Closed for business


shutdownAmerica has been closed for business for quite a long time.  Well before President Obama’s second term began, the #DemonicGop decided the only thing it was going to do was obstruct any initiatives taken by the either party, Democrats or non #DemonicGOP members, in order to make the Obama administration look inept and incompetent even if it was to the detriment to their own party or the American people.  Ultimately the purpose is to show any future aspirants to power that power is reserved for only a few in American society….people of color or faith need not apply, and in case you forget remember what happened to Obama.

The #DemonicGOP is not without help in their agenda.  A #sycophanticMedia has gone a long way to legitimize the fraud coming from the opposition party and leading to the shutdown.  In fact some among the #sycophanticMedia have used terms like “slimdown” to water down the impact of the lunacy coming out of Washington.  But if you really want to know what’s going you’ll have to look beyond the #sycophanticMedia into what’s being said like this

Joan Walsh nods:

On the day the Affordable Care Act takes effect, the U.S. government is shut down, and it may be permanently broken. You’ll read lots of explanations for the dysfunction, but the simple truth is this: It’s the culmination of 50 years of evolving yet consistent Republican strategy to depict government as the enemy, an oppressor that works primarily as the protector of and provider for African-Americans, to the detriment of everyone else. The fact that everything came apart under our first African-American president wasn’t an accident, it was probably inevitable.

BillClintonI’d say it came apart during the impeachment of Bill Clinton, the first sign of madness when the Democrats first truly wielded power after the Southern Strategy bore fruit under Reagan. Remember that Clinton was from the beginning regarded as illegitimate because he didn’t get more than 43 percent of the vote. Let us recall Bob Dole’s wordsafter Clinton’s 1992 clear electoral college victory:

There isn’t any Clinton mandate. Fifty-seven percent didn’t vote for him. I’ll represent the 57 percent.

Or Tommy Thompson with an equally surreal view of the Constitution:

Only 43 percent of the people voted for Bill Clinton — that is not much of a mandate. . . . Republicans won nine legislative houses across the country. . . . Republicans have just as much of a mandate as the Democrats.

When you compare this with the Republican view of the 2000 election when George W Bush lost the popular vote and, undeterred by any sense of restraint, doubled down on massive unfunded tax cuts and pre-emptive wars along with budget-busting new entitlements, you get a better sense of who feels entitled to rule in this country, and who is routinely regarded as “illegitimate.”

Now, of course, this merely suggests that it is simply being Democrats that render the last two Democratic presidents inherently illegitimate – since only one was African-American. But remember how Clinton was regarded as “the first black president” by many, including those on the left? Remember his early days fighting for civil rights in Arkansas? You think a white Southerner overturning the success of the Southern Strategy would be deemed acceptable to the Southern right which increasingly dominated the GOP?

Nonetheless, Charles C. W. Cooke rightly notes:

Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George H. W. Bush, all of whom presided over fractious shutdowns, might find this insinuation rather perplexing. In the last 40 years, only President George W. Bush was spared such a conflict.

The one president whose legitimacy was actually in some actual doubt escaped the revolt entirely. Hmmm. Quod erat demonstrandum.

More to the point, the other shutdowns were not about demanding the repeal of an already-enacted, constitutionally-approved signature achievement of a re-elected president – only a few years after a massive financial crisis and during a global recession. They were bargaining positions in which both sides had something to offer and a compromise to reach. All the GOP has to offer this time is … shutting down the government. This is not negotiation; it’s blackmail. And blackmail after all the proper avenues for stopping, amending, delaying and reforming the health bill have been exhausted. I mean they repealed the bill 41 times already – proof positive that all constitutional means for opposition have been exhausted. That‘s what makes this different. It’s not about playing hard by the rules. It’s losing and throwing the board-game in the air and threatening the destruction of the US and global economy in consequence. It’s unbelievable.

But when I mention race, I should unpack my point. It’s not a simple one, and I do not mean to be glib or too casual in throwing that word around.obamaracism

I’m talking about the difference between opposition to a president’s agenda and a belief that he is somehow an impostor, illegitimate, and a usurper for reasons that seem, in the end, to come down to racial and cultural panic.Do I have to recount the endless accusations against Obama of such?  No president has been subjected to endless litigation of his birth certificate or his religious faith (as if the latter mattered anyway). No president has been heckled in a State of the Union address with the words “You lie!” as Obama was. There was no claim that George W Bush was illegitimate because he muscled through a huge Medicare expansion as he was destroying this country’s fiscal standing having lost the popular vote to Al Gore. The Democrats didn’t threaten to shut the government down to stop anything he did. And no Republican, facing a major economic crisis, has received zero votes from the opposition in his first year. Both Bushes and Reagan won considerable Democratic support for tax cuts and tax hikes in their early years. The opposition accepted the legitimacy of the election. That’s the difference.

But Clinton was nonetheless regarded as illegitimate despite being what in any other era would be called a moderate Republican. Ditto Obama, whose stimulus and healthcare law were well within conservative policy consensus only a decade ago. I supported both presidents as a moderate small-c conservative (until Clinton revealed himself as sadly lacking the character not to self-implode). So I have long been puzzled not by legitimate opposition to various policies but by the frenzy of it. Call it the education of an English conservative in the long tortured history of American pseudo-conservatism.

In the end, I could only explain the foam-flecked frenzy of opposition to Clinton and Obama by the sense that the Civil Rights Revolution of the 1960s was the defining event for a certain generation, that the backlash to it was seen as a restoration of the right people running the country (i.e. no minorities with real clout), and that Clinton’s and even more Obama’s victories meant this narrative was revealed as an illusion. This is compounded by racial and cultural panic – against gays, immigrants, Muslims, Latinos etc – and cemented by a moronic, literalist, utterly politicized version of Christianity. This mindset – what I have called the “fundamentalist psyche” – is what is fueling the rage. It’s what fueled the belief that Romney was on the verge of a landslide. It is inherently irrational. It knows somewhere deep down that it is headed for defeat. But it will take down as much of the country, economy and constitution as it can while doing so.

For this time, as they surely know, Reconstruction will not be on their terms. They have no agenda because the multi-racial, multi-cultural, moderate-right country they live in is a refutation of their core identity. So race and culture fuel this – perhaps not explicitly or even consciously for some, but surely powerfully for many. And we are reaching a perilous moment as their cultural marginalization intensifies and their political defeat nears. After that, the rage could become truly destabilizing, unless some kind of establishment Republican leadership can learn to lead again. America and the world need to batten down the hatches.

 

There’s this shellacking for members of the #sycophanticMedia

U.S. news reports are largely blaming the government shutdown on the inability of both political parties to come to terms. It is supposedly the result of a “bitterly divided” Congress that “failed to reach agreement” (Washington Post) or “a bitter budget standoff” left unresolved by “rapid-fire back and forth legislative maneuvers” (New York Times). This sort of false equivalence is not just a failure of journalism. It is also a failure of democracy.gov't suicide

When the political leadership of this country is incapable of even keeping the government open, a political course correction is in order. But how can democracy self-correct if the public does not understand where the problem lies? And where will the pressure for change come from if journalists do not hold the responsible parties accountable?

The truth of what happened Monday night, as almost all political reporters know full well, is that “Republicans staged a series of last-ditch efforts to use a once-routine budget procedure to force Democrats to abandon their efforts to extend U.S. health insurance.” (Thank you, Guardian.)

And holding the entire government hostage while demanding the de facto repeal of a president’s signature legislation and not even bothering to negotiate is by any reasonable standard an extreme political act. It is an attempt to make an end run around the normal legislative process. There is no historical precedent for it. The last shutdowns, in 1995 and 1996, were not the product of unilateral demands to scrap existing law; they took place during a period of give-and-take budget negotiations. obstructionism

But the political media’s aversion to doing anything that might be seen as taking sides — combined with its obsession with process — led them to actively obscure the truth in their coverage of the votes. If you did not already know what this was all about, reading the news would not help you understand.

What makes all this more than a journalistic failure is that the press plays a crucial role in our democracy. We count on the press to help create an informed electorate. And perhaps even more important, we rely on the press to hold the powerful accountable.

That requires calling out political leaders when they transgress or fail to meet commonly agreed-upon standards: when they are corrupt, when they deceive, when they break the rules and refuse to govern. Such exposure is the first consequence. When the transgressions are sufficiently grave, what follows should be continued scrutiny, marginalization, contempt and ridicule.

In the current political climate, journalistic false equivalence leads to an insufficiently informed electorate, because the public is not getting an accurate picture of what is going on.

But the lack of accountability is arguably even worse because it has the characteristics of a cascade failure. When the media coverage seeks down-the-middle neutrality despite one party’s outlandish conduct, there are no political consequences for their actions. With no consequences for extremism, politicians who have succeeded using such conduct have an incentive to become even more extreme. The more extreme they get, the further the split-the-difference press has to veer from common sense in order to avoid taking sides. And so on.

The political press should be the public’s first line of defense when it comes to assessing who is deviating from historic norms and practices, who is risking serious damage to the nation, whose positions are based in irrational phobias and ignorance rather than data and reason.  corporate-news-poster

Instead journalists have been suckered into embracing “balance” and “neutrality” at all costs, and the consequences of their choice in an era of political extremism will only get worse and worse.

One of the great ironies of the current dynamic is that political scientists Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, who for decades were conventional voices of plague-on-both-your-houses centrism, have now become among the foremost critics of a press corps that fails to report the obvious. They describe the modern Republican Party, without any hesitation, as “a party beholden to ideological zealots.”

But as Mann explained in an interview last year, “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.”

Even with a story as straightforward as the government shutdown, splitting the difference remains the method of choice for the political reporters and editors in Washington’s most influential news bureaus. Even when they surely know better. Even when many Republican elected officials have criticized their own leaders for being too beholden to the more radical right wing.

Media critics — and members of the public — have long decried this kind of he-said-she-said reporting. The Atlantic’s James Fallows, one of the most consistent chroniclers and decriers of false equivalence, describes it as the “strong tendency to give equal time and credence to varying ‘sides’ of a story, even if one of the sides is objectively true and the other is just made up.”

New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen argues that truth telling has been surpassed as a newsroom priority by a neither-nor impartiality he calls the “view from nowhere.”

Blaming everyone — Congress, both sides, Washington — is simply the path of least resistance for today’s political reporters. It’s a way of avoiding conflict rather than taking the risk that the public — or their editors — will accuse them of being unprofessionally partisan.

But making a political judgment through triangulation — trying to stake out a safe middle ground between the two political parties — is still making a political judgment. It is often just not a very good one. And in this case, as in many others, it is doing the country a grave disservice.

So, no, the shutdown is not generalized dysfunction or gridlock or stalemate. It is aberrational behavior by a political party that is willing to take extreme and potentially damaging action to get its way. And by not calling it what it is, the political press is enabling it.

We need a more fearless media.

Is there more to say than that?

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Thomas Friedman, at it again!


NYT’s Friedman Rejects Iran Nuke Deal

By Robert Parry
May 27, 2010

Washington’s new “group think” on Iran – that the only possible approach is a heightened confrontation followed by “regime change” – is being shaped by the same opinion leaders who charted the way into the bloody disaster in Iraq and paid no career price.

On Wednesday, New York Times’ columnist Thomas L. Friedman rejoined the gang of tough-guy pundits by roughing up the leaders of Brazil and Turkey for daring to negotiate an agreement with Iran that would have it ship about half its low-enriched uranium out of the country and thus spur hopes for a peaceful settlement.

To Friedman, this deal was “as ugly as it gets,” the title of his column. However, others might think that seven-plus years of carnage in Iraq – the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, children with limbs blown off, and the 4,400 dead American soldiers and their grieving families – might be uglier.

But not Friedman, who like many of his fellow millionaire pundits cheered on the Iraq War as the only possible way to deal with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, just as they now are demanding “regime change” in Iran, rather than an agreement to ensure that Iran doesn’t produce a nuclear bomb, which Iran vows it doesn’t want anyway.

In his new belligerent column on Iran, Friedman makes clear that he isn’t really interested in nuclear safeguards; instead, he wants the United States to do whatever it can to help Iran’s internal opposition overthrow President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran’s Islamic-directed government.

“In my view, the ‘Green Revolution’ in Iran is the most important, self-generated, democracy movement to appear in the Middle East in decades,” Friedman wrote.

“It has been suppressed, but it is not going away, and, ultimately, its success — not any nuclear deal with the Iranian clerics — is the only sustainable source of security and stability. We have spent far too little time and energy nurturing that democratic trend and far too much chasing a nuclear deal.”

That argument, of course, runs parallel to the neocon case for war with Iraq, that “regime change” was the only acceptable outcome. False claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were just the means to get the American public to support that end, just as the exaggerated fears about Iran’s nuclear program are becoming the new excuse for another bid at “regime change.”

However, unlike Iraq which was ruled by dictator Saddam Hussein, the neocon goal of overthrowing Iran’s government faces the unacknowledged reality that Ahmadinejad almost certainly won the June 12, 2009, election – that he is a popularly elected leader.

The Election Fraud Myth

Though the U.S. press corps has refused to accept that fact – and routinely describes the election as “fraudulent,” “rigged” or “stolen,” the reality is there has been no serious evidence presented to support those claims.

Indeed, the overwhelming evidence is that Ahmadinejad, with strong support from the poor especially in more conservative rural areas, defeated the “Green Revolution” candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi by roughly the 2-to-1 margin of the official results.

For instance, an analysis by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes earlier this year concluded that most Iranians voted for Ahmadinejad and viewed his reelection as legitimate, contrary to claims made by much of the U.S. news media.

Not a single Iranian poll analyzed by PIPA – whether before or after the June 12 election, whether conducted inside or outside Iran – showed Ahmadinejad with less than majority support. None showed Mousavi, a former prime minister, ahead or even close.

“These findings do not prove that there were no irregularities in the election process,” said Steven Kull, director of PIPA. “But they do not support the belief that a majority rejected Ahmadinejad.” [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Ahmadinejad Won, Get Over It!”]

If these and other scholarly examinations are correct – and there is no counter-evidence that they aren’t – what happened after the June 12 election is that Mousavi simply refused to accept the voters’ choice and – with the enthusiastic backing of the U.S. news media – undertook to reverse the results with massive street protests.

During those demonstrations, a few protesters threw Molotov cocktails at police (scenes carried on CNN but quickly forgotten by the U.S. news media) and security forces overreacted with repression and violence.

Though it’s fair to condemn excessive force used by Iran’s police, you can be sure that if the same factors were transplanted to an American ally, the U.S. news media’s treatment would be completely different. Suddenly, the security forces would be protecting “democracy” from anti-democratic mobs disgruntled over losing.

But Friedman and other neocon pundits have taken the false conventional wisdom – that Mousavi was the voters’ choice – and transformed it into a new casus belli.

This pattern of turning propaganda into political truth is eerily reminiscent of the black-and-white portrayals of the crisis with Iraq eight years ago. Then, neocons advanced the notion that violent confrontation with Iraq was the only way to remake the Middle East so it would be less threatening to Israeli and Western interests.

‘Tony Blair Democrat’

However, Friedman’s new column leaves out the historical context of Iraq. For instance, he doesn’t recall how enamored he was of British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s glib rationale for invading Iraq and forcibly planting the seeds of “democracy” there.

In those days, Friedman dubbed himself a pro-war Democrat who favored “regime change” – what he called “a Tony Blair Democrat” in line with the widespread neocon belief that President George W. Bush was right to invade Iraq but that Blair’s crisp English-accented rhetoric presented the case better.

Today, it might seem that anyone foolish enough to call himself “a Tony Blair Democrat” – after Blair has gone down in history as “Bush’s poodle” on Iraq and set the stage for this year’s historic repudiation of his Labour Party – should have the decency to simply vacate the public stage and let some other aspiring pundit try his or her luck.

But that’s not how it works in the world of U.S. punditry. As long as you don’t disrupt what the Establishment wants to do, you can count on keeping your job. When the carousel circles around to another possible war, you’re poised to reach for another brass ring.

So it has been with Thomas Friedman, whose witty observation before Bush’s invasion of Iraq was that it was time to “give war a chance,” a flippant play on John Lennon’s lyrics to the song, “Give Peace a Chance.”

Then, when the war didn’t go as swimmingly as he and other neocons expected, Friedman became famous for his repetitious, ever-receding “six month” timelines for progress. Finally, in August 2006, he concluded that the Iraq War wasn’t worth it, that “it is now obvious that we are not midwifing democracy in Iraq. We are babysitting a civil war.”

Friedman added “that means ‘staying the course’ is pointless, and it’s time to start thinking about Plan B – how we might disengage with the least damage possible.” [NYT, Aug. 4, 2006]

Yet, despite this implicit admission that the war was a waste, Friedman kept slighting Americans who had resisted the rush to war in the first place.

Twelve days after his shift in position, Friedman demeaned Americans who opposed the Iraq War as “antiwar activists who haven’t thought a whit about the larger struggle we’re in.” [NYT, Aug. 16, 2006]

In other words, according to Friedman, Americans who were right about the ill-fated invasion of Iraq were still airheads who couldn’t grasp the bigger picture that had been so obvious to himself, his fellow pundits and pro-war politicians who had tagged along with Bush and Blair.

As I noted in an article at the time, “it’s as if Official Washington has become a sinister version of Alice in Wonderland. Under the bizarre rules of Washington’s pundit society, the foreign policy ‘experts,’ who acted like Cheshire Cats pointing the United States in wrong directions, get rewarded for their judgment and Americans who opposed going down the rabbit hole in the first place earn only derision.”

More Regime Change

In the nearly four years since then, the twisted reality of Official Washington hasn’t changed. The mainstream U.S. media is still dominated by the editorialists and news executives who endorsed the invasion of Iraq – and who now are determined to seek “regime change” in Iran.

Friedman is back reprising his role as a neocon propagandist with a friendly “pro-democracy” rationale for confrontation. Interestingly, however, he is acknowledging what some neocon critics, such as former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, have claimed, that the goal of the standoff with Iran isn’t really about its alleged nuclear-bomb desires, but rather about the desires for “regime change” among American neocons and Israeli hardliners.

Friedman is arguing that the Obama administration, instead of seeking an agreement that would ensure that Iran will live up to its word that it doesn’t want to build a nuclear bomb, should pursue “regime change” by supporting the Green Revolution and promoting “democracy.”

The fact that Ahmadinejad was the choice of the majority of the Iranian people doesn’t seem to matter much in Friedman’s “democratic” calculations. In that, Friedman seems to be expressing a view that he knows what’s best for the Iranian people, although he masks that paternalism with his bogus claim that Mousavi actually won.

Surely, Ahmadinejad, like Saddam Hussein, has contributed to his and his nations’ problems with wrongful actions and stupid rhetoric, making the work of neocon propagandists all the easier. But the truth is that actions of any national leader can be made to appear more outrageous or more reasonable depending on how the media frames these matters.

For example, Ahmadinejad, a little-educated populist from the Tehran’s “street,” has made obnoxious and ill-informed comments questioning the Holocaust against Jews during World War II (though I’m told he recognizes his mistake and has agreed to keep his mouth shut on this topic for months).

However, to extrapolate Ahmadinejad’s idiotic comments about the Holocaust into a readiness to attack Israel, a rogue nuclear state with hundreds of undeclared nukes, is the kind of logical overreach that we saw before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Back then, the Bush administration conjured up nightmare scenarios of Iraq flying unmanned planes over the United States to spray poison gases.

The game here is always to put what an “enemy” says or might theoretically do in the worst – or most alarmist – light. Similarly, if the goal is “regime change,” then the recent peace-seeking actions of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva had to be condemned, not praised.

Rejecting a Breakthrough

In what could have been an important breakthrough over Iran’s nuclear program, Erdogan and Lula da Silva persuaded Ahmadinejad to accept an agreement, originally brokered by the Obama administration last fall, to send 2,640 pounds of Iran’s low-enriched uranium to Turkey in exchange for higher-enriched uranium that could only be put to peaceful medical uses.

Yet, even before the revived agreement was announced on May 17, the neocon editors of the Washington Post were already mocking the Brazil-Turkey initiative as “yet another effort to ‘engage’ the extremist clique of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”

After the joint Iran-Brazil-Turkey announcement in Tehran, the rhetorical abuse escalated with Washington pundits and administration hardliners, like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, treating the leaders of Brazil and Turkey as unwelcome interlopers who were intruding on America’s diplomatic turf in an effort to grandstand.

Lula da Silva responded by challenging those Americans who insisted that it was “none of Brazil’s business” to act as an intermediary to resolve the showdown with Iran.

“But who said it was a matter for the United States?” he asked. “The blunt truth is, Iran is being presented as if it were the devil, that it doesn’t want to sit down” to negotiate, contrary to the fact that “Iran decided to sit down at the negotiating table. It wants to see if the others are going to go along with what (it) has done.”

What Friedman revealed in his Wednesday column was that the neocons have no particular interest in a negotiated settlement regarding Iranian nukes; they want an escalation of tensions that can set the stage for either internal upheaval in Iran or an external assault on its military infrastructure.

Friedman essentially tossed the leaders of Brazil and Turkey out of the civilized world and portrayed them as dupes of Ahmadinejad, writing:

“I confess that when I first saw the May 17 picture of Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, joining his Brazilian counterpart, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with raised arms — after their signing of a putative deal to defuse the crisis over Iran’s nuclear weapons program — all I could think of was: Is there anything uglier than watching democrats sell out other democrats to a Holocaust-denying, vote-stealing Iranian thug just to tweak the U.S. and show that they, too, can play at the big power table?

“No, that’s about as ugly as it gets.”

Notice how Friedman reprised all the key propaganda points regarding Iran, including the “vote-stealing” canard.

President Obama’s Letter

This unrelenting hostility toward the Iran-Brazil-Turkey accord caught Brazilian and Turkish officials by surprise, in part because it turns out they had been encouraged by President Barack Obama to pursue this initiative.

After Friedman’s column and the other derogatory comments, Brazil released a three-page letter that President Obama sent to President Lula da Silva just last month in which Obama said the proposed uranium swap “would build confidence and reduce regional tensions by substantially reducing Iran’s” stockpile of low-enriched uranium.

The contrast between Obama’s support for the initiative and the anger from other voices in Washington caused “some puzzlement,” one senior Brazilian official told the New York Times. After all, this official said, the supportive “letter came from the highest authority and was very clear.”

Yet, this extraordinary incident may actually clarify two important points:

First, that American neocons and Israeli hardliners aren’t really interested in getting Iran to agree to a nuclear accord, but rather want to use the nuclear standoff as an excuse to press for “regime change.”

And second, that neocon opinion-shapers, like Friedman, remain very influential in the U.S. news media and have the clout to obliterate a peace initiative – even one favored by the President of the United States.