How the US Press Lost its Way

By Robert Parry, Consortium News,  May 21, 2012

http://www.alternet.org/story/155511/how_the_us_press_lost_its_way

Editor’s Note: From May 10 to May 12, journalist Robert Parry participated in a conference entitled, “From the Pentagon Papers to WikiLeaks: A Transatlantic Conversation on the Public’s Right to Know,” sponsored by the Heidelberg Center for American Studies in Heidelberg, Germany.

The conference consisted of media figures, legal scholars and freedom-of-information advocates – and included Neil Sheehan, the New York Times correspondent who got the Pentagon Papers from Daniel Ellsberg, and Barry Sussman, the Washington Post editor who oversaw the newspaper’s coverage of the Watergate scandal.

Parry spoke on the last day and offered the following observations:

Excerpt

…the glory days of American journalism in the 1970s…the more depressing question of why things then went so terribly wrong...with Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974, it could be said that America’s checks and balances were alive and well. In newsrooms around Washington, there was reason to be proud.

More broadly, the United States had reason to be proud. The American constitutional Republic had shown its capacity for self-correction. Not only had brave individuals done their jobs as professionals – both in media and in government – but the nation’s institutions had worked.

The press, the Congress, the courts along with an informed public had demanded and gotten accountability and reform.

However, the success of democracy, this victory of the rule of law, was fragile. The struggle between dishonest pols and honest reporters – between an engaged people and behind-the-scenes powerbrokers – was far from over. Indeed, a new battle was just beginning...It was an unsettling time for the rich white men who held most of the levers of power...many were determined to fight back and some had experience in defusing and dismantling social movements around the world…gave Nixon’s allies a playbook for how to neutralize opponents and steer a population here at home...
happened over the past three-plus decadesultimately, they consolidated power; they changed laws in their favor; and – over the course of several decades – they made themselves even richer, indeed a lot richer, and that, in turn, has translated into even more power.
The likes of Richard Mellon Scaife and the Koch Brothers began investing in right-wing media, in right-wing think tanks, and in right-wing attack groups…Australian Rupert Murdoch showed up with millions more to buy up news media properties and give them a right-wing bent.

American neocons also emerged in this time frame. They became the intellectual shock troops for the Right’s counteroffensive…
1977…the end of that brief golden era of journalism. Jimmy Carter was president at the time. His administration was itself a reaction to the lies of the Vietnam War and Watergate…
Then, came Ronald Reagan. He was the perfect pitchman for this pushback, the ideal front man for rallying average Americans to betray their own interests…He also could sell nostalgia for a mythical better day, a time before all those jarring social changes of the 1960s and all those national humiliations of the 1970s.

After defeating Jimmy Carter in 1980, Reagan brought with him a gifted team of P.R. and ad men. And, partly through the connection of Reagan’s Vice President (and former CIA director) George H.W. Bush
Reagan also put one of Richard Nixon’s most cynical and unscrupulous allies, Bill Casey, in charge of CIA. Casey was a former intelligence officer from the OSS in World War II. He obsessed over the importance of deception and propaganda, what he viewed as key elements in defeating the Nazis and later containing the Communists. Casey understood that he who controlled the flow of information had a decisive advantage in any conflict...
Reagan administration …policy centered around scaring the American people about the Soviet menace and financing a massive U.S. military buildup to counter Moscow’s supposed bid for worldwide conquest.

Reagan also wanted to assist right-wing dictatorships in Central America as they put down uprisings by peasants, students, even priests and nuns…

But the problem wasn’t just getting control of the information inside the U.S. government. It also was to get control of the unruly Washington press corps

At the NSC, Raymond was put in charge of a special interagency task force for coordinating what was called “public diplomacy,” or how to sell U.S. policies around the world. But the office had a more secret and more sensitive domestic function. It was targeting members of Congress and the U.S. press corps – and through them, the American people…troublesome journalists were simply labeled “liberal,” a curse word in that period...
the Reagan team had a name for what they were up to in their domestic propaganda schemes. They called it “perception management.” The idea was that if you could manage how the American people perceived events abroad, you could not only insure their continued support of the foreign policy, but in making the people more compliant domestically. A frightened population is much easier to control...
the nation’s two preeminent papers… the New York Times and the Washington Post – largely moved to the sidelines when it came to Reagan-era scandals.
In the 1980s, the two influential papers became more solicitous to the Establishment than they were committed to the quality journalism that had contributed to the upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s...

notion of controversializing reporters may sound silly, but it was a real strategy. By the mid-1980s, America’s Right had built up an imposing media infrastructure of its own with many newspapers and magazines…
the secret operations of Oliver North and to the first story – in June 1985 – about his role funneling off-the-books money to the contras the Iran-Contra Affair marked an opportunity to not only bring important facts to the American people but to revive that independent spirit of the U.S. press…There were too many forces supporting containment of the scandal and too few committed to its full explication.…From my sources, it was clear that a cover-up was underway to protect Reagan and his heir apparent Bush…. bureau chief…specifically ordered me not to even read the congressional Iran-Contra report when it came out in fall 1987. I was reassigned to work on the Gary Hart sex scandal...
the concept of “perception management” had carried the day in Washington, with remarkably little resistance from the Washington press corps...

Yes, the press corps could get fierce about Bill Clinton’s sex life or Al Gore’s supposed exaggerations. But when it came to national security secrets – especially with a Republican in the White House – the American people and the world were in much greater danger than they knew.
I turned to what was then the new media frontier, the Internet, and started what was the first investigative news Web site.

The site is called Consortiumnews.com…despite the Internet’s promise
The readership also is fragmented, making it impossible to have the impact that the New York Times had in the Pentagon Papers or the Washington Post had during Watergate.
Sadly, too, my fears about the dangers from a Washington press corps that had stopped asking the tough questions on issues of war and peace also proved prescient. After George W. Bush seized the White House — and especially after the 9/11 attacks — many journalists reverted back their earlier roles as stenographers to power. They also became cheerleaders for a misguided war in Iraq.

Indeed, you can track the arc of modern American journalism from its apex at the Pentagon Papers and Watergate curving downward to that center point of Iran-Contra before reaching the nadir of Bush’s war in Iraq…

Though everyone knew that Hussein had let the inspectors in and that it was Bush who had forced them to leave in March 2003, not a single reporter confronted Bush on this lie, which he repeated again and again right through his exit interviews in 2008...

In the era of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers, the system had worked, with individuals and institutions upholding their constitutional duties to inform the public and punish corrupt officials. By the era of Iran-Contra, some individuals within the system continued to do their jobs, but the institutions had stopped working. Almost no one was held accountable and the cover-up was largely succeeded…

Even after George W. Bush took the United States to war in Iraq under false pretenses and even after he authorized the torture of detainees in the “war on terror,” no one involved in those decisions has faced any accountability at all.

When high-flying Wall Street bankers brought the world’s economy to its knees with risky gambles in 2008, Western governments used trillions of dollars in public moneys to bail the bankers out. But not one senior banker faced prosecution.

Upon taking office in 2009, President Obama saw little choice but to “look forward, not backward.” And, in all honesty, given the state of the American political/media process, it is hard to envision how he would have proceeded against what would have been a powerful phalanx of Establishment forces opposed to prosecuting Bush, Wall Street CEOs and their underlings.

…Not only has political power been concentrated in their hands, but the country’s wealth, too

…The absence of accountability has spread from government to the media itself. The makings are there for yet another catastrophe.

So, a sad but – I think – fair conclusion would be that at least for the time being, perception management has won out over truth. But the struggle over information and democracy has entered another new and unpredictable phase.

Full text

Much of this conference has focused on the glory days of American journalism in the 1970s. And rightly so. My talk, however, will deal with the more depressing question of why things then went so terribly wrong.

First, let me say it’s been an honor to be at this conference, especially with Neil Sheehan and Barry Sussman, who played such important roles exposing serious crimes of state in the early to mid-1970s. That was a time when U.S. journalism perhaps was at its best, far from perfect, but doing what the Founders had in mind when they afforded special protections to the American press.

In the 1970s, besides the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, there were other important press disclosures, like the My Lai massacre story and the CIA abuses — from Iran to Guatemala, from Cuba to Chile. For people around the world, American journalism was the gold standard.

Granted, that was never the full picture. There were shortcomings even in the 1970s. You also could argue that the U.S. news media’s performance then was exceptional mostly in contrast to its failures during the Cold War, when reporters tended to be stenographers to power, going along to get along, including early in the Vietnam War.

Even the much-admired Walter Cronkite flacked for the early U.S. bombing raids over Vietnam. But the press of the Seventies seemed to have learned lessons from its earlier gullibility. And, with Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974, it could be said that America’s checks and balances were alive and well. In newsrooms around Washington, there was reason to be proud.

More broadly, the United States had reason to be proud. The American constitutional Republic had shown its capacity for self-correction. Not only had brave individuals done their jobs as professionals – both in media and in government – but the nation’s institutions had worked.

The press, the Congress, the courts along with an informed public had demanded and gotten accountability and reform. Not only were Nixon and many of his henchmen gone but Congress enacted legal changes designed to prevent the excessive influence of political donors, to open up government secrets to public scrutiny, to protect whistleblowers.

Again, things weren’t perfect and the nation faced many challenges in the 1970s, but one could say that democracy had been strengthened. As painful as the process was, the system had worked.

However, the success of democracy, this victory of the rule of law, was fragile. The struggle between dishonest pols and honest reporters – between an engaged people and behind-the-scenes powerbrokers – was far from over. Indeed, a new battle was just beginning.

After Nixon’s resignation, his embittered allies didn’t simply run up the white flag. They got to work ensuring that they would never experience “another Watergate.” And it wasn’t just a struggle that pitted the press against the pols.

You could say that much of the U.S. Establishment had been unnerved by the surge of democracy that had arisen to challenge longstanding traditions and injustices — the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement, the environmental movement, the anti-war movement. There also were cultural upheavals, with the hippies and the drug culture. It was an unsettling time for the rich white men who held most of the levers of power.

And these folks were not about to cede power easily. They made adjustments, yes; they gave some ground. But many were determined to fight back and some had experience in defusing and dismantling social movements around the world. Indeed, the CIA’s decades of political and media manipulation in the Third World and even Europe gave Nixon’s allies a playbook for how to neutralize opponents and steer a population here at home.

So, they set out to do just that. America, which had often targeted other countries for manipulation, was about to get a taste of the same medicine. It may seem odd to explain what has happened over the past three-plus decades as the result of a well-orchestrated intelligence operation. But step back for a moment and take the name United States out of the equation. Think of it as “Nation X” or as, say, Chile in the 1970s.

Think how the CIA would target a country with the goal of shoring up a wealthy oligarchy. The Agency might begin by taking over influential media outlets or starting its own. It would identify useful friends and isolate troublesome enemies.

It would organize pro-oligarchy political groups. It would finance agit-prop specialists skilled at undermining and discrediting perceived enemies. If the project were successful, you would expect the oligarchy to consolidate its power, to get laws written in its favor. And eventually the winners would take a larger share of the nation’s wealth.

And what we saw in the late 1970s and early 1980s in the United States was something like the behavior of an embattled oligarchy. Nixon’s embittered allies and the Right behaved as if they were following a CIA script. They built fronts; they took over and opened new media outlets; they spread propaganda; they discredited people who got in the way; ultimately, they consolidated power; they changed laws in their favor; and – over the course of several decades – they made themselves even richer, indeed a lot richer, and that, in turn, has translated into even more power.

Getting Things Started

One key early figure in this operation was Nixon’s Treasury Secretary Bill Simon, a Wall Street investment banker who also ran the Olin Foundation. Simon used that perch to begin lining up right-wing foundations and getting them to pool their money. The likes of Richard Mellon Scaife and the Koch Brothers began investing in right-wing media, in right-wing think tanks, and in right-wing attack groups. Some of these attack groups were set up to go after troublesome reporters.

Ironically, given our comparison of this effort to CIA covert operations interfering in foreign countries, this time money flowed in from foreign sources to help fund propaganda inside the United States. The Rev. Sun Myung Moon, a South Korean cult leader who fancies himself the Messiah, invested tens of millions of dollars of his mysterious money in right-wing political and media organizations, including the Washington Times. Australian Rupert Murdoch showed up with millions more to buy up news media properties and give them a right-wing bent.

American neocons also emerged in this time frame. They became the intellectual shock troops for the Right’s counteroffensive. They also focused much of their attention on the media. In the late 1970s, for instance, neocon Marty Peretz took over the formerly liberal New Republic and turned it into the incubator that gave us right-wing columnists like Charles Krauthammer and Fred Barnes.

Arriving in DC

I had arrived in Washington in 1977, as a correspondent for the Associated Press. So I saw the end of that brief golden era of journalism. Jimmy Carter was president at the time. His administration was itself a reaction to the lies of the Vietnam War and Watergate. One of Carter’s campaign promises was never to lie to the American people. I recall AP ‘s White House correspondent, Michael Putzel, taking it on as a personal challenge to catch Carter in at least one lie. It sounds almost quaint today.

Then, came Ronald Reagan. He was the perfect pitchman for this pushback, the ideal front man for rallying average Americans to betray their own interests. A former movie star, Reagan could sell you anything, even Chesterfield cigarettes. He also could sell nostalgia for a mythical better day, a time before all those jarring social changes of the 1960s and all those national humiliations of the 1970s.

After defeating Jimmy Carter in 1980, Reagan brought with him a gifted team of P.R. and ad men. And, partly through the connection of Reagan’s Vice President (and former CIA director) George H.W. Bush, Reagan’s team also hooked up with CIA professionals, experts in the dark arts of political and media manipulation. The CIA’s Old Boys had suffered their own pain in the 1970s. Many got fired and their proud agency became the butt of national jokes.

Reagan also put one of Richard Nixon’s most cynical and unscrupulous allies, Bill Casey, in charge of CIA. Casey was a former intelligence officer from the OSS in World War II. He obsessed over the importance of deception and propaganda, what he viewed as key elements in defeating the Nazis and later containing the Communists. Casey understood that he who controlled the flow of information had a decisive advantage in any conflict.

Coordinated Assault

So, what we saw in the early to mid-1980s was an assault on the two key sources of information in Official Washington. One was inside the CIA itself, the analytical division. These fiercely independent CIA analysts had been a thorn in the side of the war machine for some time.

As Neil Sheehan (who wrote the Pentagon Papers stories for the New York Times) recalled in his keynote speech to the conference, it was a CIA analyst, Sam Adams, who had leaked evidence that the Vietnam War was unwinnable.

In the early 1980s, other CIA analysts were seeing signs that the Soviet Union was in rapid decline. But that was not the answer the Reagan administration wanted, since its policy centered around scaring the American people about the Soviet menace and financing a massive U.S. military buildup to counter Moscow’s supposed bid for worldwide conquest.

Reagan also wanted to assist right-wing dictatorships in Central America as they put down uprisings by peasants, students, even priests and nuns. Fear of an ever-expanding Soviet Union was to be the key motivator to separate the American people from their money and their common sense. They had to believe that a dangerous bear was on the loose and on the prowl in Central America.

In other words, the CIA analysts had to be brought into line. Rather than talk about the Soviet Union in decline and eager for accommodation with the West, the analysts had to get cracking, exaggerating the Soviet threat. And Casey had just the guy to do it, an ambitious, well-regarded young bureaucrat named Robert Gates.

Casey put Gates in charge of the analytical division and soon his reorganization of the directorate had sent some key analysts out to pasture and brought in a new more flexible cadre of careerists. They agreed that the Soviets were indeed 10 feet tall, the source of all evil in the world, and plotting to attack the U.S. through the soft underbelly of Texas.

The Troublesome Press Corps

But the problem wasn’t just getting control of the information inside the U.S. government. It also was to get control of the unruly Washington press corps. Casey had a hand in this, too. He moved one of his most experienced disinformation specialists, Walter Raymond Jr., from the CIA to the National Security Council.

The reason for Raymond’s shift was that the CIA was legally barred from influencing U.S. policy and politics. But the thinking was that if you externalized Raymond to the NSC then he wasn’t technically in the CIA. Casey used a similar subterfuge when he ran the contra war in Nicaragua through NSC official Oliver North — after Congress had banned the CIA and the Pentagon from giving the contras military support.

At the NSC, Raymond was put in charge of a special interagency task force for coordinating what was called “public diplomacy,” or how to sell U.S. policies around the world. But the office had a more secret and more sensitive domestic function. It was targeting members of Congress and the U.S. press corps – and through them, the American people.

Secret government documents that later emerged in the Iran-Contra scandal revealed that Raymond’s team worked aggressively and systematically to lobby news executives and turn them against their reporters when the reporters dug up information that clashed with Reagan’s propaganda, especially in hot spots like Central America. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Lost History.]

Sometimes the techniques were crude. For instance, a favorite tactic to discredit women reporters in Central America was to start whispering campaigns about them sleeping with Sandinistas. Other troublesome journalists were simply labeled “liberal,” a curse word in that period.

You might want to believe that the news executives stood up for their reporters. But that usually was not what happened.

The smear techniques proved remarkably successful, in part, because many of the news executives were already inclined to support Reagan’s muscular foreign policy and his resistance to the popular movements that had rocked America in the 1960s and 1970s, opening doors to minorities and women and lessening bigotry against gays.

Many senior editors shared a Cold War point-of-view and were unnerved by those political and cultural changes. At the AP, where I was, general manager Keith Fuller made no secret of his admiration for Reagan in having rescued America from the supposedly shameful days of the 1960s and 1970s. In one speech, Fuller talked about those days ripping at the “sinews” of American authority and saying that Americans wanted to get back to “the union of Adam and Eve,” not “the union of Adam and Bruce.”

Perception Management

Privately, the Reagan team had a name for what they were up to in their domestic propaganda schemes. They called it “perception management.” The idea was that if you could manage how the American people perceived events abroad, you could not only insure their continued support of the foreign policy, but in making the people more compliant domestically. A frightened population is much easier to control.

Thus, if you could manage the information flows inside the government and inside the Washington press corps, you could be more confident that there would be no more Vietnam-style protests. No more Pentagon Papers. No more My Lai massacre disclosures. No more Watergates.

Sure, there would be the occasional reporter who would fight a story through to publication but he or she could be neutralized. And most significantly, in the face of this well-organized pressure, the nation’s two preeminent papers where the likes of Neil Sheehan and Barry Sussman had starred – the New York Times and the Washington Post – largely moved to the sidelines when it came to Reagan-era scandals.

In the 1980s, the two influential papers became more solicitous to the Establishment than they were committed to the quality journalism that had contributed to the upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s.

Investigating Reagan

All this became a factor in my journalism career. In late 1980, I had been put on the AP special assignment team and had begun investigating the secret side of the Reagan administration’s policies in Central America. My work wasn’t much appreciated by Keith Fuller and the AP brass, but I pressed on and broke a number of important stories about the CIA’s operations.

We won some journalism awards and that gave me a little protection. But it was always touch and go. When one of Reagan’s public diplomacy guys realized that I wasn’t going to back down, he looked me in the eye and said, in all seriousness, “we will controversialize you.”

That notion of controversializing reporters may sound silly, but it was a real strategy. By the mid-1980s, America’s Right had built up an imposing media infrastructure of its own with many newspapers and magazines.

The Right also controlled specialized attack groups that targeted journalists by name and were dedicated to making individual reporters the issue. Anti-journalism activists, the likes of Reed Irvine and Brent Bozell, coordinated their attacks with Reagan’s allies and operatives.

Still at AP we persisted in the Central America investigations. Essentially, I was trying to follow the advice of Watergate’s Deep Throat — to “follow the money.” Specifically, I wanted to know how the Nicaraguan contra rebels were getting funded after Congress cut off their financial support.

That work led me the secret operations of Oliver North and to the first story – in June 1985 – about his role funneling off-the-books money to the contras. Later, with my AP colleague Brian Barger, we discovered that many of the contra units had gotten involved in cocaine smuggling to help pay the bills.

On the Sidelines

Yet, as we pressed our investigation, we found ourselves remarkably alone, with the occasional exception of some left-of-center magazine or the Miami Herald. The AP editors took note that the Washington Post and the New York Times were staying mostly on the sidelines.

And, by summer 1986, Congress had buckled under Reagan’s pressure and agreed to resume contra funding. Barger quit the AP around that time and I was somewhat in the doghouse for having led the wire service off on this wild goose chase. However, then fate conspired to get the truth out.

On Oct. 5, 1986, on one of the last flights of Oliver North’s secret air force to dump weapons to the contras inside Nicaragua, a teen-age Sandinista draftee fired a SAM missile that brought down the cargo plane. One of the Americans onboard, Eugene Hasenfus, parachuted to safety and was captured. Suddenly our crazy AP stories didn’t seem so crazy after all.

The crashed plane – and later disclosures about Reagan’s arms-for-hostage deals with Iran (from a Beirut newspaper) – led to congressional investigations. And this brief vindication led me to a new job offer from Newsweek, which I took in early 1987.

In a way, the Iran-Contra Affair marked an opportunity to not only bring important facts to the American people but to revive that independent spirit of the U.S. press. And there were a few months of good reporting as the Big Papers scrambled to catch up.

Losing Momentum

But the dynamic had shifted too much. Or, you might say, the CIA-style political/media operation had advanced too far. There were too many forces supporting containment of the scandal and too few committed to its full explication.

In that sense, Iran-Contra became a test of the new paradigm: an aggressive right-wing apparatus doing damage control, determined to prevent another Watergate, up against a weakened force favoring accountability and truth.

At Newsweek – which was part of the Washington Post company at the time – there simply wasn’t the stomach for another Watergate anyway. Some senior editors even considered it a sign of their patriotism not to take part in the destruction of another Republican presidency.

So, there was little pushback when President Reagan and Vice President George Bush were largely spared and a few lower-ranking officials, like Oliver North, were thrown under the bus.

However, it wasn’t fine with me. From my sources, it was clear that a cover-up was underway to protect Reagan and his heir apparent Bush. And, I pushed through some stories at Newsweek along those lines. But the top brass, particularly executive editor Maynard Parker, had different ideas. He didn’t like Iran-Contra as a story and wanted it wrapped up quickly.

At one famous point in the hearings, the well-liked Secretary of State George Shultz declared that in Washington, “trust is the coin of the realm.” After that, he proceeded to lie though his teeth (a reality he later admitted to Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh).

But in 1987, Shultz’s assurance was good enough for my Newsweek editors who essentially told me that any further reporting about a cover-up was unwelcome. Newsweek bureau chief Evan Thomas specifically ordered me not to even read the congressional Iran-Contra report when it came out in fall 1987. I was reassigned to work on the Gary Hart sex scandal.

I hung on at Newsweek until 1990 and kept an eye on the Iran-Contra scandal as some of the secrets continued to dribble out. But my situation was untenable and I agreed to leave in June 1990. What was clear to me at that point was that the concept of “perception management” had carried the day in Washington, with remarkably little resistance from the Washington press corps.

Reverting to Form

While still living on the reputation of those golden days of the 1970s, Washington journalists had reverted to their pre-Vietnam, pre-Watergate inability to penetrate important government secrets in a significant way.

Yes, the press corps could get fierce about Bill Clinton’s sex life or Al Gore’s supposed exaggerations. But when it came to national security secrets – especially with a Republican in the White House – the American people and the world were in much greater danger than they knew.

For me, I did some documentaries for PBS Frontline and kept digging up material that shed new light on the dark secrets of the 1980s. But no one seemed interested. So, at the advice of my oldest son Sam, I turned to what was then the new media frontier, the Internet, and started what was the first investigative news Web site.

The site is called Consortiumnews.com, and – over the past 16-plus years – we have published hundreds of investigative news articles, including many from historical records that are now available but are of little interest to the major U.S. news outlets. Interestingly, a number of former CIA analysts also submit articles to us.

Yet, despite the Internet’s promise for circumventing the obstacles that I faced at AP and Newsweek, the Internet also has many shortcomings, including a shortage of good editing, too little fact-checking, too many crazy conspiracy theories, and perhaps most important of all, too little money.

The readership also is fragmented, making it impossible to have the impact that the New York Times had in the Pentagon Papers or the Washington Post had during Watergate.

Sadly, too, my fears about the dangers from a Washington press corps that had stopped asking the tough questions on issues of war and peace also proved prescient. After George W. Bush seized the White House — and especially after the 9/11 attacks — many journalists reverted back their earlier roles as stenographers to power. They also became cheerleaders for a misguided war in Iraq.

Indeed, you can track the arc of modern American journalism from its apex at the Pentagon Papers and Watergate curving downward to that center point of Iran-Contra before reaching the nadir of Bush’s war in Iraq.

Journalists found it hard even to challenge Bush when he was telling obvious lies. For instance, in June 2003, as the search for WMD came up empty, Bush began to tell reporters that he had no choice but to invade because Saddam Hussein had refused to let UN inspectors in.

Though everyone knew that Hussein had let the inspectors in and that it was Bush who had forced them to leave in March 2003, not a single reporter confronted Bush on this lie, which he repeated again and again right through his exit interviews in 2008.

The WikiLeaks Era

The failures of the U.S. news media over Iraq set the stage for what one might call the era of WikiLeaks. The absence of accountability and transparency over the last decade gave impetus to another evolution in how news can reach the people, by circumventing or coopting the traditional media.

In the era of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers, the system had worked, with individuals and institutions upholding their constitutional duties to inform the public and punish corrupt officials. By the era of Iran-Contra, some individuals within the system continued to do their jobs, but the institutions had stopped working. Almost no one was held accountable and the cover-up was largely succeeded.

By the era of WikiLeaks, people around the world had come to view the system and its functionaries as corrupt and untrustworthy. The tough-minded press corps of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate was a distant memory, replaced by what former CIA analyst Ray McGovern calls the “Fawning Corporate Media.”

Facing that reality, some individuals – usually from outside the traditional news media – have created new (and fragile) media institutions on the Internet, seeking transparency against government secrecy and fighting for at least some measure of accountability.

This has been a far-from-ideal solution. Web sites, even ones like WikiLeaks which gained worldwide notoriety, have been unable to demonstrate the staying power and the influence of news outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post. But the fact that millions of people now look to Internet sites (or cable-TV comedy shows) for information they can trust speaks volumes about how far the U.S. news media has slid over the past four decades.

So, if we were assessing how well the post-Watergate CIA-style covert operation worked, we’d have to conclude that it was remarkably successful. Even after George W. Bush took the United States to war in Iraq under false pretenses and even after he authorized the torture of detainees in the “war on terror,” no one involved in those decisions has faced any accountability at all.

When high-flying Wall Street bankers brought the world’s economy to its knees with risky gambles in 2008, Western governments used trillions of dollars in public moneys to bail the bankers out. But not one senior banker faced prosecution.

Upon taking office in 2009, President Obama saw little choice but to “look forward, not backward.” And, in all honesty, given the state of the American political/media process, it is hard to envision how he would have proceeded against what would have been a powerful phalanx of Establishment forces opposed to prosecuting Bush, Wall Street CEOs and their underlings.

Another measure of how the post-Watergate counteroffensive succeeded would be to note how very well America’s oligarchy had done financially in the past few decades. Not only has political power been concentrated in their hands, but the country’s wealth, too.

One can argue that there have been some bright spots in recent years. There has been some improvement in the U.S. press corps since its humiliation over the Iraq War. For instance, there was some good work done exposing the Bush administration’s torture policies and the CIA’s secret prisons. The emergence of independent Internet sites also has forced the mainstream media to compete for a share of credibility.

However, it’s also true that the U.S. press corps is making some of the same mistakes regarding the confrontation with Iran that were made over Iraq. And, many of the key journalists from 2003 remain in place in 2012. The absence of accountability has spread from government to the media itself. The makings are there for yet another catastrophe.

So, a sad but – I think – fair conclusion would be that at least for the time being, perception management has won out over truth. But the struggle over information and democracy has entered another new and unpredictable phase.

Robert Parry’s new book is Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq.”

© 2012 Consortium News All rights reserved.
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The Virus of GOP Ignorance: Why Don’t Media Protect Us From the Lies Spewed in the Republican Primary?

The Nation [1] / By Eric Alterman [2] posted on Alternet.org, November 23, 2011

The following article first appeared on the Web site of the Nation [3]. For more great content from the Nation, sign up for its email newsletters. [4] 

Excerpt

The Virus of GOP Ignorance: Why Don’t Media Protect Us From the Lies Spewed in the Republican Primary? By Eric Alterman, The Nation, November 23, 2011
It is a symbol of our current political predicament that anytime anyone tells the truth about anything in the contest for the Republican nomination, a new scandal erupts…

The respectful response of the media to the batshit-crazy statements one hears from the second-tier Republican candidates…is doing definite damage to this country…

Gingrich…Cain and Bachmann…Pretending that these people might be president, and hence deserve to be treated as if what they say is true, is not merely unjustified—given that the nominee is almost certain to be Romney—but akin to playing accessory to a kind of ongoing intellectually criminal activity.

In their new book, The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age, Randall Stephens and Karl Giberson explain the nature of intellectual insularity of so many in this world, in which “the teachings of dubiously credentialed leaders are favored over the word of secular experts in the arts and sciences.”…

The authors describe “what amounts to a ‘parallel culture,’” where people like alleged “historian” David Barton… abd psychologist James Dobson…proffer phony-baloney history lessons that distort almost everything professional historians know to be true about America’s founders.
Reporters representing reliable media outlets are supposed to defend the discourse from the virus of this ignorance. But for a variety of reasons they no longer do so. Part of the explanation can be found in the foolish willingness of so many reporters to treat Fox News, Drudge and various talk-radio hosts as respectable voices in the debate without regard to their motives or qualifications. A second, no less significant problem is the tendency of even the most sophisticated political reporters to treat the entire process as a contest between rival teams and ignore the substance of their arguments and policies, as if politics were simply a spectator sport…
Speaking of these Tea Party–inspired “candidates,” reformed right-winger David Frum writes that a “political movement that never took governing seriously was exploited by a succession of political entrepreneurs uninterested in governing—but all too interested in merchandising….these tea-party champions provide a ghoulish type of news entertainment each time they reveal that they know nothing about public affairs and have never attempted to learn.”

Full text

It is a symbol of our current political predicament that anytime anyone tells the truth about anything in the contest for the Republican nomination, a new scandal erupts. Newt Gingrich was briefly drummed out of the Republican Party for accurately terming Paul Ryan’s destructive Medicare plan a “radical” step toward “right-wing social engineering.” Jon Huntsman caused virtually the only stir of his all-but-invisible campaign when he admitted to what the Salt Lake Tribune straight-facedly called the “politically dicey belief that climate change is human-caused and needs to be addressed.” And most recently, CBS’s John Dickerson caused a contretemps when a stray e-mail revealed that Michele Bachmann was “not going to get many questions” in the debate the network was sponsoring because “she’s nearly off the charts.”

Being a member of the MSM in good standing, Dickerson was in all likelihood referring to Bachmann’s poll position rather than her approach to reality, and uncharacteristically for this race, they happen to be pretty much perfectly proportional. Bachmann has long been loony, but it has been her poll standing that has determined the treatment she has received from the press.

The respectful response of the media to the batshit-crazy statements one hears from the second-tier Republican candidates—candidates who occasionally rise to the first tier and then just as quickly sink down again, having never been serious contenders in the first place—is doing definite damage to this country. How many credulous Americans may have decided to shun the HPV vaccine for their daughters after hearing Bachmann’s nutty suggestion that it causes mental retardation? What of the insistence of that ignorant idiot Herman Cain that the “objective” purpose of Planned Parenthood’s founding was to “kill black babies before they came into the world. It’s planned genocide.” Now we’ve got a new front-runner, Gingrich, who holds, among other crazy notions, that the Obama administration’s “secular-socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did,” when his diseased brain is not focusing on his moronic (and racist) contention that “only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together” the inspiration for Obama’s foreign policies.

Gingrich is the man of the hour, as amazing and ridiculous as that may be. Like Cain and Bachmann, he is a better bet for a rubber room somewhere than the Oval Office. But this fact—obvious to anyone who’s paying attention—does not stop various media machers from pretending long enough to fly his ideological freak flag for him for millions of Americans. When, writing in the Washington Post, Pulitzer Prize–winning pundit Kathleen Parker describes “the sudden surge of Gingrich, who, whatever his flaws and despite the weight of his considerable baggage, is no intellectual slouch,” and says he “may be just the ticket”—well, one is left speechless. Pretending that these people might be president, and hence deserve to be treated as if what they say is true, is not merely unjustified—given that the nominee is almost certain to be Romney—but akin to playing accessory to a kind of ongoing intellectually criminal activity.

In their new book, The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age, Randall Stephens and Karl Giberson explain the nature of intellectual insularity of so many in this world, in which “the teachings of dubiously credentialed leaders are favored over the word of secular experts in the arts and sciences.” Considering the example of evolution, they write, “Anointed leaders convince their followers to reject evolution by undermining the credibility of the scientific community. The resulting widespread distrust of the scientific community—often portrayed as atheistic, anti-religious, ideological—undermines the credibility of everything the scientific community says, including its conclusions about climate change, the dangers of fracking, the importance of ecosystems, the need for vaccinating children, and so on.”

The authors describe “what amounts to a ‘parallel culture,’” where people like alleged “historian” David Barton (whose formal education consists of a degree in religious education from Oral Roberts University) and psychologist James Dobson (tennis team captain at what is now Point Loma Nazarene University) proffer phony-baloney history lessons that distort almost everything professional historians know to be true about America’s founders.

Reporters representing reliable media outlets are supposed to defend the discourse from the virus of this ignorance. But for a variety of reasons they no longer do so. Part of the explanation can be found in the foolish willingness of so many reporters to treat Fox News, Drudge and various talk-radio hosts as respectable voices in the debate without regard to their motives or qualifications. A second, no less significant problem is the tendency of even the most sophisticated political reporters to treat the entire process as a contest between rival teams and ignore the substance of their arguments and policies, as if politics were simply a spectator sport with fewer (and perhaps crazier) fans than the Mets or the Red Sox.

Speaking of these Tea Party–inspired “candidates,” reformed right-winger David Frum writes that a “political movement that never took governing seriously was exploited by a succession of political entrepreneurs uninterested in governing—but all too interested in merchandising. Much as viewers tune in to American Idol to laugh at the inept, borderline dysfunctional early auditions, these tea-party champions provide a ghoulish type of news entertainment each time they reveal that they know nothing about public affairs and have never attempted to learn.”


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/story/153198/the_virus_of_gop_ignorance%3A_why_don%27t_media_protect_us_from_the_lies_spewed_in_the_republican_primary

Links:
[1] http://www.thenation.com
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/eric-alterman
[3] http://www.thenation.com/
[4] http://www.thenation.com/nation-email-subscription-center
[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/romney-0
[6] http://www.alternet.org/tags/bachmann-0
[7] http://www.alternet.org/tags/newt
[8] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

Republicans Lied To by ‘Conservative Entertainment Complex’ – David Frum

By Alexander C. Kaufman, Thewrap.com, November 09, 2012

Newsweek columnist David Frum called Republican leaders “cowards” and said the right-wing base has been lied to by a “conservative entertainment complex.”

Frum, a conservative who served as a speechwriter for President George W. Bush, made his remarks Friday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” He added that the GOP had been overrun by fear-mongers.

“The problem with Republican leaders is that they’re cowards,” Frum said, adding that the party’s base of donors “went apocalyptic” in the last four years.

Republicans have been fleeced and exploited and lied to by a conservative entertainment complex,” he said.

“Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough pressed him to “name names,” which Frum skirted around, but he said there were “too many.”

Frum said he interviewed protesters at Tea Party rallies and found that a majority was convinced that taxes increased and that the federal government spent more than $1 trillion on welfare each year. Both claims are false.

“The followers, the donors and the activists are so mistaken about the nature of the problems the country faces,” Frum said.

http://www.thewrap.com/media/article/david-frum-republicans-lied-conservative-entertainment-complex-64421

The Amnesia Candidate by Paul Krugman

by Paul Krugman, New York Times, April 22, 2012

Just how stupid does Mitt Romney think we are? If you’ve been following his campaign from the beginning, that’s a question you have probably asked many times.

But the question was raised with particular force last week, when Mr. Romney tried to make a closed drywall factory in Ohio a symbol of the Obama administration’s economic failure. It was a symbol, all right — but not in the way he intended.

First of all, many reporters quickly noted a point that Mr. Romney somehow failed to mention: George W. Bush, not Barack Obama, was president when the factory in question was closed. Does the Romney campaign expect Americans to blame President Obama for his predecessor’s policy failure?

Yes, it does. Mr. Romney constantly talks about job losses under Mr. Obama. Yet all of the net job loss took place in the first few months of 2009, that is, before any of the new administration’s policies had time to take effect. So theOhio speech was a perfect illustration of the way the Romney campaign is banking on amnesia, on the hope that voters don’t remember that Mr. Obama inherited an economy that was already in free fall.

How does the campaign deal with people who point out the awkward reality that all of the “Obama” job losses took place before any Obama policies had taken effect? The fallback argument — which was rolled out when reporters asked about the factory closure — is that even though Mr. Obama inherited a deeply troubled economy, he should have fixed it by now. That factory is still closed, said a Romney adviser, because of the failure of Obama policies “to really get this economy going again.”

Actually, that factory would probably still be closed even if the economy had done better — drywall is mainly used in new houses, and while the economy may be coming back, the Bush-era housing bubble isn’t.

But Mr. Romney’s poor choice of a factory for his photo-op aside, I guess accusing Mr. Obama of not doing enough to promote recovery is a better argument than blaming him for the effects of Bush policies. However, it’s not much better, since Mr. Romney is essentially advocating a return to those very same Bush policies. And he’s hoping that you don’t remember how badly those policies worked.

For the Bush era didn’t just end in catastrophe; it started off badly, too. Yes, Mr. Obama’s jobs record has been disappointing — but it has been unambiguously better than Mr. Bush’s over the comparable period of his administration.

This is especially true if you focus on private-sector jobs. Overall employment in the Obama years has been held back by mass layoffs of schoolteachers and other state and local government employees. But private-sector employment has recovered almost all the ground lost in the administration’s early months. That compares favorably with the Bush era: as of March 2004, private employment was still 2.4 million below its level when Mr. Bush took office.

Oh, and where have those mass layoffs of schoolteachers been taking place? Largely in states controlled by the G.O.P.: 70 percent of public job losses have been either inTexasor in states where Republicans recently took control.

Which brings me to another aspect of the amnesia campaign: Mr. Romney wants you to attribute all of the shortfalls in economic policy since 2009 (and some that happened in 2008) to the man in the White House, and forget both the role of Republican-controlled state governments and the fact that Mr. Obama has faced scorched-earth political opposition since his first day in office. Basically, the G.O.P. has blocked the administration’s efforts to the maximum extent possible, then turned around and blamed the administration for not doing enough.

So am I saying that Mr. Obama did everything he could, and that everything would have been fine if he hadn’t faced political opposition? By no means. Even given the political constraints, the administration did less than it could and should have in 2009, especially on housing. Furthermore, Mr. Obama was an active participant in Washington’s destructive “pivot” away from jobs to a focus on deficit reduction.

And the administration has suffered repeatedly from complacency — taking a few months of good news as an excuse to rest on its laurels rather than hammering home the need for more action. It did that in 2010, it did it in 2011, and to a certain extent it has been doing the same thing this year too. So there is a valid critique one can make of the administration’s handling of the economy.

But that’s not the critique Mr. Romney is making. Instead, he’s basically attacking Mr. Obama for not acting as if George Bush had been given a third term. Are the American people — and perhaps more to the point, the news media — forgetful enough for that attack to work? I guess we’ll find out.

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/23/opinion/krugman-the-amnesia-candidate.html?_r=0

 

The Fascinating Story of How Shameless Right-Wing Lies Came to Rule Our Politics

By Rick Perlstein [2], article first appeared in Mother Jones [1], posted on Alternet.org, May 26, 2011

Excerpt

It takes two things to make a political lie work: a powerful person or institution willing to utter it, and another set of powerful institutions to amplify it. The former has always been with us…So why does it seem as if we’re living in a time of overwhelmingly brazen deception? What’s changed?…a network of media enablers helps it to make a sound — until enough people believe the untruth to make the lie an operative part of our political discourse.

…right-wing ideologues “lie without consequence,” as a desperate Vincent Foster put it in his suicide note nearly two decades ago. But they only succeed because they are amplified by “balanced” outlets that frame each smear as just another he-said-she-said “controversy.”…What’s new is the way the liars and their enablers now work hand in glove. That I call a mendocracy, and it is the regime that governs us now.

Full text

It takes two things to make a political lie work: a powerful person or institution willing to utter it, and another set of powerful institutions to amplify it. The former has always been with us: Kings, corporate executives, politicians, and ideologues from both sides of the aisle have been entirely willing to bend the truth when they felt it necessary or convenient. So why does it seem as if we’re living in a time of overwhelmingly brazen deception? What’s changed?

Today’s marquee fibs almost always evolve the same way: A tree falls in the forest — say, the claim that Saddam Hussein has “weapons of mass destruction,” or that Barack Obama has an infernal scheme to parade our nation’s senior citizens before death panels. But then a network of media enablers helps it to make a sound — until enough people believe the untruth to make the lie an operative part of our political discourse.

For the past 15 years, I’ve spent much of my time deeply researching three historic periods — the birth of the modern conservative movement around the Barry Goldwater campaign, the Nixon era, and the Reagan years — that together have shaped the modern political lie. Here’s how we got to where we are.

PROLOGUE: Just Making Stuff Up

When an explosion sunk the USS Maine [5] off the coast of Havana on February 15, 1898, the New YorkJournal claimed two days later, “Maine Destroyed By Spanish: This Proved Absolutely By Discovery of the Torpedo Hole.” There was no torpedo hole [6]. The Journal had already claimed that a Spanish armored cruiser, “capable, naval men say, of demolishing the great part ofNew York in less than two hours,” was on its way. “WAR! SURE!” a banner headline announced.

The instigator was a politically ambitious publisher, William Randolph Hearst [7]. Kicked out of Harvard for partying, and eager to make a name for himself outside the shadow of his mining-magnate father, he made his way to New York, where he led the way in a sensationalist new style of newspaper publication — “yellow journalism.” In a fearsome rivalry with Joseph Pulitzer [8], he chose as his vehicle the sort of manly imperialism to which theWashington elites of the day were certainly sympathetic — although far too cautiously for Hearst’s taste. “You furnish the pictures,” he supposedly telegraphed a reporter, “and I’ll furnish the war.” The tail wagged the dog. At a time when the only way to communicate rapidly across long distances was via telegraph, it proved easy to make up physical facts.

More than six decades later, that still seemed to be the case. “Some of our boys are floating around in the water,” Lyndon Johnson told congressmen to goad them into passing the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution [9] authorizing war in 1964, after a supposed attack on an American PT boat. “Hell, those dumb stupid sailors were just shooting at flying fish,” LBJ observed later, after the deed was done. That resolution inaugurated a decade of official American military activities in Southeast Asia (unofficially, we had been carrying out secret acts of war for years). A full-scale air war began the following February, after the enemy shelled the barracks of 23,000 American “advisers” [10] in a South Vietnamese town called Pleiku. But that was just a pretext. “Pleikus are like streetcars,” LBJ’s national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy, said — if you miss one, you can always just hop on another. The bombing targets had been in the can for months, even as LBJ was telling voters on the campaign trail [11], “We are not about to send American boys 9 or 10,000 miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.”

It would have been possible all along for some intrepid soul to drop the dime on the whole thing. There were many who knew or suspected the truth, but with a villain as universally feared as communism was during the Cold War years, denying the facts felt like the only patriotic thing to do.

Then everything changed.

The ’70s: Question Authority

Walter Cronkite traveled to Saigon after the Tet Offensive in 1968, saw things with his own eyes, and told the truth: The Vietnam War was stuck in a disastrous stalemate, no matter what the government said. That was a watershed. By 1969, none other than former Marine Commandant David M. Shoup endorsed a book on the war called Truth Is the First Casualty [12]. In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers [13], the Department of Defense study that plainly revealed that just about everything Americans had been told about Southeast Asia was flat-out untrue. When the Nixon administration ordered the newspapers not to publish the Papers, Supreme Court Justice Hugo* [14] Black thundered back [15] that “for the first time in the 182 years since the founding of the Republic, the federal courts are asked to hold that the First Amendment does not mean what it says.” The searing melodrama of the Watergate investigation exposed new Nixon lies every day.

America, it seemed, had had enough. In the mid-’70s, the investigating committees of Sen. Frank Church and Rep. Otis Pike revealed to a riveted public [16] that the CIA had secretly assassinated foreign leaders and the FBI had spied on citizens. Ralph Nader became a celebrity by exposing corporate lies. The mood of the Cold War had been steeped in American exceptionalism: The things America did were noble because they were done by America. Now, it appeared that America just might be susceptible to the same cruel compromises and corruptions as every other empire the world has known. Truth-telling became patriotic — and the more highly placed the liar, the more heroic the whistleblower.

The investigative reporter became a sexy new kind of hero — a shaggy-haired loner, too inquisitive for his own good, played by Warren Beatty [17] and Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman [18]. Jimmy Carter, the peanut farmer from Plains, swooped in from nowhere to take the White House on the strength of the modest slogan “I’ll never lie to you.” And during his presidency, one of the grand, founding lies of western civilization itself — that there need be no limits to humans’ domination of the Earth — was questioned as never before.

The truth hurt, but the incredible thing was that the citizenry seemed willing to bear the pain. All sorts of American institutions — Congress, municipal governments, even the intelligence community (the daring honesty of CIA Director William Colby [19] about past agency sins was what helped fuel the Church and Pike investigations) — launched searching reconstructions of their normal ways of doing business. Alongside all the disco, the kidnapped heiresses, and the macramé [20], another keynote of 1970s culture was something quite more mature: a willingness to acknowledge that America might no longer be invincible, and that any realistic assessment of how we could prosper and thrive in the future had to reckon with that hard-won lesson.

Then along came Reagan.

The ’80s: Don’t Worry, Be Happy

In researching this period, I’ve been surprised to discover the extent to which Ronald Reagan explicitly built his appeal around the notion that it was time to stop challenging the powerful. A new sort of lie took over: that the villains were not those deceiving the nation, but those exposing the deceit — those, as Reagan put it in his 1980 acceptance speech [21], who “say that the United States has had its day in the sun, that our nation has passed its zenith.” They were just so, so negative. According to the argument Reagan consistently made, Watergate revealed nothing essential about American politicians and institutions — the conspirators “were not criminals at heart [22].” In 1975, upon the humiliating fall of Saigon, he paraphrased Pope Pius XII [23] to make the point that Vietnam had in fact been a noble cause: “America has a genius for great and unselfish deeds. Into the hands of America, God has placed the destiny of an afflicted mankind.”

The Gipper’s inauguration ushered in the “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” era of political lying. But it took a deeper trend to accelerate the cultural shift away from truth-telling-as-patriotism to a full-scale epistemological implosion.

Reagan rode into office accompanied by a generation of conservative professional janissaries convinced they were defending civilization against the forces of barbarism. And like many revolutionaries, they possessed an instrumental relationship to the truth: Lies could be necessary and proper, so long as they served the right side of history.

This virulent strain of political utilitarianism was already well apparent by the time the Plumbers were breaking into the Democratic National Committee: “Although I was aware they were illegal,” White House staffer Jeb Stuart Magruder [24] told the Watergate investigating committee, “we had become somewhat inured to using some activities that would help us in accomplishing what we thought was a legitimate cause.”

Even conservatives who were not allied with the White House had learned to think like Watergate conspirators. To them, the takeaway from the scandal was that Nixon had been willing to bend the rules for the cause. The New Right pioneer M. Stanton Evans once told me [25], “I didn’t like Nixon until Watergate.”

Though many in the New Right proclaimed their contempt for Richard Nixon, a number of its key operatives and spokesmen in fact came directly from the Watergate milieu. Two minor Watergate figures, bagman Kenneth Rietz (who ran Fred Thompson’s 2008 presidential campaign [26]) and saboteur Roger Stone [27] (last seen promoting a gubernatorial bid by the woman who claimed to have been Eliot Spitzer’s madam) were rehabilitated into politics through staff positions in Ronald Reagan’s 1976 presidential campaign. G. Gordon Liddy became a right-wing radio superstar.

“We ought to see clearly that the end does justify the means,” wrote evangelist C. Peter Wagner [28] in 1981. “If the method I am using accomplishes the goal I am aiming at, it is for that reason a good method.” Jerry Falwell once said his goal was to destroy the public schools. In 1998, confronted with the quote, he denied making it [29] by claiming he’d had nothing to do with the book in which it appeared. The author of the book was Jerry Falwell.

Direct-mail guru Richard Viguerie made a fortune bombarding grassroots activists with letters shrieking things like “Babies are being harvested and sold on the black market by Planned Parenthood.” As Richard Nixon told his chief of staff on Easter Sunday [30], 1973, “Remember, you’re doing the right thing. That’s what I used to think when I killed some innocent children inHanoi.”

1990-Present: False Equivalencies

Conservatives hardly have a monopoly on dissembling, of course — consider “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Progressives’ response has always been that right-wing mendacity — cover-ups of constitutional violations like Iran-Contra; institutionalized truth-corroding tactics like when the Republican National Committee circulates fliers claiming that Democrats seek to outlaw the Bible [31]– is more systematic. But the deeper problem is a fundamental redefinition of the morality involved: Rather than being celebrated, calling out a lie is now classified as “uncivil.” How did that happen?

Back in the days when network news was the only game in town, grave-faced, gravelly voiced commentators like David Brinkley and Eric Sevareid — and on extraordinary occasions anchors like Walter Cronkite [32]– told people what to think about the passing events of the day. Much of the time, these privileged men unquestioningly passed on the government’s distortions. At their best, however, they used their moral authority to call out lies with a kind of Old Testament authority — think Cronkite reporting from Saigon. It drove Johnson out of office, and it drove the right berserk.

On November 3, 1969, Richard Nixon gave a speech claiming he had a plan to wind down the war. The commentators went on the air immediately afterward and told the truth as they saw it: that he had said nothing new. Ten days later, the White House announced that Vice President Spiro Agnew was about to give a speech that it expected all three networks to cover — live.

The speech was an excoriation of those very networks and their Stern White Men [33]– “this little group of men who not only enjoy a right of instant rebuttal to every presidential address, but more importantly, wield a free hand in selecting, presenting, and interpreting the great issues of our nation…. The American people would rightly not tolerate this kind of concentration of power in government. Is it not fair and relevant to question its concentration in the hands of a tiny and closed fraternity of privileged men, elected by no one, and enjoying a monopoly sanctioned and licensed by government?” Those in the habit of exposing the sins of the powerful were no longer independent arbiters — they were liberals. Such was the bias, Agnew argued, of “commentators and producers [who] live and work in the geographical and intellectual confines of Washington,DC, or New York   City,” who “bask in their own provincialism, their own parochialism.”

Foreshadowing Reagan’s framing of reform-minded truth-telling as a brand of elitist meddling, Agnew singled out for opprobrium the kind of reporting that “made ‘hunger’ and ‘black lung’ disease national issues overnight” (quotation marks his). TV reporting from Vietnam had done “what no other medium could have done in terms of dramatizing the horrors of war” — and that, too, was evidence of liberal bias.

Agnew’s remarks reinforced a mood that had been building since at least the 1968 Democratic National Convention, when many viewers complained about the media images of police beating protesters. By the 1980s the trend was fully apparent: News became fluffier, hosts became airier — less assured of their own moral authority. (Around this same time, TV news lost its exceptional status within the networks — once accepted as a “loss leader” intended to burnish their prestige, it was increasingly subject to bottom-line pressures.)

There evolved a new media definition of civility that privileged “balance” over truth-telling — even when one side was lying. It’s a real and profound change — one stunningly obvious when you review a 1973 PBS news panel hosted by Bill Moyers and featuring National Review editor George Will, both excoriating the administration’s “Watergate morality.” Such a panel today on, say, global warming would not be complete without a complement of conservatives, one of them probably George Will [34], lambasting the “liberal” contention that scientific facts are facts — and anyone daring to call them out for lying would be instantly censured. It’s happened to me more than once — on public radio, no less.

In the same vein, when the Obama administration accused Fox News [35] of not being a legitimate news source, the DC journalism elite rushed to admonish the White House. Granted, they were partly defending Major Garrett, the network’s since-departed White House correspondent and a solid journalist — but in the process, few acknowledged that under Roger Ailes, another Nixon veteran, management has enforced an ideological line top to bottom.

The protective bubble of the “civility” mandate also seems to extend to the propagandists whose absurdly doctored stories and videos continue to fool the mainstream media. From blogger Pamela Geller [36], originator of the “Ground Zero mosque” falsehood, to Andrew Breitbart’s video attack on Shirley Sherrod [37] — who lost her job after her anti-discrimination speech was deceptively edited to make her sound like a racist — to James O’Keefe’s fraudulent sting [38]against National Public Radio, right-wing ideologues “lie without consequence,” as a desperate Vincent Foster put it in his suicide note [39] nearly two decades ago. But they only succeed because they are amplified by “balanced” outlets that frame each smear as just another he-said-she-said “controversy.”

And here, in the end, is the difference between the untruths told by William Randolph Hearst and Lyndon Baines Johnson, and the ones inundating us now: Today, it’s not just the most powerful men who can lie and get away with it. It’s just about anyone — a congressional back-bencher, an ideology-driven hack, a guy with a video camera — who can inject deception into the news cycle and the political discourse on a grand scale.

Sure, there will always be liars in positions of influence — that’s stipulated, as the lawyers say. And the media, God knows, have never been ideal watchdogs — the battleships that crossed the seas to avenge the sinking of the Maine attest to that. What’s new is the way the liars and their enablers now work hand in glove. That I call a mendocracy, and it is the regime that governs us now.

 

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/story/151109/the_fascinating_story_of_how_shameless_right-wing_lies_came_to_rule_our_politics

Links:
[1] http://www.motherjones.com
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/rick-perlstein-0
[3] http://motherjones.com/
[4] http://motherjones.com/about/interact-engage/free-email-newsletter
[5] http://www.pbs.org/crucible/tl10.html
[6] http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq71-1.htm
[7] http://www.zpub.com/sf/history/willh.html
[8] http://www.pulitzer.org/biography
[9] http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/249172/Gulf-of-Tonkin-Resolution
[10] http://books.google.com/books?id=KUEEAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA32&lpg=PA32&dq=pleiku+attack&source=bl&ots=UW2LWGBinB&sig=MYXAjdHf_shPcy8qPqXz831-aEQ&hl=en&ei=4_yVTbafAYT2swP_3IHbBQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=10&ved=0CFcQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=pleiku%20attack&f=false
[11] http://millercenter.org/president/lbjohnson/essays/biography/5
[12] http://www.amazon.com/Truth-first-casualty-illusion-reality/dp/B0006C04GW
[13] http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h1871.html
[14] http://motherjones.com/print/106121#correction
[15] http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0403_0713_ZC.html
[16] http://www.archive.org/details/militarysurveill00unit
[17] http://parallax-view.org/2009/08/14/the-parallax-view-an-introduction/
[18] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/movies/features/dcmovies/allthepresidentsmen.htm
[19] http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/wcolby.htm
[20] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macram%C3%A9
[21] http://usa.usembassy.de/etexts/speeches/rhetoric/rraccept.htm
[22] http://books.google.com/books?id=5crGrqD4W-sC&pg=PA385&dq=were+not+criminals+at+heart,+reagan&hl=en&ei=Iv-VTe-NIZCssAOJi6nIBQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCgQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=were%20not%20criminals%20at%20heart%2C%20reagan&f=false
[23] http://books.google.com/books?id=CExclJtH1qYC&pg=PT55&dq=America+has+a+genius+for+great+and+unselfish+deeds.+Into+the+hands+of+America,+God+has+placed+the+destiny+of+an+afflicted+mankind&hl=en&ei=Sv-VTeHUBpDksQOMkoTTBQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCgQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=America%20has%20a%20genius%20for%20great%20and%20unselfish%20deeds.%20Into%20the%20hands%20of%20America%2C%20God%20has%20placed%20the%20destiny%20of%20an%20afflicted%20mankind&f=false
[24] http://www.amazon.com/American-Life-Mans-Road-Watergate/dp/0689106033
[25] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rick-perlstein/i-didnt-like-nixon-until-_b_11735.html
[26] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/12/AR2007111202007.html
[27] http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/06/02/080602fa_fact_toobin
[28] http://www.amazon.com/Your-Church-Grow-Peter-Wagner/dp/1579105890
[29] http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Missing+book+mystery%3A+solved%3A+Pennsylvania+sleuth+helps+Americans…-a0108267238
[30] http://books.google.com/books?id=ajLBlZwwB0IC&pg=PA594&lpg=PA594&dq=Remember,+you%27re+doing+the+right+thing.+That%27s+what+I+used+to+think+when+I+killed+some+innocent+children+in+Hanoi&source=bl&ots=6mS-kaKp16&sig=wdYabimj6yGr2G4LZL5QTVVmYcY&hl=en&ei=1wGWTcGuNYv2tgPmmdjZBQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBQQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=Remember%2C%20you%27re%20doing%20the%20right%20thing.%20That%27s%20what%20I%20used%20to%20think%20when%20I%20killed%20some%20innocent%20children%20in%20Hanoi&f=false
[31] http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/24/politics/campaign/24bible.html?pagewanted=print&position=
[32] http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/07/17/eveningnews/main5170556.shtml
[33] http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/spiroagnewtvnewscoverage.htm
[34] http://climateprogress.org/2009/02/15/george-will-global-cooling-warming-debunked/
[35] http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/14/white-house-vs-fox-news-not-just-fox-opinion/
[36] http://atlasshrugs2000.typepad.com/
[37] http://www.slate.com/id/2261552/
[38] http://motherjones.com/media/2011/03/james-okeefe-investigative-journalism
[39] http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://i.cdn.turner.com/trutv/trutv.com/graphics/photos/notorious_murders/celebrity/vincent_foster/torn-note.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/notorious_murders/celebrity/vincent_foster/7.html&usg=__Z0cPXO2891PC9TAeInEOhROgQZs=&h=439&w=410&sz=67&hl=en&start=0&sig2=kBBnUa8GdqXFygMwvW0veA&zoom=1&tbnid=VGTO_WY8FWbowM:&tbnh=123&tbnw=116&ei=JQWWTdytG5S4sAP01qXrBQ&prev=/search%3Fq%3Dfoster%2Bsuicide%2Bnote%26hl%3Den%26prmdo%3D1%26biw%3D1920%26bih%3D890%26tbm%3Disch&itbs=1&iact=hc&vpx=118&vpy=68&dur=1684&hovh=232&hovw=217&tx=114&ty=107&oei=JQWWTdytG5S4sAP01qXrBQ&page=1&ndsp=82&ved=1t:429,r:0,s:0
[40] http://www.alternet.org/tags/media-0
[41] http://www.alternet.org/tags/gop
[42] http://www.alternet.org/tags/conservatives-0
[43] http://www.alternet.org/tags/lies
[44] http://www.alternet.org/tags/nixon
[45] http://www.alternet.org/tags/breitbart-0
[46] http://www.alternet.org/tags/political-lying
[47] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

Mitt Romney’s Lies

By Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News, January 12, 2012

From ’100,000 new jobs’ to Obama’s jobs record to his first name, Mitt Romney has a truth problem

As his briefly front-running campaign sunk in the polls under relentless punishment from Mitt Romney’s “super PAC” allies in the days before the Iowa caucuses, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich caused a brief stir by matter-of-factly telling a TV interviewer that Romney is a “liar.”

“Why are you saying he’s a liar?” his apparently shocked interlocutor pressed. The notion that Mitt Romney routinely makes statements lacking a factual basis should not come as a surprise to anyone who has followed the campaign. On the left, Paul Krugman has marveled that no other candidate has ever “lied so freely, with so little compunction.” On the right, The American Conservative‘s Daniel Larison wondered about why he lies, concluding that the former Massachusetts governor is “so contemptuous of the people he tells lies to that he never thinks he will be found out.”

With Romney sweeping Iowa and New Hampshire and leading in the polls in South   Carolina, this is a good time to catalogue some of Romney’s greatest hits thus far.

“100,000 new jobs.” Romney has repeatedly claimed that during his tenure at Bain Capital, “net-net, we created over 100,000 jobs.” His campaign defends the figure by tallying the current employment totals of some companies Bain aided. That’s a stretch in and of itself, but it’s also not a net figure. It lacks the balancing context of how many jobs were destroyed by Bain. As the Los Angeles Times reported in December, while Bain helped some companies grow, “Romney and his team also maximized returns by firing workers, seeking government subsidies, and flipping companies quickly for large profits. Sometimes Bain investors gained even when companies slid into bankruptcy.”

Indeed, the Wall Street Journal looked closely at Bain’s record under Romney and found that 22 percent “either filed for bankruptcy or closed their doors by the end of the eighth year after Bain first invested, sometimes with substantial job losses.” Which is not really terribly surprising: Bain’s raison d’etre is not job creation but wealth creation for its investors. As Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler noted in an article Monday calling Romney’s “100,000 jobs” figure “untenable,” Romney and Bain “never could have raised money from investors if the prospectus seeking $1-million investments from the super wealthy had said it would focus on creating jobs.”

As a corollary, when Romney’s record has been criticized, he has dismissed criticisms as an attempt to “put free enterprise on trial.” It’s not an attack on free enterprise. It’s an attack on Romney’s strained attempt to spin his successful record of wealth-creation into one of job-creation. It’s also a recognition that while a net good, the free market has its destructive side—and it’s a fair question to ask, whether voters consider experience in that sort of vulture capitalism as a good qualification for the presidency. Do they want government to be run more like that kind of business?

Obama’s jobs record. By Romney’s own logic (touting jobs created but ignoring jobs lost), his attacks on President Obama’s economic record are nonsensical. He told Time that Obama “has not created any new jobs,” and he told Fox News last week that Obama has “lost” 2 million jobs as president. This is indeed a net figure, but also a misleading one. When Obama took office, the economy was shedding jobs at a rate of nearly 1 million jobs per month, losing roughly 3 million during the first four months of 2009. But presidential policies don’t take effect as soon as the incoming chief takes his oath. Once Obama’s policies started to take effect, the trend turned. The country had added 3.2 million private sector jobs over the course of 22 straight months of private sector growth. By Romney’s definition, the president has created more than 3 million jobs—not enough, but also not none.

In fact the biggest drag on job growth is the 600,000 public sector jobs that have disappeared under the auspices of budget austerity. As my colleague Danielle Kurtzleben reported in September, “government jobs are being shed by the tens of thousands almost every month, hindering an already weak recovery.”

“Entitlement society.” Romney has argued that Obama “is replacing our merit-based, opportunity society with an entitlement society,” where “everyone is handed the same rewards, regardless of education, effort, and willingness to take risk.” As New York‘s Jonathan Chait has observed, “This accusation is approximately as accurate as claiming that the Republican Party wants to pass laws forbidding poor people from making more money.” The idea that President Obama (or any Democrat) advocates for equality of outcomes simply lacks a basis in fact.It’s an important fabrication, because it marks a turning point in Romney’s attacks on Obama. Previously the president was characterized as ineffectual, but not a socialist. Forced to battle to win the GOP primaries, Romney has adopted the Tea Party’s extremist rhetoric. It won’t play with swing voters, even delivered in his polished drone.

Defense cuts. In an October speech on national security, Romney promised to “reverse President Obama’s massive defense cuts.” One problem: Pentagon spending has gone up under Obama, from $594 billion in 2008 to $666 billion. The 2011 request was for $739 billion. As Rick Perry would say, “Oops.”

No apologies. Romney has said that Obama “went around the world and apologized for America.” This is part of the conservative, dog-whistle meme that Obama is un-American (and possibly even a foreigner!). While the notion of an international apology tour is a staple of the conservative case against Obama, it is also fictitious. The Washington Post’s fact-checker concluded that “the claim that Obama repeatedly has apologized for theUnited States is not borne out by the facts, especially if his full quotes are viewed in context.” Don’t hold your breath waiting for an apology from Romney on this one.

“Mitt.” It’s a small one, but might be my favorite. During a debate in November, when moderator Wolf Blitzer introduced himself by saying that “Wolf” is really his first name, Romney greeted the audience by saying, “I’m Mitt Romney, and yes, Wolf, that’s also my first name.” In fact, Willard is his first name. It’s a lie notable for being so mundane: Why would someone fudge their name? It’s almost as if he can’t control himself.

http://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2012/01/12/mitt-romneys-lies

Shameless GOP Lies: Is There Any Limit to What Republicans Will Say — And What People Will Believe?

By Ernest Partridge [2], The Crisis Papers [1], posted on Alternet.org, April 20, 2011

“In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” — George Orwell

Excerpt

Is there any limit to the outrageousness of the GOP lies? Is there any limit to the capacity of a large number of our fellow citizens to accept these lies?…a long string of Republican lies thrown at the public by right-wing politicians and pundits and largely unchallenged by a compliant corporate media. Among them:…

John Kerry’s allegedly heroic war record was fraudulent.

Barack Obama was born in Kenya and is a secret Muslim.

Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and was involved in the attacks of September 11, 2001…

Global warming is a gigantic hoax, perpetrated by thousands of deceitful scientists.

Obama has raised taxes…

These are not “matters of opinion,” they are flatly and demonstrably false. Clear and decisive refutation of all these claims are available to anyone who cares to examine the evidence. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously remarked, while we are entitled to our own opinions, we are not entitled to our own facts…

finally, there is the “dogma” — a priori “first principles” too sacred to be doubted or subjected to rational analysis and confirmation:

“Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” (Ronald Reagan).

Market fundamentalism: “A free market [co-ordinates] the activity of millions of people, each seeking his own interest, in such a way as to make everyone better off.” (Milton Friedman)

Privatization: “Whenever we find an approach to the extension of private property rights [in the natural environment,] we find superior results.” (Robert J. Smith).

“There is no such thing as society.” (Margaret Thatcher)

“There is no such entity as ‘the public.’” (Ayn Rand)

These last two dogmas bear significant implications. For if there is no such thing as “society,” it follows that there are no social problems or “social injustice. Poverty is the fault of individuals who are sinful and lazy. And if there is no “public,” then there is no “public interest,” and thus no need for government to promote same.

A large portion of the American public believes these lies, accepts these contradictions, and embraces these dogmas, not because of supporting evidence (there is none) or cogent arguments (there are none), but out of sheer unquestioned repetition in the corporate media.

…as long as …millions accept uncritically the lies, myths and dogmas fed to them by the mega-corporations that own our government, there appears to be little hope of a return to economic justice and democratic government that we once enjoyed in the United States of America.

But all is not lost. As the folk tale of the boy who cried “Wolf!” reminds us, liars tend through time to lose their credibility. We should strive to accelerate this process as it applies to the corporate media by exposing the lies and boycotting the sponsors of those who tell the lies…

The restoration of sanity in our public discourse is essential to the restoration of our democracy.

Full text

Is there any limit to the outrageousness of the GOP lies?

Is there any limit to the capacity of a large number of our fellow citizens to accept these lies?

If it were in the interest of the ruling oligarchs to convince a majority of the public that the earth is flat, could they succeed?

This is, after all, a public almost half of which refuses to accept evolution — the central coordinating concept of modern biology. And approximately half of the GOP primary voters believe that Barack Obama was not born in theUnited States.

These unsettling thoughts came to my mind when I heard Michael Steele remark [3] that “not in the history of mankind has the government ever created a job.” This from a man who held a government job as Lieutenant Governor of Maryland. That remark was echoed by Mitch Daniels, [4] the Governor of Indiana and Sarah Palin and I can testify that I have heard it elsewhere.

Michael Steele’s comment is more audacious even than the claim that the earth is flat. (After all, the earth looks flat, doesn’t it?). To say that government never created a single job flies in the face of ordinary, everyday experience. What are police, firefighters, teachers, judges, prosecutors, postal workers, military personnel, etc engaged in if not “government jobs.” What is the construction and maintenance of roads and bridges, the certification of the safety of our food and drugs, air traffic control, if they are not “government jobs.”

The claim that government never creates jobs is so preposterous that it seems pointless even to bother to refute it.

Yet somehow, some GOP politicians freely utter this absurdity without fear of being laughed off the stage of public debate. And apparently some people, failing to give the claim even a moment’s critical reflection, believe it. Otherwise, why would Steele and others say such nonsense in the first place?

And this is only the most egregious of a long string of Republican lies thrown at the public by right-wing politicians and pundits and largely unchallenged by a compliant corporate media. Among them:

  • · Al Gore claimed to have invented the internet and to have discovered the toxic contamination of Love Canal.
  • · John Kerry’s allegedly heroic war record was fraudulent.
  • · Barack Obama was born in Kenyaand is a secret Muslim.
  • · Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and was involved in the attacks of September 11, 2001.
  • · Global warming is a gigantic hoax, perpetrated by thousands of deceitful scientists.
  • · Obama has raised taxes.
  • · “Obamacare” is a “socialist government takeover of health care.”
  • · Ninety percent of Planned Parenthood funding is for abortion services.
  • · Elections in the United States are always accurate and fair.

These are not “matters of opinion,” they are flatly and demonstrably false. Clear and decisive refutation of all these claims are available to anyone who cares to examine the evidence. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously remarked, while we are entitled to our own opinions, we are not entitled to our own facts.

Then there are the contradictions:

  • · Teachers, police officers and firefighters are greedy. But billionaire CEOs and hedge-fund managers are not.
  • · Wall street banksters are entitled to their million-dollar bonuses because these bonuses are contractual obligations with their firms. But the states are not required to honor their contractual obligations to public workers, obligations such as pensions and health coverage.
  • · Federal revenues are increased by cutting taxes (i.e., revenues).
  • · During the Bush administration, “Reagan proved [that] deficits don’t matter.” (Dick Cheney) In the Obama administration, the GOP tells us that the federal deficit is the Number One economic problem today.
  • · “Not in the history of mankind has the government ever created a job.” (Michael Steele, etc.). “Since President Obama has taken office, the federal government had added 200 thousand new federal jobs.” (John Boehner. Also false, by the way. The correct number is 56,000).

And finally, there is the “dogma” — a priori “first principles” too sacred to be doubted or subjected to rational analysis and confirmation:

  • · “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” (Ronald Reagan).
  • · Market fundamentalism: “A free market [co-ordinates] the activity of millions of people, each seeking his own interest, in such a way as to make everyone better off.” (Milton Friedman)
  • · Privatization: “Whenever we find an approach to the extension of private property rights [in the natural environment,] we find superior results.” (Robert J. Smith).
  • · “There is no such thing as society.” (Margaret Thatcher)
  • · “There is no such entity as ‘the public.’” (Ayn Rand)

These last two dogmas [5] bear significant implications. For if there is no such thing as “society,” it follows that there are no social problems or “social injustice. Poverty is the fault of individuals who are sinful and lazy. And if there is no “public,” then there is no “public interest,” and thus no need for government to promote same.

A large portion of the American public believes these lies, accepts these contradictions, and embraces these dogmas, not because of supporting evidence (there is none) or cogent arguments (there are none), but out of sheer unquestioned repetition in the corporate media.

Students of propaganda methods call this “The Big Lie” — a term that has its origins in the Nazi Regime.

Congressman Steve Cohen (Democrat,Tennessee) correctly observed that when the GOP claimed that “Obamacare” was “government takeover of health care,” they were engaging in a “Big Lie.” Yet when he said this on the floor of the House of Representatives, he was so mercilessly hounded by the media and his colleagues, that he felt obliged to apologize.

So now the corporate media has, in effect, ruled the expression, “The Big Lie,” out of bounds of polite political discourse, despite the fact that the term precisely describes the successful method of the right wing propagandists. In short, those who wish to complain against this practice have been effectively disarmed.

So where is the bewildered citizen to go if that citizen is to avoid the big lies and to encounter a fund of verifiable facts and informed opinion? Rule One: stay clear of the corporate media. Even The New York Times, once regarded as “the newspaper of historical record,” can no longer be trusted [6] to deliver “all the news that’s fit to print.”Remember the hullabaloo about Bill Clinton’s “Whitewater” deal? Remember Judith Miller’s breathless disclosure of Saddam Hussein’s nefarious “aluminum tubes”? All promoted by the New York Times. [7] All false.

So where do we find authentic news? Try National Public Radio (while it lasts) and, of course, the internet (until it is privatized and sold to the media conglomerates) where one can find a multitude of independent progressive websites. Also deserving honorable mention is the evening contingent of MSNBC — O’Donnell, Maddow and Schultz. Even so, along with the entire corporate media, these worthies never question the integrity of our elections and only rarely discuss the size of the military budget, now approximately equal all the other military budgets in the world combined, including those of our allies. It should be noted that NBC, the parent company of MSNBC, is half owned by the world’s largest military contractor, General Electric.

In addition, some of the best sources of news are foreign — and all available on the internet. They include the BBC (England) and the CBC (Canada), The Real News (broadcast from Toronto, Canada), Al Jazeera English, and, amazingly, Russia Today. The Russians, it seems, are returning the favor that we bestowed upon them during the Soviet Era, when theU.S. andWestern Europe sent accurate news across “the iron curtain” via The Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. Yes, it has come to that!

But these are all pathetically weak voices accessed by thousands, arrayed against the corporate media that is devoured by millions. And as long as this remains the case, and those millions accept uncritically the lies, myths and dogmas fed to them by the mega-corporations that own our government, there appears to be little hope of a return to economic justice and democratic government that we once enjoyed in theUnited States of   America.

But all is not lost. As the folk tale of the boy who cried “Wolf!” reminds us, liars tend through time to lose their credibility. We should strive to accelerate this process as it applies to the corporate media by exposing the lies and boycotting the sponsors of those who tell the lies.

The experience of the Russians is instructive. My Russian friends tell me that after decades of unabashed lying by Pravda, Izvestia and Gostelradio, fewer and fewer Soviet citizens believed the state media. The facts bear them out, as history discloses that Russians instead sought out foreign sources of news such as The Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. (See my “What if America Loses its Voice?” [8]). Some Russians were so desperate for authentic news and uncensored opinion that they risked arrest and prison by producing and distributing underground manuscripts, “Samizdat,” hand to hand. In the United   States today, a comparable “American Samizdat [9]” can be found on the internet.

When the Soviet government lost control of the hearts and minds of its citizens, its days were numbered.

In the United States, the corporate media, unlike the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, is sensitive to market forces. As ever more Americans refuse to believe the lies served up by the corporate media, the media will either reform or become politically irrelevant, and more and more attention will be directed to responsible sources of news, both foreign and domestic. The fate of Glenn Beck’s TV show and the diminishing audience of Fox “News” may be harbingers of such reform.

Whatever the outcome, Thomas Jefferson’s warning remains enduringly true: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

The restoration of sanity in our public discourse is essential to the restoration of our democracy. Necessary, but not sufficient. In addition, the liars in public offices must be removed from those offices. And that will only happen if official election returns can once again be trusted [10] to reflect the will of the voters, and not the output of secret software written by right wing partisans.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/story/150693/shameless_gop_lies%3A_is_there_any_limit_to_what_republicans_will_say_–_and_what_people_will_believe

Links:
[1] http://www.crisispapers.org/
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/ernest-partridge
[3] http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/2009/02/straight_outta_hooverville.php
[4] http://www.illinoispolicy.org/news/article.asp?ArticleSource=3368
[5] http://gadfly.igc.org/libertarian/2-society.htm
[6] http://www.crisispapers.org/essays8p/nyt.htm
[7] http://www.crisispapers.org/essays6p/agenda.htm
[8] http://gadfly.igc.org/russia/voice.htm
[9] http://www.crisispapers.org/samizdat.htm
[10] http://markcrispinmiller.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/OpenLetter4-5-11.pdf
[11] http://www.alternet.org/tags/gop
[12] http://www.alternet.org/tags/lies
[13] http://www.alternet.org/tags/rhetoric
[14] http://www.alternet.org/tags/politicians
[15] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

Romney’s pants on fire

by Eugene Robinson, Washington Post, May 28, 2012

There are those who tell the truth. There are those who distort the truth. And then there’s Mitt Romney.

Excerpt

“Every political campaign exaggerates and dissembles. This practice may not be admirable — it’s surely one reason so many Americans are disenchanted with politics — but it’s something we’ve all come to expect. Candidates claim the right to make any boast or accusation as long as there’s a kernel of veracity in there somewhere. Even by this lax standard, Romney too often fails. Not to put too fine a point on it, he lies. Quite a bit.He seems to believe voters are too dumb to discover what the facts really are — or too jaded to care. On both counts, I disagree.”

Full text

Every political campaign exaggerates and dissembles. This practice may not be admirable — it’s surely one reason so many Americans are disenchanted with politics — but it’s something we’ve all come to expect. Candidates claim the right to make any boast or accusation as long as there’s a kernel of veracity in there somewhere.

Even by this lax standard, Romney too often fails. Not to put too fine a point on it, he lies. Quite a bit.

“Since President Obama assumed office three years ago, federal spending has accelerated at a pace without precedent in recent history,” Romney claims on his campaign Web site. This is utterly false. The truth is that spending has slowed markedly under Obama.

An analysis published last week by MarketWatch, a financial news Web site owned by Dow Jones & Co., compared the yearly growth of federal spending under presidents going back to Ronald Reagan. Citing figures from the Office of Management and Budget and the Congressional Budget Office, MarketWatch concluded that “there has been no huge increase in spending under the current president, despite what you hear.”

Quite the contrary: Spending has increased at a yearly rate of only 1.4 percent during Obama’s tenure, even if you include some stimulus spending (in the 2009 fiscal year) that technically should be attributed to President George W. Bush. This is by far the smallest — I repeat, smallest — increase in spending of any recent president. (The Washington Post’s Fact Checker concluded the spending increase figure should have been 3.3 percent.)

In Bush’s first term, by contrast, federal spending increased at an annual rate of 7.3 percent; in his second term, the annual rise averaged 8.1 percent. Reagan comes next, in terms of profligacy, followed by George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and finally Obama, the thriftiest of them all.

The MarketWatch analysis was re-analyzed by the nonpartisan watchdogs at Politifact who found it “Mostly True” — adding the qualifier because some of the restraint in spending under Obama “was fueled by demands from congressional Republicans.” Duly noted, and if Romney wants to claim credit for the GOP, he’s free to do so. But he’s not free to say that “federal spending has accelerated” under Obama, because any way you look at it, that’s a lie.

Another example: Obama “went around the Middle East and apologized for America,” Romney said in March. “You know, instead of apologizing for America he should have stood up and said that as the president of the United States we all take credit for the greatness of this country.” That’s two lies for the price of one. Obama did not, in fact, go around the Middle East, or anywhere else, apologizing for America. And he did, on many occasions, trumpet American greatness and exceptionalism.

Romney offers few specifics, but the conservative Heritage Foundation published a list of “Barack Obama’s Top 10 Apologies” — not one of which is an apology at all.

One alleged instance is a speech Obama gave to the Turkish parliament in 2009, in which he said the United States “is still working through some of our own darker periods in our history . . . [and] still struggles with the legacies of slavery and segregation, the past treatment of Native Americans.” If the folks at Heritage and at the Romney campaign don’t know that this is a simple statement of fact, they really ought to get out more.

Romney does single out the following Obama statement from a 2009 interview: “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” Romney says this acknowledgment — that others might have as much national pride as we do — means Obama doesn’t really believe in American exceptionalism at all.

But in the same interview, Obama went on to say he was “enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world,” and to tout U.S. economic and military might as well as the nation’s “exceptional” democratic values. So he should be accused of chest-thumping, not groveling.

I could go on and on, from Romney’s laughable charge that Obama is guilty of “appeasement” (ask Osama bin Laden) to claims of his job-creating prowess at Bain Capital. He seems to believe voters are too dumb to discover what the facts really are — or too jaded to care.

On both counts, I disagree.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/romneys-distortions-about-obama-do-us-a-disservice/2012/05/28/gJQA9JuTxU_print.html

The Five Reasons Why Romney/Ryan Must be Defeated in 2012 – And Why Conservatives Should Hope They Are.

By Kurt Eichenwald, kurteichenwald.com, September 2, 2012

Excerpt

The GOP must be stopped in 2012. The future of America’s ideals of democracy – and of the Republican Party itself – could well be at stake...in the last four years, the GOP has transmogrified into something ugly and vicious and, more important, something wedded to the politics of fantasy and ignoranceLying has become so ingrained into the conservatives’ national dialogue that they are now dangerously demagogic or, worse, severely unhinged…. Defeat must not only be decisive, it must be crippling. Here are five reasons why:

I. They are liars.

II.  They are demagogues.

III. They are economic arsonists.

IV. They are threatening American democracy.

V. They are threatening America….Until the Republican party grows up, until they stop lying about economic realities, until they can finally start to behave like they believe in their ideas rather than just demonizing their opponents, then the party is at risk of becoming a minority party forever. Rage, delusions and lies are not the path to power.

Full text

The GOP must be stopped in 2012. The future of America’s ideals of democracy – and of the Republican Party itself – could well be at stake.

Contrary to how it might seem, I am not a partisan bomb thrower. Throughout most of my adulthood, I have been just as likely to vote for a Republican as for a Democrat – in local, state and national contests. I have cast my ballot in presidential races for both Republicans and Democrats. But in the last four years, the GOP has transmogrified into something ugly and vicious and, more important, something wedded to the politics of fantasy and ignorance. It has rushed so far from its moorings that I cannot conceive of voting for members of this party until, hopefully, they pull themselves back from the precipice of self-destruction, paranoia and delusion.

Today, for Republicans, up is down and front is back. Lying has become so ingrained into the conservatives’ national dialogue that they are now dangerously demagogic or, worse, severely unhinged. Blind rage at the election of Barack Obama has wrecked a once great political party. Its leaders have made so many deals with the devil in their almost pathological obsession with unseating Obama that they have pushed the GOP into its own version of political hell – unable to speak truths to their now-rabid and conspiracy-addled base and unable to right the party back onto a path of responsibility.

Only through the disinfectant of defeat can the Republicans, and the two party system, be preserved. And so, the campaign of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan must be consigned to the ash heap of history. Defeat must not only be decisive, it must be crippling. Here are five reasons why:

I. They are liars. Most of the major newspapers and networks have adopted Marquess of Queensbury rules when addressing the utterance of utter falsehoods by Romney, Ryan and their surrogates. A velvet glove doesn’t deter deliberate deceit, and it certainly hasn’t here. Calling the words of Romney and Ryan “at odds with the truth” and “not factually accurate” is the coward’s way of communicating that the entire GOP campaign is based on lies, innuendo and more lies. There is a dramatic difference between the usual nip-and-tucking of the presidential campaign season and the flood of prevarication pouring out of the mouths of Romney and Ryan. To name just a few:

a. Obama and welfare. In a not-so-subtle dog whistle to the racists of the GOP, Romney and Ryan have repeatedly stated that Obama has tried to remove the “workfare” requirement of welfare. This, one of the campaign aides has said, has proven to be Romney’s most effective campaign ad. The fact that it is a complete lie seemed irrelevant: All Obama has done is accepted appeals from governors to allow them to try out some workfare ideas more suited to their local situations, rather than be obligated to follow the federal cookie-cutter rules. Fine, Obama said, so long as the number of welfare recipients going to work stays at least the same. There is no removal of the requirement, just an acceptance of the usual GOP philosophy that states should be allowed to act in their own interest. The question for Romney: Would he rescind the waivers, and force states to follow the federal dictates rather than allowing them to come up with their own means of reaching the same results? Don’t bother wondering about the answer. He would just lie. And don’t think that other Republicans will avoid joining in on this racist strategy: three weeks ago, Newt Gingrich (who once called Romney a liar) pronounced that there was “no proof” to back up the welfare claim; at the convention, the same Gingrich climbed the podium to attack Obama for “gutting” the workfare requirement. Guess he finally read the memo from the Romney campaign that truth is not a factor in this election.

b. Obama robbed Medicare of more than $700 billion. This is one of those lies that works because explaining the truth is complicated. The obvious implication – and in fact, the frequent statement by the GOPers – is that Obama took money from seniors to pay for Obamacare, and in the process put Medicare at risk. It. Is. A. Lie. As has been stressed again and again – without effect on the liars – there is no benefit cut for any beneficiary. The $700 billion is not a cut – it is the value of savings. By the GOP argument, people who buy shoes on sale are cutting back on their shoe purchases – they aren’t, they’re just using their money wisely. So is Obama: the money comes from providers who are accepting the decrease because the payments will be offset by the influx of new patients that will come from Obamacare. Other savings come from eliminating overpayments to Medicare Advantage. Then more will come from raising Medicare taxes on the wealthy. This not only doesn’t hurt Medicare, it extends the lifetime of the program. “The Affordable Care Act doesn’t steal anything from Medicare,” Henry Aaron, a health-care expert at the Brookings Institution, told Business Week. “It actually improves Medicare’s finances. No matter how you slice it, the Affordable Care Act strengthens medical hospital insurance.” Check out the Businessweek article for the full run-down on the Medicare lie.

c. The GM factory closing in Janesville, Wisconsin. Ryan has made big waves about the plant closing, laying it on Obama’s doorstep. And there is no possibility that Ryan doesn’t know he’s lying. Obama became president in January 2009. On October 23, 2008 – in other words, before the election — Paul Ryan sent out a press release bemoaning the fact that GM had decided to accelerate the pace of the closing of the plant. Right now, Ryan’s local newspaper is selling an iconic image: factory workers gathered at the plant assembly line standing behind a sign that reads, “Last Vehicle Off the Janesville Assembly Line…December 23, 2008.” For those who think Ryan is a truth teller, here is where you can order the picture. Oh, and by the way, don’t think this is a mistake on Ryan’s part. The fact that this statement is a lie has been pointed out every time he has said it. Didn’t stop him from burping out the same falsehood in his nomination acceptance speech. And more important – when did Republicans begin to think that the government is supposed to decide what plants an auto company should keep open.

d. “You didn’t build that.” Stop and think for a moment – not based on partisan lunacy, but just on logic. Any presidential contender stands up and tells business people that they didn’t build their own businesses? It takes an enormous level of self-delusion and irrationality to believe that someone is that stupid. And, of course, the truth is that Obama said no such thing. The statement came in the course of a litany about how everyone has others to thank for their successes – he cited, for example, a teacher or a coach. In the sentence leading up to “businesses” he referred to the roads and bridges that are necessary for business to function and, yes, the businesses did not build that. Now, if Obama had said “those” instead of “that,” the ability of the GOP to lie about what he said would have been minimized. But it speaks to the shallow dishonesty of the modern GOP to know that an entire evening of its convention was built on exploiting a finding a grammatical loophole to drive their truck through.

e. “Obama wants to prevent the military from voting.” This has to do with the attempts by the Ohio GOP to impede voting by blocks that tend to case their ballots for the Democrats. A rule was adopted by which limits were placed on the ability of locals to vote, cutting into the time where there is the highest turnout of minority voters. However, an exception was made for members of the military. This was challenged by the Obama administration, not to stop members of the military from voting, but to allow everyone else to have the same rights. Rather than admitting they were trying to favor one block of voters over the other, the GOP turned reality on its head. And P.S. – the courts agree that Obama is right.

f. Obama is on a spending spree. Never happened. I could lecture on this for a while, but instead let’s turn to the words of that bastion of liberal thought, the Wall Street Journal through its Marketwatch site. A 2012 article entitled “Obama spending binge never happened,” reports that “federal spending is rising at the slowest pace since Dwight Eisenhower brought the Korean War to an end in the 1950s. Even hapless Herbert Hoover managed to increase spending more than Obama has.” But that doesn’t stop Romney from moaning that Obama has created a “debt and spending inferno.” Read the whole article – it points out that there was a huge growth in spending in Obama’s first year, but that was meaningless; 2009 was the year of the last budget of the Bush Administration. (For more on the debt lies, see the section below on economics)

g. The stimulus failed. This is not only a lie, it makes no sense. If any country spends $700 billion on infrastructure and other projects, employment will go up. Three million people got jobs from the stimulus; Wall Street firms say, without hesitation, that it worked. I’m not sure how anyone could think it wouldn’t. Some may disagree whether it was the right thing to do (although, for a variety of reasons I will explain below, it was) but to claim it failed is simply wishes replacing reality.

h. Obama raised taxes. Hard to address this, since it has no basis in reality. Obama proposed and signed the largest middle class income tax cut in history. Tax rates for the wealthy are the same. There’s nothing else that can be said about this lie.

i. “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.” This one deserves special recognition. Romney’s first major ad featured a clip of Obama making this statement. Sounds pretty devastating, right? Except this was a clip from the 2008 campaign, and Obama was quoting his Republican opponent. The full quote is: “Senator McCain’s campaign actually said, and I quote, if we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.’’’ When this was pointed out to the Romney campaign, they not only dismissed the fact that they were lying, one of the aides said they were going to keep doing this kind of thing because Obama had to be held to account for the words he spoke – as if words and meaning were two different things. “You didn’t build that” is just a continuation of that cynical, un-American philosophy of Mitt Romney.

I could keep going with this for a long, long time, but these are the high points. It makes quite clear why a recent headline on the Fox News website is so humorous, “After the convention: What lies ahead for Romney, Ryan?” Fox didn’t mean it the way I am interpreting it, but there are only two answers. The way Fox meant it, the correct answer is “lies.” The way I interpret it, the correct answer is “outrageous ones.”
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II.  They are demagogues. What is it about the state of Wisconsin? First it brought us Joe McCarthy, now it brings us Paul Ryan – two men willing to say anything, tell any lie, appeal to any fear, if it means advancing their political careers. The willingness to lie is bad enough, but when it is used to play on people’s ignorance and passions, a politician has crossed the line from dishonest to dangerous. The distant drums of demagoguery are growing ever closer. They began with Sarah Palin’s mantra about “real Americans.” They started their inexorable approach when GOPers bowed down to the conspiracy theorists in their own party – the same people who considered fluoridation of water to be a communist plot – with winks and nods that maybe Obama wasn’t an American citizen. Forget the fact that, as the son of a parent who is a citizen, he is a citizen. They allowed this fear to spread without ever calling bullshit. “I accept the President at his word” was considered a strong response, instead of “Don’t be ridiculous.” (Imagine how outraged – rightfully – the GOP would have been if the Dems had reacted to the loons in their midst who said Bush orchestrated 9/11 by saying that they took the president at his word that he didn’t arrange the attack.)  We have had the birth certificate since 2008, the Hawaiian State Health Department says its real, and no one has ever come up with a reason why this question is even being asked in the first place.” But the rabid mobs liked the idea of the black man as foreigner, and so it continues. Add in the other mantras – Obama hates America, Obama wants to give your money to minorities, Obama wants to let gays destroy the sanctity of marriage – and the GOP has successfully created the “other,” the internal enemy that threatens to undermine the country. First it was the communists, then the fundamentalists, and now Obama. (In fact, since I started with McCarthy, look at history: Truman, large swaths of the GOP intoned, was a Communist, deemed the central enemy of America. Now that conservatives see the new enemy as Islam, Obama, large swaths of the GOP intones, is a Muslim.)  The modern GOP has used lies to appeal to irrationality and a lack of knowledge – I have had Republicans tell me that they are scared for their parents because Obama is going to euthanize them, that Obama is planning to plant tracking chips in all Americans after the election, that a civil war is coming, that Obama had advanced warning of 9/11,  and on and on. This is a form of mass delusion that can only end badly, if allowed to fester or be validated in any way. GOP leaders have stoked this furnace of hate, and in the process have both trapped themselves with a new base of voters divorced from reality and allowed for the empowerment of the reckless and dangerous people who used to be at the fringes of the Republican party. Demagogues depend on hate and fear; once they are unleashed, though, those emotional forces are hard to put back in the bottle.
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III. They are economic arsonists. As someone who has spent much of my career reporting on business, finance and other money matters, I have had a lot of trouble in recent years figuring out if the GOP really is as ignorant of basic economics as their words make them out to be, or if they are intentionally willing to upend the American economy for their own interests. I’ve come to believe that it is a little bit of both – that they are so blinded by philosophical fidelity that facts and knowledge are just pushed aside. It is either intentional, or willful blindness. The evidence is overwhelming:

a. The glory of tax cuts: Should taxes be cut? Of course. Should taxes be raised? Of course. Should interest rates be raised or lowered? Of course. And I am not contradicting myself. Each of these answers is correct depending on the economic circumstances at the time. Now, this topic is both so important and so involved that I need to break it down into pieces:

1. The Reagan tax cut mythology, part 1: Reagan’s tax cuts did not trigger an economic boom. In 1981, Reagan was correct that taxes needed to be cut; the American economy was facing an unprecedented beast called “stagflation” – inflation (normally associated with a runaway economy) and high unemployment (normally associated with low inflation.) The Federal Reserve, under chairman Paul Volker, needed to squelch inflation with a huge increase in interest rates, and did so (to see the horrors of this interest rate path, take a look at the historic rates for 20 year an 1 year Treasury bonds. One month before Reagan took office, the Prime Rate hit is all-time high of 21.5 percent. With the cost of money at the highest rates in history, economic activity had slowed to a near crawl. Outside of monetary policy, the other lever available to the government was fiscal; attempting to get more money in the hands of Americans — any Americans – was important to prevent the economy from falling off a cliff. Now, in the fantasy retelling of the Reagan years blathered out by modern Republicans with no knowledge or concern about economic history, the Reagan tax cuts passed in 1981, and the economy transformed into paradise. But that story is fiction. Instead, the tax cuts of 1981 went through – with carnival barkers like Arthur Laffer proclaiming that economic growth would rush in before the ink on the law was dry – and then precisely nothing happened. By 1982, the economy was in such bad shape that the GOP talking point was not “Reagan the magnificent,” it was the plea (a principled one) that Americans should “stay the course,’’ despite the fact that there had been no evidence of growth. In fact, the economy had grown significantly worse – beginning the first full quarter Reagan was in office through the 1982 election, the growth in Gross Domestic Product was negative 8.9 percent. (By way of comparison, for the comparable period in Obama’s term, GDP growth was positive 15 percent.) A few months after the 1982 election – in February 1983 – the Fed had finally cut the Prime Rate below 11 percent, less than half of what it was when Reagan took office. (PS – presidents don’t have any role in raising and lowering interest rates.) And, surprise! Economic growth returned. With the cost of money significantly cheaper, corporations and consumers unleashed a flurry of economic activity – by the end of the first half of 1983, GDP growth had reached positive 5.1 percent. By the 1984 elections. GDP had grown by just under 34 percent since January 1983.  Now, did tax cuts help? Sure – they lessened the damaging impact of high interest rates and, when the economy turned around, they helped increase the amount of cash available for economic activity. But if interest rates hadn’t have fallen? Reagan would have been a one-term president and shuffled offstage by the GOP forever.

2. The Reagan tax cut mythology, part 2: One of the most revealing moments in the entire modern tax-cut debate occurred during Leslie Stahl’s interview of Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader, on 60 Minutes. Actually, revealing isn’t the right word – terrifying is. Here was a man whose knowledge was critical in how this country would move forward, and he was woefully lacking. At one point, Stahl points out, despite Cantor’s protestations that Reagan never compromised, that Reagan in fact did raise taxes multiple times, with the biggest being in 1982 (before economic activity took off.) Cantor’s people were outraged by Stahl’s truthful recounting of history – outraged! ­– because it contradicted their Fairy Tales version of the Reagan years. “That just isn’t true,’’ one of Cantor’s aides yelled from off-camera, “And I don’t want to let that stand.” Cantor did nothing to correct his loudmouthed – and wrong – aide. In 1981, Reagan signed the Economic Recovery Tax Act – the tax cut law that GOPers slobber over to this day. The following year, in the bit of history excised from the Republican mind, Reagan signed the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act (TEFRA). While Americans still received tax cuts when aggregated with the prior year’s law, TEFRA constituted the largest tax increase in American history at that time. Why did Reagan do it? Because he wasn’t, contrary to some GOP revisionists, a blind ideologue. After the adoption of the 1981 tax cuts, government analyses showed that the impact on four-year average impact on federal revenues would negative 2.89 percent of GDP. (Remember the whole supply side scam, that tax cuts pay for themselves? Well, they don’t.) After TEFRA, the four-year average was positive 0.98 percent. You see, it seems that when you increase tax, tax revenues go up. Funny, that. But, because the tax cuts were cumulative negative, deficits went up. The first time in American history when deficits exceeded $100 billion was in 1982. The deficits stayed above that number until 1998, during the Clinton Administration. The first surplus came in 1999. (For those who don’t remember economic history under Clinton, he raised taxes in 1993, and – surprise again – higher tax rates increased federal revenue and allowed the government to reduce the amount of publicly held debt outstanding. Funny, that.)

3. Reagan tax cut mythology part 3: At a meeting in the Oval Office, Obama commented on the fact that tax rates are lower now than they were under Reagan. After the meeting, Rep. Michelle Bachmann – one of the dangerous Republicans whose certainty to knowledge ratio might well be the first to exceed 100 percent – scoffed that Obama was fibbing. Of course, as the mantra goes, we have been pillories with higher taxes in the years after Reagan. But no – Obama was right. The total Average Federal Tax Rate for all income quintiles was between 21 and 22 percent in the Reagan years. When Obama took office, it was 17 percent. If the Democrats introduced the “Ronald Reagan Tax and Fairness Act” (I made the name up) calling for a return to the tax rates under Reagan, we would be talking about a 23 percent tax increase. Tax rates are at historic lows, which is why it is perfectly reasonable, in the face of massive federal debts, to raise them.

4. Laughing at the Laffer Curve: This has lasted for decades since Reagan, and I have touched on it above. But now let’s really delve into the most destructive mythology.  In my opinion, Arthur Laffer has done far more damage to the future of America than Osama bin Laden. Here’s why: Laffer came up with his little device called “the Laffer Curve” which stated that tax revenues increased and then decreased once you moved up the rate scale from 0 percent to 100 percent. While there are some technical arguments about why the last number actually isn’t correct, theoretically, Laffer is correct. So, by his logic, there is a point where cutting taxes increases federal revenues. For now, I’ll accept that as true. But there is one huge problem with that argument: the Laffer Curve has no numbers! In other words, assuming Laffer is right, there is a point somewhere on the scale where tax rates bring in the highest amount of government revenues. And where is that number? Nowhere close to where it is now. The empirical analyses conducted by people who are less polemical than Laffer have come up with 68 percent, 70 percent and 35 percent. Whichever number you choose, they are all higher than the current rate of taxation. You see, what Republicans ignore is that it is the Laffer Curve, not the Laffer rising vector. There is some point – even if you want to assume that Laffer is right – where tax cuts decrease the amount of federal revenue. Since 1981, there has been a direct correlation between tax cuts and increases in the deficit. In other words, empirically, the tax rate was below the peal of the Laffer curve before cuts even started. Supply siders will bitch and moan at those numbers, but they are fact, not fantasy. Deficits went up under Reagan, down under Clinton and up (dramatically) under W. To argue that tax cuts pay for themselves is about as logical as saying Jesus rode dinosaurs – it is a statement made to justify a desired outcome, and not something based on any truth.

5. The Lucky Duckies who Pay No Taxes. The Wall Street Journal once wrote an editorial bemoaning the luck of the impoverished, since they don’t pay federal income taxes. At first, I thought it was a joke, and now it is a GOP talking point. They decry the lack of fairness to rich people, who are paying so, so much when others are getting a free ride. And this, as you might imagine, is utter bull. Here’s why: the Americans who are in the top 20 percent of income earners pay about 70 percent of federal taxes – but guess what? They also pull in about 60 percent of total pre-tax income, according to the Congressional Budget Office. In other words, they pay more in absolute dollars in income taxes because they have more income. The argument is akin to complaining that people living in mansions pay the majority of a town’s real estate taxes, while people renting apartments pay nothing. It’s both illogical and knowingly misleading. The statistics cited by the GOP speaks to income disparity not tax fairness. Now, there are 46 percent of Americans who pay no federal income taxes. The reason: they don’t make enough money. The income for twenty three percent of Americans is so low that, once they apply the personal deduction (which is taken by all taxpayers), their tax obligation goes to zero. This group includes the poor, the elderly, students, etc. The only way to bring in more cash from them, if it was possible, would be to cut the personal exemption (which the GOP would never do, because that would affect everyone) or dramatically increase taxes on low-income Americans. The other 23 percent who don’t pay taxes have enough income to pay after the personal exemption, but qualify for tax breaks that bring their bill to zero. This is seen at every income level – in fact, because of this, 1,470 millionaires paid no taxes in 2009. GOPers still moan that everyone should pay taxes by picking and choosing what they want to call a tax. Federal income taxes, in their lexicon, are the only ones that exist, ignoring payroll, state and local taxes. When actual tax burden – rather than bits and pieces of tax burden – are assessed, the bottom 20 percent of income earners pay 17 percent of the total tax bite, versus an effective rate of 30 percent for top earners. And guess what? Those numbers result in all the share of total taxes paid roughly matching the share of total income for each of the income groups.

6. The “Job Creators”: Let’s do the two-second version of this. A millionaire gets a $340,000 tax cut. And this translates into a job how? Maybe he’ll hire another housekeeper, maybe buy some more from Tiffany’s, but the vast majority of that money will not be spent on goods that drive the economy – it will be put into savings. Usually, that can be a good thing, but in a stagnant economy, the people whose financial activity creates jobs are the middle class. Give a middle class family $10 during a rough economy, they spend it. And that is how an economy gets moving. What we need is more tax cuts for the middle class, not tax cuts for the wealthy. (And, again, you have to look at actual numbers. The Bush tax cuts went into place in 2002: employment remained fairly stagnant until the financial crisis of 2008, when unemployment skyrocketed. They cuts have remained in place throughout the Obama Administration; so if the tax cuts fuel hiring, where the hell are the jobs?

7. The GOP is the party of tax cuts: I was horrified by something I saw in Obama’s first State of the Union in 2010 (not the GOP congressman who yelled out “you lie!” which should have led to his being sanctioned by Congress.) Instead, it was a point in Obama’s speech when he mentioned that the stimulus had given the middle class the greatest tax cut in history. It’s true – it did. This was not something I figured would be controversial. The Democrats jumped out of their seats and applauded. The Republicans did nothing – no applause, nothing. That was the moment that really put me on a path of contempt for a party I had once supported: they didn’t care about tax cuts, only about tax cuts for the rich. I had long considered that something of a canard, but from what I witnessed, I no longer had any doubt that Republican economic philosophy had nothing to do with economics (which was why so much of it was illogical) but instead was about one thing: their constituents wanted money. That’s it. The Laffer Curve, the fictionalization of the Reagan years, job creators, lucky duckies – all of that was no accident. It was a means of obfuscating the truth so that the middle class would sit by as the wealthy looted the federal treasury. And my realization was only reinforced in the years that followed: GOPers ranted and raved about the need for tax cuts for “job creators” but when the time came for a renewal of a payroll tax cut – which helped the middle class enormously but did almost nothing for the rich – the GOP fought it. When Obama proposed allowing the Bush tax cuts for the middle class to be renewed, the GOP refused, instead taking the proposal hostage in an attempt to force through tax cuts for the rich.

b. The debt. No matter how many times it’s said, the truth on this one struggles to become part of the American understanding. When George W. Bush assumed the presidency, the budget was in surplus and the projections showed that the government would be able to pay down much of its debt within the next six years. Then, came the Bush tax cuts. Beginning in 2002, the Federal government fell into deficit again – and hasn’t recovered since. The deficit is the annual contribution to the total debt owed by the federal government, and that number began climbing in 2002 in ways that are unprecedented in the history of the world. In 2002, the year that the first Bush budget was effective, the total outstanding debt of the United States was $6.2 trillion. It had barely budged in size from the previous year. By the end of the final Bush budget, the total outstanding debt had almost doubled, to $11.9 trillion. In the first two years of Obama budgets, the debt climbed to $13.6 trillion. But why? GOPers like to blame the stimulus – contrary to all available evidence. The stimulus did add an amount – extremely small as a percentage – in the short term. But Obama continued to have to work with the Bush tax cuts and the wars. The Bush tax cuts and the wars have been the single largest factor in the continued growth of the debt by far – both under Bush and under Obama. If the Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire at the end of this year, the Congressional Budget Office projects that future deficits will be cut in half. There is no way to accomplish that amount of cutback on the deficit by simply going after expenditures – particularly now that Romney and Ryan are pretending that they can kill Obamacare, leave Medicare untouched and increase military budgets. The numbers are simply impossible – there is no money there. Non-defense discretionary spending – areas like foreign aid, education and food safety that GOPers attack as being some huge driving force of deficits – account for only 15 percent of the budget. In other words everything the government does that isn’t military or Medicare only would provide $560 million if cut in its entirety. And the deficit would still be $800 billion – an unsustainable amount. Taxes must be increased if America is going to survive.

c. The debt ceiling “debate”: There has never been a more irresponsible and reckless act on the part of any political party than the financial crisis engendered by the GOP in 2011 in its refusal to raise the debt ceiling limit without a fight; the real possibility was raised that America would, for the first time since its founding, default on its debt obligations to the world. The debt ceiling is nothing more than the legal limit on borrowing allowed for the federal government. Both houses of Congress have to approve the limit and have done so repeatedly since 1917. Usually, raising the debt ceiling was a perfunctory matter – it had been done 74 times since 1962. Reagan raised the debt ceiling 18 times and Bush II raised them 7 times – tax cuts have to be paid for with borrowings, after all. Put another way, Reagan raised the debt limit every five months, Bush every 13 months, and Obama every 15 months. (Clinton was every 24 months.) So, without the possibility of contradiction, the presidents who needed the debt ceiling raised the most often were Reagan and Bush, and the Republicans burbled happily as they did it. Suddenly though, in the middle of a global financial trauma, those same GOPers decided that now raising the debt ceiling mattered. And, somehow, they portrayed this as being representative of out-of-control spending by the Democrats. (I showed why that was bogus up above.) There were a few other things that the Republican talking points hid from America – raising the debt ceiling wasn’t about allowing future spending, it was about paying past bills. In other words, the money had already been spent – demanding cuts in future budgets did nothing to affect the structural debt. Now, American debt has been considered the safest investment globally for decades. Whenever international financial markets are rocked, investors take a flight to safety by buying American debt. Treasury bonds are part of untold thousands of investment strategies, used as a means of diminishing the risk profile of a portfolio. All of this works solely because of international faith that America would never default on its debt. But once the economic illiterates known as the Tea Partiers came into office, their hopes, wishes and assertions became the other side of an economic debate about facts, figures and reality. Oh, investors wouldn’t care about America not paying its obligated interest on the debt, they intoned, as the actual investors who owned the debt squealed about the impact of such a delay being disastrous. The Tea Partiers seemed to believe that the holders of American debt were little old ladies in Idaho, picking out breadcrumbs from their tea cozies while waiting for the next check from the government. And that ain’t reality. The vast majority of American debt is held by sophisticated international investors who, as I said, use Treasuries as part of a complex portfolio of investments. If the cash doesn’t arrive as planned, the investment strategy dies. If people trading Treasury bills know that there is a default, the value of those Treasuries would crash through the floor. The debate – which in truth was over nothing real  – put at risk the global financial recovery, simply so the GOPers could score a few points and work to appease the economic idiots they had helped usher into government. That’s why, in the middle of this pointless debate, S&P downgraded American debt from the first time in history – something that Romney and Ryan blame on Obama, which is, of course, a lie. The real reason? That the debt ceiling had been turned into a political football. S&P wrote:

The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America’s governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed. The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy.

Moreover, the country’s rating had been damaged because of the GOP’s apparent insistence to keep the Bush tax cuts in place. S&P wrote:

Our revised base case scenario now assumes that the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, due to expire by the end of 2012, remain in place. We have changed our assumption on this because the majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues, a position we believe Congress reinforced by passing the act.

If Americans understood what had really happened in the debt ceiling debacle, and the possible horrific damage it could have inflicted on the country, they would – hopefully – run these people out of Washington and instead replace them with either Republicans more interested in governing than in rage or, if they can’t be found anymore, with Democrats.
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IV. They are threatening American democracy. In 2008, when Norm Coleman was said to have won the Senate election by 215 votes, Sean Hannity of Fox News slammed the Democratic nominee, Al Franken, for pursuing a recount. Never mind that the recount was required by law; Coleman, Hannity intoned, had won fair and square. That set in motion the conservative meme – Coleman won, and Franken was trying to steal the election. Franken was slammed as a crybaby who should now to the wishes of the electorate, concede and stop wasting the state’s money. Then, whoops – the recount showed that Franken had won by 312 votes and the conservative storyline changed dramatically. Fraud! The Wall Street Journal said it, Hannity said it, Rush Limbaugh and even Coleman. It was, one Republican commentator (I think it was David Frum) said a symptom of the party: When they won it was the choice of the people, when they lost, it was fraud. Put simply, the GOP had trouble accepting when it loses.

That arrogance underscores the vast willingness of the modern GOP to cripple American democracy. The crusade against “voting fraud” has its base in the utter disbelief on the part of the Republicans that they can lose any elections. Never mind that there is no evidence that any fraud of any importance takes place in elections. This, they intoned, required emergency actions to insure that elections were protected.

And so, the assault began. The boogeyman-ization of Acorn – the organization that served to register voters among the poor – was just stage one. With a political campaign that was as breathless as it was absurd, Republicans portrayed Acorn as this vast conspiracy to create legions of fake voters with names like Mickey Mouse. Never mind that registration is not voting, never mind that no one had ever been found who voted fraudulently as a result of an Acorn registration. This, the Republicans intoned, was a threat that had to be destroyed. And they succeeded – Acorn became the symbol for voter fraud, even though none had been committed, and the organization was put to death. Registration of the poor was hobbled.

In case anyone tried to pick up the slack, people stepped in like the governor of Florida Rick Scott – a man whom I met when he was running the criminal corporation Columbia/HCA and who is not only the creepiest person I have ever encountered, but one whose dishonesty is only exceeded by his egomania. Scott imposed rules on anyone who tried to register people to vote that were so stringent and punitive that organizations like the League of Women Voter’s announced that they could not risk registering voters in the state. (Thankfully, a Federal court has shut down the scheme for now.)

But that was just the beginning. In one Republican-controlled state after another, new rules were put in place to deal with the voting fraud “emergency.” That no Republican could cite a single instance of fraud in their state tied to an individual misrepresenting their identity was irrelevant – voter ID’s suddenly required. The fact that millions of the elderly, the handicapped, minorities and students did not have the kind of ID now being demanded was not deemed as important. Somehow stopping the nonexistent fraudulent voters was worth disenfranchising more Americans than have been blocked from voting since the 1960s. And it is no coincidence that the people being blocked are all major Democratic blocks. As one Republican official in Pennsylvania put it, they had adopted Voter ID, and now Mitt Romney could win the state. Words that would make any banana republic dictator smile.

Conservatives fear the same democracy that they praise. They want everyone to vote – so long as it is people like them. If they retain control in state houses, next time around, the person who won’t be able to vote might be you.

Fortunately, American democracy has some checks and balances. Voter ID laws in Texas were thrown out because, the court rules, they were adopted with the intent of discriminating against minorities. The attempt to impose unequal early voting in Ohio – as well as cut directly into the periods where minorities vote in the heaviest numbers – was struck down by a court. And the dominoes just keep falling.

One thing to know, though. I am not issuing an argument against using voter ID – even if the problem is bogus, Americans have been led to believe that it is real. The problem isn’t identification, it is the requirement for identification that particular classes of voters are either unlikely to have or who would find them difficult to obtain. Virginia has a voter ID law, but it is not designed to keep people away from the polls. The forms of ID that are accepted, as well as a rule that allows for voting by mail with the ballots sent to individual registered voters – have the same effect in preventing “fraud.” They just don’t stop people from voting. You will be able to judge the intent of states going forward that adopt voter ID laws if they follow the Virginia model of inclusion, or the Texas model of exclusion.
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V. They are threatening America. What if they won? What if Romney, Ryan and the other amoral executioners of this strategy of deceit succeeded in slithering their way into the White House through a pack of lies and demonization? The United States is more important than what person is in office at any particular moment; what matters is not the victor, but the process. And the GOP has taken to doing everything it can to undermine the process. They are exhibiting their utter contempt for American citizens by piling lie upon lie, hoping to deceive people into believing in a fictitious country that allows for the GOP to retain control. They are utilizing the obscene Citizens United case to undermine the very nature of democracy by allowing anonymous millionaires to broadcast as many lies as they can in order to fool the electorate for whom they have so much disdain. Lying, impeding voting, buying elections – all of this is un-American and reflects a party that no longer has anything to offer other than fear. If it works, god help us…our country will become a nation of liars whose only concern will be how much air time they could purchase to insure the lies penetrate the American consciousness.

Now, as I said, I have been just as likely to vote for Republicans in the past as I have been for Democrats, and just because I am focusing on the GOP doesn’t mean I couldn’t write a piece criticizing some of Obama’s policies. But that is the difference – my critique of Obama would be based on policy. I would be starting with an understanding that we begin with the same fact base, and that facts would be what drove the discussion. I would not be compelled to address fictions, lies and delusions before addressing policy differences. That is the sign of a party that wants to govern, even if I don’t always agree with the ways they want to exercise their governing authority.

On the other hand, the GOP has become a childish, self-centered party that is unfit to govern. You don’t need to look any further than in their immature refusal to call the Democratic Party by its real name – instead, they insist on the Democrat Party, the same way that the bully in some 1980s movie would call a character “slob” if his real name was “Bob.” What is the purpose of this? I don’t know. It demeans every Republican candidate when they say it. But it also is of a piece with the Republican inability to engage an elected president from the Democratic party. Republicans didn’t just go after Clinton’s policies – they called him a murderer, a drug dealer, a rapist. They didn’t just go after John Kerry’s policies – they accused him of faking his heroics, of lying his way to a Purple Heart and a Silver Star (in the process raising doubts about the integrity of those awards for every soldier who has won them), and of shooting a boy in the back. They don’t just go after Obama’s policies – they accuse him of being a Kenyan, a socialist, a communist, a euthanizer, and on and on.

Until the Republican party grows up, until they stop lying about economic realities, until they can finally start to behave like they believe in their ideas rather than just demonizing their opponents, then the party is at risk of becoming a minority party forever. Rage, delusions and lies are not the path to power.

I hope.
http://kurteichenwald.com/2012/09/the-five-reasons-why-romneyryan-must-be-defeated-in-2012-and-why-conservatives-should-hope-they-are/

Kurt Eichenwald is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and a New York Times bestselling author of three books.  He previously worked for twenty years at the Times as a investigative reporter, columnist and senior writer.  He is a two-time winner of the George Polk Award for excellence in journalism and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2000 and 2002.  His second book, The Informant, was called “one of the best nonfiction books of the decade” by The New York Times Book Review and made into a major motion picture starring Matt Damon.  He lives in Dallas with his wife and three children.

Obama: A pragmatic moderate faces the ‘socialist’ smear by Norman J. Ornstein

Washington Post, April 14, 2010

In the 1950s, Democratic senators from the solidly Democratic South uniformly supported segregation and opposed civil rights and voting rights bills. They dutifully spent long hours on the Senate floor filibustering such efforts. Legend has it that during one marathon filibuster, after Olin Johnston of South Carolina, a populist liberal on economic matters, handed off the baton to Strom Thurmond, Johnston went into the cloakroom where many of his colleagues were seated, gestured back toward the Senate floor, and said, “Old Strom, he really believes that [expletive].”
This story came to mind with the recent blizzard of attacks on Barack Obama by Republican presidential wannabes and other office-seekers, along with their allies on cable television and talk radio. The most extravagant rhetoric has come out of the gathering of Southern Republicans in New Orleans, led by former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who called Obama “the most radical president in American history” and urged his partisan audience to stop Obama’s “secular, socialist machine.”
At the same conference, Liz Cheney, the former vice president’s daughter who is often mentioned as a possible Senate candidate from Virginia, fiercely attacked Obama’s foreign policy as “apologize for America, abandon our allies and appease our enemies.” And last week the ubiquitous Sarah Palin said of the arms-control treaty Obama signed with Russia, “No administration in America’s history would, I think, ever have considered such a step,” likening it to a kid telling others in a playground fight, “Go ahead, punch me in the face and I’m not going to retaliate.”
On talk radio, Rush Limbaugh accused Obama of administering “statist-assisted suicide.” Talk show host Michael Savage called Obama’s health-care plan “socialized medicine” and described the nuclear treaty as “insane.” These are not isolated comments; the terms “radical,” “socialist” and even “totalitarian” are bandied about frequently by Obama opponents, including congressional and other GOP leaders.
To one outside the partisan and ideological wars, charges of radicalism, socialism, retreat and surrender are, frankly, bizarre. The Democrats’ health-reform plan includes no public option and relies on managed competition through exchanges set up much like those for federal employees. The individual mandate in the plan sprang from a Heritage Foundation idea that was endorsed years ago by a range of conservatives and provided the backbone of the Massachusetts plan that was crafted and, until recently, heartily defended by Mitt Romney. It would be fair to describe the new act as Romneycare crossed with the managed-competition bill proposed in 1994 by Republican Sens. John Chafee, David Durenberger, Charles Grassley and Bob Dole — in other words, as a moderate Republican plan. Among its supporters is Durenberger, no one’s idea of a radical socialist.
What about Obama’s other domestic initiatives? The stimulus was anything but radical — indeed, many mainstream observers, me included, thought it was too timid in size and scope given the enormity of the problems. The plan could have been more focused on swift and directed stimulus. It included such diversions as a fix for the alternative minimum tax — at the insistence of Grassley. And it excluded some “shovel-ready” ideas such as school construction — at the insistence of Republican Sen. Susan Collins. It did not include the kind of public works jobs program employed by Franklin Roosevelt. Nonetheless, it has been widely credited with ameliorating the worst effects of the downturn and helping to move us back toward economic growth. The widely criticized Troubled Assets Relief Program — initiated by Obama’s predecessor — is now returning to the Treasury most of the taxpayer money laid out to keep us from depression and deflation.
It is true that, in an attempt to head off a meltdown stemming from a collapse of the automobile industry, Obama engineered a temporary takeover of two of the Big Three auto companies. But nothing suggests that this is anything but temporary, and Obama has resisted many calls to take over major banks and other financial institutions.
The nuclear treaty with Russia excoriated by Palin, Savage and others was endorsed by Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, the GOP’s resident foreign policy expert, and it was crafted under Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who was first appointed to that post by George W. Bush. Obama’s approach to terrorism has been similar to Bush’s, while more aggressively targeting leaders of terrorist groups; his larger foreign policy has received the seal of approval from James Baker, former chief of staff to Ronald Reagan and secretary of state to George H.W. Bush. Obama’s energy policies include more nuclear power and more offshore drilling. Obama’s education policies have received wide acclaim across the political spectrum. The “secular” president has shored up and supported federal faith-based initiatives, to the dismay of many in his base.
Looking at the range of Obama domestic and foreign policies, and his agency and diplomatic appointments, my conclusion is clear: This president is a mainstream, pragmatic moderate, operating in the center of American politics; center-left, perhaps, but not left of center. The most radical president in American history? Does Newt Gingrich, a PhD in history, really believe that [expletive]?
The writer is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/13/AR2010041303686.html