Benghazi Interview: Pickering Dissects Congressional Follies, Media Coverage, And ‘Cover-Up’ Charges

Source: National Memo

Author: Joe Conason

No doubt the degraded quality of congressional oversight astonishes Thomas Pickering, the distinguished American diplomat who oversaw the State Department’s Benghazi review board — although he tries not to say so too directly. For his demanding and difficult effort  – only the most recent in a long history of public service under both Republican and Democratic administrations — Pickering has found himself under sustained attack by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the excitable partisan who chairs the House Government Reform Committee.

Last Friday, Issa subpoenaed Pickering to deliver a taped deposition to the committee behind closed doors, without offering a public chance to answer the charges already lodged by Republicans against the Accountability Review Board report authored by Pickering and retired admiral Mike Mullen.

Immediately prior to this latest skirmish, Pickering spoke with The National Memo about the ARB report, political maneuvering by the administration’s adversaries, and media coverage of the Benghazi “scandal.”  Asked whether he had ever experienced or seen anything resembling Issa’s conduct, Pickering said, “No, I haven’t.…I suspect that on this particular issue, this guy [Issa] is driven by whatever will maximize his capability to be tough on the administration. This seems to be one effort he’s kind of landed on to make that happen. But I’m only guessing here,” he added.

Meanwhile, Pickering hasn’t noticed much attention being given on Capitol Hill to the extensive recommendations that he and Mullen made to improve security in dangerous posts around the world. “I can’t tell you whether anyone [in Congress] has sat down and examined them and wanted to have hearings on [the recommendations]” – instead of the notorious “talking points” developed by the White House last September. “So far I haven’t seen any evidence of that.”

For Pickering, the subpoena issued by Issa must be especially confusing. Ever since the Government Reform committee announced its planned hearings on Benghazi last winter, its leadership has repeatedly failed to establish a time when the review board chairman  — perhaps the most important witness – could testify. Although at first Pickering says he thought they were “genuinely interested” in getting his testimony, he became “increasingly less inclined” to appear before the committee “as the thing became more politicized.”

Before the May 8 hearing, he made a final effort to arrange to testify publicly. But via the White House and the State Department, he learned that his presence was not desired. Before Issa issued his subpoena to Pickering on Friday, he and Mullen had sent a letter requesting an opportunity to testify publicly – and said that they are “not inclined to give testimony in a closed hearing before that [happens].”

Having listened to Issa and others take potshots at him, Mullen, and their report for several weeks, Pickering wants to rebut some of the misinformation they have propagated, for the record.  He wants to address claims that the military “could have relieved or in fact changed the situation by sending men or equipment or both the night of the event” – and specifically assertions by Gregory Hicks, the former Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya, that four Special Forces soldiers should have been dispatched to Benghazi from Tripoli. Pickering says those four officers would have arrived in Benghazi too late to help and were needed in Tripoli anyway to treat the wounded, who were brought there after the Benghazi attack.

“The third question that has come up,” said Pickering, “is why we didn’t investigate the Secretary of State” and her deputies. The “simple and straightforward answer” is that “they played no role in the decision making which was relevant to the preparations for meeting the security crisis in Benghazi,” and the role they did play on the night of September 11 “was fairly clearly portrayed to us by other people who attended the meetings, and we had no questions about it. We thought that what they did made sense and fit exactly what should have been done.”

What Pickering may mention, if and when he does testify in public, is the role of Congress, which he considers primarily responsible for underfunding the protection of diplomatic posts abroad. Fortunately, legislative idiocy has not prevented the redirection of almost $1.5 billion in funds to improve security in dozens of posts, both physically and with additional security officers and Marine guards.

Aside from the weak oversight of Congress, Pickering also seems critical of the media coverage of Benghazi.  In preparing to chair the Accountability Review Board, Pickering said, he “asked for, received, and read all of the press reporting that the State Department could find and put together for me, covering the events in Benghazi and the aftermath, from the initial attack right through to the day we submitted our report.”

He undertook this required reading because “I thought there would be useful ideas, leads, analyses that had to be taken into account.  What I found in general was a very significant amount of wild, and I think fictionalized, made-up kind of information…

And in effect much of this alleged a kind of betrayal of those people, in one way or another, all of which I thought bordered on Pulitzer Prize creative fiction but didn’t bear any relationship to what we were able to determine, both from the documentary evidence, from the extensive film footage that we had an opportunity to review carefully, and of course the interviews we had with people who were on the spot.” Indeed, Pickering believes that the ARB report is “the best compilation I’ve seen of what actually took place.”

Pickering won’t comment on the “talking points” controversy, which wasn’t relevant to the ARB investigation. But he resents broader allegations by the Republicans and their allies in the media — in particular “the allegation that I would be engaged in a cover-up…I hope people feel that I’m a more honest and hopefully more dedicated public servant than that. “

“Our interest was to do everything we could to find out what happened,” Pickering said, “and then on the basis of that [investigation] to make as clear recommendations as we could to help the State Department and other agencies so that it wouldn’t happen again. That was our motive, that was the driver, and that’s where we went. Any effort to cover up would have been a betrayal… We did everything we could in terms of the national interest in saving future lives.”  He believes it is vital to defend the credibility of the report and prevent it from being undermined. “That’s why I’m interested in talking to the American public now, because I think the report is a good report. And so far I haven’t heard anything that I believe we didn’t consider carefully.”

As for his critics, “I would hope they would read the report. If they have, maybe they need to read it again.” He laughed. “Both Mike Mullen and I believe that it’s important that we have this opportunity, either through Chairman Issa or some other committee, to deal with the people who have concerns about the report and tell them how we were thinking and why we reached the conclusions we did.”

Audio of the interview can be heard here.

Emphasis mine

see:http://www.nationalmemo.com/benghazi-interview-pickering-dissects-congressional-follies-media-coverage-and-cover-up-charges/

 

Republicans Altered Benghazi Emails, CBS News Report Claims

Source: Huff Post

Author: Chris Gentlviso

“One day after The White House released 100 pages of Benghazi emails, a report has surfaced alleging that Republicans released a set with altered text.

CBS News reported Thursday that leaked versions sent out by the GOP last Friday had visible differences than Wednesday’s official batch. Two correspondences that were singled out in the report came from National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes and State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

The GOP version of Rhodes’ comment, according to CBS News: “We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don’t want to undermine the FBI investigation.”

The White House email: “We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation.”

The GOP version of Nuland’s comment, according to CBS News: The penultimate point is a paragraph talking about all the previous warnings provided by the Agency (CIA) about al-Qaeda’s presence and activities of al-Qaeda.”

The White House email: “The penultimate point could be abused by members to beat the State Department for not paying attention to Agency warnings.”

The news parallels a Tuesday CNN report which initially introduced the contradiction between what was revealed in a White House Benghazi email version, versus what was reported in media outlets. On Monday, Mother Jones noted that the Republicans’ interim report included the correct version of the emails, signaling that more malice and less incompetence may have been at play with the alleged alterations.

In that April interim report on Benghazi (which Buck noted), the House Republicans cited these emails (in footnotes 56 and 57) to note an important point: “State Department emails reveal senior officials had ‘serious concerns’ about the talking points, because Members of Congress might attack the State Department for ‘not paying attention to Agency warnings’ about the growing threat in Benghazi.”

Despite the White House’s Wednesday move to release emails, Republicans continued to call for more information on Thursday.

“While these hundred are good and they shed light on what happened, we have nearly 25,000 that they haven’t released,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) told Fox News on Thursday.”

 

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/16/republicans-benghazi-emails_n_3289428.html

 

We Still Need Higher Revenues to Reduce Our Deficit

From: American Progress

By Michael Linden and John Craig

“Though conservatives like to point to the “historical average” level of tax revenue as support for their position that further deficit reduction should not include more revenue, the historical data actually prove just the opposite. If we want to reduce our budget deficit, we will need higher revenues than are currently projected.

As Congress and the White House contemplate possible approaches to deficit reduction that would replace the $1.2 trillion sequester that is set to begin in March, the arguments over revenue and spending levels have intensified. Most conservatives in Congress insist that any plan to replace the sequester must be paid for entirely by cutting spending—not by bringing in new revenue. Their position rests on the contention that, “This isn’t a tax problem. It is a spending problem.” And as proof, they often point out that revenues are already projected to rise above the historical average over the next 10 years.

They’re not wrong—at least not about the historical average. Federal receipts, as a percentage of gross domestic product, or GDP, have averaged 17.9 percent over the last 40 years. The Congressional Budget Office projects that—with the fiscal cliff deal in place and assuming that a variety of “temporary” tax breaks will be extended yet again—federal revenues will average 18.5 percent of GDP over the next 10 years. 18.5 percent is certainly bigger than 17.9 percent, so some conservatives say that this proves that we don’t need more revenue.

But what they’re missing is that 17.9 percent of GDP hasn’t been enough revenue for the last 40 years—and it certainly won’t be enough for the next 40 years. Remember, the federal budget was in the red for nearly every one of these last 40 years—and often deeply so. And the deficits were bigger when revenue was lower, smaller when revenue was higher—a fact that should surprise no one.

Take, for example, the last four years. From 2009 to 2012 federal receipts averaged just 15.4 percent of GDP—lower than at any point since 1950. Not surprisingly, record-low revenues translated into record-high deficits.

This basic relationship holds true over the past four decades. In the 40 years since 1973, 11 years saw deficits greater than 4 percent of GDP. In those same 11 years, revenues averaged 16.7 percent of GDP—well below the much-vaunted historical average. Similarly, there were 12 years in which the deficit was smaller than 2 percent of GDP. And in those years, revenue averaged 18.9 percent of GDP—much higher than the average. And, of course, in the four years in which we actually balanced the budget, revenue averaged 20 percent of GDP. (see Figure 1)

But full budget balance isn’t necessarily what we’re aiming for right now, so perhaps revenues don’t need to be increased all the way up to 20 percent of GDP. Indeed, President Obama has called for just enough deficit reduction to prevent the national debt, measured as a share of GDP, from rising. Others have called for somewhat more deficit reduction. Those goals will require deficits in the range of 2.5 percent of GDP or lower. And in the years since 1973—when the deficit was less than or equal to 2.5 percent of GDP—the federal government collected 18.8 percent of GDP on average in revenue.

While the difference between 18.8 percent and the current projection of 18.5 percent may not appear to be substantial, that 0.3 percent increase over the next 10 years equates to about $640 billion in additional revenue. To put that in perspective, the president’s call to replace the sequester half with revenues and half with spending cuts would equate to about $500 billion in new revenue. That would still leave us short of the “historical average” for years with low deficits.

And let’s not forget that what was sufficient in the past may not be sufficient in the future—a point which the historical data itself proves. In the years between 1953 and 1983 in which the deficit was smaller than 2 percent of GDP, revenues averaged 17.9 percent of GDP. But during the following three decades, in the years in which the deficit was smaller than 2 percent of GDP, revenues averaged a much-higher 19.1 percent. Our needs grew over time as our demographic, economic, and security challenges changed, so revenues that were sufficient in one generation became insufficient in the next. (see Figure 2)

This is especially true right now. The anticipated demographic shift as a result of the “baby boom” generation retiring means that there will be a larger proportion of the population relying on Social Security and Medicare in the coming years. Even with significant changes to these programs, this will mean higher costs to the federal government. If we want smaller budget deficits in the future, revenues must be higher than they have been in the past.

Yes, revenues are currently projected to rise above the historical average—but this misleading factoid proves little. Rather than showing why we don’t need more revenue, the historical data actually show clearly why we do. When deficits were small in past years, revenues were higher—higher than the historical average and higher than the current projections. Not only that, but the average revenue in low-deficit years has increased over time.

The lesson is clear and simple: If we want to reduce the deficit, we’re going to need more revenue.

Michael Linden is the Director for Tax and Budget Policy at the Center for American Progress. John Craig is a Research Assistant in the Economic Policy department at the Center.

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/budget/news/2013/02/20/53961/we-still-need-higher-revenues-to-reduce-our-deficit/

 

What’s actually in Simpson-Bowles

From: the Washington Post, via NewsObserver

By: Erza Kline

“An important fact to keep in mind in the coming days: The “Bowles plan” that House Speaker John Boehner endorsed is not the same as “the Simpson-Bowles plan.” Indeed, it’s not even the plan supported by its apparent namesake, Erskine Bowles, who insists that he was simply sketching out the evident middle ground between the members of the “supercommittee.”

The Simpson-Bowles plan– which Erskine Bowles, the former University of North Carolina president, does actually support – occupies strange territory in Washington: Almost every politician professes to admire it, almost none of them is willing to vote for it and almost none of its supporters know what’s in it. So here, with an assist from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, are a few facts to keep in mind about the Simpson-Bowles plan. And while you’re reading this list, remember: Simpson-Bowles is a centrist proposal.

1. Simpson-Bowles ends the George W. Bush tax cuts for income over $250,000. And note that it does that before it reforms the tax code. The expiration of the tax cuts is built into its baseline. That way, its reform of the tax code starts from a revenue level that includes the revenue from those upper-income tax cuts.

2. There are a lot of tax increases in Simpson-Bowles: $2.6 trillion over 10 years, to be exact. That’s more than President Barack Obama ever proposed. It’s way more than the Republicans have ever proposed. It’s $1.8 trillion more than in the “Bowles plan” that Boehner is proposing. Think about that: To follow the Simpson-Bowles recommendation on taxes, you’d have to take the $800 billion Boehner is proposing and then raise taxes by more than the $1.6 trillion Obama is asking for.

3. There are so many tax increases that the plan’s ratio of spending cuts to tax hikes is nearly 1-to-1. According to CBPP calculations, Simpson-Bowles includes $2.9 trillion in spending cuts and $2.6 trillion in tax increases. That’s 1.1-to-1. If you add the $800 billion in projected interest savings to the spending side, then it’s 1.4-to-1.

4. Simpson-Bowles taxes capital gains and dividends as normal income. The key difference between Simpson-Bowles tax reform and the reform plans we heard about through the election is that Simpson-Bowles eliminates the preferential rate on capital gains and dividend income. That amounts to a huge tax increase on the rich, and it’s how Simpson-Bowles manages to lower rates while raising revenue and retaining progressivity.

5. Charities, homes, health care and states. Simpson-Bowles turns the deductions for charitable contribution and mortgage interest into non-refundable tax 12 percent credits. It caps the tax exclusion for employer-provided health care and then phases it out entirely by 2038. It eliminates the exemption for state and local bonds.

6. Simpson-Bowles raises the gas tax by 15 cents. Just saying.

7. Congress has already passed 70 percent of the discretionary cuts. Under the Budget Control Act, discretionary spending will be $1.5 trillion lower from 2013 to 2022 than was projected in the Congressional Budget Office’s 2010 baseliner. That means that 70 percent of Simpson-Bowles’s cuts to discretionary spending are done.

8. Simpson-Bowles cuts national security spending by $1.4 trillion, not including drawing down the wars. That’s far deeper than what’s in the law now, far deeper than anything the White House or the Republicans have proposed, and deeper, I believe, than the sequester cuts that so many think would devastate the military.

9. The Social Security changes. Simpson-Bowles makes three main changes to Social Security. It increases the taxable maximum on income to 90 percent of all income, which raises $238 billion over the next decade. It uses a different measure of inflation to slow cost-of-living adjustments. It raises the retirement age to 68 in 2050 and 69 in 2075.

10. Paul Ryan voted against Simpson-Bowles. And so, for the record, did Dave Camp and Jeb Hensarling, the other two House Republicans on the commission. Of the House Democrats, John Spratt voted for the proposal, and Xavier Becerra and Jan Schakowsky voted against. Among the senators, it was just the reverse: All three Republicans (Tom Coburn, Judd Gregg and Mike Crapo) voted for it, as did two of the three Democrats (Dick Durbin and Kent Conrad). Max Baucus voted against it.

11. Simpson-Bowles went down in the House, 382 to 38. In March, Reps. Jim Cooper and Steve LaTourette brought a modified version of Simpson-Bowles to the floor. This incarnation of the proposal was actually quite a bit to the right of the original, including smaller tax increases and defense cuts. It failed, and failed big.

These 11 facts should shed light on a couple of Washington’s enduring mysteries.

First, it should be fairly clear why the White House figured Simpson-Bowles was a nonstarter. The Obama people thought that if they endorsed it, Republicans would oppose it en masse, and hang every unpopular tax increase and spending cut around the White House’s neck. In retrospect, I think the White House miscalculated here, but it’s easy to see why it made the decision it did. The proposal that the White House ultimately released included far fewer tax increases and security spending cuts than Simpson-Bowles.

Second, as popular as Simpson-Bowles is among the CEO community and on Wall Street, most of those folks don’t know what’s in it. Wall Street, for instance, doesn’t tend to be hugely supportive of taxing capital gains as normal income.

Third, Republicans may want to associate themselves with Erskine Bowles, and they may want to attack Obama for not doing enough to support Simpson-Bowles, but they want nothing to do with Simpson-Bowles itself. After all, Boehner could have endorsed the Simpson-Bowles plan rather than the “Bowles plan,” and that would have won him huge plaudits in the media, and many more friends in the CEO and Wall Street communities, at least at first. But he didn’t, and, from his perspective, for good reason.”

The Washington Post

Ezra Klein is a columnist at The Washington Post.

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/12/08/2531318/whats-actually-in-simpson-bowles.html

 

‘Religious Freedom’: Constitutional Principle or Electoral Politics?

From: Religion Dispatches

By:  FRANCES KISSLING

N.B.: This is why separation of Church/State is more important than ever.

  • On Thursday the Catholic bishopslaunched the Fortnight for Freedom, the grassroots phase of their campaign to gain official religious status for hospitals, universities and social service agencies they neither control nor support financially. That status, as has been widely noted, would exempt these organizations from the administration’s requirement that an employer’s health insurance plan cover contraceptives, with no copay or other costs to the employee. But the longer term goal is to legally shore up the contention that every organization and employer, religious or not, has the right to refuse to comply with any public policies they claim trouble their conscience.The bishops’ ham-handed lobbying, extreme language and unyielding position have not helped their cause. Bishop Daniel Jenky compared the president to Hitler; Cardinal Dolan of New York insisted that Obama was trying to “strangle” the Catholic church; and others have claimed that they would be forced to stop providing health care rather than comply with the contraceptive coverage requirement.Nor has the bishops’ cause been helped by the fact that just about everyone understands that Catholics have a right to disagree with the church’s position on contraception, and that providing someone with the means to obtain something that they have a moral right to obtain is also theologically sound practice.Two weeks of church-sponsored rallies, masses, marches and educational symposia are not going to influence the Obama administration to change its mind about the definition of who is entitled to an exemption from public health policy it deems important to women’s health and society. There are just far too many unintended pregnancies that end in either abortion or children poorly cared for to ignore the problem.

    If the bishops, who are so unpopular, were the only worry, the exemption would stay narrow—or be narrowed even further. However, just before the Fortnight began, the Catholic Health Association, which includes over 600 hospitals across the United States, released its comment letter on the contraceptive insurance mandate concluding that the Obama accommodation, which would have had insurance companies implement and pay for the mandate in these hospitals, would not work. It was simply not possible to separate functions so neatly, it claimed, and many CHA hospitals are self insured. Thus, the only answer is to broaden the exemption so that the hospitals are treated the same as the religion itself.

    In some quarters the letter was treated as a reversal of position—even a sign of bad faith, or that the bishops had gotten to Sr. Keehan and reeled her in. It would be fairer to take the letter at face value, as an acknowledgement that on close examination Obama’s suggested accommodation simply would not work—a reasonable conclusion given the self insurance issue and that it is still not clear whether the insurance companies would pick up the slack in the remaining cases.

    So the CHA returns to its original position more strongly, once again requesting a broader definition of a religious employer that includes them. The real issue is not contraceptive coverage, which many Catholic hospitals are already providing on a state by state basis where required, and in some cases voluntarily.

    Though it’s not the same as acting in bad faith, the CHA is probably not unhappy that the accommodation seems unworkable as it would much prefer to get another bite at the apple and make the case for religious status.

    Unless organizations like Catholic hospitals are allowed the same status as the religions themselves, they are likely to be treated under the law much as we treat individual religious persons. And the Supreme Court has already determined that when public policy aimed at everyone conflicts with individual religious beliefs, public policy is the higher good. Justice Scalia in his majority opinion in Employment Division v. Smith, 1990, noted: We have never held that an individual’s religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that the State is free to regulate.”

    The CHA seems reluctant to wait for a court decision and instead want to push for a political one by convincing the president to expand the exemption now. It is in good position to press its case politically, as it has, as good lobbyists do, combined advocacy for its positions along with subtle political support for the president’s reelection. Whatever differences CHA may have with Obama on reproductive health policy, CHA is able to look at the big picture. Obama losing a second term would be a disaster for health care, poverty reduction, and all social services. And, unlike the bishops, CHA is more committed to the survival of the Affordable Care Act than to ensuring that it mirror Catholic positions.

    While little credit for passage of health care reform was given to the women’s and choice groups that early on acceded to the exclusion of abortion coverage and worked like mad to get it passed, Sr. Keehan was lauded by the media as the single most important figure in its passage when she sided with the administration’s assertion that the ACA did not in any way include funding for abortion. She earned not only a pen at the signing ceremony, but ongoing access to and deference from the White House.

    Then, when the US bishops ratcheted up its opposition to the president’s reelection by accusing him of hostility to religion for not giving the Catholic hospitals an exemption, and Catholic columnists in both the secular and religious press bought the claim, adding that Obama had thrown progressive Catholics and Sr. Keehan under the bus, Sr. Keehan again came to the President’s rescue by offering support for his “accommodation”:

    The Catholic Health Association is very pleased with the White House announcement that a resolution has been reached that protects the religious liberty and conscience rights of Catholic institutions. The framework developed has responded to the issues we identified that needed to be fixed.

    Having decided to press for recognition as a religion, the CHA has another plus going for it in addition to its favored status at the White House: nuns have become heroes. In general Catholic voters, whom the Democrats want to bring closer, are supportive of the nuns but they don’t tend to like the bishops. Catholic health care is one of the few good things we can point to in a church otherwise plagued by corruption and, yes, pedophilia. Even pro-contraception Catholics are inclined to support the sisters. During the Clinton administration’s attempt at health care reform, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) made clear, with regard to the provision of a conscience clause for religious hospitals, that whatever the nuns in Baltimore who had cared for her mother wanted they would get.

    Nuns are especially popular today after the Vatican foolishly attacked them for caring more about the poor than about opposing gay rights and abortion. Catholic and non Catholic columnists alike praised them to the skies. The sisters, whose claim to oppressed persons status is that the Vatican called them “radical feminists” and slapped their wrists, are more lauded for their courage than Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent nearly 15 years under house arrest.

    Months before the election is the perfect time for the CHA to press its case for an exemption from the policy, which would not only allow it freedom from following the law on contraceptive insurance, but also to assert without scrutiny that any number of health services violate its religious beliefs. In her interview with Kaiser Health News, Sr. Keehan acknowledged that the CHA still has “some very real concerns in the church that even if you get rid of the coverage of contraceptives, [there may be] problems in the future.”

    Up to now, the administration has followed a strategy that is political, but respectful of the constitutional limits on religious freedom. It has correctly taken the position that public policies established to serve the common good require a clear and narrow definition of what is and what is not a religion. We do not just abandon the common good to unexamined claims that a public health or education provider is required by faith not to comply.

    We are prepared to give an actual religion an almost free pass to assert what the religion teaches and requires, but not a hospital which holds in its hands the life and health of many of all faiths and no faith, and operates under the laws and regulations of the state. If such entities have any right to an exemption based on religion, those claims should be subject to strict regulatory scrutiny.

    It would be wiser to grant no exemption at all than to entangle the state in the adjudication of claims over what religious belief outside the scope of a denomination requires. But if we were to examine claims, on the contraceptive issue we would be forced to conclude that these hospitals do not require an exemption. We would write in the file that any further claims need to be carefully examined given the lack of a good religious argument for refusing to insure employees for contraception. And our trust and confidence in the CHA would be diminished by such a frivolous claim.

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/politics/6106/

Why Is the Conservative Brain More Fearful? The Alternate Reality Right-Wingers Inhabit Is Terrifying

Walk a mile in your ideological counterparts’ shoes…if you dare.

From:  Alternet

By: Joshua Holland

N.B.: What role does fear based religion play in this? 

Consider for a moment just how terrifying it must be to live life as a true believer on the right. Reality is scary enough, but the alternative reality inhabited by people who watch Glenn Beck, listen to Rush Limbaugh, or think Michele Bachmann isn’t a joke must be nothing less than horrifying.

Research suggests that conservatives are, on average, more susceptible to fear than those who identify themselves as liberals. Looking at MRIs of a large sample of young adults last year, researchers at University College London discovered that “greater conservatism was associated with increased volume of the right amygdala” ($$). The amygdala is an ancient brain structure that’s activated during states of fear and anxiety. (The researchers also found that “greater liberalism was associated with increased gray matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex” – a region in the brain that is believed to help people manage complexity.)

That has implications for our political world. In a recent interview, Chris Mooney, author of The Republican Brain, explained, “The amygdala plays the same role in every species that has an amygdala. It basically takes over to save your life. It does other things too, but in a situation of threat, you cease to process information rationally and you’re moving automatically to protect yourself.”

The finding also fits with other data. Mooney discusses studies conducted at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in which self-identified liberals and conservatives were shown images – apolitical images – that were intended to elicit different emotions. Writing at Huffington Post, Mooney explains that “there were images that caused fear and disgust — a spider crawling on a person’s face, maggots in an open wound — but also images that made you feel happy: a smiling child, a bunny rabbit.” The researchers noted two differences between the groups. The researchers studied their subjects’ reactions by tracking their eye movements and monitoring their “skin conductivity” – a measure of one’s autonomic nervous system’s reaction to stimuli.

Conservatives showed much stronger skin responses to negative images, compared with the positive ones. Liberals showed the opposite. And when the scientists turned to studying eye gaze or “attentional” patterns, they found that conservatives looked much more quickly at negative or threatening images, and [then] spent more time fixating on them.

Mooney concludes that this “new research suggests [that] conservatism is largely a defensive ideology — and therefore, much more appealing to people who go through life sensitive and highly attuned to aversive or threatening aspects of their environments.”

But those cognitive biases are only part of the story of how a political movement in the wealthiest, most secure nation in the world have come to view their surroundings with such dread. The other half of the equation is a conservative media establishment that feeds members of the movement an almost endless stream of truly terrifying scenarios.

The phenomenon of media “siloing” is pretty well understood – in an era when dozens of media sources are a click away, people have a tendency to consume more of those that conform to their respective worldviews. But there is some evidence that this phenomenon is more pronounced on the right – conservative intellectuals have had a long-running debate about the significance of “epistemic closure” within their movement.

So conservatives appear to be more likely to be hard-wired to be highly sensitive to perceived threats, and their chosen media offers them plenty. But that’s not the whole story because of one additional factor. Since 9/11, and especially since the election of President Barack Obama, one of the most significant trends in America’s political discourse is the “mainstreaming” of what were previously considered to be fringe views on the right. Theories that were once relegated to the militia movement can now be heard on the lips of elected officials and television personalities like Glenn Beck.

Consider, then, what it must be like to be a true-blue Rush Limbaugh fan, or someone who thinks Michele Bachmann is a serious lawmaker with a grasp of the issues – put yourself into that person’s shoes for a moment, and consider what a nightmarish landscape the world around them must represent:

The White House has been usurped by a Kenyan socialist named Barry Soetero, who hatched an elaborate plot to pass himself off as a citizen of the United States – a plot the media refuse to even investigate. This president doesn’t just claim the right to assassinate suspected terrorists who are beyond the reach of law enforcement – he may be planning on rounding up his ideological opponents and putting them into concentration camps if he is reelected. He may have murdered a blogger who was critical of his administration, but authorities refuse to investigate. At the very least, he is plotting on disarming the American public after the election, in accordance with a secret deal cut with the UNand possibly with the assistance of foreign troops.

Again, these ideas are not relegated to the fringe of forwarded emails. Glenn Beck talked about FEMA camps on Fox News (he later debunked them, which only fueled charges of a media coverup); dozens of Republican elected officials have at least hinted that they are birthers, while an erstwhile front-runner for the GOP nomination has repeatedly claimed that Obama is not eligible to be president. The head of the NRA, and the GOP’s presidential nominee have both claimed Obama is plotting to take Americans’ guns.

In reality, Americans are safer and more secure today than at any point in human history. But inhabitants of the world of the hard-right are surrounded by danger – from mobs of thugs at home to a variety of powerful and deadly enemies abroad.

For the true believers, Latin American immigration isn’t a phenomenon to be managed, but a grave existential threat. A plot to “take back” large swaths of the Southwest is a theory that has aired not only on obscure right-wing blogs, but on Fox and CNN. On CNN, Lou Dobbs claimed immigrants were spreading leprosy; Rick Perry, Rep. Louie Gohmert and other “mainstream” voices on the right (that is, people with platforms) agree that Hezbollah and Hamas “are using Mexico as a way to penetrate into the southern part of the United States,” possibly with the aid of “terror babies” carried in pregnant women’s wombs.

In the real world, the rate of violent crime in the US iat the lowest point since 1968 – in fact, it issomewhat of a mystery that the violent crime rate has continued to decline even in the midst of the Great Recession. It’s also true that 84 percent of white murder victims are killed by other whites. But if you read the Drudge Report, or check in at Fox, on any given day you will see extensive coverage ofany incident in which a black person harms a white person. These fit in with the narrative – advanced by people like Glenn Beck and long-touted by Ron Paul – that we stand on the brink of a race war, led by the New Black Panthers (just consider how frightening it would be if there were more than a dozen New Black Panthers, or if they did more than say stupid things). Marauding “flash-mobs” of black teens – a near-obsession at many conservative outlets these days — are simply a harbinger of things to come.

Continue, for a moment, to stroll in the shoes of a true believer on the right. Imagine how frightening it would be to believe Frank Gaffney, a former Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration and leading neoconservative voice, when he claims the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the highest levels of the US government, or Newt Gingrich, when he says that “sharia law” (there isn’t such a thing in the way conservatives portray it – as a discrete canon of laws) poses a grave threat to our way of life.

Imagine believing that the Democrats’ business-friendly insurance reforms included panels of bureaucrats who would decide when to let you die, as Sarah Palin infamously suggested. Or that virtually the entire field of climatology is perpetrating a “hoax,” as senator James Inhofe claims, in order to undermine capitalism and impose a one-world government. Imagine seeing energy-efficient lightbulbs as part of an international plot to, again, undermine capitalism, as Michele Bachmannbelieves. Imagine thinking that the public school system “indoctrinates” young children into the “gay lifestyle,” as influential members of the religious right – Pat Dobson, Bryan Fischer, Anita Bryant – have claimed for years. Imagine believing our electoral system is tarnished by massive voter fraud or that union thugs are running amok or that the Department of Homeland Security is making a list of people who advocate for “limited government.” Imagine if there really were a War on Christmas!

These dark narratives come in addition to more run-of-the-mill fearmongering about the Iranian “threat,” or nonsense about how “entitlements” are leading our economy to look like Greece’s. Those of us in the “reality-based community” may look at these specters haunting the right with exasperation or amusement, but just consider for a moment how bleak the world looks to those who buy into these ideas.

Perhaps the most frightening part of all of this for the true believers is that even though these things aren’t just fringe ideas circulating in forwarded emails – they’re discussed by influential politicians and on leading cable news outlets – the bulk of the media and most elected officials refuse to investigatewhat’s happening to this country.

That one ideological camp is so consumed with fear also has a lot to do with why conservatives and liberals share so little common ground. Progressives tend to greet these narratives with facts and reason, but as Chris Mooney notes, when your amygdala is activated, it takes over and utterly dominates the brain structures dedicated to reason. Then the “fight-or-flight” response takes precedence over critical thinking.”

Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He is the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy: And Everything else the Right Doesn’t Want You to Know About Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America. Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter.


Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.alternet.org/story/155210/why_is_the_conservative_brain_more_fearful_the_alternate_reality_right-wingers_inhabit_is_terrifying?akid=8693.123424.yNgM1U&rd=1&t=5

Why Rising Gas Prices Could Backfire on the GOP in November

If Republican strategists think they can reverse their fortunes by focusing on the gas price debate, the odds are good they will be wrong.”

From: HuffPost

By: Robert Creamer

“Eight months before the fall elections, Republican strategists are in a dour mood.

  • The economy has begun to gain traction.
  • Their leading candidate for president, Mitt Romney, is universally viewed as an uninspiring poster child for the one percent, with no core values anyone can point to except his own desire to be elected.
  • Every time Romney tries to “identify” with ordinary people he says something entirely inappropriate about his wife’s “two Cadillacs,” how much he likes to fire people who provide him services, or how he is a buddy with the people who own NASCAR teams rather than the people who watch them.
  • The polls show that the more people learn about Romney, the less they like him.
  • The Republican primary road show doesn’t appear to be coming to a close any time soon.
  • Together, Bob Kerrey’s announcement that he will get into the Senate contest in Nebraska and the news that Olympia Snowe is retiring from the Senate in Maine, massively increase Democratic odds of holding onto the control of the Senate.
  • The Congress is viewed positively by fewer voters than at any time in modern history — and two-thirds think the Republicans are completely in charge.
  • Worse yet, the polling in most presidential battleground states currently gives President Obama leads over Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.

The one thing Republican political pros are cheering right now is the rapidly increasing price of gas at the pump and the underlying cost of oil.

The conventional wisdom holds that if gas prices increase, it will inevitably chip away at support for President Obama — and there is a good case to be made. After all, increased gas prices could siphon billions out of the pockets of consumers that they would otherwise spend on the goods and services that could help continue the economic recovery — which is critical to the president’s re-election.

But Republicans shouldn’t be so quick to lick their chops at the prospect of rising gas prices.

Here’s why:

1). What you see, everybody sees. The sight of Republicans rooting against America and hoping that rising gas prices will derail the economic recovery is not pretty.

The fact is that Republicans have done everything in their power to block President Obama’s job-creating proposals in Congress, and they were dragged kicking and screaming to support the extension of the president’s payroll tax holiday that was critical to continuing economic momentum.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell actually announced that his caucus’ number one priority this term was the defeat of President Obama. The sight of Republicans salivating at the prospect of $4-plus per gallon gasoline will not sit well with ordinary voters.

2). Democrats have shown that they are more than willing to make the case about who is actually responsible for rising gas prices — and the culprits’ footprints lead right back to the GOP‘s front door.

Who is really to blame for higher gas prices?

  • The big oil companies that are doing everything they can to keep oil scarce and the price high;
  • Speculators that drive up the price in the short run;
  • Foreign conflicts, dictators and cartels — that have been important in driving up prices particularly in the last two months;
  • The Republicans who prevent the development of the clean, domestic sources of energy that are necessary to allow America to free itself from the stranglehold of foreign oil — all in order to benefit speculators and oil companies.

The fact is that the world will inevitably experience increasing oil prices over the long run because this finite, non-renewable resource is getting scarcer and scarcer at the same time that demand for energy from the emerging economies like China and India is sky rocketing.

Every voter with a modicum of experience in real-world economics gets that central economic fact.

That would make Republican opposition to the development of renewable energy sources bad enough. But over the last few months the factor chiefly responsible for short-term oil price hikes have been the Arab Spring and Israel’s growing tensions with Iran — all of which are well beyond direct American control.

But with only 2% of the world’s oil reserves, any idiot knows we can’t make ourselves materially more energy independent solely by drilling for more domestic oil. In fact, it is obvious that to have any hope of controlling the prices we pay for energy in the future, we must free ourselves from the dependence on oil in general and foreign oil in particular.

We need an emergency “all of the above” energy independence program that accesses all of the domestic sources of oil that can be developed in an environmentally safe way – plus a major investment in renewable, clean energy sources that free us from dependence on oil – and especially foreign oil.

President Obama has proposed a big first step in exactly that direction, and the Republicans have answered: “Hell no — drill baby drill.”

If they are forcefully challenged by Democrats this year — as I believe they will — that Republican position is simply laughable.

Domestic drilling has increased substantially under President Obama’s administration. And our dependence on foreign oil imports has gone down every year of his presidency. The president has put in place new mileage standards for cars that will save massive amounts of potential oil imports — standards that Republicans have opposed for decades.

But that fact remains, that for all his administration can do on its own to increase energy independence, it is impossible to free America from the stranglehold of foreign oil dependency without the kind of massive national commitment to domestic, renewable energy that must be passed by Congress. The Republicans have said “no” because their biggest energy patrons — the oil companies — oppose a crash program to create renewable energy sources for one simple reason. Every day that we fail to act, the value of their oil goes up — it’s that simple.

If you doubt that Mitt Romney and the Republicans are bought and paid for by Big Oil — just ask the infamous Koch brothers — who finance major Republican “super Pacs” — how much they stand to make personally every time the long-term price of a barrel of oil increases by another dollar.

Simply put, the Republicans have put the profits of their patrons in Big Oil well above the economic and national security interests of the United States of America.

The Republicans even continue to do everything in their power to block the elimination of the astonishing taxpayer subsidy of the oil industry, that continues notwithstanding the fact that big oil companies are more profitable today than any other companies in the history of humanity. And the Republicans do it all the while they blather on about how if we once again install them in the White House, they will bring us $2 a gallon gasoline.

Whoever is pushing those kinds of lines must be studying the techniques of the late, famous circus impresario, P.T. Barnum, who famously said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

But in fact, polling shows that American voters simply are not so gullible that they buy either of these preposterous positions.

3). Speculators. A final contributing factor that has recently amplified increases in gas and oil prices is the role of speculators.

In a purely competitive market, oil prices should settle in the long run at the marginal cost of producing the next barrel of oil — currently between $60 and $70 a barrel. Oil closed last week at about $106 per barrel and ran up to twice the marginal cost of production during the Bush era 2008 oil spike.

Currently about 80% of positions on oil commodity markets are held by “pure speculators” — who bet on changes in oil prices — rather than “end users” who actually consume oil and use the markets to hedge against price increases.

Academic studies have demonstrated that there is a big speculative premium in oil prices, above and beyond any “risk premium” that might normally develop from fear of some immediate, short-term shortage. That speculative premium could be materially dampened if steps were taken to limit the market’s domination by pure speculators.

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill — which was opposed by most Republicans in Congress and all of their presidential candidates — allows the Commodities Futures Trading Commission to limit the percentage of market positions held by pure speculators as opposed to end users.

Already the CTFC has position limits on the percentage of positions that can be held by individual companies or investors to prevent one from cornering the market. Many economists have proposed imposing similar position limits on pure speculators as a class.

Ordinary voters don’t like speculators. But far from supporting limits on speculation, Mitt Romney wants to go back to the “good old days of yesteryear” where wild, unbridled speculation led to the worst economic collapse in 60 years and costs eight million Americans their jobs.

None of this is good politics for Republicans.

Voters don’t want to be held hostage by the big oil companies or foreign oil. They don’t want to have their pockets picked by oil market speculators. They understand that when world oil prices go up, it benefits oil-state dictators: it’s like allowing Iran’s Ahmadinejad to levy a tax on American consumers. And voters sure as hell don’t want to pay a taxpayer subsidy to oil companies like Exxon that made more in profits in one minute last year (about $85,000) than the average American worker earns all year long.

If Republican strategists think they can reverse their fortunes by focusing on the gas price debate, the odds are good they will be wrong.

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com. He is a partner in Democracy Partnersand a Senior Strategist for Americans United for Change. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.


Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-creamer/why-rising-gas-prices-cou_b_1323360.html?utm_source=Alert-blogger&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Email%2BNotifications