Donald Trump Is Becoming an Authoritarian Leader Before Our Very Eyes

By Jeet Heer, The New Republic, January 23, 2017 …The new administration’s bewildering boasts and outright lies are what make it so frightening, as they’re early signs of what many of us in the media have warned about for months: Authoritarianism….The purpose of the Trump administration’s lies is not necessarily to deceive, but to separate the believers from the disbelievers—for the purpose of rewarding the former and punishing the latter. …what Trump did in his CIA speech, which was rife with deceptions and examples of a narcissistic will to reshape the truth…Turning a speech at an intelligence agency into a political rally is a deep betrayal of political norms. But it is very much in keeping with Trump’s disturbing habit of claiming the armed wing of the state, including the military and law enforcement, as his political allies…. John MacGaffin, a high-ranking veteran of the agency. “What self-centered, irrational decision process got him to this travesty?” MacGaffin told the magazine. “Most importantly, how will that process serve us when the issues he must address are dangerous and incredibly complex? This is scary stuff!”… One of the defining tactics of his campaign was disinformation, coupled with accusations of the same against the media. That hasn’t changed now that Trump is president. The administration’s unified anti-press and anti-fact message over the weekend is part of a deliberate, long-term strategy that was hatched many months ago, and is only likely to intensify. The president will wage a rhetorical war against the media, with the intent of delegitimizing one of the few institutions that can hold him accountable, and he will wage it with his most effective weapon: Lies, damned lies, and false statistics.


 

The administration’s many lies this weekend should frighten all Americans.  The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is expert at estimating crowd sizes. When trying to figure out whether a protest in some foreign hotspot could turn into a revolution, the CIA uses satellite imagery to get a sense of how many people are protesting. So it was particularly brazen of Donald Trump, while addressing the agency for the first time as president, to lie about the size of Friday’s inauguration crowd.

“We had a massive field of people,” Trump told a crowd of about 400 CIA employees at the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, on Saturday. “You saw them. Packed. I get up this morning, I turn on one of the networks, and they show an empty field. I say, wait a minute, I made a speech. I looked out, the field was—it looked like a million, million and a half people. They showed a field where there were practically nobody standing there. And they said, Donald Trump did not draw well.” Crowd scientists estimate that there were around 160,000 people at Trump’s inauguration in the hour before his speech.

In a bizarre press briefing later on Saturday, Trump Press Secretary Sean Spicer ranted against the media and claimed, not just falsely but nonsensically, that Trump enjoyed “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period—both in person and around the globe. These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong.” In fact, the record is still held by Barack Obama for his 2008 inauguration, which drew an estimated 1.8 million.

And on Sunday’s Meet the Press, when asked to explain why Spicer “uttered a falsehood,” senior adviser Kellyanne Conway told Chuck Todd, “Don’t be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck. You’re saying it’s a falsehood…Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that.”

Some observers have warned journalists against an “alarmist” response to Trump’s early actions, lest the media too quickly exhaust our capacity for outrage and cause readers, especially those inclined to give the new president a chance, to tune out. “The danger for the established press,” New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote in a column over the weekend, “is the same danger facing other institutions in our republic: That while believing themselves to be nobly resisting Trump, they end up imitating him. Such imitation will inspire reader loyalty and passion—up to a point. But beyond that point, it’s more likely to polarize than to persuade, which means it often does a demagogue’s work for him. Fellow journalists, don’t do it.”

That column appears to have been completed before the weekend’s events, though; it makes no mention of Trump’s speech or Spicer’s briefing, which ought to change the calculus on the merits of press alarmism. The new administration’s bewildering boasts and outright lies are what make it so frightening, as they’re early signs of what many of us in the media have warned about for months: Authoritarianism.

The purpose of the Trump administration’s lies is not necessarily to deceive, but to separate the believers from the disbelievers—for the purpose of rewarding the former and punishing the latter. As chess champion Garry Kasparov, an expert in authoritarianism as an outspoken opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, tweeted on Saturday:In an already hyper-partisan political landscape, the Trump administration can blatantly lie, knowing that his base trusts him more than the “dishonest media.” And that’s exactly what Trump did in his CIA speech, which was rife with deceptions and examples of a narcissistic will to reshape the truth. While telling a story about a Time magazine reporter who wrongly reported that Trump removed the Martin Luther King, Jr. bust from the Oval Office (a mistake that was quickly corrected, but which the Trump staff continues to harp on), the president went on a tangent about Time.

“I have been on their cover, like, 14 or 15 times,” he said. “I think we have the all-time record in the history of Time magazine. Like, if Tom Brady is on the cover, it’s one time, because he won the Super Bowl or something, right?  I’ve been on it for 15 times this year. I don’t think that’s a record…that can ever be broken. Do you agree with that? What do you think?” (The all-time record is held by Richard Nixon, who appeared on 55 Time covers.)

Aside from these lies and factual mistakes, Trump’s speech was genuinely weird on a number of a counts. His intended purpose was to mend fences with the agency, with which he’s feuded over their conclusion that Russia interfered in the election to help him defeat Hillary Clinton. Yet he did very little to reassure CIA staff, only briefly acknowledging their sacrifice and service by alluding to a wall commemorating agents who died in line of duty.

Rather, Trump was in full campaign mode, attacking the media (“among the most dishonest human beings on Earth”) and praising himself (“they say, ‘is Donald Trump an intellectual?’ Trust me, I’m like a smart person”). He also indicated the U.S. might reinvade Iraq for imperial plunder. “The old expression, ‘to the victor belong the spoils’—you remember,” he said. “I always used to say, keep the oil…So we should have kept the oil. But okay. Maybe you’ll have another chance.” The entire event was orchestrated like a campaign stop, so much so that Trump even brought along around 40 supporters, who could be heard cheering and clapping during his applause lines.

Turning a speech at an intelligence agency into a political rally is a deep betrayal of political norms. But it is very much in keeping with Trump’s disturbing habit of claiming the armed wing of the state, including the military and law enforcement, as his political allies. He said early in the CIA speech that “the military gave us tremendous percentages of votes. We were unbelievably successful in the election with getting the vote of the military. And probably almost everybody in this room voted for me, but I will not ask you to raise your hands if you did.” At the end of his speech, Trump sounded like a pathetic suitor making his final pitch: “I just wanted to really say that I love you, I respect you. There’s nobody I respect more.”

While Trump’s antics might have impressed his fans watching from home, they seem to have done little to assuage worries in the agency. The New Yorker interviewed a variety of intelligence experts, including John MacGaffin, a high-ranking veteran of the agency. “What self-centered, irrational decision process got him to this travesty?” MacGaffin told the magazine. “Most importantly, how will that process serve us when the issues he must address are dangerous and incredibly complex? This is scary stuff!”

Trump’s self-centered decision process is authoritarianism, and it’s anything but irrational. He campaigned in an authoritarian style, with rallies where he riled up large crowds to jeer at the press and protesters. One of the defining tactics of his campaign was disinformation, coupled with accusations of the same against the media. That hasn’t changed now that Trump is president. The administration’s unified anti-press and anti-fact message over the weekend is part of a deliberate, long-term strategy that was hatched many months ago, and is only likely to intensify. The president will wage a rhetorical war against the media, with the intent of delegitimizing one of the few institutions that can hold him accountable, and he will wage it with his most effective weapon: Lies, damned lies, and false statistics.

Prince of Darkness Denies Own Existence

by Dana Milbank, Washington Post, February 20, 2009

Listening to neoconservative mastermind Richard Perle at the Nixon Center yesterday, there was a sense of falling down the rabbit hole.

In real life, Perle was the ideological architect of the Iraq war and of the Bush doctrine of preemptive attack. But at yesterday’s forum of foreign policy intellectuals, he created a fantastic world in which:

1. Perle is not a neoconservative.

2. Neoconservatives do not exist.

3. Even if neoconservatives did exist, they certainly couldn’t be blamed for the disasters of the past eight years.

“There is no such thing as a neoconservative foreign policy,” Perle informed the gathering, hosted by National Interest magazine. “It is a left critique of what is believed by the commentator to be a right-wing policy.”

So what about the 1996 report he co-authored that is widely seen as the cornerstone of neoconservative foreign policy? “My name was on it because I signed up for the study group,” Perle explained. “I didn’t approve it. I didn’t read it.”

Mm-hmm. And the two letters to the president, signed by Perle, giving a “moral” basis to Middle East policy and demanding military means to remove Saddam Hussein? “I don’t have the letters in front of me,” Perle replied.

Right. And the Bush administration National Security Strategy, enshrining the neoconservative themes of preemptive war and using American power to spread freedom? “I don’t know whether President Bush ever read any of those statements,” Perle maintained. “My guess is he didn’t.”

The Prince of Darkness — so dubbed during his days opposing arms control in the Reagan Pentagon — was not about to let details get in the way of his argument that “50 million conspiracy theorists have it wrong,” as the subtitle of his article for National Interest put it. “I see a number of people here who believe and have expressed themselves abundantly that there is a neoconservative foreign policy and it was the policy that dominated the Bush administration, and they ascribe to it responsibility for the deplorable state of the world,” Perle told the foreign policy luminaries at yesterday’s lunch. “None of that is true, of course.”

Of course.

He had been a leading cheerleader for the Iraq war, predicting that the effort would take few troops and last only a few days, and that Iraq would pay for its own reconstruction. Perle was chairman of Bush’s Defense Policy Board — and the president clearly took the advice of Perle and his fellow neocons. And Perle, in turn, said back then that Bush “knows exactly what he’s doing.”

Yesterday, however, Perle said Bush’s foreign policy had “no philosophical underpinnings and certainly nothing like the demonic influence of neoconservatives that is alleged.” He also took issue with the common view that neocons favored using American might to spread democratic values. “There’s no documentation!” he argued. “I can’t find a single example of a neoconservative supposed to have influence over the Bush administration arguing that we should impose democracy by force.”

Those in the room were skeptical of Perle’s efforts to recast himself as a pragmatist.

Richard Burt, who clashed with Perle in the Reagan administration, took issue with “this argument that neoconservatism maybe actually doesn’t exist.” He reminded Perle of the longtime rift between foreign policy realists and neoconservative interventionists. “You’ve got to kind of acknowledge there is a neoconservative school of thought,” Burt challenged.

“I don’t accept the approach, not at all,” the Prince of Darkness replied.

Jacob Heilbrunn of National Interest asked Perle to square his newfound realism with the rather idealistic title of his book, “An End to Evil.”

“We had a publisher who chose the title,” Perle claimed, adding: “There’s hardly an ideology in that book.” (An excerpt: “There is no middle way for Americans: It is victory or holocaust. This book is a manual for victory.”)

Regardless of the title, Heilbrunn pursued, how could so many people — including lapsed neoconservative Francis Fukuyama — all be so wrong about what neoconservatives represent?

“It’s not surprising that a lot of people get something wrong,” Perle reasoned.

At times, the Prince of Darkness turned on his questioners. Fielding a question from the Financial Times, he said that the newspaper “propagated this myth of neoconservative influence.” He informed Stefan Halper of Cambridge University that “you have contributed significantly to this mythology.”

“There are some 5,000 footnotes,” Halper replied. “Documents that you’ve signed.”

But documents did not deter denials. “I’ve never advocated attacking Iran,” he said, to a few chuckles. “Regime change does not imply military force, at least not when I use the term,” he said, to raised eyebrows. Accusations that neoconservatives manipulated intelligence on Iraq? “There’s no truth to it.” At one point, he argued that the word “neoconservative” has been used as an anti-Semitic slur, just moments after complaining that prominent figures such as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld — Christians both — had been grouped in with the neoconservatives.

“I don’t know that I persuaded anyone,” Perle speculated when the session ended.

No worries, said the moderator. “You certainly kept us all entertained.”

© 2009 The Washington Post Company

The Death of Honesty

defining ideas

by William Damon (Senior Fellow and member of the Virtues of a Free Society Task Force), Hoover.org, January 12, 2012 Editor’s note: The essay below is from the online volume Endangered Virtues, a publication of the Hoover Institution’s Task Force on the Virtues of a Free Society.

Excerpt

The failure to cultivate virtue in citizens can be a lethal threat to any democracy…Honesty is not a wholly detached moral virtue demanding strict allegiance at all times. Compassion, diplomacy, and life-threatening circumstances sometimes require a departure from the entire unadulterated truth. Some vocations seem to demand occasional deception for success or survival.….A basic intent to be truthful, along with an assumption that people can be generally taken at their word, is required for all sustained civilized dealings…No civilization can tolerate a fixed expectation of dishonest communications without falling apart from a breakdown in mutual trust…. Our serious problem today is not simply that many people routinely tell lies. As I have noted, people have departed from the truth for one reason or another all throughout human history. The problem now is that we seem to be reaching a dysfunctional tipping point in which an essential commitment to truthfulness no longer seems to be assumed in our society. If this is indeed the case, the danger is that the bonds of trust important in any society, and essential for a free and democratic one, will dissolve so that the kinds of discourse required to self-govern will become impossible. A basic intent to be truthful is required for all sustained civilized dealings…In former days, there was not much hesitancy in our society about using a moral language to teach children essential virtues such as honesty. For us today, it can be a culture shock to leaf through old editions of the McGuffey Readers, used in most American schools until the mid-twentieth century, to see how readily educators once dispensed unambiguous moral lessons to students. Nowadays, when cheating is considered by some teachers to be an excusable response to a difficult assignment, or even a form of pro-social activity, our society risks a future of moral numbness brought on by a decline of honesty and all the virtues that rely on it. As the Founders of our republic warned, the failure to cultivate virtue in citizens can be a lethal threat to any democracy.

Full text

For a number of reasons, people do not always stick to the truth when they speak. Some of the reasons are justifiable—for example, humane considerations such as tact and the avoidance of greater harm. Reassuring an ungainly teenager that he or she looks great may be a kind embroidery of the truth. In a more consequential instance, misinforming storm troopers about the whereabouts of a hidden family during the Nazi occupation of Europe was an honorable and courageous deception.

Honesty is not a wholly detached moral virtue demanding strict allegiance at all times. Compassion, diplomacy, and life-threatening circumstances sometimes require a departure from the entire unadulterated truth. Some vocations seem to demand occasional deception for success or survival. Politicians, for example, are especially hard-pressed to tell the truth consistently. Perhaps this is because, as George Orwell once observed, the very function of political speech is to hide, soften, or misrepresent difficult truths. Orwell was clearly skeptical about any expectation to the contrary. In “Politics and the English Language,” he put it this way: “Political language—and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists—is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Although in this case Orwell himself may have been guilty of overstatement for purposes of rhetorical effect, his claim cannot be totally dismissed. It would be naïve (or cynical) for anyone in today’s world to act shocked whenever a politician tries to hide the real truth from the public. For ordinary citizens, keeping up with the daily news means a constant process of speculating about what the politicians really meant by what they said and what they actually believe. It certainly does not mean taking what any of them say at face value.

Yet to recognize that honesty is not an absolute standard demanded for every life circumstance—and that we can expect a certain amount of deceit from even our respected public figures—is not to say that the virtue of honesty can be disregarded with impunity. A basic intent to be truthful, along with an assumption that people can be generally taken at their word, is required for all sustained civilized dealings.

Teaching honesty is no longer a priority in our schools.

No civilization can tolerate a fixed expectation of dishonest communications without falling apart from a breakdown in mutual trust. All human relations rely upon confidence that those in the relations will, as a rule, tell the truth. Honesty builds and solidifies a relationship with trust; and too many breaches in honesty can corrode relations beyond repair. Friendships, family, work, and civic relations all suffer whenever dishonesty comes to light. The main reason that no one wants to be known as a liar is that people shun liars because they can’t be trusted.

Honesty’s vital role in human society has been observed and celebrated for all of recorded history. The Romans considered the goddess Veritas to be the “mother of virtue”; Confucius considered honesty to be the essential source of love, communication, and fairness between people; and of course, the Bible’s Old Testament prohibited bearing false witness. It is also noteworthy that the two most universally heralded U. S. presidents (George Washington, who “could not tell a lie,” and Abraham Lincoln, who was known as “Honest Abe”) were widely acclaimed for their trustworthiness.

In a similar vein, religious leader Gordon Hinckley has written that, “where there is honesty, other virtues will follow”—indicating, as did the Romans, the pivotal role of truthfulness in all moral behavior and development. Hinckley’s comment was made in the context of his alarm-sounding book on “neglected virtues,” and it points to the problematic status of honesty in our society today. Although truthfulness is essential for good human relationships and personal integrity, it is often abandoned in pursuit of other life priorities.

Indeed, there may be a perception in many key areas of contemporary life—law, business, politics, among others—that expecting honesty on a regular basis is a naïve and foolish attitude, a “loser’s” way of operating. Such a perception is practically a mandate for personal dishonesty and a concession to interpersonal distrust. When we no longer assume that those who communicate with us are at least trying to tell the truth, we give up on them as trustworthy persons and deal with them only in a strictly instrumental manner. The bounds of mutual moral obligation dissolve, and the laws of the jungle reemerge.

Our serious problem today is not simply that many people routinely tell lies. As I have noted, people have departed from the truth for one reason or another all throughout human history. The problem now is that we seem to be reaching a dysfunctional tipping point in which an essential commitment to truthfulness no longer seems to be assumed in our society. If this is indeed the case, the danger is that the bonds of trust important in any society, and essential for a free and democratic one, will dissolve so that the kinds of discourse required to self-govern will become impossible.

A basic intent to be truthful is required for all sustained civilized dealings.

What are the signs of this in contemporary society? In professional and business circles, a now-familiar complaint is, “It used to be your word was good, but those days are gone.” In print, broadcast, and online news coverage, journalism has lost credibility with much of the public for its perceived biases in representing the facts. In civic affairs, political discourse is no longer considered to be a source of genuine information. Rather, it is assumed that leaders make statements merely to posture for effect, and not to engage in discussion or debate. In such an environment, facts may be manipulated or made up in service of a predetermined interest, not presented accurately and then examined in good faith. This is troubling, because civic leaders set the tone for communications throughout the public sphere.

Most troubling of all is that honesty is no longer a priority in many of the settings where young people are educated. The future of every society depends upon the character development of its young. It is in the early years of life—the first two decades especially—when basic virtues that shape character are acquired. Although people can learn, grow, and reform themselves at any age, this kind of learning becomes increasingly difficult as habits solidify over time. Honesty is a prime example of a virtue that becomes habitual over the years if practiced consistently—and the same can be said about dishonesty.

Honesty is the character virtue most closely linked to every school’s academic mission. In matters of “academic integrity,” which generally revolve around cheating, schools have a primary responsibility to convey to students the importance of honesty as a practical and ethical virtue. Unfortunately, many of our schools today are failing this responsibility.

Of all the breeches that can tear deeply into the moral fabric of a school, cheating is among the most damaging, because it throws in doubt the school’s allegiance to truth and fairness. Cheating in school is unethical for at least four reasons: 1) it gives students who cheat an unfair advantage over those who do not cheat; 2) it is an act of dishonesty in a setting dedicated to a quest for truthful knowledge, 3) it is a violation of trust between student and teacher; and 4) it disrespects the code of conduct and the social order of the school.  As such, one would expect that cheating would provide educators with an ideal platform for imparting the key moral standards of honesty, integrity, trust, and fairness.

Incredibly, some teachers have actually encouraged students to cheat.

For educators looking for opportunities to help students learn from their mistakes, there is plenty of material to work with: research has shown that almost three-quarters of American college students (that is, students who have made it through high school) admit to having cheated at least once in their pre-college academic work. Donald McCabe, the most prominent contemporary researcher on school cheating, has concluded that “Cheating is prevalent, and…some forms of cheating have increased dramatically in the last 30 years.”

Yet many teachers, in order to avoid legal action and other contention, look the other way if their students copy test answers or hand in plagiarized papers. Some teachers excuse students because they believe that “sharing” schoolwork is motivated by loyalty to friends. Some teachers sympathize with student cheaters because they consider the tests that students take to be flawed, unfair, or too difficult. Such sympathy can be taken to extremes, as in the case of one teacher, observed by an educational writer, who held that “it was the teacher who was immoral for having given the students such a burdensome assignment…” when a group of students was caught cheating.

Incredibly, some teachers actually have encouraged students to cheat; and some have even cheated themselves when reporting student test scores. In July 2011, a widely-reported cheating scandal erupted in school systems in and around Atlanta, Georgia. State investigators found a pattern of “organized and systemic misconduct” dating back for over ten years. One-hundred-and-seventy-eight teachers, and the principals of half of the system’s schools, aided and abetted students who were cheating on their tests. Top administrators ignored news reports of this cheating: a New York Times story described “a culture of fear and intimidation that prevented many teachers from speaking out.”

Nor was this an isolated incident. In a feature on school testing, CBS News reported the following: “New York education officials found 21 proven cases of teacher cheating. Teachers have read off answers during a test, sent students back to correct wrong answers, photocopied secure tests for use in class, inflated scores, and peeked at questions then drilled those topics in class before the test.”

With such prominent and recent instances of cheating among students and teachers today, one would expect a concerted effort to articulate and promote the value of honesty in our schools. Yet school programs regarding academic integrity consist of little more than a patchwork of vaguely-stated prohibitions and half-hearted responses. Our schools vacillate between routine neglect and a circle-the wagons reaction if the problem boils over into a public media scandal. There is little consistency, coherence, or transparency in many school policies.

It is practically impossible to find a school that treats academic integrity as a moral issue by employing revealed incidents of cheating to communicate to its student body values such as honesty, respect for rules, and trust. In my own observations, I have noticed a palpable lack of interest among teachers and staff in discussing the moral significance of cheating with students. The problem here is the low priority of honesty in our agenda for schooling specifically and child-rearing in general.

In former days, there was not much hesitancy in our society about using a moral language to teach children essential virtues such as honesty. For us today, it can be a culture shock to leaf through old editions of the McGuffey Readers, used in most American schools until the mid-twentieth century, to see how readily educators once dispensed unambiguous moral lessons to students. Nowadays, when cheating is considered by some teachers to be an excusable response to a difficult assignment, or even a form of pro-social activity, our society risks a future of moral numbness brought on by a decline of honesty and all the virtues that rely on it. As the Founders of our republic warned, the failure to cultivate virtue in citizens can be a lethal threat to any democracy.


William Damon is a professor of education at Stanford University, director of the Stanford Center on Adolescence, and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. For the past twenty-five years, Damon has written on character development at all stages of life. Damon’s recent books include Failing Liberty 101 (Hoover Press, 2011); The Path to Purpose: How Young People Find their Calling in Life (2008); and The Moral Advantage: How to Succeed in Business by Doing the Right Thing (2004). Damon was founding editor of New Direction for Child and Adolescent Development and is editor in chief of The Handbook of Child Psychology (1998 and 2006 editions). He is an elected member of the National Academy of Education and a fellow of the American Educational Research Association.

 

http://www.hoover.org/publications/defining-ideas/article/104721

Ten years of questions, outrage, tragedy, grief and change – The Iraq War

ProgressiveValues.org e-letter by Phyllis Stenerson, February 15, 2013

Ten years ago today – February 15 – millions of people around the globe took to the streets to protest the planned invasion of Iraq. With an estimated six to ten million people participating, it is listed in the 2004 Guinness Book of World Records as the largest anti-war rally in history.

The invasion of Iraq began on March 20, 2003. The world was forever changed in countless ways. We embarked upon a new chapter in America’s story that is still unfolding.

For many of us, this event launched a new chapter in our own personal stories. I was flabbergasted and outraged, sending me on a mission to figure out why and how this disastrous decision could have been made by my government. It has grown into wisdom for the future.

Now, ten years later, I have insights but questions remain and I expect new information will continue to be revealed. To manage the voluminous data, I developed a framework so material could be sorted into categories. Highlights are posted for public review on my website www.ProgressiveValues.org. Much of the information has been found on excellent sources on the internet demonstrating the essential role of new media and the progressive movement in saving and revitalizing our democracy. I think of this as having a conversation with many diverse voices.

Pulling this together into a cohesive narrative is a work-in-progress. The story of America’s preemptive war on Iraq – and the aftermath – connects with virtually every facet of American history, government and culture. My focus is on contrasting worldviews, how values affect and are affected by American policy, with an emphasis on the intersection of politics and religion/spirituality. It’s absolutely fascinating. Implications for the future are critically important. Optimism for the future is based on the fact that we’re becoming increasingly knowledgeable and there are a lot of very smart people deeply concerned and engaged.

The website is a start and I now want to collaborate with an established non-profit organization. If you know of any potential connections, please contact me. I want to hear about related work being done by others.
Phyllis Stenerson – phyllis@progressivevalues.org

* * *

Hubris: Selling the Iraq War hosted by Rachel Maddow
premieres February 18 at 9pm ET on MSNBC.

The tenth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War is March 20.  Even after all this time there are important questions unanswered about how and why this government decision was made. The new documentary called Hubris: Selling the Iraq War is based on the book Hubris, co-written by NBC News National Investigative Correspondent Michael Isikoff and MSNBC contributor and Mother Jones Washington Bureau Chief David Corn

* * *

“Our movement changed history. While we did not prevent the Iraq war, the protests proved its clear illegality, demonstrated the isolation of the Bush administration policies, helped prevent war in Iran, and inspired a generation of activists.”  Phyllis Bennis, The Day the World  Said No To War , CommonDreams.org

* * *

Today the real test of power is not the capacity to make war but the capacity to prevent it. Anne O’Hare McCormick

Wars can be prevented just as surely as they can be provoked, and we who fail to prevent them, must share the guilt for the dead. General Omar Bradley

When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace. Jimi Hendrix

Either war is obsolete or people are. R. Buckminster Fuller

I think that people want peace so much that one of these days government had better get out of their way and let them have it. Dwight D. Eisenhower

It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it. Eleanor Roosevelt

http://p0.vresp.com/bQJcTZ

Our Dumb Democracy: Why the Untied States of Stupid Still Reins Supreem

by John Atcheson, January 22, 2013 by Common Dreams

Excerpt

…we are still faced with ultra-rightwing terrorists threatening to hold the US economy hostage to a set of demands that the majority of Americans disagree with. These are the same loonies who deny global warming…Want to know how our political discourse got so mind-numbingly stupid? Well, we can start with this little fact:  The press is so enamored with “balance” that they’ll treat even the most ignorant, shallow, fatuous movement – a [Tea Party] movement composed of the selfish, the self-obsessed, the angry, the bigoted, and the blissfully ignorant – as if it were a serious movement….At one time this kind of foolishness would have been laughed off the national stage. Now it dominates one of our major political parties, thanks to the media’s embrace of balance and false equivalence and the Democrats’ silent complicity…today’s political discourse is so thoroughly littered with “conventional wisdom” without an iota of wisdom...our media has replaced truth, accuracy and reality with balance, false equivalency, and stenography and Democrats have been silent co-conspirators. Why?  Because the press is a wholly owned subsidiary of corporations, and too many Democrats feed at the corporate trough. And that’s not funny, but it is stupid.

Full text

Astoundingly, Mr. Obama – the supreme pragmatist and compromiser – gave an inaugural address that was as strong a defense of progressivism as we have seen in thirty years. Yet it will take more than words to make a difference.  As the echoes of his speech fade, we are still faced with ultra-rightwing terrorists threatening to hold the US economy hostage to a set of demands that the majority of Americans disagree with.

These are the same loonies who deny global warming; the same ones who set up a museum showing prehistoric humans walking with dinosaurs; the same ones who think the answer to gun violence is more guns; the same ones who voted against relief for victims of Sandy … the same ones who want to shove ultrasound instruments into women’s vaginas and tell people who they can and cannot marry while simultaneously shouting to the rooftops about freedom and values.

Yeah. Their freedoms, their beliefs and their values, please.  All others step to the back of the bus, or consult Leviticus.  You know, that font of ancient wisdom that tells us when and how to stone our neighbor’s daughter.

Want to know how our political discourse got so mind-numbingly stupid? 

Well, we can start with this little fact:  The press is so enamored with “balance” that they’ll treat even the most ignorant, shallow, fatuous movement – a movement composed of the selfish, the self-obsessed, the angry, the bigoted, and the blissfully ignorant – as if it were a serious movement. 

Consider the following signs seen at Tea Party protests.

There’s the now infamous: “Keep your government hands off my Medicare.”

Or this gem:  “Don’t steal from Medicare to Support Socialized Medicine.”

Or this: “Get a Brain.  Morans [sic].”

Or this:  “Obama Half Breed Muslin” – or maybe cotton or linen?

Or this: “We came unarmed.  This time.”

Or this:  “Stop Illeagles.”  Yup, gotta hate it when eagles get ill.

There’s absolutely no shortage of these tributes to stupidity – the list could go on and on.

At one time this kind of foolishness would have been laughed off the national stage.

Now it dominates one of our major political parties, thanks to the media’s embrace of balance and false equivalence and the Democrats’ silent complicity.

It might be time for a whole new set of “imponderables”.

Imponderables are questions or statements that by their nature expose something that doesn’t make sense. At their best, they’re mildly amusing and instructive. For example, why does Hawaii have an Interstate Highway system? or Why isn’t “phonetic” spelled the way it sounds? or Why do psychics have to ask you for your name?

Yes, today’s political discourse is so thoroughly littered with “conventional wisdom” without an iota of wisdom, that there should be a new category – political imponderables. Here are a few examples:

National “Defense: If the US was spending more than the next 16 countries combined on defense prior to 911, why did we need to create the Department of Homeland Security to defend ourselves?

Shouldn’t the Defense Department be called the Department of Offense?

Why isn’t every citizen asking why we have tens of thousands of troops scattered around the world to fight the cold war, nearly 25 years after it ended.

If Citizens United is about Free Speech, why does it cost so much? Republicans and plutocrats are set to spend far more than $1 billion on the presidential race.

Why did Obama call the Patriot Act shoddy and dangerous then essentially continue Bush’s assault on the Bill of Rights?

Climate Change: Why did candidate Obama call climate change an epochal man-made threat to the planet, while President Obama virtually ignored it his entire first term.

Why do states which are experiencing the worst climate-related disasters elect Republican governors and congressional representatives who deny its existence?

Deficit Duplicity: Why are Republicans once again threatening to shut down government over extending the debt ceiling, after voting for the Ryan’s first budget, which required multiple and astronomical increases in the debt ceiling until the year 2062?

If Republicans really hate deficits, why did the last three Republican Presidents run up more than 66% of the nation’s cumulative deficit  – more than all other Presidents combined?  And why didn’t rank and file Republicans utter a peep against it when they did?

Deregulation, Trickle Down Redux, or Fool me once, shame on you … If thirty years of policies featuring deregulation, tax cuts for the rich and starve the beast policies resulted in the economic crash in 2008 – the worst since the Great Depression, which was also preceded by laissez-faire policies – how can more of the same be the solution?

Small Government that Isn’t: If Republicans like small government, why does it always grow  when they’re in office?

Why does the press mindlessly repeat conservative fear mongers’ debt warnings even as the deficit is disappearing?

There’s no shortage of political imponderables.  Given the absurdity of our political process and the media’s malfeasance, our national well of stupidity is deep and wide.

The answer to all these questions is simple – these absurdities exist, because our media has replaced truth, accuracy and reality with balance, false equivalency, and stenography and Democrats have been silent co-conspirators.

Why?  Because the press is a wholly owned subsidiary of corporations, and too many Democrats feed at the corporate trough.

And that’s not funny, but it is stupid.

John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, an eco-thriller and Book One of a Trilogy centered on global warming. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the San Jose Mercury News and other major newspapers. Atcheson’s book reviews are featured on Climateprogess.org.

Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/01/22

 


Deafness at Doomsday

By LAWRENCE M. KRAUSS, January 15, 2013

Excerpt

TO our great peril, the scientific community has had little success in recent years influencing policy on global security…Scientists’ voices are crucial in the debates over the global challenges of climate change, nuclear proliferation and the potential creation of new and deadly pathogens. But unlike in the past, their voices aren’t being heard…distinguished scientific minds at our research universities and other national labs — provide advice that is routinely ignored.. ideological biases have become so ingrained in Washington that scientific realities are subordinated to political intransigence…Until science and data become central to informing our public policies, our civilization will be hamstrung in confronting the gravest threats to its survival.

Full text

TO our great peril, the scientific community has had little success in recent years influencing policy on global security. Perhaps this is because the best scientists today are not directly responsible for the very weapons that threaten our safety, and are therefore no longer the high priests of destruction, to be consulted as oracles as they were after World War II.

The problems scientists confront today are actually much harder than they were at the dawn of the nuclear age, and their successes more heartily earned. This is why it is so distressing that even Stephen Hawking, perhaps the world’s most famous living scientist, gets more attention for his views on space aliens than his views on nuclear weapons.Scientists’ voices are crucial in the debates over the global challenges of climate change, nuclear proliferation and the potential creation of new and deadly pathogens. But unlike in the past, their voices aren’t being heard.

Indeed, it was Albert Einstein’s letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939, warning of the possibility that Hitler might develop a nuclear weapon, that quickly prompted the start of the Manhattan Project, the largest scientific wartime project in history. Then, in 1945, the same group of physicists who had created the atomic bomb founded the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to warn of the dangers of nuclear weapons, and to promote international cooperation to avoid nuclear war. As Einstein said in May 1946, “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.”

The men who built the bomb had enormous prestige as the greatest physics minds of the time. They included Nobel laureates, past and future, like Hans A. Bethe, Richard P. Feynman, Enrico Fermi, Ernest O. Lawrence and Isidor Isaac Rabi.

In June 1946, for instance, J. Robert Oppenheimer, who had helped lead the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, N.M., argued that atomic energy should be placed under civilian rather than military control. Within two months President Harry S. Truman signed a law doing so, effective January 1947.

Today, nine nuclear states have stockpiled perhaps 20,000 nuclear weapons, many of which dwarf the weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yet proliferation is as alarming as ever, even though President Obama signed, and Congress ratified, the new strategic arms-reduction treaty in 2010. Iran’s nuclear program could lead to conflict. So could the animosity between India and Pakistan, which both have nuclear weapons.

The United States is complicit, because whatever our leaders may say, our actions suggest that we have no real intention to disarm. The United Nations adopted the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which would ban countries from testing nuclear weapons, in 1996. But it has not come into force; the Senate rejected ratification in 1999, and while President Obama has promised to obtain ratification, he has not shown enough urgency in doing so.

What’s striking is that today’s version of the Manhattan Project scientists — not the weapons researchers at our maximum-security national laboratories, but distinguished scientific minds at our research universities and other national labs — provide advice that is routinely ignored.

Last year, the National Academy of Sciences published a report demonstrating that all the technical preconditions necessary for ratifying the United Nations treaty were in place. But this vital issue did not come up in the presidential campaign and is barely mentioned in Washington. Another study by the academy last year, on flaws in America’s costly ballistic missile defense program, has had little impact even as the Pentagon considers cuts in military spending.

I am co-chairman of the board of sponsors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which has supported the call for a world free of nuclear weapons — a vision backed by major foreign policy figures in both parties. But ideological biases have become so ingrained in Washington that scientific realities are subordinated to political intransigence.

Do scientists need to develop new doomsday tools before our views are again heard? Will climate researchers remain voiceless unless they propose untested geoengineering technologies that could have insidious consequences? Will biologists be heard only if their work spawns new biotechnologies that could be weaponized?

Because the threat of nuclear proliferation is not being addressed, because missile defense technologies remain flawed and because new threats exposed by scientists have been ignored, the Bulletin’s annual Doomsday clock — which was updated on Tuesday — still sits at five minutes to midnight. The clock is meant to convey the threats we face not only from nuclear weapons, but also from climate change and the potential unintended consequences of genetic engineering, which could be misused by those seeking to create bioweapons.

Until science and data become central to informing our public policies, our civilization will be hamstrung in confronting the gravest threats to its survival.

Lawrence M. Krauss, a theoretical physicist at Arizona State University, is the author, most recently, of “A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing.”

America’s War for Reality

by Robert Parry,  January 15, 2013 by Consortium News

Excerpt

The real struggle confronting the United States… is testing whether fact-based people have the same determination to fight for their real-world view as those who operate in a fact-free space do in defending their illusions…..Simply put, the Right fights harder for its fantasyland than the rest of America does for the real world.

The American Right’s collective departure from reality can be traced back decades, but clearly accelerated with the emergence of former actor Ronald Reagan on the national stage. Even his admirers acknowledge that Reagan had a strained relationship with facts, preferring to illustrate his points with distorted or apocryphal anecdotes…The remarkable success of Reagan’s propaganda was a lesson not lost on a young generation of Republican operatives and the emerging neoconservatives who held key jobs in Reagan’s Central American and public-diplomacy operations, the likes of Elliott Abrams and Robert Kagan. The neocons’ devotion to imperialism abroad seemed to motivate their growing disdain for empiricism at home. Facts didn’t matter; results did…

But this strategy wouldn’t have worked if not for gullible rank-and-file right-wingers who were manipulated by an endless series of false narratives. The Republican political pros manipulated the racial resentments of neo-Confederates, the religious zeal of fundamentalist Christians, and the free-market hero worship of Ayn Rand acolytes…That these techniques succeeded in a political system that guaranteed freedom of speech and the press was not only a testament to the skills of Republican operatives like Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. It was an indictment of America’s timid Center and the nation’s ineffectual Left. Simply put, the Right fought harder for its fantasyland than the rest of America did for the real world…

This post-modern United States may have reached its nadir with George W. Bush’s presidency. In 2002-03, patently false claims were made about Iraq’s WMD and virtually no one in a position of power had the courage to challenge the lies. Deceived by Bush and the neocons – with the help of centrists like Colin Powell and the editors of the Washington Post – the nation lurched off into an aggressive war of choice.

Sometimes, the Right’s contempt for reality was expressed openly. When author Ron Suskind interviewed members of the Bush administration in 2004, he encountered a withering contempt for people who refused to adjust to the new faith-based world.

Citing an unnamed senior aide to George W. Bush, [author Ron] Suskind wrote: “The aide [to George W. Bush] said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ …

“‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality….”

… Election 2012, with Obama’s reelection and a general rejection of Tea Party fanaticism, has created the chance of a do-over for American rationalists.

After all, the United States continues to see the consequences of three decades of right-wing delusions…

Yet, if rational and pragmatic solutions are ever going to be applied to these problems, it is not just going to require that President Obama display more spine. The country is going to need its conscious inhabitants of the real world to stand up with at least the same determination as the deluded denizens of the made-up world.

Of course, this fight will be nasty and unpleasant. It will require resources, patience and toughness. But there is no other answer. Reality must be recovered and protected – if the planet and the children are to be saved.

Full text

The real struggle confronting the United States is not between the Right and the Left in any traditional sense, but between those who believe in reality and those who are entranced by unreality. It is a battle that is testing whether fact-based people have the same determination to fight for their real-world view as those who operate in a fact-free space do in defending their illusions.

These battle lines do relate somewhat to the Right/Left divide because today’s right-wing has embraced ideological propaganda as truth more aggressively and completely than those on the Left, though the Left (and the Center, too) are surely not immune from the practice of ignoring facts in pursuit of some useful agit-prop.

But key elements of the American Right have set up permanent residence in the world of make-believe, making any commonsense approach to the real-world challenges nearly politically impossible. The Right’s fantasists also have the passions of true-believers, like a cult that gets angrier the more its views are questioned.

So, it doesn’t matter that scientific evidence proves global warming is real; the deniers will insist the facts are simply a government ploy to impose “tyranny.” It doesn’t matter how many schoolchildren are slaughtered by semi-automatic assault rifles – or what the real history of the Second Amendment was. To the gun fanatics, the Framers wanted armed rebellion against the non-violent political process they worked so hard to create.

On more narrow questions, it doesn’t matter whether President Barack Obama presents his short or long birth certificates, he must have somehow fabricated the Hawaiian state records to hide his Kenyan birth. Oh, yes, and Obama is “lazy” even though he may appear to an objective observer to be a multi-tasking workaholic.

Simply put, the Right fights harder for its fantasyland than the rest of America does for the real world.

The American Right’s collective departure from reality can be traced back decades, but clearly accelerated with the emergence of former actor Ronald Reagan on the national stage. Even his admirers acknowledge that Reagan had a strained relationship with facts, preferring to illustrate his points with distorted or apocryphal anecdotes.

Reagan’s detachment from reality extended from foreign policy to economics. As his rival for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination, George H.W. Bush famously labeled Reagan’s supply-side policies – of massive tax cuts for the rich which would supposedly raise more revenues – as “voodoo economics.”

But Bush, who knew better, then succumbed to Reagan’s political clout as he accepted Reagan’s vice presidential offer. In that way, the senior Bush would become a model for how other figures in the Establishment would pragmatically bend to Reagan’s casual disregard for reality.

Perception Management

The Reagan administration also built around the President a propaganda infrastructure that systematically punished politicians, citizens, journalists or anyone who dared challenge the fantasies. This private-public collaboration – coordinating right-wing media with government disinformationists – brought home to America the CIA’s strategy of “perception management” normally aimed at hostile populations.

Thus, the Nicaraguan Contras, who in reality were drug-connected terrorists roaming the countryside murdering, torturing and raping, became “the moral equivalent” of America’s Founding Fathers. To say otherwise marked you as a troublemaker who had to be “controversialized” and marginalized.

The remarkable success of Reagan’s propaganda was a lesson not lost on a young generation of Republican operatives and the emerging neoconservatives who held key jobs in Reagan’s Central American and public-diplomacy operations, the likes of Elliott Abrams and Robert Kagan. The neocons’ devotion to imperialism abroad seemed to motivate their growing disdain for empiricism at home. Facts didn’t matter; results did. [See Robert Parry’s Lost History.]

But this strategy wouldn’t have worked if not for gullible rank-and-file right-wingers who were manipulated by an endless series of false narratives. The Republican political pros manipulated the racial resentments of neo-Confederates, the religious zeal of fundamentalist Christians, and the free-market hero worship of Ayn Rand acolytes.

“What was left of the Left often behaved like disgruntled fans in the bleachers booing everyone on the field, the bad guys who were doing terrible things as well as the not-so-bad guys who were doing the best they could under impossible conditions.”

That these techniques succeeded in a political system that guaranteed freedom of speech and the press was not only a testament to the skills of Republican operatives like Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. It was an indictment of America’s timid Center and the nation’s ineffectual Left. Simply put, the Right fought harder for its fantasyland than the rest of America did for the real world.

There were a number of key turning points in this “info-war.” For instance, Reagan’s secret relationship with the Iranian mullahs was partly revealed in the Iran-Contra scandal, but its apparent origins in treacherous Republican activities during Campaign 1980 – contacting Iran behind President Jimmy Carter’s back – were swept under the rug by mainstream Democrats and the Washington press corps.

Similarly, evidence of Contra drug-trafficking – and even CIA admissions about covering up and protecting those crimes – were downplayed by the major newspapers, including the Washington Post and the New York Times. Ditto the work of Central American truth commissions exposing massive human rights violations that Reagan aided and abetted.

The fear of taking on the Reagan propaganda machine in any serious or consistent way was so great that nearly everyone looked to their careers or their personal pleasures. One side dug in for political warfare and the other, too often, favored trips to wine country.

Distrusting the MSM

As this anti-empiricism deepened over several decades, the remaining thinking people in America came to distrust the mainstream. The initials “MSM” – standing for “mainstream media” – became an expression of derision and contempt, not undeserved given the MSM’s repeated failure to fight for the truth.

National Democrats, too, showed little fight. When evidence of Republican misconduct was available – as in the investigations of the early 1990s into Iran-Contra, Iraq-gate and the October Surprise case – accommodating Democrats, such as Rep. Lee Hamilton and Sen. David Boren chose to look the other way. [See Robert Parry’s America’s Stolen Narrative.]

The Democrats even submitted when the Right and the Republicans overturned the electoral will of the American people, as happened in Election 2000 when George W. Bush stole the Florida election and thus the White House from Al Gore. [For details, see the book, Neck Deep.]

In the decades after the Vietnam War, the American Left also drifted into irrelevance. Indeed, it’s common in some circles on the Left to observe that “America has no Left.” But what was left of the Left often behaved like disgruntled fans in the bleachers booing everyone on the field, the bad guys who were doing terrible things as well as the not-so-bad guys who were doing the best they could under impossible conditions.

“The country is going to need its conscious inhabitants of the real world to stand up with at least the same determination as the deluded denizens of the made-up world.”

This post-modern United States may have reached its nadir with George W. Bush’s presidency. In 2002-03, patently false claims were made about Iraq’s WMD and virtually no one in a position of power had the courage to challenge the lies. Deceived by Bush and the neocons – with the help of centrists like Colin Powell and the editors of the Washington Post – the nation lurched off into an aggressive war of choice.

Sometimes, the Right’s contempt for reality was expressed openly. When author Ron Suskind interviewed members of the Bush administration in 2004, he encountered a withering contempt for people who refused to adjust to the new faith-based world.

Citing an unnamed senior aide to George W. Bush, Suskind wrote: “The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ …

“‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’”

Reality Bites Back

Despite this imperial arrogance, real reality gradually reasserted itself, both in the bloody stalemate in Iraq and in the economic crises that Bush’s anti-regulatory and low-tax policies created at home. By Election 2008, the American people were awaking with a terrible hangover from a three-decade binge on anti-reality moonshine.

In that sense, the election of Barack Obama represented a potential turning point. However, the angry Right that Ronald Reagan had built – and the corresponding crippling effects on the Center and the Left – didn’t just disappear.

The Right counterattacked ferociously against the nation’s first African-American president, even intimating violent revolution if Obama acted on his electoral mandate; Obama often behaved like one of those accommodating Democrats (in retaining much of Bush’s national security team, for instance); the mainstream press remained careerist; and the Left demanded perfection regardless of the political difficulties.

This combination of dysfunction contributed to the rise of the Tea Party and the Republican congressional victories in 2010. But Election 2012, with Obama’s reelection and a general rejection of Tea Party fanaticism, has created the chance of a do-over for American rationalists.

After all, the United States continues to see the consequences of three decades of right-wing delusions, including high unemployment; massive deficits; self-inflicted financial crises; a degraded middle class; poor health care for millions; a crumbling infrastructure; an overheating planet; costly foreign wars; a bloated Pentagon budget; and children massacred by troubled young men with ridiculously easy access to semi-automatic assault rifles.

Yet, if rational and pragmatic solutions are ever going to be applied to these problems, it is not just going to require that President Obama display more spine. The country is going to need its conscious inhabitants of the real world to stand up with at least the same determination as the deluded denizens of the made-up world.

Of course, this fight will be nasty and unpleasant. It will require resources, patience and toughness. But there is no other answer. Reality must be recovered and protected – if the planet and the children are to be saved.

© 2012 Consortium News

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat. His two previous books are Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’.


Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/01/15-9

12 Biggest Right-Wing Lies About America

Blog for Our Future [1] / By RJ Eskow [2]  December 31, 2012  |

Top 12 Political Fallacies for 2012.

1. Austerity works.

2. We need less government spending.

3. Social Security is in ‘crisis’ and we need to cut it.

4. Medicare benefits need to be cut, too.

5. We’re “living beyond our means.”

6. Our problems aren’t anybody’s fault.

7. Banks paid back what they owed us from the bailout.

8. Wall Street-ers didn’t commit any crimes – or they’re too hard to prosecute.

9. “Ideologues” are getting in the way of “bipartisan” and “technocratic” solutions to our problems.

10. A “divided nation” elected a “divided government” through a democratic process.

11. It’s about politicians.

12. We’re helpless.

Full text

Our nation was gripped by so many fallacies and delusions in 2012 that the whole Mayan calendar end-of-the-world thing didn’t even make the list.

Even those apocalyptic prophecies were more plausible than the idea that cutting Social Security will help the deficit, that government spending cuts will jump-start the economy, there were no crimes on Wall Street, or that we live in a “divided nation” whose “center” wants more business as usual in Washington.

Here then, without further ado, are our Top 12 Political Fallacies for 2012.

1. Austerity works.

Last year we said [3] austerity economics was dead. It is. Unfortunately nobody told the politicians. They’re still trying to force it onto the people of Europe, even as its effects make the economies there progressively worse.

They’re trying to force more of it on us, too. The Republicans want to decimate Social Security, Medicare, roads and highways, education, programs for the poor … The Democrats offer a more modest form of austerity, but austerity’s exactly what the President last proposed to Congress.

If austerity’s so good for us, why are they trying to terrify us with the a”fiscal cliff”? T heirMonster In the Closet is austerity. Apparently they don’t see the irony in that. But there’s something else they shouldn’t overlook.

Obama will never run for office again, but most of Democrats on the Hill will. Hope they don’t forget that – because we won’t.

2. We need less government spending.

The flip side of this delusion is the notion that government spending is our problem. It’s not. In fact, right now it’s the solution.

We need more jobs to stimulate the economy. Without them, large segments of the population will continue to live in a prolonged state of deprivation unless government does something about it.

We need more better education and more advancement opportunities for our children. And our roads, bridges and schools are crumbling all around us.

Spending cuts aren’t even the solution to the Federal deficit – not in the short term. Government spending falls as a percentage of GDP when the whole economy grows – and the way to make it grow is by priming the economic pump and building for the future, not with shortsighted spending cuts.

Know who’s a real job creator? Someone with a job.

3. Social Security is in ‘crisis’ and we need to cut it.

No, and No.

Yes, Social Security has a projected long-term shortfall in its ability to pay benefits,starting in 2036 or so. But that projection’s based on a lot of different assumptions – including the assumption that we won’t fix our wage stagnation problem, that we can’t put a lot more people back to work, and that we lack the political will to lift the payroll tax cap to make up for the shortfall in revenue caused by the unexpected increased in six-, seven-, and eight-figure income as the result of growing wage inequity.

And anyone who says that retiring Baby Boomers are part of the problem is peddling snake oil. The last Boomer was born in 1964, and we fixed Social Security in 1983. At least, it was fixed until the top 1 percent – and top 0.1 percent – started hijacking our national income.

What’s changed since 1983? We didn’t produce more Boomers. In 1983 the youngest of them was already old enough to drive to the record store for the latest Huey Lewis and the News album.

What we HAVE produced is more wealth inequity.

4. Medicare benefits need to be cut, too.

Medicare has a serious long-term cost problem. But cutting benefits won’t help – whether it’s done by raising the Medicare age, by limiting what it pays for, or imposing arbitrary caps on what it will spend.

If we do those things, overall health care costs will continue to rise. And we’ll have sicker seniors, more seniors in poverty, and seniors who don’t live as long.

Means-testing won’t cut it, either. Scratch most means-testing proposals and you’ll find they’re not targeting “millionaires and billionaires” – they’re aimed at the middle class.

We already know how to handle “millionaires and billionaires” more fairly: Raise their taxes. That’s simple, clean, efficient, and fair.

The only way to fix our Medicare cost problem is by fixing the impact of unrestrained greed on our health care system. We need to do something about that — now.

We don’t need to cover less. We need to pay less.

5. We’re “living beyond our means.”

More snake oil.It’s undertaxed corporations and billionaires who are living beyond our nation’s means, by claiming an inordinate and unearned share of our nation’s wealth and not paying their fair share of taxes for it.

We have the means to be the country we’ve always been. What we’ve lacked is the political will to buck the moneyed forces who are dismantling a system that’s worked for 75 years.

Ours is a country that won two world wars. We once led the world in economic growth and blazed the way in science, technology, and the arts. We decided to send human beings to the moon and back in ten years … and did it.

Now we’re told it’s “beyond our means” to live as well as we did in 1969. There’s a word for that, but it’s not printable.

6. Our problems aren’t anybody’s fault.

This fallacy might be called the “Sh*t Happens” school of economic thinking. It says that the economy just crashes from time to time, recurrent and unavoidable disasters just like earthquakes.

But we avoided these crises for decades by regulating Wall Street and prosecuting crooked bankers. When we stopped doing those things we got another crisis.

Cause and effect.

7. Banks paid back what they owed us from the bailout.

Here’s why this is a fallacy: First, we don’t have a full accounting even now. Secondly, we’re still responsible for the enormous amount of toxic risk which Wall Street created and the government then assumed on its behalf.

Besides, that’s not how business works. Every major bank in this country was a failing business with intolerable risk exposure. Loans under those conditions are of enormous and inestimable value.

When you ask nothing in return – not partial ownership, not a percentage of the profits, not even an end to their criminal behavior – you’re giving away the store. And when you give those loans to serial crooks and cheaters – people who serially cheat you – people, you’ve been had.

8. Wall Street-ers didn’t commit any crimes – or they’re too hard to prosecute.

Which gets us to our next fallacy, or fallacies. There’s overwhelming evidence, and a mound of billion-dollar settlements, demonstrating that banks — and individual bank executives — broke laws over and over in the run-up to the current crisis.

These mountains of prima facie evidence were ignored, and continue to be ignored, by the Obama/Holder Justice Department.

Now we’ve learned that all the banks knowingly defrauded regulators in a LIBOR scandal. All of them!

LIBOR is like one of those Agatha Christie novels where all the suspects did it.

9. “Ideologues” are getting in the way of “bipartisan” and “technocratic” solutions to our problems.

This is another fallacy – one they’ve been using to sell unwise, unpopular, and unfair policies. It’s usually attached to billionaire-funded corporate agendas like those of the “Simpson Bowles” plan, the Democratic group called Third Way, and the corporate CEOs of “Fix the Debt.”

They always say their plan’s been designed by “technocrats,” but that “ideologues” and “divisiveness” are getting in the way.

But the so-called “ideologues” fighting austerity represent Americans in all walks of life, across the political spectrum. They also represent a growing consensus among most economists who aren’t tied to right-wing institutions – including Nobel Prize winners like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, and those who work for the IMF.

There’s a word for the people who keep complaining that the “ideologues” are getting in their way: Lobbyists.

10. A “divided nation” elected a “divided government” through a democratic process.

No. Democrats won the Presidency and the Senate by decisive margins, both state-by-state and in the popular vote. They even won a handsome victory in the House, but lost it because of sleazy GOP gerrymandering.

They won because they promised to defend Social Security and Medicare, and to tax earnings over $250,000. Now the President and Nancy Pelosi are pushing a plan that cuts Social Security, even though there’s no evidence the Republicans are insisting that Social Security be part of the deal.

Think the election would have turned out this way if Obama and Pelosi had told the public what they’d be doing in December?

Republicans aren’t speaking for half of a divided nation. And Democrats who don’t live up to their campaign promises aren’t honoring the small-”d” democratic process.

11. It’s about politicians.

“Obamabots” vs. “Obama bashers”: It’s on. Again. But it’s not about Obama – or Bill and Hillary, or any other political leader. If you attach your hopes to them you’re setting yourself up for a snow job, like Bill’s huckstering of late for the Fix the Debt/Simpson/Bowles corporate austerity plan.

But the flip side – hating or resenting them – is a distraction, and it can eat away at the soul.

Politics is not a celebrity sport. Corporate interests understand that. They’ve gotten a lot of politicians to throw the game by throwing their money around, and even some of the better ones feel they’ll lose if they don’t compromise.

Sure, brave politicians can make a huge difference. (Thank you, Bernie Sanders. And Raul Grijalva. And Keith Ellison. And Jan Schakowsky. It’s a long list, and we hope to add Elizabeth Warren and a couple more names to it soon.)

We still need to “emancipate ourselves from mental slavery” — especially in the form of hero-worshipping or demonizing the human beings who hold or seek high office.

12. We’re helpless.

Yes, it’s a rigged game. Yes, our democracy’s been tainted and compromised.

But mobilized citizens prevented the President from proposing Social Security cuts in his 2010 State of the Union speech. The Occupy movement changed Democratic political rhetoric, which changed poll numbers aand arguably changed the election results.

Some people say, So what? Look at what they’re trying to do now. That’s true — about some of them. But we’ve gained leverage, and we should use it.

While we’re developing new political leaders and institutions, we must stay mobilized for the struggles already underway: To protect Social Security and Medicare. To rein in Wall Street crime. To defend ripped-off homeowners and other mistreated corporate customers. To fight spending cuts and protect the vulnerable. To create jobs — good jobs — for every American who wants to work.

Difficult? Sure. Risk of failure? Definitely. But impossible?

That’s a fallacy.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/12-biggest-right-wing-lies-about-america

Links:
[1] http://www.ourfuture.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/rj-eskow
[3] http://blog.ourfuture.org/20111227/Notable_Death_of_the_Year_RIP_Austerity_Economics_1921-2011
[4] http://www.alternet.org/tags/economy-0
[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/fallacies
[6] http://www.alternet.org/tags/conservative
[7] http://www.alternet.org/tags/right-wing-0
[8] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

Why don’t bad ideas ever die?

By Barry Ritholtz, Washington Post, December 15, 2012

“The purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists.” — Joan Robinson

This time of year is filled with retrospectives and “best of” lists. I’d prefer a more enlightened discussion about bad ideas. Or rather, zombie ideas: the memes, theories and policies that refuse to die, despite their obvious failings. Why do we embrace the terrible, fall in love with the wrong, bet money on the fictitious? Nowhere is this truer than in the fields of economics and investing. Together they have produced a long list of thoroughly debunked ideas. Despite this, many of these zombie ideas still have a vice grip on amateurs and professionals alike. What is it about us and this intellectual voodoo? We keep repeating the same mistakes over and over. It is maddening. Let’s count the ways:

1 Shareholder value: Since the early 1980s, this theory had claimed that corporate management should concentrate primarily on increasing share prices. In practice, it is fraught with problems: Short-term focus on quarterly earnings leads to a decline in long-term research and development, typically to the detriment of a company’s long-term prospects. Short-termism and stock-option compensation causes management to focus on immediate quarterly returns. It has also led to earnings “management,” accounting fraud and a raft of management scandals. Shareholders derive much less value than the name implies.

2 Homo economicus: A primary principle underlying classical economics, it states that humans are rational, self-interested actors possessing an ability to make objective, intelligent judgments about matters of investing and money. This turns out to be hilariously wrong. We are all too often irrational, frequently emotional and regularly engage in behaviors that work against our self-interest. Homo economicus? Try Nogo economicus.

3 Economics as a science: Consider how wrong the economics profession has been about, well, nearly everything: They misunderstood the risks of derivatives; economists developed models that assumed home prices would not fall (!). They misunderstood why the recovery from the 2001 recession produced so few jobs or why the current recovery was worse in so many ways. Oh, and despite myriad signs, they missed the worst recession since the Great Depression even as it was on top of them. The sooner they admit that their field is not a hard science, the better off we all will be.

4 Austerity: Conceived from the puritanical idea that we must pay a penance for our sins, the Austerians (as we like to call them) insist that a post-bubble economy can be cured with spending cuts and tax increases, producing a balanced budget. When the United States tried this in 1938, it helped send the nation back into recession. More recently, Greece was forced to adopt austerity measures as part of its financial-rescue terms. It pushed the country into a depression. Austerity measures in Britain and Ireland and Spain — indeed, everywhere they have been imposed in Europe — have all led to recessions. Despite the wealth of evidence showing that this is a terrible idea, it refuses to die.

5 Tax cuts pay for themselves (supply-side economics): Sometimes bad ideas start as good ones. When tax rates are so high as to cause all manner of tax avoidance strategies — think confiscatory rates of 75 to 90 percent — reducing them makes sense and can change investor behavior for the better. Where we run into trouble is when this concept gets extrapolated to an absurd degree. Claiming that any tax cut will pay for itself by producing greater economic activity has now reached that point. No, Virginia, cutting taxes 3 percent does not lead to more revenue. Get over it.

6 The efficient-market hypothesis: This is the mother of all academic zombie ideas. The concept is that markets are “informationally efficient.” That lots of self-interested investors hunt down every last data point about any given asset class or stock. And pricing perfectly represents all of the given information available at the time. Therefore, no one can outperform the markets for long.

Except they have. Fund managers such as Peter Lynch, Warren Buffett, Ray Dalio and Jim Simons have consistently beaten markets over such long stretches that it cannot be merely by chance. Perhaps the even bigger anomaly that this concept runs into are the all-too-regular booms and busts — the massive mispricings of assets — that economic bubbles and crashes produce.

7 Markets can self-regulate: Another example of an idea that started out reasonably enough but soon after went off the rails. After 30 years of postwar economic growth, there was a credible argument that government regulations had become too costly, time-consuming and complex. With inefficiencies holding back small businesses, paring the worst of the regulatory burden should be productive.

As so often occurs, this good idea was taken to an illogical extreme. Instead of removing onerous, expensive regulations, zealots such as then-Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.) argued against all regulations. Markets can regulate themselves much better than some bureaucrat or lawyer. Besides, the self-interest of companies and the efficient market would more effectively police behavior than any government agency ever could. We know how that turned out.

8 Gurus, shamans and prognosticators: Wall Street produces market wizards at a prodigious pace. It may be NYC’s single-biggest export. We love experts to tell us what is going to happen in the future. Never mind that their track record is awful, we prefer the mysticism of the television guru to actual thought.

The data about these experts should give us pause: The more confident an expert sounds, the more likely he is to be believed by TV viewers. Unfortunately, the more self-confident an expert appears, the worse his/her track record is likely to be. And forecasters who get one single big outlier correct are more likely to underperform the rest of the time.

Why is it that we are ensnared by bad ideas? A lot of the reasons have to do with our own makeup and the structure of our society.

● Fooled by randomness (a.k.a. luck): Just because something is a bad idea does not mean it cannot, through pure chance, lead to a winning investment. (It is very difficult for people to acknowledge just how lucky they got once money is made by a bad idea).

● Greed and sloth: There is a ready supply of dupes waiting to be robbed, dreaming of enormous rewards for little or no work. Bernie Madoff was no different than Charles Ponzi, and yet people lined up to hand him money by the billions.

● Institutional mandates: In academia, whatever the dominant paradigm of the moment is tends to drive jobs, tenure, even entire careers. Publish or perish leads to a repetition of “accepted” ideas, while outside-the-box research often finds getting published to be a challenge.

● Status quo: Powerful forces are comfortable with how profitable things are, and they exert tremendous force to keep them that way. Think tanks, academia and corporate consultants create a ready constituency for old, bad ideas on their behalf.

● Narratives persuade more than data: A good story is far more persuasive than data. Zombie ideas are modern fairy tales. Comprehending a data series is challenging, requiring skill, intelligence and hard work. A compelling story, on the other hand, can be understood by a child.

● Incompetency: Skilled people have a greater understanding of their limitations for a given task; unskilled people do not. This is called the Dunning-Kruger effect, and it tells us that the worse we are at any given talent, the weaker our own meta-cognition about it is.

● Bias: Bad ideas often conform to our erroneous world views. Consider the impact of selective perception and confirmation bias — they assuage our egos and are made to fit our prejudices. Bad ideas hang around in part because we seek them out and embrace them.

●Darwinism works slowly: As a reader suggested, it often takes a while for reality to catch up with bad ideas. Consider the divine right of kings, communism and the designated hitter as bad ideas that took centuries to fall.

These zombie ideas remain a stable of academia, economics and investing. We should not be surprised at this. Recall what Max Planck — who won a Nobel Prize for physics in 1918 for originating quantum theory — famously said: “Truth never triumphs — its opponents just die out. Science advances one funeral at a time.”

Investing and economics should be so lucky . . .

Ritholtz is chief executive of FusionIQ, a quantitative research firm. He is the author of “Bailout Nation” and runs a finance blog, the Big Picture. On Twitter: @Ritholtz.

 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/why-dont-bad-ideas-ever-die/2012/12/13/919ded36-4475-11e2-8061-253bccfc7532_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines

How the Mainstream Press Bungled the Single Biggest Story of the 2012 Campaign

by Dan Froomkin, Huffington Post, 12/07/2012 – Contributing editor, Nieman Reports

Mini-excerpt

… cov­er­age in 2012 was a par­tic­u­larly calami­tous fail­ure, almost entirely miss­ing the sin­gle biggest story of the race: Namely, the rad­i­cal right-wing, off-the-rails lurch of the Repub­li­can Party, both in terms of its agenda and its rela­tion­ship to the truth… Democ­rats were hardly inno­cent but…the Repub­li­can cam­paign was just far more over the top.”…[Mann and Orn­stein] dra­mat­i­cally rejected the stric­tures of false equiv­a­lency that bind so much of the capital’s media…The 2012 cam­paign …exposed how fab­u­lists and liars can exploit the elite media’s fear of being seen as tak­ing sides… if the story that you’re telling repeat­edly is that they’re all…equally to blame — then you’re really doing a dis­ser­vice to vot­ers, and not doing what jour­nal­ism is sup­posed to do…

Excerpt

…according to longtime political observers Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, campaign coverage in 2012 was a particularly calamitous failure, almost entirely missing the single biggest story of the race: Namely, the radical right-wing, off-the-rails lurch of the Republican Party, both in terms of its agenda and its relationship to the truth.

Mann and Ornstein are two longtime centrist Washington fixtures who earlier this year dramatically rejected the strictures of false equivalency that bind so much of the capital’s media elite and publicly concluded that GOP leaders have become “ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

The 2012 campaign …also exposed how fabulists and liars can exploit the elite media’s fear of being seen as taking sides…

“I can’t recall a campaign where I’ve seen more lying going on — and it wasn’t symmetric,” said Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute who’s been tracking Congress with Mann since 1978. Democrats were hardly innocent, he said, “but it seemed pretty clear to me that the Republican campaign was just far more over the top.”

Lies from Republicans generally and standardbearer Mitt Romney in particular weren’t limited to the occasional TV ads, either; the party’s most central campaign principles — that federal spending doesn’t create jobs, that reducing taxes on the rich could create jobs and lower the deficit — willfully disregarded the truth.

“It’s the great unreported big story of American politics,” Ornstein said.

“If voters are going to be able to hold accountable political figures, they’ve got to know what’s going on,” Ornstein said. “And if the story that you’re telling repeatedly is that they’re all to blame — they’re all equally to blame — then you’re really doing a disservice to voters, and not doing what journalism is supposed to do.”

Ornstein said the media’s failure led him to conclude: “If you want to use a strategy of ‘I’m just going to lie all the time’, when you have the false equivalence meme adopted by a mainstream press and the other side lies a quarter of the time, you get away with it.”…

Full text

Post-mortems of contemporary election coverage typically include regrets about horserace journalism, he-said-she-said stenography, and the lack of enlightening stories about the issues.

But according to longtime political observers Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, campaign coverage in 2012 was a particularly calamitous failure, almost entirely missing the single biggest story of the race: Namely, the radical right-wing, off-the-rails lurch of the Republican Party, both in terms of its agenda and its relationship to the truth.

Mann and Ornstein are two longtime centrist Washington fixtures who earlier this year dramatically rejected the strictures of false equivalency that bind so much of the capital’s media elite and publicly concluded that GOP leaders have become “ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

The 2012 campaign further proved their point, they both said in recent interviews. It also exposed how fabulists and liars can exploit the elite media’s fear of being seen as taking sides.

“The mainstream press really has such a difficult time trying to cope with asymmetry between the two parties’ agendas and connections to facts and truth,” said Mann, who has spent nearly three decades as a congressional scholar at the centrist Brookings Institution.

“I saw some journalists struggling to avoid the trap of balance and I knew they were struggling with it — and with their editors,” said Mann. “But in general, I think overall it was a pretty disappointing performance.”

“I can’t recall a campaign where I’ve seen more lying going on — and it wasn’t symmetric,” said Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute who’s been tracking Congress with Mann since 1978. Democrats were hardly innocent, he said, “but it seemed pretty clear to me that the Republican campaign was just far more over the top.”

Lies from Republicans generally and standardbearer Mitt Romney in particular weren’t limited to the occasional TV ads, either; the party’s most central campaign principles — that federal spending doesn’t create jobs, that reducing taxes on the rich could create jobs and lower the deficit — willfully disregarded the truth.

“It’s the great unreported big story of American politics,” Ornstein said.

“If voters are going to be able to hold accountable political figures, they’ve got to know what’s going on,” Ornstein said. “And if the story that you’re telling repeatedly is that they’re all to blame — they’re all equally to blame — then you’re really doing a disservice to voters, and not doing what journalism is supposed to do.”

Ornstein said the media’s failure led him to conclude: “If you want to use a strategy of ‘I’m just going to lie all the time’, when you have the false equivalence meme adopted by a mainstream press and the other side lies a quarter of the time, you get away with it.”

The Apostasy

Ornstein and Mann’s big coming out took place in late April, when the Washington Post‘s Outlook section published their essay Admit it. The Republicans are worse, adapted from their book It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism, which went on sale a few days later.

Political journalists had no doubt heard similar arguments many times before, mostly from left wing bloggers. But this time the charge was coming from two of the most consistent purveyors of conventional wisdom in town, bipartisan to a fault.

And they were pretty harsh in their critique of the media. “Our advice to the press: Don’t seek professional safety through the even-handed, unfiltered presentation of opposing views,” they wrote in the Post. “Which politician is telling the truth? Who is taking hostages, at what risks and to what ends?”

Initially, at least, Mann and Ornstein weren’t completely ignored. “We had really good reporters call us and say: ‘You’re absolutely right’,” Mann said. “They told us they used this as the basis for conversations in the newsroom.”

But those conversations went nowhere, Mann said.

“Their editors and producers, who felt they were looking out for the economic wellbeing of their news organizations, were also concerned about their professional standing and vulnerability to charges of partisan bias,” Mann said.

So most reporters just kept on with business as usual.

“They’re so timid,” Mann said.

Some reporters did better than others, Ornstein said, particularly crediting Jackie Calmes of the New York Times and David Rogers of Politico among a few others. “They grew a little bit more straightforward in what they do, and showed you can be a good, diligent unbiased reporter, report the facts, put it in context, and yet show what’s really going on,” he said.

Most reporters, however — including many widely admired for their intelligence and aggressive reporting — simply refused to blame one side more than the other. Mann said he was struck in conversations with journalists by how influenced they were by the heavily funded movement to promote a bipartisan consensus around deficit reduction and austerity. Such a bipartisan consensus doesn’t actually exist, Mann pointed out. But if you believe it does, than you can blame both parties for failing to reach it.

“The Peterson world, I think, has given journalists the material to keep doing what they’re doing,” Mann said of the vast network of think tanks and other influential Washington groups underwritten at least in part by Wall Street billionaire Peter Peterson.

Peterson’s vast spending has given rise to an environment of contempt among the Washington elites for anyone who doesn’t believe the government is dangerously overextended. And by that reckoning, the Democrats are therefore more out of touch with reality than Republicans, who at least pay the concept ample lip service.

How Fact-Checking Made Things Worse

Ornstein and Mann’s views on journalistic failure have not been widely shared by mainstream media critics, who have instead focused on the fact that the press, in its enthusiasm to see the presidential race decided by a nose, ignored solid polling data to the contrary and called it wrong until the very end.

To the extent that the issue of widespread prevarication has come up at all, many media critics identified the rise of fact-checking as the big new trend of the 2012 cycle.

But Mann and Ornstein said that in practice, the fact-checkers may have made things worse rather than better.

“We had these little flurries of fact-checking — which I found not worthless, but not a substitute for coherent, serious reporting — and most of the time it just got stuck in the back of a news organization’s output and there was no cost to a candidate of ignoring it,” Mann said.

And then there was this terrible irony: “Fact checkers almost seemed obliged to show some balance in their fact checking.”

“There was some damn good stuff done, and stuff that really did hold Romney to account,” Ornstein said. But no fact-checker intent on “appearing to be utterly straightforward, independent, and without an axe to grind, is going to actually do the job of saying that we’re going to cover 20 fact checks on one side, to three on the other.”

So, Ornstein concluded: “If you looked at where the scales should have been, and where they were, they were weighted. And they weren’t weighted for ideological bias. They were weighted to avoid being charged with ideological bias.”

It’s hard to exaggerate just how popular Mann and Ornstein were with the press before their apostasy. They were quite possibly the two most quotable men in Washington. They were the media cocktail party circuit’s most reliable walking talking points.

And now they are virtual pariahs.

“It’s awkward. I can no longer be a source in a news story in the Wall Street Journal or the Times or the Post because people now thing I’ve made the case for the Democrats and therefore I’ll have to be balanced with a Republican,” Mann said.

Neither Mann nor Ornstein have been guests on any of the main Sunday public affairs shows since their book came out. Nor has anyone else on those shows talked about the concerns they raised.

Ornstein is particularly infuriated that none of the supposed reader advocates at major newspapers have raised the issues they brought up. “What the fuck is an ombudsman doing if he’s not writing about this?” he asked.

Their phones are still ringing, they say — but not from inside the Beltway. “We’ve gotten a tremendous amount of attention, but much of that is due to the Internet and our original piece going viral,” Mann said. They were also featured on NPR.

There have been countless requests for speaking engagements. “We’re just selling a shitload of books,” said Mann. “There’ve been page-one stories in countries around the world.”

Domestically, however, Mann and Ornstein said they refuse to be “balanced” on TV shows by Republicans — because they are not anti Republican. The reason they wanted the press to expose what was really happening, they said, was to give voters a chance to respond in an appropriate way.

“The argument we’re making is that our politics will never really get better until the Republican Party gets back into the game, instead of playing a new one,” Mann said. “We want a strong, conservative Republican Party — but one with some connection with reality.”

Their critique came not out of ideology, they said, but out of their background as devoted process junkies and honest analysts, who finally realized that their vision of collegial governance wasn’t possible any more, and it was clear why.

Both see the rise of Tea Party influence on the GOP as a major turning point. For Mann, the moment of reckoning came in the summer of 2011. “What flipped me over was the debt ceiling hostage-taking,” Mann said. It was clear then that the Republicans would “do or say anything” to hurt Obama, even if it was overtly bad for the country and false to core Republican values.

“That and getting older. What do I give a shit about access,” he said.

“The fact is that one of the parties stopped being a conventional conservative party,” Mann said. “My own view is that what needed to happen is somehow the public had to take a two-by-four to the Republicans’ heads, knock them back to their senses, and allow conservative pragmatic voices to emerge,” he said.

Democrats won soundly in 2012 of course, so the two-by-four was administered. But because the media obfuscated what was going on, the message was not entirely clear — and certainly not to the Republican leadership.

Their Message Going Forward

Mann and Ornstein don’t get invited to talk to the leaders of news organizations anymore.

But if they were, again, here is what Mann would say: “First of all, I’d sympathize. I’d say I understand that you have the responsibility to use professional norms of accuracy and fairness and not let your own personal feelings get in the way.”

But, he would add: “You all have missed an incredibly important story in our politics that’s been developing over a period of time. You’ll slip it in here and there, you’ll bury it, but you really don’t confront it.”

Ornstein said his message would be this: “I understand your concerns about advertisers. I understand your concerns about being labeled as biased. But what are you there for? What’s the whole notion of a free press for if you’re not going to report without fear or favor and you’re not going to report what your reporters, after doing their due diligence, see as the truth?

“And if you don’t do that, then you can expect I think a growing drumbeat of criticism that you’re failing in your fundamental responsibility.

“Your job is to report the truth. And sometimes there are two sides to a story. Sometimes there are ten sides to a story. Sometimes there’s only one.

“Somebody has got to make an assessment of whether the two sides are being equally careless with their facts, or equally deliberate with their lies.”

Dan Froomkin is in the process of launching a new accountability journalism project. He is contributing editor of Nieman Reports, and the former senior Washington correspondent for the Huffington Post. He wrote the White House Watch column for the Washington Post website from 2004 to 2009, and was editor of the site from 2000 to 2003. Dan welcomes your email and can be reached at froomkin@gmail.com.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dan-froomkin/republican-lies-2012-election_b_2258586.html?utm_hp_ref=fb&ir=Politics&src=sp&comm_ref=false