

The Washington Post: U.S. Alleges Wider Oath Keepers Conspiracy, Adds More Defendants in Jan. 6 Capitol Riot.

U.S. authorities on Friday alleged a broader conspiracy by Oath Keepers to attack the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, charging six new individuals who appeared to be members or associates of the right-wing group.

One self-described leader in the group, which recruits among military and law enforcement, sent a Facebook message claiming at least 50 to 100 Oath Keepers planned to travel to D.C. with him on Jan. 6 and that they would “make it wild,” echoing a comment President Donald Trump made on Twitter rallying supporters to the Capitol.

A 21-page indictment alleged that the defendants “did knowingly combine, conspire, confederate, and agree with each other and others known and unknown” to force entry to the Capitol and obstruct Congress from certifying the election of Joe Biden as president in riots that led to five deaths and assaults on 139 police.

The nine-person indictment named three already charged military veterans — Jessica Marie Watkins, 38, and Donovan Ray Crowl, 50, both of Woodstock, Ohio; and Thomas E. Caldwell, 66, of Berryville, Va. The six new defendants include siblings Graydon Young, 54, of Englewood, Fla., and Laura Steele, of Thomasville, N.C. It also includes married couples Kelly and Connie Meggs, 52 and 59, of Dunnellon, Fla.; and Bennie and Sandra Parker, 70 and 60, of the Cincinnati area.

More details at the WaPo link.

74b47b2bb2069367067776f258164a25Zoe Tillman at Buzzfeed News: The Capitol Rioters Are Starting To Face Much More Serious Charges For The Insurrection.

Bruno Cua, an 18-year-old from Milton, Georgia, was already facing serious charges when he was arrested on Feb. 6 in connection with the insurrection at the US Capitol a month earlier. He was accused not only of illegally entering the Capitol but also of assaulting police and of obstructing Congress’s efforts to certify the presidential election, which are felony crimes.

But it only got worse for Cua when a federal grand jury in Washington, DC, returned an indictment four days later. On top of the original set of charges, the grand jury bumped up misdemeanor counts he’d faced for entering the Capitol to felonies, citing evidence that he’d carried a “deadly and dangerous weapon” — in his case, a baton. The addition of a “weapons enhancement” meant the maximum sentence he faced for those counts jumped tenfold, from one year in prison to 10.

Cua is one of a growing number of defendants charged in the insurrection seeing their felony counts — and potential prison time — stack up as the investigation presses on. Other defendants only charged with misdemeanors when they were arrested are now facing felonies post-indictment. Acting US Attorney Michael Sherwin in Washington had told reporters one week after the assault on the Capitol that the early rounds of arrests on misdemeanor charges were “only the beginning,” and promised more “significant charges” once prosecutors took these cases before a grand jury. New court documents in cases such as Cua’s show how that’s taking shape.

Of the more than 230 people charged to date, at least 70 are now facing a minimum of one felony count — the most common is obstruction of Congress, which has a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. More than 30 are charged with assaulting or interfering with law enforcement officers, and at least 14 are charged with carrying or using a weapon that day. Weapons identified in the government’s court filings so far have included knives, Tasers, a hockey stick, a large metal pipe, baseball bats, fire extinguishers, and batons.

Now that Trump is gone, the Feds are admitting how dangerous right-wing extremism is.

Yahoo News: Feds now say right-wing extremists responsible for majority of deadly terrorist attacks last year.

The U.S. government is acknowledging for the first time that right-wing extremists were responsible for the majority of fatal domestic terrorist attacks last year, according to an internal report circulated by the Department of Homeland Security last week and obtained by Yahoo News.

cat-snowmanA review of last year’s domestic terrorist incidents by a DHS fusion center — which shares threat-related information between federal, state and local partners — found that although civil unrest and antigovernment violence were associated with “non-affiliated, right-wing and left-wing actors, right-wing [domestic violent extremists] were responsible for the majority of fatal attacks in the Homeland in 2020.”

The report, produced by the Joint Regional Intelligence Center, a DHS-funded fusion center, was sent out to police and law enforcement agencies nationwide as part of an intelligence-sharing system created after the 9/11 attacks.

While independent think tanks and outside groups have been pointing to the rise in ring-wing violence for some time, this appears to be the first known instance of an official government or law enforcement agency clearly acknowledging the trend, though senior officials have noted the rise in white supremacist attacks. The report also comes not long after the end of the Trump administration, which was criticized for downplaying right-wing violence.

So . . . lots happening this weekend. I’ll add more stories in the comment thread. What’s on your mind today?


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!

There seems to be a shooting or event at least monthly–if not weekly–that involves a right wing terrorist group.  There are so many of them recently images (50)that there has to be a series of causes leading to an uptick of violence. At what point do right wing media groups spreading lies and propaganda pass the point of freedom of speech to inciting violence and mayhem akin to shouting fire in in crowded theatre?

There were two terrorist attacks in America over the weekend, but don’t expect the mainstream media to call them that.

On Friday, 48-year-old Georgia resident Dennis Marx was scheduled to appear at the Forsyth County Courthouse in Cumming, Georgia, to face charges on 11 different felony counts.

Marx arrived at the courthouse on-time, but while in his truck, he threw “homemade spike strips” onto the road, and tried to run over a policeman.

After police opened fire on him, Marx began shooting at them from his truck, and proceeded to throw tear gas grenades, smoke grenades, and pepper spray grenades at them.

After a three minute long firefight, a SWAT team surrounded Marx, ultimately killing him.

Meanwhile, yesterday in Las Vegas, an armed couple screaming about “revolution”opened fire and killed two Las Vegas policemen inside of a local pizza joint.

After shooting and killing Officer Alyn Beck and Officer Igor Soldo, the couple took their weapons and covered their bodies with the Gadsden Flag, a yellow banner with contains a coiled snake around the words, “Don’t tread on me.”

The flag is named for Christopher Gadsden, the Revolutionary War general who designed it. It’s also a very popular symbol with the Tea Party movement.

After killing the police officers, the couple then fled to a local Walmart, where they killed an innocent bystander, before ultimately taking their own lives in an apparent murder-suicide.

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, neighbors said the couple often spoke about mistrust for and killing of police officers, and “going underground” until the time was right.

Neighbors also told the Review-Journal that the husband claimed he had been kicked off the Bundy Ranch during the protests there last month.

And back in April, Frazier Glenn Miller, a well-known right-wing extremist and member of the KKK, shoot and killed 14-year-old boy and his grandfather at a Jewish Community Center near Kansas City.

Miller then drove to a Jewish retirement home, and killed another person.

As police arrested him, Miller screamed out “Heil Hitler.”

Frazier Glenn Miller, Dennis Marx and the Las Vegas shooters were right-wing extremists and domestic terrorists. It’s that simple.

Unfortunately, the media refuses to acknowledge right-wing extremism and domestic terrorism in our country, even though they pose a bigger threat to our national security than jihadists and Islamic extremists.

According to the New America Foundation, as of April of this year, 21 people had been killed in the United States in attacks motivated by Islamic extremism since 9/11.

Meanwhile, 34 people had been killed by right-wing extremist attacks during the same time period.

The fact is, right-wing extremism is on the rise, it’s dangerous, and it’s now a major terrorist force in America.

Right-wing extremist and militia groups aren’t the fringe groups they used to be – now Fox so-called News makes members of these groups like the ones who showed up at the Bundy Ranch into media stars and heroes.

But while the facts speak for themselves, the mainstream media (CNN, MSNBC, FOX, The New York Times etc…) refuses to acknowledge the truth.

pumpsThe more we find out about the husband and wife suicide pact team that murdered two police offers and a customer at Walmart, the more we can see the influence of right wing media. These folks were fans of conspiracies spun by the likes of Alex Jones.

Jerad Miller outlined his political views, which were largely based on conspiracy theories promoted by Fox News and Alex Jones, in his social media postings, and he posted frequently about firearms and violent revolution.

“We can hope for peace,” he posted June 2. “We must, however, prepare for war. We face an enemy that is not only well funded, but who believe they fight for freedom and justice. Those of us who know the truth and dare speak it, know that the enemy we face are indeed our brothers. Even though they share the same masters as we all do. They fail to recognize the chains that bind them. To stop this oppression, I fear, can only be accomplished with bloodshed.”

Jerad and Amanda Miller posted comments at InfoWars, Breitbart

A May 28, 2012, post on Jones’ InfoWars site appears to have been made by Jerad Miller, who expressed frustration with his arrest on drug charges and vowed he would rather die than be labeled a criminal.

“I am like a wild coyote,” he wrote, using the user name “Jerad” and a Gadsden flag as his avatar. “You corner me, I will fight to the death.”

He goes on to say he’s “broken hearted” to see other Americans placated by materialism and celebrity worship as they submitted to tyranny.

“So, do I kill cops and make a stand when they come to get me?” the post continues. “I would prefer to die than sit in their jail, when I have done nothing to hurt anyone.”

That post attracted an appreciative comment from another InfoWars user, Amanda, whose profile uses the same maiden name – Woodruff – as Amanda Miller, along with the same birth year and hometown as the shooting suspect.

“Jerad, baby, I love you with all my heart and I’ll stand behind you no matter what,” wrote Amanda, whose avatar appears to be Amanda Miller. “It’s true that its not fair that i can’t have a gun because you live with me. I know its not right that my rights get taken away from me because I live in the same home as you but I would love to see them try and enforce that. My love for you is deep and forever and f-ck what they have to say cause they have no right to do what they say is not right.”

The InfoWars user Amanda also claims the same job — head of the needlepoint department for Hobby Lobby — as Amanda Miller’s Facebook profile.

Yes, that’s the same Hobby Lobby whose extremist christian owners want to deny access to birth control to employees.  Perhaps the funniest and yet truly pathetic right wing meme started about these shootings today came from Alex Jones himself who stated that the shootings were a false flag operation by Harry Reid and the Democratic Party.

During his InfoWars.com radio show Monday, Jones accused the U.S. government of staging theLas Vegas shooting allegedly committed by Jeradand Amanda Miller that left two police officers and one civilian dead over the weekend in an attempt to smear conservatives before the midterm elections.

“There is so much proof of this being staged yesterday, when I first read about it, and this morning, that my mind exploded with hundreds of data points, and quite frankly it’s conclusive,” Jones said, before outlining why he believes this event is one in a long line of similar “false flag” operations perpetrated by the Democrats.

Jones cited the attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, the chemical attacks in Syria and the “Fast & Furious” gun deal in Mexico as examples of other “false flag” operations committed by the U.S. If the government would stage those, he said they would “absolutely” use the Millers to kill two police officers in Las Vegas.

“Would they do this to get our guns and blame the tea party that’s sweeping in every runoff election and primary right now?” he asked. “I kept telling, they’re getting ready to false flag, and it happens right in Harry Reid’s district, right in his state, right in his city, with his police department.”

la-na-tt-shun-guns-20130312-001

As the rhetoric increases, so does the violence.

But what I am saying is this: there are some particular features of conservative political rhetoric today that help create an atmosphere in which violence and terrorism can germinate.

The most obvious component is the fetishization of firearms and the constant warnings that government will soon be coming to take your guns. But that’s only part of it. Just as meaningful is the conspiracy theorizing that became utterly mainstream once Barack Obama took office. If you tuned into one of many national television and radio programs on the right, you heard over and over that Obama was imposing a totalitarian state upon us. You might hear that FEMA was building secret concentration camps (Glenn Beck, the propagator of that theory, later recanted it, though he has a long history of violent rhetoric), or that Obama is seeding the government with agents of the Muslim Brotherhood. You grandfather probably got an email offering proof that Obama is literally the antichrist.

Meanwhile, conservatives have become prone to taking the political disagreements of the moment and couching them in apocalyptic terms, encouraging people to think that if Democrats have their way on any given debate, that our country, or at the very least our liberty, might literally be destroyed.

To take just one of an innumerable number of examples, when GOP Senator Ron Johnsonsays that the Affordable Care Act is “the greatest assault on freedom in our lifetime,” and hopes that the Supreme Court will intervene to preserve our “last shred of freedom,” is it at all surprising that some people might be tempted to take up arms? After all, if he’s right, and the ACA really means that freedom is being destroyed, then violent revolution seems justified. Johnson might respond by saying, “Well, of course I didn’t mean that literally.” And I’m sure he didn’t — Johnson may be no rocket scientist, but he knows that despite the individual mandate going into effect, there are a few shreds of freedom remaining in America.

But the argument that no sane person could actually believe many of the things conservatives say shouldn’t absolve them of responsibility. When you broadcast every day that the government of the world’s oldest democracy is a totalitarian beast bent on turning America into a prison of oppression and fear, when you glorify lawbreakers like Cliven Bundy, when you say that your opponents would literally destroy the country if they could, you can’t profess surprise when some people decide that violence is the only means of forestalling the disaster you have warned them about.

To my conservative friends tempted to find outrageous things liberals have said in order to argue that both sides are equally to blame, I’d respond this way: Find me all the examples of people who shot up a church after reading books by Rachel Maddow and Paul Krugman, and then you’ll have a case.

292650fullJust consider the number of death threats made to the Bergdahl family and their small home town since the right wing media has upped the volume on the deserter and traitor memes.

The father of Bowe Bergdahl, the Idaho soldier released from captivity in a controversial prisoner swap with the Taliban, has received emailed death threats that authorities are investigating, an Idaho police chief said on Saturday.

The first of the death threats sent to Bob Bergdahl at his home near Hailey, Idaho, was received on Wednesday, the same day the city canceled a planned rally celebrating the release of his son, Hailey Police Chief Jeff Gunter said.

“There were four specific emails with death threats given to the FBI and they are looking into it,” Gunter told Reuters in an interview.

Authorities are providing security to Bob Bergdahl and his wife, Jani, but Gunter declined to elaborate on those measures.

Bergdahl’s release after being held for nearly five years in Afghanistan provoked an angry backlash in Congress among lawmakers over the Obama administration’s failure to notify them in advance. Some of Bergdahl’s former comrades have charged that he was captured in 2009 after deserting his post.

U.S. military leaders have said the circumstances of Bergdahl’s capture are unclear, with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel urging critics to wait for all the facts to be known before rushing to judgment on Bergdahl.

The threats came as Hailey, a tourist community of some 8,000 people in the mountains of central Idaho, was buffeted by hundreds of vitriolic phone calls and emails.

You just have to wonder how stupid people can be.  If there was an assault on right wing rights, the first to go would be any number of these media 9728_844290962067_8618897_51577728_4291738_noutlets.

What’s on you reading and blogging list today?


Saturday Reads: “Too Handsome” Hoax and Boston Bombing Conspiracy Theories

Omar Borkan Al Gala, fashion photographer, actor, and poet from Dubai

Omar Borkan Al Gala, fashion photographer, actor, and poet from Dubai

Good Morning!!

On April 24, I put up a lighthearted post about a story I’d seen on-line about three men from the UAE who were thrown out of a cultural festival in Saudi Arabia and deported for being “too handsome.” We are still getting hits on the post from all over the world, and it has been viewed thousands of times.

When I put the post up along with photos of Omar Borkan Al Gala, I had no idea if the story was actually true; I just thought it was silly and entertaining. I did quote from legitimate sources like Time Magazine though.

The post didn’t get much reaction at Sky Dancing that night, but on April 25, we had 6,700 page views from 4,672 unique visitors to Sky Dancing blog, and most of those folks were checking out the “too handsome” story and photos. We were linked at Gawker, The New York Daily News, Huffington Post UK, and hundreds of smaller sites. We got hits from countries I’d barely heard of before.

BTW, our beloved JJ works some kind of magic with Google that helps us stay at the top of searches, so that probably has contributed to our getting so much traffic from a silly post.

Anyway, last night I came across this interesting piece at at a site called “Islawmix: bringing clarity to Islamic law in the news.” The headline is “The Man Too Handsome for Saudi Arabia Who Wasn’t.”

Saudi Arabia often makes US (and international) headlines for its laws (legal mishaps?) regarding women, sex and religious minorities. Some of these stories undoubtedly belong there, but a surprising number gain traction thanks to a small amount of research and suspension of critical engagement. It seems that when it comes to Saudi Arabia (and sometimes her theocratic counterpart Iran, albeit less so),  the more bizarre the story may seem – in that way only the Saudi Arabia of our perception could normalize – the more believable it is.

News and blog media have a particular penchant for covering ridiculous, often inaccurate and even false fatwas (here’s our quick definition and a more nuanced discussion on it). And in August 2012, the internet went into a bit of an uproar over the alleged building of an all-female city to promote women’s participation in the workforce. Unfortunately, the dreams of the impending matriarchy were dashed when it was eventually revealed that the city was for both men and women, but created facilities specific for women to encourage their participation.

On the “too handsome” story, Islawix reports that

As it turns out, three men were not, in fact, deported from Saudi Arabia. Actually, no one was deported from Saudi Arabia and certainly not for being too handsome. And, actually, no one was even kicked out of the heritage and cultural festival except for a member of the religious police for protesting against the presence of a Gulf female singer. According to UK’s Al-Arab:

A member of the Saudi feared religious police, known as Mutawa, stormed the UAE pavilion at National Festival for Heritage and Culture, also known as Al Janadriyah, but was forced out by the Gulf Kingdom’s national guards.

The incident took place when the Mutawa member objected to the presence of the Emirati singer Aryam in her country’s pavilion.

It turns out that Al Gala actually was in attendance at the event, but he wasn’t kicked out or deported.

There was, indeed, an incident involving Al Gala (and apparently him alone): according to the head of the mutawaeen, Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Sheikh (Arabic source), Al Gala had made his way into the family section of the event and was dancing inappropriately. Several complaints were made against him and he was taken aside by members of the national guard, questioned and that was it. He was not asked to leave the event, let alone the country. It turns out his uncomfortable dancing and not his uncomfortably good looks were the reason for some cause for concern and discomfort at the festival.

I honestly wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that Al Gala hadn’t even been in Saudi Arabia that day. I just saw this as a lighthearted and funny story. I’m grateful to Islamix for sorting out the real facts, and I apologize for any contribution I made inaccurate reporting on Middle Eastern culture.

Although I don’t really think the reporting on the Saudi Arabia story was that big a deal, it does highlight a real problem with misinformation in the media generally.

As someone who has lived in Boston for nearly half a century, I was shocked and traumatized by the bombings that took place at the Boston Marathon on April 15. I think it’s understandable that as a Bostonian and as a psychologist with an interest in personality development, I’ve been curious about the alleged bombers and their motivations. Naturally, I have been following the story fairly closely since the beginning.

misinformation

I have been stunned by the amount of misinformation that has come not only from the media, but from the authorities involved in the investigation. It’s understandable that there is confusion in a chaotic story like this that involves horrible injuries and Hollywood-like shootouts in residential streets. I’ve lived here since 1967, and I’ve never seen anything like it. The misinformation coming from authorities and then printed unquestionably by the mainstream media contributes the the development of the kinds of bizarre conspiracy theories that appear in the wake of startling events.

For the past couple of days I’ve been on Twitter a lot, looking for information on the Tsarnaev brothers and their possible motives, as well as following updates on the investigation. I can’t begin to tell you the nutty stuff that is out there–claims that the FBI and/or CIA actually carried out the bombings and that the Tsarnaevs were framed; that the entire event was staged, with fake injuries and fake blood; that the shootouts were faked using “rubber bullets” or “dummy bullets”; that the bombings were carried out by Blackwater-type government mercenaries, and of course there were the inevitable Alex Jones blather about “false flag” attacks. I’ve had to block people who started following my tweets and trying to feed me this garbage.

wrong on Iraq

Here are some articles on the Boston conspiracy theories and their implications:

Newsday: Conspiracy theories about the Boston Marathon bombings, by Rekha Basu.

Basu points out–and I strongly agree–that conspiracy theories are often fed by misinformation coming not only from the media, but from the government. After all the lies from the Bush administration that led us into two endless wars followed by the Obama’s administration’s refusal to investigate or prosecute Bush administration crimes, it’s hardly surprising that Americans are more suspicious of their government than ever. Basu’s concusion:

The problem is, we’ve been fed just enough mistruths from both parties, especially on war matters, to be susceptible. The Bush administration went to war with Iraq insisting it had weapons of mass destruction, when it didn’t. The Obama administration claimed Osama bin Laden was killed after a gunfight with U.S. troops, when he never had a chance to put up resistance. Americans were lied to about Iran-Contra, the My Lai massacre, the CIA-engineered overthrows of left-leaning governments in Chile and Guatemala. Some of us who grew up in the anti-war 1960s now pride ourselves on questioning official answers.

PolicyMic: Boston Bombing Conspiracy Theories Aren’t Even Theories, Just Paranoia. This is a really thoughtful and helpful piece, IMO.

The wake of the Boston Marathon bombings brought with it an undertow of conspiracy theories ranging from the farfetched to the unbelievable. Two weeks ago, I never would have imagined being asked to explain, in casual social situations, what a “false flag” attack is. OnThe David Pakman Show, inspired in great part by curiosity about the response it would bring, we’ve been debunking many of these theories. In dissecting much of the material, in particular one short video released by Glenn Beck, I’ve been able to identify the fundamental misunderstanding that impedes productive conversation with conspiracy theorists. This is not an indication of my personal belief that any specific conspiracy theory is or is not true. This is not a denial, on my part, that governments don’t sometimes lie, distort, and distract, but merely an attempt to point out the fallacious nature of many conspiratorial arguments….

Shortly after the Boston Marathon bombing, Beck developed and expanded on a theory about the young Saudi national who was injured in the explosion. Initially incorrectly assumed to be a suspect in the immediate aftermath on April 15, Beck believes he is actually an Al-Qaeda recruiter who the government is trying to sneak out of the country. The theory is much more involved, but the details are irrelevant to my discussion here.

After outlining his case, Beck repeated the fundamental misunderstanding that so many conspiracy theorists hold. “The burden of proof is on the federal government,” Beck said, “and so far they have not presented one shred of evidence that has refuted what the Blaze (Beck’s associated internet media outlet) has reported.”

This is the central issue and fundamental problem surrounding conspiracy theories and theorists. The burden of proof is not transferred to whoever is accused by the conspiracy theorist. The desire for the federal government to address whether the moon landing was faked, whether 9/11 was an “inside job,” or whether the Boston Marathon bombing was a “false flag operation” does not transfer the burden of proof to the federal government. The burden of proof is on he who proposes the theory.

Choose-to-Know-Stop-the-Misinformation-Profile-Picture-1

From Verdict, a legal analysis blog at Justia.com comes a piece by former Nixon lawyer and Watergate figure John Dean: Unfortunately, Conspiracy Theorists Are Now Busy Concocting Bizarre Explanations of The Boston Marathon Bombing.

Conspiracy-theory believers are now focusing on the Boston Marathon bombing, just as they did with the Sandy Hook killings of children and their teachers, by rejecting official information about the events. The increasing Internet prominence of people who reject “official” accounts of such events again raises questions: Who are these people? What are they doing? And why are they doing it?

Dean references a story in the Guardian that presents “a jaw-dropping list of the leading explanations being offered by conspiracy theorists for the Boston Marathon bombing,” and offers some background.

Conspiracy-theory thinking has had varying degrees of prominence throughout history.  Broadly defined a conspiracy theory is “a belief that some covert but influential organization is responsible for a circumstance or event.”

A recent poll shows, for example, that “37% of voters believe global warming is a hoax, 51% do not. Republicans say global warming is a hoax by a 58-25 margin, Democrats disagree 11-77.”  And “51% of voters say a larger conspiracy was at work in the JFK assassination, just 25% say Oswald acted alone.” The poll noted that “28% of voters believe Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks.”

You can read the rest at the link. I admit I have some issues with what Dean writes, because he suggests that to buy into any “conspiracy theory” is to abandon all critical thinking. And that definition is strange. I thought a conspiracy theory was the notion that more than one person was involved in planning or executing some event. Anyway, I would argue that the Warren Commission was based on a trumped up theory similar to the Bush administration’s propagation of it’s conspiracy theory about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. It seems to me that one needs to apply “critical thinking” to both government activities and claims and to anti-government conspiracy theories. The problem IMO is that there are so many people out there who are just plain ignorant and/or stupid.

Anyway, I may have more on this in a future post. For now, here’s a link to a Salon article that Dakinikat posted awhile back on “the psychology of conspiratorial thinking” and another more recent article at Salon, originally published by Scientific American on “how conspiracists think.”

Now what’s on your mind today? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread, and Have a terrific weekend!